Saturday, 11 November 2017 18:27

4 movies about veterans for Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, annually recognized on November 11th -- in honor of the signing of the armistice which ended WWI hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918.

 

The United States previously celebrated “Armistice Day” and it was more a day of recognition to honor veterans that died during WWI. In 1945 a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks led a delegation to President Eisenhower and proposed the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans and not just those who died in WWI.

 

Eisenhower supported the idea of a national veterans day but it wasn’t until 1954 that he signed a bill into law and shortly there after, Congress amended the bill to replace, “Armistice” day with a national “Veterans” day celebrating all veterans. It has been celebrated as Veterans Day ever since. 

 

Hollywood has long been enamored with war movies and there are far too many movies that do little more than exploit the deaths of soldiers in the name of movie excitement “fun.” Thankfully, there are also movies that attempt to recreate a soldier’s authentic experience and the toll such service, and war in general, has on soldier families and humanity.

 

Two feature films and two documentaries about war, exploring themes of loneliness, trauma, loss and hope.

 

Presented alphabetically:

 

Born on the 4th of July (1989): U.S. Marine veteran Ron Kovic (played by Tom Cruise) returns from Vietnam paralyzed from the mid chest down and is wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. The movie is based on Kovic’s autobiography and directed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone. The first third of the film follows Kovic from childhood to enlistment to boot camp and into the vietnam war where, during a firefight with the enemy, he accidentally kills one of the men in his platoon. He is shortly there after wounded and paralyzed but comes home seemingly optimistic. The remainder of the film focuses on his PTSD and war trauma as Kovic becomes increasingly disillusioned with traditional patriotism until eventually becoming an anti-war activist 9much to the hatred of his fellow soldiers). Olive Stone read Kovic’s autobiography and was shocked to learn what Kovic had gone through and immediately purchased the rights to the book. Stone and Kovic met many times to discuss their experiences in Vietnam and eventually collaborated together to write the screenplay. The film was wildly successful and earned several Academy Award nominations.

 

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994): This Academy Award winning documentary profiles the career of US artist & Chinese immigrant Maya Lin, when, at the age of 21 she beat out more than a 1000 artists in a competition to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The documentary is short (a little over an hour) and chronicles her childhood and about ten years of her work before receiving the memorial contract. Lin was under extraordinary pressure to deliver and because she was a woman, and Asian, she was often overly critiqued and vilified. Lin herself comes off as soft spoken, a woman who chooses her words carefully but also, a bit distant -- like many an artist I know. As a production note -- the film is a product of its time and is therefore a bit slow paced even with its short run but is still well worth viewing. Despite the hardship Lin faced during the creation of the monument, today it is widely recognized as a magnificent and powerful piece of art.

 

The Men (1950):  Perhaps one of the first Hollywood films to focus on the life of a wounded soldier in a completely unsensational way. Very little screen time is given to war instead offering enormous time to focus on Ken (Marlon Brando) and his struggle as he is consumed with anger and self-pity. While this movie was not a commercial success, its themes will always remain relevant. As a production note -- This is Marlon Brando’s feature film debut.

 

Restrepo (2010): A documentary film that chronicles the lives of the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company in a valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Restrepo post -- named so after a fallen comrade (PFC Juan Sebastian Restrepo), was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. Military. The goal of the post was to clear the Korengal Valley of insurgency and gain the trust of the local populace. Nothing went according to plan. Two journalists, British photographer Tim Hetherington, and journalist Sebastian Junger spent one year with the platoon in the Korengal Valley. This film is truly one of the greatest depictions of the soldier bond and camaraderie between them while at times offering gut wrenching footage of tense combat. The late Roger Ebert wrote in his four star review of the film, “The location footage is intercut with debriefings of the survivors conducted soon after they've been flown out to Italy. They use understatement to express strong emotions. The deaths of men they fought with are almost impossible for them to speak of … The film is nonpolitical. It was filmed at great personal risk by the war photographer Tim Hetherington and the author Sebastian Junger. It raises for me an obvious question: How can this war possibly be won?” Tragically, a few years after completion of the documentary, photographer Tim Hetherington, while covering the 2011 Libyan civil war, is killed by mortar shrapnel.

 

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Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American biographical war drama film directed by Oliver Stone based on the best-selling autobiography Born on the Fourth of July by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Nominated for numerous critical awards and several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Tom Cruise) and winner of two Oscars for Best Director (Oliver Stone) and Best Film Editing (David Brenner and Joe Hutshing).  

The Men is a 1950 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, written by Carl Foreman, and starring Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright and Everett Sloane. Despite the film's commercial failure, it marked Brando’s film debut.

*  Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a 1994 documentary film made by Freida Lee Mock about the life of American artist Maya Lin, whose best-known work is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The film won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

*  Restrepo is a 2010 American documentary film about the Afghanistan war, directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

 

Published in News & Information
Tuesday, 07 November 2017 19:34

Music in Movies: The 10 Best

Long before talkies, music was making movies better. It still is. What would Charlie Chaplin’s “Oceana Roll Dance” in The Gold Rush be without music, or Johnny Depp’s depiction in Benny and Joon for that matter? A more contemporary example would be how Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy helped make “The Grid” a very real place for moviegoers. That said, here are the 10 best uses of music in movies, based on the lasting effect the music had in the movie and beyond the movie, the popular and critical success of the music and the legacy left.

10. Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” in Boogie Nights

This one might not be on a lot of people’s lists, but the first time I saw Mark Wahlberg, Tom Jane and John C. Reilly attempt to steal from a coked out Alfred Molina to the sound of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” while a silent, house boy tossed exploding firecrackers around the room, I was mesmerized. It’s one of the most uncomfortable situations ever recorded, and the song makes the scene’s mise-en-scène a must-see.

9. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Rudy

I used to think Rudy’s struggle to realize his dream made me cry every time I watched him succeed, but I’ve discovered the crescendo of the music when Rudy sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback has more of an effect than the images. I get emotional just listening to the score for Angelo Pizzo’s football masterpiece, and I’m not the only one. The music is now blasted at the stadium in South Bend during Fighting Irish football games. That adoption of the Rudy score from fiction and application in reality makes it one of the best uses of music in movies.

8. Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” in Rocky and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" in Rocky III

Like the theme from Rudy, the theme from Rocky is blasted at Philadelphia Eagles games (and practiced by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). It is immediately recognizable by almost anyone. The song features both uplifting highs and terrifying lows -- mirroring the conflict of Rocky’s life -- in and out of the ring. “Gonna Fly Now” was nominated for the 1977 Oscar for Best Original Song, but fell to Barbra Streisand’s “A Star is Born” from the movie of the same name. It hasn’t come close to becoming the pop culture icon that “Gonna Fly Now” has. The Rocky franchise is responsible for creating two iconic songs, and ranking which is more recognizable is problematic. People probably associate the music of both songs with the Rocky movies equally, but some couldn’t give you the title of “Gonna Fly Now.” Everyone knows “Eye of the Tiger.” Most of Rocky III was about Apollo helping Rocky get his eye of the tiger back after Mick dies. Sylvester Stallone should be glad Queen denied his request to use their song “Another One Bites the Dust” for Rocky III. While the song would have been fitting given the beating Rocky takes and then gives Clubber Lang, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” somehow cut through the cheese to become a movie classic. It even spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and was the second-best single of 1982 behind Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” winning Survivor its only Grammy Award. The song was also nominated for the 1983 Academy Award for Best Original Song and has become the anthem of workout movie montages. You can’t even make a workout movie montage using another song without it being parodied with “Eye of the Tiger” laid over the top anymore. South Park went with Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best,” but even that was originally written by Allee Willis and Rocky’s Bill Conti for Rocky III, only to be replaced by “Eye of the Tiger.” “You’re the Best” got its chance to make movie history when Rocky director John Avildsen decided to use it in Karate Kid. It didn’t make this list, however.

7. The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The best synchronized dance scene ever shot had more than the music to thank, but the music choice was so good that it actually influenced the shooting of the scene. The scene was shot during the Von Steuben Day Parade and on another Saturday in Chicago that saw more than 10,000 people attend thanks to radio stations inviting people to take part in the John Hughes film. Several of the people seen dancing in the scene, including the construction worker and the window washer, originally had nothing to do with the film. They were simply dancing to the music being played, and John Hughes found it so funny that he told the camera operators to record it. Those natural actions helped make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the highest grossing film Hughes directed, with an adjusted gross of nearly $170 million.

6. B.J. Thomas’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and later, Spider-man 2

Written by Hal Davis and Burt Bacharach, the song won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Song, as did the original score. It makes for one of the most iconic movie montages ever in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song is so great, it was one of the few redeeming moments of the Spider-man 2 movie. When a song can make a bad movie better, the song is objectively great.

5. Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Entertainer” in The Sting

No song is likely more often associated with a movie than Hamlisch’s version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” Like a younger generation associates “Gonna Fly Now” with Rocky, and an even younger generation “Eye of the Tiger” with Rocky III, most people aware of The Sting can’t hear “The Entertainer” without thinking The Sting is on television somewhere. But unlike “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger,” which were written specifically for movies and released as the movie did, Joplin’s “The Entertainer” debuted 71 years before The Sting was released. Hamlisch had a good year in 1974. He won the Academy Award for Original Song Score or Adaptation for The Sting as well as the Oscars for Original Dramatic Score and Original Song for The Way We Were -- another Robert Redford movie.

4. Cliff Edwards’ “When You Wish Upon a Star” in Pinocchio, and later, RocketMan

This gem written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Disney’s Pinocchio in 1940 was so popular it became the official song of The Walt Disney Company and accompanies the Disney logo prior to any Disney movie. My favorite rendition is performed by actor/comedian Harland Williams in RocketMan, who does a spot-on impersonation of Jiminy Cricket.

3. The Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” in Saturday Night Fever

The best opening credits ever recorded have The Bee Gees and John Travolta to thank. Saturday Night Fever producer Robert Stigwood even asked The Bee Gees to change the name of the song to match the movie. The Bee Gees declined because there were already too many songs with “Saturday” in the title -- including Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright” (For Fighting), the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.” Saturday Night Fever didn’t need the name of the song changed to reach a massive audience, grossing over $237 million worldwide on a $3 million budget. It made back its budget and then some in its opening weekend.

2. Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” and “Jump in the Line” in Beetlejuice

The scenes of Beetlejuice featuring Belafonte’s music are the two best scenes in the movie. The “Day-O” scene couldn’t have been done better using any other song. The lip syncing to “Day-O” in Beetlejuice is the reason why it’s such a popular chant at baseball and basketball games. I’m certain that wasn’t the case prior to the movie’s popularity. I specifically watch the closing credits to Beetlejuice for the dance scene with Winona Ryder suspended in mid-air while dead characters dance to “Jump in the Line.” I’m a fan of Harry Belafonte, whose album “Calypso” became the first LP by a single artist ever to sell a million copies 30 years before I was born. I now own that LP because of Beetlejuice and chant “Day-O” at Minnesota Twins games because of Beetlejuice.

1. Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” in The Silence of the Lambs, and later, Clerks II

Quite possibly responsible for both the creepiest and funniest moments in movie history, Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” is the best use of music in movies in two very different instances. The song was also used in Married to the Mob and the Maniac remake as further evidence of its number one status on this list. Firstly, I’ll forward this by saying I find the song to be objectively great, both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are wonderfully vague and require explanation. (The song’s about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthly and finite,” according to its writer, William Garvey. “The horses represent the five senses from Hindu philosophy, The Bhagavad Gita, and the ability to lift one’s perception above these physical limitations and to see beyond this limited Earthly perspective.") All things most certainly do not “pass into the night.” Secondly, besides maybe “The Entertainer,” there isn’t a song more associated with a movie than this one -- and this one’s associated with two magical movie moments. Most people are aware of the first. The latest use of “Goodbye Horses” in Clerks II helps a newly sober Jay overcome his urges. The brilliant choice by Kevin Smith to use it allowed the song to reach an entirely new generation, leaving a lasting legacy in pop culture.


 

If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk radio shows: The Karel Show, Erskine Overnight, The Lounge, Free Talk Live, The Debbie Nigro Show

Published in News & Information
Friday, 27 October 2017 22:18

Underappreciated horror films for Halloween

Halloween is upon us and brings the holy trilogy of: trick or treaters, costumes and candy. And, of course, inevitable lists of horror films you should watch for your Halloween scares.   

 

Now, I love said lists but the problem with them is that you tend to see the usual suspects. Take your pick of a franchise film - Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity, Scream, Friday the 13th, Saw, Halloween, Hellraiser, [Insert Random Name] of the Dead, etc., etc. Throw in obligatory mention of The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining, add another Stephen King adaption for good measure, class it up with a vintage black and white or three like: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein and toss in whatever is currently hip and popular with the cool kids, such as -- It Follows and Babadook.

 

Viola! Instant “Best Halloween Movies to Watch This Year” list!

 

Fair enough. But -- also -- Oh. So. Boring.

 

Let’s use some imagination here. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of movies in the aforementioned list that I adore. But there are a lot of great horror movies that have slipped under the radar. If you are a true horror film aficionado there probably won't be anything here you've not heard of. But for most movie folk this should be a nice list of under appreciated horror films you may dig. Also, I'm not really a fan of horror comedy so none of them made my list.

