Short Film Saturday: Express Yourself

Lastly, and perhaps most obviously in a string of Madonna videos with musical touches, Madonna’s “Express Yourself” not only draws its inspiration from Metropolis but also is directed by David Fincher, who started in the music video trade before transitioning to feature films.

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The Arts on Film: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Introduction

Enumerating how many artistic disciplines exist is not the purview of this series. Rather the idea of this series is to briefly explore an iteration, an instance, of another artform in the world of cinema.

In an upcoming series of posts I will state that I believe that cinema is the ultimate artform because of its ability to encompass or represent all the forms that came before it. Its elasticity is such that I believe it will be able to dialogue with whatever comes next.

However, this film seeks to satisfy a simple aim by illuminating a work cited by a film. To learn more of it and the artist in question. In short, just a bit more than information the film deems suitable.

Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Ivan's Childhood (1962, Janus Films)

This series does not occur without Edmond Davis-Quinn‘s poetry. I was reading it and got to thinking about what the last time I read a poem was. I knew it was likely an allusion to one in a film and so this series was born (and it won’t always be poetry but democratically traverse the arts).

When thinking of the idea of references to other artforms in films one of the first ideas of poetry in Ivan’s Childhood, Andrey Tarkovsky’s first feature film. There isn’t a direct quotation here but when I revisited this film (I viewing many of his works in hopes of having a better frame of reference for his book Sculpting in Time, which I still need to finish) I read the Criterion booklet and they translated one of Arseny Tarkovsky’s poems for the booklet.

In such films as Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979), Andrei Tarkovsky explicitly references the poetry of his father, Arseny. Although no such direct quotation exists in Ivan’s Childhood, there are striking connections between the imagery in the film and his father’s 1958 poem “Ivan’s Willow,” thus distinguishing it as a possible source of influence. It was translated for this release by Robert Bird.

Ivan’s Willow
by Arseny Tarkovsky

Before the war Ivan would walk down the stream
Where they grew a willow, no one knew whose.

No one knew why it loomed over the stream;
No one knew this was Ivan’s willow tree.

In his canopied raincoat, killed in combat,
Ivan came back to his willow’s shade.

Ivan’s willow,
Ivan’s willow,
Like a white boat, it floats downstream.

Not only the images strike one as being similar, but also in referencing his father’s work, at least by inference, Tarkovsky may have by that means made the film more personal. For as cerebral as he was, he was still working from a very personal place and working from a short story, it was key to bring it closer to home.

While I came to greatly appreciate the works of Andrei, the works of Arseny were elusive. Now I search and see they are available. Perhaps, I anglicized his name wrong prior. Alas, in this booklet and in Tarkovsky’s films I caught glimpses of another artist, another work of art that intrigued me.

Ultimately, that’s the idea of this series: a quick underscore of another work highlighted in a film that’s worth noting. This was the first that came to mind and hopefully more will follow.

Birthday Movies 2013

This is a new edition of this post, it’s a follow-up to one wherein I chronicled the films I could recall having viewed on my birthday. Some have been good to great, some have been awful. I usually try to make the selection something befitting a mood I wouldn’t mind being in on that day (hence I saved Amour for today) and something I think I would remember. I think both the titles from yesterday. For a guide to what these ratings mean, please go here.

Twixt

Twixt (2011, American Zoetrope)

This is a film that I wanted to see first because it’s Coppola returning to horror, but then also because of some of the people involved. I cannot argue by any means that it’s perfect. However, if there’s one thing that gets under my skin is when people argue “It’s just a horror movie” implying: there’s a ceiling to how good it can be, or it’s OK if it’s stupid, or worse, it’s allowed to be unambitious. I don’t think this film falls into any of those tappings. It’s hard to say if going beyond a standard horror film’s running time would’ve benefitted or hurt it, but I think it may have hurt. I recall that why I liked My Soul to Take so much was underscored by what was left on the cutting room floor. The exposition that was deleted spoon-fed things I and my friends pieced together after it was over, and that made it more powerful. There are deeper mysteries and enigmas here and multiple plots all horrific and well-wrought, though they don’t always seem so. After seeing him in a few that were not-so-great, it’s good to see Val Kilmer in a fascinating horror film.

8/10

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine (2013, Sony Pictures Classics)

The allusion I made above to occasional greatness definitely applies here. For a filmmaker such as Woody Allen who on many occasions has been accused of using his films as therapy and being un-cinematic this film is a rebuttal. For myself, as a long-time devotee, it’s wondrous not only to see him work a story that again employs a wonderful editorial language that is quickly-learned and never off; but also such a non-judgmental character study. It’s a film of revelation rather than reparation. It has its humor, too, but is perhaps the most searing, honest drama he’s committed to the screen since Husbands and Wives. The casting, as well as the cast, is flawless; but it’s really Cate Blanchett who makes this film work. She’s as powerful, if not more so, in her character’s detached, pained moments as she is in the “big” ones, which is what makes her turn so immaculate. It’s a performance that towers not only due to the sparsity of great roles afforded women in the American cinema lately, but because of how titanic an effort it is on its own.

Engaging and enthralling from the first frame this film of a life shattered, whether by design or not, may be his most Bergmanesque, and is truly one of the year’s best.

10/10

Blu-Ray Review: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Prologue

Thanks to a quick response to my film-of-the-month selection in the Disney Movie Club, I was able to view The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh prior to its release date today.

Introduction

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977, Disney)

My history with Winnie the Pooh is a long one, I suspect the case is the same with many Disney aficionados. For me this was a no-brainer upgrade because, in spite of my varied interests in film, Disney films are high up there. Owing to my affection for this film it was an automatic. The DVD was one of the first handfuls I had and watched several times over even in college. I do have thoughts on its worthiness for different levels of collectors/consumers below.

Program and Features

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977, Disney)

So far as the feature film goes when one has seen it as many times as I have it’s more a process of rediscovery, or being reminded of something rather than reprocessing and reanalyzing. Having re-viewed the documentary I was reminded of the conscientious effort in creating the backgrounds, and perhaps the reason – even at an early age- these films struck me so was the atmosphere was the reality, the wholly envisioned place that the Hundred Acre Wood is. Such that, even knowing nothing of how A.A. Milne came to create these tales it felt real. What the the stories did to augment that feeling was add every sort of weather imaginable to add depth to said atmosphere.

The transfer, as best I can tell, is the suspected upgrade you’d expect when going from a DVD to a Blu-ray.

The features, while there are a few new wrinkles, are where I wanted a bit more, but take that with a grain of salt as my perception is skewed from loving these stories and characters so.

What it does offer in terms of features are as follows:

Disney Intermission takes the cake as the debut innovation to the viewing process. I did hit pause and tried this out. The Pooh stories can feel timeless, and with this option they come even closer to feeling so, as kids can take breaks and play games in the Pooh Play-Along set in the Hundred Acre Wood. The games will seemingly go on as long as your attention allow and feature things like “I Spy” style games and Find the Differences.

I have not tried to assemble and use it yet but the Blu-Ray/DVD bundle does feature a kite. Sure, it’s branded, but at least it’s a somewhat proactive approach to trying to get kids to play outside as opposed to just paying lip service (and a fitting tie-in considering the story).

The five Mini-Adventures of Winnie the Pooh shorts are quasi-new. Some of them are refashioned as opposed spliced out of other new-age Winnie the Pooh films. I’ll admit to irrational Fanboy hatred of these films until I actually tried to watch some and have mostly liked them a lot especially Winnie the Pooh. Viewing these optimistically they may not just as advertisement, but maybe a sign of intent to prolong the series even with recent cuts in the hand-drawn division.

This edition, in a rather uninspired way, decides to label the re-used features as Classic DVD bonuses, selecting that option you can view the wonderful documentary The Story Behind the Masterpiece and another classic A Day for Eeyore.

Last but not least, there’s a music video of Carly Simon (Newly-recruited to sing the theme song). It’s a standard series of singles spliced with film footage, but a decent bonus.

Conclusion

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977, Disney)

So, while most of the features, new and old are good, although some were a bit lacking. Where does that leave this disc? I don’t usually get into consumer advocacy but with a home video review it’s a bit more implied:

If you like the film but don’t have it at home, especially if you have kids: it’s a must.

If it’s an upgrade, and you’re not an avid Disney collector: I’d wait some or comparison shop.

Regardless, it’s great that this film’s turn has come around and I was very glad to see it get this treatment such that it may continue on, and do hope to see more from the series in the future.

Make Your Own Film Festival: Macaulay Culkin

Introduction

I’ve been planning this post for a while. It’s been put off a few times due to timing. I, unlike many, am not interested in poaching traffic when the tabloids create a story based on the latest candid shot of Culkin replete with speculation on his health, state-of-mind and the like. Therefore, the only logical date upon which to post such a festival/retrospective list would be on his birthday.

One reason Culkin’s birthday always stuck in my head is because he’s precisely 366 days older than I am. So aside from being the matinee idol of my generation, I always felt a certain kinship due in part to that fact.

In assembling this list, or a list of any actor’s work, there will be hits-and-misses, the order of this list is based on a combination of the the quality of the film and the quality of his performance.

Without further ado the list. Happy viewing, and happy birthday, Macaulay!

10. Saved! (2004)

Saved! (2004, United Artists)

I had no issue with the intent of the satire, but it just didn’t work for me; it’s been done so you better be damn good at it and it wasn’t . It wasn’t righteous indignation so much as self-righteous indignation. It was good to see Macaulay with a cast of his peers for a change, it just seemed like stretching for stretching’s sake. Ironically, it was his younger brother Rory who became better at post-adolescent snarkiness.

9. Party Monster (2003)

Party Monster (2003, Strand Releasing)

If this list was predicated solely on the quality of his performance this one lands much higher. It slips based on the film. I thought he really kicked ass and was on the comeback trail. Maybe others thought there wasn’t a lot of acting going on and that was the persona he’d grown into, I disagree.

8. Rocket Gibraltar (1988)

Rocket Gibraltar (1988, Columbia Pictures)

This one is not omitted and sneaks on to the list for two reasons: First, it’s a larger, in terms of screen time, and less well-known pre-Home Alone appearance than Jacob’s Ladder. Secondly, it’s a late-career appearance by Burt Lancaster. Those are both qualities that make it worthy of some note. And, frankly, if you haven’t seen Jacob’s Ladder get off the Internet and get to it already.

7. Getting Even with Dad (1994)

Getting Even with Dad (1994, MGM)

At least in this film Culkin seemed to draw on his personal experience to make the movie a modicum better than it would’ve been otherwise. There was a bit more press about behind-the-scenes aspects than onscreen about this one, such as Culkin’s salary. Kit’s dealings and negotiating tactics were beyond infamous at this point. One thing that made its presence felt in the film was this as reported by Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call:

Macaulay Culkin’s character was supposed to have a short haircut in this movie, but Culkin, who had let his hair grow at the time, liked his looks and did not
want to cut it. His father, Kit Culkin, demanded on behalf of his son that he be allowed to keep his hair the way it was, pointing out that his character was
more a rough around the edges, working class boy and not a clean-cut, prep school one. He got to keep his long hair.

Quite honestly, it was these few bits of truth that made and otherwise milquetoast film tolerable.

6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, 20th Century Fox)

This film is, as many have noted, a mirror image of the original. He’s not actually home, nor is he really alone. It’s a good imitation by him and the film. The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing aspect made me backlash against it when I realized it. I almost tried to keep it off this list, but it was the first time I ever laughed so hard I cried so that’s why it’s here.

5. Richie Rich (1994)

Richie Rich (1994, Warner Bros.)

Rather than readdress reservations discussed in the aforementioned link, I think this could’ve been a more chameleon-like turn. Culkin by this point just seemed like he was going through the motions, so the character had to be more him than the other way around.

It is, however, a frightening simulacrum also when you extrapolate to his real life at the time “poor little rich boy.”

So there is some ambivalence but I still like it…though maybe not as much as I did then.

4. The Nutcracker (1993)

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (1993, Warner Bros.)

Again, in the above-linked post I discussed this film. This is his father/manager’s ultimate triumph. This film was his wish-fulfillment not Macaulay’s. He looked the part, and they didn’t ask him to dance it; so as a hybrid it’s a better film than a ballet. I’m surprised it maintained Balanchine’s name on it for that reason now that I think of it

3. The Good Son (1993)

The Good Son (1993, 20th Century Fox)

There are actually a lot of good talking points to this film I find. It seems like a film that was too easily dismissed at the time due to its cliffhanger. I think the scripting, credited to Ian McEwan (a writer not yet on my ‘Essentials’ list, but who I have read a bit of), is underrated; and the tension is quite palpable throughout. While it does take a Bad Seed-style approach things never get too outlandish.

Again, if you dig, there are behind-the-scenes dramas, namely Fox’s initial desire to cast an unknown and Kit’s power-playing for Macaulay’s inclusion. In the end, it created one of the best young tandems I’ve seen: Culkin and Elijah Wood.

2. Home Alone

Home Alone (1990, 20th Century Fox)

Perhaps what has not been said about the original Home Alone is that it is yet another example of John Hughes’ prophetic casting genius. I heard many such stories at a screening of The Breakfast Club, however, this was one too. Culkin’s character interrogates his uncle’s girlfriend through the mail slot in a door in Uncle Buck, (omitted from this list) and that was the spark for this film.

Aside from that, you probably have heard it all: it’s an actually-deserved Golden Globe nominated turn and a new-age Christmas staple, hilarious, rewatchable and memorable film.

1. My Girl (1991)

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

However, this was once upon a time my all-time favorite film and, of course, still holds a special place in my heart. Specifically to this list, My Girl was awesome for him because it really wasn’t his persona before or after. It’s probably his best performance to date because of that. In light of that fact and his clout it was also amazing he was attached to it considering the fate of his character.

Honorable Mentions

Wish Kid (1991, DiC Enterprises)

As noted in the body of this piece, a few titles were left out, and rare ones remain unseen. You can view his complete filmography here.

I already mentioned Jacob’s Ladder above.

Macaulay Culkin also took over a part of my Saturday morning cartoon line-up in the twilight of my obsessively watching whatever cartoon offerings were available; so if you feel like looking out for his 13-episode series called Wish Kid it is out there.

Lastly, the Michael Jackson’s Black or White was a big deal at the time, both its premiere and its groundbreaking artistry and he kicks things off there too.

Silent Feature Sunday: Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Coming two years after the release of Berlin: Portrait of a Great City, Man with a Movie Camera is a more kaleidoscopic and dizzyingly, intoxicating piece of early Cinéma vérité, or as the director of this film, and true forerunner of the movement; Dziga Vertov called it Kino-Pravda. The idea is the same: a portrait of a city (this time Moscow) from day-to-night, sure there’s a more Stalinist slant here, but while the politics may be dépassé or objectionable but the cinema is eternal.

Short Film Saturday: Vogue

Here Madonna again (the theme started here) not only gets cinematic with many of the visuals emulating the halcyon days of Hollywood both on film and in promotionals stills but there are also references to many of the biggest stars of yesteryear in the lyrics.

More specifically with regards to the photos here’s what the Wikipedia article says about the images. To check the sources visit the actual page:

Filmed in black-and-white, the video recalls the look of films and photography from The Golden Age of Hollywood with the use of artwork by the Art Deco artist Tamara de Lempicka and an Art Deco set design. Many of the scenes are recreations of photographs taken by noted photographer Horst P. Horst, including his famous “Mainbocher Corset”, “Lisa with Turban” (1940), and “Carmen Face Massage” (1946). Horst was reportedly “displeased” with Madonna’s video because he never gave his permission for his photographs to be used and received no acknowledgement from Madonna.[29] Some of the close-up poses recreate noted portraits of such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Veronica Lake, Greta Garbo,[30] Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, and Jean Harlow. (Additionally, several stars of this era were name-checked in the song’s lyrics.)[31] Several famous Hollywood portrait photographers whose style and works are referenced include George Hurrell,[32][33] Eugene Robert Richee,[34] Don English,[35] Whitey Schafer, Ernest Bachrach, Scotty Welbourne, Laszlo Willinger, and Clarence Sinclair Bull.[36]

Enjoy!

