Friday, September 30, 2005

 

CleanFlicks = Censorship

We are walking a slippery slope. Yesterday, I wrote about a move underway by the medical industry to ban the filming of births in the delivery rooms (Movies on My Mind 9/29/05: "Filming Births: Banned in America?") and also of Sony Pictures' abandonment of the new Albert Brooks film for its use of the word "Muslim" in the title (Movies on My Mind 9/29/05: "Does This Mean the Terrorists Are Winning?") These restrictions on films are disturbing. Right in line with this ongoing trend is CleanFlicks, a company that literally edits the "dirty" parts out of a film and re-markets them for family viewing. Sensing pushback from Hollywood, the Utah-based company --which was started by Ray Lines after his neighbor asked if he would edit a film using his home-based software -- filed a preemptive lawsuit against the Directors Guild of America (DGA), asking for a ruling that their editing practices are legal. The case is still pending in a Colorado court, is expect it to last for years. I can see this going to the Supreme Court. So, should CleanFlicks compromise the impact of a masterpiece like Schindler's List and edit out the naked men and women on the way to concentration camp gas chambers? How about Meg Ryan's orgasmic screams in the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally...? Where would it stop? Films are works of art! I'll repeat that...films are works of art. And as such, should be given full protection from such tampering. Now, I know there will be those who will argue that this is just a choice, and the actual intact film (as it was intended) could also be purchased or rented. Or those who will argue that this is really no different from the edits a film incurs when shown on TV. I would argue this back...the more this happens, the more a mindset will be developed that it's OK to happen. Guess what? Schindler's List and When Harry Met Sally... are not meant for family viewing. That's why they are rated R. Who's to say that a film (a work of art) should be altered just to give a family a chance to see the film together? Want to see a film together as a family? Try Finding Nemo or Shrek or The Incredibles...all fun for children and adults alike. Why does a 10-year-old need to watch The Deer Hunter or The Godfather or even Die Hard for that matter? I mean, should we glue some pasties on the Venus di Milo? or add a fig leaf to cover up Michelangelo's The David? I'm sure there are those who would say yes, and they are the same misguided folks who will spend money so CleanFlicks can offer the whole family an evening's viewing of ...what?...The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? "Come on kiddies, you're gonna miss Leatherface. Hurry up with that popcorn and sit down!" Does anybody see the absurdity of what's happening?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Does This Mean the Terrorists Are Winning?

Will a new film by writer/director/comedian Albert Brooks (Lost in America) lead to new terrorist strikes against the West? Well, if you buy into the controversy currently surrounding Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, you might think so. Sony Pictures, the studio originally set to distribute the film, has reportedly according to Brooks, backed out for fear of the ill-will the title might cause in the Arab world. Sources close to Sony reportedly said the studio passed on the film because it simply wasn't funny. Warner Independent, the art-house unit of Warner Bros, has stepped in as distributor, and the film is scheduled to be released in January 2006. So what's going on? Are filmmakers no longer allowed any artistic freedom (satirical or otherwise)? Brooks, I'm sure, is not trying to upset world politics. He's never aspired that high. He's simply seizing the zeitgeist of the times to manufacture a film with his brand of humor. Should we really fear retribution for the use of the word "Muslim" in the title of a film that -- from all reports -- pokes fun at Americans?!? Is there any doubt the terrorist are winning when we spend time worrying about this? I applaud the courage of Warner Bros in picking up the film. I hope they give it a wide release.

 

Filming a Birth: Banned in America?

Here's a movie (albeit an amateur movie)-related issue to think about. Even as the growth of digital motion picture technology continues to further democratize the process of moviemaking, steps are underway to ban video cameras from delivery rooms. Since the late 1970s -- when freedom of expression and the experimental use of motion pictures were at an all-time high -- videotaping the birth of a child had become a fairly routine procedure. But now, with hospitals fearing lawsuits, that's changing, and camcorders are being outright banned from delivery rooms. CNN reported that a Houston hospital banned videotaping of births after agreeing to pay a family $15 million in a lawsuit. The family's tape showed negligence during the delivery that left the child blind and with irreversible brain damage. (The name of the hospital was not disclosed as part of the settlement.) That case sent shockwaves through medical institutions around the country, and soon the trend to ban video cameras in the delivery room grew -- for fear that if even the hint or suggestion of something awry was caught on tape, a malpractice suit may follow. In the article "Legal Implications of Birth Videos" (which was published in Journal of Family Practice and was the first such article to examine the current legal status of videotaping in a delivery room), a research team at the University of Iowa College of Medicine cautioned physicians that the increasingly common practice of fathers videotaping births has both risks and benefits. In the article, the authors examined the potential of videotape as both an advantage and a liability in lawsuits and recommended that physicians who agree to allow videotape cameras to be present during delivery adopt a simple set of guidelines so that all parties understand the circumstances. These guidelines include a release form to be signed by the parents, notification of everyone involved in the delivery, positioning the father taking the video near the mother's head so as to allow the caregivers unimpeded room for the delivery, and discussing the procedure with the parents during pre-natal appointments. But many hospitals, in light of the recent $15 million lawsuit, have just taken to banning the procedure altogether. So, is the banning of video cameras in the delivery room a first amendment issue? A restriction of a freedom of expression? Do institutions, such as hospitals, have the right to ban such films from being made (even as they accept public money for their services)? What do you think? Let me know.

 

The Nurses of Halloween II

In 1978, when Halloween went on to become the most successful independent motion picture of all time, demand for a sequel was enormous, so John Carpenter and Debra Hill (who passed away this year) -- who were responsible for the first film -- wrote a sequel. Halloween II, which arrived in theaters in 1981, takes place the same night as Halloween and is set, mainly, in Haddonfield Hospital, where the character of Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) -- the sole survivor of the first film -- is taken to recover. The hospital seems all but deserted, but we are introduced to four nurses: the sweet girl-next-door nurse, Jill Franco (played by Tawny Moyer); the naughty nurse, Karen Bailey (played by Pamela Susan Shoop); Janet Marshall (played by Ana Alicia); and head nurse, Mrs Alves (played by Gloria Gifford). Of course, all of these nurses meet with a horrible demise at the hands of The Shape, Michael Myers. (These include being impaled and lifted off the ground with a surgical knife from behind; being drowned in scalding water; having a needle inserted into the temple; and being drained of blood with an IV needle). But what happened to the attractive quartet of actresses who played these doomed medical caretakers? Well...Tawny Moyer has continued to act (mainly on TV) and occasionally makes personal appearances at comic book/film conventions. She appears as herself in the epic, soon-to-be-released documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror and maintains her own website www.tawnymoyer.com, where fans can view photos of her and link to many other Halloween film related sites. Pamela Susan Shoop, the maternity nurse who leaves babies in the ward to fool around in the hospital's therapeutic hot tub -- ironically -- fell in love with a Jesuit priest (and later married him, when he left the order). Their love story is told in the bestselling autobiography "What God Hath Joined." Together they have formed a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation called, AMA DEUM, (Latin for "Love God"), with the hope to, one day, restore the right to marry to Roman Catholic priests. She also maintains a website www.pamelasusanshoop.com and appears in the documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror. Ana Alicia (whose character dies with syringe to the temple) was a regular in the TV series Falcon Crest for awhile, but has not acted (on TV or in films) since the late 90s. After Halloween II, Gloria Gifford had small roles in numerous films including 48Hrs, This is Spinal Tap and The Others. She also appears in the upcoming Halloween: 25 Years of Terror.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 

Movie Partnerships Part II: Directors & Composers

Can you think of Star Wars or Jaws or Halloween or Superman or The Godfather or The Sting and not think of the music that accompanied those films? I can't. For me, the music scores of those movies are part of the fabric -- every bit as important as the acting or the directing. Maybe even, more important. Every now and again movie music transcends the film it accompanies and takes on a life of its own. Music has always been important to film, especially in the early days of silent cinema. How an theater organist chose to accompany a film musically might change the entire feel of a film. In one city, it might play as a comedy, while in another, a drama -- all because of the music. Just as with actors (see Movies on My Mind, 9/19/05: "Movie Partnerships: Directors & Actors"), directors will develop an affinity to a particular composer, because, like a lead actor, that composer may share a particular vision with the director, or be able to filter the director's sensibilities for a particular film, musically. Two outstanding partnerships come to mind:

Steven Spielberg & John Williams: Never before (or since) has an artistic partnership developed a more indelible combination of sight and sound. Either is less without the other. Together, they have created the greatest audio/image collaboration in the history of cinema. For 32 years, through numerous blockbusters and even a few klunkers (1941, Hook, Always), Steven Spielberg and John Williams have worked together since Sugarland Express in 1974 (and as an off-shoot of this, George Lucas and Williams, starting in 1977, have worked on all six Star Wars films together). They made movie history a year later with Jaws. (Would that film be even half as good without Williams' stirring and frightening nautical score?) The simplicity of the central five note theme to Close Encounters of the Third Kind was followed by the rousing Saturday morning matinee style orchestral of Raiders of the Lost Ark and then, the next year, by the sentimental (if somewhat derivative) string-led score of E.T., The Extra Terrestrial. Add to that, the deep south sound of The Color Purple, the adventurous and ominous, pounding notes of Jurassic Park; the melancholy violins of Schindler's List; the patriotic, yet mournful, stirrings of Saving Private Ryan and you realize one thing: these men understand each other. By now, it seems a given that when Spielberg directs a film, Williams scores it. These two giants of cinema tell the same stories in different mediums, and without each other, those stories, in retrospect, would seem only half told. Spielberg's images are absorbed by our eyes while Williams' music fills our ears. Together, they have, on occasion, stirred our souls.

Tim Burton & Danny Elfman: It seems that Tim Burton, like Spielberg, or even John Waters, likes to work with the same group of people time and again. Starting in 1985, and for 20 years now, composer Danny Elfman has scored every feature film directed by Burton, (as well as the Burton-produced A Nightmare Before Christmas, which Elfman not only scored and wrote songs for, but sang in as well). Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride, all have the unmistakable frenetic, sometimes comic book-style sound, of Elfman. This composer and director seem to be cut from the same cloth. (Non-Burton projects include the theme song to The Simpsons and the Spider-Man films.) While -- unlike Williams -- Elfman's scores may not be memorable beyond the film (perhaps with the exceptions of The Simpsons and the Batman themes), his music makes a Tim Burton film a "Tim Burton film" every bit as much as Tim Burton himself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

It Was the Smart Move...

No, I'm not referring to Tessio's foiled attempt to take over the Corleone family at the end of The Godfather. I'm talking about Don Adams (who passed away this week at the age of 82) and the character he originated -- and milked for his entire career: Maxwell Smart. The bumbling spy -- code named Agent 86 -- who talked into his shoe; worked for CONTROL and was always on the heels of the bad guys at KAOS., was created by Oscar-winner Mel Brooks (The Producers) and Buck Henry (The Graduate) as the central character in this mod and timely comedy of the mid-to-late 60s. Adams won three Emmys -- as Best Actor in a Comedy -- for the role (and was nominated for four), but he would never really be able to shake the persona and, as a result, would keep replaying the same character for the rest of his career. The first attempt to revive Maxwell Smart came in 1980 when Agent 86 made his feature film debut in The Nude Bomb, directed by Clive Donner (who unsuccessfully tried to revive another on-screen sleuth the following year with Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen). In 1983, Adams agreed to voice the animated Inspector Gadget (which was essentially a cartoon riff on the Maxwell Smart character). Smart (and Adams) surfaced again in 1989, this time in the TV movie Get Smart, Again! A host of Inspector Gadget projects (direct-to-video and on TV) was followed, in 1995, by another effort to breathe life into Maxwell Smart, in the short-lived and updated revival of the Get Smart TV series. With age working against him, Adams was passed over for the live-action feature film version of Inspector Gadget (that role went to Matthew Broderick), but he did provide the voice of Gadget's dog, Brain, for the film. And speaking of voiceovers, did you know Adams was the (uncredited) voice of Comet, the coach reindeer, in the classic 1964 Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

 

A Short History of Popcorn at the Movies

Ever stop to wonder why we eat popcorn at the movies? I did some research. In the United States, popcorn was a popular snack at many entertainment venues as early as the 1890s (when street vendors would follow crowds around, pushing steam or gas-powered popcorn poppers through fairs, parks and expositions). During the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, five and 10 cent bags of popcorn were one of the few treats struggling families were able to afford. Soon, people started taking this low-cost snack with them to enjoy while going to the cinema. But it was Samuel M. Rubin who made popcorn synonymous with going to the movies. Even though popcorn became a staple snack at movie theaters during the Great Depression, Rubin was one of the first to actually sell fresh popcorn inside the theaters. He introduced the snack to New York City movie theaters after seeing it served at a theater in Oklahoma City in 1930. When he returned to New York he began selling popcorn at the concessions stands he ran at the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island. At first, movie theater owners resisted having popcorn machines in the theaters proper because of the smell and mess it made. So Rubin created a popcorn popping factory that bagged the popcorn and delivered it to moviehouses. During World War II, when sugar was rationed to send overseas to troops, it left little stateside to make candy. As a result, popcorn sales surged, and Americans ate three times as much popcorn as usual. Soon, theater owners began to appreciate the benefit of popping the corn in the theater, thinking now that the aroma would entice patrons to buy. For the next 60 years, Rubin (who would become known as "Sam, the Popcorn Man") and his partner, Marty Winter, provided concession stand refreshments (including popcorn) to many of the major movie chains in the New York metropolitan area, including RKO, Brandt and Loews. Today, to offset the cost of movie rentals (and payments to movie studios), theater chains sell gigantic buckets of popcorn (and cups of soda) at outrageous prices -- a far cry from the once affordable snack that "Sam, the Popcorn Man" popularized at moviehouses more than 75 years ago.

Monday, September 26, 2005

 

The Coupe de Villes

Did you know the band The Coupe de Villes is comprised of director John Carpenter (on vocals and guitar), director Nick Castle (on keyboards and vocals), and director Tommy Lee Wallace (on guitar)? The three have worked together on films (and been friends) since Carpenter's feature debut Dark Star in 1974. Carpenter, of course, is best known for his films Halloween, The Fog, Starman, The Thing and Escape From NY. Castle -- who played The Shape in Carpenter's Halloween -- went on to direct The Last Star Fighter, The Boy Who Could Fly, and Dennis the Menace, among others. Wallace -- who served as editor on both Halloween and The Fog -- directed two sequels to Carpenter films: Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Vampires: Los Muertos. As The Coupe de Villes, the three directors/musicians were featured on the soundtrack to Carpenter's film Big Trouble in Little China, performing the theme song, written by Carpenter. The band cut an album in 1986 entitled Waiting out the Eighties, but it was never officially released (Carpenter has said in interviews that he has handed out copies of the album to friends). Carpenter, Wallace, Castle also have a cameo as The Coupe de Villes in Castle's 1987 film The Boy Who Could Fly. When I interviewed Carpenter in 1998, on his 50th birthday, I asked him about the band, and he told me he was scheduled to play with them that night. Belonging to a band does not seem like a leap for Carpenter who has been actively involved in creating music for his films from the start.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

 

Ten Second Films

I was surfing the web today and stumbled across a website for The Ten Second Films Competition (www.tensecondfilms.com). The competition drew more than 1000 submissions, according its creator and organizer, Candide Media Works (www.candidemedia.com), a web and video marketing/production company whose clients include HBO Online, PBS and Warner Bros. In an industry where bigger is always thought of as better, a competition that encourages creative filmmaking and communication skills in a 10 second timeframe is intriguing. It got me to wondering... What might Frank Capra or Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg do if given only ten seconds to tell a story, convey a message or evoke an emotion? The winners of the first competition were announced earlier this year: First Prize (and $1000) to Walking Haiku directed by Sorrel Ahlfeld; Second Prize (and $500) to Rollerskates! directed by Mary Hawkins; and Third Prize (and $250) to The 7th Distraction directed by Daniel Watts. The films and their creators' bios, and other cool information, are available at www.tensecondfilms.com. Check them out. It will only take you 30 seconds!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

 

Taxi Driver: Fact or Fiction?

On my third visit this year to the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy, while waiting by the bandstand (at the corner of Grand Ave and Baxter St) for 50s rock-n-rollers Vito Picone and the Elegants to take the stage, I spied, over my shoulder, standing silently against a building behind me, a man who was the spitting image of Travis Bickle, the Robert DeNiro character in Martin Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver. Astounded, I pointed him out to a fellow Italian feast-goer from Brooklyn who cracked up with laughter when he saw the uncanny resemblance. Thin faced, sporting a shaved-down, closely cropped Mohawk, a blue-and-white checkered buttoned-down short sleeved cotton shirt (with sunglasses hanging in front), the DeNiro-as-Bickle look-alike calmly, but continuously, checked his wrist watch and then, on my sixth or seventh glance in his direction, was gone.

 

The Return of Francis Ford Coppola!

Perhaps the greatest director to emerge from 1970s Hollywood has announced his return. Following an eight-year hiatus from directing feature films, Francis Ford Coppola confirmed with the Associated Press yesterday that he has returned to the director's chair to helm Youth Without Youth. The film stars Tim Roth, and is adapted from a novella by Romanian philosopher-author Mircea Eliade. Coppola, who is scheduled to begin filming in Romania on Oct. 3, told AP, "It's a parable, it's a fable. It's almost like an intellectual Twilight Zone. In a way, it's like a Hitchcock picture and Tim Roth is the Jimmy Stewart [character] -- the guy who gets caught up in something fascinating and big." This is Coppola's first new film since his 1997 mediocre effort The Rainmaker. Recently, he's concentrated on his vineyard, and on new versions of past films, including Apocalypse Now Redux and the just-released The Outsiders: The Whole Novel. Many Coppola fans had been anticipating that Megalopolis -- a screenplay about a futuristic city that the director has been writing for more than two decades -- would be his next film. Coppola, of course, is best known for his three Godfather films, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, all of which either won, or were nominated, for Best Picture by the Motion Picture Academy. Coppola's daughter, Sofia has also come into her own as a writer/director. Her Best Screenplay win for Lost in Translation made her the third generation of Coppola's to receive Oscars. (Coppola's father Carmine won for Best Score for The Godfather Part II.) Here's hoping Youth Without Youth is not only a return to directing for Coppola but a return to greatness.

Friday, September 23, 2005

 

Opie, Laverne & Meathead

Four Best Picture Academy Award nominations between them. One Best Picture win. One Best Director win. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, no one would have thought that Ron Howard (Opie of The Andy Griffith Show and later Richie Cunningham of Happy Days); Penny Marshall (Laverne of Laverne & Shirley); and Rob Reiner (Mike "Meathead" Stivic of All in the Family) would be directing major motion pictures, let alone receiving Best Picture nominations. But as the trend of actors turned directors began to heat up, these three former sitcom stars led the way with impressive bodies of work that eventually would lead to peer recognition and Oscar nominations. Penny Marshall (who had already directed Tom Hanks to his first Best Actor nomination in Big) hit pay dirt in 1990 with a Best Picture nomination for her film Awakenings (starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, in one of his best performances ever). She didn't, however, receive a Best Director nomination. Next up was (Penny Marshall's ex husband) Rob Reiner. He had made his mark with Stand By Me and When Harry Met Sally... and directed Kathy Bates to a Best Actress win in Misery, but it was A Few Good Men, in 1992, that garnered the first Best Picture nomination for one of his films. However, he, like Marshall was not recognized with a nomination for Best Director. Ron Howard (who had been building a sizeable audience with his feel-good flicks of the 80s including Splash and Cocoon) scored his first Best Picture nomination in 1995 for Apollo 13. Like his fellow actors-turned-directors, he also did not receive a Best Director nomination. Then in 2001, Howard broke through and not only received the second Best Picture nomination for one of his films, but watched, on Oscar night, as the picture, A Beautiful Mind won the top prize and he, himself, took home the gold for directing as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

Jon Silberg: Hollywood Renaissance Man

Writer. Photographer. Editor. Film, TV & Live Events Producer. Film Historian. Humorist. Storyteller. Intellectual. Friend. I first met Jon Silberg in 1987, while working as the Editorial Researcher at American Film magazine in NY. He had come to NY, from a small town in PA, to work in independent films and had joined the publication as an intern for further exposure to the film industry (while he produced short pieces for PBS and HBO). Working close together on many projects, we discovered a shared love for cinema and began to build a friendship I treasure to this day. (Jon is simply the best storyteller and funniest person I know.) When American Film was purchased from the AFI and MD Publications by Billboard Publications, Inc (BPI) Jon and I cut deals with the new management and soon were running the magazine from BPI headquarters in Times Square (at 1515 Broadway). That lasted only a few months before BPI decided to move American Film to Los Angeles to synergize it with another recently purchased property, The Hollywood Reporter. I remember the day we got the news: Silberg and I walked around Manhattan for a while until we ended up at the bar in a TGI Fridays restaurant in Rockefeller Center. Silberg downed shots of Tequila and I drank Screwdrivers as we talked about what to do next. Eventually, Silberg moved to Los Angeles and freelanced for American Film (until it folded) and numerous other publications covering film and television. He joined Boxoffice and Millimeter magazines for a while and soon began carving a name for himself as one of the leading and most prolific film journalists in the region. His bylines began to appear regularly in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Silberg soon became a recognized face around the country at industry parties, conventions and seminars, where he occasionally moderated panels on film discussion. For two years, he produced The DVD Awards in LA (giving us another opportunity to work together, as I was writing copy for and marketing that awards show at the time). A love for photography eventually had Silberg documenting activities on the film sets and at industry events. I was overjoyed when I learned that he was lined up to produce his first major motion picture, 9/Tenths, starring the beautiful Gabrielle Anwar and directed by Bob Degus (producer of Pleasantville). I eagerly await the release of that film and look forward to the next chapter in my friend's career.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

 

Kevin Costner & Baseball Movies

I was just about to settle in and watch The Upside of Anger on DVD when a question sprung to mind: What is it with Kevin Costner and baseball movies? In The Upside of Anger, Costner plays former baseball great Denny Davies (a fictional character said to be based on a combination of real-life ballplayers Denny McLain and Kirk Gibson). This makes the fifth film in which Costner has either portrayed a baseball player or been associated with baseball. His film debut was in the 1982 baseball movie Chasing Dreams. His breakthrough role was as minor league ballplayer, Crash Davis, in the 1988 film Bull Durham. He followed that the next year with the homerun, Field of Dreams. (His character Ray Kinsella builds a baseball field in his cornfield and the ghosts of the disgraced 1919 White Sox, and someone much more important to Kinsella, show up.) In 1999, Costner took the starring role as Billy Chapel, a pitcher at the end of his career who must choose between baseball and the woman of his dreams, in For Love of the Game, directed by a pre-Spider-Man Sam Raimi. And now, The Upside of Anger in 2005. One can only imagine what's on deck.

 

Norman Rockwell Movies

As Autumn approaches tomorrow, I've turned my mind to the annual trek I take up to the Berkshires Mountains in Massachusetts and Arlington, Vermont -- commonly known, collectively, as Norman Rockwell country -- to relax and commune with nature. The magnificent illustrator lived in these areas a good part of his life (first in Arlington and then later in Stockbridge) and created many of his most famous paintings while living there. Of course, Rockwell is best known for his slice-of-life Americana illustrations which adorned the covers of The Saturday Evening Post. But I have always wondered why filmmakers did not turned to Rockwell's work as inspiration for movies. Rockwell's greatest fans (including me) have always commented on how, above all else, Rockwell is a storyteller. Still, only two films have been made. In 1972, director Robert Deubel and writer Gaby Monet released Norman Rockwell's World...An American Dream, a short documentary on the painter that wove together interviews with him and elaborate recreations of the times in which he lived. The film won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. Then in 1987, director/writer John Wilder -- and an all-star cast, including Oscar winners Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint -- adapted Rockwell's painting Breaking Home Ties (a scene of a father and son waiting together for a bus that will take the boy away from home for the first time) into a film of the same name. I enjoyed watching these Rockwell characters come to life. I had hoped more films like it would follow, but that's been it. However, a wealth of possibilities await a filmmaker or screenwriter willing to create stories around the vividly imagined, and lovingly illustrated characters of Norman Rockwell. Any takers?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

 

Remaking John Carpenter Films

Opening shortly (no doubt, to capitalize on the upcoming Halloween season) is the remake of John Carpenter's 1980 film The Fog. This is the second John Carpenter film to be remade and released this year. The summer of 2005 saw the release of the remake of Carpenter's second feature Assault on Precinct 13, which he made in 1976. So why the sudden interest in remaking Carpenter films? Well, for one, his films fall into specific genres (horror, action) so audiences, even audiences too young to fully appreciate Carpenter's work, know what they're getting. Secondly, Carpenter is a brand, so those of us old enough to remember the original films, might be interested in seeing the remakes. Thirdly, other contemporaries of Carpenter (also considered, by many, to be master horror film directors) George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper have recently enjoyed a rebirth as well with the remakes of Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Carpenter, himself, has directed a couple of remakes (The Thing and Village of the Damned). Can a remake of Carpenter's masterpiece, Halloween (despite seven sequels) be far behind?

 

Industrial & Educational Films of the 50s & 60s

No films capture the era in which they were made better than the short industrial and educational films which proliferated in the 1950s and 60s. These films showed us why soldiers were fighting; proper etiquette in school and at home; how to practice good hygiene; how to conform to society's expectations of us; how to improve your life with more appliances; how to plan and throw the perfect dinner party; even how to properly cut pieces of meat! Whenever I view these films, I am totally captivated and lost in the era they reflect. Some of the sentiments and images in the movies are nostalgically pleasing, while others make you cringe. Some years ago, film producer (and friend of mine) Alan Boyd used many of these short films in two compilations: Cruisin' Thru the 50s and Cruisin' Thru the 60s. Luckily, today, if you want to view these little film gems, many websites allow you to stream or download them (free of charge). The best site to begin with would be www.archive.org which has catalogued hundreds of these films to view. Other sites that preserve these films include: www.schoolfilmarchives.com, dedicated to the preservation of educational shorts; and www.chicagofilmarchives.org, since, for years, Chicago was the center of production for many of these films. Some DVD's even offer these films as tongue-in-cheek extras, such as Herschel Gordon Lewis' awful Blood Feast. There, in the special features section, you can catch a short industrial film on proper meat cutting techniques (get it?), that stars none other than a young Harvey Korman (of "The Carol Burnett Show" fame). Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has occasionally aired some of these shorts as filler between features. They never fail to entertain, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Take the time to catch a few.

Monday, September 19, 2005

 

Kay Lenz and Three Movies, Long Ago

The actress Kay Lenz first came to my attention in the 1978 made-for-TV movie The Initiation of Sarah. Obviously trying to cash in on the success of Carrie (which Brian DePalma had adapted from Stephen King's novel two years prior), the film has Lenz portraying Sarah Goodwin, a shy college freshman who joins a strange sorority on campus and soon discovers that she has telekinetic powers, which she eventually uses against a rival sorority house and her own. While the film was clearly derivative, something about Lenz's performance was fresh, and made me eager to see what she did next. The following year, she appeared in The Seeding of Sarah Burns. Here, Lenz played a woman who was willing to carry an embryo to term for a childless couple, but then has second thoughts about giving up the child. Very much of its time, the film would still ring true today (as fertility issues will never be fully resolved) and Lenz was wonderful. I wanted more. Two years later, she had a smaller role in The Hustler of Muscle Beach, directed by Jonathan Kaplan (who would later direct Jodie Foster to her first Best Actress Oscar in The Accused). The film was taking advantage of the fitness craze that was starting to sweep the country in the 80s. Lenz played a supporting role to Richard Hatch (the hustler of the title), but just seeing her on screen again was cool. She has since had a prolific acting career (mostly on TV); won two Emmys; and even married David Cassidy (Keith Partridge of "The Partridge Family" fame) for a while. But I will forever (and fondly) associate her with these three films.

 

Where is Andrew Kevin Walker?

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker burst onto the Hollywood scene in the early-to-mid 90s with a flurry of feature screenplay credits including the highly respected, and now often duplicated film Se7en. At the time, he was (deservedly) hailed a one of the best new screenwriters around. He even earned a nomination for the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award for the Se7en screenplay. Soon, Hollywood's A-list directors took notice and wanted to work with Walker. Other credits that decade included Brainscan, Hideaway, 8MM (directed by Joel Schumacher) and Sleepy Hollow (directed by Tim Burton). But Walker has not had a feature screen credit since. He wrote a screenplay for X-Men which was ultimately rejected, and then was attached to the planned Superman vs Batman project, before it was scrapped. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) doesn't even have a work-in-progress listed. Am I the only person interested in what will be the next screenplay produced from this bold and original screenwriter?

 

Movie Partnerships: Directors & Actors

Once in a while, for whatever reason, a director and an actor will work so well together, before long, they have amassed a body of work with each other which defines each of them. (The films of Frank Capra & James Stewart; John Ford & John Wayne; Alfred Hitchcock & Grace Kelly, and even Steven Spielberg & Tom Hanks come to mind.) But here are three examples I have followed closely. In each case, it seems as if both people are part of the same cinematic vision, an true extension of each other, one behind and one in front of the camera.:

Martin Scorsese & Robert DeNiro: Scorsese may have started his career working with Harvey Keitel, and as of late been making films with Leonardo DiCaprio, but the movies from which his legend is born are those he collaborated on with Robert DeNiro. With Scorsese directing and DeNiro acting, the two have made eight films together: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Cape Fear and Casino. (Last year, they both lent their voices to the Mafia-as-fish animated comedy Shark Tale, bringing the total number of films together to nine.)

John Carpenter & Kurt Russell: While it's true that Carpenter directed the films that made him a legend in the horror genre without Russell (Halloween and The Fog), the films the two have made together (starting with the quintessential Elvis biopic, simply entitled Elvis) seem like a buddy directing a buddy. For Carpenter, Russell is the cowboy in the westerns he has always longed to, but never gets to, make. Carpenter's fans may expect horror and fantasy from him, but there is no mistaking the western undertones of the Carpenter/Russell collaborations: Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape From LA. It's been nearly a decade though since their last effort together. It's time for another!

Tim Burton & Johnny Depp: Never before has a director had such a doppleganger on screen or a persona so fully realized. Nearly 50 percent of all Burton features star Johnny Depp, and with reason. Depp is not only willing, but able, to portray the loners with whom Burton identifies. The two have made five films together, to date -- two this year alone! Their collaborations include: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride. No doubt they will work together again before long.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

 

Little Italy on Film

Today, I'm headed down to Little Italy, NY with my children, to continue my life-long tradition of attending the San Gennaro Feast, a 10-day celebration in honor of the patron saint of Naples that stretches along Mulberry St (the heart of Little Italy), from Houston St to Canal St. The feast is a central component of Little Italy, an area of NY rich with cultural history and one that has, over the years, lent itself well to film. Little Italy is located in downtown NY, north of Chinatown and just west of the Lower East Side. This is the part of town where director Martin Scorcese grew up. In fact, I will pass the church where he served as an alterboy, St Patrick's Old Cathedral on Mott St. This is the church he used in Mean Streets. (Remember the scene when Harvey Keitel measures how close he can keep his fingers to a flame, while contemplating Hell?) Scorsese shot the entire film on the streets of Little Italy (and in doing so captured elements of the area now long gone). The Feast of San Gennaro appears in Mean Streets. This is also where Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes for all three Godfather films. Director Abel Ferrara used Little Italy quite effectively for his Romeo & Juliet story China Girl. The bar where Lefty (Al Pacino) and Donnie (Johnny Depp) first meet in Donnie Brasco was Mare Chiaro in Little Italy, located at 176 Mulberry Street, between Broome and Grand Streets.The Pope of Greenwhich Village was shot, in part, on Mulberry St. Cher even buys some wine down on Mulberry St in Norman Jewison's paean to Italian culture, Moonstruck. Scenes from The French Connection were filmed here as well. And it also figures into The Freshman, the big Godfather in-joke movie from Andrew Bregman. No doubt Little Italy will continue to appear in films, as new filmmakers discover the character and richness of the area.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

 

Is ET... Jesus?

By 1982, much was already being written about the secular religion (of The Force and The Darkside) that was growing with fans of the Star Wars films and the mythology into which those films tapped. But the world was not prepared for what was going to hit them in the summer of 1982 when a new film by Steven Spielberg (who had, by this time, thrilled and fascinated audiences with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark) opened. E.T.,The Extraterrestrial tapped into even deeper archetypes, and before the year was out, it would become the most popular film of all time. On the surface, E.T. tells the simple story of a young alien mistakenly left behind on Earth, and the subsequent relationship he develops with a boy named Elliott, who shelters him, and tries to help him get back home. But, on a closer look, the film has all the markings of a retelling the central story of Christian faith. Namely, the story of Jesus. Sound crazy? Let's quickly examine the two stories side-by-side: ET arrives on Earth from the heavens and is taken in by a foster family (Elliott and his siblings). Jesus arrives on Earth from Heaven and is raised by a foster family (Mary and Joseph). While here, ET performs "miracles," he heals people; brings dead flowers back to life, with the touch of his finger, which glows bright. While here, Jesus performs miracles. He heals people with the touch of his finger and brings dead people back to life. ET's powers are hidden from the rest of the community; but his close circle of friends knows what he can do. Jesus often asks his close circle of friends to keep his identity, as the Christ, a secret. ET is helped by children. Jesus preached that "unless a person can accept the kingdom of God as a little child, he won't enter into it." ET "phones home" to contact his counterparts in the heavens. Jesus prays to contact his heavenly counterpart. When the authorities catch ET, he dies. When the authorities catch Jesus, he is put to death. ET rises from the dead and is seen for the first time, in his risen state, by the children who believe in him. As the doors to the truck, where his body was, are opened, he is seen with white flowing garments around him. Jesus rises from the dead and is seen for the first time, in his risen state, by people who believed in him. When the stone to his tomb is moved aside, in his risen state, Jesus is said to be in white garments. ET meets his mother ship (which looks a lot like a Christmas tree ornament), and ascends into the heavens. Jesus says he is going to the Father, and ascends into Heaven. Before ET leaves, he tells his closest friends to "Be Good," points to their hearts and says, "I'll be right here." Before Jesus leaves, he tells his friends, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and also, "I am with you everyday, even until the end of the world." Is all this coincidence? And for that matter, was the poster for the film, which mimics the Michelangelo painting of the creation of man (replacing a close-up of God's finger and Adam's finger with those of ET's and Elliott's) also a coincidence? What do you think? Let me know.

 

My Top Five Favorite Films

These are films that made a significant impact on me when I first saw them, they resonated with me, stuck with me long after, and made me want to watch them again and again. These are films that I could watch anytime, and many, many times over. They entertain, enlighten and educate me about the world, about people and about relationships. Here they are in ascending order:

5- Say Anything: Perhaps this film, directed by Cameron Crowe and starring John Cusack and Ione Skye, still occupies my top five because of where I was in my life when I first saw it. At the time, it cut through the clutter of the typical John Hughes teenage romantic comedies of the day and gave audiences "real" teenagers, dealing with the tough issues of growing up and falling in love; of family loyalties versus branching out on your own. Skye's character is beautiful, intelligent and financially well off, yet she's still vulnerable. Cusack, in one of his best performances ever, embodies everyman/boy at that age, with all the doubts and angst and passion that drive teenage love. My two favorite scenes: Just after Cusack and Skye make love for the first time in the back seat of a car, he's shaking and she asks "Are you cold?" "No," he replies, "I'm happy." And, when things breakdown between them, the bold step he takes of standing outside her window, his boombox high held above his head, and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" spilling out. I can't think of many more romantic moments in all of cinema history.

4- Groundhog Day: This film took me by complete surprise when I first saw it. With Bill Murray starring and Harold Ramis directing I expected a pretty silly comedy, but what they delivered left me speechless. There were laughs in the film, plenty of them, but at its heart it's not a comedy. It's a morality play. Murray is a cranky weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities with his beautiful, new producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman (Cris Elliot). When an unexpected blizzard strands them in this small town, Murray's character is forced to relive this same day over and over and over again. At first, he uses it to his gain (money, sex, power), then it brings him to desperation (but he discovers he can't kill himself no matter how hard he tries), then despair, as he realizes no matter how hard he tries he can't save everyone around him either (a lonely old man gains Murray's compassion, but no matter how many different ways he attempts it, he can't save this man's life). Slowly, as he observes himself and the life around him, he starts to grow, his soul begins to heal, he becomes more aware, enlighten of his role in life and he realizes the worth of this life, of friendship, of community and of love. Like Murray's character, I could relive this film over and over and over again.

3- The Godfather: The film has rightly taken it's place in American folklore. A prime example of a film improving on the source material. Legendary gambles that paid off in huge dividends. The most unlikely cast, combining to form the most perfect union. A tale of family above all else. It gave us some of the greatest lines ever recorded on film. If When Harry Met Sally... teach us how to relate to those we love, this film teaches us how to deal with the rest of the world. Is it because I'm Italian? Is it because this film takes place in New York? Maybe, but I don't think so. It's compelling in ways films don't know how to be anymore. It just seems to be a work of love for director Francis Ford Coppola, his chance to record the greatness of his culture, even as he tells the tale of one of its greatest blemishes. He makes us care when these people are injured and has us understand the reasons behind their brutality. The scope, the finely tuned performances, the music and the dialogue. There's little chance of this film ever leaving my top five.

2- When Harry Met Sally...: Is love fated? Is there only one person you're meant to be with? Is there a point in a relationship when is simply too late to have sex? This magnificent film doesn't just address these questions, it paints a portrait of friends and relationships that you want to come back to again and again. (I have more than 40 times). It makes New York seem like the best place in the world to live. It uses American song standards to remind us of (often ironically) of what's going on inside the heads of these characters. The actors ad lib and it seems as if they haven't missed a beat because, no film has ever seemed so real in its depiction of the things people say. More than anything, this film celebrates conversation, with friends, with lovers and with a friend that may one day become your lover. Watch it alone. Then watch it with a friend. Then watch it with a lover. Then watch it alone again.

1- It's a Wonderful Life: Some people say it's too sappy. Then those people can call me sappy, because I treasure this film above all others. When a man, on Christmas Eve, has given up and is about to kill himself, all those around him, all those whose lives he thinks he's made worse, turn to Heaven and plead for help. This man is too important to them to die. He's affected their lives positively is so many little ways, each day, these ways are invisible. He certainly can't see them. To him, his life is a failure. He didn't do any of the things he hoped he would do in his life. And now, midway through his life, because of the jealousy of a rival, he is brought to his knees. He's given up. But the world around him hasn't given up (largely in part because of him). An angel appears. At first, he confesses to the angel that he feels he would be better off dead, then he recants "Maybe you're right. Maybe it would be better if I had never been born." On this snowy Christmas Eve, at the very end of his rope, he gets his wish, and is able to witness what life would be like for his friends and family if he had never been born. And suddenly, all those invisible little things that he did right all his life begin to matter. His very existence matters. Films have tried for years to recapture this message, but none have ever met the power with which this masterpiece from director Frank Capra and James Stewart is able to convey it. This is more than a Christmas movie, it's a movie about life and friends and community and relationships and the basic intrinsic worth of every single human life on the planet.

Are these some of your favorites too? If not, what are yours? Let me know.


Friday, September 16, 2005

 

What Ever Happened to Adam Davidson?

If you were Adam Davidson, 1990 was a pretty good year. The aspiring young filmmaker had been attending Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, and his short live action film, The Lunch Date had become nothing less than a phenomenon. It first won the Student Academy Awards for best achievement (drama) and best directing. It then went on to win the Palme D'or at Cannes for Best Short Film and finally garnered an Oscar for Best Live Action Short. Not a bad year. Davidson seemed well on his way to a huge career (The next Coppola? The next Scorsese?) Industry chatter was abuzz with what his next project would be? It was quickly announced that he would write Hell Camp, a screenplay inspired by a real life executive training camp in Japan. The film was to be directed by Oscar winner Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus). But that project fell through at the last moment and since then, Davidson has mainly been making a living directing episodic TV, including "Six Feet Under," "Monk," and a "Law and Order" episode that earned him a Directors Guild nomination. A collaboration (of sorts) with Forman finally came to fruition in 2000 with Davidson's feature film directorial debut Way Past Cool, an independent film which Forman, along with Norman Lear, executive produced. (But the film played only one week in theaters -- and only in New York.) This year, Davidson is reportedly working on a documentary entitled For Norman...Wherever You Are, and has taken a stab at directing live theater in Los Angeles. It seems a far cry from 1990, when the industry just couldn't seem to give him enough accolades for a ten minute film.

 

When Harry & Sally & I Met

If it were not for the existence of It's a Wonderful Life, the film When Harry Met Sally... would top my list of all-time favorites. Harry and Sally and I first met in 1989 at the UA Sheapshead Bay theater in Brooklyn in 1989, Since then, have viewed the film at least an additional 40 times, everywhere and anywhere I could. I have often said that everything you need to know about relationships you can learn from watching When Harry Met Sally... The film is the best collaboration of acting, writing and directing ever on screen. It's Meg Ryan's finest moment. (Her nuanced performance as Sally Albright, every turn of her head, or widening of her eyes, doesn't even seem like acting, she IS the character.) Billy Crystal has never been better than he is as Harry Burns, a less-than-optimistic person who we watch mature on screen, not in some sort of artificial movie way, but slowly, through experiences and rethinking (you know, the way humans do it). Nora Ephron has never been able to match the words she put in these characters' mouths (although she has clearly tried, again and again, most notably with Sleepless In Seattle). And in the hands of director Rob Reiner (who drew on his own life experiences to infuse this story) the film achieves a level of humanity seldom seen on screen. It's real. You like these characters. You want to know their story. The film leaves us with so many -- so many -- indelible images. Sure, everybody remembers the famous Deli scene, but images of Harry and Sally saying goodbye (for the first time) under the Washington Square Arch in NY, or dancing for the first time (cheek to cheek) at a New Year's Eve party, or picking out a Christmas tree on a NY sidewalk outside a cobblestone church and carrying it home as a light snow falls, or Harry running through the empty streets on New Year's Eve to find Sally and how their eyes meet when he does finally does, are just a handful of unforgettable scenes that this magnificent film gives us. And the dialogue...pure magic, as if the wisest of sages imbued his/her spirit into them. From Harry: "A man and a woman can never be friends. The sex part always gets in the way." From Sally: "Harry, you have to realize that you simply can't express every emotion you have every time you have them. There is a time and place for things." From Sally: "So, you are saying I should marry someone just in case he's about to die?" Her friend: "At least you could say you were married." I could go on and on. In fact, I could put the entire script down here. This is a truly a rare film. One of a kind. It not only makes us laugh; it makes us think; it makes us fee; it connects to us. We see ourselves in the subtle facial expressions of Sally and the nervous joking nature of Harry. We recognize the need for friends as we view the relationship with theirs (Jess and Marie, two wonderful performances by Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher). We know what it's like to love and doubt and want and fear wanting. The film is not a comedy. It's not a drama. It's simply life. There are many roads to finding a life partner. When Harry Met Sally... shows us a few. It makes us trust in the nature of relationships because it doesn't trivialize them. It nurtures them along and lets us watch as they unfold, not as a movie unfolds, but as life unfolds.

 

Curtain Falls on Robert Wise, 91

Robert Wise (who died September 14 of heart failure at age 91) directed 39 films in his career, ranging from westerns to science fiction (Star Trek:The Motion Picture). He also served as president of the Motion Picture Academy. But I, and I suppose, most of the film lovers the world round, will always associate him with having directed two of the greatest motion picture musicals of all time: The Sound of Music and West Side Story. The two films have many similarities. Both films earned the Best Picture Oscar and both won Wise a Best Director Oscar. In both cases, these films were adapted from successful Broadway musicals, and in both cases, they improved on their source material, as Wise truly understood the scope of film and how to "open up" these works and take full advantage of the medium. Who will ever forget the sweeping opening of The Sound of Music as the camera swoops over the hills until it focuses on the character of Maria as she sings "The hills are alive...with the sound of music..."? Or the use of the countryside and local architecture which seemed to perfectly underscore songs like "Do Re Mi"? Likewise, in West Side Story, again a sweeping aerial overview (this time of Manhattan) and a ominous whistling soundtrack follow the camera to The Jets, a gang of westsiders, and their leader Riff. The scenes in West Side Story were also cleverly rearranged from the stage version to better balance and contrast the downturned views of America from each rival gang. (The Spanish gang -- The Sharks -- sings of the oppression (and their girlfriends, of hope) of living in the U.S. in the song "America" while the native born gang expresses its sense of oppression of living here in the song "Officer Krupke." The use of color in West Side Story is also brilliant as the screen turns red with heat as the anger between the gangs rise or blue as the love grows between the central character of Tony and Maria. These two films simply represent the best in American movie musicals and only grow richer with each new viewing. Wise was a masterful director whose sense of cinema will be missed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

Content Matters, Not Technology

I realize it's a contradictory statement to say "content matters, not technology" when speaking about film since it took technology to create film. And, by this statement, I don't mean to imply that the advancements of digital technology (especially those technologies that have democratized the nature of filmmaking) are a bad thing. However, the fact that more and more people can make films now means two things. One, some undiscovered talents who might not otherwise ever be known will have a chance now to shine. And two, more crap can and will be made. Some people think a digital camcorder and desktop software make them a filmmaker. Wrong! All it makes them is someone with a digital camcorder and desktop software. Content still matters. Content has always mattered, and content will continue to matter long after this year's newest crop of technological advancements give way to next year's crop. It all starts with the story. If you have a good one, you have a good start. Actors matter. I don't care how much we can enhance performances digitally, good acting still matters. Directors and cinematographers matter. Film may have begun because of a technological invention (namely, the motion picture camera) but how it's used, where it's placed still matters. Now, I also realize that I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before, but it's worth saying again. All too often, Hollywood thinks we need bigger bangs, more realistic gunshot wounds and louder, crisper audio surrounding us. No. what audiences need, and have always needed, are good stories. The kind that stick with them long after they've left the theater. The kind that they tell their friends about. The kind they come back to see, again and again. Digital technology will come and go. The new will replace the old. But every movie since the beginning of cinema has relied on words that have been put on a page and then brought to life on screen. Long after this year's best digital motion picture camera is next year's doorstop, words will still be here. And the imagination of great minds to realize them on screen will be here too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

 

Big Opening Weekend! Then What?

Films, especially those that ultimately ended up in the Top Ten List of the most popular films of all time, used to have legs. Films used to build, platform from city to city...by word-of-mouth. And, at the end of their first run (remember first runs?) the boxoffice would be tallied and then, and only then, would we know where a film stood. The Godfather, The Sting, The Exorcist, Jaws, even the first Star Wars all had legs. During their runs, audiences were more interested in whether these films were well made, not in how much money they made. This phenomenon of wanting to know boxoffice intake started about 20 years ago. In the wake of blockbusters such as ET, a growing interest in how much money a film made, over whether it was good, started to emerge. Suddenly, in newspapers on Monday or Tuesday, the previous weekend's boxoffice numbers were being published. (Until then, such information was regulated to industry newspapers Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, read by studio executives and industry insiders.) But all of a sudden, the average moviegoer also knew what a film made its opening weekend. They knew where it ranked. They even knew what the drop off percentage was from the previous week. And this affected the marketing of films as well. Now a movie could boast the fact that it was the #1 film in the country that week, or if not that, at least the #1 comedy in the country, or the #1 action film. Ranking and boxoffice intake began to overshadow what critics thought. Hell, if everyone in the country was seeing this film, shouldn't you? It was kinda marketing by peer pressure. Ultimately, this also changed the way the industry began to view a film's success. If a film didn't open BIG, it was deemed a failure. Today, the overwhelming percentage of boxoffice intake the average blockbuster makes is made in its first and second WEEKENDS. Even films like this year's boxoffice leaders, Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds opened huge and then fell fast. Still, their openings were SO huge, they were enough to catapult them to the top. Stars Wars opened in May, but by July (just a month and a half later), it felt as if it had opened years ago. It seemed to disappear. Very very different from the first Star Wars (1977) which seemed to be IN theaters for years. There wasn't anywhere you could go in 1977 and not hear about or see Star Wars. But that was nearly 30 years ago. This year's installment blasted into theaters, reaped huge opening weekend dollars and left with warp speed to be further moved along the revenue chain. DVDs, pay-per-view, and cable lay ahead. There's a line from a song that says "It's not where start it's where you finish..." But that doesn't hold true in modern day Hollywood..It IS where you start that counts. Where you finish now DEPENDS on that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

 

Stephen King & The Best Picture Oscar

This is an oddity worth noting. Stephen King, as almost everyone knows, has had numerous film adaptations made from his novels. In fact, so films have been made from his novels for so long now, some of them have already been remade (The Shining, Carrie, 'Salem's Lot and, believe it or not, Maximum Overdrive). And, while it's true that some of his film adaptations have flirted with Oscar (Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were both nominated for their performances in Carrie; Stand By Me was nominated for Best Screenplay; and Kathy Bates won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Misery), only two Stephen King film adaptations have ever been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. And here's the (astonishing) facts about those two films: both are period pieces, both are prison dramas, and both were directed by the same person, Frank Darabont. (In fact, until Darabont diverted from this unlikely cinematic sub-genre of Stephen King prison dramas to direct the less-than-successful Capra-esque comedy The Majestic with Jim Carrey, he was batting 1000 for Best Picture nominations at Oscar time.) For the record, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture; The Green Mile (1999), starring Tom Hanks was nominated for four Oscars also including Best Picture. What are the odds?

 

Movie with a Mission: A Look Back at Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line is the documentary that made me fall in love with documentaries. Errol Morris may have (deservedly) won his Oscar for The Fog of War, but in many ways, I will always consider The Thin Blue Line, released in 1988, to be his masterpiece. Super Size Me may have forced McDonald's to remove its largest meals from the menu, and Bowling for Columbine may have pressured Wal-mart to stop selling gun ammunition (both good things), but Morris' Thin Blue Line was actually instrumental in overturning a murder charge and having an innocent man released from prison. Like Roshimon, the stories of drifter Randall Adams and juvenile delinquent David Harris diverge in recalling the fateful night when they met and a murder took place. With a need to solve the murder case quickly (and, it's argued in the film, a desire for the death penalty), the DA's office in Dallas rushes to charge and convict Adams, since Harris -- 16 at the time -- would have been too young to receive a death sentence. Adams is found guilty and his sentence is ultimately commuted to life in prison. Morris, who is able to interview all of the principle players in this drama, gets what amounts to a confession from Harris, who at the time of the film, was (ironically) awaiting a death sentence for murdering another man during an attempted kidnapping. (On June 30, 2004, at age 43, Harris was executed by lethal injection for that crime.) But even without Harris' death row "confession," the film skillfully shows how Adams was most likely innocent. I rented the film again recently and watched it with the same fascination I had the first time I saw it. It reminded me of another murder that occurred in Dallas. (I remember reading in Esquire magazine that when Oliver Stone began making JFK he truly believing his film would "solve" the mystery of who was behind JFK's assassination, but as filming went on, and more and more theories were being presented, it became clear that no such resolution would ever be reached.) Here, Morris DOES solve a mystery, by meticulously piecing together testimony and events and showing them over and over until a clear picture begins to emerge. Ultimately, Stone's attempt with JFK, although valiant, points a finger at EVERYONE in the President's murder. Here, Morris hones his skills as a filmmaker as if he was a detective, and takes the audience along for the ride. The Thin Blue Line shows the power of documentaries to not only shed light on events long since passed but to also, at times, correct them. I am still in awe of this film. Have you seen it? What did you think?

Monday, September 12, 2005

 

Bigfoot on Film

One of the most American of monsters, the character of Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch), a halfman/half beast creature that is believed to be living in the forests of US Northwest, has appeared numerous times on film. A recent movie taking on the subject is Sasquatch Hunters (originally titled Primeval before Sony picked it up for DVD distribution this year and changed the title). The low-budget film uses a combination of live action and digital effects to tell the tale of a group of forest rangers and researchers who come face-to-face with a clan of Bigfoot creatures during an expedition. But perhaps the most famous "Bigfoot" film is the Patterson-Gimlin film. On October 20, 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin reportedly spotted a real Bigfoot in Bluff Creek, CA and shot about 24 feet of film, with a 16mm hand-held Kodak movie camera, before the creature ran away. (Next to the Abraham Zapruder film, a silent 8mm movie which captured the assassination of JFK, this little snippet of celluloid may just be the most famous amateur film of all time.) It generated an image of Bigfoot that is now known the world over and, in the 1970s, influenced a spate of B-films and "documentaries" about the creature. In short order, films such as Bigfoot (1970), The Legend of Boggy Creek (1973), Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot (1977) and The Capture of Bigfoot (1979) hit the big screen. The character even showed up in one of the most popular TV shows of the 70s: The Six Million Dollar Man. Played by both Ted Cassidy (Lurch of TV's The Addams Family) and Andre the Giant (wrestler and actor from The Princess Bride), Bigfoot teamed with the Bionic Man for adventures that fans of the series STILL say are their all-time favorite episodes. In the ET-friendly 80s, Bigfoot was recast as a kindly creature as depicted in Harry and the Hendersons (first on film and later in a short-lived TV series). But recently, the fear of the creature that sparked the nationwide interest back in the 70s, has returned in films such as Sasquatch Hunters. Interest in this monster story is apparently still fairly high, as Sasquatch Hunters, when released on DVD, jumped into the Top 10 List for Direct-to-Video title rentals and stayed there for six weeks. Do you have a favorite Bigfoot film? Do you remember the first time you saw the footage of the creature? Let me know. Post here or contact me at montesano2005@aol.com.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

 

Reality at the Movies

Fahrenheit 911 may well be the only documentary "blockbuster," but enough of these type of movies have done well enough in recent years to wonder...Is the documentary the next great film genre? Sure, you're thinking, there's always been documentaries. I agree. (The groundbreaking documentary Nanook of the North was filmed in 1922 and the legendary Frank Capra documented World War II in Why We Fight.) So why now? Could it be due to the surge in reality-based TV shows? Might it be due to a rev-up on TV of documentaries over the last few years?: VH-1's Behind the Music. A&E's Biography. The E! True Hollywood Story. The History Channel. Clearly, documentaries are NOT just for PBS any longer. Well, whatever the reason, we can't the deny the standalone successes on the big screen of Capturing the Friedmans; Spellbound; Bowling for Columbine; Fahrenheit 911; Super Size Me; and this year's Mad Hot Ballroom; and the breakthrough hit March of the Penguins. If the genre has its first blockbuster in Fahrenheit 911, then it (deservedly) has its first superstar in that film's creator: Michael Moore. Moore has made back-to-back masterpieces with Columbine (which won the Oscar) and 911. If, at the mention of Moore's name you think to yourself, "He is the most manipulative filmmaker ever!" or you think "He is the most influential moviemaker ever!" you are testifying to his brilliance. He makes us think while making us laugh (which isn't as easy as it looks!) Does he have an agenda? Sure!! But all filmmakers do. He's not saying you have to agree with him. But how can we not watch his films? They are consistently among the best that year has to offer at the boxoffice. With Moore making movies, will documentaries continue to surge? I think they will. I don't think they've peaked. I want to see the next movie from the makers of all the films I've listed here. The documentary has come of age and I for one can't wait to see what's next.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

 

The $1.49 Double Feature?

I happened into a 99 Cents Store today and (of course) gravitated to a display of "DVDs for $1." A separate shelf at the same display announced "DVD Double Features for $1.49." Remember how great double features were? My friends and I still talk about them. As I rummaged through the DVDs, I came across Drive-In Massacre. This less-than-stellar title brought a smile to my face because it figures into one of my favorite moviegoing experiences (one that I talk about time and again). When I was a teenager (before of advent of VHS), a new low-budget horror movie would open every week. Back then, I would go anywhere, to any movie theater, to see some of the worst films ever made. In retrospect, this was productive, since I had a benchmark against which to measure the good ones. One week, I spied a tiny newspaper ad (I actually still have this ad) for a double feature of Drive-In Massacre and Driller Killer. (It would be many years later, as I was doing research to interview Abel Ferrara until I would realize that not only was Driller Killer his directorial debut, but he also starred in it!!) The only theater showing this double feature near me was the Duffield, a rundown movie house in a rough part of Brooklyn (in fact, this theater later closed after one of its patrons was killed during a showing of New Jack City). Since I didn't have my license yet, my father (also a huge horror movie buff) offered to drive me and stick around to check it out himself. I was far more unnerved about the theater we were in, than anything that was on the screen; but my father, completely unaffected by the surroundings, just sat there calmly munching on his popcorn. So, as I stood there today holding the DVD in my hand, this memory rushed back to me. I quickly flipped over the package and was ecstatic to see the second title: Driller Killer. Once again, these two movies shared a double bill! I happily put down my $1.49 and walked out with the films. My Dad is gone now, but having this DVD double feature in my collection (and watching it in the comfort of my own living room (instead of the rundown theater where I first saw it) will allow me to relive a particularly fun and somewhat adventurous time at the movies with him.

Friday, September 09, 2005

 

Is It Time for RoboFlight 2?

Emerging from the train station on Continental Ave in Forest Hills, NY, I ran into Dionisio Shin, the director of RoboFlight, the Telly award-winning SciFi short that I happened to score. The film played for three years on the SciFi Channel thanks to a deal its producer, Zohar Rom, was able to make with the cable network. It tells the story of a top secret virtual reality mission at a military base gone awry when a goofy teenage computer hacker breaks into the system and unexpectedly takes a second plane for a ride himself. Shin and I talked about the possibilities of future projects. Rom (who, as I write this, is on his way to Israel to see his ailing mother), I'm told, is interested. With Shin, Rom and I onboard, (perhaps some new talent?) and today's digital technology... is RoboFlight 2 (or anything we imagine for that matter) too far away?

 

See The Unseen

The Unseen is not a film, but it was conceived by Oscar-nominated filmmaker and photographer Robert K. Sharpe. Now showing at The Christian Herald Association building (132 Madison Ave, at the corner of 31 St.), The Unseen is a vivid collection of portraits depicting 18 homeless people, all assisted by the Bowery Mission in NY (a charitable organization that offers more than 500 meals a day, every day of the year to the needy and homeless). Each subject in Sharpe's photos is shown reaching through an ornate wooden picture frame. In describing his exhibition, Sharpe -- who has written and directed many films for the United States Information Agency and the Office of Economic Opportunity and was nominated for an Academy Award for Before the Mountain Was Moved, a feature documentary about the devastation that strip mining inflicted on people's lives in Appalachia -- said "I have chosen to photograph them as individuals, each in their own frame, from which, one day they will hopefully escape." The exhibition combines these magnificent photos with a one-page reflection from the subject on his or her life. The resulting combination of image and words is a work of tremendous humanity from a filmmaker who has now chosen to have his audience see his subjects in perpetual freezeframes. How long can we look before we turn our heads away? See The Unseen. You will be happy you did.

 

Let's Dance!

Today, I met Yvonne Marceau and Pierre Dulaine, dance partners (and business partners) in American Ballroom Theater and the Pierre Dulaine Dance Studios. Aside from being delightful to talk with, Dulaine & Marceau are recognized as the finest adagio couple of their generation. They founded American Ballroom Theater in 1984 and are the masterminds behind the company's educational arm, "Dancing Classrooms," a dance-in-schools project which they rolled out in NY public schools in 1994. Currently the two are deciding (and in fact were talking today about) how to platform the success of the NY version across the country. This program, and the annual dance competition between schools which results from it, is covered in the much-talked-about documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, produced and directed by Marilyn Agrelo. Look for Mad Hot Ballroom, which one critic aptly described as "Spellbound meets Strictly Ballroom," to be a leading contender for a Best Documentary Feature nomination come Oscar time. Also, look for Pierre Dulaine's life and career to hit the silver screen next February in the fictional account, Take the Lead, with Antonio Banderas portraying Dulaine. The film is written by Oscar-nominee Dianne Houston (for the 1995 short film Tuesday Morning Ride) and directed by music video director Liz Friedlander. With musicals heating up Hollywood again, perhaps actors should be warming up their tap shoes as well.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

 

Depp Finally Gets His Due

From his early collaborations with directors John Waters (in Cry Baby) and Tim Burton I have always believed Johnny Depp to be one of the best and most underrated actors of 80s, 90s and today. Depp has never taken a safe role, and yet, he's carved out a string of unforgettable misfits on screen for whom we love to cheer. Remember Edward Scissorhands? In his first of many collaborations with director Burton, Depp played the creation of a mad scientist (Vincent Price) who died before he could give his creation hands. He imbued the character, with facial expressions alone, with a humanity that let us know that this creature could feel deeply with his heart, even if he couldn't feel with his hands. Then as the cross-dressing title character in Burton's Ed Wood (infamous for being the worst director ever), Depp again found the character's heart and shared it with the audience. As portrayed by Depp, Wood simply was a man trying to find his place in the world; he just wanted to make movies, have friends, and not be judged. As with all his work, Depp took a fringe character shunned in society and allowed mainstream audiences to care for him. The list goes on and on... Benny & Joon, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Don Juan De Marco, and Chocolat. Finally, for his portrayal of the somewhat loopy swashbuckler Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the Motion Picture Academy finally recognized Depp with a nomination for Best Actor. Then, they did it again last year for his performance as J.M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) in Finding Neverland. I couldn't be happier. Twenty plus years of brave choices have finally paid off. And he hasn't stopped. This year he's given us his take on Willie Wonka in Burton's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and again worked for Burton in the upcoming Corpse Bride. There are few actors as brave as Depp on screen. (By the way, did you know Depp made his screen debut in Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street and had a small role in Oliver Stone's Platoon?)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

 

Remake the Bad Films Not the Good Ones

I was thinking recently about something Roger Ebert said many years ago. He and the now late Gene Siskel (both with whom I has the opportunity to speak) were reviewing the remake of a well known film (I can't remember it now) and Ebert made an extremely valid point. Why does Hollywood, he said, keep remaking the good films, films that were well-made and successes the first time around? Why not remake the bad ones? Aren't those afterall the ones that need improving? I couldn't agree more. I certainly understand the business sense behind making a hit from years ago and adding well-known actors of today for a new generation. But doesn't that kinda also defeat the point? I mean, if the audience is too young to even remember the original, what brand value does it really have? Might as well make a film from new material. Right? Case in point. In December, a highly touted remake of All the King's Men will be released. It's based on an Oscar-winning Best Picture, which in turn is adapted from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But why do it? It's been done! Some would argue the pedigree. But novels win Pulitzer Prizes every year. Plays win Tonys every year. There's new stuff to explore. Now, on the flipside I was in Blockbuster recently and on the shelf of new releases I saw a remake of The Toolbox Murders directed by Tobe Hooper. This, I thought to myself, is what Ebert was talking about!! The first version (which I saw) was horrible. So my expectations for the remake were low, but I must admit, for what it was, Hooper did a great job and a bad film in the horror genre was vastly improved. Ironically, all the slick additions to the recent remake of Hooper's own masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, did nothing to improve it. As Ebert said, why remake films that worked well the first time? Is Hollywood truly out of good ideas? I don't think so. But I do think it operates out of fear. Remake things people know. Keep it safe. If a western worked make more westerns. If a musical worked, make more musicals. If a TV was popular, even if it's so old few remember it, remake it. But even when the industry tries to do that it doesn't give it its all. Examine this year's remake of The Honeymooners. Why redo this beloved Jackie Gleason gem (a show very much of it's time and place) if you have no understanding of what made the original work? The film bombed; the only true bomb of the Summer of 2005. And I was pleased to see it bomb. If Hollywood MUST remake films, then remake the films that NEED remaking. Or better yet, make NEW ones. Hundreds of talented screenwriters never see their work produced because millions of dollars are being put into the Dukes of Hazzard and Bewitched. Come on!

 

The Late Great Neighborhood Movie Theater

I stumbled across a wonderful website not too long ago that got me thinking about the neighborhood movie theaters of my childhood and how so many of them are gone now. The site, Cinema Treasures, is a treasure itself as it collects moviegoers' memories from around the country (and globe) of their favorite theaters. It also has a fair collection of photos of these theaters and it got me to thinking I should take photos of the movie houses I know before all of them have died to make way for nameless multiplexs at malls. I've amassed a fair collection of photos so far, but too many of the theaters of my childhood and young adulthood are only left to memories. The Haven, The City Line Cinema, The Drake, The Elmwood, The Trylon, The Crossbay, The Arion, The Casino, The Forest Hills Theater and The Lefferts are all gone. They've been torn down or turned into churches or fleamarkets or discount stores. But I won't forget watching a double bill of The Bad News Bears and The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training at The City Line Cinema (before it turned XXX and closed). Or my first date ever, at The Elmwood, with Denise. We took the bus to catch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and my heart nearly pounded through my chest as I worked up the courage to put my arm around her shoulder (then my arm nearly fell off, from lack of blood flow, when I refused to remove it). I won't forget how my Dad (who loved movies as much as me) and I sat through The Way We Were at The Casino so we could watch Murder By Death. Or standing outside The Crossbay for two hours the day after Thanksgiving with my friends Paul, Lisa and Richie, to assure ourselves a seat at Rocky IV. The Search for Historical Jesus and Pete's Dragon at The Lefferts. Watching E.T. for the first time, six months after it opened, at The Forest Hills with my Dad and a handful of other people and still wiping our eyes when ET died. Or how a red curtain rose before every performance at The Trylon (one of the last single screen theaters in Queens, NY at the time). The theaters maybe gone. But they live on forever in my memories. All the dates I took to the movies. All the popcorn. The double features. And all the friends. I miss these theaters. But I treasure the memories they gave me.
Do you have a treasured moviegoing memory or two? Share it here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

 

$200 Million Commercials

Does anyone, besides me, feel that many films have become nothing more than commercials for what USED to be ancillary markets? Back in the day, a film would be released, build an audience, become a phenomenon and THEN the products and the licensing would follow. In 1977, Star Wars became a hit BEFORE we saw the lunch boxes, action figures, novelizations, posters and under-roos. Same was true for E.T. The Extraterrestrial and Rocky and James Bond and numerous Disney favorites. But today, the film sometimes seems like the least important piece of the puzzle. The deals with McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's are all in place, the accompanying games for PlayStation 2 or X-Box are all in stores, and licensed products -- ranging from clothing and toys, to cereal bowls and bed sheets -- are all manufactured BEFORE the film even opens!! What if it flops? Doesn't seem to matter these days. The big screen has given way to pay-per-view, DVDs and endless runs on cable. A boxoffice flop can still be a hit! Or should I say the $200 million commercial for the Happy Meal toy has a greater shelf-life these days then it used to. I would LOVE to see a return to the days when we put the horse in front of the cart and not the other way around. Must EVERY anticipated blockbuster generate lunch boxes and video games? If Hollywood is truly concerned about its ROI, how about making movie-going an experience again? Bring back the great one-screen movie palaces (where people would gladly line up around the block for HOURS to see a film). Studios, improve distribution deals with theaters so they can make some money before the sixth month of release. Exhibitors, reduce the prices of refreshments (I don't care if the soda is big enough for me to take a bath, the average family should not have to take out a second mortgage on their home to eat at the movies!!) Filmmakers, improve the movies. Give people a REASON not to use Netflix or push that pay-per-view button on the remote or to say to themselves, "I can wait until that film comes out on video." Hollywood is lameting a downturn in theater attendance? Stop making $200 million commercials to sell action figures and maybe people will WANT to return. Wouldn't it be great if going to the movies was special again? Affordable? And once more, the most thrilling work of art the world has ever known?
What do you think? Post your comments here or email me at montesano2005@aol.com. Thanks.

 

Holidays and the Movies: Two Quick Memories

I know. I know it's only the beginning of September, but two thoughts came to mind regarding movies and the holidays and I wanted to get them down. I have always hated football, so growing up, Thanksgiving Day meant one thing to me. (I mean aside from the turkey and the giving thanks part) It meant....KING KONG! Every single year, for all of my childhood, WWOR (Channel 9 in NY) offered, as counter programming to all that football, a mini marathon of King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Those three films, every year on Thanksgiving Day, would become as much a part of the holiday for me as the cranberry sauce and stuffing. Of course, growing up it never seemed odd to me that these three film would adorn the TV screen on this holiday. I took it for granted that the two went together. Some years, on the day after Thanksgiving, the same station would give Godzilla his turn and run a few Japanese monster movies in a row. (If I was lucky King Kong vs Godzilla was among them.) Occasionally, on Thanksgiving Day (before the Kong films but after the broadcast of the parade ended) there would be an airing of March of the Wooden Soldiers, with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. That film, along with the airing of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, meant the Christmas holiday had begun! And speaking of Christmas, the season wasn't complete without two films: It's a Wonderful Life, which ran endlessly in December on many independent stations (before the rights to the film were regained and airing it fell to NBC) and the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, which, if I was lucky, I would catch in the wee hours of the morning between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, after the guests had gone home and we opened our presents. Seeing this film as Christmas Eve quietly turned into Christmas Day had an almost spiritual quality to it. Especially if a light snow was falling outside.

Monday, September 05, 2005

 

Remember the Late Movie? Or: How TV Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Movies

It 2:15 AM as I start to write this and I was thinking...Remember when broadcast television offered us The Late Movie, followed at times by The Late Late Movie? The Late Movie would usually start around midnight. As a child, it was always a challenge to watch these. It meant I was staying up later than I should, but these movies (now gone in the advent of 500 channels, vertical programming, and digital cable) were a glorious grab-bag of cinematic highs and lows. I saw The Bride Came C.O.D. on The Late Movie. It starred Bette Davis and James Cagney and was a comedy!! It was always a rare treat for me when this middle-of-the-night showcase aired a Charlie Chan mystery or even better a Jerry Lewis comedy. Of course, it was also a receptacle for grade Z-horror flicks starring Bela Lugosi. The Late Movie was a distant cousin to The 4:30 Movie, which aired daily in NY on WABC. The 4:30 Movie existed before networks attempted to fill every hour of afternoon programming (not taken up by soap operas) with news and later insipid talkshows. I loved the 4:30 Movie because often it would offer theme weeks like Planet of the Apes films or Biblical epics or John Wayne movies or Monster Week! The Late Movie and The 4:30 Movie were the beginning of my love for cinema. Of course, I wouldn't know until much later (when VHS arrived) that these films were horribly edited to allow for commercials. Sunday afternoons had their own movie treats with Abbott & Costello a staple every Sunday morning. And, again locally in NY, later in the afternoon, The Million Dollar Movie came on (using the theme from Gone With the Wind to introduce itself). Here you could find grade A films from the Hollywood of yesteryear (Yankee Doodle Dandy, etc). Of course, some may argue that TV is even better now for film buffs with paid movie channels like HBO, and free ones like AMC, TCM, etc. But there was something magical about NOT having the ability to choose a film (as you can now on digital cable). Something magical about just opening up your copy of TV Guide and seeing "what was on." Especially if it was late late at night.

 

Why Are the Movies Special?

As human beings we have learned that as our capacity for communication grows more and more advanced, it has, in turn, affected how we act, how we think, how we feel. Movies have done this for more than 100 years, giving us the most communal of art forms. Who hasn't jumped at a horror film when the stranger next to you screams and then share a nervous, almost embarrassed, laugh with the crowd around you? Have you ever shed a tear or gotten choked up when you've heard people (whom you don't even know) sniffle or wipe their eyes at a particularly sad moment in a film? And which one of us has not had his or her laugh amplified by a crowd cackling at something funny on screen? Movies connect us. That's what makes them special. It's that simple. They show us what is common to us. They break down barriers. When we sit in a darkened movie theater, the color of our skin, our height, whether we are male or female, fat or skinny doesn't matter. The movie connects what is IN us. Our fears. Our hopes. Our dreams. Our desires. Our humor. Our compassion. Our humanity.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

 

2005 Films So Far. Will Oscar Nod?

It's the same thing every year. From September to December "Oscar" films are released and like shoppers at some crazy half-priced sale at Macy's, they all run to the same counter hoping to grab the gold. And inevitably, this time each year, I look back at films from the winter, spring and summer that should or might have a chance at a nomination for the top spot. The list this year is short. These are not predictions. They are films that deserve to be noticed for Best Picture nominations as the glut of late-year hopefuls flood in.

Crash: Some have said this film was too pat, but I found it to be a claustrophobic and masterfully woven tale of the cycle of hatred in this country. It brought me to tears and, at times, made it difficult for me to breathe. A brilliant cast, powerful message and compelling story.

Cinderella Man: This is perhaps the most conventional film on the list, the kind of film you'd EXPECT to be nominated, yet, it still grabs you. Russell Crowe is perhaps the greatest actor of a generation. Plus he's Best Picture insurance. Check out how many of his films have been nominated or won Best Picture. Ron Howard is an assured filmmaker. And boxing films work, right? (Rocky-Best Picture of 1976; Million Dollar Baby-Best Picture of 2004; Raging Bull-Best Picture of the 80s?)

Batman Begins: This film has the least likely chance of consideration, but wow should it be!! Christopher Nolan (Memento) has embraced the fourth installment in this series and done the near impossible. He's made it the first! Remember back in the 80s when fans were chattering about whether or not Tim Burton would be able to realize the brooding version of Batman recreated by Frank Miller in his Dark Knight series? (Ultimately, he wasn't able to). Well, it doesn't matter. Forget the other films. They don't count. Forget them all. Not only has Nolan taken a well-worn story and character and made it new, he has improved it in ways that were never dreamed of back when this series began. It all begins here, with a brilliant vision from a great director and a mythic story that has finally been given the respect it deserves.

Sin City: And speaking of Frank Miller, this film, adapted by Robert Rodriguez from the series of Frank Miller graphic novels is by FAR the best film of the year to date. It is nothing short of a cinematic landmark. It's Rodriguez's masterpiece, a work of art that deserves to be lauded with multiple nominations, including one for Best Picture of the year. No film will come close to this film's originality and, as such, it deserves a rightful place among the Academy's list of the best.

What do you think? Post your comments here or email me at montesano2005@aol.com. Thanks.




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