Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

The Hell of Home Video Rental

I’ve rented movies long before I could comprehend the material on-screen. I saw As Good As It Gets because I loved Helen Hunt in middle school. It took me nearly twenty years to fully get all the jokes in Mrs. Doubtfire, probably the first movie I ever saw in theaters twice. As I grew old enough to rent VHS (yes, I’m old enough to recall them) from the local grocery store, I took every opportunity to watch a movie with my family. When I got my learner’s permit to drive. I became a member of the local Blockbuster. I became fiercely loyal to seeing anything I could. My parents would gripe about my movie watching, concerned that it would stunt my socializing, but I ignored them. As I developed an insatiable taste for films that Blockbuster couldn’t help with, I became wise to all the local libraries that rented movies, and added two more video rental cards from Blockbuster competitors. Renting or watching a movie was now a wild goose chase to find a working copy that I could get my hands on. In a pre-Netflix world, I had a list of films on a slip of paper my friend Aaron and I would update regularly in our classes together. I began keeping a movie diary after reading about it in an article Stephen King wrote for Entertainment Weekly.

When I moved to Montana, this well-crafted method of procuring the ideal rental was a trick since all three options basically shared a street corner. I migrated to Hollywood Video as much as I could. I found out the hard way the maximum rentals allowed from them at one time was 9. I once overdrew my debit card from renting so much (I was also horrible with money at this phase in my life). When I started attending Iowa State University, I saw my local options included my second home. It was laid out different, but a Hollywood Video was the place I visited most often those days. Then they went out of business.

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve had to lean more and more on Netflix to get me the titles I’m looking for. Ames, Iowa, once a place of many rental options has seen the variety depleted heavily. The only remaining options are, besides the ideal Netflix, are That’s Entertainment, Family Video, or Redbox. Redbox only has the latest few releases and fillers no real cinephile has ever heard of. It’s convenient for many, but not for this highly meticulous video rental Jedi. That’s Entertainment is only in business because it mostly rents/sells pornographic videos. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mix well with family night or popcorn. So that’s not a viable option.


The only one left? Family Video. I don’t know how this company isn’t dead yet (it’s probably the porn they also rent to keep in business). Their choice is so disorienting, that you have to look for one film in at least three different places. Instead of the convenient organization of going by genre, then alphabetized, they adapt a clustercuss system that makes no sense logically. There is the New Release wall (a staple in rental stores), then the Nearly New, then Favorites, then the rest is alphabetized. If you wanna see their selection of horror films, you have to walk the entire floor. If you want to find Bruce Almighty, you have to check the B section, the Sequel, Prequel section, and the Favorites before you finally find it. As you peruse these areas, you see films that seem to collect dust as a primary purpose. The cases can asphyxiate anyone who accidentally shakes one. There is a reason you don’t know who Lorenzo Lamas is.

Their organization system

After you suffer the marathon of running all over the store for one title, you will likely experience one of three scenarios. Each one with their own troubles.

1) They don’t have the film. You’ll ask them about it. The staff will remember the film fondly, but will end up just as puzzled as you are when they too can’t find it. To my best recollection, when this has happened, they have not offered to call around or offer to order it. This is the expectation when this happens, but it has never happens to me. And I’ve suffered this indignity quite a bit from them.

2) They have but it’s rented out. With a film that is easily one of Jim Carrey’s best, why only one copy. The shelf containing the cases easily holds two copies. What gives?

3) You find it. You find yourself relieved and excited. They notice the disc looks dirty. Without a second thought, they throw it in their cleaner. Now, when you get home. You put the film in and enjoy all the skipping that occurs. I remember one instance where I spent an hour trying to get Zoolander to play. It was cheaper to buy it at this point, so I took it back and told them. When this happens, they stick it in the cleaner and call it good. This doesn’t help a big scratch. A gash buffed is just a shiny slice that renders Ben-Hur unwatchable.

On occasion, I’ve found myself able to get around all three of these obstacles, but not often. In a previously rant, I was encouraged to provide solutions to the problems I presented. It’s simple, but it doesn’t matter. If Family Video were to actually make the layout and system more user-friendly, they still have to worry about the selection choices. I may only have 350 DVD and Blu-Ray titles, but my collection is far more comprehensive and accessible than Family Video. I try everything I can to avoid them, but there isn’t any alternatives when you want Gran Torino that night if Redbox doesn’t have it (I’ve been on the verge of driving 20 miles out of my way to the nearest Blockbuster, it gets that frustrating). Like Wal-Mart, Family Video is a parasite, feeding on the convenient site by giving its customer’s broken dreams.

Tyler Perry, the Superstar You Need to Know

Last weekend I ventured to the theaters to see Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds with my parents. Watching it got me thinking about the empire Perry has erected over these past 6 years since Madea first exploding on the big screen in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Despite regularly being dismissed by the critics, his films regularly open as either first or second place at the box office and end up turning a tidy profit before home video release. With a track record where all his films end up in the black, why is he not a bigger force in Hollywood?

2012 will test his starring power with him taking over for Morgan Freeman in Alex Cross, the first lead role in a film he hasn’t written. But regardless of how this goes, Perry has a tried and true business to fall back on. I, for one, am rooting for him.

I was first recommended Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman from my commander over a holiday break while I was in the Air Force. I fell in love with Madea and the world Perry had created. After recommending it to my parents and sister, I found a fellow fan in my friend Tori. From there, I became hooked.

With all of Perry’s films, they follow a simple course. In a world where films are budget close to $100 million, Perry creates smaller, more intimate fare. Like fellow director Christopher Guest, Perry usually uses the same actors over multiple films. This troupe feel, helps carve the name into a brand all its own. When you see a film from Guest or Perry, you know the film will fit distinctly in that mode. In the case of Perry, the film will combine elements of drama, comedy, faith, and a splash of melodrama to give you a two-hour experience you won’t find with anyone else.

As the name Tyler Perry becomes more synonymous with successful films, Hollywood needs to pay close attention. So far, Perry’s imitators borrow too heavily from the surface story of his films. Perry has introduced a rise in African-American and minority films billed as box office viable. The problem this introduces is why Spike Lee was so against Perry’s films. Yes, the casts of Perry’s films are predominately black, but the film isn’t about the skin tone. His copycats miss this. Perry has a universal appeal that is ignored by many who believe that his films are all about race.

With all of Perry’s films, love and community are central themes. I can count many examples in which white actors anchor a film that ignores this, alienating the audience. I know skin color, gender, and sexual identity are issues that far from reaching equality they so rightly deserve, but love can wash all this inequality away. Perry has flawed protagonists who are struggling with the flawed love of their lives. He tells stories of revelation and redemption. They may not be for everyone, but his films deserve a larger audience than the loyal fans who flock to his films everytime one opens.

