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Val Kilmer (#110 of 13)

Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

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Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD
Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

It’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when Batman was fun. That time was 50 years ago, when the ripples of Fredric Wertham’s despicable anti-comic diatribe Seduction of the Innocent were still being felt. His book claimed that comics were sinful trash that converted the children—by God, the children!—into homosexual deviants. The television series Batman, which ran from 1966 to ’68 on ABC, knowingly acknowledged and lampooned Wertham’s seething, masturbatory harangue in a way that defied the era’s TV standards. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward, two unknowns cast largely for their affable faces, the series (now available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray in a snazzy, wallet-purging boxed set from Warner Home Video) remains one of the format’s great cultural touchstones. Replete with double entendres for the parents and giddy inanity for the kids, it’s everything Susan Sontag loved and loathed about camp amalgamated into a half-hour lark.

Summer of ‘88: Willow—Fantasy Departed

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Willow</em>—Fantasy Departed
Summer of ‘88: <em>Willow</em>—Fantasy Departed

One of the many residual effects of the massive success of the Star Wars trilogy was the boom of fantasy films that arrived in theaters in the mid-1980s. Movies such as Legend, Masters of the Universe, The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride, and others were all released within the span of a couple of years, and each to some degree featured sprawling sets, evocative atmospheres, and extensive use of prosthetics and puppets. These elements were staples of George Lucas’s storytelling, a quality that proved to be a strong companion to the Star Wars films’ grand visual and narrative design. It wasn’t long after the trilogy had wrapped that even Lucas himself had dipped into the bankable commercial lore of fantasy moviemaking when he produced Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. His own contribution to the subgenre followed two years later at a time when fantasy appeared on the decline. With an original story by Lucas, Willow was met with widespread ambivalence upon its release. Retrospectively, however, the film’s graceless hybrid of Star Wars-style mythmaking and leftovers from the short-lived fantasy period in commercial cinema that Lucas inspired offers a pointed reflection and portrait of the filmmaker that has grown more compelling as the full trajectory of Lucas’s career has emerged in view.

Of course, Lucas didn’t direct Willow (we’ll get to that later), but the film bears his authorial stamp almost immediately at the outset. In fact, you don’t even need to see the trademark Lucasfilm logo to sense the filmmaker’s touch. The setting and storytelling influences may diverge from those of Star Wars, but the same propensity for merging age-old legends is evident. Instead of drawing from Joseph Campbell and Akira Kurosawa, Lucas and screenwriter Bob Dolman fold elements of the Grimm brothers and J.R.R. Tolkien into a nakedly bibilical framework. Take the prologue: Willow opens on the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), who orders the slaughter of all newborns for fear of a prophecy predicting the usurping of her power. But the blatant bibilical allusion doesn’t end there. Lucas and Dolman also add a dash of Moses for good measure, when a baby born in secret is placed into a basket and floated down a river. Then, after the baby is discovered by Hobbit-esque folk called Nelwyns, Willow shifts into Star Wars mode, slowing down to allow the larger world to develop.

15 Famous Movie Impostors

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15 Famous Movie Impostors
15 Famous Movie Impostors

This week sees the release of the so-wild-it-must-be true documentary The Imposter, which tells the tale of Frédéric Bourdin, an international master of disguise who, in the 1990s, impersonated a missing Texas boy, one of countless identities the chameleonic subject assumed. Bourdin’s story may be all too real, but his is one of many impostor tales we’ve seen committed to film, as so much suspense rests on characters not being who they seem. In the cases of stars in drag, stars undercover, and stars on the run, viewers are usually in on the incognito secret. Sometimes, though, the ruse is so convincing that everyone is fooled, swept up by the yank of the proverbial rug.

The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: Alps, The Day He Arrives, The Sheik and I, Twixt, & More

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The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: <em>Alps</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Sheik and I</em>, <em>Twixt</em>, & More
The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: <em>Alps</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Sheik and I</em>, <em>Twixt</em>, & More

Rounding out its 55th year, the generally celebratory San Francisco International Film Festival seemed to open on a melancholy note, with the deaths of two illustrious film-culture stalwarts still fresh in the memories of local cinephiles: Graham Leggat, who had since 2005 been the San Francisco Film Society’s executive director, succumbed to cancer last year; and Bingham Ray, a veteran force in the indie circuit who’d agreed to take over the position, passed away in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Just as Nietzsche envisioned art as “the redeeming, healing enchantress” that could confront despair, it was up to cinema then to alleviate the event’s potentially mournful mood. Indeed, the titles chosen to pay tribute to the two men—Benoit Jacquot’s unusual Versailles-set drama Farewell, My Queen, which opened the festival in dedication to Leggat, and Carol Reed’s sardonic 1949 masterpiece The Third Man, reportedly Ray’s all-time favorite film—served as reminders not only of SFIFF’s characteristically eclectic selection, but also of its dedication to acknowledging the medium’s past while steadfastly gazing ahead for discoveries.

15 Famous Movie Mustaches

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15 Famous Movie Mustaches
15 Famous Movie Mustaches

Brightening theaters this weekend is Illumination Entertainment’s take on Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, which features Danny DeVito as the voice of the fuzzy and colorful eco-guardian. DeVito’s Lorax sports one bushy tuft of facial hair, its overgrowth stretching past the width of his waistline. The rest of cinema’s most memorable mustaches can’t boast that same disproportionate bulk, but they’re not to be undervalued. Two are among the most iconic physical traits in film history, four make up one big whiskery package deal, and one is so indelible that its wearer spawned the name for a whole style of ’stache.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Twixt, The Cat Vanishes, & Love and Bruises

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twixt</em>, <em>The Cat Vanishes</em>, & <em>Love and Bruises</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twixt</em>, <em>The Cat Vanishes</em>, & <em>Love and Bruises</em>

With the quasi-comic horror trifle Twixt, Francis Ford Coppola joins the long list of narrative-conjurers to (mis)appropriate Edgar Allan Poe as a sober maestro of spook. A pallid, somber fictionalization of the author, played by Ben Chaplin, becomes Virgil to the Dante of Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer, looking likeably portly), a bargain-basement witch novelist who gets fittingly embroiled in a small-town murder mystery. Poe counsels Baltimore in the crisp, ghostly digital dream world he plummets into whenever slumbering or getting knocked out, reciting passages from “The Philosophy of Composition” with a syrupy colonial accent, and seeming perpetually ready to stare down an owl. We read this off-kilter avuncular-ness, which is so at odds with Poe’s legacy (would the man who wrote “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” be so devoid of humor?) as a nod to Coppola’s own mentor, Roger Corman. And extrapolating on Corman’s own fondness for Poe’s thin macabre, we might understand Twixt as an awkward paean to hackwork, from “The Raven” to Spy Kids 3-D Game Over. (The film’s own 3D segment, to which we’re alerted by a monstrous pair of CGI glasses that non-diagetically enter the frame, is an easily collapsible parody).

Summer of ‘86: Top Gun

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Summer of ‘86: <em>Top Gun</em>
Summer of ‘86: <em>Top Gun</em>

When I remember Top Gun, I always think of a pair of women’s shoes and a message from God.

In the spring of 1986, I was, in addition to my regular gig at Los Angeles City College, teaching a course at UCLA in the History of American Film. They needed somebody in a hurry, I was available, I did it, they never asked me back, and I never wanted to go back. The thing about teaching at UCLA is that you stand behind a wooden lectern that could repel Genghis Kahn and look out at 144 students. They are all 19 or 20, they all have perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect tans, perfect teeth, and are all very bright in very conventional ways. All you have to do is imply something will be on the final exam and 144 heads go down, even though the official notes are taken by one of the graduate student TA’s. To me that is not teaching but shooting fish in a barrel. I much prefer LACC, where you never know who or what is going to walk in the door. The UCLA students were all upper-middle or upper class, and were surprised to see Benjamin’s father in The Graduate (1967) cleaning his own swimming pool. Didn’t they have pool cleaning services way back in the ’60s? The students bought into Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogan from two years before: that it was morning in America, and we were building up our might to combat the evil empire. That attitude showed up in a number of movies of the period, especially Top Gun.

Nashville Film Festival 2010: Nowhere Boy, Provinces of Night, Art House, & More

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Nashville Film Festival 2010: <em>Nowhere Boy</em>, <em>Provinces of Night</em>, <em>Art House</em>, & More
Nashville Film Festival 2010: <em>Nowhere Boy</em>, <em>Provinces of Night</em>, <em>Art House</em>, & More

“Maybe we’re plain Southern people, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have taste and aren’t willing to expand our horizons,” says the Nashville Film Festival’s energetic artistic director, Brian Owens. In his second year with the event, Owens presides over a full-spectrum program of 110 features and 12 world premieres that comprise the festival’s 41st edition. The longest running film festival in the South is located in Tennessee’s capital, nicknamed “music city,” and is appropriately peppered with music-oriented and country-flavored selections.

All screenings take place in a single Regal multiplex in the tony Green Hills neighborhood, home to such luminaries as Al Gore, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill. “There are fewer blistered feet at this festival,” says Owens, “and a single site festival builds community. When a movie is over you can talk about it right here and then go back in for your next one.”

“Our audience members here are good talkers. If they like a film, word-of-mouth is going to spread like wildfire,” he adds.

SXSW 2010: MacGruber, Winter’s Bone, & More

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SXSW 2010: <em>MacGruber</em>, <em>Winter’s Bone</em>, & More
SXSW 2010: <em>MacGruber</em>, <em>Winter’s Bone</em>, & More

MacGruber (Jorma Taccone). You might think a full-length feature about MacGruber, Will Forte’s bumbling ’80s action hero, would feel at least an hour too long. Even Steve Carell couldn’t lift his lumbering feature about Maxwell Smart, the ’60s version of MacGruber, off the ground—but maybe he needed Jorma Taccone at the controls.

Saturday Night Life actor/writer/director Taccone, one of the three guys who does those funny videos with Andy Samberg (he also shot a lot of the MacGruber shorts for SNL and is the man behind a Pepsi ad for the Super Bowl), has great sense of comic timing and a deep and gleeful knowledge of comedy conventions and pop-culture icons. In the Q&A after the film, he revealed that he loves late-’80s/early-’90s action movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and Rambo 3 (“not one or two or four—though four is pretty great too”), and that he and his cast intended their movie to be more of a comic tribute than a spoof.

You probably have to love those movies to embrace this one fully, but for those of us who do, it makes for a wildly entertaining night at the movies. Action movie clichés, like the way people keep telling MacGruber, “I thought you were dead!,” are given just the right emphasis. You laugh at the dick jokes and gay jokes too, partly because they’re cathartic, surfacing and then blowing up all the unacknowledged homoerotic machismo that fuels those movies, but also because Forte does blustery incompetence so well and the editors always know just where to cut. And Michael Bay has taken things so far that you pretty much have to chase your bad guy off a cliff, fire two big guns at him as he goes down, and reduce him to a blackened hole in the ground at the bottom of a canyon if you’re going for laughs. This movie also has the funniest sex scene since the South Park movie with the puppets.