Monday, January 31, 2011

More Thoughts on John Barry, As Promised

I once described John Barry as the British Ennio Morricone. I was joking at the time – it was really just another way of saying that he was awesome – but in some senses the comparison now strikes me as apt. Morricone and Barry both made music that often lived on a different sphere than the films they accompanied. Think of all the unforgettable Morricone scores to films that are themselves completely forgettable; even those of us who adore the Spaghetti Western genre have to admit that a lot of those movies are pretty stupid. But the music. Dear god, the music. That was heaven.

RIP John Barry

Records of John Barry scores were about as much a staple of my childhood as milk, so hearing about his death is a bit like losing a family member. I'll try to write something slightly more in-depth later, but here's an interesting (and brief) clip from the BBC.

For all his great work (and there is so much great work -- from the Bond scores to The Ipcress File to Petulia to Out of Africa), I actually decided a few years ago that I think his score for Richard Attenborough's much-maligned Chaplin might be his best. Here's a sample:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hauer vs. Statham: A Tale of Two Killing Machines

So this week’s been all about action movie icons for me at Vulture, where I did a slideshow/interview with Rutger Hauer about thirteen of his most memorable parts, and then a slideshow of the 16 worst ways to be killed by Jason Statham. I’m quite proud of both pieces. They were written at different times, but it’s kind of fitting that they ran back to back. Considering these two actors together, one notices some interesting things. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't Forget About Bernd Eichinger

Amid all the Oscar hoopla the other day, the news of German film producer Bernd Eichinger’s death at the untimely age of 61 may have understandably fallen through the cracks for some. But it shouldn’t: Eichinger was one of those guys who had an old-school, hands-on approach to producing, especially when it came to some of his pet projects like Downfall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and The Baader-Meinhof Complex. With a filmography that includes Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Hitler: A Film from Germany, Wim Wenders’s Wrong Move, The Neverending Story, and the Resident Evil films, among many other lesser-known titles, his credits are a curious mix of acclaimed prestige epics, sleazy action franchises, and lots and lots of Europudding -- a career of De Laurentiisian contrasts. He had started, interestingly enough, by trying to organize funding for works made by his film school classmates Wenders, Edgar Reitz, and Alexander Kluge. There’s a very nice Der Spiegel obituary here.  Also, an interesting 2005 profile of him here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

SEE THIS MOVIE: "Last Summer" Will Air on TCM February 1st

Frank and Eleanor Perry’s Last Summer (1969) is one of the lost gems of American cinema – long unavailable on DVD, only briefly available on VHS eons ago (buy a $75 copy on Amazon here!), and pretty much never screened retrospectively. The folks at Warner Archive have said that it’s one of most requested titles in their library, but their plans to release a DVD were scuttled (hopefully only temporarily) last year by the unavailability of a decent master. So, its appearance on Turner Classic Movies in early February is a momentous event, especially if it actually winds up being a decent copy. (The TCM website suggests it will not be letterboxed, but I don’t know how wide the cinematography was to begin with – I’ve only ever seen it on VHS.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thinking of England: "World Garden" and the Films of the British Council

World Garden (1941) from British Council Film Archive on Vimeo.

“They come to Kew in early Spring when yellow daffodils bring thoughts of Summer sunshine. They come to Kew in the bright light of May, when the cherry blossom is falling.”

My pal Faisal Qureshi passed this along. It’s a lovely, short, glorious color journey through Kew Gardens directed by Robin Carruthers and shot by the great Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey, Cabaret). The cinematography, as you might imagine, is marvelously textured, taking full advantage of Technicolor’s vibrancy and depth. Needless to say, it’s not exactly the kind of thing we think of nowadays when we say “documentary.” It’s more like a non-fiction fantasy of Kew Gardens, a brief little daydream made all the more poignant by the fact that it’s dated 1941.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Do Oscar Winners Make Less Money Than They Used To?

The Atlantic has a couple of interesting slideshows up, one with the 15 Highest-Grossing Best Picture Oscar winners and one with the 15 Lowest-Grossing ones. Some surprising (to me) things in there, including the fact that the ever-so-iconic An American in Paris apparently wasn't a big moneymaker, and that the now-virtually-forgotten Around the World in 80 Days was. I'm sure those facts aren't news to people who follow box office reports and Oscar history closely, but I don't, so there. Still, these lists did get me thinking...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Can True Grit Revive the Western?

Wait! I know what you’re thinking. Oh no, not another piece speculating on whether the Western genre might come back as a result of one high-profile release! And you’re right: This recurring notion that [insert title of successful and/or much hyped Western here] might revive the mostly dead genre is somewhat cliché at this point. But here’s why True Grit is different.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Here’s What I Love About The Fighter…

So I‘m watching The Fighter, and at some point in the film Sugar Ray Leonard, playing himself, shows up during a scene where our hero Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) has a pretty brutal bout. Now, it’s already been established that Micky’s troubled brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), who was himself once a boxer, fought Sugar Ray long ago, and even knocked him down. So Sugar Ray is already kind of a motif in the film, and we’re wondering if he’s going to recognize Dicky, who is Micky’s trainer. And, of course, famous and recognizable athletes playing themselves in such films – be they serious dramas or comedies or biopics or whatever – is pretty common, like when Brett Favre showed up at the end of There’s Something About Mary.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Did I Mention That the Swan Was Black?

“I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.”
The what?”
“The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.”
“Whose side are you on, son?”
        - Full Metal Jacket
At a couple of points in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, we see brief glimpses of Natalie Portman’s character working with some kind of dance trainer, and the scenes feel like they could be documentary footage: The actors are mumbling, natural; the moments serene, almost humdrum. (Interestingly, they feel a bit like one of those backstage, locker-room bits from The Wrestler.) But within the hyper-melodramatic context of the film itself, where everything else goes to 11, these scenes feel like transmissions from a distant galaxy; they are so out-of-place that I’m positive they’re meant to be intentionally jarring. Which begs the question: Why? The scenes obviously draw attention to the histrionic nature of the rest of the film. And I’m not sure said histrionic nature need draw any more attention to itself.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Top 12 Older Films I Saw in 2010

The debilitating and often-unavoidable sameness of Top 10 Films of the Year lists can be a bit wearying – I really can’t remember which critics had The Fighter or The Social Network or Black Swan on their lists and which ones didn’t, for example, and at this point I kind of don’t care anymore. A much more interesting – and, I’d like to think, revealing – kind of list would be one featuring older films a given person/critic/writer/moviegoer saw and loved in a given year. You know, the movies you either finally caught up with or somehow chanced upon that rocked your world. I suppose I’ll be offering up an actual Top 10 List for 2010 soon enough (still a couple of major releases I need to see, so I don’t miss my chance to be the 459th person to top ten True Grit). But for now, here’s a list I feel a lot more strongly about: The Top 12 Older Films I Discovered in 2010. In no particular order:

[UPDATE: And it almost goes without saying, of course, that I'm eager to hear/read/see other people's lists as well.]