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Cinema history IS important (and here’s why)

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After writing 10 posts for this blog (perhaps a sort of milestone), I think now is an appropriate time to reflect — to hopefully better grasp what my purpose is behind these posts.

So far, we’ve examined, compared and contrasted multiple classic and modern films. I think by now, it’s obvious I see the value in cinema history, so I interviewed three unsuspecting family members — my 17-year-old younger brother Andrew, my mom and my dad — to also see what they think about modern and classic film and the importance of cinema history.

Do you prefer classic or modern films?

Andrew: I prefer modern but appreciate classic cinema too.

Mom: Classic!

Dad: Classic.

Do you think there is a benefit to watching classic films in addition to modern? If so, why?

Andrew: Yes, all good art has value. Seeing the progression of a relatively young medium is important.

Mom: Absolutely. Just like you can’t really have a knowledge of history without understanding a nation’s beginnings, classic films take you back to beginnings — before technological perfection takes out the reality.

Dad: Classic films seem to be more about the acting and less about technology, so I think in many instances they are more thought provoking. Ideally, a mix of great acting [like in the classics] paired with the newer technology is most enjoyable.
What are your thoughts on the value of cinema history?

Andrew: All well done art — both classic and modern — has intrinsic value because of the humans that express it, so very valuable.

Mom: Cinema is a reflection of the culture and time period it is from. From a nation’s perspective on war to civil rights and suffrage, looking at film helps us learn about times where no living person exists could describe it to us.

Dad: Cinema history sometimes reflects society but may also reflect the power to influence one’s thoughts, which may or may not be positive,

To close, what are you favorite classic and modern films?

Andrew: I don’t really have favorite movies but the first two I thought of were 10 Cloverfield Lane for modern and The Maltese Falcon for classic.

My mom and dad had a harder time nailing it down to just two, so they gave me several of her favorites:

Mom: My favorite classic films are It’s A Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night, Casablanca and Citizen Kane. My favorite modern films are Secretariat, Toy Story and Star Wars.

Dad: I like a lot of the John Wayne westerns because it makes me think of watching those with my dad. The Natural with Robert Redford never gets old . . . and 1977 Star Wars. I love Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s a Wonderful Life. Of the newer movies, I would probably pick something funny with Kevin James.

 

Cinema history is important because it can help us understand our past, but also better understand the present. Throughout writing these posts, I, myself, have found it beneficial to compare and contrast the old and the new. I highly recommend exploring classic films, in addition to going to the theater to check out what’s currently showing. If you don’t know where to start with the classics, the American Film Institute’s “100 Years . . . 100 Movies” is a good place to start. 

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

 

 

 

‘Superman Returns’ is simple reinvintion of classic comic

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Superman Returns gets back to the heart of what superhero comics are all about.

Lately, (in no doubt due to popular demand) there have been superhero after superhero films to come out, whether they be in the Marvel or DC universe. And within these universes, each film is intricately connected in some form or fashion. Superman Returns is a sequel, in a way (except it’s not really a sequel to any particular film; rather, it’s simply an untold sequel to the Superman story).

It starts off with Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) returning to earth after mysteriously vanishing previously (and without giving girlfriend Lois Lane ((Kate Bosworth)) fair warning). When Kent returns,  Lane is engaged and has a little boy with her fiancé. Of course, this takes Kent back a little bit because I suppose he expected Lane to wait on him. Obviously she didn’t, but when Superman reappears, she starts to wonder if maybe she should have waited for him.

While this unusual love triangle is going on, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has a plot to destroy the world, and only Superman (with a little help from Lane, her son and her fiancé) can ultimately stop his odd real-estate plan to build his own empire.

For a 2006 film, Superman Returns has some astonishingly good special effects. In fact, at the 79th Academy Awards, it was nominated for best Visual Effects, losing to Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. In comparison to today’s best, and the most recent superhero 2016 film Doctor Strange, it does not fall far behind in this category. Compared to some of today’s films, it even exceeds in the visual effects area. Really the cornfield scene is one of the only places I found lacking in believability. Nevertheless, special effects over the years have truly improved with the increase and access of computer animation, evident in Doctor Strange.

Superman Returns is clearly a superhero film. No extra drama and no unnecessary dry wit. Just a superhero film, similar to the simplicity of the comics. Superman is simply out to to defeat Lex Luthor and perhaps win back Lois Lane, and the simplicity is actually delightful.

In reality, no, Superman Returns is not a better-made film than Doctor Strange, but it does prove to be quite entertaining. Compared to 2013’s Man of Steel, it is definitely a better film since it does not force complicated theories and story lines and unnecessarily long battle sequences on viewers. From my view, the ending of Superman Returns was a little disappointing, but that doesn’t make the ending an unacceptable one.

