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Monday, November 24, 2008

Movies: 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Turkeys Bad Film Fest

Welcome to our annual Thanksgiving turkey strangle - ten films that give bad a new name.Here are last year's Turkeys part one and part two. Every year we pick some of cinemas low flyers for special shame and ridicule. To the list!

1) The Wicker Man(remake)

The remake of a well regarded film is not an uncommon species of turkey, in fact this list sports several. However It must be said that the dropoff from the creepy Edward “The Equalizer” Woodward starring original to this Neil LaBute helmed crapfest is mighty steep. Aside from the nonsensical plot the main attraction for J.G. Ballard-esque car wreck fans is Nicholas Cage’s performance, a masterclass in frantic, pointless scenery chewing that reads like a bad Nic Cage impersonator “doing” Nic Cage. LaBute naturally focuses his attention on the evil women who run the mysterious island where cop Cage has gone to look for his ex-paramour’s missing child. Never has gynophobia seemed so downright silly.You'll root for the murderers.

2) Under the Rainbow

It’s hard to know what anyone involved in this awful film were thinking. Set in 1938 it involves 150 midgets in town to film the Wizard of Oz, Chevy Chase as a secret service agent, Carrie Fisher as the midget’s chaperon and a lot of convoluted plotting involving Nazis and fake European countries. Like A Fish Called Wanda, the cardinal Hollywood rule of avoiding dog deaths is overlooked. Unlike Wanda, it’s simply not funny here.

3) The Jerk, Too

Some of you might remember ABC’s short-lived Saturday Night Live knockoff Fridays, which in the early 80s introduced a small audience to Michael Richards and Larry David. One of the breakout stars was Mark Blankfield, whose over-the-top pharmacist character propelled him to this ill-considered remake of Steve Martin’s 1979 classic The Jerk, barely 5 years after the original.

4) Employee of the Month

My wife and I valiantly attempted to watch this excrescence on cable, just to see at what point one of us would cry chicken and call the whole thing off. What we didn’t bargain for is becoming literally mind-boggled by a seemingly interminable scene talking place high up in the stacks of the giant warehouse store where Dane Cook and his co-workers, well, work. The plot involves some meaningless bullcrap about Jessica Simpson and Cook – two “actors” notably devoid of charm here, and some desire by Cook to date Simpson who only dates employees of the month so Cook has to…snnnnnOOORRK!When my wife and I came to, we felt like Betty and Barney Hill - the couple who knew they were kidnapped by aliens because they had experienced chunks of missing time from their lives.

5) Stepford Wives (remake)

The original Stepford Wives was no great film, just a campy sub-Rosemary’s Baby vamp on The Feminine Mystique. Frank Oz’s ill-considered re-make is a mess, overstuffed, over-budgeted and over-plotted. Bad remake queen Nicole Kidman (of future turkey entries Invasion and Bewitched) does her accent from To Die For and generally fails to look like the kind of woman a man would want to upgrade with a robot/lobotomy or whatever it is they are supposed to be. Bette Midler does her loud earthy shtick and Christopher Walken does his creepy weird-line-delivery shtick. Oh yeah, and Matthew Broderick throws down his super nebbish routine. Did I mention that the movie doesn’t even know if the housewives are being lobotomized, or turned into robots, or what? The one surefire lobotomy victim is the viewer after watching this dreck.

6) The Nude Bomb

Before Steve Carrell was tapped to do a remake of the classic Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created spy spoof TV show Get Smart, the show itself was turned into a movie in 1980 – the aptly named Nude Bomb. Only Don Adams, the original and best Maxwell Smart, returns from the TV cast. Sylvia Kristol better known as soft-core star Emmanuelle is the love interest (!). Vittorio Gassman gets roped in, presumable to pay the electric bill. Deserves the cone of silence.

7) Moving Violations

Police Academy mastermind Neal Isreal transported his already Xeroxed transposition of Animal House antics to traffic school in this comedy tribute to nepotism. Lesser-known Murray sibling John Murray is not asked to imitate brother Brian Doyle in this film but other brother Bill, to slim returns. He’s up against Stacy Keach’s brother James Keach who is tofurky to Stacy’s Thanksgiving meal. These two sibs are balanced out by Jennifer Tilly, who had not yet eclipsed sister Meg. Also, Don Cheadle shows up ever so briefly. It’s entirely a movie by association, if you liked Police Academy, Ghostbusters, and Mike Hammer, you’ll hate Moving Violations.

8) Heartbeeps

Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters star as robot domestics who escape and fall in robot love. Vincent Canby’s original review notes that “The makeup worn by Mr. Kaufman and Miss Peters looks formidably uncomfortable.” So do the actors and everyone remotely associated with this mess.Walks the fine line between boring and subtly disturbing.

9) Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Two of the most inexpressive actors in cinema, Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah team up in what sadly is an action adventure. Even Chase’s vocal inflections in the invisible scenes are blah and poor John Carpenter is reduced to wishing Kurt Russell had been available in this listless special effects extravaganza. Sam Neill’s mole has more range than the leads and Carpenter seems to try to get him on camera as much as possible to no avail. Note how the trailer attempts to sell the film as a comedy and then undercuts the whole thing with " A John Carpenter Film"...

10) Zardoz

Ladies love Sean Connery but one look at his over-exposed furry body in the weird bondage-gear outfit he’s forced to wear in this pretentious sci-fi bloatfest and they may rethink the lust factor. Or not. It’s like parachute straps, a diaper, the mustache from the leather guy in The Village People, and boots and hair from Crystal Gayle all combined. If you can get past the look (and I can’t frankly) the movie is incomprehensible at best. Sample dialogue? “The gun is good… The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life, and poisons the earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the gun shoots death, and purifies the earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth and kill!” Did I mention that this comes from a flying stone head?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Art: Artist Guy Peellaert Dies - Designed Album Covers, Created Rock Dreams

Guy Peellaert was the Dutch-born artists responsible for illustrating the book Rock Dreams (1976), a tome that introduced me at a young and impressionable age to the history and more importantly the mythology of rock and roll. His dreamlike, paintings were filled with the humor, lust and grandeur of rock - I always wished that he and writer Nik Cohn would update this masterpiece to cover the crucial years after 1977 but this was not to be the case.

In a sense this is as it should be, for what Rock Dreams enshrined was a canon of music that would fragment in the wake of punk into a million jagged pieces with narratives that spoke to an increasingly specialized audience. Still, I like to think that some of the visual storytelling he employed found it's echo in the early videos of the 80s which codified easy to swallow personas for stars like Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol,  ZZ Top and Madonna.

His visual style owed a debt to Edward Hopper, with a touch of photorealism and occasional collage elements woven in. His post Rock Dreams work continued his obsession with pop culture and Americana mythmaking with images of Betty Hutton and George Raft amongst others. His later works expanded his scope to take in the entirety of 20th century pop culture and world history.

He's also well known for doing the covers for David Bowie's Diamond Dogs album (famous for having to emasculate the Bowie/canine hybrid) and the Rolling Stones' It's Only Rock N' Roll album.

Here are some of his best pieces:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

POSAS: This Year's 2nd Annual Sexiest Man Dead

Let the elites over at People Magazine have their Sexiest Man Alive issue - Hugh Jackman? Whatever...Here at POSAS we are all about the Sexiest Man Dead. Last year it was hunky decomposing actor Cary Grant. In light of the election we thought we should go with a hot political choice - a uniter, not a divider. Believe me when I say that the staff here were simply salivating over the Presidential pulchritude we had to choose from but we knew this year it had to be tall glass of water Abe Lincoln.

Yes, this year's Sexiest Man Dead is Abraham Lincoln.

The reasons? At 6 ft. 4 in., all scruff and biceps, Abe Lincoln looms large in The Civil War, which he says kept him "dirty 95 percent of the time" and left people stammering, "Oh ... my ... God," according to General and dead President Ulysses S. Grant, who adds, "Women's jaws drop when Abe walks into a room."

"Abe is tough and romantic at the same time," says deceased Vice President Seward, "Illinois men are a different breed. They're rugged and they sweat."

Abe Lincoln. Sexiest Man Dead for 2008.

Music: How Rock Band Ruined R.E.M.

When I was in high school, back in the Paleolithic era known as the 80s, there were finely hewn dividing lines between music tastes (even if these lines were privately breached all the time). I had transmogrified from a 60s championing throwback via The Velvet Underground into what was then called “modern rock.”

Even there though there existed a schism roughly divided between British bands and American bands. Being a patriot for the most part I stayed with the American bands – The Replacements, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Husker Du and R.E.M. who all seemed so much less…fey…then their British counterparts in New Order, The Smiths and Depeche Mode. On this too I would come around – partly through the intercession of The Jesus and Mary Chain.

R.E.M. were the great American art rock band, especially for guys like me who had been listening to the Byrds and The Beatles and Buffalo Springfield (The Replacements satisfied the Stones side of me). They put out a string of very good to great albums from 1983s Murmur through 1987s Document before signing to Warner Bros. like Husker Du before them. They were at the apogee of cool.

The first layers of discontent with the band emerged with their debut for Warners, Green, a rich glossily produced White Album –like agglomeration of everything in the band’s arsenal. For the first time the band sounded like they had money. The single “Stand” compounded this by being silly and twee just as the po-faced melancholia that would culminate in grunge was beginning to flood the alt-music scene.

After their big breakthrough record, Out Of Time, which was a commercial if not aesthetic success they cranked out another masterpiece with Automatic For The People, but already the cool was fading away.

After countless albums, some bad (Around the Sun) some underrated (Monster, Up) and some just meh (Reveal) the band is about as loved as, say, the Moody Blues. Not bad, but hardly first rank.

I was kind of psyched for the boys from Athens when I saw that they had a song on hit awesome video game Rock Band – the ultimate music marketing tool for the next generation of fans. Perhaps this would bring them back into the first tier. So what song do they choose? “Orange Crush”.

Now I like “Orange Crush” very much, the slicing guitar riff and the soaring vocals make it feel like perfect anthemic Rock Band material. The reality is it’s a pain in the ass to follow along to, especially to sing, and the annoyance and frustration at the weird double vocal between Stipe and Mills that’s so thrilling to passively hear turns to hatred of the song when trying to perform it.

If I wanted to restore the band’s luster via Rock Band I would choose something like “The One I Love”, simple, punchy, fun to sing and play, or “Begin The Begin.” If it simply must be from the Warners years “What’s The Frequency Kenneth” is one of their best songs and rocks with a nice wallop. Or “Turn You Inside Out.”

Thanks to a bad licensing decision, countless young music fans will hate R.E.M.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Movies: Flashback - The Best Movies of 1988 Part 3

Here is the third and final installment of the Best Movies of 1988. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.

11) The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Underrated auteur Philip Kaufman had the bad luck of being a great 70s style American director in the 1980s. After his magnificent adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff stiffed at the box office he turned to Milan Kundera's novel of the 1968 Prague Spring The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's a film that entwines sex with living and passion with politics - deeply erotic and deeply felt at the same time. 20 years after the events portrayed the Soviet regime depicted stood on teh verge of collapse and the Czech's stood on the precipice of freedom. Also, young and intense Daniel Day Lewis, alluring Lena Olin and  sexy Juliette Binoche all give terrific performances.

12. Hairspray
The original non-Travolta-ed non-musical is still the best version of this. At the time it was further proof that rebels like John Waters who once celebrated poop eating and glue sniffing were entering the mainstream. Maybe so but this was pretty offbeat and saturated in the kitschy goodness that is Waters' trademark. There's also his best leading lady, Divine, an underrated actor who along with pre "club kid" obsessed Ricki Lake make a touchingly creditable mother daughter pair. There is also a lot of heart in the autobiographical material based on the Baltimore of Waters' youth.

13. Dangerous Liaisons
Sharp-eyed director Stephen Frears finds the perfect tone for the classic French story that has spawned numerous versions including the teenybopper Cruel Intentions but none as finely judged as this. Getting stellar performances from Michelle Pfeiffer (having a breakthrough year) an icily cold Glenn Close and an even colder John Malkovich this story of nobles behaving badly is wonderful high class trash.

14. Bull Durham
Perhaps the best sports movie ever, this is fun watching even for those who could give a squat about baseball. The triumvirate of Kevin Costner (in a role that he found hard to escape from), Tim Robbins (playing dumb brilliantly) and Susan Sarandon (on the comeback trail) create sparks in the story of one ballplayer on the way down, another on the way up and the woman who has passion and brains to burn.

15. Big
The body switching film was all the rage in the 80s. Was this a longing for Yuppie America to find the empathy for others less fortunate amidst Reaganomics? A simple need to broaden the demographic of a given film by casting, say, Charlie Schlatter for the kids and George Burns for the octogenerians? Either way Laverne's film  Big was best of the bunch - both funny and surprisgly touching with a great turn by Tom Hanks. Hanks was getting stuck in the kind of films Jim Belushi would put his stink on but his winning portrayal as a child trapped in a man's body struck a chord. Also, don't miss the awesomely jaded Elizabeth Perkins.

16. The Last Temptation of Christ
From a boy trapped in a man's body to a three-person diety embodied in the form of a man. Martin Scorsese's film brings the grit to the bible. Unlike the over-top siliness of Mel Gibson's vision of Christ Scorsese raises uncomfortable questions about sacrifice, humanity, and what it means to be die for other's sins.Also, Willem Dafoe rocks as Jesus.


17. The Naked Gun 
The Zucker-Abrams-Zucker team turned to their failed TV series Police Squad to finallt cement Leslie Neilsen as a comic star after his breakout turn in their awesome '80 comedy spoof Airplane. There have been so many crappy approximations of their style that its a thrill to watch the real thing and laugh out loud once again at their Mad Magazine approach to nonsensical gags. Plus, Ricardo Montalban!

18.  Akira 
 If Stanley Kubrick was Japanese and directed a version of The Wild Bunch with set design by the guys who did Blade Runner it still wouldn't approximate the crazy rush of Akira.

19. Let's Get Lost
Fascinatingly depressing, fashion photog Bruce Weber's documentary on jazz great Chet Baker is shot in black and white so lovingly deep you could swim in it. Yet the story it tells is of one man's dessication, despite talent and fame.

20. My Neighbor Totoro
The first out-and-out masterpiece from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who is viewed at home as a combination of Walt Disney and George Lucas. His lush animation brings an abiding reverence for nature to life in amongst a superbly detailed suburban existence. Death and sadness exist here as in all great stories for children, mixed with wonder and humor. His later films were more epically scaled but this one is a real gem. Avoid the English-dubbed version.

Music: Marnie Stern is Awesome

Marnie Stern continues to shred on the guitar like nobody's business and unlike, say, Joe Satriani she can write songs too. See the adorableness that is her new video "Ruler" here:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Movies: Flashback - The Best Movies of 1988 Part 2

Here is part two of the best movies of 1988. You can see Part One here.

6) Cinema Paradiso
A nostalgic entwining of film and history, this gem spans the tough post-war period in Italy and the way memories get tied up in imagery. Deftly handled movement through time helps ground the characters and sets up a superbly emotional ending set in the (then) present day. Avoid the much-longer bloated directors cut if you can.

7) Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Like Cinema Paradiso an ode to the power of film but here it's to the classic characters of animation. Director Robert Zemeckis stages a cartoon noir with Bob Hoskins as the down and out private dick and a Roger Rabbit as his client. Amazingly the stars of Warner Brothers, MGM, and Disney all interact and an alternate reality where "toons" are an oppressed minority living in their "Toontown" ghetto is created. The plot is a weak spoof of Chinatown but there are cleverly queasy nods to race relations and to the holocaust. A must for any noir or animation fan.

8) Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Pedro Almodovar's first big international hit, this packs in the crazy transgressiveness of his early films with a classic farce backbone to reach hilariously dizzy heights. Terrorists, fires, laced gazpacho, and young and hunky Antonio Banderas add up to a great ride indeed.

9) Die Hard
The movie that made Bruce Willis a star and one of the greatest action movies ever. There's not an ounce of flab on a story that finds humble NYC cop Willis in L.A. to visit his estranged wife just as her workplace is taken over by mysterious terrorists. Did I mention that Willis is afraid of heights and wife Bonnie Bedelia happens to work high up in a skyscraper? Sheer fun.

10) Dead Ringers
In its own way as fun as Die Hard but the laughs are way queasier. David Cronenberg directed this fact-based tale about twin gynecologists and the woman they share (unbeknown to her). Their twin kinship gets deeper and more twisted as the two brothers, wonderfully delineated by Jeremy Irons, begin to pull each other down into madness and addiction. Not recommended as a date movie.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Movies: Flashback - The Best Movies of 1988 Part One

Continuing my Flashback series we go back twenty years to 1988. It was an election year but a very different one with a Bush on the ticket, a dimbulb veep candidate (some things don't change) and a little guy named Dukakis. These were the best films of the year, in no particular order.

1. Married to The Mob
Before Jonathan Demme became a big Hollywood director with Silence of the Lambs but after he had graduated from Roger Corman schlock like Crazy Mama he made a string of distinctly quirky American comedies culminating in this offbeat treat. With the bright colors and quirky rhythms of new wave (he was the perfect director for the classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense) he brought a distinct New York "downtown" sensibility to what on paper could be pretty worn material. Michelle Pfeiffer is terrific as the wife of a rubbed out mobster - decked out in neon and chewing gum but with a spunky good heart. The mob boss, played by Dean Stockwell with thick eyebrows and an appraisers squint, wants to get into her spandex. Matthew Modine is the FBI agent who charms Pfeiffer without letting her know who he is. Finally Mercedes Ruehl nearly hijacks the film as the mob bosses jealous wife, crazy eyed and off-balance yet steely with moral outrage. It's as much about Pfeffier's independence against all of these mobbed-up men who try to control her.

2. A Fish Called Wanda

A transcontinental comedy that bridged humor on both continents Wanda is a rollicking culture clash of uptight Brits like John Cleese and stuttering Michael Palin and outrageously crass and libidinous Americans Jamie Lee Curtis and a never-better Kevin Kline as a pretentious moron with aspirations to intellect. It's all hung around a classic heist plot that manages to weave in the ultimate cinematic taboo - the killing of canines. Several times. Hilariously. Jamie Lee Curtis is phenomenal in one of the few roles that allows her to show her great range.

3. Beetlejuice
Tim Burton's cinematic vision was first widely seen in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure but the casual Surrealism and candy-coated darkness was hard to discern as being distinct from the Pee-Wee Herman universe. Beetlejuice was Burton's own baby, with even more goth-baiting gloom in the form of young Winona Ryder, a mind-bending and unique view of the afterlife, and a cast in tune with his wacked-out sensibilities. Catherine O'Hara could be from a contemporary Demme film as an art-world diva, Jeffrey Jones is great as her nebbishy husband and Michael Keaton was suitably borscht belt macabre as the titular character. Sadly Alec Baldwin is asked to play it straight with Geena Davis as the nice young dead couple who insist on haunting their dream house.

4. The Vanishing
Another view of death and the mystery of life entirely and a far bleaker one is George Sluizer's original version of The Vanishing , later re-made with diminished returns by the director in English. A man's girlfriend is kidnapped suddenly and he becomes obsessed with learning her fate. His obsession becomes a subject of fascination for her kidnapper, who offers to supply the insight the boyfriend is so desperate to acquire.

5. The Thin Blue Line
From the imagined crime of the Vanishing we move to the real life crimes surrounding Errol Morris documentary The Thin Blue Line. This was the first documentary I ever saw in the theater, my father taking me to see it in Lincoln Square Cinemas after a rave in The New Yorker. It remains as one of the best documentary films ever made with chillingly clever recreations, Philip Glass's hypnotic score, and the words of those involved unfolding a story of justice denied by Texas legal system and the possibility that an innocent man would be executed.