May 26, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Amnesia at the Movies

It is a trademark movie scenario: a central protagonist waking up in some strange place, not knowing how he got there. Sometimes, without any memory of his identity. Despite its heavy usage throughout film history, the amnesia episode has continued to be a successful plot device. Case in point, The Hangover Part II, which opens this Memorial Day weekend. This time, like the original, the formula as been exaggerated for outrageous laughs, with three friends mysteriously blacking out after a night of heavy drinking. But, in general the amnesia movie has remained effective because of its flexibility across genres. This week, MRQE looks back at the ten best amnesia flicks, ranging from thrillers to dramas to comedies.

May 24, 2011

Trailer Watch: The Muppets, Tintin, and Conan O'Brien

This week in trailers we see the return of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang in The Muppets. A popular French comic gets re-imagined by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson in The Adventures of Tintin. And, Conan O'Brien takes us behind the scenes of his successful tour in Conan O'Brien Can't Stop.

May 23, 2011

Movies Revisited: Amadeus (1984)

Buy Amadeus on Amazon
Download Amadeus on iTunes
Rivalries are a spectator's delight. Two sides, with a history of jealousy, hatred, and dominance vacillating back and forth over a period of years like imbalanced weights on a scale. Or boxers in a marathon bout, exchanging blows, round for round with no end in sight. It makes for great drama. In sports: the Yankees and the Red Sox, Ali and Frazier, the Celtics and the Lakers. In music: The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, Biggie and Tupac, Mozart and Salieri.

Yes, that's right. Mozart and Salieri. Arguably one of the most epic music rivalries in all of history, told in wonderful fashion in Milos Forman's Oscar winning Amadeus (MRQE Metric: 89) from 1984.

Weekend Wrap-Up: 'On Stranger Tides' sinks, yet swims

Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz star in #1 Pirates of the
Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The summer blockbusters have begun and Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides took the weekend by storm, with an opening weekend gross of $90.1 million. While a big weekend--in fact, the biggest of the year, so far--this marks the lowest performance for the Caribbean franchise.

May 19, 2011

MRQE Rewind: The Most Iconic Pirate Movies

The big weekend release coming to us Friday is the highly anticipated fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. This is actually their second movie together since Blow. Anticipation is growing not only to see this duo on screen together again, but also because of the massive Pirates of the Caribbean fan base. And, with the swashbuckling Capt. Jack Sparrow staggering back onto theaters, we turn the tides and explore the great pirates that washed up onto the big screen. Although most of these don’t hold a match to the success of the Disney series, all are widely entertaining films.

May 13, 2011

MRQE Rewind: SNL Players Go Dramatic

This Friday, SNL invades theaters. Current cast member Kristen Wiig stars, along with former member Maya Rudolph, in Bridesmaids, the newest production from the Judd Apatow camp. Also in limited release this weekend is Everything Must Go, a new drama starring Will Ferrell. Now, I'm sure there will be a few raucous belly laughs from the ladies' antics, but let's get serious! This is a big step for Kristin Wiig and Judd Apatow, helming a female counterpart to the predominantly male, juvenile comedy movies that Apatow has made his trademark.

And what about Will Ferrell? Arguably the man with the goofiest presence in our Ron Burgundy quoting era is now tackling some dramatic fare. This calls for a MRQE Rewind! Let's see how some of the SNL greats have fared in their efforts to expand their appeal, and draw more than the easy laugh. Some say that comedy is more challenging for an actor than drama. But when you're this funny, the drama may be the real challenge.

Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 75

Let us start off with a comedy prodigy. Eddie Murphy started on SNL at the ripe age of 21! And he ruled comedy in the eighties, both on the tube and the big screen, with Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and The Golden Child (a personal favorite). Eddie Murphy was always cool, and lightning quick, but throughout the 90s and early 2000s, he digressed into fat suits and bland family comedies. Then came Dreamgirls, the Bill Condon directed musical that cast Murphy as a Motown era soul singer that finds himself cast to the wayside. Not unlike his comedic fall from grace. Life imitating art! It was an affecting performance that garnered Murphy an Academy Award nomination. A nice excursion for Murphy...then he made Norbit.


Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (2002) -- MRQE Metric: 76

The king of juvenile antics, with so many characters: Billy Madison, Bobby Boucher, Robbie Hart and Happy Gilmore, to name a few. Adam Sandler took his musical funny-man antics from the SNL stage to the box office register with freakish success that still has him cashing in on silly antics (although Grown Ups is certainly not on my Netflix queue). One of his biggest fans is Paul Thomas Anderson, who decided to cast Sandler in his first dramatic role in Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler delivers a surprising, and mesmerizing performance. He's a little crazy in this one, not unlike his zany comedy, but it works well in new light.


Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally... (1989) -- MRQE Metric: 84

Although Mr. Crystal was only on SNL for one season, it was all he needed to reach a larger audience. Billy Crystal has a universal, showman like quality that made him the perfect Oscar host for all those years. When Harry Met Sally shows off some of Billy's classic comedy chops. But, it also reveals a very sincere, emotional side to his acting. There are scenes where he is deadpan and you can't help but laugh, then there are scenes where he delivers surprising depth (such as the Giants Stadium talk, as well as the film's conclusion). He lost the Golden Globe that year in a tough race (Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Steve Martin and Jack Nicholson, yikes). Any other year, Crystal would have been a lock.


Mike Myers in 54 (1998) -- MRQE Metric: 49

Another wacky, talented comedian that was part of the epic mid-90s SNL cast that included Sandler, Chris Farley, Chris Rock and David Spade. Myers became a superstar with the Shrek and the Austin Powers series and he hasn't really looked back. One is pressed to find a dramatic role in his latex and Cockney accent-filled career. However, if you were one of the few to see 54, you may have noticed Mike Myer's dramatic turn as famed club owner Steve Rubell. It's actually an impressive performance, for the simple fact that you forget it's Mike Myers. Sometimes, that's the best compliment.


Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 69

And of course, there's Will Ferrell. Everything Must Go is his second dramatic undertaking, after his impressive first go-around as Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction. Crick is an IRS auditor who discovers a narrative voice that only he can hear, dictating his every action. Ferrell is fun to watch in Fiction. Although, his understated delivery is nothing new (Jim Carrey did it to greater effect, and praise, in The Truman Show), there's an everyman quality to Ferrell that I think will make his newest outing interesting to watch.


Dan Aykroyd in Driving Miss Daisy (1989) -- MRQE Metric: 78

Dan Aykroyd is an alum from the famed SNL '75 class. In addition to Ghostbusters, and being one "Wild and Crazy Guy," Aykroyd has amassed a very impressive film resume that includes over 90 films. It takes a little sifting but he too has a taste for the dramatic. In Driving Miss Daisy, he played Miss Daisy's son Boolie; and his performance earned him his only Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He followed that up with a bit part in Chaplin, but overall he remains a maestro of comedy. Look for him in Ghostbusters 3, which may arrive as early as next year.



Maya Rudolph in Away We Go (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 66

Like Adam Sandler, Maya Rudolph has also attracted praise from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Unlike Sandler, Anderson decided to marry Rudolph and have children with her. The famed filmmaker is obviously a man of great taste. Miss Rudolph has unique talents in both comedy and drama. In her seven years on SNL, she produced a wide range of hilarious characters. In Away We Go, she dropped all of those characters in favor of a low-key performance as a young pregnant wife who travels the country with her husband (John Krasinski) looking for a place to raise their family. Some were surprised to see Rudolph in a romantic-drama. I actually saw her understated performance as an easy extension of her talents. I'm still waiting for her big-screen Donatella Versace biopic. :)


Christopher Guest in A Few Good Men (1992) -- MRQE Metric: 69

Where would the mockumentary be without Christopher Guest, the master of understated comedy? From Spinal Tap to Waiting for Guffman, Guest basically formed a comedy universe around his talents. And of everyone on this list, Guest inhabits his characters the most fully, working in a very subtle comedic range that's fascinating to watch. If had to choose one dramatic role, it would be his performance as Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men. Guest takes the stand in one courtroom scene, going toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise, and delivers a cold, detached performance as a military doctor.


Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (2003) -- MRQE Metric: 84

There's only one Bill Murray, a comic genius who brought new edge to comedy along with the fellow freshman of SNL '75 (including John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase). It's hard to describe Murray. Unlike the other comics on the list, Murray didn't make his star with too many characters or popular sketches. His appeal is rooted in his own unique brand of improvisation that makes him so much fun to watch. Even in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, a romantic-drama in a mold all its own, Murray's portrayal of a jaded movie star is both endearing and somewhat heart wrenching. Murray works a very subtle acting instrument. Watch closely as he shifts from comedy to drama in a scene with ease. He makes it natural. Like I said, there's only one Bill Murray.


Chris Rock in New Jack City (1991) -- MRQE Metric: 62

Chris Rock was not as successful as his counterparts during his three-year SNL run. It would take a few years for him to build his reputation as the greatest stand-up comic to come out of Studio 8H. And early on, there were a few minor parts in feature films. None are too memorable, except for his turn as Pookie in New Jack City. Rock plays a drug addict to impressive effect in this drug crime thriller from the early nineties. His performance is certainly worth a look. If anything, it provides a nice sample of his work for his inevitable Kennedy Center career retrospective. That's far down the line however. Chris's career is one of the hottest on this list.

May 9, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up: Thor's Mighty Weekend

Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins in #1 Thor.
It seems everyone and their mother went to see Thor this Mother's Day weekend. Thor crushed the box office, making $66 million in just a three-day spread, solidifying the start of the summer blockbuster season; and we have not seen numbers like this in a while. This gives good prospect to the other big summer blockbusters coming out in the next few weeks and months.

Fast Five took the second slot. After just two weeks in the box office, Fast Five has hit almost $140 million, making over $30 million this weekend alone.

Next was Jumping the Broom, the family drama, which raked in just over $13.7 million. We are surprised to see this new comer in the third spot, but with weekend numbers under the $20 million mark, it seems as if the it was anyone's game to get this. In comparison to the two top blockbusters above, unless the film is predicted to take big numbers, every other flick, like Jumping the Broom, is probably going to fall out of the box office quite quickly this summer season.

At fourth was Something Borrowed, another pretty B-list rom-com, which made $13.2 million just pushing it under Jumping the Broom. Rio, another pre-summer smash, held its own at the fifth slot, making just above $8 million, with a gross total of $114 million.

Next weekend premieres include the Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids; a female-driven comedy in the vein of The Hangover and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Also up is the vampire actioner Priest, starring Paul Bettany. Both will likely not put a major dent in the bx office, but will certainly play to strong numbers.

Box Office Top Ten (May 6 - May 8):
  1. Thor - MRQE Metric: 69 -$66 million
  2. Fast Five - MRQE Metric: 64 - $32.5 million
  3. Jumping the Broom - MRQE Metric: 56 - $13.7 million
  4. Something Borrowed - MRQE Metric: 42 - $13.2 million
  5. Rio - MRQE Metric: 65 - $8.2 million
  6. Water for Elephants - MRQE Metric: 60 - $5.6 million
  7. Madea's Big Happy Family - MRQE Metric: 48 - $3.9 million
  8. Prom - MRQE Metric: 55 - $2.4 million
  9. Soul Surfer - MRQE Metric: 58 - $2.1 million
  10. Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil - MRQE Metric: 44 - $1.9 million

May 6, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Characters and Their Objects

This weekend we have the release of two big films that both revolve around men, and objects of their either fascination or choice. The first is the action-packed soon-to-be summer blockbuster hit, Thor, where lead actor Chris Hemsworth as Thor chooses a hammer as his choice of weapon -- he never enters a battle without it, and it is usually what helps him win. The second film is a little softer and cuddly, Mel Gibson's The Beaver, where Gibson adopts a puppet beaver to help him cope with depression and allow him to communicate. Both films involve men that are obsessively attached to certain objects, and find their strength through these emotionless "toys". Below we explore other characters from film that developed a similar attachment with a basic object.


Chuck & Wilson in Cast Away (2000) - MRQE Metric: 75



Sometimes in isolation people do crazy things. When FedEx engineer Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks, ends up on a deserted island, to keep his sanity, the only thing he has to turn to is a volleyball he names Wilson. With a strong attachment to this in emotionless object it seems Chuck wouldn’t have survived for the extensive amount of time alone on the island without Wilson. Throughout the film, Chuck holds extensive conversations with Wilson. Upon being rescued, Chuck has to say good-bye to Wilson--and it's actually a very emotional scene. Once back in civilization Chuck is seen with a new Wilson volleyball, sitting shotgun as he is parked at a crossroads.



Dom & his top in Inception (2010) - MRQE Metric: 83



The recipient of four 2011 Academy Awards, Inception is one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s best films. The film revolves around the concept of lucid dreaming and the idea of a “dream within a dream.” DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a con of sorts, who uses dreams to extract information and extort money. To help them realize when they're in a dream or awake, each of the dream “extractors” carries a “totem." Cobb chooses a spinning top, an object that holds particular emotional significance. Just like Chuck in Cast Away, Cobb would have gone insane without his object. Though, some might argue that he already has. The question remains: did that top stop spinning?



Corky Withers & Fats in Magic (1978) - MRQE Metric: n/a



Anthony Hopkins' characters seem to seriously develop an infatuation with objects. In the 1978 film Magic, we meet Corky Withers, a down-on-his-luck ventriloquist. Withers' sanity is questioned, as his dummy, Fats, soon develops a mind of its own. Fats helps Withers renew a romance with a high-school sweetheart. But, eventually Fats wants to take over Hopkins’s character’s mind. Wasn't this a Twilight Zone episode?



Leatherface & his chainsaw in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - MRQE Metric: 84



There have been a few sequels and a few remakes, but the tried and true version will forever be is this 1974 grindhouse classic. Leatherface is perhaps the most deadly, unflinching killer in horror history, and what would he be without his lethal chainsaw. Leatherface is the main antagonist, played by Gunnar Hasen, terrorizing a group of kids who happens upon him and his dysfunctional family. Inspired by real-life killer Ed Guin, Leatherface’s wears a mask of human skin, and once he slays his victims with his trusty chainsaw, he turns cannibal to enjoy the bloody taste of his victim. It must make for an interesting Thanksgiving dinner.



Frodo & The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - MRQE Metric: 87



An epic journey across many lands and three films totaling 23+ hours, we follow Frodo and Samwise, as they carry The One Ring to it's ultimate distruction. Of course, the Ring has powers, and it's those powers that divides the original Fellowship, and leads to one of the most epic battles in cinema history. It's a pretty obvious attachment issue at play here, as everyone fights for the Ring and its powers. However, in spite of all this, Frodo remains steadfast in his goal. And, though he gets tested and tricked, is able to it let go, and destroy it for the sake of Middle Earth.



Jason & his mask in Friday the 13th Part III (1982) - MRQE Metric: 53



We turn back to serial killers, with the third installment of the Friday the 13th series, where we first encounter Jason Voorhees as he puts on the notorious hockey mask to cover the flaws on his face. For the next five films in the series, Jason is attached to this mask and will not kill without it. The freakish image of him creeping around with the white hockey mask with little holes all around it has now become a staple costume for Halloween goers. Rest assured, after watching these movies, you will never look at hockey masks the same way.



Bruce Wayne & the Batmobile in Batman (1989) - MRQE Metric: 74



Everyone wants a Batmobile, and Batman knows it. While there have been many versions of the Batmobile, the Chevy Impala mod from the 1989 films is the most incredible of all. Fully loaded with a Batphone, Bat Smoke Screen, automatic fire extinguisher, voice control, police band cut-in switch, Bat-ray, and an emergency Bat-turn Lever (parachute attached), we can’t blame Batman for having such an attachment to his car....it's also pretty damn useful in nabbing bad guys.



Neo, et. al. & their sunglasses in The Matrix (1999) - MRQE Metric: 79



It must be pretty damn sunny in the Matrix. Why else would all the characters have to wear sunglasses? Apparently, it's not to look bad-ass either. Truth be told, there is no evident reason--no story or plot-line behind it. Costume designer Kym Barrett just placed them on the guys for pure aesthetic reasons; and for reasons unknown, these men (and women) just seem to be incapable taking them off.

 


Dr. Hannibal Lecter & the moth in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - MRQE Metric: 87


Whereas Leatherface is the most deadly killer in cinema history, Hannibal Lecter is certainly the most notorious. And, Lecter's penchant for moths is quite symbolic, representing the transformation of a serial killer. Lecter places the moth on the victim’s mouths because he feels as if it's his conversion from good to evil.



Kane & Rosebud in Citizen Kane (1941) - MRQE Metric: 96


I highly doubt my dying words will be “Rosebud.” Though, for Charles Forster Kane, that was his last uttered words, before dropping a snow globe. But, what was Rosebud? And, of all things this great and mighty figure had, why would he choose this word as his final utterance? For a man who had everything, in the end he was missing something. After all, the Rosebud Kane speaks of is [spoiler alert] an old sled that he kept a strong emotional attachment to; it represented his childhood and, perhaps, the only happy moments he ever had in his life.




Speaking of sunglasses, from above, enjoy this funny mash-up of The Matrix and CSI: Miami.


May 3, 2011

Movies Revisited: Hud (1963)

Buy Hud on Amazon.
Download Hud on iTunes.
Paul Newman was a great actor: for his talents onscreen, his strikingly handsome features, engaging blue eyes, and a deep, resonating voice. For his charity work off-screen: Newman's Own (one of the most successful non-profit organizations, and one of the best bags of popcorn), The Hole-in-the-Wall camps for children with illnesses, and the countless donations to schools and theaters nationwide.

So it's hard to imagine Mr. Newman, in life or in death, as a jerk. But that's precisely what he portrays in Hud, directed by Martin Ritt. Newman plays Hud Bannon, a reckless cowboy with a penchant for fisticuffs and married women. He spends his days cruising around in his convertible-escaping the wrath of cheated husbands-and his night’s boozing and picking fights at the local bar. He lives at home on a Texas cattle ranch with his father Homer, his teenage nephew Lon and the housekeeper Elma. Hud's mother is dead. And let’s just say him and Pa don't exactly get along.

The plot centers around the family business, which is at risk of collapse after one of Homer's cattle is found dead on his land. Homer and Hud clash over how to respond. Homer believes that if his cattle are afflicted with foot-and-mouth disease then the whole bunch must be killed to prevent an epidemic. Hud selfishly believes that the diseased cattle should be sold off for profit, thus potentially spreading the infection to other livestock.

Young, impressionable Lonnie is caught in the middle. Should he follow in the footsteps of his grandpa Homer, a man of traditional values, or in the blazing path of the young, rebellious Hud, who possesses some of the more free-spirited yet less honorable traits of the younger generation? By the films finale, Lonnie has made his decision and you're not too surprised.

What is surprising is Newman's Hud, a stubborn, villainous SOB that holds a bitter grudge towards the world. If you're looking for a character transformation--a neglected son who sees the error of his ways to gloriously lift the family mantel in "Lion King" fashion-you will be disappointed. (That's right, I just compared Hud to The Lion King.) Hud Bannon is an infection, lurking in the background of every scene (with brilliant cinematography by James Wong Howe), preying off the land with no intention of giving anything back.

Despite losing out in the Best Actor category that year to Sydney Poitier, Newman's Hud stands as an iconic character. He doesn't have the brute tact or charm of Brando's baddie Stanley Kowalski, but he does have a staunch resistance to authority that would eventually make Newman an icon of his era.

Some might see Hud as an oversimplified story with an unjustified antagonism between father and son. But for me, Hud stands the test of time precisely because of this tenuous clash. There is a strange tension in this film, a slow erosion of a family legacy marked by a quiet, barren landscape overrun with tractors and muted out by portable radios and the technology of an oncoming era. It's minimal and effective as an American work of art.

In one particular scene, Newman casually lies on his bed, with a beer, watching TV; a scene quite commonly found in people's homes today. But in Hud, immortalized in black & white, there's something disconcerting about the image. Is Hud's inactivity one of his faults? Is TV and beer part of the problem? If it is, then Hud Bannon is one of the coolest, most likeable jerks you'll ever encounter.

Enjoy this clip:




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