Monday, April 23, 2007

Dave Kehr & Company on the planned remake of "The Birds"

Dave Kehr is must reading for anyone who cares about film. Hands-down. His blog, Reports from the Lost Continent of Cinephilia, stands as the template for any good movie web site, indispensible. That said, check out Dave's reaction to Mandalay Pictures' dubious decision to remake "The Birds," along with comments from his most vocal readers: "Why Movies Are Better than Ever."

Actually, it's Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." Of course. And Dave's post on the subject is "must" reading.

All that I can add is that Hollywood's penchant for remakes, sequels and prequels betrays a troubling creative bankruptcy. It doesn't take much insight or intelligence to rehash a proven hit. But apparently it pays well.

(Artwork: The fabulous Tippi Hedren besieged in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," released by Universal)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

façade: Katharine Hepburn

There's a scene from the 1979 Woody Allen movie, "Manhattan," in which Isaac Davis (Allen) does his best to put up with an insufferable conversation between his best friend, Yale (Michael Murphy), and Yale's pretentious mistress, Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton).

Yale: (to Mary) "Gustav Mahler? Hmmm, I think he may be a candidate for the old Academy... " (to Isaac) "...Oh, we've invented the Academy of the Overrated - for such notables as Gustav Mahler..."

Mary: "And Isak Dinesen, Karl Jung."

Yale: "F. Scott Fitzgerald..."

Mary: "Lenny Bruce! We can't forget Lenny Bruce now, can we? And how about Norman Mailer?"

Isaac: (disgusted) "I think those people are all terrific, every one that you've mentioned. What about Mozart? You guys don't want to leave him out. I mean, while you're trashing people..."

Mary: (ignoring him) "Oh! What about Vincent van Gogh? Or Ingmar Bergman?"

Isaac: (outraged by now) "Bergman? Bergman? Bergman is the only genius in cinema today!"

Mary: (finally acknowledging him) "His view is so Scandinavian. It's, it's bleak. My God! Real adolescent! You know, 'fashionable pessimism.' I mean, 'The Silence.' God's silence. I mean, OK, OK! I loved it when I was at Radcliffe but, I mean, OK, you outgrow it. You ab-so-lutely outgrow it..."

Fade out.

Back in '79, I thought that Mary Wilke and Yale were pretentous idiots and snobs but, these days, I find myself identifying more and more with their appalling conversation. The effusive words about films and stars, past and present, that I hear today rarely seem to correspond to the relatively modest achievements I see on screen.

This is in preamble to introducing my candidate for the Academy of the Overrated ... Katharine Hepburn.

OK, I'm getting into dangerous territory here. Katharine Hepburn, after all, is a Hollywood legend - Kate the Great. This is blasphemy, right? And, admittedly, she gave some luminous performances, particularly early in her career ("Alice Adams," "Holiday," "The Philadelphia Story" and "Bringing Up Baby"). But she also got away with a lot. She could be precious, willful and feisty, and all at the same time. Erudite wit Dorothy Parker said it all when she quipped of Hepburn's acting ability, "It runs the gamut of emotions from A to B."

Largely, I think she got by because of her great cheekbones. Her Bryn Mawr-lockjaw shtick wore thin with age, as well as there metaphoric comparisons for Spencer Tracy - I mean, "Spence." Remember when she compared him to a baked potato?

Yes. Yes, the time for The Academy of the Overrated has arrived.

(Artwork: Vintage publicity shot of Katherine Hepburn.)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tarantino's "Death Proof"

Finally found my way to "Grindhouse" after all the critics' screenings and was surprised - pleasantly so - on two levels.

First, "Planet Terror," Robert Rodriguez's playful, rather slavish tribute to the grindhouse genre, is great fun, cheesy in all the right ways. But beneath all the gleeful badness is a rather astute anti-war, anti-military polemic that, quite frankly, isn't all that subtle. I'm surprised none of the critics picked up on it.

Secondly, I was totally blown away by Quentin Tarantino's contribution - which is deceptively major and altogether fascinating. Tarantino's "Death Proof" is less a grindhouse flick than it is a nervy experiment that appropriates grindhouse ideas. In performance, his segment has almost nothing to do with the supposed concept behind this double bill. It's just about all talk and all female - Tarantino's take on "My Dinner with Andre," only with women talking trash. You wonder at first what the heck is going on, but when you least expect it, the filmmaker pulls you in - and also pulls off his conceit.

"Death Proof" is divided into three distinct acts, the first two dealing with two sets of chatty women who hang out in restaurants/bars, only to be stalked by Stuntman Mike, embodied beyond the call of duty by a very game Kurt Russell who, to date, turns in the male performance of the year.

Russell channels Mitchum's Max Cady here, taking the character a step further and bringing a singular ferociousness to the character and somehow outdoing his impressive turn in Ron Shelton's criminally neglected "Dark Blue" (2002).

Anyway, all the talk and tension culminates in Act III in a deranged chase sequence involving Mike, three of the women and two testosterone-driven cars.

The assorted trailers and other b-level adornments that fill out "Grindhouse's" 195-minute running time are at turns witty, unmemorable and gratutious, painless but not as much fun as they try to be.

But it's Tarantino's accomplishment here that ultimately drives "Grindhouse," a gutsy segment that will be misunderstood and debated for years, largely because it was made under the "grindhouse" umbrella. Deceptively, it's so much more.

As for Russell, give this man an Oscar already!

This just in: "Death Proof" will be presented solo in an extended (by 15 minutes) version at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

(Artwork: top: Quentin Tarantino shot by Robert Gauthier outside the New Beverly Cinema; bottom: his "Grindhouse" star, Kurt Russell)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jane Austen Times Four

Jane Austen's enduring Emma Woodhouse, the titular character of her novel about an incorrigible young woman who plays matchmaker, meddling in the lives of several people around, has inspired many film incarnations, both official and unofficial.

Off the top of my head, I can think of four distinctly different film versions that, screened back-to-back, would make a wonderful little film festival on a lazy Saturday or rainy Sunday. Makes some popcorn, invites over a few friends, pour some drinks (either tea or something stronger) and lose yourself in these four for a several hours:

"Emma" (1996). Douglas McGrath perfectly cast his version with Gwyneth Platrow, plus his take on the material has a strong fidelity to the novel.

"Amélie"/"Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" (2001). Audrey Tautou twinkled in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's quixotic, highly idiosyncratic, highly stylized French version of the material.

"Clueless" (1995). Amy Heckerling's savvy teen-beat version of Austen's story showcased the irresistible Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, a Valley Girl interpretation of Emma.

"Tammy Tell Me True" (1961). Although ostensibly based on one in a series of novels by Cid Ricketts Sumner (as were the other "Tammy" flicks), this one more closely resembles Austen's story, with Harry Keller directing button-cute Sandra Dee as the backwoods Tambrey "Tammy" Tyree who meddles in the love lives of those around with an earnest but playful mischievousness.

(Artwork: top: The cast of Paramount's "Clueless"; middle: Audrey Tautou as d'Amélie Poulain)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Monday, April 09, 2007

critical quackery: Sean Burns Deconstructs ... Will Ferrell's Nipples?

Excerpted from the movie review "Too Little to Skate: Blades of Glory falls flat in more ways than one," written by Sean Burns for Philadelphia Weekly (March 28, 2007):

"Jim Carrey, Jack Black, Will Ferrell—if a scene stalls, they can’t seem to keep away from their own nipples. It’s become comedy shorthand.

"Honestly, has anybody ever done this, like, ever? Men’s nipples are decorative at best. The most they’re really good for is to tell us when we’re cold. I don’t get out much, but I’ve seen my share of pornography (probably your share too), and for the life of me I still can’t recall glimpsing any male autoerotic mammary stimulation anywhere outside of bad Hollywood comedies.

"But it’s somehow become the new hack staple, the physical equivalent of complaining about airplane food. These days when I see a comedian going for his man-teets, I know he’s got nothing else on the bench."


Critical Quackery is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to curious comments and errata in contemporary movie reviews. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Still shot of Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in DreamWork/Paramount's "Blades of Glory")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Sunday, April 01, 2007

claire & patrick & fred & ginger

While The Gap has done other musical TV ads before, the most memorable being one choreographed to the "Dance in the Gym" number (music by Leonard Bernstein) from "West Side Story," none has been as enchanting - or as arresting - as the company's latest, featuring Patrick Wilson and Claire Danes in a male/female competitive bop to Ethel Merman's "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" (from Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun").

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband-wife team behind "Little Miss Sunshine," the ad features Wilson and Danes in a "dance-off" that ends with Danes tearing off Wilson's khaki "boyfriend trousers®," leaving him in his boxers, and then slipping into them herself.

As reported by Diane Haithman in today's Los Angeles Times, "The idea, according to Gap press materials, is to 'capture the fun of wearing a boyfriend's favorite.'"

Anyway, it's a delight.

Wilson, currently in "Little Children" opposite Kate Winslet, is of course a musical-comedy vet, having appeared in "Oklahoma!" on Broadway and "Phantom of the Opera" on screen. Per Haithman, "Danes is not without dance credits; various bios take note that Danes 'enrolled in a dance class at age 6.'"

Just one question: Who did the choreography?

BTW, Wilson and Danes can also be seen together in the upcoming, all-star art-house film, "Evening."

To check out the ad itself just click here: