Thank Christ: Bigtime Creepface Guillermo Del Toro And Disney Team Up to Terrify Children

  • Posted by
  • on September 15, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

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This is a little tidbit that hits me at the opportune time in my life. In the past few years I’ve come to the definite conclusion that children need to be scared more.

It’s hard to tell if it’s because I’m older (and fending off exaggerated-by-nostalgia feelings of enthusiastic terror) or if it really is a lack of appropriately-chilling contemporary family films, somnology but I remember the tremendous feeling of triumph I vicariously felt after the protagonist in a given film endured true terror and emerged not only victoriously, allergist but a bit wiser to the world.

Charlie may have inherited a Chocolate factory but in doing so he had to clench his fists and grit his teeth as Wonka put him and his peers through an extreme amount of psychological upheaval (culminating in the boat-ride psychedelic freak session). And now, since he’s experienced first-hand such fear, that lifetime supply of chocolate will taste all the sweeter.

This is why I feel instilling a healthy dose of terror into a young person is a beneficial choice. Not only does it elevate the relief/triumph that comes with a satisfying dramatic finale, but it gives context to the children. It makes them appreciate the simplicity and safety of a warm bed and the potential excitement of a nightmare.

So, it pleases me greatly to see that top-rate scaryface-craftsman – Guillermo Del Toro – has partnered with Disney to bring a slew of panic-inducing animated films under the appropriately-titled banner Double-Dare You. This is how he explains it:

“As a director, I love to take audiences into fantastic new worlds and provide them with some anxious moments in the process. It is part of the Disney canon to create thrilling, unforgettable moments and villains in all their classic films. It is my privilege for DDY to continue in this tradition. To partner up with The Walt Disney Studios, with the support of Dick Cook and John Lasseter, is to belong to a storytelling partnership that I admire deeply. It is a true honor. I look forward to coming up with fresh and original stories that will take Disney films in a whole new direction. The emphasis is on fun, and we have some great ideas already on the storyboards.”

I’ve recently been on a Disney-animated kick and caught a Charlie Rose interview with Del Toro where his enthusiasm for the monstrously-absurd makes me think this union of man and myth is nothing but logical. I think my nine year-old cousin is in for a treat.

Michael Moore Aggressively Bites the Feeding Hand

  • Posted by
  • on September 11, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

Michael Moore obviously doesn’t give a fuck. That being said, healing he definitely gives a fuck.

And that’s the essence of his persona. He’s the rebel with a cause. He’s the  little prankster that utilizes the sheepish grin in defense of God’s Americans. He’ll throw a tantrum and scream and yell until some Momma somewhere show’s the cookies.

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I write that he doesn’t give a fuck because history holds that, ascariasis if one chooses to galavant as a filmmaker, ed one must bow to the studios.  They give the money, you take the money. They say you can’t have the money and you cry until a pillow is soggy. Moore, not too-surprisingly, does not conform to this paradigm. You may not agree with his politics or the methods in which he delivers them, but you have to admire the balls he travels with. Take the following quote as evidence.

Why would these companies give money to me, a guy who is diametrically opposed to everything they stand for? One of the beautiful flaws of capitalism is they will use the rope you give them to hang themselves if you can make a buck.

This bit of bewildered skepticism is targeted at Paramount, the studio which financed his latest documentary titled Capitalism: A Love Story.

He has more gems in the same FUCKYOU vein that reveal a man who knows exactly what his words will do and how they will be interpreted by the targets of his ire:

They are not an ideology, they are just about money. I can imagine the conversation – ‘Look what he’s said about us’ says one man, and other says ‘But look how much money he made.’

This is a very refreshing bit of honesty that goes a long way in calling out the latent sickness in the system. Most aren’t naive enough to believe a studio is interested in much more than making some bucks, but to articulate the extent at which they go for that buck, like Moore did,  is giggle-worthy.

