10 Sequels To Classic Movies That Really Should Not Happen

Okay, I know it’s the nature of the film business beast to repeat successful formulas ad nauseum with remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings galore; and I don’t want to be another one of those movie bloggers that complain that ‘Hollywood has officially run out of ideas’, but dammit these sequels are really bad ideas. A few are just talk, a few are in production, and the rest have nothing happening but an announcement with a corresponding IMDb page but they are all scary sobering possibilities on the horizon. So just to put my 2 cents in here’s 10 projected sequels of classic movies that I truly hope are axed:

1. BLADE RUNNER 2 (Dir. Ridley Scott? 20??)

Scott has batted around the idea of a sequel to the seminal 1982 cult sci fi movie for the last decade. The most recent news, in 2008, was that EAGLE EYE writers Travis Wright and John Glenn were tackling a screenplay for a sequel. More recently Scott and his brother Tony Scott announced that they were going to produce a prequel in the form of 5-10 short “webisodes” called PUREFOLD. Webisodes are fine, but the idea of a full length sequel is an awful one; BLADE RUNNER was a flawed yet contained story that created a convincing world pre CGI ‘n all. A sequel would be indistinguishable from the over 25 years of bleak neon-lit dystopian future imitators. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Scotts just leave it with the webisodes.

2. MONEY NEVER SLEEPS AKA WALL STREET 2 (Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010) The plot description on IMDb is: “As the global economy teeters on the brink of disaster, a young Wall Street trader partners with disgraced former Wall Street corporate raider Gordon Gekko on a two-tiered mission: To alert the financial community to the coming doom, and to find out who was responsible for the death of the young trader’s mentor.” Oh so it’s supposed to be all timely! What’s worse is that the young trader is set to be played by Shia LeBeouf (God, I hope it doesn’t turn out he’s Gekko’s son – see #3 below), which I guess makes him this generation’s Charlie Sheen. Michael Douglas is in place to reprise his Oscar winning role as Gordon Gekko who had the famous line: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Well, there is no better word and this time, greed is very bad.

3. INDIANA JONES 5 (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 2012) Now I was one of the few in the film geek blogosphere that actually liked INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM… (I didn’t like the title however) yet I strongly feel this would be one trip too many back to the well. The 4th film had the ring of one final trip through cliffhanger clichés for old times’ sake, but a 5th one would be really pushing it. All Harrison Ford franchises have to end sometime, how about now? Now sure works for me.

4. REPO CHICK (Dir. Alex Cox, 2010)

Cox has not been able to leave his beloved 1984 punk oddity alone – in the 90’s he wrote a “semi sequel” entitled “Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday” which was later adapted into a graphic novel and just recently he announced REPO CHICK, an actual proper sequel produced by David Lynch. Emilio Estevez opted out, telling the Austin Decider: “I remain proud of “Repo Man”, but my focus is on what’s ahead of me, not what’s in my rearview mirror.” This film is in the can so it can’t be axed but still some sensible soul could see fit to shelve it and save the reputation of a genuine cult classic. Here’s hoping.

5. FLETCH WON – This has also been in development hell for ages. Over a decade ago, Kevin Smith was tapped to write and direct what would be a prequel based faithfully on the Gregory McDonald novel, with either Jason Lee or Ben Affleck as the iconic character, but major disagreements (particularly about the level of Chevy Chase’s involvement) squashed the project. After that, in 2005, Scrubs writer/director/producer Bill Lawrence was on board with his Scrubs star Zach Braff, but neither is attached or listed (nor is anyone else) any more on the film’s IMDb page. Looks like the project has been certified dead…or extremely sleepy. Let’s hope it never wakes up.

6. NOBODY #*$%’S WITH THE JESUS (A THE BIG LEBOWSKI spin-off) Now, I just made up the title but, hey, it’s a much quoted line and it falls right in line with Adam Sandler’s YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN so I think it works. This is just talk, mainly John Turturo’s, about a spin-off film written by the Coen Brothers and directed by and starring Turturo. In a 10th anniversary article in Rolling Stone last year (“The Decade Of The Dude” Sept. 4th, 2008) Turturo relays that the story will deal with Jesus landing a job as a bus driver for a girls’ high school volleyball team. “It will be like a combination of ROCKY and the BAD NEWS BEARS. At the very least we’d have to have a Dude cameo.” Uh, no thanks – methinks this idea reeks as bad as Walter Sobchak’s “ringer” suitcase filled with his dirty underwear.

7. PORNO (The sequel to TRAINSPOTTING) This is another project that’s probably dead or just resting quietly at the moment. Director Danny Boyle has said he’d like to do this follow-up in the future when the original actors have aged appropriately because the book sequel takes place much later but it’s been a while since he said that now. Ewan Macgregor though has nixed the idea that he’d reprise Renton with these remarks about Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel “Porno”: “I didn’t think the book was very good. The novel of ‘Trainspotting’ was quite fantastic … and then I find that the sequel … it didn’t move me as much.” Like when Rodney Dangerfield bowed out of doing CADDYSHACK II because he hated the script, Macgregor just earned some major integrity points there.

8. BEVERLY HILLS COP IV (2012) This one is pretty likely to happen. Whatever your feelings on Murphy he is still huge bankable star (albeit in crappy family films these days) and it has been a lucrative franchise so I bet this one is in the cards. Maybe reprising Axel Foley will bring back some much needed edge to Murphy, but I doubt it. No matter how you slice it this is an unnecessary and uninspired attempt to cash in where there most likely will be insufficient funds. I mean, it’s not exactly BOURNE or even the DIE HARD series we’re talking about here, is it?

9. TRON 2.0 Working title: TR2N (Dir. Joseph Kosinski, 2011)

This is a sure thing too, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it away. TRON wasn’t exactly a treasured part of my childhood, in fact I found it more than a little dull, but it had its charms as a dated ode to the world of video gaming before the rise of the internet. Now 29 years later with Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner returning, a sequel is poised to come win over the fan boys. That’s just the problem – who else but fan boys will be lining up for this? Unless I hear it’s a major re-imagining that smoothes over the shortcomings of the original, I surely won’t be in line.

10. GHOSTBUSTERS 3 (Dir. Ivan Reitman?, 2012) This has been a buzzing on the internets for a while now with all of the principals set to return (even Rick Moranis who, except for some cartoon voice work, hasn’t been onscreen since 1997) joined by fresh meat: Seth Rogen, Steve Carrell, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and every other Apatow player and crude comedy regular working today as Ghost Buster trainees. Actually that last bit is just rumored (as is Moranis being present) but it is true that Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (writers on the US The Office) are writing a 3rd film and most of the original cast is set to come back except Sigourney Weaver who recently said: “I don’t expect to have anything to do with it, although I wish them well.” Well, I wish them well too, but I have a sad feeling that G3 will be a sticky pile of ghost goo.

Okay! Ten sequels I’d rather not see come to fruition. Any others out there you’re dreading? HEATHERS 2? JURASSIC PARK 4, the UNTOUCHABLES prequel?!!?

More later…

Full Frame Documentary Film Fest 2009: Day One

The 12th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival may be scaled down somewhat lacking the big name speakers such as Michael Moore, Ken Burns, or Martin Scorsese from previous years, but there is still a roster of riches on display in Durham over the next 4 days. The first day was drizzly and gray so it felt very comfortable to be inside the Carolina Theater and adjacent theaters in the Durham Convention Center to embrace this smorgasbord of infotainment. These are the films I attended:

MECHANICAL LOVE (Dir. Phie Ambo, 2007) I saw the first film of the morning in the same theater that last year I had seen the BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT in. This is extremely apt because many times throughout this Danish film about therapeutic robots I thought of the creations of the Tyrell Corporation. Not that the subjects here were “more human than human”, as Tyrell’s motto goes, mind you, but the questions asked about emotional attachments and human response are right on par with those of that inarguable cult classic. We meet Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist who is developing robot duplicates of himself and his family. His experiments are as creepy as they are uncanny (a word that comes up quite a bit). Meanwhile a mechanical baby seal called a Paro is introduced as a companion to a woman in an old folks home. This story is at first amusing but its airy pace and spare commentary drags the film down. Tinkling piano and poised presentation aside, MECHANICAL LOVE would have been better if edited down to a 20 minute segment of an anthology film or magazine style TV program.

A back to back bull session: MATETILLA (Dir. Victoria Clay-Mendoza, 2003) A film about professional bullfighters and RANK (Dir. John Hyams, 2006) a film about professional bull riders. This double feature, both shot in digital video and presented by a DVD projector, is part of the Festival’s theme this year: “The Sporting Life”. Not being a sports guy I wasn’t sure how many of the films associated with the theme I’d attend but I’m glad I chose these because the contrasts between the Mexican world of children dreaming of bullfighting with suits of lights and coordinated moves and the rawer (yet just as rough) American landscape of bull riding were quite absorbing. For such dangerous sporting events with the threat of severe injuries there is a serene grace and inspiring motivation involved which both these films capture succesfully.

ART & COPY (Dir. Doug Pray, 2009) This is an incredibly entertaining celebration of real life Mad Men with tons of footage from famous commercials, interviews with the giants of the business, and many many statistics. Funny and insightful stories abound from the likes of the Nike “Just Do It” ads, Wendys’ “Where’s The Beef” campaign, and the “Got Milk?” go arounds – which have all undoubtably reached icon status by this date. ART & COPY is as slick and polished as the ads themselves, but it is delightfully free of cynicism as it focuses on the creative end of the business and makes no condemning statements. Unfortunately director Pray was unable to attend so producers Michael Nadeau and Jimmy Greenway fielded questions after the screening. They followed up on one the film’s many amusing revelations – that the Nike “Just Do it” campaign was inspired by the last words of a convicted murderer before being executed (“Let’s do it!”) and revealed that the beloved image of Santa Claus was created by the Coca Cola company – a fact that was cut from the finished film. Fancy that.

SONS OF CUBA (Dir. Andrew Lang, 2009) In introducing the opening night film, director Lang told the sold out crowd at Flecther Hall he had just completed work on it 3 days ago. If he hadn’t said that I never would’ve been able to tell because his film is immaculately crafted and as fully formed as the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. We follow 3 Cuban children as they intensely train to box at the Havana Boxing Academy. They take the tasks very seriously as they jog through poverty stricken streets and form bonds with one another even when at obvious odds. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in Cuba this year with both CHE: PARTS ONE & TWO and now this film which takes place during Fidel Castro’s conceding power in 2008. It’s an entrancing experience that surprisingly has a lot of humor in between the kid’s tears. This, of course from Lang’s intro above, was SONS OF CUBA‘s world premiere so be on the lookout for it to come to your area.

Okay! Day One down. Tomorrow – Wavy Gravy gets his bio-doc due, the Yes Men try to right corporate wrongs, and whatever else I decide to see will get Film Babble Blog appraisal.
Hope you join me.

More later…

WATCHMEN: The Film Babble Blog Review

WATCHMEN (Dir. Zack Snyder, 2009)

Darker than THE DARK KNIGHT and raunchier than any other Superhero movie ever, WATCHMEN busts out of development Hell into theaters today and it’s sure to be #1 this weekend. Knowing nothing of the source material, I sat transfixed and alternately baffled at what I saw at a late screening last night. Set in an alternate America in 1985 in which Nixon (played with a cartoon-ish prosthetic nose by Robert Wisden) is still president, a group of Superheroes has been disgraced and placed under governmental control. When The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a power player with a crusty charisma is murdered, Superhero turned vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) focuses on tracking down the killers. Among the not-ready-for-the-Justice-League heroes are Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Billy Crudup as the completely CGI crafted Doctor Manhattan.

Much of this film feels like a Frankenstein monster of a movie with pieces from pop culture classics stitched together – the rain drenched neon-lit dystopian cityscapes from BLADE RUNNER and the War Room set reproduced exactly from DR. STRANGELOVE for instance. For an over the top action movie it’s really exposition heavy at times which works better than expected especially the soft spoken Crudup, who somehow makes a giant naked blue man animation into a study in eloquence. As for the action, the fight scenes lack edge and urgency, but the overall thrust is engaging if not transcendent. As Rorschach, complete with a cool morphing ink blot mask, Haley is the stirring standout showing how far he’s come from pitching for the BAD NEWS BEARS. A sequence involving Rorschach in stir is absolutely gripping with Haley stealing the movie away from his co-stars and the scores of expensive bombast.

As I mentioned above I have not read the original beloved graphic novel on which this is based so I can’t judge how faithful it is, but it certainly felt like a true comic book movie. It was almost as if bold panel edges and invisible establishing text were present while Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan looked like he had literally walked off the printed page. The soundtrack is quite unorthodox for a Superhero epic – an opening montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” sets the tone with odd choices like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence”, and Nena’s “99 Luftballons” following suit. Unfortunately, despite all these eccentricities and that it’s leaps and bounds better than Snyders 300, the film is way too long with a number of plodding parts that don’t gel. As a better than average popcorn flick it’s sure to have many fans, but it had ambitions way above that. Despite that WATCHMEN doesn’t soar to the heights it aims for, its intense intent and wicked sense of self is nearly intoxicating enough.

