In writer/star Jason Segel's FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, super-producer Judd Apatow's clan finally comes completely into their own. Not that Seth Rogen's SUPERBAD wasn't great, or that his upcoming PINEAPPLE EXPRESS doesn't look like a hell of a good time, but Segel's little wonder of a movie ventures outside the usual tropes of his mentor and settles firmly into its own take on the Apatow brand. But fret not, there's still plenty of raunch, bit parts by all the regulars, and also some gratuitous male nudity; humiliating, emasculating, and really funny male nudity.

The film concerns Peter Bretter (Segel), composer for the CSI-like show on which his girlfriend, the titular Sarah (Kristen Bell), works. The first scene is a breakup, with Peter in the buff, while he is dumped, underscoring painfully the helpless feeling one gets from being told by the person they love that they no longer want to be with them. Also, it's a really good laugh. In any case, Peter goes through a pretty deep depression, and with guidance from his step-brother, decides to go off on a trip to Hawaii to get a fresh perspective. Needless to say, he arrives only to find that Sarah and her new squeeze, British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), are also at the resort. He decides to stay, and that's when the story really picks up and transforms into the story of Peter meeting Rachel (Mila Kunis), the hotel concierge who hooks him up with a room he could never afford, and begins to take a liking to him.

Though the story has been told at least a million times in movies, I felt like this take was almost completely fresh. Of course, the biggest asset to Apatow's movies, either as producer or as the sole creating partner is that he is able to take material that is in no way new or innovative, and inject it with so much believability, wit, raunch, and heart that it is entirely infectious. I know the man has his detractors, but I'm so not one of them. And when a movie about really obscenely rich people taking holidays in Hawaii makes me care about the characters in any way, and doesn't make them all seem like vapid assholes, I know it's something special.

I like the style of Segel's humor on display in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. It doesn't rely solely on any one thing, and shows a rather broad range, from shocking and rude, to sweet and subtle: a smirk here, a penis there. There's something for everyone here. And don't even get me started on the prominence of puppets. When you see the movie, it should come as no surprise that Segel has pitched a new Muppet movie to Disney and is toiling away on the screenplay as we speak. "Snuffleupagus fucks my shit up" may be the funniest thing I hear a side character say all year. The cast is perfect as well, with just enough of the Apatow troupe to keep things funny without getting tiresome. Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Da'Vone McDonald and 30 ROCK's Jack McBrayer all turn in some memorable work and all have their moments to shine.

Segel, Kunis and Bell are wonderful, and each has a very clear talent with comic timing (as anyone who has ever seen their television work well knows) and a certain level of believability in their characters. The standout performance, though, is definitely Russel Brand, a British TV comedian virtually unknown here in the United States, who should hit it big after audiences get a whiff of him in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, especially if his role in Danny McBride's upcoming THE FOOT FIST WAY is as fully realized and hilarious. His Aldous Snow is delightfully, cringe-inducingly honest and simple in his worldview, and completely spot-on.

For fans of Apatow's comedies, this is another hit. I feel a bit bad that the directors of the side cannon, as I think it's appropriate to label Apatow's producer work, are largely unnoticeable. Really, the style they have is completely that of their producer, and wholly influenced by the directorial style employed in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP. Nick Stoller takes a few chances with SARAH MARSHALL, but nothing that really stands out. Maybe the director is inconsequential, especially since it's obvious everyone is playing off of everyone else anyway, from scripting duties to casting to comedic style. Segel's script takes some chances, and most of them pay off. I doubt very seriously, for instance that we'd ever see such a prominent display of Muppet-love in one of Apatow's efforts as a director.



Federico Fellini's masterpiece is often cited to be LA STRADA, and it very well may be, but my favorite film by the Maestro is his companion film to LA STRADA, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. Reprising the same character in a different situation (not entirely unlike Chaplin's Tramp), Giulietta Masina turns in a brilliant serio-comic performance as a prostitute who embarks on adventures with people looking to use her in the hopes of making something of herself. Along the way, she becomes entangled in a plot by a man who systematically marries and murders women for their money. The comparison to Chaplin not only echoes through Masina's performance as Cabiria, but also in the film itself, which contains just as much heartbreak and outright hilarity as the Tramp's classic, CITY LIGHTS.

The first time I saw NIGHTS OF CABIRIA was a little over three years ago, and immediately I fell in love with Giulietta Masina's character. She's so endearing and charming, it's almost impossibly not become infected with love for her. Fellini's set-up is simple and affecting: a young prostitute looking for love in all the wrong places. The action takes place over three separate nights, with three different suitors. Each piece has moments of pathos and whimsy, and I think is most typical of Fellini's style. The final piece of this film is heartbreaking and miraculous all at once, as the third man, whom Cabiria had sought to marry, almost kills her, steals her purse and leaves her destitute - having brought all her savings to run off with him - only to return to the small village she came from.

