Sunday, December 30, 2007

JUNO What I'm Talking About?




Since it opened on Christmas Day JUNO, Jason Reitman's comedic drama about a teenage girl who gets pregnant, has been trouncing WALK HARD at my hometown theater (the Varsity, where I work part-time) with at most showtimes three times the audience in attendance for the mockumentary.

The critical response has been overwhelming - it has 94% rating on the Rotten Tomatometer, and the most beloved and respected critic ever - Roger Ebert wrote that it's "just about the best movie of the year," and that he thought that star Ellen Page (who plays the title role) "will be one of the great actors of her time." 

Whoa! I thought it was a likable though derivative quirk of a film with good acting and some sharp lines, but Ebert's swooning seems a bit much. Of the minority that didn't care for what looks from a distance to be this year's LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, one of the most interesting reviews came from Triangle critic Craig D. Lindsey.

Lindsey's review was entitled "Danger: Snarky Pregnant Teen Ahead," in which he writes that JUNO "could very well be the most dangerous movie to come out this holiday season.."

Dangerous not for its possible pro-life agenda but for "its kooky, deceptive, ultimately mediocre charms". He goes on to say that if successful "it will inspire and influence a legion of teenage girls to start acting snotty and snarky, just like Juno, more than they already do." 

So since Ebert adores Page, thinks Diablo Cody's first time screenplay is Oscar worthy, and ended up making JUNO his #1 film of the year while Lindsay considers the whole thing "snarky" I find myself toeing the middle ground. It is not in my eyes anywhere near the best movie of the year or is it a dangerous socially influential manifesto.

Greatly in its favor is that JUNO is very well cast - apart from Page we have J. K. Simmons and Allison Janey (The West Wing) as her parents, from the beloved yet short-lived Arrested Development - Michael Cera (also of SUPERBAD) as Juno's boyfriend and his fellow former cast member Jason Bateman. Bateman and Jennifer Garner play a suburban couple who sign on to be the baby's adoptive parents. How it all pans out was a little different than I expected and some of the exchanges are nicely witty: 

Juno (Page): "Can't we kick it old school? Like Moses and the reeds?" 
Mark (Bateman): "Actually that would be kicking it old Testament."

None of JUNO will be surprising visually to moviegoers - it resembles most indie fare from THUMBSUCKER to ROCKET SCIENCE and its soundtrack won't seem out of the ordinary either. Reitman should know that you don't use The Kinks (their song "A Well Respected Man" plays at one point) if you don't want to invite Wes Anderson comparisons. The Film Babble Blog bottom line is that JUNO is just alright.

More Later...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pop Culture 101: Today's Class - WALK HARD


What better way to celebrate the holidays than to have another lesson in pop culture provided again by Judd Apatow and his cronies? Their new movie, WALK HARD, follows the trajectory of a dramatized career overview and hits many familiar targets so it's a perfect professor for our forum. First up - A review of said film: 

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
(Dir. Jake Kasdan, 2007)



Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) now joins the ranks of The Rutles as well as the Christopher Guest cinematic concoctions Spinal Tap and The Folksmen: that is fictitious musical entities created not just to satirize specific artists or styles but an entire sweep of eras and cultural contexts. Of course it's obvious by the title alone that the chief model of mockery here is WALK THE LINE - the fine but formulaic Johnny Cash biopic. 

The riffing on the tried and true formula of the modern music biopic (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, LA BAMBA, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, THE DOORS, etc.) is the name of the game here and for the most part it's well played. From his meager beginnings, oh you know the story - he grew up on a farm with a stern father (Raymond J. Barry) and a loving doting mother (Margo Martindale) and a brother (Chip Hormess - later played as a ghost by Jonah Hill) who he accidentally cut in half with machete, Cox discovers the blues and quickly becomes a star with his hybrid brand of jukebox glory. 

Just as quickly he is turned on by his drummer (Tim Meadows) to marijuana - "it's not habit forming!" then over the years every other drug known to man. Also just as fast he meets the woman of his dreams - back up singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer from the US version of The Office). He marries her before divorcing his first wife - the nagging Kirsten Wiig (SNL) and when found out is left by both women. This ushers in his dark period and we know this because Cox exclaims "this is a dark fucking period!"

So I need not go on plotwise - from darkness to redemption, you get the picture. John C. Reilly carries the movie wonderfully - his singing on the sharp song satires is very strong, his wide-eyed airhead gusto is authentic, and his delivery of lines like "I'm locked in a custody battle right now. Custody is being enforced upon me which I don't think is right" is dead on.

WALK HARD is very amusing but not roaringly hilarious - the tickling my funny bone got amounted to a series of chuckles though they were plenty enough to keep me smiling. I appreciated its tone and take on the smart-dumb kind of comedy, one that has more heart than those the smarmy scatological joke-a-minute SCARY MOVIE series that's for sure.

One of many running jokes is that there isn't any subtext - everything is said out loud like in these random lines: 

"Dewey Cox needs to think about his entire life before he plays." 

"The '60s are an exciting and important time."

"That was early Dewey, this is middle Dewey." 

WALK HARD continues Apatow's winning streak (yes, I know he didn't direct but he co-wrote produced and it's being promoted as his enterprise) and gives us what we've been waiting for all these years - a full out John C. Reilly showcase (okay, maybe I'm the only one's who's been waiting). Take that, Joaquin Phoenix in WALK THE LINE! Eat it, Dennis Quaid in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! In your face, RAY! Y'all gonna have to stand aside because though he surely won't take home an Oscar for this (and that's a damn shame) I predict that Reilly's lampoon will have a longer lasting effect than their earnest yet often bland biopic offerings. 

So now onto the Pop Culture 101 Schooling.

Warning: Many Potential Spoilers!

Like I said above, of course the life and legacy of the late great Johnny Cash by way of WALK THE LINE provide the film's narrative arc and it's most evident in the first act with Cox's clothes, mannerisms, his first hit record (the title song), and the dead brother all borrowed from the Man in Black.

However the winning over of skeptical African American music purists comes from THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and Buddy Holly appears briefly played by Frankie Muniz (Malcolm In The Middle). Muniz actually has a more accurate physical appearance than Gary Busey did to Holly in the 1978 biopic and he establishes a Cox tradition of calling celebrities by their full name as in - "I'm awful nervous, Buddy Holly."


The only exception to the full name is Elvis portrayed by Jack White of the White Stripes. The blatant mis-casting is part of the joke here as White does an exaggerated cartoon version of the King's swagger - "look out! I could chop a man in half!" Elvis also had a dead brother - a twin that died at birth and as legend has it haunted him his whole life so there's that too. After his first dance with cocaine (of course provided by Meadows) Cox inadvertenly invents punk rock. Dave (Matt Besser), Dewey's guitarist, protests "ain't nobody gonna listen to music like this. You stand there playing as fast as you can looking like some kind of... punk."


Cox's Dylan period is pretty defined as well - in a bit made to look like mid 60's grainy black and white press conference footage an interviewer even puts forth - "people are saying that your new music sounds a lot like Bob Dylan". Cox responds "well maybe Bob Dylan sounds a lot like me!" We get a few other DON'T LOOK BACK-esque shots of Cox in Bob mode - singing lyrics like "mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum" (written by folk singer songwriter Dan Bern) and another has him wearing the same Triumph motorcycle t-shirt under a mod emblemed dress shirt just like Dylan wore on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited.



During the short time that WALK HARD shared the theatre I work at part-time with I'M NOT THERE (at the end of its run) I noted that both twisted anti-biopics have 2 sets of actors playing The Beatles. They are just briefly seen extras in I'M NOT THERE but they are all name cameos (to some degree) in WALK HARD. Paul Rudd (on the left) plays John Lennon, Jack Black does a horrid yet still aptly amusing Paul McCartney impression, Justin Long (the Mac guy from those commercials) does a passable George Harrison, and Jason Swartzman does an odd constipated clinched teeth take on Ringo Starr's heavy Liverpudlian accent.

After witnessing their bickering Cox remarks "it seems like there's a rift happening between The Beatles." He drops acid with the fab four and has a animated YELLOW SUBMARINE derived hallucinatory experience. "We're the trippy cartoon Beatles" Ringo (I think) says in case we didn't make the connection.

A Brian Wilson descent into madness (complete with paisley attire and Wrecking Crew style accompaniment) follows as Cox attempts to make his highly orchestrated masterpiece that none of his fellow band members understand - i.e. the ill-fated Smile sessions. Inspired by Wilson's outrageous recording methods (right down to the use of barnyard animals for sound effects) and friction with the rest of the Beach Boys, Cox's resulting song - "Black Sheep" is, though ridiculous, a pretty groovy track. A decade later Cox has a TV show which is most certainly based on The Johnny Cash Show. but there's also a Sonny and Cher/Laugh In variety show element to it too.

Cox's version of David Bowie's "Starman" done with an astronaut outfit and dancing space girls is taken from many embarrassing attempts by outdated acts in the '70s to crossover and connect with younger audiences on the small screen. The disco-fied version of the title song also drives the point home. Late-period Dewey has him finding out that his music has been sampled by rapper L'il Nutzzak (Jacques Slade) which is perhaps inspired by Ice-T's defense during the "Cop Killer" crisis of '93 - "When people criticize the lyrics of rap music, I tell them to listen to 'Folsom Prison' - "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." I've never heard any rap song that hard-core." 

In general though it's just a comment on the younguns yet again co-opting the old guard. Lastly let's look at the promotional materials - the poster picture (on the left) is based on the famous "Young Lion" photo of Jim Morrison taken by Joel Brodsky in 1967 (on the right) though the film itself has little DOORS spoofing except in a general 'a rock star gets trashed way'. This is right in line with the posters for THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP - all you have to do feature a large close-up of the goofy looking protagonist and the crowds are sure to flock to the multiplex.

 Don't know if the image of John C. Reilly's mocking mug is going to put bums in the seats but I still find it funny. The advertising campaign for WALK HARD includes a joking attempt to get the film nominated for an Academy Award - as Apatow said "our movie is the dumbest movie to ever beg for an Oscar." Imitating iconic Johnny Cash's famous giving the Nashville music industry the bird pose in an infamous ad in Billboard Magazine*, Cox makes his position well known. 

I do think the soundtrack is award worthy but against such competition as HAIRSPRAY and SWEENY TODD I seriously doubt that it will get any gold. * The shots scanning up a page of Billboard charts to see the artist's record hit #1 - (usually lit up) is a music biopic cliché from Hell! I can't think of a film in the genre in which that doesn't appear. Now I'm sure I've missed many individual pop culture points and just about every trailer or TV spot I've seen has material not in the movie but I thought it was best to just concentrate on what's in the theatrical release. When the DVD comes out I may do a revised edition of this Pop Culture 101 entry.

More later...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Post GRADUATE Studies



This Friday, director Mike Nichols' latest film, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, is getting a full release but it's another Nichols' movie released 40 years ago to the day (Dec. 21st, 1967) that I'm blogging about here - THE GRADUATE.

That's right, the much beloved classic that starred a young then unknown Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, a college graduate who's worried about his future. Braddock's affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), his courtship of her daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross), and the famous wedding crashing climax are all the stuff of legend so let's celebrate its 40th anniversary with this deluxe post. 

There are Spoliers here so if you have not seen THE GRADUATE go immediately get a copy and watch it then get back to me. Everybody else should know the cast, the plot, and remember its widely quoted dialogue (even the currently playing I'M NOT THERE quotes the "good evening Mr. Gladstone" line) as well as the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack but here's some things that you may not know: 

5 Fun Facts About THE GRADUATE:


1. Paul Simon's soundtrack submission was originally called "Mrs. Roosevelt" - According to Wikipedia Simon played the director a bit of a new composition and said "'It's a song about times past — about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.' Nichols advised Simon, 'It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt.'" 

2. It was Richard Dreyfus's first movie - Albeit a brief appearance but he's visible over landlord Norman Fell's (yep, he was also the landlord on Three's Company) shoulder in the boarding house scene. Dreyfus's only line: "Shall I call the cops? I'll call the cops."


3. The could have beens - Imagine alternate universe versions in which Benjamin is played by either Robert Redford, Charles Grodin (who both tested for the part) or Warren Beatty (who did BONNIE AND CLYDE instead) with Natalie Wood or Sally Field in the role of Elaine. Pretty much impossible to picture, huh? Also consider that Marilyn Monroe was originally slated to play Mrs. Robinson and that the part was also offered to Doris Day and you really get a Bizarro world thing going. Thank goodness the stars aligned casting-wise because if it went any of those directions I don't think I would be blogging about it today. 


4. The leg in the poster isn't Anne Bancroft's - it's Linda Gray's. Gray, the Dallas TV star, later played Mrs. Robinson on stage in the West End and Broadway play adaptations. 


5. Benjamin is driving in the wrong direction - In Dustin Hoffman's DVD commentary * he says "I remember after the film opening, for years, people coming up and saying 'you know you're going the wrong way?' " It's true Benjamin is driving his Alfa Romeo west on the upper deck of the San Francisco Bay Bridge though he's supposed to be on his way to Berkeley, which is to the east. On a separate commentary track Nichols tells Steven Soderbergh: "If you went to Berkeley you wouldn't be visible to a helicopter - you'd be on the lower level - I said screw it, you know? What are they going to do to us?". 


* The new 40th anniversary DVD set has a recently recorded and very entertaining commentary with Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross. Hoffman does most of the talking - even when he confesses to Ross that he had a crush on her back in the day she has little to say.


I recently re-read the 1962 Charles Webb novel of THE GRADUATE (that's my own personal yellowed beat-up paperback pictured on the left) and was surprised at how close an adaptation the movie was. Only a few notable differences - Benjamin shortly after coming home to Pasenda takes a hitchhiking trip for a few weeks and claims to his father upon his return that he helped fight a large forest fire, washed dishes, and spent time with prostitutes. Since Benjamin twists the truth throughout the whole story we are not sure whether to believe him but it's a telling footnote. Also the iconic line "plastics" is not in the original text. However, "Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me" is. 

There has been much talk of a sequel - Buck Henry's (playing himself - he was the original co-screenwriter of THE GRADUATE) pitch to studio exec. Tim Robbins in THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1992) of course comes to mind: ‘‘Okay, here it is: The Graduate, Part II! Ben and Elaine are married still, living in a big old spooky house in Northern California somewhere. Mrs. Robinson, her aging mother, lives with them. She’s had a stroke. And they’ve got a daughter in college — Julia Roberts, maybe. It’ll be dark and weird and funny — with a stroke.’’ In 2004 Nikki Finke in LA Weekly resonded angrily when she came upon a report of a sequel being produced with Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and Shirley MacLaine. 


The resulting film RUMOR HAS IT... (Dir. Rob Reiner, 2005) turned out not to be a sequel but a regular ole rom com with the premise that a woman (Aniston) with the same Pasenda background discovers that her family was the inspiration for the characters in the book and movie. 

Costner plays Beau Burroughs (get it?) and MacLlaine is the boozy cynical Mrs. Richelieu (of course you get it) and the whole affair is lame and badly written (they should've gotten Buck Henry to do a re-write) adding nothing to THE GRADUATE legacy. Looks like it has finally quashed the possibility of a sequel and uh, that the fact that one of the pivotal principles is no longer with us - the late great Anne Bancroft (1931-2005).


Okay! So once more Happy Birthday THE GRADUATE! Yet again, Benjamin and Elaine board the bus that drives off into the sunset and we all sigh.


More later...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Buscemi Now?

"It's simple for everybody else. You give them a Big Mac and a pair of Nikes and they're happy. I just can't relate to 99% of humanity." - Seymour (Steve Buscemi) GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwigoff, 2001) 

I'm right there with you Seymour. Everybody I know - every fellow film fanatic, co-worker, and passerby on the street (yes, I've polled people) loves Steve Buscemi. I've never heard a hating word from anyone about the hero of indie cinema who right after 9/11 donned his old fireman gear and put in weeks of 12 hour days to sift through the rubble at Ground Zero. Every time out - whether it is in his run through the classic Coen brothers canon, scene stealing turns in Quentin Tarentino flicks, and, my personal favorite, the above quoted GHOST WORLD he pulls off the enviable task of being extremely creepy yet incredibly lovable at the same time. 

So why is it that his last 2 films, both critically acclaimed, did not get wider releases and are virtually unknown by those same fellow film fanatics, co-workers, and passerbys? Neither INTERVIEW (which he directed) nor DELIRIOUS came anywhere close to a theater near me. In fact apart from his brief but brilliant appearance in PARIS, JE T'AIME (again with the Coen bros.) his most visible showing at the multiplex in recent years was the voicing of Templeton the Rat in the live action remake of CHARLOTTE'S WEB! INTERVIEW, Buscemi's 4th film as director (the others - TREES LOUNGE, ANIMAL FACTORY, and LONESOME JIM) was just released on DVD but unfortunately I'm going to have to wait til March to see DELIRIOUS. That's a shame because after reading director Tom DiCillo's frustrated email to Roger Ebert in which he says "I’m kind of struggling on my own to make sense of how a film I put my soul into, that Buscemi put his soul into, a film that generated such strong, positive reviews, had no life in the market" (you can read more here on DiCillio's blog) - 

I'm really dying to see it. However I am happy to have just viewed INTERVIEW which I'm also happy to review:

INTERVIEW (Dir. Steve Buscemi, 2007) This remake of the 2003 Dutch film by Theo van Gogh (1957-2004) is an engrossing vehicle for the acting directing Buscemi. The sweet rub here is that his cynical political journalist (for the fictional Newsworld) character Pierre Peders is in danger of being seriously one-upped by his assigned subject Sienna Miller as Katya, a complicated and possibly deranged B-movie/TV show star. 

Apart from the waiter and a few restaurant patrons and some voices on cell phones this is a two person show. It is essentially a stage play, being that it appears to happen in real time and takes place mainly in one location - Miller's opulent and over-sized loft. "Why do you choose only the most commercial crap that's out there?" Buscemi attacks. Miller counters "I enjoy entertaining millions upon millions of people." She goes further - "How big is your readership?" He smugly replies "Oh, you know, I have dozens of readers." 

