Thursday, May 31, 2007

When Bad DVD Covers Happen to Good Movies # 2

Film: Bad Education (2004, Pedro Almodovar)

Offending Cover:

The only explanation I can deduce as to the origin of this horrendous cover is either: A.) It was the result of a late into the night compromise when the graphic design department couldn't decide whether to play up Gael Garcia Bernal's handsome looks or his dramatic transformation as a cross dresser in the film, when suddenly, angered and wanting to return home to his wife, children and drinking problem one designer ripped both covers in half and tossed them on his desk in frustration, leading to the other putting them next to the each other and uttering a sentence that started with, "Hey Carl, I have a crazy idea...", resulting in the above. Or B.) A ultra meta statement on the inner turmoil and abused past of the film's character by making the DVD renter or buyer experience that exact inner turmoil and abuse when looking at the cover. Cleverly played, Sony graphic designer!

Better Option:

Perhaps not Pedro Almodovar's most striking poster, but its nicely understated while simultaneously haunting.

Note: Sony has recently released a "Viva Almodovar!" box set featuring amongst other works, Bad Education, I have not purchased it, so I cannot personally confirm, but judging from the box artwork, they may have decided to go with the latter, better option. Good work, Sony, now just destroy all the prior covers and we'll call it a mulligan.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Gloria (1980, John Cassavetes)

Part of the 80's Project

I will lose some cred with this admission, but other than his debut film Shadows which I saw during my first semester of college and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie which I saw about 12 years ago, and for which I have the slimmest of recollection, I haven't really explored the works of independent maverick writer-director John Cassavetes. I am more knowledgeable of his acting gigs which he mainly did to provide money to fund his self produced low budget works. Still, as the saying goes, his reputation precedes him, so it must have been some kind of bad harbinger of the corporation takeover that laid ahead in the upcoming decade for American Cinema that his first film of the 80's (his last decade alive, he passed away in 1989) would be a buddy picture involving, of all things, an aging street smart woman (his wife and frequent star Gena Rowlands) and a sassy Puerto Rican kid who attempt to hide from the mob. Had the auteur given up his intimate relationship dramas for high concept? Certainly the opening shots, views of famous New York landmarks (Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center & Yankee Stadium)shot from a helicopter signaled a change from his past films, some of which were shot in Black & White 16mm.

Cassavetes may have been changing some of his methods, but not necessarily his themes. Gloria is essentially a relationship film and those shots of New York are relevant, the city itself is a character. The plot is simple. Buck Henry plays a mob accountant improbably married to a gorgeous Puerto Rican lady, he has stolen money from the mob and has a book full of accounting records, he and his family will be gunned down, but not before he can hide his son, Phil, in the care of their neighbor, Gloria. Gloria and Phil must then hide from the mob and eventually try to get out of the city.

The main flaw of Gloria is that Cassavetes doesn't seem all that interested in the mob genre and its the weakest element. As much as he loved Rowlands, and as good as an actor that she is, its unbelievable that she escapes these alleged tough guys with the ease she does here (even when her past relationship with the head of the mob is revealed). I think his hand is shown, that he is more interested in commenting on classic genre conventions than actually making the bad guys formidable in any sense, by making all the mobsters old white guys and having the heroes be female, young and Hispanic.

Early in the film, 7 year old (age approximated) Phil, is told before his father is killed that he's now "the man", repeating this as a mantra of sorts, he tries to impart authority over Gloria, who of course, is having none of it, even kicking the young kid out of a bed they share in a sleazebag motel after he tries to get fresh with the woman roughly thirty-five years his senior. After saving his hide several times and coping with the death of his family, Phil tells her (I paraphrase) "You're my father. You're my mother. You're my friend." and when they reunite in the end, she's disguised in a gray wig and calls out to him "Don't you recognize your grandma?", both realizing and accepting that in their empty existence, they are everything to one another.

One aspect I got a kick out of is that Gloria doesn't have a car, and Phil is obviously too young to drive, so they are trying to outrun the mob but they have to rely on public transportation. A dilemma that is definitely New Yorkian by nature. Cassavetes shot on location and fills the film with crowded trashed streets, beat up cabs and packed subways that play a role as intrinsic to the feel of the film as the two main characters. They get separated when trying to leave a rush hour level crowded subway and later Gloria is able to elude a potential threat when the cab driver throws the dude out of the cab for being a racist jerk.

Cassavetes may not be the first person you'd envision writing and directing what essentially is a chase buddy movie, and the endeavor is weakened by his unwillingness to ever make the villains that much of a threat, but his ability to develop a complex relationship between the two protagonists and an interesting take on the whole dynamics of "the chase" gives Gloria a nice spark. It may not be considered high tier Cassavetes, but its interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Who Cares? Colonel Mortimer's 2007 Summer Movie Preview Semi Spectacular (and bonus Trailer of the Week)

After a somewhat inspiring spring movie season which featured a handful of mainstream films flirting with experimentation in terms of form: Zodiac, Hot Fuzz, Grindhouse (and I'd toss in two films that I was less enthusiastic about, Black Snake Moan and 300 in this category) and some quality foreign fare getting wide attention: The Lives of Others, The Host, Black Book; Hollywood return to playing it safe 24/7 for the next four months beginning this Friday with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. Since its one of the very few summer blockbusters I actually have serious interest in this year, I have made sure to stay away from plot synopsises, reviews (though I gather the general consensus is decidedly mixed) and any footage outside of the trailers. I still have no idea what Venom is going to look like (I know some sites ran five minute scenes from the film a few weeks past, really what's the point of watching it out of context? To say you saw it first?) or if Bryce Howard becomes the Black Cat. Is the fact that I saw a Kraven figure at Target worthy of some kind of spoiler alert?

What I love about Raimi's films, and yes I said "love", is that I get the same giddy sensation watching them as I did discovering super-hero comic books as a kid. He embraces the corniness factor as he simultaneously emphasizes the angst of being a hero, yeah the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" thing, part 2 spends a great portion of its running time convincing us that actually being Spider-Man kinda sucks. The whole dual personality thing is a common thread in the super-hero film cannon, but its never treated with as much care and respect as Raimi and his screenwriters have given it, including sacrificing a half hour segment of action in the middle of Act II to have Peter Parker give up being Spider-Man.

The rest of the summer '07 fare is less inspiring, here's some of the, ahem, highlights with grumpy commentary from yours truly:

Shrek the Third: apparently the combination of fart jokes, overt sexual innuendo in children movies and two year old pop culture references = cha-ching!

Pirates of the Carribean 3-It Never Ends: I feel like I am still watching part 2 from July. ps It was looong.

Knocked Up: Okay, I actually really want to see this. But seriously, 132 minutes, Judd? Didn't you come from television? Does it really take that long to establish just how much a slacker Seth Rogen's character is?

Hostel 2: I'd much rather see a full length version of Thanksgiving.

Ocean's Thirteen: Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt and company overestimated audience's desire for winking in-jokes in Ocean's 12. The trailers make the film look pretty fun though and thankfully they got rid of that deadweight Julia Roberts. The fact that a whole section of this film is dedicated to a nose joke aimed at Harvey Weinstein is either brilliant or more evidence of the gang's winky in-joke overindulgence.

Fab Four Meets the Silver Guy: Raimi respects the corniness of comic books, the makers of the Fantastic Four spent the entire running of the first film belittling their origin. Fuck 'em I say. Some of the fanboy debate here is whether or not the Silver Surfer has nads. Let's get the Monster Squad on the case.

Evan Almighty: Any goodwill the inclusion of Steve Carrell's presence is here is negated by the presence of director Tom Shadyac.

Live Free or Die Hard: Where John McClane moves to New Hampshire to have Johnnycakes with a handsome mustachioed volunteer fireman.

Transformed!: Michael Bay spent 200 million dollars to make the film equivalent of you and your best buds playing toys in your backyard twenty years ago. One difference. Your twenty year old toy playing featured a better plot, character development and visual coherence.

Harry Potter 28: I've only seen one of these, is this the one where he's naked on a horse?

The Simpsons Movie: I totally want to see this.....fifteen years ago!

The Bourne Ultimatum: Okay, I want to see this too, I enjoyed the first two, but I wonder if Paul Greengrass has found a cameraman without epilepsy yet.

Rush Hour 3: I hated the first two installments, find it hilarious that Chris Tucker got (allegedly) the highest paycheck for an actor ever for this when he has not done a single non-Rush Hour film in ten years, but the real reason I hate this film, the fuckers raided Zankou Chicken early one night and when I came to get my grub on, they had no chicken. This time its personal.

Rob Zombie's October 31st: Whoah Zombie you're so dark man, showing a young Michael Myers hitting a cat whilst playing a crappy rock score you composed is so much more interesting and disturbing than actually leaving the reason for young Myers murder spree unexplained. Why do a complete remake, why not make a sequel with a new angle. Oh, probably because Zombie thinks all the sequels suck (which isn't entirely false). But that's funny, because I see you're going with Laurie Stroud being the sister of Michael Myers, which is never mentioned until part 2 (oh and John Carpenter, you know the director of the real Halloween, is on record as saying he hates that development). Here's hoping the final shootout between Loomis and Myers is a twenty minute slo-mo shot scored to "Freebird". Seriously, the critical establishment liked The Devil's Rejects?

Okay, enough, this summer make sure you visit your local rep house frequently.

This week's trailers are reruns from an old site.

First, the teaser trailer to the first Spider-Man movie, which was pulled after 9/11 because of the inclusion of the World Trade Center. Too bad about the awful nu-metal music playing in the background.

And finally, the trailer for what most consider the first "summer blockbuster" and still the best, Spielberg's Jaws.
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