Overall, for someone who is particularly in to watching superhero film, Superman Returns is a fun watch. It allows viewers to sit back, relax and watch a fun, entertaining film that does not require too much thought, getting back to the heart of what comic books were intended to do. Superman Returns has a lot of heart, and its viewers will honestly sympathize with Clark Kent’s plights while still feeling involved in Superman’s fights.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Marvel does it again with ‘Doctor Strange’

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It would seem that Marvel can’t make a bad movie.

The Marvel cinematic universe is one of the most popular film franchises in history, and its newest addition, Doctor Strange, is sure to delight and entertain comic-book lovers and moviegoers of all ages as well.

For a comic-book film, Doctor Strange contains some deep messages. The film will likely prompt some serious conversations after the credits roll (and after the two typical, bonus Marvel scenes at the end) among moviegoers because of its inherent themes. However, also typical of Marvel, the film has some delightful surprises, and, while not classified as a comedy by any means, will have viewers laughing nearly throughout its entirety.

Doctor Strange is a “strange film,” even for a Marvel movie. In fact, in some ways, it doesn’t even seem like a Marvel movie — perhaps it’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s stellar performance as Dr. Strange, or maybe it’s the simplicity of its story design. Nevertheless, it is a superhero film, but Strange isn’t your average superhero. He’s quite cocky and arrogant, and that gets him into trouble sometimes. His character is slightly reminiscent of Tony Stark, but Cumberbatch does an excellent job of making the character his own.

The film begins with neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange, saving people’s lives (in the hospital). He’s confident in his ability, and this talent is where he seemingly derives his self worth. When he is careless while driving his Lamborghini and gets himself into a horrific accident, leading to limited use of his hands — which is how he made his living since he’s a renowned neurosurgeon — his world is understandably shaken.

After spending all his wealth trying to find a way to heal his shaky hands, Dr. Strange finally stumbles into the mystic arts after meeting the “Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton). The rest of the story is comic-book history as he finds his true calling in life.

Dr. Strange has always had a gift for helping people. Before, he used this gift to heal others, but he was still internally focused, as he would turn patients away if the surgery was too risky or complicated so that he wouldn’t ruin his “perfect record.” However, after he masters the mystic arts (and gets over himself a bit), his focal point shifts to saving the world, rather than saving himself.

Swinton and Rachel McAdams (who plays Strange’s love-interest-but-just-friends coworker Christine) are good, but Cumberbatch really carries the film all on his shoulders.

The visual effects are also captivating — this is one of the rare films you actually need to see in IMAX 3D. Visual effects supervisors Stephane Ceretti and Richard Bluff create a fanciful, delusory world full of action and creative visuals.

Even though some may say it’s just a comic-book film, Dr. Strange delivers some serious themes and messages, as mentioned before. Although there’s more from the film, here’s a few of the big ones:

1. Dr. Stephen Strange can serve as a great role model for people who suffer traumatic incidents that leave them disabled.

  • At first, Strange is abrasive to everyone after his injury, but he overcomes this and relies on what he can do — and doing it to his fullest potential.

2. The film delves into religious themes with the traditional story of good and evil, but it also hits on eternal life and the consequences if you choose the wrong path.

  •  The “bad guys” wanted eternal life. However, viewers see that eternal life with evil is a horrible fate.

3. Dr. Strange’s course of action to fix the problems in the world have consequences.

  • Does the end always justify the means?
  • How far should one go in bending the rules to do the right thing?

Overall, the film is a solid 3/4. It’s definitely one of the must-see films of the year, especially for those who follow the Marvel cinematic universe.

Next week, we’ll look at Superman Returns to compare the two films and see how far — even in just 10 years — the special effects in superhero-related films have come. This 2006 film stars Brandon Routh as Superman and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures 

‘Chariots of Fire’ tells true saga of two very different men

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Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

Chariots of Fire is the rare successful film that portrays Christian values yet is not inherently made for a Christian audience, such as the Kendrick Brothers films or for KING & COUNTRY’S Priceless.

The 1981 film was nominated for seven Oscars and won four for Best Picture, Best Writing, screenplay written directly for the screen, Best Costume Design and Best Music, Original Score.

Overall, the film is hailed as one of the best British films ever made. Its music is its most memorable attribute, by Vangelis, who won the Academy Award, and it is one of the most recognizable scores in cinema history.

Chariots of Fire tells the true story of two opposite men competing in the 1924 Paris Olympics — Eric Liddell, a Scottish Christian who refuses to run on a Sunday, and Harold Abrahams, a fiercely competitive English Jew trying to overcome racial prejudice.

Liddell’s story, especially, is the most engaging and emotionally uplifting because of his dedication to do what he believes is right. The fact that it is a true story makes it even more powerful. Not only is Liddell’s testimony impactful, but it is also inspiring to see how he felt closer to God when he was running because he realized that God gave him the gift to run fast.

