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Archive for May 2008

Scene To Be Seen: MATINEE (1993)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 06, 2008 • 3 Comments

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Some movies have one great scene lost in a bunch of not so great ones. Then there are some movies where it is a challenge to pick one over the others. Matinee falls in the latter category. It was directed by Joe Dante (Yes! I made three references to Gremlins all in one week!) who specializes in unveiling very dark things under the guise of campy B-movies. This is perhaps the most idealistic autobiography that Dante has ever realized.

Set in Small Town America – 1962, the film affectionately follows Lawrence Woolsey played by the versatile John Goodman as a schlock independent filmmaker who showcases gimmicky monster movies with great bravado. He is a low-rent version of William Castle, the mastermind behind Vincent Price vehicles like House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959), a movie that shocked theater patrons with electric buzzers in their seats courtesy of Castle.

matineeWoolsey’s next science fiction film MANT!, a loving homage by Dante to Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958), uses the Tingler Effect and other tricks to offer his audience a unique experience. Releasing an exploitation film about atomic radiation mutations when Americans feared the dropping of the bomb at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis is to Wollsey’s mind (“What better time to release a horror movie!”) Wollsey is not a cynical man; he genuinely loves making movies and entertaining people, within the confines of his capacity as a showman (the term ‘hack’ should be reserved for Michael Bay).

The Trailer for “MANT!”

Profiled like Alfred Hitchcock, the cigar-chomping Woolsey presents his preview for his cheerful creature feature titled Mant with the same dry humor and zest that The Master of Suspense did with his trailers. The way Woolsey presents the magazines that prove his cheap horror film is based on scientific fact is priceless. Watching this scene, compared to the bottom-line advertising tactics of films over the past few decades, one realizes filmmakers like Woolsey, whose gusto approach to making movies fun, are a dying breed. The only recent example I can think of is Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse (2007). Dante never condescends but celebrates Woolsey the same way Tim Burton did for Ed Wood (1994) — Ed D. Wood Jr., director of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Necromania: A Tale of Weird Love (1971), was recognized as the “worst filmmaker of all time!”, which does deserve some reverence.

“You see, people come into your cave with a two hundred year old carpet.”

When I wrote that some films with great scenes are hard to choose from, case in point, here’s another one. Woolsey is accompanied by Gene, a young man not a mile away from myself, and learns some of the showman’s philosophy of movie-making. I still remember by heart the story told by Woolsey about the caveman who paints a Woolly Mammoth on his wall and figures: “Wait a minute! People are coming to see this thing! Let’s make it good!” A prime motive for how going for the jugular is more effective than subtlety (sometimes). The scene continues as Woolsey projects the point of view of any enthusiastic filmgoer’s journey through the matinee lobby and into the movie theater. Sometimes when I open the doors of a movie house with great anticipation I am inclined to call out, “Here I am! What have you got for me!”

For me, Woolsey represents a life path that is in considerable reach: an enthusiastic moviemaker touring far and wide in the pursuit of entertaining people. Another bonus is being accompanied by a sexy dry-wit like the one Woolsey takes along for the ride played by Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, the REAL Best Picture Winner of 1980). Other idealistic life paths include being a productive yet reclusive painter living in a New York apartment I could barely afford, or becoming a womanizing journalist who drinks too many highballs. This charming comedy about young love and B-Movies is highly recommended. Though I have been deprived of the experience for now, I believe, like Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic Matinee would benefit viewing on the big screen. Or, at the very least, a deluxe Criterion release.

“Matinee” Trailer

New DARK KNIGHT Trailer: “Here’s My Card!”

by Christopher Beaubien • May 05, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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“You either die a hero or…”

Wow! I saw this trailer before Jon Favreau’s Iron Man this weekend and I felt an exhilaration that removed me from all planes of reality and into a dimension that can only be described as heaven. I hope that Christopher Nolan not only has made The Dark Knight the best Batman movie ever (even better than Bruce W. Timm’s Mask of the Phantasm, 1993), but the best film of the year. I want this film to be so compelling that no drama or foreign film will compete for me. I can only dream.

twofaceEveryone here looks in top form: Christian Bale (American Psycho, 2000), Michael Caine (The Quiet American, 2002), Maggie Gyllenhaal (SherryBaby, 2006) – Thank Nolan they replaced Holmes!, Gary Oldman (Nil by Mouth, 1998), dual performing Aaron Eckhart (In the Company of Men, 1998) and the brilliant Heath Ledger (Monster’s Ball, 2001).

Quick Tidbit: When the Joker whips open his blade as he walks down the urban street with his back to us, you can spot a Starbucks shop on the right part of the frame. I know, I have to go on a trailer diet.

The release date is July 18th.

“And here we…GO!”

Dissecting the Music of Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING

by Christopher Beaubien • May 05, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

Skewer Your Funny Bone: Recommended for Strong Stomachs

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The short film Thanksgiving, posing as a faux trailer, was one of the highlights of Grindhouse, the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaboration. Those two-and-a-half minutes (a pound?) are the best of Eli Roth’s resume. It is both a loving homage to John Carpenter’s definitive film Halloween (1978) and an inspired parody of those awful 80s slasher-rip-off-flicks (and bad taste, in general) that is far elevated from Roth’s turgid Hostel films. A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, “In any case be sure not to miss the trailer for Thanksgiving — not for the squeamish or the humor impaired, and not that you’d necessarily want to see the movie, if it existed.”

I remember the first time seeing it in theaters, the last act of abomination by the Evil Pilgrim on the roasted turkey had me laughing so hard throughout the main title sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the best of both feature films. In the Kurt Volk designed collectible hardcover book Grindhouse, which chronicles behind its scenes, its director Eli Roth wrote a fascinating article about making Thanksgiving in Prague after dressing it up as Small Town, America. The read is explores technical as well as the drama creating these sick scenes (God love ’em!) to round out Roth’s gut-busting observations. It’s a mixed blessing Thanksgiving won’t be getting the Grindhouse feature treatment, we already have the best parts. Why let a lame narrative ruin that?

My only grip about this really guilty pleasure is this: What is the deal with not listing John Harrison as the composer of Thanksgiving in the end credits of the cheerfully sleazy three-hour double-feature? The majority of the music is lifted right off the soundtrack of George A. Romero’s immortal five-part Creepshow (1982), which was based on a Tales From the Crypt-like graphic novel written by Stephen King as the film’s screenplay.

creepshowIn Thanksgiving, you’ll hear excerpts from Father’s Day, a Creepshow episode where Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors, A Wedding, 1978) is strangled to death by her cake-obsessed zombie-dad (John Amplas, Martin, 1977), which stands in as the Evil Pilgrim’s murderous theme song. Then the trampoline scene (Holy-NC-17-MPAA!) is accompanied by the music used for Something to Tide You Over when a jealous husband (Leslie Neilsen, The Naked Gun Series) watches, from the comfort of his living room, his wife and her lover drowning (Eat you heart out Peter Greenaway). Lastly, the sickly build-up to the near-thirty-year-old-depicting-a-teen (Eli Roth) head scene is from the They’re Creeping Up On You segment staring E.G. Marshall (Double Indemnity, 1944) as a corrupt, cockroach-phobic CEO. All are compositions by John Harrison.

The only original pieces of music by Nathan Barr, who was credited, are what follow: First, that menacing music at the beginning of trailer — following the knife-wielding maniac Halloween-style behind the buck-toothed screaming Grandma. And last, that perfectly drippy, romantic, synthesized 80s-like score playing over “Cool it, Judy! You’re safe. Bobby’s here…”

It seems strange, but this is the way credits work most of the time where original music versus licensed music is concerned. It’s not a matter of giving credit to the composer with the most music in the trailer, but rather giving credit for the most-recent music written specifically for that fake trailer.

CREEPSHOW (1982) Trailer

GRINDHOUSE (2007) Trailer 1

GRINDHOUSE (2007) Trailer 2

Wes Anderson is as crazy as a MR. FOX

by Christopher Beaubien • May 04, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

wesandersonWes Anderson, the director of Bottle Rocket (1996), the classic Rushmore (1998) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), will helm the Fox Animation production based on the Roald Dahl novella The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The script has been adapted by Anderson and Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, 1995, The Squid and the Whale, 2005), who both collaborated on the screenplay of Anderson’s own The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) — “I’ve never seen a bond company stooge stick his neck out like that.”

The stop-motion animated film will closely observe the character designs of the illustrations by Donald Chaffin for the book released in 1970. Class act Scott Rudin, who has produced Mother (1996), The Truman Show (1998), The Hours (2002), and No Country for Old Men (2007) among others, will overlook the production.

When asked about the animation in the film, Wes Anderson responded that “(it’s) like The Nightmare Before Christmas (and) those (Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. produced) Christmas specials. These [characters] have fur, so it’s not like claymation (like Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit). The settings will be very natural. We want to use real trees and real sand, but it’s all miniature.”

That’s fantastic news when one remembers those strange and beautiful sea creatures that were rendered with stop-motion by animation director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, 1996) for Life Aquatic. Selick was set to co-direct with Anderson in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but left to pursue the direction of Neil Gaiman’s Caroline. Replacing Selick is Mark Gustafson, who has had extensive experience with stop-motion animation in short, experimental films.

mr_foxThe Roald Dahl tale is about a wily fox who outwits a group of farmers out of their produce. Just imagine Max Fischer with orange fur and a tail. Mr. Fox will be voiced by the equally wily George Clooney. There is confirmation that Wes Anderson alumni such as Cate Blanchett, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray (sound the trumpets!), and Anjelica Huston will lend their vocal talents as well.

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Ebert Speaks Up Again for DARK CITY (1998)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 03, 2008 • 1 Comment

ebertOne of the new special features for the upcoming Director’s Cut DVD of Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998) due on July 29th, 2008 is a brand new audio commentary track by Roger Ebert. Whether he recorded at the same time before the first DVD was released on July 1998 or sometime again before 2005 when Ebert had surgery on his salivary gland. The operation was botched when his carotid artery burst, leaving him in intensive care for over a year, and costing him his ability to speak.

At that time, I was devastated to learn this because Ebert was one of my heroes whose prose encouraged me to broaden my horizons with his recommended films and books and occasional insights into human nature. The man also delivered some of the most informed and entertaining commentary tracks for films he has spent years championing such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb (1995), Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959), and Russ (Mammary-Fanatic) Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which Ebert also penned. Ebert’s easy conversational tone along with his exceptional vocabulary and wit made the commentaries a singular pleasure.

Last January, Ebert’s latest attempt to fix his voice had failed. He is resolute to continue writing film reviews at rogerebert.com for the time being. Let’s face it; however wrong I hope I am that Ebert may never get his voice back. And then, like a plum from heaven, I find out that Ebert had a new commentary track New Line has been holding back. Ebert, back in 1999, recorded his first track for the theatrically released Dark City, which he called “the best movie of 1998” and “an important landmark in the genre of science fiction film.” Instead of rehashing the old commentary track over the fifteen-minutes extra director’s cut, I figure Ebert was commissioned to record a new one.

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