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).
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
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Island of Lost Souls** (1932)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Things to Come** (1936)
The Thing from Another World** (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
It Came from Outer Space (1953)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers* (1956)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
The Fly (1958)
The Blob (1958)
The Time Machine (1960)
La Jetée** (1962)
These Are the Damned** (1962)
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
THX 1138 (19710
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Silent Running** (1972)
The Man Who Fell to Earth** (1976)
Logan’s Run (1976)
Star Wars (1977)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The Black Hole (1979); not on original list—added for my own guilty viewing pleasure
E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Brother from Another Planet** (1984)
The Terminator (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
Jurassic Park (1993)
The Matrix (1999)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
District 9 (2009)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
(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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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).
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).
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.
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.
Last month’s Turner Classic Movies‘ Big 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.
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.
When a buddy asked if I wanted to see the classic, pre-code, James Whale directed haunted house pic The Old Dark House (Universal, 1932) on the big screen, I jumped at the chance. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen any of the classic Universal horror films from the 1930s on the big screen, so this was a rare opportunity to see a James Whale pic the way it was intended to be seen.
The film stars Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, and Charles Laughton among others as hapless voyagers who take shelter in a large and scary looking house for the night after a relentless rain storm washes out the nearby roads. Boris Karloff (in some seriously creepy makeup) terrifyingly answers the door which sets off a 24-hour period of one bizarre event after the other (memo to me–never go up the staircase in one of these haunted houses…better yet, don’t go into the house at all).
The film was released the year after the wildly successful screen retelling of Frankenstein (1931), also directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, and was initially a disappointment at the box office. According to an informative article on TCM.com, “After its mediocre theatrical run, The Old Dark House was put on the shelf at Universal and, until 1968 – unavailable for bookings. That year, Whale’s protégé, director Curtis Harrington, helped find the negative and convinced Kodak to return a print to its original brilliance. When the film was once again viewed in its original form, critics hailed it as a lost masterpiece. That might be overstating the case a little, but it still bears the mark of one of the studio era’s more insistently unique directors.”
One other interesting bit of trivia from the TCM.com article–“When director James Cameron watched a laserdisc release of The Old Dark House, he was so taken with Gloria Stuart’s amusing audio commentary, he wound up casting her in a little film he was planning called Titanic (1997).”
Mostly what was fun for me was seeing an incredibly cheesy yet creepy film in glorious black and white on the big screen. I typically stay away from most modern horror pics, but seeing this film provided an insight at the simple, basic pleasures of watching a scary movie in a theater—the collective jumps, screams, and dread; the wincing when bad things happen or are about to happen; and the cheers and relief when the evil threat has been defeated (or when you think it has been…). James Whale definitely knew how to direct a good horror pic, Boris Karloff definitely knew how to act in one, and The Old Dark House made for some simple, scary Halloween season fun at the movies.
(And I’m still holding out for a big screen double feature of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein…someday.)
A big thanks and shoutout to the Cohen Media Group for the beautiful 4K restoration of the film and to the Salt Lake Film Society for their cool “Tower of Terror” Halloween programming at the Tower Theatre again this year.
And check out this cool poster art (I believe this is the U.S. theatrical release one-sheet, but I’m not 100% certain).