Saturday, March 27, 2010

This week: Guilty pleasures, high and low

Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried in "Chloe": it's complicated.

When it comes to mainstream movies this weekend, follow your groin.

There are two sets of features opening, one for the discriminating, intelligent viewer and one for us. In each set, there is a guilty pleasure. Guess which I advocate seeing, in each case?

Yep. Go dirty, or go home.

Following one’s prurient instincts is something I normally don’t recommend. But let’s review the evidence:


“How to Train Your Dragon” is soothingly predictable. This time, it’s Vikings versus dragons, but you know a brainy misfit will bond with a magical creature, overcome the trepidations of his love interest, try to forge understanding between the two groups, suffer second-act setbacks, and then triumph on the basis of ingenuity and courage – but not before a lot of carnage has taken place.

Jay Baruchel is the voice of the plucky young Norseman, and he sounds a bit like a young Norm MacDonald. AND IT’S IN 3D! Should be good if you have kids.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” is nothing but sleaze, cheap jokes and gratuitous sexual situations. It looks great.


It’s ringing the changes on the time-travel genre, as well as the second-chance-to-make-things-right gimmick, with a side order of Didn’t the 80’s Suck. It knows what’s it’s doing, and makes no bones about it. And hey, Crispin Glover’s in there somewhere.

Oddly enough, the red-band (age-restricted) trailer is better than the green-band above, but very dirty so I can’t post it. The green-band actually seems to give the audience less credit and gives away some major plot points – someone is someone else’s dad, and Chevy Chase is a plot spring.


“Greenberg.” Sigh.


Is this the feel-bad movie of the year? It’s a bittersweet romantic comedy by “The Squid and the Whale” writer/director Noah Baumbach, starring the increasingly insufferable Ben Stiller. He’s a lost, lonely manchild who gets to crack cynically wise until life teaches him lessons he never expected.

POSER ALERT! The hero’s friend, the quite good Rhys Ifans, says, “You finally embraced the life you never planned on.” $10, please, I just gave you the whole experience in a nutshell.

Reasons to go anyway: Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who collaborated on the story, and Greta Gerwig, who has up-and-comer written all over her but managed to scrub it of before filming. Plus you want to bring it up at the next cocktail party, you freak.

“Chloe.” Hmmmm.

OK, I’ve been burned before by director Atom Egoyan. Loved “The Sweet Hereafter,” hated “Exotica.” When he’s good, he’s very good, and he’s got Moore, Neeson and another newcomer, Amanda Seyfried. It’s adapted from Anne Fontaine’s 2003 French film “Nathalie,” but it’s safe to say Egoyan will bring his peculiar and intense gaze to it.

Will it fall apart about halfway through? It might. But there’s lots of sex going on to keep you awake. This could be the soft-core Eurofeature the likes of which we haven’t seen since the heyday of Laura Antonelli and “Wifemistress”!


Boulder venues are back on line after spring break. The Boulder Public Library film series will present the 1972 adaptation of Herman Hesse’s life-of-Buddha-inspired novel, “Siddhartha,” on Monday at 7 p.m.


It’s a trippy take on the subject directed by Conrad Rooks, a late Beat whose only other film was the cold-turkey autobio, “Chappaqua.”

On Thursday, the feature is Abel Gance’s 1923 “The Wheel (La Roue).” Here’s an excellent look at the film by Kristin Thompson:


This was the warm-up for Gance’s 1927 masterpiece, “Napoleon.” It originally clocked in with a running time of eight hours, 32 minutes. It was carved down to five hours, and is available now in its most complete form in a four-hour, 30-minute version.

Kudos to BPL for giving this one a shot. They are very up-front in their program: this is a two-hour version, marred by episodes of poor-quality film. However, this showing will feature live piano accompaniment by Brian Golden, as well as live translation of the original intertitles by Tatiana Durantez. That means that this performance will replicate, as far as it is possible, the conditions experienced by the contemporary audience – with live music and titles read aloud for the illiterate or non-natives.

 Over at the International Film Series, they go for it Wednesday with Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 “Starship Troopers.”

