Sunday, January 28, 2007

Review To A Kill & 5 R-Rated Moments In PG AND G Rated Movies That Slipped Past The MCAA

“It's not really happening. It's a movie, and it's called acting.” - Dakota Fanning talking about her new film HOUNDDOG Okay, I got some DVD reviews and some babble 'bout R rated moments in G and PG rated movies so let's get started.


FACTOTUM (Dir. Bent Hammer, 2005) 

One of my favorite movies is BARFLY (incidently it's out of print on DVD - used copies sell for $89.95 - $200 on Amazon) in which Mickey Rourke portrayed Charles Bukowski's alter ego Henry Chimalski - a definitive movie drunk, a pouty poet, and an all around unemployable schlub. Well Chimalski is back, this time a splotchy-faced and cranky Matt Dillon fills his shoes. Dillon's take on the character is edgier with less of the humour than Rourke's but he's still the same schlub. 

Dealing mostly with the series of jobs Chimalski can't keep and interspersed with the destructive relationships (Lili Taylor, Marissa Tomai) he can't get a handle on, FACTOTUM doesn't have much of a plot but it does actually have a point. It's no BARFLY but after what some critics have mistaken for a inebriated exercise, Dillon's final monologue brings it all into sweet focus. 

IDIOCRACY (Dir. Mike Judge, 2006) 

Mike Judge's (OFFICE SPACE, Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill) return to the big screen has an infamously troubled back-story (extensive re-tinkering, little distribution and almost no promotion), so it's recent DVD release will be the first time many are allowed to see it. 

Telling the story of 21st century every-man Luke Wilson who along with Maya Rudolph (SNL) is frozen in an army experiment for 500 years only to awaken to a collosally dumbed down culture where the President is a wrestler/former porn star, StarBucks offers sexual as well as coffee service, and Costcos are the size of Tennessee. 

The premise peters out less than half-way through and awful unneccesary narration annoyingly talks over full scenes of dialogue strongly implies further dumbing down of the movie in post production. Still there are some interesting attempts at socio-political satire and enough decent laughs involved to gain it a following particularly among fans of base level comedy. I've had those who lecture me on the worth of JACKASS, the SCARY MOVIE series and even CLERKS 2 so I know they are plenty out there who will dig it. 

BUGSY: THE EXTENDED CUT (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1991) 

"Dialogue's cheap in Hollywood Ben, why don't you run outside and jerk yourself a soda?" - Virginia Hill (Annette Benning)

Haven't seen this since it's original video release in '92 (didn't catch it in theaters in '91) so I don't remember it very closely and couldn't tell what was different about this new version but I enjoyed this new special edition much more than I expected. 

Based on the legendary mobster who ostensibly built Las Vegas and who Godfather fans well know was the inspiration for Moe Green (Alex Rocco) BUGSY doesn't quite acheive the levels of stylistic period piece lyricism it aims for yet it still works. Warren Beatty plays the right note as the slick vain enterprising yet not unromantic Ben Siegel (I know that doesn't sound like much of a stretch), Annette Benning puts in her usual silky never sleazy accompaniment and the rest of the cast is top notch (Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel, Elliot Gould, and Joe Montegna) James Toback's sharp script is worth singling out too. 

Levinson's directorial career has been spotty since (WAG THE DOG, ENVY, MAN OF THE YEAR, ugh) so it is nice to go back and re-appraise one of his most competant and under-rated films. 

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (Dir. Kirby Dick, 2006) - Having been confused and weirded out by what the exact standards and/or rules of the MPAA's movie rating system I was excited about this film. I have to say though that this good-intentioned but ultimately misguided feature is fascinating but flawed as fuck. The idea of hiring private detectives to find out exactly who the people are who rate movies is a good one but the execution of said premise involving following SUVs around and getting un-insightful film of possible suspects is frankly a waste of time. Better is the interview material, the comparisons of what is permited between hetero and homosexual content and the background history of the MPAA and their former President Jack Valenti. I just wish it went deeper and was better structured - Kirby Dick appears to be passionate and dedicated and I wasn't as annoyed by his Gonzo-insertions as some were but this could use a bit more work. This Film Is Not Yet Finished, more like. Inspired by this documentary I thought it would be fun to look at: 


1. HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) – The famous 1968 photograph and NBC-shot film of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon is one of the most shocking and violent images ever presented to the world at large. It is effectively used alongside other frightening war footage in the LSD fueled mind-bending montages of this freaky envelope pushing movie in which the Monkees deconstruct their pre-fab bubblegum image. Thing is, this is a G-rated movie! Really Seems like someone at the MPAA saw that this was the Monkees and stamped a G on it without even watching it. 

2. BRAINSTORM (Dir. Douglas Trumball, 1983) - A good example of what often sailed by the review board in the days before PG-13, this virtual-reality sci-fi thriller that is most famous because of the drowning death of Natalie Wood that occured while shooting contains a shocking scene involving one of the bulky combersome devices that Christopher Walken is wearing in the picture on the right. A man has a heart attack while engaging in a simulated sex program with full frontal female nudity shown. I learned this the hard way when I innocently put the movie on when I used to work at a local video chain. Definitely not 'in-store playable.'

3. JAWS (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975) – Many bloody moments in this movie qualify it for an R rating but the skinny dipping girl who gets eaten within the first five minutes should of set up some sort of ratings red flag. On the other hand I saw the movie when I was a kid and don’t remember losing any sleep over it. 

4. BANANAS (Dir. Woody Allen, 1971) - Squirmy neurotic low-level products tester Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) has very little luck in his meager life - even the simple task of picking up a porn mag along side copies of news publications like National Review invites public scorn. As he makes his choice of purchase we are guided through an explicit wall of porn magazine covers that did oddly only earned a PG-13 rating in a later video incarnation re-appraising.

5. AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahms, Jerry Zucker, 1980) – There are a lot of scenes and elements in this famous disaster movie spoof that would be questionable PG material these days but the extreme shot of female full frontal nudity that occurs during a riotous panic when the passengers are told the plane is in jeopardy takes the cake! Of course it goes by so quick one could blink or sneeze and miss it. Looks like someone at the MPAA sure did.

More later...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Keeping Our Fingers Crossed - Movies To Look Forward To In 2007

“I do not understand this compulsion of mine for seeing movies, it almost seems as if movies are ‘in my blood’” - Ignatious Reilly (from the novel Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole) 

Hey kids - here’s some things to look forward to (and get our hopes too WAY up for) in 2007: THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman) – Yep, I know there are a lot of cynics out there ragging on the alleged declining quality of the show and forecasting the worst for this long awaited project but I’m a hardcore fan of the Simpsons and I love the trailers and animatics clips that have leaked out and I’m psyched as Hell because of statements like these: "Since 2001 we'd been working to get a script that would be worthy of people actually paying to see the Simpsons" - Matt Groening
(Simpsons Creator and Guru) 

"I can absolutely guarantee that this film will far exceed the wildest expectations of every Simpsons fan. Start lining up at the theater now, preferably in costume." - Al Jean (Simpsons Executive producer) 

So there's that and the promised guest appearances of Albert Brooks, Joe Mantegna, and Kelsey Grammer (of course as Sideshow Bob) I’m pretty damn confident that this won’t be a big “D’oh!” 

I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes) – Yep, I know that this movie looks weird – I mean that's Cate Blanchett there as Bob Dylan during his 'goes electric' phase. So 6 different people (Blanchett, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) all act as Dylan throughout the various stages of his life - a trippy narrative professedly in the spirit of Bob’s most surreal songs. 

Many a cynic are already protestin' but I’m a hardcore fan of Dylan’s …oh wait I already played that hand. I’ll just say that I’ll be there for this movie’s opening and at the very least it shall be interesting. SPIDERMAN 3 (Sam Raimi) – The trailers are dark, very dark with Spidey (Tobey Maguire again) in a black tar like parasitic suit. With Topher Grace and Thomas Haden Church joining on - who so totally (okay I'm going to refrain from italics the rest of this post) look to fit seemlessly into the Spiderman world. 

Not sure what exactly is happening plotwise in this one but an operatic spooky trilogy-concluder looks pretty assured. BE KIND REWIND (Michel Gondry) – The Plot outline as presented on IMDb : “A man (Jack Black) whose brain becomes magnetized unintentionally destroys every tape in his friend's video store. In order to satisfy the store's most loyal renter, an aging woman with signs of dementia, the two men set out to remake the lost films, which include Back to the Future, The Lion King, and Robocop.” 

On the IMDB message board someone by the handle of iloveduckie asks – “am i the only one who thinks this sounds awesome?” No you certainly aren’t.

 INDIANA JONES AND THE RAVAGES OF TIME AKA INDIANA JONES 4 (Dir. Steven Speilberg) – Can this really be happening? I mean Harrison Ford is 65 and the series seemed nicely tidied up with LAST CRUSADE (1989 - that's right 18 years ago!)

Well come to think of it Ford still has the rugged deal goin' on and the promise of the return of Sean Connery, Karen Allen, and John Rhys-Davies (Sallah) does sweeten the deal. Still I know I’m not alone in praying those guys know what they’re doing. 


WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE – A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS (Dir. Spike Lee - HBO with a limited theatrical release, 2006) – More than halfway through watching this I half-assedely remarked to a friend over the instant messenger that it was “essentially a 4 hour version of Kanye West’s famous quote." * After watching the deal in it's entireity I must say that was a cheap statement on my part

A glib crappy sound-bite like quote like that might be acceptable from Entertainment Weekly or MediaMaggot but not from FILMBABBLE - yes, that's right I do have standards of some sort. Ill-defined as they are. WTLB is a powerful heart breaking work that floors me over and over. 

It's great that there's no Michael Moore agenda setting narration from Lee - he just lets the citizens and officials speak (and do they speak) about the injustices done from the non-preparation and the non-reaction to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. 

In addition to material he filmed from September 2005 shortly after the flood onward - Lee Utilises coverage from all the major networks, CNN & other cable outlets, police camera footage, text from bloggers, home made videos, BBC (in the commentary Lee exclaims "why was this story on the BBC? We weren't seeing this in the States!") and every other source you could think of. If you think this is biased - man, I 'd like to see what someone would put up as a 4 hour counter-point. Actually, no. I wouldn't like that prospect at all. * If you have to ask what Kanye's 7 word remark after Katrina is maybe you shouldn't be reading this blog. 

More later...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Favorite Soundtracks: The Monkees' HEAD

The Monkees - Head 

(Soundtrack - RHINO reissue 1968/1994)

Taken as an individual document on it's own - removed from the movie HEAD this is an absorbing sound collage and stirring concept albums that holds its own next to works by Radiohead and They Might Be Giants. 

Whatever you think of the Monkees and their fabricated TV image I bet one listen to this disc will make clear that this wasn't bubblegum anymore. The Monkees had actually become a real band after their first 2 commitee produced albums drew criticism and played their own instruments on their recordings and in concert but the problem was they still weren't taken seriously. 

Well, given the chance to make a movie they ran with it satirizing just about every genre (western, boxing, war, romance, etc.) and making a devasting statement about their place in the context of meaningless pop culture. The fact that the movie begins and ends with suicide should give you a little inkling on what that statement was.

The songs are among the best batch concieved under the Monkees banner - their 1967 collection Headquarters being another such collection. "Porpoise Song" is lush and economically psychedelic, "As We Go Along" is a strumming mellow delight, even Davy Jones' "Daddy's Song" is fun. The center piece of this album is Mike Nesmith's "Circle Sky," which Rhino has rightfully restored the live version of (the one that was in the film) as a bonus track. Good stuff which again proves the Monkees could actually play. 

The other bonus tracks include a radio spot, some previously unissued mixes, and a rare version of the "Ditty Diego - War Chant," which re-writes the Monkees theme as something to be scared of. Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) co-wrote the lyrics to that particular track (with director Bob Rafelson), and was credited as "Album Coordinator" so he has a lot to do with the album's crazy yet incredibly winning flow.

More later...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bringing In The New Years With Reviews And A Look At The Rubik's Cube Filmography

"Now I have seen a lot of movies. I've taken classes and have seen many of what people consider to be classics but I have to say that JACKASS 2 is the greatest movie I have ever seen!" - Overheard at the Blue Horn Lounge, Chapel Hill 2006 


With hope 2007 will be a better year for movies than 2006. I mean it is very difficult to make a best of the year list (especially since there are many movies I have yet to see) but making a worst of list is as easy as 1,2,3 - those being: 1. SNAKES ON A PLANE 2. LADY IN THE WATER and 3. CLERKS 2. Maybe, I'll let you know what 4-10 are later. I've already spent a chunk of the new year in a dark dank theater and here's some of what I've seen:

CHILDREN OF MEN (Dir. Alfonso Cuaron) This movie kind of snuck up on all of us because of little to no publicity but it is buzzing rapidly now and may really soar come awards season. It sure deserves to - its an exhilirating yet rough ride well worth taking. Set in the grimy future of 2027 it depicts London as a warzone and the human race on the verge of extinction because of world wide infertility. 

Activists (Clive Owen and Julianne Moore doing their gritty best) struggle to protect the sole pregnant saviour (Claire Hope-Ashitey) and may have to sacrifice themselves to complete the mission. Some may be turned off by the harsh unpolished nature of this picture but I believe most will find CHILDREN OF MEN to be one Hell of an satisfying experience.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (Dir. Gabrielle Muccino) This played at my theater for a few weeks before I saw it so I heard a lot of comments in the lobby. "Not enough happiness!" one lady exclaimed. It's about the pursuit you see... Essentially a series of worst case scenarios, HAPPYNESS deposits Ernest Will Smith and real-life son Jaden into a tale of the American dream gone sour in the Reagan era *. Based on the true hard luck story turned inspiration tome, hospital equipment salesman Chris Gardener (Will Smith) can't seem to get a break and neither do we watching his tedious trials. 

The movie does contain the best acting I've ever seen Smith do, the kid is cute, and the heart is in the right place so put me down for a 'liked it'. The lady was right, it seems. It could have done with more happiness. 

* One unwritten rule ('til now) is that every movie set in the 80's has to have a Rubik's cube in it. Another rule of the popular puzzle is if you want to show an audience that a character is smart, ambitious and can get the job done - show them quickly solving a Rubik's cube to the amazement of others.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS obeys both rules to a tee. Will Smith on his Oprah appearance to promote the film even proved he could solve it and did so during a commercial break. So since the 25th anniversary of the Rubik's cube came and went in 2005 with little notice (from me at least) I thought it would be a good time to pay tribute to the multi-colored brain teaser with a handy snappy list: 


1. THE WEDDING SINGER (Dir. Frank Coraci, 1998) Set in 1985 this Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore rom com definitively cast the cube as a time setting prop. Barrymore's bimbo ditz sister Holly (Christine Taylor) frustrated that she cannot solve the popular puzzle, declares that "no one will ever solve that thing." 

2. THE SIMPSONS (TV, 1989 -to when the show is no longer profitable) The Rubik's Cube has been featured in a number of episodes but probably the most notable was from "Homer Defined" (airdate : 10/17/91). Homer receving on the job training at the nuclear plant (in an 80's flashback of course) misses out on vital life-saving information because of his pre-occupation with the cube. 

3. DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? (Dir. Danny Leiner, 2000) Wikipedia tells me that in this Ashton Kutcher/Seann William Scott stoner comedy a Rubik's Cube serves as the MacGuffin. I'm sure Erno Rubik is very proud at the cinematic homage herein. 4. UHF (Dir. Jay Levey, 1989) - Used for a cheap sight gag involving a blind man trying to solve it with a homeless man's help, the cube ends the 80's in something resembling style - I mean this hit or miss Weird Al Yankovic vehicle did become a cult classic or at least something resembling one. 

5. DEATHTRAP (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1982) There's not a single Rubik's cube in this witty thriller but check out the poster! Only a year after it hit the scene the cube is co-opted by movie ad campaign. Now that's marketing. 

6. THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR (TV 1990-1996) This makes the list soley because of the Will Smith HAPPYNESS connection. Smith solves the cube in moments during an interview for Princeton in an episode from the 90's staple. Just warming up I guess. 

7. ARMAGEDDON (Dir. Michael Bay, 1998) - NASA employs Rubik's Cubes as testing tools for astronauts in training. Did you know that? I sure didn't but after the over 2 hours wasted watching this Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck save the world monstrosity I'm glad to have learned something. 

8. RUBIK THE AMAZING CUBE (TV 1983-1984) - Christ, I forgot this existed! After watching some clips and reading the info on this quick cash-in cartoon all I cansay is it looks like complete crap. 

9. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (TV, 1975-FOREVER) SNL satirized the snazzy primary-colored pop fad several times but the funniest has to be Rubik's Hand Grenade - "maybe the last game you'll ever play" the announcer ominously concludes. 

10. ANCHORMAN : THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (Dir. Adam McKay, 2004) Man, like just about everything else this movie gets the cube angle wrong. 

As noted on Amazon's lengthy goofs section: "The movie is set in the mid 1970s, but when Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is crying about his dog, Bryan has a 2x2 Rubik's Cube on his desk. The famous 3x3 Rubik's Cube wasn't introduced in the U.S. until the 1979 Christmas season, and variations weren't introduced until the 1980s." Yep - it had to be noted because it'll surely happen again - the cube as anachronism. 

More later...