Archives for May 2011

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Starter for Ten

For this week’s overlooked selection, I have chosen a film from 2007 – Tom Vaughan’s Starter for Ten. The screenplay is adapted by David Nicholls, who also wrote the novel.

This film has many elements to its credit:

  • It is a lighthearted coming of age story
  • It is set in the mid-1980’s in Thatcher’s Great Britain
  • It has an awesome cast: James McAvoy, Dominic Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall and a well-played Catherine Tate.
  • The soundtrack is equally awesome and is currently in rotation on my iPod

If you are from the States like me, you may have to look past the rather obscure title (I have since figured out what it means). I suspect in many circles the title did not do it any great favors in broadening its appeal. This despite the fact that Tom Hanks is one of the producers of the film.

Here is the U.S. trailer:

Unfortunately the voice over in this trailer is rather annoying and it is obvious to that the film was marketed to the American audience with a strong “rom-com” emphasis. Of course, these are some of the thematic elements which run through the film, but this is not a fair or complete representation of the film. Take a look and judge it for yourself.

 

Fifteen Movie Questions Meme

Happy Memorial Day All! Currently watching the French Open (and loving it) but I have decided to take some time to do some browsing around the ‘net to see what is going on on some of my favorite movie sites. That is when I came across this fantastic meme (respect to Cinematic Paradox via my friends at Anomalous Material). The meme is called 15 Movie Questions. So without further ado, here are my answers:

1. Movie you love with a passion.

Sure I can find minor quibbles with stuff as I have watched it over the years, but I am always drawn A Room With a View.

2. Movie you vow to never watch.

I refuse to see Revenge of the Sith in its entirety. Sure I have it on good authority that this was the best of the prequels but I was so let down by the first two I gave up on the prequel franchise.

3. Movie that literally left you speechless.

Children of Men


 

4. Movie you always recommend.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie.

Kate Winslet!

 

6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for.

Too many to name.

 

7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet.

It’s a tie: Rashida Jones and Drew Barrymore. They seem like cool ladies.

8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)

Not  a fair question … so much hotness out there at the present moment. Guess I will go old-school with Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.


 

9. Dream cast.

Love Actually


 

10. Favorite actor pairing.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Notorious


11. Favorite movie setting.

 

12. Favorite decade for movies.

The 1960’s – it was such a turbulent decade outside of film but a lot of that unrest and upheaval became part of cinematic history.

13. Chick flick or action movie?

An action flick featuring a bad-a** chick 🙂

14. Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Anti-hero all the way ….

 

15. Black and white or color?

Cut my movie-loving teeth in the world of good ole B&W. But that is not why it is my choice. Over the years, I have come to really love the interplay between shadow and light that is so evident in the best B&W cinematography.

 

Well that’s me! Tell me what you think.

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: The Naked City

For my first contribution to “Tuesday’s Overlooked Films,” I will take a brief look at one of my favorite films in the film noir genre, Jules Dassin’s The Naked City from 1948.

Synopsis

It is a hot summer night in the city that never sleeps. After glimpsing into the mundane activities of  New Yorkers from various walks of life at play, we see the shadowy figures of two men in the act of murdering a young woman; the young woman is later idenitified as a model named Jean Dexter. Soon after, an equally sinister scene is visited upon us – the disposal of one of murderers (obviously overcome with a sense of remorse) by the other.

As day breaks and the model’s body is discovered, the police investigation begins. The investigation is headed by veteran detective, Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his young partner, Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor).

What follows is a step-by-step procedural of the murder investigation. Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of characters, who together are key to identifying the persons responsible for young Jean’s demise.

Why I Love this Movie

From its outset, we are told that The Naked City is “a motion picture unlike any other that we have seen.” Of  the movies that I have seen in this genre, this film most ably combined the narrative of cinema with a very realistic portrayal of a post-war New York City.

This due mainly to the fact that the majority of the scenes were shot in various locations in and around New York City. This lends a “true-life” or documentarian feel to the film. At the time, the cinematopgraphy earned The Naked City several plaudits, including the Academy Award in 1949 for Best Cinematopgraphy.

I also love how, at times (especially in the beginning), the narrative is intercut with scenes of the city (and it people) as a living, breathing organism in which so many things are happening around the main story.

As for the narrative itself, while it may sound a bit mundane, the police procedural is actually quite gripping. The complexities of the people and places involved in the murder investigation is fascinating to watch.

Of course none of this would work if not for the solid writing, acting and directing.

The Naked City is indeed a city of “8 million stories” and we are given a glimpse of a very fascinating one indeed.

Ladies and Gents, We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Todd Mason, winner of iluvcinema’s “Blu Ray Giveaway.” Todd shared some fantastic insights into the symbolism and meaning of The White Bus. Based on his review, I will certainly be re-watching this film. You can find his analysis of this film alongside another interesting film (“Wonderland”) by visiting his blog, Sweet Freedom.

As a reward for his contribution, Todd will receive the Criterion Collection Blu Ray Edition of David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Be on the lookout for another contest next month.

Always the “Bridesmaids” (A Review)

An audience’s reaction to comedic material is purely subjective. What one person views as a side-splitting comedy, another person can view as tedious.

As a result, I have found that relying on reviews of comedies to be a very tricky business. And as a result, I generally do not “recommend” many comedies either.

So for this weekend’s screening of Bridesmaids, I decided ahead of time to go into it with as little information as possible. No reviews, previews, or trailers – nothing except the movie poster, which I could not avoid in New York City. I even managed to dismiss the From the Makers Of … tagline sitting atop the poster. I pushed the envelope even further by seeing Bridesmaids by myself – realizing that often what makes a film so much fun to watch in the cinema is reacting to how others around you.

All of these factors in consideration, I would have to say that it was a film that exceeded my expectations and I found myself laughing quite often.

Story wise, the plot is pretty straightforward – “bestest,” oldest friends Annie and Lilian (played by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, respectively) are on very separate life trajectories. Wiig is a failed entrepreneur forced to live with a pair of odious siblings (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson). As goes with someone whose life is headed in a southward path, she also has “relationship issues.” Lilian, on the other hand, is a bit more stable and very early on, announces that she is engaged. As her oldest friend, Annie is immediately appointed the maid of honor. At the engagement party, we are eventually introduced to the remaining bridal party. It reads like this:

  • The Bored Housewife, Rita (played by Wendy Mclendon-Covey)
  • The boorish sister-in-law, Megan (Melissa McCarthy)
  • The “Disney” princess, Becca (Ellie Kemper)
  • The Stepford Wife and “new” best friend, Helen (Rose Byrne)

The establishment of this Motley Crew sets the stage for a series of events at which I found myself laughing consistently. And beyond the laughs, there is an emotional heart dealing with issues of friendships, fear of failure and finding our place in the world, even for those in our 30’s.

As an engaging side story to the wedding events, Annie enters a world of new romantic complications with a Wisconsin State Trooper (Chris O’Dowd).

Of course this is not a film without flaw. At over 2 hours in length, several scenes could have been excised without sacrificing story. On the other hand, these scenes did deliver the laughs they promised.

The ensemble cast, led by Wiig and Rudolph were obviously having a blast while making the film. In the cameo/supporting category, Jon Hamm is good/loathsome as a rakish-Don Draper type, circa 2011. On a more touching note, it was nice to see Jill Clayburgh in her final screen credit as Wiig’s mother.

The story was co-written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolu and directed by Paul Feig whose background is mostly in television productions as a writer, director and actor. Bridesmaids is Feig’s third feature film.

Just based on the poster, it is obvious that the movie-marketing machine were positioning this film a female version of The Hangover. On a practical level I get it – it is sort of a Netflix promotional indexing system (“if you loved X, you will definitely like Y”). However, that calculus does not always work and in a worst-case scenario can confuse (and even turn away) a potential viewer. So one piece of advice I can offer is to try to watch a film, in this case, a comedy, based on its own merits.

If you are looking for a funny night out with the girls (or guys) see Bridesmaids. You might be surprised.

“Must-See” Flicks (iluvcinema Edition)

One consequence of my building out the meme of A Life in Movies is that I realized just how many films I have seen over the course of my life and of those how many I actually enjoyed. So while this blog-a-thon is great fun to take part of, my mind wanders and I keep on remembering what I have not put on the list. But that has not prevented from thinking about other movie lists to put together.

Lo and behold, the other day i was doing my customary scouring of the internets to look for yet more movie resources. I then ran across another blog list entitled 60 Must See Films. The blogger established the following criteria for each film to make the list:

  • Directing
  • Acting
  • Writing
  • Photography

I decided that this kind of list would be fun too but I made a couple of changes, including:

  1. expanding the list to 100 films
  2. (1-60) are still films remaining must-see
  3. (61-100) are films that I have been told are” must-see” (meeting above criteria) but I have not seen them.

Because this is a huge (and likely dynamic) undertaking, I decided to create a new page and not simply a blog post. Over time I am sure that items on the list will change. Even as I write this I am making notations about films that have been left off. But for the sake of my mental sanity, I will leave everything frozen in time (for now).

The most active portion of the list I foresee as being in the bottom half (items 61-100). As I watch each of the films in that list, I will cross it off and add another set of films that still meet that “must-see” categorization.

All of this is in good fun of course but it should be noted that even with this established criteria of excellence in the 4 basic areas of filmmaking, there is a lot of subjectivity. No one could ever create a purely empirical, universally accepted list of 60 must see films without sparking some degree of debate. For instance I struggled with whether or not Gone With the Wind should make the list (right now it is there).

So visit the page, take a look at my suggestions and feel free to add comments and feedback.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Blu Ray Giveaway! (Benjamin Button)

Patricia Healey, star of the short feature, “The White Bus”

 

Hello out there!

I have a barely watched copy of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button* I would like to give to someone out there in the blogosphere.

BUT I will not make it that easy for you …

This evening (5/17) I had the pleasure to watch 1967 short subject film The White Bus by Lindsay Anderson. It was certainly a surreal experience. In fact it is an experience that has left me a bit perplexed.

So this is the challenge I lay before you – if you have seen it, please submit your synopsis and interpretation of the film below in the comments section. I will select the best interpretation and send off the disk!

All submissions must be sent in by 11:59PM (Eastern) on Tuesday, May 17th 2011.

Good Luck!


*this is a Criterion Collection Blu Ray Disk (BD) for the North America region.

The Loving Story (Tribeca Film Festival 2011)

Over a week has passed since we called “time” on the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. My participation in the 2011 this year included my usual volunteer activities, but was punctuated by my seeing the documentary, The Loving Story on Monday, April 25th. From the opening musical sequence (“Going Home,” a song based on Dvořák’s Largo theme/9th Symphony – one of my all-time favorite melodies, no less), The Loving Story had me.

In this beautiful song, we are provided with the perfect context for the narrative thread of the documentary – an practically unknown chapter in the fight for civil rights, a fight that the Lovings waged in the mid-1960s; a fight that ultimately went to the Supreme Court of the United States of America in 1967. At the center of the fight is a happily married couple, one black, one white – who simply wanted live in their home state of Virginia as a family.

My first exposure to the story of Richard and Mildred Loving was about 15 years ago when a feature film, Mr. and Mrs. Loving was released, featuring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon in the title roles.

What the documentary does that the feature film could not is provide is a greater sense of place, grounding the story in realism. Thanks to some wonderful cinema verite footage, archived audio court recordings, present-day interviews with the surviving actors in the story, and the magnificent trove of photography (courtesy of the estate of Grey Villet), we the audience are transported to the recent past. We are invited to share in the laughter, shock, cheers, jeers and tears that the Lovings no doubt were going through on their journey to equality.

As someone from the outside looking in, I was personally amazed at how composed and uncomplicated they were. Many of us have an image in our heads of how someone in the same position as the Lovings would behave. However, they were not marching, protesting firebrands, but rather, a quiet, unassuming couple who only wanted one thing – to go home and live a normal life.

The Loving Story is a living, breathing piece of history whose themes of love, marriage and family will definitely resonate with today’s society and the questions we are currently facing surrounding these same issues.

In closing, a job well done to Nancy Buirski, the director and one of the producers of the project. According to Lean Rozen’s article in The Wrap, the documentary will air in February 2012 as part of HBO Documentaries’ celebration of Black History Month.

For more information, you can follow the story of the Lovings and this film via Twitter and Facebook.

 

A Life in Movies

 

When I visited the Fandango Groovers Movie Blog and noticed that a fantastic blog-a-thon was taking place, I decided that the meme would be something I want to participate in. Little did I know what I was getting myself involved with!

Phew! This was a lot harder than I thought it would be … to have to put together a list of your favorite films from each year sounds like a no-brainer, but the deeper I dug, the more I felt like I was doing the films I did not select a disservice. In the end I decided to go with the films that had the most visceral of responses for me. Where applicable (i.e. head versus heart), I added a “runner-up” selection.

Year Movie Runner-Up
1976

Smurfs and the Magic Flute

Freaky Friday
1977 Star Wars 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1978 Superman: the Movie 

Grease
1979 Alien 

The Warriors
1980 The Empire Strikes Back 

Bon Voyage Charlie Brown
1981 Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie 

1982 E.T. the Extra Terrestrial 

1983 Return of the Jedi 

1984 Beverly Hills Cop 

1985 A Room With a View 

Back to the Future
1986 Aliens 

1987 The Princess Bride 

Lethal Weapon
1988 Cinema Paradiso
1989 When Harry Met Sally 

1990 Europa! Europa! 

Home Alone
1991 Man in the Moon 

1992 Belle Epoque 

1993 Much Ado About Nothing 

1994 The Shawshank Redemption 

Muriel’s Wedding
1995 The Usual Suspects 

While You Were Sleeping *
1996 The Truth About Cats and Dogs 

The Long Kiss Goodnight
1997 L.A. Confidential 

1998 You’ve Got Mail 

1999 The Talented Mr. Ripley 

2000 High Fidelity 

Love + Basketball
2001 Bridget Jones’s Diary 

2002 Far From Heaven 

Bend it Like Beckham
2003 Love Actually 

School of Rock
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 

The Bourne Supremacy
2005 A History of Violence 

2006 Children of Men 

Casino Royale
2007 The Bourne Ultimatum 

Hot Fuzz
2008 The Dark Knight 

2009 Taken 

2010 Inception 

The Social Network

* 5.10.2011 – a bit of revisionist history … actually my runner up should be Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (1995)

For All You Mothers Out There (Mother’s Day Vid Picks)

The portrayal of mothers in film can run the gambit from the self-sacrificing mother to the belligerent, self-interested mom. And there is a whole lot in between.

In honor of Mother’s Day 2011, I decided to put together a list. Granted, my list has no particular order and while my goal was to I tried to cap it at a nice, even interval (5 or 10) I landed on 6 classic films that feature moms in various shades of gray.

Imitation of Life (1959): I could not have a mother’s day film list without including this one. It personally resonates with me because it is one of the few classic films that my mother would always reference. In fact she is the one that introduced me to this Douglas Sirk/Lana Turner weepie melodrama. I know there is a 1934 version out there, which I have yet to see, but for me, this one is IT. Granted, you have to get past some of the “less than PC” references as they relate to racial identity and race relations. But overall it really is an enjoyable, guilty-pleasure watch, especially if you are into Sirkian soap operatics.

I Remember Mama (1948): I think I have only seen this film once, love this film for several reasons – it is based in turn of the century San Francisco, is directed by the great George Stevens and features Irene Dunne and Miss Ellie from Dallas (Barbara Bel Geddes). It is a touching screen adaptation about the nostalgia of looking back reminiscing about a time long ago and far away.

To Each His Own (1946): This is a film about a mother who lost, found, lost (again) and finally found at last the son she longed for.

Psycho (1960): Switching gears (a bit), in Psycho, we have a film about what happens when a son has severe “mommy issues.” The results are unsurprisingly not good.

Gypsy (1962): The life of burlesque legend Gypsy Rose Lee brought to life on the screen by Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood. A must-see for all aspiring stage moms.

Mildred Pierce (1945): I really enjoyed the Winlset-led HBO adaptation but this 1940’s version starring Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth are stylized in a way that only came out of films during this period of time.  The Crawford version is very crisp and stylized and just wonderful and camp in its own way. I love the story of a mother blinded by an obsessive devotion to an unappreciative, vindictive and dare I say – evil child.

 

READERS: Do you have any recommendations?