My 2018 Oscar Picks

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hold it’s 90th awards ceremony this Sunday. Controversy within the industry continues. Most organizations are slow to change and this one is no different. Changes were made to the voting members to include more minorities and women. I’m hopeful that as a result, there will be equal access to the amazing talent that exists without bias. Here are my picks from this year’s nominations.

My Best Picture Pick:  Get Out


Get Out  This has been one of the most talked about films of the year. Jordan Peele borrows from a number of film genres but assembles them in his own unique way and gives us an experience that is truly groundbreaking. We get an entirely new take on race relations  in America that pierces all veils of shrouded truth on the subject. Excellent performances all around. I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele does at the helm of The Twilight Zone reboot.

Call Me By Your Name  A 17 year old young man has his life altered forever during a summer spent in Italy. He meets a doctoral student who is working as an intern for his father. They are attracted to each other and Italy takes care of the rest. Outstanding performances are supported by the delicate and effective choices made by director Luca Guadagnino.

Darkest Hour  We never seem to tire of productions about British royalty. The Crown, Victoria; it never ends. All you need to know about Darkest Hour is two words: Gary Oldman. Beautifully photographed, witty and amazing attention to detail right down to the Churchill War Rooms. This picture is loud, large and filled with smoke. But the Brits are likely a bit overexposed for the Academy to choose it as best film. My full review here.

Dunkirk  More British, Churchill, stiff upper lip. The only best picture nomination not to have any actors on the ballot. It’s Christopher Nolan all the way as he painstakingly revisits this pivotal moment that could have tipped the balance towards Hitler if private seamen hadn’t rescued 400,000 trapped troops backed up against the sea on the Dunkirk beach. No detail has been overlooked in the recreation that makes this moment of humanity the main actors in this monumental film.

Lady Bird  The product of a young writer/director (Greta Gerwig) telling close-up and personal story. A Mother / Daughter relationship growing up is tough picture that struck a nerve with audiences. This film snuck up on me and has an outside chance of being chosen. My full review here.

Phantom Thread  Brilliant psychological study of a brother and sister team that rule the London fashion scene in the 1950’s. Paul Thomas Anderson creates yet another quirky world surrounded by a frame story that leads to a very surprising ending. No doubt the Academy will be tempted to vote for this pure cinema starring, for the last time, Daniel Day-Lewis. He has announced his retirement from acting. My full review here.

The Post  Spielberg, Hanks and Streep. The triple threat combine for a spellbinding look at the release of the documents that probably ended the Vietnam War. High production values all around and Spielberg’s signature filmmaking style is on widescreen display. Very timely reminder of what happens when Presidents and his administration become drunk with power.

The Shape of Water  There is haunting beauty in almost every frame of Guillermo del Toro’s spectacular story. He stacks the deck with reams of social content. A mute woman who has no known past is abused by overbearing men in the workplace. A gay commercial artist neighbor who was ousted from his job for drinking too much and lives with cats. The military industrial complex. Russian spies. Set in the Cold War 1960’s. Oh yes there’s that amphibian man. Ultimately it’s a love story.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Small midwest town sheriff can’t solve a brutal murder of a woman’s daughter. The mother is not satisfied with law enforcement’s efforts and goes into the advertising business by co-opting three billboards on the road into town.

Actor in a Leading Role:  Gary Oldman

film2-magGary Oldman is beyond splendid in Darkest Hour, his portrayal of Churchill. His physical largeness was perfectly sculptured by a prosthetic body suit and superb facial make-up by Kazuhiro Tsuji. How an actor today could take on such a large figure that so many have tried in the past is a sign of courage. Inhabited is the word that comes to mind when I think about how Mr. Oldman plays the character. I have always admired his skills which have been carefully honed over years and the 92 characters he has played. I did catch a glimpse of Mr. Oldman here and there, but for the most part I assumed I was there in the room with the real Winston.

Actress in a Leading Role:  Frances McDormand

IMG_1141Frances McDormand never disappoints. Sturdy and funny, delivered in a fervent voice emanating from her face of endless character. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri she calls in some favors from characters she has played in the past and merges them anew, as a tortured mother wandering in a living nightmare. She is tough as nails, but on occasion she lets us inside that tight drum revealing a much softer side. She is beyond determined to goad the local police to revisit the murder of her daughter. Ms. McDormand is a force of acting nature.

Actor in a Supporting Role:  Sam Rockwell

SamI will admit that on my first viewing I wasn’t that  impressed by Sam Rockwell’s performance. I couldn’t put my finger on why. After a second screening it began to sink in. So much pain coursing through this character, constantly fueled by what he sees as injustice all around him. Race plays a big part as does loyalty to the Sheriff, and drowning all of this at the bottom of a glass. I realized he was modeling the southern cops we saw from the 1967 masterpiece, “In the Heat of the Night.” A fixed, narrow view that is one day turned completely upside down. Mr. Rockwell gives a character that at first can’t handle that inversion, but then rights himself, remembering the oath he swore as a law officer.

Actress in a Supporting Role:  Allison Janney

AlisonIt’s hard to believe that’s really Allison Janney behind those glasses and oxygen tube. The story of I, Tonya wasn’t that interesting to me and I almost didn’t buy the ticket. That would have been my loss. Ms. Janney plays Tonya’s mother, LaVona, with a hateful glee I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Her role as mother is just about all we need to know in explaining what happened. I think it’s safe to say she never received one of those Best Mom Ever mugs. What struck me about her performance was how Ms. Janney was able to keep up a continuous, matter-of-fact approach to cruelty. She delivers a dozen or more lines like this one. “I made you a champion, knowing you’d hate me for it. That’s the sacrifice a mother makes!”

Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water

Alexandre Desplat is simply in a class by himself. He has composed over 170 scores, of which I have many favorites. His work for The Shape of Water grounds a fantasy from some other world, and compels us to try and understand. When he first saw the film, Mr. Desplat wrote in his notes that it seemed to be like a musical for which the music was yet to be written. He fixed that. Favorite track, Decency.

Cinematography:  Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049

Original Screenplay:  Jordan Peele – Get Out

Adapted Screenplay:  James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name

Film Editing:  Lee Smith for Dunkirk

Production Design:  Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau – The Shape of Water

Costume Design:  Mark Bridges – Phantom Thread

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick – Darkest Hour

Animated Feature:  Coco

Director:  Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water


My 2017 Oscar Picks

Ladies and gentlemen, the post you’ve all been waiting for. My picks to win the 89th Academy Awards. This year’s nominees gives us hope that the Academy has at least made some effort to look across the wonderful diversity that makes up the filmmaking community. The Academy released a list of 683 new members last year, which is a record. It’s encouraging to see 46% are female and 41% are nonwhite from 59 different countries. There were also a small number of members who were transferred to “emeritus” status. Without the further wasting of pixels, here are the picks.



Hidden Figures is worthy for uncovering an amazing piece of history. It was important for NASA and for the history of on way in which African Americans have advanced our country. Throw in the fact that they’re women and you’ve got something very powerful. I wish the filmmakers had a bigger budget (estimate $25 million) that would have allowed them to up the production value and perhaps expand their impact.

Moonlight is the other film that should worry La La La Land, with it’s ground zero approach and quiet choices. The arc of this story is very long and the main character evolves across three different actors. The way this film is presented might look simplistic but simple it is not. This film takes it’s time for a reason and could sneak in.

Arrival is my favorite among the nominees. It’s a story of time, memory and language. The main character, Louise (Amy Adams) knows what’s going to happen in the future. Not everything but some things for sure. She uses her training in linguistics to communicate with beings who visit earth and the two become entwined in a fascinating personal story.

Fences is non-stop. A theatrical performance, but this time your vantage point is not Row E, Seat 17. We get to see inside these characters. What motivates them, enrages them, satisfies them. Once you have the script for a film like this, you need talent to deliver. Denzel Washington, who also directed, is a national treasure.

Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of WWII conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, who wound up in the bloody battle over the island of Okinawa. He selflessly saved over 70 men without ever touching a gun. The back story is business as usual, but the battle scenes are almost in a class on their own. We begin to understand at least a little, Doss’s vow and struggle to succeed.

Hell or High Water evokes many films and combines a number of genres but manages to carve out it’s own brand. Texas brothers need to pay off the ranch and set out to rob banks until they have enough to meet the reverse mortgage debt taken out by their mother. It’s smart and solid with a twist of sticking it to the banks.

Manchester by the Sea has so much to offer. Script, performances, humor, tragedy and yes hope. It starts where it ends, on the sea. A story about what draws people, the workings of their soul and what happens when those workings break.

Lion, another true story, tracks the life of a young Indian boy from the time he becomes misplaced by chance to a new and full life a continent away with adopted parents. Both the adopted family and the parents that lost him are on constant guard. One side always hoping, the other always wondering.

The La La Land factor may be too much for the other films to overcome. Good musicals are rare and beloved by the Academy. Mia and Sebastian have dreams, then they find each other. First by fate on a crowded Los Angeles freeway, then through relentless pursuit by each. Their relationship leads them to the dream they cannot achieve together.

Pick: La La Land

Actor in a Leading Role

caseyTough category. From a purely acting perspective I would rank them in the following order; Casey Affleck, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen, Ryan Gosling and Andrew Garfield. Casey has a dark cloud over him offscreen which could cause a problem. Denzel’s performance is the powerful remaking of a stage play, beautifully transformed to fit the screen. Viggo is surrounded by a bunch of kids in the wild. A bit unorthodox but he has definitely reached back to his Aragon character for inspiration. Ryan, well he’s Ryan. Andrew is the story in the vehicle picture Hacksaw Ridge. I preferred him in Scorsese’s epic and overlooked picture Silence.

Pick: Casey Affleck

Actress in a Leading Role

emma-rightFirst I have to get something off my chest. The fact that Annette Bening didn’t receive a nomination for her amazing portrayal of Dorothea in the time capsule of a film 20th Century Women is at least a misdemeanorNow back to the post. Natalie Portman brought a new perspective to a subject that has been examined to no ends in Jackie. It was obvious she did her homework and was up to the courage it must have taken to play such an iconic persona. Great work. The picture Loving shares a high level theme with Hidden Figures, Fences and perhaps even Moonlight. Ruth Negga gives a tour de force performance as the wife of a white man who’s love is so strong it rises to the Supreme Court. Isabelle Huppert is delicious and mysterious and has been one of my favorites for many years. But the film is in French, so maybe not. Then there’s Meryl Streep. Nothing more needs to be said. But I don’t think it’s her year. That leaves us with a darling of the Academy, Emma Stone. In La La Land she showed more range and what sold me was her ability to be hopeful and defeated at the same time.

Pick: Emma Stone

Actor in a Supporting Role

maThis one is not so hard. Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water was great, but he was Jeff. He’s so good that I expect him to excel. Lucas Hedges as the lost teenager in Manchester by the Sea was asked to pull off a difficult character and did it beautifully. He was funny and desperate and, well a 16 year old. Dev Patel was amazing as the adult lost soul in Lion. But the real art performance was turned in by Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Calm on the outside but you know he’s a steeping pot. Although his character took a few wrong turns, we see a coach and perhaps even a mentor in his surprisingly tender approach to a young boy. His choices are careful and measured, putting aside the chaos that surround his current profession and environment.

Pick: Mahershala Ali

Actress in a Supporting Role

oliviaNaome Harris in Moonlight. Amazing performance of a woman trapped in a personal prison without bars, but unable to escape. Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures. Smart, driven and won’t take no for an answer. When she had enough she took it to the next level and when at along last was given the stage, she owned it. Nicole Kidman in Lion as the mother who adopts two children from India and takes it all the way to the end once she finds out what her adopted first son really needed. Michelle Williams is the heartbroken wife in Manchester by the Sea. Despite her short screen time, Ms. Williams stands up to tragedy that could be beyond recovery and takes the next steps. Lastly Viola Davis is the wife in Fences. She stole the show in my opinion. In scene after scene she stands out with strength and valor. Pride is important, but her inner compass allows her to ensure her conscious and heart will forever be in order. She does all this without ever forgetting her responsibility as the pillar of the family.

Pick: Viloa Davis

Original Screenplay

When you decide to write a script you always start from scratch. Certainly life experiences and artistic influences provide inspiration, but in the end it’s the writer, alone, that chooses how to string together the words. All five of this year’s nominees for original screenplay are stand outs. The top two for their power and weight are 20th Century Women by Mike Mills and Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan. Both weave numerous complex characters through a maze of personal emotions and cultural circumstances. Mr. Mills perfectly captures a time and place. A single mother in the ’70’s is bringing up a son at the same time the country is in the midst of cataclysmic shift on how it views women. Mr. Lonegran drops us into a family minefield. It’s full of seminal moments that never go away and we are always wondering how the characters will respond. Of course there’s La La Land by wunderkind Damien Chazelle. It’s less a script and more of a visual score with lyrics. An amazing piece or work that sets the entire experience in motion. Lastly we have Lobster, which I would categorize as a species unto itself.

Pick: Richard Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer based on a story by Ted Chiang) avoids the bent on destruction visiting aliens and instead turns it into an intergalactic story of compassion and a study of time that may hold the secret of our survival. Fences (August Wilson, based on his play) boils down a broad cultural macrocosm into a local microcosm of the lives of a family and the strong personas of a husband and wife. Hidden Figures (Allison Schroder and Theodore Melfi)  lets us in on a piece of history that reminds us how easy it is to cover things up. Lion (Luke Davies from the book by Saroo Brierley) spans two continents and beautifully exploring the powerful themes of choice, assimilation, chance and search. and Moonlight (Barry Jenkins from a story by Carell Alvin McCraney) outline the essentials of three acts in the lifetime of an African American growing up in the slums of Miami.

Pick: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight



The usual suspects are represented. Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures and Lion. The fifth nominee is Silence, Martin Scorsese’s personal campaign into faith. The look of this picture is lush, textured with the quality of a fine oil painting. By far the best work done by Rodrigo Prieto out in the wilderness under stark weather and light conditions, this effort easily exceeds all others.

Pick: Rodrigo Pireto for Silence


Scores the year were a nice mix and I enjoyed listening to them well after I had seen the films. The soundtrack for Hollywood’s favorite, La La Land (Various Artists)is energetic, but mostly I only remember City of Stars. The work done for Jackie (Marci Levi) was deeply sonic and captured the gravity of those few weeks after the assassination of JFK. A personal, singular statement on the widow and mother. Passengers (Thomas Newman) is intriguing and helps the film hang onto it’s mysterious qualities. With no less than twenty-six tracks Mr. Newman tries to keep up with the speed of their spaceship Avalon. Moonlight (Nicholas Britell) draws on a collection of works in order to cover the significant passage of time, and like La La Land, the music is as much inside the movie as outside of it. Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka) add to this picture’s story in a very special way. It’s the closest to a classic score as we have this year and I think that without it the film would be significantly diminished. My pick is off book, but here goes.

Pick: Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka for Lion

Film Editing

This category is either obvious or too close to call. This year it’s the latter. Arrival (Joe Walker), Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts), La La Land (Tom cross), and Moonlight (Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders) are all so very well cut. Each required a different strategy to help the Director bring to the final vision. The one that stood out because of it’s sheer size and scope was Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert). The battle scenes alone was worth an individual achievement.

Pick: John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge

Costume Design

Space, WWII, the streets of African American neighborhoods in Miami, and an activist wizard from England visiting New York on his way to Arizona provided great challenges to the seamstress artists this year. My pick is made based on the need for variety, an adherence to an undefined period as well as making it all look really cool.

Pick: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Documentary Feature

This category doesn’t ever get much attention. The art of the documentary is lost on the majority of moviegoers in the United States. I fear that it might become more obscure as production costs drop and video technology becomes easier to use. That coupled with the rise of streaming services could marginalize this genre even further. I was riveted by Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. A tale of culture that cuts through race, sports, fame and money. Worth a look from end to end despite it’s 467 minute running time.

Pick: O.J.: Made in America

Animated Feature

My favorite was Kubo and the Two Strings. Mystical, unique with just the right amount of peril. Moana is a close second. I always love the strong girl figures who hold their own against all odds. But I think this year they’re gonna give it to the bunnies.

Pick: Zootopia


A film’s Director is it’s visionary. The steward, project manager, father, soul and so much more. Without him or her, there is no compelling story even if the village of people behind it do their jobs amazingly well. This year’s offerings tell subtle stories. Their narratives are in some cases based on truth but all are fresh tellings of the human condition.

The nominees are Damien Chazelle for La La Land. Mel Gibson, welcomed back into the tribe for Hacksaw Ridge. Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea and Denis Villeneuve for Arrival.

Pick: Damien Chazelle for La La Land



My Annual Oscar Picks – 2014

oscar-envelopeIt’s that time again. The Academy hands out their picks for best of every category. They can select 10 films for best picture, but apparently could find only nine worthy of the crown. The pictures span history, deep drama, AIDS, hijacking, swindle and a celestial exploration of the human spirit, untethered in space.

Observations. Although the themes are familiar and tightly bunched, the styles and settings are nicely varied. My overarching take is that Gravity overwhelmes all the others for technical achievement. I’m predicting a mini-sweep for Gravity in the technical categories and the film’s director for being able to successfully stitch it together. The softer, more artistic awards will be sprinkled across the vast field based on the individual effort and ultimate impact they contributed (screenplay, song, etc.) on the film as a complete work. Four of the nine best picture nominees have one word titles. with another two managing to use only two words. The Wolf of Wall Street has no chance.

A decade or more ago I was a whiz at picking these. I would have seen all of them in the theater, many twice. Read Variety each week and closely followed the pop discussions found in the likes of Entertainment Weekly. Much of that study time has been re-purposed by a busy career, fatherhood and being a husband. No complaints from me.

Since my extremely active involvement in film has been reduced, my record of wins has become uneven but that doesn’t deter me from making predictions. Let the annual ritual begin.

Picture: 12 Years a Slave

Director:  Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity

Actor:  Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

Actress:  Amy Adams for American Hustle

Actor in a Supporting Role:  Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave

Original Screenplay:  American Hustle

Adapted Screenplay:  12 Years a Slave

Cinematography:  Gravity

Animated Feature:  Frozen

Film Editing:  Gravity

Visual Effects:  Gravity

Sound Editing:  Captain Phillips

Production Design: The Great Gatsby

Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat for Philomena

Original Song:  Let it Go from Frozen

Costume Design:  The Great Gatsby

One more thing. Can we please stop complaining about how long the awards show runs?

Your Favorite Film of 2013 – Poll

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has the ability to nominate ten films for best picture in any given year. In the 1930’s and 1940’s eight to twelve films were nominated, but in the 1950’s  there was a conscious decision to limit it to five. In 2009 that rule changed, allowing ten films to be nominated. This has helped films that can’t afford to lobby the Academy members to be on the ballot for the top prize. Ever since that change ten films indeed were nominated each year up until 2013. This year’s crop consists of only nine.

The Academy has also evolved the category name several times outlined below.

  • 1927/28 — 1928/29:  Academy Award for Outstanding Picture
  • 1929/30 — 1940:  Academy Award for Outstanding Production
  • 1941 — 1943:  Academy Award for Outstanding Motion Picture
  • 1944 — 1961:  Academy Award for Best Motion Picture
  • 1962 — present:  Academy Award for Best Picture

Which one of the nine nominated films was your favorite? I’m not asking you to try and predict which film may win. Which one did you enjoy most?

Was your favorite not on the nominated list? Let me know what it was and why.

Remembering Roger Ebert

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsAny lover of film my age was heavily influenced by what Roger Ebert wrote about the movies. He was not trained in film theory and started out his career as a journalist. You might say he was in the right place at the right time as the Chicago Sun-Times decided to anoint their first film critic. Ebert was already an accomplished individual and writer and in a way entrepreneur. He was more than up to the task and in no time developed his unique style of looking at and writing about movies. He played several roles; guide, interpreter, analyst and industry watchdog. No matter your education level or understanding of film as an art form, you could easily access his reviews and find something interesting, even unique. Oh yeah, one more, teacher.

His output was nothing short of amazing, watching movies everyday, most days more than one. He reviewed nearly 250 films per year for decades and despite being stricken with cancer, continued to be a film sponge. He was probably the best friend the movies ever had because he connected them to our society through the lens of culture. When you are that deep and long involved in an industry you become a historian as well. He connected the dots across decades, genres, actors, directors, even themes. If I was forced to select one word to describe him, I’d say, rare.

Like so many people, I followed him on Twitter and read his blog to ensure I kept my film mind sharp.

In 1984 he published the  first of his fifteen books called, A Kiss is Still a Kiss. It was s chronicle of the film beat with stories of stars and filmmakers up close and personal. You got to see how near industry people let him get to them and it no doubt helped shape his personal view of the business. It was a business/industry/art form he loved and because of that special relationship he freely criticized it when he felt it was needed.

Ebert Signature
Ebert personalized his first book for me

The 1980’s was the decade I ran a bookstore chain and we had a store in Champaign, IL. Ebert grew up in the neighboring town of Urbana and attended the University of Illinois. I read in Publisher’s Weekly that he was publishing his first book and immediately contacted his publicist and arranged for a book signing event in that store during one of his trips back to Champaign. In he came with no sense of entitlement or conceit. It wasn’t that long before that he won the Pulitzer Prize, but you’d never know it. He was jovial, relaxed and engaging. We spent a good half hour before the signing time in the stockroom of the store talking movies. His all time favorite was Citizen Kane, which I was a huge fan of as well. It was such a pleasure to have had that time with him and my mind and heart will sorely miss him.

Thank you Roger for allowing me to share decades of your life at the movies and I’m so happy that I can go back and pull any of your books off my shelf and indulge in my ongoing quest to learn more about the movies.

Audio Podcast of this post: 

Kiss Ebert book

Book dust jacket scan

ebert young interview facebook 650

From Roger Ebert’s Facebook Page. Interviewing Senator Estes Kefauver, Adlai Stevenson’s running mate in 1956 for his Urbana, Illinois high school paper.

Photo of Ebert from The Chicago Sun-Times

Scan of A Kiss is still a Kiss from the collection of Steve A Furman

Side Effects – Film Review

The release of the psychological thriller Side Effects brings with it good news and bad news. First the bad news. Director Steven Soderbergh has announced this is will be his last feature film. He’s retiring from moviemaking (I don’t believe it, or just refuse to believe it). Now the good news, we get the chance to see Rooney Mara in a more normal role, meaning someone (anyone) other than Lisbeth Salander. Yes she was in The Social Network but that one doesn’t really count.

All 3 Cast Members

I’ve looked forward to Mr. Soderbergh’s films ever since he gave us the provocative Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989. He has been prolific although sometimes uneven in quality. There are flashes of brilliance; King of the Hill, Out of Sight, The Limey and a sordid examination of the drug trade and the failed war against it in Traffic. Other outings have been great fun, the Oceans movies. One film that I feel is underrated is the slowly disturbing Solaris. In Side Effects he turns out a polished mind game that keeps you interested although you have every reason not to be.

Rooney Mara plays the quiet but obviously complicated Emily Taylor. A beautiful woman who had everything she ever wanted in life only to watch it vanish in a moment’s time as her husband (Channing Tatum) is convicted of insider trading. Ms. Mara plays a human puzzle without a compass. She gives us numerous physical looks and matches, or to be exact, surpasses them with a wider range of emotional dexterity. Once in a while you hear Lisbeth in her voice, but I must give her credit for successfully moving behind The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This woman has a bright future as an actress. Emily carves out a new life the best she can, trying her hand in a graphics design shop while fighting off depression. Her husband Martin is finally released and they try to reconnect and rebuild their lives.

Emily has trouble holding it together and purposely crashes her car into a concrete wall. This causes her to encounter Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) in the emergency room after the incident. Out of professional concern, he wants to hospitalize her but is talked out of it. Actually Emily doesn’t say much. She just kind of stares and wiggles her way out of being admitted more so by what she doesn’t say. He prescribes pills and sets regular therapy sessions in his office. She has unpleasant reactions to the drugs and begins a disquieting bout of sleepwalking. During a session Dr. Banks learns of Emily’s prior therapist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and seeks her out at an ADHD convention. They discuss Emily and Dr. Siebert recommends he try a new (fictional) drug, Ablixa.

Ms. Zeta-Jones is all business. Jet black hair pulled back tightly behind her ears. Large black, non-designer glasses frame her classic face. The encounters between her and Mr. Law are quite good. I wish there had been more of them. Mr. Law has matured nicely from his younger days of Gattaca and The Talented Mr. Ripley. He has always been subtle, but in Side Effects he takes it to a new level.

What ensues is a series of carefully crafted scenes by Mr. Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns in a manner aspiring to be Film Noir. It doesn’t get there but one has to admire the effort. They weave a tapestry of clues and lies, wrapping it all up in a complicated legal technicality. Each of the three characters have made decisions that cannot be undone. They become deeply entangled in each other’s fate all for very different reasons. Alliances are formed but no one expects the other one to keep their end of the bargain. It’s every man for himself in a high stakes game.

Thomas Newman’s soundtrack nails the mood of the film. You get the feeling that the characters are hearing that same music in their minds all throughout the picture, just like you. Another stellar outing for Mr. Newman who has collaborated with Mr. Soderbergh on prior films.  Technical credits are solid but modest. Soderbergh’s camera is as fluid as always, gliding along but able to stop long enough to shape strong compositions amid the muted lighting which puts the audience in the proper visual mood.

The official film web site tries to break out of the boring template we usually see. It’s a vertical experience. Simple and interesting. Not particularly informative, but it has an excellent diversion. Be sure and click on the Ablixa link at the top of the site. If you follow the links far enough you can take a simple mental test administered by no other than Dr. Jonathan Banks who will ultimately recommend you take Ablixa. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Good fun.

Don’t go Steven!

Podcast Version of Side Effects

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review of the American version.


Photo Credit: Open Road

Silver Linings Playbook – Film Review

silver_linings_playbook_2As with so many films that examine mental illness through the lens of their characters, Silver Linings Playbook ends up like most, with the crazies saner than the non-crazies. I was hoping David O. Russell would push the envelope a bit and give us a fresh look, but the film plays it safe. Bradley Cooper is Pat (Sr.) doing eight months time in a Baltimore mental health facility. He severely beat the man he found in the shower with his wife after coming home early one day. Pat has many OCD related issues and we’re led to believe this event was the trigger to going over the edge.

Quirky people abound in this picture. Robert DeNiro plays Pat Solatano, senior to Pat Jr. The senior is a Philadelphia Eagles fanatic and was banned from the stadium years ago for beating people up. He now runs a bookie business out of his home and is uber-supersticious on game day. Pat Jr. is released into the custody of his parents and trots around the neighborhood bumping into the people he knew prior to the event. Pat Jr. is still obsessed with his wife Nikki and is convinced they are still madly in love. If only he could demonstrate to her his is now stable, all would be fine.