With that only being the icing on the acidic exchange cake we follow these two through a series of mind games and mood swings and never lose interest in either character. Both are deluded and seem to base their existence on their ability to bullshit more articulately than most people to the point that their careers hinge on it. Their tortured talk is never tedious and feels almost all too natural so if you get past the initial cringe factor INTERVIEW is well worth your time. 

So since I have to wait to see DELIRIOUS I thought it would be fun to recount: 

5 Classic Steve Buscemi Characters:

1. Seymour - GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwiggoff, 2001) "I couldn't imagine you'd have any interest in me except as an amusingly cranky eccentric curiosity" he tells Enid (Thora Birch) but there's a lot more to him than he lets on. This old jazz record collecting, Cook's Chicken archiving, and desperate personal ad declaring dude may be a "dork" as Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) calls him but he's our dork. Buscemi is at the top of his game here and there's a nice bonus after the end credits - there's a reversal of fortunes of sorts. A scene in which Seymour has his ass kicked in the convenience store is replayed but this time he kicks ass and even yells "Motherfuckers! Fuck with me?"

2. Mr. Pink - RESERVOIR DOGS (Dir. Quentin Tarentino, 1992) This is the role that turned the world on to the beauty of Buscemi. As the smartest of a crew of jewelry store thieves (though that's not saying much), Buscemi had the most memorable dialogue ("I don't tip because society says I have to") and the most entertaining 'tude. His reaction to the name his character is given is also cemented in cineste's psyches - "'Mr. Pink' sounds like 'Mr. Pussy'. Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple. That sounds good to me. I'm Mr. Purple."


3. Carl Showalter - FARGO (Dir. Joel Coen, 1996) Another thief but this time far from smart, Carl is constantly described throughout this stone cold classic as "kinda funny lookin'". Nothing ever seems to go right for the guy - he's beaten up, shot in the face, and finally wood chipper fodder but every time I see this film I cherish Carl's crisises more and more. When he angrily says to a airport lot attendent "You know these are the limits of your life man" I feel the Carl that is within us all smile.

4. Donny, Who Loved Bowling * - THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1998) Yes another Coen bros. outting but one I couldn't leave off the list. Theodore Donald Kerabatsos (betcha didn't know his full name) is probably the stupidest character Buscemi has ever played - he never seems to follow what the Dude (Jeff Bridges) or Walter (John Goodman) are talking about, always weighing in way too late with comments like "His name's Lebowski? That's your name, Dude!" Still, talk about a lovable lug! Like his other Coen Brothers parts Donny doesn't live to see the end credits. Semi-narrator The Stranger (Sam Elliot) breaks the 4th wall and says to us at the end of the tale - "I didn't like seeing Donny go". I didn't either. * I call him such because it's not just the way Walter eulogized him - it's also the name of a electronica band from Austin, Texas.

5. Tony Blundetto - The Sopranos (1999-2007) It was sweet that Buscemi came aboard the HBO powerhouse as a major player in the 5th season. He played Tony Soprano's (James Gandofini) just released from prison cousin Tony B. At first he tries to go legit as a licensed massage therapist but gets pulled back in to the mafia underworld. Seething with rage but still armed with cutting oneliners - this was primo Buscemi and that he directed 4 episodes of the series was pretty sweet too.

Okay, that's my fave Buscemi five - if you have prefered other characters of his (perhaps Nick Reve in LIVING IN OBLIVION, Rex in AIRHEADS, or even Rockhound in ARMAGEDDON maybe?) then send 'em on! Also it used to be said that somebody has only truly made it if they were on the cover of Rolling Stone or if they hosted Saturday Night Live, these days I think it's if you've appeared on The Simpsons which Buscemi has twice - first as himself in a typical celebrity cameo and second as Dwight, a bank robber who Marge tries in vain to help. Okay! I'm all Buscemi-ed out now. As Carl said in FARGO "that was a geyser!"

More later...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Meet Me At The Wrecking Ball - A Blog With A Cause

"Is that the worst word of the new culture - 'blog'?"
- Jerry Seinfeld on The Late Show With David Letterman 10/29/07

Actually, I think it's one of the best.

This post is going to be a bit different from my usual array of riveting reviews and looney lists - this time I have a cause. I rarely write about things local, except for mentions of the theatre I work at part time (The Varsity), but it has come to my attention that a historic house not far from where I live in Chapel Hill, NC is in danger of being demolished very soon. How this pertains to Film Babble is that this house was used as a film location almost 40 years ago. The house is the Edward Kidder Graham House (named for a former UNC President who died in 1918) located on Battle Lane at the edge of the UNC campus and the movie it was used in was THREE IN THE ATTIC (Dir. Richard Wilson, 1968).

