unto us a film geek is born

My brother and I spent some time together on the day after Christmas, eating sushi and driving by old ex-movie theaters (more on this another time) and listening to selections from the eclectic CD collection strewn throughout his car. We even stopped at Lakeside Mall and I caught a glimpse of the hoilday train setup with the little village that had blue FEMA roofs.
We got back to my parents’ house to discover that my dad was watching my nephew, who is about 3.5 years old. Usually he is a very active, mischievous child, but he was lying on the sofa near the TV. My dad was semi-napping in a nearby recliner, and Madagascar was playing on the TV screen. My dad has three primary methods of babysitting: take the child shopping, feed the child, put a movie on TV for the child. I can’t argue.

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now I get it

When Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released earlier this year, a lot of people were unhappy before they even saw the film. My baby brother was one of these people. He said it could not possibly be the same without Gene Wilder. He thought it was wrong to see someone portraying a role that Wilder had characterized so perfectly. I disagreed because I never liked Wilder in that role; his performance always made me feel weirdly embarrassed. And I like the re-adaptation better than the earlier film. So I didn’t quite understand.
That is, until two nights ago, when I watched a clip from the new version of The Producers, in which Matthew Broderick (as Leo Bloom) launched into blue blanket-related hysterics in the scene where he meets Nathan Lane (as Max Bialystock) for the first time.
It’s just wrong. He’s nowhere near as believable as Gene Wilder. Gene Wilder had wonderful hysterics, and he was believable as a mousy accountant even though Wilder (like Broderick) is instantly recognizable. I think that the three good Mel Brooks movies (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein) were also Wilder’s finest hours, and I love The Producers best of all.
Who are these people imitating Wilder and Zero Mostel, and doing it wrong? Wrong!
I may or may not see the movie. Part of me wants to see what they did with it, and part of me knows I’m not going to like it. I grew up watching The Producers, and the 1968 film has great sentimental meaning to me, and I get the impression that this movie just isn’t going to match it, not in any way. I want to see the dancing number with the little old ladies and their walkers, but can it possibly top Estelle Winwood? The only real improvement I can see so far appears to be Uma Thurman’s legs.
So I feel like I should go apologize to my little brother for not taking him seriously. When someone remakes the favorite movie of your childhood, and recasts the actors who seem irreplaceable, you can’t get past that no matter how good the movie might be. In the case of The Producers, I hear the remake is not that good. Maybe I’ll just watch the 1968 film again.

four six-minute reviews: in Houston airport

Can I write movie reviews while waiting in Houston Hobby airport for my flight (currently running 30 minutes late) to be called? Let’s find out. I have a list of movies I haven’t written about, and while I can’t randomize very well, or time myself, this will be the Airport Edition of six-minute movie reviews.
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 2005, dir. MIke Newell. Seen at Alamo Village.
I felt a bit sad because this is the first Harry Potter movie I saw alone. For the other three, I slipped out of work early and saw them with co-workers, hoping that the matinees would be less crowded. We saw the second and third movies at Alamo Village, because the pre-show stuff they play beforehand is agreeably silly.

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Hildy checks out the Coyote sale

I found a ad for a film-production garage sale last week on the Austin Film Society site. Austin being the filmarific town it is, these sales seem to happen regularly on the Austin Studios stages. A film wraps production and Austin Studios holds a garage sale to get rid of all the props. A few weeks ago, it was for The Wendell Baker Story, which Luke Wilson has written and co-directed. The ad I saw last week was for a movie I didn’t recognize, Coyote. The ad said nothing about the movie at all other than the title, which was unusual, so I figured it was an ultra-low-budget film.
I wanted to post info about the garage sale in my weekly News from Slackerwood column for Cinematical, so I looked up Coyote on IMDb. No info found at all. Even for ultra-low-budget films, that was unusual. But on a whim, I ran a search on the Cinematical site itself … the name was ringing a distant bell in the back of my head and I wasn’t sure why.
Sure enough, there was the info, plain as day on Cinematical: “Coyote” was rumored to be an alias for Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Fast Food Nation. Linklater wanted to shoot in locations where the reputation of the book Fast Food Nation might present problems (like restaurants, perhaps) so he created an alternate title, a coverup title that no one would find suspicious.

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I’ve always wanted to see Paris …

I’ve never been to Paris, or anywhere in France for that matter. I’d love to tour the country. And now I have one more good reason to go.
A Foreign Affair, one of my favorite Billy Wilder movies, has never been released on DVD anywhere until now. Universal finally decided to release a dozen Marlene Dietrich films on DVD, many for the first time: Blonde Venus (the one where she dances in a gorilla suit), The Devil is a Woman, and Morocco. Their new transfer of The Scarlett Empress is said to be better than the Criterion DVD (Universal probably had access to a better master print).
I love watching Marlene Dietrich, so you can imagine how excited I am. Except … the DVDs weren’t released in the United States. They were only released in France.

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whatever possessed me?

Anyone who’s been reading my site for awhile still might not remember the meltdown I had two years ago in December, when I decided it would be fun to make photo calendars for my family members. I was working from two computers and two printers to get everything to print properly, which it didn’t, and it drove me crazy. I promised The Beau that I would never ever attempt to create photo calendars again, especially elaborate ones with multiple photos per page. I re-promised him last year when he thought I might weaken.
I did ask him this year before I broke that promise and he didn’t give me a funny look, so either he forgot about the degree of craziness the project inspired, or else he figured I am less likely to get stressed about the project this year, since the computers behave better and I don’t have the workload I had back then and I just plain haven’t been as stressed about the holidays this year.

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: 2005, dir. Andrew Adamson. Seen at Alamo Village (Dec. 15).
(Warning: I will give away elements of the plot in this review.)
I loved the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger—middle-school age, I think—so I was intrigued to see how this adaptation would fare. I liked many of the little touches: the transition between wardrobe and Narnia, the White Witch’s scary black-hole eyes and expression, the understated look of Father Christmas. I liked that they replaced the “battles are ugly when women fight” lines with simply saying that battles are ugly, period.
But there were so many other details I disliked: the sniggering bits of humor throughout, such as the drawn-on glasses and mustache on the animal at the end of the movie (Adamson also directed the Shrek films); Edmund being imprisoned with Mr. Tumnus, which seemed unnecessary; the voice of the head wolf, which had a Dana Andrews-like quality that jarred with the rest of the cast and their generally British accents; and the Blitz sequences in the beginning, which didn’t quite work for me. (Also, I cannot see the word “evacuees” right now without thinking of something else entirely, which is a distraction, but that’s sadly unlikely to affect anyone not on the Gulf Coast.)

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farewell, good and faithful Netflix queue

We hated to do it, but we finally succumbed and cancelled Netflix yesterday.
It felt a little sad. Our queue had 250 DVDs, mostly movies with a little TV sprinkled in for variety. The queue has had at least 200 movies in it since about a week after we joined. Sure, we would watch films quite frequently sometimes, but every time someone said to me, “You know, you really ought to see such-and-such movie,” I added it to the queue. (Well, almost every time. There are limits.)
The last three movies we need to send back are Monsters, Inc., which we watched over the weekend, me for the first time, and quite enjoyed; Inherit the Wind, which The Beau watched and thoroughly hated, to the point where he could not discuss any movie afterwards and I feared for the safety of the DVD players; and Big Fish, which we’ve had for weeks and not watched, because it is rather long and we can’t seem to get in the right mood. I don’t know if we’ll watch it before sending it back.

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oh, celluloid tree …

I have not been in the mood this year to do a lot of Christmas-y stuff. For one thing, all this ruckus about “It’s Christmas and we should say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays” tends to sour me a little on the holiday season. Arguments and expressions of prejudice should not be a part of a holiday, no matter what your relatives may tell you at the holiday dinner table.
Or maybe that has nothing to do with my reluctance to decorate the house, send greeting cards, shop for gifts, and generally participate in the flurry of holiday activity common to this time of year. It could be a million reasons. But I decided late last week that I didn’t want to mess with putting up and decorating our Christmas tree this year.
You may have seen photos of the tree from previous years. It is pink and sparkly and usually features a lot of snowflake and snowman ornaments, plus a few penguins and some more subversive decorations. For example, we established a tradition with the Drinky Snowman. We also had a cute SpongeBob candy cane, but it was real candy and finally dissolved.

Continue reading oh, celluloid tree …