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Anyone up for an “Inception” cast movie marathon?

14 Aug

Blow your mind...

Did Inception blow your mind? Have you seen it multiple times already? Do you hear the slow bbbaaaammmm anytime something happens suddenly? Say no more-you are “Inception”-intoxicated.

Can this cast do a bunch of other movies together-please?

It’s perfectly fine, there are other movies out there to bring you out of this new dream scape and back to normal movie-goer life. And to make the transition easier, I’m going to incorporate the cast in this experiment as well. Ease your anxiety over whether this world is real or not with some Leo DiCaprio period pieces or Joseph Gordon Levitt romantic comedies. Just sit back, relax, and don’t bother remembering how you got there-movies are a dream after all….

Films starring…

Leo DiCaprio: The man has 22 pre-production credits on imdb.com. How that’s even possible, I can’t imagine. Or I can, as the rumor mill has been churning since Scorsese’s new Pacino is off and doing his own thing. The boy wonder’s been in the business longer than I’ve been alive. First recommendation of the article: “What’s eating Gilbert Grape.” If you haven’t seen it, and have made fun of Leo’s acting in Titanic-you can shut your mouth, because this role was his first Oscar nom-at age 20. Let’s not forget the highly under-appreciated Scorsese classic, “Gangs of New York”, in which family and loyalty get mixed in a bloody street war between immigrants and “natives.” Clearly, there’s something to be said here.

Quite the party he missed...

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Arthur didn’t always used to be so suave. Back in the day, in “10 Things I Hate About You,” he was the adorable geeky kid in high school trying to win the affection of Julia Stiles. Unfortunately, he was up against Heath Ledger’s punk rocker character, so there ended that. He gave love another shot in the darling indie film “500 Days  of Summer.” He is in love with love, and is crushed to find he seems to be alone in that category. You feel the ups and downs he rides through in this tumultuous relationship. But the lovable loser has certainly matured to a leading action man thanks to “Inception.”

Ellen Page: Yet another Indie artist, Ellen’s been around the block and back starring in both controversial and mainstream movies. Of course, you mainly recognize her as the leading lady with a baby on the way in Jason Reitman’s ironically funny “Juno.” Sarcastic and crass, she’s a down-to-earth kind of girl dealing with real life issues. I haven’t seen a comedy that refreshingly honest in the longest time. Then there’s the other big box office titan she starred in: “X-Men: The Last Stand.” I mean good, because I was getting tired of poorly written sequels. Plus, they effectively killed like half the cast. It’s dead now-right? Little Miss Page played the supporting role of Shadow Kat in the film, in case you were too in awe of Hugh Jackman’s abs.

Beauty and the Money...

Ken Watanabe: A highly underrated actor in the states, but in Japan he’s royalty. He broke to American audiences in the Tom Cruise vehicle, “The Last Samurai.” Okay Tom Cruise and his odd hairdo aside, it’s a pretty decent piece. Ken Watanabe stole the show for me. Not as over-ecstatic like a Kurosawa lead, but strong and silent enough to ignore Cruise’s hair. Did anyone else notice how it didn’t move naturally or was that me? Anyway, Watanabe’s role in “Memoirs of a Geisha” was the real treat. The only kind face, even in the face of war, he keeps the movie grounded from going too far into over-melodramatic. But, you’re going to have to get over the fact that he’s around twenty years older than the geisha who crushes on him. But if you watch the movie, not even close to the other guys she’s forced to coerce with.

Cillian Murphy: Mr. CEO jr. in the movie seems to have a tendency to play the villain rather than the victim. In “Batman: Begins,” Dr. Crane (in-joke on Frasier? You decide…) is actually the psycho Scarecrow. Frighteningly calm, Cillian is able to make me feel creeped-out in a theater full of people with just the side-long glance at the camera. Apparently, he too has a soft side, with his role in “The Edge of Love,” as a kind and caring husband. From “Red-Eye” to romantic period piece lead? Talented this one is.

Wake up-if you can...

Marion Cotillard: French import and 2008 winner of the Oscar, beating fellow co-star Ellen Page, she too has quite the filmography. To keep in line with the “is it real or unreal” feel, I’ll recommend her first major American crossover, “Big Fish.” A father’s twisted tale sends his son on a quest to prove him wrong, before his father passes. Both endearing and entertaining. But, let’s not forget the Oscar winner’s big role as Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose.” Yes, that’s her song in the movie “Inception,” but it was chosen way before the cast was. Pure coincidence-or was it?

