Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Golden Globes have nothing to do with Amy Adams' cleavage -- or anything else, truth be told

By Steve Evans

Three days later and the entertainment media is still babbling about the Golden Globes ceremony. Yawn.

The Golden Globes are a waste of time, unless you’re up for an award and want a complimentary night on the town. Nominees go to the ceremony because there’s an open bar and free dinner involved, and they get their collective asses kissed, which feeds those egos. The steady flow of liquor traditionally translates into much amusement; the Internet is rife with videos of Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor getting roaring drunk and having themselves a big time during the Golden Globes festivities. The Globes might afford some networking/schmoozing opportunities, as well, for stars looking for their next project.

Through inspired PR and relentless self-aggrandizement, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which chooses Golden Globe winners, has built itself into a perception of worth that simply belies the reality. I doubt if many people watching the awards know the first thing about the organization behind them.

It is this: the HFPA consists of less than 90 members who vote on these awards. They are foreign journalists who live in Southern California and write about the film industry for entertainment media in the far-flung corners of the world. That’s right, 90 people whose combined worldwide readership, by the way, is smaller than the population of the United States. At least 20 percent smaller. This information is readily available on the HFPA website. It doesn't take much digging to realize the Golden Globes are the most over-inflated event of movie awards season.

Yes, fewer than 90 people. That’s hardly a reliable barometer of artistic merit.

For a simple comparison, there are 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which of course awards the Oscars in March.

Aside from the occasional entertainment of watching Hollywood royalty get silly drunk at the Golden Globes ceremony, I cannot imagine any intelligent person giving a damn about this bloated event.

I mention all this solely because it’s boring to see the fuss being made over an organization hardly deserving of the attention.

The fun-loving hipsters at HitFix have compiled a video slide-show of great drunken moments at the Golden Globes through the years, good for a free laff.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Tarantino Western? Is that all ya got?

By Steve Evans

Coming on the heels of his financially successful D'Jango Unchained, Quentin Tarantino revealed this weekend the working title of his next film: The Hateful Eight. It's another western. Word is, this won't be a D'Jango sequel. The title actually suggests nothing so much as a variation of Inglourious Basterds, which was, like most of Tarantino's work, a mashup of elements from long-forgotten films.

Maybe the title is a riff on John Sturges' western classic, The Magnificent Seven (1960), itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's tremendous action film Seven Samurai (1954).

I've long since lost interest in Tarantino's reworked homages to mostly obscure genre films. Were it not for his gift of writing dialog, I would probably stop watching his stuff. His best films, now two decades behind him, delight the viewer with non-linear plotting and a narrative structure that coils around itself like a snail's shell. It's no coincidence that Tarantino's major industry awards come from his writing, not directing and certainly not his acting.

Considering that dialog and narrative structure are his strongest traits, D'Jango was a surprisingly straight-line revenge tale peppered with as much violence as the current R rating can withstand. Basterds was told in a similarly linear fashion, with none of the meandering whoop-de-doo that makes other Tarantino films more interesting to watch.

I write this not to bash the guy, but to put forward the modest wish that if he insists on stirring up another cinematic equivalent of Mulligan's Stew, that he at least write a more engaging and clever script -- always his strong suit -- to justify another Tarantino trip down movie-memory lane. You've seen a lot of movies, Quentin, but so have I. Your work of late has the whiff of familiarity.

Honor and revenge are the thematic foundations of all Tarantino films. Especially bloody revenge. I suppose someone could make a career out of payback fantasies, culling the best parts from old movies that a majority of your audience has never seen. Truth be told, that's exactly what Tarantino's been doing for 20 years, to curious acclaim and great financial reward. Well, bully for him. It's getting stale.

What else ya got?

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Run Run Shaw Gone to Kung-Fu Heaven

By Steve Evans
Run Run Shaw, prolific producer and pioneer of cinema in China, died today at 106. Best known for ultraviolent kung-fu movies in the 1970s (and I do mean ultraviolent), he was also a producer on the Ridley Scott science fiction classic Blade Runner. 

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies would not exist without the towering influence of ShawScope pictures. It's a whole other world of cinema.

The New York Times has a comprehensive obit here.

Shaw's life story would actually make a pretty good movie. With his brother, he made his first film in 1924 and both were millionaires by the 1940s. As noted in the Times obituary:

Their business boomed until the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula in 1941 and stripped their theaters and confiscated their film equipment. But according to Run Run Shaw, he and his brother buried more than $4 million in gold, jewelry and currency in their backyard, which they dug up after World War II and used to resume their careers."

A Shaw trailer from 1977's The Brave Archer:

Cinema Uprising copyright 
© 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

That was the best popcorn in Oz

By Steve Evans

Inflating a bag of microwave popcorn restored my childhood this afternoon.

The aroma of the popping kernels propelled my mind into a state of total recall and it was 1966 again. Let me explain. I have an unusual gift: a photographic and olfactory memory that can transport me to any point in my life, if the triggers are right. It's like watching a movie. I just close my eyes and...

Today I was three-years-old again. My parents were popping corn in a metal appliance that got so screaming hot I was forbidden to go near it. This ‘lectric popcorn popper was purely utilitarian in design; it had all the aesthetic appeal of a metal trashcan in an alleyway. I didn’t care. I was told magic came out of it, and when you're three, you're inclined to believe what you hear. As it happens, for once in my life the hyperbole came true. I would be a witness to magic.

Cinematic Cteve's ancient popcorn machine

The bottom half of the popper was essentially an electric burner with a metal coil that glowed angry orange. The upper half consisted of the pot and the lid. What you did was pour about 1/3 cup of vegetable oil into the bottom of the pot and park it on the lower half with the heater coil. There was no on/off switch. You just plugged the power cord into the wall and unplugged it later, when you were done.

After what seemed like an eternity, the oil began to smoke a bit. Then you tossed three unpopped kernels into the bubbling oil. These were “test kernels” as dad called them. I don’t know why he added three, as opposed to two or four or even seven. It was always three. Those test kernels would get to hissing and dancing around in the oil, as I once observed when dad picked me up and let me peer inside the popcorn popper.

He’d set the lid on top and after a few minutes we'd hear a pop! – followed by two pings, like the sound of BBs plinking an empty tin can. This was the much-anticipated signal that the popcorn machine at last was ready.

Into the popper dad poured 1/3 cup of corn kernels that he had carefully apportioned into a measuring cup. On went the lid. Dad would place his open palm over the knob on the lid and shake the popper by the handle on the side. Ah, soon enough those rapid-fire explosions would thump and rattle that metal popper.

As the popping began to subside, dad lifted the upper half, removed the lid and in one swift motion dumped the contents into a heavy peach-colored ceramic mixing bowl that mom used on Sundays to whip pancake batter. On movie night it pulled double-duty as a popcorn bowl.

Sometimes the bowl still showed signs of life as a few tardy kernels would pop and occasionally launch themselves out onto the floor.

Mom added a liberal sprinkling of Morton’s salt (with iodine) from the fat, blue cardboard cylinder featuring a little girl in a yellow raincoat with an umbrella shielding her from a downpour of sodium chloride – one of the more peculiar product logos I remember from years ago, yet obviously effective since I can still see that salt container in my mind.

On this particular evening mom carried the bowl into the living room and I ran along close behind, trailing the aroma. I scrambled up onto the sofa while dad diddled with the rabbit ears on the 19-inch television with the dark-green metal cabinet and the separate UHF and VHF dials on the front. After a moment, the tubes in the TV warmed up and the CBS eye glowed on the screen, followed by a lion – m’God, a lion! – roaring right at me.

I sank my greedy little fingers into the bowl, grabbed a handful of popcorn and began stuffing myself. Orchestral music welled up from the television and then a title card that dad had to read to me, because I was only three, after all, and had no clue my mind was about to be blown:

“The Wizard of Oz.”

It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen up to that point, especially the Emerald City itself, although the Technicolor parts of the production were lost on me because we had a black and white TV.

I didn’t know movies sometimes came in color. I didn't know anything about the world 47 years ago. Places like Vietnam were mentioned on the news, but that meant nothing to me. I have only vague recollections of names like Johnson, King, Bobby Kennedy.

But I knew we had one helluva popcorn popper that came out of the cupboard on movie nights.

And that was good enough for me, a three-year-old in ’66, sitting up way past his bedtime watching dreams spring to life in the dark.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.