Friday 31 July 2009

Quiz Me!

Professor Severus Snape's Sorcerer-Tastic, Muggalicious Mid-Summer Movie Quiz is upon us. Now go take it and post answers before Snape turns you into a 3-headed goat or resets your blog's template changes.

1) Second-favorite Stanley Kubrick film.
At this moment, The Killing is leaning in to the wire to be my fave, so I guess that makes Clockwork Orange the runner-up. Man, the field is in tight behind them though...

2) Most significant/important/interesting trend in movies over the past decade, for good or evil.
Hard to deny the onset of DV and its use by major filmmakers, but I find the most interesting trend is the desire to make films (even comedies) longer than 2 hours - ie. typically way longer than necessary. A huge generalization of course, but I've been surprised at how the studios are allowing these longer films. The previous line of thinking was to keep them shorter to squeeze in additional showings, but I guess they've already given that up since each film is preceded by 15 minutes of commercials and 5 trailers. Perhaps their studies have shown that there's a benefit to the longer film? More snack trips due to the frequent bathroom breaks?

3) Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) or Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman)?
Haven't seen either, but Altman and Newman just can't possibly be bad...Can they?

4) Best Film of 1949.
The Third Man. Yep, boring answer. Don't care. Love the film. Gun Crazy is pretty dang wicked too.

5) Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) or Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore)?
Both great characters from two great comedies both starring the amazing Carole Lombard. Benny beats Barrymore for me though.

6) Has the hand-held shaky-cam directorial style become a visual cliché?
Only when the director doesn't know how to use it.

7) What was the first foreign-language film you ever saw?
Some strange slapstick French comedy when I was about 8. I'd love to know what it was, it's just that I can't remember a single thing about it. Likely I would hate the thing now. Granted, French was my second language growing up and I was actually going to a French elementary school at that time, so perhaps that doesn't count...

8) Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) or Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre)?
Neither - simply because I haven't seen a single one of their movies. Still, Peter Lorre would be hard to beat.

9) Favorite World War II drama (1950-1970).
The Dirty Dozen is way too much fun to be a straight drama, so I'll go with Frakenheimer's The Train.

10) Favorite animal movie star.
The dogs who portrayed Quill, the seeing eye dog (as puppy and as the older working dog). Not a great film, but far better than I ever expected it to be.

11) Who or whatever is to blame, name an irresponsible moment in cinema.
The ending of Julio Medem's Chaotic Ana when the heroine...

[gross spoiler ahead]

...defecates on the face of a U.S. Senator.

[/gross spoiler ahead]

Now that's subtle political commentary...

12) Best Film of 1969.
Z or Double Suicide...Z or Double Suicide...Z or Double Suicide...Um, I'll need some more time on this one.

13) Name the last movie you saw theatrically, and also on DVD or Blu-ray.
Unfortunately, the last theatrical screening I saw was Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs - not terrible, but just not overly satisfying. On DVD it was the Danish film How To Get Rid Of The Others - pretty much the same reaction for that. Though Louise Mieritz was quite excellent in it.

14) Second-favorite Robert Altman film.
Nashville. Short Cuts is still at number one. Again, there's a lot of competition.

15) What is your favorite independent outlet for reading about movies, either online or in print?
Blogs, blogs, blogs and more blogs. I like blogs.

16) Who wins? Angela Mao or Meiko Kaji? (Thanks, Peter!)
Does it matter who the competition is? Kaji can wipe you out with a stare and a sneer.

17) Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) or Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly)?
I'm quite fond of them both, but Mona Lisa is memorable in every scene she has.

18) Favorite movie that features a carnival setting or sequence.
Carnival Of Souls is the first thing that jumped to mind so I'm sticking with it.

19) Best use of high-definition video on the big screen to date.
Michael Mann was the first name that came to mind and Collateral sure is purty (a good film too), but two others overtook it after some reflection: Helvetica (they made the Helvetica font look good...) and Russian Ark (a single continuous, glorious-looking 90 minute shot).

20) Favorite movie that is equal parts genre film and a deconstruction or consideration of that same genre.
Again, let's go with my first thought: Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon. It's a mockumentary and a spoof of horror films that becomes its own horror film towards the end.

21) Best Film of 1979.
Monty Python's Life Of Brian makes me laugh like just about no other movie, except perhaps that scene in the same year's The In-Laws where Peter Falk is describing a great chicken sandwich. In the end though, Breaking Away is probably my favourite of that year. I can't help but think that so many of the "indie comedies" of this past decade are simply trying too hard to be this film - and they can't touch it.

