Cinema Reservoir
Breaking Cinematic Opinion and Observation

Oct
12

I know this isn’t a Woody Allen movie, but I seem to be a slave to distraction, and this Simpsons image seemed like it would make an awesome Criterion poster.

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Oct
04

Oct
04

Another one of my Favorite Woody Allen films.

Oct
04

So, I just got this copy of Photoshop and I’ve been trying to figure out all the little bells and whistles of it.  This has been pretty hard, since I haven’t had anything in mind really for a Photoshop project.   All this changed the other day when I found this site (www.mubi.com) that has a fantastic forum dedicated to fan made Criterion Collection poster and dvd cover art.  Some people make random posters, some do whole series of films.  I’ve decided to learn Photoshop by trying to redesign every Woody Allen film.  As you can see in the last post, I’ve already started with one of my favorite Allen films, Hannah and Her Sisters. Here are two other posters that I played around with, though they aren’t for Woody Allen films.

and

Not all that original, I know, but it was my first attempt.

Oct
02

Jul
24

It is quite often the case that trailers are better than their movies.  Maybe this is because a trailer is only two or three minutes long, while a bad movie can waste several hours of one’s life.    Some of the movies I have here haven’t come out yet, so the above statement may be the case when the films eventually come out, who knows?

To be honest, the concept of a film about Face Book seems a little trite to me, but when I heard it was being directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), I have to admit that my interest was piqued.  This trailer is just all around amazing.  Beginning with the strange cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” sung by what sounds like a elementary school choir behind a montage of Facebook actions and pictures.  It’s amazing how well the lyrics to “Creep” sync so well with many of the psychological themes of Facebook.  “I want a perfect body/I want a perfect soul./I want you to notice/when I’m not around…”   This leads us into actual footage of the film, shot beautifully by Jeff Cronenweth, Cinematographer on Fight Club.  The constant movement of the scenes they put together flows quite well and all the images seem to suggest a film about greed, class warfare, lawsuits and sex.   Not exactly the kind of content you would expect from a Facebook Movie.  This is the perfect trailer to get people into the theaters, especially people like me, who laughed at the idea of a film about something so current and so everyday.

Really one of the best unseen films of 2009.   The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man is a film of ambiguity and subtlety.   The trailer is great because you get the gist of the story while divulging practically nothing about what the movie is about.  It’s collage of scenes, looped endlessly, intruding and even commingling with each other does better than just explain what a plot is about, it gives you a feeling of the monotony and repetitiveness which is the architecture of protagonist Larry Gopniks life.

Who knew that when Grindhouse debuted its fake trailers that the Machete would turn out to be an actual preview for a feature film?  The new trailer seems to be a mash up of footage shot for the fake trailer plus new footage featuring a cast as impressive as the cast for The Expendables.  We have Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Robert Deniro, and Lindsay Lohan.  My favorite part has to be when Jessica Alba screams: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”  The trailer maintains that old Grindhouse feel created for the original fake trailers with scratchy looking film, closeups giving way to still shots that look like posters and extreme zooms.  It looks like a good campy time at the theater.

Todd Solondz has to be one of the most polarizing American directors working today.  His films are like a bastard child of John Waters and Woody Allen, blending the appalling with the poetic.  His new film, Life During Wartime seems to be no exception.  As a semi-sequel for his ’98 masterpiece Happiness he recasts every character and changes locations from New Jersey to Florida.  Bill Maplewood (Cirian Hinds) seems to be seeking some kind of redemption after the events of Happiness which lead him on an odyssey of sorts and back into the lives of his old family, including his two sisters in law.  It overjoys me to see Paul Ruebens in a film, looking more Pee-Wee ish than usual.  Charlotte Rampling makes an appearance in the trailer with a signature Solondz ironic line :  “I’m good at reading people… I see a man, he’s lonely and he’s straight, and that’s good enough for me.”  Oh, what surprises the characters have in store for each other.

Jul
11

GREEN ZONE (2010)  Paul Greengrass reteams with Matt Damon for a non Jason Bourne (sort of) film.  The setting is sometime during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Matt Damon is Chief warrant officer Roy Miller on a quest to prove that his bosses are faking intel on weapons of mass destruction.  There aren’t a whole lot of interesting things going on here, he tracks down an anonymous source to a shady Bush regime lackey (Greg Kinnear) and the reporter he sometimes gives false information to (Amy Ryan).  It all leads up to nothing but a pretty standard shootout involving Matt Damon and a bunch of exiled and furious members of the dispelled Republican Guard.  Unless your thing is lots of satellite imagery, steady-cam battles, and harsh political commentary I would avoid this movie.  The plot drags along at a snails pace and none of the revelations it eventually uncovers should come as a surprise to anyone who watched the news in 2003.  It just seems to me like a lot of wasted time and money on a subject that nobody really wants to talk about anymore.  Still… the cinematography was eye-catching and the acting was pretty good, especially from Amy Ryan and Brendan Gleeson.  2 out of 5 Stars on this one.

GREENBERG (2010)  Noah Baumbach writes and directs Ben Stiller as the titular Greenberg, the neurotic brother of a successful something or other in LA.  While his brother and wife are on vacation, Greenberg – on vacation from New York, comes by to stay awhile and becomes more or less dependent on his brothers personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig – the real star of the film).  Did I mention Greenberg is a neurotic?  Because he is, and this neurosis becomes the antagonist of both the plot and to the film itself.  Greenberg is a guy who can’t really seem to finish anything he starts, a problem that effects several people in the film, most notably his former band mates who are the only people he knows out in LA.  He hangs out in this empty mansion and is occasionally visited by his old best friend Ivan (Rhsy Ifans), who harbors a lot of resentment over a record deal that Greenberg ruined years ago, forcing him to find a new career path.  But most of this goes unaddressed throughout the film and only pops up after you’ve stopped caring about the subject.  Another plot thread involves his infrequent dalliances with Florence which confuse her and the audience, since Greenberg seems to be enjoying her company most of the time, but goes off on neurotic, hateful rants at the drop of a hat.  When he’s not driving Florence crazy, he’s obsessively writing letters of complaint to any and every business he comes across (American Airlines, the veterinarian, a bar he goes to, etc) or haranguing a woman he once loved (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  For many reasons, it’s hard to like the character Stiller plays.. he seems very fragile and vulnerable most of the time, then erratic and snobby only when it matters.  He berates Florence to the point the she wants to quit being the Greenberg’s assistant, then makes up with her only to act the same way again three scenes later.  It’s very hard to understand the character, yet that’s probably the point of the film; that he finds it hard to understand himself and why people are so defensive towards him.  Even still, the movie fails, in my opinion, to really get behind Greenberg and let us in on what he’s thinking and why he’s thinking it.  The film seems to be content just to let his mysterious actions speak for themselves.  3 out of 5 stars.


May
26

I could easily insert all my thoughts about this movie in my “death of escapism” post, but starting a new one is easier than trying to re-edit another.  I don’t know what’s happened to Ridley Scott, the man who brought us Alien, Blade Runner, Legend, and even Gladiator?  Here, he seems to have forgotten that films should have a thing called “Entertainment Value” and that Robin Hood wasn’t even a real person, but was only created to entertain.  The more I think about it, the more confused I get… everyone knows that origin stories are boring and cumbersome, so why did he feel the need to make up a completely unneccessary story telling us where the “Prince of Thieves” came from and how he got the last name Locksley?  I just don’t get it… I was trying not to dose off through the whole thing, in fact, the high point of the whole experience was getting locked out of the theater when I went out to smoke which was the most unpredictable part of the evening.  The acting was fine from everyone, although I felt that Max Von Sydow was woefully underused as the senile Sir Walter Locksley, Maid (no, Widow) Marion’s father-in-law. Russell Crowe was in full Scottish Gladiator mode and Cate Blanchette did the best she could with a Maid Marion who seems to have no interest in Robin Hood.  The plot is hard to follow, perhaps because it’s so deviously simple:  Robin Hood walks around Crusade-era Europe pissed off because of taxes and silly rules like, “all deer belong to the King, so you can’t kill them.”  Believe it or not, that was a plot point.  King John is depicted as basically a guy that nobody listens to, the sheriff a non-entity, and Robin Hood’s merry men complete morons who would fit perfectly in any sword and sorcery tale.  The movie ends with a title card proclaiming: The legend Begins!  But why would anyone want to show us the bits not interesting enough to be a part of the legend?  The film has no attributes to speak of, except for maybe some of the acting, but with Cate Blanchette, Von Sydow, Crowe, and that guy from the beginning of  Inglorious Basterds – who plays a frenchman doing something out in the woods, much like in Tarantino’s film – good acting becomes just part of the background and the mediocrity that is the bulk of the film is the only thing that reflects off the screen.

May
02

DISTRICT 9 – Not exactly a film of subtlety yet ridiculously entertaining and leaps and bounds better than that other movie about aliens getting evicted from their homes.  Part mockumentary, part bloody science fiction the film follows Wickus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) as he leads a military force into “District 9” (alien refugee camp) to serve eviction notices.  The first half hour is actually a comedy and seems to mimic a Christopher Guest movie, as fake talking heads discuss the situation leading to the eviction process.  These aliens, which they mockingly call Prawns, have really worn out their welcome after twenty years.  They aren’t the cute aliens we’ve seen in E.T. nor are they like the noble Navi’ from Avatar, they really do look like shrimp.  They are pretty dumb, don’t have nice manners, and are always eating catfood and chopping up pigs….. I won’t even go into their reproductive rituals.  This is one aspect that really stood out to me… the decision to make the aliens as unlikable to the audience as they are to the people in the film.  A lesser movie would have tried to create an emotional bond between us and the innocent stranded aliens, but this film makes the situation ugly from every angle.  The lightheartedness of the first half of the film quickly gives way to the brutal and gory as the film progresses and both prawn and human body parts begin exploding.  Nice uses of:  Alien abortion, self amputation, advanced weaponry gone berserk, Swine projectiles, alien/human prostitution, and finally.. the best disembowelment scene since Day of the Dead. 5 out of 5 stars.


DRAG ME TO HELL The best satanic film of the year finds Sam Raimi doing what Sam Raimi does best… making us laugh and recoil in horror at the same time.   The plot finds a meager loan clerk denying a gypsy woman an extension on her mortgage.  Well.. that turns out to be the first of a series of bad ideas this clerk (played by Allison Loehman) makes.  The second is letting that old gypsy take a button off her blouse and use it to put a  curse on her.  From that point forward she learns all about gypsy justice, which involves having the devil torment her for three days before literally dragging her to hell.  Highlights include:  Ridiculously campy titles, psychotic zoom, anything disgusting that will fit into Allison Loehman’s mouth, embalming fluid vomitus, arterial spray from nasal passages, zombie goats, stapler jujitsu, ruler jujitsu, rotting denture jujitsu, possessed diner table center pieces, and perhaps the pis de resistance…. kitten sacrifice accompanied by unexpected kitten regurgitation.  4 out of 5 shrieking hell hounds.

DAMAGES (the third season so far) This is one of the most fantastic shows I have ever seen.  For those of you who haven’t seen any season of this excellent series:  it follows Patty Hewes (Glen Close) – a high profile lawyer who seeks the titular monetary damages from super rich bastards who have screwed millions out of people.  This season finds Hewes searching for the hidden fortune of a Bernie Madoff style banker.  The real standouts this season are his wife (played by Lilly Tomlin) and their faithful lawyer (an unsettling Martin Short).  This may seem like odd casting, but for us devout Damages fans, we know that Damages has an odd tendency to cast comic actors in deranged roles (see season 1 villain Ted Danson or season 2’s psychotic assassin played by Daryl Hammond).  So Tomlin and Martin are in good company this season as they hide the fortune their patriarch stashed away for them and poison anyone who threatens to shake their status quo.  The real brilliance, of course, is that our heroine – Patty Hewes – is not without her psychotic side too.  Indeed… she’s had as many people killed as her defendants have yet gotten away with it every time.  HIGHLIGHTS this season include (SO FAR):  3 dead bodies (2 poisoned, 1 stabbed THEN drowned), a car crash with a phantom driver, multiple nightmares involving bloody feet and bloody marinara sauce AND a horse (not in that order, unfortunately), dysfunctional family with multiple secret bastard children, tear soaked sleeves of Lilly Tomlin, and the ONLY downside to this season…. Tragic absence of talk show host/dear Hewes friend GRETTA VAN SUSTEREN, yet with two episodes left I’m not going to count her out just yet.  UPDATE:  7 dead bodies (two poisoned, one stabbed, one drowned, one beaten/shot to death, and two gangland style executions.  I can’t tell you who’s who out of the mix, that might spoil things for those of you who haven’t seen the finale yet.


SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009) George Romero has zombies on the brain, who knew? Well this is the 6th film in his zombie catalog and I would have to rank it somewhere in the middle, the best being “Dawn of the Dead” and the worst being “Land of the Dead”.  The premise of “Survival” one goes thusly:  there’s an island off the coast of Connecticut (I think) where everyone speaks with Irish accents and the two most powerful people on the island, a Mr. Patrick O’Flynn and a Mr. Seamus Muldoon, disagree on how to handle the ever-worsening zombie holocaust.  O’Flynn wants to kill any zombie that he sees, while Muldoon wants to keep them around “Just in case” there’s a cure…. I could never figure out if he thought there was going to be a cure for “throat ripped out” but that’s really neither here nor there. Anyway, Muldoon has more guns, so he kicks O’Flynn out, but months later O’Flynn returns with a bunch of National Guard members and an androgynous guy in the hopes of reclaiming the island.  The biggest problem I have with this zombie outing is that it isn’t really attempting to be scary, at least I hope it isn’t.  Most of it takes place in the light of day, so there’s no real opportunity for anything to come out of nowhere.  There aren’t any scenes of cities overrun, there aren’t any severely marred zombies to excite the imagination… in fact, this film probably has the least bloody premise of them all.  There’s even a zombie that spends her time riding  her favorite horse all over the island.  Still the movie is very very watchable and does add up to something in the end, which is more than I can say for Romero’s previous two films.  Nice uses of:  Pitchfork impalement, white zombie slavery, zombie rodeo with lasso and hogties, redneck zombie hunters, Old family rivalries, cantankerous old men, Lake-O-Zombies, and wild wild west style stand-offs.  200 undead bodies.  2 1/2 stars.


CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) Being such a huge fan of the original Ray Harryhausen “Clash” I just had to see the remake.  I have to say that I wasn’t entirely disappointed.  The plot is basically identical to the original, Perseus (Sam Worthington) must save the beautiful Princess Andromeda from a gruesome sacrifice to the Kraken, a multi-tentacled Titan called forth by the gods due to a foolish boast that Andromeda was more beautiful than any god.  So, Perseus goes on a perilous mission to capture Medusa’s head so that he can turn the Kraken to stone.  In the interest of ‘legitimate’ film criticism, I’ll say this:  When you remake a movie, especially an action/fantasy film, one of the main reasons is to update the special effects.  Usually this would be an easy feat, except it’s remaking a film that was only made for it’s special effects.  So it has some significant shoes to fill… and in general it doesn’t fill them very well.  The only scene I would say is better than in the original is the climactic fight between Perseus and the Kraken, as there wasn’t that much of a fight put up in the original… He basically just shows up riding Pegasus and aims Medusa’s head toward the Kraken, as he tries to wave him away.  Anyway… a decent mind numbing action film, but it sorely lacks the care and craft that Ray Harryhausen imbued the original with.  NICE USES OF: Super strong Calibos, Bubo cameo,   impressive harpie/Pegasus/Perseus battle, giant scorpions with stinger impalements, crazy citizen who warns everyone not to anger the Gods, Medusa scene with decapitation.



Apr
26

If you are, as I am, a die hard James Bond Fan, then it may interest you to know that there are almost as many Bond themes that went unused as there are actual Bond themes.  I realize that that is quite the confusing sentence, so let me clarify…  For every title sequence you watch during a Bond film, with accompanying song, there are several songs that artists made for the film that were rejected by the Broccoli family of producers.

There are probably several reasons for there being several songs produced for a James Bond adventure.  One reason is that the producers, in conjunction with the composer (most frequently John Barry), initially choose an artist and work with him/her and then realize that the song doesn’t fit with the tone of the film, therefore they hire somebody else, repeat the process… and so on, and so on until they get the desired result.  Another reason could be that they give several artists a chance at singing the theme, listen to them all and decide who made the best one, then reproduce the song to mesh with the Bond score.  In several cases, the answer is simple:  most of the early Bond films ended with the exciting proclamation that “James Bond Will Return in…..”  so everyone could guess what the title of the next song would be.  What artist wouldn’t dream of singing a Bond song?  It’ll be heard by practically everyone in the civilized world, so why not just make a song up with the name of the new film and send it to the producers?  (this probably didn’t work so well with tricky titles such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or The Man With The Golden Gun) Either way, the producers don’t usually speak about such matters publicly, so it really is a mystery as to why some of these alternate themes were never used, sometimes replaced by much much worse themes.

Let’s start with one of the most famous Bond tunes.. GOLDFINGER.  John Barry composed the song, while Anthony Newley (then husband of Joan Collins, and her “favorite” ex-husband) and Leslie Bricusse provided the lyrics with Newley on vocals.  Probably due to his working with Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, she was called in to re-do the vocals and an instant classic was made.  Newley’s version can be heard on the 30th anniversary cd “The Best of Bond… James Bond,” listen to his whispery version compared to the take no prisoners voice of Bassey and you can see why a change was necessary.

THUNDERBALL was, in the end, sung by Tom Jones.  However the original title of the song was “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and John Barry had such success with the lyrics of Leslie Bricusse and the vocals of Shirley Bassey, they brought her in again to do the title song.  A short time late, for no apparent reason other than that she was a fresher name, they brought in Dionne Warwick to do a version of the song.  This version lasted throughout the scoring process, therefore a lot of the musical cues from “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” can be heard all through the film.  At the very last minute Cubby Broccoli  and Harry Saltzman got worried that people wouldn’t associate the song with Thunderball unless it shared the same title, hence a hasty recording with Tom Jones on vocals with lyrics by Don Black.  Legend has it that Tom Jones passed out after sustaining that final note a second too long.

with Dionne Warwick:

With Shirley Bassey:

In an interesting side note, undoubtedly roused by the prospect of singing a Bond tune, none other than The Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash, recorded an interesting take on the title Thunderball.

Perhaps John Barry’s most beautiful song is “You Only Live Twice” made famous by Nancy Sinatra, who Barry reported that it took 25 takes to record because Sinatra was so nervous and thought she sounded like Minnie Mouse.  Before Sinatra there was a singer named Julie Rogers who made an attempt at the song, but her version lacks the amazing wispy opening bars and main theme that made Nancy Sinatra’s so iconic.

In the mid 90’s an alternate track was discovered at RCA records sung by Lorraine Chandler:

With The Man With The Golden Gun it’s probably the case that Alice Cooper saw at the end of Live and Let Die what the next film was going to be called and created his own version of it for consideration by the producers.  Cooper claims that it was the song that was going to be used until the producers had LULU preform it.  Who knows, but the song appeared in Coopers album “Love Muscle”:

With Moonraker we again find Shirley Bassey singing the theme song, but she was apparently called in at the last minute by producers after their first choice, Johnny Mathis, was unable to complete the recording with John Barry for undisclosed reasons.  Unfortunately Mathis never finished the song for release on any of his subsequent albums.

For Your Eyes Only has the distinction of being the only title sequence to feature the singer, Sheena Easton.  But it would probably have been a much cooler title sequence had they put their original choice, Blondie, in the title sequence.  Blondie’s version differs significantly from the final version and ultimately appeared on the Blondie album THE HUNTER.

Goldeneye features many a soundtrack discrepancy… Bono and the Edge scored a version of the main theme, while Eric Serra composed the rest of the soundtrack.  In the final cut of the film, this disconnect between the main theme and the rest of the score was widely criticized.  Whether it was due to the long and well documented financial trouble at United Artists, causing Timothy Dalton drop out of playing Bond a third time, or some other obscure reason, Ace of Base recorded a version of Goldeneye before Bono and Tina Turner had their go at it.  Retitled “The Juvenile”  instead of “The Goldeneye” and released as a single, though you can still catch several elements from the plot in the song, such as “Tomorrow’s foe is now a friend”:

When David Arnold was chosen as a permanent replacement for John Barry he decided to hold a competition to see who would sing the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. Artists that bid for the honor included Swan Lee, K.D. Lang, Pulp, Saint Etienne, and Sheryl Crow.  Though Crow eventually won out, I can’t help but think that the decision came down to who the producers thought had the widest appeal and reputation.  Otherwise they would have ignored Crow’s anemic theme and gone for either Swan Lee’s trippy tune or K.D. Lang’s very Bassey-esque ballad.  Swan Lee went on to release the song as a single with a video mimicking Maurice Binder’s famous “projected on gold” title sequence from Goldfinger and K.D. Lang’s was so close to the composer’s heart that he scored the whole movie around her version and, while she didn’t get the title spot, he put her over the closing credits.

Swan Lee’s “Tomorrow Never Dies”:

K.D. Lang’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” or “Surrender”

Here’s an unused Theme for The World is Not Enough performed by the band STRAW, probably submitted for consideration to the producers.  It has many themes found throughout the Bond series, most notably “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and the lyric “we’ve got all the time in the world” from the famous Louis Armstrong tune from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service .  Ultimately Garbage won out and did a pretty decent Theme.

Recently Amy Winehouse announced she was recording a demo for Quantum of Solace, but that song, unfortunately never surfaced.  It would have surely been better than the song we got via the vocal mismatching of Alicia Keys and Jack White.

So, in the end, what do we get out of all this?  I suppose what really surfaces is that a lot of people want to do James Bond themes, and a lot of them go ahead and make one, but only a handful actually make it into the exclusive club of BOND SINGERS.