Friday, April 23, 2010

Hollywood conspiracy theory! and the wonders of "Birdemic"

"Birdemic: Shock and Terror" -- yes, this movie will make more in one weekend than the carefully crafted independent feature you spent years and your life savings making. That's show biz!
Somewhere below Los Angeles, deep in a reinforced steel vault, a secret committee sits regularly. Their self-appointed task: to decide when mainstream films are released in America, in order to maximize income for the entire industry.

These movers and shakers blend in with the West Coast entertainment industry crowd; however, only retinal scans and three layers of vigilant round-the-clock security gives them access to – the Schedule Chamber.

Are you now more confused than the viewership of “Lost”? Me, too. This blatantly ridiculous theory is the only one I can think of to explain this week’s slate of premieres.

“Warner Brothers, you take out the male 13-25 demographic with ‘The Losers.’ Sony? You’ve got all females this week with ‘The Back-Up Plan.’ Disney? God love ya – you get the Fun for the Whole Family category with ‘Oceans.’ I don’t see any overlap here, do you? OK, screw everybody else. Let’s make some money this weekend!”

“The Losers”: We covered this as a sneak preview last week, but we can stand the trailer again:

It’s based on the 2003-2006 Vertigo comic-book series, which in itself was not that bad. We have a bunch of scruffy, wisecracking not-yet-bankable males, Zoe Saldana as the hot chick with the RPG, and Jason Patric as the bad guy. Smart-ass, fast-paced action.

“The Back-Up Plan”: J-Lo! Girl! You can do it, I know you can carry a movie. “Out of Sight” was great, everything since then . . . now don’t you give up on me, girl!

A familiar type of romcom. What do women want? Evidently, a guy who drives a tractor with his shirt off. Except – oh, no, she just got artificially inseminated! How in the heck is this ever going to work out? Especially when the cute little doggie with broken legs eats the pregnancy test! I did not see that coming – did you?

Well, GF, don’t worry, we have back-up for you. Michaela Watkins is gonna be your best friend. Your would-be boyfriend’s gonna have a funny foil in Anthony Anderson. We’re gonna bring in Robert Klein as your OB/GYN, and Linda Lavin . . . remember? From “Alice”? She’s there. And Tom Bosley – Richie Cunningham’s dad? Yes, he IS still alive. He’s in there.

AAAaaand . . . the sperm donor, Eric Christian Olsen, gets to do a spit take. Golden.

“Oceans”: Now, who doesn’t like a Disney nature documentary? Well, me for one. As one of the millions of kids tortured by repeated viewings of “The Living Desert,” “Our Friend the Atom,” and every damn one of those anthropomorphized adventures narrated by Rex Allen – “The Legend of Lobo,” “Charlie the Lonesome Cougar,” “Abercrombie the Autistic Anaconda,” ad nauseam, I am permanently damaged.

The danger here is mitigated by the fact that the directors, Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzard, made the extremely well-done and legit “Winged Migration” in 2001. They are serious, and the work looks gorgeous. Will we risk diabetic shock due to exposure to cute little penguins, cute little dugongs, and cute little jellyfish? Perhaps.

The glory and majesty of the natural world needs to be seen, and may inspire many to put some thought into environmental stewardship. No co-inky-dink about it being released -- * sniff, dabbing at the tear ducts * -- on Earth Day. The trailer pompously announces that a part of the first week’s receipts will be donated “in your honor” to the coral reefs. Huh? Let’s hope they don’t spend it all on plankton and alcohol.


The International Film Series is going strong. Thursday and Friday nights, it continues its very popular run of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” On Saturday at 7 p.m., it presents the intriguing-looking documentary “Strongman,” with director Zachary Levy in person!

On Thursday at 7 p.m., “Cyrus”:

It’s made by Jay and Mark Duplass, who made “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead.” Call me an indie-comedy whore. Go ahead. I don’t mind. And I’ve been burned before (Up yours, “Thumbsucker”! Up yours, “Ghost World”!). But this looks funny.

It’s got Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, Catherine Keener. C’mon.

Now, over at Starz in Denver, we’ve got – wait, what do we have? There are discrepancies on their website which I’ll try to untangle as the weekend progresses.

Are they still showing the French comedy noir “The Joy of Singing”? Or “Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré (Work Hard, Play Hard)”?

Or both? Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, there’s “Waking Sleeping Beauty”:

It’s pretty darn good, and it’s an instructive example of how you succeed when you support and nurture people, and have the guts to take some chances.

The only new release unique to the Landmark chain in Denver is Peter Ho-Sun Chan and Wai Man Yip’s 2007 martial epic, “The Warlords”:

Note: Chinese blockbusters can be just as deadly as their American counterparts – see “Hero,” “Curse of the Golden Flower,” etc. Plus, what’s with the heavy-metal/choir soundtrack? Also note, this is the 110-minute cut, not the full-length 126-minute original. C’mon, guys, what’s 16 minutes among friends?



Starz is holding a seminar with the director of “Strongman,” Zachary Levy, at 1 p.m.

At 3 p.m., the Kids Saturday Nickelodeon feature is “Heidi 4 Paws: A Furry Tale”:

Yes, it’s “Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre” with talking dogs. Johanna Spyri is rolling in her Alpengrave somewhere.


Boulder’s Har Hashem Congregation at 3950 Baseline Road will present, along with Tuv Ha’Aretz, Robert Kenner’s 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” at a FREE 4 p.m. showing.

This provocative film will be followed by a discussion with Rabbi Josh Rose, along with Amy Tisdale and Wyatt Barnes from Red Wagon Organic Farm.


At Starz, Rocky Mountain PBS Community Cinema will present Michel O. Scott’s 2009 documentary “The Horse Boy” at 7 p.m.:


A busy night, with lots of choices!

The continuing Italian Film Festival at the University of Denver will present, FREE, Andrea Molaioli's 2007 “La Ragazza del Lago (The Girl by the Lake),” in Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall at 6:30 p.m.

At 7:30 p.m., the Boulder Theater presents the mountain bike film “Follow Me”:

Dude, that is sick.

At 8 p.m. in the Ubisububi Room at Denver’s Thin Man Tavern, the Wim Wenders series continues with the director’s 1984 classic, “Paris, Texas”:


At Starz, at 7 p.m. only, “140.” The conceit is 140 filmmakers in 140 locations film 140 seconds at the same time, focusing on what connects them to their homes:

An imposed methodology such as this can create something thrilling or something insufferable. Attend to find out. Director (or should we say synchronizer?) Frank Kelly will be at the screening in person.


At Century Boulder, the midnight movie is John Hughes’ 1984 teen comedy, “16 Candles.”

With The Geek and Long Duck Dong. Ha ha. If you were of that time, you love it; if you weren’t, you know better. Hey, one of my favorite songs is Pete Wingfield’s “Eighteen with a Bullet” from 1975. It sucks. Why do I love it? Because it brings back those days ever-so-clearly.

But I do know it sucks.

At Starz, The Watching Hour series at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday presents what looks like a thought-provoking vampire film from Chan-Wook Park (“Oldboy” and two other films in his Vengeance Trilogy) – “Thirst.”

Priest as vampire? Way to bring the subtext to the surface! I’ve heard very good things about this . . .

Last but least, at the Esquire in Denver, connoisseurs of the tragically bad can finally see “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” by self-proclaimed “Master of the Romantic Thriller™” James Nguyen at midnight:

Wow. This makes “Snakes on a Plane” look like “Grand Illusion.” Thank God our protagonists have coat hangers – SCREEEE!!!!


Friday, April 16, 2010

ANALYSIS: Shopping and bleeding -- from "Kick-Ass" to "Night of the Comet"

Chloe Moretz in "Kick-Ass" -- if this arouses you, seek professional help.
The quartet of major-market releases this week may represent a perfect spread of demographic appeal. There’s something for old and young, rich and poor, black and white, smart and dumb.

Really dumb. Powerfully dumb.

Now, based on the trailers alone, I predict two of these movies suck and two don’t. Can you guess which two are which? (Note, I said they suck – I didn’t say they wouldn’t make wheelbarrows full of money.) The key phrase to remember is “concept.” The ones that don’t work are loooong on concept and short on execution.

“Kick-Ass” has been promoted to the skies. Advertising for it is everywhere. People are practically out on the street threatening to kick YOUR ass if you don’t go see it.

It certainly looks – kinetic.

However, I must invoke the well-known Nicholas Cage Principle, which I just made up. The principle states: If Nicholas Cage appears in it, the odds that a given film is excruciatingly bad rise astronomically.

What happened, Oscar-winner? When did you become a crap magnet? Of your 63 IMDb acting credits, there are gems such as “Adaptation,” “Moonstruck,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Raising Arizona.” On the other side of the ledger: “Amos & Andrew,” “Guarding Tess,” “8MM,” “Windtalkers,” “Ghost Rider,” “Next,” “National Treasure” . . . I could go on, but it hurts just to write them down. Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.

Mr. Cage, you are close to joining the pantheon of Good Actors Who Make Bad Choices, right up alongside Burt Reynolds and Eddie Murphy. Stop now before it’s too late. Oh, damn. It looks like you just finished “National Treasure 3” and “Ghost Rider 2.” Never mind.

As for the rest of it, it’s violence-porn for teen boys. It tries to get around this by being self-aware, commenting snarkily and reflexively on its own sadistic bent. That makes it meta, right?


P.S. – I also predict that copycat, real-life “Kick-Ass”-style incidents will soon flood the mainstream media, causing massive outrage, debate and valuable publicity. Hey, it worked for “Colors.”

“The Joneses”: typical American family is actually a viral marketing ploy.

