Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Latest Movie Quiz

Dennis Cozzalio has done another one of his splendid movie quizzes over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. I always enjoy filling these out (and reading how other folks have responded as well). Here are my latest answers.

1) Your favorite opening shot (Here are some ideas to jog your memory, if you need ‘em.)

There are a number of opening shots that I really love, but I don't know that any first image in a movie could ever possibly get much better than the simple, but enormously effective, ultra-slow reverse zoom on Bonasera's face as he relates his tale of woe to The Godfather.

2) Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow?

Whichever one didn't call Spielberg the "Leni Riefenstahl" of the Olympics.

3) Name a comedy you’re embarrassed to admit made you laugh

I'm not embarassed to admit it, but the Don Knotts/Tim Conway comedy The Private Eyes always makes me laugh even though I often feel like I'm the only one in the world who finds it funny.

Best Movie of 1947

Not sure I'm qualified to pick the "best" movie of '47 but I think one of the most under-appreciated movies of that year is Robert Montgomery's experimental first-person POV adaptation of Chandler's noir classic Lady in the Lake.

5) Burt Reynolds was the Bandit. Jerry Reed was the Snowman. Paul LeMat was Spider. Candy Clark was Electra. What’s your movie handle?

"The Omen"

6) Robert Vaughn or David McCallum?

Bobby, baby!

7) Most exotic/unusual place/location in which you've seen a movie

I used to own a pocket television when I was younger and my introduction to a few movies (including Midnight Run as I recall) came from a black-and-white screen no bigger than a business card as I was tucked away in my bed late at night.

8) Favorite Errol Morris movie

The only one I've seen is The Thin Blue Line.

9) Best Movie of 1967

Well, continuing my theme of "most underappreciated" movie, I tend to feel that the cinematic value of In Cold Blood is somewhat overshadowed by the significance of its source material. Yes, it's a historic book, but (not unlike To Kill a Mockingbird,) it could also very well be a truly great film.

10) Describe a profoundly (or not-so-profoundly) disturbing moment you’ve had courtesy of the movies

Earlier this year I brought home a movie from the video store entitled Film Geek about a lonely, eccentric young man working in an Oregon video store whose whole life basically revolved around movies and who ran a website devoted to that very subject. I have to say that, while being well aware of the many similarities I shared with him, I was disturbed by how utterly pathetic I found the character to be. What disturbed me even more was later when someone whom I had never even met possessed sufficient enough inisight to liken me to this same character. In case you've never experienced it, there's nothing more unsettling than seeing yourself in a movie and not liking what you see.

11) Anne Francis or Julie Newmar?

Julie Newmar because she was in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

12) Describe your favorite one sheet (include a link if possible)

Again, there are so many great ones, but the sheer simplicity and raw emotional power of the Unforgiven teaser poster is hard to surpass.

13) Best Movie of 1987

As before I wouldn't say it's the best movie of that year, but 1987 was the 25th anniversary of the first James Bond film and the producers marked that occasion by releasing a very respectable entry in the series (called The Living Daylights) which featured the debut of a woefully undervalued Timothy Dalton as a tougher, more intense Bond. I remember going to see it opening night on my family's first day of vacation in Seattle and there was literally a line around the block at the theatre. EVERYONE wanted to see the new Bond. It's interesting to me that so many people now are praising Daniel Craig's grittier, edgier interpretation of the Ian Fleming character (and this is not to take away from Craig's performance at all, because I thought it was fabulous), but he's not exactly doing anything new.

14) Favorite movie about obsession

My usual answer would be Vertigo, but I recently re-watched The Prestige and can't help but think that that's also a pretty decent meditation on the destructive nature of obsession.

15) Your ideal Christmas movie triple feature

I'd probably start with two rather unconventional choices like Die Hard and Gremlins and then end with the more seasonally-appropriate and inspiring It's a Wonderful Life (I still tear up when Stewart cries "Please, God. I want to live again.").

16) Montgomery Clift or James Dean?

With all due respect to Dean (who was indeed great in Rebel Without a Cause), I don't know how anyone who has ever seen the performance that Montgomery Clift gave in his one scene in Judgement at Nuremberg could not pick him.

17) Favorite Les Blank Movie

I have yet to see one, but in scanning his list of films on IMDB I see he did a short about Huey Lewis and the News. Gotta go with that one.

18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Your thoughts?

I remember when I saw Ratatouille in the theatre and I first heard that speech. I thought it was very compelling. I still do.

19) The last movie you watched on DVD? In a theater?

DVD: Blade Runner Final Cut
Theatre: No Country For Old Men

20) Best Movie of 2007

Of the relatively few film's I've seen so far this year, I'm going to have to say No Country for Old Men.

21) Worst Movie of 2007

That would be Transformers.

22) Describe the stages of your cinephilia

(most ages are approximate)

2 - 8: As a young child we had a lot of movies around the house (my father got into the video business in its beginning years) and I spent a lot of time in front of the TV. My parents also took me to see a fair amount of films in the theatre (my earliest memories are of seeing The Muppet Movie and The Empire Strikes Back on the big screen). I wouldn't say that I necessarily loved movies more than any other pursuits/activities. They were simply a part of my everyday life like food, clothes, etc. In other words, they were just... there. The pendulum wasn't even moving. It was resting motionless in the center.

9 - 16: One day my dad brought home a video camera and I realized that I could create products similar to the ones I had grown up watching. Thus, a fascination for the mechanics of movie-making was born and I began to devour as many movies, books about movies and even movies about movies (such as the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark) as I could. I also began collecting soundtracks and learning whole films by heart (including my personal favorite to recite: Back to the Future). My tastes ran exclusively to Hollywood movies (past and present). The pendulum finally swung to one side.

17 - 24: As I was beginning to leave my teen years and enter adulthood, my love of movies slowly shifted to a love of cinema. Works like Schindler's List introduced me to the concept of film as an art and not just as an enertainment. In college my friend Tucker broadened my horizons with silent, foreign and arthouse films and their directors (whose names I had never heard of nor could properly pronounce). I came to the painful realization that I was an "expert" in a subject that I really knew nothing about. While it was humbling it also, unfortunately, led to my becoming a "film snob." The more I learned about Truffaut, Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, et al, the more elitist I became. To borrow my friend Tucker's phrase: "If it didn't have subtitles, I wasn't interested." The pendulum swung way back to the other side.

25 - present: Eventually my cinephiliac arrogance tempered itself as I rediscovered my affection for the so-called "simple" pleasures of Hollywood filmmaking and realized that there was just as much artistic value in something made by Bryan Singer as there was by Louis Malle. I've also finally embraced the fact that I will always be learning about film. Indeed, I will be a lifelong student. Thus, the pendulum has found its way back to the middle once again, but unlike my early years it is still in motion and while I don't know where it will take me next I am eager to find out.

23) What is the one film you’ve had more difficulty than any other in convincing people to see or appreciate?

See #3

24) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?

Laura is one of my favorite films.

25) The Japanese word wabi denotes simplicity and quietude, but it can also mean an accidental or happenstance element (or perhaps even a small flaw) which gives elegance and uniqueness to the whole. What film or moment from a film best represents wabi to you?

I miss being able to see both the chain below the bike and the tracks underneath the road signs at the bottom of the screen in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Those are two genuine mistakes that I think add a lot to the charm and artistry of that film.

26) Favorite Documentary

I think you've asked this question before, Dennis, and my answer's still the same. Clear Cut: the Story of Philomath, Oregon.

27) Favorite opening credit sequence

Once again, there are so many, but I think that the opening credits that Kyle Cooper designed for David Fincher's Se7en are truly extraordinary. I don't know that I've ever seen a main title sequence, for a film released in my lifetime at least, simultaneously prepare an audience so adequately for what they are about to experience, capture the "essence" of a film so succinctly or prove to be so innovative and (as can be seen from the number of imitators that subsequently followed) so influential.

28) Is there a film that has influenced your lifestyle in a significant or notable way? If so, what was it and how did it do so?

Now this I am somewhat embarassed to admit, but I am known by my friends for wearing a lot of black. Not because I like Goth or am a particularly morose individual, but because I think it's a very beautiful and elegant (not to mention easy-to-match) color to wear. However, it wasn't until I saw the Bruce Willis vanity project Hudson Hawk that it really occurred to me how striking all black can look on a person. It may not have turned me into a cat burglar, but when a single film can inform one's fashion sense to such a degree, I think that qualifies as influencing a person's lifestyle.

29) Glenn Ford or Dana Andrews?

See #24

30) Make a single prediction, cynical or hopeful, regarding the upcoming Academy Awards

Not a prediction really, but Oscar night is of my favorite days of the year, so I REALLY hope that it happens.

31) Best Actor of 2007

While I consider Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp two of our finest living actors (and I've yet to see There Will be Blood and Sweeney Todd), I watched Death Proof not too long ago and I think what Kurt Russell did in that film was beyond excellent.

32) Best Actress of 2007

This is going to sound terrible but I can't think of a performance by an actress that really stood out to me this year.

33) Best Director of 2007

At this point, I'm going to say the Coen brothers

34) Best Screenplay of 2007

I always feel it's unfair to answer this question without actually having read any of the screenplays.

35) Favorite single movie moment of 2007

I don't know if this qualifies or not because it didn't actually occur during a movie (it's a more of a favorite moment inspired by a movie), but it occurred to me about 20 minutes after walking out of the theatre that the first 2/3 of Bourne Ultimatum actually took place in between the penultimate scene and the finale of its predecessor Bourne Supremacy, thus providing more information on the conversation between Matt Damon and Joan Allen, seen in the previous film, and throwing it into a whole new light (an aspect of the film I didn't see anyone mention in any of the reviews). The pleasure of this moment of realization was further elevated by the fact that I sent my observation to David Bordwell--in response to a piece he wrote on the film--and he very kindly mentioned my name on his blog (despite my cautioning him that he might receive some flack for doing so). Anyway, it's probably my favorite "movie moment" of 2007 because it reminded me once again that I still do know a thing or two when comes to movies, something that I had sort of lost sight of during this past year.

36) What’s your wish/hope for the movies in 2008?

Add my voice to the chorus of eager/nervous fans who don't want the fourth Indiana Jones film to totally suck blubber.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The "Kidd" From Brooklyn

Four days ago (just on the cusp of Chrismas Eve), the great Michael Kidd died from cancer in his L.A. home. He was 92.

Kidd was born Milton Greenwald on August 12, 1919 in Brooklyn, New York. Although he studied engineering in school, Kidd soon discovered a passion and talent for dance and would go on to become one of Broadway's greatest choreographers (working on such shows as Finian's Rainbow, Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Lil' Abner, Destry Rides Again, Brigadoon and The Goodbye Girl) sulminating in five Tony Award wins. Kidd eventually emigrated to Hollywood where he worked both in motion pictures (choreographing films like Where's Charley?, Star!, Hello Dolly! and The Band Wagon) and television (directing episodes of All in the Family and Laverne and Shirley). Though he never won an Academy Award for his spectacular film work (nor, unbeliaveably, was he ever even nominated) Kidd did receive an honorary Oscar in 1996.

However, for most people (including myself), Kidd will always be remembered primarily for his amazing contribution to MGM's 1954 musical (and one of my personal favorite films) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a work which may very well feature Kidd at his most creative. The truly interesting thing about this story is how it almost didn't come to be. Initially, Kidd did not want to be involved in the film as he had just come off a Broadway project and wanted a rest. He changed his mind after hearing the splendid score but only agreed to be involved as a general "movement instructor" and not a choreographer as he could never make himself believe that seven strapping "backwoodsy" brothers could possibly dance at the level of a typical movie musical without it looking silly or incredulous. He feared audiences would either laugh at the antics on screen or storm out of the theatre in a huff (a la Singin' in the Rain) or perhaps worse. Director Stanely Donen agreed to include no dancing in the picture, but shortly after Kidd was brought on board, Donen promptly did an about-face saying: "Well, Mike, as long as you're involved in this movie we might as well have some dancing in it." At first Kidd was not pleased at all, but his commitment to the lack of believability in seeing big, strong loggers prance and twirl about like ballet dancers compelled him to come up with a most elegant solution.

His approach was to have the dance numbers centered around typical country activities like chopping wood, raising a barn, etc. Thus, the brothers movement, while still not perhaps technically dancing, are far more consistent with the world that the movie creates and the sequences that Kidd designed were (and still are) enthralling, exciting, funny and, at times, perhaps even a bit suspenseful. Nowhere is this more perfectly represented than in the brilliant six-and-a-half-minute dance sequence that serves more or less as the signature set piece of the whole film. It's a scene that I've watched at least twenty times and I swear I still never get tired of it. Note how the number starts out relatively simple and straightfroward but as it progresses, and the brothers try harder and harder to "one-up" the other suitors and win the affection of the ladies, the level of athleticism required for the feats builds and builds until by the end, in a remarkably adept bit of movement, Frank Pontipee (Tommy Rall) is flipping through the air without the use of his hands. Throughout it all, though, we as an audience accept its "reality" because of the subtle degrees by which it arrived at that point.

So, check it out. It's sheer perfection right down to the little spin and hop into the men's arms that the girls do at the very end.

So, rest in peace, Michael. Thank you for providing the world with some beauty while you were here.

MICHAEL KIDD (1915-2007)

Monday, December 24, 2007

"What's This?"

It's a snowflake, Jack. Welcome to Christmastown.


P.S. I promise I will start writing again very soon. In fact, it's my New Year's resolution to "get back on the horse" and become a regular blogger again. Thank you all for your patience.