Summary Thoughts on IT (2017)

So yeah, about IT. Well I saw it about a month ago and it is still resonating with me.

In general, I run hot and cold when it comes to the horror genre. Not an especially devotee of slasher/gore, I also do not take to many of the haunting psychological, other worldly horrors which are unleashed in many recent popular films (looking at you, Ringu). That is to say I do not actively seek it out or anything but I have enough of a passing interest to know what is on the landscape.

So I was aware of this film and my initial thought was “Why?” We already had a reasonably solid adaptation of Pennywise menacing a small New England town back when I was a kid. I will admit that at that time I had enough sense to bypass the miniseries although I do remember peeking into the living room as my dad (a Stephen King fan) watched on.

Enough about that … let’s talk about this version.

IT was not as ‘scary’ as I had anticipated, the horror was not such that I would stay up having night. But there was something about IT that did on occasion put the fright or chill in me. It was not immediate and something that I came to after meditating on the film in the hours and days after the screening.

What I was feeling was a sense of nostalgia about things that go bump in the night. Mine was recollection of the fright children (including me) often encounter, which is often the product or fully charged and furtive imaginations.

On the less terrifying side of this looking back, the film’s protagonists (in refreshing performances, I might add), are essentially my contemporaries, based on age and time in which this film takes place. So many of the references and artifacts of my childhood were conjured up and projected on the screen.

All of this to say, kudos to the production team for reminding me what a pleasure going to the movies can and should be. As an art form, the greatest achievement (IMO) is to be able to leave your audience walking away from your film with a variety of feelings, some rather common while others a little more personal.

In that regard and based on my experience with a nice handful of Stephen King screen adaptations, I would say that this is why IT is one of the more successful attempts, and in doing so, probably gets closer to nailing the author’s intent with this and many of his works. While there may be external forces which drive the fear and terror we experience, the real battle is very personal and internal. THAT is truly the stuff of nightmares.

Times the Book Was WAY Better … A Post Brought to You Courtesy of #BookLoversDay

I would venture a guess that most lovers of cinema have a soft spot for the written word as well. I know I do. And while I will readily admit to not being the most voracious reader in the world, I still appreciate and value the joy derived from curling up with a wonderful novel.

As we close out today’s Twitter hashtag #BookLoversDay, I sat down to reflect upon some of my favorite books that were made into movies. In thinking about it, it became clear to me that there are times where the film might be on par or exceed the source material. But let’s be real, just given the building blocks of what makes a movie a movie, it is very challenging to condense and adapt many novels in a wholly successful way. Maybe one day, I will focus a post on some that have achieved this – but that is not what we are here for today.

While not a comprehensive collection, here are a few book/film combinations that left me feeling some kind of way …

Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier). Of course I open my selections with an adaptation that almost breaks my central thesis of this post. While the 1940 Hitchcock film did not leave me reeling per se, in fact, I love this film. In its best moments, it is a dreamlike, twisted fairy tale with the first and second Mrs. De Winters at the center. But in the transfer from page to reel, a lot of the darker, Gothic, psychosexual themes of the novel were excised. As this was Hitch’s first foray into Hollywood and produced in a highly morally regulated film environment, this is of course understandable. But based on his subsequent 30 years of making movies in the Dream Factory, it does make one wonder how Hitchcock would approach a similar story during the latter stages of his career, when he had been free to explore these themes in films like Vertigo, Psycho and Marnie.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). FACT: the 1995 BBC version is the quintessential adaptation not only of this novel, but it more or less is the gold standard by which many contemporaries measure any book to film adaptation. However, this was made for television. So let’s take a look at both the 1940 and 2005 big screen versions of one of my favorite books.

1940 Version (directed by Robert Z. Leonard): Dear Lord, I do not even know where to begin with this version. I mean it was just so … off. Often when I love something as much as I love Pride and Prejudice, I will search the adaptation for a redeeming quality and latch on to that. This MGM travesty had no such quality. From the choppy narrative to the historically inaccurate costumes, it is just a big fat miss for me.

2005 Version (directed by Joe Wright): Hmmm. I don’t know. Maybe because I was still reeling from the then decade-old TV adaptation when I first saw this in the cinema, but this Wright adaptation left me feeling a little cold (and wet in the rain). I mean there was definitely a gritty realism that I appreciated, but it was almost a bit too muddy and mucky for me. A great deal of the lightness and good humor of the book was stripped away and in its place was this overwrought earnestness. That said, there were some finely tuned performances, most notably Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy and Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine. Maybe I will give it another look-see in the future to check if my initial reaction to the film still stands all these years later.

Harry Potter and … (quite a few of the volumes, but I will focus on just a couple). Again, don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed 6/8 of the films, especially the Alfonso Cuarón-helmed third installment (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). But what actually started me on the teenage wizard’s literary journey was going to see Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. Prior to seeing the film, I knew that to date, this book was the largest volume of the series. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the running time for the film was a rather tidy one hour fifty-ish minutes. In the end, the finished product felt very incomplete. It is almost as if they simply took some of the cooler elements from the book and created a series of disconnected visual set pieces. In fact, I was so perplexed by what I had seen, that I immediately went out to the nearest Barnes and Noble and picked up books 1-6. By the time I finished reading Order of the Phoenix a few weeks later, I felt thoroughly satisfied – and the film adaptation became a distant memory.

This leads to my second “the book was better” entry in the Harry Potter series – the final chapter – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While I was initially hyped for the finale, my feelings about this film have not aged well. There of course was a largely unsatisfying reworking of the “Battle of Hogwarts,” and then the unnecessarily splitting the final book into TWO films, with the first film just … ending, seemingly mid-action. At Part I’s conclusion, I just remember sitting in the theater and wondering, is that it? Also, the urgency and peril that I felt while I was turning the pages just seemed to be missing from both installments …

In the end, what lasts for me in the world of Harry Potter are the impressions drawn from the seven books, and not the eight films.

 

If given time, I could probably compile a book on this topic, but alas, I realize I only have your attention but for so long. As a result, I will wrap it up here.

YOUR TURN – what are some book/film transfers that really left you reeling? Hit the Comments section below and Happy Reading!

Editor’s Postscript:  Actually, I did touch on this a while ago when I reviewed The Time Traveler’s Wife.

July 2017 Viewing Summary

So another month has come and gone … and it was quite frankly a pretty sweet month for me at the movies.

After much delay, I finally saw Wonder Woman. This is the film that has made it 3/3 for me in the world of comic-based films (the first being this spring’s Logan and other being Spider-Man: Homecoming – more on that below).

Wonder Woman, simply put, is the superhero film I have been waiting for. It was an awesome, near-perfect balance of a standalone character backstory, packaged in a solid, compelling narrative. I will even admit that were a few moments that left me a bit verklempt.

Given the runaway success of the film, I hope that the producers take note and apply the adage If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – especially for a studio (Warner Brothers/DC Studios) whose track record with this “Justice League” franchise has been spotty to say the very least. Hint: make sure Patty Jenkins is still part of Team WW!

Next on the calendar was Spider-Man: Homecoming. Spider-Man has come home, indeed. Early reservations were immediately quelled with the Disney-fied introduction of the web-slinging teen in Captain America: Civil War. Coming into this film, I felt confident that I would enjoy it.

And boy I did. Post-screening, I was left more than satisfied.

Here are a couple of key items that Spider-Man had going for it:

  • An actual, relatable human villain. We are always told that one of the keys to a good story is a clearly motivate antagonist. We have that here.
  • Shades of John Hughes. While not always a huge fan of those “coming of age films” of the 1980s, this film did take the best of what those films have to offer to deliver a universally appealing teen story, which is the most age appropriate live-action adaptation we have seen.

Last, but not least, there is Edgar Wright’s latest outing, Baby Driver. Weeks after seeing this film, I still have The Commodores’ Easy swirling around in my head. In hindsight, this is an odd musical selection for a film which is by and large a high-octane homage and send-up of gangster films, replete with awesome car chases and snappy dialogue. Baby Driver was a fun ride with some wonderful sequences and a great soundtrack. In fact, the music plays a HUGE role in the film and it underscores and punctuates the action on the screen.

MAJOR props to the sound mixing department for at least two screens that perfectly synched with rapid-movie action sequences.

That’s all for now … as you can see, it was a pretty awesome July for me. How about you?

Bonus: just because I can …

Romero Remembrance(s)

It is one of those strange things, the ability of us to develop for an affinity for noted personalities who we will likely never have the fortune of crossing in life. As a lover of cinema, I have such a relationship with many of my favorite filmmakers.

So when one of them passes away, we reflect upon the impact their films had on our lives as a matter of our remembrances; it is our way of paying tribute …

When I heard of the passing of George A. Romero this past week, my head and my heart was filled with a general sadness afforded someone of his standing at the news of his passing as well as an overwhelming, heartfelt sentimentality as I recounted the connection he and his films had to my own life. Namely, my relationship with my dear, late father.

Poppa D. was a Romero fan and LOVED Night of the Living Dead. And while I was not always a fan of this subgenre which spawned this landmark film, watching it with my father was definitely a cornerstone of my cinematic education.

This education was about many things, chief among them –

  • The aforementioned introduction (and subsequent appreciation) of the horror genre;
  • The significance of the film having an African American (Duane Jones) in the chief protagonist role;
  • The value and significance of independent film productions.

Of course, all of this was not always apparent to me from jump. But over the years, several hours of cinematic studies and subsequent rewatches have left Night of the Living Dead with a special place in my heart.

Imagine that, a film that prominently features flesh eating zombies is one that, when I see it on television, I have to pause and watch because it fills me with warm fuzzies and the fondest of memories.

Thanks George and may you rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

It’s Been a While …

Wish I had a very good reason for WHY I have not been blogging so much of late, but really just the simple business of (work) life going a little pear shaped is all.

I hope that over the next few weeks to clear a bit of the backlog I have created because even if I have not been actively going to the cinema I have a lot of movie stuff to talk about, including …

Stay Tuned!

i (still) luv cinema

 

Pre-Codes at TCMFF 2017

Another highlight of my time spent in Hollywood for this year’s TCM Film Festival involved getting to catch a couple of pre-Code films.

While I may not be as well-versed as some, this is a sub-genre that holds great interest for me within the greater world of classic cinema.

And sure, a lot of these films are available for view at home, but seeing them on the big screen is an added treat.

One such example is the Howard Hughes-produced 1932 aviation comedy Cock of the Air, which thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has been restored and includes some of the original dialogue which had previously been censored. While I did not personally record the pre-screening introduction in the theater, here is a video (provided by the Academy) which discusses the restoration project:

The other pre-code feature worthy of attention features a not-exactly-“Blond Bombshell” Jean Harlow comedy Red-Headed Woman. I can only describe this experience as a wild ride that did its duty and left me in stitches as I witnessed Harlow’s Lil Andrews’ outrageous behavior on full display. Based on a novel of the same title by Katherine Brush and with an uncredited “written by” from the likes of no other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, the official screen credit is attributed to writer Anita Loos, who took the reigns from Fitzgerald and adapted the source material.

If you are a newbie to the world of pre-Codes and/or Jean Harlow, I highly recommend that you start with this film. You will thank me later 🙂

Nitrate and the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

This is the first in a two-part series in which I discuss some delights from my attendance at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival.

For the most part, this festival can be summed up for me in word – nitrate. Now I will admit my knowledge on this subject is rather limited and restricted to a base level understanding; if you want to know more,  direct you to this pretty awesome article that NPR posted to coincide with the screenings at the TCM Festival last month.

From the description of the likes of Martin Scorsese, who, as Founder and Chair of The Film Foundation, was on hand to introduce the first nitrate projection of the festival (Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much), the beauty of nitrate lies in the richness of the contrast in the film stock, whether it be black and white (which produces luminescent whites and deep blacks) or Technicolor (with deep, rich color pigments) cinematography.

As the NPR article suggests, this visual “wow” factor enhances the argument of the film being a medium in which the artist is painting images with light.

Of course, this all came with a high cost and great personal risk to projectionists, since the nitrate stock is very unstable and highly flammable. The result was scenes like this:

Not only was nitrate highly flammable, but it also degraded if not properly stored. The consequence for our collected film history means that before the shift to the more stable cellulose “safety” stock (introduced in the early 1950s), improper care meant that a large percentage of the “nitrate library” has been lost to time.

The joint ventures and continued efforts of organizations such as The Film Foundation (*), American Cinematheque, TCM, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have one goal in mind – to preserve this catalog for our film heritage. But that is only half the battle. It is one thing to collect the films, but what to do, next? Exhibit them, of course!

The key here is to create a projection environment where they can be displayed and shown to the public in as safe a manner as possible. And that is exactly what the above-mentioned parties have done. The projection booth at the historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood has been refitted to allow the nitrate prints to be projected without the catastrophic fire risk.

Interior of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre

And thus the stage is set for one of my recent singular cinematic experiences at this year’s film festival.

Not only did I get to see The Man Who Knew Too Much, but I also was able to relish in the delights of Otto Preminger’s Laura,  Powell-Pressburger’s lush and sensual Black Narcissus (personal favorites of mine). Rounding out my experience was a first-time viewing of the Mitchell Leisen adaptation of the Broadway musical Lady in the Dark. This film, which stars Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland, was a nearly indescribable lavish and spectacular psychiatric trip, whose dated sexual politics yielded more than a fair share of chuckles. But have no fear, this only added to my overall enjoyment of the picture.

One final note – it cannot be stated enough that in seeing these films I am not only seeing them in their original intended glory – these prints are 70-80 years old! It is quite remarkable, indeed.

* For more information, check out the Film Foundation’s writeup: http://www.film-foundation.org/nitrate-at-the-egyptian

 

FEUD: Bette and Joan

Here, at the outset, I will admit to the following – I was not particularly excited at the prospect of watching Ryan Murphy‘s latest televisual project on FX (FEUD: Bette and Joan). And not because of the subject (obviously). In fact, I have a great appreciation for both Ms.’s Davis and Crawford. The latter, in particular of whom I have developed a particular affinity for in recent years.

It also has nothing to do with Ryan Murphy – whose work I have generally enjoyed on level or another over the past decade.

I decided to meditate on what exactly was holding me back until I was able to figure it out. And here is my conclusion: I think it is to do with the fact that when I think of Bette and Joan, I am drawn to these screen icons and the film that serves as the series’ nexus Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? with a series of evolving emotions about it all.

In other words, while I enjoy the ‘horror’ and suspense of the film, something left me unsettled about how these women, who once were the queens of the studio era were reduced to grotesque caricatures and put on display for our derision and ridicule. All simply for the fact that they have the temerity to have aged. It is all rather disturbing and cruel on so many levels.

However, thanks to the recommendation of some friends, I put this reservation to the side and indulged in a post-TCM Film Festival binge (more to come). And boy, am I glad I did.

As the final episode of this first series has come to a close (on the East Coast), I can think of no way that this story could have been told with more empathy and movingly. FEUD is a story is a love note of sorts to women who the Hollywood studio/factory system so readily discarded and left to be footnotes in the history when they no longer saw value in their talents.

Sure, Bette and Joan’s was a well-storied feud – but to reduce it to petty machinations and entanglements of what took place does a great disservice. Thanks to some wonderful writing and acting, FEUD has really illuminated the full scale of the ‘rivalry,’ which in many ways was orchestrated and agitated by several outside influences, including the public itself.

As for the two women caught up in the tumult, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, in their takes on Davis and Crawford, give noteworthy performances that peel away the layers of these women to reveal how their back and forth played into and off of their personal demons and insecurities.

Granted, while FEUD is based on actual events, you have to make a few narrative allowances, such as overt exposition about what happened and a bit of melodrama. One standout event of the series is their notorious clash at the 1963 Academy Awards –  an event which Davis friend Olivia deHavilland recently dismissed as not being of much consequence. On the other hand, there is the conceit many audience members may not know the particulars and history of the Baby Jane co-stars, so a little exposition goes a long way.

It is my sincere hope that for any members of the viewing public who may have come into this story cold, I encourage you to examine these women and their careers beyond this hagsploitation (what a word) phase in their body of work.

At its best, FEUD gives its audience enough of a moving and empathetic account of the people, places and events to make us take another look at these women in particular and women in Hollywood in general (both past and present) and how they are treated.

 

Summary Thoughts on “Logan” (2017)

This has taken way, way too long to make its way to my blog.  But it is here now so let’s have at it – my thoughts on the recent release Logan. Stated plainly, Logan was not only a superior part of the “Hugh Jackman as Wolverine” franchise, but in general, it is a superior superhero film. Full stop. Unlike most films of its genre, which often hint at the “allegory for humanity,” Logan has a heart and pulse running through it which is distinctly relateable whether or not you are a mutant with enhanced powers.

If I am honest, I vaguely recall the actions of the preceding two films leading into this chapter (note – the previous installment was also written and directed by James Mangold). I chalk this mostly down to them essentially being pretty forgettable. As a result, I more or less was going into this third (and final) installment with no additional information save for the fact that it was a Wolverine film.

Set several years into the future, the audience is transported to a world where mutants (those uncanny X-Men) , those that are alive are basically relegated to the fringes of society. Logan (Jackman) is currently caring for an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) with the aid of fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Of course, a quiet life in a remote location is not in the cards for our protagonists. A mysterious woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) enters the scene requesting that Logan help her protect a young child in her charge, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen). There are some bad men lead by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) after her for reasons that become apparent as the movie progresses; I will spare you the details here just in case you have not seen the film.

For me, what proceeds from this point in the story is quite reminiscent of 2006’s Alfonso Cuaron project Children of Men, a tale that also involves a somewhat reluctant man traveling across an expanse with the goal of escorting someone to a destination that is a sign of hope in a world seemingly devoid of it.

Another movie reference which informs, is featured and runs parallel to the actions of Logan is the similarly eponymous title, Shane – the 1953 western drama directed by George Stevens. Now, for all my classic film buffs, this on-the-nose reference should be enough to give you a general sense of where we are likely to be headed with respect to Logan.

As I mentioned at the open, above all else, this is a story about aging, relationships and what it really means to live, love and be a part of the world (or not). Yes, it is that much 🙂 In short, Logan really packed an emotional punch.

The performances top to bottom were engaging and noteworthy. Of particular note, I would like to call out young Dafne Keen and Jackman (of course). In his final go as our favorite adamantium-infused, ‘anti-hero,’ we feel the weight of the burdens the man carries and the journey he is on throughout as he comes to terms with his place in the world.

One final note, with Logan, not only are we being offered up this wonderful character drama, but there are some pretty solid tension-filled action sequences woven into the narrative to scratch that itch. The end result is a very satisfying outing to the cinema.

Have you seen Logan? Let me know what you thought

Logan James Mangold Hugh Jackman

Umberto D. (1952): A Lovely Introduction to Italian Neorealism

Something washed over me when I was watching Umberto D., the 1952 classic Italian neorealist film directed by Vittorio De Sica.

In the wake of Ken Loach‘s masterful I, Daniel Blake, I felt a sense of deja-vu in reverse. The similarities were jarring – the tale of a poor, elderly pensioner (Carlo Battisti) for whom the social safety net has failed, resulting in him struggling to regain his footing and dignity in a seemingly indifferent world. In Umberto D., this “world” is embodied not only in the form inadequate pension compensation but also in the person of the landlady (Lina Gennari) of the Roman boarding house where Umberto resides. Due to back rent due, Umberto is facing eviction.  Through this struggle, there are a few bright spots, his loyal four-legged companion Flike and the young maid (Maria-Pia Casilio) who manages the housekeeping for the boarding house. In the latter, he finds a kindred soul for she is struggling with her own personal crises – being an unwed young woman who has fallen pregnant.

As the film progresses, so does Umberto’s desperation to try to hold onto something of a normal life and not one of absolute destitution and homelessness. The story builds and builds to a harrowing climax, which is sure to leave you on the verge, if not in a full state of tears. By the time the word Fin appears on the screen, you are left with a feeling that is part life-affirming, part uncertainty about what the future possibly holds.

I really do not know what else to say about this film – it is a simple story beautifully told and portrayed. Often, the most impactful moments are captured with the bare minimum dialogue. It’s in the quiet, still moments, when we see our characters wearing their weariness on their faces, that the story is at its most profound and poetic.

Italian neorealism is not something that I am overly familiar with except in the general knowledge that it was a popular movement in a post-war environment, punctuated by stories of the of the working- or under- class. On the heels of Umberto D., my interest is definitely piqued.

Umberto D. is available on Criterion DVD/BluRay as well as iTunes.