Sunday, December 21, 2008

Papua New Guinea

Well, I arrived safely in Papua New Guinea and am alive and well. This will probably be my last post of the year, so the rest of my movie odyssey will have to wait until I get back Stateside.

Until then, Merry Christmas to Randall and anyone else who still reads this blog, and have a prosperous new year.

Lukim yu bihain.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XX

My Favorite Wife (1940)
Cary Grant gets his wife who was lost at sea declared legally dead so he can remarry. But as soon as he reties the knot, who should show up but his newly rescued first wife. Hilarity ensues as he tries to muster up the courage to tell his new wife that he wants to stay with his first wife while being suspicious of the strapping young castaway his wife was shipwrecked with (though I did feel sorry for his second wife who gets a bum deal out of the whole mess).

The Lookout (2007)
An unconventional story about a bank robbery, The Lookout has many delightful plot twists as a young man with memory problems tries to make everything all right after he falls in with the wrong crowd.

Rounders (1998)
In a story reminiscent of Mean Streets, Matt Damon tries to help his ne'er do well friend (Edward Norton) get out of debt, but gets deeper in trouble as his friend refuses to show any sort of control in his life. What makes Rounders much better than Mean Streets is that we are given compelling characters, an actual storyline, and entertaining poker scenes.

I Know Who Killed Me (2007)
I don't see why this film got so many Razzie awards. Sure there isn't anything worthwhile about it and the whole thing is dark and ugly, but at no point did I feel like standing up and screaming "You have got to be kidding me! Who thought up this insanity?" like a truly bad movie would. The Day After Tomorrow was a much worse movie and that one didn't even get any nominations.

Burn After Reading (2008)
It feels like a funnier version of Fargo that doesn't take itself seriously. Brad Pitt puts in a hilarious performance as an air head fitness instructor and Frances McDormand puts in a good performance as always. Misunderstandings pile on top of misconceptions leading to a chaotic film that is darkly funny the whole way through.

Coming up next: 2 new animated films and 3 old live-action films.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIX

The Leopard Man (1943)
One common characteristic of all the Val Lewton films I have seen so far is an examination of science versus the supernatural. Weird things are happening and some characters say there are supernatural elements at work while the rest reject the idea as superstition and try to find a natural explanation. While most of the films end on an ambiguous note (often leaning towards the supernatural explanation) The Leopard Man goes with the natural explanation. So while there are a couple deliciously atmospheric scenes, the end result was not nearly as satisfying as my previous ventures into the world of Val Lewton.

Rio Bravo (1959)
This western is the story of three men: John Wayne's sheriff who refuses almost all offers of help to bring down the town outlaw (in a direct contrast to the Gary Cooper role in High Noon), Dean Martin's deputy who is a recovering alcoholic, and Ricky Nelson's hotshot new gunman who worms his way into John Wayne's graces. What results is a highly entertaining western that focuses more on the interactions between characters than the shootouts. Also worth noting is Walter Brennan as the lame deputy who is assigned to guard the jail. His cranky old man performance adds some wonderful humor to the mix, keeping the film from getting too serious. The inevitable final shootout lacks dramatic gravity, but that is a minor complaint compared with the rest of this highly entertaining film.

Bring It On (2000)
Morbid curiosity made me check out this movie. It wasn't great, but wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been (which is disappointing because I was prepared to write a scathing review of the movie).

Bull Durham (1988)
This is a somewhat funny movie with some fun scenes (especially the baseball games) that kind of peters out at the end.

Marathon Man (1976)
International intrigue and fugitive Nazi war criminals are always good fodder for entertaining movies. This time around the Nazi fugitive is played by Laurence Olivier in a gleefully evil performance. The most memorable scene in the film features Olivier almost lovingly torturing Dustin Hoffman in a way that will make those already afraid of dentists intentionally skip their next checkups.

Coming up next: four newer movies and a Cary Grant outing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XVIII

Love Story (1970)
"Love means never having to say you're sorry."
"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard."
Those immortal words from What's Up, Doc? pretty much sum up my feelings for this movie.

Wall-E (2008)
One of the things I love about the Pixar shorts is that they each tell a complete story without the use of dialog. Now we have Wall-E, a feature length film which has no dialog (except for a few commercial voiceovers) for the first half of the film. What results is a masterpiece of character animation, and when humans do finally show up and start talking, it's almost a letdown.

White Heat (1949)
James Cagney seethes evil as the gangster Cody Jarrett. He has no moral compass other than a messed up mother complex that would have made Hitchcock proud. When the police place an undercover cop in Jarrett's gang, the tension mounts until the inevitable explosive ending. And as Jarrett shoots friend and foe alike with no regard for his own safety, my only thought was "Heath Ledger's got nothing on Cagney."

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
This was an interesting concept and a sweet story. The lengths the whole town went to to make "Bianca" feel welcome were touching. My only real gripe with the film is the pacing was too slow and steady and needed a few energetic scenes to balance out the melancholy ones.

Hancock (2008)
This is a fun movie and the concept of a drunk, homeless super hero is full of comic possibilities. While I commend the filmmakers for trying to avoid all the cliche origin stories for Hancock, the explanation they did come up with is still not much better than the run-of-the-mill fare. Of course Will Smith puts in an entertaining performance, as always.

Coming up next: two men, some cows, and a cheerleader.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XVII

Swimming Pool (2003)
I remembered critics raving about this film when it came out, so when it popped up for viewing online on Netflix, I decided to check it out. It is both a strange mystery combined with the age-old story of two antagonists learning to care for each other. The ending is odd, and I'm not sure I know what it means, but it is fascinating to watch the relationship between the middle-aged mystery writer and the teenage daughter of her publisher change and grow over the course of the film.

Son of Rambow (2007)
This is a joyous film about friendship, childhood, imagination, and making movies. This is the story of two British schoolboys who team up to make a sequel to First Blood, and while the results are laughably silly, their unabashed enthusiasm for the project is infectious, and the whole thing ends up being a rollicking good time. The only thing I can say against it is that one of the boys is part of a religious sect that is sort of Amish-lite, and so we once again get the subplot of the overbearing, stifling religious conservatives keeping our heroes from experiencing life to the fullest with no balancing counter argument in sight.

Inside Man (2006)
I was immediately pulled in to this energetic tale of a bank heist. The audience is always kept guessing as the police and the thieves play mind games with each other. The payoff was disappointing in a mundane, run-of-the-mill kind of way, but it failed to detract very much from the trill ride of the rest of the movie.

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
No, this isn't a duplicate, this is a completely different movie with Sabu in the title role instead of Douglas Fairbanks. This is a gorgeous film full of eye-popping visuals, groundbreaking special effects, and a humorous genie. Taking story points from all over the Arabian Nights, the film weaves together a thrilling tale of wonder and magic that I highly recommend to any fan of fantasy films.

The Pirate (1948)
This movie was a joy to watch. Gene Kelly is hilarious as he pretends to be a notorious pirate in order to woo the adventuresome Judy Garland. The highlight of the film is the "Be a Clown" number which Gene Kelly performs with the Nicholas Brothers dancing duo. And for you Singin' in the Rain fans out there, "Make 'em Laugh" really is a blatant ripoff of "Be a Clown."

Coming up next: three love stories and two larger than life characters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XVI

The Fountain (2006)
Well, the visuals were great, but the time travel storyline that may or may not have been a dream made too little sense for me to recommend.

The Dark Knight (2008)
What can I say about this movie that has yet to be said? Not much, really. Just about the only criticism I have with the film is that with so many characters to follow, Bruce Wayne gets a little lost in the shuffle, especially disappointing since Batman Begins was so Bruce-centric. Other than that, it is a superbly created dark world, with more in common with a serial killer police drama than your standard comic book movie. Of course the Joker was perfectly realized as a man with no moral compass. I also liked seeing the Batman versus Bruce dichotomy play out, though it was much more subtle than I was hoping.

Casino Royale (1967)
What a piece of trash! There were very few laughs in this "comedy" and the plot was so disjointed it seemed that every scene was completely unconnected to the previous one. Even the presence of Peter Sellers, David Niven, Orson Welles, and Woody Allen could not save this film. If you see only one spy spoof movie, see Austin Powers.

Paths of Glory (1957)
Kirk Douglas turns in an electric performance in this grim tale of corruption within the French military during WWI.

She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Maybe I've become too desensitized due to overexposure, but I didn't find this film to be very risque, and it wasn't that funny either. Just about the only thing I can remember from the film was the song "She Done Him Wrong," mostly because I had just heard it performed on A Prairie Home Companion a couple days before.

Coming up next: two thieves and three entertainers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XV

Moonstruck (1987)
I like my romantic comedies to be fast and furious, so the ones that take their time, like Moonstruck, start out at a disadvantage. When the movie started I didn't care for the characters, but as the story progressed they started to grow on me. What resulted was an amusing little film about finding love in unlooked for places (though I would still rather watch Bringing Up Baby).

