ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

JER'S TURN: COMIC & SUPERHERO FILMS: PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE!

Lynda Carter: Wonder Woman
JER: Does the world need Superheroes? More over, does the average film watcher need Superhero movies? Whether we want it or not, they had been and will continue to come our way! Like anyone my age, I grew up watching the SPIDERMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE Saturday morning cartoons. I love watching the Bill Bixby/ Lou Ferrigno INCREDIBLE HULK and Adam West as BATMAN! Heck, I even enjoyed the Steve Reeves SUPERMAN! What red-blooded boy didn't enjoy the hell out of watching Lynda Carter as WONDER WOMAN? What a great time to watch TV, at an age of innocence and wonderment! There was no cable TV, no Internet, no Satellite discs...you saw what was available on a good 13 channels and you enjoyed what you got!

Christopher Reeve as SUPERMAN
 Then, something would come to the big screen...a big event was about to "fly" into the hearts of Americans and movie fans around the world! In 1978, director Richard Donner (THE OMEN, LETHAL WEAPON) would unveil a then unknown Christopher Reeve, donning the red cape and blue tights and bring the story of SUPERMAN to life! Like all great things, the series went from fantastic to absolutely revolting! As a personal opinion, I enjoyed SUPERMAN II (if you are a fan, I highly recommend the newly released "SUPERMAN II: The Richard Donner Cut. A much better version than the original theatrical edition) SUPERMAN III was a joke...literally! By casting Richard Pryor as a computer genius who indirectly "splits" Superman into "Good Clark Kent" and "Bad Superman", the movie can only go downhill from there! But wait, it CAN actually get worst!!! How about SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE??? Gene Hackman returns (why???) as Lex Luthor, a character he brought to life in the original installment, with a new challenge for Superman...the introduction of Nuclear Man! (Nuclear Man?) Along side with his annoying nephew played by the annoying Jon Cryer, this movie was over before it begun. A "follow-up" to the original SUPERMAN film was made in 2006 when director Bryan Singer (VALKYRIE) introduced actor Brandon Routh to the world in the aptly titled SUPERMAN RETURNS.

Would it really be a while since we would see another great Superhero film? You better believe it! Studios didn't have the money, the determination or the technology to make these sophisticated characters and their worlds come to life. We suffered through miserable tries like the 1990 clunker CAPTAIN AMERICA and Dolph Lundgren as THE PUNISHER.

Tim Burton's BATMAN
Now, whether you cared for them or not, you have to give recognition to Tim Burton (BEETLEJUICE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) for his unique approach and execution in bringing Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Michael Keaton as 1989's BATMAN! Similar to what had occurred to the earlier SUPERMAN series, BATMAN would suffer bad story lines, weak characters and an endless cast of actors playing the Caped Crusader!

Continuing to hand out recognitions...the same can be said for another superhero series brought to life by another unique visionary...this time, it would be director Sam Raimi (EVIL DEAD, DARKMAN) with 2002's SPIDERMAN. Many will say that this series suffered the same fatalities as BATMAN and SUPERMAN. Although SPIDERMAN 2 was a successful sequel, both by critics and box office returns, many feel that SPIDERMAN 3 introduced too many new characters and was a bit run down with its story line. Granted, it wasn't my favorite, but it was enough to make Sony Pictures pull the plug on Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker and Sam Raimi's direction of the series.

At the beginning of the millennium, 2000 (jeez, remember Y2K?) would introduce us to an Xtrodinary collection of 'mutants' as we explore the world of X-MEN! The series had a magnificent run with X-MEN 2 and X-MEN: LAST STAND before spawning into a new direction with its most popular character played by Hugh Jackman as X-MEN ORIGINS:WOLVERINE.

The SPIDERMAN series introduced audiences to a more sophisticated way of presenting the exclusive worlds or the comic book Superheroes without the heavy "cheesy" aftertaste left from the TV shows of the 50's through the early 80's..sharp character developments, impressive camera work and visual effects, visual effects, visual effects were now taking over! A series of comic book stars were now pouring out of the floodgates, each demanding its own time on the silver screen! Some hits, some misses included FANTASTIC 4, GHOST RIDER, Ang Lee's HULK and Edward Norton's THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

Robert Downey Jr. would star in the greatest 'comeback' story of his life when he took on the embodiment of Tony Stark and played IRONMAN in 2008! Downey Jr brought sarcaism, character and high- end personality to an unlikely series. Let's face it, Ironman didn't carry the comic book clout that Superman or Batman did. The box office numbers and fan base proved everyone wrong! The film was followed by a less-than-warm reception with its sequel, IRONMAN 2.
Enjoy this great tribute to IRONMAN... thank you 'DowneyJrSexyBeast'!

Here's my inquiry...or issue, however you want to view it. Is enough...enough? Is this the beginning or is it the beginning of the end? Tapping into cult favorite Graphic novels and less than popular comic characters may begin the hammering of nails into this coffin! The likes of WATCHMEN, SIN CITY, 300, THE SPIRIT, HELLBOY and even JONAH HEX are all example of films (movies) taken from such-mentioned sources. Some have been enjoyed, some were regrettable! Are we clawing too deep by giving everyone a moment to be on the silver screen? Are some stories are characters worth it?

Chris Evans as CAPT AMERICA
 So, what can we learn from this? Nothing, it would seem...as a new line of Superhero films are coming this-a-way very soon! For starters, both SUPERMAN and SPIDERMAN are seeing a new 're-imaging' as both studios, respectfully, have taken up with new directors, new actors and a new vision for their franchises. Director Zach Snyder (X-MEN, 300) will helm and introduce Henry Cavill as SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL as it'll fly into theatres in 2012. Christopher Hemsworth will carry the Hammer as the almighty THOR hits the big screen May 2011. The magical alien ring will be worn by Ryan Reynolds to transfer into the GREEN LANTERN come June 2011. On a yet another spin on the X-Men storyline, we will see how Professor X and Magneto come to be in the prequel story telling of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS set for June 2011 as well. Chris Evans is no stranger to the comic book world, having played 'The Torch' in the FANTASTIC 4 series, he now returns as CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER in July 2011...but it doesn't end there!

Even though it may be the end of the world as we know it, 2012 wants to keep the box office bucks coming with a list of films in the works. In a major surprise project, director Darren Aronofsky (BLACK SWAN) will bring out the claws for another WOLVERINE installment with Hugh Jackman. Release date is still undetermined. Others coming your way will be the highly anticipated THE AVENGERS set for May 2012. Along with Robert Downey Jr as Ironman and Chris Evans as Capt. America, we will also see Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, the same character he played in IRONMAN 2. Mark Ruffalo will now take over Ed Noton as the human side of The Hulk and Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow, the role she made famous in IRONMAN 2 as well. July will see a newly imagined THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with Andrew Garfield (SOCIAL NETWORK) as Peter Parker and directed by Marc Webb (500 DAYS OF SUMMER). Personal favorite for me, the third (and final) installment brings Christian Bale as THE DARK KNIGHT RISES opens July 20th!

In summary, will the dawn of the Comic Book films see its end soon as Studios clammer to make the films they feel will bring in the dollars? Has no one learned about driving a genre into the ground? Remember the popularity of the Westerns or the Slasher films? I guess genre films come and go...but as long as people enjoy a little mindless action, the money will be made...I know I will be there for a few of them myself!

JOHNNY CHAZ: To immediately answer your question, Jer: 1) Does the world need superheroes? No. 2) Does the average film watcher need Superhero movies? Sadly, yes.

From what I understand, we are here to talk about film and cinema. If our readers wish to connect with and discuss superheroes and comic books, they can feel free to visit Marvel.com and take it from there. Where are we going with this genre this week?
I am not exactly sure how much I have to say this week on this topic as in my opinion there is little to discuss here. The subject of superheroes is bland, overdone, over-hyped and frankly.....dull.