Moore knowingly calls out the flaws because he is in a very rare and privileged sect of filmmaking (especially documentary filmmaking).  He is successful. Very successful. Call him a propaganda-slut if you want to, but the man was able to make millions of dollars on a 9/11 documentary. He was able to churn out green while making a documentary on fucking Columbine.

So, with this success, it gives him room to say exactly what he’d like to say. Which only further perpetuates his own wily-outsider legend. As evident by the cherry on top of his calculated tirade:

I have been saving up my money since ‘Sicko’ to get to this day. I will always make my own movies. Now I have my own money to make them.

I have often wondered what a man like that, a man with so many problematic issues related to our monetary system, does with the excess he garners from success.

To burn bridges and then build up your own in their place is exactly the sort of behavior that renders me susceptible to his manipulative charm. And it makes me glad he’s still around. Sitting in the back row of class, cracking-wise.

Pan and Scan Deconstructed by Famous Directors

  • Posted by
  • on August 28, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

At this point the injustice of practice of pan-and-scan (cropping movies to fit the standard 4:3 television screen) is widely accepted. Once the ire of filmmakers, hepatitis savvy film viewers are increasingly in the same boat with the opinion that changing the format of a movie in turn changes the moviegoing experience. And never for the better.

But this short peice, order featuring some excellent examples and interviews with directors like Michael Mann & Martin Scorcese, makes the most convincing argument I’ve heard. Curtis Hanson‘s Last Supper analogy pretty well puts the nail in the coffin.

“All films made from 1953 on for the past 50 years, have been made in one widescreen form or another. Whether it’s just normal widescreen or the 70mm or Cinemascope or Panavision.” – Martin Scorcese

‘Alive in Joburg’ Lays the Groundwork for Starter-kit Cinema

  • Posted by
  • on August 24, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

I just saw director Neill Blomkamp‘s District 9 yesterday and like most movies I pretty much knew what to expect going in. To the extent you want to save your purity for District 9 you really don’t wan’t to watch this next clip, search the 6-minute short film “Alive in Joburg.”

If you know anything about District 9, you know that Alive in Joburg” was created by Blomkamp in 2005 and after gaining some attention (including that of Peter Jackson) it got reworked into the feature film District 9.

Califunya Episode 4 – The Key to My Happiness

  • Posted by
  • on August 9, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

Check out episode 4 of Califunya, visit where the girls find a giant key to happiness. Califunya is one of the series from Wieden and Kennedy Entertainment. It’s the most experimental of the group, with a sparse and confidently weird style, Califunya is in no hurry. It seems more interested in just hanging out, being adorable.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson Defiantly Ventures Deeper Into His Own Style

  • Posted by
  • on August 1, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

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With the release Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox trailer he simultaneously released a declaration of commitment to his own vision. In recent years (first with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou then more-so with The Darjeeling Limited) the critical establishment has began to sway against Anderson. The same  style he forged and developed with Bottle Rocket, hepatitis Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums was at the tail-end of a paddy-wack by a growing number of finks who claim that he has built his own stylistic universe that he rarely strays from. I could understand this attack on repetition of style if it wasn’t for one large footnote to consider:

HIS STYLE IS FUCKING SWEET.

That is an obvious opinion fashioned by my own past experiences so it’s entirely subjective, cystitis but it is very troubling to me when people complain about a filmmaker who makes the same types of movies when those movies are fantastic. To me it is painful to read condemnations of this “Wes-world” he has created when that universe is composed of touching scripts, fantastic performances by stellar casts and soundtracks that appear tailor-made to fit the top-tier art design and shot composition.

I am a fan.

This is why it greatly pleases me to see him try his hand at animating a Roald Dahl book. Here is the first taste of the footage:

This is the thought process I imagined Anderson had when deciding on this project:

So, they say I am a perfectionist who meticulously creates worlds instead of making one that feels true to life? Is that what they say? Do they want me to make a “real” drama? One with a handheld camera and a plotline that services at least three of the most current social issues? Hmm. Instead of doing that how about I get rid of humans. How about I create every movement of every character and fashion a set by hand so that the connection to your “reality” is even more tenuous than before and imagination and vision will run rampant. Will that work?

This probably doesn’t resemble the man’s thought process, I imagine Anderson just follows whatever inkling he has that inkles the strongest and doesn’t pursue projects as means for retaliation against unjust jabs at consistent greatness. Regardless, I’d like to believe it was intentional.

Humpday gets Mumblecore

  • Posted by
  • on July 31, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

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Over the past near-decade a film movement dubbed “mumblecore” has sprouted out from the nooks and crannies of independent film.  It gets its name from the rambling mumble of real life moments. The defining trait is a naturalistic approach to character. Digital cameras. Non-actors.

Typically the films are heavy on conversational-improvisation and deal almost-exclusively with offering generous respect toward everyday events. The noble intent at play with many of these films is a pursuit of honesty. Since many lack high concepts (and the obese-budgets that those often entail) the filmmakers who dabble in mumble often hold no obligation to the studio system and can make a film of this kind with nothing more than a hearty camera and a willing group of friends.

As a result of the relative ease at which a mumblecore film can be produced they have been churned out at a fairly rapid clip since the term was coined.  The great/terrible thing  about a film movement like this is that the honesty can play both ways.  I can think of particular scenes that left me awed by the root emotions captured with beauty and subtlety and yet I’ve also been incredibly bored by similar scenes.  Since the films are often nothing more (on a plot level at least) than spending time with a character for 90 minutes enjoyment/enlightenment really depends on how engaging that character is.

If the lead is hilarious then I’ll leave the movie feeling as though I hung out with a hilarious fellow and I would declare the experience a triumph.  If the lead is mopey and painfully self-conscious I might leave the movie feeling slightly annoyed (despite how honestly his mopeyness is portrayed) and I would likely forget the movie exists. I don’t remember disliking many mumblecore films. I just don’t remember the ones I didn’t like.

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One touchstone of quality I’ve found when navigating this mini-genre is the presence of Mark Duplass. He’s the co-writer/co-director of The Puffy Chair and Baghead and has popped up in a handful of others. I was quickly engaged by his presence when I first saw The Puffy Chair and he was one of the highlights of Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs. And the Duplass indicator has held strong after his showing in Lynn Shelton’s Humpday.

Humpday follows a couple old friends (Duplass and Joshua Leonard) who have followed different life paths. Duplass has settled down into a comfortable marriage with a strong possibility of breeding and Leonard has galavanted across borders and different philosophies.

The one line premise: in a fit of drunken bohemia two men agree to have sex with one another for the sake of radical art.

In the hands of a FOX or a UNIVERSAL this premise could have been a tentpole gross-out R-rated comedy. And it might have been funny. In the deft hands of Shelton, order Leonard and Duplass it was hilarious. The pace felt brisk, buy more about the dialogue snapped when it should’ve snapped and lingered when it should have lingered. The premise proved fertile ground for the trademark mumblecore subtlety.

Aside from a simple positive recommendation I would like to highlight how beautifully the creative team pulls off the tenuous feat of turning a potential act of homosexuality into an incredibly macho stand-off. The chemistry between Leonard and Duplass is beautiful and Shelton did a fantastic job of editing a giant mound of raw improvised footage into a lean and hilarious film that didn’t have to rely on its naturalism as a reason to exist. It had something to say, and it just so happened that it articulated these thoughts naturalistically.

Humpday opens in wider release today.

Bruno Castrated In Order to Maximize Quantity of Dollar Bills Garnered by Studio

In a startling move by Universal Studios, anemia they’ve decided to re-cut Bruno in order to get a wider audience in the UK and Ireland. They’ve snipped and spliced so as to achieve the equivalent of our PG-13 rating.  Apparently the demand is so ravenous that the studio had no choice but to relent and offer the public what they so righteously require.