The film is a companion piece to LA STRADA in that it invokes the same themes of hope and loss with a similar protagonist (Masina's character is basically the same in both films), and employs the magical-realism often associated with LA STRADA and much of Fellini's filmography. Furthermore, both LA STRADA and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA are films about love, and the ways in which the world can crush even the most adamant optimist and believer. Ultimately, though, you just have to get up and carry on; get over the problems life sets in your way.

Masina is amazing in such a part, and that's part of the reason the films are believable and touching. Like very few others, Masina can channel so many emotions at once it's incredible. From the simple joy of dancing in a nightclub (one of the funniest scenes in the film), to the horrific realization that your entire life has been ripped from right under you, she is a genius, and I can't get enough of her. Of course, neither could Fellini, which is probably why he married her.

For anyone who has never seen this, it's hard to describe the magic it works on you as a viewer. It entrances, overwhelms and ultimately enraptures you completely. You fall in love with this little prostitute with a heart of gold, and you simply cannot get enough. Cabiria is one of the greatest comedic performances ever committed to celluloid (it's up there with Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS and Michel Simon in BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING), and it should not be missed by anyone.


"I've got two words to say to that: Bull SHIT!"

I was watching producer Roger Corman's brilliant B-classic, DEATH RACE 2000 the other night, and while I was watching it, I was constantly thinking about the sure-to-be-horrible remake coming up toward the end of the summer. How in the world does anyone think this movie can 1) be viably remade for today's market while keeping its subversive nature intact, and 2) needs to be remade at all? The idea of a remake is not a new one, nor will I argue an invalid one. Some of the best motion pictures of all time have been remakes, including THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (remake of THE SEVEN SAMURAI), SORCERER (remake of WAGES OF FEAR), and JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING. So I'm not going to sit here and argue that remakes are evil and unnecessary.

I will, however, bring up that Hollywood in particular tends to remake far more films than need be, and usually in a far more inept way than the original, supposedly "inferior" films were. Setting aside the rash of PG-13 JHorror remakes aimed at teens, I instead want to focus on remakes that are a bit more puzzling, including the relatively recent releases HALLOWEEN, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and DEATH SENTENCE, as well as discussing upcoming remakes/reboots (the Hollywood Executives' phrase- a'la mode.)

The DEATH RACE remake seems to me an unnecessary one simply because the original epitomizes everything one would ever hope to achieve in a movie called DEATH RACE 2000. There's nudity, gore, outrageous dialogue, a seriously black streak of comedy/commentary, and of course, the cars themselves, designed in low-budget futuristic glory by James Powers. Unless the screenplay for the remake culls everything exactly from the story on which the Corman film was loosely based, I just can't see the point of putting the exact same characters through the exact same motions other than upping the production values. That in and of itself is something that is almost laughable, with even the most bloated of budgets spent on CGI offering up a lot of crap (see the horrible effects work on display in I AM LEGEND, for intance), and that's really the only difference between a lot of the films made in the 1970s and today. CG is king, and that's why I think last year's brilliant DEATH PROOF, for example, is a hundred times more thrilling than stupid, stupid green screen and wire work that passes for "stunts" in today's films, and it's why the original DEATH RACE film will be more memorable than whatever gets churned out by the Hollywood remake factory.

Setting aside DEATH RACE for a moment, take a look at a couple of remakes that are as good as, or better than, or so different from their original source material that they validate their own existence. THE HILLS HAVE EYES, remade by Alexandre Aja into an ultraviolent retro-kitsch exploitation film, is better than the Wes Craven original only by a narrow margin, simply because it goes for the throat in every imaginable way, including creating characters that are fleshed out enough to care about, as well as monsters that are truly horrifying. The major differences between this and the original are negligible, but the style and subtext have been beefed up quite a bit, and the film becomes something all its own. HALLOWEEN, remade by Rob Zombie, is a film that differs substantially from the John Carpenter film, though in mostly good ways. While I won't say that Zombie's film is better (I don't think it is), I will say that it's much more interested in the monster than Carpenter's original, and therefore works by its own set of rules, creating a sort of hybrid/genre remix horror/domestic drama - a form that he began devoloping with THE DEVIL'S REJECTS in 2005. Both Aja and Zombie create films from the source that update the anxieties facing the modern viewers, and up the ante as far as the implications of their movies. The horror genre has always been a gauge of social anxiety, and Zombie and Aja prove that their updates of seminal films from the 1970s, arguably the last great decade for American horror, are valid extensions of the original films that incorporate just enough of today's world to terrify us all over again.

Last year's DEATH WISH remake, DEATH SENTENCE, starring Kevin Bacon, is a step in the opposite direction from the HALLOWEEN and THE HILLS HAVE EYES remakes. The first misstep is that the film's violence is meant to be "cool", something that, while present in the original film, is not the message, even though in later sequels it was the only thing holding proceedings together. The Charles Bronson classic is a film that stays with audiences because it doesn't feel ham-fisted. Bronson looks like the everyman, and the film's story never feels completely contrived. The one-man vigilante justice theme is a bit far-fetched, but only in that he continues to get away with it, not that he goes out and does it. In the remake, not only is the audience expected to buy that Kevin Bacon's character gets away with it, but that in no time flat he turns into a badass able to take on an entire gang in a very bloody shootout all by himself. It's just not good enough to warrant the effort. To add insult to injury, DEATH WISH is in the works to be remade yet again, this time by the original studio, MGM, and is to be written, directed by, and starring Sylvester Stallone. Sheesh already.

And that brings me back to DEATH RACE 2000, a film that Stallone got one of his first leading roles in as "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo. A remake seems unneccesary only insofar as I can see nothing new being added to it. But, maybe like THE HILLS HAVE EYES and HALLOWEEN, there will be some validity to it after all. Still, leaving remakes in the hands of less-than-capable directors (DEATH RACE is being made by Paul WS Anderson, who has only made one film of note in EVENT HORIZON) reeks of simple greed and the desire to cash in on name recognition with a popular audience that increasingly has no respect for film history or classic cinema. Frankly, the studios would probably make more money simply re-releasing these classics into theaters rather than spend the millions and millions to remake them outright, but then, who would come to see them? I, for one, would. And I bet a whole lot more people than even I give credit to would as well. As for remaking things nonstop (look at Hollywood's release schedule: well over half of 2008's scheduled releases are remakes/reboots/or sequels), I would just like to plead that the studios at least embark on these projects as something more than the supposed cash cows they see them as.


Found Footage For Real

The horror genre of late has been rife with found-footage films, with stories told in the first-person in which the main character is the party filming the action around them, often for no other reason than they wish to "record" what's happening for posterity's sake. DIARY OF THE DEAD, CLOVERFIELD and the upcoming Spanish film [REC] (which I haven't seen as it's apparantly being remade in the US and they won't release the original until the remake is coming out...damned distributors...), as well as non-horror attempts like Brian DePalma's REDACTED all send up flares warning about the dangers of production and consumption of media.

Browsing around a couple of weeks ago online, I found the following article posted on CNN.com and thought it pertinent to share in light of my review of DIARY OF THE DEAD. Anyone who thinks these films are too far-fetched because anyone in their right mind would stop filming and attempt to help needs to read this: Indian 'Witch' Tied to Tree, Beaten by Mob

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- An Indian woman accused of being a witch was tied to a tree and beaten by a mob, with television footage of the incident aired in India on Friday...
...Tiwari said he was disturbed by the fact that a journalist filmed the incident before contacting authorities.

"The media filmed the incident, then called the police -- instead of the police first," Tiwari said.

Personally, I knew of this phenomenon far before now, as I witness it all the time when there's any incident at all - people have their cell phones out recording it for easy upload on YouTube, etc. This sickens me more than a bit. At least I know the horror genre is still completely right-on about current culture and expressing anxieties and fears about it, despite the common person's seeming inability to get past the "corny-ness" of the first-person trope and see themselves as the producer who is being lambasted by the very film they're watching...


Summertime is fast approaching, and with it the onslaught of new blockbusters. Usually the summer months are filled with mindless entertainment, with several extremely guilty pleasures sneaking there way into my life (last year's TRANSFORMERS comes to mind.) This year, though, it seems like it could be completely different, with the blockbusters offering a respite from the purely idiotic fare the season has become known for in multiplexes. Here's a glimpse at a few of my most-anticipated titles for the summer.

This film just received its official title yesterday, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. But I do know that I'm head-over-heels in love with the fact that on July 25th, I'll be watching a brand-spankin' new X-FILES film in theaters, and that's enough for me. Still no word on the plot, as Chris Carter is keeping the lid on even tighter than Spielberg is for Indy's new adventures (see below), though he has acknowledged that it will be a stand-alone story harkening back to the less mythology-heavy early seasons of the show. But everyone wants to know what the monster is, if the show's ending will be addressed at all in the film (the coming colonization/invasion in 2012), and if Mulder and Scully finally take their relationship to the next level (this may not matter to non-die-hards, but it's important, trust me.) I literally cannot wait to find out the answers. If this movie came out tomorrow, I'd call in sick to work and be there first thing.

