Monday, August 31, 2009

Progress & Relaxation

Watched Flesh (#478) and Santa Sangre (#476) this weekend. Don't get the next Netflix DVD's until tomorrow. I'm taking today off, because I was a total insomniac last night. Anyway, I'm currently four films ahead of what I'm scheduled for, regardless of my day off today. So, hurrah!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

#485: The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento & Britt Ekland

On Summerisle, a small island off the coast of western Scotland, a girl has gone missing. When Sergeant Howie arrives at Summerisle, he encounters a very hospitable and charming village, but something is wrong. Nobody seems to believe that the missing girl has ever existed - even the girl's own mother. As time passes, more and more of the townspeople's strange practices are revealed, until their underlying darker side is finally revealed.

The singular impressive feature of this film is its use of suspense and pacing. From the beginning, Hardy shows us a beautiful northern British culture, pulling us in even further with an authentic-sounding folk soundtrack scored by Paul Giovanni. The realization that the townspeople are hiding something occurs early on, but how can such a happy society hide something as dark as the murder of a missing child? Hardy allows his audience to view Sgt. Howie as the darker of characters, clinging fervently to his Christian faith. It is Sgt. Howie who speaks of rotting corpses, while the townspeople have a light and happy view of reincarnation as hares and other animals. Only at the riveting finale are we finally exposed to the true dark nature of the townspeople.

The Wicker Man has sadly become a dated film, with not much holding it together but the single question: What have the townspeople done to Rowan Morrison? It's easy to say why Neil LaBute decided to recreate this film, though it appears he's been thoroughly unsuccessful in that endeavor (though I can't say - I've never seen it). It's still a very intriguing film, and I'd recommend it to any film buffs out there.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Christopher Lee agreed to appear in this film for free.
  • The film gives it's name to a music and arts festival (The Wickerman Festival) which has been held annually in the area where the film was shot (Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland) since 2004. At the end of the festival a giant Wicker Man sculpture is burned as a 'sacrifice to the festival gods'.
  • According to director 'Robin Hardy', Howie's final speech is based upon Walter Raleigh's dying words.

Friday, August 28, 2009

#486: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard

Note: I felt it necessary to go through this film step by step, so if you don't want to know the ending, please be advised that this post contains spoilers.

Upon first glance, Breakfast at Tiffany's is a classic romantic comedy about a quirky woman who falls in love with her neighbor. Looking further, the film has some very deep messages that I'm sure anybody can relate to.

Holly Golightly is a self-described free spirit, living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her new neighbor, Paul, is moving in upstairs. In their first encounter, Holly is late for her weekly trip to Sing Sing to visit Sally Tomato, a man accused of being the boss of a mafia. Holly is paid to send messages to Sally's henchman through phony weather reports, though she doesn't seem to realize what she is doing. Holly has never settled down, claiming that the only place she feels at home is Tiffany's.

Paul is a writer, working on his first novel. It is also found out soon enough that he is also a kept man, though the extent of his use for his client is unknown.

Her free-spiritedness is always in question. Despite her claims, she is in fact a needy character. Though she has an emotional attachment to Paul, he can not provide her with a lavish lifestyle. Instead of Paul, she turns to the two millionaires in her social circle: the Brazilian José da Silva Pereira and the friendly and chubby Rusty Trawler. Even her attachment to Tiffany's is significant, hinting to us that her need for high culture overrules her so-called free-spirited nature.

Although she claims to be such a free spirit, Holly has trapped herself with all her quirks. She can easily be seen as a human version of her unnamed cat. She calls the cat a 'wild thing' which she has no authority over, and thus she denies the cat the right to a name. Holly not only is using a pseudonym, but her pseudonym even identifies her as catlike. Ms. Golightly treads carefully through both her boyfriends and her homes. She doesn't even keep a key for her home, claiming she'll just lose a new copy anyway, and would rather ring in her upstairs neighbor to gain entrance. Whenever she's caught in a bind, she lightly steps over it and moves on to her next adventure.

When she throws the cat out of her cab in the final scene, she is attempting to prove how free she is, only to run after Paul to find Cat again. In one of the most memorable images in cinematic history, Holly is just as discontent as Cat in the rain, even further showing her similarities to her feline friend.

Holly's character is thoroughly explored in this film, much more so than Paul. This is one effect of the transition from Capote's novella to film. Paul's character was originally the unnamed homosexual narrator, turned into a more conventional character for the big screen. Unfortunately, this has turned his character a bit bland, often being critiqued as a stiff.

I never forget to note the music of a film, and there is no way anybody could in this case. Mancini won two Oscars for his music for this film. Moon River is still a well-known, well-used song. On Mancini's IMDB page, Moon River comes up 65 times, having been used in both large-named films and TV shows. The song was written specifically for Audrey Hepburn, who defended keeping the song for the film when filmmakers debated its use.

There is only one portion of the film that everyone will agree the film would be better without. This is the racist and incredibly annoying Mr. Yunioshi, the neighbor upstairs who just won't stop complaining, played by Mickey Rooney. Even Rooney has stated that this character was his very least favorite part that he'd ever had.

Still, this movie is a complete joy to watch, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Audrey Hepburn said the scene where she throws Cat into the rainy street was the most distasteful thing she ever had to do on film.
  • Audrey Hepburn's salary for the film was $750,000, making her the second highest paid actress (behind Elizabeth Taylor) per film at the time.
  • Holly's couch is really an old-fashioned bathtub split in half. In some scenes, you can still see the gold handles at one end and the legs on the bottom.
  • Audrey Hepburn hated Danish pastries, making filming the famous opening scene a bit of a chore for her.
  • Although not visible on camera, hundreds of onlookers watched Audrey Hepburn's window-shopping scene at the start of the film. This made her nervous and she kept making mistakes. It wasn't until a crew member nearly got electrocuted behind the camera that she pulled herself together and finished the scene.

#487: Superbad (2007)

Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Michael Cera, Jonah Hill & Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Superbad is a story of the awkwardness of high school, written by high school students themselves. That's right, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began writing this script when they were just 13 years old. The two main characters, named after the two writers, are both outcasts in the school. It's they're senior year, and they are desperate to get laid. They foresee that the only way to do this is to help out with the biggest party of the year and get loads of alcohol, with the help of uber-geek Fogell, who just got his fake ID with the name 'McLovin'.

The script is surprisingly good, despite it's extremely crude humor. Each line is exactly what a high school student would love to say, though it would usually take too much time to think it up. All three main actors are perfect for their roles, and they make it hard not to laugh. The film also has a fantastic soundtrack, featuring almost exclusively '70s funk. The sets and costume also have a very '70s feel to them, and Mottola even used Columbia Pictures' '70s logo at the beginning of the film.

I definitely give this film credit, and it deserves to be one of the best comedies to date. However, I don't think I'm alone when I say that this doesn't belong on a Best 500 list. It is much better than I remember it, though, and for one obvious reason: I'm not in the theater with my parents. Ugh. And no, it wasn't my choice to see it with my parents. Be wary: don't see this with family.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • The word "fuck" is used 186 times in the movie. The movie itself is only 118 minutes long. That averages to approx. 1.6 uses of the word per minute. Around 84 are said by Seth (Jonah Hill) alone.
  • Because Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) was only 17 at the time of filming, his mother was required to be on set during the filming of his sex scene.
  • Michael Cera's mother actually read the script before he did and she was the one who convinced him to try out for the part.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

#488: Princess Mononoke (1997)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast (English version): Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver

Note: Viewed a few days ago, to help explain the closeness between this post and the previous.

Miyazaki’s first film to become widely recognized in America is the story of Prince Ashitaka and Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka comes from a village in the east where nature is worshipped and technology unheard of. When Ashitaka defends the town from an attacking giant boar who is possessed by a demon, his arm becomes possessed as well before he kills the boar and finds inside it a piece of metal inside the body. To heal the cursed arm, he travels west to find the Spirit of the Forest. In doing so, he discovers Iron Town, a city whose main source of income is their forge. Attacking the city are both the apes who want to replant the trees the humans ripped down, as well as the wolves and their human ‘daughter’, Princess Mononoke. Throughout the film, Ashitaka urges both the animals and humans to stop the violence, or else the hatred which possesses his arm will consume them all.

Miyazaki’s greatest talents are texture and landscape. Each location drawn has a feel to it, and through both the animation and the sound effects, you can almost feel the gravel under your feet or the moss on your hands. The music by Joe Hisaishi is also an accomplishment, using almost exclusively western music standards but with melodies of Japanese flavor.

I have two criticisms for the film. First, I’ve always found it just too long. There were loads of opportunities to cut down the time, and Disney/Miramax agrees with me; they tried to convince Studio Ghibli to give permission to slim down the length, but Ghibli refused. My second criticism is the voice acting. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found Claire Danes’ voice to be very piercing, and Billy Crudup always seems to be either yelling or whispering, rarely finding a middle ground.

The film is certainly a spectacle, but this Princess Mononoke will never compare to Spirited Away.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Mononoke-hime (1997) replaced E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) as the biggest grossing film of all time in Japan until Titanic (1997).
  • Hayao Miyazaki had intended to this be be his final film before retiring. Its great success led him to do another, Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001).
  • Mononoke means angry or vengeful spirit. Hime is the Japanese honorific/word meaning Princess which is placed after a persons name rather than before it, as in the western system. When the films title was translated into English, it was decided that Mononoke would be left as a name rather than translated literally.

#489: Brick (2005)

Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emilie de Ravin, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas & Noah Fleiss

A true film noir using a California high school as the backdrop, Brick can be a huge surprise to the modern audience. Despite the age of all the characters in the plot, this film is not a parody of the genre. It is a film noir through and through.

After Brendan, a loner at his school, receives a cryptic phone call from his ex-girlfriend Emily, he soon finds her body lying at the entrance to a secluded tunnel. With the help of an extremely intelligent student known only as The Brain, Brendan is out to find Emily's killer. Throughout his hunt, he becomes involved with the towns most nefarious drug lord known as The Pin; Kara, the school's biggest drama queen; Laura, the social butterfly; and Brad, the self-proclaimed greatest athlete in the school. When the film unravels itself, you're guaranteed a surprise that'll leave you dumbfounded.

The cinematography of the film, with its odd camera angles and zoomed in shots, are often compared to Donnie Darko. The score by Nathan Johnson is thoroughly a modern jazz, which strengthens the film's ties with the classic film noir. All the actors deserve praise for this film, and many of them have had continued success since, making appearances in today's most popular TV shows such as Lost, Heroes, 24, and Entourage.

I have to admit, I was completely clueless as to what happened by the end of this film. My excuse for this is that I was not expecting this film to be as serious as it is. I've straightened myself out with the plot, and it really is some fantastic writing with great twists along the way. So, I warn you all now - pay attention to this film, because it is not a high school-oriented film.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The horn signal Brendan instructs Laura to give him (long, short, long, short) is the same as the doorbell signal Sam Spade tells Brigid O'Shaughnessy he'll use in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Brendan's earlier line to Laura, "Now you are dangerous," is taken from the film as well.
  • The film makers had filmed a version of the film scene with the playing field all muddy and damaged. When they came back to film more of the scene they discovered that the school had refurbished the field and it was now perfect and bright green. That's why most of the shots in the scene are angled upwards to hide the field from view.
  • According to the review in "The New Yorker", this film was edited on a home computer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

#490: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham-Carter

The legend of Sweeney Todd has uncertain origins. It's been claimed that Sweeney Todd is an historical character, though that allegation has been disputed. His first appearance was in a serial publication in the 1840's, though similar characters had been written of before this time.

Sondheim's version of the tale has two relationships: that of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, and Todd's daughter Joanna and his shipmate Anthony. While Todd had been overseas serving his sentence for a false accusation, Joanna and his wife Lucy were taken under the charge of Judge Turpin. Soon after, Lucy commits suicide, and Joanna is locked up in her room at the Judge's house in what appears to be Mayfair. When Todd returns to his old flat, his downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Lovett relays the history of Joanna and Lucy. Todd seeks vengeance, rekindling his old barber shop, where he slits his client's throats and sends their corpses downstairs to use their meet in Mrs. Lovett's pie shop.

Under the art direction of Gary Freeman (Children of Men, Aeon Flux, and About a Boy), the film is a true spectacle. Sondheim's music is incredible, as well, though the choice of cast is dubious. None of the cast has much of a history in singing. The only singer that stands out is the young Ed Sanders, who plays Mrs. Lovett's newfound assistant in the pie shop. I certainly give Bonham-Carter credit for an enjoyable performance.

I maintain my position that Johnny Depp has lost credibility in recent years. He is certainly talented, as he's shown in his older films such as Benny & Joon, Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. Since he's hit it big with Pirates of the Caribbean, I've found him to be lacking the effort he used to put in to his films, and it's come across as arrogance.

Sweeney Todd is just another example of using big names in a film which could be a fantastic opportunity for fresh faces, but Burton has a habit of constantly using the same actors. I also believe that today's audience has given Burton too much credit for this film, though the real praise should be given to Stephen Sondheim. I would much rather have seen Big Fish in this film's place, though it hasn't made the list at all.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

#491: Ben-Hur (1959)

Director: William Wyler
Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

First of all, I'd like to say... whoever at Empire decided that Ben-Hur isn't as good as the latest Indiana Jones film deserves a spanking. I'd also like to say that finally, after 23 years, you've all lost your opportunity to punch me in the face for never seeing this film before.

Ben-Hur is a historical epic about a Jewish nobleman who encounters an old childhood Roman friend, Messala, for the first time in years. Messala is a new Roman representative in Jerusalem, and urges Ben-Hur to persuade his fellow Jewish countrymen to accept Roman authority. Ben-Hur refuses, and declares his loyalty to his culture. This leads to Messala's arrest of Ben-Hur and his family after Ben-Hur's sister accidentally loosens a tile from her building's roof, hitting the new Roman governor as he parades down the avenue. The next three - yes, three - hours of film show Ben-Hur's trials to escape from imprisonment and find his family.

There is so, so much to admire in this film. There is no question that the film deserves its 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Music. The picture quality is outstanding. Despite its slightly Technicolor features, the shots could easily be mistaken to be from twenty years later. The music by Miklós Rózsa is astounding, using a full-sized orchestra including chorus. And of course, the famous chariot race is renowned as one of the most exciting scenes in cinema history.

I'm pretty much flabbergasted. There's just too much to say about this film. Despite its tremendous length at three and a half hours, I never felt bored, and only paused the film when I felt really really thirsty when Charlton Heston was being led through the desert. The film has everything, and I can't emphasize this enough: if you have never seen this film, SEE IT. NOW.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):*
*Note: There are a lot more of these than usual, but I highly recommend reading them, because they're really interesting or really funny.