The film does a stellar job of telling a Christian story without it being overbearing. The viewer does not have to go in thinking that he or she is soon to watch a Christian-based film. Rather, the viewer experiences a film that is about sports, with the intention of telling a true story — therefore, a story that seems real.

Compared to a story such as another Christian sports film such as Facing the Giants, it far excels in quality. Noted, Facing the Giants, was not intended to win big awards. Rather, it was focused on a specific audience, mainly even so specific as a church-youth-group-type audience. Not to say that I personally didn’t enjoy Facing the Giants; in fact, I quite enjoy Facing the Giants each time I watch it — but not for its cinematic quality.

Last week’s film, Priceless is in-between Facing the Giants and Chariots of Fire in film quality. Priceless exceeds the typical Christian film in its cinematography, and even its story. Generally, most Christian-message-focused films tend to feel unrealistic and at times a bit sappy. They do always have a good message to share, but the great thing about Chariots of Fire is that it shares a good message while at the same time providing a good story (a true story, making it seem even more real, because it is) and excellent acting.

Priceless moves the Christian film genre in the right direction, as its story and cinematography is an improvement for the genre, and its message is very pertinent and important in today’s society. Of course, the acting in Priceless is not as outstanding as Ian Charleson and Ben Cross’ performances as Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, respectively, but it is not bad, and it is definitely not distracting.

Chariots of Fire is a must-see for sports-lovers and classic movie-lovers. While it may be a bit slow for younger viewers, it can captivate an older viewer with its inspiring true story.

 

‘Priceless’ is emotional, better-than-average Christian film

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Priceless tells a story that needs to be told.

for KING & COUNTRY lead singer Joel Smallbone stars in the film as James Stevens, a man who is currently on the wrong path after he wife recently passed away and custody of his daughter was taken away. Because of all this, he’s not even sure what he’s doing  — and he doesn’t care what he’s transporting, as long as it’s not drugs — at his current job.

Little does he know, however, that the “goods” he’s transporting in the back of his truck is two young women to be sold into the sex slavery system.

Human trafficking is something that is a large problem in today’s society, but Priceless is one of the first films to address this issue.

Once James figures out what is going on in that he’s “delivering” two young men to sex traffickers, he realizes what he has to do, and he fights to get the two women back, no matter the cost.

James was living a story that he wasn’t supposed to be, but he realizes what’s important in his life again, and he starts to get his story back on track. He realizes that these two women’s lives are much more important than whatever cash he made from the trip. He realizes they are “priceless” (while for KING&COUNTRY’S song “Priceless” unashamedly plays in the background).

Bianca Santos plays Antonia, and, along with Smallbone, delivers a good performance as one of the women who is unknowingly sold into human trafficking.

To be honest, most Christian-based films fall far behind in the acting and cinematography categories. They have heart, which Priceless does as well, but Priceless succeeds in its message, heart, and its technical aspects. Staying in the family, Smallbone’s younger brother Ben is the feature director for the film.

I was pleasantly surprised, since I’ve seen many a Christian-based film to fall quite short in the technical area and, despite the important message it seeks to portray, seems cheaply done, which is distracting.

If a viewer was to judge Priceless strictly based on overall film quality, it would not rank as one of the best films of the year, by far. However, it does rank as one of the best Christian films, blazing new territory and providing a higher expectation for the genre.

Although Priceless does have some beautiful scenes cinematography-wise, its best quality is the message it brings to light. It shows that just because someone may be currently living in the wrong story, that does not mean they can’t overcome that and get back on the story they’re supposed to be on. It also talks about human trafficking in a very powerful, emotional way that speaks to audience members in a way that has not been done before.

Overall, Priceless is a worthwhile film to see, especially because of the message it shares. However, it’s engaging also and is well done enough to not be distracting.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Chariots of Fire. This 1981 British historical drama is probably considered the best “Christian” film of all time and stars Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams and Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell.

Photo courtesy of Kyros Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Halloweentown’ — perfect for the nostalgic ’90s kid

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Most every 90s and early 2000s kid grew up watching Disney Channel. Many of the shows and “Disney Channel Original Movies” are not worth a second look as an adult. Halloweentown, however, is the rare exception — along with the likes of High School Musical, Jump In, Camp Rock and Cadet Kelly.

Since Halloween is coming up soon, this post diverges a little from the typical routine of classic/modern film to celebrate the season.

This 1998 film begins with young, 13-year-old Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) begging to experience just a little of Halloween night. Her mother quickly puts a stop to this, however, as she does every year. Marnie feels she has a special connection with Halloween — and it turns out her suspicions were right. This is because Marnie is actually a witch, and she comes from a long line of witches.

Marnie overhears her grandmother talking to her mom (Judith Hoag) about her hometown, Halloweentown and how it’s in grave danger. She, along with her younger brother Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and little sister Sophie (Emily Roeske), follow their grandmother onto the mysterious bus that flies to the strange land of Halloweentown. Much happens in Halloweentown while the Cromwell family is there, but the best part is watching Marnie grow into a confident, independent young woman who helps her family at all costs.

Debbie Reynolds is obviously the star in the film. Watching the film now, I appreciate her acting more since I’ve since seen many of her stellar musicals, such as the classic Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (from which she received an Oscar nom). She’s delightful, oh so likable and fun as Aggie, Marnie’s grandmother who hails from the mysterious Halloweentown.

Brown is also good (and a little sassier than I remembered, to be honest) in her first Disney Channel movie. Brown would go on to star in the Disney Channel movie Quints and Halloweentown‘s many sequels.

The costumes and masks for the Halloweentown characters are quite ridiculous and unbelievable, but Halloweentown isn’t out to win an Oscar. It’s simply there to provide a “howling” good time for kids.

Part of what makes Halloweentown succeed is its overall engaging nature. The “broom scene” is captivating, especially for a young child or nostalgic 90s kid.

Most importantly, it teaches viewers about the importance of family, and that’s something every kid needs to get out of a movie. No spoilers, but the final scene is extra heartwarming when each family member comes together in his or her own way, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, to defeat “the bad thing.”

Halloweentown is unique its own right, but it also spawned three additions — rare for a TV original movie — Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge, Halloweentown High and Return to Halloweentown.

Overall, Halloweentown is a needed watch for the season, particularly if you grew up watching the film. Its lighthearted nature is atypical for the normal frightening Halloween movie and is a good film for any age who can appreciate its best qualities.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

 

‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ is wholesome coming-of-age tale

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Searching for Bobby Fischer makes it cool to play chess.

The 1993 film begins with young Josh Waitzkin — a character based off of a real boy — randomly exhibiting an aptitude for chess in the park. As far as his mother knows, Josh has never even played chess before, so this comes as a surprise to her.

Long story short (minus spoilers) seven-year-old Josh is a chess prodigy.

Of course, this delights his parents, especially his dad who recognizes his potential. Josh begins training with a chess grandmaster. He’s so talented, in fact, that some say he’s the next Bobby Fischer.

During the film, black-and-white Bobby Fischer anecdotes are sprinkled throughout. During the story’s time period, Fischer had disappeared, hence the title.

A bit of background on Fischer pertaining to the film’s story:

  • considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time
  • 11th World Chess Champion, beating Russian Boris Spassky
  • the youngest grandmaster at age 15
  • the youngest candidate for the World Championship
  • had a tendency to “disappear” for periods of time
  • essentially quit school since chess became “more important”

Fischer was talented but not always likable. Josh provides a direct contrast to Fischer since he shows a lot of heart throughout the film, especially in the final game against his opponent. The opponent seems to symbolically represent a Fischer-like character, directly opposing Josh and focusing on chess as a competition, rather than as an art form, with no choice but to win.

Even though chess is not usually as engaging of a game to watch as a baseball game or a tennis match, per say, Director Steve Zaillian directs the story in an incredibly fascinating way. The final game is not what I would call “nail-biting” in its effort to surprise the viewer, but nonetheless it’s absorbing.

The cinematography is typical for a normal 90s film — nothing memorable (although it did receive an Oscar nomination) — and it’s at times difficult to understand what Josh is saying (although at the same time, it almost makes Josh seem younger and cuter). The story, and the heart, is what helps this film succeed.

The acting is also stellar, boasting Oscar winner Ben Kingsley as Bruce Pandolphini, Josh’s mentor. Max Pomeranc (Josh), Joe Mantegna (Fred Waitzkin) and Joan Allen (Bonnie Waitzkin) also deliver first-rate performances.

The film has two main, apparent messages.

First, it shows that just because one has a natural gift for something, that does not always mean it is a good thing all the time. Sometimes, it can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the intense schedule of honing a natural skill can be too much and wear a child out. It shows that balance is key.

Second, it demonstrates that competition is important, but the player — or team — on the other end is always more important than the game. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try hard to win; what it does mean is that sportsmanship, character and heart take precedent.

Overall, Searching for Bobby Fischer is another inspirational film; just like Queen of Katweits utmost goal is to inspire. However, the film doesn’t necessarily inspire one to pick up the game of chess, but rather, Josh’s heart and dedication to doing good is what inspires.  Searching for Bobby Fischer pulls on the heartstrings more, and I consider it to prevail over Queen of Katwe in most aspects, minus cinematography.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures