Friday, May 30, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 5/30/08

Wow, what a depressing week. Starting off with the passing of Sydney Pollack and now the sad news that there will be Beverly Hills Cop IV. Let's try to find some good news.

- Finally! Kevin Smith has posted a teaser trailer for Zack and Miri Make A Porno, starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. People are curious to see how the different comedic stylings of Smith and Rogen will mesh, but if the teaser is any indication, it will be worth watching several times. Check out the trailer at Quick Stop Entertainment.

- Going to see The Strangers tonight, because, well, it's either that or going to see that movie about three hookers and their mom.

- Don't forget about Paul's Brain Trust. You can click on the link to the right to find out more information and help out while you can.

- Sadly, this week we also said goodbye to Harvey Korman. Korman won 4 Emmys for his work on The Carol Burnett Show and is best remembered for his work with Mel Brooks in High Anxiety, History of the World and of course, Blazing Saddles. Hedy Lemarr (that's HedLEY!) has always been my favorite character in the movie and whenever my friend Jamie and I break into our Saddles routine, he plays Mel and I play Harvey.

Harvey Korman was 81. Meeting adjourned.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Paul's Brain Trust

Not an update and not a regular blog post. This is more important that any of that.

Paul Prischman is a DVD producer who has worked on the DVD releases for Spider Man 2, American Gangster, Kingdom of Heaven, Monster House, Gladiator: Extended Edition, Revenge: The Director's Cut and my personal favorite Blade Runner: Ultimate Collector's Edition.

Recently, Paul was diagnosed with Grade 4 brain cancer. The subsequent treatment is costly and efforts are being made to raise money for his wife and children in their time of need. Paul's Brain Trust has been established to take donations and raise money. One of their events coming up is a special screening of Blade Runner: The Final Cut with Sir Ridley Scott in attendance.

I will be attending this screening as a friend has already purchased tickets for the event. Yes, I am not above making such a noble sacrifice like going to see an amazing movie with a master director on one of the legendary Hollywood studio lots. I would go anyway, but if the money is going for a good cause then I'm all for it. If you click on the image on the right hand sidebar, it can take you right to the website. I love movies and my blog, but if we can all pool our resources and do something worth while with it, then I think that's a good thing. I actually like to do a lot of work myself with unwed mothers. *cough stripclub

Please check out the website and donate if you can. Times are tough all over, but I think most of us live a medical emergency away from financial trouble, so help if you can. This man is beloved by his peers, as evidenced by the outpouring of support and I'm sure everyone who reads this owns at least something that he has labored on.

Thanks for reading.

2007 Year In Review

Originally posted on December 28, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

Films I Saw In General Release This Year - 2007

3:10 to Yuma


Across the Universe

American Gangster

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


Bee Movie

Black Snake Moan

Blade Runner – The Final Cut

Blades of Glory

Bourne Ultimatum

The Brave One

Death Sentence

Eastern Promises

Evan Almighty

The Ex


Ghost Rider

Gone Baby Gone

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Hot Fuzz

I Am Legend


Knocked Up

License to Wed

Lions for Lambs

Live Free or Die Hard

The Lookout

Michael Clayton

Music & Lyrics

No Country for Old Men

Ocean’s 13

Reno 911! Miami

Rocky Balboa


Shoot ‘Em Up

The Simpsons Movie

Smokin’ Aces

Spider-Man 3


There Will Be Blood



Walk Hard – The Dewey Cox Story


There were plenty of good movies this year and man, I tried to see as many as I could. But I’m just going to try to tell you about as many as I can right now. Most of these are either available on DVD or still in theatres, I think maybe only a few are still in limbo. How should I break this down?


A few movie franchises came to an end, I think, this summer. Ocean’s, Bourne, Rocky and Die Hard, were amongst the series to reportedly come to an end this year. These movies were all great, especially Ocean’s and Bourne and even Die Hard was pretty good for being PG-13. Amongst the series NOT ending, include Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Pirates, Transformers, Ninja Turtles and Shrek. Didn’t see either Shrek or Pirates because I am a grown up. Of course, I dug Harry Potter (see review) and thought it was one of the best films in that series, and am completely looking forward to Yates making Half Blood Prince. I did see Transformers and am just going on record saying that I couldn’t get involved with a movie where robots kicked the shit out of robots and no main characters dying. However, I recently discussed with a friend that if Transformers 2 is a movie about the Lesbots versus the Vagicons, then I am totally there! Oh man, that robot just knocked that other robot on its ass and it’s going down on it! This movie is awesome! I remember Transformers when I was a kid and even then, I didn’t really dig them. But, I did love TMNT. I thought it really captured the Turtles as I remember them when I was a kid. And that fight between Raph and Leo in the rain on a rooftop it one of the best fight sequences all year.


There were some pretty terrific action movies this year and some pretty terrible one as well. I was really looking forward to Smokin’ Aces and was thoroughly disappointed in it. Piven was only in it for like ten minutes and then Alicia Keys and Common hook up for no other reason than they’re the only black people in the movie. Bourne kicked so much ass, as did Shoot ‘Em Up, but I probably Hot Fuzz would be my favorite of the year, for if Shaun of the Dead is truly a zombie comedy, then Hot Fuzz is an action movie first and a comedy second. And the only other movie to have a better final twenty minutes all year was Death Proof. Last to come down the line, but certainly not least was I Am Legend, which should have been called I Am Bitchin’ because not only was it a very serious film exploring important human and social issues, but may have established Will Smith as the finest actor of our generation. Ooh, if only we can get him in a Marty Scorsese movie!


