Saturday, March 17, 2007

Revisit: Beerfest

A Warner Brothers release 2006

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

Written by Broken Lizard

Two brothers travel to Germany for Oktoberfest, only to stumble upon secret, centuries-old competition described as a "Fight Club" with beer games.

Broken Lizard are kind of funny, I guess. Super Troopers was kind of funny. Beerfest was kind of funny. Mostly it's funny that these movies even get made.

Revisit: The Nutty Professor

A Paramount Pictures release 1963

Directed by Jerry Lewis

Written by Jerry Lewis & Bill Richmond

To improve his social life, a nerdish professor (Jerry Lewis) drinks a potion that temporarily turns him into the handsome, but obnoxious, Buddy Love (Lewis again).

That 'don't reveal the middle!' trailer is a spoof of Hitchcock's Psycho trailer, where audiences were told not too miss the beginning.

The Nutty Professor is easily the best movie of Lewis's solo career.
Cartoonish and full of color, there's something about the humor of this film that simply wouldn't translate in a modern comedy. It's silly and outlandish, but also sincere, and surprisingly serious about being funny. Modern comedies aren't able to have that sort of tone without feeling sarcastic or mean-spirited. Simply stack this film against its 1996 Eddie Murphy countertpart and you'll see what I mean; the original is not only funnier, but friendlier to both its audience and its characters. They simply don't make them like this anymore.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Revisit: High Noon

A United Artists release 1952

Directed by Fred Zinnemann

Writing credits
John W. Cunningham (story)
Carl Foreman (screenplay)

Retired lawman Will Kane(Gary Cooper), about to leave town with his new bride (Grace Kelly), seeks allies among the fearful townspeople when an outlaw he put in prison returns with his gang to take revenge.

A classic story about burning your bridges, High Noon is one of the great westerns, despite breaking of many time-honored genre codes. The film plays out in real time and contains little action until the last act, which is unique for westerns of the time. Likewise, it's politics seem to serve as an allegory for the rise of McCarthyism, but ironically the film was embraced by conservatives who admired its emphasis on duty and courage.

The film effectively draws tension from Kane's desperation. Various high angle shots and images of clocks reinforce the imposing time limit. The film reveals information about Kane's past involvement with the gang very slowly with each scene, so that they dialogue is both about the current attack and the past. Worth a gander.

Why Critics Don't Understand 300

Backlash against 300 has been brewing for quite sometime now, and this guy is sick and tired of it:

Let's get this out of the way once and for all.

300 has no politics.

At least, none worth yapping about - critics looking for allegory should look elsewhere (like, hmm, Harry Potter? Go mad, you crazy kids! Lot's of politics there...) In 300 there is no commentary on the Spartan attitude toward Athenian democracy, no soliloquys on totalitarianism. The Spartans only care about fighting well - politics and politicians are clearly the domain of old men, diseased inbreds, or the despicably corrupt.

...And it is because 300 is so unfamiliar that makes it harder to explain: this is an expensive art-house project, not your usual genre piece starring Gwyneth or Brad. Critics have tried to twist the story into some kind of contemporary allegory and failed.

...There is no backdrop of an American flag to sanitize the fighting, which is what is so unsettling about the nature of the violence in the film.


Woah! Sounds like someone has some critical beef!

Personally, I always thought 300 looked like a second-rate action movie that should probably only be seen on IMAX. Something tremendously cheesey riddled with historical inaccuracies and unrealistic violence; like a super-amped Gladiator for high school kids. I mean, check out this clip:

So much slow motion! The pacing here is really hectic; the stop-go-stop-go speed makes it really uneven and pretty silly. I just can't buy into that containing any real allegorical message.

At the same time, I don't think I would unabashedly praise the film as the writer of that brainsnap article has. I haven't seen it yet, but I highly doubt 300 is an "art house picture" or even "unfamiliar". Looks like any old comic book movie to me, only this time there are Spartans instead of superheroes.

Speaking of which, pretty much everyone has ignored the fact that 300 is another comic book movie that derives its aesthetic almost entirely from its source, right down to the framing. Critics seem to be happier comparing it to a video game, and while that comparison is nice, I'm interested to see how this film may devalue Sin City. Whereas Sin City drew a lot of praise for its precise aesthetic, 300 seems to be getting an opposite response.

"The stylized action, set to crunching guitar riffs, feels suffocating in its artificiality," said Glenn Whipp of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Is making your film look exactly like its graphic novelization really that special? When you get down to it, that's really all Sin City had going for it. But if that's such an easy trick that the guy responsible for the Dawn of the Dead remake can do it, how big of a deal can it be? Frankly, I wish they'd just stop making these comic book movies all together.

Curtains Close on The Carpetbagger

This week I sat down for a quick chat with David Carr of the New York Times for We Want Media. Here's the article:

With Hollywood shifting its focus back to big-budget blockbusters, the few of us still shaking our heads at The Departed’s win for Best Picture may have to buckle down and admit defeat. Awards season is most definitely over, as David Carr recently lowered the curtain on his annual NY Times-based Oscar blog The Carpetbagger. “The Bagger could pretend that he is leaving the season with regrets, but he has none,” Carr wrote. “Happy to have played, happy to have met all the people he met and glad it’s over.”

Carr, who is a regular in the Times Monday Business and Culture sections, started The Carpetbagger in 2005 as a noble attempt to accurately cover Hollywood’s most frenzied and ferociously competitive traditions. Since then, the blog has become the go-to spot for in-depth, interesting awards coverage, with Carr’s unique, singular voice leading the way. Adding quirky videos of Carr on the red carpet in 2006 also helped make the site a splash – and sparked many debates about a major publications crossover appeal.

“People begin to see us in a different way – one that doesn’t reshape the organization, but shows that we have muscles in any platform,” Carr says. “That the Times provides high quality media in print, video, even in the blogsphere.”

Carr feels the blog really opened The Times to its audience, as well, displaying “a level of friendliness and engagement we’re not known for.” He credits the blog’s success to its active readers.

“The whole kind of network intelligence thing was really surprising to me,” he says. “Sometimes I’d just flick at a topic, something I don’t have ferocious knowledge of and I’d get a band of comments. Lots of stuff people knew would outstrip what I had said.”

Of course open communication doesn’t always mean intelligent conversation. “You always get your trolls and your idiots too,” Carr says with a laugh, “But certain people know a lot, and their willingness to take the time to add or correct something I write, it makes me wonder, what do they do for a living?”

As for whether The Bagger will be back on the red carpet again next year, Carr won’t say. But one thing is for certain - the Oscars aren't going away any time soon, and we need someone like The Carpetbagger to shine some unbiased light on the subject.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Revisit: Mon Oncle

Criterion Collection 1958

Directed by Jacques Tati

Writing credits
Jacques Lagrange
Jean L'Hôte
Jacques Tati

M. Hulot bumbles his way through this satire of French modernization that emphasizes the problems with upperclass living - namely, style over practicality. Despite its two-hour run time, the film is light, easy to watch and geniuinely funny. Tati, as always, draws from silent-era slapstick and Chaplinesque characters to create humor that is easy to understand in any language. Highly-focused sound effects add to the films unique rhythm. Only bested by Tati's follow-up, Play Time.

Is there anyone who speaks French who could translate this interview for me? I'm really interested to see what Tati has to say about the making of the film.

Betty Hutton passes away at 86!


Betty Hutton, the actress and singer who brought a brassy vitality to Hollywood musicals such as "Annie Get Your Gun," has died in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 86.

Unlike other actresses who have been called "blonde bombshells," Hutton had a screen personality that had more to do with energy and humor than sex.

Time magazine wrote in 1950: "Betty Hutton, who is not remarkably pretty, by movie standards, nor a remarkably good singer or dancer, has a vividly unique personality in a town that tends to reduce beauty and talent to mass-produced patterns. Watching her in action has some of the fascination of waiting for a wildly sputtering fuse to touch off an alarmingly large firecracker."

Three days after I post my own call for attention to the work of Betty Hutton, she passes away! How terribly sad. As I've said before, she was one of my favorite musical performers; she had a rare energy, her spirit really shined through in all of her work. In tribute, here's a video of my favorite Hutton performance - Murder He Says!

Go check out all of her films!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reeling in Readers

The Reeler is one of my favorite film blogs, mostly because it keeps tabs on everything in New York City. If I want New York-based film news, reviews, or event listings, The Reeler basically has it covered. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down for a cup of coffee with Stu VanAirsdale, the man behind the site, one day last year.

It was late, and though the sun had set beyond the top of the Sixth Ave. skyline, Washington Sq. Park was brighter than day. Humongous lights hung off cranes connected to thick bundles of wire that lined the curb where people stopped to stare as the production commenced. Stu VanAirsdale moved briskly through the crowd, his wire-thin frame slipping between hard suitcases full of equipment scattered carelessly about the trailers and trucks and moving vans that occupied the better half of the park street. “I wonder what they’re shooting,” he asked. He wouldn’t get to find out; a nippy woman wearing a headset forced all the onlookers to walk around the opposite way. “That’s bullshit, I hate that,” grumbled Stu, “It’s our city too. Like when they put up those signs that say you have to move your car or else it’ll get towed. I remember they were doing a shoot up where I live and all these cars got towed, just so they could bring on prop cars! I hate that… Let the people watch, let them be part of it.”

In a town where dozens of films are being shot and screened everyday, it’s difficult to keep abreast of the latest events in cinema culture. Enter Stu VanAirsdale: a slim but broad shouldered man with slender framed glasses and a red coif, the kind of pasty flecked character you’d expect to see standing in line at the Angelika or waiting at the bar of the IFC Center. VanAirsdale is the creator and operator of, a website devoted to the New York City film world. Everyday, VanAirsdale updates TheReeler with coverage from major premieres, special screenings, Q&A’s, and other unique-to-New York film events. His goal is to provide New Yorkers with an up-to-date, easy-to-access forum for New York film. “I’m not quite there yet,” he says, “but I’m in a position where I’m about to achieve [my goal].”

The website, which started as a blog, has been embraced by local industry insiders, and has positioned VanAirsdale as a reputable force in the New York film circuit. His writing has since appeared in The New York Times, the New York Daily News, Newsday and Filmmaker Magazine. Likewise, VanAirsdale was invited to speak at the 2006 IFP Market, and is now host to his own panel discussions titled The Reeler Screening Series, which is holding a Q&A with director Stanley Nelson on October 16th.

A native of Sacramento, VanAirsdale moved to Manhattan after leaving the Chapman Film School in California. Like many film-school drop outs, VanAirsdale says, “I learned more spending a day on set than in four days at film school.” He has made his share of short films – including a self-financed project based on the true story of an Australian man who murdered his manipulative mother that he shot in 2000 – but VanAirsdale has no plans of making any more in the future. A journalist at heart, VanAirsdale doesn’t view himself so much as a filmmaker or critic, but rather a purveyor of film culture. “I thought, writing – this is what I know I’m good at,” he says. He enrolled at NYU in June of 2004 looking to complete his masters in Journalism. “Looking back,” he says, “it was a mistake to get my masters at NYU. Not to say that NYU was a bad school or anything, but you get to a point where you just need to stop with school and go to the stories.”

After spending some time interning for the online independent film source, VanAirsdale was invited to participate on their blog page, where he found himself writing on a daily basis. “I’m generally a slow writer, so it helped me find discipline,” he says.

Eventually, VanAirsdale found himself speaking to a specific New York audience. Even though he’s not a native, VanAirsdale feels he’s the perfect voice for New York. “I’m just high strung enough, ambitious enough, disinterested in bullshit and excuses for this city,” he says. At the time, there was no real online source specific to New York film culture. “There was film criticism online, and there was film culture,” he says, “but no one was writing in the context that I was.” VanAirsdale split from indiewire and founded his own blog, The Reeler, in June of 2005, with hopes to fill that void.

Stu with producer Bingham Ray

But building an audience and a successful blog isn’t that easy. The site is largely operated solely by VanAirsdale, with the exception of three critics he enlisted to handle reviews and the occasional guest writer. A typical Reeler blog post usually revolves around a specific event, with background information, event details, VanAirsdale’s perspective, and quotes from the event itself. But with news feeds, events listings, reviews and the blog to update, it’s a big undertaking. “I drink a lot of coffee,” says VanAirsdale. “Probably too much.”

VanAirsdale works what he calls an “impossible work day”, often waking at 6am, writing until the afternoon, and then dealing with “bullshit business” while juggling events coverage. While the site’s increasing reputation has made gaining entry to exclusive events a bit easier, VanAirsdale still occasionally finds himself struggling to get on top of the latest news. “Last night I had to jump through a shitload of hoops to get into the premiere of Infamous. And when I finally did get in, they stuck me in a corner where I couldn’t see. I was pretty vexed,” he says.

But the frustrations appear to be worth it. On September 29th, the website re-launched with several new features, including web forums and a new layout. The product is getting closer and closer to VanAirsdale’s original vision. “Now that I’ve got it, I don’t know what to do with it,” he laughs. Future plans involve a book, the premise of which VanAirsdale is keeping under wraps, but involves “a collection of ideas originally on the website.”

For now, VanAirsdale feels fortunate to have made it as far as he has. “I’m lucky that I’m married,” he says, “that I have another insurance provider in the house.” In many ways, his site is like the indie films that get their weeks due at the Pioneer or Landmark Sunshine – a diamond amidst a boundary less, oversaturated market. “Everyone bitches about studios and indies, but I don’t care,” he says. “I’m just glad Gondry can get a film like The Science of Sleep released. If you have good work, it’ll be seen.”

Revisit: The Sons of Katie Elder

A Paramount Pictures release 1965

Directed by Henry Hathaway

Writing credits
Talbot Jennings (story)
William H. Wright (screenplay)
Allan Weiss (screenplay)
Harry Essex (screenplay)

The infamous Elder boys return to Clearwater, Texas for their Mother's funeral, only to face a slew of trouble surrounding the murder of their father and the loss of his ranch.

A well made western that doesn't play with tension quite like Rio Bravo, but rather builds upon it's characters backstories and focuses on mystery. Katie Elder's strentgh is it's excellent cast, which includes John Wayne, Dean Martin, George Kennedy and a young Dennis Hopper. The four brothers bounce off each other real well and the film has some genuine moments between them. There are also some great shoot-outs towards the end - look for an awesome shot of a so-pissed-he's-constipated-looking Wayne firing two pistols at once way before John Woo ever came up with the idea.