Monday, April 25, 2011

SOME ODDS & ENDS, FROM HUSTON TO HESTON

Today friends and followers, I’m posting some thoughts on a range of topics, from my caricature contest winner to that caricature of a presidential candidate Donald Trump.

THE “10 THAT TERRIFIED ME” CONTEST

My follower Jeremy won with his selection of John Huston in CHINATOWN (1974) as the villain that terrified him the most. Inspired choice, Jeremy! And I hope you like the drawing I did of him. Indeed, Huston’s turn as the string-pulling, incestuous power broker Noah Cross is one that gave me the willies as well. He has only three scenes in the movie but manages to paint a vivid portrait of malevolent hubris marvelously. The way he uses his large hands to express his character’s amorality is something to see. They’re like the arms of an octopus - long, gangly, threatening, and their reach is staggering.


(BTW, John, another of my followers, won the Oscar predictions contest but has yet to pick the subject for his caricature prize. When that one is drawn, I will post it here as well. JB…we’re waiting!)

THE FUNNIEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR SO FAR

Morgan Spurlock of SUPERSIZE ME fame has a new documentary out THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD and I saw it this past weekend. It explores product placement in movies from a unique perspective - it’s been entirely financed by product placement and marketing deals. And it’s easily the most hilarious film so far this year. What makes it so amusing is the utter earnestness of some of the straight-faced marketers Spurlock interviews that aren’t quite in on his comedic slant. When he asks the executives at Ban what their brand stands for, they sit there stymied, unable to answer right away. They’re worried about how serious he takes their deodorant and of course, they take it very seriously. One exec offers up the phrase “advanced technology” to describe the state-of-the art deodorant, but it’s finally the CEO who decides that “freshness” is probably the right answer, as it sure beats unattractive words like “anti-perspirant” that conjure up thoughts about arm pits. Hilarious! 

Marketing was my profession for many years so of course I’d find this all too funny, but the other members of the audience were eating it all up with a spoon too. By the end when Spurlock visits Jimmy Kimmel in a suit decked out with all of his corporate sponsors, you can’t help but guffaw at the human Nascar he’s become. If that’s what it takes to make a movie these days, so be it. Just as long as they’re as entertaining as this one!

CHUTZPAH TRUMPS SUBSTANCE

I may be proven wrong at the end of May, but I believe that all of Donald Trump’s political posturing is not to become a legit contender for the GOP nomination but rather to simply ensure ratings for his show CELEBRITY APPRENTICE and guarantee NBC’s renewal of it. I seriously doubt such a thin-skinned celeb as Trump could stomach the scrutiny of a presidential campaign. And you watch, he’ll find some cockamamie reason to not enter the race. Like his casinos need him or his children need him. (Of course they do, they wouldn’t have careers without him.) Trump’s only interest is self-interest. America will have to wait, as he’s too busy marketing himself. He even shows up in Spurlock’s doc, talking about how to sell your brand. He knows little about securing oil fields in Libya, but a lot about snake oil. And let’s hope if another celebrity wants to follow in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps it’s someone of the caliber of George Clooney. He’s a lot smarter and tougher than The Donald, and God knows he’s got a more legitimate hairline.
ARE MOVIES TOO SHORT THESE DAYS?

A while back, when the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was taking the world by storm, critics started to wonder if movies were becoming too long and self-indulgent. Each of those brilliant films clocked in at well over three hours, but to this enthralled viewer, they didn’t feel burdensome at all. Still, I wonder if those questions about movie length worried some studios enough to start shortening their films.

I saw Robert Redford’s THE CONSPIRATOR two weeks ago and thought it needed another good half hour to tell its story. When John Wilkes Booth gets only a smattering of screen time, and he was the foremost of the conspirators, you know that movies need more minutes to tell their stories. I thought the same when I watched HBO’s TV-movie CINEMA VERITE this weekend. The documentary of the Loud family, America’s first reality series if you will, originally took up 10 hours of time on PBS back in 1974. In 2011, the TV-movie of their story took a little over an hour and a half. It’s good, and has terrific performances by Diane Lane and James Gandolfini, but I think it could have been great if it was a half hour longer. Are audiences today all stricken with attention deficit disorder?  Or just the studio heads greenlighting such projects?
IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE TRAILER, WAIT 10 MINUTES

Films like THE GREEN LANTERN, THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA have changed their trailers multiple times since they started being marketed. Apparently audiences have not responded well to them. Or is it perhaps that the American audience is starting to get exhausted watching all these superhero movies? I like comic books a lot but even I am leery of the glut of them about to open in the next few months. One trailer that does excite me is the one embedded below. It’s for a new character-driven comedy called BEGINNERS and it stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. Looks super to me. How about you?



THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AIN’T SO COMMANDING

I have not seen this classic from Cecil B. DeMille in years but managed to catch it this past Easter weekend. It’s not aged well. In fact, it’s actually quite awful. Sure this 1956 holiday perennial has some great special effects, a sumptuous score by Elmer Bernstein, and clever performances by Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Vincent Price and Nina Foch, but everything else in it seems to be covered in cheese. The writing is ham-fisted and one-dimensional. The dialogue is LOL atrocious. This is one turgid passage between the two ingénues in the movie, John Derek and Debra Paget. Paget plays Lilia, a slavegirl providing water to the thirsty stonecutter Joshua (Derek):

Lilia: Does it take the entire Nile to quench your thirst?
Joshua: No, only your lips.
Lilia: Be careful, my love. Dathan's eyes can see through stone.
Joshua: Dathan is a vulture, preying on the flesh of his own people.
Lilia: When he looks at me, I... I am afraid.
Joshua: If he touches you, I'll strangle him with his own whip!
Lilia: And bring death to a thousand others?
Joshua: Is life in bondage better than death?

Ouch. That’s terrible writing. And in his sweaty, strutting performance as Joshua, John Derek proved why he was better off as a photographer rather than an actor. DeMille was so over-the-top about everything having to do with this movie he himself provided the voice of God. (Now there’s a filmmaker Donald Trump would love!) But perhaps worst of all, the movie just goes on and on and on. It’s 220 minutes long. Long, long, long! Sometimes it felt like DeMille was in the desert as long as the children of Israel. And I can’t help but wonder if this film prevented Charlton Heston from being awarded the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It was either Chuck’s wooden stoicism as Moses here or his asinine posturing as NRA president later in life that did in his chances.

Those are my thoughts today. Thanks for following and watch for new caricature contests in the weeks ahead. Become a follower here so you are eligible. It’s the only way your messages get posted here. And your thoughts are important to me.
 

6 comments:

  1. What's next? I watched the ending of The Ten Commandments also. Being part of a Community Theatre, I thought some of the dialogue to be very "rehearsed" and almost too Shakespearian like. Do you know what I mean? Too staged.

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  2. The Ten Commandments is one of the great bad movies of all time! Whenever it's on I watch with my Dad and we go "Meh, where's your Moses NOW?" I especially love the episode of at Simpsons where Chief Wiggum arrests Ned Flanders and goes "Where's your messiah NOW?" I also love the fake trailer that makes it a teen movie, Ten Things I Hate About Commandments.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful drawing Jeff, and don't forget to send me a copy in the mail so I can put it on my wall! Real wall, not Facebook one.

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  3. That John Huston portrait is inspiring! And impossible to believe he is only in 3 scenes in the movie. I've seen it a dozen times and that little factoid never dawned on me. Incredible power in that performance. So let's NOT discuss that Fred Astaire's "acting" in THE TOWERING INFERNO grabbed Huston's shot at a Best Supporting Actor nomination back in 1974.

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  4. Karen, everything in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS felt stagey, didn't it? From the dialogue to the blocking to the sets. It just doesn't stand the test of time really. It looks like a corny, old relic.

    Jeremy, I'm so glad you like the caricature. It's been mailed and is on its way. And you're right about Edward G. Robinson being so terrible as Dathan. He was so good in other roles, from LITTLE CAESAR to SOYLENT GREEN, but here he's badly cast and sneeringly one note. I can never look at his performance without thinking of Billy Crystal's slaying of it either.

    And Ron, your praise is so inspiring! I'll keep doing more caricatures here, and at my Examiner.com postings as well. And the fact that Fred Astaire got a best supporting actor nomination at all for THE TOWERING INFERNO, let alone likely stole the older Academy vote from the brilliant Huston, well, it's another fine example of an egregious Oscar mistake. And to think that Astaire was considered the favorite that night because of sentimentality! Thank God more members were wise to award the truly worthy Robert De Niro for THE GODFATHER PART II.

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  5. Well, if movies are getting shorter these days I guess I’m not surprised. After all, we’re all so busy and over-scheduled these days, who has the TIME to sit still more than 2 hours in a theater? Not to mention that we can’t hit “Fast Forward” when we’re sitting in there and things get too slow. Are we lost without that DVR remote control?

    All kidding aside, if movies are getting shorter, perhaps it’s because over the decades mainstream films have lost minutes due to fewer complex sub-plots, less character development, shorter dialogue, and quicker cuts to the next scene. After all time is money. Theaters can crank out more showings per day with shorter films. And production costs per minute of film surely have skyrocketed, particularly due to the expense of today’s complex animation and digital effects.

    It even happens in repeats of old television shows. I heard an interview with a woman who worked on editing the 70’s TV show Charlie’s Angels to prepare it for broadcast today. There were fewer commercials and longer scenes in the original broadcasts. To fit in the number of commercials required today, she had to figure out where to cut many of the scenes; a few seconds here, a minute there. Chop, chop. Time is money here too.

    I’ve even heard film trailers are getting shorter, particularly due to competing video content on the internet. Trailers of 3-4 minutes have given way to clips of 1-2 minutes. The instant visual gratification, and intense competition for our attention on the internet has created impatience in all of us. According to YouTube statistics, viewers are highly unlikely to finish watching trailers over 3 minutes. Can the need for speed be more desirable than the need for substance?

    Is it our declining amount of free time and attention, or is it the spiraling costs of movie-making? Maybe it’s both.

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  6. Brilliantly said, Fan With No Name. Indeed it is both. Tragically.

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