Saturday, August 26, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977 Directed by Steven Spielberg

On September 1, 2017, a new 4K release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind will be released in theatres. I doubt I will get to see it myself, but if that's possible I will do it in a heartbeat. 

After the blockbuster Jaws, Steven Spielberg decided to make a film like none other. This was the same year Star Wars came out and science fiction was not a respected genre in any of its incarnations, be that literature or cinema. While Star Wars was a basically a fantasy film with Sci-Fi elements, Close Encounters is a much more serious venture. It follows a typical everyman, like many of Spielberg’s films, as he comes to grip with the fact he has been chosen, apparently by aliens for some unknown purpose. Richard Dreyfuss gives and amazing, textured performance (as does the rest of the cast including Teri Garr, Melinda Dillion, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen and famed French director Fran├žois Truffaut). 

Everything about the 20 million dollar production puts today’s 200 million dollar films to shame in many, many ways. The special effects by the legendary Douglas Trumball are practically flawless and look as good today as they did then. I recently looked at some of Trumball’s  experiments, outtakes of effects that he felt did not work, and even they are amazing and would look fantastic in any modern production. The music by John Williams is iconic in a way that surpasses maybe even his score for Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back in that music itself is a crucial part of the plot and if it didn’t work, the film might have failed as well. 

Technical stuff aside, it’s the story telling that sets this movie head and shoulders above most others and makes it a classic. It’s not a fast cut, non-stop action film, it’s a well-paced character piece of people dealing with extraordinary events. A lot of detail both visually and in the dialogue gives even minor characters intriguing personalities. A good example is the poor guy hired to play the musical instrument used to communicate with the aliens. His reactions alone tell you he had no idea what he was getting into when he took the job and he struggles through fear and awe as he struggles to keep up with a giant spaceship which has somehow ended up in a duet with him at a secret base at Devil’s Tower monument. There could be a film about what happens to him alone after the events of this film. 

As only his third real full-length film, Spielberg established what would be become some common tropes in his work with the lighting, plot progression and effects integration while telling a simple, personal story. As well worn as some of them are now, watching this film they all seem new and fresh. 

While not exactly hard science fiction, it takes its subject matter seriously and was meticulously researched to be true to what were, frankly, nutty stories about flying saucers. It was too successful, maybe. As The Exorcist  brought an obscure Catholic ritual into the public eye and suddenly, people were getting possessed by demons all over the place and still are to this very day. Close Encounters did the same thing for UFO enthusiasts and after its release everyone, including President Jimmy Carter had some sort of « encounter » to talk about. 

Its effect in cinema was also quite impressive, but not as impressive as George Lucas’s space opera as this film was not a vehicle for sequels or toys but a stand-alone story that one would be hard pressed to market or merchandise for decades after its release. It was also a hard film to rip off, though believe me, many studios certainly did. As a result, I would say not too many people in their 20s today have actually seen the film, even though they certainly know a lot about it. Those five famous notes alone are enough to secure  it the public conscience. 

Maybe the coming 4K version will bring this classic back into the limelight where it belongs alongside Star Wars, Gone with the Wind and other iconic, unforgettable films. It might at least remind the movie going public of what a inspirational and well made film it is. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Obit: Jerry Lewis 1926-2017

While Mr. Lewis was not a favourite of mine by any measure, his contribution to comedy and film are not to be ignored. I did like him in the film "King of Comedy" and some of his physical comedy was quite brilliant. So here is a little summary directly from Wikipedia to make up for my lack of knowledge about him. 

Jerry Lewis (born either Jerome Levitch or Joseph Levitch, depending on the source;[1] March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017) was an American actor, comedian, singer, producer, director, screenwriter, and humanitarian. He was known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio. He and Dean Martin were partners as the hit popular comedy duo of Martin and Lewis. Following that success, he was a solo star in motion pictures, nightclubs, television shows, concerts, album recordings, and musicals.
Lewis served as national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and hosted the live Labor Day weekend broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon for 44 years. He received several awards for lifetime achievement from the American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Venice Film Festival and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Shin Godzilla 2016 Directed by Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi

Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgence) marks a new beginning for the Toho studios Godzilla films. While it is the 31st in the series it re0imagines the creature’s origins - basing them more on the Fukushima disaster rather than the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in WWII. 

The results are mixed. 

Overall, this is your typical Japanese monster flick in style and substance and would not have been out of place on a Saturday morning’s Creature Double Feature TV show. There is a lot of filler exposition with government officials debating and running around trying to decide what to do about the giant monster attacking Tokyo. Two hours is little long for this sort of thing, but it’s a fun film to watch and the special effects are far above some of those earlier efforts in the 60s and 70s we all remember so fondly, and even better than more recent efforts as the mix of monster suits, CGI and puppets gets more sophisticated. 

Visually, Godzilla is huge and the redesign is interesting… but doesn’t always work. In this film it evolves quickly from a sea creature to the two legged creature we all know (more or less) but some of the earlier versions are a bit weird looking. The eyes are on the line between creepy and cartoon-like. The fully formed monster is a mess, mostly in a good way. It looks like a rotting corpse and that may be intentional. The atomic breath is well done and gets a slight laser beam upgrade at one point as well. 

The plot is where this, and many other movies like it, falls apart. It’s fun to watch but really makes very little logical sense. Godzilla is attacked repeatedly by missiles and bombs - which actually do have some effect - and is eventually crushed by knocking buildings over on top of him (her? Who knows?). They use the time he is on the ground to pump fluid into his mouth that will « freeze him »  when he uses his atomic breath and it works. The freezing solution is better than the military one which was to basically destroy Japan with atomic bombs so I guess considering the alternative, a giant decomposing monster in the middle of the city is the better choice. 

The film ends with a shot of Godzilla’s (comically long - seriously - it’s incredibly long) tail frozen while in the process of bursting open and revealing some sort of human-like creatures emerging from it. Creepy, effective looking but confusing and dumb - why on earth would that be happening? We know the monster is continually evolving according to the plot but that just comes out of nowhere. 

Watch it? Sure, if you like traditional Japanese monster flicks (and I do) this fits that need nicely.