Friday, May 28, 2010

Why Islam hates us: ‘Sex & City 2’ vs. ‘Prince of Persia’

 If you wonder why most of the known world despises America, and why the Muslim world thinks of us as the Great Satan, the pair of movies opening this weekend will serve as ample illustration. Hell, after seeing the previews, even I think we’re the Great Satan.

For some ridiculous reason, two films in which the Middle East and what is now known as Iran play a huge role are opening simultaneously – “Sex and the City 2” and “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” The simplification and misinterpretation (also known as stereotyping) of Middle Eastern and western Asian cultures runs rampant here. You think Iran’s President Ahmadinejad got mad about “300” – he will do history’s biggest spit-take over these two bad boys.

Let’s look:

First of all, ladies, I respect you as people and performers – but your characters are not attractive. Not by a long shot. It seems like some plastic surgeon got all whipped up on amyl and went after you with a Botox-loaded machine gun. You look all gnawed on and gnarly, like a stick my dog’s been sharpening his teeth on for weeks.

Yes, American culture despises women who don’t fit into a certain age and body-type category. However, you are not helping things by dressing up like the old ladies from Miami Beach and standing around bitching. This would hold true if I had to watch a movie about fat old guys trying recapture their youth, too – “Wild Hogs,” anyone? (For a great movie about male menopause, check out Cassavettes’ “Husbands.”)

Second: materialism and narcissism are the pathways to hell on earth. Don’t take it from me – listen to Bongwater’s “Folk Song” for the most profound insight about sucking and shopping, and whorishness as lifestyle ideal (the key sequence comes at about seven minutes in):

Third: Abu Dabi (Morocco stands in for it here, since no Muslim ruler who is allergic to car bombs would let crap like this be shot there), or any foreign locale, is not just a backdrop for wacky hi-jinks. Especially ones that involves spoiled American bitches experiencing life crises.

This film is so campy it insults camp. And, if Liza shows up at your gay wedding, girl, I will sue to have your sexual orientation legally revoked. It’s overkill. Who’s the bridesmaid – Richard Simmons? Who’s the priest – Rip Taylor? Now get off my bridal train and don’t make any more of these flicks.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”:

Oh, those wacky Persians! We have a thing for “Arabian” romance – both the original, silent “Thief of Baghdad” and its 1940 remake are works of wonder. A spate of films in the ‘40s and ‘50s such as Jon Hall/Maria Montez vehicles “The Arabian Nights” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and even worse, “Baghdad,” “A Thousand and One Nights,” and “Son of Sinbad,” to name some stinkers, held sway.

The wily camel merchant, the sinister vizier, the bare-midriffed, chiffon-coated princess, and the resourceful urchin in brocade vest and turban are as big a part of our mental furniture as the genie, the magic carpet and “Open Sesame.” (Perhaps only Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad trilogy of stop-motion Sinbad mythos managed to respect the culture while relating tales about it.)

Today, we perpetuate misunderstanding and mistrust with the greasy Iranian villains of “True Lies,” the misogynist society that puts the beat-down on Sally Field in “Not without My Daughter,” and the armed women and children who attack Samuel L. Jackson in “Rules of Engagement.” It’s bullshit.

“Prince of Persia” recycles all this nonsense and puts it on the “puree” speed. Ben Kingsley is our go-to bad guy; Jake Gyllenhaal is our wisecracking Buff Daddy. C’mon. I know, it’s based on a video game. Jerry Bruckheimer, you are our Irwin Allen, our Cecil B. DeMille, our schlockmeister.

But dammit, I know you can do better. You produced “Black Hawk Down”! You produced the Robert Mitchum “Farewell, My Lovely”! You produced “Thief,” for crap’s sake! Help me out, braugh. Go on a CGI fast, cool your jets, and make something I can vote for next Oscar time.

Besides the 88 Drive In, the Backdoor Theater in Nederland is now open. Nederland is a little haven 13 miles up the canyon from Boulder, and the Theater is a little hole-in-the-wall place that shows flicks on Fridays and Saturdays over the summer. Movies start at 7 p.m. “Iron Man 2” is this weekend’s selection.


