Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The New Mystery Science Theater 3000

Many of you out there might be familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, the low budget show that had a good run the 1990's on the Sci-Fi Channel and Comedy Central. For those of you who aren't familiar, it was a show where a guy and two robots were banished into outer space and forced to watch really awful movies from the 50's, 60's and 70's. The catch is, as they watched them, they would make fun of them, but at a well thought out comedic level. Eventually the show ran out of steam and finally ended. Many of the episodes are available on DVD with the option of turning off the wise-cracking audio commentary, although why someone would subject themselves to watching Manos: The Hands of Fate or Red Zone Cuba in their original form is beyond me.

Fast forward to today. Mike Nelson, one of MYST3K's creators, has set up a web site called Rifftrax.com where he and some of the old gang have moved on to making fun of current popular movies. How it works is you pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 to download an audio track of snarky comments and then play it in an MP3 player while watching the movie, thus mimicking the Mystery Science Theater experience. The whole idea's popularity appears to be growing along with the available library. They've got big bidget stuff like Star Wars: Episodes I, Casino Royale and The Fantastic Four, plus a number of other movies that are ripe for mockery like Crossroads with Britney Spears and Glitter with Mariah Carey. So far I've downloaded the Rifftrax for X-Men and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (see some sample clips below) and all I can say is it's good to have the guys back. I've even taken it a step further and extracted the movie from the DVD, added the Rifftrax to the audio and re-burned it to DVD. It makes for an enjoyable 2-3 hours of viewing.

For more samples go here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

AFI 100: My Thoughts

Ten years ago the American Film Institute celebrated 100 years of film making in America by releasing a list of the 100 Greatest American Films. Since then, it has periodically released similar "100 Greatest" lists including Greatest Stars, Greatest Heroes & Villains, and Greatest Movie Quotes. Last night CBS aired a 10th anniversary revision in which the institute essentially threw out the old list and ranked the 100 Greatest American films all over again (See the complete list here). Frankly, I was a little surprised with the amount movement when comparing the two lists. Raging Bull jumped from 24 up to 4, Vertigo moved from 61 up to 9, and the John Wayne western The Searchers made a huge leap from 96 all the way to 12. There were 23 films new to list, but only four of those have been released since 1997: The Fellowship of the Ring (50), Saving Private Ryan (71), Titanic (83) and The Sixth Sense (89). The others are just older movies that have apparently grown in stature, the most notably being the 1927 Buster Keaton film The General which debuted on the list at 18 (how a movie is perceived 80 years after its release can be that different from how it is perceived 70 years after its release is beyond me). Of course, 23 new films means 23 films were taken off the list. James Dean seems to be the big loser here as two of his movies, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant, are no longer among the elite. More recent movies to get dropped were Dances With Wolves and Fargo.

Those were the facts. Now here's my opinions. I could just rank my 100 greatest films or say which ones are too high, but that's exactly what the AFI would want me to do. That's why they air these specials, so people will debate them next day. Instead I'll just focus on a handful of films from the list and issue my own recommendations for you to watch. Take them for what they're worth.

Citizen Kane (1), The Third Man (Dropped): Orson Welles was a genius. His problem is he made the greatest movie ever at age 26. Where do you go from there? Citizen Kane is a great example of excellent film making. The camera angles, the editing, the acting are all brilliant. For a follow up watch The Third Man, which features Welles in one my favorite scenes of all time. His acting in that movie is nothing short of incredible.

The Godfather (2): I've previously commented on Al Pacino's performance in this movie. It's very different from the over-the-top Pacino you see these days. Brando is excellent as well. Some people like the sequel better, and the parts with Robert De Niro are great, but I think Part I is still the better of the two.

Casablanca (3), The Maltese Falcon (31), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (38): Here we have three contrasting performances from Humphrey Bogart. Sure he plays a tough guy in all three, but in a different way. The stoicism in Casablanca is what he's best known for, but in Falcon he shows a little more personality. In Treasure he goes mad.

Lawrence of Arabia (7), The Bridge on the River Kwai (36): David Lean was so far ahead of his time it's ridiculous. These two movies are definitely worth viewing, even though they are both really long. Peter O'Toole is amazing as T.E. Lawrence and Alec Guiness out performs William Holden, who was the first actor to receive a million-dollar paycheck for his role in Bridge.

On the Waterfront (19): Here we see a young Brando in his other Oscar-winning role. Watch this and then watch The Godfather.

To Kill a Mockingbird (25): While we're talking about AFI, the institute named Atticus Finch as it greatest film hero of all time. It's a good choice and Gregory Peck is legendary in this movie.

High Noon (27): Gary Cooper was in quite a few good movies, but this one sort of stands alone, no pun intended.

Dr. Strangelove (39): I'm not much of a Stanley Kubrick fan, but this movie is hilarious. Peter Sellers plays three characters and each one is more over the top than the previous.

It Happened One Night (46): They don't make movies like this anymore. In the height of the studio contract days, Frank Capra managed to "borrow" Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert from MGM for two weeks to film this little movie that went on to big things. Though nearly 75 years old, it's is still a lot of fun.

Rear Window (48): Vertigo may have climbed way up on the list, but of the four collaborations Jimmy Stewart had with Alfred Hitchcock, it's probably my least favorite. I like Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much more. I even like Rope, a movie that was filmed in only eight shots, more than Vertigo.

Jaws (56): The original shark movie is still a classic. The editing and pacing in this movie are excellent, even if the shark does look fake.

In the Heat of the Night (75): It's all too easy these days for filmmakers to make racism the bad guy. This movie goes a little further and gives its characters enough flaws to seem more realistic without detracting from the overall sense of right and wrong.

12 Angry Men (87): Henry Fonda is really good in this movie. It's interesting to watch as his character, just trying to do his duty as a juror, goes through and creates reasonable doubt in the minds of the other jurors one-by-one.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Great Plains & Rolling Stones

A few months ago The Discovery Channel aired a series of nature and wildlife programs called Planet Earth. I recently started watching the series as it has been replaying on Discovery's sibling station Animal Planet. So far I'd say it's a notch above other nature programs out there. I definitely have to give a lot of credit to the amazing camera shots that were secured. Below is a short clip (1:04) from the episode entitled "Great Plains." I added a little music to spice things up a bit.

Monday, June 11, 2007

As Seen on IMDb

It's been kind of a crazy weekend here at Entertainment News. Back in February I drafted a sarcastic blog entry entitled "Untapped Goldmine" which talks about how Hollywood should turn to workout videos for new movies ideas. Friday it was featured on the The Internet Movie Database's Hit List, a daily list of 5-10 links to movie and TV articles from sources such as Variety, Entertainment Weekly, The LA Times and other major Hollywood publications, as well as a few amateur sites. Since then it's been mentioned a number of other places like exercise video forums, a Hollywood insider message board, a major joke of the day site feed and even a white supremacy blog, whose writer feels rather passionately about white jokes and affirmative action, both of which I touched on briefly in the form of movie clich├ęs. Needless to say, traffic to the Web Log went through the roof. For the first 7+ months of tracking, Entertainment News received 2,365 visits, an average of about 10.5 per day. Although, more recently it had been averaging about 48 per day, mostly from people who got here by way of a Google image search that turned up a collage I created for a surprisingly popular blog entry about bad 1980's sitcoms. For the three days the link was on IMDb.com (June 8-10), the Web Log received 12,910 visits, the bulk of which (7,280) came on Friday. Now things should return to normal. I still expect a few extra visitors to trickle in from those other links I mentioned, and who knows, maybe I landed some new Entertainment News fans. Of course there will always be the random visitor who finds his way by typing some odd phrase into a search engine. Below is a sample of my favorite more recent searches that have somehow brought people here.

(The hyper links are to blog entries that discuss those topics, although usually not in the searcher's intended context.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Arrested Development: The Band Reunites

It's been a while since I've posted anything related to Arrested Development, so here's a classic clip from Season 1 where Dr. Fünke's 100% Natural Good Time Family Band Solution gets back together.

I would like to point out that this blog entry was made possible by The Natural Life Food Company, a division of Chem Grow, an Allyn-Crane acquisition and part of the Squimm Group.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Epiphany of Confusion

Have you ever had one of those moments where you're watching a movie that isn't like most movies because it's really artsy or there's lots of symbolism or the story isn't told in chronological order or the movie is Asian? The moment I'm referring to is when you're engrossed in film because it's kind of hard to follow but you're determined to see it through because you've paid so close attention thus far. Finally the various plot elements are starting to come together and you hope the payoff in the end will be completely mind blowing. Then you have the moment. It dawns on you that you won't understand the ending, even though it's still 30 minutes away. You identify with the characters. You pick up on a few pieces of symbolism. But none of that matters, because you already know the ending won't make any sense, at least not to you. You realize you're watching a movie that will no doubt end up as a cult classic because 1) it's too weird for mainstream to embrace it and 2) it's so confusing that the few people out there that claim to understand it will band together and pat each other on the back. That's not to say that the movie experience has been a complete waste of time. Maybe the movie is visually stunning or the acting is profound or the score is particularly powerful or the cinematography is ground breaking. But in the end, you know you'll be disappointed because this could have been one the great ones.

I had such a moment recently while watching Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Without giving away the ending (which I don't think I could, since I'm not really sure what happened at the end), here's a brief synopsis: three stories - one each from the past, present, and future - about men in pursuit of eternal life. A conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, working with tree sap, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife; a space traveler, traveling with an aged tree within a bubble, moves toward a dying star that's wrapped in a nebula; all seek enlightenment. I just wish someone would enlighten me as to what it was I just watched.

Other movies where I've had similar epiphanies of my own impending confusion include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and, to a lesser extent, Memento and Spirited Away. It's worth noting that I liked those movies.