Ok, hands down, funniest movie of the year, SuperBad. Nothing else even came close. Not even Hot Fuzz, the second funniest movie of the year. I loved Knocked Up, Bee Movie, and Reno 911! Miami but SuperBad kicked all of them in the nuts. Walk Hard was funny, but not as fine a movie as either of the other two Apatow productions. I wasn’t crazy about Evan Almighty or License to Wed but I did think they were pretty humorous. And the funniest movie I saw all year that nobody else did had to be The Ex. Jason Bateman and Zach Braff were hilarious in this movie. If you watch it on DVD, make sure you watch the theatrical version. I swear to you, the movie is goddamn hilarious. If you like Scrubs or Arrested Development, you’ll love these guys in this film, plus it features about everybody ever. Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Donal Logue, Paul Rudd and Josh Charles just to name a few. But back to the king shit, SuperBad was my favorite movie of the year, and I thought was just really well written, as good as Knocked Up or 40 Year Old Virgin. Fortunately, Michael Cera also showed up in the funniest of the Oscar movie of the year, Juno. This movie struck a chord between being heartfelt and hilarious that not many movies can. I absolutely loved it and everyone in it.


There were just too many movies this year that are worthy of Oscar nominations and wins. Right now, the best movie of the year looks like No Country for Old Men. It was simply amazing. Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin were both brilliant and the film was gorgeous. Roger Deakins shot two beautiful pictures this year, the other being Assassination of Jesse James. Brad Pitt was great in that one, but the real performance came from Casey Affleck who tore in up in another awesome movie this year, Gone Baby Gone. The better performance in that picture was Ed Harris, who kicked so much ass, it was painful. And Ben Affleck showed that he might have some serious chops as a director. He would almost be a lock for a nod if he were not going up against a stellar roster which includes Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg, James Mangold, Robert Redford and even David Fincher. So, let’s go thru those movies quickly too. American Gangster was awesome (see review) and an almost certain nod for Denzel, probably Crowe too, but Brolin is the deserving one. Eastern Promises absolutely convinced me that Viggo Mortensen IS Russian and that Cronenberg has finally found a formula to make his movies digestible for mainstream audiences. 3:10 to Yuma could almost make Crowe compete against himself for Best Supporting Actor, but again, the great performance in the movie is Bale. Lions for Lambs will suffer from not doing well commercially and doing marginally well critically, but Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep were both excellent and deserving of a second look. Unfortunately, Zodiac probably came out far too early in the year to get some serious consideration, which is shitty because Gyllenhall, Downey and Ruffalo were all excellent in the film and Fincher made a better movie that Se7en and almost as good as Fight Club.


I hated Across the Universe, driven mostly by my contempt for the Beatles. Ghost Rider was another awful movie, but really, really funny. I really didn’t like all but about a half hour of Death Proof, falling asleep whenever Kurt Russell was not on screen and no, the lap dance was not sexy. I wasn’t head over heels for Blades of Glory either, but Jenna Fischer and Will Arnett made it slightly watchable. I liked The Brave One but didn’t love it and felt the same way about The Simpsons Movie. Sorry gang, Family Guy forever, Simpsons never. Not going to beat up on Transformers or Smokin’ Aces anymore because neither one of them are worth it.

But Mike, you might ask, I get to see so few movies, what should I see? To which I reply, you should see whatever you want. I only write my reviews, blogs and critiques as general guidelines to help get the word out about some movies people might not have seen or even heard of in some cases. True, I write most of my reviews about bigger movies, but I always try to throw in nods and recommendations for others. There were many great films this year and I tried to see as many of them as possible. If you’re as passionate about movies as I am, you should make an effort to try to see at least one a week. Do what my friends and I do, and buy a ticket for a movie you really want to see, and after you watch it, sneak into a movie you were on the fence about. Then you can justify to yourself spending eight bucks on two movies in one night. If someone gives you shit, just tell them you’re still going to movies for the sake of art, you corporate Enron fuck!

On another note, I did get a chance to see Blade Runner on the big screen, something I simply did not get a chance to do when I was an infant. It was simply an amazing experience that I cannot even begin to describe, but one I would like to share with everyone. So, among my New Year’s resolution in looking into trying to revitalize the small locally owned and operated theatre. I want to be able to run a single screen with a hundred seats and show movies that have never played on a large screen in our lifetimes. Pretty cool, huh? Yea, we’ll see.

Top Five Films of the Year

1. No Country for Old Men

2. I Am Legend

3. SuperBad

4. Eastern Promises

5. Hot Fuzz

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Keepin' It Gangster... American Gangster

Originally posted on November 5, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

Anybody who reads my blogs or know me personally, know that I have been extremely excited about seeing this movie. Denzel and Russell Crowe together again? I loved Virtuosity! So, I went with some of my smartest friends on opening night to catch it and we were not disappointed.

This movie is not perfect, only for the simple fact that nothing is perfect. But, it comes damn close. Although Ridley Scott is mostly known for making films like Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator and Legend, he is also the man who made Thelma & Louise and Black Rain. American Gangster is a very straight forward movie and Ridley does not put forth so much effort into the visuals of the film, (although the movie looks great) but concentrates on telling the story of the two main characters and allowing the two main actors to take over the movie. Not to say that anybody could have directed, but only someone like Scott could realize the massive talents of his cast and allow them to become the main thrust of the picture.

The title of the movie tells you right off that it's a gangster movie, (although the teenagers sitting behind me thought the movie was about Denzel being a hot cop and Russell Crowe being hot too. Hot Cops! Taking over the town!) but it is also a cop movie. Set in New York in the Seventies against the backdrop of Vietnam and the rise of heroin, the movie takes place in the same era as the great cop pictures such as French Connection and Serpico. Indeed, one would think it to be a film helmed by one of that class of directors, a Scorsese, a Lumet or a Freidkin, but this movie aspires to be more than that. And although it is not as good as the Godfather or Goodfellas, it will be a classic and inspire filmmakers and drug dealers/rappers for generations. For Denzel's Frank Lucas is a more intimidating figure than Tony Montana, Frank White or even his own Alonzo Harris. Calculating, patient and still family-oriented, Frank rises from being Bumpy Johnson's (Clarence Williams III) enforcer, to the king of New York. Surrounding himself with his family, he manages to appease the Italian Mafia, other black gangsters and his East Asian suppliers, while keeping himself and his business quiet and under the radar. And once again, his woman manages to become his downfall. It all begins with her. Lesson learned lads, lesson learned. Denzel Washington is Denzel Washington and the man gets nothing but better in every movie. It almost seems like he's having a lot of fun in this movie, playing a character unlike any other, (in Training Day, he was borderline sado-masochistic, fueling his own death.) and still managing to bring himself through the character into the performance. Conversely, Russell Crowe is simply brilliant as Richie Roberts, the Jewish cop/law student who tries to keep his clean head above water in a sea of cops on the take. While he excels at his work, his personal falls apart amid his ex-wife, his son (who you see ONCE.) and his friends, new and old, straight and criminal. And, Crowe plays all of this superbly, moving from tough talking, crazy cop, to nervous, insecure head of either the new anti-drug task force or the prosecution against Frank Lucas. Crowe is rarely seen so vulnerable, (except in A Beautiful Mind where he was paranoid schizophrenic, bi-sexual and anti-Semitic.) and he should surely garner another Oscar nod. But, his cop is not a perfect cop, stumbling through his investigation, stepping on toes and pissing people off, rather than following solid leads, but it serves to make him more human and a more likable character in a film where people are likely to root for the gangster. Both Denz and Crowe succeed in making you wonder who to root for, which in turn, makes you question yourself and your values.

And in this regard, the movie achieves far more than any other cops and robbers flick ever has. For while certain cop movies try to hit you over the head with their message and self-righteousness, while too many gangster movies fall into senseless violence and anarchy (Scarface, I'm looking at you) without making you feel for the characters, American Gangster walks the fine line between being an engaging and exciting film based on a true story while at the same time, examining the larger issues behind drugs, war, business, government and justice. And honestly, I looked past the Vietnam War mirroring our current situation in Iraq and found that, to me, the movie is a very critical commentary on capitalism, all alliteration aside.

In the film, everything is about money. Frank wants to make it and Richie fights to do the right thing amidst the temptation of it. Frank is a businessman first and maximizes his profits on a superior product. Albeit, his product is a dangerous narcotic and the opinion of that is left to the individual viewer, but never forget that behind every great fortune is a great crime. Frank Lucas wanted the American dream, hence the proper placement of the word in the title. He tried to be the black Joe Kennedy and in surrounding himself with family, he tried to ensure they would be well off for generations, "white man rich, wealthy" as he explains to them. And even though big words like monopoly and trade infringement are thrown around, the fact remains that Frank makes his money by being shrewder than the competition and working on a smaller scale the same business model than the world was beginning to use (larger inventory, streamlining production and cutting out the middleman) and that Bumpy talks about in the beginning of the film. And while it might seem that the money issues only affect Frank, Richie has his own. And not just turning in a million dollars of dirty money, but in one scene he comments on how many people would be out of work if there were no more drugs on the streets. For me, it makes perfect sense because of my belief that the government is largely responsible for the influx of illegal narcotics into this country and that they are largely fighting to regulate the traffic, rather than eliminate it. Now, go back to the Vietnam connection and say that Frank is basically a war profiteer and examine what our government is doing now to maximize the profits of their fellow stockholders in this current Iraq war. Ask yourself where's the gas rationing? Rosie the Riveter? War bonds? Can we really have our cake and eat it too? Can we afford this war much longer?

OK, back to the movie and not the socio-political implications of it. Its great, with some really kick ass action sequences. And the supporting cast is fantastic. By far, Josh Brolin is amazing, stealing the show. I loved him in Grindhouse and cannot wait for No Country for Old Men. Chiwetel Ejiofor is an actor who is outstanding in everything he's in from Children of Men to Inside Man and other films without a male derivative in the title and he gets great play in this film and Frank's brother. And I was completely surprised to discover Cuba Gooding Jr. alive and acting and able to still do both pretty damn well as Nicky Barnes, a flashy gangster version of Rod Tidwell. Also, Joe Morton, the RZA, Kevin Corrigan and Ruby Dee are all great in their smaller roles.

American Gangster was well worth the wait and I loved every minute of it. A sure fire Oscar contender and an absolute DVD purchase when it comes out, I highly recommend everyone to go see it. After I spent about thirty minutes gushing over it, I was asked it if was better than The Departed, to which I replied, "Nothing is better than The Departed." But, it comes pretty close.

American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is available on DVD from Universal.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Top Five Movie MILF's

What is it about the term or the idea of the MILF that is so arousing? It is the deeper Oedipal complex inside all of us or merely a flirtation with the forbidden and taboo? I don’t care, the MILF’s on my list are unbelievably hot.

Basically, the list came about after a long discussion with a friend about my number one. It quickly evolved into a ranking system and the explanation that the list needed to consist of women who had played roles as mothers, in films where the children figure into the story as importantly as they do.

5. Annette Benning as Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty

Not only should Mrs. Warren Beatty have won the Academy award for this role, but she looks absolutely stunning in the entire picture, outshines her younger teen counterparts and screams, “Fuck me, your Majesty!”

4. Lea Thompson as Lorraine Banes in Back to the Future

True, she does not realize that she is a mother through most of the movie, or that she will be the mother or her crush. It gets slightly confusing, but the point is she is exuding sexuality at young Marty while he tries desperately to rebuff her advances. Way to go Marty, I don’t think anybody else could have resisted.

3. Sigourney Weaver as Janey Carver in The Ice Storm

I’m not sure if it’s the rocking 70’s hair styles, the cigarette smoking or the fact that I’ve had a crush on Sigourney Weaver since Ghostbusters, but when she toys with her son’s whip on the patio, I get a warm sensation on my back that needs to be scratched. Or whipped.

2. Rachel Weisz as Rachel in About A Boy

Rachel Weisz is gorgeous and really great as a single mother in this movie and always hot when speaking without her American accent. But she is at her hottest in a deleted scene when she shows up at Hugh Grant’s door and asks him, “What would you rather do? Watch Countdown or have sex with me?”

1. Ellen Burstyn as Lois Farrow in The Last Picture Show

Why do I love Ellen Burstyn so much? I’m not really sure, but her hurt expression on the couch waiting for a date that will not come and wearing sunglasses in the convertible before flipping everybody off remains the two images from that movie that stay in my mind. Yes, more than naked Cybil Shepard. I love the film, love Ellen and will watch anything she’s in. Congrats, Ms. Burstyn, you are the hottest MILF.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 5/26/08

Wow, so much exciting stuff going on, where do I start? Weekend box office first...

-Indiana Jones ends up earning the top spot with about $151 million dollars for its grand opening. I saw it twice this weekend and stand by my review. I did also catch Son of Rambow, which was a far more enjoyable film. Check it out if you get the chance.

- News from Cannes. Che was the only movie I really want to see and it won Best Actor for Benicio Del Toro. I hope this movie gets some kind of release here as so far, nobody has made an offer on it. Of course, it will be difficult to sell, not appeal to mainstream audiences, but fuck them, I have to sit my ass in a theatre for four hours and see this movie!

- Another item from last week that got me totally stoked. Apparently, Christian Bale has signed on as John Connor for THREE Terminator films, thus creating another franchise for himself. I love Bale and think he can do anything but to know he's going to be revitalizing a childhood favorite? Why don't you just tell me Cate Blanchett is going to make three new Alien movies?! Awesomeness.

- Sadly, I just heard that Sydney Pollack has passed away from cancer. He was a terrific actor, important producer and an Oscar winning director. He was 73.

Working on a few new things that I think should drop this week on this blog, in addition to reprinting some of the old stuff and of course, any important updates along the way. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Untouchables - Retro Review

Originally posted January 15, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

Anybody who knows me knows that I love gangster movies. What you may not know, it that unlike Bill Murray movies, Star Wars, or cartoons, I came into them later in life. My parents were protective of me and like good parents, they actually monitored what I watched, so as a result, I was the only kid in my school that didn’t get to see Boyz N The Hood when it came out and in fact, I was not allowed to see it until I was 32. But, I fell in love with my favorite film (and my favorite director) Goodfellas when I was in high school. The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In America, Mean Streets, were all movies I saw in high school or later, as I rediscovered the great Warner classics like Public Enemy, White Heat and even last year, finally getting a copy of Howard Hawks’ Scarface on DVD. The only movie I did get to see when I was a kid, that has always been dear to my heart, was and is The Untouchables.

I watched it again last night in order to familiarize myself with it for this review and ten minutes in, I forgot I had a piece to write. The film is extremely well made, with engaging characters, fine acting, great writing and a sense of direction that moves the story along with suspense and excitement. The movie came out at a time that was dead for the genre after the financial flops of Godfather III and such films as Johnny Dangerously and Bugsy Malone. It revitalized the gangster movie and had audiences wanting more leading directly to the production of movies like my Goodfellas and Warren Beatty’s Bugsy. In addition, for being a commercially driven movie about a revisionist time in history, the almost “Wild Mid-West” era, it feels twenty years young and better than most of the movies that come out today. Coming after films that tended to glamorize the criminal lifestyle following the changing trend in gangster films after Bonnie & Clyde, it was important in re-establishing the ideas of cops and robbers in a historic context for a generation that had never seen the television series with Robert Stack.

For The Untouchables is, after all, a gangster movie about a cop. Told almost exclusively from the point of view of Eliot Ness and his team of Untouchables, one of the main themes of the film is the cop “becoming what he beheld.” I guess I am glad that I was allowed to see it when I was young, because the movie carries valuable moral lessons and asks tough questions of its audience. "What are you prepared to do? " "Never stop fighting until the fight is done." And of course, "I get NOWHERE unless the team wins". The heroes and villains are clearly defined in the movie and great pains are taken to put the audience on the side of Eliot and his team and to portray Al Capone as the charming cold-blooded criminal he actually was.

The best tool is the cast itself. Kevin Costner starred as Eliot Ness when he was mostly known for baseball movies like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, but he had yet to break through with heavy roles in movies like JFK and Dances With Wolves. Although most people today think of him as a director and associate him with Waterworld, for a slightly older audience, Costner is a very skilled, very talented actor whose only weakness is the inability to work with an accent. (See Robin Hood-Prince of Thieves.) He plays Ness to perfection, doggedly determined, straight laced and serious and with a compassion for his family and his friends. Indeed, like most of the great actors, the Grants, the Brandos, there is very much a lot of Kevin Costmer that comes through in Eliot Ness. Andy Garcia was a fierce young actor, looking to break out and prove himself with a huge commercial hit when he took the role of George Stone, the fierce young cop, looking to prove himself on the police force. Miles removed from his well known role in the Ocean’s trilogy, he hadn’t played an action role, and hasn’t really since. Garcia slips easily into the role of Stone, a Cuban playing an Italian pretending to be a WASP. When I saw the movie when I was a kid, I only remembered Charles Martin Smith from his role in American Graffiti and was excited to see Toad as a federal agent, chasing down Al Capone. DePalma uses our preconceived notions of Smith as an actor, playing him for comic relief and making him the most likable and relatable of the group. Of course, the two stars of the film, then and now, Sean Connery and Robert DeNiro came into the movie with a history of cinema behind them, making their casting even more significant. Who better to teach the young Ness how to catch a criminal than James Bond himself? This was after Connery had stopped playing Bond for less than a decade and before he would play famous father, Dr. Henry Jones. But, nobody plays an Irish cop like the Scottish Connery and most present day impressions of Connery come directly from his performance in this film. (Yes, mine included.) The stories involving DeNiro’s involvement are legendary and accurate, from using Capone’s actual tailor, to gaining weight for the role, to the studio passing over Bob Hoskins for the role and still paying him. But, as with any film of his, all of his preparation is clear in the very small amount of time he spends on screen. Playing two of the greatest gangsters in the history of fiction and non-fiction, Al Capone is actually the role that is most dissimilar from that of Vito Corleone or even DeNiro’s personal persona. It’s so much fun to watch him play Capone as the media darling of his time, speaking to large crowds in almost every scene, when the real DeNiro is actually well known for keeping a very private personal life. In this regard, he truly stretches himself to find something we’ve never seen before.

Now, I have gone on record as not being a fan of Brian DePalma, and believe I have used the phrase “whore to Hitchcock” in describing him, but this is one of his finest films and is the result of a director who had refined his technique, working at the top of his craft. The movies does have the two DePalma signature sequences, one being the voyeur point of view shot in Malone’s apartment and the second is the straight up rip off another director’s creation, specifically, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin Odessa steps sequence. In all fairness though, for being a director who is know for being liberal with the term “homage”, this film is probably the most parodied of all his films and certainly of any gangster movie besides The Godfather. From the baseball bat speech to the liquor raids, the film has innumerable sequences which are instantly recognizable and have made the film a modern day classic and a new standard in the genre. Since DePalma is mostly regarded for his horror and thriller films, he uses those elements carefully here, with precise, even-handed violence and, in large part to Ennio Morricone’s score, creates a element of tension that keeps moving until the final five minutes of the film.

However, I would have to throw myself off a roof with Ness pushing if I went through this entire review without mentioning the amazing script from David Mamet. Having worked with the man personally on The Unit, I can tell you that all the stories people have made up about him over the years are true. The man’s talent is immeasurable and with such classic lines as “You’re mucking with a G here pal,” and “You’re nothing but a lot of talk and a badge,” Mamet had you covered, no matter what side of the law you were on. His dialogue cuts like a knife, because he knows that’s how you get to the audience! That’s the Chicago way! Dialogue from scenes in the church, in the barber’s chair and especially Ness’ speech about bribes are classic Mamet, on par with anything in Glengarry Glen Ross. Again, for being a film so well defined about the battle between good and evil, he writes heroes you identify with and root for, while still making Capone a likable villain, but so ruthless, you cannot wait for Eliot to take him down. And that is a large part of what makes the movie great.

If you haven’t seen the movie in awhile, I implore you to watch it again. It’s such a great movie, with an easy to follow story, some humor and awesome action that it easily makes for what a friend of mine likes to call “rainy day movies.” And, if you check it out and enjoy it again, I ask for no monetary restitution, just that you check out another one of the highlighted films that you may not have seen before. Comment, post, agree, argue, debate, but above all else, watch more movies!

“Here endth the lesson.”

The Untouchables directed by Brian DePalma, starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert DeNiro is available on DVD from Paramount Studios. Winner of one Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Sean Connery.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kingdom of the Crystal Sequel

I just got back from seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and I feel… satisfied. I am satisfied in the knowledge that I was right. Crystal Skull was good. It was not great, but it was a good movie and I had fun. Also, because it was a midnight showing and we were let in two hours before the movie started, some people brought beach balls and my friend Robert stabbed one with a four inch knife. Little did we both know it would be so foreshadowing.

I did not have high hopes for the movie and it did not let me down at all. The subplot of the artifact and the chase for it were far fetched and implausible, but the real story was the characters and their relationships. We get a lot of information in the beginning from what Indy was doing during the war to what happened to older characters. Instead of fighting Nazis in the Great War, now Indy is battling Commies in the Cold War. And to really believe it’s the Fifties, in the first twenty minutes we get Elvis, coupes and Shia LeBeouf, looking like Brando from The Wild One, as Mutt Ravenwood. A name as ridiculous to type as it is to say. The best part of the film, like Last Crusade, is the interaction between Indy and Mutt and the movie moves swiftly to give us the two of them adventuring together through South America to find alien artifacts before the Russians do. Once the movie reintroduces Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, it does not stop to take a breath until the finale.

I enjoyed the movie for the all the nods to other Lucas/Spielberg movies, from the obvious Close Encounter nods to the not so obvious like Indy hiding in a refrigerator. There were the requisite Indy moments with snakes and fedoras. There were great Harrison moments like his back and forth with Marion, echoing Raiders and Empire, and saying, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Cate Blanchett was excellent in her role as a KGB spy, as was the extended Jones family, Allen and LeBeouf. And I even liked how Spielberg somewhat subtly implies that the Red Scare might be the same as our current political climate. It was a fun movie and I had a great time watching it.

But, it was not without flaws. Besides the Spielberg Revisionist History 101 lesson, I was disheartened with some of the action sequences. Especially after Spielberg’s insistence they would shoot on film and do everything as practical as possible. As it turns out, not even the men behind Star Wars and Jurassic Park can do everything. The simple sequences are old school absolutely, but the more exciting sequence is very badly green screened and becomes a letdown. Once Shia and Cate pick up swords, it swiftly becomes a CGI-a-thon. For being over two hours, it seems very short, even as I desperately had to go to the bathroom at the end, when water is rushing through the temple. Ray Winstone’s double crossing friend and even the presence of the FBI agents at the beginning feel like something that could’ve been dropped from the final draft. Also, story wise, Indy and Mutt just seem to click to well together for a father and son who didn’t even know the other existed. And when Mutt remembers he has a grudge, it rings false because you can see the sheer joy and affection in his eyes both as a character and an actor.

I enjoyed the movie, but it was certainly not the best of the franchise. While I was not so quickly deflated like a beach ball, I was bummed that I had waited almost twenty years for a movie that was not so awesome. Even with Phantom Menace, I knew Vader would grow up and fight Ewan McGregor. No such luck here, unless Shia becomes Sith Lord, Darth French Beef. If he is being primed to take over as the next Indy, then forgetting his other work and going off this film alone, I would look forward to watching it. He and Harrision are the best part of the film and if they make another one with the two of them on another adventure, I bet it will be better than this. Let me know what you think out there, as I’m sure we’ll all go see it this weekend.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is now playing everywhere. Like, everywhere. Find a theater, it’s there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where Have You Gone, Jesus Shuttlesworth?

This blog was chosen as a LAMB Chop for the week of April 18-24.

While promoting the underrated 25th Hour, Edward Norton was quoted as saying he “…would play a walk on for Spike Lee.” And when asked which of Spike’s films his favorite was, his answer was He Got Game.

He Got Game was released in 1998 before Summer of Sam and after Get on the Bus, a period in between Malcolm X and Inside Man when Spike consistently directed quality movies that were largely ignored by audiences. He Got Game is the only film in that period to star Denzel Washington, but the real revelation in the film was Ray Allen as Jesus Shuttlesworth.

In his review, Roger Ebert called him “a rarity. An athlete who can act.” Ray Allen shines on the screen in many of the same ways he has for eleven seasons in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle Sonics and now, the Boston Celtics. Under Lee’s direction, Allen uses pregnant pauses, minimalist dialogue and long looks in his first acting role. He is quiet and reserved. You can see the intensity in his eyes, yet he lets his game play and athletic prowess do the talking for him. And then he smiles. A big, wide smile that exudes a genuine love of the sport and explains away why the real Ray Allen spent over ten years toiling away for sub-par squads, playing his heart out and earning the hearts and respect of fans along the way.

Jesus Shuttlesworth plays ball the same way. In the movie, an ESPN piece about Jesus that features NBA players and NCAA coaches praising his virtues, could actually have been about Ray Allen. Future coach George Karl describes him as a player who “makes other players around him better.” Jesus is big and strong, but he is quick and smart. He’s the complete player, the total package, a prime time player, a diaper dandy. And, it is because the actor and character mirror each other so closely that Jesus Shuttlesworth has become iconic in the world of basketball. Never before in a sports movie have the two been equals. Did you know that the guy who played Jimmy Chitwood never played high school basketball? Jesus transcends the movie to become something of an idol that Ray Allen had to live up to. And he did as an eight-time All-Star and member of the gold medal winning Olympic team of 2000. Also in the same clip, the coaches talk about the character of the character of Jesus and the hardships he has endured, making him a better person and admirable young man they are falling over themselves to offer a full athletic scholarship to. Likewise, in his professional career, Allen has been awarded the NBA Sportsmanship award, been a spokesman for both the Jr. NBA program and the Thurgood Marshall scholarship fund, involved in numerous charities through his own Ray of Hope foundation and is held in general regard as an all around “decent human being”.

Sadly, Ray Allen has all but disappeared from the Celtic’s last playoff series against Cleveland averaging less than 10 points a game and shooting 4-for-24 from behind the 3 point line. Boston is expecting a huge turnaround from him against Detroit or the team might not make it to the NBA Finals. But, my question is, where is Jesus Shuttlesworth? Not that I’m advocating a sequel, but where are the characters like Jesus? The characters rooted in reality in both film and sports. Not since Hoop Dreams have there been such an impressive story of young men using basketball to escape their inner city plight. For every movie such as Hoosiers or Coach Carter where basketball is treated like life and talked about as a metaphor or a tool, Jesus Shuttlesworth actually uses the game as just that. We never see Jesus play a game, only pick ups and scrimmage and the movie doesn’t even end with the one-on-one game between him and his father. For Jesus, basketball is not life, life is his life. He cares about his sister, his future and his past. He talks about how his mother instilled in him an education-first mentality and he stays true to her memory. He briefly entertains the idea of going pro, and then quickly dismisses it. And throughout his college trips and recruiting speeches, there is never any talk about championship or tournaments or banners, which would suggest that although he visits fictional schools, they are stronger in academics than athletics. For Jesus, “the most important decision of his life” is not about his basketball future but about his future in the world.

When I was younger, athletes and actors were role models and people worthy of admiration and emulation. Unfortunately, more and more of those people these days are becoming caricatures of themselves and their professions. When life imitates art and art imitates life, it’s increasingly difficult to find characters on the screen like Jesus Shuttlesworth, when there are fewer athletes and actors to portray them like Ray Allen.

Save us, Jesus. Save us.

He Got Game is available on DVD from Walt Disney video.

Update - Ray Allen scored nine points as Boston won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and scored twenty five points in a Game 2 loss.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 5/19/08

A few news bits to run past you.

- Prince Caspian doesn't bring in $100 million or even a modest $70-80 million this weekend, managing only $66 million. Disney had hoped the Narnia movies would be their Harry Potter franchise, but I have heard that they are unsure about whether they will finish these movies. Despite the fact that production is moving on Dawn Treader, at this time, there are no plans for a fourth film. Will Caspian's performance have an impact on that decision? We'll find out.

- In more exciting news, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been cast opposite Michael Cera in the Edgar Wright directed comic adaptation of Scott Pilgrim. Whew! Michael Cera, Edgar Wright, comics AND Winstead?! Grab the sleeping bags, because we're camping out for that bad boy. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Winstead from Grindhouse or Live Free and Die Hard, here she is.

- Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did not take quite the critic drubbing at Cannes that some people thought it might. More interesting though, is George Lucas' idea for another Indy movie, starring Shia "The Beef" with Harrison Ford coming back a la Sean Connery in Last Crusade. I'm holding off judgment on that until I see this new one. But I will say this. I do actually like the kid and think he can act. Check out A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints for further proof.

- Have you been following the Indy Blog-a-thon at Cerebral Mastication? There are some really great pieces getting thrown up over there. Read one of my favorites about Indy's lessons throughout the series here at Gateway Cinephiles. Damn, I was really looking for a J. Walter Weatherman joke there, but I lost it.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 5/16/08

Just a quick update to share a few things.

- If you liked the Indy blog, please, please, PLEASE check out Cerebral Mastication, a fellow blogger's site. He is hosting an Indy blog-a-thon and I was lucky enough to be on of her first submissions. Check out his site here at Cerebral Mastication and read some of the other Indy related blogs, it's all good stuff.

- A special thanks to Graham for giving me this heads up. Here's the box art for two titles I'm really looking forward to on DVD. No release date for Sarah Connor yet, but Spaced drops on July 22.

- Also. Encore has been running the terrible, terrible Death Proof for the past couple of weeks, but today they ran Grindhouse in it's entirety. I only mention that because I have a nostalgic melancholy feeling when I think I'll never be able to watch those movies as they were intended again. Is it as bad as watching black and white movies colorized? No, but I still die a little inside.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Body is a Temple... OF DOOM!!!

This post is in coordination with the Indiana Jones Blog-a-thon at Cerebral Mastication.

The Indiana Jones films are generally held among the top three greatest film franchises in history. While the movies never received the critical acclaim and Academy Awards like the Godfather films or the widespread cult following and expanded universe of the Star Wars series, Indiana Jones remains one of America’s favorite heroes. Growing up, I was enamored of Harrison Ford and the dual roles of Han Solo/Indiana Jones. And my favorite film of the three remains to this day, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Whenever I have shared my secret in the past, people ask me if I’m nuts. I reply, “I no nuts, I crazy!” Crazy for Temple of Doom, that is.

I do not understand the universal dislike for this entry in the series. It seems that people who don’t like Temple of Doom are the same people who don’t like Last Crusade, so why would they bother sticking around for a fourth film when they have been let down over sixty percent of the time? Are they Star Trek fans? Perhaps my disgruntled contemporaries are looking at the films with a far too critical eye. Personally, I choose to think of the movies of my youth with fonder memories, remembering how they impacted me then and how they influence me now. In fact, as I write this, I purposefully failed to watch the movie again, relying solely on my memory.

I’m sure now, as I think back, that my main attraction to Temple of Doom was the character of Short Round. Johnathon Ke Quan was living out my dream on screen as a tiny brown kid, running around with Indy and providing the comic relief. His presence draws kids in by being the only kid in a movie aimed at kids, yet he is now widely held in contempt as some kind if predecessor to Jar Jar Binks. One of the most remarkable things about the movie is that it IS a kid’s movie, yet it never feels like one. For a movie that people call ‘too dark’, it has more comedy in it, I think, than Raiders. Speaking of dialogue, isn’t Temple of Doom the most quotable of the Indy films? I contend that while Last Crusade is the basis for most Sean Connery impressions (including mine) and Raiders has the better script, the second movie aims for a serious tone, but is unintentionally hilarious and instead of enjoying it, I think most would prefer to criticize it. The lighter moments strive to ease the tension of the overall theme of child slavery and ritual sacrifice. Who can take any of the action and danger seriously when there’s a bunch of kids running around the place? Although the children are forced into hard labor against their will, they are never really shown being brutalized. For a mine, the place is run like boys only summer camp. It is precisely because children are the motivating element, yet removed from any real sense of harm that may rebuff adults, but attracts children. As kids, my brother and I used to love to throw the tag ‘of DOOM!’ at the end of things. Cafeteria…of DOOM! Three ring binder… of DOOM! Monthly assembly… of DOOM! Admittedly, we held few things in as much contempt as school, but we longed for fortune and glory, had no time for love and whenever we got in the car with my mother, we would tell her, “Hang on lady, we going for a ride.”

I remember watching Temple of Doom at a family gathering once when I must have been around eight. It might have been the first time I saw the film because when the servants pulled the lids of the monkey skulls and the entire table began to dig into the brains, I cracked like a whip to the bathroom and threw up dinner. After brushing my teeth, I returned, undaunted, to finish watching the movie. It was the first time a movie ever made me vomit, but certainly not the last, thank you very much Patch Adams.

Playing devil’s advocate, I understand that while I may romanticize Temple of Doom, I feel that far too many people over-romanticize Raiders. It was intended as a B movie and it generally does not try to swing for the fences. I think of it now as one of those movies that are great, but it is really just a series of scenes. Idol switching, rolling boulder, natives, plane, map, Karen Allen, baskets, pistol, bad dates, Nazis, trucks, staff room, snakes, melting face and a warehouse, there’s your movie. Sure, there’s history, pathos, action, but does Indy get possessed by the Nazis? You get a good face melting, but its Disney Channel compared to a man getting his heart ripped from his chest! The violence in this film is almost sprung from necessity as the Thugee cult is more of a religious zealotry than the fascist government of the National Socialists. Nazis hurt people for wealth and gain, while Thugees hurt people on the path to spiritual fulfillment. Complaints that the movie is too dark baffle me. Does anybody remember Empire Strikes Back? The sequel to the wildly successful Harrison Ford movie that explores real human emotions and it regarded as the best film in that series? It ends horribly with the Rebels on the run, Luke’s faith in the world shattered and no Han Solo for like the last twenty minutes! Godfather Part II was intentionally darker in nature to offset the notion that the first film glamorized the Mafia lifestyle. That movie ended up being Best Picture of the year. So, why then does Temple of Doom have such a negative stigma of being a dark movie? Perhaps, during the time of its release, only a year after Return of the Jedi, people were truly into the Eighties and growing weary of the depressing, dreary movies that had dominated the Seventies and early Eighties. They were ready for their Beverly Hills Cop, their Ghostbusters and such lighter fare that had better jokes and lighter, campy action. They would have enjoyed Raiders 2, but the filmmakers went another way, only to try to tweak the formula further in 1989.

The movies are amazingly interconnected of more levels than merely a timeline. The fact that characters rarely repeat is as significant as those who do. Karen Allen was the favorite Indy paramour and a no-brainer to return for the fourth film. However, her character in the first movie seems like an extension of Princess Leia and slightly out of place. The scenes between her and Indy are good, but they do not have the pop of the classic 1940’s film couples they were inspired by, like Bogart and Bacall. Kate Capshaw’s Willie character falls into the more established damsel in distress role with her sexual advances towards Indy, her singing career and her inability to ever save herself from peril. Their relationship has much more conflict to me, a very Moonlighting, love-hate, ‘let’s yell and slam doors when we really want to scream and tear each other apart’ dynamic. For me, the real love story in the movie is not even between Indy and Willie, but between Indy and Short Round. Foreshadowing the direction that the third movie would take, the father-son angle is obvious between the two, with Short Round idolizing Indy and Indy reluctant to embrace the father figure role, preferring Short Round as a partner and treating him like an equal. It pays off in Last Crusade when we learn of the relationship between Indy and his father, Henry and discover his father issues and most certainly will have repercussions in Crystal Skull with the reveal of his own son.

Before I seal this cavern up again, one question still perplexes me. Why does Temple of Doom play so well with animation? On my favorite cartoon Family Guy, there have been many references to Raiders, but in the Courtship of Stewie’s Father episode they end with a Temple of Doom bit that has everything from Peter and Stewie as Indy and Shirt Round and Michael Eisner falling to his DOOM! as alligator food. And let us not forget, let us not forget dude, the short lived Clerks cartoon made half of an episode a Temple of Doom homage with Randal finding himself enslaved in a underground rock quarry and held captive until Dante manages to free him and the other children.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will always hold a special place in my heart, alongside other sentimental classics from my formative childhood years, such as The Right Stuff, Beetlejuice and Full Metal Jacket. I can appreciate other people’s opinions and tastes. I only wish they could do the same and understand some people like movies with lava pits, elephants and car chases that occur on rails. Don’t trash a movie because it’s not as good as you remember or expected it to be. Especially when it’s something you used to cherish and hold dear. If everybody thought like that, there would still be fist fights breaking out over the new Star Wars movies. Ok, maybe just serious showing matches, but can we not let go of our anger, realize there are more movies for us to watch, worse movies for us to get upset about and that the lightsaber fights in I, II and III are WAY cooler? I implore you, dear readers. For as a wise Chinaman once said, “You listen to me, you live longer!”

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is available on DVD from Paramount. Don't be a schmuck, wait until Christmas and buy all four on Blu-Ray.