Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sunday, June 24, 2007

From The Independent:

When Last Tango in Paris premiered on the closing night of the New York Film Festival, in the autumn of 1972, it was an immediate succès de scandale. In The New Yorker, Pauline Kael proclaimed the film a landmark to rival the first performance of The Rite of Spring in Paris, in 1913. "This must be the most powerful erotic movie ever made, and it may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made," she wrote. "[Bernardo] Bertolucci and [Marlon] Brando have altered the face of an art form."

Ticket touts did a roaring trade. Some critics responded in rhapsodic fashion. Others professed themselves disgusted. There may not have been riots (as there were with The Rite of Spring), but the Village Voice carried talk of walkouts by board members and "vomiting by well-dressed wives".

That was only the beginning. Over the next year or so, as the film was released around the world, it provoked court cases and censorship rows while turning into a massive box-office hit. The Brits especially relished the scandal that surrounded what the News of the World called "the sexiest, frankest picture ever made... the sex film to end all sex films". Meanwhile, Mary Whitehouse, the campaigner for morality and decency, was as outraged as everyone expected her to be when the British Board of Film Classification gave the film an "X" certificate after cutting a mere 10 seconds of the film. "Art? No, it's a licence to degrade," complained the Labour MP Maurice Edelman.

The distributors, United Artists, were even sued by a 70-year-old former Salvation Army social worker called Edward Shackleton for breaching the Obscene Publications Act. The same debates about art, obscenity and freedom of expression that had raged during the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial, in 1960, raged all over again.
I think its interesting to see how attitudes toward Last Tango have changed over the years. I'll be interesting to see if any kind of controversy comes of its re-release.

I wrote a paper on this for my Advanced Film Studies class I took last year. Here's a excerpt:

Whether or not Last Tango in Paris “altered the face of an art form” as film critic Pauline Kael once claimed is up for debate (I am inclined to say that it didn’t). I still, however, believe that the film is a masterpiece…it just wasn’t the beginning of the cinematic revolution it was once thought to be.

I fail to see how it is exploitive, as Monaco seems to think it is. To quote Molly Haskell, "Our rearguard fantasies of rape, sadism, submission, liberation and anonymous sex are as important a key to our emancipation, our self-understanding, as our more advanced and admirable efforts at self-definition." What Bertolucci is doing here isn’t exploiting sex, he is finding the emotional truth beneath the surface. The American Heritage Dictionary defines pornography as “sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.” This is not the point of
Last Tango. Bertolucci did not make this film for the sole purpose of sexual arousal, but to explore the emotional intricacies of sexuality. To quote my own review of the film, “What is love? What is lust? What connects one person to another? Bertolucci explores these questions with an engrossing, mature style. His assured direction is just as much responsible for the quality of the film as the fantastic performances, especially by Brando, who bares his soul in one of the most astonishingly naturalistic performances ever captured on film. His portrait of a wounded man looking for a random connection without commitment is searing.”

I still stand by my assertion that it is one of the best films ever made, and that it opened the door for freedom of sexual expression in cinema, I just don't think its impact was quite as huge and all-reaching as Kael once proclaimed.

I do agree, however, with the final assesment in Geoffrey Macnab's article:
But Last Tango would struggle to find a mass audience today. After all, this is an uncompromising art-house film from a revered European auteur. The idea that such a film could play for years on end in London cinemas is nowadays unthinkable. Nor is there much sense that audiences have the energy to get as worked up as they did in 1972, when even the film's detractors at least had passionate opinions about it.
How sad and yet how true. Audiences would stay away from Last Tango in droves today. What a sad comment on just how far our film culture has declined since the 1970s.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The American Film Institute has once again released a list of the 100 greatest American films, to see how attitudes have changed in the ten years since their last (better) list - and once again proven just how irrelevant they really are.