More later…

Nitpicking On NetFlix

I recently received the 1st DVD of season 1 of the much buzzed about HBO show Flight Of The Conchords from NetFlix. The 6 episodes on the disc were very funny with crazily catchy songs by the kooky kiwi folk/rap duo – but trouble was that I had waited for it for 3 months! That’s right – since it was released on December 17th, 2007 it had been at “very long wait” in my queue. I enjoyed it but can’t quite say it was completely worth the wait. During this “very long wait” I had composed a rough draft list of 10 complaints about NetFlix but abandoned it because it wasn’t really thought out and also the next day my next DVD came broken in half – so I thought karma was against me. And I hadn’t even posted it! So being newly frustrated with the DVD mailing program I decided to refine the list of pet peeves and pair it down to 5 complaints. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love NetFlix and think overall they provide an excellent service. I do think some other high volume users and film buff geeks like me will find something to relate to in this persnickety list which I call:

5 Snivelling Bitchy Beefs About NetFlix

1. Lack Of New Release Special Editions Of Undeniable Classics – I noticed that the 50th Anniversary Edition of 12 ANGRY MEN – the 1957 Sidney Lumet Best Picture winning cinematic standard – has just been released on March 4th and contains 2 hours of bonus material. There’s a new transfer of the best available print, a commentary by historian Drew Casper, and 2 “making of” featurettes. Sounds pretty sweet, huh? Well, NetFlix doesn’t carry it. They only have the 2001 non-anamorphic Vintage Classics release that has only the trailer as bonus material available. Wha? Also, NetFlix doesn’t carry The 40th Anniversary Edition of THE GRADUATE, The WALL STREET (20th Anniversary Edition), and even the 26th Anniversary of THE JERK is nowhere to be found! Okay, so maybe they have something against anniversary editions but Criterion re-releases are often dissed too – THE ICE STORM – Criterion Collection, set to be released tomorrow (March 18th), is nowhere on their schedule. The idea that NetFlix doesn’t upgrade from the old original releases to the new enhanced editions with better transfers doesn’t give the impression that they are catering to the real film fan. Seems like these titles would get more action if their definitive new models were available. To their credit they did have BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT available right off the bat.

2. The Removal Of Their Upcoming New Releases page – What gives? When I previously went browsing under the tab that says “New Releases” I used to have the option to see upcoming releases on a page that wasn’t flashy, just informative about all the releases coming out the next week. Now that page is gone with just a basic showcase, movable by arrows, that shows 4 titles at a time – none of which are either brand new or upcoming just labeled as “Popular New Releases”. It seems like they don’t want us to know what to put in our queue in advance – the lack of a release date on say, GRACE IS GONE (Availability – Unknown) when Amazon lists it as May 27, 2008 seems a bit suspicious. Just sayin’.

3. No Saturday Service – Yes, they specify this on their website that they process “rental returns Monday through Friday, except holidays, via the United States Postal Service”. Okay, but damnit for the “world’s largest online movie rental service, providing more than seven million subscribers access to more than 90,000 DVD titles plus a growing library of more than 5,000 choices” – shouldn’t Saturday be added to the workweek? I mean I hate that if I mail a disc on Friday (or sometimes Thursday) they won’t get it until Monday and I won’t get my next movie til Tuesday or Wednesday possibly! I mean, I just hate that.

4. Odd Inventory Practices – Sometimes as a heavy user a transaction can be a bit baffling. I had FACTORY GIRL, a movie that was not a hit or critical success in my queue at “very long wait” last year and it’s status kept changing – availability: “short wait” then “now” then back to “very long wait”. I got many releases in the meantime that were much more popular and sometimes sent to me on the Monday before their release while FACTORY GIRL kept hanging back. When it finally came the actual disc had printed on it: “Sale copy – not for rental”! Uh, NetFlix – is that even legal? I mean, I’m just wonderin’.

5. They Turned My Site Down To Be A NetFlix Affiliate – Yep, sour grapes.

Okay! So that about sums up my issues with the San Francisco based corporation that is successfully annihilating Blockbuster as well as Ma and Pa videostores across the map. And I’m all for that – videostores are pretty anachronistic and irrelevant these days and will soon be extinct for a lot of technological advances they can’t adapt to. From the point of view that to truly love something one can see its flaws all the more and shouldn’t be afraid to point out what could be improved I hope this isn’t taken the wrong way. Otherwise I just may have to get used to an empty mailbox.