Enter Tiffany played with intrigue by Jennifer Lawrence. They are introduced at a dinner party by Pat Jr.’s friend who is TIffany’s brother. They make an instant connection. Tiffany’s husband was tragically killed and she has been unable to cope. The rest of the story has Pat Jr. and Tiffany jogging around the streets of their neighborhood trying to connect. It’s strangely comedic, but you get the feeling you really shouldn’t be laughing.


Pat Jr. wants to get a letter to Nikki, but dog gone it there’s that annoying restraining order in the way. Tiffany claims she can pass Nikki the letter and will do it if he agrees to be her dance partner and enter a contest at a local hotel. He agrees and the dance begins. The rehearsal scenes are really interesting as it requires the actors to do as much physically as mentally. Those hours become their real therapy sessions (minus the bill). The crazy becomes the therapists.

I swear that everyday is Sunday in this movie, and Eagles game day Sunday at that. Pat Sr. pleads with Pat Jr. to sit and watch the game. He never does. Despite all that attention on football we never actually see a play, not on television and not even when Pat Jr. goes to the Eagles stadium with his loser brother. Of course Pat gets in a fight during the pre-game tailgate.

The film is at its best when it slows down and examines the strangling consequences of mental illness. People really get lost and live life in an alternate reality and they are frequently helpless to get better. Many of these suffering people don’t know what normal (word used loosely) is, but they are keenly aware that they are not that.

Bradley Cooper is the billed star, but the movie ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. She sets the tone with her ability to manipulate the moment. When you look into her expression you absolutely know there is so much more going on beneath that face and it’s probably conniving in nature.

This film has terrible timing. It came out during a rush of serious and important film projects and when you compare them to this picture, it just can’t hold up. The soundtrack combines some excellent original work from Danny Elfman sprinkled with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Rare Earth (look it up).

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company

The Season of the Film

Autumn brings impossible colors and crisp nights. It also beckons the best films of the year to the screen. We have suffered through the winter drought, the spring chick flicks (no offense ladies) and the summer explosions to finally emerge on the other side. We are now in film art territory and I couldn’t be happier. By my loose count there are approximately 212 films to be released between now and December 25th. Certainly not all of these are worth the ticket price. If you bought a ticket for all of them you would shell out about $1,600. Not going to happen.

I am performing a great public service. I’ve done the hard work by separating the wheat from the chaff and narrowed the list to what looks to be the best chance to see great acting, invisible editing and superb directing.

  • The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson will definitely help us get really big heads. Full review.
  • Flight – Denzel Washington as an airline pilot which means only one thing; must see. Full review.
  • Paperboy – Nicole Kidman likes death row inmates (OK, I’ll bite)
  • Arbitrage – Richard Gere as a master of the universe gone way wrong (finger on the pulse) Full review.
  • Life of Pi – The latest from one of my favorite directors and always under appreciated, Ang Lee. Full review.
  • Argo – One of the few retro pictures of the season set in the geo-political world of 1979. Full review.
  • Lincoln – Steven Spielberg tackles the Emancipation Proclamation from inside Lincoln’s mind with the help of Daniel Day-Lewis. Full review.
  • Skyfall – The 23rd James Bond outing (slipped that in nicely didn’t I) Full review.
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth in 3D and at 48 frames a second; precious
  • Zero Dark Thirty – Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” fame turns her lens to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Full review.
  • Frankenweenie – Tim Burton, check
  • Django Unchained – Quinten Tarentino brings back Christoph Waltz (thank you)

I continue to maintain that the most powerful film titles employ only one word. Steven Spielberg solidified this with “Jaws” and here we have  6 of the 12 films on my list carry that torch of simplicity. Well played. Will I actually make it to all these screenings? Doubtful. But it looks like a bumper crop. Enjoy.

Political Celluloid: What to Watch when Decision 2012 is Unwatchable

It’s a presidential election year once again. Democracy is an amazing process, despite some of the gridlock we have experienced lately. I’ve never missed a chance to vote and look forward to being able to cast another one this coming November. I do get annoyed with all the mudslinging and attack ads, but that seems to be the new normal, or maybe it’s always been the normal normal.

No doubt the media, analog as well as digital, will be at full volume and 24/7 with who knows what over the next several months. Unfortunately there’s no way to avoid it without becoming a recluse. Escaping the noise from time to time is necessary, so I want to share what I do each election year to get away from the rhetoric and shrill of the campaign trail. I go to my DVD library and pull out my favorite presidential / political discs and have a movie marathon.

I highly recommend it. And to help you along I’ve chosen a select group of films that always seem to get viewed every four years. Have a look and pick one of these movies (or two, or three), pop some corn, sit back and enjoy. Oh, turn off the phone ringer so those annoying robo-calls asking for political donations don’t interrupt you.

There are probably a hundred or more films about presidents, elections and political power, but these are my favorites, listed in order by release year, latest first.

Frost / Nixon (2008) –  A searing, in-depth recreation of the famous interview that in many ways settled once and for all President Nixon’s involvement in Watergate for the American public. Frank Langella is the cold, calculating Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen is David Frost, who bet a personal fortune that he would get the goods on Nixon as well as a big audience. Takes place entirely post term and captures the time and culture perfectly. Directed by Ron Howard. Full review here.

W. (2008) – A psychoanalytic vista of the life and first term of President George W. Bush. It ultimately becomes a story of the entire Bush family and the presence of the elder President Bush is felt throughout. James Brolin plays W. pitch perfect, and surprisingly, Mr. Stone does not go off the reservation on this one. It’s toned down, compared to his other political outings. Worth a look, or another look to remind us of what things were like during the eight years under Bush. Full review here.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004) – An updated version of the 1962 classic. Soldiers from the first Gulf War are captured and brainwashed. An alternate takes credit for being a war hero and becomes a Vice Presidential candidate (Liev Schreiber). His commanding officer, Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) begins to think things are not what they seem. The details soon unravel for the master planners and they take additional actions to ensure their plan is carried off successfully. A high octane, paranoid thriller directed with precision by Jonathan Demme.

The Contender (2000) – Joan Allen plays Laine Hanson who is running  for Vice President to President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges). The story line takes many twists as the characters fight for power and to preserve their view of the way things should be. Sexy secrets are found out about Hanson who refuses to discuss them as irrelevant to her qualifications for the office. Bridges chews the scenery and Allen is steely strong. Gary Oldman is superb.

The West Wing (1999-2006) – Highly acclaimed and popular TV series covering the lives of the President and staffers inside the White House’s west wing. 154 episodes were produced and aired. This series captured the attention of millions for it’s realistic portrayal, likable characters and its occasional wink. Created by Aaron Sorkin with Martin Sheen as President Josiah’Jed’ Bartlet. Quality scripts, acting and production.

Wag the Dog (1997) – Wonderfully funny, oddly prophetic and highly entertaining. Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro are over the top. Anne Heche swears like a drunken sailor and Denis Leary is, well Denis Leary. Barry Levinson and David Mamet scooped the Monica Lewinsky scandal before it even happened, with eerie parallels. The White House staff members create a fake war to distract from the president’s troubles. Hoffman, a seasoned Hollywood producer is hired to carry out the task.

Nixon (1995) – A biographical story of former President Richard Milhous Nixon. Oliver Stone follows Nixon from his days as a young boy to his presidency, which ended in resignation during his second term. Anthony Hopkins inhabits the persona of Nixon so thoroughly that you completely forget it’s not Nixon as early as the first reel. The Vietnam conflict was a major event during the Nixon presidency and Stone, a Vietnam veteran himself, intercuts combat scenes into the political theater. He takes the filmic style used in JFK and pushes it even further, mixing eras and cultures freely across the screen.

JFK (1991) – Oliver Stone’s (again) telling of the assassination of John F. Kennedy caused quite a stir in many camps. Regardless of what you believe about the murder, this picture broke new ground in filmmaking style. It plays more as a sonic mix than an edited picture. Based on the book Crossfire, it features an ensemble cast. Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones are stand outs, while Gary Oldman nailed Lee Harvey Oswald. Special nod to Joe Pesci (David Ferrie), as an absolute loon.

All the President’s Men (1976) – Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation. Perhaps the best explanation available on the Watergate scandal. A taught drama that combines intrigue, power and investigative reporting. Excellent work from director Alan J. Pakula.

The Missiles of October (1974) – Made for television mini-series about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, three years after Castro assumes power in Cuba. William Davane plays JFK in this tense, detailed and an up close look at the process of decision making for an American President in a time of crisis. Also stars Martin Sheen. A good history lesson.

The Parallax View (1974) – Another reporter vehicle. This time Warren Beatty uncovers some nasty things while investigating the assassination of a prominent United States Senator. Ultimately he finds a conspiracy net with a powerful multinational corporation behind it all. The ’70’s produced some of our most interesting films thanks to “director as auteur” freedom afforded many filmmakers by the studios. Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men) directs.

Enjoy and please feel free to add your own favorites.

Hugo (3D) – Film Review

I had given up hope that Martin Scorsese would ever make a picture aimed at all ages. With his love of film and unsurpassed knowledge of the art form, I felt he was a natural. But with New York as your muse, there are more serious matters to attend to. Turns out, Scorsese was hit by the perfect storm. His memories of early 3D films (Dial M for Murder, Kiss Me Kate), a beautifully crafted Caldecott medal winning children’s book (The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick) with a compelling story, and of course, the birth of cinema. Marty never had a chance.

Picture opens with two sounds; a steam train and the confident clicking movements of hundreds of timepieces. Suddenly we are whisked into a massive 1930’s Parisian train station bustling with activity. Scorsese’s 3D camera is in flight and traverses the entire station. In a few moments we see everything that’s happening. Then we see the face of a very serious boy peering out onto the grand station lobby from behind a large clock. This is Hugo Cabret, a 12 year old who lives in hidden apartments within the station walls and tends the clocks. Hugo, Asa Butterfield, is intense and not very pleasant. He steals food from the station cafe and small mechanical parts from a toy shop run by a sour old man.

Hugo needs the parts to fix an automaton that sits sad and lonely at a small desk, waiting to write a clue to Hugo’s existence. His father, Jude Law–who we see in flashback–was hypnotized by clockworks and split his time between working on them and his job in a Paris museum. He and his son collaborated to restore the automaton when a flash fire at the museum took his life. Hugo is immediately taken in by his oft inebriated Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) who is employed by the train station to mind the clocks. He teaches Hugo to keep them lubricated and in good working order, and gives him a small bed in the apartment. But that’s all he gives him.

The unpleasant man at the station’s Toy shop is George Méliès, played with power and wide emotional range by Ben Kingsley. He catches Hugo stealing from him and is brutal in his treatment. He takes his detailed notebook containing the schematic of the automaton, which he recognizes. The encounter leads Hugo to meet Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), a bright, bookworm young girl who has also lost her parents, and now resides with Méliès and his wife Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory) in a small Paris apartment.

Lost parents, being an orphan, and all that goes with it plays a major role in this picture. Some of the best children’s stories begin with parents being immediately dispatched in the first paragraph. They are lost at sea or in a tragic car accident, releasing their children from  authority figures and freeing them to seek adventure without fear of being disciplined. I saw this film with my 7 year old son who grilled me at length about orphans and orphanages over dinner following the viewing. It further reinforced how the absence of parents sends children adrift.

Hugo talks about his dreams and his father and how they attended the movies. Isabelle has never seen a film, so he takes her but, they enter through the back door with the help of Hugo’s lock picking skills. She is enthralled with Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock in “Safety Last.” But there’s much more going on here than a simple adventure. Hugo is desperate to find meaning to his life and he believes Méliès and Isabelle can help unlock the mystery of the automaton to learn the answer.

Méliès is not the only player complicating Hugo’s life. The Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) is in charge of discipline and he doesn’t take his duty lightly. He has made it his mission to round up all parentless children he comes across and ship them off to the orphanage. He spars with Hugo on and off in the picture and is careful to instill in him the real purpose of a train station. “People are here to get on trains and get off trains and there are shops.” He was wounded in the war and wears a crude metal brace on his left leg. When it comes to chasing children he gets around just fine, but the brace mechanism locks up whenever his human side emerges. Cohen is quite good, has the best costume, and along with his Doberman companion, Maximilian, provides welcome comic relief to an otherwise emotionally draining story.

Hugo and Isabelle become closer. She sees him as someone who can provide her with adventure, and in return gives Hugo access to society and culture. He is drawn to Isabelle as someone who might be able to help him find his past. Despite diligent work on the automaton he is unable to make it work without a heart shaped key that initiates the crude program. Isabelle wants Hugo to take her behind the walls of the station, something that he is uncomfortable doing and turns to run. Isabelle is nearly trampled by departing train goers and when Hugo returns to save her he sees the heart shaped key around her neck. She gives him the key and he clicks it into place in the automaton’s back.

The machine draws a familiar picture that sets the two of them off on a quest to research the early days of the cinema. While in the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève they discover that Isabelle lives with the real George Méliès. The film curator at the library is a Méliès fan and has the only surviving Méliès film. They invite him to Isabelle’s apartment to screen the picture. There Méliès tells the entire story. His early magic show gave way to cinema when he met the Lumière Brothers at a local carnival. He was forever hooked and made hundreds of films. But the war changed everything, his work became irrelevant and it was systematically destroyed. Méliès was forever crushed.

All the characters have been pointing themselves to the film’s climax. A young boy’s courage and determination to solve the mystery of his own life, impacts so many others at the same time. What Selznick and Scorsese have done so wonderfully here is show the inter-connectedness of life. Nothing exists in a vacuum. All things are intertwined in a complex tapestry. Without it we are miserable. Embracing it is the nourishment of happiness.

The film evoked Cinema Paradiso for me. Another deeply passionate story of film and relationships. Scorsese’s treatment of Hugo advances our love of film and embeds it deeply into our heads and hearts, forever.

The production values in Hugo are top notch. I was anxious to see how Scorsese would employ 3D. He uses it a lot. Robert Richardson’s 3D lens moves flawlessly through the sets. Dante Ferretti created the train station and reproduced Méliès’ original film sets, providing the visual grammar for the film. The team spent five days filming on reproductions of Méliès sets, including building a glass studio complete with dragon and fish tank. And then there is of course Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing, which converges seamlessly with Scorsese’s vision. Howard Shore’s thematic score supports the emotional arch of the story, traversing mystery, boldness, playfulness, and finally optimism. Music is used liberally throughout the picture.


Was that Johnny Depp on guitar in the cafe in the chase scene? I think it might have been. I was interested that many of the clocks in the film used Arabic numerals. Train station clocks that use Roman numerals don’t use IV because it is right next to the V on the clock face. Commuters hurrying to catch their train glance up at the clock and might confuse IV from V, so clock makers changed IV to IIII to avoid the problem. I loved how most of the actors spoke with a British accent while living in Paris. Visit the official Hugo web site here.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

My Oscar Picks for 2011

This Sunday, February 27, 2011 will be the 83rd annual Oscar awards presentation. An art form with a storied past, and I believe a bright future. Although India churns out many more pictures than the U.S. each year, the art of the film and the studio are uniquely American. I’m still getting used to having 10 films in the Best Picture category, and was somewhat upset when they went to that format. But I’ve grown to understand that this change was a good one.

Despite my yearning for the past decades of real film, I mean no CGI, there does seem to be more pictures worthy of the Best Picture nomination. The expansion has allowed smaller, independent films to have their time in the sun, as well as animated efforts, which are becoming quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed Toy Story 3, the past year’s box office leader with over $415 million in ticket sales, as well as How to Train Your Dragon. Overall 2010 was flat for ticket sales compared to 2009, which might sound good given the economic climate. But Hollywood pumped a lot more into production thanks to 3D, which requires a hefty premium on ticket price. The verdict is still out on 3D on two fronts, is it a viable new economic model and does it add to the artistic value. All that aside, we can sit back and enjoy the broadcast. Here are my picks in the most followed categories.

Best Picture: It’s a dead heat between The King’s Speech and True Grit. The Social Network, despite all the buzz, is out because it’s too trendy and beyond the world most of us live in. Black Swan is dark and undefined, and the others are not substantial enough. My heart wants True Grit to win (see why here), but I believe The King’s Speech will triumph. Read my review of it here.

Best Actor: There are three levels of acting maturity in this category in 2010. Experienced in Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth. Up and coming with Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco and established in Javier Bardem. Bridges won last year and the Academy doesn’t repeat lightly. The winner will be Colin Firth for his stunning portrayal of King George VI.

Best Actress: These women are all amazing and star in smaller, more niche films. A dark horse in the race is Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone, but I have to go with Natalie Portman. The early part of her career found her in strong roles, then she drifted into softer, more animated parts. Now she’s back in a serious role. One in which she had to alter her body type to make it work. The Oscar crew loves that.

Adapted Screenplay: All of the nominated writers are deserving of recognition. Since The Social Network will not take many statues home on Sunday, I believe the Academy will award the Oscar to Aaron Sorkin for crafting this story in a manner that allows it to play as a documentary or a drama. Very difficult to pull off.

Original Screenplay: The winner here will be David Seidler for The King’s Speech. The Academy likes to recognize behind the scenes stories that places the powerful and the ordinary on equal footing. Plus, it’s a fantastic piece of writing and pairs nicely with it’s Best Picture win.

Direction: This one is tough because of the wide variety of pictures this year. Each one required a unique approach and style to bring them to life. But in this instance form follows function and so the Oscar will go to Tom Hooper for his brilliant work as director of The King’s Speech.

I’m looking forward to the broadcast. Visit the official Oscar site here. The Oscar iPhone app is a great idea, but guys, simplify the interface. Too much tapping. Not a bad first attempt though.

2010 Academy Awards – Vote Your Favorites

For years I ran an office pool on the Oscars and did very well. I’ve since dropped the gambling which was a smart move because over the last few years my predictions have not matched well with the Academy members. As we approach the March 7th awards show it’s worth noting a pretty big change. This year they have added 5 additional films as part of the Best Picture category. That’s 10, instead of the usual 5. What will this mean? I believe that it won’t have much impact on the outcome this year, but looking ahead it could set the stage for an underdog film slipping in ahead of a studio juggernaut. One injustice that will be eliminated by adding more best pic nominations is that lone director who is nominated but her/his picture isn’t.

It was a pretty good year for Hollywood. Total box office was $10.6Bn, a 7% rise over prior year. Ticket prices rose to $7.50 from $7.18 in 2008. This increase was helped by the growing number of 3D releases that cost more to film, and therefore cost more to see. I explored this in more depth in an earlier post. This trend will continue in 2010. Another healthy sign is the number of tickets sold; 1.4Bn in 2009 vs. the 1.3Bn in 2008. There are a number of factors at work here. Franchise pictures like Transformers, Harry Potter, Star Trek and the emerging Twilight attract repeat viewings. Also, there were some pretty powerful children targeted films, Up, Monsters vs. Aliens and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which benefit from the youngsters wanting to see them over and over.

As this is not an official ballot and for brevity, I have chosen only 10 categories for this poll. It in no way suggests the other categories are of lesser value. Whether you are a serious handicapper or someone who only votes for their favorites, let’s hear it.

Box office stats from

Me and Orson Welles – Film Review

Christian McKay as Orson Welles

I have been fascinated with Orson Welles since I was a boy. I had heard the recording of his famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast at an early age, and one of the first films I remember thinking hard about was Citizen Kane. Genuine prodigies, which is how I would categorize Mr. Welles, are few and far between. They can be difficult, but if one can move beyond the unpleasantness, there is a good chance you will see true wonder. No doubt Richard Linklatter saw a spark or two in him as well with his latest outing, Me and Orson Welles. The film is based on a novel of the same name by Robert Kaplow. Mr. Linklater does it justice.

Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), a 17 year old schoolboy, serendipitously strolls past the soon to be opened Mercury Theater in New York. The year is 1937 and Orson Welles, only 22 at the time, was working with John Houseman on a modern production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In a once in a lifetime opportunity, Richard is hired on the spot, no pay of course, to play the part of Lucius. Sounds great, but the play is set to open in one week, the cast is no where near ready and Richard is not an actor. He does have good looks and some raw talent, enough for him to hang on in this new competitive world of egos and broken wings.

The film chronicles that chaotic week as the company waits and waits for Orson to show up and provide direction or humiliation; depending on his mood. Richard’s guide inside the Mercury is Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), a perky and ambitious blonde who is focused on meeting David O. Selznick and movin’ on up. The various cast and crew members are working hard and sense success, but are frustrated with all the changes Orson throws at them; to say nothing of his temper tantrums.

Zac Efron and Claire Danes

Mr. Linklater is way beyond Slacker and Dazed and Confused here. I felt transported back in time with the amazing work done to recreate, in rich detail, New York in late ’30’s. That alone is no small feat. But the filmmakers went well above and beyond, bringing to life every aspect of this wonderful story. Christian McKay as Orson Welles gets so much right. The orotund voice, the dashing clothes, Cuban cigars and most importantly the attitude. Orson embodies the Mercury and never lets anyone forget it. Mr. McKay’s Orson Welles is clever as well as menacing. Orson is brilliant and original when writing or directing, but he is falls back on a rote dialogue when he needs to motivate his company of players. Near the end of the film George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin), who plays Mark Antony, has a total meltdown on opening night just before the curtain goes up. Welles orders up a bottle of scotch to fortify George and gives him the same pep talk he gave to an eavesdropping Richard just the day before. Welles always seems to get his way.

Pic is strong on all technical aspects, especially Dick Pope’s cinematography, which succeeds in giving us both a film and a play visual language in the same movie. The crew had to blend their shoots in London, New York and on the Isle of Man into one rich tapestry. All supporting performances are well played. One of the things that stood out for me was how the actors cultivated two personas; one for on screen and the other for their on stage performance.

Mr. Efron looks to be someone to watch in the future. He combines cool with an artsy flair. Richard is taken with Sonja and puts his new found career possibilities at risk to try and win her. In the end he learns many lessons of life and love. I would recommend Me and Orson Welles to moviegoers who like period pieces that are smart and have historic roots.

The official Me and Orson Welles web site is here. Photos courtesy of Cinema NX. Follow this link to read a brief history of the Mercury Theater and Orson Welles.

Up in the Air – Film Review

George Clooney as Ryan Bingham

I wondered how a film where the main character’s job is to fire employees for firms that are looking to downsize is getting so much attention in this economic climate. My guess is the filmmakers frequently debated how they would position and portray those difficult “letting workers go” scenes and instead turn the focus on the core of the story. They succeeded. Although a significant amount of time is devoted to them, Up in the Air is centered on Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) and his search for a life he doesn’t even know he’s looking for.

Mr. Bingham is apparently one of the best in his field. He travels over 300 days a year, touching down in cities big and small to deliver bad news to everyone he meets. He’s cool, calculated and right to the point. Partly because he has to be for legal reasons, but also because even for Ryan, this is tough work. Yes it’s a job, but one senses Ryan has an undercurrent of sincere empathy beneath that professional facade.

All is right in Ryan’s little world. He loves the special treatment elite status affords him by airlines and hotels across the country. Every transaction is viewed as an opportunity to accumulate airline miles that brings him closer to his goal of 10 million. He has this traveling thing nailed. Nothing is packed unless it’s needed, and he knows exactly what he needs. Every move is choreographed with a specific purpose, eliminating every ounce of waste and inefficiency from his professional and personal life. So much so that he has carved out a niche for himself on the speaking circuit entitled What’s in Your Backpack.

Director Jason Reitman tries to squeeze Mr. Clooney’s chiseled good looks into almost every frame of the film. It’s a good strategy, but he goes one better. Through short vignettes inside the film, Mr. Reitman uncovers the inner workings of Ryan’s one track mind with fast cuts of Ryan packing, getting through TSA security and checking into jetliners and hotels. A wonderful device that advances the story and foreshadows the films final scenes.

Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran

One night while unwinding in the hotel bar, Ryan spots a very beautiful woman, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), sitting in a tall chair looking bored. He strikes up a conversation, about reward programs of course, and soon they are tossing down their loyalty cards in show off style. One thing leads to another and soon they find themselves in the same hotel room. Arrangements are made to meet again.

Ryan’s boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), calls him back to the home office in Omaha to unveil something revolutionary. A whipper-snapper employee fresh from Cornel, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), has convinced Craig that all this travel expense is completely unnecessary. Instead the firm should use technology to fire people. It’s dead simple. Put a computer monitor in a client’s conference room and fire the people via video conference. Job accomplished without anyone ever setting foot outside Nebraska.

Ryan is threatened by this as it will pull him off the road and crush his lifestyle. But it’s not just the prospect of losing miles opportunities that bothers him. He feels that being face to face is crucial to helping people who have just heard devastating news transition to a new opportunity. He demonstrates his point effectively by making Natalie fire him as if she was online. The message gets across to Craig and Ryan is asked to show Natalie the ropes on the road so she can better understand the process. He refuses at first, but eventually accepts his new sidekick and off they go.

I was prepared for this to go all “buddy picture” on me, but the filmmakers were able to rise above that with thoughtful dialogue and removing the “I’m going to sabotage this” temptation. With Natalie as an observer, Ryan demonstrates how it’s done. During one session a gentleman flashes photos of kids and asks what he should do now. Ryan has done his homework by reading through the man’s resume in advance. He points him back to what was once his career love, completely changing the mood of the conversation from doom to potential.

Pic is shot through a realistic lens with almost no special effects. They also use real airlines and hotel properties which succeeds in bringing the audience closer to the story. There are an abundance of shots of clouds, views of the ground from 32,000 feet and wide array of corporate settings. Thanks to great editing the film has crisp pacing and holds dramatic interest. All the performances are excellent, especially Mr. Clooney, who showcases his timing and wit. Ms. Farmiga is seductive in her portrayal of the male version of Ryan Bingham. Supporting actors turn solid work, rounding out the story. I love these kind of pure films.

Natalie and Ryan have very different life philosophies and their banter serves to expose both the advantages and disadvantages of the choice each has made. They nudge one aother back from the guardrail and more toward the center of their beliefs, setting up a finale that delivers an emotional jolt.

Highly recommended. The official Up in the Air web site can be found here. Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Avatar – Film Review

Avatar is in a word, ASTONISHING. Many aspects of the storytelling are familiar but the way in which James Cameron unfolds the story is, in every respect, entirely new. He has has kept his formidable storytelling skills but this time wrapped them in an imaginative presentation layer unlike anything you have ever seen. That theme plays out over and over as you sit through 2 hours and 30 minutes, which seems to go by as it were 90. That thought is “I’ve seen this before, but never in this manner.”

The year is 2054. The planet is Pandora. Man is in his usual greedy gold rush mode to take someone else’s natural resources for his own personal consumption, regardless of the cost. We see most of the usual suspects; science, business and the military. Surprisingly there are no political figures at the table. Wonder how they managed that in only 44 years?

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sgourney Weaver) is the scientist. She’s tough as nails and a stickler for details, but has a secret wish to believe in magic. The only reason she’s associated with this mission is to fund her research. The corporate top voice is Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), who’s only concern, at the outset anyway, is keeping the shareholder quarterly reports in the black. The military man is a very scary Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). He’s all duty. Tightly wrapped, flawlessly trained and in complete charge. You can bet even his fingernails have muscles. Of all the characters in the story, his motivation and purpose is the most pure and unwavering.

Pandora is at once a dangerous and enchanting land. But it feels a lot more like a rain forest on earth than a faraway alien planet; nasty animals and exotic plants notwithstanding. It’s inhabits are the Na′vi who are tall, willowy  and blue with flat noses and sparkles on their faces. They have very long tails to help maintain balance as they navigate the forest limbs and an extensive pony tail fitted with a live plug on the end enabling it to access Pandora’s vast nerve network through animals and plants. The Na′vi have learned to enjoy and thrive in their world. The invading earthlings, who have used up their natural resources back on earth need to mine a precious substance that is abundant under a vast tree where the natives make their home. It seems like a simple enough proposition. The Na′vi move to a different tree and the humans get the goods. Yeah, well…

When it becomes obvious that talks are going south, the humans give diplomacy a twist and one last try. They enlist Dr. Augustine to create replicants of the Na′vi by combing DNA from both species into Avatars. Humans are then able to take over the Avatar bodies from a dream state induced by what looks to be a cross between a tanning bed and an MRI. When the human Avatar controllers are asleep they’re counterparts are awake and can be controlled inside the Na′vi tribe. The plan is to gain their trust and persuade them to move. Otherwise Colonel Quartich will deploy a more direct method.

That’s where hardcore marine Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) comes in. Sam is twin brother to the man who was being trained to take over an Avatar, but was killed in a skirmish before he could reach Pandora. Sam is confined to a wheelchair and has no formal training, but he gets a shot because of the DNA sharing.

Everyone wants Jake to find out information to further their personal cause. He commits to the Colonel, mostly because of the corps and duty, but as time goes on the line between human world and Na′vi world become blurred. While in his Avatar body, Jake meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) an exotic beauty and member of one of the upper crust families. She is instructed by her father to train Jake in the ways of the Na′vi, and does so with an iron fist. Jake becomes more and more separated from his military life and is seduced by the simpler, more harmonious way of living. Cameron uses voice over sparingly, but very effectively to give us clues along the way. “Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.” As the film advances Cameron makes Jake look more like his Avatar when present in the human world. There is a metamorphosis under way on many levels.

Much of the talk of the film revolves around the technical aspects of Avatar and Cameron’s wizardry with new cameras and breakthrough 3D effects. All of that discussion is justified. Let it be proclaimed that 3D has officially moved beyond “effects” and has taken its place as part of the grammar of the film. Has it “changed everything?” No, but it certainly will challenge everyone from here on out. Personally I hope this will be the catalyst that moves Hollywood off the stagnant explosions and recycled garbage into a new phase of sophistication and economics. The current formula is obsolete and has kept many cinema lovers away from the theaters. Raising the bar on content and production value might very well expand the runway for an entirely new creative revolution, as well as business model, that can engage a broader audience. Cameron just may be an Avatar inside Hollywood.

The actions scenes using CGI and 3D are spectacular, but I found the more static scenes of actors sitting around a table more visually compelling than some of the action segments. We expect the CGI to be otherworldly, but to have everyday interactions so rich in depth and texture is a wonderful surprise and I believe it’s the space where real creativity can best occur with 3D going forward. It’s a bit like looking at a topographic map on celluloid.

Back on Pandora it becomes clear that a deal cannot be struck and Colonel Quaritch baits Selfridge into taking action. Parker is having second thoughts. He’s the only character in the entire film not in a uniform. When we first see him he has on a tie, a nod to corporate regalia, but he quickly strips that off as he wrestles with the final decision. In the end we learn he is a mere puppet.

Everything builds up to the final battle. Each side summons forth their own alchemy for victory. The fighting takes place in the air and on the ground as the “sky people” guide their helicopters, gunships and robots against the natives who are aboard the winged Banshees of Pandora. Jake has provided good intelligence to Quaritch but also brings what he knows about humans to bear in a fresh strategy for the Na′vi, complete with weapons and communications devices.

James Horner’s soundtrack is big, wonderfully inspiring and refreshingly varied. It resembles his score for Titanic at times, but when we are deep in the jungle of Pandora he borrows heavily from Native Americans, giving these scenes more of a tribal feel than science fiction. All the characters are sharply drawn and the performances are sound on both the human and Na′vi sides. Look for pic to garner much critical acclaim, lots of Oscar nominations and a big box office take. Highly recommended.

Visit the official Avatar web site here.

Photos: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Moon – Film Review

Moon 1The classic science fiction drama has been all but dead for nearly a decade. Thoughtful, provocative storytelling of another place in time and space is a rarity in today’s U.S. cinema. The last one that comes to mind was Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris, and it was based on the novel by prolific writer Stanislaw Lem. I, Robot was a good attempt, but like so many other modern films of this genre, it was too slick with too much CGI. I won’t even talk about Transformers. I had all but written off the experiences that made me fall in love with sci-fi and propelled my interest in film. Works like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1950). 2001: A Space OdysseyPlanet of the Apes, A Clockwork Orange and later on, Silent RunningBlade Runner and Aliens, fulfilled the wonder and curiosity that was sparked when my sister gave me a copy of The Martian Chronicles for my 9th birthday. I know I’m being a bit harsh, as there are some contenders in A.I. Artificial Intelligence; possibly even The Sixth Sense. But these are exceptions that had to swim upstream against a raging river of special effects and tone deaf dialogue.

I moved on, accepting that yet another thing from my youth had been taken over by a new generation enamored with technology. But then I bought a ticket to Duncan Jones’ Moon. All those memories and hope that we still live in a world where they actually build sets out of raw materials and put actors in front of cameras to, well, act came rushing back. Moon is not a great film. But it is a work of ingenuity and courage and like the early pictures in the genre is more grown up.


Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is approaching the end of his three year contract with Lunar Industries where he lives on the moon and watches over robots mining for Helium-3. That H-3 is then shot back to earth on rockets where it provides 75% of all Earth’s energy needs. His only companion is a robot named GERTY (voice by Kevin Spacey) who is programmed to prepare meals, monitor Sam’s health and keep him safe. In between his astronaut routine, Sam works on a balsa wood model of a city, reads, tends to his plants and watches delayed video broadcasts of his wife and young daughter who are waiting for him back on Earth.

There only a few weeks to go when suddenly he becomes ill. Each day brings more symptoms from coughing up blood to having hallucinations that other people are in the Lunar station with him. While out on routine patrol in his rover he has an accident that renders him unconscious. Suddenly a younger, more energetic man appears, identical in looks to Sam. The new character brings the injured Sam back to base where they carry on an intense relationship, both searching for who the other one is and why they’re there.

At first they are at odds, but soon they join forces and together uncover the shocking truth. In the final scenes compassion and empathy take over, even GERTY joins in, assisting the two Sam’s in successfully carrying out their hastily crafted plan. It’s part revenge, part survival.

Mr. Jones pays detailed homage to the original, brainy sci-fi films. He evokes their pacing and calmness but updates them just enough to make this picture his own. His camera is not afraid to stand still and allow the audience to take in the sparse surroundings.


Mr. Rockwell has an everyman quality that invites speculation that he was probably in dire straits back on earth and that’s why he took up this lonely assignment. His physicality plays a major part in his performance. We watch Sam 1 deteriorate while Sam 2 gains in strength. Mr. Spacey is the calming robotic voice paired with smiley face emoticons that give Sam at least some feedback to help him while trapped in an emotional elevator ride.

Technical aspects are nothing special, but fit well into the visual style of the film. Clint Mansell’s score is solitary, almost muzak-like, but edgy at the same time. I do recommend this picture, but don’t go expecting a Transformer’s ride. Go because you want to slow down and observe film craft that carefully builds a story. You can visit the official Moon web site here.

Images: Sony Pictures Classics

Movie Studios Try to Reinvent Themselves in 3D

3dglassesU.S. film studios enjoyed a lock on the moving picture experience for many years before television invited itself to the party. Movie moguls were afraid that television was replicating the movie house experience so they completely changed the format from a standard 4:3 aspect ratio screen to a much wider screen. This helped them differentiate the experience in hopes of continuing to attract the public to paid showings. It was for the most part a successful strategy. But home theater has advanced significantly over the last 15 years and now many consumers have wide screen TVs that display beautiful high definition pictures. Blu-ray HD DVDs are coming close to replicating the visual acuity of the theater experience without the expensive ticket price and even more outrageous prices for tubs of popcorn and soft drinks.

The studios are working hard on 3D. Not a cheesy version usually reserved for blood bucket, low budget pics, but one that is much more refined and ready for grown-up subject matter. This potential evolution might seem radical, but these are desperate times, so anything goes. Studios think they can charge significantly more for a ticket to a 3D version of a film vs. the standard version, perhaps as much as $25 per seat. When you couple the increased profits with a unique experience and throw in world class filmmakers like James Cameron, it’s a tempting proposition for investors.

There is one minor glitch. The film houses are not ready for the switch to 3D. Exhibitors must upgrade the technology to be able to project the new format, which can cost up to $100,000 per screen. The studios hoped the exhibitors would pick up the tab, as their part of the investment, since the studios would bear the additional production expenses (shooting in 3D can add up to $15 million to a film) as well as the need to also produce and distribute a regular version of the film for the foreseeable future.Unfortunately the credit markets are a bit frozen right now, so the technology upgrade money is not available.

Of the approximately 40,000 screens in North America, only 1,300 of them are ready with the 3D technology. The story is much bleaker oversees, which is important to note, as well north of half of a film’s grosses come from that market. But Fox is readying James Cameron’s Avatar for a prime December release date. Many other major studios have numerous 3D projects in the pipeline, including Pixar, putting even more pressure on the system.

It’s an interesting problem that studios find themselves in. The entertainment world expanded so quickly and there was is much pressure to produce profits, that simply making great films hasn’t been enough for a long while. Franchises like Batman and Spiderman have helped studios stay viable. They have launched web sites that promote films using social media functionality as an accelerant to their astronomical marketing budgets. Other owned media properties are leveraged to promote and sometimes even re-purpose material for the home screen.

We have seen the television networks completely give up on drama and turn their slates over to the reality format for the last few years. The cable networks like HBO and most recently with AMC’s Mad Men are leading the way with serious subject matter that is garnering critical acclaim and engaged viewers. The movie studios must guard against over-betting on the potential promise of 3D profits only to find themselves in a creative wasteland.

movie-theaterObviously not ever project will work in 3D, and ultimately the consumer will decide if 3D is a great new format, or simply a trick to squeeze more money out of each ticket. But there is another major consideration. If it does work the studios could ruin their home video distribution channel by not being able to at least approximate the 3D experience. If someone loved it in 3D but can’t have that same experience at home for repeat viewings, will they just pass on renting or adding that film to their collection? There are firms working on 3D TV, but it’s not ready for prime time yet.

My advice to the system is be cautious and think through the life-cycle of the product. Hollywood needs more sources of value, not less. Theatrical box office revenues will not make up for lost home video sales. The infrastructure is simply not there and films have such a short shelf life in the cineplex. And above all, don’t leave the serious film projects behind.

YouTube and the recently launched MeHype site are giving rise to personal production companies. It certainly is no threat to the craftsmen in Hollywood, but consumers don’t seem to mind lower production values as long as they can be entertained. Netflix is moving quickly on their streaming concepts and partnering with LG for OEM tests. A TV is not a PC, at least not now. I will be watching this space closely.

Settling the Screen Actors Guild Dispute: A Proposal

The Screen Actor’s Guild is on the verge a strike, much like the writers last year. At issue is the amount of compensation actors receive from digital/internet medium revenues collected by the studios. Standard contracts were written before the internet was a mass medium and the actors want the terms adjusted. They feel the studios earn an unfair percentage of these revenues. It’s not an unreasonable request and both sides should address it quickly and resolve it without a work stoppage if at all possible. Although there is not much money coming in right now from the digital world, it will likely grow and so the actors are trying to get ahead of the curve.

A unique opportunity for partnership

Instead of dividing the spoils, I ask both sides to stop and consider a completely different path. One that looks out at the horizon and nurtures both talent and audiences for decades to come. Here’s my proposed solution.

  • Negotiate the digital performance rate that is fair for both sides
  • Begin tracking the new rate at an agreed upon time (June 1, 2009 for instance)
  • Place the incremental funds into a holding/investment account (not run by Bernie Madoff)
  • Use this money to fund an emerging film artist education program
  • Establish a panel of members made up of studio personnel and actors to set guidelines and award the funds
  • All the funds would go to supporting this new program
  • At the end of 3 years, 50% of the incremental revenues would then begin going to the actors
  • At the end of 6 years, the program would be dissolved and 100% of the royalties would then be awarded to the actors ongoing

Like so many things we face right now, it’s an opportunity to completely reshape the industry for the future. Schools and universities are struggling to keep art programs alive as funding becomes more difficult in this economic environment. Keeping young people interested in acting and film is incredibly important for the future and health of the industry. This new source of money could establish serious filmmaking and acting programs at the high school level, something I think is non existent right now. It could also help prop up college departments as well as inject new energy into local civic programs. The discretionary time consumers have is steadily moving away from viewing films and more to other forms of entertainment.

I would suggest a focus on dramatic acting and more classic filmmaking, moving away from video game vehicles and more toward the golden age of cinema we saw in the 1970’s and is rapidly fading away as a genre of movies.

I call on the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Studios to seize on this opportunity to enrich the future of the entire industry. It’s a long term view, something I believe we need a lot more of these days.

Through a Glass and Darkly – Veterans Day

My Father's Grave - Camp Butler

Today, Veterans Day, is a day to reflect and appreciate the countless citizens who served or are now serving our country in military uniform. My father and his brother were in the Navy in WWII, having enlisted right after Pearl Harbor. Dad served in the Pacific Theater and was involved in numerous battles from his medium-sized gunship. As part of a first generation of immigrants from Austria, he was grateful for his country and proud to serve. My mother and her four sisters moved from the Midwest to San Diego when the war broke out and went to work in the aircraft factories. Everyone sacrificed and viewed those sacrifices as just part of what you did. I am fascinated to listen to my 89 year-old mother talk about those times today. She never complained about years of her youth being interrupted by war. That the love of her life, the man that would be my father, was shipped off with the full knowledge that he might not return. They served as a matter of duty. My mom paints a stark contrast between WWII and the wars we are in today.

But if you’re a solider, it doesn’t matter under what circumstances you are sent to war. You go. You serve. You do your duty. Nothing could possibly diminish that dedication and sacrifice.

When I came of age the armed services draft had just ended, so I had a choice, and chose not to have that experience. I was on the tail end of the Vietnam cusp and remember that rebellious time so very well. It was the first televised war and people called it “unpopular.” It kind of begs the question. What does a popular war look like?

I’m keen on the cinema, so when any eventful day approaches I comb my collection and watch a film that is significant to me and the day. You have to understand, I put on films the way many people would pop in a CD. Movies are the visual soundtrack of my life.

For this Veterans Day I chose Patton. The 1970 classic that capped a decade of extraordinary films devoted to exploring WWII. It was co-written by Francis Ford Coppola (I have argued for years that he should write more) and dominated by George C. Scott in a tour de force performance that garnered him an Oscar in the title role. I’m watching the film on Laser Disk format. Yes, Laser Disk. I actually miss that form factor. Great sound.

Patton was obviously a controversial character. He was a brilliant military strategist but completely unconventional. Although he prayed daily he was convinced he had fought in all the important battles in past lives. Maybe even in battles beyond Earth. This poem, Through a Glass Darkly, provides a revealing window into the mind and soul of someone who has been a warrior for lifetimes.

Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listed to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.

I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.

I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.

I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.

Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I’ve called His name in blessing
When after times I died.

In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.

While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.

Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite’s leveled spear.

See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.

Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.

Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.

I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.

Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy’s field I lay.

In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.

Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.

I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.

And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor’s Star.

Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in it’s quivering gloom.

So but now with Tanks a’clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell’s ghastly glow.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.

Thank you veterans!

Don LaFontaine, Voice of the Movies is Dead

We all know the voice. It’s the one you hear when you’re sitting in a darkened movie theater waiting for the feature presentation to begin. The trailers for coming attractions are projected and so is that voice. Deep, diction perfect, clear like a galloping horse in the night, cutting through the lighting fast visuals and overpowering the thundering music. You can hear it right now can’t you?

That voice belonged to Don LaFontaine who passed away this week at the age of 68. He was the voice of the movies, over 5,000 of them and more than 350,000 commercials. Astounding! He was the only game in town, and this was one time a monopoly turned out to be a good thing.

The voice speaks for the brain as well as the heart. It can be calming, alarming, or down right annoying. As an avid moviegoer I have seen hundreds of trailers. If the movie seems intriguing, you hang on his every word. If the film looks stupid, you turn off the visuals and turn up Don in your mind. He was a constant and I will miss him.

Apparently his ego did not grow with the number of films he worked on. He had talent beyond his voice, frequently writing much of the copy himself. It was performance art, a finely honed craft. If he had time he would take a moment and record a voice mail greeting for a friend, or even a complete stranger. Wouldn’t that be a keeper.

The big question is, what will Hollywood do now? Can someone take his place? Highly doubtful. Will people notice? Yes they will. Visit Don Fontaine’s official site here.