Category Archives: Film

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TCM Classic Film Fest 2014: A Preview

[Cross-posted from Row Three]

After missing last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival due to a minor thing like having a baby, I’ve been really excited to jump back in this year, and thankfully, I was able to secure a media credential to cover the fest despite taking a year off. My schedule will necessarily be a little less manic this year thanks to not wanting to completely abandon my husband and child for the weekend, but I hope to make it to enough things to make my coverage worthwhile.

In the meantime, here’s a preview of the fest now that this year’s schedule has been released. Since the TCM Fest splits pretty well into time slots (aside from a few special events and extra-long movies), I figured I’d just go through each time slot and identify some best bets if you’re planning to attend. Passes are already sold out, but individual tickets will be sold on space-available basis before each screening.

The overall theme this year is Families in the Movies: The Ties That Bind, which is a pretty broad theme, and indeed, you’ll find films about aging parents, fathers and daughters, single mothers, sisters, and dysfunctional families scattered throughout the festival along with the usual assortment of films considered Essential and Discoveries by the programmers (and Tributes and Special Presentations that have special guests or unique experiences attached to them).

Thursday, April 10

PRE-SLOT SPECIAL EVENTS

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In addition to the films, the TCM Fest always has a lot of special events – panels, parties, exhibits, etc. These are generally all passholder-only, so no individual tickets are available. They run concurrently with movies throughout the weekend, but they start up earlier on Thursday. These first three are all before any films start playing, and are all for passholders only, so I’ll separate them out.

2:00pm – Meet TCM (Egyptian Theatre) – From the program: “As TCM celebrates its 20th year, join TCM staffers as we share insight into the network, how it is produced and what is on the horizonas we look forward to the next 20 years.” TCM has done such a great job attracting fans as a brand, and even though I’ve never made it to one of these, I bet it’s fun to hear some behind the scenes info.

3:30pm – Sons of Gods and Monsters (Hollywood Museum) – Makeup artist Rick Baker and director Joe Dante will be on hand to discuss the legacy of monsters in classic cinema, with moderation from TCM producer Scott McGee (who’s a great guy). Should be a great time.

5:00pm – Welcome Party / TCM at 30 Exhibit (Club TCM @ Roosevelt) – Robert Osborne and several guest stars will welcome passholders to the festival and talk about their favorite classic movie moments. I’ve never been big on the parties at Club TCM, either, but this is one of the best chances to mix and meet and greet other film fans as well as famous classic era actors and actresses.

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Blindspot: Sanjuro (1962)

My difficulty getting into Japanese film is no big secret, but I’m chipping away at it, film by film. I enjoyed Yojimbo a couple of years ago (even though I was in a too-tired frame of mind and really need to rewatch it), so I had hopes that Sanjuro would follow in its footsteps.

I won’t deny that the opening had me fearful – it drops us right into the middle of a somewhat heated discussion, with one man telling a bunch of other men that his uncle wouldn’t agree to help them take down some corruption, which is seen as a great betrayal, but that the superintendent would. It’s all a bit abrupt and you’re left wondering exactly who the uncle is, how this government is formed, what place a “superintendent” has in it, what the power relationship between the uncle and superintendent is, who exactly the men think is corrupt and why, how that corruption is affecting them, who they owe their allegiance to, what their status is (are they samurai, or just regular guys who happen to carry swords around – other reviewers are calling them noblemen, which makes sense), etc. Most of this is never really answered, so either it’s just a total McGuffin, or it’s assumed that the viewer has a knowledge of Japanese social and government structure that I lack. You do learn that the uncle is a chamberlain, which is presumably a higher position than superintendent, but with the chamberlain and the superintendent the only officials really mentioned, it’s unclear where the noblemen originally thought the corruption was coming from.

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The good news is, Sanjuro (an apparently assumed name, played to perfection by Toshiro Mifune) pops out of the next room pretty quickly and takes the situation in hand. He’s a ronin, which I DO know what is – a Samurai who has lost his master, so he’s roaming around without clear allegiance. It’s not really an honorable position to be in, but it does leave Sanjuro free to do whatever the hell he wants, which, thankfully for our hapless noblemen, is help them out of their predicament. He immediately clues into the fact that it’s probably the superintendent that’s corrupt rather than the chamberlain, and he carries out a series of plans (most of which are screwed up by the impatient and highly unstrategic noblemen) to catch out the superintendent and rescue the uncle, whom the superintendent has had arrested and framed for corruption.

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Adventures in Flickcharting: Mars Attacks!

Sometimes I see a movie that I don’t really feel that inspired to write about (usually because I liked it well enough but didn’t feel too strongly about it), but this year I want to make a conscious effort to write more for the blog and I also have been wanting to incorporate Flickchart more into my posting somehow. Flickchart is a website for ranking movies: it gives you two movies and you choose which one is better (or which one you like more – the best vs. favorite discussion is an old standby among die-hard Flickcharters and one I won’t get into just here except to say that I personally rank on Flickchart according to what I like/enjoy the most, not according to what I think is the best). Over time and many rankings, it builds a list of your favorite movies based on your rankings. One thing I really like about Flickchart is how it presents you with two films that you never would’ve thought of in the same context at all and forces you to really think about them in relation to each other. I don’t really believe anymore in the value of the minute rankings it ends up with, but as a macrocosm of taste and as a method of thinking about films in a context you otherwise wouldn’t, it has worth.

With due props to my friend Travis McClain who has pitched this format and uses it sometimes for his own reviews, I’m going to try this series charting how a newly-watched movie enters my Flickchart. When you add a movie to Flickchart manually, it goes up against a series of films strategically spread throughout your chart. For example, in the first ranking, it will go against the film in the very middle of your chart. If the new film wins, it will go against the film equidistant between the top and the middle. It continues like this until it finds its correct spot in your list. In my case “correct” is kind of a general term, because my chart is kind of messy once you get below about 500. But the point of this approach in this series is to compare the new film with the existing films as I go along, which will hopefully give me something to write about those films that I don’t have too much to say about.

First up – Tim Burton’s 1996 alien invasion parody Mars Attacks!

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The Film

In this spoof on low-budget science fiction films of the 1950s, especially Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (from which the Martian spaceships are directly lifted), spaceships clutter the sky over Earth. The US President (Jack Nicholson) attempts several diplomatic meetings, each one agreed to by the Martians, who then proceed to blow everything to hell. Eventually the situation devolves into all-out zany war.

When we watched this, I thought it was the last film standing between me and seeing all of Tim Burton’s feature filmography. But I forgot about Dark Shadows. So I’m still one dubious film away from adding Burton to my 100% Club. I enjoyed Mars Attacks!, mainly for the anarchic glee the Martians seem to take in shooting everything up. You’d think after the first time, the humans would’ve realized that the Martians couldn’t be taken at their word to honor diplomatic procedure, but nope. I also enjoyed seeing pretty much every actor in Hollywood cameo in this thing – it’s really ridiculous, and I didn’t know most of them were going to be in it when we started. I should point out that I also have a lot of fun with the kind of bad sci-fi this film is sending up, including an un-ironic love for Plan 9.

How It Entered My Flickchart

Mars Attacks! vs Branded to Kill

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The first matchup is the most important – it determines whether a film will move its way up in the top half of the chart or drop into the obscurity of the bottom half. That said, moving into the bottom half of my chart isn’t that bad a deal, because I watch far more films that I like than that I don’t like, so the middle of the chart isn’t really the tipping point between liking and disliking for me. Branded to Kill is a Japanese New Wave film by Seijun Suzuki, one of three Suzuki films I’ve seen and definitely the weirdest so far. It’s like a cross between a gangster film and Un chien andalou. I don’t get it, but I do like it, and it gets a lot of style points, which help it beat Mars Attacks! Mars Attacks! is a lot of goofy fun and it’s more narratively comprehensible, but I can’t pass up the evocative style of Branded to Kill.

Branded to Kill wins, and Mars Attacks! gets an initial ranking of #2951 (out of 3375).

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Watch This: The 1001 Movies You Must See

If you haven’t already seen this video, stop everything you’re doing and watch it now. It doesn’t stick totally true to the inspiration, the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book edited by Steven Jay Schneider (at least, if Sucker Punch is in that book, it has more problems than I feared), but it’s an incredible sensory assault. It apparently took a year to edit. I believe it. This is one of the most intricate, mind-boggling, perfectly planned and timed supercuts I’ve ever seen. Recommend you watch it in HD and full-screen.