Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bergman and Antonioni

Ingmar Bergman is gone. One of the towering masters of modern cinema and easily one of my favorites, Bergman died on his secluded island retreat Monday at the age of 89.

Using the severe, claustrophobic gloom of his native Sweden’s unremitting winter nights as well as its soft summer evenings as a cinematic backdrop, Bergman confronted horrendous subjects such as marital disintegration, mortality, and the fear of nuclear holocaust through stories of plague and madness.

The auteur behind such films as Secrets of Women, Wild Strawberries, Winter Light, Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage , and Fannie and Alexander, he is perhaps best known for 1957’s The Seventh Seal with Max von Sydow, an allegorical tale of a medieval knight playing chess with the shrouded figure of Death.

Adjö och tack själv för alla bion...Farewell and thank you for all the movies

Then today, we learned that Michelangelo Antonioni has also died. He was 94.

The celebrated Italian director whose modernist style heavily influenced film aesthetics, was responsible for such classics as L'Avventura, in which Antonioni explored the emotional sterility of modern society, Blowup, in which a photographer inadvertently captures a murder on film (and captured "swinging 60s" London) and The Passenger with Jack Nicholson.

Antonioni was awarded a special Oscar in 1995 for his lifetime achievements. Though his films, known for their long, lingering shots, were not always crowd pleasers, he was something of a cult figure for filmmakers and moviegoers.

Bart's penis and other Simpson's minutia

"The Simpson's Movie" rocks. Hilarious stuff throughout. One of the questions parents have wanted to know is why the film gets a PG-13.

One is for a scene that riffs Austin Powers. Bart, after being dared to ride his skateboard naked to town, takes off, and his privates are constantly being covered by birds, bushes, etc.. until he rides by a hedge that covers everything BUT his privates.

Funny scene.

In another, Marge shouts an exclamation: throw the G-- D--- bomb.

That's pretty much it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Transformers- don't believe the critics!

I loved it! I think the critics, ours included (sorry, Brandon), missed it big time, and I think it relates to their expectations. The previews made it look like "War of the Worlds" so critics expected something in that vein. No. Think high-powered special-effects-extravaganza spin on the old Transformer cartoons. Sure it was silly, and that's what made it so fun. When the giant robots were in the backyard hiding from the kid's mom -- that was hilarious.

These critic types really need to loosen up.

By the way, I also saw "Once" at Kimball's. It's a smarter, indie version of "Music and Lyrics," and the music is terrific. But seeing such a small film after a Michael Bay spectacle was a big jarring. "Once" probably could have benefited from a few cars flying through the air.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We're having a cow, man!

Twentieth Century Fox is being awfully foxy about "The Simpsons Movie." Our critic Brandon can't get a screening in NY until Thursday night, much too late for our GO! deadlines.

Same with critics in Denver.

But, apparently, critics in LA will see it Tuesday night, still later than most screenings but not too late to print Friday.

What's the deal? Usually, studios hold late press screenings or no press screenings when they think the movie's a bomb. That's not the case here.

Fox execs told the LA Times they want to preserve the film's plot from Internet pirates and scoop-hungry movie bloggers.

"Anybody who's needed to see the film has already seen it," said the spokeswoman, who asked that her name not be used. "We're not concerned about audience response to the film. The audience response has been overwhelming."

Maybe we should blame the internet. Print critics always have always embargoed our reviews until opening day. But bloggers (now called "the pajamarati") will post plots and reviews the minute they get out of the theater.

Later screenings can help a studio control its online press.

As the GO! editor, it leaves me in a bit of a quandry. I was planning on making "The Simpson's" the cover next week. But if I do that, I'm gambling that I'll find a review on the wire on Wednesday that I can run on the centerspread.

If none of those LA critics come through for me, I'll be scrambling pretty late to find something else to fill.

By the way, I'm primarily a print guy and I'm not wearing pajamas right now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

All the Back-Shelf Picks

I'm sometimes asked for a complete list of recommended movies from my Back-Shelf Pick column. Here's all of the movies I've featured so far. (And check the comments for some great suggestions from readers!)

Sexy Beast
Polish Wedding
Heartbreak Kid (the original)
Gods and Monsters
Notes on a Scandal
Run, Lola, Run
Whale Rider
Music of the Heart
Dirty, Pretty Things
The Queen
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Shipping News
SLC Punk!
This Is My Father
Riding Giants
The Autumn Heart
Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
Sweet Lorraine
Lord of War
The Producers
Butcher Boy
Blood Simple
The Spanish Prisoner
The Good Girl
Attack of the Bat Monsters
Better Than Sex
Me Myself I
Okie Noodling
One Hour Photo
The Sweet Hereafter
Midnight Train
Everything Is Illuminated
Minus Man
American Movie
East Is East
The Aristocrats
The Year of Living Dangerously
The World's Fastest Indian
Bagdad Cafe
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Touching the Void
The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition
A Slipping Down Life
The Cooler
You Can Count on Me
The Straight Story
Requiem for a Dream
House of Sand and Fog
Calendar Girls
Kingdom of Heaven
Saint Ralph
Clay Pigeons
The Big Kahuna
House of Games
The Missing
Plots with a View
A Love Song for Bobby Long
Love and Sex
The Quiet American
The Deep End
Rabbit-Proof Fence
Howl's Moving Castle
I Capture the Castle
Eve's Bayou
The Professional
A Walk on the Moon
Cop Land
Billy Elliot
Two Family House
Searching for Bobby Fischer
In the Bedroom
The Ref
Hear My Song
Green Dragon
Garden State
21 Grams
28 Days Later
Personal Velicity
To End All Wars
Dear Frankie
Truly, Madly, Deeply
The Tao of Steve
Danny Deck Chair
In America
Scotland, P.A.
Into the West
The Woodsman
Happy Texas
The Safety of Objects
Happy Accidents
Smoke Signals
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

I hope you find some movies here you like. I've tried to pick under-watched movies with the most wide appeal. I have plenty of favorites that are Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese ... But I know that so many moviegoers won't bother with subtitles.

Love the movie displays!

I though the Silver Surfer -- larger than life in the lobby of the movie theaters was cool. But the Simpson's new plastic movie display is even cooler. You can sit on a bench beside Homer, Bart, Maggie, Marge and Lisa. So, next time you go to Tinseltown or Cinemark, bring your cameras.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Films about America


Last week a friend told me of a recent encounter in Europe with a gentleman who has based his perceptions about the United States entirely on the films he’s watched. When she asked him for examples, he listed off what she considered to be a horrifyingly distorted and misrepresentative sampling. When he asked her which movies he should be watching in order to get a more accurate feel for American sensibilities, she came to me for suggestions.

I’ve compiled a list below, in no particular order whatsoever, of what I think might be a good jumping off point. It is certainly not an exhaustive list and I know I’ve left off films for which I will blanch afterwards. I tried to pick films spanning well over half a century and avoided those that might be considered overly jingoistic or propagandistic — no point trying to give him a more truthful glimpse of our country by making it a falsely buoyant one. Still, I wanted the majority of these films to embody the best of our country, or at the very least, its best ambitions.

1. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
A poor Oklahoma family is forced off their land during the dustbowl and migrates with thousands of dispossessed farmers westward to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless during the Great Depression. Representing one of this nation’s most trying chapters, The Grapes of Wrath, based on the novel by John Steinbeck, is a poignant glimpse into the American class system and the everyman’s resolve to never buckle to external pressure.

2. All The President's Men (1976)
During the run-up to the 1972 presidential elections, a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters spirals into a Republican conspiracy at the highest levels, perhaps even the White House itself. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein struggle to uncover the truth in this magnificent film crystallizing the power and necessity of the press.

3. 12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men takes place almost entirely in a courthouse deliberation room as a jury mediates over the fate of a young Spanish-American accused of murdering his father. As the jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, and each other begin to surface, the open and shut case becomes anything but. The film is a luminous look into our criminal justice system and the maxim of presumed innocence.

4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg pays homage to The Greatest Generation in this stunning film focusing on an Army unit’s search for a single soldier after World War II’s horrific Normandy invasion. The soldiers are a patchwork who’s who of American youth, and their quest rife with the heroics and fears common to us all.