This is the best I could find as the official trailer is not yet released.

After almost twenty years, I think it's a miracle this is even happening. But Harrison Ford still looks good in the costume, and I generally trust Spielberg, even with George Lucas involved very heavily. Aside from the basics (in-continuity with the other films, takes place in the 1950s and a very big Cold War vibe), not much is known about the plot, although general speculation that it takes on some sci-fi elements seems to be a good bet. If previous screenplay drafts with titles like Indiana Jones and the Saucermen from Mars aren't enough to convince you, then maybe the mere fact that, even in the trailer, it's acknowledged that Indy makes his way to Roswell will do the trick. That would also make sense given Lucas and Spielberg's intentions to make the series an homage to the major serials produced in the era the films take place in (in the 30's, it was adventure, in the 50's, science fiction.) We'll see. Also, I really hope they put out a full trailer soon. We're not that far off, guys...

I really, really hope this turns out well.

Aside from the amazing fact that they're releasing a Batman film in theaters without the word Batman in the title (egads!!!), this should shape up to be completely stunning work from everyone involved. I'm a huge, huge, huge Batman fan, and I love BATMAN BEGINS, so you can only imagine the anticipation I have for this film. The Joker, the story (pulled heavily from the comics' "The Long Halloween"), and everything else I've seen look and sound fantastic. The mother of all superhero movies? Quite possibly. And I wouldn't be surprised to see awards mentioned for this flick either, considering its highly respectable pedigree. Who in the hell isn't waiting to see THE DARK KNIGHT?

Even though everyone has seen it, here's the trailer anyway...but in LEGO-mation!


Underrated: Ang Lee's HULK

Back in 2003, Ang Lee unleashed his film HULK on unsuspecting comic book lovers everywhere. While the film is a successful and highly personal and intimate drama about childhood trauma and its manifestation during adulthood, fans of the comic book, The Incredible Hulk, cried foul, and dissed the film almost unanimously, and continue to do so to this day. The film was too "boring" and didn't feature enough of the trademark "Hulk SMAAAASSSSH!!!" that fans were expecting. To be fair to the fans, it certainly was not an action-packed extravaganza, though this gripe is somewhat missing the point. By making a melodrama centered around comic book characters, rather than a comic book movie with hints of melodrama, Lee successfully transformed the "comic book movie" into a full-fledged movie, something that didn't need to be preceded by the term "comic book."

The importance of the story's drama to the film should come as no surprise to anyone the least bit familiar with Ang Lee's work, namely SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and THE ICE STORM, which are arguably his two best films. The traumatic events that Bruce Banner faced as a child that feed into his rage once exposed to nano-radiation make much more sense when one considers the source of the film (Ang Lee) and his previous emphasis on family dramas, even when dealing with large-scale conflicts like the American Civil War in RIDE WITH THE DEVIL or ancient Chinese mythology in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. What is surprising is the extent to which Banner's background is explicitly played out in the film. Lee almost spells out the entire reasoning for his manifestation as the Hulk, and it leaves little up in the air, which admittedly is a major draw in the comic book form. And that maybe marks the major departure for Lee from the comic - and thus hints at the disconnect the film really seems to have with fans.

The Incredible Hulk, at least early on, was a Jekyll and Hyde story, with Bruce Banner not knowing he was changing, and not being able to remember the things he did when he was Hulk. This all changed fairly quickly, and Hulk eventually became intelligent during the Peter David years. To my knowledge, the personal history of Bruce Banner never played much into the story outside of those events that were already present when he first transformed: his relationship with Betty Ross, his reputation as a scientist, etc. What Lee does with HULK, though, is move as much of this mythology into his own private universe he has created as a filmmaker, transforming the "Hulk Smash" mythos into a fairly adult take on reconciling differences between desires and commitments.

Betty Ross is the emotional center for Bruce, and her father, General "Thunderbolt" Ross, provides the biggest obstacle for Bruce both as her father who disapproves of him, and as the military commander who is most interested in bringing the Hulk down. Bruce's attempts to stay with Betty form the majority of the plot, and his presence as the Hulk take place mostly while trying to defend her or make sure she is not harmed. Despite this, he is an enemy of her father, and in the film's final confrontation must be removed from her life, either voluntarily or against his will. The result is devastating as a character film, and ranks with Lee's other films quite easily.

