Monday, June 30, 2008

Announcing Big Mike's Batman Blog-A-Thon!

I was originally going to post this last Monday, but the passing of George Carlin cast a serious pall over my entire week. But, I don't think I'm losing much in letting a week go bye.

If you're like me, you cannot wait for The Dark Knight. I already have my tickets for the midnight premiere in IMAX! It's going to be awesome. I am so amped for it that I wanted to do something with my blog for it. And so, following the success that was the Indiana Jones blog-a-thon at Cerebral Mastication that I enjoyed so much, I have decided to try my hand at running my own blog-a-thon. And I can think of nothing better to experiment with than my hero, Batman.

I will be running a new Batman blog everyday the week that Dark Knight opens, finishing on Friday with a review of Dark Knight that I'm sure I will be writing at four in the morning. That makes the time frame from July 14 to July 18. But, that's not all! I'm opening up the blog-a-thon to any and all bloggers who share a love, a hate or even a disregard for the Caped Crusader. So, whether you want to blog about the comics books, the television series, the movies or anything else concerning the world of Batman, I want you to share it with all of us. Here's how you can participate.

Post your blog and e-mail me the link. I will update my blog with your links when I get them throughout that week. If you don't want to e-mail me the link, you can post a comment with it and I will take care of the rest. And, if you do not have a blog but still want to get in on the fun, send me your piece in Word format and I will post it with proper credit to you.

Please e-mail with any questions and forward this along to anyone you know who is a Batman fan. I'm excited to hear what other people have to write about the the World's Greatest Detective!

Friday, June 27, 2008

I Just Want To Celebrate, Another Day of Life

Tomorrow is my birthday.

But enough about me. How about who I share my birthday with?

Gilda Radner

John Belushi once famously said, "Chicks aren't funny." But, I don't think he meant Gilda. In her short time on Saturday Night Live, she was funny, heartwarming and showed that humor does not have a gender bias. She won an Emmy for her work, made movies with husband Gene Wilder and set the standard for SNL's female cast members. Gilda passed away in 1989.

Pat Morita

Forever immortalized as Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films, Pat Morita was an amazing American actor of Japanese descent and extremely significant as an accepted minority actor in Hollywood. He never took any roles that were stereotypes, loved to work and was nominated for an Academy Award. Pat passed away in 2005.

Mel Brooks

Saving the best for third, Mel Brooks is an accomplished comedian, war veteran, writer, director, actor, playwright, author, songwriter, producer, Emmy winner, Grammy winner, Oscar winner and Jew. He has worked with Richard Pryor, Gene Hackman, Carl Reiner, Dave Chappelle, Sid Caesar, Orson Welles, Harvey Korman, Will Ferrell, Kermit the Frog, Richard Lewis and of course, his late lovely wife, Anne Bancroft. He is also responsible for the funniest movie of all time, Young Frankenstein.

And finally, John Cusack.

Just watch.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spaced, Edgar Wright and Me

It’s rare for a film festival to program a television series into its lineup, but not when that show is the incomparable Spaced. The genesis, the alpha, Eden and Spaced are where all things spring from. Anyone who knows me knows that I saw Hot Fuzz no fewer than ten times in its theatrical run and am a devoted fan of Edgar Wright and everything he does. I’m not going to write a review of the series for those who haven’t seen it, because I want to wait for the DVD release on July 22. Instead, I want to tell you about Tuesday at the Los Angeles Film Festival and my evening with Edgar Wright.

Spaced is the British sitcom about friends Tim and Daisy pretending to be a professional couple in order to rent a flat in London. Stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (Stevenson) wrote every episode and Edgar Wright directed every episode, 14 in all over a two year run. Pegg and Wright went on to make both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and the style of those films is clearly birthed in Spaced. So, when the Spaced Invasion USA was announced, my friend Graham and I secured our tickets immediately. Tuesday night, we drove out to Westwood and the Regent, ready for some Spaced. Also in attendance was Bill of Hader of SuperBad and SNL and I tried giving up my seat to Oscar winner Diablo Cody who of course, had one saved for her. Matt Stone of South Park fame was the moderator for the evening and told a funny story about Edgar before introducing the director. Edgar announced he could not decide between the two scheduled episodes so he chose three instead and would we object to seeing one more? The episodes he screened were ‘Art’, ‘Epiphanies’ and ‘Gone’. After sitting through about sixty minutes of comedic brilliance, Matt and Edgar took the stage again to talk about the series and answer a few questions.