At the Mayan: “180 Degrees South”:

The genre of exploration film is almost dead, since most of our physical world has had cameramen and –women crawl over it in search of new footage. Adventure film has filled that niche – men and women go to the same faraway places, but this time they surf or ski or parachute or hang-glide or Big Wheel or play mancala from/on same.

But we’re about done ringing the changes on that as well. The tropes of the template run like this: you get your adventure footage, you realize there’s more to it than just the thrill of the next adventure, you gain a little wisdom, you go home a little wiser. Plus you have this cowabunga footage to show for it.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you really want to challenge yourself, erase the data. Don’t make the movie. Leave your camera behind. Just live, have your experience undocumented. Don’t even reveal where you’ve been, so that hordes of posers don’t follow you and trample your pristine wilderness experience into oblivion.

For some reason, it’s also carrying “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead”:

Now that the schlock horror director has become catnip for intellectuals, it kind of makes sense to book this into an art house. Still, it’s a ZOMBIE MOVIE, people, with all the bloodthirsty, grimly humorous scenes you’ve come to expect.

Does it offer a sardonic look at human mores? Probably. But it also looks like it’s running out of ideas.

At Starz, we have a revival run of Kurosawa’s last big epic, “Ran”:

Staggering work of genius? I don’t know. I lined up eagerly to see it when it first came out, and nearly died of boredom. (I know, I’m an idiot.) I love Kurosawa, he’s in my top three, but I really didn’t like it, so much so that I haven’t tried to watch it again. I have got to suck it up and give it another try. Like those novels you hated in high school, it’s supposed to be a classic. Dammit, I’ll try.

“Ride the Divide”:

OK, now this looks great. Unlike the adventure film referenced above, here’s a film about grueling race over a known course that’s a personal test for those involved. I want to see this one, if only to see big strong cyclists cry.



At Starz, the Mile Hi Sci Fi features 1988’s “Alien Nation” 7 and 9:30 p.m. (the program repeats Saturday):

It’s the ur-“District 9,” and the conceit of aliens as an oppressed race is pretty well-executed here. The conceit of Mile Hi Sci FI is that a panel of local comics sit around and make fun of the film while it plays, a la “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”


At the Denver Art Museum, a double feature of the unique pleasures of typography and letterpress printing are explored at 1 p.m., with the showing of “Typeface” and “Jack Stauffacher, Printer.” It’s part of the Museum’s “About Face” series – and a panel discussion featuring local and national printmakers will follow.


Starz shows what looks like the great new film “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” 7 p.m.

Andy Serkis came to fame as the voice of Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and even served as the matrix for the performance of the title character in Peter Jackson’s version of “King Kong.” He deserves more notice – his acting gifts are amazing, no more so than in this look at the life of New Wave genius, and very naughty boy, Ian Drury.

Meanwhile, a FREE showing of the intense and disturbing documentary “Gimme Shelter” takes place in the basement of the central branch of the Denver Public Library at 6 p.m.:

It started as a kind of vanity project, but the tragedy and chaos of Altamont seals the movie’s fate as a kind of tombstone of the Summer of Love. Directed by the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin, it’s also a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. There will be more items coming up -- Fresh City Life @ DPL presents “Presence of the Camera: Documentaries” all summer long.


At Starz, it’s a repeat showing of “When You’re Strange: A Film about the Doors,” 7:10 p.m.

At Boulder Chautauqua, Buster Keaton’s great 1923 comedy “Our Hospitality” plays at 7:30 p.m.

Not as well known as “The General” or even “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” it’s just as funny and breathtaking. This time, the live musical accompaniment is provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Good clean fun for the whole family!

Down in Denver at the Thin Man Tavern, the Wim Wenders festival continues at 8 p.m. with the peculiar 2000 whodunit, “The Million Dollar Hotel”:

It’s notable for sporting a story by Bono, and for Mel Gibson proclaiming that it was as boring as a dog’s ass. Only one way to find out . . .


