Tag Archives: Oscars

Korean Cinema #10: Mother

By Nathanael Griffis

If there were any doubts about Joon-ho Bong’s ability as a director and a writer, which there shouldn’t be, the film Mother puts them to rest. It’s not his best film, but that’s just because he made The Host. It is his most mature film and feels the most composed. Mother deservedly took top honors at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Asian Film Awards, but was snubbed at the Oscars despite winning several best foreign film honors in critics circles (just a nomination, Academy, that’s all we’re asking).  The film examines the role of motherhood and leaves you with complex questions as to what it means to be a mother. The plot feels simple enough: a mother sets out to prove her son’s innocence in a murder case. The mother naturally has to do some very unmotherly things  to save her son (baking cookies doesn’t solve crimes).

Hye-ja Kim showing off her acting talent as she plays both Napoleon and a mom.

Once again, though, it’s the amazing characters that drive the film. Like in Memories of Murder and The Host, the characters in Mother are relatable and unique. Hye-ja Kim, who has won several much deserved awards for this role (including a best actress Award by the LA film critics, not best foreign actress, best actress, so tell me again why the Oscars skipped this one?) as the mother who teeters between overbearing and touching care. I couldn’t help but see something of my own mother in her. She’s really something of an archetype for mothers, but at the same time a distinctly Korean, and distinctly unique, individual all wrapped up into one.

Bin Won as the troubled son Yoon Do-joon stretches his acting ability greatly. Known mostly as an action star, Won gives Do-joon a haunting touch of empathy. Ku Jin is excellent as well in a supporting role as Do-joon’s enimagtic friend Jin-tae. Every character is, as I’ve come to expect from Bong’s films, an honest, raw portrayal of the dichotomy of beauty and horror within the human spirit.

There’s less humor in Mother than in Bong’s previous films. Some of that could be due to the lack of Kang-ho Song, or possibly to Bong’s maturity as a filmmaker, but enough of it remains to give the same conflicted feelings as in previous films. For example, the film opens on the mother walking through a wheat field and then dancing. It’s a strange and daring way to open a film, and I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. The difference is that in Mother the humor seems to have a clearer purpose. The mother’s dancing at the beginning and some of the jokes throughout, like a reoccurring scene where Do-joon reacts to being called a retard, become thematically resonant as the mystery unfolds.

Shadow-puppetry? He's clearly the murderer!

It is quite a mystery at that. It’s impressive to see how well put together this film is. Joon-ho Bong’s script is meticulous; no scene is wasted. The acting is superb. It’s a strange detective film that follows an older mother around and not some grizzled detective, but this ain’t Murder She Wrote. Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher, despite being a better detective, would probably have ended up mumbling in an asylum in Maine if she was put through this sort of an ordeal. Bong uses the detective mystery motif not just to entertain, but to parallel the characters’ discovery of their own nature. When it ends, it’s not clean and polished. No one is left unmarred, and they discover that human nature, while resilient, is darker than we might want to believe.

I came away from this film with more questions than answers, though none of them pertaining to the plot. It’s the sort of film that makes you pause and look deep inside of yourself. As you connect and relate to each character, you have to challenge that previous connection as they descend further into the consuming madness of their decisions. The ending is absolutely stunning, especially the final shots of the film. It manages to relay a message of hope but leaves you questioning if hope is the right response or simply the necessary one. You’re left wondering which actions, thoughts, decisions, and feelings define one’s being a mother or a son. Even though you’ve just watched a beautiful film portraying this complex relationship, the film’s goal is not to define the relationship but to make the viewer seek it out and ask what it means.

I’m glad that I finished my journey through modern Korean cinema with this film. I think I’ll probably have to write some larger reflective piece on the experience as a whole, but I don’t want to leave them behind. All ten of these films have given me such a respect for Korean filmmaking that it’s all I want to watch now.

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #8: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#8. “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

… I am the Borg.”

A weirdly handsome couple: Brent Spiner as Data & Alice Krige as the Borg Queen

It may seem strange to have a Star Trek film on this list, but the Borg are possibly the scariest intelligent force the crew of the USS Enterprise ever had to deal with. Not because they will kill you. There are thousands of things that can kill you. The Borg, though, hold no ill will. They are not malicious. They are here to assimilate you and your entire culture, to remove anything that made you or it unique or beautiful and to retain for themselves only your cold unfeeling technology. They are here to fuse you with that technology, to pull your flesh apart and fit you with circuits and steel. They are here to take away your humanity. And resistance is futile.

Star Trek: First Contact–the eighth Star Trek film (second to feature Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rest of the Next Generation crew) and widely regarded as one of the best, even by some as second perhaps only to the iconic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan–is one of the most intellectually fascinating entries in the franchise yet still one of the most accessible to non-fans. Part of the reason for that (besides generally better writing and directing–props to regulars Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and director/star Jonathan Frakes) may be because it is deals with that classic sci-fi/horror theme of having our identity and humanity stripped away from us by beings who see themselves as superior because of their lack of feeling, their lack of humanity, their lack of pain or sorrow or anger, but who also lack joy and passion and love. (See Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix, even A Clockwork Orange, or any number of classic stories.) First Contact is even structured like a horror film.

Shouldn't have picked at it. (Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard)

This is not the first appearance by the Borg in the Star Trek universe. They had appeared several times on Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps most memorably in the third season cliffhanger finale “The Best of Both Worlds” and the fifth season classic “I, Borg.” But, much like the way in which the film Aliens builds upon its predecessor, First Contact introduces the Borg Queen. Also similar to Aliens, this queen has a definite, intelligent, unique identity as opposed to her hundreds of drones. But unlike Aliens, this Borg Queen is less an instinct-driven monster and more a calculatingly logical and powerfully sensual humanoid, played wonderfully by Alice Krige. The viewer is drawn to her and repelled by her at the same time. Her individuality, her sensuality, and her relationship with the android and Next Generation regular Data (Brent Spiner) add a fascinating new layer to the Borg mythology that gives new meaning to the phrase “resistance is futile.”

(Special mention of the Oscar-nominated makeup team for their insanely good job on this film and on the Borg Queen in particular. Can you believe they lost to The Nutty Professor? That Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sure loves a fat-suit.)

Next on the countdown: “There will be no bargain…. I shall enjoy watching you die.”

Oscar Month: You Can’t Take It With You

By Tom Kapr

As part of my Year of Movies, during the month of February I will be focusing on past Academy Award-winning films, facilitated in large part by Turner Classic Movies and their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon, in which they air nothing but Academy Award nominees and winners every hour of every day for 31 days, leading up to and eventually eclipsing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27. Throughout the month of February, I will be posting short articles on films that have won Academy Awards in past years, most of which I will not have seen before. So you can expect me, by the end of the month, to be even more of the classic film snob of the Incidental Dog crew than I already am. (I’m sure the other guys will love it.)

You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

A few weeks ago, I lambasted a beloved Frank Capra film, so it seems only fair I publish a review of You Can’t Take It With You to restore balance to the force. Much less groan-inducingly outdated or desperately sincere than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It’s a Wonderful Life, You Can’t Take It With You may be Capra’s best film.

Written by Robert Riskin (who also wrote the screenplay for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) based upon the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, You Can’t Take It With You is a story about two families. The Vanderhof/Sycamore family are a middle-class bunch of eccentrics, much loved by their neighbors. The Kirby family are affluent bankers; they aren’t much liked by the neighborhood, and their plans to tear down the old neighborhood for the bakers’ profit don’t make things any better. Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) works as secretary to Tony Kirby (James Stewart), who falls in love with her, setting their extremely diametric families on a collision course. Subversive enough to keep from being maudlin and emotionally grounded enough to keep from being overly wacky, the film is both a heartfelt drama and one of the funniest romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. I laughed out loud several times, which I don’t usually do when I watch a film alone.

Jean Arthur and James Stewart have wonderful chemistry, which would come in handy a few years later when they again would co-star together in Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Everybody in the cast is pitch-perfect: Spring Byington and Samuel S. Hinds as Alice’s childlike parents; a young and beautiful pre-fame Ann Miller as their second daughter who is (what else) an aspiring dancer; Mischa Auer as her very Russian dance instructor, who stops by as often for dinner as for dance lessons; Donald Meek as a bank teller and fledgling toymaker; Mary Forbes as Tony’s uppity ice queen of a mother. However, veteran actors Lionel Barrymore and Edward Arnold are the real stand-outs as the patriarchs of the Vanderhof and Kirby families, respectively. Barrymore especially carries the film, but as the two families slowly converge on each other, Arnold becomes just as much of an on-screen presence. Their scenes together are magnificent.

If I have one quibble about this film or its casting, it regards Lillian Yarbo and Eddie Anderson. A couple of African-American actors, Yarbo of course plays the Vanderhofs’ maid. (Anderson plays her fiancé.) Nobody in the family ever looks down on either of the two, and it is apparent that their characters have a deep affection for this eccentric family and vice versa; and Anderson’s character waits on the family not out of obligation to them but because he loves his fiancée. Taking everything into consideration, there is nothing really egregious about their place in the film; still, it is racial stereotyping, a product of a time when blacks were still seen as inferior to whites, when black characters in films were almost always in a position of servitude toward whites. Yarbo and Anderson’s characters seem as much a part of this eccentric family as any other member of the ragtag household, but still, they’re a black couple serving a white family. Regadrless, I do love this film, and both Yarbo and Anderson are as much a reason as any of the rest of the supporting players.

