Sunday, June 27, 2010

1932: Cimarron

I'm choosing to leave the image of the poster centered and alone because it's pretty awesome. And most importantly, I believe it was made by someone who hasn't seen or known anything about the movie.

I don't think I've heard of Cimarron before. I'm guessing that the only times I've seen the title before is when I've browsed the list of Oscar winners. I didn't recognize any parts of the movie. I didn't recognize any actors, even though the lead actors has the name Richard Dix. Despite the sweet porn name, there wasn't anything too memorable about him, either.

Cimarron was watchable. I didn't fall asleep and I didn't need to watch it in parts. That's the good thing. I think this is because the scenes are all fairly short and enough happens in each scene to keep it moving. There are some pretty cool shots, including the very beginning, showing the Oklahoma Land Rush. There's also a pretty good scene in a church.  I'm sure you're asking how a church scene can be good. End it with a shootout, that's how.  It ends with the best line in the movie. When asked, "Did you have to kill him?" The main character Yancey Cravat answers, "No, I could have let him kill me."

In reading about this movie, I discovered that it received a lot of attention because of its racist overtones.  There isn't anything even close to Birth of a Nation here. The worst of it probably involves the black kid who is basically a slave. Yancey says about him, "That's loyalty that money can't buy." Later the kid is killed trying to rescue some kids and no one notices or even remembers that he went to go rescue the kids. But then Yancey, who had just been shot in the arm, carries him for awhile. the other racists stuff isn't from the movie but the characters. If anything, it seems fairly progressive for a movie from 1931.

I can give Cimarron a better recommendation than either Wings or Broadway Melody. But beyond that, I don't see too much of a reason to watch. Even a movie buff who wants to see  history of film making can skip it, I think. There are a few characters who are basically parodied in Blazing Saddles, but the same basic characters appear in other westerns, and there are better westerns out there. My favorite? High Noon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer 2010!

Happy 300th post to this blog.  That's about 6 quality posts, 13 mediocre ones, and 280 crap. But now a new era is upon us!  Or not...

For whatever reason, I decided that I'd go ahead and post my summer goals. I'm planning to move into my house in the next couple weeks. There's lots of stuff that I have to do with that, including renting out my condo. I don't want this to have anything to do with that business, as that will take care of itself.

1. Exercise. My original goal for the summer was to shift into more of a weight lifting mode to add some good bulk, as opposed to the bad bulk I spent 10 months getting rid of.  Then a couple days in I tweaked my shoulder. It's nothing bad, but it's throwing a monkey wrench into my plans, and I had to revert to strictly cardio for a little while. So my basic summer goal is to go FULL MACHINIST.

OK. maybe not. So my goal for the summer is to hit the gym five times a week. I was doing that easily during the school year, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I just know that when I move into the house and start working on that, I don't want to lose touch with it.

2. Creativity. Since I've been waiting so long for the house,  I have become stagnant in creativity. My art supplies and music stuff is all in storage or moved out. So this goal has two parts.

The first is that I want to write 500 words of fiction every day. This is a goal that I've set in the past and haven't met because I have too many filters. This summer I've rewired all of my filters. I've now set out to write the most boring novel ever. That means I don't have to worry about any filters standing in my way. At the least, I'll get in the habit of writing. At best, I'll bore my creativity and force it to start working. Maybe something in this novel might jump into something real. Perhaps the character will begin to realize itself. In the first chapter, Jack took out the trash. Second, he walked down to the coffee shop. Tomorrow I'll write about him ordering coffee and reading the paper. He might even start drinking the coffee. I played with publishing this novel online, but I don't know. It really is meant to be quite boring. I'll only do so if the masses demand such a thing.

The second is that I want to create art. When I move into my house, I hope to create some pieces of simple abstract paintings to hang. Then as I create more complicated work, I'll replace those. For now, I'm just going to create one small piece of art every day. But once again, I'm rewiring the filters. All I'm doing is grabbing a blank piece of paper and something to write with. I'm giving myself about five minutes to make marks on the page, then it's done. Once I have my paints, I'll give myself more time. And I want to take some photos and work with some other media eventually. But for now, just these stupid, bad sketches. I'm posting them in my Facebook account under the album "BadArt."

3. The Sopranos. I just finished Season 5. I'll start the final season tomorrow. I have a couple other shows waiting for me to watch, so when I finish this I'll get going on those. I actually have a ton of TV shows and movies sitting on my computer that I've ripped from Netflix disks over the past few months. I really need to get my hard drive cleaned off, so I'll be watching lots of stuff this summer. Yeah, I'm throwing myself a nice, slow softball here. It's summer, and I could use a victory about now.

4. The Oscar Project.  The first two movies, Wings and Broadway Melody, weren't winners in my book.  But All Quiet on the Western Front was pretty darned good. Here's the schedule for the rest of the summer:

26-Jun-10 1932 Cimarron
3-Jul-10 1933 Grand Hotel
10-Jul-10 1934 Cavalcade
17-Jul-10 1935 It Happened One Night
24-Jul-10 1936 Mutiny on the Bounty
31-Jul-10 1937 The Great Ziegfeld
7-Aug-10 1938 The Life of Emile Zola
14-Aug-10 1939 You Can't Take It with You
21-Aug-10 1940 Gone with the Wind

There are a few movies that I've only heard of when looking at the list of Oscar winners, so I don't really know what to expect. I've only seen three of these movies.

5. Wake up. I plan to be out of bed by noon every day. Those of you who are morning people and think this is a ridiculous goal, go away. Those of you who are night people and know how difficult this is, wish me luck!

6. Get it On! I vow to listen to Get it On by Bill Chase 100 times this summer. 93 more to go.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

1931: All Quiet on the Western Front

Technically, this is the first movie to win "Best Picture," as its name changed from "Best Production" with this movie. Perhaps fate knew a bit. All Quiet on the Western Front is a much better movie than the previous two. While I had a lot of trouble making it through both Wings and Broadway Melody, I had no such trouble with this. Even with it clocking in at almost two hours twenty minutes, All Quiet is a much easier movie to watch.

Yes, there are still some things that date this movie. Mostly, the acting. All of the actors were still in stage mode, meaning that they're still acting to the people in the back row even though the camera is in their face. I'll be curious to see the evolution of that as I watch these movies.

But All Quiet lays the foundation for all war movies to come. You have all of the classic scenes, including the guys talking about death, the reason for the war, a scene with the enemy in a trench, and the hospital scenes. Other movies will go on to expand these (and many more) ideas.

After watching, I wanted to see what I had written after watching for the first time:

October 8, 2002 There were a few interesting things about All Quiet. My first real observation was the soundtrack. Or should I say lack thereof. I liked that you hear the exact same things that the soldiers hear right up until the very end - very effective. There was an interesting scene where the main character Paul is caught in a trench with a man he had just killed. I felt that this was a revelation for the character, and I actually would have liked to have seen more of the scene. Finally, this movie had its message that war is hell. Over 70 years later, and events like 9/11, and people like George W. can't wait to rush off to war. I'm not sure if this film will warrant a repeat viewing anytime soon, but still interesting to see.

I'm glad that I watched this again almost eight years later. Every time I pass the book in a book store, I mentally add it to my "Read it" list. When I do, i'll be sure to post a book report. Good movie - watch it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

1930: Broadway Melody

There are some musicals that I really like. The Wizard of Oz. Singin' in the Rain. Popeye. But if you were to tell me that I were going to watch a musical, my toes would not be a tappin'. I'm not naturally inclined to enjoy a musical, and this was no exception.

Call me crazy, but I think you need to enjoy the music to enjoy a musical. I didn't hear anything in there that I'm going to be humming again later. In fact, the main song Broadway Melody was played about fifty times. But it's not such an interesting song.

One song that is fairly good, You Were Meant for Me, is actually in the previously mentioned Singin' in the Rain. The possible problem with many of these songs are that they're performed by the lead, Eddie, played by Charles King. This guy looks like the love child of Desi Arnez and Ricky Gervais. He creedped me out. He is a close talker. I look at him and I see Judge Reinhold wanting to take Jerry's parents to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And for some reason, I get the idea that he smells like liverwurst, so the close talking is even worse.

There's also a creepy musical number which sounds like a few eunuchs playing guitar. That's all I have to say about that.

The female lead is a girl named Hank. I had some trouble getting past that one. The second lead is a girl named Queenie. For some reason, I found that easier than the girl named Hank.

There wasn't too much that caught my attention or kept me too interested. This movie, as well as Wings, was called Best Production. It wasn't until a year later that it was changed to Best Picture. I know that since the next movie was All Quiet on the Western Front, things are about to pick up.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

1929: Wings

So I wanted to get a good start on my Oscar Project by sitting down to watch Wings. It didn't turn out to be that easy. It turns out that it's a tough movie to watch, so I watched it in 20-30 minute chunks, stopping throughout to type a bit. So this "review" is a bit more of a play-by-play. I understand that much of it won't make sense to you, the reader, if you haven't seen the movie.

As of this moment, I have only watched the first five minutes of Wings. I already have the idea that it's going to be a rough couple of hours, so I'm going to divide up this movie into parts.

While I like to make fun of students who have no interest in black & white, I still find my own problems with silent movies. Yes, there are some that I like quite a bit. But most of those star Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Of course I understand that movies like Wings weren't silent just because they wanted to be. But a dramatic movie is more difficult to watch. I think it's the over the top facial expressions and hand gestures that get to me. It works when it's a comedy. I don't dig it when it's a drama.

In this first scene, a girl is trying to get the attention of a boy working on a car. He doesn't notice her. She's sad. She looks like she just saw her dog get run over by a lawnmower.

All right. Enough whining. I'm ready for more.

The next scene worked for me. There's a guy who wants to fight in the war, but the officer notices his German name. The guy shows him his American flag tattoo and mugs triumphantly. It worked silently.

Apparently when David was a child, he loved a Teddy Bear refrigerator magnet. Seriously, it's the tiniest Teddy Bear ever.  And then he kisses his mother rather awkwardly. Or, rather passionately.


We got some physical comedy from flag tattoo guy. He's  vaudeville actor named El Brendel, and I hope we see more of him throughout the movie. Also in this scene we learned the age old truth. The best way to make friends is to beat the shit out of each other.

Gary Cooper has arrived to eat chocolate, fly figure eights before chow, and validate Teddy Bears. We quickly learn that he only does two of these things well. Perhaps he should have tried figure infinities or something more horizontal. Wait - make that one. The chocolate has also gone uneaten.

In silent movies, the characters can't hear anything either. You must wake up people one at a time by shaking them.

All right. We finally got some flying action here. These are actual planes performing these stunts, so it feels quite pure. I dislike the quick and close up edits we get today, so I like a shot that actually shows something.

I'm no lip reading expert, but I'm pretty sure that David mouths "Son of a bitch" when he plane gets hit. And soon after we're told that Jack has "two Fokkers on his tail. I think Jack was taught to land by Gary Cooper.

There was some decent action that actually kept me focused for awhile. Then around the halfway point of the movie, there's a cool shot in a night club. The camera slowly rolls over the top of several different tables showing different couples in a quick 2-3 second pantomime, including one woman throwing her drink in the face of the other person. It ends at our hero's table as he is being poured a drink. It works nicely, and is immediately followed with a bizarre scene about bubbles. It's something different, and it has given the movie something different. So I guess that's good.

We moved on to more action. The movie is moving along at a much better pace now. The dramatic scenes have been short and to the point. They are much more tolerable than the opening scene, and because they were much quicker, they worked much better. I'm pretty sure that Jack just mouthed, "Bastards," so I think they're actually saying a lot of things that we don't know they're saying. 

The way the story is ending is actually pretty decent. It's a Shakespearean tragedy, and all the parts have been put into place. The death scene is a little... gay. I mean their talking about getting Heinies and kissing each other. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So I think the movie makers had created a decent story with the love triangle, but decided for some reason to add another part. Instead of a love square, it became more of a love trapezoid. the Mary Preston character didn't add anything other than 20 minutes of screen time, and allowed for a "nice" ending. And in the end, the movie was at least 20 minutes too long, so I would her to make it more palatable.

I was reminded quite a bit of Pearl Harbor while watching this. And for those younger readers, that's not a good thing. In doing a bit of research, I discovered that this movie actually didn't win "Best Picture." It won "Best Production." The award changed names a couple years later, as did the idea for what it should be. For Best Production, they wanted to give the award to the biggest movie, not necessarily the best. Because of the war scenes, and especially the dog fights (airplane, not Vick), it was a "big" movie. That's the same philosophy that the makers of Pearl Harbor had, and it didn't work then. The difference is that movie making changed quite a bit over 70 years. Wings didn't have that excuse.

So here's my summary. The movie is too long. It definitely gets better in the second half. I think breaking it into parts was very helpful, as it wasn't really great enough to hold my attention for too long. Watch if you are an Oscar completest, but otherwise skip it.