July 31, 2008

Scene of the Day: Funny Girl

Today's "scene of the day" comes from one of my favorite films - William Wyler's 1968 "Funny Girl," starring the lovely Barbra Streisand. My favorite scene of the film is the showstopping "Don't Rain on My Parade," which occurs right at the end of act one (it is a long movie). Experience with me again the emotion that charges through her voice as she runs across the station, having changed her mind about her husband, then soak in the magic of the climactic aerial shot featuring Barbra belting the final notes of the song as she rides the steamer... (Forgive the French subtitles, as well. It was the best I could do.)


July 30, 2008

Quote of the Day: The Godfather, Part II

"I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart! You broke my heart!" ~ a displeased Al Pacino in "The Godfather, Part II"

*look for it around the 0:28 mark*


July 29, 2008

Random Musing: Female Directors, or Why Hasn't Barbra Been Nominated for an Oscar?

In the film industry, most people are familiar with the Kubricks, the Scorseses, and the Spielbergs, but what about the Streisands, the Campions, or the Riefenstahls? Female directors have created some great films in their own right, so I am disappointed that they have not garnered the recognition they deserve. Why are people quick to recognize the talent of male directors and so infrequently the efforts of women?

One of the first notable female film directors was Germany's Leni Riefenstahl. Though it would sound weird to most people that a female was directing after the rise of the Third Reich, it is not so unusual when she directed "Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens)," a 1934 documentary celebrating the power of Hitler with "pioneer[ing] film and photographic techniques" (AP), which led to "ground-breaking filmmaking" (BBC). Though most of her work as a director has since become muddled in controversy, including her other most notable work, "Olympia," a "sensual and stunning" portrait of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, most film historians and critics quickly recognize her status as one of the greatest directors of all-time.

It would not be until the 1970's when another female director would be universally-celebrated, this time making history with her recognition as the first female Best Director Oscar nominee. Meet Lina Wertmüller, director of the Italian-language film, "Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze)." Her controversies are mostly tied to the politics of her films, "with the main characters either dedicated anarchists, communists, feminists (or all), and the main action centered on conflicts which are political or socio-economic in nature." The public has a funny way of masking a controversial female director from others, so most people are not familiiar with the work of Wertmüller.

In the 1980's, female directing, largely a (literally) foreign concept at this point in time, came to the forefront of Hollywood. Singer/actress/double Oscar-winner Barbra Streisand decided to go behind the camera with 1983's "Yentl," which regarded director Steven Spielberg has since declared a "masterpiece." But it was nominated at the Oscars for neither Best Picture, nor actress, nor director. For the Oscars to be the reputed standard of excellence, why did they not recognize Streisand's work?

Fastforward to 1991's "The Prince of Tides," an exquisite romantic drama by Barbra again. Well-crafted, the picture did receive recognition at the Oscars, but again, not Barbra. But why?

Two years later, Jane Campion's beautiful "The Piano" would earn her a nomination for Best Director. The New Zealand-born director did not win, but her achievement made her the second female to be nominated for Best Director. Being nominated against Spielberg for "Schindler's List" did not help her chances, certainly.

2003's "Lost in Translation" has been the last time a female director has come to the forefront of Hollywood. Sofia Coppola's simple, pensive, and innately complex film earned her the respect of many, but with only one work since "Translation" (2006's "Marie Antoinette"), she has vanished under the recent wave of male director admiration (think Scorsese, etc.).

But on the whole, many other female directors go largely unnoticed. Did you even know the director of "Mamma Mia!" is a woman (English-born Phyllida Lloyd)? Or did you care as you read reviews of "The Dark Knight," consistently praising Christopher Nolan? (I cannot say much because I did just that.) Women have offered a keen eye behind the camera and created some of the best films ever made, but still they go uncredited. What about "Yentl" or "The Prince of Tides"? Or what about Penny Marshall's work on the nostalgic "A League of Their Own"? All great efforts and all quickly forgotten.

Why is that? It is difficult to be a woman in a male-dominated profession, clearly.


July 28, 2008

Random Musing: Black(er) and White(r) - The Sequel

I greatly appreciate the response to my random musing from Saturday, and I have come to some more conclusions since I have written the pensive piece. Why do African-Americans care about their own representation in cinema? Because nobody else will. It is a sad, sad fact, but because of AbsolutVeronica's response, I put it together. Why did I care so much about homosexual representation in cinema to put together a lengthy blog last month (with more to come, I hope)? Because most people do not care. Heterosexual white people have defined what is "normal" in American cinema, all the way back to the early days, so it has been a struggle to break away from that and explore what is different.

Thinking back on the history of cinema, African-American representation has changed greatly from the early days of "mammies" and nannies. My best example is Hattie McDaniel - my best recollections of her on film are in (of course) "Gone With the Wind" and a bit part in "Blonde Venus" with Marlene Dietrich. Can you guess her roles in both films? (See first sentence of paragraph). Even white people would use blackface for early entertainment purposes, making a joke of ridiculed African-Americans. (Director Spike Lee attacked this indecency in 2000's "Bamboozled.")

It was not until Dorothy Dandridge's breakthrough role as Carmen Jones in the self-titled musical film that the African-American female became something more realistic and less stereotyped as Hattie McDaniel's most notable film roles. I would credit men like Sidney Poitier for giving rise to the prominence of a black man in film. Though he is recognized for roles (not limited to) "A Patch of Blue," "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," and "In the Heat of the Night," I can only really remember him as the token African-American in the presentation of all three films. Though he is a bonafide great actor, his presence in all three films is to subset all of the "whiteness" and expose his difference.

Do not get me started on blaxploitation in the seventies... What a shame that African-Americans got to be recognized through films like "Scream, Blacula, Scream" for a whole decade. Misrepresentation is disgusting, so thank God people fight it so much now. Today, I feel like African-American representation is getting better onscreen with appreciated movie stars like Whoopi Goldberg and Denzel Washington bringing powerful acting to memorable roles.

My only concern is the segregation of films today. Although Ron Wynn said in his article that I referenced the other day that "the real problem at hand is 'the sickening lack of thematic variety and quality in what’s deemed black cinema,'" I actually do not agree now. Who is to say it is only black cinema? Why not white cinema, too?

Let us use the average Hollywood romantic comedy as an example. It always seems like it is two people of the same race that fall in love, and if there is a character with a different fill-in-the-blank background in the movie, he or she is a token member of that group. If it is two people of different racial backgrounds falling in love, it is usually instantly a comedy. Laugh at it all you want! Is this why we have to segregate the cinemas of today? Should it be weird that I enjoyed "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"? Should people like me be forced to watch crappy Kate Hudson chick flicks ceaselessly? (I will have you know, I have taste.)

Why do African-Americans have to have their own cinema? It just makes puts a big sticker of exclusiveness on it. It is not like the foreign film section of a movie store, or is it? Is black cinema the same as foreign cinema? It should not have to be.

I think it is time to break down the barriers. Again quoting AbsolutVeronica, "I think what it really boils down to is the fact that we are still letting race divide us." Of course it is. Where is a Dr. Martin Luther King for movies when you need one?


Quote of the Day: The Heiress

"Can you be so cruel?" ~ a concerned Miriam Hopkins
"Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught...by masters." ~ a scorned Olivia de Havilland in "The Heiress"

*look for it around the 9:15 mark*


July 26, 2008

Random Musing: Black and White

Leaving work last night, I walked by three African-American women who were loudly complaining about someone who "hasn't made a black movie since... since 'Glory'!" They all started laughing, and then one of the women chipped in, "Well, maybe 'Hurricane'!" I figured out then that they were talking about Denzel Washington, and I was flabbergasted by their contention. Denzel? Really? What about 1992's critically-acclaimed "Malcolm X," where he played the controversial 60's black leader? Or his departure with 2001's "Training Day," where he applies a form of African-American gender-stereotyped hypermasculinity to the role of rogue cop? I could not understand where these ladies were coming from, and I still do not. In fact, it made me realize... Is a battle between white and black representation in cinema coming to the surface now with our changing political climate (think Obama)? Or has it already been here? What are the real politics of black and white cinema, and what determines the qualities of either?
A good case study would be last month's bitter battle between acclaimed Hollywood directors Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee. Martin Wainwright for Britain's The Guardian wrote a well-written, detailed article explaining the feud. Spike Lee, provoked by an interview question, spoke out against Clint Eastwood's last two directorial endeavors.

He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black soldier in both of those films. Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his [all-white?] vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version.
Of course a man like Eastwood would never take criticism like that laying down, so he put in his two cents when he heard Lee's opinion.
The story is "Flags of Our Fathers," the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn't do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people'd go: 'This guy's lost his mind.' I mean, it's not accurate. A guy like him should shut his face.
To ABCNews.com, Lee rolled with the punch, continuing to disagree:
First of all, the man is not my father and we're not on a plantation either. He's a great director. He makes his films, I make my films. The thing about it though, I didn't personally attack him. And a comment like 'a guy like that should shut his face' -- come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old [white?] man right there.
He went on to discuss his own knowledge of history and the misfortune of how Hollywood has ignored the great number of African-Americans who participated in WWII. I applied all of the "[white]" parentheticals to the quotes myself because I wanted to point out how easily they could be derived from the context of the argument. Even here in this argument, we have men of two racial backgrounds attacking each other for representation in cinema. When is a film black enough? When is a film too white? Why did Spike Lee care so much about Eastwood's Iwo Jima films (could you even imagine an African-American person in "Letters"???)?

Cinemaretro.com tried to weigh the arguments in perspective and came up with this conclusion:
The U.S. military was still segregated in those days and black troops were not officially counted among combat units at the bloody battle, which U.S. military brass had assumed would be a cakewalk. Black units were supposed to provide logistical support behind-the-scenes. However, when the battle began to intensify and the U.S. forces were bogged down and suffering heavy casualties, black troops stepped forward and performed heroically in combat roles. Thus, Lee is correct in pointing out that Eastwood might have included some reference to these soldiers. However, in terms of the percentage of troops that fought at the battle, the estimated 900 black soldiers represented a tiny fraction of the fighting force, thus giving Eastwood's point of reference credibility in that he was focusing on the big picture (specifically the controversy surrounding the men who were credited with raising the U.S. flag at the battle and those who ended up getting the credit for it.)
Nashville City Paper's own Ron Wynn explained in his article that:
Spike Lee did not randomly attack Clint Eastwood or just suddenly launch a diatribe attacking Eastwood’s films, particularly "Flags of Our Fathers," for omitting black characters. He responded to a specific question a reporter asked at the press conference for his forthcoming production "Miracle at St. Anna."
Wynn counters that blogs have neglected the reason for Lee's opinion, I suppose giving it more shock value and making it appear like Lee wants to spark a vicious (racial) argument against another respected director. In addition, Wynn questions "Flags" detractors, explaining:
There were two instances featuring black soldiers. One was in an early cutaway shot, the second in a photograph used during the credits. While that’s far from having principal characters, those who are hollering about historical accuracy regarding Eastwood’s film might want to check their own recollections about "Flag of My Fathers."
I think it is fascinating that Wynn concludes his article by purporting that the real problem at hand is "the sickening lack of thematic variety and quality in what’s deemed black cinema." I think Wynn might just have a point and may have prompted the subject of a blog for another day.

The real question at hand here, though, is why do only African-Americans care about their own misrepresentation in film, as opposed to white people caring, too? Why did those women last night care so much that Denzel was not black enough? Why did Spike Lee care enough to speak out against Clint Eastwood's films? These are all questions that could spark quite a lengthy essay. I just think it is a question worth thinking about.


July 25, 2008

Quote of the Day: Death Becomes Her

"You're a tragic, boozy, flaccid clown. That's it! Flaccid. Fla-ccid. Flaaaaaaa-ccid!" ~ an acerbically-tongued Meryl Streep in "Death Becomes Her"

*look for it around the 1:15 mark*


July 24, 2008

Mamma Mia!

** out of ****

Unless you love ABBA, “Mamma Mia!” may not be the film for you. Sure, it is exuberant and quite a delight, but the magic only works if you know and love all of ABBA’s songs. Because of these songs, the best scenes of “Mamma Mia!” involve the musical numbers, but otherwise, the film may inspire viewers to cry “S.O.S.!”

Based on the stage musical, the film follows Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who is going to marry Sky (Dominic Cooper), but only after she has invited her father(s) (Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, or Pierce Brosnan - you guess) to the wedding to walk her down the aisle. Her fathers’ surprise arrival displeases Donna (Meryl Streep), Sophie’s hardworking, exhausted ex-singer mother who runs a hotel on a Greek island. While Donna comes to terms with the male figures from her past, pre-island wedding, her wacky friends and former backup singers, Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, respectively) join along for moral support. As the wedding day finally approaches, Sophie struggles to figure out which of the three men is her father before she walks down the aisle and on toward her future, all in the key of ABBA.

Based on the 1968 film “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (with a hint of “Muriel’s Wedding,” perhaps?), “Mamma Mia!” is cute and fun, but lacks the charm of last summer’s “Hairspray.” Meryl Streep shines, naturally, as Donna, and I particularly enjoyed her flamboyance on the boat in “Money, Money, Money.” I have only heard Meryl sing in at least two other movies, “Death Becomes Her” and “Postcards From the Edge,” but nothing could prepare me for her applaudable, showstopping interpretation of “The Winner Takes It All.” Meanwhile, the other shining star is Amanda Seyfried, who blows me away as Sophie. I was concerned her performance would remind me too much of her more familiar role as Karen in “Mean Girls,” but she nails her character’s innocence and curiosity without the insipidness and bewilderment.

Countering these two actresses is Pierce Brosnan, who should never sing or remove his shirt again. His “S.O.S.” is particularly wrenching, but not in the emotional way. Though he does sing in tune, Brosnan needs to leave future musical endeavors to the pros.

The most fun of the show’s numbers are probably the “girl power”-riddled “Dancing Queen” and “Does Your Mother Know,” which features Tanya, Pepper, and a plethora of youths in some kind of outtake from a 50’s Frankie and Annette movie. The “Voulez-Vous” sequence, which was well-directed, stylistically & musically, really brings the film back to the stage. The camera circling so quickly around Sophie presents her inner anxieties, so it is quite fascinating.

A nice touch to the film is the Greek chorus. Granted, it is not the same decked-out Greek chorus applied to Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite,” but its presence adds humor to the musical. For example, they comment on the show during Meryl Streep’s first number, “Money, Money, Money,” by adding such back-up lines as “Ain’t it sad?” Not simply the Broadway chorus that provides back-up vocals, they are like the original Greek chorus that provides running commentary, remarking upon the states-of-being of the show’s actors. I particularly enjoyed discovering this subtext, and I thought it was clever for the film with its Greek setting (as if you could not tell from the Aphrodite fountain or heavenly farewell).

A jukebox musical like this really prompts viewers like me to scratch my head, wondering, “Who knew they could fit all of these ABBA songs so perfectly into one musical!” I do think “Mamma Mia!” only works for ABBA fans, though fans of the musical (or musicals, in general) should be able to enjoy it as well, despite the differences from the stage to the set. The first ten to fifteen minutes are a struggle because the average ABBA-crazed viewer wants to skip the talking and cut to the “Dancing Queen,” so after that he or she will be pleased on the whole.

For the true ABBA fan, you will not walk away unhappily from the movie theater (but stick around for the credits!). On the other hand, for the average viewer, you might want your money back.

“Mamma Mia!” is playing now in theaters across the country.


July 23, 2008

Scene of the Day: Austin Powers

Today's "scene of the day" comes from 1999's "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." The scene I had intended to find was when Dr. Evil's spy, model Ivana Humpalot, plays a seductive game of chess with Austin Powers, but I could not find it in the English language on Youtube. Its replacement is the preceding scene... Austin photographs models Rebecca Romijn (in a guest appearance, pre-Stamos) and Ivana Humpalot in a hysterically unbelievable shoot. It is just so funny... Enjoy with me.


July 22, 2008

Quote of the Day: In & Out

"Is everybody gay??? Is this the twilight zone???" ~ Joan Cusack at the end of her rope in "In & Out"

*look for it around the 2:51 mark*


July 21, 2008

Quote of the Day: Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers

"Leave now, and never come back!" ~ a schizophrenic Smeagol in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

*look for it around the 1:46 mark*


July 20, 2008

Random Musing: (More) The Dark Knight

Though I am certain some of you may be tired of me talking about "The Dark Knight" by now, the numbers are in. Today is Sunday, and the weekend's box office is quickly wrapping up. As I went to check my e-mail earlier, a new article caught my eye on Yahoo news, so here it is. Read 'em and weep...

