Down With Love

As I have mentioned before, I got my love of movies from my mother.  She would take me to many an afternoon matinée just to escape from the world for a little while.  Given that she was paying, we usually saw what she wanted to see.  In 1985, we discovered the joy of renting a VCR at the Curtis-Mathes store downtown.  It was then that my movie education grew exponentially.  My parents enjoyed reliving their dating and early marriage years of the 60s by watching the movies they loved on VCR.  You have to remember that in 1985, cable only had about 20 channels and only one HBO/Cinemax/Showtime.  Well, because I wanted to watch movies too, I ended up seeing and enjoying many of the ones they brought home.  One genre my mother especially loved was the wacky, romantic comedy fluff that was made then — you know: the ones with Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Cary Grant…

Fast Forward to 2003.

Fresh off of Moulin Rouge and Star Wars:Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Ewan MacGregor teams up with Renee Zellweger, fresh off of Chicago and Bridget Jones’s Diary.  They come together in a movie meant as an homage to those wacky, romantic/sex comedies that I referred to earlier; in particular, the movie, Pillow Talk (starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall), was the inspiration for the plot line.  Ewan plays the Rock character, with David Hyde Pierce playing the Tony Randall part.  Sarah Paulson adds some fun as Renee’s best friend.

What really works for this movie is the casting.  Far too little is ever said about the casting.  These four actors genuinely like each other and are obviously having fun with the roles.  That fun translates to big payoffs with the scripted jokes and great site gags.  I love the use of Tony Randall (his last screen appearance before his death) –it serves as a visual reminder of how much David Hyde Pierce is like him in all of his acting.  Florence Stanley also made her last appearance on film before her death.

The story is simple and the jokes require no “insider” knowledge.  This is truly a movie that can stand up to repeated viewings.  It is your typical boy-meets-girl story that we never grow tired of.

The DVD has the following features:

  • 5.1 Dolby
  • Widescreen
  • several making of featurettes
  • audio commentary
  • deleted scenes
  • a funny blooper/gag reel
  • video of the song Ewan and Renee did over the closing credits
  • casting trials

My advice: Grab this one for a night in with your sweetheart — you won’t go wrong.

AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies — 10th Anniversary Edition

When you give 100 people a sheet of paper and ask them to create a Top 10 list on any topic, the only thing you will get for certain is 100 lists. I take that back — you also get another thing: everyone else hating the list created.

Over the past ten years, AFI has made itself visible to the movie-going public through the use of specials on TV. These specials are meant to celebrate film, but often cause discourse amongst those viewing the specials. In 1998, as part of the celebration of the invention of motion pictures, AFI released a list of what it deemed the “100 greatest movies of all time.” Each year saw a more specific list created, with more controversy.

For 2007, AFI chose to reevaluate its original list. I applaud the sentimentality, but again the list is flawed, as it was ten years ago.

Much has been made this week over the details of the list, so I am going to focus on broader subjects.

The voting body is made up of actors, directors, and some critics, same as it was ten years ago. But how much has this cadre actually changed in ten years? I would argue very little. So was it a surprise to me to see the same basic list as before? No. The same influences are there, just a bit of reshuffling to allow for a few new entries.

Much has been made of the lack of recognition within this list, as well as annual award ceremonies, of the comedy. Since they are meant for light entertainment, the comedy is dismissed due to its lack of impact on political or dramatic issues. Acting in a comedic way means accepting the reality around you and exploring its full potential. Very few actors can genuinely make people laugh; yet, in order to be recognized by their peers as great actors, they turn to dramtic pieces. If you question this, then examine the careers of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. Is it any wonder that Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell are looking towards dramatic pieces?

Two other genres seemed oddly lacking representation on the list: Horror and Sci-Fi.

Horror had three notable entries: Jaws, Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. I could argue that each is more suspense/thriller than horror; however Jaws is probably the closest to horror. Where are the entries of the classic monster films of the 30s that are still revered today? Where are the slasher films that opened the door for today’s Hostel and Saw? While I may not be a fan of this genre, I can certainly tell that it is underrepresented here.

Sci-Fi gave us the usual entries of ET: The Extra-Terrestial, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Oddessey. I can not believe that in 100 years we have not had more than 3 movies that would qualify for the list. Interestingly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind did appear on the list ten years ago. I can only assume that AFI felt the Lord of the Rings counted in this genre as well.

I was happy that I at least knew a majority of the movies on the list and could count a number of them as some of my favorites.  I have to say that the retrospective did not feel special.  Other than Morgan Freeman hosting, everything else was left over from 10 years ago.  To show those who died, they added a color filter lens.  All in all, a poor showcase for the finest of the finest.

My only advice to AFI’s voting group: do not feel guilty for picking comedies over dramas.

To see this list and the others, go to .

Tombstone: Vista Series Edition

Except when necessary (i.e. previewing a movie for a sequel coming out), I am going to try to review DVDs that I think you should own or at least watch once.  This allows me a chance to revisit old favorites while introducing you to some you might have missed or forgotten about.

My first memory of the mention of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday and the OK Corral was when I was 5, watching an episode of Star Trek.  In the episode, Kirk, Spock, and Bones are kidnapped and set up to recreate the historical moment.  Of course, as I grew up, I learned the history behind it and understood the references.

In December of 1993, Hollywood Pictures, the now defunct arm of rated-R pictures for Disney, released Tombstone.  I do not recall it being a huge hit, but I did enjoy it at the theaters.  My main memory of that time was that it beat Kevin Costner’s version to the theaters by almost 2 years, and Tombstone had a much better box office.  Over the years, I found myself rewatching it as I would come across it on TV.  Then the magic of DVDs entered.

During the 2001-2004 time frame, Disney had a bad practice of trying to “double-dip” for DVD dollars.  It would release a plain DVD of a movie that had not been out yet, but keep quiet about a special edition that would be released 6 months later.  This special edition series was called the Vista Series and featured such DVDs as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Pearl Harbor.  As much as I hate the practice of Disney double-dipping, they at least made the special editions worth while.

Movie :  Tombstone is a basic story.  What sells it is the casting.  Val Kilmer has never had a better role in a movie; Kurt Russell was in his prime in this one.  But it was also the small-parts casting: Dana Delaney, Michael Biehn, Michael Rooker, Sam Elliot (what is a western without him), etc… Even actors I do not normally like excelled in this movie.  It is a tad long at 134 minutes, but the lulls are few and far between.  Obviously historical timelines are muddled — this is not a documentary.

DVD:  This is the Director’s Cut, so there are a couple of scenes added back in.

Features include:

  • DTS, 5.1 Dolby
  • Widescreen
  • 2 Discs
  • Making of
  • timeline
  • all of the trailers
  • a printed map of the fight

My advice: There are few Westerns that have been made over the past 20 years that can rival this movie.   Pick it up for a night in, pop some corn, and sit back and enjoy a good old movie.

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

As the summer of sequels continues, so does my quest for one that does not disappoint. This weekend had me setting my sites on the latest installment of the Fantastic 4 franchise.

I know what you are thinking — the first one was not all that good; how good can this one be? Surprisingly, it can be fun.

I reviewed the first one on DVD the other day. As I pointed out then, by having my expectations set low, I was mildly pleased. Not wanting to get too excited, I kept my expectations low on this one.

I went over to the Regal/United Artists theater around the corner from my place. I am not a big fan for Regal, but I just wanted to see a movie. So I hit the 10:30 showing — not many people at it, and luckily, no kids.

Basic premise is that Reed and Sue are trying to get married but keep having things wrecked by the disaster of the week. This week’s comes on a highly polished surfboard. What follows is the rollercoaster ride that one looks for in a summer flick.

As with the first one, angst is not hovering over this movie. There are no underlying messages about diversity, as with X-Men, or responsibility, as with Spider-Man. This is a movie that could easily be a comic book — good guys fight bad guys. The dialog is a bit better in this movie or maybe the actors are just delivering lines better. The actors also look like they are more comfortable in the roles.

My advice: Definitely worth matinée price — full price if you have seen most everything else. Go in wanting a popcorn flick and nothing more.

On The Lot

Since the summer of 2000 which brought us the debut of Survivor, many people have bemoaned the “descent” of television into “reality” shows.   The interesting thing is the wide range they cover.  There are some I can’t resist watching, no matter how bad I think they are.
Okay, Matt, you like watching reality shows — what does this have to do with movies?

Back in the fall of 2000, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon started an ambitious effort called Project Greenlight.  The idea originally was to have a writer come up with a script and then the prize would be to film that script.  HBO offered to air it as a series, with the premise being to show how a film was made.  Unfortunately, the first film did not do well and the series drew lukewarm support.

Over the next 3 years, PGL had two more contests, tweaking the formula each time.  Unfortunately, TV audiences did not care, which translated to poor box-office showings for the films produced.

So, if PGL did so poorly, why talk about it now?

Say what you will about Mark Burnett, but he is currently right more than he is wrong about what the American public want to see on TV.  So he pitched to Speilberg the idea of combining PGL with American Idol, pulling the best of each together.

There are three judges: Gary Marshall and Carrie Fisher are there every week, with a guest judge each week.  So far, only Michael Bay has come across as a real ass — but is anyone surprised?  Even Brett Ratner seemed more likable and credible than Michael Bay.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker got it right about Michael Bay in “Team America: World Police” — particularly on the soundtrack.   Enough about Michael Bay…

The judges whittled 50 directors down to 18.  At that point, America took over in the voting.  Each week, we are treated to 5 short films and we vote on what we like.  The lowest vote-getter (smallest box-office) is eliminated from the show.

At this point in the season, 15 are being whittled down to 12.  One is already gone, with another awaiting their fate in the next episode.  The show also has all of the films stored online.

My advice: It is better than most reality shows out there and some of the shorts have been very good.  Worth DVR’ing and watching in marathon form as I did with the episodes so far.