Monday, March 31, 2008

March Movie Watching

I saw seven films theatrically this month. March has become one of my favorite months of the year for movies. No longer just the dumping ground for not-good-enough-for-Oscar and not-good-enough-for-summer movies, the last several years have seen March releases of: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), V FOR VENDETTA (2006), and 300 (2007).

The first movie I saw this month was THE BANK JOB-- highly touted on EBERT (i.e. PHILLIPS) & ROEPER. Although it delivered a certain level of excitement, it was a disappointment and I could feel the audience was let down when the lights went up. Not bad by any means, it just didn't hit the bulls eye. I went to THE BANK JOB because 10,000 B.C. was sold out (!) [although I was planning on seeing THE BANK JOB at some point].

So I caught 10,000 BC the second weekend of its release with everyone screaming about how historically inaccurate it was and it's 7% Rotten Tomatoes reading seemingly a statistic everyone knew. But I just wanted to see it: call it the NATIONAL TREASURE theory of movie-going. And I'm being honest: it wasn't bad. And, in fact, there was scattered applause when it ended. It was just a fun popcorn movie with some good effects and an easy-on-the-brain (cliche-ridden) narrative. If you want to hate it, it's an easy target. Trailers shown for DARK KNIGHT and GET SMART show promise.

I caught up on the February release JUMPER (free screening) and although it started off OK, it just went every which direction: major screenplay trouble. Diane Lane's casting in this movie is a textbook example of "wasting" an actor.

HORTON HEARS A WHO! was everything I'd read: padded, padded, padded. It's one of those films, however, that parents are probably thrilled with, because it's at least palatable and has a foot in their own childhood. It's set to become one of the top 100 grossing domestic films: having reached $117 million this weekend-- it'll be there in a few weeks. The showing I went to was at 10 PM on a Sunday, hoping to avoid the kiddies. However this was the beginning of spring break I guess. Although I was literally the only one in the theater when the trailers began, before the first trailer had finished, all hell had broken loose and a stream of parents with children from infants to toddlers streamed in. Kids were running up and down the aisles. And naturally I got one of the little buggers sitting directly behind me kicking my chair the whole movie long.

Every once in a while I'd check imdb to see when Kimberly Peirce would follow-up her brilliant BOYS DON'T CRY-- which made my top ten in the distinctly competitive year of 1999 (easily one of the greatest movie years of all time). Well it took nine years. And I think she lost her touch. STOP-LOSS seems like it should have been made before BOYS DON'T CRY: it's a total step back creatively. It was, to be blunt, amateurish. A total derailment. And it's not that it was terrible, but nine years is plenty of time to create a first-rate movie (even if the "stop-loss" concept is a recent one: put a movie in-between while you figure this one out). When Quentin Tarantino finally gets around to filming INGLORIOUS BASTARDS I intend to hold him up to the same high standard, i.e. the longer I have to wait the better I expect it to be.

I saw an advance screening of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. Absolutely incredulous plot, but a very funny film. I really enjoyed it. Not quite SUPERBAD in my book, but close. I don't think it's one for the ages but for 2008 it's worth a look. And again, happy to see a comedy that isn't made for 12-year-olds get produced.

Finally, I caught up with THE COUNTERFEITERS, the Austrian film that won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Saw it with the old folks at my local art house cinema. The trailers were endless: and none looked at all interesting. THE COUNTERFEITERS was very good and interesting but not nearly a knock-out. If you're interested you'll see it but if it didn't sound all that worthwhile to you by the trailer, you could skip it.

Saw a couple of films on TCM. I don't actually think I'd ever seen Laurel & Hardy's celebrated short THE MUSIC BOX (1932), so I caught that. It was amusing and I laughed out loud at least once. But not quite the brilliant masterpiece it's considered (nice that the boys got an Oscar though). It's also funny to see hottie hot hot hot Rose McGowan talking L&H with Robert Osbourne before the movie (almost as amusing as the movie!). Also saw the Nazi-era German TITANIC (1943). This was fascinating. Highly recommended. And James Cameron must have seen this before making his film: it has a shipboard romance (with a very Arian blonde chick!), stolen jewels, and a more accurate sinking than the other pre-Cameron versions. The propaganda is waist deep: those arrogant British! That rich conniving John Jacob Astor! Look at the one German officer: he saves the little girl. Despite all of this or because of it: keep an eye out for this movie when it comes back around. Also saw the silent documentary GRASS (1925). This was a well-structured film about the trek to green pastures by a nomadic tribe in Iran. The first third you get to know the people, the centerpiece is a battle across the rapids of the Karun river (a highlight), and the climax the climbing of the Zardeh Kuh mountains in Turkey/Persia and descent on the other side. Might only warrant one viewing but worthwhile. Great score was put to the film too.

I also rented the 1965 version of TEN LITTLE INDIANS, as I'd never seen it. It was pretty decent. Rather than a remote island, it's set on a remote snowy mountaintop. The acting is good and the story holds up. Shirley Eaton, a year after GOLDFINGER is on display in various states of undress. A ** 1/2 star outing. I wonder when we'll get another version: it's been almost 20 years since the last one.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Great Saul Bass Tribute with Star Wars Titles

Saul Bass was one of the great masters of graphic design: his film titles and movie posters for VERTIGO (1958), ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959), and so many others are legendary. He worked from the 1950s to the 1990s and among his last credits were the Martin Scorsese films GOODFELLAS (1990), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993), and CASINO (1995).

Although Bass was certainly active in the 1970s, as a fun tribute (and somewhat of a parody), someone created a STAR WARS title design in the style of Bass. Much of the best of Bass has been posted on youtube. Below are embeds of the titles from THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, and the brilliant and funny reimagining of STAR WARS.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Babe Comes Home" One-Sheet Scores Highest Bid at Heritage

Heritage Auction Galleries, based in Dallas Texas, hosts three major vintage movie poster auctions annually (in the months of March, July, and November) amidst many throughout the year. The big news at the November 2007 auction was the sale of the only known style D one-sheet of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This one-of-kind poster netted $334,600 (the fourth highest ever paid for a movie poster and the most ever at Heritage).

At this month's auction, the Babe Ruth-starrer one-sheet BABE COMES HOME garnered the highest bid: $77,675. This poster has been auctioned at high numbers in the past and is on the list of the top ten highest-selling movie posters of all-time [LINK at learnaboutmovieposters, note: not updated yet with 3/08 Heritage auction]).

Other top sellers in Heritage's March auction included one-sheets of 1935s THE RAVEN ($53,775)...

and 1937s LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST (starring Carole Lombard) ($47,800).

Friday, March 28, 2008

This Month on TCM: Notorious (1946)

On Sunday March 30th, TCM plays Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS. Francois Truffaut called this film Hitchock's greatest during his black-and-white period.

At the heart of Alfred Hitchcock’s NOTORIOUS is a block of ice, courtesy of Ben Hecht’s cynical original screenplay. But the ice shows signs of thaw throughout with hot-blooded characterization, fiery suspense, and a pinch of true romance. NOTORIOUS is one of Hitchcock’s earliest true masterpieces: a blending of his signature directorial style with a heretofore little seen dramatic depth.

Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, who is enlisted by the U.S. government to infiltrate a spy ring in Rio. Her main contact is T. R. Devlin, played by Cary Grant, who she falls in love with, but who doubts her love enough to send her on this dangerous assignment (physically and emotionally) without protest. The mutual distrust of Alicia and Devlin causes them constant pain, which they must keep in check as they take on this life-and-death assignment.

The opening title (“Miami. Florida, Three-Twenty P,M., April the Twenty-Fourth, Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Six….”) works well in contributing a distinct feeling of time and place. (Hitchcock used the same type of title card in PSYCHO and it worked there too.) This opening also serves as a visual warning to the viewer that this is not going to be a typical Hollywood romantic movie: it will have an element of harsh reality (later classified as film noir).

The blossoming of the romance at Alicia’s party in the opener with mystery-man Devlin and a drunken Bergman defines the tone: since the romance has both a cynical side (she could care less who she’s with), a dangerous side (she drives drunk), and a violent side (she pounds on him with her fists when she discovers he’s a “cop” and he eventually has to knock her out). The romance is a bit rushed: Alicia’s apathy (all she wants, she says, is “good times and laughs with people I like”) melts away fast, but there is an on-purpose element of unbelievably in their attraction. When Devlin first kisses Alicia he seems to be doing so just to shut her up. When the two get to Rio (“This is a very strange love affair… [since] you don’t love me.”) the audience searches for reasons why they are together at all. We doubt their love as much as they do. In a scene that's a slam dunk in writing, acting, and directing, Alicia trumps Devlin’s disregard for her feelings (when they meet at the racetrack so she can pass off intel) and we wonder if they've past the point of no return.

Both leads are cast against type and it’s hard to decide who does a better job at playing an ass. Grant’s Devlin is memorably mean— and the character would have to be considering the work: he’s very James Bond before James Bond. Bergman’s Alicia expects too much from everyone and is surprised when each person falls short.

Claude Rains plays Alex Sebastian, the man who Bergman’s Alicia must get close to in order to discover the Nazi plan. Rains plays the part of the heel well, in particular when he must rely on his mother to bail him out (“We’re protected by the enormity of your stupidity.”) This part gave the Motion Picture Academy a fourth and final chance to give Rains an Oscar, but they screwed him again.

Hitchcock’s camerawork throughout is one inspired choice after the next. The celebrated dolly to the key that Alicia holds in the later party sequence, is a highlight: it says that this entire sequence will keep your attention— and it does. The two wine cellar sequences are textbook in both creation of suspense and in showing the audience the thought process of each of the characters: Devlin and Sebastian. The close quarters of the camera in the final moments between Devlin and Alicia offer the layer of depth necessary to pull off the belief that they have the feelings for each other that they have claimed all along. Despite the significant use of rear-projection that dates the film badly, this is one of the most enduring films of the Hollywood studio era.

The film’s ending, which relies heavily on the Devlin, Alicia, and Sebastian characterizations, is startling and among the best in cinema history.

Notorious (1946): Ben Hecht’s cynical and character-rich screenplay, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman’s atypical casting, and Hitchcock’s deft camerawork add up to a suspense classic that offers a one-of-a-kind mixing of Hollywood romance and film noir.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Twilight Zone episode "Death Ship" to be Feature

3:10 to Yuma collaborators Michael Brandt and Derek Haas are working on an adaptation (based on an original screenplay by Stephen Gregg and Scott Burn) of The Twilight Zone episode "Death Ship." This episode, which originally aired on February 7, 1963, is one of the better hour-long episodes. It's about three astronauts who land on a planet and discover a space craft that resembles their own: and make a surprising discovery inside.

The Twilight Zone is in my opinion (and many others) the greatest television series of all-time: and so many episodes are ripe for the feature film remake treatment. The only problem is making superior 30/60-minute stories into feature-length (particularly when the best were the 30-minute ones). The other obstacle Brandt acknowledged to The Hollywood Reporter: "The [science-fiction story] updates that are successful... are those that take the idea and bring a modern sensibility to it."

The original is not a Rod Serling story, but one of Richard Mathesons', based on a March 1953 short story. I hope Matheson sees the film and comments on it (providing it turns out good). The movie is called Countdown and has an estimated 2009 release date. The budget is modest, but hopefully they can pull the necessary effects off: the original episode is a mix of pretty good to not-so-great in the effects department.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Polaroid Film Being Discontinued

The digital camera has done in Polaroid film. There's a website called savepolaroid that hopes that somebody will continue to manufacture the film.

And yes, the last batches of film are selling on ebay, of course. Although it's still selling on their official site with an official notice of its discontinuation.

I'm not one for "the good old days" when something clearly better arrives on the market, but it's true that looking at a polaroid picture creates instant nostalgia, even when the photo is crummy.

See the ABC News piece "Polaroid Goes Out of Style"

Who knew "shake it like a Polaroid picture" would date so quickly!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sir David Lean Centenary

Director David Lean was born 100 years ago today. Lean's name has become synonymous with the epic (moreso than even Cecil B. DeMille nowadays) and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is easily considered one of the greatest films of the 20th century and possibly the most deserving winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I first became aware of David Lean when he was given the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1990. Lean had returned to filmmaking with A PASSAGE TO INDIA in 1984 and LAWRENCE received a complete restoration in 1988. Watching the AFI special, I was amazed at the movies David Lean had made. I had only been watching classic films for a few years, but hadn't come across Lean yet and clearly, here was a director I had to get to know. (The photo above is one of my favorites: Lean on location for BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER with actors Nigel Patrick and Ann Todd.)

Lean's early films are highlighted by the Dickens' adaptations of GREAT EXPECTATIONS (a film school staple) and OLIVER TWIST and the delightful BLITHE SPIRIT. Among these early films, is my favorite David Lean movie: BRIEF ENCOUNTER. It's perfectly constructed with an unforgettable central performance by Celia Johnson (Lean, Johnson, and Trevor Howard are on set in photo). And I guess there is just something about the idea that any great romance can't last.

Lean's '50s films gradually get more ambitious. SUMMERTIME is a particular favorite of mine from this period. I'm partial to Kate Hepburn, so the film holds up to repeat viewings perhaps more for me than it might some others.

I accept LAWRENCE OF ARABIA as Lean's supreme achievement, although I find THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI much more exciting on an entertainment level. Lean was devastated with the reception of 1970s RYAN'S DAUGHTER, but, although it's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, it was just too intimate a story for the epic treatment, and I agree with the critics that it was a misfire.

In 1990, the talk was about Lean's upcoming film adaptation of Joseph Conrad's NOSTROMO. Robert Bolt was onboard as screenwriter and (I later read) Guy Williams was hired as back-up director in case Lean (in his 80s and diagnosed with throat cancer) wasn't able to finish the film. Just as I followed any mention of a new Stanley Kubrick film from about this time to his eventual delivery of EYES WIDE SHUT in 1999, I followed each lead on NOSTROMO— except it turned out to be a lost cause. I remember seeing David Lean's picture in the top right corner box of the USA TODAY and rushing up to it to see if it was more news of NOSTROMO only to see, to my dismay, that it was for Lean's obituary (in April 1991).

So I never got to see a David Lean film theatrically at the time of its initial release. But I did see the restored LAWRENCE when it made the rounds. And I also have a fun memory of going to a revival of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. The screening was running late and I found myself, with my friends, whistling the "Colonel Bogey March." Before long the whole audience joined in, until the film began to roll!

Monday, March 24, 2008

More on Orson Welles' "The Other Side of the Wind"

An invaluable interview with Peter Bogdanovich regarding the status of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND was posted on on the 14th. Link.

There has also been a lot more discussion on the Wellesnet boards with a considerable amount of (justified) pessimism regarding the film's eventual completion and release.

Taking the thread from the point of my last posts on the subject, here is the discussion.

I'm leaning myself toward the belief that the movie will "never" be completed until all the parties involved have passed-- and that would just about negate the idea that the film would represent Welles' vision. It's bad enough that Gary Graver is gone, but if the film is not completed in Bogdanovich's, Kodar's, and Frank Marshall's lifetimes it will merely serve as a curiosity to us future old folks. I sincerely hope that it does get that 2009 release though... it's been a long time coming.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Line Review Gets A Star on the Walk of Fame

Alright, not really. But here's a site that's irresistible. Just type in a name and it generates your own star. Of course it's limited to "film." Here's the link to create your own!

Who else didn't get a star.... I can think of someone: she's big, it was the pictures that got small.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Anthony Minghella's Passing Breaks String of Living Best Directors

With many directors since the 1970s winning the Oscar for Best Director in the early-to-prime of their careers, every single Oscar-winning director was alive from Francis Ford Coppola's win for THE GODFATHER, PART II (1974) to present, until Anthony Minghella's (pictured with THE ENGLISH PATIENT Oscar) premature passing at age 54.

Here's a list of the 32 living Oscar-winning Best Directors as it now stands:

1. Mike Nichols: The Graduate (1967)
2. William Friedkin: The French Connection (1971)
3. Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather, Part II (1974)
4. Milos Forman: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
5. John G. Avildsen: Rocky (1976)
6. Woody Allen: Annie Hall (1977)
7. Michael Cimino: The Deer Hunter (1978)
8. Robert Benton: Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
9. Robert Redford: Ordinary People (1980)
10. Warren Beatty: Reds (1981)
11. Richard Attenborough: Gandhi (1982)
12. James L. Brooks: Terms of Endearment (1983)
—. Milos Forman: Amadeus (1984)
13. Sydney Pollack: Out of Africa (1985)
14. Oliver Stone: Platoon (1986)
15. Bernardo Bertolucci: The Last Emperor (1987)
16. Barry Levinson: Rain Man (1988)
—. Oliver Stone: Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
17. Kevin Costner: Dances with Wolves (1990)
18. Jonathan Demme" The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
19. Clint Eastwood: Unforgiven (1992)
20. Steven Spielberg: Schindler's List (1993)
21. Robert Zemeckis: Forrest Gump (1994)
22. Mel Gibson: Braveheart (1995)
23. James Cameron: Titanic (1997)
—. Steven Spielberg: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
24. Sam Mendes: American Beauty (1999)
25. Steven Soderbergh: Traffic (2000)
26. Ron Howard: A Beautiful Mind (2001)
27. Roman Polanski: The Pianist (2002)
28. Peter Jackson: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
—. Clint Eastwood: Million Dollar Baby (2004)
29. Ang Lee: Brokeback Mountain (2005)
30. Martin Scorsese: The Departed (2006)
31 & 32. Joel and Ethan Coen: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Spring Movie Preview 2008

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY gives us their annual Spring Movie Preview.

With the end of awards season, it's time for One Line Review to take a three-week hiatus. I'll be back on March 22nd with more on the movies... In the meantime, below are my picks for the top five Spring movies I'm most looking forward to seeing:

FIVE on my Spring '08 List to See:

THE BANK JOB. Phillips & Roeper have started the buzz rolling on this one. Jason Statham might find himself in a critical hit this go-round in addition to a commercial one.

DR. SEUSS' HORTON HEARS A WHO! Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey: how could it go wrong? March 14.

STOP-LOSS. Director Kimberly Peirce, who gave us the searing BOYS DON'T CRY, has been off the radar since that film's 1999 release. I've been dying to see what she would do next, and on March 28th I'll find out.

SHINE A LIGHT. Scorsese does so on the Rolling Stones. April 4.

SMART PEOPLE. Who knows if this'll be anything, but what a fun cast: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Hayden Church, and some unknown named Ellen Page. April 11.