Movie news and commentary…lots of it: “The Hobbit” is cast but <sigh> Mel Gibson exists and must be dealt with, somehow (updated)

Tonight’s box office preview has been moved to tomorrow because of a couple of a films news items that just can’t quite wait. The first can be dispensed with in a second. Casting has been announced on “The Hobbit,” short, snub-nosed and talented Martin Freeman will face his inevitable hobbity destiny as Bilbo Baggins, as Peter Jackson again casts a bunch of people I’ve mostly never heard of in smaller roles who’ll probably all be great.

And then there’s this news of Mel Gibson being let go from “The Hangover 2 just a day after it was announced he’d been hired to play a supporting role. Oy.

US-CINEMA-EDGE OF DARKNESS

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The ultimate solution to the 3-D madness — “Feel Around”

I like the late Kinji Fukasaku’s film of “Battle Royale,” but maybe not quite as much as some people.

Nevertheless, this item, about a coming and seemingly utterly random 3-D retrofit of the putative “gorefest” just makes me want to fly to Monster Island and pick a fight with Ghidrah. What next, “The Wild Bunch”?

Or perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe it’s time to just go utterly all-in with the ultimate cinematic process, predicted so many years ago by the Zucker Brothers, Jim Abraham, and John Landis in “The Kentucky Fried Movie.”

  

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More movie news and stuff

Cannes is in full swing and there’s plenty other stuff going on besides — way too much to cover completely. So, consider this just me hitting a very few of the highlights of the film world right this moment.

* The critical wars are going full strength at Cannes with the biggest love-it/hate-it proposition appearing to be Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful.” I haven’t seen the film, of course, but Iñárritu is most definitely my least favorite of “the three amigos” of Mexican/Spanish/U.S. cinema. (The other two being Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro) and not only because his name is the most impossible to type. I mostly liked “Amores Perros” but his “21 Grams” and “Babel” struck me as exercises in touchy-feely realism that was a lot less real than it seemed to fancy itself.

biutiful-inniratu

Still, he’s working with different writers now and everyone seems to agree that the always great Javier Bardem is especially fine in it, so I suppose I should keep an open mind. Still, reading about the film, it’s hard not to side with the anti-faction when much of the commentary echoes my feelings about past films and when the pro-side is being taken by Jeffrey Welles, who really doesn’t seem to respond well when other people don’t love his favorite films. It’s a conspiracy, I tells ya!

In any case, David Hudson does his usual amazing job summarizing the critical reaction from a wide swath of the press; John Horn at the L.A. Times focuses on the reactions of big name critics.

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SXSW 2010: American Grindhouse

With grindhouse cinema making a bit of a comeback in recent years with movies like “Black Dynamite,” “Hell Ride,” and of course, “Grindhouse,” Elijah Drenner’s documentary about the history of exploitation film couldn’t have come at a better time. Narrated by Robert Forster (who’s appeared in his share of B-movies), “American Grindhouse” tracks this shameless and shocking breed of moviemaking from its birth in the early 1900s to its illusory transition into mainstream cinema today. Featuring interviews with directors like John Landis, Joe Dante and Jack Hill, and film historians like Eric Schaeffer and Eddie Muller, “American Grindhouse” may be a little vanilla in its presentation, but it’s a pretty fascinating story nonetheless.

In fact, while exploitation movies have been around almost as long as the movie camera itself, what’s most interesting about the genre is how much it’s evolved throughout the years. Drenner’s film studies this evolution, beginning with the implementation of the Hays Code by the MPAA, which forced filmmakers to brand their movies as “educational” in order to feature nudity or any other type of suggestive nature. This led to the “birth of baby” films of the 1930s, and eventually, branched out into the post-war burlesque movies of the 40s. For my money, though, exploitation cinema didn’t really take off until the arrival of nudie-cuties like Russ Meyer’s “The Immoral Mr. Tease” (which many consider to be the very first porno) and “women in danger” films like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “Scum of the Earth.”

Along the way, Drenner also covers the gore films of the 60s and 70s (including a lengthy discussion about Wes Craven’s controversial “The Last House on the Left”), as well Blaxploitation cinema, “women in prison” films, Nazi exploitation movies, and the mainstream success of “Deep Throat.” The film’s most interesting segment, however, isn’t really about grindhouse cinema at all, but rather studio-funded movies like “Jaws” that offered the thrills of a B-movie with the production values of a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s exactly this change in the Hollywood system that essentially put an end to grindhouse, but as director John Landis is keen to point out, the very term “exploitation” is subjective, because as long as there’s an element you can exploit, it falls under the category of an exploitation film.

Landis may be the most recognizable name in “American Grindhouse,” but without his insightful and often humorous commentary, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. He brings some really great ideas to the table that the other interview subjects fail to even consider – namely the concept that mainstream hits like “Passion of the Christ” and “American Gangster” are actually exploitation films in disguise. It certainly makes sense, and if there’s one thing you should take away from “American Grindhouse,” it’s that exploitation cinema isn’t dead. In fact, if Landis is to be believed, it never will be. That may not be what Drenner was trying to accomplish with this film, but it’s a message I’m sure he could get behind.

  

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Mid-holiday week movie news report (updated)

Somewhat to my surprise, given how slow Monday and Tuesday was, we have some movie news to report. Sadly, the first item is a bummer.

* Our very sincere condolences to the friends, family, and avid readers of writer and horror/gore maven Chas Balun, who died of cancer on December 18th. Probably mostly because of my phobia of the kind of movies he championed, Balun’s name wasn’t immediately familiar to me before this, but clearly the author and longtime contributor to Fangoria and Gorezone was a writer whose work meant a great deal to genre fans as well as a very sincere film geek/cinephile, and for that he has my respect. The Fangoria blog has a very good obituary.

* Sony has not been including a screener DVD for Duncan Jones’ highly regarded science fiction film, “Moon,” in its pre-Oscar promotional package. The result: “Twitter storm“!

Moon

* It’s now Sir Peter Jackson to you.  Considering the positive impact his LOTR tour de force must have had on the New Zealand economy, they might have considered making him king. Okay, New Zealand doesn’t have one. Also, I gather it’s more of a British Commonwealthy kind of a thing.

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