Archives for February 2012

Revisiting ‘The Birds’

This week I continue to revisit films from the Universal library scheduled to receive the full restoration and Blu-Ray treatment in celebration of the studio’s centenary. Today, I will take a closer look at Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film, The Birds.
In his follow to the granddaddy of the modern slasher film, Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock brings terror to the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Here’s the setup (synopsis courtesy of MUBI.com):

[Hitchcock] couples a tone of rigorous morality with dark humor to create a thriller that begins as a light comedy and ends as an apocalyptic allegory.

Loosely based on a Daphne du Maurier story and a (recent) Santa Monica newspaper account, “Seabird Invasion Hits Coastal Homes,” The Birds [tells the story of] wealthy reformed party girl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), who enjoys a brief flirtation with lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet shop and decides to follow him to his Bodega Bay home.

Bearing a gift of two lovebirds, Melanie quickly strikes up a romance with Mitch while contending with his possessive mother and boarding at his ex-girlfriend’s house.

And with that, (literally) all hell breaks loose. First, the birds attack a children’s party; while it startled the crowd, they quickly dismiss it as a terrifying, but fluke occurrence. Gradually, the attacks increase in frequency and ferocity.

As mentioned above, for the time, the special effects were groundbreaking. Of course by today’s CGI standards, they look a little dated; but for me this is irrelevant. The terror behind the film is not in the realism or detail of what you are seeing but rather the terror lies in the mere fact that the birds have decided to turn on civilization apparently without any provocation. In a moment of levity, right in the midst of the birds’ reign of terror, patrons of a diner have a debate about the terror WE have unleashed and the possibility that this is nature’s retaliation. And with a sense of wicked irony, we see a patron ordering and eating some chicken.

In her first starring role, Tippi Hedren is the epitome of Hitchcock’s “Icy Blonde”. There is a lot more that can be discussed about the psycho-sexuality of her and the other characters in the story, but I will leave that to more qualified folks who have spoken and written about this subject extensively.

At its best, The Birds is signature Hitchcock with its high level of craft and execution. It is a thrilling and fun piece of film that is bound to entertain you.

A Few Bits of Trivia (Source: IMDb.com)

  • Tippi Hedren was actually cut in the face by a bird in one of the shots.
  • As previously stated, there is no musical score for the film except for the sounds created on the mixtrautonium (photo at right), by Oskar Sala, and the children singing in the school. In spite of this, Hitchcock’s frequent musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann is credited as a sound consultant.
  • The scene where Tippi Hedren is ravaged by birds near the end of the movie took a week to shoot. The birds were attached to her clothes by long nylon threads so they could not get away.
  • The film does not finish with the usual “THE END” title because Alfred Hitchcock wanted to give the impression of unending terror.
  • A number of endings were being considered for this film. One that was considered would have showed the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered by birds.

Hitchcock’s Cameo

Hitchcock can be seen at the start of the film walking two dogs out of the pet shop Melanie Daniels is entering.

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Street Scene (1931)

Original Lobby Card

This week’s selection is a gem – Street Scene is King Vidor’s screen adaptation of Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name (Rice also adapted the play for the screen). Street Scene stars an ensemble cast that includes Beulah Bondi (who in reprising her stage role makes her feature film debut), Sylvia Sidney and William Collier, Jr.

The film takes place on a single block of Manhattan tenements. Amidst this setting, we are introduced to a diverse group of people who are representative of the living conditions for many newly arrived immigrants to New York City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of course, the narrative zeroes in on a couple of families, but the interaction among all of the tenements’ inhabitants means that their lives are completely intertwined.

We are witness to their joy, hopes and fears and, in the final movement, tragedy.  At a speedy 80 minute running time, I found it an engrossing piece of cinema that transfers well from the stage.

Street Scene is available for viewing and download at The Internet Archive or YouTube.

The Weekend that Was …

This weekend was quite busy with the Academy Awards and all; but there was a lot of other stuff going on too. Here’s a recap:

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO …

I lifted my embargo, if ever so slightly – I probably caught about an hour in total of whole awards show. I was flipping between this, Black in Latin America and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? on TCM. Overall there were no major surprises for my part. I was happy for The Artist win. I mostly followed the action on twitter, which was quite fun.

Among the many things I learned this year:

  • Jean Dujardin is adorable – probably due in large part to the broken English. I wonder if I would come over as charismatic and endearing with my horrible, non-existent French? I think I know the answer to this one 🙂
  • Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph are now on my list of favorite people in the world
  • Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne are not fans of Vodka
  • Hugo may be worth seeing (wish I had done in 3D)
  • No awards show will ever get the “In Memoriam” part right.
  • Angelina Jolie has a leg 😉
  • Meryl Streep is awesome (but kinda already knew that)

Congrats to all the winners!

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE CHAMP

Over at Box Office Mojo, the results are in and it looks like Act of Valor took top honors over this past weekend. Gone and Wanderlust did not perform so well. Nothing to see here.

ANOMALOUS MATERIAL MOVIE DRAFT

On Saturday and Sunday, Anomalous Material was on fire with bids for film titles flying off the board! Alas, my list is complete and the 8 films that I will be tracking over the next twelve months will be:

  • Beast of the Southern Wild
  • Hysteria
  • Hotel Transylvania
  • Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Untitled International Thriller (50% split) – a.k.a. Bigelow Bin Laden film
  • Taken 2
  • The Lucky One
  • Sparkle

MY DWINDLING DVR LIST

If you follow my tumblr account, you will see that I also was playing catching with my DVR queue. From Friday, any image posted to my tumblr account represents a film I have seen (less Something New and North and South, which were re-watches). Incidentally, stay tuned for tomorrow’s entry in the ‘Overlooked’ series, as I will be covering one of the films.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Well I am getting better at this whole planning thing so in addition to my entry tomorrow, you can look forward to the following this week:

  • My Fantasy Movie Pitch (Thursday)
  • Profile of the Pelham Picture House (this weekend)
  • Revisiting another Universal Classic (Wednesday)
  • and possibly a few more surprises …

How about you? What were you up to at the weekend? Share below in the comments section.

 

A Look at “Turn Me On Dammit” (Norway, 2011)

One of the problems with expectations is that they rarely live up to them. At least that was the thought swimming in my head during the preview screening of the Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Få meg på, for faen (Turn Me on Dammit). Jacobsen also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen. For her efforts, she was awarded the Best Screenplay prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. So, as you can imagine, I was expecting quite a lot.

The story is a centered on Alma, a frustrated 16 year old growing up in a sleepy Norwegian town, who, along with her best friend longs for a life outside of this town.  Piled on top of her wanderlust is a burgeoning sexuality, as exhibited by her mother’s shock and disgust at her bloated home phone bill, the result of Alma’s use of a phone sex line. She also breaks from the monotony of her day-to-day life by escaping into wild flights of fantasy.

Alma and Artur. Credit: Marianne Bakke/Motlys

Her life takes a slightly odd turn, when while at a youth party, the young man she has a crush on, Artur, initiates an odd, sexually suggestive act towards her. News of the encounter spreads like wildfire and she also immediately finds herself a social pariah, shunned and outcast since Artur will not admit to his part in the incident. For the remainder of the narrative, Alma tries in earnest to vindicate herself among her peers all while she gets closer to coming to terms with this complex and confusing time of her life.

In the central role of Alma, Helene Bergsholm ably handles the task of carrying us through her travails while simultaneously evoking a youthful angst that endears the audience.  This is only the more impressive considering Turn Me On Dammit is her (as well as several of her cast mates) first screen role.

Among the notable supporting players is Malin Bjørhovde, who plays Saralou, Alma’s best friend, whose scheme for escaping their hometown involves moving to Texas and campaigning against capital punishment.

Director - Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

Of course, none of this would have been accomplished if not for the direction and writing of Jacobsen. Particularly in the scenes with Alma where we drift into her colorful imagination, I felt as if I had been lulled there – the old bait and switch. This device was obviously by design. Jacobsen also deserves credit for handling a very young and inexperienced cast to positive result.

All the positivity aside, while I found myself chuckling a few times, the screening I attended did not have the level of boisterous laughter one would assume that would come from a film positing itself as a comedy, and a sex comedy at that. In other words, the offbeat humor of the piece may not be to everyone’s taste.

When I think of Turn Me On Dammit, I am reminded of another film that handles female teenage sexuality, Little Darlings. In dredging up this 1980s coming of age tale (a classic of sorts in my mind), I argue that stories dealing with young women’s sexuality in such a frank and ‘in-your-face’ manner are few and far between.

I caught this film at a recent screening at the newly renovated Pelham Picture House, which will be profiled on i luv cinema in the coming days. During this sneak peek, the Director of Programming introduced the film to the audience and we were also greeted with a video greeting from the film’s director.

Turn Me On Dammit opens ­­to wider release later in March.


Turn Me On Dammit, 2011. Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (Få meg på, for faen); In Norwegian with English subtitles.

UPDATE (2/28/2012) We have a special offer courtesy of Constellation.tv. Constellation.tv, a virtual movie theater platform, will be holding four online advanced movie screenings on March 1, March 8, March 15, and March 22, at 8:00 PM EST.

Click here to sign up for a virtual screening: http://www.constellation.tv/film. When you purchase your online ticket, be sure to use the following code ILF2012 to receive 20% off the value of the online ticket.

At the Theaters This Weekend …

Well a quick look at what is on offer shows this weekend at the movies is not too promising.

Obviously outside of the theaters, the big news of the weekend will be that wonderfully glitzy event going on out in Hollywood on Sunday evening. In the end I may follow the proceedings on Twitter, or ignore the telecast and work on my blog.

Well that is enough about me, on to some of the big cinematic releases for this week; I will restrict the list to the “Top Four”:

Any plans on catching any of these? Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Hitchcock and His Music

Even if you have not seen Psycho, this music must ring vaguely familiar. For me, this is the ultimate example of the importance of musical scoring in the motion pictures. And no more do I feel the impact of the score then when I watch the films of one of my favorite directors, Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

13 years ago (goodness, me!) I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and going to the Alfred Hitchcock exhibition, its arrival coinciding with the auteur’s centenary.

Among my mementos of the trip were a museum print and a compact disk, Alfred Hitchcock: Music from his Films. All these years later, the music from this CD still gets constant rotation on my iPod.

While the composer most closely aligned with Hitchcock is Bernard Herrmann, over his career he also collaborated with the likes of Miklós Rózsa, Franz Waxman and John Williams. Here is a really cool interview in which Williams talks about his collaboration with Hitchcock:

Although this music is not on the disk, I thought it was just lovely; it is a score by Neil Brand, which he composed to accompany the British Film Institute’s restoration of Hitchcock’s 1929 film Blackmail.

I close with the words of Bernard Herrmann himself, talking about music and its importance in cinema.

[haiku url=”http://iluvcinema.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/23-Bernard-Herrmann-speaks-on-film-music.m4a” defaultpath=disabled]

Share your thoughts below.

The Best Picture Project: [An American in Paris, 1951]

First, a big shout out to Ruth at FlixChatter for putting this blogging event together. With a few days left until “the big night,” she has enlisted a few bloggers to take a look back at decades past and select one Best Picture winner from the decade we chose.

And the winner is …

As the title of this blog post suggests, the decade I have selected is the 1950’s and the year I will focus on is 1951 – the year in which Vincente Minelli’s musical An American in Paris took home the Oscar™ for Best Picture.

An American in Paris is a musical film set to the works of George and Ira Gershwin and tells the story of American G.I. Jerry (Gene Kelly) who has decided to remain in Paris following the Second World War. He makes a meager living selling his artistic wares on the streets, until one day he meets a wealthy patroness (Nina Foch) who takes him under her wing, although it is quite obvious that she is interested in more than buying his artwork. No sooner does he begin to adjust to his new situation that he meets and falls in love with ebullient Parisian Lise (Leslie Caron), who has a set of romantic complications of her own. And as with any of these stories, the course to true love never runs smoothly.

Take it or leave it, one thing is certain – Minelli sure knew how to direct a musical. And when combined with Gene Kelly’s masterful choreography (he choreographed all the dance sequences in the film), you end up with some lovely numbers, including a climatic, 16-minute ballet. This dance sequence, which probes Jerry’s momentary flight of fancy, needs to be seen to be understood as the thing of beauty it is and is well worth the price of admission.

For all the singing and dancing, let us not forget to give credit to the supporting players. Special notice goes to comedian/pianist Oscar Levant, who plays struggling composer Adam, a close associate of Kelly’s Jerry. His dry wit and deadpan delivery offer an interesting counterbalance to the bright spectacle that surrounds him.

The Competition

I know that 1939 is often known as the Golden Year for H-wood, but surely 1951 cannot be too far behind.

An American in Paris beat out the following competition in the Best Picture sweepstakes:

  • The Elia Kazan production of A Streetcar Named Desire in which Marlon Brando gave his breakthrough film performance as Stanley Kowalski.
  • Quo Vadis, the swords and sandals Roman epic
  • Decision by Dawn, a WWII drama directed by Anatole Litvak
  • A Place in the Sun, the sweeping tragic drama directed by George Stevens and starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters.

As if this list of nominees was not impressive enough, a closer look at the year that was 1951 reveals several films are proven are classics in their own right (and equally worthy of the highest plaudits). Among them are:

  • Detective Story
  • Show Boat
  • Ace in the Hole
  • The Lavender Hill Mob
  • The African Queen
  • Strangers on a Train
  • Scrooge
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Thing from Another Planet

Did the Academy get it right?

Of course this is a purely subjective question but let’s take a look more closely at what made An American in Paris rise above the other films to take home the awards ceremony’s top prize. According to American Movie Classics’ blog, filmsite.org, the musical’s victory was a bit of a surprise in a year when it was matched up against dramatic heavyweights A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire. Both films were heavily favored to receive the Best Picture gong. In the end, the prevailing theory is that when it came to voting time, the two films cancelled each other out, allowing the dark horse An American in Paris to pull off the upset.

As much as I enjoyed the musical whimsy of An American in Paris, my money would have definitely been on Streetcar or A Place in the Sun. Even now, 60 years after the ceremony, I see why Academy voters were split, although Streetcar might get the slight edge.

 

So there you have it. Have you seen An American in Paris? What did you think about it?

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Layer Cake (2004)

This week’s ‘overlooked’ selection is the 2004 feature Layer Cake, which is based on a novel of the same title by J. J. Connolly (he also adapted the screenplay). Layer Cake marked the  auspicious debut of Matthew Vaughn’s (Kick AssXMen First Class) directorial debut. The all-star cast includes a pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller and Michael Gambon.

Daniel Craig stars as the unnamed protagonist XXXX, a drug dealer who is pulled in to do one final favor for an associate prior to his retirement.

This ‘assignment’ leads him into the increasingly complex and perilous London underworld; the irony being that this is a world that up until this point, he has been able to successfully avoid.

I first saw this film around the time that Craig was announced as the next 007. Having not heard of Craig prior to the announcement, I took it upon myself to do a little research and check out a couple of films in his filmography.

I subsequently prepared to watch Layer Cake with the lowest of expectations. In fact, when I read the movie synopsis, I almost immediately dismissed this a yet another one of those ‘guns ‘n geezers’ offering in the style of Guy Ritchie. As coincidence would have it, Vaughn produced two Ritchie features – Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. While there is definitely  the common strain of crime thriller to the proceedings, in the case of Layer Cake, as the title suggests, there are many strata to be rervealed as the story progresses. And for all the intensity and violence of the film, there are some moments of levity that arrive at the right moments.

Layer Cake is a slick, sharply written ensemble piece that is sure to entertain.


Please be sure to check out other overlooked titles at Todd Mason’s blog.

The First Twelve Minutes of “Sound of My Voice”

Check out the first 12 minutes of the Fox Searchlight feature Sound of My Voice:

Here is the official line for the film:

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a couple and documentary filmmaking team, infiltrate a mysterious group led by an enigmatic young woman named Maggie (Brit Marling). Intent on exposing her as a charlatan and freeing the followers from her grip, Peter and Lorna start to question their objective and each other and they unravel the secrets of Maggie’s underworld.

The film is directed by Zal Batmanglij and co-written by Batmanglij and featured actress Brit Marling.

After making the film festival circuit in 2011 (a premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and as part of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival), Sound of My Voice is scheduled for release in cinemas on April 27th.

© Fox Searchlight Pictures

What do you think of the opening? Is this something that you would consider seeing?

Films Shot or Set in Colorado

When deciding which area to focus next on my cinematic travelogue, I just happened to be watching a program about the lovely state of Colorado. At once I started to look into what films were shot or set in, what is in my opinion, one of the most beautiful states of these United States. I have visited on two separate occasions and on each occasion I come to love the state all the more.

For this set, I have separated the list between films shot and set in Colorado.

Shot in Colorado:

  • The Searchers (1956)
  • Pat and Mike (1952)
  • The Razor’s Edge (1946)
  • Away We Go (2009)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Set (in part or in whole) in Colorado:

  • The Prestige (2006)
  • The Shining (1980)

One note about my final selection, The Shining: I usually do not go for films in the thriller/horror genre, but I decided to give this one a chance on the basis of Kubrick’s involvement. Let’s just say it has left an indelible mark in my cinema-going conscious. The irony of course being that Stephen King was less than thrilled with Kubrick’s imagining of his source material.

So did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

(Unfortunately I have not taken any photographs from my trips, so all of the images you see are stock photography/Creative Commons).