Saturday, May 31, 2008

May Movie Watching

I saw six films theatrically this month. May is one of my favorite months of the year for moviegoing, second really only to December. Coincidentally, I have the same feeling for May as I do December-- I hate having to watch movies in these months with a critical eye! In May it's because I just want to have fun, in December, it's because I hate that you can't help watch each release thinking is it (top ten) "listworthy"?

I saw the four big Friday releases (skipping the fifth— Sex and the City), only one of them— Speed Racer— turned out not to be the big new release in it's weekend, What Happens in Vegas took that prize.

First off, Iron Man. What a great way to start off the summer (albeit still spring) movie releases. Iron Man was everything it was supposed to be— and my new most anticipated franchise-in-the-making. I just love the suit-- the way it works, the possibilities for action set pieces, the possible actual science behind such an invention. I wouldn't put Iron Man in any classic film pantheon, but, again, sticking to my loathe to criticize May movies-- it was a blast and I highly recommend it to the few who haven't yet seen it.

Speed Racer— the Poseidon of this year in terms of cost versus box office— seemed like it'd be a fun ride. I actually saw this with a crowd of friends who were all pumped up for it. I'm totally unfamiliar with the TV show; it just looked like it could be a lot of fun for its production design. And I guess it was. Kind of a bloated mess; it seemed that the people who did like it, were determined to like it based on their love of the original show.

I caught up on last month's Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. It's so much better than the critics are making it out. No, it didn't quite capture the "magic" (if you want to call it that) of the original film, but on it's own, still a very funny film. Although Neil Patrick Harris is still playing himself, despite his coming out since the last movie, he still "plays it straight" so to speak.

I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian at one of my favorite theaters in Los Angeles, the historic El Capitain theater (which exclusively shows Disney releases). The audience was kid-filled and very excited. There was a lot of clapping. I got caught up in the whole thing and enjoyed it too, but it's one of those movies that, an hour later, you're wondering what the heck it was all about. I read the book in the days before seeing the movie and I commend the filmmakers in starting the movie in the right place, making important cuts, and making a post-Harry Potter, post-LOTR, 2008 movie. However, I think they overshot it and went a little too big. A worthy effort nonetheless. I think I remember, from reading them as a kid, that the third book in the series, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" was very good-- so I look forward to the third film, slated for May 7, 2010.

After mucho hype on Ebert (Phillips) & Roeper I caught The Visitor. By the way, have you noticed this month that the producers of the show came up with the "See It" of "Skip It" device-- poor Ebert thought he would always be able to use the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down ace-up-his-sleeve as a negotiating device: they certainly called him on it. As much as I respect Ebert and have loved his reviews and opinions over the years it really is time to let go of the show. The title of the show really needs to be changed— it's been two years since Ebert's been off it. Anyway, I digress! I saw The Visitor because of the great reviews and because I haven't seen much independent stuff lately. Well I was "had." It wasn't much. I did like the fact that the central character was a bore and actor Richard Jenkins kept him interesting despite his being a dullard, without suddenly making him "change" at any point. Other than that, a warm nice-try, but highly skippable.

And finally the big one— Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I wrote a whole blog entry on Indy's latest adventure. Plus a follow-up about the earlier "Saucer Men" script. It was interesting to see Phillips and Roeper debate the film— Philips represented our minds (and my ranking it as "skippable") and Roeper represented our hearts (forgiving it of its many, many faults). I think audiences in general are completely in tune with this-- let's just hope Spielberg and co. understand that they got this free pass and don't make a habit of this kind of "filmmaking." In Spielberg's interview with Richard Schickel which has played on TCM he said it himself: 'I realized if I have a great script and I'm a great director (he was more modest, I'm paraphrasing) I could have a great movie' [he was commenting on Duel]. Well, that's exactly what happened here, the script was just a silly adventure, so we got a silly movie.

On TCM, I watched two movies I hadn't seen before. Five, Arch Obler's treatise on five survivors of nuclear war, felt exactly like a Twilight Zone episode (predating the series by 8 years). That said, it's only like a slightly-better-than-average Twilight Zone episode. It was pretty well directed, though, I must say, all things considered. Of course, the problem with such a movie is no matter what, it has a bleak end, no?

I also saw the cult classic Reefer Madness. I absolutely loved it. I can totally tell why it's a cult film. Despite the ridiculousness of it, it's such an entertaining flick. You'd think it would be "square" but compared to actual '30s mainstream Hollywood movies, it's kind of hip. It's like a square '60s movie.

Friday, May 30, 2008

This Month on TCM: Psycho (1960)

Tomorrow, TCM plays Alfred Hitchcock's most notorious film, Psycho.

Psycho often strikes me as a very modern film and yet also at times seems very dated— probably since it coincides with the beginning of the end of the studio system— a direct product of the emergence of television. It's opening titles have never dated, however. The justly famous score is positively one of the most brilliantly conceived in all of movie history. The titles put you in the mood, if you have to wait a bit to get to the "modern" thrills. The genius of the film is in how it defies audience expectations, which is what, in many ways, keeps it fresh decades later.

The exposition is done very well, except perhaps the opening scene, which goes on a little long and is a little talky. The film is about a woman who steals $40,000 and plans to use it to run away with her married lover, but her plans are sidetracked when she stops at the Bates Motel where she encounters off-kilter Norman Bates, who she finds is at the mercy of his mother.

Brilliant use, in the driving sequence, of Marion’s thoughts through her perceived ideas of how the next few days would play out in the voice-over of the characters from her office. This is not only suspenseful but shows Marion's vulnerability and ultimately her indecision about her actions.

Nice set-up of “mother” in the window of the house when Marion arrives at the Bates Motel. Anthony Perkins is brilliant— particularly in the moment when he turns on Marion in their dinner conversation, when she suggests sending “Mother” to an institution (“People always call a madhouse, ‘someplace,’ don’t they? — ‘Put her in someplace.’…. They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest oh so very delicately…”). The whole cast, all things considered, play their parts with a sense of subtlety, particularly in light of the later horror films that Psycho inspired.

Hitchcock astounds with his camerawork— it’s surprising to think that at age 60 he made so many bold choices throughout. The famed shower sequence will remain a staple of film study for eternity— the spiral shot from the drain to Marion’s eye is as fresh and fascinating as it must have been in 1960. The lesser-known murder in the movie is just as brilliant a shocker. The climax is another flawlessly staged piece— Lila’s hitting the bare light bulb a touch of genius.

Finale, in which things are “explained” is a deadly bore—the movie would have been better off without it. The film is a stylistic virtuoso, a director’s piece if there ever was one, even if, on first viewing one gets a little impatient waiting for the thrills. The fact that the Motion Picture Academy didn’t bestow the Best Director Oscar to Hitchcock for Psycho is one of the single greatest blunders in the history of the Oscars. Many famous lines are uttered throughout the movie by Norman Bates, not the least of which perhaps summed it up— “We all go a little mad sometimes.”

Psycho (1960): A virtuoso director's piece with some terrific acting besides, a stunning example of audience manipulation and a defining example of audience expectations gone awry.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men From Mars" -- 1995s What-Could-Have-Been-- Held up to 2008s "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Generally speaking, word-of-mouth is the new Indy is great. My office has been abuzz with the good word. To me, as I wrote in my previous blog entry, this was a fun film that is not in league with the originals but you can have a good time with it if you let go your critical mindset. It's kind of like the Independence Day of 2008 for me-- I rolled my eyes through half of Independence Day but I can't say I didn't have a good time.

Now that I've seen the new movie, I decided to take a look at that mid-90s Lucas/Jeb Stuart script called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men From Mars. Maybe as a result of the new movie, the screenplay has been removed from the usual sites, but a friend got me a copy. If you don't have it and are having trouble finding it online like me, a detailed rundown of the screenplay can be found here.

I expected, after having read the screenplay, to say.... if only this had been made we'd have been so much better off. And that was my feeling reading the first part of it. But when I got to the end, I'm of the distinct opinion that they were right to wait and the new film is a vast improvement (that incorporated some of the same ideas). Even though I thought Kingdom of the Crystal Skull strayed from Indy a bit, Saucer Men really strays by the end.

I will say that the Saucer script is a lot more "serious" and maybe that too contributes to its problems. Perhaps, all things considered, going a little silly and over-the-top was the way to go with this one after all. In other words, to compensate for so much time elapsed, Spielberg/Lucas and company wisely upped the "popcorn" level in exchange for having no possible chance at a Raiders-level classic, but guaranteeing a bundle of entertainment. And why not? I'll say this: the movie seems to have entertained and brightened the Memorial Day weekends of many. I'm happy to include myself in that group. With the new knowledge of Saucer's screenplay, I think I'll enjoy KOTCS (get used to that abbreviation-- I'm seeing it everywhere nowadays) on DVD that much more. I'll be sure to have plenty of extra butter microwave popcorn on hand.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ian Fleming Centenary

James Bond creator Ian Fleming would have been 100 years old today. His fictional character is certainly one of the most famous in the world. To celebrate the occasion, the Fleming estate commissioned Sebastian (Charlotte Gray) Faulks to write a new Bond novel, which is out now, Devil May Care. I flipped through it and it looks interesting (although I think the book itself is lacking a bit in presentation).






I have read all of Fleming's Bond novels and I have several favorites: Casino Royale (a terrific "first" novel which can be read in one sitting), Live and Let Die(one of his most descriptive), Moonraker (a great book of which none was used for the movie), From Russia With Love (faithfully adapted into one of the best 007 movies of the series, if not the best), and On Her Majesty's Secret Service (perhaps the best of Fleming's novels).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trailers Before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

There were five trailers before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Here are my thoughts on them:

Batman Begins. I have the same reaction to it as when I saw it with Iron Man-- a real question mark. It has the potential for being a great movie, then again how much different can it be from the previous Joker-centric '89 version?

Kung Fu Panda. It's growing on me.

Eagle Eye. This was a cinch to be one of the trailers. The Shia LaBeouf thriller looks decent; kind of a generic trailer, though.

Hancock. Another slightly different trailer-- how many versions of the Hancock trailer are there?-- that definitely belies a nervous studio. I can't say I'm getting excited for it, but I'll be there July 4th weekend.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Another one of those trailers that shows you the entire movie that's supposed to entice you to see it after the whole things been given away. Looks terrible anyway in my view. The trailer seemed to have little effect on the audience either.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cannes '08 Winners

The Cannes Film Festival has wound up. For me, the most exciting news was that Woody Allen's newsest film Vicky Cristina Barcelona was very well received and we're getting it soon (late August). The Hollywood Reporter commented that Woody Allen "rediscovers his comic and romantic side" and People said Allen "scored big" with this "irresistible comedy."

Eastwood's Changling was also apparently well-received even if it didn't win any awards.

The festival will be remembered for the splashy premieres of two US popcorn flicks— Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Kung-Fu Panda (People reported that Kung-Fu Panda "proved a cheerful palate cleanser between the grimmer, slice-of-downbeat-life films dominating Cannes' roster.")

The winner of the Palme d'Or? The Class aka Entre les murs. We'll see if this gets US distribution as a result of its win (it's general release in France begins on October 15th).

Other winners included:

Grand Prize: Gomorrah
Jury Award: Il Divo

Best Actor: Benicio del Toro for Che
Best Actress: Sandra Corveloni for Linha de Passe
Best Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Three Monkeys
Best Screenplay: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for Lorna's Silence

Link to AP article via CNN.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"-- A Review



I was one of the few people who clapped at the end of this fourth installment of the Indy franchise. I think I have to explain myself!

In the opening moments, I was back in Indy country. The opening sequence wasn't brilliant, but it was palatable. Ford was a bit creaky, but passable. Then the film proceeded with a highly improbable scene involving a refrigerator and a miraculous escape from death by Indiana Jones and I started to wonder. However, we're then introduced to a young man, played by Shia LeBeouf, dressed (exactly) like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, who brings Indiana news that an old colleague of Indy's is in trouble. A motorcycle chase ensues which is up-to-par with the Indy franchise of old, if, again, just a bit off. And then the adventure proper begins which takes Indiana Jones and his young protege-of-sorts on a mysterious journey in which they must return a crystal skull of unknown origin back to its rightful home.

However, before long, it soon became apparent that this installment, unlike the previous three, had set piece after set piece that were somewhat generic, not at all intrinsic to the plot, and, more often then not, extremely unbelievable and outrageously over-the-top. So, at about the 45 minute mark I had a movie-going epiphany. The gang had just waited too long to make another Indiana Jones movie. Even though anything is possible and perhaps a genuinely great movie still could have been made, it was always highly unlikely that we'd have anything resembling those great '80s flicks. So, with this in mind... I just let go. I put my brain in full nostalgia mode. Here I was in 2008 watching Indiana Jones up on the big screen. I started to just have a good time.

To take a critical stance for a second, a few of the ideas were interesting (particularly one involving a swarm of ants) and Cate Blanchett, despite having a hopelessly underwritten part, had a certain presence that at the same time didn't overshadow our hero. There were a few talky moments but mostly it was a forward moving ride. The final action set piece had an eye-candy quality on a purely entertainment level. The motives of the Russians are vague at best. Ford and Allen kinda sleepwalk through it (although I really liked Ford's boyish look when he first lays eyes on Marian again). And there was a very distant, studio-bound quality to the whole affair. But, again, I give it a pass.

The movie on the whole is best seen as it was entered in at the Cannes film festival-- "out of competition." Of course we're all set up for a Shia LeBeouf Indy trilogy-- but I truly hope this doesn't come to pass. This was just a last-chance trip to the well. One for the road. A toast to old times.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones Marathon: "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"

My thoughts on Indy 3:



Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Indiana Jones agrees to take on the assignment of the quest for the Holy Grail after his father, whose lifelong obsession has been seeking it, turns up missing on the latest expedition for its recovery.

River Phoenix does a great Harrison Fordesque “young” Indiana Jones in opening sequence (set in Utah, 1912) involving Cortez artifact the “Cross of Coronada.” Nice to see some recurring elements from the original film return (dropped in Temple of Doom), such as Indy-in-the-classroom, the return of Marcus (Denholm Elliot) and Sala (Michael Rhys-Davies), and archeological adventures. Has many, many moments of incredulity (a holdover from Temple of Doom), but they are palatable in the spirit in which they’re delivered. Re-introduction of the Nazis as villains adds a nice touch, if Indy’s merciless dispensing of them a little uncomfortable nonetheless. Great humor throughout (“Ah Venice.”/“Dr. Jones?” “Yes.”/“She talks in her sleep.”/bit with Marcus: “Does anyone here speak English? Or even Ancient Greek?”/revolving fireplace/ “no ticket”/ “I was the next man.”/ “But in the Latin, Johovah starts with an “I”… “J….”) Great stunts in second half: motorcycles sequence, German fighter planes and ground sequence [with memorable ending: “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne”], and (especially) the tank sequence. Connery’s Henry Jones makes a great character and there’s just enough time for some character development in the relationship between father and son (as in the “that’s for blasphemy” scene and the ‘we-hardly-spoke’ scene). One expected Adolf Hitler to appear as a character in the original film and when he appears in this one you realize it was better that he wasn’t in the first one (even if the bit in Last Crusade is somewhat amusing). Finale, with the final “tests” is well executed and exciting. Doesn’t have quite the same depth as the original movie, but hardly empty headed and, undeniably, a fun adventure.

My thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull forthcoming...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones Marathon: "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"

Continuing my marathon, here are my thoughts on Indy #2...



Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones is sidetracked on his way back from Shanghai to India where the natives set him on a trail to find their sacred stone where Jones discovers a slave labor camp and pagan rituals.

