I saw Shoot ‘Em Up last week and reviewed the film for Cinematical. I wasn’t expecting much, so the review focuses on the pleasant surprise of discovering that the movie was as entertaining as it was. It was shallow entertainment, certainly, but it was a nice change from the dog-days-of-August dogs I watched and reviewed last month. I’m now a confirmed Clive Owen fan.
I felt guilty about liking such a violent and sexist movie, but fortunately Roger Ebert liked it too (and wrote a much better review than I did, natch), so that helped a little.
Finally, my little brother the film geek called me this morning* to tell me he saw Shoot ‘Em Up last night, and he may have summarized the movie better in one line than I did in an entire review:
“More grindhouse than Grindhouse.”
He has a point. If you’re into this kind of film, I suggest seeing Shoot ‘Em Up this weekend at night in as crowded a theater as you can … audience reaction won’t keep you from missing anything and can only improve the experience of watching this cheesy but fun film.
*My little brother only ever calls me to talk about the movies he’s seen. I have no idea what’s going on in his life, but I can tell you which movies he’s enjoyed lately.
A quick moment of amusement:
I was looking at the new Bardot collection on DVD at Amazon (I wanted to see the cover after Dave Kehr referred to it in his article on the films) and noticed an Amazon link to “Save 60% on Celebrity DVD Boxed Sets.” I certainly like saving money, even though I am not really supposed to be buying new DVDs until I watch the ones I have, so I took a look.
For the most part, the page of sale DVD sets was what you’d expect — a combination of old and new stars, all of which you’d probably recognize on sight. You could get Gary Cooper or George Clooney, Pam Grier or Cameron Diaz, Steve McQueen or Chuck Norris. You get the idea. But smack in the middle of the page, surrounded by Drew Barrymore and Natalie Portman’s boxed sets —
The Errol Morris DVD Collection.
I was so tickled by this that I almost bought the boxed set right then and there. (I may still … after all, it’s on sale.) I had never thought about Morris as having the same type of celebrity following as Sandra Bullock or Nicolas Cage, but I’m glad to see that someone at Amazon thought so. Next time I hope to see Barbara Kopple on the page too.
Cecil B. Demented: 2000, dir. John Waters. Seen July 21, 2007 on DVD (part of the ABC Project).
While everyone else in America was watching the movie adaptation of the Broadway adaptation of the John Waters film Hairspray last weekend, we decided to watch some unadulterated Waters. I rented Pecker awhile ago and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and hoped that Cecil B. Demented would be the same way. It’s not as good a movie as Pecker — in fact, it’s not really a very good movie at all. But it made me laugh, and it was so much different than the cookie-cutter movies I’ve been watching in theaters that I’m willing to overlook its flaws.
I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it except that my editor at Cinematical Indie has frequently quoted one of its lines, “Power to the people who punish bad cinema!” From that and the title, I expected the movie to be about movies, but I didn’t even know it starred Melanie Griffith. I am still wondering how Waters convinced Griffith to take this role — we may have to watch the commentary track later today to try to find out. (The commentary track on Pecker was excellent.) I didn’t realize the actress had the type of sense of humor to play a self-mocking character like this. Her character Honey Whitlock starts the movie as a petulant, mean-spirited star … who is kidnapped by a ground of rebellious teenage filmmakers (led by the title character) who want to use her in their “new cinema.”
The teenage filmmakers are all unusual characters that fit right in with the John Waters universe. Everyone has a tattoo of a filmmaker’s name on his or herself (my only carp: what, no female directors? Couldn’t someone have had Ida Lupino or Penelope Spheeris tattooed on herself?). The tattoos range from William Castle to Pedro Almodovar to Herschell Gordon Lewis, so you know these are not your average teens. The group includes a drug addict gone to extremes, a Satan worshipper (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), an ex-porn star who specialized in anal scenes, and a hairdresser who hates being straight. The plot reminds one, in an amusing way, of the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and this being a John Waters film, naturally Hearst herself shows up in a role as the mom of one of the teenagers.
Cecil B. Demented has a lot of in-jokes for film buffs; the coded messages for the kidnapping are lines like “Hey, hey, MPAA, how many movies did you censor today?” When the filmmakers run into trouble, they run into specialty movie theaters where the audiences help them out. The teens are determined to eradicate multiplexes and the kinds of movies that play there; they attack a theater that is showing Patch Adams: The Director’s Cut, face a crowd full of angry moms at a theater that refuses to show R or unrated films, and sabotage a Maryland Film Commission luncheon full of Hollywood execs. I liked the opening credits, which showed the marquees of what I assume were a number of Baltimore-area theaters, over a song that spoofed overwrought cliched movie music.
Cecil B. Demented is a fun movie for people who like to see movies in theaters, especially older theaters — it was a treat to see all of the theaters in the movie, including the drive-in. It’s not a great movie — the plot doesn’t make much sense, some of the acting is flat, and the teen characters’ quirks sometimes become tiresome (Gyllenhaal’s Satanic devotions get old fast, although I did like her makeup). Summertime is the perfect time to see this movie, because if you have been watching nothing but multiplex fare, especially summer blockbusters, this movie does prove its point: the latest “tentpole” film seems bland, dull, and annoyingly predictable compared to the glorious chaos of Cecil B. Demented.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: 2006, dir. Scott Glosserman. Seen July 17, 2007 on DVD.
I like my horror movies to be funny, and not in too much of an immature way. My favorite horror movies are probably Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator, because they made me laugh. The combination of horror and humor can be cheesy, but the two can work well together — you’re laughing to relieve a little of the tension caused by suspense, but the suspense ratchets right back up there again. I didn’t have a lot of interest in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon until I saw a trailer and realized that it had the right sense of humor to appeal to me.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon starts out as a joke and grows a bit scary along the way. It begins as a mockumentary: Some grad students are making a documentary about Leslie Vernon, a guy who was thought to be dead a decade earlier when a town’s lynch mob drowned him. Now he’s back to take revenge and begin his life as a serial killer, following in the footsteps of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, etc. The filmmakers follow him as he demonstrates how to pick out a “final girl,” how to set up a house to best attack a large group of people, what to wear for a night of mass murder, and so forth. The filmmakers are faced with the age-old issue that plagues documentarians — how much should you interfere, if at all?
The movie makes fun of horror-film conventions, especially the horror movies in which a bunch of teenagers are menaced and killed, one by one, by some guy with a chainsaw or razor fingernails or wearing a freakish mask. At one point, Leslie visits some friends of his, including Eugene, who has “retired” from “the business” that Leslie is currently pursuing. In other words, an ex-serial killer. But he talks about being from the bad old days, where you just went into the house and “did your job” without all of these fancy plans and motives. That reminded me of In Cold Blood, somehow — the book, since I haven’t seen the movie. So I didn’t realize until afterwards that Scott Wilson, who played Eugene, also played Dick Hickock in the 1967 movie In Cold Blood. Nice touch. Robert Englund (best known for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies) also has a small role, but since he’s not dressed like Freddy Krueger you might not recognize him either.
My one regret was that I saw this movie on DVD and not in a theater. Behind the Mask needs a lively audience — it would be a great midnight movie. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it at SXSW in 2006; I suspect it played very well to the receptive festival crowd. The living room seemed too quiet at times; the movie needs a group of people all reacting and laughing. This would also be a good Movie Night film, if you like having people over to watch movies.
First-time director (and co-writer) Scott Glosserman made a smart and funny horror movie, without too much gore or “jump” moments. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.
If you’ve ever been to Alamo Drafthouse Downtown in Austin, today’s a great day to write down and share some of your favorite memories. And then get them to me so we can post them during today’s Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon! If you haven’t been to Alamo, you can read some of the great stories other people are telling, and feel envious that you weren’t there. I have an entry of my own posted; I may do some more this week, because there are so many stories to tell. And so many photos.
My last night at Alamo was … last night, and well into morning, at the Half-Ass-a-Thon. I’m still half-asleep, but I had a wonderful time and am missing the old theater already. I’m looking forward to reading lots of Alamo-related entries tonight, so please indulge me by writing/sending yours.
So Variety is reporting that Michael Arndt, who scripted Little Miss Sunshine, is writing the screenplay on a new vehicle for Reese Witherspoon … a remake of the 1939 romantic comedy Midnight, which starred Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. Most of you probably haven’t heard of this film unless you’ve been reading my love-letters about it for the past few years. I even compared the film with The Wedding Crashers a couple of years ago (one of my favorite entries). It’s not available on DVD right now. Midnight was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and directed by Mitchell Leisen, and although Wilder famously couldn’t stand Leisen, it’s a lovely little frothy confection of a 1930s comedy. Not perfect, but the dialogue is often delightful.
Witherspoon will be taking the Claudette Colbert role (this is almost as bad as writing “Ice Cube plays the Cary Grant role“). No word yet on who will take the roles played by Ameche, John Barrymore, or Mary Astor. On the positive side, does this mean the movie will finally, finally see a DVD release? One can only hope.
I need a cold compress and a drink, and then maybe this weekend I will go watch my sad little VHS copy of Midnight taped off TCM years ago. All that lovely snappy dialogue (“from the moment you looked at me, I had an idea you had an idea”). If anyone decides to remake Ball of Fire or any Preston Sturges movie this week, it’s probably better that you don’t tell me about it. I don’t care about The Women so much, although I don’t see how you can keep it from being terribly dated.
[News item found via Nerve’s ScreenGrab blog. Credit to Martha Fischer, the former queen of “Dear God, No” entries at Cinematical, for the headline inspiration.]
I have to credit Blake of Cinema Strikes Back for the idea to get people blogging about Alamo Drafthouse Downtown before the Colorado St. location closes on June 27. We worked out the organizational details together and now we’re able to announce the Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon, which will take place on June 25. Even if you don’t have a blog, you can participate. Check out everyone’s favorite website about the Austin film scene (or so I choose to believe), Slackerwood, for the details. (And thanks again, Blake!)
I’ve picked up a new (well, new-to-me) regular column over at Cinematical called Eat My Shorts. No, it’s not about Bart Simpson and his appearances on celluloid, it’s about short films. You can read my first attempt at this column here. The idea is that I find good short films online, and then link to them and tell you how wonderful they are. And then you can go watch all the films yourself. The great thing about short films is that even if they’re less than stellar, you don’t have long to watch. And yet some of the films I recommended this week pack all the entertainment of a feature film into 5 minutes.
If you’ve made a short film yourself — it doesn’t have to be recent — and it is available to the public online, please send me a link. Or if you haven’t made a short film but you saw one online the other day and loved it to death, send me a link. You can email me (address in the right sidebar) or post a comment with the link. I’ve been getting some good responses so far, but I need to build up a little library of films I can use in the Eat My Shorts column so I can sustain it weekly. Good publicity for your short film, good material for my column, good films for everyone to watch … we all win.
My little brother turns 25 today. That’s a quarter of a century. Makes a girl think … mostly about how if her “baby” brother is now 25, than that makes her … Anyway. Usually we phone each other on our birthdays and leave messages with odd movie quotes on them. I’m not sure how the tradition got started. This year, I emailed him with one of our favorite birthday quotes, mainly because I do a rotten imitation of the actor in question. I’m reprinting the quote here, and following it, quotes from several other movies that we both have enjoyed watching and quoting together. Feel free to guess, but I’m not trying to make it at all difficult:
“Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.”
“Hell, I can get you a toe by 3:00 this afternoon… with nail polish.”
“Put it on a plate, son. You’ll enjoy it more.”
“Now listen up, you primitive screwheads. See this? This… is my boomstick! The 12-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about $109.95. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.”
“Let’s go do some crimes.” “Yeah, let’s get some sushi and not pay.”
“Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!”
“It’s a trick. Get an axe.”
“Dr. Jones. Again we see there is nothing you can possess that I cannot take away.”
All the President’s Men: 1976, dir. Alan J. Pakula. Seen April 22, 2007 on DVD.
All the President’s Men shouldn’t be as interesting a movie as it is. It’s more than two hours long and features a couple of journalists doing a lot of research in service to a story that we already know about ourselves. They spend a lot of time on the phone, and knocking on doors, and digging through stacks of dull paperwork. We don’t see anything about their personal lives, if they even had any at that time; a large chunk of the movie is set in a newsroom. (I’m growing tired of the guy-centric Seventies movies with the token scene or two with some girlfriend or wife, myself, and I was relieved not to see that kind of unnecessary stuff in this movie. I swear, I think those scenes are in certain movies just to show that the male buddies aren’t gay.)
It’s not quite a buddy movie, either. These two guys are working together, and they do get along much better at the end than they do at the beginning, but there aren’t any great bonding moments. They argue over trays of fast food at McDonald’s, or while one is at the typewriter and the other is fussing over notes.
So what makes All the President’s Men work? Good acting — Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The faces are instantly familiar, but it works the other way around, the good way: We imagine Woodward and Bernstein as looking like Redford and Hoffman. Wow, remember when Redford was that young? In one scene, where he’s walking home after a meeting at the garage, he looked eerily like Brad Pitt.
Continue reading A is for All the President’s Men