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Nov 19, 2017

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Hollywood’s Famous Formulas
by Angelina Malhotra-Singh
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.4
Life Is Beautiful Different for Girls Blade Bug's Life
Filmmakers would like the movie-going public to believe that every flick ever produced is unique -- mostly in order to get you to watch Halloween sequels, but also to convince you that every John Woo film explodes differently. Malarkey! Ninety-nine percent of what hits the screen falls into an identifiable genre of film. Some are more easily tagged (coming-of-age, cops and robbers, natural disaster) than others (exploding fish tanks, hide-the-dead-guy), but for the most part, Hollywood follows a few favorite formulas. And by Jove, as long as they change the hairstyles, they can fool most of the people most of the time.

Out of Sight

Action Movies

The action film category suffers from more splintering than perhaps any other genre. But whatever your flavor -- be it action-adventure (no thought process necessary), disaster (natural or man-made), BOOM! (loud explosions, general mayhem), macho men (excessive testosterone) -- action movies are instantly recognizable. Does it have a chick? (If it's Michelle Yeoh, skip the next question.) A hero? Weapons? Vehicles? (If it's a period action flick, it needn't be gas-powered.) Blood? Put down that Rorschach: you're in the money (and someone with an Uzi is coming for it). 1998 was (another) year of the action movie. Releases included Armageddon (a noisy, eye-popping flick in which one city after another gets offed), Soldier (Kurt Russell versus genetically engineered warriors -- even worse than it sounds), and Saving Private Ryan (a weak, overly-sentimental farce tainted with condescension and bad faith).

There is, however, redemption for the brotherhood in the form of Out Of Sight, (Universal), a tightly scripted, underrated gem adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel and directed by Steven Soderbergh. The hero (George Clooney) just happens to be a handsome bank robber, the chick-cum-heroine a dishy cop (Jennifer Lopez and her take-no-prisoners booty). Screenwriter Scott Frank had enough gray matter to realize that sexual tension is a good accompaniment to blowing stuff up, and the chemistry between the leads is zesty. Ving Rhames is fly as Clooney's stand-up partner and Wendell B. Harris shines as an officious FBI man (but I repeat myself). Is there a man or woman alive who wouldn't volunteer to be locked in a car trunk (hint: pivotal scene) with either Lopez or Clooney?

Action films are best viewed with an icy white in hand, since (a) you'll need something to cool you down when you realize how much these movies cost to make and (b) you're liable to jump at an explosion and as we all know, cabs and carpets don't mix. La Nina's Latina charms may have your mind wandering to Chile but I say give Clooney the nod and pick up a crisp, all-American California sauvignon blanc. Try the 1997 Murphy-Goode Fume Blanc or Rodney Strong's 1997 Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc, which has a shapely apple-melon tone that allows you to pay homage to Lopez just the same.

Horror

In case Ken Starr doesn't make you scream, Hollywood can be counted on for at least a half-dozen horror films a year. Choose from modern cut-'em-up bloodfests, horrible holidays (Bloody New Year, Bloody Valentine, Halloween), killer appliances or self- conscious slasher remakes. There are a slew of schlockmeisters out there desperate for rental redemption. Skip Scream 2, in the hopes that the series will end there. Likewise, skip Van Sant's Psycho, which looks for the world like an undergraduate film-school project. (If you're having a Hitchcock moment, rent a restored print of Vertigo and be done with it.) The Brandon Teena Story certainly qualifies as a horror story, but it's as far from the genre as you can get (probably because its terror is based in reality). For a sure fire cult classic, seize Blade. Wesley Snipes (in fine abdominal form) stars as a half-vampire whose job it is to snuff out other 21st century capitalist-dictator vampires (such as Stephen Dorff) while warring with his own desire to suck down a pint or two. Aiding Blade are vampire hunter Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson in a very hirsute appearance) and Dr. Karen Jansen (N'Bushe Wright), who is searching for a cure for vampirism and, it seems, a way to domesticate Snipes. Sure Blade has its moments of heavy-handed social commentary, but for the most part it's true to its Marvel comic book ancestors: creatures of the night with kung-fu grip swathed in gore.

No explanation necessary: horror demands red wine, wine as red as the rivers of blood which... In the United States, cabernet franc has long been used as a blending grape, though in other parts of the world it has long been bottled by its lonesome. Ruby-red in color with a plum-blackberry flavor, it works with good horror movie food such as red meat, meat as tender as a young victim's throat... My queenly wine buddy Xuan says the cab francs finally being bottled in California are terrific: he recommends the 1995 Francis Coppola Family Wine Cabernet Franc, saying it goes well with meaty dishes like Snipes.

Blade

Different for Girls

Romance

Perhaps more so than other genres of film, romance films seem to re-hyphenate every few years, in accordance with what Hollywood decides the public "wants." There was an early-nineties spate of romance-drama films -- Cyrano de Bergerac, Far and Away -- in which love lead to tension and anxiety. That was followed by a mid-nineties wave of romance-comedy flicks (French Kiss, Much Ado About Nothing) in which love and hilarity went, often weakly, mano-a-mano. The end-of-the-decade trend has been twisted romance (romance with a twist, if you must), in which the characters are entwined in manners that would make the Coalition for the Family's collective head explode. To wit: three people of assorted sexuality (Three of Hearts), two people of differing sexual inclinations (Chasing Amy), dreamy-eyed celibate lesbians (High Art), or dreamy-eyed gay men who are decidedly not celibate (Steam). Quick, before a Ralph Reed mood takes hold, rent Different for Girls (First Look Cinema), a film which marks a new era for movies about transsexuality. The plot involves a chance meeting between two old friends who were close in school but have since drifted apart and made very different life choices: Carl (Steven Mackintosh) has become Kim and Paul (Rupert Graves) has become a debt-ridden motorcycle messenger. When the two bump into each other (literally) they decide to try to catch up on lost time and revive an old and implicitly romantic friendship. Kim is sexy and convincing, Paul is an idiot who gets them both arrested, and the film is compelling to the end. It's The Crying Game without any crying (except over the frumpy dresses and the bottle of white wine that sits warming on a table for some eighteen scenes).

Romance has traditionally meant champagne, but since love is wandering off the beaten path, let's all be adulterous. I'm not suggesting a Sloe Comfortable Screw (1.5 oz. vodka, .5 oz. sloe gin, .5 oz Southern Comfort, 4 oz. orange juice) but you could get kinky with a bottle of Kenwood Cuvee. Mix it with 6 oz. Triple Sec or Cointreau, 6 oz. fresh orange juice, 3 oz. fresh lemon or lime juice, 3 oz. brandy, half-a-cup of sugar, 16 oz cold club soda, slices of lemon and lime and about 15 green grapes. Add the Cuvee just before serving. Champagne Sangria Blanca -- life is complete.

Drama/Foreign Cinema

Take issue if you must, but these genres overlap so much they're nearly indistinguishable. Dramatic films -- conflict, tension, climax, resolution -- seem to come at us in their finest form from overseas. Granted, independent American cinema is beginning to stake its claim to the dramatic throne, but Hollywood would rather we import philosophy and export Bruce Willis. There are a multitude of must-see foreign films out on video, so consider a weekend view-a-thon. (Avoid, at all costs, The Chambermaid on the Titanic, a shallow potboiler with artistic pretensions whose only saving grace is the lack of a Celine Dion soundtrack.) Start with Gadjo Dilo, the Tony Gatlif-directed French film about a young traveler in Romania whose search for an elusive musician brings him from an anthropological voyeurism to a profound understanding. If you've ever ordered a kir in Paris at the wrong time in the day, this movie is for you! Next up: The Celebration, a disturbing, compelling film directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, where rebellious children pull all the skeletons from the family closet when gathering to celebrate their father's 60th birthday. Watch and cheer as the family unit unravels in shocking ways and becomes as dysfunctional as your own! Move on to Central Station, a brilliant, ruthlessly unsentimental odd-couple-on-the-road picture about a misanthropic Brazilian woman who realizes she must help a motherless young boy in Rio find his father in the country. Fernanda Montenegro is unforgettable. Finally, finish off that last half-bottle with a (no doubt second) viewing of Life is Beautiful. Italian director Roberto Benigni achieves the impossible here by producing a poignant comedy about the Holocaust. His energetic presence, rapid-fire comic delivery and subtle digs into a horrific human tragedy make for a legendary profile of World War II-era Italy. A giggle-fest, to boot.

Go overseas young man/woman. Before you uncork, though, remember you're watching four films -- which means multiple bottles, which means baguettes and pasta, pasta, pasta for absorption. If you're one of those kooky white sauce people, cut through the butter with an Italian pinot grigio: Puatti 1997 Pinot Grigio (Collio) is easy to find and inexpensive. If you're sane and prefer red sauce or just a dousing of olive oil, pick up a few bottles of Chianti to ride out the weekend: Antinori's 1995 Reserva, or Rocca di Castagnoli's 1995 Reserva have both been served to me and they served me pretty well.

The Celebration Life is Beautiful

A Bug's Life

Classic Corner: Creature Features

Once upon a time, movies about critters meant movies about monsters. Really BIG monsters: Gamera the flying sea-turtle, King Kong, Mothra the enraged giant caterpillar. These days big monsters are quick to the small screen: Godzilla, for example, or Clinton's Angels. The genre has intellectualized and humanized its animals and little creatures are all the rage: Babe, the Dickensian pig. Antz. Adam Sandler. (Okay, he missed the smart part.) My video critter dollar went to A Bug's Life, a Pixar computer-animated thing of beauty. With a lyric combination of pomp and circumstance, director John Lasseter and company energize this tale of a heroic young ant who enlists circus bugs in a fight against tyrannical grasshoppers. Show-biz pastiche galore, Chaplin-esque slapstick and luxuriant imagery.

If you were a smart four-legged bug what would you drink? Well first you might choose to come off the ski slopes (it's cold, you fool) and have a moment with a glass of pinot noir. Nothing cuts ice and chill better than the peppery aftermath of a 1996 Robert Mondavi or Kenwood 1996 Pinot Noir. Acacia's 1997 Carneros pinot not only has flavor to spare, it quotes Swinburne on the label: "Then love was the pearl of his oyster, and Venus rose red out of wine." Toast up a plate of pappadum and toss about intelligent witticisms.

Schlock Flick: Cannibalism

There are few things tackier, few notions less tasteless than the idea of people eating other people. Snakes and dogs and legs yanked off of innocent frogs (or, in the case of grasshoppers, delicately munched off) are one thing, but your fellow citizen? Haven't we progressed beyond the Donner party, beyond butchery and war -- oh, in that case, never mind. There is some genuinely indigestible fare in this category: Auntie Lee's Meat Pies, in which Playboy Playmates keep their Auntie supplied with her secret pie ingredient (meaty young men), or Crazy Fat Ethel II, in which an obese, hungry, homicidal female psychopath gets out of the asylum and goes on a rampage. But cannibalism has had some wonderful screen moments: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Peter Greenaway's powerful vision of greed, love and violence (there's an unrated, non theatre-release version on tape), and Delicatessen, a rabble-rousing cacophony of a movie. Recent Hollywood fare includes 1993's Alive, based on the true survival story of a bunch of hungry Uruguayan rugby players, Silence of the Lambs, the 1991 Oscar sweeper, and Cannibal! The Musical, a difficult-to-describe 1996 offering from "South Park" director Trey Parker. I suggest watching George Romero's Dawn of the Dead for its historic value and Eating Raoul, a hilariously dark comedy about financing a restaurant by, ah, expanding the menu. Leave it at that, and consider yourself an expert.

Suggestions? Pshaw. When you're watching mankind devour itself, you drink whatever you can keep down. Something that burns the gullet seems in order: tequila, sake, Thunderbird. To your health!

Alive The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

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