Thursday, August 25, 2011

4 for 4 club

You know how baseball has the 30/30 club for players who have stolen 30 bases while hitting 30 home runs? Or the ultra exclusive 40/40 club which has only four members?

I have my own exclusive club when it comes to movies.
I call it the 4 for 4 Club.

The requirements to get in are simple.
First a movie must have a four star rating by me, a rating that must be declared right after seeing it for the first time. Second, I must see the movie a minimum of four times in a theater.

A few technical details.

I use the old school four star rating system so **** out of *** is the top rating.
By theater it has to be a first run theater during a film’s initial run.
So dollar houses and drive-ins do not count. Nor do re-releases, anniversary restoration shows or any other special exhibitions. And of course, any kind of home video is ineligible.

For instance I saw Blade Runner opening weekend in 1982 in a theater and gave it four stars. I saw it few weeks later again at the same theater. The next time I saw it in a theater was the spring of 1984 in a film class. Then I saw it again that summer at a midnight showing, and again two more times during the 1992 director’s cut theatrical-re-release. So even though I actually saw Blade Runner in a theatrical auditorium six times, only the first two viewings count toward the 4 for 4 club. So Blade Runner does not make the club.

And indeed I have seen many less the four star movies four or more times in a theater. Example, the Star Wars prequels. Even the most die-hard fan would be hard-pressed to make a case that they are **** films. I saw The Cable Guy four times in theater in 1998, and I could make the case it is a **** wonderfully subversive dark comedy. But the humor is so specific to someone with my twisted sensibilities, I'd best just keep that on a personal favorite list.

This list is weighted heavily toward movies from the 80's and 90's for a number of reasons, not the least is there was a far better variety of films released. Movie were less bloated and had more manageable running times. In other words the writing was better, the editing tighter, and movies were better paced making multiple viewings feasible without taking off from work, school, or life in general.

Plus there were many more physical theaters spread out in more locations and movies played much, much longer. Now days if I miss seeing something opening weekend I am often fucked.. Even hit movies vanish after a month.

Okay, enough self-indulgent rambling, here is the list presented in images, starting with the most recent inductee and working chronologically backwards.

2011 - 4 viewings (and counting)

2001 - 4 viewings

2000 - 4 viewings

1999 - 4 viewings

1999 - 4 viewings

1997 - 4 viewings

1994 - 5 viewngs

1994 - 5 viewings

1993 - 4 viewings

1993 - 7 viewings

To be continued in: 4 for 4 club part II:  Get a life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ten great movie quotes with attitude

Ten great movie quotes that reflect the Bull Mongoni philosophy of Caitlin StarGunner Star, Action Figure, and Rise of the Bull Mongoni.

“Give me guys that are poor, smart, and hungry. And no feelings. You want a friend you get a dog.”

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987)

Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser.

“Man is evil, capable of nothing but destruction.”

Doctor Zaius in Planet of the Apes (1968)

Screenplay by Michael G. Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle.

“We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”

Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999)

Screenplay by Jim Uhls
Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

“Everything matters, everything we do matters.”

Nelson Wright in Flatliners (1990)

Screenplay by Peter Filardi

“Don’t you ever cross a man who ain’t afraid of dying!”

Malcolm Little in Malcolm X (1992)

Screenplay by Spike Lee and Arnold Perl
Based on the book by Alex Haley

Listen fellows, I've had a really rare morning. I’m not in the mood to...”

Bill Foster in Falling Down (1993)

Screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith

“Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.”

Bodhi in Point Break (1991)

Screenplay by W. Peter Illif
Story by W. Peter Illif and Rick King

“You’re an actor. Act mother fucker!”

Cody Nicholson in True Romance (1993)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

“Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.”

Michael Corleone in The Godfather part II (1974)

Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
Based on the novel by Mario Puzo

“Nooooooooooooooooooo          ”

Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

Friday, August 12, 2011

My top ten films and why

Want to get to know someone?

Do you have a need to explore below the surface, dig deeper, and find out what emotional conflicts are lurking below the surface and driving their actions? What motivates them? What drives their passions and  fuels their angst?

Ask them for a list of their favorite movies.

You can tell an awful lot about a person by taking a close look at their favorite films.

There are some very distinct common themes and obsessions at work here on this list.
Perhaps in the near future I will do an in depth essay blog analyzing this further.
In the mean time...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle and characters created by Paul Dehn

I’ll tell you how much film affected me. I insist on having a Hall of Fame like waiting period of at least five years before a movie can even be eligible for consideration to be on this list.

Well, that rule has been waived for the first time ever for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".

Not since "A.I Artificial Intelligence" in 2001 have I thought this much about a film after seeing it. Caesar is an unforgettable character and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is not just a well crafted, expertly paced, exciting blockbuster. It is full of iconic moments including an emotional finale that will be etched into cinematic history.

At its heart Rise is a coming age of story that resonates with deep emotion. It is a film about family, home, tragedy, separation, finding one's place in the world, and so much more.

Videodrome (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Screenplay by David Cronenberg

Describing "Videodrome" to the uninitiated is difficult, because in some ways this is a difficult film. Or as the lead character Max Renn played by James Woods says at one point, “I am having trouble finding my way around.”

A screenwriting logline might read:
A contemporary erotic science fiction film noir about a right wing conspiracy using video signals from S and M underground broadcasts...

Okay maybe this is not the kind of film that can be accurately captured in a logline or marketing catch phrase.

But I do know of a few phrases that can help give a few hints as to what it is; strange, erotic, hallucinatory, prophetic, hypnotic, and just plain insanely brilliant.

This film had a tremendous influence on my book She and the spinoff Video Noir.

Falling Down (1993)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith

If ever there was a relevant time to rediscover a film, the time is now, and the film is 1993’s "Falling Down". An insightful masterwork of well executed, stirring set pieces tied together by a haunting (and underrated) performance by Michael Douglas as Bill Foster, "Falling Down" is a film that provokes strong polarizing reactions.

Like several of the main characters on this top ten list, Bill “D-Fens” Foster just wants to find a way to go back “home” and recapture a past that no longer exists.

"Falling Down" tells the story of a distraught and recently displaced loner. The movie shares a similar structure and nihilistic tone to the book Action Figure.

JFK (1991)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar
Based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marris

The conspiracy, the history, the spooky men in the shadows—"JFK" is the best X-file ever made.

One of two Oliver Stone movies on my list, it is the last great film Stone made before he seemingly lost all story telling sensibilities.

"JFK" is the most fascinating real life inspired film ever made.

This movie is also an example on how to brilliantly use cinematography, different film stock and formats, and editing techniques to enhance the storytelling and atmosphere—as opposed to the frenzied over directed mess most films are today.

Empire of the Sun (1987)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

One of two films from 1987 on my list and one of several about family, tragedy, separation, and the journey of a character struggling to find their way home.

I remember seeing "Empire of the Sun" at a 10PM showing on the Friday night it opened. I literally staggered from the theater breathless from the haunting dreamlike imagery and the soul stirring score by John Williams.

 I much prefer this criminally underrated masterpiece to Spielberg’s other much lauded WWII films he won Oscars for.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle

The original "Planet of the Apes" struck a chord with audiences of 1968 in much the same way Rise is connecting to moviegoers in 2011. Both films have strong performances, innovative special effects, exciting set pieces, and terrific musical scores.

But what sets both Rise and the 1968 original apart from other well crafted genre fair is the way both films have created memorable characters and a rich thematic subtext on the issues of the day. Rise is about family, healthcare, aging, animal welfare and the environment. In 1968 Apes took on civil unrest, racism, war, and nuclear armageddon, but like Rise, never at the expense of story, character, and pacing.

Wall Street (1987)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser

I was a stockbroker for fourteen plus years and was literally studying for my Series 7 exam in December 1987 when I first saw this mythic film at a run down General Cinema in Plantation, Florida. It became a bible to young stockbrokers who were “poor, smart and hungry” desperately trying “stake their claim” in the Reaganomics world of the 1980's.

The money culture, the classic dialogue, the clothes, the slang, the attitudes, the cinematography, the rise, the fall, and most of all—Gekko. "Now if you do good sport, you get perks. Lots and lots of perks."

One of three Michael Douglas films in my top ten.
His body of work from 1987 to 1993 is simply mind blowing.

The Bear (1989)
Directed by Jean-Jaques Annaud
Screenplay by Gerard Bach
Based on the novel by James Oliver Curwood

I usually try to avoid animal movies at all costs because quite frankly they just make me sad. And the animals are rarely treated with respect not only as creatures, but as characters.

There are some upsetting parts in this movie to be sure, but they are not forced or contrived. The storytelling is completely honest about things that could and often do happen to bears in the wild when they are just being bears. They are treated with respect as wild animals, and as truly memorable characters we become emotionally involved with.

An almost totally silent movie, "The Bear" tops "Born Free" as the best movie about animals ever made. It is simply a beautiful film.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Spielberg
Screen Story by Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick
Based on the short story by Brian Aldiss

This is a dark, complex, sentimental, and haunting film that polarized critics and turned off audiences who were expecting a feel good film in the spirit of "ET".

This movie actually does have a lot more in common with "ET" and "Close Encounters" than one might think. But this time the questions posed are not always answered. And the emotional payoff is far more complex.

The film is a technical marvel on every level.

The hyper-real stylish cinematography of Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski manages to convey the look of both a Kubrick and a Spielberg film at the same time. The mix of cold Kubrickian existential bleakness and the warm Spielberg spirituality of his trademark "god light" is what makes "A.I." such an utterly fascinating experience.

Maestro John William's emotional score infuses the movie with deep sense of sadness as the main character searches for a lost childhood he can never have.

Basic Instinct (1992)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas

I love John Dahl’s film noir trilogy ("Kill Me Again", "Red Rock Wes", "The Last Seduction"), but "Basic Instinct" with its "Vertigo" inspired San Francisco locations is my favorite neo-noir.

Michael Douglas is at the peak of his leading man, bad boy, troubled anti-hero form. Sharon Stone is in the prime of her alluring femme fatale sexual charisma. Director Paul Verhoeven, writer Joe Eszterhas, cinematographer Jan DeBont, composer Jerry Goldsmith–every one involved is at the peak of their creative powers in this provocative neo-Hitchcock classic. The most daring (and best) mainstream commercial erotic film ever made.

One of two San Francisco based films on my list (along with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes").

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Anthropology 101

If I hear one more person call Caesar a “monkey” I swear to Michele Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s god I will rip their fucking throat out.

Yeah, I know. That is a pretty fired up reaction to protect a fictional character. But then again I am a crazy Bull Mongoni bastard who learned a long time ago what the Tea Party is demonstrating today. Act crazy enough and people will scatter out of your way and tremble in fear at the mention of your name.

But that is a subject for another column.

Back to some basic anthropology, or primatology to be more precise.

Monkeys are “lesser” primates, less evolved than me, you and Caesar.
And they have a TAIL for crying out loud.

Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, like all Chimpanzees, is a Great Ape!
He is from the Hominidae family which includes four distinct genera (subdivisions or species), chimpanzees, gorillas, humans, and orangutans.

Yes that is correct. Humans are great apes.
One of four genus that evolved from a common ancestor “Hominidae” that lived roughly 14 million years ago.

Orangutans broke off into their own subfamily Ponginae which eventually became a tribe and then the genera today of the modern Orangutan.

This left the subfamily Homininae from which modern humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas evolved. Further down the line, this subfamily split off into two distinct tribes.

One was the Gorillini from which the genus gorilla evolved, i.e. the modern gorilla.

The second tribe was Homini, the direct ancestors to both modern humans and chimpanzees, the genus homo, and the genus pan.

The homo/pan is a point of contention. Some scientists think there was a gradual separation between 6 to 4.5 million years ago with interbreeding along the way. Others have made credible scientific arguments that based on recent DNA findings “pan” should be in the homo genus and as such would be the only other surviving homo species since the neanderthal became extinct approximately 24,500 years ago.

Okay, that is some of the basics, I could go on forever because the stuff fascinates me.

My point is this.
I am sick and tired of ignorance. I am sick and tired of falsehoods being spouted as gospel. I am sick and tired of how we have become a nation where ignorance and stupidity is considered an asset!

Know what happens when you treasure ignorance and accept lies as truth?
You country gets taken over by a small group of deluded radicals who will extort and lie and do whatever it takes to get what they want.

NO the earth is NOT fucking 6000 years old!

NO the founding fathers did NOT fight tirelessly to end slavery!

NO “god” did NOT tell you to run for President Rick Perry!

And NO mother fucking NO Caesar is not a goddamn monkey!
He is an APE just like YOU!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Movie tie-ins

Whenever I see a movie in the theater that I really like, one that truly resonates with me and strikes a cord on a personal level, it leaves me longing for more. I feel a desperate craving that I must feed, an insatiable desire to spend more time with the characters and the cinematic world I have just experienced. I must find a way to get back in.

This is where movie tie-ins come into play. They can help take the edge off. Kinda like the movie methadone for my cinematic crack addiction.

I will leave the theater and often head straight to the nearest Barnes & Noble to scour the magazine rack for any articles, features, interviews, photos, and most of all cover stories about the movie. The days of Cinefantastique, when you could expect entire book length issues of a magazine dedicated to a film and written with in-depth journalistic flair coupled with insightful analysis are long gone. But sometimes you can find good coverage in the British genre magazines Empire, Total Film or SciFi Now. Cover stories from Creative Screenwriting, Film Comment, or Cinefex are usually well done. Every now and then lightning strikes and I find coverage in a well written mainstream publication such as Vanity Fair or The Hollywood Reporter.

Next step, I will seek out a novelization of the screenplay if there is one, or in the case of an adaption, the source material itself. Then, I check online to see if any PDF versions of the screenplay are available. Making of books, The Art of books, Poster books, published book versions of the screenplay and anything else available all will be ordered within hours of leaving the theater.

It goes without saying I must possess the soundtrack and will listen to it nonstop in my car and on my iPod, and right here at this desk. That music will literally be the soundtrack of my life for many weeks and often month to come.

Another ritual I have that dates back to the dawn of the home video era, is to watch three related movies.

Now these films can tie in to the new experience in a multitude of different ways. Sometimes it is another movie in a series but it can be less obvious and direct. It can be a connection to an actor, the director, the story, theme, tone, style, whatever it is that might help me to relive that feeling.

Two recent examples which also happen to be my top two films of 2011.

Super 8

Cover story Creative Screenwriting
Cover story Entertainment Weekly
CD of soundtrack by Michael Giacchino

Related movies:
Close Encounters - genre, Spielberg, tone, pitch, feel, influence, theme, and more that could reveal spoilers.

Explorers - tone, feel, suburbia, the kids. Especially the kids.

Taken (SciFi miniseries) - Genre, plot, Spielberg, another magical performance by another Fanning.

Runner-ups: E.T., Jurassic Park, Batteries Not Included, Gremlins.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Magazine coverage - shutout. Waiting and checking newstand daily.
CD of soundtrack by Patrick Boyle - on the way
Related source material - original novel by Pierre Boulle

Related movies :

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - the origin prequel of the classic series is closest to new film in terms of story.

Mighty Joe Young (both 1949 original and 1998 remake) - story, character, theme, plot.

Harry and the Hendersons (1987) No really. Obviously not in tone but John Lithgow, plot, and a spoiler that fans of both movies will notice.

Runner-ups: Any Planet of the Apes movie.  I would put Project X (1987) on the list, but it is too brutally sad and disturbing to ever see again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beware of the Beast Man

There has always been much more to the Planet of the Apes series than the over the top quotable dialogue, iconic SF imagery, and increasingly exploitive and cheesy sequels (not to mention Tim Burton’s despised 2001 remake) would indicate.

Dig below the surface, particularly in the scripts written by Paul Dehn, and you will find a subversive subtext about the inherently cruel and destructive nature of man, and why the human race is not deserving of this planet.

The new Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes its cue from the origin story sequel of the original series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Conquest was a low budget exploitation movie. It was a dark, violent piece of brooding science fiction. Rise is a different beast all together. Caesar is not the offspring of talking apes who time traveled back from the future in a space ship.

There is no science fiction in Rise. It takes place in the real world with real life scenarios and the apes in this movie are as real as the ones at your local zoo. And it will make you think about how those creatures are being treated. And how did they get there in the first place. Not to mention the innocent victims at the local lab being who spend their lives being tortured and tested. After all, how would you feel if you were abducted from you home and forced to live the rest of your life alone in a cage being poked and prodded.

If only there were a Caesar in real life.

Sometime soon the Academy needs to create a category for Best Performance by an Actor in a motion control role. Andy Serkis gives a mesmerizing and heartbreaking performance as Caesar.
Serkis, together with Weta’s seamless SFX, Amanda Silver’s and Rick Jaffa’s economical screenplay and Rupert Wyatt’s tight direction, they have created a new and sensational character.

There are moments in this film where you will want to leap out of your seat to aide Caesar and strike back at his human tormentors.

A word needs to be said about James Franco. He may be a lousy Oscar host, but is a fine actor. He is beautifully understated here. His relationship with Caesar and the family and home he creates for them are truly special to watch unfold in the film's terrific first act.

Director Rupert Wyatt is spot on with his shot selection and Thor composer Patrick Doyle delivers his second knockout score of the summer.

There are only two dishonest moments in this film. It is when there is an homage paid to the original film. They are forced and cheesy lines, but thankfully brief. This is an emotionally pitch perfect movie that does not need to resort to fanboy suckups.

Yes, there is action in Rise, including a spectacular final battle filmed on location on the Golden Gate Bridge.

But most of all, this is a character driven film. The relationship that develops between Will and Caesar is truly something special. It is pure movie magic. This is a film that resonates with deep emotion. It has heart and a lead character that will stay with you long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a deeply affecting work of popular art and the best film of 2011 so far.