Here is the new list:

1. "Citizen Kane," 1941.
2. "The Godfather," 1972.
3. "Casablanca," 1942.
4. "Raging Bull," 1980.
5. "Singin' in the Rain," 1952.
6. "Gone With the Wind," 1939.
7. "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962.
8. "Schindler's List," 1993.
9. "Vertigo," 1958.
10. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939.
11. "City Lights," 1931.
12. "The Searchers," 1956.
13. "Star Wars," 1977.
14. "Psycho," 1960.
15. "2001: A Space Odyssey," 1968.
16. "Sunset Blvd.", 1950.
17. "The Graduate," 1967.
18. "The General," 1927.
19. "On the Waterfront," 1954.
20. "It's a Wonderful Life," 1946.
21. "Chinatown," 1974.
22. "Some Like It Hot," 1959.
23. "The Grapes of Wrath," 1940.
24. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," 1982.
25. "To Kill a Mockingbird," 1962.
26. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939.
27. "High Noon," 1952.
28. "All About Eve," 1950.
29. "Double Indemnity," 1944.
30. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
31. "The Maltese Falcon," 1941.
32. "The Godfather Part II," 1974.
33. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1975.
34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937.
35. "Annie Hall," 1977.
36. "The Bridge on the River Kwai," 1957.
37. "The Best Years of Our Lives," 1946.
38. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," 1948.
39. "Dr. Strangelove," 1964.
40. "The Sound of Music," 1965.
41. "King Kong," 1933.
42. "Bonnie and Clyde," 1967.
43. "Midnight Cowboy," 1969.
44. "The Philadelphia Story," 1940.
45. "Shane," 1953.
46. "It Happened One Night," 1934.
47. "A Streetcar Named Desire," 1951.
48. "Rear Window," 1954.
49. "Intolerance," 1916.
50. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," 2001.
51. "West Side Story," 1961.
52. "Taxi Driver," 1976.
53. "The Deer Hunter," 1978.
54. "M-A-S-H," 1970.
55. "North by Northwest," 1959.
56. "Jaws," 1975.
57. "Rocky," 1976.
58. "The Gold Rush," 1925.
59. "Nashville," 1975.
60. "Duck Soup," 1933.
61. "Sullivan's Travels," 1941.
62. "American Graffiti," 1973.
63. "Cabaret," 1972.
64. "Network," 1976.
65. "The African Queen," 1951.
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
67. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", 1966.
68. "Unforgiven," 1992.
69. "Tootsie," 1982.
70. "A Clockwork Orange," 1971.
71. "Saving Private Ryan," 1998.
72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
74. "The Silence of the Lambs," 1991.
75. "In the Heat of the Night," 1967.
76. "Forrest Gump," 1994.
77. "All the President's Men," 1976.
78. "Modern Times," 1936.
79. "The Wild Bunch," 1969.
80. "The Apartment, 1960.
81. "Spartacus," 1960.
82. "Sunrise," 1927.
83. "Titanic," 1997.
84. "Easy Rider," 1969.
85. "A Night at the Opera," 1935.
86. "Platoon," 1986.
87. "12 Angry Men," 1957.
88. "Bringing Up Baby," 1938.
89. "The Sixth Sense," 1999.
90. "Swing Time," 1936.
91. "Sophie's Choice," 1982.
92. "Goodfellas," 1990.
93. "The French Connection," 1971.
94. "Pulp Fiction," 1994.
95. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
96. "Do the Right Thing," 1989.
97. "Blade Runner," 1982.
98. "Yankee Doodle Dandy," 1942.
99. "Toy Story," 1995.
100. "Ben-Hur," 1959.

My biggest problem with this new list is the replacing of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) with his follow-up atonement project Intolerance (1916). That is a chickenshit, cover-your-ass move. I shouldn't be surprised that the AFI would be too cowardly to anoint Birth, even though they did on the last list. But to replace it with Intolerance is a blatant "we want to recognize Griffith so we'll recognize one that won't ruffle feathers."

That's not to say that Intolerance isn't a great film. It's a masterpiece and deserves inclusion on this list. But to ignore Birth of Nation, perhaps the most important and groundbreaking film ever made (it was the first feature length film, it brought cinema to the mainstream, and created the artform as we know it today) is an egregious oversight and an appalling display of cowardice.

Yes, Birth of a Nation is a virulently and despicably racist film. But to ignore its achievement is just as ignorant as the film's warped views, not to mention just plain wrong. You cannot stick your head in the sand and ignore its existence, even though many people do by honoring Intolerance so they can pretend that Birth doesn't exist and still feel as though they are honoring Griffith, the father of cinema.

