October 2007 Archives

papelbon.jpgThe morning after the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series (following two miserable seasons of championship drought), two people approached me in McDonald’s. I was wearing a Red Sox shirt. We were in northern Arkansas, beginning an 11-hour drive north after a weekend of wedding festivities. Incidentally, I eat at McDonald’s about as often as the Red Sox win the World Series.

One person wanted to know how Game 4 had come out. (Very well, thank you.) The other marveled at seeing another Red Sox fan in Arkansas. (Just visiting.)

I smiled and chatted with the people who talked to me, but it didn’t feel like my team had just won the World Series.

Ballots for Ed Hardy Jr.’s 31 Flicks That Give You the Willies are due by the end of October 28. Remember: Your movies can’t win if you don’t play.

Here’s my ballot, sent without consulting my nominations.

(And, as of November 2, the list is fully annotated.)

Not One of Us

witness3.jpgMore than a half-century separates these two movies, and they obviously live in different parts of town. Tod Browning’s horror classic Freaks was controversial upon its release in 1932 and hasn’t lost much shock value, with its use of real sideshow performers and the uncomfortable mixture of exploitation and sympathy. Peter Weir’s Witness is a mild drama about the Amish that masquerades as a cop thriller. (Or is a cop thriller disguised as an Amish drama?)

Yet the two have much in common.

I warned you last week to expect wackiness in this edition of the Box Office Power Rankings, and for once, I don’t disappoint.

There are four genuinely new releases in this week’s rankings — including box-office champ 30 Days of Night and the well-reviewed Gone Baby Gone — so it makes perfect sense that a 14-year-old movie tops the charts this week.

Yes, the 3D re-release of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas used positive (if moldy) reviews and none-better per-theater revenue to edge Michael Clayton, that new vampires-in-Alaska flick, and Ben Affleck’s debut as a director.

On a personal note, I think Burton’s apex was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and I didn’t care for Nightmare (which he produced and co-wrote and put his name on) when it first came out. I expect his Sweeney Todd will suck, and I hope to revel in its commercial and critical failure here in the Box Office Power Rankings. And if I’m wrong, I expect to hear it from all you Burton apologists.

Continue reading for last week’s full rankings and the methodology.

The Eyes of Anna

funnygames13.jpgWriter/director Michael Haneke’s 1997 film Funny Games feels like a response to something that hadn’t happened yet. Sure, we’d had Natural Born Killers and other ultra-violent movies, but the fetishism of agony hadn’t yet become a crass trend.

The prospect of Haneke’s English-language remake — due in theaters in late winter and starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth — is worrisome. (George Sluizer’s American botch of his own The Vanishing comes to mind.) But it’s also necessary; as unpleasant as it is, Funny Games deserves to be seen more widely because it forces introspection. I doubt you can watch it without seriously considering why you watch movies of this sort, and how you react to them.

And it’s more timely now than it was upon its initial release a decade ago.

For me, the film is most striking in the scene in which Anna (Susanne Lothar) is forced by white-clad, white-gloved psychopathic visitors Peter and Paul to remove her clothes, while her helpless husband (The Lives of Others’ Ulrich Mühe) casts his eyes down and her young son sits on a couch with a bag over his head.

It was a perfect storm in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings.

The audience magnet of Tyler Perry met the critical favor accorded Michael Clayton met the in-between-on-both-measures We Own the Night, so we have a three-way tie for this past weekend’s title. And The Seeker got a perfectly awful score, ranking in 10th place in all four measures.

Expect similar wackiness this coming weekend.

And I’ll make a bold prediction: The Comebacks will not top next week’s rankings.

Continue reading for last week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Open Hand

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There are dozens of close-ups of hands in Peter Weir’s Fearless, and mostly the extremities belong to Max Klein, the distant plane-crash survivor played by Jeff Bridges. What follows is not a comprehensive catalog but covers the majority of these shots. They are presented in the order in which they appear in the movie.

I’ve been curious about the hand shots for years, but even after collecting these screen captures I don’t have a firm grasp on their meaning. So I’m throwing them out there and welcoming comments, hypotheses, and arguments.

Shootin’ the Shit

smoke8.jpg
The movie begins in Auggie Wren’s cigar shop with omniscient chatter about the Mets and ends in a deli with a made-up tale about how Auggie got his first camera. Almost everything in between is also bullshit, in the sense that its relationship with objective reality is utilitarian. We speak the truth when it suits our needs, but we shouldn’t let it get in the way of the story we’re trying to spin.

Smoke, the 1995 collaboration between director Wayne Wang and author Paul Auster, isn’t judgmental about lies and half-truths. It pays respect to and finds value in narratives of all sorts, from an anecdote about Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh and the weight of smoke to the construction of identity through fibs.

But that doesn’t really become clear until the deli scene, in which Auggie tells about how he had Christmas dinner with the blind grandma of a kid who shoplifted from his store and ended up taking a brand-new camera from her apartment. Auggie’s audience, a novelist named Paul Benjamin, gently summarizes the movie:

“Bullshit is a real talent, Auggie. To make up a good story, a person has to know how to push all the right buttons. I’d say you’re up there among the masters.”“What do you mean?”“It’s a good story.”

It is a good story. And Smoke won’t let you forget it.

And I thought last week was grim ... .

With Eastern Promises dropping out of the box-office top 10, there is now only one movie in our rankings with a Rotten Tomatoes score over 53: 3:10 to Yuma.

This week’s Box Office Power Rankings champion is The Kingdom, owner of a Rotten Tomatoes score of 53. Seven of the box-office top 10 have an RT score of 29 or below. It would appear that September and early October have become the new January in terms of dumping shit product into the marketplace.

In January, of course, we also get the wider release of December Oscar bait. And, thankfully, now the early batch of prestige pictures has arrived, with Elizabeth: The Golden Age opening and Michael Clayton and Across the Universe expanding.

Continue reading for last week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Fear Is Not Enough

Mommy's little monsters: 'The Brood'In David Cronenberg’s The Brood, the monsters have the size and shape (and snowsuits) of little children, but everything else about them is off. You could point to their foreheads, or their noses, or their skin tone, or the color of their hair, or the way they move, but that misses the bigger picture. There’s no single element that makes these creatures grotesque. It’s the collection of features and details that approach being normally human without ever getting there.

The discomfiting effect is related to the uncanny valley, which suggests that people are repulsed by things (robots, computer animation) that too closely approximate reality.

“Repulsed” is the key word. These little children might scare you, but your reaction as a viewer isn’t based on fear for the safety of the movie’s characters. (These little buggers are nasty, but they’re also pretty ridiculous as assassins.) Rather, these near-children make you queasy, disgusted.

You’ve been horrified.

Strength in Numbers

From 'Day of the Dead'
Among cinematic monsters with any staying power, is there any quite as pathetic as the zombie?

They have no special powers. They have minimal identity or personality. Up until 2002, when 28 Days Later and (I’m told) Resident Evil made them fleet of foot, they lumbered around. In most conceptions, they merely hunger for human flesh.

A single zombie is an easy target. A single shot to the brain kills it — permanently, for good this time — in George A. Romero’s world.

It is only their easy, efficient reproduction that gives them any power — the exponential way that four become eight become 16 become 32 become 64 etc. if each only munches on or infects one other person.

Mediocrity rules the Box Office Power Rankings this week, with only two movies in the box-office-gross top 10 getting a Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic score over 56. (Congrats, 3:10 to Yuma and Eastern Promises! You’re the best of a bad lot.)

That bottom-loading of crappy movies meant middling reviews for Peter Berg’s The Kingdom propelled it to a victory over The Game Plan in our rankings. The aforementioned critical favorites tied the Rock vehicle for second place.

And despite showing at only 339 sites and grossing just more than $2 million, Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe nabbed fifth place, with a robust per-theater average and (relatively) positive reviews.

Continue reading for last week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Man Offered 11-Year-Old Tickets for Sex.

If the tickets were 11 years old, who would want them?

Boo!

At Shoot the Projectionist, Ed Hardy Jr. is accepting nominations for “31 Flicks That Give You the Willies.” Although he’s not explicit about it, we can safely assume that we’re naming our favorite horror movies. The deadline for nominations is Saturday, October 13.

Mine follow, and an explanation is probably in order.

First, I excluded from my nominations obvious choices that nearly everybody will choose.

Second, there’s an important distinction in my mind between something that “gives me the willies” and something that’s a great horror movie. Horror doesn’t have to scare me or creep me out to be great in my book. Conversely, something that does give me the willies isn’t by definition a great horror movie. I am abiding by the spirit of the prompt rather than the letter.

Last, some of my choices are more comfortably associated with a genre other than horror. But while Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream might be an explicit after-school special on drug addiction, it’s still a horrifying experience.

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