Be Kind Rewind

December 5, 2007

Chris from Movie Marketing Madness posted an item the other day about the upcoming film Be Kind Rewind (2008). Now, I don’t want to go so far as to put words in his mouth, but I’m going to hazard a guess that he is not really looking forward to this film – I seem to recall the phrase “absolute trainwreck” coming up at one point or another.

I myself am not so pessimistic (or I’m foolishly optimistic, whatever the case may be) about this Jack Black / Mos Def vehicle, which could turn out to be full of guilty pleasure goofiness. I won’t go so far as to say it will be the new Black (couldn’t resist…), but hey, Black and Mos Def reenacting classic films for their fictional video store because they accidentally erased all the real versions? Goofball gold mine. And directed by the man who tamed Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Solid artistic cred. Plus, I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for Ghostbusters stuff and seeing Jack Black in that UFO abductee version of the GB outfit is at least somewhat amusing. Or… one of the only jokes in the film, but here’s hoping.

To see for yourself, check out the trailer here.

Either way, I do agree with him about the movie’s quite clever take on a film’s official website. After all, if your movie is all about fake versions of classic films, what does that translate to on the internet? To see the site, click here and “enter site.”

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New York movies and video games

November 17, 2007

According to The Gothamist, a new and improved Ghostbusters video game from Vivendi’s Sierra will be coming to stores in Fall ’08 with appearances from all four main characters and some supporting characters.

Of course, this clearly begs the question, as the Gothamist puts it, “Which other New York-centric films should be made interactive?” Yes, I Am Legend (trailer with potential alert!) and that mystery with a capital M Cloverfield movie aren’t bad ideas, as they say. But the real mystery is why no one has ever mined the true heart of New York filmmaking: romantic comedies.

Appealing to both girls and, well, women, this somewhat Sims-esque game could take you through the crazy perils of romantic dating on the New York big screen. No, you say? But think of the possibilities:

Girls could choose between playing omega threat Meg Ryan and, uh, everyone else – such as Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Audrey Hepburn, and Deborah Kerr, with possible alternates Kate Beckinsale and Kate Hudson. They would have to decide whether to dump, hate, ignore, pine after, gossip to their friends about, cheat on, semi-stalk, toy with, and write love letters, emails or post-its to men like Tom Hanks, Woody Allen, Chris Noth, and potentially John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey. Not forgetting one to-be-determined classic male actor (Cary Grant or George Peppard? Or both?).

And it would all take place through gorgeous New York backdrops like the Upper West and East Sides (because what other neighborhoods are there in romantic comedies?), Central Park, the Empire State Building, and an exciting and dangerous, in a rescue – me – with – your – BMW sort of way, encounter with Times Square.

The goal would, naturally, be marriage (what else in a romcom?), or at least some sort of long-term commitment that you assume is going somewhere.

Yep. Any day now.

(or clearly I need the holidays to get here sooner… probably the latter)


The weirdest villains in film

November 14, 2007

In a recent review for the film American Gangster, the LA Times included a fun little photo gallery of what they considered “more unusual choices for organized crime bosses.” Their picks include Jabba the Hut (can’t argue with them there…) and Don Lino (aka, the voice of Robert DeNiro) in the animated Shark Tale.

And while that’s fun and all, what about those other outcasts from the population of ne’er-do-wells whose chosen occupations sadly don’t fall into the realm of organized crime? Shouldn’t they get their say as well?

Here, then, are some of my favorite villainous oddballs:

WARNING: some contain SPOILERS (read with care…)

Bowler Hat Guy (Meet the Robinsons) – Something about those spindly legs just really creeps me out and to top it all off, the true villain is the mechanical bowler hat itself (uh huh, a bowler hat) that’s telling him what to do. Ick.

Yzma and Kronk (Emperor’s New Groove) – The first looks like some sort of waspish spider and has a weird thing for llamas. The second is a sidekick who hums his own theme song and happily cooks spinach puffs right in the middle of an evil plot. And when Yzma cackles evilly as a cute little kitten? Priceless.

The Penguin (Batman Returns) – Okay, true, in Batman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker is mighty odd and, yes, totally insane. But he’s got a kind of sense of humor (in a creepy way) and, well… it’s Jack Nicholson. He’s his own kind of weird. In any case, unlike the Penguin in the original comics who was rather cool-headed, refined and quite intelligent, the Penguin in Batman Returns is, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, “a physically deformed, sadistic, megalomaniacal monster.” Plus, he hangs around with penguins all the time. Literally. I think that qualifies him.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) – She melts and her henchmen are flying monkeys. Enough said.

