Archives For October 2014

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LA MUERTE (voiced by Kate del Castillo) from THE BOOK OF LIFE (Reel FX Animation & 20th Century Fox)

If you’re looking for some film-related options for your Halloween weekend, check out a few of my favorites:

Go see: THE BOOK OF LIFE (PG, 95 mins, in theaters now) They called it THE BOOK OF LIFE but it’s all about Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead. This is 2014’s feel-good movie — a feast for the eyes, ears and soul. It’s a beautiful, humorous and touching mediation on life and death. This is a passion project from director Jorge Gutirerrez and the film’s producers which includes Guillermo del Toro — and the passion shows in every frame. The songs are great throughout and so far there’s been no FROZEN aftertaste to them. THE BOOK OF LIFE is a great date night movie and it’s great for the whole family — especially if you see it on November 1 (The Day of the Dead).

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Cary Grant as MORTIMER BREWSTER in Frank Capra’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944, Warner Bros.)

Watch: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944, 118 mins, Warner Bros.) Hands down my favorite movie set against the backdrop of Halloween. With a script that crackles — adapted by the Espstein brothers (CASABLANCA) — and a cast that sparkles, this is a dark comedy that plays like slapstick farce. Here is Cary Grant at his madcap best and Capra at the zenith of his career. The film was actually shot in 1941 but held for release until 1944 because of contractual obligations that the film not interfere with the play’s Broadway run. This caused some financial strain on Capra who was depending on profits from the film to tide his family over while he was serving in the Signal Corp during WWII. Every year after the Trick-or-Treaters have gone to bed and the Halloween lights are extinguished at my house, I pop in the DVD of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE and enjoy it all over again.

PSYCHO: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller by Janet Leigh with Christopher Nickens. IMG_8909Ms. Leigh waited 35 years to set the record straight on everything — including the then infamous, now iconic shower scene. The book is a breezy 190+ pages including lots of great photos. It’s obviously a labor of love. It’s also a treasure trove of collected memories from people Leigh and her co-author interviewed as well as documentation from the film’s production, post and distribution phases. (published 1995, Harmony Books)

Do: Sneak a peek at Ennis House (if you’re in L.A.). A couple of years ago my friend, Chris Ellis, rode in the navigator’s seat of my rental and guided me through Griffith Park, up Glendower to the Los Feliz home that is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever seen HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) or BLADE RUNNER (1982). This Frank Lloyd Wright creation is one of three Wright homes in L.A. It’s a sight to behold and you’ll marvel at what effort it must of been to build in 1924. As far as it’s movie bona fides go, it’s mostly been used for exteriors over the years. It inspired the interior look of DECKARD’S apartment which was built on a set at Warner Bros for BLADE RUNNER. Ennis House is not currently open to the public and I’m sure the neighbors grow weary of gawkers filling the narrow streets looking for this architectural wonder, historic landmark and piece of cinematic history — so don’t tell ’em I sent you.

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The news Monday that Regal – the largest theater circuit in the world – is open to being courted by any suitable buyers willing to kick its tires, raised a lot of eyebrows. Investors liked the news; Regal’s stock spiked upward even as its earnings report looked pretty bleak compared to same quarter last year. But most everyone else did a bit of handwringing over the future of the movie business – specifically the theater business.

Coming off a disappointing summer at the Box Office, the news that Regal might be going on the block could be interpreted as a bad sign for the future of theatrical exhibition. On the other hand, it could be a sign that Regal’s board thinks this is a good time to get a great price. Why? Foreign money and a strong slate of blockbusters are on the near horizon. You can read some good analysis of those factors by Variety’s Brent Lang here.

I’m not one to kvetch about the prospects for theatrical distribution. The studios and the theater owners still have a vested interest in exhibiting movies for the foreseeable future. Change is coming but that’s nothing new. Some changes are for the worst (or maybe it only seems that way to those of us given to bouts of nostalgia). Some changes are for the best. And sometimes threats to a business can bring out the best in that business. The theater business survived the onslaught of radio (30’s), television (50’s), video games (90’s & aughts), and they’ll survive the Internet. In some ways they’ll thrive because of the Internet.

Here are three reasons I’m not betting against theaters any time soon:

The experience of watching a movie in a theater is still my favorite way to see a movie. So far this year I’ve walked up to a box office window 29 times to buy tickets to a first run movie in a theater. In the last eight weeks of 2014 I’ll probably see another 6 or 8 – ‘tis the season. I have always loved walking in, settling down and opening up to the immersive experience of seeing an image projected on a large screen in a room completely dedicated to that singular experience. Add a roomful of strangers who laugh, gasp, cry or applaud in the same places you do, and the experience becomes communal in the best sense of the word. It’s the last media viewing experience that I’m not in control of — it unspools and I can’t pause it, save it for later or let sit dormant in my queue. I think that increases its value rather than diminishing it. There’s a core audience out there that feels the same way I do about going to the movies. We may be a small band with fewer options in years to come but I believe we’ll always have a place to go.

The experience of watching a movie in a theater is better than at any other time in my life. More than ever there has to be a compelling reason for people to go to the theaters. The compelling reason can be the movie or the experience – ideally it will be both. The experience has steadily improved in the last quarter century. Our neighborhood theater happens to be a Regal property. It was a United Artists Theater when it opened in the late 70’s. Since then it’s gone through numerous updates and several major overhauls – including total demolition and the construction of a brand new building where the parking lot used to be. Most recently there’s been an update to the decor and installation of luxury recliners. Top notch projection, sound, and seating — what’s not to love if you’re a movie-lover? Regal’s CEO Amy Miles seems to be a movie-lover with skin in the game of making sure the theater experience falls somewhere between compelling and irresistible. Whatever happens with Regal, I hope she continues to be a leader in the Industry. I applaud every pragmatic visionary in the theater business who keeps investing and innovating for a better user experience.

The experience of going to the movies is still one of the best out-of-the-house entertainment values I know of. I recently took my son and a friend of his to the State Fair. It was $75 for all access tickets for the three of us before we bought a souvenir or anything to eat. A night out at a nice restaurant with my wife will cost upwards of $75 to $90 – it would easily be over $100 if either of us drank alcohol. Tickets to a college football game start at about $75 a pop as do concert tickets (for the cheap seats). When my family of 3 goes to the movies we’re generally in an out for right at $50 for tickets and concessions. Now, I’ve still got enough of my Dad in me to think that $50 is a lot of money but that’s still a good deal for something we can all do together — that we all enjoy. At home I pay for 100 channels and only watch about 6. Every time I go to a movie, I watch it. That’s a 1 to 1 ratio and a pretty good bang for the buck.

Movie Monday* 10.27.14

October 26, 2014 — Leave a comment

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MANHATTAN (Rated R, 96mins, MGM, Released: April 25, 1979)

Director: Woody Allen, Writers: Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, Producers: Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins, Cinematographer: Gordon Willis, Casting Director: Juliet Taylor, Editor: Susan E. Morse

CAST: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep

“We began formulating our approach to Manhattan when we were making Interiors…we talked about how everyone who used anamorphic was always using it in cowboy movies and war pictures. We thought, ‘Why don’t we make an intimate little black-and-white picture that you would never use [widescreen] for, and shoot it anamorphic ally?’ We felt that approach would create a tension between the width of the screen, which you were used to seeing [in other types of movies] with these panoramic expanses, and the intimate details and the intimate romance of the story. We were able to make New York City part of the movie as an actual character, subliminally.”

Woody Allen commenting on his collaboration with Cinematographer Gordon Willis in the October 2014 issue of American Cinematographer

*Every Monday I watch a classic movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Haven’t seen it in a very long time, or 2) Have only seen it once, or 3) Have never seen it uncut, or 4) Have never seen it at all.

Film Details provided by: IMDbPRO, BoxOfficeMojo

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Bill Murray as VINCENT from ST. VINCENT (in theaters now)

If you’re looking for something film-related to watch, listen to, or read this weekend, try these on for size:

Go see ST. VINCENT (PG-13, 102 mins) – This is one I’ve eagerly anticipated and it does not disappoint. Tracy and I saw it with a full house and appreciative audience at a sneak preview Tuesday night. Word of mouth has been good enough that the Weinstein Co. expanded the number of screens for it’s nationwide opening this weekend so it’s probably playing at a theater near you (if you’re in the U.S.) If you’re a Bill Murray fan, there’s plenty here to like.  If you’re NOT a Bill Murray fan I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by his textured, unflinching, believable performance. The entire supporting cast shines in a story that could have easily been treated in a manipulative and saccharine manner. Sure, it follows several movie-making conventions but it never disrespects the audience. Kudos and congrats to Ted Melfi for writing, directing and getting this movie out to the masses.

Watch LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF – this festival favorite and passion project of CalArts professor, Thom Andersen has been in distribution limbo for years due to the sheer tonnage of clips that had to be cleared and licensed. They finally cracked that code and now any film-lover can see this remarkable documentary. It’s exhaustive (169mins) but not exhausting. Originally completed in 2003 this comprehensive examination of how Los Angeles has been portrayed in the movies has been remastered for its first home video release. There’s a noir quality to the film that’s probably an extension of Andersen’s personality. This is a true labor-of-love-dear-john-mashup for a filmmaker, thinker, and Angeleno who loves his city. In case you’re not convinced check out the trailer here.

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Listen/Read NOT TO BE MISSED: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film – When asked in an NPR interview why he calls movies his friends, Kenneth Turan replied, “Because they speak to me!” I get that. If you do as well, I think you’ll enjoy Turan’s passionate, informative and thoughtfully laid out book. Turan loves movies and it shows. But he’s also generous in the way he shares his favorite movies with the reader. I read the book earlier this year and find myself using it often as a reference. I’ve been able to track down several of the films unfamiliar to me on his list(s) and each has been as rewarding as he promised. The book is available in all formats and if you’d like to get a little taste of what’s in it, check out the aforementioned NPR interview (7mins 47secs) here.

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NICK DUNNE (Ben Affleck) speaks at a vigil for his missing wife, AMY (Rosamund Pike) as her parents look on. From GONE GIRL (20th Century Fox) directed by David Fincher. In theaters now.

**Spoiler Free** (Unless you have a really broad definition of “spoiler”.)

GONE GIRL is the best Lifetime TV movie I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen enough Lifetime TV movies to say whether or not it’s the best ever made. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I enjoyed it the same way I enjoy a Wendy’s Double with Cheese after having not eaten fast food for a couple of months. It starts out all OMG and then an hour after I’m done it’s all SMH.

This material in the hands of a lesser director and/or mediocre actors would have revealed the story for exactly what it is: the plot of a movie you’d generally expect to see after 11PM on Cinemax. Not that I know a whole lot about those either. I’m told that the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, so there’s that.

Here’s the real take-away for me after seeing a movie like GONE GIRL: Often the execution of an idea is more important than the idea itself. Execution can downgrade a great idea into an okay movie or elevate a ridiculous idea into an entertaining movie. What saves GONE GIRL from being a laughable exploitation movie is not the premise but the execution.

Nobody executes a cinematic idea better than David Fincher. SE7EN, ZODIAC and THE SOCIAL NETWORK are three films that I both deeply respect and am still greatly entertained (and somewhat disturbed) by. THE GAME is another expertly made, fun ride. I’m not a fan of FIGHT CLUB. Fincher’s version of DRAGON TATOO left me cold shortly after the mesmerizing main title sequence. But even in the work he does that I don’t care for I can’t help but see the care Fincher puts on the canvas. My opinions will never have any bearing on what David Fincher does – and I’d never want them to. The man makes the movies he wants to make and he pretty much gets to make them the way he wants them made. More power to him. He’s truly a remarkable director with a singular voice.

Everyone in the GONE GIRL cast is doing what they’re expected to do and more. There’s not a weak performance in the bunch but MARGO (played by Carrie Coon), the suspected wife-killer’s twin sister, is the only character I believed was flesh and blood. It was good to see Tyler Perry play in someone else’s sandbox and deliver a winning performance. I’d probably watch a TV series built around DETECTIVE BONEY (played winningly by Kim Dickens). And taking shots at Nancy-Grace-like-characters never gets old, does it?

GONE GIRL had a solid opening weekend in a year that’s been down overall at the Box Office. I saw it the way I prefer to see movies – with my wife in a theater full of people who seem to like movies. I’m glad this one got made. But, come on — there was no way a movie based on this book wasn’t going to be made. So I’m really glad such a talented cast and crew made it.