Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hitchcock I

Alfred Hitchcock - a name I have long associated with the greatness of cinema.  I italicize the word cinema there to emphasize the fact that appropriate word is most certainly cinema and not film or movies.  I first heard about Hitchcock while my dad read The Three Investigators books to me as a boy.  This was a Hardy Boys* style series with two main differences.

1.  There were three of them instead of two.
2.  Each story was bookended by the boys handing off their latest adventure to (a fictional version of) Alfred Hitchcock who would then publish them.

I remember starting one and there being this scene in Hitchcock's office.  My dad paused mid paragraph and asked "Do you know who Alfred Hitchcock is?"  Nope.  So he explained, telling me stories of great masterpieces far beyond the quality of anything I'd ever seen before.  There was an implied mysticism and an excited admiration in my dad's voice as he told me how great Vertigo was before we finally got back to the book.  I was hooked.

(Probably.  I'm sure some sort of scene like that took place.)

A few years later, I saw North By Northwest.  This movie is totally boss.  It's an action thriller that remains suspenseful in this modern era while steering clear of explosions.  Do you know how hard it is to make an action movie these days without explosions?  Even non-action movies usually have explosions!  Hitchcock did it, like, 50 years ago better than anyone can anymore.  Basic plot is that this businessman gets mistaken for someone else in a restaurant... except it turns out that the guy he's been mistaken for is a government spy and the people doing the mistaking are The Bad Guys.  Shenanigans ensue, and pretty soon our hero is wanted by the cops and some mysteriously evil dudes.  Plus there's a lady and at least one twist.  So good.

You go, Cary Grant

I'm fairly sure I was single digits in age when I saw North By Northwest, which means it was a good 5 or 6 years before I saw another Hitchcock movie.  Madelyn Hartke, token awesome female of my high school social group, decided one day that we needed to all watch Vertigo.  She was enthralled by it, loved it.  If it was a person, we said, she would probably marry it.  We watched movies all the time, I'd developed an interest in expanding the number of classics I'd seen, and plus she was a girl, so it wasn't hard to convince us to put it in one evening.

She did not enjoy that evening.

Danl and I tore it apart.  Dumb jokes flowed like a river out through our mouths as we ripped this classic piece of cinema to shreds, totally destroying any sense of atmosphere that otherwise would have been created.  And for a movie that's so much about atmosphere, that meant there was basically nothing left when we were done.  Needless to say, Danl and I didn't like it.  Madelyn was sore about us not even trying to appreciate the movie she'd been excited about.  Overall, a big failure.

Years later, I'd have to watch Vertigo again for my Intro to Cinema and Media Studies class.  I expected it to be better this time - the atmosphere would be creepy.  I was more mature, more patient with films.  I would be looking at themes instead of looking for dumb jokes.  But sadly, it sucked just as much as the first time I saw it, except this time I didn't have Danl around to help me joke through it.  It's just... It's a weird movie - this is common knowledge.  It's about perception and obsession.  I think my problem with it is just that I find the characters so alien.  I don't identify with anyone, so I don't care about anyone.  That kiss shot is really good, to be sure, but that doesn't mean I like the movie.  There's a certain amount of pure entertainment I expect from a movie, even one that I'm watching in order to think about.  And Vertigo... Vertigo does not reach that level of entertainment for me.

The summer before my Freshman year of college would bring me two more Hitchcock screenings:  Rear Window and The Birds.  I settled into a summer routine that involved watching lots and lots of movies, and it so happened that one of the people I was doing this with had the complete works of Hitchcock lying around the house.

Rear Window came first.  Like Vertigo, this movie had been severely over-hyped for me.  It was one of those titles that my dad had mentioned in a thrilling voice every time I asked for a movie suggestion.  "Oh yeaAH, Rear Window!  What a movie," he'd say.  You've got Jimmy Stewart as this cop (ex-cop?  Private eye?  I can't remember...) who breaks his leg and is confined to a wheel chair in his apartment for a while.  So naturally, he starts creeping on the neighbors.  Specifically, he starts creeping on this lady who he becomes convinced ends up murdered.  Investigations ensue.

After my experience with Vertigo I was skeptical, though this sounded like a better plot.  Still, for most of the movie I held the opinion that I didn't like Rear Window either.  Then came the final scene, and I realized I'd almost never been this tense watching a movie before.  Anything that can make me freak out as much as the last 15 minutes of this movie is very good.

The Birds was different.  This is a strange movie when looked at from the modern lens.  You can tell while watching it that it must have been creepy, atmospheric, and crazy suspenseful when it came out.  It was so widely acclaimed and there's the beginnings of so many modern horror tropes in there, but we all know what's going to happen next since we've spent so long watching all the tropes that evolved from the ones present in The Birds.  And then there's the plot, which goes something like "There's a guy.  Also there's a girl.  Oh, and then the birds start killing everyone all over the world.  Have fun with that."

That... that pretty much brings us up to speed.  I bring up Hitchcock because I've watched two of his earlier films for my film history class the past couple weeks and they are fine like a hot chick in the 50s.  I'm currently in the midst of some deepish analysis of both The 39 Steps and Sabotage, but rest assured I'll report my findings here when I'm done.

Until Hitchcock II!


* I'm so excited for The Hardy Men even though it's probably stuck in development hell.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Toy Story

I rewatched Toy Story last night; I was hanging out with a friend when his roommate came back with a bunch of people and pulled us to the lounge to watch an old childhood favorite.  It was a weird experience.

First thing I noticed was that I could barely remember what happened on a grand scale, but that I could remember each and every shot of the film as it moved on.  I always knew exactly - EXACTLY - what was going to be on the screen next.  Apparently I saw this movie a lot of times.

Second thing was how much Pixar has improved over the years.  I remember Toy Story looking amazing when it came out, but this... This was okay.  Everyone moved just fine.  Sort of.  There was a little bit of uncanny valley going on, and some weird blinking.  The backgrounds were very... barren.  Not much on the walls, and every shot was from very low to the ground.  That makes sense since all the characters are toys, but it made it seem like they'd created a bunch of walls, put wallpaper on them, and then left the world as this bunch of flat surfaces to be populated only with key props as needed.

Third thing was that that next door neighbor kid Sid had a seriously crappy childhood.  I remember being terrified of him, but in retrospect I just feel bad that his dad is an alcoholic, his mom is never around to help her children, he only has one shirt, he sleeps in his bed with all his clothes on and no blankets, eats breakfast in his room (old Froot-Loops)... And he takes out all of his anger on his toys.  Imagine, then, this kid that clearly needs help, a tortured soul, imagine his TOYS - the one outlet that he has - literally RISE UP AGAINST him, tell him he's a bad person, and threaten to kill him.  Yeah.  He's not going to grow up to be okay.  At least his sister might break out of the trap her family has set for her.  She seemed pretty smart, and her abusive older brother stops being abusive by the end of the movie.

Watching the movie with a bunch of physics majors, I also was treated to the many impossabilities of Buzz Lightyear's exploits throughout the film.  Turns out he is a magical space hero after all, because that's the only way you'd be able to trash Newton's laws as thoroughly as Buzz does!

Overall, though, fun times.  Pixar has come a long way since the 90s.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fuck Blogger

Blogger just ate a post I spent 30 minutes writing.  Anyone know much about Wordpress or whatever the other blogging options are out there?  I've been meaning to switch for a while now anyway.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Academy Awards for 2009

The reason I started this blog was... okay, there were a lot of reasons.  I like to write, I like movies, I like to write about movies, etc.  But one of the more prominent reasons was that every year I wrote a giant facebook note detailing my thoughts on the Academy Award nominations, and I wanted a better place to publish it.  It's that time of the year, so without further ado go check out this link.  I'll be here when you get back.



Okay, ready?

First thing to note is that Steve Martin and Adam Baldwin are hosting.  That's awesome.  I think they're both funny, and they seem to work well together in the commercials.  There's no writers strike this year so we won't have another "John Stewart has nothing to say and it's awful because there were no writers" 2008 disaster.  I don't know, something about the hokey writing for the awards hosts makes me smile even though it's so bad.

Best Picture

Okay.  Guys.  WHAT THE FUCK. You nominated AVATAR?  For Best Picture?  What the fuck?  I understand that you increased the size of the nominations to 10, and that's great since it means sweet films like District 9 and An Education get more respect.  But did you seriously nominated AVATAR?  That movie makes me so mad every time I hear people talk about it being anywhere remotely in the neighborhood of good.  It was so boring for so long.  I want 90 minutes of badassery, not 100 minutes of exposition then 50 of badassery.  Damnit.


Okay, other than that, I love the Best Picture list.  The Blind Side better not win, but I'm happy to see it nominated.  Up marks the first animated movie in freaking forever to get nominated, which is like the one thing about the change to 10 nominees I'm happy about.  We never would've seen District 9 nominated in previous years, but here it is - that makes 2 legitimate action movies nomianted for Best Picture.  That's fine, I just hope I don't live to see the day when something like Avatar is really considred a better movie than A Serious Man by more than the dumb fucks I avoid at school.  Inglourious Basterds, nice.  I still need to see An Education, but I'm always glad to see Nick Hornby do well.  The Hurt Locker is the only one of these I've never heard of, but I guess I'll have to check it out.  Maybe not since I don't tend to like "realistic" war movies, but whatever.  Finally, Up in the Air is supposed to be great (I'm watching it this weekend), and Precious is fine being nominated though like The Hurt Locker it's not my thing.

Best Actor

Honestly, I haven't seen any of these movies.  Awkward.

Best Supporting Actor

Dude, Christoph Waltz for life.  He was so good in Inglourious Basterds; easily the best performance of the year.  That I saw, anyway.  I hope he wins.

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock doesn't deserve this, though I did like her in that role.  I hear the Precious woman was really good.  Meryl Streep is always good (or so I'm told), but I'm a guy and therefore naturally prejudice against Julie & Julia.  Still gotta see An Education so I can make a judgement on the last nominee.  This is apparently a running them tonight.

Best Supporting Actress

Haven't seen any of these movies, but Up in the Air got 2 nominations.  Shit guys.  I need to go see that.  Good thing it's safe on my desktop as I type.  Also Maggie Gyllenhaal is awesome.  Still, I'm not qualified to comment here.

Best Animated Feature

One of these movies was nominated for Best Picture, too.  Guess which one is going to win?  And that's fine by me; Up deserves it.  Never heard of The Secret of Kells.  Something to add to the list of things to check out.  This is how I found The Triplets of Belleville after all.

Art Direction

Okay, now Avatar can win.  Nine and Sherlock Holmes were both real perty, though.  Oh, and brief mention of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus:  this was the movie Heath Ledger was working on when he died.  And it's directed by Terry Gilliam.  That's a kickass combination to me.


As a probably cinema major, I should know the differences between Art Direction and Cinematography.  But seriously, what are they?  Whatever.  Inglourious Basterds had real cool cinematography.  I think the difference is probably the difference between a movie like that or O Brother, Where Art Thou? and a movie like The Golden Compass or Avatar.  Special effects vs style.  And on that level, Basterds is better than AvatarAvatar will still win, though.

Costume Design

I don't care.

Best Director

Tarantino really doesn't need the ego boost, but he probably deserves it.  It's hard to see the effects of good direction since they tend to present themselves as other departments doing their job rather than the director doing his/hers.  Anyway, I'm again not very qualified to choose a winner here and am again upset that Avatar is on the list.

A Bunch of Awards I Don't Care About

I don't care about them wooooooooo

Except editing.  I care about that one, I just don't watch it very closely when viewing the movies and thus don't have an opinion.

Up should win Best Music.  Avatar should win Visual Effects.  In The Loop should win writing just because I want it to win something.  A Serious Man should win the other writing since Inglourious Basterd's strength was not it's writing but rather the art, direction, and acting and Up... Okay, maybe Up should win.  This one is tricky.  I think I stand by A Serious Man, though, since it's got so much more depth rather than doing one message really well.

That should about do it.  Now to decide on the best Oscar's night drinking game...