This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

Furry Vengeance

Actual tagline: He came. He saw. They conquered.

I wish there was a way to see exactly how many films have co-opted the "came, saw, conquered" bit for a bad slogan- 'cause I bet it's in the thousands.

I'm sure this movie tries its best to be cute- woodland creatures retaliate against a real estate developer seems like a solid idea, but I can't help but notice one of them is a freking bear. Bears get a very specific, messy type of vengeance that might buck a G rating.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Actual tagline: Never Sleep Again.

OR: Welcome To Your New Nightmare.

Word is that Michael Bay and co. wanted to make this thoroughly unnecessary remake more scary by removing the campy humor of the original, AKA what made it great in the first place.

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

The Back-up Plan

Actual tagline: Fall in love.* Get married. Have a baby. *Not necessarily in that order.

Do the makers of The Back-up Plan understand how asterisks work? If you read the supposedly humorous footnote when prompted, it makes no sense. "Fall in love- not necessarily in that order."

Also this poster seems to assume I know who Alex O'Louhglin is for some reason.

The Losers

Actual tagline: Anyone Else Would Be Dead By Now.

OR: You Don't Give Them Orders. You Just Turn Them Loose.

I actually like the first, vague but interesting tag. The second one seems to think the title is The Loosers. Ah, well.

Though I respect the posters synergy with the graphic novel's cover.

IMDB #194 King Kong

Today we cross another icon off the list with 1933's original King Kong. Did it move me to tears, and inspire me to create an overlong, overstuffed remake (like the nine-year-old Peter Jackson)?

In a word, no. But hey, it's a giant ape climbing the Empire State building! If that doesn't do it for you, you might not be American.

The Key Players:

King Kong is essentially two films that overlap in places. Originator of the whole gorilla obsession Merian C. Cooper would direct the model and miniature scenes, while Ernest Schoedsack directed the live-action parts. They produced and directed, together and separately, some the last big silent productions of the late twenties, and several early adventure talkies. Most famous for this film, they reunited for a second go around at apes with 1949's Mighty Joe Young.

Fay Wray had a career of over 100 diverse film and television roles, but is mostly remembered for...screaming. Her iconic turn here and in other 30's horror films like Doctor X and The Vampire Bat led to the title of the "Queen of Scream."

Bruce Cabot (Fury, Diamonds Are Forever) and Robert Armstrong (The Son Of Kong, Mighty Joe Young) also star.

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The Story:

Don't we all pretty much know the story? Filmmaker extraordinairre Carl Denham (Armstrong) plucks penniless leading lady Ann Darrow (Wray) from the streets, whisks her to an exotic jungle to shoot amidst hostile natives and an undocumented terror called "Kong." Stoic first mate Jack Driscoll (Cabot) falls for Darrow and tries to protect her.

It takes a while to get to our titular creature- instead, the first forty minutes of King Kong are all about what a hassle women are. The captain and Driscoll argue with Denham about bringing a woman onboard for awhile, they tell said woman that she's nothing but trouble after she's aboard, and Driscoll's primary courting method is to tell Darrow what a nuisance her very presence is. What a charmer.

Anyway, they find some energetic natives preparing to sacrifice a native girl to "Kong," but they offer to trade six of their women for "the golden-haired one" once they awkwardly notice our travelers.

Denham and co. rebuff the offer and regroup on the ship, but a small canoe of natives somehow infiltrates a ship with like a hundred sailors unnoticed and kidnaps the leading lady.

In a scene known to us all, they tie her arms to an altar-looking thing and wheel her through the giant gate, screaming all the while.

Then through the trees: claymation! The horror!

The Artistry:

Lost in the images carried through time is the prevalence of dinosaurs in King Kong. Frickin' dinosaurs, everywhere! This doesn't also qualify for "Wonder Of The World" status?

Seriously, when Driscoll and Denham set out to find Darrow (whom Kong carried off), they're charged by a stegosaurus and attacked from underwater by a brontosaurus before even seeing the big ape himself. King Kong actually has to fight a tyrannosaurus, pterodactyl, and long, more lizard-like thing, all of which seem out to get Darrow.

The claymation is certainly fun, and I can see why it was astounding for the time- did you know there was a thirty-foot bust of Kong which took three men to manipulate the facial expressions? I wonder if it was scary at the time, on the big screen and all.

It's certainly hard to believe anyone ever bought the super-imposed live action shots with a stop-motion background. The moment when the search party shoots the stegosaurus is the least believable sequence (plus I felt kinda bad for it).

But even if you find the effects a little dated, King Kong set plenty of other standards for modern action/adventure movies. The chief one, clearly taken as a primary facet of filmmaking by your Michael Bays and Brett Ratners, is not caring a whip about acting or character development.

The key is the not caring- it's not so-bad-it's-good, or overeager scenery chewing. It's just sorta there- you can easily see why Wray is the only one anyone remembers (for screaming).

This, for example, is Cabot's verbatim confession of love to Wray: "If anything had happened to you...I'm scared for you. I'm sort of, well I'm scared of you too. Ann, uh, I, uh, uh, say, I guess I love you...Say, Ann, I don't suppose, uh, I mean, well you don't feel anything like that about me, do you?"

Ugh. Only Armstrong has anything to work with at all, as the director who'll stop at nothing. Not that his delivery is exciting, but it's hard to mess up "I'd have got a swell picture of a charging rhino but the cameraman got scared. The darned fool, I was right there with a rifle."


So Driscoll saves Ann, mostly by staying out of the way while Kong saves her from dinosaurs and then sneaking down a cliff. They get back to the gates, and Kong appears in pursuit before they can close.

Not to worry, a handheld "gas bomb" is somehow enough to bring down a GIANT GORILLA, as Denham throws one at his feet.

Cut immediately to New York City (how'd they get there? I feel like the logistics of transport would have been more interesting), where King Kong is on display for a curious public.

We all know what happens next- he's startled by flashbulbs, breaks loose, snatches Darrow out of a window (I would've avoided windows) and climbs the Empire State building, only to be felled by airplanes.

Notable parts of this end sequence:

1. Kong picks up another woman at first, sees it isn't Darrow, then drops her.

2. Somehow no one in the entire city of New York's law enforcement of political agencies thinks of using airplanes until Driscoll does. Then they seem to round them up in thirty seconds somehow.

3. Denham's famous last line "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the beast!" is just ALL WRONG.

Sure, he came back to the beach for her in the jungle, but she didn't hit him with a gas bomb. Or take him to New York. Denham says the flashbulbs startle Kong because he thinks they're attacking Darrow, but it's probably just, you know, the flashing of the bulbs and all. In short, it was you, Denham. Pretty much just you killend him.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Eh. Points for influence, I guess? I can't imagine a world in which "How I Met Your Mother" can't parody the final scene with a scale model, a monkey, and a paper airplane, but that doesn't mean I'll ever sit through the entire film again.

The Legacy:

NFR Inclusion? Check. Remade twice? Check. Simpsons parody? Check. Oscars? None?

It also led to spinoffs like The Son Of Kong, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and King Kong Escapes.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

You wanna watch an oddly-colorized version of the part where a giant ape climbs what was then the world's tallest phallic symbol?

Of course you do.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Peter Jackson's 2005 labor-of-love remake (not on the countdown) is really better than most people seem to think. I was going to watch it until I realized I don't presently own a copy.

-Seriously if I'm one of the press dudes, I'd be all "So yeah, a larger-than-normal primate, that's fine- didn't you say something about AN ISLAND COVERED IN PREHISTORIC DINOSAURS?"

Coming Up...

193. Rosemary's Baby

192. Dial M For Murder

191. The Hustler

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

Death At A Funeral

Actual tagline: This is one sad family.

Blah blah oddly generic tag for such a specifically-marketed film- HOLY SH*T this was directed by Neil Labute? WTF?

You could do an entire series called "Actual Films Made By Once-Promising Director Neil Labute," and it would now include this as well as The Wicker Man, Lakeview Terrace, and Nurse Betty.


Actual tagline: I can't (fly/read your mind/be invisible/see through walls). But I can kick your ass.

Those would be interchangeable parts in the first sentence, variations on the same theme.

People are excited for this, for some reason. I don't have any sort of opinion on our desensitization to extreme violence or anything, but doesn't this have Nicolas Cage?

Is he cool again? Like in an ironic way?

IMDB #195 A Streetcar Named Desire

One of the many subcategories I could parse this countdown into would have to be "Movies I'm Familiar With Only Through 'The Simpsons.'" Though the classic example is how the episode "Rosebud" totally spoils Citizen Kane, "A Streetcar Named Marge" is a great one from the fourth season.

In fact I rewatched it after today's entry, 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire and so many jokes were that much funnier.

Also it's a classic of American film with some landmark performances and et cetera, et cetera.

The Key Players:

The stage play was written by playwright extraordinairre Tennessee Williams, who also co-wrote the screen adaptation. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for "Streetcar" and "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," as well as New York Drama Critics' Circle awards for "The Glass Menagerie" and "The Night Of The Iguana," all f which have been films at some point (Iguana in particular is a fun tour-de-force for Richard Burton).

Director Elia Kazan directed the original broadway production of "Streetcar," and brought most of the principal cast with him to the screen. He would win two Best Director Oscars, but most of his classic films tend to be remembered for their stars over their director: On The Waterfront (Brando), Splendor In The Grass (Beatty, Wood), East Of Eden (Dean).

If Humphrey Bogart is the archetypical movie star, then Marlon Brando is the archetypical actor- one of the earliest and foremost method actors, he embodied each role so much that you tended to forget his mumbling delivery. His career ran the gamut: early classics and multiple awards (On The Waterfront with Kazan, Viva Zapata!, Julius Caesar), mid-career masterpieces (The Gofather, Apocalypse Now), and old age flops amind incerasingly odd behavior (Free Money, The Island Of Dr. Moreau).

Vivien Leigh was an Englishwoman most famous for playing two American southern belles- here and in the seminal Gone With The Wind. She also had a long stage career, often in Shakespearian productions with then-husband Laurence Olivier. She was the only primary castmember not to star in the original broadway production, starring instead in the West End production in London.

Kim Hunter (whom we saw before but not really saw in Planet Of The Apes) and Karl Malden (Paton, How The West Was Won) round out our main cast.

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The Story:

Leigh plays fading southern belle Blanche Dubouis, who's made her way from Aurial, MS to New Orleans at the start of the action. Her younger sister Stella (Hunter) fled to The Big Easy ten years prior, leaving Blanche to care for the elders (who died) and the homestead (which she lost).

Her arrival and overly demure, unstable and self-deluding nature dramatically disturbs the balance of her sister's home. Stella's husband Stanley Kowalski (Brando) is a bowling-alley-brawling, ripped-shirt-sporting, hard-drinking animal of a man, and the demure, prevaricating Blanche immediately takes a dislike to him.

And vice-versa- Stanley goes on at length about the "Napoleonic Code" by which he's entitled to know more about the loss of his wife's family estate, and is irritated by Blanche's long baths and delicate sensibility.

Stella and Stanley's marriage proves to be a codependent, violent mess, as Blanche is shocked to witness Stanley beating his wife in a drunken rage, and then, weeping, yell in the street in a classic scene for her forgiveness- and it works!

Soon, a co-worker and old army pal of Stanley's named Mitch (Malden) becomes smitten with Blanche, but Stanley starts to hear rumors about her past that don't match up with anything she says.

The Artistry:

First off, can't say enough about Alex North's score, which creates motifs for each character and is jazzier and impressionistic in a neat way (without going over the cliff, Quincy Jones in In Cold Blood style). The score when Stella descends the staircase (right after the "STELLA!!" part) was probably my favorite bit.

Visually I liked the constant reminders of the summer heatwave, from Brando's constant flopsweat to the steam baths and cigarette smoke. A lot of atmosphere (figurative and literal) in this film.

But it's clearly all about the acting. Leigh and Brando in particular set the standards for two different types of scenery chewing: descending into "mahdness" and the child-like tantrum, respectively. Hunter and Malden do great with what they're given as well, but it's head-spinning hysteria and method-inspired yelling that still wins Oscars these days (Marion Cotillard and Sean "IS THAT MY DAUGHTA IN THERE?!?!" Penn are two good recent examples).

Many people make the astute observation that Blanche and Stanley represent clashing lifestyles in a changing south, but I'll admit that didn't occur to me while watching it, not from my context. But that's why the play is taught in schools, and the film is all the more a classic I'm sure.


Stanley finds out that Blanche mortgaged the family estate after her husband (a closeted homosexual) killed himself- we find out in her scenes with Mitch that she blames herself for this. She then conducted a series of affairs out of a hotel in Aurial that eventually banned her for scandalous behavior, driving her to her sister.

Stanley tells this to Mitch, who withdraws his offer to marry Blanche and makes a crude pass at her instead.

Stella goes off to give birth (she's been pregnant this whole time- did I not mention that?), and a drunk Stanley is left to celebrate the birth of his son with Blanche. In a fitful state of denial, she tells him that she's had a wire to join a rich gentleman on a cruise, but Stanley won't indulge her lies.

Her makes his own crude pass, and when rejected, attacks and rapes Blanche (cut off by a fade to black).

Later, we find Stella at home with her newborn, awkwardly tending to her sister, who's had a nervous breakdown. Stanley arranges for her to be commited, and everyone waits tensely for her to be picked up.

Stanley, looking around the room, claims he never touched her, but the suddenly noble again Mitch punches him in the face. Blanche seems to realize what's happening when the attendants from the home show up, but ultimately calms down and goes with them, uttering the signature line ""Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Personally, I've seen that line on several "Best Movie Quote" lists, and I had always sort of assumed it was at least a little positive, not the proud declaration of a character flaw by a thoroughly defeated fading archetype.

But hey, it's not entirely a downer, as Stella takes her baby and flees to the neighbors, vowing never to go back to Stanley. This coda was apparently insisted on by the Hollywood Production Code for moral reasons- the play ends with Stella gravely remaining by her husband.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I'd say it can remain where it is, for acting acumen and situational cultural relativism. I don't really need to see it again, as I didn't care in particular for the characters and I tend to avoid things relentlessly bleak, but I'm happy to finally put a few key scenes and lines in the right place.

Plus, and again, that one "Simpsons" is just so much better now, especially the big ending song about how "A stranger's just a friend you haven't met!" and the song that Apu sings as the newspaper boy.

The Legacy:

Of our two lead actors (Leigh, Brando) and two supporting actors (Hunter, Malden), all won Oscars except Brando (though if there were Oscars for letting muscles do half of the acting for you, he'd have been a shoe-in). It also picked up and Art Direction statue among 12 total nominations.

There's the usual AFI/NFR accolades, and though the play is technically what's been adapted for film and tv several more times, this film must be exhibit #1 in preparation, given that it's nearly all of the original Broadway personnel.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Marlon Brando: not a fan of shirts.

Leftover Thoughts:

-I wonder if Brando was cast as Stanley the same way Ned Flanders was: "Everyone audtioning for the role of Stanley, take off your shirts!"

-Didn't touch on the whole 'Desire' analogy, but it seemed pretty obvious. I think Williams just set the play there because of the streetcar line.

Coming Up...

194. King Kong (1933)

193. Rosemary's Baby

192. Dial 'M' For Murder

IMDB #196 Sleuth

Halfway through 1972's Sleuth, I found myself with an odd sense of deja vu until I realized I had seen Anthony Shaffer's 1970 stage play performed in middle school (much later than 1970, though).

I didn't remember the ending or anything, just some indelible images- the howling of a man in a clown costume as a shot is fired, or the oddly familiar figure of an inspector asking questions about a body that can't be found. The story, a mystery of cruel games between two English gentlemen, really has too many twists and turns to keep track of for too long anyway, but it's the kind of fun Edgar Allen Poe would be proud of.

The Key Players:

Sleuth is actually the last film of director Joseph Mankiewicz's illustrious career: nominated for Best Picture as a Producer six times (including The Philadelphia Story), he would win both Screenplay and Director two years in a row for A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve. After toiling for three years on the over-budget commercial flop Cleopatra, he returned to form for his swan song.

This is our second clash with the charisatic and devilish Laurence Olivier, but our first enocunter with Michael Caine. He and Jack Nicholson are the only actors with Oscar nominations in the last five decades. His most famous roles tend to be the subject of remakes, with The Italian Job, Alfie, and a recenter Sleuth trading down for Mark Wahlberg and Jude Law. He's also Alfred Pennyworth in the recent Chris Nolan blockbusters, of course.

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The Story:

Olivier plays a clear analogue of Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of a hugely successful mystery series featuring a "St. John Lord Merridew," a private consultant that often beats incompetent policemen to the punch.

He invites a younger, roguish Caine to his large estate, which is full of hedge-mazes, games and puzzles, and creepy automata, to confront him- Caine wants to marry Olivier's wife, and the older man has a proposition that would benefit them both...

I'm reluctant to explain more without a spoiler wall. Hmm...


Let's rundown the twists:

1. Olivier isn't mad about the affair- in fact, he suggests that Caine steal some jewels from him to be able to keep the wife in luxury- Olivier will get the insurance money and everyone wins. To that end, he has Caine dress as a clown (for a disguise) and make a convincing show of breaking in.

2. Olivier then announces his intention to kill Caine, and the burglary was just a ruse to make it look justified. He forces Caine, who's cowering in fear, to put the clown mask on, puts the gun to the back of his head, and BANG!

3. An inspector Doppler comes to the house, investigating the disspearance of Caine. Olivier explains the entire affair had been a ruse- he shot a blank, intending only to humiliate Caine for cuckolding him. But the inspector finds blood on the bannister, and there's a mound of freshly turned earth in the garden. Olivier frantically protests innocence...

4. Until Doppler takes off his disguise (which are all well done prosthetics indeed) to reveal that he is Caine, getting revenge! Olivier claims never to have been truly fooled.

5. So Caine starts a new game, claiming to have killed Olivier's mistress and hidden incriminating evidence about the house. A phone call to the mistress's flatmate confirms this, and a distraught Olivier madly searches for the four items amid Caine's taunting clues to their whereabouts. He finds them all just as Caine lets policemen into the house.

6. Fooled again! The flatmate and mistress were in on it, and Caine didn't kill anyone. This sends Olivier over the edge, and he picks up the loaded gun, and shoots Caine in the back as he leaves.

7. But then the police really arrive, as Caine had made a complaint about the initial fake-shooting.

Sleuth begins and ends with a curtain within the frame, showing us Olivier's manneguins and robots and their idle grins, as if to remind us that what we're seeing is a show.

When Caine yells "Please!" through the clown mask right before being "shot," I realized I had seen "Sleuth" in the mid-nineties at some point, which tipped me on the identity of the inspector as well- though the film does an admirable job distracting us, with the credits claiming "Introducing Alec Cawthorne as Inspector Tindle."

There's also a fake "John Matthews" and "Teddy Martin" credited as the imaginary detectives Caine is waiting for in part 5. In fact, no one appears but our two leads, and no one else is necessary.

For a while, it seems as Olivier is going to act circles around Caine- the older man gets such a meaty part in the early going, flitting from jocularity to whimsy to rage in a heartbeat, filling each line with menace. But the tables turn often enough to showcase Caine's sadistic side as well, boiling over into class-based anger from time to time.

Both do a good job of dealing in the underlying resentments without spelling them out- Olivier's impotence and Caine's half-Italian heritage, chiefly. In fact, the camraderie after Caine reveals himself as the inspector is such that you wish these characters could be friends- if only they didn't both need to win so badly.

The reveals and double-reveals may get a little tiresome, but it ends in real bloodshed and ruin satisfyingly enough. A dying Caine even fittingly reminds a crumbling Olivier, "Be sure and tell was only a bloody game."


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Higher, I'd say. What was the last successful film that only featured two actors? I can't even think of something that tried it (Gus Van Sandt's Gerry?). Shaffer may have been worried about how his play would translate to the screen, but it great to have a version of it that captures the wickedly cunning spirit so well.

The Legacy:

The film would earn nominations for the Score, Mankiewicz's direction, and the rare double Lead Actor nods for Olivier and Caine, but would lose all four. Nonetheless, the play remains a popular stage production (even in Houston, TX in the mid nineties).

Harold Pinter adapted an entirely new version of the play for director Kenneth Branagh in 2007, with Jude Law in the Michael Caine role and Michael Caine in the Laurence Olivier role. Despite the star power, the fil was poorly received, suggesting the '72 version might be the definitive one in peoples' minds (or that they made it too claustrophobic and repetitive). I'll probably watch it sometime to compare.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

I looked all over for the scene early on where Olivier explains how much he hates the presumptious, lower-class Caine (and you realize It. Is. On.), but the best I could find was the big Inspector Doppler reveal. Uh, spoilers.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Forgot to mention the jaunty score that emphasizes the dramatic moments mostly by going quiet, or the Cole Porter songs that Olivier made all creepy.

-I would've nominated the eerie sailor automaton for Best Supporting Actor, the number of times they went to it for a reaction shot.

Coming Up...

195. A Streetcar Named Desire

194. King Kong (1933)

193. Rosemary's Baby

Update: totally saw How To Train Your Dragon again.

And guess what? Still awesome.

Changed opinions: The "solid but not spectacular" score by John Powell* is in fact pretty great- it might be just it growing on me sentimentally, but I may buy it- and I rarely buy traditional orchestral scores (I don't even have Howard Shore's Lord Of The Rings!).

Toothless (the dragon) is clearly the most adorable animal companion ever on the silver screen (take that, dog from The Thin Man!). I will definitely get a toy** to keep on my desk (or, y'know, to spin around and the air while going "Whooosh!").

Thoroughly excited for co-directors/co-writers Cris Sanders and Dean Dublois' other work- I've never seen the highly regarded Lilo & Stitch somehow (it came out in the brief window between me being a kid and me realizing that many kids movies are awesome for everyone). Plus they have a caveman related work-in-progress for Dreamworks slated for 2012 called The Croods.

Oscars nominations I would hope it's in the running for in 2011: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Animated (duh), Score, both Sound Awards, and Original Song (turns out it's the Sigur Rós guy! How hip is that?). The stigma of being animated will probably keep it out of things it deserves like Editing, Director, and Cinematography (though ROGER F*CKING DEAKINS' (as he will hencefoth be known) lighting contributions make it more than deserving of the latter category- give that guy an Oscar for something already).

Is there nothing wrong at all with it? Not exactly. For instance, why do the older vikings have Scottish accents while the younger ones sound American? I'll be the first to admit the plot is predictable enough, the conflicts a little too explicative (people are still staying "You're not my son!" in movies?), and the odd line a little cheesy.

And to each of these criticisms in turn, I say: "Yeah, but...dragon riding!" I'm like the young kids who didn't get the furor over The Phantom Menace because it had pod racing. Something tells me that How To Train Your Dragon will play fine in 2D, between the winning story and the beautiful animation, but there's just nothing like those flying sequences in 3D: I can think of two distinct moments when I heard the entire audience literally all gasp at once.

Not to return to the Avatar-bashing too much, but I didn't rave about that film (or its various dynamic sequences) because I just didn't care that much. Hiccup (the Dragon's hero), has to actually learn to fly, instead of just hooking up his telepathic ponytail and getting the knack of it right away.

Heck even the predictable parts of Dragon are enjoyable: you know early on that the comic relief pair of fraternal twins are going to end up riding the two-headed dragon at some point, but that doesn't make it not fun.

Once again: Go see this film. Even with Clash Of The Titans coming out the week after, you should still be able to find it on a 3D screen for a while in most cities (especially given its 98% to 29% Rotten Tomatoes advantage, and its A to B Cinemascore*** advantage over Titans). The next big 3D film is May 21st's Shrek Forever After (meh), so repeat viewings are certainly a possibility.

*The score is all on Youtube starting here. It's probably legal, maybe, sure, I dunno- I'm just not informed about these things.

**That one's cool. Or I could go to McDonald's and just buy a Happy Meal toy. Can they hold the Happy Meal?

**Cinemascore is an audience-polling service- it's taken opening weekend, so it's usually higher than it should be: B means a steep box-office drop, A means you might not lose the requisite 40% every week.

Also, I changed the blog theme and added a header image- literally never before did it occur to me to put a movie image up there.

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

Date Night

Actual tagline: none.

What? It's like they expect us to know this is a comedy just from the poster and the stars! What is the world of pandering coming to?

The Runaways

Actual tagline: It's 1975 and they're about to explode.

But hey, The Runaways is going into wide release, and it would like to make sure you know that it's a period piece about spontaneous human combustion.

Go See How To Train Your Dragon!

Look, I see a lot of films, and I like a whole bunch of them. But never do I unabashedly rave about things, so believe me when I say this is important:

Go see How To Train Your Dragon. Right now.


It finally justifies the money being thrown by studios (and audiences) at 3D technology. It makes me realize why people love roller coasters (I have a weak stomach for that stuff). It's thrilling, it's touching- it's about eight billion times better than Avatar. Yeah. Clearly Cameron and co. pioneered live-action 3D shooting, and 3D as a hugely successful business model, but you can't buy heart and you can't force thrills.

The comparison is inevitable- much of the action sequences in Avatar involve the main character riding on a dragon-like winged creature, but the cinematography in Dragon finds a way to take us up in the air for the ride- Avatar was looking for ways to flaunt itself and its world. It's the difference between "Hey look at this flying thing! Isn't it neat?" and "WE'RE GOING TO HIT THE GROUND!"

The story helps, of course. People said Avatar was like being fifteen again, dazzled by the wonder of cinema, but there was a dourness and self-seriousness to it that prevented me from getting swept away -it didn't help that it was hopelessly out of touch, painting ridiculously broad strokes. Dragon is simple and compelling- all it takes is a dragon that's more instantly personifiable than Wall-E.

Nearly every other part is done right: there's none of the Shrek and Madagascar winking pop-culture references (though there's a funny moment when the dragon tries to smile that I hope is a self-referential gag about the Dreamworks Animation Face). The voice cast mostly makes sense- Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson as Scottish-brogued Vikings and Jay Baruchel as the awkward hero (America Ferrera doesn't bring much, nor take away anything- other than a job from a voice actress). The familiar father/son conflict is undercut by genuine warmth and humor, in particular the other misfit dragon-fighter trainees.

The dragons themselves are elaborate and wildly varied, the humans expressive and not too uncanny. It's a snappy hour forty pace. John Powell's score is solid if not spectacular (though I loved it in the early meeting-the-dragon scenes). And the palette of the film seems more photorealistic than any earlier CGI effort, maybe because the filmmakers brought in eight time Oscar nominated cinematographer ROGER F*CKING DEAKINS to coordinate lighting.

Hell, even the song during the credits was fantastic:

I wish I could say that this signals a change in the Dreamworks Animation brand, moving toward films with more heart and less forgettable mugging. But since their release schedule contains a fourth Shrek, a Shrek spinoff, and the completely unnecessary Madagascar 3, I wouldn't hold out hope. It's fair to point out that there's a Kung Fu Panda sequel coming, and Dreamworks does distribute Aardman projects in the US (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit), so it's not all a loss.

So go see How To Train Your Dragon in Digital 3D (IMAX 3D you can't turn your head from side to side) and welcome the new era of cinema. I know there are things that will replicate 3D for the home theater, but there won't be anything like seeing this in person for a while. This must be what it was like before home video.

I think I might go again tomorrow.

IMDB #197 Shadow Of A Doubt

Get used to this Hitchcock fellow, everyone- today we take on his most American film of all in 1943's Shadow Of A Doubt.

There's plenty of doubts, not that many shadows.

The Key Players:

Good old Al moved from Britain to America in 1939 after singing a deal with megaproducer David O. Selznick, but it would be a few more years before he embraced small-town Americana. And who better to help him do so than Thornton Wilder, three-time-Pulitzer winning author of "Our Town." Wilder co-wrote the screenplay for Shadow Of A Doubt and gets his own special thanks in the credits, right before our director ("We wish to acknowledge the contribution of Mr. Thorton Wilder to the preparation of this production").

Star Teresa Wright is the only actor to be Oscar-nominated in their first three roles- she won Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver, and was up for The Pride Of The Yankees and The Little Foxes. Following that hat-trick with her best-remembered role here, Wright's promising start lead to a long career capped by stars on both walks of fame, film and tv.

Joseph Cotten is most famous as Charles Foster Kane's best friend in Citizen Kane, and would headline classics like The Magnificent Ambersons and The Third Man.

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The Story:

We open the film on a reposing and seemingly despondent Charles Oakley (Cotten), whose maid tells him of two men she turned away at the door. Breaking out of his reverie, he steps out and is followed by the two men, who are probably government agents (everyone's wearing hats, it's hard to say), but shakes them and heads for the train depot. He wires his sister in Santa Rosa, CA, that he's heading there for a visit.

That sister lives in a large house with her banker husband and three children. Her eldest daughter Charlie (Wright), named Charlotte in her uncle's honor, we meet in a similar repose and despondent manner- nothing ever happens in their picturesque small town, she complains, and has the idea to wire her uncle Charles to visit just before his own message arrives.

After some more small-town pleasantries (we get, they all know each other's names, great) they greet him at the train station. Soon they're exchanging pleasantries and gifts- he gives his niece an emerald ring, which is oddly engraved "TS from BM"- he claims the jeweler must have "rooked" him.

The next day two young men arrived claiming to be part of a government survey project (one of those random departments left over from the New Deal, surely) and need to interview and photograph the entire family. Uncle Charlie refuses to participate, and angrily demands the film when they snap him coming in the door.

The "reporter" takes young Charlie out for a night on the town, where he soon admits he's a detective pursuing the "Merry Widow Killer," an unknown man that's killed two rich widows. She refuses to believe her beloved uncle could be a killer at first, but he oddly steals two pages from the newspaper, and angrily grabs her arm when she tries to see them.

Fighting hysteria (and a very loud score), she goes to the library to find the clipping was indeed a story about the killer! Plus the next night at dinner her uncle compares rich widows to animals that need to be put down (Way to be subtle, pal). Also the killer's latest victim was named "Thelma Scheney," and was married to "Bruce Matheson."

Seeing her obvious suspicion, Uncle Charlie tells her that the police are after someone he got mixed up with, and she promises not to say anything as long as he leaves town...

The Artistry:

Aside from the usual histronic score, nothing struck me aesthetically about Shadow Of A Doubt. There was one odd editing touch: transition shots of couples ballroom dancing- a metaphor of some kind? And there's the usual noir contrast and attire, and the requisite Hitchcock cameo (about fifteen minutes in, playing cards on the train), but aside from the big ending, it all belongs to the script and performances.

Wright in particular is a great, bubbly presence, although she sells naivete better than fear in the later going (and she randomly falls in love with the detective guy, which seemed very thrown in). But she and Cotten have a downright creepy chemistry (like when he smilingly puts a ring on her finger) that keeps the tension high, even though it's pretty obvious to us from the beginning that he's bad news.

Every now and then Charlie's father and his friend hang around and discuss the best way to murder one another- it's just how they relax. It's an odd way to shoehorn in thematic relevance, not the least in the way a young Hume Cronyn plays the friend with a budding-serial-killer energy.

The story seems to take for granted a certain understanding of the small-town togetherness that I really didn't understand: a lot of emphasis is placed on the sister's joy to have her brother back after such a long time, and what his arrest would do to her. The detectives, once they zero in on him, tell Charlie they'll wait for him to leave town and arrest him then instead of just getting him at the house! Really?


A second Merry Widow suspect is killed fleeing from police in Maine, so Uncle Charlie is suddenly in the clear, but our heroine knows (from the ring, at least) that he's still involved, even though she lets her detective boyfriend think the case is over.

She then starts having strange accidents- a step breaks on her way down, and she nearly suffocates in the garage after someone starts the car, takes the key, and closes the door after her. Needing leverage, she goes through her uncles things to take back the incriminating ring- when he sees her wearing it, he announces his intention to leave town after all.

Bidding goodbye on the train, all three children see him to his compartment, but he holds his niece back as the train begins to move. He pushes her to the space in between cars, and moves to throw her onto the tracks. He has to, he claims, since she knows what she does.

But she struggles, and he ends up faling on the tracks instead, right the path of an incoming train! Another odd shot of couples waltzing, and we go to his funeral, where at least Charlie can tell the whole story to her detective boyfriend, if no one else.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Eh. I liked it, sure, but Hitchcock's best film? Shadow Of A Doubt certainly had a more exciting finish than the anticlimactic Rope, but it's hard to believe there's not better suspense out there. Cotten adn Wright certain tangle memorably, but the melding of Hitchcock's murderous existentialism and Wilder's aw-shucks communal togetherness didn't yield much for me.

The Legacy:

It was turned into several radioplays, and loosely remade in 1958 as Step Down To Terror. The only Oscar nomination was for the screenplay, and it's been included in the National Film Registry and all.

Allegedly Hitchcock referred to it as his favorite of his American films, so take that, Psycho.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Listen to the score as she runs to the library. Never has reading a newspaper been so dramatic!

Leftover Thoughts:

-Henry Travers (the dad) totally looks like Richard Nixon in this film. I found it distracting.

Coming Up...

196. Sleuth (1972)

195. A Streetcar Named Desire

194. King Kong (1933)

IMDB #198 Kill Bill Vol. 2

I was torn on the proper way to approach today's entry, 2004's Kill Bill Vol. 2. Should I rewatch the first part in preparation, or just handle the second half on its own?

But then I realized that every other series in this project will be out of order, anyway (I'll be watching Star Wars in 3-1-2 order, Lord Of The Rings 2-1-3, Indiana Jones 3-1, and The Godfather 2-1). So we're looking at the second part of Quentin Tarantino's blood-soaked passion project on its own merits.

Will it hold up- or even make any sense- on its own?

The Key Players:

On second thought, "blood-soaked passion project" can refer to every single Quentin Tarantino film. Somewhere along the line, he's gone from edgy, hip crime dramas (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown) to overindulgent homage pieces (Death Proof) and the Kill Bill series seem like the clear line of demarcation. An Oscar winner for Pulp Fiction's screenplay and multiple nominee for Inglourious Basterds last year, he's moved successfully from the cult to the gratingly ubiquitous- though maybe that's just my opinion. But when you watched his brief role onscreen in Pulp years and years ago, did you think to yourself "Man I hope this guy does the voice of Brainy Smurf if they ever make a Smurfs movie!"

Uma Thurman received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Pulp Fiction, and apparently concieved the character of "The Bride" with Tarantino back then. After rising to fame in art films like Dangerous Liasons and The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen, Thurman spent the 90s headlining flops like Batman & Robin or The Avengers, though some underrated gems like Gattaca and Beautiful Girls helped fill the time in between.

The late David Carradine is most famous for his role as Caine in "Kung Fu" (a cultural touchstone name-dropped in Pulp Fiction and Office Space, which popularized the nickame "Grasshopper" for a pupil learning from a master). His 100 film roles took him from B-movies like Death Race 2000 to a role as Woody Guthrie in Bound For Glory. Most were certain his role here would earn him an Oscar nod (he barely appeared in part 1), but he settled for his fourth Golden Globe nomination.

Tarantino regular Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah round out the cast.

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The Story:

Previously, on "Kill Bill": Uma Thurman's The Bride awoke from a coma after her estranged lover (Carradine, the titular Bill) and her fellow assassins gunned down her wedding rehearsal. She's already killed two of the hit squad (known as the Deadly Vipers) and we open Vol. 2 with a black and white shot of her driving to finally kill Bill himself.

Then we flashback to the wedding rehearsal- Bill appears, leading to a tense conversation, but he gives his reluctant blessing for The Bride's new direction in life- pregnant and about to marry a record-store owner in El Paso. Then the Deadly Vipers show up and guns start a blazing.

The Bride then goes after Budd (Madsen), Bill's now flabby and despondent brother. Seemingly less dangerous than the other Deadly Vipers, Budd now works as a put-upon strip club bouncer and earlier tells Bill he even pawned his sword for $250. But he gets the drop on The Bride all the same, shooting her in the chest with rock salt and burying her in a wooden box with her arms and legs tied- he does give her a flashlight, to be fair.

The Bride, after some moments of panic, calms down and flashses back to her extensive training with comically ridiculous martial arts master Pai Mei. A harsh, super-critical bearded tutor, Pai Mei had put her through rigorous and extremem training, which we see montage-style. Among the lessons were learning to strike a pwoerful blow by moving your hand only three inches- in the present The Bride uses that technique to punch her way out of the coffin and emerge from the ground.

Meanwhile, the maniacal and eye-patched Elle Driver (Hannah) arrives to buy The Bride's sword from Budd for a cool million- but she's hidden a posoisnous black mamba snake among the cash, and it bites him in the face. As he dies in agony, Elle laments that such a loser took out her greatest foe, just before THe Bride arrives for a violent, destructive fight in the trailer.

Pai Mei, it turns out, had plucked out Elle's eye for being insubordinant (Bill had warned that this was possible in that flashback), and she reveals that she poisoned and killed him in return. The Bride (whose name, we've just now learned, is Beatrix Kiddo) then plucks out her remaining eye and leaves her flailing in defeat.

Then it's on to Mexico for the final showdown with the man himself...

The Artistry:

Kill Bill vol. 2 is slow, and meandering. People talk, and they don't even talk as snappy as people in Tarantino movies normally talk. We see Budd get yelled at by his boss at the strip club for a while, Bill does nothing but yammer and then pause for thirty seconds between every fact, there's very little killing at all for a movie with the word in the title.

But for all that, it's actually not a bad character study, especially the relationship at the center. It helps that after the buildup of the first volume, David Carradine's performance doesn't dissapoint as the quiet, soulful killer.

Even though I couldn't really buy Pai Mei at all, the buried-alive sequence is a whole lot of fun, from the black screen during the sounds of the dirt being piled on to the score when Thurman triumphantly breaks out.

It's really a whole film of anticlimaxes- The Bride's attack on Budd ends right when it starts, he then gets killed abruptly, the fight with Elle ends all at once with a quick pluck even though the soundtrack's about to explode, and the final fight with Bill is maybe ten seconds long.

Vol. 2 benefits greatly from being told in order, I think- in such a personal tale, I really didn't see the need to fracture the timeline in any way.


She totally kills bill. What a twist, right? But first she discovers that her daughter is alive and well, and she and Bill have it out about their past (though he uses a truth serum dart to get answers).

The film ends with a visibly distressed but enourmous relieved Beatrix Kiddo drives away with her daughter.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Meh. It's fun, but even with more heart in the second volume it's still more collage than story, more homage than necessary viewing.

The Legacy:

There is a Norwegian parody called Kill Buljo out there, and all parties claim there is a Vol. 3 forthcoming in 2014 (ten years later in the story and in real life).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

David Carradine makes a lengthy metaphor about Superman, which articulates precisely why I don't really find Superman compelling- because he's not human. Clark Kent is the disguise.

Leftover Thoughts:

-I will get to watch Terminator 1 & 2 in the right order.

-The Brainy Smurf thing might just be a rumor, turns out- but I say my point is just as valid if you were willing to believe it at first.

-Rufus? He's the man.

Coming Up...

197. Shadow Of A Doubt

196. Sleuth (1972)

195. A Streetcar Named Desire

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