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Woe, Originality, Woe!

by Christopher Beaubien • June 26, 2008 • 3 Comments

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June 23, 2009: This article works best when regarded as a contingent whole from a distance rather than one meant for scrutinizing. By recognizing the existence and length of “Woe, Originality, Woe!”, the point is made as sharp as a slashing celluloid projector — fingers and palms are cautioned.

Have you recently felt waist-deep in the remakes that Hollywood is churning out at us? Those suits are approving them faster than a greasy teenager can wrap up and deliver an equally greasy feces-spotted burger. Now you have to understand, the execs are timid and frightened of green-lighting anything new and original. After all, anything untried could fail and cost them their job.

So far this year we’ve seen Peter Segal helmed Get Smart, The Eye, Shutter, Prom Night, One Missed Call, Funny Games, etc. With the exception of the Steve Carell flick, they all sucked, but that didn’t stop future Idiocracy members from making them profitable, which ensure more and more remakes…

Get ready to duck and cover because here they come!

TRAIN (2008) by Gideon Raff < Terror Train (1980) by Roger Spottiswoode.

The Echo (2008) by Yam Laranas < Sigaw (2004) by, you guessed it, Yam Laranas. It will be like George Sluizer remaking his chilling masterpiece Spoorloos (1988) into the Americanized (re: shitty) The Vanishing (1993).

The Valet (2008) by Bobby and Peter Farrelly < La Doublure (2006) by Francis Veber.

Star Blazers (2008) by producer Josh C. Kline < The Japanese anime series Star Blazers (1979). The upcoming movie will be live-action; just think Thunderbirds (2004) — question: did that hurt?

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The Term “Nuke The Fridge” Is A Dud!

by Christopher Beaubien • June 06, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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There has been a very vocal outcry against an action set piece early in the film. I thought it was one of the film’s most inspired scenes. Indiana Jones has been deserted inside a small American town populated by eerie wide-eyed dummies made up as All-American suburbanites. The houses are outfitted with furnishings and plastic goods. The purpose of this crafted life-size Pleasantville is to test an enormous atom bomb that will detonate within a minute. Indy, taking a cue from the caped crusader from the episode Riddler’s Reform uses a housed refrigerator as a safe to protect himself from the blast.

Tension rises as he rips the metallic grills out of the icebox so he can fit inside. He shuts himself inside just as the manmade inferno blows everything to kingdom come. The refrigerator blasts off into the sky and lands ferociously to the ground miles away from the blast. Indiana Jones, never cooler, escapes his mini fall-out shelter with a few bruises. He is indestructible. The camera rises up to reveal a mushroom cloud swallowing the faraway landscape. Indiana Jones, silhouetted by the explosion, has entered the cold war. It is an awesome moment that unfortunately overshadows the rest of the film. I wouldn’t do without it.

Many people didn’t voice this favourable view, whereas a collective of disheartened curmudgeons found the magnificently preposterous sequence just preposterous. Back in Raiders, Indy’s body was dragged across a rocky terrain by the back of a Nazi jeep. He climbed up the car and fought the villains like he was in rare form. Now Indy’s fans are calling out the impossibility of Indiana’s Fridge stunt.

They wanted blood for this, even going so far as to burn an imprint of the scene as the movie equivalent to the television term “Jump the Shark”, which refers to a joyfully ludicrous stunt by the Fonz in Happy Days. The phrase had entered the lexicon, otherwise known as the Urban Dictionary, as “Nuke the Fridge”. For example, “Killing off all the surviving characters from Aliens (1985) sans Ripley at the beginning of Alien3 (1992) really nuked the fridge”. Nuked the Fridge. I just want to rake my tongue with a fork every time I say that. It is a clumsy catchphrase that ridicules a film sequence that doesn’t qualify for this degree of prejudice venom.

How about this instead: “Souring the romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane in Spiderman 3 just killed off Newt”.

“Killed off Newt” — sharp and to the point!

Besides, “Jump the Shark” has always worked as classics often do.

Criterion Release of MISHIMA (1985) DVD Postponed

by Christopher Beaubien • June 03, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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The Criterion Collection, the best in restoring and packaging obscure films, has postponed the release of the Paul Schrader masterpiece Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (#432, 1985). It was originally slated for June 17th, but will now be released on July 1st. The reason for this could be so the Director-approved 2-disc special edition can coincide with another Criterion release Patriotism (#433, 1966), a 29-minute film directed by and starring Yukio Mishima.

mishimaMishima is one of my favorite films of all time right behind Terrance Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978). It is one of the most strangest and artistically appropriate biopics about a deeply-complex and passionate man. Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata, The Pillow Book, 1996), a quiet novelist and arguably insane radical who wrote dozens of stories about struggle, beauty, sexuality, love, suicide, and the importance of an artistic statement. He later formed a personal army in pursuit of more tradition livelihood in Tokyo.

Three of his most renowned stories The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), Kyoko’s House (1959) and Runaway Horses (1968) were shot in rich, gorgeous color on eye-popping theatrical sets by Eiko Ishioka that compliment the black-and-white scenes chronicling the writer’s past. They are the best filmed expressions of the writing process matched by Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002). These passages of past and fiction all lead up to Mishima’s last day, shot like a documentary in color, when he committed a rehearsed act of seppuku – a form of ritualistic samurai suicide – in the headquarters of Japan Self-Defense Forces.

MISHIMA (1985) Trailer

At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, the film’s cinematographer John Bailey (The Anniversary Party, 2001), composer Philip Glass (A Brief History of Time, 1991), and costume/set designer Eiko Ishioka (The Fall, 2008) won the well deserved Best Artistic Contribution. Director Paul Schrader, the writer of Taxi DriverAffliction (1998) has recognized Mishima as his best work. (1976) and director of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas co-produced it knowing that the financial venture wold not be profitable because mainstream audience would not embrace it despite critical acclaim. Luckily for those who appreciate challenging and expertly-made films, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters can be experienced because it exists.

Warner Bros Home Video released a DVD of Mishima on August 2001 that included a director’s audio commentary. It is currently out of print.

A New Sunrise for MISHIMA (1985)

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The Criterion release will sport a new, restored high-definition digital transfer of the director’s cut which was supervised and approved by director Paul Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey. The changes of the director’s cut include a deleted scene featuring Chishu Ryu, a favored actor of Yasujiro Ozu (Floating Weeds, 1959). For Ozu fanatics, you can read a Sight and Sound article by Ryu on the director here. Another change to film is a digital replacement of a blue skyline with a blood red one in the Runaway Horses segment because Schrader wanted it look artificially in sync with the rest of the story visually. Optional English and Japanese voice-over narrations will also be provided; the former by Roy Scheider (“We’re goin’ to need a bigger boat.”), the latter by Ken Ogata.

New special features include: an audio commentary featuring Schrader and producer Alan Poul – the one featured in the original Warner release will not be included.

mishima11There will be new video interviews with Bailey, producers Tom Luddy and Mata Yamamoto, composer Philip Glass, and production designer Eiko Ishioka. Mishima biographer John Nathan and friend Donald Richie will also have video interviews. A new audio interview with the co-screenwriter Chieko Schrader who wrote the Japanese dialogue was the wife of Leonard Schrader who also wrote for Mishima as well. Another video interview excerpt will feature Mishima talking about writing.

Also included is The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima, a 55-minute BBC documentary about the author, the film’s theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring a new essay by critic Kevin Jackson, a piece on the film’s censorship in Japan, and photographs of Ishioka’s sets.

One of the Best Sequences in MISHIMA (1985)

Available separately on the same date is Yukio Mishima’s Patriotism, which foreshadowed his death playing an officer who commits seppuku. The original film was thought to be destroyed by Japanese authorities shortly after Mishima’s death, seen as a plight upon the nation. Fortunately, the original negative was saved and has resurfaced 35 years later.

patriotismThe DVD will be restored in a high-definition digital transfer of both the Japanese and English versions, with optional Japanese or English subtitles. Special features include a 45-minute audio recording of Yukio Mishima speaking to the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Japan; a 45-minute making-of documentary, featuring crew from the film’s production; interview excerpts featuring Mishima discussing war and death; new and improved English subtitle translation, and a new essay by renowned critic and historian Tony Rayns, Mishima’s original short story, and Mishima’s extensive notes on the film’s production.

I’ll be picking them both up July 1st.

Unique Trailers: NASHVILLE (1975)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 21, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Some great movies can’t be made into good trailers: Just look at the atrocious jobs done unto Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm or Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (watch the movie first, and then ridicule the trailer — the DVD doesn’t support the trailer either.). And sometimes there is an exception to this rule: Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975).

“The damndest thing you ever saw”.

The fast-paced introductions to the two dozen characters who appear in the movie is so involving and kinetic that your head is spinning with names and connections by the end of the trailer. The actual movie amazingly accomplishes the realization of these twenty-four characters as unforgettable and compelling individuals. Most movies get hung up on a quartet.

I saw this film again last week at a revival in an upscale cinema house (VIFC) in Vancouver. It was introduced by W.P. Kinsella, the Canadian novelist of Shoeless Joe, which was adapted into Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams (1989). Kinsella revealed his love for Coen Bros. Movies so I made a point to quiz him on Barton Fink (1990) after the screening.

nashville5Watching Nashville, bursting with irony and exuberance, in its 35mm glory was a great experience as much as doing the same with Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I got chills again watching the main title sequence that features a panoramic J. William Myers Jr. painting of all the characters (featured above). Even while listening to the slow, shivery rendition of the schmaltzy folk song “We Must Be Doing Something Right To Last 200 Years” sung by a leery Henry Gibson (Magnolia, 1999). I’ve been punch-drunk in love with the film having seen it a half-dozen times. If I had attempted to single out every performer and storyline here, I’d be at the IMDB all night.

The director of Scarface (1932) and His Girl Friday (1940), Howard Hawks, once answered the question “what makes a good movie?”: Three great scenes. No bad scenes.” It’s true of Nashville, which has much more than three. Had I to choose three, I would single out a moment very late in the film where three great scenes came together in a row.

nashville1The scene is set in a tavern one night where Tom Frank, a handsome and monstrously hedonistic country singer, played by Keith Carradine (HBO’s Dexter, 2007), very gently sings, “I’m Easy” (the only won Academy Award out of five including Best Picture). Lily Tomblin (Flirting with Disaster, 1996) plays Linnea, a dissatisfied housewife and loving mother who sits in the shadows way back looking transfixed as though Tom were a siren. She thinks he’s singing to her (he is!). So does every woman in the audience who has already slept with him including Shelley Duvall, Cristina Raines, and the beautiful Geraldine Chaplin (“I’m Opal! I’m from the BBC!”). It’s such a bewitchingly vulnerable moment coated in hot tar.

“I’m Easy”

Cut to the second scene in another tavern populated by men who’ve turned up for a political fund raiser — Vote for Hal Philip Walker. Gwen Welles plays Sueleen Gay (“Let me be the… ONE!”), a waitress who dreams of becoming a major singer whose hired as the night’s entertainment. A pity she’s tone-deaf. Sueleen naively uses her sex appeal on stage, oblivious to her lack of talent, and the boorish crowd boos her performance and demands nudity. The political backhanders (Ned Beatty, Deliverance, 1972 and Michael Murphy, Tanner 88′, 1988) bribe Sueleen who is on the verge of tears that she’ll perform with superstar Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley, A Nightmare On Elm Street, 1984) if she shows skin. What follows is one of the most searingly sad stripteases right down to the taking the socks out of her bra.

nashville2The third scene takes place in Tom’s motel room where he’s in bed with Linnea. Having had sex, she teaches him some sign language (her adorable children are deaf) and he is so engaged with her, surprising considering how he callously treats other women who fawn over him. Linnea figures its time to go (unheard by Linnea, another song “For the Sake of the Children, We Must Say Goodbye” from before could have played over it — thankfully it didn’t). Heartbroken by her leaving, Tom cruelly calls up another girlfriend by phone while Linnea gets dressed. Linnea is not affected and she kisses Tom goodbye. Having failed to hurt her, Tom hangs up the phone. Pauline Kael noted in her review that “he’ll remember her forever.”

Nashville is a masterpiece, a staple to 1970s cinema and one of the quintessential films about America. Technically, it’s also a musical. The Nashville Music Industry were appalled that the movie didn’t use any existing music of their sour grapes. The actors wrote and sung their own songs. Even those who might have gone on to become country singers were denied by the heads of Nashville because their resentment was so great.

Before the showing of the feature I attended, the audience was posed this question: Which one out of the twenty-four characters does not show up at the concert near the end of the film. The answer to who it is: kcalb nerak. Listen much earlier in the film for why this is case by Haven Hamilton to Barnett (Allen Garfield, The Majestic, 2001).

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Columbia Pictures Gives Us GOOSEBUMPS!

by Christopher Beaubien • May 15, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Columbia Pictures and Neal Moritz, the producer of Cruel Intentions (1999) and I am Legend (2007), have secured the rights with Scholastic Media’s Deborah Forte to make the R.L. Stine penned Goosebumps franchise into a theatrical feature. It’s like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone targeted to kids. Executive Producer Andrea Giannetti (Vantage Point, 2008) will oversee the production. The release date is set at 2010.

The popular Goosebumps book series, much of it written and sold throughout the 1990s, holds second place as the most financially successful in the young adults demographic. It was published in over 32 languages and has sold more than 300 million copies worldwide. It was beaten by another youth-oriented serial written by some Brit named J.K. Rowling who specialized in wizards or something (supposedly 5 out of 8 blockbuster films were also adapted).

goosebumps2My reservations on an adapted Goosebumps movie is that it will be based on a Horrorland revision (unread by me) that includes many characters from previous plots. Between evil ventriloquist dummies, a preordained picture-taking camera, possessed Halloween masks, plant zombies, mutating green blood, and a summer camp that enslaves children to wash down a blob with teeth; I hope the filmmakers don’t bloat the film with too many creatures.

Why the invested interest? As a kid, I had difficulty being engaged by less than compelling material outside of Beverley Cleary’s Ramona serial. Unless the characters were personable and a real sense of doom was preordained, my mind drifted to more haunted thoughts of my imagining that proved more enticing. At the age of 7, I was introduced to the Goosebumps series, the closest in horror literature I could obtain at the time, by an antique dealer who I never saw again. As an early reader, I am in debt to R.L. Stine. Throughout grades four and seven, I read front to back over seventy Goosebumps novels. My father used to bribe me with a new Goosebumps book ($5.50 each) every week I completed all of my homework.

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