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Bigger, flashier, and now with 50% more creatures than the first one! Unfortunately, I liked the smaller-scale aspects of the first one better. The film provides a visually sumptuous feast, and as far as the look of things go, Guillermo del Toro does not disappoint. However, the added effects come at the expense of a more character-driven story. The questions of fate versus free will are almost nonexistent here, and the question of "Can a demon find salvation?" - the most compelling question of the Hellboy universe - is completely ignored. The film is still highly entertaining (especially playing "spot Doug Jones") and worth the price of admission.

Double Wedding (1937)
Here is another romantic comedy featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy. In what feels like a departure for their regular pairings, they are not married at the start of the film, but fight with each other until they finally realize how much they are in love. I think I am ready to declare Powell and Loy to be the greatest romantic comedy duo of all time.

Away from Her (2006)
A well-acted, melancholy tale of how Alzheimer's can destroy the lives of not only those with the disease, but their loved ones as well.

Explorers (1985)
I'm sure I would have liked this movie as a kid (I always liked stories with smart kids in them) but the story is a little too far fetched for me to take seriously.

Coming up next: Dark Fountain of Dark Royale.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIV

Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005)
After watching the trailer, in which actor Stephen Tobolowsky walks the streets, asking random passers by who Stephen Tobolowsky is, I expected an examination of celebrity and a celebration of supporting actors who keep popping up in films but whose names the public can never seem to remember. Instead, what I got was a series of stories told by Stephen Tobolowsky about his life. The stories ranged all over the place, from the time he went swimming with dolphins, to unfortunate encounters with drugs, to interactions with random people on the movie set. He is an accomplished storyteller, but I wish there had been some type of unifying thread to his completely unrelated stories.

Love Crazy (1941)
William Powell and Myrna Loy are a happily married couple until a series of innocent yet unfortunate events causes Myrna Loy's character to question her husband's love for her. What follows is one madcap situation after another, each eliciting more laughter than the previous one. The witty banter here between Powell and Loy is highly reminiscent of Nick and Nora from the Thin Man series, but without those pesky murder mysteries getting in the way of the comedy. It is easily one of my five favorite screwball comedies.

Li’l Abner (1940)
This is another "gem" from my 100 movie packs. It features Buster Keaton in a minor roll as an American Indian who would have the political correctness mafia up in arms if it were made today. While the look of a comic strip is admirably achieved, the story and characters are largely forgettable, especially for those who are not familiar with the Li'l Abner comic strip (like me).

Camelot (1967)
Ever since I received a book of King Arthur stories as a kid, I have been fascinated with the world of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately, all the King Arthur movies I have seen so far have been woefully inadequate in telling this epic tale: The Sword in the Stone (1963), while the best of the lot, only told the beginning of the story, Excalibur (1981) was too silly, First Knight (1995) bore little resemblance to the Arthur legends, and King Arthur (2004) was just an awful movie all around. So I was interested to see how the tale would react to getting the musical treatment. Well, the musical numbers were few and far between, and while I am writing this long after seeing the film, none of them were particularly memorable. Also, the large-scale production values I was expecting were surprisingly absent, with remarkably few characters to follow for such a long movie. Where the film does succeed, however, is in the characterizations of Arthur, Guinevere, Mordred, and, to some extent, Lancelot. Camelot presents them as people, each with his or her own sets of doubts, trying to make their mark in the world. Richard Burton's Arthur is particularly compelling as he tries to rule fairly a kingdom that was thrust upon him, trying to create a world in which even the weakest can live in peace. (Note: I do not count Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a King Arthur movie since it is satire, putting it in a separate class.)

National Velvet (1944)
This is a charming story featuring a radiant young Elizabeth Taylor and a fast-running, high-jumping horse. While the story is predictable, and no one in their right mind should name a horse Pie, it is still a classic, feel-good movie.

Coming up next: Her Double Struck Golden Explorers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIII

The Disorderly Orderly (1964)
This was my first foray into the films of Jerry Lewis and it was an interesting experience. There were some bizarre, surreal scenes that seemed out of place (at one point he goes to repair a television set with a "snowy" screen, and when he takes the cover off, copious amounts of actual snow come pouring out of it) and I was not charmed by Lewis' very broad humor. It ends with a wild chase scene that, while entertaining, falls to reach the perfection Disney achieved with the slapstick chase scene during the 60s. Overall it was mildly amusing, but I need to see at least one other Jerry Lewis film before I can say if I like him or not.

The Postman (1997)
This is not the travesty against cinema that most critics made it out to be, though it is far from flawless. It is much too long for its own good, and the main villain is too much of a broad caricature to be interesting. On the other hand, one man bringing about order and change to a chaotic world through something seemingly as innocuous as the mail is strangely compelling. Despite its faults it is still one of the better post-apocalyptic films, though with the vast majority of them being pretty wretched, that may not be saying much.

Paprika (2006)
Paprika, a therapist, fights crime by entering peoples' dreams. This opens the door for some wildly imaginative visuals that would make even Miyazaki jealous. While the rules of the world are not clearly defined (and occasionally completely ignored) the visuals alone make this film worth seeing as the audience is kept guessing while the film switches from the real world into dreams and back again. There is also a skillfully used carnival tune that, while cheery in its own right, comes to spell certain doom every time it is heard.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
While it does have moments of brilliance (Bill and Ted playing Battleship with Death) it strayed too often into over-the-top silliness. I'm still trying to figure out if any theological significance can be gleaned from their conversation with God.

Cat Ballou (1965)
A funny, unorthodox western romp, Cat Ballou features a lovely Jane Fonda, a gleefully drunken Lee Marvin, and a surprisingly effective (and quite unexpected) Greek chorus.

Coming up next: 5 more movies.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XII

Dishonored Lady (1947)
I bought a pack of 100 movies from Best Buy, and this is one of them. It is interesting to see some of the more run-of-the-mill films from early Hollywood, especially since most of the movies I’ve seen from before 1970 are either classics, or Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. The film was OK, and was my first exposure to Hedy Lamarr.

Tin Man (2007)
OK, so this isn't actually a movie, but I figure miniseries count as really long movies, so I'm including it. The ads that were splattered all over imdb sparked my interest, though I was expecting a darker, more twisted tale. What I did get was a highly enjoyable re-imagining of the story of The Wizard of Oz, with a slightly more science fiction take on the source material. All the performers were enjoyable in their roles, and while the CGI was less-than-stellar, the production design was dripping in imagination. While the ending was a little too convenient, it was overall a very fun ride and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a unique take on such iconic material.

Woman of the Year (1942)
This is my favorite pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Here they enter into a marriage with vastly different sets of expectations towards what marriage entails. In an interesting bit of role-reversal, Tracy understands the enormity of commitment that marriage entails while Hepburn finds it little more than a change in roommates. It all leads up to a very funny conclusion featuring some wonderful physical comedy from Hepburn and almost no dialog.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Douglas Fairbanks' physical prowess combined with imaginative visual effects and gorgeous set design make this a feast for the eyes.

Cronos (1993)
Guillermo del Toro takes on vampire mythology in a visually arresting story that is largely forgettable.

Coming next: four films with varying degrees of surreal events and one really long movie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XI

Rent (2005)
I saw this on stage several years ago and was interested to see how it translated to film. The story made more sense to me, but the cast singing "Seasons of Love" like at a concert over the opening credits added nothing. The music is amazing with several of the songs capable of getting stuck in my head. However the story is incredibly bleak: a group of broke New York artists try to eke out a living while dying of AIDS. They try to find some hope, but there isn’t any to be found where they are looking. I failed to see how such a bleak musical could capture a generation like Rent did when I saw it, and am no less baffled now. Maybe because my hope lies somewhere else.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indy is back, and while not better than ever, it is still an enjoyable ride. It starts out slow and a little too silly, but once Indy finally leaves America and starts his globetrotting, things really pick up all through the inevitably effects-filled climax. I was a little nervous when I heard Shia LaBeouf was going to be in it, but at this point it is his best role to date. My biggest disappointment with the film is we never get a really cool bad guy death like the face melting from Raiders or the instant aging from Last Crusade. Cate Blanchett should play more villains.

Unleashed (2005)
It was pretty much what I expected. Jet Li kicked butt. Morgan Freeman was wise and dignified. Bob Hoskins made himself a complete nuisance. Nothing special was learned about life or humanity.

Charlotte’s Web (2006)
It is a sweet story with convincing animals, but the only true highlight of the film is a pair of crows who just cannot figure out the whole scarecrow thing.

The Bank Job (2008)
The fact that it is inspired by actual events left me wondering how much was made up and how much actually happened. The whole thing is a rather enjoyable heist movie, but doesn’t bring anything new to the heist genre.

Coming up next: 2 female stories and 3 fantasies.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Slight Departure

Eomer posted a list of books that someone thinks everyone should read. The blog game is to mark each title as follows:
-Bold the ones I have read
-Italicize the ones I intend to read.
-Underline the books I love.
-(*) the books I hated.
-(+) the books I have seen the movie of. (My own personal variant of the list. I only count reputable/"definitive" adaptations of the books.)

1 +Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (I really ought to read at least something from Jane Austen)
2 +The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 +Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 +To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (I've seen The Ten Commandments, the Jesus film, and Super Book, does that count as seeing the movie?)
7 +Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (I started reading Golden Compass and couldn't get into it)
10 +Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (didn't get all the way through)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've seen The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged))
15 +Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 +The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (I've read The Time Machine, does that count?)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 +Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 *+The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 +The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 +Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 +Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 +The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 +Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 +Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 +Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 +Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 +Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 +Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (I intend to see the movie)
65 +Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (I did read a selection from it, but not the whole thing)
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (I was even bored by the abridged version)
71 +Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 +Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 +The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 +A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 +The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 *Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 +Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I think I've read enough Holmes to count, though I don't know if I've read all the stories in this volume)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (I don't think seeing Apocalypse Now counts as seeing the movie)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 +Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 +The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 +Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 +Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I'm a little surprised Mark Twain and H.G. Wells both failed to make the list, especially since Jane Austen and Charles Dickens combined for 10 of the entries.
I've read 33 of the books, and have seen the movie based on 31 of the books (and even more if you count duplicates like all four versions -counting Nosferatu - of Dracula I've seen and all three versions - counting the MST3K episode - of Hamlet I've seen).

Monday, November 10, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part X

Tokyo Story (1953)
This is the final film on Sight & Sound’s top 10 list for me to see. I don’t think I would consider it to be one of the greatest films ever made, but it was a satisfying viewing experience. It is the sad tale of an elderly Japanese couple who travel to a distant town to visit their children in post-WWII Japan. Sadly, the only one of their relatives who is truly glad to see them and not preoccupied with the inconvenience this visit causes is the wife of their dead son (who technically is not even a relative any more). The whole film is a little slow moving, and I felt the third act was redundant, but overall it is an interesting look into Japanese lifestyle in the years shortly following WWII.

Iron Man (2008)
I haven’t read any Iron Man comics nor been interested in them and the trailers of the film weren’t terribly compelling, so I had very little in the way of expectations when I watched this movie, other than good word of mouth. I enjoyed it. There was a good balance of thrills, laughs, and character. It is by no means the greatest comic book movie ever made, but I would rank it slightly ahead of the X-Men films.

Spartacus (1960)
I liked the training sequences, the ambitious battle scenes, and the scenes showing the Roman officials debating how to deal with the slaves’ uprising. I did not like the overlong dialog scenes, the overabundance of characters to keep track of, and the pointless "snails and oysters" scene. Also the film wandered around for fifteen minutes, unsure of how to end itself.

Mean Streets (1973)
My roommate walked in while I was watching the movie. "What’s happened?" "Nothing." "You just started?" "No, I’m an hour in." And it was downhill from there. I have never enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s exercises in ugliness, but this one didn’t even have a plot to pretend to engage me. I should give some credit to some interesting camera work, but all the fancy camera work in the world is useless unless it is showing something worth looking at.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
When I watched this movie it was the most unique movie-watching experience I have ever had for one simple reason: this is the first time I have watched a movie for which I have tried to write a screenplay. A few years ago I started writing a screenplay for Prince Caspian mostly just to see if I could do it, and got about halfway through before I lost interest. But it made me keenly aware of all the problem parts in the book. Sure there were several things Adamson and Co. could have done better, but it was surprising how many times they took the film in directions I was trying to go. Overall it made me much more forgiving of every time they strayed from Lewis’ written word, and more often than not the movie was better for it. Now it will be interesting to see how they tackle the episodic nature of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Coming up next: movies inspired by a Broadway musical, an 80's adventure movie, a children's book, real life events, and nothing in particular.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part IX

I need to post these faster. There are only two months left in the year.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)
I did like seeing a conservative film taking the Michael Moore approach to an issue, this time being intelligent design versus evolution, but the downside is that it ended up preaching to the choir, with naysayers dismissing it as right-wing propaganda. I did think it was rather ironic that in the final interview with noted atheist Richard Dawkins, Dawkins was adamant that there is no God, and anyone who would believe in a creator is an utter fool, but he seemed quite excited that life on this planet started through alien seeding. Gee, that sounds a lot like intelligent design to me...

Carnival of Souls (1962)
I can see why this film is a cult classic. It has some wonderful visuals, and the carnival is rather creepy, but the story is the type of thing Roger Corman would cook up, keeping it from rising much above B-movie territory.

The Public Enemy (1931)
In my attempt to educate myself on early gangster pictures, I started with this one, and was not disappointed. James Cagney is at once both charismatic and utterly vile as Tom Powers, a young man who gets mixed up in the mob which leads inevitably to his death. I had heard about the shocking violence in the film, and was surprised at how little I was shocked by the whole thing, but that is because this one was the trend-setter, and I have seen a multitude of later imitations.

Beauty and the Beast (1946)
The visuals in this film are amazing. Jean Cocteau creates a wonderful world that exists halfway between dreams and reality, with the beast’s castle acting as one of the main characters in the film. Everything in the castle is alive, and the long corridors lit by dozens of human arms holding candelabras is wonderfully visually evocative. Even if you don’t care for the story, this film is worth watching strictly for its visuals.

Arthur (1981)
I had been told that Dudley Moore is one of the great funny drunks in this movie, but frankly I found him merely obnoxious and embarrassing. Fortunately for me, once he sobered up, he was quite funny. Liza Minnelli plays her standard free-spirited role, who causes Arthur to grow up just by being herself (as opposed to Arthur’s fiancee who is one of those annoyingly delusioned women who think they can change a man by marrying him). Of course the true great performance in the film is John Gielgud who is hilarious as Arthur’s British butler and manages to have an even drier wit than even John Cleese could manage.

Coming up next: 3 overrated classics (one vastly, one minorly) and two summer blockbusters.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part VIII

The Natural (1984)
This fantasy/love letter to baseball mostly works, with a wonderful performance by Robert Redford and a great score. However, too many plot points are either contrived or completely unexplained for it to get my ringing endorsement.

The Guns of Navarone (1961)
This film has a lot in common with The Dirty Dozen, featuring a ragtag group of soldiers who embark on a potentially futile mission during WWII. However, with the exception of David Niven’s eccentric explosives expert, none of the characters are particularly memorable. The climax is thrilling, but the plot meanders too much in the second act.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was definitely not expecting an amateur production with unexciting slapstick fights, vampires preying on lesbians, Jesus joining forces with a Mexican wrestler, and the occasional musical number from out of the blue (one of which I am sure was inspired by "Every Sperm is Sacred" from The Meaning of Life). The production values are shoddy, the script is on par with your average student film, and overall the film is more dumb than sacrilegious (which says more about its intelligence than its theology).

The Great McGinty (1940)
I suppose it was groundbreaking in its time with its views on politics, but I didn’t find its social commentary particularly biting, and it was not nearly as funny as Preston Sturges’ other works. Overall it is a well made film, but disappointing when compared to the rest of the Sturges canon.

Hudson Hawk (1991)
I had heard conflicting opinions of this film: some have said it is a travesty against cinema (it did win the Razzie for worst picture) while others have said it is actually a good, fun movie. It has a couple interesting ideas (most notably using objects on site to facilitate the heists instead of having a backpack full of high tech gadgets) but is very silly (the bad guys are trying to reassemble a gold-making machine that Leonardo da Vinci invented and disassembled because it would mean the end of the world as we know it). It almost works as a parody of action films (akin to Last Action Hero) but is still fairly dumb and way over the top. Ultimately, if you are able to turn your mind off to the absurdities of the plot, you get a mostly enjoyable 100 minutes of forgettable entertainment. Think Van Helsing.

Coming up next: A couple rich spoiled brats who change after meeting a woman.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part VII

I know some of you are still waiting for the final Batman installment, but it's been much more difficult than I thought to drag the short circuits in my brain out onto the page. In the meantime, here are some movies I saw way back in February.

The Dish (2000)
This is a pleasant little Australian film that chronicles how the crew of a satellite dish in the middle of nowhere, Australia find themselves the center of attention when they are named the primary relay station for Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk. There are plenty of quirky characters to go around and some surprisingly dramatic moments as well. The film also wonderfully captures how amazing it was at the time for a man not only to walk on the moon but to then come home, and the uncertainty of whether we would be able to pull it off.

Amazing Grace (2006)
It is nice to see Hollywood making movies with Christians as the main characters, doing what they can to live Godly lives. I suppose it helps that our hero is both a rebel and a civil rights activist (two things Hollywood eats up). While the film is overall pretty good, there is no reason for the story to be told out of chronological order, and it actually takes away from getting a good idea of the ups and downs of William Wilberforce’s career.

The Edge (1997)
Man is his own worst enemy!

Dracula (1958)
(Also called Horror of Dracula.) While it sports lush colors and features the perfectly cast Christopher Lee as Dracula, it lacks the atmosphere of both Nosferatu and the 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, and lacks the sheer cinematic qualities of Coppola’s Dracula.

Pot o’ Gold (1941)
This is a fun little comedy bordering on being a musical starring James Stewart that is of little consequence but is enjoyable while it lasts.

Coming up next: A Razzie winner and one that should have gotten a Razzie.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Batman Perpetuated

In this movie we see more of the battle between Bruce Wayne and Batman. The film is also an examination of crime, justice, and punishment. As the movie starts, things seem to be going well. Batman has just apprehended crime boss Sal Maroni. Harvey Dent wants to prosecut him to the fullest extent of the law, but Commissioner Gordon wants to try to broker a deal with Maroni. They have suspicions that Maroni is actually in the employ of a much larger crime boss (Oswald Cobblepot) but they don't have sufficient evidence. Dent has taken to carrying the coin that Bruce gave him around with him, constantly playing with it. Dent proceeds to prosecute Maroni, but during one fateful court session, Maroni throws acid in Dent's face, scarring his left side. Some of the acid also makes it onto the coin, marring one of its sides. Dent is rushed to the hospital, but runs out before they can do any sort of reconstructive surgery on him. That night he breaks into prison and confronts Maroni. Maroni informs him that he is working on a deal with Gordon to give him enough information to implicate Cobblepot in exchange for complete immunity, and because of that Dent can't touch him. Dent replies that he'll let fate decide. He pulls out the coin and flips it. It falls damaged side up. Dent kills Maroni and escapes. Two-Face is born, and now Batman is forced to track down Bruce's friend and bring him to justice. Meanwhile in other parts of Gotham, the beautiful Selina Kyle, catburgler extrordinaire, is inspired by the heroics of the caped crusader and decides to take up her own version of masked crime fighting as Catwoman. Of course she does things her own way. She will break into the corporate safes and send the incriminating documents to the police, but she keeps the cash and jewels that are also stored there. She ends up teaming up with Batman, though their's is a strained relationship. He doesn't like her using crime fighting for her personal gain, and she isn't too thrilled with his no killing philosophy. The each end up knowing who the other person is in real life, but that only serves to complicat matters. Selina likes Batman, but thinks Bruce is a loser, while Bruce likes Selina, but cannot condone her actions as Catwoman. This movie is also the one where we get the Riddler. I've always thought that the Riddler seemed like a Joker wannabe, so I figured I would play with that idea for this movie. We get Edward Nigma (who might have been one of Joker's henchmen) who decides that since the Joker is imprisoned, he is the heir apparent to Joker. He leaves clues to his crimes, partly to taunt Batman, partly to prove that he is so brilliant, he can still outsmart Batman even with Batman getting clues. (I'm not sure what happens to him in the end. Maybe he joins forces with Two-Face, but that seems a little too Batman Forever for me. Maybe he tries to join forces with Two-Face, but Two-Face just shoots him. Either way, he is more of a minor villain here.) Meanwhile, Two-Face is busy tracking down all the people who he prosecuted but received a "not guilty" verdict, regardless of their actual innocence. He lets the coin decide if they live or die. Batman (with the help of Catwoman) tracks down Two-Face, and in the final confrontation, he kills Two-Face. I'm sure many Batman fans would be up in arms about this, saying that Batman would never kill anyone, but the way I see it, while Bruce Wayne would definitely never kill anyone, Batman would. Bruce is horrified with what Batman did (after all, he and Dent were friends). Catwoman tries to convince Batman that what he did was right. "Think of all the people he would have killed, had you not stopped him." Batman tells her to leave him and never come back. The end of the movie leaves us with Bruce almost gone; serving only as the shell for Batman. This is definitely intended to be the darkest of the films.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Batman Continued

With the new Batman movie coming out this summer, I thought it might be interesting to provide you, my heroic readers, with the direction I would take the movie series if I were running things instead of Christopher Nolan, though using Batman Begins as a starting point. I'm also trying to figure out how to work several mainstay Batman characters into this more realistic world. Unfortunately, I can't come up with a good way of completing my story arc in just two movies (creating a Batman trilogy), so we're looking at my own trilogy (though if my movies are any good, I don't think too many people would mind getting an extra one). This was going to be just one post, but since I ended up being more verbose than I expected, and actually fleshed out the stories more than I intended, you get three posts over the next couple weeks.

Batman Continued
One of the running themes of Batman Begins (BB) is wearing masks and identity, so that is something I plan to play with here. We get Jack Napier, newly escaped from Arkham, who already has a thing for jokers. In response to Bruce dressing up as a bat, Jack dons the persona of the Joker, putting on makeup to conduct his dastardly deeds. But, in a confrontation with Batman, he ends up falling in the infamous vat of chemicals, which fuses the makeup to his skin, permanently giving him the ghastly parody of a grin, and of course pushing him even further over the edge. Meanwhile, Bruce starts to build a relationship with District Attourney Harvey Dent, and has a working relationship with him as Batman as well. I figure they are introduced to each other by Rachel Dawes, who then becomes on of the Joker's first victims. We are also introduced to Oswald Cobblepot, a short, fat man with pointy features who is the second-richest man in Gotham (after Bruce of course) and has a thing for novelty umbrellas. His Penguin Industries is getting a recent surge in revenue (and is threatening to overtake Wayne Enterprises as the largest company in Gotham) due to his taking over a large part of Falconi's underworld empire. He is here more as a villain for Bruce and Lucius Fox than Batman. There is some sort of shady business deal that Lucius and Bruce thwart, though Lucius is finding it more and more difficult to contact Bruce since he is spending so much time playing Batman. Batman uses his detective skills to track down where the Joker's hideout is, and as he is consulting with Harvey Dent and (not yet commissioner) Gordon about the final plans of assault on Joker's base, Dent tells Batman that since Joker is a mass-murderer, clearly a homicidal maniac, he would have no problem if Batman just killed Joker instead of apprehending him. Of course Batman is successful in infiltrating the Joker's lair, and in the final confrontation with Joker, beats him to a pulp, more brutally than necessary. As Joker is lying on the ground with Batman looming over him, he says something to the effect of, "Go ahead, kill me." Batman stops the beating, says "I don't kill people," and drags Joker off to the authorities. Joker laughs the whole way. He is locked in Arkham while awaiting trial, and as we pull away from Arkham, he is still laughing. Dent is upset at Batman for not killing Joker when he had the chance since the law will not allow him to execute someone who is mentally ill. In an epilogue we learn that Gordon has been named the new commissioner, and Bruce gives Dent a commemorative silver coin as a gift. In BB, Bruce creates Batman to be a tool to do the things that Bruce can't, but in this one, we start to see the Batman persona start to take increasingly more and more of his time and energy, pushing Bruce further to the sidelines.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part VI

Oh boy, I'm really behind on getting these out. I have about 15 more reviews to still release, plus another 15 or so to write. Must... get... cracking...

D-War (2007)
Where do I start with a movie like this? The story is silly, the screenplay is laughable, the acting is almost entirely wooden, none of the characters act believably, half the scenes end abruptly without any sort of reasonable conclusion, and to top it all off, it’s a story that is about Korean mythology with reincarnated Koreans, that takes place solely in modern day Los Angeles, with only one (minor) character who is Asian of any kind. But wait, there’s more! Not only is Los Angeles being attacked by two dueling dragons, there is also an ancient Korean overlord (who looks as un-Korean as anyone can look) whose sole purpose is to look menacing as a Sauron wannabe while he makes the blade of his sword appear magically from its hilt. He also commands hoards of undead soldiers that appear inexplicably out of nowhere and headquarters in a castle (wha?) that is another complete ripoff of Lord of the Rings. Of all the films I’ve seen from 2007, this one would make the best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, and I fully expect to see a Rifftrax available for it very soon.

Silent Running (1972)
It is an interesting look at one man’s obsession, and the lengths he will go to to keep the things he finds most valuable from being destroyed. I liked the interplay between our hero and his robot pals, and the film has an interesting look. On the other hand, it suffers from 1970's minimalist story syndrome, and many of the decisions our hero makes don’t follow logically from the story.

The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The film tells the rousing story of a group of misfit soldiers who elect to go on a suicide mission during WWII in lieu of serving out their prison sentences. While we don’t get a full look at each member of the titular dozen, the film does a wonderful job juggling its large cast in a way that we still get to know most of the twelve. Lee Marvin lights up the screen in every scene, and watching the film makes me want to check out more of his extensive work. The film has a lot in common with The Great Escape: a war movie that feels like a comedy until the third act when the tension ratchets up several notches, leading to a sobering ending that still does not seem out of place.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Once I was able to get over Freddie Highmore’s sporadically successful attempt at an American accent, I was drawn into a world where magical beings live just beyond our perceptions. The film has a wonderful visual flair to it, and the creatures get enough screen time to keep me from feeling cheated out of some good otherworldliness, but not so much that it felt like one giant CG lovefest. My biggest complaint is that in the end, when all the interpersonal family conflict is being resolved, it is done through heavy-handed, unnatural dialog, bordering on preachy. Remember, when it comes to movies: show, don’t tell.

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
I saw a high school production of the musical back in eight grade, and was interested to revisit the story. The movie started pretty well, with a couple imaginatively produced musical numbers (especially one involving lots of phone calls) but as the story progressed, there was less and less to distinguish it from other musicals of the time, and the Elvis Presley parody got old by the end.

Coming up next: A hodgepodge of films that have very little in common.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reactions to AFI's 10 Top 10

Well, it was an enjoyable evening watching the broadcast counting down ten top 10 lists, with several cries of both joy and dismay from all parties. So without further ado, my conscientious readers, here are my thoughts on the AFI 10 Top 10.

Will Be #1: 6 for 10 (2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) over Star Wars (1977) upsets me, but I am quite pleased Annie Hall (1977) did not take #1.)
Should Be#1: 4 for 10 (I enjoy being a contrarian, what can I say?)
Should But Won't: 10 for 10 (I guess I'm good at predicting what films won't be included.)
Will But Shouldn't: 6 or 8 for 10 (I said Field of Dreams (1989) would make the sports list, but it made the fantasy list, and I said Adam's Rib (1949) would make the courtroom drama list, but it made the romantic comedy list.)

As I predicted, only one non-Disney/Pixar film made the cut, though I am a little surprised that Shrek (2001) ended up being the the lone renegade. I thought The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) would have squeaked in, if only to represent stop-motion animation. And I am VERY happy that Happy Feet (2006) did not make it. This is also one of only two top 10 lists for which I've seen all ten films.
Film that Scored Way Too High: Bambi (1942) at #3 - An overrated story with a bland main character, the message of which is, "Humans are evil." The Fox and the Hound (1981) would have been a much better bad hunter choice.
Most Glaring Omission: Sleeping Beauty (1959) - It is the first Disney film to have a more stylized look, makes wonderful use of Tchaikovsky's music, and has one of the most frightening villains of all time. I had this one pegged to make the top 5.

I am pretty disappointed in this list. There are way too many films (6) on the list that are minimalist fantasy. Two of them the fantasy elements can almost be explained away - Harvey (1950, he's crazy, Harvey doesn't exist) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947, he's delusioned, there is no Santa Claus) - and for two of them, the fantasy elements are merely storytelling gimmicks - Big (1988, a boy wakes up in a man's body) and Groundhog Day (1993, a man lives the same day over and over). Not to belittle any of these films (except Miracle on 34th Street) but none of them contain the amount of wonder that The Dark Crystal (1982), Edward Scissorhands (1990) or The Princess Bride (1987) have. It was cool to see a silent film - The Thief of Bagdad (1924) - make the list. Now I really have to watch it.
Film that Scored Way Too High: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) at #5 - Let's perpetuate the lie that once a year a man breaks into your house, leaving goodies, stealing only baked goods and dairy products, but only if you maintain certain unspecified behavioral patterns.
Most Glaring Omission: Jason and the Argonauts (1963) - There are so many films that I wanted to make the list but didn't, it was hard to pick just one, but I go with Jason because I thought for sure at least one spot would go to Ray Harryhausen, and the scene where Jason fights an army of skeletons is downright cool.

The list pretty much fell out how I thought it would, though I thought there would be at least one film without a downer ending (Some Like it Hot (1959) would have been the choice here). I'm also surprised that Once Upon a Time in America (1984) failed to take a spot on the list.
Film that Scored Way Too High: The Godfather Part II (1974) - It's too long, and comes up woefully short of the original.
Most Glaring Omission: Touch of Evil (1958) - Sometimes it surprises me how little love Orson Welles seems to get from AFI.

Science Fiction
This list turned out pretty much the way I expected. We have a couple 80's joyrides - E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Back to the Future (1985) - a couple intelligent 50's films - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a 90's effects extravaganza - Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) - and of course the mainstays of Star Wars (1977), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Blade Runner (1982). Also, if you discount A Clockwork Orange (1970), which I refuse to see, I have seen all the films in this list.
Film that Scored Way Too High: 2001: A Space Odyssey at #1 - Number 1 over Star Wars?! Are you kidding me!? (As you can tell, I am mildly irked at the ordering at the top of the list.)
Most Glaring Omission: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - Spielberg's surprisingly realistic tale of a visit from benevolent aliens is too unique to be left off this list.

Well, as I feared there were too many revisionist westerns on the list. The biggest surprise for me was seeing Blazing Saddles (1974) fail to make the list. I thought for sure we would get it as the lone comedy (though I am told that Cat Ballou (1965) is a comedy). The list did give me three films to see that I haven't yet.
Film that Scored Way Too High: Unforgiven (1992) at #4 - What is the anti-western doing in the top 5?
Most Glaring Omission: The Magnificent Seven (1960) - This is the ultimate western, has a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, and is so often imitated, it has almost become cliche.

We get feel-good movies across the board, except for number one. I guess that's why Raging Bull (1980) took the top spot over Rocky (1976), since it's unique in that the main character is unlikeable and fails to triumph over adversity. Other than that, a pretty straightforward list all around.
Film that Scored Way Too High: Caddyshack (1980) at #7 - Happy Gilmore (1996) would have been a better choice for a golf movie, and I hate Adam Sandler.
Most Glaring Omission: The Freshman (1925) - It is one of the sweetest movies I have seen, but Harold Lloyd gets even less love from AFI than Buster Keaton.

We get four Hitchcock movies: Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954), North by Northwest (1959), and Dial M for Murder (1954). Unfortunately, neither of the two films on the nominees list that wish they were Hitchcock films - Charade (1963) and Gaslight (1944) - made the list. This is the other list for which I have seen all ten films.
Film that Scored Way Too High: Blue Velvet (1986) at #8 - There isn't much of a mystery here, and the plot centers on Dennis Hopper being mean to everyone, and being a generally unpleasant person.
Most Glaring Omission: The Thin Man (1934) - This would be both the only comedy on the list and the only one featuring a "I suppose you're wondering why I called you all here" scene. Also, the chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy is exquisite.

Romantic Comedy
I know I am biased, but I think only two films from the 30's (with one of them being City Lights (1931), a silent film) is a travesty. Where are The Awful Truth (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), or My Man Godfrey (1936)? While I am pleased to see a (mostly) silent film take number one, I don't know if City Lights really counts as a romantic comedy. Sure it has romance and comedy, but the comedy is not derived from the romantic pickles the lovers find themselves in; instead the scenes of romance are almost entirely laugh-free.
Film that Scored Way Too High: Adam's Rib (1949) at #7 - The romance aspects in this film are a little weak in my opinion, and the film would have been better served to be on the courtroom drama list. If they were going to go with a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn film, Woman of the Year (1942) would have been a much better choice.
Most Glaring Omission: Bringing Up Baby (1938) - Sure it may be a little light on the romance, but it more than makes up for it in the comedy aspects.

Courtroom Drama
Having seen so few of the nominees, I was surprised to see that I have seen seven of the top 10. The pick that took me completely by surprise was A Cry in the Dark (1988), mostly because I had never even heard of it. I'm also surprised Inherit the Wind (1960) did not make the list. I haven't seen it, but I thought the AFI would surely go for a film that honors the pioneers who brought the gospel of evolution into our schools. This list is the one I was least invested in, and most ambivalent towards the outcome.
Film that Scored Way Too High: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) at #1 - Only because 12 Angry Men (1957) should have been number one.
Most Glaring Omission: A funny one - The seven films I did see on the list were all pretty dour, and the three I did not see looked even more so.

There were not many surprises here; pretty much all the major players got some representation. The biggest surprise for me was that David Lean only got one film on the list - Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - when I thought Doctor Zhivago (1965) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) were shoe-ins to be included. I was also pleasantly surprised to see The Ten Commandments (1956) make the list.
Film that Scored Way Too High: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) at #7 - Sure it is an important film in the history of cinema, but it has aged poorly, and is very preachy by today's standards.
Most Glaring Omission: Intolerance (1916) - D. W. Griffith wrote the book on epic filmmaking with this movie, with the Babylon storyline featuring some of the most lavish sets ever made for a film. It's inclusion would have also added to the ranks of the already too underrepresented silent films.

Even though they made lots of mistakes in compiling these lists, I can't complain too much, because when all is said and done, I now have 16 (not counting A Clockwork Orange) films to seek out.

You can see all 10 Top 10 lists at Also, you can find them other places by googling "AFI 10 Top 10."

Monday, June 16, 2008

AFI's 10 Top 10

Tomorrow the American Film Institute will unveil its latest top 100 list. Last year they did the top 100 American films of all time, and previously they've done the top 100 comedies, romances, thrills and chills, and songs. So what could be left after all these lists? Well there are several genres that deserve mention but do not have enough films to warrant a top 100 list of their own. So this year the AFI is taking ten of these genres and compiling 10 Top 10 lists. So without further ado, I give you, my cataloged readers, my thoughts on each list along with the film I think will come in at number one, the one I think should be number one, a film that I think should make the list but won't, and one film that I think shouldn't make the list but will.

Looking at the list of nominees, is is pretty much a roll call of all the Disney and Pixar films. In fact, only 16 of the 50 nominees are not Disney, Pixar, or Touchstone. And I think the final 10 will reflect this as well. I predict only one film in the top ten will be from a non-Disney (or Disney connected) studio, with An American Tale (1986) and The Secret of Nimh (1982) being the most likely candidates. I have also managed to see all but 4 of the 50 nominees, making this list the one I am most qualified to have an opinion on.
Will Be #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - It's the first full-length animated feature, has many iconic characters and songs, and the animation is still top-notch.
Should Be #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - See above.
Should But Won't: The Incredibles (2004) - It has surprisingly mature themes, yet is still accessible to kids, but as great as their films are, I don't see Pixar scoring more than two spots on the list, and those spots are most likely going to Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003).
Will But Shouldn't: The Lion King (1994) - An underwhelming rip-off of Bambi (1942, which wasn't that great either), it made too much money at the box office to not be included.

Courtroom Drama
These are really more like Legal Dramas as several of the nominees spend very little time in the courtroom, but have lawyers as main characters (The Client (1994) and The Pelican Brief (1993) for instance). I have only seen 16 of the nominated films, so I am interested in seeing how this list turns out.
Will Be #1: 12 Angry Men (1957) - It is the ultimate courtroom film, with all but the last scene taking place within the confines of the courtroom. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) might unseat it as Mockingbird is widely considered the better film, but the courtroom aspects of the film are a much smaller part of the story.
Should Be #1: 12 Angry Men (1957) - Over 90% of the film takes place in just one room, and yet it is completely engaging and never dull.
Should But Won't: There are no candidates that really stand out to me.
Will But Shouldn't: Adam's Rib (1949) - AFI will get a kick out of putting a comedy on this otherwise very serious list, but the battle of the sexes themes turn me off.

Biblical films abound on the list of nominees, with seven telling the story of Jesus in some form or fashion: Ben-Hur (1926 & 1959), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Intolerance (1916), The King of Kings (1927), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and The Passion of the Christ (2004). While I think the second Ben-Hur and Intolerance will make the final cut, the list will be heavily slanted towards more military fare.
Will Be #1: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - A sweeping story combined with a larger-than-life protagonist and camera work that can only be fully appreciated in 70mm make Lawrence the epic that all others are judged by. Gone With the Wind (1939) runs a close second.
Should Be #1: Ben-Hur (1959) - The chariot race at the end is one of the greatest action pieces ever committed to film, and it features one of the best portrayals of Jesus as well.
Should But Won't: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - It handles both action-packed sea battles and intimate character drama with equal excellence.
Will But Shouldn't: Doctor Zhivago (1965) - Hey, let's celebrate an extramarital affair and put an annoying film score behind it!

This has my favorite list of nominees, with several of my favorite films of all time on it. I have also seen 36 of the films on the list, and of those 36, only 4 get a "thumbs down" from me. It also has a very wide range of films on it, from the epic, immersive The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), to the almost entirely effects-free It's a Wonderful Life (1946), from the bright and happy Mary Poppins (1964) to the dark and twisted Brazil (1985).
Will Be #1: The Wizard of Oz (1939) - It creates the world of Oz in radiant Technicolor, contains several immediately recognizable songs and quotes, and has embedded itself into American society more than any other film in history.
Should Be #1: The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Even though Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite film on the list, I have to vote for Oz for the above reasons.
Should But Won't: Mary Poppins (1964) - I don't see the AFI picking a happy Disney kids' musical, even considering its many memorable songs and eye-popping effects. (I'm going out on a limb and optimistically saying that The Princess Bride (1987) will make the list.)
Will But Shouldn't: Ghost (1990) - This film is so dumb, I don't see how anybody likes it, yet it cleaned house at the box office.

The gangster genre has been woefully underrepresented in my film watching history, so I am definitely looking forward to seeing what makes the list so I have a better guide on what to check out.
Will Be #1: The Godfather (1972) - The question here is not "Will The Godfather come in at number one?" but "Will Godfather I and II go numbers one and two?"
Should Be #1: The Godfather (1972) - Mention the phrase "mob boss," and I think most people will get an image in their heads of either Al Capone or of Marlon Brando stroking a cat.
Should But Won't: Oscar (1991) - Normally the words "Sylvester Stallone" and "comedy" are not included in the same sentence, but this comedy about a mobster who tries to go straight is a riot.
Will But Shouldn't: The Godfather Part II (1974) - It is dark and depressing, and borrows far too much from the first Godfather. Besides, with only ten films making the final cut, how about a little variety?

With 9 Hitchcock films on the list of nominees, I wouldn't be terribly upset if the final 10 included all 9 Hitchcocks and either The Thin Man (1934) or Charade (1963). Of course that's not going to happen, but I can dream, can't I? I do expect both Vertigo (1958) and Rear Window (1954) to make the list, and North by Northwest (1959) could squeak in as well.
Will Be #1: Vertigo (1958) - Critics drool (and rightfully so) over Hitchcock's dark tale of obsession and intrigue, full of twists and turns. The Maltese Falcon (1941), the ultimate film noir, will run a close second and could edge out Vertigo for the top spot.
Should Be #1: Vertigo (1958) - Few movies have sucked me in as well as Vertigo did on my first viewing.
Should But Won't: Memento (2001) - Thought this film should get plenty of consideration, there are too many Hitchcock and film noir movies on the nominee list for it to crack the top 10.
Will But Shouldn't: Chinatown (1974) - It is one of the best crafted screenplays ever written, but the film is so nihilistic that I can't stand it.

Romantic Comedy
AFI did both a romance list and a comedies list with many films overlapping between the lists, so this category seems a little redundant. A live-action children's film top 10 list would have been interesting (with The Wizard of Oz (1939) and E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) coming in at numbers one and two) but they didn't ask me. I'm hoping the list is filled with screwball comedies from the 30's and 40's, as those are some of my favorite films.
Will Be #1: Annie Hall (1977) - Critics inexplicably can't get enough of neurotic Woody Allen and space cadet Diane Keaton.
Should Be #1: The Philadelphia Story (1940) - Great comedy, good romance, and the greatest 3 star billing of all time with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. It edges out Bringing Up Baby (1938) for me, because while Baby has more laughs, Story does the romance better, and it's more essential to the plot.
Should But Won't: Our Hospitality (1923) - This is probably Buster Keaton's best romance, so it gets my vote over The General (1927). Tragically, Keaton is completely absent from the list of 50 nominees. Also missing is the equally valid The Princess Bride (1987).
Will But Shouldn't: Annie Hall (1977) - Two people who love each other but are unable to make adjustments for the other person. Sounds more like a tragedy than a comedy to me.

Science Fiction
I have seen 40 of the 50 nominees, making it my second most watched list after animation. It will be interesting to see how the more high art films dealing with ideas and philosophies like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) balance out with the ones more interested in giving the audience a good time like Jurassic Park (1993).
Will Be #1: Star Wars (1977) - It introduced the world to a fully realized universe that audiences had never seen before, made huge strides in the business of movie special effects, became the template for the Summer blockbuster, and is still the second-highest grossing film in America. And it's highly entertaining.
Should Be #1: Star Wars (1977) - See above.
Should But Won't: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - It didn't even make the short list! It is one of the best sequels of all time (that might make an interesting top 10 list as well) and takes all the fun of the first Star Wars and adds more serious and darker elements to it.
Will But Shouldn't: 2001: A Space Odyssey - Monkeys jump around, playing with bones. Then a space ship docks and there is a long conversation about something. Then a computer kills a crew member and is then killed by the final crew member. Then there is an acid trip. Then the credits roll. How is this a great film!?

An underdog comes out of nowhere, makes a big splash, all of which leads up to a final competition. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Will Be #1: Rocky (1976) - No other movie follows the above formula more iconically than Rocky, and a best picture Oscar doesn't hurt, either. I also expect Raging Bull (1980) to take the number 2 spot. This does not make me happy, as I don't care for boxing, or boxing movies, at all.
Should Be #1: Hoosiers (1986) - After attending a small school in rural Indiana, I have a certain affinity for this film. Rudy (1993), another Indiana film, scores high for me as well.
Should But Won't: The Sandlot (1993) - This love letter to baseball that features a bunch of kids playing baseball simply for the fun of it did not even make the short list. Grr!
Will But Shouldn't: Field of Dreams (1989) - It was a tossup for me between this one and Raging Bull, but Field wins out simply because it is so dumb. What scares me is that Field of Dreams might be the only baseball movie to make the list.

I have only seen 17 of the nominated films, making this my second-least seen category. I have not seen very many westerns at all, so I am really excited to see what westerns AFI will recommend to me. I just hope they don't go overboard with the revisionist westerns, filling the top 10 with Unforgiven (1992) and its thematic cousins.
Will Be #1: The Searchers (1956) - A classic journey tale with Monument Valley as the backdrop. It also inspired many of today's filmmakers, most notably George Lucas, who watched it constantly while making Star Wars (1977). If the voters are more in the mood for a smaller, more personal film, High Noon (1952) could take over the top spot.
Should Be #1: Stagecoach (1939) - This is a wonderful ensemble piece with heroes and villains taking various shapes and sizes. The Magnificent Seven (1960) comes in at a close second for me since it best follows the conventions of a western.
Should But Won't: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - I don't know why this one failed to make the list of nominees: it has an American cast and was at least partially made by an American film company. It has more atmosphere and style in five minutes than most westerns have over their entire running time.
Will But Shouldn't: The Searchers (1956) - None of the characters are particularly compelling, the passage of time is conveyed only through dialog, and, while I am not one to be overly sensitive of racial attitudes in film, I found John Ford's treatment of the American Indians to be overly broad and degrading.

All ten lists of 50 nominees are available for download at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part V

The Sugarland Express (1974)
The Sugarland Express represented the final film from Steven Spielberg I hadn’t seen yet, so watching it gave me the sense of finality that I’ve now managed to see all of Spielberg’s films, but it was also bittersweet in that there are now no more films of his for me to watch (other than new ones, and I’m definitely looking forward to Indiana Jones 4 this summer). The film was surprisingly funny, and the chase across Texas, with a continually increasing number of police cars involved, is a sight to behold.
(Yes, I wrote this a couple months ago.)

March of the Penguins (2005)
I’m sure the Antarctic vistas would be much more spectacular when blown up to I-Max proportions, but watching it on my small screen at home, all I got out of it was a fun, entertaining, and informative documentary that never quite rises above the rest of the nature documentary crowd.

Michael Clayton (2007)
I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this legal thriller that has very much in common with standard John Grisham fare. George Clooney puts in an excellent performance as a lawyer whose job it is to clean up his colleagues’ legal messes. The cause of this particular mess is Tom Wilkinson, a defense attorney who, after going off his medications, starts saying things he shouldn’t be saying, and is a wonderful performance as well. The ending took me by surprise, and yet was completely believable given the characters and motivations.

La Vie en rose (2007)
I watched this film knowing nothing about French singer Edith Piaf, and one the film was over, all I knew was she had a big voice, liked to drink, and loved a married boxer. The story is annoyingly told out of chronological order, so there is no sense of when anything is happening and what has already happened. People pop in and out of Edith’s life with no explanation as to where they went or how they came back. Just when things start to get interesting, the film jumps to a completely different time period with no common thread to tie the scenes together. It is as if the editor misread the slates, and when they said "Day 1" he thought they meant "Scene 1," so edited the film in the order in which it was shot. And to make matters worse, half the film is woefully underlit. Granted, I watched the film on my computer screen which is already dark, but when half the scenes are at night (for no apparent reason) or in dimly lit interiors, the fault is not solely in my computer hardware.

Atonement (2007)
After watching the trailer for this film, I got the idea that 13 year old Briony makes up an indicting story about her adult sister and a young man as an act of revenge for him not returning her affections, and this untrue tale messes up everyone’s life. This made me think it was about a group of unhappy people making each others’ lives miserable, which made me not want to see it. So when I actually did see it (mostly so I could round out all five of the best picture Oscar nominees) I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Instead of being a story about anger and spiteful actions, it tells how Briony witnesses a series of events that she misunderstands, which lead to a fateful accusation that is actually believable, given her limited information and understanding. This added innocence to the story which made it much more palpable for me to watch. The story is excellently told, always making the audience ask "What’s going to happen next?" The score is a lot of fun as well, cleverly using the sound of typewriters as percussion instruments; very fitting since Briony is a writer. I have mixed feelings about the ending. In regards to the young lovers played by Keira Knightly and James McAvoy, I felt as if the filmmakers were trying to have their cake and eat it too, giving them both a tragic and a happy ending. On the other hand it provides a wonderful conclusion for Briony.

Coming up next: candidates for both my top and bottom 10 of the year.

Friday, May 2, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part IV

In light of my most recent post, I thought about not posting at all for the rest of the year, but one of the points in having this blog is to try to get me to write more, which would pretty much defeat the purpose.

Fido (2006)
Leave It to Beaver meets Night of the Living Dead. It was generally fun, but spent too much time taking snarky potshots at societal conventions instead of mining its premise for all the absurd humor it’s worth (a la Black Sheep or Slither). Maybe I’ve been reading the Zombie Survival Guide too much, but the idea of a zombie retaining something of its former personality and becoming tame is a complete contradiction to the whole idea of zombies.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Gorgeous photography and camera work. Excellent performances all around. Characters so abrasively angry and uncaring that half an hour into the film I was looking at the clock, wondering when the movie would be over. There is a bit of hope present in the last moments of the film, but by that time I had almost completely lost interest in the whole affair.

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
This is a mostly enjoyable film about a fictional day in the life of the Beatles. The verbal banter between the Fab Four is funny, and the look of the film has a very experimental music video feel to it which was possibly the first mainstream movie to do so. On the downside I never got a feel for who the individual Beatles were; Ringo was the only one who had any semblance of a unique character, and that was mostly that of the odd man out. I also could have done with a more cohesive overriding narrative, but on the whole the movie is a wonderfully light, cotton candy of a movie.

The King of Kong (2007)
I have played a little bit of Donkey Kong, and it is hard and frustrating. So I was intrigued when I heard about a film that chronicles two men: the Donkey Kong high score record holder, and the man out to beat that score. The documentary provides an interesting look into the world of competitive gaming and ranks high on the nostalgia factor, featuring many old-school arcade games. But the film is even more than that, providing heroes, villains, and many who we’re not sure what side they’re on, and thrilling the whole way through. And as an added bonus, as the credits roll, we are treated to clips chronicling the evolution of video games from the earliest arcade games to the most recent, state of the art console games (I gave a small, giddy whoop when I recognized Commander Keen in one of the clips).

Superman: Doomsday (2007)
I saw a trailer for this on a Smallville disc and it looked interesting, so when I saw that I could watch it streaming from Netflix, I decided to check it out. It was an interesting story, but the ending seemed a bit too easy and simple, and the death of Superman (which comes surprisingly early in the film) lacked any real emotion. By far the best scenes were those featuring Lex Luthor.

Coming up next: 5 Oscars and a Steven Spielberg film.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An Announcement

Looking back over the posts on my blog, I realised there have been way too many posts regarding movies. So for the next year, I will no longer have any movie-related posts. What will fill the void, you may ask, and rightly so. Over the next year I will be covering such diverse topics as: my favorite seafood recipes, previews of upcoming boxing matches, in-depth analyses of several of Shakespeare's lesser-known sonnets (I may even try to come up with a few of my own), and reasons why Ralph Nader should and will be our next president, all while interspersing a running commentary on my complex, ever-changing love life.

I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part III

There Will Be Blood (2007)
This is a glorious exhibition of bravura filmmaking. It is also a brooding and ultimately emotionally empty tale of two men and their quest for power. It has sparked the most conversation of any film I have seen so far this year, but in the end I just don’t care for the story it tells.

No Country for Old Men (2007)
It is a glorious chase film with wonderfully realized characters with a bizarre choice of ending that seems out of place and unsatisfying. I have read in multiple places that people did not like the ending the first time around, but on a second viewing the ending makes much more sense and becomes more appropriate, so I may have to reserve judgement until I see if for a second time. Javier Bardem is immensely creepy as the unstoppable killer in a role that would have gone to Robert Mitchum 50 years ago, and I did like the extended sequences of little to no dialog (even though that meant missing out on the Coen Brothers’ signature eloquent dialog). This is the film I think will win big come Oscar night.
(Obviously I wrote this before the Oscars. Looks like I was right.)

Sunshine (2007)
Though the premise of the film looks a lot like that of Armageddon, this science fiction film has more in common with Alien: a small group of isolated people try to complete a mission on a space ship, but have to make some difficult choices when their ship picks up a distress call. The story is intelligent, and when things inevitably go wrong, they come organically and plausibly from the story, and never feel thrown in because it has been a whole ten minutes since the last action sequence. I would be giving the film an even more glowing review if it wasn’t for some odd stylistic choices director Danny Boyle made. First of all the scenes of violence are shot confusingly and edited erratically, making it hard to figure out what just happened and even looked silly in a couple places. Also, he chose some weird camera filters and visual effects during the final climactic confrontation that served to push me away from the film instead of drawing me in. These reservations are mostly notable because the film is such a great film otherwise, that it upsets me all the more these flaws are present (if it was in Armageddon, I wouldn’t have minded nearly as much).

Mean Girls (2004)
What drew me into this movie was that Lindsey Lohan’s first days in school eerily mirrored my own experiences at the beginning of eighth grade.

THX 1138 (1971)
So I finally got around to watching George Lucas’s directorial debut, and I must admit I liked it better as a short. The whole thing felt like a student film with a bigger budget and greater technical expertise. There are plenty of good ideas in the film (the prison Robert Duvall gets sent to made me think of the prison from the short story Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold) but there is not enough story to fill out 88 minutes of screen time. I did find it ironic that when they are hunting down THX 1138, they are more concerned with coming in under budget than they are in capturing him.

Next up: a movie about running away from mindless hordes, plus a zombie movie.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nietzsche Saturday

Well, another Nietzsche Saturday is upon us. I recommend spending the day pondering the implications of us killing God, and ruminating on why today is the only day this need apply.

Have a contemplative Nietzsche Saturday.

Friday, February 29, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part II

The Fantastic Planet (1973)
This film kept popping up on lists of great animated films targeted towards adults, so I figured I would check it out. The visuals are creative and interesting to look at, though the animation is very simple, feeling more like an anime than a Disney film. The world it creates is interesting and wonderfully realized, and the story is a lot like The Secret of Nimh (only this time, instead of rats we have humans trying to preserve their society against giant aliens). I suppose I should put in a warning about the very high animated breast count, but what would you expect from a French film?

Juno (2007)
Well this kind of finishes off the pregnancy trilogy of 2007 (after Knocked Up and Waitress), and I must say I liked Juno the best. I always find it refreshing to watch movies in which the characters are verbally eloquent, it is a nice change from the profanity laced dialog that tries to be realistic but only serves to make the characters come across as unintelligent and dull. But with Juno, listening to her speak, I get the feeling that I would actually like to meet her in real life.

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
It is an interesting look at global politics, and generally manages to show an important issue without broadcasting its Importance in every scene. Of course Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are excellent, and the movie is further proof that Amy Adams should be in every other movie. On the other hand, the film wasn’t terribly funny, and I doubt it will stick with me two months from now.

Sky High (2005)
I think I would have liked this film a whole lot more if The Incredibles did not exist. It covers much of the same ground as The Incredibles, but in a simpler, shallower way. It is still fun to watch, but definitely has more of a kids’ aesthetic.

The Conversation (1974)
It is an interesting look into the world of bugging and surveillance, and it was fun following the twists and turns of the plot as Gene Hackman’s character tries to piece together the contents of a bugged conversation between two people, but I just could not get over the fact that the film is about lots of unhappy people either unwilling or unable to find joy in the people around them. Of course that probably says more about my personality and outlook on life than the movie itself.

Coming up next: two of this year's best picture nominees, and two science fiction films.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part I

Last year I managed to write a blurb for every movie I watched during the year. This year I'm doing the same thing all over again, though this time I'm only writing about films that I've seen for the first time. What makes this year special is that I am sharing my thoughts with you, my established readers, in the hopes that my musings will help you seek out more worthwhile movies and stay away from the worthless ones (and bring more frequent posts to this blog). Most of the entries will be in the form of mini reviews, but some will just use the film as a jumping off point to talk about something entirely different. Since I like groups of five, I will be releasing the blurbs in sets of five, in the order in which I see them.

Nuovo cinema Paradiso (1988)
As a love letter to movies, I really liked this film. I especially liked the picture of Buster Keaton displayed prominently over the projector in the projection booth. On the other hand, tales of unrequited/doomed love do almost nothing for me, so the romance portions of the film did little for me. After all, there was very little reason to introduce a love interest into the film in the first place, as the relationship between young Toto and his projectionist mentor was wonderful enough in its own right. The film would have worked better if it had focused more solely on this relationship. Still, a very fitting choice for the first movie of the year.

Pat and Mike (1952)
It was a mildly amusing film with some laughs from leads Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and I appreciated most of the feminist themes in the film about not restricting a woman’s role in society. However I did not like the battle of the sexes themes (though admittedly they were less in evidence here than in the similarly themed Adam’s Rib). Whenever we fight the battle of the sexes, everyone loses.

Death Race 2000 (1975)
I was a little surprised at how entertaining this silly film from producer Roger Corman was. It tells the story of a futuristic cross-country race in which the drivers score points by killing pedestrians and the winner gets to shake hands with the god-like president. Of course there are those who object to the brutality of the race, and so they resort to terrorist-like tactics to eliminate the drivers. If the film had been serious, trying to make an Important Statement on society’s view of violence, it would have fallen flat, but since the film realizes the inherent absurdity of its subject matter, it opts for a satirical take on the events, which actually ends up giving its audience something to think about in regards to violence anyway.

Indiscreet (1958)
If this film were made today, there would be several scenes of bed-hopping with its leads which would add almost nothing to the film except "realism." Like the production code or not, its presence did lead to some artful ways of handling adult subject matter when it could not be shown explicitly. Director Stanley Donen could not show leads Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in bed together, so for one scene he shot it as a phone conversation with a split screen. At the end of the conversation, their hands meet at the center of the frame, and even though they are in separate apartments, it is as if they are holding hands. This ends up making the whole scene much more visually interesting than a mundane one of pillow talk.

Hairspray (1988)
While the film was fun for the most part, it lacked the joy and energy that was prevalent throughout the recent musical version, and featured an underlying smug, mean-spiritedness that served to sour my viewing pleasure to some extent. Though the original has its merits, I would recommend the musical remake because it tells the story in a better, more entertaining way.

Coming up next: a French animated film and a Best Picture nominee for this year.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #1

Here it is, my eagerly awaited (if it's not, humor me) top film and bottom film from all the films I watched for the first time in 2007. And, as an added bonus, you get an honorable mention as well. So sit back, relax, and try not to think too many unhappy thought about my two choices.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
It was a toss-up for me as to which film was my top film between this one and Children of Men. I even debated having a tie for first place, but decided that was cheap, especially since there is a tie at number 3. The ultimate tie-breaker ended up being the fact that I am more likely to revisit Pan’s Labyrinth more often than Children of Men. The visuals are wonderfully evocative, and the faun looks fantastic. The film takes some pointers from George MacDonald in that while there is a fairy world just beyond our own, it is fraught with danger and peril all its own, especially for humans improperly equipped to survive in a world run by different rules. Of course it’s no wonder that the young Ofelia wants to escape into the fairy world despite its dangers, since she lives in the middle of civil war torn Spain, with a cruel step father who cares less than nothing for her. As a kid I often dreamed that, even though I had nothing against my parents, I would learn that my parents were not my real parents and that my real parents were powerful, most likely supernatural, beings, and were ready to take me home to a fantasy world of wonder. This actually happens in Pan’s Labyrinth.

Honorable Mention
Rear Window (1954)
This was actually about the fourth viewing of the film for me, but the first time I saw it in the theater with a full audience, and in that atmosphere, it was like watching the film for the first time all over again. Watching the film on a TV I find myself straining to look in all the different boxes that are the windows of the other apartments, but blown up on the big screen there are so many more nuances to catch (and Miss Torso sure looks much better when she is taller than ten inches). Every time I watch a classic movie in the theater setting I am rewarded. I encourage everyone to seek out some of their favorite classic films on the big screen. You will not be disappointed.

Happy Feet (2006)
How on earth could a film this lame and implausible win the Oscar for best animated feature? I felt like I was watching a 100 minute Coke commercial, without the anticipation of the polar bears eating the penguins. The comedy fell flat, the musical numbers were dull, and watching an animated creature with no legs tap dancing just does not have the same appeal (nor is as impressive) as a real person doing all the moves. Robin Williams was way over the top in his roles, doing broad racial voice stereotypes, there was very little to distinguish the penguins from each other, and of course the villains in the film were the religious conservatives, doing their part to keep our hero from being his unique self. And then there is the completely implausible joke of an ending, where humanity decides to stop fishing because they saw a bunch of penguins tap dancing. I think what would really happen is Ringling Bros. would snap up as many of the penguins as possible and put their tap dancing in the center ring. Of course, what should you expect from a film with a moronic title like Happy Feet?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Top 5 Film Composers

In honor of today being the birthday of the greatest film composer of all time (John Williams, who else?) I decided I would grace you, my harmonious readers, with my list of the five greatest film composers of all time.

John Williams
So many of his scores have made their way into the mainstream, easily recognizable to everyone, even if they don't know what the music is from or who wrote it. His scores are immensely hummable, and while he is best known for his grand, orchestrally epic scores, he has also dabbled in jazz (Catch Me if You Can), Japanese style (Memoirs of a Geisha), a stripped down, harmonica-heavy sound (Sugarland Express), and of course the simple yet heart-wrenchingly beautiful (Schindler's List). Signature Scores: the Star Wars films (of course), Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, and Harry Potter.

Max Steiner
If John Williams is the best of the current cinema, Max Steiner is the best film composer from the early sound era. He helped to define what a score entails, and is one of the first to really go all out with the music and using music throughout the whole film. The sounds of his epic scores are still being imitated today, and I wonder where John Williams (or any of today's great film composers) would be if it wasn't for Max Steiner. Signature Scores: Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and King Kong.

Elmer Bernstein
So many of his scores are just so downright fun to listen to. Much like John Williams, he has also got a varied resume, with westerns (True Grit), epics (The Ten Commandments), and comedies (Airplane!). (He also did the score to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 film Robot Monster.) Signature Scores: To Kill a Mockingbird (featuring John Williams on piano), The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and Ghost Busters.

Bernard Herrmann
It is impossible to talk about Bernard Herrmann without mentioning his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock. After all, he scored 8 films for Hitchcock (if you count the experimental soundtrack of The Birds a score), and also scored two films heavily influenced by Hitchcock (Cape Fear and Obsession). He also wrote the score for the world's most infamous radio broadcast: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds. Signature Scores: Psycho, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and (though not to my liking, but others love it) Taxi Driver.

Carl Stalling
So for my final entry, I wanted to go with something a little unorthodox, and Carl Stalling fits that to a T. Though he never scored a major motion picture, he was very prolific, highly influential, and had a very unique sound. With the Loony Toons, he almost single-handedly defined what cartoon music should sound like. Also, how many of you out there got your first taste of classical music while watching Bugs Bunny cartoons? Signature Scores: it's hard to pick a few out, but Rhapsody Rabbit is a good example of his use of classical music.

Runners Up
Thomas Newman - He definitely has a unique style, but he is still fairly new on the scene, and he lacks signature pieces.
Danny Elfman - He has a signature sound and has several memorable scores, but his stuff still largely sounds like variations of the same five themes.
Ennio Morricone - He has a very unique sound, but is too much out of the mainstream to make the final cut (though he almost made the list).
Hans Zimmer - Very prolific, but too much of his stuff sounds the same, and he lacks individual memorable pieces.