April 28, 2011

MRQE's 2011 Summer Movie Guide: The Movies We're Anticipating the Most

The summer movie season is upon us! With movies like Thor, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, and Green Lantern, competing with follow-ups like The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and the Harry Potter finale, this blockbusting season is shaping up to be one super-charged, franchise-driven thrill ride straight through Labor Day. Each of our fellow bloggers: Josh, Annie, and Matt, discuss the movies they're anticipating the most. What movies are you eager to see this summer? Compare your tastes with theirs in the comments, and then visit MRQE to catch up with all the movies opening this summer with our handy guide.

Read what Josh is anticipating >>
Read what Annie is anticipating >>
Read what Matt is anticipating >>

MRQE Rewind: The Best Films of Werner Herzog

This Friday sees the limited release of Werner Herzog's newest documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams. In the film, Herzog investigates the caves of Southern France where some of the oldest drawings of man are known to exist. Werner has made headlines across the movie blogging circuit in recent weeks for his highly opinionated remarks leading up to Forgotten Dream's release. I'm sure he knows that every word of press is good press! In a career spanning 50 years and 60 films, there is no denying Herzog's legend as one of the great figures of cinema. However despite a lengthy resume, filled with both socially conscious documentaries and challenging fictional narratives, many are unaware of Herzog's prolific output. This week, we're ranking 10 of Herzog's best, including the recent fare that has enhanced his popularity state side.

10. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009) - MRQE Metric: 58

Herzog's last movie saw a rare collaboration with David Lynch. You're probably wondering how you missed it. Well, this crime thriller, based on the true story of a man who murdered his mother with a sword, never saw a US theatrical release! The movie stars an excellent cast including Michael Shannon (who plays the deranged killer-a role he's similarly played in Bug and Boardwalk Empire), Willem Dafoe and Chloe Sevigny co-star in a movie that shows Herzog has not lost his edge and still continues to push the boundaries with controversial work.

9. My Best Fiend (1999) - MRQE Metric: 73

My Best Fiend comes in at number 9. The autobiographical documentary is about the intense relationship between Werner and his star collaborator Klaus Kinski. The crazed actor Kinski was known for his tantrums on set and his wild outbursts towards Herzog, who directed him in five films. Although My Best Fiend leaves something to be desired, it's an incredibly fascinating study of two stubbornly creative characters. And kudos to Werner for giving his audience a behind-the-scenes perspective on one of cinema's great tandems. Imagine a Di Nero-Scorcese documentary? Just saying.

8. Nosferatu: The Vampyre (1979) - MRQE Metric: n/a

Vampires, vampires, vampires. The world can't get enough! And Werner was ahead of the curve with this 1979 release. For his take on the notorious fanged creature of the night, he went to the source: Herzog adapted Nosferatu from the original Bram Stoker novel. And, none other than Klaus Kinski played the Count in one of the creepiest performances of his very creepy career. For any fan of Gothic European horror, both Werner's Nosferatu and F.W. Murnau's 1922 original are essential classics.

7. Grizzly Man (2005) - MRQE Metric: 79

Using the collected video footage of activist Timothy Treadwell's interactions with Alaskan bears over a number of summers, Grizzly Man is a strange character study of a man who claims to have tamed the beasts of the wild. As you watch the footage however, you can't help but think that Treadwell is out of his mind. With every pace closer to the bears, you sense that some natural boundary is being crossed. Both Treadwell and his girlfriend Ami Huguenard were mauled and killed by the bears. And in one powerful scene, Werner listens to the final recording of Treadwell being eaten by one; he decides that the tape is too gruesome to be played for the viewer. Grizzly Man rightfully collected a number of awards when it was released. There really isn't anything like it.

6. Encounters at the End of the World (2007) - MRQE Metric: 80

What drives a person to venture to the South Pole, as far away from human civilization as possible? What drives a lone penguin to venture away from his flock and migrate towards the mountains, towards imminent death? Both questions are raised in mysterious fashion here as Herzog ventures into the cold, icy wilderness of Antartica for my entry at number 6. Encounters is another mystifying documentary from Herzog. Here, we meet a number of scientists, truck drivers and divers that have all made their journeys to Antarctica for their own compelling reasons. Combined with a beautiful array of underwater shots cut to the wonderful sounds of diving seals and choral arrangements, Encounters is easily one of Herzog's best.

5. Rescue Dawn (2006) - MRQE Metric: 77

Based on Herzog's documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Rescue Dawn is a feature length war drama based on the true story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler who is captured, imprisoned and tortured by villagers during the Vietnam War before surviving a harrowing escape. Christian Bale plays Dengler in one of his great, intensely portrayed roles. Watch for comic actor Steve Zahn, who turns in a surprising dramatic role. Rescue Dawn is a can't-miss for anyone looking to experience a gritty Herzog drama. Plus it is one of many bold Herzog films captured without restraint in the jungles of Thailand.

4. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009) - MRQE Metric: 75

Nicolas Cage plays a corrupt New Orleans cop in this film adapted from the 1992 version starring Harvey Keitel. Herzog never saw the original and looked to have the name changed for his treatment. But that was impossible due to similarities in the story. Abel Ferrara, director of the original, was supposedly infuriated with the remake. I would hope he had a change of heart once he saw the picture. Nicolas Cage owns this part. He plays the drugged out cop with equal parts casualness and mania. There's a charm nestled deep in the cynicism of Cage's character that is thrilling to watch from beginning to end. Plus, a great supporting cast including Eva Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge, Val Kilmer and Brad Dourif make Port of Call a strangely alluring, drug-induced noir.

3. Stroszek (1977) - MRQE Metric: n/a

At Number 3, we're going back to 1977 for the fictional feature Stroszek, one of Werner's earlier feature films. After being released from prison in Berlin, Bruno Stroszek, an alcoholic, decides to travel to America for a better life, specifically Wisconsin, accompanied by an old man and a prostitute. Herzog supposedly wrote this film in four days, and he shot on location in Plainfield, Wisconsin, the hometown of notorious murderer/grave robber Ed Gein. This film is odd, and Bruno is an odd actor. One may find it strangely humorous, but Stroszek is fascinating because of Herzog's choice of actors and his adherence to something like spontaneity. "Who are these people and what are they doing?" you ask yourself. If you want a surprise or two, check out Stroszek, a fine example of Herzog's technique.

2. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) - MRQE Metric: 82

At number two, it's Klaus Kinski in one of his greatest performances as Lope de Aguirre, the Spanish soldier who led a group of conquistadors through the Amazon jungle in search of the lost city of El Dorado. Although loosely based on history, Herzog used a lot of spontaneity and improvisation during the shoot. Kinski is relentless in his portrayal and makes Aguirre out to be a madman. And Herzog is similarly relentless behind the scenes, capturing Kinski in all his fury. I can't imagine the sort of hell encountered shooting in the deep jungles of the Amazon. The sweat and energy certainly comes through on screen. "The Wrath of God," is a strange, yet fitting title for this exhausting tale of power and the savage descent of man in the throes of the wild.

1. Fitzcarraldo (1982) - MRQE Metric: n/a

My number one is the stuff of legend. Sometimes the great films are remembered just as much for their stories as for their feats in production. Fitzcarraldo tells the story of Irish rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald who willed a crew to pull a large steamship over a mountain in the Amazon in order to access a large rubber reserve. Les Blank's documentary Burden of Dreams presents the actual pulling of the ship, done with mere ropes, during Herzog's production. Despite being told by his production staff that the task was impossible, Werner willed his crew members to push on, risking death in the process. Jack Nicholson and Jason Robards were initially considered for the title role, before Kinski stepped in. Herzog won Best Director at Cannes for this mesmerizing work of man overcoming nature.

Watch the trailer for Cave of Forgotten Dreams!

April 22, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Product Placement in Film

Product placement in films is a key reason why so many movies have high budgets, and can bring in millions of dollars for one film alone. In Morgan Spurlock's latest doc, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the filmmaker explores the world of product placement. In fact, the film was purely funded off product placement, and features 19 sponsors. In this honor, we present a list of 15 ridiculous, humorous, and sometimes ironic product placements in films over the last century.

I, Robot (2004) – MRQE Metric: 63

Will Smith’s sci-fi adventure I, Robot seems to be a moving Converse advertisement. Smith's character, Spooner, gets over excited when his "vintage" 2004 Converse kicks arrive (the flick takes place in the future), to only later be disappointed when sludge and oil cover and ruin his shoes. After this film was released, Converse created a special I, Robot sneaker in honor of in cross-promotion of Spooner.

Demolition Man (1993) – MRQE Metric: 58

Demolition Man truly has some shameless product placement. In the utopian future where urban sprawl merged Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara into one mega city called "San Angeles," former cryogenically frozen LAPD officer John Spartan (Sly Stallone) is thawed out to help end a crime spree waged by another cryogenically frozen con (Wesley Snipes). In one scene, Sly ends up going to the last remaining chain restaurant--the lone survivor of the so-called, "Franchise Wars"--Taco Bell. Come on Hollywood! Fine dinning, dancing, and valet parking Taco Bell really secured a solid product placement spot in this film; especially since in foreign markets, the restaurant was changed to Pizza Hut.

Home Alone (1990) – MRQE Metric: 66
Home Alone apparently is all about the Pepsi. Little Fuller in this film is known to wet his bed when he drinks too much of the cola. The famous line, "Fuller! Go easy on the Pepsi!" now echoes in the product placement age; especially now that we're all grown up and realize that this character was just a walking, talking Pepsi commercial. Nevertheless, we would not want to have to share a bed with the little tyke either.

Transformers (2007) – MRQE Metric: 64

One of the strongest product placement plugs has certainly been present in Transformers. The franchise is all about General Motors; especially Bumblebee, which transforms from a redesigned 2007 Chevy Camaro. GM paid one of the highest ever product placement fees to be part of this film. Though, even more successful is the result of Hasbro re-creating the toy GM cars after to gross over $480 million in toy sales alone in 2007!

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – MRQE Metric: 63

James Bond movies practically revolve around product placement. From the cars, to the watches, to the five-star hotels, each scene seems to be endorsed by another company. Tomorrow Never Dies, however stand-out as the biggest money-raker in the whole franchise. Karen Sortito, the film's product placement specialist, brought in over $100 million from tie-ins with Omega, Heineken, Avis, L’Oreal, Visa, Smirnoff, and BMW--not only is this a record for James Bond, it's a record for any movie to date.

Independence Day (1996) – MRQE Metric: 64

Independence Day features a double-plug. The first comes from Apple, where a PowerBook is used to send a killer computer virus to the mother ship (clearly, the aliens and their spacecrafts are compatible with Macs). The second form comes via CEO, Rubert Murdoch, who's NewsCorp owns 20th Century Fox (the production house of this film). Murdoch also owns the European news outlet, SkyNews, which is "coincidentally" branded in every scene depicting a news report. Between computers and broadcasters, Independence Day seems to be actually taken over by product placement plugs, and not aliens.

Horse Feathers (1932) – MRQE Metric: n/a

One of the earliest forms of product placement can be found in the Marx Brothers classic, Horse Feathers, where Life Savers candies became true to their name. Unlike what was attempted with Taco Bell in Demolition Man, truly the great marriage of products in film comes with snappy dialogue. In the film, Thelma Todd’s character falls right out of a canoe and into a river; Todd asks for a life saver. Groucho--true to form-- reaches into his pocket and throws her the sweet candy, Life Savers.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – MRQE Metric: 92

Everyone and their mother has seen E.T. The classic film by Steven Spielberg has a running plot line of how much this little alien loves Reese’s Pieces. It is as if the only good thing planet Earth has to offer is a simple bag of peanut butter in a hard candy shell. Due to the success of the film, after its release, the then-five-year-old candy saw sales shoot through the roof. Too bad for M&Ms -- they were originally pitched for the movie.

Happy Gilmore (1996) – MRQE Metric: 56

Adam Sandler films are know for their product placement, from Hooters in Big Daddy, to the giant U.S. Army billboard in Anger Management. However, Happy Gilmore holds one of the best (read: most ridiculous) product placement campaigns of all Sandler movies. Subway was the official sponsor of Happy Gilmore, and as such, the pre-Jared franchise hooked up with Sandler's character, Gilmore, as their in-film spokesman. The in-film commercial, featured Gilmore in a Subway t-shirt and rocking a custom Subway golf-bag -- the movie then gets decked out with Subway branding and Subway sandwiches everywhere. Roger Ebert goes on to say that halfway through the film he didn’t know, “what I wanted more: laughs, or mustard!”

Cast Away - MRQE Metric: 75

There are few movies where the entire plot hinges on product placement, and none is more obvious than Cast Away, which can be considered a two-hour long FedEx commercial. But, the placements didn't end there: we see Hanks sipping on Dr. Pepper (which actually is a reference to Forrest Gump), and of course there's Hanks obsessing over the aptly-named Wilson the volleyball. Hanks even informs Wilson, "you want to hear something funny? My dentist's name is James Spalding." Through an everlasting main plot-line, the ex-FedEx man delivers his package after four years, and the film received high figures to plug both these companies for such a solidified time.

You've Got Mail (1998) – MRQE Metric: 65

Anyone who grew up in the 1990’s or early 2000’s knows the distinctive AOL “You’ve Got Mail” sound. (Didn’t you just hear the deep-voiced man saying that line in your ears?) In the 1998 remake of a James Stewart classic, director Nora Ephron adds a modern twist by making the whole film about two perfect people who met via their AOL e-mail accounts. While, Cast Away's plot hinges on product placement, You've Got Mail takes it a step further, by incorporating the product in the title of the movie . . . oh, and they also meet at a Starbucks!

Fight Club (1999) – MRQE Metric: 81

We now move into the more ironic. While IKEA may prove to be super flammable in Fight Club, the plug Edward Norton’s character gives to the Swedish furniture company is iconic. Norton, as the narrator, proclaims, "Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something like clever coffee tables in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogs and wonder, 'What kind of dining set defines me as a person?'" Norton’s character (and the whole film, really) makes the point that we are slaves to the buying culture. However, maybe we do want to define our design aesthetic and go grab some IKEA stuff...

Wayne's World (1992) – MRQE Metric: 1992

In Wayne’s World, Wayne and Garth act out a whole scene mocking the very nature of product placement advertisement, while prominently displaying actual products, including Doritos, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Reebok, and even Nuprin. It's a nice meta gag, and after this film was highly successful at the box office, all the companies that were subjected to the almost tongue-in-check summary of product placement, really cashed out. Sometimes it benefits to be the short end of a joke.

The Truman Show (1998) – MRQE Metric: 84

Infused with satire, The Truman Show was well ahead of its time. While the film did not feature any real-life products, it did explore how far reality TV would go for corporate sponsors. From Truman’s wife basically running a Julia Child-esk cooking show in their home kitchen, to the car Truman drives, everything is marketed to the audience. Truman is unaware of the product placement around him so he simply appears to go along with it, that is, until he "wakes up."

For more high octane product placement, check out the great cars featured in our list of the 15 Classic Cinematic Car Chases!

April 21, 2011

What to see at the Tribeca Film Festival

New York City is one of the best places in the world for festivals. From massive summer music concerts in Central Park to the coveted Lincoln Center Fashion Week, influential audiences members from around the globe flock to NYC to give their best opinion on what is happening in pop culture. And, true to heart, New York City is host again of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival which is kicking off today.

We've read through all of the 100+ films chosen to be viewed this year, and below is a guide to some of the films we just can't wait to check out and by the looks of it, documentaries are what really will be enchanting this year.

The Union
USA - Documentary
Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: T-Bone Burnett, Elton John, Leon Russell

The film that opens the festival. Cameron Crowe's documentary explores the unique bond between music legend Sir Elton John and legendary Leon Russell and the music that they made.

Fire in Babylon
UK - Documentary
Director: Stevan Riley

Every one loves a good sports movie. While everything seems to be about fighters or boxers these days, director Stevan Riley focuses on cricket and the great West Indies cricket team from the 1970's and 1980's.

USA - Documentary
Directors: Gretchen Morning, John Morning

Just like in Liam Neeson's Taken, a young child goes abroad and disappears. Only this time, the parent is a retired-NYPD cop, Kathy Gilleran, who simply wants an answer.

USA - Documentary
Director: Billy Corben

The party scene in New York is infamous and everyone wants to be a part of it. The film tells the story of Peter Gatien who was once the owner of New York hot spots Limelight, Tunnel, and Palladium - all of course before he was deported off to Canada.

The Bang Bang Club
Canada, South Africa - Narrative
Director: Steven Silver
Cast: Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Phillippe

First screened at last year's Toronto Film Festival, this film tells the true story about four photographers risking their lives in South Africa to capture the violence and turmoil of the country.

Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
USA - Documentary
Director: Michael Rapaport

New York City hip-hop superstars are followed by producer Michael Rapaport for almost a year span. My early critic review: this should be a great rockumentary.

L'amour fou
France - Documentary
Director: Pierre Thoretton

The world is still mourning the loss of iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Though, soon after his death, his beloved, Pierre Berge, auctioned of his famed art collection. A documentary about the seemingly about the ironies of life, this will become a classic film for any fashionable fan.

The Assault
France - Narrative
Director: Julien Leclercq

A true story about impeccable anti-terrorist action and the success of the French SWAT elite.

When The Drum is Beating
USA, Haiti - Documentary
Director: Whitney Dow

A rockumentary about the 20 member band named Spetentrional who, for 62 years, has been representing Haiti and playing throughout the world. This band's story is interwoven with the history of Haiti all the way up to the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Lotus Eaters
UK, USA - Narrative
Director: Alexandra McGuinness
Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Johnny Flynn, Benn Northover

It seems as if the new chic thing on screens big or small, is the tale of properly twisted teens: Skins, Teen Mom, Gossip Girl, etc. Coming out this festival is the narrative about London's social elite. Directed by Alexandra McGuinness and forecasted in black-and-white, this flick, it seems, is going to be a very honest and notorious movie.

For more documentary love, check out our list of the Most Iconic Rock-Docs, or 2010's Best Documentaries. Also, be sure to check in with all the films screening at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival on MRQE.

April 20, 2011

Movies Revisited: Network (1976)

A younger cousin of mine came to visit this week. When I mentioned Network, he was puzzled.

"An Oscar winning film from the 70s." I said.

"It won an Oscar, must be good." my cousin replied.

So he didn't know the 1976 satire, directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet who passed away last week. I wasn't surprised. (My cousin also had trouble remembering Total Request Live. I must be getting old.)

Network is about a fictional broadcasting company, UBS, that is dead last in the ratings. When head news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is told that he is being let go, over drinks with his longtime friend and news president Max Schumacher (William Holden), he decides to take matters into his own hands.

While live on the air, Beale announces that he will commit suicide. Immediately the network fires him. Howard pleads to Max to have one more stint on-camera to apologize to his viewers before signing off. Max gives him the opportunity, but Howard uses the airtime instead to go on another rant, saying life is "bull shit."

Ratings soar! Mr. Beale is a hit. Soon Diana Christenson (Faye Dunaway), the head of programming and Max's new love interest, steps in and proposes that they make Beale the host of his own show, right behind the entertainment slot.

"The Howard Beale Show, and starring the mad prophet of the airwaves, Howard Beal!"

Buy Network on Amazon.
Download Network on iTunes.
The show goes to number one. Max is fired as news president. He continues his affair with Diana but soon discovers the error of his ways. Diana is a heartless woman, who's only out for TV ratings, no matter what the cost. And Howard's lunatic rants become a tad too expository, pitting Diana and the network executives against CCA boss Arthur Jensen (Ned Beautty). CCA, the conglomerate that owns UBS, is in cahoots with a Saudi Arabian conglomerate. Eventually, the only solution for the network in this "mad as hell" world is to have Howard Beale assassinated live on television, providing a perfect exclamation point to this wildly invigorating satire.

Network was a critical hit in its initial release, earning ten Oscar nominations and four wins including Best Original Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky. Lumet lost out Best Director to John Avildsen for Rocky.

Rarely does a screenplay come along that burns with this kind of fiery energy. Chayefsky's dialogue is superb, biting and lightning quick. Yes, there are many lofty topics thrown around; but they are managed so well that it never seems over-the-top. Which is strange to say, considering Network is a satire.

What made Lumet such a great director was his understanding for the written word. He started out as an actor; he understood the inherent value in a well-thought-out story. He lets his actors soar with the material. And he shoots the inner-workings of a TV station like you're actually there, in the belly of the beast. It works like a charm.

In today's climate, where everyone in the news preys on Charlie Sheen's every raving sentiment, it's no surprise to find Network's otherworldly premise as topical as ever. Check it out when you get the chance. It is a fine example of Lumet's subtly mesmerizing work. And it remains timely commentary on our media driven culture.

Plus, it won a few Oscars, so it must be good.

Enjoy the trailer:

Check out more of Sidney Lumet's prolific work on MRQE.com.

April 18, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up: Rio soars over Scream 4

Rio soars to the Number 1 slot at the box office.
When sequels are usually released, mixed reviews and anticipation comes forth. It was no exception this weekend with the release of Scream 4, still starring Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Neve Campbell. The sequel made a strong $19.2 million taking the second spot in the opening weekend. Though, coming in on top was Jesse Eisenberg’s Rio, making an even $40 million. We haven’t seen opening weekend numbers like this in a while, and with the Spring blockbusters coming out, it is good to see the box office seats fill up. In third place was Russell Brand’s Hop, which made another $11 million, grossing a strong $82 million total. Robert Redford's limited release, The Conspirator, a historical drama about the assassination of President Lincoln, took in $3.9 million, just enough to place it in the Top Ten. Coming out next weekend is Water for Elephants, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Teen girls will swoon, but the film was a smash at many international film festivals.

Box Office Top Ten (Apr. 15 - Apr. 17)

  1. Rio - MRQE Metric: 67 - $40 million
  2. Scream 4 - MRQE Metric: 57 - $19.3 million
  3. Hop - MRQE Metric: 48 - $11.2 million
  4. Soul SurferMRQE Metric: 60 - $7.4 million
  5. Hanna - MRQE Metric: 72 - $7.3 million
  6. Arthur - MRQE Metric: 43 - $6.9 million
  7. Insidious - MRQE Metric: 60 - $6.9 million
  8. Source Code MRQE Metric: 76 - $6.3 million
  9. The Conspirator - MRQE Metric: 56 - $3.9 million
  10. Your Highness - MRQE Metric: 41 - $3.9 million

Cannes Film Festival Selection Announced!

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams star in Woody
Allen's Midnight in Paris.
La crème dela crème a été choisi!

It is official - the 2011 Cannes Film Festival kicks-off on May 11th, 2011. Starting off with Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris starring Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody, the red carpet is going to be packed with stars. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn will be present for Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, while Johnny Depp will be there in support of his latest film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Robert De Niro will be the star of the show, acting as president and main announcer, along with his yet undisclosed pannel of judges to the Palme d'Or. The big award, which means the Golden Palm, will be rewarded on May 22nd with 19 films in the running. In total, there will be 44 world premiers out of the 49 feature films, which reside from 33 countries around the world.

Some of films of note include The Skin I Live In, a reunion between Antonio Banderas and director Pedro Almodovar. Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin helps give a stronger presence of females in competition at this year's awards; Ramsay, along with Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty), Naomi Kawase (Hanezu no tsuki), and Maiwenn Le Besco (Polisse) make up four female directors are in the running for the Palme d'Or -- a record for the 64 year history of the awards.

It's certainly guaranteed to be fascinating film festival, and we cannot wait to see what films truly shine in the Mediterranean sun.

April 13, 2011

MRQE Rewind: The Best Part IV's

This Friday, Scream 4 hits theaters, set ten years after the events of Scream 3. Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is now a successful writer, arriving in Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour. And the Ghost-faced killer returns. It has been eleven years since the third installment all but finalized this iconic horror franchise. What are we to expect this time around? Who will be the new masked killer? How will they keep the story sustainable and entertaining? Of course, my skepticism aside, these are the kinds of questions that tempt me to see the film.

Taking a stab at a sequel, and another . . . and another, is pretty standard practice in Hollywood, especially in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre. So here at MRQE, we decided to make this week's list a compilation of the greatest fourth installments in movie franchise history! What goes into this sort of list, you ask? Well, let's say that a fourth installment exists for one reason: TO BLOW YOUR MIND! For consideration, Part IV has to be greater in scope than any of its predecessors; that can mean more blood, more special effects or more characters; and the stakes have to be higher. You are either stupefied or oddly impressed by the lengths to which the studios have gone to make this movie as outrageous as possible. So stop in, leave your critical self at the door, and enjoy.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) - MRQE Metric: 64

This "Final Chapter" is actually only the fourth of ten--that's right--ten installments in the Friday the 13th series. Yet at the time, this was the grand finale: a young boy named Tommy Jarvis provides the fatal blow to Jason Voorhees in the movie's climax. So, the hockey-masked killer, dead? Not for long. With the film's success at the box office, Paramount pushed on with the series. After Part V's "New Beginning" turned out to be a dud, the studio revived Jason in Part VI: Jason Lives. Confusing as it is, it makes this fourth installment's conclusion more or less null and void. But, watch for performances by Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover! And, check out a classic voice-over from the great Don Lafontaine in the trailer below:

Critters 4 (1992) - MRQE Metric: n/a

Part IV was my first exposure to the Critters series; and, I'll admit I was pretty scared as a child. There was a nightmare or two involving these freakish little creatures. I won't go into great detail (I'll leave that to the unbelievably elaborate Wikipedia entry), but basically this film series follows a race of extraterrestrial, hedgehog-like critters that roll into balls and attack their victims with their sharp teeth and claws. Angela Bassett and Brad Dourif star in this fourth installment that takes the Critters into outer space! Fun and clever special effects make the film worthwhile. Credit the green light on this franchise to the great, always crowd-pleasing, New Line Cinema. I'm just waiting for the reboot.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) - MRQE Metric: 49

Another crowning achievement for New Line Cinema was the Nightmare on Elm Street series. In fact, "The House that Freddie Built," was an oft-quoted nickname for the independent studio. Despite this installment's shortcomings in story and character, The Dream Master remains entertaining for its ambitious death scenes and its awesomely gory special effects. Plus, it was actually the highest grossing independent film at the time. Who knew?! Director Renny Harlin went on to greater fame with Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, and greater infamy with *gasp* Cutthroat Island.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) - MRQE Metric: 57

Another important consideration for sequels is the person in the director's chair. Past film franchises have provided great opportunities for emerging filmmakers. Jean Pierre Jeunet had already helmed Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, but had not directed a film stateside before Alien: Resurrection. The French filmmaker brings his unique style to this very alien sequel. The movie has a toxic color scheme, as if you can sense the venom seeping into its characters from the start. It's no surprise (SPOILERS) that Ripley's clone reveals herself to be an alien. And the final scene--where she cradles her own creature baby--is as bizarre as any science-fiction ever put to celluloid. Sigourney Weaver kicks ass, as usual. And Jeunet's cast, including Ron Perlman and French actor Dominic Peron, make this an odd but thoroughly entertaining sequel.

The Final Destination (2009) - MRQE Metric: 41

Roman numerals are bad enough. So I, for one, don't think an added/subtracted article should decide the movie title for a sequel. Fast and Furious vs. The Fast and the Furious? Final Destination vs. The Final Destination? Come on now! Nevertheless, The Final Destination was the last act for this movie series (or so I thought. Final Destination 5 is coming soon!). The series typically follows a group of teenagers that escapes death, only to have their grim fates pre-destined in grisly, elaborate acts involving everyday home appliances. Part IV picks up on that premise, leaving out anything resembling a coherent story in favor of gory death scenes. Here's the trailer, which caused me to literally laugh out loud when I saw it in theaters. Like it or not, The Final Destination was one of the first in this new wave of 3D releases we currently find ourselves in.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) - MRQE Metric: 27

The Man of Steel makes an appearance on my list, as a relief from all of the axe murderers and aliens. For my full insight and analysis into the absurdity of this sequel, head over to my blog. As if Superman III wasn't bad enough! And, to think this installment could have been far worse. Nonetheless, this sequel gets a nod for its ambition. I only wish I were at the table during the discussions for the Nuclear Man fight on the moon. The special effects in The Quest for Peace have not exactly stood the test of time; and that is putting it lightly. But, it is the last time Christopher Reeve donned the cape; and he is by far the best Superman to date. This film could not have been made without him. We can only wait and see what director Zack Snyder has up his sleeves for his reboot next year.

Terminator Salvation (2009) - MRQE Metric: 54

This fourth Terminator installment had a lot going for it: a great actor in the lead with Christian Bale, a cool, contemporary director behind the camera in McG, and a futuristic apocalypse setting that was only hinted at in the first three films. But the best thing to come out of this sequel ended up being . . . The Freakout:

Salvation was a disappointment, overblown and not very interesting. But it solidifies its position on my list for a ridiculous fight scene involving a full-fledged CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger! Over-the-top and silly . . . but nonetheless enjoyable.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) - MRQE Metric: 91

A New Hope is a sci-fi masterpiece that truly erases any hint of irony in my list thus far. And just to be clear, A New Hope is Star Wars. When it came out, people referred to it as Star Wars. Only now, after the release of three underwhelming prequels, does the series take on the appearance of a six-part narrative. Thus, technically making this epic adventure a Part IV. If Star Wars teaches us anything, it's that great movies can be like great chapters in an epic novel. One or two chapters can pass before the story hits a successful stride.

And so, this movie fan believes a Part IV can be a new hope after all! I'm checking out Scream 4 this weekend. After all, I may be surprised. And, most certainly entertained.

April 11, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up: Russell Brand On Top

Russell Brand is sitting pretty with Hop and Arthur
at the top of the box office.
After a short weekend at the box office, Russell Brand has really come out on top. His film Hop, which was released last weekend, grossed another $21.7 million, bringing in a total gross of $68 million, and placing the CGI-animated film at the top of the box office. Brand's remake of Arthur, Dudley Moore's signature 1981 comedy, sauntered to second with $12.6 million. New releases Hanna and Soul Surfer also fared well, taking the third and fourth slots, respectively. However, fantasy spoof, Your Highness, didn't do as hot, only claiming $9.5 million, just shy of making the Top Five. The comedy fell to horror flick, Insidious. Also to be mentioned, is Johnny Depp's Rango, the CGI-western, which after being in the box office for six weeks has grossed $117.5 million.

This weekend's new releases of Rio and the much anticipated Scream 4, will likely duke it out for the top.

Box Office Top Ten (Apr. 8 - Apr. 10):
  1. Hop (MRQE Metric: 49) - $21.7 million
  2. Arthur (MRQE Metric: 46) - $12.6 million
  3. Hanna (MRQE Metric: 74) - $12.3 million
  4. Soul Surfer (MRQE Metric: 61) - $11.1 million
  5. Insidious (MRQE Metric: 60) - $9.7 million
  6. Your Highness (MRQE Metric: 42) - $9.5 million
  7. Source Code (MRQE Metric: 76) - $9.1 million
  8. Limitless (MRQE Metric: 63) - $5.7 million
  9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules (MRQE Metric: 59) - $4.9 million
  10. The Lincoln Lawyer (MRQE Metric: 66) - $4.6 million

April 10, 2011

WTF of the Week: Reboot-A-Palooza

Courtesy: Warner Bros.
Will Batman be "reinvented," again?
Last week’s column was a fictional wink-and-nod to a silly holiday and a silly trend happening in Hollywood. That trend: Reboots and Remakes.

Maybe some readers actually fell for it, but no one would blame them because remakes, retreads, reboots and unnecessary sequels are the only projects that seem to be getting greenlit at the studios these days.

Over the last several weeks there’s been a plethora of rumors about remakes and here are four that should really squash the spirit of any true lover of film: The Terry Gilliam fantasy about growing up and time travel, Time Bandits, along with The Crow and Suspiria are all up for rebooting, according to ScreenRant.com. Each of these films has garnered a devoted following, if not a cult status, among filmgoers and the idea of rebooting them is sad – especially in the case of Time Bandits where it appears that a children’s film franchise is in the works. So, instead of a subtle fable about growing up through time and through experience, both literally and figuratively, as wonderfully accomplished by Gilliam in the original, you’ll have some inane computer-generated effects and a few fart jokes.

But the saddest reboot announcement concerns a film that hasn’t even been made yet. There’s word that after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises is finished, the Batman franchise will have to be "reinvented" (another of those dirty Hollywood R-words). It’s not like there isn’t over 70 years worth of Batman stories to choose from, right?

Why not make the Batman films like the 007 franchise? Every couple of years a new actor can assume the role of Bruce Wayne, and the stories will just go on, never getting remade, like James Bond never was--oh, wait . . . damn it!

The Future of Film Analysis

Information is finding us faster than ever before. The sound of protest in the Middle East meets our ears within seconds. New music - be it The Black Keys or Rebecca Black - is presented at the virtual doorstop of our web portal every morning. Friends' locations are fed to our Facebook feed, our restaurant reviews are public domain, and Google translates the information of 100 languages in a matter of clicks. 2001, the date, has come and gone; but 2001, the film and book, are only now coming to life. How we learn to use this information will shape us all in years to come.

Within the universe of data science, the worlds of statistics and social media are colliding. Film represents a significant moment in that transformation.

The "quants," traders and researchers that work with numerical analysis, began to invade finance beginning in the 1970s. Mathematicians, statisticians, and even physicists changed the shape of stock exchange by studying the trading-room floor with the rigor we'd previously applied to an electron's orbit or the folds of proteins. Then in what seems the most unlikely conversion, they moved into sports. "Sabermetrics," the statistics of baseball, became a profession. The Oakland A's of the 90s famously powered through their low budget by leveraging these techniques. Soon after, one of the greats of sabermetrics, Nate Silver, began the migration into the next arena of quantification: politics. His site, FiveThirtyEight, came after the foundation of polls and pollsters was already set in place, but he was the first to intelligently combine the data. A clamor of Gallop, Rasumussen, Dailies, Weeklies, GOPs and Dem's was transformed into a single harmony. Silver finally organized it, distilled it, and gave us the simplicity of a single election prediction.

In all of these arenas – finance, sports, politics – qualification applied, but understanding grew primarily from the numbers themselves. In this respect, film will be last.

Future use of data, however, will be shaped by social media. Every lunch hour, your iPhone 6 will notify you of nearby restaurants your friends have Yelped, Tweeted, Facebooked, Four-Squared, or otherwise verbed on some online application. Your car will automatically set its destination to home after a short day at work, or to your favorite bar after a long one. Your opinions on hotels, restaurants, cars, travel destinations, bosses, teachers, friends, and brands of toothpaste will be posted, tracked, pinged, compiled and published. We're moving into a future where information about our social lives will be as accessible as the entries on Wikipedia. Though the fictions of Skynet, the Matrix, the Tyrell Corporation, and HAL are both the cause and effect of the eerie chill that may have run up your spine as you read this paragraph, I find it exciting.

That future has just begun, and in this respect, film will be first.

Film is a bridge between these two worlds because it’s accessible through both purely quantitative and qualitative means. As a business with highly transparent results, it is a quantifiable experience, one utilizing old-world statistics; yet as an art form, it retains a numinous quality not fully comprehensible through those arithmetics. In other words, we can now find the average box office return of every horror film ever made, or the effects of seasonal release date on the Harry Potter franchise. But we're only just learning how to measure the impact of the deus-ex-machina in Contact or the palette of O, Brother Where Art Thou?.

And as such a bridge, it's important to watch the study of film through the next few years. It's my belief that this new kind of information science must merge the engineering and mathematical approaches of the past with those human sensibilities we are beginning to study. A Twitter feed, semantically parsed, is valueless without a person at the helm of the program parsing it. Yelp is fundamentally a community of people – travelers, foodies, sightseers - whose reviews are only as strong as the community contributing. There may come a day where IBM builds a successor to Watson, one that composes poetry in addition to winning at Jeopardy, but that day is still a distant horizon. Until then, artificial intelligence isn’t comprised of self-aware machines, but instead machines aware of our collective guidance. And movies are where we’re headed next.

This article was guest written by Edmund Helmer, an independent consultant and founder of BoxOfficeQuant. More on Edmund can be found at boxofficequant.com.

