October 31, 2010

WTF of the Week: 80's Metal Musical Starring Who?

Will Tom Cruise flip bottles again like he did here
in this famous scene from 1988's Cocktail?
New Line Cinema, eager to cash in on the cinematic musical craze, is developing a filmed adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical Rock of Ages. The plot of the musical is pretty slim for a full-fledged movie, but I'm guessing that New Line is more concerned with dollar signs and selling the soundtrack than worrying about a well-written plot arc.

The news that sends this into the WTF stratosphere is the casting search. You'd think that New Line would be trawling for pop stars and the cast of Glee, or at least stars who have previously demonstrated their ability to carry a tune. That seems to make too much sense, as the studio is excitedly attempting to court none other than Tom Cruise for the lead. That's right, Cruise is apparently the logical choice to be filmed singing 80's hair band ballads. I'll give some credit to New Line, as this project suddenly sounds pretty intriguing, if only to wait for the inevitable awkward press junkets.

Cruise would be playing a rock and roll bartender (because everyone was clamoring for a reprise of his role in Cocktail, I guess). No word yet on whether he'll be doing any jumping on sofas while singing "We're Not Gonna Take It."

Source: Deadline

October 28, 2010

MRQE Rewind: The Best Films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock

The undisputed master of suspense and often considered one of the greatest directors of all time, Alfred Hitchcock directed over 60 films in his career, spanning from the silent era all the way to the end of the 60s. As you would expect from someone who was so prolific, the quality of his films can vary, but even the worst Hitchcock film is still well made and interesting, and the best rank among the greatest films ever made. Here we look at 5 of the best, but head on over to MRQE to see the full list of his best-reviewed movies.






5. Notorious (1946)
MRQE Metric: 87
A somewhat surprising but definitely deserving inclusion on the list, Notorious may not be as famous or have as many immediately recognizable scenes as films like The Birds or Dial M for Murder, but it's classic Hitchcock: a heady mix of thrills, romance, and international intrigue. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman star as spies attempting to infiltrate a Nazi group hiding out in South America, with Claude Rains as the Nazi Bergman is forced to marry. This was Cary Grant's second film with Hitchcock after Suspicion, and while it's not as radical a departure for the actor as that film was, it's still a much darker role for someone who was mostly famous for his comedies at that point.






4. Vertigo (1958)
MRQE Metric: 89
Savaged by critics on release and considered the final nail in Hitchcock's coffin, Vertigo is now widely regarded as Hitchcock's masterpiece. Squeaky clean everyman Jimmy Stewart turned his image on it's head playing a former detective hired to trail the wife of a rich acquaintance who believes she's been possessed by a ghost. Despite his much vaunted hatred of actors (he called them cattle), Hitchcock gets an amazing performance from Stewart as he becomes consumed by obsession, his descent into obsession and madness all displayed on his face. It's quite shocking to see America's favorite boyscout become truly creepy and frightening by the film's end. It's also Hitchcock's most personal film, with the themes of obsession being quite close to the bone for the director and the story thread of Jimmy Stewart trying to remake a woman into his ideal somewhat reflects the way Hitchcock treated his actresses, who he often molded into an identical icy blond type.

MRQE Metric: 91
One of Hitchcock's lightest and most playful films, Cary Grant plays an advertising man mistaken for a spy and caught up in a series of escalating adventures and getting chased by secret agents across the country. It lacks some of the darker themes and resonances of Hitchcock's more serious films, but it's pure entertainment all the way through, full of iconic scenes like the crop duster attack and the final fight on Mount Rushmore, and Cary Grant as a hero who never stops cracking wise, loses his cool, or even really ruffles his suit, no matter what gets thrown at him.







2. Psycho (1960)
MRQE Metric: 91
After the lavish production of North by Northwest, Hitchcock decided to go back to basics with his next film, a cheap black and white suspense shocker, and accidentally created two new genres, the slasher film and the serial killer film (though Hitchcock would probably be the first to disavow himself from a lot of the crap those genres ended up producing). He stunned audiences by killing off his lead actress after 30 minutes and casting cuddly romantic lead Anthony Perkins as the twisted killer (in a role that would end up overshadowing anything else he would ever do), and created some of the most memorable scenes in film history, the most famous being, of course, the shower scene.





1. Rear Window (1954)
MRQE Metric: 95
A surprise number one, ahead of Vertigo and Psycho, Rear Window is probably Hitchcock's most minimalist film, taking place entirely in one apartment. Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer who, wheelchair bound with a broken leg, starts to spy on the neighbors in the building across from his window, and becomes convinced that one of them is a murderer. It's the Hitchcock film that most directly implicates the audience as voyeur. When the man Stewart has been spying on arrives to confront him he turns directly to the camera, as if addressing us. It's basic premise has been spoofed, paid homage to, and just plain ripped off innumerable times over the years, but the original remains a classic example of how a great director can produce suspense with just a room and a view from a window.





There's more than just the Top Five! Check out the complete list of Hitchcock's best-reviewed movies on MRQE. And, for more Halloween chills and thrills, consult our list of Cinema's Best Vampire Movies, and our comprehensive list of the Best Horror Movies from the last decade.


October 25, 2010

Box Office Wrap-Up: 'Paranormal Activity 2' scares up the top spot, 'Hereafter' trails behind

The spooky bedroom of Paranormal Activity 2.
Courtesy: Paramount Pictures
It was a good time to be scared: Paranormal Activity 2, the sequel to last year's budget horror phenomenon, carried the weekend comfortably with $41.5 million, the biggest opening ever for the horror genre. This comes pretty unsurprisingly. The weekend before Halloween is traditionally when the cinematic ghosties and goblins come out, so most predictions sided with the spooky crowd-pleaser taking the top spot. The second installment was granted middling reviews, with most reports pointing out that the movie didn't bring anything dramatically different to the table from its predecessor. Predictability isn't always a bad thing when it comes to franchises; Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times put it best when he called Paranormal Activity 2 "more of the same, for all the good and acceptably routine that that implies".

This weekend's other major release was the Clint Eastwood-directed Hereafter, which debuted at fourth place with twelve million under its belt. The meditative take on death, loss, and the afterlife didn't spark as much of a fire at the box office as the more scare-oriented Paranormal Activity 2. Overall reviews for the Matt Damon drama weren't much better than PA2, either, but Hereafter definitely found some critics who championed it. Roger Ebert was touched by the viewing experience, saying that Hereafter manages its subject matter with "tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact". Once Halloween weekend is over, Hereafter seems more likely to hang in there than a straight-up horror flick, as word of mouth will most likely work in its favor.

Jokey actioner Red slid down to third place this weekend after making at splash in second place last week. The pranksters behind Jackass 3-D must be pretty pleased with the film's showing, as the adrenaline-fueled sequel stayed strong in its new second place spot, raking in more than twenty-one million dollars this weekend.

As for the rest: critical darling The Social Network hung in there at fifth place and $7.3 million, with equestrienne biopic Secretariat clocking in not so far behind in sixth. Katherine Heigl vehicle Life as We Know It garnered six million more dollars and a seventh place spot, and Legend of the Guardians landed at eighth. The CGI family flick should enjoy its place in the top ten while it lasts, as there are a few major children's releases coming up in the next few weeks waiting to swoop in. Once Megamind and the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows show up, they'll be poised to steal both the money and the spotlight.


Here's the Top Ten:

  1. Paranormal Activity 2 -$41.5 million
  2. Jackass 3-D - $21.6 million
  3. Red - $15 million
  4. Hereafter - $12 million
  5. The Social Network - $7.3 million
  6. Secretariat - $6.9 millon
  7. Life as We Know It - $6.1 million
  8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - $3.1 million
  9. The Town - $2.7 million
  10. Easy A - $1.7 million
Tells us, what movie did you see this weekend?

October 21, 2010

The Need To Howl in 2010

James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, in Howl.
Looking at the fringes of independent film is like looking at the Paris Review or at the Brooklyn music scene. It provides a more accurate pulse of society than the thumping of big budget, big money entertainment, where it is never clear how much the appeal is based on marketing overload. So why is “Howl,” that defining poem of beat excess, depth and fantasy, now a film at art houses these days?

Those famous opening lines of the poem, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,”etc. have attained so much fame that they have successfully defined not only the intellectual power of the beat poets, but of a generation caught between cold war paranoia, civil rights and the always present existential dread of the self-analytical artist? It is not an anniversary of the poem, but still the fear of a dissent into madness seems to me to define my generation as much as it did Ginsberg's. Who are the best minds of my generation? I am in my late thirties, and have seen the best writer of my generation, David Foster Wallace take his life after several stays in a mental hospital. While he may not have been an “angel headed hipster,” he did straddle the worlds of science, philosophy and humanity in a way that I feel represents many of us who are pushing away from specialization while filling our psyche with all of the information we can find in order to understand complexity. The fear this induces can lead from the prescription counter, to rehab, or from a university to a concert hall, and yet for those like Wallace the goal of universal knowledge and expression seems unattainable in a way that is irreconcilable with survival.

All of this is to say that revisiting “Howl” through the new film may not be for nostalgia as much as it seems. Instead the film, and even more so the poem, does what great art often does, which is to remind us of our own struggles and dreams.

Howl, directed by Rob Epstien and Jeffery Friedman, and starring James Franco, is currently playing in limited theaters. Catch all the reviews, and watch the trailer, on MRQE.



This article was guest written by Matthew Putman, a physicist, composer, entrepreneur and occasional film and theater producer. More on Matthew at www.matthewcputman.com.

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MRQE Rewind: Cinema's 35 Best Paranormal Movies

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time for the annual deluge of horror films from studios hoping to capture a scare-hungry audience. This Friday sees two major spooky releases going head to head. Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, with Matt Damon, explores the more emotional side of the line between the living and the dead, but still promises to deliver some creepy moments. The big buzz, though, is revolving around Paranormal Activity 2, the sequel to last year’s surprise mock-doc smash. To mark this Friday’s release, here are MRQE’s top paranormal picks for the spooky season. The top five are below, but be sure to check out MRQE’s complete list of films that go bump in the night. Check out as many as you can take; we won’t tell anyone if you sleep with the light on afterwards.

5. Don't Look Now (1973)
MRQE Metric: 85
A bereaved couple (the 1970’s superstar pairing of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) attempt to recover in Venice after the drowning death of their young daughter, but they soon become tangled in a web of mysterious visions, elderly psychic sisters, and the specter of a serial killer. The sumptuously shot sex scene between Sutherland and Christie generated a lot of heat in the press, but the film should be remembered for how director Nicholas Roeg brings a stylish twist to the classic ghost story. The film eschews becoming a thrill a minute crowdpleaser, opting instead to envelop the audience in a dark and moody atmosphere as thick as the Venetian fog. When it comes to an inescapable sense of dread, nothing does it better. Don’t Look Now is a triumph from its dreamlike beginning to its surreal, shocking ending.




4. Alien (1979)
MRQE Metric: 86
With Alien, Ridley Scott delivered a dark thrill ride that forever changed the face of the science fiction film. Anyone who claims not to be frightened by at least one of the iconic scenes is lying to you, simple as that. Alien is remarkable not only for its classic scares, but also its astounding character work. The members of the doomed crew interact like a particularly foul-mouthed family, which makes it all the more horrifying when they meet their sticky ends at the claws and jaws of the titular beast. Sigorney Weaver is a standout, of course, and her Ripley is perhaps the most recognizable heroine in extraterrestrial film history. It’s the alien, however, that is the true star of the show, and H.R.’s slimy design will go down in horror history.




3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
MRQE Metric: 87
Spielberg’s mammoth blockbuster is remembered as more of a heartwarming adventure than an appropriately creepy Halloween pick, but don’t judge the film by its reputation. Close Encounters is rife with spooky moments, especially during the first half. Those who have been exposed to the alien presence, among them a young Richard Dreyfuss, become creepily obsessed with their experience, creating mashed potato mountains and frightening their family members. Just as they don’t know whether the forces behind their encounters are real or imagined, kindly or malevolent, we the audience initially have no idea why these things are happening. It’s this uncertainty that makes Close Encounters a hair-raiser, and the movie stops being as scary once the aliens are revealed to be benevolent beings. Spielberg was so inspired by the theme of humans and aliens meeting that he revisited the theme, with a much more cuddly twist, in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.





2. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
MRQE Metric: 89
Rosemary’s Baby represents a perfect storm of talent. Roman Polanski is in his prime as director, and the exquisite Mia Farrow heads up a phenomenal cast. The premise works so perfectly because it’s rooted in simple, everyday fears and annoyances. Everyone’s had a creepy neighbor or two, and most women (and men, perhaps?) can understand the potential of mixed emotions surrounding pregnancy. What is done with these fears, however, is what puts the film at the head of the pack. Polanski and scriptwriter Ira Levin painstakingly weave a world where Rosemary can trust no one, and where even her husband is in on the devilish conspiracy. The horror of Rosemary’s Baby is that Rosemary’s life and body are no longer her own. In an increasingly complicated world, this is a sentiment that nearly everyone can relate to.




1. Frankenstein (1931)
MRQE Metric: 90
This one may be the senior citizen of the list, but it’s number one for a reason. Mary Shelley’s classic novel may have provided the blueprint, but director James Whale crafted a uniquely macabre vision that still stalks popular culture to this day. This movie is what we think of when we think of the Frankenstein story: the mad scientist, the dastardly late-night experiments, and of course Boris Karloff as the shambling monster. There’s tragedy at the heart of this beast; Doctor Frankenstein is supposed to be our hero, but we can’t help but feel sympathy for his monster’s plight. Of course, our sympathy is replaced by dread as soon as the monster starts his rampage of unstoppable violence, but the callous actions of his frenzied creator lead us to wonder who the real villain is.





There's more paranormal movies than just the Top 5. Catch the rest of our list of the Cinema's 35 Best Paranormal Movies on MRQE!

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October 8, 2010

John Lennon: A Character Study

Saturday marks the 70th birthday of John Lennon. It comes as no surprise that in celebration all of Lennon's solo efforts are being re-released along with a complete box set. Also being released this weekend, to a limited number of theaters is Nowhere Boy, a biographical look at Lennon's formative years. In the film, Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson portrays Lennon as a teen growing up in Liverpool, yearning for a normal family, and escaping into art and rock 'n roll. Johnson certainly isn't the first to portray Lennon, young or old. In celebration of Lennon's 70th and the film, we take a look back at the many portrayals of Lennon on the silver screen.


8. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - John Lennon, as played by Paul Rudd
Paul Rudd's John Lennon is more of a spoof than an actual portrayal. In Walk Hard, a send up of rock 'n roll bio-pics, Rudd dons a dirty blond wig and the famous loop glasses, in a hilarious cameo appearance. Rudd in this get-up looks so much like Lennon that you couldn't even recognize him. The rest of the Beatles are there, with Jack Black as Paul, Justin Long as George, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo.



7. I'm Not There - John Lennon, as played by Johann St-Louis
Could I'm Not There be called a bio-pic? For fans of Bob Dylan, this movie rings true to form. I'm Not There is split into six different parts, with six different actors, each playing six different facets of Dylan's life and public image. The most memorable being Cate Blanchett who portrays Dylan as "Jude Quinn" between 1965 - 1966, a time when Dylan was touring the U.K. The use black-and-white in these scenes harkens to D.A. Pennebaker's documentaries of Dylan. The scene with the Beatles and Lennon is a quick one, but it stands out, as we see Quinn smoking pot with the Fab Four. Dylan is known as introducing marijuana to the Beatles, and Lennon is featured quite prominently in Pennebaker's Don't Look Back.





6. Chapter 27 - John Lennon, as played by Mark Lindsay Chapman
Chapter 27 details the final days and hours leading up to Mark David Chapman's murder John Lennon outside the Dakota Building in New York City, where Lennon lived. The title mainly refers to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that fueled Chapman's obsession, and inspired his deed. The book has 26 chapters, but Chapman saw Lennon's death as a continuation of the story. In an eerie coincidence, the actor playing Lennon in the film, shares the same name as Lennon's murderer. This similarity once prevented actor Chapman from landing an earlier role of portraying Lennon in a 1985 TV movie about Lennon and Yoko Ono.




5. Two of Us - John Lennon, as played by Jared Harris
Produced by VH1, this TV movie finds Jared Harris taking on John Lennon, against Aidan Quinn's near-perfect Paul McCartney. The film chronicles a fabled--yet real, more or less--meeting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney six years after the break up of the band; the two coming "this close" to making an impromptu appearance on Saturday Night Live, after Loren Michaels promises $3,000 to reunite the Beatles on his program. While the two did meet up and actually watched SNL that night, and did toy with the idea of heading to 30 Rock, the movie was set up more as a character study--how fans would imagine a post-Beatles meeting of Lennon and McCartney would be.


4. Forrest Gump - John Lennon, as played by Joe Stefanelli
In a comical scene, we see Forrest Gump on the Dick Cavett Show. He just got back from Vietnam, and not only did he receive the Medal of Honor, but he also mooned the President. Of course, Cavett would want Gump on his program. On the show, Gump meets Lennon, who in real life, made several appearances on the show. With that footage, director Robert Zemeckis was able to splice Gump into the Dick Cavett Show, with Dick Cavett and Joe Stefanelli on hand to fill in the scene and add the new lines. Gump, then famously inspires the lyrics to Lennon's 1971 hit "Imagine."




3. Backbeat - John Lennon, as played by Ian Hart
Backbeat chronicles the early days of the Beatles as they rocked through Hamburg, Germany, focusing more on the relationship with Stuart Sutcliffe (the former bassist) and John Lennon. Ian Hart, who portrayed Lennon in this film, was no stranger to Lennon's shoes, having played him earlier in, The Hours and Times. While Paul McCartney blasted Backbeat, critics praised Hart's perfect portrayal of Lennon.





2. Yellow Submarine - John Lennon, as voiced by John Clive
A sort of psychedelic Fantasia with Beatles music, the animated Yellow Submarine was a box office smash when it was released in 1968. The Fab Four originally distanced themselves from the project, but upon seeing a cut of the film, they were impressed and agreed to appear in the flesh, in an epilogue. Their animated counterparts were voiced by actors--John Clive filling in for John Lennon--but the original music, with the Beatles actual vocals, was the real star of the film. A 3-D animated remake is currently planned for a 2012 release.




1. A Hard Day's Night & Help! - John Lennon, as played by himself
Of course, who's better to portray John Lennon than John Lennon, himself? Through the acclaimed A Hard Day's Night and the lesser Help!, Lennon defined his public persona as a snarky, often wise-cracking leader of the band. The John Lennon we see on screen is actually not that far off from the John Lennon we meet throughout his career in various interviews.






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