ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

JER’S TURN: WHAT ARE YOUR ‘GUILTY PLEASURES?’

JER: I can sit in front of the numerous shelves that are stocked with everything that makes my film collection...from VHS tapes; DVDs and Blu-Rays: all collected from over 30 years of looking, ordering and purchasing from everywhere and anywhere I can possibly go or visit. I love my collection and very proud of how thrifty my purchases are and have been. Since the age of 13 years, I have host “Movie Parties” at my place. When it comes to the selection of what would play at one of these “Parties”, I always try to choose something that not everyone has seen or even heard of! It can be difficult, but they are definitely out there…for sure!

Some of these selections have even been taken out of the closet…the deep, dark space where movies I am embarrassed by or ashamed to publicly admit watching…much less actually OWNING them, reside!

Well, I now stand before you…Johnny Chazz and our CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT readers… as I remove the doors to my closet and openly admit to my dirty little secrets of what I call my GUILTY PLEASURES!

As per my own definition of sorts, a ‘guilty pleasure’ is a movie (not a film) that would be deemed unacceptable by any respectable ‘film’ lover. I am not talking about a woman loving, for example, THE NOTEBOOK or STEEL MAGNOLIAS…no, no, NO! That ain’t it at all!

Please read on as I pear down to only 5 (and 1 runner up) I will admit to for now (my therapist says I have to do this in stages)

Remember, I do this knowing that I may get some laughs, but DON’T JUDGE ME, WORLD! J A notable footnote to the movies I have selected: they are listed in no particular order and they all are musical in content. Interesting observation I placed on myself as, I compiled my choices.
Some movies I have on my list would be considered “cult” favorites in some circles…you decide!

SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1978) The auspicious big- budget film had a cast of well known performers in it for its time: The Bee-Gees, Peter Frampton, Steve Martin, Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind & Fire and Aerosmith…all portraying characters based off the catalog of Beatles’ songs that string the movie through with plot and song. Two popular renditions you may hear on today’s classic rock stations would be EW&F’s: “Got To Get You Into My Life” and Aerosmith’s: “Come Together” came from this soundtrack. This is not like the most recent attempt of placing The Beatles’ music in film, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, by any means. Frampton has single- handedly blamed the flop of the movie to the termination of his own successful career! The Bee- Gees play the Henderson brothers (“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”) and Frampton plays Billy Shears (“With A Little Help From My Friends’) all of which are boyhood friends who formed a music group while growing up in a small town called Heartland. The music makes it to Hollywood’s record industry’s ears and are asked to fly down and start recording immediately! Can the innocence of friends hold them in the topsy- turvey world of rock and roll? As a footnote: original Beatles’ record producer George Martin was asked to produce the film’s soundtrack.
Samples of the soundtrack are featured in this 1977 trailer!

THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1982) Oh goodness! The tie-in here is on film composer Danny Elfman…let’s start there! A little Music 101 class here, kids…Danny Elfman was the lead singer and founder of the 1980’s New Wave group ‘Oingo Boingo’ (Theme song from WEIRD SCIENCE, got it?) Before there was an ‘Oingo Boingo,’ Danny and his older brother, Richard were the creators of a performing group of musicians and weird French- influenced theatre stage performances called ‘The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.’ After the performing group had split, Richard wanted to capture the essence of their performing days. Richard pushed and pushed and gave birth to THE FORBIDDEN ZONE! Shot on a very small shoestring budget, the movie was made in black and white and follows the story of the Hercules family as they move into a new home in the LA area. The teenage daughter is a curious little one as she uncovers the fact that, hidden in her basement, is the doorway leading into the 5th Dimension! It is there that we meet King Fausto, played by Herve Villechaize (‘Tattoo’ from the original “Fantasy Island” TV series “Da plane, da plane!”) who rules the 5th Dimension as only a French dictator can! Nudity, potty humor, Cab Calloway songs and Danny Elfman as the devil can only be found here.

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) Before the success of CARRIE, director Brain DePalma made this combined tribute to the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ films and to the story of ‘Faust’ in this very dated musical/ comedy/ horror featuring Paul Williams, who not only acts in the film but wrote the music and lyrics to the songs on the soundtrack. William Finley plays Winslow Leach, a struggling musician who is looking for his big break. Williams plays Swan, record producer extraordinaire! Swan is looking for the next big thing to fill his heavy list of talented finds to be the opening act for a new theatre he is about to open: The Paradise! After a horrible disfiguring accident, Leach falls victim to Swan’s lies and ‘signs his life away’ to write music for Phoenix (Jessica Harper) a beautiful and talented female singer. After discovering that Swan was taking credit for Leach’s music, Winslow disguises himself as the Phantom and stops at nothing in preventing the tie between Swan and Phoenix…who he has fallen in love with! The music is very campy with a 70’s grip that only Paul Williams can grab! The film has many wonderful set designs and great photographic moments…but, it is a rock-opera with a flair for humor and violence!!

