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Turner Classic Film Fest: A history of violence

I know, pretty dark headline for  a post about a really fun, glamor heavy film fest. All the more so because, at least for me, TCM  Fest is the kind of event that  can put you in a kind of steel bubble which the daily news can barely pierce. If another Cuban Missile Crisis happened during Comic-Con, what would happen? Maybe if it ended differently this time.

Indeed, even a momentous event  like the death of Osama Bin Laden could just barely penetrate TCM’s  mix of Hollywood fantasy and scholarship. For me, the news first came as I overheard another filmgoer during an intermission of “West Side Story,” which I had popped in on just to see how good the 70mm print was, say to another. “No, he’s really dead.” I figured it was another classic film star gone forever. George Chakiris, who played Sharks leader Bernardo, had introduced the screening, but how were Jets Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn doing?

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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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RIP Tura Satana

I was very sad to learn yesterday of the death at age 73 of a true grindhouse legend and an early icon of female empowerment. I had the good fortune of having a couple of longish chats with Tura Satana, the legendary star of Russ Meyer’s 1965 grindhouse tour de force, “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and other light classics of exploitation cinema. We both appeared in my friend Cody Jarrett’s women-in-prison opus, “Sugarboxx,” though she actually got to speak. She enjoyed talking about the old days and I certainly didn’t mind listening.

One-quarter Japanese, Filipino, Cheyenne-Indian, and Scots-Irish, her story included a childhood stay in Manzanar, one of the internment camps where all Japanese-Americans on the West coast were illegally forced to spend World War II. She was a victim of a childhood rape who, she said, eventually tracked down all her attackers. That anger would later find an outlet in her work, to say the least.

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Her performing career began with notoriety as an exotic dancer and martial artist. A gig posing erotically for photographs by aging silent comedy superstar Harold Lloyd led Lloyd to suggest a career in movies. She eventually made a brief appearance in Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce” and that was followed by her bone-crunching interpretation as the villainous/anti-heroic Varla in Russ Meyer’s insane mix of sexual innuendo and, for the time, shocking violence. She would likely have appeared in later Meyer films, but she was unwilling to do the kind of nudity that was his usual calling card. A certain amount of tragedy followed her later in life and her 1970s career was cut short by a bullet wound, her children, and a second career as a nurse.

Tura wasn’t Dame Judi Dench, but then Dame Judi is no Tura Satana. She was one very cool, very brassy woman who held an audience’s attention in a way that was entirely unique to her and entirely unforgettable.

For more, please do check out some of the links at MUBI and also Kimberly Lindberg’s really great 2007 tribute and bio. After the flip, I have a few key moments of Satana.

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A movie moment for Mark Zuckerberg

When it came time for me to do my movie news dump late Friday night, I somehow managed to forget the news item from the middle of the week that Facebook founder and reluctant movie character Mark Zuckerberg had been named Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year. It’s an oversight I can’t bring myself to ignore completely.

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Looking at past selectees, 26 year-old billionaire Zuckerberg is hardly the only one to have a movie made about his exploits. In terms of sheer footage, he’s got nothing on such occasional film lead figures and frequent supporting players as Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and, most frequent of all, Adolf Hitler.

What is unique about Zuckerberg is that “The Social Network” came out the same year as his selection and, in a peculiar way, probably helped him to get it. Reading the Time article about Zuckerberg by geek journalist and fantasy novelist Lev Grossman, I can only marvel at some very shrewd PR work by someone. The article goes out of its way to present a highly sympathetic alternative from the “angry-robot” of the movie to a figure more akin to the stiff but kindly Tin Woodman. If writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher portrayed Zuckerberg as a bit like the treacherous Ash from “Alien,” Grossman turns him into the quirky but lovable Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The words “Eduardo Saverin” and the legal troubles portrayed in the film are never mentioned in the online version of the article that I read.

I strongly suspect Zuckerberg’s knowledge of movie history doesn’t extend much further back than “Alien.” However, even with all the image rebuffing a billionaire’s money and power affords him, I’m sure he’d prefer the old days of movie biopics where, if powerful celebrities were portrayed at all, they were portrayed positively. Not only were possibly imaginary warts not added, as they might have been by Sorkin and Fincher, very real ones were actively removed.

