Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Steven Spielberg
1981 • 115 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John-Rhys Davies, Denholm Elliot
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan based on a story by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Producers: Howard Kazanjian (executive producer), George Lucas (executive producer), Frank Marshall (producer), Robert Watts (associate producer)
Cinematography:  Douglas Slocombe

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Film Editing - Michael Kahn 
Winner: Best Visual Effects - Richard Edlund
Winner: Best Sound - Roy Charman, Bill Varney 
Winner: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration - Norman Reynolds
Winner: Special Achievement - Best Sound Effects Editing: Ben Burtt, Richard L. Anderson
Nominated: Best Picture
Nominated: Best Director - Steven Spielberg
Nominated: Best Cinematography - Douglas Slocombe
Nominated: Best Music, Original Score - John Williams

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films - Saturn Awards
Winner: Best Fantasy Film
Winner: Best Actor - Harrison Ford
Winner: Best Actress - Karen Allen
Winner: Best Director - Steven Spielberg
Winner: Best Music - John Williams
Winner: Best Special Effects - Richard Edlund
Winner: Best Writing - Lawrence Kasdan
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor - Paul Freeman
Nominated: Best Costumes - Deborah Nadoolman

American Film Institute
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #60
AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - #10
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains - Indiana Jones, #2 Hero
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes - "Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?" - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #66

BAFTA Awards
Winner: Best Production Design/Art Direction - Norman Reynolds 
Nominated: Best Film
Nominated: Best Supporting Artist - Denholm Elliott 
Nominated: Best Cinematography - Douglas Slocombe 
Nominated: Best Editing - Michael Kahn 
Nominated: Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music - John Williams 
Nominated: Best Sound - Roy Charman, Ben Burtt, Bill Varney 

Director's Guild of America
Nominated: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures - Steven Spielberg 

The Essential Films
100 Greatest Movie Heroes - #3, Indiana Jones

Golden Globes
Nominated: Best Director - Motion Picture: Steven Spielberg 

Grammy Awards
Winner: Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special - John Williams 

Hugo Awards
Winner: Best Dramatic Presentation - Steven Spielberg (director), Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay), George Lucas (story), Philip Kaufman (story) 

National Film Preservation Board
1999 - Entered National Film Registry

People's Choice Awards
Winner: Favorite Motion Picture

Writer's Guild of America
Nominated: Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen - Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman 

Oh, yes. The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it... is invincible.


Boasting an impressive list of filmmakers and artists that were at the height of their careers, Raiders of the Lost Ark is perhaps the best pure adventure film ever made. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg who was in the midst of a string of successes like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, following Raiders, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. His longtime friend, George Lucas produced the film and received a story credit while John Williams added another notch to his legendary film music achievements that already included Star Wars and Superman by scoring the picture. Of course, it's all topped by one of the most iconic actors of the modern, Harrison Ford, who turned Indiana Jones, with his fedora and bullwhip, into a pop-culture phenomenon that still resonates today.  The film also kicked off a series of adventures, spawning three sequels and a rumored fourth.

The film, set in 1936, follows the adventures of Dr. Jones, or "Indiana," an archaeology professor as he hunts the world for rare treasures. After his most recent South American excursion is thwarted by rival archaeologist, Rene Beloq, he returns to the United States to two government agents inquiring about his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood.  Indy soon realizes that Ravenwood could have discovered the location of the Ark of the Covenant, said to house the remains of the stone tablets in which the Ten Commandments where inscribed.  Fearing the Nazis are using Ravenwood to retrieve the Ark for nefarious means, the government funds an expedition for Jones to intercept the Ark and bring it back to the States.  While trying to hunt down Ravenwood, Jones finds his daughter Marion instead, with whom he once had a tumultuous romantic relationship. The two head to Cairo together to retrieve the
Ark from the Nazis' grasp but encounter danger at every turn.

George Lucas had, much like Star Wars, conceived of the idea for Indiana Jones long before the film was ever released. Originally titled The Adventures of Indiana Smith, the character and story was inspired by the 1930s and 40s film serials that Lucas was so fond of. Collaborating with Philip Kaufman on the story, they came up with the concept of using the Ark of the Covenant as a plot device. When Kaufman bowed out of the production plans to work on other projects, Lucas moved on to produce his other serial-inspired epic adventure, Star Wars.  Years later, when speaking with his friend Steven Spielberg, who had supposedly expressed interest in directing a James Bond film, Lucas convinced him to take on a project with a hero who was "better than Bond." Spielberg was on board, and after a quick name change from "Smith" to "Jones," Raiders of the Lost Ark was on its way to becoming a classic.  Lucas and Spielberg collaborated with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, brainstorming visual ideas like a boulder chase and the stealing of the idol (ideas, Lucas later admitted, were lifted out of Uncle Scrooge stories.) Comic book and storyboard artists created the look of the film and due to all of this, the film was rejected by almost every studio until Paramount Pictures finally agreed to finance the film.

It's hard to imagine Indiana Jones played by anyone other than Harrison Ford.  But that's almost what happened as Lucas initially shied away from casting Ford due to his association with the Star Wars brand. Lucas was wary of having a "guy I put in all my movies" much like Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese.  Tom Selleck was initially offered the role, but had to turn it down due to his commitment to the TV show, Magnum PI. Lucas was finally convinced by Spielberg to cast Ford after producers were impressed by his performance in The Empire Strikes Back, which had been in theaters during the Raiders pre-production.  A good thing too, as Ford's portrayal of Jones as a skeptical intellectual who can throw a good punch and isn't afraid of anything (except snakes) is as close to perfect as you can get.  While it was too early to tell in 1981, Ford had a hand in creating two major pop culture icons that shaped the lives of children everywhere with Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

With such a powerful lead character, the rest of the roles had to take a back seat. However, some of the performances by the supporting players still bring a lot of energy and fun to the film.  Karen Allen plays Marion Ravenwood, the fiesty, hard-drinking ex-lover of Indy, who can give as good as she gets.  Marion's character is at once hard-edged but delicate. Resenting Jones for the end of their relationship, but clearly happy to have him back in her life to go on an adventure (after cathartically punching him in the face.)  Paul Freeman is the self-centered Dr. Rene Beloq, Indy's rival and chief antagonist, who seems to always be able to snatch the victory out of Jones' hands at the last minute.  Freeman is fun to watch as the slimy Beloq who intends to find out what's in the Ark before Hitler gets his hands on it. John Rhys-Davies plays the leader of a digging team named "Sallah," a close friend of Indy's and a valuable resource. While the film is generally light-hearted, Rhys-Davies' chief responsibility is the role of comic relief, which he fills out nicely. Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliot, Wolf Kahler and a young Alfred Molina round out the cast of characters that populate this world so uniquely.  

Of course you can't talk about Raiders without talking about the magnificent score by John Williams, who is responsible for some of the most memorable movie themes of all time.  From Jaws to Star Wars to Superman to Jurassic Park to Harry Potter, Indiana Jones' famous Raiders March is just another iconic theme in his memorable resume.  Right from the get-go, the theme invokes a sense of adventure and excitement that a lot of modern films can't quite capture.  It's a theme that instantly invokes nostalgia and recognition and will stand the test of time.

Raiders is, as stated before, perhaps the greatest pure adventure film of all time. The hero is someone men want to be and women want to be with, rugged and handsome and a little dirty. He's the smartest guy in the room, but he also knows how to handle himself in a fight.  He dodges danger at every turn and has the narrowest of escapes as he races to reach his desired goal, in this case, the Ark of the Covenant.  Raiders is also one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever, offering everything for which audiences escape to the movies: adventure, excitement, a great hero, nasty villains, a love story, chase scenes, crazy stunts and a slam-bang ending.  The film has so many memorable moments that entrench themselves in the viewers minds from the boulder chase to the snake pit in the Well of Souls, from Indiana Jones holding for dear life to the back of speeding truck to the face-melting finale of the film.  But what's wonderful is that all the "stuff in between" is still so much fun that one can't help but have a smile on their face as they watch the adventure unfold.  All of this makes a great blockbuster adventure film without sacrificing the quality of acting or story. (I'm looking at you, Transformers.)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the essential adventure film, mixing a great character with a fun story and thrilling action to create one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Woody Allen
2013 • 98 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Sony Pictures Classics

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alex Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis CK, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg
Writer: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe

Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.


Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's 2013 re-structuring of A Streetcar Named Desire, proves that the constantly working writer/director still has plenty left in the gas tank.  While some of his more recent films have failed to connect critically, the success of films like Midnight in Paris, Match Point and Blue Jasmine, more than make up for the shortcomings of other films.  

As mentioned, the similarities between  Jasmine and Streetcar can't be ignored, nor do I think, where they intended to be.  In this updated version, the titular Jasmine fills in for the Blanche Du Bois archetype. She has had a complete mental breakdown after her philandering husband committed suicide after being sent to prison when he was exposed as a corrupt financier.  Her wealth taken by the government, Jasmine moves out to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger, who it turns out was also left broke due to her and her now ex-husband investing in her brother-in-law's financial schemes.  Ginger, much like Streetcar's Stella, is romantically involved (though not married to) with a blue collar oaf by the name of Chilli, who is none too pleased about Jasmine's sudden intrusion into his life.  Slowly but surely, Jasmine's prospects start to look up when she begins to date an aspiring Congressman, who knows nothing about her past.

Cate Blanchett is the reason to watch this film. She gives an amazing performance that is sure to garner her attention during awards season.  While there are the obvious "raw performance" (i.e. screaming/crying) scenes that critics and audiences equate with good acting, it would be criminal to reduce the performance to just that. Yes, she does have those kinds of scenes, but Jasmine is a much more layered character than that.  Blanchett displays a broad emotional range for the character. In the flashback sequences where she is living the high-life as an entitled society wife to her millionaire husband, she pretends not to notice Hal's shady business practices or his obvious infidelities. She's comfortable and she's happy in her deliberate ignorance.  In the San Francisco scenes, where she has moved in with her sister, her resentment and disgust is not even remotely hidden by her phony gratitude. She is here because she has no choice, and regardless of whether or not Ginger is her sister, there are many other places she'd rather be. To her, family doesn't matter. Status does.  Even when, in a flashback sequence, her sister comes to visit her in New York, she is embarrassed and ashamed of her. She buys her things and tries to bring her to her level. The act of having her and her then-husband Augie invest in Hal's scheme was not an act of charity or sisterly goodwill, it was a selfish act. Perhaps if Ginger and Augie were wealthy, she would no longer be ashamed of them.  It's much the same later in the film when she begins her courtship with Dwight, the handsome politician. Up until this point, Jasmine had half-heartedly been trying to better her life with a menial job as a secretary and by taking a computer class. She throws it out the window the second a successful man shows interest in her.  She lies and manipulates Dwight so she can once again achieve the status she once had and she so desperately craves.  The entire film Blanchett's Jasmine is on the very precipice of a complete and total mental snap, and when it finally happens, it's quite haunting. The last image of the film, with Jasmine, completely devoid of make-up, sitting on a bench muttering to herself and recalling her past life is all at once pathetic and sad.  As she has the entire film, she retreats back into what made her happy, what made her comfortable, by reliving her past experiences once again. The film is bookended by her telling the same story: in the opening scenes she is nostalgic where as towards the end of the film she is defeated.

Blanchett is bolstered by a wonderful cast of supporting actors.  Woody Allen has always had a good eye for casting, and this film proves to be no different.  Alec Baldwin is Hal, Jasmine's ex-husband. On the surface this may seem like a natural fit for Baldwin, who has portrayed similar characters in the past Glengarry Glenn Ross and 30 Rock.  Sally Hawkins as the put-upon Ginger is also quite good and with a "working-class" American accent so convincing you can't tell the actress is really from the UK. Bobby Cannavale has big Brando-sized shoes to fill in the Kowalski role from Streetcar, but he makes it his own. The character does have the brutish quality of Kowalski, but with a much lighter twist on it. Chilli, while obnoxious, crass and hot-tempered, he's much more likeable.  Cannavale is joined by some Boardwalk Empire companions in Max Casella and Michael Stuhlbarg in small but memorable performances. The cast is rounded out by fine performances by Peter Sarsgaard and comedians Louis CK and Andrew Dice Clay. Clay, in particular, delivers a surprisingly strong supporting performance as Ginger's ex-husband. I know, I couldn't believe it either.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen at his best and proves that at almost 80 years old and over 40 years of directing, he knows a thing or two about making movies.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Forced Perspective Episode #38 – Halloween’s Spectacular End

Halloween’s not over until FORCED PERSPECTIVE says it is! On this episode, join SportsGuy515 and Adolfo as they (at long last) wrap up Summer 2013 with reviews of The World’s End and The Spectacular Now before recapping the summer in this week’s TOP 5 List. Then, join your favorite film duo as they discuss past Halloween memories, along with a rundown of some of the greatest horror films, and a special review of the film Maniac. Plus – the film taste of Trekkies, the loaded 2015 film schedule, are kids today desensitized to violence, and MORE! ALMOST 2 HOURS of content! DOWNLOAD/STREAM NOW!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

"Le voyage dans la lune"
Georges Méliès
1902 • 13 Minutes • 1.33:1 • France
Black & White • Silent • Star Film

Cast:  Georges Méliès, Bleuette Bernon, Henri Delannoy
Writers: Georges Méliès based on the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells
Producer: Georges Méliès 
Cinematography: Michaut, Lucien Tainguy

Often credit as one of the first (if not THE first) science fiction film, the wonderful images Méliès captures in this pioneer film are still amongst the most memorable and iconic in cinema.  The story follows a group of astronomers who are shot into space (via a cannon) and land on the moon's surface where they meet an entire society of moon people before returning to Earth and splashing down in the sea.  It is perhaps Méliès most well-known film, with the shot of the cannon shell lodged in the moon's "eye" being the most famous.

Méliès was a stage magician who entered filmmaking after seeing a screening of a Lumiere Bros. film. He directed over 500 films during his career and he used a wider variety of his magic techniques to create magic on film and A Trip to the Moon is no different. Méliès, in addition to producing, writing and directing also acts in the film as the Professor who shots the ship into space and as the moon itself.  The art direction of the professor's lab and the moon itself were ahead of its time, and nothing audiences had really seen before.  At one point in the film, the spaceship falls off the moon and lands back on Earth in the sea. To shoot the underwater scenes, Méliès placed a fish tank in front of the camera so the actors appeared as if they were in the water with the sea life.  This is an example of the inventiveness that Méliès was famous for.  

The film proved a massive success which led to Thomas Edison, among others, to pirate the film in the United States. Edison made a fortune off the film by distributing it in the States, of which Méliès did not see one cent. Unfortunately, Méliès shortly went bankrupt afterwards.

A Trip to the Moon is essential viewing for fans of science fiction, fantasy or film in general. Over 100 years later, it still captures the imagination.

The film is in the public domain and you can watch it below:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack
1932 • 63 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • RKO 

Cast: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong
Writers: James Ashmore Creelman (screenplay), Richard Connell
Producers:  Merian C. Cooper, David O. Selznick
Cinematography: Henry W. Gerrard

This world's divided into two kinds of people: the hunter and the hunted. Luckily I'm the hunter. Nothing can change that.

The Most Dangerous Game is the first filmed adaptation of the 1924 novel of the same name. While a short feature by today's standards, this film is an essential Pre-Code Hollywood film made by the future director of King Kong, Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack. It also stars two of the main actors from the classic monkey feature, Robert Armstrong and the iconic Fay Wray.

The story follows Joel McCrea's Bob Rainsford who is shipwrecked and swims to a nearby island, owned by the mysterios Russian Count Zaroff (Banks.)  Zaroff and Rainsford share a common interest in big game hunting.  Zaroff reveals he is obsessed with hunting the most dangerous game, but won't divulge what exactly that is.  Also staying on the island is Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother Martin, but when Martin turns up dead, Rainsford and Eve discover that Zaroff's most dangerous game is: Man.  Disappointed that Rainsford does not share his same passion, he decides that both he and Eve are now his next prey. And thus the hunt begins.

With only 60 minutes of running time, the film packs a lot into its short time frame.  The first half of the film is pure character development. Setting up both Rainsford and Zaroff as skilled hunters. Rainsford says at one point "This world's divided into two kinds of people: the hunter and the hunted. Luckily I'm the hunter. Nothing can change that." This of course is turned on its head when he becomes exactly that.  The second half of the film is pure thrills and excitement.  Not a shot is wasted in creating suspense as Rainsford and Eve evade the psychotic Zaroff's manhunt with plenty of close calls and near captures.  Speaking of Zaroff, Leslie Banks imbues him with such psychotic energy, almost to the point of pure ham... but that isn't exactly unwelcome in a film like this.  Pichel & Schoedsack also give us plenty of close-ups, especially of the eyes, to take us into Zaroff's insanity.

The Most Dangerous Game is a short, compact chase-thriller that is an essential appetizer to the directing duo of Pichel & Scheodsack's immortal 1933 fantasy adventure, King Kong

The film is in the public domain, and you can watch it below: