November 14, 2008

My dream week of theater programming

There's a great little independent movie theater in my native Boston called the Brattle Theatre. It has hosted such pivotal moments in my life as almost getting a picture with Simon Pegg and going to a screening of American Splendor because I knew a cute boy was going but ultimately falling completely in love with the film and forgetting the boy. Anyway, they have a cool annual raffle (called the Braffle!) where the winner gets to pick a night of programming for the theater. Anything you want them to show, they'll try to dig it up (read more about it here ). Winning that would clearly be awesome, but I couldn't even begin to think of what I'd pick if I only had one night. Thus my interest was piqued when they posted their schedule for this past March (yes, I started this post a while ago), and I noticed that one of their repertory series is called "Selected By...Andrew Bujalski." Bujalski is a local indie filmmaker ( and now, the target of my fierce jealousy. I've decided that being chosen to inflict your taste upon people - for a week! - is the ultimate measure of success. You can check out his picks here - or just do what I did and start thinking about what your dream program would be.

Let's say you had six days (as Andrew did). You can do single or double features, maybe a triple, themed or not. But before you just start rattling off all your favorite movies, there are some things to take into consideration. First of all, you might want to think in terms of films that could benefit from being shown on the big screen. Silent expressionist classics? Sure. Lavish musicals? Totally. A Will Ferrell movie? Not really. Second, this is your chance to tell people what they should see. Maybe you really like Jaws, but bringing Jaws to the masses won't really make a statement at this point. It's your chance to be that cool friend saying "hey, check out this movie, maybe you haven't heard of it but I think you'll like it" on a large scale. Finally, you would want to pick films that say something about you as an artist or as a person. If someone told you that they like the Beatles, does that really narrow down what kind of a person they are at all? Similarly, if you were to screen Star Wars or The Godfather or The Wizard of Oz, that's pretty noncommittal. Everyone likes those. Also, if you want, it's fun to think of films that go well together, either thematically, chronologically, by person, etc...

So after some consideration, here is my dream "Selects" series!

Ruthless ambition night!

Election (1999)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Though one is a perky high school student and the other is a sleazy and desperate ad man in New York, both Tracy Flick and Sidney Falco are experts at clawing their way to the top. Election's dark comedy would complement the acidic tone of the jazz-tinged Sweet Smell.

Dance! Dance! Dance!

Center Stage (2000
All That Jazz (1979)

The former is just a straight-up guilty pleasure. It's what a ridiculous dance movie should be: absurd and contrived dialogue, unlikely coincidences, and unironically awesome dance sequences. The latter is especially timely due to the recent passing of its star, Roy Scheider. If you only know Scheider as Captain Brody from Jaws, you're in for a treat if you witness his bravura performance as a thinly veiled portrayal of the film's director, Bob Fosse. Although he doesn't actually do much singing or dancing, those duties are more than amply distributed to the rest of the cast, who create an alternately jubilant, morose, and surreal experience. Would be amazing on the big screen.

Pedro Almodóvar night!

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown) (1988)
Carne trémula (Live Flesh) (1997)
Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) (1999)

This is my frenzied cry for America to pay more attention to Pedro. He is my favorite director working today, and the only one whose movies I consistently get ridiculously excited for. I try to push him on people at every possible opportunity. This trio of films represents the three stages of his career pretty well. Early on, his movies were lusty screwball farces, of which Mujeres is the best example. Carne marked his move into melodrama, but is still teeming with the extravagant excess of his earlier work. Todo sobre mi madre is one of my absolute favorite films of all time, and represents a maturation and polish to his films. No detail is overlooked, and Almodóvar dictates everything from casting to set design to soundtrack. He is pure cinema. (They actually had a Pedro program at the Brattle this summer, so maybe this would be better somewhere else.)

Rockin the suburbs!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1959)
Little Children (2006)

Two very different films, from very different times, that echo the same sentiment: the suburbs are fucked up. The ORIGINAL Body Snatchers (I don't mess with the 70s version, or that Nicole Kidman remake crap) begs the question of whether the emotionless clones of citizens that begin to appear are symbolic of Communists. Whether they are or not, I think we can all agree that giant oozing pods appearing all over town and spawning evil clones is fairly problematic. Little Children, a criminally overlooked masterpiece of 2006, deals instead with inner demons - adultery, pedophilia, porn addiction, isolation, insecurity, and other fun things of that nature. And Patrick Wilson is gorgeous, so now you have no excuse for missing this nonexistent event.

Modern black and white night!

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

I'm always interested by modern filmmakers who choose to film in black and white. Some, like Kevin Smith for Clerks, do it for financial reasons, but Clooney and the Coens wisely chose it for artistic reasons. Both films, set around mid-century, make ample use of gorgeous cinematography with no shortage of langurous cigarette smoking. Stunning cinematography and acting would make this pairing a knockout.


What a Way to Go! (1964)

A breezy matinee to cap off the week. Did you know that there's a movie starring Shirley MacLaine, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman and Dean Martin, that's a dark comedy that parodies silent film, French film, and musicals? Yes. This exists. And it's awesome.

What would yours be, for a day or a week?

November 11, 2008

What a movie ad's choice of endorsing quote says about the film quality

Having worked at a video store and having seen my fair share of movie posters, ads, and DVD covers in my time, I feel that I have developed a pretty good system of "reading" endorsement quotes. It's really not enough to hear that it's the best movie of the year - you need to know who said so. Additionally, it's only partially about what reviews were received - it's about what review is displayed. Presumably, the quote they choose to flaunt is the best they have. A movie isn't going to proudly display a quote from some podunk reviewer for an Alabama newspaper if they have a glowing review from Variety. So, going on the assumption that the review on the poster is the best and most prestigious one the film has to date, let's see how you can interpret their choice to determine the film's quality. I know this sytem isn't perfect, but it's fairly accurate. Please don't bother giving yourself a hernia from angry commenting, because I know there are exceptions and on some level, this is INTENDED TO BE HUMOROUS. I have provided crappy pictures that I took myself as examples.

If the most prominently (or only) displayed endorsement quote is from...

Local TV or radio stations: it's crap. Also, be wary of reviews that are just straight comparisons. One of my all-time favorites is "If you like Jack Black, you'll like Nacho Libre!" (from the Nacho Libre poster. Wow, bold statement!)

Roger Ebert: This can mean one of two things. It either means that every critic loved it and they snatched up Roger Ebert's quote because he has the most name recognition, OR Roger Ebert was the only one who liked it. Very often he's alone in his favorable opinion of a movie.
Pete Hammond (of Maxim/ Doesn't look good. This guy is the world's biggest sellout. I don't think he has ever written a bad review in his life. He called The Women, a chick flick most chicks couldn't get behind, "hilarious, flat-out fun."

Tabloids/fashion magazines: it's crap. They probably just liked it because it some someone fabulous in it. (If you can't read it, the endorsements below are from Star and Vogue.)

Peter Travers (of Rolling Stone): Peter Travers' opinon of films is comparable to a 13-year-old boy's opinion. He will like it if it is cool, fast-paced, or features explosions, frat-boy humor, a totally awesome soundtrack, and/or shiny things. Depending on your tastes, this is not necessarily bad.

Horror websites, i.e. - It will appeal to horror fans and no one else.

No review: This was not screened for press. It is most certainly crap, and even its makers have no faith in it.

Dropping festival names: If it says the film was an official selection or won things, that's a good sign. Be wary, however, when it says it was just...there.

Associated Press: AVOID.

Some family-type organization: Children can see it and they will not start worshipping Satan. Other than that, no quality can be guaranteed.
Generally, the smaller the name of the reviewing party is printed, the less people want you to know who said it and just remember the sentiment.
Have you found these assessments to be true?