Wednesday, March 31, 2010

All Things Walken

In honor of his birthday today, I've gathered together a few of my personal favorite Christopher Walken moments, courtesy of YouTube. Mr. Walken has proved his talent time and time again through his lengthy career. Whether he's acting in a hardcore drama like The Deer Hunter or poking fun at himself on SNL, the man is instantly captivating in his own unique way. Any time he appears in a film, it brings a smile to my face. So happy birthday, Mr. Walken. Keep on doing your thing.

Poker Face –
Weapon of Choice –
Cooking with Walken –
Puss in Boots –
More Cowbell –
Pulp Fiction Scene –
“The Walken Thing” –

Monday, March 29, 2010

Favorite Final Shots: Modern Times

Modern Times marked the final film in which Charlie Chaplin played his signature character of the Tramp. It’s a magnificent send-off for the little guy as he struggles against, well, modern times. Chaplin was a master of social commentary and this film certainly doesn’t hold back. Here he takes on the mechanical age and its dehumanizing effect as machines take over jobs and generally give the Tramp a tough time. But, along the way he finds a kindred spirit in a girl simply referred to as the Gamin who struggles along in society as well. By the film’s end, the pair have failed at integrating into society and are on their own in the world. Although down on their luck, the Tramp and the Gamin resolve to continue onward, determined to discover what’s around the bend. The sense of hope portrayed in this moment is perfectly captured as the two walk down the road, off to live their lives as best they can. It's a beautiful picture.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dreamworks Animation Stepping Up

For the first time in a while, it looks as if Dreamworks Animation has produced something that isn't middle-of-the-road with their latest film How to Train Your Dragon. At the film has received the best score of the year so far, sitting at a staggering 97% as of this writing. And it appears that it will easily win the weekend box office race - although that was to be expected. The quality of Dreamworks' films has been hit or miss with me, so this critical praise comes as a pleasant surprise, especially after watching the trailer earlier this year and thinking, "Meh." I'd like to see what all the fuss is about, although I still doubt I'll see it in theaters. I'd rather watch the film in glorious 2-D in the comfort of my home. There is one question that I have from this situation. With Pixar still maintaining the "gold standard" for animation, I wonder if How to Train Your Dragon will provide some decent competition?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Balcony Is Closed: At the Movies Gets Canceled

News hit today that ABC and Disney have made the decision to cancel the iconic, long-running movie review show At the Movies. As I'm sure everyone knows, the show was started with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in the reviewer's seats, quickly becoming the world's most famous film critics. The duo's popular thumbs up/thumbs down has become a lasting image of pop culture; being constantly referenced and spoofed. After Siskel passed away in 1999, Richard Roeper was brought on to fill his seat. While the show continued on just fine, you couldn't help but think that some of the magic was gone. The pairing of Siskel and Ebert were such a great fit that anything else, no matter how good, could compare. The shows current hosts, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, have performed admirably in maintaining the show's legacy, but sadly, due to a lack of ratings, the plug has been pulled.

Looking back on it, At the Movies has meant quite a bit to me. It was the first show of its kind that I was able to watch and it opened my eyes to the world of film. Not only did they say whether they liked or disliked a film, they articulated points and had an actual discussion. That's something I feel like most people don't care much about. The average movie-goer seems content to simply say, "That was cool" or "That sucked" and leave it at that. But for someone who grew into being a film junkie, it meant a lot to have people who genuinely had a passion for film talking about some slightly more nuanced aspects of the craft. It's sad that there's no room on television for a show like this anymore. Perhaps the advent of online film criticism has simply made the show outdated. I know I get the majority of my film news/reviews in podcast form these days and I'm sure many others would say the same.

It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for this type of programming. I hear Ebert is developing a new show, although who knows if that will catch on. Until the next big thing, there's always plenty of old YouTube clips to keep fans happy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yet Another List: Most Films by Composer

Just for fun, I've tabulated a list of composers whose work I've heard in the most number of films. There aren't really any surprises here; just the big names you'd expect too see. Naturally, John Williams takes the top spot, although by a narrower margin than I thought. With any list like this, the most prolific artists will emerge on top, so it's not an indicator of quality (although I do enjoy these composers) as much as quantity.

Here's my top 10:

John Williams – 45
Jerry Goldsmith – 42
Hans Zimmer – 33
Danny Elfman – 32
Howard Shore – 28
Elmer Bernstein – 28
Carter Burwell – 26
James Horner – 25
James Newton Howard – 24
Alan Silvestri – 20

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Retro Hitchcock

I recently stumbled upon some fan-made posters from one of my favorite director's works and just had to highlight them here. Artist Laz Marquez has designed four original posters that both pay tribute to older poster styles and provide their own unique look. Maybe my favorite aspect of these is the minimalist style. Though simplistic, they communicate the spirit of each film. I run into fan-made art all over the internet and these pieces really stand out. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Set Your DVR, It's Kurosawa Time

On March 23, TCM will be programing only films from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in honor of what would be his 100th birthday. I'd say anyone with an interest in cinema should devote some time to Kurosawa. I've been trying to catch up with some of these films lately as I've only seen seven of this master filmmaker's work thus far. Films scheduled to show include Seven Samuri, Yojimbo, Stray Dog, Drunken Angel, No Regrets for Our Youth, Rashomon, and Sanjuro among others. There's really no going wrong as to which films you watch, as far as I can tell. So, if your looking to improve your knowledge of foreign films and cinema in general, TCM has provided the perfect opportunity.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Movie Haikus

Well, I'm back with another round of haikus. It's pretty fun to come up with these things as they take some amount of tinkering before fitting just right. I hope you enjoy them.

The Thin Blue Line
An innocent man
Swallowed up by the system
Is our justice blind?

The Apostle
A Troubled preacher
Sincerely spreads word of God
What a complex world

Take the Money and Run
Allen attempts crime
Although the heists are sketchy
Slapstick gold ensues

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hoffman Turns Director

In the long line of actors-turned-directors, Dustin Hoffman's name can now be added to the list. After a lengthy acting career, Hoffman has decided to try his talents behind the camera to direct Quartet. The film revolves around a trio of retired opera singers now in a retirement home. Actors Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and Albert Finney are set to play the singers. Other than that, not much is known about the project at this stage.

This news comes as a pleasant surprise to me. I say surprise because, usually if an actor decides to direct, they've done it by this point in their career. Hoffman, now 72, seems to be jumping in late in the game, but more power to him. There have been many successful actor-directors and here's hoping that Hoffman becomes one of them. Quartet begins filming later this year.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mini-Review: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

“Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.” – Lotte Reiniger

Still in its infancy in 1926, animation took a leap forward when Lotte Reiniger revealed her latest creation to the world. The film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was unlike anything audiences had seen before and, in many cases, since. Using thousands of cut-out silhouette figures, Reiniger created a beautiful world populated by fairy tale characters. This work holds a special distinction in the world of cinema as it represents what most historians consider the first feature-length animated film.

The story revolves around (you guessed it) Prince Achmed and his efforts to rescue a princess from an evil sorcerer. Along the way he visits strange lands, befriends a witch, and battles demons, among other things. The film essentially contains all the typical archetypes you would expect to find in a fairy tale; all of which are used to great effect.

While the style and storyline undoubtedly seem basic, the results are pretty fantastic. In fact, the most impressive thing about the film is its effectiveness. Although the film features subtitles, viewers really don’t even need them to follow what’s happening. Instead, they can simply read the character’s body language and actions to determine the progression of the story. It’s surprising how much detail comes from even the slightest of gestures. The film reminded me of an intricate ballet in this way.

I think the silhouette figures work on a level that no other animated film – or film in general – has accomplished. The blank figures allow the audience to envision their own imagery which allows for a unique experience to anyone watching. Of course, when looking at it this way, you get what you are willing to put into it.

The DVD I watched featured a documentary on Lotte Reiniger and her career that’s also worth watching. She managed to carve out a niche for herself and stuck with it her entire career. The doc illustrates just how much time and effort the process took and the patience and precision it required to complete a film like The Adventures of Prince Achmed. So, for any animation enthusiasts or film buffs out there, check this one out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eastwood Sets Up Hoover Project

Clint Eastwood continues to stay a busy man; setting up film after film. Seriously, I'm not sure how he does it. The 79 year-old director already has Hereafter to be released later this year and now there's word on his next potential film. It's been reported that Eastwood now wants to helm a bio-pic of FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover. A script has already been written by Milk screenwriter Lance Black and producer Brian Grazer is reportedly on board as well. The film would likely follow Hoover's life as he set up the bureau through his death in 1972.

Bio-pics usually don't do too much for me, honestly. By-and-large they simply follow a straightforward pattern in an attempt to "sum up" a person's life. This project sounds somewhat interesting, though, since Hoover seems like an interesting topic. Right now, the project is still without a studio, although Warner Bros. will probably get first crack at it since Eastwood works there nearly every time out.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Aftermath

The Oscars have come and gone once again, so now it's time for a few reflections on the big night.

First of all, the hosts: I didn't think Martin and Baldwin worked together as well as they could have. They just seemed to lack the chemistry that was necessary to carry the show. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed some of the bits. The Paranormal Activity video was funny and the cut to the two of them in a Snuggie worked well too, I thought. Overall, I was left kind of underwhelmed, though.

I was happy to see Christoph Waltz win a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor award. He actually had one of my favorite lines of the night: "That's an uber-bingo!" I just wish that Inglourious Basterds had been given more recognition.

What was with the John Hughes memorial? Not to take anything away from Hughes, but in all the years I've watched the Academy Awards, I've never seen an entire segment of the show dedicted to a single deceased filmmaker. The whole thing seemed odd to me.

As far as my annual Oscar predictions, I went 17 for 24 this time out. That counts as a personal best for me (pretty good considering a usually get about half right most years).

Seeing Jeff Bridges win for Best Actor brought a smile to my face. The man has maintained a solid career for many years now and just seems like a really down-to-earth kind of guy.

While The Hurt Locker wasn't my absolute favorite film of the year, I was glad it won Best Picture. It's ironic that one of the lowest grossing films won in a year when the Academy was clearly trying to broaden its audience with the expansion of the Best Picture category.

Why was a horror montage included? It seemed pretty tacked-on.
One of the easiest awards to predict was for Best Animated Feature, which Pixar naturally won with Up. Honestly, I was hoping Fantastic Mr. Fox would pull out an upset, even though I knew there was no way it could happen.
I can live with Avatar winning three awards. It certainly deserved some recognition...just not too much.

The memorium montage had some notables missing: Farrah Fawcett, Henry Gibson, Dan O'Bannon, and Bea Arthur.

I'm still not sure what to think about the whole Sandra Bullock thing. Of course, I haven't seen The Blindside, so I shouldn't judge, but it just doesn't seem right that she should win for that film. I mean, what could it have hurt to give Streep another Oscar, right?

Many of the top categories were easy to predict this year - a little too easy. Next year, I'll hope to see some close races.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some Recent Viewings

The Long Hot Summer (1958)
This film was the first to pair Paul Newman and future wife Joanne Woodward together and the chemistry between the two really stands out. Newman plays Ben Quick, a drifter who disrupts the lives of a rich small-town family. Orson Welles gives a delightfully over-the-top performance as the head of the family who will stop at nothing to ensure his name continues on in importance.

Seven Men from Now (1956)
Randolph Scott stars in this low-budget western that is at once simple and complex. I say simple because the story and style are straightforward enough, but I also say complex because of the ideas explored. Lee Marvin also stars as a charismatic heavy.

A Serious Man (2009)
The latest Coen brothers film delivers like no other film could. After watching it for the first time, I ended up watching it again the very same day. There's certainly a lot to chew on in this dark comedy about a man faced with a series of unfortunate events. It's probably the most personal film the Coens have made.

Trees Lounge (1996)
Character actor Steve Buscemi's directorial debut centers on a man who stands at a crossroads in his life. He turns to alcohol at the local bar to soften the blow of a disappointing life. This film was a engaging slice-of-life type of story, helped along by a cast of great supporting players.

Bloody Sunday (2002)
If you've seen a Paul Greengrass film in the past few years, this one follows the same shooting style. The film portrays the fateful 1972 Irish civil rights protest march and the subsequent massacre that took place. Much like United 93, the film is shot in an essentially documentary style; all handheld and with many unknown or non-actors.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Watch Alice in Wonderland (1903)

The story of Alice in Wonderland has been through many iterations over the years. Since Tim Burton's take on the material premieres tomorrow, I thought it would be fitting to view the earliest cinematic adaptation. The 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland has been restored by the British Film Institute and it's really something to see. Although the footage is still rough despite the restoration, there's a lot of creativity on display.
Check out the film on YouTube:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Allen's Latest Picked Up by Sony

Woody Allen continues to stay a busy man (it's kind of amazing that he still churns out a movie per year) as his latest film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, has been bought by Sony Picture Classics for domestic distribution. Although Allen's work has been hit or miss over the past decade or so, I still hope for the best when it comes to his projects. Another Match Point could be right around the corner, after all. As usual, not much is known about this latest effort other than a brief plot description: “[the film] revolves around different members of a family, their tangled love lives and their attempts to try to solve their problems." That seems like well-traveled territory for Allen, but, then again, you really can't discern too much from that vague of a description. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, and Naomi Watts among others - all first-timers for an Allen film, I believe. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger has a planned release in September.