Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Film History Suggestions

As some of you may or may not know, I'm currently employed as a high school teacher, mainly teaching their film history and editing classes (it's a charter school that specializes in film). Last year I taught two separate film history classes, one pre 1950's and one post 1950's. This year they're having me teach a beginning class, and then later teach an advanced class that will be more like what I did last time. So for this beginning class they'd like me to show the most important films. "If they only take one film history class in their lives, these are the films they need to see" is how the principal discribed it to me. So, that's where I need your input. What are those films that these kids need to see the most?

Here's the guidelines:
1. the class is nine weeks long, 70 minutes a day every day, so we have time for 1-2 features a week along with a bunch of clips, which means approx 12 features for the term.
2. no rated R movies, although I can show appropriate clips from R movies.
3. I'm considering organizing the class by film component: Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, etc. And then showing historically important films that are prime examples of that component.

So what are your suggestions and why?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What I saw 8/15 - 8/28

This may be my new favorite review - right up there with Pauline Kael's review of Born on the Fourth of July. http://aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=24309 Be sure to read the talkback section where the director of the movie challenges Vern to a wrestling match.

Jackass: This is a perfect movie. Better than Citizen Kane.

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang:

Heaven Can Wait: I wonder if it's possible for Ernst Lubitsch to make a bad movie. This movie has no plot, a mildly charming hero, no real jokes (although it's funny.) And yet I was entranced from beginning to end. My list of Lubitsch movies from favorite to least is To Be or Not To Be, The Shop Around the Corner, The Merry Widow, Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka, and Heaven Can Wait.

Snakes on a Plane:


I Heart Huckabees: I liked this movie, although it tended to wear thin by the end. It reminded me of the jejune philisophical debates I used to have as an undergraduate. I suspect, although I'm not sure, having children knocks the desire to discuss these type of existential questions. I used to live for these kinds of questions but now . . . Remember that joke from childhood about bloody bones and dirty diapers? Remember that? This movie seems as removed from me as that joke. I hope that doesn't mean I'm shallow.

Poseiden: It's nice to see Kevin Dillon in movies again. Other than his character I was bored.

In theaters next week I can't wait to see The Wicker Man remake. I love Neil Labute and I love the original Wicker Man. I also want to see Crank. And The Illusionist. But I'll see The Wicker Man before all of the others.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What I saw last week 8/7-8/13

From favorite to least favorite
Freaks and Geeks: This is as good as the British version of The Office. I watched all 18 episodes and wanted to watch them again. From this I see why James Franco is a star, he's really funny and a little crazy. He could grow up to be Jack Nicholson. Please, somebody put him in a movie where he doesn't just pout. The writing is superb and the cast are all achingly real. And it's funny. Good gravy is it funny.

The Descent: Not as scary as they would have you believe. I heard that critics were wimpering. Really? Wimpering? It was pretty scary but wimpering? I'm glad they didn't do that retarded horror movie thing where the main character fights a monster in a skimpy clothing. Nope they were dressed like spelunkers all the way through.

World Trade Center: I liked it. I didn't like it as much as United 93 but it was much more of a feel good story. Not one for the ages but I cried.

Sanjuro: The Kurosawa films I like best have the most action. I like this a lot more than Rashamon or Ikiru but not quiet as much as The Seventh Samuri or Yojimbo. But there was some good funny stuff and if I had the money I'd add it to my DVD collection.

Night of the Comet: It's funny that movies that embraced the look and philosophies of the eighties tend to look even more alien than movies from the 1930's. This is as dated as anything I've ever seen. In this the same comet that destroyed the dinasours destroys all humans except for those who for some reason spend the night in something steal. And some humans turn into zombies. Not nearly as good as Omego Man (but what end of the world movie is?) but still kind of fun. In a very cheesy way.

Running Time: Bruce Campbell heist movie. Fun. Shot as if it was all in one take. I could only spot a couple of the scene breaks although according to the commentary there were about 30. Not a great movie but I'll see Bruce Campbell in anything.

what I saw last week 7/31 - 8/6

To Be or Not To Be (1942): This is my favorite movie. I think it is even more funny and subversive than Dr. Strangelove. I watched it with my in-laws and brother and sister's in law, ages 8-16. It played like gangbusters. Big belly laughs. I think the reason it works so well is that it is genuinly tense and they never sacrifice the tenseness for a joke. There is even a half hour section where there is not one joke. Ernst Lubitsch and his screenwriters were that confident.
This is a criminally undervalued movie. Ernst Lubitsch is one of the top three directors ever, and this is his best movie.

Monster House: Good. Liked it.

Hard Candy: Scary and creepy. I found myself looking away from the screen even though it was just a lot of talking heads. Afterwords I felt like scrubbing myself with Clorox.

Coffee and Cigarettes: Pleasant all the way through, some skits worked better than others but so what? The skit between Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan made the whole thing worth it. And GZA and RZA should be in another movie together. They are hilarious.

