I did not see it when it came out. I was turned off by the director. I knew Bob Clark was responsible for the "Porky's" movies and I really believe that they were a waste of my time. I believed that I was above them and did not expect that he could actually create a movie that would interest me. I know that sounds awful snobby. Since that time, I have watched the first two of the franchise and found them much less offensive and more structured then I expected.
Anyway, it was my older brother that first introduced me to "A Christmas Story" in 1987 and I have not stopped watching it yearly since. Although the story reflects a generation other then my own, (I would have been Ralph's age in the 60s) I still can see certain things in the family interaction and the child's daily life that reminds me of growing up in general. Being one of a whole class full of goobers, using avoidance to deal with bullies and wishing for something big that proves to be less then what you expected. I am constantly using the dialog and events of this movie in daily conversation, that affect intensifying as the holiday draws near. I have even been known to serve duck instead of turkey and I must say it get rave reviews. Although it is centered around Ralphie, for me it is Darren McGavin that makes the movie the most enjoyable. I see parts of my father in him. Hearing him working on the furnace reminds me of being present when my dad worked on cars. He got the job done but still found that a steady stream of expletives provide the added torque required to free a frozen nut. I wonder if my daughter sees parts of me in the movie father as well.
"A Christmas Story" will always have just as iconic a stature as any other film, holiday themed or otherwise, even eclipsing the Granddaddy of all Christmas movies "It's A Wonderful Life". And I will always remember that my brother Steven gave it to me as the ultimate gift that keeps giving.
Steven always seemed to be an inside source to some great hidden gems like Penelope Spheersis' "Dudes" starring John Cryer and "Pass The Ammo" with Bill Paxton and Tim Curry. Ironically both of these have NEVER been released on DVD and I was forced to make a transfer from VHS just to keep them in my collection. On the other hand Steven loved Steven Segal movies as well. Just goes to show you that there is no accounting for taste, good OR bad.
Notable Exceptions: With the coming of Robert Downey, Jr. as "Sherlock Holmes" I am reminded of Bob Clark's contribution to the Holmesian catalog with "Murder By Decree". Christopher Plummer is the detective (one of my favorite outside of Jeremy Brett) supported by James Mason as Watson. Holmes goes after Jack the Ripper, and was the first time I had ever seen the conspiracy theories tying the Ripper to the British royals on film.
Love Me Tonight (1932) A early musical featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart, directed by Rouben Mamoulian is not as full blown as musicals would eventually become. Maurice Chevalier is a lowly tailor who falls for a well stationed princess. When the tailor presses an aristocrat to pay his unpaid bills, the deadbeat introduces the tailor to princess's family as a baron. Not the first movie about love blossoming from different sides of the track, or maybe it really is. Chevalier's performance of "Mimi" may have served as inspiration for a Flight of the Conchords song.
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Ernst Lubitsch directs a story of thieves and pickpockets that become part of a love triangle with a mark.
Inclusion of these titles in "The Book" is, in my humble opinion, a coin toss. It's back story concerning the censorship of risque scenes and dialog in light of today's culture is probably the most interesting aspect.
I had started reviewing Mel Gibson when I realized that his contributions were already covered in previous blogs(When Actors Direct & Once Was Definitely Enough), so rather then lose the killer title I am adapting it for Mel Brooks.
The Producers (1968) I was an early fan of Mel Brooks and had loved "The Producers" decades before it was became an Off-Broadway musical sensation. The release of the musical is good, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick providing wonderful performances, but Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder will always be my favorite Bialystock and Bloom. Dick Shawn's LSD was a terrific salute to a bygone perception of the flower child.
Blazing Saddles (1974) The first Brooks movie I ever saw and what a wonderful nonPC comedy. With great performances all around.
Young Frankenstein (1974) Mel Brooks broke the mold when he parodied the iconic genre film when he did this one. From Gene Wilder's Dr. Fronk-en-steen, to Marty Feldman's Eye-Gor, to the Frau Blücher (hear those horses?) of Cloris Leachman and Peter Boyle's Monster this one is a keeper. Must not shortchange Madeliene Kahn and her hot rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Although Mel continued to provide laughs in his movies into the 90's they just were not up to the caliber of these three comic masterpieces.
Notable Exception: A bit different from his other straight-forward comedy's is his "Twelve Chairs" with Ron Moody and a very young Frank Langella
Milos Forman 1967 film "The Fireman's Ball" is a real find. A celebration honoring a Fire Chief's 86th birthday seems like a pretty simple matter. As the planning breaks down, the resulting party is a hilarious interaction between awkward regular folk. From the "Beauty Contest" almost totally devoid of beauty, to the disappearring lottery prizes to the response to the neighborhood fire is pure slapstick reminiscent of a silent comedy classic.
Forman insistance that it was not a political film did not keep it from being banned in his own home country.
I found this one on the Independant Film Channel. Be on the lookout for it. Even if you are not a big fan of foreign films, the reading of the subtitles become almost unnecessary as the film unfolds.
Emile De Antonio's documentary provides an account of the history of VietNam from the occupation by colonizing French troops to deployment of American troops. As documentaries go, it is an interesting look at a time in history. I was a student during the events filmed, the 9th grade when Saigon fell. I can't help but parallel many of the events with the more recent activities of the Iraq war. It documents the American politics that lead to the U. S. involvement that, in hindsight, are quite shocking. I must be careful to critique the film rather than the culture of the decade. If you have no preconceived notion of the VietNam conflict this is certainly a good place to start, but be careful. If you fall among the many millions that think that America can do no wrong, this film will probably upset you. I wonder if the hawks of DC released anything as a counterpoint to this, as I would be interested to see the spin that was produced. While the politicians of the time viewed it as necessary measures to halt the spread of Communism, DeAntonio shows the activities as a civil war deserving no more foreign involvement then was provided during the American Civil War. It provides a unapologetic look at the mechanics of warfare and a glimpse of the "Ugly American". Easily understandable why it was so vilified upon release during the height of the conflict. Could not have eased any of the anti-war sentiment prevalent at the time.
As a side note, the wife and I just purchase a brand new bedroom set (quite attractive I must admit) and upon delivery, I saw that it was manufactured in VietNam. No really point in this, I'm just saying...
The introduction of Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" in THE BOOK is one of those Cinderella stories. Originally filmed in 1977, it skyrocketed to fame when included in a survey of best movie of 2007 after a revival that included the Berlin InternationalFilm Festival. Minimal filming technics allow a story of a common family living in the Watt's area of LA. The lead character works in a slaughterhouse while the time spend ON THE JOB in the movie is minimal, it seems apparent that the job itself and financial hardships, takes it's toll on him. His interaction with wife and children though touching, seems saddened. Though the family seems happy enough to be scrapping by, the influence of the neighborhood seems to really disappoint them at many different turns. Also, a key element is the exposure of the children to a neighborhood where they are basically left to their own devices, and though an adult intervention would more than likely lead to stern direction, they seem to get through the growing up of their lives unscathed.
"Killer of Sheep" was a great find. It was shown on TCM along with several other Burnett works and and interview with the director himself. Keep your eyes open for any opportunity to see this.
This was one of those "ripped from the headlines" stories about a town that has let the lawless element run roughshod for too long. It has all the elements of a good vengence movie, a gangster movie and a morality movie all rolled into one. While a good, informative film, I could not help but see a comparison between it and the Original "Walking Tall" with Joe Don Baker and wish that it could be remade by Martin Scorsese. While it was an interesting story it's telling seems to be only half completed. When the people of Phenix City stand up against the criminal element, the movie ends when the Governor is called and persuaded to call out the militia. So much more seems ripe for the telling and Martin Scorsese seems perfect for it.
I caught this one on TCM, a great venue for the older films from "The Book". With at least 4 scheduled per month, it has been instrumental in helping me see about 20 percent of the the films that were not already under my belt and finding great silent and foriegn films for my collection.
