Well, after finally watching, for the first time, Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1976 film Taxi Driver (click here for my review), I decided to move on to another gaping hole in my film-watching history: Raging Bull.
I of course knew that Robert De Niro starred in the film as real-life boxer Jake La Motta. Raging Bull follows Jake’s life for about twenty-five years, from his early days as a lean, hungry-for-a-chance boxer to his middle-age as an over-the-hill, over-weight ex-con. As was Taxi Driver, Raging Bull is a tour de force acting performance by Robert De Niro. (It’s amazing to me that the Robert De Niro we see today in the Meet the Parents films is the same man as this incredibly intense, powerful actor seen in these films from three decades ago.) I suspect everyone reading this blog know the stories of Mr. De Niro’s astonishing weight-gain (during a planned hiatus in filming) so that he could portray with full emotional honesty the fat failure De Motta became after the collapse of his boxing career. Frankly, it feels to me like a bit of overindulgent actorly nonsense that Mr. De Niro believed the only way he could portray the over-the-hill De Motta was by gaining the weight himself (rather than using any prosthetics). I could name many great actors who have created AMAZING performances when buried under prosthetics, thus bringing all manner of often-otherworldly characters to incredible light. And I’m not just talking about actors in sci-fi or fantasy movies. Yes, there were some tremendous prosthetics-enhanced performances in, say, the Lord of the Rings films (John Rhys-Davies as Gimli comes to mind), but how about Orson Welles in Citizen Kane?? (Read my thoughts on Citizen Kane here.)
Be that as it may, there is something viscerally shocking when we get our first glimpse of the rotund late-in-life La Motta, knowing that the flabby form we’re seeing is Mr. De Niro’s real body. It’s hard to believe that the lean, well-muscled boxer we saw earlier has transformed into this sorry sight, and even HARDER to believe that one actor made the same transformation in just a few months.
But there’s far more to Mr. De Niro’s performance than just the gimmick of his weight gain. In fact, in some ways, I think all that focus on the weight gain distracts from what a phenomenally compelling performance Mr. De Niro delivers in the film. As in Taxi Driver, Mr. De Niro’s intensity reaches out from the screen and grabs the viewer by the throat, forcing you to keep watching him, daring you to look away. In his own way, the angry, jealous, wife-beating La Motta is just as … [continued]
I came into the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ hit novel The Hunger Games without having read any of the novels. So my comments on the film will not contain any reflections on the film’s successes or failures as an adaptation of the source material. My review will simply address whether the movie stands or falls on its own, as a film.
In that respect, I found Gary Ross’ film The Hunger Games to be a very entertaining, if rather unremarkable, adventure tale.
For a film adapted from an apparently family-friendly young-adult novel, I was pleasantly surprised by how intense and grim the film was. While the film keeps the gore almost entirely off-camera, there is still quite a lot of violence, and I found the fights to be very energetic and engaging. The final bit of hand-to-hand combat atop a ship was especially gripping. Now, I’ve read Battle Royale, the Japanese manga published from 2000-2005 that tells a far more graphic, violent version of a similar story (schoolchildren forced to fight to the death). So, compared to that, The Hunger Games is hopelessly tame. But, that being said, I was impressed by the adult approach taken to the material. I didn’t feel things were softened in order to appeal to a four-quadrant demographic.
That adult approach taken by Gary Ross and his team was clear throughout the film, and was the most appealing aspect of the movie for me. This is an A-level adaptation, one in which a lot of care has clearly been taken to bring the world to life, and a lot of money spent to make it all look great. The cast is spectacular across the board. I loved Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone (click here for my review), and I thought she was also great in X-Men: First Class (click here for my review) and in Like Crazy (click here for my review). After seeing her gripping performance in Winter’s Bone, playing Katniss Everdeen seems like a walk in the park for Ms. Lawrence, but that’s not to short-change her abilities. She’s in almost every scene of the film (and, indeed, the few scenes that shift from Katniss’ perspective all seemed extraneous to me) and she absolutely anchors the story, giving the audience a character to invest in and root for.
Woody Harrelson is marvelous as Haymitch, the drunk survivor of a previous Hunger Games competition who is assigned to mentor Katniss. Mr. Harrelson brings a world of pain and backstory to his performance — you can see it in his eyes, in the way he holds Katniss and her fellow “tribute” Peeta at arms length — that made … [continued]
If you’ve ever watched an enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation, then you must read this short blog post by Wil Wheaton about his e-mail exchange with a former Next Gen castmate. So funny!!
Speaking of Wil Wheaton, this behind-the-scenes pic from Stand By Me is wonderful. Makes me want to go re-watch that spectacular film right now.
I am counting the minutes until The Avengers opens. For all the Marvel Zombies out there, this interview with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is full of intriguing hints at the next few years of the Marvel movie universe. It’s a good read. Also a good read: this Q & A with Joss Whedon on reddit.
So, they’re really making a sequel to the 1988 film Twins? And Eddie Murphy will play the newly-discovered third sibling to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito? This is a joke, right? That can’t possibly be real, right??
I had quite a lot to say about Disney’s adaptation of John Carter. (Click here for my review.) I enjoyed the film far more than the horrible reviews and terrible box-office performance would suggest, but the film had some serious problems. I cited the senseless withholding of the tragedy in John Carter’s past until late in the film as an example. It would have FAR strengthened the story and the character had the audience UNDERSTOOD the reasons for John Carter’s behavior right from the beginning. Well, FILM CRITIC HULK over on badassdigest.com had a similar reaction, and he wrote a magnificent (albeit LENGTHY) dissection of John Carter’s story problems that focuses on precisely that example. It’s a great piece about film screen-writing and narrative, and is well worth a look.
My buddy Rabbi Ethan Linden has written a great review of The Hunger Games film, which you can check out here. My review will be posted on Friday!
I really dug the “Franchise Me” (from CHUD.com) look back at the four Lethal Weapon films that just wrapped up. These articles are fantastic. Boy, I loved those Lethal Weapon films as a kid, but I haven’t seen them in years. I just haven’t had any real interest in re-watching them. Mel Gibson’s recent shenanigans haven’t helped. But reading those articles makes me wonder whether I’d still like those films if I watched them today…
So, yeah, we all know that Joss Whedon (mastermind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and many more pieces of beloved work) co-wrote and directed Marvel’s huge film The Avengers, opening in a few weeks (and which I am desperately anticipating). But did you realize that he was also involved in a horror film, The Cabin in the Woods, that was made back in 2009?
Yep! Mr. Whedon co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Goddard (a frequent collaborator with Mr. Whedon who was also an author on Lost and the co-writer of Cloverfield), who made his directorial debut with the film. Unfortunately, the movie was never released by MGM, due to the studio’s financial turmoil. Eventually the film was sold to Lionsgate and finally released a few weeks ago.
Go see it. Go see it right now!
Don’t let anyone tell you anything about it. Don’t read any reviews. (Really — I’m going to be super-vague but I invite you to stop reading this piece.) For goodness sake don’t watch any of the trailers. Just trust Joss Whedon and trust me and go see this film.
It’s almost impossible to write about The Cabin in the Woods without spoiling any of the wonderful surprises. There are some great actors in the film that I had no idea were in the film. They’re extraordinary, but I don’t even want to name their names!
So what CAN I say? I’ll say that the scene that interrupts the opening credits made me think that I was pretty sure I was going to like this film. Then there’s the moment, much much later in the film, when all the elevators open at once. Five seconds later, I was pretty much convinced that The Cabin in the Woods was the greatest friggin’ movie I’d ever seen!
Well, with some further reflection, it’s clear that The Cabin in the Woods is not, in fact, the greatest friggin’ movie I’ve ever seen.
But it is damn good.
The film is a deliriously clever twist on the horror genre. I don’t really like horror films, but I dug the heck out of the Cabin in the Woods. It is a horror film, don’t get me wrong. There are real scares and some grisly deaths. This is NOT a sweet romantic comedy!! So there are certainly aspects of the film that I know won’t appeal to everyone. But the film is based on an absolutely genius idea, and the main delight of the film is watching the petals of that genius idea slowly unfurl, and as the realization slowly dawns on the viewer and on one or two of the main characters as to what … [continued]
After tearing through the first season of HBO’s Bored to Death on DVD (click here for my review), my wife and I couldn’t wait to jump into season 2. I’m pleased to say the second season was just as much fun as the first!
Picking up just a few months after the end of season one, Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is still a writer living in Brooklyn who also works as an unlicensed Private Eye (getting clients from his ad on Craigslist). Though season one ended triumphantly, things have taken something of a turn for the worst for our three heroes here at the start of season two. Jonathan’s book was rejected by his publisher, and he’s had to take work as a night-school writing teacher (which seems like a drag, though Jonathan seems to enjoy the chance to teach and perhaps inspire other young writers). Leah (Heather Burns) has broken up with Ray (Zach Galifianakis). And George (Ted Danson)’s magazine has been bought by a right-wing Christian company, and he’s begun to find himself more and more marginalized by the new management.
The season kicks off with a bang, as the first episode “Escape From the Dungeon!” is absolutely hysterical and showcases everything that is great about the show. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun, but suffice it to say that the adventure culminates in Jonathan’s having to interrupt George’s meeting with his new Christian parent company while dressed in a full-body black-leather S & M “gimp” suit. But that’s not even the funniest part! No, that comes when George leads Jonathan out of the meeting, down the hall to his office (where he hopes to find some tools to help Jonathan out of the S & M suit he’s been locked into), and the two men hold hands while walking down the hallway. There’s something so funny and so wonderfully sweet about that tiny moment, so in contrast to the insane circumstance we’re watching. It’s just brilliant.
The rest of the season continues strongly from there. You’ve gotta love these HBO short seasons — at only eight episodes long, there’s no filler. Each of the episodes is very strong, filled with great moments.
I was a bit surprised at the show’s slight step into more-serious ground with a subplot in which George is diagnosed with prostate cancer. It occasionally makes it a bit difficult to enjoy all the fun, but the storyline gives Ted Danson even more room to show just what a phenomenal actor he is. There’s a scene, late in the season, in which he expresses his fear about the way he could just be “turned off” like a light-switch that is absolutely … [continued]
Justice League: Doom is the latest direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated feature. The story is adapted from the “Tower of Babel” story-line that ran through issues #42-46 of JLA back in 1998. Those original comics were written by Mark Waid and Dan Curtis Johnson and illustrated by Howard Porter, Drew Geraci, Pablo Raimondi, and Steve Scott. This adaptation was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie.
In the original story, villain Ra’s al Ghul is able to take out the Justice League using strategies specifically tailored to disable or destroy each individual member of the league. The hook of the story is the revelation of the inside-the-League source from whom Ra’s was able to attain the specific information he needed to create his stratagems. (Every on-line review I have read of this DVD has spoiled the identity of that member of the Justice League. I understand the reasons for doing so, since a) most comic-book fans know this story and so know who it was, and b) the identity of that Leaguer is really cool, and the story behind that betrayal is at the heart of this tale and part of what makes this such a great, fascinating story. But I’m going to try to preserve the surprise for anyone reading this.)
Justice League: Doom is a very, very loose adaptation of the “Tower of Babel” story-line. Though the central hook remains the same, the villain has changed (here it is the near-immortal Vandal Savage, rather than Ra’s al Ghul), many of the tactics used to attack the League members have been changed, and the villain’s ultimate goal (and his methods for achieving that goal) have changed. After the very-faithful animated adaptations of Batman: Year One (click here for my review) and All-Star Superman (click here for my review), it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that this adaptation played so fast-and-loose with the source material. On the one hand, I don’t think the original “Tower of Babel” story was so perfect that any change is a mistake. Still, I was surprised by the degree to which the story was altered.
First of all, I have no idea why the villain was changed from Ra’s to Vandal Savage. Why not use Ra’s? He’s a terrific villain, and his connections to Batman provide a great extra layer of resonance to the “Tower of Babel” story. (Also, since this DVD used so many of the original voices from Batman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoon — more on that in a minute — I would have LOVED to have seen the great David Warner reprise his role of Ra’s, who he voiced so memorably in Batman: … [continued]
Check out this trailer for a fascinating-looking documentary about voice-over actors. I really want to see this:
Can you believe I’d never seen Taxi Driver?
I’m fairly well-seen when it comes to famous films, and I’m a big fan of Martin Scorsese. But somehow I’d never seen Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. Well, last month I finally saw them both. I’ll be back next week with my thoughts on Raging Bull, but for now let’s dive into Taxi Driver.
Holy cow, what a great movie!!
The film feels just as potent and dangerous as it must have felt back in 1976. I was on edge right from the very beginning. From the first instant we meet lonely, insomniac Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), it’s clear this young man is a time bomb just ticking down the moments until it’s going to explode. Mr. Scorsese and Mr. De Niro’s partnership has never been more powerful than it was in this film, their focus laser-sharp on the roiling emotions of this lost young man.
Robert De Niro is simply astounding as Travis, jaw-dropingly fierce as the self-descibed “God’s lonely man.” He seems almost gentle when we first meet him, quietly applying for a job driving a taxi. When we see him start to somewhat haplessly woo the young campaign-worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), though, it’s more uncomfortable than comic, since it’s clear this isn’t going to end well. We see a hint of charisma, and an intriguing intensity, when he marches into Palantine’s campaign office to ask Betsy out on a date, and watching that intensity turn brittle and then angry at the world around him is the tragedy of Taxi Driver.
The film is not a war movie, but I found it impossible to watch Taxi Driver without feeling constantly that the film was deeply rooted in the social and psychological ramifications of the Vietnam War. Travis is a vet, and although his experiences in ‘Nam are never explicitly discussed in the film, to me that piece of backstory flavored everything I was watching unfold. This character who is a stranger in his own skin, who had difficulty fitting in to society’s expectations, feels similar to the struggle that countless Vietnam veterans must have gone through following their return home. That Travis also finds himself drawn towards violence feels all the more tragically unsurprising because of his Vietnam experiences.
As was often the case with Mr. De Niro’s early performances, the physicality that he brought to the part was a critical combination with his riveting intensity. Much has been written, of course, of Mr. De Niro’s dramatic weight gain to depict the late-in-life Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, but in Taxi Driver Mr. De Niro brings exactly the opposite physical presence. There’s a scene late in the film, … [continued]
After watching Game Change (click here for my review), I was in the mood for another political film, so I decided to check out the handsome new Criterion Collection blu-ray release of The War Room. This 1993 documentary, directed by D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, chronicles Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign. Specifically, the film focuses on the campaign’s “war room” in Arkansas, headed by Lead Strategist James Carville and Communications Director George Stephanopoulos.
The War Room is an unusual documentary in that there is no narration, and no effort is made to label (with a caption or chiron) or otherwise identify any of the characters on screen. Some clever editing (of news footage, newspaper headlines, etc.) in the opening minutes provides some back-story and context (giving the viewer a hot-knife-through-butter run-through of Clinton’s victories in the Democratic primaries) and then the film settles into a fly-on-the-wall approach. Much of the footage in the documentary was filmed in the campaign’s war room in Little Rock, and with a you-are-there approach the filmmakers drop the viewer into the campaign HQ to watch events unfold.
It’s a fascinating approach. There were certainly occasions when I would have appreciated the occasional extra bit of explanation or identification of a character on screen. I’m fairly well-versed politically, and I certainly recognized Mr. Carville and Mr. Stephanopoulos, as well as Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Mary Matalin, and others, but there were plenty of other characters who we see on-screen who I didn’t know, and I would have loved for them to have been identified. On the other-hand, the fly-on-the-wall approach is very visceral and immersive. There’s something compelling in watching the campaign staff converse and joke and strategize together, without any obvious self-consciousness about being filmed. It feels alluringly intrusive somehow, like we’re watching something we’re not meant to see.
The filmmakers weren’t given access to Bill Clinton, which forced them to focus on his campaign staff instead, but you don’t miss his presence. For the one thing, the film is put together in such a way that what snippets the filmmakers did have of Mr. Clinton are well-integrated into the finished film. (I’m not sure, though, how they managed to get the candid shots of Mr. Clinton on the phone in a t-shirt that open the film…!) And for another, Mr. Carville and Mr. Stephanopoulos are fascinating enough characters that they more than carry the focus of the proceedings. It’s a hoot to watch them work. There’s an extended sequence when the campaign staff think they have footage that proves that the Bush campaign was spending money to print Bush/Quayle signs outside of the UUnited States. That particular political story winds … [continued]
Here in the long winter of our many-years-without-new-Star Trek TV shows or movies, James Cawley and his magnificent band of fellow Star Trek fans are keeping the Trek flame alive. As I’ve written about before, Star Trek: Phase II is a completely fan-made series (no one gets paid for any of their work) attempting to create, one episode at a time, the fourth season of the original Star Trek show. The production releases about one full-length episode a year, and they’ve just been getting better and better, to the point where if you stumbled across an episode of Phase II on TV late at night, you could absolutely believe it was a real Star Trek episode. The production quality is that amazing.
Phase II has just released their seventh full-length episode: “The Child.” (Watch it here or here!) This episode was written and directed by Jon Povill, and it has a fascinating history. The story was initially developed by Mr. Povill back in the 70′s for the aborted Star Trek: Phase II television series. (That series-that-never-was, from which this fan series draws its name, was intended to be a second Star Trek series starring Kirk and co. The proposed TV show was eventually abandoned in favor of the idea of making Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) Mr. Povill’s story for “The Child” was eventually used by Star Trek: The Next Generation. That version, which was credited to writers Jason Summers, Jon Povill, and Maurice Hurley, was Next Gen’s second season premiere. It’s a pretty lousy episode, and apparently Mr. Povill was (rightly) unhappy with how his original story was realized. Two decades later, he hooked up with the Phase II crew to bring something much closer to his original vision to light.
Although I’m always tremendously excited by the prospect of the release of a new Phase II episode, I can’t say that I was all that much anticipating “The Child.” The Next Gen version was so lame. It wasn’t a story I was excited to revisit. Well, I am happy to report that “The Child” is another phenomenally entertaining episode from the Phase II gang. It’s not my favorite of the Phase II episodes, but it’s marvelously well-done and FAR more watchable than the professionally-made Next Gen version.
It’s neat to see the Phase II crew tackling so many different kinds of episodes. Their previous episode, “Enemy: Starfleet!” was a fast-paced action adventure. ”The Child” is something else entirely, a much slower character study and sci-fi mystery. But I wasn’t at all bored — no, I was quite taken by the episode. The main story (in which the Enterprise’s Deltan officer, Lt.
Back in 2008, Jay Roach directed the excellent HBO movie Recount, which covered the incredible-but-true contested 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. (I wrote briefly about Recount here.) Just a few weeks ago, HBO premiered another political film directed by Mr. Roach: Game Change, an adaptation of the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 Presidential election.
The film is excellent. I’m a junkie for political films and documentaries, and I was absolutely gripped by Game Change. Mr. Roach and writer Danny Strong (who also wrote Recount) are able to bring the ins and outs of the political maneuverings of a campaign to life, mostly by focusing (as did Mr. Heilemann and Mr. Halperin) on the outsize characters involved.
The huge change that Mr. Roach and Mr. Strong made, in their adaptation, was to focus their film almost exclusively on the McCain/Palin side — specifically on the story of Sarah Palin. Whereas the book Game Change also spent a huge amount of time detailing the Obama campaign and the fierce primary battle between Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the film Game Change spends almost zero time with the Democrats. Because the picture that the film paints of Sarah Palin is an extremely negative one, that unfortunately results in Game Change’s feeling totally lopsided to me. I loved that Recount was balanced between the Democrat and Republican sides, constantly shifting viewpoints from one campaign team to the other. Game Change misses that. While I understand narratively the reason for focusing on Ms. Palin — she’s without question the most fascinating figure from the campaign, and there was clearly enough story about her alone to fill up a two-hour movie — I can see this film being off-putting to anyone with a Republican viewpoint.
It’s hard to separate politics from one’s thoughts about Game Change, because Ms. Palin is such a polarizing figure. Those who love her will dismiss this film as character assassination. Those who hate her will see this film as proof that they were right. I don’t believe this film will change many minds.
Certainly, the notion that the Sarah Palin presented in this film might have been one heart-beat away from the Presidency is horrifying. The main story-arc of the film is the way that the key members of John McCain’s campaign, particularly Mr. McCain’s chief campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and senior campaign advisor Nicolle Wallace, became convinced that Ms. Palin was shockingly ignorant and potentially dangerous. For the most part, I was familiar with the events covered by the film so wasn’t terribly stunned by any of the plot developments. But one thing that I’d never … [continued]
Remember the Walt Disney Company’s 40th animated feature, released in 2000, called Kingdom of the Sun? It was an epic tale set in the Inca empire about a selfish king who briefly switches places with a poor farmer who happens to look just like him, and an evil magician with a plot to block out the sun. The film featured the voices of David Spade, Owen Wilson, Eartha Kitt, Carla Gugino, and Harvey Fierstein, as well as six songs written for the film by Sting.
No? You don’t remember seeing that movie?
That’s because after three years of work, Disney management decided to completely rework the film, throwing out much of the material they had created (along with all six songs recorded by Sting). The film that was ultimately released to theatres was called The Emperor’s New Groove, and featured the voices David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Wendie Malick and Patrick Warburton, with two entirely different Sting songs in the film (“Perfect World,” performed by Tom Jones, and “My Funny Friend and Me”, which played over the closing credits).
The long, torturous process by which Kingdom of the Sun became The Emperor’s New Groove was captured in Trudie Styler and John-Paul Davidson’s amazing but long-shelved documentary The Sweatbox. In addition to being a filmmaker, Trudie Styler happens to be Sting’s wife. When he agreed to be involved with the music for the film, he got the studio to agree to allow his wife to document the process. She got a lot more than she bargained for.
The first thirty-to-forty minutes of The Sweatbox unfolds as one might expect any in-depth look at the making of an animated film to go. We spend a lot of time with the film’s lead director, Roger Allers, who was a star at the studio after his work co-directing The Lion King, which had become a huge financial and critical success. We meet various other key personnel on the Dinsey animation team — the co-director Mark Dindal, the producers, the lead animators tasked with bringing to life the film’s main characters, and more. Meanwhile, we follow Sting and his collaborator David Hartley as they work to write and record six songs for the film.
Then, about forty minutes in, we witness the fateful day in which an early story-boarded cut of the film is screened for the heads of Disney Feature Animation, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider. They hate the film, declare that it is not working, and begin a process of totally scrapping and reinventing huge chunks of the story. Characters are totally changed (the villager Pacha changes from a teenaged boy who looks just like the king into a heavyset married fortiesh … [continued]
Included in the spectacular 70th Anniversary blu-ray set of Citizen Kane (click here for my review, in case you missed it!) is HBO’s 1999 mini-series chronicling the troubled production of Citizen Kane, called RKO 281. (RKO 281 was the film’s production code — RKO being the name of the studio.) I think it’s very cool that this film was included in the Kane set, and I was particularly excited because I’ve been wanting to re-watch this HBO film for years.
The film boasts a strong cast. Liev Schreiber stars as Orson Welles. I was surprised that Mr. Schreiber eschewed any of the grand Wellesian mannerisms that I’ve seen so many actors playing Welles use (such as Angus Macfadyen in Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock — click here for my review — or Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles — click here for my review). Liev plays the role very straight — his Orson seems like a normal human being (albeit one who is at times brilliant and at times intensely frustrating, and often both). As the film progressed, I found myself quite taken with this interpretation. Mr. Schreiber focuses our attention on Mr. Welles’ struggles to live up to his wunderkind reputation, and he shows us Welles’ incredible stubbornness and his extraordinary command of his skills as an actor. He also doesn’t hesitate to show the ease with which his interpretation of Welles will use manipulation of all sorts to get what he wants.
John Malkovich plays Orson’s on-and-off buddy Herman Mankiewicz, who worked with Welles on creating the story for Kane and who wrote several drafts of the screenplay (and who would latter struggle with Mr. Welles over who should get the credit for that screenplay). Mr. Malkovich is great fun in the role, and he has terrific chemistry with Liev Schreiber’s Welles. The two men are like oil and water, which is what makes their scenes together so much fun. (It feels to me like there’s been a lot of playing with reality to cast Welles and Mankiewicz as such close friends, but their relationship works in the film so I can’t really complain.) James Cromwell plays William Randolph Hearst — this was perfect casting. For the first half of the film Mr. Cromwell doesn’t have much to do other than glower and say nasty things about Welles, but when the focus shifts towards Hearst in the film’s second half, he really gets to dig his teeth into the material. There are some great scenes in which Hearst results to some ferociously nasty tactics in order to block the release of of Citizen Kane, and Mr. Cromwell is terrific in those scenes in … [continued]
Check out the first substantial trailer for Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO show, The Newsroom:
Yes, it looks just like Sports Night crossed with Studio 60 crossed with The West Wing. In other words, a little familiar. But I don’t care, I am pumped. Can’t wait.… [continued]
The 70th Anniversary blu-ray set of Citizen Kane topped my Best DVDs of 2011 list, even though back in January I was still in the process of making my way through the expansive three-disc set. Over the last few months I’ve had a great time watching the film, listening to all the commentary tracks, and making my way through all the special features (including the 1995 Oscar-nominated feature-length documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane and HBO’s 1999 film about Kane’s troubled production, RKO 281). Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the best movie ever made, and while it’s not my personal favorite film of all time, it’s a film that I really, really love. More than seventy years after it was made, Citizen Kane remains a magnificent film, and the blu-ray set is phenomenal.
I feel a bit under-qualified to write about Citizen Kane. The film has been the subject of so much scrutiny and attention over the past seventy years, and film scholars far more knowledgeable than I have written voluminous tomes about the movie. The two commentary tracks on the blu-ray set, by Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich, are both two-hour-long scholarly dissections of Kane above anything I could hope to write.
I first saw Citizen Kane in a film architecture class I took while at college. The course was a history of set-design in film, but it was also a history of the movies themselves. Each week the professor screened several films on the big-screen (using a projector in one of the lecture halls). I encountered quite a few major films for the first time through that class (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Battleship Potemkin, and many more), and Citizen Kane was among them. I was smitten with Kane immediately. I’m sure it helped that my first viewing was on such a large screen, where I could really soak in Orson Welles’ and Gregg Toland’s marvelously innovative cinematography. I have seen the film many times since then, and I never fail to be impressed and engrossed. This new blu-ray edition is absolutely gorgeous. The film is dazzlingly pristine, yet not scrubbed so clean that it loses its character. (Don’t judge the image quality by the opening few minutes — that newsreel footage is SUPPOSED to look crummy!)
I’m a sci-fi nut and I love big visual effects films, so it’s no surprise that one of my favorite aspects of Citizen Kane is the extraordinary depth and variety of visual effects trickery used by Mr. Welles to create the look of the film. Citizen Kane is a visual effects movie, make no mistake! In just the opening shot alone (the slow … [continued]