Rent It or Skip It? 5 Movies on DVD!

With so much crap in the theatres lately, I’ve been watching more film rentals at home. Since these films were out earlier in the year, I didn’t bother to write up any extensive reviews here on the site. But I thought I would do a quick run-down of what I have been watching and letting you know whether you should RENT IT! or SKIP IT! Please note that these are not film reviews – just very brief thoughts on some of the movies I’ve been playing on the ‘ol DVD.

Kick-Ass (dir. Matthew Vaughn)

What a pleasant surprise this was! In what has been a very lackluster year for film thus far, this one easily stands out for me as one of the year’s best. Highly entertaining, funny, unpredictable and clever — unlike any superhero film you have ever seen. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a nerdy high school student who no one seems to notice. He desperately yearns to do good for society and decides to buy a costume online and become a modern-day super hero. Johnson fits perfectly here and he is extremely likeable. A bright future for him, for sure. Nicolas Cage gives a strong and humorous performance in a supporting role and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (you know — McLovin) is great fun as the Red Mist. Who steals the show here is Chloe Moretz as Cage’s very young daughter. She comes out with some great lines and knows how to dish out her own can of Whoop-ass. What movies should be…great fun!
VERDICT: RENT IT!

Me and Orson Welles (dir. Richard Linklater)

A very sweet coming of age story and overall, a strong film based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. I don’t know anything about Zac Efron and haven’t really seen him in anything, but he is perfectly cast here as Richard Samuels, a high school student who yearns to make something of himself in the Big City as an artist. He impresses a young Orson Welles outside his Mercury Theatre and gets a small part in what would be an extraordinary revival of Julius Caesar by the famed director. Young Richard learns a lot about love, the theatre and the politics involved throughout while dismissing his duties at school and home. Christian McKay is phenomenal as Orson Welles, showing all of his ego, bravado, charm and brilliance with tremendous subtlety. Welles is portrayed as a real shit here, albeit ingenious. Zoe Kazan has a couple of great scenes with Efron and she is simply delightful to watch. Claire Danes is fine, but really…are we supposed to believe that she is the object of every man’s affection at the theatre? There is nothing physically appealing about Ms. Danes and for her to be cast as such is downright laughable. Nonetheless, a charming little film that should have received a bigger and better push from the studios.
VERDICT: RENT IT!

The Killer Inside Me (dir. Michael Winterbottom)

I was expecting big things here and had heard that Casey Affleck’s psychotic killer put Christian Bale’s (in American Psycho) to shame. First of all, that is in no way true. Second, this film, despite some very positive reviews, was a huge disappointment in my book. Winterbottom has yet to wow us, after the sub-par A Mighty Heart and the horrendously dreadful 9 Songs. And can I say this about Casey Affleck? Does this guy have anything in his reserve tank other than hit his one note? In the films I have seen him in, he hits that one note very well, but that is it — he does little else at all and shows absolutely no range. He is boring. Here, he plays a Texas deputy sheriff who is sent to drive a prostitute (Jessica Alba) away from town. Instead of doing so, he begins a torrid affair with her and we slowly see his psychotic inner being come to the forefront. The supporting cast is very effective here, especially Kate Hudson who plays his faithful and loving girlfriend, just waiting to be proposed to. Alba pulls in a gutsy and strong performance. Tom Bower and Elias Koteas are also quite good in this wanna-be film noir that seems to have so much potential, but in the end, misses the boat.
VERDICT: SKIP IT!

The Losers (dir. Sylvain White)

Another fun, entertaining, popcorn flick. I had heard some good things about this movie and was not led astray. The film centers around a CIA Black Ops team that is left for dead. The group begins to plot their revenge on those in power who targeted their assassinations. Their leader is Clay and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (impressive in Watchmen) fits the role very well. He is witty, strong, sexy and commands our attention. His crew is also filled with fine performances and it was nice to see some unknown faces do good work. Not a star vehicle at all, which is usually not such a bad thing. Jason Patric is the biggest name here and he is the villain of the film.  Patric is so cartoonish and over-the-top and given such ridiculous “villain-lines” to say that you know the creative team is not taking itself too seriously here. Zoe Saldana makes for one bad-ass female, assisting the team in seeking out who they need to find, though it is never quite clear whose side she is really on. Her chemistry with Clay is a strong one. If you are looking to sit back, unwind and have some snacks to an action-packed and at times, very funny movie, take your chances on this.
VERDICT: RENT IT!

Cop Out (dir. Kevin Smith)

I don’t know why I keep watching Kevin Smith films, since he has only made one very good one (Dogma). And don’t give me Clerks because I’ll laugh at you. This one is a mess from start to finish and filled with all the cliches that make us roll our eyes repeatedly for about 90 minutes. Bruce Willis plays NYPD vet Jimmy Monroe whose daughter is about to get married. Jimmy refuses to let her arrogant stepfather (Jason Lee) pay for the expensive day so he decides to sell his very rare baseball card. Of course, the card gets stolen – and that’s when all of the zany lunacy begins. Paired up with Willis is Tracy Morgan, who is funny in short spurts – but not at all engaging enough to drive a movie. His back-and-forth with Willis is at times funny, but it wears off pretty quickly. Willis’ deadpan reactions to Morgan are also funny at times, I won’t deny that. But the film gives us nothing new. It is predictable, tedious, unoriginal, and, at times, weary. Some small laughs here and there, but not enough to waste your time on.
VERDICT: SKIP IT!

OTHER MOVIES OUT ON DVD/BLUE-RAY:

The Yellow Handkerchief (**) — SKIP IT!
The Girl on the Train (**) — SKIP IT!
The Joneses (** ½) — Can go either way here, but original & worth a shot
Mother (*** ½) — RENT IT!
Chloe (***) — RENT IT! despite it’s very poor final act

Weekend Humor: Hitler Pissed at Disney!