Hulk's emotional core is constantly on display. His rage is obviously affected by Betty's presence.

On top of this, Lee brought some amazing innovations to the screen, not the least of which were the special effects used to create the Hulk courtesy of ILM. A lot of criticism leveled at HULK was the cartoonish look of its effects. This is ludicrous to me. Just look at any screenshot and you can see the level of detail that went into producing the Hulk onscreen. The range of emotion his face shows, the sweat and dirt that cling to his body, even the transformations look amazing, and of course they're not completely realistic, but it shouldn't be. We're talking about an average guy who turns green and grows to 9 ft. tall, and then gets bigger as his rage builds. There's absolutely nothing realistic about it. Perhaps one of the most impressive scenes is when the Hulk is in San Francisco, just having run from the desert in Nevada to reunite with/rescue Betty, he is standing alone, surrounded by helicopters and army vehicles, and sees his love for the first time. Anyone who says this isn't impressive effects work is out of their minds.

For once, the CGI in a movie looks like it actually belongs in the environment it's supposed to be in. If that's cartoonish, I don't know what could possibly be expected as realism. Lee's film used effects to create a character - fully fleshed out and living - instead of a caricature, and it's been the subject of debate ever since. I just don't get it. Just look at the sub-par CG work on films like SPIDER-MAN and SPIDER-MAN 2, and you'll see what I'm getting at.

The hatred for Lee's movie ran so deep that fans out and out demanded that another film be made, focusing on action and smashing than on characters and story. As of this year, they have their wish, as THE INCREDIBLE HULK, starring Edward Norton and directed by Louis Leterier, a veteran action director of THE TRANSPORTER series and UNLEASHED, comes out this summer. The trailer is lackluster, and the story looks to be almost nonexistent. Even the Hulk himself pales in comparison to what was achieved by ILM for HULK way back in 2003. The new animation is too shiny, is disproportionate, and under-developed. Give me Ang Lee's film any day. It may be the most mature comic book movie ever made.

A side-by-side comparison of the new and old renderings.
Personally, I feel Lee's is much more representative of a character.



In 1998, we were blessed with A SIMPLE PLAN, a gripping story of greed and its natural ability to destroy anything and everyone, adapted for the screen from his own novel by Scott B. Smith. In 2008, we have another such case of self-adaptation in THE RUINS, a movie that, though taut and horrifying at several points, carries almost no emotional weight, and even less insight. Now this isn't an entirely bad thing, as THE RUINS sets out mostly to terrify its audience, which it certainly accomplishes. My problems is with the characters, only one of which I found genuine.

The movie opens, like most others of this sort, with some teenagers on vacation in an exotic location - Mexico - and quickly begins picking them off one by one. Oddly enough, the one character I found myself liking and even rooting for was the obligatory "hot blonde," Stacy, mainly because she doesn't turn out to be quite so dumb as the others, and because she is the most believable in her actions as the story progresses. Played by Laura Ramsey, who I've only vaguely known of from other films like VENOM and THE CONVENENT, Stacy is a realist, understanding the harrowing events going on moreso than any of the others. She knows early on they're probably going to die, and it's probably not going to be pretty.

Sadly, the other characters suffer from being totally unlikeable and completely dense. Not that they aren't presented realistically - they are, and they behave in perfect logic with how they are written as personality types, part of what I liked about the film - but they are simply types of people I tend to ignore and not care for.

The plot concerns these teens finding their way to an archaeological dig for some Mayan ruins that aren't on any maps. Once there, they are chased to the top and not allowed to leave by some villagers - none of whom speak Spanish. Soon, they find that the ruins are home to an ancient evil, a predatory vine that works its way into people, mentally and physically, until it can claim them for itself.

I know this sounds more than a bit hokey, and it is very sci-fi oriented, but this premise is nonetheless employed to very horrifying ends. The scene when the two girls are in the temple searching for a cell phone they hear ringing in its depths is among the best constructed scenes in any horror film, and like the rest of the movie, plays out logically and realistically - the movie's strongest point by far.

Despite my personal disliking of some of the characters, they do behave like a person of their ilk would be expected in such a situation. And as far as the killer plant goes, even the most outrageous things are grounded - albeit far removed - in actual botany. When things play out to their foregone conclusion (gory deaths, a "final girl") it doesn't ever feel unsatisfying as in so many other recent horror films. That in and of itself is a small achievement.

All in all, I liked THE RUINS far more than I disliked it. But really, who doesn't like a gory killer plant movie? And one that doesn't completely suck, to boot...


"This looks like a job for Superman."

