Tag Archives: movies

Pop Culture Happy Hour: More Hobbits and Christmas Music

In "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor gets militarized.

In “Terminator 2,” onetime victim Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) gets militarized.

Thanks to Pop Culture Happy Hour full-timers Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and host Linda Holmes for inviting me back on the podcast this week to talk about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and a subject closer to my heart than that one, Christmas music. Have I mentioned that I’m very interested in Christmas music?

Our dissection of that enervating Hobbit movie feeds into a discussion of second installments, and some of the ones that really work. If you haven’t seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a while, there’s no time like the present, Christmas T-minus five. Continue reading

Shock and Law: Keegan Theatre’s A Few Good Men, reviewed

Few Good Men Keegan

Ubiquitous director Jeremy Skidmore‘s tenacious production of A Few Good Men, the play that gave us Aaaron Sorkin, cuts a dashing figure in its dress whites. Reviewed in this week’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

Making-of documentary The Furious Gods reveals the people who actually made Prometheus had no idea WTF, either.

Because I routinely make terrible decisions about how to spend my ever-dwindling supply of time on Earth, I paid $24.99 (50% of MSRP) for the four-disc, 3D Blu-Ray edition of Prometheus, a film I’d harbored huge hopes for but ultimately found disappointing. A Ridley Scott film, in other words.

​I don’t have the gear or the inclination to watch a 3D movie at home, but the deluxe set that includes the 3D version of Prometheus (along with the plain-Jane 2D in three different formats, because what price piece of mind?) is the only way to get The Furious Gods, a three-hour, 40 minute (!) making-of documentary by Charles de Lauzirika, a nonfiction filmmaker whose insightful, well-edited making-ofs for similarly lavish reissues of Scott’s only two great films — all together now, Alien and Blade Runner — have already claimed many irreplaceable hours of my life.

​I’ve yet to make it all the way through the documentary. It’s long, sure, but actually it’s longer, because I’ve been watching in “enhanced mode,” meaning that when an icon appears at the top of the screen I can press a button on my remote and watch an “enhancement pod” — a video footnote, basically — containing even more nerdily trivial information about whatever specific aspect of the film’s conception and production is being discussed at that moment.

When Scott talks about casting original Dragon Tattoo Girl Noomi Rapace in the movie, you can watch her screen test. When production designer Arthur Max reflects on the creation of the movie’s titular spacecraft (which was still called the Magellan for a long time, did you know, even after the Untitled Alien Prequel acquired the name Prometheus), you can click through dozens of drawings and schematics of the ship, which I think that all of us regardless of our political differences can agree is fucking rad. You can even watch an enhancement pod about the film’s many rejected titles. Alien: Tomb of the Gods, anyone? Continue reading

Wherein I return to Pop Culture Happy Hour, and everyone attempts a Schwarzenegger impression except me.

James Bond, in DR. NO (1962) and SKYFALL (2012).

I was delighted to appear on Pop Culture Happy Hour again last week. (Listen here, you.) The show’s A-topic was movie action heroes, inspired by the publication of Arnold Schwarzengger‘s memoir Total Recall (which I’d only half-read prior to taping, on account of its 624-page girth and the fact I’m reading it in tandem with Salman Rushdie‘s equally substantial memoir Joseph Anton) and, I thought, Taken 2 (which I haven’t seen, and won’t, unless it turns up on Encore Action at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday eight months from now).

If they’d asked anyone but me to come discuss this topic, I’d have been crushed like Sarah Connor crushed the T-800′s microprocessor-controlled hyperalloy endoskeleton in a hydraulic press.

It turns out that the first half of Arnold’s book is a lot less annoying than the second half.

Happily, Taken 2 did not come up at all.

624 pages!

I’d come prepared to talk about the evolution of the cinema action hero: How the men (usually) of violence, reluctant or not, whose adventures fill seats around the world grew out of a conflation of the gangster pictures that dominated the 1930s and the westerns of the 40s and 50s. In 1962, James Bond arrives onscreen; by 1969, Bond one-timer George Lazenby is watching Telly Savalas (in his sole appearance as one of the series’ recurring characters, cat-loving Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld) break his neck on a low tree limb during the film’s climactic fight atop a bobbing bobsled (!) and observing, “He’s branched off!” Continue reading

Whatever privations and disappointments I have endured in this inconstant life, they have all been vindicated this day.

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A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations: On “Go ahead, make my day.”

Too much sugar in his coffee. From 1983′s “Sudden Impact.”

Clint Eastwood‘s dotty speech at the Republican National Convention was depressing on a number of levels. The least of them being that he croaked out the wrong Dirty Harry catchphrase. I plead my case in the City Paper.

Faux REALS: On the Longevity of the Longjohn-Wearing Hero

“…but brother, there are days when I wish I was Plastic Man or the Flash or one of those happy-go-lucky bozos.”

I wrote about Gwydion Suilebhan‘s new superhero play REALS this week, taking his provocation that “Superhero films are bad for you” as a jumping off point for talking about, well, superhero films.

Not quite 10 years ago, I spent the better part of a year trying to write one. It was called Hero Complex, and it was about a guy who becomes convinced he’s the illegitimate son of The Gryphon, the mightiest hero around. I was aiming for a bittersweet comedy with touches of doomed romance and magical realism. I pitched it to my professor and fellow students in my screenwriting program as “a Wes Anderson superhero movie.”

I wrote two full drafts and many more first acts. I had a version where my hero was in his early 20s and unattached, and a version where he was 40 and married with kids. Neither was very good, but there was a scene here, a line there, that I thought might be worth saving.

Then The Incredibles came out. That’s not a film that bears much resemblance to my description of the one I was trying to sweat into existence, but at the time it felt close enough to make me throw up my hands. I loved The Incredibles. I felt certain my screenplay would never get to be that good, no matter how many night and weekends I sacrificed to it on the altar of my crumb-covered, coffee-stained keyboard. Continue reading

SILVERDOCS: On Joe Papp in Five Acts

Joseph Papp, 1921-1991

Man, I really miss going to SILVERDOCS. I don’t think I’ve been since 2009, maybe 2008. Late June has always been a crunch for me since I started handling the City Paper’s coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival, which runs the last three weeks of July, back in 2010.

I did review a screener of one doc, Joe Papp in Five Acts, about the much beloved founder of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park and then The Public Theater.

Unnecessary Tributes: Die Hard with a Vengeance Is the Ultimate Summer Movie

“Shhhh, he’s saying we’re totally underrated.”

I’m a big admirer of Matt Singer‘s writing on film. Besides co-hosting the brilliantly titled Filmspotting SVU podcast — a streaming video-focused spinoff of Filmspotting, the long-running Chicago-based movies show I had the honor of appearing on a few times last year — he recently started Criticwire, a great blog about film criticism for Indiewire.

Each weekend, Matt sends a list of film critics a survey question and posts their responses the following Monday. I was thrilled to contribute for the first time to yesterday’s poll, on The Perfect Summer Movie. Almost every film I considered choosing for this honor did show up among the responses, suggesting strong generational (?) consensus on this issue. But I’m glad I went with a dark horse candidate. As always, I did a poor job of constraining my enthusiasm; Matt was kind to post an only slightly abridged version of my encomium — reproduced below in its breathless entirety — to Die Hard with a Vengeance. Continue reading

Studio Notes: The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)

Jack Kirby’s cover for THE AVENGERS No. 1, 1963.

Last Tuesday night I saw The Avengers, which Hulk-smashed box office records IN THE FABULOUS MARVEL MANNER over the weekend. It wasn’t the summer tent pole movie I’m most anticipating this year; Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus and Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises both have it beat by some distance on that score. But I’ve enjoyed most of the prior Marvel Studios movies (except for the dreary Thor, and The Incredible Hulk, which I haven’t seen), and while I’m no scholar of the oeuvre of Joss Whedon, the television auteur who is now The Avengers‘s writer and director, I liked Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and his run as writer of The Astonishing X-Men comic book.

I have no particular affection for the source comics, the way I do with the various Batman and X-Men films, but I found the movie to be a very affable, funny, well-made early summer blockbuster.

Emphasis early. To my mind, the natural sequence in which summer action films should be consumed is salad in May, the slightly more substantial next course in June and the red meat in July. It’s been this way at least since 1991, when Hudson Hawk and The Rocketeer (both underrated) came out in May, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves followed in June, and the never-to-be-surpassed greatest summer blockbuster of them all, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, came out July 3. Please do not make fun of the way I experience the world.

Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right: Here in no particular order are a few of the specific things about The Avengers that really worked for me, along with a few that didn’t. Continue reading

Showdown: The Edge vs. The Grey

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My NPR Monkey See debut, sorta, on MMA star Gina Carano’s film debut, sorta

MMA star Gina Carano in HAYWIRE

I have a lengthy, discursive post up on NPR’s Monkey See blog today ruminating on Steven Soderbergh‘s action-cinema debut, Haywire. Continue reading

Filmspotting No. 374: On Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, plus our Top Five Movies About Movies

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! The new episode of Filmspotting, wherein Adam Kempenaar let me sit in to talk about Alexander Payne‘s The Descendants with him and then revisit the very first Top Five topic ever discussed on the the show — Movies About Movies — is available for your listening pleasure. Don’t go trampling any Wal-Mart greeters to death tomorrow morning in your pursuit of holiday bargains, now.

All Up in Your Earbuds: I’m on Filmspotting this week!

"I hear you guys are having a little debt ceiling problem. Don't MAKE me hurl this shield. It's vibranium. Harder than unobtanium."

Well now! This doesn’t happen to me every week.

Filmspotting is a weekly podcast offering substantive, informed discussion of current and vintage cinema, produced out of Chicago — specifically, out of the WBEZ studios on Navy Pier where This American Life, one of my other must-listen podcasts, used to operate before they packed off to New York City. Of the four podcasts I consider to be appointment listening each week (the appointment is usually with my running shoes), it’s probably my favorite.

So naturally I was over the moon when Adam Kempenaar, the show’s sleep-abjuring founding co-host, invited me to call in to discuss CAPTAIN AMERICA. I expect he only did this to placate me for not winning the Wrath of Kahn edition of Massacre Theatre a couple of weeks ago. Which was wise of him, because as David O. Selznick once observed, revenge is a dish best served cold. And it is very cold in Chicago. Except for the last couple of months. Continue reading

SWAMPOODLE’D! Plus reviews of Keri Hilson at the 9:30 Club & The Moscows of Nantucket that I was too busy to link to last week.

Rachel Beauregard does not actually don boxing gloves in SWAMPOODLE that I can recall, but happily she does sing.

So, Swampoodle. A beautiful mess, is what it is. Bring your ear horn.

Also, I saw Keri Hilson play the 930 Club as the headliner of the WPGC Bithday Bash last Thursday night. The bill also included Lloyd and B.o.B., but my hopes for an all-star version of the Eastern Motors song were dashed.

Last Sunday, I saw The Moscows of Nantucket at Theater J. It’s good. More fun that that Fleet Foxes show, certainly. Continue reading

Float like that one thing; sting like another thing: A conversation with Boxing Gym director Frederick Wiseman

I teach a boxing class on Wednesday evenings. It’s at a general-interest gym, not a boxing gym, so we’re not equipped or insured for sparring, and we don’t have a speed bag or a double-ended bag, though I’m working on that. We drill with heavy bags and focus mitts with lots of calisthenics stirred in, and people looking for an intense and unique workout really seem to like it. Most folks who try the class once come back.

Anyway, I interviewed Frederick Wiseman, director of the new documentary Boxing Gym and more than three dozen others, for the Washington City Paper. You can read that here.

Mission: Expendables, Not Accomplished

Haven’t seen it, which, I know, right? I told the City Paper why.

Meanwhile: photo caption contest!

Yesterday’s Papers: Your spoilerific guide to SotG 2010 (The Year We Make Contact), never mind that it doesn’t get going for another month yet

You ain't got the gumption to use it. But he'll find it.

Summer in our Nation’s Capitol is long and hot and squishy and hot and suffocating and sultry and hot. Also, it’s been known to get a little warm on occasion, those occasions being July and August. But the sticky season is not without its pleasures. Screen on the Green, the beloved outdoor film series on the National Mall, returns next month to showcase another eclectic menu of classic flicks on four consecutive Monday evenings. Continue reading

Autarky in the E.R.:Gruesome Playground Injuries, Review’d

No time to blog, Dr. Jones; I gotta catch a bus up to New York to reconnect with my NEA theaterfolk.

But: Hey, remember that scene from 1992′s admittedly unmemorable Lethal Weapon 3, wherein Mel Gibson and Rene Russo’s two tough LAPD cops fore-play by comparing their battle scars? My review of Woolly’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, which develops that premise into a full-blown “unsentimental, nonlinear anti-romance” spanning 30 years, is right here.

And now I shall return to collaborating with G-Weld on the Broadway musical adaptation of Die Hard with a Vengeance. Happy Memorial Day, God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America.

60 Miles to Studio City

What’s with the photos? Well, My City Paper review of the Belfast-set Kenneth Branagh play Public Enemy ran yesterday. It’s a confused and often confusing show, a very uneasy meld of character study and political parable. While writing about it I thought back to when I visited Belfast in May 2007.

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These political murals fascinated me. They were not subtle. The painting was often crude, the messages cruder. They were heartfelt as a heart attack, and they were everywhere. Continue reading