Commentary

  • August 3, 2009

    Hollywood studios, yesterday and today – What happened?

    As we are knee deep in yet another summer of pointless and mindless sequel and remake blockbusters, I cannot help but think back to last summer of 2008 when I was absolutely shocked to find that I not only went to the neighborhood movie theater to see “The Dark Knight”, but that I also absolutely loved, loved, loved it! Anyway, it got me thinking about how major studios have chosen to take a cowardly route towards promoting adventurous material the past few decades.

    But in looking back at the last 30 years, there are four (4) films in particular that I’d like to take a look at which, by today’s standards of movie making and marketing, would likely have NEVER been released by a major Hollywood Studio.

    1. Breaking Away (Twentieth Century Fox,July 1979) – There is very good chance that if there had not previously been two “Rocky” films already, this simple, yet inspiring sports drama about four simple Indiana boys who look to gain respect and dignity through bicycle riding might never have seen the light of the big screen. But 30 years ago this summer, this Oscar-winning tale embraced our hearts and we cheered for the simple, Italian-wanna-be who rode his bicycle to victory. It starred four virtual nobodys (Jackie Earle Haley, the possible exception; having done three “Bad News Bears” films) and Fox was willing to put its faith (and balls) behind the project. Good for them!
  • January 9, 2009

    A look back at the year 1979: the year of science fiction

    It was thirty years ago. It was the year 1979, and it may be quite safe to say that science fiction movies were dominating the motion picture screen more than they ever have since. This enormous outbreak of sci-fi sensation was, no doubt, due to a little gem two years earlier by George Lucas called “Star Wars”. At the time, it was the highest-grossing blockbuster movie in the United States since “Jaws”, and literally every motion picture studio wanted to get on the sci-fi bandwagon and rake in the sci-fi cash! And so, join me now on a chronological jourey together, as we look back at the year 1979; the year of sci-fi screen magic!

    • “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (March 30, 1979) – Yes, you make have forgotten this, but before the hit series premiered on television in September 1979, it had a short, but profitable theatrical run. It was this film that served as the television pilot for the series which ran for two seasons.

    • “Mad Max” (April 12, 1979) – By today’s film standards this low-budget apocalyptic thriller of dystopian Australia, starring a very young Mel Gibson might fall under the independent film category. It only received mixed reactions from critics, but still managed to spawn two successful sequels.

  • October 28, 2008

    Thirty years ago was the night HE came home!

    Thirty years ago, on October 25, 1978, horror films changed forever. A very young John Carpenter, whose previous films were “Dark Star” and “Assault on Precinct 13”, made a low budget, independent film which many critics credit as the film which inspired many years of slasher films to come. Although it can be argued that “Halloween” is originally inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. It launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis (a.k.a. “Scream Queen” during her early horror film days).

    Because I was only eleven years-old when the film came out and was not permitted by my parents to see horror movies, I would not discover “Halloween” until 1980 when I was able to catch bits and pieces of its edited version on NBC-TV. In fact, it was not until college that I would finally see the entire uncut and unedited version on VHS. To this day, I have (sadly) never seen “Halloween” on screen.

    Here are some “Halloween” movie facts that may interest you:

  • April 21, 2008

    Challenge issued to those hating how things turned out

    Regular Cinema Treasures commenter schmadrian has issued a challenge to those movie palace aficionados who wish things hadn’t ended up the way they have.

    “As hinted at in a recent ‘Cinema Treasures’ thread, I’d like to challenge all those who so animatedly decry ‘how bad things have gotten’ to put aside their frustrations, their habitual indignant ravings, and instead, invest these sometimes not-inconsiderable energies into suggesting how we might not have ended up here. (While ‘here’ is subjective, for the sake of this experiment, let’s say we’re referring to not only a loss of cinematic heritage by way of the wrecking ball, but also leaving us with bland, over-priced boxes-for-theatres with mannerless idiots for patrons.) Using the concept of ‘alternate history’, I’m challenging any and all to have a go at jiggling circumstances, at rearranging cause-and-heartbreaking-effect, at playing with all the contributing factors to end up with-

  • April 17, 2008

    A brief history of “Movie Pests”

    I recently purchased from amazon.com, a VHS copy of “A Guy Named Joe” (1944), starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson and directed by Victor Flemming (he also did two other “small” films called “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”). The film was remade as “Always” in 1989 by Steven Spielberg. To date, “A Guy Named Joe” is not yet available on U.S. Region 1 DVD.

    Anyway, on this tape, preceeding the film, was a short film called “Movie Pests”, filmed around the same time. It was a comically-narrated piece that poked fun at the so-called “movie pests” of the time; actors re-enacting what could be considered a typical “pest” situation in a movie theater, circa the 1940s. Those of you who own this VHS tape will know what I’m talking about.
    For those of you who don’t, here are some highlights:

  • March 21, 2008

    40 Years of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

    The late Stanley Kubrick’s legendary science fiction epic had its world premiere on April 2, 1968 at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. and was released to the general public just four days later in 70mm format. By the fall of 1968, it was released in 35mm anamorphic format and advertised as Cinerama in movie theaters equipped with special projection optics and a widely-curved movie screen. Although it received mixed reviews upon its release, it is today regarded by audiences and critics as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

    For myself, it has been my favorite film since high school back in the early ‘80s. Ironically, I hated it the first time I ever watched it. Having grown up with the action and speed of “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica”, this seemingly slow, intelligent sci-fi story with very little dialogue and existing classical musical played out for me like a very cruel joke. Sometime later, when it was broadcasted on television, I gave it another look…and another, and another, until finally, I started to see the genius of it. For me, the rest is history.

    Here are some more film facts that might interest you:

  • February 26, 2008

    Looking back at “The Day After”

    To be clear,“The Day After”, a horrifying story about nuclear destruction and the aftermath, was not released as a theatrical film (at least, not in the United States). Twenty-five years ago, during the Spring of 1983, it was broadcasted on ABC-TV. The next morning, viewers felt like they were pulverized with a sledgehammer.

    The film was directed by Nicholas Myer (he also directed “Time after Time”, “Star Trek II” and “VI”) and starred noteworthy talents like Jason Robards, Jobeth Williams and Steve Guttenberg. The film opens with a world in political crisis as news of possible war spreads throughout the media. We don’t know why or which side is at fault; we only know that it’s going to happen. The film focuses on Kansas City, Missouri and its citizens coping (and dying) when the big one ultimately hits. There are scenes of death during the nuclear explosion that were considered very risky and very graphic for television at the time.

    When people ask me what movie has ever scared me the most, my answer has always been “The Day After”. No other film has ever put such a dreaded knot in my stomach as this one has. One need only watch the scene just before the bomb hits, when the awful sound of that alarm is filling the streets and people are completely panic-striken. The camera pulls back from the city skyline and the blast hits, creating the ominous, almost beautiful mushroom cloud that follows. Those images have scared me a lot more than anything Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruger will ever do on screen. What happens next is inevitable. What happens after that is simply, the day after.

  • January 21, 2008

    The WGA strike: When will it end and do we really care anymore?

    I’ve often found from personal experience, that if you are without something for a long-enough period of time (voluntary or not), you’re likely to become used to the situation. I’ve spent a little time browsing through related blogs and comment boards and was surprised to see that a vast majority of people have been able to easily replace the time they used to spend watching broadcast television by instead watching DVD’s, reading and going out. Even late night talk show hosts proved they could still put on an entertaining show without the writers. Perhaps many are realizing for the first time that what was on television before the strike was not so great after all. In a nutshell, it’s beginning to look like we don’t care anymore about this strike.

    I have been and continue to be one of those people! Sure, there are two sides to every argument in terms of sympathizing with the writers, but for me, it’s ultimately about the quality of entertainment that’s being written for the big and small screen. Were I happy with either, I’d be more sympathetic. But I (and many, many others) find it very difficult to be sympathetic to those who likely are making at least three times the amount of money I earn in a year! I mean, would I sympathize with the restaurant chef who wants more money if the food he/she was routinely preparing was just plain lousy?

    What would a continued strike mean for the future of the movies? Well, so far, if it means the cancellation of films like TRANSFORMERS 2 and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, then not only would I not care if the strike didn’t end, I’d probably encourage its prolongment!

  • December 6, 2007

    The CLOVERFIELD movie poster.

    People, I’d like your opinion on this – there is a movie called CLOVERFIELD to be released on January 18, 2008. From what I can make out from the trailer, it is about a monster that destroys New York City and is filmed from the point of view of an amateur film maker (a'la Blair Witch Project).

    The movie poster for this depicts a headless Statue of Liberty in the foreground and a shot of downtown Manhattan in smoke and in ruins (forgive my computer ignorance, but I did not know how to attach a shot of the poster for this commentary. Search the web and I’m sure you’ll find it easily).

    In my opinion, I find this poster incredibly offensive and insensitive to not only those who lost their lives in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, but also to the surviving family members who must live with the horror of that day for the rest of their lives.

  • September 13, 2007

    Loud previews disturb patrons, hurt exhibitors

    Almost everyone has experienced excessively loud trailers before the feature. There have been concerted efforts at NATO conventions to correct this perpetual problem. Still, probably every cinema in the world continues to receive extra loud previews. The consequences include frustrated patrons finding yet another reason to give up on movie-going and theater managers time and again fielding hostile complaints. Despite posting a projectionist/staff person in the booth to adjust the sound, down for trailer & up for feature, the likelihood a picture in a multiplex will be off at the start or even during the meat of the show is unacceptably high.

    We all know television commercials are generally louder than television programs. This is not as obnoxious because remote controls facilitate tweaking the sound level. Heck, my saintly elderly mom just mutes the darn ads.