Sunday, January 27, 2013

A moment of zen: Blast to the past

I showed a 45-year-old movie -- Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde -- to my Social Aspects of Film students Saturday. And I couldn't help thinking: If I'd seen a 45-year-old movie when I was a freshman, it would've been a silent. Sigh.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Multi-Media alert: See me on TV Friday, hear me on the radio Saturday

I'm set to talk about Oscar-nominated movies at 9 am CT Friday with the lovely and talented Deborah Duncan on KHOU-TV's Great Day Houston. (If you don't have access to that particular TV station, fear not: I'm told there will a link to downstreaming video at some point shortly after the telecast on the KHOU website.) And at 12 noon CT Saturday, you can hear me chatting about Quartet (with Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith, above) and Zero Dark Thirty with the not-so-lovely but comparably talented Junior Mints during a segment of Living Large on News 92 FM. You hear that live here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

First, there was Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals. And now...

Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29

Mark Wahlberg and director Allen Hughes give you the seven-day weather forecast. And the traffic report. In Philadelphia.

Golden aftermath

Last week, Argo and director Ben Affleck claim top honors at the Houston Film Critics Society awards. Sunday night, the same thing happens at the Golden Globes. Coincidence? I don't think so.

And speaking of the Golden Globes -- here is my CultureMap wrap-up.

Friday, January 11, 2013

And the hits just keep on coming: A Haunted House, The Baytown Outlaws and Fairhaven

I have three -- count 'em, three! -- Variety reviews of flicks opening in either wide or limited release this weekend. And I must admit: My favorite of the trio is a guilty pleasure titled The Baytown Outlaws (which, I hasten to add, has nothing to do with the city near Houston). Also available for your perusal: Reviews of A Haunted House and Fairhaven.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar nominations: WTF?

Please don't misunderstand: I have no serious quarrel with this year's selections by the Motion Picture Academy for Oscar nominations. But the list unveiled Thursday morning is rife with inclusions and omissions that seem more than a little... well, shall we say peculiar? Or, perhaps more precisely, flabbergasting?

My instant analysis, for what it's worth: The front runners are Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Emmanuelle Riva, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. Not necessarily saying these are my selections -- but I think that's how Academy members will vote.

You can read my Oscar coverage here.

Around the World with Waterkeeper Alliance -- and Edward James Olmos

Edward James Olmos asked me to help circulate this video -- which he narrates -- to spread the word about the international efforts of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Since Mr. Olmos has been so gracious to me on several occasions – particularly at the Telluride Film Festival, way back when we chatted about The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, and years later in San Antonio, when I was working on a Los Angeles Times location story about the filming of Selena – I’m more than happy to comply with his request. Besides, the Waterkeeper Alliance is doing good work while fighting the good fight. And also… hey, did you ever see Edward James Olmos as Lt. Martin Castillo on Miami Vice?

Well, OK, would you ever say no to that dude?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Before there was Inglourious Basterds (or, for that matter, Django Unchained), there was... Hitler -- Dead or Alive

During an on-line discussion tonight with my Variety colleague Steven Gaydos, I mentioned that, while teaching a course about war movies a few years back, I would occasionally screen the final minutes of Hitler -- Dead or Alive, an ultra-low-budget 1942 B-movie starring Ward Bond as an ex-con who tries to collect a bounty on Adolf Hitler. No, seriously.

Why did I unleash this on unsuspecting students? Because even though the movie was an unabashedly cheesy Poverty Row production -- which likely explains why Gaydos, a gentleman of refined tastes, had never heard of it -- it dared to be a fantasy-fulfilling slice of cheese: At the end of the flick, Hitler is shot by Nazis who don't recognize him after Bond and his buddies shave off Der Fuehrer's mustache. Again, seriously.

Well, OK, maybe not seriously seriously. But that's just what happens in the film. Start looking around the 1:04 point, and you'll see what I mean.

Years later, when I saw Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, I couldn't help being reminded of Hitler -- Dead or Alive. But I swear: It wasn't until tonight that I learned that Tarantino had been a fan of the '42 film. As he told Playboy in a November 2012 interview to promote Django Unchained:

When it came to Inglourious Basterds, there was a movie done in 1942, Hitler —Dead or Alive. It was just as America had entered the war. A rich guy offers a million-dollar bounty on Hitler’s life. Three gangsters come up with a plan to kill Hitler. They parachute into Berlin and work their way to where Hitler is. It’s a wacky movie that goes from being serious to very funny. The gangsters get Hitler, and when they start beating the fuck out of him, it is just so enjoyable. They shave his mustache off, cut off that lock of hair and take his shit off so he looks like a regular guy. The Nazis show up, and Hitler, who doesn’t look like Hitler anymore, is like, “Hey, it’s me!” And they beat the shit out of him. I thought, Wow, this is fucking hysterical.

Yes, it is. Indeed, it's arguably funnier than a far more famous movie co-written its director, Nick Grinde.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My Top 10 of 2012

To begin, as I do every year, with my standard disclaimer: This may be my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2012 – but it’s not necessarily a rundown of the year’s 10 Best Movies. Because, quite frankly, I haven’t seen every single movie released anywhere in the US during the past 12 months. (For starters, I haven’t yet seen the heavily hyped Zero Dark Thirty, due to its being press screened on two evenings I was indisposed.) But this most certainly is a list of my favorite films to open in U.S. theaters in 2012.

