Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let the Right One In DVD: A Public Service Announcement

If you bothered to set aside like 4 hours of your valuable time to read my Anti-Oscar posts you know that LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was easily one of my favorite films of last year. I’ve felt somewhat bad because I have not yet purchased the DVD since it came out. After discovering the inexcusable tragedy that has befallen this great work of art, I assure you this DVD will in no way grace my collection… at least not yet.

One of the websites I read on a daily basis, The Digital Bits, just linked to a story on the site Icons of Fright in which they dissect the DVD version of the film, more specifically the subtitles of the DVD version of the film. Apparently Magnet, the makers of the DVD decided the theatrical subtitles weren’t good enough so they opted to go with a dumbed down, ham-fisted, Akiva Goldsman version instead. They have multiple examples on the website and all of the grace, humor and subtlety has been removed from the film and instead been replaced with words you’d expect to hear in a badly dubbed kung-fu movie.

Sometimes these things can get a bit over blown and not be nearly as big of a deal as people make them out to be but that’s not the case here. The DVD company came out and admitted what they did. Apparently they’ve gotten so many complaints they are going to go back and remanufacture the DVD’s, this time with the correct, theatrical subtitles. Obviously it will be at least a few weeks before these new versions hit the shelves so if you haven’t seen this movie yet PLEASE WAIT! This is a film that deserves to be seen by movie lovers around the world and it deserves to be seen the way the film makers intended.

Normally this sort of careless, idiotic behavior would make me boycott a particular product or company all together but LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is such a good film there’s no way I can’t own it. I’ll just wait until it’s actually released on DVD. Consider yourselves warned.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Anti-Oscars Part 6 (The end... I promise)

This the end, I promise. Sorry it’s taken so long and is… so long but I was pretty passionate about the movies released in 2008 and I couldn’t keep mum.
THE DARK KNIGHT: THE DARK KNIGHT was not only the best movie of 2008, but also probably the best movie I’ve seen since THE INCREDIBLES and perhaps simply one of THE best movies I’ve ever seen.

THE DARK KNIGHT is one of “those” movies. The kind that tap the vein of society and become more then just movies, they become bigger than the movies, bigger than life. They become legends and irreplaceable classics. Films that will be dissected, reminisced over, heralded and canonized along with such films as STAR WARS, THE GODFATHER, BEN-HUR, JAWS and so on. The kinds of movies that EVERYONE knows whether they’ve actually seen them or not. The DARK KNIGHT not only set the bar for any comic book movie made from this point in history on, but also created the benchmark by which all huge, summer blockbusters will be judged. It will either be considered that which set the trend, leading to a new golden age of smart, gigantic Hollywood productions or that which broke the mold and attained the near impossible, that type of holy grail of a film that cannot be matched or equaled.

Yes, THE DARK KNIGHT really is THAT good and here’s why:

“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You are truly incorruptible aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

That brilliant snippet of dialogue, one of many in one of the densest, most complex yet unequivocally thrilling and entertaining screenplays produced in quite some time, delivered by Heath Ledger as The Joker, creating one of the top 5 greatest cinematic villains in the history of cinema, PERFECTLY encapsulates and explains why THE DARK KNIGHT is so much more than a comic book movie. It helps to reveal that beneath the costumes and the gadgets and the eye popping action set-pieces beats the heart of one of the most brilliant crime sagas ever filmed.

First and foremost THE DARK KNIGHT is a film about ideals and the isms that go them. It is a film about chaos, reckless abandon and evil and its eternal struggle with law, order and justice. Under the guise of caped crusaders, make-upped madmen and high octane action beats the heart of a film far more concerned with the brutal, sobering truths of life than how many Happy Meal toys it will sell or how many kids will be running around wearing Batman Underoos.

Over the course of two and a half plus hours Christopher Nolan delves into the internal struggle that has consumed mankind from the dawn of time and will continue to do so until we all reach our end. We live in a fallen, scary world in which forces both premeditated and not conspire to rip away all that makes us human. As bleak as that idea is though Nolan lauds the idea that what makes us human, what is truly noble, what is truly heroic is not giving up, not giving an inch to the insanity and madness that threatens to consume us on a daily basis. Will we lose this fight sometimes? Yes. Will this fight effect us and scar us in ways we’ve never imagined? Yes, but fight on we must, martyrs for the true potential of humanity and all that it has to offer. Plus a semi-truck gets flipped by the most badass motorcycle ever, a dude gets killed with a pencil and Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart turn in the best performances of their career.

If any of the above reminds you more of the standard comic book movie fare, of films like SPIDER-MAN, DAREDEVIL and X-MEN, not HEAT, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and a host of others then we must have been watching different movies. The one I saw told one of the best Batman stories of all time, one that ranks up there with “The Dark Knight Returns”, “The Long Halloween” and “The Killing Joke” all while transcending its genre and source material by telling one of the most blistering accounts of crime and justice I’ve ever witnessed. That is why it is the best film of 2008 and a film that I and millions of others will revisit countless times through the decades.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson 1963-2009

I don’t intend to write about every death that occurs in the Hollywood sphere, but I find that as I get older and as I become more entrenched in the makings of that world the deaths are hitting me harder.

Today Natasha Richardson passed away unexpectedly after a minor accident, she was 45. While I may not have seen the bulk of Richardson’s films she was on my radar because she was fabulous in all of the movies I did see her in, she had a genuinely pure charisma that carried through to her public persona and she was a devoted wife to husband Liam Neeson and mother to her boys. Richardson was among the Hollywood elite because of her talent and her parentage, and she made it all look effortless.

I am intending to see more of her films so I can truly see in full what I only saw in glimpses. My prayers and condolences go out to her entire family.

In Memory: Natasha Richardson (1963-2009)

Tonight, a man has lost his wife, and two young men have lost their mother. Natasha Richardson died today of complications from a head injury sustained two days ago during her first ski lesson. It's so incredibly tragic to think that someone who only a few days ago was so full of life and vitality is now gone forever. I can only imagine how her family must feel right now. As trite as it might sound, it's through moments like this that I am reminded just how lucky I am to be alive, and how much of a gift each day is.

I'll probably remember her best as the mom from the remake of The Parent Trap. I always liked her character. She managed to make Elizabeth James deeply pragmatic, very attractive, and touchingly vulnerable, all at the same time. My favorite moment with her on screen is probably when Dennis Quaid tells her at the end of the film that she doesn't have to be so brave all the time, and she says, "Oh, but I do . . ." and then they kiss. It's as wonderfully romantic a moment as I've seen in a movie.

I know that nothing I can say here will be enough to encompass the gravity of the loss of a life. I extend my thoughts and prayers to her family. I am so deeply sorry.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's go to the movies!

Let's go to the movies!
Originally uploaded by siggito
So I am already a member of the working world again. I have to say that after only a few days what I really miss is how much the day job interferes with my desire to be around the movies. When you are without a job you can go to the movies, pop in a DVD, read scripts, browse movie web sites, etc.

Now I have to actually get up at the same time every day, spend a chunk of the day behind a desk doing not movie related work, try to make it out of work at a decent hour where I dive into the details that must be done in every day life, and then try to get a good nights sleep.

Oh well, such is life.

I didn't complete the movie list I'd complied while I was trying to amuse myself (without a job) but my own little movie is still chugging away outside the day job.

What I can look forward to is that in April good movies start to come out, and May is going to be a really kick ass month at the movies.

Summer movies here we come!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I am a man obsessed. Right now there are two things that haunt dang near my every waking thought. One of them is something that I’ve been trying to shake for a while. The other is something that I just recently stumbled across that I couldn’t help but share.

First and foremost is one of those things that as a writer and as a movie fan is perhaps one of the coolest, most fascinating things I’ve ever seen.

I religiously pour over almost everything that shows up on my favorite website of all time Aintitcoolnews.com. In doing so they offered a link to a website called mysterymanonfilm.blogspot.com. On said website the anonymous writer has somehow gotten his hands on the entire 125 page transcript of the 45 hour (5, 9 hour days) story conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdsan in which the three geniuses sat down to flesh out the story and script for a little movie called RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is my favorite film of all time and this kind of thing almost NEVER sees the light of day I jumped on this like a jack rabbit and printed out the entire thing. As a result over the past couple of days every chance I get I’ve poured over this rare opportunity to gaze into these three minds creating one of the true all time classics.

If you’re an Indiana Jones fan or just a fan of film in general I highly recommend checking out the above mentioned Mystery Man On Film website before Lucas or someone slaps them with a cease and desist order. If you do you’ll find perhaps the two biggest film makers in the history of Hollywood sitting town with a then rookie screenwriter to go over every little thing that would eventually create one of the most iconic movies and film characters of all time.

I dare you not to be fascinated by the way the story takes shape and the insane volume of ideas thrown out in these meetings. You’ll discover how much ideas, stories and characters change as artists begin to try and flesh them out as well as see how this one week helped set up not only the first movie but a large amount of the set pieces that would appear in the following two films.

This is one of those I can’t believe someone unearthed this, jump on it quick before it’s gone type things. Even if you don’t obsessively pour over every last detail like I have if you’re a fan of film you’ll be fascinated beyond belief and get a great look at the inner workings of creativity.

My other obsession boils down to two words: STAR TREK.
I may have mentioned in the past that I’ve probably watched the first trailer that was released at least a hundred times now if not more. Well, there was a new one released over the weekend and it’s even better and made me into even more of a raving lunatic for what I am convinced will be THE movie of 2009.

I’ve been a STAR TREK fan all my life and as such I think I’ve earned the right to say the franchise has needed the swift kick in the back side / shot in the arm that it looks like J.J. Abrams is giving it. This thing looks massive, epic, stunning and most of all fun!

As far as I can tell the film makers have written the exact movie I would if I were charged with rebooting the franchise and trust me that would be one pretty kick ass flick. Throw in the fact that you’ve got Leonard Nimoy reprising the role of Spock and rumors beginning to circulate that some of THE NEXT GENERATION crew makes cameos and I think we’re in store for a movie that will blow away life long Trekkies and newbies alike.

At this rate I can’t get enough of what I’ve seen so far and May can not come fast enough. There is not a single movie I’m more excited about at this point, not even AVATAR and that’s really saying something. If I don’t get to see this thing soon I think I may lose my mind from the anticipation. Here’s hoping it’s worth the wait.
P.S. Sorry but I have no clue how to create a link to get to the website I mentioned so just type in that URL and it SHOULD tak you there... I think.

Anti-Oscars Part 5

WALL-E: If Andrew Stanton keeps it up he’s going to start giving Brad Bird a run for his money as my favorite (And arguably the best) animated film director of all time. Stanton already created FINDING NEMO (One of the only movies that almost makes me cry every time I watch it) and now with the brilliant WALL-E he’s started to put together a body of work that rivals Bird’s filmography of THE IRON GIANT, THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE.

In one fail swoop WALL-E managed to be not only the best love story but also the best sci-fi film made within the last five to ten years. The fact that this was all done with a primarily mute cast via the medium of computer animation makes it all the more remarkable. Oh, and the film happened to be one of the best “message movies” ever made.

Of course I have a real hard time calling the movie that at all. I think first and foremost Stanton wanted to simply tell a great story, a story whose natural turns and sci-fi pedigree brought it to the point where speculative fiction kicked in, pointing us to a future that seems so ludicrously plausible that it’s scary.

I know a few people that didn’t respond to this movie as positively as others simply because they don’t like “message movies” and they felt this film was guilty of such a crime. THE HAPPENING was a message movie, and a pretty bad one at that. WALL-E however is something totally different it’s first a foremost a great story that just happens to have a message in it. And even if I did actually think it was an INCOVIENANT TRUTH, beat you over the head type of movie, is there really any more important message that could be brought to people of all ages than the idea that we are rapidly losing our need for human interaction and that by doing so we are destroying not only ourselves but our planet as well?

Great science fiction has always served as a tool for us to view the hard to swallow, bitter pills of the world through a prism that entertains yet subtly gnaws at our brain at the same time. This time it’s been done in a nearly silent family film featuring the most lovable characters of the year and the best animation ever produced. What’s so wrong with that?

Assuming he’s not really frozen and hidden somewhere under Disneyland I truly feel that every time Pixar releases a new film Walt Disney’s smiling somewhere. No other film company on earth has a better track record than they do at the moment and WALL-E is yet another in a seemingly never ending string of crown jewels. This film is an instant classic that truly has something for EVERYONE it’s an adorable, funny, touching, heart warming, moving, cautionary think piece that will stand the test of time. Guaranteed years from now this gets mentioned in the same breath as the likes of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES, PINOCHIO and TOY STORY. Movies don’t get any better than this, simple as that.

Ok, because I don’t want to take up too much space so there will be one more post coming up in which I delve into a film that we’ve debated quite a bit here on the blog, my favorite film of 2008 and perhaps the best movie of the decade so far. It’s got lots of make-up and a guy with pointy ears so stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

FotM: American Beauty - Best Picture 1999

I debated about whether or not writing about American Beauty was the best idea. I really did. For starters, I hadn’t seen the film until last year, and, while I’ve been meaning to watch it again, seeing a film once doesn’t exactly give me the level of confidence I’d like before getting in-depth on it in an article like this. That said, the reason I decided to do this is because I am hard-pressed to think of a film in recent memory that has affected me like American Beauty has. I’ve said enough in the past about my feeling about “experience movies,” so I don’t intend to bore you with a repeat of that little soapbox speech.

It’s ironic, because I can clearly remember when the film was in cinematic release in 1999, otherwise known to all “normal,” well-adjusted individuals as the year of the return of Star Wars. I used to pick up this little movie newsletter at the grocery store and I clearly recall American Beauty being advertised in it. I can even remember the picture that was in the advertisement. As you might guess, for a 14 year old kid growing up in a conservative household, it was not tops on my “must watch” list. At the time, we didn’t watch R-rated films, so that ruled it out automatically. Additionally, the amount of flesh on the poster seemed positively scandalous to me. I remember one of my esteemed co-writers for this blog telling me in high school, “I have no interest in seeing a film about a man going through a mid-life crisis.” Boy, did we have the wrong idea.

Anyway, times change and, last year, I watched American Beauty for the first time. I found myself amazed at the film’s ability to both supersede my expectations and bypass my preliminary responses to it while I was watching it. The tonal shift that occurs in the film is second to none. The tagline that appears on the film’s poster, “Look closer,” is the key to understanding American Beauty. Talk about the answer being in plain sight.

On the surface, the film’s characters are broad stereotypes of people that we’ve all either had personal experience with, have talked to people who have personal experience with similar people, or know people who know still other people who’ve known people like that. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is the grown-up teenager in midlife crisis. Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening) is the controlling housewife with everything in its right place and matching gardening accessories. Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) is the high school slut who won’t stop talking about all the guys she’s bagged. Col. Fitts (Chris Cooper) is the homophobic next door neighbor who thinks the world ought to be rewound to 1955 and won’t stop talking about it. I think you get the idea.

Some have accused American Beauty of containing nothing but caricatures, as though these generalized characters and the situations that they find themselves in lean toward broad statements about American suburban life that become the sole thing that the film is trying to say about that life. I tend to disagree. While the film has many aspects that appear formulaic at first glance, it does one thing that so many, if not most, films with stereotypical characters fail to do. After establishing those conventions, American Beauty sidesteps them in one fell swoop with one of the best third acts of any film that I’ve seen. Almost every single character is proven to have depths that the audience never dreamed existed. These previously hidden facets grab us by the throat and refuse us the luxury we have grown accustomed to when dealing with stereotypical people and stereotypical situations. We are no longer allowed to dismiss these people because we think we know everything there is to know about them because of the label they wear. Instead, we are forced to think of them as real people, which is what they deserved all along.

The biggest mystery of American Beauty is how it achieves such a sense of grace and beauty when it ends. We’ve known all along that Lester is going to die. He said as much at the beginning of the film. The film is fascinating in the way it moves and changes from a twisted, disturbed, creepy look at American suburban life into a meditation on life, love, and the things that make both of them worthwhile. We may have known how it would end, but I dare anyone to say that they’d figured out the twists and turns that would bring American Beauty to its breathtaking climax. I've seen a lot of films in my life, but the climax of American Beauty ranks as one of the most moving of any I've seen.

The 2000 Academy Awards were hosted by Billy Crystal and held at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium. The nominees for Best Picture were American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense. In addition to winning the top prize, American Beauty won Best Director (Sam Mendes), Best Actor (Kevin Spacey), Best Original Screenplay (Alan Ball), and Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall), winning a total of 5 Academy Awards out of 8 nominations. You won’t be surprised to learn that I believe that the right film won that year. I’d also argue that Annette Bening should have won Best Actress over Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry. Here’s the real kicker: Sam Mendes and Alan Ball had never worked on a motion picture before, and THIS was the result. American Beauty is a modern classic that I’ll go back to again and again for the rest of my life. Those films don’t come along very often. I am very, very grateful that this one did.

Monday, March 2, 2009

FotM: THE FRENCH CONNECTION - Best Picture 1971

1971 was an interesting year for movies. The first year of the seventh decade of the 1900s saw the likes of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, KLUTE, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, SHAFT, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and DIRTY HARRY all grace the silver screen. The film that came out smelling like roses, atop that veritable heap of cinematic classics was THE FRENCH CONNECTION, winner of the Oscar for Best Picture and 4 other golden boys that year. On the surface, watching the film for the first time I found myself questioning the validity of these honors. Then the final credits rolled and I realized I was an idiot.

Other than the equally brilliant BULLITT no one had ever seen cop films like the ones released in 1971. With DIRTY HARRY and THE FRENCH CONNECTION cops were shown as valiant and determined but also as flawed and driven sometimes to the point of fault. The badge adorned knights of the streets were shown as real human beings with real human emotions and real human character flaws. DIRTY HARRY did all this while masked with the iconic visage of one of the greatest purveyors of vigilante justice in the history of cinema but THE FRENCH CONNECTION made no such attempt to show it’s characters or their story through anything but the harsh prism of cold, hard reality.

What first caught me so off guard about THE FRENCH CONNECTION is how desperately simple it all plays. For the most part William Friedkin’s masterpiece bears more in common with an episode of Law and Order than say SERPICO or COLORS. Almost the entire movie focuses on one particular investigation led by two very determined cops. Very little is time is spent delving into their pasts or their private lives, likewise the case, while important to temporarily stopping the influx of drugs into the city bears very little significance in the grand scheme of things. What becomes crystal clear by the end of the movie though is that this is exactly the point.

The beauty of THE FRENCH CONNECTION is that it is not trying to tell an L.A. CONFIDENTIAL type story. Using the sparse cinematic language that film makers seemed to be so adept at during the 70’s Friedkin paints a sharp, concise, brutal picture of crime and justice and the men that dedicate their lives to trying to uphold a system that sadly often times doesn’t work the way it should in a world that more often than not doesn’t play fair. Within 100 minutes everyone in this film is able to tell a tale, touching on themes and ideas years ahead of their time, that to this day very few have been able to touch.

While I don’t know if THE FRENCH CONNECTION deserved to win Best Picture (Sorry but it was up against DIRTY HARRY and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and trying to pick between the 3 is like trying to pick a favorite child) there can be no doubt that it deserves it’s place amongst the all time great film classics. It in one fail swoops displays a style of film making almost all but forgotten today, yet deals with ideas and themes decades before their time. One would be hard pressed to find a better constructed cinematic nugget and the fact that it contains one of the greatest car chases of all time doesn’t hurt either.