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Monday, February 6, 2012

Anonymous, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and more on DVD Tomorrow

I honestly could have picked a still-frame from any of the Twilight films 
and no one would have noticed.

We have an eclectic array of DVD/Blu-ray releases tomorrow, from a film calling bullshit on Shakespeare to everyone calling bullshit on glittery vampires.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Anatomy of a Scene - The Night of the Hunter

It's a hard world for little things.

There's a very specific show of brilliance in The Night of the Hunter. Not even referring to the multiple accidental metaphors you can come up with for this show of good and evil (Lillian Gish versus Robert Mitchum) which we'll get to in a minute, but just in this scene - it's one of the most creatively coy things, certainly for its time, and that I've ever seen.

Charles Laughton, who did not direct another feature after this debut, has an understanding of lighting/shadows. And maybe more to the point, lighting shadows. If we pay attention to the silhouette of Robert Mitchum's odious preacher, set outside ready to attack his prey (pray?), there are three things going on at the same time, based only on the lighting behind Mitchum. a) he's almost indistinguishable from the rest of the set, b) the way he's standing places him directly under the floor of the house (good ol' line-of-sight), and c) he is, basically, hunting. As the king of the jungle, it's almost as if he has his prey trapped in a corner.

And he might be a little aware, but just not give a damn, that Lillian Gish is about to protect her cubs. She sits, shotgun calmly in hand, by the window, staring at Mitchum through the night. They are aware of each other, and they know that this is the end of the road for one of them. The lion will either eat, or the mice will trick it over the edge of a cliff.

There are many ways to take this scene, even without taking the rest of the movie into consideration - one, there is the obvious "hunter/prey" analogy that makes perfect sense. Mitchum is hunting Gish and her children. There is, of course, much deeper meaning probably hidden in this film, though slightly out of context with the rest of the film. It's interesting to note that Lillian Gish was one of the "silent queens" back before 'talking pictures' were introduced to the world (for a more profound study of that effect, see last year's The Artist). With the silent era ending officially in the mid 30's, some stars went with it. Remember Sunset Boulevard? Think that. Remember Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Precisely. Gish came out without a scratch, and continued to be a lauded actress. You could see this scene, with the hymn in tact, as a sort of... "this is one for my boys" moment in the new foundation of film. Peace on the battle lines, almost like accepting defeat, but with mutual respect between both armies.

Want some? Get some.

The inclusion of the hymn, however, in this scene, is the key to the rest of the film. Mitchum's character comes to town posing as a preacher (well, he is actually a preacher, just an asshole in tandem) and begins to lurk and seep into every facet of the town's inner-workings. Including the inner-workings of a young girl named Pearl. See, the Reverent Powell (Mitchum) was to hang for a robbery he committed with a man named Ben (Peter Graves). He escaped prison with only a Bible verse muttered in Ben's sleep as a clue to the hidden location of the money. Powell marries Harper's widow and threatens his children, before they flee with the money to a safe house for stray children, where Rachel Cooper (Gish), the God-fearing stray-kid second mom. The scene posted above is the lead-in to the climax of the film.

Reverend Powell walks around town singing the Showalter hymnal, but leaving out the words "on Jesus", which Ms. Cooper gladly fills in. The scene is meant to be a pretty solid example of invoking the Spirit to protect the children at all costs from "the hunter" who "walks the night, seeking whom he may devour". Sound familiar? "You will know them by their works" Yeah?

Gish's last lines of the film, spoken directly into the camera, are a clear indicator that, while there may be all sorts of allusions you can make in regards to the scene above, it's very clear, however, that this is a story of good versus evil. Evil evil, too. Not that... Disney evil. This is the real stuff. Ms. Cooper protects her children, informing the audience that "children are man at his strongest. They abide. They abide and endure."

Friday, February 3, 2012

In Loving Memory

He's one of "the faces". You've seen him, and you know you know him from... somewhere. But you'll be damned if you know from where. He began his career in the late fifties, and has worked consistently until his death, today, at 81 years old. May he rest in complete peace. 

He left us today after a battle with pancreatic cancer. It's always sad to see someone you've known, even at a far, for so long go as a result, but we can't say he hasn't lived a full life. 

Born August 28th, in New York City, in 1930, to Sicilian immigrant workers, Biagio Anthony Gazzara fell in love with acting at an early age after seeing Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie. He later studied with Erwin Piscator. 

The beginning of his "face"-dom began on Broadway, originating the lead roles in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Hatful of Rain, for which he was nominated for a Tony award. Before that, though, Ben was a member of the Actor's Studio in New York, helping assemble an improvised theatrical version of Calder Willingham's novel End as a Man. That play brought him to Broadway, and later to the world of film in 1957's The Strange One (a slightly different, but uniquely faithful film version of End as a Man), with Gazzara in the same role. Though the film wasn't a financial success, he had earned the respect of the critics the film reached. And in 1959, he would have a supporting role in Anatomy of a Murder, and the rest would be filmic history. 

In the 1960's, Gazzara bounced back and forth between television and cinema, starring in Italian films, struggling TV shows, and slightly underknown Hollywood productions. The Passionate Thief and Conquered City, his Italian-made films in 1960 and 1962 would come to garner more notoriety toward the 70's (even to now) than The Young Doctors and Convicts 4. Heard of them? Well, you should - especially those four as a unit. Gazzara was a compassionate actor, and almost the definition of gentle toward his co-workers. It was most likely his gentility that won him the heart of Audrey Hepburn, despite their committed (though admittedly very troubled) marriages. 

His work with directors John Cassavetes and Peter Bogdanovich would gain him more critical acclaim and "street cred", I guess you could call it, in the 70's than any of his previous works, starring in three films with Cassavetes (Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Opening Night) and two with Bogdanovich (Saint Jack, and They All Laughed - with Audrey Hepburn). And, I'm telling you, if you've never seen Bloodline - you're missing the hell out on something amazing. 

From the 80's until his passing, he bounced around from acclaimed director to mixed openings to little-known directors to... God knows what else. Working with the Coen brothers on The Big Lebowski in 1998, working with Spike Lee in Summer of Sam and Lars von Trier in Dogville (1999 and 2003), even in the the 80's he went from Tales of Ordinary Madness to Roadhouse, bookending the decade, so to speak. Go figure, right?  

It wasn't until 2003 that I saw Dogville and thought - wait. I know him. That's... *beep*. Him. He was in... Lebowski. And... THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE! That's Cosmo! 

Rest in peace, sir. You will be truly missed. 

Welcome to Our Private Screening Room.

In an effort to stay true to the mission statement of The Filmgoer's Project (watch anything and everything all the time), we here at the site are opening the doors to our Screening Room to showcase the older, and slightly under-seen classic films (yeah, modern films count, too).

The benefit of the Creative Commons "Share Alike" license and the beauty of the Public Domain is that there are films that can be shown in public for no charge. Not even the "innovators" of SOPA or PIPA can say anything to me for showing an original cut of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead or Nina Paley's gorgeous-beyond-words Sita Sings the Blues. What this means for you is that because of this, I'm opening a showcase for these films you might not have the chance to see.

There will be a Video-On-Demand section, in association with Distrify to get word out on some independent films that might be overlooked, and there will be the regular screening room, showing movies in the Public Domain and those under the CCSA licensing.

The Filmgoer's Project strongly encourages everyone to take an hour or two and just watch whatever it is you come across. Let it ruminate in your mind, think about it, and watching something. Every film can be connected to another, even if it's just by a memory. This is what we stand for.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day

"I'm going to go home and Bud Dwyer myself over and over and over..."

Happy Groundhog Day, filmgoers. Normally, this day wouldn't be complete without a viewing of this film. Much like on Friday the 13th, I do my best to watch Friday the 13th, and how on Christmas, I always watch A Christmas Story, and on Thanksgiving, I watch The Godfather (trilogy), I always wind up watching Groundhog Day, on Groundhog Day. And it proves a theory of mine - a year is long enough to wait and see a movie, and have it be like a brand new movie each time you watch it. The little moments you forget over the course of busy and stressful days, which I'm sure we'd hate to live forever and over and over, and the people you even forget are in it. Which is one of the benefits of being a critic, I think - you get so much knowledge crammed in on a daily basis, that some stuff is bound to escape. What year something came out, a supporting characters name, or who played that one guy who only had two lines and is now a respected Oscar nominee.

Ten bucks if you can point out Michael Shannon to me.

For those of you not familiar with this film, shame on you let's roll down the basics:

Phil (an excellent Bill Murray), is a local weatherman in the good ol' PA. February 2nd rolls around, and for the third year in a row, he has to go let the locals know whether or not Punxsutawny Phil - the groundhog king - sees his shadow, promising six more weeks of winter. On hand, are his producer Rita (an adorable Andie McDowell) and his cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot). In the beginning of the film, the personalities are fairly broad - Rita is bright-eyed and bushy tailed, truly wanting to make good news. Larry is the funny, side-kick cameraman, a couple of one-liners here and there. And Phil, well... he's a jerk. A funny guy, and definitely someone you'd spend time with for a drink, if only to hear what he says next, but he's not a nice guy. He's self-centered, and all around loathsome under his 'celebrity' personality.

The crew is stuck in Punx, PA as the result of a blizzard - undersold by Phil in the previous day's forecast - that shuts the whole town down. Phil's forced to stay in his quaint bed and breakfast, but... once the morning comes, and it's 6AM, and Sonny Bono tells you to put your little hand in his on the radio, he knows - as the audience is clued in - that he's living the same day over again. As some sort of cosmic "Hey. You. We're talking to you.", he's forced to learn the rules of purgatory and straighten himself out, lest he keep his calendar on the same day forever.

The benefit of a film like this is that it always seems to pop up when you need a reminder of how people should act. Toward the end of the film, the obvious might seem to occur - characters learn their lessons and lives are redeemed, putting everything right and moving on with itself. Spoiler? whatever. That's formula - and it's effective, mostly in the hands of the actors. Bill Murray, funny and surprisingly deep as always, lends himself to his fullest, showing such an understanding of the character and the situation that he's at times unrecognizable. It's among his finest work, dramatic or otherwise. Andie McDowell and Chris Elliot deliver the expected sturdy support. Elliot is a hard actor to cast, but he's normally gentle in smaller roles, when he's not expected to improvise and exploit the grosser sides of the human body (here's lookin' at you, Scary Movie 2). McDowell, on the other hand, has rarely been better than she is, here. Undergoing her own subtle changes throughout the same day, growing as a character while not really having the chance to grow on her own, but through the growth of Phil. Which is a mark of the excellent screenplay, and direction from Harold Ramis (Stripes, Ghostbusters, etc.). Ramis is one of the finest directors Hollywood has produced, and has produced and directed some of the classic modern comedies.

Groundhog Day has become sort of a... benchmark film. Not groundbreaking, though certainly nothing to scoff at, it has a huge following, and is one of those movies you seem to forget about until you hear someone mention it or you run across it on TV. That's what a good film does - it gets under your skin in a way that doesn't leave, and is 'triggered' in a way by other senses. Ramis had crafted one of his masterpieces in a career full of genius films. And Bill Murray's performance, for my money, is a shining example of how comedy can't exist with drama. Even Saturday Night Live knows that, and it might be because of him. 

In Theaters This Weekend

I'm not going to lie. I may have just shit myself looking at this poster.

February continues to be a studio dumping ground for films they want to get rid of or make a quick buck on. Luckily for us movie-goers, this first weekend of February offers some pretty promising titles (and some not-so-promising ones, too).

Chronicle. PG-13.
A found-footage film dealing with kids that discover they are superheroes (or supervillains)? Count me in. The advertising for the film has been solid so far. Just enough to pull you in, but yet not enough to spoil the film. Reviews so far are also solid (Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4), so this is clearly a film to check out.

The Innkeepers. Rated R.
I watched this not too long ago on OnDemand, and it's a pretty decent little horror film featuring Sara Paxton in an oddly Macaulay Culkin-esque performance. I can't help but feel some of its potential was a bit wasted, but it's still an involving and creepy ghost yarn.

Big Miracle. Rated PG.
I have seen exactly one advertisement for this film and I'm pretty sure it caused maple syrup to leak out of my TV. There are no words for how corny this film looks but that's ok. I'm sure families will enjoy it and Japanese fisherman will hate it. I, however, will not be seeing this film. Ever.

W.E. Rated R.
Speaking of films I will never be seeing. No, seriously. Madonna directed it.

The Woman in Black. Rated PG-13.
In what will surely be number one at the box office this week, Daniel Radcliffe's first "big" film post-Harry Potter looks like a winner. In it, he plays a young lawyer who travels to a village that is being terrorized by a ghost. Spoiler alert: The ghost is a woman in black.

So what will you be seeing this weekend?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh talks about My Week with Marilyn

(special thanks to ArcLight Cinemas and The Mission Control for the footage)

It's always great to watch Q&A's like this - where it isn't all business. I like watching actors and directors have a chance to sit back and just be goofy for a few minutes.

And you gotta love all the Harry Potter appreciation.