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From the List of Shame, File #14: From Dusk Till Dawn

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

As a fan of Tarantino (though not an apologist), I have been meaning to go through and watch films made from other screenplays he’s written. With the current vampire craze still undead and kickin’, I decided to dive in and watch From Dusk Till Dawn, his take on the Horror/Vamp genre, directed by his friend Robert Rodriguez.

I’m not a huge fan of Rodriguez’s sensibilities, but it seems like Tarantino wrote the script with him in mind. From Dusk Till Dawn is really two films, the first half comprising of the Gecko brothers, Seth and Richard, (played by George Clooney and Tarantino) en route to Mexico after a bloody robbery in Texas. The second half of the film has them attempting to survive a massive vampire attack along with their family of hostages while waiting in a strip club/bar. The tone of each half is wildly different. The first half really does feel like a gritty crime escape film with Tarantino dialogue rhythms, while the second half retains the dialogue but abandons all semblance of being anything but an adrenaline-fueled B-movie.

Many people will love one half of the film, but may not enjoy the other. I actually enjoyed both halves equally, though for different reasons. In the beginning, we see the tension and comedy that we know and love from Tarantino, while the second half of the film shows off the twisted exploration shlock he and Rodriguez love (remember, this movie predates Grindhouse).

As far as vampire flicks go, this is definitely on the low end. Although the creatures in the film resemble monsters with vampire-like attributes, they aren’t developed all that much in terms of mythology. I guess they at least start out sexy, if you’re into strippers. There’s no glamouring, or much bloodsucking, really.  For the purposes of the film, they may as well be zombies with a love of bats and an aversion to crosses.

I think it’s interesting that Tarantino is so willing to cast himself in the role of the unhinged pervert Richard Gecko, next to George Clooney’s more level-headed Seth Gecko (To my knowledge it’s the second time Tarantino has done this). It’s good to know he isn’t playing roles attempting to glamorize himself (God, I hope not), and this is also the most overt exhibition of his infamous foot fetishizing.

It’s hard for me to deny the fun appeal of this movie, but there were a lot of “Of course!” moments during the film for me. “Of course” the strippers are vampires! “Of course” Clooney builds a pneumatic auto-stake weapon! “Of course” the sun comes up just in time!

I’m not saying this is a great film, but if you like Tarantino and/or Rodriquez, there are worse ways to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

List of Shame Files normally appears on Wednesdays. Previous entries are here.

Weekend Box Office: ‘Help’ Me, Irene

The box office was pretty tepid this week, but lucky for Hollywood PR types, they can use the Hurricane Irene roadshow to cover their losses. While the hurricane probably took a nice chunk from the overall box office, I doubt it did much to change the order of films vying for the top.

The Help was the winner for the second week in a row, turning into the powerhouse film everyone wanted it to be. This should do nothing but help Oscar buzz, as it will cross the $100 million mark next weekend (if not this week).

Colombiana was the most successful debut this week, taking in $10.3 million and claiming second place. I remember thinking the preview was interesting, but until now I forgot this movie even existed. Zoe Saldana seems like she is trying to build her name as an action star, and it may be working.

Coming in third with $8.7 million was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the supernatural horror/thriller that used Guillermo del Toro’s writing/producing credit to maximum impact in the marketing…which turns out wasn’t much.

The other new debut was Our Idiot Brother, the Paul Rudd-headlined indie, which came in fifth place. It didn’t seem like it found an audience, making only $6.6 million, yet the film is already a financial “success,” gaining back it’s paltry $5 million budget.

Overall, none of the weekend’s new films were ever going to be major hits, and for now, we continue to lumber through the transition to fall’s strong roster of Oscar contenders.

All numbers courtesy Box Office Mojo.

Netflix Instant Pick: Newman and Redford

Every week we recommend something we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

One of the all-time best ( and perhaps sexiest) on screen duos is that of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. While they both have illustrious and varied film careers on their own, together, their on screen charisma is undeniable which elevates Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting to near the top of their respective filmographies.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was Redford and Newman’s first collaboration, and one of the great Westerns of all time. The film shows the two title characters and their exploits with The Hole in the Wall Gang in Wyoming, and then eventually Bolivia where they flee the law close at their heels. A very lighthearted take on the traditional outlaw film, I love the mix here of action and comedy, and the audience can’t help but feel like they are following Butch and Sundance on their amazing adventure.

Redford was an almost last minute casting decision, and one that was hated by the studio (Fox), who preferred Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen. It was a decision that certainly changed Redford’s career, and he has used the moniker Sundance ever since for both his estate, and the film festival he founded in Park City, Utah.

The Sting came just four years later, becoming the second pairing of Newman and Redford, and Butch Cassidy director George Roy Hill. It’s a classic con film with Redford as the up-and-comer and Paul Newman as the retired veteran called back for one last job. The two team up to pull a long con on Doyle Lonnegan (the amazing Robert Shaw) to get revenge for the death of Redford’s original mentor. The film became one of the biggest hits of the early 1970s, and won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Adapted Score.

The film boasts both a great story and great acting, placing it near the top of my all-time best film list. I’ve watched it several times now, and each time I come away impressed by just how smart and entertaining this film is.

Both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting are among the best films ever (Butch Cassidy is #73 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list), and the chemistry between Redford and Newman is something that has yet to be duplicated by any modern acting duo. Whether you watch them for the first time or the fiftieth, make sure to go check them out on Netflix Instant!

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Sting

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.

Review: Fright Night

Fright Night is a remake of the 1985 film of the same name, and though I haven’t seen the original in a long time, I feel as though a successful remake formula could be thus: 1. Don’t remake the best films and 2. When you do remake a film, put your own stamp on the material.

Its unique voice is what makes the new Fright Night so much fun. From the script upward the film has a sense about it that is one part scare, one part tongue- firmly-in-cheek. The film was written by Marti Noxon, an alum of both Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men. Noxon brings a wonderful voice to the film, especially through the dialogue. Her creativity and unique ideas really shine through, elevating Fright Night into one of my favorite movies of the entire summer.

Besides the battle plan featured in the film’s climax, Noxon’s most interesting contribution may be in the location. The new incarnation is set in a suburb of Las Vegas, as Noxon was inspired by her trip there during the last presidential election. She writes:

You’d think I would have been contemplating the greed and ineptitude that led the nation to this sorry state, but instead my mind was fixed on one dogged thought: “God, this would be the greatest place to be a vampire. Sinners aplenty just down the road, a transient population that works all hours of the night and day … and all these abandoned homes. You could pick people off and who would ever be the wiser?”

She cites additional inspiration coming from the Amblin films she grew up with, like ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, and Jaws. All of these films bring the fantastic and danger to the mundane world of the suburbs, and Fright Night captures this better than any American film in recent memory, including Super 8. In fact, I imagine replacing the film’s soundtrack with the most recent Arcade Fire album would be a fascinating experiment.

The other thing that makes this film one to be seen are the performances. Colin Ferrell is terrific as Jerry the neighborhood vampire, and the actor’s charisma is used to great effect. Jerry is so much fun to watch, as is the scene-stealing David Tennant (Doctor Who) as the vampire expert Peter Vincent (a stage magician in this incarnation). Tennant’s particular sensibilities are a perfect fit for the role, and he provides much of the comic relief in the film’s last third.

I also applaud Fright Night for bringing back the old school evil vampire. Jerry is malevolent, unrelenting, and insatiable. There is nothing redeeming (or sparkly) about him. He, like the shark in Jaws, is a force of nature to be reckoned with, not reasoned with or interviewed. It’s also refreshing that with these ‘chaste’ Twilight vamps running around, Fright Night brings the sexy back, showing Jerry as having an intense physical reaction to being near his prey, especially in the olfactory sense.

Fright Night is easily the surprise of my summer, one I wasn’t even anticipating (it didn’t even make our summer movie preview). Yet I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I recommend it if you’re looking for a retro fun monster movie.

From the List of Shame, File #12: Beach Party

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

The goal behind the List of Shame Files is to document our viewing of significant films we haven’t seen. Luckily, many of those films are also good ones, though a film does not have to be good to be significant. Beach Party is not one of the good ones.

Beach Party is a 1963 teen B-movie, distributed by American International Pictures. AIP was a company formed by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff in 1955. The first release was (the original) The Fast and the Furious, and AIP quickly became a house known for distributing films focused on the emerging teen demographic. In the mid 1950s, teenagers were a new market for basically everything. They often went to the movies (especially drive-ins) because their parents dominated the television sets in the home.

AIP came to realize that this newfound source of entertainment revenue was being completely ignored by the studio system. AIP dedicated itself to distributing cheaply produced films centered on whatever the ‘hot teen trend’ was at the time. In the 50s, this would range from “wild youth,” (High School Hellcats), drag racing (Hot Rod Gang), rock ‘n’ roll (Rock All Night), and teen horror (I Was a Teenage Werewolf). Over the course of time, AIP refined their formula on how to make a successful film, known internally as Peter Pan Syndrome:

a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.

This probably explains modern blockbusters like Transformers and much of the superhero fare.

By the 1960s, AIP had moved onto spy spoofs, lampooning the James Bond franchise, and Roger Corman horror films. Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello and Philadelphia native Frankie Avalon was not only AIP’s greatest success to date, but also instigated a whole genre of beach party films.

Beach Party‘s success is kind of baffling given the actual quality of the film. The plot of the film begins with Dolores (Funicello) and her boyfriend Frankie (Avalon) heading to the beach for a romantic weekend getaway. When they arrive, Frankie discovers his gal has invited all of their friends, making him think she doesn’t love him. He sets out to make her jealous by flirting extensively with other girls.

The film gets weird quickly when it introduces Professor Robert Orwell Sutwell (Robert Cummings), an anthropologist allegedly studying the “wild mating habits” of beach teens. He really comes off as a peeping Tom with scientific equipment. Dolores decides to use Sutwell to make Frankie jealous, which triggers the ire of Marianne (Dorothy Malone), Sutwell’s assistant.

Sutwell’s occupation drives much of the (alleged) humor in the film, with him trying to decipher the bizarre lingo, learning how to surf, and critiquing the dancing of the locals. He also runs into conflict with Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck), leader of the local biker gang (an apparent parody of Marlon Brando in The Wild One). Sutwell puts von Zipper in a “time freeze” using some vague eastern art, prompting Zipper to spend the rest of the film planning his revenge. Sutwell also goes through a She’s All That-prescient beard makeover, and is suddenly revealed as a hot stud rather than a story old scientist.

The one redeeming quality of the film is probably the music. Yes, this film is also a musical, but thankfully the film actually has some good quality tracks. Rare for a B-film, Beach Party has a mostly original score, written by Les Baxter. Besides the songs sung by the main cast, other music in the film is performed by Dick Dale and the Dale-Tones, the king of the surf rock bands.

Ultimately, while this is a significant entry in the history of film, it’s not essential viewing. However, it’s a perfect film for putting on in the background at a party. Because who doesn’t love surf rock?

List of Shame Files normally appears on Wednesdays. Previous entries are here.

CinemaScore: The Secret to Box Office Success?

As I get more and more into the minutiae of movie news, I occasionally come across something that really confuses me. Many times when reading about a movie’s box office performance, I’ll see a particular film’s CinemaScore mentioned.

For example, “Tate Taylor’s The Help got off to an impressive start at the Wednesday box office, grossing at least $5 million in its first day and earning a rare A+ CinemaScore from delighted moviegoers.” Or something like that. I’ve begun to wonder just what a CinemaScore is and where they come from. So I decided do a little research. Here is what I’ve found out:

A CinemaScore is a letter grade rating system as determined by the Las Vegas-based market research firm of the same name. Founded in 1982, they survey film goers attending mainstream releases on opening night for their demographic information, their letter grade review of the film, and whether they would purchase it for home video release. Since opening-night crowds are always the most enthusiastic about a release, the average CinemaScore rating is commonly assumed to be a B+, which on most scales would be quite high. Therefore, a C grade is “bad news” for studios, and is basically considered a failure with audiences. Rarely, if ever, do films earn an F from audiences. A recent example was the 2009 Cameron Diaz flop, The Box. Ed Minz, founder of CinemaScope, said audiences hated the film’s ending, which severely affected the film’s rating.

An actual CinemaScore survey - by M@sh on Flickr

CinemaScores have not always been easy to come by for the general public. Originally offered privately to studios, CinemaScores used to basically only travel by word of mouth (ironic!). However, Entertainment Weekly has been offering CinemaScores to it’s readers as far back as 1991. Back then you had to call, and there was a $1.95 charge for the first minute, and .95 each minute after! More recently, Grady Smith of The Box Office Junkie has a pretty extensive collection of CinemaScores for recent releases.

As with any film rating system, CinemaScore isn’t necessarily a determination of a film’s quality, as there have been plenty of great films that have gotten terrible scores. For example, Hanna, (which we loved) got a C+ overall. It got an A from audiences under 18, but a D+ from the over-50 crowd. Another spy tale, The American, (which we also loved) got a D-, and the rare F from women! Both of these are worthy films, and two of the more challenging major releases of the past 12 months.

On the other end of the spectrum, THR has a list of 15 movies that received the coveted A+ from CinemaScore, including last weekend’s The Help, and last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech. 

The purpose of a CinemaScore isn’t to judge a film, but to try to give studios an advance peek of what they can expect from the weekend box office. Since the Scores are usually available by 11 PM eastern, the studios can begin to prep their Sunday morning press releases when the box office estimates usually come out.

Trailers: The Art of the Tease

As we come to the end of the 2011 summer movie season (where did the time go?), a nice treat while seeing a movie is being teased for what lies ahead for the rest of the year and next summer. Recently, we’ve seen teaser trailers for Fincher’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Muppets Movie, both Spielberg holiday offerings, War Horse, and The Adventures of Tintin, and of course, The Dark Knight Rises (leave it to Ryan to forget Twilight: Breaking Dawn!)

The Independent has a fascinating write-up on what goes into a trailer. Of course, a trailer is the centerpiece of a marketing campaign. David Cookes also gives some background on the history of film trailers:

Until the 1950s, American trailers were produced by the National Screen Service, although some directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford liked to produce their own. In the 1960s film directors took a keener interest, leading to more stylish trailers. Plot spoilers in trailers still existed into the 1970s although trailers were less brash than today. “This is Universal’s extraordinary motion picture version of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel, Jaws,” intoned the gentle voiceover on a trailer for Speilberg’s shark fest which, during its three minutes, showed so much footage and dialogue, it was akin to an abridged version of the film.

I love a well-done trailer, and what I mean by that is one that teases the audience without giving away too much. Sometimes the best trailers use little or no footage from the film their advertising. The riveting trailer for The Dark Knight Rises is a great example of this, using footage and voiceover from the previous installments and a short clip of new footage.

The trailer above, for David Fincher’s version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is probably the best trailer since Fincher’s The Social Network. While it makes extensive use of footage from the film, the cuts are super quick. This montage style is bolstered by the pulse of Trent Reznor and Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which gives the whole thing an exciting, kinetic feel.

Read the rest of the article here, and see commentary on some of the hot new trailers, including the new Twilight (Ah, there it is!).