PUFNSTUF (1970) Does anyone remember Sid and Marty Krofft from the early 70's? Back in the days of children’s programs on TV, before Barney, before Teletubbies...there were the Krofft shows like “Land of the Lost”, “The Bugaloos” and “H.R. Pufnstuf.” What many people didn’t know was that the original origins of “H.R. Pufnstuf” were an actual theatrically released film! The film did well in the box office, because it was a G-rated family musical, but it certainly didn’t go into the pages of blockbuster status! If you have never heard of Pufnstuf, then suspend your vision of reality and join me on this story ride… young Jimmy (OLIVER’s Jack Wild) is an elementary school boy transplanted from the UK to America because of his father’s work. Jimmy is an outcast of sorts, always day-dreaming his life away. After showing up late for school band rehearsals, he and his flute are kicked off the band! Wandering around the nearby woods, his flute magically comes to life named Freddy. Who wouldn’t want a talking flute…or for that matter, what kind of power can come from owning one? A fly-by witch named Wichiepoo hovering overhead on her broom-broom, notices the talking flute and immediately feels the need to take it for her own rise to fame and power amongst other witches! Nearby, a talking dragon named Pufnstuf finds Jimmy and rescues him and Freddy from Witcheepoo’s clutches. In their travels, Jimmy has lost his way home and stays with Pufnstuf for protection and friendship. ‘Mama’ Cass Elliott from the 70’s folk group ‘The Mamas and the Papas’ plays Witch Hazel, a rival witch and features the film with a song.
"Living Island" is the intro to the land that PUFNSTUF lives! Enjoy!

SHOCK TREATMENT (1981) Not a sequel, but an “equal” to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) continues with the further adventures of Brad and Janet, who are now married. Their lives have traveled a dull road and their marriage is on the skids. The once happy and quaint town of Denton has become one big TV show studio, now broadcasting the doings of the local Dentons for the world to see. Brad and Janet’s dilemma because a show favorite and immediately become ‘reality’ stars! Janet loves the popularity she has and is catapulted into stardom, but Brad suspects fowl play from someone. Original “Rocky” actors returning in different roles are Richard O’Brien, Patricia Neil, Little Nell and Charles Grey! The music has taken a very polished 80’s sound with bright colors and MTV-like film quality, but a very interesting look into the future to be, if you would. Remember, there were no signs of reality television back in 1981, when this movie was made…my, how we have come a long way…or have we?

RUNNER UP: HOWARD THE DUCK (1986) The movie everyone just loves to hate! I remember skipping school (thanks Mom) that Friday back in 1986 and driving two hours away to see this on one of the largest screens in nearby San Diego, CA! I loved it! It was different, new and produced by STAR WARS’ father, George Lucas! How could this be considered such an ugly duckling? Well, it was! The backlash was horrible and it was almost a sin to openly admitting seeing the movie much less liking it.  Howard is an upright standing, cigar-chomping duck from another world where ducks live as humans would on earth. Through a series of events, Howard is transported to our planet and landing in Cleveland where he meets Beverley (Lea Thompson), a struggling lead singer/ songwriter/ musician playing bar dives and getting nowhere. Howard tries to find out what brought him to our world and looks for a way back home. If things weren’t complicated enough, he has to deal with the feds who want to experiment on him, creatures from other dimensions and the fact that he has the hots for a human! The film was produced with a big budget and boasted dazzling special effects! The soundtrack was produced by John Barry (see my previous blog entry as I pay my respects to his recent passing away) and songs by Thomas Dolby (She Blinded Me With Science).
The original theatrical trailer for your enjoyment!

JOHNNY CHAZ: 1. SUSPIRIA (1977): It's funny how some of our selections this week collide; Jer. “Suspiria” is an Italian-based horror film that stars Jessica Harper (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE). Directed by Dario Argento, this movie starts out with Suzy’s arrival at a top-notch ballet academy in Europe. To some, the film has a “Fascist” feel about it as seen in some of the dark scenes in the middle portions of the story.
Suspiria is extremely disturbing and quite frightening in many ways – yet it still has that bizarre, ridiculous and fantastic “cult” feel about it. The camera angles, the lenses, the sound and the chilling and tense score make this film work on a level that is simply “disturbing”. Something evil lurks at the Academy and we, as an audience, are taken through a violent and suspenseful trip through it all.

What is most rewarding about “Suspiria” is the fact that it is not only intense; it is terrifying in many parts. The simple “expectation” that something terrible is about to happen is what keeps us on our toes during this dark trip. You would probably agree that this is a skill used by Directors that really is lacking in horror films today as they feel the need to throw everything at you at all times.

I recommend “Suspiria” to all audiences (over 18 still) who consider themselves “horror-film” buffs as well as film-aficionados. It’s not “Halloween” or “The Shining”, but in a sense I almost think it is just as good…..if not better.

2. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975): Of all the Monty Python films, I really have to settle on this one. Starring John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and other ridiculous yet highly skilled actors, there is no doubt that this movie will leave you in tears laughing at the absurdities through and through. The plot is based on King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail – but a quick warning……there is nothing at all “knightly” about this troupe. Set in the middle-ages, there are countless hilarious lines in this movie and you are certain to be quoting them after a viewing. The coconuts, the black knight, the killer bunny rabbit and the police-force on the chase are all part of the absurdities going on here. If the dry, witty British-styled humor is your cup of tea, then I highly recommend “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

3. THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH (1979): I am 99% certain that I will get some feedback from Jer on this one as it has always been a “guilty pleasure” of mine even knowing how terribly bad the film really is. Still, it appeals to me on a number of levels subconsciously for this and that reason. With a cast of Jonathan Winters, Julius Erving (Dr. “J”), Stockard Channing, Flip Wilson and more, the film is a picture-perfect image of the funky seventies where anything goes. The music is soulful and psychedelic, the mood comes from the moon and the stars and the athleticism is really fun to watch. The film takes itself very seriously and what is so hilarious is that at the time so did audiences. Basketball collides with the Age of Aquarius in this one and it is certainly worth watching if you are a fan of the seventies, sports or both.

The theme song is played with selected scenes from the film...enjoy this funky 70's tribute to da FISH!

4. XANADU (1980): Olivia Newton John and Gene Kelly starring together on the screen were like mixing oil and water – but it worked. “Xanadu” brought the 1940’s and 1980’s together in such a modern and majestic way that it had a true impact on me growing up. What was so fun was the fact that the plot was basically irrelevant as it was the visual and the music that simply took over. With the soundtrack of ELO songs composed by Jeff Lynne, the roller skating scenes, the nightclub, the flashy neon lights and the overall fantasy-feel of the movie, “Xanadu” has always been one of my guilty pleasures. The film was an utter disaster at the box-office at the time, but it glitters and shines in so many ways. This could be considered a cult-film in a sense, but it is actually a fun ride and the visuals are entertaining throughout.

5. THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1982): How can I not go with you on this one, Jer? Heck, from the moment you showed this at your 2006 movie party, I became a fan for life. Where to even begin with this one? This is a classic “cult movie” and it is hard to say if it would fall in the rank of a 1/10 or a 9/10. Just as you mentioned, Jer, everything around this film comes back to the strange, exotic, bizarre and dreamy world that only a Danny Elfman soundtrack could produce. To add, it is the “black and white” aspects of the film that really, really makes it work. The Cab Calloway tunes are simply hypnotic and the cast of characters including a frogman in a tuxedo, a human chandelier, Danny Elfman as a singing and dancing Satan, the sex-pot Marie-Pascale, and Herve Villechaize as the underworld king. I would classify this as a ‘Saturday-night 2:00 am’ kind of movie that will simply blow your mind. In sum, a person watching this film is really never, ever prepared for what is about to happen on the screen.
Here is the original trailer for THE FORBIDDEN ZONE!

JER:  It does me proud to see you air out your dirty secrets for all to read! I am especially proud of (gulp) your admittance to THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH! Readers, the ‘inside joke’ is that I never let JC live down the fact that he can be so prolific with his film options and the numerous films he has shot-down that I have had fondness for…and he comes out with his ‘secret’ love for this movie! I was blown out of the water with that choice!!

Man, I love XANADU, too. I might as well mention THE WIZ as well! THE WIZ had a special kind of magic and was considered great family fun with great music adaptations by Quincy Jones! SUSPIRIA and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL would fall under the category of cult favorites, but I guess they could be ones ‘guilty pleasure’ as well.

OK, we want you, the readers, to chime in on YOUR guilty pleasures as well! Let us all band together and celebrate bad movies! Please comment and let’s see what you got hidden in your closets!

As always, tune in when it will be Johnny Chaz’ turn to select a topic from the old vault...so, 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!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN- FILM RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: BEFORE SUNSET

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Every now and then we are blessed with a film that gives us the opportunity to not only engage in the lives of a small cast, but to experience something that many of us would probably find irresistibly bittersweet. This week, I turn my focus to possibly one of the most understated and under-appreciated film in the past ten (10) years.

In 2004’s “Before Sunset”, director Richard Linklater brings both Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke to the screen in a touching story with an entrancing dialogue through and through. Thus, once again it is the screenplay that is at the very source of this film that many felt was possibly deserving of top-billing in 2004, even for a low-budget / independent film. Therefore, it is the simplicity that is at the heart of the film giving it the charm and poignancy that many feel after viewing.

The film picks up in real time years later after the conclusion of 1995’s “Before Sunrise” and continues in real time during the entire screening of “Before Sunset”. This is precisely what is so amazing about this piece of work – we spend 80 minutes with two characters and possibly lovers who spend exactly 80 minutes with one another lending to a feeling of “urgency” or “immediacy”.

I would probably have to say that there are three aspects of “Before Sunset” which really make it work on a high-level offering such an emotional impact to the audience. These are: The tone, the pacing and the mood. The tone is set in both the motivations of our two characters – that hunger and desire to make the most out of every minute so as not to regret anything that did or did not occur that one afternoon. The pacing is magnificent as the realism is conveyed in the real-time dialogue between the two characters. The mood is quite simple, really. Set in Paris and walking through the backstreets and weaving through the city at a walking-pace gives us the realism as well as the climactic build-up that audiences crave.

This film is at its core a documentary of love. It is shot and directed precisely in this manner and importantly so, with that intent. There are switches between single and two-shots throughout the entire 80-minute span. The colors and hues are surreal and straight out of a Mid-Summer night’s dream. Still, this hyper-reality and pervasive sense of urgency throughout the film is almost painful in the exact way that love hurts. This is best seen early in the film with Ethan Hawke’s character (Jesse) asks Celine (Julie Delpy) what she has been doing all of these years, but if you notice he has missed her so much that just the idea of looking her in the eye while asking the question and hearing her reply is too difficult a pill to swallow. Just ask yourself for a moment about that feeling of the walls closing-in when your time-frame is so short, but your burning desire to tell someone the truth about how you feel is gasping to come out.

Director Linlater was fascinated with the idea of re-visiting characters years later since such rich characters that we were presented within “Before Sunrise” simply kept existing in his mind creating a need for a follow-up / sequel.
 Here is a created trailer for the first film: BEFORE SUNRISE- thank you 'loq115'

With just two-weeks of rehearsal and a shooting time of only three (3) weeks, severe demands were placed upon the crew and especially our two main performers. who were given the daunting task of learning one to two-page monologues which would carry the film through from start to finish. Thus, this intense dialogue is really about what is said and what is left un-said since the audience is given the tools to read between the lines.

There are so many wonderful moments of dialogue in the film and to only choose a couple to highlight is nearly impossible. However, I must say that the line spoken by Ethan Hawke where he states “I remember that night with you better than I remember entire years” was highly impacting. Or, the simply yet sincere comment how he has spent the past 9 years looking out the car window and thinking that he sees her again. She (Julie Delpy) then counters later in the film saying that the idea that we can only feel fulfilled and complete when we are with someone else is, well…evil conceptually. She knows this is 'cat and mouse' however and the audience is far too shrewd at this point to take that comment only at face-value knowing that these are two characters that have a real chance to make something happen – a chance that most of us never, ever see again.

The bottom line is that this film is beautiful, charming, romantic and a bit suspenseful in its’ own right due to the time constraints and emotions endured by Jesse and Celine. There is no sex, only a subtle kiss at the beginning inside the bookstore, and the film lacks a single scene that we would refer to as being “action” based. The soundtrack is understated, but remains a perfect compliment to the film. The sets and interiors are well chosen and perfectly placed within the film with the Paris we never see all around us. Falling leaves, the River Seine, the cobblestone pathways and the interior of the coffee house all create a world that is ripe for the blossoming of love.

The ending? We will leave that one up to you, but it is – within itself worth the price of admission. I must say however that thoughts of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” come to mind during the entire running of the film….and that may be a give-away by itself.

Director Richard Linklater
 So again, ask yourself – was there ever that person whom you spent one hour or one day with that felt as though it could have lasted a lifetime? Who was the one that got away? If you had a second chance, how would you make the most of that limited time with that man or woman? This picture is exactly that – a love affair that is eloquently written to the point that you completely lose yourself in these characters. Thus, as we will see in our journey through this blog (Cinema: Counterpoint), there are small-budget films about little things, and big-budget films about big things. This week, I highly recommend our viewers check-out “Before Sunset” to see how a low-budget film can address what we all really want out of life – what we are inevitably searching for…love and a real connection, even if only for a moment. Those are the “big things”.

JER: Admittedly, I had no desire to see this film…it was one of those that you thought of once or twice and then… it fell by the waist-side. It may had been forgotten or just filed away under the title of: “Don’t care to see it.”

When JC submitted this topic and film recommendation…I knew I had to bear down and watch this film…objectively! At first, the film plays with wonderful conversational pieces, as pointed out by JC…however; the film gets very personal right into the first hour! Complications between the couple we would like to see come together; run into a series of obstacles. How does one pick up where one left off after too many years between them? Lives have been lived, separate relationships formed and destroyed, commitments invested to others…yet, there is no escaping a bond. Awkwardness mixes with the conjured feelings and the fights between what is accepted and deemed by society as right and wrong are all dealt with in a period of minutes.

On a production level, the film is presented by Warner Independent. As you can guess, this would be Warner Bros.’ independent branch. Shot on a low- budget, the film is delivered with the success of two separate entities: the two main actors and a wonderful, free-flowing screenplay! Both Hawke and Delpy are fabulous and most importantly…believable! This works and keeps you intrigued. As JC mentioned, the backstreets of France makes an excellent backdrop to this story. Is it cliché to say that we need the city of love to tell a fractured love story? Maybe, but the foreign landscape helps unveil a very foreign relationship... both in meaning of country and mind-set between the couple.

Seduction can be derived by consciously-placed words to formulate the right sentences needed. Time is of the essence! A flight out of France is counting down the time between our characters, yet, those conflictions and time apart may or may not stand in the way of reuniting.

Is it just me or does the film speak to us as carnal humans? Even with commitments and obligations, we lean towards what makes us happy…as Hawke tells Delpy. Commitment does not fill the void where love, attention and affection belong. Delphy replies that we spend our lives looking for the perfect match…but what does that mean and is there such a thing?

Wow…is it getting heavy in here? You bet! Splendid 1:25 minutes of compromising dialog delivered with realistic and improvised style, combined with adult situations blend into a vision of wonderment and dismay.
Here is the trailer for 2004's BEFORE SUNSET

In the end, thank you JC! I would have never had seen this film on my own desires! To our readers…if I could be converted from zero- interest to a high- recommendation enthusiast, then anyone would enjoy this exercise in the written word by great actors.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Honestly I was absolutely compelled to recommend this film to at least a "segment" of our viewers, Jer. It is also a very safe bet that this is a film that audiences either loved or despised....and there is really no sitting on the fence with this one. Your comments here, Jer, are riveting to say the least. Knowing that we do have our differences of opinions and tastes when it comes to "genre", I am so, so pleased with the response I am witnessing here and remain both shocked and bewildered.

I recall speaking to you about my original viewing of this film back in our California days and recalling that it was a sort of film that you simply wanted to "file away". I also respected that and really never tried to push the film onto you for that very reason. Still, deep down I always felt as though you would likely find some real appreciation for what was written for this screen work once you had the chance to see it. We are both "film-guys" at heart and there are, well simply put - basic elements of a story-line, performance, mood and screenplay that we both have tremendous appreciation for. It looks as though Cinema: Counterpoint was the right time and place for us to join together on this one.

So, I concur. The film works on a basic level, but with complexities and with deep introspect into our own lives. It does encompass realism while addressing "time" as the most valuable commodity that must be incorporated just right if we are to find our one and only love (or our "perfect match" as Delpy mentioned). So, it appears as though we agree that the 1 hour and 25 minutes was well spent: In front of the screen, in the streets of Paris and alongside this "familiar" couple longing for, regretting, hoping for, and fearing the very essence of love.

Stay tuned-in everyone as we shall open up another cinematic surprise with Jer's fresh topic…until then, as always, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY. Keep your comments and your topic suggestions coming!

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!

Friday, April 15, 2011

CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT MAKES IT TO THE UNLV CAMPUS PAPER!

Greetings to ALL! Most recently, my 'counterpart', Johnny Chaz, made it to the papers! No, it wasn't that he was finally caught for the excessive parking infractions he has outstanding throughout the Los Angeles County! (Have you seen how this guy drives???) But seriously, CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT was featured as an article in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus-wide student paper "The Rebel Yell!" I am providing two links for you to click onto so that you can read up on us and JC! Enjoy and check us out this coming WEDNESDAY for JC's new topic of choice...cannot wait to see what he is going to select! Take care!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

JER'S TURN: REMEMBERING DIRECTOR SYDNEY LUMET 1924- 2011

JER: It is with great sadness that this week’s topic was selected to pay tribute to the loss of one of Hollywood’s most respected and honored film directors: Sydney Lumet, who died on Saturday April 9, 2011 of lymphoma at his home in Manhattan at the age of 86.

12 ANGRY MEN
Sydney Lumet started off his career not as a director, but as a Broadway actor for a number of years in the 1930’s. His interest in directing on stage later transitioned his work onto several television programs throughout the 1950’s. He wouldn’t land his first feature film until 1957 with 12 ANGRY MEN starring Henry Fonda, which was both a critical and finical hit, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.

Lumet would continue directing for television even after the success of high-profile debut. A few other film projects stemmed throughout the 1960’s including FAIL SAFE (1964) again working with Henry Fonda. It wouldn’t be until the 1970’s that Lumet’s career in film would truly begin to blossom, most notably having worked with Sean Connery in THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971) and shortly thereafter, working with a young Al Pacino in SERPICO (1973).

Based on a true story, Frank Serpico was a good cop in the early 1970’s working in a corrupt New York precinct. Having already been the topic of controversy amongst his fellow colleagues for not ‘accepting’ money from within the department, Serpico would fall into a deeper hole when he actually blew the whistle on fellow officers for their wrong-doings. The film became another hit for Lumet and earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Al Pacino.
The real Frank Serpico reviews SERPICO the  film! Incredible!

In 1974, Lumet would direct an all-star cast including Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (winning a Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Greta), John Gielgud and Sean Connery in Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. The film would tally 6 nominations including Best Adapted Screenplay.

Al Pacino: DOG DAY AFTERNOON
The opportunity to work with Al Pacino in another true story telling became available 1975’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Pacino plays Sonny, a gay bank robber, who holds up a First Savings bank on a hot summer day in New York to gather enough money for his lover’s sex change operation. Having found out that most of the bank’s money had been picked up from the day’s transactions, the delay and hostage situation causes panic amongst the small band of robbers and a media circus outside. Nominated for 6 awards, Lumet would gain another Best Director nomination as well as Best Picture.

1976 would bring the powerhouse cast of Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch together for the highly critically acclaimed film, NETWORK. The story of how a TV Network turns its back on its one-time highly rated News Anchorman and how he bucks the system against his fellow colleges and network studio. The film would win 4 Academy Awards, including awards for Dunaway’s and Finch’s acting as well as for Paddy Chayefsky’s Screenplay. The film pulled a whopping 10 nominations including another nomination for Lumet’s Direction and Best Picture.
The emotionally- charged trailer for the powerful NETWORK!

Rounding out the decade, Lumet would bring us the highly controversial EQUUS (1977) starring Richard Burton and a very unlikely directorial choice (in comparison to his previous films) with 1978’s THE WIZ.

Adapted from its very popular Broadway run, THE WIZ is an African-American refashioning of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ story casting Diana Ross as Dorothy, Pop sensation Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as The Tinman and Ted Ross, reprising his Tony Award winning role as The Lion.

With a notable career already established, the 1980’s would offer more opportunities for Sydney Lumet, but with less successful films to place on his resume. With his first attempt at comedy, Lumet directed JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT (1980) starring Ali McGraw and Alan King. Knowing his successes remained in the tough drama category, Making a return to the familiar topic of drama, his next film would bring the critically acclaimed PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981) with Treat Williams playing a New York narcotics detective, who becomes investigated by Internal Affairs after some questionable practices…but who can he really trust? The film gave Lumet a co-writing Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The trailer to the true story of PRINCE OF THE CITY

1982 brought two films to the screen, beginning with DEATHTRAP starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon. This comedy/ mystery movie told the story of an aging playwriting Instructor who is visited by a former student with a well-crafted copy of a new playwright he is finishing. The script is so good, it maybe worth ‘killing’ over it! The second film released was the powerfully charged drama THE VERDICT with Paul Newman as a drinking, out-of his-luck lawyer when he given a lawsuit that might revive his career. The film would receive 5 Academy Award nominations including another Best Director Nom for Lumet.

The mid and later 1980’s would bring forth a string of films including DANIEL (1983) starring Timothy Hutton,  the mystery/ drama THE MORNING AFTER (1986) starring Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges and RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988) starring River Phoenix and Judd Hirsh.

The 1990’s would keep Lumet busy with films like Q&A (1990) starring Nick Nolte and GUILTY OF SIN (1993) starring Don Johnson. Lumet was neither receiving the critical or box office recognition he had been bestowed with earlier in his career. With frustration. Lumet returned back to his television roots throughout the 2000’s and began directing television films again…but not without pulling one more ‘rabbit out of his hat!’

In 2005, Sydney Lumet was given an Honorary Academy Award for his body of work. The award was presented to him by Al Pacino.
Al Pacino honors presents Sidney Lumet with Honorary Oscar!

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007) would be the last film Lumet would direct, but before grabbing the attention of audiences and critics alike! A frank and provoking crime/ drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke starring as brothers who plan a jewelry robbery that goes wrong, triggering a series of events that shatters both lives.

With a grand total of 72 Director credits, Sydney Lumet left his name branded on the silver screen for his outlook on Drama, Crime, Mystery and Suspense during an era when such films were welcomed and embraced by the best of the best…

JOHNNY CHAZZ: How bizarre and troublesome it is that every couple of weeks or so it seems as if a major role-player in cinema has passed on from this life to the next. A shock indeed this week as I read the news of Lumet’s death in the early hours of Saturday’s online journal. Here was a man - a raw talent who was just recently presented an Oscar in film achievement by Al Pacino at the awards in 2005. This week, Jer, has appropriately chosen a topic that not only pays homage to Sydney Lumet’s films, but to a man whose career truly embodied and embraced a genre of suspense and drama throughout his career and his life.

NETWORK
 It is so strange how things work. Didn’t we just finish discussing the topic of screenplays last week while including films such as “Twelve Angry Men” and “Network?” Now this happens. To say the least, the films of Lumet during the majority of his career were not only poignant and dramatic, but quite understated as well. “Twelve Angry Men” as an example, was not just a gritty drama, but also a dialogue-heavy work that dealt with subject matter of the ultimate nature. This would eventually become a style that Lumet’s films would model after.

You mentioned here, Jer that the 1960’s were probably a forgetful decade for the films of Lumet, and I must concur. What a shame it was considering the impact that European cinema was having on American films and directors and it would have been intriguing to see what Lumet may have pieced together during this experimental time when dialogue was king.

The Lumet films of the seventies that you discussed all constitute what we could call the definitive and quintessential Sydney Lumet style. Both “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network” were true cinematic gems while dealing once again with real-life, controversial and dramatic issues. “Serpico” is another that must be marked as an all-time great amongst Hollywood pictures. As for “The Wiz” however, I must claim that this film was not only a box-office disappointment, but deservingly so. Of all the Lumet films during this era, “The Wiz” was passionless, dull and was nothing else other than poor theater. However, Lumet’s image was quickly resurrected with the wonderful early 1980’s films of “The Verdict” and “Deathtrap” which will always remain high on my list.
The 1982 trialer for Lumet's THE VERDICT with Paul Newman

Now Jer, you drew attention to the following three films in the 1980’s: DANIEL (1983), THE MORNING AFTER (1986), and RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988). It would more than please me to say that these films are also high on my list, but how unrealistic would that be? These 1980's films of Lumet along with his films for the next 15 years were, and to this day remain forgetful. The explanation is quite simple however. The idea of the "well-written screenplay" as witnessed in his films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s had since disappeared, and without the screenplay (last week’s ever-important topic) you virtually have nothing to offer an audience that hungers for something, well – “cinematic”, "dramatic", and well -“suspenseful” in nature.
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Sidney Lumet would deliver one more great film before leaving our world however, and I must agree with your selection here, Jer. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007) offers an outstanding cast, a clever screenplay and a combination of wit, suspense and drama creating a film that unravels in dramatic fashion. Thumbs up on this sleeper, which actually becomes sharper every time you re-visit it.

One particular aspect of Lumet films that I always enjoyed was his appreciation for those kinds of drama-based stories that were set in the New York backdrop. You know the look, Jer - it was as if Lumet’s films always had that gritty, period-piece, stylistic yet crooked tangibility about them that only a city like New York could offer. Robert Wise ("West Side Story", "Citizen Kane", "Odds Against Tomorrow", "Day the Earth Stood Still") would have been proud. Shooting these scenes on the streets of New York always put the viewer in the heart of the story and in the middle of the action.

Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet & The Oscars 2005
So, once again it is a very sad day in Hollywood as we have lost yet another big name. This time, it is director Sydney Lumet. And there’s no shame if you feel like standing up and shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Yes, Mr. Lumet shall be missed.

JER: Yes, JC, I know how you feel...in a world filled with Michael Bay-effect films, it is so hard to find directors with much substance anymore. Like Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood is losing its battle of greats being lost...but with no one to fill the void with! Tune in for JC's turn as we say...SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY! Keep the comments and topic suggestions coming!

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!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: TOP 25 SCREENPLAYS IN THE LAST 50 YEARS!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Without a script, how do you really tell a story? Great films always begin with an effective and original screenplay. Even though a film involves a collaborative effort between the director, performers (cast), production and sound crew and editors, the end result will be a function of the original written "outline" that holds the audience’s interest.

You may notice that often times your Academy award winning film or at least 50% of the films nominated for the top honors are generally up for best screenplay as well. The bare fact is that dramas are effective, draw audiences into the story-line and are almost always nominated in virtually every top-category on award night.

Today, the well-written and though out screenplay is few and far between and has basically become a thing of the past. Studios are genre-focused and have lost touch with the element of drama that really “hooks” the audience and casts a spell upon them for nearly two-hours. The screenplay is the tool used by everyone to create a world on screen that causes audiences to reflect, cry, and become emotionally tangled and to react. It is precisely the conflict and inner turmoil of a character or group thereof that encompasses the very foundation of a tremendous screenplay and therein, a viable film.

As my topic this week, I suggest the top 25 screenplays of all-time years beginning with #25 and working our way up to #1.

#25: THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) - Bogdanovich has 1,000 line of genius in here.
#24: THE VILLAGE (2004) – Shyamalan pieces together suspense and longevity in purity.
#23: THE APARTMENT – (1960) – Something ridiculous and unrealistic made real….
#22: PARIS, TEXAS (1984) – Sam Sheppard writes a phenomenal and overlooked story.
#21: BEFORE SUNSET (2004) – They walk; they talk….and that’s all we really want for them.
#20: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMTION (1994) - A period piece with timing and structure.
#19: CONTEMPT (1963) – Brigitte Bardot and feet in the mirror – tons of messages here.
#18: SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) – Wilder’s work is splendid, charming and witty…it works.
#17: NETWORK (1976) – Chayefsky brilliant on paper and on screen…this one was superb.
#16: CITIZEN KANE (1941) – Every scene is brilliantly written….then a rosebud appears.
#15: LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) – Lines we could only speak to one another after hours
#14: ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) – Touching, dramatic, tender and enthralling!
#13: CACHE (2005) – Terrorizing playing with words and screen….dreamy and mistrusting.
#12: 8 ½ (1963) – Fellini’s masterpiece showing how to love women and film….tough really
#11: CRASH (2005) – Haggis outdid himself here and the Academy recognized it.
#10: AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) – Gripping lines and pauses…….an American work of art.
#9: FARGO (1996) – The language and dialect quietly reflected the coldness of bloodshed
#8: PULP FICTION (1994) – Intertwining stories with a true and gritty purpose plus a twist
#7: CHINATOWN (1974) – R. Towne angers the audience in this spell-binding film.
#6: TWELVE ANGRY MEN (1957) - A hot-box of jurors learning life’s lesson of fairness.
#5: IKIRU (1952) – Amazing portrayal of fulfilling one’s life just in time.
#4: SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) – The screenplay was a device of gut-wrenching devastation.
#3: TAXI DRIVER (1976) – Paul Schrader gives us a moody, intense and climactic script.
#2: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – Screenplay about a Screen-writer…a Hollywood mockery and a journey into a hauntingly private world.

#1: ANNIE HALL (1977) - Tremendous structure, balance, realism and wit with all aspects of New York flowing through the soul of the film.

JER: Johnny C, you have selected a number of great films with well defined screenplays. Your list speaks of how well-rounded and educated your background is from both your love of films and attending film school. Mine, on the other hand, is a little less refined, but my overview stems from different standpoints...one, I believe that the 70's marked an era that allowed the expression of its time to help develop characters and stories…when both actually meant something to true cinema. Most of my selections are more contemporary than yours, but I think you will see why…let’s begin to look at my top 25 Best Screenplays of the past 50 years!