Don’t You Recognize Me: Joel Edgerton

This particular entry is a bit different than prior ones in the series inasmuch as this one occurred while I was re-watching the Star Wars prequels. As I didd I saw the young version of Lars and thought to myself, “He looks familiar.” I’ll admit to a brian-cramp because he hardly looks much different at all, but surely enough it’s Joel Edgerton whose star and profile has been consistently rising over the past few years.

Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

Introduction

Last year the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character.

Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

So as I alluded to in the last post Tarzan and the Mermaids, aside from being the last Weissmuller Tarzan, also changed some trends up. So what exactly is different? Well, there are a few things:

Firstly, Boy (Johnny Sheffield) is written out of this edition. “Boy is away at school in England,” Jane says to let the audience know. The problem with these writing-outs is they are paradoxically more interesting tales. Jane nursing soldiers; Boy being educated in the UK would’ve made interesting asides or cutaways. Thus, if you could’ve re-cast or convinced the actors to take smaller parts it would’ve been a great wrinkle to add to the tale.

As it happened that was the only mention though, it was very much a writing out. Coincidentally, Sheffield’s only other steady acting gig was as a Jungle Man, named Bomba (another coincidence), whom he played as many times as Weissmuller played Tarzan.

The issues with this last installment can be summarized by saying that the great Dmitiri Tiomkin’s score is the best part of this film. The smallest issues is that they’re rehashing the forbidden/secret society mold. As useful as it ends up being, there is a very long expository voice-over to start the film. It’s as if the whole production was a contractual obligation to everyone involved and Weissmuller and Joyce sought as little screentime as possible.

Whereas previously a matte painting of the escarpment was a major reveal, as the series progressed it went further and further in mapping Tarzan’s environs and neighbors. Here there is a tracking shot across a fictional map to the island in question near the start. This is a highlight, which illustrates what a wasteful experience this really is in the end.

The natives finally all seem to be “of color,” which is an amazing advance, and the heroics are helping the two star-crossed lovers from the island find each other again. So how can that be bad? Well, throw in a singing postman who seemingly just flew in from Latin America to sing really long “impromptu” songs about things he sees. No, this isn’t a Family Guy joke, this really happens in this film.

This film doesn’t have a second stasis but it does follow a climactic sequence with a tremendous lull that’s a failure in editorial, tonal, score-spotting and any other number of ways. It’s major lag in the third act acts as false denouement and puts the exclamation point on the complete and total mess this final installment is. It’s rare to see what ended up being the last film in a series so definitively feel like one and so richly deserve to be one. So far as this group was concerned it felt this series was over before this one even really started. And unlike other three-film segments in the series there was no feeling of finality, this film just ended like it started suddenly.

Contemporary Trailers That Work

A while back I posted a long, but not ill-conceived, rant about why I hate spoiler-ridden trailers and how terrible they are. I did have a counterbalance of some “newer” trailers that I think evoke mood, create intrigue, and give me that I-wanna-see-that sensation. However, two things have occurred: I’ve wondered to myself “Was that too ‘Get off my lawn!’?” and I’ve seen some really great trailers as of late that are far more current examples that deserve kudos.

This is a great trailer. Owing to the fact that I know the film and can see what’s being withheld:

In The Family

But that’s an indie, you say. So here are some bigger films in terms of budget and marketing push. All of these are upcoming or have not yet been seen by me:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Wolf of Wall Street

Fruitvale Station

Now with those three the common thread is that at most you have a sense of what the movies about, as opposed to those I complained about that have you feeling like you just sat through that whole film unwittingly and unwillingly. A trailer is small fraction of the content of an actual film but some do make it feel like the film itself, only longer.

Now I realize I may be a bit of a throwback wanting to be surprised as much as I can and not always know what’s coming around, which is why I usually wait to see trailers at a multiplex rather than the day they drop. So here’s what I think is a great trailer but plays closer to convention in form, inasmuch as you see many plot points. What’s great is that it being a suspense film that likely has more twists and turns than indicated, and it jumbles up the pieces somewhat so you don’t feel like you know all that’s a head of you.

Prisoners

So those are some of the trailers that have gotten my attention, and while there will be many more that stink and tell too much I’m always willing to acknowledge those that seem to get it.