Michael Caine: This man’s a film institute unto himself.  We all know his Alfred role, but it’s the “Alfie” years I want to recommend to viewers as many have not seen his earlier stuff. Which is a shame, because it is so worth digging into the strangeness that was ’60s British movies. First up, is widely recognized as one of the best Brit films of all time, “Get Carter.” Murder, revenge, a dashing young Michael Caine out for blood. It’s much more believable than the Bond series, but has all the violence  and mystery we’ve come to love. Speaking of mysteries, “Sleuth” was a surprisingly amazing film I stumbled across during one afternoon on TCM. Co-starring with the legendary Laurence Olivier, “Sleuth” is a murder mystery that hardly ever leaves one room, mostly only has the two leads matching wits and trying to pry the other for answers. The tense buildup has you more anxious than any gore film, and it only gets better as time goes on. Solve the mystery for yourself and check it out.

Meet the new "Ocean's 11"

and directed by-Christopher Nolan: Okay, so you have his earlier stuff, which were pretty creepy. But then creepy grew up by playing dress up in a bat suit. Proving what “they say can’t be done,” is only more reason to to do so-Batman Begins is an incredibly well put together psychological analysis of the Batman myth. Kudos for starting a weird trademark in throwing poor Cillian Murphy’s face into a sackcloth as Scarecrow.  But, in the good ol’ tradition of a plot twist-take in The Prestige, yet another movie with an amazing all-star cast including Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine. Not to mention, somehow in the midst of a seedy magician’s competition, we get the electric god of Tesla in the form of David Bowie. BBBBaaammmm.

:cue music:

Class Notes: “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

7 Aug

Movies with sets this big cannot end well...

I’m a pacifist. I don’t like fighting. I get anxious around animosity. I do not enjoy anything remotely resembling bloodthirsty land ownership.

Yet I like this movie.

Maybe it shows just how crazy war is enough for me to tolerate over two and a half hours of pure torture. A POW camp in the middle of nowhere, Asia during WWII. Modern medicine isn’t that modern, and most of the prisoners are finished off by the mighty mosquitoes.

THIS IS A MANLY MOVIE!!!

As we learn, those were the lucky souls.

War is madness claims the army doctor, because so much ill is committed against people in the film for the name of national pride. At what point do you say too far and call it a day? The Japanese colonel in charge of the work camp get pleasure from dominating his captives. His counterpart, the British colonel feels empowered by standing on the principles of soldier’s code. His determination to uphold the Geneva Convention of the West against the brutish nature the Japanese subject their prisoners to. Oh yes, almost fifteen years after the war, director David Lean is not any less bitter against the enemy. Although he seems fascinated by British military men. The man is responsible for the epic, “Lawrence of Arabia.”

In the jungle, only the British still wear their shirts.

And this precursor exists on the epic scale of grand sets, hundreds of malnourished, sunburned extras. Years before computerized special effects, all the soldiers you see populating the camp and building that bridge, those numbers are really represented. All in costume, in the middle of a jungle.

These men mean military business

And boy is it miserable.  But, there’s a humor there too. The nationalities at war are characterized by the officers. The Japanese Colonel Saito, wonderfully played by silent screen star Sessue Hayakawa , has high regard for his appearance and holds to the tradition of suicide after a failure rather than living with his shortcomings. The British Colonel Nicholson is masterfully played by Alec Guinness, as the man who won’t let go of his military code of conduct no matter what the situation. Of course, this includes giving his country his best-even if it means building the best bridge, for his captors. Oh, and there’s the wise-cracking American Naval officer who just couldn’t give a U-boat unless it involves freedom, drinks, and women. NOT stereotyping here-right?

And here’s where the beautiful ethical questions lie: is it traitorous for the colonel to command his troops to work for the enemy? Where do loyalties lie? Why is the American always the most interested in self-preservation?

It's going to be a long war...

It’s great to see these two cultures with high values on honor duke it out on a battle of strategic mind wars.  Quite thriling actually, because for a war movie, there’s surprisingly little combat. It is mostly just that-a mental war. Fighting to hold onto values, to dear life. It’s a struggle that keeps you paying attention for a damn good long time (2.5 hours of pain and suffering anyone?). It’s not mopey at all, when you finish the movie, you too feel a sense of a survivor. You made it out of the jungle, pass the River Kwai.

