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Cinematrimony – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by on Jul.24, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the latest edition of the sci-fi reboot franchise. Matt was thrilled with the first film in this new imagining of Rod Serling’s bizarre sci-fi tale but will Francesca come around after this heavily-praised sequel? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

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Shelf of Shame 2014 – Ben Stark

by on Jul.01, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

In 2013, I watched 12 “classic” films that I hadn’t ever seen before. It worked out well, and I’m doing it again in 2014! Here are the final 12 films I’ll be watching. Friends from Film Nerds, Aspect Radio,  and the Hollywood Gauntlet and Fabisch Factor facebook groups voted and helped me whittle down the list to just 12. Needless to say, I’ve got plenty more years of movie-watching left before this Shelf of Shame is empty.

 

January – DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 1975)

VIEWED JANUARY 25th – I was expecting great things from Sidney Lumet, a director whose work I’ve not seen much of, and of course I had heard great things about Al Pacino’s lead performance, but what I wasn’t expecting was the amazing work from Charles Durning. I was primarily familiar with Durning from his fantastic comedic work as Pappy O’Daniel in The Coen Brothers’ O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, but his turn as negotiating officer Moretti is absolutely staggering. Every performer in Lumet’s somewhat comic heist movie feels exceptionally lived-in and organic, but somehow Durning’s work is what really blew me away. Overall the film moves extremely quickly, but for some reason I felt a disconnect when it came to John Cazale’s tragic Sal character. This will probably subside with future viewings.

February – THE STING (George Roy Hill, 1973)

VIEWED FEBRUARY 18th – Being that George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID is one of my all-time favorite movies, my expectations were very high for Hill’s reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. While THE STING doesn’t have its predecessor’s visual flair, structural experimentation, or winsome anachronisms, it’s still a very entertaining and satisfying caper film. It’s more of a Redford vehicle than a showcase for Newman, which is – again – a slight disappointment, but Redford certainly has plenty of screen presence to hold his own. What’s immediately apparent about THE STING is its incredible production value. The art direction and costume design is staggering, and along with the wonderful interstitial title cards, go a long way in creating an absolutely organic, lived-in environment for its characters. Hill doesn’t let any of the design go to waste, either; much of the film is shot in slow, open wide shots that make sure we get to see all of our characters living in the world created for them. As with most 1970′s classics, the supporting cast is fantastic, as Charles Durning makes another welcome appearance. He’s joined by the great Robert Shaw in a glowering villain role, as well as a very charming Harold Gould and a scrappy, likable Jack Kehoe. All in all, THE STING was a warm, effervescent caper delivered to me in the dead of winter, and it couldn’t have been more welcome.

March – THE GREAT DICTATOR (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)

VIEWED MARCH 29th – Quite possibly one of the most important films I’ve watched for the Shelf of Shame, it’s a miracle that Charlie Chaplin’s brave satire even exists. Much has been written about the audacity of THE GREAT DICTATOR, but what strikes me is its episodic nature, reminding me more of Chaplin shorts than features, and its obvious change from other Chaplin features: The use of dialogue. Chaplin’s toe-dipping into sound is what makes MODERN TIMES such a beautifully fun anachronism, but here the full-on sound treatment doesn’t sit as well. There’s something awkward and misshapen about Chaplin’s film, but it’s such a bold statement, and features several excellent sequences (including that famous ending), that it still manages to charm.

April – THE GREAT ESCAPE (John Sturges, 1963)

VIEWED APRIL 25th – This is one of those quintessential Shelf of Shame picks; a film that everyone has seen on VHS or cable a billion times by accident. THE GREAT ESCAPE is bona fide American classic, with an iconic score by Elmer Bernstein and a possibly even more iconic performance by Steve McQueen. I can’t identify why I’ve never seen this movie, but boy am I glad I put it on this year’s list. It is an absolutely essential war film, and wonderfully mixes the broad, populist imagery and types of John Ford with the brutally specific mechanics and details of Jean Pierre Melville. Yes, the first act feels a bit flabby while it’s going on, but once the second act starts gearing up, everything begins paying off and the time just flies by. The wide, passive, somewhat stagnant grammar that Sturges sets up at the start of the film is necessary to the utilitarian, geographically precise approach that the film’s all-climax third act demands. I’ve been a bit lukewarm on a few of my Shelf of Shame selections so far this year, but here’s one that earns its spot on the list, and is must-watch material for any movie fan.

May – BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam, 1985)

VIEWED MAY 28th – As a guy that’s generally ambivalent toward Terry Gilliam (although a few of his most well-revered films sit on a future Shelf of Shame), I wasn’t expecting much out of BRAZIL, but made sure it was on this year’s list because of its high status amongst film snobs in general. How wrong I was to go in with lowered expectations. From the opening scene, Gilliam’s camera and Norman Garwood’s Production Design completely captivated me, and by the time Jonathan Pryce’s dream sequences arrived I was already won over. I’ve never been too interested in Pryce as a performer, but here his comic timing recalls something of Buster Keaton, and he makes an excellent entry point into an entirely original, terrifying, and hilarious universe. I’m always glad to be proven wrong, and I was definitely wrong to expect anything but greatness from this obvious classic.

June – HANNAH & HER SISTERS (Woody Allen, 1986)

VIEWED JUNE 30 – As with many Woody Allen films, it took me right into the second act of HANNAH & HER SISTERS before I became comfortable with the movie’s pacing, dialogue, and setting. There’s something about the privileged intellectual sandbox that Allen plays in that keeps me at arm’s length, but once his stories introduce their central conflict, they very often succeed. On average, I really love Woody Allen movies, and this film definitely jumps into the top of his filmography for me. The moment that this realization solidified for me was in the last of Max Von Sydow’s few scenes, in which his character’s relationship with Barbara Hershey goes from bored to devastated in mere minutes. All the performances are fantastic, but something about Von Sydow’s Frederick fascinates me; he’s an incredibly gruff art snob, as well as a fully self-aware codependent lover to Hershey’s Lee. The film mirrors CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS in a way, as it mirrors an infidelity plot (featuring Michael Caine, Hershey, and Mia Farrow) with a search for spiritual certainty by Woody Allen’s Mickey, but I’ll admit that Allen’s scenes wore a bit thin for me… but the less time you spend in them, the less power the film’s wonderful ending has, so all that familiar existential hand-wringing ends up being an entirely worthwhile experience.

July – PATTON (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)

August - TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle, 1996)

September – ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

October – VIDEODROME (David Cronenberg, 1983)

November – M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman, 1970)

December - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960)

Just like last year, be sure to check in monthly to make sure I’m staying on schedule! Here‘s the list on Letterboxd.

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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Midnight Run (1988)

by on Jun.18, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

Shelf of Shame Comedy

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)
Martin Brest’s road action/comedy marks the first essential film in this 10-part comedy series thanks to a deft script loaded with memorable action and dialogue delivered by pros in their absolute primes. Robert De Niro obviously still had about a decade of brilliant work in him, this on the cusp of “Goodfellas” and “Awakenings.” As no-nonsense, world-weary bounty hunter Jack Walsh, we get arguably one of his best performances to date, and a terrific comedic turn at that in case you didn’t know he had it in him. Matching wits with the great and unspeakably dry Charles Grodin as a mob embezzling prisoner, De Niro leads us on a wonderful adventure from New York to Los Angeles by plane, train and any automobile at his disposal. And Brest sprinkles terrific action sequences, particularly one involving a helicopter, machine gun and river used to their rich potential. But the real strength here is the chemistry of those leads along with George Gallo’s feverishly paced and wonderfully profane script, handled perfectly by Brest (who also directed the first “Beverly Hills Cop”). Despite a a few tracks on the slightly dated but to-be-expected 1980s soundtrack (otherwise scored well by Danny Elfman), this film seems pretty timeless in its tone and simplicity. And it has a heart, too, not just rooted in the relationship De Niro and Grodin develop. We get a heartbreaking but sweet scene when De Niro visits an ex-wife, which seems pretty standard until his teenage daughter turns up during an argument. De Niro totally sells a tender moment when his hard-nosed and cash-strapped bounty hunter turns down money his daughter raised babysitting. Add the brilliant Dennis Farina as an always-angry and quick-witted mob boss (pre-dating his similar turn as Ray Barbone in “Get Shorty”), John Ashton as De Niro’s opportunistic rival bounty hunter, Yaphet Kotto as a miffed FBI agent always a step behind Walsh and Joe Pantoliano’s scummy bail bondsman, and you’ve got a terrific ensemble.

Grade: A

Does it belong on your Shelf of Shame? Yes. This is an all-time great action/comedy and road move featuring one of Robert De Niro’s best performances.

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Meatballs (1979)

by on Jun.04, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

Shelf of Shame Comedy

MEATBALLS (1979)
This Canadian summer camp comedy is the perfect movie to watch at the start of this season and a great way to understand why Bill Murray would become such a champion of the genre.  Murray is ALWAYS on in this movie, almost mugging a little too hard and never settling down for an honest moment, but the movie wouldn’t survive without it. I’d say it sacrifices story for antics and vignettes, but it isn’t really reaching for anything beyond making you laugh here and there. But it definitely has heart, thanks mostly to the good nature of Murray’s Tripper Harrison, especially when he spends time with shy outcast Chris Makepeace and encourages him to run the camp Olympiad (also another great example of the nurturing and irreverent 1970s when adults could harmlessly joke around with kids: “Let’s go get laid before the race.”). The structure definitely reminds me of “Caddyshack” in that we’re stuck in this place for an hour and a half and we could wind up with nearly any character at any moment, and story only surfaces when it reminds itself it’s a  movie after all. But this doesn’t have nearly as many memorable characters, nor does it give them opportunities to become that. Still, a harmless and fun time. Best just to see unfiltered Murray charisma and potential.

Grade: B-

Does it belong to your Shelf of Shame? Only if it’s a “Bill Murray Essentials” project. This is by no means a disappointment, but I wouldn’t call it essential comedy viewing.

Up next: Midnight Run (1988)

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Silver Streak (1976)

by on May.20, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

streak

SILVER STREAK (1976)
Fun action/comedy blending exciting set pieces. Mostly a showcase for Gene Wilder, especially during the first hour when it goes for more of a Hitchcockian vibe. Richard Pryor only comes more than an hour into it, when it drifts almost entirely into pure action territory. Hops from light romance to mistaken identity thriller to disaster movie blockbuster in two hours. Highlight is Wilder and Jill Clayburgh’s chemistry during the opening act. I do wish we got more time with Wilder and Pryor on screen together, but maybe I’ll get that in “Stir Crazy” and/or “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (both on Netflix Instant). Directed by Arthur Hiller.

Grade: B-

Does it belong on YOUR Shelf of Shame? No. You’ll have a good time, but I wouldn’t call this an essential comedy by any stretch. My goal was to finally fit in one Wilder/Pryor flick, so mission accomplished, but I could have gone with any of them to get it done.

Up next: Meatballs (1979)

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Gordon Willis, 1931-2014

by on May.19, 2014, under Other Features

Manhattan

Arguably the greatest cinematographer ever, Gordon Willis passed away at 82 on Sunday.

He shot the entire “Godfather” trilogy, “All the President’s Men” and every Woody Allen movie from 1977-1985, a run that included “Annie Hall” and perhaps his greatest work “Manhattan” (above).

Read this tribute and take a look at some of my favorite Willis images.

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Cinematrimony – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

by on May.15, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Does the latest offering from the Marvel universe overcome Francesca’s inherent boredom with the superhero genre? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

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Cinematrimony – Grand Budapest Hotel

by on May.09, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Wes Anderson’s latest colorful quirky drama Grand Budapest Hotel. How does it stack up to the rest of Anderson’s long line of offerings? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Ben Flanagan

by on May.01, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

shelf

The Shelf of Shame. In each installment, one of our FilmNerds contributors will reveals any number of indisputable classic titles that for some inexplicable reason we have not yet seen. In an attempt to earn back the respect of their fellow FilmNerds, we set out to see all of these films some time in the next six months (we felt that was a fair interval, even for the busiest of nerds) at which point we’ll check in with them to see how we did. In fact, Ben Stark updated is 2014 edition this week with “The Great Escape.

Instead of picking five general film classics, I’m going genre and embarking on The Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition.

And I’m going with 10 titles for this one. With my first Shelf go-around, I’d at least seen bits and pieces of each title before finally sitting down and watching from beginning to end. As is the case with most comedies, that remains true for this list, aside from a few I’ve literally seen nothing of beyond trailers.

While this might feel like a homework assignment to some, I genuinely want to see all 10 of these movies, and have wanted to for most of my life? Why haven’t I? Just haven’t gotten around to it. Sad excuse, I know. But here goes.

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Back to the Movies 1984 | No. 49: Oh, God! You Devil!

by on Apr.22, 2014, under 1984

BTTMlogo

Note: Back to the Movies is a special feature on the FilmNerds blog in which Matt Scalici will be watching the Top 50 highest-grossing movies of 1984 in order from 50 to 1.

The next film on my list forced me to confront a problem inherent to doing a project like this, yet somehow one I managed to avoid during my cinematic voyage through 1983. What do you do in a project like this when you encounter a sequel to a movie you haven’t seen? Do I add to my workload by forcing myself to watch the film’s predecessors in order to add the context I need to truly appreciate the movie?

Thankfully, the next film on the list, Oh, God! You Devil!, allows me to kick that can a little further down the road once again, since I’ve seen the original Oh, God! and since apparently this third film in the series has absolutely no plot connections to the second film in the series, Oh, God! Book II. Eventually, I’m going to have to make a decision on this issue but that day is not today.

All this hand-wringing raises the first and most important question here: how did we arrive at a point in 1984 where Hollywood was producing the third film in a franchise about a wise-cracking, cigar-smoking Almighty played by George Burns? The original film, a corny but mostly pleasant Noah-esque tale starring John Denver, was a surprising success back in 1977, finishing as one of the top ten highest-grossing films of that year with $41 million. The 1980 sequel (which, as I mentioned earlier, I have not seen and know nothing about) was decidedly less successful, earning just $14 million.

Somehow, in spite of that flop, Oh, God! earned a second sequel but this time with an added twist: George Burns would play a double role, starring as both God and Satan (under the name of Harry O. Tophet). The casting stunt would add much needed spice to the rather saccharine original premise, provided of course that the aging Burns could pull it off (we’ll get to that later).

The story that ended up wrapped around that premise is both hilariously oversimplified and yet incredibly convoluted at times, but here’s my best attempt at a summary: Bobby Shelton (played by Ted Wass, who you would only potentially know as the dad on Blossom) is a struggling musician who is “pushing 30″ and trying to make ends meet but just can’t seem to catch a break. Bobby’s wife (the lovely Roxanne Hart) is supportive and sweet and only wants to settle down and start a family with Bobby but his ambition to become a star makes him unable to see the good things he already has. You know the drill.

A quick note: the movie begins with Bobby as a very sick young boy whose father prays to God to protect him and save him from his illness. Cut to 1984, Bobby casually mentions that he’d sell his soul to have a successful music career, which summons a call from the Devil, who happens to be a big-time talent agent. The Devil grants Bobby’s wish by allowing him to swap lives with a Billy Idol-like rockstar named Billy Wayne.

This is where it gets confusing. It’s unclear what exactly has happened here. Bobby appears fully aware of who he used to be before the switch and misses his wife and his old life, while the former Billy Wayne appears to think he is now Bobby. Also, the real Bobby finds out that his wife is pregnant and after determining her due date, becomes excited to find out that it’s “his” baby, which doesn’t make a lot of sense considering everything else we just said.

Take a look at this scene, in which Bobby is forced to take the stage as Billy Wayne but is nervous because obviously, he’s Bobby and doesn’t even know any of Billy Wayne’s songs. Only once he starts singing, it turns out he has part of Billy Wayne’s memories. Or his brain. Or something. Just watch it anyway because this scene is hilarious.

Outside of these plot details, there are quite a few scenes that are at least enjoyable to behold, if only for the nostalgia factor. From the absolutely terrific answering machine technology from the beginning of the movie to the scenes inside Billy Wayne’s mansion that give us a peak into the 1984 ideal of garish luxury, this movie is great fodder for those enjoy transporting themselves back to early ’80s on ocassion.

Another great thing about this movie: Ron Silver and Robert Picardo as two ultra-slimy record executives who are essentially used as puppets by the Devil to draw Bobby deeper and deeper in to the dark world of rock stardom.

We’ve danced around it this far, but this movie obviously hinges heavily on the dual performances of George Burns, and in 1984 the reviews seem nearly unanimously positive. Janet Maslin of The New York Times found Burns’ performance superior to his previous Oh, God! performances, particularly commending the fact that ”there is mercifully little in the way of ”Bless Me” witticisms” (admittedly, a problem with the original film). Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs up, comparing the film to a Frank Capra movie and calling Burns’ performance “a masterpiece of sly timing.”

Burns is obviously a beloved figure, probably a little less so today than in 1984 but still certainly a likable screen persona. That said, Burns was 88 years old when he made this movie and not exactly at his sharpest. The editing and direction from longtime TV director Paul Bogart doesn’t do Burns any favors in that regard but the end result for the viewer makes for a somewhat awkward viewing experience at times. Oddly the most effective scene in the film was probably the most difficult to execute: a poker game between Burns’ two characters for the soul of Bobby.

I can’t call Oh, God! You Devil! a good movie because there are just too many fundamental flaws with the story and not enough strong acting for the main members of the cast. That said, there’s still plenty to enjoy here and as mentioned, this film has an extremely high nostalgia factor.

Next Up: Taylor Hackford’s sexy neo-noir Against All Odds.

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