This fascist fantasy is an imperial Amerika wet dream, in which we can annihilate our insect enemy with glee and abandon – draw you your parallels as you will. Verhoeven is a master satirist, which makes his spectacularly uneven career even more suspect. I think of his worst as his horrifying best – how about Cinema Interruptus with “Showgirls,” for instance?

Thursday at IFS is “The Room,” a dark, independent L.A. comedy which is making the rounds. Its promotional material insists that it’s a cult film. Beware of films that set out to be cult films, is all I’m sayin’.

The Landmark chain has shuffled the deck this week, moving films around its various houses and getting good use out of them. Their single new entry is a great one – it’s “Prodigal Sons,” a documentary by Kimberly Reed.

We screened it at the Boulder International Film Festival a couple of years ago, and the charming and talented Reed was there herself. It’s at the Chez Artiste in Denver.

Over at the Starz Film Center, they are featuring the Found Footage Festival tonight, with Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, curators, in attendance. (They were in Boulder last week.) Good times! Special friends!

Starz is also rolling the Ellsberg documentary, the Demme Neil Young film, and more “Red Cliff.” New is “The Paranoids”:


It’s an edgy urban dark romantic comedy from Argentina. Is this that country’s version of “Greenberg”?


Saturday at 3 p.m., as part of its Kids Saturday series, Starz will present two episodes of Shelley Duvall’s Nickelodeon series “Tall Tales & Legends”: “Casey at the Bat” and “Annie Oakley.”

Down at the Denver Public Library, the series celebrating films that DIDN'T win the Best Picture Oscar continues. On Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the B2 Conference Center in the library's Central branch, see the 1958 runner-up: "Vertigo."

(What movie beat it out that year? "Gigi." Ouch.)

At the Boulder Theater, it’s “The Hurt Locker” at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. Here’s an essay related to it I ran when that film debuted – about my favorite microgenre, the Movie in Which Something Will Blow Up If Someone Doesn’t Think Fast.

On Thursday, it’s the Fly Fishing Film Tour at 7 p.m. OK, now stay with me. This looks cool.


Fishing is fun. Yes, the streams are sometimes littered with snotty rich perfectionists with bamboo rods. Essentially, though, it’s quiet time for guys. You go out with your buddies and sit in the middle of nowhere, doing not much, just hanging around. It’s Zen with beer. It’s us getting in touch with the Eternal Feminine. Whatever.

It’s like golf – you love it or you don’t. If, like me, you grew up on Curt Gowdy hanging out with Bing Crosby and Phil Harris, trolling for gar in some godforsaken place on “The American Sportsman” on ABC, then you will love this evening of piscatorial peliculas.


Decisions, decisions. The late show at Starz (10 p.m. Friday and Saturday) is “The Burning (aka “Cropsy”)” from 1981 – Harvey Weinstein’s first screen credit!

Check out Starz’s curatorial notes – they’re excellent. Blink and you’ll miss Holly Hunter!

Over at the Esquire, it’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at midnight. Oh, I could tell you stories . . .

On Friday and Saturday at midnight, the Esquire is also screening the most wonderful 1988 “They Live,” courtesy of Mr. John Carpenter himself. Featuring Rowdy Roddy Piper, Keith David, the haunting blue eyes of Meg Foster, and just about the dandiest fist fight in film history.

“I’m giving you a choice: either put on these glasses or start eatin’ that trash can!” Ah, why don’t I love the movies MORE?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Movie Trailer Trash: a brilliant site

Movie Trailer Trash, a site created and maintained by Peter Debruge, is a marvelous compendium of profound thinking and well-researched documentation of the trailer industry, as well as a compelling look at the aesthetics underlying the genre. Well done!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Steer clear of the multiplexes this week, pal

Let’s look at the damaged goods laid out before us. Entry #1: “The Bounty Hunter.”

Dear Jennifer Aniston: I know you’ve had a tough life in the spotlight. You’re a great comic actress. Shame! Shame! Shame on you! It’s not long now until they pitch you a sitcom comeback you can’t refuse, and you’ll be back where you belong.

