Saturday, April 29, 2006

Excitement 1979

Why am I more excited about this ancient trailer than any of the trailers I've seen for this summer's crop of movies?

Starcrash is a complete and total ripoff of Turkish Star Wars - except it's in English, despite being officially an Italian film. It stars former preacherman Marjoe Gortner (he's the one with the brillo hair), the dishy Caroline Munro, the young David Hasselhoff (who must be in this trailer somewhere) and for a touch of class, Christopher Plummer, who looks like he lost a bet. I think they hired the guys who did the New Adventures of Pinocchio series to do the "Ray Harryhausen with the DTs" stop-motion effects.

But come on - if you showed this trailer in a theatre the place would go crazy! And it's in Dolby Stereo! Top that, Brett Ratner!

(Mille grazie, Lamp2av.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Forever and Ever Amen

I understand that Opus Dei has got their knickers in a twist about the upcoming film based on The DaVinci Code; they want a disclaimer appended to the beginning of the film, warning audiences that the idea of a shadowy force within the Catholic Church is a product of fantasy. I think the film should come with a disclaimer as well - mine would read "Warning: this film was directed by Ron Howard." Actually that's only part of the reason I won't see it - it's mostly because of Tom Hanks' hair. Call me superficial, but I don't know if audiences are ready for the big and greasy look. I haven't read the book, so maybe they explain the hair in the film.

On an unrelated topic, what's been going on with Randy Travis lately? Is he still putting out records? I haven't been following Nashville as much as I used to. He was working on a sideline career as an actor, but when Kenny Rogers stopped making those Gambler TV movies he put a lot of country singers out of work in that department. I typed up 'Randy Travis NASCAR' in Google and got 680,000 matches, but I figure the sky-rocketing price of gasoline is going to wreak havoc on the whole car-racing craze. Maybe he might want to shift over to recording more Gospel.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Making the Best of a No-Win Situation: Modern Romance

When Richard Pryor died a few months ago I asked myself a question I ask myself every few years: "Okay, who's the funniest person on the planet now?" (the last time I asked myself this question was when Bill Hicks died - Pryor reclaimed the title). So these days I vote for Albert Brooks.

I get excited when a new Albert Brooks film comes out. Not because I can't wait to see the film, but because this means he gets to go out and be hilarious and thought-provoking on talk shows and in interviews. I used to get excited about the movies too, but the movies themselves are not the main attraction anymore, to my dismay. The last one I saw in the theatres was Mother, which had moments in the dialogue but was undistinguished in terms of film-making. Following that came The Muse with Sharon Stone, which seemed too show-bizzy and in-jokey as far as the bits I saw on TV went. The clips from his latest, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, made it seem like a misfire, especially in comparison to the good game he was bringing on the promotional circuit, talking about making a comedy with the post 9/11 mindset as the subject matter (and not in the sarcastic Team America: World Police way, either)...maybe I'll catch up to it on video.

But he was on a roll for a while there. 1985's Lost in America is a wicked satire of the plight of the aging yuppie - Brooks' character petulantly walks away from the fast track over a perceived career slight and drags his wife on a trip across America in an RV to rediscover themselves; the 'happy ending' involves Brooks having to eat shit (not literally - you're thinking of Pink Flamingos). And before that (1981) he made, as far as I'm concerned, a masterpiece - Modern Romance, a film which is making its long-overdue DVD premiere next Tuesday, in a bare-bones edition with terrible artwork and no extras, which is odd considering how influential it actually is - maybe there's still some bad blood between Brooks and Columbia Pictures, the film's distributor (more on that later).

According to Brooks, no less a man named Stanley Kubrick came a-callin' after seeing the film, wondering how he did it, and hoping to strike up a friendship. Brooks had dared to make a comedy about psychotic, unhealthy jealousy, which takes place in a milieu of film-making which is depicted in a matter-of-fact, quotidian fashion (Brooks' character is a workaholic film editor). The film begins with Brooks dumping his on-again off-again girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) once again, then spending the next segment of the film "getting over her", with a centrepiece sequence, shot in two long takes, of Brooks moping around his apartment, doped up on quaaludes, congratulating himself on his decision, taking and making horrible phone calls and finally sinking into a state of hopeless desperation. By about the halfway point of the film, he is love-bombing his way back into his beloved's reluctant heart, promising that he can make it work this time. Kubrick told Brooks this was the film he always wanted to make. Kubrick was apparently a voracious movie-watcher in his seclusion and two movies he was said to have admired very much were Husbands and Wives and Modern Romance, which may (or may not) explain Eyes Wide Shut.

When Brooks finished the film and showed it to the studio execs at Columbia, they tried to talk him into adding a scene where his character goes to a psychiatrist, to help explain to prospective audiences what the hell was the matter with a man with a good job, a nice car and a hot girlfriend. "I don't know what his problem is," Brooks supposedly said to the executives. "You saw the movie; you tell me what his problem is!" Of course the movie bombed - but I think in this day and age we can appreciate what this film has to say. Thanks to the likes of Ricky Gervais and Larry David, wider audiences are more acclimatized to the prospect of laughing and cringing at the same time. But Brooks did a lot of the heavy lifting.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Więcej Cowbell

Zbigniew Wodecki & Partita: they've got the beat!

(Dziekuje, Lukim.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Yugo Chavez

I didn't know there was a Yugoslav-Mexico connection until this: after World War II, Marshal Tito had a falling-out with Stalin, and Yugoslavia turned away from the dominant Soviet culture and towards another idealistic revolutionary model - Mexico. This site documents the Yu-Mex movement - probably unknown even in Mexico but inescapable in the Balkans in the 50s - behold, a whack of album covers and sound clips. The person behind the site is developing a documentary on the mouth is watering already.

Speaking of appropriation, on a local level, I'm a big fan of the people behind the Not Fooling Anybody site, which ambitiously documents the half-assed re-thinks and makeovers of abandoned franchise storefronts, with special attention paid to our city's rash of Coffee Time clones.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wild Card Fever

I took a look at the baseball standings today - I must admit I haven't been paying attention to the season so far but I was blown away when I found out what I've been missing. Both the American and National League wild-card races are insanely competitive. I can't remember a year where there were so many teams in contention, especially this far into the season.

In the American League, there's a huge dogfight for the lead. Even the Kansas City Royals, with their dismal record, are only 4.5 games out of first place. In the National League it's a five-way tie for the wild-card spot, and every team in the league within striking distance. Even if one team has a three-game winning streak it could vault them into first place. It is literally anybody's game. No one is even mathematically eliminated at this point, and I've done the math.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays may very well square off against the Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series if these statistics are to be believed.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Who Can Explain It? Who Can Tell You Why?

Last week I went to see Jacques Audriard's De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped). This is a film that won 8 Cesars (the French Oscar) a few weeks ago. It came out in the States last summer and made a bunch of critic's top ten lists. It has a Canadian distributor, and it even played in Montreal for a couple of months. Yet here in Toronto, the great movie-going town, it went straight to DVD and we were lucky to get one theatrical screening of it, during the Cinefranco festival, on a Sunday afternoon. I went, as it was my only chance. It was great but I wondered afterwards why Toronto gets two versions of What The Bleep Do We Know? at the arthouses but no theatrical release of The Beat That My Heart Skipped, not even on a rinky-dink screen at the Carlton.

The other great French film of recent vintage is Arnaud Desplechin's phenomenal Rois et Reine (Kings and Queen) - it is a knockout, so of course it didn't get released in Toronto. Played in the States in the major markets. Played in Montreal. It even showed for a week at the reps in Vancouver. I imported a DVD of it from the US - I was lucky to see it during the 2004 film festival. It didn't play at Cinefranco.

Just to make myself cry, I went to this website to see what films are playing in Paris, the cineaste's capital, just this week. Just a typical week of movie going in Paris. It makes your head swim. Goodbye Dragon Inn, In The Mood For Love, Blacula, the 1968 Planet of the Apes, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Cassavetes' Love Streams, Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, The Brown Bunny, The Saddest Music in the World, Bruce LaBruce's Hustler White, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Claire's Knee, Roman Holiday, Safety Last, Larry Clark's Wassup Rockers, Fellini's Casanova, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Zero De Conduite, Viva Zapata, and yes, Year of the Dragon, amongst over 200 others. Some of these films are playing on, like, a Wednesday at 10:30 in the morning. In fact, I'd wager there are more Canadian films playing on Paris screens this week than in Toronto.

That's it - I'm moving to France.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

No Way Out

"I want to know the truth...If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business...and if people have got solid information, please come forward with it. And that would be people inside the information who are the so-called anonymous sources, or people outside the information -- outside the administration. And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would." -- George W. Bush, Sept. 30, 2003.

Bush launches an investigation as to who leaked the name of a CIA operative, an investigation which he knows is going to eventually point to him. It's just like that Kevin Costner movie No Way Out! Except without the sex scene in the limo - now if only that had happened they might have grounds for impeachment.

I wonder what the twist ending for this one is going to be...I doubt Bush is going to turn out to be a Soviet double-agent (spoiler alert!).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

No Longer MIA: BVD on DVD

The drought is over, and it freaks me out!

At long last, one of the greatest, most deranged Hollywood films ever made makes its DVD debut: Fox has announced a special edition of Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls will hit the streets on June 13th. This was rumoured to be a Criterion release at some point, but the bells and whistles seem to be Criterionian enough; several featurettes and trailers, plus a long-awaited feature length audio commentary by the film's co-author, Roger Ebert. This is a no-brainer. Now all I need is the original cut of Blade Runner, the 1966 mindblower The Oscar and a box set of vintage clips from Sesame Street and then I can stop buying DVDs.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Medium is the Meth Age

I got weirded out a few days ago when I saw a segment on Nightline about the blunt ad campaign being waged in Montana to combat the methamphetamine abuse epidemic amongst the state's youth. These commercials (you can see them here - viewer discretion is advised) make Requiem for a Dream look like Up in Smoke.

The campaign was sponsored by a Montanian billionaire and is being pitched at saturation levels - print ads, radio, television and billboards all across the state. Young girls selling their souls, blood pooling in sinks and down shower drains, close-ups of absessed skin; the ads are designed to scare the shit out of anyone considering doing crystal meth, but these ads are so hellish they might talk a young person out of doing anything at all.

The ads are the equivalent of the pictures of cancerous sores that are displayed on cigarette packs, except those images are only posted on the actual pack of smokes you're about to buy, not beamed several times a day into your house or slapped up on billboards. Imagine being constantly talked out of doing crystal meth by being exposed to horrible consequential imagery everywhere you go. It makes for a twice-blighted landscape to have to navigate.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Garbage Day

(Damn, Brandonx0xOx...I'm speechless.)

Bush Didn't Start The Fire

The Right Brothers.

What else do I have to say?

(Thanks, Glen)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Caught Looking

Today marks the first full day of the new baseball season, as well as the start of a month-long retrospective at the MoMA on the game as seen through the lens of American Cinema, including everybody's favourites (Field of Dreams, The Natural, Bull Durham) and some less-heralded, rarely seen and worthy films about the game (Cobb with Tommy Lee Jones and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings with Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor). I guess they had to be choosy when making their picks for this retrospective, as they forgot a few:

Mr. Baseball (1992) - Tom Selleck plays an aging New York Yankee who is traded (along with his moustache) to the Japanese leagues. Lots of 'l' and 'r'-word jokes ensue as Selleck adds some American swagger to the Japanese style of play, as well as being a Rice King and getting involved with the manager's daughter.

The Fan (1996) - Wesley Snipes plays, basically, Barry Bonds, and Robert DeNiro a mentally-detached baseball fan (a knife salesman no less) who worships him. DeNiro tries to help Snipes out of his hitting slump by murdering the teammate who took his lucky uniform number and then, when that turns out to be unappreciated, by kidnapping his son. This was the first Tony Scott film that unleashed his current "Crystal Meth meets Avid" editing style.

The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (1978) - The third film in the popular series, where Little League manager Tony Curtis (what, William Devane wasn't available?) takes his rag-tag fleet of tomboys and brats off to Tokyo to play in the Little League World Series. Hilarity concerning 'r' and 'l' words and sumo wrestlers (the comedy accompanied by gong crashes) ensues.

Ed (1996) - This heartwarming* film features Matt LeBlanc and a chimpanzee. LeBlanc is a minor-league pitcher who develops stage fright on the mound; the chimp is the team mascot who winds up curing LeBlanc of his hangup as well as providing him with solid infield support (he turns out to be a crack third baseman). Perhaps the MoMA is saving this one for a future retrospective on films about animals playing sports (e.g. Air Bud or MVP: Most Valuable Primate).

And the MoMA missed out on a golden opportunity to host the world premiere of the latest entry to the baseball movie canon: The Benchwarmers.

* - 'heartwarming' should be pronounced heartworming - JH.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Klein Every Mountain

Ralph Klein is a man with a low boiling point - he is accustomed to getting 90% support at leadership reviews, but was apparently more inclined to obsess Nixon-style on the vipers in his bosom, the traitorous ten-percenters who dared to spoil his coronation. This is a man who was moved to prosecute the guy who hit him with a cream pie a couple of years ago on assault charges (though to be fair, he did hit him pretty hard with that pie).

So I wonder how he's taking it today after his most recent leadership review at Alberta's Conservative convention - 55% support? Now that's meringue in your eye.

How will he respond? Resignation? Seppuku? Martial law? A do-over of the vote? A do-over of his visit to a homeless shelter? He seemed eerily non-emotional in his very brief press conference on the subject, like he emptied a fistful of Thorazine into his "apple juice" before hitting the podium.

And now the possibility of Premier Preston Manning on the horizon?! That might be enough for Klein to just call 55% a mandate and dig his nails into the armrests of power until early 2008.