Sunday, April 27, 2008

Iron Man: Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You

This just in: Iron Man trailer will be made into a full-length film. Will the feature adapt the material faithfully? The ONION reports...

Wildly Popular 'Iron Man' Trailer To Be Adapted Into Full-Length Film

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Do I like killing children? Am I a closet serial killer?? The answer to these questions and more on my new book-review blog:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

versus: 21 v. Deal

It seems as if the average amateur poker player stands a better chance of copping a squat at a WPT final table than Hollywood does of making an captivating movie about the game. Maybe it's a moot point; Texas Hold 'Em was still the rage a couple of years ago, but obsessions wax and wane, and based on the number of 75% markdowns I've recently seen, I'd have to reason that stores are clamouring to unload their professional poker sets and make room for the next fad (my vote's for bocce). Showbiz may have missed the showboat on this one.

And yet they keep trying. Remember 2007's Lucky You? Well, you'll probably just as soon forget this year's Deal, and it's likely worth your while to ignore 21 while you're at it. Neither of these films is abominable, but both are tremendously predictable and formulaic, and they fail even to portray the basic tension inherent to the game. I get sucked into watching these poker tournaments on television to the point where I won't even go to the bathroom until the river card is turned. At the cinema, however, I found myself chanting the words of Homer in The Simpsons Movie like a mantra: "I can't believe we're paying to see something we get on TV for free! If you ask me, everybody in this theater is a giant sucker!"

I wish this movie was a whole lot worse. Really bad movies can be fun to critique, but 21 is so steeped in mediocrity that it left me bereft of the initiative to compose any zingers, so I'll rely on Jim Emerson's 1 1/2 star review to detail the film's flaws:

"'Inspired by' the real-life story of the M.I.T. students who took Las Vegas casinos for millions, '21' has been reshaped to fit a simple movie template -- and it's nearly as much fun as watching an insurance professional compute actuarial tables ...

If you want to see how a formatted screenplay looks when it's actually on the screen (you can just about count the page numbers as they flip by, and maybe measure the margins, too), "21" may provide a practical lesson: How to follow all the "rules" and end up with zero. It's not unwatchable, but you could watch it with your eyeballs tied behind your back and enjoy it just as much.

Here's another example of a good story turned into a purely generic one -- no doubt with the aid of a Bob McKee screenwriting seminar and textbook."

And so it goes: Boy needs money, professor offers him an opportunity to learn how to count cards and beat the house at blackjack... Boy reluctantly agrees, enters the world of casino gambling, is successful at first but indulges too much, too arrogantly, and loses everything (his money, his mentor, his real friends, and the girl of his dreams). Boy gets a second chance, redeems himself, and walks away a winner.

21 has only one twist to speak of, but as Emerson notes:
"The movie itself has a tell: Watch for the moment when somebody obviously pulls a punch. If you hadn't figured out the rest of the movie by then, it gives away the whole thing."
Prepare yourself for 120 subsequent minutes of yawning and checking your watch.

...or no deal. The "BUZZ" about this upcoming release (according to is as follows:

"Texas Hold'em, like NASCAR, is one of those pop-culture obsessions from which Hollywood is yearning to make a profit. But let's be honest: The actual-real "World Series of Poker" TV broadcasts will for years bring in bigger audiences than this ill-cast, small-time production could ever dream of."

Actually, I think Burt Reynolds is quite suited (no pun intended) to play leathery erstwhile poker champ, Tommy Vinson, but I get where one might question his status as a bankable star. Bret Harrison's performance as Vinson's protege, on the other hand, seems to be derived from the Fred Savage school of acting, and his facial tics are more distracting on the big screen than Kevin Arnold's were cute on T.V.'s The Wonder Years.

Of course, a stone-face is not particularly effective cinematically (unless you are Buster Keaton), so cameo appearances by real life players such as Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, and Isabelle Mercier fall flat. But the movie's real problem is the same as 21's: you know what's going to happen and when. I would summarize Deal if I hadn't more-or-less described the plot when discussing the previous film.

the winner
There is clearly no real winner here. If pressed, I would have to recommend Deal based solely on its 80 minute running time, which allowed me an extra 43 minutes to waste playing a Hold 'Em tournament on-line. Followed by two hours of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Star TV... Oh, and then I watched NBC's Poker After Dark. I hope they make that bocce movie soon, 'cause I really gotta pee.

Friday, April 04, 2008

the not-top ten project
a series of posts in which an amateur film critic discusses ten movies he loves, in no particular order, that may or may not be his favourites.

entry #1: The Muppet Movie

Robin the Frog: Uncle Kermit, is this how the Muppets really got started?

Kermit: Well, it's sort of approximately what happened.

The first copy of The Muppet Movie that I owned was a VHS recording of a CBS broadcast from the early 80's. Although I have since purchased it on DVD, the film feels, to some degree, incomplete without commercial interruptions. I miss the kids with afros hawking Apple Jacks, the passionate families discussing the care they received from the Ronald McDonald House for sick kids, and the delightful jingle wishing me a "Merry Christmas, Merry-Merry Christmas, from your K-mart savings store".

But even without this, The Muppet movie more than stands on its own two feet as a superbly entertaining film for viewers of all ages; after all, The Muppets were never strictly children's fare in the first place. What brings me back time and time again (I've never counted, but I'd wager I've seen it near a hundred times) is the sophistication of humour. Yes, the Muppets are irreverent and slapsticky, even absurdist at times, but they combine all of this chaotic energy with intelligent wordplay and esoteric references:

Bernie: You, you with the banjo, can you help me? I seem to have lost my sense of direction!
Kermit: Have you tried Hare Krishna?
[when seeing Fozzie perform for the first time]
Kermit: This guy's lost.
Waiter: Maybe he should try Hare Krishna.
Kermit: Good grief, it's a running gag.

The film's quest sends Kermit the Frog on a cross country journey to Hollywood, where, he has been informed, a major studio is holding "open auditions for frogs wishing to become rich and famous." Along the way, he is joined by a rag-tag band of familiars. Fozzie is persuaded to come along (Kermit: If they need frogs, they must need bears, too.), and provides transportation in the form of his uncle's old Studebaker. Gonzo is next:

Fozzie: You can come with us.
Gonzo: Where are you going?
Fozzie: We're following our dreams!
Gonzo: Really? I have a dream, too.
Fozzie: What?
Gonzo: You might think it's stupid.
Fozzie: No we won't.
Gonzo: Well, I want to go to Bombay, India to become a movie star.
Fozzie: You don't go to Bombay to become a movie star. You go where we're going, Hollywood.
Gonzo: Well, sure, if you want to do it the "easy" way.

Miss Piggy, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem, and the rest of the gang follow soon after.

Naturally, there's a fair amount of song and dance interspersed throughout the film. Now, as an adult, I tend to be turned off by a lot of the tepid soundtracks that pepper "children's" films, but the music and lyrics in The Muppet Movie never fail to set my toes-a-tappin' and my mind-a-hoppin'. Actor/Composer-- or Composer/Actor-- Paul Williams (who wrote classics like "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "We've Only Just Begun") provides songs that are catchy as heck (Movin' Right Along), clever as all get out (I Hope that Something Better Comes Along), and touching, to boot (i.e. The Rainbow Connection and I Hope to Go Back There Someday). The songs don't feel like interruptions as many do in much of today's fare.

If there is an element of The Muppet Movie that might suffer the test of time, it is likely to be its celebrity cameos. Guest appearances by the likes of Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Elliot Gould, Mel Brooks, Carol Kane, and Orson Welles (amongst others) will never have the impact they did when these performers were more familiar to audiences. Their scenes are no less amusing,and young viewers are not prone to care about how famous the actors in a film really are. I suspect, however, that some of The Muppet Movie's "wow-factor" will diminish as recognition of these stars of yore continues to wane, and the film will lose some of its appeal to the older demographics.

Perhaps the release of the original Muppet Show on DVD will do something to keep the vaudevillian flavour of the Muppets and their human guest hosts alive for contemporary and future generations to enjoy and appreciate (seasons 1 & 2 are available to purchase as I write this).

I maintain full confidence that The Muppet Movie will continue to entertain regardless of any aspects that might become dated. The film is evidence that Jim Henson perfected fun, and he has infused his creations with a sensibility that is, at once, unique and universal. In order to ensure that new audiences are introduced to his genius, it is up to Muppet fans to share Henson's work with friends and family, which is why The Muppet Movie holds the rank of entry number one on my not-top ten list.