Aladdin (1992)

Saturday night, I was feeling the desire to watch the Disney classic Aladdin, but I did not have the DVD in my collection.  I have a lot of DVDs so I was surprised it was not there, since Aladdin has been one of my favorite Disney movies of all time.  I know I had it once on video tape, but apparently I never purchased it on DVD.

That sent me on a search of streaming services, but they also turned out to be a dead end.  So I gave up on my wish.

Today I watched the animated Early Man and I hated it.  Because of that, I went on a search again to try and find a great animated film.  Heading to YouTube, I found success.  There was a version of the feature length film that was sped up just a little bit.  The songs went faster than normal, but I was willing to put up with that to get a dose of Aladdin.

I love this movie.  It might be my favorite of the Disney movies.  The number one reason is, of course, Robin Williams as the Genie.  The frantic, energetic performance may be the greatest voice over performance in the history of film.  If not number one, it is certainly in the argument.  Williams took the script and did his typical improvisation with it, and much of what he did with the script caused the animators to redo the visuals to fit Williams improv.  That is amazing respect shown one of the greatest comedic minds of out time.

The music is tremendous.  “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” “A Whole New World,” “One Jump,” could not be more perfect in this film.  Robin Williams showed even more of his skills with the vocals of the Genie’s songs.  The score beautifully highlights the story and the tone of the film.

The film also benefited from one of the best villain pairings of all time in Jafar and Iago. Jafar is as wicked and evil as any villain and he was brilliantly voiced by Jonathan Freeman.  Then, Jafar’s wicked sidekick Iago, voiced by the talented Gilbert Gottfried, played the villainous henchman without fail.  Iago delivered several of the best lines of the film with nasty precision.

But Jafar was not the only character with a sidekick here.  Aladdin had two of the best sidekicks ever in Abu the monkey and Carpet the Magic Carpet.  These character bring a flavor to Aladdin and each have a vital moment in the story.

The pace of the film is wonderful, as the film moves very quickly.  Aladdin has an exciting story with a great villain and a love story that feels real.  You care about these characters and you love the songs.  It is a classic film for the entire family and I am so happy that I was able to see it tonight after the failure of Saturday night.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Every Christmas season I pull out my favorite Christmas movie of all time. The Muppet Christmas Carol.  This came out in 1992 during a stretch when the Muppets were doing films based on classic literature stories such as this and Muppet Treasure Island.

A week or so ago, I made the list of Top 10 Christmas movies and this one came in at #1.

The story follows Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) who is an old miser who hates Christmas.  Scrooge is haunted by three ghosts who show him the past, present and future in an attempt to save his soul from an eternity of lugging chains like his old business partners Jacob and Robert Marley.

Though the Muppets take certain liberties with the story, there is actually quite a few similarities between this and the Charles Dickens classic.  Many of the lines are used here, just as they are in other versions.  The classic Christmas Carol line  “if they are going to die, then they best get on with it and decrease the surplus population” is used to great effect.

Gonzo plays Charles Dickens as the omniscient narrator that follows along and adds the comments.  Rizzo the Rat tags along.  These characters are consistently breaking the fourth wall and each time it is funny.

Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchit and Miss Piggy is his wife.  Robin the Frog got to be Tiny Tim. Honestly, every time Tiny Tim dies in this film, I cry.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it is hearing Kermit and Piggy so sad.  It is extremely well done.

Another thing that is well done is Michael Caine as Scrooge.  I know some people think that George C. Scott is the perfect Scrooge.  Others might say Alastair Sim or Jim Carrey.  However, I say do not sleep on Michael Caine.  Yes, he is acting with Muppets, but he carries this role beautifully.  You can see how Scrooge slowly changes from the wicked old brute he was into the caring, loving man of after.  Caine goes through every range of emotion possible and he so relatable.

I also love the Muppet designs of the ghosts, especially the Ghost of Christmas Present.  There are great songs as well.  “Wherever You Find Love, It Feels Like Christmas” is wonderful as is the “Scrooge” song at the beginning.

I think there are three Muppet movies that have to be considered the best ever made.  This is one of them.  I love this movie and I watch it every Christmas.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol

 

Frontera (2014)

A friend and colleague of mine recommended I check this movie out.  It was released in 2014 and I think I remember some of the trailers for the movie.  So I gave it a shot tonight on Hulu.

It was okay.  Well acted with a solid cast.  I have always enjoyed Ed Harris and Micheal Pena. Eva Longoria might have stolen the show with her performance.

I wonder if Donald Trump had seen this movie and formed his border policies on what he saw here.  I couldn’t help but think of him as I watched some of the plot points that happened in the movie.

So Miguel (Michael Pena) is illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the United States with a family friend (Michael Ray Escamilla) when they meet Olivia (Amy Madigan) on a horse.  She gave them water and pointed them in the direction of possible work.  Her husband, a former sheriff Roy (Ed Harris) likes to do things his own way, she said, explaining why she had no work for them.  Little did they know that three teens were taking up position to shoot at the illegal Mexicans crossing the land.

The boys did not intend for anyone to get hurt.  They just wanted to scare the Mexicans, as they said. Problem was that Olivia heard the shots and, when she went to check on them, her horse was spooked and threw her.  She hit her head on some rocks and would die.

Roy also heard the shots and came rushing to the site, just in time to see Miguel standing over Olivia, his wife, with the bridal of the horse in his hand.  He assumed that Miguel had hurt Olivia trying to steal her horse.

Miguel retreats and Roy nearly shoots him, but he pauses, allowing Miguel to escape.  Taking his wife in his arms, Roy holds Olivia as she dies.

As I said, there was solid acting in the film, especially from Harris, who was solid as the grieving husband who still wants justice to be done, and from Eva Longoria, the wife of Miguel who faces dangers of her own as she tried to get to America herself to see her arrested husband.

I did have some problems with the movie, though.  First, it felt like everything really fixed itself quickly.  Terrible things happen to these characters, but then a scene or two later the situation resolved itself, setting up the next one.  It just seemed as if the movie wanted to show everything that could happen to or because of illegal aliens, but just did not have enough time to go into specifics in any plot.  Because of that, we did not have the chance to really get involved in enough of the story.  It was as if it was on fast forward most of the time.

I seriously wonder if Trump saw this movie prior to his infamous “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” comments.  SPOILERS: the film even ends with Miguel putting up a fence on the border.  Build a wall????  I wouldn’t be surprised.

I try to remain non-political here, but that was going through my head so much that it affected how I saw the film.

In the end, this is a well acted film that does not spend enough time on any one storyline to truly be effective.  Ed Harris, Michael Pena and Eva Longoria are good here, and this is not a bad movie to watch on a lazy night with nothing else to do.  It was okay.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Poster

I had a chance to attend a screening of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner today, and I was very pleased that I did.  I had never seen the film before, but I found it a fascinating look at the time.

Clearly, race relations remain at the heart of many of the problems we face as a society and it is vital that we face them head on and face them with honesty and respectfulness.  This film should be a cornerstone of that respect.

I truly enjoyed the movie.  A young white girl named Joey (Katharine Houghton) returned to her parents, Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn) Drayton, with her brand new fiance, Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier).  They had fallen in love on a trip to Hawaii and the whirlwind romance led them back to Joey’s parents’ door.  The issue?  John was black.

The Draytons were a liberal couple, raising Joey to believe color of skin was not important in the value of a human, and Joey was sure that they would have no trouble with her marrying a black man.  John was not as certain.

One of my favorite parts of this film was how human it was.  It did not make the Draytons racists.  On the contrary, they were reasonable, friendly and truly believed in the equality of the races.  You could see how much respect they had had for John and all the wonderful things he had accomplished as a doctor worldwide.  And yet, the thoughts of the dangers and troubles that their daughter would face in a mixed race marriage caused even these progressive thinking people to take pause.  I liked how they approached this plot point.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner would become the final appearance on screen for Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton.  Tracy passed away not too long after the finish of the filing of the movie.  His performance is so great, as he embodied the struggle of his beliefs against his fears.  His longtime scene mate, Katharine Hepburn was beautiful throughout the entire film, with her tears just slightly hanging within her eyes.  You could tell how much of a connection these two actors had after years of working together.

Sidney Poitier also turned in a wonderful performance as Dr. Prentice.  You could see on his face how uncertain he felt when broaching the subject with Joey’s parents and how he felt when trying to avoid telling his own parents.  His strength of character really played through the film, making the struggle all the more challenging for Matt.

There were several other fun performances from secondary characters.  Isabel Sandford (from the Jeffersons fame) played housekeeper Tillie with all the sassy you would expect.  Cecil Kellaway received an Oscar nomination for his role as family friend and priest, Monsignor Ryan, who provided a neutral voice among the emotions.  Virginia Christine played the closet racist Hillary St. George.  Her firing by Christina was a highlight of the story.

At its time, this movie was very controversial, with the topic of interracial marriage being a hot one.  A few months after the movie finished shooting, the United States Supreme Court ruled the laws against interracial marriage as unconstitutional, making a line of dialogue about John and Joey being criminals in some states out of date.

Tracy and Hepburn together one final time made this film all the more powerful.  It was a real enjoyable film that I am glad to have had a chance to see.

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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Poster

The Room (2003)

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Getting ready to watch the comedy The Disaster Artist, starring James Franco, this weekend, I pulled up The Room, written, directed and starring Tommy Wiseau, to wacth once more.

I saw The Room once before, as one of the RiffTrax Live showings and it was unbelievably and unintentionally funny.  The thought of watching the Room without some aid was harrowing.

Fortunately, three of the personalities at Collider Video, Mark Ellis, Dennis Tzeng and Ashley Mova recorded a movie commentary about the Room, with Mark and Ashley never having seen it before.  So I pulled both of these videos up, played them simultaneously and watched away.

The Room truly is one of the worst movies of all time.  It is either this one or Birdemic: Shock and Terror that take the crown.  It really is hard to say.

There is not much of a story.  Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a successful banker and he seems to have a strong relationship with his future wife Lisa (Juliette Danielle), but Lisa is not happy.  She engages in an affair with Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero).

Did I mention that Mark is Johnny’s best friend?

The Room is so bad that you have to laugh at it.  You can really have a good time watching this because it is so horrible.  The acting, the dialogue, the plot, the sex scenes, the multiple establishing shots are all just terrible.

Honestly, I can’t imagine how a film like this gets made.  And yet, here it is.

Tommy Wiseau put his heart into this project, and he has given the world, unintentionally, something to laugh about.

I am very excited about seeing the Disaster Artist this week.  The film that is the making of the worst film ever.  James Franco seems to be channeling the mysterious Tommy Wiseau and could be nominated for an Oscar.  Is that ironic, that a film about the worst movie ever has a chance to be an Academy Award nominated film?

Thanks to Mark Ellis, Ashley Mova and Dennis Tzeng for doing this commentary.  Their reactions really helped me get through the film.  Because The room is definitely…

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Schindler’s List (1993)

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Oh my…

I had never seen Schindler’s List before.  It was one that I wanted to see and I found some time on this Saturday night.  It was on Netflix so I decided to give it a view.

I’m a wreck.

I have never seen a movie so brutally, numbingly sad and yet so unbelievably uplifting at the same time.  Never have I felt sick to my stomach directly because of actions of a movie, but now there were several scenes that ripped through my gut with devastation.

I teach a Holocaust unit at my school, but the scope of the loss will always be on the outside for me.  After viewing the film, I have just a little more understanding of the horrors that millions of Jewish people faced at the hands of the Nazi Party.

Which makes Oskar Schindler all the more of an enigma.  He was a member of the Nazi Party and he started out by taking advantage of the Jewish people on his own. His discovery that Jewish people would work for a cheaper wage made for good business.  Where he actually developed his desire to save the lives of these workers is not clear, but that is exactly what he did.

Liam Neeson was magnificent as Schindler.  Watching this man who had been so stoic and controlled for so long, break down and sob when he prepared to flee was just about more than I could stand.

The film was populated with brilliant performances from Ben Kingsley to Ralph Fiennes.  Fiennes was the quiet epitome of evil here as Amon Goeth.

Filmed in black and white, Schindler’s List was an astounding achievement in visual storytelling and it brought Steven Spielberg his Academy Award for directing as well as the Best Picture Oscar.

This is a masterpiece and as emotional as a movie could be.

paragon

Paragon is the highest rating that can be given and Schindler’s List deserves it.  I may never be able to watch it again, but it is a sad, beautifully tragic masterpiece.

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Everyone should see this movie and remember what happened so nothing like this could ever happen again.

Ratatouille (2007)

Ratatouille Movie Poster

This week saw the release in theaters of another Pixar classic, Coco.  It was beautiful and exquisite and reminded us how wonderful Pixar could be.

Internet vlogger and movie commentator John Campea took that opportunity to create a top ten list of his favorite Pixar movies of all time.  Now, I have been doing some Top Ten lists with the Top Ten Show each week and I did not want to break that order.  However, John mentioned a movie in his top ten, #3, if I remember correctly, that I had never seen before.

Ratatouille came out in 2007, before I started seeing movies on such a regular basis, and I have heard many people, including John Campea, say that it is an overlooked gem of the Pixar movies.  Because of that, instead of doing a Top Ten Pixar list at this time (Toy Story 3 would be number one, btw), I decided to search out this movie with the cooking rat and to see if it deserves to be remembered so fondly.

Short answer: it does.

Separated from his family, Remy finds himself in Paris at a restaurant where he could, somehow, show his great skill of cooking.  Meeting with a clumsy and pathetic garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano), Remy found his chance.  Playing Linguini like a marionette, Remy was able to create wonderful food and reinvigorate the restaurant.

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.  The set up was clever.  As in any Pixar movie, the animation was great.  I enjoyed the villains of the piece very much as their motivations made sense, in particular Chef Skinner, voiced by Ian Holm (from The Fifth Element). Patton Oswald as Remy the “Little Chef” was a solid voice performance.  Brad Garrett was great as the “figment of Remy’s imagination” Gasteau.  Peter O’Toole was absolutely terrifying as Anton Ego, the restaurant critic from Hell.

Although I enjoyed the film, there were some problems I had with it.  I must say though that Linguini and his constant screaming voice performance rubbed on my nerves the wrong way and it was a definite negative to the film.  I was also not a big fan of the rest of the rats as the story told with them felt a little cliched.  Honestly, much of the film felt pretty familiar.

None of those drawbacks for me would cause me not to enjoy the film, but I would not put it in my top three Pixar movies of all time.  It might make the top ten (for the time when I actually do that list) and I am glad that I watched it.

 

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Ratatouille Movie Poster

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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I got a chance to go to a Fathom Events presentation of Little Shop of Horrors, a movie that I loved.  However, there was a surprise… it was the Director’s Cut.

Frank Oz, director of Little Shop of Horrors, started the afternoon with a question answering session that gave us some background on the filming of the great musical and hinted at what we were about to see.  Oz had originally intended the film to be released in this manner, but they went back and added a “happy ending” instead for the wide release.  Oz said that this was the first time this original ending, a darker ending- as he put it, was to be seen on a big screen.

This made me even more excited to see the film.  I knew the original play Little Shop of Horrors ended in a much less happy way and I was anxious to see how different the end would be.

Whoa.  Quite the difference.

Last week I placed Audrey II on my list of Top 10 Movie Monsters, and after seeing the original ending, I believe that placement is well deserved.  The chaos and disorder that Audrey II brought to the end of the Director’s Cut was amazing.  It was anything but happy ending Seymour and Audrey.

Little Shop of Horrors is a great musical with amazing songs.  I love “Skid Row,” “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space,” “Feed Me,”among many others.  I found myself singing along under my breath through the whole film.  It was so much fun that I had a smile on my face the entire time.

Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are perfect as sad sack Seymour and abused Audrey.  They bring such wonderful depth to both of these characters that I just can’t imagine anyone else ever filling those roles.  Steve Martin appearing as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. is one of the greatest roles in comedic movie history.  Martin and the improvising Bill Murray are hilarious together in the dentist scene.

In the new (original) ending, Seymour certainly pays more for his part in creating Audrey II and the deaths of Orin Scrivello and Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia).

Little Shop of Horrors is a great Halloween movie, and this darker version fits even better.  I loved this movie before, but I think I like the original ending even more.

Little Shop of Horror is certainly…

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Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut

 

 

What We Do In the Shadows (2015)

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We are just under two weeks away from the new Marvel movie, Thor: Ragnarok, and, in preparation for that movie, I watched one of the classic films from the oeuvre of Thor: Ragnarok’s director, Taika Waititi, What We Do In the Shadows,a  film Waititi co-wrote and co-directed with Jermaine Clement .

This was a film from 2015, but I had not ever seen it before.  I had heard great things about it but I have been delaying watching it until it got closer to Thor’s theatrical release. This felt like the perfect time to watch.

What We Do In the Shadows is a documentary-style film in the vein of “This is Spinal Tap” where we follow the undead lives of four vampires who share a flat together despite being extremely different.

Spoofing not only the vampire genre, but also The Real World type reality show, What We Do In the Shadows is fully original, funny and heart-warming.  It deals with friendship and brotherhood among a group of vampires who really should never get along.

There are some truly dark moments of comedy that are hilariously filmed in such a serious and deadpan style that it only increases the humor.  This film breathes a new undead life into what had really become a stale genre of movies.

Vampires had been done to death.  Since Twilight, which gets a good send up in the film as well, the vampire has been everywhere and has become overused.  Plus, the use of zombies and werewolves have had a similar fate.  What We Do In the Shadows takes those familiar characters and shows that it is not the type of character that has been overused, but the typical characters.  When a movie does something original and well-done with a vampire, it can still be creative.  The answer to losing interest in a genre is simply to make a good movie.

Jermaine Clement played Vladislav.  Taika Waititi played Viago.  Jonathon Brugh played Deacon and Ben Fransham played Petyr, the Nosferatu-like vampire that sired the other three. Things start becoming troubling when Nick (Cori Gonzales-Macuer) gets turned into a vampire and seems to not understand the vampire rules.  He brings a human named Stu (Stu Rutherford) into the house (albeit, everyone seems to love Stu), continually brags to people that he is a vampire and causes stress in his friends’ undead lives.

There are so many really funny scenes in this movie that you find yourself truly engaged in the film.  The characters are engaging and entertaining.  The mockumentary style really works in this film and the acting is top notch.  Every vampire trope is handled in a new and entertaining manner than they all feel completely fresh.

After watching What We Do In the Shadows, I have an even greater anticipation for Thor: Ragnarok, if only to see how Taika Waititi can bring this style of humor into the Marvel Universe.

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What We Do In The Shadows

The Princess Bride (1987)

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I was so looking forward to this.

The special 30th anniversary showing of my favorite movie of all time occurred today thanks to Fathom Events.  EYG Hall of Fame movie The Princess Bride is the answer I give whenever someone asks me what my favorite movie is.  And I got to see it again today on the big screen.

Let’s get this out of the way first. This movie is…

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Paragon being the highest rating I can give, of course, if anyone doubted it.

The Fathom Event showing of The Princess Bride added a neat little interview with director Rob Reiner, by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, giving us inside stories both before the movie started and after it finished.  It added a wonderful bookend to the film told in that special way that only Rob Reiner can do.

The film itself is a masterpiece.  Adapted from a novel by William Goldman, The Princess Bride is the love story between Buttercup (Robin Wright) and farm boy Westley (Cary Elwes).  After being separated and having Westley supposedly murdered by pirates, Buttercup swears to never love again.  So when Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) came calling, the beautiful young girl just heads through the motions.  However, Humperdinck had dastardly plans that included starting a war with the neighboring kingdom of Gilder.  In order to start this war, Humperdinck hired Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (Andre the Giant) to kidnap Buttercup.  To the trios chagrin, the Dread Pirate Roberts shows up to throw a monkey wrench into their plans.

The film narrates this story as if a grandfather (Peter Falk) is reading this story to his ailing grandson (Fred Savage) in the most charming of relationships.

This film has more quotable lines than most movies have even memorable ones.  Every few minutes there are iconic lines that the entire theater knows.  Despite that, everyone still laughs at them.  From every “Inconceivable” to “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” The Princess Bride is laced with wonderful dialogue and storytelling.

The performances are all top notch.  Elwes and Wright are as believably charming and loving as you will ever see on screen.  Mandy Patinkin and his foil, Count Rugan (Christopher Guest) really bring a powerful emotion to their scenes.  Andre the Giant is remarkable throughout, despite his heavy accent causing some issues with comprehension.  Wallace Shawn, who was reportedly afraid that he was going to be fired and replaced with the film’s first choice Danny DeVito, delivers an absolutely iconic performance that could never be topped no matter whom they may try to hire.

The comedy works today as well as it did back in the 1980s.  The story is timeless.  True love is always a great hook for a fairy tale, and The Princess Bride is one of the best original fairy tales to every make it to the big screen.

Scene stealers Billy Crystal and Carol Kane appeared late in the film as Miracle Max and his wife Valerie, but they are perhaps some of the most memorable moments of the entire film. Crystal reportedly was so funny with his improvisation on his lines that Rob Reiner had to leave the set to keep from laughing.

You cannot pick just one moment from this brilliant film.  I personally love the Cliff of Insanity fencing duel between Inigo and Westley.  There is the Shrieking Eels.  Miracle Max.  Fezzik jogging the memory of the Albino (Mel Smith).  The Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook) and his “Mawwage is what bwings us togeva today” line.  To the pain.

And the remarkably emotional and powerful final confrontation with Inigo and Count Rugan.  That moment is a sure fire crowd please and never fails to give me goose bumps.

Some of the effects may not be as up to date as we get today, but I would argue that the effects here add to the fairy tale aspect of the film and only make it more charming.  Seeing men in their R.O.U.S. (rodents of unusual size) outfits crawling around the Fire Swamp is so much more preferable to the overuse of CGI in today’s world.  I also find it unbelievably fun when I see Inigo’s wet hair, after Fezzik sobers Inigo up by dumping his head over and over into water, change location on the Spaniard’s face.  Little things like that make this so much more engaging and adds to its charm.

I keep using that word.  Charm (not inconceivable).  That is the best way I can describe this classic.  It is a film that I can practically recite every line word for word, and yet I can watch and be utterly enthralled with every beat.  I love many of Rob Reiner’s early films, but The Princess Bride is in a league of it own.

As you wish.

 

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E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

I was able to attend a Fathom showing of the 35th anniversary of the Steven Spielberg classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial today, and I wondered if, since this was a movie that I have not seen for years– check that–decades even, this was a film that would not hold up upon my considerably older eyes.

Well, those eyes, full of tears, witnessed the fact that E.T. is an indomitable classic that easily holds up from the day it came out.

Everyone knows the story.  The little space alien gets accidentally left behind on earth and finds himself in the backyard of 9-year old Elliott (Henry Thomas).  Elliott lures ET out of the shed with Reese’s Pieces and into his bedroom, where they bond, quite literally.  As ET begins to show signs of illness, Elliott, along with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his precocious sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), strike up a plan to help the alien “phone home.”

This is simply a magical experience.  EYG Hall of Famer Steven Spielberg at the high of his powers.

Sure, today, the little rubber suit wearing alien may not look as realistic as the CGI creatures we see on a daily basis in Hollywood, but that is part of the charm of this film.  It adds to the feeling of the childish wonder that is a major theme of ET.

Spielberg also does some outstanding shooting of the film, with the camera shooting behind the adults, showing the point of view of the children.  In fact, with the exception of Elliott’s mother Mary (Dee Wallace), we see no adult head-on until the third act of the movie.  It is an intriguing choice that really works, creating a world of child-like wonder.

There is another EYG Hall of Famer who does some of his best work on this film.  The score of ET is done by John Williams and is hauntingly beautiful and unbelievably uplifting.  Although Williams has a huge resume to his credit, the score of ET has to be near the top as his greatest of all time.  The music is transcendent.

The film does not work if not for the performance of young Henry Thomas.  Elliott is clearly a pivotal role, and he is tremendous.  The boy goes through the gamut of emotions, from joy and wonder to heartbreaking sadness.  There were some times when he felt too whiny, but that felt real for the situation he had been placed in.

And yet some would argue that the best child performance of the film belonged to 5-year old Drew Barrymore.  You could see the sparkle in the eye of the little girl every second she was on screen as she delivered each of her lines with such a realistic flair that she was a danger for stealing every scene she was in.

The film rocked the emotional roller coaster, easily making you laugh just moments before it tore your heart out.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial not only holds up today, it also shows what a treasure of a film that is was.

It is absolutely a…

paragon

Zodiac (2007)

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This upcoming week will see the end of the Discovery series Manhunt: Unabomber and so I thought this was a good enough reason to watch and review the classic David Fincher movie, Zodiac, that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

I have always had a soft spot for the mystery of some serial killers.  I enjoy shows and films dealing with the mysterious, such as Jack the Ripper and, in this case, the Zodiac Killer.

This is perhaps the best movie dealing with a true life serial killer ever made.

The Zodiac killer terrorized the West Coast for several years starting in the late 1960s by murdering several people and then bragging about it in taunting letters to the police and the newspapers.  Despite years of investigation, Zodiac has never been arrested or revealed.  However, this movie features several aspects of the investigation and it looks at how that investigation impacted the individuals’ lives who were doing the investigating.

Start with Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), who wrote a specific book and named the individual whom he believed was the Zodiac.  Graysmith was a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle when the Zodiac letters started to appear and he found himself obsessed with trying to solve the puzzle of the identity of the killer.  At first, it was just an attempt to solve the case, and later it was for his book.  Graysmith is shown becoming as obsessed with Zodiac as a man can be, having it cost him his job and his second marriage.