See the restored trailer here:

Hulu Holiday: 5 More Surprisingly Watchable Films

29 Jul

Whoa there-don’t freak out on me like that. Summer’s almost done and the free playtime is over.

Almost.

A few days before August, school, life, and everything in between, I have made a short list for those of you who have time in this fair month to enjoy the increasingly numbered days of a free Hulu. Enjoy while you can, it may become a thing of the pets.com age…

1) “Roxanne” -Say what you will about Steve Martin, but I think he’s an enjoyable actor. He’s a perfect fit in the Rom Com of awkwardness. A remake of the story of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Steve stars as the perfect sensitive man with a heart of gold but a rather large nose. He falls for the girl next door, who’s also caught the attention of his more attractive, less eloquent friend. Does love triumph or meet every stereotypical shortcoming about appearances?

You know why they call him The Lizard King...right?

2) “The Doors” -Oliver Stone does Rock n’ Roll in this trippy tribute to one of the best bands to trip out to. Val Kilmer (!) stars as “The Lizard King” Jim Morrison, the much maligned front man of The Doors. Much more enjoyable when not edited (coughVH1cough). Tune in, drop out and enjoy possibly one of Oliver Stone’s most entertaining, non-political films of all time.

3)”Jerry Maguire“- “Show me the Money!” Won Cuba Gooding Jr. the Oscar and gave Tom Cruise respect. Who knew such promising careers would hit the skids by the end of the decade? I blame “Snow Dogs!” A sport agent tries to survive in a field just as competitive as those he represents. I’m not a huge fan of sport movies, so it’s not one that really spoke to me until “You had me at hello.”

A tale as old as time...

4) “The Way We Were”-Sidney Pollack directs Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in one of the most memorable romantic films of all time. The story about a relationship over the course of around 30 years, it depicts the highs and low of life during the Depression, World War II, the Red Scare, and the start of the women’s liberation movement. She’s a political activist working through college and he’s a spoiled ROTC kid, opposites attract and what culminates is one of the most endearing relationships to be portrayed on the screen. Their differences cause as much problem as it does enrich their characters. It is a flawed, imperfect romance-how like life.

5) Random Doc choice: “Strip Club King“: Okay, so this is more of a local shout out. Before we had half-decent sports teams, Tampa was renown for its (in)famous Mons Venus club. I grew up not 15 minutes away from one of the World’s most famous topless bars. Yay seedy not-so-underground, the bar is literally on one of the main roads in the city and led to subsequent competion on the street. I think in around the mid-nineties or so, we had about 5 “gentleman’s” club on the same mile strech. All thanks to this guy, Joe Redner. To some he’s the most famous celebrity from Tampa, to others he’s a national disgrace. This documentary is quite encompassing on both sides, talking to the man that’s the head of a strip club empire to Bible activists that protest his establishment outside his club. It’s quite entertaining, and at times frightening: I lived in such a bizarre little Florida town.

Happy watching!

Class Notes: “It Happened One Night”

20 Jul

Next Stop-the Great Depression and one of the Greatest Romantic Comedy of All Time!

Classy, sexy, funny. Not the kind of fare you would expect from director Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”), but here it is. One of the last romantic comedies that got away with referring to sex and having a couple share a bedroom. Well, at least for a couple of decades while the Production Code muzzled Hollywood until the ’60s. But enough history, let’s get down to “tearing down the walls of Jericho.”

Never travel without Clark Gabl-I mean, a pillow

For all it’s star power (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert), this film was thought to be a flop, released by a then second-rate studio, and was to serve as punishment for Clark Gable for refusing roles at his parent studio, MGM. The film was shot on a measely budget, and in less than a few weeks. Yet, that Oscar season, the first clean sweep was claimed by the little comedy that could. Best film, actor, actress, and director went home happy that night.

An heiress decides to escape the clutches of her controlling, rich father in order to live with man she married. On her escape to New York to reunite with her husband, she runs into an out-of-work journalist who takes pity on her misadventures and takes a great interest in the headlines he has on his hands. Well, this being a road comedy, hilarity and hijinks ensue, and the unlikely young couple dodge their way around the law, informers, and starvation to happiness. But, does happiness find itself in the news or in the bedroom?

The movie is often credited of being one of the first screwball comedies. I’d say they got it right the first time. Quick wit and storyline rip through most of the traveling so fast, you feel as if this is the fastest flight from Miami to New York you’ve ever felt.

Oh, make the Walls of Jericho come down...

But the class I’m seeing this gem in is not just a film class- it’s a sociology class. Naturally, all the talk about the role of women (how for all her independence, Colbert’s character still needs the protection of a man to get her through her scrapes) and the portrayal of the Great Depression and class stratification (the rich and the poor way of life, how the leading lady is always ignorant of how society functions outside of the rich realm) plays a much larger role in the interpretation of the movie. But I have to hand it to Capra; it’s his gift to show the common man in film not just as cardboard cutout, but as real people with legitimate problems. Even if they are in the background of the love story, we get a glimpse of people forgoing food for a ticket to the city and people lining up to use auto camps as temporary homes. It’s the kind of struggle that the rich do not see and do not understand. While the heiress, Ellie, is arguing with her father at the beginning of the movie, we see her throw a steak dinner on the ground because she is protesting her unfair treatment with a hunger strike. Later, when hitch-hiking has become their only means of transportation, we see Ellie refuse to eat carrots, because they came out of the ground and are dirty. Let me mention the fact that she hadn’t eaten in days at this point, and that her unwilling guardian-journalist, Peter, had scrounged them for her. Try watching this film with a social-sensitive eye, it makes the laughter in the face of strife all the richer.

Hitchhiking 101-"Why didn't you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars."

This film was released at the height of the Depression, around 1934, and this happy-go-lovey-dovey spin on the “prince and pauper”-esque story became a smash hit at the box office (in some theaters it still only cost a nickle). Watching it now, in the height of the Great Recession, and one can really see a few parallels. Escapism is found in the movies and sensational scandals, foreclosures and job loss are rampant, and people are being fo

rced to count their dollars more carefully. It’s a rom-com to command the respect of all rom-com fans and should not be overlooked because of age. A good love story is ageless, just look at Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde, Scarlett and Rhett. The road trip of Peter and Ellie are easily a great cinematic example.

I highly recommend the film, in case you didn’t get that idea already. It’s fun, short, easy to relate to, and just oh so darn witty.

"It Happened One Night" indeed...

“Perhaps you’re interested in how a man undresses. You know, it’s a funny thing about that. Quite a study in psychology. No two men do it alike. You know, I once knew a man who kept his hat on until he was completely undressed. Yeah, now he made a picture. Years later, his secret came out. He wore a toupee. Yeah. You know, I have a method all my own. If you notice, the coat came first, then the tie, then the shirt. Now, uh, according to Hoyle, after that, the, uh, pants should be next. There’s where I’m different… I go for the shoes next. First the right, then the left. After that it’s, uh, every man for himself.”

Fun and fancy-free. It’s good to watch as a couple or as a group. Just expect to have a grand old time.

Here’s an interesting essay on the progress of romantic comedies, from “It Happened One Night” to “Knocked Up.”

Original Trailer:

It’s on Instant Watch on Netflix, so don’t miss out!

Class Notes: “The General”

10 Jul

The Great, "The General"

One. Of. My. Favorite. Movies. Ever.

Counting gun powder-in the canon...

There, I said it. I am notorious for never picking just one movie as a favorite film. There are oh-so many!

But you can mark this one down as an ageless classic. It is just that good.

“The General” is the story about a young man, Johnnie Gray, in love with two different entities, his train and his girlfriend. The Civil War rolls through to turn his life upside down when he is rejected by the enlistment office. Now a social outcast, he loses the love of his girl and of his town; all he has left is the love of his train. But, the War takes that too, when Northern spies hijack his General in an attempt to foil the oncoming Confederate army. Things get even more complicated, when Johnnie discovers the spies have not only taken his train but his ex-love as well. It’s a train race to end all train races as the love of machine, women, and country must succeed!

Excited yet?

Why so sad, Stone Face?

Great, because Buster Keaton never shows it. It’s a silent comedy, but instead of the over-acted comic antics of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, audiences got Buster Keaton’s stoic face. He never over reacts, he almost just accepts what is going around him and deals with it. The Great Stone Face never smiled, not once, during his entire movie career. It’s particularly hilarious now, when overacting is the usual response of present-day comedies.

Shock and awe-it's still what brings in the crowds today...

This movie is monumental in a number of ways. It’s the most expensive comedy of the silent era, with the most expensive scene ever shot for a silent film. It’s the climax of the great train race finishes with a dive into the river. According to imdb.com, the scene cost about $42,000  and the extras were not informed of what was going on. Surprise! The train actually remained there until WWII when it was reused for scrap metal.

Another note for the movie was how large the scale is, and keep in mind, this was an independent film maker doing his own script. Entire armies, cities, and railroad tracks were constructed and made to look as if they were straight out of 1862. National guardsmen provided the man power and a lot of the ammunition that’s thrown about the Oregon countryside. Yes, being that this is Hollywood, they filmed it in a place that wasn’t where the story is supposed to be. However, Oregon was the closest Buster and his crew could find that had a lot of the old rail ways from that era still intact, not to mention plenty of space to reconstruct an antebellum village.

Did I mention he was serious about his comedy? Take this exerpt from a documentary on the comedian. How many directors tell you to film until they say “cut” or are killed?

Love, or something like it.

My only sour point of this review is unfortunately, Johnnie’s girlfriend. Annabelle is the stereotypical female role: damsel in distress, the daddy’s girl, the clueless housewife. I understand it’s for comic effect, like the scene when Annabelle throws out a log intended for the train’s engine because it has a gaping hole in the middle. In its place, she finds a stick and throws that into the fire. You can see illogical situation and its ensuing couple frustration as she becomes more of a hindrance than a help to Johnnie’s escape. I am taking this course in the context of sociology, so gender roles are one of the cornerstones we look at in a movie. It’s offensive that she is merely reduced to the role of the “dumb blond.” But I do not think this is Buster’s fault entirely. Prior to “The General,” all of the female leads in Buster’s films were calm, cool, and collected. They were not ditsy, but could follow what Buster was attempting as a solution to the problems they faced. I don’t recall them being hindrances, but rather as obstacles, as some women originally reject his romantic appeals.  Women were something Buster had to both respect and understand. Perhaps he was trying out a different approach to his comedies, but I can’t love this movie as much as I loved “Steamboat Bill” or “Sherlock, Jr.” It’s just not the same.

Whoops

On a final note, this movie also marked the end of a promising independent director. As expensive as everything was, audience didn’t get it. Some detested that the protagonist was a Southerner and others, mainly film critics of the time, did not like that there was so much seriousness and suspense in the comedy. It was a great financial flop, one that Buster never quite recuperated from. A few smaller budget films after, he decided to sign a contract with MGM Studios against the advice from friends and coworkers (Charlie Chaplin was even said to have called him and pleaded with him not to go through with the deal). He did so, thinking this would secure funding for his future projects without much frustration. He was sadly mistaken. MGM pulled him from behind the camera, threw out his scripts, and reduced him to a bit player in awful (I mean, what-the-hell-is-this awful) comedies. His stardom faded, and MGM reduced him to writing gags for the Marx brothers. Stripped of control over his work, Buster turned to drinking and toiled in obscurity for years. It was not until the New Wave critics like Godard and Truffaut rediscovered his work and brought back his movies to film festivals. Towards the end of his life, in between acting in awful comedies, Buster would find work in ensemble pieces like “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Around the World in 60 Days.” He finally received the much delayed honor of respected filmmaker after the screening of the rediscovered “The General” at the Venice Film Festival. When the picture ended, the crowd stood and gave the longest applause ever in the Festival’s history. Respect for the Great Stone Face had come at last.

Thanks to Dr. Macro for the gorgeous stills.

And for the one-off opportunity, I can share this film with you-in its entirety. Enjoy, don’t be afraid to let me know what you think about it. (May I suggest turning off the sound on this version, unless you find the better, Carl Davis scored one for the film-most of the versions out on the internet will be filled with music that does not suit the film. This version starts with “Pomp and Circumstance,” your graduation song. Ya, feel free to slap on any other music at that point…) Side note: this version is also MUCH slower than usual, as it’s played at the incorrect film speed. Silent movies were filmed by hand, with the average frame rate per second was 18-21. TV in the US is braodcast at about 29 frames per second. Some technitians slow down the film in order to make it appear less jittery than if played at the TV speed. This is why I recommend watching movies live…

Avoid the Sepia version that’s online, there’s a good ten minutes missing from the start of the film.

Here’s the link to another version, thankfully with better sound but with a loss of film quality. So, if you want to get fancy, play the score from here while watching the other version

An article just recently published on Keaton’s legacy, namely his stunts in the movie, “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” Keaton famously did ALL of his own stunts, save one in the movie “College.”

Proof: