Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Thursday, Feb 8, 2007


Now that the NFL has finished having its way with the populace, paltry Pro Bowl the only thing left on the pigskin schedule before six months of football-free entertainment, it’s a good time to turn back to the premium pay movie channels. Indeed, this week, there’s a decent amount of cinematic goodness to spare. Between a powerful family drama, a glorious drive-in delight from one Tom Laughlin, and a sneak peek at Alfonso Cuarón’s early directorial genius, the main movies featured themselves will provide a tantalizing trio of palpable motion picture possibilities. Toss in a few of the additional choices, and the week beginning 10 February is looking mighty fine. Let’s begin with SE&L’s top selection:


Premiere Pick
The Squid and the Whale


In one of the more intriguing moves of 2006, Entertainment Weekly columnist Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King) picked this film to top his year end best-of list. But this is not some Kaiju inspired monster movie. Instead, writer/director Noah Baumbach drew on his own childhood and the divorce of his literary minded parents as the foundation for this deeply heartfelt film. With its perfect performances from Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels, and the unapologetic way it deals with familial strife and subtext, Baumbach has resurrected the kind of interdependent drama that hasn’t been relevant since Ordinary People took home the 1980 Best Picture Oscar. Baumbach even snatched his own nomination, proving that there was more to this movie than one man’s memories. (10 February, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Final Destination 3


The third time is definitely not the charm for this initially inventive horror franchise. While the bloodshed and body count is still very high, the series has definitely moved from suspenseful to schlock. After the opening rollercoaster gag, it’s more of the same old ‘cheating death’ dopiness that actually made the first two films feel fresh. (10 February, HBO, 8PM EST)

ATL


It’s urban crime and violence, Southern style. Shifting the typical hood histrionics to Atlanta, and hoping that the casting of Outkast’s Big Boi would spur some box office interest, this guns and gang gratuity never found an audience beyond its bullets and bodies demographic. Still, music video director Chris Robinson shows great poise behind the lens. (10 February, Cinemax, 10PM EST)


Saw II


For those wondering what happened to the original Saw‘s perfectly planned puzzle box conceits, the answer is director Darren Lynn Bousman. Arriving with his own designs, and a craving to concentrate on murderous machinery instead of intricate storylines, he almost destroyed a brilliant horror legacy. Thankfully, the original Saw guys were around to set the circumstances straight. (10 February, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Y Tu Mama Tambien


Those interested in experiencing more amazing cine-magic at the hands of Mexican moviemaker Alfonso “Children of Men” Cuarón need look no further than this 2001 masterwork. What sounds like an incredibly tawdry premise (two young men meet up with a promiscuous older woman for a sex-soaked road trip of self discovery) actually turns into an intelligent look at life, commitment and compassion. So overloaded with energy and vitality that the film practically glows with effervescent sensuality, Cuarón creates a beautiful comedy of character, avoiding the clichéd while tapping directly into the raging hormones of his unbridled machismo males. More importantly, he turns the coming of age catalyst Louisa into a full blown, three dimensional individual. It’s a move we don’t expect from such a storyline, and confirms the genius that would carry Cuarón to bigger and better things. (11 February, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Elephant


Gus Van Zant’s reflection on the massacre at Columbine takes its own sweet time building up to the deadly firefight, but during the long, languid tracking shots, we see how high school frustrations turn into slow burn homicidal rage. With his amateur cast and non-judgmental position, what could have been exploitative is merely masterful. (12 February, IFC, 9PM EST)

Open City


More or less the start of the Neo-realism movement in Italian cinema, Roberto Rossellini used his emerging cinema véité style to capture Rome under Nazi occupation. With its bleak black and white cinematography, ‘us vs. them’ storyline, and emphasis on life during wartime, Rossellini proved that fact supplemented by fiction could create a devastating cinematic statement. (13 February, Sundance, 7PM EST)

Wishing Stairs


The J-horror fad from a few years back brought much of Asia’s obsession with dark-haired ghosts and young girl innocence to the fore. In this Korean scarefest, the students at a private school learn that a set of haunted stairs can be the answer to your prayers – or the beginning of an unending nightmare. (12 February, Sundance, 12AM EST)

Outsider Option
Born Losers


Before Billy Jack, his Trial and his trip to Washington, filmmaker Tom Laughlin introduced the famous half-breed hero in this biker gang gone gonzo exploitation classic. Using the same revenge-oriented narrative he would employ throughout his turn as the titular character, Laughlin imbues his emotionally wounded Vietnam vet (this guy has a chip on his soldier the size of Montana) with enough martial arts moxie to overcome some of the story’s sloppier aspects. Thanks to a stellar supporting cast including Jeremy Slate as the head motorcycle maniac and a group of bad guys with names like Gangrene and Speechless, Laughlin shows his ease with this material. It’s gratuitous gold that would serve him well in the ‘70s, when his Mr. Jack became an enigmatic cultural icon. (15 February, Flix, 5PM EST)

Additional Choices
Cactus Flower


It’s incredibly dated, what with its forced free love mantra, and offers the unusual sight of Walter Matthau as a swinging, sex-obsessed dentist. But there is more to Gene Saks adaptation of the silly French farce than meets the idea. It won Laugh-In loon Goldie Hawn an Oscar, more or less legitimizing the creative value of the counterculture. (13 February, TCM, 8PM EST)

The Hand


Leave it to Oliver Stone to make the B-movie standard reanimated limb formula viable again. In this case, cartoonist Michael Caine looses his drawing hand, and his mind, after a particularly nasty car accident. Soon, his vivisected paw comes crawling back for revenge – though the purpose behind its murderous motives are never quite clear. (14 February, ThrilllerMax, 6PM EST)

Creepshow


In a flawless homage to the twist-ending eeriness of the old EC Comics, Stephen King and George Romero deliver one of their best collaborations. Spread out amongst the five excellent examples of storytelling and scares, look for early fright flick turns from Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook (14 February, ThrillerMax, 7:50PM EST)

 


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Wednesday, Feb 7, 2007


As part of a new feature here at SE&L, we will be looking at the classic exploitation films of the ‘40s - ‘70s. Many film fans don’t recognize the importance of the genre, and often miss the connection between the post-modern movements like French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism and the nudist/roughie/softcore efforts of the era. Without the work of directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman, along with producers such as David F. Friedman and Harry Novak, many of the subjects that set the benchmark for cinema’s startling transformation in the Me Decade would have been impossible to broach. Sure, there are a few dull, derivative drive-in labors to be waded through, movies that barely deserve to stand alongside the mangled masterworks by the format’s addled artists. But they too represent an important element in the overall development of the medium. So grab your trusty raincoat, pull up a chair, and discover what the grindhouse was really all about as we introduce The Beginner’s Guide to Exploitation.


This week: Producer Harry Novak moves flesh out of the nudist camp and into the realm of mainstream comedy.

Kiss Me Quick



During the late 50s and early 60s, nudity was forbidden on American movie screens. The Hays Code, an offshoot of the MPAA’s battle with trade unions over how best to manage Hollywood’s talent, had set up strict limitations on what could and could not be shown in the country’s theaters. Along with the typical strictures – hardcore sex, extreme violence, etc. – former Postmaster Will Hayes and his confab of censors took the notions of motion picture morality to ridiculous extremes. Couples could not be shown sleeping in the same bed. Illegal drug use of any type could not be shown. And most importantly, the exposing of the body – specifically, the FEMALE body – could not be featured. To challenge these or any other “indecency” determination was to run the risk of being blacklisted…or even worse.


Of course, there were those in the cinematic underground who made their living attacking these Puritanical pronouncements. The pornographers, the makers of stag and smoker reels who worked in shady back alleys far off the path of legitimacy, taunted the treatment of taboo material at the hand of Hays, though they never really considered themselves part of mainstream moviemaking. And since the MPAA more or less buttered their daily bread, the conventional artists of Hollywood gladly accepted the rules and went about their sexually illogical business. But those looking for a compromise between vice and va-va-va voom wanted a way to show the human body and not end up on a wrong side of the celluloid – or the law. For these pioneers, there had to be an answer to the perception of skin as indignity.


Said solution came in the package of the nudist camp film. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling which made it clear that nudity, by its very nature, was not inherently pornographic (especially when it was featured as part of a “medical or health” ideal), members of the exploitation racket hit upon a novel inspiration. Since nudist camps were considered private spas for wellbeing and fitness, abiding by principles proposed by their European medical counterparts, a nice fat fleshly loophole was discovered. Filmmakers flocked to the nation’s sun worshipper facilities, bringing with them willing models, mediocre storylines, and more than enough ‘exposable’ film. Before long, the circuit was overloaded with scantily clad volleyball players and shuffleboard sharks, each one sporting a carefully positioned towel or accessory (to blot out the still scandalous groin area).


It wasn’t long before the novelty of nudity set within an amiable, outdoorsy location – along with the obvious dichotomy between the professional models and the rather wrinkled, sometimes repugnant actual nudists – took a toll on the rapidly fading nudism fad. If the financial aspect of flesh was going to prosper, someone had to move it into a whole new realm. Luckily, producer Harry Novak knew just what to do. Recognizing that horror films held as much sway over the drive-in crowd as the suggestion of sin, he decided to combine the two. Even better, he would employ comedy as part of his ploy to avoid suspicion and keep his efforts from raising the reservations of the nation’s ethical watchdogs.


Thus the nudie was born, a combination of vaudeville level humor and burlesque oriented bodkin bearing. Though others had employed a similar stance within this new found gimmick guided gratuity – such surreal set-ups as magic cameras that saw its subject naked, special glasses that provided a similar scintillating view, etc. – Kiss Me Quick remains a milestone, since it pushed the limits of lewdness while simultaneously showing that there was nothing really ‘dirty’ about ladies bouncing around, bare-assed. Employing exploitation expert Bethel Buckalew (under his ‘Peter Perry’ nom de plume) and casting strippers from LA’s best nightclubs, the result was a sparkling slap in the face for those who felt nudity was naughty, or worst still, personally depraved.


The storyline was, by nature, desperately simple. In a lonely cardboard cutout of a castle, during a strobe light storm, Dr. Breedlove (actor Max Gardens in a bad fake nose, eyeliner pencil wrinkles, and hip John Lennon granny glasses) attempts to perfect his Sex Fizz, giving portions to his Sex Bombs in order to get them gyrating and undulating. Enter Sterilox (actor Frank A. Coe doing an impression of Stan Laurel on Quaaludes), an alien from the planet Droopeter in the Buttless Galaxy, who engages the doctor in a quest for the perfect female specimen. After giving the Sex Bombs (Boobra, Barebra, and Hotty Totty – otherwise known as Natasha, Bibi, and Claudia Banks) a sip of his Fizz, they begin a wigged out dance to some rather scathing proto-punk surf rock music.


Nonplused, Sterilox asks to see more women, and Dr. Breedlove cheerfully agrees by switching on his Closed Circuit Television Tom Peeper Device. We are then treated to 66 minutes of women undressing, undressed, and cavorting in exercise rooms and swimming pools, all the while making sure that their best features are front and center. Frankenstein, Dracula, and a strange Grand-Mummy kind of thing round out the cast in a nod to the time period (‘64 was a huge year for movie monsters in US popular culture). In between the men’s magazine style sequences, incredibly bad jokes are delivered by professional pratfallers who, in essence, should know better.


Devoid of anything remotely disgusting, and barely reaching the heavy breathing level of vulgarity, what we have here is an extended Burly-Q act made even more memorable by the outrageous acting and backdrop. Buckalew, who would go on to work with Novak on several sensational skin flicks including The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet and The Dirty Mind of Young Sally, does a brilliant job of staging the nakedness, using an unusual approach to his considered camerawork. During the Sex Bombs marvelous dance numbers, he simply sets up the lens and lets the ladies shimmy and shake. Occasionally, he will move in to get a close-up of a fawning face or wide-eyed gaze. But mostly, it’s point and shoot time.


Then there are moments where, in a more private setting, he will let the viewfinder slowly pan up and down a gyrating lass, developing a kind of carnal intimacy that XXX movies would learn to utilize – and abuse - a decade later. It’s fair to say that the level of wit, with its T&A tendency toward the tawdry and tasteless would make grade-schoolers wince in acknowledged juvenilia. In addition, if you’re interested in something beyond exposed breasts and retarded sexual references, Kiss Me Quick fails to deliver much of anything else. But as a monument to the moment when filmmakers found the chutzpah to challenge the wildly unconstitutional claims that kept movies in the decency Dark Ages for several decades, Harry Novak’s horror hijinx were instrumental in paving the way for greater cinematic openness. In essence, he moved nudity out of the camp and into the realm of ordinary comedy. As entertaining as Kiss Me Quick remains, its industry significance cannot be understated. Indeed, it was monsters that helped make nakedness a non-issue for the grindhouse gang. 


