Monday, September 27, 2004

Shark Tale review...
I wasn't particularly eager to see this film, having reached a saturation point for computer animation somewhere around the time of Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie.. and for the first five minutes, it looked like my suspicions were justified as the filmmakers piled on every bad fish pun you can imagine. (Comedian Kip Adotta already exhausted this territory years ago with a novelty record called "Fish Story", and the best joke on that would never get past even the most broad-minded family film....) But after a few moments of aimlessness, Shark Tale turns into a fairly clever and fast-moving comedy, the best moments of which are built around the audience's recognition of the voice talent. Will Smith, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro come off best, allowing the film to shift from "Godfather" riffs to a kind of Daffy Duck heroic lunacy without missing too many beats. It's not a particularly well-crafted story or an distinctively individual work, but the filmmakers have clearly decided that if they keep the gags coming hard and heavy you won't miss any of those other qualities. Other animators have adopted such a plan at their own risk - anybody want to watch Osmosis Jones again? - but Shark Tale manages to pull it off without too many weak jokes lying in its wake.
Dylan's Back Pages
You already know that Bob Dylan's autobiography is coming out in a few weeks. Newsweek has an excerpt here and a report from "a motel room somewhere in the Midwest" here.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Shedding light on Dark Materials

As an admirer of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, I was a little suspicious when I heard that Chris Weitz had been chosen to direct a film version. Bridge to the Stars, the best of the Dark Materials fan sites, has a lengthy and reassuring interview with Weitz here.
Wong Kar Wai and John Cassavetes:
(Now how's that for a set of keywords?)

There's an excellent profile of Wong Kar Wai and his new film 2046 in today's NYT. (Youll have to have a Time login to read it....)
(And speaking of Wong Kar Wai, Kino is releasing a boxed set of five films on Oct. 19. The titles are Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, Days of Being Wild and As Tears Go By, the latter two appearing in the U.S. for the first time. )

Also in the Times, though less impressive, Manohla Dargis on Cassavetes. But am I the only person whose a little put off by the "struggling with critical and popular indifference" take in recent articles about Cassavetes? No, his films aren't a mainstream taste - and that's no insult, given what passes as mainstream these days, - but why would anyone think he was? That's about as likely as selling tickets for a revival of My Night at Maud's at a Star Wars convention...

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Leonard Cohen! Michael O'Donoghue!
I admit that I spend a lot of time sitting alone being a Gloomy Gus, but there are times when such things are better left to professionals. Leonard Cohen,the poet of inveterate romance, has a new album coming out on October 26th. Order it now! You'll feel better immediately. Well, probably not... but order it anyway!

Meanwhile, a new issue - that is to say an old issue - of "Evergreen Review" is online here. The highlight is Michael O' Donoghue's classic memoir of artistic life, "Paris in the Twenties". Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.
(And if you're not familiar with Mr. Mike - a big time Gloomy Gus if there ever was one - you need to read Dennis Perrin's biography..(Yes, I know it came out several years ago..In fact, I didn't expect to find it still in print.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Lemony Fresh
Guest (as in Edgar) literary correspondent Nadja Bartleby checks in on the 11th installment of A Series of Unfortunate Events:
These books are critic-proof. What else is there to say? If you have come to love Klaus, Violet and Sunny (especially Sunny!), the only thing you need to know about The Grim Grotto, the latest in the soon-to-be-ending series, is that our dear Mr. Snicket is clearly heading the story toward some kind of conclusion in which the mysteries that have piled up over the last few years (the sugar bowl, V.F.D., the Snicket family's involvement) will all be resolved, and that the Baudelaire trio are maturing, while their assailants, Olaf and crew, are as horrible as ever. With only two volumes left to go, Snicket has lost none of the wry humor, disassocoiative authorial tactics and highbrow mannerisms that have made A Series of Unfortunate Events the best thing to hit juvenile literature since Roald Dahl made misanthropy seem cute.

Because every other movie except Pepe and Fearless Frank has already been remade:
Don't get me wrong: I love Ted Turner and all of his acquisitions. I love Turner Classic Movies, the only station with the guts to do marathons of Edgar Ulmer and Carl Dreyer movies. But TCM's ugly stepsisters WTBS and TNT have been scraping the barrel lately. First comes the long-awaited announcement fromTBS (they prefer to drop the W), which now devotes most of its airtime to censored "Sex and the City" reruns and brainless reality shows, of the "movie star" in their new "Return to Gilligan's Island" (in which a real sailor, millionaire, scientist, etc. live by their wits on an island while recreating zany stunts from the old series) will be...Carmen Electra. That's their idea of a movie star? While they're at it, why not make the millionaire some guy who earns $22,000 a year...
And if that's not enough, their increasingly boring sister station TNT has scraped the very bottom of the remake barrel to give us this .
From McSweeney's, a far too rational reconsideration of a few classic films as well as some of M. Night Shyamalan's.

Quentin Tarantino has a blog. The strangest thing about it is that it's not a hoax.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

From Russ Meyer (rest in peace) to Wong Kar Wai in one paragraph

Russ Meyer, one of the most eccentrically independent figures of American film, has died. Pull out that worn videotape of Meyer's twisted masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Why isn't this on DVD???) and lift a glass in his memory. His occasional collaborator Roger Ebert pays tribute.

Meanwhile, movies go on, and the brilliant Wong Kar Wai, whose last film In the Mood for Love is one of the finest films of the last ten years, is interviewed by the Guardian about his latest work, 2046, a sequel (in a loose sense) to In the Mood. No telling when it will get a U.S. release, though.

Speaking of director interviews, John Waters is all over the place promoting his latest, A Dirty Shame. Look here .

Ali G. gets his famous guests the old fashioned way.

If you've been wondering how Ali G. gets people like Buzz Aldrin and Sam Donaldson to appear on his show, Slate has a few answers here. In a nutshell, he lies to them. That's a relief.
Of course, it still doesn't entirely explain why so many famous people are so clueless... I mean, I expect Gore Vidal to stay a little out of the pop culture fray, but surely Christine Todd Whitman and Pat Buchanan have HBO, don't they?

Meanwhile, the Cat Stevens revival continues. First stage: kindle nostalgia (See Anne Dante's report of 7/25, below) ; Second stage: generate controversy. (As usual, the Drudge Report gets bonus points for accompanying the headline "Cat Stevens diverts plane" with a nifty little photo of a plane for those confused Drudge readers who don't quite get the whole aviation concept...)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Random bitterness

I know I'm a rapidly aging old crank, but am I the only person who misses the days when theatres were actually relatively peaceful before the curtain opened? There may have been music playing, but it wasn't the relentless slides-and-canned-music combination that you get at most theatres today. Some of you may find it hard to believe that there was a period in the 1970s when theatres began to experiment with running commercials before films - but actually stopped doing it when they found out that patrons didn't like it!!! (When I lived in a small town in Wisconsin for a few months in 1977, one of the two local theatres in town showed Pepsi commercials - but only after the feature when most people had left...)
Today's theatre chains don't care much about what you think once you've shelled out your $7.50, so the slide show, followed by even more commercials, often in grainy video blown up to 35mm, are just part of what you're expected to endure.
And of all the on-screen advertising pushed upon your senses, is there anything more irritating that the current anti-piracy campaign from the MPAA in which a seasoned stuntman named Manny Perry suggests that you're stealing bread from the mouth of his babies every time you download a movie or dub a friend's copy of The Sorrow and the Pity. The always entertaining "Defamer" has been carrying on about this for a few weeks now (see here) so I'll just mention the two things that irritate me the most about the whole campaign.
1) It's safe to assume that Manny Perry gets paid for his work as a stuntman once his job is done. His car crashes may have been as essential part of Enemy of the State, but I doubt that he gets much in the way of profit participation. So after he finishes his work on the next Jerry Bruckheimer epic,if you download a copy, sneak your video camera into a screening and sell low quality bootlegs on the street, steal the negative and dump it into the Hudson or persuade JB to shelf the whole thing so it doesn't distract him from his true purpose in life - Coyote Ugly 2 - it's not going to cost Manny a penny. In this respect, the whole campaign is a guilt-inducing lie.
2) When do you see the MPAAs plea from Manny? Just minutes after you've shelled out a fair amount of cash to see a movie. If the MPAA wants to go after movie pirates, have them run a flash version of Manny's ad on BitTorrent or some other P2P site where the pirates and movie downloaders will see it, not in front of the paying audience who they should be thanking......

Don't Worry; I'm changing the subject
...but while I'm in High Indignation Mode, can't someone come up with a way to convince filmmakers that DVD technology doesn't mean that they need to constantly tinker with and "improve" films? Obviously I'm thinking of the forthcoming Star Wars collection, where, among other revisions to the films (which, if memory serves, were fairly well received in their original versions), the faces of the actors playing the Emperor and the unmasked Darth Vader have been replaced with images of the actors who played those roles in the two most recent installments. George Lucas, if you're out there... I enjoyed the first three Star Wars movies - okay, I didn't exactly build a religion around them like some fans, but I liked them well enough. But they don't need to be repackaged every five years or so just because your CGI team has come up with a way to make lightsabres a little shinier... If you feel the need to tinker with your films, why not work on Howard the Duck or come up with a way of making The Radioland Murders funny?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Okay, I haven't posted in several weeks because I've been busy with other projects and problems. I'll be back into shape soon with a short review of my current obsession, Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi. Meanwhile , I've been indulging myself by taking a second look at Kitano's other films, including my favorite, Kikujuro. If you haven't seen it or if you have fallen for the common misunderstanding that Kitano is just a Japanese John Woo turning out violent cop movies, it's worth a look.