5. Do The Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s seminal film about a single scorching day in New York City and the tempers that summer day ignites is a profoundly difficult film to watch. It is also profoundly important. It is a reminder that no matter how far we have come — and we have come far — race relations in this country still have a long way yet to go.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
This adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved classic novel is awash in Americana without ever once stooping to cliché or cheep sentimentality. It is a gorgeous intersection of so many important facets of the American experience — life in the South, children growing up, fatherhood, the criminal justice system, and racism just to name a few. It also contains what just may be the most complete and perfect portrayal of manhood ever captured on celluloid.

7. In America (2002)
While the immigrant experience as seen through the eyes of those who passed through the doors of Ellis Island over a century ago is critical to understanding this county, we often forget that immigration is a constant and continues unabated today. When an aspiring Irish actor and his family illegally immigrate to the United States, they struggle with impoverished conditions and letting go of the ghosts of their past.

8. Glory (1989)
The Civil War quite literally tore this country in two. Glory is the story of the U.S.’s first all-black volunteer company, and their fight against the Confederates and the prejudices of their own Union army. One of the best war films ever made.

9. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
When a naive and idealistic young man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, his policies immediately collide with rampant political corruption. The film may be dated, but the themes sure aren’t. Frank Capra’s examination of the political machine and the shady deals that fuel it is as disturbing now as Jefferson Smith’s filibustering stand will forever be inspirational.

10. The Right Stuff (1983)
Tom Wolfe's book on the history of the U.S. space program is turned into a mesmerizing, hilarious, seat-of-your-pants thrill ride of a film. Covering everything from the breaking of the sound barrier to the Mercury space flights, The Right Stuff is a flat-out astonishing saga about America’s heroic race into space.

11. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
This film observes the social re-adjustment of three World War II servicemen, each from a different stratum of society. One returns to an influential banking position, but finds it difficult to reconcile his past loyalties with new commercial realities. An ordinary working man can’t seem to hold down a job or pick up where his marriage left off. Having lost both his hands in battle, a naval veteran is unsure if his fiancée's feelings are those of love or pity. Each veteran's crisis is a microcosm of the experiences America’s warriors have faced and continue to face when returning to an alien world once called home.

12. The Godfather I and II (1972, 1974)
From Ellis Island ports of entry to subterranean crime to souls desperate for legitimacy to the death of the Old World and the dawn of the new, no films better capture the duality of the American spirit clutching at both the future and the past than these. Don Vito’s gradual handover of his criminal empire to his reluctant son and what that son will do to keep his families (biological and criminal) together is constantly compelling, frequently tragic and disturbingly capable of eliciting our sympathies and best hopes.

13. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
George Bailey has spent his entire life living for the people of Bedford Falls at the expense of his own dreams. When a situation beyond his control drives him to contemplate suicide, his guardian angel shows George what the world would have looked like had he not been in it. The nightmare vision shows George just how many lives he’s touched and that his own life, despite its setbacks, has truly been a wonderful one. This Dickensonian tale is both a Christmas and an American classic.

14. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick didn’t think that an accidental thermonuclear attack that led to the total annihilation of the human race was a laughing matter — but his film is. When a demented Air Force general looses his B-52 bomber squadron on the Soviet Union, the President of the United States and his advisors must do everything in their power to prevent mutually assured destruction. Will they succeed in time? Even while staring down an apocalypse, Americans prove they have an unquenchable ability to laugh at themselves in this Cold War dark comedy.

15. The Searchers (1956)
The Wild Wild West is that most quintessential of American touchstones. When an ex-Confederate soldier comes home from the Indian Wars to find that his family has been massacred and his young niece captured by the Comanches, he vows to get her back and kill every last Indian in the process. He searches for years, only to discover that his niece has been fully assimilated. Will his hatred for the Indians win out? Will he rescue his niece or kill her?

16. Rudy (1993)
Rudy grew up in a deprived Pennsylvania steel mill town where his destiny was decided the moment he was born. But Rudy had dreams of playing football for Notre Dame — not an easy goal when you have bad grades, poor athletic skills, and are only half the size of the other players. But Rudy has something no one else has — the drive and spirit of ten men, plus two. The sports film is characteristically American, as is the grit and determination exemplified by the main character. Truly, it’s not about winning, it’s about how you played the game.

17. Manhattan (1979)
The plot of Woody Allen’s marvelous comedy about love, sex, adultery, homosexuality, divorce, career dissatisfaction, and statutory rape (!) is secondary to its primary triumph — being perhaps the most beautiful cinematic love letter to an American city and its vibrant pulse of life ever made. Gershwin has never sound better.

18. Fight Club (2004)
You're young and fit. You have an easy, lucrative job. You have a large condo, Swedish furniture, hip art, electronic gadgets galore and a fridge full of condiments. Why then do you feel nothing? Why then are you emotionally and spiritually bereft? Fight Club is about so much more than bloodied faces and last minute twists. It is a modern day morality play warning of societal and personal decay. It is a profound postmodern tirade against our American consumer culture and the anarchic angst it generates.

19. On the Waterfront (1954)
As the government prepares to hold public hearings on union crime and underworld infiltration, a working-class longshoreman with a crisis of conscience reassesses his past and begins to reassert responsibility for his actions by standing up to the criminal organizations in control of the docks. Class, crime, religion, romance, misplaced allegiances and the titanic demigod that is Barlon Brando collide in this masterpiece by Elia Kazan.

20. Good Night, and Good Luck (2006)
It is the early 1950s, and the threat of Communism has created paranoia in the United States. Exploiting those fears, Senator Joseph McCarthy goes on a witch hunt to root out supposed infiltrators within the government. However, CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow decides to take a stand, exposing McCarthy’s fear mongering for what it really is, at a great personal toll to himself. Good Night, and Good Luck is a powerful look at the need to speak truth to power, even at the highest levels of government.

21. American Beauty (1998)
On the outside, the perfect couple and the perfect daughter live in the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood. But festering beneath it all is boredom, discontentment, hopelessness, and depression. From crisis to overcompensation and then placid acceptance, the meaninglessness of contemporary life is examined, superimposed utop a stark suburban canvas.

22. Forrest Gump (1994)
Encompassing the sweep of latter 20th century history with a twinkling innocence, Forrest Gump is the story of a man who, while not intelligent, has accidentally found himself a participant in numerous historic moments, even while his most fundamental desires elude him. Forrest Gump is proof that determination, courage, and love are more important than ability or intellect.

23. Stand and Deliver (1988)
Education in America is examined through a struggling school in a Hispanic neighborhood. A mathematics teacher, convinced that his students have potential, adopts unconventional teaching methods in an attempt to turn gang-bangers and students everyone else has given up on into some of the country's top scholars.

24. Documentary Tie: The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Errol Morris' groundbreaking documentary dramatically re-enacts the crime and later investigation of a police officer's murder in Dallas, Texas. Part purveyor of the Roshoman effect, part circumstantial indictment, part condemnation of scapegoat economics, The Thin Blue Line was actually responsible for setting an innocent man free from prison. Bowling for Columbine (2002) With his signature sense of angry humor, activist filmmaker Michael Moore sets out to explore the roots of America’s astronomical number of firearm deaths. He determines that the easy availability of guns, our violent national history, our sadistic entertainment and even poverty inadequately explain the carnage. He confronts America's culture of fear, bigotry and aggression and holds partially responsible the powerful political and corporate interests fanning this culture for their own unscrupulous gain.

25. The Apostle (1997)
Actor/director Robert DuVall examines religion in America through the life of a southern Pentecostal preacher whose stable world crumbles when he discovers his wife is having an affair and nearly beats her lover to death. Fleeing the law, he starts to preach on the lam, and along the way this unlikable hypocrite finds redemption for his life and soul. It is a story of crime and punishment, action and consequence, sin and forgiveness — as it should be.

What do you think of the list? What films am I forgetting? What films don’t deserve to be included? I've already been pondering several "Honorable Mentions," among them the political films: The Candidate, Bullworth and Dave. Let me know what you think...