With some of the best reviews of the whole James Bond series (not to mention it’s massive commercial success), Skyfall has brought the British super-spy back in a big way. But no matter how good his latest adventure may be, nothing will take the place of the Bond movie that holds the most special place in my heart…1985’s A View to a Kill.
Now, why oh why would I have such fond feelings for what many consider to be the worst Bond movie ever (well, if you discount Die Another Day)? Here’s what critic Pauline Kael had to say about the film in her New Yorker review: “The James Bond series has had its bummers, but nothing before in the class of A View to a Kill. You go to a Bond picture expecting some style or, at least, some flash, some lift; you don’t expect the dumb police-car crashes you get here. You do see some ingenious daredevil feats, but they’re crowded together and, the way they’re set up, they don’t give you the irresponsible, giddy tingle you’re hoping for.”Read more...
Like a lot of people who love movies, I was shocked to hear of director Tony Scott’s suicide on Sunday. This was a filmmaker who not only helped “invent” the modern action film with movies like Top Gun, but who was still relevant all these years later–his last film 2010’s Unstoppable (starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) was a box office hit and thoroughly entertaining to boot.
My favorite Scott movie is True Romance and my favorite moment in that film is the Sicilian scene. Christopher Walken’s Sicilian mobster confronts Dennis Hopper—to learn the whereabouts of Hopper’s son played By Christian Slater. Hopper knows there’s no way Walken is going to let him live so he decides to get in one last jab by way of writer Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant monologue explaining the heritage of the Sicilian people in…well, let’s say un-P.C. terms.
As great as Scott was with an action sequence, I think this scene represents him at his best. The way he retains the scene’s simplicity—never losing the focus on the actors and the words—yet still bringing his own style and sensibility is a joy to behold. This is what the movies are all about: Read more...
If I had to pick one film that I thought all Asian Americans should be required to see, it would be Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena’s powerful 1987 documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin?
The Oscar-nominated doc tells the story of the Chinese American Chin’s 1982 murder at the hands of two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who blamed the Japanese for the loss of their auto industry jobs and took their frustrations out on Chin after an altercation at a strip club. Ebens and Nitz were eventually cleared of all charges against them leading to outrage in the Asian American community. Read more...
Today is National Alfred Hitchcock Day so on the day when we celebrate the work of one of America’s greatest film directors, I thought it only fitting that I pay tribute to my favorite moment from my favorite Hitchcock film. Yeah, the shower scene from Psycho is awesome, as are moments like Cary Grant’s escape from the attacking crop-dusting plane in North by Northwest or the long tracking shot into the key in Ingrid Bergman’s hand in Notorious, but nothing beats Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak’s kiss in the hotel room from 1958′s Vertigo.
In the film, due to his crippling fear of heights, Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson is unable to save the love of his life Madeline (Novak) when she falls to her death from a bell tower. But later, Scottie meets Judy (also played by Novak) who bears a striking resemblance to the deceased Madeline. So Scottie does the only thing one can do in a Hitchcock film—he gives Judy an extreme makeover until she looks exactly like his dead love; culminating in the scene you are about to see below. Read more...
The good folks at io9 recently wrote about a film that has to rank up there as one of the all-time classics that I had completely forgotten about…the 1977 Hong Kong martial arts-comedy The Dragon Lives Again (a.k.a. Deadly Hands of Kung Fu).
One of the many Bruce Lee-inspired exploitation (or “Bruceploitation”) flicks released after the Asian American icon’s death, this is not only arguably the best of that genre, but one of the most bizarrely brilliant cinematic creations ever. Just read the Wikipedia synopsis:
After his untimely death, Bruce Lee (Bruce Leung Siu-lung) wakes up to find himself in the “Underworld”. He meets the King of the Underworld and questions his power. The King demonstrates his displeasure by shaking a pole that can cause an earthquake through the Underworld, which gives Bruce pause.
Bruce goes to a restaurant, where he meets Kwai Chang Caine from the TV show Kung Fu and cartoon sailor Popeye. He also meets Dracula, James Bond, Zatoichi, and Clint Eastwood, with whom he does not become friends. These pop culture characters, along with The Godfather, The Exorcist, and Emmanuelle, are planning a coup to take over the Underworld. Among their schemes, the characters send Emmanuelle to have energetic sex with the womanizing King in the hopes that he will have a heart attack.Read more...
“A one woman revolution of ass kicking…” I can’t remember who said that, but it’s the best description of Tura Satana I’ve ever heard. Satana would have turned 73 today had she not passed away earlier this year on February 4 from heart failure.
Some of you may be asking, “Who is Tura Satana?” Which essentially means you have been denied the pleasure of watching her amazing performance in one of the essential classics of cinema. A film hailed as a masterpiece by everyone from director Quentin Tarantino to critic Roger Ebert. A film Hairspray director John Waters proclaimed “The greatest film ever made. And the greatest film that ever will be made.” A film that features the best kickass lead performance by an Asian American woman ever committed to celluloid. Period. End of discussion.
I really don’t think I can add much about Lumet’s life and career that hasn’t already been said, but in addition to being a filmmaking giant, he also wrote what I consider to be the best book about directing–1995’s Making Movies. If you want to be a filmmaker and can only read one book on the subject, this is it. Lumet takes you on a practical, hands-on journey through every aspect of the filmmaking process using his own work to illustrate his points—it’s an invaluable resource. So thought it might be fitting on this occasion to share some excerpts from his book below.