As for the X-men series, the Ironman series, the Spiderman series and anything else of the like, I can and will pass. I see names in your article here ,Jer, such as: Ed Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel Jackson, Robert Downey Jr. and even Scarlett Johansson and to be real honest, it is quite sad to think that they are remotely involved with movies such as these. It's money, not art - and that's all.....plain and simple.

If anything, this pathetic genre is a mere reflection of our society and the values and aspirations contained within. It portrays what audiences today wants to watch. Film quality is not in demand by most movie-goers and audiences only desire that a movie simply throw up all over them with fragments and harsh pieces of violence, power, high-tech images, anger, sex and foul language. This genre has and continues to destroy film as a medium and movies as an experience to impact our lives, penetrate our souls and most importantly to allow us to see "real" aspects of our own lives portrayed by the actors / actresses on the screen.

This is precisely why these types of film are released in the summer. These films thus are released during this time since they know that they have no chance at being considered a great "film" by the Academy and shrewd audiences who venture to Fall and Winter films would never go. Still, the kids are out of school and parents are happy to give them the box office $$$ to go see these movies in droves. What these kids and audiences (Adults with child-like minds) are expecting and receiving for their dollar is a multiplicity and array of action with nothing - and I mean absolutely nothing in between.

2008's THE INCREDIBLE HULK
 On a final note, I could take 5 "action" / "superhero" films and rate each one from 1 to 10 - then add them up and probably not even reach a total of 10. Let's try it for fun: TRANSFORMERS (Picture points: 1/10); X-MEN (Picture Points: 2/10); SPIDERMAN SERIES (Picture Points: 2.5/10); THE INCREDIBLE HULK (Picture Points: 1.5/10); CAPTAIN AMERICA (1/10). This totals 8 points for five (5) movies.......unheard of.
I am not too sure how to summarize this response as I am now tired of the subject, worn out with the "super-hero" concept and my head is hurting; pounding actually, as the very thought of this genre is - in every sense of the word......insipid.


JER: I knew that I would probably get a non-motivating respond from you, but, jeez! I thought you enjoyed the DARK KNIGHT RETURNS or even BATMAN BEGINS...yet, no love there? I think it is safe to say that NOT every film is going to be concidered for Best Picture...no matter what. You talk about "art"...yet, in some fashion, isn't this art coming to life on the screen? An artist's rendoring has been made into a living, breathing character...when it is done right? I will take Comic Book films over any @!%# Tyler Perry movie any old day! The bottom line here is that, like those T.P. films, there is a fan base for everything out there...people will come to like or love something, while others cannot stand the mere sight of being exposed to it!
Love or hate the genre, here is a clip of some of today's Super Heroes!

THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS: Please chime in and comment on some topics you would like us to touch on or discuss here...movie and film- related, of course. We always look forward to your suggestions and comments and look forward to hearing from you more often. Keep it right here, as it will be JC's turn to bring up his POINT and as always, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: THE FILM STUDIO- FOCUS FEATURES!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Focus Features is a segment of Universal Pictures producing well-written and sharp films. Having been a frequent Academy award winner and nominee over the past two decades, Focus Features have remained both intact and highly profitable for Universal. Having began in 1991 under the name of “Good Machine” with a mission of creating and generating both artistically interesting films as well as films, which struck the heart of the human soul. Films produced by Focus would never be referred to as or compared to big-budget blockbusters commonly seen today with major studios.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
The 2000 release of “Traffic” and the 2005 release of “Brokeback Mountain” are probably what count as the most highly profitable films for Focus over the years (not counting international releases) brining in $83 million and $124 million.

I would imagine that I probably fell in love with Focus Feature films back around the turn of the millennium when “Traffic” was released (a film that we discussed in detail right here on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT last week). Directed by Stephen Soderbergh and featuring an all-star cast, "Traffic" focuses on a conservative judge who is appointed by the President to spearhead America's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is an addict herself. My picture points? 8/10.

Now becoming a small fan of Focus Features, I began to keep an eye out for other films that had been a part of this studio segment. I soon realized that just a year prior I had been very impressed with the film “Being John Malkovich” which was released in 1999. Directed by Spike Jonze, his surreal yet highly creative and colorful piece of work focused on a puppeteer who discovers a portal leading straight into the working mind of movie star, John Malkovich. This film received nominations for both Best Screenplay and Best Director categories. My picture points? 7.5/10.
The entertainly bizzare trailer for BEING JOHN MALKOVICH!

"Billy Elliott” was not exactly a box-office hit, but most people I spoke to who had seen it were quite moved by the film. Directed by Stephen Daldry, the film focused on a talented young boy who is torn between his unexpected love of dance and the disintegration of his family. The film was nominated for the Best Screenplay, Director and Actress categories. My picture points: 6.5/10.

GOSFORD PARK
In 2001, “Gosford Park” was a pleasant surprise and surfaced as a multiple-storyline drama set in the 1930’s England. The plot centers on the McCordle family, particularly the man of the house, William McCordle. As the film marches on, the drama increases as all the characters are after William and his money. This film was an Academy award winner for Best Screenplay and deservingly so. The film was also nominated for numerous other categories at the Academy Awards that year including Director, Costume and Supporting roles. My picture points? 7/10.

The 2002 release of “Far From Heaven” was a tremendous surprise. Directed by Todd Haynes and starring Julianne Moore, this “melo-drama” set during the 1950’s outlined a housewife who is facing a marital crisis while mounting racial tensions are ongoing in the outside world. Ranking in my top 100 of all time, the interior sets and camera work are simply tremendous as “Far From Heaven” received 4 nominations including Score, Cinematography, Actress and of course – screenplay. My picture points: 8.5/10.

The next three films released by Focus Features were also tremendous and all rank in my top-250 of all time. In 2003, minor box-office hit “Swimming Pool” was a suspense thriller with a European flair with actresses Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sauvignier. My picture points: 8/10.
A "must-see" film...we recommend SWIMMING POOL!

"Lost in Translation” was released soon after in 2003 and directed by the up and coming Sofia Coppola, An American movie star (Bill Murray) with a sense of emptiness in life and in his marriage especially meets up with a neglected newlywed (Scarlett Johanssen) meet up as strangers in Tokyo, Japan and form a amazing, yet unlikely bond. With 3 Academy Award nomination, this film won the top prize with Best Original Screenplay – and deservingly so. My picture points: 9/10.

"21 Grams” then surfaced later in 2003 continued a tremendous season for the studio. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu and starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benecio Del Toro, this riveting cast took on the gripping story of a freak accident that brings together a critically ill mathematician, a grieving mother and a born-again ex-con. “21 Grams” received nominations for Best Actress and Supporting Actor. My picture points: 8/10.

In the last seven (7) years, the films of Focus Features have remained solid, yet have lacked a bit of the creativity and spark that their films the prior decade had owned. Still, films of note between 2003 and 2010 that I would recommend would be: "The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004), "The Constant Gardener" (2004), "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), "Eastern Promises" (2006), "Lust, Caution" (2006), "Atonement" (2007), "Burn After Reading" (2008), "Coraline" (2008), "Milk" (2008), and "A Serious Man"(2009).

An attempt to continue writing the terrific screenplays that constitute many of the Focus Features was made with the 2010 release of "The Kids Are All Right". The film lacked substance and audiences were quite disappointed. Still, the writing and creativity of the studio remains intact and this is precisely the backbone of where Focus Features’ strength lies. More importantly, it is the strength of Screenplay (Original) that continues to serve as the main ingredient in my love, respect and adoration for Focus Feature films.

JER: What a great change of scenery from our weekly "Film Recommendation of the Week" we have been seeing here on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT! The reason and creation of this blog site was to comment and speak about everything film-related that others wouldn't dare or even imagine doing!

OK. But now I need to focus on Focus Features! (I know, that was bad) Focus became a well recognized studio for both of us, right at the time that we began talking film. Having recently recommended TRAFFIC on this blog site, it is already understood our love for how this film came about and the large debt of gratitude that needs to be directed towards the maverick studio that is Focus.

Along side TRAFFIC, other films you mentioned, JC, need to be highlighted more so… one other that didn’t quite get all the credit it deserved was 21 GRAMS. This was a great film with a great cast that works on the focus of a riveting character script. Again, not needing any fancy camerawork or high-tech special effects…the weight of the actors and their abilities to take us into their lives proves yet another great project that could not have been marketed or made through a major studio’s greenlight but produced wonderfully by Focus.
The highly- acclaimed drama/ thriller 21 GRAMS!

An interesting take I found about most Focus films is the time of day I enjoy watching them to help set the appropriate mood. I would have to say the LOST IN TRANSLATION, TRAFFIC and 21 GRAMS, for me personally, captures more of the ambience and enhances the photography and drama of the story when I watch them late in the evening with all the lights off! I like to turn up my surround-sound in my TV room and only be illuminated by the developments coming off my flat screen…it is truly a wonderful and satisfying experience! The reader may want to try this at home, watch a particular clip of your choice during the day and play it again late at night…you tell me if you cannot feel the difference.

CORALINE
 I must also mention a very personal favorite of mine, CORALINE. Now it has been mistaken that Tim Burton had anything to do with this project…he did not. This wonderfully animated film was directed by Henry Selick (who also directed THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Tim Burton’s contribution to this film was story writer and producer) Selick’s separation of Burton’s work was proven to be imaginative and well received. This film has moved into both the likings of many children of all ages and still obtains a “cult” following as well.

EASTERN PROMISES
Holy crap! I am going to pick up a dropped ball by you, JC…how could you leave out EASTERN PROMISES? It is directed by one of our favorites, David Cronenberg (THE FLY, SCANNERS, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, VIDEODROME) and plays out with a remarkable cast including Viggo Mortensen (he was robbed of a nomination), Naomi Watts and the great Vincent Cassel. The film focuses on the rise of a small Russian mafia family in London. A very powerful and in-your-face drama/ action film that does not let up or give you a chance to breathe as it takes you into its world of crime and doesn’t let go! The film offers a departure for both actor Mortesnsen and director Cronenberg, respectfully. I think working with the assistance of an independant production company allows both artist and maker to freely allow expression to flow evenly without the constraints of marketing and publication for profit!

In short, it is best understood that not ALL films can or should be released by major motion picture studios. I think that the sum of the Focus Features’ films would loose a touch, an artistic flair and would play to major audiences…instead, it is a wonderful studio coming from Universal Studios, allowed solely to be made and find its audience…however and whenever it can!

Please join us next week, when it's JER's turn to talk about...well, you'll just have to see...so, that means that, until then, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

JER'S TURN: FILM RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: BARRY LYNDON

JER: Greetings Gals and Pals…I am going to dive into this one head-first! Nominated for 7 Academy Awards in 1975 including Best Picture and Best Director, winner of 4: Best Art Direction/ Set Decoration, Cinematography, Costume Design and Adapted Scoring…I proudly bring forth this week’s film recommendation in the form of Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON.

A luxurious piece of real filmmaking filled with wonderful and lush sets and costumes which also includes a knitted classical soundtrack including the works of Mozart, Schubert and Vivaldi, BARRY LYNDON, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, tells the story of a poor Irish boy (Ryan O’Neil) and his clever and sly manipulation through 18th Century’s English aerostatic lifestyles to find his way to English nobility…but with a price!
The original trailer for Staney Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON


I will be the first to admit that, clocking in at 3 hours and 3 minutes, the movie is a bit heavy and possibly tedious for some viewers…but, BARRY LYNDON has many layers that can be peeled back to continue revealing one more beautifully shot moment after another. Details were not spared to specific period costumes specially made for the film as well as authentic set decorations and tapestries to dress up the various inns, homes and manors presented throughout the story’s telling.

