Archives for July 2009

There is Something Wrong With Esther … No, really?

Big clue … it is 2009. Any kid who dresses like this,


run in the direction opposite. They are bad news.


UPDATE: Now that I know the plot “twist” I find it absolutely hilarious!

Here We Go Again!

I just finished watched Mama Mia! It was quite terrible if I am completely honest with myself. As I was watching it, the one thing I kept thinking about was how great Muriel’s Wedding was. Muriel’s Wedding was not a musical but very ably integrated the music of ABBA into its narrative.

Here is a favorite of mine, Mark Kermode’s, take on Mama Mia!:

And here is The New York Times’ A.O. Scott discussing the greatness which is Muriel’s Wedding:

If you have not seen Muriel’s Wedding I highly highly recommend it. Click on the image of Muriel (Toni Collette) and visit this cool fan page!


The Thing About Woody is …..


Let me start by saying I am not a huge Woody Allen devotee. At the same time, I have not intentionally avoided his work … sort of. I have had plenty of opportunities to watch his movies on Reel 13 or on any of a plethora of cable channels. I have been told that films like Interiors, Annie Hall, and Manhattan are “essential cinematic viewing.” Most of these films of course mark for many Mr. Allen’s “artistic peak.” So part of me feels like I am suffering from Monty Python Syndrome, or MPS, as I call it. MPS is a self-described condition in which I am unable to understand the humor presented. In other words, I just do not “get” it. I really tried to see what my dad sees in The Holy Grail. Because of this condition, I conclude that the humor must simply be over my head and I am not in on the joke. For the majority of my movie going adult life, I ascribed this condition to Woody Allen’s work.

That is until rather recently. The first Woody Allen movie I saw from beginning to end was 2005’s Match Point. I really liked this movie; the London set pieces were a major appeal for me but I also appreciated the central thesis of the narrative. My next Woody Allen feature I watched was Scoop. Overall, the movie was flat on many levels. This however did not stop me from examining some of Allen’s recent work further. In 2004’s Melinda and Melinda while there were moments I found unconvincing, I LOVED the concept of telling a story about someones life from two disparate angles.

Last year, I ventured to the Angelika and saw Vicky Christina Barcelona. I had heard a little bit of buzz generated for the picture and decided to check it out. I am glad I did. The film was largely anchored by Penelope Cruz’s fantastic performance.

Fast forward to yesterday. Almost a year to the day I saw Vicky Christina, I was back at the Angelika to see Allen’s latest outing, Whatever Works. The most I was looking for was a mildly diverting comedy. What I discovered was an enjoyable and funny movie.  I therefore concluded that for me, the winning Woody Allen formulae are when:

woody-glasses = writer/director = picture I like


woody-glasses = actor = picture I probably will not like

The latter formula may be a sacrilege to some but it is my experience. I am willing to disprove these formulas by watching his earlier work, including those films featuring him as an actor. That is what Netflix is for…

In the end, I feel I have benefited from being able to watch a Woody Allen film with a relatively fresh set of eyes. Maybe upon watching his earlier work, my perspective will change. However, I see that as a gradual process. One thing that watching these films from his later years has shown me is that I should give myself a chance to “discover” his work.

Films currently in the public domain

Admit one to your computer screen!

Admit one to your computer screen!

One of the fantastic things about the internet is the availability of streaming videos out there. Any film scholar can tell you that issues of copyright and ownership often got confusing at times. For example, many of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, most famously Vertigo, were in the courts for years as the legal system was asked to determine ownership. The result was an unfortunate one; one in which we the viewing public were not able to enjoy these films. Another consequence was that the prints were at times left to deteriorate due to neglect. Fortunately for us, many of these treasures have been identified and properly preserved or are in the process of being so.

Another fate suffered by older films is that motion picture companies who own these films hold the films in their vault and debate whether to release them for sale or distribution.

Thankfully, many groups holding these films in either case have come up with a solution to satisfy film fans everywhere – make these films available in the public domain. Take, for instance. A click on their Movies (Full Length), will display a plentiful supply of classic titles, enough to whet any movie lovers’ appetite. There is some Hitchcock (39 Steps, Lady Vanishes); His Girl Friday; Orson Welles’ The Stranger and more recent films such as Broken Flowers, The Last Days of Disco, Your Friends and Neighbors, etc. You can spend some time looking at the feature films and documentaries.

The one suggestion I have is to check the offering often. A couple of months ago I watched Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. When I recently checked the movie list, it was not there.

DVD Pick: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Robin Hood ... coming to Blu Ray soon!

Robin Hood ... coming to Blu Ray soon!

Pure cinematic confection. What else can I say? Every time this movie comes on, I have to take pause and give it a go. It is bright, the music is lovely and it is a film constantly on the go. It is action packed and has one of the silver screen’s most dynamic and engaging duos – Errol Flynn and Olivia deHavilland. And can I say how much I LOVE Olivia deHavilland. She is so proper and regal.

A simple storyline mixed with almost blinding Technicolor can easily get lost on a generation transfixed with loud explosions and dizzying camera movement. It often makes me wonder what the movie makers of long ago would think of the modern-day motion picture…would they even recognize it as the form they helped pioneer over 100 years ago?

For modern day skeptics who would dismiss The Adventures of Robin Hood as a cheesy, if not cartoon-ish production, I recommend you watch Robin Hood for those very reasons. On subsequent viewings (I have seen it at least 20 times already – probably more) it almost feels like a live-action comic or cartoon but in the best way possible; it is an entertaining piece of movie escapism. The good guys are too good to be true and the bad guys are deliciously villainous.

Trust me you will enjoy every moment of it.

3D: Old/new Wave of Future?

In the film community there has been a lot of talk surrounding the future of 3D in cinemas. A favorite film critic of mine, BBC’s Mark Kermode, has talked at great length about 3D and the issue of piracy. I have embedded one of his video blogs that discusses that very problem:

Meanwhile I had the pleasure last weekend of seeing the sixth installment of the Harry Potter film series (Half Blood Prince or HBP) in IMAX 3D. The Lincoln Center cinema was one of a handful of theatres nationwide showing HBP in IMAX ahead of the July 29th nationwide release in this format (click here to find out why).

I will spare you an actual review of HBP since I am an unapologetic devotee of both the books and the movies. I will however comment on the “IMAX 3-D” experience. Simply stated the best experience for me was watching the trailer for the Disney IMAX 3D version of A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey.

As far as the feature presentation goes, the 3D was reserved for the first twenty minutes. Wow! There was a lot of deatheater flying, and swooping down alleys, across bridges and in narrow alleyways. The result left me a little light headed. For my movie-going companions, the experience was a bit more extreme; the experience bordered on nausea. At first, I thought it was just me but was I glad to find out I was not the only one.

At the end of the twenty minutes, I was more than happy to take off my 3D glasses at the prompting of the flashing of the red glasses on the cinema screen. The whole process of being instructed to do something in a movie theatre was a little disconcerting.

Another observation is that in a few scenes there was a weird ghostly/shadowy thing going on. Maybe it was just the print (hmm?).

My conclusion? Just give the IMAX experience if you want to get me excited about going to the movies – 3D is for the birds.

History Versus Hollywood (Biopics)

Based on a true story?

A Dispatch from Reuters: based on a true story?

I was recently watching Turner Classic Movies, in particular, a film starring Edward G. Robinson,  A Dispatch from Reuter’s, supposedly about the life and times of the founding member of the Reuters New Service.

My purpose in writing will not attempt to expose the likely historical inaccuracies that this and many a bio-pic. Watching this movie just got me thinking about some of my favorite films from the period spanning the 1930’s – 1950’s that were stories “based on the life of …” – but not really.

  • Madame Curie (1944)
  • Sergeant York (1941)
  • St Louis Blues (1958)
  • I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Devotion (1946)
  • Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
  • The Three Faces of Eve (1958)
  • They Died With Their Boots On (1939)

In the modern era there are obviously plenty of “based on the life of …” stories that come to mind. In an earlier post I mentioned Elizabeth I (2005) the cable television biopic starring Dame Helen Mirren. Other notables cinematic turns include Frost/Nixon (2008), Gia (1998), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), American Gangster (2007), The Last King of Scotland (2006) ….

As you can see the list can get quite extensive. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that these works are pieces of entertainment.

Here is a video I found that features some of the best biopics to be released over the past decades:

Summer Counterprogramming … It can work for you!

cinema(Originally written on July 7, 2009)

Part of my Sunday evening ritual is to visit the internet movie database (imdb for the already initiated) and check up on the weekly box office returns. I have no idea why I routinely do this – I guess I am just curious about the successes (and failures) or certain films.

So far this summer there has not been a lot of that I have concerned myself with (see post on summer movie previews), so imagine my surprise when I saw that The Proposal was still in the top 5 with a  domestic  box office receipt of  94.2 million, easily meaning it will reach the magical 100 million mark. Since I originally wrote this piece (as of July 22, 2009, that total is $128M)!

However, should I really be too surprised? Let’s face it — most of the big box office, maximum appeal bonanzas Star Trek, Transformers and Harry Potter 6. This is not to say that their critical reception will be less favorable. Personally, I really liked Harry Potter 6 and Star Trek.

The Proposal on its surface is a standard issue “chick flick” and these types of films are usually released when there will not be huge box office competition. That means either it will come out during non-blockbuster season or if it is released during the summer months, its release will be a couple of weekends prior or after a film like Star Trek. At least that has been my observation. The audience for these often niche films is those who may feel left out of the traditional summer box office.

In the case of The Proposal, I think I underestimated the draw that Sandra Bullock continues to have with audiences. That being said, I personally like her and think that she is a pleasant screen presence.

But I digress. Back to counterprogramming. I found a great site that has one reviewer’s favorite picks for summer counterprogramming options for Summer ’09. For my part, I have seen Away We Go (loved it!) and have tickets for this Saturday’s showing of Whatever Works. Also on my MUST SEE list is 500 Days of Summer (can’t wait).

Criterion Collection Blow-Out at Barnes and Noble!!!!!

Criterion Titles
Criterion Titles

Check out this limited time offer! Usually these disks run in the forty dollar range, so being able to get them at 20 bucks is a fantastic opportunity! I have already indulged and may go back for more ….

Click here for more on the Criterion Collection.

You may be wondering why film fans are clamoring for such a special deal. Criterion DVDs and Blu Rays go beyond the standard issue disks not only in the quality of the digital transfer, but also in the meticulous detail that goes into developing the special features. Not only do the folks at Criterion get noted film scholars and filmmakers  to provide commentary and/or essays, but their producers have apparently scoured the world to get any existing information out there in the public domain pertaining to a particular title.

Take my Criterion Blu Ray version of “The Third Man;” Here are just a few of the listed Special Edition Features:

– Two audio commentaries (by Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy) and one by film scholar Dana Polan

– Abridged recording of Graham Greene’s treatment, read by Richard Clarke

– A 2005 documentary on the making of the film

– Joseph Cotten (Holly Martins’) alternate opening voice-over narration for the U.S. version of the film

– Booklet featuring an essay by critic Luc Sante

…. and much much more!

As you can see, if you are a particular fan of a title that Criterion offers, owning one of these disks is like having a master class in that movie. I cannot recommend them enough.

On Location – NYC

Since I live in the greater NYC area, I have a wealth of “On Locations” to report. This first installment is probably one of my favorites from a favorite director of mine.

I already have featured one location from the masterpiece that is Vertigo. The second Hitchcock film I will refer to is “North by Northwest.”
Here is a photo of the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street as it is now (from my cell phone) …

42nd 55th new

… and a few years back when Nat Sherman was there …. 59271535_884f7d9f2c

In the film, it was a passing shot pretty early on. There are plenty of other NYC locations that Hitchcock used throughout the filming of NbNW, but for me, a frequent passerby of the area, I felt a nice little connection to the location. In my research it is no doubt a “shout out” to the store. According to Cigar Aficionado, Hitch was a huge fan of cigars.

As for Nat Sherman, it has moved a few hundred feet to a less conspicuous location – along 42nd Street.

nat new

Here is a really cool site I discovered that listed many of the location shots from North by Northwest.

I also found this awesome compendium of film locations. Using this guide as a resource, you may even be able to plan a nice trip around a film or two!