'Dark Knight' sets weekend record with $155.34M

LOS ANGELES (AP) Batman has sent Spidey packing as king of Hollywood's box-office superheroes. "The Dark Knight" took in a record $155.34 million in its first weekend, topping the previous best of $151.1 million for "Spider-Man 3" in May 2007 and pacing Hollywood to its biggest weekend ever, according to studio estimates Sunday.
My prediction came true. I obviously had never predicted a figure, but I knew it would rake in the big bucks.

"We knew it would be big, but we never expected to dominate the marketplace like we did," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "The Dark Knight." The movie should shoot past the $200 million mark by the end of the week, he said.
Now was this before or after Warner Brothers claimed it was only going to make about $90 million in its first weekend? Hmmm...

Also, poor "Mamma Mia!" (which I also enjoyed) clearly could not hold a candle to the selling power of "The Dark Knight," as this will be what the top two in this weekend's box office will look like:

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC
1. "The Dark Knight," $155.34 million.
2. "Mamma Mia!", $27.6 million.
But it is ok. For a film to be released with much less publicity and fanfare than the massively hyped "Dark Knight," "Mamma Mia!" certainly did well on its own.

Anyway, it appears "The Dark Knight" has become the blockbuster success I (and many others) predicted. With our minds suddenly eased with its opening weekend fortunes, I am certain we will wonder how much it will ultimately rake in...


July 19, 2008

Random Musing: Amanda Seyfried

My junior year of high school, I remember fondly watching the movie "Mean Girls" over and over again. It was just so funny... Aside from the three other beautiful leads (including pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan), there was newcomer Amanda Seyfried as the really, really dumb Karen. I have not heard much from her since the movie (I know she was on "Big Love," though), but imagine my surprise when I realized the main character of this summer's musical extravaganza "Mamma Mia!" is none other than Miss Seyfried...
Of course, my natural reaction was "Karen! Ha ha ha ha ha...," so I will be amused to see how she works in "Mamma Mia!" when I see it tonight, though I am certain she will be great. I am amused simply because when I realized that she would be playing Sophie, I instantly thought of her as Karen. And if you ever saw "Mean Girls," you know why it is funny - her breasts could tell when it was going to rain.


The Dark Knight

*** ½ out of ****

The sequel to the brilliant revamping of the Batman franchise, “Batman Begins,” is Christopher Nolan’s equally brilliant, “The Dark Knight,” which takes the “superhero movie” to a darker, edgier level. Nolan has turned the unrespected superhero film genre upside down with “The Dark Knight,” which feels like it has been modified to a modern crime drama in the vein of “The Departed.” Despite this difference, the film never loses sight of the characters comic book fans have come to know so well. Additionally, the film weaves a tight-knit, complex story into 150 minutes of pure adrenaline and dark psychology. “The Dark Knight” may well be one of the best superhero films of all-time.

In the film, a new villain by the name of the Joker (Heath Ledger) is starting up in Gotham, and his first target is the bank, where he manages to steal a tidy sum from a group of mobster and gangster investors who want to take him out. The Joker has other plans, as he becomes directly involved with them and offers to help them take out their collective enemy—Batman (Christian Bale). As Batman begins to capture them all, the Joker’s plan turns to killing any number of great Gotham public figures, starting with the Mayor and ending with the revelation of Batman’s identity. As the Joker’s plan becomes more dangerous and hits closer and closer to home with Batman, he must work to take out the crazed killer clown before he takes out all of Gotham.

Written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight” is a work of genius. Nolan’s script (written with his brother) is brilliant. He continues using his darker Dark Knight while knitting a framework that exudes its complexity through characters and circumstances. One of the greatest themes of the film is choice, as the Joker so proudly and frequently demands. He presents several ethical dilemmas that force good guys and bad guys alike to make a choice, usually on who should live or die. It is clever that his presentation of choice rivals his protégé Harvey Two-Face’s style of using chance. It is fascinating to discern how the two compare, as the Joker’s choices ascertain more mastered, certain calculations while Two-Face’s are unpredictable and lead him to quicker failure. I am certain Nolan considered this when he wrote “The Dark Knight,” because every character from the Batman comic books is ingeniously adapted here. Because Nolan is consistent and has a clear vision for this film, his screenplay and direction are mature and flawless.

My favorite scene outside of the action-packed sequences is the Joker's encounter with the scarred Harvey Dent in Gotham General; the Joker slips into his room dressed as a nurse and then explains that he is a scary villain because he never wants anything out of doing evil. It is brilliantly written, not only because of his words, but because the Joker's role in that scene is so Joker-like.

The character of the Joker is well-developed, and when played by a talented actor like the late Heath Ledger, he becomes unmitigatedly perfect. Heath Ledger modifies the Joker from the killer clown we all know so well to make him less laughing madman and more unrelenting evildoer. (Take that, Jack Nicholson!) His darting eyes and the occasional flick of his tongue over his gooey red lips establish recognizably serpentine (read: evil) qualities for the Joker. In this way, Heath Ledger transforms one of the most brilliantly-written characters in comic book history and offers him tangibly realistic qualities. Nolan’s clever film also allows the Joker to offer a constantly changing origin story, revealing his untrustworthiness and hailing back to such well-crafted Joker stories as “The Killing Joke.” Heath Ledger’s Joker is the Joker that diehard Batman fans will adore, as his complex psychology, killer instinct, and creepy laugh prove unchanging in this film.

Meanwhile, ranting on Heath Ledger’s inspiring performance aside, Aaron Eckhart steps out as the other great actor in “The Dark Knight.” Though I am wholly unfamiliar with his work, he strongly proves himself as brave Harvey Dent, respectable D.A., and later, Harvey Two-Face, vengeful villain with a new origin story that flows right into the film (and what makeup!). His performance is subtler than that of Ledger, but he still surprises me with the vigor of his acting. Supporting actors like Michael Caine (Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) are evergreen while Batman newcomer (and Katie Holmes’ replacement) Maggie Gyllenhaal proves herself equally formidable. Christian Bale is still great here in “The Dark Knight,” although I have to assert the same complaint some film critics make against the Tim Burton “Batman” films—Batman takes too much of a supporting role. For a movie about “the Dark Knight,” it could have been re-titled “Harvey Dent and the Joker featuring Batman.”

Though runtime is my complaint against the film (a whopping 150 minutes), it is still tolerable, as the film grabs viewers and never lets go on one pulse-pounding, action-packed thrill ride. (And what special effects!) It climaxes over and over and does not finally release until the last second of the film. When it does release, viewers discover that it is totally worth the ride.

This movie will be the tried and true blockbuster of the summer. “The Dark Knight” is currently playing in theaters.

Subsequently published in the September 3 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture


July 17, 2008

Random Musing: The Wizard of Oz

I just received quite a DVD for a gift - "The Wizard of Oz" 3-disc collector's edition. Though I have never been a diehard fan like some people I have met, I do recognize the film's status as a classic and legend, and I always enjoy it. I think part of the wonder of the film is its flight into fairy tale - a magical land of witches of all cardinal directions, wizards with great powers, and yellow brick roads somewhere over the rainbow. In fact, it is quite a wonder to realize and consider how much "The Wizard of Oz" has contributed to pop culture and entertainment in general; today we can see "Wicked" on Broadway, purchase endless trinkets of Oz memorabilia, or enjoy CDs of any fill-in-the-blank singer who has recorded another version of Judy Garland's iconic "Over the Rainbow." Despite my own understanding and interpretation of "The Wizard of Oz" as a magical family classic, it has only recently been brought to my attention that apparently some scholars think differently... In fact, some scholars have applied a political aspect to the enduring film that so many people have come to love and appreciate.
Written at the turn of the century, L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" claims its intention is "solely to please children of today." On the other hand, scholars seem to have uncovered relevant American turn-of-the-century political symbolism for the book's (and film's) characters: Dorothy is the "everyman," the munchkins are ordinary citizens, the Scarecrow is the farmer, the Tin Man is the industrial worker, and the Wizard is a McKinley- or Roosevelt-like figure. While I had never thought of this interpretation, it makes a great deal of sense. Is it the real interpretation Baum had prepared in his mind when writing "The Wizard of Oz"? Perhaps not, and probably not if he says it is not at the introduction to his book. Does any of this make a viable scholarly contention? Of course. It is fascinating to think about, but as for me, it is something I almost want to forget again... Who needs political interpretation when you can be somewhere over the rainbow trying to get home to Kansas again.


Random Musing: Watchmen Teaser Trailer

As I indicated last week, I spent most of this evening in an IMAX Theater in Opry Mills watching "The Dark Knight." (The review will be posted before the end of the week!) While sitting in the dark, excited for the film to finally begin, some previews rolled. A "Madagascar 2" trailer, a "Harry Potter 6" early teaser, yay... But then it happened... The "Watchmen" trailer. I had no idea it was going to open for "The Dark Knight"! (But apparently some people did...). It started discreetly enough - a man was helplessly being charged with electricity in a room and then an aircraft lifted out of a city river into the night. I thought for a moment and quickly realized - I was watching the earliest "Watchmen" trailer. I had seen the birth of Doctor Manhattan and the rise of Nite Owl's ship. I got really excited really quickly as I watched shots of Ozymandias, the Silk Spectre, the Nite Owl, and Rorschach... It was amazing. I had chills - I was struck with awe by its wonder. It has proven to me that everything I determined the other day is really going to fulfill me upon the film's release on (apparently) March 6, 2009. As soon as I find the trailer I watched on the internet (or Youtube), I will add it to this post. Check back when you see it hit the net! It is so worth it!

UPDATE: It is here!!!! Watch:


July 15, 2008

Random Musing: The Dark Knight

It is days until July 18th and guess what is just around the corner? "The Dark Knight." The other day, I discussed my intense desire to see the film, and the day of its release rapidly approaches. While anxiously awaiting the day I finally see "The Dark Knight," there has been one other thing on my mind: the film's opening weekend box office. For months I have predicted an enormous box office the size of "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Lord of the Rings," and I think it might just come true. For now, I want to focus on the opening weekend and the fact that it might cause record books to explode.
With the hype surrounding the film's release, I have long expected a huge opening weekend. Filmschoolrejects.com says five important factors will drive the opening weekend of "The Dark Knight": the fact it is a sequel, it follows a hugely successful film, it has had a powerful, intricate, and lengthy marketing campaign, it has achieved early critical praise, and it is the last film appearance of the recently deceased Heath Ledger. I have to agree with them because I think I have been reasoning based on the same factors they have strategized. Despite this line of thinking, I have mostly gone on gut instinct, so I have decided to turn to some resources on the internet for support.
Cinemablend.com says that "showings of The Dark Knight [are] already selling out in some cities." Not surprising because everyone I know is trying to garner his or her Friday night ticket.
Businesssheet.com thinks "'The Dark Knight' has generated an arguably unprecedented level of interest, and early showings in IMAX theaters and normal multiplexes are selling out left and right - so much so that insiders are predicting a $130 [million] box office take in three days." This sounds about right. Oddly enough, Warner Brothers is trying to tone down this number to around $90 million for the opening weekend so that they will be "surprised" when it is easily surpassed.
Furthermore, MovieTickets.com claims "'The Dark Knight' has sold eight times the amount of tickets online as 'Spider-Man 3' did at the same point during its sales cycle — 21 days prior to release." ("Spider-Man 3" opened to $152 million dollars in its opening weekend, the largest opening weekend in history.) Looks like we have a huge opening weekend on our hands.
But on the other hand, Screenrant.com contends "The Dark Knight" will have a weaker-than-expected opening weekend because of some facts like running time and film rating. Reasonable, but I just do not think it is convincing enough of an argument to prove "The Dark Knight" will not be logically looking at a huge opening weekend. The sequel to the critically and commercially successful "Batman Begins"? Check. The last performance by the late Heath Ledger? Check. A great deal of successful marketing? *looks at multitude of teaser posters flooding the internet* Check. Success.


July 14, 2008

Random Musing: Bernard Hill

Watching "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" last night, I happened to realize the actor playing King Théoden was none other than Bernard Hill, who also played Captain E.J. Smith in one of my favorite movies of all-time: "Titanic." During his performance, I also realized that Hill must fancy playing characters who end up looking like deer in the headlights...
As Captain Smith in "Titanic," he is instructed by Bruce Ismay to speed up the ship in order to quickly reach New York - to "surprise them all," "make the morning papers," and "go out with a bang." When the Titanic ends up slamming into an iceberg one night and he learns the "unsinkable" will founder, Smith ends up looking like a wandering zombie. He has a ship of thousands and a handful of lifeboats against a huge, frigid body of water. Once a seeming leader and director, he has become no more than a cowering child.
His performance as King Théoden in "The Two Towers" inspired my déjà vu. At the film's climactic "Battle of Helm's Deep," he leads 300 Rohirrim in defending a fortress sieged by 10,000 of Saruman's Uruk-hai. As I watched the awesome battle, I noticed the return of Théoden's deer in the headlights look and quickly thought back to "Titanic."
What is it about a role that pits leadership against an unconquerable force that appeals to Hill? Although these are the only two films in which I have seen Hill, I feel like I have seen the same character in the land of Rohan and the northern Atlantic - the same look - the same performance. Is Bernard Hill destined to go down in the books as "the fool" in all those movies? What an honor.


July 13, 2008

Quote of the Day: Some Like It Hot

"I'm a man!" ~ an exasperated Jack Lemmon
"Well, nobody's perfect." ~ a doting Joe E. Brown in "Some Like it Hot"


July 11, 2008

Quote of the Day: On Golden Pond

"Ethel Thayer. 'Thoundth' like I'm 'lithping', 'dothn't' it?" ~ a belligerent Henry Fonda in "On Golden Pond"

*look for it around the 5:40 mark*


July 9, 2008

Random Musing: Watchmen

Since the age of four, I have been a comic book collector. I may have my father to thank for that since he used to read them to me when I was a baby. It is therefore unsurprising to accept that I have plunged into comic book after comic book since I was old enough to read. In the time I have collected comic books, I have read many titles, but the more adult ones, such as Neil Gaiman's legendary Vertigo-imprint "Sandman," have evaded my notice. I only preferred the simple stories - Superman saves the world! or Batman's "Knightfall" (one of my favorite storylines... ask me about it!). Finally, last summer, I decided to give in and test out some of the classic storylines that are legendary within the comic book industry. I read DC's universal "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (fantastic!) and decided to test out a graphic novel I had heard a little about but had never given a look: "Watchmen." That graphic novel ended up changing the way I thought about comics...
It took me three days to read over 400 pages of well-crafted writing by Alan Moore, but I would never regret a single minute of it. I could not put it down for anything. Afterward, I posted a note on my Facebook page that I thought I would share again here:

I have had the pleasure of reading what I would consider to be the greatest graphic novel in the history of the medium: "Watchmen" by Alan Moore (with illustrations by Dave Gibbons). It delves into complex psychological realms, unearthing the mental and personal trials and tribulations of "costumed heroes" living in a world on the brink of nuclear war and where a "mask killer" is on the loose, knocking off the formerly celebrated heroes. Upon completing the several hundred page novel, I found myself laying on my bed while whispering "wow" over and over unceasingly. For those of you who are curious and would like to read this transcendent masterpiece graphic novel, I would recommend it in the highest regard for its achieved brilliance within the intricate storylines, the wisdom of Moore's parallelisms within the weaving, and the attributes it absorbingly displays.
Just brilliant. I loved reading this graphic novel so much that it quickly became my favorite book of all-time (and I have read some classics!). After reading it last summer, I started to do some research on Google and Wikipedia, and I soon found out that Time Magazine included it on their 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present." That was no surprise. What did surprise me was that Warner Brothers is apparently making a film adaptation of the graphic novel.
Did that last sentence make you cringe just a bit? It should have, especially if you have admired "Watchmen" like I have. But fear not! Just last night, I happened to be doing my ritual perusing of Wikipedia and found the page discussing the film. I had not thought about the film since last summer and decided to see what was going on with the production as of now. I was surprised. I found that the film had been rescued from "development hell" and had already been filmed by Zack Snyder ("300"). Having made "300" so stylistically rich, Snyder was someone with whom I felt more at ease. I even liked the choice of actors Patrick Wilson ("Little Children," "Phantom of the Opera") as Nite Owl and Jackie Earle Haley (also of "Little Children") as Rorschach. Seeing teaser photos of the actors on the set makes me really happy because I know at least the film's visuals will please me in keeping with the aesthetic of the book.
More importantly though, is the novel's rich writing. This is the part that makes me nervous. How do you take an intricately complex novel and make an equally formidable screenplay? It was done in 1962 when "To Kill a Mockingbird" (arguably one of the best screenplay adaptations of all-time) was made, so I hope it can be done again. It helps to know that the interlaced vignettes featuring the "Tales of the Black Freighter" will be released (animated!) on DVD in 2009 to coincide with the release of the film, especially since they are important as a "foil" for the main story. According to Wikipedia, apparently "The Tales of the Black Freighter DVD will also include "Under the Hood," a documentary detailing the characters' backstories, which takes its cue from Hollis Mason's memoirs in the novel." Along with the actual film's release, "Tales" may be "re-edited back in" to the film's sequence, so the film may end up being a near-perfect adaptation of the graphic novel that I hold so dear.
Having learned all of this, I can say that, in conclusion, I cannot wait for the film's release. At least, I hope it will be on time. Also according to Wikipedia, "on February 8, 2008 (as filming was finishing), Fox launched a lawsuit against Warner Bros., as producer Lawrence Gordon never paid out the studio as he sought a new studio to develop the project." Since filming has finished and DC Direct plans to release the film's action figures (yay!) in 2009, let's hope that its tentative release date of March 6, 2009 sticks.
Who watches the watchmen? I want to.