(To be sure, at least one hasn’t yet opened in a Houston theater – but that will change soon.)

These are, of course, purely arbitrary and totally subjective choices. And I’ll freely admit that, a decade or so hence, I might look back on the following lineup and want to make additions or deletions. At this point in time, however, I can honestly state these are the 2012 releases that impressed me most. And best. So there.

Django Unchained. Let the nitpickers carp, let the politically correct cavil. Quentin Tarantino’s splendiferously unhinged mash-up of Spaghetti Western homage, historical revisionism, movie-buff fabulism and neo-Jacobean revenge play is, minute for minute, scene for scene, the year’s most flat-out, over-the-top entertaining movie. And the most audacious one, too.

Argo. Ben Affleck’s sensationally smart and suspenseful fact-based film works brilliantly as both a persuasively detailed, edge-of-your-seat political thriller, and an in-jokey, smart-alecky riff on Hollywood-style dreamweaving. Everyone involved deserves kudos, but Alan Arkin's inspired portrayal of a movie producer who’s savvy about showbiz and geopolitics merits more than a few glittering prizes.

Flight.  Every so often, Denzel Washington trudges out to the plate, slams one out of the park, and dutifully trots around the bases, leaving his awestruck fans in the bleachers to murmur to each other: “See. That is how it’s done.” This year, Washington scored in Robert Zemeckis’ matter-of-factly astonishing drama about a self-deluding alcoholic who displays miraculous proficiency while piloting a disabled airliner – only to discover that, no matter how high or far or dazzlingly you may fly, you cannot get away from who and what you are.

Moonrise Kingdom. Another distinctively stylized fable from Wes Anderson, and arguably the Houston-born filmmaker’s most affecting offering to date. At once amusingly droll and achingly sincere, it’s a melancholy comedy of bad manners about two unique adolescents who instinctively accept each other as soul mates, and the obstacles placed in the way of their happily-ever-aftering by the variously unhappy adults in their orbit.

Silver Linings Playbook. Unpredictability always counts for a lot for me, especially when I view a movie that pivots on a question – will two damaged souls gain the strength to mend through the therapeutic properties of love? – I’ve seen answered all too predictably, all too many times before. What I enjoyed most about David O. Russell’s romantic comedy of mounting desperation is that, for lengthy swaths of its running time, I really had no idea what would happen next, or even whether anything that logically could happen would be enough to help the central characters winningly (and fearlessly) played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

Lincoln. Steven Spielberg illuminates history with a sense of urgency and a flair for showmanship in this remarkably compelling period drama. Definitely not your garden-variety biopic, but rather a fascinating account of how a larger-than-life but troubled-by-doubt master politician (a flawless Daniel Day-Lewis) oversaw a campaign of backroom browbeating, tit-for-tat deal-making, and strong-arm power-playing to achieve a greater good. I mean it as high praise indeed to say that, while watching this film, I couldn’t help wondering whether our current POTUS went to similar extremes to pass Obamacare. (And not just because co-star Hal Holbrook looks so much like an aged Ted Kennedy here.)

Paul Williams Still Alive. Director Stephen Kessler and singer-songwriter Paul Williams aren’t always in sync as collaborators in this idiosyncratic documentary about Williams’ unlikely rise, precipitous fall and dogged endurance as a pop-culture celebrity. But their occasionally conflicting intentions only serve to enhance this one-of-a-kind film, which finally gets its H-Town premiere next month at 14 Pews.

The Dark Knight Rises. Throughout most of 2012, it was hard to discuss, let alone fully appreciate, Christopher Nolan’s immensely exciting and emotionally satisfying conclusion to his “Batman Trilogy” without thinking of the unspeakable real-life tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. For better or worse, however, memories fade – even memories of unspeakable tragedies – but movies are forever in the present tense. Time is on Nolan’s side.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll concede that seeing Edward Burns’ ruefully insightful and unpretentiously ingratiating dramedy a second time during the current holiday season – a period when I’ve been reminded again just how spectacularly untidy my own family is – may have made me appreciate it all the more. But so what? As I said, this is a list of the 2012 films that impressed me most.

Bernie. The sort of true-life, only-in-Texas story few scriptwriters would dare invent, recounted with perfectly calibrated measures of sympathy, skepticism and straight-faced absurdism. Director Richard Linklater and co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth, working from Hollandsworth’s 1998 Texas Monthly article, provided lead player Jack Black with the role of a lifetime – a sweet-natured small-town mortician who remains beloved by friends and neighbors even after committing homicide – so he played it for all it was worth. And more.
Runners-up: End of Watch, Rust and Bone, Arbitrage, Savages, Magic Mike, Jack Reacher, The Avengers, Killer Joe, Darling Companion and The Sessions.

Honorable Mention: Les Misérables, because Anne Hathaway broke my heart in a zillion pieces;  A Late Quartet, arguably the best film to have only a five-day commercial run in Houston during 2012; and The Sapphires, which was showcased at the 2012 Houston Cinema Arts Festival, but won't have a commercial run in H-Town (or, evidently, anywhere else in the U.S.) until 2013.