 

The trailers were meticulously screened to avoid spoilers. No, seriously. I watched multiple trailers for all of these movies and selected ones that were cool but vague and non spoilerific!

 

Some of my favorite underappreciated or forgotten horror films -- presented alphabetically:  

 

Coherence (2013): More of a dark psychological sci-fi thriller than traditional horror film. Coherence naturally evolves from a dinner party set piece into a mind twisting nightmare. Director James Ward Byrkit shot the extremely low budget movie without a script. Instead he worked from a detailed 12 page plot synopsis and each day passed notecards to the eight actors, outlining goals they had to accomplish with all improvised dialog. It’s one known star, Nicholas Brendon (Xander of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) had this to say, “...every day we had five different things we had to convey … since there was no script, I had no idea how it ended … to be quite honest, I never really knew what was going on fully until I saw the movie done.  When I saw the movie, I’m like, ‘Oh, Shit, this is awesome!’”  Coherence official trailer.

 

A Horrible Way to Die (2010): An indie darling the toured the festival circuit but never really got a wide release.  A Horrible Way to Die follows lead Sarah, played to perfection in a truly mesmerizing performance by Amy Seimetz. Sarah is in full recovery mode from … something. Something recent and very traumatic. The story shifts back and forth from her past to her present as we slowly begin to understand her horrific history. And then a friend of Sarah’s goes missing, in the present, and she realizes her past may have caught up with her.   A Horrible Way to Die official trailer.



House of the Devil (2009): Writer / Director Ti West’s loving recreation of 80’s horror films. Shot on 16mm film to preserve the retro look of 80’s horror and even co-starring horror film legend Dee Wallace and eighties great "go to" character actor, Tom Noonan. The story follows college student Samantha Hughes as she desperately searches for a way to make some extra dough to pay the deposit on a brand new kick ass apartment. Sam decides to answer a babysitting ad. A very strange, babysitting ad. House of the Devil official trailer.

 

The Loved Ones (2009): Robin McLeavy plays Princess Lola -- the greatest psycho woman to grace the silver screen since Angela Bettis was May Dove Canady in Lucky McKee’s May (later on the list). The Loved Ones finds surprising laughs and disturbing shocks in equal measure. Traditional “torture porn” movies offer visceral but generally artless visuals of cold blooded torture, usually in the form of misogynistic violence against women. Writer / Director Sean Byrne knows the worn tropes well, avoids the usual pratfalls and delivers a gender reversed twisted masterpiece. The Loved Ones official trailer.

 

Kill List (2011): Another movie on the list that is more dark psychological thriller than traditional horror. Two former British soldiers become hitmen. Gal is laid back and uncynical, Jay is still traumatized from an unspecified mission disaster during his soldiering days. Their newest contract spins their lives wildly out of control and leads to some very unexpected, very disturbing places. Kill List is a slow burn of a film and requires viewing patience, not least because the thick accents are, for a time, difficult to understand. Kill List official trailer.

 

Martyrs (2008): Oh, dear God. This movie is not for the faint of heart. You have been warned. Martyrs is the story of Lucie Jurin. As a young girl Lucie escapes from a slaughterhouse where she has been imprisoned and tortured for years. The perpetrators go uncaught and their motives remain a mystery. Lucie spends more than a decade in an orphanage and, while she has recovered physically, she is still plagued by nightmares and suffers debilitating visions of a ghoulish emaciated woman hunting her. Lucie leaves the orphanage and tracks down the family that captured & tortured her and begins to extract unbelievably violent, bloody revenge. But -- she might be in the wrong house. The family Lucie is brutalizing might be completely innocent. Martyrs, along with High Tension, Frontiers and Inside are widely regarded as the godfathers of the New French Extremity film movement.  A movement that refers thematically and stylistically to a wide range of French filmmakers that tackle taboo subjects and was once described by film writer Matt Smith as, “[a] crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis." As you can imagine, most of the films within the New French Extremity movement are -- well, not worth viewing.  But Martyrs is. It is the only great “torture porn” movie I would ever recommend -- with reservations that it will still not be for most folks.  I believe I’ve given you enough information to know if this film is for your particular taste, or not. (Make sure to watch the original 2008 French w/ English Subtitles version and NOT the American Remake). Martyrs official trailer.



May (2002): Delightfully awkward, devilishly lonely May Dove Canady suffered from a rough childhood due to endless bullying because of her lazy eye. Her only friend -- a glass-encased doll named Suzie. But then May meets a boy. A real boy. Angela Bettis knocks it out of the park with her quirky awkward performance. May is Lucky McKee’s only good film. Seriously. If you see the name Lucky McKee attached to any other film not called May, immediately throw it in the garbage. May official trailer.

 

Pontypool (2008): The greatest zombie apocalypse film (that might not actually be a zombie apocalypse film) you have never seen. Shock jock Grant Mazzy and his producer Sydney Briar are front and center in their small town radio room when the world outside goes --- crazy. Both Stephen McHattie (Grant) and Lisa Houle (Sydney) are superb in the lead roles. Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything  and inspired by Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of The War of the World's. Pontypool official trailer.

 

[REC] (2007): Probably the best known film on the list. [REC] is a found footage-esq masterpiece about a TV reporter and her cameraman following emergency workers into an apartment building and are quickly locked inside with -- something. Cleverly hiring real life TV personality Manuela Velasco to portray a fictional version of herself and using only cameras that would be available to a TV news show to shoot the movie create a uniquely realistic atmosphere. [REC] spawns a few unsatisfying sequels and there is even a decent American remake called Quarantine but the original version in Spanish is really the big boy on the block.  [REC] official trailer.



Triangle (2009): What begins as a very seemingly well acted but mundane ghost ship story quickly evolves into a mind bending, bloody journey of loss, regret and choices. Triangle is a movie that gets better and better with repeat viewings. This film, The Loved Ones and Pontypool are my three go to films when I am asked for a horror film recommendation. I was unable to find a trailer that didn’t spoil some of the film’s surprises so I didn’t attach one. Look it up if you want but Triangle is best viewed with a clean slate.



Who Can Kill a Child? (1976): Tom and Evelyn, two English tourists, arrive on a city island during the last leg of their vacation before Evelyn gives birth to their third child. But -- they can’t seem to find any adults. And the silent grim faced children that run in packs all over the town cast suspicious glances their direction but refuse to speak with them. A Children of the Corn esq narrative that actually came out years before King’s story (which first appeared in print form in Penthouse in the late 70’s).  Based on the Juan Jose Plans novel The children’s game, who adapted the screenplay under a pen name. This movie was widely unavailable for decades but finally came out on DVD in 2007. There is no Blu Ray edition. Who Can Kill a Child? official trailer.



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Coherence is a 2013 American science fiction thriller film directed by James Ward Byrkit.

 

A Horrible Way to Die is a 2010 American horror film written by Simon Barrett, directed by Adam Wingard.

 

The House of the Devil is a 2009 American horror film written, directed, and edited by Ti West.

 

The Loved Ones is a 2009 Australian horror film written and directed by Sean Byrne.

 

Kill List is a 2011 British crime drama psychological horror film directed by Ben Wheatley, co-written and co-edited with Amy Jump.

 

Martyrs is a 2008 French-Canadian drama horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier.

 

May is a 2002 American psychological horror film written and directed by Lucky McKee.

 

Pontypool is a 2008 Canadian horror film directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything.

 

REC (stylized as [•REC]) is a 2007 Spanish zombie horror film, co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza.

 

Triangle is a 2009 British-Australian psychological horror thriller film written and directed by Christopher Smith.


Who Can Kill a Child? (Spanish: ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?; also released as Island of the Damned) is a 1976 Spanish horror film directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador.

 

Published in News & Information

Famous indie movie Executive Producer Harvey Weinstein has been fired from The Weinstein Company. Last week the NY Times broke a colossal story alleging decades of harassment and abuse by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Over the weekend, the New Yorker followed up with From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories - detailing two decades of Harvey’s sexual harassment, sexual assault (up to and including rape) and his threats of ruining careers to cover it all up.  

 

Harvey Weinstein, the man behind some of the biggest indie hits of forever. All of Tarantino's films, Kevin Smith's movies, Oscar Winner's - The King's Speech, Silver Linings Playbook, Shakespeare in Love -- to name a few.  

 

Actress Rose McGowan came out almost a decade ago and told her story of being sexually assaulted by a studio head. People took her seriously but didn’t take her that seriously, because, at the time, she refused to name names. Citing the fact she still wanted to work in Hollywood and knew if she named the specific person, he would probably destroy her career.  But this week, as several other women have come forward, Rose finally confirmed her assault was at the hands of Weinstein.

 

Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and several other actresses going back two decades have come forward with stories of sexual harassment or worse, at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.

 

This weekend, Paltrow went on record that, when she was 22 years old, Mr. Weinstein  summoned her to his hotel suite for a meeting about her upcoming film, “Emma,” which Weinstein was Executive Producing (i.e. - putting up the money for) and had just cast to play the title role.  Paltrow says that it wasn't "a meeting" at all. Harvey sat her down and began massaging her (without her consent) and then suggested they head to the bedroom.

 

She said about the incident, “I was a kid. I was signed up (for Mr. Weinstein’s movie), I was petrified" and later, “I thought I was going to get fired.”  She turned him down and fled the room as fast as possible, confiding in her then boyfriend Brad Pitt. Pitt immediately confronted Weinstein and told him to leave Paltrow alone and never bother her again.  Weinstein responded by warning her not to tell anyone else about his come-on or he would ruin her career.

 

Brad Pitt’s people have confirmed both facts that Paltrow told him about the incident and that he (Pitt) confronted Weinstein.

 

Brad Pitt. One of the biggest movie stars in the world. Pitt knew in 1996 that Weinstein was a creeper. Which means, I suspect, that lots of other people have known over the years too. 

 

And nothing ever really came of it. 

 

The Paltrow incident was twenty one years ago. And it’s just now coming out that he allegedly harassed, assaulted and raped women for two decades.

 

I hate to say this but -- a powerful man in Hollywood abusing his position and targeting vulnerable young women for assault -- doesn't exactly shock me. 

 

I’m not even shocked that it took so long to come out. The Onion’s aptly titled ‘How Could Harvey Weinstein Get Away With This?’ Asks Man Currently Ignoring Sexual Misconduct Of 17 Separate Coworkers, Friends, Acquaintances sums this position up nicely.

 

There are probably a lot of people complacent in Mr. Weinstein's abuse but one thing is certain, the man commanded immense power. Do a quick Google search for “Harvey Weinstein” and “careers he’s ruined” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. He bred fear. And so he was able to get away with it.

 

Until now.

 

The assault allegations have rolled in and due to them, Harvey Weinstein’s wife has left him  and he’s been fired from his job -- from the company he co-founded.

 

That’s all good. But it’s not good enough.

 

I would like to mention that all the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are just that, -- “allegations.” Harvey Weinstein certainly deserves his day in court. But just as in the Bill Cosby case(s), when that many women come forward, you can rest assured both men are guilty.

 

I hope Weinstein gets his day in court.

 

And then I hope he goes to jail for a very long time.

 

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The National Sexual Assault Hotline : 1.800.656.4673 available 24 hours a day through RAINN. 

 

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

 

 

 

 

Published in News & Information
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 16:50

The Third Slow Death of 3-D film

According to recent reports, IMAX will reduce the amount of 3-D films shown in their theaters. With second quarter earnings down a significant percentage from a prior-year period IMAX executives will restructure the way they present tent pole flagship Hollywood films.  

 

In a conference call with The Wrap, CEO of IMAX, Greg Foster said:

 

“We’re looking forward to playing fewer 3-D versions of films and more 2-D versions … which customers have shown a strong preference for (2-D),” Foster added, mentioning that Warner Bros. “Blade Runner 2049” will be shown in 2-D exclusively at IMAX theaters when it opens in October weekend.”

 

That’s all well and good. But does it really mean that 3-D is dying, or dead?

 

Probably. More directors are shooting on the 70mm IMAX cameras and if the company itself is dropping 3-D in favor of 2-D then, yes, I would say there is a strong possibility that 3-D is going the way of the dodo.

 

I for one, am happy to hear this. I know you will be able to find plenty of love for 3-D, usually in today’s youth. And I will admit to watching a 3-D movie, from time to time -- but only once by choice. A couple of times someone bought me a ticket for a 3-D movie. I thanked them and watched said film in 3-D.

 

A couple of times I read movietickets.com wrong and didn’t realize I was showing up for a 3-D version and decided to see it so as not to wait for the next 2-D showing at a much later time.

 

I felt, much as the way you probably do -- for the added cost of the ticket price the 3-D experience is not worth it. The movies are too dark. Frenetic, hyper-edited action sequences become even more of a negative ADD experience.

 

The only movie I actively bought a 3-D ticket for was James Cameron’s, Avatar.  I’ll get to that later.

 

But first ...

 

Just where did this obnoxious 3-D crap come from?

 

From wikipedia:

 

“The stereoscopic era of motion pictures began in the late 1890s when British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent for a 3D film process. In his patent, two films were projected side by side on screen (one meant for the left eye to view, one meant for the right eye to view). The viewer looked through a stereoscope to converge the two images. Because of the obtrusive mechanics behind this method, theatrical use was not practical.”

 

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting 3-D to have been around in 1890.  Though, it really wasn’t until the 1920’s when a few directors and cinematographers tried to make the process marketable for a then modern audience. Three 3-D films from the twenties - The Men from M.A.R.S., The Power of Love and The Ship of Souls had limited runs. Nothing really peaked audience interest.

 

The thirties and forties showed little additional interest in 3-D films with each era producing only a handful of 3-D films. Even the arrival of Technicolor didn’t help. A few 3-D films were shot and printed in Technicolor but none of them screened in color and the use of color printing was only to help achieve the red / cyan (blue) 3-D coding effect.

 

In the early thirties polarized filters (which reduce glare) hit the market as a commercial product. This really helped with the 3-D process but again, wasn’t enough to peak audience interest.

 

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that 3-D exploded and the time between 1952-1954 was known as the “golden era” of the process. It all began late 1952 with the hit, Bwana Devil -- a drama based on the real life Tsavo Man-Eaters -- a pair of man eating lions responsible for the deaths of a number of construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway from March through December 1898.

 

From wikipedia:

 

“As with practically all of the features made during this boom, Bwana Devil was projected dual-strip, with Polaroid filters. During the 1950s, the familiar disposable anaglyph glasses made of cardboard were mainly used for comic books ...

 

Because the features utilized two projectors, a capacity limit of film being loaded onto each projector (about 6,000 feet, or an hour's worth of film) meant that an intermission was necessary for every feature-length film. Quite often, intermission points were written into the script at a major plot point.”

 

To make a long story short -- 3-D suddenly boomed. In 1953, House of Wax, landed in the year’s top ten at the box office, the first time ever for a 3-D film. House of Wax also catapulted and forever typecast legendary actor, Vincent Price into the role of creepy horror film guy.

 

Alas, the “golden era” was short lived. Endless problems occurred with 3-D technology, the prints, and the time management to run the films. A few of the issues:

 

  • The silver projection screen was directional and caused sideline seating to be unusable.

  • The prints had to project simultaneously and remain exactly alike after repair or sync would be lost. If sync was off by even a single frame -- the picture was unwatchable.

  • Oftentimes theaters had to have two projectionist keep sync.

  • Mandatory intermission meant less features could be shown daily which resulted in lowered profit for all involved.

 

By 1955, 3-D films were gone from theaters.

 

Thankfully 3-D went away forever, never to return!

 

Ugh. I wish. There was an explosion of 3-D in the eighties and suddenly, horror films thought all “third” films should be 3-D -- Jaws 3-D, Amityville Horror 3-D, Friday the 13th 3 in 3-D -- you get the picture.

 

Disney caught on and released Magic Journey and Captain EO (starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola) in special venues at their theme parks. In the mid eighties IMAX began producing non-fiction films in their 70mm format and pushed as a key point for their 3-D films vs. traditional 3-D -- the IMAX process, then and now, emphasized mathematical correctness of the 3-D rendition and thus largely eliminated the eye fatigue that resulted from the approximate geometries of previous 3-D incarnations.

 

3-D was back and it was here to stay!

 

Except, no -- it wasn’t.

 

3-D, like the tide, waxed and waned all throughout the decade but for the most part had faded from mainstream use by the nineties. It’s true that 3-D stayed alive through special attractions throughout the entire nineties but just as the fifties, it mostly faded from mainstream cinema.

 

The next resurgence of 3-D began in 2003, with the release of James Cameron’s, Ghosts of the Abyss released as the first full-length 3-D Disney / IMAX feature and filmed with the Reality Camera System. This camera system, built by Cameron and Vince Pace used the latest HD video cameras, not film to produce the 3-D effect.

 

The film joined James Cameron, actor Bill Paxton and a team of the world’s foremost historical and marine experts as they journey underwater to the site of wrecked ship, the Titanic. The film was a colossal critical and commercial success.

 

And suddenly studios were interested in 3-D. Again. Studios began experimenting in releasing both a 2-D print and a 3-D print for their high profile products. The Polar Express (2005) was the first feature length animated film released in both prints with the 3-D version pulling in about 25% of the films total box office. Which was enough to raise 3-D interest from other studios.

 

Over the course of the next decade studios went 3-D crazy. Selected large budget films were released in both 2-D and 3-D, old films were re-released with a post production 3-D process and handful of films were specifically shot in 3-D cameras.

 

Which brings me to …

 

James Cameron’s, “Avatar.”

 

Much has been written about the herculean effort Cameron put into Avatar. Entire books, movies, documentaries and short films can be found. I offer only a few tidbits for context:

 

James Cameron spent twelve years developing technology improving 3-D cameras in order to shoot Avatar. He is the only director who seems to fully understand that the 3-D process makes your film darker. And so what did he do?

 

Well, he spent six months working with botanists, creating an ecologically accurate planet to set his story in. A planet that has glowing flora. So even when the 3-D process darkened his film for all those nights scenes the entire film is still brightly lit do to the glowing plants all over the planet!

 

I want to make that last point clear. He didn’t just want glowing plants all over the planet -- because that would be easy to accomplish. He wanted his planet to work. And so he spent months working with scientists to make sure the plants he showed would be one hundred percent ecologically accurate. He wanted the planet to be able to survive -- if it had been a real planet.

 

Which is amazing and it’s only a few of the reasons that Cameron’s Avatar remains one of the monumental directing achievements in all of world cinema.

 

Not that it’s without flaws. I’ll be the first person to admit that I think the script to Avatar is awful and the acting, for the most part, is adequate to incompetent. That being said, the film was a must see movie event in 2009. But you had to see it in 3-D. Cameron spent so long working in 3-D that he just seems to be the only working American filmmaker to just -- get it.  

 

In fact, of all the movies that have gone on to gross a billion dollars only one of them is an original story idea -- James Cameron’s Avatar. All the other movies in the billion plus club are sequels and franchise films.

 

Which says something (probably that Cameron was the first and only person to knock the novelty 3-D process out of the park).

 

Which brings us to today …

 

The “Avatar” resurgence has faded. 3-D is dying. Again.

 

It had a good run. But IMAX is right. Consumers, by and large, greatly prefer 2-D movie events. 3-D comes and goes and comes and goes and it never amounts to anything more than a novelty. 3-D was huge in the early fifties but, because it was a novelty, was gone in two years. 3-D had a resurgence in the eighties but, because it was a novelty, was gone in several years. 3-D had a second resurgence with Cameron’s technology achievement in the early 2000’s but, because it’s a novelty, has faded and will probably be gone in another three or five years.

 

Novelties, it seems, make a lot of money in short bursts but audiences quickly get tired of them. 3-D may be fading but if history repeats itself (again), I can almost guarantee you we’ll see another resurgence of 3-D -- oh-- somewhere around 2040.

 

For better or worse.

 

 

Published in News & Information

Back when I sat on the edge of my theater seat with clenched fists for almost two hours during Life, I tweeted immediately after that the film was the Alien of a new generation. I Tweeted that because like the original Alien film, the beauty of Life is that you don’t see much of the alien. It’s thrilling because the alien is growing quickly, and you don’t know what to expect the next time you see it. Neither do the characters, which better allows their fear to infect you.

GCN’s resident movie critic, Charles Karel Bouley, called Life an Alien “ripoff,” and I agree wholeheartedly. But I appreciate that the makers of Life utilized the successes of Alien and those suspenseful thrillers before it. But what I appreciate most about Life is that it’s at least a partially original story, with motivated plot and character arcs and an original, twisted ending that utilizes parallel editing pretty well. Life is an Alien movie with a new alien, just as Alien was Jaws with a new shark, and Jaws the Psycho with a new psycho.

It’s just too bad Alien: Covenant did its best to ruin Life’s opening weekend and gross earnings. Life has made just under $80 million worldwide, while Covenant moved up its release date, forcing Life into a crowded month and weekend. Logan and Get Out were both R-rated films still pulling strong numbers, and that’s two too many. Covenant did $4.2 million in Thursday night preview screenings at about 3,000 locations. As of this writing, Life is currently rated five points lower than Covenant on the Tomatometer and audience score.

So there’s another Alien movie. That’s six if you don’t count Alien vs. Predator. But you can tell Covenant is not a true Alien movie by simply comparing the trailers. Remember the Alien trailer? Well, I guess I don’t either. It was before my time, but I do remember watching effective trailers in film school, including that of Alien. It’s an effective trailer because the alien is never revealed. They start with the suspense right out of the gate and leave you wanting -- no -- needing to go to the theater to see that damn alien!

Covenant attempts to build suspense with its trailer but throws it all down the drain with the last shot. Sure they wait until the very end of the trailer to reveal the alien, but I’d argue they never needed that final shot of the alien. Almost everyone knows what the alien looks like by now, but the revelation used to be reserved for those who paid for a movie ticket. Now Hollywood just puts the revelation on the poster like a brand, but the art of making a great trailer has gone by the wayside as well.

Karel said Covenant doesn’t offer us anything new regarding suspense, “but it goes back to the same cinematography, the same type score, the same lighting that the original did oh so many years ago. BUT that had things we had not seen before.”

So Life can’t be an Alien ripoff with a mostly original story, villain and ending, and things we haven’t seen, but we can remake the same damn movie over and over as long as it shares part of the name of the original film? I might be in the minority, but I’d rather see someone attempt a film that’s even partially original than see the same film with the same shots and same music I saw 20 years ago with better computer graphics. Speaking of exactly the same...

The trailer for Life is almost an exact replica of the Alien trailer and is equally suspenseful. You never see the alien in its grown form -- only the faces of its victims -- which is plenty. The trailer doesn’t give too much away, and neither does the poster. The last time I was that excited to see a film (besides 2017’s Get Out for obvious reasons) was Dark Knight Rises five years earlier (and that’s because I’m a Batman freak). I just had to see that alien! And I am in no way comparing Life to either Get Out or Dark Knight Rises. I’m merely commenting that the feeling of excitement I had going into the film was piqued thanks to the trailer and movie poster. I was sold, and the people responsible for creating those marketing materials should get mad props.

As a fan of film and not necessarily of the Alien franchise, I appreciated what Ridley Scott did with the Alien prequel, Prometheus. He made it like the first Alien movie. The Xenomorph in Alien had just four minutes of screen time and didn’t appear until an hour into the film. That’s how you build suspense. The only horror or thriller villain to win an Academy Award spent 20 minutes onscreen. That’s all the role required thanks to Anthony Hopkins.

The Prometheus trailer never reveals the alien and neither does the poster. If you had never seen an Alien film you could have gone to the theater not even realizing you were going to see an Alien film. Then, after the most gruesome, on-screen c-section ever, that newborn alien just sits in that locked room. You almost forget about it while waiting for the big payoff -- the fight with the “engineer.” And when those doors open, the alien does not disappoint. It’s suspenseful more than it’s scary, and suspense is better.

But moviegoers have made things easier on filmmakers these days by turning out in droves for horror flicks and action movies that aren’t nearly as dedicated to cinematic and thematic quality as thrillers and dramas. I mean, a handheld-shot, horror movie made nearly $250 million. And while Covenant looks to be on its way to good payday, it’s also surrounded with the likes of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a third animated movie about talking Cars, a sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and a remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise (which I find to be incredibly disturbing).

My point is the standards of moviegoers have fallen tremendously, likely due to the lack of originality and variety available at movie theaters these days. Hollywood is getting away with it and will continue to do so until people stop paying exorbitant amounts of money to see bad films.

“Ridley knows how to terrorize us...but when Scott discovers that we can be terrorized again with less, instead of more, and when the writers can innovate instead of capitalize, the next great horror film will be made,” Karel said.

I would venture to say horror isn’t a genre that lends itself to originality, and if writers want to innovate, they wouldn’t write horror or action. They’d write suspenseful thrillers, which require new monsters and new stories like Life has given us. I so hope there's a sequel called After Life and a sequel to the sequel called Life After Life. Given the ending of Life, I'd say the future of the franchise is brighter than the box office numbers indicate.

I have no problem with the Alien franchise continuing. It’s a fantastic story and now a fantastic pre-story. But if you’re going to make an Alien movie, make an Alien movie -- trailer, poster and all. Leave some wiggle room for the imagination to fantasize prior to throwing the alien in our face. That’s what made Alien so great, and while Life and Prometheus are contrived by design, at least they stayed true to the inspiration. If Alien: Covenant stays true to its inspiration, it’ll be contrived from the sci-fi, action movie Aliens, which, by design, means it can’t be as cinematically or thematically entertaining as Life or any of its predecessors.

Editor’s Note: An update will follow with my review of Alien: Covenant.

Editor's Note: I finally watched Alien: Covenant, and since it's been almost four months since this was originally published, you are right to assume that I didn't see it in a theater. I'm glad I didn't, because the latest Alien movie isn't even worth renting. While I'll appreciate the franchise continuing tradition and making a woman the film's strongest character, that's about the only thing I like about it besides Daniel McBride's performance. Michael Fassbender returns as David and also plays Walter -- an updated version of David. But Walter is duller, too, and for good reason. The humans don't want him to create anything for fear of what he's capable. This doesn't allow Fassbender to carry the screen like he did with David in Prometheus, but the film does do a good job illustrating the potential hazards of artificial intelligence, leaving you wondering for how long you'll be atop the food chain -- and not because of the aliens.

The plot is oh so predictable from beginning to end. Upon introductions of the Covenant crew, I knew exactly who would live and who would die. But even their deaths weren't especially entertaining or creative, with one crew member slipping on blood and injuring her leg to make things easy for the newborn alien. The biggest problem I had with the film was how almost everyone panics (and unrealistically at that) the moment something goes wrong. It might be just a colonizing mission, but they're in outer freaking space. If this crew had any training whatsoever, most didn't show it. And whether or not you're aware aliens exist, you must assume aliens exist, and have a plan in case you make contact. Apparently, NASA doesn't have a protocol for dealing with aliens, either, but that's because they're not even close to getting far enough from Earth to find any. Covenant, however, is en route to a planet that could sustain human life, and therefore other life, and the crew awakes seven years from their destination. I'm sorry, but anyone who boards a spaceship and falls asleep for a decade while roaming outer space and awakes with the assumption they're still the only intelligent life in the vicinity is either incredibly vain or incredibly stupid, or both. Alien: Covenant is equally as stupid. The entire film exists because Prometheus was so good and revived the franchise. They certainly didn't need Ridley Scott to make and sell this garbage. Prometheus did that. Life, however, is a fresh take on the alien story and far more entertaining than Covenant. It might not be as introspective and thought-provoking, but Life is more suspenseful, offers believable performances, and has a much better ending because I didn't see it coming when the movie started. The only thing I was wrong about is Covenant wasn't as scary as Life.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk radio shows: The Karel Show, Erskine Overnight, The Lounge

Published in News & Information

A man in Texas is suing his date for texting during Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. The man is looking to be reimbursed for the price of his ticket: $17.31. I know, that’s way too much to pay for a movie, but it was in 3D afterall, which is generally a waste of money. The only good 3D movie I’ve ever seen is Harold and Kumar’s Very 3D Christmas.

Anyways, if we wanted to pay even more to see a movie, we could adapt a program where cell phones are locked up by the movie theater staff and can be picked up anytime during or after the movie. But since that’s not happening we all have to put up with people who don’t understand that the use of their phone bothers moviegoers because in a nearly pitch-black theater, a cell phone is like a road flare.

For me, as a film graduate, I find cell phone use during the feature completely disrespectful not only to your fellow moviegoers but to the filmmakers as well. If you’re not going to consider your fellow moviegoers as neighbors who are taking this visual and auditory adventure with you, consider how many people worked hard to bring you this entertainment you pay $17.31 to enjoy and escape your miserable life.

You millennials out there who are connected to your phone like an Army Ranger is to her rifle could benefit from powering down every once in awhile. Why would you want to indulge in your miserable life when the one on screen is so much more interesting? In the words of Tyler Durden, “You are not special. You are not beautiful or unique snowflakes. You are the same decaying, organic matter as everything else. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” So make like the rest of the courteous crap and shut off your damn cell phone during the film!

People texting during the feature brings me flashes of that scene from God Bless America where a man with nothing to lose and a high school girl with nothing to do shoot everyone being annoying during a movie and leave the person who wasn’t with, “Thanks for not talking during the feature. Thanks for turning off your cell phone.”

Now I’m not about to pull a Dark Knight premiere on people using their cell phones during a movie, but I will sternly ask them to shut off their cell phone immediately. If they continue to use their cell phone or talk during the feature, I will ask the usher to remove them and give me a refund for having to leave the theater during the movie for which I just paid $17.31.

If the usher isn’t willing to do either, I’ll speak with a manager who will. While movie theater owners don’t want to lose the millennials who think seeing a movie is a social event, they’d rather lose customers who aren’t interested enough in the film to turn off their cell phones than a regular moviegoer who is. It’s imperative that you let the manager know they’ll lose you as a customer if cell phone use during the movie isn’t addressed with no tolerance.

If I had it my way, I’d make it illegal to use cell phones or any technological device in a theater, and issue an insane fine, so if people do it once they never do it again. Actually, instead of a fine, make those people sacrifice a day of their lives to see what filmmakers go through to make the movies they disrespect. That could be up to 17 hours. My film school had to enact guidelines limiting the length of shooting days to 12 hours because one of my classmates was killed in a car accident after working 16 hours on a shoot. He fell asleep at the wheel, and they called it “12 hours on, 12 hours off,” meaning for every 12 hours on set or location you need 12 hours off set or location to rest. That’s not the case on most films.

There are few products that require the work of as many people as a feature film, and if you’re watching a film in English, there’s a good chance you’re supporting 1.9 million American jobs. So if you feel you need to message your friend during the feature like the Texas man’s date, I hope you get more than a lawsuit. I hope you’re never allowed in a theater again.

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If you like this you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk radio shows: Americanuck Radio, The Daren Streblow Comedy Show, Free Talk Live, Erskine Overnight, The Debbie Nigro Show, Flow of Wisdom, The Karel Show, The Tech Night Owl Live, What’s On Your Mind

Published in News & Information

So many movies. So little time.

 

Some of the movies on this list are a bit obscure, either ruined by a single test audience or poorly marketed by the studio. A couple of them were pretty big movies in their time. At least one of them might be considered a modern day classic. But it occurred to me, in creating this list, some movies that I consider a “everyone must have seen that, right?” are --- well -- old. One of the movies on the list came out in 1959 and the few that came out in the eighties are still thirty years aged!  

 

Thirty years? Time flies, my friend.  But anyway, if you have a ten or a twelve year old it’s very possible your kid has not seen a thirty year old film from the eighties. Even if that film was really popular at the time. So, a couple of the films might be a bit of a stretch to claim your children have, “never heard of it." And the term, “family film,” kind of implies that all the movies are designed for everyone in the family. That’s not entirely the case. But I try and point some appropriate ages in a few of the mini reviews below. Some will be more enjoyed by the young, some by pre-teens, some by kids who like to be scared, others for kids who do not like to be scared at all.

 

You get the drift.

 

Anyway, yes, some of the movies are old. Thankfully nostalgic cinephiles, such as myself, adore clinging to the past! I rattled the ol' memory cage around and kicked out a few bolts, some rust and a list of ten great family movies. And I took it very seriously. Very seriously, indeed. You see, I was always struck by a quote from late film critic Roger Ebert in his 1995 review for, “A Little Princess,” -- “Unlike the insipid devices of most family films ... (“A Little Princess”) ... understands that children take stories very seriously indeed, and that all stories are really about the uncertain place of the child in the mysterious world of adults.”

 

Well said, Mr. Ebert. Thank you for all the reviews and all the words. Your writing is missed.  And so, with that in mind I put together a list of stories about the uncertain place of the child in the mysterious world of adults.

 

Presented alphabetically:

 

  • A Little Princess (1995): A Little Princess tells the story of young Sara Crewe who lives with her father in India. When her father feels duty bound to enlist with the British to fight in WWI, Sara is consigned to a servant’s life at the very same New York City boarding school her late mother attended. The film effectively juggles light fantasy with harsh realities such as poverty, abuse and parental loss. The movie is smart and refuses to pander to the audience, taking itself, and the young heroine -- as Ebert notes in the above quote -- very seriously. As a side note, the director of the film, Alfonso Cuarón, goes on to make the only great Harry Potter film, Prisoner of Azkaban as well as the exceptional (for adults) sci-fi drama, Children of Men.

 

  • Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Based on the Kavanagh book, Darby O’Gill and the Good People, wily old Irish codger Darby O’Gill matches his considerable wit against that of the leprechaun king. This is one of Disney’s under appreciated gems! The movie holds up surprisingly well given its age. Sure, the subplot is hooky -- a romance between a young Sean Connery & Janet Munro plays like a particularly bad Irish soap commercial. The pure delight of the film comes from the rivalry and game play of clever Darby and sly King Brian of the leprechauns. A personal project of Walt Disney and a technical marvel for it’s time.

 

  • Duma (2005): Duma is the greatest family adventure film you’ve never seen. No, seriously. Xan, a young South African boy, befriends an orphaned cheetah. When family trouble arises, Xan must return Duma to the wild. Let the adventure begin! The film uses live cheetah’s and zero CGI, which gives the movie an authentic richness. Guaranteed to make you and your family want to have a pet cheetah. Duma is a really lovely movie and it’s based on a true story. A note about the director, Carroll Ballard. He also made, The Black Stallion. another great movie exploring the relationship between animals and people.

     

  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989): A quaintly atmospheric and delightful movie for pre-teens, especially girls. Young Kiki, a promising good witch, strikes out on her own and lands in a fun little French(ish) town on the coast. But the townsfolk have a strict, “No witches allowed!” policy. What’s a young witch to do? A charming coming of age tale about a girl realizing her own power, not as a witch, but as a person.

      

  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988): Families of all ages can enjoy this but it’s created for young kids. My Neighbor Totoro is about sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who move to an old house to be closer to their ailing mother. The girls quickly discover their new country home is in a magical forest inhabited by spirits called Totoros. Together they go on unbelievably cute adventures. And I mean, unbelievably cute! Like, seriously, cute!   

     

  • Paperhouse (1988): Young Anna Madden, while suffering from severe mono, draws a house on a blank sheet of paper. In her feverish dreams she finds herself visiting the house and talking to the disabled boy who lives within. As her fever gets worse and worse she has a hard time waking up and the dreams get darker and darker. The film handles childhood loneliness and feelings of isolation extremely well but the dark elements and the bleak landscape created in the dream world might be too intense for youngsters. This is one of my favorite films from that decade.

 

  • The Iron Giant (1999): Oh, this magnificent film is a story about a boy -- and his super awesome robot! His super awesome giant robot! Set in the red panic induced fifties, Brad Bird's first animated film warms him up for his genius, The Incredible, for Pixar. The Iron Giant has tremendous heart and emotion. It also happens to be exceptionally funny. I know many have seen it but it never had the popularity of a Pixar or Studio Ghibli film so I included it here just in case you have not yet had the pleasure. Everyone in the family will love it.

      

  • The Last Starfighter (1984): Oh, man. A movie about an arcade game that, if you get really, really good at, will whisk you away to have super awesome alien adventures?  Sign me up! Young kids will love this movie. Older kids might be turned off by the dated special effects. If it means anything, every kid I grew up with has seen this movie, like, a dozen times. Because it’s great! Sadly, a modern day big budget remake looks to be out of the question. Screenwriter, Jonathan R. Betuel somehow maintained the rights to the film and refuses anyone to remake it. Even cinema giant Steven Spielberg was turned down.

 

  • The Secret of Kells (2009): Young Brendan lives in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids. He is beckoned to adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers. This animated fantasy adventure is heavily rooted in Celtic mythology and based on the story of the origin of the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin and it’s a really great story telling mixture of fact and fantasy.

 

  • The Witches (1990): A little boy and his kindly grandmother battle a coven of witches who want to rid Britain of children by turning them into mice. What a great plot! This movie is a forgotten cult gem. I think it was misunderstood when marketed. Parents thought it might be either too childish or too scary and stayed away. But a few fantastic performances, especially by Anjelica Huston; and a really sharp script push this to the top of my, “you really should witch this” list. Critics adored The Witches but audiences stayed home. Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. It should be noted, that, Mr. Dahl, ummm, was not a fan of the film, calling it, “appalling.” I think that was mainly because the film alters the end of the book. Well, the book is unread by me but I like the ending of the movie just fine.

 

  • A Little Princess (1995). Director: Alfonso Cuarón. Writing Credit: Elizabeth Chandler, Richard LaGravenese (screenplay). Frances Hodgson Burnett (novel).

  • Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Director: Robert Stevenson. Writing Credit: Lawrence Edward Watkin (screenplay, H.T. Kavanagh based on the “Darby O’Gill” stories).

  • Duma (2005): Director: Carroll Ballard. Writing Credit: Karen Janszen, Mark St. Germain (screenplay). Carol Flint, Karen Janszen (story). Carol Cawthra Hopcraft, Xan Hopcraft (the book, How It Was with Dooms, the true story of a young boy's friendship with an orphaned cheetah on the family's game ranch in Kenya).

  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). Director / Writing Credit: Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay). Eiko Kadono (novel).

  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Director / Writer: Hayao Miyazaki.

  • Paperhouse (1988). Director: Bernard Rose. Writing Credit: Matthew Jacobs (screenplay). Catherine Storr (novel, “Marianne Dreams”).

  • The Iron Giant (1999). Director: Brad Bird. Writing Credit: Tim McCanlies (screenplay). Brad Bird (story). Ted Hughes (novel, “The Iron Man”).

  • The Last Starfighter (1984). Director: Nick Castle. Writing Credit: Jonathan R. Betuel

  • The Secret of Kells (2009). Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey. Writing Credit: Fabrice Ziolkowski (screenplay), Tomm Moore (original story).

  • The Witches (1990). Director: Nicolas Roeg. Writing Credit: Allan Scott (screenplay). Roald Dahl (novel).

 

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