Saturday, November 28, 2009

THE BICYLE THIEF (1948, ITALY) AND PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)

A Comparison of Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and Tim Burton’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Basic Plot:
The Bicycle Thief: Man’s life spirals out of control after theft of his bike
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Man’s life spirals out of control after theft of his bike

Title in Italian:
The Bicycle Thief: Ladri di biciclette
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Grande esperienza uoma di piccola statura

Importance of bicycle:
The Bicycle Thief: Means of livelihood
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Life itself

Film style:
The Bicycle Thief: Neo-realistic
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Fairy tale/Fable

Protagonist biggest bike fantasy:
The Bicycle Thief: No fantasies, just wants to earn a living
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Wins the Tour de France

Antagonist:
The Bicycle Thief: Poor, epileptic peasant named Alfredo who wears a German cap
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Rich, spoiled man/boy named Francis who wears an ascot

Signature line:
The Bicycle Thief: “Give me my bicycle back!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Forgotten female lead:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s wife, ignored after the first twenty minutes of the film
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Dottie, ignored by Pee Wee the entire film

Lack of help from the police:
The Bicycle Thief: “You’ve filed a complaint. There’s nothing more I can say!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “Let me be honest with you. Hundreds of bikes are stolen every month. Very few are ever recovered. We just don’t have the resources.”

Musical interlude:
The Bicycle Thief: Three-man band at a restaurant featuring ukulele, guitar and violin.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Twisted Sister

Is there a scene of the protagonist mourning over lost bike in the rain to show despondency?
The Bicycle Thief: Yes
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Yes

Loyal sidekick:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s little son Bruno
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee’s little dog Speck

Favorite scene that made me laugh but I can’t explain why it’s funny:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s son Bruno slips in the rain. Antonio asks, “What happened?” Bruno points at the spot and yells, “I fell down!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Mario the magic shop proprietor tries to sell Pee Wee various items culminating with a giant plastic head and Pee Wee screams, “NO!”

Coincidence alert:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio spots an old man talking to the boy who stole his bike
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Truck carrying the stolen bike goes by Pee Wee while he’s driving down the road

Most surrealistic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: None
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee’s movie within a movie is brought to the screen with James Brolin as P. W. and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie. The bicycle has become the ‘X1’ motorcycle.

Most neo-realistic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio has not only lost his bike, but his dignity, only to comforted by the touch of his son’s hand
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: None

Heroic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s friend Baiocco tries to help find the bike.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee saves some snakes from a burning pet store

Tragic lines said to the protagonist:
The Bicycle Thief: “Criminal! Scoundrel! Fine example you set for your son!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “There’s no basement at the Alamo!”

Director’s use of non-actors:
The Bicycle Thief: Casting of many non-actors in pivotal roles
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Casting of non-actor Morgan Fairchild

Director’s later change of pace:
The Bicycle Thief: Vittorio De Sica later made his own fairy tale/fable in Miracle in Milan
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Tim Burton later went neo-realistic (to a degree) in Batman

Is this film in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die?
The Bicycle Thief: Often regarded as one of the top ten films of all time. Of course it’s in the book!
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: No, but it probably ought to be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

SMOKE (1995)

I always look forward to the next Paul Auster novel. His works include: Book of Illusions, about a professor working on a book about a silent screen comic who disappeared, Man in the Dark, about a book critic trying to cope with nightmares about the death of his wife, Invisible, the story of a poet who witnesses a murder, Oracle Night, about a novelist…well it’s a novel within a novel-a common Auster theme. Brooklyn Follies is one that doesn’t have a main character that’s a writer, but does have an important character that owns a bookstore.

Mr. Auster’s film Smoke has long scenes and a slow pace that make this kind of a “Brooklyn Yasujiro Ozu film.” (at least according to Auster and director Wayne Wang)

This must have been a hard movie to promote. Auster’s books are more about character and narrative than lending itself to easy summation or a pat ending. (I still don’t know what the ending of Man in the Dark was about.)

The promotional poster for Smoke has Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing both smoking cigars while flanking a laughing Harvey Keitel with a small picture at the bottom of William Hurt on a cigar label. Not that I have a better suggestion for a promotional poster, but the one they used ain’t it. Though according to the commentary the film did relatively well and was even more popular overseas.

