Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not Quite Weekly Link Run Down Part 4, only some Remake Madness

Trading in "Film Futures" is a Possibility, But of course That Wouldn't Just Insulate Studios From Awful, Awful Choices
Disappointed that Tinseltown never got to officially capitalize on the mortgage scandal, proposals have been made to allow the purchase of "Film Futures." This would basically be a commodities market for movie studios. Can't see anything wrong with that? Well, hundreds of millions of dollars are funneled into pictures that are mostly (a) dumb fx orgies, and (b) riding the coattails of some earlier project. Some movie-makers don't even bother adding things like a coherent plot or decent dialogue - who needs to, with a lot of money on the screen and a big marketing push? I can only assume there'll be an even greater collapse in the minimalist quality incentives that exist for big pictures.

Director of "Brick" Made a Great Concert Film for The Mountain Goats, You Already Missed Your Chance to Watch it For Free
It was up on Pitchfork.com, but it's already gone. Rian Johnson, creator of "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom" put out another top-notch effort. Thanks to aicn for the heads up!

Comcast Wants to Buy NBC-Universal. In Related News, Disney Offers to Buy Every Company in the World.
The headline says it all. My assessment is that this move brings America scandalously closer to just having one giant company that owns every other company. Still, we're out of the Bush-Cheney years, so maybe law-makers will remember that Capitalism justifies its existence partly on the fact of competition. You can't get much competition if the company with the most money gets to purchase whoever might put them out of business...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Penn & Teller Get Killed" - "obscure" slept with "absurd," had a baby

Don't ever go on tv and wish someone tried to kill you. Also, don't play "Spy vs Spy"-type pranks on your best friend and co-worker. These are the lessons derived from 1989's "Penn and Teller Get Killed."

"You can imagine the sequel thing is kind of a bitch." - Penn, at the end of the movie.
You have to be prepared for a movie like this; either prepared, or in the mood for anything. Why? Because it's a mix of so many film styles and types of comedy. "PaTGK" is a comedy through and through, almost like a Zucker brothers picture.

It's also a jet-black cup of coffee, a flick whose humor can get dark, bleak, mordant... Repeated scenes of the duo's preparation and business arrangements add realism, so you feel you got a peek at the lives of celebrity magicians. Yet this film also swerves into thriller and noir, even if it mostly mocks those genres. There's a lot going on, right?

For those who don't know - Penn Jillette is a funny, forceful, cynical, 6'6" mountain of magic. He projects, an expert at misdirection, timing, and sleight of hand. He also usually comes off as a jerk.

Perhaps he's that full of life, or perhaps he's compensating for his partner, Teller. The smaller half of the act is famously mute during their performances, so Penn has to talk for two. This funny and inventive pair tend to set Penn as the bombastic and ironic showman, while Teller does much of the actual work and is often in danger. It works.

At the start of this movie, the pair appear on a talk show. Penn discusses the tour, his one painted fingernail, and the world of magic... As is his wont, he gets strange: he babbles about celebrity death threats, and vocally wishes that someone would try to kill him. Much of what follows expresses how monumentally stupid he was then.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dennis Hopper RIP

Hollywood suffers again with the loss of another skilled star, Dennis Hopper. It's only those closest to him who deserve sympathy; I'd feel slimy being too soggy over someone I never knew - over someone I "enjoyed" from a distance. But I always feel sad when a talented, hard-working, member of "Old Hollywood" finds out what comes after death.

I usually ignore celebrity deaths, especially for film stars. The kind of media attention they get often has an obscene and selfish tone. The amount of coverage given also feels disrespectful to both the deceased and a world with terror, AIDS, starvation. I felt bad for Heath Ledger and his family, but I was exceptionally annoyed by the near-instant memorial DVD sales and "important breaking news" circus that occurred that day. The way it continued to dominate the media - what with wars, ethnic violence, over-fishing - was disgusting. Then I saw "fans" basically stalking his NYC flat, leaving flowers as if Marilyn Monroe had just committed suicide.

