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Wednesday December 24, 2014

The Best Movies of their Lives?

“Five Came Back” by Mark Harris focuses on the activities of five Hollywood directors before, during and immediately after World War II. Basically what they did during the war, daddy. 

Here are the first movies each made after the war, and how many Oscars each was nominated for:

  • Frank Capra: “It's a Wonderful Life” (5)
  • John Ford: “My Darling Clementine” (0)
  • John Huston: “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (4)
  • George Stevens: “I Remember Mama” (5)
  • William Wyler: “The Best Years of Our Lives” (8)

I know. It would be tough to find five more beloved movies than those.

Of the five, only “I Remember Mama” isn't watched much anymore; or maybe it's just I who haven't watched it. Otherwise, you have the great postwar movie, one of the great westerns, one of the great tales of greed, and the most popular Christmas story Hollywood has ever produced. Astonishing. Each man came home and told the tale he needed to tell. 

The Best Years of Our Lives

Returning from war in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

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Posted at 10:00 AM on Dec 24, 2014 in category Movies
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Friday December 19, 2014

The Genius Moment of 'Star Wars'

Here's Chris Taylor, author of “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, in a must-read interview with Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker

To my mind, one of the genius things about “Star Wars” is that it was one of the first movies to really say, “This is in no way, shape, or form connected to Earth.” It’s “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Even with superheroes, as soon as you set it on Earth, you’ve limited it to one culture or another. But “Star Wars” is irredeemably distant. From that initial moment of genius sprung so much of what we love about “Star Wars.” 

To my mind, too. From my nearly 20-year-old review of ”Star Wars“:

Perhaps the most imaginative thing we see is the first thing we see: The words ”A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." This allows George Lucas to come up with anything his imagination desires. He does.

I still remember thinking, in 1977, at the age of 14, how visionary that was. Unlike almost every other attempt at sci-fi at the time, it wasn't the future and it wasn't Earth. It wasn't us. It was somewhere far away and at a time waaaay in the past. That seemed genius to me. Still does. 

Read the whole thing. Most interesting tidbit for me? That in Lucas' Vietnam-era mind, the Empire was the U.S. military, the Emperor was Nixon, and the Rebel force (Luke, Obi-wan, Wedge, etc.) was North Vietnam. Someone alert Rick Perlstein.

 Star Wars original poster

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Posted at 09:42 AM on Dec 19, 2014 in category Movies
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Thursday December 04, 2014

Christoph Waltz is the New James Bond Villain. What Does He Have in Common with the Last One?

Christoph Waltz

Heeeeere's Blofeld! Another foreign actor goes from best supporting actor to Bond villain. 

Apparently we have a new James Bond villain for the 2015 Bond movie, “Spectre.” Apparently it's Christoph Waltz. Shocking casting.

This would be, what, the fourth Bond movie since the Daniel Craig reboot? So who have been the Bond villains and who have been the Bond girls during this period, and where have they come from? 

Glad you asked. 

Year Bond Movie Bond Girl Country Bond Villain Country
2006 Casino Royale Eva Green France Mads Mikkelson Denmark
2008 Quantum of Solace Olga Kurylenko Ukraine Mathieu Amalric France
2012 Skyfall Berenice Marlohe France Javier Bardem  Spain
2015 Spectre Lea Seydoux France Christoph Waltz Austria

Lesson? Both bad guys and sexy broads come from someplace else but sexy broads come mostly from France. Bad guys? They're from anywhere. Anywhere except the UK and the USA.

How does this compare with the previous Bond incarnation, by the way? The pre-9/11 Bond played by Pierce Brosnan?

Glad you asked.

Year Bond Movie Bond Girl Country Bond Villain Country
1995 GoldenEye Izabella Scorupco Poland Sean Bean UK
1997 Tomorrow Never Dies Michelle Yeoh Malyasian Jonathan Pryce UK
1999 The World is Not Enough Denise Richards USA Robert Carlyle UK
2002 Die Another Day Halle Berry USA Toby Stephens UK

A bit different. Pre-9/11.

For what it's worth, the last time an American played the Bond villain was in 1989's “Licence to Kill,” which, as Bond movies go, kinda tanked. Robert Davi was the actor. And the last Brit to be Bond girl? Maryam d'Abo in 1987's “The Living Daylights.” 

Even so, French girls and sinister foreigners (West European) isn't a bad model for the new Bonds. And even better if the sinister foreigners have recently won a best supporting actor Oscar, as the two most recent Bond villains have. 

So which other recent best supporting actor winners might make a good Bond villain? 

Glad you asked. Here are the recent winners:

  • Jared Leto
  • Christopher Plummer
  • Christian Bale
  • Alan Arkin
  • George Clooney
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Tim Robbins
  • Chris Cooper

Bale would be great. So would Freeman. Imagine him applying his twinkly smile and smooth baritone to the villain's role. But if you want the full Monty—best supporting actor and non-US and UK national—you have one choice in the 21st century, Benecio del Toro, who played a memorable but small-time punk in the last Timothy Dalton Bond movie. Before del Toro, you'd have to reach all the way back to 1984 and Haing S. Noir, who died by 1996 at the age of 55. Apparently non-USA and UK actors tend not to win best supporting actor. 

So I guess the ultimate lesson from this dip into Oscar and Bond history is that while foreign best supporting actors may make great Bond villains, they're few and far between. 

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Posted at 01:05 PM on Dec 04, 2014 in category Movies
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Friday November 28, 2014

'Five Came Back' Trivia Question

According to Mark Harris' book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,” which Hollywood movie did Joseph Goebbels call “an exemplary propaganda film for [the] German industry to copy”?

Answer in the comments section ...

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Posted at 04:43 PM on Nov 28, 2014 in category Movies
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Wednesday October 29, 2014

Berenice Bejo in Seattle

This past week, the Seattle International Film Festival (a year-round organization) put on a mini-French film fest, and last night Berenice Bejo, my No. 2 French film crush (after You Know Who), arrived to introduce her film, “Le dernier diamant” (“The Last Diamond”).

The film? Eh. Her? Pow. Here she is before the show with SIFF's artistic director Carl Spence (who, for some reason, is blurry in all of my amateur shots):

Berenice Bejo at SIFF festival in Seattle

Berenice Bejo at SIFF in Seattle

Vive le difference!

No, not that one. This one: As I was thinking the usual idiot thoughts (Pretty ... but wearing oddly baggy clothes ...), Patricia leaned over and said, “I think she's pregnant.”

So far nothing in the media about it. Is this a scoop?

Berenice Bejo in Seattle

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Posted at 05:44 AM on Oct 29, 2014 in category Movies
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