This is what Universal’s David Kosse had to say:Due to the overwhelming demand by fans who are desperate to see the film, we’re really pleased to be able to offer a ’15’ certificate version. Both of these versions will allow many more of Bruno’s fans in the UK to enjoy the film.”

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That studio-speak is roughly translated as DOLLAR DOLLAR GIVE ME THE DOLLAR.

Rarely is this form of not-so-sneaky-censorship seen outside of Utah state lines. All the same, it’s here and it poses as a very questionable threat to the sanctity of decisive cinema. It’s one thing to release a dozen versions of a DVD (uncensored cut, director’s cut, bootleg cut, uncorked edition) but to start blurring that line on the big screen is a very bold move. Not only does it marginalize the importance of the movie (offering multiple cuts suggests a film doesn’t matter enough to be presented only in the form its creators had intended) but it also just grosses me out as a potential harbinger of things to come. This sort of “OH NO YOU DIDN’T” could easily come stateside should this test-run prove successful. Then I’d have to puke a lot more in life.

Tom Green, misunderstood absurdist-virtuoso behind Freddy Got Fingered was shrewd enough to see the ridiculousness behind thought processes like these. He included a PG version of Freddy Got Fingered on the DVD release which ran only a few minutes long, effectively poking fun at the uselessness of artistic castration.

Of all the potential films that could be used to try out this dual-version strategy it seems a little troublesome to use a movie that exists primarily to offer outrageous and lewd behavior, one that barely escaped an NC-17 rating. Where it’s offensive to cut away at any movie without the filmmakers blessing, it seems doubly so to do it to a movie that relies so heavily on its R-rated elements. Hopefully the teenagers in the UK know better.  I’d like to think the box office returns will reinforce the notion that the appeal of a film is largely due to components that are compromised by miserly edits like this.

POTENTIAL SOLACE: Maybe studios will feel a little more comfortable green-lighting R-rated films if they know the option of knee-capping it into PG-13 still exists.

Really? Seriously? Ok… Hell YES!! MacGruber!?!

  • Posted by
  • on July 8, 2009
  • Filed in: Film

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Oh, pregnancy if only every day could start with news as shockingly glorious as this. SNL’s resident bumbling MacGuyver wanna be, dermatologist MacGruber, this is coming to the big screen. Normally, any SNL related news pretty much gets mentally shredded, because for all I’m concerned SNL is now  doing just as much to sully the name of comedy as it once did to raise it to new heights, it used to be groundbreaking stuff. Now its a place where comedy goes to die. I remember a time when there used to be a skit or two, that I found to be “not that funny” now, I can go an entire season with out so much as a giggle. When the skit for MacGruber first hit, I was not that impressed, yet he kept coming back, and blowing up, over and over again, It took me a while to get appreciate it, and eventually it wormed its way into my “One of like 7 things SNL has done to make me laugh in the last decade” list. 

Now, even this wasn’t enough to have me sold on the movie, cause frankly SNL has also not been the once prolific film studio that it once either. I read along in the story, simply to pass the time and avoid further happenstances of actually working. I read that Kristen Wiig was gonna be in it. Sweet! I find her attractive in a very odd way. Ryan Phillippe was also in negotiations. Umm ok, whatever. Wait, what is this? Val Kilmer has expressed interest and is in talks as well? Ummmmm Yes Please. If this goes down, we are all in for a very serious treat. One thing that the world simply always has room for, is Val Kilmer busting his comedic chops. He doesn’t do it very often, but he has a genuine gift for comedic roles. Don’t get me wrong he is a talented actor, and I have a deeply disturbing man crush on him. But Real Genius? Top Secret? Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang?  Some seriously funny movies, that may not have been near as good with anyone else in his spot.  

My highest hopes for this, is that he plays the evil mastermind character in the movie, now the plot for the upcoming film is pretty much under wraps, so they don’t wanna let anything out. But dollars to donuts says that if Kilmer is interested, he’s looking at the villain lead.

Fans of comedy can only hope.