  • MGM wanted an authentic-looking Roman boat for the live battle scenes. To design the boats, they hired a person who had spent his whole career studying Roman naval architecture. When he presented his designs to the MGM engineers, Mauro Zambuto(set engineer) exclaimed, "But this is top heavy! It will sink!" They built the boat anyway and launched it in the ocean, and at first it seemed to float. Then however, a little wave came along, a wake from another boat, splashed against the highly unstable boat, and tipped it over. MGM then put the boat in a large pond with a huge painted sky backdrop. To steady the boat, they ran cables from the bottom of the boat to anchors on the bottom of the pond.
  • Another problem concerned the color of the water in the pond holding the boat; it was too brown and murky. They hired a chemist to develop a dye to color the water Azure Mediterranean blue. The chemist dumped a huge sack of some powder into the pond, which, instead of turning the water blue, formed a hard crust on the surface of the water, which had to be chiselled off the boat at great expense. They finally found some dye that would make the water blue. During one of the battle scenes, an extra who fell into the water and spent a bit too much time there turned blue, and was kept on the MGM payroll until it wore off.
  • When it came time to film inside the boat, it was discovered that the large 65mm cameras wouldn't fit. The boat had to be taken out of the pond, cut in half lengthwise, and placed in an Italian sound stage. The oars wouldn't fit in the sound stage, so they had to cut them off just beyond the hull. This resulted in an extremely light oars which, when rowed by the actors, didn't look believable, since you could move them with one hand. To solve the problem, Mauro Zambuto sent an army of production assistants to all of the hardware stores in Rome to buy the kind of spring-and-hydraulic piston mechanisms that are normally attached to doors to force them closed but to keep them from slamming. Placing these devices on the oars and the hull gave enough resistance to make the rowing scenes look realistic.
  • The film used over 1,000,000 props.
  • Over 300 sets were built for the film.
  • Featured more crew and extras than any other film ever made before it. There were 15,000 extras alone for the chariot race sequence.
  • Charlton Heston was taught to drive a chariot by the stunt crew, who offered to teach the entire cast. Heston was the only one who took them up on the offer. At the beginning of the chariot race, Heston shook the reins and nothing happened; the horses remained motionless. Finally someone way up on top of the set yelled, "Giddy-up!" The horses then roared into action, and Heston was flung backward off of the chariot.
  • The chariot race has a 263-to-1 cutting ratio (263 feet of film for every one foot kept), probably the highest for any 65mm sequence ever filmed.
  • Paul Newman was offered the role of Judah Ben-Hur but turned it down because he said he didn't have the legs to wear a tunic.
  • Besides Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson was also offered the role of Ben Hur. Hudson seriously considered accepting the part until his agent explained to him that the film's gay subtext was too much of a risk to his career.
  • According to Gore Vidal, as recounted in The Celluloid Closet (1995) one of the script elements he was brought in to re-write was the relationship between Messalah and Ben-Hur. Director William Wyler was concerned that two men who had been close friends as youths would not simply hate one another as a result of disagreeing over politics. Thus, Vidal devised a thinly veiled subtext suggesting the Messalah and Ben-Hur had been lovers as teenagers, and their fighting was a result of Ben-Hur spurning Messalah. Wyler was initially hesitant to implement the subtext, but agreed on the conditions that no direct reference ever be made to the characters' sexuality in the script, that Vidal personally discuss the idea with Stephen Boyd, and not mention the subtext to Charlton Heston who, Wyler feared, would panic at the idea. After Vidal admitted to adding the homosexual subtext in public, Heston denied the claim, going so far as to suggest Vidal had little input into the final script, and his lack of screen credit was a result of his being fired for trying to add gay innuendo. Vidal rebutted by citing passages from Heston's 1978 autobiography, where the actor admitted that Vidal had authored much of the final shooting script.
  • During the 18-day auction of MGM props, costumes, and memorabilia that took place in May 1970 when new owner Kirk Kerkorian was liquidating the studio's assets, a Sacramento restaurateur paid $4,000 for a chariot used in the film. Three years later, during the energy crisis, he was arrested for driving the chariot on the highway.
  • This is believed to be one of only two MGM films where the studio's trademark Leo the Lion did not roar at the beginning of the opening credits, apparently because of the religious theme in the film. The other was "The Next Voice You Hear" (1950), another film with a religious theme. (The lion used in 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey" was the illustrated lion from MGM's record label, not a real lion, and so doesn't count.)

#492: Amores Perros (2000)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Gustavo Muñoz, Goya Toledo, y muchos perros

The fragility of a dog's well-being is exposed in Iñárritu's first full-length film. Similar to his later work, Babel, this film has three interweaving stories which all literally crash together when two cars collide at an intersection. The first story is of Mexico City's dogfighting underworld, and the family who is using it to survive. The second is a straightforward story of a magazine editor and his new love interest whose dog gets stuck under the floorboards of their new apartment. The final plot tells the life of a hobo and his pack of dogs. When the man is hired to kill a man's business partner, he takes the case a step further than what was demanded.

Considering its low estimated budget of $2m, this film is a huge accomplishment. At 2.5 hours long, the camerawork is consistently impressive. The acting is all top notch, and the scenes with action are all very realistic. However, I feel that Iñárritu's style is in a rut.

It appears that Iñárritu is trusting his closest friends completely with his films, seeing that he casts the same actors often, the same composer often, and his style in itself doesn't seem to change. He's obsessed with the multiple-plot outlines. Personally, I find that in this style, none of his plots have enough time to have any major twists, yet with all of them combined, the film is just a bit too long.

It was heartbreaking to see the treatment of dogs in each part of society. Even in the upper class, the dogs were represented as ignored, second-class citizens - maybe even as slaves. It was truly an eye-opener to see that dogfighting isn't the only abuse a dog can suffer from. And I gave my two dogs a big hug once the credits finished.

I'll give the film one thumb up.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The car crash sequence was shot with nine simultaneous cameras, including two on adjacent rooftops and one hidden in a trash barrel. In the second and final take, the model's car spun around, overshot its projected target by at least 100 meters, and smashed into a taxicab parked by the side of the road.
  • Unlike most films, a disclaimer stating that no animals were harmed in the making of the movie comes at the beginning instead of being buried in the credits.
  • The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in England filed a complaint to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) about a 21-second dog fight scene.

Monday, August 24, 2009

#493: In the Company of Men (1997)

Director: Neil LaBute
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy & Stacy Edwards

When two misogynistic businessmen decide to play a game, a sad but comedic drama ensues. The woman-hating Chad and the bumbling Howard decide to both date the same woman and break up with her when they both move out of town for business. Their victim: a deaf secretary at their office.

There are no tricks to this film. No involved camerawork, no special effects. No musical score. It's all script and some damn good acting. Eckhart is the perfect prick, possibly the most hate-able character I have ever come across. Malloy is the all-too-innocent pushover. Edwards plays a convincing deaf woman who is so easily the target of jokes, despite her remarkably kind soul.

I had a hard time adjusting to the film, mainly because of the style of speech. It's a very realistic style in which the actors aren't afraid to speak quietly, making the audience really lean in to hear them. Once I became accustomed to it, though, this film really drew me in. It's just too easy to have strong emotion towards these three characters.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Stacy Edwards (Christine) originally could not star because she was getting married at the time the movie was scheduled to start shooting. The producers pushed back the schedule to accommodate her.
  • According to writer-director Neil LaBute, his script began with the line "Let's hurt somebody" and developed from there.
  • Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".
This is Richie L, and I endorse this film.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Changing it up!

I was thinking about how this is all going to work when it comes to scheduling the film viewing with the restraints posed by the postal system. Since I had no new movie to watch for today, I resorted to watching the films out of order. I just watched Akira (#440 on the list) since I had it standing by. I still want to post my reviews in order, though. So, it's saved on my computer and waiting.

Just so you all know how I'm going to manage this project. :)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

#494: Sideways (2004)

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Paul Giamatti & Thomas Haden Church

Sideways is one of those movies that doesn't require any crazy special effects, or even any complex camerawork. It's all in its Oscar-winning script and some great acting.

Based on Rex Pickett's novel of the same title, Payne juxtaposes Giamatti and Church to demonstrate the two opposite stereotypes of the male persona. Giamatti - as always, and as brilliant as ever - represents the depressed and shy Miles, while Church is the outgoing and sex-driven Jack. A week before Jack's first wedding, the two are off to California's wine country. Miles is anticipating exploiting his talent for wine tasting, while Jack is trying to get laid once before he's married.

The acting of both Giamatti and Church is amazing, neither of them ever stealing the spotlight. The two leading women, Sandrah Oh and Virginia Madsen, are not to be forgotten, either. Madsen has a particularly moving speech describing the life of a bottle of wine.

The film overall has a great atmosphere the whole way through. It's got some comedy comparable to The Big Lebowski and even a little I Love You, Man. It's also got a script to make your taste buds tingle for a glass of wine, which brings to mind Julia & Julia, though combined with the jazzy score by Rolfe Kent it is even more comparable to Ratatouille.

I've only seen two of Payne's other works: Election (1999) and the pilot of episode of Hung, both of which I'm a huge fan. His style is consistently simple, and it's really a breath of fresh air.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Most of the wine used in the wine-tasting scenes was non-alcoholic. The actors wound up drinking so much of it that it made them nauseated (and had to periodically switch to the real thing to clean out their palates).
  • During an emotional scene in the film, Miles talks with great passion about Pinot Noir. After the release of this movie, sales of Pinot Noir wines rose by more than 20 percent over the 2004-05 Christmas/New Year period, compared to the same period the previous year. A similar phenomenon was experienced in British wine outlets. Miles is deeply disparaging, in a different scene, about Merlot, and sales dropped after the film came out. Ironically, Miles's prized bottle of wine, a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc, is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, another grape Miles disparaged.
  • This is the first film to win best screenplay from all five "major" critic groups (National Board Of Review, New York, Los Angeles, Brodcast and National Society Critics), the Golden Globes, the WGA and, ultimately, the Academy Awards.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Week After It Began

I figure it's been a week since my first post, I might as well let you all know how things are going.

Firstly, this is kind of hard. I never thought a movie a day would be so difficult. Partially because it's a little bit tiring, but also due to the logistics. I have the first 100 DVDs at my disposal - most through Netflix, and about 5 I had to buy online. The problem is this. My Netflix plan allows for 3 DVDs at a time. This means that when I finish a movie one night, the earliest I can get it replaced is two days later. This means I can't have a single day where I don't return it exactly the day after. It also causes a HUGE problem for Sundays with no mail. So, every week I have to have at least one day where I watch two movies to make up for it. Luckily, I did that yesterday... and might just do it again today.

I think if it comes down to it, if this becomes too much of a chore, I'll take away the 500-day limit and just get through the 500 as soon as I can. I really don't want to do that though.. because once I pose myself a challenge, I feel very obligated to take it.

I'm also still unsure about my writing. I feel like I'm using the same words over and over. I think I need to take more time researching the film after I watch it, and get my ass over to or something. Any comments on my writing is definitely welcome!

And also, when this becomes the next Julia & Julia, I'm pretty certain that it'll be Sean Connery playing me. I've gotta say, though.. this would be a pretty boring movie to watch. Unemployed guy watches TV. Heh.

#495: Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Director: Richard Thorpe
Cast: Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler & Mickey Shaughnessy

Considered Elvis's greatest film, Jailhouse Rock gives us a little glimpse into the music industry of the 50's. The story is of Vince Everett, a beatnik with a bit of an anger problem, who gets thrown in jail for committing manslaughter. His cellmate, businessman Hunk Houghton, teaches Vince to sing, and they agree to perform together once they're released. However, between Everett's and Houghton's release dates, Everett has already become a star with the help of Peggy Van Alden.

Although there's not much to say as far as cinematography, the film's still got a certain charm. Of course, a part of it is Elvis's songs (most memorably the title song, performed as a show within a show while Everett records for NBC). There's also a great sequence in the record studio where Everett finally finds his own true voice. A bit like a manned up version of Do-Re-Mi, it helps demonstrate just how unique Elvis's voice was at the time.

This was my first Elvis film, and it's really given me a better appreciation for The King. It is an incredible achievement that he reached stardom so early on with his dangerous persona. Forget the hip-swinging that all the mothers were so concerned about - he portrayed a truly aggressive character in this film while still acting as the protagonist.

All I have to say is, All Hail the King!

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Elvis Presley refused to watch this movie because of Judy Tyler's tragic accidental death in a car wreck July 4, 1957, three days after filming was completed.
  • In the listing of the American Film Institute's "100 years, 100 Songs" the song "Jailhouse Rock" was voted #21.
  • Originally the choreographer, Alex Romero, created a dance for the song "Jailhouse Rock" that was in a style that was apropos for a more classically trained dancer than Elvis. When Mr. Romero realized that his plans for the number were never going to work, he asked Elvis how would he normally move to the song; thus, this is how Elvis became the uncredited choreographer for what could be considered his most famous dance number in all of his movies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

#496: Superman Returns (2006)

Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth & Kevin Spacey

Superman's back from his vacation to Krypton, and he's found that Lois has turned her back to him. She decides that the world doesn't need a Superman, and neither does she. Lex Luther is back, as well, with a brand new diabolical scheme.

There's really not much to say about this film, besides it's a pretty entertaining Hollywood blockbuster-type film. It has some good special effects, and the acting isn't bad. The score - aside from the original themes, of course - is ridiculously cliché. A fun film, nevertheless.

This film definitely doesn't belong on the top 500 films of all time. I'll still recommend it to anyone who gets a chance to see it on the big screen. For cheap, anyway.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • "Alias" (2001) creator and writer J.J. Abrams wrote a complete shooting draft of the script, which both Brett Ratner and McG were planning to shoot when they both left the project for both creative and budget reasons.
  • The chemical name of Kryptonite is given as "sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide with fluorine." In 2007, Dr. Chris Stanley of the London Natural History Museum discovered the very same mineral, albeit without fluorine, in Jadar, Serbia and named it Jadarite. In reality, it is a white powder rather than a green crystal.
  • The crew in Tamworth grew their own corn. It took twelve weeks for them to get the corn just right.
  • The last line of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) (the one before "Returns") is Superman saying to Luthor, "See you in twenty." That scene was filmed in 1986. Coincidentally, twenty years later, in 2006, the next Superman movie was released.
  • In an interview on "Larry King Live" (1985), director Bryan Singer said that had he not had access to John Williams' original music, he would not have done the film.

#497: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang

It's really too bad this film has been parodied so often, because it really is a great film. I guess that's just what happens to the good ones, though.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon tells the story of warriors Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien. Known to be the bravest and strongest warriors in China, they still aren't courageous enough to express their feelings for each other. When Li Mu Bai's famed 'Green Destiny' sword goes missing, Shu Lien finds herself protecting the young Jen from the authorities - and from herself.

Although a simple story, Ang Lee found ways to make this film into a masterpiece. Each aspect of the film works in unison with the next. As Shu Lien notices, the action sequences are motioned in a similar style as Jen's fluid strokes of calligraphy. Not only is the choreography flawless, but the camerawork seems to have been just as much a part of the choreography as the fighting. And of course, Tan Dun's score is quite an achievement - especially considering he had only two weeks to write and record it.

The only problem with the film is the length. A full two hours, you definitely need to be in the right state of mind to watch this straight through with undivided attention. I also would love to learn Mandarin to understand the script. A friend told me once that the entire script was in an old Mandarin dialect - almost Shakespearean. It would certainly be an improvement to some of the English subtitles provided.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • "Crouching tiger hidden dragon" is a quote from Chinese mythology. It refers to hiding your strength from others; advice which is followed too well by the characters in the film.
  • In Chinese, Lo's name is "Little Tiger", and Jen's name is "Gorgeous Dragon".
  • The film's action choreographer, Woo-ping Yuen, was also responsible for the fighting sequences in The Matrix (1999) and its progeny.
  • The four main actors all spoke Mandarin, but with different accents. Yun-Fat Chow had a Cantonese accent, Michelle Yeoh had a Malaysian/English accent, Ziyi Zhang had a Beijing accent, and Chen Chang had a Taiwanese accent. Because of the difficulty some Chinese-speaking markets had with the voices, some markets actually had a dubbed version (into standard Mandarin) of the soundtrack.
  • The stamped documents shown by Shu Lien to the guards at the city-gate before she enters Beijing shows the date "In the of 43rd year of the reign of (Emperor) Qianlong, the sixth month, the eighth day", which is the year A.D. 1778, somewhere in June or July.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

#498: Back to the Future II (1989)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson & Thomas F. Wilson

Marty McFly is one of my heroes of 20th-century film, and understandably so. In this sequel, Marty travels first to the future, then back to the present, and finally returns to the past that he had already visited in the original. With this structure, Marty experiences the worst case of the butterfly effect, having his entire livelihood affected by the purchase of a book from the future.

There's so much to love about this film. It is chock-full of pop culture references, including dozens of references to the original film. The special effects are quite a bit ahead of its time, the soundtrack by Alan Silvestri is memorable, and the acting is great - despite its being intentionally overdone in the cases of Lloyd, Thompson and Wilson. And of course, the story itself is remarkable. The intricacies throughout the entire script stand out well enough to notice and follow, but are performed in a fluid and natural way.

This is by far the best sequel that has ever been made. What's been lost on a lot of sequels is that it becomes simply a second story about the same characters. In this case, it not only adds on to the original, but it in fact enhances it. If only Zemeckis could have kept that going in the conclusion of the trilogy, which understandably was not chosen to be on Empire's 500.

And now, the trivia. And there's lots, because this film deserves it.

Fun Trivia (stolen from IMDB):

  • Crispin Glover played George McFly in Back to the Future (1985), but was replaced by Jeffrey Weissman in Part II. Weissman was made up to look like Glover so that this film could incorporate excerpts from the original. All shots of Weissman are either from the back, at an angle, or with Sunglasses so that the audience wouldn't notice that it is a different actor.
  • Elisabeth Shue was cast as Jennifer, and all the closing shots of Back to the Future(1985) were re-shot for the beginning of this film. Claudia Wells (Jennifer in Back to the Future (1985)) was unable to reprise her role as she had stopped acting because her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. She returned to acting for the independent film Still Waters Burn (2008).
  • A movie theatre advertises "Jaws 19", directed by "Max Spielberg". Executive producer Steven Spielberg, who directed Jaws (1975), has a son Max.
  • First film appearance by Elijah Wood.
  • The tagline for Jaws 19 is "This time it's really, REALLY personal".
  • When Marty visits his neighborhood in 2015, a dog can be seen in the background being walked by one of the robots from *batteries not included (1987).
  • The football scores Biff hears on the radio while driving are all actual scores from November 12, 1955, and the UCLA/Washington game he and old Biff listen to did indeed end with UCLA kicker Jim Decker hitting a last second field goal to win.
  • In 2015, when Doc and Marty look at the USA Today newspaper and see the headline change, the following headlines and blurbs are:
  1. Cubs Sweep Series In 5 (a World Series sweep would be in 4 wins, thus implying the playoffs have been expanded in the future)
  2. Washington Prepares For Queen Diana's Visit (the film was released 8 years before Princess Diana's death)
  3. Swiss Terrorist Threat
  4. President Says She's Tired
  5. Pitcher Suspended For Bionic Arm
Two gigantic thumbs up!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

#499: Saw (2004)

Director: James Wan
Cast: Leigh Wannell, Cary Elwes & Michael Emerson

It's never a good idea to trust a writer to be a good actor. This film is a great case to prove that point. That's right! Leigh Wannell, one of the lead actors in Saw, was also the writer. At least he has an excuse for why he failed so miserably at making his character realistic in the slightest bit. To his credit, he and Wan did come up with a nice little twist at the end.

I was also very disappointed with Cary Elwes. Man, has he gone downhill in his career. From The Princess Bride to Robin Hood: Men in Tights to Liar Liar to this? Tsk, tsk.

Aside from the poor acting, I felt as if the film was made by an amateur. The style made me feel like I was watching a teenager playing Resident Evil while listening to some heavy metal. I'm sure this would be a great movie for a teenager on Halloween. But Empire's Top 500? Poor taste.

I was surprised at how easily I made it through this film. I started it with much trepidation, but I wasn't actually very disgusted by much of it. Of course, there's some gore - but it's nothing like I anticipated. I think I mixed the title up with Hostel.

Anyway, to sum it up, I think the only good thing to come out of this film was to give a huge boost to Michael Emerson's career. Lost wouldn't be the same without him!

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Filmed in 18 days.
  • Originally intended for a straight-to-video release. After positive screenings, it was given the nod to become a premier movie.
  • Contains many references to the films of Italian horror/giallo director Dario Argento. The creepy painted puppet is a reference to Argento'sProfondo rosso (1975), while the unseen killer's black gloves are one of Argento's trademarks and can be seen in almost all of his films.
  • After Amanda stabs her cell-mate she is searching with her hands through his guts, the guts are actually pig uterus.
Two thumbs down from Richie.

Monday, August 17, 2009

#500: Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and an all-star ensemble cast

This recreation of Lewis Milestone's 1960 film of the same title is a huge hit among us twenty-something gents - and why wouldn't it? It's got gambling, explosions, and a plot with a nice twist at the end! Although not all reviewers gave it a five-star rating (it has a rating of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes), it certainly didn't fail for their audience; it grossed $38m on its opening weekend.

The film centers on Danny Ocean, just released from prison. In the opening scene, he is asked what he is going to do when he gets out. The day he's released, he's back to work, scheming how to rob three of Las Vegas's biggest casinos. The plan is incredibly complex, using the brilliant minds, athletics, and positions in society of Ocean and his 10 cohorts to bring the plan together.

Although I haven't seen the original film, starring The Rat Pack, I've read enough to know that they've certainly changed a lot of the script to keep this film up to date. The original Eleven were all friends from the Air Force during World War II, while the 2001 film's ensemble are all experienced criminals. The original also leaves the criminals empty-handed at the end. It appears that Soderbergh had other plans in mind for the team... (omgz sequelz!)

As far as personal observations go, I'd like to point out how diverse Soderbergh's films are. He's directed all three Ocean's films, Erin Brockovich, Solaris, Traffic and the recent two-part biography, Che. I've honestly never heard his name before today - I can't deny how bad I am with names - but, holy diversity, Batman! I also noticed that some of the shots he chose looked very old-fashioned to me, and I have to wonder whether he took some of them directly from the original.

Fun Trivia (stolen from IMDB):
This was the first time I've seen this film, and I'm really not quite sure why. Maybe not a masterpiece, but extremely entertaining. Two thumbs up!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Holy crap. I'm just charting out when each movie falls on the calendar if I do them in order, one film per day (two for the day The Cat Concerto is on - it's 6 minutes)... and completely by chance, if I start tomorrow, V for Vendetta falls on November 5. This is fate, people.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Preparations are Underway

Looks like the countdown begins on Monday, the delay due to my late-night ordering on Netflix on a Friday night.

Looking again through the Empire list, I'm really not that impressed with their choices. They've forgotten some real classics (The Sound of Music? What's that?), and they've put in some completely idiotic choices (Star Wars - Episode I and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull chief among them). But in their defense, this list may not be all classics - but it seems to be a fantastic base to get your pop culture trivia knowledge going.

The project might be a wee bit more expensive than I planned. I only put the first 100 films on my Netflix queue so far, and I'm afraid to say, seven of the titles were not found on the site, including - wait for it! - Disney's Beauty and the Beast. How ridiculous is that?!

I actually bought some of the other missing titles via various sites. This got me anxious, so I started looking at future orders that might not show up, and one of them will be a real doozy. The French silent film Napoleon (1927) is a 5.5-hour long behemoth that hasn't even been released in Region 1. I couldn't even find but one copy of it in Region 2 - going for 20 euros. Maybe once this blog becomes famous and I'm close to a movie deal, I'll ask Netflix for some sponsorship.

I'm avoiding spreading the word around to friends that I've even created this yet.. I need to get a few posts under my belt before I have the confidence to promote myself.

To conclude my final post before the beginning of the project, I'd just like to say that Jurassic Park was on HBO today, and that pretty much made my afternoon. It's too bad such a beautifully done movie had such sucktacular sequels.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Let the Games Begin

Now, how can it be more perfect that a blog about movies has been created in response to a movie about blogs? It's a nice mirror effect, if I do say so myself. Of course, this movie is Julie & Julia, which I'm sure has increased's business tenfold.

I have a few reasons for starting this venture. First off, I'm unemployed. I don't think it's necessary to really go into detail about why I'm unemployed as a recent college graduate, as I'm sure you're aware how rough it is out there. My second reason is pure boredom. I've been home from London for almost a month now, and all I've really done is apply for jobs and get myself onto the exercise bike to hopefully some day get rid of my overgrown belly (and yes, I realize watching 500 films goes against that a bit - but I'll get to that in a second). Thirdly, I think it'll be a great exercise to work on my writing skills. I've always considered myself a completely mediocre writer, and it'd be great if that improved.

And lastly, I am doing this because I love a good movie. Film is the one art that can move you with every sense. It would be impossible for me to deny that. The cinematography of Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain; Bernard Herrmann's terrifying ability to make a heart race through music; Tom Ripley's skin-crawling approach towards Marge Sherwood; the mouthwatering dishes of Ratatouille... film is the supreme form of art.*

And now... the list. There are so many "Best Films Ever" lists out there, and I think I chose the right one. Some of the lists made by amateurs list only recent American films. Others like Time's famous list have so many foreign films from the 1930's and 40's which I'd have absolutely no interest to get through. So I settled on Empire. This seems to me to be a perfectly made list - a great combination of all genres, all eras, and all nationalities. I can't say I agree with the list completely, at least from my slightly judgmental standpoint (Saw?? Really? At least it's #499...), but I am going to do my best, man up, and get this done.

Similar to Julie Powell circa 2002, I need something to stabilize my life at the moment. So, while watching a movie a day for the next year and a half might seem like a waste, it's also going to push me to get myself into a routine (which MUST include exercise, because honestly... how pathetic would I be if I let myself waste away like this?)

So, let's see if this actually happens. It might just end up being some idiotic scheme I came up with. Whatever the case may be, I'm now going to sign up for my Netflix account, and the countdown will begin on the day #500 arrives in my (dad's) mailbox. First stop, Ocean's 11.

Let's reel 'em in. (Harr harr harr!)

*For all of you sticklers out there, fine. I listed four of the five senses... but smell is a toughie. Get over it! Four for five ain't half bad.