At Starz, DocNight features “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,” 7 p.m.:

At the Boulder Public Library, 7 p.m., Woody Allen’s killer sci-fi satire, “Sleeper”:

Filmed in and around Denver and Boulder. God, it’s funny. “My brain! It’s my second-favorite organ!”

The Boulder Theater sports “When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors” again, at 8 p.m.

And the Argus Film Festival presents a Super Secret Mystery Movie at 7 p.m. at the Mercury Café, 2199 California St.


At the Century Boulder, Friday and Saturday at midnight, it’s “Reservoir Dogs”:

At Starz, the Watching Hour at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday gives us 1980’s “Stunt Rock”: What the hell? Heavy metal, stunts . . . plot? Characters? Nah. Not important.

At the Esquire, we get to peek in at another, earlier example of George A. Romero’s twisted genius – 1988’s “Monkey Shines”:

WAAAHHH!!! Telepathic monkey + papraplegic = death and destruction. Looks fun!

And of course, there’s always “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Huzzah! Enjoy your holiday weekend -- talk to you next week!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Echoes of echoes: ‘Shrek Forever After’ vs. ‘MacGruber’

 The law of diminishing returns is in play this week. Like a rat with an electrode in its head, pressing the pleasure key that activates it until it dies, we keep coming back to the same stimulation. When will the bottom fall out?

In case you forgot, the “Shrek” film series originated with a children’s book by William Steig, the amazing author and illustrator who created it and other classics such as “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” “Pete’s a Pizza” and “Dr. De Soto.”

In classic Hollywood fashion, the source was expanded and gagged up, becoming the kind of movie that can appeal to kids and still speak over their heads to the adults, including enough pop-culture references and elbow nudges to keep parents awake.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The original Grimm’s fairy tales were straightforward exercises in cultural anthropology, but rapidly underwent alterations by adapters. Carlo Gozzi, Charles Perrault and La Fontaine, who predate the Grimm brothers, rewrote folk stories and fables freely. Hans Christian Andersen captured the tone of the fairy tale while inventing them out of the whole cloth.

In the 20th century, Disney and Warner Brothers put the tales to work in features and shorts such as “Snow White,” “The Three Little Pigs” and Bugs Bunny’s various interactions with the Three Bears –

Later, the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segments of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” animated series, Shelley Duvall’s “Fairy Tale Theatre” series for HBO, and the masterfully satirical number of takes by writer/illustrator James Marshall

got us used to looking at these stories from a contemporary perspective. It looks like “Shrek Forever After” goes down the familiar path, using Rumplestiltskin s its bete noire:

Then there’s “MacGruber.” For full enjoyment, you need to know a) the TV series it spoofs, which starred Richard Dean Anderson and ran from 1985-1992; b) the “Saturday Night Live” sketch series that mocked it so efficiently.

If they threw all the jokes into the trailer, we are in serious trouble. I love Will Forte, Kristen Wiig and the rest. Val Kilmer? Who knows. He was hilarious in “Batman Forever,” “Tombstone” and “Thunderheart.” Powers Booth? Who knows. He was hilarious in “Red Dawn,” “The Emerald Forest” and “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.”

Can a 99-minute film of a 15-second sketch joshing a 25-year-old TV show entertain? It’s your dime. You make the call.

Meanwhile, the 88 Drive In continues with a slight change in program – now it’s showing “Shrek Forever After” and “Iron Man 2,” a nifty double bill. I praised the drive-in-going experience last week; go and let me know if and how you liked it.


What’s up with the Regency Tamarac Square Cinemas? The Regency chain is located completely within California, save for Denver’s Tamarac Square and the Tropicana in Las Vegas. And, thrillingly, they add a sprinkling of non-mainstream films, the only theater in the area to challenge the art-house monopoly of the Landmark chain. (Pssst – they’re a little cheaper than Landmark, too!)

Here are two features they’re carrying this week that you can’t see anywhere else right now:


OK. If you don’t like Bollywood, stay home. I think the Indian film industry is great – full of exuberance, fun and style. Is it riddled with conventions? Is it weird when they sing and dance out of nowhere? No more so than when Fred and Ginger do.

