This post covers two movies that are currently running on HBO.
I was very excited when I heard HBO was making a movie about the making of The Birds. I consider this film to be Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. I know that many people find Tippi Hedron to be a stiff actress but I think her performance is perfect for this film. She represents the “modern woman” who’s strange new ways have caused a disruption in the natural order. She has to be arrogant and opaque at the beginning of the film and then shell-shocked at the end. Many actresses would have demanded the opportunity to emote in the most tense sequences of the film and Hitch made the decision to use a newcomer for that reason. If he wanted great acting, Rod Taylor (a man who was in two other of my favorite films, 1960′s The Time Machine and 1970′s Zabriske Point) was standing next to her for most of the film. The day before The Girl premiered I watched the film for the first time in a decade. I was ready to be amazed.
At about the thirty minute mark of The Girl, Alfred Hitchcock jumps on Tippi in the back of a limousine and attempts to rape her. It was like someone tossed a bucket of poo on my childhood. To add insult to injury a film about the making of Psycho is about to be released starring Anthony Hopkins. Will the tar and feathering of the greatest film director of the pre-Tarantino era continue? I hope not but I’m very concerned.
This year I saw that the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound Magazine had named Hitchock’s Vertigo as the “Greatest Film Of All Time”. I was glad he had finally unseated the one shot wonder Orson Welles but was puzzled by the choice. Vertigo had been a lost film when I was a kid so I hadn’t seen it in my formative years. A few months ago I began revisiting Hitchcock’s films starting with Vertigo. I skipped Psycho and The Birds because they are burned into my memory and went deep. After this exhaustive research I have come up with a list of four Hitchcock films which I feel are better than Vertigo:
1) The Birds – I must insist that if Hitch is the best Director of all time then this is the best film of all time. I believe that portions of The Girl are true accounts and Tippi was treated pretty poorly but it doesn’t diminish the clockwork perfection of the film for me.
2) Rear Window – Grace Kelly never looked better and having our hero (James, freakin’ Stewart) disabled by a massive cast on his leg is pure brilliance. This is one of the densest films made during the Golden Age of cinema. It can be viewed repeatedly without losing its lustre.
3) Lifeboat – Of all the black and white Hitchcock’s this one holds up the best. It is the directors most moral and human film.
4) Frenzy – Only a few directors could make a great film in the last few years of their life. Kurasawa, Lumet, and Kubrick come to mind. To also make a film that is so far ahead of its time is an achievement. I almost feel like Hitchcock must have been listening to Let It Bleed when he made this which leads us to part two of our post.
The Rolling Stones Biopic Crossfire Hurricane is brilliant and must be seen by every human on the planet. I have one bone to pick. All the Stones state in their voice-overs of the late 60′s sequence that they couldn’t understand why Brian Jones had gone into a deep depression and had stopped contributing to the band. It has been pretty well established that Keith Richards stealing Brian’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg caused the rift. Here is the evidence:
Good movie, shooting bummed me out. Hope Government doesn’t go crazy and try to ban violence in movies.
Jules french kisses a stuffed wolf's head.
I have waited a couple of weeks to post this because Cabin In The Woods is a spoiler minefield. You can’t talk about this film without revealing things that are key to the plot twists. If you don’t want to know what the film is about then please navigate away from this page now.
As you can probably tell by the name of this site, we are big fans of Joss Whedon and all Buffy/ Angel alumni. This film was co-written by Joss and Drew Goddard. It has the feel of a good Angel episode to it. Where as Buffy tended to use its monster of the week format to explore the inner lives of its teenage protagonists, Angel was more about revealing the niche that its monsters occupied within society. The fifth and last season of Angel planted the seeds for the ideas behind Cabin In The Woods. Angel and his team have joined forces with a law firm whose sole purpose is to perpetuate supernatural evil through the human justice system. In the finale Angel uses the information he’s gathered at the firm to execute the key evil doers of Los Angeles. In the final scene of the series the “board of evil” unleash an army of monsters on him.
Cabin In The Woods or as we shall from here on refer to it, CITW, begins a bit too much like any teen exploitation flick. We are introduced to the two girls and three guys in a meet-cute manner. There is a horny couple, a girl who was jilted by her Professor boyfriend, a “new guy” and a funny stoner. They climb into an RV and head to a mysterious cabin. When they arrive at the cabin it looks exactly like the one in The Evil Dead. It would have been meta if one of the gang would have mentioned this but no one does.
While the main tale is being told we are introduced to a group of people working in an underground lab. We quickly realize that they are monitoring and controlling the five college students and are about to put them through some kind of test. Most of the humor in the script comes from these cynical lab coats who are working for either the government or the “forces of evil” themselves. I won’t bother quoting the script but it’s easy to tell which dialog comes from Joss Whedon. What bothers me is its cynical tone. When you are a scriptwriter in Hollywood I can imagine that you see many of your original ideas shot down in favor of cliches. CITW is all about cliches. It is obvious the lab coats are stand-ins for the scriptwriters.
The thing the lab coats tell us that first hurt the movie for me was that the five college students have been drugged so they will behave the way they want. That means the characters we are supposed to identify with aren’t real. I am surprised that Joss didn’t pick up on this because in his past works believable characters were important. The stoner isn’t affected by the drugs because of the marijuana in his system so he figures out quickly that things aren’t as they seem. Then he disappears from the film long enough for everyone but the lonely girl to get killed off.
This is when things get weird. The stoner and lonely girl make their way into the lab and unleash the monsters (Buffy season four finale flashback) and everyones dies. A big part of me loved hearing some fresh Joss dialog and I usually like films that reference films and film making. The cast was great and my personal favorite was Bradley Whitford as one of the scientists. None of the monsters really stuck out for me, I suppose they were meant to reference films like Saw, The Ring, The Fog, Pan’s Labyrinth and many other recent films. The CGI was spotty. For films that aren’t budgeted to be Summer Blockbusters it appears that Hollywood is allowing sub-standard CGI to make it to final cut. I would rather they use rubber appliances than under-textured CGI monsters.
I have now talked about this film with a good dozen people and either they hate it or love it. There seems to be no middle ground. I have the same thing going on in my head. I love it for its meta content and its willingness to laugh at itself. I hate what it says about horror film cliches and I hate the cynicism of the film. I believe it is a film that wants to honor horror films while trashing them at the same time.
I used an online translation tool for my title, I don’t know any French so it may read weird. If so, I apologize. What I mean to say is that Megan Draper stole my heart with her sexy version of Zou Bisou Bisou.
I don’t have much time to write a review of the season 5 premiere of Madmen. I will say it was great and I’m thankful for the two hour dose we got. It seems as if Don Draper is still going through an existential crisis but I believe him at the end of the episode when he says all he cares about is his new wife.
The ad agency is in the doldrums, none of the characters have had much growth. Pete has even seen his life slip backwards to a suburb dweller with a baby at home and a wife who won’t get out of her house-coat.
Joanie is also dealing with a baby and in the only scene that doesn’t ring true she heads to the office with her child when she suspects they are going to fire her. I know from experience that Mothers are good at stirring up self-doubt in even the most self confident people, but Joan? If I was in a foxhole she would be the person I would most want next to me. It reminded me of the uncomfortable rape scene from awhile back. Joan is too strong to put up with BS and if the agency wanted her gone she’d laugh at them as she walked out the door.
Sally Draper’s story is getting uncomfortable. Last season she had her puppy-love relationship with the chubby boy who spied on her Mom. This episode opens with her trying to catch her Dad “in flagrante delicto”. I think her character is one of the strongest in the series but I fear what Matthew Weiner has in store for her character. If the show lasts long enough Sally will be a teenager during the sex and drugs revolution of the late sixties. Will she go to Altamont or hook up with the Manson Family? Horrors!
I am getting my dissertation ready so I have been pressed for time. There is so much going on with TV right now that I have to do a quick download of thoughts.
