Posts Tagged ‘roger’

A Beginner’s Guide To Spotting Sucky Movies

April 15, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

It’s an age-old conundrum: How can I know if a film is worth seeing, without actually seeing the film?  With ticket prices as high as they are today, it makes sense that consumers wish to know – or to at least have a decent amount of probability – that they will enjoy a movie before they see it.  The goal here is to find the great movies, and avoid the godawful flicks.

I can be of some assistance in the latter half of that puzzle.

Assuming the potential ticket buyer either has no access to the film’s trailer, or is not satisfied with the information found there, it’s a good idea to read the reviews.  Still, reviews are opinions, and those of other people, no less.  How can this be helpful?

The key, dear friends, is in how the reviews are written.

First, a lesson in wording and definitions.  The review words “zany,” “wacky” and “madcap,” exclusively used in reviews of comedies, ironically means unfunny.  Not in a dictionarial sense, but in a real-world sense.  These three words come to a reviewer’s mind when a screen writer’s idea of ccmedy involves such tired images as pie throwing, stop-action sped-up chase scenes, and cartoony sound effects whenever someone is hit on the head with a real-life lethal object, such as a sledge hammer.  Unless you are under the age of six, and have time-portalled back to 1972, this is by no means cause for smiling, let alone roaring with laughter.  This is actually cause for peeking at your watch every three minutes and praying for end credits.  For the wiser set, these buzzwords are code for “Do not even think about coming near this film.  Pretty much, ever.”

And second, the excessive use of ellipses.  Ellipses are those three dots you see in movie reviews, placed between one-to-three-word bullet phrases, such as “. . . a must-see . . . brilliant . . .a classic!”  Now, legally, you cannot misrepresent someone’s exact words.  This is called libel.  Therefore, you cannot change someone’s words and keep quote marks around the phrasing, because they did not actually say what you’re writing.

However, there is a loophole.

Let’s say your film gets absolutely trashed by a respected reviewer.  Well, you certainly don’t want to write the awful remarks into your advertisements, but the conspicuous absence of a review by, say, a Roger Ebert might shout “Load of rubbish!” to the money-holding public, as well.  So what do you do?  Well, legally what you can do is quote a person’s words . . . even if you don’t quote all of them!  Take the above made-up review:

“. . . a must-see . . . brilliant . . .a classic!”

Sounds good, right?  But consider that since some words are missing, this could be an accurate partial quote of the sentence “This piece of garbage film will never be A MUST-SEE in my book!  The BRILLIANT thing to do is to avoid this mess of a movie like The Plague.  Only an escaped lunatic would consider this release A CLASSIC!”

Accurately partial-quoted, but somewhat misleading by the marketing squad, wouldn’t you say?  To be safe, don’t trust a review you can’t actually read.

I hope this tiny cinematic lesson has been of some service.  If I save one human being from sitting through one horrid film, I’ll consider my work here justified.

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Irish Soul Stars???

April 1, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Who thinks of this stuff?  “I know!  Let’s do a film about a garage band from Ireland who sings Motown soul!”  This has to be one of the most ridiculous premises for a motion picture in the history of cinematography.  Even the idea that audiences would pay to see it is beyond me.

April Fool!

Yes, the premise is ludicrous.  Still, the 1991 Alan Parker film The Commitments shocked and amazed me when I first saw it.  I had only heard of it when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both raved about it on their television review show.  My face sort of contorted while watching the clips.  I couldn’t believe that the two respected critics found something interesting in this out-of-left-field story.

Then I saw it.

This ragtag band was actually cast by auditioning singers before they were allowed to read for the parts.  With only two exceptions (who do not have lead vocals in the finished film), the performers were accomplished singers, and wow! can they sing!  If you’re not familiar with the Irish brogue/accent, you might have to put your DVD English subtitles on to follow it, but once these folks open their mouths to sing, no interpretations will be necessary, trust me.

Andrew Strong came along into the studio when his father was asked to audition for the film.  When the then-16-year-old was given a chance to sing, a star was born.  Not necessarily the most attractive of movie stars, Strong’s voice is loaded with acid and passion.  The fictional group’s manager announces that they will be performing soul music, and what a great choice for this boy’s (now man’s) voice!  Maria Doyle Kennedy (later of HBO’s The Tudors) was the only member to be cast who was actually a professional singer prior to the film.  She does rather breathy and affecting versions of songs in the Aretha Franklin range (and at least one song of hers) throughout the film.  Though these two warrant spotlights, the entire crew are worthy of credit as singers, background or otherwise.

The film itself (with the accent disclaimer) is loaded with story and scenery and humor.  It is a rare combination of great film and great music.  If you watch the movie out of sheer curiosity, odds are you will be inspired to purchase the soundtrack.  Yet, even if the music was removed, the script and performances alone would make a fine film.  The songs are just gravy . . . and rich gravy, at that!

All April Fool’s gags aside, if you haven’t seen The Commitments, and you love music, see it!  If you love Ireland or accents or humor, see it.  In fact, just see it, and you’ll find something to love.

A Home Run For “61*”!

February 25, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Just about a year ago, I reviewed Field of Dreams.  I’m no die-hard baseball fan by any means, but I admit that I love films about the game, and I recently viewed another worthy of touting.  The 2001 HBO film 61* was based on actual events during the 1961 season for the New York Yankees.  In a stranger-than-fiction scenario, two giants of the game, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – who both play for New York – chase Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 60 home runs in a single season.  Yankee Stadium, also known as “The House That Ruth Built,” fills with fans all season long who just as often root for their hero Mickey Mantle to break the record as they do boo both men – in their own field, no less! – for trying to bring down Babe Ruth.

Each of the two men had personal issues and hurdles going on that summer.  We are invited into their homes and into the dugout.  The real-life families of Maris and Mantle cooperated fully in the making of this Billy Crystal-directed showcase, and to the families’ credit, nothing is glossed over.  We see Maris’ emotional struggles, as well as Mantle’s carousing, alcoholism and physical problems.  Add to that the tremendous pressure each man was under by the fans and the press to either break or not break the record, and what you get is a film with absolutely no dull spots!

I’ve never been a big fan of Crystal’s, but he does an amazing job with this project.  It’s clear that it’s close to his heart.  The behind-the-scenes interviews on the DVD reveal that Crystal met Mantle in the ‘70s, and being a big fan of “The Mick,” the young actor/comedian was thrilled to strike up a friendship.  This friendship would last until Mantle’s death in 1995.  His love for 61* shows in every frame.  His capturing of the time period is meticulous, as well.  The retired Tiger Stadium in Detroit was used to portray Yankee Stadium, as the architecture was spot-on, and the production went so far as to paint the chairs a specific shade of green to match the 1961 New York field.

The cast is phenomenal, as well.  Thomas (The Mist) Jane glows with Mantle’s “aw shucks” personality, and also does justice to his backstage problems.  Barry (True Grit) Pepper, who I’ve already spotlighted in a column, does a masterful job as Roger Maris, showing us how frustrated the right fielder was with the press and the fans.  Loaded with character actors, you may not know many names in the cast, but you’re likely to recognize every face!

You may be wondering about the title.  The number “61” refers to the number of home runs that Mantle or Maris would need to break Babe Ruth’s single-season record.  As for the asterisk (*) after the number, that is reason enough to see the film, as it is an integral part of the excitement of that summer.

If you love baseball, this movie will stir your soul with its detail and love of the game.  If you don’t, the sport itself will be quickly forgotten as you watch the story unfold.  At its core, 61* is simply an engaging human drama.  It’s the people who matter, not the bats and gloves.