Monthly Archives: March 2005

Symphony of the Forest

Bambi (David Hand, 1942)

Bambi was the last great Disney cartoon. It was the last in his amazing run of features between 1937 and 1942 (following Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo), and was in many ways the climax of that sequence. After Bambi the studio would never quite be the same again: a divisive strike, financial difficulties, and World War II would see Disney give up on true feature film production for the rest of the forties. For all their virtues, the features he would make later (starting with Cinderella in 1950) never reached the heights of these first five features. Bambi, with its cute baby animals and impeccable animation, is also probably the film that epitomises the common perception of Disney films.

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Is this it? Is this the sign that in America at least, every single thing that can possibly be released on DVD is already out? I refer to the news that Rambo: The Animated Series is to be released on DVD. I had no idea that such a show ever existed, and it truly boggles the mind. But then, having been about nine or ten when Rambo: First Blood Part II was released, I do recall that the film series had a lot of appeal for small boys. (Who knows what it did to their fragile little minds – although it could do a lot to explain the current political environment). The picture on the front of volume 2, in which Rambo punches out an indeterminate ethnic stereotype, is particularly disturbing. (And have Bruce Lee’s estate signed off on the use of the title “Enter the Dragon?”)

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When Franchises Attack

Have you ever had one of those geek moments where you say: “Yeah, Star Trek is pretty cool. And Lord of the Rings is pretty cool. But imagine if somehow those two franchises could come together in glorious union?”

For you I present: Leonard Nimoy singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”

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M*A*S*H is Hell

Life’s small irritations: it always annoys me that the TV show M*A*S*H, starring Alan Alda, is so much better known and more widely seen than Robert Altman’s original 1970 film MASH (with Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye, and without asterisks in the title). Altman’s movie is a classic, really brutal and anarchic in a way that the TV show could never be. And who could really prefer Alan Alda to Sutherland, or Larry Linville to Robert Duvall, or Loretta Swit to Sally Kellerman, or William Christopher to Rene Auberjonois, or Wayne Rogers to Elliot Gould? There shouldn’t be any competition.

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Top Ten Silly Movie Lists

Lists that attempt to categorise the Top Ten, Top Fifty or Top One Hundred of a particular thing (Films, American Films, Horror Films, Action Scenes, Stars, etc) are a staple of arguments between internet nerds, but they also pop up in a wider context. The classic example is when magazines or media outlets run one as a stunt: they choose the Top Fifty of something-or-other, and then hope that news services will pick the story up, thus getting whatever outlet came up with the list some free publicity. At their best, these can be a lot of fun, and a few, such as the lists by the American Film Institutue, arguably serve some legitimate role in raising awareness of classic films. However, every so often you get a real doozy: when Turner Classic Movies in Britain surveyed their readers to come up with the best director, actor and actress that had never won an Oscar, they came up with Demi Moore as the most deserving actress. TCM, of course, still came out a winner – the poll was reported as if it was serious news worldwide.

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Do What Must Be Done

There have been a couple of good trailers floating around the net in the last few weeks. The first is the latest for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is worth a look even if you’re not that interested in the movie. It’s kind of a meta-trailer, commenting on the conventions of movie trailers, and is fun purely on that level. And it should also leave you wanting to see the movie which is, after all, the point. I particularly enjoyed hearing Stephen Fry’s version of the Guide, which is spot on.

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Loopy as an Airshow

The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)

The Aviator sees one of the most celebrated of living filmmakers chronicle the life of one of the twentieth century’s most extravagant and flamboyant figures. Howard Hughes has been an obvious and tempting topic for ages: there has already been one film biography, the 1977 The Amazing Howard Hughes, with Tommy Lee Jones (which I haven’t seen), and Spielberg was kicking around Hughes as a subject with William Goldman and Warren Beatty back in the early 1990s. The Aviator is a somewhat old-fashioned, straightforward biopic, and it will never make a list of Scorsese’s greatest movies, but it’s a highly polished and engaging movie that for the most part overcomes some flaws in its screenplay.

Hughes’ astonishing life has so many facets that it provides almost too much for any one film, and The Aviator wisely narrows its focus to his relatively early years, starting with his epic production of the film Hell’s Angels in the late 1920s, and taking the story through to his test flight of the “Spruce Goose” in the late 1940s. His loopy-as-an-airshow later years (in which he became one of the world’s most determined recluses) aren’t covered, although they are heavily foreshadowed: the film takes him from gregarious playboy to an obsessive eccentric. It’s a story filled with big name characters (Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Jean Harlow), and Scorsese’s reputation has secured a deep cast to give the film that old-fashioned big epic feel. In addition to Leonardo Di Caprio as Hughes and Cate Blanchett as Hepburn, the film features Alec Baldwin, John C Reilly, Jude Law, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Kate Beckinsale, Edward Herrmann and Willem Dafoe in a range of often small parts.

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Best Director?

I just wanted to comment briefly, following the Oscars, on Martin Scorsese and the Best Director Oscar. As many have noted, the poor guy keeps losing out on Best Director to actors-turned-director (Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, and Clint Eastwood), despite pretty much everyone believing Scorsese is amongst the top handful of living directors. I’m amongst those who don’t necessarily feel that he should have won for The Aviator: it’s a good movie, and he did an impeccable job, but it’s certainly not so strong that his loss this year seems some kind of injustice. And Eastwood clearly now deserves recognition as a major director in his own right, so the actor-turned-director thing wasn’t an indignity this time either. (It was when Costner won).

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