It is an injustice to film history, proving just how pointless these AFI lists really are...and that's without even mentioning the presence of films like Forrest Gump, The Sixth Sense, and The Shawshank Redemption on the list, while The Birth of a Nation, All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, and The Manchurian Candidate are kicked off the list.

There were some good things about the list, however. I was pleasantly surprised to see Preston Sturges' wonderful Sullivan's Travels included on the list, as well as F.W. Murnau's silent classic Sunrise, and delighted to see that the turgid The Jazz Singer had been dropped (just because you're the first talkie doesn't automatically make you a good movie). And I was absolutely thrilled to see that Ben-Hur had dropped to #100 (I would like to see it drop off the list completely...but I'll take what I can get), I still think it is one of the most overrated movies of all time. Yes it's a huge spectacle and way ahead of its time, but the acting is wooden and the emotions don't resonate as a result.

I was puzzled to see Cabaret appear on the list. Not that it's bad (Cabaret is one of my favorite musicals), but I would never have considered it for top 100 inclusion.

I was also surprised to see that Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull rocketed from #24 to #4 on the list. Not that I'm complaining, I just wasn't expecting it to finish quite so high.

Of the more recent crop of films eligible for the new list, I was most hoping to see Ang Lee's groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain added to the list. I have a feeling it will show up on later lists though, since AFI apparently plans to continue doing this every 10 years to track changing feelings about movies. Once the film's impact can truly be measured by history, then maybe it will be recognized for the masterpiece that it is.

But my biggest problem with the list remains the fact that only American films are eligible. That ignores such classics as The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Rules of the Game, Battleship Potemkin, 8 1/2, M, Ugetsu monogatri, Seven Samurai, La Strada, L'Avventura, and The Seventh Seal. It creates a skewed perspective on film by ignoring some of the greatest works in cinema just because they aren't American. Movies didn't originate in America, after all. We can thank the French for the movies.

Of course, Citizen Kane remained #1, and I have no problem with that. It deserves it. Few movies actually earn all their ecstatic praise, but Kane defies them all. It may not be my pick for Greatest Film of All Time (Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928] gets my vote), but it is certainly up there. It remains one of the most glorious, fascinating, vibrant examples of the art form we have, and its sheer genius and invention is thrilling to watch. It is THE great American film, and more than holds its own with the rest of the world's best.

It may be the one thing AFI keeps getting right over and over again.

Directed by Tim Story
Stars Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, Laurence Fishburne, Doug Jones
PG - sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo

Confession time: I never saw the original Fantastic 4 movie. It was one of those movies I just wrote off as a waste of my time. Sometimes bad reviews are fun to write, but sometimes there are movies I just can’t bring myself to sit down and watch. And Fantastic 4 was one of those movies.

But since its sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, was the highest profile new release last weekend, I was left with little choice. Admittedly, I found the trailers interesting. However, now that I have seen the film, I realize that my initial impression was correct.

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a waste of time and celluloid.

After gaining their powers and vanquishing the evil Dr. Doom in the original film, Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing have gained a high profile and superstar status as the protectors of the world. In fact, they are just trying to live as normal a life as possible as Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman are planning to get married. But their festivities are interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious new villain, the Silver Surfer, whose appearance on a planet heralds its imminent destruction.

It’s not a bad premise for a high-concept superhero flick, but Rise of the Silver Surfer is stupefyingly dull. The actors all seem bored, leaving little doubt they’re all slumming in a strictly-for-the-paycheck job. The ridiculous script doesn’t help matters either, turning the film into a big goofball Saturday morning cartoon that puts kids back to sleep. It makes Spider-Man 3 look downright credible in comparison.

There’s just no reason for the film to exist. It is little more than a shameless cash-in and excuse to sell action figures. How many more of these will Hollywood churn out before audiences shout “ENOUGH!”

Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, and sat through too many mediocre sequels. Or maybe I’ve just taken too many film criticism and history courses to really enjoy a film like this, but for the life of me I can’t understand how anyone can look at this film and say “wow, that is a great movie.” Surely the studio executives had to know this. So why would they want to release something they knew was merely mediocre? Because they sell tickets and make them money.

Yes, I’ve gotten cynical about the whole process. But really, how many people who saw Rise of the Silver Surfer with me this past weekend noticed the awkward pace of the editing, the poor scene changes, the stilted dialogue, the wooden acting, or the sub-par special effects? Not too many, I expect.

