Archives for July 2011

Double Feature Theatre

Oh well I am not getting off to a good start with this blog-a-thon:  I am a day late!

The idea of the blog is simple – imagine you are in charge of programming movies to be seen in the cinema. Thanks to the folks at Go-See-Talk for getting a bunch of us together to share with you what we have all come up with. Anyway without further ado …

Office Space and 9 to 5

 

 


Tell No One and Swimming Pool

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Photographer as a Profession (in the Movies)

I am a self-professed shutterbug. As much as I love movies, I list photography as another one of my main interests and hobbies. It is on that basis that I decided to create this list. My other inspiration for this post was my recent viewing of the slightly disturbing thriller Peeping Tom where our “antihero” is photography hobbyist; throughout the film his primary work is in the production of tawdry movies.  Anyway, a discussion of that film is an entirely different post for another day.

Here I would like to focus on films featuring photographers that have caught my attention over the years.

  • Blow – Up (1966) Not sure if this is really a favorite of mine; saw it in film class and it sticks in my find as still a very disturbing film. I do not know if I love or loathe what I saw on screen.
  • The Bridges of Madison County (1995) Lovely story in which the career of photographer is so romantic I wanted to go out to Madison County (or somewhere similar) and start photographing covered bridges.
  • Rear Window (1954) Another awesome thriller that is about voyeurism; the irony of course being that LB Jeffries’ profession of looking through a lens and observing others is juxtaposed with his looking outside his window
  • Funny Face (1957) Film in which I officially fell in love with Paris and made it a life’s mission to visist “The City of Lights”/”The City of Love”

  • The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996) A cute film where the male protagonist is a photographer – that is why this makes the list. There was nothing exceptional about his photography except one can say it was integral to the plot’s development.

What are your favorite films that feature shutterbugs? Did I miss something?

 

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Caged

This week’s pick is the 1950 “women-in-prison” drama Caged. The film stars Eleanor Parker and was directed by John Cromwell. Screen writing credits are attributed to Virginia Kellogg based on the story Women Without Men written by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld (source: Wikipedia).

Many of my “younger” readers may know her as the almost stepmother of the vonTrapp children in The Sound of Music. This role is definitely a great departure from that more glamorous role and we see our protagonist transform from an innocent who falls on hard times, to a prison-hardened dame who is destined for a life of crime.

How does it all go wrong?

19-year old Marie (Parker) takes part in an attempted robbery with her husband. Unfortunately, their plans are thwarted and her husband is killed. It is then off to prison for Marie who soon finds out that she is pregnant. She is determined to keep the child but circumstances arise to make this impossible. As a result she is faced with no choice but to give her child up for adoption.

This event combined with the harsh and brutal treatment she receives at the hands of inmates and guards, transforms Marie into a woman who is destined to be on the wrong side of the law. At the conclusion of the film, she is seen leaving with some “hoods”: her desire to get out of jail has lead to her make a Faustian deal with some less than above board people. The result is an indebtedness that she will have to pay while she is on the “outside.”

For her performance, Eleanor Parker received well-deserved recognition in the form of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. There was also a Supporting Actress nod for Hope Emerson as the sadistic prison guard.

What resonated with me about this film is that for its time, it must have been a somewhat shocking look inside a woman’s prison. Some of the goings-on are obviously played up for dramatic reasons, but it still works on many levels.

Weekend Two-fer (Friends With Benefits and Captain America: the First Avenger)

Warning: Reviews may contain spoilers

Today I have decided to give you a two for one deal. I saw Friends With Benefits a couple of weeks ago, but was saving the review for its official release. My delay in putting the finishing touches on it lead to the decision to combine the review with Captain America: The First Avenger which I saw on Sunday.


Captain America: The First Avenger

For the uninitiated, as the title states, Captain America is the first Avenger. In sort of a movie flashback, we see how Steve Rodgers, the 4F candidate becomes America’s “supersoldier.” During his latest attempt to enlist in the Army, he catches the attention of German scientist Dr. Erksine and eventually becomes part of the secret Army program that transforms him into our superhero.

At the same time we have the parallel story of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who in a spilt from the Nazi regime takes the special weapons division of the Reich (Hydra) and suits it for his own evil purpose. You can guess what his ultimate objective is.

The convergent protagonist/antagonist stories lead a race against time for our heroes to save the world from a seemingly unstoppable force of evil.

Overall I thought the film was very enjoyable; one reason is the cast. In previous films, Chris Evans has always come off as being a bit of a flashy young hot shot. In Captain America, he plays the role of Steve Rodgers pretty straight and does a good job of it. Hugo Weaving is well, Hugo Weaving – no one does sly villainy quite the way he does. Tommy Lee Jones has many laughs in his role of the gruff, curmudgeonly army officer. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. It similar movies that are brimming with acting talent, it is very easy to get lost in the star count, but in Captain America, there is a very good balance. I must credit the direct Joe Johnston, who was able to get these performances out of his cast.

It would be foolish of me not to mention my favorite part of the film – the visual elements – set design, cinematography, costumers and makeup. I LOVE the vintage look and feel of the picture. I did feel like the production adequately evoked the spirit and look of the WWII era.

Nowadays, most pictures seem to run a minimum of 120 minutes, which can help or hurt a film. At 125 minutes, Captain America passes by at a solid pace and did not lead to much clock-watching on my part. That said a little more could have been to tighten up the story it did feel like some scenes were in just for the sake of it. But that is a minor quibble at best. Actually I have one more quibble – the fact (yet again) that the 3D did nothing to enhance my cinematic experience.

In the end, there is not much that could be done to ruin this film (for me). It is definitely a movie where I must simply take it for what it is – a decent comic book story, pretty well acted.

It is important to note that in the Marvel universe, this is the final film that will introduce us to the principle Avengers. We will next see Captain America and company in the $300million spectacle The Avengers set for release in May 2012.

HINT – stay for the ENTIRE credits and then some.


Friends With Benefits

This Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake starrer began a little shaky for me but at its conclusion, I must admit that I actually enjoyed it. I do not know why it pains me to say something like this, but funny is funny and this film had me laughing quite a few times. Granted it is not “This generation’s When Harry Met Sally” as I have seen it described in some promotional materials, but it was a light-heartedly entertaining movie.

As for the plot, it is pretty straightforward:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Boy + girl Become Friends
  • In a moment of madness/passion whatever, boy + girl decide to hook up – the caveat being that as long as the sex is emotionless and they keep it apart from their friendship. Do you think that is going to work?

This of course s a slight variation on the When Harry Met Sally story in which the theme was that men and women CAN’T be friends because of the sex getting in the way. This film also has the misfortune of following the relatively poorly received No Strings.

This similarity is unfortunate because in spite of the oft-told theme, I was quite amused by this film. The leads obviously have chemistry especially as the movie moved along. The film’s saving grace for was courtesy of the wonderful supporting players, including Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins and Woody Harrelson.

What seemed not to work for me however are elements of the film that you could tell were placed in the film for the sole purpose of getting a laugh. I speak particularly of the “film within a film” – its purpose is   to serve as a device by which we not only get cameos from the likes of Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, but is a send up of Hollywood’s bland treatment of film romance and New York City. The delivery ended up being a bit “blah” for my tastes.

Also someone who loves playing “I know that location” when watching films set in NYC, one thing that got to me was the jumping around between midtown, downtown and all around town in a relatively short period of time. If only it were that easy.

In conclusion, while not up there in my all time favorite rom-coms, I must admit that Friends With Benefits was definitely a pleasant surprise.

I would recommend this movie for: A girls’ night/date night out or in (home viewing).

Tell Me What You Think…

Box Office Mojo is forecasting that Captain America will can top Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which it also say could see a massive drop-off in receipts in its second week.

I for one think that Harry Potter could hold strong especially on repeat viewings. Personally I am planning on seeing it again in 2D after seeing it in IMAX 3D opening weekend. However it may have to wait — if it is not too hot to go out, I will see Captain America. Also be on the lookout for my Friends With Benefits review, which I am in the finishing stages of composing.

What do you think? Enter the poll and leave your thoughts in the Comments field.

 

Do you agree with the Box Office Mojo prediction?

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Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Letter From an Unknown Woman

I was first made aware of Max Ophüls’ Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) when it was featured in one of my favorite books specifically about the treatment of women in the movies – From Reverence to Rape (written by Molly Haskell). As a result of her analysis of the film, I made it a personal mission of mine to seek it.

In a nutshell, Letter from an Unknown Woman is a story of unrequited love and the desperation, obsession (and mania) that can follow. It stars one of my favorite actresses from the era; Joan Fontaine is in the central role of a girl who grows into a woman who cannot seem to let go of a supposed romantic attachment (Louis Jourdan) of her youth. This steadfastness and devotion is disastrous and leads to tragic consequences.

The films works for me on many levels but principally the visuals are what have always captivated me; Letter always had a mystical, dreamlike for me.

FUN FACT (primary source: Wikipedia): In doing my research for this post, I discovered that film ending an the book ending differ. While both endings are equally ambiguous, the latter leaves the reader with more questions than answers about the fate of our male protagonist. There are also a few other structural changes to the plot but overall this film still reveals itself as a tragic love story.

* the film is available on DVD but it looks a little hard to come by – you may have to do some digging around.


Must give a mention: Last week while I was making my rounds in the film blogo-sphere I visited M. Carter at the Movies (LINK UPDATED) where they have reviewed a film that I think is worth a look at. I too is a film that I do not feel like got much sunlight on it during its initial run.

Potter-ing is Such Sweet Sorrow

Unless you have been living in the deepest darkest recesses of a cave (and even then …) you know that Harry Potter came to a thrilling conclusion this weekend.

Having just saw the final installment I can say that it is a fitting tribute to a film (and book) series which has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many around the world.

I will readily admit that I was not always as enamored with the franchise in its two forms as I am now. I started out as a casual watcher of the first two films. The turning point for me was the third film, the Alfonso Cuaron-helmed “Prisoner of Azkaban.” Until today I felt it was by far the best of the franchise. As a result, I figured it could only get better and I eventually saw every remaining film at the cinema.

Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was all I could have expected in a final part to the franchise. It was epic in many ways. I know that this is a term that often gets overused but in this case, I feel like it is appropriate. The film had full on action, suspense, thrills, a few laughs and yes, I did well up a couple of moments. I guess I must have expected as much as it is the same reaction that I had when I finished reading the books (principally Goblet of Fire and this book).

For everything this film is (a classic struggle of good v. evil, wizardry, etc.), it also mainly deals with the themes of friendship, death, love, the absence of love and what happens at all points in between. The film handled all of these issues evocatively.

There isn’t much else for me to say except that while I am pleased with the final product, there is that part of my 30-something year old heart that is saddened to see the series come to an end, no matter how satisfying. If there is anything that can be gleaned from this overall Harry Potter cinematic experience, it is the idea that nothing lasts forever.

Oh – one final note for anyone who will see it in the future – 3D not required; in fact I may see it a second time in 2D. IMAX is just fine.

My Ten Favourite Firsts

Thanks to Anna at 5plitreel.com, here is another film questionnaire. I was not sure that I would be able to get to this so soon, but a sleepless night and some time on my hands has afforded me this opportunity. Hope you enjoy!

My Favourite Directorial Debut

The Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton

Sadly his first and only directorial outing

 

My Favourite Acting Debut

Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures

 

The First Movie Theatre Experience That Moved Me


The Color Purple

 

The First Film Character I Had the Hots For


Luke Skywalker in Star Wars

 

The First Film Character That Annoyed The Hell Out Of Me

Crumb (Jabba’s annoying laughing sidekick), Return of the Jedi


 

The First French Film I Saw


The Red Balloon

 

The First Asian Film I Saw

I think it was The King of Masks

 

The First Movie Poster on my Wall


Rebel Without a Cause

 

The First Time I Thought The Film Was Better Than The Book

Not sure I have had this experience yet; the imagination is such a powerful thing.

 

The First Time I Realized Robert De Niro is a Genius


Midnight Run

Well that’s me. Let me know what you think? How about you?

Favorite Films Set in Berlin

 

As many readers may know, I have recently returned from a trip to London. A natural consequence of my excursions is a renewed wanderlust – no sooner am I back in the States am I contemplating my next trip.

After some deliberation and consideration I have decided on Central Europe. In anticipation of this trip, I have put together a list of my favorite films from each of the cities I plan to visit. Over the next several months I will compile lists of my favorite films from each of these locales.

The first location I will focus on is Berlin. The criteria I have used in the case of Berlin is a bit loose in that the film only needed to be set in Berlin and not necessarily shot there – although I think that at minimum that criteria is met.

Without further ado .. here are my SIX films (stills below):

M (Fritz Lang, 1931) German Expressionism at its finest.

 

A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder, 1948) Fine example of what a romantic comedy should be. The film was principally shot in Soviet occupied zone (source: Wikipedia). Features one of my favorite leading ladies of the era, Jean Arthur.

 

The Big Lift (George Seaton, 1950) As the title suggests, the Big Lift  takes places during the Berlin Air Lift (1948-9). Shot on location in Berlin, really seems to capture the scale of devastation and the recovery efforts made post-war.

 

Torn Curtain (Alfred Hitchcock, 1966) While not one of his finest outings, there are some great set pieces. One that immediately springs to mind is the scene where Paul Newman and a civilian go about the very difficult task of killing a baddie. According to Hitchcock, he wanted to show just how difficult it is to kill someone. This also marks the one-time-only pairing of one of my favorite directors and actors (Newman).

 

Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004) A frenetically paced spy-story. In many ways, breathed new life into a somewhat stale genre.

 

The Lives of Others or Das Leben der Anderen in German (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) Don’t know what to say about this film except that I really really liked it. It was my first glimpse into seeing what life in GDR was probably like.


What do you think of the list? Is there anything that you think I left out? And before anyone says Wings of Desire or Run Lola Run please note I have not seen either (I know, for shame!)

 

UPDATE: Honorable mention to The Edukators and The Baader Meinhof Complex

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: A Single Girl (La Fille Seule)

This week I have selected another film from the year 1995 from France; it is a film that some of you may know about but I think that it is still worth mentioning. It is La Fille Seule (A Single Girl). The film was directed by Benoit Jacquot and starred Virginie Ledoyen in a role that brought her some attention in Hollywood. Most of the English-speaking public may recognize her from the Danny Boyle-helmed Leonardo DiCaprio-starring The Beach.

A Single Girl takes place over the span of one day in the life of a young Parisian woman as she deals with two life-altering events – her first day of work and her discovery that she is pregnant. The film is shot in “real-time” and in the style of French New Wave (source: Wikipedia).

The movie is a well-paced 90 minutes and kept me constantly engaged. I remember watching this for the first time on late-night cable and made it a point to catch it in its entirety on a repeat viewing.