More later…

Oscar Postpartum 2008

So it’s the morning after and I’m looking over my predictions – none of my wild cards paid off and some of my darts didn’t hit the bulls-eye so what do I got? Well, I don’t know whether to feel comforted or disturbed by the fact that I got EXACTLY the same amount right that I did last year – 13 out of 24. So here’s at ‘em:

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – Though everybody was saying this was a lock I was still somewhat scared that this was wishful thinking. So glad that it happened – it is definitely the Coen Brothers time. Seeing them on stage – Joel stoic and commanding with Ethan cutely quietly fidgeting made them look like the Penn & Teller of movie directors.

3. BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis for THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
4. BEST ACTRESS: Julie Christie – WRONG! – Marion Cotillard for LA VIE EN ROSE – As much as I loved Christie in AWAY FROM HER I am not disapointed here. Cotillard’s performance was amazing and the award is well deserved. Besides Christie’s won before.
5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hal Holbrook – WRONG! Javier Bardem for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – I knew I’d be wrong about this one but didn’t care. Bardem was excellent and his short acceptance (hard to call it a speech)
6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Cate Blanchett – WRONG! Tilda Swinton for MICHAEL CLAYTON – This was a real surprise. Still she did a good job in her role and I liked that backstage afterwards she said winning is often “the kiss of death”. Yeah, just ask Cuba Gooding Jr.
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORDWRONG! – Robert Elswit for THERE WILL BE BLOOD – I knew I’d be wrong here but still thought Deakins would win but for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. I loved TWBB so I’m happy it got 2 major awards.
12. FILM EDITING: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLYWRONG!THE BOURNE ULTIMATUMBOURNE surprisingly swept the technical award categories. Maybe I should see it.
14. VISUAL EFFECTS: TRANSFORMERSWRONG! THE GOLDEN COMPASS – I called it a “no brainer” but I should’ve remember the Academys track record on this category. I mean E.T. won over BLADE RUNNER for this 25 years ago!
16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly” from ONCE – A nice moment during the broadcast was when Host Jon Stewart quipped “wow, that guy is so arrogant” after Glen Hansard’s humble as Hell acceptance speech. It got a big laugh from the audience and the folks at the Oscar party I was at last night.
21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: JUNO by Diablo Cody – This was the real ‘no brainer’.
adapted by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: RATATOUILLE

Okay! So I did no better or no worse than last time out. Sigh. Story of my life.

More later…

2007 Spills Over And Over And Over…

Yeah, I know it’s February 2008 but it always takes a few months to catch up on the previous year’s film releases so bear with me. Some are only now making it to my area theatrically and every few days NetFlix envelopes arrive with films from the tail-end of 2007 so I’m gradually catching up. Here’s what I’ve been seeing starting with a few movies recently viewed at the theatre-hole:

THE SAVAGES (Dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are two siblings (Jon and Wendy Savage – hence the not so subtle title) who have to deal with their father’s (Phillip Bosco) worsening dementia in this almost too real to life film that hurts so good. I felt like a voyeur watching this at times because the situations come from such personal places. Early on Linney and Hoffman are established as liars – to themselves and everyone around them. Both have literary aspirations – Hoffman is a Professor with a Doctorate and author of obscure books on obscure topics; Linney is an aspiring playwright so you can see where they might competitively clash. They both have to travel from New York to Pop’s place in Arizona to figure out what to do about their father’s housing. Bosco is foul mouthed and forgetful (he mistakes his new nursing home for a hotel) so our brother and sister duo have more on their plate than their already exasperated lives will allow.

In a movie full of great natural-feeling moments, Gbenga Akinnagbe as a caretaker steals some vital screen time and as Hoffman and Linney’s respective lovers Cara Seymour and Peter Friedman fill out the great but spare cast. Tamara Jenkin’s first film – the underrated late 90’s SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS, as much as I hate using the phrase, showed promise but surprisingly not as much as this film delivers. “Maybe dad didn’t abandon us. Maybe he just forgot who we were” Linney says at one point and you can feel every syllable – not a single one of them phony or feeling like they exist only in a “movie” world. Hoffman and Linney are both top notch actors and they never falter here (this could be very well adapted to a great 2 person play); both deserve nominations (this should have been what Hoffman got a Oscar nomination for – not CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR). Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay, has a smooth assured directorial style and that’s impressive with such rocky neurotic material. If I had seen it sooner THE SAVAGES may have made my top ten of 2007 but now I don’t want to knock anything off. Still it’s in my ongoing spillover and one I urge you to seek out. This is one of those slices of life that really cuts.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Dir. Julien Schnabel, 2007)

A few weeks back at the DGA Awards actress Sean Young (BLADE RUNNER, NO WAY OUT) heckled director Julien Schnabel when he took the stage because she thought he was taking too long to get to his remarks regarding his best director nomination for this film. “Come on – get to it!” she yelled, “have another cocktail!” he replied before walking off. Nobody could rightly yell at the screen for this movie to “get to it” because it immediately gets there with its premise, with its visuals, and with its remarkable sense of purpose. The premise: Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalricis) is paralysed after a stroke and can only communicate by blinking one eyelid. In this locked-in syndrome he is surrounded by women – his wife (Emmanuelle Seigner), his therapist (Marie-Josee Croze) who devised the one-eye communication method, his mistress (Agatha de la Fontaine), and a few pretty nurses (incuding Schnabel’s wife Olatz Lopez Garmendia) so he at least is never at a loss for beauty. We are never at a loss for beauty either – even though the first 10 minutes or so are a bit disorienting (images are seen through Bauby’s blinks) once one gets accustomed to the style the film is as engaging and colorful as one could desire.

It is funny that to fully appreciate and understand the title one has to see the film (or read the book), in other words it would be a spoiler to tell you what the title means so I won’t go there. There are many flashbacks, which are seemlessly stitched into the film’s fabric, so we see Bauby in better days. We get insight into his character, or lack of character when you consider the mistress, and get a great extended cameo by the legendary Max von Sydow as his stern cranky father. I got lost in this movie in its last third in the best possible manner – swept up in the notions of splendor one can only fully visualize from a state of confinement. Reportedly Johnny Depp was originally going to portray Bauby. I’m so glad that didn’t happen (he had PIRATES commitments apparently) for Depp’s ginormous star presence would have surely distracted from the real show. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is another candidate for 2007 spillover and a gorgeous experience that one doesn’t need “another cocktail” to get to.

And now some new release DVDS:

(Dir. Andrew Dominik, 2007)

Despite some good word of mouth in its theatrical release last fall this got majorly overlooked – even in the nonsensical “is the Western still alive?” debate that some critics indulged in. At the year’s end it made a number of top ten lists and recently garnered Academy Award nominations for Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor (Casey Affleck) so wider interest in it will be sure to spread. It absolutely deserves a bigger audience for it’s a great movie; it’s powerful as well as subtly moving and comes off as a true story, which it is, and a tall-tale at the same time. A gaunt Brad Pitt is the infamous outlaw Jesse James – a notorious bank robber, bloody murderer, and “legendary figure of the Wild West” (as Wikipedia puts it). As a timid awkward newbie to the James Gang, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) longs after some of that legend glory and posits himself in the line for history by…uh…just reread the title – I guess I don’t have to worry about spoilers here!

The film could as well be titled “The Last Days Of The James Gang” for over its 2 hour and 40 minute running time the other members (including Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Paul Schneider) get a lot of screen time and their all fates intertwine with those of the two title characters. There is a large chunk of the film that Affleck is absent from as we learn family backgrounds and the score on deadly set-ups past and future. Pitt, understated with a persona drenched clean of razzle dazzle, is the best I’ve ever seen him – not a second of actorly digression. Casey Affleck once again makes the case that he’s the Affleck brother that should be in front of the camera as his Ford progressively seethes from within – outwardly idolizing yet quietly despising the aloof but intense James.

As I said before this was nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography and it definitely deserves to win. Roger Deakins’ (also nominated for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) work here is explemporary – every single shot is beautiful whether they are of open terrains, spare wooden house sets, or the snow covered woods where a body could be dumped and not found for many seasons. Affleck also deserves his nomination but I doubt he’ll get the gold (I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions just yet) – overall the entire cast is well chosen with Sam Shepherd as James’ brother Frank James, Mary-Louise Parker (who barely has any lines but a great screaming and sobbing scene) as James’s wife, and the previously mentioned Rockwell in a manically precise part as Robert Ford’s brother Charlie – see how ‘in the family’ this all is? In my review of 3:10 TO YUMA last September about the fate of the modern western I said that “it’s a genre that will never die”. Great sprawling masterworks like Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD make me re-affirm that statement.


Out of the entire global classic gaming hobby, there’s one significant rivalry that’s equivalent to the big rivalries in history: Yankees/Red Sox, Maris/Mantle, Heckle and Jeckle…all the big rivalries in history you know? This is up there on that level. – Walter Day (founder of Twin Galaxies, an international organization that tracks high-score statistics for the worldwide electronic video gaming hobby – thanks again Wikipedia!).

One thing is certain if you watch this film you will come to know 2 names very well: Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe (pictured above). Billy Mitchell (pictured on the left below) who has been called the “greatest arcade-video-game player of all time” and is documented in the Guinness Book of World Records for his high score on the old school 80’s classic Donkey Kong. Wiebe is his competitor – a failed baseballer, grunge musician, laid-off from Boeing surbananite who took to his personal in the garage Donkey Kong machine as a time killer when out of work and just happened to beat Mitchell’s score. After many of Mitchell’s minions doubt the validity of Wiebe’s score self appointed records keeper turned gamer referee Walter Day invites him to prove his skills “live” – that is, at a public venue (one of the last standing arcades – Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire). This is where the tensions rise – Mitchell sends a videotape that shows a game that tops Wiebe’s score. Mitchell is a no-show for a “live” showdown but is constantly monitoring his competition from his phone while Wiebe lives up the the challenge and continues to play on the spot. More such devious developments occur as we wonder if a real confrontation is in the cards.

For somebody who isn’t a gamer and had no idea of this outdated videogame subculture I was really riveted by this production. It’s the best kind of documentary – one that invites you in to a world that you’ve never known, introduces you to folks you end up really caring about, and leaves you with the passion and pathos of every day life from an angle that feels fresh as well as very funny. Maybe this film too simplistically casts Billy Mitchell as the conniving villain and Steve Wiebe as the innocent underdog hero but then again sometimes you’ve got to call ’em like you see ’em. The DVD is essential because the bonus material is not of the disposable variety – there are many vital extras including Q & A sessions from film screenings, a lot of crucial cut footage, and most importantly – updates on where the players competition stands now. As one of the bonus features is called (in a STAR WARS scroll) “The Saga Continues” – the story is going on to this day with Mitchell and Wiebe still battling it out down to the Donkey Kong “Kill screen”. One of the few documentaries ever where a sequel follow-up wouldn’t just be justified; it would be greatly appreciated.

Post Note #1: I wrote this review before I found out that a follow-up will occur but it’s not a sequel – a scripted dramatized movie adaptation is in the works I read on the internets. Hmmm.
Post Note #2: This hilarious recent Onion AV Club interview with Billy Mitchell is a sequel/rebuttal in itself.

THE BRAVE ONE (Dir. Neil Jordan, 2007)

The first ten minutes almost resemble a Meg Ryan rom-com set-up – a perky Jodie Foster with bedhead bangs is a New Yorker NPR-type radio personality madly in love with her fiance (Naveen Andrews) who looks like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. But since this is a Jodie Foster movie we know the track record set by PANIC ROOM and FLIGHTPLAN – the happiness will be short lived and we’ll soon see our heroine stressed and ferociously working her eyes’ worry lines in a mode one character calls “in lock down” (not quite like Bauby in THE DIVING BELL above mind you). She and her beau Andrews are assaulted in Central Park and he is beaten to death by three thugs – the type who only exist in the movies; they videotape the attack yelling lines like “are you ready for your close-up?!” Foster is in a coma for 3 weeks and wakes up to find her lover has been buried and her view of what she calls incredulously “the safest city on earth” is forever altered. She buys a gun illegally and becomes a Bernard Goetz (who of course is referenced) style vigilante killing a convenience store robber, a couple of thugs on the subway, and an evil murdering businessman. A sympathetic heart of gold cop played by Terrence Howard investigates the killings and obliviously becomes friends with Foster. Their conversations are the heart of the film with Foster and Howard playing at the top of their acting game – it’s just unfortunate that the film doesn’t have more soul.

It’s hard for me not to think of TAXI DRIVER – the Scorsese/De Niro 70’s classic that happened to have a 13 year old Foster as a prostitute (a role that got her a Best Supporting Actress Nomination – she didn’t win but won later for Best Actress for THE ACCUSED). In THE BRAVE ONE Foster stalks the same mean streets that Travis Bickle did and she obviously would relate to the sentiment when he lamented: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” Neil Jordan’s (MONA LISA, THE CRYING GAME, THE BUTCHER BOY) direction is fluidly fine and it is a gutsy move for Foster to take on this female variation on DEATHWISH. Her fierce frightened performance provides plenty of grip but the play-out here is predictable and so is the ending. The combination of Fosters and Jordan’s panache does help this rise above standard thriller status – it just doesn’t rise far enough up to ring that cinematic circus bell.

By the way:

This picture of Jodie Foster doing her take on Tippi Hedren in THE BIRDS from the recent Vanity Fair photo spread “Top Stars Recreate Hitchcock Moments” is better than anything in THE BRAVE ONE.

More later…

The Best Of BLADE RUNNER On The Internets

When I saw in the Independent Weekly last week that BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT was going to be playing at the Carolina Theatre in Durham I was excited for several reasons:

1. The thrill of seeing this now inarguable classic film on the big screen.
The legendary film, adapted from Phillip K. Dicks short story “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”, had frustratingly been at “very long wait” in my damn Netflix queue since this new cut was released on DVD last month.
3. It is one of only 4 35MM prints in an extremely limited run.
4. The most important reason is that it is my Father’s all time favorite movie. So I called him immediately when I saw the ad in the paper that it was playing and said “let’s go.” We weren’t alone in our plans – at the Sunday matinee we attended today the theatre was pretty packed with a diverse looking crowd. When it hit the screen my eyes looked like the opening shot above. When it was over a lot of people clapped. I just simply said to my dad “that was awesome.

Showing my age here I have to say that I saw the film back in ’82 at a crummy theatre that doesn’t exist anymore (The Ram Theatre in downtown Chapel Hill) and I didn’t care for it. Harrison Ford seemed drab and uninterested in the material and though I liked the vision of future L.A. the special effects were bad at times- the wires being plainly visible on what were supposed to be flying cars*. I was 12 so my critical facilities weren’t really developed (not that they still don’t have a long way to go now) but over time with cable re-airings, various alternate versions including the heralded 1992 Director’s cut, and my father’s love of the film I have come to absolutely adore BLADE RUNNER.

* Now I really like Fords layered jadded tone and the visible cables on the hovercraft were removed in the ’92 cut.

So since it’s one of the most fascinating sci-fi cult films, if not THE most fascinating sci-fi cult film I thought it would be beneficial to look at the best of what’s been written about it online lately. So follow the links and enjoy:

The Best Of BLADE RUNNER On The Internets

The IMDb FAQ – Its an obvious place to start but the best film site on the web has a lengthy incredibly informative entry that breaks down the many available versions and has interesting insights into the existential matters of the most artsy sci-fi flick this side of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Brmovie.com – The Home Of Blade Runner – Much better than Warner Bros. official site for the film and also armed with a great FAQ this site, created as a forum for users of the newsgroup alt.fan.blade-runner, is regularly updated and brimming with sharply presented BR related info.

What’s New in Blade Runner: The Final Cut? – A well written piece by John Howell for SFFMedia.com (Science Fiction And Fantasy Media) detailing the many changes in the new cut. The comments at the bottom of the article are a good read as well.

Q&A: Ridley Scott Has Finally Created the Blade Runner He Always Imagined – From Wired.com – a 5 page interview with director Ridley Scott that is pretty essential to every fan, casual or not, of BR. He talks at length about the ending, the battles with the studio, and the long relationship hes had with the film that will not go away. Key quote: I knew Id done a pretty interesting movie, but it was so unusual that the majority of people were taken aback. They simply didnt get it. Or, I think, better to say that they were enormously distracted by the environment.”

The BLADE RUNNER Nexus – This is a nice cleverly conceived graph also from Wired Magazine’s website by Matthew Honan that charts the influences and styles:BBR – Before Blade Runner and ABR – After Blade Runner.” Be sure to fully click & drag to take in each department on the left – there’s a lot of great trivia tidbits.

A great study of the evolution of an opinion – read Roger Eberts original review of BLADE RUNNER (printed July 2nd, 1982) in which, despite giving it 3 stars, calls it a failure as a story and concludes: The obligatory love affair is pro forma, the villains are standard issue, and the climax is yet one more of those cliffhangers, with Ford dangling over an abyss by his fingertips. Then check out his recent review of BR: THE FINAL CUT and witness Ebert confessing he committed a journalistic misdemeanor and that now it is time to cave in and admit it to the canon. It is now included in his Great Movies Collection.

Blade Runner, Revisited. – By Stephen Metcalf
– There has to be those who haven
t been won over so to represent such a clueless clan there’s this Slate.com essay subtitled How Will Fans Defend It Now? It makes the argument that: a quasi-sacred halo has come to surround it, a force field so powerful as to apparently render nuanced critical judgment impossible. For after all these years, and all these iterations, this is still in many respects the film panned by Maslin and Kael.What should be panned is you, pal.

Okay! Thats enough of a Blade Running writing round-up. If the FINAL CUT is playing at a theatre near you make the effort to see it. Im going to leave now and try not to step on the little tin-foil unicorn on the floor on my way out the door.

More later…