Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September Movie Watching

As I stated in my August end-of-the-month entry, September is probably my least favorite month for movies. Mostly it's because any audience-pleasers are released during summer and any great dramatic films are pushed to "Oscar season" leaving this dead spot. And, again, September is back-to-TV month anyway.

I saw just two films theatrically: Burn After Reading and Choke. I would say that the two were about at the same level for me. In both, I knew I wasn't seeing anything great but was never bored and found a few moments here and there to be pretty funny. I've read the Choke book and a lot of it is left out, but I think they got the gist-- maybe its just unfilmable. (Really liked the appearance of Joel Grey as one of the recovering sex addicts.)

On the Fox Movie Channel, I caught The Song of Bernadette, which I'm sure I saw as a kid but have no memory of. Its actually very, very good-- a pleasant surprise. Rather than just a hokey thing, it actually examines the negative aspects of Bernadette's vision. And what a cast— Lee J. Cobb, Vincent Price, Charles Bickford, Gladys Cooper, etc. Jennifer Jones delivers what is expected of her, and at least at the end gets to emote more than a wistful innocence.

On TCM I caught a couple of the Kay Francis films they were showing: Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage. One Way Passage is the more celebrated of the two, but I wasn't in love with it. Jewel Robbery was a blast though. A bit talky, but one aspect of the plot-- that thief William Powell softens up his prey by giving them marijuana cigarettes, has to be seen to be believed!

I also watched the rare 1912 film Cleopatra. Most of the 1910s features are unendurable. Richard III (1912), for example, is torture. Cleopatra however, was pretty decent.

I watched Fellini's I Vitelloni, which I liked as a primer of things-to-come from Fellini (however it seems that many consider this his career highpoint!).

I also finally saw A Night To Remember (1958). After a slow start, it turned out to be very good. James Cameron had 40 years of technology in his favor, but dramatically, Night is just as potent as Titanic.

Monday, September 29, 2008

This Month on TCM: "The Quiet Man" (1952)

Tomorrow on TCM is John Ford's valentine to his Irish roots, The Quiet Man. The Quiet Man has a wisdom paralleling the ages and experience of its seasoned creators, all just past middle age. John Ford and Merian C. Cooper were in their mid-50s, John Wayne was in his mid-40s, and Maureen O’Hara was just over 30; the Ford stock actors were 60ish. This group knew how to make movies and knew how to translate a good time on the screen and the movie endures mainly due to its charm.

The story follows “Yankee from Pittsburgh” Sean Thornton (Wayne), who returns to his hometown of Inisfree (while escaping his past) and buys his childhood home. Soon thereafter, he falls for an Irish lass named Mary Kate Danaher (O’Hara) whose tempestuousness is matched only by that of her brother Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), whose permission Thornton must secure in order to marry her. Ford favorite Ward Bond, who plays the town clergyman, narrates the film, and serves with the local matchmaker (played by Barry Fitzgerald) as the go-between of the two camps.

At the center of the movie is both the mystery of Thornton’s past and his love-at-first-sight romance with Mary Kate. Although both of these are familiar (as is the fish-out-of-water premise), the handling of them is given dramatic sweep, Hollywood-style. There are several scenes in which Wayne and O’Hara embrace— the most celebrated of which occurs on a windswept night. The second of these, using a rainy night, allows for both romance and some emotion, particularly for Wayne, whose expression exposes doubts in this relationship. Although, this might too be a factor of Ford’s notorious egging on of Wayne in the love scenes, which Wayne voiced complaints about, saying that Ford was having him do what Ford could not do himself.

Wayne shows off his natural talent, especially in such a change of pace role, and its among his finest (if not quite three-dimensional) characterizations. Victor McLaglen has a showy part and scored his only late-career Oscar nomination for the role. O'Hara's acting "shows" a bit but she gets points just for putting up with what was required of her!

Although a few process shots distract, the Technicolor cinematography and location shooting are at times breathtaking. In one scene, for example, Thornton storms off (in long shot) into the countryside in a huff, as a flock of white birds scatter around him— a perfect moment. The beauty of the night scenes rival Black Narcissus at times for there compelling lighting and mood setting.

The Quiet Man has an all-out crowd-pleasing finale in which Sean and Red Will finally square off and Thornton and Mary Kate's relationship is secured (by, economically, one symbolic gesture from Sean involving Mary Kate's dowery). With all the popcorn elements in place and with something for everyone, it's no wonder that this movie has been a perrenial favorite on television, and is John Ford's most rewatchable film.

The Quiet Man (1952): Crowd-pleasing film exhibits a wisdom from seasoned pros and a charm and Hollywood sweep that make it one of John Ford's most enduring works.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

New "At the Movies": See It or Skip It?

It's the end of an era... now both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert have left the balcony.

When I tuned into the new At the Movies, I must admit I was horrified. What had been done to this show? Leather chairs? A lame "critics round-up." And our hosts, E!'s Ben Lyons and TCM's Ben Mankiewicz, were completely ill at ease. My grade for the first broadcast would be an F, to be brutally honest. It looked like a college TV movie review show.

Then I saw the second one and... well... it wasn't that bad. The format hasn't been totally destroyed, after all. The clips are shown, the arguments are made, and the binary system of "skip it" or "see it" remains (albeit with a middle-ground "rent it," a holdover from the last days of the Ebert [i.e. Phillips]/Roeper version). I still hated the critics round up: that's what metacritic and rotten tomatoes is for-- I may never accept this section (hopefully they drop it). With the second show however, I was mainly surprised that I liked E!'s Ben better than TCM's Ben. This is based on my usual dislike of the easy "thumbs-up"-- and even in two shows Mankiewicz seems prone to the movie-love. Although it's hard to watch the inexperienced gain experience, I think, before long, a little of the old Siskel & Ebert magic will be seen in the Lyons & Mankiewicz balcony.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman (1925-2008), Oscar-Winner, Philanthropist

Paul Newman was a hell of an actor. If I could point to just a single film as his best work, it would probably be The Verdict (photo, left), which, had Gandhi been released in a different year, would surely have garnered Newman his long-awaited Oscar. I was surprised at how prominant Cool Hand Luke was in the television coverage of Newman's death (I mean as opposed to The Hustler). Maybe The Hustler being black-and-white was part of this; however, "Fast Eddie" is certainly his signature part. The fact that he won a sentimental Oscar for The Color of Money is not too troublesome-- his return to the role was well done.

And in terms of his later roles, I thought he was at the top of his game in Nobody's Fool. I still wish Cars wasn't his theatrical swansong-- but at least the role was Newmanesque. In May 2007 when he said: "You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention. So I think that's pretty much a closed book for me," announcing his retirement, it was a sad day-- but he'd earned it.

If retrospectives of his career do anything, I hope they prompt a DVD set of his early "live" television work. He did over a dozen roles, appearing in Philco TV Playhouse: "The Death of Billy the Kid," Producers Showcase: "Our Town," U.S. Steel Hour: "Bang the Drum Slowly," and Playhouse 90: "The 80-Yard Run," among others.

I was also the proud purchaser of many "Newman's Own" products— I hope the brand lasts. I was happy to know it was for a good cause (and I'm reasonably confident it just didn't pay for a non-profit CEO's over-inflated salary and perks), plus I really like the stuff-- like the Sockarooni spaghetti sauce! Love Newman's quote: "The embarrassing thing is that my salad dressing is out-grossing my films."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Roger Ebert on Dolling Out Too Many ****, etc.

I've been saying for the better part of a decade that Roger Ebert is too much of a pushover for the movies. Which is in no way to say that I don't like his reviews, which I do. But I was happy to run across this response to people telling him just that: link. In the article he offers up an interesting factoid, that the four star movie rating started "at the New York Daily News in 1929" (he qualifies it with "I think," but still, interesting if even in the ballpark). He also notes that Gene Siskel was a proponent of the binary system: see it or skip it (using the new At the Movies verbiage). By the way, I accept his explanation, but I'm still gonna be stingy with my four-stars!

Also, if you missed it, there was a (now that we know it was nothing) funny altercation between Ebert and a New York Post critic, in which the critic accosted Ebert after Ebert tapped him in a screening (trying to get his attention about blocking the screen). Ebert had a response in his column, which appears to have been taken down but the story is explained in this E! link.

Lastly, good ol' Roger shows he's not lost his sense of humor, responding to some punk's query about Ebert's non-reviewing of Disaster Movie: link.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Criterion Adds Another Fuller To Their Library

Criterion's upcoming releases (link), include the Samuel Fuller drama White Dog. Misunderstood on its release, the film remains obscure, despite a cult following. I've seen White Dog and although I wouldn't rank it too highly on my Fuller must-sees, it is worthwhile that it has gotten a DVD release (having never been out on VHS).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"The Art of the Title" Website

Just becoming aware of this cool website devoted to main titles. They have a lot of the classics up (Vertigo, To Kill A Mockingbird [above] etc.) plus many current films. It's funny that seeing main titles presented this way can be enough to get you to then want to see the movie!

Here's the link.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall TV Season: 2008

Another Fall TV season has begun. The magic of getting the "Fall Preview" TV Guide has long since vanished— the source of yesteryear. But even the every-magazine-coverage media blitz, doesn't dampen the interest in seeing what Hollywood has brewed up. This year looks a bit bleak but there are a few I'm looking forward to:

1. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (debut: 10/3). Yes, the movie bombed, but I liked it! This will be a fun escape for 30 minutes a week. And I liked the development of the new character in the movie— Ahsoka— so I look forward to seeing her adventures.

2. Life on Mars (debut: 10/9). During pilot season this seemed like a sure-fire no go. Now that it's been picked up, I'm curious to see it. The premise: A cop from 2008 gets transported to 1973 and must fight crime using 35-year-old technology. Weird! (A remake of a UK show [of course])

3. Fringe (debuted 9/19). An X-Files-type show, that I normally don't go for, but it got a lot of press. A show by J. J. Abrams, in case you didn't know.

Of course there are several I will at least sample: My Own Worst Enemy (the Christian Slater thing), Worst Week (shit happens! So much so that I missed the premiere), 90210 (had to take a peek at this rehash), SNL: Weekend Update Thursday (the limited election version), Gary Unmarried (another single-guy show), Knight Rider (didn't see the TV movie pilot, but will check out the series in this update), Do Not Disturb (another attempt at a comedy set in a hotel), Kath & Kim (you-never-know comedy with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair), The Ex-List (girl going through her exes because a psychic... oh who cares-- that Elizabeth Reaser is kinda hot).

Plus, my regular shows:
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (debuted: 9/8)
Saturday Night Live (debuted: 9/13)
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (debuted: 9/18)-- currently my single favorite show
Boston Legal (debuted: 9/22)
Survivor: Gabon— Earth's Last Eden (debut: 9/25)
The Office (debut: 9/25)
The Amazing Race (debut: 9/28)
Family Guy (debut: 9/28)
Chuck (debut: 9/29)— although I tired of it by the end of last season
30 Rock (debut: 10/30; drat!)

And I generally try to see a few shows I never watch and/or feel a vague sense of "watch-the-premiere-at-least" loyalty to (like The Simpsons)

Sadly, don't get Showtime or HBO, so some good stuff just won't get seen (oh well).

Monday, September 22, 2008

The 60th Annual Emmy Awards— 2008

The Emmy Awards were a bit of a debacle this year show-wise, and they were savaged by the critics. Easily, if only Jimmy Kimmel had hosted, the show would have been a million times better. His bit with the reality show hosts was very funny and his pre-show "Barbara Walters Special" parody was brilliant. Ricky Gervais, now rumored to be in the running for Oscar host, was another of the few shining lights among presenters. Also, is it me or do Tom Selleck and Mary Tyler Moore have no impact anymore? (Was delighted to see Betty White, although her appearance made little sense despite the forced "she's been in TV 60 years too" reasoning.)

As for the awards, I have little interest and I feel there is little at stake for the Emmys. Having said that I was glad Bryan Cranston won for Breaking Bad. I've seen just a bit of it, but just like him in general. And Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey's wins, too, were justified. Another Emmy for Jeremy Piven seemed absurd but when he made that joke about the hosts (about how he could go on for 12 minutes... oh that was the opening)— all was forgiven.

30 Rock and Mad Men's series wins were a fait accompli, and probably the best way to go (although by all accounts Damages is the drama to watch).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Top 100 Modern Classics (1983-2007)

Entertainment Weekly presented their list of 100 "new classics" for their 1,000th issue. This was valuable, as so rarely are recent films rated... it's always "best-of-all-time." Plus I feel, with the exception of my annual top ten, I never assess contemporary movies. Putting together a top hundred, limited to the last 25 years, seems like a good exercise; and worth doing every five years to keep it fresh. My criteria: overall rating (based on acting, directing, writing, etc.)/ability to keep interest over multiple viewings/depth (i.e. worthiness of study)/sense of its era, yet timelessness/influence on later films.

With the posting of this list, onelinereview goes on fall hiatus; I'll be back on September 22 with more on the movies.

TOP 100 MODERN CLASSICS (1983-2007)

1. Pulp Fiction (1994, d. Quentin Tarantino)
2. Blue Velvet (1986, d. David Lynch)
3. Aliens (1986, d. James Cameron)
4. Schindler’s List (1993, d. Steven Spielberg)
5. Rushmore (1998, d. Wes Anderson)
6. Being John Malkovich (1999, d. Spike Jonze)
7. GoodFellas (1990, d. Martin Scorsese)
8. Ran (1985, d. Akira Kurosawa)
9. Husbands and Wives (1992, d. Woody Allen)
10. Election (1999, d. Alexander Payne)

11. The Terminator (1984, d. James Cameron)
12. Back to the Future (1985, d. Robert Zemeckis)
13. Raising Arizona (1987, d. Joel Coen)
14. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, d. Woody Allen)
15. Die Hard (1988, d. John McTiernan)
16. Unforgiven (1992, d. Clint Eastwood)
17. Toy Story 2 (1999, d. John Lasseter)
18. Swingers (1996, d. Doug Liman)
19. Boys Don’t Cry (1999, d. Kimberly Peirce)

20. The Sixth Sense (1999, d. M. Night Shyamalan)
21. Bowling for Columbine (2002, d. Michael Moore)
22. American Movie (1999, d. Chris Smith)
23. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002, d. Alfonso Cuaron)
24. Capturing the Friedmans (2003, d. Andrew Jarecki)
25. Howard’s End (1992, d. James Ivory)
26. The King of Comedy (1983, d. Martin Scorsese)
27. Breaking the Waves (1996, d. Lars von Trier)
28. Ed Wood (1994, d. Tim Burton)
29. Fargo (1996, d. Joel Coen)

30. The Bourne Supremacy (2004, d. Paul Greengrass)
31. Donnie Brasco (1997, d. Mike Newell)
32. Good Will Hunting (1997, d. Gus Van Sant)
33. The Silence of the Lambs (1991, d. Jonathan Demme)
34. Dances With Wolves (1990, d. Kevin Costner)
35. Saving Private Ryan (1998, d. Steven Spielberg)
36. Adaptation (2002, d. Spike Jonze)
37. Do the Right Thing (1989, d. Spike Lee)
38. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, d. Ang Lee)
39. The Matrix (1999, d. the Wachowski bros.)

40. Amadeus (1984, d. Milos Forman)
41. Wall Street (1987, d. Oliver Stone)
42. Bad Santa (2003, d. Terry Zwigoff)
43. The Player (1992, d. Robert Altman)
44. 28 Up (1985, d. Michael Apted)
45. The Remains of the Day (1993, d. James Ivory)
46. City of God (2002, d. Fernando Meirelles)
47. Secrets and Lies (1996, d. Mike Leigh)
48. Lost in Translation (2003, d. Sofia Coppola)
49. The Others (2001, d. Alejandro Amenabar)

51. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, d. James Cameron)
52. Apollo 13 (1995, d. Ron Howard)
53. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, d. Woody Allen)
54. The Story of Qui Ju (1992, d. Zhang Yimou)
55. American Beauty (1999, d. Sam Mendes)
56. The Big Lebowski (1998, d. Joel Coen)
57. Drugstore Cowboy 1989, d. Gus Van Sant)
58. When Harry Met Sally…. (1989, d. Rob Reiner)
59. Beauty and the Beast (1991, d. Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise)

60. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, d. Peter Jackson)
61. Heat (1995, d. Michael Mann)
62. Another Woman (1988, d. Woody Allen)
63. The Ice Storm (1997, d. Ang Lee)
64. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988, d. Pedro Almodovar)
65. The Breakfast Club (1984, d. John Hughes)
66. Dead Man Walking (1995, d. Tim Robbins)
67. Before Sunrise (1995, d. Richard Linklater)
68. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007, d. Cristian Mungiu)
69. JFK (1991, d. Oliver Stone)

70. The Untouchables (1987, d. Brian de Palma)
71. Sling Blade (1996, d. Billy Bob Thornton)
72. Babette’s Feast (1987, d. George Axel)
73. Titanic (1997, d. James Cameron)
74. Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987, d. Louis Malle)
75. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004, d. Michael Moore)
76. The Pianist (2002, d. Roman Polanski)
77. Jackie Brown (1997, d. Quentin Tarantino)
78. Crumb (1994, d. Terry Zwigoff)
79. Cinema Paradiso (1988, d. Giuseppe Tornatore)

80. The Grifters (1990, d. Stephen Frears)
81. Chicago (2002, d. Rob Marshall)
82. Gladiator (2000, d. Ridley Scott)
83. Broadway Danny Rose (1984, d. Woody Allen)
84. L.A. Confidential (1997, d. Curtis Hanson)
85. Say Anything… (1989, d. Cameron Crowe)
86. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2002, d. Michel Gondry)
87. The Aviator (2004, d. Martin Scorsese)
88. Fatal Attraction (1987, Adrian Lyne)
89. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, d. Clint Eastwood)

90. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (1987, d. John Hughes)
91. This Is Spinal Tap (1984, d. Rob Reiner)
92. Speed (1994, d. Jan De Bont)
93. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, d. Alfonso Cuaron)
94. Big (1988, d. Penny Marshall)
95. Fight Club (1999, d. David Fincher)
97. Jerry Maguire (1996, d. Cameron Crowe)
97. Wonder Boys (2000, d. Curtis Hanson)
98. La Belle Noiseuse (1991, d. Jacques Rivette)
99. There’s Something About Mary (1998, d. Bobby and Peter Farrelly)
100. There Will Be Blood (2007, d. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Onelinereview's Upcoming Movie Lists

On September 1 of every year, I plan to post a new comprehensive movie list as follows:

2009: Top 100 Screenplays of All-Time
2010: Top 100 Films of the Decade— 00s
2011: Top 100 "Masterstrokes" of the Decade— 00s
2012: Top 10 Films of All-Time (to coincide with Sight & Sound's Poll)
2013: Top 100 Modern Classics (1988-2012)
2014: Top 100 Movie Performances of All-Time
2015: Top 100 Films of All-Time
2016: Top 100 American Films of All-Time (anticipating AFI's 2017 Poll)
2017: Top 100 Foreign-Language Films of All-Time
2018: Top 100 Modern Classics (1993-2017)