Mad Men is coming back after a 17 month hiatus! The first new episode will air March 25th. It has been a long time since this show was the top attraction on TV, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones have caused a shift away from subtle story telling. I will watch this to see if the magic is still there.
Game of Thrones season 2 premieres on April 1! It will be hard for any show to topple this juggernaut. They could descend into YA level storytelling and people would still tune in to watch the soon to be legendary dragon CGI.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Jed Whedon’s name pop up as writer and co-producer of last week’s episode of Spartacus. Jed is Joss Whedon’s brother (my hero) and it warms my heart to see the connection between the Whedonverse and the Raimi / Tapert camp grow stronger.
Speaking of Breaking Bad the shows creator, Vince Gilligan, gives a one on one interview on the latest Nerdist Writers Panel podcast. I have heard Vince speak before and he comes across as a regular guy and all around nice person. It is always good to hear a show runner say it is the whole crew that make a show great.
The season finale of The Walking Dead was just what I wanted. What is zombie entertainment without a zombie horde? It has been true since 1969 that one zombie is a bore but a multitude of zombies is pure entertainment. It goes back to what zombies represent in our subconscious. Zombies are all the unpleasant people we have to deal with on a day to day basis. An unthinking mass of humanity responding to only primal instincts, pure id creatures.
I have been wanting the crew to get chased off the farm since the “Sophia in the barn” incident and they did it with class and gravitas. This show gets my respect for killing off two central characters in the previous two episodes and then thinning the farm family out in this episode to just the best characters. I am so glad Hershel and Maggie made it and don’t mind the little sister tagging along. There has to be a weak link to put the strong characters in peril and she will fit the bill nicely. I still can’t say that Walking Dead is the best show on TV but it is the best zombie TV series of all time.
The world of podcasts is growing at a rapid pace. They’ve been around awhile but I didn’t get interested until itunes started distributing them. You subscribe to them and then sync up your ipod a couple times a week. You will always have something to listen to when you’re not jamming to music.
My favorite podcast is Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist. He is very bright and his interests are wide. What really makes it work though is that he is relentlessly optimistic and has an amazingly sharp wit. His two sidekicks Matt Mira and Jonas Ray (I may have spelled their names wrong but I’m too beat to check) balance his positivity with a youthful cynicism that makes me wish I was young again. Mr. Hardwick is slowly building a podcast empire which leads me to two of my other favorites. The Nerdist network turned me onto Making It with Riki Lindhome and The Nerdist Writers Panel. Making It is a one on one podcast where a very engaging aspiring actress interviews other people fighting to make it in Hollywood. The biggest name she’s interviewed is Joss Whedon but that’s not what’s important. Everyone has a story to tell and people who want to be famous aren’t afraid to let loose. I could listen to any artist talk about their craft and this show works. The Writers Panel takes that concept to the next Level. If you ever wondered how a TV show is written than you can listen to a half dozen writers talk about writing a police procedural or a sitcom. Script writers are never boring and this show sails for ninety minutes every week.
This American Life has been the number one podcast for awhile and except for the frequent reruns it is still relevant. Another good NPR podcast is Fresh Air. Recently I heard an amazing interview of Meryl Streep and today I listened to a detailed run down of what really happened during the Fukushima meltdown.
Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed In History Class are light and fun informational casts. Some of the topics are boring and most of the info they gather comes from wikipedia but every now and then they hit me with something I didn’t know.
I don’t normally subscribe to movie or TV podcasts because they are usually just ads or have actual ads on them. An exception is Bill Maher’s Real Time. Not only does he post audio of the entire broadcast show but also posts off the air discussions when the guests let loose.
Unlike The Nerdist most comedian podcasts are hard to listen to. Comedians complain a lot. They are almost all negative and their humor is in the vein of Howard Stern but they lack his skills. Having wacky inarticulate characters in the studio and complaining about your bodily functions is not how to make a successful cast. Joe Rogan can be interesting but every other cast I’ve checked out has left me cold.
If you’ve been looking for something to listen to while your doing your daily routine I hope you will give the shows I’ve recommended a shot.
Andy Whitfield from the original Spartacus: Blood and Sand
The sad news is that the original Spartacus from season one, Andy Whitfield, passed away from lymphatic cancer last year. The good news is that the new Spartacus, Liam McIntyre, is just as good though a bit younger looking.
If you never caught the original 13 episode Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the 6 part prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena than please watch them before you start watching Spartacus: Vengeance.
The first episode of Spartacus: Vengeance which premiered January 27 is called Fugitivus. The show opens with Spartacus being chased down by soldiers on horseback. You see the same combination of fear and confidence that informed Andy Whitfield’s original performance in Liam McIntyre’s face as he turns and attacks his pursuers.
Liam McIntyre in the new Spartacus: Vengeance
It is one month after the slaughter in the house of Batiatus and the gladiators and slaves are living in the sewers beneath Capua. Because the series is being guided by actual history a motivation needs to be established for Spartacus and Crixus to head south from Capua into the mountains of southern Italy. They accomplish this by having Crixus get the information that his girlfriend Naevia is being held there. Claudius Glaber is returned to Capua since history has him as the first general sent down to quell the slave rebellion. By the end of the episode Spartacus makes the decision to head south, freeing slaves along the way so he can build an army and retaliate against the Romans.
At this point I have few doubts that this will be a stellar season. The writing is still strong and maintaining historical accuracy and it looks like the budget has been increased. My biggest worry was that they would mis-cast Andy Whitfield’s replacement but that fear has been laid to rest.
At the time of this writing Ryan Murphy has already press released that American Horror Story will be back next season with a whole new cast and a completely different storyline so my critique will reflect this information. I like this show, the flebotinum was exsessive but fascinating and did a good job of propelling the story along. The best part of the show was watching a very good cast have to act there way through improbable and strange situations and the core characters played by Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and the intense Taissa Farmiga pulled it off. Even the satellite players made the most of their scenes and high praise must be given to Denis O’Hare, Zachary Quinto, Kate Mara, and Alexandria Breckinridge. Some acting was over the top, Jessica Lange, but appropriate for the material.
My first criticism lies squarely with the writers. Some episodes were so poorly scripted as to make me embarrassed for the actors who had to talk extra fast or display one emotion while stating a conflicting emotion simultaneously. The scene where the copy cat serial killers turn up was especially sad. They bought the ashtray(bowl, whatever) that was used in the murder on Ebay, really? Their insistence on authenticity of the recreation of the crime was childlike. How could three mixed gender killers recreate a crime carried out by a lone male and why mix up the Richard Speck and Manson murders into a confusing scenario anyway? The girls are saved by a cupcake induced bout of diarrhea. This wasn’t the worst bit of flebotinum in this series but I found it particularly tacky. I very much liked the Tim Minear scripted episodes especially the halloween episode. I think they should have him staff the writing team and maintain continuity throughout next season.
Limit the number of characters! I kind of liked the “piggy man” subplot though its abrupt resolution was a cheap joke. It was the old “just because your paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” routine. What really hurt the show was when they tied in the Black Dahlia murder to the house and then had Travis become the Boy Dahlia. I understand how they were trying to comment on our societies obsession with fame at any cost but the characters and their stories were irrelevant. On the other hand I wish they would have introduced the burning ghosts sooner as the special effect they created for them was really spooky.
They should have laid down the rules of being a ghost earlier and with more clarity. Normally I like to find out things organically in a complex story like this but I was left confused a number of times and it was only about halfway through the season that I picked up on the ghost physics. At one point they brought in a psychic who became the explainer but then they destroyed her credibility with the goofy and unnecessary “Croatoan” story.
To recap I would recommend tighter dialog, less characters especially late season entries, and a robust and logical mythology. I recommend this series and look forward to a more organized season two.
Quentin Tarantino will shortly begin filming his new film Django Unchained. After that he is scheduled to do Kill Bill Part 3. In a recent post I discussed how Americans have become bored with going to the movie theater. Tarantino knows that however much footage he shoots for his next two movies he will be forced to edit them down to no more than 150 minutes each. I have a suggestion for Mr. Tarantino.
Why not begin writing and directing for the new and improved 12 episode serial format? I realize that movie theaters will reject any piece of entertainment that doesn’t fit their predetermined “profitability” time format. The thing is, the only demographics that continue to go to the theater are people over fifty and the rom-com crowd. Mr. Tarantino’s films will never appeal to these audiences. If he can’t cut a deal with a pay cable network than he should consider selling his serialized work directly via the internet.
The way I see it, Mr. Tarantino is probably the perfect seasoned Writer / Director with a rabid fan base that will follow him anywhere(me included). He has the power to bring about the next phase in film history. There is no one I know that wouldn’t prefer to see a 12 hour long Tarantino masterpiece rather than a traditional film with all the required editing shorthand.
Try to imagine the scenes that were left out of Inglourious Basterds:
- We see Shossana and Col. Hans Landa circa 1941 and then not again till 1945. How did Shossana make her way to Paris? What was Landa up to, had he been tracking her all those years?
- Where did Aldo Raine get his hanging scar? Was he the victim of a lynching in the deep south?
- What turned Sgt. Donny Donowitz, the Jew Bear, into a bat-weilding psycho?
- The Basterds must have had many adventures in enemy territory in order for them to be so feared by the Nazis, wouldn’t it have been fun to see a few more?
I am getting worked up now but I just want to repeat my proposal one more time. Since all evidence indicates that people are bored with the traditional two hour movie format and are more interested in making a long term commitment to a well written, character rich story I believe Quentin Tarantino should give us a 12 episode serial that will change film making forever.
With the new season of Spartacus about to start on pay cable channel Starz I wanted to weigh in on my thoughts for this flebotinum heavy(thanks to Steven S. DeKnight) series. Critics have shied away from this wonderful series because of the explicit sex and outlandishly stylized violence but this show has built a strong following anyway. A good sign that it has staying power. As much as film noir defines the 1950′s, this series will be a defining entertainment of American life in the first decade of the 21st century
It has become cliche to compare America with ancient Rome but it has always seemed appropriate to me. I have always been fascinated by the story of how the Roman senate was slowly subverted and forced to turn over power to the caesars(read about Julius Caesar). I didn’t give much thought to the slave trade that was always in existence during the Roman era. Being an American I assumed the only way a person could “have it all” was by exploiting the less fortunate in the world. One of the main tenants of Rome was that Roman citizens no matter how low they sank couldn’t be made slaves. Slaves came from conquered peoples. Spartacus retains this accurate portrayal with the slaves made gladiators consisting of Gauls, Carthagians and Thracians. They are the minorities of the Roman era and you feel the tug and pull of an underclass who is thankful to be let into an economy that gives them the opportunity to earn their freedom but also forces them to slaughter each other for their masters entertainment.
What makes this show work so well as social commentary is that Americans have had stripped from them a shared sense of loyalty to each other. Our masters have pitted us against each other just as the Romans pitted gladiators against each other and anyone who isn’t a banker, politician or oil executive is in a life or death struggle to get out of the arena. The tea partiers have fallen for the scheme and blame their problems on the blacks and mexicans but the Occupy Wall Street movement is like Spartacus and his band of escaped slaves. If you want to know how the series will end then check out the well written Wikipedia entry for Spartacus. For now we can look forward to at least a couple more seasons of slave rebellion action. I for one will be very interested in how Steven S. Deknight decides to wrap up the saga. Since Spartacus’ body was never identified by Roman authorities there is always the chance he will get away in the end but history tells us that the slave rebellion was crushed by the Romans.
As to how the American slave rebellion turns out, there are factors in the current struggle that didn’t exist 2,000 years ago. Technology is going to play a major role. The internet has created a communications system that allows for the dissemination of news the ruling class would like to keep under wraps and gives people the opportunity to organize. The ruling class needs programmers and IT techs to protect their wealth but for every tech geek they recruit to work on Wall Street their are two more who have set out to take them down. I’m just an observer but I will enjoy watching the slave rebellion on the nightly news as much as I enjoy watching Spartacus.