Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
- Don Draper (Jon Hamm) Mad Men (AMC Original Series 2007)
Got some recent moviegoing to babble 'bout so let's get at it :
3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold, 2007) I don’t want to spend much of this review addressing the state of the modern Western – I’ll just say that it’s a genre that will never die (see Deadwood and the upcoming THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES). Those prematurely eulogizing it are discounting the allure of that period of history - tales with a backdrop of a lawless land that stretches to infinity will always be told. The tale told in James Mangold’s (WALK THE LINE) 3:10 TO YUMA is told very well – especially for a remake. I haven’t seen the original so I can’t compare but reasonably I am very skeptical about remakes so I was pleasantly surprised at how strong a movie this was. Christian Bale plays a down on his luck rancher who takes on the daunting task of transporting a villainous fast drawing outlaw (Russell Crowe) across country. The film’s title is their destination – a scheduled train with a prison car that will supposedly take Crowe to be tried and hung.
Obstacles aplenty surround Bale and his posse (including a wonderfully grizzled Peter Fonda) – Crowe’s murderous gang close behind set on freeing him, dangerous Indian territory, and the conniving overly confident Crowe himself. As Ben Wade –you’ll know him from the trail of the dead – Crowe does a career best performance. He perfects the kind of evil man who laughs through bloody teeth when being punched in the face, quotes ominous Bible passages, and never flickers for an instant in any hostile predicament. As an actor though he’s surely met his match with Christian Bale. Adding another sharp intense performance to an incredibly impressive roster, Bale really shines and should be rewarded come Oscar time. Far more than a genre exercise or a modernized re-imagining – 3:10 TO YUMA is one of the best films of the year. So forget about all the “death of the Western” diatribes and just savor the scenery.
2 DAYS IN PARIS (Dir. Julie Delphy, 2007) Looks at a distance like another BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET love story travelogue but a closer look reveals that Delphy's directorial debut is fairly removed from those chatfests. Of course there is considerable Richard Linklater influence in the dialogue and use of tracking shots but there is an offbeat dynamic that is all Delphy. The premise is simple - a couple (Delphy, Adam Goldberg) spend a few days in the city of love during what appears to be a rough patch in their 2 year old relationship. She's a photographer; he's an interior decorator though during this trip he's the one taking pictures - a lot of pictures. They seem to run into a former lover of Delphy's at every turn which makes the already extremely neurotic Goldberg's heavily tatooed skin crawl. Goldberg's Woody Allenesque asides provide the humor throughout especially in one of the best scenes - a dinner with Delphy's real-life parents (Albert Delphy & Marie Pillet). Some funny affecting moments but maybe would've worked better as a short film - even at 96 minutes it feels a bit drawn out. Better yet - condense the best moments from 2 DAYS IN PARIS into a montage and it would've made a kick ass segment of PARIS JE T'AIME! Nah, I'm just blogging out of my ass - Delphy's film may be only fair but as a first time effort it's on the good end of fair.
FILM BABBLE DVD PICK OF THE MONTH
ACE IN THE HOLE * (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1951) It's amazing that Wilder's follow-up to the inarguable classic SUNSET BLVD. has been missing in action (never available on home video until now) and undocumented for so many years. I've picked up movie guides from the last decade that didn't have a listing for it (not even in Wilder's filmography!) and when I've mentioned it to my other film buff friends it got no recognition. Well, this spiffy new Criterion collection edition should change all that. Kirk Douglas stars as a wild-eyed hard drinking newspaper man who arrives in Albuquerque, New Mexico to revive his troubled career. Stopping at a trading post on the way to a rattlesnake hunt he hears of a man (Paul Benedict) trapped in a mine because of a cave collapse. He milks the story for all its worth even delaying the man's rescue and it becomes the definition - possibly where the phrase came from - of a media circus. With Douglas at his most intensely vicious and Wilder's gloriously cynical but insightful script - it's so nice that this film comes back to bite us on the ass and show us how little has changed. After watching it I turned off the DVD player to see pundit after pundit espouse about the latest O.J. caper on cable. Hard to look at that pointless blather the same way again after seeing ACE IN THE HOLE. You can't get a higher film babble recommendation than this.
