Hollywood Party

“Sons of the Desert” is the official Laurel and Hardy club, which has tents that span all over the United States.  I’m pleased to announce that my friend Stan Taffel has started a new Sons of the Desert tent, called Hollywood Party, which will begin holding meetings October 11, 2012 at the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn across from the Hollywood Bowl on Highland.  This particular tent will not just be dedicated to Laurel and Hardy, but to all the comedies produced by the Hal Roach studio, which also include Charlie Chase, Our Gang (The Little Rascals), Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, etc. and meetings will feature shorts and features from the number 1 comic powerhouse studio of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  I was part of the Sons of the Desert tent, “Way out West” in North Hollywood, but will now be joining Stan’s tent when it starts later this month.  Admission is $10.  If you love these comic giants of the time, or you are seeing them for the first time, by all means come check it out!   

WEBSITE: Hollywood Party WebsiteFACEBOOK PAGE: Hollywood Party Facebook

Fatty Arbuckle

Hal Roach

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Looper (2012) Dir. Rian Johnson

Hands down Looper may be the best film I’ve seen this year. It may also be one of the best, most complex science fiction films I’ve seen in awhile. The premise from the trailers is simple enough to follow, but as the film progresses things get far more complicated. Heroes become Villains. Villains become heroes. There’s shades of grey in just about everyone we encounter. No character, supporting or otherwise comes off as trivial or wasted. And every plot point is planned out to a T.The movie works on just about every level.

To give a brief synopsis, the film is set in Kansas City in 2044.  30 years into the future time travel is invented, and then outlawed.  But it’s used by crime syndicates to dispose of unwanted people.  In the present time (2044), there are hired assassins called Loopers, who wait for the targets to appear, hooded, and then they blow them away, dispense with the bodies in an incinerator, and collect bars of silver as payment which are attached to the back of the victims.  When a looper is finished with their duty, it’s called closing the loop.  The loopers older self is sent back to the past where their young self has to blow them away.  After that, the younger self is payed in gold bars and is basically set with the knowledge they will have only 30 years of life to live before the syndicate finds them and sends them back to be killed.  Well, in the case of the looper Joe, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Old Joe appears, only to make his escape, and when a looper lets their older self escape, there are serious consequences worse than death.

THAT is all you need to know going into this film.  As the rest of the movie unfolds, the story gets a tighter grip around you.  There is so much more that goes on at a bigger scale.  The characters are motivated for their own selfish reasons, Old Joe’s being in the name of love.  But what he does to fight for those memories leads to devastating consequences.  Because one of the most interesting aspects of the film is that the more young Joe changes his destiny, the more Old Joe’s memories change and the life he lived starts to become hazy and non existent.  The biggest thing that wasn’t expecting with this film was how dark it turned out to be.  Seriously, if you always thought of Bruce Willis as a solid action hero, you may never look at him the same way again after this film.  What he does here is quite shocking and its unlike any character he’s played before.

Joseph Gordon-Levett is equally just as good.  Actually, he’s amazing in this.  As the chaos builds to the final moments of the film,  the moment Joe understands what’s happening, everything about that moment plays right.  There are also some great supporting actors here, with Jeff Daniels playing Abe, a mob boss sent from the future to monitor the loopers in the present.  There is also Emily Blunt, a farm woman who lives with her son…and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) is not only a phenomenal child actor, this 6 year old kid goes to some incredible frightening places.

I can’t talk more about this film without going into spoilers, so later next week I will see it again and go into full on spoiler mode.  But really, I kid you not, next to Moonrise Kingdom, this film may be on top of my list as one of the best movies of 2012.  See it in a theater.  Do not miss it!   

Fall Movies 2012

Fall is here, which means there’s a whole slew of interesting films coming out.  I put on my skeptics hat for a few of them, because this past summer I wrote a list and certain films I was most looking forward to (ahem, Prometheus) turned out to be such tremendous backfires.  But some of these look really good, and I can tell by November I will have my butt in a theater practically every week to check out all the most anticipated films.  November also happens to be my birthday month, and this year for my birthday I get a Sam Mendes directed James Bond movie!  And it looks terrific too!  So here are 8 films I wanna see this Fall and Winter.

LOOPER: Release Date: September 28th
I’ve been looking forward to this film for the last few months now.  It just sounds like a great action sci-fi premise  Here’s a synopsis:  Looper is set in the year 2042, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of several mafia-employed assassins known as ‘loopers’ who are tasked with ‘taking out the future’s garbage’. The targets are delivered from 30 years in the future to a waiting looper, who puts a bullet in their head, burns the body and collects their earnings. Loopers are well paid, but when the bosses decide it’s time to ‘close the loop’ and they send back your own future self back for assassination, leaving you with only 30 years to live. Later in the film Joe’s loop is to be closed, but his older self (Bruce Willis) escapes, which is very bad news, bringing the mafia on the hunt to kill both Joe’s.”

Sound complicated?  Maybe a little.  Does it look good?  Hell yes!  Thankfully this movie comes out tomorrow, and I will have a review up for it very soon after I see it.  I can’t wait!

CLOUD ATLAS: Release date: October 26th
This is a huge epic film coming from the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix).  It looks stunningly beautiful and the cast is tremendous, featuring Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Keith David, and Hugh Grant just to name a few.  It takes place over several time periods.  A plot synopsis reveals this:  An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

Now, this looks really good, but in the back of my mind this can wind up being another Prometheus.  Ridley Scott was an incredible director.  And while the Watchowskis have made some terrific and diverse films (The Matrix, Speed Racer), they also have the dreaded Matrix sequels on their resumes.  We’ll see.  The running time is almost 3 hours long!  Hopefully it stays engaging that whole time.

Here’s the extended 5 1/2 minute trailer:

WRECK IT RALPH: Release Date:  November 2nd
As with all modern day animation, I’m skeptical about this one.  I like the kind of Toy Story for Video Games aspect, and it’s fun seeing all the classic video game characters Disney has managed to license.  The trailer looks fun, but I also sense the dreaded “life affirming message”, with the dreaded fish out of water character learning how they should be themselves (it seems like this message never stopped after Aladdin came out).  BUT…there is one really good thing going for it.  The director is Rich Moore, who not only directed on Futurama and The Simpsons, as a director he was responsible for some of the most classic Simpsons episodes in the first 4 to 5 seasons (Marge vs. the Monorail, Cape Feare).  So the guy knows how to be funny.  I really hope this doesn’t disappoint.

SKYFALL:  Release Date: November 9th
My birthday release for the year!  A new James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road).  Mendes is one of my favorite directors, and to see what he might do with a James Bond film excites me to no end.  The trailers for this look terrific.  I can’t wait!

LIFE OF PI:  Release Date: November 21st
Here’s another film that can go both ways, either it will be incredibly engaging, beautiful, and stunning, or it will be beautiful and stunning and completely boring.  Ang Lee is directing, and we all know he is a master of stunning visuals and can create compelling stories (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).  I’ll have to wait and see about this one, but I am looking forward to it. 

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY:  Release date: December 14th
Okay….well, its always nice to venture back into The Lord of the Rings.  And it looks pretty good to.  I’m curious as to what this 48fps thing is going to look like.  Will it revolutionize cinema?  I’m wondering if its going to look too real…there is something about seeing films at 24fps that makes it just slightly off kilter from real life, which for me puts cinema on a level apart from reality.  But this looks fun.  We’ll see soon enough!

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON: Release Date:  December 7th
Bill Murray as FDR?  I’m there!  The story is set around the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.  Sounds good to me.

DJANGO UNCHAINED:  Release Date: December 25th
Here’s the latest from Quentin Tarantino coming out soon.  I’m looking forward to seeing Tarantino do a Western, and the cast featuring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo Di Caprio, and Samual L. Jackson sounds great.  Seeing the trailer though, the only thing that bugs me is Di Caprio’s southern accent.  I’ve heard him try different voices for characters in other films, like J. Edgar and in all honesty he really just doesn’t sell it for me.  But we’ll see, aside from that this movie looks like its going to be a lot of fun.

 So November especially looks to be the month for some really great movies this fall.  There are a few I know I haven’t added here like Frankenweenie, but that film just doesn’t get me excited, and Tim Burton has pretty much lost me.  But it looks like there’s some pretty good stuff headed our way, and of course, Fall is when all the wannabe Oscar pictures come out.  So it should be an interesting couple of months ahead! 

Dredd (2012) Dir. Peter Travis

 I walked into this movie not really expecting anything at all.  I had heard some positive reviews for Dredd that tempted my interest, and I had some skepticism in me after just seeing the trailers for the new Total Recall and all the things they did to destroy that film.  I never saw the Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd which came out in 1995, but the overall consensus for that film was that it pretty much sucked.  So I suppose one good thing Dredd had going for it was that it couldn’t possibly be any worse than the original film.  And thankfully, this film turned out to be far better than I imagined.

Dredd is really damned good.  Hard R rated action films can be a tough sell, but I thought this movie was not only solid in its premise, there’s some really great character work here.  The film is engaging and held my attention to the end.  If there’s any comparisons to be made with previous films, I’d say it combines some of the best elements of Robocop and Die hard.  And through all the violence and gore, thanks to a drug in the film called Slo-mo, the blood shed is somehow made…beautiful?  I suppose that’s what gory exploitation action films are all about.  But thanks in part to the Slo-mo (and the 3D), it takes the film to newer unexpected places.  

 
 

 The movie’s also got a sense of humor…a strong female protagonist…and a good creepy female villain known to everyone as MaMa.  Making the villain a woman in a hardcore action film was a nice surprise, and Lena Headey who plays MaMa does a great job.  Dredd maintains a kind of drone like attitude through out the film, which pretty much masks any real feelings he has under the surface.  Part of this is illustrated by the fact that Dredd never takes off his helmet the entire film.  Everything is pretty straight forward with him as he dispenses justice, being judge jury and executioner, and there is very little grey area with him.  But underneath it all, as someone else said, there is actually personality through his lack of personality.  Karl Urban does a great job, having to act without his eyes, but entirely through his body language and his jaw!  He gives life to Dredd, as we see a guy restrained of all emotion practically as a metaphor with the suit he wears.

Most of the emotional heart of the film however comes through Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) a rookie Judge in training who becomes Dredd’s partner.  She also happens to be a mutant with psychic abilities that prove to be both a blessing and a curse.  She has the most defined arc in the film and going from a kind of innocent place in the beginning to discovering her true path at the end of the film.  At first you wonder why such a timid rookie wanted to become a judge in the first place, which Dredd even questions her about.  All she can say is that in some way she wants to make a difference.  In the beginning she’s pretty unsure if this is the direction she wants her life to take, but the adventure changes something inside her, and by the end of the film she is made stronger and more sure of herself in her life decision.

I don’t want to give away too much of the film.  I will say the majority of the action in the film takes place in one location, a gigantic building apartment complex, which is where my comparison to Die hard comes in.  In scope, this puts the film on a smaller scale than most action films, but here its a good thing as it leaves more room for character, and also we get a sense of the limited space the characters have to navigate through.  The Judges get trapped inside, having to navigate inside while the plan to take out Mama.  Along the way they take one of Mama’s associates as a hostage.  In a great scene, the hostage tries to use Anderson’s psychic abilities against her to rape her with his mind, but how she is able to defend herself and retaliate with her mind is just awesome.  It’s not only great but it gives us insight into her character…that men have taken advantage of her abilities in this way many times before and she’s learned how to control and ward them off.  There may be a lot of explanation here about her desire to be a judge as well.  It’s a great moment. 
 

Mama, the lead villain, winds up being a strong character in her own right, creepy and dangerous.  Some of her henchmen are there against their will to do what she wants.  Her operation is the manufacturing of the Slo-Mo drug, which alters the mind to slow everything down to 1%.  When we see visually what happens when people are tripped out on the drug, it leads to some incredibly beautiful slow motion photography.  Its like there’s some ecstasy mixed in there as well, making the colors far more vibrant.  Some of the gory violence as well is made super slow, so you get good visceral detail of every torn limb and bullet punctured skull!  This movie feature everything from faces peeling off, to heads exploding, and every possible gruesome moment.  What’s also interesting however is that in some cases the movie knows when to let loose with the gore, and when to hold back, such as one point when a character gets his hand blown off, we don’t actually see the amputated limb, but you know it happened. 

Does this movie have an shortcomings?  Not really.  It’s a solid story, and it really is a lot of fun.  I suppose I had only one complaint (SPOILER WARNING AHEAD, SKIP TO THE END IF YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW)……
….At one point Judge Anderson is forced to dispense justice on a thug, her first killing, which affects her.  Later in the film, she and Dredd sneak in and hide out in a woman’s apartment.  The woman turns out to be the wife of the thug she had to kill, which just reels in the drama even more.  My issue with this is that I’m not a fan of coincidental events happening in movies, even if it turns out to be something that works against the character, I still feel the hand of the filmmakers trying to pull my strings, and it sometimes means forcing conflict on characters instead of letting it evolve naturally.  It annoys the hell out of me when I see that.  There must be over 1000 apartments in the building their in alone.  What are the odds they would just stumble into the one of the guy she just shot?  But apart from that, the rest of the film was just terrific.

SPOILERS END…

This movie already isn’t doing so well in its opening weekend, which is now around 7th place in the Box Office.  But it really is good though and it deserves to be seen.  And if you can, pay the extra money to see it in 3D.  I’m not generally an advocate of 3D, but in this films case I felt it added a new dimension, and I could feel the depth more of the shots than I have with most films (which tend to flatten out for me after 5 minutes).  It also uses 3D as a fun gimmick, which is more than appropriate when we have blood splatter flying in our direction!  In my opinion, this has not been a great year for movies, but this film was one of the most enjoyable and fun I’ve seen all year.  Seriously give it a shot.  If you grew up loving films like Die Hard, Robocop, or anything done by Paul Verhooven, you’ll have a great time.  
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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) Dir. Richard Fleischer

Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing a terrific Disney classic on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”.  Next to Mary Poppins this may be my favorite live action Disney film.  It was funny for me when going into the theater to see this film because I hadn’t seen it in well over a year.  I completely forgot about the classic iconic moments from the film  until they came up, such as the Giant Squid attack.  Or the Cannibals sequence, or the incredible destruction of the island Volcania.  I suppose when you’re studying film, there comes a point where you put your nostalgia for the film aside and force yourself to study it as if you were seeing it during the time it was made for the very first time.  I found myself not caring about all the aspects that made the film memorable, I just went in hoping it would still be a great movie.  
Having changed a lot personally in the last few years, a part of me was wondering if it would still hold up.  In the first half of the movie, its pretty much everything you’d expect in a Disney film that are obviously silly now.  But for anyone who understands Disney movies, its still all part of the films charm.  For instance, it wouldn’t be a Disney film with a great song (“Whale of a Tale”).  Whale of a Tale is interesting because while in the beginning it seems like a silly sailor song for Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) to sing, the song becomes a music cue and Ned’s theme for the rest of the film, defining the kind of playful energy he brings to the story  (Walt should have given Peter Lorre a song to, I would have paid good money to see that 😉  ).  In turn, the song is actually important to the story.  The amusing silliness doesn’t stop there of course, as we get scenes of an underwater funeral (complete with a coral cross), and the infamous dinner in the captains quarters where the coffee cream is breast milk from a sperm whale (and the pudding is unborn octopus).  And don’t forget Captain Nemo’s pet seal Esmeralda, which I suppose would be the substitute animal sidekick character in any Disney cartoon! 
Like I said, this is a Disney film after all, so any amount of silliness seems appropriate.  But what’s interesting is that about half way through the film, it starts switching gears into something a little darker and more ominous than you’d expect.  Captain Nemo’s backstory is tragic, as his drive for revenge against humanity stems from Nemo’s wife and son being tortured to death in a slave camp.  James Mason is just spectacular as Nemo, and with the exception of a few humorous moments, he plays the part straight and serious as a torn man, consumed by hate.  
Captain Nemo isn’t so much a villain as he is a tragic figure.  He’s an incredible genius of course, with power far advanced than humanity has developed.  He keeps it for himself fearing that man would ultimately abuse that power to destroy the Earth if they ever got their hands on it.  Of course, in complete hypocritical sense, Nemo uses that power just as blindly when he destroys any passing ships to make sure mankind suffers for what was done to him.  It is interesting when you think about the fact that Disney in 1954 would actually make a family film that asks you to identify with a sociopath!  But I still found myself sympathizing with Nemo, to the point where even though I knew it was coming, I still did not want him to die.  His death scene is emotional, and beautifully shot  as he opens the visor to his cabin porthole with one last view of the ocean before he goes.  I find it interesting that Walt liked to make a lot of films about men with power…many times they were father figures, which became running themes in his movies.  So for a complex character like Captain Nemo to come along, its fascinating to see Walt take his own spin on the character.
    

The supporting characters are also memorable, with Paul Lukas as Professor Arronax, who becomes a kind of conscious for Nemo, but at times he can be just as flawed and arrogant.  His apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre) even points out as the professor says “You’re life and mine mean nothing compared to all this”, he begins to sound just like Nemo.  Conseil is caught in the middle of course between the professor and Ned, because as much as he values scientific discovery, he’s not about to give up his life for it.  Which is why he feels forced to side with Ned.  But the problem with Ned is that while he also values his life, he doesn’t care about any of  the significance of what Nemo has accomplished and more or less will do anything in his power to get home.  The consequences of Neds actions however, put the crew in serious danger towards the end of the film, but even though everything Nemo had accomplished died with him, the professor admits to Ned afterward that the world may not yet have been ready for everything that Nemo had accomplished.  Another interesting note about the massive destruction of Volcania is that it could be compared to that of a nuclear explosion, which Nemo seemed to have discovered, and is possibly the kind of power (nuclear energy) he used to power his sub.  With the film only premiering about 10 years after the Hiroshima/ Nagasaki attacks is an interesting and fairly timely commentary.  None of this is really mentioned in the film, but I wonder how intentional it may have been if they were suggesting Nemo had discovered nuclear power).     
 

 Of course, as great a film as this is, how could I go into it without talking about the most famous sequence, the Giant Squid attack.  And I have to say, to finally watch this sequence on the big screen was an incredible experience.  The sequence is just as exciting and thrilling as ever, and for 1954, I still feel the squid is just as convincing.  Originally this sequence took place at sunset because that was supposed to be the time of day when the sub surfaced, but Walt was terribly annoyed when the footage came back and how cheesy and unrealistic fight looked.  So he had them change it to a storm sequence, which if you think about it doesn’t make much continuity sense (it was daylight out when the sub dived and shortly after it surfaces for the squid fight), but in the end Walt was right, and the audience never really noticed.  Walt as we know was a master of family storytelling, and just as much a master of giving children traumatizing nightmares!  The giant squid attack is just classic. 

I think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a perfect film.  And yes, even with all of it’s silly moments, which is just part of what makes it a Disney film.  The silly side never interferes when it needs to get serious.  The film allows itself to go to some pretty dark places, which seems like a rarity in Disney films today.  There is always that deeper emotional current running under the surface.  And what I really like about this movie, and most Disney movies of this era, is that we don’t see the characters become completely different people by the end of the film.  There is change that affects them and gives them something to think about for the future.  But there’s no lesson the film tries to preach to call attention to itself.  We are with these characters and understand their personalities, and we’re taken on an experience.  The film never once preaches or talks down to its audience.  I know I may say that a lot when I look at these movies, but I think its important to note when characters should just be allowed to be who they are, without being forced to change to fit the needs of the story.

If you have never seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it really is an incredible film, with strong themes that still hold up today.  See it for the first time, or see it again with a new set of eyes.  You won’t be disappointed!   

Shake that booty Kirk Douglas!

“I KNOW!”

I know! I know!  There’s been a lack of longer posts from me in the last few days.  It my be like this a little bit until the project I’m working on goes into another slow phase, at which case I will have time for more writing in my posts.  I saw The Master Saturday (very good), and Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) at the Egyptian Theater, which was amazing (I’ve seen it many times, but never on the big screen).  So I’ll have more to write on those films later.  But my longer posts will have to go into carbon freeze in the mean time.  Of course, because you all love me, I can have Han speak for me then!

Greatest ad-lib in film history.