Tag Archives: 2014

STOCKING COAL: KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS (2014) & THE BURNING HELL (1974)

A few months back, a co-worker sent me a meme of Homer Simpson mimicking Donald Trump mimicking a handicapped reporter under the heading: “Look Marge… I’m a Christian.” If one associates Christianity with brain dead right-wing WASPs, then the only better symbol than a Homer parody would be walking caricature Kirk Cameron. In addition to his roll-on-the-floor Left Behind rapture series, Cameron, in 2014, prefiguring Trump and his Trumptards, took it upon himself to “Save Christmas” and ‘Murica from all those War-on-Christmas “Happy Holiday” and “Season’s Greetings” coffee cups (with no snowflakes, dammit).

Like all of Cameron’s movies, Saving Christmas was universally panned, which prompted the Christian entrepreneur (smelling a potential box office loss for his booming franchise) to panic. He called on “the real people” (as opposed to the sub-human critics) to give him a thumbs up: “Help me storm the gates of Rotten Tomatoes,” he wrote, “all of you who love Saving Christmas – go rate it at Rotten Tomatoes right now and send the message to all the critics that WE decide what movies we want our families to see.” Kirk’s endeavor promptly backfired. Even the “real people” ripped it to pieces, which of course Cameron blamed on liberal atheists, no doubt paid off by George Soros. Now, before we dismiss this as yet another easy target: lest we forget ‘Murica elected Cameron’s triple-chinned, mentally-challenged, pedophile-conspiracy kook, silver-spoon fed billionaire, and CINO (“Christian-in-Name-Only”) prophet to the highest office of the land in 2016.Saving Christmas is is a lump of stocking coal that ‘Murica has reaped.

Continue reading STOCKING COAL: KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS (2014) & THE BURNING HELL (1974)

LIVE DIE REPEAT: EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)

Live Die Repeat Edge Of Tomorrow (2014) Emily Blunt Tom Cruise

If his family of origin had their say, Tom Cruise would have went through life as an anonymous Franciscan priest. Of course, things turned out differently. With his Napoleon complex, switching obssessively from one extreme religious approach to an opposite extreme end religious fad, questionable treatment of wives, narcissitic salary demands, rants against psychology, an embarassing appearance on Oprah Winfrey, and purported paranoia over box office standing, Tom Cruise seems to make himself an easy target. In some quarters, he is likened to the personality meltdowns of Michael Jackson and Lindsay Lohan. Except, there is a major difference: Rather than being self-destructive, Cruise seems downright zealous regarding self-preservation and apart from personality quirks, he ranks as one of Hollywood’s most consummate professionals, often picking interesting, against type roles. That professionalism has paired him with the industry’s most established directors and, as a producer, Cruise takes additional risks with first-timers.

Live Die Repeat Edge Of Tomorrow (2014) Emily Blunt

Cruise started off roughly around the same time as Johnny Depp, and early in their careers the contrast between the two could not have been more pronounced. If anyone was the patron saint of loud, dumb summer blockbusters, it was Cruise. He set the model with Top Gun (1986), and who could forget Cocktail (1988)? That box office bonanza, one of the worst movies of the last half century, is proof that the masses will buy just about any excrement if it is marketed right. Cruise went on to act in and produce Mission Impossible (1996). Despite having Brian DePalma in charge, it was not an ideal start to the franchise. Yet, the franchise dramatically improved, especially with Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue Nation (2015).

Continue reading LIVE DIE REPEAT: EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)

BABADOOK (2014)

THE BABADOOK (2014)

After watching Babadook (2014), I am thoroughly convinced that, from here on out, producers need to consign direction of horror films to the girls. They are so much better at it than those dullard boys. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent,The Babadook is too good for genre fanboys, whose diet is commonly relegated to sophomoric cravings for trite-tasting tawdry titillation. Kent’s Babadook is for far more refined palates.

BABADOOK (2014) poster

In the early days of cinema, when German Expressionism’s shadow still influenced Hollywood, the quality of horror films was such that when a studio assigned a director a horror film, it often meant his status had just been elevated several notches. Unfortunately, the boatload of hacks had their say over the years, dragging the genre to that proverbial barrel bottom. With few exceptions, horror has never recovered, and its wretched reputation today is wholly deserved. Mechanical plots, cardboard characters, blatant misogyny, moronic humor, and deafening assaults pass for imagination to a growing horror audience that has largely forgotten how to even watch a film.

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TIM BURTON’S “BIG EYES” (2014)

TIM BURTON %22BIG EYES%22 (2014)Big Eyes (2015) is probably Tim Burton‘s most satisfactory film since Ed Wood (1994). Alas, that is a minuscule compliment. Burton began as a refreshing original working within a tinseled industry, but formulaic demands soon rendered his later work imitative and an example of style over substance.Burton was once the hip auteur for the perennial college and goth crowds. Now, he is the butt of their humor: a cautionary warning of a sell-out losing all originality and vitality.

He went the distance in proving the cynical naysayers correct, reaching his nadir with Alice in Wonderland (2010), which jettisoned authentic Carrollesque surrealism in favor of populist fluff and a cringe-inducing slice of Johnny Depp ham.

In vain, one hoped Burton had nowhere to go but up, but he only continued his slide, proving nostalgia is fleeting with an ill-advised and execrable update of Dark Shadows (2012). He followed this with a pointless, self-plagiarized feature, Frankenweenie (2012), which predictably worked better in its original version as a compact short.

Burton is certainly not immune to critical fallout. Of course, it has hardly affected his box office standing, but popularity with aesthetically illiterate masses is only salt to the wound.

With Big Eyes, Burton belatedly responds to critics by playing the narcissistic victim, projecting himself onto the figure of artist Margaret Keane. In doing so, he damn near kills the film, but, surprisingly, his opus (barely) survives him.

AMY ADAMS BIG EYES (2014)
Burton’s epic misstep is in subduedly addressing Keane’s art as kitsch. It is kitsch. There is nothing original about her mass-produced  art for the Walmart home spread. Her illustrations are a kind of synthetic parody of Modigliani.  Yet, Burton is a Keane fan, and fan is short for fanatic.  Naturally, he takes the fanboy approach in identifying with his object of adulation. Undoubtedly, Burton can find affinity in Keane’s strategical marketing to a bourgeoise public.

In pedestaling Margaret Keane’s gimmicky, one-note cartoons, Burton casts the art critics and gallery dealers as two-dimensional, jealous predators. It’s the equivalent of a cinematic exclamation point, or a big bang at the end of a pedestrian symphony. The homogenous Tim Burton/Margaret Keane hybrid becomes a much put-upon martyr. Cue big, puppy-eyed closeup.  It is the kind of manipulative choice that Spielberg used to be so goddamned guilty of.

Big Eyes would have been a far better film had Burton made a smarter choice by avoiding the topic altogether, or in taking either an objective or idiosyncratic approach (as he did in Ed Wood). In many ways, Big Eyes serves as little sister to Ed Wood, but in that earlier film, a younger, fresher director did not succumb to tomfoolery. Wood‘s art was also kitsch, but it was his hopelessly desperate naiveté and inherent weirdness that unintentionally redeemed his work as something more than the sum of its parts.  To this day, Wood still belongs underground and remains a malcontent, misfit failure in marketers eyes. Keane’s art, or lack thereof, is not blessed with such weirdness. Rather than being an object of derision and shame, she is a patron saint of sorts; a success story in an evil empire. That glove of acceptability prohibits Keane’s work from being the driving force of Big Eyes, and the film comes dangerously close to overdosing on banality. Its good points are nearly derailed by Burton’s junky choices.

Rather, the nexus of Big Eyes is a broader, meatier topic, but even in that, the writing takes a sketchy approach. Burton leaves it  up to the two leads to propel the film into something grander. Fortunately, Amy Adams and Christopher Waltz deliver what they can, in spite of the script’s limitations.

BIG EYES (2014-BURTON) CHRISTOPHER WALTZ AMY ADAMS

Patriarchal domination and misogynistic abuses are the legitimate themes. The Rush Limbaughs of the world, who prefer the 1950s ideal of complacent housewives, will dismiss this as feminist claptrap. Certainly, there is validity in the “propaganda” label. Waltz, as Walter Keane, is not given much of a character arc to work with. He is a charismatic sleaze. The narrative problem is his being portrayed as such from the introduction. It bespeaks Margaret’s lack of depth and intuitiveness that she is wholeheartedly and complacently wedded to his Elmer Gantry-like sales pitch, only divorcing herself from it when she trades n his spousal domination for a religious one.  Unfortunately, Burton and writers are hardly up to multifaceted psychology.

Today, some members of the Keane family claim that Big Eyes misrepresents Walter. While his abusiveness towards Margaret seems to be acknowledged, the fact that he did indeed develop the conceptfor the “Big Eyes” motif is avoided altogether in Burton’s film. Whether that is true or not is primarily irrelevant, but opening the possibility might have made for a more compelling story.

Given the rudimentary characterizations (big bad patriarchal wolf vs maternal deer-caught-in-headlight victim), Adams and Waltz go the distance in giving substantial flesh to celluloid cardboard. Burton is to be commended for giving them the freedom to do so. It has been a long time since this director holstered his self-made auteur crown and genuinely collaborated with actors, evidenced in a decade of Burton films populated with phoned-in Depp performances.

The chemistry between Adams and Waltz works best in the quieter moments. His pathetic desperation in contrast to her steely reserve creates a compelling Gunfight in the OK Courtroom, awash in Hitchcockian colors. The film’s more histrionic burning-down- the-house moments unwisely channel Jack Nicholson’s  performance in The Shining (1980), and we are as disconnected now as we were thirty-five years ago.

Too little is made of Margaret’s post-marriage conversion to the Jehovah Witnesses, which might have made an interesting postlude. When the Artist Formerly Known As Prince also went that route, his work undeniably devolved, producing a blithering musical idiot. For Margaret Keane, who, unlike Prince, never possessed an iota of genuine artistic talent, the conversion (which is erroneously, subtly skirted over) resulted in a style like a watered-down Salvador Dali (for the John  Ward Home Interiors crowd who cannot handle Dali).

Big Eyes could have benefited from a healthy dose of Woodian weirdness, but the disparity found between heroin addiction combined with transvestism, in opposition to a paint-by-number version of “Taming Of The Shrew,” is simply too big.

Regardless of  the film’s flaws, Burton almost seems alive again here, as does composer Danny Elfman, who produces his best work in years.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a baby step toward Burton reclaiming his spark. A promising note might be discovered in the announcement that he will be reuniting with Michael Keaton for a belated Beetlejuice (1988) sequel. Of course, it could equally prove a disaster.

If Keaton and David Lynch can resurrect themselves, then Burton too may finally put his artistic bankruptcy behind him.

 

SIMIAN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Boulle Monkey PlanetIn the 1960s Arthur P. Jacobs purchased screen rights to Pierre Boulle’s novel “Monkey Planet,” for Twentieth Century Fox. It became Jacobs’ dream project, facing an uphill battle with skeptical executives. Not helping the producer’s cause was Boulle’s public statement, calling “Monkey Planet” his worst novel.*

POTA HESTON

Rod Serling and Michael Wilson co-wrote the screen adaptation for Planet of The Apes (1968), which is far more Twilight Zone in construction than Boulle. Jacobs wisely cast Charlton Heston in the lead role. Heston, who loved the script, was helpful in influencing studio heads to green light and assign director Franklin J. Shaffner, who the actor had worked with in the underrated The War Lord (1965).

POTA HESTON EVANS 1968

Studio misgivings were laid aside when Planet of the Apes (1968) proved to be a monstrous success. Before Star Wars, Batman, etc, Planet of the Apes was the original blockbuster franchise, spawning four sequels, a short-lived television series, an animated series, and a comic book. The original film still retains its classic pop status, despite revisionist opinions, usually by those who have not seen it and dismiss it as a cheesy byproduct of the sixties and seventies. Actually, it is science fiction at its most preferable: the cinematic equivalent of Cracker Jacks with its prize being smart dumb fun amidst caramel popcorn and salty peanuts. Who, in all honesty, would find  Kubrick’s academic  psychedelia 2001: A Space Odyssey, made the same year, as fun an experience as American icon Heston being put through Sterling’s pulp karma in the form of gorillas on horseback? Heston’s Col. Taylor, disdainful of mankind, is replete with character flaws, yet we root for him as he is catapulted through a physical and emotional nightmare, in which he is forced to do a philosophical about-face, only to learn he was right all along. Heston’s physicality  perfectly responds to Sterling’s blunt ironies. It is the hippest performance of the actor’s career and one can understand his hesitancy regarding the sequel; Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970). Continue reading SIMIAN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

NOAH (2014)

When it was first announced that Paramount had given  (Black Swan) the green light to tell his version of the Noah story, many familiar with the director’s work wondered how he and frequent collaborator and scriptwriter Ari Handel were going to interpret it.

NOAH (2014) still

The mainstream audience began popping up their heads a few months ago, when all they had heard was that Hollywood had made a soon-to-be-released BIG movie about Noah in the Bible. Naturally, the Bible geeks were shivering with anticipation. The only surprise from the near hysteria which followed was that the pious made so much noise primarily after the premiere, rather than before. Naturally, true to form, there has been condemnation from some without even having seen the film, but not quite to the extent we have seen from evangelical audiences previously. Some have accused Paramount of duping Christians into seeing it with a misleading campaign. Perhaps, or perhaps the studio merely overestimated that faction of the American public.NOAH II

The cries from a plethora of American Evangelical Christians that Noah is “blasphemous” is, in fact, offensive in itself, but not entirely unexpected. The Noah story does not exclusively belong to evangelical Christians, as it is not of Christian origin. Rather, that version of the universal flood is derived from ancient Jewish and rabbinic writings. Even the writers of Genesis took the Noah account from preexisting narratives, such as the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Continue reading NOAH (2014)