You Can’t Take It With You was honored by the Academy as Best Picture of 1938, as was Frank Capra as Best Director. Whether or not it deserves it is up for debate, considering it was up against such heavy hitters as the Errol Flynn swashbuckler (and another favorite of mine) The Adventures of Robin Hood, Jean Renoir’s war classic Le grande illusion, and the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. But it was certainly much more deserving of its honors than was Mr. Deeds two years earlier.

Spring Byington received a nomination for her supporting role, which is good, though I’m surprised neither Lionel Barrymore nor Edward Albert were nominated for their roles. The film’s four other nominations were for Joseph Walker’s cinematography, Gene Havlick’s film editing, John P. Livadary’s sound recording, and Riskin’s wonderful screenplay, which lost to Pygmalion.

Learn more about You Can’t Take It With You at the Internet Movie Database.

Oscar Month: The Red Balloon

By Tom Kapr

As part of my Year of Movies, during the month of February I will be focusing on past Academy Award-winning films, facilitated in large part by Turner Classic Movies and their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon, in which they air nothing but Academy Award nominees and winners every hour of every day for 31 days, leading up to and eventually eclipsing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27. Throughout the month of February, I will be posting short articles on films that have won Academy Awards in past years, most of which I will not have seen before. So you can expect me, by the end of the month, to be even more of the classic film snob of the Incidental Dog crew than I already am. (I’m sure the other guys will love it.)

Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon) (1956)

The Red Balloon is one of the stranger winners in Academy Awards history, and the strangeness is three-fold. In 1957, it won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar over Robert Lewin’s war drama The Bold and the Brave, Andrew L. Stone’s thriller Julie, Federico Fellini & Tullio Pinelli’s highly regarded La Strada, and William Rose’s dark comedy The Ladykillers. Here’s the first part of the strangeness: there is almost no dialogue in The Red Balloon, which is strange not in regards to its worthiness (for a screenplay is much more than just characters saying things, and The Red Balloon has a beautiful structure) but as a rare distinction in the history of the category. The second part of the strangeness regards why it was even considered for this category, again not because its screenplay is unworthy, but because the film is only about half an hour long, making it a short film and not a feature; and I would be surprised if this distinction was not just a rare one, but a unique one. However, it is the third part of the strangeness that is the strangest of all, for The Red Balloon was not nominated in the short film category. Yes, this short film, perhaps the only short film in the history of the awards to be nominated outside the short film category, was not nominated in the short film category. I, for one, would certainly love to hear the Academy’s explanation for that anomaly of anomalies.

My recent viewing of this film on Turner Classic Movies was my third experience with The Red Balloon. I had seen it as a child. The only impression I had of it from all those years ago was that it was boring and foreign (being a French film). My second experience happened in college when my Fine Arts professor showed it to us during class one morning. It didn’t make much of an impression on me then either, but I’m sure the atmosphere created by my snickering classmates didn’t help. (I admit there may have been some snickering on my part too, though it is more likely I used it as an opportunity to catch some Z’s.)

This third encounter finally cemented the film in my consciousness, and it turns out The Red Balloon is a beautiful, whimsical, sad yet ultimately uplifting film. (If you watch the film, you’ll discover how paronomastic it is for me to say that, yet I mean it sincerely.) The plot is simple: a boy (played by Pascal Lamorisse, son of the film’s writer/director Albert Lamorisse) finds a red balloon, which he takes with him to school and then home, where the balloon is unceremoniously tossed out the window by the boy’s guardian. (I get the impression these people “caring” for the boy are not his parents.) But instead of rising up and up into the sky, the balloon hovers around outside until the boy sees it and lets it back in. For the rest of the film, the balloon follows the boy around, while we quickly learn that this balloon is the first friend the boy has ever had. His classmates are bullies, as are the adults in his life, and the now-sentient balloon takes delight in teasing them, even psychologically tormenting his principal after the man locks the boy away as punishment for the disruption the balloon causes at school.

Spoiler alert

The ending is a tragically beautiful display of love as the boy heroically tries to save the balloon from the neighborhood gang of boys who want to pop it, and then as the balloon gives its life because it refuses to abandon the boy. It is one of the most agonizing death scenes in all of cinema, the death of the Red Balloon. It put me in mind of how I felt when Wilson the volleyball was lost at sea in Cast Away. I cried when I saw that scene at the theater, with Tom Hanks’ pitiful cries of remorse as he watches the only friend he’s known for the past four years float away into oblivion. That scene is deeply emotional because we, the audience, have projected humanity onto this inanimate object right along with Tom Hanks’ character in the film. Wilson, however, was just a volleyball. The Red Balloon has life, has thought, has emotion, and is as much a main character as the boy himself. It’s a heartbreaking scene that thankfully ends on a happier note as all the balloons in Paris suddenly flock to the boy and lift him above the city and away from all this misery and loneliness.