July 7, 2008

Random Musing: Coming Attractions

Since I was a kid, I have loved everything Batman. I was a child at the height of TV's critically-lauded "Batman: The Animated Series," and I gobbled up its art deco style and Kevin Conroy's growling voice every week. I loved Tim Burton's "Batman" and "Batman Returns" and even liked "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin" despite their merciless camp and over-the-top cheese (hey, I was a kid!). But since 2005's brilliant "Batman Begins," I have anxiously awaited the arrival of this summer's sure-to-be-blockbuster-hit "The Dark Knight". For nearly a year and a half, I have been teased with photos and posters promising the forthcoming film's darkness and a creepy Heath Ledger Joker. Finally, the film is almost here, and my wait will be over... A co-worker informed me the other day that Peter Travers has already written a review of the film, applauding its psychology, darkness, and most importantly, "if there's a movement to get [Heath Ledger] the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch..., sign me up." For those of you who have difficulty reading between the lines of my previous posts, I live for the Oscars. When I hear that Ledger's performance was brilliant enough for a Best Actor Oscar, I get really excited. I remember my disappointment a few years ago when I first heard Ledger would be playing the Joker, and I clearly remember wondering how the handsome Australian heartthrob could possibly do justice to the zany Batman villain that the world had come to love through Jack Nicholson in the first film. Believe me, with the photos I have seen and the word-of-mouth I have heard since, I know that Ledger's performance will likely be my favorite part of "The Dark Knight" (not to mention the Joker is my favorite Batman villain). Anyway, I have anxiously waited the past few months for the release of "The Dark Knight," and I even have a countdown on my Facebook profile page that has shared my anticipation for the release. July 18 has been an important date on my calendar for months now, but I did not realize how important yet. A surprise was awaiting me the other day when I did some research on Wikipedia.
Enter "Mamma Mia". Since I was a child, Swedish pop group ABBA has been one of my favorite bands (thanks to my parents who raised me on "ABBA Gold"). I even remember being so obsessed in eighth grade that I bought every one of their souped-up, re-released studio albums on CD. I have only recently become familiar with the show "Mamma Mia!" on West End and Broadway, and I remember hearing about a year ago that Meryl Streep would be the main character (15th Oscar nomination, hopefully?). Just a few weeks ago, my aunt, my sister, and I expressed our interest in seeing the musical, which follows in the footsteps of "Hairspray" as being the new musical of the summer. Anyway, researching on Wikipedia the other day, I came to discover that "Mamma Mia!" starts the same day as "The Dark Knight"... July 18. So what do I do? Which will I see first? The newest Batman - a film about a hero that I have loved for so long - or Mamma Mia!, a film featuring music I have loved for so long (not to mention Meryl!)?

p.s. I plan to post reviews of both films after their respective releases, so look out for them, everyone!

UPDATE! Doing some of my interning work today at the Belcourt Theatre, I was surprised to be given two passes to the July 16 early screening of "The Dark Knight," and at the IMAX, no less! Guess I will not be wondering anymore!


July 5, 2008

Random Musing: Fox Classics at Costco

So the other day I went with my friends to Costco in Memphis, and naturally, I wandered into the movie section. I found a few good bargains, including "The Bridges of Madison County" and "The Sand Pebbles," each for $9.99. But, oh was a surprise awaiting me... Looking through movie collections, I just so happened to find the 20th Century Fox Studio Classics series in sets of three for a heavenly deal... $11.99. I kid you not. $11.99. Sweet bliss. It was like finding one of those classic films on DVD for that price plus getting two free (at any other retailer)! The set I chose featured George Stevens' 1959 "The Diary of Anne Frank," the 1943 Oscar-magnet "The Song of Bernadette," and the 1953 "Titanic." I honestly could not believe I had found this amazing "triple feature" set for such a steal, and I thought I would inform the rest of the world about my bargain buy. This was not the only set available for you curious few, but this was my favorite selection of all of the rest (which included such favorites as "Peyton Place" and "All About Eve," but neither in must-have triplet packs). And for the near future, I might have to go back to Costco... Be back soon!


July 3, 2008

Constantine's Sword

*** out of ****

Religious zealots may not like the new documentary “Constantine’s Sword” too much. If they were not already turned off by James Carroll’s 2001 book of the same name, then they will likely despise this film. Both the book and the film compare Carroll’s own history through religion, including his role as a former Roman Catholic priest, to the history of Christians and their involvement in anti-Semitism, but the film takes an extra step in uncovering the pressures of Colorado’s evangelical Christian right on the Air Force. Well-directed by Oren Jacoby, the film tries to unleash the symbolism of thousands of years of religious travesties while filling viewers’ minds with even more symbolism. In essence, Carroll may have found the world’s “real” weapon of mass destruction - religion. Creative with the camera, “Constantine’s Sword” is a brilliant, fascinating, and enlightening film.