I know I’m known for being critical of films, and that is what a majority of these other entries consist of. Perry’s films, from a critical standpoint, aren’t masterpieces; but that is beside the point. His films are family-friendly tales that are as enriching as they are profitable. Of all the directors in cinema today, he knows his audience the best. His film ideas may start to wear thin as he continues to milk the sources he’s used so far, but I honestly believe he is capable of becoming Oscar nominated someday if he is willing to push himself creatively. A few years ago, he put his name on Precious as producer. Precious was a tale that was a more graphic and real take on many of the same themes Perry tackles in his films. Hopefully, one day we’ll see his star rise even higher than where he is now. For my family (diehard Perry fans), we hope so.

If Good Deeds is any indication, Perry doesn’t need Madea to make an engaging film. In fact, I think he really opens things up creatively when his signature character isn’t in the picture. Of all his non-Madea roles, this is my favorite (though Michael Jai White made the Why Did I Get Married? movies pretty comical). He hones the story into a concise and interesting story that takes a look into the chasm between the have and have-nots, which is especially poignant given the constant reminders we experience in the news today about the 1%. I highly recommend Good Deeds to anyone who is willing to give Perry’s films a shot (3 out of 5 stars). Of all the movies that have come out this year, this is the first release to give me something to think about. And in the January/February movie schedule, that is something incredibly lacking. A solid film that only deepened my appreciation and passion for his films. If I were to work in film, I’d send my résumé in a heartbeat. Edward Burns would be the next place I’d apply. Filmmaking is evolving, and these men know where it is going.

Time for a Sequel

Snake Plissken. Criminal. Veteran. Eyepatch.

A few nights ago, I finally sat down and revisited one of John Carpenter’s classic early films, Escape from New York. But it wasn’t just enough to see Snake Plissken in just one film, I had to see the sequel too, Escape from L.A. A fan of Carpenter’s early films, I found myself accepting the first film because of the great chemistry Carpenter had with Kurt Russell (the year following Escape from New York’s release, the two released the masterpiece The Thing). I loved Russell’s character; Plissken was not a hero sent in to a dangerous place to save the day, he is blackmailed. With no other choice, Plissken overcomes the odds and saves the President before all the hoodlums of Manhattan Island, now a prison, kill him.

After a satisfying foray into B-movie glory, I decided to see it’s equally B-movie follow-up. Boy, was I disappointed. The first film had a lot of low-budget appeal and developed a cult following. The sequel, set in Los Angeles, seems to do nothing more than insult California at every turn. When Los Angeles suffers an earthquake that turns it into an island, the United States makes it the anti-Ellis Island. Illegal aliens, criminals, and religious heretics, all quarantined on the island indefinitely.

The problem with Escape from L.A. is how to so closely tries to duplicate what worked in the first film. The film tries to strike lightning twice with every gag or gimmick that made the original so beloved. The sport scene (Boxing in NY, Basketball in LA), the older actor acting as a sidekick (Ernest Borgnine, who reminded me so much of Charlie Cheswick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Peter Fonda as a washed-up surfer), even the way of injecting him with a virus that will kill him in so many hours to force him to complete the mission, everything was the same.

The attempts to make the story leap forward failed miserably. Steve Buscemi had no business being in this film. And the idea of making Plissken wear dominatrix style leather just put me off. The tacky CGI that looked so fake that I almost turned it off (I hate CGI).

What I realized watching the two films back to back was the importance of moving forward when it comes time for the sequel. Unfortunately, Last summer’s The Hangover Part II didn’t get the memo. Though it has its moments, the film, like the Snake Plissken films, falls dangerously close to copying the original. The major elements of what happened to Stu, Phil, and Alan aren’t different. They blackout, lose a member of their party, and figure out at the last second where he is. The second of these franchises aren’t sequels; they are blatant rip-offs that more closely resemble half-baked remakes. But not all sequels are so profit driven like the greed monster that was Cars 2.

Sequels have always had a spotty record. When Batman gets nipples, something gets lost in translation. For every epic sequel, there are at least five inferior films. In my Breakdown- Best Sequels post, I talk about great sequels that actually improved on the original film. I still stand with those films. And for good reason, they not only continued the story of its predecessor, but it also treaded new ground.

The Terminator is a classic. It gave Arnold Schwarzenegger his big break and helped James Cameron start leaving behind smaller horror fare like Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. But when T2: Judgment Day came out, all hell broke loose. Here was a sequel that took the first film’s story and exploded it to create an epic science fiction/action film.

"Get away from her you bitch!" - Ripley

James Cameron had done the same thing to the Alien franchise years earlier. Cameron took Ridley Scott’s moody monster in space film and made a sequel that could stand apart from its original. The action and story were expanded, not that the first didn’t have a solid script. Aliens merely went further down the road for a movie that turned its survival girl Ripley into the heroine of the film.

Cameron isn’t the only name associated with making a great sequels, Christopher Nolan single-handed revitalized a dead franchise when he made Batman Begins. He started from scratch, leaving a lot of the problems of the pervious films behind. Gone was the camp. Here was a Batman rooted in reality. When Nolan returned to the world of Bruce Wayne’s alternate identity, he managed to top even himself. The Dark Knight became a colossal success. The film took what Begins had set up and continued the evolution of a hero coming to grips with what must be done to protect his city.

These sequels not only justified more sequels, but also showed that an extension of story works just as sharp and rewarding as the first film was. It just needed the proper balance of new and old. Too much new and you end up reimagining the franchise every time (The Punisher films); too much old and you end up with a unsurprising waste of time (Escape From L.A., The Pirates of the Caribbean sequels). They won’t all be terrible, but they won’t have the allure of the original. Don’t believe me? Ask Bryan Singer.

Singer has been on both sides of the coin. With X2: X-Men United, he elaborated on the universe he brought to the screen in X-Men. X2 had a scope and originality that allowed it to act as a proper benchmark for the franchise. But when Singer stepped away from directing another X-Men film, he had decided to reintroduce another superhero. When Superman Returns finally hit theaters, people left underwhelmed. The film focused so much on catching up that no amount of Brandon Routh’s talent could save the film. Two and a half hours later, and people vacated the theater wishing for more action and less drama. At the end of the day, the film was too loyal to everything that had happened before to really make a stand for existing.

John McClane can't die. Hard or otherwise.

Now, despite all I’ve said about these films, even the bad ones still have merit. Sometimes it’s nice to revisit a character on the big screen, even if the actors wink at you as they phone it in. I enjoy a few of them. If they make another Hangover movie or when Die Hard 5 finally makes its way to theaters, I’ll see it opening. What can I saw, I’m exactly what Hollywood wants in moviegoers (I’m far from perfect).

This upcoming summer, we’ll see Will Smith back in his black suit and Peter Parker starting over, but I’m not holding my breath for anything new (exception of course being The Dark Knight Rises). The studios will never learn. Sequels may mean a low risk investment with a tried-and-true brand, but why can’t we add some more originality to things? Take the time to come up with something fresh and exciting. If the Mission Impossible and The Fast and the Furious franchises can experience a new creativity high this late in their respective universes, why can’t every sequel? Christopher Nolan and James Cameron can’t do it themselves.

Let’s See that Again…and Again

Some people love movies. Some of these people see movies like Star Wars or The Dark Knight 10 times or more in theaters. Some stand in lines outside the theater for days or weeks waiting for the moment when the house lights dim for the first show. I’m not that kind of film buff. I may watch a movie multiple times, but I don’t have the time and money to sit for the equivalent of days on the same stretch of 35mm. The closest I’ve come is seeing a film 3 times in theaters. When this happens, I obviously love the movie. Over Christmas break, I saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol three times… in a week… each time on the local IMAX screen.

Since then, I’ve thought about the films I’ve seen 3 times in theaters. It usually follows the same pattern too. The first time I see it is usually opening day or a midnight show; the second either alone or with a separate group of people than the first time; and the third time I finally get my dad to go with me so he can see it.

Ideally, I’d like to do a breakdown of the top three-peat films I’ve seen in theaters, but with so few, instead I’m just going to take apart a little of each one. Anecdotes, asides, and other memories tied to those films will be used.

Minority Report

I remember wanting to this see this for two reasons: I’m a big Tom Cruise fan, and Roger Ebert gave this a glowing review. I saw this film for the first time with cousins who were visiting that summer. I was in awe of the visuals, and the story kept me riveted until the final moments. The third time I saw this movie in theaters wasn’t a complete show. My sister and some of her friends had decided to see it while I was at work at the same theater. So, the second I clocked out, I joined them. I caught the last hour or so, but I didn’t care. That movie was in theaters for what felt like an eternity (5 months total). I remember working the theater and announcing it seating years after it left just to be cheeky. That was one of my favorite Christmas presents that year, the two-disc DVD and a portable DVD player.

Goldmember

This may be the first staff screening I ever attended (I wasn’t invited to many, too much red tape). I laughed and took my friends Billy and Sam to see it after it opened. Sam drenched his popcorn in a disgusting aroma of popcorn seasonings as the three of us rocked out to Slipknot in my mom’s blue Chrysler Town & Country. Over time, I grew more and more annoyed with Beyoncé’s character to the point I started to hate the movie. Looking back at the franchise, this is their weakest, but the opening scene is funnier than most comedies that have followed it.  With Mike Myers preparing Austin Powers 4 and a musical version for the stage, I’ll be curious to see where this goes from here.

2 Fast 2 Furious

Fast Five will continue to be my favorite with the Fast and Furious franchise. But 2F2F had something that the original didn’t have: a sense of humor. Tyrese and Eva Mendes bring a nice change of pace from the first film. The first is a fun and action-packed film, so when Vin Diesel decided not to return for number two; things were up in the air. I remember seeing this film twice the first week it was out. I enjoyed hearing Ludacris scream, “Act a fool!” over the credits as I cleaned the theater while working. “Act a fool” became a part of my obscure movie references after a while. When I purchased the film on Blu-ray last summer, I was taken back to the time I first saw it. I still remember where I sat, with my buddy Matt.

Star Trek

I saw this the first time with my dad. We both loved seeing J. J. Abrams revamp an old franchise and give it new life. I saw it a mere three days later with my friend David and his girlfriend at the time. I found it hard to sit through and boring seeing as I had just seen it days before. The last time I saw it, I was with my Air National Guard office down in Jacksonville, Florida for a conference. With rain being the forecast of the entire trip, we were forced to spend our time drinking and going to movies. The first one we picked was this one. And it didn’t feel so boring this time. I was actually excited to see it again and experience such a great film for a third time in theaters.  Everytime I watch this film now, I’m reminding of how otherwise bored we would have been in our hotels had we not ventured out and seen it.

V for Vendetta

This movie was gaining a lot of controversy before its release in 2006. Having a terrorist as a lead character just five years after September 11 was hard for a lot of people to fathom. What we got was a masterpiece of a film that raised a lot of great questions about government, terrorism, and morality. I drug my friends to see this when I was in Montana. I made a day of it. We had dinner, and then the four of us went and we all loved it. It stuck with me long after the credits rolled. So, on an otherwise quiet day, I watched it a second time in a mostly empty theater. I was way too antsy to get the whole experience this time, but I loved it enough to take my father to it (my third time) when I came home to visit. I haven’t seen the movie in years, unfortunately, but I was completely enamored by the parallels between it and George Orwell’s 1984, my favorite book. Writing this makes me want to watch it again as soon as I can.

Iron Man

I was a fan of Robert Downey Jr. as soon as I saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring him and Val Kilmer. When it was announced that he would be Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, I was excited. The lives of Stark weren’t far from Downey’s own, so the similarities were too interesting to ignore. When I found out Marvel was releasing it at 8:00 pm on a Thursday instead of a Friday, I bought my ticket. Only a few weeks later, I saw it again at The Alamo Drafthouse, my favorite theater ever. Here I was watching RDJ on the big screen while munching on Chicken Parmesan and chili fries. When I returned home yet again, I took my father for my third time. Everytime I watch it, I get something else from it. It’s such a well-made and exciting film that I have trouble finding its flaws. Of all the films I saw three times in theaters, this is one of my favorites.

Tron: Legacy

The first Tron is a marvel in cutting edge technology. This sequel, 28 years later, is as much homage to the original as it is showing what the original should have been. I was at a fever pitch waiting to see this film. I convinced David and a couple of our other friends to see it at midnight with us, and we weren’t disappointed. I do remember that I didn’t at all enjoy the 3D glasses dimming an already dark screen, but the 3D was great when it was there. Having seen it all three times in 3D, I gained a much better respect for it when I got it on Blu-ray. It was an event film, but a risky one for Disney. I watched the box office gross every day to see it climb the long uphill road to profitability. I wanted another sequel, I still do. But for now, I’m settling for the fun film this one is.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I’ve never seen a movie three times in a week, in theaters or otherwise. But I couldn’t help but watch it again and again. Between The Dark Knight Rises sneak peek and the brilliant Burj tower sequence, I fell in love with this movie. I remember turning to my girlfriend halfway into the movie and telling her I was going to buy the movie. I didn’t care how it ended. Tom Cruise, a new favorite actor of mine Jeremy Renner, the impossibly gorgeous and talented Paula Patton, and comedic Simon Pegg made a cast that was both relatable but also fun to watch. The second this movie becomes available on Blu-ray, I’m buying it. This film alone swayed me from the hooks of 3D to prefer IMAX cameras every time.

Ok, so I lied. There were a few more films on the list than I thought. So what? What are some of the films you have seen over and over again in theaters? Let me know by posting your responses below.

Breakdown: Claustrophobic movies

Some people genuinely suffer from claustrophobia, or fear of small, enclosed spaces. Though I have never had that fear, I had many nightmares as a child of being buried alive or stuck in the caves I used to play in with my Boy Scout troop. The list below is movies that give me that feeling of cramped, almost overwhelming intensity, of being stuck in a small place. These films take place in small spaces or a very limited environment. They play at my nightmares I had as a child, but some just increase the excitement as the spatial corridor of the film shrinks. So, here are my top five claustrophobic films.

Buried

2011 wasn’t very good to Ryan Reynolds. Both Green Lantern and The Change-Up failed to meet expectations. Also, they were just bad films. In Buried, Reynolds plays a government contractor who is overseas. He wakes up in a wooden coffin, with a lighter, a cell phone, and a limited supply of air. Using every ounce of energy he has, he must find out where he is and get dug up before he suffocates to death. It really is a testament to Reynolds skill that he takes a film in which he is the only actor, on the only stage (the wooden coffin), and makes a 90-minute film not just watchable but terrifying and realistic. Not every actor can do a one-man show in a casket and make it entertaining. And what kind of list would this be without a buried alive film in the mix?

P2

Rachel Nichols in P2

I watched this movie after an ex-girlfriend recommended it. I had no idea it would be this good. Rachel Nichols, a favorite actress of mine, plays a workaholic who is late for Christmas Eve festivities with her family. When she finally gets to her car, it won’t start. Before long she realizes someone doesn’t want her to leave, forcing her into a game of cat and mouse in a basement-parking garage. This film knows to play it simple. We all know how confusing parking garages can get, and how every one of us looks over our shoulder when we enter one at night. This plays on that fear, making for a well-executed thriller that is as claustrophobic as it is scary.

– Executive Decision

Not far removed from its successor Air Force One, this film deals with a plane being hijacked by terrorists in a pre-September 11, 2001 world (they were released in 1996 and 1997, respectively). In Executive Decision, an intelligence analyst, played by Kurt Russell, must lead a special ops unit in taking back the plane. The entirety of the film rests on the team using techniques that allow them to move around the plane without being seen. In order for them to do this, the passenger cabin is too risky. So cameras planted above and below said cabin is what they have to resort to. The idea of secretly taking back a hijacked plane is an intriguing idea, regardless of the time. This film uses the tight spaces to create tension between the team and their reluctant analyst leader. An underrated action movie.

Wind Chill

I’ve talked before about Wind Chill in my Breakdowns on winter movies and micro-returns, but this movie belongs on this list. Watching two people try to stay alive in a blizzard is tough enough. When you trap the characters in a car, the story becomes much more about the close confines and the lack of closeness between the characters. Despite making many smart moves to protect themselves from the dangerous cold, the weather is unrelenting. This futile situation just gets more and more dire as the film unfolds.

Apollo 13

"Houston, we have a problem."

No one expected a mission to the moon to become such a desperate story of survival. Based on the true story of the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, we watch as three men go from ignored space travellers to men fighting to stay alive long enough to make it back to Earth. A better example of claustrophobic film isn’t out there. The trials astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swiggart, and Fred Haise go through, it’s amazing they made it back alive. Explosions, lack of oxygen, lack of any heat to protect from the freezing cold of space, they face it all. And doing it in a space capsule barely big enough to call a studio apartment back on Earth.

2011: The Good, the Awful, and the Favorites

Well, it’s that time of year again. The moment when all us film critics and cinephiles lay out the best films of the year. This year, I want to do something different. This year, I chose my list based on many factors. One factor I left out intentionally was critics’ opinions. In years past, my list of best films of the year has really aligned with the greater film-critique establishment. I’m done with that.

This year, I’m going to focus on the films that really blew me away. Just to make things a little more articulate, I will include my top five favorite films at the bottom. I’m also going to include the five worst films, as my tastes drove me to some truly awful films this year. All in all, this should be a list unlike many critics, but one that is void of lofty expectations. The films included are chosen by their merit, not the political machine that determines what is great. Yes, George Clooney was brilliant in The Descendants. But is the film great on its own or is it perceived even greater because of the great performances. It’s a difficult question to ponder, so I’ll leave you with that as I jump into my picks for the best films of 2011.

1. Warrior

This movie has to be included without question. When I first heard about the reviews for this film, I was really excited. As a huge fan of Tom Hardy, I was anxious to see him on the big screen. As the film reached its climax, I couldn’t help but sob. Here was a movie with as much heart as Rocky that drove me to tears. I’ve haven’t cried like that in a movie since I saw Stop-Loss.

2. Beginners

This snuck up on me. I’d heard great things and was looking forward to seeing Christopher Plummer play a recently out of the closet gay man. What I got, however, was a much more enriching story. Beginners is an absolute must see. I found myself having a lot of trouble shaking this movie off. It lingered with me, warping my mood and causing me to have an entire week of personal gloominess. But this isn’t a bad thing, as any film that causes such a visceral emotional reaction is one I can’t help but love.

3. Hugo

After Hugo, I may never watch another 3D movie again. The environment and story were so eye-popping that I may never find a 3D movie that bests this. Beyond its gimmick, director Martin Scorsese paints a family-friendly world that is almost too enchanting to be real. This simply must be seen, and it must be seen in 3D.

4. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

My hats off to cowriter/director Eli Craig. I have never seen a horror comedy as funny or brilliant as this. Instead of having the hillbillies be murderers, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are just ordinary shmoes who find themselves surrounded by scared teenagers. This is destined to be a classic, as it should be.

5. Fast Five

No one expected Fast Five to be as big as it was. From the budget to the box office to the returning cast, nothing about this film was small. And it worked. Vin Diesel and the gang reignite a franchise by adding a heist angle. The result is one of the best and smartest summer movies of the year.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger

Speaking of smart and well-executed summer blockbusters, Captain America had both in spades. Besting even X-Men: First Class, the final Marvel movie of the summer was pure brilliance. Its mix of WWII nostalgia and comic book superheroes made it one of the most fun 3D movies I saw all year.

7. Hanna

Director Joe Wright can do no wrong. After breathing life into period pieces again (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice), he takes a stab at the world of an assassin child. Combining elements of great classic films, he delivers a one of a kind story that will be studied and analyzed for years to come.

8. Margin Call

Zachary Quinto centers a fictional account of how Wall Street came to be so desperate for help. With a cast that is stronger than most ensemble movies this year, the story goes through one night when things that to hit the fan. A tense and exciting drama in the vein of Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet.

9. Contagion

I’m so glad I went to this movie alone. Just the idea of a simple virus spreading so rapidly freaked me out. This was way more intense than Outbreak. The opening shot is a black screen and the sound of a cough. From there, director Soderbergh takes germaphobia to a realistic and disturbing precipice. I felt so dirty and gross after this film. It may not be considered a horror movie, but it should be. It’s truly unsettling.

10. Win Win

Thomas McCarthy films wow me. The Station Agent blew my mind. This one, his third, is one of the best films about family dynamics. Another rich performance by the always-amazing Paul Giamatti as a struggling lawyer and failing wrestling coach who finds a boy who turns things around.

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Worst films of the year

1. Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star– How the f— did this movie ever get made? This insults anyone who gives it a chance.

2. Season of the Witch– God bless Ron Perlman for finding work to do while on hiatus from Sons of Anarchy. There is absolutely nothing worth saying about the movie. Even watching the trailer made me wish for my time back.

3. Like Crazy– I had high hopes for this film considering it had Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin, what I saw was a gigantic piece of heavy-handed romance pandering. If you are really in love, why are you seeing anyone else? (Not an actual spoiler if you saw the trailer)

4. The Rum Diary– My appreciation for Johnny Depp has waned a great deal since Pirates of the Caribbean made him a household name. Here, he stars in another film based on a Hunter S. Thompson book. Unfortunately, it is nowhere near as fun or zany, or even as interesting, as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When Depp blamed the film’s failure on stupid people in Wichita, I wrote him off completely.

5. Cowboys & Aliens– Here’s a movie that’s concept is its title. Another tally mark in Harrison Ford’s list of horrible films. It makes me weep everytime Ford makes crap like this.

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Top Five Favorite films of 2011

1. The Trip- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon traverse Northern England, tasting expensive food and getting on each other’s nerves. The films thin story allows for some truly inspiring improv. In fact, this movie succeeds because of the combined wits of Coogan and Brydon constantly upping the ante.

2. Warrior

3. Our Idiot Brother– Instead of getting a simple comedy, Our Idiot Brother explores siblings and family. The movie is filled with heart and warmth. The scene with the family playing charades really sucks me into the film and shows a whole other depth to the story.

4. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol– I’d seen it three times on IMAX screens before it was out a week. Tom Cruise rockets back to stardom and brings a perfect cast of Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg. The best in the franchise by far.

5. The Bang Bang Club– Ryan Phillippe leads us through the world of photojournalism in Apartheid Africa. The story and the rich details of the true story make for a compelling ride. This film was so intense and interesting, I wanted to pick up a camera and start learning photojournalism. This film and Breach made me a big fan of Phillippe’s. I hope he continues to make great films in years to come.

Breakdown: Foreign Films

The average American isn’t much of an art-house film fan. They aren’t for everyone, but once in a while, a film breaks through and achieves mainstream status and appeal. Look at the Oscar nominations of the last few years; there are many films made for a select audience that garnered a wider appeal.

Foreign films have it even tougher. Reading a film feels a bit beneath a lot of filmgoers. They want the language they know. This is really unfortunate. Many of film’s greatest achievements have either been created or improved by cinema made outside of the U.S. In fact, we are not the most productive country in terms of film releases in a year. India produces anywhere from five to ten times more films per year than we do. With this amount of movies being released, not just in India but worldwide, how can America claim the monopoly film advances? I urge you all, watch foreign cinema. It really is a treat to learn about other cultures through their art.

You wouldn’t manipulate van Gogh and call it better because we Americanized it (learn not trust that word).

A Starry Night in Gotham

The same goes for foreign films. There are literally thousands, probably millions, of great films you have never experienced. Open your mind to new languages and new adventures. After a while, the subtitles become familiar and you will later feel like the characters indeed spoke English.

The last little thing I want to throw in before I get to my list of favorite foreign flicks is to avoid every opportunity to watch a film dubbed. There is a reason we make fun of these films. The dubbing allows you to look at the mouth of a character while they speak instead of reading subtitles. This dissonance makes it hard to watch. The words you hear aren’t matching the mouth shapes and it feels unnatural. Leave it as it’s original language. Allow the wonder of a new or unfamiliar language wash over you. Plus, for those learning a language, it helps a great deal to hear it spoken in real situations.

That’s it for my spiel. Now to my top five favorite foreign language films:

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) – Swedish

I wrote about this film before on my Breakdown: Recommendations for a Friend so I won’t rehash every detail year. Simply said, I hope to finally get a copy of this for Christmas this year.

Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) – French

Every few years or so, a foreign film makes a big splash on American soil. Antonio Banderas, Marion Coittard, Jean Reno, and Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Gerard Dépardieu (the list goes on for miles) have all transitioned from cinema from their country of origin to find levels of success in American films. Amélie is Audrey Tautou’s crossover hit. Though she has remained rich in French cinema, she occasionally pops up in films like The Da Vinci Code, adding to her appeal. Tautou, who I refer to as the French Audrey Hepburn, plays Amélie, a young woman looking to bring some adventure to those around her. She punishes a cruel grocer, sends a lawn gnome around the world, and falls in love with a mysterious man. A charming and heartwarming movie filled with imagination.

Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru) – Japanese

A girl fascinated with Japanese culture suggested this to me. Battle Royale is about the overwhelming level of crime in Japanese youth. To solve this, the government has arranged a lottery. The class chosen from that lottery is sent to an island, where they must fight until only one student is left alive. These kids, most of them nonviolent, must kill their peers and stay out of reach of the minefields that change on a random schedule. There is a sequel, but I have yet to see it. This one, however, is a violent epic battle.

Black Book (Zwartboek) – Netherlands

This film I already talked about at length (click here). Having seen it four or five times now, I still really love the story.

Priceless (Hors de Prix) – French

After Amélie, I became engrossed in French cinema, specifically Audrey Tautou films. This one I found by accident one afternoon in San Antonio, Texas. When I learned our class would have a half-day, I looked at films playing in town. When I came across this one, I raced there the second we were dismissed. Tautou plays a gold digger who finds herself at the receiving end of a hotel clerk’s affection. When he runs out of money to entertain her with, she leaves. He decides to play her game and become a gold digger too, just to stay close to her. She coaches him as he becomes more and more attractive to her. Probably my favorite French film. I was so impatient to own this, I bought the all region DVD instead of  waiting forever on the American release.

Other foreign films to see:

The City of Lost Children

The Grand Illusion

Night Watch

Hate

M

A Very Long Engagement

High Tension

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Paris, Je t’aime

Y Tu Mama Tambien

The Host

Gozu

Breakdown: Classic Superhero Films

This came up when I was waiting in line to take a final exam today. Why a university wants to shove 2,100 students through a computer lab of 42, I’ll never know. But that’s a different story.

My friend Brandon and I were discussing what would be considered the 5 superhero movies based on existing comic books. We talked at length about the difference between great and classic. For example, Captain America: The First Avenger(one of the best films I’ve seen all year) is great, but not a classic.

The late-great Christopher Reeve

A classic is something that both defines and invigorates a genre. Because I never saw any of the Superman films with the late Christopher Reeves, I can’t very well comment on its strength and impact on cinema (relax, it’s in my Netflix queue). Its effect is felt to this day. But readers know this, I make it a point to only write about movies I’ve seen. Sure, Jack and Jill may be a terrible movie, but I haven’t seen it. The only exception is films so blatantly awful that I must leave for fear of a migraine due to shitty filmmaking (my Bucky Larson review).

So, keeping in mind that Mr. Reeves is the honorable mention of this list, here is my list of superhero classics.

The Dark Knight

This is an obvious choice. What Christopher Nolan has done has brought realism and depth to something that became corrupted when Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton. The highest grosser of the bunch, Nolan and his cast create a film epic on scale that knows how to balance story and action. The fact that it was never nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards the year of its release is a crime. I saw all the Best Picture nominees that year, and The Dark Knight was easily better than the solid but not brilliant The Reader or even Milk.

Iron Man

Out the same summer as The Dark Knight, both of these films changed summer movies and superhero films to this day. Every film wants to have either the stark realism of The Dark Knight or the humor and earnestness of Iron Man. Here was a film that was anything but a guarantee. Robert Downey Jr. was not insurable just years before. Thank god director Jon Favreau took a chance on him. The film kicked off the summer of 2008 with a film that did everything right. I remember reading one review that complained how short it was. After seeing it 3 times in theaters (the most times I’ve ever seen a film in theaters), I loved every minute and was so pleased that Robert Downey Jr. finally got the A-list jobs he deserved.

Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man

Spiderman

This film is responsible Marvel getting a foothold in the movie business. They haven’t all been winners (Ghost Rider is getting a sequel?!), but this one really shined. The cast was perfect. The epic Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and the dweebish Tobey Maguire really gave the film credibility. This wasn’t campy or over-the-top, this was a film that brought mind-blowing special effects to superhero many of us grew up with. Director Sam Raimi gave us the best possible Spiderman film with this and Spiderman 2. With Andrew Garfield set to take over in The Amazing Spiderman, I won’t hold my breath for something better than the first two.

Hellboy

I don’t know if I can get away with calling Hellboy a superhero. He is actually a demon. But there is no denying that Guillermo del Toro’s first Hellboy film was a blast. Focusing more on the characters and conventional special effects than CGI, del Toro made a fun and exciting action movie. Casting Ron Perlman as the lead was brilliant. No other actor could embody Hellboy the same way. It may not be the classic that the rest of the films on this list are, but it showed that DC and Marvel aren’t the only universes one must explore for rich stories.

Brandon Lee in The Crow

The Crow

Brandon Lee was taken from us way too early in his career. If this film is any indication, he had a long career ahead of him. When watching the film, an already gothic and dark film, you are left feeling bereaved. Seeing Brandon Lee trapped on-screen in his last (and unfinished) role gives the mood of the movie an extra layer of dread. The story of his unfortunate demise on set can be found all over the internet. Like The Dark Knight, The Crow had to market a film while missing a central actor. It’s impossible to say how the films would be received had Heath Ledger and Lee not been deceased, but I like to think that element doesn’t matter. Both gave brave and strong performances in films that are now required viewing for many circles. That would have made them feel honored I think.

Breakdown: Recommendations for a Friend

Monday was my first day back from Thanksgiving break, like many of my employed and academic friends and family. It didn’t take long before the topic of who saw The Muppets and how much you gamers played Skyrim. While catching up with one such gamer, a dear friend and equal named Brandon, we talked about my love of Hugo in 3D and we began talking about film.

When our teacher told us that movie trailers were the topic of discussion of that day’s lecture, I went wild (on the inside). Of the trailers shown, I’d seen them all before and helped lead showcasing my movie nerdiness. Black Swan was the first trailer, which Brandon had not seen. After class, we discussed great cinema and he asked me to compile a list of movies I would recommend to others. I took it one step further; I would make a list of recommendations for him of only movies he had not seen. With the holiday season fast approaching, I figured he could always use it as a list of movies to watch to see should he get bored. So, here you go Brandon, my list of movie recommendations.

1. Mulholland Dr. – David Lynch has made a bunch of great films (and a couple of forgettable ones). Many people rave about Eraserhead and Blue Velvet‘s genius, but my favorite Lynch films have always been The Elephant Man and this film. Starring Naomi Watts, the film has the most complex plot of any film this side of The Last Year at Marienbad (easily the most confounding film I’ve ever seen). Mulholland Dr. unfolds in a way that I always describe as “you think you have it figured out until the end credits start. Then you realize you have no idea about how to describe what you just say.” To many, this may turn you off to the film, but I promise it is a trippy experience that rewards those who make it to the end.

2. Black Swan – Rather than explain Darren Aronofsky’s film in too much detail, click the link for my review from when it came out. Though not technically considered a horror movie, Nina’s journey is one of madness and psychotic delusions.  Aronofsky’s best film yet (followed closely by Pi).

3. The Seventh Seal – The first time I saw this movie, I wrote it off as boring. Boy, was I wrong. When I finally rewatched it last year, it knocked me out of my socks. Ingmar Bergman crafts a movie that centers on a crusader trying to win his life back from Death in a game of chess. The film is so much more than my simple description. One of the best foreign films I’ve ever seen. Max Von Sydow (who later portrayed Father Merrin in The Exorcist) and his trusty squire are just pure awe-inspiring.

The most important game of chess (The Seventh Seal)

4. Wendy and Lucy – This movie made me fall in love Michelle Williams, who plays Wendy in this heartbreaking film. Wendy and her dog Lucy are traveling from Indiana to Alaska for a job, living off of the incredibly meager money Wendy has saved up. When Wendy gets arrested for shoplifting, things start to pile up against her (I don’t wanna give too much away so you can experience truly fresh like I did).  The last scenes are so poignant that the only way to describe how I felt would be to say that a car hit my building when I first saw this film (which actually happened). The film is so rich with characters and emotion that when it’s over, weeping or hugs seem like the only course of action. One of my top ten favorite films.

5. Warrior – One of my favorite films of the 2011. I’ve been a fan of Tom Hardy since Bronson, and he has done nothing but great things since then. Warrior is a modern-day Rocky for the Mixed Martial Arts crowd. This time though, we get two underdogs to root for: Brendan, the man fighting to keep a roof over his family’s heads and Tommy, a mysterious Marine who is hoping to win the prize for a fallen friend’s family. The two men share a father; a recovering alcoholic neither want anything to do with. The film’s climax unfolded unexpectedly and left me weeping in the theater. Not since Stop-Loss have I fought so hard to stop from crying from a movie. When you see Warrior, you’ll see why. Here is my review from its theatrical release.

6. Black Book – Another fantastic foreign film, one which I enjoy more than Inglorious Basterds (which was good, but no classic). Again, rather than rehashing the same old stuff, the hyperlink is the review. From the director who gave us such a weird collection of films, including Robocop and Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven really shows he can make a film void of crass exploitation.

7. Sunshine – Danny Boyle took gathered a group of talented, international actors and gave us Sunshine in 2007. Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, and Chris Evans are astronauts tasked with the important task of reigniting the sun so that Earth could continue to sustain life. When the previous ship fails, they try to find out what went wrong. Boyle mixes horror, science fiction, and drama to create a world that is palpable and easy to understand. Definitely a movie for science fiction fans.

Approaching the sun in Sunshine

8. Breach – Click link for review. Directed by the man who directed the surprisingly engrossing Shattered Glass, Billy Ray makes an espionage film that would normally be all action and transforms it into a taut cat and mouse spy thriller that never lets up. And based on a true story no less. I became a big fan of Ryan Phillipe and Billy Ray because of this film.

9. All the Real Girls– This is Zooey Deschanel’s best film without question. Paul Schneider plays Paul, the Lothario of a little town. When he falls for his best friend’s virginal sister, he tries to change his ways and get past the questionable reputation he has developed for himself. This movie moves me on a subconscious level. The film crafts the great rise and fall of a love that may not weather the storm. It’s ending leaves me visibly angry and scorned when their relationship hits a rough patch. One of the most realistic and authentic depictions of a relationship I’ve seen.

Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel in All the Real Girls

10. The Cell – Tarsem’s debut is automatically added to my best of the decade list, and for good reason. He makes a movie that takes place in a serial killer’s mind nine years before Christopher Nolan gave us Inception. Here, Jennifer Lopez stars as a psychiatrist who goes into a killer’s comatose mind to find out where his latest victim is being held. Not just a great film one its own, Tarsem injects some of the most original images of any movie from that year. Using his experience in commercials and music videos, he makes the world of the killer’s mind dark and yet morbidly gorgeous. Jennifer Lopez has never has been this good in a film outside Selena, which is comforting because seeing J.Lo and Vince Vaughn before they blew up keeps the film grounded in a world where the story is more important than the cast.

Vincent D'onofrio as one of the killer's psyches in The Cell

The Circle of Depp

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Captain Jack

When Johnny Depp debuted his Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003, he finally got his first blockbuster and won a legion of new fans. But before his swashbuckling, Depp was known for taking roles bizarre and unlike what many other actors would touch. Edward Scissorhands, Cry-Baby, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were all classics long before Disney came calling. After becoming the superstar he seemed destined to become, he started to take roles more akin to his early career days.

Post Pirates, Johnny has done way more mainstream stuff than he used to. Before Pirates, his roles were almost all risky and quirky characters. After, he seemed to be capitalizing on his new cred. This won him the hearts of young girls everywhere, but their love is purely bandwagon. His fans, who claim to love all of his movies, are younger than first roles. Nightmare on Elm Street and 21 Jump Street are remakes to these kids, not the Wes Craven masterpiece and TV show that helped launch him into Tim Burton’s gothic hands.

It’s with this knowledge that I went into The Rum Diary earlier this week. A fan of his films long before Pirates, and one who scarcely tolerated On Stranger Tides, I was psyched. A story based on Hunter S. Thompson’s book, the film looked like a Latin flavored adventure similar to Thompson’s other movie adaptation Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Which is one of the great mindtripsI discovered in high school.

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Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

If you looked at the reviews of The Rum Diary and the box office, you’d see this is the Depp I remember from the nineties. Despite Depp blaming Midwesterns (specifically Wichita, KS) a bunch of dummies for not seeing the movie, those who saw it would tell you the film doesn’t work. My girlfriend and I, longterm fans of Depp, went in hoping for something exciting. We left feeling cheated.

The Rum Diary stars Depp as Paul Kemp, a washed up alcoholic writer who just joined the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. From there, the film follows Kemp drinking and barely doing his job and falling in love with the eternally stunning Amber Heard as the paper dies off.

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Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary

The film itself starts simply enough, and shows promise. But as the film unfolds, the characters and story fall apart. In earlier roles where Depp is quirky, we can fall back on his character for solace. Here, there is no such luck. His role, and everyone else’s for that matter, is one-dimensional and wasted. The plot becomes a weak connection between scenes. The love subplot has Heard appear flirty one minute, unavailable the next, and gone from the movie for significant portions, further straining the credibility of including such a character all together.

When the film began it’s final moments, my girlfriend and I began anxiously waiting for the end credits. What had started out as a solid story, fell apart quickly into a mess and a waste of time. Afterward, I couldn’t bring myself to even consider reviewing such a film. I didn’t know if it was a comedy (because it was rarely even clever), a drama (it didn’t want to play that way), or just a swan song to a dead icon (which was the worst one of the three). It couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet, and taking out 30 minutes would have only been the place to start fixing it.

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The Rum Diary will leave you in a similar state

I know some of you will see the movie regardless of what one blogger thinks, and that’s fine. We should all be free to make our own opinions. But for my money, The Rum Diary is the worst movie of the year, second to only the tremendously off-putting and repulsive Bucky Larson. Watch it at your own peril. Better yet, watch Benny & Joon instead. And if you must, rent Pirates 4. At least the bandwagon Depp fans will know what you are talking about.

Nudity in Film: as a Gimmick and as a Selling Point

**This article is about a subject that may not be comfortable for some to read. I have included as little of myself in it as possible, but this is still about my experiences with film. Reader discretion advised**

Months ago, I heard about Emily Browning’s new film Sleeping Beauty. The story followed Browning as Lucy, a girl moonlighting as a prostitute to make some money. The trailer made it look sensuous and very indie. I thought the story sounded interesting and I’ve loved Browning since I saw her in The Uninvited opening weekend back in January 2009. A few months after I got the news about Sleeping Beauty, Browning’s latest film Sucker Punch was released. Another movie I followed from the first publicity still, Sucker Punch flopped and let me down in every way. I was expecting something way more original and empowering than Browning playing a deranged girl pretending to be a really gifted burlesque dancer. I hoped Sleeping Beauty would be the film that would erase the disappointment of Sucker Punch.

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The anticipation for Beauty reached a fever pitch last night, when in a fit of over-anxiousness, I managed to watch significant pieces of it. Dubbed in Russian without subtitles, I was so determined to see this movie that I attempted to watch it despite the language barrier. What I soon realized was that the film wasn’t nearly as delicate and interesting as the trailer had made it sound. The plot of the film was true to the trailer, but her interaction with her johns was completely one-sided. The unique nature of her service was that her clients were able to have their way with her while she was drugged unconscious. I attempted to look past this, but the nature of her job was unsettling. Though I have little doubt that writer/director Julia Leigh had it serve as a metaphor for something else, this wasn’t working. This was consenting to men having sex with her while she was in a state in which consent cannot be given. Essentially she was paid to be raped.

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All the scenes with her johns were very frank in its portrayal of nudity. Looking back on the poster (shown above) and the ad campaign, it seemed like the nudity was one of the selling points of the film. But, this is far from the first time that sex and nudity were used to sell a product. The saying is “sex sells”, but it really is true. Just look at the poster for December’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yes, actress Rooney Mara is actually topless in that picture.

In 2003, In the Cut was released. Remember it? I do, but not for the reasons a film should be remembered. In most circles, this is known as Meg Ryan’s first big nude scene. Billed as a romantic thriller, the film bombed as quickly as it reached audiences. Quality of the film aside, In the Cut relied heavily on the draw of Ryan’s mammary glands to get people in seats. It didn’t work. In today’s world of internet and wifi, the urge to sit through a film just to see a few boobies is replaced by websites like Mr. Skin and pornographic sites that have only the “best parts of the movie”. Though those sites populate a sizable portion of online entertainment, studios still insist on letting details of nude scenes slip for promotional purposes.

The biggest example of embracing the flesh in hopes of getting a profit is Showgirls. Released intentionally in NC-17, the film follows Nomi Malone as she ascends from stripper to the next big thing in Vegas showgirls. The film is nowhere near being a masterpiece (in fact, it’s more often laughed at than enjoyed…because it sucks so much.), but it was all about pressing the flesh in a film about pressing the flesh. It also failed to make back its money in theaters. Filled with topless women and lines so god-awful that it hurts, it should have proven that a movie can’t be sold merely on the promise of nudity.

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In 2004, Atom Egoyan got into a battle with the MPAA (they rate films). His film Where the Truth Lies was given an NC-17 rating because one particular scene involved a threesome between one female actor and two of her costars (Rachel Blanchard, Kevin Bacon, and Colin Firth). When the appeal to have the film rating lowered failed, it was released unrated rather than make the cuts needed for an R rating. This controversy added to its profile, overshadowing the film which was actually quite good. Other examples of such controversy overtaking the film’s intended appeal include The Brown Bunny, The Last Tango in Paris, and many of the X-rated films of the seventies that have since been rerated as R.

Just a few years after Egoyan’s battle with the MPAA, documentarian Kirby Dick released a documentary titled This Film is Not Rated. In it, Dick studied these and other cases of censorship of nudity in American films.

Some genres are more or less expected to have nudity in their films. Teen/raunch comedies and slasher films seem to need nudity in order to be made. Unfortunately, those films are often so myopic that the film comes and goes from theaters and the audiences’ memories to quickly too make any difference.

About 10 to 15 years ago, Hollywood came up with a way to add more nudity and violence in hopes that the zeitgeist would hold onto a film just a little bit longer. Previous generations were known to watch not just the theatrical version of a film, but when home video like Beta and VHS came into play, people could also watch the Director’s Cut. They then had the option to see the original format and/or the director’s intended version. Less and less, Director’s Cut has been replaced with one simple word: unrated. This gave those who opted for the home release something extra. Not all unrated versions really warranted the label, but the intention was to be more edgy and add more violence and nudity for those who previously enjoyed the film or are watching the film for the first time (A more in depth of this fad can be found here). It got bad a few years back when almost all PG-13 movies were being released unrated. I took a step back by avoiding these films; I would watch it in its theatrical version. I wanted the original film, not some boob filled distraction from the story I remember. But after seeing Fired Up! unrated because I couldn’t find a rentable PG-13 copy, I gave up. Now I’ll watch whatever copy I can get my hands on.

 

 

 

 

 

Europe doesn’t share our conservative nature when it comes to nudity in film. Almost all other countries that make films abstain more from violence than nudity. They view the human figure as beautiful and should be recognized as such. Look at ancient civilizations and their sculptures, most of the subjects are naked. It isn’t meant to be pornographic or erotic, it is meant to be artistic and elegant. But in our country, all our statues have people clothed.

That said, nudity will continue be a part of cinema. Certain actors will avoid roles that require it, while others will appear to be bare in every movie they do. Regardless, the hormonal desire to see a film or promote a film on this decision needs to be eradicated. A film should be seen as a whole, not as a vehicle for boobies for younger audiences to see (butts and other parts too, but breasts seem to have the most frequent appearance in films of the three). I don’t condone or encourage such behavior, though I did indulge in it when puberty and the release of Titanic opened a dark rabbit hole. It’s part of growing up in a highly sexualized society unfortunately. It may not be the case in the future, but today kids are told to grow up way too fast, only aggravating the problem.

Some more conservative societies are not letting the rating system carry the burden of such a worry. In states like Utah, persons not involved with the actual film’s production edit films further after their release. CleanFlicks is a company that takes previously released films and removes any item they deem inappropriate. People who want to see a movie, but would prefer to not have violence, nudity, and language can then watch in peace. This process is highly controversial and often ends in lawsuits. But similar to online pornography and illegal music downloading, it will never cease to exist.

Though I understand the desire to remove harsh elements from a film, this is going too far. You can’t enjoy movies with Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue and Martin Scorsese’s frank sense of violence with these heavily censored re-edits. In a sense, the nudity in films is simply that; nudity in a movie. It shouldn’t excite you in a manner other than what the director intended. Nor should it be exploited for personal gratification. Movies are meant to be an experience, a whole greater than the parts that go into it. If a film is playing up the nudity of some scenes while downplaying the artistic merit of the film as a whole, pass. Sleeping Beauty will not be a blockbuster, and many will never even knew it existed. Watch a movie for the movie’s sake. If you want naked people, go somewhere else.

The Worst Piece of Crap I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve always been a fan of film. When I was little, I rented As Good As It Gets a decade before I could appreciate it. I liked it still. Ever since, I’ve tried to watch movies that challenge me. Some prove rewarding like Antichrist, others leave me wanting that time back. But last weekend, I tried to get a refund. I have NEVER asked for a refund for a movie before. Sure, I walked out of Michael Clayton, but I went back because I knew it would redeem itself (and it was nominated for a slew of Oscars that year). So what was the movie I walked out of and tried to get reimbursed for? None other than Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star.

Some of you may remember Grandma’s Boy from a few years back.

impawards.com

It was marketed the same way as Bucky Larson, and though it disappeared from the box office as quickly as it appeared, it gained a following on DVD. But where the two movies differ is this: Grandma’s Boy was funny and had a plot, Bucky is offensive and is a one-joke movie that isn’t funny.

Bucky Larson is a small town Iowan. When he discovers his parents were small-time pornstars in their own day, he thinks he’s Hollywood royalty. So he ventures off to the West Coast to star in “all nude movies”. When he makes it big, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Buckyis one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of a movie that has left more of a bad taste in my mouth than this one. Apparently, I’m not the only one. On Rotten Tomatoes, NO ONE likes it. Not a single positive review from everyone. It offends its viewers by lacking any intelligence or craft. It’s offensive to Midwesterners as they paint Iowans as idiot hillbillies. Nick Swardson plays Bucky as if Bucky has Down Syndrome, something that should never be made fun of. The jokes wouldn’t even be funny to those kids who enjoy movies with sick and childish senses of humor.

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I know just by writing this, I’m creating publicity for Bucky Larson, but I can’t let this go. This is a movie that has no redeeming qualities. It sucks and tramples your soul. I wouldn’t even recommend downloading it illegally. The MPAA would arrest you on bad taste. Skip it at all costs. 0 out of 5 stars