Monday, August 30, 2010

Oliver Stone: Talk Radio and Born on the Fourth of July

Talk Radio is perhaps Oliver Stone's angriest film; an apt designation considering he teamed up with an even angrier man in playwright Eric Bogosian (who also stars as the lead). What they're angry at is more arbitrary than what Ron Kovic, the subject of Stone's 1989 hit film Born on the Fourth of July, is angry at. For Kovic the focus of that anger is clear: disillusionment and betrayal from those he trusted most (his government, his parents, American ideals); however, the anger directed by Barry, the subject of Stone's 1988 film Talk Radio, is more at society in general. Both films, though, have an angry director behind the camera; crystallizing his frustrations by using others' stories as source material. In Talk Radio it's the story of 'shock jock' (before Howard Stern popularized such a term) Barry (played by Bogosian who also co-wrote the play the film is based on which is also based on a book about Alan Berg, a radio host from Denver who was murdered in 1984…whew, did you get all that?) who has a popular late night talk show that caters to all kind of right-wing nutjobs and conspiracy theorists, not to mention the usual talk radio listener who seems to only exist to continuously irk the radio host with their clichéd philosophies on life. In Born on the Fourth of July it's Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), a once baby-faced Midwestern high school wrestler who dreamt of making his mark in the Marines the way his father and grandfather (not to mention John Wayne in all of those WWII movies) did. Both films have similar themes about people being disillusioned with the culture that surrounds them, and both films have an angry undercurrent running through them.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Blog Design

I'll be back on Monday with some more posts (continuing my look at Oliver Stone's films), but first I wanted to point out the obvious: I've redesigned the blog (yet again).  So I guess I've re-redesigned the blog. Anywho, if you look up top there are now neat little tabs that will take you to a specified page with links. I will place the current year's reviews in a tab at the top (and when I was doing this I was shocked to see that I've reviewed exactly three films this year!) and any previous years will be placed on the right under their appropriate label. Also, I've added a neat little quote that from Jim's pretty much perfect.  In addition, I've added tabs for any of the major features or blogathons I've done on the blog (Italian Horror, Summer of Slash, and Best Films of the 2000's). So, yeah...hope you like the new look, and I'll be back Monday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oliver Stone: Wall Street

Taking a break from traditional war zones, Oliver Stone decided to move from the jungles of El Salvador and Vietnam to the jungle of Wall Street. The major difference is that Stone isn't as serious here as he was with his previous movies Salvador and Platoon. There's something charmingly campy about Stone's tale of 80's excess and greed in Wall Street. Most of what makes it work is the performance of Michael Douglas – a star at the time not known for these kinds of roles – and Charlie Sheen, who once again plays the wide-eyed optimist who gradually becomes more and more jaded, just like his character Chris in Platoon. The most interesting thing, though, about Wall Street is that how it shows Stone as a filmmaker stretching his legs a little bit, and showing the ability to make a different kind of picture. It would have been easy for Stone to follow up his Oscar-winning Platoon with another message movie about the war, but instead the oft-angry Stone decided to make a statement about the ridiculous ethos of the 80's, and how people in skyscrapers buying and selling companies like they're nothing are just as "lost" as the people in platoons who wandered through the jungles of Vietnam. Wall Street isn't nearly as serious as Stone's previous two films, but there's an undercurrent of anger at the Me Generation running through the campiness of the story.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Oliver Stone: Salvador and Platoon

Oliver Stone is as interesting a filmmaker we have working today in American cinema. The problem is that he basically made the same film over and over until people grew tired of his shtick. To see an Oliver Stone film is to see something controversial; the filmmaker has always been interested in not creating controversy, but seeking it out and explicating the chaos and greed and corruption of America's infrastructures (Wall Street/greed; Vietnam/war; Washington, D.C./corruption in politics; television/violence in the media). Stone got his start writing screenplays – quite popular screenplays – for big time filmmakers like Brian De Palma (Scarface) and Hal Ashby (8 Million Ways to Die), and wrote screenplays for big budget films like Conan the Barbarian. You got a sense of Stone's writing in one of his first screenplays, Midnight Express, and he would cut his teeth as a director – like so many filmmakers do – in the horror genre with films like Seizure and The Hand. However, after the success of the aforementioned screenplays Stone began working on his first feature that would set the tone for how we view Stone as a filmmaker. That feature was Salvador – a weird hybrid of an adventure film and a film about journalism while trying to be a message film. The film is flawed, but it would be the catalyst for what was Stone's most impressive run of films – a run he's likely never to duplicate.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Director Retrospectives: Oliver Stone

On September 24th Oliver Stone will release his sequel to the campy 80's drama, Wall Street. Yes, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (what a horrible subtitle) seems hardly an event to trumpeted, but I have to be honest: for maybe only the third or fourth time this year I'm actually kind of excited to go out and see a movie on the day of its release. So, prior to the release of Stone's latest film I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at his most revered period of filmmaking. From 1986 - 1995 just about every film he released was nominated for numerous Academy Awards. Now, I know that Oscar's aren't the be-all-end-all barometers of how good a movie is, but I do find it interesting for that nine year period Stone was somewhat of a golden boy in Hollywood. After the release of Nixon it seems that he his films started to become too self-indulgent and smug and he lost favor with his audiences (the tipping point was probably his overly long failure Any Given Sunday).  So what I'm interested in doing (and I'll be doing this for some other filmmakers who have films coming out this year...Peter Weir being one of them) is going  back through Stone's early oeuvre and revisiting his films to see if I can accomplish two things: a.) to see if they're as good as I remember them being (all I remember about films like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July is that I really like them, but it's been at least 10 years since I've seen them) and b.) whether or not Stone is really as good a filmmaker as I remember him being (I still love the rather polarizing JFK and Natural Born Killers), or if he's nothing more than a faux-documentarian who loves to stir the pot with his controversial films.  Look for the first set of reviews (Salvador and Platoon) on Monday.

Other filmmakers I plan on doing these retrospectives on: William Friedkin (he had quite the interesting fall in Hollywood, going from making influential crime and horror films to making straight to video movies) and Peter Weir (who, finally, has a new movie being released this year). Any other suggestions on filmmakers you would like to see me cover? Leave your suggestions in the comment section.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Two from John Huston: Prizzi’s Honor and Under the Volcano

[This post is my contribution to Adam Zanzie's John Huston blogathon; head on over to Icebox Movies to check out the rest of the great entries.]

When thinking about Adam's question and main theme for the blogathon – whether or not we can call John Huston an auteur – I knew that I wanted to consider this question while placing it within the context of Huston's late era; in this case two of the final three films he ever made. Prizzi's Honor – a dark comedy about the mobster genre – was unlike anything done at the time, and the film that preceded his penultimate project, Under the Volcano, perhaps the best movie about drinking ever made (containing one of the best performances of a drunk by Albert Finney). Each film's merits aside, were they proof that Huston was an auteur, and if they did prove that he was, what then is Huston's mark on the medium? The obvious answer is Huston's love for literature. Almost all of his films are adaptations of some sort, some from quite famous and important authors (Flannery O' Connor, Malcolm Lowry, and a little nobody with the last name Joyce, I think…), and even though his films aren't flashy or pretentious they may just be some of the most consistent pieces of work since the likes of Howard Hawks or John Ford. There's something warmly familiar about Huston's films, and there's something gratifying in the consistency at which he churns out quality picture after quality picture; in addition, there's always something postmodern or theological going on beneath the surface of his films; and the wrestling of those bigger topics is Huston's indelible thumbprint on film. To watch a John Huston film is somewhat of a con game; it's easy to find yourself thinking that what you're watching is simply quality filmmaking, but there's a lot more going on in the frame than a mere competence of filmmaking 101.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why The Expendables will be the best movie I see this summer

No, there's no logical reason for the title to this post; this is going to be strictly emotion-based. Next Friday The Expendables – a B-level action movie that seems to be so retro that it has no place being released in theaters in 2010; rather, it would be more appropriate to have it be shown between the hours of 12:45 am and 4 am on Showtime – will be released nationwide. Sylvester Stallone's recent labor of love is an attempt to bring people back to the action movie; people who have become disillusioned with the shaky-cam, CGI-fests that plague theaters and call themselves "real" or "gritty" action films. Stallone is shamelessly trying to tap into a sense of nostalgia with his latest film by casting virtually every action star from '80s and '90s (and more recent tough guys like the always great Jason Statham) from the likes of Dolph Lundgren to Bruce Willis to Jet Li to a cameo by the Governator himself. Sadly Steven Seagal (my personal favorite of the '90s action stars) and Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the opportunity to be in the film; the former because of a dislike for the producer (seems fair enough), and the latter because – and I'm not joking here – he felt like his character wasn't developed enough. You know, like his well developed characters from such classics as Nowhere to Run, Double Impact, or Hard Target. But I digress...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer of Slash: Wrap-up

Well, as you can can see apparently the summer only lasts a few months in my world. I know that technically I have an entrie month to watch more slasher/horror movies and write about them, but the truth is that I've pretty much covered all of the titles I wanted to cover. This isn't really the end of my horror movie writing, though (of course not!) as a month from now I will be joining three others in coutning down the best horror films of all time over at the place for movie polling, Wonders in the Dark. Since the four of us plan on taking our lists and finding common films among them to make the list, some of the films I will have placed on my list won't get featured, so I plan on doing my full countdown (all 100 movies!) over here in small, one-to-two paragraph reviews of each horror film. That way I can continue the horror theme (all the way through October, which this blog will once again host an Italian horror themed blogathon) while reviewing other movies, too.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my horror posts (and to those of you who read without commenting, too), and my apoligies for dropping the ball the last few weeks and not replying to comments. School is over for the summer, and work stuff won't really pick up until mid-September, so I plan on getting a lot of reviewing done here on the blog (I have a handful of 2010 films I've watched, ranging from:The Green Zone to Greenberg to Chole to The Ghost Writer, and so much more). Be on the lookout for my John Huston reviews for Adam's John Huston blogathon, and next month I'll be contributing a piece on Videodrome for Tony's David Cronenberg blogathon.  Go to those blogs and participate in the discussion.  See ya around.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In Defense of Miami Vice

Head on over to Wonders in the Dark where they've been kind of enough to let me ramble on about why I think Miami Vice is one of the best film's of the decade (in their recent poll on the subject I placed it number two). Here's a sample:

There’s nothing more cliché than an action film about two cops who go undercover and infiltrate a drug cartel; and that, while undercover, one of the cops will no doubt get in too deep while the other cop can only question his partner’s commitment to the case. Such clichés are evident in almost all of Michael Mann’s films; however, he always sidesteps the banal inevitability of said clichés by taking a fresh look at the men who lead such lives through an introspective and microscopic lens. 2006 brought Miami Vice, a film popping with beautifully filmed colors, meticulously framed skylines, and, most importantly, the type of scrupulous itemization Mann loves to display for his audiences (just watch the way his characters create sing-songy dialogue with insider jargon). For Mann, it isn’t so much about the action, but about the duty, the inner turmoil (which is always aided by beautifully shot and framed visual correlatives); they’re about why these people are driven by what they’re driven by, and how they function in the world they live in. A lot of people find Mann’s brand of “action” film boring – too much ethereal wandering that result in long, lingering takes on unnecessary close-ups or establishing shots – with not enough shoot ‘em up; I find them misunderstood, refreshing takes on tired genre tropes; existential tone poems of the crime genre that are narratively akin to the French master Jean-Pierre Melville in how the filmmaker is more concerned with the inner dilemma than the external action. If Mann’s crime films are narratively akin to Melville then surely they are visually akin to his American contemporary visual poet Terence Malick in how the film has an ease about its tone; it’s almost as if it wafts from scene to scene as if in a dream.   Miami Vice is a masterpiece of the crime genre that isn’t just the most misunderstood film of Mann’s oeuvre, but also the most misunderstood masterpiece of the last decade.