Next up is Paul Avery (Downey Jr), a hard drinking reporter for the Chronicle who is in search of the story of the Zodiac and is just as obsessed as Graysmith.  Avery uses drugs and alcohol to cope with the obsession, and when Zodiac sends him a letter threatening his life, Paul starts to go downhill quickly, spiraling into the depths.

Police Inspector David Toschi (Ruffalo) worked the case of the Zodiac since the murder of the cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco.  Toschi was the face behind the investigation for years, but he was hardly the only cop involved.  The problem was, at the time, the Zodiac’s murders happened in multiple districts leading to multiple agencies in charge.  The sharing of information between different agencies was not done smoothly and it shows how much that hampered the case Toschi was trying to build.

These three actors are tremendous in this film, showing the devastation of the investigation of the Zodiac on their lives. the frustration of trying to work within a system that seemed to be working against them and how some individuals caused suspects to be dropped over the slightest things.

The film does have an implied Zodiac.  Arthur Leigh Allen, nicknamed “Lee”, is the film’s choice as the Zodiac.  The film does highlight both sides to the case, though it does make Lee (John Carroll Lynch) look very much like the killer.  Allen is the suspect that Graysmith named as the Zodiac Killer in his book.  In the film, Lynch is amazing as the unbalanced Allan, creating an amazing tone of suspense and eeriness.  You believe that this guy could easily be the Zodiac killer just after a few scenes with him.

Other suspects are investigated though.  One specific suspect, Rick Marshall, leads Gyllenhaal to the home of movie theater owner Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer) and one of my absolutely most favorite scenes of all time.  I am not sure the reason it was included since it had nothing to do with the Lee investigation, but it is the creepiest, most frightening few minutes of the film.  Fleischer is as scary as any monster movie creature, and he is nothing but a stoic man.  When he turns off the light in the basement, I feel the same desire to run away as was consuming Graysmith at that moment.  It does not go anywhere, but the scene is just unbelievably epic and atmospheric.

The atmosphere of this movie is unlike any you have seen before.  You feel your skin crawl as these moments unfurl before your face.  The different Zodiac attacks, the interview of Lee at his work, the searching of his trailer, the basement scene, the isolation felt by Robert as he is slipping into his obsession… all of these scenes create such a feel for the movie.  The film is also shot so beautifully as every image in the film helps to create that same feeling of uncertainty and nervousness.

You, as an audience member, can’t help but feel the same way.  There is a distinct feeling of awkwardness or uneasiness as these characters go about their jobs.

The use of the song Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan is another example of how the mood of this movie is transferred to the audience.  The song is very creepy and fits perfectly in the movie.

Zodiac is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It is a wonderful film that involves the audience in the mood like few movies can.  There are great performances throughout the film, including some great work that I haven’t mentioned yet such as Anthony Edwards, Bryan Cox, Chloë Sevigny, Dermont Mulroney, Elias Koteas, Phillip Baker Hall, and John Terry.

David Fincher’s masterpiece is certainly a…

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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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Happy Labor Day everybody.  So in honor of Labor Day, I watched a movie that featured some of the greatest labor force in movie history.

The Oompa-Loompas.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is based on a book by author Roald Dahl and contains one of the great performances by the late Gene Wilder.

Reclusive chocolate maker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) sent out five Golden Tickets in his chocolate bars, giving an opportunity to whomever finds the tickets to come for a tour of his mysterious Chocolate Factory.  Local kid Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) finds the fifth ticket and joins a group of rotten little children in the tour of the factory.

As soon as Gene Wilder limps out of the factory door, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory becomes a magical fantasy.  Not that this is strictly a kids’ movie, because there are multiple moments of darkness involved.  Not only the dubious disposal of the rotten children, but some of the wording that Willy Wonka gives indicates his pessimistic view of the kids whom he had invited into his world.

Each kid paid the price for their greed or their selfishness, their punishments fitting the crime.  Each punishment accompanied with a song from the Oompa-Loompas.

Wonka has some of the greatest quips and one liners in movies.  He quoted Shakespeare.  He made funny quick jokes.  Gene Wilder’s timing was perfect.  Wilder has had some amazing comedic performances in his career (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Stir Crazy), but there have been few roles more perfect for an actor than that of Willy Wonka.

Jack Albertson’s Uncle Joe provides a nice balance to Charlie, and his dance during the song “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” is a highlight of the film.  Wilder’s “Pure Imagination,” however, is the most iconic song from the film.  “Candy Man” is another well known song from this soundtrack.

I love this movie.  It is funny, a magical trip of music and childlike wonder.  It is Gene Wilder’s greatest performance.  It is absolutely a….

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

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I wish I would have reversed the viewing, because watching Fire Walk With Me would have given me some more insights on the Twin Peaks finale on Showtime.  Despite being 25 years apart, it is clear that David Lynch’s vision continued right where he left off.

Fire Walk With Me was heavily included in the new series, including scenes straight from the film.  When this first came out, there was some outrage at the choice of making a prequel to Twin Peaks instead of dealing with the aftermath of the second season finale.

Plus, as with much of David Lynch’s work, this was tough to understand.

After seeing the third season on Showtime, Fire Walk With Me makes considerable more sense.  Many of the images, from the green owl ring to the Black Lodge fit in nicely with the narrative from the series.

There are plenty of unanswered questions, but you are going to get those in anything by David Lynch.  Chiefly among them include what ever happened to Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaacs), who was assigned to investigate the murder of Teresa Banks.  The Banks killing was the first known victim of Bob (Frank Silva).  This “Blue Rose” case was the beginning of the movie before it abruptly switched to the last week in the life of homecoming queen and all around great girl, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).  Laura was not what she seemed.  She was involved in a second life of sex and drugs.  As she spiraled out of control, she desperately reached out for someone or something normal.  Her best friend Donna (Moira Kelly) she had to distance herself from when she realized that she might be dragging Donna down with her.  And her secret love James (James Marshall) did not understand the complexities of her life.

Laura had been sexually abused and raped by Bob since she was 12 years old, and when she discovered that Bob was possessing her father Leland (Ray Wise) and that Leland had been the one abusing her, things went off the track.

The story of Laura Palmer is a tragic one, full of violence and sadness.  Watching the movie after seeing the series places a new emphasis on many thing, including the role of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) in what happened.  One wonders when she became what we saw in season three.

I do not think you can understand or appreciate this movie without having seen the Twin Peaks series.  The first two seasons for sure, but the third season helps as well.  That limitation does make this a niche viewing, though the basic story of Laura Palmer and her descent into darkness transcends the series.  You will have a deeper understanding if you are a Peaks fan.

There is little to no humor in the film that one could say is repeatedly depressing.  In fact, it does look upon some very disturbing ideas and images that simply do not include humor.  In this way, it is considerably different than the Twin Peaks series.

Looking back on the film, I thought this was better than the last time I saw it.  Perhaps the increased knowledge of the mythology of Twin Peaks may have helped that out.  There was so much darkness here that you must be in the proper place to deal with such a tragic story.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Release

Forty years old.  I had a chance to go to the theater and see Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the big screen.  It is a wonderful science fiction story, even though Spielberg himself in an interview that proceeded the movie claimed that it was not a Sci-fi film.

Line worker Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) was involved with a shocking encounter with a UFO one night and he found that his entire life had changed.  He became obsessed with the sighting and was determined to recreate the moment.  Despite the pleas of his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr), Roy seemingly was slipping deeper and deeper into the world of madness.

Roy was not the only one.  Jill (Melinda Dillon) and her son Barry (Cary Guffey) also wound up having the same encounter, and Barry soon disappears.  Jill’s cries of alien abduction were seen as a potential cover story, but she was just as obsessed with finding her son.

The visions of the Devil’s Tower tormented both individuals, to the point where Roy’s wife and three children were fleeing from him in fear, not for their safety, but to avoid his apparent insanity.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful movie with amazing visuals.  Honestly, this is the main driving force for the film, because the story itself was really pretty cruel. Roy’s basic choice of the UFO over his own family is a dangling thread that is never fully dealt with in the movie.

There is also no reason given for the aliens to be doing what they are doing.  They are abducting people, but they seem to be friendly and like to play music.

And what music.  EYG Hall of Famer John Williams does tremendous work here, creating such a musical backdrop that rivaled the visual imagery on the screen.

I have to say though, I am still wondering about the fate of the children left behind and deserted by their father.  I thought Brad (Shawn Bishop) was especially compelling in his performance seeing his dad lose it and understanding what that meant more than his younger siblings.  What would happen to this boy?  How would this situation affect him? It is a question that I haven’t been able to get out of my head, and this is one of the reasons why Close Encounters does not translate as well to today’s world…at least in that area.

The rest of the film was wonderful and beautifully done.  The special effects for 1977 were amazing and they still hold up today in the world of CGI.  This is one of Spielberg’s great films and most of it truly deserves that credit.

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Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Release