Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cat People (1942)

I had not yet seen the original The Cat People when I watched and fell in love with the remake. I imagine some might find that sacrilege, and for sure there were people back in 1982 who thought it was a crime against cinema to remake a movie as great as the 1942 Jacques Tourneur classic, but I say if a remake can introduce you to a movie you had not known about before, and compel you to see it, then that's the best thing a remake can do.

I only just now put together that the remake came out 40 years after the original. When you think of how different life (and movies) were between '42 and '82, it's kind of astounding. Especially when you consider that the differences between '82 and 2012--30 years--aren't that remarkable, in comparison...

Looking back, I had assumed I had seen it at the Castro or the York, but it looks like it was a VHS rental, and the movie was probably released on video to coincide with the remake.

At the time, when comparing the two, I obviously preferred the remake. But I was definitely able to see that the original had its merits, (merits I was more able to appreciate later in life). What most interested me were the similarities between the two.

There are obvious homages to the original in Schrader's remake, the biggest being the scene in the swimming pool. Fans of the original tend to say the scene is better in the first film and it creates higher suspense because Tourneur never actually shows anything, and is able to create fear with mere suggestion.

The curious thing is, aside from the nudity, the two scenes are very, very similar, and in fact, Tourneur shows MORE than Scharder does (at least when it comes to the cat; not so much in the nipple department). Tourneur's version includes some animated shadows, and at one point, a briefly animated cat shadow. Schrader's version mainly uses darkness and sound. Watch the original scene here, (can't embed it), then the 1982 version below...

Frankly, I think they're both great scenes.

The other scene that's in both films is when Irena is stalking Alice, and Alice gets startled by a bus. Again, a lot of people praise the original, feeling it it works better because the sound of the bus matches the sound of a hissing cat. But I never actually thought that bus sounded anything like a cat. You can watch the full scene here, but the bus shows up at the very end, if you want to skip ahead.

Schrader's version is a bit shorter, and the bus has been replaced by the St. Charles Streetcar, but I've always thought that streetcar sounds more like a panther's roar than that bus sounds like a cat's hiss...(Scene is embedded below at the right start point, and continues on to the pool scene.)

Obviously, I have a fondness for the remake, but I absolutely love the original as well. I think Schrader's inclusion of some clear-cut homages are great updates, and that the movies, as a whole, both deserve praise. Schrader took the violent and sexual aspects of the story that could only be hinted at in the original, and made them the explicit center of his movie. I'm all for subtly and innuendo, don't get me wrong. But sometimes you just want to see a naked lady turn into a cat.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Personal Best

Apparently, on May 26th, 1982, my parents and I went to see Personal Best at (I think) the Serra Theater in South San Francisco, though I find that a little hard to believe, as that was a Wednesday, and I just can't see us going out of our way on a school night to see it...So maybe it was earlier or later in the week, and I wrote down the date wrong...

By the time we saw it, it had been out for several months, (it had opened in San Francisco in March), and was playing at a second run theater. Really, the movie wasn't that important to me in the scheme of things, although it did make think for about five minutes that perhaps I should take up running. (Never happened.)

It was also a bit scandalous at the time because it depicted a lesbian relationship pretty honestly, and perhaps explicitly. I think there was a love scene in it? I can't remember. Also: A lot of slo-mo running.

The only thing about the movie that I really remember is that I had seen a newspaper ad for the film that had a picture of Mariel Hemingway doing the splits, and said something to the effect of "The critics are split over Personal Best," and then listed blurbs from both positive and negative reviews. That was something I had never seen before--and ad that used negative reviews to sell a movie--and it stuck with me.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that ad ever ran in a San Francisco newspaper. I explored microfilm for the entire month of its release, and this is the only kind of ad that ran:

So, I'm guessing I probably saw the ad in the Village Voice, since my dad tended to get that every week...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pretty Standard Stuff: Men In Black 3

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

The last Men In Black movie came out 10 years ago, which is a fact that almost made me cry when I realized it. Ten years? Wow. How did that happen?

Of course, there was absolutely nothing memorable about that second movie, so it's not surprising its very existence, no matter how long ago, kind of faded from my mind.

Men In Black III is in 3D. Let me get that out of the way up front, because it matters so little and doesn't deserve any further discussion.

Will Smith, as Agent J, looks a tad fuller; his mustache a tad patchier. Tommy Lee Jones, as Agent K, looks as craggy as he did ten years ago, which is to say, very craggy indeed.

The two are still partners, still investigating alien occurrences, and wiping the minds of witnesses. They seem kind of bored with it all, or maybe just tired. They've been at this for, they frequently remind us, fourteen years, after all.

On the moon, which is home to a space prison, (space prisons are the new big thing!), we meet a one-armed alien named Boris the Animal (played by Flight of the Conchord's Jemain Clement).

Boris is a humanoid looking alien, with goggles for eyes, spiky teeth, and a hand that shoots out pointy little aliens and daggers. Clement basically growls through the role, and for a guy who's proven himself to be pretty funny, he's surprisingly dull. (Then again, it's hard to top Vincent D'Onofrio's batshit insane portrayal of the alien in the first one. He deserved an Oscar for that.)

Boris stages a prison break, and makes his way back to Earth, determined to go back in time to 1969 and kill Agent K before K is able to sever his arm and send him off to prison.

Once things at MIB headquarters start to go weird, with no one seeming to know who Agent K is, Agent J figures it out, and heads to 1969 as well, in order to save Agent K, and in turn, the world.

So, the thing with time travel movies is, once you start to think about them, none of it makes any sense. For instance: If the goal is to prevent Boris the Animal from killing agent K back in 1969, why not just go back in time to, say, the week before he escapes from prison, kill him, and be done with the whole thing?

Oh, right. Because that would be an exceedingly boring movie, and you wouldn't get to see Josh Brolin's pretty uncanny Tommy Lee Jones impersonation. And really, he's one of the only reasons to see MIBIII. He's got Jones's speech inflections, squinty stare, and hangdog look down pat. He's a lot of fun to watch.

And I suppose the 1969 setting, which turns half of the movie in to a kind of Mad Men In Black, has its moments. The costumes and cars are fun to look at, even if the old "fish outta time" stuff isn't really anything we haven't seen before. Very recently, in fact. (See: Dark Shadows.)

Which is kind of the problem with the movie as a whole: It's pretty standard stuff. It's not totally forgettable, (like the second one), but it doesn't have any elements of surprise, or really any scenes that are truly funny, (such as that moment with the dog alien in the first one).

The are some bits that are amusing, such as Bill Hader's role as Andy Warhol. And Michael Stuhlbarg, as an alien who perceives multitudes of potential timelines simultaneously, is funny and very sweet, (I wish the movie had more of him). But mostly, it just kind of hovers there, with occasional things flung at your face to keep you awake.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

For some of these movies, I have to rack my brain to try and remember where I saw them. In other cases, a trip to the library is required to look at old newspaper movie listings. But I remember May 23rd, 1982 with a lot of clarity, and bits of that day come to mind like they happened yesterday.

It was a Sunday, and my dad and I went to a matinee showing of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid at the Regency III downtown. The Regency III, unlike the Regency I, was a really nice old theater. Small, but with good seating and a pretty good sound system. I would end up seeing some pretty influential movies there in the coming years, including The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Eventually, it turned into a stage theater (and I saw a few plays there too, including Burn This, and something by Mamet--maybe Oleanna?), and is now a nightclub called Ruby Skye. Haven't gone; doubt I ever will. The odor of Drakkar Noir would probably be way too much to bear.

Pennies From Heaven, another Steve Martin movie, was the first movie I featured on this blog. As I mention there, I was a huge Steve Martin fan growing up. There were two big comedians in the late 70s and early 80s: Steve Martin and Robin Williams, and despite liking "Mork & Mindy" just fine, I didn't dig Robin Williams as a comedian much, (still don't, frankly). I was a Steve Martin gal all the way, so much so that I was a member of his official fan club, (oh yes), and would end up having a lifesize cardboard Steve Martin advertisement for The Jerk in my possession for more years than I care to admit to.

So, I was excited about Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid because it was Martin's return to comedy after the bleak Pennies From Heaven. And I can thank Dead Men... for offering a big introduction to the genre of film noir and all those Hollywood classics. The movie is a noir spoof that edits Martin into scenes from old movies, creating a new plot, and some very funny moments. It's not seamless, but being that it was all done old school, with no computer enhancements, it's damned effective, and in fact, I find it a lot more convincing than more recent things that try to bring old stars to life, (like that weird Charlize Theron commercial that features Marilyn Monroe.) It helped that Edith Head was the costumer on the movie, (and in fact, it was the last movie she ever worked on), and she was able to match wardrobes perfectly.

Here's a pretty clever bit that utilizes dialogue from a movie, (totally drawing a blank on which one), in a hilarious way:

The company my dad worked for did merchandising, and I ended up with some stuff related to the movie, including posters, pins, and this plastic coffee mug, which still sits on my desk.

The "Famous Java" label is in reference to Martin's Rigby Reardon character's coffee, which is a very unique blend. He starts to make a batch for Burt Lancaster in this scene:

The movie is readily available on DVD, (unfortunately not on Netflix Instant, though), and is well worth a watch. It's pretty silly, of course, but it's also a lot of fun.

After the movie my dad and I ate at a restaurant on the corner. I think at the time, it was a Miz Brown's Country Kitchen, (it eventually became a Max's, which recently shut its doors as well), and part of the dining room was sunken, so that if you looked out the windows, they were above you, and all you could see were peoples legs and feet as they walked by. We ate and talked about old movies and movie stars, like Alan Ladd, (my dad has the same first name), and how Ladd was considered short for movie stars of the time, and was therefore perfectly paired with Veronica Lake, who was teeny tiny...It was a fun day.

I would eventually start to watch all the movies that were featured in the Dead Men..., and read about all those old stars, (Lauren Bacall's autobiography was a personal fave), in large part because of this silly satire starring Steve Martin. Which ain't such a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cat People ²

As I noted in my previous entry about the movie Cat People, I was a little obsessed with it, and on Sunday, May 22nd, 1982, I went to see it again, this time at the York Theater. I'm not sure if I went alone, but I do know I didn't see whatever movie it was paired with.

One of the things I love about the movie is its New Orleans setting. Even if it isn't very realistic, it utilizes the city's foreign feel perfectly. New Orleans isn't like any other city in America, so it lends itself well to a spooky tale about an otherworldy family's curse, and sexual animals.

I love this bit featuring Kinski walking around a completely empty Jackson Square in the French Quarter, (and anyone who's ever been to New Orleans knows that square is never that empty), visiting a groovy looking church, before finally making it to the zoo, (which, at one time, was indeed a dump, but is now a first class zoo).

In looking around the Interwebs for stuff about the movie, it was nice to find a few posts from people who seem to like it as much as I do.

This is a nice review from Kindertrauma.

Only In Cinema's post is a bit more critical of the movie, but still comes out liking it, despite its flaws.

Finally, any fan of Nastassja Kinski should take a look at Nostalgia Kinky, the best fan site out there.
It's an exhaustive look at all of her movies, and it includes over 20 posts about Cat People alone....

Friday, May 18, 2012

Run Away, Screaming: What To Expect When You're Expecting

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I don't have kids, nor do I plan to. But I've got enough friends with kids to know that the pablum spooned out in the new "comedy" What To Expect When You're Expecting has barely a passing resemblance to what one should really expect when one is expecting.

The fact that this movie is based on the title of a non-fiction, instructional book, (JUST THE TITLE!), should be warning enough to stay away. That the result is another one of those multi-storied, star-filled movies ala Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve means you should run away, screaming.

Having already wasted two hours of my life on this nonsense, it pains me to waste much more. Someone give me an epidural so I can push this thing out.

WTEWYE tells the stories of five couples, (there are no single parents in this word), all facing impending parenthood at the same time. Of course, all these characters end up being connected in some way or another, because that's...funny? Totally believable? An easy story crutch?

Cameron Diaz is a fitness trainer, ala Jillian Michaels, who discovers she's pregnant during the finale of a "Dancing With the Stars"-type reality show. The father is her dance partner, played by Matthew Morrison. (I'm not even going to bother with character names here. I was still iffy on most of them by the time the end credits were rolling, and really, what does it matter?)

Elizabeth Banks runs a children's store, and has just written a children's book, and finally gets pregnant after years of trying with her husband, played by Ben Falcone.

Dennis Quaid is Falcone's father, an aging, rich, former race car driver, married to a much younger woman played by Brooklyn Decker. They're expecting twins.

Jennifer Lopez is a photographer, who often takes portraits of babies, who is married to a music guy played by Rodrigo Santoro. They plan on adopting. (Which is not their first choice. You see, she can't do "the one thing a woman is supposed to be able to do." Yes, those are words actually spoken in this movie.)

And finally, Anna Kendrick is food truck chef, who, after one night with Chace Crawford, the chef at a competing food truck, finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy that she decides to keep. (Not that NOT having the baby ever seems to be up for much debate.)

Floating around in the background are seemingly dozens of supporting characters, such as a dad's group that includes Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, and Rob Huebel; Joe Manganiello as a single guy the dad's group idolizes, (he spends most of his appearances naked from the waist up); and Wendi McLendon-Covey and Rebel Wilson, as two of the moms-to-be's co-workers. (Both are hilarious ladies, perhaps best known for their work in Bridesmaids, and both are, sadly completely wasted here, although Wilson did get the only laugh out of me during the entire movie, with a comment about how she'd once had a "phantom pregnancy.")

The mad race to parenthood propels the movie forward, with a few stumbling blocks along the way. One pregnancy doesn't end well, although the thought an experience like that deserves doesn't get any play in a movie that has to tell at least six different stories at once.

Which is pretty much the problem with any movie like this: It takes a deft hand to juggle multiple storylines without giving short shrift to some, if not all of them, and director Kirk Jones isn't up to the task. The whole thing comes off as entertaining and enlightening as an infomercial for parenthood.

There's some lip service given to fact that pregnancy, for some, can be a miserable experience--Banks is a wreck throughout most of hers. But when Diaz, who, we don't learn until late in the movie is supposed to be 35--and therefore at a "higher risk"--is told she needs to stay in bed for the remaining--weeks? months? it's not clear--of her pregnancy, it's shrugged off as no big thing. (The fact that Diaz looks like she's been digitally airbrushed throughout most of the movie doesn't help in the realism department.)

Inevitably, everyone goes into labor, (or picks up their kid), on the same day, and even when some of the births don't go quite as the mothers had planned, their babies are immediately placed in their arms looking sparkingly clean, with perfectly round heads, and big enough to be at least six weeks old.

There's no blood, mess, or stretched out vaginas in this land of motherhood. But that's not what you were expecting, was it?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

1982 Rules! Every Other Year Drools!

If I had started keeping track of my movie viewing in any other year than 1982, it's likely I wouldn't have decided to start up a blog about it many years later. Because, you see, 1982 was an incredibly good year for movies, and it's a happy coincidence that it was also the year that I started to take my film fandom seriously.

Here's a brief article from an LA Times blog that talks about that banner year. Most of the movies mentioned will be (or have been) featured here, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


There were about five movies that came out in 1982 that I would end up seeing again and again over the next few years, eventually own on LaserDisc, and then DVD, and would continue to revisit multiple times as the years went on. Barry Levinson's Diner was one of them, though you wouldn't think it from the absolutely horrible trailer seen above.

I've already established that I was (and still am) a sucker for movies set in the late 50's and early 60's, so it wasn't really hard for me to like Diner. The thing is, while it's set in 1959, it feels firmly planted in the 1950's, and isn't as...bright as other movies set in the era seemed to be. (The 80's version of the 50's invariably involved a lot of chrome and pink.) It's kind of dark, in a way, both literally and figuratively.

I can understand why the movie was a hard sell at first--there's no real plot to speak of: It takes place in Baltimore the week between Christmas and New Year's, with six friends in their 20's gathered for a friend's New Year's wedding. They hang out a diner a lot. They talk. A few very minor adventures occur. It ends. (There are two great articles that look back on the film's creation, and how hard it was to get it released initially: One is in Vanity Fair, and the other, from the Baltimore Sun kind of piggybacks on the VF article.)

What makes it memorable is the dialogue, and the ensemble cast's perfect chemistry. I'd venture to say all of the guys in it have never been better, before or since. This scene is a good example of that, and contains a bit of dialogue ("You gonna finish that?") that my parents and I would quote for years.

You can see more of the scene, which includes an awesome and completely real spit take, here. (For whatever reason, it's not embeddable.) The scene also highlights Mickey Rourke in a role that just solidified the crush that began when I saw him earlier that year in Body Heat. Bad skin? Greasy hair? Didn't matter. He was hotness.

And while the guys are the center of the movie, Ellen Barkin is terrific and kind of sad in her role as Shrevie's wife, Beth. This is probably the most famous scene she has in the movie, when Shrevie finds out she's been playing his records. (It's too bad I can't find a clip of the follow-up scene--in which Rourke's character, Boogie, shows up at their place right after the fight, and she breaks down crying into his arms--because it's really heartbreaking.)

And here's something amusing: Barry Levinson has said the characters were based on guys he knew in Baltimore, or were at least composites of different guys. So here's a clip from a 1989 news broadcast which features some of the "real Diner guys." Whether they actually are or not is, I guess, up to some debate, (though Levinson does make a brief appearance in the video), but it's worth watching just to hear some genuine Baltimore accents, which, aside from one character ("Bagel"), aren't really on display in the actual movie. It's a great accent; kind of sounds like a Philly accent with a bit of a Southern twang.

As for where my parents and I saw the movie: It was a Sunday, and we saw it at the Alexandria out on Geary. It was in the main theater, not one of the tiny balcony screens, because if it had been in one of those, we would have gone somewhere else. Sadly, that theater is still sitting out there on Geary, awaiting some kind of renovation plan that never seems to happen.

Finally, here are two things I did not know: There was a TV pilot based on the movie, shot in 1983, but I don't think it ever aired. Michael Madsen was cast in Mickey Rourke's role, James Spader in Kevin Bacon's, and Paul Reiser was the only one who reprised his role. (Of course.)

And there's a Broadway musical in the works, with songs by Sheryl Crow, and it's scheduled to have previews in San Francisco in October, which, well...if you don't have dreams, you got nightmares.

Friday, May 11, 2012

You Can't Force Camp: Dark Shadows

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

It seems like I've always been aware of the TV series "Dark Shadows," even if I'd never seen an episode during its original run, (1966-1971), or during any of its subsequent syndication and re-airings. But the fact that it was a daily soap opera set in a supernatural world meant I always respected the show, even if I had never actually seen it.

So I can't say if Tim Burton's revamped Dark Shadows is something that will please existing fans, although I have a suspicion true fans might get a little more out of the film's story and characters, since more often than not it feels like there's a lot of "filling in the blanks" that needs to be done for both.

The film has a fabulously gothic opening, in which we learn the history of Barnabas Collins, a young boy from Liverpool, brought to the New World in the 1750s. His wealthy family establishes roots in Maine, building a fortune on shipping and fishing, and an appropriately garish manor to go with it. As Barnabas grows older, (and turns into Johnny Depp), he catches the eye of the house maid Angelique, (Eva Green, who is terrific throughout), and they have an affair. But his real affections lay with the noble-blooded and fair Josette (Bella Heathcote), and he chooses her over Angelique. Alas, he chooses the wrong woman to spurn, as Angelique turns out to be a witch, and in revenge, she turns Barnabas into a vampire, and buries him in the ground for all eternity.

Or, at least until the grave is accidentally dug up almost 200 years later, in 1972. Barnabas makes his way back to Collinwood Manor, only to find the place in dusty disrepair, and home to some broke and disillusioned distant relatives: Matriarch Elizabeth, (Michelle Pfeiffer), and her teenage daughter Carolyn, (Chloƫ Grace Moretz); Elizabeth's brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his "disturbed" young son David, (Gulliver McGrath); David's psychiatrist Julia, (Helena Bonham Carter); the drunken groundskeeper, Willie, (Jackie Earle Haley); and, finally, the nanny Victoria, who also happens to be the spitting image of Barnabas's long-lost love, Josette.

Barnabas strikes a deal with Elizabeth: She keeps his identity secret, (he's not a 200-year-old-vampire! He's just from the Old Country!), and Barnabas helps the family rebuild its fortune and power by taking back business that was stolen by that witch, Angelique, who is now the town's richest woman. Yep, she's still alive, and still has the hots for Barnabas, and is none-to-pleased to learn that he still has his eye on another woman.

What starts out as gothic fun turns into not-so-funny comedy once Barnabas arises in 1972. Most of the film's humor is centered on the vampire's fish-out-of-water predicament, with frequent shots of Depp doing the startled and aghast looks he seems to utilize in every single movie he's in, paired with people staring at him like he's some kind of ghastly pale vampire from another era. (Oh. Right.)

By playing up the comedic aspects of this kind of character, Depp drains him of any real menace. While Barnabas does savagely kill people in the movie, he's never actually scary.

I think some of the appeal of the original "Dark Shadows" must come from its camp factor. It was an incredibly cheap show, in a genre, (soap operas), not known for subtlety, and, when watched now, I imagine it's hard not to laugh at it.

But you can't force camp. Forced camp is invariably just bad comedy, and Dark Shadows the movie is full of forced camp.

I tend to have the same problem with all of Tim Burton's movies. The are invariably beautiful, full of amazing sets, effects, and costumes; they're a feast for the eye. But the man does not know how to tell a story well, and Dark Shadows suffers from the same problems that plague so many of his other movies.

Characters are introduced, disappear completely for long stretches, and then end up having absolutely no usefulness within the story, (if I were Jonny Lee Miller, I'd be pissed). Important family secrets are revealed with no build-up, resulting in incredulity instead of surprise. David, the "disturbed" young boy, is supposedly recovering from the death of his mother, but just who she is, and what she's been doing to him remains a mystery until a last minute reveal that doesn't make much sense.

And, as in most Tim Burton movies, the ending feels rushed and unsatisfying, as if, with 20 minutes of running time left on the clock, he suddenly realizes he'd better speed things along and finish the story.

There are a few laughs here and there, (most of which can be seen in the trailer), and I had fun looking at the groovy 1970's costumes, and listening to the 1970's soundtrack, (Alice Cooper makes an appearance as himself, performing at a Collinswood "happening). But it's not enough to recommend a movie that ultimately feels like a really expensive pilot for a series that's unlikely to get picked up.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

House of Wax (1953)

This one's a bit of a puzzler. I'm pretty sure I saw The House of Wax in a theater in 3D, but I couldn't find a listing for any local theater that was showing it on May 5th, in 1982. Perhaps it was somewhere outside of San Francisco?

Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the first time I had seen the movie, as I recall being really creeped out as a younger kid after seeing some of the moments featuring wax figures ablaze and melting.

Of course for me, the most memorable scene, and its most silly, is the paddle ball sequence. And to this day, I firmly believe that every 3D movie should be required to have at least one scene featuring a paddle ball. (Or, at the very least, ping pong.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

SFIFF: Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

The San Francisco International Film Festival comes to an appropriate close on Thursday night with a film that has both local and international appeal.

The story told in Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie: A classic rock band, looking for a new singer to join them on a tour and new album, discovers a guy with a great voice on YouTube.

They audition him, and soon this guy who grew up dirt poor on the streets of Manila in the Philippines is singing in front of thousands in sold out stadiums around the world.

And indeed, that's what happened when Neal Schon of local legend Journey was cruising for a new singer on YouTube late one night in 2007. The film follows Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who for years was singing Journey songs in his cover band Zoo, as he journeys to America for the first time to audition, blows the band away, and embarks on their first world tour together.

Diehard fans of Journey will find plenty to like here, although the film is really a portrait of Pineda, and not the band. Sure, there is some history of the band included, from their early, afroed-hair days as a jam band, to their success with singer Steve Perry. But people hoping to get the dirt on just why Perry left the band aren't going to get an answer here.

Personally, I don't think Journey IS Journey without Perry. But I do appreciate Pineda's talent; he's got a great voice. (Just not Steve Perry great!)

And I think it was a smart move on Journey's part to hire a singer with international appeal, and such an interesting back story, although the film does seem to focus more on the monotony of touring than it does on Pineda's past. If you ever wondered what keyboardist Jonathan Cain looked like trying on belts before a show, you'll get your answer here. Also: Lots of scenes of band members getting massages.

Still, the many musical moments are sure to fire up the closing night crowd. I can hear them singing Don't Stop Believin' already...

SFIFF: Trishna

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Director Michael Winterbottom has tackled the works of British novelist Thomas Hardy twice in the past, with the 1996 film Jude, (based on Jude the Obscure), and the 2001 Western The Claim, (based on The Mayor of Casterbridge). He's adapted Hardy once more with his latest film Trishna, which reimagines Tess of the D'Urbervilles in modern-day India.

Since Tess is one of my all-time favorite books, (and Roman Polanski's 1981 adaptation one of my favorite movies), I was eager to see Trishna. And while the adaptation is loose, Winterbottom's changes add some interesting dynamics to the story.

Frieda Pinto is Trishna, a nineteen year old girl in rural India who works a series of jobs to help support her family. She catches the eye of Jay, (Riz Ahmend), a handsome hotelier's son, an Indian born and raised in England who doesn't speak any Hindi. When Trishna's father is injured in an accident and can no longer work, Jay offers her a job at one of his father's hotels.

She agrees and is soon learning the hotel trade, while working closely with Jay. His fondness for her is apparent, but she is apprehensive and inexperienced. Soon, a seduction (or is it rape?) occurs, and a confused Trishna flees back home, and Jay soon follows to get her back.

While these events are pretty close to the original source material, Winterbottom chooses an interesting route in combining the two men in the original Tess's life, so that Jay becomes both Angel (her true love), and Alec (the cause of her downfall).

Much like the original book, class plays a major part in Trishna's destiny, with the big question being: is class too big an obstacle to overcome when it come to love? And do the powerful really want those dynamics to change?

It's a little disappointing to see the character of Trishna remain so passive throughout most of the film--the original Tess had more strength and determination--but Pinto is both stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking in the role. That, combined with the lush, widescreen cinematography, and lively Bollywood score, (complete with a few dance scenes), make Trishna worth seeing, despite some of its limitations.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Escape From New York

A few weeks ago I reviewed a movie that was a complete and total ripoff of Escape From New York. I actually kind of liked the movie, but it reminded me how awesome the real thing is, and I eagerly took an opportunity to rewatch it.

Escape From New York came out in 1981, and I couldn't find any theater listings showing it was screening anywhere on May 1st, 1982, so I am assuming this was another VHS rental. Which is a shame, because like most of John Carpenter's movies, Escape is very widescreen, which means until I saw it on LaserDisc many years later, I had never actually seen the "entire" movie.

I loved everything about Escape on that first viewing: John Carpenter's self-composed synth score, (I would listen to it on my Walkman many times that summer); the cheesy but still impressive effects; Kurt Russell's Clint Eastwood impersonation; (although I don't think I completely realized that was what he was doing until I watched Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns a few years later); and most especially, this guy:

What was probably most significant about this movie at this time was it made me realize I really, really liked John Carpenter movies, and really, really liked Kurt Russell in them. And I knew that in a few months, I would be treated to another of their collaborations in The Thing, and I. Could. Not. Wait!

Let me end this post with one more fave moment from the movie. Words to remember.