Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Best Family Movie Since The Incredibles

Hoodwinked succeeds in skewering the fairy tale genre with a simplicity and genuine wit that exceeds anything they did in the Shrek movies. In the prologue we are presented with the classic telling of Little Red Riding Hood. What comes next is a Rashomon retelling of the memorable "What big eyes you have" story from four separate (and cleverly distinct) points of view: that of the grandmother (not what she seems), the wolf (whose story pays homage to the Chevy Chase film Fletch, much to my amusementnt), the woodsman (not really a woodsman) and of course young Red herself.

Hoodwinked is not only brilliantly constructed and well written, but superbly performed and genuinely funny. It's suitable for all ages (why it received a PG rating to begin with is a mystery to me), and Mom and Dad will enjoy it as well as the kids. Glenn Close, Jim Belushi, David Ogden Stiers, Anne Hathaway and Andy Dick lead the cast.

Planet of the Apes Revisited

I was thrilled a number of years ago when I read that Tim Burton got a green light to make a remake of the classic Franklin Schaffner film Planet of the Apes.

Fox had been wanting to do a remake of Apes for many years, and for a while the project was being developed by Platoon director Oliver Stone. But when that fell through, the visionary Burton signed on for a “re-imagining” of the material, as opposed to a strict remake.

The original Planet of the Apes, released in 1968 and based on a book by French author Pierre Boulle, is a classic, regardless of the fact that some people argue that star Charlton Heston spends half the film overacting. His character, George Taylor, is a misanthrope who gets what’s coming to him, and I think the performance works fine. The film's chilling ending, for my money, is still stunning. The filmmakers did an exceptional job with the effects in that final sequence, and it stands as one of Twilight Zone creator and Apes screenwriter Rod Serling’s finest “surprise endings.”

I am a fan the original Apes (though the subsequent sequels and the 1970’s television show fail to live up to the inspired boldness of the original) and I was excited to attend opening day in 2001 of Burton’s Apes at the Seattle Cinerama (the only remaining Super Cinerama theater in the world). There were 800 people there and I recall enjoying the experience far more than the movie. In fact, until I viewed the movie again on DVD the other day, I had forgotten nearly all of it.

Which turned out not to be such a crime. As inventive as the costumes, make-up and visuals in Burton’s Apes are, the film lacks something at its core, and I think that something is heart. The one thing the 1968 version of Apes has going for it is reason and true compassion at its core, in the form of two chimpanzees played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter. Burton’s version, as beautiful as it is, is cold. I also think Mark Wahlberg fails to carry the film as a leading man.

So this week I learned something about myself and about Planet of the Apes: that I like the original better than the “re-imagining,” and that the “re-imagining” screens better in a packed house at the Cinerama than in my home.

Friday, January 27, 2006

No, Harrison Ford Was Not on Board

No matter what your politics, you have to acknowledge that the Commander in Chief travels well.

In the picture at left, my daughter and I are de-boarding Air Force One. This specially constructed Boeing 707-120 aircraft served several presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Quote from a Famous Person

"The answer [to success] is: Stay healthy, and stay married. And other than having a guy come over the top of a hill and hit me with a van, I've been able to do both."

- Stephen King, Time Magazine, April 2002

Monday, January 23, 2006

The 20th Anniversary Edition of Burglar Alarm

I have nearly completed the 20th Anniversary Edition of Burglar Alarm, a short film my friends and I made while we were in high school. Most of what remains to be done is some sound effects editing and mixing.

I am hoping that Alan, who composed and recorded the title song for both versions of the movie, can provide for me just a bit more bumper music, something straight acoustic piano, a tiny riff off the title song. In 1985, when we were putting together the original version of the movie, we were unable to do much with the sound. Now, I am changing that, attempting to give the soundtrack some depth.

I am also looking for Michael Homer (pictured above, in a scene from the movie), who has vanished from my address book in recent years. I need a snippet of dialogue from him. Last I heard he was working as an editor on MAD-TV.

Homer, if you don't already know, played Thomas the butler in our adaptation of the Mark Twain short story. He also appeared in another short film we began but never fully completed, Thomas T. Butler: Private Eye, or The Clown Murders. I am putting together a rough cut of the scenes we shot for Thomas T. Butler and including them on the Burglar Alarm DVD. There is quite a bit there. What we are lacking, for the most part, are ninety percent of the shots requiring the clown.

Although I have spent the past year re-working 1986's The Burglar Alarm as Burglar Alarm: 20th Anniversary Edition, I actually started the project in 2003. Alan recorded a new version of the title song for me, and it's terrific. He also provided some additional original music which will appear on the Burglar Alarm soundtrack. Chuck designed an animated title sequence which I completed in the spring of 2005. I have been thinking about tweaking it a bit, but we'll see. I want to get the sound completed before I revisit making any more changes to the visuals.

I will include here a screen shot taken from the opening animated sequence of the new Burglar Alarm.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Memorable Quotes from Old Friends

"My name is Christopher, but you can call me Crisco for shortening."

- Chris Neeley, circa 1987

Friday, January 20, 2006

Answers to the Jones-Berry Quiz

I think one reason Dean Jones (The Million Dollar Duck) and Ken Berry (F-Troop, Mayberry RFD, Mama's Family) are often confused is because both of them appeared in movies with Herbie, the Love Bug. Many might consider them interchangeable, in the same vein as Tom Bosley and David Doyle, but I happen to think that each brought something new and fresh to the crazy situations they got into in some of Disney’s most memorable comedies of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

It is interesting to note that our friend Chuck seems to be a Jones-Berry expert. He's got his Jones and Berrys sorted out better than I do. And I appreciate Patrick's take on the Jones-Berry Conundrum:

"I've always thought that it was a brilliant move on Disney's part. After all, if one of them was busy, they could pull in the other and most people wouldn't notice...they'd think it was still that guy I like in all the Disney movies."

Here are the answers to the handy Jones-Berry quiz:

1. Who was born in 1931? b) Dean Jones

2. Who was born in 1933? a) Ken Berry

3. Who starred in That Darn Cat? b) Dean Jones

4. Who appeared in The Cat from Outer Space? a) Ken Berry

5. Who was behind the wheel in Herbie Rides Again? a) Ken Berry

6. Who traveled abroad in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo? b) Dean Jones

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The David Doyle / Tom Bosley Question

Enough is enough, I suppose.

You decide.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Durning-Dennehy Dilemma

Do you ever get these guys confused when you go to the movies? Brian Dennehy and Charles During are both fine character actors, but for some reason the movie-going public has confused the two for years.

Which of these two played the sheriff who ran afoul of Johnny Rambo? Who was outfoxed by Newman and Redford in The Sting? Was it Dennehy or Durning that appeared in Cocoon? Which “D” appeared on the sit-com “Evening Shade?”

This, then, is the Durning-Dennehy Dilemma.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tagged - Guilty Pleasures

Rickwell at Good Coffee tagged me – write a blog about 5 guilty pleasures. Here we are:

1. A large bowl of Cocoa Pebbles in the middle of the night.
2. Stopping at the Baskin Robbins whenever my daughter and I are out and about without Mom.
3. Fourth Row Center.
4. Watching re-runs of the original Star Trek television series.
5. Comic Books

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Jones-Berry Conundrum

Here is a hypothetical question: you are watching a wacky Disney comedy from thirty years ago, featuring the antics of a Volkswagen Beetle and its nutty owner. Who is Herbie’s owner? Is it Dean Jones, or Ken Berry?

How about another: you are enjoying the classic Walt Disney guffaw-fest featuring a well-trained cat and its nutty handler. Who is onscreen with the cat? Is it Ken Berry, or Dean Jones?

And which one of these guys had the Million Dollar Duck?

Frankly, thinking about the Jones-Berry Conundrum has given me a headache the size of Monte Carlo, and now that I have done the research I am more confused than I was when I began this blog. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that Ken Berry and Dean Jones are one and the same.

What is your Jones-Berry I.Q.? Take the handy quiz below. Leave your answers in the comments section (no cheating!) and I will provide results in this space in a few days.


1. Who was born in 1931?
a. Ken Berry
b. Dean Jones

2. Who was born in 1933?
a. Ken Berry
b. Dean Jones

3. Who starred in That Darn Cat?
a. Ken Berry
b. Dean Jones

4. Who appeared in The Cat from Outer Space?
a. Ken Berry
b. Dean Jones

5. Who was behind the wheel in Herbie Rides Again?
a. Ken Berry
b. Dean Jones

6. Who traveled abroad in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo?
a. Ken Berry
b. Dean Jones

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

4th Row Center

Fourth Row Center

My friend and roommate Chuck and I found that fourth row center was the optimum place within most auditoriums to view most movies. Heaven knows in all of the hundreds of movies we have seen together over many years we tried just about everywhere else.

In the large auditoriums, like the Jefferson Square Theater and auditorium one of the Spring Valley Theaters, the seats are a reputable distance from the screen, and the fourth row is close enough to be enveloped by the cinema experience without being so close that one’s view of the motion picture is distorted. In the smaller venues which offer smaller screens, any further back than fourth row and one may find oneself distracted by restless audience members and the occasional top hat.

We were also careful to formulate our ideal fourth row center snack package, which consisted of the following:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Popcorn
  • Goobers

An ice-cold Coca-Cola is the perfect cinema refreshment, and if you think I have to back up or justify that statement then you are out of touch. Diet Coke is an acceptable substitute. Root Beer, Hi-C and lemonade are okay if you are holding a child’s ticket. All other beverages are imperfect to the ideal forth row center cinema experience. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with an espresso beverage during a film (I live in Seattle, after all) or a bottle of water or an Orange Crush if that’s what you enjoy sipping on when the lights go down. All I am saying is that a crisp, icy Coke is part of the formulary for the ideal cinema snack package, and nothing works as well in concert with a bag of crisp, freshly popped popcorn and a box of crunchy, wholesome Goobers.

(Sadly, one cannot find Goobers at the candy counters these days. I recently asked an employee at the Cineplex Odeon in downtown Seattle why that was. His reply: "Goobers? Nobody eats Goobers anymore! They're not very popular.")

Chuck and I partook of many cinematic delights over the years we lived with or close to one another, including a memorable viewing of Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, a late-night preview of Aliens, and a rather tiresome screening of the first five Star Trek movies one long day in Atlanta in 1991.

(Then there was the infamous screening six months later of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a miserable experience marred by not only the fact that Chuck had a serious eye condition at the time, rendering him practically blind, but I suffered an asthma attack in the auditorium just as Kirk was being arrested for assassinating the Klingon Chancellor.)

We would even, on occasion, blow off work during an afternoon in order to enjoy a movie, giving our bosses an identical excuse, something about having to deliver blueprints to Aiken for our father's business. It was hogwash, of course. We would just rather be at the movies than at work any day.

But the most important aspect of our viewing movies together was the discussion of the film afterward, an exercise which completes and cements the movie-going experience.

Alas, Chuck is now living on the east coast and I on the west, but I am not without illuminated and film-literate movie companions. Mike and I regularly take in late Saturday night showings of movies at the Big Valley, often followed by serious discussion of the films afterward, and Dan is always available to enjoy a few days at the Seattle Film Festival when that time of year comes around. Both are excellent cinema companions, though neither subscribe to the fourth row center philosophy as rigidly as my old pal Charles. Besides, as I pointed out earlier, Goobers are hard to come by at theater concession stands, and I am not as inclined to snack as much at movies as I was when I was younger. And thinner.

But when I attend movies alone you can always find me where I am most inclined to be: fourth row center. And I leave the seat next to me open and available, just in case Chuck happens to be in the neighborhood.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Friday Five

Our friend Rick at Good Coffee picked up his Thursday Top 5 yesterday with his top 5 books from high school English class. Considering that he and I spent a few years together in high school English class, I offer up my own top five reads from high school:
  • Look Homeward Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. The coming of age of Eugene Grant moved me but very few of my classmates.
  • Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I loved the tone and feel of this one. It was also one of the shortest books I had to read in high school.
  • Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. Jude Frawley is mesmerized by the lights of distant Christminster, and dreams of studying at the university there. But life rarely intersects with one's dreams, and I found this tragic novel a powerful one.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy. A great story, one in which Fate plays a major role. One of my favorite novels.
  • Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett. Dr. Maddox introduced this World War II U.K. thriller to us in 10th grade, and I have been a fan of Follett ever since.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

2005 Worst Movies

As a follow-up to posting my ten favorite movies of 2005 I am reminded that there were some stinkers out there, two of which absolutely could not abide:

Sin City - The trailer was better, though it was good to see Mickey Rourke working again. I get a headache thinking about this movie.

Trust the Man - This one played the fests but did not see wide release in 2005. Reel Film Reviews called this romantic comedy "underwheling." Despite a cast that includes David Duchovney, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Garry Shandling, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ellen Barkin, the experience was pure pain for me.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

2005 Top Ten Movies

After reading the year’s top ten lists from a number of film critics whom I respect, including Richard Corliss, David Ansen and Roger Ebert, I have decided to compile my own list of best films from the past year. I do so not having seen A History of Violence, a film that has landed on most critics’ lists, and I omit Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a very flawed film but one which I enjoyed immensely.

Instead of rating them one through ten, starting with the best and moving down the list, I will merely offer, in alphabetical order, my ten favorite from 2005:

Capote – A film not only about the eccentric writer himself, but about the writing of the book In Cold Blood, still one of the most chilling written by an American author. Capote trivia: his assistant on In Cold Blood was Harper Lee, the woman who wrote another of the 20th Century's most important books, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Crash – Writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, one of my favorite films of 2004) boldly tackles tough questions about racial prejudice as writer and director of this tightly written and superbly cast motion picture.

The Constant Gardner – Adapted from the novel by John Le Carre, this taut thriller features a powerful performance by Ralph Fiennes and wholly exceeded my expectations.

Good Night and Good Luck – A terrific jazz soundtrack backs a provocative and intense telling of the on-air battle between Senator Joseph McCarthy and CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, played with riveting power by David Strathairn. Strathairn and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) give the year's finest motion picture performances.

King Kong – Three terrific hours spent at the movies, Kong is everything a Saturday afternoon matinee should be.

Munich – This is a superbly directed thriller with a fine cast, and although I recognize it as a superb film, I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed the taste this one left in my mouth. Still, an important film for 2005, directed by Spielberg at the top of his game.

The Squid and the Whale – It was great to see Jeff Daniels flexing his acting muscles in this bitter tale of a family disintegrating under the weight of a bitter divorce.

Stay – Yes, I am actually including this one on my top ten list. And yes, I enjoyed it very much. Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) helms a capable cast led my Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. And if anyone has any idea as to what on earth this movie was about, please let me know.

Syriana – This is George Clooney’s year. Syriana is a thinking man’s thriller which requires multiple viewings to truly appreciate. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) spins a tight, thought-provoking and tragic tale about big oil and international politics.

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Wererabbit – One of those movies that delivers pure joy, moment by moment; the best family film of the year.

Among the biggest disappointments at the cinema this year were:

Herbie: Fully Loaded -- Despite a decent cast, this reincarnation of the beloved Love Bug offers none of the magic of the 1970s Herbie films.

The Fantastic Four – Considering what has been done in recent years with the X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman, this super hero flick could have been much better.

Elizabethtown – I enjoyed this latest offering from Cameron Crowe, but somehow never fully connected with this one. I don’t know if it was the script or the performances by Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom; either way this movie (despite a fantastic soundtrack) left me flat.

Chicken Little – This is a mediocre film from the folks at Disney and a reminder that the mouse should have never split with the whiz kids over at Pixar.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Shaken, Not Stirred

During 2005 I managed to read nearly all of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. I had intended only to read one, but once I got started, I enjoyed Doctor No so much that I kept going. To supplement by Bond reading, I added the Sean Connery and Roger Moore Bond films to my Netflix queue, and have enjoyed watching those films.

It was an amusing digression that was not lost on my friend Tim, who provided me with some listening material for the new year: a rare edition of the Dr. No soundtrack, the cover of which features me in a very compromising position.