People called Romanes, they go the house?

As you might guess from prior posts in my “religion” category, I don’t celebrate Easter with much enthusiasm, at least not of the religious sort. I did, however, watch King of Kings, a 1961 Technicolor™ film about the life of Jesus from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This is not the best film ever, but good enough to be an Easter classic. Plus, it contains juggling.

While watching it, the acting, sets and flavor immediately reminded me of “a comedy 3000 years in the making”. Mostly, though, I realized I can never watch anything containing Jesus or Romans without thinking of the Life of Brian (from which the title of this post comes). I mean, even the marquees of these two movies are similar:

The casting in King of Kings is a bit more interesting, however. (Maybe it was watching too many episodes of “Rome” back to back, but I kept wondering who in the cast was sleeping with who.) Orson Welles did the voice overs (which were apparently written by Ray Bradbury). Judas is played by a nearly unrecognizable (at least to me) Rip Torn. For some reason, this movie also more or less ended the short career of the surprisingly hot Brigid Bazlen, whose performance as Salome evidently drew an extremely vitriolic response from the critics at the time. (There is a story in there somewhere.) Through most of the film however, I was troubled by the semi-crazed, yet familiar look of the actor playing the white, blue-eyed Jesus. It was a pretty good performance, and something about how they shot it made him look beyond human most of the time, but I couldn’t quite place him until about halfway through. He was Jeffrey Hunter, who played the very first captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike. It’s not quite the same:

Correcting success

A commercial just reminded me of a question my sister raised the last time we were in John’s Pizzeria in Manhattan. At the time, there were a number of remakes of various hit movies. She wondered: why are only good movies are remade? Doesn’t this seem backwards? You’d think that movie makers would want to correct mistakes, not success. After all, of all the things that can go wrong to make a promising movie fail, there have to be any number of films that just missed greatness. If only that one big mistake could be corrected, you’d have a hit. Plus, hit movies usually spawn sequels, so why remake them?

There is, of course, a reasonable explanation: movie studios are among the most risk averse companies in the world, for no apparent reason. They only take chances if they are about to be eaten by lions, or if someone else has taken the risk first.

The commercial that provided a small sliver of hope that this might be changing pitched a new remake: a thriller called The Hitcher. The original, featuring C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh, was not a great movie, but not the worst in the world either. It gets a middling 65% fresh rating and grossed under $6 million. Obviously, someone convinced the studio that “you know, that was an OK movie, but it had some problems. Here’s how we’d turn it into a major hit.” I’m not sure why the studios believed them, since this same team has already screwed up the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original = 87%, remake = 37%).

I can’t remember other examples of this phenomenon, though there might have been a few. I had thought that Never Say Never Again might qualify as an attempt to improve the original Thunderball, but evidently others don’t share my opinion of the lameness of the original. Also, it looks like the remake might have been more the result of legal battles than anything else.

For any studios looking for films with ideas that held great potential, but flawed execution, to remake into something great, a few suggestions:

I’m sure there are many others. What would you remake? While you’re thinking, you might also want to look a various death scenes as well.

Improving the NFL experience

I love professional American football, but a number of new trends this year have been disturbing my calm since the season started. Now that the regular season is winding down, here are some suggestions on how to improve for next season:

  • The four-man comments before the game, at halftime and after the game is a formula that mostly works, but there is no need whatsoever to fly them all to the game and setup the desk on the field. The only purpose this seems to serve is to make it harder to hear anything anyone is saying, and force the hosts to wail like Olympic swimming commentators.
  • To Bryant Gumbel: learn what the phrase “take over on downs” means before uttering it again. Ask your brother.
  • To Dick Vermeil: please refrain from lending your image to any company for promotional purposes ever again. Also, have some of the beefier members of your team hunt down and kill everyone responsible for your beer commercials.
  • Chris Collinsworth wins for suggesting he get work with Court TV as it is the “only way to cover the Browns”.
  • To the NFL: since you have set up your broadcast rules to force me to watch nothing but the New York Jets, the least you could do is force the CBS network to broadcast the game in hi-def. Buy the cameras if you have to.
  • To CBS Sports: high definition is no longer optional. Catch up.
  • An occasional Thursday game is fun. Every week is overkill.
  • Stop giving a shit about Terrell Owens.
  • To advertisers: When you repeat the same commercial over and over, it makes me actively hate both you and your products. Stop it.
  • To Chevrolet: When you insist on running the same honky-intensive commercial over and over and over containing the phrase “this is our philosophy”, you might not want to put a picture under it depicting someone from a homophobic organization that illegally uses federal funds.
  • To the NFL network: Give up on the idea of the NFL network. Unless you are intentionally trying to destroy the NFL, in which case: soldier on.
  • Light beer in sweaty green bottles is not my girlfriend and, even if it was, I’m pretty sure I would want it to be neither “hot” nor “a freak like you”. I don’t know what either of those mean.

Rendering the Mouse

There is lots of talk about the purchase of Pixar by Disney. I won’t make much comment on it because, like so much else, it’s been done. In particular, this guy nails it.

I will say that the deal will go a long way toward solving Apple’s video content problem, though it won’t make non-Disney media companies any less afraid.

The main point of this post, however, is to talk about the genius of Pixar films. I’m not talking about their features, though those are certainly entertaining. Pixar’s brilliance, however, really shines in their short films. Their early stuff in particular, like Luxo, Red’s Dream and Tin Toy both pushed the envelope of the technology of the time and told great stories. I bought the Monsters, Inc. DVD just to get a copy of For the Birds. I’d love to have a DVD of just their shorts, but for now it looks like I have to settle for crappy, quarter-of-already-awful-standard-TV-resolution iTunes downloads.

I’m going to tell you something…

After the 50th time listening to Paul Maguire tell me that he is going to tell me something right before telling me something, I thought I should come up with a Sunday Night Football drinking game. As with so much on the net, it’s been done.

I’d also add a rule that you must sip anytime Berman uses a “cute” nickname for a player. Also, drink anytime the camera focuses on a cheerleader. Chug if she isn’t a blonde caucasian.

Felines coming out of the closet

Perhaps predictably, some atypical venues, such as NPR, editorial departments and various Christian sects are devoting mindspace to the film release of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis. Lost in all this undeservedly grandiose commentary about the mix of religion and cinema is one of Lewis’ much better works: The Screwtape Letters.

The book contains a series of letters from an senior demon, Screwtape, to his happless nephew demon Wormwood, offering advice on how to successfully corrupt his target human, a Christian. Naturally, this work features religion far more overtly than the Narnia books. The audiobook version of this work is blessed by perfect casting, featuring John Cleese as Screwtape. Having listened to dozens of audiobooks, I’d place this perfect match between reader and material at the top of the list but, unfortunately, the sound mix on the cassette version is dreadful. It may be that the audible.com version is better.

Lewis followed up this book 17 years later with an essay entitled Screwtape Proposes a Toast.