Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Foul Play - The Kubrick Edit

When I think of the New Year I think of The Shining, I mean, as far as movies are concerned. Some people think of The Apartment, others The Godfather, Part II and those of lowly breeding, When Harry Met Sally. And it's not like the New Year is even explicitly mentioned in The Shining but between the revellers, the flowing drinks and the men in bear suits giving blow jobs it sure feels like a New Years celebration. Of course, the famous picture at the end says "Juy 4th" and it would have to be since the story goes to great lengths to tell us the Overlook is closed in the winter so clearly it can't be New Years or we have no caretaker shut in with his family with which to propel the plot.

But still, it feels like New Years, and so, that's the movie I think of when December 31st rolls around. And when I think of The Shining, as I did recently, I think of Foul Play with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. Huh? What? Yes, while we cinephiles busy ourselves connecting the dots between the Fords and the Hitchcocks and the Godards the dots between Colin Higgins, writer and director of Foul Play, and Stanley Kubrick go completely unnoticed.

Behold, and Happy New Year:

Go to the actual HD YouTube page for a much bigger, and better, picture.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays to You and Yours

I'm off for the holidays. I'll be online here and there but not posting anything new until sometime next week or so. Here's a video card I made last year that I ran through the holidays and I figure, what the hell, why not make it a yearly tradition? Enjoy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Brick Wall: Thoughts on the Avatar dialogue

In the 1960 classic chiller Village of the Damned George Sanders is finally able to rid the village of Midwich from the menacing mind-reading children by focusing his mind on a brick wall, the better to conceal that he has carried a bomb into the schoolhouse. "A brick wall," he keeps repeating to himself, "a brick wall." Lately with all the Avatar talk going on around town, and by town I mean the tubes, I've been thinking of that scene again. Why? Because, in a strange phenomenon that has developed, it seems much of the talk isn't just about the movie but about how many people, and who, pre-judged the movie before they saw it, as if they should have blocked their minds from any thoughts on the film and concentrated instead on a brick wall. That they didn't do this is apparently of great ethical concern. Allow me a brief lapse of decorum so that I may say boldly, "Who gives a fuck?!"

I pre-judge movies all the time. And food. And books. And events, parties, gatherings, what have you. No matter what it is or may be I have this annoying habit of actually giving thought to something before I engage in it. Goddamn meddlesome big human brain! And if you're a member of the human species, and I can only conclude definitively that you are if you have the ability to read this, you do too. It's called the cognitive process. Thinking. You, me, everyone - We do it all the time. So why is it such a sin to suddenly do it with Avatar? From what I gather, the sin has been to, gasp, make public one's pre-judgments. Again, who gives a fuck?

The problem with pre-judging something surfaces only if you allow your pre-judgment to trump your actual experience. Outside of stubborn children I have rarely encountered this in real life. And so the pre-judgments simply serve as a jumping off point for talking about the movie and what you think it's going to be like. And what's wrong with that? Going into a movie I always have expectations one way or the other. Always. Examples? Okay, I'll give you some examples:

Return of the Jedi: Oh boy! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Having seen the first two Star Wars movies upon their respective releases and liking the second, The Empire Strikes Back, even better than the first I was freaking psyched for the third and final installment! It was guaranteed I would love it and I liked the series so much I knew I'd love it no matter what. Ahem. I was underwhelmed. Substantially. For years I was miffed that that was how it ended, until The Phantom Menace came along and made it look like Citizen Kane. Speaking of which...

Citizen Kane: That's right, you read that correctly, Citizen Kane. Like most, my ciniphelia started at an early age and like all the 40-ups out there I had no cable or video stores with which to feed my burgeoning fanaticism and so relied on film books. Well, let me tell you, by the time I finally had the opportunity to see Citizen Kane I was sure - Absolutely sure! - I would be unimpressed. I'd read too much about it, way too much and it couldn't all be true. I was prepared to be underwhelmed and dejected. Boy was I wrong! I immediately fell in love and Orson Welles and all his works, and life, have been a fascination of mine ever since.

Catch-22 and Fail Safe: I think of these movies together because both suffered from being compared to another film released around the same time that was considered vastly superior. In the case of Catch-22 it was M.A.S.H and in the case of Fail Safe it was Dr. Strangelove. I saw both of the "lesser" films years later and was prepared to be slightly bored by both. Not only was I wrong and, in fact, greatly enjoyed both films but in the case of Catch-22 I think it has dated far better than M.A.S.H.

Okay, I've got about a million more examples like those but you get the point. I've never said to myself, "Boy, I'm probably going to hate this," and then saw said film, loved it, and said, "I've got to hide the fact that I loved it to save face. I'll pretend to everyone that I really hated it!" Nor have I ever let a prejudgement affect my considered opinion of a film (or restaurant or party or whatever) for very long. Perhaps for the first few minutes but then the brain takes over and you know if something is good or bad, no matter what you thought going in.

So there you have it. Can we stop knocking folks for pre-judging Avatar please? Anticipation, forming advance opinions, sharing them with other cinephiles - it's all a part of the process, not a shameful sin. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand when things go too far and it's usually around this point: "I hate that movie and I have no intention of seeing it!" Well then you can't hate it can you? I mean, if you're never going to see it how can you hate it? And if you're going to refuse to see it then you probably should refrain from discussing it with others who have. That I understand. But that isn't what's happening. The complaints are about reactions the film received in the months leading up to its release. And there I don't quite get the problem. If you're not into the pre-release gossip (and as anyone who reads Cinema Styles knows, I am not) don't talk about it. If others are, don't worry about it. Let them discuss how bad or good they think it's going to be if that's they're bag of fun. Really. It's okay.

And no, I haven't seen Avatar yet but I will tell you that I did (of course!) pre-judge it. I saw the trailer a couple of months back and thought, "My God, that looks like one of the worst things in the history of the human experience." Now it's out and I've read many good reviews and many bad ones. When I see it I will either love it, like it, be indifferent to it or hate it. And whichever of those it turns out to be it will have nothing to do with my reaction to watching the trailer and everything to do with my actual experience in the theater. And if you don't believe me just go ask Dennis Cozzalio. Read this piece and its paragraphs concerning Speed Racer. He was convinced it would be a dreadful dud going in. A few months later it ended up topping his list for the best of the year. Why? Because he's not a child and no matter what his pre-judgments were going in he went with his actual experience in the end(and even shared his pre-judgments with us). It's only human. The only problem is when the pre-judgment trumps the experience because then we've moved into the area of dishonesty and that's an area into which no cinephile should ever venture.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just the Two of Us: The Last Lullaby

The quiet film is more and more becoming a lost art form. What do I mean by a quiet film? A film that doesn't pierce the eardrums with cacophonous sound effects, certainly. A film not filled with loud explosions and crashes, definitely. But while both of these rudimentary definitions qualify that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about films that spend as much time looking at their characters as listening to them. The Last Lullaby (2009), directed by Jeffrey Goodman and written by Max Allen Collins and Peter Biegan based on Collins' short story A Matter of Principal, is such a film. It's a film that explores its lead characters primarily by observation, a rarity in these days of overwritten screenplays that lay too much on the table verbally giving the viewer less chance to catch up on their own. Remember all the talk back in 2007 about the opening 20 minutes of There Will be Blood and how amazing it was that there was little to no dialogue? I felt then about that as I do now, which is to say there shouldn't have been so much amazement. It shouldn't shock us when a visual medium decides to tell its story and explore its characters visually. The Last Lullaby tells its story in whispers and eavesdrops, in glances and hidden stares. And it's all the stronger because of it.

The story of The Last Lullaby is one not unfamiliar to most viewers of film noir. A retired hitman is assigned a job to kill a woman and ends up compromising his position by falling for her. As with most noirs the story itself doesn't matter as much as the characters. Whether it's The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past or Chinatown, the idea of the hired gun or detective falling for the woman is an old one but one that a good director can infuse with originality if he knows on what to focus.

Tom Sizemore plays the retired hitman Price, a man who can't sleep and wanders the town at night, visiting 24 hour convenience stores to pick up milk or a soda or... well, it doesn't matter. He's just looking for something to do and in one of those visits he finds it in the form of a couple of lowlifes he quickly deduces have kidnapped a woman that they're holding for ransom. Why not take them out of the equation and get the ransom money himself? From here the story of Price slowly unfolds as he takes over the kidnapping that eventually leads him to a job where he will be asked to kill a woman named Sarah, a woman who doesn't seem guilty of anything but, like any noir femme fatale, may be hiding so much more.

Sizemore and Sasha Alexander as Sarah work well together and Alexander is quite good as Sarah but this is Price's story and Sizemore plays him to understated perfection. Tom Sizemore has been around as a character actor since the eighties but shows his film-carrying mettle with his lead here. He keeps Price hidden for the most part but shows just enough to keep the audience interested. His Price is shy, reclusive and withdrawn and yet confident, assured and headstrong when put in danger's way. He connects with his target Sarah because she seems, at least on the surface, to be the same way. And while they both tell each other their stories don't expect long expository scenes between the two because for the most part they are simply together; sitting, swimming, driving, walking. In a climax that will profoundly change both of their lives Price says a mere five words, practically whispered, to a silent Sarah before the sound of a car starting takes us away.

All of this could have been a rather dry affair indeed if not for the combined talents of writers Collins and Biegan and director Goodman. The writing is contained, personable and mercifully free of the excesses of the overly clever rejoinder usually employed in such films but director Jeffrey Goodman deserves most of the credit. He keeps the camera's eye observant, never invasive. The film never becomes about what the camera is doing but what the characters are doing. And in employing a very subtle and yes, quiet, musical score (by Ben Lovett) he moves everything into a trance-like state for most of the film. Neither Price nor Sarah can sleep and wander the world at night, a world that is muted in color and sound to the point where we finally notice there's almost no one else in the film. Their world is uninhabited, as if stranded on a desert island in the middle of America, and Goodman exploits this to great effect until we reach a climax in which each character seems to be standing alone on a vast plain, both emotionally and physically. The Last Lullaby occupies the space between thriller and noir and brings both together on its own quiet and confident terms.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Type, type, type

Still here and busy typing up a few reviews, commentaries, what have you. Updates here tomorrow but The Invisible Edge just got a three day retro update of ten posts so stop by there and set a spell, if you're so inclined. Also, I don't think Hitch would mind if you wanted to break out the scotch or make a dry martini, I mean, that's what it's there for. Live it up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I should've been the Captain

So I'm walking with my fellow crew members, Taylor, Landon and Dodge in the desert and dying of thirst. Landon asks where we are and Taylor says we're 320 light years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion. I'm like, "No we're not. We're back on Earth."

Taylor chuckles but I can tell he's kind of miffed that I disagreed with him. So anyway, he spouts the Orion party line again and I'm like, "Dude, we're on Earth, trust me. When we were flying in I saw the Statue of Liberty about four clicks that way. Seriously, I'm not bullshitting you. And let me just say we must be in the future or something cause Lady Liberty was looking pretty crappy." I can tell he's getting all pissed and then Dodge shouts out that he's found a plant and goes on and on about how where there's one there's another and another and so on. Whatever. I'm not impressed.

"First of all," I say with smug, arrogant authority, "it's a pretty shitty looking plant. I mean, I've seen better plants growing under my shed. Second of all, I've got, like, 500 plants in my backyard alone so I'm not sure what's so amazing about one pathetic little crap-harvest."

"Well," says Dodge, "You're kind of missing the point. See, we're in a desert and finding a..." That's where I cut him off with a casual, "Yeah, whatever" before I turn and walk away.

Taylor is busting Landon's balls by this point which is pretty much par for the course with that guy. Anyway Landon asks Taylor why he signed on for this mission and Taylor shoots out some nonsense about how there "has to be something better than man. Has to be." I'm like, "No there doesn't. Man is the best." Taylor just rolls his eyes and I defensively ask, "Oh, okay, what's better? Platypuses? Narwhals? Kiwis? Huh? What? Go ahead, give me one animal that kicks more ass than Man. Ha! I didn't think so! Man rules!" I shout as I wave my fist in the air.

So now we're walking along and no one's saying anything and I'm getting bored so I ask, "So Taylor, while we were in hibernation d'you get busy with Stewart?" Boy does that piss off Taylor. "Okay, that's enough Ferrara!" I'm like, "What man, I'm just asking! I mean me, Landon and Dodge went out first and you were all like, 'I need Stewart to assist me with a couple of experiments before she goes into hyper-sleep.' Right guys?" Landon and Dodge just kind of look at the ground and I'm like, "Oh come on! You know we all gave each other eye-rolls when he said that!" So anyway, I think he's really touchy about it cause maybe that's how the crack in the glass got there and he feels all responsible and shit. Then before I can ask about the crack a boulder starts to tumble down the side of a hill and we all run like hell and take cover under... uh... well, another boulder. Kinda dumb, I know. Dodge offers ration water and Taylor and Landon shake their heads "No" but I'm all like, "Hell yeah, give me some of that," and I drink their share as well. Boy do I get some looks for that. Whatever, they should've drunk the water. Dumbasses.

I can tell they're all starting to get annoyed with me when out of the blue we happen upon some scarecrows. And not just any scarecrows but really cool ten-foot-tall-form-of-an-X scarecrows. So yeah, everyone knows I'm pretty much a scarecrow fanatic right? I'm pretty psyched about this when suddenly we hear something that sounds like running water. We look around and see some goddamn waterfall and Taylor's all like, "To hell with the scarecrows!" Not me, I'm like, "Screw that, I'm staying here. Go play in the water all you want, losers."

And now there they are, naked, clothes stolen, shot in the neck and carted off in a cage to some talking ape village. And here I am, fully clothed, high and dry and having a drink of ration water with my new scarecrow peeps. I should've been Captain of this mission. I'm just sayin'.


source pics: one, two and three

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Opening Credits I Love:
My Man Godfrey

This isn't another edition of The Land Before CGI but it could be. Instead it's another series I've built up video for and would like to share. Favorite opening credits sequences have been discussed on movie blogs for as long as I can remember so this is nothing new but now with software that makes it so easy to grab the credits and post them I figured, "Why not?" I'll start it off with My Man Godfrey.

Like I said, it could be another edition to The Land Before CGI because it employs miniatures for its opening credits and finishes on a photograph of the first frame of the movie proper that it can dissolve into to get the story rolling. It's a great title sequence. Enjoy.


BTW, I plan on doing some reviews of new movies next week including a couple of independent releases so I'll hope you'll check in often.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Professor Guy From Somewhere in Time's Late Year Quiz or Something

I've decided to do my own quiz because I've been thinking, "Why should Dennis have all the fun?" Besides, how hard can it be right? I mean, you throw together some questions, you hit 'post', you're done. Piece of cake.

First I gotta choose a name. Easy, that professor dude from Somewhere in Time that Christopher Reeve asks about time travel. I can't remember his name and I can't find a picture of that scene anywhere online and I don't own a copy so screw it, he now looks this as far as I'm concerned and his name is Professor Skippy. So far so good.

Okay, now for the questions. Answer them here or own your own blog or just make up your own quiz or just pretend you answered them. Either way, I'm good. And now for the quiz. Fire away:

1. Dinah Shore or Russell Crowe?

2. What was the last movie you saw on DVD? In a theatre? In a large abandoned warehouse with a Satanic cult in the corner trying to hold a ritual while yelling at you, "Hey man, turn it down!"?

3. Second favorite Carrie Henn movie.

4. The Cat From Outer Space. Yes or No?

5. If you were eating yogurt and I walked up and said, "Mmmm yogurt," then took a big spoonful without asking, then went, "Ewww, gross!" and spit it back into the yogurt cup, would you keep eating it? Why or why not?

6. Most misunderstood film of 1907.

7. When was the last time you punched someone in a movie theater? (submitted by Marilyn)

8. Marie Dressler or Robert Wagner?

9. Why do the ladies love Bill so much? (submitted by Bill)

10. Favorite movie with a scene where a t-rex terrorizes two children in an electric SUV stalled on a track while the lawyer that was in the car with them has fled to the bathroom and two scientists, one a mathematician and the other a prominent archaeologist, are in another stalled electric SUV behind them? Mine's Marty.

11. How many fingers am I holding up?

12. Jeff Conway or Hoot Gibson?

13. Movie you would like to see remade entirely with squirrels?

14. When will Larry Aydlette delete his current blog? Two months from now? Three months? Tomorrow?

15. Where have all the flowers gone?

16. Donna Pescow or Lloyd Nolan?

17. You know how in Casablanca Louis keeps his mouth shut about Rick shooting the stinkin' Nazi? Isn't that fucking awesome?

18. What in the hell is that awful smell?

19. So at the end of The Godfather after the door closes on Kay, Michael opens it back up and says, "You know what, I lied. I did order Carlo's death. Forgive me?" as he makes a puppy dog face. Then Kay says, "Oh okay, I forgive you. [wagging her finger in mock disapproval] This time! Hey, how about ham salad for lunch?" Michael says, "Sounds good. Kissie?" Then they peck a couple of times and rub noses while the other guys all pretend to look at the bookshelves. Then Kay goes off humming "Come on-a My House" while Michael says before closing the study door, "Who's up for a game of backgammon?"

Better ending, right?

20. 21st favorite question on this quiz.

Okay, that wraps it up. I hope everyone enjoys answering these brain-busters as much as I enjoyed thinking them up. Look forward to your answers in the comment section. Professor Skippy says, "Get cracking!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Nothing means Anything: Random Shorts

When I'm unfocused I often start to put together a video to help concentrate my mind. It can be anything really and often the result is less than 30 seconds long. Sometimes I upload them to YouTube, sometimes I don't. Here are three recent examples of my idle mind.

First up is The Bump and Grind Boogie Woogie. I have tons of old vintage photos as well as tons of old sound effects and royalty free music clips. I took four pics of an anonymous couple from long ago, a thirty second snippet of a generic bebop number and threw them together for a bit of momentary focus. Here's the result:

Next up is We are Legion. My wife and I were taking a walk downtown last week and passed through a neighborhood on our way there. To my delight there were a couple of thousand blackbirds milling about and always having my camera on me, pulled it out and began to shoot just as they flew up and over my head en masse. My immediate thought was, "When I get home I must make this demonic!" And so I wrote and recorded some of my patented freaky music and the results are below:

This last one is probably the hardest to explain. Not what it is, that's easy. It's the "why" that's hard. See, I pulled out some old stock footage I bought about fifteen years ago on an ancient CD and was sifting through it. There was an inordinate amount of footage of hospital scenes so I grabbed some cheesy eighties stock music I had, picked the scenes that fit best, edited them together in cheesy eighties local commercial style and produced a nursing school commercial circa 1986. Why? Not really sure myself except that I wanted to reproduce the look and feel of the types of local commercial seen in the eighties and personally I think I succeeded. What's the point of it all? Got me. Enjoy:

Outside of that I continue to work on bigger film projects including installments of The Land Before CGI and I'm tinkering with the idea of doing trailers for TOERIFC to help promote it more. I have a much bigger short film I want to do but don't have the proper technical facilities to do it so for now I must wait, unfortunately. Also, I'd need about a hundred extras and well, I couldn't pay anyone. But I'll keep plugging away as always. And now back to random short films that mean nothing. It's what I do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Will Someone Please Answer That!

It's been a while since I posted but as I was very pleased with my piece on Boris Karloff I wasn't too anxious to push it down a post anyway. The blogger known as The Kid in the Front Row is hosting a blogathon of sorts today in which everyone participating contributes a post concerning an evening they had at the movies long ago (or recently or whenever, doesn't matter). Trouble is I can't think of anything but wanted to mention it here nonetheless in case anyone who hasn't heard of it has a story they want to relate on their blog today. And I really can't think of anything, honest. I've been to the movies many, many times as we all have but for the most part it's the movies that I remember not the experience itself. For me it's more the little things that stick out, like the lady at the showing of Bridge on the River Kwai standing up at the climax and shouting at Colonel Nicholson onscreen, "They're your people! You're betraying your own people!"

Or spending most of Top Gun smoking in the lobby (you could do that back then) and then returning to my seat to have my friend Jake lean over and start to explain what happened while I was out only to be abruptly cut off by me announcing, "I don't care."

Or seeing The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D (on a double bill with It Came from Outer Space) and enjoying it more because quite spontaneously the entire audience quickly developed the habit of doing their own mock screams every time Julie Adams screamed in the movie. It started with just a couple of guys and before long we were all doing it, like an impromptu Rocky Horror crowd.

Or maybe the best one ever to my recollection, Witness, although it's definitely a case of "you had to be there" so I don't even know why I'm telling it. Anyway, I was watching it with some friends in the student hall at college on movie night which they had only occasionally. Basically a movie would be rented and popped in a VCR and played on the big tv in the lounge (well, big by 1986 standards). Well, at the point in the movie where Harrison Ford's character of John Book is finally rising from bed after recuperating from a gunshot wound the phone in the lounge starts ringing. And it's ringer is LOUD! And the movie at this point is quiet. So there we are watching Book sit up from bed and emerge from his comatose state and this goddamn phone is ringing (which no one is bothering to get up and answer of course) totally breaking the mood, taking us out of the movie. Or so we thought. Finally, mercifully, it stops. And then, John Book speaks: "Is there a phone around here?" The whole goddamn place erupted with laughter. It was like Book was in the same room with us and was asking because he heard it ringing! It brought us right back into the movie in the strangest way possible.

So as you can see I don't have much in the way of grand personal stories to relate to about the movies, just little snippets. I remember seeing Jaws upon its release and loving every second of it. I remember seeing nudity on the big screen for the first time when I saw 10 in 1979. I remember hating Moonraker. And so it goes. But no big stories, no big remembrances, just the little things. Of course, in the end, it's the little things that matter anyway right? Right.


This has been a part of the "One Night Long Ago" blogathon hosted by The Kid in the Front Row.