Avatar

Finally, AVATAR! Can’t believe that James Cameron finally has a new film out after a long wait from his last movie….that  little film called Titanic. The Director of True Lies and Aliens delivers again. The film follows an ex-marine, Jake Sully, who is wheelchair bound, to Pandora. His twin brother was recently killed and Jake has the same DNA, a necessity to take over his brothers Avatar. The Avatars are used by the marines to attempt to infiltrate the local natives, the Navi. The Navi are living directly above a large deposit of valuable minerals, and Jake’s job is to try to get the Navi to relocate in order to mine the region. Of course once Jake has infiltrated the Navi, he finds himself more a part of the Navi than he realizes.

As far as performances, to me there were no really outstanding performances. Everyone in the film was solid, but nothing that is going to stir up the Academy for an Oscar. Jake Sully is played by Sam Worthington who was in this past summers Terminator Salvation. Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Death and the Maiden) is once again teamed up with Cameron as Dr. Grace Augustine, the local scientist and expert on the Navi culture. Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan) plays company man Parker, and Stephen Lang (Gettysburg, Public Enemies) is the macho-over-the-top kill the natives colonel.

On to the special effects, and yes they were special! My opinion, Oscars all around for the special effects team. The entire film is visually stunning and well worth catching on the big screen. In fact it is a must to catch on the big screen, with such sweeping shots, and panoramic scenes, definitely a must! I might also mention the 3D, well worth seeing it in 3D as well. It never is distracting to the movie, it enhances the film and does not take away at all. It was nice to see this element used in this way, and not have the cheap 3D gags throughout, like a sword being pointed at you or items coming at you for no other reason than to remind you that you are watching a 3D movie.

To sum it all up, this is worth going to see for sure. It has already been nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Even though I think this is a must see on the big screen, by no means is it a fresh storyline, which I really wanted from Cameron. The movie really played out like Dances With Wolves or The Emerald Forest. And I was even reminded of other Cameron films, the Ribisi character Parker seemed like a company man right out of Aliens with the same agenda. The military ships even reminded me of the landing craft in Aliens. Ok, even the score done by James Horner was even a bit too much reminiscent of Titanic. So by no means is this film perfect in my eyes. It is jawdropping beautiful and it is something like you have never seen before. The only thing I can compare it to is seeing Star Wars for the first time as a boy in grade school. The imagination and creativity put into this film is something to see for sure!

The Orchestra Wives

Again, back to the full screen black and whites, with the DLP still out of commission. The selection of the night, Orchestra Wives. This is a 1942 black and white, that is what the title says, about orchestra wives. The entire plot of this movie can be summed up pretty easy, cheating, gossip, and marriages. I think the highlight of the film itself, which I am sure was intended, is the big band music itself which features the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Aside from that, I did not really care for the story line or how the characters were set up and built upon.

The male lead in the movie Bill Abbot, played by George Montgomery (China Girl, Roxie Hart) behaves in such a way so early on I found myself disliking his character throughout the film. Ann Rutherford (Gone With The Wind) plays the female lead, and you find yourself pulling for her as a character until she begins falling into the trap of all the other women. There is a lot of deceit and overall meanness to the movie tat I didn’t care for. I don’t mind films that deal with this subject matter at all, they can be very powerful stories, but I don’t think it was intended to come across as dark as it does. I would have prefered them take a darker serious tone to the movie, and maybe even make a tragedy out of it rather than remain light about all that goes on behind the scenes of band members wives. Either that or have some characters that can bring something light or funny to the film just to give you a break. I thought they might do that with the Cesar Romero (Joker in the Batman TV series and film) character as he had some funny lines and seemed to be a likable character, but he just wasn’t in it enough to save this one for me.

For me this was a very average movie, and had it not been for the Big Band angle, it would have failed for me.  There are a few musical numbers that are worth seeing just for historic purposes. And there is a glimpse of a very young, pre Ralph Kramden days, Jackie Gleason (Smokey and The Bandit) and a young Harry Morgan (MASH, Dragnet TV series). To me it really isn’t worth watching for the drama, just not done that well for me. If you want good drama with all the elements of cheating, lying, and rocky marriages, I recommend you see Little Children and Revolutionary Road, two very good films.

Leave Her to Heaven

Ok, having the 65″ DLP in the shop for repairs leaves my better half and I in the “man cave”  huddled around a 27″ TV with only TV speakers. My stipulation for watching movies for a while, any film we pick to watch has to be only available in full screen and mono or basic stereo. So what a great time to catch up on old movies and discover some films I have been missing out on.

Leave Her To Heaven was the choice of the night. I have to say, I was quite surprised by this film. Although shot in Technicolor, the movie plays out like classic Film Noir. In fact I think the movie could have benefitted from being shot in black and white. Saying that, it did take home an Oscar for color cinematography.

This film is about Ellen, played wonderfully by Gene Tierney (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Razor’s Edge) who has a very quick change of heart and calls off her engagement just to announce that she is getting married to a man she just met. Her performance did earn her a Best Actress nomination that year and deservedly so. The man she is marrying, author Richard Harland played by Cornel Wilde (A Song to Remember). They make a great couple until jealously sets in and Ellen starts coming up with different ways to assure they have time alone together…including murder. Another notable in this film is Vincent Price (Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher), who was great to watch in a normal role and not in one of the horror roles he made a name for.

As always, I don’t want to give away too many fun details, because discovery is half the fun. In all, this movie is worth watching. It may not be one that i watch again and again, but still noteworthy.

The Aviator

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The Aviator, deservedly nominated for Best Picture, and in my opinion, a much better film than the winner that year, Million Dollar Baby.  This is a film about Howard Hughes and in particular his love for aviation. The film begins in Hughes “directing” era when he is making Hells Angels. While in production of his film Hughes is constantly pushing the boundaries of aviation and eventually buys TWA and challenges Pan Am’s monopoly on international flights. Of course the Hercules…more commonly known as the Spruce Goose…is included in the film as well as the congressional hearings and Hughes eventual demise due to his obsessive compulsive disorder.

This movie has a stellar cast highlighted by Leonardo DiCaprio’s (Titanic, Gangs of New York) portrayal of Mr. Hughes. DiCaprio is wonderful at having an attitude about not caring about money, when ever there is a problem, his solution is to “buy” it or hire someone to fix it. For example hiring Professor Fitz, played by Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings), to monitor clouds for in teh background in the movie  Hells Angels. DiCaprio is also great in slowly introducing the obsessive compulsive side of Howard Hughes. From being paranoid about washing his hands to the extreme side when he has locked himself in a room, totally naked, trying to avoid any type of germ. Personally, I thought Leonardo DiCaprio could have won an Oscar for this role. I though both he and Don Cheadle (nominated for Hotel Rwanda) were better than Jamie Foxx in Ray, but we all have our opinions.

The other outstanding performance, which did result in an Oscar, was Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) playing Katherine Hepburn. She was incredible with her accent and the way she carried herself in general. As I mentioned this film has a great cast, and many very nice performances…..Alan Alda (MASH) was nominated as best supporting actor for his role as Senator Brewster, Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice) as Juan Trippe, and even a small role for Jude Law (The Talented Mr Ripley) playing actor Errol Flynn.

Behind the camera is Martin Scorsese (Best Director The Departed), and usually what ever he is involved with turns out nothing less than great. Again, another Oscar could have been won here as I thought for directing, he did a much better job and took more risks than Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby. (Although I never mind seeing Clint Eastwood win anything, he has become an American icon.) For instance, look at the first hour of the Aviator, there are no greens in the movie to reflect a look and tone of the time. No your TV does not need adjusting, even the green peas on the plate are blue. The Aviator with it’s grand scale and top notch cast needed a great director like Martin Scorsese, as where I believe there are a handful of directors that could have done Million Dollar Baby.

As much as I have mentioned the word Oscar here, it did take home 5 Oscars and deservedly so. If you have not seen this film, this is really a great movie and worth watching. It will give you an appreciation of what Howard Hughes did for the field of aviation and the airline industry. At least see this once.

Superman The Movie

Superman - The MovieGrowing up on this movie, it is refreshing to see this one on bluray. It was almost like seeing it for the first time again. The one sad thing about the disc is that it only contains the director’s cut. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two, but I still prefer the original cut of the movie.

To me, this is the best Superman movie out there and holds true to a lot of the original ideas in the comic stories. Richard Donnor (Lethal Weapon) does a great job directing this ground breaking film. This is the film that first made you say “Wow, a man can fly.” Also, my hats off to the director for actually setting up the story and history of Superman. Many would want to jump right into the action. The history is what made Superman what he is and having that understanding makes this movie.

As far as acting, to me Christopher Reeve is, and will always be Superman. He does a good job as Superman, and an even better job playing the bumbling reporter Clark Kent. He also carries a bit of truthful humor to both roles, especially the interview scene with Lois Lane.

The other actors, well this film is full of Hollywood greats and legends. Marlon Brando (Best Actor for The Godfather), who received an astronomical amount for his 10 minutes of work. Gene Hackman (Best Actor for The French Connection) makes the perfect Lex Luthor with his sidekick Ned Beatty (Network). Other great include Glenn Ford (Midway) as Jonathan Kent, Jackie Cooper (The Little Rascals) as Perry White,  Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder and Terence Stamp. A wonderful cast that has great performances overall!

Other than Star Wars, this is the movie I remember most fondly as a kid. It is one of my favorites, and will always have a special place on my movie list. Anyone who hasn’t seen this film should do so. It is Hollywood film making and storytelling at it’s best.

Directors Cuts? Are we losing films we remember?

The other night my better half and I settled in to watch one of my childhood favorites, Superman The Movie, on bluray. I will say that seeing this on bluray was like being a kid again, but all of that will be talked about when I get the review written. The Superman bluray of course is only available as the director’s cut. Which made me ask the question, “Will I ever see the cit of the movie that I was so fond of as a child?”

Some of the directors cuts of films I enjoy, and some are not so good. It is disturbing that the studios for the most part do not include both cuts of a film when you purchase a movie. Some do, such as American Gangster that I recently watched, but most don’t. Awhile back I watched Crash on bluray, and even though I couldn’t find the words director’s cut on the package, it has the same running time as the directors cut I own on regular DVD. So, the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, the cut that won the award, will never make it to bluray. I have noticed some other films out or coming out on bluray that seem to be including director’s cuts only.  Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was an enjoyable film, but I thought the director’s cut was junk and nothing more than a way for the studios to sell another version to fans getting them to “double dip.” One of my favorite movies., The Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day Lewis) is available on DVD as a directors cut only, a version which I hated, and is one of the sole reasons I have kept my trusty old laserdisc player, so I can watch the version I prefer. My guess, when it makes it to bluray, it will be as the the directors cut.

There are director’s cuts that I have preferred to the theatrical cuts, including James Cameron’s  Terminator 2 and The Abyss, both adding material that enhanced the movie for me and made it more enjoyable. However, I would still like the choice to watch a movie as I remembered seeing it in the theatre for the first time.

City of Angels

City of Angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After watching City of Angels again, the first thing that I noticed is that this movie sure could use a bluray transfer. Overall color would improve a lot, not to mention having great blacks and good contrast since one of the neat things in this film is that the angels wear black.

That said, I still enjoy this movie. Nicolas Cage (National Treasure and Best Actor for Leaving Las Vegas) plays Seth in what I would consider a stereotypical way for him, but that works just fine for this film. It even adds to the film in a thought provoking way  a she wonders “I want to know what a pear tastes like to you.” Meg Ryan (When Harry met Sally) kind of falls into her stereotypical role as well, playing similar characters in You’ve Got Mail and Kate & Leopold.

Director Brad Siberling (Land of the Lost) gives us a fresh look at angels. As mentioned dressing them in all black, and seeing them interact with humans for comfort and support. There are also a lot of nice touches of being able to hear a sunset, and hear people’s thoughts, and then trading off lack of touch and being able to feel. A special  note for an outstanding soundtrack with the likes of Alanis Moriseette, Paula Cole, Sarah McLaughlan and many others.

In all, yes, this film is what some label as a chick flick, but still a lot of interesting and intriguing concepts throughout the movie to keep anyone interested. Of course best viewed with a bottle of Semillion and Irish whisky white cheddar! Very good movie to take in and even talk about afterwards. If you haven’t seen it, do so.