THE MOTION PICTURE THE WORLD HAS BEEN WAITING FOR!
In 47 BC, Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) helps Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) become the ruler of Egypt, but he’s soon murdered in Rome; Cleopatra eventually begins a tempestuous alliance with another Roman, Mark Antony (Richard Burton). An epic that became famous for its bloated budget, Taylor’s elaborate costume changes, her record-breaking salary and the fact that she almost lost her life during the making of the film. Plenty of visual eye-candy, and watching Taylor and Burton argue has its electrical moments… but the film is deadeningly long and slow, its potential clearly wasted.
1963-U.S. 243 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cinematography: Leon Shamroy. Music: Alex North. Art Direction: Herman Blumenthal, Hilyard Brown, Boris Juraga, Maurice Pelling, Jack Martin Smith, Elven Webb. Costume Design: Vittorio Nino Novarese, Renié. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra), Richard Burton (Mark Antony), Rex Harrison (Julius Caesar), Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn… Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Robert Stephens, Michael Hordern, Carroll O’Connor.
Trivia: The script was partly based on ”The Life and Times of Cleopatra” by C.M. Franzero. Rouben Mamoulian was originally hired to direct. At one point, Mankiewicz wanted to make two movies out of the story. Audrey Hepburn and Joan Collins were allegedly considered for the role of Cleopatra; Marlon Brando as Mark Antony.
Oscars: Best Cinematography, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Special Visual Effects.
Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), now a studio boss, agrees to let Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) direct his first movie, but when the project needs more money the Texas financiers start making awkward demands… This big-screen adaptation of the 2004-2011 TV series will satisfy die-hard fans, but not many others. Nothing much has seriously happened in the lives of these hopelessly childish characters. Their shallow Hollywood issues are fun to follow for a while – a whole movie is asking a lot, though. Grenier is still not very convincing as Tinseltown’s biggest star, but some of the cameos are amusing.
2015-U.S. 104 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Rob Weiss. Written and directed by Doug Ellin. Cast: Kevin Connolly (Eric Murphy), Adrian Grenier (Vincent Chase), Kevin Dillon (Johnny “Drama” Chase), Jerry Ferrara (Salvatore “Turtle” Assante), Jeremy Piven, Perrey Reeves… Billy Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment. Cameos: Jessica Alba, Martin Landau, David Arquette, Liam Neeson, Warren Buffett, Piers Morgan, Gary Busey, Andrew Dice Clay, Common, Mark Cuban, Jon Favreau, Kelsey Grammer, Ed O’Neill, Armie Hammer, Calvin Harris, Thierry Henry, Matt Lauer, Bob Saget, David Spade, George Takei, Mike Tyson, Mark Wahlberg, Pharrell Williams.
Originally shown as a two-part event on the PBS show American Masters, this is Robert B. Weide’s fourth documentary on comedians, a frequently entertaining and engrossing look at one of the hardest working men in showbiz. Over the course of three hours we learn what motivates him, what makes him great and how he works as a director and a writer; he makes it look deceptively simple. Woody Allen talks about his movies and shows us where he grew up; friends, colleagues, scholars (there’s even a priest) and collaborators shed further light on Allen and his life. Certainly makes you want to watch all of his movies again. For a more critical portrait of the director, look elsewhere; even the sordid details of his breakup with Mia Farrow is from Allen’s perspective.
2011-U.S. Made for TV. 195 min. Color-B/W. Produced, written and directed by Robert B. Weide.
Trivia: Released theatrically in many countries outside the U.S.; alternative version runs 113 min. Among those interviewed in the film: Diane Keaton, Josh Brolin, Dick Cavett, Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Larry David, John Cusack, Mariel Hemingway, Julie Kavner, Martin Landau, Louise Lasser, Sean Penn, Chris Rock, Martin Scorsese, Mira Sorvino, Naomi Watts, Dianne Wiest and Owen Wilson.