I’ve never seen it, but check out the trailer below for Billy Wilder’s 1957 biopic about perhaps the most ironically similar Time Person of the Year (back when it was “Man of the Year”) to Zuckerberg, aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh. As the L.A. Times reminds us, Lindbergh was also the first person chosen and the only one younger than the Facebook fonder. What Zuckerberg feels he is doing to bring people together virtually, Lindbergh was instrumental in doing physically by demonstrating that a nonstop flight from New York to Paris was possible. At this point in history at least, in some ways Lindbergh’s achievement still dwarfs Zuckerberg’s. That may change fairly soon, but there’s no doubt what Lindbergh did commanded a huge personal risk and, eventually, a personal price with the most infamous kidnapping and murder case in American history.

Ironically, while it might said that the Jewish American Sorkin went hammer and tong against the Jewish Zuckerberg, Billy Wilder by all accounts went easy on the famous flyer when, under the circumstances, it would be entirely understandable for Wilder to despise Lindbergh. Working thirty years after the famous flight of “Lucky Lindy,” Wilder was able to completely ignore Lindbergh’s highly controversial early opposition to World War II and qualified support for Hitler as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, his antisemitism, white supremacist beliefs (though hardly unusual at the time), and links to the more openly Jew-hating Henry Ford. Wilder you see, was not just a liberal Jew who advocated for U.S. involvement in the war, but an actual escapee from Hitler’s Europe whose immediate family perished at Auschwitz.

If there was any revenge by Wilder at all, star James Stewart was nearly 50 when the movie was released, double the age Lindbergh was when he came to fame. Jessie Eisenberg might be, unusually for the movies, smaller and less physically fit looking than the real-life Zuckerberg, but at least he’s still only 27.

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Pretty funny/Less funny or “Actors With and Without Benefits”

I’m returning to my occasional game of comparison between successful and not so successful attempts at humor with a contrast that’s less outrageous than usual. Today we have two new trailers for comic films dealing with the not-really-so-new phenomenon of people having sex with friends they’re not actually dating.  Neither is bad, exactly, but I think one is definitely funnier than the other.

The trailer that came out last night for “No Strings Attached” isn’t terribly unfunny. It also isn’t all that terribly funny or compelling and, in my view, there’s mostly one reason for that and he’s winking at you right now. See if you agree.

Now, we move along to today’s Red Band (and hence a bit mildly NSWF) trailer for the similarly themed movie with the title you knew someone was going to use: “Friends With Benefits.”

Not necessarily a work of genius but pretty entertaining stuff that had me laughing out loud right at the end. The difference? Well, it’s pretty clear that we have a leading man issue. Though I might be tempted to argue he’s a better producer than director, Ivan Reitman has certainly proven he can make a very decent, or better than decent, comedy. However, Billy Wilder, himself would have probably made a mediocre film if the studio saddled him with an Ashton Kutcher equivalent. Natalie Portman‘s a very good actress who I’m sure will bring out the best in Kutcher, but his best, as far as I can tell, isn’t good.

Starting out as a teen idol, some initially dismissed Justin Timberlake in much the same way I still dismiss Kutcher and, before I actually saw him in anything, I might have expected to feel the same. Funny part is, Timberlake turned out to be a hard working and very likable actor, and his notices for “The Social Network” indicate he’s going to continue to be moving up. He also he has no problem making fun of himself and his career so far. Here, it really pays off and with Mila Kunis — another actor who’s turned out much better so far than I originally expected — he’s really got something to work with. A wise choice by “Easy A” director Will Gluck.

So, my advice to directors considering casting choices is clear: seek the Timberlake; avoid the Kutcher.

H/t Screencrave and /film.

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Wise words on the occasion of “Sunset Boulevard” turning 60

It’s the 60th anniversary of the release day of the most admired film ever made about Hollywood and the movie business and very possibly the best, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard.” If you haven’t seen it, today wouldn’t be a bad day to do so. If you don’t have time, A.O. Scott has a pretty good quick rundown for you.

One observation about how our attitude towards aging has changed since 1950 due to culture and medical science: Norma Desmond was only 50. Meryl Streep is 61 and Helen Mirren is 65. I’m not saying we no longer have a problem with aging, just that it seems possible for some people to do it extremely well and women may at last starting to be catching up to men in being able to play the “ageless” game. Not that Desmondism was rampant in 1950 more than today, though I can’t think of any female stars of the era who were still playing leads in their sixties. Norma’s career problem wasn’t so much physical aging or even being seriously delusional, but that she had been too much associated with a moribund genre and a specific by-gone era. Sort of like David Crosby.

If you have seen the whole movie, then you should check out Edward Copeland’s enjoyable and thoughtful appreciation of one of his favorite films. Also, I thought it would be nice to hear just a couple of notes for directors by the movie’s director and cowriter, Billy Wilder, himself from back in 1976. First on the one thing a director must know how to do.

After the flip, Mr. Wilder addresses a subject highly relevant to his more atmospheric pictures like “Sunset Boulevard” and, almost as much, “Double Indemnity.”

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Hurried and harried midweek movie news

I’m blogging tonight from the Gower Gulch Starbucks, right in the heart of deepest darkest Hollywood, and as I said in the post right below this, seriously pressed for time tonight. A bunch of work still to be done ,a studio screening, plus a bunch of other stuff that won’t interest you. Also, there’s a guy behind me conducting an impromptu revival service for an audience of none, which is a little distracting.

So, that Comic-Con thumb-sucker will just have to wait as I present only a few selected items of movie news to nourish your spirits.

* Speaking of Comic-Con, in terms of innovation, influence, and ability to tell a simple story very well, Will Eisner was pretty much the D.W. Griffith, John Ford, and Billy Wilder of comic books all rolled into one, but few people who aren’t serious comics fans even know his name. 2008′s despicable “The Spirit” most certainly did not help with his memory or in terms of encouraging a younger generation to check out his work. (I’m glad the movie did horribly because if kids had liked the hyperviolent and mean-spirited film, they would have had no time for the humanistic original.).

Now, via /Film’s Russ Fischer, we hear that an appropriately low budget/indie film version of Eisner’s groundbreaking non-genre comic, “A Contract with God,” is in the works. Among other points of interest, it was the book that caused Eisner to come up with the term “graphic novel” when he was led to believe the publisher wouldn’t want to be involved with a mere “comic book.” Ironically enough, it’s actually a collection of related short stories and the term “graphic novel” actually may predate the incident, so Fischer isn’t  wrong when he says it’s not the first graphic novel. I truly hope this turns out well and makes everyone forget that other movie. It was nice that this was announced at the awards named for Eisner, who died in 2005, at Comic-Con.

eisner

* In the here-we-go-again file, it looks like Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is being delayed for the millionth time, says the Playlist. And check out that graphic making Gilliam look a bit like a certain Mr. Orson Welles, who also struggled for years to make his vision of Cervantes’ classic delusional non-knight-errant.

* Another Deadline story: Kudos to writer Phil Johnston and Zack Galifianakis for taking on the deadly scourge that is the “Reply All” button. The children must be warned.

* The Jack Sparrow comparison will come easily to many with news of Russell Brand’s possible swashbuckling debut, but any excuse for swordfighting comedies that might actually be good works for me. (Actually, the character as described reminds me more than a bit of George MacDonald Fraser’s “Royal Flash,” portrayed by a young Malcolm McDowell. Never read the book(s) or saw the movie, but since it was directed by the great Richard Lester, I really need to.)

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Well, maybe this will tide you over, Tolkien-adaptation wise. No, probably not.

I was really hoping to have time for a decent Friday night/end of week movie news dump, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve no time to do one of my usual semi-comprehensive end of week looks at movie news tonight. Fortunately, outside of continuing discussions of how the receipts of “Kick-Ass” will turn out over the weekend, not a huge amount that’s too earth shattering is going on.

However, I do have time for one item that will definitely put a mild damper on the days of hobbit-heads of all shapes and sizes, and aren’t almost all of us at least slightly hobbit-headed. We have word — really more in the nature of a reminder — from none other than producer Peter Jackson that the all-but promised twin film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s unintended prelude to The Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit, to be directed by Guillermo del Toro aren’t exactly a 100% completely done deal yet, though I’d be beyond shocked if they somehow didn’t happen considering the talent involved and the success of the earlier films.

Nevertheless, the films have not been greenlit and, therefore, no start date has been set. For the same reason, no actual casting has been done. Oh, and by the way, the script was only finished last week. (Well, some movies don’t have a script when shooting starts. Some good ones, too — but not too many that weren’t made by Billy Wilder and none that requires this level of technical preparation.)

Of course, considering everything, doing the films should be a slam dunk but, as previously mentioned in many places the ongoing disaster and ensuing sale of MGM has simply gotten in the way. The Playlist has the details and the, er, gentle reminders to be cool, though most of the actual news is contained in this brief interview with Moviefone.

In the meantime, well, any excuse to run this great musical moment from “Flight of the Chonchords.” How often can you summarize over 10 hours worth of movie in under two minutes, and with such a good collection of beats?

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Movie loving movie moments, Pt. 1

For numerous reasons, I haven’t had time to give certain movie news items their due this week, like the inevitable lawsuit that accompanies any unexpectedly successful film and countless items about who’s going to be in which movie (maybe), or how every single movie will be in 3-D or whatever.

But here’s the thing, I’ve been through a lot this past month or so (though things seem to be resolving themselves nicely, thank you), the Oscars are coming and for numerous reasons, I’m behind on my movie going and badly in need of a shot or two or three of movie love.

I may acknowledge the results of the very important Independent Spirit Awards tomorrow morning — a bit begrudgingly since Film Independent teased me by sending me an application and then rejecting me as not quite important enough to attend. However, as far as my other daily blog posts are otherwise concerned for the next two days as I prepare for the closest thing this non-sports-fan has to a superbowl, they are going to be little shots of film love. Nothing but clips that will remind me why I love movies and maybe draw you in a bit too.

So, why do I love movies, well, for starters there’s violence.

And where there’s violence, there must also be a little sex.

More to come.

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Golden Globe movie wrap-up: It’s an “Avatar,” “The Hangover” kind of a crazy, mixed-up night

First of all, I would like to thank my DVR for allowing me to watch a three hour telecast in less than 115 minutes. Also, Will Harris, you crazy Golden Globes Premium Hollywood TV live blogger, put down the Maker’s Mark and go to bed!

But, before I get carried away with paraphrasing Sandra Bullock‘s Best Actress in a Drama acceptance speech tonight, first of all let me make clear that I’m not going to attempt to one-up Mr. Harris’s live-blog extravaganza. No, I’ll simply start by linking to a complete list of tonight’s results and some (I’m thinking relatively brief) thoughts on the cinematic goings on tonight.

Okay, so here’s that link to the results courtesy of /Film and now on to the bloggy/thinky portion of tonight’s festivities.

Big deals: Clearly, the film headlines tonight are the awards that went to James Cameron’s ultimate-big-deal of a movie called “Avatar” and this year’s ultimate mega-successful modestly budget comedy, “The Hangover“. It’s the kind of comedy that never gets nominated for, much less wins, awards no matter how well constructed, and this was one incredibly well-constructed comedy. I’m delighted to see it get this kind of recognition. I truly couldn’t imagine a better movie with that premise and its success shows that you can make a male-oriented farce that respects its viewers’ intelligence and better natures. As for “Avatar,” does anyone even care what I think? It is what it is. Ask me again in a couple of months.

Biggest non-surprises of the night: The supporting actor twosome Mo’Nique from “Precious” and Christoph Waltz from “Inglourious Basterds” won, yet again, and seem about as big a lock for Oscars as you ever get. Both are sure getting a lot of practice at the art of acceptance speeches. Mo’Nique’s speech was both king of moving and way over-the-top in that actory way some folks (like Drew Barrymore, who praised it one of her typically overwhelmed acceptance speeches) just eat up with a fork. Waltz, who really does seem to be a pretty humble guy, was a bit more low key with a nice riff on the international nature of the Hollywood Foreign Press’s awards. I think we’ve got a buddy-cop movie, possibly directed by Michael Bay, with Waltz and Mo’Nique in our collective futures. “Bad Goys”?

Jeff Bridges Best Actor award is starting to edge into the same kind of category and he’s starting to look like a gigantic Oscar shoe-in. It’s as if everyone suddenly remembered how great he’s been in countless movies all at the same time. “You’re really screwing up my under appreciated status here,” he said. As well they should.

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