Ray Harryhausen’s name was one you would mention only to your friends who were really into movies. Or if you had just met someone and you wanted to test their credits-throw in a Harryhausen reference. If they nodded and agreed, you knew you were in good company.
To Freda Kelly, the Beatles were just a local band. Working in a secretarial pool around the corner from the famed Cavern Club, early in Good Ol’ Freda, Kelly estimates she saw maybe 190 of the Beatles 295 performances there. While her officemates were swooning over Pat Boone and Cliff Richard, Kelly was obsessed with John, Paul, George and Pete. (Ringo came later, and Kelly quickly became obsessed with him too.) To her, The Beatles were the band that would occasionally give her a lift back to her parents’ house after a gig because they lived in the same neighborhood. She was the one that would call Paul at home and make a request for the next show. [Read more...]
One thing you have to give Richard Williams- he’s a persistent guy. An award- winning animator, best known for his short films and credit title sequences for other films, in 1964, Williams undertook what was to be his life’s work- a feature-length animated film titled “The Thief and the Cobbler.” Well, that wasn’t the original title; Nasruddin was the title they started with, but that had to be changed after Williams’ business partner left after skimming a good amount of money and taking the title character with him.
There’s something about this season that brings back the memories of summers gone by. Memories of friends. Memories of particular nights. Memories of particular songs, sung along to, full-throated, beside 10,000 strangers who, for that one moment, could be considered close friends. And while film can never completely capture that feeling, there are a few that at least replicate it enough to warrant multiple viewings. The following list shares a few of these films. [Read more...]
Looking over the names and movies nominated, it appears that 2010 was a pretty good year at the movies, critics be damned. Sure, audiences had to sit through “Sex and the City 2,” “The Last Airbender,” and “She’s Out of My League,” but people always
remember 1994 as the year of “Pulp Fiction,” and “Heavenly Creatures,” and not as the year of “Nell,” “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,” and “3 Ninjas Kick Back.”
So, here are my picks for who will be winning the Academy Award come February 27th.
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale- “The Fighter”
You could give Christian Bale this award for any role he’s played in the last 5 years, (okay, maybe not that Terminator movie,) and it’d be well deserved. As the screw-up older brother to Mark Wahlberg’s Mickey Ward, he’s wonderful. Also he does the Massachusetts accent without sounding like a moron- he at least deserves something for that.
Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo- “The Fighter”
Everything I said about Christian Bale goes doubly so for Melissa Leo. (Well, except the part about being in that Terminator movie.) She deserved the Oscar for “Frozen River,” and she deserves it here.
Colin Firth- “The King’s Speech”
Colin Firth is one of those actors who I love no matter what movie he’s in. (“What a Girl Wants,” not so much.) He’s wonderful as the King of England and the sympathy and empathy he evokes while not crossing over into pity is excellent.
Natalie Portman- “Black Swan”
Yet again, the award goes to someone who has deserved it for some time. Portman is excellent in “Black Swan,” and most people will probably say she deserves the award for going through the grueling ballet training and losing a lot of weight, but she really
deserves it for a schizophrenic performance… in the best possible way.
David Fincher- “The Social Network”
Fincher is one of the best filmmakers working today, so it only makes sense that he’ll get this honor. “The Social Network” is a perfect balance of a movie, keeping the tension and drama in perfect balance. (Of course, Fincher deserved this honor for “Se7en,” and “Zodiac,” so, yet again, late is better than never.
Best Pictore (Who I want to win)
All of the best picture nominees are great movies and worth checking out if you haven’t seen them. When they were announced, there wasn’t a head-scratcher in the bunch. While “The King’s Speech,” and “The Social Network” seem to be the front-runners to win, I would love to see Daren Aronofsky’s latest take home the statue. “Black Swan” is a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, Mario Bava and Dario Argento, but at the same time, is still very much in Aronofsky’s voice. It’s a tense and riveting ride of a movie and as the lights came up at the end, I let out a huge sigh… Turns out I’d been holding my breath for the final 30 minutes. All the performances are excellent, with Portman leading the cast. It’s also great to see Barbara Hershey back on the screen and delivering such a wonderful performance. While the big awards rarely go to a horror/suspense film, (you have to go back to 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs,”) but this is one movie that transcends the genre and stands on it’s own to legs… or flippers. If you haven’t seen “Black Swan” yet, you should see it in a theater. There’s nothing like being in a packed room and going on this ride together. Maybe the Oscar voters picking “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech,” will cancel each other out and “Black Swan” will walk away with the top honor. Much like “Black Swan,” itself, that fantasy is part dream/part nightmare…depending on who you ask.
Is it a joke? Is it real street art made by an important new artist? Either way, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ the new documentary by artist Banksy is damn interesting.
“Gift Shop” tells the story of Thierry Guetta a French-born, LA-based clothing boutique owner. Years ago, Thierry became obsessed with video cameras. He started documenting everything in his life. Not just his children growing up, but him showering, him at parties, etc.. Thierry suggests at one point that his obsession with preserving things comes from his childhood, where his mother died suddenly, leaving him with nothing buy memories and a few fuzzy photos. Thierry takes a vacation and goes back to France, where he meets up with his cousin, an artist who makes small mosaics that resemble characters from the video game Space Invaders. Taking the game’s name as his own, Invader starts to install his artwork all over the city of Paris and then the rest of the world. Thierry follows along, camera in-tow, as he captures the birth of an artist.
Back in LA, he meets up with Shepard Fairey, who is installing his Andre the Giant “Obey” posters all over the place. Thierry follows Fairey too, filming him making his artwork and hanging it. At some point, someone asks the question, ‘who is this guy filming and why is he doing it?’ Thierry comes up with the only reasonable answer he can think of- he’s making a movie.
This answer seems to make sense to the artists, and they let him continue filming. The one artist that Thierry is unable to film is British artist Banksy. Then one day, a phone call from Shepard Fairey drops Banksy in Thierry’s lap. The two hit it off and pretty soon, Thierry is filming Banksy’s work. However, when he sits down to edit the movie he’s been talking about, he doesn’t know how to do it. He produces a cut, which Banksy thinks is terrible. Taking control of the footage in London, Banksy sends Thierry back to LA, with a suggestion that perhaps he should start making his own street art. Thierry takes on the name Mister Brainwash. An art exhibit is planned…
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is fascinating because, well, is any of it real? Is Mister Brainwash really Thierry or is he another character created by Banksy? Is he popping the balloon of people paying millions for street art by creating bad art and making people pay for it? Or is it what it claims to be?
No matter what it is and whether you watch it as a straight documentary about a fascinating new art form, or if you pore over it looking or clues as to the identities and motives of the players, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is something to behold. Interesting, thought provoking and very amusing, it’s a different kind of documentary.
If you have any interest in the form of documentary film, the movie is full of questions that you’ll want to spend time pondering afterwards. Quite simply one of the best movies of the summer season thus far: check out “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” -Sam
The world of Jean-Pierre Jeunet has gotten a little big larger. After the original closing night film for the 2010 IFFB was pulled, organizers scrambled to find a replacement. And with Jeunet’s latest offering, it was the perfect and quirky choice.
As the movie opens, a young boy named Bazil finds himself without a father after he is killed clearing a field of mines. Thirty years later, Bazil finds him the recipient of a stray bullet from a chase happening outside the video store in which he works. After doctors save his life, (but leave the bullet in,) Bazil finds himself homeless and finally meets up with a unique band of outsiders, living in an elaborate bunker in a city dump. The outsiders are the types of folk who only live in Felini movies or, now, Jeunet films. There is a contortionist, a man who insists that he held the world record for distance as a human cannonball, a woman who can call out distance, size and weight of objects with a glance and a man who hunches over a typewriter, reveling in every cliché and delighting in spewing out nonsense. Bazil quickly finds himself part of the family.
One day while out searching for junk to bring home, Bazil finds himself in the middle of the street, with the headquarters of the maker of his father’s killer mine and the headquarters of the maker of the bullet lodged in his head on either sides of him. He suddenly decides to extract his revenge. This being a Jeunet movie, the revenge is elaborate, complicated and very, very unique.
“Micmacs” fits in well with Jeunet’s previous work, with his attention to detail and the unique outlook. Also very evident, is his cast of characters, many of whom have appeared in previous films. I’m not sure where he finds them, but every character in this movie is unique and almost cartoonish looking, which makes the proceedings even more entertaining.
If there is any problem I have with the movie, it’s that there is little danger involved in the caper. The troupe vows to extract revenge, and they do. There’s no worry of whether or not they’ll pull it off, it just happens. However, Jeunet is clearing having such fun with the characters and the story, it’s almost possible to overlook the short comings. Jeunet keeps things moving and, like his other movies, the attention to every detail is exquisite and you easily get wrapped up in the story.
The joy and fun captured in the movie are wonderful and the film races by. If you’re looking for a heavy-handed and preachy movie about the business of warfare, look elsewhere. If you want a fun night out, look at “Micmacs.” -Sam
In 2008, as the Democratic party assembled in Denver, Colorado to nominate Barack Obama as their candidate, everything seemed to run smoothly. Or did it? AJ Schnack’s “Convention,” is the behind-the-scenes look at the convention, offering viewpoints as varied as the mayor’s office, a newly christened reporter on the political beat and a couple of experienced protestors.
Using a bevy of camera and sound people, these people are profiled as the convention prepares to open, and throughout the ceremonies. Schnack’s group of filmmakers follows everyone closely. The assistant in the mayor’s office has trouble getting passes for the man whose city is hosting the convention. We also see the city officials overseeing the traffic signals. They keep an eye on the protestors and coordinate with spotters on the ground to make sure nothing gets ugly. Meanwhile the local paper has a new reporter. She’s got the skills, but hasn’t done political coverage. They assign her to Hillary Clinton delegate watch. As the minutes wind-down to press time, she has to step up and deliver the story even if she doesn’t have time to write it. The protestors call themselves ‘Re-create ’68,’ but seemingly will protest whatever anyone else will protest. (Also, their organization needs some updating. All they want to do is to be arrested, and when the police refuse, they have no real recourse other than turn around and go back from whence they came. All of this is shown with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as Godot. Everyone is waiting for them to arrive.
Unfortunately, while the filmmakers were hoping for a possible re-creation of the 1968 convention, nobody else wanted that. Things went along smoothly. This does not make for riveting filmmaking. Also, because there is such a large cast of characters, Schnack is forced to cut between way too many story lines. As a result, you just don’t care about the characters. A woman who works in the mayor’s office is shown learning how to ride a scooter because she knows traffic will be terrible. Do we see her riding the scooter to the convention? No, we don’t. Another Mayor’s office employee came to this country from Cuba as an orphan. He’s particularly moved by then candidate Obama’s story. Do we learn any more about this? No, we don’t.
And in the end, that’s the problem. Because there is too much going on, there is nowhere near enough focus on anything. In the final scenes, we’re supposed to feel something because of the success (or lack of success, depending on which character you’re talking about,) of the convention. However, the filmmakers simply give you the same soundbites from Obama and Biden that you heard on CNN. It doesn’t matter if you were there. You’ve already seen them on TV.
“Convention,” seems to draw a lot of inspiration from things like Richard Leacock’s movie “Primary.” But what the filmmakers here seem to forget is that in that movie, Leacock was showing us a side of the political process we were not privy to. Here, there’s nothing new that we haven’t seen before. And in the end, that makes all the difference. -Sam
Sometimes people ask me why I watch so many movies, why I spend so much time reading about, studying and looking for hard-to-find old movies. Now, as a response, I can just present them with a copy of “Make Way For Tomorrow.” This is why I search through old movies. This is something special. Never before released on any home video format in the US, “Make Way,” is the kind of movie that anyone who has seen it sings the praises of so highly and so frequently, that you are compelled to see what all the fuss is about. Such is the way with this movie.
Directed by Leo McCarey, and based on the book The Years Are So Long, “Make Way For Tomorrow” tells the story of Barkley and Lucy Cooper. (Better known as Pa and Ma.) As the movie opens, they have gathered their grown children at their house to tell them that, because of their financial position, they have lost their house to the bank. The children are horrified, but promise to help, offering the parents a place to stay, Unfortunately, only child one has a house large enough and she needs to make some chagnes before she moves them in. So Ma and Pa are packed off to two different children’s homes. At her house, Ma clashes with her daughter-in-law, as she tries to run a class to teach the finer points of bridge. Ma’s granddaughter doesn’t feel comfortable bringing gentlemen callers around and is constantly sneaking around. Meanwhile, Pa makes a friend in the neighborhood where he’s living, but his daughter and her family don’t approve. They don’t like the rules changing. They live how they want to live.
Eventually things change and the plot moves along, and Ma and Pa are finally reconnected before parting again. The final sequence of the movie is a 30 minute walk through New York City and memory lane for the two heads of the family. It is one of the most touching sequences of film I have ever seen.
Orson Welles reportedly called “Make Way For Tomorrow,” “The most depressing movie ever.” While I didn’t find it that, I found it incredibly touching and moving. It reminds me in many way of the opening sequence of “Up,” where you see how close these two people have grown together.
The movie was directed by Le McCarey, who is probably better known for his work with the Marx Bros., (“Duck Soup,”) Cary Grant, (“The Awful Truth,”) and Bing Crosby, (“Going My Way.”) Released during the depression, “Make Way For Tomorrow,” was praised by critics, who at the same time warned audiences that the movie was terribly depressing. Not surprisingly, they stayed away in droves. When he won the Academy Award for “The Awful Truth,” McCarey thanked the Academy, but said he thought they gave him the award for the wrong movie. (“Make Way,”) was released the same year.
“Make Way,” never seemed to get a fair shake. That is, until now. Continuing their tradition of releasing and reminding audiences of great, perhaps overlooked films, The Criterion Collection has released “Make Way.” It is a highlight in their 500 plus films. It is great to see a movie so overlooked for so long to receive this kind of loving treatment. “Make Way,” deserves the rediscovery it have found recently. Check it out. Highly recommended. -Sam
If you’ve seen every episode of “The Cosby Show,” and are disappointed that you haven’t seen Dr. Cliff Huxtable shoot anyone down in cold blood, have I got a movie for you. 1972’s “Hickey & Boggs,” re-teams Bill Cosby with former “I, Spy,” co-star Robert Culp. (Culp also directed the film.) “Boggs,” is a typical 1970s film in the sense that it is dark, paranoid and moves at it’s own pace and is not going to speed up just to keep an audience happy. While that can make if feel overlong and kind of lumpy, this was clearly part of director Culp’s plan- making a movie that doesn’t nothing to glorify detective work.
Al Hickey and Frank Boggs are a couple of LA detectives, who are tired of their jobs, their lives and their city. Things seemingly pick up when they’re hired to find a missing girl. But they seemingly don’t care. They have pretty much given up on life, eating terribly, drinking worse and spending much of their time reveling in their misery. The case isn’t that interesting and both Hickey and Boggs are not over excited to get involved. Their job seems more like a chore and they have to try to psych themselves up to go and do it.
While this can make parts of the movie seem like tough going, there’s something admirable about Culp sticking to his guns and making the movie he wanted to make. There’s also a sub-plot about counterfeited money being passed around, but it’s not a key element and, it doesn’t seem to really bug Hickey or Boggs all that much, so, really, why should it trouble us?
The script is by Walter Hill, (who wrote “The Getaway,” and “The Drowning Pool,” and later directed “48 Hours,” and “The Warriors,”) moves at a perfect pace. Well, a perfect pace for Hickey and Boggs, restless audiences be damned.
What is most impressive about the movie is the attention to detail and the mundane. Both Hill and Culp revel in it and it’s clear to see that they see these small facts as the most important parts to the story. There’s a lot of similarities in tone and attitude, (to say nothing of one location, which both films share,) to Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye.” Both are the kind of movies that probably play best late at night, when you’re by yourself and there’s nothing on TV and you want to get into a mood. “Hickey” will put you in that mood and then keep you there. Guarantee.
Culp and Cosby are both excellent in the movie too. Sure, they aren’t playing their “I, Spy,” characters, but Cosby is doing actual acting, something that you don’t always see. (I would highly recommend “Mother, Juggs and Speed,” for another example and that if you want to see him coast, you check out “Ghost Dad.”) In fact, Cosby’s career since this movie opened has changed in such a way that it’s really interesting to see him working like this on a movie like this. It’s really cool to see him trying to play a character other than the understanding but disappointed father.
“Hickey & Boggs,” will not change your take on films of the 1970s at all. However, if you’re like me, and love everything about them, there’s a lot to enjoy. Well, ‘enjoy’ might be a strong word, but maybe ‘admire.’ -Sam
Check this film out on DVD here.