Category Archives: Classic Films

Checking In

BornyesterdayJust wanted to write a post and check in because I haven’t written anything for about a month now.  And it’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, I’ve just been busy with a personal project thats taken up much of my time.  But it’s worth it, and I think it’s going to turn into something really special.

In the meantime, I’ve been going to the movies and watching all sorts of films.  And to tell you the truth…I just haven’t been compelled to write about the movies I’ve seen this summer.  Most of them have been pretty disappointing, and I haven’t found that one film this summer to be extraordinary.  There definitely hasn’t been a LOOPER or a DREDD in the bunch, two late summer flicks that were extraordinary.  My last bastion of hope is with THE WORLDS END, which is due in theaters sometime next week.  I’m hoping Edgar Wright and his crew won’t let me down.  Among the films I’ve seen…there was ELYSIUM, which was blah.  It’s overblown message about class warfare and healthcare really just brings the film down.  I’m all for hard core science fiction, but this movie was just too serious for its own good.  And Jodie Foster…God…this is possibly the worst thing she’s ever done.  So bummed out.

On the classic movie front, I think I may have found a couple of films to go on my all time favorite movie list.  BORN YESTERDAY.  If anything, next to CLUELESS and ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, this may be my all time favorite dumb blonde movie.  Judy Holiday is hilarious as “Billie Dawn”, a young woman living with her wealthy and powerful boyfriend Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) who has congressmen in the palm of his hand.  Then there’s William Holden’s Paul Varrel, a reporter hired by Brock to help make Billie appear smarter to people in public.  However, through the course of her”makeover”, Billie start’s to wisen up to her boyfriend, and she learns that Harry is in fact a corrupt crook.  Crawford is also hilarious and the uncouth Harry, who is loud and brash and completely full of himself.  There’s a great scene as well where Billie and Harry are playing Gin Rummy that seems to pretty much define their relationship.  If anything, the game is one thing that Billie is really good at, as she gets into it with intense focused concentration.

There were a few other classics I really fell in love with, such as WESTWORLD and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.  I wrote about both of these films over at This Is Infamous, the new website I’ve been writing for.  I have a couple of new article’s up, one about Brad Bird, and why did he leave the animation industry.  And What Happened To Classic Cartoon Villains? which was another article I had posted.  This is Infamous has been a great experience and an enjoyable site to write for.  I’ve had to spend time trying to come up with more articles and stories.  It’s been good practice for me as a writer, which I hope to carry with me as part of my creative arsenal.  Writing is not easy, and neither is making good storytelling.  But it’s a major part of my learning curve.

I’ve been thinking about how much has changed for me over the last year.  For those who don’t know, I have been a mental health patient.  One of the struggles I’ve had to deal with was being on some heavy medication, which all but took away my creative drawing ability. The one thing I found I had left that I could still do was write.  Even though I didn’t always know what I would write about, I kept doing it anyway as a way for me to push forward.  Things have changed for me now, and I am on a much better medication that gives me freedom to be open and creative.  My attitude about life has been different over the last few years as well, and this run I’ve been through feels like going through the fire.  And I’ve survived.

There’s going to be a lot of things happening with me in the next year or so, and some of it I can’t wait to share with you when the time is right.  Life changes are always interesting and never easy at the same time.  It’s like being reborn, in a sense, and you begin to enter a new field where your destiny awaits you.  What is that destiny?  It’s the new life you manifest for yourself.  The life that begins in the imagination and lives in your dreams.  What you put out the universe will bring back to you.  That really is the interesting part.  And somehow inside, even if were not always not consciously aware of it, we know inside the things we want most.  Sometimes the universe surprises us with an opportunity that leads us to where we really want to be.  It’s our choices in life and our openness to accepting new things that helps us shape and evolve ourselves.  For awhile I felt my life was on the verge of complete disaster.  But that changed over time.  We are at the beginning of a new age, and things are sure to get better, but only to those willing and ready to accept them.

In a little over a week, I will be attending Cinecon, Hollywood’s largest classic film festival at the Grahman’s Egyptian Theater.  It’s a great event, and I will be seeing some terrific films and writing about them as I did with my article from last year.  I hope you will be able to come, it’s from August 29th to September 2.  There are some great surprises.  I mentioned before that last years biggest surprise was getting to see a lost John Ford film called UPSTREAM, which premiered for the first time in over 80 years at Cinecon.  And it was a fantastic film too.  I highly recommend anyone to come and check it out.

That’s it for now.  I have some downtime in the next few weeks, which will mean more writing for me, so hopefully you will see more of what I have in store for you.  Take care.

The Great Escape (1963) Dir. John Sturges

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Well, now I can check off another great classic on my list of must see films.  The Great Escape is a pretty tremendous film, with three great stars in the lead roles: Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough.  I liked the epic feel of this story.  It’s a true story by the way, where supposedly every detail of the Escape is exactly as it happened.  I have to admit, when watching the film, the escape itself is an incredible undertaking as these POW men band together to dig an escape tunnel under the fence and out of the compound.

In a funny way, I saw the whole thing play out as sort of a game.  It’s the escape game if you will, and sometimes it’s funny to watch as the men have to come up with ways to make noise and distract the Nazi’s from the real noise their making in trying to dig through the tunnels.  There are secret codes and messages, giving the men enough warning when Nazi’s are coming while they’re in the middle of planning and executing their escape.  Then of course there’s Steve McQueen whose character becomes almost a running gag for all the time he has to spend in “The Cooler”, a solitary confinement room where he has nothing to do but chuck a baseball against the wall.

I also really enjoyed watching Richard Attenborough in this film.  Like most people of my generation, I know him best as Hammond from Jurassic Park, but it was great to finally see his earlier work and see what an incredible actor he was.  Already his clock is ticking and this major escape attempt is a risk to his life as the Nazi Commandant tells him if he tries to escape one more time he’ll be executed.  Of course, if he’s going to go out escaping, he’s going out with a bang, as it becomes his mission to get all 204 men out of the prison at the same time.    Attenborough gives a kind of understated performance, and a seriousness that seems to keep him driven to make sure everything goes to plan as leader of the escape.

The film plays out in three acts, each lasting almost an hour, with the first act introducing and setting up the plan for the escape.  The second act focuses on the execution and work the men put through to keep the Nazi’s unaware of their plans, leading up to the actual escape.  The third act focus on the 74 men that do get out as they attempt to flee Germany for Switzerland.  The final hour of the film is certainly engaging, although so many men end up getting caught, I was starting to wonder if anyone was going to actually get away at the end.

The part that confused me the most was the reasoning behind why Steve McQueen’s motorcycle hopping the fence was supposed to be such a famous scene.  When the scene was coming, I expected something far more dramatic and epic than what we got.  It turns out the motorcycle hop is filmed at a long shot, with McQueen hopping a four foot fence.  It’s an impressive trick, I guess, considering that McQueen did the stunt on his own.  But there’s no drama to it, no swelling music…it’s just…a motorcycle hop.  So why are people so blown away as to make this a famous scene in the film?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s just that it was more impressive for its time than the kind of stunt work I’m accustomed to seeing in movies today. But this just felt like a letdown because the stunt was fairly understated and didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Some of the other things I liked about the film was that it kept a fairly light sense of humor, although I am not sure how different the POW camps were from the concentration camps, and why the Nazi’s seemed to think the POW’s deserved better treatment (apart from religious persecution/ discrimination).  The prisoners are free to walk around the camp, garden, play sports, and surprisingly McQueen is allowed his baseball and mitt in the Cooler when I think that would defeat the purpose of solitary confinement for the Nazis.   Who knows.  I think some of the freedoms the prisoners had might have been played to give the film a lighter, not too serious tone.  After all, the movie plays itself with a sense of fun, and the excitement of the audience being in on the major escape.  Although, I think the darker third act makes up for the lighter beginning as we see some of the prisoners who aren’t so lucky.

Overall, I really liked The Great Escape.  I don’t think it’s a truly great movie, mainly because it plays up some romanticism/ “escapism” of the audience wanting to be part of the adventure in this prison escape movie.  The lightness the film portrays is obviously opposed to the much more serious things that were happening in Germany at the time.  But hey, it’s a movie.  I can enjoy the film for what it is, and if anything it’s enjoyable, well-acted, and a good time for all.

Westworld (1973) Dir. Michael Crichton

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Before Michael Crichton gave us Jurassic Park, his penultimate theme park terror, there was Westworld. Westworld is a science fiction adventure story set in the future where a resort theme park is created for people to live out their fantasies. They can be cowboys in a western town. They can be a knight in a Medieval fantasy. Or they can live the life of the Romans. For only $1000 a day, with the roles of the towns characters played by cybernetic robots. What could go wrong? Well if you remember what Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, this is what happens when The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down and the pirates start killing the tourists!

What’s funny is that when I first entered this film, I expected something far hokier and cheesy than it turned out to be. On occasion there are a few things I was trying to wrap my head around, such as in a staged bar fight, how do the guests tell their hitting a robot and not another tourist? But it’s a minor thing. What plays out in a sense is a take-off of Disneyland and its use of audio animatronics in theme parks to create life like human characters, and what if there was a resort where humans interacted with robots to live out their fantasies. What’s great about the movie is that the movie plays as satire, with its own sense of humor. There are even funny moments where the characters actually act out their sexual fantasies with the robots. It’s strange and silly with the lack of moral implications throughout, as the guests are allowed to not only have sex with robots, but break tables, smash windows and blow up parts of the town, while a crew comes in every night while the guests sleep to repair things and fix the robots.

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But the one major shining aspect of this film is the great Yul Brynner who plays the Man in Black robot. He gives the guests a playful amount of trouble until things turn serious and the robots start acting against their programming, killing off humans for real. What unfolds is a precursor to Terminator, as the Man in Black hunts down our main protagonist human in a thrilling chase through the different resort areas. Breyner being such a major actor playing a robot, he really brings something to the character. We don’t know how much sentience he’s achieved because of his malfunctioning program. Like James Cameron’s Terminator, I found myself invested in the character where sometimes you would get these little intricate moments of humanity, and you wonder despite their programming if the robot is actually enjoying what its doing! Whatever the reason, Yul Brener is one of those great inspired actors and it was a brilliant choice to cast him for all the believability he could bring to the role.

The rest of the cast playing the guests of the theme park are phenomenal as well, playing up much of the humor about how a real guest would interact in such a world. There’s a side story as well about a middle age husband and wife couple, where the husband wants to do the middle ages resort and fall in love with a princess, while the wife wants to live in Roman times. It may not be a realistic depiction of how such a theme park would exist, but it’s made believable because you’re so invested in the characters entering this world. Before the main characters even reached Westworld, I found myself hooked right away in the story just because I liked the characters so much. With the satirical news reporter in the beginning advertising the park and interviewing the guests, I knew afterward that this movie was going to be a good time, and it was fun all the way to the very end.

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Westworld is just a really fun ride, and for all its silliness and satire, it enables you to take the story seriously enough to go with it even if it always doesn’t make sense. It’s a great film, highly enjoyable especially from a master story teller like Michael Crichton. If you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, I highly recommend you check out this earlier work from Crichton. It’s a really well told story, and gives you a good idea why he’s embraced the idea of the theme park gone wrong.

Moviecappa One Year Anniversary!!

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Hot damn!  Moviecappa is One year old!  I missed it by two days, it was actually on May 10th, 2012 that I first started this site.  I for one am very grateful that I have kept this site going for that long.  I started this site because I have always had running commentary in my head when I go to the movies as well as when I see what goes on in the industry.  It’s a place for me to talk about why I think the movies are important, and what we can do to see them get better.  It’s also been my vision that this could be a place for filmmakers to come and talk about movies, and discuss the thing we want most out of them:  good storytelling.  This site was created out of passion, and I hope to see more discussion and bigger things to come for this site in the future.  If you have been an ongoing reader of the site, thank you so much for coming back and for your support!  Greater things are yet to come!  So stay tuned!

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Dir. Leonard Nimoy

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Arguably The Voyage Home (next to Wrath of Khan) is probably the most popular Star Trek film.  I know Trekkie purists don’t care for it, mainly because its considered a silly premise to plop the Enterprise crew in modern times to create a fish out of water story.  There’s also the argument that this is the one Star Trek film where the characters don’t actually travel anywhere apart from time travel.  Thankfully however, I don’t consider myself a purist Trekkie.  I enjoy watching reruns of the show all the time, but I can’t remember specific plots to episodes or movies.  As far as just good movies go, Star Trek IV is a good one.  It’s entertaining and it’s fun.  I have few disagreements with it.

If anything, for the sake of the franchise, it seems like a bit of an easy tactical move to place the characters in modern times.  The reason being that Star Trek III is not a terribly great film, and it’s easy to see how the series could start faltering.  The goal here is to mainly please a wider audience, attracting people who may not be religious fans of the series, but regular people who might like the idea of seeing well known characters in a much more identifiable setting.  It makes sense.  And it’s easy to see why the film is so popular.  It’s rife with gags showing just how out of place Kirk’s crew is.  But it’s done with good writing and a lot of cleverness.  It’s even full of great one liners:

“Double Dumbass on you!”  “Tell me, Admiral, what does it mean ‘exact change’?” “I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re from Outer Space.” “No, I’m from Iowa.  I only work in space.”  My personal favorite scene in the movie is when McCoy treats the old woman patient in the hospital:  McCoy: “What’s the matter with you?” Patient: “Kidney Dialysis.” McCoy: “Dialysis?  What is this, the dark ages? Here, you swallow that, and anymore problems just call me!”

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This film also has some good character work in it as well, giving some of the other supporting players, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov more to do than normal.  I also like that Spock isn’t quite all there in his head after the experience of coming back from the dead.  He’s a little off, doing a few crazy things, such as diving into the tank to mind meld with the whales.  He has a bit of trouble adjusting to his surroundings, making him all the more fun to watch.  As for the newcomer, Gillian (Cathrine Hicks), she’s fine in the movie, although it seems too easy that she just up and leaves her life, simply claiming she has no one who would miss her.  I seriously doubt that.  It’s too easy an excuse for her to just drop everything and leave.  We know she loves the whales, but if she loves them THAT much it’s no wonder she doesn’t have any friends, only her career.  I also think it’s weird that she would just decide to give a lift to two strangers after one of them just jumped into a whale tank without a believable reason.  The other thing about this movie I also never understood was the forced conflict by having Gillian arrive the next morning to discover the whales have been transported without her knowledge.  If she’s that much of a weirdo and a loner, no wonder they would want to trick her about the time the whales were leaving.  Considering she’s in charge of their care, it doesn’t really add up.  I have never liked it when conflict is forced instead of coming up for a good explanation as to why it exists.  It’s just not terribly good storytelling, and the filmmakers are hoping the audience will be caught up in the movie enough not to really notice.  It’s meant just to find an excuse to keep the story going.  Also, when she gets to the future, she’s assigned to a science vessel.  Why?  I thought she came so she could watch over the whales.  Whose else is going to have the expertise to study them?

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Overall, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is an enjoyable outing.  There isn’t that much here in the way of great science fiction, and the film seems to hit us with a hammer a little bit about the extermination of Humpback whales.  This film also completes the Khan trilogy, as Kirk and crew are united with a new Enterprise, and Kirk himself is demoted to Captain.  But really it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the other films to appreciate this movie.  Apart from the beginning and the Klingon ship, it can be pretty much watched as a stand alone feature.  The story is not as engaging as Khan, but it’s a well though out story.  We can also thank Nicholas Meyer for returning to co-write the film, who has some experience with time-travel fish out of water stories (see Time After Time, starring Malcolm McDowell).  It’s nice to have a Star Trek film that everyone can enjoy.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Dir. Nicholas Meyer

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The Wrath of Khan is considered by many to be the best film out of all of Star Trek. My personal favorite is actually Star Trek: First Contact, and I know that might seem like heresy to Star Trek, but hey, I grew up on TNG. I actually had the experience of seeing that film in a theater, and I was absolutely thrilled by the end of it. I was only an infant when Star Trek 2 first came out, but I imagine I would have gotten the same thrill out of it had I been able to see it then. I never really got around to seeing Star Trek 2 until I was in college. But it surprised me greatly, and I firmly believe it’s the best of the TOS Trek series. It doesn’t have quite the effects budget of the first film, but the even better alternative is that it has a strong, tight and compelling story. It also has a tremendous bigger than life villain, as well as being the most fun of all the Star Trek films.

Is it a perfect film? Almost. There are a few small things that don’t quite gel with me in this movie. One of them is the Kirk, Spock, McCoy dynamic. It is good here, but some of the things I never understood…Why does McCoy go into a rant on Spock debating the Genesis device when it’s pretty clear Spock was speaking in scientific terms as opposed to morality issues regarding the device. It’s true that McCoy likes to read into things, but there’s a lack of motivation behind his words, and the scene falls flat for me. Some of which might be due to editing. The second thing that’s a bit of a let down for me is some of the production design and effects work. Again, it’s good, but you can see more of the budget constraints on this film compared to the first Star Trek, and I find some of the sets in this film to be a little hokey and not terribly well lit. I think mainly of the space station science lab when Kirk’s away team arrives, and we see Khan has killed most of the staff. The lighting of that sequence just doesn’t seem that atmospheric and eerie enough. But those are minor complaints.

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Quite frankly I would watch Wrath of Khan 100x over than the first Star Trek film. The thing that was missing most from the first film was a driving force, which in this film is Kirk who leads the story. This is Kirk’s film, and everyone around him plays their parts as support for his personal journey. There is more emphasis on Character in Star Trek 2, as well as better editing of sequences, which keep the pacing focused, driving the story forward. When I rewatched the film today, there was one aspect I found still got to me, and that was the death of Spock. Originally when The Wrath of Khan originally came out in 1982, pretty much everybody had heard Spock was going to die. So what Nicholas Meyer did in the film was kill everyone off in a fake out death scene in the beginning. This was done not simply to throw people off, but to get the build up out of the way so people would forget about Spock and focus on the story. Admittedly the same thing happened to me rewatching the film, as I forgot that Spock was supposed to die until it actually happened. It just goes to show how incredibly smart and well thought out the story was. For much of the film, Spock is simply there as support for Kirk, so there isn’t too much focus on what happens to him. To this day, it’s still a terrific death scene, and Leonard Nimoy’s performance is one of the best he’s ever done in all of Star Trek. I’ve always liked that while Kirk and Spock are the best of friends, when Spock is near death, he still stands and adjusts his shirt to present himself to his captain…a great touch. Everything comes home for Kirk in that moment, where this time he can’t beat the no-win scenario without someone else taking the sacrifice.

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The adventure is most compelling here, as the emotional center of the film is Kirk facing his aging body and feels something deeper is missing from his life. The challenge here is that Kirk has spent most of his life cheating death, but it’s also the one thing he’s most afraid of, trying to deny it within himself. He struggles with feeling that he now has to accept old age almost considers his life as captain to be over. It’s this human journey that makes this one of the most emotionally engaging Trek adventures. Kirk has that admission once he realizes he can’t beat the no-win scenario, he finally admits that he knows nothing. What I like even more is that the story keeps it simple here by focusing on Kirk, and of the subplots, such as the Reliant finding Khan all tie into Kirk’s journey. Humorously, as well as being true to the story, Kirk keeps managing to get the best of Khan throughout the film. But Kirk always managing to beat him relates to his problem in that it was only easy for him because he knows things about starships that Khan doesn’t. Still that doesn’t stop Khan from being a greater threat, having killed Federation civilians mercilessly, and doing some crippling damage to the Enterprise. Khan also seems to fall in the vein of literary villains, who have memorized books like Moby Dick word for word, but never actually learned anything from the story! To be honest, he’s not my favorite of all the Trek villains, but he is a lot of fun, and Ricardo Montalban does a great job hamming it up. Khan himself is a rich character, and a joy to watch at times. It’s interesting too that Khan and Kirk have a relationship in the film, but never actually meet in person accept when talking to each other through the Enterprise viewscreen.

I also don’t want to go on without mentioning Kristie Alley as Savvik in this film, and she’s just terrific. I really miss that she didn’t come back (for whatever reason) to do Star Trek 3 and 4. Her replacement, Robin Curtis, does a decent job, but Kristie Alley really owned Savvik as a character, who while being a Vulcan, we still sense a slight bit of pride to her actions. She is not completely emotionless. I also can’t think of his name, but I really like Khan’s right hand man, his most trusted comrade who also begs Khan to let go of his need for vengeance and take the Reliant wherever they want to go. Khan fights him at times, but he keeps vigilant admiration and respect for his leader. Khan is even saddened and angry about his death near the end of the film. We sympathize with several other minor characters in this film, including Scotty’s brash young nephew in the engine room. It’s a minor role, but his death garners plenty of sympathy from us.

The Wrath of Khan is a great enjoyable film, and one of the finest in all of Star Trek. While I have some quibbles about the movie, they are seriously minor to how great this movie really is. It’s an engaging, moving, well told story, and one of the best adventure films of all time.

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