Saturday, May 28, 2005

List of lists: Top 100 Voices in the Movies, Salon's best movies, Slate's worst couples

To use one of Mrs. Miniver's favorite expressions, movie list-making is "indefensible but irresistible." Here is one that is especially delicious,'s list of The All-Time Top 100 Voices in the Movies.

And Salon's premium subscribers (oh, go on, sign up, you know it's worth it) can take a look at Andrew O'Hehir's engagingly offbeat list of mostly non-canonical but very worthwhile films he thinks everyone should see, reposted as a response to the more mainstream Time Magazine list more notable for what it leaves out (Gone With the Wind) than for what it includes (The Godfather and E.T.).

O'Hehir has two categories, 20 movies you'd better have seen already (yes, The Godfather again, along with All About Eve, Blue Velvet, and Nashville). Then there is the list of "Films You Might Never See (Without My Benevolent Guidance)," an edgier selection that includes Bride of Frankenstein, Persona, and The Searchers -- okay, that one is also on Time's list, and mine, too, if I had one.

In Slate, David Edelstein has another great contest -- the most mis-matched movie couples (scroll down below the review of "The Longest Yard"). From Roger Moore and Grace Jones in A View to a Kill to Woody Allen with just about anyone, the list includes Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn in "The Iron Petticoat" and the three-generation combination of Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, and Matthew Broderick as grandfather, son, and grandson thieves in Family Business. But no one mentioned my favorite odd couple -- Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson(!) as romantically inclined step-siblings(!) in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

At Play in a Grown-Up World (Washington Post)

At Play in a Grown-Up World is a terrific story by Caroline E. Mayer about a new indoor theme park that lets kids try out different careers. "The size of 2 1/2 football fields, this $40 million indoor theme park near Fort Lauderdale provides 3- to 13-year-olds with what its developers say is a taste of the grown-up world. They get to "play" at more than 100 professions, from attorney to paleontologist, dentist to pizza maker, hairdresser to detective. For their hard work, they earn Wongas, which can be spent on cookies, rock climbing or carnival rides purchased from park employees, or manicures and hair styling done by other role-playing youngsters.

But what's real life without brand names or corporate marketing? As Wannado's chief creative officer, Luis Javier Laresgoiti, says, a city without corporate names "doesn't look like a real city."

So it's no surprise that the theme park aggressively courts brand-name firms as sponsors to give companies an opportunity to reach out to children and their parents in hopes of turning their Wannado enthusiasm into can-do spending."

'Star Wars' a PG-13 dilemma (Mercury News 05/20/2005)

What kind of parents take four and five year olds to see a PG-13 movie? This article in The San Jose Mercury News reports that one brought a four year old dressed as Darth Vader who got up and swung his light saber around during the fight scenes (showing a complete lack of consideration for the rest of the audience) and another brought his five year old because it would give her "bragging rights" as the first of her friends to see it (showing a complete lack of consideration for the parents of those friends, who will now have to suffer through the "But Zoe's dad took her!" whine-a-thon). One mother interviewed in the story said, "They don't need to see violence like that...If I had thought about it before, I would have left them home.''

Thursday, May 19, 2005

"Star Wars" -- technology glass half full; acting and dialogue glass half empty

This week is all about Revenge of the Sith and the critics are all so happy that this one is better than the last two, so relieved that it doesn't have anything about tariffs and only a few seconds of Jar Jar Binks, and so nostalgic about the end to a series that has spanned a generation that most of them were willing to overlook details like, say, the script and the performances.

For example, Gary Arnold of the Washington Times finds that "The merely clunky or absent-minded features of his screenwriting generate a certain fondness, but he leaves the lovers in a permanently immature fix."

