Memorable Shot #1: “In Harm’s Way” (dir. Preminger, 1965)

The opening shot of Otto Preminger’s 1965 World War II film In Harm’s Way, starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. The film revolves around a group of naval officers following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The film itself is hit and miss, but in this long opening shot Preminger sets up several issues that are at play throughout the film (including Kirk Douglas’ issues with his wife’s implied infidelity), not to mention a very smart way of conveying the film’s setting and time period.

DP Loyal Griggs was nominated for a very well deserved Academy Award for Best Black & White Cinematography, but lost out to Ernest Lazlo for his work on the Lee Marvin starring Ship of Fools.

Ten Things I Remember

Truffaut’s pose in silhouette

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1977)

 Bubbles in champagne

"Broken Flowers" (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2005)

Hoops and a shadow

"The Stranger" (dir. Orson Welles, 1946)

Amateur gunslinging

"Shoot the Piano Player" (dir. Francois Truffaut, 1960)

Lights in the dark

"Field of Dreams" (dir. Phil Alden Robinson, 1989)

Money in the wind

"The Killing" (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1956)

Overwrought metaphors

"The Virgin Spring" (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1960)

Setsuko Hara

"Tokyo Story" (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

Comforting angsty bourgeoisie

"L'Avventura" (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

A relaxed pose

"Sans Soleil" (dir. Chris Marker, 1983)

Mouths Agape

"Duck Soup" (dir. Leo McCarey, 1933)

Groucho Marx, as per usual, the only one unvexed by his practiced unpredictability. The question for me, though, is what expression is the women in the background-right, partially obfuscated by a parasol,  wearing?

Kinetic Energy

Mrs. Miniver (1942) dir. William Wyler

All The Presidents Men (1976) dir. Alan J. Pakula

On David Fincher…

Another year and another Academy Awards ceremony finishes with few surprises as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences went with safer (and arguably more tasteful) choices this year. The ceremony itself was the self-congradulatory back slapping that one comes to expect from award shows like this and went by without notable incident.

“The King’s Speech” came away from the evening with four of the biggest prizes (Best Picture, Actor (Colin Firth), Director (Tom Hooper), and Original Screenplay (David Seidler)). “Inception” nabbed most of the technical awards while the big nominee “True Grit,” rode away empty handed.

In the past few years the Academy has been surprisingly forward minded with its choice of Best Original Score. Argentine musician Gustavo Santaolalla, who walked away with the award two years in a row in the middle of the decade (for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel”), and Indian composer A.R. Rahman (for his Bollywood-influenced score for, “Slumdog Millionaire.” This year continued that trend with Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor and his partner in crime Atticus Ross walking away with the top film score composition prize. These four wins provide the greatest hope for me that there is some semblance of a breath of fresh air in the Academy. All four take very unique and compelling looks at what a film score can sound like and show score composition can be more than John Williams (or the dearly departed John Berry) symphonics. It was a surprising and, like I said, forward thinking choice that earned a very vigorous head-nod and smile from this outside viewer.

The Reznor/Ross win was one of three for, “The Social Network,” a film that I reviewed when it was released back in October but am now thinking that I need to take a second look at. Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won for their work on the film, along with scribe Aaron Sorkin, who walked away with a Best Adapted Screenplay award. The big shock of the night came when last year’s Best Director winner, Kathryn Bigelow, opened the envelope and awarded the Best Director statue to Tom Hooper in lieu of most people’s presumptive winner, David Fincher.

Fincher, who helmed “The Social Network,” is quietly turning himself into the premier American director. He came up during a period of time during the mid-to-late-1990s with a group of young directors (like Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, and Alexander Payne) that might be considered the best batch of young American directors since the New Hollywood era. All are great in their own way, but Fincher is arguably the best and his loss tonight is the only real complaint I can make about this year’s incantation of an awards ceremony that I love to hate.

I’m working on a more in-depth discussion of Fincher’s work and why he is, if not the best American filmmaker working today, at the very least the one that should be most admired. Keep those eyes peeled!

The Grime-Coated Wings of “Black Swan” Make For a Worthwhile Viewing

title: Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
director: Darren Aronofsky
cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
one sentence or less: As sleazy as it is arty, “Black Swan,” is worth the price of admission.  Continue reading

A Worthy Legacy for Tron

title: Tron: Legacy (Disney)
director: Joseph Kosinski
cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner
one sentence or less: A truly extraordinary experience, even if the film itself isn’t.

 

 

I’m sure there was a generation of kids who grew up with Disney’s 1982 film, “Tron,” and that those now-grown kids were clamoring for a sequel to that first foray into digital animation. I was not one of those kids. When I saw it, as a sophomore in college, it was like listening to a Yaz record; memorable only as a curious artifact from an earlier cultural time whose echoes still resonant. And yet, I was intrigued when I heard about a sequel and positively enthralled when the first concept images first appeared online in the summer of 2009. I kept abreast of developments and trailers, and walked into the theater with high expectations, some of which were met, others not. Continue reading

A Stuttering King That Begs for Oscars

title: The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)
director: Tom Hooper
cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pierce, Michael Gambon, Darek Jacobi
one sentence or less: This excellent tale of friendship between a stuttering prince and an unconventional therapist has a lot of charm to spare.

 

For public figures, a voice is just as important as an image. Take poor, silent film stars like John Gilbert, a man who fell out of public favor when his high-pitched voice didn’t match the public’s expectations. The search for a voice that suits one’s public persona is the quandary befalling British Prince Albert, Duke of York and stutterer extraordinaire. As the subject of the new film (and Oscar supplicant), “The King’s Speech,” Prince Albert (better known to modern audiences as King George VI and father of Queen Elizabeth II) makes for a surprisingly compelling viewing. Continue reading

Video: A New Man With a Movie Camera?

Happy New Year everyone! Those of us who live on the East Coast of the United States were treated to a post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s Eve gift this year: a two-day blizzard that left over a foot and half of snow in Central Park and over two feet of snow in other parts of New York City. During the maelstrom Astoria, Queens resident Jamie Stuart ventured out to create a short film documenting the trials, tribulations, and beauty of the snowstorm. He sent the film to famed film critic Roger Ebert who posted it on his blog along with a breathless review. In the review Ebert opines that it should win the Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short subject for its, “wonderful quality,” homage to Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Soviet Montage masterpiece, “Man With a Movie Camera,” and its, “almost unbelievable technical proficiency.” The film (which is embedded below along with Vertov’s original) is indeed a marvel. It’s a great document of the blizzard (especially for those of us who were elsewhere when the storm hit and stranded in its wake) and the technical skill involved is indeed impressive, but is it the Vertov homage that Ebert claims?

I’m not quite as convinced. Although I see the similarities, Vertov’s film was imbued with such a strident political message that it’s difficult to separate filmic image from political meaning. In Vertov’s critical writings one can see just how important politics were for him and his filmmaking process. In his poetic-essay, We: Variant Of a Manifesto, Vertov writes:

In an art of movement we have no reason to devote our particular attention to contemporary man. The machine makes us ashamed of man’s inability to control himself, but what are we to do if elecriticy’s unerring ways are more exciting to us than the disorderly haste of active men and the corrupting inertia of passive ones? Saws dancing at a sawmill convey to us a joy more intimate and intelligible than that on human dance floors.

While I agree with Mr. Ebert that Stuart does an admirable job at creating an homage to Vertov (especially in the piece’s first minute or so), I hesitate to push the analogy much further than that. It documents a specific event in an interesting way, but isn’t as interested in the underlying politics of man in the mechanical age and the mechanization of society that makes “Man With a Movie Camera,” such a sentient film. That being said, Stuart does get some amazing images and makes excellent use of them. But, what do you think? Is Ebert right? Is it Oscar-worthy, or is he just being hyperbolic?

Stuart’s video and Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera,” are after the jump. But first:

Jamie Stuart’s website, The Mutiny Company.

Mr. Ebert’s own take on “Man With a Movie Camera.” Continue reading

Inception: Bigger, But Not Better

title: Inception (Warner Bros.)
director: Christopher Nolan
cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard
one sentence or less: Inception, the film that proves the age-old adage that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The time has come for Christopher Nolan to scale back. After four straight films that actually fit hyperbolic descriptors like “grandiose” and “epic,” one senses that a trend is emerging. As Nolan’s images become increasingly grand and assuredly awe-inspiring, the returns on the substantive aspects of his films are steadily diminishing. The trend, unfortunately, continues with his latest blockbuster, “Inception,” which was released this week on Blu-Ray and DVD.  Continue reading