24 December 2014

On Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain

Tsui Hark's latest film, The Taking of Tiger Mountain, opens today in China. It premieres in major U.S. cities on January 2.

The Taking of Tiger Mountain begins in the future at a karaoke bar in New York City. I was not expecting that. It is 2015 and a young man is being fêted on his last night in town before heading west for a lucrative job in Silicon Valley. In between karaoke performances, the television plays a clip of the Peking Opera performing a version of the famous Tiger Mountain battle. This fleeting vision fills the young professional with homesickness. As he sits in the backseat of a cab on the way to the airport, the film flashes back to 1946 where a country is trying to regain order in the wake of war.

What we see over the next two hours is not really history. It's more like folklore that's been filtered, inflated and bastardized across generations like a childhood game of telephone. The source material for Tsui's film is not a textbook but a novel, Tracks Through the Snowy Forest, which winnows messy history into a hero's journey. This is first and foremost an action film and a cleverly crafted one at that. All of this unreality is made explicit by a fascinating coda that manages to both strain the limits of credulity while also deepening the underlying humanity of everything that came before it.

Long before the conclusion, however, we know that we're inhabiting a fictional world. After the introduction, the film judiciously cuts back to the future just once more before settling down in 1946 for good. This temporary temporal break helps detach us just enough from the text to observe it on explicit storytelling terms. Meanwhile, in the fictional heart of the film lies an outsized villain calling himself Lord Hawk. Hawk is the most fearsome bandit in the region, whose dominance of the land is almost assured once he possesses three Advanced Maps that will unveil the locations of riches and weapons. Hawk is played in a larger-than-life performance by Tony Leung Ka-fai. The first several scenes with Hawk have him obscured by shadows and underlings, showing just glimpses of his hulking mass and yes, pet hawk. Once his visage is unveiled he recalls nothing more than classic Spider-Man villain, The Vulture.

Hawk's stronghold on the region is so decisive that the Liberation Army has no choice but to conduct a potentially suicidal mission to overthrow him, by sending one of their own, Yang (cooly played by Zhang Hanyu) to infiltrate Hawk's compound and set himself up as a spy. He sells himself as a man exiled from another fearsome bandit and he presents Hawk with one of the coveted maps as proof. The film then divides itself up between scenes of Yang nimbly working his way up the chain of command and scenes back at the camp of the PLA, where among other things a young orphan is taken in and an opium-smoking thief is captured. Oh yeah, and there's a lot of action.

The film is clearly building to the climactic siege that gives the film its title. And while that battle is exhilarating and bombastic, with lots of explosions, slow-motion, and bedlam, it's the preceding attack by Hawk's men on the army's camp that is the greatest sequence in the film, action or otherwise. This preceding scene is less dependent on computer-generated whimsy and succeeds thanks to smaller scale ambushes and resonating on a deeper emotional level. This is the scene that reminds us war is hell, not some game of cops and robbers.

For the most part the CGI is solid and well integrated within the film. Perhaps the worst offender comes during a fight between Yang and a Siberian tiger as they chase one another through snowy trees. But who's going to complain about having to watch a fight between a gun-toting badass and a tiger? The aforementioned coda also breaks the bank with its preposterousness but as described above that sequence is intentionally insane and is what gives the film its purpose.

This is a film celebrating history by populating its narrative with bullet time, pulp villains, and characters named Tank. If that's not a true sign of patriotism, I don't know what is.

15 November 2014

On Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2

Johnnie To's latest film, Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 opened in many major U.S. markets yesterday. It was a surprise. So is the film. 

I can't think of a sequel that interrogates and deconstructs the fundamental elements that made its predecessor so successful like Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 does. It's as if Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai, et al. felt like charlatans after the first film's success. I can picture the reviews and box office forcing them into asking why the first film works, deciding that it shouldn't, then showing us why it doesn't. This sequel goes to absurd lengths to examine the particulars of the first film and it is not reflected well. This makes the prospect of revisiting the first film even more tantalizing as we can use the tools given to us by the filmmakers to view the original in a wholly different light. 

The first film began with a generic love triangle template and over the course of two hours piled on reversals and complications until it reached a climax of dizzying proportions. Despite that film's commitment to teasing every last ounce of suspense out of which suitor Gao Yuanyuan's character Cheng Zixin would choose, the film resolved itself with the safer conclusion. This makes sense for a narrative that is beholden to its romantic comedy traditions. The sequel on the other hand begins with more absurdity than the first ended with and ratchets up the looniness and the loneliness in equal measure and ends up in truly uncharted territory.

Like the Astaire and Rogers films released during the Great Depression, the successful capitalistic society depicted onscreen in the Don't Go Breaking My Heart films is an illusion. It's a fantasy world for film audiences where we can live vicariously in mansions and on yachts, freely laughing along at the difficulties of parallel parking a Ferrari. These are pretty people living lavish lives and yet none of them are the slightest bit happy. The basic fundamental human desire to be offered a choice not only cripples the protagonists but shows them all to be, for lack of a better term, idiots. (As usual, DEVO said it best.) That these indecisive people are in charge of huge financial institutions, despite the fact that when forced to actually call the shots they fail spectacularly is one of the new film's sickest jokes.

While the first film falls well within the genre of romantic comedies and its traditions, this bitter sequel does not. It's certainly funny, in fact more hilarious than the original, but the film ends on a sour note that haunts the memory of the preceding laughs. And this is not even close to being romantic. (My colleague Sean pointed out that this is much more of a screwball comedy, with its conceit of mistaken identity, than a romantic comedy.) All of the cutesy gestures that Shen-ren does in the first film are recreated here but instead of being clever and charming they are routinely exposed as hollow, shameless, and desperate. Even his scaling of the building (built in Zixin's image!) at the film's end is pathetic. Although the film resolves itself by working out in Shen-ren's favor there is no feeling of triumph or joy. It's a bitter pill to swallow.

It is revealed at one point that Shen-ren's playboy lifestyle only masks his continued infatuation with Zixin. The only way he can sleep at night is by climbing through the window of her old apartment, which he has since rented, where he watches a loop of her dance routine that he filmed in the first movie. Is that not the most profoundly depressing thing you've ever heard? It's even more sad if one sees it as an analog for us filmgoers, who retreat to our darkened rooms and projected images, finding solace in the past which we can only rewrite in our dreams. Romantic comedies like the original Don't Go Breaking My Heart can be a crutch that keeps us from finding tangible, tactical happiness in the real world.

The idea of reverse thinking is explicitly part of the text of the sequel, literalized in the form of an octopus who is smart enough to pick one of two outcomes but is always wrong. The star of the new film, Yang Yang-Yang (played by Miriam Yeung, another sign of the boundary pushing of this film, the hero is a character not in the first movie at all!) embraces the octopus with almost religious zeal. This championing of contradiction serves as a clever way of handwaving the reason that Yang decides to stay with Louis Koo's Shen-ren despite overwhelming evidence that this is quite literally, the worst idea in the world. And if anyone thinks that a movie that explicitly tells us that everything is a mistake will give us a happy ending, they're dead wrong. The conclusion of this film is as committed as everything that went before it. It is unambiguous on where it lands.

This ending is problematic only insofar as giving us what we want. For a film this bold to pivot in its final moments to a place of satisfaction would be a cop-out. The argument has been made that this sequel almost begs for a third film in the saga and I won't lie, I would love to see how To approaches that hypothetical feature. Does he expose this film's indictments as their own kind of lie? Does he painstakingly piece back together the breezy joys of the first film, showing us why the old tropes still work? I'd love to see that but I would also be happy if Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 is the final chapter. In its way it brings the narrative -- at least of one almost abandoned character -- full circle.

And it breaks your heart.

20 August 2014

Episode 41 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Sean and I spend two hours trying to find the right key on this jam-packed episode of The George Sanders Show. First off, we pogo our way through a discussion of the B-movie magic of Rock 'n' Roll High School starring P. J. Soles and the Ramones. Later we argue about the merits of the recent film Pitch Perfect. In between some people die and a beloved Seattle institution is reborn.

Sweet Adeline!

Feedback on the show can be directed to thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com or @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: Strike! & Matewan

28 July 2014

Episode 40 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On this special edition of The George Sanders Show Sean and I unveil the first round of our book club, which is basically us complaining about Thomas Schatz's seminal work on classical Hollywood, The Genius of the System. Speaking of the system, we then take time to discuss two films about the mysteries and myths of moviemaking, Hellzapoppin' and The Barefoot Contessa.

Next time: Rock 'n' Roll High School & Pitch Perfect!

14 July 2014

Episode 39 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Instead of learning a language before heading off for a summer in France and Germany, I just watched movies instead. On this episode of The George Sanders Show Sean and I see double as we discuss Jacques Demy's Lola from 1961 and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film of the same name, released twenty years later. Demy is also our Person of the Week and we select our Cinemassential Vacation Films. Also, special guest appearance by Weird Al!

Next time: Hellzapoppin' & The Barefoot Contessa!

30 June 2014

Episode 38 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On this edition of The George Sanders Show, Sean and I hop the freight train that is Bong Joon-ho's latest film Snowpiercer. I also get a chance to ask Bong stupid questions in a fancy hotel for the first ever George Sanders Show interview. Sean and I also talk about Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors from a very different Korean auteur, Hong Sang-soo.

Next time: Lola & Lola

13 June 2014

Episode 37 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On this supersonic installment of The George Sanders Show, Sean and I recap the nine films we actually managed to see at the 40th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. Also music from the best Seattle band named after a Russ Meyer film and a rap artist with a predilection for large derrières.

Complaints about my microphone cutting out can be directed to thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com or @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: Snowpiercer & Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors

27 May 2014

SIFF 2014: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is brimming with enticements that it doesn't fully pursue.

Our hero refuses the uninspired dreams pinned on her. Instead she finds purpose in fantasy and doggedly, dangerously follows it. Disconnected Kumiko in Tokyo is a great start, but it gets safer in America. The nice, clueless Midwesterners recall criticisms lobbed at (executive producer) Alexander Payne more than the Coens, whose black humor I wish this swapped out the Shogun references for.

23 May 2014

SIFF 2014: The Boy and the World

A father leaves home in search of work and his distraught, curious young son sets out to find him. On his journey he inadvertently gets an education in every sad step of the garment industry.

Director Alé Abreu's charming cartoon The Boy and the World melds a mesmerizing sound design with exemplary animation. Most of the film is in a hand-drawn style with the characters not being much more complex than stick figures, but punctuated throughout are bits of computer-generated psychedelic patterns and satirical collage.

The film's first half is content to just follow the boy as he uncovers new images and sounds in his ever-expanding universe, but the latter part stumbles when Abreu kicks his anti-industrialist agenda into overdrive. For the most part I was onboard with his melding of the two stories, and thank goodness the film's dialogue-free nature saves it from sermonizing, but a brief yet blunt cut to documentary footage of the machines of capitalist greed destroying countrysides is like a bullhorn shouting, THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING! It's an unfortunate choice that takes the viewer out of the film's fantastically realized world, from which it never fully recovers.

Also, is it wrong that I liked the martial theme of the fascist police bloc more than the joyous song of the protesting people?

19 May 2014

Episode 36 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On this episode of The George Sanders ShowSean and I board a last minute plane to Africa as a means of avoiding discussion of the Seattle International Film Festival. Once there, we dive deep into Howard Hawks's Hatari!, as well as White Hunter, Black Heart, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood is also our Person of the Week and we select our Cinemassential White People in Africa films.


Feedback can be delivered via airmail to thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com or @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: An actual discussion of the Seattle International Film Festival. I promise.

05 May 2014

Episode 35 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Sean and I go out of this world (or at the very least, visit Scotland) for a discussion of Jonathan Glazer's new film Under the Skin on this episode of The George Sanders Show. We also pick apart John Carpenter's Starman, a film that looks forward to our end of the year look back on the year 1984. (Read it again.) Under the Skin star Scarlett Johansson is our Person of the Week and we select our Cinemassential Doppelgänger Films.

Feedback can crash-land at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com or @GeoSandersShow.

21 April 2014

Episode 34 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Sean wouldn't stop jibber-jabbering about how awesome the new film La última película is, so I broke down and watched it for this episode of The George Sanders Show. Mostly just to get Sean to shut up. It didn't work.

The two of us get back from our vision quest in time to blather on about W. C. Fields's one-of-a-kind feature Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. We also select our Cinemassential Movies-About-Movies, talk up the career of Dennis Hopper, and pick apart the recent Time Out list of the 100 Greatest Animated Films of All Time.

Feedback is welcomed at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com or @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: Under the Skin & Starman!

07 April 2014

Episode 33 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Sean and I don on our rose-colored glasses for this episode of The George Sanders Show. Yes, it's a trip down memory lane as we discuss Orson Welles's adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons and Jia Zhangke's film Platform. Mr. Welles gets his day in the spotlight as our Person of the Week and we select our Cinemassential Nostalgia films.

Feedback is welcome at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: La última películá & Never Give a Sucker an Even Break!

24 March 2014

Episode 32 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On this week's episode of The George Sanders Show, Sean and I grab a spot in the bleachers for Opening Day of baseball with discussions of The Pride of the Yankees and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. We also pick our Cinemassential Baseball films and talk about Akira Kurosawa (again) on the occasion of his birthday.

Play ball!

Feedback can be directed to thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow!

Next week: The Magnificent Ambersons & Platform!

14 March 2014

Episode 31 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Tying in with the release of Pompeii for some godforsaken reason, Sean and I talk about vulgar auteur Paul W. S. Anderson's recent take on The Three Musketeers. We also fight Harryhausen skeletons with a discussion of Don Chaffey's 1963 Jason and the Argonauts. Swashbucklers get the Cinemassential treatment and we dive into discussions on the perceived stagnation of the auteur theory and the hubbub surrounding the recent documentary The Act of Killing. Oh, and more people died.

Feedback is graciously accepted at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow.

Next week: Pride of the Yankees & Bingo Long's Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings!

Also, if you're looking for even more of my uninformed opinions and braying voice, the epic Studio Ghibli episode of They Shot Pictures can be found here.

25 February 2014

Episode 30 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Welcome to our annual Oscar Complaints episode of The George Sanders Show! This week Sean and I whine about inadequacies in 1936's Best Picture winner, The Great Ziegfeld, and point out every single thing wrong with the Academy's pick for the greatest film of 2002, Rob Marshall's Chicago. We also run down the inadequate films that we think will win at this year's ceremony, and then pick our favorites in each category because we're under the impression that we are better suited for this than people that are actually paid to work in the film industry. 

Listen now:

Feedback is welcome at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow.

Next timeJason and the Argonauts & The Three Musketeers (2011)!

17 February 2014

Episode 29 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

Tying in with the release of George Clooney's The Monuments Men, Sean and I ride the rails with Burt Lancaster in The Train, directed by John Frankenheimer. We then hop a freight through the majestic Pacific Northwest for a front row seat in Robert Aldrich's Emperor of the North, starring Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. Meanwhile the deaths of Shirley Temple and Philip Seymour Hoffman bring us down, and our Cinemassential Train Films does not include Buster Keaton's The General.

All aboard!

Listen Now:


Feedback is welcome at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: Our Oscar spectacular with The Great Ziegfeld and Rob Marshall's Chicago!

07 February 2014

The Witch Rises: On Kiki's Delivery Service

A young witch coming of age arrives in a seaside town to master her abilities. To do so she has left behind her family and her home, with nothing but a broom, a bag, and a cat by her side. The girl is a romantic and a bit of a klutz, longing for the ocean whilst crashing into trees. She is taken in by a kind woman on the verge of motherhood, who gives her a job and a home. An enthusiastic and indefatigable boy falls for her and pesters the young woman to be his friend. The witch makes pancakes. It is wonderful.

Kiki's Delivery Service is certainly one of the most low key films director Hayao Miyazaki has created. While at its center it has a protagonist with magical powers, the film is more often concerned with the minor moments in life that we all face, meeting a new person, getting over an illness, being bored behind a counter. There are no cat buses or cities in the sky. No one turns into a pig, a scarecrow or a giant forest god. More than any other movie, this Miyazaki film is about people. Most of them are strong, independent women of varied experience and expectations. All of them, every single character, even the non-humans, are rich. Think of Jeff the dog, a fleeting character who gets two minutes of screen time at most, much of that unconscious. The care in conceiving and animating the altruistic animal's movements tells us more than we could ever hope to know about a hound.

The animation throughout Kiki's Delivery Service is, in a word, astounding. The Ghibli backgrounds are all framable, a series of lush masterpieces depicting ornate cityscapes, quaint storefronts, and cozy houses. Miyazaki's undying passion for flight is on magnificent display as well. The attention to detail in Kiki's windblown skirt and the physics of making midair adjustments is second to none. Much of the enjoyment comes from the little nods to intricate care that Miyazaki sprinkles throughout. The brief pause as Kiki's dad lifts her up, adjusting for more weight than he expected; Kiki's brief slip as she rounds a corner running to save Tombo; even the mere inclusion of a once motionless train car falling into line as the cars preceding it begin moving is beautiful.

One of the most enjoyable elements of Kiki's Delivery Service is how practical it is despite the existence of magic. Sure, Kiki can fly and talk to cats but she still has to clean her room with a bucket and a brush. There are no Disney creatures popping out of the woodwork with a song and a helping paw. This is work. The assured dedication to one's goals is a common theme throughout the film. Kiki demands to help out around the house of an elderly woman and her caretaker after they pay her for a delivery that is canceled. Tombo boasts of how hard he needs to train in order to get his legs in shape to power his flying contraption. Ursula spends her days in the forest, sketching crows, and dedicating the entirety of her life to art.

Whilst sitting on the beach with Tombo after crashing his bicycle-plane, Kiki confides that although she used to love flying, the passion is gone now that she does it for a living. Upon returning home after this confession, the young witch discovers that her magic is missing. It's tempting to read Kiki's subsequent existential crisis as an allusion to Miyazaki himself, who by this point in his career had painstakingly finished his passion project, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and released what to this day is still his most beloved film, one whose title character went on to become not only a global phenomenon but the icon for the animation studio that he had founded. Was Miyazaki burned out? Did he think at this relatively early stage in his career that his best ideas were behind him? It is unclear.

What is known is that Miyazaki did not originally plan on directing the film but got so invested in the screenplay process that he jumped in head first immediately upon finishing My Neighbor Totoro. Kiki's Delivery Service was released a mere fifteen months later. When recently discussing his retirement, Miyazaki mentioned that each successive film is taking longer to complete than the last. It is astounding that at one point in an animation director's career, one who in particular, also writes his own screenplays and does much of the drawing himself, managed to knock out two indisputable masterpieces so close to one another. So this is what it was like to live during the same time as Mozart or Shakespeare.

04 February 2014

Baseball & Basho: On My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Isao Takahata's delightful My Neighbors the Yamadas is the most atypical film released by Studio Ghibli. Concerning the day-to-day lives of a three-generational Japanese family, with no real plot to speak of, its story is the most mundane of the company's pictures. It contains none of the fantasy elements that abound in co-owner Hayao Miyazaki's features. Even its source material is an odd choice for the studio, which on the occasion they choose to adapt, tends to take on Western works like Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle and Mary Norton's The Borrowers. Instead My Neighbors the Yamadas is based on a Japanese manga called Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ichii. This source material goes a long way in explaining the most obvious example of the film's uniqueness, its visual style, which abandons Ghibli's highly detailed anime look of lush backgrounds and detailed characters for a sparse, sketched quality.

Consigning the story to such a loose palette allows for flights of fancy that wouldn't be achievable in the normal Ghibli mode. These include reveries like riding a toboggan down a wedding cake and the appearance of a masked superhero, riding a scooter and firing pistols behind his back. At times the animation can be subtly complex. A late scene involving a motorcycle gang is drawn in a more realistic, yet still unfinished style, which is an inspired choice since it is the one scene that takes the family's story outside of itself, having the Yamadas' little world interrupted by the rest of reality.

To the Western viewer this style and the film's rhythms are reminiscent of comics beyond its source material, Charles Schultz's Peanuts in particular. The Yamadas even have a deadpan dog that seems to be smarter than everyone else. There is a quality to the comedy throughout that recalls the three-panel newspaper comics, which deliver a quick set-up-and-punchline delivery. Another classic American comic that comes to mind is Bill Watterson's immortal Calvin and Hobbes. This is most apparent in a scene that sees the father, Takashi, trying to get his television-transfixed family to get outside and experience the beautiful snowfall, which recalls nothing more than Calvin's dad on one of the family's ill-fated camping trips. Later on in the film, Takashi tries to interest his son Noburo in a game of catch. Noburo, who has previously shown an utter ineptitude for baseball, asks why and his dad says that catch is a form of bonding between fathers and sons. Noburo then suggests that if that is the ultimate goal, then there are plenty of other things the two can do. Cut to his father outside throwing a ball against a wall, alone. These moments cut deep.

One of the film's greatest achievements is this ability to sincerely capture the outlook and experience of each of the family's three generations. Takahata taps into the quiet revolutions that shape a child's existence, showing a frozen-faced Nonoko listening to her family discuss how she and Noboru might not exist if circumstances were different. Further up on the family tree, the aged matriarch, Shige, visits a friend in the hospital. Her friend gossips about the patient in the bed adjacent and is catty about most everything else. The two friends laugh and joke until Shige asks why exactly her friend is in the hospital, and her friend pauses before breaking into sobs. The answer remains unspoken but we see that the end is imminent and this casual visit was much more, a brief but bold respite from dire circumstances.

And yet, My Neighbors the Yamadas is far from melancholic. The film's repeated use of poetry (most often by Basho) to end its vignettes is more contemplative than emotional. In fact, the picture is the most consistently funny of all the Ghibli films. It's hard to believe that the same director helmed the devastating Grave of the Fireflies. The humor can be wry, broad, verbal, or visual depending on the scene, but it is never cheap. A great gag comes when mother Matsuko wants to watch a movie but her husband is in the middle of a baseball game. She steals the remote but Takashi blocks the device's signal by holding his newspaper up in front of the screen. Their fight for televisual supremacy is staged like a sword fight.

A common joke throughout the film is each family member's terrible forgetfulness. Umbrellas, lunches, briefcases, shoes, even children are left behind when one Yamada or another gets preoccupied. One of the film's longer sections occurs in the beginning when the family accidentally leaves little Nonoko asleep on a bench in a shopping center. The scene is very crucial to the rest of the picture as it clearly and convincingly lays out each family member's personality, both separately and in relation to the others. Both parents are distraught and distracted by their missing daughter so they chase after a car that left with Nonoko even though they don't know what direction it went in, or what it even looks like. Shige meanwhile chastises everyone for letting such a horrible thing happen, even though she was there and just as culpable as everyone else. Noburo says Nonoko will be fine, partly because he knows his sister better than anyone else and because he wants to get to a store before it closes. For her part, Nonoko sees the situation differently, thinking that her family got lost, not she, since she never left the bench.

And so this sweet little film stands on the shelf, sandwiched between epic tales like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and youthful flights of fancy like Ponyo. There the Yamadas sit, reading the newspaper and listening to the occasional Mahler. The parents watch their children stumble through a familiar rite of passage, while grandmother watches her grown children make the same mistakes she did. Then she forgets to get groceries again, so they all order sushi. This normal little family, leading funny lives just like you and me.

27 January 2014

Episode 28 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On this episode of The George Sanders Show Sean and I run away with our Apple products to a land where no one will judge us, when we discuss Spike Jonze's recent film, Her and Ernst Lubitsch's silent feature, The Doll. We also pick our Cinemassential Voiceover Performance and discuss the life and times of the late Paul Newman on the occasion of his birthday.

Listen Now:


Feedback is welcome at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: The Train Emperor of the North!

13 January 2014

Episode 27 of The George Sanders Show Now Available!

On the first episode of 2014 Sean and I snort up two three-hour movies about the all consuming corruption of money, Martin Scorsese's recent The Wolf of Wall Street and Marcel L'Herbeir's 1928 Zola adaptation, L'argent. We also single out our Cinemassential money movies and talk about the rich career of Scorsese. Plus, my second favorite cover song of all time, so dig in kids!

Listen Now:


Feedback is welcome at thegeorgesandersshow[at]gmail[dot]com and @GeoSandersShow.

Next time: Her & The Doll

01 January 2014

My Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2014

It's a bit premature for me to start yammering on about all the exciting films scheduled for release over the next 52 Fridays when I have only gotten to three of my top ten most anticipated films from last year. Still, since I've at least temporarily given up on the whole end-of-the-year list making racket, I feel like I should preserve some semblance of my past preoccupations, and by that I mean my future preoccupations. Bring on the coming distractions!

A few matters of housekeeping to note: any film from a previous year's list is exempt, hence the lack of Only Lovers Left Alive which so far has only played festivals; and films that have already had a theatrical release somewhere, anywhere, like Snowpiercer which has played practically everywhere but America, are also ineligible. This is about finding the newest new things. Onward.

10. The Monuments Men

Am I under any illusion that George Clooney's tale about a ragtag group of art specialists traipsing across Europe in an effort to save precious masterpieces from Nazi destruction will be a favorite by the end of the year? No, not really. But I sure like me some John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett, and Bill Murray. I'd sure as hell try and save them from the Nazis.

9. Casting the Runes

Okay, so I'm not nearly as familiar with director Joe Dante as I should be (another filmography to brush up on this year) but homeboy made Gremlins and that makes him bulletproof. Having him team up with Simon Pegg for a story about a journalist who uncovers the secrets of a cult definitely doesn't hurt his prospects.

8. Magic in the Moonlight

Obligatory Woody Allen slot. As usual, it's anybody's guess at this point where on the quality spectrum his latest will fall. All we know is that it is a period piece (hooray!) and that Colin Firth and Emma Stone are leading a cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, and Hamish Linklater. That's no Cate Blanchett/Louis C.K./Andrew Dice Clay triumvirate (I still haven't seen Blue Jasmine, by the way) but it's a decent enough tease.

7. They Came Together

Wet Hot American Summer screenwriters and The State alumni David Wain and Michael Showalter have collaborated on a new script about a woman played by Cobie Smulders whose business is threatened by a corporate takeover. The supporting cast is where this thing really tickles my fancy. Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Michael Shannon, and Ed Helms all have a piece of this thing. According to that picture, part of that piece includes Rudd beating the snot out of Shannon.

6. Veronica Mars

Season one of Veronica Mars is about as perfect as a contained televised story can be. Unfortunately, after that it was a case of ever-diminishing returns. But still, I've got faith for this cinematic reunion. Two words: Dick Casablancas.

5. Gone Girl

I abandoned author Gillian Flynn's debut novel Sharp Objects after the first chapter because the writing style annoyed me and the subject matter was unpleasant in an unpleasant sort of way. So why am I throwing my weight behind the film adaptation of her follow-up bestseller? Because David Fincher. If I remember correctly he was involved in another adaptation of a lackluster literary phenomenon. For my money, that turned out rather well. Here's hoping Ben Affleck's search for his missing wife is cold, obsessive, and scored by Trent Reznor.

4. Inherent Vice

Speaking of literary works I couldn't get behind, I wasn't a huge fan of Thomas Pynchon's shaggy dog detective novel Inherent Vice (I did finish that one though) but it's Paul Thomas Anderson doing the adapting and Joaquin Fucking Phoenix (I have hearby legally changed Phoenix's middle name, remember that) starring as the stoned protagonist Doc Sportello. If nothing else the film will probably boast impeccable '70s period detail and at least one amazing tracking shot. Oh, and a great soundtrack. Who am I kidding? It's going to be amazing.

3. The Prophet

There is no new Pixar film coming out this year. (This is a good thing.) Meanwhile, the new Disney film is a Marvel adaptation, which leaves me with a severe case of the sighs. However, there is a new animated feature that sounds exciting, fresh, and inspired. The Prophet is an adaptation of Lebanese poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran's book from 1923. Nine different directors will animate a portion of the film in their own style, including artists who have done work on films such as The Lion KingFantasia 2000, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But there are two more idiosyncratic names attached to the film that really get me excited: Sita Sings the Blues creator Nina Paley and maverick cartoonist Bill Plympton.

2. Voyage of Time/Knight of Cups/Untitled Terrence Malick Film

So IMDb lists three potential Terrence Malick films for 2014. One is the long-discussed companion piece to The Tree of Life, the IMAX exploration about the origins of the universe, Voyage of TimeKnight of Cups meanwhile sees Christian Bale being tempted by Cate Blanchett and/or Natalie Portman among other things. Lastly, there's the as-yet-untitled star-studded film about love in the Austin music scene. I'll take any and all of those whenever you're ready, Terry.

1. Boyhood

After finally getting around to watching the entire Before trilogy last year, I decided to go whole hog and make my way through the entirety of Richard Linklater's ouevre. As of now I'm about halfway there. His latest film, Boyhood, sounds like an incredible once-in-a-lifetime production that will be a nice cap to my ongoing project. Linklater and his cast have been sporadically filming the movie for the last twelve years, charting the real growth of a boy from adolescence to adulthood. If we thought it was great catching up with Celine and Jesse every nine years, seeing over a decade unfurl over the course of two hours should be riveting.

Which three of these will I have actually seen by January 1st, 2015?? It's anybody's guess!