25. MOONSTRUCK (1987) Fabulous Italian- American screenwriting with a wonderful blend of humor, fanciful and romantic poetry and every-day gossiping drama.
24. TWICE IN A LIFETIME (1985) Very realistic family talks and arguments streamed through with conversations overlapping and interrupting to make their points heard in this 'middle-age-crazy' drama with Gene Hackman, Ann-Margret and the fabulous Amy Madigan!
23. THE GRIFTERS (1990) Sharp and deceiving…like the story plot. It mixes great street-wise dialog with sassy and dangerous conversational pieces, all to help create the world of small-time hustlers using LA as the backdrop.
22. JFK (1991) Rough, sarcastic and defensive...points of views, objectives and well-groomed conversations presents both sides of the law and either pushes away from fiction or pulls you closer to the perception of 'truth." Historical facts or fables? We're invited to decide...
21. MARATHON MAN (1976) A definite product of 70's screenwriting. Smart and intriguing. This screenplay’s highlight goes to Lawrence Oliver’s “Is it safe?” questionings to Dustin Hoffman as he torches him with dental picks for answers.
20. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983) Drama, romance, humor and the human spirit…all wrapped up in this highly expressive Academy Award winning screenplay!
19. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) Witty and sly narration helps ease the tension created by the seedy underbelly of this explosive and explicit screenplay. L.A. lawmen and criminals bantering with explosive 50’s lingo.
18. TRAFFIC (2000) True to form with a no-holds-barred attitude. Arguments, struggles, lies and deception are all presented with a great flowing script!
17. THE GREEN MILE (1999) Director Frank Darabont’s adaption of this tough but heart-warming Stephen King story also plays off as humanistic and touching…yet, intense and poetic in the appropriate moments.
16. BARRY LYNDON (1975) With a brilliantly written narration and period- based dialog mixed in with a great intensity of conversations formatted with an upper- crust sense of nobility.
15. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) Director Paul T Anderson’s script is infused with 70’s groovy interactions between film- industry banter, blended with humanistic trials and dramas with a touch of humor to capture the lives, successes and failures of b-rated porn life in Southern California.
14. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) A fabulous adaption from both the novel and Stage Play script. A concentration into the lives of characters revealing their flaws and humanistic moments while facing the controlled environment of a mental institution and dealing with mean- spirited authority figures.
13. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) Director Woody Allen’s wonderful screenplay captures eclectic and bohemian lifestyle of an extended family living in New York portrayed through their lives and loves.
12. THE EXORCIST (1973) What is it about this film that holds a timeless field to it after 30 years? Great storyline accompanied with a relentless and delivering screenplay! Excellent and realistic conversations delivered by a highly matched cast… an unheard of concept for horror films.
11. TAXI DRIVER (1976) Like the lid ready to blow off a pressure cooker, this seedy look at the underbelly of 70’s New York is both frank and rough. Delivered with great character, who can ever forget Robert DeNiro’s now classic “improvised” line “You talking to me?” Brilliant!
10. JAWS (1975) Like THE EXORCIST, what is mainly lacking in the capturing of an audience’s interest in any modern horror/ thriller is the lack of character and dialog. Peter Benchley’s best selling novel is reshaped into a building of characters on both a human and caring manner and how the lives of some change when confronted with an uncontrollable being. A highly recognized moment is placed on Robert Shaw’s “Indianapolis” speech delivered on the ‘Orca” to Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider. Plus, who can forget the immortalized “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line?
9. DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988) Another Stage to Screenplay adaption done by its originator, Christopher Hampton. Because of its stage roots, the characters all take part in narrating the developing stories and subplots. Delivered with character and explanatory fashions...it is a profile of high class lifestyles with seedy and damaging results.
8. GOODFELLAS (1990) Based on a true story, the screenplay is touch and intense…like its main characters! There is no fooling around with the mixture of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill commentating throughout the film while blending rough and tumble interactions and confrontations. The highly intense “What makes me so funny?” sequence between Ray Liotta and Academy Award winner Joe Pesci cannot be missed!
7. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) The script adds to the already intense and taboo subject with a huge undertaking. The feelings loom over you as you gasp and await the next lines delivered…who is safe? What will it take to survive and what can be said to be given recognition in an environment that doesn’t appreciate your own life?
6. AMADEUS (1984) Yet another great Stage to Screen adaption as Academy Award winner F. Murray Abrahams’ portrayal of Antonio Salieri offers his point of view, through narration, his discussions of both admiration and detestation of his rival musician counterpart; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
5. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) Thomas Harris’ best selling novel is transferred into a highly suspenseful formulation of words, whether exchanged between FBI agents and local lawmen to the dangerous interactions with the deranged thoughts of the criminal mind.
4. THE GODFATHER (1972) Mario Puzo’s powerful novel was adapted into an extraordinary screenplay by both Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola. The lives and beliefs held by a tightly knit mafia-based family tells the story of their struggles to remain on top with dignity, honor and respect. The possible double-crossing and back-stabbings play throughout this honorable and explosive story.
3. ANNIE HALL (1977) Possibly the best comedy ever written…period! Humor isn’t as portrayed by today’s standards off of cheap potty jokes and gross-out gags…true comedy is based on sharp wit, being able to laugh at life along with being able to laugh at ourselves…or at the cost of others’ personalities and defaults.
2. PULP FICTION (1994) Director Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay captures a mish-mash of pop culture, human fears, taught humor, realism and drama…all played up to highlight many memorable (and quotable) lines and speeches that have now become a part of pop culture itself!
1. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) Clearly, my favorite film of all time! Profound and intelligent script writing allows the cast to speak prolifically while keeping a high biblical sense in their verbal expressions. Director Cecil B. DeMille’s narration is inspirational and striking. A timeless embodiment of the American written word to create one of the best screenplays ever…in my opinion.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Well, this is certainly not a challenge in refinement - and really not a duel at all. This is Cinema: Counterpoint, and therefore it allows me to respond to your angle here, Jer. It is our different standpoints that give our audience / readers the full Cinema-Scope, if you will.

MOONSTRUCK
Immediately, I can see that we have both placed “Annie Hall” at or near the top of our list and with great justification. We also both used the term "wit" or "witty" and that really is a large part of the film's charm and the backbone of the screenplay. I also see that we have both placed “Schindler's List” at or near the top (me #4, you #7) and that does not surprise me in the least. You also pulled a couple rabbits out of your hat here with "Moonstruck" and "The Grifters" and it is hard to argue with either of those. Would I place them in my top 25? Probably not - well, actually...I didn't - but I can certainly see why someone might.

We also agree on a few other films in here such as the screenplay written for "Taxi Driver" and "Pulp Fiction" which again does not take me by surprise as I know we are both huge fans of those scripts. Overall, I like your list - I really do. Still, I prefer mine......ahem.

What I do find most intriguing is that the majority of your films fall into a 20-year span (1973-1993), but that your #1 Screenplay was written well over 50 years ago....fascinating, but understandable.

This might be the only area where I might offer a "counterpoint" in that I find that the majority of "high quality" screenplays tend to fall in the era of the 1950's thru the 1970's primarily as I felt the 1980's was a terribly weak decade for "screenwriting" - and thus, a so-so decade for film at best (note: I said "film", not movies as I know the love and passion Jer has for the 1980's era).

Structuring a script and then moving right to storyboarding is one of the highlights of film-making and understanding how to place a thought or concept onto a canvas and then film it. Great films should come from screenplays that use tension to create drama and vice-versa while setting the audience up for mini-climaxes and heightened states of consciousness and reaction towards the end of the film - or during, whichever is more effective. The screenplay will dictate almost every aspect of your film: The genre, the pace, the timing, the casting, the motivation, the visuals, the dialogue and ultimately audience sympathy and / or empathy for the character(s).

With that said, join us again next week when Jer takes a shot at a Film-related topic...so, until next time....SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY! Thank you for your continued support! Keep those comments coming!
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!