August 2010

Development Hell

The

movie industry is a funny, frustrating thing. Ideas that seem like sure-thing blockbusters sometimes get trapped in a never-ending cycle of business hold-ups, creative disagreements and budget woes. After a particular project has been stalled for several years, it's considered functionally dead, though the contracts and spoken agreem ents to put them on the big screen are still floating around. Such films are known to be "stuck in development hell", an absurd limbo of infinite broken promises. The only thing keeping them alive are whispers in the fan community and devilishly ironclad legal work. Here are a few of most famous damned films.

Sweet Cinema: Three (and a half) Movies About Candy

Movies and candy have been a successful partnership since the first time a savvy theater owner decided to sell sweets at the concession stand (at a pretty tremendous mark-up). Today patrons get downright indignant if there aren't bon-bons of some sort out front at the cinema. Sometimes the candy follows them into the film itself. Given the audience's propensity for sugary treats, it's a wonder that there aren't more movies about candy. It's a surprisingly versatile topic, with everything from musicals to romantic comedies and even a little horror about sweets in cinema history.

Satoshi Kon: 1963-2010

This week the world lost one of its great artistic minds. Satoshi Kon, the man behind some of the most stunning anime in history, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. He is survived by his wife, his parents and many friends, colleagues and fans he acquired over his all-too-brief time as a hard-working artist and director.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: The Film Version of a Book Which was Accidentally Turned into a TV Show

Have ya’ll seen Bored to Death, which stars Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis? Yeah? It’s pretty funny. After watching How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, though, it’d be easy to feel cheated if one’s enjoyed the aforementioned television show.

The two efforts aren’t exactly the same. But there are a great many similarities. Either way, the movie, which was released a year prior to the show making it onto TV and based on the writing of a journalist, is probably just as entertaining as the cable show.

Way of the Tosser: A Mockumentary from Canada

If you grew up listening to or watching media springing from Great Britain, you already know what the word ‘tosser’ denotes. If not, google it and find out why the title to his movie is amusing in more than one way. It’ll be worth the time, guaranteed.

Rock Paper Scissors: The Way Of The Tosser did the rounds at festivals a few years back and was able to garner a bit of positive press, even if the interwebs haven’t always cast an enthusiastic vote. But with a feature as peculiar as this one, there’s good reason why a spate of normals didn’t quite get the whole thing.

Dracula (Dead and Loving It): Mel Brooks Still Rules

Mel Brooks has endeavored to entertain Americans for the last sixty years. He’s had his hand in cartoons, skits, theater, film and even did a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm along side his downer offspring, Larry David.

The influence Brooks has on ensuing generations of comedians and actors can’t be calculated. And neither can the quality of his filmmaking. Some might figure that the nineties didn’t exactly count as the highlight of his career. And while that may well be an appropriate summation of the decade, it still found Brooks seeking to expand upon the vast history he’d accumulated by that point in time.

State and Main: A Reflexive Lens

It’s not surprising that there’re a spate of Hollywood films centered on the movie industry itself – kinda like if there was a concept album about the creation of an album detailing the recording process and the financial issues surrounding the release of a disc. Hollywood, as much as music honchos, are of the opinion that whatever comprises the day to day operations of a film crew is interesting enough to levy upon the viewing public.

The Player was alright, at best. And while Waiting for Guffman wasn’t specifically about Hollywood, it did get into the celebrity of Broadway – almost the same thing.

Kurt and Courtney: Exploitative Documentaries

I’d intended to write a bit on the fascination Americans – or moviegoers in general – have with gory/gross, yet unique documentaries. Capturing the Friedmans is an admitted classic in a weird way. And so is Nick Broomfield’s Kurt and Courtney.

It would have been easy to traipse through the organization of Broomfield’s work which makes him not only look like a well meaning, investigative documentarian, but the object of Courtney Love’s misplaced ire. The whole movie goes pretty much like this – “What’s she trying to hide?”

"My Soul to Take" - okay

TRAILER REVIEW

Take My Money Again and Let Me Scream, Again

"My Soul to Take" is Wes Craven, the very successful horror movie maker's, latest spooky flick.

From the story lines put out by the producers: "In the sleepy town of Riverton, legend tells of a serial killer who swore he would return to murder the seven children born the night he died. "

Dead serial killer after children? What does this reminds me of? Answer: "A Nightmare on Elm Street," one of Wes Craven's craven money makers.

Producers' story lines continues: "16 years later, people are disappearing again. Has the psychopath been reincarnated as one of the seven teens,."

"Scream"? A psychopathic young person killing young people? Another craven money making series.

Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg"

The indie film scene has been juggling the theme of mundane existential crisis for a long time now but, as a movement, it hasn't really made much progress on the topic. I'd also like to differentiate "indie" from independent film as a whole. Indie has become its own aesthetic, a mix of Gen-X disappointment minus the active rebellion and a supremely removed sense of irony, like an entire art movement that buys shag carpet not because it likes the stuff but because shag reminds it of something absurd and depressing from its childhood. Movies like Noah Baumbach's Greenberg have been popping up every year for practically a decade, parading bored, disaffected people in front of the camera for two hours of non-story.

