TCM “Must-See Sci-Fi” Update for February 2020

I’m still having a blast with my 2020 movie project of watching all 50 movies listed in the cool book from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) called Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World by Sloan De Forest (Running Press, 2018; available at Amazon.com and Shop TCM). The complete list of 50 films is here.

Here’s the current rundown on the films I watched in February (courtesy of my Instagram feed).

Things to Come (1936)

The Thing from Another World (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

TCM “Must-See Sci-Fi” Update for January 2020

Sorry I’m a little slow in posting this, but I’ve been having a blast with my 2020 movie project of watching all 50 movies listed in the cool book from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) called Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World by Sloan De Forest (Running Press, 2018; available at Amazon.com and Shop TCM). The complete list of 50 films is here.

Here’s the current rundown on the films I watched in January (courtesy of my Instagram feed).

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Metropolis (1927)

Frankenstein (1931)

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

The Invisible Man (1933)

2020 Movie Watching Project: TCM “Must-See Sci-Fi”

Happy 2020! This year’s movie watching project has me over the moon, truly.

I am planning to watch all 50 movies listed in the cool book from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) called Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World by Sloan De Forest (Running Press, 2018; available at Amazon.com and Shop TCM).

Here’s the list of the 50 films (plus I’m also going to watch Disney’s wild and wacky sci-fi flick The Black Hole from 1979 which is not included in the book but is a total sci-fi guilty pleasure).

* Watched in 2019
** Never seen before

  1. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  2. Metropolis* (1927)
  3. Frankenstein (1931)
  4. Island of Lost Souls** (1932)
  5. The Invisible Man (1933)
  6. Things to Come** (1936)
  7. The Thing from Another World** (1951)
  8. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  9. It Came from Outer Space (1953)
  10. The War of the Worlds (1953)
  11. Them! (1954)
  12. Godzilla (1954)
  13. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  14. Forbidden Planet (1956)
  15. Invasion of the Body Snatchers* (1956)
  16. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
  17. The Fly (1958)
  18. The Blob (1958)
  19. The Time Machine (1960)
  20. La Jetée** (1962)
  21. These Are the Damned** (1962)
  22. Alphaville** (1965)
  23. Fantastic Voyage (1966)
  24. Planet of the Apes (1968)
  25. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  26. Barbarella** (1968)
  27. THX 1138 (19710
  28. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  29. Silent Running** (1972)
  30. Solaris** (1972)
  31. Sleeper (1973)
  32. The Man Who Fell to Earth** (1976)
  33. Logan’s Run (1976)
  34. Star Wars (1977)
  35. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  36. The Black Hole (1979); not on original list—added for my own guilty viewing pleasure
  37. Alien* (1979)
  38. E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  39. Blade Runner (1982)
  40. The Brother from Another Planet** (1984)
  41. The Terminator (1984)
  42. Back to the Future (1985)
  43. Brazil** (1985)
  44. Robocop (1987)
  45. Jurassic Park (1993)
  46. The Matrix (1999)
  47. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  48. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  49. WALL-E (2008)
  50. District 9 (2009)
  51. Arrival (2016)

I hope you’ll join me in following along or, better yet, watching some or all of these films with me! I will be keeping a log of the films on my Instagram feed (@moviespap), my Letterboxd page (stanfordclark), and will be reporting regularly here on the blog and podcast.

TCM “Essentials” Recap

I had a wonderful and enlightening time this year watching all 52 films listed in the the great book from Turner Classic Movies called The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold. Here are 10 standout films (although I really loved them all) as documented in my personal Instagram feed (and I hope you’ll also follow my Movies Past and Present Instagram feed, too).

10. “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930)

9. “It Happened One Night” (1934)

8. “The Thin Man” (1934)

7. “Now, Voyager” (1942)

6. “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945)

5. “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946)

4. “Seven Samurai” (1954)

3. “Roman Holiday” (1953)

2. “On the Waterfront” (1954)

1. “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

Of course, films on the list like Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, and Sunset Boulevard remain forever favorites; however, these 10 films listed really spoke to me this year.

Thanks again for following along! More movie watching projects are coming soon (like tomorrow)!

The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter is available on Amazon.com and Shop TCM.

“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

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

2019 Project: “The Essentials”

For my 2019 movie watching project, I’m going to watch all 52 films listed in the excellent 2016 book from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) called The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by frequent TCM collaborator Jeremy Arnold. The book was an accompaniment to the series on TCM of the same name which highlighted these outstanding films (and was most recently hosted by actor Alec Baldwin).

The plan is to watch one film a week from the list below (which is taken directly from Jeremy Arnold’s Essentials book), read Jeremy Arnold’s take on what makes the film “essential,” read any other pertinent writings and relevant information about the film, and then blog and/or podcast about my experience and learnings.

I will primarily use TCM, the Watch TCM app, DVD.com, iTunes, and Amazon Prime Video to locate and watch all of these titles. And I’m hoping to catch some of these titles on the big screen at either the TCM Classic Film Festival in April and the TCM Big Screen Classics series, which happens all year long.

(* indicates films I haven’t seen)

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)*
  3. City Lights (1931)
  4. Grand Hotel (1932)*
  5. King Kong (1933)
  6. Duck Soup (1933)
  7. It Happened One Night (1934)
  8. The Thin Man (1934)
  9. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  10. Swing Time (1936)
  11. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
  12. Gone with the Wind (1939)
  13. The Lady Eve (1941)
  14. Citizen Kane (1941)
  15. Now, Voyager (1942)
  16. Casablanca (1942)
  17. Double Indemnity (1944)
  18. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
  19. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)*
  20. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)*
  21. Out of the Past (1947)*
  22. The Red Shoes (1948)*
  23. The Bicycle Thief (1948)
  24. The Third Man (1949)*
  25. White Heat (1949)
  26. Adam’s Rib (1949)
  27. Winchester ’73 (1950)*
  28. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  29. Gun Crazy (1950)
  30. All About Eve (1950)
  31. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  32. Roman Holiday (1953)
  33. Seven Samurai (1954)*
  34. On the Waterfront (1954)
  35. Rear Window (1954)
  36. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  37. The Searchers (1956)
  38. Some Like it Hot (1959)
  39. North by Northwest (1959)
  40. Ben-Hur (1959)
  41. Breathless (1960)
  42. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  43. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  44. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  45. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  46. In the Heat of the Night (1967)*
  47. The Graduate (1967)
  48. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  49. Jaws (1975)
  50. Rocky (1976)
  51. Annie Hall (1977)
  52. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Stay tuned to the blog and podcast for my progress reports. And let me know if you want to join along!

2019 TCM Big Screen Classics Films Announced

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has announced the 14 films that will be included in their 2019 Big Screen Classics series. TCM screens these films in movie theaters across the U.S.A., giving film lovers the chance to see classic films on the big screen as they were intended to be seen. Also included with each screening is commentary before and after the film from Ben Mankiewicz and other TCM hosts that provides context, insights, and other pertinent details about the film. All in all, it’s always a great time at the movie theater.

Here’s the lineup for 2019.

All images ©️ Turner Classic Movies.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) 80th Anniversary – January 27, 29, and 30, 2019

My Fair Lady (1964) – February 17 and 20, 2019

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – March 24 and 27, 2019

Ben-Hur (1959) 60th Anniversary – April 14 and 17, 2019

True Grit (1969) 50th Anniversary – May 5 and 8, 2019

Steel Magnolias (1989) 30th Anniversary – May 19, 21, and 22, 2019

Field of Dreams (1989) 30th Anniversary – June 16 and 18, 2019

Glory (1989) 30th Anniversary – July 21 and 24, 2019

Hello, Dolly! (1969) 50th Anniversary – August 11 and 14, 2019

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – September 1 and 4, 2019

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) 25th Anniversary – September 22, 24, and 25, 2019

Alien (1979) 40th Anniversary – October 13, 15, and 16, 2019

The Godfather Part II (1974)- November 10, 12, and 13, 2019

When Harry Met Sally (1989) 30th Anniversary – December 1 and 3, 2019

For the latest scheduling information and to find a theater near you where these films are playing, visit the Fathom Events website.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and the Hope of America

Last month’s Turner Classic MoviesBig Screen Classics film was Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). I can’t stop thinking about it, particularly given the current mood in the United States of America. 

Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”

As you know, the film is about an idealistic man named Jefferson Smith (played by James Stewart) who is appointed as United States senator by the governor of an unnamed state after one of the state’s senators dies while in office. The state’s governor along with the state’s other U.S. senator, Joseph Harrison “Joe” Paine (played by the great Claude Rains), are actually both rather corrupt and are puppets to business interests in the state, and, with Smith being rather naive, they feel like they can preoccupy his time so he’ll stay out of their way. 

After Smith becomes savvy about what’s really going on, he gets framed and is about to get kicked out of the senate. He decides to return home, but his secretary (played by Jean Arthur), who sees him for the decent and honest man that he is, finds him on the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and helps him see a different path (see clip below).

She reminds him that Abraham Lincoln also had his own political foes and vicissitudes. She reminds him about the importance of having faith in “something bigger.” And she reminds him that he has “plain, decent, everyday, common rightness” and that the country “could use some of that.”

I am reminded of the words of Abraham Lincoln on the walls of his memorial: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in…”

I hope I can remember these words of goodness and truth, even in dark and challenging times. The hope of America lives on—in the memorable character of Jefferson Smith, in the words of Abraham Lincoln which we can read and ponder today, and in all of us, if we so choose. 

Images ©️ Columbia Pictures, Turner Classic Movies