Thursday, November 30, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

It's about time someone exposed the MPAA for the fraud and sham that they are. I’ve been ranting and raving about the ratings system for a long, long time now so watching this documentary was right up my alley.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated tells a story long needed in regards to film history. You see, the ratings board, also known as the MPAA, has long held an agenda in how they come up with their ratings and filmmaker Kirby Dick attempts to expose that agenda. He does it in a funny way too--by attempting to expose every person on the super secret ratings board and show just how faulty the whole process is.

The MPAA looks at films in uneven ways--violence is better than sex, studio pictures get away with more than indies and woe is the film to put any kind of homosexuality in it. The MPAA claims to be made up of "normal" parents who sit in judgement of every movie released in the USA to guide other parents but Dick finds out a lot of these people have children in their 20s and aren't advising a rating at all--but actually censuring films.

I'm amazed that some brave filmmaker w/ deep pockets hasn't sued the MPAA on some kind of 1st amendment issue as they have such overwhelming power and control regarding a films ability to play in theatres by the threat of an NC-17 rating that they force artists into altering their picture to get a lesser rating. As the film shows at the start, hundreds of filmmakers, many of them legends, have had to deal with overzealous ratings board decisions regarding films that forced them into cutting their movies into something they don’t want.

If you like seeing behind the scenes docs set in Hollywood, this is for you. Lots of directors show up and talk about their own battles with the MPAA. I wish this would be the first step in getting rid of the current system or altering it into a more workable system with public raters and a more clearly defined set of parameters—but that's probably a pipedream as Dick shows in his film—the MPAA is controlled by the studios and theatres and they wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Movies I'm eager to see

The holiday season is pretty insufferable for a scrooge like me. I want the Christmas music, the shopping masses and anything else related to the “spirit” of the season to just go away. The only good thing about this time of the year is some high quality films are released that try to garner awards. Here’s a few films that have yet to make it to Tulsa or are about to be released that I’m anxious to see.

The Last King of Scotland: A few months ago I wrote about how I love Forrest Whitaker. Word is he is tearing up the screen with so much manic energy in this film where he plays the mad as a hatter dictator Idi Amin. I read the book a few years ago, which also piques my interest, as the book was pretty enjoyable. I don’t understand what the hold up is for this coming to Tulsa, all I know is I need to see it!

Sherrybaby: Another one that’s already been out for awhile on the coasts and in larger cities that hasn’t made it to T-Town yet. Just like The Last King of Scotland, my main interest in watching it is there is supposedly a blazing performance by Maggie Gyllenhall, who is a favorite of mine. Gyllenhaal gives a fearless and raw performance—at least from what I’ve read as who knows how long I’ll have to wait before it comes to town.

The Fountain: I’m not a huge fan of director Darren Aronofsky but I’ve been reading about this epic sci-fi romance of his for years now so I’m eager to finally see it. The Fountain has almost been made and then not made and now it’s finally been actually filmed. The story concerns characters over a thousand year arc in very different settings and is trippy as all get out. Another reason I want to see it—Rachel Weisz.

The Good German: Director Steven Soderbergh is completely hit and miss with me now. He’ll make an interesting film and then go off to make crap like the super mainstream Ocean series or some quasi-pretentious endeavor few people even want to see (Bubble). With The Good German he has tried to recreate the flavor of ‘40s filmmaking by using sets, lenses, filmstock and technique used in films from the studio system era. I’m very intrigued. Plus, there’s an interesting mystery set in post WWII Berlin.

Children of Men: I’m into near future dystopian science fiction (1984 is the benchmark) in a big way and this film is set in a dark future where people can’t reproduce. A man and his ex-wife (unfortunately Clive Owen, he annoys me most of the time) are drawn into dark paths trying to protect a woman who is somehow pregnant. I hope everything looks grey, the world is a police state and people have to fight to survive day to day against the forces that try to control them. Sounds like fun, huh?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Slither

This was a fun movie! I’m not sure how I missed this when it came out earlier in the year but I did. Slither is an alien/zombie hybrid that wears its b-film roots cheekily on its sleeve and that sense of fun lets writer/director James Gunn’s debut rise out of the mire of the genre.

Slither isn’t full of dread and darkness—it’s full of one-liners, blasts of violence and a quirky sense of fun from start to finish. I love it when I see a movie and have no expectations and it sneaks up and gives me a surprisingly good time as it unfolds (I shouldn’t have been totally surprised as Gunn wrote the recent Dawn of the Dead remake—one of the few remakes I’ve seen in years that I liked). Slither is such a movie. It doesn’t aim super high because it doesn’t want to be anything other than the gory, funny b-film it is, but it succeeds on nearly every level.

Slither concerns aliens who land in a small town and begins to slowly take over the locals one by one. The aliens turn you into zombies after they take over you but these are zombies a little different than the normal walking dead, as they exist to support the alien they are connected to. I liked that little twist in the story as I’m always looking for different takes on the zombie film.

Gunn gives most of the actors lots of funny things to say in the film. Firefly’s Nathan Fillion plays the local sheriff, Elizabeth Banks (who might be in my next Top5 list) plays another local and a character actor named Greg Henry plays the foulmouthed mayor in a lively role. Jenna Fischer from The Office has a small role and gets to use the word “skeeter” in a sentence.

I haven’t looked at the films that might make my top 10 for 2006 but based on sheer fun level—Slither is going to be up for inclusion. It’s got everything you want in a mainstream b-film: aliens, zombies, giant worms, graphic cartoon like violence, funny one-liners left and right and a fast pace that knows not to stay around too long and wear out the welcome. Isn’t that more than enough?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Desk Set

I don’t review many old movies, so for a change of pace I’ll write a little bit about a 1957 Walter Lang film I saw over the weekend on Turner Classic (the best channel on tv?). Desk Set is an enjoyable Katherine Hepburn/ Spencer Tracy vehicle that is a great piece of romantic comedy to watch on a sleepy, autumn Sunday afternoon.

Hepburn plays Bunny, a whip-smart reference librarian for a large company that is considering installing a new, high powered “electric brain.” That’s computer to you and me, but in 1957 the correct title was electric brain. I kind of like the ring of that… electric brain.

Tracy plays Richard Sumner, the man installing the EB into the company. Sumner is drawn to the quirky librarian (of course!) even though she’s attached to a man who has put off proposing to her for over seven years. Romantic complications ensue.

Desk Set is an easygoing little film that has all the effortless charms that so many films from the 1940s and ‘50s had. It’s just a fun, solid movie filled with lots of good dialogue and marvelous professional actors—Tracy gets to show off a gifted “doubletake” quite often in Desk Set. I’m quite fond of the doubletake.

There were so many studio styled films from this era that are beguiling and have an appeal that is timeless and Desk Set is certainly one of the ones worth watching. I mentioned it earlier, but films like Desk Set, and others from this period, just seem so effortless as you watch them. They entertain and charm without trying at all and that’s why we’ll watch them for fifty more years.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Half Nelson

A few years ago I swore of the “drug” movie as a genre I was just sick to death of. The last thing I wanted to do was to watch some self-destructive nitwit stick a needle in a vein in his neck and inject heroin. Or watch an equally self-destructive yahoo waste his education, throw away his family or all the other negative after effects that would come to those characters in the myriad of drug movies that were coming out at the time.

Recently I decided to watch Requiem for a Dream for the first time years after it came out. The film was about the most bleak, overrated movie I’d seen in a long time and I swore again—no more drug movies! Dang, I wish I’d kept that promise as Half Nelson is just another in a long line of films that show addicts destroy their lives for 2 hours.

This movie is getting a lot of hype (why I watched it) and Ryan Gosling is indeed very charismatic in the lead while delivering a great performance. Gosling is without a doubt, one of the finest young American actors working in film—yet Half Nelson is a story that I’ve witnessed before and rings in all the drug movie clich├ęs.

The story, set partially in a school setting, as Gosling attempts to teach inner city kids, while balancing a secret life ingesting lots of chemicals in the night hours. The teaching methods he employs are pretty ridiculous and highly unbelievable in such a school as he tends to lecture middle school kids in a drug hangover, strung out on some substance, stream of conscience rambling and spinning out philosophy masquerading as history. No teacher would get away for this long, yet he appears to have done it for years. Come on.

The setting of the film in inner city schools never quite feels right and is a little off. HBO’s stellar show The Wire has similar backdrops for a few of its many storylines (kids in school, ravages of drugs) and it is so chockfull of gritty reality it makes Half Nelson seem like the phony-at-its-core film it is.

My relationship with these drug films is kind of like someone swearing off this or that—I seem to fall off the wagon and watch one of them every so often—but this time I’m serious. I’m quitting these drug movies for good. If Half Nelson is an over-hyped film, it at least got me back on the wagon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Borat...

Since I posted a few times about Borat, I might as well write very briefly about it. Hilarious! The funniest film all year, no contest. I knew what to expect going in and it still didn't disappoint. Now I'm counting the months until Cohen lets loose his next character on unsuspecting marks: Bruno! Is nice!

Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead

Sorry for the lack of film stuff—super, super busy for next couple of weeks. Grad school + work = less movies and even less time to write about the ones I do see.

A couple of weeks ago we showed George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the original Dawn of the Dead at the Circle. Yes, it was a Halloween weekend zombie double feature and it was great. I hadn’t seen either film in years so it was both fun and interesting to watch them back-to-back to see how different they are as films.

I’d never seen Night of the Living Dead in a theatre before and the experience greatly enhances its overall impact and tension. I was kind of surprised just how claustrophobic Romero made the interior action in NOTLD. If you don’t know the story of the 1968 film—a group of people retreat to a remote farmhouse and attempt to stave off the walking dead who are outside.

Romero’s film is chock full of atmospheric (black and white photography never hurts upping the atmosphere) tension as he utilizes tight, composed frames that adds to the enclosed, impossible to escape feeling the film has. NOTLD is pretty gore free—the horror is mostly an internal level of fear as the terror comes from the confusion in the situation and the fact these people might not ever make it out of this house. The level of dread is palpable throughout the film. Classic.

Dawn of the Dead, released 10 years after Night, is a completely different film. Rather than enclose a group of people in a tiny space, Romero sticks them in a much bigger location: a shopping mall. He then unleashes a tremendous amount of zombie killing and hammers home an anti-consumerist message (too much of this at 2 in the morning) at the same time the bright red/orange fake blood is flowing from the wounds of dead zombies.

Dawn of the Dead has so many zombies shot in the head moments it reaches a point when it’s very cartoon like, with the violence being not realistic, frightening or jarring. You have to kill these damn zombies or they will kill you and that’s exactly what the people in the shopping mall do—kill some zombies!

I like both the films for different reasons—one is full of inner psychology and drama and the other is just a torrent of fake blood and killing zombies. But how can you go wrong with either of these films if you like zombies as these are two that I’ll keep coming back to and I’ll love them every time.