Arthur O'Sullivan as Capt. Feeney
A film has to offer various angles to be pieced together and enjoyed. In this case, we have very memorable characters like Captain Feeny, a polite older highwayman who will ask you kindly to give up your horse and money…but may allow you to keep your boots! Lord Bullingdon, Lyndon’s stepson who loathes and despises Barry’s conniving ways into his newly widowed mother’s life only to place himself comfortably in society and the card-playing grifter…simply known as The Chevalier. Locations used throughout the film included Ireland, Germany and the U.K., Kubrick insisted in using as many authentic interiors and exteriors to add to the realistic period pieces he set out to capture. One of the greatest stories told in filmmaking history has to do with the particular cameras Kubrick tricked the studios into using for principal photography.

Director Kubrick with the Mitchell BNC
As the story goes, Kubrick was aware of a couple of specially and very expensively made rear- projection cameras called the Mitchell BNC. He had once had the opportunity to use these highly- developed cameras as a young man, but no one had ever used them for any kind of filmmaking. As Kubrick scouted Panavision’s offerings of various supplies, he came across them again. He informed the studios that he was interested in purchasing one or two of the Mitchell BNCs, for his personal intends. Since they had not been used since its arrival, due to the costly equipment production and the current use of front-projection cameras, the studio gladly granted Kubrick his purchased wishes. It was later understood that the CEO of Panavision chastised the individuals responsible for the sales of the BNCs, stating that the cameras are one the most highly advanced pieces of machinery every created. Kubrick went to a specialist to attach a prototype NASA-created Zeiss lens that was placed on the newly purchased BNCs to create a camera that could capture natural light for its principal photography. BARRY LYNDON is surrounded by candlelit interiors as well as dewy and somber exterior sequences…all captured by Kubrick’s newly-created cameras!
Hear from the men who tell the tale of the BNC cameras and Kubrick

All in all, the film was not a box- office success, but Kubrick stood behind the accomplishments achieved on the technical aspect of his work. Because of its failure, Kubrick would carefully choose his next project to be directed for Warner Brothers…the next film in question would be THE SHINING.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: This 1975 “period” film by Stanley Kubrick is what could easily be referred to as a magnificent whilst meaningful work of film art. Perhaps the same could be said for the other films of Kubrick (Clockwork and 2001 immediately come to mind).
This one however, is witty and charming – but quite dark under the microscope. And as you mentioned Jer, although the film is lengthy and is often viewed as "tedious" - there are indeed new and creative layers of details used by Kubrick and his team that can be peeled back every single time the film is viewed.

The opening scene from BARRY LYNDON
From the opening shot, the film IS framed in beauty - breathtaking 18th-century sets and landscapes. Thus, I absolutely love, Jer, how you have described this film as one that is filmed in "luxury". The attention to detail in the film is equally spectacular. The narration also sets the proper tone for the audience which guides us through this wonderful journey of Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) which has the feel of a story that has been told time and time again (in a wonderful way of course) – in essence, a tale from the past.

Underrated actor Ryan O'Neil
One of the more resounding comments by the narrator is when he states that one should "Never fall from the rank of a gentleman” which is, in all actuality, the motivation and quest for Barry Lyndon throughout the film. This is what is precisely so enthralling about the performance of Ryan O’Neil, who gives such a sympathetic, genuine and convincing performance of a character who is really the complete opposite – shallow and greedy. Nonetheless, we empathize with Barry Lyndon since he remains strong-willed, determined, and above all – a hopeless romantic. In sum, this is a man who makes the journey from “poor man” to a “soldier” to a “husband” and then lands in the status of the elite.

The absolutely entrancing score by Handel is utterly inspiring throughout the film. The music complements the characters, the costumes, the sets (purely authentic as you mentioned, Jer) and of course – the story line.
Handel's music as the theme to BARRY LYNDON

When I think of the film, the one scene in particular that stands out is the beginning of the 7-year war appropriately and sarcastically introduced by our narrator. We learn that Barry’s first taste of battle is against a small army of Frenchmen with Revolutionary sounds and imagery twirling in the background.

Barry Lyndon’s rise to the “elite” status is somewhat ironical, yet highly justified and satisfying for the audience. On the other hand, it is actually quite shameful and he lands there without remorse. Still, it is a story of fortune and mis-fortune to say the very least and perhaps one of the most magnificent “period” films ever made. It is the story of a likeable liar and cheat – it is that simple really.

There are so many memorable scenes that paint this film, but allow me to highlight one more as it is a necessity. The candle-lit scene set to Schubert’s E-Flat Sonata may very well be my favorite in the film. Here, Barry Lyndon is seen entranced and distracted by the awe-inspiring and breathtaking and future “Lady Lyndon” (Marisa Berenson) across the gambling table. Lady Lyndon is graciously and lovingly followed by the camera to the balcony under the moonlight (terrific lighting in this scene I must add). Here is where I can completely agree with you, Jer, in respect to your commentary on "candlelit interiors and somber exteriors". Barry Lyndon is then seen approaching the lady, offering his hand and from a slight distance they kiss one another in a frame that sets another picturesque masterpiece. Set design, make-up and costume design are first-rate – and this particular scene is simply grandiose in all categories.

Just the fact that Kubrick attempted to create a film such as this during a decade when films “such as this” were not generally accepted or appreciated is purely remarkable within itself. It was a high-risk venture with a virtually guaranteed low payoff in return.

I guess, Jer, that what I really like about Barry Lyndon is the fact that it is so “novel”-like. The script writing is sincere, eloquent but is in now way mushy. In fact, this may very well be the best written of all of the Kubrick films even though the script is adapted from the novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” in 1844 by William Thackeray.

Barry Lyndon is a film that I have always been high on and I must commend my associate, Jer, here for recommending it to our members this week. You may hear some people tell you that this film is a masterpiece while others will inform you how much of a box-office flop it was. It’s a cliché, but the more you watch this film, the more appreciation you will gain for it. So do yourself a favor and either re-visit the film, or watch it for the first time and formulate your own opinion. ***PICTURE POINTS: 8/10

JER: Well, JC, it would seem as if we agree to another classic work of filmmaking by an outstanding director, Mr. Stanley Kubrick…. Having said that, we need to enter a level of controversy, otherwise we won’t be living up to our blog’s name of “counterpoint!”

Tune in next week when it will be Johnny Chazz’ turn to submit God-knows-what…I remain posed and ready for anything. Thank you for checking in and we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!


Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: FILM RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK= TRAFFIC


JOHNNY CHAZZ: Voted as Film of the Year in the New York Critic’s Circle in 2000, there are some terrific moments which piece together to form the docu-drama “Traffic” which is the topic of this week’s film Recommendation.
The original trailer for TRAFFIC

A formidable cast collided for the making of “Traffic”, filmed by Director Steven Soderbergh (winner of Best Director for this film in 2000), including the likes of Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro (Best Supporting actor winner), Catherine-Zeta Jones, Albert Finney, James Brolin and Dennis Quaid which headline this fantastic piece of film making.

Erica Christensen and Michael Douglas
A relevant medley of stories focusing on various areas of the drug trade (users, dealer, suppliers, buyers and the DEA) are where the film focuses. Two primary characters in the film surface –Mexican border policeman Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) protects the trafficking of drugs coming in and out of Mexico with his own partner. On the other side of the border we have United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) who has been deemed as the new “Czar” to the war against drugs. Slowly and methodically, Wakefield begins to form a partnership with the Mexican forces of Rodriguez and his team. However, with all of this going on – home lives and personal lives are in shambles. The irony begins to surface as we the audience abruptly learns of Wakefield’s daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) who is quickly becoming a victim of drug-addiction.