The characters are typical Auster. The main character of Smoke is, of course, a writer. William Hurt plays the Auster stand-in, a novelist who has experienced the tragic loss of his family and has never gotten his life back on track. Harvey Keitel plays the cigar store owner with the quirky habit of taking a picture of the same street corner at the same time everyday. Harold Perrineau plays the at-risk but basically good kid trying to make it under difficult circumstances.

It was great to see this first rate cast on their game: Hurt as the writer trying to get the motivation to write again. Perrineau as Thomas (Rashid) Cole, a seventeen year old looking for some direction in his life as well as his father. Watchers of the show Lost might be surprised to see Perrineau as a seventeen-year-old. But he really does look young. Perhaps Stockard Channing used her Grease experience to give him tips on how to play seventeen while in your thirties. Also, this is my second Stockard Channing movie in a row. I don’t think there are any more Channing performances on the 1001 movie list. (What, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh didn't make the cut?) Does anyone else remember Ms. Channing in the early 70’s TV movie, The Girl Most Likely to... about an unattractive and mistreated girl who has plastic surgery and takes her revenge on her abusers? But I digress. Forrest Whitaker as Rashid’s estranged father who lost his wife in an accident that was his own fault (there’s that loss theme again!) is good as he almost always is. Best of all is Keitel. I can’t recall off the top of my head many other roles Mr. Keitel has played where he wasn’t a pimp, a crooked cop, a big time gangster, a small time gangster or the apostle that betrayed Jesus Christ. My point is, it’s nice to see him in a sympathetic role. The Christmas story that he tells to William Hurt near the end of the film is terrific. Though the odd camera close-ups during that scene are a bit distracting.

Recommended viewing and pick up one of Auster’s books while you’re at it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

GREASE (1978)


My thoughts on the worst movie of all time: Grease.

Okay. Grease isn't really the worst movie of all time. But it's definitely not a favorite.

The first time I saw this musical ode to 50’s I wasn’t overly impressed, but I wasn’t particularly appalled either. The following year, Hair, the musical ode to the 60’s was released. This was a far superior musical in my view. “Hair will be around and people will forget Grease.” I said. Well, it seems the opposite happened.
Grease has stayed around becoming an almost generational thing celebrating 20, 25 and 30th anniversary video releases.

Hair is only a footnote now. (Sorry Treat Williams. I tried.)

My displeasure at this turn of events made me dislike Grease all the more. But because of its inclusion in 1001 Movies, I thought in the spirit of open-mindedness I would give it one last chance.

After viewing:

Here’s the bad
1) You know how some of the great musicals smoothly transition from spoken dialogue to musical numbers? This doesn’t happen often in Grease. Numbers like Hopelessly Devoted to You just seem to start randomly like they’re being cranked out of a karaoke machine.
2) Casting Stockard Channing who actually attended high school in the 50’s as a high school student is a bit of a stretch.
3) And the drag race down “Thunder Road” seems less of race than just driving around aimlessly until they declare Danny the winner. I was expecting Spritle and Chim Chim to jump out of the back trunk at any moment.
4) Some of the cameos are curious too: What exactly is Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (Vince Fontaine) doing during the National Bandstand segment? He seems to be just wandering around aimlessly. Was he still in the movie? Kookie’s gone rogue! Where was the director to rein in this has-been?
And why did they have to invade the old actors home to cast the raspy voiced Joan Blondell as an octogenarian waitress? (This is a personal quibble. I just want to remember Joan as the sexy chanteuse from Gold Diggers of 1933.)
5) Coach Sid Caesar takes Danny to try his hand at different sports, wrestling, basketball, baseball, track etc. Does this strange high school have all its sports seasons simultaneously? Has this movie turned into the The Swimmer all of a sudden?
6) The T-Birds imitation of the Three Stooges get old quickly--like after one time.
7) And why are they all so mean to Eugene? This might be considered a hate crime today, if we can figure out what minority group Eugene belongs to.
8) The final song when the entire cast sings We go together like rama lama ding dong or whatever still makes me kinda queasy. Check that--very queasy.
9) And for a “family” film that likes to talk about flogging your log and teaches us that being a slut is much better than being a nice girl…well, why exactly is this considered a family film again?
10) And did they have to rip-off the flying car ending from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? If you’re going to rip off a movie, at least rip off a good one next time. (And the next time for Producer Alan Carr was the Village People epic, Can’t Stop the Music, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time to someone.)

The Neutral
1) Sha Na Na’s appearance. I can’t decide to put this in the positive or negative column. An interesting footnote is Sha Na Na is in at least two of the listings in 1001 movies, Woodstock being the other. I say at least two. They may have had a cameo in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that I may have missed.


The good (And it really is painful to say anything nice about a movie that
I’ve scoffed at for years. )
1) I must admit to liking the song Summer Nights. I thought the contrasting viewpoints and dancing was good here. (Yep, saying that was indeed painful)
2) And despite being long in the tooth for a high schooler, Stockard Channing is admittedly good.
3) As is Travolta, who does a pretty decent Elvis impersonation on the song Greased Lighting.
4) And Olivia Newton-John has nice legs.
5) And Lorenzo Lamas has no audible dialogue, which is always a plus.
6) I also like Didi Conn, but I might be thinking of her in Shining Time Station and not this movie.
7) The Frankie Avalon number isn’t as bad as I remember.
8) The rumor in the drive-in scene going from car to car about Rizzo’s pregnancy is the best-choreographed scene in the whole movie.
9) And Michael Tucci as Sonny is annoying here, but did later become president of the Law Review on the TV version of The Paper Chase in later years. Wait, that’s more of a bad thing. I can come up with something else good…
I’m trying to be nice. I really am…

Oh, the hell with it. I’m just going to watch my old copy of Hair on Betamax.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ORDET (1955, DENMARK)



Quote #1 from the novel “Invisible” by Paul Auster.
If not for the end, Ordet would not have effected you any more than any other good film you’ve seen over the years.

It is the end that counts, for in the end does something to you that is totally unexpected. And it crashes into you with all the force of an ax felling an oak.

The farmwoman who has died in childbirth is stretched out in an open coffin as her weeping husband sits beside her. The mad brother, who thinks he is the second coming of Christ, walks into the room holding the hand of the couple’s young daughter. As the small group of mourning relatives and friends looks on, wondering what blasphemy or sacrilege is being committed at this solemn moment, the would be incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth addresses the dead woman in a calm and quiet voice. “Rise up.” He commands her. “Lift yourself out of your coffin and return to the world of the living. Seconds later, the woman’s hands begin to move. You think it must be a hallucination that the point of view has shifted from objective reality to the mind of the addled brother. But no, the woman opens her eyes and just seconds after that she sits up, fully restored to life.

There’s a large crowd in the theater and half the audience bursts out laughing when they see this miraculous resurrection. You don’t begrudge them their skepticism. But for you, it is a transcendent moment. You sit there clutching your sister’s arm as tears role down your cheeks. What cannot happen has happened. You are stunned by what you have witnessed. Something changes in you after that. You don’t know what it is, but the tears you shed when you saw the woman come back to life seemed to have washed some of the poison that has been building up inside you.


My thoughts: The preceding passage was the reason I chose to see Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet.

Will my reaction be like Adam Walker (Auster’s character) or like those in the audience who laugh at the unlikely resurrection?

Well, I didn’t laugh and even though I had already read about it in the book, I couldn’t believe Inger (the character in the film) was really going to come back to life. I can’t say my reaction was akin to Adam Walker’s, but the film (based on a play by Danish pastor Kaj Munk) was stirring. I actually felt different than Walker in that it was more than the end, it was the building towards the end. Brother number one’s loss of faith, brother number two’s overdose on Kierkegaard leading him to think he is Jesus of Nazareth and brother number three’s wish to marry a girl whose family's religion is not compatible with his are all important parts that must be understood to even appreciate the ending.

You might find this film a heavy trip, so if you chose to venture through it, you may want to bring along a pint or two of Tuborg for your journey.

Let me move on to a lighter question.

Quote #2 from the novel “Invisible” by Paul Auster
Little by little, you come to understand the library is good for one thing and one thing only; indulging in sexual fantasies.

My thoughts: Well, first I’d like to say-oh no, we’ve run out of time for today’s blog. Topic to be continued at a later date.

Monday, November 16, 2009

SHERMAN'S MARCH (1986)



When the dastardly General William Tecumseh Sherman cut his destructive path during the War of Northern Aggression through Atlanta, Savannah and the Carolinas he left in his wake…a guy trying to find a date about a hundred years later.

I didn’t know what to make of this documentary at first. Ross McElwee starts out trying to study Sherman’s March, but digresses most of the movie meeting women he knew before, women he dated before, women he wanted to date before and women he never met before. The subtitle A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation is really closer to the mark than the main one.

Despite a slow beginning, I became interested in his journey and the various women he meets. And at 155 minutes, it’s a journey that took only slightly less time than Sherman’s actual march to the sea.

Here are some of the women he encounters listed here for no other reason than because I feel like listing them.

Mary, a childhood friend who now (now being 1986) models and fantasizes about Christopher Reeve. Pretty in a mannered, wholesome way, Mary is divorced, yet doesn’t believe in divorce. Sounds problmatic for future relationships.

Pat, wants to find work as an actress. She likes to talk about not wearing underpants and does odd gyrations that she describes as “cellulite excericses.” Ross describes his attraction to Pat as “primal,” which most of the male viewers of this film will probably share. However, right when Pat is the center of this film as herself, she leaves town in the off chance to be in a Burt Reynolds film. Leave one of the 1001 movies you must see before you die to be in Cannonball Run 17? Bad career move, Pat.

Claudia, is pretty, seems nice. Problem with Claudia is her settlement “friends.” Let’s just say that a relationship with Claudia would probably end with a hostage situation and ATF officers. Ross did well to move on here.

Winnie seems to have it all. Sexy, back to nature, likes to sunbathe nude, can milk a cow and is working on a P.H.D. in linguistics. She might be worth fighting the mosquitos for, but if I remember right, she was committed to someone else. Sorry, Ross.

Then there’s Jackie, who Ross dated before. Cute, petite, committed peace activist, teacher. Jackie thinks that a politcal ally is more important than a lover. You must have hurt her Ross. Move on you cad!

Then Ross runs into a Burt Reynolds lookalike who is trying to become Burt Reynolds's double? Enough references to Burt Reynolds, already!

Then we meet the woman who can only be described as a force of nature, Charleen. Charleen is Ross’ ex-teacher who knows she has found the right girl for Ross. It seems Ross is failing in his love life and Charleen feels the need to take over for him. And I mean take over! Despite her pushiness, Charleen’s southern charm makes her likeable.

Unfortuneately, Dee, the woman Charleen trys to get Ross to marry is a little on the bland side. Sweet, nice. Looking for a Mormon. Ross isn’t a Mormon. Relationship over.

Then there’s Joy the rock singer who is about to move away from the Carolinas to seek fame in New York. (What’s wrong with just rocking out at the Charlotte 7-11?) Ross admits to becoming an instant groupie for her and she does have that cute flippy 80’s hair, but a future failed attempt at fame in the Big Apple awaits and they say their goodbyes.

Finally, Karen. The unobtainable girl from high school with the killer smile who has since become a lawyer still has Ross’s number. Ross tries to talk her into falling in love with him, but she is in love with a guy who I’m sure doesn’t treat her as well as he should. Ross actually spends a couple of days with her boyfriend and a couple of his friends. They move giant plastic dinosaurs from place to place. Ross says he never understands what it was all about. All I know, if I were moving giant plastic dinosaurs all over the place, I’d say, “What the hell is this all about?”

Then Ross sees a movie being made. He tries to film the cast and crew. It’s a movie with, oh no, Burt Reynolds again! Ross is kicked off the set and threatened with arrest. A woman Ross interviews shows a sleeping baby that was kissed by Burt. The woman says about the baby, “She will know. She must know the truth about the day she was kissed by a guy in a toupee who played Dan August on TV.” (Quote not exact)

Ross later found a wife, teaches at Harvard and hopefully has lived happily since.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957, SWEDEN)



Warning: If you take a college film class you will probably have to see this film.

Second Warning: Do not confuse with the Demi Moore 80's film The Seventh Sign

Some have said that it is a useful (I think it was critic David Denby) to view classics at different times in your life and though the work remains the same, how it affects you differs according to the stage of your life in which you view it. (See or read it as a whining-school boy, then when you are bearded like a pard and then when you are wearing pantaloons and pouchy…I think my all the world’s a stage speech might be a little off.)

I’ve seen The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) three times now, in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. It absolutely blew me away on my first viewing. The second time I saw it, I still thought it was a good film, but not as great as I thought it was initially. This latest viewing, made me think I was right the first time. (Perhaps on my second viewing I had a cold or something.)

Not only is this a movie you should see before you die, I think if you could time it right, this should be the movie you see ON the day you die. (Well, you come up with something more appropriate!)

