Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Andre Gower Of THE MONSTER SQUAD: The Film Babble Blog Interview Part 2

This Wednesday at 8:00 PM, The Colony Theater in Raleigh will be screening the 1987 cult classic THE MONSTER SQUAD as part of their popular "Cinema Overdrive" series. In addition to the exciting experience of seeing a rare 35 MM print of the beloved film, what makes this showing extremely special is the star of the movie Andre Gower is going to be on hand as host and will take questions from the audience. We discussed his career as a young actor in the 80's in Part 1 of our chat but here we get to the real meat of the matter - his role as Sean Crenshaw, leader of THE MONSTER SQUAD and how the film keeps winning generations of new fans 22 years after its release.

Dan: So how did you get THE MONSTER SQUAD?

Andre Gower: THE MONSTER SQUAD was just another audition process. The great casting story with the movie and me is that I originally read for a different role. I read for Rudy. The “cool kid”, because that had been all my roles before. The cool kid with the cool hair. Auditioned for that, called back, went back, went back again, met with the producers and writers and direct – Fred (Dekker) and Shane (Black). Ended up getting cast in the film. Got the call that said: “Oh, you got that film that you went out for, that big Monster film but you didn’t get the role that you read for.” I was actually pissed off because that was the cool role! At this time we’d read the script and seen everything of course at that time the script was a lot longer and had a lot more stuff in it. We shot off of a very short script. A lot of stuff was cut. We shot off like an 82 page shooting script and even edited stuff that we shot! They actually shot and edited 100 minutes of film and edited 17 minutes or something out of it. But the original script was 123 pages with a ton of stuff and that would’ve been a very cool thing. It worked out in the end though, playing Sean.

D: Well, of course because he was the leader!

AG: Yeah, a little more of a role but Rudy was the cool kid who killed more monsters. And he smoked…

D: And he had that great intro.

AG: Great intro! That intro scene was the audition scene. I remember it like it was yesterday. Ryan (Lambert) was perfect though. There were a lot of names that read for that role, including me, and, like I said, it worked out pretty good – getting Sean Crenshaw.

D: So listening to the commentary – I didn’t know if it had been a while since you’ve seen these people or what but it seems like there was a nice natural back and forth.

AG: By the time we did the commentary on the DVD we had seen each for a year. Everything started with, and I’m not trying to take credit with the DVD – that’s not what I’m doing, but everything that led up to the DVD’s creation and release started in ’06. In the Spring of ’06, an email found me through my IMDb page and then got to my personal email by one of the guys at Ain’t It Cool News that was wanting to do a screening of THE MONSTER SQUAD at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. I ended up talking to them on the phone and I said “look, if you want to do a cast reunion screening, give me the information, let me make one or two phone calls” because I had just gotten in touch with Ashley (Banks) that year – hadn’t talked to her in a couple of years. Hadn’t talked to Ryan in a couple of years. I stay in touch with Fred regularly. So they were like: “Holy shit! You can do that?” And I said “if they’re interested in going, I’ll get their input and we’ll put everybody together.” Ashley was on board, Ryan was on board, and Fred was on board. Those three had always thought that this whole thing was dead and I always got interest and recognized for THE MONSTER SQUAD plus other things but people love this movie. People love this movie and for a long time nobody could get a copy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Historic Varsity Theater In Chapel Hill NC Is Reopening!

This has just been announced - after closing its doors on June 25th last summer the beloved downtown theater is being re-opened under new management and with renovations. The press release: 


Franklin Street’s iconic Varsity Theatre, located at 123 E. Franklin Street, near the corner of Columbia, will reopen under new ownership in mid-November after extensive renovations including an upgraded lobby and concessions area and the addition of a children’s birthday party room. Chapel Hill residents Susan and Paul Shareshian have begun working to restore the theater to its former elegance. “We want to bring back the feeling of a classic old-time movie theater and also provide a clean and fun space – with excellent service and a customer focused staff – where local residents can enjoy a movie at a reasonable price,” says Paul Shareshian.

The Varsity will show recently released and classic movies, with all tickets costing just $3. With reasonably priced concessions and a low ticket price, the Varsity will provide a great place for families and students. In addition to regular movie showings, the theater will be available for rental for children’s birthday parties, private screenings, lectures and corporate functions.

The Shareshians are working hard to complete the renovations and are planning for a late November opening. “We see downtown Chapel Hill as an exciting destination,” says Susan Shareshian. “And we are thrilled to bring back the Varsity as another great place that’s part of the Chapel Hill experience. We have heard from so many people who are excited that the Varsity is reopening. 

And while everyone has a different favorite memory – the popcorn was delicious, the theater is in the heart of downtown, people saw their favorite classic movies there – all of the memories are positive.” With the Shareshians’ renovation of the movie house, all of the positive qualities that have always been associated with the Varsity will remain…and will be enhanced, for an even better experience.

More information is available on the theater’s website at www.varsityonfranklin.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Wow! Welcome back Varsity! I'll be sure to be there opening night.

More later...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Andre Gower Of THE MONSTER SQUAD: The Film Babble Blog Interview Part 1

This Wednesday at 8:00 PM, The Colony Theater in Raleigh will be screening the 1987 cult classic THE MONSTER SQUAD as part of their popular "Cinema Overdrive" series. 

In addition to the exciting experience of seeing a rare 35 MM print of the beloved film, what makes this showing extremely special is the star of the movie Andre Gower is going to be on hand as host and will take questions from the audience. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gower to talk about THE MONSTER SQUAD and how it so strongly still holds up but in the first part of our chat we discuss some of his fascinating resume that surrounds that milestone.

Dan: Forgive me for cribbing off your IMDb profile or even Wikipedia but was The Young And The Restless your first role?

Andre Gower: No, there was some stuff before that - there were guest spots and a lot of stuff that IMDb and Wikipedia wouldn’t have. But that may have been one of the earliest regular things.

D: So as a kid you were on a ton of TV shows – T.J. Hooker, St. Elsewhere, The A-Team - how did those come about?

AG: Just through the regular audition process. Back in the day, now of course this is before cable, before the Fox network, there were only 3 channels. So there were always younger people doing stuff – there was even a smaller group of younger people who did the majority of everything. 

If you were lucky enough to be in that kind of group as a young young youngster then as you got up to teenage years and late teenage years, to be part of that teen scene, the teen magazine part of pop culture, and then if you’re on a successful show or a number of successful shows, or either a bunch of films then it works out pretty good. 

I hung in the circles back in the day, I was in the late '80s Brat Pack being a mid teenager. Of course that’s when THE MONSTER SQUAD came out. Right after that I did the show Mr. President with George C. Scott back when Fox was a brand new network.

D: Is it true that you turned down the Bud Bundy role on Married With Children to do Mr. President?

AG: That’s true.

D: Ever had any regrets about that?

AG: No, I mean it’s always nice to think about what might have been, and look David Faustino is a old friend of mine - I’ve known him for years, but when you look at the situation at the time, what was being offered, you can’t do hindsight, you never know what’s going to happen.

D: Right, you can’t guess what show is going to be picked up.
AG: Sure, and when you’re dealing like in that situation with a show on a brand new network – you get offered one and it’s an unknown show, it’s written very racy and not even the pilot is guaranteed to air and nobody knows anybody who is associated with it. 

On the flip-side of it you have another show that is produced by Johnny Carson’s production company - it’s produced by Ed Weinberger. It’s starring George C. Scott and Conrad Bain, it’s guaranteed for 2 seasons and they were offering me like 3 times the money! The other show that wasn’t guaranteed they’d air the pilot – what show are you going to take?

D: (laughs) Well, just the George C. Scott factor alone, I think that would tip the scale.

AG: Right, one’s a vehicle and one’s not. (laughs) One’s a potential waste of your time and you’re not going to be able to do anything else. I mean I should’ve done both. Same network – what do they care? (laughs)

D: (laughs) I couldn’t really find much info on Mr. President. I mean, it seems like they’ve released just about every TV show you could think of on DVD these days, some that are only one season so it seems like a release of that wouldn’t be so farfetched.

AG: Well, it may be a thing with George C. Scott’s estate – I don’t know. It would be interesting to go back to it because it was an inaugural show on a new network. It was a lead show starring 2 icons and made by an icon.

D: It seems like it was a proto West Wing.

AG: It was sort of an interesting look at something that had been done before, but not really done before – characterizing the United States President and life in the White House. Where as The West Wing did it and it was modern because it was time for it. I’ve done 3 or 4 television shows that were 3 or 4 years ahead of their time…or more. That’s why they went one season, 2 seasons.

D: And those would be?

AG: One was Baby Makes Five, regular family sitcom, ABC I think. This was Peter Scolari’s own show. It was right after Bosom Budies. He’s the one that people said was going to be the star because he’s the talented one. Tom Hanks who?

D: I remember reading that for Bosom Buddies, they actually paid Scolari more than Tom Hanks because he had more experience.

AG: Yeah, Tom Hanks took a long time to actually get anything. He was in a few failed shows, a few really bad low budget movies that you just don’t ever hear of. And then he did SPLASH and it just starting coming around. 

But Peter Scolari was a trained actor on a hit network television show so they said ‘we’re giving him his own show’ and it was a little ahead of it’s time with the fact that it was a show that had a huge family with young kids and there wasn’t that many…okay, well besides The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family which was nichey and '60s, you know that was 3 camera sitcom - there wasn’t a live audience type show before this with a lot of kids.

They had this great relationship between the grandmothers - one was kind of racy, one was kind of conservative. It was coming into some really really interesting writing and really good timing. We had great guest stars on that show. We did 6 episodes. It was a spring replacement and it didn’t get picked up but it was well done.

D: Was it the time slot maybe?

AG: Who knows? It just might not have tested well. And that’s the trouble with television, especially sitcoms, because you look at the shows that do go on to become famous shows – go watch your favorite shows and see the first season. They’re all terrible. The difference is that with either the network or the production companies kept them on to find their footing and seasoned. The characters got to develop and mold into what they’re going to be. Because all a successful sitcom is…is what’s funny about a show is when a character says something because you’re expecting him to say exactly that. That’s what you get used to do in a sitcom. Look at Friends, look at Seinfeld – how many times can Kramer come in the door funny?

D: People forget Seinfeld took a while to get going.

AG: Took a long time. That was obviously a show that was cutting and ahead of its time and was allowed to come into itself, and then it changed television. Baby Makes Five was great, Peter Scolari went on to do a ton of stuff.

D: I loved him on Newhart.

AG: Right, he went right into Newhart. I was on the Newhart set all the time – I learned how to juggle from Peter Scolari. So I’m a juggler because of Peter Scolari. Another show was for ABC that was shot out of 20th Century Fox that was called Heart Of The City

This was like ’86, ’87. Very ahead of its time. Cop drama, homicide detective, dark cast, dark storylines – it was about a cop who has 2 teenage kids and their mother gets killed in a very cliché drive-by being that it’s 1986. So he has to raise these 2 kids – one’s a boy, one’s a girl, dealing with family issues, dealing with adolescent boy issues, dealing with teenage girl issues, talk about sex and drugs and drinking and dealing with all this stuff while this guy’s trying to be a detective. 

Shot dark, lit dark, shot at night because he worked the midnight shift, had to deal with his kids during the day. I played this street kid drug dealer that he busts in the pilot and he becomes interested in my story so I became a re-occurring character. He ends up becoming romantically involved with my mother because he’s trying to figure out why I’m out here doing this. The mother was Kay Lenz, and the 2 kids were Jonathan Ward and Christina Applegate. So if you look at 2 or 3 years down the road when Fox becomes a network, all 3 of us out of this show have our own shows on Fox.

D: how long did Heart Of The City run?

AG: We went 2 seasons. My arc went from the pilot all the way to the end. I go off the show because I get sentenced, then back and forth because I escape and do all this stuff. It’s a very cool role – I never played a 13 year old drug dealer running down all the alleys of downtown LA. Very cool, but you know a little ahead of its time. Then what, 5 years later you have NYPD Blue. Dark, brooding, nudity, language, you know it’s like ‘oh, this show is shocking too.’

Coming up in Part 2 - Andre Gower and I discuss THE MONSTER SQUAD and its legacy. Please stay tuned.

More later...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swank's On A Plane

Now playing at multiplexes and art houses, but I bet, not for long:

AMELIA (Dir. Mira Nair, 2009)

It's apparent up front that 2 time Oscar winner Hillary Swank has the right stuff to step into the shoes of world famous American aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

She's got the tiny waif-like frame, the smiling eyes, and, yes, the big teeth. 

She infuses Earhart with the tom boy pluck of a young Katherine Hepburn; a fierce independently willed woman fighting to make a name for herself in a man's world. 

Unfortunately the movie she anchors was assembled according to the rulebook for Conventional Biopic 101. 

The basic obligatory biopic formula rules are as follows: You start near the end of your subject's life, and then flash back through the greatest hits. 

You show your subject as a child when the light of inspiration first flashed through their eyes. You have a montage showing when your subject first got famous - here it's a sweep through ticker-tape parade spectacle, press quotes, and re-staging of well known photographs. 

You then get the rough patches with the subject rising above marital discord and the doubts of peers before your ostensibly emotional finale. At the very end you show historic footage of the real person and folks leave the theater thinking they've seen a noble tribute to your subject. 

Then you sit back and wait for your Academy Award. 

So there are no surprises in this by-the-book biopic but it's fair to say that nobody was expecting any. Mira Nair makes competently crafted films and on the surface this is a good looking and well acted work. It's just that the pure passion and sense of purpose to make this project fly (sorry) are sorely missing.

Swank reaches for passion and comes close at times, especially when she tells her promoter turned romantic pursuer George Putnam played by Richard Gere that she must be free - "a vagabond of the air." But beyond that she's got nothing but strained cock pit close-ups and there's not enough to latch onto throughout the broad strokes.

Despite some fleeting charm, Earhart's alleged affair with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) particularly has little effect. Gere is too wooden as the jilted husband to make us care so the infidelity comes off as an inconvenience not heartbreak. The flying sequences are beautifully shot though, with gusto and suspense hinting at a movie that could've been if the rest of it been given the same Oomph. 

Because it so aesthetically fits the Academy mold, AMELIA may still come home with some gold. Swank is sure to be nominated but I'll be shocked if this film gets anywhere close to a Best Picture nod. See? That's what it all comes down to. Through all the hype and noble trappings, this is just formula biopic Oscar bait - nothing more. 

More later...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are Critic’s Jeers Of The New Jarmusch Joint Justified?

(Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

“The best films are like dreams you're never really sure you had.”
- Blonde (Tilda Swinton)

With a rating of 40%, THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is Jim Jarmusch’s lowest rated film on the Rotten Tomatometer. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus is that it’s “a minimalist exercise in not much of anything…a tedious viewing experience with little reward.” The venerable Roger Ebert, who usually has a more positive slant than most critics, gave the film half a star - which is also the lowest rating he’s given for a Jarmusch film. Ebert appraises the filmmaker’s motive: “I think the point is that if you strip a story down to its bare essentials, you will have very little left.”

So, with such painfully poor reviews to go by I went into THE LIMITS OF CONTROL with very low expectations. Maybe that helped because while I found it slow and fairly impenetrable I was never bored and the imagery mixed with the mood have stayed with me ever since. 

Let's take a look at the plot: Isaach De Bankolé credited only as “Lone Man” is a man on a mission in Madrid. We are never told this mission, only given cryptic clues. In between lying on his bed in his hotel room (much in the same manner Jarmusch filmed Bill Murray in his previous film BROKEN FLOWERS sitting on his couch doing nothing as the day light disappears), doing some form of Yoga, and visiting art galleries, he sits at outdoor cafés and orders two espressos in separate cups.

It’s all part of an unidentified plan - various contacts (including John Hurt, Gael García Bernal, and Tilda Swinton) approach his table and exchange matchboxes with him. 

They always begin the process by asking: “¿Usted no habla Español, verdad?” (translated: “You don’t speak Spanish, right?”) He nods "no" and then they alternately speak to him about different subjects. With one it’s music, with another it’s science, and most notably with Swinton it’s film.

Swinton references Orson Welles' THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI remarking that she believes it’s the only film in which Rita Hayworth played a blonde. As Swinton is wearing a platinum blonde wig for the first time in her career the moment is undeniably meta. This quality is also felt later in the film when while walking the streets sees a movie poster featuring a likeness of Swinton in the same get-up.

De Bankolé is trading matchboxes full of diamonds for ones with a small note inside. The notes have numbers listed on them and after a quick study he eats them and washes them down with one of his espressos. He returns to his hotel room at one point to find a woman (Paz de la Huerta) laying on his bed wearing only glasses. In as few words as possible he tells her he doesn’t engage in sex while on the job but since he just appears to be passing time until meeting the next contact this is as odd and mysterious as everything else in the film.

Aided by a map of that he destroys by burning, not eating, after reading, De Bankolé finally reaches his destination - a heavily guarded compound in which Bill Murray resides. Murray, only credited as “American” (nobody in this film is properly named) is a rich businessman who spouts out a critique of current society as De Bankolé prepares to kill him using a tightly pulled guitar string.

What the title means in all of this I have no idea – my attempts to form a theory have come up with no satisfactory results. I’m also perplexed by the vagueness of the narrative (perhaps Ebert is right about the point of it) and what anybody’s motivations are. Somehow though, these quibbles fade while the tone and beautiful photography of cinematographer Christopher Doyle remain in my mind.

This is the kind of movie in which you can agree to a large degree with the criticism heaped onto it but at the same time get something vital out of the experience. I can certainly understand reviewers wanting to warn average movie-going folks about enduring such an arty exercise when they’d probably be happier with more conventional fare but films like this shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.

Since his '80s indie incarnation, Jarmusch has been an intriguing filmmaker who makes mesmerizing art out of the spare rhythms and meditative moods of his characters. Here he gives us next to nothing to go on about his lead, yet De Bankolé gives a serenely stoical (there’s only one instance in which I can recall him smiling) performance that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. A transfixing tone that I still can’t shake makes this a film I believe will be greatly re-evaluated in the years to come.

So to answer in more concrete terms the question posed in this post’s heading - I wouldn’t claim that there is no justification in the majority of the critics’ pans, nor would I say that there’s more to it than meets the eye. What I would say is that THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is a worthwhile watch for those not looking for the cozy comfort of meaning. It’s the sort of unruly cinema that frees one from meaning, and that usually takes some folks some time to catch up with.

More later...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chatting With The Creators Of Cinema Overdrive Part 4

This is the fourth and final of my great rambling conversation with Denver Hill and Matt Pennechi - 2 of the creators of the great new series "Cinema Overdrive" running at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh. Tomorrow night at 8:00 PM they've got the mighty THE EVIL DEAD (btw the awesome poster above is by Carrboro artist Danny Miller and prints will be sold at the show) and next week on the 28th, just in time for Halloween, they've got an extremely rare 35 MM print of the1987 cult classic THE MONSTER SQUAD. In this not so tidy conclusion of our talk Denver, Matt, and I talk about those 2 upcoming films and we hit other tangents like obscure movie trailers, audience participation etiquette, and how you're going to get a lot of bang for your 5 bucks every time out.

Dan: So, right before Halloween you’ve got THE MONSTER SQUAD with a special guest…

Denver: Yes, the star - Andre Gower - is coming to introduce the film and do a Q and A.

Matt: Yeah, he happens to live in Cary. He’s a child actor – in addition to THE MONSTER SQUAD and a bunch of other stuff he played George C. Scott’s son for 2 seasons on the Fox TV show “Mr. President”! He said: “Getting chewed out by George C. Scott is kind of a badge of honor!” I was like: “Really? He was gruff?” He said: “He could be but the thing is, looking back on it now, 22 years later…I was taken under the wing of George C. Scott who treated me like his son.” I asked: “Do you ever reflect on that?” He was like, oh yeah, it doesn’t matter that he’s not famous, that he’s not a multi-millionaire, he still has those really great memories. THE MONSTER SQUAD is a great movie which I really enjoy. Do you have kids?

Dan: No I don’t.

Matt: I have an 8 year old I may actually bring to that.

Denver: Yeah, THE MONSTER SQUAD is one of the only movies we’re showing for Cinema Overdrive that’s for all ages.

Matt: That’s our only PG-13. The goal for the series is not to be R-rated and above, the goal is to find really fascinating films. We picked another mainstream cult favorite – Denver was like “let’s break out that THE EVIL DEAD print!” It’s a more famous title but it’ll be fun. EVIL DEAD II runs a lot, the first one not so much. Our print is a little beat up so we’re calling it “THE EVIL DEAD: THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE”! That’s basically because the print we'll be running is an original release print from the early 1980s. Even though this film did become a modest grindhouse and drive in hit, there weren't a lot of 35mm prints of it struck back during its original release, and those that did survive were put through the ringer a bit. So scratches and splices will be present on the screen, much like they would have been had you seen the film several months (or even a year!) into its original theatrical release back in 1983. But in a lot of ways it adds a bit of warmth to the screening that simply cannot be dupicated in a home setting, and many of our regular patrons have commented that they actually enjoy seeing a few bumps and bruises here and there. And the trailers we've selected for this show are great fun and will add to the experience as well.

Dan: Well, like most folks I’m more familiar with EVIL DEAD II and ARMY OF DARKNESS. Years and years ago I saw the first one not long after seeing the second and it really confused me. I was like “isn’t this the same movie?”

Matt: It is the same movie. They remade it and kind of changed the tone. Another thing we’ve thought about doing was asking local film writers like you, Zack Smith, and Craig D. Lindsey to pick 3 or 4 trailers. I’ll send you the list and you tell me what your heart’s content and we’ll run them for you!

Dan: Oh, I love that idea.

Matt: We have a great opportunity because we’re not running double features and a lot of these movies are very short. So for 5 bucks we want to give you an hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours of really fun entertainment. I mean a movie like DEATH RACE 2000 is only 75 minutes so a 20 minute trailer package isn’t a problem!

Dan: The trailer component I really love about both "Cool Classics" and "Cinema Overdrive". I mean I kind of had a feeling that this would be the case, but before THE BIG LEBOWSKI I was like ‘it would be so cool if they dug up some obscure Jeff Bridges or John Goodman trailers and sure enough –there they were!

Denver: (laughs) Yeah, there was SOMEBODY KILLED HER HUSBAND with Bridges and Farah Fawcett.

Dan: That got the biggest laughs of the night!

Matt: Yeah, I don’t remember the timing of that but it was around when Farah died.

Denver: She died like a week later. That was crazy. The trailer is weird because it starts out as a tribute to Farah Fawcett – “Farah – you know her, you love her…” Even before we decided to do Cinema Overdrive, Matt was giving me all these trailers to play. Like the really funny ones before ERASERHEAD - CHICKEN CHRONICLES and there was that other one with Bud Cort


Denver: Yeah.

Matt: I didn’t realize how highly sought after that one was. That’s the thing though – going to the movies should be a fun social experience. What we are adamant about is – we want people to have a good time but not at the expense of somebody else's good time. This is not Mystery Science Theater 3000 it's more like...church.

Dan: That’s what bugged me about THE BIG LEBOWSKI showing – I mean everybody knows that script but I don’t need to hear a line said before it happens, while it’s being said, then after it! I could understand a few random lines, sure, but there was a girl behind me spouting out the entire screenplay!

Matt: The truth is you are not more entertaining than anything the film has to offer you anyway. I know there are other film series across the country where they encourage people to come and yell and make fun but that’s not my thing. I don’t feel irreverently about the movies! I know they are trash but some of them are awfully fun. And for a lot of people, like myself, I think when you do that you’re disrespectful and totally omit the fact that there might be a lot of people who are sitting there that actually really want to see this movie – they have never seen it before and they just want to see it.

Dan: It didn’t bother me so much during LABYRINTH because I got the spirit but I still got a little annoyed at the unending noise of it.

Matt: A friend of mine told me that he doesn’t like to run LEBOWSKI anymore - too many frat boys. He said “I love this movie but honestly the audience is kind of wrecking it for me.” It used to be fun but as it has grown…it’s grown annoying. A lot of films that are considered 'cult classics' have developed such a life beyond the screen that they often attract an audience that doesn't care much about the ritual of going to a repertory screening at all. And while that isn't always a bad thing, it can become one when things like getting ridiculously drunk and talking over the film are more important than enjoying what the film has to offer. A lot of my associates in the cinema business who do repertory programming have actually developed disdain towards running certain titles simply because of the audience they attract, and that really is unfortunate. While we do want our audiences to come out and have a great time, ultimately it is about the film on screen first and foremost.

Dan: Definitely. I mean, the ROCKY HORROR thing...that movie has this niche where there's the audience participation thing that's scripted with people adding new things but the thing is - it only seems to work for that one movie.

Denver: We have had that problem before. THE PRINCESS BRIDE had a lot of audience noise but mostly it hasn't been too bad. With "Cinema Overdrive" though the thing is, people aren't going to know the scripts.

Thanks so much Denver and Matt for this extremely insightful and entertaining chat!

If you live in the Triangle area please make it out to the Colony Theater in Raleigh for both "Cinema Overdrive" and "Cool Classics".

Also, if you haven't already, please check out the previous parts of our talk - Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

More later...

Monday, October 19, 2009


And now, a review of a small scale but largely likable documentary you may not have heard of but is well worth seeking out:

THE HITCHHIKING MOVIE (Dir. Phillip Hullquist, 2009)

The 1969 counter culture smash EASY RIDER had this memorable tagline: "A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere..." Almost 40 years later, in 2007, a couple of guys go looking for the same thing, albeit without motorcycles, a huge nest-egg of cocaine, and a hippie crew following them, and appear to find the America they want to find everywhere.

With the goal of hitchhiking from New York to Los Angeles in less than one week, Ryan Jeanes credited as "The Hitchhiker" sticks his thumb out and director Phillip Hullquist holds the camera (though both alternate these roles throughout the film) as they set out to show that the heartland of the U.S.A. isn't completely made up of murderers, rapists and thieves.

Jeanes comes off smarmy at first as he flirts with on-the-street interviewees about the dangers of hitchhiking coast to coast, but as we follow him down the road his eager approach to strangers of all kinds is both endearingly wide-eyed and tongue in cheek. He explains that their rule is that they can't spend any of their own money on food or transportation so they have a daily tally of what folks donate.

Their rides include a New Jersey woman who offers up front that she's a recovering addict, a part Seminole trucker with whom they smoke a peace pipe in a park off camera, a elderly black couple who give them a lift in exchange for future help specified to another random African American (get it? Pay it forward), a psychiatrist who lectures them about potassium, and a rowdy redneck named Randy who lost an eye in a bar fight. Even a police officer they encounter in the middle of the night is described by Jeane as an "ultra cool cop".

There are some bouts with negativity and frustration in the long stretches where nobody stops yet Jeane keeps his chin up and we feel his passion as he pep talks Hullquist into plodding onward. They rationalize the revision of their rules regarding money, and the tally for that matter isn't taken very seriously, but that on-the-fly nature is what gives this project its charm.

Some unnecessary components in this material are the cartoon thought bubbles and jolting music cues with pause break statistics or fun facts; they're too much like base reality TV shows like Blind Date with its worn-out Pop-up Video derived aesthetics. Also there are some annoying misspellings in the subtitles. There is much evidence here that these guys are smarter and funnier than the jokey framing suggests, so with hope future projects will be a bit more polished.

"Was kindness still alive in America?" Jeane asks at the outset and except for the many motorists that pass them by, the answer is a resounding yes. Over 20 different people give the documentary duo rides across the country and many of them are friendly accommodating folks who even speak at length about helping others.

Now, we all know that this plan could've gone so wrong in so many dark disgusting ways as it has gone for so many innocent people who've made likewise journeys across this land, but by luck or by chance, or whatever uncynical circumstance Hillquist and Jeane give us a scrappy shaky cam America that I'd sure like to believe in.

More later...

Friday, October 16, 2009

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE: The Film Babble Blog Review

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Dir. Spike Jonze, 2009)

The long awaited live action movie adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book is a big boisterous production - a fetching and fiery piece of cinematic eye candy. To flesh out the original book, which was only 10 sentences long, Jonze and Dave Eggers gives us a believable back story for our ten year old hero Max (Max Records). 

Lonely Max uses his active imagination to escape a world where he just can't seem to get noticed. He's neglected by his overworked divorced mother (Catherine Keener) who's taken up with new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo), his older sister (Pepita Emmerichs) is busy straddling an awkward age, and all we see of his father is a gift reminiscent of better times.

Of course, that's not what you want to hear about. Like a child being read the book at bedtime you'll want blast past this set-up in all too relatable reality and get right to the ginormous fluffy fantasy land. 

Unlike in the book, it's not Max's bedroom that acts as a portal. He runs from his mother into the dark woods at the edge of their housing development and somehow enters a different dimension. He travels on a boat through a sea of time to an island inhabited by 7 large "Wild Things" - that is, giant headed puppet people courtesy of Jim Henson's Creatures Shop. 

Though there is some in-fighting they are an affable bunch featuring the voices of James Gandofini, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, and Angus Sampson. Despite the lack of New Jersey edge to his voice, it's difficult to not think of Tony Soprano when Gandofini speaks as Carol, the Wild Thing that is closest to Max, yet the illusion still holds for the most part.

Max is crowned King by the Wild Things and declares as his first order of business: "Let a wild rumpus start!" This is pretty much all the original story was - illustrations of Max and his subjects dancing and cavorting take up half the book - so, of course, conflict and clashes have to occur, and Max has to learn lessons from his interactions with these strange beasts and eventually sail back to reality. 

With an imagination like this though, who needs reality? The soaring sweep of imagery and the absorbing soundtrack (written by composer Carter Burwell and Karen O. of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs) provides a delightful reprieve from the day to day drudgery of everyday life, not to mention the soullessness of most kid's films.

This is escapism at its finest with a heart as big as its budget. I'll be very surprised if audiences don't eat it all up.

More later...