It Stinks!

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And here's Part Two. 

10. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

The fact that this film was ever completed is a miracle.  The documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse will show you just a few of the myriad complications that this production faced.  But the end result is one of the most surreal and thought-provoking films ever.  The Vietnam War is just a backdrop for the real story, which is about one man’s journey into himself to confront his greatest fears.  Coppola himself had to confront every one of his greatest fears while making it, and everything he learned and everything he faced shows up on screen.  Captain Willard had his mission, but the things he faced along the way made him question everything he knew about duty and the savagery that otherwise normal men were capable of in extreme situations.  There was a Redux version released a few years ago, but the scenes that were added only serve to slow the story down, so I suggest you skip it.  Deleted scenes are deleted for a reason.  The original, however, takes us on a journey we won’t soon forget.

9. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

I have seen this film a grand total of two times.  But believe me when I tell you that this is not a movie you need to see a hundred times in order to “get everything.”  In fact, most people I talk to have seen it only once, saying once is enough.  This movie is one of the most intense 102 minutes you will ever sit through, assuming you can make it to the end.  The story involves three friends who start selling heroin as a way to make quick cash.  But their addictions soon get the better of them and they sink deeper and deeper into desperation and depravity in order to get their “fix.”  Along with them is the mother of one of the young men, played by Ellen Burstyn (who is spectacular) gets hooked on diet pills, as she has been chosen to appear on television and wants to look her best.  The downward spiral is grueling to watch, and you don’t see their descent as much as you feel it.  There are two versions – an unrated and an R-rated version, but the edited version only cuts out some of the more disgusting sex acts Jennifer Connelly’s character sinks to.  Everything else is left intact.  This film should be required viewing for everyone who is in drug rehab.  This film goes beyond the usual “Drugs Are Bad” sermon and actually shows us what can happen when addictions get the better of people.

8. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)

Takashi Shimura plays a middle-aged post-war Japanese bureaucrat who is diagnosed with stomach cancer and given only a short time to live.  He is at a loss of what he’s done with his life, so he tries debauchery and finds it completely empty.  He tries to woo a young co-worker of his, but she is put off by him.  Finally, he decides to use his bureaucratic pull to build a playground for the children in his neighborhood, something that is much easier said than done.  Shimura is amazing in the role, deciding to underplay most of the more dramatic moments in a way that makes them even more poignant.  But the most interesting thing about this film is that Shimura’s character actually dies halfway through the movie.  The story of how he actually got the playground built is told by his friends at his wake.  The iconic scene is when Shimura, looking at the playground he had built, sits on a swing and sings softly to himself in a snowstorm.  That one image has stayed with me for years, and this is one of the biggest and best tearjerkers I have ever seen.  It shows that Kurosawa wasn’t just about big, action-packed Samurai epics – he had a contemplative side, as well as a heart of gold. 

7. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

Fritz Lang’s first sound film actually doesn’t use much sound at all.  That is, except for the extremely ominous rendition of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” that Peter Lorre’s psychotic child-killer whistles when he’s on the prowl.  This film is really about so much more than the story, as most good films are.  The questions of right and wrong and vigilantism spring up as a ragtag group of criminals rise up to catch the child killer when they feel that he is making life even harder for them by stooping to a level most of the wouldn’t dream of going.  Also, Lorre’s final monologue about how helpless he is against his impulses is done is such a way that if you didn’t know who he was or what he did, you might actually feel sorry for him.  Maybe.  The suspense is thick in this film, and in no place is it thicker than in the final chase scene, where Lorre hides in every nook and cranny like a frightened animal.  It is certainly a thought-provoking piece and a stark European alternative to the Hollywood glamour so prevalent at the time.  This and other films like it would go on to inspire the film-noir boom of the late 30’s and early 40’s, but this is a great, suspenseful prototype.

6. Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)

How does one write a love letter to the one of the worst directors of all time?  Tim Burton shows us how in this amazingly funny and poignant biopic.  Edward D. Wood, Jr. has long been both loved and reviled.  His films are considered some of the worst ever, but they were made with such enthusiasm that is kind of impossible not to like them.  And Johnny Depp’s characterization of Wood brings that enthusiasm and optimism to the fore.  Also great is Martin Landau as a somewhat foul-mouthed Bela Lugosi, who spent the last years of his life acting in Wood’s legendary turkeys in order to support his drug habits.  Of course, there is much more fiction than fact in this film, but the heart is there.  And that’s what Wood was all about.

5. The Secret of NIMH (Don Bluth, 1982)

It’s odd how often we write off the films of our youth as “juvenile” or “immature” fare.  When I rediscovered this classic a few years ago, I was amazed.  On the surface, it seems like a typical funny-animal family film, the kind of which there are hundreds.  But going back and looking at it as an adult, I found it to be so much more than that.  The animation – done on a shoestring budget – is spectacular.  But the story, about a widowed field mouse who tries to save her sick son’s life, resonates on a much more real level than most other films of this type.  Don Bluth took not only the subject matter, but his audience seriously.  But for me, it is the voice acting that really takes this film to the next level.  Elizabeth Hartman (in her final film role) plays Mrs. Brisby with the kind of meekness you’d expect a mouse to have, so when she finally does rise to the occasion to do something heroic, it means so much more, since you don’t really expect it from her.  Don Bluth’s films declined in quality over time (the less said about Rock-a-Doodle, the better), but this is his masterpiece.

4. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

Kubrick has always been something of a maverick, and that is no more evident than it is in A Clockwork Orange.  This film is so visceral, so strange and so off-putting at times, and yet it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off the screen.  Malcolm McDowell as Alex is one of the most evil villains the screen has ever seen, and yet he’s the hero of the film.  And he plays Alex as such a suave, likeable person, it’s almost impossible to hate him.  We agree that his actions are despicable, but he’s just so funny and charming.  And that’s what makes him dangerous.  He later becomes a “model citizen,” but only after he submits to a treatment that essentially takes away his free will.  So we are forced to ask which is worse; a complete villain who has no moral compass or a societal robot who has no free will?  And like most good films, it doesn’t give you an answer.  It presents you with the question and lets the viewer figure it out.  I love films that are not only fun to look at (as Kubrick’s films always are), but also make you think.  This one does both like no movie before or since.

3. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

Here we have another moral dilemma: the war-hero son of a powerful Mafia don throws his life out the window to defend his family and to eventually follow in his father’s footsteps.  Such is the case of Michael Corleone.  Coppola later admitted that he was baffled at how Michael was seen as such a hero, when what we’re really seeing is a man’s moral decay.  But in the context of the film, it is less about that and more about the family bond that all the Corleones feel toward each other.  They couldn’t be more different, but they are all family and therefore inseparable.  Add to that wonderful performances from Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and…well, everyone in the film is top notch.  This is one of the few perfect films.  I seriously can’t find one flaw in it.  This is how good a film can be, even without an astronomical budget.  Let this be a lesson to film students everywhere: money is much less important than story and characterization. 

2. WALL*E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

“WHAT?” I hear you all screaming.  “You put this over the freakin’ Godfather!?”  Well…yes.  Yes I did.  Remember, these are my favorite films.  I’m not saying WALL*E has more historical or cultural significance than any other film on this list.  It just happens to be one of my personal favorites.  Though I admit going into this film with some reservations, they were all swept away in the first few minutes.  I wasn’t just daring to make a film without dialogue in the first twenty minutes – in this day and age, it was downright rebellious.  And if they hadn’t pulled it off, the whole film would have tanked.  Not only does it work, but if they had added any dialogue, it would have severely taken away from many of the wonderful and touching moments this film had to offer.  Everything in this film works.  And the “Space Dancing” sequence makes me tear up a little every time I see it.  Yes, I am that much of a softie, but at least I’m man enough to admit it. 

1. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

This is the film that got me interested in movies as art.  I was 16 when I first saw it, and it has never left me.  And not only did it get me interested in movies as art, but also it taught me that movies can have a positive cultural impact as well.  To me, this movie is the Total Package: it’s wonderfully acted, beautifully shot and has historical significance.  But more than that, it is completely uncompromising.  Spielberg doesn’t tone down the carnage, even though it almost got him an NC-17 rating for the film.  To lessen the atrocities the Nazis commited by toning down the violence would be unfair to those who lived through it.  I can’t think of one Holocaust movie (save for documentaries) that goes as far as this one does.  And it was done so that we can watch it and never forget, for those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Mighty Monarch!

(no subject)


Wow, I haven't updated my LJ in.....a looong time. Not much to say, I guess. But I just spent all day writing and this is the result, so I'm posting it.

My Top 20 Favorite Films (Inspired by Nostalgia Critic's Top 20, which can be found here and here.)

I'm doing this in two installments, since LJ is being a jerk and won't let me put it under a cut.

20. West Side Story (Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, 1960)

It’s hard to believe by today’s standards, but West Side Story was considered pretty avant-garde for its time.  Most musicals up to this point were pretty straightforward: dialogue leads up to song, song is sung, dialogue resumes.  West Side Story’s musical numbers were all conceptual to the point of being expressionistic.  The “Cool” number isn’t just about staying cool under pressure.  The colors and lighting themselves are cool.  “Maria” follows Tony through the streets of Manhattan, but the backgrounds all dissolve and change behind him as he wanders, as if in a dream.  And the music, by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, was some of the most complex and energetic that had been in a musical up to that point.  Even the first ten minutes is done almost entirely in dance.  It certainly pushed the envelope for musical films and, I think, made them better.  Everyone who directed a musical film after this had to be thinking to themselves, “How are we going to top that?”  Of course, all of this would have been for naught if the performances had been sub-par.  But thankfully, everyone involved gave 110%.  Rita Moreno and George Chakiris are particularly fun to watch.  Shakespeare has never been more humible.

19. The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)

David Lynch is mostly known for his surreal, ethereal non-linear films, but every once in a while, he comes along with a movie that really tugs at your heart.  Such is the case with The Elephant Man.  The true story of Joseph (here called “John”) Merrick, a man so deformed as to be unrecognizable as human, is one that surprisingly, no other filmmaker had tackled up to that point.  Perhaps it was the complexities of the make-up or the fear that Merrick’s severe deformities would be too much for audiences to take.  However, the story was brought to the attention of Mel Brooks of all people, who purposely left his name off the credits, lest the public think it was a comedy.  Brooks had just seen Lynch’s thesis film Eraserhead and immediately sought him out to do the film.  It is certainly one of Lynch’s most down-to-earth films, though there are the usual Lynch signatures of industrial wastelands and surreal dreamlike states, especially at the beginning and the end.  But in between is a story that is brought to life just as much by the acting as by the design.  John Hurt’s performance as Merrick is heart-wrenching and he is supported by other thespian heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Sir John Gielgud, both of whom are spectacular.  I first saw this film as a teenager and it’s one that I have to watch from start to finish every time.  I can’t be bothered once it starts.  And this movie made such an impact on me that I sought out Lynch’s other films in subsequent years.

18. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)

Quentin Tarantino has been accused by many of simply cutting and pasting his favorite pop-culture moments into his films.  And, in a way, that’s very true.  But in his defense, I must say that his ultra-violent love letter to the hack-n-slash Shaw Bros. Kung-Fu films of the seventies is much more that just simple hack job.  Tarantino is a craftsman, and in this film, he takes a simple revenge story and gives it a modern Hollywood gloss.  His frenetic style is at its peak here, even more so than in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs.  And not only did he succeed in making an extremely entertaining (if overly gory) film, he also brought the old Shaw Bros. films (and one of their biggest stars, Sonny Chiba) back into the limelight for a new generation to discover.  The mystery, the suspense and the action all are top notch – much more so here than in the extremely talky sequel.  A great director, a great story and a great ensemble cast all add up to one of the most entertaining films of its era.

17. The Kids Are Alright (Jeff Stein, 1979)

Jeff Stein, a 21-year-old rock and roll fan was granted unprecedented access to one of the biggest bands of the time, The Who, to make a documentary/concert film.  The result, like The Who themselves, is more than the sum of its parts.  It is a disjointed, completely non-linear film, made up mostly of old film clips and a few interviews, only a few of which were shot specifically for the film.  The years of wear and tear on the band members were evident in the concert clips shot before a select audience in 1978, especially on Keith Moon, for whom this would be his final performance.  But in true rock-n-roll fashion, everybody’s having much too good a time to care.  The clips that we are treated to are the cream of what The Who had accomplished in their time from Mods in the mid 60’s to rock opera pioneers in the 70’s.  We see the band grow and blossom right in front of us.  Pete Townshend is the de facto star and spokesman for the group, but he is frequently upstaged by Moon’s antics, just like in real life.  They really do make quite the comedy duo.  But it is the music that lifts this movie from halfway decent documentary to completely bitchin’ rockumentary.  The good times were ended by Moon’s death shortly before the film’s release, but this was one helluva send-off, as well as a testament to why The Who were one of the biggest bands of all time.

16. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

Kurosawa’s epic film has a rather simple story: a group of poor peasant villagers call upon unemployed Samurai to help protect their village from a group of bandits.  In anyone else’s hands, the film would have been…okay.  In Kurosawa’s hands, it became a classic.  Kurosawa had opened the Western World’s eyes to Japanese cinema with 1950’s Rashomon (widely credited as the reason there is an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), but with Seven Samurai, he blew the door wide open.  Criticized in his own country for not being “Japanese enough,” Kurosawa made this film as his response.  However, he drew heavily upon his love for Hollywood Westerns, particularly those of John Ford.  He also called upon two of his favorite actors.  Takashi Shimura played the quiet, level-headed leader of the Samurai and Toshiro Mifune played his polar opposite, the wild-eyed, brash “Kikuchiyo.”  Together with other unemployed or unemployable Samurai, they fight off the brigands in an intense battle scene that takes place in a torrential rainstorm.  So great is this film’s influence, that it has been remade as a Western (The Magnificent Seven), a sci-fi space opera (Battle Beyond the Stars) and even a Pixar film (A Bug’s Life).  But this is where it all started.

15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975)

Already riding high on the success of their television show, the Monty Python troupe took to the big screen to bring us a farce of epic proportions.  Every moment of this film is fall-down funny, but they don’t accomplish it simply by being silly (though there is plenty of silliness to around).  Unlike many comedy films that rely on parody, the Pythons seem to not only have a firm grasp on their subject matter, but almost a kind of respect for the Arthurian Legend.  And to me, the best comedy comes from those who are knowledgeable about their subjects.  The Pythons were actually a well-educated lot who just happened to have a satirical side.  Of course, that isn’t to say they were so stuffy as to avoid pratfalls, physical gags and toilet humor.  But for some reason, when Oxford-educated people talk about migrating coconuts and farting in your general direction, it lends an air of respectability.  Or maybe that’s just the American view, I don’t know.  In any case, this blend of high and lowbrow humor is one of the funniest things ever.

14. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

A lot has been said about Hitchcock, about he’s the Master of Suspense, and he is to be sure!  But this is the only film he did in which the suspense was actually fun.  It was almost the prototype for today’s Action-Comedy hybrids.  The tone is tense, but it’s light at the same time.  You feel for the characters, but at the same time, you know they’re going to get out of everything alive and three-piece suit intact.  I personally think this is Cary Grant’s greatest moment.  He can trade one-liners with the best of them.  If there is one weak link in this chain, I have to say it would be Eva Marie Saint.  She’s not exactly bad, but neither does it look like she really belongs on screen with such a heavyweight as Grant.  Still, any remaining slack in the cast is taken up by James Mason as the villain and his pretty-gay-for-the-time henchman, played by Martin Landau.  Few films can pull off both comedy and suspense, and this is one of them.  Most action-comedies of today would do well to go back and check out this classic.

13. The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)

After John Wayne had made a career of playing big, brash, macho types, he actually tones it down a bit for this film, playing a retired boxer coming home to Ireland.  This is my personal favorite John Wayne film, probably because he plays against type.  Well, not too much against type, as he and Victor McLagan have a knock-down, drag-out fight at the end of the film.  But up until then, he’s planting roses, having a drink in the pub and going after a fiery red-headed Maureen O’Hara, who is every bit as bold and brash as any character Wayne had ever played.  They had co-starred in films before this, and it seems here that they actually switched roles, which is testament to Wayne’s usually underrated acting ability.  A lot of people will complain about negative Irish stereotypes in the film, and they have a point.  But I don’t think it was done with any kind of malice in mind.  It was more of a love letter to John Ford’s roots (as was his previous film How Green Was My Valley, set in Wales).  And I still think it holds up. 

12. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Based on a play that was never produced, Casablanca actually exceeded the expectations of everyone involved with it, eventually winning “Best Picture” at the Oscars.  The appeal of this film for me is that it has a little bit of everything.  It’s got a great love story, political intrigue, witty dialogue and terrific acting from all involved.  It’s almost the “three-ring circus” mentality – if you don’t like the clowns, there’s elephants, there’s lion tamers, and there’s acrobats.  There’s something for everyone here.   Also, in my mind, there was no greater actress of the time than Ingrid Bergman.  Both this film and Hitchcock’s Notorious showcased her talent in the best ways.  And she is one of the few leading ladies who could stand up to her leading man.  And with Humphrey Bogart as the leading man, that’s not a small order.  It’s an endearing classic that stands up as much today as it did when it was first released.

11. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)

This is the film that put Pixar on the map for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved both Toy Story movies and thought A Bug’s Life was fun, but at the time, I was of the impression that Pixar was just a subsidiary of Disney, and they were putting out some pretty fluffy, family friendly stuff aimed mostly at kids.  The Incredibles changed all that, at least in my mind.  It was intense, action-packed and so well animated as to put the other previous Pixar films to shame.  The entire company grew by leaps and bounds with this film.  Brad Bird wasn’t willing to sacrifice any of the action in order to keep from freaking out a three-year-old.  Also, it deals with more mature themes than any of their previous films.  Bird wasn’t the kind of director that thought animation was simply for kids.  And in my mind, he and this film were responsible for helping Pixar break out of the animation “age ghetto” (something he was also trying to do with 1999’s The Iron Giant, which is also wonderful).  My interest in animation was kindled afresh with this film, and it continues to this day.
It Stinks!

(no subject)

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale...

I had a huge ordeal trying to fly home for Christmas. It started out that I got to the L.A. airport at 4:45am (50 minutes before I was scheduled to take off). At that time, it was kind of crowded, but not too bad. After standing in line for a few minutes, they took ten people (myself included) out of line and told us that we had missed the 45 minute window to have our bags checked in, so they were going to put us on the stand-by list. First of all, this sounded like B.S. to me, because I had always gotten to the airport on time with American Airlines (I was flying Continental this time) and they never said anything about a 45 minute window. They just took my suitcase, gave me my boarding pass and that was it. But I tried arguing with the people at the counter, but they wouldn't budge. So I was on stand-by. For 13 hours. And my suitcase, that they said wouldn't make it to the plane on time, arrived at Northwest Arkansas Regional at the very time I was scheduled to be there (My dad went to the airport to pick it up. The long and short of it, Continental said I missed the flight, so in their eyes, since they weren't in the wrong, they didn't give me a hotel voucher or a meal voucher or anything. Come to find out, they had overbooked the flight and had to get some people off. I was one of them.

Anyway, I finally got a connecting flight to Houston, Texas at 6:30pm and arrived there near midnight local time. They had booked me on the first available flight to Northwest Arkansas. It left at 1:10 pm that day. So I spent the night in the terminal. Finally, after about 30 some odd hours of waiting, I got on the flight. And, as if just to twist the knife a little more, it was the bumpiest, most turbulent flight I have ever been on. I was sleep-deprived, hungry and more than a little pissed off and now I thought I was going to be sick. Thank God I didn't throw up.

Anyway, 24 hours after I was supposed to be there, I arrived home, tired and worn-out, but home nonetheless.

Moral of the story: Avoid Continental Airlines at all costs.

(no subject)

Well, I sent off my application for the Directors Guild Assistant Director Training Program! Huzzah!

I'm really hoping I get in. It's PAID training, and man oh man I need a job after graduation.

In other news, I saw "Pirate Radio" last weekend. Personally, I thought it was a fab 60's romp with lots of laughs and great music. But in reading the reviews around the interwebs, I found that a lot of people didn't like it. Their reasons ranged from terrible and extremely shallow characterizations of women to certain musical anachronisms - especially the use of the The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," given that the song was released about five years after the events of the film. I suppose all of these arguments are valid in their own way, but really, it was just a silly, crude, fun little movie about rock and roll and the people who love it. All the performances were great, though Kenneth Branagh was channeling John Cleese so much that he may very well get sued. But he was still funny.

Anyway, I liked it. Movies made simply for the fun of it are rare these days. Either they take themselves far to seriously or they have been futzed with by a committee so much that all the soul and life have been drained from them. It was refreshing to see a film that takes its subject seriously, but doesn't take itself too seriously.

(no subject)

Senior Year starts today!  Huzzah!

Of course, with that comes the inevitable "What Do I Do After Graduation?" question.  There are a couple options.

1) Go out for the DGA (Directors Guild of America) training program.  You have to take a few classes regarding on-set safety, contracts and other stuff, but after that, they put you to work as a second-second (that is, a second assistant).  Or at least, they help you find work to that effect.  I've heard a lot of good things about the program, but it is hard as heck to get into.  I'll have to keep asking about it, but this seems to be the best way to find work after school.

2) Continue as a working stiff and just do some small projects on the side.  The money won't be great, but I'll have a few options open to me.

3) Move back home commercials?  Work for a church?  Do local news?  There aren't a whole lot of options in NW Arkansas, unfortunately, but that's where most of my family is.

Just some thing's I'm considering.
Oscar Clip

(no subject)

My Hollywood Business Practices and History class went on a tour of Hollywood and the surrounding areas today.  It was pretty awesome, even though is was the hottest day of the year and there was a huge fire burning just over the mountains, which means it was also a nice day to get out of the Valley.

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As Mel Blanc would say, "That's All, Folks!"
Mighty Monarch!

(no subject)

When I was younger, I loved smoking.  It was cool, it was hip, it was rebellious and all my friends were doing it. 

Now that I've picked it up again, I've noticed something.  I absolutely hate it.  It smelly and gross, it gives me a headache, it exacerbates my already jangled nerves and it makes working out at the gym a bit more difficult.  So I'm quitting.  Cold turkey.  I've only been doing it for six weeks or so, so it shouldn't be too hard.


(no subject)

Another odd dream last night:

Apparently, my Mom had become really good buddies with Lynn Johnston (of "For Better or For Worse" fame), and she had invited us - that is, my Mom and Teenage Me, to her house.  She was nice enough to my Mom, but when I started looking through an old collection of her work, she got kind of persnikitty.  And in a real passive-aggressive way, too.

Not too sure what to make of this, as I don't even really like FBoFW. 

(no subject)

Oh and by the way, guys, my LiveJournal is going to be Friends Only from now on.  Though I'll usually double-post to my Facebook page if there's something there I want to share with the world at large.  So if you read my journal and you want to continue to do so, let me know so I can add you to my Friends List. 
It Stinks!

(no subject)

So...I'm smoking again.  Boo, me.

Yeah, with all the stress I've been going through, I finally caved in and am puffing away about three or four times a day.  No, I'm not proud of it and I hope I can quit again soon, but that's what's up.  Mom and Dad have already expressed their disapproval, as is natural, and urged me to quit ASAP.  I know I should and I'm chewing gum more than I'm smoking, so I'm hoping I can wean myself off.