The New York Times' A.O. Scott recognizes that "Mr. Lucas's indifference to two fairly important aspects of moviemaking - acting and writing - is remarkable," but he finds that not only is "Revenge of the Sith" better than the original "Star Wars," but that "It comes closer than any of the other episodes to realizing Mr. Lucas's frequently reiterated dream of bringing the combination of vigorous spectacle and mythic resonance he found in the films of Akira Kurosawa into American commercial cinema." Scott doesn't find much to praise in the performances of the actors, with the exception of the CGI Yoda, who "some of his finest work in this film does," with robot droid R2-D2 "also in fine form." Scott is so delirious over the movie that he even finds a way to rhapsodize over it when -- even because -- the technology falls short: "Even the single instance where the effects don't quite work -- a climactic battle superimposed on a filmed eruption of Mount Etna -- suggests not a failure of vision but a willingness to try what may not yet quite be possible." He says that the most profund thing about the six-movie cycle is "the inverted chronology....Taken together, and watched in the order they were made, the films reveal the cyclical nature of history, which seems to repeat itself even as it moves forward. Democracies swell into empires, empires are toppled by revolutions, fathers abandon their sons and sons find their fathers."

Dann Gire of Chicago's Daily Herald is not as enthusiastic: "Flourishes of cleverness, eye-singeing action sequences, and finally, Anakin Skywalker’s long-awaited, long-overdue transformation into the darkest of Darths propel the last part of 'Episode III' into the ranks of the best-written and best-directed chapter, The Empire Strikes Back, which Lucas neither directed nor scripted. But before we arrive at the really good stuff compressed into the final 30 minutes, we must first slog through an eternity of ear-infecting dialogue, Prozac-induced acting and fight sequences edited so tight and quick that they numb the senses instead of excite them." He also notes the poor performances and wooden dialogue: "'I’m not the Jedi I should be,' Anakin robotically intones. Equally lethargic, Portman’s Padme emits all the passion of a mating gondark in her awkward, bluntly written romantic scenes with Anakin." And he points out that it is a bit odd that technology, while advanced, doesn't seem to develop much over the generations covered by the cycle. "If droids were the cell phones of their time, they’d be scrap metal in three months."

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy finds the simplicity of the script intentional and compelling: "The simplified morality, the easy mysticism, the emphasis on action and novelty, the chaste romances, the cartoonish dialogue -- it's deliberately science fiction akin more to Buck Rogers than Robert A. Heinlein." He says, "The story of Anakin Skywalker reaches a satisfying conclusion, the saga of galactic politics and struggles between the Jedi and Sith orders reaches a plausible crescendo, and the technological experiments of the preceding prequels (in particular, the use of digital actors alongside humans) generates several eye-popping moments. The result, if not great art, is great popcorn moviemaking."

At the Washington Post, Stephen Hunter waves aside both the obsessive fans ("bye-bye, Count Dooku, whoever you were, and it doesn't really matter") and those who are looking for, what was that again, oh yes, acting and dialogue: "It would also help if Christensen and Portman were more expressive actors and if the dialogue they were forced to utter didn't sound like it was stolen from The Black Shield of Falworth starring Tony Curtis, in 1954, but he's not that kind of director either." Hunter likes the way the movie disects Anakin's seduction by the dark side of the force. "Anakin is the classic man who gives up freedom for security, and ends up with neither."

Monday, May 16, 2005

Joel Fowler interviews the stars of Crash

"It’s entertainment. It’s drama. It’s fiction. But, you need to hit the nail on the head to get people’s attention in regards to who is who in such a huge cast. On top of that, I think Paul was clever in casting against type in many ways, because I think that makes the audience sit up and pay more attention in many ways." Brendan Fraser

This comment and more are in an insightful interview with Brendan Fraser and Michael Pena by YTIC's Joel Fowler.

Next, the Trix Rabbit plays Jabba the Hut

"Star Wars" characters have been licensed since 1977, and over the years they have appeared on everything from toothbrushes to iPod covers.

But with this last scheduled movie in the series, George Lucas has for the first time permitted the use of the characters outside of their own "galaxy far, far away." Darth Vader appears on commercials for Cheerios and Yoda is pushing Diet Pepsi. It's sad to see these characters diminished from mythic figures on a scale with Frodo and Robin Hood to walking logos like the the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Energizer bunny.

