Archive for January, 2009

Dawn Treader Salvaged by Fox

Posted in News on January 29, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

Peter T. Chattaway blogs some big news: Fox is producing the next installment of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was cut adrift by Disney late last year.

Keeping in mind that Fox is responsible for one of the great film tragedies of this decade – cutting down Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven to its anemic theatrical release and relegating a masterpiece to an ignominious fate – this is bittersweet news.  I’m glad someone’s taken it up, but I’m not looking forward to the inevitable batch of multiple cuts.

Ebert, Elevation, and Emotion

Posted in Miscellaneous with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

Roger Ebert’s latest blog post talks about the impact that a great film has on a viewer; he describes the ensuing emotional impact as Elevation, which is apparently gaining notice in the psychology community as a newly defined emotion.

This got me thinking about some of the films that have moved me into a state of Elevation.  Many films have moved me in some way, but very few have given me those rare chills you get when witnessing a work of greatness.  Even fewer have moved me to tears.  Those that have done so have earned a special place in my heart, and remain favourites of mine for all time.  Here’s a sampling:

moolaade

The Chills List:

Once – The second scene of the film, the one where Glen Hansard is playing and singing his own material.  It is one of the great long takes I have seen, capturing the raw fury and emotion of Hansard’s performance and transmitting it into a tidal wave of passion that soaks the audience in feeling.  This is the only film I’ve ever seen to make that impact in the first five minutes.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Boromir’s death.  Beautifully acted and presented.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – You already know what it is.  The arrival of Gandalf and Eomer at Helms Deep is likely my favourite cinematic moment in the history of the medium.  This is a perfect scene, a perfect union of all of a film’s elements into one flowing, seamless, living work of beauty and glory.  It was one of the very few moments in a film that never, ever gets old.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Chill moments include the charge of the Rohirrim at the Pelennor, Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate, and yes, Sam’s “I’ll carry you!” moment on the slopes of Orodruin.

Moolaade – Near the end, when the women confront the village elders.  What a beautiful, powerful film.

Gladiator – The very last scene or two.  Definitely the crane out bit as Djimon Hounsou walks out of the Coliseum.

Casablanca – The singing of La Marseillase.  I think I cried last time I watched it, but it always gives chills.  One of the most beautiful, stirring moments in film history.

Glory – The best moment in a film full of many “best moments” – “Give ‘em hell, Fifty-Fourth!”

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – Both films end on similar notes; Christopher Nolan’s intent seems to be send the audience out on a climax and forget the denouement.  Batman Begins ends perfectly, with Batman’s and Gordon’s wonderful exchange: Gordon: “I never got to say thank you.”  Batman: “And you’ll never have to.”  Fit that with the rising score and the film ends on bam.  The Dark Knight’s closing monologue is even better, and considering Batman’s decision at the end, involves far more bittersweet, and yet uplifting emotions than its predecessor’s conclusion.

On The Waterfront – Karl Malden’s mid-film speech in the belly of a cargo ship is as good as they come; Marlon Brando’s final effort to stand up to the brutal dockworkers union is unforgettable.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – It’s my favourite Disney film, and a wonderful film.  Quasimodo’s rescue of Esmeralda, climaxing in the “Sanctuary!” bit, gets me every time.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – The courtroom inquisition is one of the more electrifying scenes of this decade.  My spine tingles every time Sophie Scholl states to her persecutors “You will soon be standing where we stand now.”

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – The filibuster stand-off.

Chariots of Fire – The whole film is big trip, but I always get heady at the end as Eric Liddell runs his race, all of his past echoing in his mind.  Oh, and the scene where Sam Mussabini realizes that Abrams has won the gold medal.  Extraordinary.

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The Tears List:

Braveheart: This was the very first film to make me cry, I think.  William Wallace’s dying cry looks and sounds hopelessly corny on paper, but when you add the flowing direction of the scene, Gibson’s impassioned portrayal, and most importantly, James Horner’s magnificent music, you get an extraordinary combo.  I’m almost convinced that Horner’s strings discovered a secret frequency that triggers tears automatically.  Either way, I’m a sucker for this moment every single time.  And I couldn’t be happier.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – The ending.  The more I experience this film, and the older I get, I am more and more appreciative of one thing involving these films: Peter Jackson and company absolutely nailed the ending.  I don’t care about all of those complaints about how it went on forever.  It’s a huge story; why would you expect it to just wrap up quickly?  No, you complainers are completely wrong and should learn how to appreciate a well-executed conclusion.  Jackson and his fellow writers gave this scene room to breathe, to live, and they nailed the tone of the scene perfectly.  It may be the single most perfect moment in the trilogy in its faithfulness to the books.  The hobbits have been through so much, and now one is departing forever, and…gosh.  The scene works because we’ve spent the time with these characters; we love them and know them and don’t want to see an end.  And yet it is this ending that is full of hope and peace and assurance that all they have struggled through was not in vain.  The mixture of joy and hope and sorrow and love mixes into a deadly concoction that reduces me to a quivering bag of uplifted feeling.  This my favourite ending to a film ever.

The Passion of the Christ – Then again, this is also my favourite ending.  Mel Gibson deserves credit for closing this two hour ordeal with a simple, curious, beautifully shot one-take where Jesus rises from his deathly slumber, takes a moment to breathe, to feel the sunlight on his face, and then rises and strides calmly out the frame.  The Passion is not complete without the Resurrection, and ending the film here sends the audience out on a note of hope and joy unparalleled by any film I’ve seen, except perhaps for Return of the King.

Blade Runner – The “Tears in Rain” speech.  There is something about the arrangement of the words, so carefully recited by Rutger Hauer, that trigger a release in me.  It happened on second viewing, the first viewing that is unencumbered by the demands of following a plot, and has continued to hit me every time.

United 93 – I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Black Hawk Down – This film hits me more and more the older I get.  On my first viewing (at age 13) it was just a very good action flick.  On second viewing (age 15) it was a complex portrayal of a deadly event.  On third and fourth and every viewing after (age 17 onward) it has become a powerful tribute to those who serve in the military.  Eversmann’s closing moment with a dead Jamie Smith is beautifully understated in such a way as to open the floodgates of elevation and feeling.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Yes, it’s another ending.  Andrew Dominik’s carefully handled conclusion of this beautiful opus breeds such sorrowful emotions.  It’s a beautifully executed piece of editing and especially scoring (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis), as it slowly but surely rises to its inevitable final frame.  It’s bittersweet and steeped in pathos, and drew tears to my eyes as I reflected upon it.

Spartacus – It’s been a few years, but I have a lingering memory of getting misty-eyed near the end of this epic.

Blood Diamond – Ed Zwick knows how to push my emotional buttons.  If he were a poor filmmaker, I would mind, but he isn’t, so I don’t.  Djimon Hounsou’s speech to his estranged son had me quietly tearing up in the theater, as does the last time we see Danny Archer, finally finding some peace and meaning in his life.

I’m going to leave the list at that for now.  What about you?  What are the films that have left their marks (the good kind) on your life and experiences?

So Long, Edward Longshanks AND Khan Noonian Singh

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

Patrick McGoohan has died.

 

Update (4:15 pm PDT): Ricardo Montalban is no longer with us.

Harry Knowles has a tribute worth reading at Ain’t It Cool.

Why I Fell Off The Heroes Bandwagon

Posted in Reviews - Television with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

Gabriel McKee summarizes the reasons why I no longer watch Heroes.  What he says has been bouncing in my head in one form or another since I started watching the show in 2007 (doing the entire first season over one frenzied week of viewing), but I could never really put my finger on it.  McKee has.  He’s dead-right.

First season was compelling in its serial format, but in the end there were only about three episodes (the Pilot, Company Man, and maybe one of the near-last ones) that were really worth seeing.  The other 20 odd shows were for commuting to those moments via extremely long detours.  To call second season a train wreck would be an insult to legitimate train accidents.  I gave up about the third episode of season 3, as it was no longer terrible, just terribly mediocre.

This show is dead.  Not that it was ever really alive to begin with.  Let it die, and soon.

Back From the Cone of Silence; Some Quick Thoughts on Benjamin Button

Posted in News, Reviews - Film with tags , , , on January 5, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

ben_button_poster

Well, it’s 2009.  Another great year ahead.  My holidays were spent back in Ontario with family and friends, and a great time was had by all.  It was good to get away from the hubbub for a couple weeks.

Now, as for the business of this blog, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll soon be posting a tentative Best of the Year list, with some comments thrown in taking a look back at the film year of 2008.  There are still loads of titles I need to catch up on, which will take months, but I’m confident in naming some of the films that impressed me the most.

Lastly, I want to say a few words about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I saw this past weekend.  It’s a beautiful film, and a rather beautiful tale.  It’s been awhile since I enjoyed a film that functions so well as an in-depth, observant story.  Both Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett give magnificently understated performances, and their supporting cast rings true in each and every case.  The film’s technical crafting is flawless, from the golden-brown tinged cinematography to Alexandre Desplat’s simply moving score.  It’s a wonderful film…

You knew there was a “but” in here somewhere.  Benjamin Button is just about flawless until its final moments, which drop off coldly and deny the audience any kind of satisfactory climax, or catharsis, or anything really.  It’s jarring and a let-down, which may be the point, but I think it kind of cheapens the overall build-up the film generates over the course of its lengthy running time.  It takes time throughout its body to make insights into life, death, the passage of time; most of which are movingly and poignantly stated.  I find it frustrating that a film that, while not bracingly sentimental, is easily the warmest and most beautiful piece of film that David Fincher has ever crafted, drops off ambiguously without any kind of resolution for characters we have come to know and involved with.  Assumptions are rampant, but that’s not enough.  The film successfully drew me into its world, its characters, its story, its everything.  And then it left me at the side of the road, shaking my head, trying to figure out where it threw me off the bus.

Benjamin Button is an exquisitely crafted work of art.  It deserved a conclusion more fitting of that reality.

Because of the strength of its initial 160 minutes or so, I’m going to say it’s still one of the best of 2008.  But this is a key example of how a poor ending, or even just a so-so one can negatively impact an entire feature film.

Stay tuned…