Edgar talked about directing at 21, working for three years on Spaced as both editor and director. He answered questions about the music, did not answer questions about Ant-Man, except to say that it was written and Matt Stone was just as funny and entertaining in his questions and comments on the series. I stood up to ask a question, inquiring of Edgar if there was ever a bit or gag they wanted to do, but could not get cleared or could not fit into a story. He couldn’t think of any off-hand, but he did tell an amusing story about having to re-record certain music and actually performing from memory the Ewok song from Return of the Jedi. After everything was done, I caught Edgar as he was walking up the aisle past me and asked if I could get an autograph. He gladly obliged, complimented me on my t-shirt and even posed to take a picture with me. I don’t know if it’s because he’s British, but damn, he’s a nice guy.

Note the autographed copy of Hot Fuzz.

Riding the high of the moment, we walked out of the theatre where everyone was milling around outside. I introduced myself to Bill Hader who shook my hand and took a picture. Then, the guy talked to me, actually TALKED to me for about five minutes. He recognized my shirt and said he asked Edgar the same question on the DVD commentary. He told about what episodes he did, meeting Edgar thru Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, watching SuperBad for the first time with him and even telling me with what famed female filmmaker Matt Stone was f-, um, having relations with. He then turned and introduced me to Joe Cornish. writer on Ant-Man, and the series Big Train and Adam and Joe. I asked him about Ant-Man, which he and Edgar collaborated on and if it would be part of the big Marvel Universe and possibly integrated into the Avengers movie. He said he didn’t know and that he didn’t even think that Marvel knew right now, but the movie was written and they were looking forward to starting work on it. I thanked him for his time and we walked off to FatBurger, convinced of the good of Hollywood stars.

Matt Stone on the right.

It was another awesome evening for me and for film. Thanks to Edgar, Bill, Joe and my friend Graham for rolling along with me for all of it.

That's Graham!

Spaced is available on DVD on July 22.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Audiences Need to Get Smart

I used to watch Get Smart on Nick at Nite as a kid, which is distressing to me because now kids watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on that station. But, by sheer virtue of the cast of the movie Get Smart, I knew I would see it when it came out. Besides the fact that it opened this weekend against The Love Guru.

I am a fan of Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and The Rock. Meaning, I think Carell is hilarious, Hathaway is hot and The Rock kicks ass. I heard that Carell wanted it to be more Bourne Identity than Austin Powers and I think he was right on with the tone of the picture. The movie tells the modern version of how Maxwell Smart became Agent 86. And it seemed most audiences missed out on that major plot point. When people decried Carell’s performance as neither an homage to Don Adams or an original performance on the same comedic level, they didn’t seem to realize that he was creating something new. Like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, his Max Smart is not yet Agent 86 from the series, but an analyst yearning to show everyone what he has. Here again, people complained that he character was simply another incarnation of Michael Scott. If be that they mean a man who’s lonely life revolves around work where his enthusiasm is met with indifference, then yes, some of that might be true. But, the difference between Max and Michael is that Max is always in control (pun unavoidable) of the situation. When you think he is going to screw up, he does then uses the laughs to gun down the enemy, gain secret information or get the girl. The girl, Agent 99, played by Anne Hathaway is terrific in her role, easy on the eyes and with a great back and forth with Carell. Luckily, most of the film is the two of them working together to hunt down stolen nukes and it’s the best parts from the ballroom dancing sequence to Max’s growing frustration at her sexual awareness.

Both Alan Arkin and The Rock seem slightly underused in my opinion. They seem just thrown into the final act and are probably the results of a lot of cuts after test screenings. But the rest of the movie moves pretty good. It’s not Casino Royale, but I liked it better than most spy comedies that I’ve seen. Perhaps, we can see another Get Smart soon, or rather just skip Get Smarter and make Get Smart With A Vengenance.

Get Smart, directed by Peter Segal and starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway is now in theatres.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, Joe Bless You

I used to fancy myself a ball player and a stand up comedian. To that extent, in my lifetime I studied the greatest men who ever did both. I saw Michael Jordan play with the Chicago Bulls in 1993 and George Carlin perform live in 2004. I think about it now with a heavy heart and a small smile.

George Carlin was probably the greatest stand up comedian ever. His only competition Richard Pryor has left us long ago and he continued to march on, bringing his unique brand of comedy to the masses. His wit and intellect have never been equaled and although I am of a generation who considers Dane Cook its representation of ‘college comedy’, Carlin was the original class clown. Born an Irish Catholic in New York, he lived the American Dream he so often enjoyed disparaging in his act. In the Sixties, he changed the course of comedy forever, by completing changing his clean cut act, growing a beard and challenging the authorities. Carlin took on the media, the government, Holy Mother Church and never apologized for anything. He hosted the first ever episode of Saturday Night Live and of course, popularized the Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television (shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits). He was once arrested for that bit and like Lenny Bruce, used his comedy to change social attitudes towards languages and laws against obscenity. In his later year, he may have taken some of them venom out of his bite, but never slowed down his pace. He toured constantly, got his own episode on Inside the Actor’s Studio, performed live as recently as last weekend in Vegas and had 14 (!) HBO Comedy Hour specials.

My favorite George Carlin album.

He never carried a feature film because that was not what he wanted to do. He appeared in smaller supporting roles in films like Car Wash and Prince of Tides. Perhaps most people will remember him as Rufus in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He did three films with Kevin Smith that will be how I choose to remember him because of how he portrayed them. In Dogma, Kevin wrote the role of Cardinal Glick for Carlin. Who else to play a Catholic leader determined to ‘revamp’ the Church for the 21st century? He then played a hitchhiker in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back to bring some comic credibility to a few gay jokes. But, I truly treasure him in the role of Ben Affleck’s father, Bart Trinke, in the over-hated Jersey Girl. He played a grandfather figure filled with tough love and sarcasm that was probably as close to his true nature as we might have ever been privileged to see.

George Carlin taught me how to deal with life as a lapse Catholic and a disgruntled military veteran. He taught me you can say whatever you want and get away with it, so long as you’re funny. He taught me that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. He taught me the beauty of our English language. He taught me if you love someone and they leave you and come back, set them on fire. He taught me to worship the sun and pray to Joe Pesci. He taught me that you can be sober and hilarious.

George Carlin was 71.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 6/20/08

What's been going on this week?

- Ok, so I've been reading a lot this week about the division growing between fans of the new Hulk and the old Hulk (who all came out of the woodwork this week after five years keeping mum). I enjoyed the new Hulk, if you haven't read my review (then read it here) but I don't think the first one was THAT bad. It just wasn't AS good as this. It's not even a good Ang Lee movie, even though all his themes of family, romance, emotion and character are there. So, I got to thinking, what if Lee stopped carrying over those themes and just carried over the Hulk to his movies instead?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Hulk

Smash and Sensibility

Eat Drink Hulk Betty

The Hulk Storm

Smash, Caution

and of course, the obligatory,

BrokeHulk Mountain

We can dream, can't we? Also, I happened to catch Ang Lee's version on Sci-Fi Channel last night. I guess I must have blocked out most of this movie, because it seems very weird and unrecognizable. Sorry, Mr. Lee.

- Get Smart tomorrow. I love Steve Carell, The Rock (regardless of what he's calling himself now) and Alan Arkin. But, damn, Anne Hathaway is smoking hot!