As the Washington Post's Frank Ahrens says in this article, "Darth Vader, the manifestation of evil in the films, is getting plenty of work in the "Sith" promotion, in a way that's oddly counter to his 'don't-cross-me-or-I'll-telepathically-strangle-you' character. There he is, holding a huge bag of M&M's. There he is, trying to con someone out of a burger in a Burger King commercial. It's almost enough to make one feel sorry for the lord of the Dark Side, reduced to a heavy-breathing pitchman."

Even more disturbing is the marketing of the movie through Burger King "kids' meals" to very young children, even though the movie is rated PG-13.

My essay on the marketing of the new Star Wars movie appears on the Common Sense Media website.

Update on May 19 from the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, objecting to "Star Wars" sixtreen different food promotions for twnety-five different foods, every one of them of little or no nutritional value. "Ten Star Wars food products have 35 or more grams of sugar per serving; another seven have more than 20 grams of sugar. Many Star Wars foods are also high in fat and full of empty calories. A two-ounce serving of Limited Edition Star Wars Frito Lay Cheetos contains 20 grams of fat and 320 calories. Two Lava Berry Pop Tarts contain 400 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 38 grams of sugar. The smallest size Star Wars collectible M&M package contains 440 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 56.5 grams of sugar."

CCFC also notes that the promotions are directed at children too young to see the movie. Furthermore, "Star Wars Promotions Encourage Repeated Purchases of Junk Food:
The Skittles website encourages Star Wars fans to collect all 48 collectible Star Wars Skittles wrappers. It fails to mention that fans will need to purchase eighteen pounds of Skittles in order to complete their collection. This figure pales in comparison, however, to the forty-five pounds of M&M’s (containing more than 10,000 grams of sugar) kids need to buy to collect all seventy-two M&M Star Wars wrappers. To collect all thirty-one Star Wars Super D toys “for free,” kids will need to buy more than five Burger King children’s meals (690 calories, 28 grams of fat, and 35 grams of sugar) per week during the six-week promotion."

Friday, May 13, 2005 Summer Movies 2005

The Washington Post has gone all-out with a sumptous guide to Summer Movies 2005.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

GreenCine Movie Primers

GreenCine Movie Primers are terrific essays published by Nexflix-rival GreenCine, who believe that "DVDs are not just entertainment but film-schools-in-a-box." They are short but sharp and informative introductory guides to classic film genres from French New Wave to Hammer Horror, from the ultra-(if sometimes artificial)-naturalism of Dogme 95 to the ultra, well, ultra-ism of Godzilla. These intros are a most-welcome inspiration to look beyond the "new releases" shelf for last-season's multiplex fodder.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Will we (must we) always have Paris?

It's all-Paris, all the time today as this week's movie meme from the critics seems to be that the only possible reason for putting Paris Hilton in a movie like House of Wax is to see her get killed.

"Purists, be warned: This scare-flick quickie has as much relation to the 1953 Vincent Price classic with the same title as Paris Hilton does to acting."
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

"socialite non-talent Paris Hilton makes a dry-run attempt at costarring in a movie more humiliating than her accidental hit porno 1 Night in Paris, which at least offered a few spasms of amusement, if not better fleshed-out characters."
Aaron Hillis, Premiere Magazine

Adding insult to injury is the inclusion of Paris Hilton among the cast members. She’s the cinematic equivalent of a stray dog, an untrained extra that accidentally wandered into the shot and quickly began making love to the camera. Her death is the most spectacular in the film, and at the screening I attended, applause broke out when it happened; but then again, she’s so affected and unconvincing as a couture-wearing, sex-crazed model type (basically, herself) that she compromises the film’s credibility (never mind how much or little it possessed prior to her participation).
Todd Gilchrist, Film Stew

"the camera is like a loving captive of Hilton's assured smirk and self-aware demeanor."
Phil Villarreal, Arizona Daily Star

On the other hand Robert Rosado of efilmcritic has a different point of view -- he liked the movie, was happily surprised to find strong performances (even from Paris) and a horror movie script that allowed its characters to show good sense, and concludes that it is "commendably stylish and effective."