Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Academy Goes off the Deep End

Bruce Broughton defends actions after rescinded Academy Award nomination - CBS News

Composer Bruce Broughton has been stripped of his Academy Award Nomination for a song he composed for a small Christian based film. The song was a surprise nominee because big time music figures who made contributions to other films did not get nominated and this did. There is not a clear statement concerning a rule violation, instead the implication is that because Broughton is a former governor of the Academy, that a personal e-mail carries with it some extra onus and maybe even intimidation. Having read the e-mail in question, I have to call BS on that. His tentative outreach was not to the entire music branch, and it is the mildest form of promotion you can imagine. The idea that he is using his position in the Academy as a way of gaining a nomination is preposterous. If this were true, no one actively serving on the board could ever hope their work in the industry could be nominated  at the same time they are volunteering to administer Academy business.

These people are shooting themselves in the foot and doing so in a way that is embarrassing and humiliating to a working professional who has given his time to the very institution that is now stepping on him. Unless there is some other issue that remains in the background, this is an incredibly unfair act and probably completely unnecessary. The chance of this piece of music winning the award is zero. There is more pressure in the guilds and production centers to vote for any nominee than this little film could ever muster. If I were a member of the music branch, I would be writing to the Academy at this very moment, protesting this decision. I would also be worried that any time a famous big time musician got bypassed, that someone is going to suffer the consequences of a political hissy fit.

Listen to this beautiful piece of music and know that the people who worked on this still have something to be proud of.

I had never heard of this movie before but I am now going to look for it and try to watch and post on it. I hope that the low budget and other limitations still allow a good story to be told. Mr Broughton, I have heard your music in many films and television projects and they have always been worthy and professional. You have probably heard for years how great the score from "Silverado" was. Hold your head up high and know that you did nothing wrong, this is just the cutthroat industry that you have made your living in for many years. There are wonderful people in the industry but there are also a lot of self important ass kissers. You stepped on someones toes by asking for the same kind of consideration that anyone else would be entitled to and they would usually demand it at the top of their lungs. I'm sorry you have suffered this indignity. I hope that whatever set of envious colleagues were responsible for this travesty will certainly receive the karma they have earned from this tantrum.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

I will admit up front that I have never read a Tom Clancy novel. They were ubiquitous accessories in the times that I lived through. Almost everyone I knew carried a copy of one of the Jack Ryan books and thumbed through them at bus stops, in waiting areas of restaurants, any place where time was to be passed and long before the internet was available for us to kill that time with. Next to Stephen King, Clancy defined the world of popular fiction in the 1980s and 90s. When the first incarnation of Ryan arrived on screen in the form of "The Hunt for Red October" I was sold. This was a different kind of spy game and I thought the films did a good job making the stories work on screen. Jack Ryan was played over a twelve year period by three different actors and all of those movies worked to some degree or other. It has been twelve years now since this character was on screen and the reboot seems like it should work and we can look forward to some more of Dr. Ryan over the next dozen years.

It looks as though this is an original story rather than an adaptation of one of Clancy's works. The update, getting Ryan involved through a 9/11 epiphany seems completely realistic for the times. In the long run it may date the movie, but I still can watch "Red October" even though the Soviet Union is long  gone so maybe it won't matter. The helicopter accident that was mentioned in the 1990s films, becomes a part of an origins story for this movie. I liked the concept but the rapid time forward makes the focus less about Ryan and his character and more about the "evil plan" of the the moment. It is a convoluted attack on America, involving short selling of American bonds and a coordinated terror attack. It is fortuitous that the Russians have themselves rebooted to their cryptic and totalitarian ways. The current intransigence of Moscow makes this script a lot more believable in a time when most terror threats originate from the Islamic world of fundamentalist warriors.

Chris Pine is an up and coming star. He has a great look and he is capable of acting so if given a chance, the character may be sustainable for a period of time. The script here gives him some early opportunities to show us his chops, but once the plot kicks in, mostly it is action based yelling and jumping that will characterize his role. His best moments are trading lines with director and co-star Kenneth Brannagh. Each of their scenes together gives Pine an opportunity to play smart and to use body language and dialogue to tell the story. When we arrive at the climax of the attack, there is basically nothing to distinguish Ryan from all the other hard guy spies that we have seen in other movies. The motorcycle chase near the end makes very little sense except it keeps the star in the center of the action.

The director's greatest asset in my opinion is himself when playing the role of actor. Sometimes in a story like this, we are given a bad guy who has legendary skills but those are only talked about rather than displayed. Except for a perfunctory introduction to us as a bad ass character who kicks the crap out of a sloppy nurse, all of Brannagh's work here shows us his intelligence and dangerousness with skilled acting. Brannagh holds the screen with his face and his voice. He barely smiles even when it might be the right way to play off the covert agents he is up against. The traditional Russian accent is authentic enough without being reduced to a caricature of Boris Badenov. You can see menace and intelligence in his eyes. The script gives him a superfluous disease that is used only for a character point for Kiera Knightley's doctor to notice. His calm delivery of the dialogue involving the simple torture he plans for his captive is more disturbing because we are listening to a serious character and not just a bogey man.

Knightley is fine as Ryan's future wife, and the best joke in the film involves her discovery of his true job. Kevin Costner is solid in the role of recruiter and operator for the spying activities of the young Jack Ryan. He could easily have been cast in the role himself back in 1990. Had that happened it's likely that instead of two relaunches of the character, we would now be seeing some of the more mature Ryan stories that feature him in a position of political power. You can't rewrite history, so we will never know how things might have gone differently. "Shadow Recruit" is an effective action spy thriller, but it is not particularly special. The best thing about it is the performance from Kenneth Brannagh, but there is plenty of potential for long range development of the character, with some stronger plots. Generic but entertaining.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Best Movie Theaters Los Angeles - Screenings, Films

Best Movie Theaters Los Angeles - Screenings, Films

I've been to most of these venues. The newer ones with the fancy amenities are not yet an experience I've had but The Nuart, Vista, Chinese, Sunset 5, and Arclight  are all gems. The Silent Movie Theater has great programming but an uncomfortable venue. Left off of this list is the great Egyptian Theater, which is only used for special programming which may be why it did not make the list.

I saw JAWS at a screening at the Vista back in 2009, got to meet screenwriter Carl Gottlieb there.

Take a look and imagine seeing a great movie in a great theater.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014


The new year starts for me with one of the great small films that got released at the end of the last year. "Nebraska" has been talked about since the Cannes Film festival way back in May of last year when Bruce Dern was given the award for best actor. Since that time, it's reputation has grown creating more anticipation and earning several end of the year accolades. There certainly deserves to be attention thrown at the actors in this film, they all do an outstanding job of playing some cantankerous, confused, concerned and conniving personalities. There are several aspects of the story that ring a little close to home at times but in the end, the story manages to be about the connection we have with our loved ones, even in the most trying of times. 

Dern plays "Woody Grant", a delusional old man who is not particularly likable. He is not a mean man or particularly sneaky although once or twice he does say things that might be hurtful to his younger son. The one thing he definitely is however is determined. Having had some first hand experience with elderly dementia, I can say it was easy to relate to the frustration that his family goes through when he is determined to get to Lincoln,Nebraska in order to collect his imagined prize. He is not infirm and his level of dementia is not such that he can easily be distracted. His good hearted son David, played by Will Forte is willing to indulge him so that he does not have to lie to his old man. That desire to do the right thing, even in the face of a ridiculous assumption and obsession, makes David more and more like his Dad than he might have realized. Several times in the story, we hear how "Woody" was taken advantage of by people in the past because he could not say no to them. David repeats the pattern because even though he trys to argue and convince his father that the prize is an illusion, he can't bring himself to lying and decieving his father or putting him in a home.

It is not hard to play a grizzled old man if you are one, and Bruce Dern's long career has prepared him for the role in a lot of ways. He has been making films for more than fifty years and some of the parts he played were unsavory ones. I'm not sure the number of times he played a saddle tramp, dirty and disheveled in some Western, but it is certainly a lot. He also has played crazy before. In the late seventies, if you were looking for a disturbed character actor as an antagonist, his name was probably on the casting list of everyone in town. His performance in this film is more nuanced. He is not supposed to be insane, just mildly obsessive and delusional. His mannerisms reveal a weary frustration at times with the lack of respect that he now commands with his wife and sons. Having been a milquetoast husband and alcoholic father it might be understandable why everyone would expect him to lay down when they draw a line. Dern however shows us a man fighting for respect, far past the point that anyone might be able to earn it. This is not a sentimental portrait but it is an honest one. He does not have as much dialogue as some of the even more peripheral characters but you can tell that his quiet face and bent body are not to be taken lightly. There are no histrionic scenes of emotional revelation. At one point when it is revealed that he had an affair with a woman between the time his first and second sons were born, he does not explain or apologize. There is a mildly sheepish and guilty look on his face but it was not a moment of revelation to him the way it was to his son. Woody manages to accept the judgement that his action might have been wrong and he can see that his son feels betrayed, but Woody knows that it is the past and life needs to be lead in the future. Back in 1985, Geraldine Page won an Oscar for "The Trip to Bountiful", the story of an old woman's return to her childhood home. That film was filled with sentiment and nostalgia. Woody's visit to his family roots, stirs some old memories but they never threaten to bring a tear despite the sadness. That's not the kind of guy Woody is and Dern plays those scenes with quiet introspection but not trying to hit an emotional geyser

I probably identify with Forte's David more than is healthy. My relationship with my father was certainly closer and warmer than the relationship at the center of this story, but both of us feel protective of our old man's dignity and legacy. Despite the fact that his father is infuriating in his single mindedness and that he is a somewhat sloppy drunk, David still manages to find a well of patience to tap whenever he gets a little overwhelmed. Although there are a couple of medical emergencies that take place in the course of events, they are not used to bring the father and son together so much as they exist to show how willing the son is to make some effort to sustain the old man. I don't apologize for the way my father was but I do try to explain how he saw things and why I usually could take his side, sometimes even when he was wrong.  That was the tone that Forte manages to bring to the role. The character of his brother is a little less defined, but in his own way he conveys the same sort of attitude. Woody's wife appears to be somewhat bitter and sarcastic and at times not very loving. She is also irreverent and fiercely committed to her husband despite the caustic surface. June Squibb is getting a lot of attention for her role and in the back seat of the car, as the brothers try to remove their parents from some of the situations they find themselves in, she and Dern are well matched older people who understand each others idiosyncrasies.

The pace of the film is slow, and there are some wild characters that might stretch credulity, although I have been to enough funerals and family functions to know that relatives can get crazy at times. The final resolution of the story is a bit of an indulgence for David to make but it is deeply satisfying despite the fact that those coincidences of timing on a late drive through town just are not likely.  The town is full of good folks and bad ones, and the idea is a solid answer to the heart of what Woody really needs. This is a terrific film that grows on you the longer you are immersed in it. The opening hour will test your patience but if you can be like David, the rewards in the end are worth it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Traditional Top Ten for 2013

Happy New Year Everyone

Before I give you my listing, the three films that moved in and out of my top ten deserve to be mentioned as well. One last minute film bumped "Saving Mr. Banks" off the list. "About Time" was on the list at one point but was bumped by "Saving Mr. Banks". "12 Years A Slave" is a fine film and hovered on the edge for me. Ultimately I was just not moved in the same ways that everyone else seems to be by it. The horrifying depiction of human cruelty may have suffered because I'm not sure how repeatable the experience is for me. This is not really a list of the "Best" films of the year, it simply represents my set of favorites. It is of course subjective, but I could enjoy seeing all of these multiple times. The original reviews are available by clicking on the posters shown below.

10.  42

This is a social movement film that describes an important change in the American character and the greatness of one man. Jackie Robinson achieved his place in sports history not just because he was the first black player in the major leagues, but also because he was a great player and a courageous man. The story will probably be seen by many as too conventionally told but it hits all the important emotional points and it works on each of them. It also has the advantage of having my favorite movie poster of the year. The image to the left here depicts a baseball move, but look at Robinson's right hand, it is raised and clutched in defiance. The fact that this horizontal activity is depicted vertically, makes it more interesting and maybe even symbolic. Harrison Ford gives a terrific performance as Branch Rickey, the baseball man who saw the future.

9. The World's End
 This movie is on the list for one reason, it made me laugh and it made me laugh hard. I was chuckling all the way to the car after the movie was over and still laugh just thinking about it. Simon Pegg has become one of my favorites in the last few years. He has a comic persona but can play a good dramatic turn as well. I was late to "Shaun of the Dead" but "Hot Fuzz" was on my radar before it opened and i was there that first night. The idea that these films are in any way connected story wise is just part of the joke that everyone seems willing to go along with. The set up of the movie was excellent and the characters were played straight. When it takes a sharp turn two thirds of the way in, we are willing to go along because the characters were so strong to begin with. I know I will be watching ten or fifteen minutes of this every time I run across it, and I know that if I have the time, I will end up finishing it.

8. Drew: The Man Behind the Poster
As a movie, this documentary about the illustrator Drew Struzan is pretty conventional. There are a lot of talking heads sharing opinions and telling stories. The fact that those talking heads belong to some of the greatest film makers of the last thirty years is what begins to tell you there is something different here. I looked forward to this movie for about a year before it opened. I love movie posters and I love poster art. Too many posters now are simply photoshop creations. Some of them are attractive but they are rarely artistic. Drew Struzan makes art. I'm not sure I know how one distinguishes illustrator from artist, but I am confident that Mr. Struzan is esteemed by people in both fields. The movie played at a film festival here in Southern California and that's what allowed me to meet both the director and the subject. Each of them was gracious with the few moments i spent talking to them and it was a highlight of the year for me.

7. American Hustle
In terms of quality, this may be the best picture of the year. I thought it was extremely well written and turned an interesting historical event into an entertaining story with some clever additions of romance and "Sting" like story deception. As a collection of performers it would be difficult to find a cast that did a better overall job than this one. All of the major characters are effective in their roles with special attention going to Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. These two women are the current generations version of Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, sexy in non conventional ways and talented as all get out. This is director David O. Russells third film in a row to knock it out of the park, he is in the sweet spot of his career right now and we are lucky to be a part of it.

6. Evil Dead
The thing that most scared me when I knew this was coming was that it would suck. The original "Evil Dead" is a touchstone horror classic from the 1980s and it was straight out frightening. The sequels went more for humor mixed with scares but the original practically invented the cabin in the woods genre of horror movies. The one thing that gave me some confidence was that the original film makers were overseeing the new crew and they would not want their legacy to be tainted. Some of the other sites I read did not like this but i thought it was everything I hoped it would be. There was gore in service of the story and characters, the effects are for the most part practical, there are some good subtle nods to the original without becoming campy and best of all, it was frightening.

5. The Conjuring's right, I've got two horror films on my ten favorite list and they are back to back. Where "Evil Dead" goes for the visceral horror, "The Conjuring" is more suspenseful and builds to it's frights. There a smashing opening that seems to have little to do with the later events but of course in the end it will be connected for us. This is a moody, haunted house piece that does not reinvent the genre, it just does it's job efficiently and with professionalism. There are CGI moments but they are used with restraint, which seems to be the main problem I have with most films in this genre, when it's time for the boogie man to show up, it is often not as frightening and sometimes it is visually distracting.

4. Gravity
 This movie looks amazing. The images could convince you that it was filmed on location. I have seen a couple of pieces critical of the science or a storytelling technique or two, but those criticisms miss the bigger picture. This is an ambitious film, told on a grand scale about some of the most intimate feelings we as human beings have. While others have been beating the drum for Cate Blanchett as the best female performance of the year, I know in my heart and in my brain, that Sandra Bullock completely owns this move and this solar system. If you go to the movies to be wowed, than this is the movie to go to. It impressed me repeatedly. This is the kind of movie that 3D IMAX films were made for. I hope it will translate to other platforms because the story and the performance deserve equal attention to the look of the movie.

3. The Way, Way Back
One of those little movies that can, does. A coming of age story that has a few twists and a genuinely appealing performance from Sam Rockwell. The scenario is a little complicated but the story is conventional. The characters are incredibly real and the dialogue is full of sparkling insights about growing up and relationships. Allison Janey will slay you every time she opens her mouth. This is a funny film that has some genuine heart and the performances are winning. It crawled under my skin and just stayed there, daring me to try to rid myself of the warm happy feeling it gave me. I expect this to be a summer perennial at my house. 

2. Rush
The real life story of a Formula One rivalry from more than thirty years ago did not seem to be something that I would fall in love with. I'm not a race fan and although I vaguely remember the incident, it was not of historical significance. None of that mattered once these characters came alive on screen. The fascinating point of the story is how competition compels us to make ourselves better and that competition means someone else is challenging us. The two lead actors are excellent and the race sequences are well staged. Somehow this movie pulled me in and as I sat in the theater after it was over, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm for the film. This movie has disappeared from most people's radar for end of the year accolades, I say it easily is better than the new Scorsese film and equal to the other films that are being bandied around now. This is an adult film for grown ups who want to be intelligently entertained, not shocked or pandered to.

1. Mud

This film contains a more subtle performance from Matthew McConaughey than the one he gave in "Dallas Buyers Club". I prefer it but both of those roles are terrific showpieces for an actor who has been slumming in rom-com world for far too long. Here's the thing though, McConaughey's performance is not the best one in the movie. That was provided to us by a child actor named Tye Sherida. Kids performances may be hard to gauge because sometimes they are just being kids and that's all the part calls for. This was a lot more complicated and difficult and he pulled it off while being surrounded by a pretty impressive cast. This film came out in April and is now making the rounds on cable. Be sure to take some time to see it. The less you know about it, the more I think you will enjoy it. From the time I saw it, it was on the top of my list and nothing that has come since has been able to dislodge it.

End of the Year Wrap Up

This year was certainly better than last year when it came to the diversity of quality films. I still worry that I see too many sequels and comic book based movies but I have to say there were several that I enjoyed quite a bit. When I get to the traditional top ten list later, I was surprised to see that there were no animated films near the top. Last year I had two and in 2010 I had three. Monsters University was as close as I could come and it was not that close. Also missing from my list will be a few surprises. I love Star Trek, but "Into Darkness" just missed the list. "Man of Steel" was one of my most highly anticipated films of 2013, and the more I think about it, the lower it drops in my esteem. "The Wolf of Wall Street" was not just a disappointment to me, it kinda ticked me off. Before I pass out my accolades to the movies of the last year, I want to comment a bit on my own blogging efforts.

I try to look at a variety of blog pages from people that I have encountered on line. I visit Keith and the Movies,  The Cinematic Katzenjammer, It Rains...You Get Wet, and Every 70s Movie on a daily basis. Several other bloggers also are worth visiting, I just don' always have time every day, they include Morgan on Media, Citizen Charlie, And So It Begins, and Scopophilia Movies of the 60s, 70s,80s. Two of my favorite blogs however are not daily blogs, My Movies My Words is a project by a writer on the other side of the country and I enjoy Eric's take on films but he posts when he can rather than on a regular schedule. Finally, Fogs Movie Reviews has discontinued publishing but Dan still has two years worth of posts that you can go back though and enjoy.  Many of these sites are more prolific than I could ever hope to be and some of the writers have a way with words and insights that frankly intimidate me a bit. I am however happy with what I manage to produce and by way of narcissistic-ally looking back over the year I producede this inventory.

Blog Record for KAMAD

I did some kind of post on all 89 trips to a movie theater that I made this year. That was a lot of AMC Stubbs reward points but also a lot of money spent.

69 New features released this year
11 Classics seen on the big screen years after their first appearance in theaters.
9 VLOG posts on the companion site
41 Posts that are not strictly reviews this includes blogathon reviews, MIWETS on Fogs and My page, and assorted commentaries on movie related issues.
341 Different films watched during the year. At least forty of those were watched a second time so I definately averaged more than a movie a day, even if I did not post on all of them.

A Few Favorite Posts

Not a top ten list but some of the Reviews or Commentaries I most enjoyed writing this year:

Ten Favorite Moments from 2012  A countdown of favorite moments from films in 2012, most of these moments lasted thirty seconds or less. It was fun to put together but the video quote from Piranha 3DD is missing because the film was taken down (Probably by my own daughters company).

      Shelby: Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina.

Kirkham A Movie A Year  A quick visual trip though my 55 years on the planet.

My Secret Lair

King Kong Times 3  A personal reflection on the three versions of the story of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Three Perfect Movies   Do yourself a favor and watch any of these gems that not everyone is aware of. If I ever need to cheer myself up, I put in one of these 3 movies and I am happy again almost immediately.

Happy Birthday Strother Martin A salute to one of the great character actors of all time, and a man that I knew slightly because he was related to me. (Visual Proof Included)

The Adventures of Robin Hood on the 75th Anniversary of its release. This is the original post and it still has the video links that were not copied to the Favorite film page.

Jaws: The Vlog Link  This link will take you to an epic forty-five minute video on the movie. I yak for about twenty minutes, There is a quick interview with some guys at the theater in costume and then Amanda and I debrief for about twenty minutes. A big investment of your time, but I had a blast doing it.

Top Ten 007 Movie Posters  I was inspired by Eric from "My Movies, My Words" and then was re-blogged by Michael at "It Rains ...You Get Wet." Another chance to talk about one of my favorite subjects, Bond, James Bond.

Not the Posters but a Laser Disc Re-Creation

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster  This may have been the film going highlight of the year. I got to meet the subject of the film and have a short conversation with both he and the director. Look for the movie either on DVD or Streaming, a fascinating look at a real artistic genius.

CK Secret Santa Blog a Thon  My secret Santa gave me a terrific classic to post on. If you go to the link there is also a link to the Cinematic Katzenjammer site that compiles all the secret Santa Reviews.

Movies I Want Everyone to See  I was privileged to write for Fogs Movie Reviews for almost five months. This is the review I did for my wife's favorite movie and one of the things I'm most proud of writing for that now closed site.

Next Up, the Traditional Top Ten List. Check back soon, it should be up sometime on January 1, 2014.