Just following up on my SUPERMAN post last week, I tracked down a couple of my favorite episodes on YouTube and am just posting them for your enjoyment. Included are "Electric Earthquakes" and "The Arctic Giant." After the first two is the intro to the much, much newer SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES just for the joy of comparing the two. Remember - the newer one is informed also by over 60 years of comics since the Fleischer cartoons.

"Electric Earthquakes"

"The Arctic Giant"



Old Gods Not Yet Dead: Scorsese and the Stones SHINE A LIGHT

SHINE A LIGHT marks a significant point in the careers of its director, Martin Scorsese, and its subjects, The Rolling Stones, by bringing their big screen projects full circle. Scorsese got his start working on concert films, notably as an editor on WOODSTOCK, and one of his most celebrated films, THE LAST WALTZ, made early in his career and detailing The Band's farewell show, is generally considered the gold-standard for concert docs. The Stones, meanwhile, have a forty-plus-year romance with cameras and solidifying their presence on celluloid. Apart from either Mick Jagger or Keith Richards appearing in acting roles, the band has been the subject of several other concert films, notably Albert and David Maysles' GIMME SHELTER and Hal Ashby's underappreciated effort LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER. SHINE A LIGHT is a significant document of artists who, in the twilight of their years, continue to astonish, amaze, and excite us.

Opening with a brief introductory sequence that is half-fiction, half-truth, director Martin Scorsese is attempting to get everything together for the show, but is having trouble with figuring out which songs he should prepare shot lists and camera positions for, as well as trying to come to terms with nothing being settled until the Stones are in the Beacon Theater rehearsing. Following this sequence, the film goes pretty much uninterrupted concert mode, providing footage from some spectacular performances of many classics and underplayed songs alike, and all of it is pretty thrilling. Interspersed with the concert footage, which was taken from two dates played in New York at the Beacon Theater (exclusively for this film and Bill Clinton's birthday, I might add), is some archival footage of interviews which Scorsese uses to periodically comment on the proceedings, and to give a general idea of how the Rolling Stones have evolved over the past half a century from a new band in the 60s to become "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band."

The concert itself makes up the bulk of the film, and it's beautiful. It may be the most detailed coverage of a live performance ever, with every single possible angle covered and shot. With the help of cinematographer Robert Richardson, Scorsese has assembled the absolute best cinematographers in the world to shoot this show. Just check out this list of names and credits: Mitchel Amundsen (TRANSFORMERS, WANTED), Stuart Dryburgh (LONE STAR, THE PIANO), David Dunlap (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), Robert Elswit (BOOGIE NIGHTS, SYRIANA, THERE WILL BE BLOOD), Ellen Kuras (ETERNAL SUNSHINE..., HE GOT GAME), Andrew Lesnie (LORD OF THE RINGS, BABE), Emmanuel Lubezki (CHILDREN OF MEN, ALI, A LITTLE PRINCESS), Anastas Nachos (MAN ON THE MOON), Declan Quinn (IN AMERICA, LEAVING LAS VEGAS), and John Toll (BRAVEHEART, ALMOST FAMOUS.) I mention all of these names not because it merely excites me to see all of them working together toward such a magnificent end, or to simply wow you with their credits, but instead to point out that SHINE A LIGHT is a landmark film that is completely invested in the Rolling Stones of here and now, dedicated to capturing the live performance as absolutely no one else could possibly capture it, and the use of such big-name talent is one of the reasons SHINE A LIGHT is completely successful in this regard.

The songs are varied, and thankfully the band plays a lot of lesser-known work, including a great version of the song "Connection" and a cover of "Champagne and Reefer" with special guest Buddy Guy. One of the best moments in the movie is when Keith Richards, who turns 65 this year, is playing with Guy, and is clearly in awe of even inhabiting the same space as one of his idols. For all of his personal clout and status, it's touching to see Richards be so humble in this way. And when the song is over, and Keith gives Buddy Guy his guitar to take with him, it's the most resonant scene of emotional honesty I've seen in any movie this year so far. The interviews are fantastic little snippets, with all of my favorites being of Charlie Watts. Very early in the film, as the stage is being constructed and the lights are being tested, Watts walks up and sees all the extremely bright lights and asks, "Those are movie stuff?" The reply he gets is someone asking how he feels about them to which he says, "I like movies. ...Watching them."

Perhaps the most important thing the movie does is show that the Stones are not ready to quit any more than Scorsese is. All in their 60s, the band and the director are as spry and entertaining as anyone half their age is lucky to be. The way Jagger prances and dances around the stage - nonstop throughout the entire show - has long ago stopped being an act, and it's captivating. And they all know how to play for a camera, particularly Scorsese, whose own legacy of presenting himself in nonfiction films, often of his own production, is as much a part of SHINE A LIGHT as the concert itself. So, it's fitting that the film is not as in-depth or probing as NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN. The main thing is that this is a film about now, about urgency, and about the need to keep doing what you love, whether it's making movies, or being the greatest rock band in the world.