"The Ascent" tells the story of a Soviet Union occupied by Germany during WWII. Directed by Larisa Sheptiko and released in 1976, this film illustrates the lengths those affected by war will go to for survival. Filmed in black and white, I was immediately sympathetic as the subjects were partisans, part of a civilian army fighting for their own lives much more than for their party, they fight for their country and their way of life. Lately I have been interested in seeing films that portray the acceptance of the conquered for the conqueror, as seen in Melville's "Army of Shadows" as well as 2006's "The Lives of Others".
As two partisans attempt to find food for their group, they encounter fellow Russians, some who have accepted their occupation and German troops. Though they work together to fight off their enemies (German Soldiers AND the brutal Russian winter) they are eventually captured and interrogated by Russian Liaison to the occupying force.
Sheptiko's film is a great film worthy of a place in "The Book".
Preston Sturges had a short tenure as a Hollywood "golden" boy lasting little more than a decade, getting screenplay and director credits in over a dozen films, but his must see movies interestingly span a period of 2 years. He reinvented the screwball comedy style of the thirties for a newer generation.
"The Lady Eve" (1941) Barbara Stanwyck stars as a con artist who is bested by her mark played by Henry Fonda. She then attempts to pose as another high society heiress (apparently, a wig was all it took back then to become unrecognizable) just for a chance to beat the mark that bested her earlier, she falls for him and true love triumphs.
"Sullivan's Travels" (1941) When a Hollywood director (Joel McCrea) known for his shallow comedies, tries to get the green light for a meaningful drama of the downtrodden, he leaves his posh life behind (but never TOO FAR behind) and rides the rails to rediscover the common man. He connects with a down and out Veronica Lake, who attempts to help him through his adventure without really knowing his real identity.
"The Palm Beach Story" (1942) A story of marriage, and deception. Joel McCrea (again) stars with Claudette Colbert star as two sets of twins who hijack the wedding so that each can marry the other. If this sounds confusing, I'm not surprised. Even with the confusion, this one is a great comedy full of kookie charactersand rapid fire wit that needs to be seen to really be appreciated.
Notable Exceptions: "Hail the Conquering Hero" Eddie Bracken plays a man returning home with a little more fanfare than expected. The stories that he told his mother about his assignment to combat are greatly exaggerated, especially since he was rejected by the marines for chronic hayfever, have gotten around town. Now, instead of coming clean to his mother that he had been working in the San Diego shipyards, he is urged by a few marines, who out of respect for his dead father, (a WWI Marine hero) accept the hero's welcome.
Lon Chaney's contribution to cinema is often overlooked except by die hard fans. The man who used make-up and physical contortion bordering on torture to create characters not easily forgotten has only been picked for two entries, making him one of the most under-represented actor in "THE BOOK".
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) No shortage of stars have since played Erik but they all owe Chaney a genuine reverie. His make-up alone at the time was reported to have triggered screaming AND fainting.
The Unknown (1927): A circus story (and he did many if these) has Chaney as a fugitive. He makes his living as an armless knifethrower who uses his feet. It seems his character in fact is not armless and fools everyone by binding his arms to his torso. Why would someone do something so drastic, why to hide the easily identifiable double thumb on his right hand. Just seeing Chaney perform armless is worth the time. This, however, is a very dark ironic story
Notable Exceptions: "London After Midnight", the ultimate LOST FILM, with the best chance of seeing it is on TCM, who presents a version that incorporates what little motion footage available with production skills and full intertitles to get as close as possible to the original movie experience. Chaney's vampire was one of the creepiest for many decades, second only to Murnau's Count Orlock. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Long before Charles Laughton, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Hopkins or the Disney animated slush, Chaney's Quasimodo rang the bells silently and still was able to chime in as the best. The Blackbird may be one of his more physically demanding roles since he portrays a criminal's twin who's body is twisted to a degree that even watching him move is painful. In the past 4 years, thanks to TCM and Sonic DVD burners I have added about 26 Chaney titles to my home collection.
Fritz Lang's film making career began in post war (WWI) Germany. As with many of the films coming from there at the time, his early expressionism was unique to the film industry.
Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler a.k.a. The Gambler (1922) Part Fu Manchu part Moriarity, Dr Mabuse will do what is necessary to get a more scratch. The criminal mastermind began his long career in movies in this film. The diabolical doctor seems to have control over time as well, since it really seems to stand still getting through this one. Interesting enough if taken in small bites but I have been hard pressed to make it through in one sitting.
Metropolis (1927) This is probably Lang at his greatest. A story about class, station and the respect for the parts that make the whole. Even the lowest most insignificant piece, when stressed can break and shut down the machine.
M. (1931) This one practically invented the film noir movement. Peter Lorre wrote the book on creepy. When the police are unable to stop a serial child murderer, the job falls to the criminal underworld. Every eye and ear on the street is on the lookout and dispenses justice without a long drawn out court process.
Notable exceptions "Der Mude Tod" a.k.a. "Destiny" and "Die Nibelungen" a 2 parter telling the saga of Seigfried and "Woman on the Moon" if only to see how space travel might have been anticipated. The spaceship's dormitory sized rooms get a laugh out of me every time.
Viewing Luis Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou" (1929) and "L'Age D'Or" (1930) was the point where I realized that "The Book" was going to take me on a wild ride. I had actually found full versions on line, that since are not as easily findable. Buñuel used the camera, subject and film like a paintbrush, model and canvas creating one of the earliest WTF moment. It's length alone makes it susceptible to multiple viewing in an attempt to interpret some kind of meaning. Good luck with that, though I have seen it several times, since I first opened the book, I am no closer to a full understanding. First off, I have no idea what this movie has to do with an Andalousian Dog. Collaboration with Salvador Dali is apparent. The King of Surrealism's influence can be seen in the focus on ants and the rotting carcass just as his actual physical presence can be seen as one of the monks being dragged with the piano. "The Age of Gold" though longer is no less enigmatic as many chapters seem to focus on a couple unable to comsummate their love, being constantly interrupted by pressure from family, society and the church.
Las Hurdes or Land Without Bread (1932) is an early documentary (though some consider it a parody) showing an area of Spain that has seen little or no progress who's sole livelihood is a locally made honey too bitter to be enjoyable. Abandoned by the Catholic Church, the inhabitants of the area are left to survive as best they can, with little help from a government that cares little for the region. As a political message, this film was effective enough to be banned in it's country of origin. As a cautionary tale it is at least interesting as a snapshot of a point in time for a certain area devoid of education and a caring influence, but as entertainment, it leaves a lot to be desired.
This is only the beginning of an introduction to the work of Luis Buñuel.
As a fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus from their earliest American market (KERA in Dallas, Texas was the first American PBS station to introduce the show in 1975) any chance to see the troop was a golden opportuntity.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) The transition from short skit comedy to feature length comedy just worked well. Since the members each played major and minor parts, they found a way to tie a bunch of short skits together to provide a story from beginning to end.
Life of Brian (1979) Monty Python takes on the bible in this one and it is so full of great scenes and acting that I laugh just thinking about it, from the not-so-virgin birth in another manger on Christmas Night to the final musical number at Golgotha. Between Biggus Dickus and the legionaire that catches Brian in the act of defacing property with seditious graffiti and proceeds to give a Latin grammar lesson, this is probably the best of their big screen projects.
Notable Exception: If you are looking for items in the same vein as Monty Python, you can't beat "Yellowbeard". Graham Chapman in the spotlight as a womanizing pirate that tattooed his treasure map to his son's head. The only thing keeping him from cutting it off is the fact that he doesn't want to have to carry around a rotting head. Features just about every Python alum (with the exception of Gilliam) and other great comic actors, Cheech and Chong, Marty Feldman (died of a massive coronary within hour of filming his last scene) Peter Cook and Peter Boyle.
Originally released in Belgium in 1992, directed by Rémy Belvaux , "Man Bites Dog" follows a film crew following a serial killer (flawlessly played by Benoît Poelvoorde) for a documentary. Filmed in black and white in a documentary style, Poelvoorde is followed as he commits crimes, mugging for the camera and interacting with a society that does not understand his awkward personality. The film crew is not above the danger (two members are actually killed) and eventually acts as accomplices for the sake of their story. Don't ask the obvious questions. Where does one find an active serial killer that will allow a film crew to document their activities (in today's reality TV mentality, it is becoming less of a stretch), is there a moral obligation to stop filming and alert the authorities and is the film a document of the killer or is the killer a product of the documentary?
Jaws (1975) Spielberg's first real blockbuster. Three men and a boat against a humongous shark.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Richard Dreyfus as a man that is dealing with the knowledge he has that aliens are coming to earth.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) The movie that introduced the world to Indiana Jones. Spielberg collaborates with George Lucas, in an adventure that was inspired by the movie serials of days gone by. With three sequels under his belt (and talk of a fourth) while all of them may be at least worth seeing, he has not been able to match the success of the original. One of the perfect action movies.
E. T. (1982) Not a big favorite for me, but that doesn't mean that it's not good. Expands on his idea that space aliens would not necessarily be the kind that come to earth looking to dominate or destroy. If anything could be dropped from "The Book" it would be this one. I'll bet there are a lot of people out there that WOULD NOT agree.
The Color Purple (1985) After years of action and sci-fi, Spielberg returns to the human drama. I believe this is the point where Hollywood started taking him serious.
Jurassic Park (1993) Spielberg's adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel gave us an idea what could happen if man tried to reintroduce dinosaurs to the earth.
Schindler's List (1993) Liam Neeson is Oskar Schindler, a man using his position as a factory owner as a means of saving as many as possible from the concentration camps. Ralph Fiennes portrays a ruthless SS officer. Filmed in black and white.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) After surviving the landing at Omaha Beach, an Infantry squad is assigned to find a soldier, who is supposed to be sent home. A good story that portrays squad relationships on the edge of civility as they argue the validity of their orders and gives an eye-opening vision of D-Day. Makes you wonder how ANYONE could have walked away from the beach.
Heaven and Earth Magic (1962) A sixty-six minute animation piece by Harry Smith, made using cut-outs from old catalogs accompanied by sound effects not necessarily related to the visual activities. I couldn't help but feeling that this may have been an inspiration for Terry Gilliam when he was creating those animated segments in Monty Python's Flying Circus. I found this title on Youtube (cut into 7 separate parts). May not be the greatest video quality, but for this film I'm not sure it took too much away.
Dog Star Man (1962) Stan Brakhage's short film is an assault on the visual senses. Full of flashes of light and color, this is 60 minutes of confusion that may or may not have something to do with a man walking his dog up a mountain. This idea of the screen as a canvas for splashes of light used as paint got real old, real quick. Something about having those pictures introduced so quickly just left me confused and a little disoriented. By the time that an image is recognized of something that might be noteworthy (or maybe even interesting) it is replaced by another that you have scant seconds to register, recognize and react to before another takes it's place. Short of the man walking up the mountain , the most interesting thing is that he looks an awful lot like one of the cavemen in the Geico commercials. By the time I had made it through the Prelude and the four parts (not sure what the reason for the part segments) I really could have cared less what was going on.
Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1983) Part of a trilogy of films by Geoffrey Reggio, now this type of avant-garde is a bit more to my liking. While story and motive is still a bit of a mystery at least I was able to get clear extended views of the relationship between man, technology and the natural world. Brilliant, vivid photography leave you with no doubts of what you are seeing. None of those flashes that could possibly lead to epileptic seizure. Well worthy of viewing, with Philip Glass's musical composition adds to a mood and styling.
Notable Exceptions: E. Elias Merhige's "Begotten". Upon first learning of this film (a trailer attached to the "Shadow of the Vampire" DVD), I went on a frantic search for a place to view it. Finding it posted, in it's entirity on the internet, I was transfixed by the story that played out, though not immediately understandable, the filming is mesmerizing. The unconventional processing of black and white film creates images that keep you transfixed, not always sure what is going on, but does not allow you to turn away. Not for the squeamish, since the film depicts graphic human pain and suffering.
The Terminator (1984) James Cameron would introduce the franchise that would generate 3 sequels and a TV series. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cybernetic organism that in sent to the past (present day)to kill the mother (Linda Hamilton) of a rebel leader.
The Terminator: Judgement Day T2 (1991) Cameron follows up with what would be the best of the lot. This one really pushed the boundaries of special effect, often leaving you wondering how the hell that happened. Schwarzenegger gets to be the good guy in this one. Same kind of machine with different instruction manual.
Titanic (1997) The ultimate date movie. A man and woman from different sides of the tracks, come together and fall in love at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place. Cameron's attention to detail is uncanny. Although Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett give great performances, the star of this one is the ship. It is hard to imagine that they are not actually aboard The Titanic on it's doomed maiden voyage.
John Cassavettes directs Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk in the story of a couple that are going through a bit of strife, accentuated by the wife's manifestations of ODD BEHAVIOR. Maybe just obssesive-compulsive, with a little nervous exhaustion and manic depression thrown on to boot. When the wife is institutionalize for her breakdown, we don't get to see what the wife is put through but are left to watch the husband try to carry on. His love for his wife does not prevent him from chastizing her in public for her OCD like behavior or even striking her. Unfortunately, the homecoming after her release show that the healing may not be complete, since the brutish husband is unable to show empathy. The melt down of the nuclear family.
The 30s ushered in gangsters. Whether Hollywoods version of organized crime was authentic or not, it helped make stars.
Little Caesar (1930) Mervyn Le Roy directed Edward G. Robinson in his signature role as "Rico" Bandello. A two-bit hood who rockets to the top of the underworld, only to descend to the lowest depth with equal speed. Robinson would continue in hundreds of movies, but his work here is the one he is most remembered for.
The Public Enemy (1931) William Wellman directs James Cagney in the role that made him a household name. Much like "Goodfellas" this film follows Tom Powers, who's life on the streets leads him to a life of crime and easy money.
Scarface, The Shame of a Nation (1932) Howard Hawks directs Paul Muni. Muni is Tony Camonte, a gangster loosely based on the story of Al Capone. This one encountered stiff opposition from the review board, requiring censorship. The final edited product was disowned by producer Howard Hughes, who the took his original version to states without strict censors.
Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) Directed by Michael Curtiz, follows Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connelly, two kids on the road to nowhere. Caught in an act of mischief, Rocky is caught while Jerry gets away. Rocky spends time in reform school returning to the old neighborhood as James Cagney, who has no intention of going straight. Jerry, seeing the error of his ways, has become the priestly Pat O'Brien who has opened a home for wayward boys. Humphrey Bogart and George Bancroft launch a failed attempt to "rub out" Rocky which leads to homicide that sends Rocky to Death Row.
Force of Evil (1948) Abraham Polonsky's crime drama stars John Garfield as a lawyer working for a crime boss. What starts as a spotless reputation is easily marred by association with the bosses numbers rackets that is being managed by his brother.
White Heat (1949) Raoul Walsh's brings back Cagney, as Cody Jarrett a cold blooded, gang leader who loves his mother. Cody is not above killing to get what he wants and actually does go up in a blaze of glory.
Notable Exceptions: The Roaring Twenties (1939) Final team up of Cagney and Bogart. A look at the rise of criminal element created by the Volstead Act.
Benjamin Christensen's "Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages" (1922) What starts looking like a documentary about the belief in witchcraft and demons in medieval culture goes on to become a much more revealing story, portraying devils and demons consorting with villagers, tormenting nuns and monks, and rites of the witches sabbath. Christensen even gets to play the role of Lucifer in a campy way that could only be taken seriously in a silent movie. This film was actually banned for many years in the US, for graphic violence and sexual perversion. It's kind of hard to imagine nowaday just how shocking it could have been, retrospectively. It would eventually be allowed for viewing in the 60s when a shorter version would be narrated by William S. Burroughs. It even does so far as to associate acceptance of demonic possession as a means of dealing with psychological condition that were just not yet understood. When it comes down to it this movie is pretty darn good even by today's standards.