Thursday, November 27, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

MSNBC: America on Film

In time for the Thanksgiving holiday, MSNBC has posted this article by Erik Lundegaard on his top picks for American epics, defining his criteria as a grand, romantic, or nostalgic story about Americans set in America. Here is an edited version of his list:

5. “Dances with Wolves” (1990) “Lawrence of Arabia” topped AFI’s list of great epics, and, in terms of story (if not greatness), “Dances” is an American “Lawrence”: the rebellious white man going native.

4. “Malcolm X” (1992) The most powerful of his conversions is the one in prison. Malcolm’s knowing hustler smile runs into the blank wall of Brother Baines’ (Albert Hall) certitude until, forced to question why he straightens his hair, and why black is always negative and white is always positive, his knowingness crumbles and he admits he doesn’t even know his own name.

3. “The Right Stuff” (1983) True, most epics are nostalgic and this one’s cynical — cynical about the way heroes are sold to the public — but it doesn’t mean the men who are sold, the seven Mercury astronauts, aren’t heroes. It’s the process the movie is cynical about.

2. “Gone with the Wind” (1939) The most popular movie of all time (adjusted for inflation) is a story between a callow woman and a cad, in which the abolition of slavery is mourned . . . Yet somehow it still works. Maybe because, despite the abundance of dashing silhouettes against red skies, the movie is too smart to believe in such romance.

1. “The Godfather – Parts I and II” (1972-74) This usually gets dumped into the gangster genre, but there is no better example of the American epic than these two films . . . If the tragedy of the first film is that Michael becomes his father (he becomes Godfather), the tragedy of the second film is that Michael isn’t enough like his father . . . Did it have to wind up this way? Vito traveled west to New York but carried something with him the entire time. Michael traveled west to Nevada but lost something in the process — if he ever had it.

Lundegaard explains American epics that didn’t make his list here.

After looking at Lundegaard's suggestions, here are some other contenders for American epics that ought to be considered:

  • Gangs of New York
  • Goodfellas
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Roots (mini-series)
  • John Adams (mini-series)
  • Forrest Gump
  • Birth of a Nation
  • Nixon
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Stagecoach

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Andy Wardinski Returns to Sounds of Cinema

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Andy Wardinski, my older brother, returns to Sounds of Cinema to co-host the show and pick the music for the episode airing Sunday, November 30.

Andy previously co-hosted an episode in May 2006. Andy's selections are primarily an ecletic mix of songs from the 1980s including Queen's theme song from Flash Gordon and music from Hoosiers and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sounds of Cinema Delayed in Winona

Due to Winona State University Women's Soccer, the programing on 89.5 KQAL FM will be delayed this Sunday. Sounds of Cinema should air at about 5pm, unless the game runs late.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spoiler Alert

Watch these guys spoil 100 popular movie surprises in under five minutes:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dear John Letter to Saw

MSNBC has posted this very funny break up letter from film critic Dave White to the Saw franchise. Here is an excerpt:

I remember our first date, “Saw.” You showed up on that tricycle and freaked me out. Then you made that guy from “Princess Bride” cut off his own foot. Then you got someone to go hide in a little kid’s bedroom closet and be a real live boogeyman.

The sexy do-or-die scenarios you rigged up were diabolical. You featured Monica Potter (an actress whose budget Julia Roberts-isms I find weirdly appealing). You were cheap and grainy and ugly and you rattled me. I had spooky dreams about you afterward, “Saw.” I knew it was love.

But you really blew it on the follow-through. You proved with each sequel that you were a one-trick doom-pony. The do-or-die setups remained somewhat interesting as the second and third and fourth remixes played on and on. But not always.

For example, what was with the hair-pulling machine in that last one? Hair-pulling? I can see meaner behavior on any Bravo reality show. Rachel Zoe, even without her squadron of crying assistants, could think up better ways to do someone in. Worse, it was clear that your heart wasn’t in it.

The urgency and evil glee that once informed your moralistic game-playing is on the wane, and your Halloweeny antics feels less and less compelling all the time. There’s nothing at stake anymore. Any random episode of Cartoon Network’s “Metalocalypse” has cooler deaths, funnier bloodshed and more narrative justification than you do.

And then you killed main baddie Jigsaw and it felt like you might go away gracefully and let me off the hook. But then you resurrected Jigsaw (sort of) and now you’ve decided to pursue these weird casting decisions: Luke from “Gilmore Girls?” What’s he going to do? Talk to me so fast my ears fall off?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

TIME: Jean-Claude Van Damme Kicks His Own Ass!

By Richard Corliss

To the uninitiated, a movie called JCVD sounds as if it's about Jesus getting the clap. But action fans will recognize the acronym of kick-boxing action star Jean-Claude Van Damme — the former European middleweight karate champ who became known as the Muscles from Brussels for headlining such middling fare as Universal Soldier and No Retreat, No Surrender.

That was in the '80s and early '90s. In the past decade, as his films have gone direct-to-video, Van Damme's career trajectory has been direct-to-commode. So he must have figured he had nothing to lose when Brussels-based director Mabrouk El Mechri offered Van Damme the chance to play himself, more or less, as a hapless has-been who gets enmeshed in a bank robbery. He was right: JCVD — which opens this weekend in New York City, and Nov. 14 in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose and Washington, D.C. — is the best movie Van Damme ever made (granted, not the highest encomium), and a cogent, probing, funny critique on celebrity in its downalator phase.

Van Damme's athletic forte, kick-boxing, is like soccer in a boxing ring — except that instead of kicking a ball you kick someone in the balls. The opening scene of JCVD gives the star a showcase and a workout. Van Damme dodges bullets and bad guys; he gets singed by a blowtorch and whacked by an opening car door. In return he uses all the artillery and furniture around him — a machine gun, a revolver, a knife, a pole, a barrel, hand grenades and his fists and feet — to kill or disable a couple dozen ruffians. The cool gimmick: the whole three-minute scene is accomplished in one shot; no cuts, no stunt doubles. (This is apparently unusual for Van Damme. One director who had worked with him said to me that the star employed 12 guys to double him in the more draining action bits, "like walking across a room.")

It's all part of a movie Van Damme is shooting, but something goes wrong toward the end of the scene, and when he complains to the Asian director, he is contemptuously dismissed. (Van Damme was the first Western action star to work with the best Hong Kong directors: Corey Yuen for No Retreat, No surrender, John Woo for Hard Target, plus two films with Tsui Hark and three with Ringo Lam. Few of them enjoyed the experience; it was like a surcharge on their visas to Hollywood.) This time, however, he begs to do a retake, though it will exhaust his well-sculpted but battered 47-year-old body. The director will have none of this: "He still thinks he's making Citizen Kane?"

Our depleted hero has also been getting heat from a custody case back in L.A. At the hearing, his ex-wife's attorney accuses him of being a poster boy for mindless violence: "How does this actor play Death? Let me count the ways: mangled under the wheels of a truck, strangulation, fracturing the skull, taking out the tibula, laceration, crushed under the wheels of a car, death by strangulation, crushed ribs, fracturing the skull, gouging the eyes..." It's a catalog that would send mothers fleeing from him in horror, and Van Damme's dwindling army of fanboys rushing to video stores.

The JCVD script, by El Mechri and Frederic Benudis , brings Van Damme back to Brussels where cab drivers and video-store hounds still recognize him, but nothing else is going right. His agent's screwing him, the court case has gone against him, he's low on funds... and now, as he enters a bank to try to cash a check, he finds it's been commandeered in a heist. The cops on the street figure Van Damme must have cracked and gone to the dark side, while the robbers are only too happy both to exploit his fame and taunt him for being unable to overcome their guns with his kick-boxing. Even Van Damme's mom believes he's the perp, not the victim, of the hostage takeover.

In Run, Lola, Run fashion, the hostage scene is played three times with subtle, crucial variations, each replay revealing more of the mystery. The climax has a few different outcomes too. But El Mechri's interest is in playing with the "real" legend of a washed-up star. It seems pretty unsparing. With the star looking puffy and played out, and with so many references to his off-screen philandering and drug use, the movie bears comparison to Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler, which like JCVD played the Toronto Film Festival, and which opens in the U.S. next month. (It happens that El Mechri's previous feature, Virgil, was also about a fighter on the skids.) But JCVD is sharper, crueler, way funnier than The Wrestler. The movie is a vision of the wages of fame that's part parody, part exposé, part justification.

The clincher is an unbroken 6-1/2 min. take of Van Damme in close-up, as the star makes a confession of his personal and career sins. "What about drugs?" he asks. "Because of a woman — well, because of love — I tried something and I got hooked. ... I was wasted mentally and physically, to the point that I got out of it." At the end he gives his apologia and renders a harsh sentence: "It's not my fault if I was cut out to be a star. I asked for it. I asked for it, really believed in it, When you're 13 you believe in your dream. Well, it came true for me. But I still ask myself today what have I done on this earth?" Through his tears he shouts, "Nothing! I've done nothing!"

So Monsieur Macho ends up crying. It is the finest, most scab-pulling performance I've seen this year, and I'm not kidding. Van Damme has been known as a martial-arts legend, movie star and pain in the ass. But never an actor — until now. By the end of his confession he could be like Robert Downey, Jr., playing Jean-Claude Van Damme. Except that there's less bravado, more real pain, because the Muscles from Brussels looks as he's giving one hell of an emotional battering to himself.

Except he's not, the director says in press notes. He's acting — in the greatest action-passion scene Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever pulled off.