Thursday, May 29, 2014

Question for the Week of May 29-Jun 1: Strangest Theme Song Trends

What is the strangest trend in theme songs that you can think of?
Well, there was a period in the late 80's and early 90's where rap songs were used in franchise films where they literally made no sense. It's one thing to have "Gangsta's Paradise" in Dangerous Minds. That movie was about inner city youth and the problems they faced. But can anyone please tell me what rap, much less MC Hammer, had to do with 1991's The Addams Family:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Schedule Update

There's no Imposters entry this week, as I have an off-site review coming this Sunday. I'll be tackling Red Obsession, the wine documentary narrated by Russell Crowe. However, I will add this shot of the 2nd Spider-Man 2 poster. I meant to take it myself, but it was only in one subway station that I only visit when I need a transfer, and it's already gone...

There's still a Question post coming up tomorrow, so I'll see you then...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bill Murray Speechification Stunningness

I present to you Bill Murray's Induction speech for his entry into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame. He opens with many great jokes, of course, before launching into a story of being taken to Wrigley for the first time by his brother.

It's all very touching and sincere, and he takes a lot of time to discuss how much he loves the sport and how many little connections he's had to baseball. Then he casually trashes the Northern League.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing - Everything Old is New Again

So maybe time is a circle. On April 28th, 2009, I posted my second review here, for Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. Now, on May 28, 2014, I'm reviewing Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. While the symmetry sure is nice, this new version is no remake of the prior film - it's a complete re-staging of Shakespeare's comedic play.

The story is simple: adoration, rejection, manipulation, deception, misunderstandings, and self-delusion - in short, romance. The underlying plots are more complicated: Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, takes his men to rest in Messina after a military campaign. They stay at the home of Don Leonato, Pedro's old friend and the governor of this town. While there, Count Claudio pursues his love for Hero, Leonato's daughter. But Don John, the Prince's brother, plans to undermine both the much-loved Claudio as well as Pedro himself. Throughout, people in both groups try to make the fiercely-bickering Benedick and Beatrice fall in love.

Joss doesn't acknowledge his moving the story out of Messina, Italy and to Santa Monica, California. Nor is the play itself changed much (some roles were cut), even though this is so different from the earlier effort: the black and white cinematography gives the film a very old tone, despite this movie being set in modern times. What's really surprising, then, is how well the 2013 pic measures up to Branagh's 1993 work. In time, I may like it even better.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Question for the Week of May 19-25: Best Diegetic Song

What's the best - or your favorite - in-movie song?
"Diegetic" is a great word that was taught to me by an online friend. Basically, a diegetic song is a tune that the audience hears because the fictitious people in the movie are listening to it. Non-diegetic tracks are the ones only the audience hears because the music is part of the film's soundtrack.

Now, I'm sure lots of people have different opinions on this one. Some may favor a corny scene like "Great Balls of Fire" in Top Gun. Sociopaths might mention "Stuck in the Middle with You" from Reservoir Dogs. I would favor something like "I Got You Babe" in Groundhog Day:

But look past films for a sec - have you ever had the radio playing when a song comes on that hits a little too close for comfort? Maybe the track is about dead loved ones and you just lost somebody, it's a breakup song and you just left a relationship, or it's about moving on and you're leaving town. These coincidences do occur, and can feel comforting or awkward...

BASEketball's driving scene, then, is not only one of the funniest bits I've ever seen on film, it perfectly captures everything about these types of moments - but with the delightfully creepy caveat that suddenly the song is way too accurate:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Django Douple Dip

There's a lot to say about Django Unchained. Fortunately, DJ already covered the review quite nicely, so I don't have to worry about objectively describing the story or background. We can get right into discussing Quentin Tarantino's latest movie, and the strengths and weaknesses that I've wondered about. Your mileage may vary, and that's the only warning you'll get.

I left Django feeling stunned and quiet. No part of me was going to feel happily excited or amped after seeing people treated like that. I'd feel the same way if it involved any other oppressed group. The realistic brutality couldn't leave a smile on my face. Tho it's not impossible for a film to reach out to me, it's impressive that a movie like this could have any kind of profound impact.

Yet, at the same time, I think this was one of the funniest pictures of 2012. I hadn't seen Inglorious, so I had no experience with Christoph Waltz. In fact, during the bar scene that introduces King and Django to each other, I began to lose patience with his part a bit - but I barely needed to wait for CW to pay the scene off. And the aftermath of Django Freeman picking his very first wardrobe was brilliant. Chuckles, grins, and belly laughs were in surprising abundance, given the topic and content.

I'm not sure whether I should credit the humor to Tarantino's skill or to that of his actors, but DU also had this odd ability to keep me from being pulled out of this story. I expected that I would be, but the narrative had enough of the typical familiarity of Quentin's stories that I kept getting drawn back in. Hell, I should probably write a post about how every one of his pictures feels like a fan version of some other film.

Those were some of the obvious strengths in QT's 2012 oddball opus. As to its weaknesses, I have much more to say: DJ and I talked, shortly after leaving the theater, about Waltz's final scene. I said that I couldn't believe that King decided to blow everything and murder Candie.

DJ correctly noted that this moment was integral to the whole movie - not only did it signal the true rise of Foxx's Django, but it showed that Schultz had reached his breaking point. The awful, senseless violence and stupidity he had witnessed made him incapable of dealing with DiCaprio's role any longer; even the calmest, most experienced con man couldn't keep cool in the face of such vile and evil behavior.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Imposters #51 - Spider-Man 2

Gotta admit, it's pretty ballsy when you don't even have to write the name of your movie on the poster for your film.

Then again, this franchise makes money on its worst days, and the costume does say it all.

I have to admit, though, that I feel annoyed with whoever designed this. Spider-man takes up better than half the image. What's he doing? Shooting a web out of his wrist, with one arm cocked to throw a punch. Why is he doing both at the same time like that?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Great Moments In... Affair Breakups

I watched The English Patient under unusual circumstances. I saw a very late showing of this uber-long pic, on a weeknight. Hype had already established the picture as a must-see... And the friend that invited me to a screening tried to steal me from my then-girlfriend, even though I'm not a cheater.

External elements aside, I was really stunned by the endless visual beauty of the film, enough so that the cinematography and the strengths of the performances kept me from criticizing (much less critiquing) the actual picture very much.

A few moments of the picture have stayed with me, of course - none more strongly than the end of the affair between the characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas.

I like the whole scene - their body language, the general push and pull of their conversation. Ralph's wounded response is excellent, and I have to like her reply even if it seems so... flimsy in context.

However, it's really the very last seconds of the clip that always stand out in my mind the most. It feels like real life, like an accident that occurred on set and Thomas just kept acting. And it makes me laugh every time. Isn't that little blunder just perfect?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Question for the Week of May 12-18: Oddest Role Pattern

Have you seen a truly confusing trend in one actor's choice of roles?
Well, this is a fine question, but there are a couple of distinctions to be made here. For the first, I am reminded of something I heard quoted by writer/director Nicholas Meyer - an actor convinces you that they are someone else, while a star convinces you that someone else is them. This means that Cary Grant is often playing "Cary Grant, the movie star" just in a different role. And, although I won't delve into it today, Tom Cruise is often playing a variation on one particular archetype.

The second distinction is that there are particular types of movie stars. The most obvious is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who always played a physical paragon who is also a smart alpha-male and who is never once asked "odd accent - where are you from?" While Arnie has been in notable comedies, there's a similar type: the martial arts star. That's why we can look back on series of films with Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and others.

But, to wiggle around the whole "they're a star more than an actor" issue, the really odd trend involves the early work of Jennifer Jason Leigh. I have thought the world of Leigh since I first saw her, and her work in Single White Female, The Hudsucker Proxy, and more, have only strengthened that fine impression. What was so odd about this career path?

Please keep in mind I do not take this topic lightly, but: the characters she portrayed in 6 out of her first 19 film roles were raped. Yes, this happens to the parts she plays in Flesh + Blood (1985), Heart of Midnight (1988), The Hitcher (1986), Rush (1991), and Last Exit to Brooklyn (1990). The first was an adventure/drama, the second and third were B-level horror films (supernatural and thriller, respectively), the fourth was about undercover cops, and the fifth was a nightmarish drama.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Imposters #50: X-Men: Days of Future Past

There's no other way to put it: whoever made casting decisions for the X-series was lucky/brilliant twice. They hit on Sirs McKellan and Stewart, two men who could make a gripping and/or delightful tea ad. Then, a decade later, they snagged McAvoy and Fassbinder to play the same roles. I guess this is far easier for a casting director with the X-Franchise's budget.

But you have to be impressed that they found two young thesps who can legitimately (or actually?) hold a candle to their older peers. And you've gotta love that the promotional material never forgets: two men in their 70s are the most exciting elements of a teen-friendly action franchise.

So the divided image tells us a lot. The casts from X-Men: First Class and from the 2000s trilogy are in this. Hugh Jackman's Weapon X/Wolverine will play a central part. The first X-Spinoff establishes that the wild man ages slowly, so this story can involve both the past and present time periods in the series.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

CinemaSins Takes on The Matrix

I love this film enough that I'm not scared to see some criticism of it. Tossing rocks at The Matrix is like turning a fireman's hose onto the Rock of Gibraltar - you're not gonna make much of a dent.

Now, the CinemaSins crew nitpicks a little too often here, but it's far easier to accept because as soon as you start getting tired, they make an observation that's just perfect. The intelligence and humor that they pour into their commentary also make up for it. This video was a treat, for me - and I hope it is for you, too.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Existenz - Cronenberg Impresses. As usual.

1999's Existenz does a fine job of setting itself up at the start. This is important, since so much of the story feels like having everything on a high shelf fall on top of you. David Cronenberg's film succeeds at being unsettling, and your enjoyment of it will depend on whether you can just go with the flow.

