April 2009 - Posts
The 1970s were a rich period in American movies. Here I wanted to give a nod to some favorites of the latter part of the decade that won't be getting their own blog post. Below are some fairly conventional award categories and the corresponding winners from the period. If you feel like I missed anything significant, let me know.
Note: some films are rated R and not suitable for children.
Best Speech Based on an Olfactory Experience - Apocalypse Now (1979)
Best Improvisational Decision Involving A Place to Change - Superman (1978)
Best Dramatic Scene Involving Surfing and Gary Busey - Big Wednesday (1978)
Best Use of Nicotine by a Medical Professional - Annie Hall (1977)
Best Use of Red Phones at a News Desk - Network (1976)
Best Fighting Stance in a Campaign Office - Taxi Driver (1976)
Best Tucked-in Sweatshirt in a Drama - Rocky (1976)
Best Drunken Sing Along Followed by Terror - Jaws (1975)
Best Use of a Nearly Dead Fellow - Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Honorable Mention: Dog Day Afternoon, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, All the President's Men, The Deer Hunter, Animal House, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Jerk
Richard Attenborough has over sixty years experience as an actor in his native Britain as well as the United States, yet his time onscreen has diminished considerably since he began directing films in the late 1960s (his 1993 portrayal of John Hammond in Jurassic Park was actually his first acting stint in 14 years). The time devoted to filmmaking has been worthwhile. Mr. Attenborough has directed such outstanding movies as Chaplin and Shadowlands in the 1990s, Ghandi in the 1980s and A Bridge Too Far in the 1970s.
The film opens with a small newsreel in the center of the panoramic frame that brings us up to speed on the state of affairs five years into the war in Europe. The Allies are bogged down by the inability to get enough supplies to the soldiers. They need to find a way to end the war, which leads to Operation Market Garden, intended to secure a series of bridges over the
main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands by large-scale use of
airborne forces together with groups of tanks. The rivers were the last major barrier to an
advance into Germany.
The film then advances the planning, execution and outcome of this huge operation. There is skepticism from the beginning on the parts of the Polish Major General Sosabowski (Gene Hackman) and to some degree from United States Brigadier General Gavin (Ryan O'neal). A boy and his father in the Netherlands are keeping information on the movements of the Nazi forces, and the reports reach the Allies via the Dutch resistance. But British Lieutenant-General Browning (Dirk Bogarde) disregards them as well as the new pessimistic reconnaissance reports. The last 16 airbourne drops had been cancelled, and no one was going back on this one. We follow along with various U.S., British and Polish divisions as they seek to complete their mission. We also see the perspective of the Nazi commanders as they react to the onslaught of Allied paratroopers.
This is a great story. It is adapted from the non-fiction book by the same name, and although it takes dramatic liberty at certain points, it seems to be an excellent portrayal of these particular World War II battles. The cast is an all-star ensemble. Besides the three previously mentioned actors, James Caan (the scene where he rescues his captain is one of the best in the film), Elliot Gould and Robert Redford have parts as American GIs. Anthony Hopkins (every line he utters is fantastic), Michael Caine and Sean Connery fill out the British commanders. Other major stars include Lawrence Olivier, Maximilian Schell and Liv Ullman.
Mr. Attenborough brings this multifaceted story together brilliantly and moves it along so briskly that it doesn't feel like a nearly three-hour movie. The balance of the seriousness of story with humor and excitement make it definitely worth your time.
There is a 1998 DVD available that features 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo. A collector's edition was issued in 2005 and has been updated for Dolby Digital 5.1. The collector's edition also includes a commentary track with the screen writer and selected members of the cast.
Much like in the recent Ocean's Eleven series of films, I like to imagine what all the stars are like off camera (for instance, what is the small talk like between Gene Hackman and Sean Connery). Mr. Attenborough put his actors through a boot camp, similar to what Steven Spielberg would do during the preparation for his ensemble war film, Saving Private Ryan. This fall will bring the release of Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's World War II film that also takes place in Nazi-occupied territory.
"Our logo is supposed to be a duck? The artist who designed it said that's how he sees a duck. He no longer works for us."
When it comes to TV, I'm always on the lookout for a good laugh. It's hard to find a comedy these days that isn't part chick-flick or still uses the dreaded laugh track. Well, I got lucky and stumbled upon a new ABC show called
"Better Off Ted"
. Don't get me wrong, the name is terrible, but it's very funny.
The show follows Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington
), an upper-middle manager at the mega corporation Veridian, as he cleans up the corporate messes made by his boss (Portia de Rossi
), co-workers and of course himself. What's so funny about that you ask? It's clever, well written, pokes all kinds of fun at Corporate America and has a kind of hyper-reality where rocket-packs and breakfast-meat grown in a lab all seem possible.
What scares me is that "Better Off Ted" is probably too smart for it's own good. It reminds me of
, which built a small, but extremely devoted, niche audience. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough too keep it alive on a greedy national network. I hope I'm wrong, but I suggest you
check it out
while you can.
Alan Parker was born in North London and came to the movies through advertising, having been a copywriter for ad agencies in the 1960s and early 1970s. He directed commercials and transitioned then into directing feature films. After a few meager efforts, he directed his breakthrough film, Midnight Express, in 1978. His later directing credits include Fame, Pink Floyd The Wall, and Mississippi Burning.
The opening titles tell us that the film is based on a true story. Exotic shots of Istanbul follow. We find Billy Hayes, an American, strapping foil covered bricks of some substance to his body, attempting to smuggle them out of the country. The tension rises as he interacts with the security personel at the train station. His face is sweating and we hear his heartrate pounding. Somehow he makes it through, and there is a moment of relief as he meets up with his girlfriend. The moment doesn't last. Passengers must be patted down after leaving the train for their flight. The officers find the bricks taped to the young American, which turn out to be two kilograms of hashish.
The film then follows the downward spiral of Billy. His stupid mistakes lead to consequences he couldn't have dreamed of. The Turkish government is looking to make a statement and throws him in prison. The Turkish prison in the film is a hellish nightmare. Against all odds, Billy tries to keep up hope that he will someday see his home again.
This film is brutal. No way around that. The cinematography is first rate and adds tremendously to the power of the story. The acting is quite good. The lead is played with intensity by Brad Davis. Randy Quaid and John Hurt play fellow inmates, with Hurt giving a very fine performance of a drug-addled Englishman.
Despite being nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning three, Midnight Express was and still is a controversial movie. Generally the film enjoyed good marks from the critics, yet some people were critical of the way in which the Turkish authority people were represented. In 2004, Oliver Stone (the screenwriter) apologized to the people of Turkey, saying he "over-dramatised" the story. Yet, he also made it clear that the film was never intended to be against Turkey, but against injustice.
If you can stomach a gritty story, check it out and see what all the fuss is about.
There is a 1998 DVD version of the movie that was issued to coinside with the 20th anniversary of its release. A better version came out ten years later in 2008. The audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. Extras include a 56-page booklet on the film written by Mr. Parker himself and three featurettes (two more than the older version).
Midnight Express can be seen on the TV in the motel in Oliver Stone's 1994 movie, Natural Born Killers. Another film involving a main character being held in a foreign prison is Tom Tykwer's Heaven.
I ran across this trailer the other day and had to post it. It looks to be an amazing piece of science fiction, plus I think Sam Rockwell is the tops.
Check it out.
Before Don Siegel's directorial debut in 1946, he had a lot of experience under his belt. For years he had been creating montages for Hollywood films. He also worked as a second unit director for directors such as Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday) and Raoul Walsh (The Roaring Twenties). He would go on to direct The Killers (Ronald Reagan's last film), Two Mules for Sister Sarah, Dirty Harry, The Shootist and Escape from Alcatraz.
The beginning of the film is set in 1960. We follow Frank (Clint Eastwood) as he is being transferred to Alcatraz. He is intense, unintimidated and looking for a way out. The film follows him as he learns what he needs to about the other inmates, the prison and the warden. He earns the respect of the most influential inmate and is able to dodge the advances of the most psychopathic, all the while planning his escape.
First off, the film looks great. The compositions of many of the shots are very striking. Coupled with some excellent editing, we know we are in the masterful hands of a seasoned director. The acting is top notch. Eastwood is excellent - the very definition of the strong, silent lead. The other prisoners played by Fred Ward, Paul Benjamin and Larry Hankin are quite good as well. And lastly, I love when movies have unhurried sequences showing process. We watch Frank for several minutes while he works out his plan without any dialog. Something about seeing that process casts a spell and pulls you directly into the world of the film. If you enjoy such scenes, I suggest you look up this film.
The DVD is from the late 90s with no extras (this movie is just screaming for a "Special Edition" upgrade). But it is still a pretty good transfer. Widescreen images look great. Sound is Dolby Digital 1.0.
Clint Eastwood's latest film is Gran Torino, which he directs and gives an award-winning performance as an actor. A more recent film that directly borrows from or pays homage to Escape from Alcatraz is The Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont. Also Michael Bay's The Rock references this film.
"House" SPOILER ALERT
. Look below this line at your own risk.
So last night on "House" they killed off the character Kutner, played by Kal Penn
through an off-screen suicide. I really could care less because I'd rather be watching "Chuck"
, but we all have to make concessions. The reason I'm phlogging about this is because at the end of what was suppose to be a serious episode, they made me laugh my tail off by giving Kutner an online memorial
. An online memorial! Please tell me I'm not the only one who thinks this is nuts. He's a fiction character. HE'S NOT REAL. If Kal Penn died and as a result they had to kill off his charter, sure, give him a memorial. But a fictional character? Give me a break.
**Warning: May Contain Spoilers**
One of the best movies I have seen in 5 years. This movie was a sleeper, given that it wasn't backed by any major movie studio, but it delivered all the emotion that you want to experience when you go to the movies.
The story is about a kid that grows up in the slums of Mumbai, India. Their mother is killed when they are extremely young, and they have to fend for themselves in conditions that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. I'm living in China, and I've seen some dirty places, but the portrayal of the living conditions in Mumbai are much worse than I have seen first hand.
Another aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed was the way that the main character Jamal, through all his life experience, knew all the answers to the multiple choice questions from the Indian Version of the popular game show. I was a little apprehensive about this movie when I first read about it because I really don't care for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." It might be more that I don't care for Regis.
There are some graphic scenes that make your skin crawl, but remember that each event in the timeline of the movie lead towards his eventual Millionaire status. There is also a love story in there for the ladies, which makes this a pretty well rounded movie for all types of people. It was a little predictable that they would end up together, but that is one of the emotions that make you feel good at the end of a film.
I would say that the post credit singing and dancing was that only blemish on this otherwise brilliant film. Given that this movie was a drama, it was difficult to end the movie with the entire cast singing and dancing a strange Indian Pop song. I guess that is a normal thing in Indian cinema. Thanks, but no thanks.
I really liked this movie because it was original and gritty. I will see it again and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different.
A 1960's free-spirit, Hal Ashby won an Academy Award for Editing (In the Heat of the Night) before he made his way to the director's chair. He was a key director of the "American New Wave" in the 1970s, and while the titles of his films are generally overlooked today, they continue to inspire many current filmmakers and actors. Mr. Ashby had as good a run during the 70s as any of his more well-known peers, including such films as Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home and Being There.
The film opens with Chance (Peter Sellers) awakened by the television set in his room. He begins his day watching and listening to an orchestra performance. He goes about his morning routine, constantly returning to the TV. We go downstairs and he's dressed in a suit, totally engrossed in a pair of news reporters cheerily talking about how bad a blizzard is. It becomes clear that Chance isn't quite right when a woman enters the room with news of their employer's demise and he despondently replies, "That's fine," and goes back to watching Sesame Street.
Chance the Gardener has lived in this one house his whole life, gardening and watching television. Now the house will be sold and he must go. We embark on a journey which randomly takes him from the streets to the mansion of a dying business magnate (Melvyn Douglas) and his wife (Shirley MacLaine). His name is heard incorrectly and he becomes "Chauncey Gardner". From there his simple minded statements are misunderstood as humor or strike people as folksy wisdom. Chauncey meets the President, befriends the Russian ambassador, and even appears on a TV talk show. Through it all, he is distracted and transfixed every time he's in front of a TV. He likes to watch.
From scene to scene the excellent deadpan delivery of Sellers keeps the joke going. For a moment it strays into unnecessary realms at the expense of the story, but overall Mr. Ashby provides the direction to make it work. The acting is great. Douglas gives a thoughtful performance as a man nearing the end of his life. MacLaine is wonderfully cute and goofy as the smitten Eve. It is pretty remarkable that for all the oddities we see through the editing of television content into the film (and clever jokes made by the juxtapositions) there is still a classic sense to it. A good portion of that may be due to the primary setting, The Biltmore - America's largest and most striking home.
Amongst the laughs, this satire brings up many questions: How is receiving information via television different than by the printed word, and what effect does that have? Do we "find whatever we seek" in people we admire and look up to? And I won't even hint at the much-discussed ending. You'll have to watch this thought-provoking movie for yourself.
There are two versions available. The first is from 2001 and is nearly bare as far as extras. The "Deluxe Edition" came out this year and includes a new featurette, some deleted scenes and a gag real. The sound on both editions is mono, but the original recording has been remastered for the newer one. The older DVD is good but the picture and sound quality improve with the new edition.
The most recent film to famously involve a simple-minded protagonist would be David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There is also Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump, a less sophisticated yet much loved film. Another funny movie involving a character with a strange relationship to television is Ben Stiller's The Cable Guy.
I don't know about you, but most of my Friday nights are spent out of the house not watching TV. Crazy, I know. As a result, I've been missing a new show called "Dollhouse"
"Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"
creator, Joss Whedon.
Through the magic of the interwebs, I've managed to keep up in my spare time - and it has not disappointed. As with past series from Whedon, Dollhouse is an action based drama with girls who know karate and use it often, characters of unknown history whose backgrounds are slowly revealed, and one quirky side character to crack wise and keep things light-hearted.
So what is the Dollhouse? It's basically a spa. A spa where they turn little boys and girls into assassins, prostitutes or whatever the client wants. Programmable people, custom made to meet every need or fantasy. These programmable people are called "actives" and they walk around the dollhouse in a childlike daze where they are blank slates with no memory or personality. They are placed into star trek-like chairs and implanted with fake memories, names and back stories to make them perfect for the job. Once completed, their minds are blanked out again leaving them with no memory of the tasks they just completed.
The cast features Eliza Dushku
, who was on Whedon's "Buffy,"
from the last two chapters of the Matrix Trilogy
from the recently ended "Battlestar Galactica"
and Olivia Williams
, who you might remember as Ms. Cross from the amazing Wes Anderson flick
With Whedon providing another great mix of action and mystery, I've quickly become attached and patiently wait for new episodes. It airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox. If you decide to catch up on Hulu
, be sure to ride it through to episode 6. It really throws you for a loop.