Jlewis

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  1. Jlewis

    100 Best Shot Films

    I will try to remember next time I get nitpicky. (Yes, I knew they were cinematographers but I did goof in my post when my mind wandered into those lofty critics' polls of the past.) Anybody seen that great documentary Visions Of Light (1992)? Have that one on DVD and have enjoyed it over the years even if it too tends to focus too much on the popular mainstream features discussed too often already in movie books.
  2. Jlewis

    100 Best Shot Films

    He too did some nifty shorts back in the day. Covered this one on that thread a while back. It may not have the "wow" factor of Black Narcissus but at least it documents some ancient ruins that no longer exist today, preserving them in Technicolor for posterity.
  3. Jlewis

    100 Best Shot Films

    I am so sorry but I am getting old and grumpy. I really do appreciate seeing these lists being discussed on this forum, but they (the lists, not we posters) are getting increasingly silly and pointless. The critics casting their votes are essentially sleep walking or following-the-crowd. Predictably over half of the titles are Oscar darlings and regulars on other Top Hundreds that probably get more praise than they deserve already. Missing are so many great silent classics, pioneering works in Technicolor and widescreen that involved great difficulty by their camera crews "getting it right", not to mention all of the short subjects being totally ignored... as usual. Who is to say that a vintage Technicolor MGM Traveltalk from 1934, even if narrated by sometimes mundane James FitzPatrick, should be considered less worthy? After all, it was much harder to carry bulky early color camera equipment through the Swiss Alps back then than today. Don't get me started on earlier films that involved loss of life in an attempt to bring-back-the-goods like THE TRAIL OF '98. Also why is METROPOLIS the only title from the great German expressionist period that these high brows can agree on? Saw THE ENGLISH PATIENT again last night. Saw it in the theaters in 1996-97, then on VHS and I think this might be my third or fourth time of viewing. It certainly has great camera work. Too bad the story isn't too believable. Plus Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, both quite talented and trying awfully hard on screen, are rather mismatched as a couple. Maybe the original characters in the book are too? No, I have not read it. (Funny... I have no trouble seeing Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews as a believable couple, but I think Binoche has no trouble "falling in love" on screen with anybody no matter who they are, much like Ingrid Bergman or Audrey Hepburn.) On the plus side, as Fiennes is wailing in grief as he emerges holding her from The Cave, the camera crew did a nice job making sure her white dress is blowing in the wind and making sure the sun hits their faces just right.
  4. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Mentioning both REMBRANDT and KINSEY in the same post had me thinking of movie biopics in general. Likely 80% of these are highly inaccurate, compared to a published book that uses verified sources and interviews and doesn't compromise simply to entertain a theater or TV audience. Nonetheless, they are still a most engrossing genre. Also they reflect the times they were made more so than the past periods they depict. REMBRANDT was, in fact, made during a boom period for biopics in the mid thirties, culminating with two back to back Best Pictures: MGM's THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (even if the emphasis was on the dazzling musical numbers) and Warner Brothers' THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA. I find REMBRANDT more entertaining than those two, but I still love Paul Muni in his role in the latter too, also including his take on Louis Pasteur. We can add Edward G. Robinson in DR. EHRLICH'S MAGIC BULLET and James Cagney in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, among others, since Warners was the best studio for this genre. I think the failure that 20th Century Fox had with WILSON (at least partly due to its timing since nobody was motivated by a deceased pacifist president during the same summer as D-Day) probably halted this biopic infatuation that Hollywood had for roughly a decade. Most of the post-war and fifties biographies covered musical performers and songwriters (like THE GREAT ZIEGFELD and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY previously) so that the focus could be on the performers doing familiar melodies on screen. The sixties saw the next big biopic boom, but often with figures who were the “rebels” of an earlier era whom the burgeoning teen market could relate to. Obviously the earlier QUEEN CHRISTINA and THE SCARLET EMPRESS are enjoyed more as Garbo and Dietrich vehicles, which is why the Catherine the Great biopic put out by REMBRANDT's Alexander Korda's is less famous today (being contemporary of THE SCARLET EMPRESS). I especially love QUEEN CHRISTINA because it reunited John Gilbert with Greta, who was never going to be tied down by any man just as Christina would not be tied down by Swedish traditions... regardless of the sexual chemistry they once had. She enjoys herself enough just exploring the “essence” of the room she shares with Gilbert, remembering the great times they had together making FLESH AND THE DEVIL. She may ultimately leave the throne for him, but remember that Greta is still... alone... at the end of it. Hair blowing in the wrong direction from where the boat is sailing. Maybe ET: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL or TOOTSIE should have won the Best Picture Oscar back in 1983 but GANDHI is still the title that has dated the least for me. Maybe because the other two are set in the present that they reflect what is so dated about that era a little too well? Spielberg's classic represents a somewhat antiquated take on “aliens” compared to what became fashionable later on, while its special effects (probably more realistic than how computer generated imagery would be today) and all of the “cuteness” are acquired tastes. Dustin Hoffman does a great job in his role in TOOTSIE, but this film is far less progressive than SOME LIKE IT HOT. (Billy Wilder was less timid exploring the Jack Lemmon/Joe E. Brown relationship than Sydney Pollack's take on what-could-happen-with-the-father-of-the-girl-you-are-interested-in. Pollack himself telling Hoffman on screen “Gawd, I begged you to get some therapy” sums up the prevailing attitude of that time.) GANDHI does resemble something made for British TV in the late seventies and early eighties with Ben Kingsley still looking like Ben Kingsley and Candice Bergen looking nothing like Margaret Bourke-White, but it presents history coming to life on the same epic scale as David Lean's earlier LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and is a delightful homage to that and all other stately biopics that came before. Richard Attenborough was a fan of the old newsreels, incorporated most effectively in one or two scenes, and newsreels were being re-evaluated in the late seventies and early eighties by mainstream film historians (also note the nostalgic Australian NEWSFRONT made earlier in 1978) with much less criticism regarding how they presented the news “in black and white”. It all makes for wonderful nostalgia, being a movie biopic that wants to be an entertaining movie and accepts itself as one, rather than try to be a detail-by-detail account of a once living person. I had some problems with THE KING'S SPEECH because it was trying to be more factual, but still took notable liberties (like condensing his speech therapy to just a few short years rather than over a decade as in reality) while THE IRON LADY may have downsized Thatcher's importance by focusing too much on her dementia of later years. I do enjoy THE QUEEN with Helen Mirren since it focused on just a few weeks in one's life and how she copes with it. Gus Van Sant's MILK pretty much got it right, fact-wise, probably because the 1984 documentary THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK was so widely seen for decades prior to 2008 that any dramatization of his life would get nitpicked. What was interesting about that one was how immersed we see the lead in The Cause, much like Martin Luther King and others fighting for social equality, that he suffered in his personal relationships. One ex boyfriend does show him later how proud he is for all of his political efforts despite their breakup years earlier while another commits suicide. Intriguingly, the screen is filled with multiple people in the same shots than just one face, reflecting how difficult it was for individuals to be completely alone with Milk. He also was portrayed by Sean Penn as one who was not always practical in his crusade; for example, just telling everybody to “come out” of the closet isn't going to make their lives better since families and employers in the 1970s would instantly reject them permanently and most would be in the streets. The opera “tragedy” angle that was used here was interesting, even it too involved some liberties with truth; it works better as screen entertainment to show him dying to the bullet as he looks at a marquee billboard.
  5. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Can an actor perform "properly" by only playing royal figures and men of great standing? Or can he be just as masterly portraying a beggar painter like Rembrandt van Rijn? ... and he did go on to play the Hunchback of Notre Dame and direct the one-of-its-kind NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. Nobody could accuse Laughton of typecasting himself. What impresses me about this biopic, apart from Laughton's performance and one of the few noteworthy Gertrude Lawrence appearances on film, are the set designs and costumes. Vincent Korda, brother of the director/producer, and Hal Waller get much of the screen credit while cinematographer Georges Périnals makes sure the stylized floor patterns get showcased a lot in addition to the boxy windows and door frames that suggest the way an artist's life is sometimes confined by the frames bordering his masterpieces... or, rather, the public tries to confine him by their own frames. There is an interesting tradition among movie biographies to tailor the backgrounds to fit the psychological state of the subject. Note the scene when the well-to-do crowd reacts negatively to one of his paintings, which does not “conform” to all of the squares in the floor tiles, flags and striped ceiling arches. Bill Condon's KINSEY, made many decades later in 2003, also presents its subject as one who didn't exactly fit in, especially since he took on subjects that were taboo... namely sex (gasp!!!). That film also had a lot of boxy window shots too, but the director claimed that he was emphasizing how Kinsey was boxing himself in with so much focus on the academic research of a subject rather than the emotional and relationship elements of it. Nonetheless, he too was going against the grain, which is why he doesn't stand in the correct spots when lecturing...
  6. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    There is so much worse that we can blast into orbit. After all, the theme song sums up the state of our country and planet these days...
  7. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    You do raise some good points and confirm the initial debate that started the discussion: that this movie is dated but also backward rather than progressive like other movies and TV shows of its era. I think Charles Shulz's Peanuts represented Middle America best which explains why more read it than any other comic strip at that time. There was one token "black" character Franklin who was introduced to the strip in July 1968, but he was seldom involved in any significant story arcs and only fleetingly socialized with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty (the token feminist chick), etc. He was a cardboard character lacking any distinctive personality, but had to be included nonetheless. However that was a very important summer, being the one following the King assassination, riots in the streets and a major campaign started by third party candidate George Wallace as the backlash to LBJ's "Great Society" that many white southerners thought was too inclusive, too soon. (Note too that the biggest racial fuss in the seventies occurred among northerners instead of southerners with the Boston school bus protest of 1974, among other key events, so this was never a localized problem but a national one.) Both Hollywood and Madison Avenue were at a crossroads here, very much like your "little old lady" personality not wishing to get attacked from either side. CBS did shock some TV viewers with a thought provoking Of Black America series, but more typical of the mainstream was NBC's Julia with Diahann Carroll that was filming episodes that summer simultaneously with Warner Brothers backing their first black director, Gordon Parks, in The Learning Tree, all significant firsts but also safe firsts not intended to rock the boat. This was also the summer that PBS and the Children's TV Workshop put Sesame Street into production even though it would not air until the fall of 1969 and that show would make enormous strides in raising a new generation of children to become far more comfortable with a variety of skin tones than their parents and grandparents ever were. Fast-forward to 1972 and you have that whole "blaxploitation" cycle cresting that was Hollywood's belated but over the top attempt to be all-inclusive. Yet it all wound up merely bombarding the screens with a lot of angry black characters sporting guns. (Granted, some of the directors of this genre were black but most milking it for profit were not.) Ditto the kung fu action-er which was the Asian equivalent, reaching its climax the following year with the final films of Bruce Lee. Usually when the cast was all black and presented "normal", it was more often than not a period piece like Sounder, released earlier that year. It is evident when you go through the film reviews of December 1972 that there is quite a lot of criticism about The Poseidon Adventure being behind the times not just in race but story telling as well. I have only found Roger Ebert being very specific about race here, but I am sure others noticed back then. Nobody took that film very seriously and the post-Zanuck executives at Fox were most awe-struck that it took off so well at the box-office. All of this may explain why O.J. Simpson got a more prominent role in The Towering Inferno, also backed by 20th Century Fox as a joint venture with Warner. At least he did more in that film than Franklin did in the comics.
  8. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Plus so many previous crossing-the-Atlantic dramas like Ship Of Fools had a variety of accents that you would just assume this one would follow tradition. By this time, even airplane pictures like Airport showed some variety in passenger skin tone even if just the Caucasian actors were allowed to speak. It has been ages since I saw this one so I have little to contribute here, but I did read some old reviews online. A. H. Weiler in the New York Times confirms that the ship is bound for Greece, while Roger Ebert also noted no "black" character to be included along with the (stereotypical?) fussy Jewish couple, passionate liberal, tough cop, etc.
  9. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Oh... sorry about Jody. Maybe the ladies didn't looked THAT old, but they seemed older upon my recollection. I was also thinking of our earlier discussion of Shane here.
  10. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    I have a feeling Preston Sturges would have had fun with this, particularly the multiple baby business involving multiple mothers (both who seemed rather old to me compared to even Jean Arthur in Shane to be having children that young). My mind is blank, but I vaguely recall Dennis Morgan's character learning a little ahead of time that she was not married before she was able to come clean with him so it wasn't that big of a deal. Again, I think Sturges would have made it a big deal. The film has merit, but I did sense it could have been even better with a bit more creativity.
  11. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    I am sure there is an interesting backstory as to why this particular title was delayed in release. With the war, many Americans were not watching movies all at the same time anyway, so it was less necessary to release something seasonal "on" season. Going totally off topic here... you will notice a lot more consistency back in the 1930s. By wartime, the studios had cut back in production both on a feature and short subject level partly due to military instructional films eating up a lot of film stock and a variety of other factors; thus, as a result, the time between many a film's completion and its release increased. This was even more so with Technicolor productions due to frequent processing delays as well as that company's occasional labor strikes. (The fact that Cinecolor, Polacolor and other processes flourished weren't just because they were cheaper; you needed alternatives when you were in a hurry.) 1943 was probably the last year for a decade or so when many of your familiar Tom & Jerry cartoons, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies actually sport copyright dates corresponding to the actual year they were released.
  12. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    I re-watched that one again last night. Pretty fluffy entertainment with a rather lightweight plot (which I'm sure you will acknowledge), but benefiting from a stellar cast. Gotta love all of the familiars like Una O'Connor from those beloved Universal horrors of the last decade (who can forget her in The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein?) and two under-studio-contract veterans from Casablanca. I think Dennis Morgan was under contract more for his looks and singing voice than any particular "method" acting, while Barbara Stanwyck is basically playing a role that I think would have fit somebody like Ginger Rogers better but she does it well enough. Intriguingly most 1940s "holiday" movies were initially released "out of season". Among the few exceptions was It's A Wonderful Life which RKO only decided to rush release in December because the edit work on Sinbad The Sailor wasn't completed in time. (Then again, the holiday scenes mostly occur in the final portion of that movie anyway, despite it always being viewed as a "holiday" movie.) Like Miracle On 34th Street, Christmas In Connecticut was a summertime release, previewed in July and widely released in August (being block-booked with the usual Warner short subjects, including Hare Conditioned with Bugs Bunny). This also explains its setting better with all of the "Buy War Bonds" advertising in the background scenes and no comments about the conflict being over yet. Despite bearing a 1945 copyright date in the opening credits, it is technically more a 1944 film, being filmed between May and July of that year and held-over. It would be interesting to learn about the last minute edit changes (the submarine footage lifted from elsewhere looks like a belated insertion after the European portion of the war ended and was no longer relevant).
  13. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Should have commented earlier, but I didn't want to get too far off topic. I like both of the previously mentioned titles Les Quatre Cents Coups (400 Blows) and Noz W Wodzie (Knife In Water), the latter being very much a "new wave" film despite being made in Poland instead of France. Regarding their "vague endings", François Truffaut did make sequels to the former involving the same character and actor; thus, the ending only impacted audiences temporarily in 1959. We knew the bratty boy would grow up eventually. The film of his that, perhaps, created the biggest stir with American audiences so used to Hollywood formulas was Jules & Jim, which featured one of those famous "gee, I didn't see that coming" endings and was a key reason he was later requested (but didn't accept) Bonnie & Clyde, which also required a "gee, I didn't see that coming" ending. Without spoiling too much, this comedy-drama filled with flashy editing tricks (influencing in style if not subject matter the "look" of the Swinging Brits' Tom Jones and A Hard Day's Night... and everything else that decade displaying an attitude of "watch us all be goofy in front of the camera, not just act like professional actors memorizing scripts, and see how creative the cameraman and the jump-cut editors get with our material so you won't ignore this film anymore than you would flashy TV commercials") involved a ménage à trois featuring two guys who are more in love with each other than the woman they both share. Truffaut even teases this early on by showing them as buddies at the Turkish bath, commenting on "outcast" characters in a play that include a "homosexual", but saying they aren't shocked anymore by such activity on stage like all of the prudes... not to mention that the very title of the film leaves out HER name. Alas... the woman, who temporarily dresses up as a "dude" with a drawn mustache just to get them to chase her in a most famous and often referenced-for-movie-documentary scene, ultimately dooms all of the unconditional brotherly love in a way that The Great War could not (being that one guy was French and the other Austrian on rival sides). Regarding Roman Polanski, many of the characters in his films are so carefully structured and explained for the viewers that you can usually guess "what happens next" even if the ending is "vague". Mentioned Rosemary's Baby before: Mia Farrow's character is so emotionally obsessed about having her baby and protecting it at all costs that you know she will accept Adrian even if his father is Satan, as Roman (not the director, but a character played brilliantly by Sydney Blackmer) cons her to "just be a mother to him". One aspect to Polanski that I find fascinating is how he purposely manipulates viewers of completely different persuasions, so to speak, by keeping his intentions nebulous enough that both sides have equal interest in his product. In Rosemary's Baby, he teases two contrasting audiences: one who is obedient to "organized" religion and one that is more agnostic or atheist. The former consider it a genuine horror movie while the latter tends to view it more as a fascinating character study. Note how entertaining your neighbors are despite being so weird, so Guy just has to go back and socialize with them more than he does with his wife. Much of her phobia is as equally centered on losing her husband as well as her baby since he just isn't showing much interest in her when she's pregnant. Knife In The Water also gets completely different reactions from those heterosexual viewers who have little interest in anything "LGBT" and don't notice such insinuations in movies, such as this "my wife and I just watched it again" who strictly views it as a great suspense thriller https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_knO2m6olLU and the I-am-not-sure-of-his-orientation-but-I-can-guess critic here, focusing on how the bodies are emphasized for psychological effect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BtmxkrBrus One thing is for certain. You quickly get a sense that this married couple has become too irritable with each other to have much of a sex life, but they say couples who fight together stay together (think George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and I have no doubt they will remain together well after the movie's closing despite any excitement in their life together coming from outsiders. Note how she sports her bikini early on and doesn't get much of a rise out of him. She still doesn't act stimulated in any way when he applies tanning lotion on her, but he uses this act to show-off in front of his young rival (see this key scene in the second video above). It is as if he is telling the sandy blonde twentysomething "I would rather apply this lotion on your bare back than hers, but isn't she still a dish?... and she is still mine, mine, mine and not yours", while the reaction is "oh brother, another closeted husband trying to prove how hetero he is". On the surface, this is just suspenseful "man up" challenging, but with knife play around fingers being rather Freudian in its connections to other parts of one's anatomy.
  14. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Hate to go far off topic on this thread, but it is remarkable how much that video (its flip side being "Everything She Wants"... and poor George just couldn't provide her everything) contrasts with that other holiday song that George participated in that same year of 1984... 1984 was the year of feeding the hungry, a sharp contrast to 1983 being just one big battle over the last remaining Cabbage Patch Doll. I guess this was more in the spirit of A Christmas Carol (with another George, Mister Gee See Scott, starring that year).
  15. Jlewis

    TopBilled’s Essentials

    Well... not all are bad. Gremlins, which didn't get aired nearly enough back-in-the-day on the Hallmark Channel even though it boasted as much evergreen and gawdy lights as anything else on that network, did revive in popularity the 1963 chestnut "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home", belted out by Darlene Love as she gets drowned out by Phil Spector's "wall of sound" (and while those frisky furies ran amuck in the movie). Then there's White Christmas providing one of the most memorable duets: Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing "Sisters" complete with blue ostrich feathers and the two gazing at each other during the lyrics "... and Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man". (Yup, both Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen had their work cut out for them in that one.) Regarding the music in the two Christmas Carol films... I think the music added to "why" Radio City refused to accept the '51 version like it enthusiastically did the '38 one. Below is the opening title sequence, which hardly puts the audience in a festive state of mind. Note that Richard Addinsell's score with Muir Mathieson orchestrating opens like a sinister film noir or horror movie (something Hitchcock would do), then converts into a "Hark the herald angels sing" section more in tune with the '38 version before once again getting all menacing and foreboding shortly before Addinsell and Matheson get credited on screen. The film did very well in the UK because the Brits enjoy a dark edge to the proceedings, but Americans are very sensitive and fussy about such things they hold as "traditional".

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