Last word:“Woody Allen was always sort of a dream that I had. I wrote him a letter, asking him if he’d be interested in letting me do a documentary on him, and I got a very polite ‘no thank you’, which was the same response that he’d given to every filmmaker that had asked him the same question. He just doesn’t like the idea of tribute, people making a big fuss over him. He doesn’t really think he’s that great. So then I tried again, probably ten years later, and I think there was a third time, and each time was a very polite ‘no thank you’. I just was determined to turn him around. And so I wrote him a letter and I just really made him the case in the letter, and told him why I wanted to make this film. And sure enough, I heard back from his assistant a few days later, and she said, ‘Well, Woody wants to know if he were to agree to this…’ And as soon as she said ‘if he were’, I said, ‘I’m in’.” (Weide, PBS)
When young Victor Frankenstein loses his best friend, Sparky the dog, in an accident, he successfully brings the animal back to life in a thunderstorm. Tim Burton’s remake of the 1984 short that got him fired from Disney is a fast-paced stop-motion adventure in 3D that has the balls to also be in black-and-white. An entertaining take on the old “Frankenstein” story that has good voice work and clever references to classic horror stories and previous Burton films, such as Edward Scissorhands and A Nightmare Before Christmas… but falls short of greatness.
2012-U.S. Animated. 87 min. B/W. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay: John August. Music: Danny Elfman. Voices of Catherine O’Hara (Susan Frankenstein/Weird Girl/Gym Teacher), Martin Short (Ben Frankenstein/Mr. Bergermeister/Nassor), Martin Landau (Mr. Rzykruski), Charlie Tahan (Victor Frankenstein), Winona Ryder, Atticus Shaffer… Christopher Lee.
Trivia:Lee provides the voice of Dracula in the movie within the movie.
IT STARTED WITH A SHOOTOUT ON A RAINSWEPT STREET AND ENDED IN A SCANDAL THAT SHATTERED NEW YORK CITY.
When a cop, a criminal and a little boy are shot to death on a NYC street, Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack) becomes interested in the case and its peculiar details. Based upon experiences made by former NYC Deputy Mayor Ken Lipper, this film puts Cusack’s character right between a mayor (Al Pacino) that he’s supposed to serve and several prominent people in the city who are caught in a web of corruption. Short on surprises, but the drama nevertheless maintains a decent level of tension. The cast is engaging, with a perfect part for Pacino as the cocky mayor.
1996-U.S. 111 min. Color. Directed by Harold Becker. Screenplay: Ken Lipper, Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi, Bo Goldman. Cast: Al Pacino (John Pappas), John Cusack (Kevin Calhoun), Bridget Fonda (Marybeth Cogan), Danny Aiello, Martin Landau, David Paymer. Cameo: Ed Koch.
Trivia:Lipper served under Koch when he was mayor.
A burlap doll comes alive only to discover that his maker is dead and that a war between mankind and machines has turned the world into a desolate place… but there are others like him. He was Oscar-nominated for the short film 9 in 2006 and this is director Shane Acker’s expanded feature version. Not for children, this well-paced computer-animated dystopia is not afraid of using death as a theme in the battle between the good and evil creations of a scientist who lent his services to the dictatorship that helped start the apocalyptic war. The darkness is offset by some of the dolls who are both kind-hearted and heroic. The script is formulaic, but the animation topnotch.
2009-U.S. Animated. 79 min. Color. Produced by Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Dana Ginsburg, Jinko Gotoh, Jim Lemley. Story and direction by: Shane Acker. Screenplay: Pamela Pettler. Voices of Elijah Wood (9), John C. Reilly (5), Jennifer Connelly (7), Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau.
Last word: “I come from an architectural background, and as well I’m a sculptor and a woodworker, so I love the way things come together in the detail. And one of the concepts that we had on the film, was that everything that was in the world could be built and be in our real world, so we wanted a real tactile quality to it. The world is made up of little pieces of things left over, so how do you recombine those in a creative way, to create these characters and creatures? And then we’d take trips out to these junkyards here in LA, and go and get bags and bags of junk, and take them back to the studio and look at them, and use that to inspire us, and find little ideas in that.” (Acker, Den of Geek)
In 1799, New York constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to a hamlet called Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders where the victims’ heads have been lopped off; the locals blame a ghost, the Headless Horseman. Published in 1820, Washington Irving’s short story is one of the earliest great stories of the young continent. In Tim Burton’s hands, many details have been changed and there will always be purists who mind. But thanks to the tense direction, vivid score, opulent production design and dark cinematography, one is easily drawn into this eerie world and its phantoms. The cast is also great help, led by Depp as the faint-hearted police officer.
1999-U.S. 105 min. Color. Produced by Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher. Novella: Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”). Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki. Music: Danny Elfman. Production Design: Rick Heinrichs. Costume Design: Colleen Atwood. Cast: Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Mary Van Tassel), Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones… Christopher Walken, Christopher Lee. Cameo: Martin Landau.
Trivia: Depp allegedly based his performance on that of Richard E. Grant’s in Withnail & I (1987). Winona Ryder was reportedly considered for the part of Katrina. The same year as this movie opened in theaters, a TV movie (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) also premiered.
Oscar: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. BAFTA: Best Production Design, Costume Design.
Last word: “Roddy [McDowall] was a great friend of mine. I kept seeing Roddy in the way he had this very ethereal quality. […] And Angela Lansbury, the energy, the sort of righteousness that she had. I haven’t even seen ‘Death on the Nile’ since I was very young, but she was this force, she was this presence. This Ichabod Crane, it’s very, very safe to say he’s in touch with his feminine side. I thought of him as a very fragile young girl. So those are the ingredients and you just sort of mash them all together and see what you come up with.” (Depp, Combustible Celluloid)
THE MASTER OF SUSPENSE PRESENTS A 3000-MILE CHASE ACROSS AMERICA!
According to one biography on Alfred Hitchcock, it was Bernard Herrmann who introduced screenwriter Ernest Lehman to the director. They hit it off and decided to make a movie together. Lehman told the director that he wanted to do the ultimate Hitchcock movie. Hitchcock then told Lehman that he always wanted to do a chase across Mount Rushmore. That is how North by Northwest was conceived and the collaboration did indeed spawn one of the best films ever made.
The concept of having a man run from evil powers and not being believed by anybody was often explored by Hitchcock in the past, but it came together beautifully in this film. It begins with Saul Bass’s gorgeous titles accompanied by Herrmann’s exhilarating and often imitated music score.
We’re introduced to Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), a New York ad executive, who is mistaken by a pair of enemy agents to be a man called George Kaplan. He’s taken to Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) who grows frustrated when Thornhill insists that he is not Kaplan. Vandamm’s agents try to kill him but he manages to escape… although not in a very dignified way and he ends up in the custody of his mother, Clara (Jessie Royce Landis), who knows her son and doesn’t really believe in his story. When Thornhill returns to Vandamm’s house, there is no trace of him or his agents. He does however find enough clues that lead him to the United Nations building. Shockingly, a diplomat that Thornhill meets there is murdered and our hero accidentally touches the knife in his back; the event is captured by a photographer. Realizing that his situation has become difficult to explain to the police, Thornhill goes on the lam. On a train to Chicago, he meets the lovely Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Should he trust her? Will he find Vandamm?
Shot in striking colors No one could accuse Grant of being one of the greatest actors, but he does have a presence and charm that is pretty irresistible. It’s on full display here whenever he flirts with Saint in shameless ways (the dialogue is full of interesting innuendos) and mixes action with comedy; the results are awesome. His funniest moments are with Landis (only eight years older, but still a convincing mother to Grant), who certainly loves her son but would never give him the benefit of a doubt. Saint does an excellent job, even though her character isn’t very believable; Mason could play the villain in his sleep.
Shot in striking colors, the film offers more entertainment than most others, but what viewers might remember in particular are two brilliant action sequences. The first is set in the middle of nowhere where Thornhill expects to meet the real Kaplan and ends up being chased by a crop duster; thanks to Hitchcock’s brilliant arrangement, the lack of logic has never bothered anyone.
The other great moment is the final showdown between Thornhill and the bad guys on Mount Rushmore. Filmed in a studio, the scene is nevertheless convincingly executed (even though Grant doesn’t end up inside Lincoln’s nose, which was one of the original ideas).
Some may say this film is too smooth; that they prefer the early predecessors, like The 39 Steps (1935). Still, this is the kind of perfection that Hitchcock was aiming for. It is with mathematical precision that he decides when to employ the ingredients of the film, when it needs humor, romance and spectacular excitement. This movie is basically the only education any mainstream filmmaker needs.
North by Northwest 1959-U.S. 136 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay: Ernest Lehman. Cinematography: Robert Burks. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Editing: George Tomasini. Production Design: William A. Horning, Robert Boyle, Merrill Pye. Cast: Cary Grant (Roger Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Phillip Vandamm), Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau, Jessie Royce Landis.
Trivia:James Stewart and Gregory Peck were allegedly considered for the lead; Cyd Charisse for the part of Eve; and Yul Brynner for the part of Vandamm. The original title may refer to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, where the prince tries to convince people of his sanity (his line: “I am but mad north-northwest”).
Quote:“Nothing.” (Roger O. Thornhill (Grant) explaining what the “O” stands for; it’s a reference to David O. Selznick who once gave the same reply)
Last word:“Just like [Hitchcock] said, ‘I always wanted to do a dolly shot in an auto factory,’ he said, ‘I always wanted to do a chase across the faces of Mount Rushmore.’ And I thought, ‘Hey, I really like that idea.’ And that was the seed of the flower that took eleven months to grow. But I had to ask myself, ‘Who’s chasing whom over the faces of Mount Rushmore?’ and ‘How do they get there?’ and ‘Why?’ And that took quite a bit of doing on my part. I remember that I used to squeeze out a tiny bit of the screenplay every day, fully convinced that it would never actually become a movie. There were many nights when I would be driving home from the studio thinking that we were just kidding ourselves — and wondering how long the charade would go on. The truth is, even with all my experience, I really didn’t know how to write the script. I’d never written a movie like that before, but gradually I eked it out — or, at least, the first sixty-five pages — and then Hitch went off to make ‘Vertigo’. So I’d sit there in my lonely office, and many times I’d go home at night having written less than half a page, completely discouraged.” (Lehman, Creative Screenwriting)
SOMETIMES YOUR LIFE COMES INTO FOCUS ONE FRAME AT A TIME.
Washed-up Hollywood screenwriter Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) leaves town, ends up in a car accident and is washed ashore in a small California hamlet where he’s mistaken for a young man who was thought to have died in WWII. A typical Frank Darabont picture; too long, very nostalgic and sentimental, but skilfully made and engaging. The story portrays genuinely good people threatened by evil (represented here by McCarthyism), but the warmth of the small-town community will overcome anything. The depiction of the 1950s tends to get a bit too corny and Darabont tries to manipulate us too intensely, but the acting is top-notch.
2001-U.S. 152 min. Color. Produced and directed by Frank Darabont. Cast: Jim Carrey (Peter Appleton), Martin Landau (Harry Trimble), Laurie Holden (Adele Stanton), David Ogden Stiers, James Whitmore, Jeffrey DeMunn… Hal Holbrook, Bob Balaban, Allen Garfield, Bruce Campbell. Voices of Matt Damon, Sydney Pollack, Paul Mazursky, Rob Reiner, Garry Marshall, Carl Reiner.
WHEN TIME IS RUNNING OUT, ONE SHOT IS ALL YOU GET.
L.A. cops Joe Gavilan and KC. Calden (Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett) investigate the murders of four members of a rap group, but their careers on the side keep getting in the way. Director Ron Shelton makes a cop movie the same way he makes his sports movies; it’s a little too long, has a lot of humor and Lolita Davidovich makes an appearance. The story is completely for the birds, the action sequences could be a lot better, but the film is not exactly dull and this is an opportunity for Ford to play a very different character – and he’s fun.
2003-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Ron Shelton. Cast: Harrison Ford (Joe Gavilan), Josh Hartnett (K.C. Calden), Lena Olin (Ruby), Bruce Greenwood, Isaiah Washington, Lolita Davidovich… Martin Landau, Gladys Knight, Lou Diamond Phillips, Eric Idle. Cameos: Robert Wagner, Smokey Robinson.
Trivia: Ford’s character is actually based on a real person.
FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) try to find out why several fire fighters and a boy were placed inside a federal building that subsequently exploded. This movie materialized after the fifth season of the popular TV show about aliens and governmental conspiracies. Its creator, Chris Carter, delivers answers to many of the questions asked during the run of the show; it’s not always terribly exciting, but the stars are fun to watch. The filmmakers have milked their budget thoroughly; there are several spectacular sequences with great visual effects.
1998-U.S. 120 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Rob Bowman. Screenplay: Chris Carter. Cast: David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Martin Landau (Alvin Kurtzweil), Armin Mueller-Stahl, Blythe Danner, William B. Davis… Terry O’Quinn, Glenne Headley.
Video-store clerk Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) agrees to be the center of a new reality show, having cameras follow him 24-7; the ensuing chaos hurts people close to him, including a would-be girlfriend (Jenna Elfman). Director Ron Howard’s film is a well-made comedy with a pleasant cast, including Martin Landau. However, in real life few reality shows that involve genuine, endearing people would captivate a nation the way EdTV does. Points made about personal integrity are predictable and Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998) stole some of Ed tv’s thunder.
1999-U.S. 122 min. Color. Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel. Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Ed Pekurny), Jenna Elfman (Shari), Woody Harrelson (Ray Pekurny), Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Ellen DeGeneres… Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper.
Trivia:The movie is a remake of a Canadian film, Louis XIX: Roi des ondes (1994).