Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Insight into Entertainment has MOVED

This will be the last post on INSIGHT INTO ENTERTAINMENT.  From now on, you can find my musings and optimistic comments on movies over at REEL INSIGHT

Monday, April 9, 2012

900th Post: Thanks for playing

I want to say thank you so much to all the people who play the mashup game.  I hope you'll continue to play over at Reel Insight.  Here is the final leaderboard after the big push to get enough posts.

Ryan - 9
SDG - 6
Keith - 3
Rachel - 3
Andrew - 2
Red - 1
Dave - 1
Dylan -1

Congratulations to Ryan for coming out on top.  And thanks again to everyone for playing.

My Top 10: #1 Sense and Sensibility

Oops - I had written this out earlier, but wanted to look at it in Word and then deleted it.   I thought I'd deleted the post and would set it up tonight, but alas, my attention closing out the blog has been waning.  But here you go.
Sense and Sensibility has been my favorite movie for nearly a decade (I'm sure a future post will give you all my past favorite movies).   I would say I've seen it more than 100 times.  The various things about the film that I like most change regularly, from the dialogue to the acting, to the story and the recognition of previously unknown actors (Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie in supporting roles very different than "Dolores Umbridge" and "House").  I also recognize it's not the kind of movie that appeals to everyone - you have to like period pieces, female characters, and it helps if you have no aversion to Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman or Hugh Grant.

Sense and Sensibility is based on Jane Austen's novel and adapted by Emma Thompson who won an Oscar for her effort.  Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are sisters whose father didn't leave them anything for dowries.  Thus, their prospects of marrying well are pretty low.  Elinor (Thompson) falls for her sister-in-law's brother Edward Ferrars (Grant), but doesn't want to admit to it, particularly when she finds out he's already engaged.  She sensibly bears up under a broken heart.  In opposition, Marianne (Winslet) loves openly and without  paying attention to proper decorum (or whether they can actually marry her).  Of course it ends the way it should, and someone has to protect the honor of a young girl (Alan Rickman).

Turns out I can't explain why this is my favorite movie.  How do you do it?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Top 10: #2 Out of Africa

My parents were big watchers of Masterpiece Theater on PBS when I was a kid.  It came on just as I went to bed, so the intro music and scenes are a very big part of what it meant to be an adult in my little kid eyes.  My parents swear that Out of Africa wasn't something that Masterpiece would have shown - it is an American big budget film not of the indie or British persuasion.  What did show on Masterpiece is a TV-series called "The Flame Trees of Thika" that ran in 1981 when I was about 2 years old.  My parents are convinced this is what planted a desire to go to Africa after college and the idea that I saw Out of Africa on Masterpiece Theater.

Anyway, I did go to Africa, several times over the course of 5 years, living in Kenya for over a year, and spending a summer in Gabon doing my own research.  I've written many times of my love for Out of Africa, and discussed it on both the Matineecast and Reel Insight's Meryl Streep episode.  I think Meryl's version of Karin Blixen is wonderful.  There's narration done in Meryl's Dutch accent that always brings me back to the first time I saw the movie and the first time I saw Africa - because Nairobi looked very different when I arrived than the farm Blixen owned "at the foot of the Ngong Hills" which is now a posh suburb of Nairobi next to Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world.

Sydney Pollack directed Streep and a still particularly attractive Robert Redford in the real life love story between Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatten, a British safari guide that takes place before World War I.  Blixen is married to a baron who doesn't want to help with the coffee farm they've invested in and instead goes about the country leading hunting safaris.  This leaves Blixen to fall for a good friend, charmer, and all around interesting guy.  I like Streep's desperation to make Redford love her in the way she loves him, but it's not how he's made, and stays aloof, though in love with her.  Their dialogue about needing one another and not trying to change each other feels very real.  So when Denys dies young, their love affair is all the more tragic.  I love this movie and could probably watch it every day.  I can definitely appreciate it's not for everyone - it's definitely dated to the 1980s when it was made.  And you really have to find Redford attractive and Streep believable to make the rest of the story work.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Top 10 #3: Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption shares the top spot on the IMDB top 250 with The Godfather, so I know I'm not alone in loving this movie.  I remember the year it came out, watching the Oscars and wondering whether this odd movie about a Chinese prison could possibly be good.  Yes, the red text/poster, a buttoned up Tim Robbins on the poster, and the strange word Shawshank made me think this movie took place in China.  Given that the word Shawshank is so broadly known now, I find it surprising I was so oblivious.  But that's what happened in the pre-internet era - your misconceptions had no easy outlet for correction.

There are a lot of reasons this movie shouldn't work - it takes place in a prison; there is a fair amount of violence, much of it sexual; the movie relies heavily on narration for exposition, and there isn't a single woman in the named cast.  However, the narration is the best example of the technique out there.  The violence is the least memorable part of the film.  And the prison characters set up a wonderful story with built in back-stories.  Turns out everything that might have been going against it really works in its favor.

I have trouble believing that anyone who reads this blog hasn't seen this movie so I won't summarize the plot at all, and instead give you my top 5 moments:

5. When Red carves "So was Red" into the beam where Brooks wrote "Brooks was here".  The Red heads out on his adventure, choosing life.

4. Red's 2 different parole hearings.  One where he tells them what they want to hear and one where he tells them what he actually thinks.

3. Andy's explanation to Captain Hadley about how he can keep an inheritance by giving it to his wife and then asking for beer for his friends because "A man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds."

2. Andy's explanation of where Red can find a rock at the end of a long rock wall.

1.  Red's speech explaining what Andy did to actually get free.  "He crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side"

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Top 10: #4 Wall-E

I'm kind of surprised this is the only animated film in my top 10, but you can't argue with the numbers.  Wall*E's environmental message definitely speaks to me, but it's really how amazing the character of Wall*E is with his love for Eve that melts my heart every time I watch him save humanity.

Wall*E is left behind on Earth after the humans have destroyed it and left it covered in garbage and gone off in a space shit for 700 years.  Wall*E has been dutifully attempting to clean it up.  In all his garbage stacking, he finds a lot of treasures - a videotape of Hello, Dolly, Twinkies, lightbulbs, christmas lights, lighters, a bra, and finally a plant.
Eve has been sent back to check out Earth to see if it can sustain life yet.  Wall*E of course is overjoyed that he has someone to show his treasures to and hang out with - his only friend before was a cockroach.  However, when Wall*E shows Eve his plant, she shuts down awaiting her ship to come back to confirm Earth can sustain life.  This brings about some of the best moments of the film - Wall*E takes care of Eve, trying to get her to wake up, but always staying by her side.  Even after Eve is taken back to the humans' ship, Wall*E comes after her, reintroducing that spark of optimism and hope to the machines of the ship.  Ultimately their relationship is what saves the day and the triumphant ending is terrific.
The other element of the movie that I don't like as well, but is an important balance to the love story is the fact that humans have gotten horribly fat and lazy - such that they can barely walk and have forgotten almost everything about how they were as people and what life was like on Earth.  It's also a little odd that all the people were taken from the US, probably not the best form of diversity.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Top 10: #5 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I like all of the Indiana Jones movies, but this one is my favorite.  I like movies/books that take a historical concept in and impose a fictional story over it.  And this one follows our dear Indiana (who I want to be when I grow up, if I can't be Rachel) and imposes 2 historical concepts with our favorite characters - the mythology of the Holy Grail and the historical facts of WWII.

The added bonus of Sean Connery as Henry Jones (senior?) just puts this one over the top.  Our hero Indiana (named after the dog) has returned to his home to go back to teaching archaeology after globe trotting to find the cross of Coronado.  In his mailbox is his father's diary that details all of his life's work search for the Holy Grail.  Unfortunately, we also find out that his father has been kidnapped.  So Indiana has to go and search for his father, and tries to find the Grail (X marks the spot) and fight off the Nazis ("No ticket").  I love this film in every way and will watch it every time it's on TV, plus I own it on VHS, DVD and will probably get the BluRay someday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Top 10: #6 Gone with the Wind

I owned this movie on videotape as a kid - it was actually on two Betamax cassettes that my parents taped off TV.  Because they couldn't make it fit on one tape (remember having to switch from SP to LP?) there are a few minutes in the middle of the film that always seem unfamiliar to me when I watch it now on DVD or even on television.  I read the book in high school at least 10 times and still adore the film - also one of the most quoteable movies out there.
For a film that has been out more than 70 years, it's amazing that it hasn't been completely dismissed or worse, remade.  While it has many faults, as a product of its time and as a representation of the novel's time, it succeeds in many ways.  With so many versions produced over the years, this movie might have the most "making of" or background material of any film (besides the LOTR trilogy) ever made.  The movie changed directors, was rewritten and even recast throughout the making of the movie.  The version that has become immortalized with Vivien Leigh and Clark Cable came quite close to never having been made.
I love watching Scarlett O'Hara fight like a bitch for a the man she loves only to eventually realize he wasn't worth her time and could never love her back.  Every time I watch it, I change my mind about whether she went to far with her attempts to win Ashley (the name should have given away what a douchebag he was).  The moment of redemption coming at the last possible moment and her inability to make things turn out the way she wants ("Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" to her newfound profession of love), but her convincing moment when the audience knows it's not over and she'll figure out how to win Rhett back eventually.  At various viewings in my life, I've idolized Melanie as the opposite of bitchy Scarlett, but eventually I always come back to knowing that Scarlett is my hero.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Top 10: #7 When Harry Met Sally

Whenever I'm making a top 10 list, I try to make sure that movies for or about women are represented.  It's easy to take some of the biggest movies of all time and just arrange them as your favorites.  However, most of those movies are either about very general issues, or star men.  For me, the one that always comes to the top of my list of movies I wouldn't leave the country without is When Harry Met Sally.  It's definitely dated - none of the three main living stars (Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher) really have much of a career these days.  And the hairstyles, clothes and even some of the conversations are so rooted in 1989 that kids one day will only believe it to be a historical comedy.
However, it also defines a lot of the relationships of the 1990s and why they failed - "men and women can't be friends".  Harry (Billy Crystal) imparts these immortal words to Sally (Meg Ryan in all her 'girl next door' glory) when they're driving from Chicago to NYC after they finish college.  Harry assumes that sex always gets in the way, meaning men and women can't be friends.  They meet a few more times over the years - strongly disliking each other.  But of course eventually become friends.  And then eventually sex gets in the way.  "I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible"
Peppered throughout the film are older couples sitting and talking (and being impossibly cute) about how they met and how they've stayed together for so many years.  One guy rode the elevator "9 more floors" just so he could keep talking to his future wife.  Another is an arranged marriage between an Asian couple and "he liked how she looked very much" so he said okay.  And my favorite grew up just a few blocks from each other and they "never met" until they were far away from home.  

Welcome to Reel Insight

As I hope you've guessed by now, Rachel and I have decided to merge our blogging efforts.  We have started a new blog at Reel Insight that we'll be running together as we keep the podcast going and stop posting new stuff on our individual sites.  Thank you so much to all the people who have helped make this blog so much fun to do that I want to keep doing it.  Today is Rachel's 5-year blogaversay, and mine will be in a week, so I will continue posting here for another week, and then jump on over to Reel Insight.  I really hope you'll join us there!  Thanks.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Top 10: #8 The Princess Bride

I'm kind of surprised that two movies with Billy Crystal ended up in my top 10, but I'm a child of the '80s, what can I do?  This is the first one, you'll have to wait to see the next one in a few days.  

Also, I'm not sure there's another movie on this list I've seen as many times as The Princess Bride (possibly my #1, but that's about it).  Is it even possible to give a description of this film?  It's a brilliant adaptation of a crazy book that actually took the craziness of the book a step further while eliminating some of the jokes that just don't play.  

With a brilliant cast, it's one of the funniest movies ever made, easily the most quotable, and strangely starring people who collectively have had fairly impressive careers, but none of whom have surpassed the greatness they achieved in this role (I'm ignoring Christopher Guest's directorial work).  And while some of them have done good work since, sadly they lived their epitaphs nearly 25 years ago.  

Who can say no to fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... 

My career in film

There have been a lot of photos on facebook of people describing their jobs - how they see themselves, how others see them, how parents see them.  Since I think in terms of movies, I wanted to try to give you a sense of my career path in film/TV - real and imagined.

I finished college more than a decade ago - coincidentally when A Beautiful Mind was being filmed.  The dorm in the background of this photo was where I lived my senior year.  My room was just to the right of those windows on the top floor.
  Then I got a job working for a professor running his project in Kenya studying zebras.  I felt like this:

But it was really a lot more like this:
But I felt like this:
(That's me in the background, learning how to take notes, just kidding, it's obviously Lorraine Bracco)

Then I came back to the US, moved to NYC and felt like this:
But it was really a lot more like this:

Then I decided to go back to school.  This is where the recent facebook stuff cracks me up.  So I share the best one.
And finally, this is where I have arrived (how I see myself):
And where I'd like to end up:

And if this isn't an advertisement for both the need for women in film and women in science, I don't know what is.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Movie Mashup 17

New Clue: Dr. Alex Cross tries to find a kidnapped young woman because with great power comes great responsibility.

The goal is to figure out the two movies that overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

My Top 10:#9 50 First Dates

Even I find it strange that an Adam Sandler movie made it into my top 10, but in the 8 years since I first saw it on DVD, I've probably seen all or part of it more than 50 times.  It's one I've taken on trips that almost always gets watched.  The concept of this movie really shouldn't work - a womanizing veterinarian in Hawaii falls for a woman with no short term memory.  But somehow it's sweet that he has to make her fall in love with him every day.

Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) loves to hit on tourists - he lies to get them into bed, and since they're on vacation they're into it too.  He has big plans to do actual research on walruses some day, but in the meantime works at a local aquarium and spends time with his friend Ula (Rob Schneider).  One day he goes to a diner for breakfast and meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore) a hippie art teacher having breakfast and they really hit it off.  He returns the next day to see her, but she has no idea who he is.  The owner of the diner Sue (Amy Hill) explains that she was in a car accident a year ago and has no short term memory and just does the same thing every day.  Henry follows her home one day and meets her brother Doug (Sean Astin) and Dad (Blake Clark) who have helped keep the masquerade going every day because they don't know what else to do.  Henry spends days and days trying to recreate that magic from the first day - just going to show that timing is everything and he falls in love with her even if she still doesn't know who he is.  Henry decides to try making a video and stop lying to Lucy, and over time some things start to stick in her brain, but she decides she's holding everyone back and goes to live in a rehab center.  There is definitely a happy, if imperfect, ending, but I won't spoil it.

One of  best things about this movie is that we don't have to see Lucy regain her memory for it to be a happy ending.  Making the best of a situation and letting good enough be enough sometimes makes reality happen.  The whole Adam Sandler crew makes an appearance, as Lucy's former friends and staff at the rehab center.  The supporting cast a whole does a good job of carrying the story - particularly Sean Astin as Lucy's body-building brother, Doug, who got outed for steroid use and speaks with a lisp, and Henry's assistant Alexa (Lusia Stus) who is a hysterically androgynous person who eventually hits on Doug.  The chemistry between Henry and Lucy is the other big part that makes this movie work - they've come a long way since The Wedding Singer and that chemistry translates to the screen.