Saturday, May 26, 2012

Winter Wrap-up Part Two

Yet again here are three very different movies that I all saw months ago. My classes end in a few weeks so I hope on getting caught up soon.

King Kong
I watched King Kong for the first time on March 2nd, the 79th anniversary of this film's release!
For an almost 80 year old movie I was impressed by the great special effects. I didn't know they had anything close to animatronics back then!
King Kong is a precursor to modern adventure movies. While the film starts out a bit slow it turns into non-stop action once we get to Skull Island. This is another aspect of the King Kong that was ahead of its time.
Movie director Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong) is forced by the studio to include a love interest in his films. Denham ends up casting Ann Darrow (played by Fay Wray) as the iconic beautiful blonde. However I found it was interesting how King Kong is about making movies in this respect.
King Kong is sort of a cross between The Lost World and The Phantom of the Opera. The Lost World similarities are that dinosaurs still survive in a forgotten land as well as King Kong being unleashed on the modern world in a battle of man vs. nature. Kong is sort of the like the phantom as we have a beauty and the beast relationship between Ann Darrow and Kong. Kong seems to truly care for Ann despite causing destruction and mayhem. Kong as a tragic anti-hero and it is easy to root for the "monster" in this movie.
Kong is one of the earliest non-human film characters that audiences actually cared about. Unlike Rin Tin Tin, the famous canine actor of the 1920s, Kong is not even alive! While models, animatronics, and CGI of the last 50 years have now achieved this, King Kong was head of the curve here as we don't even have a person in a suit. Sure Kong isn't the first non-human movie monster, but he's probably the first we truly sympathize with.
I haven't seen the 2005 Peter Jackson version of King Kong but will probably watch it someday.

The Secret of My Succe$s (1987)
There are some actors I like so much that I will seek out their movies only because they are in them. Michael J. Fox is one of those actors. The basic plot of the movie is that a young man who lives with his family on a farm in the mid-west (played by Michael J. Fox) moves by himself to New York City in order to make it in the real world of business.
Fox was great in this role and the movie would not have been as entertaining without him. The Secret of My Succe$s was made after the original Back to the Future movie but before the sequels and while Fox's TV show Family Ties was airing.
Michael J. Fox is pretty short but usually this is hidden by having his romantic interest be his height or shorter. However, in this movie his love interest (played by Helen Slater) is taller than him and there is no attempt made to hide it.
The "music conductor" scene is absolutely hilarious and a good example of a really funny scene in an otherwise pretty average comedy. The character Vera Prescott (played by Margaret Whitton, probably best known as the owner of the Cleveland Indians in Major League) who is the cheating wife of Fox's boss/distant relative was also funny and led to some amusing moments. Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster of The Munsters), Richard Jordan, and John Pankow also have supporting roles.
Although The Secret of My Succe$s is not that well known today, it was quite popular in its time. It was the 7th top grossing movie in the U.S. in 1987, ahead of movies such as Lethal Weapon, Predator, Robocop, Full Metal Jacket, and The Princess Bride
Night Ranger performed the title theme, one of their last hits before they faded out in the late 80s. The song "Oh Yeah" by Yello is also in the movie which was kinda distracting since I, and most people for that matter, will always associate it with Ferris Bueller's Day Off which came out a year earlier.

True Lies
True Lies is first of so far only two non-science fiction movies directed by James Cameron. The other is of course Titanic which is probably the reason this movie gets lost in the shuffle of his catalog.
While watching this movie I felt like it was James Cameron meets Alfred Hitchcock. We have the classic Cameron touches but with the paranoia and suspense of a Hitchcock film. Even the basic plot is essentially an inverse of North by Northwest as instead of a ordinary guy being confused for a spy we have a spy trying to hide as a normal family man.
There are some great action sequences such as Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a horse through a building (and even taking it on an elevator!) and the final scenes with helicopters and airplanes.
With a 141 minute running time I felt that True Lies bit too long. While I did enjoy the sub-plot in which a used car salesman (played by Bill Pullman) pretends to be a spy to try to sleep with Schwarzenegger's wife (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) it did drag down the film's pace.
The terrorist angle was interesting and a bit ahead of its time though I doubt it would've been handled that way in a post 9-11 movie.
Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, and Charlton Heston (who basically plays Nick Fury!) are all a lot of fun in supporting roles. True Lies also features Eliza Dushku (as the daughter of Schwarzenegger and Curtis' characters) early in her career.
I later found out that True Lies is actually an American remake of the 1991 French film La Totale! but I couldn't find much information about that original movie. I was surprised to find out this was a remake so I'd like to the original someday as I'm curious as to how similar or different they are.
The only James Cameron movie I have left to see now is The Abyss. Unless you count Piranha Part II: The Spawning of course... but if you go by movies he has writing credit but did not direct I also have yet to see Rambo II and Strange Days.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Winter Wrap-up Part One

Here are three movies that couldn't be more different! As you can see I'll watch films from pretty much any genre or time period. I only took a few notes when I watched these movies back in December so this post will be a little shorter than usual.

North by Northwest (1959)
I have seen several Alfred Hitchcock movies before but so far this one is my favorite. While I am familiar with Cary Grant I believe its his first full movie I have seen thus far. Cary Grant was the first choice to play James Bond and I bet that this film was most of the reason why.
North by Northwest was probably the first modern action movie as we have several big action scenes in many cross-country locations, fun one liners, beautiful women, and spies.
I loved the feeling of paranoia throughout the movie, especially with it being centered around an ordinary everyman. This sort of reminded me of the works of Philip K. Dick and I'd love to see somebody compare Dick's "Dark Haired Girls" to Hitchcock's "Cool Blondes."
The film is great in pretty much ever aspect: directing, writing, acting, editing, and music. And on top of that it is just a blast to watch from start to finish.
I am stingy with my 10s as for me they are essentially a bonus. This is my most recent ten!

Freejack was directed by Geoff Murphy, the man who also made the cult classic The Quiet Earth which I have on DVD but still need to see one of these days. As I have stated before, I love time travel movies, so Freejack had been on my "to see" list of movies for quite some time for that reason alone.
The basic story is that race car driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is transported into the future seconds before a would-be fatal car crash to the future of 2009 (hehe). The reason for this is so that the mind of a dying billionaire named McCandless (Anthony Hopkins) can be placed in his body to allow him to live. Although Hopkins doesn't have a large role as most of the movie is about Furlong on the run from the police force of the McCandless corporation (led by none other than Mick Jagger!), I do find it odd that this was the first Anthony Hopkins movie to be released in the U.S. after The Silence of the Lambs.
Besides Mick Jagger's role as the police leader Vacendak we have another rock star in the cast, David Johansen, who plays Furlong's Agent, Brad. Johansen was the lead singer for The New York Dolls and also known for the song "Hot Hot Hot" under his Buster Poindexter persona. Johansen has done more acting than Mick Jagger and I had actually seen him in another movie before. Johansen had a memorable role in the middle segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie where he plays a hitman hired to kill a cat!
Jagger and Johansen may not be great actors, but they had fun with their roles. Unfortunately I can't say the same about the lead as Estevez is mis-cast and plays role like a stoned Marty McFly. Rene Russo does a good job as Julie, Alex Furlong's wife. However when we see her in the future 18 years later she hasn't aged at all. Now maybe this is because some anti-aging work has been done in the future but if so it is never mentioned. And I must mention that Amanda Plummer has a cameo as a gun toting nun!
There are some interesting ideas here but overall it just doesn't work as a whole. This is exactly the type of movie that needs to be re-made as it did have potential despite being underwhelming. Last summer I made a post about remakes I would like to see and if I ever do another one this would certainly be on that list. Freejack was based on the novel "Immortality, Inc." by science fiction author Robert Sheckley so perhaps the best thing to do in this situation would be to go back to the original source material. That tactic worked wonders for John Carpenter's The Thing and in the right hands (Christopher Nolan or Duncan Jones for example) a damn fine movie could still be made out this story.

Moulin Rouge!
I am not a huge fan of musicals, but I don't hate them either. I just don't tend to seek them out even though I did some tech work behind the scenes for musicals in high school and have seen a few on Broadway.
So why did I choose to watch this movie out of all the musicals out there? I am a fan of the Nostalgia Critic and saw that he did a musical review of this movie! At first I started watching it as I only avoid his reviews of things I actually plan on seeing and this didn't seem like something I would want to watch. However, after I got a bit into his 45 minute review I just had to see it for myself and figured I would get even more out of the review if I did so, which ended up being the case.
Moulin Rouge was directed by Baz Luhrmann. The only other Luhrmann movie I have seen was Romeo + Juliet (1996) which I liked but didn't love. This is movie is made in a similar weird and over the top style. 
I liked the song mash-ups such as "Like a Virgin" being sung by Jim Broadbent!
Despite how quirky and and wacky this movie is, there is a serious ending. This is not a spoiler or a surprise as we are told this from the beginning. Moulin Rouge is a fun movie that's a bit different although not something I plan on watching again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Artist (2011)

I was pretty busy the last couple of weeks and just didn't have time to get any posts out. I really want to get caught up so future posts after this one may be shorter than usual just to get them out and move on. There are a few movies I saw in December and January I still need to write about! Here is my post on the Best Picture Winner at 84th Academy Awards, The Artist.

The Artist
Back around the time of the Academy Awards I made a few posts about the Oscars and talked a little about The Artist even though I had not seen it at the time. I saw The Artist about a week after it won its five Oscars.

The Artist is basically a mix of Sunset Blvd., Singing in the Rain, and A Star is Born. While its probably not fair to compare it to those films since The Artist is a far more recent movie, I actually liked it more than Singing in the Rain. While I enjoyed that movie, I could never shake the feeling that I was watching a 1950s musical. With The Artist I often forgot I was watching a movie made in 2011. And to quickly touch on the other two movies I mentioned Sunset Blvd. is one of my favorite movies ever. I actually haven't seen any film version of A Star is Born yet.

The Artist got a lot of hype in the months leading up to the Oscar and of course after it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actor in a leading role, Best Original Score, and Best Costume Design. However, like anything that gets a lot of buzz, I was worried that it would not be as good as advertised. I was glad that although this is a silent film, its not just a gimmick but works perfectly with the story. Will The Artist be well remembered 10, 20, 30 years from now? Who knows, but I'm guessing it won't be one of the more well-known Best Picture winners. However, I think it will still stand out as a silent movie made in this era. I would be surprised if the success of The Artist causes more black and white films, let alone silent movies, to be made. But it would be awesome if we get more really good movies about film history.

The Artist
is a silent film, but as I said before the style works very well and it never feels forced. If you have never seen a silent movie I don't think you will have trouble getting through the movie as its accessible to everyone.

The dog (Uggie) in this movie is simply fantastic. Uggie the dog was so good in fact that he won the Palm Dog Award for best canine actor at the Cannes Film Festival! I didn't even know there was an award like this until now, but Uggie certainly deserved it. I just wish he could've had an honorary Oscar!

While the basic story in The Artist has been told many times before (a famous celebrity loses his/her popularity and tries desperately to stay relevant despite continued failures), The Artist puts a new spin on this tale by the way it chooses to tell its story. Obviously this is a silent film, but we have a lot of imagery and symbolism focused on talking and speaking including an incredible dream sequence. There is also a nice scene with some great camerawork in which our main character, silent film actor George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin), bumps into rising star Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo who is underrated in this film) on a staircase. Valentin is going down and Peppy is going up, which is exactly what is happening with their acting careers.
I won't give away the ending but I'll just say that it is satisfying and a perfect fit.

Although The Artist is about Hollywood and making movies in the 1920s and 1930s, it does not use real names of studios/movies/actors. However, there is a cool scene where George Valentin, is watching one of his movies. The footage he is watching is from The Mask of Zorro (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks with spliced in close-ups of Jean Dujardin.

The two leads were pretty much unknown to American audiences before The Artist won some Oscars, but this movies does feature some actors most people will recognize such as John Goodman and James Cromwell who are both great in supporting roles. Goodman shines as a fat cat Hollywood producer who is shifting his studio to the production of sound films. Goodman is perfectly cast as he is an actor who does a great job with facial expressions, physical humor, and has great comedic timing. While James Cromwell is a very different actor than John Goodman, he also puts in a nice performance as George Valentin's chauffeur, and perhaps only true friend. Cromwell, like the rest of the cast, have no problem with the lack of dialogue which I think is a testament to the directing and acting in this movie as I doubt most of them have done something like this before. There is even a brief cameo by Malcolm McDowell!

Here is an odd piece of trivia I noticed. The Artist and Hugo each won five Academy Awards this year. Both of them featured an actor who plays a significant role in the movie Borat! Ken Davitian (Azamat in Borat) has a small role as the owner of a pawn shop in The Artist. Meanwhile Borat himself, Sacha Baron Cohen, played the Station Inspector in Hugo.

It's debatable if The Artist should have won the Oscar for Best Picture (I didn't see all the movies nominated this year but personally would have picked The Tree of Life and the Oscars are always controversial no matter what they pick) but regardless The Artist is still a great and enjoyable movie.

I now have seven more posts to catch-up until I'm finally back on track. Each post is a wrap-up featuring three movies so that is still 21 movies to go! Six of these seven posts are a random grouping of movies while the last one will be on three films by a certain director.