Jennifer plays a journalist. You can tell ‘cause she carries a notebook to write things down with and a recorder to record things with. She’s skipped bail, and her ex-husband is . . . that’s right!

But soon they find themselves in the crosshairs as they attempt to uncover a murder conspiracy. Along the way, is their passion for each other rekindled? Will they have some humorous brushes with death? Stay away from this unless you are heavily medicated.

Entry #2: “Repo Men.” I hated it before I even saw the trailer. Why?

A) Director Alex Cox will be mad that people in the future will accidentally rent this movie instead of his awesome 1984 cult classic “Repo Man.”

B) It stole its premise from a Monty Python sketch.


"'Hello! Can we 'ave your liver?" Classic.

OK, you still want to see it? Are you sure? You’re not going to like it!

What did I tell you? It’s just like “Logan’s Run,” too: you know, the main guy is a bad guy, and then he winds up in the same boat as his victims. So, he’s got to fight the power, and his best buddy has to throw down on him. Oh yeah, and he falls in love with a girl who’s got a borrowed pancreas. Or something. Jude? Liev? Forest? Was the money just too much to turn down?

Entry #3: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

It actually looks pretty good. Yes, it’s a kids’ movie. Well, I have kids – and they love the books this film is adapted from, AND it looks like the movie version is funny and insightful. Middle school and/or junior high sucked for everyone, so I’m guessing the laughs will be strong. Compared to the competition, this looks like the only mainstream movie offering that doesn’t talk down to its audience.


This is where you are going to get the biggest bang for your buck, and the widest spread of real choices.

Boulder venues are mostly quiet in the upcoming week, due to spring break (see "Special Events," below). At Denver’s Esquire Theater, we have Don Argott’s “The Art of the Steal.”


The documentary is obviously partisan, but it has its point. The Barnes Foundation is one of the most extraordinary collections of art in history. It deserves to be seen. Should the wishes of the dead be trampled? What’s the statute of limitations on a vision?

The killer-diller in the bunch should be “Un Prophete (A Prophet),” Jacques Audiard’s saga of prison life. It’s long, it’s violent, it looks engrossing. 

Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup looks like a pair of powerful performers. When the French get cinema right, it’s the best (and when they don’t . . . see “La Belle Personne,” below.)

“A Prophet” is at the Chez Artiste, as is “Neil Young Trunk Show,” a music documentary directed by Jonathan Demme.


It’s hard to call concert films – they can easily fall apart. Take a look at the trailer for “Year of the Horse,” Jim Jarmusch’s disappointing 1997 concert/profile of Young and his band Crazy Horse.

Demme, however, directed “Stop Making Sense.” Hmmmm. Worth a look, especially if you love Neil Young. If you don’t, please let me know what’s wrong with you.

There are two new films, and an expanded version of an interesting one, at the Starz Film Center in Denver.

“Off and Running” is a documentary about the adopted African American daughter of two Jewish lesbians, her ethnic rainbow of siblings, and her struggle to come to terms with growing up, family disintegration and ethnic identity. Intriguing.

The other new offering looks like, I’m afraid, French filmmaking at its worst. “La Belle Personne.”


Young man loves young woman. She stares wistfully out the window. Teacher falls for her too. She stares at the blackboard. They smoke, they drink, they agonize. She stares at a piece of paper blowing down the street. Obviously, she does not have attention deficit disorder. She is so beautiful, and she does not know what she wants. Life, it is complicated. There you go, ten bucks please, I just told you the movie.

John Woo’s Hong Kong gangster thrillers are justly honored, and he had some success in his American decade (“Hard Target” up to “Face/Off” and back down to “Paycheck.”) His Chinese historical drama “Red Cliff” is finally getting seen around the country, but the primary release to America and Europe was snipped down to 148 minutes, from the original two-parter of 286 minutes’ length.

Well, Starz will show the full, two-part cut four times this weekend. If you are one of those intrepid cinephiles who can hang with, and even love, five hours of foreign epic set in the Second Century, get thee to the screening room.


Friday and Saturday at Starz, catch “Dreamscape.” It’s part of the Mile-High Sci Fi series, and it’s an early-‘80s humdinger.


Dennis Quaid can get in your dreams, man! As can the bad guys, led by the impossibly suave Christopher Plummer. Love interest: Mrs. Stephen Spielberg, Kate Capshaw. With Eddie Albert as the President.

Fond of animated features from the Philippines? Not surprising – this is the first one.


“Dayo – The Wanderer” integrates various terrifying Philippine folk demons and turns them into loveable cartoon characters. Somehow, I don’t think Arby’s is going to give away a commemorative set of glasses in conjunction with this one. It’s at Starz at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

“Citizen Kane” unspools at the Denver Public Library on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the B2 Conference Center of the main branch. It’s about this big rich jerk and how mean he was.

Check out the original trailer – they let Orson Welles get away with this highly unorthodox approach because they thought he was a genius – at least for a while.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Chautauqua Association presents a silent classic up in the Community House in Boulder’s Chautauqua Park.

“The Great K & A Train Robbery” from 1926 is an emblematic Tom Mix film. The silent-era cowboy was astonishingly popular, and the film shows why. It was filmed, in part, in Colorado’s Glenwood Canyon, and it gives a glimpse of how it looked before the tremendous engineering feat that put the Interstate through that long, narrow gap.

Even better, you’ll be up close and personal with pianist Hank Troy, for my money the best silent-film accompanist in the country. He’ll be there playing along. The show’s at 7:30 p.m.

Finally, on Thursday, the Found Footage Festival comes to the Boulder Theater. Curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have been coming up with a bizarre assemblage of stuff found on videotapes abandoned here, there and everywhere since 2004, and they’ll be there in person to discuss this year’s finds. Sounds great!


At Starz in Denver, the late show (10 p.m.) on Friday and Saturday, labeled by them “The Watching Hour,” will feature “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” Lily Tomlin’s ill-fated satire of consumer culture. It was penned by Jane Wagner, Tomlin’s creative partner, and it’s now being given a critical second look here and there. Ebert loved the production design (?).

The midnight movie at the Esquire Friday and Saturday is “The Big Lebowski,” always a safe bet. You’re over the line, Smokey!

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Salute to Peter Graves: Hollywood survivor

The March 14 death of actor Peter Graves has ignited a firestorm of fond tributes. The best of them recognize that his success was predicated both on his looks and sober demeanor -- and on his ability to roll with the punches and have fun poking fun at his own authoritative image.

He will be best remembered as the long-time leader of the Impossible Mission Force (Steven Hill as Dan Briggs was the IMF leader for the first season) on TV's long-running "Mission: Impossible." The series was a childhood favorite of mine. The Cold War dynamics of the period made spying an aspired-to profession for young TV watchers -- and "Mission: Impossible" was a blast, year after year.

Here's the show's propulsive Lalo Schifrin theme, along with a mash-up of some of the show's distinctive opening teaser montages:

Graves came back for the 1988 revival of the series, which only lasted two seasons:

However, Graves' career began just as Golden Age Hollywood was falling apart. The studio system was eroding away, thanks to the encroachments of television. Graves followed his brother, the equally well-known James Arness (TV's Sheriff Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke") out to the West Coast, and racked up a few credits in films, including two gems -- Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17" and Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter":

More importantly, though, he honed his craft in a number of Z-grade sci-fi and horror flicks, such as "Killers from Space":

"The Beginning of the End":

. . . and the sublime "It Conquered the World," with Lee Van Cleef and Beverly Garland!

Somehow Graves survived all this, and started getting series such as "Fury" and "Whiplash," and finally made his mark in "M: I."

Of course, his appearance as Captain Clarence Oveur in "Airplane!" will always be the comic high point of his career. He proved he could laugh at the persona he had so carefully crafted over the years, that of the epitome of calm, unsmiling, tight-assed masculinity:

And from thence to his hosting duties on A & E's "Biography" series, and a long-time commitment to silencing gasoline-powered leaf blowers. Good for you, Peter!

By all indications, he was by and large what he seemed to be -- a regular guy, genial and decent, solid and dependable. I'll miss him.