Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: June 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Holistic Hat Squad

New Age Banality in The Adjustment Bureau

by Tony Dayoub

In 1986, the first abortive revival of The Twilight Zone aired “A Matter of Minutes,” a short segment within an episode. Adapted by legendary science fiction writer Harlan Ellison and story editor Rockne S. O’Bannon from Theodore Sturgeon’s short story, “Yesterday Was Monday,” the mini-episode centers on a couple who wake up one day to discover that the world around them has stopped. Reality is being taken apart and rebuilt, minute by minute, by construction workers dressed in blue. Things that already exist — their furniture, buildings, and entire city streets — are all being taken apart after being used in one minute of time, only to be replaced by identical constructs in the next minute. While trying to elude a few supervisors aware of the couple’s inadvertent intrusion behind the scenes, the young husband and wife end up running across a white void, an unconstructed area of existence the workers haven’t gotten to yet. The fascinating concept proposed by this story is a variation on solipsism, the philosophical idea that existence is limited only to what we perceive. Except that “A Matter of Minutes” proposes that there is a parallel reality — that of the construction workers — which builds the components that make up the reality of their perceptible surroundings.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Movie Review: Bad Teacher (2011) and Cars 2 (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

Quick reviews of two movies I caught this past weekend after the jump.

Peter Falk

by Tony Dayoub

"I've always been sloppy, all my life. I never could keep myself together. And I am, in person, a bit misty. I can't keep an umbrella more than 3 days. That was when I used to live in New York. I'd lose it. I'd lose everything. And frequently walk into walls. So I understood that quality. And I am a slow thinker. And I am attracted to ambiguity. I'm not somebody that has black and white answers to everything. And that kind of fits in with Columbo."
-Peter Falk on whether he identified with his famous TV detective, on Fresh Air, 1995.

Recommended Films - Murder, Inc., Pocketful of Miracles, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Robin and the 7 Hoods, The Great Race, Husbands, A Woman Under the Influence, Mikey and Nicky, The Brink's Job, The Cheap Detective, The In-Laws, ... All the Marbles, The Princess Bride, Wings of Desire, Faraway, So Close!, Undisputed

Recommended TV - Columbo

Monday, June 20, 2011

Catching Up This Week and RIP Clarence Clemons

by Tony Dayoub

Summer slothfulness has caused me to fall behind on many reviews I had planned to put up earlier, on both the DVD and theatrical front. So starting tomorrow I plan on making up for it by posting a series of capsule reviews for movies I've been seeing.

In the meantime, let us please bow our heads to possibly the best sideman in rock-and-roll history, "The Big Man," Clarence Clemons, who passed away this weekend at the age of 69.

Recommended Film and TV - New York, New York, The Wire

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Movie Review: Green Lantern (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

There are many reasons why Green Lantern fails. Here are three of the primary ones. First, the movie spends far too much time on the GL's earthbound subplots instead of his distinctive galactic milieu. Second, Warner Brothers is so concerned with strip-mining its stable of DC Comics characters in order to compete with Marvel Entertainment that the larger conglomerate slavishly follows their rival's blueprint for success instead of merely looking for inspiration in it. Last, the filmmakers who cooked Green Lantern up miss a great opportunity to offer us a different take on the superhero film, transforming the square stoic of the comics into the same prototypical smart-aleck movie antihero that's a dime a dozen these days. More on this in a moment, but let's begin with a quick primer for those unfamiliar with the 52-year-old comic book hero.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Omega Man

A tough guy’s race to the bottom in the apocalyptic noir Kiss Me Deadly

by Tony Dayoub

Has there ever been a cast of characters more deserving of the nihilistic ending that awaits them than that of Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film noir, Kiss Me Deadly? Revisiting the film on the Criterion Collection’s upcoming Blu-ray (out on June 21) reminded me that, with the exception of a handful of characters I can think of, most of the movie’s players (down to those in the smallest bit parts) are contemptible by design. Kiss Me Deadly was released at the very end of the classic noir period when the many permutations of the form were just about exhausted, and so it is entirely plausible that Aldrich, a relatively new movie director with little more than a couple of Westerns under his belt (starring the often domineering Burt Lancaster), saw an opportunity to shine by pushing the darkness in these odd personages, truly making the movie black as pitch. Deadly’s antihero (emphasis on anti-), brutish private dick Mike Hammer, epitomizes this approach. Already well-known to the public, Hammer was the star of a series of popular paperbacks written by Mickey Spillane. But when Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides (On Dangerous Ground) got hold of Spillane’s detective, they chewed up the gnarly investigator and spit out a twisted grump, amping up Hammer’s already prominent tendencies toward misogynism, narcissism, and sadism to unusually large proportions for an ostensible hero in a mainstream movie of any genre, even the morally complex film noir...


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Contender for 2011's Best Looking Blu-ray Is Also the Year's Best Kept Secret

by Tony Dayoub

Besides running my review of the new indie, Beginners, a film I'm sure will end up on my year-end top 10 list, this issue of Nomad Editions Wide Screen also contains my weekly column, DVDs of the Moment. This week, I have the pleasure of discussing the new Blu-ray release of an epic western that has quickly become one of my all-time favorite movies, William Wyler's The Big Country (1958).

Featuring an all-star cast that includes Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, Carroll Baker, Burl Ives, and Chuck Connors, this shot-in Technirama film is made for high definition, as Jeffrey Wells rather dramatically discusses in his post today at Hollywood Elsewhere. Some may find the fact that it is currently only available online through Wal-Mart, a drawback. But, at just under $10, it is a steal, especially considering that it is a remarkable upgrade from its 2001 DVD release. Though light on extras, there are a few new special features included in the Blu-ray release. More importantly, though, is the fact that the disc's gorgeous transfer is off of the 2007 Academy Restoration.

I've been watching many a classic Blu-ray since I began writing the DVD column, more so because 2011 has turned out to be a watershed year in terms of the number of Blu-ray catalog releases. And I can safely say that along with Paramount's The Ten Commandments (1956) and Warner Archive's remastered The Boy Friend (1971), Fox/MGM's The Big Country is a strong contender for best looking DVD of the year. Sure, the movie rehashes some elements of Wyler's own 1938 "southern," Jezebel (haughty, self-involved heiress irritates her noble fiance enough for him to call their wedding off; climactic pistol duel), but between Franz F. Planer's cinematography, Jerome Moross's Oscar-nominated score, and Heston being Heston (Wyler directed him in Ben-Hur the following year), this movie has a lot to offer tastes both high and low. Why don't you read why I love this movie and its new Blu-ray release?


Movie Review: Super 8 (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

Super 8 feels like the type of fun, science fiction fluff that once typified the summer blockbuster. So why is it that I'm so put off by it? If for nothing else, J.J. Abrams's movie stands out among the countless sequels and remakes that currently populate American multiplexes by being an "original" story. A throwback to Steven Spielberg's late 70s/early 80s UFO thrillers, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, for much of Super 8's, admittedly tense, running time I admired Abrams's ability to recreate much of the excitement generated by those landmark films of my youth. But shortly after the final credits rolled, my enthusiasm dissipated as I started to realize how calculated, how thoroughly engineered, Super 8 really is to tickle the nostalgic area of my brain.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Review: The Tree of Life (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

Walking out of the sold-out Friday night screening of The Tree of Life felt a bit disconcerting. For nearly 2 1/2 hours an entire auditorium of strangers, my wife, and I sat raptly as we eavesdropped into one man's soul, as facilitated by director Terrence Malick. Though its central character is the adult Jack O'Brien, the actor who portrays him, Sean Penn, appears onscreen for, maybe, no more than a quarter of an hour. That is because, as with many of us, O'Brien dwells on the formative events of his youth. So instead, it is Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, as Jack's parents, and Hunter McCracken, as Young Jack, who carry us through most of the film. Told in stream-of-consciousness, The Tree of Life unfolds at a deliberate pace on a large–some might say cosmically so–canvas, so that by the film's conclusion one feels as if one has lived an entire lifetime during the film's relatively short time-span. This is not a criticism.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

Given the decline of the X-Men movie franchise—which peaked fairly early with Bryan Singer's X2: X-Men United (not just one of the best in this series, but one of the best superhero films, period) before ending up in the execrable X-Men: The Last Stand and the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine—one would be justified in choosing to avoid the latest entry sight unseen. But the anomalous X-Men: First Class turns out to be one of the most surprising summer blockbuster hopefuls in quite a long time. The cheesy comic-book costumes glimpsed in the preview hinted that this may have initially been planned as a slapdash film hastened to the box office for fear that studio distributor 20th Century Fox's rights to the series would revert back to Marvel. However, director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) turns the inherent camp quotient into a virtue, giving us a stylized, period look at the secret history of the mutant group and its origins, at times channeling the espionage-laden eccentricities of the early 007 films.

Friday, June 3, 2011

James Arness

by Tony Dayoub

"Go ahead and take it, Jim. You're too big for pictures. Guys like Gregory Peck and I don't want a big lug like you towering over us. Make your mark in television."
           - John Wayne, advising close friend Arness—who feared being typecast—to take the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke.

The television series ran from 1955 - 1975.

Recommended Films - Battleground, The Thing from Another World, Hondo, Island in the Sky

Recommended TV - Gunsmoke