The Claw (Toy Story) – Who knew the fun selector of children’s stuffed animals could be such a bizarre nightmarish creature? Not forgetting of course that The Claw is also a completely emotionless cult leader who gets his brainwashed followers to chant “The Claw is our master. The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.” And leads them to believe that being “chosen” will take them to “a better place.” Scary, scary stuff.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – As an artificial intelligence, this decidedly creepy villain is nothing but a voice and an oddly pulsating red glow. And really, there isn’t much that is scarier and more goosebumpily bizarre than a villain who never, ever raises his voice.

The Emperor (Star Wars) – Why is it that the names of many evil villains begin with a definite article? I suppose we’ll never really know, but I think it’s clear that this villain at least certainly deserves to have a name that begins with an emphatic “the.” With his ghoulish voice and eerie cackle, not to mention that blue lightning thing he can do with his hands, the Emperor is both evil and just plain strange. Darth Vader has got that cool strong man / deep voice in black metal vibe going on, but the Emperor has an omnipresent cowl and cooky sense of humor. He wins.

Assorted Amélie villains (Amélie / Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) – Perhaps not villains per se, if you want to get technical, but they are all weird and/or mysteriously odd people. So I think they should get their chance too. First, there’s the almost (okay, total) stalker guy from the café who records everything his ex-girlfriend says or does. Then, there’s the obnoxious and cruel grocer who delights in tormenting the boy who works for him and always calls Amélie “Amélie-melo.” And finally, there’s the ghost / possible obsessive picture taker whose eerie mystery haunts the film. Quite the goldmine of weird scoundrels, n’est-ce pas?

No Face (Spirited Away) – Half leprechaun, half “The Blob,” this gold-giving masked spirit vies (successfully, in my opinion) with the witch Yubaba for the title of baddest, largest, most complex, and just downright crazy villain in this spooky Japanese fairy tale.

The Cat King (The Cat Returns) – Pretty much demented, yet still a powerful ruler over, uh, cats, this rotund monarch has “I am CRAZY” eyes, static-style hair and calls the heroine “babe.” And he throws unfortunate palace performers out the window when they can’t make his guest smile. Weird and psychopathic – a winning combination for this list.

Lord Voldemort (pretty much any Harry Potter film) – Let’s recap, shall we? In the first film, he was a face on the back of someone’s head. In the second film, he was a ghost from a diary. In the third film, um… Okay, well, in the fourth film, he was a seriously creepy baby-like creature who transformed out of a boiling cauldron into a noseless man. In the fifth film and (I’m assuming) on, he’s that same snakelike, pasty-faced, noseless man. Yep, I think I’ve made my point…

Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) – This is a bit of a given. And with a medical degree in Evil, he’s earned it.

Honorable mentions: Stay Puft (Ghostbusters), the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), coat hanger aficionado Toht (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), and potentially Grendel’s mother (the animated Angelina Jolie) in the upcoming Beowulf.


Halloween movies for the scared

October 31, 2007

Not the kids – but rather those (like myself…) who prefer to have the lights only, um, partially dimmed.

Now, I don’t want to say that I’m petrified at the site of a movie monster or anything; it’s more that I’m petrified at the thought of a horror movie at all. Don’t laugh, but even Scream can send me into nightmares for at least a week. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a “humorous” film, but watching it for the first time in the empty, open suburbs of the Midwest, with lots of big windows, easily accessible garages, and, you know, telephones, and anyone could get scared. Or so I tell myself (and others, muffled from behind the pillow that’s covering my face).

In any case, as someone who has suffered (and I mean suffered) through many Halloween horror fests with friends, I have found it quite necessary to come up with some movies that I feel free to safely recommend to some horror-happy friends without gaining yet another reason to turn on all the lights at any hint at all of sunset. Think about it this way – watch these films, save the environment! I feel better already…

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

– Scottish prayer

“Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties don’t exist. And even if they did, there’s no god to protect us from them is there?”

-1408 (not one of the movies in my list, I just like the quote – sorry Stephen King, but this one’s a little much for me)
(from imdb.com)

Shaun of the Dead – Without a doubt, one of my favorite movies ever. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the fact that some of my friends do think this a bit scary. Nevertheless, I find it the perfect antidote to being scared out of my wits by an actual zombie movie – I just think of disposable cameras and a “girl in the garden” and all the anxious jitters go away.

A spoof on classic zombie flicks (think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Office meets George Romero), with a hero who at first thinks the walking dead are simply people who have had a bit too much to drink (an honest mistake), the film’s certainly got its must-have horror moments – bloody zombies attack, screams are screamed, people batter zombies with pool cues – but the humor is priceless. What other movie would have a victory against the zombies moment set to music by Queen?

Young Frankenstein – Also containing one of my favorite movie quotes, this classic comedy from Mel Brooks delivers all of the typical horror fare, including a dark and stormy castle, mysteriously creepy castle denizens, and Frankenstein’s monster him/itself, without any of the fright. And of course, look for a great performance from the late Peter Boyle as the monster (he sings!). Bonus (positive or negative still to be decided): it’s now a Broadway musical. It was inevitable.

Beetlejuice – The thrice-called ghoul played by Michael Keaton in this Tim Burton film (who went on to make Batman with Keaton as well – I personally would have immediately thought of Keaton as the Dark Knight after seeing this movie) wreaks cooky havoc on the Deetz home with fellow ghosts Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, looking very young, and Geena Davis). Winona Ryder also stars as the black clad girl who befriends the couple. It’s odd and totally crazy and definitely a Burton film – with some clear disturbing/spooky moments, especially towards the end. Might not want to watch alone.

Ghostbusters – Because nothing heralds winter like a giant marshmallow terrorizing the streets of Manhattan. Extremely minimal horrors, but with plenty of otherworldly monsters and goings on (not forgetting Slimer, of course), it’s got the added bonus of being an almost universally loved comedy. With Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as the paranormal avengers, as well as Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Annie Potts.

The Nightmare before Christmas – I know, this is probably a bit standard and boring, but how can you have a list like this without it? After all, don’t be fooled by the name – the whole movie actually revolves around a place called “Halloween Town” and starts off with a bunch of sinister-looking animated characters chanting “This is Halloween!” Now that’s a Halloween movie. This stop-motion holiday film (now in 3D!), another one from Halloween maestro Tim Burton, is spooky and Halloween gloomy without being really scary. And with the additional inclusion of Christmas Town in the movie, you get two holidays in one!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Before it was a critically-acclaimed hip show, and way before it was touring as a sing-along, Buffy was a completely campy early ’90s flick from cult god Joss Whedon starring Kristy Swanson (Buffy), Donald Sutherland as “the Watcher” and Luke Perry as the boy toy. Not to mention Hilary Swank, David Arquette and, believe it or not, Paul Reubens (yes, Pee Wee Herman himself) in other roles. Now, I’m not saying it’s good, and in my mind, it’s definitely got its scary vampire moments, but it’s a lot of camp fun.

Other favorites with descriptions in other posts:

The Mummy – The mummy itself may be scary to some (although I don’t think anyone can argue that the beetles are pretty darn icky), but it’s light monster fun for the action set. Just turn away whenever the mummy or beetles attack anyone and it’s no problem.

Spirited Away – A beautiful and ethereal fairy tale for the indie lover, with an actual long-legged beastie, from Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki. You’ll never see another haunted house quite like this.

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Just pure guilt-free fun.


Best and Worst Mythology Movies – sorry, ‘King Arthur.’

August 28, 2007

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a myth geek. I even read academic books about myths in my spare time (yuck, I know). Which is why, as a movie geek too, I was so excited when my favorite film magazine, UK’s Empire, recently posted a blog entry by Helen O’Hara on Hollywood’s recent interest in movies based on classic myth or legend.

O’Hara, a self-proclaimed “history geek and fantasy lover,” makes a few choice comments about the recent film updates (“Troy works wonderfully as a silent movie” and so on) and what she would like to see in the future (Táin Bó Cúailnge, anyone?). And since I’m, well, a history geek and fantasy lover myself, I couldn’t resist using her entry as inspiration to make a list of what I believe are my favorite and least favorite movies based on myths and legends.

MOST FUN

The Mummy – I believe I’ve said it before, but this is one of those guilty pleasure movies that I can watch again and again (and I do). I love ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptian mythology, and this has got fun spins on both. A Book of the Dead made entirely out of some sort of hardened black substance? Sure, why not. A Mummy that brings with it the ten plagues of Egypt? An interesting take on the Bible, but okay. An expert on ancient Egypt as an action heroine? It’s about time! Fun, entertaining (sometimes in a campy sort of way), action-packed, somewhat romantic, and rooted in Egyptian myth, The Mummy’s got it all.

