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Just how different are modern cinema and that of the '70s and '80s? Are there great movie scenes that wouldn't get made today because the audience wouldn't tolerate them? Conversely, are there scenes that were shocking back in the day that wouldn't cause anyone to think twice now?
It's a given that audiences' tastes change over time… the same as social norms do in America. Oddly, though, where audiences sometimes become more relaxed about what they will accept — for instance, with profanity, since George Carlin's "7 Dirty Words" has been reduced to two — they sometimes become more conservative about other things. Below is our look at a group of scenes from movies that probably wouldn't make it on screen for a studio release now, and some others that were shocking when they were released that wouldn't cause anyone to lift an eyebrow today.
Oh No, They Didn't!
The Last Temptation of Christ / Life of Brian
Martin Scorsese's adaption of Nikos Kazantzakis' 1953 novel, with the scene of Jesus dreaming of a sexual encounter with Mary Magdalene, was controversial in 1988 and caused an outcry from various Christian groups. In today's media environment, and with the advent of social media, that controversy would be 1,000-fold and wouldn't go away easily. Even Scorsese wouldn't be able to get that into a film now… we'll accept the debauchery and debasement of his The Wolf of Wall Street but depicting Christ as having sexual urges wouldn't fly. In the same vein, imagine trying to convince a studio to okay Monty Python's famous "Always Look on the Bright Side" finale to Brian with the singing crucifixion victims. It met with criticism when it was released in 1979, but it would cause Bill O'Reilly's head to explode now.
Quentin Tarantino gets heat from all sides for his use of the N-word in his stylized action-violence fantasies like Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction… which represent a far different aura than a studio comedy would. Many white audiences would shift uncomfortably in their seats now at Mel Brooks' comedic use of the word during the scene where Cleavon Little's Sheriff Bart first arrives at Rock Ridge. (As well as the various other ethnic jokes throughout the film; Brooks' was an equal opportunity offender.)
Airplane! / Heathers
On a similar token, as funny as Airplane! remains in our memories, in the wake of 9-11 many audiences would be squeamish about laughing at a plane crashing through a terminal, just as the reveal of Christian Slater's plot to blow up the school in Heathers would play much differently now.
What's the Big Deal?
The Exorcist / Rosemary's Baby /The Blair Witch Project
Horror movies have to really work hard now if they want to be controversial. William Friedkin's The Exorcist is still plenty scary 40 years later and the scene where Linda Blair's Regan finds an inappropriate use for a crucifix would still get attention… but it would be minor and chalked up to the now standard shock tactics employed by the genre. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby is so non-threatening at this point that it's being done as a network TV series. Similarly, Blair Witch's up-the-nose shots would be seen as cute after the rise of films like Paranormal Activity that, in fairness, it helped spawn.
Lolita / The Last Tango in Paris
When Reese Witherspoon had sex with her teacher in Election, it barely registered as being inappropriate. Vladimir Nabokov's book and the subsequent 1962 Kubrick film were hugely controversial (pick any scene of James Mason and Peter Sellers leering at Sue Lyon). When the film was remade in 1997 with Jeremy Irons playing the tortured Humbert Humbert, obsessed with a young girl, audiences could've cared less. When Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango was released in 1972 with Marlon Brando as a widower in an illicit affair with a young French woman it earned an X-rating for its sexual content, particularly for a scene involving butter being used for something far removed from toast. When Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty came out in 1996 with Liv Tyler as an American teenager experiencing a sexual awakening amongst a group of artists in Italy, most people's reaction was, "Hey, is that Steven Tyler's daughter?"
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
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In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Apparently producers have just decided to completely scrap the whole “everyone has to start somewhere” theme that was supposed to make everyone’s sails feel full of fresh, sparkly air so we all feel inspired enough to cheer on all the bright and shiny faces headed to Hollywood. Oh yes, it’s still on the wall behind the contestants, and the judges make sure to repeat it now and again, but last night’s Idol episode opened with a doozie. What did we get? Not a future pop star, but a sure-fire reject with a fedora screaming/crying/attempting to sing “Smile” promptly followed by a dark screen with a simple message: this kinda stuff ain’t gonna cut it in Hollywood.
Now that we’ve been made aware just how little the new American Idol has changed the whole audition process (other than the fact that everything seems a little dirtier with Steven Tyler around) it’s back to business as usual with a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sort of episode. We were in and an out in an hour just in time to watch The Office. (Why is everything good on Thursdays, cruel world?) Idol took this round of auditions down to the “Who Dat?” nation, New Orleans... or Nola... or Nawlins if you’re really authentic.
“You know what they say about a little hat? It’s good for a little head.” –Steven
Well here it is; the best reason to watch Idol. Steven Tyler is a total dog – and no, I don’t mean “dawg.” He proved it during the New Jersey auditions, and really comes out to play for the Nola ones. Okay, so he didn’t run too crazy this time. That hat comment was the worst of it – also, kudos to the censor for catching that. Bleeping out the word “head” just made sure all the folks at home – even the kids and ditzy folks - knew exactly how dirty that little quip was meant to be. (Can you say backfire?) How’s that five-second delay looking now, Fox?
“From my melodic sensibilities, it was delicious.” –Steven
Is anyone else still unconvinced that he’s the new Paula? If you are, clearly you’re not paying attention. This is his best comment all evening and it’s ludicrous. Of course, there were quite a few people who spouted “delicious” melodies, the first of which were Jordan Dorsee and Sarah Sellers.
Jordan shamelessly used his adorable six-year old piano student to promote his music career in the typical Idol back-story video, but when it came time to sing (what? Sing? At a singing competition?) he actually delivered surprisingly well, belting “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with a voice reminiscent of John Legend (whose voice is like buttah) and a few too many flourishes (but that’s to be expected at this point in the competition).
When it came time for Sarah’s audition, she couldn't get to the song without Tyler taking half of her audition to talk about how lovely her lips were. (See? SEE?) For the first time this season, I can proudly say that this girl is one hundred percent legit, singing “Make You Feel My Love” with a simple, bluesy elegance. We can be sure she’s one of the good ones. (You heard it here first! Of course if I’m wrong I completely retract that statement.)
“So coach did you ever paddle his ass?” –Steven
“He was too big to paddle.” –Coach
First I’d like to apologize that all my quotes are from Steven, but he’s the most interesting judge, so GET OVER IT. Being that the crew was in Randy’s hometown of New Orleans, we should have known that some history would rear it’s chuckle-worthy head. Golden ticket winner, Jaqueline Dupree, first sang a solid rendition of “I’ll Stand By You” but not before buttering up Randy by bringing his old high school football coach (and her uncle) on set. Okay Jaqueline, you were pretty good, but come on, that’s a cheap tactic even if it did totally work.
Of course she wasn’t the only one with a gimmick. Jovanny Barretto, a ship builder, brought his pretty voice, his abs and his creepy love for Jennifer (and for her non-crushworthy husband, Marc Anthony). Yeah, he could sing, but that’s the boring part. Not to be outdone by the girl with old Randy pics, he decided to show JLo his pecs. With Steven in the room, we knew this wasn’t going to stay sane, so of course Steven and Randy march up to the audition stage to shed some clothing along with the loco contestant, and between you and me, Tyler’s not looking that bad for an ancient rock star. Randy, your bellybutton was, well…it was there.
“I’m a red apple in a pile of green apples.” – Contestant
Yes, these next to contestants were just that. The first one-of-a-kind contestant was Brett Lowenstein, a dorky dude with an auburn fro and a great singing voice. Despite his ridiculous appearance, he delivered what may have been the best version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” I’ve ever seen this early on the show, even if he did add way too many flourishes. SERIOUSLY. Knock it off, people.
Of course, he wasn't the only surprise. Fifteen year old Jacee Badeaux looks like he’s 12 and sings like a sweet little angel – yes I love sarcasm, but I’m being completely serious. All I can say about Jacee is suck it Justin Bieber, this kid kicks your ass.
“I think your grandma’s losing it over here.” – Ryan
Well, it wouldn’t be Idol without a sob story, so we have Paris Tassin who sang “Temporary Home” for her miracle daughter with special needs for her golden ticket. Yes she was off here and there, but I have to agree with JLo because the girl made me cry and I swear to you, I have never, ever, ever cried while watching Idol. Ever.
“Wait, Steven. You know Mic Jagger’s mouth well?” –Randy
Well, Idol hopefuls, here's a lesson for you; looking almost exactly (but not really) like a rock star doesn’t make you a singer. Contestant Gabriel Franks claimed he’s won Steven Tyler lookalike contests, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true unless these contests happened in a very dimly lit room. Sorry, I just don’t see it. When he finally opened his mouth, it was bad. The kid butchered “Bad Romance” and I’ll spare you the details because Jennifer’s sarcastic “Awesome” and Steven’s exorcism-style eye roll said it all. A-buh-bye.
There were a slew of other baddies, including one guy who viciously held an angry, flat note so long I thought his face may explode, but the saddest of the bunch was one kid who had actually attended Idol camp a few years back. Apparently, they don’t like truth there because he just can’t sing. At all. And he chose the death-sentence audition song, “Proud Mary.” Only the delusional people who can’t sing insist on singing "Mary" in their auditions. Seriously kid, what did they even teach you at Idol camp? Randy’s quip that they should clearly “cancel that camp” was harsh (hey, is someone trying to be Simon?) but it was that bad. I still have a headache. Sorry, kiddo. Them’s the breaks.
Talk show guru Oprah Winfrey has decided to cut back on her book club recommendations, which have been known to send a book straight to the Top 10 best-sellers list, because she is finding it more difficult to find books she can rave about. "It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share," Winfrey said in a statement on her show Friday. "I will continue featuring books on The Oprah Winfrey Show when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation."
Winfrey has also decided to cut back on traveling because she says she doesn't feel safe, recently postponing a trip to South Africa to promote the launch of her magazine, O. "My instinct says things aren't right in parts of the world. All parts--and to get from my part to your part, I'd have to travel over other parts," Winfrey told a South Africa newspaper Sunday Times.
Is it him or isn't it? Two-time Grammy winner R. Kelly is having to answer questions about allegations that he appeared in a sexually explicit videotape with a minor that is being sold illegally across the country and on the Internet. The R&B artist denies all claims but Chicago police are investigating. Meanwhile, some radio stations in the Chicago area are boycotting the singer's music.
Tony-winning actress Jane Alexander and her husband, director/producer Edwin Sherin, are taking up teaching positions at Florida State University in the fall as part of its Eppes Professor program, which invites high-profile professionals to join the academia.
John Ashcroft may be the U.S. attorney general, but his first love is music. To prove it, he is scheduled to make an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, during which he may sing a few songs for the audience. Letterman has been poking fun at the attorney general recently, showing clips of Ashcroft singing his own song, "Let the Eagles Soar," at a theological seminar in North Carolina. The Late Show segment is being taped Tuesday, AP reports.
Following on the heels of the successful Carol Burnett Show reunion special which aired last year, TV nostalgia will reign again when CBS airs a Mary Tyler Moore Show retrospective May 13 during the all-important "sweeps" month. The special will star members of the old cast, including Moore, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod and Betty White.
Actor/singer Harry Belafonte will receive the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's lifetime achievement award. Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit chapter, told AP, "Mr. Belafonte has been a great role model, possessing not only professional gifts and talents, but he also reflects the gift of social sacrifice and political consciousness that has helped African Americans in their struggle."
Roy Huggins, writer/producer of TV classics such as Maverick and The Fugitive, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., of natural causes. He was 87. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Adele Mara, and their three sons, Thomas, John and James.