Sunday, December 30, 2007

Adult Entertainment and the DVD Format War has an article about the impact of the adult entertainment industry on the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray format war. This may come as a surprise, but the adult industry has been at the head of nearly every major advance in mass media and distribution of cinema. It was among the main forces leading the way for early theatrical film exhibition, cable television, the creation of the home video market, and the explosion of the Internet. Now it may determine, or at least significantly impact, what hi-def format we watch films on.

Here are excerpts from the article:

In February of 2007, I asked a rhetorical question about the influence of Adult Entertainment (AE) on the format war, reminded you that AE helped VHS defeat Betamax, noted that $4 billion in AE DVD sales would seem to refute the notion that the Internet is the dominant AE delivery vector, and speculated concerning the appeal of high definition as a more intimate, more titillating means of delivering AE. Having received a couple of screeners, I noted that Digital Playground’s initial efforts were poor, although its subsequent efforts and those by Vivid demonstrated marked improvements. And with each successive improvement in quality came a commensurate improvement in intimacy. Ten months have passed, there is more data, and some trends are beginning to immerge.

* * *

The visual advantages of AE on HD have become just as dramatic as for mainstream film, and the experience of AE HD is substantially more intimate than its lower resolution counterpart on DVD. What hasn’t changed is the directors’ bad habit of framing for small screen and low resolution. With the 1080 format’s six-times greater resolution and the strong likelihood of viewers watching HD on a larger screen, extreme close-ups are unnecessary and invasive. AE directors should be composing their scenes as if they were shooting a feature film destined for a large venue.

Without absolute sales numbers and only relative sales indicators, it’s extremely difficult to discern whether AE HD is having much of a financial impact on the format war. What seems clear is that fans of the genre are discovering the visual advantages of high definition. And if the studio that has captured 80% of the AE HD market is now committed to releasing its products in both formats, we won’t experience the kind of impact that was felt during the VHS versus Betamax format war. Format agnosticism simply prolongs the war.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wired: MST3K - The Next Generation

Cinematic Titanic Steams Into Mystery Science Theater Waters
By John Scott Lewinski 12.07.07 3:00 PM

The creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is returning to the movie-mocking business as captain of the Cinematic Titanic.

Joel Hodgson is reuniting with J. Elvis Weinstein (the original Tom Servo) and Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot) to sink any B movies remaining afloat in the long-running cult TV show's wake. The celluloid target of their inaugural Dec. 10 release: 1972 horror debacle Brain of Blood.

Hodgson and crew plan to mine the depths of the sci-fi and horror genres for movies that bear the special MST3K level of delightful god-awfulness. Rather than call the reunion a "show," Hodgson described Cinematic Titanic as "a movie-riffing delivery system" that will keep loyal MST3K enthusiasts stocked with fresh laughs.

"History has been very kind to us," Hodgson said. "We have a very loyal fan base, and every (MST3K) DVD set we release sells better than the previous one. Since the supply of those original episodes is finite, we wanted to give our fans something new that kept the spirit and the tone of the original show."

The original MST3K started in 1988 on Minnesota television, then aired for a decade on various national cable channels. Created and initially hosted by Hodgson, the show endured a turnover of its entire cast before ending its run on the Sci Fi Channel in 1999. Earlier this year, the Sci Fi cast reunited to work on two separate MST3K-style satirical projects.

For Cinematic Titanic, Hodgson is partnering with movie-download service EZTakes to enable buyers to purchase and create DVDs themselves. The Cinematic Titanic website will sell DVDs, and eventually buyers will be able to download the film, commentary, liner notes and cover art to "self-fan-u-facture" DVDs at home.

Cinematic Titanic's five cast members (MST3K veterans Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Conniff also join the crew) will appear on screen in a multi-tiered silhouette arrangement reminiscent of a shadowy Hollywood Squares set, as the mockable movies play.

To launch Cinematic Titanic, the cast will perform Dec. 8 for Industrial Light & Magic staffers at George Lucas' Presidio campus in San Francisco, Hodgson said. A DVD of the invitation-only show will be up for sale alongside the Brain of Blood release.

Will fans hoping for a reunion of the original MST3K embrace multiple spinoffs of their favorite show? Nathan Heckel of MSTies Anonymous said it's encouraging to see the original show's alumni collaborating.

"I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to see the original show revitalized," Heckel said. "Even a one-off performance would be greatly welcomed."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

2008 Golden Globe Nominations

The nominations for the 2008 Golden Globe Awards were announced this morning:

Picture – Drama

  • American Gangster
  • Atonement
  • Eastern Promises
  • The Great Debaters
  • Michael Clayton
  • No Country For Old Men
  • There Will Be Blood

Picture - Musical Or Comedy

  • Across The Universe
  • Charlie Wilson's War
  • Hairspray
  • Juno
  • Sweeney Todd

Animated Film

  • Bee Movie
  • Ratatouille
  • The Simpsons Movie

Actor In A Leading Role - Drama

  • George Clooney in Michael Clayton
  • Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
  • James McAvoy in Atonement
  • Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises
  • Denzel Washington in American Gangster

Actor In A Leading Role - Musical Or Comedy

  • Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd
  • Ryan Gosling in Lars And The Real Girl
  • Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson's War
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Savages
  • John C. Reilly in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Actress In A Leading Role - Drama

  • Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  • Julie Christie in Away From Her
  • Jodie Foster in The Brave One
  • Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart
  • Keira Knightley in Atonement

Actress In A Leading Role - Musical Or Comedy

  • Amy Adams in Enchanted
  • Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray
  • Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd
  • Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose
  • Ellen Page in Juno

Actor In A Supporting Role

  • Casey Affleck in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
  • Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War
  • John Travolta in Hairspray
  • Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton

Actress In A Supporting Role

  • Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There
  • Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson's War
  • Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
  • Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
  • Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton


  • Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd
  • Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for No Country For Old Men
  • Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
  • Ridley Scott for American Gangster
  • Joe Wright for Atonement


  • Atonement, written by Christopher Hampton
  • Charlie Wilson's War, written by Aaron Sorkin
  • The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, written by Ronald Harwood
  • Juno, written by Diablo Cody
  • No Country For Old Men, written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Original Score

  • Atonement, composed by Dario Marianelli
  • Eastern Promises, composed by Howard Shore
  • Grace Is Gone, composed by Clint Eastwood
  • Into The Wild, composed by Michael Brook
  • The Kite Runner, composed by Alberto Igleslias

Original Song

  • "Despedida" from Love In The Time Of Cholera, music and lyric by Pedro Aznar, Shakira
  • "Grace Is Gone" from Grace Is Gone, music by Clint Eastwood, lyric by Carole Bayer Sager
  • "Guaranteed" from Into The Wild, music and lyric by Eddie Vedder
  • "That's How You Know" from Enchanted, music by Alan Menken, lyric by Stephen Schwartz
  • "Walk Hard" from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, music and Lyric by Judd Apatow, Marshal Crenshaw, Jake Kasdan, John C. Reilly

Foreign Film

  • The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days
  • The Kite Runner
  • Lust, Caution
  • Persepolis

Cecil B. DeMille Award

  • Steven Spielberg

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Additonal Reviews

Reviews of the following films have been added directly to the web along with the rest of the reviews broadcast on today's episode:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

KEYC: Fairmont Film Society "Smoking Room"


The Fairmont Film Society is preserving the history of Hollywood smoking and all Jeff Rouse and his wife opened the Fairmont Film Festival two years ago. It's a private club that holds different events. The club has three event rooms one of which is a smoking room. "The smoking room as you can see is developed into a room years in the astoulga from old cigarette adds and different memorabilia, ash trays and anything that has to do with smoking." The state's new smoking ban no longer allows for people to smoke in public places but Rouse and members of the club want to get a cigar license that allows people to sample cigars in the smoking room.

