Way back when, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. This the third of such for the year.
Even though only some of us are cooling down, let’s Fall back, shall we?
For this quarter Lou Lumenick writing for the New York Post got us started for the summer with an informative, wistful look back at a significant process of color cinematography. Technicolor lasted 20 years, in all its costly glory:
“The cumbersome and expensive three-strip Technicolor process “required enormous amounts of light, and the studios were required to hire cinematographers who worked for Technicolor,’’ says five-time Oscar-nominated director of photography Caleb Deschanel (actress Zooey’s dad). He will join Osborne for prime-time introductions of films like the John Wayne western “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,’’ which Deschanel rates as his favorite movie using the process.”
Back in July, the good people over at Cinephilia & Beyond took those of us who survived the ’70s, even those who weren’t even born yet, on a nostalgic trip for a film that really hit home during that turbulent time. A must-read for those wishing to understand the period, I reckon:
“The film that turned Bob Rafelson into the leader of the so-called American New Wave, a demonstration of talent and power that established Jack Nicholson as the prime actor of his generation and a beautiful lesson in cinematography that confirmed László Kovács as one of the best directors of photography in the business, Five Easy Pieces is considered to be the quintessential film of the beginning of the seventies. This thoughtful character study offers a thorough portrayal of the alienation and restlessness of the American middle classes, rocked into instability by the shifting, unpredictable political situation and leaders like Nixon who proved to be everything but trustworthy.”
What’s a Year of Bests post without one from the Art of the Title folks? Not worth considering would be my response. And with it centering on the titles sequence for a dour ’60s movie that messed up my kid’s psyche late one Saturday night, well…it just had to be:
“From the first frame of Lady in a Cage — the opening Paramount logo encased in vertical stripes — we’re made aware that this is a film envisioned as a whole, as an amalgam of parts fused to fit just so. In the film, Olivia de Havilland plays an injured middle-aged woman trapped between floors in her home elevator on a hot summer’s day. Quickly, her world comes crashing down around her, and forces beyond her control and her home invade. The film is a surprisingly savage thriller that walks a delicate line between comically dark social commentary and terrible cruelty.”
Admittedly, for some of us, Michael Mann and his films are an obsession. His work is “…only 12 films deep despite making his debut over 35 years ago…”, and it matters not. Yes, we’re guilty as charged for being intrigued with what this filmmaker puts into his work. Comes back twofold with the imagery deployed. Ken Guidry, writing for THE PLAYLIST highlights some of this by looking at a recent tribute piece.
“Gasulla’s tribute demonstrates how closely related his films are. Crime, action, romance, loneliness —these seem to be the common ingredients in a Mann film, often with characters who always find themselves in circumstances they can’t break free from. And yet, despite cultivating such an easily recognizable style, the director always manages to find a way to have each film be distinct from each other.”
This summer Sammy Juliano has presented a coming of age film series over at his wonderful Wonders in the Dark blog. Hosting a number of wonderful contributors, himself included. Here, Stephen Muller wrote a splendid piece spotlighting a film many of us hold in high regard. Another high point for July (and for this month, too):
“Adolescence can be a terrible time. It can be very painful. It is a time when you lose yourself, lose what you have been, and become a new person in spite of yourself. For most of us, this happens surrounded by others going through the same thing at the same time – is it any wonder how horribly 12 and 13 year olds can treat one another? Let the Right One In is a vampire movie, and a bit of a social satire (if that’s the word) – but mostly, it is about that time when you stop being a child and start to become something else (not quite an adult – but not a child). It is about loss – the loss of childhood, of identity, though also other losses (losing connections with other people, through death or changes in you and them) – but also about what you become.”
For a work that remains my favorite sci-fi novel…hell, series… Hari Kunzu for The Guardian gathered and augmented my thoughts toward Frank Herbert’s masterpiece. If you’ve not read the work, then hopefully this finally makes you do so1:
“Every fantasy reflects the place and time that produced it. If The Lord of the Rings is about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war, and Game of Thrones, with its cynical realpolitik and cast of precarious, entrepreneurial characters is a fairytale of neoliberalism, then Dune is the paradigmatic fantasy of the Age of Aquarius. Its concerns – environmental stress, human potential, altered states of consciousness and the developing countries’ revolution against imperialism – are blended together into an era-defining vision of personal and cosmic transformation.”
Of course, if you’re going to read or watch science-fiction, then you’re going to come up close to a number of various crafts. No doubt, all breathtaking at speed. Casey Chan over at Sploid gave us a fun, elementary look, via infographic by Fat Wallet, of what they were capable of:
“It took a little bit for us to reach Pluto but what if we had the power of our imaginations in our real life spaceships? Fat Wallet came up with this neat infographic showing which ships from popular sci-fi movies, TV shows and video games (plus real life NASA ships) to show which ship moves fastest. It’s pretty cool!”
Returning to Michael Mann, and why the hell not, Roderick Heath, writing for Ferdy on Films, strengthens the case that the auteur’s latest release was far better than what the box office receipts (and a number of critics) said it was. I’d have to agree:
“Mann’s career has been built around probing and dismantling pop culture archetypes—cop, criminal, monster, hero, and perhaps most particular to American mythology, the lone man in the wilderness, be it primal or urban, doing battle alone and becoming one with his tools to survive. This is the kind of person colonial nations tend to mythologise, and yet work assiduously to snuff out in real life. They can be heroes in Mann’s work, but more often are rendered antiheroes because they can’t be assimilated. Nick is the latest in the long line of such figures, whose profoundest epitome is Hawkeye in Mohicans.”
What? No musical piece to this point in this highlight reel? Scandalous! We’ll fix that right now with Pam at Go Retro! bringing her reasons a number of Rolling Stones tracks are under-appreciated. I think she had something to say here, now you best listen:
“Yes, the Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, but to me their career didn’t truly begin until they released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” 50 years ago this month. Prior to the hit’s release, they failed to gain much of a following in the States and in fact, their first U.S. tour–in 1964–was a “disaster” according to Bill Wyman. (Maybe those pesky lads who called themselves the Beatles had something to do with it.)
Since then, the Stones have had little to worry about. While rediscovering a lot of their catalog during the past few weeks, I realized that I have many favorite Stones songs that could be considered underrated, and are often pushed aside on the radio in favor of “Jumping Jack Flash”, “Paint It Black”, and “Sympathy for the Devil”, just to name a few. Not that there’s anything wrong with those songs, but it would be nice to hear the ones I’ve listed below on Sirius a little more often (or maybe I’m just tuned into the wrong stations.)”
Normally, loud and profane video reviews, the type my oldest male child brings to me on a fairly routine basis, is not my thing. Even writing that dates and identifies me as one who doesn’t fit the demographic. Still, when I came across The Daily Banter‘s piece by Chez Paziendza that brought forward one such by Movie Bob, well, its sheer and keen brilliance and humor just had to be listed here:
“Pixels is almost certainly going to suck. I say “almost certainly” because I haven’t seen it yet, nor do I intend to. But thankfully, YouTube movie critic “Movie Bob” has because his ten-minute-long review of the newest, apparently laziest Adam Sandler vehicle — a movie that’s clearly aimed at finally wearing the nostalgia center of your brain down to a bloody nub — is so wonderful it almost makes the existence of Pixels that he so passionately bemoans worth it.”
Once again, returning to Sammy Juliano’s coming of age film series, Brandie Ashe’s focuses us on the greatness that was Guillermo Del Toro’s grimly magical masterpiece:
“Ofelia’s fantastical journey is woven quite beautifully and skillfully with the grittier real-life plot surrounding Vidal’s attempt to crush the guerrilla resistance, even when the reality of Ofelia’s quest is challenged in the film’s heartbreaking denouement. It’s little wonder that the faun’s fairy story appeals greatly to young Ofelia, who seeks to escape the sorrow of her father’s death, and the nightmare of her mother’s remarriage to the evil Vidal, through a handful of cherished books that function as her portal to another world (literally, as it turns out, when the faun gives her a magical book that reveals the secrets of her designated tasks). On an allegorical level, Ofelia’s attempts to regain what “Princess Moanna” has lost reflects her desires to regain the life she herself lost to the rigors of war; imagination is her salvation, the means to restore a sense of order to her chaotic world.”
Always enjoy Rick Ouellette’s musical writings over at his REEL AND ROCK blog. Especially so when it’s a subject we’re both enthusiastic about. His stellar look at The Beatles’ follow up film that may not be “The Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals” (as their first Richard Lester film was), was still more than worthy of praise. As is Rick’s post, these 50 years later:
“Though the film still gets its share of nitpicking and lukewarm reviews, after a half century you have to wonder why. Much of “Help!” is pretty hilarious on its own terms. Sure, the over-busy action mechanics make it sometime feel (as Lennon suggested) that the Beatles were supporting players in their own film. But it’s a great group to be occasionally overshadowed by. The great Aussie actor Leo McKern plays cult leader Clang and the exotic but personable Eleanor Bron is also good as the cult’s turncoat femme fatale. Victor Spinetti, the put-upon TV producer in “Hard Day’s Night” returns as the mad scientist and is well-teamed with Lester regular Roy Kinnear as the bumbling assistant.”
Might as well return to another Art of the Title, while we’re at it. This time gleaming the interesting aspects designer Pablo Ferro melded into one of the visually unique opening title sequences of any film that came out of the ’60s:
“Using the multi-screen technique for which he would become famous, Ferro’s opening titles for The Thomas Crown Affair introduce viewers to the many sides of this story. From Crown’s double life of luxury and larceny, to the men he secretly employs and the woman who pursues him (Faye Dunaway), the titles establish all the players in this high stakes game of cat and mouse. Composer Michel Legrand’s theme “The Windmills of Your Mind,” a gorgeous ballad sung by Noel Harrison (son of Rex), lends the opening an air of melancholy, glamourizing Crown’s life while hinting at his unhappiness. The sequence also prepares the audience for the film’s many split-screen sequences, which Ferro designed and edited as well.”
Best if you don’t miss The Vinyl Factory wrong-speeding some famous music tracks. You can thank me later:
“Some records sound better at the wrong speed, just ask Daniele Baldelli. The Italian turntable maverick was an early pitch pioneer, sending the dancefloor into dislocating slow motion with chugging Afro and European electronica. Or speak to Britain’s ’90s rave generation for whom the breakbeat house of Masters At Work didn’t quite do it. Instead hit 45rpm and it’s a hardcore classic; perfect for the chemically-minded.”
Can’t really have a Year of Bests without a contribution by my good friend, and great writer, J.D. That we’re both longtime Walter Hill fans goes without saying:
“Walter Hill made Hard Times (1975) and it had a Cajun sequence in it. Writer David Giler said to the director, “You know, those Cajuns strike me as interesting, tough guys.” The director agreed and Giler suggested that they make an adventure story incorporating them. Hill wanted to do a survival story and had already made Hard Times in Louisiana. Michael Kane was hired to write a draft, but the studio didn’t like it. The project was put into turnaround. Giler and Hill did some more rewriting of their own and found independent financing. The two men had a deal with 20th Century Fox to acquire and develop “interesting, commercial scripts that could be produced cheaply,” as Hill said in an interview. The studio ended up distributing the film.”
Many moviegoers have heard of, or maybe read about, a film in “70mm”, and maybe had an idea of what that meant. Nick Pinkerton over at Reverse Shot cleared up any misconceptions about format. As a former projectionist, I just had to share:
“It is the format of imperial pomp and imperial folly. It is a tool for showmen that has occasionally found its way into the hands of artists, and sometimes the showman and the artist have been one and the same person. The wide-gauge format 70mm reached its greatest popularity in the 1950s amid a boom of new innovations (Cinemascope, Cinerama, 3D) intended to reverse the fortunes of foundering Hollywood studios; for a time, they even appeared to have done the trick. But every great reign is followed by an epoch of decadence, and the heyday of 70mm encompassed smashes and busts: Oklahoma! (1955) but also Dr. Doolittle (1967); Ben-Hur (1959) but also Cleopatra (1963). One of the greatest films shot in 70mm appeared at the cusp of its popular decline, Anthony Mann’s significantly titled The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). Now Quentin Tarantino, the most high-profile (or at least the most grating) public advocate for preserving analog celluloid as an exhibition format, has shot his The Hateful Eight on the all-but-extinct Ultra Panavision 70, making a crackerjack piece of advance publicity of this fact. The film will open on Christmas in—one expects—nearly every 70mm-equipped theater in the country. As to if this signifies a rise or fall of the format, and in the industry as a whole, remains to be seen.”
Read ’em and weep, or stand up and cheer, but Paste Magazine, care of Amanda Schurr, Andy Crump, Mark Rozeman & Paste staff, posted their top picks in a distinct genre. Movies styled cinematographically in darkness and shadow, and marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace:
“Maybe that’s what makes a list like this so problematic—Raging Bull has strong noir elements, as do Hardcore, Klute, To Live and Die in L.A., Reservoir Dogs, Payback, and Collateral. The first Sin City is a terrific pastiche, as is Carl Reiner’s more sincere homage, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. The original Insomnia was a brilliant reverse noir, exchanging the claustrophobia of night for Nordic midnight sun. John Woo’s classic actioner Hard Boiled is self-explanatory. And in the tradition of Blade Runner (No. 29), modern sci-fi films from Gattaca to this year’s Ex Machina possess inarguably noir traits. So how do you draw a line in an ambiguous-by-nature whatever it is?”
I’m more than happy to report that film, much like vinyl LP records, is far from dead. Don’t believe that? Well, then take in Ryan Cavataro‘s piece over at Gear Patrol, a couple of aspirins, and get back to me:
“Look at that screen capture at the top of this post from the film’s trailer. Does that look like any wave you’ve seen? They have saturated the image, cranked up the blacks and applied a teal and orange color treatment to the point it looks nothing like real life. Even worse, it looks like every other low-rent action film of the last ten years, pumping up the contrast, chroming the film out to appear “cooler”, attempting to hide the flaws in the filmmaking. Thing is, what’s hidden here is the reality they are going for with their stunts.”
No doubt, I remain of fan of Aurora, Citizen Screen to some of you, and her film writing. Naturally, when she offered a gaze at not only one of my all-time favorite actresses, at her classic film blog Once upon a screen, but in one of her premier movie roles and vehicles, well…it had to land a place here:
“There is inherent strength in all of the women she played on screen. I can think of no other female actor in classic Hollywood who is less a damsel in the ‘in distress’ way than Barbara Stanwyck. Even in her most vulnerable roles Stanwyck’s “tough old broad” shines through and a certain determination, a will for survival is ever-present. Richard Schickel once wrote that Stanwyck was the only woman who “built a durable career out of toughness,” a quality that made Stanwyck a standout in the 1930s, a decade during which many actresses were called upon to be and act tough. And Stanwyck outdid them all. But what has – in my opinion – made Barbara Stanwyck one of the most durable and beloved icons of classic Hollywood is that she could take that toughness – underlying or overt – and layer romance and sexiness upon it in a way few others could.”
I’ve really enjoyed reading and interacting with the American girl living in England at her blog, Cinema Parrot Disco. We share a love movies, music & books, that’s for sure. So, when she brought back one of the best things during the Reagan years with a music video post, it’d land her right into this slot:
“Love Is A Battlefield, released in September 1983, reached number one in the U.S. charts (while only reaching 17 in the U.K. Boo!). Anyway, the video was one of the staples of MTV’s early days. Remember when MTV was good?!? No, most of you are too young but, trust me, MTV used to be the greatest damn thing EVER. It was all MUSIC. Man I miss those days. I’ll never forget being outside my house at the age of about ten when the cute neighbor boy ran out of his house & shouted at me “Thriller is on MTV!!!!!” and then ran back into his house like a maniac. Lol. God he was adorable…”
One of my favorite characters from a too often forgotten, all-star who-done-it, The Last of Sheila, was Diane Cannon’s as the talent agent, who I found out later was based on the real life Sue Mengers. The Vanity Fair piece by Brian Kellow highlights a key portion of his book, Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent, and it’s wonderful grist for the mill.
“Sue had always possessed a shrewd instinct for recognizing talent, and it wasn’t long before she forgot her initial impression of Streisand. She would come to believe that Streisand (who married Sue’s client Elliott Gould in 1963) possessed the great voice of her generation, displaying electrifying bravado one minute, close-up intimacy the next. When Sue—tough, ballsy, confident, and already showing a gift for leveling with actors and directors—began to hear Barbra in New York’s nightclubs and on recordings, it marked the birth of a lifelong obsession with the woman who would eventually become her No. 1 client and best friend.”
As a longtime admirer of author Thomas Harris’ work, as well as the best character he ever created, Hannibal Lecter, you had to know this would be brought out. Kudos to Alex McCown of the A.V. Club in bringing this to my, and your, attention. Same scene, three extraordinary interpretations, clipped together by Matthew Morettini:
“Now that NBC’s Hannibal has ended, making all our lives just ever-so-slightly less vibrant (and definitely less culinary-enhanced), it’s possible to stop and take stock of the iterations of Hannibal Lecter we’ve been treated to over the years. (Although, let’s all just pretend Hannibal Rising never happened, shall we?) More specifically, we can take a look at a very particular section of the Lecter story: The events of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, which have now been adapted three different times, in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, and Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. We recently compared these adaptations, but now, we’ve got a visual guide to compare one very specific scene—namely, the first time Will Graham visits Lecter in his cell.”
Returning to Ferdy on Film and Roderick Heath, always makes for fine reading when a movie fan discovers and scrutinizes a work that has long deserved it. Another gem from the golden era that was American cinema of the ’70s:
“In the early 1970s, films about black protagonists erupted in popularity, in mostly urban tales laced with gritty realism and high-powered action, bracketed ever since under the memorably pithy name of blaxploitation. Some enterprising producers went a step further and set out to blend one popular, cheap cinematic brand with another—horror movies. Strange generic crossbreeds, some with infamous titles that evoke cinematic trash-fetish at its purist, like Blacula (1972), Blackenstein (1973), Sugar Hill (1974), and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976), traipsed onto drive-in and grindhouse theatre screens. These films triangulated commercial impulse, cheerful camp appeal, and, sometimes, clever and socially mindful attempts to upend familiar tropes and remix the symbolic values of horror tales.”
Okay, I love Batman movies. There, I said it. Even the most inane, whether live-action or the animated kind, have gotten multiple screenings. That’s not to say they are not without their…ahem… moments. Marc N. Kleinhenz made 14 such cases for Screen Rant:
“There are so many elements that director Tim Burton instituted that have withstood the test of time, all the way through to next year’s Batman v. Superman: the look, design, and handling of the Batsuit and the Batmobile, the atmosphere of Gotham City, and the more detailed, arguably more realistic take on the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery (even if the actors selected for those roles played them to the hilt).
With all that said, however, there is one particular item that not only instantly sticks out like a sore thumb, but which forever dates what could have been a timeless story: the inclusion of Prince songs, quite loudly and quite often.”
Sergio, whose Tipping My Fedora blog work has poked its head out in this series from time to time, is back with another grand movie list. One that concentrates on Courtroom movies, so I rest my case:
“A story of medical malpractice and the redemption of a lawyer who has taken to drink, this is one of the best films of its type ever. Paul Newman was arguably never better and James Mason makes for a terrific nemesis.
Adapted from the novel by Barry Reed”
Since I mentioned my admiration for Walter Hill earlier, can’t forget a certain controversial movie from 1979 that seals many a deal for this filmmaker’s fans. Jackson Connor writing for the Village Voice uncovers some of the unknown aspects that went into it, and the ramifications that came out of its making. Especially for those who starred and filmed The Warriors.
“Amid the refurbished boardwalk and laughter of children, it’s easy to forget that Coney Island was once a place where tourists did not venture. For much of the latter half of the twentieth century, street gangs dominated this neighborhood. They ran rampant through the area’s neglected housing projects, tearing along Surf and Neptune avenues toward West 8th Street. Those gangs, or gangs like them, and that incarnation of Coney Island would form the backbone of author Sol Yurick’s 1965 debut novel, The Warriors, about the young members of a street gang. More than a decade after the novel’s publication it would be optioned and, eventually, turned into a major motion picture of the same name.”
As I’m about to end another chapter in this highlight reel, being that we’ll reach by December the China anniversary of a film by Michael Mann that remains my favorite, bar none, I can’t without good conscience not call attention to an Esquire piece celebrating that fact. Ladies and gentlemen, senior writer Matt Patches‘ tribute to Heat (1995):
“Mann spent years preparing for Heat. Every Friday and Saturday for nine months, he rode along with LAPD plainclothes commander Tom Elfmont, answering calls from 9 p.m. to two in the morning. He visited Folsom State Prison, speaking to inmates who helped shape McCauley’s mentality. He helped Ashely Judd meet women in real estate who, 50 years earlier, had been “turning tricks on Van Nuys Boulevard” to support their kids while their husbands were in prison. The characters in Heat were not characters. They were people extracted from the real world, injected into guys like Pacino and De Niro, then set back loose to play out however it made sense. ”
Founder of Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder highlighted a number of my favorite movie posters, and more than a few by artist Drew Struzan. Without the titles and text that would normally be included, it was just too good to pass up as we come to a close:
“Joinyouinthesun posted 80 classic movie posters, in hi-resolution, with the text removed.”
The entire series can be found here.