(right) Academy Award winner Benicio DelToro
The sense of timing as well as the editing is also quite clean. As for Cinematography, the hand-held usage a key points (not over-used which is a real plus) in the film not only add the suspense genre, but also engage the audience in the docu-drama to gain that added advantage of a closer look in the characters, sets and situations. One area in particular for those who have a chance to re-visit “Traffic” is to take-in the Cinematography, the score, the sound and the camera work that occurs when the film focuses on Mexico. To add, the colors of the film and the gels used always inform the audience as to where they are and what type of characters we are dealing with. What a sense of terror, seediness and unease – and this was perfectly engineered by the film crew.

One comparison in terms of film-making and genre you could almost make is by looking years ahead in 2005 at the intense political-film “Syriana”. That is to say without delving into a discussion about “Syriana” that if you liked one, then odds are quite good that you had a strong appreciation for the other which I obviously did as a film-goer and as a critic.
 
In sum, this is a highly mature piece of film-making by Soderbergh and his team. ‘Traffic” attacked a tough subject from all angles and made it work as a film, as a docu-drama and as an educational work of art. All three (3) of the stories intertwining the stories maintain audience interest and could have been films of their own right when it comes down to it.

Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman
Then in 2000 and even now, “Traffic” serves as a film that movie-goers either loved - or loved to hate. The film purposely makes the audience almost detest aspects of it – thus, it is not the easiest thing to fall in love with it upon first viewing. Still, the bottom line according to this critic is that all of the elements of a high-quality film are present. The writing, the performances, the editing, the camera work, the set and costume design at the very least are all operating at an extremely high level in this film. Is “Traffic” flawless? No – there are pieces of the film and tid-bits that probably needed changing or re-arranging, but keep in mind that albeit not the “perfect” film or “best” film of all-time, it is one that must be re-visited from time to time. So, although a film like “Gladiator” took home the top award in 2000, I strongly suggest a re-visitation to “Traffic” so that you might realize the details and specifics that you most likely missed out on before.

JER: Well, JC, not much to say after everything has been said...in our own personal conversations, we have discussed both the films of Soderbergh and TRAFFIC. I remember first hearing about this project when it was originally a British miniseries produced in the early 80’s called TRAFFIK. Soderbergh took the UK story line and devised the story taking place between Tijuana, Washington and La Jolla...switching out the original locales of Pakistan and Great Britain from the UK telling.

Director Steven Soderbergh with camera
Not known to be a common act by a film director, Soderbergh actually took the hand-held camera approach and did most of the principal shooting himself! The vision was to create a feeling of being an on-looker, a spectator caught in the middle of chaos. The audience may feel a little voyeurism, especially involving some of the drug-using sequences involving Caroline and most of the Tijuana story line.

One very distinctive and consistent trademark that makes a Steven Soderbergh film recognizable is the tints and hues used in various scenes. In regards to TRAFFIC, all of the Tijuana scenes bear an over-exposed style of photography, almost white-washing some of the outdoor scenes, only to be colored by rusty tans and mixtures of oranges and yellows. Mostly all of the Washington scenes, however, are marked more in blue tints... now leaving most of the La Jolla storyline to look and feel more colorful and slightly vibrant. This can only be explained as a marking of desert, rain-pouring and overly- comfortable Southern California living...all in the film and all represented uniquely but its color schemes.

Douglas, Director Steven Soderbergh and Zeta- Jones
Winner of four Academy Awards: Best Director- Steven Soderbergh, Best Supporting Actor- Benicio Del Toro, Best Adapted Screenplay and Editing...TRAFFIC still plays as a tough and exposing piece of great film making today as it did in 2000! A film that holds the test of time is the work of true craftsmanship…as a Director, as a Screenwriter and as a story.

Another foot-note that must be mentioned is that TRAFFIC is produced by one of my favorite directors, Edward Zwick. Zwick directed such films as GLORY, LEGENDS OF THE FALL, THE LAST SAMURAI and BLOOD DIAMOND. A maverick filmmaker of his own kind, Zwick added a touch of support in the raw storytelling and realistic characterizations that were needed to make TRAFFIC a memorable film!

Make sure you share your comments, thoughts or anything else you darn well please! Do it here and we will reply back! As always, tune in next week for a new topic or recommendation…SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY! ;)


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