Take Me Home Tonight opens in theaters this week. The film takes place in the year 1988 and has already generated more interest in Eddie Money than anyone's had since the late 80s. I was recently a guest on the Golden Briefcase podcast over at First Showing and we discussed our favorite films from that glorious year. Were I given the technology to travel back in time, hopefully in a DeLorean, the first thing I would do would be to head to 1988 and feast my eyes on the first runs of some of its cinematic fare. Woefully, I was four years old in 1988 and therefore ill-equipped to appreciate what have since become some of my favorite films. Below is a list of the titles I would seek out. Are they the best of 1988? Not necessarily, but most assuredly the ones I would most want to see with a virgin crowd.
The 80s demonstrated such proficiency within the horror genre that a majority of the remakes we get now are from that incredible decade. Not only that, but the horror remakes produced within the 80s run circles around the current remake machine of Hollywood. Drawing from the well of 50s sci-fi horror, films like The Thing and The Fly became instant classics. Though maybe not as highly regarded, The Blob is a fantastic piece of filmmaking that utilizes incredible special effects to make audiences deathly afraid of a wad of gelatin. I'd call that a win.
You know those people who profess that Die Hard is the greatest action movie of all time? Those people are only saying that because it is accurate. Die Hard established the mold for not only the new, more vulnerable action hero, but also for the go-to action movie structure: terrorists take over unlikely target X and must be thwarted by put-upon, regular Joe hero y. Before Under Siege was “Die Hard on a boat" and Passenger 57 was “Die Hard on a plane," there was just Die Hard. I can only imagine seeing it with unsuspecting audience z.
Beetlejuice is a great film in its own right, but it is also unique among Tim Burton's cannon. Tim Burton has become well known as a director who thrives on adapting other source material. Beetlejuice is one of the few original properties that he has ever tackled and I would love to see it on the big screen. I would also love to hear people debating in the lobby after the film whether this guy should be allowed to make the Batman movie.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I'm sure audiences were blown away by Who Framed Roger Rabbit's seamless integration of animation into a live-action film, and that in and of itself is a major enticement. But the fact that Disney and Warner Brothers characters were allowed to coexist in one feature is the major reason I would want to observe audience reaction to the initial theatrical run of the film. It'd be fun to hear the kids going crazy for their favorite characters but the heavy film noir influence would allow for a more mature appreciation of the movie as well.
John Carpenter is one of my very favorite directors and there are a number of his films that I would want to see on the big screen with a naive audience. I've actually seen They Live on the big screen, but to see with a group of people expecting a familiar John Carpenter film and instead getting a wildly absurd sci-fi movie about aliens and magic sunglasses staring professional wrestler “Rowdy" Roddy Piper? Sign me up!
As a massive fan of nearly the entire Halloween franchise, I would leap at the chance to be in the theater with a group of like-minded fans to experience the anticipated return of Michael Myers after his seven-year absence. Also, Halloween 4 is a criminally underrated film. Sure it is a slasher sequel and suffers from a few of the familiar problems there contained, but it also perfectly blends the slick conventions of 80s horror with the classically-established mythos of cinema's greatest boogeyman.
One of the best retellings of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, nothing would have put me in the holiday spirit more than being able to see this film for the first time in 35mm. Bill Murray, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Forsythe, and Karen Allen all larger-than-life on the big screen sounds like the perfect Christmas gift to me.
William Lustig is one of my favorite exploitation filmmakers and it pains me that he doesn’t make movies anymore. His films always seem to elevate exploitation to new heights with his flair for cinematography and extracting stellar performances from his cast; this one including Bruce Campbell and Tom Atkins. I’ve seen almost all of his movies in 35mm as it is, but Maniac Cop, my favorite of his, still eludes me. I would seriously jeopardize the fabric of space and time to travel back and see the first run of a William Lustig movie; especially Maniac Cop.
Of all their collaborations I believe that Raging Bull is the crowning achievement of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Sure I enjoy the psychotic character study that is Taxi Driver and the epic scope of Goodfellas as much as the next guy. But Bull with its unique aesthetic tragic narrative and tour de force performances is a love letter to the art of film as well as a gripping tale of soaring victory and devastating loss.
Robbed of its awards glory by Robert Redford’s Ordinary People at the 1981 Oscars ceremony the picture has been studied fastidiously over the years by college students and contemporary filmmakers garnering more praise from each subsequent generation that discovers it. Now film buffs and die-hard fans can learn everything there is to know about the groundbreaking cinematic staple with this 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release. I was legitimately giddy to find this in the mail and the further I dug into the disc’s features the more I was immersed in the New York City of yesteryear and the storied period in which Raging Bull was produced.
Scorsese enthusiasts will treasure a bevy of brand new previously unreleased interviews with the filmmaker in featurettes like “Marty on Film” and “Marty and Bobby” which focus on the director’s love of the medium and the special relationship between him and his one-time muse respectively. There’s so much insight within these interviews you’ll feel like you’ve taken a class in 70s cinema and passed with flying colors by the time they’re completed. Additionally “Reflections on a Classic” and “Remembering Jake” feature interviews with the former fighters who were both friend and foe to the Bronx Bull himself Jake La Motta. In these nostalgic videos the boxers discuss the legacy of the film and its gritty realism in great detail reminiscing both about the hype around the picture itself and how it influenced many of them to get in the ring in the first place.
The commentaries are also very entertaining; with three separate tracks giving three different versions of the story. I found the track with Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who won an Oscar for cutting Bull) most engaging. Others may lean toward the Cast & Crew commentary with producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler actors John Turturro and Theresa Saldana cinematographer Michael Chapman and more equally informative; a third track features writers Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader and LaMotta and his nephew Jason Lustig. In total it’s a comprehensive collection of thoughts and opinions on this landmark feature.
But the goodies don’t end there. Even more provocative than the commentaries and featurettes is “Fight Night ” a four-part feature length documentary that chronicles the making of the film. This is one of the best behind-the-scenes documentaries I’ve ever seen partially because of the previously unreleased footage it contains including some De Niro screen test reels that are as ferocious as his filmed performance. If you’re a “special features” kind of guy you’re going to fall in love with “Fight Night.”
As if all that wasn’t enough to sate the appetite of the most well-versed viewer the disc comes with even more vintage footage from way back when including newsreels titled “La Motta Defends The Title” and “De Niro vs. La Motta ” a shot-by-shot comparison of the actor and fighter in the ring. You can also see Cathy Moriarty’s The Tonight Show appearance dated March 27th 1981 just to make you feel all warm inside. You’ll marvel at all the breadth of bonus content available to you with the release but most important is the film itself.
Raging Bull has never been seen in high definition and in this 1080p HD transfer (1.85:1) the stark black and white film stock comes alive right before your eyes. Having seen the film many times I can honestly say that it felt like I was watching it for the very first time when I popped in this Blu-ray. It’s just another compliment to the growing popularity and legitimacy of the format one that is on its way to becoming the standard for home entertainment.
If you’ve never seen Martin Scorsese’s violent opus now is the perfect time to introduce yourself to this classic cinematic experience. This is an anniversary collector’s item worthy of the film’s legacy. It will undoubtedly change the way you see motion pictures…and change is a good thing.
In his new film Due Date director Todd Phillips (Old School The Hangover) stages a rather audacious cinematic experiment placing two enormously talented actors Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis on a mostly deserted island handing them an assortment of blunt and broken tools and charging them with constructing a free-standing fully-functioning Hollywood comedy.
To his credit Phillips was at least considerate enough to supply his comic Crusoes with a detailed blueprint. An odd-couple/road trip movie hybrid Due Date unapologetically mimics Planes Trains and Automobiles one of the John Hughes' rare “grown-up” comedies in which Steve Martin starred as a straightlaced family man forced to travel cross-country with a gratingly affable slob played by John Candy in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. (Surely there have been other such films before and since but Hughes’ work is the one Due Date most vividly recalls.)
The film’s script co-written by Phillips and Adam Sztykiel adds a handful of 21st-century twists to the formula: A baggage snafu while boarding an airplane leads Peter Highman (Downey) a type-A architect with a history of anger-management issues into a confrontation with a Federal Air Marshal that subsequently lands him on Homeland Security’s no-fly list. Stranded without reliable transport lacking the means by which to procure any (he left his wallet on the plane) and desperate to be reunited in L.A. with his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) in time for her scheduled c-section he reluctantly agrees to hitch a ride with the same tubby schmuck Ethan (Galifianakis) who moments earlier was the catalyst of his security debacle.
The unlikely travel companions embark on a calamitous road trip from Atlanta to L.A. during which Ethan proves to be something of a disaster magnet with Peter bearing the brunt of the damage that occurs. Their navigator Phillips lazily guides them through an uneven obstacle course of comic scenarios some of which are embarrassingly predictable (Ethan stores his beloved father’s ashes in a coffee can and they’re later accidentally used to make coffee!) all of which are designed to showcase Downey’s caustic wit and Galifianakis’ sublime daffiness.
Few actors today deliver choice insults better than Downey and even fewer absorb them better than Galifianakis. They make for a truly marvelous collision of opposites and their interplay is what elevates Due Date above its often puzzlingly flat material. (That along with Galifianakis’ gift for physical comedy; no actor outside of the Jackass crew can better sell a collision with a car door.) The film's supporting cast meanwhile criminally underachieves. Conspicuous cameos from the likes of Danny McBride Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx are either unfunny unnecessary or both. On this road trip they’re little more than baggage. Thankfully Downey and Galifianakis are more than capable of shouldering the burden.
Set in late-‘60s/early-‘70s Harlem Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) is a relative nobody an underling driver existing well beneath his gangster mentor Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III). But when Bumpy dies that all changes. Likewise street cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is small-time best known for having turned over a boatload of found cash out of the goodness of his heart. But in a way his status also begins to ascend around the time of Bumpy’s death. And so Lucas and Roberts both quickly rising through the ranks of their respective law-breaking and abiding hierarchies are on a collision course—each without the knowledge the other even existed. Frank doesn’t waste any time asserting himself once Bumpy dies and he will go on to become the only kind of drug peddler with a shot at staying power: opportunistic ruthless and not one to consume his own product. Lucas’ get-rich-quick scheme of importing Vietnamese heroin via U.S. soldiers’ caskets eliminates the middleman and nets him millions. But as is always the case one lapse in vigilance puts him at risk and Roberts is there waiting. Behold moviegoers the mother lode of acting duos—only we saw Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe together on screen 12 years ago in Virtuosity. Oh well. Truth be told the short time in which they share scenes has nothing on its buildup thereof but these two are a marvel in their own separate arcs. Denzel is the gaudier of them relishing his Scarface-sized villain even more than he did Alonzo in Training Day. It’s a top-notch performance to add to a career full of them and there are a plethora of scenes from which to choose for his Oscar reel. Crowe meanwhile isn’t quite as riveting as he was a few months ago in 3:10 to Yuma but that's partly because cinematic good guys always finish second in terms of watchability. And when the climactic confrontation nears Crowe dials up the tension a few notches. The marquee names though are but the tip of the iceberg in this star-studded affair which also boasts the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor (who recently co-starred with Denzel in Inside Man) Cuba Gooding Jr. Common Carla Gugino RZA John Hawkes Ted Levine and the legendary Ruby Dee. But Gangster’s (no longer hidden) gem is Josh Brolin currently enjoying a major resurgence. With apologies to Denzel Brolin’s deliciously hateful corrupt cop might be the best performance here. Ridley Scott--semi-legendary for his sci-fi (Alien Blade Runner) action (Gladiator) and feminism (Thelma and Louise)--is not the first director who would come to mind for a gritty talky urban period drama but he displays unforeseen versatility with Gangster. Nothing feels inauthentic here from the look of Vietnam-era New York City and its inhabitants to the documentary-style feel of the sparse action and it’s a surprisingly restrained effort from Scott that allows for such realism. Other filmmakers might’ve been tempted to deflect Gangster into shoot-‘em-up territory with say an action-centric take on the size of villainry possessed by Lucas but Scott does well in staying true to what this story is and is not about. And while there’s nothing especially groundbreaking or unforgettable about his effort Scott keeps the two and a half hours pretty compelling. Gangster’s unsung hero however is its real subject Lucas and his true story even more so than the one adapted by Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) from Marc Jacobson’s New York Times article. It’s a fascinating tale of everything that makes for good movies—race class money drugs corruption—brought to the screen vividly by a director who could potentially be in line for his first Oscar.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recognized some of the year’s best films on Sunday. "Gladiator" was chosen best film, and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" took away best foreign-language film honors. Each of these Oscar contenders received four BAFTA awards in total.
Producers Douglas Wick, David Franzoni and Branko Lustig accepted the best film award for "Gladiator," praising director Ridley Scott during their acceptance speech, who lost out on the best director prize to Ang Lee for "Tiger."
Besides best foreign film and best director, "Crouching Tiger" also won for music (Tan Dun) and costume design (Tim Yip). Of BAFTA and the United Kingdom, Lee said: "You've always been great to me. This is like a second home to me now."
“Gladiator” also won the Orange Audience Award for most popular film of 2000. Scott thanked DreamWorks and Universal for their courage in backing a $100 million film in a genre that hadn't been touched for 30 years. "It is especially good to win this on my home turf as I spend so much time in the United States," Scott said during his acceptance speech. "I am absolutely thrilled."
Besides the BAFTA honor for best film, "Gladiator" also picked up awards for cinematography (John Mathieson), production design (Arthur Max) and editing (Pietro Scalia).
British effort "Billy Elliot" won three awards, including best British film, best actor (Jamie Bell) and best supporting actress for Julie Walters.
Julia Roberts was named best actress for her performance in the title role of "Erin Brockovich." Presenter Hugh Grant, and co-star in "Notting Hill," picked up the award for the absentee actress.
Best original screenplay and best sound awards went to Cameron Crowe’s "Almost Famous." Crowe's wife, Nancy Wilson, accepted his award, saying that Crowe was unable to attend the event as a double ear infection prevented him from flying. "He meant this movie as a love letter from his heart to music," Wilson said.
Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" also won two awards, for adapted screenplay (Stephen Gaghan) and supporting actor (Benicio Del Toro).
Veteran casting director Mary Selway was given the Michael Balcon Award for her outstanding contribution to cinema. Actor Albert Finney was presented with a British Film Academy Fellowship for lifetime achievement, receiving a standing ovation.
The complete list of winners:
THE ACADEMY FELLOWSHIP: Albert Finney
THE MICHAEL BALCON AWARD for outstanding British Contribution to Cinema: Mary Selway
THE ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD for outstanding British Film of the Year: "Billy Elliot"
BEST FILM: "Gladiator"
THE DAVID LEAN AWARD for Achievement in Direction: Ang Lee, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
SCREENPLAY (Original): Cameron Crowe, "Almost Famous"
SCREENPLAY (Adapted): Stephen Gaghan, "Traffic"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a leading role: Julia Roberts, "Erin Brockovich"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a leading role: Jamie Bell, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a supporting role: Julie Walters, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a supporting role: Benicio Del Toro, "Traffic"
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (Bill Hong/Hsu Li Kong/Ang Lee )
THE ANTHONY ASQUITH AWARD for achievement in Film Music: Tan Dun, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
THE CARL FOREMAN AWARD for Most Promising Newcomer to British Film: Pawel Pawlikowski
CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Mathieson, "Gladiator"
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arthur Max, "Gladiator"
COSTUME DESIGN: Tim Yip, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
EDITING: Pietro Scalia, "Gladiator"
SOUND: Jeff Wexler/D.M. Hemphill/Rick Kline/Paul Massey/Mike Wilhoit, "Almost Famous"
ACHIEVEMENT IN SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS: Stefen Fangmeier/John Frazier/Walt Conti/Habib Zargarpour/Tim Alexander, "The Perfect Storm"
MAKE UP/HAIR: Rick Baker/Kazuhirop Tsuji/Tony G./Gal Ryan/Sylvia Nava, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
SHORT FILM Gary Holding/Justine Leahy/Tinge Krishnan, "Shadowscan"
SHORT ANIMATION: Claire Jennings/Willem Thijssen/Michael Dudok de Wit, "Father and Daughter"
ORANGE AUDIENCE AWARD: "Gladiator"