Entertainers We Take Seriously

ronald-reagan

You may not remember him, but Will Rogers was both a beloved cowboy and a humorist. Once, he said, “Everything changes. People are now taking their comedians more seriously and their politicians as jokes.” Ironically, this comment was made back in the early part of the 20th century. That was when the comedic period in America was at its highest. However, it does seem to be true more now than ever.

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The monstrous politics of horror

Since, as happens every two years at least, Halloween coincides with a crucial U.S. national election, a selection of scenes from a few politically themed horror/monster films feels right. We’ll start with the obvious.

In some ways I think a little overrated, John Carpenter’s science-fiction/action/creepy alien monster flick from 1988 ,”They Live,” seems to me a thorough-going and obvious from-the-left savaging of the Reagan years and the consumerist, bland cultural mentality that went with it. Yet, oddly enough, it’s imagery has been picked up online by some Reagan-worshipping teapartiers. Well, history probably isn’t their favorite subject.

More clips and  commentary after the flip

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A Chat with Bill Rebane (“Monster A Go-Go”)

Although the competition for the honor of being declared “The Worst Movie Ever Made” is one of the strongest in all of popular culture, there are some titles which continue to come up again and again. “Monster A Go-Go” is one of them…and, unlike “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” it’s a film so bad that even the man who directed it is willing to concede that it deserves to take home the win. Premium Hollywood had the opportunity to chat with Bill Rebane, who helmed “Monster A Go-Go,” upon the release of a special edition DVD, and even though 45 years have passed since the film’s original release, he still stands by his position on the matter.

Bill Rebane: Hello, Mr. Harris! How are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m good! How are you?

BR: Hanging in there!

BE: (Laughs) Same here! Well, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. I actually just finished watching the special edition of “Monster A Go-Go” this morning.

BR: Oh, I feel so sorry for you…

BE: (Laughs) Well, it’s funny: at first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to broach the subject of the film’s reputation, but throughout the special features, you pointedly say that it is the worst movie ever made.

BR: Well, that was my impression when I first saw it. Three years after I gave it to Herschel Lewis to finish, the first time I saw it, I said, “Oh, my God, this is the worst picture I’ve ever seen.” That’s not exactly what we had in mind when we started…

BE: So to jump to prior to “Monster A Go-Go,” how did you get into filmmaking in the first place? Were you a movie buff as a kid and worked your way into the business gradually?

BR: Well, when I came to this country, I was obsessed with movies of that time, the old movies from Hollywood’s golden age, and I went to the theaters and spent maybe half a day…more than half a day…watching movies to learn English. I was a singer and dancer during that time. In fact, I actually started out wanting to make musicals. And then the occasion arose in Germany…I went back to Germany and worked with some filmmakers there, professionals, and learned a little bit, and came back to the States and started making short subjects.

BE: How did you make the move from short subjects to the feature-length?

BR: Well, it was timely. I was a realist. I was acutely aware of the marketplace, what was going, and it seemed very timely to do a science-fiction monster movie at that time for the drive-in theaters. We wrote a pretty cohesive script, a story-oriented project, and I dove into it. But I didn’t know that Chicago wouldn’t… (Hesitates) I made those short subjects with the union, and when they heard that I was making a feature film, they pretty much clamped down on me and said, “Yeah, you’re going to make it union, right?” I said, “Those were not my intentions.” And then they merrily went on to basically confiscate the whole budget, put it in Escrow, and they would take care of it. So we ended up with maybe two hours of good time of shooting, and the rest of it was spent on setting up heavy equipment. There wasn’t much of a break we got in those days. It’s not how independent pictures should be made to begin with. I lost the star, Peter Thompson, a week into production because of time constraints. And then I went on to a second part the same year, actually…1961, ’62…to do the rest of the picture with a non-union crew. And that’s how Herschel Lewis entered the picture. I hired him as a cameraman and a production manager, and we finished all the exteriors and everything that I thought we needed to do, except the actual final ending. We never got to that, which was about 10 minutes or 20 minutes of stuff, again running out of money. Herschel Lewis needed a picture for a double bill at drive-in theaters, and I turned the picture over to him for post-production, not knowing what he would do and what he could do. And about three years later, I looked at it. It was not the same title. It was now “Monster A Go-Go.” It had already run in some theaters in the South. And… (Starts to laugh) …I was more than surprised. I was a bit shocked. I said, “This has got to be the worst picture I’ve ever seen.”

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Midweek movie news

You’d think Jewish New Year and Labor Day coming so close together would slow down the pace of movie news a little, but leisure is for suckers and Yahweh is just another bit player in this hard luck town.

* The talk of the geek-o-sphere for some time is going to be the announcement of a massive and potentially trendsetting film/television cross-over adaptation of Stephen King’s multi-volume “The Dark Tower” mega-epic. Universal, which has had some very tough times lately, is taking what I’m guessing could be a make-it-or-break-it gamble on the project, the news of which was broken by Mike Fleming earlier.  I’m not a King reader, but I am intrigued by the fact that it’s a western-science fiction-horror cross-breed. In any case apparently the plan is to start with a movie, go to a 22 episode not-so-mini-series, and then onto another movie, another series, then wrapping it all up with movie. The idea being to provide fans with both the grandeur of theatrical films and the detail and time of a television series.

the_dark_tower

It’s intriguing but laden with potential pitfalls. One is that it demands an awful lot of time and people who aren’t following the series may feel shut out of the latter two movies. The other is that, quite frankly, I feel the “A Dangerous Mind” creative team of director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman — who I gather will be writing and directing the first two films and the entire first series at least, which could be some kind of record if that’s what’s really going to happen — simply haven’t indicated they’re up to this kind of material. I hate to say it but winning Oscars can be negative indicator sometimes.

It’s not that I doubt their ability to crank it all out. Howard is obviously a very competent director who knows how to make highly professional material and I have tremendous respect for him as an individual and one of the more positive forces in Big Moviedom. However, he’s always shown a tendency to play it safe and often a bit dull when the chips are really down creatively as a director and none of Goldsman’s movies have been all that inspiring to me either. All I’m saying is that I had a good feeling about Peter Jackson taking on “The Lord of the Rings” and I have a bad feeling about it, though I’d seriously love to be wrong.  Something tells me this project needs a real lunatic and Ron Howard is one of the sanest guys in show business. Huge King fan Quint at AICN has similar misgivings. He has a more riding on this than I.

* Simon Abrams is right re: “Kick-Ass” doing a lot better than people assumed. Even though I cover the weekend grosses here, we all make way too much of those openings and fail to look at the overall picture. Calling a movie a bomb that makes nearly half its budget in its opening weekend is just idiotic anyhow. The actual success of the film may have figured in the ongoing financial struggles between Lionsgate and Carl Icahn.

Aaron Johnson is

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Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

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