Haven't heard of it? That's okay, I hadn't either - It isn't available from Netflix having never had a proper DVD release (I found online that some outfit called Must Have Films is selling DVD copies of it but they don't look quite legit) and VHS copies are fairly hard to find. After some phoning around I found a shoddy old videocassette copy at a local video store (a building surely to be demolished soon as well) and viewed it anxious to see some Lyndon B. Johnson era shots of my hometown. Through the awful picture full of drop-outs (horizontal white streaks) and the incomprehensible muffled sound I was able to make out the Edward Kidder Graham House as well as many shots of the UNC campus, surrounding neighborhoods and the Alpha Tau Omega House on Franklin Street which was used prominently in a party sequence.

The movie itself is honestly a pretty schlocky 60's sexploitation picture. Made by American International Films, a company that specialized in low budget fringe films that would appeal to teenagers, it is by today's AMERICAN PIE standards a fairly lame affair - though one not without its kitschy dated charms. James Dean look-a-like (and somebody who studied Dean's every move) Christopher Jones finds himself locked in a sorority house attic (The Edward Kidder Graham House stands in for Ford Hall as UNC doubles as the equally ficticious Willard College For Men and Fulton - A Women's College) after 3 college girls ( Yvette Mimieux, Judy Pace, and Maggie Thrett) find out he's been triple timing them. As Paxton Quigley, Jones' voice-over narration promises a look at the "groovy subculture of today's female" and he says "you've heard of the sexual revolution...well, I'm probably one of its first casualties" but this is pretty grandiose talk coming from someone decked out in what looks like the JC Penny Jim Morrison line - fluffy white shirt, love beads and yes, leather pants. No such social sexual commentary or satire is really presented - just dialogue like this between Quigley and girlfriend #1's (Mimieux) father, played by Richard Derr, who bursts in on them living in sin:

Mr. Clinton: "What kind of a man are you?"

Paxton Quigley: "Well, I think I know...I know where it's at."

Mr. Clinton: "What?"

Paxton Quigley: "I know my way around."

Mr. Clinton: "Are you one of those potheads?"

Yep, that's about the level of insight in THREE IN THE ATTIC. There was potential as Roger Ebert notes in his 1968 review that it could've been a "near GRADUATE" but the film makers motives were just as cheap as its budget. Essentially a series of love montages hanging on a bare narrative thread this movie still has some lure as a curio - fans of college cult films * will delight in its pre-ANIMAL HOUSE sensibility, cinéastes will enjoy the notion of what direction James Dean's career might've gone in (or at least looked like) had he lived through to that turbulent time, but for this blog's purposes Chapel Hill residents will celebrate THREE IN THE ATTIC as a snapshot of the town in the late 60's and a portrait of a house worth preserving and restoring.

* It is most certainly a cult movie - Joe Bob's Ultimate B-Movie Guide gives it 4 stars and says of it - "one of the weirdest flicks of the sixties" (Joe Bob Briggs, 2000).

Postnote #1: There was actually a sequel entitled UP IN THE CELLAR (1970) also known as THREE IN THE CELLAR which also had Judy Pace in it. It was a little of a bigger deal with Larry Hagman and Joan Collins but since it was filmed in New Mexico I didn't seek it out.

Postnote #2: For more information and pictures of the Edward Kidder Graham House and other historic houses in Chapel Hill please visit :

The Preservation Society of Chapel Hill

Flickr: Photos from chapelhill.preservation


Also this interview with Preservation Society of Chapel Hill Executive Director Ernest Dollar is worth a read:

Independent Weekly: News: Q&A: Ernest Dollar

More later...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Just Some More New Release DVDs – No Big Whoop

Yep, some more recent DVD viewings are now blog-worthy: 

RESCUE DAWN (Dir. Werner Herzog, 2006)

"Inspired by true events in the life of Dieter Dengler" so says the credits at the beginning. After some basic-training back story, this film wastes no time - on his first tour of duty in 1966 Vietam Dengler's (the yet again reliable Christian Bale) shot down over Laos within the first 10 minutes; 15 minutes in he is captured by the enemy. 

Bale refuses to sign a war criminal document and is dragged, literally, to a Viet Cong camp to be held captive. That's what the bulk of this story is about - his and a few other fellow inmates (including the dead on and almost dead looking Steven Zahn and Jeremy Davies) tortuous imprisonment where there thoughts of escape are discouraged as futile from every angle. Dengler doesn't think so and plots to overcome all obstacles. 

Obviously this story wouldn't be told if he didn't do just that - so no accusations of Spoilers please. With its gripping storyline and clarity of vision RESCUE DAWN has a lot going for it but is bogged down with unconvincing dialogue and Herzog's choice of fast fades that make this choppy where it should be fluid. 

