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:

turner this month - bravo!

Note: This is a regular monthly feature, highlighting, well, the highlights on Turner Classics' schedule. Why? Simple. Because Turner Classics remains a veritible college education in film. Say no more.

So many movies, so little time. That's the Turner Classics schedule which includes, in any given month, approximately 360 films, domestic and foreign-language, from every decade. It's addictive. In April, for example, you can get front-row seats for "His Girl Friday," "The Nutty Professor," "Sunset Blvd.," "Anatomy of a Murder," "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," "Chilly Scenes of Winter," "On Moonlight Bay," "A Raisin in the Sun," "36 Hours," "A Face in the Crowd," "Day of the Dolphin" and "That Touch of Mink." You can't see films like this anymore in theaters, so you might as well stay home.

As a bonus, Turner will be honoring Rita Hayworth all month, by way of such titles as Charles Vidor's iconic "Gilda" with Glenn Ford and George Sidney's "Pal Joey," with Sinatra, plus a rare screening of Robert Parrish's exotic trash, "Fire Down Below," co-starring Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon.

Whether intended or not, Turner Classics books films that have fascinating connections and that will be my focus today. Have a pencil handy? OK, mark down these T.C. showings as "Must Sees" in April:

George Marshall + Debbie Reynolds (+ Glenn Ford)

Although Turner’s program guide doesn’t mention it, Debbie Reynolds made three – count ‘em – three affable comedies with director George Marshall in 1959, two of which co-starred Glenn Ford. That has to be some kind of a record. Anyway, Turner will broadcast all three in April. Reynolds and Ford were dating when they made the back-to-back Marshall-directed comedies, “The Gazebo” and “It Started with a Kiss.” The films are being screened on Turner, also back-to-back, on April 3, starting at 2 a.m. (11 p.m. pst). The third Reynolds-Marshall film – “The Mating Game,” co-starring Tony Randall – airs on April 20 at 10:15 a.m. (7 p.m. pst).

All three are fun, but “The Mating Game” is particularly companionable and “The Gazebo,” based on the Alec Coppel stage comedy, works as an inventive parody of Hitchcock and features Ford in a bravura comedy performance as a man who has to get rid of a dead body and, in one scene, actually calls Hitchcock for advice. Watch it.

Karl Malden as Mama Rose
Astute movie buffs know that Karl Malden played Herbie to Roz Russell’s Rose in Mervyn LeRoy’s sublime film version of the Styne-Sondheim musical, “Gypsy” (1961) which, of course, is about a horrible stage mother who brutalizes her daughters while ushering them to potential stardom. What some fans may not have picked up on is that Malden did a male variation on the material in Robert Mulligan’s “Fear Strikes Out” (1957), playing the toxic “stage father” of ballplayer Jimmy Piersall (essayed by Anthony Perkins in a stunning performance). Papa Piersall bullied his gifted, athletic son into a nervous breakdown, all so that the son could achieve Pop’s dreams. Just like Mama Rose. “Fear Strikes Out” airs on April 4 at 11 a.m. (8 a.m. pst).

Joe’s Pick
Vincente Minnelli’s “Some Came Running” (1958), airing April 24 at 4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m., pst). If I was a clerk at Blockbuster, this would be my pick of the week – for every week, ad infinitum. It’s perfect, based on the James Jones novel (by way of John Patrick’s screenplay) and elevated by Elmer Bernstein’s seminal score and just-right casting. Frank Sinatra is at his very best (topped perhaps only by his performance in “The Manchurian Candidate”) as an unwanted war vet returning to his despised home town; Shirley MacLaine chews all the scenery as the poignant/funny tramp who latches on to him; Dean Martin settles into his role as a professional gambler as if it were his favorite bathrobe, and Arthur Kennedy and Leora Dana, as Sinatra’s creep brother and sister-in-law, are as untrustworthy as only Arthur Kennedy and Leora Dana could be. I could watch this at least one time a day – every day.

Something Different
If that’s your desire, check out Sir Carol Reed’s take on Graham Green, “Our Man in Havana,” with the eclectic cast of Alec Guinness, Maureen O’Hara, Noel Coward and Ernie Kovacs, at 12 noon (9 a.m. pst) on April 2, or Orson Welles’ adventurous version of Kafka’s “The Trial,” starring Anthony Perkins (again), the dual rapture of Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider, and Welles himself, airing at 5:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m.pst) on April 4.

Rodgers and Hammerstein Go Modern

Look, I liked Rodgers and Hammerstein. Who doesn’t? But let’s face it, their most legendary shows are rigidly formulaic and self-consciously pertinent. That’s why I prefer their neglected, jazzy “Flower Drum Song,” directed in 1961 by Henry Koster. It is light and modern and, for once, R-&-H don’t club us over the head with their usual socially-conscious message. Great score, great choreography (by Hermes Pan) and perfectly cast – with Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta and Miyoshi Umeki. Turner will show it at 3:45 a.m. (12:45 am pst) on April 8. As Stephen Gong wrote in the program notes for The 25th San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival (which ran March 15-25, 2007, at the Castro Theater) where "Flower Drum Song" was a centerpiece attraction, the 45-year-old movie "has grown steadily in stature with each year."

From the Vaults of Columbia

Richard Quine’s comically subversive “Bell, Book & Candle” (1958), showing on April 17 at 12:30 a.m. (9;30 p.m., pst), with Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon and Elsa Lanchester as a family of witches who are “outted,” so to speak, by James Stewart and Ernie Kovacs. It comes replete with playwright John Van Druten's shrewd gay subtext that must have seemed truly invisible when the film was first released;

Richard Fleischer’s “Barabbas” (1962), showing on April 8 at 10 p.m. (7p.m., pst), an unusually intelligent and radical roadshow film dedicated to one of the top villains of all time, offering Anthony Quinn in another effective, showy acting turn;

David Swift’s phenomenally popular “The Interns” (1961), showing on April 24 at 8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m., pst), followed by John Rich’s tepid sequel “The New Interns” (1964)at 11 a.m. (8 a.m., pst), both starring Michael Callen, fresh off his Broadway role as Riff in “West Side Story,” where he was billed as Mickey Calin.

And saving the best for last…

RKO Lost and Found
Ready for a treat and a little revelation? On April 4 and 11, Turner will showcase six RKO titles, three on each day (each shown twice), that seemed to be lost forever because of tangled copyright issues but that were rescued by senior program manager Dennis Millay. Each title is a find:

William Seiter “Rafter Romance” (1933) and its remake, Lew Landers’ “Living on Love” (1937), both a romantic comedy about a man and a woman unknowingly sharing the same apartment. Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster star in the Seiter original; and Whitney Bourne and James Dunn in the Landers version;

John Robertson’s “One Man’s Journey” (1933) and its remake Garson Kanin’s “A Man to Remember” (1938), about idealistic doctors taking a stand;

And John Cromwell’s “Double Harness” (1933), with William Powell as a playboy, and William Wellman’s “Stingaree” (1934), with Irene Dunne as a singer whose career is financed by a hood.

Old films all, but totally fresh discoveries.

(Artwork: top: Poster art for MGM's "Some Came Running"; middle: Nancy Kawn singing Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I Enjoy Being a Girl" in Universal's "Flower Drum Song")

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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