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intellectual crisis of artistry, 31 August 2015

Federico Fellini's Oscar-winning "8 1/2" was probably the first movie to contrast art with the trials and tribulations of an artist's life. Marcello Mastroianni plays a director who watches both his movie and his life collapse around him. Overall the movie is about trying to find happiness in such a world. In typical Fellini fashion, we see past and present interspersed, creating a bizarre setting. The opening scene shows Mastroianni's character in a car which starts filling with smoke, the perfect metaphor for an artist's feeling of being trapped (so what happens next reflects the desire to escape this hectic world). And since this is Fellini, there's a scene that pokes fun at the Catholic Church.

I understand that Fellini made this movie to reflect his own experiences as a director. It's safe to say that his tough experiences as a director contributed to his masterful output. "8 1/2" affirms him as probably Italy's greatest director ever. I have no doubt that he would still be making masterpieces were he alive today.

I highly recommend "8 1/2".

different time periods, same story, 30 August 2015

H. G. Wells's classic novel popularized the concept of time travel. I've never read the novel, but George Pal's 1960 adaptation of "The Time Machine" is a really cool movie. There were a few things that I interpreted from it.

The time-traveling scientist (Rod Taylor, RIP) goes to multiple points in the future and finds repeated wars. I suspect that the screenwriter added these to the plot for historical accuracy. The time traveler notes that in his own time he sees governments creating more and more ways to kill each other. No doubt Wells's socialist views led him to grow disgusted with this. Indeed, the Eloi and Morlocks are supposed to be the descendants of the rich and poor, respectively.

The depiction of a future in which all the world knowledge has died out reminds me of Mike Judge's "Idiocracy", in which a man gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up 500 years later, finding the world populated entirely by stupid people (to the degree that there's a TV show about a man suffering repeated crotch injuries, and a movie that's a two-hour shot of someone's butt).

As for the rest of the cast. Alan Young (Filby) is best known as Wilbur on "Mister Ed"* and Scrooge on "DuckTales". Yvette Mimieux (Weena) later starred as the Princess in a segment of Pal's "Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm". Paul Frees (the talking rings) provided the voice of Boris on "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and also the Ghost Host in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.

Basically, it's one of the neatest movies that you'll ever see. Ditto Pal's movies "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" and "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao". There was a 2002 adaptation of the book, but I think that I'll skip that movie.

*I only watched that show to see Wilbur's wife Carol. You don't know what a hottie is until you've seen her.

101 years ago, audiences first saw the Tramp, 29 August 2015

Cinema was in its relative infancy when an English immigrant to the United States donned a bowler hat, fake moustache and notched cane, and gave the world one of the most famous characters. Charlie Chaplin had debuted in a movie called "Making a Living" (as a non-Tramp character) and had filmed a movie before "Kid Auto Races at Venice", but this was the first released movie in which audiences saw the bumbling but kindhearted man in the ill-fitting clothes.

Because cinema was a new phenomenon, movies didn't yet have complex plots, and there was no sound, no color, and no star system. It wasn't until a few months after the release that Chaplin directed his first movie, and so one might interpret the Tramp's interfering with the filming of the races as Chaplin's trying to figure out the path that he wanted to take in movies. Well, we should be glad that he took the path that he did, because he gave us some of the greatest movies ever. Most importantly, anyone who likes to learn about cinema history should definitely watch "Kid Auto Races at Venice".

Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter Oona co-starred on "Game of Thrones". I wonder how "Game of Thrones" would be if the Little Tramp were a character.

one-shot Looney Tune, 28 August 2015

"Joe Glow, the Firefly" was a first for Warner Bros cartoons. Previously all Looney Tunes had featured their stars (at that time Porky and Daffy), while the Merrie Melodies had featured one-shot characters (except for Bugs and Elmer, nascent characters at that time). This cartoon was the first Looney Tune to feature a one-shot character.

While watching the cartoon, I wondered why the man left his food so exposed. He was practically inviting anyone to walk in and steal it, or even inviting ants and bears into his tent! OK, so I shouldn't try to analyze a cartoon that much. It's a fairly interesting cartoon. It was around that time that Chuck Jones's work started to shift away from simple plots and to the clever, wacky stuff that characterized his most famous work.

Gertrud (1964)
testing you attention span and stereotyping Scandinavians, 27 August 2015

Carl Theodor Dreyer's final movie focuses on a woman who decides that she no longer wants to be with her husband. "Gertrud" contains several long shots in which the characters express their unhappiness. Basically, the whole movie is an excuse to test your attention span. But at the same time, it lets these Scandinavians stereotype themselves. Deliberately slow-moving, it lets the characters sit there and be endlessly morose. Their attitudes amount to boredom. I've seen movies from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, and so it seems that the Danes are the most inclined to be somber and slow. Scandinavia has the highest quality of life in the world and yet their movies make it look as if life sucks. Why? Is it because their winters see limited sunlight?

The only other Dreyer movies that I've seen are "Vampyr" and "Ordet". I'm going to assume that most of his movies were more like this movie and "Ordet". The only scene here that's even mildly lively is the ceremony honoring the returning poet, and the movie basically uses that scene for satire.

If you're someone who's really into hardcore, deep, inward cinema, this will probably be the movie for you. Otherwise you'll very likely find it one of the more boring movies out there.

a new kind of cheerleader movie, 26 August 2015

One would expect a cheerleader movie to be an empty one. "Bring It On" turns out to be a more creative one. Basically, it shows how the girl appointed captain of the cheerleaders discovers that their act is stolen and she tries to make amends. The movie does have some low humor and other things that we expect in these movies - i.e., the bikini scene - but it's a good movie. A subtle look at the theft of African-American culture by white people (essentially the story of rock 'n' roll; "Dreamgirls" focused on this). In the meantime, "Glee" presents another look at cheerleaders.

PS: a scene in 2001's "Not Another Teen Movie" parodied this movie.

Serena (2014/I)
tin linings playbook, 23 August 2015

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence co-starred in "Silver Linings Playbook" (really good) and "American Hustle" (worth seeing). It was inevitable that they would appear together in a lesser movie. The weird "Serena" starts off interesting but sputters out halfway through. The movie seems as if it's saying "Hey guys, wouldn't you like to bed Jennifer Lawrence?" or "Hey girls, wouldn't you like to bed Bradley Cooper?"

I haven't seen any other movies directed by Susanne Bier. I know that her "In a Better World" won Best Foreign Language Film a few years ago but I don't know anything about it. I might eventually see it. In the meantime there are far better movies starring the two leads, as well as Rhys Ifans.

Music Land (1935)
Jazz is no blues, but how could anyone dislike it?, 21 August 2015

First, I should note that I'm not a Disney fan. I always preferred the irreverent cartoons from Warner Bros to the "cute" stuff from the Mouse House. That said, "Music Land" is fairly interesting. Had it been up to me, though, I would have made the Isle of Jazz the Isle of Blues. I guess that one of those either/or pop culture debates ("Star Wars" or "Star Trek", Ginger or Mary Ann, etc) could be jazz or blues. I've always preferred the blues (as well as "Star Trek" and Ginger).

So, "Music Land" is an OK cartoon. I interpreted the content as a look at the burgeoning generation gap of the 1930s (I understand that the older generation of white people DID NOT like that the young people were into a type of music created by African-Americans). Tex Avery's "I Love to Singa" dealt with this. Of course, I can't hear "Ride of the Valkyries" without picturing Elmer Fudd wearing a horned helmet to hunt Bugs Bunny.

I bet that within a few years, no children will understand the metronome reference. When was the last time that anyone in the 21st century saw a metronome?

Azeri minstrels and lovers, 19 August 2015

Sergei Parajanov's final completed film is based on Mikhail Lermontov's short story about a poor minstrel who must travel for 1,000 days before he is allowed to marry the daughter of the local ruler. Like Parajanov's earlier "Color of Pomegranates", "Ashik Kerib" (which Parajanov dedicated to his friend Andrei Tarkovsky) makes ample use of the visuals and goes long periods without speech. Basically, it tests your attention span; a far cry from Michael Bay's movies.

I wouldn't go so far as to call this movie a masterpiece, but I like that it shows us a culture that we don't often get to see. The culture in this case is Azerbaijan. Parajanov had focused on Armenia with "The Color of Pomegranates", and Ukraine and Georgia with other movies. His refusal to incorporate socialist realism into his works caused friction with the Soviet authorities (as did his bisexuality).

In the end I recommend "Ashik Kerib". I wonder where Parajanov's career would've gone had he lived longer.

Butch Cassidy meets Mary Poppins in a different life of pi, 18 August 2015

The common understanding of Alfred Hitchcock's career is that 1964's "Marnie" was the end of an era: his final movie to feature an icy blonde, and his final movie scored by Bernard Herrmann. Using this logic, one would conclude that "Torn Curtain" was the beginning of the end of Hitch's career. But that doesn't do the movie justice. The Sultan of Suspense didn't create any mind-blowing scenes for this movie like he did in "Psycho" or "The Birds", but there's a scene towards the end that has no shortage of suspense.

Paul Newman plays an American scientist whose fiancée (Julie Andrews) discovers that he's headed for East Germany...but there's more than meets the eye. Newman is in top form naturally, but I'd say that the movie belongs to Andrews. She gets to play a role very unlike those with which she's associated. Far from the happy-go-lucky performances as Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp, her character here is a tense, scientific-minded person who understands geopolitics (although unlike a lot of Hitchcock's female characters, hers is not a "guilty woman").

In the end I would say that even though Hitch had passed his prime, he hadn't lost his touch. I recommend the movie. He went on to complete three more movies after this one, and was planning another one when he died.

So, the next time that you hear Julie Andrews sing about a teaspoon of sugar or a name to call myself, just remember that she also starred in a Cold War thriller.

Watch for a young Wilhelm von Homburg (Vigo in "Ghostbusters 2") towards the end.

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