Don’t you get it, man? It’s not what we have, but who we are that makes us . . . um . . . what we are. That it takes “The Joneses” 96 minutes to say what I just said in four seconds means you owe me ten dollars.

“Death at a Funeral”: Hey, remember Frank Oz? He was Miss Piggy. He was Grover. He was Bert. He was YODA (Grover on steroids and ‘shrooms). Then he made “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “What About Bob?”, both of which make me laugh just thinking about them. Then in 2007 he made “Death at a Funeral.”

Hilarious, right? One problem – it was set in England. REMAKE. Hmm, who can we get to direct it? Who’s really good at directing comedy? How about misanthropic-playwright-turned-moviemaker Neil LaBute (“In the Company of Men,” the awful “Wicker Man” remake with our buddy Nicholas Cage)? YES.

This is something on the order of like hiring Sam Peckinpah to direct “Freaky Friday.” Fortunately, it has much the same script, and an awesome cast – Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Tracy Morgan. Check it out.

It actually looks funny, and I’ll be damned if I don’t go see it. (Help Frank out and get the original on Netflix, won’t you? The British are usually funnier than we are.)

“The Perfect Game”:

Yes, I know. Cinderella team, outta nowhere, going for the gold. It’s a paint-by-numbers underdog story. Plus, it’s full of winsome child actors, which gives me the willies.

But you know what? Too bad. Your male lead, Clifton Collins, Jr., is a great actor who’s been stuck playing lowlifes, murderers and other stereotypes for way too long. This is his breakout role. And Cheech Marin is in it, playing the lovable priest a la Bing Crosby. Love Cheech. And Louis Gossett, Jr. as Cool Papa Bell. (Don’t know who Cool Papa Bell was? Go away.) Block out the obligatory inspirational ballad, and “Rocky”esque getting-it-together montages. See this one for the performances alone.

And hey, I LIKE underdog stories. And I love baseball. And I’ve got a kid in Little League. Guess who’s going on Friday? Me and my whole fam damly.


Boulder’s International Film Series continues its showings of the Danish noir “Terribly Happy” on Friday; Saturday brings the long-forgotten documentary but significant “Araya,” and a three-day run of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” starts on Wednesday.

Over at Starz Film Center in Denver, new additions to the lineup include “The Secret of Kells”:

Can’t lie to you – seen it already, and it’s good.

And “Walt & El Grupo”:

Can’t lie to you – this looks about as interesting as a side of mashed potatoes at the Waffle House. The U.S. freaked out at the start of World War II and decided it needed South America on our side. So who did they send? Walt Disney. Anyone who has seen “The Three Caballeros” and other such insulting, condescending attempts to create goodwill with our “neighbors to the south” knows how well that went. You can file this away with the Frito Bandito, Speedy Gonzales and other such tripe.

The only thing new at Denver’s Landmark chain is the inspiring-looking dance documentary, “Dancing Across Borders.” It’s at the Chez Artiste.


Andrejz Krakowski’s 2008 “Looking for Palladin” is playing only at the Regency Tamarac this week. How come?

It’s got one of the best actors around, Ben Gazzara, at its center. Here’s the IMDb one-sentence synopsis: “A young Hollywood player is drawn into a remote place looking for a quick deal and instead finds a sanctuary, a community, and ultimately himself.”

Sounds tender and heartwarming, but the word is there are serious problems with the direction, script and editing. Wait for the DVD.


The children’s matinee at Starz on Saturday at 3 p.m. is “Wow! Wow! Wubzy Goes Green!” Appropriate prior to 4/20:

SUNDAY, 4/18

On Sunday at 3 and 5:30 p.m., you can watch an astonishing creation at Starz – the oldest surviving animated feature, Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 “The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Plus, a live musical accompaniment from Miles and Karina. Don’t miss it.


The University of Denver is holding its first-ever Italian Film Festival this spring. At 6:30 p.m., it will present the 2007 drama directed by Salvatore Maira, “Valzer (The Waltz).”

Lots of hugging, crying and fighting – and a very sad man with a beard. The FREE show is presented in Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall on the DU campus.

Denver’s Westword magazine is sponsoring a sneak preview of Sylvain White’s “The Losers” at 7 p.m. This is the adaptation of the comic-book series (no, not the original DC war comic, the Vertigo 2003-2006 one. Take that, fanboy sticklers for accuracy.):

Hey, it looks like high-action, wise-cracking fun. Where’s it at? I don’t know. You have to go to and enter the code WWRDT09D to get your passes.


Too many choices on this night. At 7 p.m. at Starz, Cine Club presents the 2008 French comedy/noir by Ilan Duran Cohen, “The Joy of Singing (Le Plaisir de Chanter).”

This screening is sponsored by the Alliance Francaise, and will be followed by a wine and pastry reception. I’m a sucker for all things French, so count me in.

At 7:30 p.m., in the Community House of Boulder’s Chautauqua Park, our old pal Hank Troy will tickle the ivories live in accompaniment to Buster Keaton’s classic silent comedy masterpiece from 1927, “The General.” Troy is a genius and should be named a national treasure.

My definition of a classic film is one that rewards you with repeated pleasure and new insights every time you watch it. I’ve seen this at least 20 times, and I’ll see it again. P.S.: At these screenings, they utilize a 16mm projector. If you love the old-fashioned clatter of the sprockets, and that cozy smell of warm nitrate stock, this should an extra-special treat for you.

At 8 p.m. at the Bug Theatre in Denver, look for the One-Take Super 8 Event.

What is it? Here’s the blow-by-blow description, from the Denver Filmmakers Co-op – a discovery we welcome to our pages.

“Using only a single cartridge of Super 8, each film is shot, processed, and projected unaltered. No post-production is permitted; thus, the filmmakers see their films for the first time with the audience at the premiere. Participants of these events vary from novice to established filmmakers, representing an incredible diversity in artistic voices. The resulting films are as diverse as their creators, exploring every genre, form, style and tone. All of the work shown in this program will be projected on the original medium of Super 8.”

Sounds pretty interesting – check it out.


At 7 p.m., Denver’s Documentary Cinema Institute and Starz will present the new documentary from Zachary Levy, “Strongman.”

This looks quite good. (Boulder fans, if you can’t make the drive, hang tough – it’s coming to the International Film Series next week – WITH THE DIRECTOR IN PERSON.)


All right. This is where the rubber meets the road.

I don’t know why Century Boulder is hosting a midnight movie, but on Friday and Saturday, you can catch Mel Brooks’ 1987 “Star Wars” parody, “Spaceballs.”

OK, now, no fighting. Either you love it or you don’t. I have always thought that Brooks blew a tire right after “Young Frankenstein,” and never got his groove back. Plus, why did it take a decade to concoct?

At Denver’s Esquire, it’s Dan Eckman’s 2009 “Mystery Team” at midnight Friday and Saturday:

At 10 p.m. at Starz Friday and Saturday, it’s the deliciously awful 1984 zombie comedy from Thom Eberhardt, “Night of the Comet”:

Cheerleaders vs. zombies = pure viewing satisfaction. Plus, you can see performances from dependable character actor Geoffrey Lewis, cult star Mary Wonorov, an extremely young Robert Beltran, and 80’s movie princess Catherine Mary Stewart. It all seems so far away now. Thank God.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dying marriage, dying kid, death game -- this week at the movies

Choose, my child. Only two paths lie before you this weekend. You can take the straight and narrow road to righteousness, or get your cinema freak on with two of your favorite TV stars! Choose wisely. The decision you make may ruin your weekend.

First, let’s go with the seemingly obvious selection. “Date Night” features two of NBC’s hottest performers, Steve Carell and Tina Fey. It’s that old reliable template, the comic thriller.

You know, I’ve always thought the best way to inject life into a staid relationship is to get randomly mixed up in a violent conspiracy of some kind. Now, be warned: this is from the director of the “Night at the Museum” movies, and a writer associated with the tail end of the “Shrek” franchise. To quote my favorite Saturday morning TV show, “Chaka worry.”

Fey and Carell are not dumb, but they have made crap before (are we ever going to watch “Baby Mama” or “Evan Almighty” again? No). The most fun you can have with a tired old subgenre is to mock its conventions even while you are obeying them. It does not look as though this is the case here.

Movies such as these often hedge their bets by trying to be suspenseful AND funny, but not at the same time. You get a joke, then someone’s severed head lands in the leading lady’s lap. The result usually is something neither suspenseful nor funny. Even with the supporting talents of Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig, I’m gonna have to wait for the DVD.

“Letters to God”: BULLETPROOF. Why? Watch.

First of all, it’s CHRISTIAN. Now, whoa, whoa, put down the crucifix.

There’s nothing wrong with Christianity, or any other organized religion, he lied. I’m with Frank Sinatra – “Basically, I'm for anything that gets you through the night -- be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.” I believe in God – just not any of the major brands of it/him/her/they/us/me. So, if it works for you, GREAT. Don’t pray for me, don’t try to save me, and above all don’t try to share your feelings on this with me on this. It took me 50 years to figure my relationship with my higher power, and I am tired.

Christianity is pretty much the state-sponsored religion of America (I know, this religious-tolerance policy is much like those safety posters on the employee billboard at work – they’re official, but no one pays any attention to them). This GUARANTEES that it will be endorsed as a wholesome outing for the entire family in churches across our mighty Jesus demographic, and as a result the faithful will flock to it in droves.

But the God it promulgates is the Christian God, and that drags in a closetful of cultural assumptions and associations that, while they will ring bells for believers, will at the very least not interest and at the worst deeply annoy anyone else.

Second: THE DYING KID. This is what I call the "shoot the puppy" ploy. Put something innocent and powerless in jeopardy, and you'll have the audience eating out of your hand. Now, I HATE it when child characters are used in this manner -- and it's the premise of the film.

