Film

"I'll be taking these Huggies and whatever cash you got": Celebrating The Career of Nicolas Cage

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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I will never forget the first time I saw Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona, running down the middle of the highway all doe-eyed and dumb, a panty hose leg pulled over his head with a bag of diapers under his arm. It’s definitely the film I’d credit with ramping up his career or certainly my interest in it.

Since then, Cage has built himself an impressive film resume, despite being criticized for his choice to star in Hollywood blockbusters as opposed to the independent character-driven dramas that helped to mold his career in the first place.

Frankly, I’m not surprised that that was his chosen path. We are talking about the same person who married the daughter of Elvis Presley as a token of his appreciation and devotion to the King, built himself a nine-foot tall pyramid/mausoleum in a New Orleans cemetery, and in July 2007 locked into a fierce bidding war with fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio over a 67-million year old dinosaur skull. Cage walked away victorious, and $276k bones poorer (take the pun and run).

And let’s also not forget the memes… oh, the memes. A couple of personal favorites:

Your Argument is Invalid is
a catchphrase associated with the film Next, used in conjunction with a photo-shopped image of Cage taken during the filming of the movie. The photo was altered to make Cage’s hair look like a bald eagle, and was captioned with the text “My hair is a bird. Your argument is invalid.”

 

Nic Cage as Everyone on Tumblr collects photo-shopped images of Nic Cage’s face on anyone and everything.




Cage Rampage advises you to alert your local government, a rampant Nicolas Cage could be coming to destroy your town.



But despite all his wacky antics, the fact is that Nicolas Cage has appeared in over 60 films, worked with some of the best directors, and has achieved one of the most unique careers of any actor in history. Additionally, his acting has earned him the highest of praise from some of the industry’s most influential, including film critic Roger Ebert who has defended Cage's career publicly, not to mention his Academy Award for his performance in Leaving Las Vegas.

And starting Monday, June 11th, running until Thursday, June 21st, The Brattle Theatre will be celebrating his quirky career in its Greatest American Actor Series. The theatre will be screening Valley Girl, Vampire’s Kiss, Wild At Heart, The Rock, Con-Air, Face/Off, Snake Eyes, Adaptation, Bad Lieutenant, The Wicker Man and, of course, my personal favorite, Raising Arizona.

Head to The Brattle Theatre for a few laughs and enjoy some of the finest from one of the most versatile actors of our time. Visit brattlefilm.org for more information and scheduling.

 

Snow White and The Huntsman Takes A Walk On The Dark Side

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Wednesday, June 6, 2012
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If you’re a fan of pretty shiny things taking a walk to the bad place, this movie is for you. And not that there’s anything wrong with that, because when you’ve got a story that has been repurposed so many times, you need to add something new. In fact, we’ve already been presented with two very different versions of the story this year, with Snow White and the Huntsman offering up the dark, visually stunning and graphic interpretation of the familiar fairy tale.

Here we have a ruthless Queen Ravenna who sees her beauty as a vehicle for power and control. She has conquered several kingdoms, with even bigger plans to take over the entire continent. She learns from her “Magic Mirror” that her plans will be thwarted by her imprisoned stepdaughter, Snow White, who will also surpass her as the “fairest of them all.” The only way for Ravenna to remain in power and achieve immortality is to consume Snow White's heart. When Snow White manages to escape into the Dark Forest, Queen Ravenna summons a widowed huntsman named Eric to kill her. But after learning that he has been lied to by the evil Queen Ravenna, the huntsman takes pity on Snow White and teaches her how to kick some royal butt. With the aid of dwarves and her childhood love, Prince William, Snow White takes on Queen Ravenna’s powerful army and sets out to kill her stepmother once and for all.

At times the filmmakers fall in love with their special effects and lose sight of the story, often leaving it to tell itself. You hardly notice though since you’re already familiar with it. When the film does decide to switch things up, it does so in a very dark manner, especially with the battle scenes. A more developed love story would have made it more palatable, as Joss Whedon has taught us many times now.

I enjoyed the fresh portrayal of Snow White as a warrior and a leader. I’m a big fan of this new trend of empowered female roles within traditional stories and fairy tales. As a little girl who wanted to grow up and be a princess, I liked that although this Snow White had the help of an entire dwarf army and a few male friends (who are all obviously passive aggressively emotionally involved with her in some way or another), she carries herself just fine fighting the timeless battle of “I’m prettier and better than you.” Kudos to Kristen Stewart; this was a far cry from the shell of a human being she made her name playing.

And Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna once again proves that she is the fairest, and sometimes meanest, actress of them all. Her performance is visceral and threatening, making her evil all the more “evil-y.” And after falling in love with his performances in both The Avengers and The Cabin in the Woods, I was more than happy to get even more Chris Helmsworth (although he was wasted in the role of the Scottish huntsman longing for a lost love).

The film did a good job of leaving the fairy tale portion of the story ambiguous and up to the viewer to figure out. This is definitely an improvement from handing it all to you on a silver platter. But with the current oversaturation of “winning” we’re all exposed to, it would have been almost refreshing to send my brain down a never-ending rabbit hole by not having the heroine live “happily ever after.” What happens if she doesn’t win? It’s like we’ll never know and I kind of want to know. Also, I can’t help but imagine what an interpretation of Cinderella would look like if remade by someone like Guillermo Del Toro.

In the end, Snow White and the Huntsman successfully put the “Grimm” back into the two hundred year old story and made it fit for fans who have already grown up. And I’d be surprised if this film didn’t get a nod or two towards its graphics and costuming at the Academy Awards next year.

Prometheus Sets Out to Save the Human Race; But Can it Save a Franchise?

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Monday, June 4, 2012
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Prometheus is finally getting its U.S. release this Friday. Although in the beginning the filmmakers were deliberately vague about its connection to the Alien franchise in order to build additional audience participation, there’s no doubt that we’re about to engage with the fifth film of the beloved series.

The film’s UK release last week was a success bringing in over $5.5 million at the box office, reporting that masses love this and it’s going to be big. And why wouldn’t it be? It is one of the most anticipated films ever, which isn’t really a surprise considering its rabid fan base (Hi there, I’m Stacy, rabid fan #1,342,332).

Not to mention of course, the film has been in development in some form or another for over a decade. It was back in 2002 when Alien director Ridley Scott first considered exploring the idea of adding another film to the Alien franchise, with a vision to focus on the origins of the aliens as opposed to the human race.

Scott’s idea of elaborating on the pre-Alien story prompted Aliens director James Cameron to express an interest in returning to the series as well. But Cameron fled when the project was sidelined and studios focused on creating a battle over who was dominating the human race in Alien vs. Predator (2004). Although the duel was undoubtedly a box office hit and prompted its own sequel, Cameron remains a firm believer that this idea strayed far from the idea of expanding on the original franchise and vowed never to return to the series.

So the prequel went quiet while the sci-fi duel series ran its course. It wasn’t until 2009 that it was again reported that the franchise would reboot with a prequel to Alien, heading back towards the original idea of elaborating on the origin of the aliens and their power over mankind. The film went into production in early 2010.

I for one cannot wait to meet Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the head archeologist leading a group of explorers on a mission to discover new clues linked to the origins of mankind on Earth. In tow are Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), David (Michael Fassbender) the android indistinguishable from humans, and others from the Weyland Corp team. They all end up in a distant civilization where they discover a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race.

Sounds like a good time to me. But what I’m most excited about is resurrecting my long passed passion for the series.
I’m a big fan of a good horror film. The original Alien really got my blood pumping, piquing my interest in the alien universe. And Aliens absolutely blew my mind. Not to mention, I was given a strong female character to admire within my already rampant passion for the sci-fi and horror genres. Ellen Ripley ranked 8th best in hero in American film history by the American Film Institute; she’s proceeded only by A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Nancy Thompson in my eyes.

But when Alien 3 was released, the narrative completely derailed, along with most of my interest in the franchise. This was further confirmed with Alien Resurrection. The whole story was pretty much flushed down the toilet.

So what happened? Probably studios got greedy and threw the story aside, decided to pop out a couple of blockbusters instead. Although I found the whole Alien vs. Predator battle over domination of the human race entertaining, I never even for a second consider it a part of the franchise.

But we’re back on track now, right? Director Ridley Scott has eluded that though the film shares "strands of Alien's DNA, so to speak", and takes place in the same universe, while Prometheus takes place several years prior to the events of the original film and will be exploring its own mythology and ideas. Early fan reviews are reporting that Prometheus doesn’t have a direct link to the Alien movie, and has left plenty of room for another film to help connect the dots.

I’m OK with that as long as creative control remains in the hands of the director, and it sounds like it will. But if at any moment I sense another intergalactic battle with say Aliens vs. Vampires, I’m going to throw my popcorn down on the floor and Charlie Brown shuffle out of the theater like a shamed fool. And I will not return… unless Ellen Ripley tells me to.

Pearl Jam Twenty Captures A Band and An Era

By Greg Shea   |   Friday, October 21, 2011
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A WGBH Staff Pick

I recently saw Cameron Crowe’s latest directorial effort, Pearl Jam Twenty, in a nearly sold-out theater in a small art house (the Brattle Theater) in Boston. I drove 35 miles in from the suburbs as did three of my friends who, like me, are now old. And by old, I mean mid-30’s, married, mortgages, and the prospect of a 10:20pm start time on a Monday night had me second guessing myself by the time the lights finally dimmed.

But, it was worth it. Including the parking ticket.

It was my freshman year in high school when the Seattle rock scene exploded. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden -- these were the bands of a rock revolution. Compared to Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and their spandex brethren, this new crop of hard rock acts were a transformation. This was our generation’s Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Rolling Stones. Along with bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots -- teen angst had a slew of new voices and Pearl Jam ranked among the best of them.

Early on, Pearl Jam Twenty opens the floodgates of nostalgia. Between the VHS footage (complete with time and date stamp flashing in the bottom corner), old clips of MTV’s Headbangers Ball, and snippets of music videos it was easy to recall what the early 90’s were like. In one clip, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder holds up a CD of their new album, Ten, and bemoans that fact that it’s so small. It makes you wonder what he thinks of iTunes.

It’s fitting Pearl Jam Twenty is being released in 2011. Not only that it’s been two decades since such a radical shift in the rock music scene happened, but it’s been nine years since American Idol hit the Fox airwaves. Enough musical dust has settled to fully appreciate how exciting and different Pearl Jam was when Ten began climbing the charts. The band’s first music video “Alive”, released in September 1991, featured a black and white live performance in Seattle. The minimal approach and maximum intensity instantly garnered Pearl Jam a legion of fans.

The film itself is narrated by Cameron Crowe, but thankfully he uses narration sparingly. The story is mostly told through archival footage and insightful interviews with the band members themselves. It’s clear you’re in the hands of a talented storyteller. This is not a concert film. This is the story of a band that has endured through tragedy, fame, multiple drummers, and a laser-like focus on the music. One particularly interesting exploration is the role of power in a rock band. Rarely do musicians speak so candidly about the inner dynamic of who is running the show, but here we get wonderful details how Pearl Jam transformed from a band controlled by guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament then later to lead singer Eddie Vedder.

Crowe’s deft attention to character shows us Eddie’s arc from a shy outsider with a demo tape to someone at ease in his own skin and comfortable calling the shots. It’s not addressed outright in the film, but the audience is left wondering if Stone Gossard had continued to lead the band would Pearl Jam have spent the last decade largely out of the public eye?

Ultimately, that question only adds to the fact that it’s all the more amazing that Pearl Jam has stayed together for twenty years. In a very appealing and modest way each member of the band reflects on how fortunate they are to be doing what they’re doing. You get the sense that early on these guys understood the music is what matters not the forgotten grammy’s in the basement.

A few years ago I brought my electric guitar (which was seriously suffering from neglect) into the shop for a tune-up. There was a teenager behind the desk who checked me in. He looked at the stickers on my guitar case and remarked with heavy regret, “Oh, man, Smashing Pumpkins, I never got to see those guys in concert...” I looked at him, stunned. Smashing Pumpkins? We’re not talking about The Beatles here. These guys broke up in 2000. I suddenly realized all of those 90’s alt rock bands were from an earlier generation than this kid. Pearl Jam was his uncle’s music. It was the first time I seriously felt old. But then again, I’m grateful I was alive when Pearl Jam came alive.

Pearl Jam Twenty
Documentary, 1 hr 49 min
Directed by Cameron Crowe

Premieres on PBS American Masters, October 21, 9:00pm
Check your local public television listings

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

By Kim McLarin   |   Friday, October 7, 2011
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The most moving scene in The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a striking new documentary about the Black Power Movement, is one in which Stokely Carmichael sits on the couch and gently interviews his mother, leading her to voice aloud and for the cameras what she seems reluctant to articulate: that racism has severely constricted her life.












The scene is moving because of the great tenderness Carmichael The Uncompromising Revolutionary displays toward his soft-spoken mother, and because in that and other scenes in this engrossing movie we see Carmichael as he is rarely elsewhere seen: relaxed and smiling, joking around with friends, even singing a song. What the scene reveals is not that Carmichael was a far more fully-rounded human being that he is usually portrayed, which should go without saying, but just how often American history seeks to flatten and even demonize black men who stand aggressively in the service of black liberation. What the scene reveals is how effective such flattening almost always is, even among those of us who think we know better. What stands revealed is seeing Stokely smile is not him but us.

Black Power Mixtape is a fascinating compilation of interviews, news accounts and melancholy images from the fertile, fevered years of the Black Power Movement. Shot by Swedish journalists, who traveled to America to see for themselves – and interpret for their countrymen -- what the heck was going on over here, the snippets together offer a fresh and compelling look at a time not so long ago but already calcified in public knowledge.

I plan to make my undergraduate students see it, those studying African-American literature. When asked about Stokely Carmichael they come up blank (sigh). But when asked to toss out adjectives for Malcolm X or the Black Panthers or just about any other black activist or writer who called for an immediate end to black oppression they hand me these: extremist, angry, violent. About Rosa Parks they know only that her feet were tired. About Martin Luther King Jr. they only know he had some kind of dream, one involving being able to sit in a restaurant with white people. Problem solved.

This short and fierce movie can’t fix all that; it makes no pretense of being a comprehensive look at a wide-ranging and disjointed movement that spanned everything from Pan-Africanism to black cultural nationalism to Marxism, and beyond. But it does serve as a bracing corrective to America’s tendency to reduce complicated people and complicated times into two-dimensional stick figures, with gentle heroes and hostile villains and nothing in between. The interview with a pale but radiant Angela Davis in prison is alone worth a hundred cheap and sentimental movies like The Help.














This movie also makes you think. What in retrospect may seem naïve or misguided – namely, revolution -- in the moment of these tapes seems breathtakingly possible. As Dr. King said in his groundbreaking 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, mentioned here but far less enshrined in the American imagination than that dream one, “These are revolutionary times.”

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Directed and written by: Göran Olsson
Produced by: Annika Rogell, Story AB
Co-Produced by: Joslyn Barnes & Danny Glover, Louverture Films

Currently running at the Kendall Square Cinema
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA  02139
(617) 499-1995

Denise DiIanni biographical sketch

By Denise DiIanni   |   Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Denise DiIanni, Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions
Denise DiIanni is a long time WGBH Executive Producer responsible for more than 150 hours of local, regional and nationally syndicated programming each year. In 2011, DiIanni took on a new position as Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions, spearheading new production models for broadcast and broadband. Earlier in her career, DiIanni was an award-winning producer, writer and director for the NOVA Science Unit with more than two- dozen credits to her name. In addition to her expertise in documentary, studio and public affairs programming, DiIanni also spearheaded public media’s first user-generated content feature—the WGBH Lab and was the founding director of WGBH’s Filmmakers in Residence program, which ran from 2003-2010.

About the Authors
Stacy Buchanan Stacy Buchanan
Stacy is California born and raised, and happily living in Boston.  By day, she’s a seasoned digital marketer, social media enthusiast and pop culture consumer. After studying special effects makeup and film for over 20 years, she is also full-time film buff and by night, produces content for horror publications, focusing on classic and contemporary horror films.
Kim McLarin Kim McLarin
Kim McLarin is the author of the critically-acclaimed novels Taming it Down, Meeting of the Waters and Jump at the Sun, all published by William Morrow. She is a former staff writer for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Greensboro News & Record and the Associated Press. McLarin has also written for TheRoot.com and Salon.com.
Denise DiIanni Denise DiIanni
Denise DiIanni, Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions

Denise DiIanni is a long time WGBH Executive Producer responsible for more than 150 hours of local, regional and nationally syndicated programming each year. In 2011, DiIanni took on a new position as Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions, spearheading new production models for broadcast and broadband. Earlier in her career, DiIanni was an award-winning producer, writer and director for the NOVA Science Unit with more than two- dozen credits to her name. In addition to her expertise in documentary, studio and public affairs programming, DiIanni also spearheaded public media’s first user-generated content feature—the WGBH Lab and was the founding director of WGBH’s Filmmakers in Residence program, which ran from 2003-2010.

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