Firewall: Even though I enjoyed it, I've already forgotten that I've seen it. If I didn't keep a list of the films I've seen, it would be down the memory hole.

V for Vendetta: Pretty good. I liked the foppish character and the inversion of the Guy Fawkes story, but why, oh why did he have to blow up Big Ben? I thought the whole point of the movie was that John Hurt was a bad Prime Minister because he doesn't allow art and freedom of the press and writing. So why did V blow up the parliament building? His movement is just as willing to sacrifice art (and yes, architecture is art) for ideology as John Hurt was. I don't trust whomever of those Guy Fawkes guys will be the next leader of the country after they win the revolution. They will be just as bad, or worse.

Talledega Nights: I loved Anchorman. Loved, loved, loved it. I only sort of liked this. I think the problem is that the main characters are southern rednecks. Not that I don't like Southerners, I just think the well of Southern bashing humor has run dry. Some pretty good parts, mostly when it goes surreal. One scene with a steak knife had the whole audience screaming. But other than that I was a little disappointed. Gary Cole was great. Sacha Baron Cohen was great.

Final Destination 3: Yeah, I saw it. So what? I needed to see how the trilogy plays out.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What I saw last week

These are the movies I saw last week. They are in order of most favorite to least favorite. (I'm a little embarrassed that I enjoyed Benchwarmers more than The French Connection, but if I can't be honest with this group, who can I be honest with?) I won't comment on all of the movies.

Bad Day at Black Rock: The best part of a gunfight in film is the tense moments before it happens. The holy-crap-it's-going-down feeling. This movie is an hour and a half of that tenseness. I think Spencer Tracy is the best film actor ever. Period.

The Cowboys: If more kids had died, I think it might have been my favorite movie of the week. The end seemed like a big cop-out to me. But of course it's a family movie.

Clerks II: My new favorite Kevin Smith movie. The donkey scene went on way too long though, and there is one shot that made my gord rise.


The Benchwarmers: God help me, I laughed. There is a surrealness to Adam Sandler movies that appeals to me. And this movie has that in spades. Sure there are too many fart jokes, but the moment when the coach on the opposing team loses and punishes himself by giving himself a titty twister, the movie had won me over.

The Public Enemy: White Heat and Angels with Dirty Faces are better but this is still pretty good. James Cagney seemed a little stiff. He didn't really know where to put his hands. He got much better in later movies.


The French Connection: This would probably have more of an impact when it came out. I suspect that I've seen too many French Connection rip offs to make the original seem fresh. Not the movies fault but there you go.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


His Word is so true,
Oh why did I ever choose you?
You are killing all my wonder.
- Liz Janes

This is the kind of film that pretty much demands discussion afterwards. So sprawling and weighty, so enthralling yet baffling, so many possibilities of meaning; I can only compare it to other monuments like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fellini's 8 1/2, or Lucas' Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Wait, scratch that last one.

If I were still in school and had to write a paper anytime soon, I'd write it on the similarities of Magnolia and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Despite an obviously different intended audience, I think Anderson and Lewis are trying to accomplish similar goals and even use a similar style.

In one of his essays, Lewis wrote:
“Do you thing I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

I think Magnolia is all about the same evil enchantment of worldliness. With everyone trying desperately to find happiness through fame, power, wealth, status, addiction, television, etc., but not being able to have a real relationship with anyone. Then the insane ending with the frogs. Was it a biblical plague, like in Egypt of old? A Transcendent moment of the Creator demanding Television's Great and Spacious building to "let my people go"? I don't know, but it was beautiful. What do you folks think?


Monster House - Digital 3D

This aint your mom's 3D. Somebody has developed a new 3D technology, Disney has purchased it and it looks amazing. The glasses are a huge upgrade from the gimmicky blue and red card board model. When you put the audience in a 3D space, you have to tell the story differently. A lot of fast cutting will disorient the audience because you are essentially changing the space around them. Robert Zemmeckis is the guy who understands this and although he didn't direct this film, it feels like he did right from the recognizeable opening shot, (think Forest Gump). He is however a producer on the film and my guess is an uncredited director for many of the scenes. I think it was Vince Vaughn who said "you can accomplish alot in a movie if you don't care who takes credit". I did not know this going in but Monster House features the voice talents of Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, John Heder, Kevin James, & Kathleen Turner. This film has great structure, great characters, great humor. It flows really well and even dares to be original. There are some moments that don't seem right for kids but not harmful by any means. Overall I had a great time at this movie and was enthralled more than recent memory. If you think you might see this film, definately see the 3D version, go early, get the middle and sit close.
The best part of all of this is that they are currently converting The Nightmare Before Christmas into this format. I saw a few clips at the trailers before Monster House and it looks very impressive. I believe it is due out this holiday season.