Thursday, February 25, 2016

Carmen Jones

I talk jus like yor Maw... and that's the last time I use phonetic spelling. It's about time I get to one of the few films on the List that could qualify in any way for Black History Month. If any of my readers are teaching high school theater or history, this is definitely one to check out. This picture is, in a word, odd. Not because there is not a single white person anywhere to be seen in the film (seriously, nowhere. Not in crowd scenes, not in background shots, nowhere). Every single person on screen is black in every scene. This had to have been an interesting casting call when it was made in 1954 - any black backlot actors who would wait around for work could be guaranteed work at least in crowd or street scenes. That's not the weird part, considering how many films on the list have only white people in them. The weird thing in this movie is the soundtrack. It is, as the title suggests, taken entirely from the opera Carmen. The plot is Carmen in WWII, and the soundtrack is Carmen in Very Exaggerated AAVE. It's very odd to hear character's suddenly start saying "dat" and "maw" and "I is", when they don't talk like that in the rest of the movie. Some of the dubbing is badly done, since neither Dorothy Dandridge nor Harry Belafonte were trained in operatic singing. Dorothy Dandridge's singing voice, a woman named Marilyn Horne, apparently worked very hard to approximate her voice, and doesn't do too bad a job. However, if you're used to Harry Belafonte's singing, it's quite peculiar to hear him suddenly singing in a vibrato tenor. Again, it was determined that there was nothing wrong with his voice, he just couldn't sing opera. The plot of the film is... really complicated. If you're familiar with Carmen, then you've got a vague idea of the plot of this movie. But the driving force of the plot is that the titular Carmen is only interested in men who are uninterested - so the engaged soldier Joe is a prime target. A series of various hijinks end up with them in Chicago, him hiding from the military police, and Carmen being pursued by a rich champion boxer. The movie ends like the opera and like the stage musical - with Joe murdering Carmen for ruining his life. Man, I review a lot of films where a sexy woman ruins a wholesome young man's life. Though Theda Bara got away with it. Does that mean that 1915 was more progressive than 1954? I have no idea. Dorothy Dandridge does look stunning throughout this film, Pearl Bailey's singing is great (and she is allowed to skip the weirdly exaggerated AAVE), and it's definitely a curiosity as a film. For teachers looking for some sort of lesson on black history in film that's not blaxspoitation, this may be one to check out. I won't say it doesn't have problematic elements, because it definitely does. This is one of those films that's more interesting as a study of segregation in film, maybe of sexism in film, or any number of elements like that rather than a strictly enjoyable film experience. But the film being so jam-packed with discussable items either makes it must-watch cinema, or must-avoid, depending on your personal preferences.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


In honor of Harold Ramis, who we lost two years ago today, we are going to call. There is no review: only Zuul. This is kind of a natural follow-up to the Back to the Future post. It's a movie that I'm perfectly happy re-watching, even though I've seen it at least a dozen times already, and have the DVD, and have bought action figures, and have drunk Ecto-Cooler. I wasn't the massive fan as a kid that everyone else my age was, because my mother had a thing about a lot of supernatural stuff, and didn't want me to see the picture until I was older. So I first saw it when I was about 17. And wow. See, one of the nice things about not having seen a lot of movies when I was a kid (I watched a lot of movies, but mostly Disney, or Looney Tunes, or "family friendly" features... one injustice I've noticed is that Don Bluth isn't on the List) is getting to experience a lot of these movies fresh. I don't have the half-remembered thrill, or comparing them to my childhood memories. Sometimes that isn't so good - I am not a fan of The Goonies, which I saw for the first time when I was 19, but in the case of Ghostbusters, it was amazing. Imagine your first viewing of this film and actually getting all of the jokes. This is also one of those films that has achieved a huge level of cultural osmosis. There isn't a lot to talk about on the level of "Let's discuss", since you can mention Zuul, dogs and cats sleeping together, the big Twinkie, Mr. StayPuft, Are you a god?, WE GOT ONE, spores, molds, and fungus, the fire pole, the car, Slimer... and pretty much everyone knows what you're talking about. Except the little girl in Zombieland, but I guess there isn't much time for instant classic comedies in those circumstances. What can one do except go on at length that yeah, this movie really is that good. The special effects have held up pretty damn well, the plot is still engaging, and the only real complaint I have is that Winston could have had a more expanded role. I know it was originally supposed to go to Eddie Murphy, but still. Give the man some room to act. There is a major possibility that on some level I may be kinder to the films that I to some extent grew up with. I see fewer flaws in Beauty and the Beast than I do in Lilo and Stitch (although I love both movies, the third act of Lilo and Stitch was weaker than the rest of the film, and the rest of the film did suffer for it). I've obviously not had the highest opinion of every movie I've watched on the National Film Registry. It's going to be interesting charting my reactions on films I've seen before, or books I read before seeing the movie, and films I haven't. How often am I going to become a quote-spewing fangirl, and how often am I just going to watch a movie once? For Ghostbusters, all I can say is, if you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Back to the Future

Busy couple of days, but I'm back from the future to talk about Back to the Future. So, the great thing with this film, as everyone knows, is in the attention to detail, and its biggest strength is the likability of its main characters. There is a reason this movie has achieved a level of cultural osmosis and "classic" status among the general population that a lot of films on this list haven't. I've always considered myself a pretty dedicated cinephile, but I had never heard of a bunch of films on this list. Back to the Future is one of those films from that interesting time in the 80's when filmmakers were mixing off-the-wall "science" ideas, comedy, and stunning practical effects to create a host of movies that are not only ridiculously quotable, but also "culturally significant" at the very least. Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark are also on the List. In Back to the Future, most of it is riding on the charm of Michael J. Fox and the comedy of Christopher Lloyd. They do mesh together to form 1.21 gigawatts of perfection (correct pronunciation can be either "GIG-a" or "JIG-a"). The aging and de-aging makeup is fantastic, and really the only effects that look dated are the occasional green screen effects. Everything done practically still holds up. I suppose there are some flaws, like how did no one in Hill Valley not notice a mini-bus full of Libyans with a rocket launcher driving to the mall? Why did the McFly's hire the man who attempted to rape Lorraine in high school to work on their cars? Why do all the siblings still live at home in the better future when they're successful? The house looks nicer, but it's the same size. Why is only that big-ass truck in the garage? Does it hurt Marty and Jennifer's relationship that he now has a completely different memory of their past? But those tend to be problems with time travel narratives (except the Biff one. Why did no one ever seem to comment on how he was actively trying to rape Lorraine? Why doesn't she seem even remotely uncomfortable around this guy?) Either way, it's still a fantastic movie, and still a movie to watch for all the little details (like Twin Pines Mall becoming Lone Pines Mall). This movie is a touchstone for a reason, even though, unbelievably, it now all takes place in the past.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Young Mr. Lincoln

You'd think there would be some thematic tie-in with To Kill a Mockingbird, but there isn't. Young Honest Abe never says a word one way or the other on slavery, and only one black person appears in the entire hour and thirty-nine minute runtime. As a butler presenting Mr. Lincoln's calling card. The movie is actually concerned with "How did he pick up law?" and a hypothetical first case. It is, as to be expected, somewhat schmaltzy, coming out as it did in 1939. It was very unfashionable then to be critical of beloved presidents. The closest they come is he makes a lot of self-effacing wisecracks. And they do give Henry Fonda a wart, but Henry Fonda was definitely far handsomer than Lincoln. They don't make Abe Lincolns movie stars after all. The movie concerns Abe deciding to take up law after getting a barrel of old books in a trade, including Blackstone's Commentaries. He mostly gets along with hard-headed sense and an imposing physique, until two young men from a small country family are accused of murdering a local deputy. Abe stops a lynching by taking the men on as clients, and the second half of the movie is pretty much devoted to the trial. This is based on an actual trial Abraham Lincoln acted as a lawyer in - for one "Duff" Armstrong, and like the film, the eyewitness was proved faulty by an almanac. It really is rather clever. But it definitely was not as dramatic as it was in the movie. Though maybe that is the thematic tie-in - a person is wrongfully accused to cover up for the guilty, though kissing a black man and killing a guy in cold blood are in pretty different leagues. This movie is all right. I wouldn't say avoid it by any stretch, but it doesn't really seem one to specifically seek out unless you're a huge fan of pre-Civil War movies, Abraham Lincoln, or Henry Fonda.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird

Go and set a watchman, because it's been awhile. I haven't seen this film since we read the book in 8th grade. I just never got around to revisiting it, though I remembered it was a pretty good flick. Shame on my teacher for fast-forwarding through the opening credits - I actually think they're some of the best credits I've seen in a film on this list (though I laughed quite heartily at the opening credits for Deadpool, I don't think that film will be showing up on this blog any time soon). In general, the artistic direction in this film isn't so much "artistic direction" as "point a camera at a really talented cast and let 'em go". But those opening credits. I had also forgotten just how amazing Gregory Peck's voice was. This from a person whose favorite incarnation of The Doctor is the Fourth in part because of how gorgeous Tom Baker's voice is. I can't help it, I'm a sucker for a rich voice. You all know the story, so the point here is in examining it. While Roger Ebert does have a valid criticism that this movie does embody the "White Savior" archetype a little too patly, and maybe it is a big reflection on tone-deaf, self-congratulations among white liberals of the Civil Rights Era (which still makes it a very valid film today with all the talk about intersectionalism), but the story is primarily the story of a widower and his children. That is why it appealed to me, since I was brought up by a widower as well, and like Scout, I had (and have) a very close relationship with my father. Stories about widowers with children tend to be about women coming into their lives and teaching them to love again, because they shamefully neglect the poor little urchins they brought into the world with their sainted dead wives. I was shocked when a classmate stated the father in a story I had written came off as unrealistic because "All men are creeps around little girls". It is lovely to have a single father portrayed as a wise and compassionate caregiver, especially to a daughter. Strangely, the only other example I can think of off the top of my head is Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies. Maybe it's a trope where Southern/Appalachian single fathers raise their tomboy daughters with love, care, and dignity, while city men actually have to learn to love their daughters. Who knows what that's saying about society? But anyway, can Atticus come across as too perfect? Yes. But it is the story being told from his daughter's eyes, and I think kids should be able to have their parents be their heroes. To me, that's a strength of the film. The fact that it's not Tom Robinson's story may raise some eyebrows... as does the fact that the otherwise saintly Atticus, while refraining from using the derogatory "boy", only uses first names with the local black population, while all the white people get a Mr. or a Miss. Culture. This is a story where racist tensions are just a backdrop. It does do a good job of capturing the child's eye view of all of these things, but that may put some viewers off. Only you can know if you're one of them, though.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

His Girl Friday

Why do I always think this movie is "His Gal Friday"? Wikipedia can't seem to agree on whether this movie is a screwball comedy or a dramedy, and honestly, neither can I. It has the pacing of a screwball comedy - not to mention Cary Grant in top one-liner form - but the subject matter is a little dark for the traditional screwball antics. When the source of what everyone is arguing about is whether a guy with a tenuous grip on reality gets executed because he shot a black police officer so a mayor and a sheriff can get re-elected by black voters, it's a little more sobering than "Will the heiress get back to her Johnny-Come-Lately hubby, or will she fall for the charming reporter?". This is also a really loud movie. Everyone talks over everyone else, until even the subtitles give up and just read [crosstalk] for large segments. This is obviously more natural than everyone standing around spewing one-liners and zingers at each other, but is more natural always a good thing? The Film Registry people obviously think so, but as a person with major neurological problems and a bad ear, I can't say I thought it was an improvement. I also feel somewhat ambivalent about the zany antics around the actual subject matter. I guess the original play, The Front Page, was pulling kind of a reverse "Execution of Troppman" kind of thing, where by heightening the absurdity and comedy in the spectators, the inhumanity of the execution is thus highlighted. I'm not sure - maybe it was just as concerned with being screwy and crazy and zany and the looming execution and deeply disturbing government corruption were just window dressing. His Girl Friday did do something new by making the star reporter a woman and having the marriage subplot be a re-marriage, with the constant refrain of "I'm going to live like a person". But that really doesn't cover up how very grim the story really is. It's on 100 Films...100 Laughs, but aside from the witty repartee in the opening, I didn't find many laughs. I found it disturbing how little the film seemed to care about the situation, beyond milking the absurdity for more laughs. I don't know if that was intentional or not, but it missed my funny bone. I can't wholeheartedly recommend this one. I know it's supposed to be a classic, but I don't intend on ever watching it again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

Every time I make a new post, an angel gets its wings. This is a movie that's hard to talk about, in a different way than Laura was. With Laura, and likely the other film noirs I'll be going over in this blog, I don't want to divulge much because they are still surprising after being out for years. There really isn't anything surprising in It's a Wonderful Life because I was apparently the only person in the US not to see it until my 20's. Thank God for expired copyrights, eh? Without this film's copyright expiring, it would probably mostly only be known to Capra enthusiasts and Jimmy Stewart fans, as opposed to being so well known that nearly every comedy series ever has parodied it (my personal favorite, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and A Case of Spring Fever - "Merry Christmas, you wonderful old couch!"). It's not that it's a bad movie by any stretch, but it did disappoint at the box office, which led to the expired copyright, which led to it being aired as a Christmas special, which led to it becoming a classic, which led to a level of inescapable cultural osmosis. Which leads to me being somewhat tongue-tied, because you either adore this movie as a simple, classic tale of good, life-affirming values, or you loathe it as a corny can of cheesy schmaltz. For myself, I can pretty much go without the Christmas angle. To me, the really important part of the tale isn't that the climax takes place on Christmas - indeed, I think of it as really only tangentially a Christmas movie. What draws me to this movie is the fact that it's a tale of an eternal martyr, but not a gentle, good one. George Bailey is different from most martyr figures we see on screen for two major reasons: 1) He resents the hell out of it, and 2) He's a man. Usually when you get a film about one of life's tragic figures, who has their life constantly stolen in innumerable little ways until they finally snap, you get a Madame Bovary or a Bridges of Madison County. It's a woman who is a silent sufferer in the mundane inanity of it all, until she finally takes relief in an affair, after which she either kills herself or leaves her marriage. George Bailey not only complains about his fate, he spends most of the movie complaining. It's actually pretty refreshing. And unlike most martyr-men, George doesn't go rampaging through the town with an AK-47, nor is it made the fault of his wife. I can see why some people dislike this movie so much. The villain is never punished, the fact that George's wife becomes a librarian if she never meets him seems really stupid, and it can be squirm inducing to watch a generally likable guy get kicked around by life at every angle. But those are the reasons that I like it. You've probably already seen it and made up your mind, but if you haven't, I'd say give it a watch.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Fool There Was

Kiss me, my fool! Well, I forgot one important aspect of watching silent films - check to find which one has music. I ended up putting on a mixed Classical playlist, which is probably not too different from what was played during screenings. However, a weird trend in silent films being released now is having some sort of weird electronica music over the action. I hate when they do that - King Lear should not have scraping saw noises and bleeps. Anyway, silent films are always interesting to watch, in large part because the action is simply so different. The people make wide gestures and do an awful lot of mugging for the camera. I sometimes get the feeling we're supposed to read their lips, but the contrast is usually so poor as to make it completely impossible. They also have a very different concept of scene changes and cinematography. Citizen Kane famously was the first film to use two cameras running simultaneously, and Singin' in the Rain did a great job of re-creating the old soundstages, where a slice of action could happen while the director told the actors how to react. A Fool There Was is pretty shocking from the perspective of presentism. We tend to think of early cinema in terms of the Hayes Code, even though it wasn't enforced until 1934. The idea that the wicked could never prosper was a popular trope, but it is not evident in this movie. Theda Bara originated the Vamp character she later became fully type-cast as. She stalks around the set as much as her hobble skirt will allow, with a dead white face, black-rimmed eyes, and black lips, occasionally with her dark hair down her back as she is seen in various negligees. The story is concerned with her first causing the suicide of a man she has ruined, then seducing a married man (John Schuyler), and driving him to drink himself to death in despair. However, interestingly, while Bara's character is treated as a catalyst, and called things like "she-devil", this film does not try to excuse the men who are taken in by her. When she has abandoned John and his discarded wife comes to take him back, the Vamp comes back to prove her dominance - and the man isn't treated as being anything other than pathetic. Mrs. Schuyler's sister suspects the affair and accuses his business friends of covering it up out of male solidarity. And in the end, the Vamp moves on to Vamp another day. Theda Bara said she didn't overly like playing such characters, but she would continue to make these "cautionary tales" as long as "people continued to sin". If you're one of the types who can't stand silent movies one way or another, then probably skip this one, as it's an hour long (most silent films are much shorter). But this is definitely a very interesting period piece, full of lavish Edwardian costumes, and some rather surprising gender politics. Though there is a Chinese servant who gets a title card in "Me speakee Engreesh", but it did come out in 1915. And, unlike Birth of a Nation, the two actual black actors who appear on screen are allowed to appear with the white women. And one was a man. That was highly unusual at the time. I won't claim this as any kind of progressive film, but it is surprisingly so for 1915.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A League of Their Own

Time to move on to a color film, I think. So, I had never seen this film mostly because sports movies aren't my cup of tea. But I probably should have watched it before this because I am very interested in the WWII period, both the homefront and the actual battlefronts. I wasn't overly aware of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League - again, not a sports person (fencing was my sport before I became disabled). According to Wikipedia, the film isn't too inaccurate a portrayal, though it turns chewing gum magnate Wrigley into chocolate bar king Harvey. It also focuses on the relationship between two sisters, who are apparently complete works of fiction. I usually get annoyed with that in historical films, because the true story is usually far more interesting than anything a screen writer can make up, but there are not a lot of films that really explore sisterly rivalry. It's usually played off that brothers have rivalry, and sisters are perfect except for the younger one envies the perfection of the older one. Which is sadly the trope they chose to go with here. Dottie is amazingly perfect in every way - she isn't shown to have a single flaw. No wonder Kit resents her. But Kit just isn't likable enough to sympathize with. What surprised me the most in this movie was that Madonna's oft-mocked acting skills were actually believable here. She's panned in almost every other film she's been in, and she has more than her fair share of Razzies, but she was actually pretty good in this film. Rosie O'Donnell is also pretty good in a harsh, abrasive kind of way that does fit her character. Though I can't recommend watching the movie with headphones on like I did. She plays up her grating voice until it drowns out other sounds if you're listening through headphones. I liked that the movie focused on the healthy relationships between women forming and developing, though I think Tom Hanks really outdid himself in his traditional urinating scene. I did not need to see Tom Hanks goggling like a gutted fish over pee sounds that made the joke from Austin Powers seem subtle. Why does Tom Hanks like to pee on screen so much? A lot of the characters are really underdeveloped, so some twists, like Betty's husband being killed in the war, don't hit the note of tragedy that they were going for. I think it's a good enough movie, and the newsreel bits were definitely clever, but I guess I can't really see where this movie is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It was enjoyable, kind of funny, a little trite, and overall I'm not sorry that I saw it. But I knew I'd have to write this quickly before I forgot about it. Maybe they wanted to make sure the AAGPBL wasn't forgotten... but maybe someone can make a movie with a stronger story next time.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Jumping around a bit again, because I watched this one for the first time just a few nights ago. Film noir is really tricky to write about. If it does its job right, then you really can get spoiled on a 70-year-old movie. I had never heard of Laura before I undertook this project, and it had just the right amount of false flags and red herrings to keep my genuinely guessing as to who the killer was. It had the proper elements of a film noir thriller - obsessive love, murder, mystery, intrigue, and of course the glorious black and white cinematography. Modern film noirs just lose some of that elegant style by being shot in color. I know this is the second review where I've taken a potshot at color film. I'm not a silver screen snob. It's just some movies look way better in black and white. Or with only stylized color, like Sin City. Sin City isn't on the list, but it is definitely stylish. I won't vouchsafe an opinion to its quality, since I haven't seen it since it came out, but it is definitely stylish. Anyway, back to Laura. There's a lot I can't say about this film, because I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone. I'm very anti-spoiler. Even on movies that should be public domain on spoilers because of age. Laura hasn't really bubbled through the public consciousness like King Kong or Citizen Kane or The Empire Strikes Back, so the equally suspicious people in the whodunnit should remain a mystery to the people following my little blog. Though I have to say the biggest surprise for me was seeing that Vincent Price was in the movie, listening for him, then finding out at the end he played the kept man and possibly jilted fiance with the gentle Southern accent. He does not sound at all like himself, and that alone makes the movie worth watching for Vincent Price fans (and who can honestly say they don't love Vincent Price?). The story is of a young, beautiful advertising executive, murdered in her own apartment, and the detective assigned to the case slowly coming to fall in love with the dead woman as he tries to unravel her murder. But nothing is at it first appears. This is definitely a must-see for film noir fans. It's also probably a miss for people who are disturbed by scenes of stalking, obsession, and the twisting of morality some people justify as "love". For others, that is exactly the reason to watch it. The central plot of the film is that Laura is viewed by all around her as too good to be true... and the terrible fall-out that such a thing causes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Citizen Kane

Skipping around a bit because I just watched this one tonight. So how did I get so far as a cinephile without ever seeing Citizen Kane? I don't know. I guess because I like shared experiences and I don't usually expect to like things that everyone tells me I should like. I have never enjoyed Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, for instance. But there's a lot of working around that in this project - I can't just say "Eh, it's not my taste" and skip over a film. And I'm very glad I finally got around to watching this one. I already knew Orson Welles was a film-making genius. I was introduced to him in The Muppet Movie, and got somewhat acquainted with him in the constant jokes during Pinky and the Brain. The first real Orson Welles film I saw was The Lady From Shanghai, which is not part of the Project, but is an excellent film noir and deserves a look-see for all you fellow fans. For Citizen Kane, what can I say about it that hasn't already been said? Every film fan knows about its pioneering camera work, the masterful use of aging makeup, the beautiful shots, and everyone in the world knows that Rosebud is the sled. But I guess what's really missed out on is that it's not just a masterful piece of art. It's a good, solid film that holds up even 73 years after its premier. It does weave a complex narrative, it does impress with practical effects, and it does have great performances. Instead of being held up as the peak of innovative cinema, I think more people should just watch it as a movie. It does cast a King Lear-like spell of epic tragedy. The final shots of the headstone-like sled sizzling in the incinerator, only to pull back to black smoke pouring out of the chimney of the run-down palace are haunting. Though I don't claim to understand the shot of the cockatiel. I'll leave that for real film critics to dissect. After years of hearing it discussed, mostly by people who have never watched it, I'd say give it a watch. And be grateful it isn't colorized. Something would definitely be lost in translation in color. This movie is a masterpiece, and not just for changing the way cameras and makeup were used in cinema ever after. It deserves to be watched, rather than just talked about.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


What can you say about this film beyond "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"? This film is the king of spoofs. I am counting it over the excellent spoofs of Monty Python, because unlike movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Airplane! actually includes nearly shot-for-shot and plot-for-plot take-offs of the films it impersonates - mostly Airport 1979. But the best thing about it is you don't need to have seen the earlier disaster movies to find this one funny. So much of the disaster genre has percolated through pop culture to make the movie hilarious without the direct references - the trope of the crew being down, the war hero with PTSD, the sick child, the illness spreading throughout the secluded location, the hardboiled men on the ground attempting to talk through the disaster. And unlike modern spoofs, Airplane! doesn't rely on the existence and recognition of a thing to be funny. Now, of course, not all of the jokes work. Like any great comedy, they just threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. Some things did and some didn't. Everyone who has seen the movie remembers Leslie Nielsen's brilliant turn, because he is taking everything so perfectly seriously. People probably also remember the "drinking problem", and the creepy pilot, and maybe the "Jive to English" translation scene (which would probably never fly today - ha). Other bits, like the Saturday Night Fever take-off are less memorable. Though Saturday Night Fever itself isn't particularly memorable, aside from a couple of scenes, which is why it's interesting to me that it's on the Registry. Overall, I highly recommend this movie. Especially if you have actually had the misfortune to sit through one of the abominations that Friedberg and Seltzer spit out and call spoofs. See one done right for a change. There are two more spoof films on the list for me to talk about - Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, but they are very different in tone. They did come out a few years earlier, so I guess I should crown one of them the King of Spoof Films, but I saw Airplane! first, and it also has a wider target range. I guess the actual crown goes to Mel Brooks. It's good to be the king.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

2001: A Space Odyssey

Where to begin with this one beyond saying I liked the book much better? This is not a knock on Kubrick. I have great respect for Kubrick. I also have great respect for Arthur C. Clarke. My undergrad thesis was on science fiction and I plan my master's thesis will also be on science fiction. I love science fiction. I love Kubrick's style. Epic Rap Battles of History was right when they said "Every single frame a painting". But this movie is, in a word, dull. Now, no other movie has captured the fact that space is like really totally big, guise, like you don't even know. So big. And quiet. And done it with the panache of adding in stewardesses in miniskirts and bubble helmets. That was a really big thing in the 60's. Interesting how quaint it looks to our sensibilities, or even how sexist, now that we don't view the miniskirt as a symbol of female liberation. Instead, we look back at these shows and movies showing THE FUTURE, and all the ladies are in miniskirts, ridiculous hairstyles, and opaque tights, and we just kind of go "Sure, uh-huh". Then again, considering what the actual fashion trends were in 2001, maybe we would have been better off with the mod space minis. But anyway, that's a diversion from the actual movie. I got very little from the opening, beyond that "Thus Spake Zarathustra" is cool as hell. And the monkey sequence was kind of... eh? I'm not a big monkey person, and watching people in bad monkey suits whack bones around a big monolith was just kind of hard to watch. The section with the HAL-9000 is the part everyone remembers, and there's a reason for it. It does build up genuinely creepy moments. The brain death of HAL as he continues to sing is terrifying, because they'd either have lobotomy patients sing a little ditty or recite the Lord's Prayer while they chunked up their brains with an ice pick. Then everyone remembers there are some crazy lights, and by that point, everyone in the audience is either expected to be too stoned or too confused to remember much else. Since I'm a natural straight-edge, I watched the movie stone-cold sober. It's not that it didn't make sense. It did. It's not that the movie isn't really beautiful in plenty of shots. It is that as well. It's just... well, a series of semi-connected vignettes that are more concerned with establishing atmosphere than forming a coherent narrative. I can't really wholeheartedly recommend this movie to anyone who isn't planning on making space movies or isn't a major Kubrick fan (or isn't a big-time stoner - I understand that was a major appeal). For everyone else, I'd say pick up the book. You can probably read it in about the same amount of time it takes to watch the movie. I can see why this film is important, but important doesn't always translate into enjoyable.

The Film Registry Project

Before launching into this, it's probably best to begin with a little bit of background. First the very basic: who am I? I'm a mostly homebound disabled woman living in Virginia. I'm working on my master's in English literature, and while I'm obviously a big fan of books, I've also always been a big fan of movies. For kicks and giggles one afternoon, I clicked on the link to the National Film Registry and went through the films I had already seen. To my surprise, I had already seen 84, and many more were movies I had wanted to see. So I had the idea to watch every film in the Registry. After watching my 108th film, Laura, the idea came to me to blog about my experience. I am not a professional film critic. What follows are not professional reviews of the films, but rather my impressions and recommendations. I am not rating on any sort of scale, because I always feel silly doing that. I am just going to watch the film, short, or documentary, write what I think, and let you, the reader, take it from there. There are plenty of movies on the Registry that I know are not really to my taste. My favorite movies are The Empire Strikes Back (on the list), Disney's Robin Hood (not on the list), My Neighbor Totoro (not eligible for the list), and The Iron Giant (not on the list). There are a lot of Westerns, which I usually don't care for, and a lot of film noir, which I do really enjoy. I was rather surprised that Marilyn Monroe, my favorite actress, only appears in two movies on the list (Some Like it Hot and All About Eve). There are also not very many musicals, which definitely surprised me, given how often musicals won Best Picture in the Golden Age of Hollywood. There are almost no superhero movies, but that's not surprising - a movie has to be 10 years old to be considered, and we didn't really figure out superhero movies until pretty recently. But that's the blog in a nutshell. Some entries are bound to be longer than others... for example, Wings is a 2+ hour long movie, as is Gone With the Wind. Let's All Go to the Lobby is on the Registry, and it's not even two minutes long. This will not be in alphabetical order until I finish - then I'll go back and alphabetize entries. As for now, I'll just write reviews as I see the movies, starting with the 108 movies I've already seen (or 109, since Citizen Kane is queued up in the DVD player. I know, bad cinephile, not seeing Citizen Kane yet). Let's hope this is a fun little journey through 650 (as well as however many get added while I'm working on this) films deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". - This is the list we're working from, if anyone wants to check out anything. A lot of films are up on Netflix, and the silent ones are almost all up on YouTube. As the Doctor says, Allons-y!