We open on a product focus group. Adults gather in an old church to play-test eXistenZ, the new work by famous game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ted Pikul (Jude Law) is a trainee, there to help with the setup.

Off the bat, we have no idea what world we're in. Their speech is familiar, but the video game console is a big organic blob you connect to via umbilical cords - which looks like a melted plaster mold of a woman's chest. No one is worried by this. Soon after they start, one of the audience begins to fire a freakish-looking gun. His cries sound like a religious extremist. Pikul and Geller then go on the run, but no one calls the police. So just what is going on here?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Question for the Week of May 5-11: Most Awkward "Sequel"

So you have a Blues Brothers sequel 18 years after the original with one of the leads dead and replaced by John Goodman. The Dumb & Dumber sequel is also off by at least 19 years. Tron 2.0 was pretty late to the party, as well. The less said about Indiana Jones 4, the better. And the time to create Ghostbusters III had elapsed ages ago, even before the death of Harold Ramis.

All of this is distinct from the nightmare called Prometheus, which is a prequel, and the same goes for most recent Star Wars entries. Similarly, the Star Trek, Jack Ryan, and Spider-Man franchises don't count, as they are now in reboot mode. And Godzilla doesn't count because it's a remake.

And, if you look at the pictures I mentioned above, Tron, Indy 4, and BB2k were just bad, they weren't necessarily awkward. That prize, instead, must go to Sean Connery's return to the 007 franchise in Never Say Never Again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reviewing with Others, Pt 69, sorta: Alexia Anastastio Interview

Remember when I said I've been busy lately? A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Alexia Anastasio. She's an actress, director, and artist, and I interviewed her regarding her upcoming film, Little Fishes.

Although I have to note that my voice sounds off (did I have a cold that day?), you can listen to the podcast of the interview here at Man, I Love Film.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Imposters #49: Godzilla

I critique these posters often enough - and thoroughly enough, I think - to simply be able to say that this image is f--king great. The disaster scene looks excellent - we can tell this one is set in SF, due to the Transamerica Building - with a sense of urgency. I like that this image is supposed to be a nighttime shot, but the fire makes it nearly as bright as day.

It's also a good tease, hiding the star's face like that. The view from the back is intimidating enough, all things considered, and it gives fans room to speculate (although "big-ass lizard" does limit the possibilities somewhat).

As with its size and the use of all-caps, the redness of the font feels right, although it might not have been a good match for the fire effects in this poster. I do like the way the color contrasts with the white text just below it.

I might want to see a proper tagline, or a cast/director listing, but the starkness works just fine here. In addition, it acknowledges the real star of the picture. Godzilla doesn't need to share the lead credits with anyone. I also applaud the use of the Japanese character for "Gojira" - it looks really cool.

Monday, May 5, 2014

I Know What You Did Last Summer Review

There are all sorts of subtleties when you've seen movies you call "bad." Sometimes you expected it to stink, while sometimes you're surprised it did. Some films are bad from the start, or throughout, or turn so near the end. Certain pictures fail multiple aspects of basic filmmaking, while others are competent but bland, and others still just have one fatal flaw.

Especially in the wake of Scream (god, I loved that movie), there was a strong run on studio-backed, teen-targeted slasher films. ABC, CBS, and NBC shows are usually about 20-some things or older, and the "new" networks, like Fox and The WB (later CW) got big numbers with primetime teen shows. That's why we got Nick Stahl and Katie Holmes in Disturbing Behavior, or Rebecca Gayheart and Tara Reid in Urban Legend. I Know What You Did Last Summer just happened to be the biggest disappointment.

Director Jim Gillespie's 1997 slasher/thriller actually had a lot of things going for it, hence my reaction. It was based on a 1970s novel, so it already had a publishable story outline to play with. The $17 Million budget was just fine, considering that the action-packed Aliens made do with $30-40 Mil 10 years earlier.

Was the cast stacked with the day's teen heartthrobs? Yes, but it was probably a best possible outcome situation. Hewitt can give respectable performances. I've seen three films with Prinz Jr., and he did just fine in those. Gellar can be quite solid, and Phillippe is considered a good actor by most everyone.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Imposters #48: Sabotage

Quick site note: to put up yesterday's post, I had to bump my review of I Know What You Did Last Summer from today to next Monday. But I do have a review going up the following week, for David Cronenberg's Existenz. My off-site indie film reviews, the Reviewing with Others entries, should be back up shortly, and I did an interview with a director which should also go live as podcast soon. I hope you all enjoy what's to come...

Well, there is no background to this poster at all, which would be a worse choice if the foreground itself didn't do so much of the informative work. (Seriously, where are they? Is that 2 AM at a train yard or a horse track? Or is it a freeway underpass?)

This story, judging by the image, is basically about the X-Games/MMA/Inked crowd becoming law enforcement. They have weird hair, and look like they attend at least 3 death metal concerts a week; I betcha they all have terrible hearing. Hell, in addition to all their body modifications, even their leader, Arnie, has some tattoos.