December 2009

Rotoscope Extravaganza: Ralph Bakshi's "American Pop"

In the 70's, 80's and 90's, perhaps no American animator was as important and influential as Ralph Bakshi. He's also long been something of a controversial figure, especially among other artists. Bakshi's approach to animation has always been to hit the frame with a bizarre mix of different styles, juxtaposing the realistic with the nightmarish in what basically amounts to a feature-length montage. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. One of Ralph Bakshi's most successful productions was his 1981 labor of love, American Pop. It came on the heels of the now widely-loved Lord of the Rings cartoon that was singularly iconic until Peter Jackson gave the series the live-action treatment. Bakshi used a lot of rotoscoping in Lord of the Rings, but given the necessity of creating dragons and such the technique didn't get as much of a workout until American Pop and its considerably more human-centered story.

Twister: Not the One About Weather

There are innumerable instances of directors amassing some insane amount of talent for a project only to have the assembled group of actors work out a pretty mediocre script. In defense of Michael Almereyda and his 1990 film Twister – no it has nothing to do with tornadoes – the concept has some distinct possibilities. It’s just that there isn’t really a plot by the time all of the characters and their various problems are established. So while expansive fields are nice to look at and to set characters against, the film basically reflects the flaccid environment in which it was shot.

Opening with scenes of a half dressed red head recoiling in horror from a looming helicopter overhead has its distinct mystique. It’s just that there really isn’t ever a good explanation as to why Maureen Cleveland is asleep on the lawn in front of her father’s mansion in Kansas.

Film deaths of 2009

The year of 2009 saw some massive celebrity deaths, including Michael Jackson,  Ed McMahon and others, here are some of the biggest Movie personalities who passed in 2009: 


o Montalban: Nov 25, 1920 – Jan 14, 2009

Famous for his role as the Latin host on Fantasy Island and as the evil Khan in both the original series and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Montalban was 88 years old when he passed from complications of a sweet-ass life.

Brittany Murphy: Nov 10, 1977 – Dec 20, 2009

5 bad movies of 2009

The Worst of 2009

It’s difficult to really pull the worst out of  the year’s films. There was some real garbage produced this year, The Battle for Terra (starring the much over-rated Justin Long),  Street Fighter, the Legend of Chun Li… but many of these films can be explained away in a moment, it’s a video game movie!! See? So I shot for movies that really gave an effort, but seemed to miss the mark badly.

Defending "Love Actually"

Last week when I posted the article "Five Great Christmas Moves for Grown Ups" I drew some flack in the comments section for including Richard Curtis's 2003 barrage of romantic comedy Love Actually on the list. While I'm usually happy to let opinions stand as they are, I feel compelled to defend this film not just because some people don't like it, but because this initially very positively-reviewed movie has suffered from an incredible backlash in the past year or so. Here's my case for why Love Actually is not only not a bad movie, but may just be one of the better films of the decade.

We Hardly Knew Ye: Three Movie Stars Who Died in Their Prime

This morning news spread of the sudden death of actress Brittany Murphy, who suffered a cardiac episode at just 32 years of age. Murphy was a unique comedic talent who sadly never really had a chance to reach her full potential in the entertainment industry. Anyone who may have disregarded her abilities thanks to middling studio movies like Just Married obviously missed her 12-year stint on Mike Judge's much beloved animated program King of the Hill as Luanne Platter. In a kinder world, Brittany Murphy could have wrangled a TV deal in the next few years that would have showcased her strengths, but now the opportunity has passed. Whenever a talented, young performer leaves us too soon it's a reminder of all the others who didn't get to do all they seemed to meant to do. While the names on this list are just a few great actors who deserved more time than they got, I hope they can serve as a reminder of all the others.

Five Great Christmas Movies for Grown Ups

Christmas movies have a tendency to indulge demographics that believe in Santa more than the folks who actually get the presents. As a result, most of them either lose much of their charm after puberty sets in or were just plain bad to begin with. Occasionally, a good yuletide-type movie hits theaters looking for an older demographic, especially those who prefer something a little less sweet. Here are five movies for the people who put the brandy in the eggnog of the holiday season.

Les Blank: Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980)

Improvising on a theme is as much the place of a musician as it is a film maker or really any working creative person. Les Blank’s made a career out of finding interesting people, scenarios and music to contemplate in the form of his documentaries. Over the last forty years Blank’s been able to capture on film a spate of musical performers towards the end of their lives. His portrayals of these individuals is as interesting as the fact that Blank has some weird timing allowing him to enter into a life or situation at precisely the right time. But that, I suppose, is part of being a good documentarian.

The Nostalgia Effect: Jim Henson's "Labyrinth"

Though critics bank on the assumption that at least some aspects of cinema are objective in quality, movie-watching is still largely a personal, deeply subjective experience. We love the movies we love for reasons that are entirely specific to us as individuals and there are a lot of ways that our lives can cross paths with a given film that simply can't be predicted. If a movie happens to be on in the background during an important event in one's life, chances are it'll be associated with that event from then on. We anchor our memories of our lives, especially our early years, to the media we consumed at the time. That's why we end up going back to films of questionable quality long after we should have developed a more refined palate. This is the Nostalgia Effect.