- Speaking of hot chicks, Nicole Kidman turns a stunning, STUNNING 41 today. Happy Birthday, beautiful.

- We are officially less than one month away from The Dark Knight. All other movies will bow to it. Although I could've done without all that myspace stuff.

- Oh and in the meantime and in between time, we got Wanted and Hancock.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The World According to John Hughes

John Hughes is a terrific writer, but he will always be remembered for his teen 80’s movies. With just six films, all of which he wrote and four of which he directed, he changed how films looked at teenagers and indeed, how they looked at themselves. Through rose colored lenses that I always imagine in the style of frames he wore, he made his protagonists as relatable as possible, in order for his audience to absorb his message and identify with the characters on screen. He was successful, and I think, too successful.

I remember high school and as my ten year reunion is fast approaching on me, I think about more often than I probably should. Though I graduated from a small high school in suburban Oregon (not unlike Shermer, Illinois), my life did not resemble a John Hughes movie in the slightest. A Kevin Smith movie perhaps, but not John Hughes. In fact, I have a high school trilogy for myself of three films that instantly take me back to those years and there is not one of his films on my list. I was a young kid watching his movies, again and again, over and over into my high school years. I wanted be like Anthony Michael Hall so bad! But, over the years, especially after graduating, attending college and looking back, I think John Hughes let me down.

His characters faced problems just like us, go through their changes (notably in Breakfast Club), and emerge as better people by the end. But, they prove this by doing the most illogical actions they can take. They do exactly the opposite of what any teenager would have done. If we had tried to do as we watched our movie star counterparts had done, we would’ve faced humiliation, exile and possibly federal jail time.

In examining each movie, we can see how different his reality was from our own.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

John Hughes Reality – The most popular guy in school is really just pining away for the shy fifteen year old girl at school. Despite the geeks, foreign exchange students and drunken girlfriends, he’s going to win her over.

Not really a fair description of the film, I know, since it is Molly Ringwald’s movie. But, that always bothered me too. They both like each other, I guess, then just kind of stumble around until they meet at the wedding? Jake is not a man of action, Farmer Ted is. Plus, the movie unfairly perpetuates stereotypes of Asian Americans. “Automobiiiiiile?”

Reality- The most popular guy in school is usually a jerk and never ends up leaving that town, selling insurance and spending every night in the same bar for thirty years. The shy girl ends up losing her virginity to her best friend who is madly in love with her (more on Pretty in Pink later) and then leaves him in the friend zone until she is in her thirties, by which time, he will be married with children.

Breakfast Club (1985)

John Hughes Reality - A group of five students from different cliques come together in Saturday school and learn they have more in common than not. Friendships are made and romances bloom.

Has anyone ever been to detention?
Ok, now was anybody in detention and NOT supervised constantly? Maybe it was different in the 80’s and people were more trusting, I’ll buy that. But, the characters talk repeatedly about how they cannot be friends with each other for fear of upsetting the natural balance at school, but they end up bucking the system anyway? The only part that is actually true at all is that good girls do go for the bad boys. Sorry, Brian, however…

Reality – The jock does not end up with the weird girl. Sure, we all saw Juno and we know they want to, but they don’t. Besides that, the whole reason that high school cliques exist is so that we don’t have to interact with each other. I never talked to the Mexicans at my school and I am Mexican! But, I wasn’t in there group. (I was in the pothead clique.) And those divisions follow on well into college, where the smarter individuals let go of them and get laid and the stubborn ones hold on and join a frat.

Weird Science (1985)

John Hughes Reality - Two ‘nerds’ create the perfect woman, willingly to do anything they desire, who gives them the confidence to discover who they are really capable of being. They in turn enlist her to help win over two less attractive women and throw the biggest party ever.

Where do I start? The movie’s saving grace from the sheer absurdity of both the logic and the logic are, in order Kelly LeBrock, Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Paxton. Sorry, but showering with Kelly LeBrock, then trying to hook up with two high school girls? About as liking as creating a virtual woman in real life.

God, I love Kelly LeBrock

Reality – Two guys invent woman on computer, willingly to do anything they desire. They build a copy, mass market the software and never leave the house until they die.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

John Hughes Reality – The poor, cute girl from the wrong side of the tracks hooks up with… blah, blah, blah. This is same song, second verse for John Hughes/Molly Ringwald.

Ok, so everyone knows that Duckie is perfect for Andie, right? (And that Jon Cryer is perfect as Duckie) But, did you know that the original ending was for the two of them to get together until Molly Ringwald objected because she wasn’t attracted to Jon Cryer? Can you believe that?! Did she have any idea how emotionally crippling that would be the young men everywhere who didn’t have Andrew McCarthy’s good looks? Incidentally, had Robert Downey Jr. been cast as Duckie instead of Jon Cryer, Ringwald said she wouldn’t have minded ending up with him. The nerve of this girl! She got everything that was coming to her. Jon Cryer is a successful TV star and Robert Downey Jr. is the biggest movie star on the planet at the moment. Ringwald? We hardly knew ye.

This is my least favorite John Hughes movie.

Reality – Cute girl stays with rich boy until he dumps her. She sleeps with a bunch of his friends, trying to make him notice her again. She tries to reach out to best boy friend again, who has married older, hipper female friend (Annie Potts) of cute girl. They own a studio and have a child with an asexual name who enjoys karate and Elvis Costello. Cute girl becomes trophy wife for older man.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

John Hughes Reality – Poor boy seeks the heart of pretty, popular girl. With the help of tom boy best female friend, he wins her heart while realizing that tom boy is the only girl for him.

Here we have a twist on the previous theme with a male protagonist, which should have resulted in a different narrative. But, instead of sticking with the same ending, John Hughes twists it around on us. Molly Ringwald won’t end up with Anthony Michael Hall or Jon Cryer, but Eric Stoltz has Lea Thompson, (Lorraine Banes!) and goes BACK to Mary Stuart Masterson? What is John Hughes trying to tell us? In Say Anything, does John Cusack hook up with Ione Skye and then turn around start dating Lily Taylor? NO! Thank you, Cameron Crowe, for giving me some hope as an adolescent.

Reality - Poor boy seeks the heart of pretty, popular girl. With the help of tom boy best female friend, he wins her heart. END OF STORY.

Lest anyone think that his post is dedicated solely to bashing John Hughes, allow me to retort. I am a fan of his work (Mr. Mom, Vacation, etc.), do not think he gets enough credit for what he does, own most of his movies and still think everyone should watch them. In fact, he did one of my favorite movies of all time.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off - 1986

John Hughes Reality – Cool kid skips school with his girlfriend and best friend. They hit the town and have the time of their lives on one perfect day.

The scene where Ben Stein lectures the class on voodoo economics as everyone stares blankly is the most accurate depiction of a high school EVER. And that’s part of what grounds the movie in reality. For a film where Ferris does things most of us will never do such as catch a fly ball at a baseball game, ride on a float, drive a Ferrari, kiss Mia Sara and break the fourth wall, the movie is extremely realistic. Who has never ditched class, try to do something, anything with little to no cash and avoid getting caught? Near the end, where the three of them are sitting around the pool reminds me so much of days I used to cut class with my friends and after failing to find anything to do, ended up lounging around and enjoying the day.

But, here’s the rub. The movie isn’t even about Ferris, it’s about Cameron. It’s Cameron who is really changed by the day’s events and comes out a better person for it. To me, Cameron represents us as the audience, along for the ride with Ferris. He shows us the real lesson, that there are consequences to living a lifestyle like Ferris’ but having that freedom to be young and make mistakes is what high school is all about.

My favorite part of this movie: Charlie Sheen.

