An essay by Fran Hoepfner on Mission: Impossible - Fallout and Free Solo, as excerpted from the latest issue of Bright Wall/Dark Room.
If all blockbuster-sized entertainments were even half as ambitious and ingenious as these films have been, moviegoers would be infinitely better off.
● "Ironclad" (2011) ● "Black Death" (2010)
"Ironclad " is now available on DirecTV and other on-demand providers (check your service listings) and from Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) starting on July 26th. "Black Death" is available on Netflix (streaming, DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video.
When I was a kid growing up in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, WA (aka "The Gem of Puget Sound"), my parents did everything that good, sensible parents should do to shield their kids from violence, both real and reel. I remember being innocently intrigued by the furor over "Bonnie & Clyde" in 1967, but they would never have taken me to see it with them (to their credit, since I was only six). The same held true for "The Wild Bunch" in 1969, by which time the debate over movie violence had reached a fever pitch in our national conversation. Over the ensuing decades, that conversation has become a moot point as movie violence proceeded apace, from Sonny Corleone's death in a hail of Tommy-gun fire in "The Godfather" (1972), to the slasher cycle of the late '70s and '80s (when makeup artists Tom Savini and Rick Baker reigned supreme as a master of gory effects) and into the present, when virtually anything - from total evisceration to realistic decapitation -- is possible through the use of CGI and state-of-the-art makeup effects. That's where movies like "Ironclad" and "Black Death" come in, but more on those later.
If you're looking for a rant against milestone achievements in the depiction of graphic violence, you've come to the wrong place. To me, it's a natural progression. Movies and violence have always been inextricably linked, and once opened, that Pandora's Box could never be closed. A more relevant discussion now is how the new, seemingly unlimited gore FX should be used and justified. Horror films will always be the testing ground for the art of gore, and it would be a crime against cinema to cut the "chest-burster" from "Alien" (or, for that matter, Samuel L. Jackson's spectacular death in "Deep Blue Sea"). But it's the depiction of authentic, real-life violence -- in everything from the "CSI" TV franchise to prestige projects like HBO's "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" -- that pushes previously unrated levels of gore into the mainstream.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not praising this progression so much as acknowledging its inevitability. If you really love movies -- and especially if you've been lucky enough to make a career out of watching them -- you have undoubtedly seen a violent film that was unquestionably vile, unjustified and miles beyond the boundaries of all human decency. I've seen violent movies that earned my disgust because (1) the context of the violence was as abhorrent as the violence itself and (2) the intentions of the filmmakers were clearly indefensible. (Context and intention: More on that later.) Tolerances and sensibilities may vary, but every critic has seen a film that appeared to have been written and directed by sociopaths. Check out Roger Ebert's review of "I Spit on Your Grave" (the 1978 version) and you'll see what I mean.
View image Rob Schneider in "yellowface", playing Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."
"Flamers" was the title of a screenplay by Barry Fanaro ("The Golden Girls," "Kingpin," "Men in Black II") that had been re-written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor ("Citizen Ruth," "Election," "About Schmidt," "Sideways"). Once Adam Sandler decided to star in the movie, this script was serially re-written some more by Sandler, his friends, and various others. The result opened this weekend as "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," directed by Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore," "Big Daddy," "The Benchwarmers").
The film has not been well-received by critics (14% at Rottentomatoes.com at this writing). Manohla Dargis, in the New York Times, wrote: Fear of a gay planet fuels plenty of American movies; it’s as de rigueur in comedy as in macho action. But what’s mildly different about “Chuck & Larry” is how sincerely it tries to have its rainbow cake and eat it too. In structural terms, the movie resembles a game of Mother May I, in that for every tiny step it takes forward in the name of enlightenment (gay people can be as boring as heterosexuals), it takes three giant steps back, often by piling on more jokes about gay sex (some involving a priceless Ving Rhames). Into this mix add the stunningly unfunny Rob Schneider, who pops up brandishing buckteeth, glasses and an odious accent in apparent homage to Mickey Rooney’s painful, misguided turn as the Japanese neighbor in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” has been deemed safe for conscientious viewing by a representative of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog group. Given the movie’s contempt for women, who mainly just smile, sigh and wiggle their backdoors at the camera, it’s too bad that some lesbian (and Asian) Glaad members didn’t toss in their two cents about the movie. If Mr. Sandler dares speak in favor of gay love in “Chuck & Larry” — at least when it’s legally sanctioned, tucked behind closed doors and not remotely feminine — it’s only because homosexuality represents one type of love among men. Here, boys can be boys, together in bed and not, but heaven forbid that any of them look or behave like women. But there's a little more to this one than the usual Sandler vehicle. New York Magazine explains some of the backstory in "A Peek at the Movie ‘Chuck & Larry’ Could Have Been":And in the dramatic conclusion of Payne and Taylor's script, Chuck and Larry kiss on the courthouse steps — "not just a timid exchange," the stage notes add, "but the long, passionate melting together of soul-mates. Tongues and everything. Hot. Wow." Needless to say, this scene never made it into the final version.I believe that ending was already perfomed by Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
"M:I:III": To see or not to see?
Quick: When you think "Tom Cruise," what's the first thing that pops into your mind? Tabloid celebrity? Love-struck happy dad? Couch-jumper? Noted skeptic and scholar of the history of psychology and psychopharmacology? Censor? Superspy? Scientologist? Actor? The former Mr. Kidman? The future Mr. Holmes? Movie star?
The release of "Mission: Impossible III" on Friday is being touted by some as a referendum on Cruise's career as a celebrity with marquee value. It's Cruise's third time out as superspy Ethan Hunt (no, not that guy who used to be married to Uma Thurman -- the secret agent dude!), so the franchise may have quite a bit of steam of its own. But after the Scientology-backed clampdown on the "Trapped in the Closet" episode of "South Park" in the US and the UK (and today, by the way, happens to be Day 50 of "South Park" Held Hostage) and other bizarre off-screen behavior, Cruise's box-office status is being... questioned.
Martin Scorsese's new movie, "Bringing Out the Dead," is one of his best. That means a lot when you are arguably the greatest active American director. The film, which opens Friday, stars Nicolas Cage as a paramedic whose runs through Hell's Kitchen are like a bus route through Dante's Inferno.