“Kites” was shot in Hindi, with full-on musical numbers, and in English. They cut out all the songs and dances for the English version, from 130 to 90 minutes. It looks like sexy, escapist candy.

“The Yellow Handkerchief”:

It came and went in February. It looks like a small, quality film with good acting and a thoughtful script. William Hurt and Maria Bello both can act.

Meanwhile, at the Mayan:

“Casino Jack and the United States of Money”:

Alex Gibney is one smart, talented documentarist whose greatest gift is knowing how to tell the story. This look at Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his conspirators and victims, both of which categories include your elected representatives, looks like a very constructive exercise in outrage.

“The Good, the Bad, the Weird”:

The first kimchi Western? Sure, it’s an homage/parody. It looks frantic and self-consciously stylized. Then again, it looks like it has a heart, and a pulse to go with it. Could be fun.

At the Chez Artiste:

“Mother and Child”:

Intelligent weeper, with strong performances all around.


“Breath Made Visible: Anna Halprin” premiered locally at the Boulder International Film Festival in February, and now it’s in general release. Doesn’t it just look amazing? It is.



Well, if you’ve got the stomach for it , you can jump through some hoops listed in the Denver weekly Westword and snag preview tickets for both “Sex and the City 2” and “Prince of Persia.” More on those as they loom this coming weekend . . .

As usual, the real gems are hidden away – let’s root them out, shall we?

RMPBS Community Cinema
“A Village Called Versailles,” 7 p.m.

Women + Film
“Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter,” 7 p.m.


At Boulder’s historic Chautauqua Auditorium, it’s time for one of my favorite festivals of the year – the Silent Film Series. The first selection: “Reaching for the Moon,” an early Douglas Fairbanks Sr. feature film that helped to cement his appeal as the American everyman, who faces romance and adventure with a cheeky can-do spirit. Who’s delivering the live musical accompaniment? The wonderful Hank Troy, that’s who! Don’t miss it.

Starz presents the 1959 classic by Marcel Camus, “Black Orpheus,” at 7 p.m.:

“The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court,” plays at 7:30 p.m.

Our pals at FLIC Boulder (Food, Libation and Independent Cinema) are staging their second great get-together at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. The treat this month is Shane Meadows’ 2008 “Somers Town”:

Remember, this is an EVENT – with preshow cartoons, live entertainment and the like. Doors open at 7:15 p.m.

At Denver’s Thin Man Tavern, the weekly Wim Wenders festival continues with the uplifting 1999 documentary “Buena Vista Social Club” at 8 p.m.:


Boulder Public Library presents “How to Have a Money Making Garage Sale,” 7 p.m. The BPL website states, "Also screened is documentary footage of actual Boulder garage sales by local filmmakers and Boulder Municipal Channel 28. On stage is a typical garage sale installation, and the audience is asked to please bring the strangest thing you have ever gotten at a garage sale to display for the evening." Fun! And FREE.

At Starz, DocNight presents the documentary “Typeface,” also at 7 p.m.:

Director Justine Nagan will be there! It looks fun, as it should.

Monday, May 17, 2010

'Robin Hood' vs. Queen Latifah! plus, the drive-in is open!

It really would have been better for everyone if Russell Crowe and Queen Latifah had just traded lead roles in the two big films coming out this weekend. Why?

a. Queen Latifah would kick some serious butt as Robin Hood. C’mon, if she was coming at you with a sword and axe and staff and bow and arrow and all that, you’d run. You would!
b. I would much rather see her get it on with Cate Blanchett than I would Russell Crowe.
c. Crowe, despite his beefcake status, is a good, dedicated actor. It would be a lot more interesting to see how he would play his character’s gently blossoming romantic relationship with an NBA player.

Oh, well, dream on. Let’s look at our choices.

“Robin Hood”: ALERT – I am a huge Robin Hood fan. I’ve seen all the versions: Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Errol Flynn, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Costner (eeeuhhh), Sean Connery (“Robin and Marian”), Richard Greene (the popular ‘50s British TV series), John Cleese (in “Time Bandits”), Bugs Bunny (“Rabbit Hood”), Daffy Duck (“Robin Hood Daffy”), Dick Gautier (“When Things Were Rotten” TV spoof), Cary Elwes (“Robin Hood: Men in Tights”) . . . even Ralph Jenkins in “Robin Hood und seine lüsternen Mädchen”!

This one looks about average. Let’s look at Trailer #2 of three, as it contains the most information --

In keeping with the spirit of Hollywood instinct to move always toward blockbuster grandiosity, it looks a tad inflated. Lots and lots of slow-mo ultraviolence, grimacing bloody muddy agony, clenched hair, clenched fists, hair clenched in fists, the ring of massed voices on the battlefield and the whoosh-woosh of eight jillion arrows descending to their targets.

On the plus side, we have some expert actors – Crowe, Blanchett, Max von Sydow -- Danny Huston, William Hurt and Eileen Atkins, none of whom we see in the preview. We even have an outrageously eye-popping, poofy, over-the-top turn by Oscar Issac as the evil Prince John (“I DECLARE him an OUTLAW!”) and Matthew Macfadyen as the super-badass, club-swinging Sheriff of Nottingham.

But what the hell is Robin’s political orientation? He roars out “liberty under law” to the Merry Men at one point. Is he a libertarian or something? Does he scream “Ask first to hunt or fish on private land” during the big climax? Not sure. Anyway, it’s poor folks versus the mean old nobility – I’m down with that any day.

Ridley Scott directs this one – he’s become our go-to guy for spectacle. Which is too bad, really. He’s got a great visual sense, is a master storyteller and really respects his actors. In there ways, he reminds me of Anthony Mann, who went from taut noir dramas to sweeping, psychologically penetrating Westerns to overblown epics at the end of his career.

Scott faces the same challenge – he’s got the goods, the guts and the leadership to pull these big projects off, but he constantly risks getting swamped by the sheer size of the projects. Will “Robin” work? It looks as unwieldy as a two-handed broadsword.

“Just Wright”:

$10, please. You’ve just seen the whole movie.

I think what will move people to see this are the lessons we can never get too many of regarding love and relationships and selfhood –

1. If you are a big lady, you are scrappy and have a sense of humor.
2. If your girlfriend is skinny, then she is a shallow whore who will screw you over in a heartbeat.
3. Dudes can’t stop thinking with their private parts, at least until your relationship with them blows up and they realize how much they’ll miss their good thing.
4. Queen Latifah is smart and watchable.

Last but least, “Letters to Juliet”:

No. No no no. Damn, white people, come on. Your reputation for being boring is bad enough, without adding this to the pile.

Can’t we just leave poor Vanessa Redgrave alone? In the past 14 months, she’s lost her daughter, and both of her siblings. Must we put her in this Harlequin romance as well? (OK, she signed a contract – and she’s a little kooky.)

People, we can do better than this. Ancient flame rekindled, two young people butting heads learn to love each other – it’s Shakespeare Light. This will play forever on some cable channels for lonely folks. Wait ‘til it gets there.


The best news is, the drive-in is open! There’s only one left, and if you’ve never been, you really should go.

The 88 Drive-In is, logically enough, located at 88th Avenue and Rosemary Street in Commerce City , in an industrialized area near the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

A perfect double feature is still playing there, until further notice -- "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Iron Man 2." For those of you too young to remember, a "double feature" is two movies for the price of one, without having to sneak nto a different auditorium!

Is the drive-in, in general, an exemplary film-going experience? In technical terms, not so much – the screen is not particularly bright, and you pipe the sound in via your car radio. As a cultural experience, it’s fantastic.

I grew up with drive-ins, back when the Denver metro area was littered with them – the Lake Shore, the Wadsworth, the Cinderella Twin, the Holiday , the East 70, the NorWest, the Evans. They were the places you could go with your kids – most theaters had a playground area and a snack bar, and when the kids were tired you just put them in their jammies and they passed out in the back seat.

Most places charged you by the carload, and if your dad had a pickup truck, you would cram it with neighbors and friends, park it backwards, and sit in the truck bed and watch under blankets.

Most importantly, if you were a teenager, the drive-in offered ESCAPE from adult supervision, a chance to drink stolen beers, make out and more. I first got drunk at the drive-in. I first got high at the drive-in. I almost had my first sexual experience there several times, not for lack of trying.

For a good feel of how it was, give a listen to the track “Pedro and the Man at the Drive-In” from Cheech and Chong’s 1973 “Los Cochinos” album. Otherwise, do yourself a favor – pack some food, booze, drugs and condoms, and partake of the ruckus.


There is a slew of new work at the local cinema boutiques. At the Chez Artiste, we have “The Secret in Their Eyes”:

It won the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year, and looks smart and complicated.

And “Mid-August Lunch”:

Old ladies are funny.

At the Mayan, we have “The Eclipse.” Is he a kooky guy? Does he see a ghost? Hmmm:

Then there's "Sweetgrass." It's about sheep. It's 'sposed to be riveting. Ahem.

At Starz, new is “The Exploding Girl”:

Uh-oh. Emotions. Boring, boring emotions. Shoegaze. Emocore. Brian Eno. Music for Airports. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

I'm sorry, where was I?


More and more, theater owners are finding creative new ways to utilize their spaces. For instance – are you into drum and bugle corps? I'm not. “DCI 2010: The Countdown” can be found in a few multiplexes.


“Sons of the Fallen: A Live Tribute to Our Military Heroes” takes place at 6 p.m. in the Century Boulder theater. It features the music of Clint Black, and will provide live coverage from a camp in the Rocky Mountains that serves the children of military personnel killed in the line of duty.

Down at the University of Denver, the final entry in the Italian Film Fest series is “Ex,” a comedy from 2009 by Fausto Brizzi. It plays at 8:30 p.m. in Davis Auditorium . . .

Love, laughter, talking fast and using your hands a lot when you speak, soulful montages of people thinking while a romantic ballad plays in the background, the camera swooping into each face . . . eh.


Opera fans can catch an encore presentation of the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcast of “Armida,” starring Renee Fleming, at 6:30 p.m. at the Century Boulder. She's a witch! And she gets mad at no fewer than six tenors. It's by Rossini:

At 7 p.m. at the Starz Film Center, you can catch Eric Rohmer’s 1983 “Pauline at the Beach.” It’s followed by a wine and pastry reception and discussion, all sponsored by the Alliance Francaise. It's typical Rohmer, love and touching and Frenchness and I'm nodding off:

At the Boulder Theater at 8 p.m., you can see “When You’re Strange: A Film about the Doors”:

This has a lot of buzz, but how big is this? I admire the Doors but do not love them. I went to Jim's grave. I was sad. Are we going to learn anything new?

The Thin Man Tavern in Denver keeps its Wim Wenders festival going with an 8 p.m. showing of “Lisbon Story” from 1994:

How come I never heard about this? It looks wonderful. Wenders has a love of life that comes through in everything he makes, no matter how dark or cynical he can become. Wow.


At the Boulder Public Library at 7 p.m., you can watch Agnes Varda’s 2000 documentary, “The Gleaners & I”:

It seems to me that she embraces the same kind of philosophy regarding her documentary investigations that I do toward my writing -- she lets it take her where it will, and she is not afraid to engage personally with it. " . . . I always refer to 'subjective documentary'. It seems to me that the more motivated I am by what I film, the more objectively I film," she is quoted as saying. This looks interesting.

At Denver’s Bug Theatre, the Emerging Filmmakers Project convenes for its monthly session at 8 p.m.

So, try to be picky this week -- avoid gettin bored to death. Sheep. Emotions. Bleah.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

‘Iron Man 2’ and the mechanics of complete domination


It’s pretty obvious that “Iron Man 2” is unstoppable at the old box office. Let’s see why:

“How long can you stay fresh in that can?” Thank you, Bert Lahr.

Only one other film opened in the mainstream last week – “Babies.” OK? It’s a documentary about four cute little babies. This is called counterprogramming. Don’t want smart-ass dialogue, action, thrills and special effects out the wazoo? Then go to “Babies.”

“Babies” is also bomb-proof. C’mon, try coming out against a movie called, and about, babies. My womb aches just thinking about it.