* After its original poorly received release the film was re-titled THE BIG CARNIVAL and re-released. Apparently this didn't help - the film was still deemed too dark and it failed to gain an audience. Until now...
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
WILD HOGS (Dir. Walt Becker, 2007)
In the last few years there has been much op-ed piece and pundit speak about whether movie critics really matter any more. If we judge solely by the case of WILD HOGS the answer is a deafening “Hell NO!”
And boy was it! Another depressed yuppies take to the road in an attempt to re-boot their stale lives – it's CITY SLICKERS get their GROOVE BACK by way of EASY RIDER and LOST IN AMERICA.
Post Note: There has been much speculation that a significant percentage of the gross of WILD HOGS was from teenagers who bought tickets to it and then attended 300 but that doesn't explain the DVD and download numbers. Maybe it's a Red States thing.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Costello has done many bit parts in films and TV since the late 70's. His first was as Earl Manchester in AMERICATHON - a barely seen 1979 John Ritter comedy. Appearances followed in likewise obscure works like the British one seasoner sitcom Scully, as inept magician Rosco de Ville in the film NO SURRENDER (both by Alan Bleasdale), and rounding his '80's acting oeuvre out was a cameo as Hives the Butler in Alex Cox's (REPO MAN) odd thin-tie punk opus STRAIGHT TO HELL which had a bevy of cult musicians in small parts (Joe Strummer, Courtyney Love, members of the Pogues and Circle Jerks, etc.) These appearances were way under the radar mind you, Costello was heading towards the mainstream in the 90's starting with:The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, 1992-1998) Garry Shandling's satirical talk-show within-a-show featured just about everybody in the business doing exaggerated versions of themselves and Costello was no exception. He appeared first in an episode in the third season - "People's Choice" (aired: 7/20/94). In one of his long time backing band's (the Attractions) last TV appearances, Costello performs "13 Steps Lead Down" complete with "Radio Radio" coda before storming out of the studio leaving a trashed dressing room behind in reaction to bad back stage treatment. The next appearance in "Everybody Loves Larry" (aired: 11/13/96) - also titled "Duchovny's Crush - Hank's Lemon" - involves Elvis selling a supposed classic car to Sanders' co-host Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) which turns out to be a lemon - man, I love stating the obvious. While he performs a beautiful solo acoustic "Little Atoms" from "All This Useless Beauty", Hank dons glasses in a weak attempt to mock Costello. SPICEWORLD (Dir. Bob Spiers, 1997) I've already written about this cameo before in the post "20 Great Modern Movie Cameos" - so I won't go on about it again.
AUSTIN POWERS : THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (Dir. Jay Roach, 1999)
Saturday, September 08, 2007
As it has been well reported all over the internets the soon-to-be released ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Dir. Julie Taymor, 2007) is fully comprised of Beatles music - all cover versions sung by the actors who all have names (Jude, Lucy, Lovely Rita, Jo Jo, Sadie, etc. - wait where's Michelle?) based on Beatles songs in scenes thematically suggested by Beatles material - yep, the Fab Four through and through. I know Beatle fans who are opposed to the project - and yeah it looks like it could be cringe-inducingly cheesy but I'll reserve judgement for now. In the meantime let's take a look at the Beatles music as it has appeared in soundtracks in the almost 40 years since they disbanded.
The catalogue is mostly owned by Michael Jackson who after famously outbidding Paul McCartney for ownership of ATV Music Publishing in 1985 has angered hoards of Beatle purists time and time again. First with his licensing of "Revolution" for the Nike spots of the late 80's and most recently for the currently running "All You Need Is Love" Luvs diaper ads.
SHAMPOO (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1975) Set in 1968 with a soundtrack full of 60's gold (Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel) 2 major Beatles tracks appear - “Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. I guess the rights weren't as expensive pre-Jackson era. Either that or Warren Beatty and Hal Ashby had more clout than previously believed. Check out this Shampoo Montage somebody made on YouTube to get some of the flavor of said film.
I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (Dir. Robert Zemekis, 1978) There's more than a little of that coming-of-age in a single day AMERICAN GRAFFITI thing going on here. With the premise that the single day in question is February 9th, 1964 - the Beatles' Ed Sullivan American TV debut. An ensemble cast of teenage fans (including Nancy Allen, Wendie Jo Sperber, Bobby Di Cicco and Marc McClure) all scheme to get into CBS-TV Studio 50 to see the historic broadcast. The soundtrack of the film contains 17 Beatles songs (including "She Loves You" twice) and since, of course, none of the actual Beatles were involved - stand-ins were used as Wikipedia best puts it:
"Stand-in Beatle-look alike doubles, dressed in identical attire and holding the same type of musical instruments in a similar manner, were seen mimicking the group's performance of the song from that show while being shown on the stage floor, albeit from a distance so as not to see their identities, while the actual footage of The Beatles on The Sullivan Show of 02/09/1964 was revealed from the camera operator's point-of-view. These two elements were combined together, along with reactions from the studio audience to recreate a brilliant moment in time."
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (Dir. George Roy Hill, 1982) In the opening credit sequence as "When I'm 64" plays a baby is bounced upwards into the clear blue sky in slow motion. McCartney's soothing nursery rhyme vocal is perfectly suited here to the baby's (Infant Garp credited to Brandon Roth - not to be confused with Brandon Routh - the new Superman) happy expressions. This may be the best and most original scene in the canon of Beatles-synched cinema. But, wait what about:
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986) After somehow commandeering a parade float in downtown Chicago to lip synch to Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" Ferris (Matthew Broderick) gets down to the Beatles cover of Phil Medley and Bert Russell's immortal "Twist And Shout". The entire crowd dances as a marching band provides horns that weren't on the original recording. Despite the fact the song re-entered the charts at #21 that summer (also because of its use in the Rodney Dangerfield college comedy BACK TO SCHOOL) McCartney criticized the addition of horns to the track. Pretty picky Sir Paul - I mean it was a parade!
WITHNAIL & I (Dir. Bruce Robinson, 1987) Now is a good time to bring up George Harrison's Handmade Films. Formed in the late 70's to back Python related projects, Handmade made a handfull of interesting films in the 80's and 90's. One of the best was WITHNAIL & I - a hilarious cult classic mostly taking place around a country cottage with Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann at their tawdry best. At one point a portion of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is heard - it's safe to assume that since George was one of the producers it seems like this was probably given some kind of significant discount.
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (Dir. Michael Moore, 2002) Can see why Moore would pay the extra buck to get the original song - no other would do the same job. As I wrote in a post about Moore's movies as a baby-boomer era hit song "The Beatles' 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun' made an obvious point". Lennon's vicious vocal snarls in such a manner that benefits a montage of kids with guns, a blind man with an assault rifle, and a smattering of public execution-style killings.
Some Other Honorable Mentions in the Beatles Music in the Movies Sweepstakes:
COMING HOME (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1978) - "Hey Jude" and "Strawberry Fields Forever".
MASK (Dir. Peter Bogdanavich, 1985) Although the soundtrack in this under rated biopic about Roy L. "Rocky" Denis (played by Eric Stoltz) who suffered from a cranial enlargening disease was dominated by Americana like Springsteen, Bob Seger, Gary U.S. Bonds, and even 4 Little Richard songs - there were 2 seminal Beatles standards present - "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Girl".
FIVE CORNERS (Dir. Tony Bill, 1987) "In My Life" plays during the end credits - again, Harrison's Handmade hook-up helped out. He was executive producer to be more exact.
PRICK UP YOUR EARS (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1987) - "A Day in the Life."
CAN'T BUY ME LOVE (Dir. Steve Rash, 1987) Can't remember what song was featured in this one but man I bet it was effective!
A BRONX TALE (Dir. Robert Deniro, 1993) An impressive - obviously Scorsese influenced (as if that's a bad thing) soundtrack to Deniro's directorial debut includes the Kinks, Wilson Pickett, Miles Davis, various Rat Packers, etc. But the inclusion of the original "Come Together" gives it full cinematic cred.
So - that's all for now. One day I'll get around to the Beatles covers in the movies - especially since ACROSS THE UNIVERSE adds to the universe of soundtracks full of Beatles covers like the infamous flop - SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (I've given many shout outs to Nathan Rabin of the AV Club's Year Of Flops series but particularly his entry on Sgt. Pepper's should not be ignored) and I AM SAM - a horrible movie but a good Beatles cover oriented soundtrack all the same.