LEATHERHEADS and Screwballs

Let me get one thing out of the way right now - I like George Clooney. I more-than-like him, and have since his television days. He's a great Hollywood talent, often compared to Cary Grant and Clark Gable with his screen presence and charisma, and he's become a rather talented director behind the camera as well, with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK. His latest film, LEATHERHEADS pulls together all of his personae up front and center, directing the movie and hamming it up in traditional screwball fashion on-screen as well.

The film tells the story of Dodge Connelly, an aging pro-footballer intent on rescuing his team, the Duluth Bulldogs, as well as the whole of professional football as an institution, from financial ruin in 1925. In order to do so, he enlists superstar college player and war hero Carter Rutherford, who signs on to play for Duluth and begins packing the stadiums based solely on his popularity. Meanwhile, hotshot reporter Lexi Littleton is on the trail of Rutherford, intent on uncovering the truth about what really happened in the war and exposing him as a phony. A love triangle of sorts develops between the three of them, though there's never really any question as to who will win the girl (Clooney plays the Cary Grant character, after all), and it feels a bit underdeveloped toward the end. Of course, this being a film that uses the screwball antics and romances of films like THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and TWENTIETH CENTURY as its template, that really isn't a harsh criticism as much as an observation. The shortness on the romance is typical of the genre's conventions.

As a pure screwball comedy, LEATHERHEADS shines, with some whip-smart dialogue and hilarious physical comedy. Clooney, Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski are all so good at mugging and other inherent zaniness, it's hard to not believe in the film's own little 1920s universe. That being said, however, the film does not run on all cylinders all the time. As a sports comedy, it's a bit of a bore, though I feel this is somewhat intentional. The story is the standard underdog/comeback one that has been seen countless times, but Clooney wisely keeps the final game gridlocked, creating a commentary on how the new-found rules and regulations that comes with respectability and money make football completely boring that would otherwise be completely nonexistent.

Despite any negative feelings I may have, I still found a lot to admire, and look forward to watching it again. It's a silly screwball comedy about the rise of professional football and the ensuing boredom that comes with it. The cast has great chemistry, and Clooney as a director continues to prove that he knows his stuff. Of his three films, this may be his smaller, minor classic, but it's a pure pleasure and a classic nonetheless.


Hero in Transition: The Fleischer Brothers' SUPERMAN cartoons

I've been watching the old Fleischer Brothers SUPERMAN cartoons from the 1940s, and I'm absolutely fascinated by them, much like I was when I was a kid. I remember very vividly the sensations of watching episodes like "The Mechanical Monsters" or "Mad Scientist" in the back seat of my grandparents' van on weekend trips, thrillingly of note is that this is right after VCRs and Televisions became available for cars and vans. I would very often pop in a cassette (one of those you get at the grocery store that says something like, "Over 3 HOURS of Cartoon Classics" on it), and watch away, absolutely enamored when SUPERMAN, POPEYE and BETTY BOOP would come on.

In any case, I've been wondering what about this incarnation of Superman on screen has stood the test of time so well, especially considering that they're not entirely faithful to the origins of the character. For instance, in the cartoon, Superman sometimes seems subject to the law of gravity, but other times he is literally cruising along through the sky. As far as I can figure, this is because Superman could not always fly, but instead gained this ability as the comics continued and fleshed out the original creation more and more. He could always leap very far (not entirely unlike the Hulk), but the flying did not come until later, and this series of cartoons is very obviously showing a transitional period in the character's makeup. While some might view this as a continuity issue, especially judging from the ability to fly from the first episode, but then arching up and falling from the sky in others, or even during flight in some cases, I can't help but think it doesn't really matter. The Fleischer cartoons remain enthralling because of their tightly plotted scripts and fluid animation work. I am thrilled by how good this cartoon looks after six decades. The animation is flawless, and much like the Fleischer's other classics (POPEYE and BETTY BOOP) was highly influential in the medium and is still beloved to this very day.

Simple animation illustrates fully the capabilities of the character in this scene from "Mad Scientist"

Watching the episode "Mad Scientist," in particular shows a lot of visual flair and the ability for animation to convey so much information through very little action. Perched high above Metropolis, the Mad Scientist aims a laser beam at various structures, destroying them, and it's not long before Superman comes to the rescue, saving a skyscraper from toppling onto another building, and then forcing his way up to the laser itself, punching and fighting against the beam all the way. While simple, the animation shows how powerful Superman truly is, able to lift buildings and right them, and shows his invulnerability, impervious he is to his fisticuffs with things as powerful as laser beams. Once atop the tower, Superman literally rips his way into the tower, pulling down a section of wall in a single fluid movement, with the wall literally crumbling after he enters. The attention to detail is staggering for such a youthful age in animation's history.

Aside from just a period of change for just Superman and his identity and abilities, the Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons represent a milestone achievement for all the series that were to come after them, animated or not. Just a simple look at the live-action television series with George Reeves shows the influence, up to and including the current Bruce Timm (Justice League Unlimited) school of animation. The need for each episode of a series to tell a self-contained story is a direct result of the completely self-contained nature of the Fleischer cartoons, though I also acknowledge the original structure of the comics for this as well.

The iconography of this opening stands with the character to this day, and has been copied directly by other versions.

I don't know how many people still are interested in these Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons, but I'm willing to bet it's more than just a few. My only regret is that they are relegated to countless discount DVDs, with no real remastered version existing, as they fell into Public Domain many, many years ago. But for anyone interested in the birth of not only the current incarnation of the world's most famous superhero, but also the genesis of popular animation, these cartoons are must-owns. I can't get enough.

ART versus "This is what I think"

There's a big discussion going on over at Jim Emerson's ::Scanners:: Blog about some remarks (a bit of a point/counterpoint) made at the Telluride Film Festival between Tarkovsky and Richard Widmark. (read the post and discussion here *EDIT* the username of the person I reference is Gouthem*EDIT*) I'm, of course, taking part in it, as there's a bit of an arrogant tone to some of the proceedings that I just couldn't stand, particularly on the part of one guy who disses Hitchcock, Welles, Scorsese and John Ford all in the same paragraph as not being artists on the same level as Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovsky.

CITIZEN KANE, arguably the most influential movie ever made, and the one film that single-handedly
developed many heretofore unheard of filmmaking techniques is, apparantly, not art.

Apparantly, it's okay for someone who has no real knowledge of the workings of the Hollywood studio system, but has been living in his own arrogant, snotty filth for the better part of his 19 years to make a statement like this. He claims to have seen many classic Hollywood films, but there is no way in Hell that he actually watched them. If you can't recognize the artistry that goes into making a film as hilarious and subversive as SOME LIKE IT HOT or as shocking and influential as PSYCHO in a system that was churning out, literally, hundreds upon hundreds of pictures a year and that often stifled artistic input, there's clearly something that you just don't get.

RAGING BULL, by many accounts the greatest American film of the 1980s, is apparantly not art.

Regardless of how one feels about a particular film, the validity of art should not be the point up for discussion. I don't like the majority of Stanley Kubrick's work because I find it boring, just like Tarkovsky (whose SOLARIS, I should note, is about as perfect as can be, but still a pretty boring film). But just because something bores you, as I'll admit a fair amount of what people consider "art cinema" does to me, does not mean it's any less valid a form of artistic expression.

Neither CASABLANCA, lauded for its screenplay and politically subversive story,
nor VERTIGO, recognized by many critics as Hitchcock's best film, qualify, apparantly, as art.

Tarkovsky may be an artist, but that doesn't give you the right to say that someone like Hitchcock or Scorsese aren't artists. I love how, in one of his posts, he calls Godard an entertainer, then uses a quote by Godard to validate his statement about how one differentiates art and entertainment, all while simultaneously dissing Hitchcock's cred without ever noting that Godard wanted to un-entertain people very often and also how Godard was one of the very influential critics that lauded Hitch as the greatest filmmaker ever. This guy either doesn't understand cinema history, or he's completely off his rocker.

Weigh in and let me know if I'm just completely wrong, or what. Because honestly, I'll admit that maybe I'm just in crazy, obsessive mode right now and am taking things a bit too far... What do you think about it all?


Scorsese. Stones. Together!

SHINE A LIGHT, the new concert film from Martin Scorsese about the Rolling Stones opens in theaters this Friday, and I can't stand the wait any longer. I've been waiting for this since it was announced, and since its release was booted from the Fall '07 calendar. FINALLY I get to see it. I absolutely adore Martin Scorsese's films, and the Stones are my favorite rock band of all-time, so this flick is most absolutely going to kick my ass. And let's not forget, the last time Marty directed a concert film, it was the none-too-shabby THE LAST WALTZ, which chronicled The Band's farewell show. This one looks like another hit. I wanted to share with you the kick-ass trailer. Check it out below!