February 14, 2019 Podcast

Happy Valentine’s Day and welcome to this week’s podcast!

New in Theaters

Reviews

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Warner Bros./Warner Animation Group)

Classic Cinema Corner

Recommendations

  • February’s TCM Big Screen Classics film is the film adaptation of the Broadway musical smash My Fair Lady (1964). The film screens on two days only–February 17 and 20. Details are at FathomEvents.com. Go see it! (And here’s an interesting story about Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice, Marni Nixon.)
  • The Oscars are happening on February 24 on ABC. Select movie theater chains across the country are offering special discounted passes to see all eight of the Best Picture nominees, including Megaplex Theatres, Cinemark, and AMC. It’s a great deal to see some great movies on the big screen.

Thanks for tuning in! Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on Apple iTunes. Have fun at the movies this week and we’ll see you next time.

Get Ready for “Frozen 2”

Today, Walt Disney Animation Studios debuted new artwork, a teaser poster, and a teaser trailer for their upcoming animated sequel Frozen 2. (Or is it Frozen II? The trailer and poster use the Roman numeral while the social media hashtag is #Frozen2.) Regardless, the trailer is impressive and the art looks beautiful (and have I mentioned lately how much I love the work of the talented folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios?).

Here’s the teaser trailer (see if you can spot the two new mystery characters).

Here’s the brand new teaser poster (with more of those fancy floating diamonds from the trailer).

And check out this beautiful art.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen 2 opens in theaters on November 22.

All images ©️ Disney

“Chungking Express”

We love The Criterion Collection here at Movies Past and Present. We’re a charter subscriber to their upcoming Criterion Channel, which allows us access to the “Movie of the Week” films they are providing early subscribers before their streaming service officially launches on April 8.

This week’s movie of the week is Chungking Express (1994) and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Made in Hong Kong and written and directed by Hong Kong-based director Wong Kar-wai, the film is a unique combination of police drama, film noir, and romantic comedy.

As stated on the film’s page on the Criterion website: “The whiplash, double-pronged Chungking Express is one of the defining works of nineties cinema and the film that made Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai an instant icon. Two heartsick Hong Kong cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung), both jilted by ex-lovers, cross paths at the Midnight Express take-out restaurant stand, where the ethereal pixie waitress Faye (Faye Wong) works. Anything goes in Wong’s gloriously shot and utterly unexpected charmer, which cemented the sex appeal of its gorgeous stars and forever turned canned pineapple and the Mamas and the Papas’ ‘California Dreamin’’ into tokens of romantic longing.”

Here’s a trailer for the U.S. release of the film.

As mentioned, it’s two stories in one, with each story about a broken-hearted policeman. Story one focuses on Cop 233 (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) who deals with his girlfriend leaving him by finding and buying a can of pineapple each day with the expiration date of May 1, the one-month anniversary of their breakup (and with the promise that he’s going to eat all 30 cans on May 1). Stating that everything has an expiration date, Cop 223’s sadness lingers on, even in the throws of a big case he is working on with a mysterious woman wearing sunglasses who is involved in a dangerous drug ring.

Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) in a frenetic chase in CHUNGKING EXPRESS.

Story two is overall a bit lighter in tone with heartbroken Cop 663 (played by Tony Leung) that has just been dumped by his flight attendant girlfriend. He starts to rebound by falling for a waitress named Faye (played by Faye Wong), who’s got some commitment problems of her own. Still, she is interested enough in Cop 663 to start intervening in his life in a rather unusual way.

Cop 663 (Tony Leung) visits Faye (Faye Wong) at the Midnight Express take-out stand in CHUNGKING EXPRESS.

Chungking Express is challenging, strange, and beautiful—really a unique piece of cinematic art. Many thanks to the Criterion Channel for continually expanding my cinematic horizons.

While the Blu-ray and DVDs of The Criterion Collection’s edition of Chunking Express are presently out of print, let’s hope that the film makes it to the upcoming Criterion Channel streaming service.

All images ©️ The Criterion Collection

February 7, 2019 Podcast

Welcome to this week’s podcast!

New in Theaters

Reviews

Destroyer (Annapurna Pictures, 2018)

Classic Cinema Corner

Subscribe to the Criterion Channel streaming service! More details at criterionchannel.com.

Last week’s “Movie of the Week” bonus feature that you get when you are a charter subscriber to the Criterion Channel was Elaine May’s crime drama Mikey and Nicky (1976).

Recommendations

They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2018)

Thanks for tuning in! Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on Apple iTunes. See you at the movies!

January 31, 2019 Podcast

Welcome to this week’s podcast!

New in Theatres

Gina Rodriguez is Miss Bala (Columbia, 2019).

Back in Theatres

The Academy Award-nominated documentary Free Solo is back in IMAX theaters for one week starting February 1. More info at imax.com/freesolo.

Reviews

Stan & Ollie (Sony Pictures Classics, 2018). Based on the book Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours by A.J. Marriot (1993).

Classic Cinema Corner

Thanks for tuning in! Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on Apple iTunes. See you at the movies!

Criterion Channel Launches April 8

I love The Criterion Collection. In case you’re not familiar with them, Criterion curates, restores, and releases films for the home video market. Throughout the year, they release important and noteworthy classic and contemporary films on the latest medium (currently Blu-ray and DVD). Working with filmmakers and film scholars, the brilliant folks at Criterion make definitive editions of films with meticulous digital transfers along with fascinating commentary tracks and relevant supplemental features. They work hard to “ensure that each film is presented as its maker would want it seen and published in an edition that will deepen the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the art of cinema” (from the Criterion website FAQ).

Criterion began releasing films in 1984 (Citizen Kane and King Kong were the original two titles receiving Criterion Collection treatment—and on Laserdisc even!). Since then, hundreds of other titles have been released. Recent titles include The Princess Bride, Alfred Hitchcock’s NotoriousSome Like It Hot, and In the Heat of the Night. Titles coming soon include My Brilliant Career, Jackie Chan’s Police Story and Police Story 2 (double collector’s set), Japón, A Face in the Crowd, and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, among many others. (See the Criterion Collection website for more information.)

(On a side note, Criterion often hosts filmmakers in their New York City headquarters and they let them pick a few films out of their closet. Pictures and videos are recurrently posted on Criterion’s Instagram feed and YouTube channel. A trip to the Criterion closet is definitely a dream of mine. Here are a couple of examples.)

(Lee Unkrich recently announced his retirement from Pixar. Bummer for all of us.)

As far as streaming services go, Criterion recently collaborated with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on the now defunct FilmStruck subscription service. FilmStruck was movie heaven for fans (like me) of classic, international, and art cinema. The loss of FilmStruck was really a devastating blow, both for the teams at TCM and Criterion who worked so hard to make the service great and for the subscribers who loved the service. However, happy days are here again because Criterion has just announced that April 8 will be the official launch of their new, exclusive Criterion Channel streaming service.

The service costs $9.99 a month or $89.99 a year. They are offering special incentives to “Charter Subscribers” (aka subscribers who join before the April 8 launch date). Signing up now will give Charter Subscribers an extended 30-day trial (which will start April 8). Charter Subscribers also get “concierge customer service from the Criterion Collection, a dedicated e-mail address to write to, as well as a holiday gift certificate for use on the Criterion Collection website” (which probably is pretty cool).

Image ©️ Criterion

As an added bonus, Charter Subscribers will get access to a “Movie of the Week” that can be watched exclusively online (access via apps and other platforms will happen on April 8). This week’s movie is the gangster drama Mikey and Nicky (1976) starring Peter Falk and John Cassavetes and written and directed by Elaine May. The Criterion Collection version of the film was just released on January 22, 2019. I’m a Charter Subscriber (I signed up the second I saw the tweet from Criterion) so I’ll be checking out these Criterion “Movie of the Week” titles from now until launch and will include reviews and commentary on the blog and podcast starting next week.

To subscribe to The Criterion Channel, go to criterionchannel.com. And make sure to follow Criterion on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

All images ©️ Criterion Collection

Happy 60th Birthday to “Sleeping Beauty”

Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) is celebrating its 60th anniversary today.

I have always been a fan of the film’s distinctive look, which is primarily attributed to production designer and artist extraordinaire Eyvind Earle.

Eyvind Earle showing some of the backgrounds from SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)
Eyvind Earle working in his office on SLEEPING BEAUTY art (©️ Disney)

The folks at D23, the official Disney fan club, have been posting some cool Sleeping Beauty articles over the past few days to commemorate the film’s 60th anniversary. One of the articles describes Earle’s approach to the film’s unique design:

“Determined to make this new film a Disney animated feature like no other, Walt assigned stylist Eyvind Earle as production designer. Creating a stylized approach that was a radical departure from previous Disney animated features, Earle combined Gothic French, Italian, and pre-Renaissance influences with his own abstract style of realism to create the formalized elegance and stylish design seen in Sleeping Beauty. To create the sumptuously stylized panoramas for this widescreen spectacle, Earle painted dozens of backgrounds in his distinctive style, some of them 15 feet long. Animation artist Tom Oreb skillfully incorporated the strong horizontal and vertical planes of the backgrounds into the character design, so that they had the Earle flair.”

Walt Disney showing Eyvind Earle’s work (©️ Disney)

Also stated in the D23 article is the painstaking work that was required to create the film. “Sequence director Eric Larson recalled the conscious effort to strive for Sleeping Beauty perfection. ‘Walt told me after one story meeting that he didn’t care how long it took, but to do it right,’ he said. Walt challenged the more than 300 Sleeping Beauty artists and technicians to make each frame an independent work of art. Because of the intricate stylization of the characters, the assistant animators had to work carefully with exacting specifications, even down to the exact thickness of the pencil lines. In the case of the carefully designed Briar Rose, it took one full day to create one cleaned-up animation drawing. For the jewel-like colors selected by Eyvind Earle, the Disney Paint Lab developed new hues using additives that gave the pigments a glow on the screen unseen in any animated film that had come before.”

Concept art for SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)
Concept art for SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)
Concept art for SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)

Another interesting item of note is that brilliant animator and artist Marc Davis was assigned to animate both the film’s protagonist (Princess Aurora/Briar Rose) and the antagonist (Maleficent).

Marc Davis along with the voice of Sleeping Beauty, opera singer Mary Costa (©️ Disney)
Character design for Princess Aurora/Briar Rose (©️ Disney)
Love this concept art for Maleficent (©️ Disney)

The film was the first animated movie shot in Super Technirama 70 widescreen (and the second to filmed in widescreen after 1955’s Lady and the Tramp). It was also released in 6-channel stereophonic sound. Here’s a clip (and check out those amazing Eyvind Earle trees).

The great art of Sleeping Beauty lives on today. Princess Aurora even made a stylized appearance, along with all of the other princesses from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, in last year’s Ralph Breaks the Internet. Here’s a tribute tweet today from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Here’s some great art by Walt Disney Animation Studios artist Lorelay Bove, too.

Speaking of D23, I am seeing Sleeping Beauty on the big screen next month as part of special D23 event and I can’t wait (more to come).

All images ©️ Disney

“Swing Time”

The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ musical Swing Time (1936) is this week’s film in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project. Considered by many to be Astaire and Rogers’ finest picture (it was their sixth picture; they made 10 films together), it’s a total delight.

Directed by George Stevens with songs by the great songwriting team of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, this romantic musical comedy is as light and breezy as they come. Astaire plays Lucky, a gambler and dancer who is engaged to be married. When he gets cold feet and misses the wedding, his fiancé and her family give him a second chance to prove himself if he can earn $25,000 on his own. In the meantime, Lucky meets dance instructor Penny Carrol played by Ginger Rogers and I’m sure you can guess what happens next (hint: Lucky falls hard for Penny). The romance takes its twists and turns in between such great musical numbers as “Pick Yourself Up,” “A Fine Romance,” “Mr. Bojangles” (with a problematic blackface scene), and the unforgettable “The Way You Look Tonight.”

In The Essentials book, author Jeremy Arnold writes, “Fred Astaire was more than an actor, dancer, and singer. He was a master of the medium who had great control over the visual presentation of his films. That’s the reason he and Ginger are consistently framed full-figure, head-to-toe, as they dance, and why there are never any reaction shots of audiences and rarely any cuts at all during their numbers. Astaire knew that keeping us firmly and emotionally involved in the performance itself would have the greatest effect. As he once said, ‘Either the camera will dance or I will dance.'”

Here’s an example of the camera work described above with Fred and Ginger’s “The Last Dance” sequence from the film.

I loved watching Swing Time again and it brought back a lot of happy memories of watching Fred and Ginger movies with my dear mother who introduced me to many of these classic films in the first place. As TCM’s Robert Osborn said about Swing Time, “It’s such a joyful movie and it just makes you feel good, and anytime you’re down in the dumps all you have to do is put this movie on and you’ll feel better.”

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

I watched Swing Time on TCM. It is also available on Apple iTunes.

TCM The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.

#TCMEssentials

2019 Oscar Nominations Announced

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today its nominees for the 91st Academy Awards honoring movies released in 2018.

Full list of nominees is here.

The Oscars ceremony will be broadcast live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. California on Sunday, February 24 on ABC.

More info, including our hopes and predictions, will be coming soon. Follow The Academy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

©️ AMPAS

#Oscars