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Thursday, Aug 3, 2006

Ever since the mid-‘80s, pay movie channels like Home Box Office, Cinemax and Showtime have offered Saturday Night premieres of first run Hollywood films—or, at the very least, what THEY consider to be first run Hollywood films. Anyway, as part of the Short Ends and Leader Blog. PopMatters will look at these upcoming debuts, as well as point out other notes of cinematic interest available on the network schedule. For the week of 4 August, here is what’s arriving:



HBOMr. & Mrs. Smith

Okay, okay, everyone is just plain sick and tired of Angelina and Brad by now. They’re really hot. They’ve had a baby. Blah, blah, blah. While deciphering why the public is so fascinated by this couple, you can experience the film that started their fairy tale freefall into tabloid tenancy. Call it a hyperactive War of the Roses, or an overdone screwball comedy, but this he and she hitman saga is a less than perfect offering that still crackles with enough glittering superstar spark that it almost overcomes many of its missteps.  (Premieres Saturday 5 August, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters review: Click HERE


Cinemax The Island


Gee, another pair of famous faces, another high concept action movie that didn’t really live up to expectations. Godfather of the gauche epic, Michael Bay, may have thought he could fool film fans with his high tech retread of Parts: The Clonus Horror, but by casting the frequently flat Ewen McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, this sterile sci-fi film was guaranteed never to quite take off. Heck, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night than with a superficial serving of speculative silliness. Besides, no one knows action better than Bay. (Premieres Saturday 5 August, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters review: Click HERE


STARZThe Fog (2005)

Signaling the exact moment when the ‘70s/’80s horror remake revival hit the wall, this rotten retread of John Carpenter’s already nominal scary sea shanty offered proof positive that there is nothing frightening about a murky PG-13 macabre. Directorial lightweight Rupert Wainwright can’t match the level of dread contained in the original, and frequently substitutes shoddy CGI for anything remotely terrifying. Investigate this murky mess at your own risk. (Premieres Saturday 5 August, 9:00pm EST).


PopMatters review: Click HERE


Showtime TooCrash

Six months out and people are still clamoring over this surprise Oscar victor. Did it really deserve the Best Picture trophy? Was there something political (or anti-agenda based) in its victory over a certain cowboy drama? Who actually produced this thing, and will they ever see a residual check for the efforts? If you are unfamiliar with Paul Haggis’s interlocking take on racism in America and its seemingly universal effects, perhaps it’s time to pay it a visit and consider its value – not just as an award winner, but as an overall social statement as well. (Saturday 5 August, 7pm EST)


PopMatters review: Click HERE


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each day long promotion as an excuse to screen several offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 4 August to 11 August are:



5 August – Humphrey Bogart

One of the few true icons of the studio system silver screen, Bogie gets his well deserving due when TCM airs the following films (all times EST):
6:00am: The Racket Busters (1938)
7:15am: The Petrified Forest (1936)
8:45am: Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
10:30am: Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
12:45am: High Sierra (1941)
2:30pm: The Maltese Falcon (1941)
4:15pm: To Have and Have Not (1944)
6:00pm: The Big Sleep (1946)
8:00pm: Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
10:15pm: Across the Pacific (1942)
12:00am: Knock on Any Door (1949)
2:00am: They Drive By Night (1940)
4:00pm: All Through the Night (1942)


6 August– Robert Duvall

Moving up to the post-modern Method generation of actors, the quiet intensity of Duvall’s onscreen counterparts is on full display in this set of career-defining films (all times EST):
6:00am: Tomorrow (1972)
8:00am: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
10:15am:Captain Newman, .M.D. (1964)
12:30pm: Tender Mercies (1983)
2:15pm: Countdown (1968)
4:00pm: The Outfit (1973)
6:00pm: The Conversation (1974)
8:00pm: The Godfather (1972)
11:00pm: The Godfather Part II (1974)
2:30am: THX 1138 (1971)
4:15am: Lawman (1971)


11 August – Katherine Hepburn

Another one of those rare Hollywood symbols, this stubborn individualist left behind a oeuvre overflowing with amazing work, many of which TCM will air as a tribute to her talent, and tenacity (all times EST):
6:00am: Katherine Hepburn: All About Me (1993)
7:15am: Little Women (1933)
9:15am: Quality Street (1937)
10:45pm: Stage Door (1937)
12:30pm: Bringing Up Baby (1938)
2:15pm: The Philadelphia Story (1940)
4:15pm: Woman of the Year (1942)
6:15pm: Adam’s Rib (1949)
8:00pm: The African Queen (1951)
10:00pm: Rooster Cogburn (1975)
12:00am: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)
3:00am: Spitfire (1934)
4:30am: Christopher Strong (1933)


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Thursday, Aug 3, 2006


What makes Clerks II one of the best movies of the summer? Is it the focus on interspecies erotica? The discussions centering on body parts that aren’t necessarily supposed to be combined? Maybe it’s the mindless debate over which is better—Star Wars or Lord of the Rings—or the pop culture poetry of hearing the Go-Bots referred to as the “K-Mart of Transformers”. Whatever the rationale, writer/director Kevin Smith has done the impossible: he stayed true to his original black and white opus from 1991, while successfully arguing for the value of sequels. It turns what could have been bothersome into pure cinematic bliss.


You don’t have to be a member of the filmmaker’s fanboy View Askew universe to appreciate the many insular intricacies present. Smith has always been known for his clever, cutting scripts, but elements like emotion and context occasionally escape his grasp. With this return to Randall and Dante’s slacker domain, replete with familiar faces (Jay and Silent Bob) and wonderful new additions (Trevor Fehrman’s fantastic Elias, Rosario Dawson’s dynamic Becky) Smith discovers new layers to explore. He acknowledges the passing of time, allowing what seemed like a reasonable lifestyle choice a decade ago to now come across as lazy and aimless. By using throwback musical moments (the Jackson Five’s “ABC”, The Smashing Pumpkins “1979”) to underscore his viewpoint, he even manages to move us.


Some may say that every Kevin Smith movie is the same. Take a few dozen of his obsessions, mix them with a heaping helping of foul language, and stir in some scatological silliness just to spice things up, and there you have it. Unfortunately, such a simplistic description doesn’t even begin to address Clerks II’s many significant joys. Before it gets bumped out of theaters, treat yourself to one of the best collections of dirty diatribes you’ll even overhear. The art of conversation may indeed be dying, but with Kevin Smith around, there’s hope for the verbal life skill yet.


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Thursday, Aug 3, 2006


It’s official: on 31 July, Warner Brothers announced that Christopher Nolan would return to helm the sequel to his well received reimagining of the Batman saga. Entitled The Dark Knight, it also marks star Christian Bale’s return as the tortured superhero. However, the most surprising piece of information in the otherwise standard studio statement was the confirmation of one of the ‘Net’s worst kept secrets: Heath Ledger, star of last year’s Oscar hopeful Brokeback Mountain, and relative newcomer to the Hollywood A-list, would walk into the shoes formerly worn by Caesar Romero and Jack Nicholson. That’s right; Ledger has landed the plum role of supervillain The Joker, crazed comic counterpart to Bruce Wayne’s brooding crime fighter.


With production set to begin sometime in early 2007, there is still time, however, for Warners and Nolan to rethink this position. Sure, all the contracts have been signed and the PR machine is already gearing up, but one can still envision a quick casting change, especially when considering what the role would look like in the hands of a better suited star. In all honesty, Ledger may be terrific. His recent efforts in films like Lords of Dogtown and Casanova have won him an amazing amount of industry respect, and when you add the Best Actor nod for Mountain, his hiring seems wise from both a performance and fiscal standpoint.


But there are other actors who could equally fill this villain’s natty purple suit – and they wouldn’t have near the homophobic baggage that has already resulted in some horrendously tasteless messageboard joking. Here is a short list of possible substitutes should Ledger – or his employers – get a case of comic book geek cold feet.


Crispin Glover:
In a perfect world, this incredibly gifted – and granted, eccentric - actor would be turning down offers instead of plying his perverse persona in such off-radar Indie fare as Simon Sez and a Wizard of Gore (???) remake. He’s proven his mantle as both a straight (Back to the Future) and surreal (Wild at Heart) presence, and even showed his action movie mantle by twice wielding a sword at Charlie’s able Angels. While age may be a factor (Glover’s in his mid 40s vs. Ledger’s late 20s) his work in 2003’s Willard redux indicates that no one can do determined dementia like David Letterman’s favorite talk show guest.


Jude Law:
Though many in geekdom have already designated Law as the go to guy whenever the freshened franchise gets around to adding The Riddler to the mix. There’s a better argument to be made for this fine formal actor as the killer clown. Constantly shrouded in a good guy gloss, Law could stand getting his perfect cheekbones and supermodel looks messed up for a down and dirty stab at essaying Batman’s nemesis. Sure, it may be a stretch to think of Gigolo Joe, or the updated Alfie as the manic murderous harlequin, but acting is about challenge, and right about now, Law could use one.


Adrien Brody:
He’s got the range. He’s got the look. And he’s got the prestige of both an Oscar and a turn opposite the world’s largest simian spectacle on his side. All Brody needs is a chance to prove that he’s more than just a surprise beneficiary of the Academy’s desire to celebrate the wayward Roman Polanski and he could be giggling away in psychotic glee. Though his career path both pre and post The Pianist has seen more peaks and valleys that an expedition into the Himalayas, the opportunity to play the Dark Knight’s white faced archenemy could be the focus his fading star status desperately needs.


Ewan McGregor:
After three consecutive films playing the bland bright spot - Obi Wan Kenobi - in George Lucas’s career killers, McGregor could use a bit of a goodwill boost. Sure, he’s got more projects under his belt, and on the horizon, than anyone else on this list (he’s got seven films already in production or preparing to start) but unless he finds an antidote to the mind-numbing awfulness of the Star War’s prequels, McGregor may be looking at a lifetime signing autographs at sci-fi conventions. While taking on the Joker may seem like a step backward into the same old greenscreen routine, it’s actually a way of balancing out the groan-inducing good of a galaxy far, far away with some incredibly bad ass evildoing.


Michael Keaton:
Talk about taking the series full circle – why not give the original big screen Batman a chance to channel his own inner demons. Sure, Keaton’s in his mid-50s and is therefore probably too old to convincingly star alongside the toned and twee Bale, but there is something rather intriguing about seeing the man who many thought incapable of playing Bob Kane’s cracked champion take a turn at bringing the Bat’s best known antagonist to life. Let’s fact it - anyone who can stare down the deranged Method madness of Jack Nicholson, and come out the crazier, deserves a shot at embodying the Joker’s jolly jaundice.


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Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006


Before you ask, this is not the wishy-washy adaptation of the time-spanning novel Possession starring Gwyneth Paltrow. In fact, it is thankfully as far away from a Gwyneth Paltrow movie as possible.  But, if you are intent on seeing a romance, this version could work in a slightly perverted way. Of course, your idea of romance must include alien seduction, bouts of incomprehensible screaming and a lot of brutal killing.


Directed with a slimy mix of David Cronenberg’s gut-spilling style and Brian De Palma obsession, Andrzej Zulawski’s version of Possession piles on an atmosphere of anxiety and gruesome horror and adds a decidedly European sensibility to the mix. It is a film that highlights the tragic underpinnings of obsession, exposes sexual panic and stands by its characters, unafraid to show their flaws. The film is not easy to explain. The narrative can get very confusing and sometimes downright nonsensical. Yet is also remains compelling and intriguing. Beginning with what seems like a commonplace break-up of a marriage, the films sets out to answer a simple question: why has the woman left?


The film begins as a mystery of sorts, with the two leads acting out what seems to be a domestic drama. Isabelle Adjani plays Helen/Anna. Turns out, there are several good reasons for to leave her marriage to Sam Neill: first and foremost, she has a more commanding lover. One is the woman we meet at the beginning of the story, the other her son’s schoolteacher. Anna is a huge wreck. She’s spending time in a strange place with someone equally strange, but keeps re-appearing at home, usually to throw some sort of hysterical fits or to grind her own hamburger. What she is doing and why she is so messed up is one of the film’s most interesting premises: her secret is guarded wholly.


Then the story really gets twisty. Is Adjani a murderess? Is she a scientist? It’s all very unclear but incredibly fun to watch. The denouement involves, without totally spoiling any surprises, clones, a wormy alien-like being, the couple’s young son, explicit murder, the cops and the dark and shadowy corners of Berlin.  The rest of the film is part obsession thriller, part horror film. The lead performers manage to draw in the viewer, despite given quite little to work with, Neill, who I have never really gravitated towards as a performer, has never been better: he seems born to play the shadowy creep. Both he and Adjani keep the air of mystery and madness palpable and ground all of the sick little theatrics that abound. The creature effects were done by Carlo Rambaldi, who also did the first Alien and they are indeed horrific. There is a lot of blood in this movie!


Adjani must have been a physical wreck shooting this film as it requires her to maintain a highly strung, hysterical demeanor almost throughout the film’s entirety (For her work in Possession Adjani won a Caesar and also Best Actress honors at the Cannes Film Festival). She has a metaphysical scene of miscarriage/possession in a Berlin U-Bahn station that is stunning. It is one of the most physically challenging scenes I have seen an actor perform. It is so carefully choreographed and staged, it’s almost like she’s a puppet. It’s freaky and weird and upsetting. Adjani has an affinity for exposing the sexuality and carnality in all of her creations. She makes sex a big part of her character’s motivations. Danger and violence also seem to be something that infuses the actresses’ work as well: all of her characters seem to face complicated mental and physical challenges. Another thing that impressed me was how great she was while speaking English, which usually can be a downfall for a foreign-born actress. Adjani gives everything to the character and it’s just fascinating to watch, no matter how confusing the film may or may not be for you.


-Matt Mazur


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Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006

Indians come together over one thing: movies. It seems sensible that a country of over a billion people, divided by religion and language, can unify under the neutral banner of entertainment. If a communal riot breaks out over say, a pig let loose in a mosque or a statue of Shiva is desecrated, people who were living and working side by side for years as friends suddenly are pitted against one another and caught amidst the animosity. Riots are commonplace occurrences in Indis - a vicious reminder of colonial partitions. But the film industry is the only secular medium in India that brings people of warring factions together in a temporary lapse of peace. It does what politics is supposed to do.  It’s not unusual to find an Indian movie with a Muslim star playing the holiest of Hindi gods, Ram. Oddly enough, no one seems to mind. They’re just happy to escape the heat for a few hours in a dark cinema hall and to watch the hypnotic scenery and song sequences unfold onscreen.


The movies described in the User’s Guide are the hit list of Indian cinema. They’re not only the best films of all time, but they give you the best glimpse of what Indians enjoy, their sense of tragedy and comedy, their aspirations, their regrets. In short, it’s a visual chronicle of Indian society in the last fifty years. Enjoy.


Week 1: Shree 420 (“The Gentleman Cheat, Mr. 420”)
1955, B&W, Hindi.
Dir: Raj Kapoor


Director-star Raj Kapoor’s greatest work is the first modern movie of Indian commercial cinema. “Bollywood,” the transposition of successful Hollywood characters and plots onto Indian culture, as a concept and as a way of filmmaking, begins here.  Raj Kapoor, unarguably India’s most consummate star (writer, director, producer, matinee-idol), uses Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) as a springboard for his jaunty parable of urban corruption.  Kapoor casts himself as the rakish title character (“Shree” is the Hindu honorific prefix for “sir,” while 420 refers to the penal code for fraud, and is Hindi slang for “crook”), who blithely abandons the restrictive mores and traditions of the village for the glitter and promise of the big city of all cities, Bombay. Shree 420 epitomizes the optimism of Industrial, post-Independence India, poised for international trade and profit—the catchiest song in the film, “Mera joota hai japani…mera dil hai hindustani (My shoes are Japanese…but my heart is Indian)” is played so often that it has become India’s answer to “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Part Sullivan’s Travels, part Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Shree 420 is both a glorious paean and a scathing indictment of Bombay, its skyscrapers smacked alongside its slums, its modernity, its backwardness, its wealth, and its sleaze.



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