Monday, August 30, 2010

Top 5 Films: Oregon

This project my end up being more daunting than I'd expected. It's quite easy to find lists of films shot in a particular space, but finding films that are set in those states is another thing. I'm worried about when I have to pick five films for, say, Idaho. Of course, maybe I'm just too picky. I'm not in love with The Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy (which I've just dubbed the Astoria trilogy), or the films of Gus Van Sant. That alone makes this task about 30% more difficult.

Old Joy
Old Joy kind of hypnotized me when I watched it. I'm pretty sure the combination of the music (by Yo La Tengo) and the scenery subliminally implanted the idea to move to the Pacific Northwest in my head. The film is slight and simple, but damned if it isn't affecting. Plus, Will Oldham rocks! Still need to catch up with Kelly Reichardt's follow-up, Wendy and Lucy.

Stand By Me
A fictional town in Oregon is still a town in Oregon, right? For me, Stand By Me is a much prefered Corey Feldman vehicle than The Goonies (which is still fun, just not as great in my mind as everyone else's). It's one of the great Stephen King adaptations and comes in the middles of an amazing Rob Reiner run (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally..., Misery. OK, so at the beginning of the middle). Also, the four leads (hell, let's call it five to include Kiefer Sutherland) couldn't have had more different career trajectories. Death (River Phoenix), nerd-god (Wil Wheaton), burn-out/joke (Corey Feldman), B-list "star" married to a supermodel (Jerry O'Connell, marriage status noted only since he was so rolly-polly in the film), and legitimate but troubled A-Lister (Kiefer Sutherland).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
A veritable classic, no matter what Ken Kesey may say. This film would fight for a spot if I was doing a top 5 for every country (note: I will not be doing a top 5 for every country). It's no surprise that great cast + great script + great director (or at least very good) = a great film. Louise Fletcher is so identified as the loathsome Nurse Ratched that I was surprised to find that not only has she been working consistently for over 35 years, but that she was pretty sexy in The Cheap Detective just three years later. I didn't think that was possible. And good on the casting director for seeing the inherent chemistry between Christopher Lloyd and Danny Devito. It must have made casting for Taxi (also) three years later that much easier.

Zero Effect
This is kind of a cheat because, while I remember thoroughly enjoying Zero Effect, I don't remember too much about it. The film basically hinges around your feelings about Bill Pullman, which is fine for me, because I like him (and even better that it doesn't hinge around your feelings of Ben Stiller because he's pretty restrained here). It's a clever and bizarre detective story. I'm kind of predisposed to it because the director, Jake Kasdan, directed some Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared episodes plus The TV Set, which is hilarious.

The Phantasm Series
I'm including the whole series because I know for a fact that II and III take place in Oregon and there is some debate about whether the first takes place in Northern California or Oregon, but I think it's Oregon, so it stays. Simply put, Phantasm is awesome. Flying silver orbs, other dimensions, grave robbing, the Tall Man, Reggie Bannister. They've got everything. I'm envious of our UK brethren because they get the entire series in a boss box-set.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Scott Pilgrim vs The World

It seems a bit too soon to be recommending this since it's only been out for a few weeks, but dammit, no one is seeing it! The only people I know who have seen it are the group that went with me. It's Edgar Wright! When has he ever gone wrong? Spaced? Shaun of the Dead? Hot Fuzz? Don't? All classics!

OK, so maybe Wright is still floating around the fringes of the mainstream as he deals in esoterica. While his films stand on their own, there are so many references geared to a specific audience that it'd be easy to feel left out (hell, the Spaced DVD comes with an "Homage-O-Meter" option that is sort of a Pop-Up Video for the pop culture references).

I don't want to get into why people aren't seeing Scott Pilgrim (I could right a few thousand words defending Michael Cera alone). The fact is, the movie was made and the only people who should care about the money are the ones who have money to lose in it. It's a bit disheartening to see Vampires Suck reaching more viewers, but that, too, is a discussion for another time.

The biggest reason I have to give for everyone to see it is that I can't remember ever leaving the theater thinking that I've legitimately seen something different. From the fights to the integration of the comic and references, Scott Pilgrim simply feels new (while paying homage to an earlier time). I wanted to applaud twice in the first five minutes. Once when the Universal logo came up in 8-bit graphics with an appropriate 8-bit Universal fanfare and immediately after the amazing opening credits. That the movie is funny as hell is a bonus (seriously, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh are unbelievable).

Despite any reservations you might have, trust in Edgar Wright. He is your friend in cinema.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Three to four years ago, I rented about seven horror movies to binge on over a weekend (for some reason, even though I was renting DVDs, I picture myself carrying a pile of those thick VHS Blockbuster boxes). Off the top of my head, I can only remember three of them for vastly different reasons. One was Eli Roth's Hostel, which I hated pretty passionately (and which wasn't nearly as gruesome as I'd expected [I'd expected some pretty intense gruesome-osity], so that was nice). Another was The Hitcher, which I didn't know much about aside from the fact that Roger Ebert hated it, genre fans loved it, and it starred C. Thomas Howell who I didn't have much of an opinion about aside from thinking of him painted black in Soul Man. That film blew me away from all angles. The third film in this memory trilogy was The Serpent and the Rainbow.

The reason The Serpent and the Rainbow sticks in my mind is because I never got to watch it. The weekend ran out and my roommate copied and burnt the DVD for me to watch, but I never got around to it and the disc got beat to hell and thrown out (it's not illegal to copy DVDs if no one ever watches them, right?). Finally, after years of anticipation (and prompting from a season 2 X-Files episode), I moved the film to the top of my Netflix queue.

Even after all these years, I still didn't know what the film was about aside from a powder that paralyzes people temporarily and nearly shuts down the body so it's impossible to tell if they are living or not. This leads to premature burial and the old voodoo-style zombie. The Serpent and the Rainbow is pretty clunky at times and has a few fairly jarring transitions, but damned if it isn't an effective horror film.

If there is one thing Wes Craven excels at, it's blurring line between the real world and the dream world. This could easily be The Nightmare on Elm Street 3.5: Freddy Goes to Haiti. The dream imagery is absolutely terrifying (I'm surprised I didn't have nightmares of that corpse bride). But as terrifying as the dreams are, the villain, played by Zakes Mokae, is even more intense. I barely felt safe watching him (and given his power, he probably knew I was watching).

It's rare that a horror film gets under my skin anymore and The Serpent and the Rainbow definitely achieved that. For that alone, I have to make it this week's film rec.

Alternate Titles for Chopping Mall

Last night, I watched Chopping Mall with my girlfriend and while it's a perfectly serviceable crappy horror movie, there is a glaring problem: the title.

Originally, the film was called Killbots, but that title is somewhat lacking, too, and tells you less about what you can expect and more about the menace. At least Chopping Mall tells you that there will be mayhem at the mall.

Well, Andrea and I spent some time coming up with names that we think would be just as good, if not better than Chopping Mall and Killbots.

Killing Mall
Death Mall
Shocking Mall
Lazering Mall
Mall Insecurity
Rolling Security
Shopping Plasma
Trapped in a Mall with Deathbots
The Mall Menace

And finally... the title so obvious it took forever to think of...

Shopping Maul

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top 5 Films: Pennsylvania

Seeing as how well the my last blog series went (the still unfinished "Top Film For Each Year of My Life), I decided to start yet another, more ambitious, series. Taking a page from Sufjan Stevens (though I suspect my task is a bit more attainable than his), I'm going to come up with top 5 lists of films that take place in each state.

I realize that I could cheat a bit and include films that were shot in the state in question (which would allow me to include Robocop and Wet Hot American Summer on this particular list), but the only purpose of that would be to make my home state look even awesomer. I definitely wouldn't have that bias when dealing with any other state.

So, since I just came back from a trip to the Keystone state (home to scrapple, shoofly pie, Philly Cheesesteaks, and the Primanti Brothers), I figured what better place to start? In some particular order...

Groundhog Day
Depending on how I'm feeling towards the Hot Topic crowd, Groundhog Day could easily take the place of my favorite film from 1993. I've never done the Punxsutawney (I didn't come close to spelling that right the first time) thing myself, but some of Phil Connor's (Bill Murray) more cynical reports on the events don't sound far off. I feel as though if I were stuck reliving the same day over and over for decades, I'd start doing nice things then slowly devolve into and agent of chaos. Although, if I had to hear "I Got You Babe" and "The Pennsylvania Polka" everyday, for that long, I don't think the "nice things" period would last too long.

Slap Shot
I have a bit of a man-crush on Paul Newman. It feels good to finally admit it. I think it's something about his blue eyes (or his Newman's Own Orange-Mango Tango). Seeing it at this stage of the game, there's nothing too surprising about a ragtag bunch of minor league athletes making good, but damned if this doesn't do it best! And I don't even like hockey! If you want a great double feature, grab this and Bull Durham. You may never look at minor league sports the same again.

Of the films on this list, I'll probably get the most grief for this choice (especially given some of the obvious films I left out). I know the film isn't perfect, but Adventureland hit me in just the right way. It's like when I watch a film by Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, or David Gordon Green. There work is so much better than the individual scenes and I feel like I've seen something that really meant something. Of course, Adventureland doesn't say a whole lot that is new, but it says it earnestly and in a meaningful way. Plus, Martin Starr!

Dawn of the Dead
I suppose I could just put every George Romero ever on here, but that just wouldn't be fair (and not all of them are, well, good). I went with Dawn of the Dead instead of Night of the Living Dead mostly because of the awesome Tom Savini effects and how much fun the bulk of the film is. Sure, it looks a bit silly now, but that doesn't make it any less awesome. And if anything epitomizes the denizens of rural Pennsylvania better than drinking beer and shooting zombies as they roam the countryside, I don't know what it is. Plus, it's got one hell of a tag line. (We won't mention the awful 2004 remake beyond this parenthetical).

Best In Show
Simply a top notch mockumentary from Christopher Guest and is merry band of improvisers. Definitely his best of the genre (I won't count This Is Spinal Tap since he didn't direct it). Seriously, who doesn't love adorable dogs and comedy's finest? No one I want to know.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Hoop Dreams

The Weekly Film Rec hasn't been so weekly of late and I apologize for that. I've been missing in action for a few weeks, but now I'm back and armed to the teeth with good stuff!

The prospect of a three hour film is pretty daunting to begin with. The prospect of a three hour documentary can be even moreso (that is, if it's not in a serialized form). It's a lot of time to set aside in a day. Fortunately, I lucked into a significant chunk of free time after my trip back East and utilized Netflix' Instant View for this purpose.
I only knew vagaries about Hoop Dreams: that if followed the lives of two high schoolers hoping to play professional basketball. I don't really care for basketball and I know many people who don't care for sports in general, so there is a certain amount of trepidation regarding the subject matter. However, the Hoop Dreams, like any great documentary, offers so much more than what it's about on the surface.

It follows Willam Gates and Arthur Agee through four years of high school. The former at a revered Catholic powerhouse and the latter at an inner city school (although he was briefly at the powerhouse). There are a lot of ups and downs with each of the boys and their families and Hoop Dreams comments quite a bit on how the system does or does not work for struggling families. The most striking aspect of the film for me, though, is how much luck acts as a driving force in all of our lives.

Hoop Dreams is absolutely enthralling throughout, though oddly, the basketball scenes are generally pretty dull. You can attribute that mostly to the narrator who narrates with a dry monotone, but it actually doesn't harm the action on screen because you are so invested in these kids.

I really want to get the Criterion DVD because it has a commentary featuring Gates and Agee and I would love to hear what they have to say and how their lives panned out. It's not often one gets to relive a huge chunk of one's life like this and it'd be interesting to hear their perspective on their former outlook on life (I suspect not working harder in school is one regret).

Finally, Hoop Dreams gave me a much greater appreciation for the following Mr. Show sketch:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You're So Vain

I've never much cared for Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" (which is why you won't see it embedded anywhere on this page. I'd always found it kind of dull, pretty much like most of Simon's catalogue that I've heard. The song has been the subject of much mythologizing (which you can catch up on here) and were I more cynical, I'd label it as one big publicity ploy to keep Simon from falling completely out of the cultural lexicon. Not initially, of course, but over the past ten to fifteen years. That's not really what I want to write about here, though. What bugs me most is that "You're So Vain" tries so hard to be clever but undermines itself and winds up just being stupid.

The song states, as everyone knows, "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you," which it is! So if the song is about him, then he's not so vain after all.

"Now just a minute!" you might argue. "There are several people this song could be about. Therefore, they are vain because they think a song not about them is about them. That's the point!"

In this case, yes, there are some vain characters hanging around the periphery, but one of those people is correct. The song is about him.

Simon has indicated that it's a composite of three men, but in recent years she has been dropping letters that appear in the man's name. Unless she is being particularly coy and is eventually planning on spelling out the names of all three men, we can only assume that there is one main male acting as the subject of the song. And this man is not vain. He is correct.

In my mind, you can't right a song about someone and call him vain for thinking the song is about him. That's some sort of crazy cognitive dissonance. And just plain stupid.