A brief response to criticism of Bergman

He’s too depressing
There’s much heroism in this film that makes me feel better about the human animal. Besides, you try make a movie set during the Bubonic Plague or the Crusades and see how happy YOU can make it.

He has no sense of humor
The scene where death cuts the performer down from the tree is funny. Also, the knight’s squire and the acting troop performers are very funny. The dumb blacksmith is very, very funny. Give me a minute and I'll come up with a part that's very, very, very funny. What do you want? 1349: The Musical?

His films are boring
I don’t find him boring (Okay, not the greatest of comebacks. Deal with it.)

He's pretentious
Maybe a little.

I wanted to list some of the standout actors in this film and I really feel like listing the entire cast, so just go to IMDB and read the entire cast list for Det sjunde inseglet. I envision them forming a human chain with death leading the way and taking their bows along the way to a thunderous ovation. Well, I’ll list one personal favorite: Gunnar Björnstrand.

I meant to end this blog, but I had to mention what a great scene the procession of sinners and monks who are lashing each other for the sins they committed is.

And...the scene where the devout knight Antonius and secular squire Jons view the buring of the witch from different perspectives.

And...don't forget the scene where most of the cast is introducing themselves so casually to death.

It is finished.

Friday, November 13, 2009

PI (1998)


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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TAKEN (2008)


As the lights came up in the movie theater, I found myself unable to raise my head out of my hands. The world had become a still and cold place. I finally forced myself upright in the hope to get some commiseration from the person in the seat to my right. But this person was actually smiling! The man in the seat to my left was shaking his head. But it wasn’t in sorrow. He even high-fived the teenager in the seat next to him. At that point, the audience burst into applause. I looked around the theater in amazement. Had the world gone mad? Was this Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Or could I have somehow entered The Twilight Zone?

I ran out of the theater past the concession stands and leaned against the glass door next to the box office. I picked up a stray newspaper that contained blurbs raving about the film. “A briskly paced action thriller,” “Liam Neeson has never been better,” “The best action film of the year,” were the first three headings. I crumpled it and cast it aside.

The fogginess that had infiltrated my thoughts began to turn to anger.
A couple walked up to me and said, “Hey, you were in the theater with us. Wasn’t Taken the most awesome movie you ever saw?” Their timing was bad, because I was no longer able to just nod, smile or blow them off. I tilted my head and glared at them. “Of course.” I shouted. The tone of my voice made them jump back. “Yes, I like a movie with a plot that is basically ‘I told you not to go to stay in an expensive part of Paris, you might get abducted in broad daylight. And I told you there might be Albanian slave traders there, but it's lucky you're on the phone with me right now and I just happen to know everything about international crime and espionage and you are at an isolated place in the adjoing yet accessible suite to where you are staying so the kidnappers can't see you but you can see them through a window abducting your friend so when they come get you all you have to do is yell out a description of them as soon as they take you and I'll piece it all together and kill off half of Europe to save you.’ And no, no that didn’t at all obliterate my suspension of disbelief. Not at all!"

The couple had actually walked away before I was halfway done with my speech, but I was going to shout it aloud for anyone who wished to listen. I saw the next line of customers waiting to go into the next showing. I tried to will them to see the mistake they were making, but they mostly ignored me and when they did acknowledge me, only viewed me with hostility.

My head started to throb again and I knew I couldn’t stay there any longer. I ran across the parking lot into a neighboring park. I saw a bench by a fountain and sat. My solitude gave me a little comfort as I took a deep breath. I tilted back my head and tried to continue to forget about the horror of the last couple of hours as I heard a voice calling my name.

“Chris!” I heard a second time.

I had thought the park was empty. I stood up. “Who’s there? What do you want?”

I followed the voice past the swing sets to the baseball field. There he stood at second base.

“Liam Neeson!” I said in a strained voice.

“My friend.” He cocked his head in discomfort as he spoke. “Why couldn’t you just enjoy the movie like everyone else? It would have been so easy for you to be like the rest.”

“Because” I said to him defiantly. “It wasn’t a movie. It was just one long stunt show. Offensively outlandish! Just an excuse to shoot something or blow something up. As unrealistic action movies go, It made Con Air look like My Dinner With Andre!”

Liam twitched. “I’m real sorry to hear that.”

It was then I noticed that he was holding an Uzi that was pointed at me. I looked around for a means to escape, but I didn’t think I would ever make it to safety before he could plow me down. He cocked his head again and part of his cheek began splitting apart.

“Oh, the hell with it.” Liam put his finger inside the opening in his cheek and pulled. Much to my horror, his face came apart with one pull.
I was in such a state of shock that I missed perhaps my only opportunity to get away. I looked back at the face. It wasn’t Liam Neeson. It was…

“George Lucas!” I gasped in fear. “I didn’t know you had anything to do with this movie!”

He laughed. “You are so naïve. Don’t you see I am the father of all such movies. I started it all. Well, I did have a little help.”

At that point, another figure came out of the dugout holding an AK-47.

“Steven Spielberg!” I gasped again.

Spielberg walked toward Lucas and they pointed their weapons at my head. “Yes, and you are going to add the film you just saw to your blog and give it a rave review.

“Never!” I said.

“Oh, did I forget to mention.” Lucas said. “It’s already too late.”

At this point, Spielberg pulled a laptop seemingly out of his bum and dropped it in front of me. The Internet page that was in front of me was indeed my blogsite and the movie entry read Taken (2008).”

“This…this isn’t right. I would never put this movie on my blog. Some hacker...”

“Quiet” they said in unison.

“None of this matters.” Lucas continued. “You won’t get out of this alive. Ironically, if the world was like it was in a typical action film, you might be able to manufacture an unlikely escape. Too bad this is the real world and you are certain to die. Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

I closed my eyes in resignation, taking some comfort in the fact that the last thing I would ever hear was a reference to a good movie. It was then I heard shots ringing out in a crossfire. I checked my body for holes as I opened my eyes.

I was unharmed!

I saw before me Lucas and Spielberg lying dead on the ground with their weapons unfired.

At that point, two men entered the baseball diamond. One from the first base side and one from the third base side. The figure that came from first base was holding a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and as he approached, my heart raced in recognition.

“Oh, my God. Color of Pomegranates director Serghei Paradjonov!”

He nodded in affirmation to me.

From third base came the second figure, who was carrying a Derringer pistol.
“And you’re Last Year at Marienband director Alan Resnias.” I said.

“Oui.” he said.

“We almost didn’t get here in time.” Paradjonov said in broken English as he dropped his gun down.

I dropped to my knees and contemplated the fallen bodies in front of me. I looked at Paradjonov and Resnais. “I don’t know how to thank you. I feel so ashamed. I made fun of your movies on my blog.”

“I know.” The Aremenian director said. “But I think you’re learning. You may one day learn the difference between art and commerce.

“Oui.” Resnais added.

I looked at them again. “But aren’t you dead? I asked.

Paradjonov laughed. “I think you still have to learn the lesson that art endures…and lives on past its creator.”

“Oui.” Resnais said again before he and Paradjonov disappeared into the night.

I easily managed to raise my head out of my hands. The world remained a still and cold place, but that was no longer a problem. I looked for some commiseration from the person to my right, but the fact that I received none no longer bothered me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958, GREAT BRITAIN)


A tribute to Tom Chapin’s Make a Wish:

If you were Dracula, you could be the Universal Dracula with Hungarian Bela Lugosi or later Universal incarnations with John Carradine including House of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff who doesn’t even play Frankenstein or you could be the silent Nosferatu who was played by Max Schreck who was a real person but was supposed to be a real vampire as played by Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire or the Herzog Nosferatu remake with Klaus Kinski who often acted like a vampire in real life though his daughter Nastassia is quite beautiful or you could be the TV version with Jack Palance produced by Dan Curtis who also did Dark Shadows which had Barnabas Collins who was also a vampire, but not Dracula or you could be the Dracula with Frank Langella who the ladies seemed to like in the day and men dismissed though he did later play Richard Nixon or you could be the funny Dracula with George Hamilton in Love at First Bite whose deep tan didn’t really seem to lend itself to being a vampire or you could be Leslie Neilson in Dead and Loving It who was really funnier than George Hamilton or you could be the obscure Old Dracula as played by David Niven where I can still remember them taking the letters off the marquee one week after I saw it and realized it wasn’t a hit or you could be the Coppola/ Oldman version which I would comment on but I frankly remember little about it or you could be Andy Warhol's Dracula whose limb severing scene reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or you could be the 1971 film Dracula vs. Frankenstein which might be the worst movie ever made or be Billy the Kid vs. Dracula directed by the infamous “One Shot” Beaudine which was almost as bad or be the BBC version I saw in high school as I was reading the book which was a broken copy held together with a rubber band that Mrs. Moffett lent to me and the BBC version was edited and I was outraged at the time but now I understand the need to edit or you could be one of the many vampire knockoffs which I won’t get into now or…you could be one of the Hammer films.

The Hammer Film Studio's The Horror of Dracula begins with Jonathan Harker arriving at Dracula’s castle and declaring “My name is Jonathan Harker I'm the new librarian.” He later talks to the Count about going through his books and Dracula says what an honor it is for Harker to go through his collection and oh, who are they kidding? They're both just pretending! This movie isn’t going to be about librarainship. They were just teasing me. It’s about vampires!

Harker and later Van Helsing are out to end Dracula’s reign of terror. That’s the gist. Christopher Lee (who led a gay motrocylce gang in the 1980 film Serial has almost no dialogue after the first few minutes of the film. Peter Cushing (who played Winston Smith in a TV adaptation of 1984, in the 50’s), on the other hand, has plenty of dialogue. In fact, one of the more interesting scenes is when he talks about vampires into a recorder. But this stuff is basic Vampire 101. “They can only come out at night, they are repeled by a cross, use plenty of garlic etc.” You would think a man whose life's work is vampires would know all this already, but he’s reciting it like he’s trying to memorize it for a mid-term.

I really like the sequence where Van Helsing leaps to the window to tear down the shade to expose Dracula to the light. Don't ask me why, it reminded me of Peter Pan maybe?

Lee is a scary, hissing Dracula machine. The special effects of Dracula’s final deterioration are also pretty good. (Don’t worry, he’ll be back for more sequels)

Overall, a solid 82 minute piece of entertainment and frankly preferable to the Lugosi/Browning version, though I plan give that another view.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)


Phillip Seymour-Kaufman’s Capote said something to the effect of “I don’t see what the big fuss is about” when he talked about the hoopla surrounding his friend Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird. There has always seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between the critical opinion of this book and the people's more positive acceptance. The Modern Library’s rather academic top 100 novels of the century avoided To Kill a Mockingbird altogether. A similar 20th century list from librarians put To Kill a Mockingbird squarely at #1.
Well since I’m a librarian, it’s lucky I fall on the side of the latter list. So take that Dill! Go hang out at Studio 54 and The Merv Griffin Show and try to lighten up.

Screenwriter Horton Foote did a nice job of adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for the screen. Some of the details in the transfer to celluloid are lost of course, but the essence of the story of the noble Atticus Finch and his children and the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman is still intact.

The scene where Atticus’s daughter Scout sees the reclusive and scary Boo Radley for the first time, smiles and says “Hey, Boo,” gets me every time whether in print or on film.
(Excuse me for a moment. I’m Verklempt.)…Thanks, I’m better now.

Gregory Peck was a great Atticus of course, but I also like the performers in some of the smaller roles: Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Collin Wilcox as Mayella and of course Birmingham’s Mary Badham and Phillip Alford as Scout and Jem. (What a great way to find kids with real Southern accents! Actually cast from the South!)

I thought the music was a little heavy handed at times, but composer Elmer Bernstein said he meant to go overboard with the music to give it a childlike element. Don’t you hate when DVD extras ruin a perfectly good criticism? So, I guess I should give a guy who was nominated for 12 Oscars for musical scores the benefit of the doubt.

I did think the movie could have done without the voice-over narration. It made me think of the screenwriting guru McKee from Adaptation who bemoaned the use of narration of any type.

Totally unnecessary coda:
As I was watching To Kill a Mockingbird, I noticed a lot of actors who later appeared in Star Trek.
So here is the sinister To Kill a Mockingbird/Star Trek connection:
John Megna who played Dill also played the annoying kid in “Miri”
Frank Overton who played the Sheriff also played Sandoval in “This Side of Paradise”
Paul Fix who played the Judge played the ship’s doctor in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Brock Peters who played Tom Robinson played a Starfleet Admiral in “Star Trek IV”
William Windom who played the prosecutor played Commander Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”

I belive I've also unearthed a lesser To Kill a Mockingbird/Twilight Zone connection.
Collin Wilcox who played Mayella was in “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”
Robert Duvall who played Boo Radley was in “Miniature”
Mary Badham who played Scout was in “The Bewitchin’ Pool”
Kim Hector who played Cecil Jacobs was also in “The Bewitchin’ Pool”

Can all this be mere coincidence? I think not!