See video of this story here and visit the Fairmont Film Society website here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Recent History of WGA Strikes

CBS News features this New Republic column by Mark Evanier on the strong arm tactics used by studios and it summarizes the relationships of the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers to the studios and to the other guilds. Some excerpts follow. The final paragraph is particularly important.

As the Writers Guild of America strike ends its third week, it's worth remembering that there was a time when strikes by the WGA were like Jerry Lee Lewis marriages. Don't like the current one? Just wait. There'll be another one along any minute, and it'll be even more destructive for all concerned.

Which is not to say any of them could have been avoided. (WGA strikes, that is. Who knows from Jerry Lee's troubles?) It is a sad, frustrating part of Hollywood history that now and again, financial inequities creep up or the studio heads get even greedier than usual, and the WGA is presented with what it considers an unacceptable offer by the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP).

The AMPTP, to use the labor terminology, is a "multi-employer bargaining unit," a group that in this case negotiates with all the major unions on behalf of the major studios. Once the AMPTP has its deal in place with a union, independent producers sign what are called "Me-Too" contracts, meaning that they agree to the same terms. So, in essence, the AMPTP negotiates on behalf of everyone who hires union members. Too often, the way they negotiate is to hand the union or guild a "take it or leave it" offer full of rollbacks, cuts, and other onerous terms. To leave it is to go on strike. Sometimes, if the union is willing to bargain far enough ahead, they can whittle the rollbacks down a bit and claim that as a win.
* * *
Of the three "above the line" labor organizations in town - the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Writers Guild - we're the ones who have the toughest time shutting things down. When actors walk, you tend to notice it right away. There's no one to film. If the Directors walked - which they don't, but if they did - they'd also bring things to a screeching halt. With us, there's a lag, as scripts that are already completed get filmed. If you're the guy charged with rolling back the unions and getting their services cheaper, where would you start? The Actors' and Directors' current contracts expire on June 30 and July 31, 2008, respectively. The WGA's, of course, expired October 31, 2007.

It's always been like this, right down to the producers' rhetoric and the suggestions that they can live well without us. That's what they were saying back in 1933 when ten top crafters of movie scripts agreed to organize. Immediately and predictably, the studios resisted: They would never recognize such a coalition, and anyone who joined would find themselves unemployed and unemployable. It took nine years of threats, legal wranglings, and National Labor Relations Board rulings before the Screen Writers Guild was able to negotiate its first contract.
* * *
In 1981, there was a three-month WGA strike to establish compensation in the then-new markets of "pay TV" and home video. We wound up with a deal so good that the '85 contract negotiation was all about the Producers wanting to take it back. They had a better sense by then of the cash to be made in those areas and didn't like how much of it we got. So the 1985 negotiations pretty much went as follows:

They proposed a new cable/cassette formula that was much lower - an 80 percent reduction by some estimates, greater by others. There was really no money in those markets, they said, and what meager revenues existed were necessary to offset losses in other venues. (These are "losses" as defined by people who insist their top-grossing projects are still in deficit and therefore, there's no money due to anyone with a share of profits. Are they still telling Alan Alda that the M*A*S*H TV show was a money loser?) There was some talk of studies. If - big if - it turned out that selling movies on videotape was more lucrative than the writers expected, adjustments would be made down the line. It turned out, of course, that home video was more profitable than anyone anticipated. But somehow, no adjustments ever occurred - and I doubt anyone really expected they would. "We'll conduct a study" is something you agree to so the side that got the short end in the deal can save a little face.

The reduction in cable/cassette residuals was a deal breaker for them that year: No contract until we agreed to it. It was a deal breaker for us, too - mostly. We voted "no," but it was a tepid "no." The Guild was split, our leadership didn't know how to cope with that split, and the strike collapsed after three ugly weeks. We took the rollback. No one's quite figured how much writers lost, let alone calculated the losses for all the other folks in town who had deals linked to ours, either explicitly or due to pattern bargaining. The number is in the many billions - and beyond that, we can't bear to think about it. But of course the studios can. They look at how much they made off any salary rollbacks the same way they look at how much they make off any box office blockbuster. Immediately, they start thinking, "Sequel!"

In 1988, when the rolled-back WGA contract came up for renewal, the Producers did what one does when someone stupid is on the hook: They tried the same strategy again. They came at us with a series of demands that were not quite as noxious, but still pretty bad. Again, it was "Take this or there's no contract." This time, though, we'd learned, and we had better leadership. The strike of that year lasted 22 weeks - one day longer than the strike of '60 - and while we ended up agreeing to some of the cuts, we cost the Producers a lot more than they cost us.
* * *
To date, the AMPTP has not offered a contract. Their position is that they'll discuss those matters after we drop all this silly talk about a better share of home video (the extremely profitable DVD market didn't even exist when our current residual rate was negotiated) and any real share when the product we write is delivered online. It's not so much that they've refused to meet our demands - they've refused to listen to them until we accede to their main demands.

Which is why we have this strike. If it seems destructive, remember that Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild negotiations are up next. They're as militant in key areas as we are, which is why the Producers are so determined to make the writers yield. [Emphasis added.] We're just the first ones into the fray and if the AMPTP can hold us down, they'll have a stronger position when they face off on other battlefields. Remember those two words: pattern bargaining. Hollywood's going to be hearing them a lot, one way or the other.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Strike Update: Talks to Resume

Writers, Studios Agree to Talk
Variety, Fri., Nov. 16, 2007

Studios and networks will resume negotiations with striking writers on Nov. 26.
The WGA remains on strike. The companies recently dropped their insistence that the strike had to stop, at least temporarily, as a condition of restarting negotiations.

The Friday night announcement came on the 12th day of the strike in the form of a joint statement from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Both sides have agreed to a news blackout.

"Leaders from the AMPTP and the WGA have mutually agreed to resume formal negotiations on November 26," the statement said. "No other details or press statements will be issued."

Shortly after the joint statement was released, WGA West president Patric Verrone sent an email to the WGA membership.

"This announcement is a direct result of your efforts," Verrone said. "For 12 days I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike. ...Now it is equally important that we now prove that good news won't slow us down, either. We must remember that returning to the bargaining table is only a start. Our work is not done until we achieve a good contract and that is by no means assured. Accordingly, what we achieve in negotiations will be a direct result of how successfully we can keep up our determination and resolve."

Backchannel efforts have been ongoing throughout the strike to restart the talks, spurred partly by the fact that the negotiations were progressing on Nov. 4, the final day of bargaining. Since then, as job losses and show cancellations gained momentum, agents, high-profile screenwriters and showrunners have exerted pressure for a resumption of talks.

WGA leaders were angry over what they saw as a lack of substantive response by the AMPTP after the guild took its DVD residuals increase off the table. By contrast, the companies contended that they had made significant moves in new-media compensation for streaming video, providing a six-week window for promotion and giving the WGA jurisdiction over made-for-Internet work that was based on existing properties.

Verrone had indicated that for his union to restart negotiations, it needed to receive assurance that the companies would offer more in new media than they did on Nov. 4.

As for the companies, AMPTP president Nick Counter had said he needed to be convinced that the guild wanted to make a deal. He had moved away from last week's stance that the guild would have to stop striking in order to return to the table.

"For true negotiations to take place, there has to be some expectation that a deal can be made, but by their past actions and their current rhetoric that certainly doesn't appear to be the case," Counter said in his most recent statement.

On Wednesday, the WGA trumpeted a pair of surveys showing the public had plenty of sympathy for the writers, with backing of 69% in a Pepperdine poll and 63% in a SurveyUSA poll. Companies received a only a smattering of support, with 4% and 8%.

That same day, IATSE topper Thomas Short had blasted WGA leaders over job losses, noting that more than 50 TV series have been shut down by the strike. "The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields," he said.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hitler: The Rise of Evil

Last night I got to re-watch Hitler: The Rise of Evil. It was originally a made-for-TV mini-series broadcast on network television in 2003 and the film has been in the back of my mind ever since. Last month it was released on DVD and I finally got my hands on a copy.

The film has some great production values going for it, especially for a made-for-TV production, such as the attempted coup in Munich. The film also has some very good performances by Liev Schreiber and Julianna Margulies as Hitler supporters Ernst and Helene Hanfstaengl, Peter Stormare as SA leader Ernst Röhm, Matthew Modine as anti-Nazi journalist Fritz Gerlich, Peter O'Toole as President Hindenburg, and Robert Carlyle as Adolf Hitler. Carlyle gives one of the great performances of the Fuhrer, on par with Bruno Ganz in Downfall, which I hold as one of the finest portrayals of Hitler ever made.

Dramatizing history is tough, especially when the filmmakers deal with such a well known and thoroughly researched figure as Hitler. On the one hand, the filmmaker must make storytelling decisions that place dramatic principles ahead of historical accuracy. On the other hand, it is easy to end up on a slippery slope where so much dramatic licence is taken that the portrayal of the historical figure or event no longer represents who this person or place was. This docu-drama walks that line as well as any historical film I've ever seen.

The film isn't perfect. There is a coda on the ending which feels out of place and rather forced. I think a more effective final image could have been used. Also, the one glaring historical element that I found wanting was Hitler's relationship to Joseph Goebbels and Goebbels importance to the rise of Nazi popularity in Germany, both of which are under emphasized.

But what really strikes me about this film, aside from its craft and performances, is the relevance. History is dramatized with the intent of illuminating the present. Based on what I have seen recently, films that go back further in time can be more effective to understand the present than films dramatizing current events. Consider post-9/11 films Kingdom of Heaven and Munich as compared to Rendition or The Kingdom. While there are certainly exceptions, such as In the Valley of Elah, it seems that films which dig farther into the past can tells us more about the present, perhaps because we are more removed from the event itself. The best Vietnam films were made after the war, although there were a few films during Vietnam that dealt with the war through historical metaphor. Soldier Blue, a Western about the massacre of the Cheyenne Indians, is a thinly veiled parallel for the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Hitler: The Rise of Evil begins and ends with Edmond Burke's quote "The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing," and the story is filled with people making compromises with their ethics either to be polite or to accomplish their own ends. They ignore Hitler's anti-semitism, war mongering, and power grabbing until it is too late. There is a large emphasis, especially in the third act, on the surrender of civil liberties and throughout the film Hitler appeals to the Aryan myth of glory and idealism. In our post-9/11 world in which the West finds itself fighting an enemy mobilized by a dream of Islamic world domination and while fighting that enemy runs the risk of surrendering the very freedoms that it is attempting to preserve, the relevance of this film ought to be very clear.

Here is a trailer for the film:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Additional Reviews

As I annouced on today's episode, a few reviews have been added directly to the web because they are no longer playing in the area. They may be broadcast on the show if the films return to the area, but for now they can be accessed in the REVIEWS section of the Maverick at the Movies website. Here are direct links:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Variety: Writers Call For Strikes

Fri., Nov. 2, 2007

UPDATE: In a last-ditch attempt to avert a strike, the Writers Guild of America will return to the negotiating table Sunday morning to meet with studios and networks.

News of the meeting emerged late Friday afternoon, a few hours after the WGA announced that its 12,000 members will go on strike Monday against studios and networks in the first major work stoppage in two decades.

The 10 a.m. Sunday meeting was called at the behest of federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez.
The strike officially begins at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Monday. Members began receiving the official announcement at the same time that the WGA was holding a news conference at WGA West headquarters in Los Angeles. The missive said explicitly that all writing covered under guild agreements must cease when the strike starts.

Sunday's talks will be the first since negotiations broke down Wednesday night, a few hours before the WGA contract expired.

WGA West president Patric Verrone opened the news conference by asserting the companies have ignored the Guild's key issues -- new media, Internet re-use, DVDs, jurisdiction -- at a time when entertainment congloms are enjoying financial success.

"Rather than address our members' primary concern, the studios made it clear that they would rather shut down the town than reach a fair and reasonable deal," Verrone said. "This is not an action that anyone takes lightly. But it slowly became apparent that the studios are not prepared to deal fairly with writers and the rest of talent community."

Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, blasted back at the guild several hours later. "The WGA's call for a strike is precipitous and irresponsible," he said.

The WGA's expected to mount multiple picket lines Monday. The guild's email to members said, "We'll be sending you information about our picket lines. Come out and show your solidarity. Your Contract Captain will be in touch with you. Be prepared to serve."

The strike announcement followed unanimous approval in meetings of the WGA West board and the WGA East Council. Prospects for a strike became a near-certainty after negotiations collapsed on over the companies' insistence that they won't boost residuals for DVDs or Internet downloads.

WGA leaders had left the door open for talks to avert a strike. Negotiating committee chief John Bowman stressed that guild leaders want to negotiate with the companies this weekend -- as long as the companies will back off their insistence that residuals for DVDs and Internet downloads cannot be increased.

"We have 48 hours," Bowman said. "We don't want to strike. What we really want to do is negotiate."

In comments after the news conference, Bowman expressed frustration that the AMPTP had not discussed new media issues since negotations began in July. He also said guild negotiators were blind-sided Wednesday by the AMPTP's insistence that the home vid formula had to be extended to electronic sell-through.

"If that was going to be their position, then that should have been their proposal in July," Bowman added.

Counter was particularly combative about the WGA in his latest comments, attempting to portray the guild as greedy buy asserting that writers are already well paid as it is. The WGA's seeking to double DVD residuals, which currently pay out at about a nickel per DVD sold.

"The writer is one of our most highly regarded assets and one of our most highly rewarded," he noted. "Working writers on average earn over $200,000 a year. All they have to do is earn $31,000 to qualify for a full year of coverage in the finest health care plan in the country. And they are among the few employees in the world who get an "additional annuity" in the form of residuals beyond their initial compensation."

Counter then noted that WGA West writers made in excess of $56 million in additional compensation last year from DVD residuals.

"It makes absolutely no sense to increase the burden of this additional compensation," he added. "Their DVD proposal would more than double the cost to producers."

Counter reiterated his previous contention that a deal's possible - but only if the WGA relents on DVD and Internet residuals.,

"Instead of working toward solutions that would give the industry the flexibility it needs to meet today's business challenges, the WGA leadership continues to pursue numerous unreasonable proposals that would result in astronomical and unjustified increases in our costs, further restrict our ability to produce, promote and market TV series and films, and prohibit us from experimenting with programming and business models in New Media," he said.

Bowman also acknowledged rumors that the likelihood of a WGA strike has raised the likelihood that the Directors Guild of America will make a deal soon with the AMPTP. He said that even if the DGA did come to a deal with AMPTP on Internet, the writers will not back down.

"The DGA can't make this deal for us," he added. "We won't accept a bad deal."

Bowman also noted that directors are less dependent on residuals than writers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Special Halloween Episode on October 31st

Maverick at the Movies will be having a special Halloween program, set to air October 31st at 11 PM on 89.7 KMSU FM.

The special will include a variety of tricks and treats, some yet to be determined, but film music will be the mainstay of the program, providing the soundtrack to your Halloween. The special is aimed to bring this month of programing to a fun conclusion. I will also take some time to comment on the unique relationship between film and the Halloween holiday.

Be sure to checkout the show this weekend, Sunday, October 28th. It will include a look at the score to Clive Barker's Hellraiser in salute to the film's 20th anniversary.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

David J. Skal Interview

Today's episode featured an interview with David J. Skal, author of Vampires: Encounters with the Undead and The Monster Show. Skal also provides the commentary track on the DVD of Universal's classic 1931 Dracula film staring Bela Lugosi.

The interview with Skal can be downloaded from the Maverick at the Movies features page as an MP3.

Additional Reviews

As was announced on today's episode, the Halloween themes of the October shows and the large amount of films released this month have kept me from reviewing a lot of movies before they left local theaters. I will be doing a lot of catch up, especially in November, on the films that are currently in local theaters. For now, however, I have posted my reviews of the following films on the Maverick at the Movies website without broadcasting them on the show.

You can follow the links to the full text reviews of these and every film reviewed on Maverick at the Movies in the Reviews section of the website.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thank You!

Thank you to all who participated in 89.7 KMSU FM's Fall Pledge Drive. Your support of independent public radio is greatly appreciated.

There are still spots available for the 12 Hour Film Festival, now for only a $20 gift to the station, although no more t-shirts are available. More information is available here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lucifer Rising

Today, Maverick at the Movies continues its month long Halloween theme with Bobby Beausoleil's entire score to Kenneth Anger's film Lucifer Rising.

Lucifer Rising is an infamous short film from experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger. The film portrays the birth of Lucifer to Mesopotamian gods Isis and Osiris and the birth is a metaphor for the start of a new age. The film was a part of a series of shorts by Anger, who had written the book Hollywood Babylon, a tell-all of scandals in Hollywood. Anger was also an avid reader of Aliester Crowley’s writings and was also involved in the formation of the Church of Satan. He interpreted the Age of Aquarius and the counter cultural movement as the Age of Horus that Crowley had anticipated and viewed making films like casting spells. He had been quoted as saying, “I consider myself working evil in an evil medium.”

The original version of Lucifer Rising was supposedly finished in 1967 and was to be publicly screened at The Equinox of the Gods, an event that included live music and performance art. In the initial version of the film, Bobby Beausoleil was cast as Lucifer. However, in between the production and the event, the relationship between Beausoleil and Anger had disintegrated. Anger accused Beausoleil of ripping off 1600 feet of film and some of the camera equipment and, being a practitioner of the dark arts, supposedly put a curse on Beausoleil. Beausoleil has denied this, claiming that Anger's accusations were a cover to the film's investors for work that was never completed.

Anger picked up the remaining pieces of the original version of Lucifer Rising and assembled a new short film, Invocation of My Demon Brother. He had attracted the interest of Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards of Rolling Stones and Jagger is credited with the score to Invocation of My Demon Brother. Subsequently, Anger was at least a partial inspiration for “Sympathy for the Devil” by Rolling Stones.

After working with Anger, a series of tragedies befell the Stones, including the death of Rolling Stone’s guitarist Brian Jones and the Altamont disaster seen in Gimme Shelter. Meanwhile, Beausoleil had joined the Manson family and found himself in prison for murdering a drug dealer. This was unrelated the Tate and LaBianca murders that turned Charles Manson into the social pariah.

Anger began to remake Lucifer Rising in 1970. He contacted Jimmy Page, who apparently shared Anger's interest in Crowley's writings, to produce the score. Unfortunately, Page was unable to produce enough music to fill the duration of the film. At the same time Beausoleil had formed a band inside of prison and got back in touch with Anger, and the two of them patched up their relationship. Anger fired Jimmy Page and rehired Beausoleil to complete the musical score from the film, although Page's score has since been released as bootleg. Anger and Beausoleil worked with minimum interaction with Beausoleil scoring inside of prison and together, the two men produced a legendary piece of underground cinema.

For more information on Lucifer Rising see the following:
  • Lucifer Rising by Gavin Baddeley - A book on the history of Satanism and popular culture, focusing mostly on music and film, and includes an interview with Anger.
  • Lucifer Rising soundtrack - This two disc release of Beausoleil's score by Arcanum Entertainment includes unreleased and unused music and a booklet that includes linear notes by Anger, Beausoleil, and Michael Mynahan
  • The Films of Kenneth Anger - A two volume set of Anger's films. Volume II includes Lucifer Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother and features commentary by Anger and a booklet of essays and photos.
  • Bobby Beausoleil's website - Includes biographical information and Beausoleil's current artistic and spiritual endeavors.
  • Senses of Cinema article on Kenneth Anger - Includes biographical information and a short filmography.

Here is a look at Anger's work in the form of two trailers for Fantoma's compilations of Anger's work:

Saturday, October 6, 2007

KMSU Pledge Drive

Starting on Friday, October 5, 89.7 KMSU FM will be having its fall pledge drive. This is your chance to help the station stay on the air. Aside from supporting the overhead costs of running the station, KMSU is preparing to construct a new tower and needs to install an antena system for the new transmitter. This is going to be extraordinarily expensive, but is vital to keeping the station on the air.

As with every pledge drive, there are some premiums available. This year, Shuffle Function hosts Tim and Shelly has put together a 12 Hour Film Fesival to screen on the MSU campus on November 3rd. For a $50 pledge, listeners will get a t-shirt and admission to the film festival. The films to be screened include: This Is Spinal Tap, Dr. Strangelove, Gimme Shelter, Animal House, Shaun Of The Dead, and Blue Velvet. You can find out more about the film festival here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not see a penny of the pledge funds. Maverick at the Movies, like many local programs on 89.7 the Maverick, is produced on a volunteer basis.

To pledge, call 507-389-5678 or 1-800-456-7810, or visit this page to make an email pledge. If you get voice mail or send an email, include your full name, mailing address, phone number, and the amount you wish to pledge. Thank you.

Maverick at the Movies Celebrates Halloween

All throughout the month of October, Maverick at the Movies will be playing Halloween themed programing. This will be reflected in the music and DVD picks as well as some other features to be added as the month goes on.

This Sunday, October 7, will feature music from films about ghosts and the other side, including music from Ghostbusters, Poltergeist, and Candyman.

Throughout the rest of the month, Maverick at the Movies will include music of slasher films, vampire movies, and other Halloween related content. Be sure and tune in for a very special broadcast of the entire score to Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising to be broadcast later this month.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Indy IV Title

The new Indiana Jones film now has a title: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. More information on the new film, which is due out Memorial Day weekend 2008, can be found at

Maverick at the Movies: September 16, 2007

This Sunday's program will feature the music of Hans Zimmer. Because Zimmer writes such long pieces of music, the film news and reviews content of the show will be eschewed for this episode, but should return next week.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ingmar Begman Screenings at Oak Street Cinema

The Oak Street Cinema will be holding a small Ingmar Bergman tribute starting on Friday, September 7th and running until Wednesday, September 19, 2007.

Friday, Sept 07 - Sunday, Sept 09
Wild Strawberries
Nightly @ 7:15 p.m. with a Sat. & Sun. matinee @ 5:15 p.m.

Monday, Sept 10 - Tuesday, Sept 11
A Lesson in Love
Nightly @ 7 p.m. & 9 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept 12 - Thursday, Sept 13
Through A Glass Darkly
Nightly @ 7 p.m. & 9 p.m.

Friday, Sept 14 - Sunday, Sept 16
The Seventh Seal
Nightly @ 7:15 p.m. with a Sat./Sun. matinee @ 5:15 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept 18 - Wednesday, Sept 19
Cries & Whispers
Nightly @ 7 p.m. & 9 p.m.

More information can be found at their website:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Balcony Archive

Film reviews by Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and Richard Roeper from their syndicated program can now be found on the web at The site contains streaming video of over 5,000 reviews.

The program, which has gone by various names over the years, has been on the air in some form since 1975. Unfortunately many of the reviews from the first ten years were never saved. But what has been saved is a very entertaining and informative archive of reviews and special segments on film. Although I have not always agreed with these critics, I do have a great deal of respect for them. This program was and is one of the only outlets in mainstream media for serious discussion and criticism about film. Siskel and Ebert were the first to introduce to me the idea that film could be talked about as an art form, as popular entertainment, and as an exercise in social discourse.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman

Filmmakers Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman passed away last Monday. That the two men died on the same day is odd, but their passing is a chance to reflect on how cinema has changed. When film initially began, it was essentially a new feature to the scandalous world of vaudeville. When films were expanded to features and obtained story lines, mostly ripped from literary sources, they started to be regarded as an acceptable form of popular entertainment. From there major filmmakers arose, people who dedicated their lives to the form in the way a writer dedicates them self to written language or a musician dedicates them self to music. And out of that environment came the filmmakers who were true masters of their form. Antonioni and Bergman were among the first of these film masters and they were some of the first filmmakers who can be truly considered artists. Their influence, especially Bergman's, can be seen in contemporary American filmmakers such as David Fincher, Martin Scorcesse, Steven Spielberg, George A. Romero, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Craven, the Wachowski Brothers, and Stanley Kubrick.

The New York Times has published a very nice article by A. O. Scott about the influence of these two men. Among the things Scott has to say, I think he makes an important point that filmmakers are still struggling to define themselves as artists:

Mr. Antonioni and Mr. Bergman, for their parts, were the supreme modernists of world cinema. Mr. Antonioni helped to push Italian film beyond realism, infusing landscapes with psychological rather than social meaning and turning eroticism from a romantic into a metaphysical pursuit. Mr. Bergman, heir to a Nordic strain of modernism represented by Strindberg and Ibsen, developed a film language dense with psychological symbolism and submerged emotion. The two of them upheld, as filmmakers, T. S. Eliot’s observation that “poets, in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.” “L’Avventura” and “The Seventh Seal,” though they have little else in common (apart from exquisite black-and-white cinematography, courtesy of Aldo Scavarda and Gunnar Fischer), are both hard to watch. Not because the content or the imagery is upsetting, but because they never allow the viewer to relax into a conditioned expectation of what will happen next or an easy recognition of what it means.

There was, among certain filmgoers in the 1960s, an appetite for difficulty, a conviction that symbolic obscurity and psychological alienation were authentic responses to the state of the world. More than that, the idea that a difficult work had special value — that being challenged was a distinct form of pleasure — enjoyed a prestige, at the time, that is almost unimaginable today. We would rather be teased than troubled, and the measure of artistic sophistication is cleverness rather than seriousness.

Given all that, it may be hard for someone who wasn’t there — who never knew a film culture in which “La Notte” didn’t already exist — to quite appreciate the heroic status conferred on Mr. Antonioni and Mr. Bergman 40 years ago. I don’t believe that the art of filmmaking has necessarily declined since then (I’d quit my job if I did), but it seems clear the cultural climate that made it possible to hail filmmakers as supreme artists has vanished for good. All that’s left are the films.

I don't know that I agree with Scott's final statement, but I do think that the death of these two men allows audience members and current filmmakers the chance to reflect on film, where it has come from, and where it is going. For better or worse, the future of film will be tied to the Internet and to commerce, among other things, and while the net has the effect of democratizing the medium, the globalization, consolidation of major media outlets, and the current trend of wide releases by major studios, has the opposite effect. This will make it difficult for a filmmaker to create personal work in the current studio system, but it may allow for an alternate outlet for cinema.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Episode 150

Sunday, July 29th is the 150th episode of Maverick at the Movies. Since the show started, in May 2004, I have reviewed 382 films and played approximately 90 hours of music. It has been a privilage and a blast to do this show every week and I hope to continue.

I want to thank everyone who has supported this show, namely KMSU staff members James Gullickson and Karen Wright. I'd also like to thank fellow KMSU show hosts Nick Iverson of The Downshift, Tim Lind, and Shelley Pierce of Shuffle Function, Herb Kroon of Best of Broadway, Ton and Dustin Wilmes of The Five Count, and Bob Pavlenko of Here There Be Dragons for their assistance and support. I would also like to thank former and current Southern Minnesota News Project News Directors Melissa Specken, Julie Kroon, and Page Schuette for including my reviews as a part of their Friday newscasts. And lastly, I'd like to thank all of the listeners for supporting the show and KMSU FM for keeping us on the air and showing such support for independent radio.

As stated on the About section on the Maverick at the Movies website, the purpose of the show has been to "provide an outlet for serious discussion about film and film music . . . Maverick at the Movies is intended to open up a greater understanding of the medium, making us all better consumers." Over the past 150 episodes I hope that I have improved your movie going experience and added something unique to KMSU and the rich southern Minnesota arts and culture scene.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who Has Hit Rock Bottom: Lindsay or Us?

Over the past few months Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears have provided enough scandal to give the Bush administration a run for its money. With this week's arrest of Lindsey Lohan on DUI and cocaine possession charges, its seems that another of Hollywood's so called "Girls Gone Wild" will face potential prison time. And since everyone loves a scandal, especially if it involves a young beautiful woman falling from grace, many "news" organizations have jumped on the story, letting it lead news segments and allowing the coverage to eclipse other issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, the 2008 Presidential race, or natural disasters. In the past few days I have observed a number of "news" programs flashing Lohan's mugshot with titles like "Girls Gone Wild" and "Hitting Rock Bottom" and diagnosing Lohan's legal issues as a symptom of addiction. I am not prepared to make a determination as to whether or not Lohan actually has an addiction, although I must say that substance abuse does not necessarily equal addiction and "rock bottom" means more than getting arrested for a DUI.

But the bigger issue here is the attention given toward the gossip. It's nothing new, as this MSNBC article illustrates. An excerpt:

When the newsmedia zeroes in on the indiscretions of a larger-than-life actor, entertainer, athlete or politician, it’s often accompanied by plenty of lofty clucking about how tabloid journalism has gotten out of hand. But we’ve always had Paris, or some other eye-poppingly wayward personage like her.

The reality may be that it’s the rampant proliferation of media in the digital age — not the public’s seemingly growing hunger for the trials, tribulations and unfortunate video moments of the famous — that has magnified the amount of celebrity journalism with which we’re inundated. Where we once got our news from the old living room Philco and the nearest newsboy, most Americans are now addicted to an intravenous drip of cable news crawls, wireless headsets and the bottomless World Wide Web.

There were, to be sure, certain factors beyond a relatively compact news industry that limited the extent of celebrity coverage in the early half of the 20th century. When told of Mitchum’s arrest, Howard Hughes’s first reaction was to ask where to direct the hush money. Police, reporters, politicians and other gatekeepers of information were more prone to back-alley arrangements then than now, in our ever more transparent age.

Sportswriters and campaign reporters, it’s now well known, were disinclined to reveal the secrets of the athletes and politicians on whose livelihood they depended. The indiscretions of Babe Ruth and John F. Kennedy are just two of the best-known examples of public figures whose statuesque shoulders have been spattered by insinuation and inference since their deaths.

Many topics were taboo. Were Montgomery Clift, for instance, acting today, he almost certainly would be expected to submit to a Barbara Walters sit-down about his sexuality. William Faulkner might have been hounded into a public apology after one of his alcoholic episodes was caught on videotape, in the next suite over from David Hasselhoff’s.

Not that the newsmedia once knew only the high road. The mysterious death of starlet Virginia Rappe at a San Francisco bacchanal hosted by the silent-film comedian Fatty Arbuckle set off a national debate about Hollywood morals — even as editors and readers alike obsessed over the sordid details.

The article, written by James Sullivan, makes some important points, that there is a strange love-hate relationship between the consumers, the media, and troubled starlets. It strikes me as a sublimated misogyny. The culture loves its beauties but it also loves to see them corrupted and ultimately destroyed. It is a symptom of sexual repression, in that we look on and lust after the bodies and lifestyles of the Lindsays and the Britneys but in order to reconcile that lust with our guilt, we relish in the degradation and punishment of the starlet. And if, by some chance, she is able to turn it around and be redeemed, that gives us a chance to now hold her up as a Madonna-figure (think Christianity, not the singer). But either way, our obsession with the corruption of women is troubling.

In recent months, I have begun to include a five minute news segment in the weekly episodes of Maverick at the Movies and I made a conscience decision to exclude celebrity gossip, partially for this reason. I believe that this obsession with gossip has polluted the discussion of film in the mass media to the point that the evaluation of film has been tainted by what celebrities are alleged to have done in the tabloids. The show has attempted to be a antidote for this and I hope that listeners can appreciate the effort.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

AFI "100 Films" List Commentary

On last Sunday's episode, I finally talked about the American Film Institute's new 100 Years, 100 Films list (see the entire list here).

Here is a breakdown of some of the changes from the 1998 list to the 2006 list:

  • Doctor Zhivago was 39
  • Birth of a Nation was 44
  • From Here to Eternity was 52
  • Amadeus was 53
  • All Quiet on the Western Front was 54
  • The Third Man was 57
  • Fantasia was 58
  • Rebel Without a Cause was 59
  • Stagecoach was 63
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind was 64
  • The Manchurian Candidate was 67
  • An American in Paris was 68
  • Wuthering Heights was 73
  • Dances with Wolves was 75
  • Giant was 82
  • Fargo was 84
  • Mutiny on the Bounty was 86
  • Frankenstein was 87
  • Patton was 89
  • The Jazz Singer was 90
  • My Fair Lady was 91
  • A Place in the Sun was 92


  • 18. The General
  • 49. Intolerance
  • 50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • 59. Nashville
  • 61. Sullivan's Travels
  • 63. Cabaret
  • 67. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • 71. Saving Private Ryan
  • 72. The Shawshank Redemption
  • 75. In the Heat of the Night
  • 77. All the President's Men
  • 81. Spartacus
  • 82. Sunrise
  • 83. Titanic
  • 85. A Night at the Opera
  • 87. 12 Angry Men
  • 89. The Sixth Sense
  • 90. Swing Time
  • 91. Sophie's Choice
  • 95. The Last Picture Show
  • 96. Do the Right Thing
  • 97. Blade Runner
  • 99. Toy Story


On both lists there are a few film that I found surprising, objectionable, or just seemed out of place on this list.

Titanic (No. 83): Against my better judgement, I've often defended this film. It is a great big sentimental romance set against the backdrop of a natural disaster. It's a great crowd-pleaser and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. However, the stilted acting, thin characters, the lack of substance, and music by Celine Dion ought to disqualify it from being considered the greatest films of all time.

The Sixth Sense (No. 89): M. Night Shyamalan has certainly had a checkered career with The Village on the high end and Signs at the bottom. This is one of his better films but it is very much a one trick pony. Once the twist of the film has been revealed, it does not play as well on repeated viewings, which ought to be a requisite of a list like this.

M-A-S-H (No. 1970): I've never been a fan of Robert Altman, who I always thought was a bit of an art house fraud. He was famous for allowing his actors to improvise, but the result was scenes that went on forever and films that were more fun for those involved in the production than for the audience. The spin off television series was far superior to this picture.

Forest Gump (No. 76): Another film that isn't bad, but seems out of place next to other films on the list. It is a great piece of nostalgia for baby boomers, but the movie does not really reveal anything about our history seeing it through Gump's eyes.

Tootsie (No. 69): Of all the films on my "What the hell?" list, this is the one I am most willing to relent on. Dustin Hoffman's performance is amazing and this film plays on the man in a dress gag better than Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, or Tyler Perry. Tootsie is noteworthy, but compared to other films on the list it just seems a bit out of place.

E..T. the Extra Terrestrial (No. 24): By no means am I a Spielberg hater. He has emerged as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, filmmaker of his generation and I was pleased to see Schinder's List and Jaws on the list. But this particular film is just too damn sentimental.

Toy Story (No. 99): I'd like to see the AFI embrace animation more than they have, so this is probably a step in the right direction. However, compared to other animated films, even recent films like Finding Nemo and Monster House, this particular choice seems odd.


Here are some films that I'd like to propose for consideration on the list. I'm not sure what films these ought to replace, if any, but they are well made, important films that are worth consideration.


  • Halloween (1973)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • The Exorcist
  • Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)
  • Evil Dead 2


  • Caddyshack
  • Airplane
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Ghost Busters


  • Moulin Rouge!
  • Chicago

Historical and Epic Films

  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • Braveheart
  • Nixon
  • Gladiator (2000)

Fantasy Films

  • Superman: The Movie
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • The Matrix
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • The Empire Strikes Back


  • Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11
  • Woodstock
  • Hearts and Minds


The AFI's 100 Years lists have been a great asset to film viewers, especially for those who haven't gone through a film studies program. There are plenty of films on the AFI's lists that are worthy and that audiences may not have heard of, and the Institute's endorsement may connect films with viewers that might not have seen them otherwise. On the other hand, there is the risk that viewers will take the list at face value and not question what was chosen and how it was compiled. And, as I've pointed out, there are certainly some questionable films here. But over all it is a boon to the advancement of cinema as an art form.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Family Movie Night in Mankato

Free, family-friendly film screenings will be held outdoors the next three Friday nights at dusk at the intergovernmental center in downtown Mankato. This is the same area that Songs on the Lawn occurs.

July 13: Happy Feet
July 20: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
July 27: The Princess Bride

The screenings are sponsored by Century 21. The films will be projected onto a large outdoor screen and refreshments will be available for 25 cents. Bring your blankets and lawn chairs.

See an interview with the coordinators from Century 21 here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

AFI's New 100 Greatest Films List

Last Wednesday, the American Film Institute announced its new list of the 100 Greatest films of all time in their 100 Years Series. Here is the new list:

1. Citizen Kane, 1941.
2. The Godfather, 1972.
3. Casablanca, 1942.
4. Raging Bull, 1980.
5. Singin' in the Rain, 1952.
6. Gone With the Wind, 1939.
7. Lawrence of Arabia, 1962.
8. Schindler's List, 1993.
9. Vertigo, 1958.
10. The Wizard of Oz, 1939.
11. City Lights, 1931.
12. The Searchers, 1956.
13. Star Wars, 1977.
14. Psycho, 1960.
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968.
16. Sunset Blvd., 1950.
17. The Graduate, 1967.
18. The General, 1927.
19. On the Waterfront, 1954.
20. It's a Wonderful Life, 1946.
21. Chinatown, 1974.
22. Some Like It Hot, 1959.
23. The Grapes of Wrath, 1940.
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982.
25. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962.
26. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939.
27. High Noon, 1952.
28. All About Eve, 1950.
29. Double Indemnity, 1944.
30. Apocalypse Now, 1979.
31. The Maltese Falcon, 1941.
32. The Godfather Part II, 1974.
33. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975.
34. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937.
35. Annie Hall, 1977.
36. The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957.
37. The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946.
38. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948.
39. Dr. Strangelove, 1964.
40. The Sound of Music, 1965.
41. King Kong, 1933.
42. Bonnie and Clyde, 1967.
43. Midnight Cowboy, 1969.
44. The Philadelphia Story, 1940.
45. Shane, 1953.
46. It Happened One Night, 1934.
47. A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951.
48. Rear Window, 1954.
49. Intolerance, 1916.
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001.
51. West Side Story, 1961.
52. Taxi Driver, 1976.
53. The Deer Hunter, 1978.
54. M-A-S-H, 1970.
55. North by Northwest, 1959.
56. Jaws, 1975.
57. Rocky, 1976.
58. The Gold Rush, 1925.
59. Nashville, 1975.
60. Duck Soup, 1933.
61. Sullivan's Travels, 1941.
62. American Graffiti, 1973.
63. Cabaret, 1972.
64. Network, 1976.
65. The African Queen, 1951.
66. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981.
67. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966.
68. Unforgiven, 1992.
69. Tootsie, 1982.
70. A Clockwork Orange, 1971.
71. Saving Private Ryan, 1998.
72. The Shawshank Redemption, 1994.
73. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969.
74. The Silence of the Lambs, 1991.
75. In the Heat of the Night, 1967.
76. Forrest Gump, 1994.
77. All the President's Men, 1976.
78. Modern Times, 1936.
79. The Wild Bunch, 1969.
80. The Apartment, 1960.
81. Spartacus, 1960.
82. Sunrise, 1927.
83. Titanic, 1997.
84. Easy Rider, 1969.
85. A Night at the Opera, 1935.
86. Platoon, 1986.
87. 12 Angry Men, 1957.
88. Bringing Up Baby, 1938.
89. The Sixth Sense, 1999.
90. Swing Time, 1936.
91. Sophie's Choice, 1982.
92. Goodfellas, 1990.
93. The French Connection, 1971.
94. Pulp Fiction, 1994.
95. The Last Picture Show, 1971.
96. Do the Right Thing, 1989.
97. Blade Runner, 1982.
98. Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942.
99. Toy Story, 1995.
100. Ben-Hur, 1959.

I will comment on the list in another post.

Ron Weasley: Ice Cream Man

This MSNBC article focusing on the three child stars of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contains this gem from actor Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley. Asked how he has spent his profits from the films, Grint replied:

“I’ve recently got an ice-cream van,” he said.

And further:

All three young stars have begun to look toward life after Harry Potter. Watson wants to attend university and would like to appear in a costume drama. Grint, too, wants to carry on acting — “and if it doesn’t work out, I’ve still got the ice cream van.”

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reflections After The Last King of Scotland

My DVD pick on the June 17th edition of Maverick at the Movies is The Last King of Scotland, a dramatized portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. After I watched it, I looked around for some other critical reactions. I had heard that some people had criticized the film as racist, a white man's depiction of Africa as a savage continent. Although most critics at gave the film a positive review, the negative reviews did level this accusation at the film:

The colonialist spirit is alive and well in The Last King of Scotland, a return to the pandering celluloid depictions of African turmoil that insist on putting a white face on black suffering.
--Jan Stuart, Newsday

I had heard some of the same comments upon the release of Blood Diamond:

Africa has long been exploited by the West: for ivory, for gold, for diamonds, for oil. And, more recently, for, and by, Hollywood.
--Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

DiCaprio is terrific, but he can't save this lecture from the shame of using Africa as a vehicle for another white man's redemption.
--Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Action and message cancel each other out. To put it another way, this movie wants you to be appalled by the real slaughter of Africans by Africans - which it blames on you - but be entertained by the slaughter of Africans by DiCaprio.
--Kyle Smith, New York Post

While I will admit that Blood Diamond was a flawed film, it did make my Honorable Mentions of 2006 list and I stand by that. What I see in these critical reactions is a slight misinterpretation of the text. Yes, these films, like Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, place white men in the jungles of Africa wherein they discover some evil part of humanity. And some people have objected to these texts, especially Conrad's, on the basis that the stories debase the native population. "Why should these indigenous cultures be the savages?" they ask. "Why is their culture equated with barbarity?" That does set up a problem, especially in a time when people are concerned with representation in art.

I think the questions and accusations are just slightly off, because the people making them presume that these texts equate the indigenous with savagery. I would challenge that, especially in these particular films. Idi Amin was a by-product of the colonial system, and this point is made in the course of the film. The Last King of Scotland points out that the British supported his coup and the political structures that Amin walked into were a result of the Uganda's history as a British territory. In Blood Diamond, the civil war in Seirra Leone is result of and supported by Western demands for illegal diamonds. DiCaprio starts out as a part of that system but ends up being redeemed by coming to the aid of indigenous people and fighting that system. The villains of the film are both white and black, and the film shows that greed knows no color barrier.

In The Ghost and the Darkness, a film also mentioned on this episode of Maverick at the Movies, a pair of lions bring construction of a British railroad to a halt as they prey on the workers. The lions are identified by some Africans as the ghosts of dead medicine men who have come to stop the expansion of Western power. While the movie is flawed in many ways, it is an interesting portrayal of nature run amok because of the presence of the colonial power. The lions are a metaphor for nature balancing against the intrusion of Western industry upon the African continent and in this story nature turns against both whites and blacks as they attempt to build a bridge to connect the two.

This is not to say that the people of Africa or other places are always represented fairly by Hollywood. Far from it. Consider Birth of a Nation, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and The Patriot. But before critics begin to categorically label films as racist or xenophobic, it would be wise to pull back the other layers of these films and attempt to discover if they penetrate deeper, as these pictures do.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Debate about Return of the Jedi

I found this vintage clip on YouTube between film critics John Simon, Roger Ebert, and Gene Siskel debating the merits of Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. Their comments are very interesting in retrospect, given what critics ended up saying about the prequel trilogy, but also because some of Simon's comments are relevent to what has happened to Hollywood and the take over of spectacle in the marketplace.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day Show: Apocalypse Now

For this Memorial Day, Maverick at the Movies will feature a condensed version of the 2-disc soundtrack to Apocalypse Now released by Electra Records. This soundtrack is unique in that it includes the music, dialogue, and sound effects of the film and as a result it plays very much like a radio drama. The album has been cut down to fit into the one hour time slot of the show and has been edited for content but retains the narrative of the film.
Apocalypse Now is one of the great war films of all time and with the Memorial Day holiday upon us, it seems appropriate to revisit the film. Narrative structure, be it in film, fine art, or literature, provides us with a sense of meaning and helps us make sense of the world either by confirming or challenging our beliefs about the world. This film does that tremendously and in the middle of a war in which the moral high ground of the United States has at least been destabilized and parallels to Vietnam have become increasingly apparent, this is a very relevent film.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NY Times: Defending Goliath: Hollywood and the Art of the Blockbuster

The New York Times has an interesting op-ed piece by Manohla Dargis defending Hollywood's summer blockbusters. An excerpt:

Blockbuster is really just descriptive, but it often carries with it a down-market whiff, as do many pop-cultural products that come with eye-catching price tags and seem precision-tooled for young audiences. Critics, including, yes, yours truly, often use blockbuster as easy (too easy) shorthand for overinflated productions that rely more on special effects than words and characters, and that distract rather than engage the audience. At its most reductive the negative spin on blockbusters is that they signal the death of cinema art and mark the triumph of the corporate bottom line, of marketing strategies, product placements and opening-weekend returns. And here you thought you were just watching Tobey Maguire run around in a unitard.

But just because a movie blows stuff up doesn’t mean it automatically stinks. A good blockbuster, like the recent Bond flick
“Casino Royale,” takes you places you might never otherwise go and shows you things you could never do. It brings you into new worlds, offers you new attractions. It takes hold of your body, making you quiver with anxiety, joy, laughter, relief. When great blockbusters sweep you up and away — I’m thinking about watching “The Matrix” for the first time with a few hundred other enraptured souls — they usher you into a realm of communal pleasure. In a culture of entertainment niches, they remind you of what going to the movies can still be like.

They also remind you that without the human factor a blockbuster is nothing but a big empty box. Blockbusters that endure strike a balance between the spectacular and the ineffably human, whether it’s
Peter O’Toole framed against the never-ending desert in “Lawrence of Arabia” or Keanu Reeves coming down to earth in “The Matrix” as he realizes that he knows kung fu. It’s the epic story of America refracted through one family in the “Godfather” films. It’s a mechanical shark and Robert Shaw remembering the U.S.S. Indianapolis in “Jaws.” It’s Tom Cruise hanging by a thread in “Mission: Impossible” and Christian Bale standing amid a cloud of bats in “Batman Begins.” It’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s wild eyes in “Titanic” and Kirsten Dunst’s sad ones in “Spider-Man.”

Many film students, critics, academics, and independent film snobs blow off glossy Hollywood product too readily, in part because it's hip to be counter-cultural and counter-corporate. And admittedly, Hollywood has given these people reason to feel that way. For every Kingdom of Heaven, we are subjected to Troy, King Arthur, 300, and the theatrical cut of Alexander. However, this is not that different from other mediums. There are some great, talented musicians working for major music labels. Think of Bruce Springsteen, Nine Inch Nails, or Tom Waits. But much of the music industry is polluted with the superficiality of MTV and American Idol's yearly search for the lowest common denominator. Likewise, there are many great writers like Salman Rushdie, Chuck Palahniuk, and Tim O'Brien who have achieved considerable literary and commercial success. But much of what makes the best seller list are books by Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, and Danielle Steel. These authors are, in part, name brands. But entertainment is a business, the second oldest profession, and (like politics, the third oldest,) it is closely related to the first. This may seem cynical, but that is reality.

Dargis makes an important point in the last paragraph of this excerpt, that "without the human factor," another way of saying good storytelling, "a blockbuster is nothing but a big empty box." Big budget film are not really all that different from their low budget counterparts. While we all notice the big budget box office and artistic disasters, there are plenty of low budget films that aren't worth their weight in popcorn (A Vincent Gallo marathon, anyone?). What Hollywood studios are able to provide are the resources to make and market a film like Gladiator or The Matrix. This simply could not be done by a low budget filmmaker. And the Hollywood distribution system is able to take independent films like Pulp Fiction or Open Water and place them in theaters located in Mankato, Minnesota rather than limiting their exhibition to New York, Los Angeles, and a few film festivals.

So go ahead and enjoy that $250 million nonstop adrenaline ride. Or take in a small intimate story produced on a shoe string budget. Just hope that when the credits role and the lights come back up that you got your money's worth.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Variety Article on Digital Film

Perhaps the digital revolution was not all it was cracked up to be? This article in Variety about the problems facing the storage of digital cinema reveals a chink in the digital armor.

An excerpt:
As far as movies are concerned, digital, like diamonds, was supposed to be forever.

No more dyes to fade, no more film stocks to decay or catch fire. Just pristine digital data, preserved for all time, and release prints as clear and sharp as the images caught by the camera.
Just one problem: For long-term storage, digital is -- so far -- proving to be a time bomb, more permanent than sand painting but not much else.

Simply put, there's no generally accepted way to store digital "footage" for more than a few months. After that the industry is using a hodgepodge of improvised solutions, some rather costly, others not very reliable.

That looked like a small problem when digital film making was limited to low-budget indies, animation houses and tech pioneers like James Cameron and George Lucas.

Now, though, that small problem is growing geometrically as the major studios shift away from film to digital capture. Such recent releases as "300," "Apocalypto," "Zodiac" and "Superman Returns" were shot on digital. Their digital masters could be seriously degraded if the problem isn't addressed quickly.

In fact, the problem is so severe that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Science and Technology Council warned in 2005 that within just a few years films shot with digital cameras could be lost.

Generally I have supported the spread of digital film because of the ease of production and post production. What before required a great deal of equipment can now be done, in a simpler form, on home computers. This is rapidly democratizing the film medium and make the form available to all, in much the same way as clay or paint are now available to all. That does not mean that the next Scorsese or Spielberg is going to emerge on YouTube, since studios provide the means for large scale production and distribution, but digital film does allow for more people to dabble in production and this experience will make them appreciate good films.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy Friday the 13th!

Happy Friday the 13th! Here are some trailers and assorted clips related to the films found on YouTube. Watching the trailers, it is interesting to observe the progression of the series from a independent slasher film to a multi-million dollar franchise.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th Part 2

Friday the 13th Part 3

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter [Ahem. Part 4]

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives - Music Video

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood - Deleted Scenes

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan - Fan Made Music Video

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Jason X

Freddy Vs. Jason

Here is one last video that reveals something interesting about Jason as a pop culture icon. Although the video is meant in fun, Jason has become lovable in an odd way, much like how Dracula began as a vicious fifteenth century warlord, grew into a Victorian vampire, and eventually became a breakfast cereal and a foam puppet that teaches America's kids mathematics. For better or worse, the same seems to be happening to Jason Voorhees.

I will play some Friday the 13th music in this weekend's episode of Maverick at the Movies. If you check out the Features section of the Maverick at the Movies site, I have uploaded an mp3 my interview with Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Tarantino Dialogue

With the release of Grindhouse, film critics Kim Morgan and David Fear debate the status of Quentin Tarantino's filmography. Here is a sample:

David Fear:
Does "Death Proof," his half of this $53-million homage, do anything but wallow in nostalgia for yesteryear's cheap thrills? It's not like I don't have a soft spot for splatter flicks and anything involving muscle cars going vroom as well. The problem is that once you're done playing spot-the-reference (Ohmygod, the chick that kinda looks like Roberta Collins is driving Kowalski's Dodge Challenger and being rammed by Snake Plissken!), you realize there isn't anything there besides "his obsessions" (e.g., a foot fetish that would rival Luis Buñuel's and others' movies). "Jackie Brown" may have been an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel on one level and a sub-blaxploitation crime film on another, but Tarantino also managed to sneak in something heartfelt into the mix: what happens to people when they get older, get burned by life and have to make up for bad decisions and lost time. For him to go from something as emotionally naked as "Brown" to the jukebox cinema of "Kill Bill" (Wow, you've seen a lot of cool Asian movies. Um, congratulations?) felt like a serious step backward. "Grindhouse" is just another series of footnotes masquerading as a narrative.

Kim Morgan:
What's wrong with a guy reveling in his encyclopedic knowledge of exploitation if he's actually being inventive and honest along the way? And both "Kill Bill" and "Death Proof" are incredibly inventive and, as you said of "Jackie Brown" (which I like -- especially Robert Forster's performance), exceptionally naked. He's not just cataloging favorite scenes from Asian cinema, spaghetti Westerns, Brian De Palma, giallo, exploitation and redneck road movies; he's actually building on them, mixing the aesthetic and thematic elements into a feverish work of grand geek opera. And he knows we know that. He's not, like some other "inspired" filmmakers, simply copying Terrence Malick or Martin Scorsese or Robert Altman; he's tweaking and amplifying what he truly knows of life -- movies -- and Tarantino is a fan of cinema from the Grindhouse to the Art House. In that sense, he's a lot like Godard. And, really, a lot like Woody Allen, who also riffs on his influences ("Stardust Memories?" Fellini, anyone?) and continually chats about movies and music throughout his films.

For myself, I am in a little of both camps. In general I do like Tarantino's work. I thought Kill Bill was incredible, with Pulp Fiction following close behind as his greatest work. On the other hand, I think Fear gets to an important point not just for Tarantino but for a lot of pop art of our period. Inter-textual references to movies, music, and other media have become increasingly used as in place of actual observation and the result is a lot of work that is made up of other pieces. Making tribute to your influences is noble, but if filmmakers (or musicians, or novelists) cannot make their own observations, then the work does not amount to much more than hero worship. This is where I think Kim Morgan's observations are right on. She writes that by combining these various genres and styles, Tarantino is able to take the old and make it new. When that is accomplished, and Tarantino did accomplish this in Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction, then audiences are treated to something really fulfilling because what it allows him to do is simultaneously make a new experience and comment on the original.