"The quick have their sleepwalkers, and so do the dead" Bale says early on in his captivity and it falls flat - really not provoking much of a reaction. Perhaps because this film seems to sleepwalk all too quickly into oblivion. 

HAIRSPRAY (Dir. Adam Shankman, 2007)


It would be hard to dump on this one. Though I have friends who are big fans of the original John Waters 1988 movie and its soundtrack, then the 2002 Tony winning Broadway musical adaptation and its cast recording, I didn’t understand why a new film version (with its soundtrack) was necessary – I mean wasn’t this pretty much covered? 

But this movie is so damn cheery – earnest and smiling right at you without a cynical frame on any of its reels that questioning or dismissing it makes one feel like a Blue Meanie. The most enjoyable of the cast is Nikki Blonsky (who fits into Rikki Lake’s shoes perfectly) as Tracy Turnblad. Blonsky is a triple threat who she out-sings, out-dances, and yes, out-acts everybody here.

As the perky beyond belief Tracy she causes a stir on a local Baltimore American Bandstand type show in 1962 when she exclaims that “everyday should be Negro day” (the show only had one day a month that black kids were allowed to dance on the air). With her angsty-acting friends (Zac Efron, Ellijah Kelley, and Amanda Bynes) behind her, they plot to take over the program to sing the praises of progress and integration.

The supposed trump card here is - taking over the part from the legendary Divine - John Travolta in drag (including a fairly realistic looking fat-suit) but he and husband Christopher Walken as Tracy’s parents never rise above the level of SNL sketch caricatures. Travolta, who looks ridiculous and has an awful weirdly accented voice, is never believable as a woman but his shenanigans somehow breeze by. Queen Latifah fares better with some of the most sincere soulful singing here on some of the best songs though like the movie itself most of the set-piece musical numbers go on too long.

In a movie where just about every older face is familiar (Michelle Phieffer as the villainous TV producer, and in incidental roles - Paul Dooley, Jerry Stiller and Allison Janey) it’s really the youngsters show – especially Blonsky and Kelley. If you love musical romps you’ll love it. Me, I have a mild aversion to romps but I have to admit that HAIRSPRAY is more than adequately amusing. 

CIVIC DUTY (Dir. Jeff Renfroe, 2006)



Peter Krause, best known for playing Nate on Six Feet Under (HBO 2000-2005), is a downsized accountant who thinks a new neighbor (Khaled Abol Naga), whom he refers to as “that Muslim guy”, is a terrorist plotting destruction from his tiny apartment. Effectively crisp and creepy first half but the second half desolves into a worn out scenario – i.e. a hostage situation. Krause is a lot like his former character Nate – only more of an asshole; likewise Richard Schiff as a unsympathetic FBI agent is playing only a slight variation on his cynical Toby Ziegler part from The West Wing. What could have been a sharp cinematic study of post 9/11 paranoia is just another regular guy goes crazy and alienates all of society plot. I’m sure somebody has said this before but I liked this movie better the first time – when it was called ARLINGTON ROAD. 

More later...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies


One of the few flaws in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (which if it's not the best film of the year - it'll do 'til the best film of the year gets here) set in 1980, is that a Carl's Jr. restaurant with a current day sign complete with cartoon smiley face star logo can be seen in the background.

Also a modern Domino's Pizza typeface on a storefront is clearly visible even in a night scene shoot-out. These don't truly distract from the action but they did take me out of the movie somewhat.

A lot of anachronisms in the movies are pretty forgivable. A car model not in line with the period portrayed can be overlooked, much use of music is more an artistic choice than a mistake per say (except when it blares from a radio like the 1971 song "American Pie" in a scene set in 1969 in BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY), and a lot of clothing and slang can be dismissed. 

However there are those moments where a blatant disregard for correctness and consistency can really mar a movie. So let's take a look at: 

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies 

1. A Ms. PacMan Machine in MAN ON THE MOON (Dir. Milos Foreman, 1999) The IMDb says of this Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman misfire - "numerous anachronisms can be chalked up to artistic decisions; the film intentionally plays fast and loose with the timeline." Well that's fine and all but seeing a 1982 Ms. PacMan video game machine in a scene set in 1977 really took me out of the movie. I can accept the narrative decision to have the famous Carnegie Hall "milk and cookies" concert (pictured on the left) occur after Kaufman was diagnosed with cancer and presented as his big farewell but when an early 70's scene references "President Jimmy Carter" - odd jarring misplacements like that do this formulaic biopic no favors.

2. The Lake Wissota reference in TITANIC (Dir. James Cameron, 1997) Self proclaimed "king of the world" Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Rose (Kate Winslet) at their first meeting this little revealing tidbit - "once when I was a kid me and my father were ice-fishing out on Lake Wissota..." As five million websites will tell you, Lake Wissota is a man-made reservoir which wasn't created until five years after the Titanic sank. James Cameron apparently acknowledged this goof at one point but then proclaimed himself "KING OF THE WORLD!!!" Sorry, couldn't resist that. 

3. The '70s Hippies in '50s Vegas in THE GODFATHER (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Very briefly and through a window behind Michael (Al Pacino) when he and his party get out of their car at the entrance to Fredo's (John Casale) hotel you can see a couple of young men with long hair and 70's attire. Coppola on the DVD commentary chimes in: "this was one of those really cheap second unit shots we did...I was very embarrassed by this because of in the background you see there's like hippie-looking guys that are not correct for period." Well played, Coppola. You win this round.


4. Post-it notes in ALMOST FAMOUS (Dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000) Actually there is a plethora of anachronisms in this movie that takes place in the early 70's - Chem-Lite glow sticks at concerts, albums that weren't released yet (like the Stones' "Get Your Ya-Ya's Out" and Joni Mitchell's "Blue") given prominent screen-time in a scene set in 1969 (pictured above), and 90's Pepsi cans abound but damnit the post-it note deal just irks me. They weren't around until the 80's and it just seemed too cute to have teenage Rolling Stone journalist William (Patrick Fuggit) surrounded by them in a hotel bathroom. Seems like this is pretty indicative of the liberties with his own life Crowe was talking in this semi-autobiography. 5. ANOTHER 48 HOURS Billboard in THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Since most of Stone's movies are set in the 60's and the 70's I could do a whole post about the inaccurate elements and out of place objects but I'll spare you that (for now). I'll just say that for all the work that went into the mood and tone of the era in this bombastic biopic of rock star/poet wannabe Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) the visibility of a billboard for a 1990 movie is just plain stupid. Actually truth be told most of what's in THE DOORS, accurate or not, is just plain stupid.


6. 1965 Canadian Flag Maple Leaf Logo in the 1930's in THE UNTOUCHABLES (Dir. Brian DePalma, 1987) As the site Whoops! Movie Goofs & Mistakes reports "The Canadians probably laughed their asses off when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) made his first unsuccessful bust: The movie takes place in the 1930s and you can see boxes decorated with maple leaf logos. That logo was first seen 1965 when Canada introduced its flag." Yeah, well considering the reaction to DePalma's REDACTED these days, this 20 year old blunder should be the least of his worries. 

7. A Jet Crosses The Background of CLEOPATRA (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) This I've never seen - it's listed as a "goof" on IMDb's entry for the film. Likewise in their entry for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS they state: "Anachronism - Moses on top of the large rock with a watch on." Without a recent viewings of these films I can only say that these seem like an urban myths. No other source online collaborates either - in fact most sites only list that a crowd member in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS appears to be wearing a watch but this is disputed as well. I guess, in a BIG FISH kind of way, I'm siding with the myth on this one because I don't see either making my Netflix queue anytime soon. 

8. '80s Geography imposed on 1936 Maps In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Dir. Steven Speilberg, 1981) In a nice almost comic book touch we are shown Indiana Jones's (Harrison Ford) plane routes with lines imposed on a screen filling map. Unfortunately it imposes the geography of the early 80's into a 30's world. Thailand, which was called Siam at the time, is seen as is Jordan which was known as Transjordan until 1949. There is also a globe in Indy's classroom that depicts various countries of Africa that didn't exist in 1936. Ah-ha! This undisputed action movie classic isn't historically accurate! Like anyone will care though - I mean even I admit this is nit-picking. Oh yeah, according to the IMDb "in 1936, no aircraft were able to travel such distances with having to stop for refueling." How about that nit I just picked? 

9. A Rent-A-Center In BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Late in the film a "Rent-A-Center" is clearly visible in the background. Actually that's a pretty minor one - the film has lots of other anachronisms that are pretty forgivable and not really annoying but I wanted a excuse to bring up the brilliant BOOGIE NIGHTS and say I'm really looking forward to nit-picking Anderson's upcoming THERE WILL BE BLOOD for period piece mistakes so stay tuned.


10. Registered Pedophiles Weren't Required To Notify Neighbors In 1991 in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1997) This one kind of hurts - the law wasn't implemented in California until 1996 so for one of the most memorable bit part roles in a Coen Bros. movie, John Turturro as Jesus Quintana was going through inaccurate actions when he went door to door informing his neighbors. I guess I can let it slide - it is one of the all time great movies. No amount of incorrect for the period cars or bowling balls can change that. Whew! Well that's enough nit picking for now. I know there's a lot of annoying anachronisms I missed so you know where you can put them! In the comments below, of course. 

More later...