Dennis Hopper's 1965 photo of Jefferson Airplane

In that context, why should I write about Dennis Hopper? Well, I care. I care because Hopper did his job remarkably well for a long long time; because I smiled most every time he got on the screen. I care because he could bring 10 minutes of sunshine to a really bad movie, and because he showed no signs of slowing down. Even at 70+, I looked forward to his bright future, as I did with the much younger River Phoenix and Phil Hartman.

Dennis Hopper looked pretty good for a 74 year old; even in his 50's, you could see he was aging well. This is especially impressive given the extent of his drug abuse. His hair got silver more than grey, his eyes were still vividly blue. Whether his hair was slicked back, whether he wore a goatee - there was always something very approachable and relatable about him. His talents and skills made it so easy to buy whatever he was selling in any role he played.

And he always seemed like so much fun. He's featured on a Gorillaz song, on the album "Demon Days." Dennis Hopper was also a wide-ranging artist with work in poetry, sculpture, and painting. His photography has been well-received since the '60s. Long after he'd grown up, the kid from Dodge City, Kansas was hard to pin down. A regular supporter of the Republican party, he said he went with Obama when the GOP added Sarah Palin to their ticket. He was, to paraphrase his own words, "Republican, then Democrat, then Republican, then Democrat again." It all just demands my respect, and he's got it.

Hopper's photo of Paul Newman, 1964

He worked in just about every type of filmed story-telling that I can list. Mr. Hopper could pop up in awfully-executed junk like "Super Mario Bros.," "Space Truckers," and "Firestarter 2: Rekindled." You could also find him in superior B-level movies like "Red Rock West," "Basquiat," and "EdTV." Odder choices abound, like the racist lead in the surprising "Paris Trout," his self-parodic role in '80s brain drain "My Science Project," and his rampaging con in the misfire known as "Boiling Point."

Then, of course, you look at all the classics that Dennis is attached to: "Rebel Without a Cause" (his first film), "Giant," "True Grit," "Cool Hand Luke," "Apocalypse Now," "Rumble Fish." It's already quite impressive before noting that he co-wrote and directed "Easy Rider."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hi, I'm "Pookie," and I have a video-finding problem (pause).

Netflix's page for Caddyshack offers "More Like Caddyshack" : Bart Got a Room, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Saint Ralph, Golfballs!, The Breakfast Club, The Jerk, Hairspray, Harold and Maude, Fletch, Fletch Lives, and Caddyshack 2.* It's in reverse order, but since these are the only 11 matches listed, I don't even need to analyze; the list speaks for itself. The systems that categorize movies (and recognize connections among them) don't work well enough, especially for a big business like Netflix. But they're not alone.

It's not as if Amazon is any better. Looking through a CV is awkward, since entering an artist's name won't yield pages by name; you only ever get a list of the artist's works. If you want to see everything Jung wrote, you type "Carl Jung" or a title of his and then click on the "Carl Jung" link. Using normal searches, it's the fastest way to see Amazon's catalog for one artist. This is way more complicated than it should be.

And I'd be bothered less if I hadn't looked at Amazon's page for "The Rolling Stones" mp3s. 2,666 hits sounds excessive, even assuming there are 8+ versions of "Satisfaction." Then look at the list sorted "by artist." You'll see there's many entries with random bands singing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "Rolling of the Stones."

It might be a bit much to expect their computers to automatically include or exclude cover songs and cameo work, but can't Amazon just show me a list of mp3s by one British rock band, 1962-20xx? Can't they do that when I look up "Exile on Main St." and click on the link that lists "The Rolling Stones" as the album artist? Even this method produces bad results! You can only get this right by typing the band into a search, then selecting "Amazon's The Rolling Stones Store" from the list that comes up.

But that's not all. Getting an exact match quickly is hit-or-miss, unless you use advanced searches. You can type in a complete and accurate title for something obscure and 5 other unrelated products may appear topmost on the list, presumably because they rank higher and contain 2+ search terms. It makes sense for online retailers to include ranking in searches, but a direct title result should always take precedence.