Saturday, January 30, 2010

Miramax Folds

After its 30-plus year run, Miramax studios has officially shut down and will be consolidated into its parent company, Walt Disney Studios. The studio, an instrumental force in increasing the visibility of independent film, was headed by the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, for the majority of its existence until they split to form The Weinstein Company a few years back. Although controversially run at times (chronicled in Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind), Miramax certainly brought out a great deal of talent over the years. Without it, we wouldn't know the names Tarantino, Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, and many others who were given their start at the studio. I suppose this news shouldn't come as much of a surprise since many of the "specialty" studios have folded in the past couple of years. Still, it's certainly the end of an era.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mini-Review: The Reivers

Among Steve McQueen's filmography, The Reivers probably isn't the first film people recall - maybe not even the tenth or fifteenth - but this coming-of-age tale certainly contains enough to make a worthwhile viewing. Set in the early 1900's, The Reivers centers on an eleven-year-old boy named Lucius and the wild journey he undergoes. His grandfather, simply known as The Boss, buys the first automobile the town has ever seen, which becomes the catalyst for mischief when Boon (McQueen) decides he and Lucius should "borrow" the car for a little trip. Along for the ride is Ned, a cousin of Lucius', as they head to Memphis.

It's a good-natured film, although nothing remarkable. As a road movie the story becomes somewhat episodic at times as the trio travel along. They run into some trouble of course, although you never really believe they won't make their way out of it. A few of the plot devices seemed contrived and left me wondering why they were included. Ultimately, I could overlook those issues, but they did bring the film down a bit for me. As far as the acting, McQueen does his usual thing as the cool troublemaker and the supporting cast holds up just fine. I was impressed with Mitch Vogel as Lucius. Many child actors from this era simply don't compare to the talent of their adult co-stars, but this kid performed admirably. The whole film essentially hinges on his character as he begins the transition into manhood. By the end of the film, I felt that he had changed. The score, an early one from John Williams, sets an energetic tone to the proceedings and represents one of the film's strengths. After watching the film I discovered Williams even received one of his first Oscar nominations for his efforts.

That's essentially all I have to say about the film. It's a decent ride, but I doubt that I'll feel the need/want to revisit it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

For Your Consideration - Danger: Diabolik

Danger: Diabolik represents one of those gloriously fun 60's films that, while maintaining its loyal band of followers, is still criminally under-seen. It's considered one of the first films based on a comic book and, arguably, one of the most faithful adaptations of a comic-turned-film. The story centers on master thief Diabolik who steals from the rich if only for the thrill. He gives all that he steals to his girl Eva and relishes the opportunity for new challenges. Of course, the authorities attempt to catch him using all their resources. Directed by Mario Bava, Danger: Diabolik makes a great companion to the spy films of its era while also maintaining its own unique style and humor.

I considered writing my own review for this film, but after viewing the following video review, I would only be repeating/stealing from it. Danger: Diabolik is such a visual film that it really needs a video review to do it justice. So, here's a review from Jay Cheel at Filmjunk. Enjoy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fox Looks to Carve Things Up with Machete

Back in 2007, the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez directed flick Grindhouse contained a series of fake trailers in an effort to enhance the "grindhouse" experience. Many viewers thought of these trailers as one of the highlights of the film, which led to a plethora of copycat trailers online. Now, one of those fake trailers, Machete, has taken on a life of its own and become a very real film. Independently financed, Machete recently sparked a bidding war between six studios for domestic distribution. Fox ultimately won out, guaranteeing the film a wide release and Rodriguez a production deal.

If you've seen the trailer from Grindhouse, then you basically know the story. A Mexican ex-Federale known as Machate is hired to take out a senator, only to discover he's been set up by his employers when he's shot and nearly killed. Vowing vengeance, Machete begins a reign of terror that won't soon be forgotten. This tale of revenge features a tagline that pretty much sums things up: They just f***ed with the wrong Mexican!

Without seeing any footage yet, I can safely say that Machete promises to be one of the most unique movie-going experiences this year. I count myself a fan of Rodriguez' silly, ultra-violent films. Although they may lack the substance his pal Tarantino provides, Rodriguez' projects promise a fun time, provided you're in the right frame of mind. Machete's eclectic cast alone makes this one worth the wait. With the likes of Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Alba, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Rose McGowan, and Danny Trejo (always awesome) as the titular Machete, I can't help but wonder what drew them in to such a crazy project. I'm sure we'll find out more as the release date draws closer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

New (Family-Friendly!?) Project for Scorsese

Martin Scorsese, now 67, is staying as busy as ever with many projects in development. Today, we receive word that his next film will be an adaptation of the children's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This news may sound surprising, although apparently Scorsese acquired the rights to the book some time ago. The story takes place in France during the 1930's, centering on a boy who lives at a train station. When he stumbles upon a defunct robot, the boy attempts tirelessly to repair it. The book has become quite the hot property since it's 2007 release, winning a Randolph Caldecott Medal as well as being sought after by many for a film adaptation. With Scorsese winning out on the directing honors, many people may question why he's chosen such a project. For me, the news comes not as an unlikely choice in material so much as another entry into an already varied career.

One of the most admirable aspects of Scorsese's filmography is it's diversity. I'm sure that when most people think of his films, they center on the gangster stories, but there are plenty of other projects. From the period piece The Age of Innocence to the slice-of-life drama about a struggling single-mother Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, along with his many documentaries, Scorsese has covered many genres. With that in mind, this still counts as fresh ground for the auteur director. I can only imagine what a child-centered, sci-fi/fantasy from Scorsese will look like. Certainly, any new project that the man tackles will catch my attention and I'll anticipate it thoroughly. The Invention of Hugo Cabret begins filming in June, so hopefully some casting choices will appear soon.

Meanwhile, Scorsese's latest film Shutter Island will open next month, which will offer us his first narrative feature since The Departed. It's probably my first big anticipated film of the year, so look for more posts on that as the release date approaches.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Couple Awards Show Highlights

Since we're deep into awards season now, I thought I'd share a couple of cool moments from some of the ceremonies.

First, here's a unique clip courtesy of director Wes Anderson as he accepts his award for “Special Achievement in Film Making” from the National Board of Review. As opposed to accepting the award in the usual fashion, Anderson had a special stop-motion video made in the style of his film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. The video highlights the same sly charm that the film contains, while also providing a welcome change of pace. Anderson continues to be a class-act.

Watch the video here:

Secondly, from the Golden Globes this past weekend, Martin Scorsese received a Cecil B. DeMille Award for his accomplished career as a director and film preservationist. It's always great to see Scorsese receive some recognition for his work and he certainly deserves it. Before the acceptance speech, a montage of his work played to the crowd. It's a nicely put together piece, featuring clips from almost everything he's done.

Watch the video here:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MacGruber Trailer

It's been a long time since the last SNL spin-off movie; about a decade, in fact. Now, we're getting a MacGruber movie from Lorne Michaels and company. Hmm, I'm really not sure about this idea. Are the MacGruber sketches really the best idea for a film? SNL movies have been so hit or miss over the years. On the upside, they've produced comedy classics like The Blues Brothers, but on the downside, there's the likes of The Coneheads or Superstar. On the whole, I think they've acquired a lackluster reputation. Taking a one-joke skit like MacGruber and turning it into a feature-length film sounds like another half-baked idea, but who knows, it could turn out as a pleasant surprise.
After watching the new red-band trailer for the film, I'm not exactly sold on the concept, but I'm open to see more of what it has to offer, if anything. MacGruber certainly has some talented people involved (I'm liking Val Kilmer as the villain), so let's hope that they don't go to waste.
MacGruber hits theaters on April 23 and stars Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillipe, and Val Kilmer. Watch the trailer here:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Countdown to the Globes

Tomorrow the Golden Globes, arguably Hollywood's second biggest awards show, will take place and, as usual, I'm playing my never-ending game of catch-up on the nominated films. Luckily some of last year's films are making their debut on DVD, so it shouldn't be too long before I hunt them down. Despite my lack of films seen, I'll still enjoy watching the ceremony. The Globes are typically a bit looser than other awards shows (I think because the guests are allowed to drink), which makes for some entertaining moments. I'm also looking forward to Ricky Gervais hosting since he usually shakes things up more than most hosts.

I'm not the greatest at predicting winners and this year should prove even more difficult. Many of the categories feature no clear front-runners so far as I can tell. Christolph Waltz seems like a lock for Best Supporting Actor and Mo'Nique has received many other accolades for Best Supporting Actress. Other than that, it's hard to say who will win. And, again, since I haven't seen many of the films yet, it's difficult to have much investment in who/what I'd like to see win.

As for the films I have seen, I'll be rooting for Inglourious Basterds to win in its respective categories, as well as Fantastic Mr. Fox for Best Animated Feature. Aside from that, I'll just be looking forward to the Oscar nominations, which should be announced in the near future.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Former SNL Cast Members Who Need a Comeback

Many SNL cast members have led successful careers after they’ve left the show. Some even become more popular once they "go Hollywood". But like many other professions, there are peaks and valleys – hurdles to overcome. Some handle and maintain the transition better than others. The following list represents those people who have stumbled along the way. It’s not meant to insult, as I want nothing more than to see these people succeed once again.

Mike Myers
This guy has created some great characters and produced hilarious films from them. People will continue to reference and quote from Austin Powers and Wayne’s World for years to come. However, times are pretty tough for him these days. After flops like The Cat in the Hat and The Love Guru, as well as the diminishing returns of the Shrek series, Myers could use a shot in the arm. Wishful thinking would lead me to say that his cameo appearance in Inglourious Basterds this past year could be a start in the right direction. Still, there’s a long way to go before he could regain his former success.

Norm MacDonald
I’ve always been a big fan of Norm MacDonald. I’d go so far as saying his days at the Weekend Update desk represent some of the funniest material from the mid-90s. His career didn’t take off the way it could have after SNL, despite some good opportunities. Norm had at least a couple of TV shows that ultimately failed to find an audience and starring vehicle films like Dirty Work and Screwed which suffered the same fate. Still, whenever he pops up on a talk show, I have to tune in. Hopefully he can piggyback off some of his old SNL buddies like Sandler and return closer to the limelight.

Eddie Murphy
For this one, I’d like to address Mr. Murphy directly:
What happened, Eddie? You starred in some of the best comedies of the 80’s and then proceeded to make complete crap. Holy Man? The Adventures of Pluto Nash? I Spy? Daddy Day Camp? I just don’t know if there’s any hope left, honestly. Even after your Academy Award nomination for Dreamgirls, you went strait back to your stale bag of tricks. Seriously, what happened? Yours is the most frustrating career to follow. There was so much early promise that has ultimately led us all down a dark road from which we almost certainly cannot return. (Sigh)

Are there any other former cast members who deserve a comeback?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tough Viewing

A while back I posted a list of “shamefully unseen” films – a list that I’ve been working to shorten. One of the films from that list was Leaving Las Vegas (1995), a dark drama starring Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue. The film’s story centers on a formerly successful writer whose life has taken a turn for the worse. He decides to travel to Las Vegas and, once there, drink himself to death. Sounds cheery, right?

I’ve always been curious to watch this film, mostly because it contains the role for which Nicolas Cage won his Academy Award. After viewing the film, I can say that both he and Elizabeth Shue delivered fine performances, earning every accolade they received. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Leaving Las Vegas is a difficult film to watch. You feel so sorry for the characters and what their lives have been reduced to that the experience of watching them becomes extremely uncomfortable at times. But that’s not meant as a negative on the film, necessarily. Films that challenge their viewers shouldn’t be neglected or shoved aside. Instead, they should be examined for what they are and what they attempt to accomplish. Sure, there are many other, more pleasant films to enjoy, but films like Leaving Las Vegas provide a singular experience. Perhaps that experience isn’t one that people would want to revisit, but I think that it’s worth some consideration. If nothing else, the performances demand to be seen. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the film to many people, but for those willing to take the journey, Leaving Las Vegas presents a challenge.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Spider-Man 4 Dead

After some troubles in development, it looks like Sam Raimi has decided to leave Spider-Man 4. As opposed to moving forward on the film, Sony has decided to end the series of films altogether and plan for a reboot instead. That's right, Sony will redo a series that began less than a decade ago. There's no word yet on who will replace Raimi or any of the cast, although plans are set for a 2012 release.

The fact that Sony will go ahead and reboot this series seems pretty odd and unnecessary at this point. Do we really need to see the Spider-Man origin story retold? Oh well, more money for the studio, I guess. On the flipside, I'm kind of glad that Sam Raimi is now free to take on some new projects. His Drag Me to Hell last year was a delightful romp that I would like to see more of.

So, we'll see how this whole situation pans out, but for now that's the situation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Haiku Reviews

I've decided to try my hand at writing some haiku reviews. It's been an interesting experiment, especially since I'm not overly familiar with this style of writing. The process was kind of fun though, so I may attempt it again sometime.
What follows are a few of my more recent viewings basically given a description and/or review.

The Bridges of Madison County
Melancholy sadness
From a few days of heaven
Drive a twosome's souls

The Mouse That Roared
Madcap situations
Result from Seller’s antics
A crazy world indeed

The Princess and the Frog
Disney goes 2-D
A refreshing sight to see
Adolescent fun

The Abyss
Secret deep sea threat
Become’s Cameron’s interest
Out of world result

Try making one of your own!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rewatching a Classic: F for Fake

Out of the stack of DVDs I received at Christmas, I decided to rewatch Orson Welles' last completed film, F for Fake. Though often described as a documentary for lack of a better word, the film really acts as a cinematic essay. Although ostensibly about the nature of fakery and deception, F for Fake covers much more ground - from the nature of art to life in general. It's a fascinating watch that fittingly sums up many elements of Welles' career. Edited in a fast-paced style - years ahead of its time - the film is jam-packed with content, essentially requiring more than one viewing. Fortunately, this is a film that I will enjoy coming back to many more times, drawing new details and impressions. When people talk about Orson Welles, so many times the conversation ends with Citizen Kane, but the man had a rich career worth looking into.
I could write much more on this film (and maybe I will at some point), but for now I'll just say that F for Fake is well worth people's time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sam Mendes in Talks for Bond 23

Well, I certainly wouldn't have predicted this choice, but apparently Sam Mendes (director of American Beauty, Jarhead, etc.) has been in talks with the Bond producers to helm the next installment of the celebrated spy series. If he does end up in the director's chair, it would be the second Bond film in a row to feature a mainstream director - and an Academy Award winner at that - after 2008's Quantam of Solace had Marc Forster heading production. This seems like an odd tread, but one that I'm open to. Both Forster and Mendes are directors who have switched comfortably from genre to genre, so watching their efforts on a big-budget adventure film seem intriguing. Production on the film could start as early as June, setting up a 2011 release.

Other than that, not much is known about the film, but that's pretty common with Bond films. I'm sure we won't even be getting a title until well into the future. Of course Daniel Craig is set to return, as well as Judi Dench. I'll keep an eye out for more news as it becomes available.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Exploring the Unknown

For whatever the reason, I never had an interest in Star Trek growing up. Of course, no matter who you are, you can’t avoid the constant references the series receives in other films, TV shows, books, etc. As a result, I’ve always maintained a basic knowledge of the franchise. But, it just didn’t grab me. I guess by the time I discovered Star Wars it became my sci-fi franchise of choice and I stuck by it, blindly leaving no room for other series to enter my life. Consequently, I never bothered watching a single movie or TV episode involving the Trek series. In fact, it almost became a point of pride for me that I hadn’t seen anything Star Trek related. As I got older, I realized this position really made no sense. It seemed narrow-minded to not give it a try. Still, I was apprehensive about viewing any Trek material simply because there’s so much of it. Luckily for me, J. J. Abrams decided to reboot the franchise entirely with last summer’s Star Trek.

With the new film released and receiving favorable reviews, I knew this was my opportunity to finally see what all the fuss was about. Still, I missed the film in theaters as it wasn’t a high enough priority at the time. So I ended up waiting until the DVD release when I watched it with some family members. Now, I’m going to write something that I wouldn’t have thought possible, say, ten years ago: I enjoyed Star Trek. That’s right; I thought the film was solid entertainment all around. And, not only that, I look forward to seeing what Abrams and Co. will do with the sequel. The possibilities are essentially endless. While I won’t go into a “review” of the film here, I’ll simply say that it was exactly what a summer blockbuster film should be: a fun, exciting, spectacle that will appeal to many viewers.

Star Trek represented one of my few big biases in the movie world and I’m glad to be rid of it. I try to maintain an open mind for any film I decide to watch and I’m thankful I did once I finally saw this one. I’m still not sure if I’ll go back and watch the older films and TV shows, but I’m more open to the idea than I’ve ever been previously. Watching the new Star Trek was a great way to start off the new decade as it represented something new for me, a kind of fresh start. We can all use that every now and then.