Wednesday, November 23, 2011

3 Essential Thanksgiving Films

Let's face it, when it comes to holiday films, Christmas has monopolized the market.  But what about the other family-centered holiday?  Thanksgiving is a time of year when families get together and eat turkey... but also a time when big films are released.  This year, 2011 turkey day brings us The Muppets and Hugo, both long-awaited releases.  Movies like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind have historically been broadcast on Thanksgiving Day as well.  So with today's blog let's celebrate those rare movies that celebrate annual autumn holiday that gives us pause to say thanks.  Here are 3 Essential Thanksgiving Films:

Directed by:  George Seaton
Starring:  Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles. 

One of the most warm-hearted films ever made, Miracle on 34th Street depicts the trial of a Macy's store Santa Claus who truly believes he is THE Santa Claus, but at its heart, it's a film about faith.  Not just for the other characters, but for the audience itself.  When we are first introduced to Kris Kringle, he is walking the streets of New York on Thanksgiving Day.  You don't see him with any reindeer, you don't seem him at the North Pole and the only sleigh he rides in is the one in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Naturally, since he is the hero of the story, there is an implied trust between the protagonist and the viewer.  We believe what he presents to us.  No matter how ludicrous it may seem.  Unlike most movies about Santa Claus, this film has no magic moments.  Heck, the most amazing thing Kris does is speak Dutch to a little Dutch orphan.  Something certainly anybody with a proper background could do.  He brings people together at Christmastime, and slowly convinces every one around him that he is the real deal.  Most of this of course is due to the wonderful acting abilities of Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Kris.  "Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to."  That is a line repeated in the movie... and by the end of the film, we as the audience truly believe that Kris IS Santa, despite having no proof.  And there in lies the true miracle of the film.

Directed by:  Woody Allen
Starring:  Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fischer, Barbara Hershey, Max Von Sydow, Diane Weist

You know, I was talking to your father before, and I was telling him that it's ironic I, I - used to always have Thanksgiving with Hannah, and I never thought that I could love anybody else. And here it is years later and I'm married to you and completely in love with you.

A 3-story arc that takes place within the span of 1 year, bookended by Thanksgiving Day festivities hosted by Hannah (Mia Farrow) and Elliot (Michael Caine).  Much like the Thanksgiving turkey, Hannah serves as the centerpiece of the story, with all other story arcs revolving around her.  One of the stories involves Lee (Barbara Hershey), Hannah's sister, becoming involved in an affair with Elliot.  Elliot's eye wanders because of his feelings of inadequacy in relation to Hannah's accomplishments and self-sufficiency, while Lee has grown tired of her relationship with the artist Frederick (Max Von Sydow) and leaves him to pursue the affair with Elliot.  It's not all serious as Woody Allen plays one of his famously neurotic caricatures, Mickey, a hypochondriac who may actually be facing something seriously life-threatening for a change.  His relation to Hannah is through her sister, Holly, with whom he once had a disastrous first date with.  Once he is given a clean bill of health, Mickey undergoes a religious and existential crisis... and he bumps into Holly again, this time with a much better results.  There are other plots intertwine, but I won't spoil them here.  One of Allen's better films.

Director: John Hughes
Starring:  Steve Martin, John Candy

- You shared a motel room with a complete stranger? Are you crazy?
- Not yet. But I'm getting there. 

It's two days before Thanksgiving and all advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) wants to do is get home to Chicago in time to cut the turkey.  However, it seems fate has a different idea.  Page's cab is stolen by the loveably obnoxious Del Griffith (John Candy).  But it matters not, because even as they our in mid-flight, the plane gets re-routed to Kansas because of a severe snowstorm.  Page ends up crossing paths with Griffith again and again taking (you guessed it) planes, trains and automobiles all in an effort to get home.  The formula is pretty standard:  a straight-laced uptight businessman paired up with the goofy buffoon in a road trip movie with unsurprising obstacles. But what separates this film from others of its kind is the on-screen chemistry of Martin and Candy.  It's surprising the two had never worked on-camera together before this film.  Martin's portrayal of the on-the-brink-of-insanity frustrated Page is pitch-perfect, especially combined with Candy's Griffith.  John Candy was criminally snubbed by the Academy for a Best Supporting Actor nomination this year.  While Candy's comedic chops were at this point already legendary, what made this performance so special was the dramatic chops he brought to a character that could have easily been played as one-dimensional.  A classic.

Star Wars Goes 3D!

February 12, 2012 marks the release of Star Wars in 3D.  To the dismay of some Star Wars diehards, Lucasfilm is releasing the films in storyline chronological order, meaning the first 3D release will be Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, arguably the least popular film in the series.  See the trailer HERE

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Ep.7 – Taking Shelter from the Paranormal

FORCED PERSPECTIVE IS BACK! Join SportsGuy515 & Adolfo as they recap The Ides of March, Paranormal Activity 3, Red State, Take Shelter, and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Plus, the duo take a look at John Carpenter’s The Thing in this week’s DVD of the Week. All this and more!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

5 Criterion Collection Films You Should Buy/Rent from iTunes

The Criterion Collection, arguably the best home media resource for watching, discovering and re-discovering classic, cult, independent and world cinema has very quietly arrived for purchase on iTunes.  While Criterion has not released their entire 595 film catalog, they have, however, an elite selection of some of the greatest films ever made.  Films are currently $14.99 to buy or $2.99 to rent.

Today we'll look at 5 of the best Criterion films available digitally that are also considered by this blog to be part of The Essential Films.

The Seventh Seal

Director:  Ingmar Bergman

Possibly Bergman's most well-known film.  Even if you've never seen the film (which if you haven't ... why not?), the imagery is iconic.  There is not a cinephile that does not recognize the famous shot of a Swedish knight playing chess with Death.  Bergman explores his usual themes in this piece (God, Death, Existence, etc.), but does so against the backdrop of a knight returning home from the Crusades, only to see that his country has fallen into disrepair.  Plague and religious fundamentalists are tearing the country apart, and Death is literally stalking him.  Antonious, the knight, decides to challenge Death to a game of chess in hopes of delaying or preventing his inevitable demise.  Thankfully, with the plague, Death is quite busy, allowing Antonious to stumble upon a pair of hapless traveling actors.  While the film may seem bleak, this segment of the film is warm and hopeful.  Perhaps not all is lost?  This does not deter the film, or Bergman, asking confronting the audience with deep questions about religion, mankind and God.


Director:  Jean-Luc Godard

One of the essential French New Wave films.  The great film critic Roger Ebert once said that just as modern audiences flock to the films of Quentin Tarantino, Godard's audiences flocked to see him in the 1960s.  Long before Pulp Fiction shook the cinema world in 1994, films like Godard's Breathless were influencing audiences and future filmmakers world wide.  While the story of a car thief trying to convince his girlfriend to live with him in Italy after he kills a police officer is interesting, the main reason one watches Breathless all boils down to one word:  Style.  A big part of the French New Wave was that the filmmakers of the movement were dissatisfied with what they felt had been stagnant filmmaking.  Being a visual medium, Godard and his contemporaries pushed the camera into places, angles and shots it had never been before.  Most, if not all, of the film is shot handheld and the results are fascinating, even by 2011 standards.


Director:  Andrey Tarkovskiy

Most readers may be more familiar with the 2002 remake directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney.  While perhaps not as captivating as the original, Soderbergh's remake has many positive qualities in both story execution and visuals.  What's fascinating about both films is that they have the exact same story: a troubled psychologist travels up to an isolated space station orbiting a new planet to investigate strange occurrences; however the results that both Tarkovskiy and Soderbergh produce are quite different.  Tarkovksiy's original adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's science fiction novel is slow and methodical, but these are not negative qualities.  The visuals are arresting and the acting is captivating. This film haunts you and forces you to watch it again immediately.

The 400 Blows

Director:  François Truffaut

One of this blogger's personal favorites.  400 Blows tells the story of the young and misunderstood.  Even by today's standards, gritty neo-realistic storytelling such as this is rarely seen, let alone in the 1950s.  Another product of the French New Wave, this certainly ranks as one of the best films ever made.  The story follows 14-year old Antoine Doinel, and his misadventures as a troubled youth.  Always in trouble at school with an emotionally absent mother and a physically absent father, Doinel acts out constantly.  Is he merely seeking attention, or is this a cry for help, or perhaps is he lashing out against his environment?  This film will leave you deep in thought with its ambiguous and beautiful ending.


Director:  John Ford

When you mention John Wayne's name, many films come to mind:  The Searchers or Rio Bravo or even the original True Grit.  All wonderful films, but true cinephiles know that the film that made Wayne a huge star was Stagecoach.  Wayne had been toiling as a Hollywood actor for years before John Ford cast him as the immortal Ringo Kid in this star-making movie.  But it's not just Wayne (who delivers the macho character we're so used to) that makes this movie come to life.  The supporting cast made up of Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell, among others, also contribute a great deal.  And lest we not forget the great John Ford, one of Hollywood's greatest directors, at the helm of this western masterpiece.  The scenes of the stage coach racing through the desert are worth the price alone, rivaling any modern day action sequences.