The Oscar Project
I can’t believe it’s the last week of February already and in just a few days we will be into March! I’m not sure where you are, but there have been a few nicer days in my area lately, so it feels like spring is right around the corner. Between that and the days getting longer, I definitely feel like things are changing for the better.
With that aside, it is time to pick a movie for the week nine category, An Independent Film. Like several of our categories this year, this is rather broad and there are plenty of options to pick from. If you need some help picking something for this week, check out this list of Indie movies put together by Esquire.
This is the second most recent film I’ve selected for the challenge so far, and one of the newest films for the whole year for me. I also hate to admit that 2019 was a rough year for me in terms of keeping up with the Oscar nominated film. To date, I’ve only seen 18 of the 53 films nominated, and as much as I’ve heard about this film in particular, it’s one of those I just haven’t sat down to watch until now.
After a few picks this so far that were a bit of a miss, I was so glad to watch The Dirty Dozen this week for the challenge. This was a movie that I have seen bits and pieces of over the years when it’s on TV, but I had never actually sat down and watched the whole thing beginning to end.
The story is that of a group of army prisoners in WWII that are hand picked for a mission behind enemy lines. They are to parachute into France just before D-Day and locate a chateau where many high-ranking German offices will be, and kill as many as possible. The film is littered with stars of the era including Lee Marvin as Major Reisman, the officer in charge of the operation, Ernest Borgnine as General Worden, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, and a very young-looking Donald Sutherland.
As with many films about a group of misfits that need to come together, the best part of the movie is the middle. Two other movies came to mind when thinking about this, Remember the Titans, and The Breakfast Club. Now, both of these might sound like silly comparisons to a WWII special ops movie made in the 1960s but hear me out. I’ll focus mostly on Titans but bring a few thoughts on The Breakfast Club as well.
The similarities between Titans and The Dirty Dozen are quite interesting when you break them down. The first act of both films really covers the set-up. In The Dirty Dozen, Major Reisman gets his orders from the general about the mission and goes to the military prison in London to pick up the “dozen.” They are salty and unsure about the assignment, but don’t really have a choice and go along. In Titans, the film starts with Yoast as the head coach, and covers a bit of the politics going on around the decision to have Boone take over the team.
The second act of both films is really the “training” section. Boone and his coaching staff put the team on busses to get them away from town and to the seclusion of a nearby college campus where they will conduct their summer training. Not surprisingly, the busses fill along racial lines before Boone orders everyone off the bus and reassigns them as an offence and defense, intentionally mixing things racially to start breaking down the barriers. Similarly, Dozen takes the prisoners to a remote clearing in the countryside, where they build their own encampment. Reisman tells them that they are all in it together and if any one of them fouls up or deserts, the entire squad will be sent back to prison to carry out their sentences.
In both films, the disparate groups initially scoff at the idea of getting to know their opposites, but slowly learn to trust one another. In Titans, there are scuffles between offense and defense at the camp, but soon enough the prejudices start to fade and black and white stand side by side, as long as they’re on the same side of the ball. Similarly, one of the first scuffles in Dozen occurs when Savalas’s asks if they have to eat alongside Brown’s character, using language any black man would find offensive. As the entire group fight over this, Reisman quietly leaves the room and tells the guards outside “Oh, the gentleman from the South had a question about the dining arrangements. He and his comrades are discussing place settings now.” Reisman knows that if they can come to some understanding amongst them, even through physical fighting, they will ultimately become stronger.
This is also something you see in The Breakfast Club, though without the racial undertones. Throughout the middle of the movie, the five detentionees fight about the stereotypes and preconceptions they each have about the others. It’s not until they start talking to each other, and more importantly, listening when others are talking, that they start to realize how much they have in common. While these five don’t have anything pushing them from the outside other than being in the same detention together, the result is the same and by the end of the film, they all seem to come out stronger, or at least more open to different viewpoints, than before.
For any of these three films, the middle section truly feels like the best part, but why is that? I think it’s because this is where we see the most character growth and that makes us as viewers feel like there is hope. If five high school kids can overcome their differences and learn about each other, the T. C. Williams football team can come together and successfully integrate to win a Championship, and a group of 12 condemned men can take out a Nazi stronghold in occupied France, then it should be easy for us to tackle whatever the day throws at us.
Granted, it’s never that easy, and these stories aren’t happy endings. The Breakfast Club kids make it out easiest, finishing their essay and heading home to think about what they learned during detention. In Remember the Titans, the film ends with a return to the funeral that opened it with the entire team mourning the loss of their friend and teammate Gerry Bertier. Yes, they won the championship, and gained lifelong friendships, but they lost their teammate and one of their best leaders.
The Dirty Dozen has the least happy ending of these three films, but then it is a war film after all so the stakes are much higher. The squad makes it to the chateau full of Germans, only losing one member during the parachute jump. Everything seems to be going well until Savalas’s character turns on Brown’s and alerts the Germans to their presence through the resulting gunfire. Ultimately, only Major Reisman and Joseph Wladislaw (Bronson) survive, accompanied by one of the guards, Sgt. Bowren (Richard Jaeckel). The rest of the squad is either killed by German gunfire or sacrifices themselves to complete the mission. They did go in knowing it was likely a suicide mission, but I was hopeful that a few more would survive.
Whenever I uncover a book about a movie I’m not super familiar with, I always like to watch the movie in question before or during the time I’m reading the book. In a case like this, it almost felt like I had already watched the movie based on the information I read early on in this book.
Nothing to Fear is a deep dive into the world of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film The Wrong Man, starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles. The film is based on true events and follows Manny Balestrero (Fonda) as he is falsely accused of holding up a local insurance office in New York. We see Manny visit the insurance office where several workers identify him as the man who had previously held up the office. Manny is then arrested, placed in a line-up for identification, arraigned, and eventually placed on trial. Through all this his wife Rose (Miles) falls deeper into depression and is eventually admitted to a mental hospital while Manny fights the charges against him.
The book covers this film and the case it was based on in three parts. Isralowitz first devotes several chapters to other stories of false arrests and misidentification, mainly throughout New York City in the early 1900s, but in a few other states as well. He then moves into a deep analysis of the Balestrero case itself, followed by a section devoted to analyzing the film itself.
We are only a few weeks out from the 95th Academy Awards and I’ve been hard at work watching as many of the nominated films as possible before the awards ceremony. If you haven’t checked out my preview posts on each category, be sure to look through those to get a feel for what is nominated while you fill out your Oscar ballots.
It is time to pick your movie for week 8 of the 2023 challenge and this week we’re looking at a film Set During a Historic War. IMDb has a great list of the top 100 War Movies set during the 20th century. Of course, you don’t have to pick something from the 20th Century, but since the world was at war so much over that time, it’s a good place to start.
My Selection-The Dirty Dozen
As with so many of my selections so far this year, this is a film that has been on my watchlist for so long. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it on television over the years, but it’s one that I’ve never sat down and watched in one go.
This will be the first big test of 2023 to see where the box office sits. We have a holiday weekend (President's Day on Monday) which last year saw Uncharted take the top spot with around $51 million over the four days. 2020 was an even higher $70 million over four days for Sonic the Hedgehog, just before everything went into lock down for the pandemic.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
All that said, the numbers for Quantumania will likely blow anything from Sonic and Uncharted completely out of the water.
The film arrives after several months of no new Marvel content since the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in early November. While there are several new shows slated for the rest of the year, including a second season of Loki where we first met Kang the Conqueror, Quantumania is the only Marvel title for q while.
It has been almost five years since the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp and so much has happened in the MCU since that film. We've seen the end of the Infinity Saga, the beginning of Marvel shows on Disney+, and a half dozen new movies that have introduced many new characters across the universe. After Thor: Love and Thunder took things back to the cosmic realm, it will be interesting to see how Quantumania takes things microscopic with the hidden quantum realm as well as how that relates to Kang's role as the next Thanos.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen and it opened my eyes to new possibilities in filmmaking when I first saw it. At the time, I didn't know who Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Zi Yi, or Ang Lee were, but all these names have seen varying degrees of fame increase since this film was released.
While not a special anniversary re-release like Titanic was last week, this re-release is likely trying to gain a boost from the recent Oscar nomination of Michelle Yeoh for Best Actress. If there is one film of Yeoh's that deserves a re-release, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the one.
There are just a handful on the calendar this weekend as most films are avoiding the Ant-Man weekend like the plague. Here are the few brave films that are dropping in limited release this weekend.
Like last week, this week’s film is one that I wasn’t sure about immediately after watching, but unfortunately I couldn’t find as many bright spots.
I had tremendous hopes for this film. I have long been a fan of the stop motion work of director Phil Tippett. He has worked on some of the biggest films of the last 45 years, starting with groundbreaking work at then fledgling Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) on Star Wars. He contributed to many productions for ILM over the ensuing years including three more Star Wars films, Jurassic Park, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Starship Troopers, and The Twilight Saga. His creatures have become a bit of legend with as many of these huge franchises.
What wasn’t readily apparent was the work that Tippett was putting in on his own passion project, Mad God. In progress since 1987, it’s hard to believe that it took 35 years to put this film together, but when you understand that the film makes much more sense. That’s not to say that the “story” makes sense, but it makes sense how occasionally disjointed the film feels. You can tell it was put together from various pieces over the course of decades using an array of visual techniques that evolved over the course of production.
Where this film shines is in the production design. Tippett’s hand is evident in every detail on the screen and there are some absolutely stunning shots in the film. The opening feels like it got the most attention with close-up shots of the Assassin reacting and looking around the world. We don’t get any facial expressions because his face is entirely masked, but you can get the emotion from the subtle ways he moves his head and body and the motion looks entirely lifelike. The creature designs throughout the film are stunning in their creepiness and I wouldn’t dare take a trip through Tippett’s actual dreams if these are what he pulls out for a film.
On the other hand, some of the stop motion, which is what Tippett is most known for, is quite lacking. I’m sure many of these scenes are done in a jerky manner intentionally, but it feels so out of sort from the beautifully smooth and subtle movements to open the film. There is also plenty of blood and gore in some of these scenes, specifically the surgery on the Assassin, and while I get that this is a horror film, it feels gratuitous and doesn’t advance the already spare plot in any way. For me, it only made things more confusing.
Now, I understand that this is labeled as an experimental film, and that often means there isn’t really a strong plot, but this film feels like it wants to have a story, but doesn’t know what that story is. It’s interesting that I watched this following 8 ½ last week, another film that felt cobbled together while it was being made. The difference here is that Fellini had strong experience making narrative features throughout his career, while Tippitt doesn’t display that same sort of prowess. I think Mad God should have either gone even further into the experimental direction and completely discarded any pretense of a plot, or focused a bit more on a true story instead of dedicating most of its effort to creature and set design.
I’m so sad to slam this movie as I have and I appreciate the dedication of Tippett and his studio to bringing this film into existence. Stop motion is one of the most difficult ways to make a movie, especially something feature length, ultimately this should have been left as a series of short films or some other method of release that would allow the artistry that is there to really shine.
Happy Valentine's Day to all. I hope you have someone special in your life to celebrate with and perhaps go on a date to see a movie. There are plenty of new movies in theaters you can pick from as seen in my February 3rd and February 10th preview posts, but there are three films slated to hit theaters mid-week this week so I thought a special Valentine's edition of the weekly preview would be warranted.
We've seen plenty of Liam Neeson in ass kicking mode over the last 15 year or so since Taken first hit theaters, but this film takes him back to 1930s Hollywood. Neeson plays a private detective named Philip Marlowe who is tasked with finding the ex-lover of a woman. Diane Kruger and Jessica Lange co-star with Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, and Colm Meaney in supporting roles.
It might not have the all out action of a film like Taken, but it looks like Marlowe isn't afraid to get his hands dirty while doing his "investigating."
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey
I'm not going to lie, this movie looks creepy as hell, especially because of what it does to these beloved characters that have been a part of so many childhoods over the years.
Blood and Honey flips the script on the Winnie-the-Pooh characters, probably best known for their adaptation by Disney over the years, and turns them into homicidal savages bent on revenge against Christopher Robin for abandoning them as he grew older.
Supposedly shot for roughly $100,000 this could be the next breakout independent film to make a huge splash at the box office, something another horror film (The Blair Witch Project) did two decades ago.
Fair warning, if you are at all triggered by things relating to school shootings and similar events, don't even watch the trailer for this movie (or my preview video below honestly). This film is only getting a limited release tomorrow, and I can't see it ever going mainstream, but there will definitely be a niche audience for it.
The premise is a teen that falls in love with her teacher...and eating other people. It feels like the sort of film that could only be made in today's social media culture, but I'm not sure it should.
Please proceed with caution if you have any interest in this film.
Happy Super Bowl Sunday. I hope your team is in the big game and you’re able to enjoy a win, unless of course they’re playing my Cowboys.
Before you focus on the big game tonight, whether for the game itself, the halftime show, or the commercials, it’s time to pick your next film for week seven. The category this week is a Stop Motion Film. As usual, I have a post here from Rotten Tomatoes with their Best Stop Motion Animated Movies of all time.
My Selection-Mad God
As a lover of Phil Tippett’s work even before I really knew his name, I can’t wait to see this film which will probably be one of the most recent releases I pick this year.
It's Super Bowl weekend, and if you're not into catching the big game, there are a few movie options for you to catch at the theater.
This looks like a cute little horror thriller that is probably left over from the release slate from last year. With no real big stars in it, I don't anticipate it making a huge splash at the box office, especially since I've seen next to no marketing for it like Smile did last fall.
Some folks like horror movies and will look at this as a possible Valentine's Day date night, but with Valentine's falling in the middle of the week next week, it may be lower than usual.
Magic Mike's Last Dance
I will be interested to see if this truly is the "last dance" once all is said and done. It's been eight years since Tatum has been on screen in Magic Mike XXL, and that film did substantially less business than the first in the series. However, both the other two films were released in late June and I've seen this newest release marketed as a date movie. Chances are the wives and girlfriends will be flocking to theaters to see as much of Tatum as they can, with the guys ogling over Salma Hayek's addition to the franchise.
I expect this to be the biggest film of the weekend, only to be taken over by the obvious blockbuster Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania next week.
Titanic 25th Anniversary
It's hard to believe that Titanic is 25 years old this year, but it's true. What's even harder to believe is that director James Cameron has only released two additional feature films in those last 25 years, with Avatar: The Way of Water hitting theaters just this past December.
Chances are you've seen this film many times, especially when it's on TV when certain stations need to fill a 4-hour block of time. There are always a few scenes they can't FULLY show on TV, but if you haven't had the chance to watch Titanic on the big screen in some time, I highly encourage you checking it out this weekend.
Let me paint a picture for you. There is a movie that has received praise from nearly everyone who sees is over the course of decades. You’ve heard about that movie, and always said to yourself “I should watch that to see what the fuss is about,” but you never get around to it. Then one day, you are a few weeks into a film challenge, trying to watch 52 films over the course of a calendar year, and that film fits one of your categories, so you decide to finally watch it and when you do, you have a number of moments where you cock your head to the side like the RCA dog. You finish the movie and don’t entirely know what your thoughts on it are, but you know it was something special in its own way. That is my experience with the 1963 film 8 ½, directed by Federico Fellini.
When picking this film for the category of a Film With Subtitles, I used the list I cited in my post earlier this week and 8 ½ was listed as the sixth best foreign language films of all time in the article I linked. After my first viewing, I’m not sure I can agree with that, as I can probably name at least three or four foreign language films I would put above it right now. That said, there were elements of this film that truly blew me away.
Now, if any of this sounds a bit autobiographical, you’re absolutely right. Fellini followed much the same path as Guido does in the making of 8 ½, so named because of where it falls in the chronology of his films at the time (6 features and 3 short films). There was plenty of planning in place, sets being built, actors cast, but still no real story to make a movie around until a bolt of lightning moment similar to the one Guido experiences in the finale of the film.
As I noted above, I wasn’t quite sure about my feelings on the film when the credits rolled. I’ll give you a little peak behind the curtain with how I do my ratings of films to help explain why I ultimately felt this film was worthy of an eight out of ten. If you don’t care, just skip the rest of this paragraph. My brain works in weird ways and sometimes I need to sort through individual aspects of a film before I rate it. To that end, I have a spreadsheet I put together where I can enter the title of a film, who directed it, and when I watched along with individual number ratings for a number of categories from story and acting, to sound, music, and visual effects. Because I’m a numbers nerd, I then average those and come up with an initial rating which sometimes falls in a decimal range between two numbers, which allows me some flexibility to round up or down depending on how I felt on an emotional level about the film. I’ll tell you that this film fell short in a number of areas including the story (because it felt like it was made up on set, which I think some of it was) and the sound (it was decent, but nothing mind-blowing). Where the film elevated itself was in the cinematography, production design, and the music.
Being a black and white film, the cinematography was so important in this film. There are scenes set outside in the bright Italian sun and they are as bright and almost washed out as one would expect. But in other moments, we see interiors that are lit and shot with such care that we get rich textures and layers in almost every shot. Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo uses unique camera angles throughout to elaborate on dream sequences and to place the viewer in the wandering mind of the troubled director on screen. When you pair this with the incredible design of the sets and locations used in the film, they combine to produce some of the most satisfying elements of the film visually.
The other piece that really stuck with me was the soundtrack for the film. Like the cinematography, there are moments when it is bright and loud, while others where it steps back to allow the visuals to shine. There are elements of classical music with heavy jazz and swing influences throughout and even some elements of carnival or circus music mixed in. Throughout the entire film, I always felt that the music was perfectly capturing what was happening on screen, regardless if we were in reality or Guido’s memories and dream world.
In my final analysis (for now) I can honestly say that I didn’t love the film, but I appreciate the craft with which it was created. This was (regrettably) my first Fellini and while I’m not initially ready to tackle another one of his films, I have put a number of them on my watch list because I think he is a director that I need to sit with for a while to be able to fully understand.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?