The studios CAN make good films - see Knocked Up and 28 Weeks Later for some recent examples. Hell, even Casablanca was just another dime-a-dozen studio pic when it was originally released. So it isn't impossible. They just don't do it very often.

So go ahead, go see Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Every dime in the pocket of the producers merely guarantees yet another substandard sequel that will squeeze out your hard earned money, even though they know they are feeding you bologna, when they have the capability and resources to serve filet mingon.

GRADE - *½ (out of four)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weekend box office estimates:

1. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - $57,400,000
2. Ocean's Thirteen - $19,105,000
3. Knocked Up - $14,535,000
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - $12,024,000
5. Surf's Up - $9,300,000
6. Shrek the Third - $9,007,000
7. Nancy Drew - $7,135,000
8. Hostel Part II - $3,000,000
9. Mr. Brooks - $2,820,000
10. Spider-Man 3 - $2,500,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

Superhero sequel Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer easily bested last week's champ Ocean's 13 to become this weekend's box office winner. The only other high profile new release, Nancy Drew, debuted at number 7 with a paltry 7.1 million.

The good news is that the charming comedy Knocked Up is holding strong at #3 thanks to strong word of mouth with $14.5 million in its third weekend in release.

Even more good news, the torture porn genre took a major hit as Hostel Part II continued its monumental flop at #8 with a mere $3 million in its second week of release.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Now that 2007 is half over, Richard Roper and guest stand-in critic Christy Lemire have posted their picks for the best films so far this year.

Roper's picks:
1. The Lookout
2. Zodiac
3. 300
4. The Hoax
5. Grindhouse

Worst: Norbit

Lemire's picks:
1. Knocked Up
2. Hot Fuzz
3. Away from Her
4. The Lives of Others
5. Once

Worst: Georgia Rule

I have to say that Lemire's list is much more respectable than Roper's, although I agree with him on The Hoax. The presence of 300 on the list really makes me question his judgement.

Anyway, here are my picks for the 5 best films so far this year:

1. The Lives of Others
2. Killer of Sheep
3. The Hoax
4. The Namesake
5. The Boss of it All

Worst: Reno 911!: Miami

I'm still not sure how I feel about including Killer of Sheep, since it is technically a 1977 film that has just now been theatrically released, and I haven't decided if I think it should be included on 2007 lists. If it were not on the list, The Host would take its place.

The first part of 2007 has actually been pretty good, you just had to know where to look to find the good movies. The high profile releases like Spider-man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, have all disappointed, despite huge box office returns. While smaller films like those mentioned above, as well as Zodiac, Reign Over Me, and even Grindhouse have all been excellent despite their box office returns.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Weekend box office totals:

1. Ocean's Thirteen - $36,133,403
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - $21,143,905
3. Knocked Up - $19,643,080
4. Surf's Up - $17,640,249
5. Shrek the Third - $15,317,614
6. Hostel Part II - $8,203,391
7. Mr. Brooks - $4,911,319
8. Spider-Man 3 - $4,304,986
9. Waitress - $1,600,600
10. Disturbia - $523,504

Source: Box Office Mojo

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

From The West Australian:
Disney’s villains are ageist, say academics

Even the Seven Dwarfs are guilty — well two of them, anyway.

Grumpy and Dopey are no longer just the loyal friends of Snow White but must now line up with the likes of the Wicked Queen and Cruella de Vil to be accused of fostering negative images of elderly people.

According to academics, Walt Disney’s seemingly ageist cartoon depiction of older people as evil or incompetent risks adversely influencing children.

Grumpy and Dopey join the assorted hags, crones and villains in the dock because they might lead some youngsters to think older people are bad tempered or dimwitted in real life.

Click here to read the full story.

Give me a break. Why do people put so much time and effort into junk like this?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Weekend box office estimates:

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - $43,188,000
2. Knocked Up - $29,284,000
3. Shrek the Third - $26,704,000
4. Mr. Brooks - $10,020,000
5. Spider-Man 3 - $7,500,000
6. Waitress - $2,025,000
7. Gracie - $1,363,000
8. Bug - $1,220,000
9. 28 Weeks Later - $1,200,000
10. Disturbia - $1,127,000

Source: Box Office Mojo