Posts Tagged ‘movie’


Two Movies

There are two movies I’d like to make.

One is a ghost story set in a ghost town in Arizona. Has this been done already? It seems like an easy fit. You walk into this area that was once a thriving community. Now, however, it is nothing but a few broken-down structures. You might see a chimney or a general store. All around you is desert. At night, the stars come out. There is no glow from electric light in the streets or on the horizon. No other people around… I’m giving myself goosebumps just thinking about it.

The second would be a montage. I’d like to recreate all the famous monster sightings. There’s the Bigfoot film, where you see a large furry human-shaped beast walking through a forest clearing. I could also include the Loch Ness monster picture, but add a bit of narrative. The clip could begin with a wide shot of the Loch, then zoom in to where there is a disturbance of the water. The monster’s head would rise up, you would see the monster swimming for a few meters (we’re in Scotland, so there aren’t feet and yards), then slowly dip back under water. I imagine it would be around twilight. I would have to include dozens of UFO sightings. Strange lights that flicker briefly overhead then disappear, saucer-shaped objects moving in ways that airplanes cannot, things that fly fast then stop quickly, then go behind some trees, never to be seen again. Are there any well-known films I’m forgetting?

It would be so much fun making movies like this. All you need is the equipment, the staff, and a couple million dollars. Why doesn’t everyone make a movie?
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Don’t Forget to Vote/Old Movies That Rock

The Poll Poll is only open for another week, so keep those votes coming in. Currently there is a tie between Imaginary Numbers and Candy. I don’t want to exercise my tie-breaking vote, but I will if I have to. Also, if there is a tie I might just make a poll about Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter or the Mars rovers.

In the spirit of Halloween, I watched Halloween last week. It falls into the category of Old Movies that Rock (old movies, by my definition, are movies that have been around long enough to inspire 8 or 9 sequels and a remake). Here’s my mini-review of Halloween, a movie that each of you, either separately or together, should watch before you die.
Wes Craven is a pretty awesome storyteller. He has done thrillers (Red Eye), psychological horror (Last House on the Left), monster movies (Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing), satire (Scream), and slasher movies (this one). He makes movies that become bigger than just a film to see on a Friday night. They become part of the culture.

Part of the reason I want to see these movies is because I know the cultural reference but not the place where it originated. Is this what The Simpsons has done to us? We know so much about culture from the jokes made about it, but not from experiencing it firsthand. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing necessarily, it’s just a thing.

A masked guy kills babysitters on Halloween night. There’s the story for you in one sentence. It’s the details that make this movie, though. The scene in which you see the escaped lunatics milling around in the rain at night, lit only by a car’s headlights? Terrifying. The fact that Michael Myers seems to be somehow superhuman? That bit could have been overdone by other directors, or simply seen as careless filmmaking. Here, however, it serves to enhance the killer’s reputation. Halloween is told like a campfire story, exaggerations and all.

I can see why the studio wanted to continue the story, but I’m not interested in seeing the sequels. I love the insulated feeling of this movie; sequels generally broaden the canvas. It would dull the horror. I also like the ambiguity of the ending. I like the intentionally unexplained details, pieces left for the audience to work out long after the movie is over. It implies a bigger story without boring us with it.

One piece of advice a writing professor gave me was that the author of a work must meet the audience halfway. The author doesn’t force-feed the audience, but wants to give enough to sustain. I picture a mother bird feeding her babies. The image makes me laugh, because, according to the analogy, the story is regurgitated food that the audience devours. I’m digressing.
I was pleasantly surprised by Halloween (picture me sipping tea and exclaiming to my bridge partners “How lovely! He hacks up the first babysitter, then strangles the second!”). Seriously, though, I thought it was well-made. Hurray for scary movies.

For Your Consideration

The announced Best Picture Nominees are:
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

I’ve seen all of these but Michael Clayton, and I think they all have a shot. I doubt Juno will win because it’s a comedy. The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, never picks comedies. Why is that? They are subversive, and they require an extra brain molecule to “get”. A good comedy, just like a good drama, will make an important statement. Comedies take it a step further and say something witty, as well.

This is not to disparage any of the movies above. I enjoyed all of them immensely, and I think the craft of filmmaking is flourishing. Personally, though, I believe comedy has always been thought of as less than drama, partly because it doesn’t appear to take itself seriously. My defense is that just because you’re smiling doesn’t mean you aren’t serious.

Announced Best Animated Pictures nominees:
Persepolis
Ratatouille
Surf’s Up

I’ve seen both Ratatouille and Surf’s Up. I’m currently reading Persepolis in its original bound form.

Brad Bird is an awesome storyteller, totally in command of his talent. He makes animated movies that could be nothing else. This makes them special. He has also taken Pixar from making movies about “things” (toys, bugs, cars) to making stories as unique as their style of animation. I never thought I would champion computer animation, but Brad Bird’s pictures make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Surf’s Up? What a strange choice. I watched it because it features Jeff Bridges essentially reprising his role from The Big Lebowski. If you want to see the Dude as a penguin, this is the movie for you. I did enjoy watching it, but it’s kind of lightweight for this kind of an honor.

Has anyone seen Persepolis yet? The graphic novel version is very good so far. The style is unique and suited to the story (although all her characters tend to look the same, so if you’ve got two girls of the same age, for example, it’s hard to tell them apart). I’d love to see the movie before the awards are given.

That’s my brief rundown on today’s announcements. Any thoughts?

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I Give Away Endings to Movies That Have Not Yet Been Made

He is devoured by his pet snake.

It’s a musical: there is a big closing number, fireworks color the sky, The End.

She’s actually a human being, not a robot.

Nothing interesting happens, then there are a series of explosions and a car chase.

The cause of death was ruled accidental, even though we know it was her best friend who did it.

Monkeys.

It’s a period piece, so it doesn’t have a trick ending.

A 150 year-old Atticus Finch saunters into the courtroom, gives the best defense speech in history, the jury rules ‘Not Guilty.’

He realizes his brother and his father are the same person.

He rushes to the airport and catches her just before she gets on the plane, proposes to her, she accepts, they marry, have three children, grow old together, pay their taxes, retire to Sun City, play golf, die.

The third man is Orson Welles. [oops, that one has been made already.]

Rosebud is a sled. [again, made.]

A cameo by Homer Simpson.

Everybody dies, then a comet hits the Earth, causing untold environmental damage. Cockroaches and turtles survive.

Subterfuge.

Sabotage.

It totally rips off the ending from Star Wars.

They fix it so the Mississippi river runs backwards, therefore reversing all the damage.

Bob Dylan shows up just in time for a little song.
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March of Morgan Freeman

march_of_the_penguinsIt’s a little-known fact that the award-winning documentary March of the Penguins was actually shot after the narration was recorded. A man who luckily had a digital voice recorder with him sat down to eat dinner with Morgan Freeman one night. Mr. Freeman, who loves penguins, launched into a two-hour long monologue on the birds. Mr. Freeman’s dinner companion recorded the whole thing, then edited out his own “uh-huhs” and the waitress’ interruptions (“More mozzarella sticks?”).

He then hired a crew to film penguins, edited it together, and released the movie. Morgan Freeman was unaware that a movie had been made until he saw a clip of the movie shown at the Academy Awards. He is reportedly pleased with the outcome.


4 days is too long

wicker man
I don’t have much so say except that 4 days is too long a time to leave my blog neglected.

I will say that Christopher Lee is amazingly creepy in the original Wicker Man movie. Seriously, this movie is good if you 1) like pagans 2) think pagans are scary 3) think Christians are scary 4) like nudity 5) like hippy music. You must be in the right frame of mind to watch this film, as the concept is definitely of its time (the beginning of the 1970’s, when people were beginning to question the idea that love and drugs could save the world). In that respect I would put it in the same category of the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the book, not the film). This must have been a sad time to live in, coming down from the collective high of the late 60’s, but it sure produced some interesting popular art.

Wicker Man is not as on the nose about the end of the 60’s, but it sets up a fascinating dichotomy between the rigid moral values of Christianity and the freewheelin’ spirit of paganism. The movie seems to land on the side of conservatism and Christianity in the end, but it does at least show (however briefly) that there can be an alternative.

Look out for those animal masks and Christopher Lee. Lord Summerisle abides.


the devil & daniel webster

There comes a time when a movie is so right that it transcends time and place to become a classic. A movie that is more than mere entertainment (although entertaining still). A movie that makes you aware of our shared history. Fortunately, dear readers, I have found just such a movie, and its name is The Devil & Daniel Webster.

The plot is simple enough: a farmer makes a deal with the devil to keep his land. The devil, as always, drives a hard bargain that looks easy on the surface. The farmer doesn’t stand a chance. Or does he?

Jabez Stone, New Hampshire farmer, works hard on his land day after day. He’s a good man. When we first meet Jabez and his young wife Mary (yeah, like that Mary), they’re on their way to church. A pig’s broken leg keeps them from going, but it doesn’t get their spirits down. No, the weight that is slowly crushing noble Jabez is something far more odious and far more common than a hurt pig. It is debt.

You see, Jabez, like many farmers, doesn’t have a lot of loose cash laying about. When times get hard, the money lenders still need their piece. Jabez must use some of his precious grain to pay off part of his debt.

That’s when Jabez meets an impish man with a little cap who goes by the name Mr. Scratch. devil+daniel+webster_04

Jabez, a good man, knows immediately who old Scratch really is. The devil comes bearing a gift, of sorts. Jabez gets seven years’ good luck, and after seven years the devil gets Jabez’s soul. “It isn’t something you can see or something you can touch,” coos Scratch. Not seeing much of a choice in the matter, Jabez happily signs over his soul.

In exchange for Jabez’s soul, that little trifle, Scratch pulls loose a floorboard in Jabez’s barn, revealing a pile of gold coins. “It just takes a little luck to find it,” says Scratch. From this point on, Jabez’s life veers sharply from what might have been.

We are introduced to Daniel Webster, a good politician. With the oratory skills of Obama, Webster stands up for the little guy, for the hard-working, God-fearing all-American.devil+daniel+webster_03Unlike Jabez and many, many politicians, Webster will not succumb to Scratch’s deal. Webster works for the people he represents, and in return the poor farmers of New Hampshire are grateful. There are even rumors Webster may one day be president.

Jabez and Webster meet in town, and they will have an occasion to meet again.

For, besides the good luck that Scratch has delivered, Jabez is given certain other temptations.devil+daniel+webster_01

Simone Simon plays Belle, a girl sent by old Mr. Scratch to keep an eye on Jabez. (Side note: Simone Simon was in the wonderful horror movie Cat People. She also starred in a movie I can’t believe I haven’t seen yet, called Girl’s Dormitory.)

After a meteoric rise in which Jabez builds a house, alienates all his friends, and all but kicks Mary to the ditch in favor of Belle, Scratch comes to collect what is his.

But it won’t be easy for Scratch to take Jabez’s soul. Daniel Webster is in town, and he proposes a trial for Jabez. Unfortunately, Scratch gets to pick the judge and jury. A jury of the damned! Things look bleak, and Webster’s oratory skills are put to the ultimate test. But like any good politician (no link found), Webster is unafraid to stand up for even the smallest of his constituents.

You’ll have to watch The Devil & Daniel Webster for the stirring conclusion.

Like all good art, this comes with a warning. devil+daniel+webster_05Mr. Scratch is always searching for a new souls to add to his collection. He may appear to you in the guise of a friendly passer-by, offering a deal so unbelievable you find yourself willing to give anything, even your soul. Be wary! Be on the lookout! And never, ever sign a contract with your own blood. It’s just bad business.devil+daniel+webster_06


oscar snub 2009

As an internationally renowned cartoonist, I’m often asked to weigh in on current events. My opinion is then completely ignored. I’m kind of like Colin Powell in the Bush II Administration. But that doesn’t stop me from putting my opinions out there just in case I need to say “told you so” later.

In that spirit, my beef with the 2009 Oscars:

No Bruce Springsteen?!? Seriously, Academy members, have you guys seen The Wrestler? Did you see the last scene, and then when it cut to black that familiar voice cut through the darkness to pierce your very soul? We’re not talking “shoehorn the title of the movie into a crappy rhyme” here. We’re talking a summation of the character’s journey in poetic verse, put to music. That, Academy members, is what the Best Song category is all about.

Springsteen did win a Golden Globe, which is just one more indication that the Golden Globes are the real indication of achievement in film.

I’ll just add this to my growing list of gripes with the Oscars. They refuse to honor some of the most enduring films, they continually shut out deserving comedies and animated films for Best Picture, and now they snub Springsteen. If I wasn’t such a fan of watching celebrities wear fancy dresses, I would probably skip Oscar altogether. What can I say? I’m a slave to fashion.

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slashy spooky

F13_Poster According to Yahoo, the top 10 searches for paranormal phenomenon were: Ghosts, Bigfoot, Dragons, Chupacabra, Aliens, Mermaids, Fairies, Vampires, Loch Ness Monster, and Shape Shifter. I wonder: is that an accurate portrayal of what most interested people last year? I’d have to say ghosts are the scariest member of that elite group. I was an insomniac kid, and one night I came to the realization that ghosts are dead people. They wouldn’t look like Casper; they would look like old, decomposing corpses. The image of a glowing, floating corpse with tattered clothes floating in the doorway to my bedroom kept me up the remainder of the night.

I wouldn’t say I have a dark personality. Perhaps it is my undying optimism that permits me to enjoy scary stories. They spook me, but I keep returning to them. Curiosity killed the cat, and I want to know why.

February has brought us not one but two excellent scary movies. The first is the remake of Friday the 13th. In 2009, it isn’t enough to have a bunch of camp counselors hunted down, one by one. The makers of this “reboot” have given us a stew comprised of some of the best moments from the first few Friday the 13th films. For those of you yet to see the film, just know that the end of the original movie is now the beginning of this one. That’s right: the climax in 1980 is now merely a prologue. You know it’s going to be good when the first kill happens before the title credit appears.

Happily, they got the tone right. Jason Voorhees rarely runs, doesn’t speak, and pops up behind his victims no matter how far or how fast they flee. The teenagers are now twentysomethings, but they’re just as stupid as their predecessors. Smoking pot, having sex, speaking the Lord’s name in vain: they’re asking for trouble. Jason is the Morality Police, and he wields a large Blade of Justice to mow down the sinners.

My only complaint about Friday the 13th is the same one I have for most horror and action movies today. The filmmakers won’t allow any shot to last for longer than 2 seconds. At the risk of sounding like a geezer, I can’t stand to look at a series of images flashing in my face for 90 minutes. It’s fatiguing. Why not let the suspense build a little before the payoff? Think of the scene in The Shining, when Dick Hallorann arrives at the Overlook in hopes of saving Wendy and Danny. He walks down a long corridor, yelling into the cavernous, empty hotel. Just as he reaches the end, Jack jumps out from behind a pillar and hacks him to death with an ax. Think about this: Jack must have been waiting there for a long, long time. Waiting for just the right moment to make his move. We are allowed to ponder this horrifying thought. Now, with hyper-editing, we cannot ponder the intricacies of horror. We’re forced to keep up, barely registering one kill before we see the next one.

Not all scary movies are filled with death. Some have no body count at all. Coraline is one of those movies.coraline-oldladies
Coraline is a work of art. There is no better way to describe it. I found myself not following the story so much as simply watching the images on the screen. The stop-motion animation is more refined than Nightmare Before Christmas. The sets are more elaborate, the characters fuller. This is not in any way disparaging Nightmare; Henry Selick directed both movies and this just shows his progression.

If I was reticent about giving away too much plot of Friday the 13th, I’m completely against talking about Coraline. It’s best to see it for yourself.

Coraline, like the best scary movies, doesn’t hit you over the head with it. It presents situations that aren’t overtly horrific, but after you leave the theater you think to yourself, “that was really creepy.” That’s how it got a PG rating: it’s what it doesn’t show that spooks you. Oh, and there are ghosts. Friday the 13th doesn’t have ghosts.

Who knew that February, the month that brings us Valentine’s Day and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, could also bring two of the best scary movies I’ve seen in a long time?


Oscar 2009

As I mentioned before, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences treats my opinion with less respect than Bush did Colin Powell. This, however, does not stop me from making my Oscar picks every year.

This year I can’t weigh in on every race. I have only seen two of the Best Picture nominees (Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). I’ve only seen three of the nominees for Best Actor and Actress. Instead of a complete list, here are a few of the nominees most deserving of their awards:

SHORT FILM, ANIMATED
Presto ran in theaters as a companion to Wall-E, though they have nothing in common but the studio that made them. Presto is beautifully animated, hilarious, and quick. It makes me wish animated shorts still ran before every movie.

ACTRESS, SUPPORTING
Penelope Cruz should be the biggest star in Hollywood. She can do drama and comedy without it seeming like a stunt for awards like these. And yes, she’s totally hot. Woody Allen has been on a roll lately, from Match Point to Cassandra’s Dream to Vicky Christina Barcelona. I’m an unabashed Woody Allen fan, so I’m going to watch whatever he does, but lately he’s been making some really interesting moral stories. Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona reminded me of Dianne Keaton in Allen’s 70’s movies – Allen has found a woman who isn’t lost in his text-dense scripts. She created a true character and not just a Woody Allen surrogate.

ANIMATED FEATURE
Wall-E is not only the best animated film this year, it is the best film. Eat it, Academy.

ART DIRECTION and CINEMATOGRAPHY
At first I thought Slumdog Millionaire should get it for Cinematography, but forget it. I’m going with The Dark Knight. That movie looked so darn good. It’s the closest thing we’ll ever see to Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” on the big screen.

SOUND EDITING and SOUND MIXING
Wall-E’s got these. It doesn’t even have dialogue in the first act; it is completely driven by sound.

VISUAL EFFECTS
This was tough. Should I go with the creepy old man/baby with Brad Pitt’s head, or the shiny, shiny flying metallic man, or a guy who’s face was half burned off? Such different goals with each of these movies. In the end, I chose Iron Man because of that scene in which Pepper Potts has to reach inside Tony Stark’s chest to retrieve an errant wire. That’s when effects and acting work together to create something purely enjoyable.

ORIGINAL SONG
Springsteen was robbed.

These are not predictions. I expect to be wrong on many, if not all of these picks. However, for what it’s worth, this is my two cents. Happy watching!

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