Opinion Blog: I Hope You Weren’t Planning to Spend Your Summer Outdoors…

April 26, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Chase Cusack

They loom over us, casting a welcoming shadow. We seek refuge from the sweltering summer heat by rushing into the giant air conditioned chambers provided by AMC and Cinemark. They are the summer tent poles, and we’re only weeks away from the first release.

May marks the beginning of the summer movie season, and every year the major studios eagerly await the box office returns from their biggest investments. Productions costs of the typical blockbuster range between $100 and $200 million, a staggering number that grows even higher once you tack on the huge sums used to market the films.

The original Iron Man raked in almost $600 million worldwide which bodes well for the imaginatively titled sequel, Iron Man 2. Robert Downey Jr. will return to the role that reignited his career and face a new enemy, Whiplash, who is portrayed by another actor making an eerily similar comeback in Hollywood, Mickey Rourke.

The brilliant casting and performances in the first film were enough to overcome the poor direction by John Favreau and resulted in an enjoyable, yet disappointing, experience. But now that the bland origin story is out of the way, I think the introduction of new villains will spice things up. On May 7 audiences will surely flock to the theater, hammers in hand, and start the summer off by smashing some box office records.

Up next comes a modern adaptation of one of the greatest legends in English folklore, Robin Hood. On May 14, the fifth collaboration of Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott promises a grittier version of the classic hero that will focus more on sword play and less on the tights.

Crowe’s last two films State of Play and Body of Lies were serious financial disappointments. Both Play and Lies had political storylines, and neither of them were released in the summer. Hood will look to recapture the feel of another epic period piece that was released in May a decade ago, Gladiator.

Be careful when that final school bell rings, a smelly obese ogre will be waiting for you! DreamWorks Animation will release the fourth (even though it feels like the 14th) film in the series, Shrek Forever After on May 21. You can’t blame the studio for releasing a sequel to a franchise that has made them over $2 billion dollars worldwide… but I can.

With the release of How to Train Your Dragon earlier this year, the studio showed that new ideas can be met with both commercial and critical success. Remakes, reboots, and sequels have made studios lazy. Remember, this is a medium that is supposed to be about storytelling.

And you’re not off the hook either Pixar! The pristine studio’s next two releases are Toy Story 3 and Cars 2. With the success of original works like The Incredibles, Rattatouille, Wall E, and UP, you’d think they wouldn’t feel a need to expand upon older films.

Ranting aside, I’ll finally touch on a movie-going segment that is often underestimated, but proved their strength in the summer of 2008. That’s right ladies, order a Cosmo, and head to the theater on May 27 for Sex in the City 2.

The film picks up where we left off with Carrie as a newlywed, but things take a turn when… ok, I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I’m pretty sure you’ve already decided if you’re going to see this movie.

These are but a few of the films that kick off the relentless onslaught of releases between May and August. And if I could only pick one, I’d have to hedge my bets on Inception. If you haven’t heard anything about it yet, well, all I’m going to say is, come July 16, you will.

Big D Blog: Bishop Boulevard Hits the Big Screen…Barely

October 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Jaimie Siegle

Want to see a 70s-era Bishop Boulevard on the big screen as the background to a 70s-era college movie? Check out the fifth annual “It Came From Dallas” reel on Oct. 15.

As if SMU students needed another reason besides pub grub and a full bar to go to Studio Movie Grill, the theater-slash-restaurant hosts the Dallas Producers Association’s compilation of highlights (and lowlights) from blockbusters (and not-quite-blockbusters) filmed in and around the Big D. This year the association’s reel includes scenes from the 1967 Oscar-winning Bonnie and Clyde and the 1976 film Drive-In.

But wait, there’s more.

Students might know actor Dennis Quaid from Disney’s 1998 remake of The Parent Trap – where the Houston-born actor played the “cool dad” of a pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan – or from this summer’s G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. SMU student Christy Vutam interviewed Quaid last September about his football film The Express.

But the star of last month’s thriller Pandorum makes an appearance on “It Came From Dallas” with his 1978 film, Seniors. Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

Local film archivist and event co-host Gordon K. Smith sent the Observer a snippet from Seniors, where scantily clad women and a young Quaid are “pony-ing up” on SMU’s lush, green campus. Judging from the clip, the movie looks like a severely outdated version of a straight-to-video American Pie or Van Wilder.

The college chicks ain’t classy, but our boulevard sure is.

Studio Movie Grill is located at N. Central Expressway and Royal Lane. Doors open for “It Came From Dallas” at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30. Tickets are $10.

Arts Beat: Take Me Out to the Theatre – A Lineup of the Greatest Baseball Films

April 27, 2009 by · Comments Off 

This month marks the 20th anniversary of two classic baseball films, one sentimental (“Field of Dreams”), the other slapstick (“Major League”). Unfortunately, these and other great flicks about America’s pastime are part of a dying breed.

From the early ‘80s through the Major League Baseball players’ strike in 1994, a number of memorable movies were made about the sport. Recently, though, a handful of romantic comedies disguised as baseball films (see “Fever Pitch,” “For Love of the Game,” etc.) have filled the genre.

But thanks to the magic of DVDs (and VHS in some cases), the best movies about the sport can be enjoyed over and over again – unlike the $6 soda or $7.50 hamburger you just bought at the ballpark. With a wide selection of classics from which to choose, however, where does one start?

Here are some suggestions – my starting lineup of the best baseball movies ever made. (A lineup consists of nine batting spots, of course, so this is a Top? nine list instead of the traditional 10…Hey, rules are rules).

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1. 61* (2001) – Directed by New York native and longtime Yankee fan Billy Crystal, “61*” was released at the same time that Major League Baseball and its fans were processing the names and individual records being affected by the so-called “Steroid Era” and its fallout. The film details one of the first real home run chases, a summer-long drama that unfolded in 1961 as Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) – both New York Yankees – pursued the record of 60 home runs in a single season, set in 1927 by Babe Ruth – also a Yankee. While Mantle succumbed to a series of late-season injuries, Maris’s ultimate total of 61 homers stood tall in baseball lore for 37 years before Mark McGwire smashed an eye-popping 70 for the St. Louis Cardinals; appropriately, footage of the ’98 home run chase between McGwire and the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa serves as bookends for the film. Of course, the record of 70 home runs in a season lasted a short time before Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants clubbed no less than 73 in 2001. And as fresh steroid allegations make all-too-frequent appearances on ESPN, Crystal’s nostalgic and realistic film offers a glimpse of baseball when it seemed as simple as playing the game. Mr. Jane and Mr. Pepper give terrific performances, surrounded by Yankee legends Yogi Berra (Paul Borghese), Whitey Ford (Anthony Michael Hall) and Elston Howard (Bobby Hosea).

2. Eight Men Out (1988) – Based on Eliot Asinof’s book of the same title, “Eight Men Out” is the story of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox, no doubt one of the most talented teams in baseball history. A heavy favorite to win the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, the team was dubbed the “Black Sox” after rumors spread of Chicago players accepting cash in return for throwing the series (which the underdog Reds won). Eight White Sox players were brought before a grand jury in 1920 – thus the title – and all were permanently banned from baseball from its iron-fisted first commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (the late John Anderson). Most notable is Landis’s inclusion of outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney), whose lifetime ban has kept him out of consideration for the Hall of Fame, an honor he would have surely received as one of the top players of the early 20th century. Asinof’s book is a somewhat laborious read, but the silver screen adaptation of “Eight Men Out” is an excellent flashback of vintage baseball, its characters and the consequences of their actions.

3. Major League (1989) – One of the best sports comedies of all time, “Major League” chronicles a fake season of Cleveland Indians baseball. From spring training to the long summer months to a late-September playoff push; a well-chosen cast of characters interacts to bring humor to the season’s ups and downs. Charlie Sheen (who also played outfielder “Happy” Felsch in “Eight Men Out”) – stars as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, a pitcher with a blazing fastball and no sense of control. Tom Berenger plays the role of Jake Taylor, an embattled catcher whose playing days appear to be numbered. Wesley Snipes is good for some laughs as a fast-talking outfielder who goes by his self-appointed nickname (“Willie Mays Hayes”) and Dennis Haysbert brings culture –among other things – into the clubhouse as superstitious slugger Pedro Cerrano. In addition, Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker is a scene-stealer as Harry Doyle, the Indians’ boozy play-by-play commentator (“Juuuust a bit outside…”). “Major League” uses a tried and true sports storyline of oddball players coming together in spite of (or thanks to) their eccentricities to win, yet it strikes a unique blend of bathroom humor and baseball strategy to stand tall in the annals of sports comedies.

4. Bull Durham(1988) – Kevin Costner makes his first appearance on this list in a hilarious snapshot of life in the minor leagues. As aging catcher Crash Davis, Costner is on his way out of the game while his much younger Durham Bulls teammates are hoping for a shot at the major leagues. He takes particular (though half-hearted) interest in catcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), whose biggest fault is a mental block that prevents him from accurately throwing a ball back to the pitcher. Susan Sarandon also stars as Annie Savoy, the team groupie who becomes involved with both Davis and LaLoosh. The film’s tagline (“A major league love story in a minor league town”) may be true, but “Bull Durham” also details some of the less-glamorous aspects of life in the minor leagues, which will always include a cast of zany characters.

5. Rookie Of The Year (1993) – Starring fresh-faced Thomas Ian Nicholas before he plunged into the “American Pie” franchise, “Rookie of the Year” brings to film every young boy’s dream of joining their favorite major league ball club. For Henry Rowengartner (Nicholas), that team is the Chicago Cubs, and his dream is realized after a shoulder operation leaves him with uncanny arm strength. As Henry enters Wrigley Field and encounters a roomful of adult Cubs, many jokes and plot twists can be seen coming, but that doesn’t undermine the feel-good and youthful mood of the film. Director Daniel Stern shines as the quirky Phil Brickma, and Gary Busey plays veteran third baseman Chet “Rocket” Steadman. “Rookie of the Year” skirts around a couple of social issues – such as Chet’s courting of Henry’s widowed mother – but never loses its sense of humor and imagination. After all, this isthe movie responsible for the classic line, “We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher!”

6. The Bad News Bears (1976) – Billed as “a classic comedy about growing up,” it seems only appropriate for this film to star a timeless grumpy old man – the late, great Walter Matthau. As a drunk, bitter Little League coach named Morris Buttermaker, Matthau delivers an all-time great performance with his usual ageless facial expressions and understated surliness. Save for a few attempts at touching childhood issues, “The Bad News Bears” brings the type of worst-to-first mentality found in “Major League” (see above) to the sandlots of mid-70s Northern California. Comprised mostly of a foul-mouthed group of outcasts and misfits, the Bears do possess a secret weapon of sorts – pitcher Amanda Whurlizer (played by a young Tatum O’Neal). The film was released at a time when women (and men) across the country were speaking out against gender biases and sexism; O’Neal’s strong performance as Amanda, a tube-topped tomboy who happens to have the best arm on the team, came at a contextually significant time and her coming-of-age naivety is a perfect offset to the surly Coach Buttermaker…which is not to say the coarse Matthau doesn’t learn a bit about himself along the way. The rest of the Bears are at times insightful and at times inept (sometimes both), and the gang of runts provide laughs that never get old.

7. A League of Their Own(1992) – It was through this film that viewers learned a key element to the game: “There’s no crying in baseball!” The previously unwritten law was voiced loud and clear by Tom Hanks as manager Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own.” The movie recounts the true-to-life saga of the Rockford, Ill., Peaches. The Peaches, including Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell), were part of the All American Pro Girls League, still in its infancy in 1943 after being created to fill the void left by the exodus of men shipped out to fight overseas. Many big-league ballplayers traded in their baseball caps for military helmets, including Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller. As the major league clubs sought out replacement players anywhere they could be found, American women took up the ol’ ballgame themselves. Not only were they incredibly talented baseball players (yes…baseball players), but the well-cast roster illustrates what real sportsmanship is when life keeps giving lemons and throwing curveballs. Personally, I’d make lemonade and wait for a good fastball to hit.

8. The Natural (1984) – Robert Redford brings to life the fictional slugger Roy Hobbs, who was originally penned by writer Bernard Malamud in his novel of the same name. As a promising young pitcher, Hobbs appears to be robbed of his dream when shot by an enigmatic black widow (Barbara Hershey). He returns to the game 16 years later, and the elder status of this “rookie” leads even his manager (Wilford Brimley) to utter “Fella, you don’t start playin’ ball at your age, you retire.” Hobbs takes the field and starts hitting…and hitting…and hitting some more. The character could be based on some of the best ballplayers in history, from the sheer talent and power of Babe Ruth to the self-assured cockiness of Ted Williams (who famously said his goal was “to have people say, ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived. A comeback story if there ever was one, “The Natural” is a classic but – as is so often the case – the film falls a bit short of original book

9. Field Of Dreams (1989) – When I was younger, I thought this film was flat-out overrated. Even as I have come to appreciate it with age, there’s simply not that much actual baseball played on the “Field Of Dreams.” “If you build it, they will come,” is what a modest family man named Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner, take two) hears one night from an untraceable voice (graciously provided by James Earl Jones) while in his Iowa cornfield. Like any rational farmer who suddenly hears things, Kinsella constructs a darn good-looking ballpark amid the cornstalks. And after a few detours in the plot, “they” do come; ballplayers of an era long gone, namely the eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox who were banned from baseball for allegedly throwing the World Series. Chief among the players who emerge from the tall stalks of corn is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), returning to the game that had banned him from it 60 years earlier.

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Naturally, any good baseball team must have a bench:

“The Sandlot” (1993) “You’re killin’ me, smalls!” Enough said.

“The Babe” (1992) – John Goodman comes as close as any actor could to filling Ruth’s legendary shoes (and pants)…excluding the Babe himself, of course (“The Pride Of The Yankees,” 1942).

“Major League II” (1994)…but NOT the regrettable “Major League III: Back to the Minors” (1998).

“Bang The Drum Slowly” (1973) – good film starring Robert DeNiro, based on a better book by Mark Harris (1956).

–Posted by Nate Regan

Arts Beat: ‘Wolverine Origins,’ trailer vs. comics

April 19, 2009 by · Comments Off 

The trailer for the movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is out and I had to catch up on my “Wolverine” comic book reading.

There are 34 issues of the Marvel Comics series and so far I am very pleased. The movie trailer makes the movie seem like it is going to run very close to the series, but I’m a little skeptic.

Yes, Wolverine’s enemy Sabertooth will be there, and there will be many brawls, but it would be very difficult for a movie to compare to great literature.

I do consider comic books to be great literature. The books have a great story line; there is fantasy, there is love, hate, death, and all that is in between, including wonderful graphics. Marvel Comic’s “Wolverine Origins” is so far a great series, and it reminds readers of their childhood and superheroes.

The “Wolverine” movie comes out May 1, and the latest comic came out in March, so there is a lot of catching up to do for Wolverine fans.

In the SMU area there are two comic book shops: Keith’s Comics is on Mockingbird across from the Dart Station, and Lone Star Comics is on Abrams at Mockingbird.

Comic books are? still cool, and they relieve students from picture-less scholastics.

Posted by Laura Vasquez

Arts Blog: AFI Dallas Film Festival Starts this Week

March 23, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Last Wednesday, March 18, AFI Director of Press and Publicity John Wildman spoke to the journalism department’s Arts Beat class about what all AFI Dallas International Film Festival has to offer…

…which is a lot.

Want to see a Zooey Deschanel movie four months before it premieres? See “500 Days of Summer” Sunday at 3:30 pm. Want to hear the filmmakers from some of these films talk about real issues as opposed to just the making of their particular movie? Go to an educational panel. Want to see Adrien Brody in person? That’s possible, too.

The film festival will include screenings of over 180 films, including feature films, classics, documentaries and shorts. The filmmakers and actors for some of these films will walk down the red carpets before the night screenings.

The film festival will also have educational panels free to the public. The filmmakers will talk about the subject in the films from an evaluation of women and men and sex in the cinema to whether real life should be protected from film.

SMU students should take advantage of being in Dallas and being able to attend this film festival. You can attend screenings of movies they might not have the chance to see otherwise or learn more about the subjects of the films. You might even meet the filmmakers and actors.

The films will be held at Magnolia and North Park AMC theaters. To order tickets or see schedules of the films and panels, just check out AFI Dallas’s Website

Posted by Rachael Morgan

Arts Beat: February: A Good Month for Single Girls

February 11, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Every girl can remember the scene from the iconic TV show “Sex and the City” where Miranda (played by Cynthia Nixon) tried to pass on her wisdom of “He’s Just Not that into You” to two relationship troubled gals. The scene made the book instantly famous and now it is a movie of its own.

In a month that all single girls dread, Hollywood is surely coming up with a few good ways we can all cope. “He’s Just Not that into You” is out now and this week a movie that is causing buzz around my sorority house, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” will hit theaters as well. Not to mention each movie, while starring some of my favorite actresses, (Drew Berrymore, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Anniston? in “He’s Just Not that into You” and Isla Fisher in “Shopaholic”) star a lot of cute guys too, Ben Afleck, Kevin Connolly and also ? Hugh Darcy in “Shopaholic.”

Both romantic comedies? are based on hit selling books. There are sure to be long entry lines, full of single gals making it a night on the town, on each of their opening nights. After all what is better than spending Valentine’s day with all your best girlfriends and a fantastic love story.

–Posted by Erin Ramaker