Troy – Okay, it has its weak points (for me, the Paris/Helen chemistry-free romance), but it’s got some awesome fight scenes (Brad Pitt vs. Eric Bana in a gracefully brutal Achilles and Hector showdown) and I have to admit that I was touched by the love story of Achilles and Briseis, whether or not it was true to Homer’s The Iliad, the movie’s basis.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Not for everyone, this is one of those movies that most people I know either love or just don’t get. Me? I still crack up at the opening scene (I’m getting better!) and:

-What is your favorite color?

-Blue. No yel- Ahhhh!

And who can not appreciate an extended discussion on the flight capabilities of the African swallow?

StargateThis is myth-based, you say? Of course it is! Clearly it is simply a sci-fi retelling of ancient Egyptian myth. Who is the god Ra? Why he’s an alien, of course! How else do you think they built the pyramids? (Riley from National Treasure, you were right all along) In any case, it’s got Kurt Russell and James Spader battling it out with that guy from The Crying Game in an alien version of ancient Egypt. It doesn’t get more fun than that.

Aladdin (Disney) – Perhaps not the most accurate adaptation of the Arabian Nights (if the tale of Aladdin is a Nights tale at all), but probably the most financially successful one. Who would’ve thought that Robin Williams as a blue genie could be so much fun? And don’t even try to deny that you’ve had “A Whole New World” stuck in your head at some point or another – for better or for worse.

Hororable Mentions: Ghostbusters and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Okay, a bit of a stretch perhaps, but the use of a Sumerian god, Gozer, and an Aztec curse? They might both be fictional, but still clearly influenced by mythology.

CAMPIEST (and thus, lots of fun as well)

Clash of the Titans – This is truly a camp classic of mythology. Presenting the tale of Perseus and Medusa with stop-motion animation (see the giant monster Kraken move jerkily forward to attack!), this 1981 film has got enough action, fantasy and romance to satisfy anyone. Not convinced? Then go for the actors who play the gods: Maggie Smith plays Thetis, Ursula Andress is Aphrodite (Venus), and Laurence Olivier himself plays Zeus. And for you gamers out there, Harry Hamlin, who does the voice of Perseus in God of War II, originated the role in this movie.

Comingsoon.net reports that Warner Bros. is scripting a remake. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Jason and the Argonauts – Another stop-motion animated classic, but this time from 1963. It’s a retelling of the classic myth of Jason and his crew of Argonauts (including Hercules), and their search for the Golden Fleece. If you like Clash of the Titans, you’ll like this.

Excalibur – Another cult classic. A dramatic and violent, and beautifully shot, retelling of King Arthur and his knights. With Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Bryne, Liam Neeson, and others. Be prepared for lots of mist!

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys / Xena: Warrior Princess – I know they’re not technically movies, but you know I had to include them.

The Thief of Baghdad (1924) – Watch the caliph’s daughter swoon over Douglas Fairbank’s swashbuckling (yes, swashbuckling) Aladdin in silent black and white. Need I say more?

Honorable Mention: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Referencing classical mythology and Celtic folklore, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of course the classic comedy by William Shakespeare. It is, however, also a recent film from Fox Searchlight. Sit back, relax, and watch stars like Calista Flockhart, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci have lots of fun running around in the forest, while occasionally tripping over Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

MINISERIES (solid and not too shabby)

The Odyssey (1997) – Okay, I can give adaptations a hard time, but let’s admit it, it’s not easy to adapt a classic epic, especially one that is one of the most famous in the Western world. Although not perfect (but what is?), this miniseries with Armand Assante as Odysseus manages to pull off a solid retelling and keep many of the tale’s details intact. Also starring Vanessa Williams, Isabella Rosselini and Christopher Lee.

Mists of Avalon – Based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s popular King Arthur epic with a feminist twist, I didn’t think this was half-bad. The book was still worlds better, but a solid adaptation nonetheless. Plus, Michael Vartan plays Lancelot!

Helen of Troy (2003) – I’m torn on this one. One of those “this is the true story of…”, it doesn’t necessarily always stick directly to the original mythology. Plus, some of the legendary characters get short shrift; Achilles and Hector who? But I still found the miniseries – about the Trojan War from the perspective of its famous beauty – entertaining at times and usually fun to watch, and it contains many of the characters left out of other adaptations (Cassandra, Pollux, poor Iphigenia, even Kings Atreus and Theseus make appearances).

Arabian Nights (2000) – Nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, this adaptation of the 1001 Nights plays up the romance between Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar, to whom Scheherazade must tell a story every night in order to put off her execution at his hands. It’s got its campy moments, but it doesn’t digress as much from the Nights as other adaptations and Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Ever After) and Mili Avital (From Stargate! It’s all coming together…) are convincing as the troubled king and his beautiful storyteller.

Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King – A miniseries that aired on the Sci-Fi channel and is based on the Germanic tale, The Nibelungenlied (nee-buh-luhng-ehn-leed, I believe – it’s a very impressive name to mention at parties). Ever heard of Wagner’s Ring cycle? Also partly based on The Nibelungenlied (translation: Song of the Nibelungs). Benno Furmann, a Kevin Sorbo look-alike with his long hair, plays Siegfried, the hero and dragon-slayer, and Alicia Witt is Kriemhild, his sometime lover. Kristanna Loken plays the other lover, the warrior Brunhilde. Not bad for a miniseries, it’s got lots of fun, smoldering dialogue and special effects. It lags at times, but generally provides lots of often campy fun. It was originally released outside of the US and under various different titles, including Ring of the Nibelungs.

BEST

Spirited AwayHayao Miyazaki‘s beautiful and haunting animated movie was heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto mythology and tradition. It tells the tale of a girl who wanders into a supernatural world populated by all manner of magical creatures. The film won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Just goes to show that you don’t need fancy CGI to make a stunning animated film. If you’ve seen this and liked it, go rent My Neighbor Totoro. An earlier film by Miyazaki, it’s the story of two young sisters and their adventures with magical spirits. Playful and fun, but also moving.

Whale Rider – Set in New Zealand, the film uses Maori myth and tradition to captivating and poignant effect. It’s a touching story about a girl growing up to become a leader in a male-dominated society. The lead actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film at the age of 13.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Like Monty Python, most people I know either really like this or don’t get it at all. An odd, yet oddly captivating, retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, the movie follows three ex-prisoners in the 1930s as they encounter a Cyclops, sirens and more on their search for treasure and love. George Clooney is Ulysses and Holly Hunter plays the modern Penelope, “Penny.” In my opinion, all worth it for the scenes with the Soggy Bottom Boys.

Ramayan (1987-88) – A hugely successful Indian “miniseries” that recounts the famous epic story of Rama and Sita, ancient heroes in Hindu tradition. According to Wikipedia, the series was watched by over 100 million people when it was first on the air. It can move at a slow pace and may seem campy to Western audiences, but it’s lovingly done and an Indian classic. It’s also a great way to learn more about beloved Hindu figures. The whole thing is 78 episodes long (no, that’s not a typo), so if you haven’t seen any of it, catch an episode of it sometime if you can.

Fritz Lang’s Die NibelungenThe Nibelungenlied again, but this time in silent black and white. The famous director of Metropolis tells the epic tale in two parts (Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge). Slow but powerful.

WORST

Hercules (Disney animated) – I just don’t like this movie, I’m sorry. Hades as a used car salesman type? No, no, no, and no. Not for me.

King Arthur – I love Clive Owen, and have a soft spot in my heart for Keira Knightley due to her beautiful portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but I was not impressed by this movie. They were striving for the “real story” of King Arthur, and I respect that, but it just didn’t work.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (animated) – Yet another example of why celebrity voices alone (Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones) can’t sell a movie.

UM…

Pasolini’s Il Fiore delle mille e una notte (The Flower of the One Thousand and One Nights) – I really don’t know what to say about this film. It defies description. Critically acclaimed, yes, but I’m just not sure I get it. Be warned though: for adult audiences ONLY.

The Fountain – Lots of references to Mayan myth, but again… ?

TO BE DETERMINED

Beowulf – Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? I’m suspicious, but willing to give co-screenwriter Neil Gaiman the benefit of the doubt. For my review, click here.

Thor – In development, an adaptation of the Norse superhero in the Marvel Comics. For more, go here for Rotten Tomatoes’ news of the event.

Yes, I know I’ve missed some (First Knight and Camelot come to mind – even The Matrix and Star Wars), and probably many, but this list can’t go on forever. What can I say? The ones above are the films that made the strongest impression on me, for better or worse.

For great print versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Arabian Nights, check out Neil Gaiman’s Dream Country for his award-winning take on Shakespeare’s play, and Fables and Reflections for a look at the world of the Nights – both volumes are part of Gaiman’s Sandman series.