 


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Tuesday, Feb 6, 2007

Women hold a sacred place in Indian cinema. Pre-Christian rituals of worship are imbued on a screen projecting images of full-lipped goddesses. The inherent beauty of the female figure, the agility of the dancer, the playful sauciness, and above all, the promise of sex, is what endears these eight women to billions of moviegoers. Sex is less taboo and dirty in Indian cinema when rendered in a certain artistic, quasi-religious sort of way. Indeed, its procreative potential and its ability to excite the human consciousness grants it a divine status. Audiences don’t just drool and fantasize over these goddesses. Like their more cerebral Hollywood counterparts, Marlene Dietrich and Sharon Stone, they’re admired for their charisma, craft, elusiveness and unpredictability. As mutable as the Apsaras they recreate onscreen, these actresses grow more complex with each new film, tantalizing us with a spirited song sequence or surprising us with a new side of their acting, nuanced and original, that we didn’t expect to see.


Four of the eight actresses hail from South India, the heart of classical Indian dance. Dance is a vital aspect of worship in Hinduism. Shiva created the universe through dance, resolving and sustaining the cosmos via a sinuous ballet. A woman who is accomplished in the technique and discipline of classical dance is deeply respected for her beauty and her intelligence. South India’s starlets remind one of the primeval goddesses represented in cave sculptures: woman in its original, undiluted form.


One of the most popular stars of the 40s and 50s, Vyjayantimala, was the first big star from South India, no small feat in a North Indian-dominated film industry. With her astounding virtuosity at Bharatnatyam, her classical Earth Mother beauty, and her sensitive performances she paved the way for the other South Indian actresses. Hema Malini, the darling of the 70s, shared Vyjayantimala,’s talent for dance and arresting good looks, though she defined her persona as a wise-cracking, brassy skeptic along the lines of Jean Harlow. Sridevi, the reigning movie queen of the 80s (the most prolific of all eight, she sometimes had up to 10 movies out at the same time) upped the ante on slapstick and sex appeal—the Carole Lombard of Indian cinema. Rekha, the last of the South Indian beauties, a star of the 70s and 80s, seems to become more fascinating with age, starring in provocative roles that challenge the existing norms of India’s sometime hypocritical policies.


In the 70s, India like the rest of the world, was swept up in the tide of cultural revolution that came with political dissent.  As the Women’s Rights movement spread internationally, Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi embodied modernity. While the Indian heroines thus far wore tasteful, conservative saris and bindis, Aman and Babi were unashamed to show off their lovely figures in bikinis and mini-skirts. They were looked upon as “Western” heroines whose rejection of conventional attire and attitude (the subservient wife or fiancé) stunned and titillated audiences who were unaccustomed to seeing an Indian woman so unapologetically cosmopolitan.


By the time Madhuri Dixit entered the scene the ideal of the screen goddess began to unravel. Actresses struggled to be seen as artists and not merely as nubile, plastic dolls. The late 80s and 90s, when more Indians were working abroad and longed to return to India, tradition and ritual came back full-force in Indian cinema. Dixit was the phenomenon of those years. A spirited dancer and vivacious personality she possessed a homespun beauty of Miss Middle India, a glamorous homebody equally at ease in an evening gown or cooking at home. She enjoyed the popularity Rita Hayworth did in the 40s, her picture emblazoned on every man’s wall in all far corners of the world. But the overwhelming celebrity as an international sex symbol became too much for Dixit, who retired from movies seven years ago to marry an NRI doctor and live a quiet life as a soccer mom near Denver, Colorado.


Kareena Kapoor is the most of recent of the lot and the one who seems to have the most fun. A star of the new millennium, when Indian society enjoyed more progressive liberalism and more respect for an independent, sexier woman, Kapoor is less inhibited than her predecessors, and less pretentious She dances, not classically, with enthusiasm and abandon. Her love of the limelight is inherited; the granddaughter of Bollywood founding father, Raj Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor combines the Old World glamour with New World attitude.


All of these women realize that being a sex symbol in India, a country that reveres sex but is still reluctant to talk about openly, is a challenging mantle to assume. As the object who graces the dreams of the both rickshaw driver and the Sultan of Brunei, she bridges men together with collective longings. But eroticism aside, the Bollywood sex symbol’s true talent is cerebral; she tantalizes with what’s left unseen, with fantasies unanswered. It takes a clever woman to realize that her sex appeal is half of what she has and half of what everyone thinks she has.



Vyjantimala circa ‘50s

Hema Malini circa ‘70s

Rekha circa ‘70s


Sridevi circa ‘80s

Zeenat Aman circa ‘70s

Parveen Babi circa ‘70s

Madhuri Dixit circa early ‘90s

Kareena Kapoor circa ‘90s


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Monday, Feb 5, 2007


It’s a week of great ideas vs. divergent execution. Indeed, one of the defining skills for a filmmaker is the ability to translate what everyone agrees is a stellar premise into an equally intriguing movie. Sometimes, the combination creates a classic work of art. But in most cases, the lack of imagination destroys the fascinating narrative foundation, reducing the translation to something miserable and misguided. Luckily, most of the entries in this week’s inspiration against implementation contest came up winners. See for yourself as you peruse the titles for 6 February, including our main selection:


The Science of Sleep


When you consider its cinematic pedigree, and its remarkable visual invention, it’s unfathomable why more people didn’t respond to Michel Gondry’s fracture fable. Like an incomplete European version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (his collaboration with Charlie Kaufman) the fascinating French auteur explored the battle between fantasy and reality, and how it relates to love, in a way that was stunning in its message and meaning. Never closing off any avenue of emotion, and using his dualistic characters (named, ironically enough Stephane and Stephanie) to constantly challenge the standard conventions of onscreen romance, Gondry does something very daring with this otherwise whimsical workout. He never offers any closure, instead looking at relationships as they really are – complicated, dense and often open-ended.

Other Titles of Interest


Blume in Love


Using the unique construct of following a divorce lawyer as his own marriage breaks up, counterculture stalwart Paul Mazursky serves up one of his last iconoclastic efforts. George Segal expertly embodies a man incapable of understanding his own role in the dissolution of his relationship. This is the rare comedy that transcends its joke-oriented trappings to find the truth behind commitment and its collapse.

Crossing Delancey


Amy Irving is a good Jewish girl, content with her life. Her grandmother wants her to find a good Jewish man. But she balks when it’s suggested she see a yenta (a.k.a matchmaker) – that is, until she meets up with pickle maker Peter Riegert. While things are complicated at first, this romantic comedy overcomes its uniquely ethnic trappings to work as both laffer and love story.


Flag of Our Fathers


It’s a brilliant subject for a film – how the famed image of the flag rising over Iwo Jima came about. Oddly enough, Clint Eastwood opted for jingoism over explanation, focusing mostly on the men post-event, and how they were honored, and exploited, for appearing in the photo. Most believe that his companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima, is the much better WWII testament.

Hollywoodland


In one of the more tragic tales of typecasting ever, B-movie staple George Reeves could never live down his TV’s Superman persona. So the kept man finally killed himself – or did he? That’s the unusual premise for a detective story dissection of the actor’s supposed suicide. Thanks to an amazing turn by Ben Affleck, this occasionally convoluted story shines through.

A Summer Place


Pure processed American cinematic cheese, filtered through an angst-ridden soap style that’s awfully hard to resist. More obsessed with sex and hate than clique-ish middle schoolers, this puerile potboiler has the most hissable villain in the entire canon of melodramatic camp. Add in more mindless innuendo, a sulking Sandra Dee and total lack of subtlety and you’ve got a choice cheddar classic.


And Now for Something Completely Different


Mad Monkey Kung Fu


Okay, it’s true confession time. We here at SE&L have never even seen this infamous martial arts movie. We wouldn’t begin to know how inventive or thrilling it is. We’re not even sure if it has the kind of gravity defying fight scenes that make the genre so sublime. But what we do know is – you gotta love that title! Thanks to a bit of research, we have learned that “Mad Monkey” is a style of combat, and that the movie represents some of the best-choreographed illustrations of the format ever committed to film. While it probably was too much to hope for simian streetfighters kicking the crap out of each other, we’ll still line up for a copy of this long out of print chopshocky epic.

 


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Sunday, Feb 4, 2007


It used to be a yearly tradition. For fans of the NFL’s annual love fest, a glorious, bloated example of excess meshed with merchandising, the Super Bowl stood as a benchmark for the Spring/Summer movie line-up. With the Winter and all its awards season brouhaha finally winding down, and the game’s notoriety as a showcase for advertising excellence and experimentation, studios wishing to launch major movie buzz would always buy up large blocks of time to test out the latest trailers. In past years, blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man 2 and Fantastic Four used the massive viewing audience and instant exposure of the gridiron classic to begin the push for warm weather consideration. As with most of the game’s greatest ads, Hollywood usually leveraged its creative conceits to offer up something truly special.


Not this year, however. Granted, it was a bad year overall for Super Bowl commercials. When you consider that Bud Lite and its joke-based series was challenged for entertainment supremacy by the same old GoDaddy.com sexism, it really wasn’t a great year for pigskin-fueled purchasing propaganda. But the four tepid trailers served up by Tinsel Town, each one no more than 30 sloppy seconds and all offering little or nothing in the way of interest or intrigue, were a blight on the pinnacle of the new American pastime. Sadder still, almost all were previewed on the Internet before showing up during the Indianapolis Colts containment of the Chicago Bears. For anyone who sits through the game solely for the chance to see what show business has in store for their future leisure time, there were more compelling ads for CBS shows than viable cinematic substance.


The first movie trailer to appear during the actual Super Bowl broadcast itself (nothing prior to kickoff was considered as those offerings are not, traditionally, touted as part of the post-game Madison Avenue scorecard) was for the feel good sports movie Pride. It’s yet another in a long line of inspirational stories in which a decent and deserving coach – in this case, Hustle and Flow‘s breakout star Terrence Howard – meets up with a band of misfits and/or disenfranchised kids and leads them through life lessons based in teamwork and physical acumen. Howard’s Jim Ellis starts a swim team for underprivileged and troubled black teens at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation. Stinking of the whole “based on/inspired by a true story” stigma, and featuring a graying Bernie Mac as what appears to be the standard sober sage character, this ‘us against them’ workout has the added element of race to make it play more important than it probably is.


Not that the trailer tells us this. Loaded with labored jump cuts and more than a few shots of suspicious Caucasian kids looking at their urban competition with white flight disgust, the key components of the ad appear to be prejudice and prostylitizing. How Hollywood can keep churning out this overdone genre (didn’t we see the same story a few months back when it was starring The Rock and featured a bunch of juvenile delinquents suiting up to play football as part of some Gridiron Gang?) and still expect audiences to respond is a question only a Hum V driving show biz bean counter can answwer. Maybe Howard and his fifteen-years-in-the-making overnight success can sell some tickets. But with four names on the screenplay and untried director Sunu Gonera behind the lens, this looks like a loser, plain and simple.


So does Hannibal Rising, come to think of it. In the world of popular literature, no one has wasted as much salivating cinematic goodwill as Thomas Harris. Lucky to have Michael Mann bring his Red Dragon to life (forget the Brett Ratner remake – its good but not great) as Manhunter, he saw his Silence of the Lambs become a certified Oscar winner and bravura best seller. So what did this inventive author do? Why, he wrote Hannibal, a tome that more or less shit all over the legacy established in his first two Lecter novels. Indeed, the sense of outrage and repugnance was so great in the creative community that the project was stalled for several months, and Jodie Foster blatantly refused to reprise her Clarice Starling role. Since the one time FBI bright light was destined to become the cannibal doctor’s accomplice and lover, the reason for such a rejection seemed pretty clear.


Frankly, someone at MGM should have used the same power of de-persuasion on the morons behind this mockery of a movie. Looking like Little Hanny Goes Nutzoid in the Super Bowl preview (as well as the numerous online ads that have turned up over the last few weeks) French pretty boy Gaspard Ulliel gets the perplexing prequel duties. Forced to inhabit Harris’s new WWII-set storyline about Lecter, his sister, and some flesh feasting members of the Axis powers, this looks like Glamour Shots as grindhouse gratuity. Thanks to the training of some Japanese relative (a widow of an uncle) and something called “The Tale of Genji”, Lecter learns to channel his pain into repugnant, nauseating revenge. Like the recently released Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, which promised to show us how Leatherface became a Black and Decker desiring death dealer, Rising is reported to answer all the questions about the compelling character’s past, and people-eating proclivities.


The ad is certainly sketchy enough – several shots of snow-covered fields, frightened little faces, and an overly groomed adolescent grinning as blood spatters his Abercrombie and Fitch formed face. We see the flash of a blade, hear the sound of steel slicing the air, and then for some strange reason, an illustrated façade of Anthony Hopkins morphs into our youthful lead, iconic restraining mask squarely in place. For anyone who still feels a kinship with Harris’ Grand Guignol post Lambs horror hackwork, this looks like another wanton waste of time. The period piece setting doesn’t do a great deal for the already reaching storyline, and the whole Asian angle feels like a tacked on tip of the hat to the J-horror fad of a few years back. Genre fans will line up for almost anything, but it looks like only the most ardent devotees to dread will queue for this uninspired effort.


Speaking of underwhelming, Disney dished up another glimpse of its under the radar CGI spectacle Meet the Robinsons. So far, the trailers have all played like JOHNNY Neutron: Boy Genius, featuring a real lack of legitimate laughs (seriously – does ANYONE think the overly perky lady wearing dozens of caffeine patches is remotely funny? Or clever?). Even worse, these ads tell very little about the time traveling sci-fi storyline, leaving us to infer what the heck the deal is with the Snidely Whiplash wannabe featured throughout. Granted, the T-Rex’s response is kinda cute, but the latte swipe is just lame. Rumor has it that new Disney animation honcho John Lassiter has provided a little of his patented Pixar magic during post-production. Judging from this lackluster collection of clips, the size of the contribution better be massive. For all intents and purposes, this appears to be another in a long line of House of Mouse missteps, made worse by what is a purposefully vague promotional campaign.


All of which leads to the winner of the worst ad of the entire evening, a preview so painful that members of the Chicago Bears defense actually felt superior to the sizable Super Bowl egg this family friendly flop laid. Here’s hoping that Hairspray can save his hemorrhaging prestige, because John Travolta looks lost in the trailer for Wild Hogs. As a matter of fact, after his last few films, the one time superstar’s resurrected post-Pulp Fiction career seems MIA as well. In the loud, boorish PG-13 comedy (always a sign of generic ordinariness) the once and future Vincent Vega teams up with Tim Allen (ugh!), Martin Lawrence (oh no…) and William H. Macy (hmmm…) as four best friends who decide to micromanage their midlife crisis by taking a cross country trip – on motorcycles. Unfortunately, they run into a band of Hell’s Angels-esque bikers and all manner of stale hijinx ensue.


Representative of the sorry state of onscreen comedy, this creaky, imitative effort from Van Wilder ‘genius” Walt Becker just smacks of creative bankruptcy. The whole ‘born to be mild’ vibe given off by the trailer, a hyperactive ad with ADD that never once slows down to establish mood or character, reminds one of the high concept films of the early 80s. Those prefab farces delivered dumb ideas wrapped around an unlikely onscreen presence – in this case, Lawrence and Macy represent the strained stunt casting – hoping to generate a little off the cuff cleverness. Travolta and Allen appear to be taking turns as pre-adolescent party boys, giving a bad name to growing old gracefully while simultaneously subjecting us to erectile dysfunction jokes (or what appears to be the AARP equivalent of same). It’s a grating, groan-inducing mess, the kind of calculated crap that makes one wonder how it ever found its way inside the biggest sports showcase of the year.


The answer, oddly enough, is Variety. Reporting on the lack of prime Hollywood hoopla this time around, the industry publication discovered that studios would rather sponsor an entire pre-game show or segment (as Eddie Murphy’s Norbit and Sony’s Ghost Rider did) than throw their millions away on an ad with little to no box office impact. According to sources, post-game studies show that more people remember a rabid squirrel protecting its master’s Bud Lite than recall the selling points of some ersatz blockbuster. In fact, ever since Independence Day and it’s exploding White House became a water cooler moments for Tinsel Town trailers back in 1996, film companies have had a love/hate relationship with the big game’s advertising agenda. As prices continue to rise (over $2 million and counting this year) and audiences turn to alternate sources of filmic information, the need to blow a massive amount of the publicity budget on a Super Bowl ad seems silly.


Indeed, gone are the days when David Fincher and Ridley Scott could stop a nation cold with their particular brand of artistic advertising. We no longer live in an era of Super Bowl as super salesman. Unless it has something to do with cars, beer or CSI (in any of its many forms), 2007 will definitely be remembered as the year when Hollywood failed to bring it’s A-Game…not unlike the Monsters of the Midway. Call it contractual obligation, or chasing bad money after worse, but here’s betting that Pride, Wild Hogs, Hannibal Rising and Meet the Robinsons fail to get a single mention when Monday morning Madison Avenue quarterbacking begins. After sitting through the 210 minute marathon to experience them, these trailers tell a tale more troubling than tempting. Based on this lame representation, we could have a spectacularly substandard year at the cinema on our hands.


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