Now, with a hot property such as the “Iron Man” franchise, it’s important not to screw it up. So promotion for this expensive superhero spectacle and franchise entry was everywhere – on the Internet, on TV, in supermarkets, big-box stores and the like. Thousands upon thousands of Iron Man masks, gizmos and frippery stared at shoppers from every standalone display. The penetration of the collective consciousness was complete.

And of course, it’s not really the story that matters. It’s the sensory experience – being thrust into the Iron Man cosmos. This experience must conform to the template of the prior successful thrill ride, with enough variation to provide new interest . . . or at least MORE OF THE SAME. Not just Iron Man, but Iron Man and his buddy. Versus a worthy villain and, this time, a ton of Iron Man knockoffs? Pins to be knocked over. What will they do next time?

Anyway, the trailer’s mission is to show that we’re going to have a good time at this movie, and that we’d better not miss it. So we get a quick thumb through the faces – we’ve got Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle (who replaced Terrence Howard, who pissed someone off somewhere between “1” and “2”), along with Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson. Evidently we have gotten back to the Hollywood star system well enough so that we can identify these folks, and nudge each other over them, without titles.

Good actors all, and it looks like the dialogue is hammy and wise to itself. That’s the second part of the formula – we need to know we’re going to have some laughs.

Third, least important and most badly done are the action sequences. Chases, explosions, giant robots – run-of-the-mill stuff that really take the background here. “Spider-Man” proved to me at least that a faceless hero is no hero at all. No matter how wild that film series got, I never hooked in to it the way I did Superman or Batman. “Iron Man” forgets this, so the ostensibly cool parts will end up being the sections to fast-forward through in the end.

At least, that’s my guess.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Freddy Krueger vs. Brendan Fraser: everybody loses

Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. At either of these two movies, I mean.

OK, kids, this is the last week before the surging slate of summer movies comes our way – “Iron Man 2,” “Robin Hood,” “Shrek Forever After” . . . so we are given a palate-cleansing duo of duds this Friday.

First off, there’s the reboot of “Nightmare on Elm Street” – which one of the three trailers do you want to watch?

Let’s start with the 1984 original:

OK, a classic, right? Wes Craven, along with George Romero, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, created the graphic, nihilistic new wave of horror, in which bodies get flayed/spiked/eviscerated/turned inside out/ad infinitum, no heroes survive, the villain lives to kill another day, and there’s no safe place anymore for anyone ever.

This shattering, disturbing approach changed movies forever with their transgressive power. They opened the genre up, making it capable of touching on societal and psychological truths – and also let idiots who confused gore with genius and sadism with profundity to make reprehensible torture-porn such as the “Saw” series, “Hostel,” and the upcoming “Human Centipede” and “A Serbian Film.”

The Freddy franchise proved so durable that it spawned eight sequels, a TV series, and made an iconic figure out of the central villain, whose indelible portrayal by Robert Englund became a campy, cackling kind of antihero for many (let’s not forget that the character slaughtered 20 children before his initial demise).

OK, here are all three of the new trailers:

Ideally, if you’re gong to revisit such a pivotal film, you should bring something new to it. Is that the case here?


The one is feel really sorry for is Jackie Earle Haley, the new Freddy, who is locked into a three-picture contract on this project. Haley proved that he can play what one reviewer called “creeps and maniacs” with aplomb, after his Oscar-nominated role in “Little Childen.” No shame there – other actors good at revealing their dark sides include Karloff, Lugosi, Lorre, Price, Chaney, Lee – masterful icons of horror.

But will Haley get to put his own distinctive mark on the character? It doesn’t look as though the new “Nightmare” will give him a chance.

“Furry Vengeance”:

No, no, no! Why, God, why? OK, I know I recently called Nicholas Cage a crap magnet, for all the lousy film projects with which he associates himself. But Brendan Fraser makes him look as dignified as Morgan Freeman.

Oh, Brendan, dammit, I know you can act! Instead of citing all the crap you’ve done, let’s look at three great performances – 1. “George of the Jungle” – yes, physical comedy, but also great timing and nuanced delivery. He proved he could handle comedy. 2. “Gods and Monsters” – a supporting role, but one performed in an honest, subdued and moving manner. 3. “The Ugly American” – a grossly neglected, brilliant film with great performances by Fraser and Michael Caine. This film got buried when it first came out and deserves a second look, people.

Brendan, Brendan, Brendan.

I know, you’ve got kids, you need the money. As Bob Goldthwaite once said when someone asked him why he kept making those crappy “Police Academy” sequels: “Look, if someone drove up to your house with a dump truck full of cash, as you going to tell them to go to hell?”

Just call me. Maybe I can help you find some good scripts. Stop doing this to yourself and us.


Due to family obligations and computer breakdowns, I missed my normal deadline. Just for the record, here’s what we didn’t get to discuss:

Late-night showings of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Foxy Brown,” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”; special showings of “Romancing the Stone” and “Man of Aran”; and the final live HD Metropolitan Opera broadcast of the season, Handel’s “Armida,” as well as the Mayweather vs. Mosley fight.

A thousand pardons! Fortunately, there are still a lot of interesting openings and special events to clue you in to through Thursday – here we go!


In Boulder, both the International Film Series and the Boulder Public Library series are taking the summer off. It’s great that the curators get a break; however, summer film programs through both these entities used to be the norm. Hopefully, economics and interest will allow them to start up again.

Looking forward, the Boulder Outdoor Cinema has announced that it will take place again this summer, so look for news about that as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, down in the Denver at the Landmark chain, three new entries hit the screens. At the Mayan, we can find “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “The Square”:

Looks like an interesting examination of street and graffiti art – there are serious questions about who shot and directed this, what art is and all that good stuff.

“The Square”: a little Aussie noir –

Greed, sex, murder . . . all rightie.

At the Chez Artiste, “The Cartel” plays:

No one will go see this, yet everyone should. Oops, did I just give away the fact that I have school-age children? Well, even in well-funded districts, crap like this is happening all the time. We need to break the bureaucratic stranglehold in our children’s futures – spreading the word about this movie might help.

Over at the Starz Film Center, you can catch “Tahaan”:

No, no, no. OK, I can’t speak to the film itself, but this trailer looks like the heart-warming, tear-jerking story of a boy and his donkey. In fact, the trailer literally says “a boy and his donkey.” You can’t make fun of something that mocks itself. Boy plus donkey plus hand grenade equals no fun for the entire family.


Something called “Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D” is playing at some of the mainstream multiplexes.

Do you like Kenny Chesney? Then you will like this. And, following this logic . . .


Once again, Denver weekly Westword is sponsoring a sneak preview of “Iron Man 2” – details, including time and place can be found in the paper itself (online registration is necessary to obtain passes.) Get the complete lowdown on the new adventures of Tony Stark next week!

At Starz, the series Women + Film presents the documentary “Babies” at 7 p.m.:

 Babies are cool! I love babies. Everyone loves babies. Who doesn’t love babies? So this is a no-brainer. It’s also a city-wide baby shower, benefitting Bloom a prenatal care program at St. Anthony Central Hospital. Admission is $15, or FREE if you bring a baby shower gift valued at $15 or more. After the film, there’s a reception with drinks and snacks. Want to find out what is needed? Go to

And at the Bug Theatre in Denver, the Denver School of the Arts will present its Senior Showcase at 7 p.m. as well. 

At the Thin Man Tavern in Denver, Wednesday night is film night, and down in the Ubisububi Room, the Wim Wenders festival continues at 8 p.m. with “Wings of Desire”:

Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, the late Solveig Dommartin, Peter Falk – with music by the immortal Nick Cave. One of my top ten films of all time, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you think you are tired of life, this film will turn your head around.


At Starz, DocNight features “Girls on the Wall” at 7 p.m.:

OK, the premise doesn’t sound great – girls in prison mount musical. But the film is aware of the absurdity of its premise, and looks through it. Director Heather Ross will be there in person. Every time I think the documentary explosion of the last 20 years has to run out of subjects and good filmmakers, I get proven wrong. Good.

That’s it! Another round-up, hopefully timely, coming soon. Thanks!