Reality - Cool kid skips school with his girlfriend and best friend. They hit the town and have the time of their lives on one perfect day. All three remember that day fondly as long as they live. And so will we.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blade Runner, Ridley Scott and Me

Blade Runner is probably as famous for having five different versions as it is for its place in film history. At the beginning of the cyber-punk phenomenon, the film inspired a generation of filmmakers, musicians, graphic artists and writers alike. It was a movie that was visually unlike anything anybody has seen before and still remained true to the themes in the Philip K. Dick short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Released in 1982, the film was widely panned, but found its critical acclaim on VHS, laserdisc (!) and with revival showings of the workprint and later, a new director’s cut in 1992. I stole a copy when I was younger of the VHS original theatrical cut, so I was always partial to that version. I liked the voice-over narrations, believing it adds to the noir feel of the movie, which was how I saw it. (It’s my belief that in high school films studies, once you learn about noir, you worship at the feet of Billy Wilder for awhile.) Everything screams noir in the movie, like Rachel’s hairstyle, Deckard’s costume and detective-style, locations, set dressing, dialogue. It’s all there to me, I guess, happy ending notwithstanding.

I own all five on DVD and saw The Final Cut last year. I liked it a lot because I thought the ending was upbeat still, and again felt that Deckard was NOT a replicant. Everytime I watch the movie, I notice something different and when I saw The Final Cut, besides seeing it for the first time in a theatre, I realized the movie is more about Batty trying to be human and Deckard learning what it means to live. Batty experiences the most basest human emotions through the two definitive acts of the species, life (saving Deckard) and death (his own and the other replicants). Just my interpretation, mind you, but that’s what I read into. Therefore, if Batty is teaching Deckard what it means to be human, he must be human. Harrison Ford said in an interview that he felt if Deckard weren’t human, there would be no human connection for the audience. I agree, because if Deckard is a replicant, one who is constantly getting outsmarted, outmaneuvered and beat up by other replicants, then the movie is about robots beating up robots. That’s not Blade Runner, that’s Transformers.

Gaff was always my favorite character. I am comforted at the sight of Chicanos in the dystopian future.

I posted a blog last month about the special screening of the film for Paul’s Brain Trust. I attended the screening at the Stephen J. Ross theatre on the Warner Bros. Studio lot with my friend Graham who got the tickets as an early birthday gift. We arrived with our Blade Runner t-shirts, Sharpies, DVD’s and a copy of Future Noir, by Paul Sammon. The audience was quite an eclectic group and even Frank Darabont was in the house! Charles de Lauzirika, a producer on the new DVD of Blade Runner, introduced the film and thanked us all for coming before letting Paul’s wife, Cristin say a few words that really touched us all. Then, the theatre went completely dark, the curtains parted and we watched the film again. It was more beautiful than I remembered it and the score really stood out to me this time. Although Vangelis’ score is a techno-pop synth score, parts of it, including Rachel’s theme are very jazzy and evocative of 30’s and 40’s noir and other parts are quite epic like more popular science fiction films before it. The film stills holds up and I was pulled into the film, like it was the first time.

Following the credits, the lights came back up and a panel of ten guests walked onto the stage including Joanna Cassidy, artist Syd Mead, producer Michael Deeley, screenwriters David People and Hampton Fancher and of course, director Ridley Scott. They took questions from the audience, mostly questions about unicorns and replicants. While Ridley said he liked the idea of Deckard being a replicant, Hampton forcefully told us that Ridley was wrong, at which point half of the audience broke into applause, especially Darabont. They joked and laughed with each other and it felt like despite all of the chaos that went into the film’s production, or perhaps because of it, they all had a warm, mutual respect for each other now. Ridley was forthcoming, charming, honest and funny. Anybody who can compare the Lil’ Orphan Annie comic strip to Silence of the Lambs is aces in my book.

Then I got in line to ask my question.

I had thought about it for weeks. I had to take this once in a lifetime chance to talk to Ridley Scott and pick his brain. The man made Alien. Blackhawk Down. American Gangster. What would I ask him? What did I most want to know? I didn’t care about technique or influences. I am long past fancying myself a filmmaker. I am but a humble lover of the cinema. I wanted to know about how this man was engaged to us, his fans, his life blood, his motivation. Does Sir Ridley Scott understand the mindset of his fans and does his share our opinions about his work and its place in film history? I ran through this thought process again as I waited patiently for me turn to speak. I stood up in front of the microphone and looked at the man who created Blade Runner.

Here was my question.

I was fortunate enough to see The Final Cut while it was in its limited theatrical run, but there is a whole new generation of film lovers who have never gotten that opportunity or the chance to see Alien, or Legend in a theatre and I wanted to know what you thought of film preservation, as not all films get the treatment yours do and the balance between art and commerce and the need to fill the multiplexes with the latest comic books movie versus saving one or two screens for revivals of older films, like the great Warner classics.

At least, that was what I was rehearsing in my seat, but it actually sounded more like this.

Um, Mr. Scott, um, I was uh, lucky enough to see The Final Cut during its, um, re-release but like, I know there’s a whole, uh, uh, bunch of people who like, only have ever seen it on DVD or uh, uh, VHS and like, um, a whole generation who hasn’t gotten a chance to see uh, Alien! Or, or, or Legend, you know, on the big screen and I was wondering, like, you know, what you thought about um, film restoration(!) and like, cause, you know, not every movie has like, what your movies get on DVD and, um, ah, sorry, I am so nervous right now, uh, what do you think, you know, about like filling twenty screens with like, comic books movies, vice saving one or two screens for the great Warner classics, you know, sort of like, art versus commerce. Sir?

I sounded like the Dude trying to explain the new shit to the Big Lebowski. I felt like Chris Farley interviewing him. D-do you, um, do you remember, remember when you made um, Blade Runner? That was awesome. But somewhere, in my incoherent rambling, Ridley managed to find something of enough sense to try to answer and here’s what he said.

Sir. Ridley. Scott. What was the question, again? Ok. When I make a picture, I feel, you only got one shot, alright? You’ve only got one critic, that’s yourself. You’ve got to stick to your guns, alright? That’s what I did on Blade Runner, I stuck to my guns. I did it on Alien, did it on Legend. You’ve got to please yourself first, make the movie you want to make. That’s the art part. Hopefully, then the commerce follows. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Maybe he didn’t exactly answer my question, more the more methinks it, I sounded like a fool and I’m just grateful he didn’t tell me he would kick my ass like he told another fanboy.

I had a great time at the screening and it was a fantastic birthday gift from a great friend. Thanks, Graham.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

This Hulk isn't Incredible, he's Incredulous

The Incredible Hulk is as ferocious as its title character. Never mind the fact that it comes just a month after Marvel’s huge success of Iron Man and five years after the original that it would just as soon forget. Less than two months ago, nobody was very interested in this movie and just last week the buzz was unbelievable. After coming in at number one at the box office, the Hulk proves he’s got strength and smarts.

I’m not really a fan of the Hulk character and I did not think much of Ang Lee’s film outside of the curious casting of Eric Bana. But, I was interested in seeing this one because I am a big Ed Norton fan and like the fact that he rewrote much of the movie, even without an eventual credit.

Directed by Louis Letterier of Transporter fame packs much more action than the first movie, and maybe even more than Iron Man, but still retains much of the sensibility of the Hulk comics. There are great references to both the comic books and the television show and in jokes throughout the movie (Gen. Ross drinks Incredible Hulks!) and a requisite cameo from Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno and Robert Downey Jr. But, it is a really good movie, with enough character development to really keep you interested in them, especially both Banner and Blonksy.

While it goes without saying that Norton is typically brilliant, I thought the real stand out was Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky. He took what could have been a rather one dimensional villain and made a soldier that you actually started to root for against the Hulk just for keeping up with him. He didn’t go complete DeNiro-Raging Bull for the role, but he did change his body type for the different levels of the super serum sequences. I would really like to see him back in the eventual sequel. I think he could be the Harry Osborn to Banner’s Peter Parker. Except with a good actor.