Sure, it's based on a true story. You know what happened in the true story? Someone embezzled the kid's cancer-fund money, the kid's dad lost his job and his house, and the kid died. But that story would have made it a Neil LaBute film. This is the ultimate lemons to-lemonade project of all time.

It doesn’t help that this plot point is unintentionally but painfully close to a gag in the Kids in the Hall’s only feature film, “Brain Candy”: I’m talking about the breathtakingly offensive Cancer Boy.

The chipper, doomed youngster has been a sturdy cliché since Dickens; the crippled newsboy and orphaned waif are of the same ilk.

Third: Everyone within a 100-yard radius of this charming urchin is going to experience redemption -- the drunken mailman, the faith-challenged mom, trees, stones -- you name it. The power of pathos will overcome.

Bleah. Message of hope? Commerical for Jesus? You decide. Now, if they had had the guts to tell the true story, and still pull a moral out of it -- that would have been a REAL expression of faith.

BUT WAIT! There’s a third path! The one that takes you to “The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond.”

It’s “Friday the 13th” crossed with “Jumanji”! This under-the-radar horror tale is directed by Gabriel Bologna, an ambitious director who’s created fare such as “30,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Girrl.” Looks scary. Could it be a sleeper hit?


Boulder’s International Film Series has some hot selections this week. On Friday, the second night of showings of Francois Ozon’s 2009 “Ricky” takes place.

OK, if you didn’t figure it out, this baby can fly. What in America would be a feel-good movie for the whole family could here be a more thoughtful exploration of the practical consequences of an absurd premise.

On Saturday, it’s Eliz Kazan’s “Wild River” from 1960.

It’s worth seeing if only to determine why it added to the prestigious National Film Registry. This drama about the coming of the Tennessee Valley Authority and its plan to dam a river valley trucks in early environmental concerns, statements about racism – and some non-graphic but highly erotic interaction between Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick.

Whether you think Kazan was a filmmaking genius, lousy stoolie (he cooperated with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the Red Scare of the 1950s) or both, his body of work certainly was interesting. Also note the presence of the severely under-regarded actors Jo van Fleet, Albert Salmi, and Jay C. Flippen. Look close and you’ll see, in his very first and uncredited screen role, Mr. Bruce Dern.

Monday's First Person Cinema series features Ben Russell and his recent work "Let Each One Go Where He May" -- it's 7 p.m. in the Visual Arts Complex Auditorium  on the CU-Boulder campus.

On Wednesday, it’s the very very strange 1977 Japanese horror film by Nobuhiko Obayashi, “House.”

What the hell? No, seriously, what? With American pop and what looks like the Japanese cast of “The Facts of Life.” A piano eats a young girl – well, we’ve all been there, I think.

On Thursday and Friday, what looks to be a very interesting Danish noir comes to the Series – Erling Jepsen’s 2008 “Terribly Happy.”

So even tiny Denmark has hick burgs where webs of lies, betrayals and murders are spun. As an added attraction, the town has a peat bog into which the inhabitants can toss anything or anyone that’s bothersome. No wonder my folks emigrated.

The Boulder Public Library winds up its spring film series on Monday with a 7 p.m. showing of 1957’s “The Good Soldier Svejk: Beg to Report, Sir,” a continuation of the film adaptation of Czech author Jaroslav Hasek’s anti-war satire by Karel Stekly. This show is FREE.

Denver’s Starz Film Center adds Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” to its menu, as well as a fresh print of Margot Benacerraf’s 1959 documentary “Araya.”

The trailer is so damn respectful, it makes me concerned that this will be a snore-fest. Good cinematography, though. Was Benacerraf the Venezuelan Einsenstein?

On Saturday at 7:15 p.m., Starz will host “An Evening with Etgen Keret.” The Israeli writer and filmmaker will present “$9.99,” a 2008 animated film by Australian director Tatia Rosenthal based on his work.

Tuesday, catch “Youth Knows No Pain,” what looks to be a fascinating documentary by Mitch McCabe about aging in America and our desperate and expensive attempts to stave it off. The whole idea is absurd to me, but then I am a) a man and b) a slob. I’m not rubbing Rogaine on my bald spot, just sunscreen.

On Wednesday, the documentary “Reporter” deals with journalist Nicholas Kristof and his coverage of Darfur. Denver-based reporter Tamara Banks will be on hand in person. This film looks harrowing and fascinating.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., Colorado filmmaker Amie Knox will present two of her film portraits of artists: “Deborah Butterfield: Dialogue with the Artist” and “Hella Jongerius.”

Complete information on Starz’s Focus on Japanese Cinema can be found in my next post . . .

The Landmark is bringing two new selections to its chain: at the Chez Artiste, it’s “City Island”:

Quirky indie comedy. It’s a crapshoot.

And, finally, “The Runaways” comes to both the Greenwood Village and the Mayan.

Word of mouth is, it’s the classic rock bio – Cinderella story, downfall and redemption included. The difference is, this one is encrusted with the glitter, drugs and nasty temperament that characterized the mid-‘70s, and it concerns my one of my favorite bands of all time! It might be worth it just for the nostalgic rush.

(P.S. Less Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, and more of Lita Ford, the future Queen of Speed Metal! P.P.S. “Cherry Bomb” doesn’t come close to being the group’s representative song – both “Waiting for the Night” and “Don’t Go Away” are far, far finer.)

Over at the Thin Man Tavern, the Wednesday film series begins a run of works by Wim Wenders, beginning with “The American Friend” at 8 p.m.

Look sharp and you’ll see directors Sam Fuller, Nicholas Ray and others.

The novel by Patricia Highsmith that is the basis of this fascinating but difficult film also spawned Liliana Cavani’s cruelly disregarded 2002 “Ripley’s Game.”

Over at the Bug Theatre, the Emerging Filmmakers Project takes place Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tickets are only $5, and viewers will see new work and talk to the filmmakers. As I’ve said before in relation to short-film programs at film festivals, these screenings are where talent is developed, displayed and tested. If you believe in supporting artists as they learn their craft, attend.


Did you know there’s a Turkish Student Association at CU-Boulder? Did you know they serve up Turkish Movie Nights? Did you know there is a Turkish cinema? Friday at 5:45 p.m., somewhere within the confines of the Eaton Humanities building on campus, Abdullah Oguz’s 200 “Bliss” will be shown.


Starz’s “The Watching Hour” will present the Japanese horror film “House” at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (see trailer above). And at the Esquire at midnight, it’s that cult wannabe, “The Room.”

Keep those informational updates coming in, folks! This list is becoming longer and more comprehensive each week. Hopefully, we can grow the audience for cinema of all shapes and sizes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Passover special: ‘The Ten Commandments’


Can you top this? Not only is Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 swan song as a director the most hyperbolic epic of all time – so is the trailer.

“The greatest movie picture of all time!” “A supreme emotional experience!” “DeMille’s overwhelming masterpiece!”

Modesty of means and statement was never a strong point with DeMille, the master showman of the American cinematic extravaganza. Only he would have the guts to turn the story of Moses and Passover into a rip-snortin' romantic triangle, complete with oily, bare-chested male leads, a drag-queen-ready performance from Anne Baxter, and an ornery and disheveled cast of thousands.

The stiff, painterly frame compositions and bombastic, super-serious acting style make this an instant camp classic. It is time once again to teach our children the true meaning of Pesach by laughing along to this enormous zircon of a film.

Theologically, it's a nightmare, despite the reams of experts referenced defensively in the opening credits. In DeMille's very special preshow front-of-curtain chat, he clearly equates ancient tyranny with contemporary Communism. DeMille's voice continues to narrate as the film begins.

In this interpretation, Moses is more of a he-manly star-spangled freedom-seeker. Shoehorning this complex set of stories into a riches-to-rags-to-Sinai saga formula makes this "Ten Commandments" the apotheosis of cinematic adaptations. The crazy-mirror sumptuousness of the scenery and the burning conviction in everyone's eyes (save for Cedric Hardwicke, who does whatever he damn pleases on screen and gets away with it) can't anchor its outrageous extravagances.

Comparisons of this earnest Biblical confetti with the ironic, subversive theater of Charles Ludlam and others who pretended to the throne of the Theatre of the Ridiculous are apt. The mise en scene and dialogue collide, with a screech of cocked eyebrows and sideways glances.

“Moses has words. Pharaoh has spears.”

“Your tongue will dig your grave, Memnet!”

“Does it take the entire Nile to quench your thirst?”

“Oh, Moses, Moses, why of all men did I fall in love with a prince of fools?”

“In the copper mines of Giza, the living are dead.”

“Too many ears tie a rat’s tongue.”

“All that you would have from me, he would not even take!”

“You do not cry out, Joshua. But you will – for the mercy of death!”

And on and on. It’s a heckuva story, deliriously extravagant. Ludicrous, yet compelling. At 220 minutes, it usually takes us all of eight days to wade through its garish delights. Happy Passover!

Monday, April 5, 2010

'ON THE AISLE': Going to the movies at Colony Square 12

 Thanks to Marty Mapes at Movie Habit, I am being given the chance to review not only movies, but movie venues as well. An ongoing series titled On the Aisle takes a look at local movie houses in the Denver/Boulder area. This time around, I look at the Colony Square 12 in Louisville.

REVIEW: "Scandal" -- a Kurosawa essay for Senses of Cinema

Here's my essay on Kurosawa's 1950 social drama "Scandal" for Australian film site Senses of Cinema. I'm so happy I can contribute a little to consideration of his work in honor of the 100th anniversary of the master's birth!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hit me again, bartender: retreads rule

Ladies and gentlemen, ZZ Top!
Re-release the Kraken!