One of the best sequences of the film comes at the beginning, and I like it for its style; it features a superimposition of several crosses, central to the way Carroll sees the world and important to the thematic symbol of the cross as “Constantine’s Sword”—the harbinger of war. According to Carroll, the cross only became an important religious symbol under Roman Emperor Constantine, who had a vision that foretold his conquest of the Romans if he would hold a cross before his army when he went to battle. In this way, Carroll asserts that the cross has long been a symbol of war, starting with Constantine, and he lingers for a while on the emperor while visiting European landmarks. He then analyzes how the Jews have for so long faced so much persecution in the name of Christ. He contends that the Bible may have twisted history in making the Jews out to be Christians’ greatest enemies. Visiting one Jewish friend, he advises “if you want to study anti-Semitism, don’t study Jews . . . study non-Jews,” and this film would reasonably agree because it claims that Christians, especially those in the Catholic Church, are the reason for much of the world’s violence and war. He says that religion is “even a sponsor” of war, and at the end of the film, there is a connection of violence and war to modern times with the use of a 360 low angle shot of a cross with a plane flying over, which ties the symbolism of the cross as a weapon of religion to the use of a plane as a weapon in our nation’s current war. In addition, Carroll accuses Christians of hypocrisy since their feigned innocence ignores thousands of years of “evil” just like the Muslims who appear violent and evil today.

Meanwhile, a concerned Carroll introduces a well-hidden subject unbeknownst to America: the indoctrination of the Air Force by conservative Christian ideology. Only through some Jewish subjects who enlighten the narrator as to their own modern persecution can Carroll relay their trials to America. It disgusts me to watch the smug smile on the interviewed evangelical preacher’s face as he blindly ignores the wrong he is doing in forcing himself and his religion on those who have long and continuously been persecuted for “killing Jesus” like the Bible says they did thousands of years ago. This part of the film shows the effect of religion today, especially in a nation that should be practicing complete religious freedom. The battles for the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state in today’s politics ultimately uncover the pressure of the Christian right on the Air Force close to home.

All in all, “Constantine’s Sword” is a controversial film and a great history lesson, though occasionally a little boring. It balances the plot fixtures well, weaving a seamless, fascinating, eye-opening, and informative story. Carroll is an intriguing narrator, especially because of his past and how it has influenced how he has abandoned his Catholic heritage for the truth of the connection between religion and war. By the end of the film, I guarantee that viewers will form opinions on Christianity in both politics and the world. And war.

“Constantine’s Sword” will be showing at the Belcourt Theater starting July 11.


July 1, 2008

Random Musing: Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is well-known as perhaps the greatest modern actress. Her method acting and believable characters have garnered the attention of film critics and Academy voters for years, but oddly, with a record fourteen Oscar nominations (in leading and supporting roles), Meryl Streep has only nabbed two awards. Two? Out of fourteen? How is it that this talented actress has only gotten two awards? This is not to say that the Oscars just hand out awards to their favorites over and over (even Kate Hepburn only got four for acting, and that is the most in history!). I just think that it is interesting that after fourteen nominations, Streep has only achieved two wins, and even those were early in her career. The following is Streep's lengthy Oscar track record:

1978 (51st) ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- The Deer Hunter {"Linda"}
1979 (52nd) ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- Kramer vs. Kramer {"Joanna Kramer"}
1981 (54th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- The French Lieutenant's Woman {"Sara Woodruff/Anna"}
1982 (55th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Sophie's Choice {"Sophie"}
1983 (56th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Silkwood {"Karen Silkwood"}
1985 (58th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Out of Africa {"Karen"}
1987 (60th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Ironweed {"Helen"}
1988 (61st) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- A Cry in the Dark {"Lindy"}
1990 (63rd) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Postcards from the Edge {"Suzanne Vale"}
1995 (68th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- The Bridges of Madison County {"Francesca Johnson"}
1998 (71st) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- One True Thing {"Kate Gulden"}
1999 (72nd) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Music of the Heart {"Roberta Guaspari"}
2002 (75th) ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- adaptation. {"Susan Orlean"}
2006 (79th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- The Devil Wears Prada {"Miranda Priestly"}
Since 1982, Streep has seen about twenty-five Oscar seasons and has been nominated in ten of those annual ceremonies. Why is it that she has not been rewarded with another award since? It might be best to see who was awarded.
In 1978, her first nomination was eclipsed by the acting of Maggie Smith in "California Suite." In 1981, her role in "The French Lieutenant's Woman" was superseded by the great Katharine Hepburn in "On Golden Pond." (I have seen that film (one of my favorites), and the award was deservedly given to the legend.) But after Streep's win in 1982 for her powerful role in "Sophie's Choice," this is where she has been beaten at every turn:
1983 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Shirley MacLaine -- Terms of Endearment {"Aurora Greenway"}
1985 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Geraldine Page -- The Trip to Bountiful {"Mrs. Watts"}
1987 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Cher -- Moonstruck {"Loretta Castorini"}
1988 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Jodie Foster -- The Accused {"Sarah Tobias"}
1990 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Kathy Bates -- Misery {"Annie Wilkes"}
1995 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Susan Sarandon -- Dead Man Walking {"Sister Helen Prejean"}
1998 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Gwyneth Paltrow -- Shakespeare in Love {"Viola De Lesseps"}
1999 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Hilary Swank -- Boys Don't Cry {"Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon"}
2002 ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- Catherine Zeta-Jones -- Chicago {"Velma Kelly"}
2006 ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Helen Mirren -- The Queen {"The Queen"}
So ultimately, Streep has just been prevented from winning again by some tough competition---actresses ranging from rising stars to aged legends, all in memorable roles. However, this does not diminish Streep's acting power in the least, and her nominations certainly prove her formidable value. Maybe one day she will be clutching that third award (if not another acting award, then a probable honorary award), but until then, she can at least reflect on her considerable nominations.