Saturday, March 31, 2012

Top Ten Movie Beginnings

There are LOT of great films that have great openings.  Heck, even a bad film can have a good opening.   One element of a good film is a good opening, a hook that brings you in and doesn't let go.

Honorable Mention: Goldmember

This was the only good moment in the film, the only thing worth watching.  A shame, for the opening is so surprising and funny.  Heck, I think that Kevin Spacey should have played Dr. Evil in the first place but then Mike Myers couldn't have fueled his over-inflated ego.

The instant Mike Myers appears, the film becomes unwatchable.

10) Transformers: The Movie

A flawed film, even at age 11 I could spot the things wrong with it.  I admired it most for the level of ambition.  The filmmakers took a "kid's show" and took it to new levels never before seen.  If anyone didn't know they were sitting down to Transformers, they wouldn't know what they were getting into.

A....thing, massive and menacing moves through the cosmos, emerging from the flames of a star.  The planet Lithone has moments to live.  We're introduced first to the movie's villain, the last film Orson Welles would do.  Stunning animation, never before seen in American theaters, shocks our eyes.  Seeing it later on the small screen, something would be lost in the translation.

What appears to be a mindless machine is actually a creature that is very much alive.  Its origin unknown.  Seemingly an unthinking killing machine, Unicron seems to be unstoppable.  Very few words of dialog are spoken and are unnecessary.  The people of Lithone face a violent end and Unicron is nourished.

Cue the rock song...

 9) Tropic Thunder

Shocking and downright funny, we're introduced to this fictional Hollywood with not only three fake trailers, but one rather..."interesting" commercial.  If one didn't know better, they wouldn't know they were actually watching the movie itself.  The goal of an opening such as this is to not only make one laugh, but to introduce them to this fictional world.  One could just make something simple...but Ben Stiller decided not to.  We won out.

One could say that the movie has TWO openings, the second being a rather brilliant battle sequence in Vietnam.  Stiller, known for doing comedies, shows some impressive skills at a battle sequence.  The satire of Hollywood war films is subtle and gross but if it weren't for those minor over-the-top moments, one might think they're watching a REAL war film.

 8) Watchmen

Speaking of fictional worlds, nothing is both more alien and yet familiar at the same time than the artificial 1985 of Watchmen.  Brilliantly shot and a unique look that only Zach Snyder can produce, it starts with an action scene and a murder, complete with the iconic smiley face stained with the single drop of blood.

Then, the most unlikely of songs starts to play over the opening credits.  During this time we're introduced to this world where superheros really exist.  A series of images and events, strange and confusing but make things clear in the sense that this is no where near the world that we live in.  Many questions are answered but many more are brought up and sets the scene for this movie based on the greatest graphic novel of all time.

Is it bad that I laughed when the hippies got shot?

 7) Akira

First came shows like Speed Racer, then Voltron came during the '80's, among others.  This strange new animation style came and was growing in popularity.  Then it was given a name:  Anime.

I was fotunate enough to watch a film called "Akira", directed by Katshiro Otomo, on the big screen at the Detroit Institute of Art.  Seeing the brilliant animation on the big screen was a thrill and what made it even greater was the fact that I had NO idea what this movie was about.  It was called Akira, it's from Japan and it's animated.  That's all.

It starts with World War III and Tokyo being nuked.  Silent, an explosion of white light envelops the city.  Millions are dead in an instant.

Flash forward thirty years and the next twenty minutes show a brilliant and violent series of events; from rival biker games, to a riot, to a strange-looking child blowing things up with his mind.

How can you not be glued to your seat, wanting to see more?

 6) Saving Private Ryan

War is often glamorized in Hollywood, especially in the past.  The reality is that war is horrific and bloody and no one ever comes back the same. 
This film was the most effective use of violence in a film to bring forth attention to just how brutal the landing on the beach of Normandy really was.  It changes your view of World War II, war movies in general and the greatest generation our country has ever seen. 

Much like Schindler's List, Spielberg created a film that isn't easy to watch but is historically accurate and that's something Hollywood has to do when it comes to historical events.  "The Longest Day", another film about D-Day was indeed a good film but it was made in a different time.  Spielberg is to be commended for many things and making historically accurate stories such as this is one of them.

 5) Naked Gun

Freakin' funny from start to finish, nothing else to say.

This sequence is actually edited now on Comedy Central whenever they play this movie.  Comedy should be fearless and this film was.  To edit it is a

 4) Terminator 2: Judgement Day

James Cameron came out of nowhere with a small budget and a cool idea to surprise movie goers with "The Terminator".  Cameron made what people thought was a horror/scifi but in reality it was scifi

One of the greatest sequels ever, "Terminator Two Judgement Day" looked a million times better than its predecessor.  It also knew how to really get people set for a great film that would trill them with action, touch them with its heart and shock with its visuals.

The opening sets the stage and shows what the human race faces in the future.  The seemingly overwhelming army of Skynet seems unstoppable and the odds are stacked against us.  Not like that's gonna stop US, right?

The opening credits show the fires of nuclear holocaust and an updated version of Brad Fidel's catchy theme.  The playground in flames I think is supposed to show the death of innocence and how judgement day robbed us of that. 

Finally the face of the menacing T-800 appears, bringing back the memories of the villain of the first movie.

It remains James Cameron's best film.

 3) Star Trek (2009)

Whether you're a fan of Star Trek or not, what this scene spelled out was very simple and was treated like we had never heard of Captain Kirk or the Enterprise before. 

A vicious enemy attacks a much smaller and weaker ship.  A young officer takes control after the captain dies and fights this enemy off so that his pregnant wife and others can escape. 

He gives his life but lives long enough to hear his child's new born cry and to help give him a name.  What makes the scene powerful besides him giving his life is the emotions that George Kirk shows on his face.  Within two minutes he shows despair, regret, joy and fear.

All of these emotions are hidden beneath an exterior made of stone, his final words:  "I love you."  One of the best moments in Star Trek.

 2) UP

The tale of Carl Fredricksen and Russel is actually the SEQUEL to the first story which takes place during the prologue.  Pixar could have spent their time and money on a touching story of Ellie and Carl; two people who meet as children, fall in love and spend their lives together.  It's the opinion of many that the story ended tragically with Ellie getting sick and eventually dying.  But what one must remember is that these two people spent their entire lives together and besides Ellie dying, they were happy.  What's more romantic that sharing a lifetime with another person?

The first story of UP told more in its first few minutes and showed more passion than most movies do.  Pixar raised the bar.

 1) Star Wars (1977)

Homage to the Flash Gordon films of his youth, George Lucas came out nowhere to show people something new.  Hardly anyone knew it was a homage.  Joined together with a small group of like-minded visionary artists, a galaxy far, far away shocked and thrilled all.  Star Wars showed that science fiction, or more accurately in this case, science fantasy, could be mainstream.  People who normally would never dream of seeing a film like this were seeing it multiple times.

The beginning of this film is what clinched it.

From the opening title to the blockade runner being chased down by the star destroyer, to the stormtroopers swarming in and the emergence of a guy who was clearly a villain.  There is no doubt why, from beginning to end, that Star Wars would become a cultural phenomenon.  The opening was one of the elements that made us fall in love with movies again in the cynical '70's.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fifty Most Hated Movies

No surprise that some people will spend time on the subject, but what WAS surprising were some of the choices on the list:

Some films, the reason they were on the list, was completely understandable for there was indeed a lot of suckage on there.  Some I would have been a little more kind but when Hollywood has millions of dollars to spend you wonder how can they screw up so badly?  Simple:  They're out of touch with the masses.  But hey, people go to see their movies anyway so what do they care?

There were very few surprises, though I would have put all Twilight movies and Star Wars Prequels together respectively.  Absolutely SHOCKED to see Forrest Gump on the list, I thought people kinda liked that movie.  Shocking also to see Titanic there.  For me, the film was okay and impressive, Cameron deserved best director in 1998 for the lengths he went through to make the movie.  But the most surprising title on the list was Avatar.

I did NOT LIKE Avatar for its cynical attitude towards the human race and the bland plot.  Again, millions of dollars on special effects and actor's salaries and yet you seem to spend a $1.50 and a Tuesday afternoon on the script.  I suppose that after people went home from the theater and started watching the movie on DVD, they started to pay attention more to the script.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie

Brilliant artist, Ralph McQuarrie, has passed.

The man behind the looks of such iconic characters as Darth Vader and C3PO, just to name a couple, will always be remembered as an imaginative artist.  His work certainly inspired me and many other artists, no doubt.  His work will live on and not just in a galaxy far, far away but in that limitless place the resides in us all:  our imagination.

R.I.P. sir, and thank you.