Disastrously limp prequel, set in 1935, derails the Indy franchise-in-the-making, which, was miraculously resurrected with Last Crusade. Opening sequence with a race for an antidote and a diamond at “Club Obi Wan” in Shanghai is as absurd and nonsensical as the entire movie. Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott is easily the film's biggest liability with her girlie girl performance (done on-purpose as a characterization-of-sorts: “I burnt my fingers and broke a nail!”). Indy, calling Wiilie “sweetheart” the entire time doesn’t help matters. The humor, usually involving how stupid and girlish Willie is, is cartoonish and simply not funny. Gross-out sequences, particularly the dinner scene (eyeballs in the soup, “chilled monkey brains”) and the secret passage (with gross bugs) are memorable in their mindnumbingness. The main ritual sequences are cheesy: if Raiders was a throwback to the '30s serials than this one is a throwback to '50s kiddie fare [I prefer the '30s]. Entire underground sequence, until the end, is by-the-numbers for the most-part and too outrageous (fire breaks you out of the spell?) to be acceptable. Last quarter of the film which begins with the mine shaft sequence and ends with the rope bridge sequence (quite good) has its moments and almost (almost) makes you forget how bad the movie was up to this point. Does have an adventurous sweep and 24 years later audiences may be more forgiving, but nowhere in the league of its predecessor and easily outclassed by its sequel.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones Marathon: "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

In anticipation of the new film, I, like no doubt so many others, am partaking in a Indiana Jones marathon. The Indy trilogy, even with the weak middle link, is still one of the best adventure trilogies of all time. I was a little surprised that the effects in Last Crusade seemed so dated (nothing embarrassing though), but on the whole Indy has withstood the test of time.

My next three blog entries will be my take on Indy 1-3, in capsulated reviews.



Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
An adventurous “obtainer of rare antiquities” named Indiana Jones, who daylights as a archeology professor, is hired by American authorities to stop Hitler’s Third Reich from discovering the Ark of the Covenant which holds the original tablets on which the ten commandments were written.

A brilliantly conceived globetrotting adventure, that never slows down. A throwback to the serials of the 1930s, it nonetheless remains timeless. Characterization is not left behind with both Indiana and Marian cleverly introduced (Indy through an opening adventure and later at his university and Marian in a “drinking game” with the locals) and fleshed out throughout the film by strong performances by the leads. The incorporation of the forbidden nature of the discovery of the ark and the limitations of man’s spiritual knowledge gives the film thematic depth. A sense of humor throughout, particularly when spoofing movies themselves (Marian blows smoke in the villain’s face and he coughs; Indy handles the master swordsman; “I don’t know I’m making this up as I go.”). Also nice sight gags (the monkey gives a Nazi salute, “Why did it have to be snakes?” Indy sees a motorcycle and sidecar in the rearview mirror of the truck and gives them a ‘bump’; Marian flips the mirror). A wonderfully menacing henchman villain adds to the fun (“shoot them, shoot them both”). Belloq as the "shadowy reflection" of Jones both exposes Indy’s darker side and the darker side of man in general. The sound design and musical score are blended perfectly and give the film a majestic sweep. One great action sequence follows the next (all intrinsic to the plot), the best of which is the truck sequence (with a nifty homage to John Ford’s Stagecoach). Final shot (a reference to Citizen Kane) has itself been the source of countless references. A classic.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Season Finales 2008

With Boston Legal's finale tonight, the '07-'08 TV season has wrapped up for me. Below are my comments on the shows that I watch that wrapped this month:

Family Guy: I didn't even know I was watching the season finale when it was on-- although it was a funny one (the one with Peter as a pirate). I had hoped for a Empire Strikes Back parody as the finale, now I REALLY hope this will be the September season opener. I have to say I want to see all six films done-- I loved the Star Wars episode ("Get your fat space ass back here"/ "This is Han Solo with the midnight shift"/ "Then rot in here you stuck up bitch", etc.)

30 Rock: A funny end to a terrific show-- it's getting better and better. The strike didn't tarnish it a bit. "I wolfed my teamsters sub for you."/"Wait is that an expression?"

The Office: Well, I think the strike tarnished this show a bit-- it's just a little off. But it's still pretty funny. I wish they'd skip these hour-long episodes and just stick to the thirty minute format. I'm debating whether or not I care that much to watch the summer webisodes. I really believe in a mostly TV-free summer. Time for some of that good old-fashioned sun.

SNL: Not a very good year per se. Liked the political stuff a lot though-- actually now that I think about it, the political stuff made the season decent. John McCain surely got more laughs than Steve Carrell in the season finale. One of my favorite sketches all year was the "twin" girls sketch with Kristen Wiig and Amy Adams ("I'm here to take your stupid class about garbage!")

Survivor: I wrote a whole blog entry about this. Survivor had a rocky path to a good year.

Beauty and the Geek: Not a great season. After the make-over, the geeks didn't improve much. But I think it pulled it out in the end.... only to get a cancelation notice! Kinda bummed it's over.

Rules of Engagement: I hope this comes back as a mid-season replacement in '09 as announced-- I laugh at every episode. Season finale was up-to-par; when the model announces that she's getting back together with her boyfriend and Russell immediately kicks everyone out of the apartment I cracked up!

American Idol: Was not a huge fan of the season (watching this show ever-increasingly in fast-forward). Kristy Lee Cook was so gorgeous it kept me going while she lasted. I wanted David Cook to win so I'm happy about that; when Simon "apologized" to him just before the results announcement it was so obvious he won-- Simon never ever would have done that otherwise.

Boston Legal: Season finale was just fine, but the episodes leading up to it were top-notch: the Supreme Court one and Shirley's nephew one in particular. Sucks that ABC has announced that next season-- season five-- will be the show's last. It really deserved the 7 season gold standard. Maybe a reprieve will occur (but I doubt it: Stephen McPherson made the announcement and he's turning into a Leslie Moonves). TVseriesfinales.com has reported on this.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

James Stewart Centenary

James Stewart would have been 100 years old today. Stewart was one of the screen's greatest natural actors. Little in the way of scandal entered his life (an affair with Grace Kelly has always been speculated-- hard to judge anyone on that though, if it were true!).

His most well-known roles are his performances for Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock— and these are possibly his best. He was overlooked for an Oscar for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so they gave it to him the next year for The Philadelphia Story (this make-up Oscar tradition began with Bette Davis' win for Dangerous following her slight for Of Human Bondage). And Mr. Smith is a tour de force for Stewart ("I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Payne.") topped only by It's A Wonderful Life (the post WWII maturity having sunk into Stewart). The war years gave Stewart the depth to make the Anthony Mann westerns in the 1950s.

His four Hitchcocks— Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo— represent a tremendous range. Would it not been for Stewart, Hitchcock's Vertigo might not be vying for Sight and Sound's #1 slot... the upsetting of Citizen Kane is on the horizon for 2012.

When I came to Los Angeles, Stewart was still alive and he was #1 on my list to see in person-- it never happened. I went to see An American Tail: Fievel Goes West specifically because it was Stewart's first movie "role" in years. When it turned out to be his swan song, it became my only Stewart movie seen theatrically.

Like Orson Welles is inextricably attached to those "sell no wine before its time" ads in his last years, Stewart was all about those poems he read on Carson in the '80s. Here's one from YouTube, the one about his dog (if you know any of them it's this one):



Someone also posted his What's My Line? appearance (of course the panel gets it in two minutes):

Monday, May 19, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Features: "The Pleasure Garden"

Alfred Hitchcock directed nine silent feature films. His tenth film, Blackmail, was initially shot as a silent and then converted to a talkie (both versions exist). In the early '20s Hitchcock worked as a title designer, art director, then assistant director. He co-directed 1923s Always Tell Your Wife (first reel of this two-reeler survives) and was the director of the unfinished 1922 film Number Thirteen (footage lost).

Hitchcock's silent films, even the celebrated The Lodger are not great movies. They were his training ground; and his later films are that much more visual as a result of his having started in the silent era. His silents are of interest to the Hitchcock scholar solely and this explains why they still remain either unreleased on VHS/DVD or in unrestored state on poorly presented DVDs. However, I'll take a look at his eight extant silents (one title, The Mountain Eagle, is lost) with a series of (irregular) capsule review blog entries.

If you are looking for Hitchcock's unreleased films (such as The Pleasure Garden and Downhill, among others) I recommend this seller.

Now onto Hitchcock's first completed feature film as sole director: The Pleasure Garden (1927)-- the release date of this film has been published as 1925, 1926, and 1927. It appears that its wide release came in January 1927, so that is the year I've chosen. I will follow suit on the other early Hithcock silents (many of which were released at some point in 1927).

The Pleasure Garden (1927)
A chorus girl befriends a newcomer who soon becomes the headliner of “The Pleasure Garden” and forgets her helpful friend, her fiancĂ©, and her humble past as she pursues a prince.

Great opening titles with girl in long shot dancing in a spotlight while credits run. Fun opening shows lecherous men in the front row eyeing the chorus girls. A healthy dose of humor runs throughout the film’s early scenes (Patsy giving the lecherous man her hair “curl” that he admired so much, Jill’s fiancĂ© being announced to Patsy by the landlady as Jill’s “fiasco”), which is desperately missed as the melodrama builds. The first half of the film is palatable but the rest drags on endlessly, when the plot switches focus to the troubled marriage of Patsy (Virginia Valli) and Levet (Miles Mander), taking the action away from the theater. So different are the parts that the movie feels like two 35-minute films running sequentially. Nice dissolve from Patsy waving goodbye to Levet and a native girl waving hello to him at his destination. The Patsy/Levet subplot (melodrama with a capital “M”) ultimately sinks the film and sends it off the deep end with a bizarre final third set on a tropical isle (that has a supernatural angle). Radically uneven film is an inauspicious debut for Hitchcock.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

FHM and Maxim Pick Hotties


FHM and Maxim have put out their annual picks for most gorgeous women (FHM's "100 Sexiest" and Maxim's "Hot 100"). I prefer the FHM list myself: their top ten is just about perfect and I admire their #1 choice, au courant Megan ("hot girl from Transformers") Fox... one of the only reasons I look forward to Transformers 2. Below I present my top 50 babes, alphabetically listed. My favorite these days is Keira Knightley, followed by Scarlett Johansson, and then probably Rachel Bilson. I'm including the FHM and Maxim ranks as well as those from askmen.com's Top 99 (which comes out at the beginning of each year).

Jessica Alba (#2 FHM, #34 MAXIM, #5 ASKMEN)
Kate Beckinsale (#12 FHM, #28 MAXIM, #3 ASKMEN)
Lake Bell (#32 MAXIM)
Halle Berry (#46 FHM, #21 ASKMEN)
Jessica Biel (#13 FHM, #3 MAXIM, #7 ASKMEN)
Rachel Bilson (#16 FHM, #28 MAXIM)
Jennifer Connelly (—)
Kristy Lee Cook (—)
Marion Cotillard (#99 FHM, #87 ASKMEN)
Penelope Cruz (#82 MAXIM, #26 ASKMEN)
Elisha Cuthbert (#4 FHM, #6 MAXIM, #24 ASKMEN)
Phire Dawson (—)

Rosario Dawson (—)
Hilary Duff (#8 FHM, #25 MAXIM, #81 ASKMEN)
Kirsten Dunst (—)
Megan Fox (#1 FHM, #16 MAXIM, #12 ASKMEN)
Jennifer Garner (#57 FHM, #44 MAXIM)
Summer Glau (—)
Carla Gugino (—)
Keeley Hazell (#3 FHM, #13 ASKMEN)
Natasha Henstridge (—)
Scarlett Johansson (#6 FHM, #2 MAXIM, #6 ASKMEN)
Angelina Jolie (#9 FHM, #35 ASKMEN)
Keira Knightley (#10 FHM, #39 ASKMEN)
Beyonce Knowles (#17 FHM, #14 MAXIM, #14 ASKMEN)
Anna Kournikova (#81 FHM)
Mila Kunis (#81 MAXIM)
Evangeline Lilly (#54 FHM, #88 MAXIM)
Jennifer Lopez (—)
Jordan Madley (—)
Taryn Manning (#60 MAXIM)
Rose McGowan (#57 ASKMEN)
Eva Mendes (#35 FHM, #7 MAXIM, #4 ASKMEN)
Alyssa Milano (#80 ASKMEN)
Brittany Murphy (—)
Petra Nemcova (#75 FHM, #41 ASKMEN)
Kaitlin Olson (—)
Amanda Peet (—)
Natalie Portman (#39 FHM, #15 ASKMEN)
Rihana (#11 FHM, #15 MAXIM, #8 ASKMEN)
Rebecca Romijn (#58 MAXIM)
Winona Ryder (—)
Jessica Simpson (#26 FHM, #53 MAXIM, #47 ASKMEN)
Hilary Swank (—)
Marisa Tomei (—) [with her babelicious return in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead]
Nadine Velazquez (#68 FHM, #41 MAXIM, #78 ASKMEN)
Sophia Vergara (#39 MAXIM, #45 ASKMEN)
Kate Winslet (—)
Reese Witherspoon (—)
Odette Yustman (#88 FHM)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Primetime Fall 2008 Schedules

The trades have published charts for the primetime schedules. Variety's is posted online here.

These days I rarely even know what times (or sometimes even day-of-the-week) the shows I watch air, since I'm generally watching them all on my DVR. Glancing the charts over though it looks like a Monday/Thursday/Sunday weighted Fall for me unless I pick up some new shows.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Criterion Releases Obscure Powell & Pressburger Title "The Small Back Room"

Every time Criterion releases its new slate of films, I get all gung ho about revisiting a director's work. Although I own the Criterion Black Narcissus, it's really the only one of their titles that I've seen since taking in a megamarathon of their films at the Film Forum in New York years back. Now Criterion puts out a title that is surely one of their most obscure: The Small Back Room. This movie gets a *** 1/2 star rating from the Leonard Maltin Guide plus Maltin warns "beware of edited prints"-- so it's nice to know that it got the Criterion treatment. Still thinking about Tati's Playtime or Trafic though; maybe I'll do a mini P&P before year's end.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ten Commandments on the Auction Block

Saw this AP story: the prop Ten Commandments from the 1956 Charlton Heston film are going up for auction. A great movie prop-- too bad there are four sets. Still, the prop tablets are expected to get $60,000.

See story.

UPDATE: The prop fetched $63,250. Link.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"As the World Turns" -- November 22, 1963

truevo.com has recently posted the As the World Turns episode featuring breaking news about Kennedy's assassination-- see 10 minutes into part one and the top of part two and 4:45 in.



Monday, May 12, 2008

Fall TV Schedule 2008: Returning Favorites

Imdb has a good summation of where the "returning shows" stand. So far, ten of my thirteen (regular network) shows have made the cut: 30 Rock, Chuck, The Office, SNL, Boston Legal, Amazing Race, Survivor, American Idol, Family Guy, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I'm waiting for the green light on: Kid Nation (wouldn't be too broken up if this didn't get a second season though), Beauty and the Geek, and Rules of Engagement (already e-mailed CBS).

Follow-up: Kid Nation and Beauty and the Geek were canceled. Kinda bumbed about Geek, wasn't quite ready to see it go. Rules of Engagement will return mid-season.

How are your shows faring?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Survivor Micronesia: Great Season Despite Mishaps

It seems like no one I know watches Survivor "anymore." It's like Saturday Night Live. "Oh, I haven't watched that in years."

Yes the last couple seasons I didn't watch too closely 'cause they were getting ridiculous-- especially the challenges. But, I'm telling you this season,which was off to a rocky start, squarely landed as one of the better ones. Now when four cast members leave without getting voted off (two medical, one went nuts, one quit) you could chalk that up to disaster, but actually it stirred things up from the usual machinations. Plus the "dumb" factor. One guy was tricked by a "fake" hidden immunity Idol, and, notoriously, another player (Erik) actually gave up his individual immunity because he was told it would make him look good to the jury for helping someone else (!?). By-the-way, the "angle" of the show was "Fans Vs. Favorites" but that seemed to go the wayside (with the exception of the manipulation of wide-eyed Erik)-- in fact the show succeeded in spite of its "premise." Even the "girls-club" angle didn't bother me: they played it well, and in the end it really wasn't a "girls-club" because only a two-person alliance lasted.

I wasn't necessarily crazy about the "winner" but this season definitely gave the series the shot-in-the-arm it needed to get it to its end-game: supposedly, according to Jeff Probst: 20 seasons, or perhaps a 21st with a super all-star season.

The next (17th) season airs this fall and is set in Africa, this time in Gabon. Now, I will admit that the promo for this next season had me rolling on the floor. It goes.. "Earth's last Eden's.... Gabon is one of the world's last remaining sanctuaries for pure untouched wilderness..." And, so we're taking Survivor to this "untouched" sanctuary-- that sounds like a responsible thing to do !!!



Monday Add: For Survivor watchers, here's the link to the winner on the Early Show (I never watch the Early Show, so I have to catch this on the net too).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Holding Pattern for Empire Magazine '08 All-Time Movie Poll

Empire Magazine what's going on?

Empire has polled its readers five times over the last dozen years for their top films of all-time issue. The schedule seemed on track for an every-other-March re-polling. But alas, we're way past that mark for '08 and no poll. What's the deal Empire?





These are the five issues with the all-time polls:

January 1996: 100 Greatest Films Ever Made
October 1999: Your 100 Greatest Movies Ever!
November 2001: Ultimate Movie Poll
March 2004: 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time
March 2006: 201 Greatest Movies of All-Time (pictured cover)

Friday, May 9, 2008

2009: "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins"

This week, the new Terminator started production (May 5) and it's the movie I'm most looking forward to seeing next year. And, as with my most-looked-forward-to-movie of this year, Indiana Jones, it is getting a Memorial Day Weekend open. Yes, it's good to be a boy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"Speed Racer": How Will It Do?

This weekend will answer one of the biggest questions of the summer movie season: How will Speed Racer perform? The outlook is not-so-hot, but there are a certain fringe who think it'll do well. I put it at #9 on my summer box office predictions (predicting a $140 million domestic gross) so I guess I'm part of that fringe!

EW has $24 million weekend prediction

Boxofficemojo box office derby has an average $39.2 million weekend prediction

Speed Racer opens in 3,606 theaters this weekend.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Robert Downey Jr. and Box Office

Someone was telling me that Iron Man's weekend gross was bigger than all of Robert Downey Jr.'s previous movies' grosses combined. Well, that's not quite true. But when you look at Downey's last decade, you do see how significant Iron Man is to introducing Downey to a mass audience.






Robert Downey Jr.'s films grosses 1998-2008 (per boxofficemojo.com):
Charlie Bartlett $3,950, 984
Lucky You $5,758,950
Zodiac $33,080,084
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints ?
Fur $223,202
A Scanner Darkly $5,501,616
The Shaggy Dog $61,123,569
Good Night and Good Luck $31,558,003
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang $4,243,756
Game 6 $129,664
Eros $188,392
Gothika $59,694,580
The Singing Detective $337,174
Whatever We Do ?
Lethargy ?
Auto Motives ?
Wonder Boys $19,393,557
Black and White $5,277,299
Bowfinger $66,384,775
Friends and Lovers $33,543
In Dreams $12,017,369
U.S. Marshals $57,167,405
The Gingerbread Man $1,677,131

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Top Ten Silents To See List


Well since I've been on a silents kick lately I wanted to assemble my top ten silent films to see list (listing them by year of release). It'll be handy when checking the listings on TCM.

Silents To See:
Quo Vadis? (1912/ It./ d. Enrico Guazzoni) [photo above]
The Squaw Man (1914/ US/ d. Cecil B. DeMille, Oscar C. Apfel)
Hamlet (1921/ Den./ d. Sven Gade, Heinz Schall)
La Roue (1922/ Fr./ d. Abel Gance)
When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922/ US/ d. Robert G. Vignola)
Children's Faces (1925/ Fr./ d. Jacques Feyder)
Smouldering Fires (1925/ US/ d. Clarence Brown)
Mother (1926/ Rus./ d. Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Chang (1927/ US/ d. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
I Flunked But… (1930/ Japan/ Yasujiro Ozu)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kevin Brownlow Speaks on "Napoleon" (1927) and D. W. Griffith's Legacy

Silver Screen Oasis had Kevin Brownlow as a guest on their message boards (from London) and the discussion was so interesting and chock full of information that I printed the whole thing out for future reference!

First of all Brownlow says on the long awaited DVD release of Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927) that "I think a compromise has been reached" between the parties involved with the two warring sides of the films' score. I really hope this is true— it's easily one of the few great masterpieces yet to be released on DVD.

Brownlow takes on D. W. Griffith. He notes that Griffith made some bad films indicating One Exciting Night, Dream Street, and Scarlet Days. I've seen all three of these Griffiths (believe it or not) and they are definitely his worst; Scarlet Days was a particular disappointment because it's really hard to find (Griffith's only western feature). Brownlow discusses the maligned Birth of a Nation. He acknowledges it's groundbreaking techniques and also it's overt racism ("... in the second half you get the hair-raising racism"). His comments on it should be read completely if you're interested. He notes something that I've never heard before— that Griffith made a film called Rose of Kentucky, in which the KKK were the villains and an African-American boy was the hero. According to silentera.com, the survival status of this 1911 film is unknown.

Browlow mentions a silent film out on DVD that I've been meaning to catch up with: "I just showed some silents in Ireland and while the audience loved them all, they were particularly impressed by an almost-forgotten French silent called Children's Faces (Visages D'Enfant). Highly recommended; one of the finest films about children..." Well this has now been bumped up on my list of films-to-see. (Brownlow gives examples of many other obscure silents he feels are masterpieces as well...)

Here's a link to the boards.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"Moscow Clad in Snow" (1908)

It's weird now that so many films exist in which we can see life 100 years ago. Moscow Clad in Snow is considered one of the first "travelogue" films. It shows things you'd expect: marching soldiers, horse-drawn carriages & sleighs, beautiful architecture, and lots of snow.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Orson Welles's "Don Quixote" Finally Comes to DVD (Region 1)

There has been little mention of this, but the 1992 assemblage of Orson Welles's unfinished Don Quixote is coming to DVD on August 19th. This much maligned attempt at making a feature film from Welles's nearly two decades worth of footage has been little seen. Despite the critical drubbing, I'm very curious to see this film-- just to see if there is even a glimmer of what might-have-been. However, you could argue, that purchasing this DVD validates what's generally considered a mutilation of Welles's work. If I thought it would be a blockbuster DVD I might hesitate, but considering The Other Side of the Wind looks like a bust, Don Quixote might be the only unfinished Welles film I get this year.

Link to Image Entertainment site's Don Quixote page.

Text of 1988 Sight & Sound article from Wellesnet.com on the making of the film.

More at Wellesnet.com including Oja Kodar's issues with the reconstruction.

A piece of the Patty McCormack footage is on You Tube [with odd music added] (none of which is in the 1992 assemblage, apparently):

Friday, May 2, 2008

Summer Movie Season 2008 Begins!— Trailers Before "Iron Man" Offer Glimpse of Upcoming Flicks

These were the trailers (don't quite remember the order) that were played before Iron Man, and my reaction to them:

The Dark Knight: Decent trailer but still it's very hard to gauge the most critical aspect of the film: Heath Ledger's performance. The creepy make-up is great but the clips shown don't necessarily suggest a great performance, nor do they suggest a bad one. Bottom line: outlook murky.

Hulk: Still looks too CGI to me. Trailer reveals typical fight between Hulk and Hulk-like baddie. Did not "up" my interest in any way.

The Love Guru: Trailer doesn't have a single funny moment in it. Mike Myers seems to be fighting himself from slipping into "Austin Powers." Just awful.

The Spirit: Teaser for January 2009 Frank Miller film didn't offer anything that couldn't have been a Sin City out take; but I was a fan of Sin City so it's peaked my interest.

Indiana Jones: Great trailer thankfully doesn't reveal too much but instead does what a trailer ought to do: get you excited. Can't wait for Memorial Day Weekend!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Will Be Summer '08's Surprise Hit?

I always get annoyed when I see in print: such and such a film is destined to be this year's sleeper hit. Because, by definition, a "sleeper" is hit that's a surprise! If you see it coming, it's not a surprise. But just like predicting box office grosses, "guessing" what will be a sleeper is different if everyone expects a movie will do little business, but you just have a gut feeling it might be a hit. So, if we call $200 million a hit, then, will any of the "untouted" movies make this number?

For me, and I know no one is behind me on this, I think the surprise hit will be Star Wars: Clone Wars. And although I put $175 million on my summer movie predix I'll stick with this movie for my $200 million surprise hit pick— no guts, no glory.

Other surprise hit "contenders" include:

Sex and the City: After all, Baby Mama has done very well. And although I don't know a single dude who will see this movie, everyone knows it's coming out, so exposure level is at complete saturation.

• Speed Racer: It's hard to call a movie that's got this much publicity behind it a possible "surprise" hit, except there is universal consensus that it will (a) suck (b) tank.

• The Foot Fist Way: Has that indie buzz.

• Wanted: In it's favor is its advance publicity, although haven't seen much lately-- they need to ramp it back up.

• The Happening: If it's good it still won't do the huge numbers of Shyamalan's past films, but what if it's great?

• Get Smart: Seems to have wide appeal.

The Love Guru: I agree, no way, but it's possible.

• You Don't Mess With the Zohan: Good trailer.

• The X-Files: In its favor: everyone's heard of it.

• Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: (Little) girl power.

• Step Brothers: Ferrell and Reilly combo always has potential.

Mamma Mia!: I can't imagine it: it just looks miserably bad, but again, everyone knows it in a sense.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D: Could look really cool.

Meet Dave: Eddie Murphy is not out of the game yet.

 Hellboy II: The Golden Army: The first film was a minor surprise hit.

• American Teen: Some buzz on this film.

Space Chimps: I really doubt it, but could be just entertaining enough to be a "popcorn" guilty pleasure.

Pineapple Express: Definite possibilities: borderline to call the success of this movie a "surprise"-- but not many are predicting $200 million, so I guess it counts.

• Tropic Thunder: On Entertainment Weekly's top ten, but with a $142.6 million prediction, so as with Pineapple, still counts as a "surprise" if it goes over $200 million.

• Vicky Cristina Barcelona: I put this down as a joke: but can you imagine if a Woody Allen film made $200 million???!!!

• Star Wars: Clone Wars: Again, my theory: the live action films aren't just hits-- they're among the biggest money-makers of all time.

Choke: Could be really good and gain an audience.