ON PREPARATION VS. SPONTANEITY: It is in the preparation. Do mountains of preparation kill spontaneity? Absolutely not. I’ve found that it’s just the opposite. When you know what you’re doing, you feel much freer to improvise.
On my second picture, Stage Struck, a scene between Henry Fonda and Christopher Plummer took place in Central Park. I had shot most of the scene by lunchtime…During lunch, snow started to fall. When we came back the park was already covered in white. The snow was so beautiful, I wanted to redo the whole scene. Franz Planner, the cameraman, said it was impossible because we’d be out of light by four o’clock. I quickly restaged the scene, giving Plummer a new entrance so that I could see the snow-covered park; then I placed them on a bench, shot a master and two close-ups…Because the actors were prepared, because the crew knew what it was doing, we just swung with the weather and got a better scene.
It was considered a critical and commercial failure upon its release in 1967, but I love the film Reflections in a Golden Eye. Directed by the legendary John Huston and set on a military base in the 1940s, Marlon Brando stars as an Army Major trying to come to terms with his repressed homosexuality and Elizabeth Taylor is his unhappy, adulterous wife.
When I heard of Taylor’s passing yesterday, what immediately came to mind was a moment in that film that lasts only a few seconds long, but for me, perfectly embodies the qualities that made Taylor the movie star that she was.
In this scene, Brando and Taylor are at a cocktail party. It’s already been established that Taylor’s character’s great love is her horse and earlier in the movie, we witnessed Brando angrily beat that horse with a riding crop after the animal threw him and dragged him. Taylor finds out and she is pissed. So this is what she does:
Twenty-seven years ago today on February 17, 1984, one of the greatest works ever committed to celluloid premiered…Footloose. Starring a young Kevin Bacon as a rebellious, dance-loving teen who moves to a small town that’s outlawed dancing, Footloose was my generation’s Rebel Without A Cause. Except this rebel had a cause…defiantly dancing in old barns while employing impossibly fly moves that no normal teenager could possibly pull off (well, unless that teenager had Chuck Gaylord, brother of Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, as his body double).
And yup, I was there 27 years ago on opening weekend—begged my uncle to drive me to the theater to experience 107 minutes of pure Bacon-and-Loggins-inspired awesomeness. I can prattle on and on about what makes this film so glorious, but I think the following videos can make my point much better:
Had he lived, John Belushi would have been 62 today. The star of films like Animal House and The Blues Brothers as well as one of the original Saturday Night Live cast members, Belushi died in 1982 at age 33 from a drug overdose, but he still remains one of the most influential comedians ever. He may have also been the first person to encourage my creativity.
I’m not the type of person who usually meticulously follows rituals or traditions, but there is one that I’ve observed for many years. On my birthday, I check into the bungalow at the Chateau Marmont where Belushi died. It’s usually just for the day and I go there alone to write, reflect and soak in the vibes. There’s nothing morbid about it. It’s just a way for me to honor a man who had a profound affect on my artistic life and to be re-inspired. And Belushi was definitely inspirational. There’s no doubt that my sense of humor was shaped by Belushi’s style of comedy. When I try to be funny in my blogs here, it’s really just my poor attempt to emulate his comedic voice.
I met Belushi when I must’ve been around six-years-old in a classroom setting. I don’t remember much about it and I certainly didn’t know who he was at the time—I was too young and he wasn’t a big star yet. But I remember him being very funny and very encouraging of my creativity (he must have seen some story or drawing I had done in class). He pulled me aside and said that if I had an interest in the arts, I should pursue it. He told me his parents were immigrants like mine (from Albania in his case) and that when he was a kid, he wished someone had encouraged his interest in performing because for the longest time, he thought it was an impossible dream for an immigrant kid like himself. But he wanted me to know that nothing was impossible if you worked hard. Read more...
In a moment I’m going to explain why I think Asian American actors would be doing themselves a big service by studying the work of the late, great John Cazale.
However, let me first broaden my scope and say that everyone who loves movies and sublime acting should check out the films of John Cazale. You really have no excuse since he only made five films before he passed away from lung cancer at the age of 42 in 1978. But if you were only going to be in five films, you couldn’t pick any better: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. All five are considered classics, all five were nominated for Best Picture Oscars (three of them won) and Cazale is brilliant in all of them. When legends like Al Pacino and Meryl Streep (Cazale’s girlfriend during his final years) proclaim you to be the finest actor they’ve ever worked with, attention must be paid.
With the DVD release this month of Richard Shepard’s excellent short documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, you now also have an additional opportunity to learn more about the man and his work. The documentary features insightful interviews with Cazale’s friends and colleagues including Pacino, Streep, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppola, Gene Hackman and others, as well as interviews with the next generation of actors who have been influenced by him including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sam Rockwell. It’s a great introduction to the man and a master class in film acting to boot. Read more...
Film director Tod Browning is probably best known for helming the 1931 version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, which may still be the most famous of all the different incarnations of the good Count. But his 1932 film Freaks is Browning’s masterpiece and it’s just as disturbing now as it was when it was first released.
Freaks is set in the world of the carnival sideshow where the “normals” live and perform side-by-side with the “freaks” like the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet: