Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
REPO MAN (Dir. Alex Cox, 1984)
It doesn’t get any cult classic-ier than Alan Cox’s 1984 ode to the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles, REPO MAN. As such, I wasn’t alone to be thrilled to see it on the schedule for their great revival series Cool Classics at the Colony as the packed house proved last night.
I believe I had it on a VHS tape recorded in the fast speed so it could be crammed with a couple other movies. That tape is long gone but the movie remained in my memory as one of the funniest weird movies I had ever seen.
I was anxious to revisit REPO MAN and see if it still holds up. I downloaded the soundtrack and its beautiful but scary blend of punk - Iggy Pop who provided the title theme with tracks by the Circle Jerks, the Plugz, Fear, and Black Flag was deliriously dated but still held up. The movie is unsurprisingly the same way - Cox’s surreal story of crusty jaded repossession agents, punk rock thieves, and a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu that may contain aliens in its trunk has lost none of its crazy charm. The audience laughed heartily at the first close-up of a young Emilio Estevez as the movies protagonist Otto with his buzz cut and a crucifix earring but then they laughed at just about every other shot too.
Estevez stumbles into the repo business by way of the crotchety, but always lovable Harry Dean Stanton who is a veteran agent for the humorously named Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
“Hunter S. Thompson once said to me ‘Bruce, my boy, the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.’ Then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side.’” - Bruce Willis written by Art Linson in this damn movie.
The above quote is rejiggered from a line attributed to Thompson which has been often alternately applied to the TV, radio, music business and the corporate communications world. That this misguided movie would have Willis (playing himself) claim it was spoken directly to him is one of the many things wrong with this rightly ignored project. The title is apt for such a film with a stellar cast that appeared and disappeared in an instant last fall. For most film folks this would be a dream A-list line-up - Robert De Niro as the lead with John Turturo, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci and Robin Penn Wright then throw in Bruce Willis and Sean Penn playing themselves and you’ve struck gold, right? Not with such dreary uninvolving material mostly concerning cutting a dog getting shot in the head out of a prestige picture and 40 minutes fighting over whether Bruce Willis will shave his bushy beard before a new production.
No doubt similar dire situations in Hollywoodland happened and still happen all the time but it hardly makes for compelling cinema. A little of a gruff De Niro as a once powerful producer plagued with these problems going back and forth from one uneasy conflict to another goes a long way. The intertwined subplot about his ex-wife (Penn Wright) sleeping with Tucci tries as it might but comes nowhere near making an emotional dent. Better is Michael Wincott as the strung out British director of the Sean Penn project who gripes about his artistic integrity being compromised when the cold calculating Keener threatens to take his movie and cut it herself. Willis profanely blares about artistic integrity too, but in a more destructive manner by throwing things and berating people on the set. ‘Oh, those inflated egos’ we’re supposed to think but instead I found myself looking at my watch.
Based on Art Linson’s book of the same name (with the sub-title “Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line”) and marking a return to a smaller independent style production for Barry Levinson, WHAT JUST HAPPENED is nowhere near the great insider movies of years past (see below) unless anybody considers AN ALLAN SMITHEE FILM: BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN a classic and nobody does. It’s a shame to see De Niro and fellow ace actors tread water in a sea of industry indifference. Just like its IMDb entry, there are no memorable quotes or new lessons learned, just a lot of unpleasant exchanges between unlikable people making for a film with a charcoal soul. What just happened? Nothing worthwhile that I can think of.
As for better films about the same subject, that is movies about making movies, here are:
1. SUNSET BOULEVARD (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1950) Classics 101. Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond is truly one of the greatest screen characters of all time but with over a half a century of accolades and greatest films ever lists you don’t need me to tell you that. A film that set the precedent for dropping real names and featuring film folks play themselves (Cecil B. Demille, Buster Keaton, H.L. Warner, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper among them). The movie plays on TCM regularly so if you haven’t seen Swanson declare “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” you’re sure to get your chance soon.
2. THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1991) No less than 60
3. A STAR IS BORN (Dir. George Cukor, 1954) Actually the second remake of a 1937 film (skip the third one with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this is the ultimate ‘you meet the same people on the way up as on the way down’ morality play. Judy Garland’s career is taking off as husband James Mason finds himself on the outs turning to alcoholism and then to suicide (if that’s a Spoiler! you really ought to tend to your Netflix queue or consult the TCM schedule). A still blinding spotlight on the fickleness of fame.
4. BARTON FINK (Dir. Joel Coen, 1991) A tour de force for John Turturo as a
5. ADAPTATION (Dir. Spike Jonez, 2002)
“To begin... To begin... How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.” A peek into the writing process of Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) who has to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief” and ends up writing himself into his screenplay. Catherine Keener, John Cusack, and John Malkovich play themselves (from the set of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) while we get an abstract window into the world of a sought after screenwriter looking for more than just love from the business.
6. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008) Over the top and in your face with a fast pace and a loving embrace of literally explosive satire, Stiller put himself back on top of the comedy heap here. With one of the best ensemble casts a comedy has ever had including Jack Black, the Oscar nominated Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey and (say what?) Tom Cruise as a crude bald pudgy hip hop dancing movie executive, we’ve got a crew well versed in tweaking the business that broke them. There are hundreds of zingers in this mad making of a film within a film but maybe Danny McBride as an explosive engineer spouting off as he rigs a bridge in the jungle is one of the best: “That’s it! I’m going into catering after this!”
7. POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1990) Another tale of a career in movies that has hit the skids, but given a hip post modern cynical spin by Carrie Fisher who adapted her semi-autobiographical book. Not soon after leaving rehab Meryl Streep as actress Suzanne Vale exclaims “Thanks GOD I got sober now so I can be hyper-conscious for this series of humiliations!” This is after finding out a new beau (Dennis Quaid) is cheating on her, which is on top of over hearing people on the set talking about how much weight she’s gained. These worries pale compared to having to live with mother Shirley MacLaine (also a former actress based on Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds). MacLaine asks her daughter: “I was such an awful mother... what if you had a mother like Joan Crawford or Lana Turner?” Streep deadpans: “These are the options? You, Joan or Lana?” The funny side to growing up famous with a song sung by Streep to boot (“I'm Checkin’ Out” by Shel Silverstein).
8. THE BIG PICTURE (Dir. Christopher Guest, 1989) The forgotten Christopher Guest film. Pity too, because there’s a lot of wit to spare in this send up featuring Kevin Bacon as a fresh out of film school director whose first film gets compromised at every turn. A crack cast surrounds Bacon including frequent Guest collaborator Michael McKean (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Terri Hatcher, and the late great J.T. Walsh as stoic but still sleazy studio head Alan Habel. Best though is Martin Short as Bacon’s slimy permed agent Neil Sussman: “I don’t know you. I don’t know your work. But I think you are a genius. And I am never wrong about that.” Look for cameos by Elliot Gould, John Cleese, and Eddie Albert as well as a Spinal Tap-ish song by a band named Pez People (“The Whites of Their Eyes” written and performed by Guest/McKean).
9. S.O.B. (Dir. Blake Edwards, 1981)
Despite trying to peddle ersatz post Sellers expiration date Pink Panther movies at the time, Edwards showed he still had some bite left in a few juicy farces – 10, VICTOR VICTORIA and this vulgar but saucy satire. The later concerns a film within the film that flops so film maker Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) decides to re-shoot the family film as a R-rated romp with wife Julie Andrews (Edwards’ real life wife) going topless. A lot of this comical exposé of desperate sordid behavior in the movie business went over my head when I saw it as a kid but a recent viewing got me up to speed. Another fine ensemble cast alongside Mulligan and Andrews – Robert Vaughn, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Robert Webber, Robert Preston (lots of Roberts!), and it was William Holden’s last film (shout out to #1 on this list).
10. BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999) Many folks despise this campy comic caper of a film maker and his crew making a film (another film within a film plot) with an action star who doesn’t know he’s in the movie but I think it’s Steve Martin’s last great movie. Eddie Murphy’s too if you don’t count his extended glorified cameo in DREAMGIRLS. As Robert K. Bowfinger, Martin channels his old wild and crazy guy persona into a snake oil salesman of a wannabe movie mogul. Heather Graham (playing an aspiring sleeping her way to the top starlet that many thought was based on one time Martin flame Anne Heche), Robert Downey Jr., Christine Baranski, and Terrance Stamp are all along for the ride.
Okay! I was purposely skipping biopics or other movies that are based on true stories so don’t be complaining about ED WOOD or CHAPLIN not making the cut. There were a few close calls - LIVING IN OBLIVION and MOVERS & SHAKERS among them. Are there any other
Friday, March 06, 2009
Monday, March 02, 2009
Ah, the art of the snark. In his blog not long ago, Roger Ebert wrote a brilliant breakdown of the current over-proliferation of snarking in the press (“Hunt not the Snark but the Snarker” - February 25th, 2009). After calling it “cultural vandalism” he chided writers such as
After upsetting a posh party with a pig he claims is Babe from BABE 2, Pegg is hired by the editor of Sharp’s magazine (Jeff Bridges again in very un-Dude territory). Pegg and the magazine, based on Vanity Fair, are an uneasy fit as he insults everybody in sight especially an extremely miscast Kirsten Dunst who bases her entire performance on constant eye-rolls (oh, was that too snarky?). Pegg has 2 goals – to get ahead at the magazine no matter what it takes and to bed a model/starlet played by Megan Fox. He has to contend with Fox’s powerful publicist (Gillian Anderson) and an asshole boss (Danny Houston) as we have to contend with his unlikable unctuousness while the predictable plot goes through the motions.
This is the kind of film that doles out such beaten to death comic clichés as a transsexual that fools the leading man and a small dog getting crushed (see A FISH CALLED WANDA for how to deal with this better). Pegg, who can lift even a lightweight rom com like RUN FATBOY RUN above total mediocrity, here is helpless to save this material. Bridges sums up Pegg’s character’s sense of humor in their first interview scene as: “snarky, bitter, and witless.” That sums up the movie as well; it mistakes snarky for funny over and over again. But if the joke that Pegg wore a bright red t-shirt that said “young, dumb and full of come” to the interview makes you laugh then this might be the movie for you. As for me, this film lost and alienated me, but I know I’m probably the millionth snarky movie
blogger to say that.
FLASH OF GENIUS (Dir. Mark Abraham, 2008)
“You’ll never look at a windshield wiper the same way again” could be the tagline for this biopic of frustrated inventor Robert Kearns.
There’s a big heart here but the obsessed man alienates the world around him to plead his life’s case formula is adhered to way too strictly. I knew nothing of the real life story here but because I’ve been schooled in the scenario, from Jimmy Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON to Richard Dreyfuss in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I knew exactly what to expect in terms of the plot-point highs and lows. But I bet most people would watch this and just know it's going to end in a climatic court scene, you know? Still, it is an interesting story told well with solid performances by Kinnear, Graham, Dermot Mulroney as a subtle backstabbing colleague, and most notably Alan Alda as a crusty but suave lawyer who advices our hero to settle. FLASH OF GENIUS is an earnest and straight forward effort that will surely fall in line with other inventor-done-wrong-by-the-system biopic ilk (TUCKER, anybody?) some night in the future on The History Channel. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know, but it’s the best I can do for this fair film.
BOTTLE SHOCK (Dir. Randall Miller, 2008)
As another period piece true story that I was unaware of, (hey, that’s why they makes these movies!), this film delivers a case study of how
The best thing about this film is its cinematography. The film makers were obviously in love with the
MY NAME IS BRUCE (Dir. Bruce Campbell, 2007)
“Getting you laid is hard enough without having to explain the whole Bruce Campbell factor” says one scruffy teenager (Logan Martin) to another (Taylor Sharpe) at the beginning of this low budget “comedy horror” (as Campbell himself calls it) film. This sarcastic kid taunts his friend by going through a stack of DVDs (for some reason he has in his car) reeling off their titles – “Death Of The Dead”, “Maniac Cop”, “Moonwarp”, “Man With The Screaming Brain”, “Alien Apolcalypse”, and so on - I seriously don’t know which of these is real or fake but I’ll get around to IMDbing it. Not being able to take his buddy’s abuse anymore, Sharpe hits the brakes screeching his vehicle to a halt and exclaims “Bruce Campbell is the greatest actor of his generation!” Martin replies: “Dude, forget thumbs, Ebert wouldn’t wipe his crack with this trash!” He does however concede “I kinda liked BUBBA HO TEP.” Sharpe: “*Everyone* liked BUBBA HO-TEP!” This is a nice self mocking intro to an entire movie of self mockery but if you haven’t seen EVIL DEAD (or any of its sequels) and had no idea who that odd square jawed guy was in small but vital parts of all 3 SPIDERMAN movies, then this movie wasn’t made for you.
It’s a movie for Bruce Campbell fans exclusively, made by a Bruce Campbell fan – namely Bruce Campbell. Like the in-joke precedent set by Ricky Gervais’ Extras, Campbell plays an exaggerated version of himself. He’s a heavy drinker that bitches at gofers on the set of a sci-fi cheapie named “Cavealiens” when his lemon water isn’t cold enough (actually its one literally pissed off gofer’s urine) and, of course, he has an ex-wife who he calls at 3:00AM from the floor of his back woods trailer. Yes, these are all obvious joke clichés about a “big ass, self obsessed movie star” (as wooden love interest Grace Thorsen says) but that’s the point you see. The premise is that a small town named Gold Lick (that’s right) is tormented by a Chinese war diety called Guan Di and they call upon
* With apologies to the Onion A.V. Club.