As the band Challenger put it so eloquently, “Give the people what they want in lethal doses.” Like a clutch of shaky drunks jockeying for that first slug of Ol’ Crawdaddy in the morning, we crave consistency. The mainstream movies out this weekend provide it.

“Clash of the Titans”: this is pure fanboy-porn, retooled for 3D in post-production in the wake of the succes of "Avatar." The New York Times’ Mahnola Dargis dissects it most efficiently – “There are titans, they clash.”

Pretty busy up there on the screen. And hey, is that Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes? Why are they dressed up like Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill?

And hey, remember how good the original was? WRONG!

The 1981 release was mocked freely on its debut – the togas! Harry Hamlin’s poofy ‘80s hair! Great actors slumming for a paycheck in a ludicrous fantasy/adventure! The big difference here seems to be the lack of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, who learned his trade with Willis O’Brien, the creator of the original King Kong. “Clash” was his final outing.

Here are Harryhausen’s thoughts on the remake:

Eloquently put.

“The Last Song”: another Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

This makes the sixth film version of one of his novels in 12 years, and it’s reassuringly similar to its predecessors. It’s all about feelings and relationships – kryptonite to “Clash”goers. These films are ever-present, hanging out on the periphery of the collective consciousness like a spanger at the traffic light.

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US, NICHOLAS SPARKS FILM ADAPTATIONS? Is this like a thing where you keep it up until we pay you to stop? Let me know what I need to do.

“Why Did I Get Married Too?”: Precious little advance data is available about Tyler Perry’s ninth feature film. He doesn’t utilize mainstream-media gatekeepers – he doesn’t have to.

The man who single-handedly created a media empire (he’s best known for his “Madea” film series) has been given only glancing, grudging recognition by Hollywood. You may have seen him for a minute or two as an admiral in the new “Star Trek,” and he was given a token (in every sense of the word) appearance at the most recent Academy Awards ceremony.

Why is that? Here's LaToya Peterson's take, on Salon. He’s an auteur. He has creative control. Whatever you think of his work, it is popular enough to make him a multimillionaire. He is seen as a niche artist, I guess, an African American who only speaks to other African Americans. He doesn’t even creep into the periphery of the mainstream cultural conversation.

But his success demonstrates that he’s touching something in people with his work (yes, just as it does for Nicholas Sparks). Why does everyone seem so embarrassed about him? If he’s a hack, so were hundreds of filmmakers before him.

It may be in part the terror of not knowing how to assimilate him into the overarching power structure. In Hollywood, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but few have tried to ape him. The unclassifiable rival has been stigmatized.

Does every African American artist have to be another August Wilson or Spike Lee, someone whose viewpoint we’ve learned to assimilate? Relax, people. Give his work some respect and some critical scrutiny.

P.S. This film may blow.


International Film Series: one more showing of Niels Oplev’s Swedish noir “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on Friday at 7 p.m.:

This looks good, and it filled the house at IFS’s Muenzinger Auditorium last night. Unless you want to drive to Denver, this is your first best chance to see it on the big screen. P.S. Director and Denver native David Fincher ("Fight Club," "...Benjamin Button") is already associated with a plan for an American remake.

On Saturday, it’s the quirky comedy/drama from Switzerland that wound up as a Best Foreign Film nominee, “Home”:

The big news in Boulder is the coming of the annual Conference on World Affairs this week. Roger Ebert is back. Also present will be directors Ramin Bahrani and Tom Shadyac, actress Julia Sweeney, film writer Jim Emerson and visual effects supervisor Michael Fink.

A highlight will be the appearance of Werner Herzog, with an examination of his landmark 1972 “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” all week in Cinema Interruptus, four two-hour session devoted to a participatory stop-and-discuss session with Ebert, the audience and others. (See Sunday’s post for full film-related Conference on World Affairs information.)

On Sunday, the IFS will present “Aguirre” FREE – twice, at 4 and 7 p.m. The sessions, dubbed “Cinema Uninterruptus,” gives all interested parties a chance to review the film in its entirety before the games begin Monday.

This deeply disturbing movie is a game-changer – it freaked me out when I saw it during its long initial New York run as a cult favorite. After many years of being a cult favorite himself, Herzog is finally getting his due. (Plus he wrote one of my favorite books, "Of Walking in Ice," a diary of his cross-country hike to visit a serious ill Lotte Eisner. Equally adept at feature-length and short-form, narrative and documentary, equipped with wicked bite and hallucinatory insight, we’re lucky to have him here.

IFS proudly relates via its Website that the print to be screened is “going to be the original -- AND ONLY -- English 35mm print in existence. Most of the prints people have seen of AGUIRRE were in German with English subtitles, but what most people don't know is that the German was done later in post-synchronization.”

So is the sound OK?

On Wednesday, IFS goes for cheesy glory with 2008’s P.O.V. monster flick “Cloverfield.” SPECIAL GUEST ACTOR T.J. MILLER (Hud, the guy with the camera!). That is extremely cool.

'CLOVERFIELD' UPDATE: IFS Director Pablo Kjolseth writes on Saturday, "I'd like to add that CLOVERFIELD'S T.J. Miller will be at Abo's On The Hill this Wednesday at 7pm for a meet-and-greet as part of the last SCI-FI SIX PACK pizza and brews deal, before sauntering over to the 8pm screening."

At the Boulder Public Library, on Monday at 7 p.m. it’s “The Good Soldier Svejk.” Karel Stekly’s 1956 adaptation of Jaroslav Hasek epic satire and anti-war novel.

On Thursday, it’s Ramin Bahrani’s 2007 “Chop Shop.”

He’s in town for the Conference on World Affairs. Think he’ll show up to the screening? We’ll see. All BPL shows are FREE.

New at Starz: “West of Pluto.”

Teen angst, Quebec-style.

Three new offerings via Denver’s Landmark chain. First, at the Chez Artiste: “Ajami.”

It won the Grand Prize at the Boulder International Film Festival this year, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film as well. It’s pretty damn good.

At the Mayan, “Vincere”:

I don’t know. I’ve heard good things and bad things about this one. Mussolini was obviously one of the biggest evil jerks of all time; no problem there. But can we handle 122 minutes of smoldering glances, passionate embraces, people thrusting their fists into the air, torture and repression, all with a patented dead wreath of Eurogloom surrounding it and permeating the color scheme? I don’t know. Bring some coffee.

And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” opens at the Esquire.


At Starz on Saturday at 3 p.m. it’s “Barbie in a Mermaid Tale” as part of Kids Saturday Nickelodeon. She’s part mermaid – unfortunately, it’s not the half that eats! BLING-O! Thanks, thanks a lot.

As a warm-up for the Starz Focus on Japanese Cinema April 8-11, the great director Kenji Mizoguchi ("Sansho the Bailiff," "Ugetsu") ’s last film, the 1956 “Street of Shame,” will be shown at 7 p.m. on Saturday. It’s a FREE SHOW, and part of the Tattered Cover Classic Film Series.

Meanwhile, at the Denver Public Library, on Tuesday at 6 p.m., the shoulda-been-an-Best-Picture-Oscar-winner series continues with Terence Malick’s unsettling 1973 masterpiece, “Badlands.” (Winner? “The Sting.”)

The other BIG film event in the area, besides CWA, is Starz’s Focus on Japanese Cinema, which begins on Wednesday and runs through Sunday. On Wednesday the 7th, at 11:30 a.m., Howie Movshovitz, a great film critic, writer and educator, will give “Japanese Cinema 101,” an overview of the discipline in historical and cultural context. This presentation is FREE! Get wise and go.

On Thursday at 4 p.m., film historian, scholar and Kurosawa expert David Desser will give the talk “Master Class: Traditional Culture and Japanese Cinema.”

At 7 p.m., Mikio Naruse’s 1960 “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” shows.

True film snobs should see this in tandem with “Street of Shame” at Starz on Saturday, for purposes of comparison. Two dramas, released within four years of each other, featuring women who prostitute themselves, a popular Japanese genre.

It’s climbing-film time Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Boulder Theater, with Chuck Fryberger’s “CORE.”

NEW VENUE FOUND! It’s the Thin Man Tavern at 2015 E. 17th Ave. in Denver. Some wickedly hip person is designing an awesome weekly film program there. On Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Tavern’s Ubisububi Room is Krystov Kieslowski’s 1982 metaphysical drama “No End (Bez Konca).”

I recommend this, sight unseen. Kieslowski is nest known for his "Decalogue," "Red" "White" and "Blue" trilogy, and "The Double Life of Veronique." I've never been disappointed by his work.

Westword’s Susan Froyd was kind enough to remind me that the Bug Theatre in Denver, itself originally a silent movie house, still shows film as part of its mission. More on events there as they loom.


OK, John Hughes fans, let’s get one thing clear. I am not one of you. Sorry. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I don’t like his work, by and large. He was not a “maverick,” as obituarists might have it. I have nearly gotten punched in the face several times over this dislike, so it’s out on the table. Just let me know you’re comin’. At midnight at the Esquire Friday and Saturday, it’s the “The Breakfast Club.”

And last but not least, at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Starz, we go up to Camp Heaven with Dorian Walker’s 1989 “Teen Witch”!

Simple concept – she’s a teen, she’s a witch. Love it. Film geeks will love the presence of such obscure-reference superstars such as Dick Sargent, Marcia Wallace, Shelley Berman, Zelda Rubenstein, “Near Dark”’s Joshua John Miller, and Tom Cruise-lookalike Dan Gauthier!

There’s poofy hair! There’s rap! Arrive heavily medicated, and get ready to pop and lock! See you next week.