viernes, 30 de abril de 2010

Review #12: The Band Wagon (1953)



The Band Wagon (1953)

Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan

Directed by: Vincente Minelly

Released by: MGM

Synopsis: Former musical star Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is struggling in his career. He travels to New York to partake in a theatrical project by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily Marton (Nanette Fabray). But when musical director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) decides to put his own twist on the play they realize that putting on a show will be harder than expected.

Review: While Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain will always be remembered as the best and most popular MGM musical it certainly wasn't the only one ever made. The Band Wagon starring Fred Astaire (who would define the film musical genre long before Gene Kelly's time) is one of them. While it doesn't quite surpass the achievements Singin' in the Rain accomplished it's no slouch when it comes to being a film musical.

The first thing you will notice is how the movie is more about telling the story than about putting on a show (a sweet irony considering that the film is about making a Broadway play), putting it on a different league than Singin' in the Rain. Fred Astaire may be best known for his singing and dancing, but he is also quite the actor. His portrayal of Tony Hunter is a well developed one, starting the film as a bitter actor and ending as a re-invigorated performer. It's his growth as a man and artist that fuels a great deal of the film's plot.

That's not to say that the music is lacking. It may take a slight backseat to the story but they are definitely the heart and soul of the film. Even if Astaire is slightly aged in the movie he can deliver a memorable performance like no other, especially in the number "Shine on your Shoes". The rest of his co-stars keep up with him very well. Most notably is Cyd Charisse as Gabrielle, a ballerina that challenges Tony in more ways than one. Their dance number, "Dancing in the Dark" is a beautifully choreographed scene and perhaps the best in the whole movie. Other notable dance numbers include the "Triplets" number and the crime mystery fantasy.

Unfortunately, as great as these sequences are, considering it came a few years after Singin' in the Rain they are quite tame in terms of energy. The numbers are definitely grand and at times very inspired, but some of them lack the enthusiasm seem in previous film musicals. The other issue I had with the film is that the storyline doesn't take enough risks. It's the basic "putting on a show" plot that was done to death by the time The Band Wagon was released. Granted, the character of Tony Hunter adds a lot to the plot, and several scenes go beyond what the plot demands. It's far from horrible. It just doesn't quite stick to you.

The Band Wagon, regardless of its flaws, is still a very enjoyable film with a classic storyline told very well. Fred Astaire and crew remind us that creating a show from the ground up isn't without its challenges, but it's all worth it once the curtain comes up and the audience is on their feet, applauding the great show they just witnessed. It's the foundation musicals, and films, are made on.


Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5

This review is dedicated to Albert Gutierrez, part of the famous New Jersey trio and a great member of the WEDnesday Show and Ultimate Disney, who recommended me this film and brought an interesting analysis of the comparisons between this film and Singin' in the Rain. Thanks, Al!


lunes, 26 de abril de 2010

Review # 11: Jaws (1975)



Jaws (1975)

Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Released by: Universal Studios

Synopsis: When the shores of Amity Island are threatened by a Great White Shark police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is powerless to stop it. He teams up with Ichthyologist Matt Hopper (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to try and put an end to the menace once and for all.

Review: If you have ever wondered if movies can have a subconscious effect on its audience then look no further than Jaws. While the film is at heart a horror film it's very different from its predecessors. In the past, the threats were always unreal (monsters, aliens, deformed creatures). In Jaws, the threat the characters face is very real, as in, it could happen in real life! This scared many audiences back when the film was first released, and made them fearful of the ocean; even if in reality the chances of being hit by a car are higher than being the victim of a shark attack.

This effect is achieved thanks to excellent pacing and a sense of horror that is never overplayed. The first example of this is the shark itself. In most modern horror movies, you see the threat the minute the film starts. In Jaws, we don't see the shark until the middle of the film, after a great deal of the movie has gone by. Even if the shark is not seen the threat is there, it's feels real. The sense of horror is further increased by the music. Composed by John Williams, the now iconic Jaws theme song is played only when the shark is nearby. Once you hear the song you know the shark is about to attack. It's one of the most effective uses of theme songs ever seen, and a talent John Williams would later use to greater effect in other film epics.

In the hands of an incapable director Jaws would have been a very boring and slow film. Luckily, we got the talents of Steven Spielberg, who would continue to make great films with excellent plots and characters we care for.

Speaking of characters, not only is the horror well presented the characters are some of the best seen in a horror film. The horror genre is infamous for giving us stock, stereotype characters that are unlikable and unrealistic. In Jaws, however, the characters are quite human. Brody, in particular, is no superman or a highly respected authority figure (people just plain ignored his first warning despite his rank as a chief). He is just an average, New England man and a father figure who is truly concerned about the safety of his friends and family. Matt Hopper is also a great character. Technically the nerdy scientist of the film, Matt, like Brody, is very earnest, offering us some authentic reactions to the development of the shark hunt. Even the archetype characters (like the doubting mayor and the eccentric shark hunters) are given extra depth in their portrayals, a rarity in this kind of film.

The other commendable element in Jaws is that even if it’s a horror movie there are some very calm, even soothing scenes. These quiet scenes exist to give character development, explore the storyline and give us some great shots of the New England coast town. This is a very rare thing in movies of this caliber. It gives the viewer the chance to relax before they are spooked further, the calm before the storm so to speak.

This might be the rare case in which the film is nearly perfect. The only thing to be said against the film is that to modern audiences Jaws may be slow, outdated and even boring. But this isn't the film's fault. Modern audiences have gotten used to horror films which are bloody spectacles with very little emphasis on plot development. Jaws is a pioneering film that proved that you could have a great story and still be bloody brilliant even if the actual threat is unseen for most of the movie.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5


This review is dedicated to Tony Lopez. Not only is he a big fan of this movie, it's his birthday today! Visit his website Lopez Cinemas as well as his YouTube Channel and support this great talent!


viernes, 23 de abril de 2010

The First Ten Reviews!


Ten Reviews!

It took a while, but Filmstrip Memories is now home to ten classic film reviews! The goal is to reach one hundred reviews before year's end, so with ten reviews down only ninety reviews are left. Will we make it? Of course we can!

In case you missed them, here are the first ten reviews in order. Which one of these films is your favorite?

1. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

2. Some like it Hot (1959)

3. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

4. Sullivan's Travels (1941)

5. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

6. Pete's Dragon (1977)

7. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

8. Gone with the Wind (1939)

9. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

10. Casablanca (1942)

Keep supporting the site and I promise to keep delivering great content for you guys!



Review #10: Casablanca (1942)



Casablanca (1942)

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rain

Directed by: Michael Curtiz

Released by: Warner Bros.

Synopsis: Just as the world is facing the wrath of World War II, Casablanca becomes both a prison and a refuge for many victims of war. Cynical and cold man Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs a night club where its patrons think up ways of escaping while trying to have fun. But when the ghosts of his past haunt him with the arrival of his past love Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), he must now choose between her love and fighting against the enemy forces.

Review: Many film experts have declared Casablanca to be one of the best romance films of all time. While I won't argue with that notion, to me Casablanca is more than a love story. The film speaks a lot about the values of freedom and patriotism during the war, and presents many of its characters as victims of a battle between the world's forces. It gives the movie a lot of depth that at first is unseen. This creates some of the best scenes and lines ever committed to film.

That's not to say that the love story is superfluous to the plot as it's definitely one of the biggest driving forces in the film. This is thanks to some great performances by Humprey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as Rock and Ilsa respectively. Both are well developed characters whose passion is felt throughout the story. Rick in particular is a well developed character. Easily mistaken for the tough guy stereotype, Rick is actually a very complex character who is severely affected by the war as well as the betrayal of his true love. He is forced between each persona, and his decisions ultimately affect the outcome of the story. The scene in which Rick is drinking his pain away after the bar has closed perfectly presents this side of his persona. Ilsa is also a great female lead with just as much complexity as the male lead character, being forced to leave Rick behind for the sake of freedom. It's these elements that make the film one of the best romances ever conceived.

But like I explained already, Casablanca is more than just a great love story. It's a fantastic war story set in a beautiful and exotic land. The grandiose settings aid the film in its authenticity, giving us a memorable setting to accompany the already epic storyline. The supporting characters also give the film important plot points and expand on the film's ideals. We see all sides of the war, from the enemy forces to the victims caught in the turmoil. Each side adds significantly to the story, giving us clear characters to cheer for as well as detest.

In there's something to talk against the film, though, is that some plot points deal heavily with the war, making it at times hard to follow and might confuse the average viewer. There is also a slight problem with pacing. Some scenes tend to go on for a while without anything significant happening, and then we are thrown back into the melodramatic scenes. These two things make a film that at times is hard to follow.

Despite the presence of these small flaws it doesn't ruin the achievement that is Casablanca. The storyline, hailed as one of the greatest romance stories ever, is successful at being multifaceted. It presents us a great love story as well as a war story, giving us very intriguing characters that we care for and strive to be in our daily lives.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



miércoles, 21 de abril de 2010

Review #9: The Wizard of Oz (1939)



The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick

Directed by: Victor Fleming

Released by: Metro-Goldwyn Mayer

Synopsis: Kansas country girl Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) wishes for a life of adventure and escape the hurdles of everyday life. But a tornado transports her to a most magical place, the Land of Oz! From there, she embarks on a journey to meet the wonderful wizard and escape the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). Along the way, she meets the most colorful cast of characters to have graced the silver screen: the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) and the Tin Man (Jack Haley), all under the guidance of Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke).

Review: When Disney released his first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, little did he know that he was setting the standards very high not just for himself but for everyone else in the industry when it came to quality family films. Why do I mention this? Because if it wasn't for the roaring success of Snow White The Wizard of Oz wouldn't have been made, or so say many film experts.

Regardless of how the film began its life, I am thankful that they went ahead with it, giving us one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema ever made. The original L. Frank Baum books were ripe for the picking thanks to their imaginative worlds and charismatic characters, and this adaptation would define how all future Oz films and projects would be handled and presented to the public.

Judy Garland as Dorothy gives the film its heart in one of her first leading roles. She is able to express the curiosity and sincerity of a young child very well. The trio of misfit characters, Scarecrow, Tim Man, and Cowardly Lion, also add substance to the story in their desires. All of them wish for something, and believe that there's an easy way of getting it. But they, and we as the audience, learn a valuable lesson: that sometimes the things we most desire are right under our noses, waiting for us to have the courage to find them.

They are also magnificently played by their respective performers, creating characters that many imitate and strive to be. Even the Wicked Witch of the West shines in her evil ways, creating an intimidating and classic film villain we all love to hate (until a certain Broadway musical came along, more on that later ;) ).

The twists and turns the story takes are very clever, creating a plot that is actually quite compelling while never taking itself seriously. The Wizard of Oz is simply a fun film to watch. It manages to strike a perfect balance between comedy and drama. It's this high level of professionalism that makes the film very watchable even today. The Wizard of Oz never dumbs things down for the sake of entertainment, but doesn't strive to be anything else but an engaging fantasy film.

The Wizard of Oz is also an incredible piece of filmmaking thanks to great use of special effects, color and sets. While the film was shot in color, the first scenes set in Kansas are shot in hues of brown, in order to represent Dorothy's own dull and colorless life. When she arrives on Oz, the film becomes a showcase for the wonders of Technicolor technology. The costumes and set designs may appear to be simple, but for a film of its time they are quite impressive, especially the Emerald City and its inhabitants.

Despite how well the overall film was created, though, the team faced a lot of hurdles before the classic was eventually released. The original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, fell ill due to the make-up they used to create the metallic look of the Tin Man. The film also had several director changes and contributions, many which aren't credited in the film at all! The Wizard of Oz has such a rich history it is amazing how many obstacles they faced before they could have a finished film.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Wizard of Oz review if I didn't talk about the music. In terms of lyrics, they are quite simple. But they reflect perfectly the emotions of the characters, such as Dorothy's wishful "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and the adventurous "Follow the Yellow Brick Road". Like Snow White, the music adds to the story rather than stopping it just to have a song and dance number. These songs would go on to become staples in film soundtracks, with their lyrics becoming anthems for justice, dreams and happiness.

It's amazing to think that on one decade we got not one but two of the best children's fantasy films of all time. The Wizard of Oz shall forever be a timeless treasure of childhood innocence, fantasy and the strengths of the human spirit. It shall forever be the treasure at the end of the rainbow.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



martes, 20 de abril de 2010

Future Film Classics #1: Disney Pixar's Up


What makes a film a classic? Timeless storytelling, iconic scenes, inspired performances and beautiful music, that's what. When you have these ingredients your film is bound to be beloved by people for decades on end. On this section of Filmstrip Memories, I will discuss how some modern movies could become potential timeless classics thanks to the traits I just mentioned.

This week's film is Disney Pixar's Up


Synopsis: 78-year old balloon salesman Carl Fredicksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is a lonely, widowed man who just wishes to live in peace. When his house is threatened to be bought and destroyed by a corporation he attaches a thousand balloons to his house and takes flight to South America in order to make his late wife's dream come true. But little does he know that young Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) has come aboard, beginning a journey filled with thrills, danger and talking dogs!

Why is it destined to be a classic?

If Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's a Wonderful Life) was still alive and making pictures, Up would have been his first animated film. It shares many similarities with Capra's films. It deals with an ordinary man forced to go against the extraordinary and talks a lot about the beauty of life, even during the mundane moments. It celebrates life in a manner that is realistic and whimsical, similar to It's a Wonderful Life and other Capra works.

Despite him being an animated character, Carl is portrayed in a believable manner, a sweet man turned sour due to the death of his wife Ellie, the bitter realization that their dreams never materialized and the threat of losing his house and spending the rest of his life secluded at a retirement home. This is a reality many people face today, making them lose hope and decide to just survive life rather than to live it.

Going back to Capra, his films were also able to find a balance between high drama and grandiose comedy (with "It Happened One Night" and "You Can't Take it With You" being his best examples). Up also manages to do this, with every laugh accompanied by a tear. The laughs come from the film's cast of supporting characters. First is Russell, an earnest boy that is dragged onto this adventure by accident. Despite his hyperactivity he is a boy that just wants to earn the love of his parents and become a great Wilderness Explorer. His relationship with Carl is vital in the exploration of the film's themes of love and friendship. After Carl loses his wife he decides to shut everyone off from his existence. Being together in this adventure forces them to learn more about each other, eventually leading to a change in both characters.


Then there's the sweet and lovable Dug, a yellow dog who has the ability to speak thanks to a special collar. He is a fun character that serves as the film's main source of comic relief. He is part of a pack of hunting dogs that belong to famed explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer, "The Sound of Music"), who also happens to be Carl's childhood hero as well as the main inspiration for his journey. In a bitter twist, though, we learn that due to being stripped of his rank Charles has gone mad, desperately looking for the treasure that will bring back his honor.

That one treasure is the element that brings all the stories together. The treasure happens to be Kevin, a large and colorful flightless bird that is quite rare and hard to find. She forms a bond with Russell, and a large part of the journey is about protecting her and taking her back home to her chicks.


Up is also a fantastic example of symbolism in films. Carl is designed to look like a square, while both Russell and Ellie look like round balloons. Squares are meant to represent how Carl stays cooped in his life, while round shapes represent the life and opportunities that are waiting for him, like the round balloons that lifts his house up. The house also becomes integral in the story. Even when Ellie is no longer alive in the story her presence is felt through the house. When Carl is able to lift it up and bring it to South America he is effectively taking his wife along for the ride. Most importantly is Ellie's Adventure Book, the one item that inspires Carl to escape his fate. All these elements are combined to give film depth, to take what would have been a high fantasy film and turn it into a study of human life and how we associate the things that surround us with the people that bring us the most laughs, happiness and love.

Finally, it has one of the most unforgettable soundtracks ever created for an animated film. Michael Giacchino ("Lost", "Star Trek") understands the story of the film, and is able to compose songs that fit the mood well. Whether a scene requires expressing curiosity and wonder or loss and sadness the score is sure to strengthen them.


Scenes destined to be iconic :
When we first meet Carl and Ellie, they are just children, dreaming of adventure and having a fun time. Once their meeting is over we are taken to their wedding day where we see their life unfold on our very eyes. This scene, called "Married Life", sets the mood for the rest of the film. Through this scene we learn while Ellie means so much to Carl and get to experience with them the joys of having a dream and the pain of seeing them destroyed thanks to the struggles of everyday life. The scene defined the premise behind Up and made the film one of the biggest successes of 2009. Don't be surprised if other films and TV shows imitate this scene in the near future.

The other scene that is bound to be imitated is when Carl first takes flight. This is where the mundane and the fantastic are meshed together to create one great scene. Carl is about to be taken to Shady Oaks Retirement. In a clever move, he returns to his house and unleashes thousands of balloons, effectively lifting the house up and taking flight.

What could keep it from being a timeless classic?

Despite being a huge success at the box office and earning many accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, the film has one big adversary to face: Toy Story. The franchise is one of the most successful Pixar has ever created, easily overshadowing every other franchise in the Pixar canon. It doesn't help that Up didn't receive a lot of push in terms of merchandising deal. The themes of the movie made it so it was hard to market the film through toys and other merchandise (though a videogame adaptation was released as well as some trinkets here and there). Due to this, people are likely to forget the film because Disney and Pixar are bombarding them with merchandise (Toy Story 3 is set to be released in June, and the hype machine is already running at warp speed).


Regardless of what critics or even what I say, it's up to time to decide if Up is good enough to be a timeless classic that transcends decades, eras and generations. But it definitely has all the ingredients in place. Up is an inspirational classic that was released at the right time: a time, in which the world's health was decaying, people are losing hope due to the economy and talks of the end of the world are keeping everyone on edge. It's great to know that Pixar made an exceptional, quirky film regardless of its subjects and characters. We need more films like this.


lunes, 19 de abril de 2010

Review # 8: Gone with the Wind (1939)


This review is dedicated to Amy Norton Braun who chose this review as the one to be featured this week!


Gone With The Wind (1939)

Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland and Hattie McDaniel

Directed by: Victor Fleming

Released by: MGM

Synopsis: Gone With The Wind tells the epic story of the O'Hara family as they struggle to cope with the consequences of the Civil War. During this era full of turmoil their values of love, family and hard work will be put to the test in one of the most enthralling pictures ever created.

Review: "…They don't make 'em like that anymore". That's what I said to myself when Gone With The Wind was over. The film does more than define the epic film genre as it set the standards for future films of its caliber.

Scarlett O' Hara (Vivien Leigh) may be one of the best written female leads in film history. During the journey she grows as a character, exploring all sides of the human mind while at it. She starts as a naïve and innocent Southern belle and ends as a hardened and desperate woman. During her journey we get to experience what she has to go through in order to surpass many obstacles. This creates a compelling character driven experience that makes the film one of the best ever. Clark Gable as Rhett Buttler is also a fascinating character, playing the devilish Southern gentleman, but with hints of complexity that make him more than just a stock character for the lead character to fall in love with.

And that's the word that defines this movie: complexity. At first it may seem like it's just a period romance movie, but it tells more than just the relationships between Scarlett and her many men. Being set during the Civil War we get to see the consequences this brings on the southern folk, which include the death of many innocent soldiers and the destruction of cities and towns. This makes the threats very real and the obstacles very large for the characters to overcome.

All of this is accomplished by very professional filmmaking. Gone with the Wind demands its story to be told in a grand scale and it delivers magnificently. Everything feels real and authentic, from the costumes and the lavish mansions to the chaos of war and the defeat of its soldiers. It makes for an unforgettable picture that is truly one of a kind.

With this in mind, it should be mentioned that Gone with the Wind should never be seen as an accurate representation of the Civil War. The film (as well as the original story) takes many liberties in its portrayal of characters and events, almost presenting us a highly romanticized view of the events that shaped American history forever. One other flaw is that with the story being a love caught in the clutches of war the acting tends to get very melodramatic. Though, these melodramatic scenes are minor and can be forgiven since it adds substance the film.

Then there's it gargantuan running time. At over four hours, impatient audiences may grow weary. But in my honest opinion, the long running time is what makes the film what it is. Because of the benefits of a long running time we get to experience a lot of important character development. If the film was at half the length it wouldn't have been as effective, especially since Gone with the Wind is a character driven drama.

Best of all, the film has perfect pace despite its running time. Never does it feel like it drags on and on. In the four hours you will spend watching this film all the events will be appropriately developed and clearly explained. In other words, Gone with the Wind knows how to get the most out of its running time.

Finally, there's the portrayal of blacks as slaves. This being a Civil War film it brings along how the slaves were affected by the historic events, and many a time it isn't a pretty picture. The African American characters are portrayed as stereotypical, uneducated peasants at the mercy of the rich white folk. Modern audiences bent on political characters will take offense to this. But if you consider when this film was made and the historic period the movie takes place in you should be able to realize that things have progressed since then.

To call Gone with the Wind one of the best films ever made would be a big understatement. It is one of the most important accomplishments ever in the field of filmmaking, creating along the way an incredible story about love and the persistence of the human soul during the worst of times.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



sábado, 17 de abril de 2010

Classic Film References, Homages and Tributes #3: When Rabbids Do Singin' in the Rain


As I explained in my review of Singin' in the Rain, the film's energy has inspired countless tributes, parodies and homages in modern media. The scene most parodied is the legendary "Singin' in the Rain" sequence, in which Gene Kelly expresses his joy in a marvelous routine.


Everyone from modern artists to humorists have depicted this scene in a humorous manner. And the videogame world is no exception. But before I talk about the reference, let's explore history a bit.


Ubisoft, an European game developer, released in 2006 "Rayman Raving Rabbids" for the Wii. The title was a party game that utilized the system's innovative controls in quirky ways. It starred the Rabbids, clinically deranged, hyperactive and very dumb bunnies who set out to conquer the world. The franchise was so successful in its maiden voyage that it has spawned three party games and an adventure title, all for the Wii and Nintendo DS.

It's the creativity of the game along with the insane sense of humor that made the Rabbids one of the most enjoyable new game franchises in recent years.


Now that history has been explained a bit, here's this week's classic film reference. In 2007, Ubisoft released the second game in the series, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2. The plot was that the Rabbids are planning to take over our world, and are now engaging in our every day activities, which include movies. Care to guess which movie impressed them the most?

That's right, Singin' in the Rain.

One of the mini-games is called "Singing in the Rain". Like the title estates, it both parodies and pays homage to the classic Gene Kelly film by recreating the sequence of the same name.

Here's a video (pardon the video and sound quality):

The object of the game is to mimic the dance movements of the "Gene Kelly" Rabbid by flick the Wii Remote or Nunchuck or pressing the A button on the Wii Remote. The more successful you are at it, the more complicated the steps become.

The opening scene does a pretty good of parodying the scene. Three of the most important dance steps are represented here. The famous lamp post pose is here, though in the original movie Gene Kelly didn't spin around like the Rabbid does in the game. The umbrella spin, however, is presented beautifully in the parody. Finally, the sidewalk step is also present, but the Rabbid misses a steps and ends in disaster.

The other difference is that Gene Kelly never wore a tuxedo in the original scene, though it's likely the creators chose the tuxedo to represent classic films.

So as you can see, film references can pop up in the most unexpected of places. Even if the ones doing the tribute are crazy rabbits on a videogame it should make the people involved with Singin' in the Rain happy to know that their film has transcended decades and generational gaps.



jueves, 15 de abril de 2010

Review #7: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)



It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers

Directed by: Frank Capra

Released by: Liberty Films

Synopsis: Local hero George Bailey (James Stewart) is frustrated over his broken dreams and the hurdles he faces as a businessman, and decides to end his life. But a friendly second class angel Clarance (Henry Travers) stops him, and makes him realize that despite all the sacrifices he had made, George had indeed lived a wonderful life.

Review: In 2006, the American Film Institute named the 100 most inspirational films of all time, with It's a Wonderful Life being number one. In my honest opinion, the film is more than deserving of the title. George Bailey is the perfect image of the average American man. Many men, especially in today's harsh social life, have to sacrifice their hopes and dreams for the well being of their families, friends and even hometowns. The realization that everything has been in bane can lead to a lot of desperation, which is exactly what happens to George (played magnificently by James Stewart) one Christmas eve.

But thanks to the help of Clarence, George realizes that even if he gave up his dreams for the good of other he has created a great life not just for him but for those around him. His kindness and hard work is rewarded with the sympathy of his friends, and all of his problems are solved. This is a dream many people wish to accomplish, to realize that they have touched the lives of many and see the fruits of their hard work. Frank Capra presents this noble ideal in a fantastic manner. All characters ring true, especially James Stewart and Donna Reed, whose love is one of the biggest influences in the film's plot. Frank Capra was a master of ordinary characters facing the extraordinary, and It's a Wonderful Life presents his best characters ever. It says something when decades later people can look at the characters and say "Yes, I understand. I've been there…".

The plot is cleverly developed, starting with the prayers of George's friends and family, and then presenting us his life so we understand why it's important for him not to jump from the bridge and how things would be if he had never existed. It's a classic plot that has been used, parodied and imitated for decades now; cementing It's a Wonderful Life's legacy forever as an inspirational film.

If there's one thing that could be said against the film is that it might be too saccharine for some. Far more cynical people might feel as if George's efforts have been glorified to the point where he is a holy hero. Mr. Potter also comes off as a cartoony villain, utterly greedy, uncaring and manipulative. These elements might make the film too silly to be taken seriously.

Regardless of how audiences view the film, there's no denying that It's a Wonderful Life is one of the best films ever made. It's a testament of timeless storytelling and how one film can inspire generations of audiences with its noble characters and wonderful story. If you ever feel like jumping from a bridge, stop and remember what George learned. That one's best efforts are never forgotten and eventually rewarded in this crazy world of ours.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



miércoles, 14 de abril de 2010

Review # 6: Pete's Dragon (1977)



Pete's Dragon (1977)

Starring: Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Helen Reddy, Sean Marshall

Directed by: Don Chaffey

Released by: Buena Vista

Synopsis: An orphan boy (Sean Marshall) escapes his abusive adopted family, the Gogans, and finds a quaint Maine village called Passamaquoddy. On his first day, he leaves a destructive first impression on the villagers, all thanks to his not so imaginary dragon friend, Elliot! Their friendship will be put to the test in this brilliant musical tale.

Review: If you were to ask the average movie viewer and Disney fan what is their favorite live action Disney musical, the answer you are most likely to hear is Mary Poppins. Yes, Mary Poppins set the standards very high for Disney musicals thanks to the enchanting Julie Andrews, inspired music and impressive use of animation. While it wasn't the last musical Disney did it certainly became the most beloved and most acclaimed, with its lead starlet receiving an Academy Award. On top of this, the era would deliver some of the best musicals to have ever hit the screen, including My Fair Lady and Julie's other crowning achievement, The Sound of Music. Due to this, the Disney musicals that came after it struggled to deliver an experience as memorable as the British Nanny's. One of them was Pete's Dragon.

Released in 1977, Pete's Dragon tries to achieve the magic that made Mary Poppins a smash with audience, and for the most part it succeeds. Elliot the dragon is an animated character living in our real world. This is pulled off convincingly thanks to Don Bluth's animation (A few years after this project was completed, he would leave Disney to pursue more ambitious projects, some of them being The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and Anastasia). Elliot is very expressive and interacts very well with the environment. The special effects used for when he is invisible and is interacting with the village are very good and creates the illusion that there is a living creature roaming the area. This sort of animation/live action hybrid puts it ahead of Mary Poppins' own animated worlds, and would later be perfected in Robert Zemecki's classic, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

With the special effects established as being one of the film's highest points, let's talk about the rest of the film. The cast is quite commendable, each one creating a solid performance. But to me, the villains steal the show. Jim Dale as Doc Terminus is a classic film villain in every sense of the word. From his outrageous costumes to his theatrical mannerisms, he is perhaps one of the most fun Disney villains ever. The Gogans also provide some memorable moments. Even if they are supposed to be stereotypical hillbillies they prove to be a serious threat for Pete and Elliot. Speaking of Pete, Sean Marshall gives the film its heart thanks to an earnest and sincere effort as a lonely but optimistic boy. Last but not least, Helen Reddy and Mickey Rooney as Nora and Lampy respectively do a good job as Pete's inspiring and heartwarming guardians.

Elliot himself is a very lovable character that is well written and presented on-screen. He isn't the perfect companion. He causes a lot of problems, and in some cases he can be pretty violent. Both Pete and Elliot also face a lot of hurdles due to their different views on the world. This is most noted in Passamaquoddy's residents, the ones that aren't over the top like Doc Terminus. They pass harsh judgment on the boy without truly getting to know him.

So, with the animation, special effects and characters being rock solid why is Pete's Dragon such a small film in terms of popularity? Well, there are a couple of issues that keep it from being a masterpiece. The storyline is quite good and what you would expect from Disney. That's just it. Pete's Dragon doesn't take enough risks in plot and character in order to have it stand out from other Disney efforts. Giving credit where credit is due, though, the film talks very loyally about never losing your beliefs, even if you run around saying that your best friend is a dragon.

But the one thing that may be keeping the film as a cult classic among Disney fans in the music. Like I previously mentioned, the soundtrack is quite good, but like certain parts of the storyline it doesn't strike a rich creative force like Mary Poppins did. "Candle in the Water" and "It's a Brazzle, Dazzle Day" are the strongest songs in the whole film and give the story the most relevance and poignancy. The rest are fun, but aren't filling enough to deliver a grandiose experience.

Regardless of this, if you are able to forget about Mary Poppins for an hour or two Pete's Dragon should delight families and fans of all ages. A film doesn't have to be a huge success in order to be considered a classic, and in many a Disney fan the film is a great classic that shall forever be timeless in its brazzle dazzle ways.

Rating: 3 and a half filmstrips out of 5


This special review is dedicated to Brent Dodge, creator of "From Screen to Theme", and the WEDnesday friends. We discussed this film last Monday on From Screen to Theme's Movie Club. Thank you all for your support!


lunes, 12 de abril de 2010



Filmstrip Memories has hit the 50 member milestone today! Thanks everyone who joined and forwarded the page to your friends! This is the perfect inspiration to keep pushing this site forward!

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Review #5: Sunset Boulevard (1950)



Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olson and Erich von Stroheim

Directed by: Billy Wilder

Released by: Paramount Pictures

Synopsis: A down on his luck script writer (William Holden) is literally running away from his financial problems when he enters the decaying home of silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Soon, he learns that Norma is a lonely soul looking for a way to return to the glory days of filmmaking and be a star once more, creating a suspenseful story of love, betrayal and the harshness behind Hollywood's glamour.

Review: If "Some like it Hot" is considered to be one of the best comedies of all time, then Sunset Boulevard deserves to be praised as one of the most elegant thrillers in Billy Wilder's career. Like Orson Wells did with Charles Kane in "Citizen Kane", Wilder has created a captivating but enigmatic character in Norma Desmond, played splendidly by Gloria Swanson. The moment you see her you are captivated by her beauty and madness. But, you are left wondering, "Who is she exactly? Is she a winner or a loser? Should we feel pathos or fear towards her? Should she deserve a grand return to pictures or die in her rotting palace?" As the film continues you keep wondering about her, all while being enthralled by her enormous screen presence.

William Holden also does a good job in his role as the desperate straight guy. Even when he has a performer as hypnotic as Gloria Swanson in his scenes he creates a believable character out of Joe Gillis, a man who just wishes to earn money writing stories, but is captured by the wrath of Norma's desires. Never losing his cool, he handles his role like a true gentleman.

The story doesn't hold back in its crude portrayal of Hollywood. It shows that not everything is nice and glamorous, and that even the greatest artists that have ever lived don't get the respect they deserve. From beginning to end it tells a mysterious yet engaging plot that never slows down or goes too fast. The pacing is simply perfect in this picture. Never do you feel like its dragging along or going by way too fast. You are left satisfied and spellbound by it. It also features some of the best and most quoted lines ever spoken by a character… But I'll you find that one for yourself.

While Billy Wilder was never known for Orson Wells like cinematography (Wilder explained once that he didn't like to use creative shots because he felt it would detract from the storyline), Sunset Boulevard does feature some amazing scenes, like the opening scene at the pool and the famous final shot.

But perhaps what's most interesting about Sunset Boulevard is its authenticity. You never feel as if you are watching performers acting on a soundstage. These are real places with real sceneries and locales. It makes the story feel as if you are watching a true story unfold right on your very eyes. Even the usage of the Paramount studios lends a magic to the film that is unequaled.

In closing, Sunset Boulevard is a film that shouldn't be missed. It's nearly perfect in every way. To its glamorous but lunatic lead character to the locales that adorn her descend to madness; Sunset Boulevard is a testament to how movies can leave us spellbound, all while we walk out of the theater with a smile on our face.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



domingo, 11 de abril de 2010

Filmstrip Reflections #1: The Desire for Classic Films


I confess this is something I just made up, so don't mind me. This section of Filmstrip Memories will be far more personal as I reflect on these classic movies, their impact on my person and what they mean to me and the world.

Just now, I realized why I am so eager to spend time watching these great films: because our modern media is very sick and rotten.

We are living in tough financial and social times. People are unemployed, losing their jobs every day, we are growing more and more distant in terms of emotions and the desire to be ambitious and grand in life is slowly fading away. And the absolute worst part is that the media is cashing in on it.

One morning I got up to see that a local morning variety program was doing a segment on death... That's right, they had a whole weekly segment about death, how to prepare for death, so on and so forth. I found it to be one of the most morbid and disturbing things I have ever seen on a morning variety show. It's proof of how the media is feeding off society's own fears to make money off it.

And that's not all. Movies like 2012 are fueling society's fears that the world may be coming to an end and giving conspiracy theorists a healthy paycheck. The minute an earthquake strikes all of the world's media prepares itself to sell newspapers and alert the masses. Experts are giving advice on how to declare bankruptcy rather than teaching people how to be better spenders. Religious cults are converting people to their religion because, according to them, we are nearing the end of times. Families are spending money on elaborate funerals than on fun vacations. News talk about deaths and murders at record speeds. The headlines on the newspapers are blood soaked! A&E is doing shows about obsessive compulsive people and drug addicts in dire need of intervention. Last but not least, we have court shows where people are beating each other senseless over some stolen panties.

You see what I mean? It's no wonder that our current society is cynical, depressed, scared and angry! Rather than trying to inspire the media wants to degrade people into a state of madness and depression.

I've noticed that when I started doing this project I've been happier, in a much better mood and very creative. I just realized that the movies I've been watching are made with such care, grace and dedication that they lift your spirits up.

Every time I see Gene Kelly dance, Marilyn strut her stuff, Audrey Hepburn give us a warm smile, Cary Grant being a hilarious gentleman and a Frank Capra character overcoming obstacles I completely forget about the world we live in and just feel ready to live life.

In my honest opinion, this is the sort of stuff we should be watching instead of sensationalistic garbage that does nothing but rot our minds and corrupt out hearts. Movies are an amazing form of escapism. Every time the world is in turmoil people run to movies theaters to see the hero get the girl, the problem solved, the villain defeated and the world a better place. So its sad to think that film studios and movie makers are filling theaters with films that just make things worse.


They should see Sullivan's Travels when they can. In that film, Sullivan was a filmmaker that knew that the world was a horrible place to live in, and thus wanted to make a film that was relevant to that fact. He embarks on a journey where he truly lives some of the worst experiences a man could ever face, and realizes that he was already making movies that were socially relevant: he was making comedies that were making people laugh. When he was sitting in the Church, watching all the prisoners laugh at Mickey and Pluto he realized that for that one moment these men forgot about the abuse they face each other and had fun. It inspired him to be a better filmmaker and make people happy.


Remember when the City of New York was used as a grand setting for amazing stories instead of a disaster zone? Yeah, I miss those days too...

So, why can't today's filmmakers take a hint from Sullivan? Instead of spending millions of dollars destroying the city of New York in glorious 3D why not save a couple of bucks and make a simple but really, really good movie that inspires people? I'm sure people would feel happier about themselves regardless of what is actually going on in the world.

Yes, I realize that this is a thing that is easier said than done, but it isn't impossible. Take a look at Pixar. Their last set of films have been some of the most uplifting, funniest and inspiring films ever. Because of this they have been very successful with movie audiences and film critics, earning award after award (Up was nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars).

Studios are harder to talk to, though, so I will address you my dear reader. First off, life is too grand for us mere humans to figure out how it is going to end, so stop reading about all this nonsense and have fun! Second, don't indulge yourself in the matter of death. Yes, it may strike at any minute but just because this is a reality we all have to face it doesn't mean that we HAVE to think about it 24/7. Make sure to enjoy life. It will be worth a lot more once it ends. Finally, turn the TV off and have fun! Go to the beach, read a good book, watch a good movie, talk to people and take initiative in your life. I am sure you will be happier and more productive.

That's it for Filmstrip Reflections. Stay tuned for more updates!