April 8, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Animals on Film

Animals always make great characters. With Born to Be Wild being unleashed to theaters this weekend, we thought it was right for us to explore the many great animals that graced the silver screen. As Born to Be Wild explores the African animal kingdom, and the way humans dedicate their lives to saving these endangered species, we focus on the films that explore the relationships animals have with one another or with humans. Whether graceful whale, or mega gorilla, or crazed rabid dog, these animals truly left a print in cinema history.

Jaws (1975) - MRQE Metric: 91

Beginning with a blockbuster smash, Steven Spielberg's Jaws is the first big "high concept" blockbuster; and it stars a killer shark hungry for human flesh. Based on a novel by Peter Benchley--who had little to no voice in the production of the film--Jaws was produced on a solid $7 million budget and went to gross over $470 million dollars around the world. Jaws, the character, develops almost-humanistic characteristics as it terrorizes the small port town of Amity. The film being so successful, went on to spawn three sequels.

Babe (1995) - MRQE Metric: 86

On a softer note, the 1995 classic Babe, stars a cute little pig. With the storyline about life on an Australian farm and interactions amongst other animals, Babe has become a benchmark film for animal lovers. Being nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Babe remains as an emotional film about animal relationships, the universal emotion of love, and the reality of how similar animals truly are to humans.

King Kong (1933) - MRQE Metric: 88

Then, there is the 1933 film King Kong, starring Fay Wray and a massive, city demolishing gorilla. Kong, the gorilla, has now become a movie icon, appearing in comics, articles, books, paraphernalia, theme parks, and even video games. The original film was produced as a fantasy monster flick and received great critic reviews. The film ends with the classic line by Carl Denham, played by Robert Armstrong, saying, "No, it wasn't the airplanes . . .  it was Beauty killed the Beast." In spite of his death, Kong was resurrected twice: once in 1976 with a young Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange; and then again in 2005 with Naomi Watts.

Free Willy (1993) - MRQE Metric: 69

From gorillas to whales, we have none other than Free Willy, a movie about a troubled boy, Jesse (played by Jason James Ritcher), who bounces from foster home to foster home. When Jesse comes in counter with a killer whale, named Willy, that has gone through similar troubles as him--being taken from his family and the wild at a young age--Jesse connects with this animal. When Willy's life falls into danger, Jesse does everything in his power to save him. The critic response to this film was very mixed, but ask any child that grew up in the 90's--this flick was a tear jerker and remains a classic film; who could forget that epic jump?

The Black Stallion (1979) - MRQE Metric: n/a

Francis Ford Coppola's The Black Stallion is one of the most beautiful tales ever told, with a truly stunning star: Arabian stallion, Cass Ole, playing the main
horse in the film. A truly gorgeous, long, and lean horse, the relationship that builds between Cass and "supporting" character, Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) is enchanting. From being deserted on an island to becoming an elite competitive horse racer, this is a flick everyone should see.

Born Free (1966) - MRQE Metric: n/a

1966 British dramatic film Born Free is about a real-life couple living in Kenya that raised a lioness, Elsa, from birth. Elsa is an emotional lioness who shows many human-like characteristics. She's protective, loving, and cautious about the world and people around her. The film hits a climax when Elsa is of age to be released back into the wilderness and her adoptive human parents do not know what to do.  director James Hill's fascinating work won a Globes Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama. And, who could forget the eponymous song, which picked up an Academy Award? This film is a must see for any young audience.

Paulie (1998) - MRQE Metric: 64

Paulie is the 1998 family flick about a comedic talking parrot voiced by Jay Mohr. While Paulie may not be as powerful of a character as some others on this list (King Kong would crush him), the humor he produces is unparalleled. Winning awards and nominations across the board, from the ALMA to BAFTA to Young Artists Awards, this film was well accepted among critics and audiences alike.

Cujo (1983) - MRQE Metric: 66

Growing up we may have all wanted pets like Willy, Cass, or Babe, but nobody ever wants a dog like Cujo, a killer St. Bernard that takes over a small town in Maine. Director Lewis Teague did a fascinating job recreating the classic novel by Steven King. Cujo, a once nice puppy, contracts rabies and goes insane. He becomes a killer - everyone and anyone that enters his house becomes a victim of his attack. Rated as one of Bravo's top 100 Scariest Movies, this is a must see flick for the horror movie fan.

Stuart Little (1999) - MRQE Metric: 63

Up until now, every character on our list has been a real animal; and, while Stuart Little is a fictional CGI mouse voiced by Michael J. Fox, the film should be no exception. Featuring real humans and a real cat along with the computer-generated mouse, this film was nominated for an an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Based on the classic children's book, Stuart Little (also starring a pre-House, Hugh Laurie) is an adorable film about a mouse who is adopted into a family of humans. One of the strongest relationships produced is this film is the unique bond that develops between the family cat, Snowbell, and Stuart. The eventually untale of love and adaptation that comes forth in this film is a great life lesson for an audience of any age.

Project X (1987) - MRQE Metric: n/a

Chimpanzees have always been known as some of the most intelligent creatures on Earth - aside from humans, of course. The 1987 film Project X, directed by Jonathan Kaplan, stars Matthew Broderick as a United States Air Force trainee working with an chimp. Broderick plays Jimmy Garrett who is directed to help train the chimp, Virgil, in sign language, as well as, automated flight training. Ironically, this film was produced as an undercut to the ethics of animal research, though the producers were eventually accused of animal cruelty by the United Activist for Animal Rights.

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