Wednesday, June 30, 2010

'5 Against the House': "Glad to meet you, mister -- hope I don't have to kill you"

Any trailer that starts with the alliterative frenzy of “4 GUYS . . . A GAL . . . AND A GADGET” deserves a little love. And this tawdry little gem of a B-noir deserves a modicum of attention.

The sync is off in this preview, but it’s a nifty little caper flick that’s loaded with future talent. Columbia recently released this as part of a five-film “Film Noir Classics” set, along with the infinitely better-known “The Big Heat” by Fritz Lang, as well as “The Sniper,” “The Lineup” and “Murder by Contract.”

Columbia cranked out its share of cheaply produced noirs during the heyday of the genre, and this one is directed by Phil Karlson. Karlson served time in the bowels of the industry, working on Abbott and Costello films, Bowery Boys entries, and Charlie Chan flicks.

He hit his stride with his trilogy of crime films starring John Payne – “99 River Street,” “Hell’s Island,” and “Kansas City Confidential,” which supposedly inspired Tarentino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” (Karlson later made “Walking Tall,” made a bundle, and lived happily ever after.)

Here he works with an adaptation of Jack Finney’s first book. Jack Finney! Sound familiar? He went on to write the science fiction classics “The Body Snatchers” and “Time and Again.”

Karlson directs this with his usual grim efficiency, and much of the shooting takes place on location in Reno, Nevada – “The Biggest Little City in the World.” The plot is familiar – a perfect crime goes awry. What’s most interesting is the non-catastrophic resolution of same, and the cast –

Guy Madison: Leading hunk was already well-known as the star of TV’s “Wild Bill Hickock” series.

Kim Novak: Her first big role as the girlfriend/chanteuse was followed immediately by her work in “Picnic,” and stardom, most notably in “Vertigo.”

Brian Keith: Sure, we remember him primarily from “Family Affair,” but this interesting actor delivers a solid performance as the unstable member of the thieving quartet at the center of the movie. He later did great (and overlooked) work for directors such as Peckinpah (“The Deadly Companions”), Sydney Pollack (“The Yakuza”) and John Milius (“The Wind and the Lion”).

Alvy Moore: Oh my God, it’s Mr. Kimball from “Green Acres”! The crew-cut comic relief specialist will come to mind most easily as the hapless agricultural extension agent from that TV series.

Kerwin Mathews: SINBAD! It’s the debut of the handsome leading man who would so often play the hero of pre-CGI special-effects fantasy epics such as “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “The 3 Worlds of Gulliver.”

And yes, that’s the brilliant radio actor William Conrad in a small but pivotal role.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fools, you shall be pitied: ‘A-Team’ vs. ‘Karate Kid’


In hard times such as these, it’s easy to hearken back to gentler times, when things were simpler . . . sunnier.

But – 1984? How ironic.

That’s the premise this week, when we are faced with a pair of retreads have their origins nearly20 years ago – in a cheesy TV actioner and a cheeky little movie about overcoming the odds that became a fond memory – and a rapidly deteriorating franchise.

First of all: I pity the fool who spends full price on the big-screen adaptation of “The A-Team.”

Problems? Well, look at the source:

Not a lot there to begin with, kids. Besides, can Liam Neeson be more charmingly blasé than George Peppard? Can Quinton Jackson outgrumble Mr. T? Is Bradley Cooper smoother than Dirk “Eggs” Benedict? Most importantly, how can Sharlto Copley be any madder than Dwight Schultz’s exquisitely “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock?


Stuff blows up, chases ensue, wises are cracked. Wait for the DVD.


“Wax on, wax off.” “Sweep the leg, Johnny!”

The original was fun because it didn’t take itself too seriously, thanks mainly to Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, the genial stand-up comic and actor who had scored earlier as Arnold on “Happy Days.” He kept the series going through “Kid II,” “Kid III,” and even “The Next Karate Kid” (and who was that? Hilary Swank, that’s who!).

The new one seems like a great concept. Concept.

Jackie Chan is morose and grumpy. Will Smith’s kid is winsome and wimpy. Instead of arrogant Aryan types as villains, we have . . . the Chinese (do you sense a political subtext here? After all, we are China’s bitches now).

Nice scenery, heart-warming, yada yada. Oh, and by the way? In this one he learns kung fu, not karate. Guess “The Kung Fu Kid” doesn’t smell as much like money.


It’s a killer double feature: “Shrek Forever After” and “Iron Man 2.”


“Shrek Forever After 3D.” Nice.


What’s new around town? Down at the Mayan, it’s “Harry Brown”:

Oh, Michael Caine. Sir Michael. The Cainemeister. You can play anything. I would pay to hear you read the phone book. You want to make a vigilante film? All right. Just don’t ever stray back into “Blame It on Rio” territory, OK?

At the Chez Artiste, it’s the as-restored-and-complete-as-its-ever-gonna-get version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, “Metropolis”:

At Starz, you may end up seeing yourself in this next one – it’s a documentary about the 2008 Democratic shindig in Denver, “Convention”:



At the Boulder Public Library, a series of six short films, ranging from 1927 to 1997, featuring work by Stan Brakhage – “Avant-Garde Cinema About Water,” 7 p.m. FREE.


You have to make one of four choices at 7 p.m.:

At Film on the Rocks, it’s “The Princess Bride”:

The opening bands are Northern Way and Voltage.

At the Mayan, it’s Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” (there’s a second show at 9:30 p.m.):


At Starz, it’s “The Oath,” with director Laura Poitras in person:

Also at Starz, “The Swimsuit Issue”:

It’s “The Full Monty” with synchronized swimming. In Sweden. OK.


It’s another two shows of “To Catch a Thief” at the Mayan, and a summer encores presentation of the Metropolitan Opera’s “Aida” at Century Boulder at 6:30 p.m.:


At the Boulder Public Library, it’s a replay of the first part of the historic Nixon/Frost interviews at 7 p.m.:

In case you ever doubted that Richard Nixon was a lying, manipulative bastard, you should catch this. For those of us who lived through Watergate and saw these interviews the first time around, it’s a repellent memory brought back to life. For those who saw only “Frost/Nixon,” it’s illuminating.

At Starz, it’s “L’Affaire Farewell” at 7:

I gather this is spy stuff, based on a true story.

At the Bug Theater, it’s the Emerging Filmmakers Project at 8 p.m.:

And a replay of “Aida” at 10 p.m.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A bitch to pitch: ‘Splice,’ ‘Killers,’ ‘Greek’ and ‘Marmaduke’

 OK, kids, a slew of selections come out this week, and we’re gonna give them to you in descending order of awfulness – complete with our guess as to what the one-sentence pitch that got each of them made was!

“Get Him to the Greek”:

“You take the freak from ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and give him his own flick with the ultranebbish Jonah Hill!”

The bromance subgenre/Apatow School/Paul Rudd filmography has produced some winners (“Knocked Up,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Funny People”) and some dogs (“Pineapple Express,” “Step Brothers,” “Role Models”). How does this stack up?

Well, the trailer cuts all emphasize groinal/anal pain, massive drug and alcohol abuse, frantic anxiety, bad sex, and the like. Being as it’s Apatow-y, I’m seriously afraid that there will be some sentimental moments, or lessons learned, or character development of some kind.

Wouldn’t it be nice if none of those three things happened? What are the odds? I know – not good.


“It’s a romance/comedy/thriller -- like ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith,’ only funny!”

Eeuh. I love Heigl, and ringers Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Mull all make little appearances.

It just sounds too busy. If they’re not kissing, they’re bickering, or killing, or fleeing, or something. Wack-a-doodle.


“It’s ‘Frankenstein,’ only the monster is a hot chick that can swim and fly and kill people!”

WAAAAHH!! Scary. It’s touted as a straight-up sci fi/horror flick, although there are rumors that it’s meta, or ironic, or darkly funny, or something. Adrien Brody is fast moving into his equivalent of middle-period Michael Caine, when he’ll do anything for money. I thought Sarah Polley was past this acting thing – she proved what a great director she is with “Away from Her.” Maybe you should go, just to support her.


“Hey, you know that awesome one-panel newspaper cartoon about the big dog who’s always getting in trouble? Wait, come back! He can TALK! Wait, don’t call security! CGI DOGS DISCO DANCING! LET ME GO!”

This film was not made for audiences – it was made for torture purposes. You can use it on Grandma and Grandpa, forcing them to take the kids; I believe that the Department of Defense will screen it to Guantanamo prisoners and Afghan detainees. Will it prove superior to lethal injection? Will the Supreme Court bar its use as cruel and unusual punishment? Only time will tell.


At the Mayan, it’s “Please Give”:

The director is Nicole Holofcener, who made “Lovely and Amazing” and “Friends with Money.” We are in Woody Allen Land here; can we say anything fresh about liberal white guilt?

At the Chez Artiste, “OSS 117 – Lost in Rio”:

This parodic sequel stems from a long-lived series of spy novels by French author Jean Bruce, featuring a suave James Bond type – four years before Ian Fleming published his first Bond book. Initial film adaptations were serious, but the most recent are Gallic takes on the Austin Powers conceit.

Starz carries “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,” “Ride the Divide” and “180 Degrees South.”

Meanwhile, the Regency Tamarac, they are programming Bollywood selections like nobody’s business. This week, there’s “Vedam”:

And “Raajneeti”:

There’s also “La Mission” – lead actor Benjamin Bratt will be at the theater on Friday – looks like intergenerational conflict, a change in the way of life and how we look at things, and an inspiring transformation.



It’s “Nuclear Madness” all day at the Boulder Public Library, featuring three documentaries about same – “In Our Hands” at 10:45 a.m., Dark Circle at 1:35 p.m., and “Nagasaki” at 3:45 p.m. These shows are FREE, and not for the timid or easily upset. Don't forget -- many atomic bomb components were crafted right here at Rocky Flats by friends, relatives and neighbors from south Boulder and north Jefferson County. I grew up downwind of same -- did you?

At Starz, the Kids Saturday Nickleodeon: Etienne! The Hamster Movie, 3 p.m.

This looks refreshingly strange! And believeable in the way movies aren’t, usually.

Then at 7 p.m., a FREE showing of the classic 1931 version of “The Front Page”:

Lewis Milestone’s film is visually creative, contains some great performances (Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Edward Everett Horton) and codifies, as the original hit play did, all the clichés about journalism and newspapermen in existence.


At the Boulder Public Library, it’s a FREE showing of “Captains Courageous” at 6:30 p.m.

Victor Fleming directed this Oscar-winning tale of a spoiled brat who learns about life from a bunch of Portugese fishermen. (All right, no jokes!) It’s got the winsome Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracey, Lionel Barrymore, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, John Carradine, Mickey Rooney . . . wow. Yes, I cried at the end.


I don't know what's up at the Mayan, but they are not publicizing these special showings enough. On the venue's big screen, downstairs, F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent masterpiece "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" will be seen at 7:30 p.m.!

The word "masterpiece" is overused, but this is truly one of the 10 best movies ever made. GO!!!!


Once again, the Mayan scores with two days of Hitchcock's great 1959 "North by Northwest" -- Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 and 9:30 p.m., on the big screen in glorious VistaVision and Technicolor!

Hitchcock's best film? Many think so . . . see you there.

The Fresh City Life series at the DenverPublic Library presents, as part of it summer-long “Presence of the Camera: Documentary Film Series,” Les Blank’s brilliant 1982 “Burden of Dreams” at 6 p.m.

Who’s crazier – Werner Herzog or Klaus Kinski?

At Starz, as part of the “Direct from Tribeca” series, it’s Julien Nitzberg’s 2009 documentary, “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” at 7 p.m.

Gee, y’all, I don’t know. I grew up with this kind of crap, so it gets old fast. Filming miscreants and sociopaths and their train-wreck lives as a form of entertainment/cultural anthropology lesson is fun for some. It may be wild, but wonderful?

The now-vaunted Film on the Rocks series kicks off its 11th season with “The Hangover” at 7 p.m. (gates open at 6 p.m.) For those who haven’t gone, Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Morrison, close against the foothills, is an inspiring location, and a great venue for music, film and the like.

 The marriage of a live concert introduction to a feature film, with sometimes a thematic connection between the two, is a lot of fun. This week, Kinetix, with The Pirate Signal, starts things off musically. The movie unspools at dusk.


At the Boulder Public Library, it’s a FREE showing of what looks to be the very good 2009 documentary by Mai Iskander – “Garbage Dreams” at 7 p.m. It’s about Cairo’s zaballeen – those who scour and scavenge the city’s trash, and who face the government’s interference with even that lowly way of life.

At the Thin Man Tavern, the Wim Wenders festival concludes with what looks to be an overlooked little gem – 2005’s “Don’t Come Knocking” at 8 p.m.

What a great ensemble! Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint, Sarah Polley, Tim Roth – Fairuza Balk? Eva Marie Saint? George Kennedy? Julia Sweeney? Tim Matheson? Wenders’ quirky filmography has only begun to be really appreciated. See you there!


Outdoor movies are all the rage. The Denver Botanic Gardens chimes in with a series way down southwest at its Chatfield location (near C-470 and Wadsworth Blvd.) with Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated feature from 2009, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Gates open at 7 p.m., film starts at dusk.

The Boulder Public Library presents Zeffirelli’s 1967 Burton/Taylor version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” at 7 p.m.

To be honest, there are better filmed versions – try Kirk Browning’s 1976 work for the American Conservatory Theatre, or Jonathan Miller’s 1980 outing for the BBC. Or “Kiss Me Kate.” Burton especially goes WAY OVER THE TOP in this one, even though it is one of the Bard’s most ribald comedies.

At Starz, for “One Night Only,” it’s “Joan Rivers – A Piece of Work” at 7 p.m.

For a special treat, go to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts at 7 p.m. Go around the back, to the left, down the stairs toward Speer Boulevard. See the Ricketson sign? It’s now a small proscenium theater, but it was designed as a cinema.

For years, some incredible projections of some incredible films took place there. I saw the very first program there – an impeccable, glowing print of “Grand Hotel,” which changed my appreciation for black-and-white movies FOREVER. At 7 p.m., it’s that hilarious paean to old-school horror, Mel Brooks’ 1974 “Young Frankenstein.” Great cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld.


At Denver’s Esquire, the midnight movie is the immortal catastrophe from 1980, “Xanadu”:

“Open your eyes and hear the magic!” OK.

At Starz, it’s the Watching Hour at 10 p.m. – “Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors.” Don’t know about the movie, but the trailer is GREAT!

Last but not least, Century Boulder features the 1977 apex of Woody Allen’s career, “Annie Hall”: