Silent Film Released in 2011 A Possible Oscar Contender?

27 05 2011

Copyright 2011 La Classe Américaine

This film was recently brought to my attention by a co-worker and I can’t tell you how excited I am to hear about it.  Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist was completely shot in black-and-white, in Academy Ratio (1.33:1) and is completely silent!  Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and Penelope Ann Miller, the film takes place in 1927 and centers around silent film star George Valentin.  At the dawn of sound, he’s worried his career might fall into shambles; whereas, in contrast, young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) sees the transition as an opportunity to propel to stardom.

The film made it’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival the other week and won Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.  In addition, the Weinstein Company have negotiated to bring it to wide release later this year, both domestically and internationally.  Could this film possibly be the first silent film in Oscar contention for Best Picture in nearly 70 years?   Could it be the first silent film to win Best Picture since the beginning of the Academy Awards in 1927 with Wings?  

Being a huge fan of silent films, I can only hope for such happenings.  I can’t wait for the release to see if this film really is as good as so many critics say it is.  In the meantime, I will have to be happy with the trailer, which is available in HD at:


Twilight Zone Master Guide has a Main Page

27 05 2011

So, to not junk up the site with hundreds of posts on the various Twilight Zone episodes I’m watching, I have created a main page for them.  This master guide will continue to be updated regularly until completion.  Check back often to see new episode reviews!

Continued Twilight Zoning

26 05 2011

Season 1, Episode 9 – “Perchance to Dream”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Released on November 27, 1959, this episode was directed by industry veteran Robert Florey, written by Charles Beaumont, with basis on his short story of the same name, and starred Richard Conte.  Conte plays Edward Hall, a man who is afraid to go to sleep for fear of dying.  He enters Dr. Rathmann’s (John Larch), a psychiatrist’s, office for an appointment.  In questioning him, Dr. Rathmann finds out that Hall has been awake for 87 hours.  Hall explains that he has always had a vivid imagination, as well as a heart condition since he was 15 years old.  His imagination is so vivid that it causes him to see and believe things to be there that are truly not.  Recently, he began having recurring serial-like dreams in which a strange woman named Maya is forcing him to do things that might endanger his life because of his weak heart.  Will the doctor be able to save him?

I love the cinematography in these early episodes.  The bulk of the series was shot by George T. Clemens and the style he put forth in giving such an eery quality to the crisp black-and-white through lighting and in camera tricks is truly breathtaking.  Director Florey was said to strive for perfection on set and was deeply influenced by expressionistic filmmakers of the past like Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau.  This episode certainly evokes an expressionistic quality that works beautifully for the story.  Beaumont’s script, and short story for that matter, are very cleverly put together.  Unfortunately, Beaumont suffered from believed Alzheimer’s and Pick’s disease and passed at the young age of 38.  Conte’s performance is also very believable and exudes interesting subtleties in the character.  So far, this has been my favorite episode since beginning the series for review.

As an interesting six degrees of separation side note, Richard Conte’s son, Mark, is a film editor.  The film I worked on a few years ago that was shot here in the Piedmont, The 5th Quarter, was edited by Mark.

Entering the Twilight Zone…

24 05 2011

Copyright Cayuga Productions and CBS Corporation

Maddie and I have gotten a little lax on finishing Twin Peaks.  We only have four or five more episodes to go before finishing the series completely, but we have taken a decent amount of time ever since the Laura Palmer episodes ended in watching new episodes.  A full series recap will be forthcoming once we finish.  In the interim, outside of watching movies, we started to spark up some of the old Twilight Zone episodes (original series era 1959-64).

It’s been awhile since I’d seen any Twilight Zone episodes, so I was excited to see that Netflix has nearly 140 Rod Serling-era episodes on instant watch.  Whatever is not up on the instant watch, I’m sure I will be able to find in my brother Patrick’s collection.  He literally has every episode of the entire original series and, if I am not mistaken, has seen all of them at some point or another, possibly twice.  Anyway, since Maddie had never seen an episode of the show, I felt it only right to introduce her.  Last night we saw three episodes.  I was immediately entranced with the series just as I had been years ago when watching them late night on the Sci-Fi Channel, and Maddie really enjoyed the episodes as well.  As an ongoing feature here at the blog, I will rate the episodes as I see them.  Hopefully, as time goes by, you’ll be able to check back here and get a nice overall guide to the entire series.  Once all episodes are watched and rated, I will make a main page with chronological listing from season one through season five.

Of course, a large part of the fun in watching Twilight Zone episodes are the twist endings and surprises.  To not spoil the story and thematic representations of the individual episodes, I will only give brief overviews of the plot.  Hope you guys enjoy, and now for the first three:

Season 1, Episode 5 – “Walking Distance” 

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on October 30, 1959, this episode was directed by Robert Stevens, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actor Gig Young (eventual Academy Award-winner for Best Supporting Actor in 1969 for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, whose career later ended in tragedy).  Young plays a middle-age advertising executive from New York, Martin Sloan, who is traveling back to his hometown on a whim for nostalgia’s sake.  When he arrives, however, he finds that the town is just the same as he remembers it and, eventually, realizes it actually is the same.  He has traveled 25 years into the past, where he runs into his mother, father and former self.

The direction of this episode and cinematography by series DP regular George T. Clemens is amazing.  The final scenes, with their dutch angles and atmospheric lighting, create an intriguing dream-like effect.  Time Magazine later rated this episode as the eighth best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 8 – “Time Enough at Last”

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on November 20, 1959, this episode was directed by John Brahm, adapted by Rod Serling and starred actor Burgess Meredith (probably best known as the coach in the Rocky series or Jack Lemmon’s father in the Grumpy Old Men series).  Meredith portrays bookworm bank teller, Harold Bemis, who is constantly in trouble at both work and at home for his insatiable reading habits.  While retiring to the bank safe to satisfy his desires, a Hydrogen bomb wipes out everything above ground.  Bemis exits the safe and realizes that he is the only person left in the world.

This episode is based off the short story of the same name by Lyn Venable and won director John Brahm a DGA award for excellence in television directing.  Meredith would go on to appear in several other episodes in the series and this episode is consistently rated as one of the best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 18 – “The Last Flight”

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on February 5, 1960, this episode was directed by William Claxton, written by Richard Matheson (of I am Legend, Stir of Echoes, Incredible Shrinking Man, etc. fame) and starred British actor Kenneth Haigh.  When Flight Lt. Decker (Haigh) gets lost over France during World War I in 1917, he lands his plane at an air force base.  Unbeknownst to him, he has landed at Lafayette Air Force base in 1959.  The Major General of the base at first thinks his outfit, plane and story are some kind of joke.  In the end, however, they realize he is not joking and this chance landing in another time is important in helping Flight Lt. Decker do the right decision in his own time.

Though not necessarily as flashy or well-revered as the other two episodes I reviewed today, I really liked the plot of this one.  It kept you interested from beginning to end and Haigh’s performance was perfectly on par.

The Thin Man (1934) Review

23 05 2011

Copyright 1934 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I had heard the name of the Thin Man series for many years and seen copies of various installments of the series in the local library since I was a kid.  For some reason, however, I had never taken the opportunity to watch any of the films.  This past weekend, the first installment, aptly entitled The Thin Man, made its way through my Netflix queue and into the mailbox.

Genre wise, the film is a murder mystery caper.  When a well-to-do inventor, Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis), leaves town and doesn’t return, the local police force unravel a web of suspicious characters, all with ties to Wynant.  After several people end up dead, Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O’ Sullivan), decides to confide in an old friend and former private detective, Nick Charles (William Powell), to help in solving the mystery.  The only problem is that Charles no longer works as a detective.  After marrying a wealthy socialite, Nora (Myrna Loy), he quit his day job and began living the easy life.  Nick and Nora, both insatiable alcoholics, spend their days drinking, having parties and taking care of their little dog, Asta.  Nick at first declines Dorothy’s offer to get involved, but Nora, who never knew him as a detective, thinks it would be exciting and urges him to take the case.  In the end, he reluctantly agrees.  Between drinks, he begins working on the case and catches on to many more clues than the police force, who are led by Inspector John Guild (Nat Pendleton).  To identify the murderer, a large house party is held at the Charles’s with all the suspects in toe.  The final deductions are made and the mystery is solved in grand style.

This is a very fun movie to watch.  It’s a murder mystery that, at the time was breaking new ground in story and plot that we are used to all to well today.  However, the film still holds up amazingly well.  The dynamic chemistry between Powell and Loy is a large part of what make the film so fun.  They play off each other with such lovingly jest that you can’t help but smile when they are on screen together.

Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, the film was originally supposed to be a B-movie.  Because of this, the entire film was shot in only two weeks by director W. S. “One-Take” Van Dyke.  To think that a feature film like this could be made within two weeks is truly mind boggling!  In the end, the film became an immense success and garnered Oscar nominations for Best Actor for William Powell, Best Writing for an Adaptation, Best Director and Best Picture.  Furthermore, the film spawned  five sequels, all with Powell and Loy in the leading roles of Nick and Nora.

“Beyond the Door” Cast/Crew Screening Last Night

23 05 2011

"Beyond the Door" Official Poster Copyright 2011 Shining Rock Productions

Last night was the first semi-public screening of the short I directed last fall, Beyond the Door.  Invites were sent to all the cast and crew of the film, as well as to select supporters, local filmmakers and other industry personnel for a premiere screening of the film.  Being that the film itself is still in the process of festival submissions, many of which have strict guidelines for screenings, this event was not wholly open to the public and was a free screening for only those closely involved with the project.

The event was held at Aperture Cinema in downtown Winston-Salem which is a small, independent movie theatre that shows arthouse films, foreign movies and other selections that the area multiplexes usually don’t screen.  It was a perfect atmosphere for the screening and I strongly urge anyone who is thinking of a Piedmont, North Carolina screening to consider this quaint two-screen theatre.

Needless to say, my nerves were at an all time high.  For projects that I shoot I usually get anxious, but nothing compares with being a producer/director in the hot seat during a first screening.  The screening was to start at 8:30 p.m. and I think I started feeling butterflies in my stomach about noon yesterday.  Relaxation didn’t fully set in until the opening title credit appeared on the screen.

Before the screening, I took some time and thanked the many people involved with helping get this film made.  I feel the silliest and most pretentious thing a film can promote is the “A film by ____” credit, because filmmaking is most definitely a collaborative effort from many technical and creative personnel.  As a director, it is my job for a singular vision to be achieved; however, this film is not “my” film, it is “ours”.

I was elated to sense an overall warm reception of the film last night and am greatly looking forward to its continued life.  The film, which is based on Philip K. Dick’s public domain short story of the same name, has already been submitted to a handful of festivals and more submissions are going out with each passing week.  After a festival run, a limited DVD edition will be available for sale to the general public and, eventually, marketing through various outlets on the internet.

A sincere “thank you” to all of those who were able to make it out last night for your kind words and support!  I look forward to continued life in this project for the next year to year and a half and am already bouncing around ideas for future films.  Don’t be mislead, however, as I am still a DP at heart and am continuing to shoot projects.  I will be shooting with a team for this year’s 48-Hour Film Project in Greensboro in June and in talks with several other directors about upcoming short and feature length projects as a Director of Photography.

Slacker (1991) Review

19 05 2011

Copyright 1991 Detour Filmproduction

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but great characters are really what make a great film.  Slacker is a perfect example of this concept.  Why?  Because it is essentially a plotless film with an ensemble cast that is really, really good.

Made on a $23,000 budget on 16mm, this was Richard Linklater’s (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, Scanner Darkly) first well-received feature on a large scale.  It was shot in and around Austin, Tx., and is largely just a series of vignettes centered around various 20-somethings.  Some of the various characters include a man who has just run over his mother, a crazy old conspiracy theorist who assaults people verbally with his views, a JFK assassination enthusiast, some guys who work on cars all day long, a girl trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear, etc.  It’s definitely a bizarre mix of characters, but the film manages to keep you intrigued throughout.  Early musings on later concepts explored in Linklater’s Waking Life also seem to be taking root in this early film with several pontifications on dreams.

The direction is very straight forward with minimal cuts; this, most likely, is due to budget constraints.  However, it works for the type of film being told.  The story, though plotless, has extremely sharp dialog that, in my opinion, is what makes the movie so damn entertaining.  A lot of the actors are obviously amateur, but bring a level of naturalism to the parts that really sell the roles.  Even Linklater himself makes an appearance as the main character in one of the vignettes at the beginning of the movie.

I really enjoyed Slacker.  It’s bizarre, comedic and witty, all elements of comedy that intrigue me the most in this genre of film.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Review

16 05 2011

Copyright 1959 Carlyle Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

This film is the epitome of courtroom dramas.  It’s epic, at two hours and forty minutes, and includes a huge cast of characters that centralize around a single murder case.

Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) is a former District Attorney who has recently lost his post in election and has reverted back to private practice.  Seemingly upset over loosing his post, he spends most of his time fishing or drinking with his old lawyer friend Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell).  One day Biegler receives a call from Laura Manion (Lee Remick) about taking on the case of her husband, Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is currently awaiting trial for murdering a bar owner, Barney Quill, who supposedly raped Laura.  McCarthy tells Biegler to take the job, and he does.  Being that Lt. Manion was able to premeditate the murder, the best defense they have is a plea for temporary insanity.  The last two hours of the film are intense courtroom drama between Biegler as the defense and Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), who is helping the local prosecuting attorney in the trial.  Witness after witness come through and the tides seem to change back and forth until the final verdict is given at the end of the film.

Wendell Mayes wrote the screenplay based on the book by John D. Voelker.  The script is extremely tight and has very realistic dialog for the era it was produced, which sometimes tended to be a bit melodramatic for modern tastes, especially in films of this nature.  Austrian born Otto Preminger directed the film and boy did he direct the heck out of this movie.  There are lots of dollies and other various motions in almost every shot that keep the film visually interesting.

The acting across the board is awesome.  Gazzara, O’Connell and Scott as a supporting cast are tremendous.  Remick as the flirty victimized wife really gives a great performance and is dazzlingly beautiful in this film.  The real kudos here, however, belong to Jimmy Stewart.  His portrayal of the relentless Biegler is a standout performance and, in a career as illustrious as Stewart’s, that’s saying a lot.  Every minute he is on screen is captivating.

At the time this movie came out in 1959, it was very risque because of the taboo subject matter of rape and murder.  It definitely has lost a little bit of the shock and awe from what 1950s audiences felt, but the film overall still holds up amazingly well.  If only films like this could be released these days, then there might be a reason to make it to the theater more often.

5 Buddy Films You Must See

13 05 2011

Buddy films have been chosen as the next entry in the “5 Films You Must See” series.  What constitutes a buddy film?  Well, really nothing other than the story revolves around two or more really good friends, with their friendship being a major motivator of the plot.  My girlfriend wanted me to add in that my list below is distinctly guy buddy films and, honestly, it is.  What I would consider a girl buddy film would most likely fall under “chick flick” for me, of which, I doubt I will create a list for, though I did strongly consider including Thelma and Louise.

Copyright 1996 Independent Pictures

5. Swingers dir. Doug Liman (1996) – This movie is absolutely hilarious and was the star-making roles that really started off the careers of Vince Vaughn, John Favreau and Ron Livingston.  Favreau plays Mike(y), a down-on-his-luck comedian, who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, ending a six year relationship with his girlfriend.  Mike can’t get his ex out of his head and refuses to get back in the game.  His friends, Trent (Vaughn), Rob (Livingston) and Sue (Patrick Van Horn), try to get him to loosen up and let her go.  Much of the film is the different buddies interacting or gambling in Las Vegas, going to clubs or trying to cheer Mike up.  The dialog in the film is so sharp, however, that the easy flowing plot really doesn’t matter.  Accompanied by an upbeat jazz score, this is 1990s comedy at its best.  Also, after a first viewing, don’t be surprised to find yourself referring to everything as “money” in your personal life.  I’ve seen this film at least 10 times and it never gets old – definitely a must see!

Copyright 1987 Handmade Films

4. Withnail and I dir. Bruce Robinson (1987) –  This seminal British comedy is one of my personal favorites on this list, though I love them all.  A semi-autobiographical film from writer/director Robinson, this film follows the lives of Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I (Paul McGann) in 1969 London town.  Living in a small, rundown apartment, the two out-of-work actors spend their days drinking, doing drugs and going on weekend benders.  For a change of pace, the two take up Withnail’s flamboyantly gay uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths) on a trip to his country cottage.  Thinking it will be a relaxing getaway to the country, the two find it to be anything but.  They have a hard time getting food, it is cold and raining and the cottage itself is in shambles.  Unexpectedly, Monty shows up at the cottage in the middle of the night and begins hitting on Paul McGann’s character during their stay because Withnail told Monty he was closeted.  In the end, the relaxing getaway turns out to be anything but and challenges the relationship between the two protagonists.  Having had a period myself where I spent many nights in the bar and out of work, this is a very relatable film for me and, coincidentally, I have a friend that is very reminiscent of Withnail who was a frequent drinking buddy.  Watching this film always makes me nostalgic about that time in my life; though it wasn’t productive, it was a lot of fun.  Everything about this film works: the writing is great, the direction is precise and the acting is brilliant by all involved.  Like Swingers, this film will also give you many quotable lines to use in daily life.  Scrubbers!!!

Copyright 1980 Universal Pictures

3. The Blues Brothers dir. John Landis (1980) – I’m sure most of you have probably seen this film at some point in your lives.  Starting out as a Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the feature film version is the definitive story of Jake and Elwood Blues.  When Jake (Belushi) gets out of a three year stint in prison, him and his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) visit the Roman Catholic orphanage where they grew up.  They find that the orphanage will close unless $5,000 of property taxes are collected within 11 days.  The brothers decide they should get their old Rhythm and Blues band back together to help the church with benefit concerts.  Being on a “mission from God”, the two set out recruiting all the old musicians.  Over the course of the film, they run into all sorts of precarious situations with the police, a crazy ex-girlfriend, rowdy country bars and other situations.  Guest appearances by many famous musicians including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker and Chaka Chan, among others, appear throughout.  The final chase scene is probably one of the biggest chases and car pile ups committed to film.  This film is infinitely entertaining and has so many great scenes and musical numbers that it easily ranks as one of the best movies from an SNL skit beginning.

Copyright 1969

2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dir. George Roy Hill (1969) – This is a perfectly formatted buddy film because almost everything revolves around the friendship of the two main characters, Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford).  The leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, the whole film follows the two and their gang going through successful and unsuccessful robberies of trains and banks.  As a side story is the relationship between Sundance and school teacher Etta Place (Katherine Ross).  Going from one robbery to the next, the two eventually find themselves cornered by the Bolivian calvary and the film ends with on of the most memorable and climatic endings of the 1960s.

Copyright 1959 Ashton Productions

1. Some Like it Hot dir. Billy Wilder (1959) – Billy Wilder constantly ranks as one of my favorite filmmakers.  If you look at a list of his credits, you will be astounded by the many classic films that were made under his helm.  This one is probably my favorite comedy of his.  It revolves around two struggling musicians, Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis), who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The leader of the gang who authorized the massacre, “Spats” Colombo (George Raft in a role parodying his former roles in 1930s and 1940s gangster dramas), see the two of them at the scene of the crime and they run for their lives.  They join an all-female band heading to Florida in disguise as Josephine and Daphne.  The all-female band is lead by bandleader “Sugar” Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  Joe falls for her deeply and tries to romance her in yet another disguise as a wealthy businessman with Cary Grant-like mannerisms, all the while keeping up the female disguise as Josephine when needed to not blow his cover.  When the gangsters show up to Florida at the hotel the band is playing, the disguises become harder and harder to keep up.  The final scenes of the film are filled with hilarious chases and mishaps and the final line of the film, “Well, nobody’s perfect” has become one of cinema’s most famous closing lines.

The Accused (1988) Review

12 05 2011

Copyright 1988 Paramount Pictures (Canada)

★ ★ 1/2

This film was recently added to the instant queue and, since its got an Academy Award-winning performance in it, I decided to give it a try.  I can’t say that I was too impressed overall and, don’t get me wrong, it’s not because of the delicate subject matter being a put off; I just don’t think this was a very good movie.

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the movie is loosely based on a true story that happened in Massachusetts in 1983.  Jodie Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a low, working class waitress, who is gang raped at a dive bar by three different men during a late night of drinking and doing drugs.  The prosecutor for her case, Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGills), agrees to a plea bargain with each of the three men and they get 3-5 years in prison; however, in the plea bargain their crime is not listed as rape, but as a lesser offense.  Tobias is, understandably, upset over not getting to tell her story in court and the light punishment the three men receive for the heinous crime they committed against her.  Soon after, in a video store, a man starts to taunt her and associate her with the rape victim from the bar.  She wrecks her car into his truck out of frustration and it is found that this man was in the bar that night as one of the cheering crowd who watched the rape.  Murphy, determined to bring justice and make up for the plea bargain of the assailants, brings a case against three patrons of the bar who cheered the other men on, trying to convict them as accessories to the crime.  A court case is held and Tobias gets to tell her story, as well as a key witness who is a friend of one of the assailants.  Is retribution achieved?  I’ll let you watch the film if you want to find out, though I’m sure you can probably guess and figure it out.

The story for this film is a decent premise for a courtroom drama, but it just kind of fizzles out over the course of the movie.  The whole film seems like a good premise for a movie, but just doesn’t fully work in execution.  Kaplan’s direction was completely and utterly boring.  Every shot felt as if it were out of a filmmaking 101 textbook.  Furthermore, the one supposed shining moment of the film, the Academy Award-winning performance by Jodie Foster, didn’t really knock my socks off.  Sure, she had some great scenes and it was an impressive performance, but I wouldn’t call it electrifying or stand-out as some critics have suggested.  It most certainly is not the caliber of performance she delivered for her second Oscar in Silence of the Lambs.

Maybe I saw this film on a bad night or something, but I just couldn’t get into it.  It’s rated pretty well by IMDB and most critics seemed to generally like it.  For me, it’s not terrible, but it’s nothing to write home about either.

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