April 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Wilder – The Front Page (1974)

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Hildy Johnson (Jack Lemmon) is the top reporter on a Chicago newspaper during the 1920s. Tired of the whole game he's determined to quit his job to get married. His scheming editor, Walter Burns (Walter Matthau), has other plans though. It's the day before guilty (but insane) murderer, Earl Williams, is due to go to the gallows and Burns tempts Johnson to stay and write the story.

The Front Page 1974 Wilder Lemmon MathauRyan COMMENTARY w/ RatingWhen I was getting my journalism degree and before I learned that newsrooms are sad places where dreams go to die, I pictured/hoped that working as a journalist was like Superman (who wouldn't want to work at "The Daily Planet") the Ron Howard film The Paper or like one of my favorite classic films His Girl Friday. I wanted to work in the environment where everyone talks in quippy phrases, all actions are weighted with important consequences and everything went so FAST. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were great in His Girl Friday and it was directed wonderfully by Howard Hawkes that it has become one of my favorite screwball comedies from this era.

Why have I talked so much about my career aspirations and my love for a Howard Hawkes film in our series for Billy Wilder? The reason is simple, I used to not like The Front Page because I compared it to a film I loved in His Girl Friday. The Front Page was a remake of the stage play that was then turned into a film and then remade as His Girl Friday so this version is the 3rd movie of the same story.

Was it a movie that needed to be made? Not at all and that is where I always got off the train with the film in the past. There was no reason to remake it since they perfected it last time and it was always going to be in the shadow of the all time classic. Yet, I watched it again this time with fresh eyes and with a goal not to compare it to His Girl Friday but look at it within Wilder's career had taken him at this time. When I did this, I found the movie to be an amusing 1:45 of my time. It is not one of Wilder's greats or even on the tier below but anytime Lemmon, Matthau and Wilder team up so far I have had a good time.

This is another time where Matthau steals all the good moments and leaves poor Lemmon to always be the straight man. I love how Wilder uses Matthau, much like he did in The Fortune Cookie, as that loveable guy that you would never trust if he was in your own life. Watching Matthau scream into the phone with that exasperated tone always amuses me and some of the other journalists in the courthouse were fun little Wilder characters.

I also liked how this movie lets it be known that it is set in Chicago in the 20s and goes to town with the corruption of the city at that time and how jaded the reporters would have been to it all. I think this is also one of the better uses of color that Wilder has used because some of the settings and scenes popped.

Danny, is this an enjoyable movie and nothing more or am I now being too kind to the film?


Pain & Gain (2013)

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Soon to be dead and bloatedAndrew DISLIKE BannerSomething depressed Michael Bay.  I won't give the power over to our collective critical bashing of his entire career, but Pain & Gain was a guaranteed smash if he had stuck to his normal routine.  It's about a bonkers story filled with a lot of violence, a setting that allows Bay's problematic views on women some context, and a trio of muscles for brains protagonists that would do well in his all action universe.  For Bay, this is an underhanded lob tossed straight down the middle of the plate.

So what happened?  P&G is two different films at once and because of Bay's choices both of them are boring.  The worse of the two is the story of American exceptionalism run amok.  It's a somber affair filled with Bay's slow-motion, billowing American flags, and sad music playing in the background.  The other embraces the worst aspects of Bay's films, casual misogyny, racism, and general disregard for people who aren't white Americans - but meshes them with an excellent script and a trio of superb comic performances.  The result is that neither works, the former failing to make much of a strong point and its somber attitude killing the brutal comedy of the other.


Evil Dead (2013)

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evildead2Jacob // LIKE Banner

Evil Dead 2013 is one of those films I've been waiting for with equal parts excitement and dread since sometime in early 2000s when rumors of a remake started circulating. Excitement because I've been a fan of the Evil Dead series and Sam Raimi since I first saw Army of Darkness twenty-some years ago. Dread because when's the last time you remember a good horror remake?

For those of you going in completely blind, Evil Dead is a story of five kids spending a weekend in the woods and getting murdered horribly by demons. That's pretty much it. Like the original, it's light on plot and heavy on gore. Mia (Jane Levy) is trying to kick her drug addiction, so she's gather a few of her college friends and her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) to take her out into a secluded cabin for the week so she can detox. Things go as well as they can in that situation, at least until one of the kids decides to read the scary book wrapped in barbed wire that has “DO NOT READ THIS” crudely scrawled on every page. Cue demons, destruction and about 100 gallons of fake blood.


Oliver Stone: Natural Born Killers (1994)

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Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) are the latest media sensation.  They kill their way across America leaving one victim alive to tell the story of what happened and to leave no question about who murdered who.  Is it a party or a compulsion?  Does it really matter when so many cameras are on?  Oliver Stone directs their story with an eye on the media and a whole lot of blood ready to spill.This is how the end of the world startsKyle Commentary BannerWe have reached it. We have reached a point where, to paraphrase something a friend of mine once said, “the Oliver Stone has turned against us.” Sweet gentle Jesus I hate this movie. I hate it so bad that trying to craft a witty attack just now, I blacked out and came to teeth-clenched in a blind rage several hours later. For weeks now we've seen Stone's style become more and more distinct, a sensationalism that provided JFK with an energy essential to its success—now form has overtaken function and left it dying by the side of the road. Natural Born Killers is a pretentious and shallow exercise in beating the audience over the head with ideas that are perfectly evident on their own, as the director stands just off screen wide-eyed and muttering “Brilliant!” to himself.

I see what Stone is doing here. I get it. He wants to use the same aesthetic tactics of news coverage and dramatic reenactments on prime-time news programs to show how the media is complicit in social violence by sensationalizing real-world crimes. The problem is that he puts these aesthetic maneuvers at the forefront. They aren't simply tools utilized alongside elements of the plot and performances to create an indictment of the media—they are the indictment. Everything is hyper-stylized and exaggerated to a point of lunacy, and not only is this insanely distracting, but it also prevents us from seeing the characters or events as anything other than a bizarre, prolonged cartoon.

The first scene of the movie alone makes this approach unbearable. We get a camera that's constantly moving, multiple types of film stock (including the wavy black-and-white familiar from reenactments on true-crime shows), jump cut after jump cut, and an idiotic shot of a knife flying end over end through the air to a sudden and completely out-of-the-blue classical music track. What is this supposed to achieve? To get us to view the movie as a meta-fiction blurring the line between “real-life” reenactments and entertainment? To do that it would have to actually resemble the former, not simply overuse a single identifiable technique. To criticize our tendency to view violence as entertainment rather than tragedy? Then why the need to so blatantly turn the act into a cartoon?


Promised Land (2012)

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Here's the dreamAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerPromised Land is Gus Van Sant's comfortable return to a well-worn pair of pants.  It takes another two actors, in this case Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who wrote the screenplay together.  Tosses in a couple of elderly mentor types who both want to help, in the case of Frances McDormand, and teach, which is the niche Hal Holbrook fills.  There's the antagonistic could-be friend played by Krasinski, and a few inspiring speeches along with way.

Van Sant has already made this film three times.  At this point it's become a very polite game of Mad Libs instead of a personal mission statement.  All he has to do is throw in those described elements, leave onscreen for about an hour and a half, throw in some pleasing landscape shots and - voilà - instant harmless but pleasing film.  On its face this isn't a bad thing, but the results are so blandly pleasing that the director of arty experiments like Elephant and better pleasantries like Good Will Hunting should have other things to do.