'Vanishing on 7th Street' -- Spooky Street!

TRAILER REVIEW

Judging, after viewing the trailer for "Vanishing on 7th Street," the flick looks like a dark picture. Yes, there are lots of scenes of darkness. The cast is made up of good actors, Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo. The concept or concepts of the flick is / are interesting.

Interesting concept one: What if everybody but you and a few others disappeared. The entire population is gone, as if they've been raptured? Raptured? The rapture! They are gone, but their clothes and stuff are left? (More on this rapture motif later)

Interesting concept two: What would happened if the lights went out and there was something lurking in the dark to snatch you up? A monster? Or what ever?

Interesting concept three: What if you had to stay within the light or perish?

The Lady Eve: Henry Fonda Can Act, Just Not Here

It’s pretty useless to reduce any effort – film, literature, music or otherwise – to a type. Of course, there are generally accepted lines of delineation separating comedy from action. So, in keeping with that, Preston Sturges’ 1941 film The Lady Eve might be considered a love story. Or a battle of the sexes film. Or a revenge tale.

Regardless of how the film’s understood, though, it doesn’t rate as one of the strongest – in terms of acting, at least – to fall under the auspices of Sturges’ name. And that’s kinda surprising.

Monsters: Indy Sci-fi, Means Head Game

TRAILER REVIEW

Keep its In Your head, ' Cause Indies don't have the budget.

I'm going to skip over the politics that jumps right out at me. Illegal aliens in Central America? The Mexicans are trying to keep them out? And the US border is some kind of safety zone? Wait a minute! In this flick's universe, did Arizona win? Stop! These may be inadvertent references, totally unintended. The flick poster does say,"After six years, they're no longer aliens, they're residents. Now it's our turn to adapt." And the leading man is wearing a gas mask. And there is a big old sign that says, "Infected Zone!" Maybe not so unintended? At least with the marketing dudes?

This flick has a great premiss for a sci-fi / horror flick. The producer's synopsis:

Super High Me: Doug Benson Gets High Alot

Speaking of comedy, stand up comic Doug Benson issued a feature length documentary a few years back, aping roughly the same premise as the similarly titled Super Size Me. His film, Super High Me, though, replaces fast food nonsense, with delicious, delicious weed.

To get this out of the way, the premise of the film is easily more entertaining than the hour and forty minutes actually constituting the feature. But that’s how it goes. Good ideas seldom make it out of whatever insular environment their hatched. So at least there’s that.

The Comedians of Comedy: Intelligent Nerds as Psuedo Rock Stars

Any good documentary effort should possess some sort of narrative arch. Whether it’s preconceived or arises out of the footage organically, the arc functions as a way to maintain the audience’s attention and hopefully interest.

That being said, performance films don’t generally adhere to that format, instead (and obviously) focusing on a series of live footage focused on revealing interesting moments of one’s craft whether it’s a good solo, a funny joke or just some audience member being assaulted by police after causing a disturbance.

For the Comedians of Comedy, a film detailing a tour undertaken by Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zack Galifianakis and Maria Bamford, the latter approach of cobbling together shows is utilized. I mean, what kind of plot could emerge from that set up?

The Great McGinty: Preston Sturges and the Myth of Fair Politics (Part Two)

With a visionary writer and director at the helm of The Great McGinty, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that structurally, the film should be seen as an important step forward.

Released in 1940, the Preston Sturges film predates Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane by just about a year. That latter film has been heralded as a landmark in American cinema for its camera work, but also due to the fact that the Kane doesn’t ape a linear narrative. Instead, Welles’ work is all a flashback. It’s already happened. The funny thing is, though, The Great McGinty uses the same device, although not as heavy handedly.

Sullivan's Travels: The Great Depression can Be Amusing (Part One)

What most would consider Preston Sturges’ career high point is a bunch of things at once: romantic comedy, a political film, a commentary on Hollywood and commerce as well as work touting the trials of the under-dog. Sullivan’s Travels, today, isn’t talked about the way in which some other films of the era are currently. There’s not the same kind of reverence granted the writer and director. Certainly, film geeks still sing Sturges’ praise, but mentioning his name to a random passer-by on the street wouldn’t get anyone too far.

The Great McGinty: Preston Sturges and the Myth of Fair Politics (Part One)

Preston Sturges probably shouldn’t have ended up working in Hollywood. But Sturges’ is one of those stories that’s almost as full of intrigue as his scripts.

Born to a wealthy family in Chicago, the Sturges clan moved to Europe during Preston’s teenage years. For whatever reason, when in Europe, the youngest Sturges was charged with running the business end of his mother’s perfume company. Surprisingly successful, the soon to be writer moved back to the States.

Was Seattle Bigger than Hype?

In crafting a documentary dealing with the rise and subsequent falling away of the Seattle thing, it would have been pretty easy for Doug Pray, the film’s director, to come off like an exploitative Hollywood type. And for that reason, it’s surprising to see some really candid interviews with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. But in wading through some of the live footage captured for inclusion in Hype!, it makes sense that some of the scene’s biggest names were all calm and thoughtful when having the camera turned on them.

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