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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. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol


There's a Tom Petty joke here. I refuse to make it.

It's worth noting, because of the above picture, that Tom Cruise performed all of his stunts in this film. As well as the other three Mission: Impossible films. Sure, there are bits of CGI (though, seamless) and I'm sure a large team of medics and nets and other things around to make sure he's alive at the end of the day. But, that's really the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it really is the tallest building in the world, and that really is Tom Cruise off of its side. Thousands of feet in the air. 

And that's not even the most impressive set piece in the film. 

You don't necessarily have to see the first three M:I films to get this one and enjoy it, but, it can't hurt. Here's a brief recap of them just in case you missed them:

Mission: Impossible - they make the hero from the TV show the bad guy in the film.
Mission: Impossible 2 - they do some stuff with motorcycles and Thandie Newton.
Mission: Impossible 3 - There's an actual story involving Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his now late wife, involving her death and a couple other intricate missions. Probably the only important story of the three, even if it's not the best film at that point. Up until now, the first adventure remained the most startlingly well made of the series.

But, with the inclusion of Ghost Protocol into the canon, those three seem a mite irrelevant in the world of filmmaking. The film is directed by Brad Bird. And yes, you know that name - he's mainly directed films for Pixar. The Incredibles and Ratatouille, notably. And, as action oriented as those films are, it would make sense that he make the swing to live action, right? The transition is almost as seamless as the CGI in the film, of which - I understand - there isn't very much of, where we think it would be. 

I've read in a couple different places that this Mission is much more of a character piece than the first three. I was a bit skeptical going in that a four-quel to a massive action franchise would shift gears so suddenly,  but it seems that Fast & Furious struck a chord with action filmmakers. You can take the same characters, and same plot structure, and give them personalities to benefit the action. After all, if we don't care about Ethan Hunt, how can we care about his life that hangs in the balance as he does a hundred foot vertical nose dive in a car, knowing he's about to smash into concrete, with no way of escape? 

I noted that the Dubai Dangle (which is what I'm calling it) isn't the most impressive set piece in the film. That hundred foot vertical drop? That's it. And that's toward the end of an extremely well choreographed fight sequence that goes on for about ten minutes, amid all other sorts of espionage wonder. Second only to that scene is an unusually creepy - for this sort of film, anyway - cat and mouse game in the middle of a sandstorm, calling back to the glory days of Brian De Palma (the first film's director).

The film's story seems fairly simple, at a glance. There are nuclear launch codes that are changing hands, and the team has to track them down and get them. Except that the team is no longer government sanctioned, because of a large and explosive accident, and there are only four of them left. Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Jane (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg), and now Brandt (Jeremy Renner). To be fair, Brandt got dragged into the middle of it. He wasn't even supposed to be there. We find out later exactly why it is that he's useful.  The film follows the Law of Economy of Characters* to a tee. 

Don't be fooled by trailers or by the previous films, even if you aren't a fan. There are moments in this film that are jaw-droppingly well done, even if Bird and Co. might have missed the opportunity to give the audience some pretty classy cinematography here and there, the film stands well enough on its own, and as part of the series. 

* = The Law of Economy of Characters - about 90% of the time, you'll never be introduced to a character unless they have some form of importance to the film, big or small.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Academy Award Nominations - Full List

'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride' my foot. - Peter O'Toole

It's not often that you can have diarrhea in a sink and get an Oscar nomination out of it. But, Melissa McCarthy proves that it is indeed possible, with her heart-on-her-sleeve, hilariously unashamed performance in Bridesmaids. It was a pleasure to hear Kristen Wiig's name called to, when the film caught a surprise nomination in Best Original Screenplay. 

I haven't made any official or un-official predictions about anything this year, except that J Edgar would probably suck (and I was right. there's a review coming this week). But, I'm thrilled that Gary Oldman has finally gotten his due, getting his first nomination ever for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (look for a review of that this week, as well). 

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Best Director
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Alexander Payne - The Descendants

Best Actor
Damien Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Juan Dujardin - The Artist
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Best Actress
Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn 

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
JC Chandor - Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi - A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo - Bridesmaids

Best Adapted Screenplay 
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin - Moneyball
George Clooney, Beau Willimon, and Grant Heslov - The Ides of March
John Logan - Hugo 
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash - The Descendants
Bridget O'Conner and Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best Foreign Language Film 
In Darkness
Monsiuer Lazhar
A Separation

Best Animated Feature
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Best Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

Best Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Best Costuming
The Artist
Jane Eyre

Best Documentary Feature 
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Best Documentary Short Subject
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of a Civil Rights Movement 
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Best Editing
The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Make-Up
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The Iron Lady

Best Original Score
The Adventures of Tin Tin
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Best Original Song
"Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
"Real in Rio" from Rio

Best Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Best Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Best Animated Short Film
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Best Live Action Short Film
The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

That's all well and good, sure. But... who's winning? Well, if we tune in on February 26th, on ABC, Billy Crystal will lead us to the answers!

Check back in later today for thoughts on the nominees and guesses on the winners. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Anticipation of SOPA and PIPA...

If you're wondering where there hasn't been an update recently, I can explain that... in a few ways.

One, I'm in the process of translating this blog into a fully functional .com, and that eats up most of my days. Two, all good lists come in threes. And three, this is what would happen to the website, and this blog, is SOPA and PIPA are passed. The Filmgoer's Project would cease to be, in all forms.

How, well... let's look at it this way. Formally, this website cannot endorse the act of piracy. And when I say piracy, I mean stream movies and moving images in an effort to view without payment. Personally, I see nothing wrong with this. But, it's bad business to tell you that 90% of the reviews on this blog have come from viewing pirated films, and that I've made a living for myself - quite a nice living, actually - using moving images, .gifs, and .jpgs or .pngs that I've found online as the result of a free, and accessible internet.

Note - I am in no way endorsing the pirating of motion pictures or television programs. I am, however, endorsing a free and accessible internet. Wikipedia has closed its doors today, as a protest, and as a note to show what the SOPA and PIPA acts would do. Google has done the same.

And as I have readers all over the world, big and small, and quite a few that are employed at the studios whose films I critique, I wish to offer this as a thought -

When I built this site, I did so with Awards Daily in mind. And The Film Experience. And Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun Times pages. I use Tumblr, I use Google Images, IMDb, YouTube, Wikipedia, and a slew of other internet resources on a daily basis to run this website, to build the impending .com, and to keep true to the original mission statement of what The Filmgoer's Project actually is -

The Filmgoer's Project, which really should be looked at as The Filmgoers' Project, is meant to encourage people to watch everything they can, at all times, and to look at art in a new way. It's meant to educate people about the more technical and inspirational side of a craft that even Hollywood assumes we take for granted. And it's been doing that, gaining a steady viewership since its birth in November 2010. And I want to thank the multitude of people who come to this site daily, looking to learn and enjoy themselves.

However, this is what would change with the implementation of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act -

1. YouTube would be limited, if not made to be paid for. So, In Theaters This Weekend would change dramatically.
2. Google Images would crash. So, no more cool pictures and funny captions before articles.
3. Wikipedia would cease to be, as would IMDb (as we know it) and hundreds of other informational websites that were made be people who were either bored, encouraged, or pissed off.

Would you pay for Wikipedia, in addition to your car bill, mortgage, and phone bills? What about Google? Or IMDb? What about Awards Daily? Or, rather, would you pay to read The Filmgoer's Project?

I wouldn't. Not because I don't value those websites and contribute to them as often as possible, regardless of the partnerships I've had with Google and Amazon and Ebay and Fandango and again - a slew of websites that would be hurt by these laws. It's because I shouldn't fucking have to.

And now, here's a picture of a stapler -