22) Most realistic and/or sincere depiction of small-town life in the movies.
A Gentle Breeze In The Village is a beautiful sweet tale of a young girl transitioning from her one room schoolhouse into adulthood. I don't know how realistic this depiction of a small Japanese mountain village is, but it sure is sincere. Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita (who also did Linda Linda Linda), I desperately hope this gets wider North American release.

23) Best horror movie creature (non-giant division).
Damn, I love those Ju-On ghosts.

24) Second-favorite Francis Ford Coppola film.
Well, if you count The Godfather I and II as a single film, then Apocalypse Now would be my second favourite. If you don't count them as one, then I cannot fulfill the requirements of this question.

25) Name a one-off movie that could have produced a franchise you would have wanted to see.
The Incredibles. How great are those characters?

26) Favorite sequence from a Brian De Palma film.
The car crash in Blow Out is pretty great, but I'd be lying if I said it was anything else but the "Odessa Steps" sequence in The Untouchables.

27) Favorite moment in three-strip Technicolor.
The ballet sequence in The Red Shoes. Wowee.

28) Favorite Alan Smithee film. (Thanks, Peter!)
I like the fact that Michael Mann credits the "altered for TV" versions of his films (at least both Heat and The Insider anyway) to Alan Smithee.

29) Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) or Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau)?
I like Crash Davis. I like Costner as Crash Davis. It's still not even close though.

30) Best post-Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen film.
I was surprised by how much I really liked Vicky Christina Barcelona - whenever the narrator wasn't talking that is. As a matter of fact, simply due to the narrator, Husbands And Wives takes the top slot.

31) Best Film of 1999.
Helluva year. Mr. Death - The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. is possibly my favourite documentary ever and Being John Malkovich is one of the most original films I've ever seen, but it was the year Magnolia came out and I love every one of its 188 minutes.

32) Favorite movie tag line.
I'm absolutely at a loss for anything except for "In space, no one can hear you scream".

33) Favorite B-movie western.
That Budd Boetticher set was great wasn't it? Any of those would do fine, so I'll pick Decision At Sundown.

34) Overall, the author best served by movie adaptations of her or his work.
I can't quite think of anyone else but Jane Austen right now...Pride And Prejudice, Emma and Sense And Sensibility all have very good versions (some with more than one).

35) Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) or Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard)?
Easiest question of the whole set - Carole Lombard. OK, Irene Bullock, but I can't quite separate the two of them. Lombard makes a whiny, spoiled, rich girl endearing and attractive. I still don't quite get Hepburn, but to be fair I'm coming off having recently seen Desk Set so that doesn't help at all.

36) Favorite musical cameo in a non-musical movie.
Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds in Antonioni's Blow-Up.

37) Bruno (the character, if you haven’t seen the movie, or the film, if you have): subversive satire or purveyor of stereotyping?
I'm kinda tired of thinking about it to be honest. I've soured on the whole angle of putting people in awkward positions so that we can feel superior to them. It just lends itself to the wider issue of always looking for failure in others. Having said that, it can also be very funny at times (though I haven't seen Bruno). Therefore I end up feeling kinda hypocritical and that's why I'm tired of the question.

38) Five film folks, living or deceased, you would love to meet. (Thanks, Rick!)
The first 5 names that sprung to mind: Barbara Stanwyck, Jacques Tati, Seijun Suzuki, Jodie Foster, Martin Scorsese.

What, you think I'm going to miss an opportunity to post a screenshot of Stanwyck?

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Sequences of a Titular Nature #1

After seeing that lovely title sequence from the Coen Brothers' "Intolerable Cruelty" recently, I've been stumbling across a couple of other distinctive opening titles. So it's high time that something be done about it...

Of course, there are already several sites that focus on this, so I'll just post about them randomly when I find enough of them.

Desk Set (1957 - Walter Lang) - I was pretty surprised at how poor this film turned out to be...Though there's plenty of room for some inspired comedy in the idea of a TV Network's research library staff being replaced by a new "electronic brain", the concept limps along until it explodes in stupidity towards the end - not the fun screwball variety, just really dumb not-well-thought-out "craziness". Spencer Tracy seems to be walking through the film as if he was still in rehearsals while Hepburn should have been reeled in during several scenes. The script just doesn't pop like it should and the pacing is just somewhat off...Of interest is that many of the scenes are done in long single takes - I love that idea, especially when there's snappy dialog and room for improv, but in this case it straps the film of any energy. Except in two scenes that is: one where Hepburn and Joan Blondell (yay!) are drunk at a Christmas party and another with the two of them and Tracy in Hepburn's apartment - there's real natural chemistry between all the leads and these are the only times in the movie where I cracked a smile.

But isn't that opening shot a beauty? I love that Piet Mondrian floor and then the zoom to the IBM "state of the art" technology.

Delicatessen (1991 - Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro) - Upon revisiting this film for the first time in years, it clicked with me. Loving "Amelie" as much as I do, I don't know why this didn't work for me the first time out, but it hit all its marks in spades this time around. The set pieces, the bumbling suicide attempts, the blossoming love, the strange world outside that apartment building...Loved it.

The titles are done in a single shot as the camera moves across the different objects (from the rubble of the current world) that represent the different roles of the production crew.

There Was A Crooked Man... (1970 - Joseph L. Mankiewicz) - A rag tag group of new convicts show up to an old West prison, share a cell and plan to break out under the leadership of Kirk Douglas while warden Henry Fonda tries to revamp the prison to bring rehabilitation to its inmates. Chock full of potential with some moments, it ultimately just doesn't amount to much. It kept me relatively engaged, but Douglas is a bit too smarmy, Hume Cronyn and John Randolph overstay their welcome as a pair of battling old "friends", Fonda has little presence until late in the film and Warren Oates is mostly wasted.

But these titles sure are nice...

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Terror-ible, but fun...

I guess I've been a bit fixated with horror and monster films of late. No particular reason - they've just been a bit easier to post about. So here's another one that caught my eye recently...

Hajime Sato's 1966 "The Terror Beneath The Sea" is, by all accounts, a pretty terrible movie. The acting (an entirely English cast except for Sonny Chiba and a few other random Japanese characters) is weak, the dubbing just plain bad, the story ridiculous and the action scenes poorly constructed.

It's weirdly entertaining though. There's some spiffy sets and Chiba's hammy over-expressive facial contortions feel like they are purposely there to garner giggles. There's also this monster transformation scene complete with reaction shots:

"My God, he's being covered with tissue paper..."

"Oh no! Not the cinnamon drizzle!"

"I can't look...They've put him on a bed of arugula..."

"Pork ribs! Aaaaahhhhhh!!"

"They've put him on ice..."

"The hot cross bun treatment! The fiends!"

"Creamy vanilla icing! How could they?!"

"They wouldn't dare...They couldn't...They did! Almond slivers!"

"Lemon filling...Will they stop at nothing?"

And here's the result in all its technicolour, cross-eyed goodness:

See? These posts just write themselves...

Friday 10 July 2009

Basking In The Cesspool Of Filth #11

The Plague Of The Zombies (1966 - John Gilling) - This was apparently the only dip into zombie territory for the folks at Hammer Studios. They really should have done more though, since this was a very good early zombie film (before even "Night Of The Living Dead") with great sets and damn fine looking zombies. The citizens of a small village begin to die off in odd circumstances and then disappear from their graves. The local doctor calls in his former teacher to help figure out what's happening. Turns out there's an old cult-like ceremony that essentially infects chosen people with the curse and they turn into zombies after they die. At which point point they become slave labour (boy, talk about low-cost geographies...).

Murders In The Rue Morgue (1971 - Gordon Hessler) - Kind of a strange beast. That's not bad necessarily, it's just that I didn't expect gorillas...It has several good scenes (mostly the dream sequences of lead actress Christine Kaufmann) and a mostly intriguing plot that has acquaintances of the leader of an acting troupe getting killed off by a horribly scarred man who is supposed to be dead. It threatens to go off the rails on several occasions, but always seems to manage to right itself at the last minute. I love Jason Robards as an actor, but he just didn't work in this role for me. I kept thinking "What the hell is Jason Robards doing in the 1800s"? I guess that's my problem though. Also, Herbert Lom will forever be Chief Inspector Dreyfus (from the Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers) - I know that's not fair, but there you have it.

Cargo 200 (2007 - Aleksey Balabanov) - Not strictly horror, but it contains some really disturbing moments - most of which could be classified as black comedy (emphasis on black). However, because of the oppressive drabness of the film and the depressing Soviet era lives these people lead, it really sends some shivers up your spine. The term Cargo 200 is used to denote bodies of Soviet soldiers coming home from the front lines and it's apropos for the film - there's death everywhere. Even the living are essentially zombies walking through their lives. You can probably guess that it's all a pointed commentary on the Soviet system in the 80s as it crumbled...

Portrait Of Hell (1969 - Shiro Toyoda) - Peter over at Coffee, coffee and more coffee recommended this to me a short while ago, so of course I jumped right on it. There's some terrific imagery throughout the entire film - ghostly presences, fiery hellish scenes and really effective use of lighting. While society crumbles around him and poverty overcomes most everyone else, a Japanese Lord refuses to see it and asks a painter to create a portrait of paradise. The artist can't do it, though, since he can only see despair all around him, so the Lord agrees that he should then paint his own portrait of hell. Of course, all these characters are already living in their own different versions of hell. Highly recommended.