Parodies of Hitler are usually pretty funny — and this one is no exception. Here, the Fuhrer’s men have the misfortune of having to inform him of the tragic news that Marvel has just been acquired by Disney (“Marvel now belongs to Mickey Mouse“). Hitler’s reaction to this is hysterical as his rant gets more ferocious the more he thinks about it. It is good stuff indeed and thought it would make for a nice laugh in the website’s new “Weekend Humor” segment.

Thanks so much to Amy for sending this my way!!!

*If you have a funny video that you would like to share, please feel free to send my way for future consideration…Thanks!!!

Gimme 5: Favorite Spielberg Movies!

Yesterday, I did a write-up on Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, Munich, which I consider to be his most daring, most mature work to date. But that’s just me. Part of the reason I started this website is to have a dialogue with other movie lovers, getting your thoughts and opinions on the world of movies. So piggy-backing on yesterday’s post, I thought it would interesting to see what your favorite Spielberg films are. Next year will be his 40th year making feature-length films and though he seems to have done it all, I tend to dismiss him when I am speaking of our most accomplished directors. I really shouldn’t considering his tremendous canon of work…from worldwide special effects blockbusters such as Jurassic Park to the more intimate, “smaller” films like The Color Purple, he has done it all and his films will be remembered for as long as there are movies. If you need to refresh your memory on his extensive resume, just click here for his IMDb page and take a peek. You want to choose a film that he produced, that’s fine too…it’s up to you. Just join in, that’s all I ask! 

‘GIMME 5’ of Your Favorite Spielberg Movies!!!

Here’s My 5:

#1. Munich (click here for my reasoning)
#2. Schindler’s List
(I think I can watch this anytime – a colossal achievement)
#3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
(I still remember coming home from that movie at age 10, mesmerized)
#4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
(Come on…who doesn’t love this film???)
#5. The Terminal
(I absolutely adore this little movie. And Tom Hanks rocks in it!)

Now It’s YOUR Turn!!!

Film Flashback: Spielberg’s Most Courageous Work?

I remember seeing the movie back in 2005, thinking it was perhaps his strongest work to date as a filmmaker. Screening it again this week only helped to cement my initial reaction of it as being a truly remarkable film. And although it may not be his “greatest” achievement (there is a little film called Schindler’s List that many have ranked among the greatest films ever made), the historical fiction film Munich is, in my estimation, Steven Spielberg’s most daring, most courageous work thus far.

Based on the book, Vengeance by journalist George Jonas, the film tells the story of the Israeli government’s secret retaliatory attacks after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Black September militants at the 1972 Summer Olympics. The film focuses on Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana, in an extraordinary performance), an Israeli-born Mossad agent of German descent who leads a team of four other men to hunt down and assassinate 11 Palestinian men who are believed to have taken some part in the slaughters at the Olympic games. “Forget peace for now, ” says Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir. “We have to show them we’re strong.” Though Kaufman’s wife is 7 months pregnant with their first child, he takes on the mission and is prepped for the operation by his contact man, Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush). Kaufman’s squad operates with absolutely no ties to the government of Israel — everything they do, is done covertly…without any traces. It is as if Kaufman and his men don’t even exist. And…they don’t.

I know that Spielberg caught a bit of flack when this film was released for its approach to the controversial subject matter. But he wasn’t making a documentary — the beginning states “inspired” by true events and he and his creative team take full advantage of having creative license. Certain elements are based on fact — there’s no question about that and those events are indisputable. But of course there is no way to be completely accurate with all the who’s, how’s and where’s of it all and Spielberg tells the story of this particular Israeli vengeance squad in his own way. The first thing he nailed was getting the perfect writers to adapt the book in award-winning playwright Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. It is an astounding script filled with compelling characters, suspense and intelligent dialogue.  It forces us to consider profound questions on one’s morality, retaliation, family, patriotism and yes, our very souls. John Williams, who has been a long-time collaborator with Spielberg, composes a magnificently haunting score; one that sounds unlike anything he has previously done. Michael Kahn’s editing keeps the lengthy film moving at a quick pace; creating great suspense when needed and going back and forth in time to the night of the Olympic murders. Also, we are accustomed to how visually stunning Spielberg’s films are and one of the main reasons for this is his longtime cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski. His work on this film is no exception — one glorious image after another.

PARTICULAR THINGS I LOVE ABOUT THE FILM:

  • How Spielberg captures the chaos on the evening that the 11 Israeli athletes are killed.  The swarming media coverage of the hostage situation is so dramatically orchestrated here. In fact, Spielberg doesn’t even show us what happens until a bit later, when Kaufman (Bana) is aboard a plane and he looks out the window. A very nice touch indeed.
  • The intermittent moments of humor. Though heavy in subject matter, there are some tender and funny moments that allow us to breathe a bit in between all of the more difficult moments. The battle over the radio in the Safehouse that Steve (Daniel Craig) has, and in particular, some of the moments that Kaufman has with his wife are very playful. At one point, he opens up to her by telling her she is the only home he has ever known. She replies, “This is so corny,” leaving Kaufman wounded, telling her that it wasn’t easy for him to say in the first place. OK, it doesn’t read as funny, but it brought a smile to my face…you have to simply see it.
  • The level of humanity illustrated throughout, no matter if the character is Israeli or Arab. Like many of Spielberg’s films, Munich is dripping with humanity. It doesn’t preach to its viewer and doesn’t tell you how to think. Spielberg’s message is a more subtle one. He even makes sure to depict the people on Kaufman’s “hit list” with a sense of compassion before his team assassinates them — their first target, for example, they find in Rome. He is living a poor life as a poet, conducting a reading in the streets to a small, modest crowd. A bomb is planted inside the home telephone of their second target. Spielberg makes sure to show us the young daughter of the target running back inside the home, then answering the ringing phone. It is a beautifully filmed sequence that grows more tense with each passing shot as we are not sure if the bomb will go off with the daughter inside the house or not. Another striking moment is Kaufman’s own reaction on the telephone when he first hears his baby daughter speak. Bana’s immediate reaction breaks your heart as he tells her from thousands of miles away, “This is what I sound like. Don’t forget…” Another, more subtle example is when the team is deciding whether to leave the robe of a beautiful Dutch contract killer open, exposing her naked body, or not, as she lies in a chair, lifeless.
  • The cast is simply tremendous. Bana is really the only big star here (remember, Daniel Craig wasn’t as big at the time of filming as he surely is today) and he has never been stronger. Ciarán Hinds is especially impressive as a former Israeli soldier, now “cleaner.” Mathieu Kassovitz plays Robert, a toy maker who has been trained in explosives. After so many missions, Robert questions the morality of what they have been doing and cannot bring himself continue. Both Hinds and Kassovitz turn in powerhouse performances. Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is wonderfully engaging as Kaufman’s informant and the meetings that the two have together make for great drama. And Geoffrey Rush, as always, gives a solid performance. Here though, he seems like the only character without much humanity and we grow more frustrated with him every time he meets with Kaufman. The entire cast, as a whole, is remarkable — all fitting their parts in ideal fashion.
  • The wonderful scene with Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) where they are deciding on how best to respond to the horrors at Munich. Cohen is sensational — strong and commands the attention of the men around her. She has one scene in the film, but you don’t forget it any time soon.

I love the questions this film raises. Near the end, when Avner Kaufman is home in New York with his family, he asks Ephraim, “Did I commit murder?” The killings have been haunting him and keeping him up at night. He wants tangible evidence that these 11 men that they targeted for killing had a hand in the Munich massacre. He needs to know that it was not all in vain — that it stood for something, meant something. But really, Spielberg does a brilliant job at hinting towards the notion that, in some ways, it is all fruitless, futile. That the killings will continue. One eye will be taken and another eye taken for the loss of that. And on and on it goes…years, decades, centuries. Spielberg opens up a tremendous dialogue here — he doesn’t give answers; he merely poses the questions.

And for a film that takes a long, hard look on terrorism and retaliatory terrorist attacks, how fitting it was for Spielberg’s last shot to show the New York City skyline, with the towers of the World Trade Center standing strong and proud in the distance. Nice touch. Brilliant film. His bravest so far to date.

The 15 Best Movies Adapted from the Stage!

There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than movies, but the theatre has always been my greatest passion — from O’Neill, Strindberg, and Pirandello, to Miller, Mamet and McDonogh. I studied theatre as an undergraduate (NYU and Hofstra) and have had an active interest in it since high school. I was lucky enough to attend the Lee Strasberg Institute, have worked on productions as a writer and/or director, taught drama to high school students and I am lucky enough to live in New York, where some of the best theatre can be seen. Honestly, there is something much more magical and alive about theatre that the medium of film can’t quite capture. What is even more difficult is trying to capture that sense of immediacy and wonder in a staged play and adapting it for the silver screen. Just because a play is brilliant, that doesn’t mean its movie counterpart will be as successful (take the two masterful plays Hurlyburly and American Buffalo for example, which had wonderful performances, but didn’t quite work out as movies). It takes a special something to make a compelling film from a work originated from the stage, and even more challenging to add to and expand upon the play, so I have composed my own Top 15 Movies Adapted from the Stage.

Now a couple of notes here. First, I love me some Willy Shakespeare, but that is another list entirely. I didn’t want this list to be dominated by the Almighty Bard, so I have omitted all of the great films adapted from his plays. Also, no musicals here. Again, another list. These are staged plays only. I consider musical theatre to be a separate art form, so it gets a separate list. Finally, a note on 12 Angry Men — a brilliant work and its 1957 film is one of my all-time favorites. However, I left it off only because it did not debut on stage until a few years later (Sidney Lumet’s movie was based on a teleplay, not adapted directly from the stage). I was surprised at how many good films there were to pick from, which made this a much more difficult task than I had originally anticipated and is why I stretched the list to fifteen. As always, your own thoughts, comments and opinions are always welcome. In any case, here is the list…

#15. To Gillian on her 37th Birthday (dir. Michael Pressman)

OK, I really do not consider this to be a “great” play. I don’t think many would call the film “great” either. It’s overly sentimental, romantic and at times, cheesy – but I absolutely love it and had to find a spot for this 1996 movie based on Michael Brady’s imaginative 1984 play. If you like syrupy romantic movies, then this one is for you. Peter Gallagher does a very good job playing David Lewis, a father who can’t quite seem to get over the death of his wife, as he goes out on the beach each night to spend time with and have conversations with her ghost (played by Michelle Pfeiffer). The film does a great job at capturing its lovely environment (Nantucket, Massachusetts) as well as show the torment that David is going through and the spiraling effect it has on his teenage daughter (Claire Danes). A guilty pleasure to be sure, but it does manage to breathe a new life to the staged play.

#14. A Bronx Tale (dir. Robert DeNiro)

Originally a one-man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri in 1990, the play made its way from L.A. to New York where Robert DeNiro saw it, bought the rights and eventually directed the film (1993). Of course the play is very bare-bones and quite sparse, with Palminteri introducing us to all the characters he knew as a kid growing up all by himself on stage. I was lucky enough to see Mr. Palmineteri perform his very personal piece last year and he was terrific. The film brings the piece to life in a way that the stage simply could not and DeNiro does an admirable job in his directorial debut. DeNiro plays the blue-collar bus driver Lorenzo, whose son Calogero witnesses a murder committed by the local mafia boss, Sonny (Palminteri). Calogero is seduced by the swanky mafia lifestyle and grows further and further apart from his honest and loving father. The father/son relationship is quite touching and Chazz makes the perfect Sonny, a man who would rather be feared than loved by others. This film is a great watch and is also pretty powerful, touching on themes of racism, loyalty, family, young love, and friendship.

#13. Driving Miss Daisy (dir. Bruce Beresford)

Alfred Uhry received the Pulitzer Prize for his 1987 off-Broadway play about a 72-year old Jewish widow who is forced by her son to be chauffeured by Hoke, a black driver, after getting herself into a bit of a fender bender. In what was a pretty good year for movies, the film had no right winning the Oscar for “Best Picture” in 1989, but it remains a poignant and moving piece of filmmaking. Set in 1948 when racism permeated much of the country, the film explores the complex, up-and-down 25-year relationship between Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) and Hoke (Morgan Freeman) — from her initial resentment of him to their close friendship. She teaches him to read and he opens her eyes to so much that she had not seen before. Freeman and Tandy are spectacular here — two old veterans doing what they do best, and on top of their respective games. Dan Aykroyd also turns in a solid performance as Daisy’s son, Boolie. Beresford succeeds at effectively capturing the place and time in the American South and gets the most from his stars. Interesting to note that Freeman also starred in the play at Playwrights Horizons where it debuted. A sweet, humorous and touching work.

#12. The Heiress (dir. William Wyler)

This is one of my all-time favorite plays. I remember seeing a 1995 Broadway production of this, and to this day, can’t seem to get the image of the magnetic Cherry Jones out of my head…it was the greatest performance on stage I have ever witnessed. The 1949 film version is also a treat to watch. Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted their own play here for the screen and did so with great skill. The cast is impressive and the story always breaks my heart. The renowned Olivia de Havilland plays Catherine Sloper, a plain and terribly shy woman who desperately seeks love and approval from her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson). Dr. Sloper has made his disappointment in his daughter quite clear. In comes the handsome and charming Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). He falls in love with Catherine and the two plan to marry. However, Dr. Sloper believes that no one could love his daughter in such a way — that Morris must be after one thing only…her inheritance. Clift pulls this difficult part off quite well — as we never know if his intentions with Catherine are genuine are not — his subtlety here is his great accomplishment. Not surprisingly, de Havilland is marvelous and we empathize with her character throughout. It is a wonderful play and the great William Wyler, no stranger to adapting from the stage, directs his cast with style and precision.

#11. Miss Julie (dir. Mike Figgis)

I am an avid fan of August Strindberg and his 1888 play, Miss Julie is one of my favorites. I remember being quite surprised at how effective and dynamic the film actually was. Much of the credit belongs to the adaptation by Helen Cooper, as well as Mike Figgis’ astute direction of his fine small cast. The film takes place on Midsummer’s Night and we watch the back-and-forth power struggle between the aristocratic Julie (Saffron Burrows) and the lowly footman, Jean (Peter Mullan). Jean is engaged to one of the servants of his social class, but the sexual tension and chemistry between him and his superior is too great. They each bare their souls throughout the night, but by sunrise, will they be strong enough to free themselves from the bondage of class in society? Strindberg provides us with a great twist and Figgis, thankfully, remains faithful to that. Burrows makes a smoldering Miss Julie and her range here is impressive — why her talent isn’t used as effectively since this 1999 film is a mystery to me. Mullan does a worthy job as well, playing the role of Jean who has so many layers to him, it is a challenge for any actor to play. The cinematography is striking and, as it mostly takes place in one confined setting, Figgis and the art/set directors do a very good job of keeping us from feeling claustrophobic. A film that came and went, but if you are a fan of naturalistic drama and theatre, you may want to check it out.

#10. Wait Until Dark (dir. Terence Young)

This is the first of two films on this list adapted by the works of English playwright Frederick Knott. Some works simply lend themselves to movies more so than others and Knott’s gripping stories are great fits for the big screen. Wait Until Dark (1967) is a terrific mystery/suspense thriller that revolves around a blind housewife Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn), and the three con men who cheat their way into her apartment looking for heroin that is stashed in a doll. Hepburn turns in a strong performance as Hendrix as she first falls for all the lies being told to her, then using her brains and her own handicap to try and outwit the criminals. She was so committed to the role that she and Terence Young attended a school for the blind to learn more about the visually impaired and she even learned to read Braille. The highlight of the film though is watching Alan Arkin as the vicious and cold-blooded Harry Roat. He makes a spectacular villain here and Richard Crenna is also excellent as Mike Talman, the man whose job it is to gain Susy’s trust. Most of the film takes place in the Hendrix apartment, but it still manages to keep you on your toes with fast-paced suspense and clever twists in plot. The film still holds up very well today, managing to be quite frightening and exciting. In fact, it was ranked #55 on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years, 100 Thrills” — a well-deserved distinction.

#9. Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? (dir. Mike Nichols)

You want to see a rocky marriage where the living room plays home to verbal warfare between husband and wife? Then meet George and Martha from Edward Albee’s classic 1962 play which took home the Tony award for “Best Play.” To make this film work, it is vital to cast the right actors willing to push the boundaries set by Albee’s dialogue and Nichols gets sensational work from his four leading actors. Elizabeth Taylor always played these parts with great venom and skill and her Martha is at times great fun to watch; at other times, simply painful. This role did indeed garner her a “Best Actress” Oscar…and well-deserved it was. Richard Burton is up to the challenge and matches his opponent with each verbal blow. This volatile relationship is one of cinema’s most memorable and whenever I see it, I always think what great fun the two must have had filming this movie. The movie is set on the campus of a small New England college. George is a history professor and his alcoholic and vulgar wife is the daughter of the college president. After attending one of her father’s gatherings, Martha has invited a younger couple over for a nightcap, unbeknownst to George. These two young lovebirds (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) have no idea what they are stepping into. The film is very faithful to the staged play, with only minor deviations from Albee’s script. One of the most fascinating aspects to learn about this unhealthy couple is discovering the mystery of their son — a subject that George forbids his wife to speak about in front of company.

#8. The Philadelphia Story (dir. George Cukor)

A true romantic comedy classic! Based on the 1939 play by Philip Barry, this film went on to box-office success, 6 Oscar nominations, and a place in cinematic history. Barry wrote the play specially for Katharine Hepburn (who reprised her stage role for the film) and, after appearing in a number of flops, marked her first great box-office triumph. The movie tells the story of a wealthy socialite (Hepburn) whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and a handsome journalist. Cary Grant plays the ex-husband and James Stewart won a “Best Actor” Oscar as tabloid reporter, Macaulay Connor. All three give delightful performances and work off one another with great aplomb. The movie is typical Cukor: witty, clever, sweet and filled with spirit. I always seem to yearn for films like these just about every time I see the drivel that Hollywood spews out masquerading as romantic comedies. They surely don’t make ’em as smart and tender as this anymore!

#7. Dial M for Murder (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Another thriller based on the staged work of Frederick Knott, who had a knack for writing suspenseful stories that revolve around a seemingly helpless woman becoming victim to a dark and menacing plot. And who better to direct this film than the Master of Suspense himself…Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, a couple of years ago, the American Film Institute ranked Dial M for Murder as the 9th best film in the mystery genre. Here, Ray Milland plays retired tennis pro Tony Wendice who discovers that his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly) has been cheating on him. Filled with jealousy and anger, he hires someone to have her killed. Things don’t go as smoothly as planned and Margot is later sentenced to death for murder. Milland is a great choice to play Tony and his supporting cast is solid. The play has one unit set (the living room of the Wendice home), but Hitchcock adds another here with the gentlemen’s club. The courtroom scene is also done in a highly stylized way — it’s not even a real courtroom scene. The music is very dramatic and the clever editing helps to build the suspense. I think this is one of Hitchcock’s best works and the film does Knott’s staged play proud.

#6. Cat on A Hot Tin Roof (dir. Richard Brooks)

I’m not sure why, but films based on the plays of Tennessee Williams work extremely well. It helps that he is surely one of the finest playwrights of the 20th century — writing some of the stage’s most memorable characters. His writing is simply poetic and he writes exquisitely well-drawn female characters. This movie, based on his 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is no exception, tackling issues of homosexuality, death, social mores, and death. The film examines a Southern family in a state of crisis — with a dying patriarch, Big Daddy (brilliantly played by a powerful Burl Ives) and the tumultuous relationship between his son Brick (Paul Newman) and his wife, Maggie “the Cat” (Elizabeth Taylor). It seems that the entire family wants a piece of Big Daddy’s estate when he passes. Only Big Daddy doesn’t know that he is dying. He simply thinks everyone is there to celebrate his 65th birthday. The only one who doesn’t really seem to care about such superficial things as money and wills is Brick. Brick is depressed throughout, with the suicide of his best friend Skipper haunting him and his own sexuality is surely in question here. Newman and Taylor make the film work and their verbal fistfights make for some classic screen moments. This movie ranks right up there with the best performances either actor has ever given. Shockingly, Williams disliked how the film adaptation watered down much of the play’s controversial subjects so much that he said, “This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!” I would have to respectfully disagree…it is a cinematic triumph!

#5. The Odd Couple (dir. Gene Saks)

There are a number of worthy films based on the plays of Neil Simon (Biloxi Blues, Barefoot in the Park and The Goodbye Girl to name a few), but this is the one for the ages. The two divorced characters of neurotic Felix Ungar and the slobby sportswriter Oscar Madison are pretty much household names at this point and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (reprising his Broadway role) brought them to the screen in first-rate fashion. Their chemistry in this 1968 film was so good that it spawned a few other films for the two to work together on, most notably, Grumpy Old Men. Simon adapted his own work and that certainly helps, as most of the dialogue remains the same here — all of the sharp, quick wit, with a heart beneath it all. Thirty years later, Matthau and Lemmon went on to star in a sequel, The Odd Couple II, but sadly, it just made me yearn for the original as the project couldn’t help but give off the impression of trying to capitalize on the initial film, sans most of the laughs. Still, Saks’ movie is tremendous fun — a comedy classic that ranks up there with the best of them!

#4. Inherit the Wind (dir. Stanley Kramer)

This 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is an extraordinarily gripping work — a courtroom drama that fictionalizes the infamous 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial where a teacher is convicted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Courtroom dramas make for fine movies and this one certainly ranks near the top of that category, mainly because of the working screenplay and its two leading actors. The play features two juicy roles to play in Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady, the two lawyers who go mano y mano throughout the entire play. And here, we have the legendary Spencer Tracy as Drummond, defending Bertram Cates (Dick York) for daring to teach what Tennessee law forbids. Tracy is tremendous here — witty, strong, defiant…you can’t take your eyes off of him. His worthy opponent? Fredric March, who bellows his way through the tiny town and soaking up all the good will bestowed upon him. Both make for great sparring partners here and it’s always exciting to watch. Two tour de force performances in this film and a fine supporting cast (including a very humorous Gene Kelly) make this a must-see. The amazing thing is that the play seems to be just as timely today as it was when it debuted in 1955 as a way to speak to the McCarthy trials going on at the time. The themes it touches upon, sadly, still relevant.

#3. Amadeus (dir. Milos Forman)

This exquisite looking 1984 film took home 8 Oscars, including “Best Picture” and it’s not very hard at all to see why. Based on the 1979 play by Peter Shaffer (who also wrote the film’s screenplay), Forman’s film is a pure delight to watch — lush, extravagant, humorous and profound. Based (very) loosely on the supposed rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, who took home the “Best Actor” Academy Award for his marvelous work), the movie is set in the latter half of the 18th century in Vienna, Austria and told in flashback after Salieri’s failed suicide attempt. Placed in a lunatic asylum, he begins to tell his “confession” to a priest and we are taken back to his own childhood and how devoted to God he always was. In latter years, we see the very moment when he first meets the genius known as Mozart and his utter disappointment in the man he has heard so much about. Salieri cannot believe that God decided to give the vulgar and boorish Mozart such talent and left him to be a composer languishing in mediocrity. He denounces God altogether and vows revenge! The performances by Abraham and Hulce are astounding.  Shot on location in Prague, Kroměříž and Vienna, it is gorgeous to look at — from the costumes to the sets and art direction. Of course, the film is filled with heavenly music as well. Forman uses the medium of film to pull out all the stops and brings Shaffer’s fascinating characters and story to a place that only movies can go. A definite must-see for anyone who appreciates masterful filmmaking.  

#2. Glengarry Glen Ross (dir. James Foley)

“PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN!!! THAT COFFEE IS FOR CLOSERS!” A brilliant 1982 play by the wonderfully prolific David Mamet (later winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama) that was made into this mesmerizing 1992 film featuring, perhaps, the greatest ensemble work across the board I have ever seen. The film shows us two days in the lives of real estate men in Chicago — their dishonest and illegal tactics in selling undesirable property, a burglary, threats from a despotic rep (Alec Baldwin) from up top, and how each lowly worker works against the other. Mamet’s writing here is rhythmic and poetic. Jack Lemmon turned in some terrific performances in his lifetime, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this good, this raw, this desperate. Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey all work brilliantly off one another — it’s always sheer pleasure to watch them work. A great addition of the character of Blake (Baldwin) for the film version, as it was never a part of Mamet’s play, and it may be the highpoint of the movie. Pacino, as Ricky Roma, is dazzling, especially watching him try to reel in the gullible fish, James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). This film is not for everyone, but it miraculously manages to capture the fire, the power and the balls that made the play a modern classic.

#1. A Streetcar Named Desire (dir. Elia Kazan)

Oh, what it must have been like to see the original 1947 Broadway production of this masterpiece and to witness the coming-out party of one Marlon Brando. The electricity in the theatre must have been palpable. I think this is one of the five best plays of the century and Kazan did a superb job of capturing this energy in his 1951 film that took home 4 Oscars. Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden all reprise their stage roles here and Vivien Leigh took home her 2nd “Best Actress” award for playing the emotionally disturbed Blanche DuBois. Brando is ferocious here — his primal nature, fierce sexuality and at times, vulnerability are a wonder to watch. Watching him clear off the dinner table is always disturbing as is his cry of “STELLAAAAA!!!!” from below her window. His Stanley Kowalski is a rare breed — one of those few roles that is almost impossible to play without ever being unfairly compared to Brando. I have seen a handful of productions and each time, I always feel that it’s a fruitless undertaking because of the genius of this towering motion picture. Kim Hunter is the perfect Stella, opposite her animalistic husband and Leigh gives the performance of her life, especially when she is pitted against her brother-in-law. This is gorgeous filmmaking of Tennessee Williams’ American masterpiece — a film classic peppered with enduring lines and unforgettable scenes. I have yet to see a film of a staged play as timeless as this one.

Honorable Mentions: Frost/Nixon (2008), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962), Death and the Maiden (1994), The Crucible (1996) and The Children’s Hour (1961).

Some Weekend Humor: Pug Sings the Batman Theme!

As you may already know by now, I’m a huge fan of pugs! I had my very first pug (the adorable Annie Hall) back when I lived in New York City and frequented Pug Hill in Central park (yes, it exists). I now have Magic Lantern’s mascot, Lily the Pug who just turned 10 years old in July. My dear friend Allison was thoughtful enough to send this video to me a few weeks ago and I thought I would post it up just to give you a quick weekend laugh. I think it’s a riot — the pug just keeps barking, “Batman!” to the old 60’s sitcom theme. Great stuff. Enjoy your weekend everybody!!!

And much thanks to the lovely Allison for introducing me to this!

Gimme 5: Guilty Pleasures!

We all have them. We know that they are bad movies with little redeeming qualities about them, yet we love them anyway. When we by happenstance catch them on TV, for some odd, mysterious reason, we cannot change the channel. We enjoy them too much. Sometimes we are even guilty of not admitting aloud that we like these films — but we know. We know deep down that we are secretly in love with these shameful movies. They are the ABBAs, the Jonas Brothers, the Yanni’s and the NKOTB’s of cinema.

So continue to live in denial if you want. That’s all right. I wouldn’t dream of judging you for liking Hudson Hawk or The Adventures of Pluto Nash. That’s your business. But for this week only, right here, right now, on this website, I want you to cleanse your cinematic soul and come clean. Yes, come clean and fess up to 5 bad movies that you can’t help but love. I promise I will not share or laugh; I will not mock or question. In fact, as always with the “Gimme 5,” I will be the first one to dip my toes into the cold waters. I will confess my own. I know this is a tough one, but I am hoping that you will be brave this week and….

GIMME 5: GUILTY PLEASURES!

#1. Roadhouse (1989)
(I know I’ve mentioned it before. I think there should be a Broadway musical based on Swayze’s philosophical ass-kicker!)
#2. Oscar (1991)
(I can’t help it!!! I thought Stallone and the entire cast was funny as hell in this one!)
#3. Cocktail (1988)
(Pure 80’s Cruise here. Plus, Elisabeth Shue is hot & I still wanna learn how to flip liquor bottles like that!)
#4. Ishtar (1987)
(This movie got a bum rap from the get-go, but I really get a kick out of watching Hoffman & Beatty do their thing.)
#5. Loverboy (1989)
(before Patrick Dempsey became simply nauseating to look at…)

Honorable Mentions: Just One of the Guys (1985), Swamp Thing (1982), and Guess Who? (2005)

Now it’s YOUR Turn!!!

My Experience Seeing the Disastrous “The Room”

It has been described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” and by now, many movie-lovers have already heard about Tommy Wiseau’s debacle of a film, The Room. The first I had heard about it was in a feature story on Yahoo!, describing the film’s cult following, including some in the entertainment industry. I was lucky enough to catch a midnight screening of this back in March with a very good friend of mine in Dallas and promised myself that I would, at some point, write about this memorable experience. It took me some time to get around to it, but hey…better late than never, right?

OK, so my friend and I head to the Inwood Theater in Dallas in plenty of time to get our tickets. As we wait on the fairly lengthy line, we immediately feel somewhat out of place, noticing that the majority of the movie-goers there are much younger, with most seeming to be of collegiate age. The line grew larger and larger, up the extensive staircase — I see that many people are carrying props with them. I was curious so I approached a couple of young men and inquired. Having seen it a few times before, he explained the whole interactive experience of seeing The Room, and what the props were for, including the many plastic spoons which so many audience members were carrying that are meant for throwing at the screen every time there is a shot of the framed photos of cutlery that appear throughout for no apparent reason. The doors opened and everyone began taking their seats – to my surprise the theatre was packed solid. And for the next 99 minutes, I was fascinated by what I was watching on screen and throughout the theatre.

The plot is not at all extraordinary. It’s your basic love triangle. Johnny (Wiseau) loves his “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and will do anything for her, including buying her that house she always wanted. But Lisa is not happy with Johnny despite his successful career. She confides in her mother (Carolyn Minnott) and Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Lisa and Mark begin an illicit affair and that’s when the plot thickens. There are a number of supporting characters that randomly come in and out throughout the film. There are subplots that are introduced, and never mentioned again – the most grandiose being when Lisa’s mom tells her, “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.” This, of course, is never brought up again. It’s also not quite clear if the character of Denny (the young college student who Johnny plays a father-figure to) is a fully functioning adult or not – his lack of social etiquette puts this into question, especially when he decides to just jump into bed with the two lovers when things are about to get intimate. There is also a character that simply disappears halfway through the film, and I highly doubt that this is in homage to Shakespeare’s tendency to dismiss certain minor characters after Act II.

The cast is…I want to be nice here, but there is really no way around it…the cast is simply awful and Wiseau, with his heavy (and at times, unintelligible) accent is the worst of the lot. I posted a scene from YouTube on here just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about. Wanna laugh? Then take a peek for yourself and enjoy. It’s the car wreck you can’t turn your eyes away from. There are also a number (too many, in fact) of graphic sex scenes that are embarrassingly bad — and the fact that they try to come off as being “tasteful” just makes it all the more humorous. There are a ridiculous amount of shots that pan across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge — some shots make it all the way (and the audience cheers the victory), while other shots are cut abruptly (and the audience groans in defeat). The use of the green screen is appallingly evident and the screenplay too, is laughable. A few choice lines include: “You don’t understand anything, man. Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!” “As far as I’m concerned, you can drop off the Earth. That’s a promise,” and my personal favorite was how Wiseau screams in agony, “You are lying! I never hit you! You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”

So yes, Wiseau’s film surely surpassed any and all expectations of awful filmmaking that I had before seeing it. I had heard all the comparisons made to Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, Troll 2, and The Creeping Terror – and The Room most deservedly ranks right up there with this elite group of film waste. But did I enjoy myself? Hell, yes! We had a ball — and it seemed that everyone around us did as well. I know the film is now available to rent on Netflix, but I would not recommend someone who hasn’t seen it to watch it in the safe confines of their home. No – to fully appreciate this film, you must experience it in a theatre with the cult-crazed fans surrounding you. If you are lucky enough to be living next to a theatre that screens a midnight showing (and the film has indeed made its way across the States), then go with a few friends (and some plastic spoons) and see for yourself. I promise you that you won’t soon forget it. It’s worth it.

It’s funny because on one hand, I admire the hell out of Wiseau because he actually did it. He conceived this project, however lame it was, and put his money where his mouth was (an estimated $7 million spent on production and marketing with zero studio support). He took action, followed through and made this film. And let’s face it, as dreadful as the movie may be, we are still talking about it. Midnight screenings are showing up throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The classic catastrophe of it all has been written up in daily newspapers, online and even in Entertainment Weekly. It was featured on “ABC World News with Charles Gibson” – so for all that Wiseau may have done wrong, he did something right, even if he never intended for it to go down like this.

Results: Forrest vs. Shawshank Poll!!!

Boy, this one was a terribly close one. I am surprised by how tight this race actually was. Why I chose to conduct this particular poll? Again, me and my (now) brother-in-law have been having this friendly debate over the past few years. He swears by “Gump,” which I think is a fine film, but does not compare to Darabont’s “Shawshank” (if I do say so myself). I told him I would put it to the test and have readers of this blog vote for the film they like more. And the voters have spoken!

By one single vote, The Shawshank Redemption eked by Forrest Gump for the win!!!

Thank you to everyone who voted — as always, it is greatly appreciated.

                                               

                52%                                                     48%

Gimme 5: Bad-Ass MoFos

Unfortunately, I’ve been out of the loop this very busy week because of my sister’s wedding (yea…today!!!) — and will be out of commission for the weekend trying to sober myself up. What would make me oh-so-happy would be to see a whole bunch of great input on this week’s “Gimme 5” when I check back in on Sunday night. 🙂

For this week, I’d like you to share 5 of your favorite bad-ass movie villians! They can be who you think are the five most villainous characters in cinema — or simply five baddies you enjoy/love the most. There are no rules here — so you pick! I know there are so many great ones, so if you want to go over five, be my guest. So, doing a complete reverse from last week’s gushy 5 Love Stories, this week, I want you to:

GIMME 5 BAD-ASS MOFOS!!!

#1. Amon Goth (Schindler’s List)
(the epitome of evil incarnate)
#2. Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)
(“I would say he doesn’t have a sense of humor.”)
#3. Booth (In the Line of Fire)
(Malkovich is more than a worthy adversary here – and great fun to watch!)
#4. Frank Booth
(creepy, immoral, violent, perverse, vulgar…Hopper had it all here — and an oxygen mask to boot!)
#5. Lex Luthor (Superman)
(Gene Hackman, of course. He is so delightfully wicked in the original. Kevin who?)

Honorable Mentions: Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York) and Jack Torrence (The Shining)

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!!!

Movie Fan Poll: Forrest vs. Shawshank!

          

I need your help. So, 1994 was a pretty strong year for film, right? Quiz Show, Hoop Dreams, Nobody’s Fool, The Kingdom, Red, Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, The Professional, were just a few of the elite released that year. Two other films that stood out from the crowd were Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis. One was nominated for 7 Academy Awards while the other took home six Oscars, including the coveted “Best Picture” award.

So I have been having this ongoing debate with a certain someone about which is the “better” film. Of course they are two completely different types of movies & of course many would agree that they are both excellent films, but I want to know which film people like more. This is where YOU come in. The poll is very simple and you only have two choices here — I’d like for you to vote for which film you like more. It’s that simple.

Thank you for your vote — I will post the results next week!

Which 1994 Film Do You Like More?
Forrest Gump
The Shawshank Redemption

Create a MySpace Poll

“Films That Defined Us!” Blog Event

Marc — who writes for one of my favorite film blogs Go, See, Talk! — is hosting a Blog Event that will post on his site this Friday, August 13th and he was kind enough to invite me to participate. The event is called Films That Defined Us and film writers from all over are taking part to list those movies that we saw at a relatively young age and helped to define our movie tastes. These are movies that, to quote Marc, really “set the bar” for us and made a lasting impression in our lives.

I came up with my own personal list of 5 films (in no particular order here) that have surely been essential works of art for me as a movie lover and have certainly been proud staples of any movie collection I have ever had. For those who know me, I’m afraid none of these will come as much of a surprise to you. For my film blogging amigos, hopefully this will achieve Marc’s objective in letting us see what makes each of us tick. After much thought and deliberation, here are 5 Movies That Surely Have Defined Me:

#1. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen)

I didn’t get into Woody Allen until later on…around high school. Then I began to devour all of his prose with friends at a local diner, see all of his movies, read film analysis on him. In doing so, this film sadly became my life’s anthem, through no fault of my own. Whenever someone needs to “understand me” better, I tell them to just watch this classic dramedy and they always come back lamentably with, “Oh…now I get it.” This is the consummate Woody Allen film — the colossal turning point for him as a filmmaker. It features Diane Keaton who is heavenly in this movie; she created one of film’s most memorable characters here. It is a profound movie in terms of how it addresses relationships – it makes you laugh out loud one moment and feel sadness the next. I have seen this movie more times than I care to admit over the past 20 years and it never gets dull for me. As far as comedies go, this one stands the test of time and truly set the bar for all of the newer comedies being released this past decade — all films that pale in comparison to Woody when he was at his peak.

#2. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

My family never really raised me on movies or got me into watching films, though I wish they had. But one film that I do remember watching with my parents when I was younger was Coppola’s seminal tour de force whenever it would play on TV. I come from an Italian-American family, so I think that certainly played a part in their excitement in watching this film and explaining it to me when I was too young to actually absorb it all. To this day, so many years later, the first two Godfather films are my two favorite films of all-time and I think my early memories of watching them with my parents play a small part in that. To me, this is a perfect film with unbelievable performances across the board. Knowing all of the background information on how Coppola set out to make this masterpiece and his many battles with Paramount make it all the more inspiring for me. As a result of watching this film at a young age, Marlon Brando quickly became my favorite actor (still is). Watching his towering performance here, I made sure to watch every one of his films as often as I could (even the many stinkers) and research as much as I could on the complex man. Throughout the trilogy, the character of Michael Corleone, I think, is one of the very best ever put on film and I can envision no one better to do it than Al Pacino. I just watched it a few weeks ago and it brought back a few memories for me from years ago — and I was still in awe with each passing scene.

#3. Rocky (dir. John G. Avildsen)

The original “Best Picture” winner, as well as the subsequent Rocky II and Rocky III (both directed by Sylvester Stallone). I was 5-years old when the first film came out and did not see the film in the theatres, but I do remember playing the old vinyl record that my parents bought and loving the entire soundtrack. Bill Conti’s score is truly one for the ages. I listened to it often back then, and a few years later was hooked on Rocky Balboa. To me, this is the quintessential underdog story — in more ways than just sports — though it is, for me, the very best of all the sports movies. He came from nowhere…and rose from the ghetto streets of Philly to become the heavyweight champion of the world! Again, I think the whole Italian thing comes into play here…fuggedaboutit! Isn’t it a law that every Italian guy has to love Rocky? Perhaps every Italian guy secretly wants to be Rocky. I know I did when I was a kid. I do recall seeing Rocky II a few years later and then my parents took me to see the third one in a drive-in movie theatre. Rocky Balboa was an inspirational figure to me then and still is today. He is a hero and positive role model that always does the right thing; he has a strict moral compass, he loves his woman, he has tremendous heart and fortitude — and he even ended the Cold war single-handedly in the dismal Rocky IV. Thankfully, he rebounded nicely in the last installment, but those first three films for me always get my heart pounding and my blood racing.

#4. A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I remember seeing this flick and the profound effect it had on me as a kid when I first watched it. In many ways, Kubrick’s ultra-violent futuristic film was the catalyst for me looking to re-define what my taste in movies was. I wanted to see more films like this one! I hadn’t seen many like it at all and looked into more works from this maverick filmmaker and others like him. I sought out films from other auteurs such as Malick, Forman, Cassavetes, Polanski, and Altman. I even remember having A Clockwork Orange T-shirt in my younger days. At the time, I didn’t consider myself much of a film buff, but I believe this film started that journey for me as I realized what film, as an art form, can do…the weighty impact it can make on a viewer. This film haunted me in the very best of ways and I loved Burgess’ overall message in the “rehabilitation” of the classic character, Alex DeLarge (wonderfully portrayed by Malcolm McDowell). When I think of movies that helped to sculpt my more refined palette in my latter teen years, this is the one that always comes to mind first.

#5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)

I was 10 years old when this film was released (when movies actually played for months at a time in the theatres) and remember coming home thinking I just watched the most awesome movie ever! I mean, really…what kid didn’t flip out over this movie?! To me, it seemed to have everything — amazing action sequences, terrific special effects, a love story, an intelligent and valiant hero, a malevolent villain, and humorous one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see it again. It was pure entertainment. For my money, it is still one of the very best blockbuster films ever made. Nowadays, with CGI and more high-tech special effects, everything seems possible and it takes away from the experience a bit. Of course, there are special effects in “Raiders”, but it’s not so unbelievable here where it removes you from the emotion of the scene. The hat, the whip, the classic gun scene, the snakes….it is all classic Spielberg in one of his finest efforts as a filmmaker. Sadly, the franchise has taken terrible blows in the years that followed (aliens — really??!!) with three sub-par sequels; none even come close to sniffing the boots of the original and I think its writer, Lawrence Kasdan, has a lot to do with that. This one always takes me back to 10 years old and the excitement I felt when I came home that day — the testament to a timeless movie.

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