Ed Norton was really good, channeling his role in b to show Banner as a guy who is constantly getting pushed around and trying to brush it off and go about his business. He was really good internalizing his conflict and his feelings for Betty. Liv Tyler was really good as Betty Ross, showing the lighter side of her character that I didn’t get from Jennifer Connelly in the first movie. Of course, she’s pretty easy on the eyes too, but I’ve always thought she makes the most out of her material, especially when she wears glasses i.e. Jersey Girl. William Hurt played Gen. Ross ably. He was very stone faced in the film, but I think that’s a very specific decision by both the director and the actor to portray a man who has nothing but his work which is running down the street, tearing up Harlem.

All these characters work together very well in a story that doesn’t try to hard to explain where it came from, but only where’s it going to. The pace is fast, the action exciting, and there are great moments in between where I found myself totally involved without even realizing it until the movie was over. Some fanboys might argue over the Hulk’s perceived strength or different abilities, but when he Hulk Smashes in the final showdown, even I started clapping like a kid again. I like this movie, especially considering everything that it was up against. It was not as good as Iron Man, but definitely the third best comic book movie this summer.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One Film Review for My Father

I have written here before about my father, briefly. How he took my brother and I to see T2, made us watch Full Metal Jacket on VHS and about our mutual love of action movies. And while my father may have different tastes in most movies than my own, he has always supported me in whatever direction my obsession with cinema has taken me, up to and including this blog. This post is about one of my favorite movies that always makes me think of my dad. Field of Dreams.

Kevin Costner stars as Ray Kinsella, an ex-hippie Iowa farmer who hears voices in his cornfield. The voice tells him famously, “If you build it, they will come.” Ray tears down the corn, builds a baseball diamond and begins a journey that starts inside of himself, takes him across the country and finally back home to his family and redemption. Based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, it’s a very moving story about fathers, sons and baseball. Kevin Costner, an actor I’ve gone on record as being a fan of, gives a great performance that is very down to Earth and is perhaps his most memorable role and certainly one of his best. He shines as the ‘everyman’ that he rarely gets to play. Some people dislike the movie with a preference for Bull Durham, but Field of Dreams is more than a baseball movie. James Earl Jones plays Terrance Mann, a character based on author J.D. Salinger, who helps Ray in his journey to make sense of everything. Jones brings a levitas to the film that rings true with more than baseball fans and gets to the heart of viewers who have a passion denied in life. Like he says, the movie “reminds us all of all that once was good and it could be again.”

The movie is a very layered dealing with family issues, economic and social strife and the essence of America. The filmmakers ‘built’ a special film that has been passed on from one generation to the next. They built it and people came. People still come to the actual field in Dyersville, Iowa and play ball on the field with their families, sit on the bleachers and watch the game of walk right out of the corn onto the grass. There’s something unique about a film that gets to live on in the real world everyday like this one. Face it, as much as I love Star Wars, I’ll never get to visit the Death Star on vacation (and no, I’m not traveling to Tunisia, either). It's always been a dream of mine to travel across country one summer to all the baseball stadiums and this field as well.

The real message of the movie and the reason that it has remained so beloved is the relationship between the father and son. Ray recounts the story of how he and he father fell out over baseball and Shoeless Jo Jackson. Anybody who has ever had a disagreement with their father can relate to his story and sadly, far too many can understand his emotions at not being able to reconcile before his father passed away. My father was in the first Desert Storm and later I was in Afghanistan. I know that at different times, both of us had thoughts that we might never see the other again. Like Ray and his father, a lot has gone unsaid between me and my father, but I think that everything is understood. Unlike Ray's dad, my father never pushed me into doing something I didn't want to and looking back, that still means a lot to me. When the final scene plays out between Ray and his father, tears well up in my eyes and I miss my dad, wherever he is. I know he had a tough time raising a kid like me, but he has tried really hard in the past few years to try to make up for those times and I love him for it.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Field of Dreams is available on DVD from Universal.