Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Nebraska is not a road trip movie, it's not a character study, it's not a father and son tale.  The film is about focusing on what you want and remain determined until you get what you want, but be realize that getting what you want may lead to disappointment.

Bruce Dern plays Woody, an aging married man and father of two adult sons.  He is well into his golden years and lived a hard life following his time serving in the Korean War. He is also one of the youngest of a large family of brothers.  He grew up in Hawthorne, Nebraska but raised his family in Billings, Montana.  After Woody receives a letter from a magazine company telling him that he's won a million dollars, he is bound and determined to travel from Montana to Nebraska to pick up his winnings.  His younger son, David (Will Forte) agrees to drive Woody there, since he can no longer drive.

On their way, they two end up staying with family in Hawthorne and he is reunited with family and old friends from the neighborhood.  Through some miscommunication, Woody becomes very popular in the town and everyone wants some attention from him.  Through these interactions, we learn more about him and the lives he's affected throughout his life.  This is all contrary to him, a man who is not prone to speaking much and does not seem to carry even an ounce of sentimentality.  Whether due to mental illness, aging senility or just personality, Woody is only semi-present in the here and now.

The scene stealer is Woody's wife, played by June Squibb.  She is the balance in the relationship. Where Woody rarely speaks, his wife Kate always speaks her mind and has an opinion about everything.  As with many couples married for decades, she seems exhausted by Woody but deep down still cares about the man and will defend him when necessary.

Alexander Payne films are notable for portraying real-life and reflecting on some of the more depressing aspects of living. My experience with his other films are that the characters are solid, the performances are strong and the film will leave you feeling sad but satisfied.  That holds true for this movie as well.  This film did not have some of the trademark "shocking" sequences seen in prior films, like Kathy Bates naked in a hot tub.  It did not need them.  Nebraska is much more focused and deliberate.  The dreariness is magnified through the use of black and white.  The soundtrack reflects the droll northern mid-west life, where this is not much going on. Little employment, little hope.  Woody has lived his life out and realizes there is only two things he still wants after picking up his million - a new truck and an air compressor.  With those things, his life is complete.

While I have been trying to write about every new movie (or new to me movie) in the past year. I have realized that I can only really write something when I am moved either from hate and disgust or from enjoyment.  Nebraska is a film I enjoyed. The "R" rating was only for language and mild violence.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Saving Mr. Banks"

It's been an exciting couple of years for me. First they make a big-screen bio pic of one of my cinema heroes: Alfred Hitchcock. (I'll pretend The Girl, the less-flattering HBO bio pic, didn't happen) and now Saving Mr. Banks. Of course, Saving Mr. Banks is not really a movie about Walt, it's more of a bio pic of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  It is, however, the first time that Walt Disney has been featured PROMINENTLY in a major motion by an actor.  What's more is that the struggle to get Mary Poppins made, itself, makes for a great story and turned into a wonderful.

The film tells the tale, with use of flashbacks, as to just how personal Mrs. Travers held the characters from Mary Poppins.  We see the relationship between Travers and her doting father who had his own demons to deal with.  Disney struggled for 18 years to convince Travers to adapt the books into a film. Like many, she saw Disney as a guy that makes cartoons for children. She was deathly afraid of the characters being trivialized, animated and candy coated. This is another film where we know the ultimate conclusion, she allowed Disney to have the rights to the character, but it was not without a lot of charm from Walt, the Sherman Brothers (song composers), Don DaGradi (screenwriter) and likely many other people from the Disney camp. The process to convince Travers to allow Disney the rights to make the film is the framework for the film.

I was packed into a theater with hard-core Disney fans who signed up for the Disney Parks Blog meet-up, so this was an audience that really wanted to see this film done right. I think I can speak on behalf of the majority and say the film was "practically perfect in every way." Hanks as Walt Disney did the man justice. He was not a caricature, but actually portrayed Disney at his essence. He still looked like Tom Hanks, but there was just enough make up and hair styling to allow you to forget that it was him. Emma Thompson was wonderful and I was able to completely believe she was Mrs. Travers.

Of the many things I love about Disney - the institution, is Disneyland. I recall last summer when all they were filming a couple of key sequences inside the park. I was unable to get over there that day, by my Disney social media friends provided plenty of coverage on Twitter and Instagram. The moment I was most looking forward to seeing was when Travers was brought to the park for a personal tour by Walt Disney, himself.  The park has evolved a lot since 1963, when that meeting actually occurred. Other than the addition to a few elements at the entry to the park, there was little done as far as set dressing to date the park back to the 60s. Instead, the art designers focused on the clothing worn by the extras. They were really the only thing you could see in focus, as the rest of the back was merely a background.

The film, Mary Poppins was Walt Disney at his finest. We've seen through time that Mary Poppins was the pinnacle of live action films while Walt was alive. The film was released in 1964 and Walt passed away just two years later in 1966.  By all acclaims, Travers remained critical of the film, even after it's release. She continued to hold tightly onto the rights. It was only after she passed away that a stage musical version of Mary Poppins could even be considered.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dorothy, Meet Metallica

In the last couple of weeks, I have watched my first two IMAX 3D films. First, I was able to catch The Wizard of Oz up at the TCL (Grauman's) Chinese Theater. Then, last Friday night, I sat with a large crowd at the local AMC IMAX in Riverside to catch Metallica: Through the Never. These are the perfect juxtaposed films to discuss in a single post, in my opinion.

I am not a big fan of 3D, but I am a little more forgiving when the movie was at least shot in 3D. The Wizard of Oz has seen numerous restorations and re-releases. The last digital restoration was in 2009 and now we have another restoration along with a 3D conversion. I found the 3D titles to be captivating but as for the rest of the film, the 3D was basically detectable in only a handful of sequences. Overall, I found it unnecessary. That being said, the film looked fantastic in IMAX. The fear of a large grainy, blown up image, was put at ease. There were some fantastic details I had not seen, such as the rivets on the Tin Man.  I also noticed that the fishing line holding up the Lion's tail was non-existent in this version.  Overall, I was once again reminded that films that were never intended in 3D, should just stay that way, in 2D.

There was something very enjoyable about hearing Judy Garland sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in IMAX proportions. The same can be said for watching James Hetfield sing "Master of Puppets" in the third dimension, as well as in front of a wall of sound.  I am not a huge Metallica fan and was the only male audience member not wearing a Metallica shirt, but I was surprised by the fact that I was familiar with every song played in the movie. That could also be due to the fact that it was basically a "greatest hits" type of set list.  But he movie was not just a concert film. There was also a thin plot about a young roadie who was tasked to go retrieve a bag from a truck that had run out of gas in the middle of the city. A crazy adventure ensues that involves riots, angry dogs and a living doll.

Through The Never, reminded me about the last concert film I saw in a theater, Shine a Light, the Rolling Stones film from 2008. Much like the Metallica film, it showcased a band that is timeless, sharp as ever and the definition of longevity.  This was the perfect time (August 2012 concert dates) to put Metallica on 3D film.

Both The Wizard of Oz and Metallica: TTN, had small releases, just over 300 screens. It is hard to say if there will be a profit made in the box office.  Through The Never had a $18 million dollar budget and getting Oz into 3D was north of that amount.  Oz will continue making money, regardless. It is available tomorrow on Blu-ray and in 3D, if you've got the equipment for that.  And Through The Never will likely recoup it's investment via DVD and soundtrack sales.  Maybe it will turn into a IMAX midnight movie, who knows?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Blue Jasmine" (2013)

I like movies. I especially like when I get to go watch movies by made by auteurs.  I enjoy Allen's films but I have not seen all of them, in fact, I've seen only a handful, but I have enjoyed most every one.  During my 7:30 show last night, I again also had the privilege of being the youngest audience member. I'm 37, so I'm not a kid and I should say that the theater I attended usually has a disproportionally high amount of seniors that come to see movies there.  It could also be said, film buffs aside, that few people under 40 would venture out anymore for a Woody Allen film.

The film tells the story of Jasmine, who's life has undergone some major changes recently in her life and we are witness to what brought her to this point.  Honestly a big attraction for me to come see this film was to see Andrew Dice Clay in a straight role. I had heard a recent interview with him and he was very excited to have been part of this film and having the chance to work with Woody Allen. Clay was truly a highlight to the movie. Allen has three talents: writing, directing and casting.

After catching on that the film uses sudden and frequent flashbacks, I found that I really wanted to see more interactions between married couple Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Hal (Alec Baldwin).  It was not necessary, however, because their relationship is established with very little exposition needed.  Look out also for a hilarious but short cameo from baby-faced Max Casella, who was almost unrecognizable and appears to finally have done some aging.

Again, with my limited familiarity with Allen's full canon, I can't help but think he definitely harbors anger against women. The lead role of Jasmine is put through the ringer of modern day turmoils: monetary, relationships, family and mental health.  Part of Allen's persona has always been his self-deprecating nature, which is often portrayed onscreen by Allen himself or whomever the male protagonist leads the film. In the case of Blue Jasmine, the role of Jasmine could be interpreted as a female representation of himself, complete with neurotic tendencies and dependent on psych medications.  The film has some really funny moments, but it is more of a drama than anything. 

The recent Allen films have used big cities to feature heavily in the film. I'm especially thinking of Midnight In Paris and To Rome with Love. Blue Jasmine predominantly takes place in San Francisco and uses the city for some fantastic background settings. It's an engaging film. Go see it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Lone Ranger - not a review

Today, The Lone Ranger opens. Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in Disney's new film and attempt at a 3rd Johnny Depp franchise for the studio, right behind Pirates of the Carribean and Alice in Wonderland, which has a sequel in the works. I have not seen the movie yet, although I think I want to. My kids, ages 6 and 8 want to see it. This could partially be due the fact that they have been inundated with ads on Disney XD about the movie.

It's no secret, the film is getting really bad reviews. This is not a complete surprise, merely due to the fact that there were production problems. Production on the film was shut down for several months after it had began in order for the studio to rework the budget. It also has had it's opening date moved three times, which sometimes is another red flag. Although, to be honest, it got moved to 4th of July weekend due to another studio pushing their big film release back, thus freeing up this big holiday weekend.

Reviews of the film seem to be universal in their critique at the films length and plot. Again, I haven't seen the movie yet, so I cannot comment on the plot. It does seem that perhaps they tried to hard to force a franchise and by using the Pirates template should have made it a slam dunk.  I am dreading seeing the comparisons that will be made this weekend to the release of John Carter last year and it's devastating box office numbers.  Sadder yet, the box office will be dominated by Universal's Despicable Me 2, an animated film from a rival studio.

I will get around to seeing the movie soon and I will give my own thoughts shortly. Meanwhile, I am still trying to find time for that other box office failure, The Hangover 3, which I am still looking forward to see, for real. I love those characters.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"The Desert Song" (1953)

In 1953 Warner Brothers released the third version of the operetta, The Desert Song. In fact, as you can see in the poster below, it was marketed as "The New Desert Song." This film was released in three-color Technicolor and in 1.37:1, not widescreen. The first widescreen film, The Robe was released by Twentieth-Century Fox in CinemaScope that same year. The first version of The Desert Song in 1929 was the first Warner Brothers film released in color, with the two color Technicolor process.

The movie is based on a hit stage musical that featured Oscar Hammerstein's book and lyrics. The basic plot is that the French are attempting to build a railroad line through the desert in Morocco but they are under constant threat by some Arab rebels. The leader of the rebels is actually a Latin tutor hired by the French general who is sent to protect the railroad from the rebels to watch keep a femme fatale named Margot from flirting with the army. The big surprise at the end is when she discovers that the rebel leader, who she admires, is the same Latin tutor.  Songs that do not do much to move the plot along are thrown in from time to time.

The storyline trots along but it is hard to identify with any of the characters in the movie. It fails to create any sense of enthusiasm in the audience for the lead characters. The comic relief in the film comes mostly from Dick Wesson's character, an American journalist always trying to dig up dirt. He's honestly the only character I can actually remember from this movie.  The film looks nice though.

I was able to screen this film during the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. Robert Osborne had been hyping this film from the start of the festival. He was even there to introduce it. He informed us all that it was the first time this film had been screened in over 50 years in a theater.  Two of my colleagues and I sat in anticipation to film. Throughout the film, I can assure you that I was not the only person snickering and rolling their eyes at the movie. We all shared equal disappointment from the film after the credits rolled. We all wondered exactly why WB thought they needed to remake this film? Third times the charm? Because it wasn't.

After writing my thoughts, I dug up the original New York Times review of the movie. You can see that even 54 years ago, my impressions were shared.

The Desert Song FilmPoster.jpeg

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3 - A Stark Contrast

Another superhero sequel has arrived. I must confess that I am not huge fan of the genre, but there is something very endearing to the character of Tony Stark, created on screen by Robert Downey Jr. Perhaps it's his dripping sarcasm and snark. Perhaps, it's the fact that he feels like a real person, arrogant, yet human. Iron Man 3 has the legs to stand on it's one, while subtly fitting into the the Avengers film canon.

Things that stood out to me in this film is amount of times that Tony Stark was left to his own human devices. Often it was his own fault due to his constant tinkering with more advanced versions of the Iron Man suit. In this film, he is up to Mark 42. Between sharing the suit, waiting for the suit to show up and hoping that when it does arrive, that it will work, Stark is left to use his own physical strength and mental prowess to get through things. Stark is Iron Man, there would be no suit without Stark, but Stark would have little purpose in the world without it.

The villain in Iron Man 3 was also a fresh take. Without resulting to spoilers, modern issues with Middle East centric terrorism was dealt with in a way that was realistic yet carefully separated from any reality that we currently live within.  The concept of a terrorist leader, depicted by Ben Kingsley, who demands respect from all those he comes in contact with, is right out Al Queda. However, we soon learn that things are not as they appear. Kingsley plays "The Mandarin" who takes over all broadcasts networks whenever he feels like it to carry out his terrorist threats. Much in the same way that 24 hour news access brings into our living room everything going on in the world at any given time, the bad as well as the good. It reminds us that everything is not what it appears, media is often filtered and celebrity is subjective.

Don Cheadle returns as War Machine, who has now been adopted by the US Military and renamed the Iron Patriot. Iron Patriot plays a small supporting role, but when it all comes down to it, Stark is the creator of his own destiny and it's by his own creations that things are made whole again, at least for this Marvel installment.

I am not one who is overly excited for the Thor sequel coming along. I still have not seen the first one and was introduced to his character only in The Avengers. The next Avengers sequel is slated for 2015. Another Captain America is due April 2014. I have enjoyed what I have seen so far. Disney seems to be a great fit the Marvel Universe as all of these films have a bit of the magic and heart one expects from the Mouse House. I accept that my statement is controversial.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

TCM Classic Film Festival 2013, an adventure.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience the 4th Annual Turner Classic Movie Classic Film Festival, in Hollywood. This festival is unique but it will screen rarely seen films, new restorations and unique exhibitions, such as a rare screening of Cinerama Holiday at the Cinerama Dome. I began my weekend watching the premier of a restored digital print of Funny Girl inside Grauman's Chinese Theater. It was my first time in the theater and my first time watching the film. Streisand could not make it due to an invite to the White House. Instead, a surprise guest appeared and sat to chat briefly with Robert Osborne. That surprise guest was Cher.

Many of the screenings began with short question and answers from stars in the film. My two favorite were Tippi Hedren before a screening of The Birds and Max von Sydow prior to watching Three Days of the Condor. Both of those were also screened at the Chinese, which incidentally began a major renovation today, just three days after the festival ended.


An interesting screening was that of The Desert Song. Robert Osborne had been encouraging people to go see this film. TCM had been trying to get the rights cleared for several years and it finally became available. Osborne was even there to give the introduction to the film. My friend and I sat down and watched this movie with musical numbers. Musical numbers were presented usually as a entertainment in bars and clubs around Morocco, where the film took place. There was some Nazi's, some French and some oppressed Moroccans building a railroad.  There was a also a contrived love story mixed in. The plot was lame, the dialogue horrible and the acting, mediocre. Perhaps RO just had some nostalgic memory for this film, but I didn't get it.

The last film of the weekend for most, was a screening of Buster Keaton's The General inside the Chinese theater. It played with a live accompaniment. I left before that, so my last film was Condor.  I look forward to next year. Meanwhile, join many of my cinema compadres on Twitter under the hashtag #TCMparty. We live tweet along with TCM films. It's a guaranteed good time with snark and some great trivia as well.