I highly recommend you take a half-hour and watch this film. It is available for streaming on Netflix. Or, you could even watch it here.

Learn more about The Red Balloon at the Internet Movie Database.

A True Hollywood Story: From the set of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”

An inside exclusive by Tom Kapr

Director Kevin Reynolds sits beside the camera. “Okay everyone,” he says, “quiet on the set! Rolling film. And… ac–”

“Hang on,” Kevin Costner interrupts.

“What’s the problem?” asks Reynolds.

“I’m not ready,” replies Costner.

“But we’ve been prepping for hours for this one scene of dial–”

“Okay, I’m ready. Action!” Costner shouts.

Reynolds looks at the ground dejectedly. “Action,” he mutters to the cast inside his head, where Robin Hood is played by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Morgan Freeman is looking at Reynolds. He then looks over at Costner, who has his face bent toward the ground, his eyes tightly closed, obviously trying very hard to be English.

Freeman rolls his eyes, takes a deep breath, centers himself, and speaks: “Christian!”

“What?” says Christian Slater, standing just off-camera.

Everybody looks at Slater, who is focusing on Morgan Freeman, one eyebrow cocked, waiting. Freeman looks at Slater and nods subtly toward Costner, who still has his eyes closed. Slater cocks an eyebrow in Costner’s direction. “Oh, right,” says Slater. “My bad.”

Reynolds sighs. “Cut!”

“No, no, it’s okay,” says Costner. “Keep rolling, we’ll go again.”

“Let’s try it again,” mutters Reynolds. He has a brief flashback to the set of Fandango. His eyes twitches.

Morgan Freeman is still looking at Christian Slater. He then looks back at Costner, who is again concentrating on the Saxon warrior within. Freeman takes another deep breath, trying again to center himself. It’s a bit harder this time, but suddenly he has a vision of a tall man on a beautiful Mexican beach fixing a boat, and is overcome with peace. He opens his eyes, full of Moorish fire, and bellows: “Christian!”

“Hm?” says Christian Slater, cocking an eyebrow toward Freeman. Costner keeps his eyes closed. Freeman desperately clings to his vision of tropical paradise.

Reynolds sighs. “It’s alright, just keep ’em roll–”

“Cut!” yells Costner. He walks off to nearby line of trees.

“Ah… it happened again, I’m sorry,” says Slater. “Maybe Kevin’s character should have a less confusing name? Hm? Are the writers on-set?”

Costner is gazing into the distance, imagining rolling plains covered with millions of the majestic tatanka.

Reynolds is unconsciously muttering to himself about a post-apocalyptic world in which all the glaciers have melted and covered the world in water. Surely, he thinks, that would be better than this.

Freeman has his eyes closed, and is back on the Mexican beach. He again sees the tall man working on the boat. The man stops his work and smiles at him, then transforms into a small golden statue, as the sand turns into velvety red carpet. Freeman smiles a big, toothy grin. Suddenly, a strange man in shorts and sneakers, with long scraggly facial hair and a red baseball cap, comes jogging across the beach. He jogs past Freeman, stops, turns around, and says, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.” He grabs the golden statue and jogs back from whence he came. The smile disappears from Freeman’s face.

Slater has one eyebrow cocked, looking around at the other actors for validation. “Right?” he says. “Less confusing names?”

Reynolds snaps out of his hallucinatory state, takes a few seconds to remember why he is in a medieval forest, sees Costner is nowhere to be found, and is overcome with happiness. “Alright, let’s take five! We’ll get it when we come back.”

Morgan Freeman sighs. “I hope.”

Oscar Month: The 1955 Academy Awards

By Tom Kapr

As part of my Year of Movies, during the month of February I will be focusing on past Academy Award-winning films, facilitated in large part by Turner Classic Movies and their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon, in which they air nothing but Academy Award nominees and winners every hour of every day for 31 days, leading up to and eventually eclipsing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27. Throughout the month of February, I will be posting short articles on films that have won Academy Awards in past years, most of which I will not have seen before. So you can expect me, by the end of the month, to be even more of the classic film snob of the Incidental Dog crew than I already am. (I’m sure the other guys will love it.)

Having seen eight of the films from 1954 that received Academy Award nominations, I thought I would take a look at all of them in the various categories in which they appeared. I begin with the film I saw this week for the first time, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, directed by Stanley Donen of Singin’ in the Rain fame.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1955. Its only win was a two-fer: Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin took home Oscars in the category of “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.” This award, as well as its nominations for “Best Cinematography, Color” and “Best Film Editing,” are the three of the five categories in which Seven Brides seems deserving. Although, there is a peculiarity about the win.

Seven Brides won the Best Musical Score Oscar over A Star Is Born (now generally considered the superior film), but it was conspicuously absent from the “Original Song” category, for which composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Ira Gershwin were nominated for their song “The Man That Got Away” from A Star Is Born. In other words, there have always been certain inexplicable Oscar nomination anomalies–and I’ve just invented a new tongue-twister. (This category also gave White Christmas its sole nomination for Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”)

Seven Brides‘ other two nominations were for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, neither of which it deserved. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is one of those films that I am constantly asked if I have seen. I finally have seen it, so I finally can say yes; but now, I foretell that when I say yes I am in for a debate. I cannot fathom this film’s popularity, especially over half a century later. It might more accurately have been titled Seven Kidnapping Victims Who Develop Stockholm Syndrome Over a Long Winter of Being Held Hostage in the Mountains by Seven Brothers. And that doesn’t even describe this film’s most bizarre and disturbing plot development, which occurs during the final scene. Women like this movie?

The film does have merits, going back to its three deserving nominations: the music is great, the cinematography is beautiful, and the editing is impeccable. It also has one of the most fun, entertaining, and well-choreographed dance scenes in musical history–when the seven brothers (the colorful shirts in the still below) go into town for the barn-raising festivities and use fancy footwork to vie for the affections of the young ladies of the town.

The phenomenal dance scene from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," before the film's sanity begins to deteriorate.

As a whole, the film doesn’t hold up. Even its popularity from its own time in the 50’s is a little surprising. It’s far too simplistic (I’ll even go so far as to say sexist) to deserve any nominations for writing or Best Picture. But then it seems musicals used to get away with that sort of thing quite often.

I could have shown a picture of the apartment complex set from "Rear Window." Instead, here's a largely irrelevant shot of the film's star Grace Kelly. You're welcome.

Seven Brides‘ spot in the Best Picture nominations should have gone to Rear Window, which was nominated for Hitchcock’s directing, John Michael Hayes’ screenplay, and Robert Burks’ cinematography, but, in one of Oscar history’s most glaring omissions, not as one of the best films of the year. (Rear Window was also strangely absent from the art/set direction category, despite featuring one of the most memorable, unique sets ever built–the apartment complex and courtyard as seen from James Stewart’s character’s window.) Rear Window is my personal favorite from 1954, and I’m shocked it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but at least the film that did win for Best Picture that year was entirely deserving of the honor. That would be On the Waterfront.

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando have electrifying chemistry in "On the Waterfront."

On the Waterfront was nominated in 12 categories and deserved every one. All five of its foremost actors (Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger) were nominated, which must be a record (but don’t quote me on that). Brando and Saint took the gold, and for my money, if those two had won solely on the basis of their make-out scene, I’d say they deserved it, because it may be the best kiss in all of cinema. (Just thought I’d throw that in there.)

Waterfront also took home awards for Richard Day’s art/set direction, Boris Kaufman’s cinematography, Gene Milford’s editing, Budd Schulberg’s writing, and Elia Kazan’s directing. Leonard Bernstein was nominated for his dramatic musical score but lost to Dimitri Tiomkin for The High and the Mighty. (There were two separate music scoring categories in 1955: “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical PIcture” and “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.” Musicals were so popular, they essentially had their own category.)

Other favorites of mine that were classy contenders at the Academy Awards in 1955 were the Edward Dmytryk-directed The Caine Mutiny, which was nominated in seven categories including Best Picture and Best Actor for Humphrey Bogart (his third and final nomination after 1942’s Casablanca and 1951’s The African Queen, for which he won); Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which won for its art/set direction and its visual effects; the post-nuclear horror film Them!, whose giant killer ants lost in the visual effects category to 20,000 Leagues‘ giant killer squid; and the Friz Freleng-directed Sylvester-and-Tweety short Sandy Claws, which lost in the animated short category to Mr. Magoo.

(Learn more about these films and the 1955 Academy Awards at the Internet Movie Database.)

On Trial: Case #001 – Tom Cruise

The Defense, presented by Nathanael Griffis

There is a viewpoint floating out in the ether that Tom Cruise is a bad actor, that he doesn’t make good movies, that he’s annoying, that he’s a crazy goofball. I respectfully and forcefully disagree (though I may not be able to argue against the last point). His ridiculous running style aside, Tom Cruise is a fantastic actor. He’s been nominated for three Oscars and seven Golden Globes (of which he’s won three), and numerous other accolades. He’s shown range in comedies, dramas, and genre films. Most of the criticism of his acting is that he’s too passionate–that he doesn’t have subtlety or the ability to lose himself in a role. Basically, he yells a lot, and this is all people remember. The reason they remember it, though, is because he is amazing at playing a character that lets his emotions build up and then explode. If anything, he has probably been typecast in these roles, but he wrote the book on releasing emotion on screen (not literally). He does take roles that require more subtle touches: Rain Man, Eyes Wide Shut, & Interview with the Vampire come to mind.

If you simply go through his filmography, the resume he’s accumulated is staggering. The directors he’s worked with are the best: Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, both Ridley and Tony Scott, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, Sydney Pollack, Rob Reiner, Cameron Crowe, Paul Thomas Anderson, Edward Zwick, Michael Mann; and I’ve left some out. I think a lot of the criticism of Tom Cruise comes from his off-screen activities. There also seems to be this ridiculous notion that he’s an action star, which is a sneaky way of trying to lump him in with sub-par actors. The truth is that in real life just about everyone’s a little strange. We all do and say crazy things. If you look at the things he’s done, chewing out cameramen or Matt Lauer, it’s not all that deplorable. He’s also barely an action star. Sure he’s done the Mission: Impossible movies, but that’s only a recent development. Minority Report has some action in it, but with the exception of the Mission: Impossible franchise, even his action-packed films, like Collateral, rely on strong story and characters.

What normally happens with criticism of an actor of Mr. Cruise’s caliber is that the whiny internet trolls have to begrudgingly qualify their insults with some phrase like “A Few Good Men was awesome, though.” The evidence speaks louder than the cover of the National Enquirer claiming Tom Cruise is a big meany. So, I leave you with his filmography for you to view and eventually accept that Tom Cruise makes amazing films. He’s here to stay and will be remembered. Perhaps this fact only builds a greater stubborn jealousy in his critics, but I’m willing to risk it.

Selected* films of Tom Cruise:

Taps (1981)

The Outsiders (1983)

Risky Business (1983)

Legend (1985)

Top Gun (1986)

The Color of Money (1986)

Cocktail (1988)

Rain Man (1988)

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Far and Away (1992)

A Few Good Men (1992)

The Firm (1993)

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Magnolia (1999)

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Minority Report (2002)

The Last Samurai (2003)

Collateral (2004)

War of the Worlds (2005)

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Valkyrie (2008)

Knight and Day (2010)

*Some films have been excluded from this list because of their lack of notoriety and for space concerns.

The Prosecution, presented by Steven Moore

Never mind that Tom Cruise is kind of a dick in his personal life. If an actor is a douche in real life, it has no bearing on how talented they are or how well they perform their roles. Never mind that Tom Cruise has been in some of the best movies ever made. His film canon is impressive, and he repeatedly chooses films that are amazing. (Who can forget the game-changing Legend). Never mind that Tom Cruise is one of the greatest talents in stunt work of our generation. All that’s beside the point.

Tom Cruise just sucks. That’s all. I see a trailer for a movie he’s going to be in, and I immediately have no interest in seeing it. Something about the guy just makes me want to go anywhere his face isn’t. You can argue that I’m just jealous of a five-foot-tall psychopathic control freak who constantly has to try to re-ingratiate himself to polite society, but I’m not alone. We are legion. When I’m at a function where I don’t know anyone, all I need to do is throw out an “Ugh, I hear Tom Cruise has a new movie coming out.” The ball only starts rolling from there. Soon a crowd is gathered, and we unite as brothers and sisters of humanity through our mutual disgust of Mr. Cruise.

It’s not rational. It’s not even fair. But it’s damn near universal. Ray Bradbury wrote a short story about a man who hacks his way into the heart of an unexplored jungle. There he finds creatures whose very presence trigger a flight response in him. When he tries to fight it, he begins vomiting uncontrollably. There is no reason for him to feel this way. The creatures are tiny, harmless, and benevolent. Tom Cruise is like that: tiny and harmless (not sure about the benevolent part), but something about him makes my skin, and a lot of other people’s skin, crawl. Oh, and in the story, the creatures turn out to be the real earthlings, while we are descendants from Martians. I think the conclusion is pretty obvious there. I rest my case.

A Review of “The Fighter”

By Alban Yee

I became interested in The Fighter only after seeing the promotional display at the theater. It featured a quote from Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss describing it as a “proletarian true-life sports drama about an athlete who battles alongside and against his family.” Once I read this, I knew I was hooked. These are the kinds of movies I deeply enjoy. Rudy comes to mind. October Sky, although not a sports drama, is another classic I love.

What separates The Fighter from those other movies is the elevation of typically cliché characters into real people with complex emotions and motives. Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) isn’t just a washed up crack addict dreaming of his glory days. He loves his younger brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and battles his addiction in order to get back into his brother’s life. Their mother Alice (Melissa Leo) could easily have been painted as a two-dimensional, self-serving control freak, but under her horrible outward actions, Leo is able to show a mother who loves her children and wants the best for them.

It is a credit to the acting and the script that the movie played out more like a documentary than a movie. I was drawn in immediately and felt like I was being given access to the broken, nitty-gritty details of their lives. And some of those details were ugly. The detail and flow of the trashy family dynamic left me feeling angry, ill, and impressed all at once. In fact, one of the more vicious fight scenes in this movie takes place outside the boxing ring. When a Jerry Springer-type brawl broke out between Micky’s girlfriend and sisters on his front porch, I was so “close” to the action that I cringed and had to look away.

True to its character, the film doesn’t have a big, Hollywood “heart” moment. When it does come, it comes subtly in the form of acknowledgement, humility, and compromise.  Some of it is unspoken, as oftentimes is the case in real life.

The Fighter delivers what the promotional display promised: an Oscar-worthy, character-driven drama. The acting is excellent, especially by Bale (be sure to stick around during the credits–you’ll have an opportunity to guess which real person was played by which actor), and the director never lets you forget that these are real people with real hearts. It is an excellent film, and one that I am happy to recommend.

Oscar Month: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

By Tom Kapr

As part of my Year of Movies, during the month of February I will be focusing on past Academy Award-winning films, facilitated in large part by Turner Classic Movies and their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon, in which they air nothing but Academy Award nominees and winners every hour of every day for 31 days, leading up to and eventually eclipsing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27. Throughout the month of February, I will be posting short articles on films that have won Academy Awards in past years, most of which I will not have seen before. So you can expect me, by the end of the month, to be even more of the classic film snob of the Incidental Dog crew than I already am. (I’m sure the other guys will love it.)

Is that really supposed to look like Gary Cooper?

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

It is difficult to assess a film when seeing it for the first time nearly 75 years after its release. Having acknowledged that critical caveat, I will now say that some films can knock my socks off no matter how long after their release I see them. Metropolis (1927) is one of the those films. Even in its unfinished form, Metropolis is still an edgy sci-fi film. Buster Keaton’s The General (1927) is one of those films. It makes most modern action-comedies look amateurish. Stagecoach (1939) is one of those films, containing what is still possibly the single greatest stunt sequence in cinema history and paving the way for every Western and every chase scene in every action film after it.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is not one of those films.

Oh, it’s a decent enough film, and I’m glad I watched it, but this is one that has not stood the test of time. Everything about it is overly simplistic, from the dialogue to the characterizations to the plot. Nothing about it stands out. Nothing about it is all that memorable. It dealt with some social commentary that I appreciated–the plight of struggling, starving farmer families, the responsibility of the financially affluent to help their fellow man–but that was handled in an overly simplistic manner as well.

Raymond Walburn was the Stephen Fry of his time.

Mr. Deeds is weak especially compared to other favorite Frank Capra films of mine, like Meet John Doe, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington–all of which suffer a bit from Capra’s penchant for sentimentalization, and some of which also have simplistic shortcomings, but all of which create memorable characters in memorable scenarios saying memorable things.

Mr. Deeds won the Academy Award in 1937 for Capra’s directing, but surely there must have been a better contender. I have to admit that this may be the first film of 1936 I’ve actually watched, so I can’t compare it to the other films released that year. The other four nominations it received were Best Sound Recording (really difficult to judge after 75 years), Best Writing (for which I’m surprised it was nominated), Best Picture (which it lost to The Great Ziegfeld amongst eight other nominated films), and Best Actor.

Best Actor. I love Gary Cooper, but this was not one of his finest performances. His character of Longfellow Deeds is supposed to be a simple small-town man, almost childlike but with good common sense, who gets taken for a chump by nearly everyone he meets when he inherits his uncle’s $20 million estate and has to move to New York City. But Deeds comes off far too childlike in some scenes. Cooper has played this type in other better films, like Meet John Doe and Sergeant York, but even in Sergeant York I found his characterization cloying at times. Just a bit too “aw shucks ma’am.” Here that “aw shucks” attitude is amplified to the point of annoyance. Did he deserve a nomination for his performance? He’s not bad–well, in a handful of scenes, it’s pretty bad. I suspect he was nominated for being a popular actor in a popular role.

Gary Cooper literally blows in this film.

As for Cooper’s co-star, Jean Arthur, she’s playing almost the exact same character she would play a few years later in Capra’s own Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s kind of a thankless character, a fiercely independent professional woman who realizes what a nice guy Deeds/Smith is and reforms her worldview. It’s also basically the same character Barbara Stanwyck played in Capra’s Meet John Doe–though Stanwyck nailed that role in a way Jean Arthur couldn’t. Meet John Doe made me fall in love with Barbara Stanwyck. Jean Arthur–she’s pretty good in Mr. Smith, for what the role needed. She’s pretty forgettable in Mr. Deeds.

If I sound cynical, I don’t mean to be. But some films just don’t age well. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington suffers from this same problem, but at least Mr. Smith had that wonderful climactic Senate filibuster scene. Mr. Deeds ends in a courtroom where Deeds is being tried for insanity, and the villains are villainous, and Deeds is self-effacingly heroic, and everything just wraps up a little too nice and neat and quick. It all seems a bit silly through the 2011 lens.

All these criticisms aside, it’s still a pleasant two-hour diversion. But if you’re looking for something more substantial–or if you’re looking for immortal cinema–Mr. Deeds Goes to Town just doesn’t hold up.

Oscar Month: A Man for All Seasons

By Tom Kapr

As part of my Year of Movies, during the month of February I will be focusing on past Academy Award-winning films, facilitated in large part by Turner Classic Movies and their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon, in which they air nothing but Academy Award nominees and winners every hour of every day for 31 days, leading up to and eventually eclipsing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27. Throughout the month of February, I will be posting short articles on films that have won Academy Awards in past years, most of which I will not have seen before. So you can expect me, by the end of the month, to be even more of the classic film snob of the Incidental Dog crew than I already am. (I’m sure the other guys will love it.)

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

In 1535, Sir Thomas More was convicted of treason for not supporting King Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church over divorce laws and beheaded at the Tower of London. 437 years later, six people won Academy Awards. Ain’t causality grand? It’s a strange thought that someday, maybe hundreds of years from now, someone could have the greatest moment of his or her life because he or she wrote a screenplay based on a political assassination attempt at a supermarket in Arizona or directed a film about 3,000 people dying en masse on a September morning in Manhattan. Every tragic outcome for one life eventually leads to good fortune for another.

I’ll conclude my philosophizing there. I do not bemoan the fact that without the martyrdom of Thomas More we would never have been blessed with playwright Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. What joy in life would we have if looked at every blessing in terms of the tragedy that paved its way? (So, apparently I won’t conclude my philosophizing there.) Bolt justly won the Academy Award for his adaptation of his own play.

Director of photography Ted Moore won for his gorgeous cinematography of the English countryside and the Tudor-period architecture, though there were no nominations for John Box or Terence Marsh and their beautiful production design and art direction. Also overlooked for a nomination was Georges Delerue’s musical score, which I enjoyed despite this being a 60’s film. (So many period films of the 1960’s employ an overbearing musical style that assaults the eardrums, whereas Delerue’s score is beautifully restrained.) Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge won for their painstaking costume design. Wendy Hiller (as More’s long-suffering wife Alice) and the great Robert Shaw (as Henry VIII) were nominated for their supporting performances but did not take home the Oscars.

"Who needs an Oscar when I have such mirth!"

Taking home the Oscar for what must be one of the all-time great cinematic performances by an actor was Paul Scofield, who, against studio standards of the time, was not a Hollywood star but originated the role of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s Broadway play. (Also reprising his stage role was Leo McKern as the scheming Chancellor Thomas Cromwell.) Scofield’s ability to play More with such a sense of intelligent restraint and then suddenly raise his voice to emphasize his point without seeming to lose his cool is a testament to the abilities of one of the all-time great Royal Shakespearean actors. (Scofield was actually absent from the Academy Awards ceremony; his on-screen wife and fellow nominee Wendy Hiller accepted the award on his behalf–so at least she was able to carry someone’s Oscar off the stage that night.)

The lovely Susannah York (1939-2011).

Scofield's Thomas More faces his accusers.

Rounding out the superb cast, but not registering enough to warrant nominations, were a young John Hurt as the amusingly named soon-to-be-chancellor Richard Rich; Nigel Davenport as the Duke of Norfolk (also named Thomas–lots of Thomases in this story); the beautiful Susannah York, who just passed away on January 15, as More’s independently minded but loyal daughter Margaret; the great Orson Welles in a brief but memorable appearance as the Cardinal Wolsey; and both Corin Redgrave and, in what is essentially a cameo, his better-known sister Vanessa, who apparently has always done that weird thing with her lips.

Finally, winning two Oscars that night in April of 1967 for his successfully unorthodox efforts as producer and masterful director, was Fred Zinneman. Zinneman has now become one of my favorite directors. This film, The Day of the Jackal (1973), and High Noon (1952) are three of the best films I have ever seen, and I cannot wait to see more of his work (which includes, in a sad, high position on my List of Shame, 1953’s Best Picture-winner From Here to Eternity). Zinneman’s Man for All Seasons is a 1960’s period piece that does not feel in the least bit stagey (as many do), but rather natural and authentic. His direction and Bolt’s writing present a film largely about spiritual integrity that takes a decidedly moral stand without devolving into preachiness but still manages to have some of the most rousing dialogue ever written. It challenges my conceptions about the dogmatic aspects of Christianity in its historical context and also challenges, assuredly for the better, my own personal Christian convictions.

I love Zinneman’s attitude toward filmmaking–he was going to make the movie he wanted to make, studio conventions be damned. Were he a less resolute director, we might never have had the nearly real-time tension-building of High Noon; nor the antagonist-as-protagonist narrative structure of the equally tense The Day of the Jackal; nor the pitch-perfect “star”-less cast of this amazing, challenging film, A Man for All Seasons.

(Learn more about A Man for All Seasons at the IMDb.)