Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Tuesday, Dec 2, 2014
Disney may have "invented" it, but here are ten examples where live action footage blended with animation to become a cinematic statement all its own.

Let’s get one thing straight right up front: we clearly recognize, going into this category, that almost every movie made in 2014 could be considered for this list. Thanks to a little something called CGI and its overuse by modern moviemakers, almost every film featured at your local Cineplex contains some animated element. That beautiful rendering of your favorite city or countryside? Digitally tweaked. That stunning car chase or impossible stuntwork? Aided by computer-generated vehicles and characters.


Of course, your favorite superhero and his equally engaging villains are rendered with the help of technology. Even basic stuff, like support wires, make-up mistakes, and posthumous performances are altered, thanks to those post-Jurassic Park technical breakthroughs. So we aren’t going to address this approach. If we did, we’d have to parse through hundreds of movies and make mention of each instance where a laptop or motherboard made a difference.


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Monday, Dec 1, 2014
Sure, this is a melodramatic, but don't be ashamed of that swelling in your heart... the music really is that beautiful.

How do you film someone playing the violin? How about overhead, looking down on the fingering like Busby Berkeley presenting geometric legwork? You can find that and other graceful ideas in Archie Mayo’s direction of the scenes where legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz performs in They Shall Have Music, now available on demand from Warner Archive. In his first performance, the camera seems to be mounted on a crane that glides gracefully around Heifetz in a single shot, then rises majestically upward, as though on the notes themselves. No wonder the grubby little delinquent kid from the Brooklyn slums, who found his way into the audience while fleeing the cops, is spellbound.


The kid is Frankie (Gene Reynolds), and it turns out his late father used to play the fiddle and taught him to recognize musical notes. This impresses the teacher (Walter Brennan) at a music school for poor kids, into which Frankie has wandered by accident while chasing his scene-stealing dog Sucker (played by “Zero”), for Frankie is blown by the winds of fate throughout this plot. Too bad the school is on the verge of being shut down and having everything repossessed for lack of funds, unless—wait a minute—what if the great Mr. Heifetz could play at their concert? It’s so crazy, it just might work. Joel McCrea and Andrea Leeds are on hand to provide romantic interest without getting in the way, and Marjorie Main plays Frankie’s put-upon mom.


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Friday, Nov 21, 2014
He was more than just a filmmaker. With his passing at age 83, Mike Nichols leaves behind a legacy filled with awards and attitudes which influenced every medium he was involved in.

Mike Nichols won nine Tony Awards, four Emmys, a Grammy and an Oscar, making him one of the few artists in any medium that can claim such honors. Not bad for a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who thought of becoming a doctor but, instead, dropped out of the University of Chicago to try the theater. It was there where he met partner Elaine May, and the two would soon become the toast of contemporary (‘50s) pop culture.


He was accepted into the Actor’s Studio and studied under the great Lee Strasberg before joining the Windy City’s Compass Players in 1955. Along with May, Shelley Berman, Del Close, and Nancy Ponder, they were the predecessors for the noted Second City improv troupe. In 1960, Arthur Penn directed the Broadway smash An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and soon both were huge household names.


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Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
The stylized violence of kung fu and the lawless conflicts of the spaghetti western genre coalesce in this action-packed 1973 hybrid.

The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe (1973) is the last of ten spaghetti westerns that director Mario Caiano made before moving on to the horror genre. It is also the oddest, most violent, and arguably the best of the bunch. Chronicling a Chinese immigrant’s arrival to the American west in 1882, where racists run rampant and anyone with skin darker than the inside of a potato must literally fight for survival, it was the perfect plot to cash-in on the rising popularity of the kung fu genre in the ‘70s and the international stardom of Bruce Lee.


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Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
Sure, Jennifer is chock full of dimensionless characters, banal dialogue, and gratuitous nudity, but it's never boring.

This horror item from the ‘70s is one of those dumb, cheap, cheesy, unconvincing efforts peopled by mostly undimensional characters spouting dialogue that wavers from simple to stupid, with the teen characters played by actors in their 20s, and many moments of gratuitous (i.e. necessary) breast nudity among teasing girls. Which begs the question: So what? None of that makes it bad, and Jennifer can rightly claim never to be boring.


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