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Friday, May 20, 2011
In 1984, Hollywood had never really heard of The Terminator's team. Today, it wouldn't be the same without them.

Like they say, hindsight is always 20/20. Predicting the future is never as accurate as truly “seeing” it. Back in the early ‘80s, the action film genre was on its last legitimate legs. The ‘70s had taken the once viable category and dragged it through a dozen b-movie drive-in permutations. Unless it was being helmed by Stephen Spielberg and centered on a he-man archeologist with a funny first name, no one much considered stunt-oriented cinema as the upcoming decade’s moviemaking messiah. That was before young hot shot James Cameron and his sci-fi masterpiece The Terminator came along. Borrowing a bit from speculative fiction’s past (thank you very much, Harlan Ellison) and arguing for a new style and approach to edge of your seat thrills, it remains, some 27 years later, one of the benchmarks in the business called show.

Forget the fact that it launched a relatively unknown bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger into the upper echelons of the A-list (and into a certain State House). Ignore the fact that it would spawn a sequel that literally redefined the use of special effects and computer technology in filmmaking. Heck - how can you overlook the fact that its primary driving force, that glorified geek named Cameron, went on to direct the two most popular motion pictures of all time (Titanic, and Avatar)? From the steel-blue gray color scheme that defined the genre’s look - until The Matrix remade it in mossy greens and browns - to the careful combination of concept and execution that remains to this day, the story of a future warrior sent back in time to protect an unknowing waitress from the mechanical menace out to destroy her is, perhaps, the single most important film of its time.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011
The inherent value of these films goes beyond the basics of a Ron Howard resume. This is escapism at its silly, '70s best.

He was the biggest child star of his era (along with Bill Mumy, arguably), co-starring in films with famous faces like Robert Preston, Shirley Jones (The Music Man), Glenn Ford and Stella Stevens (the big screen version of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father). He parlayed said success into a stint on one of television’s most beloved sitcom’s (The Andy Griffin Show) before making the always difficult transition from kid to a career in show business. Along the way, he racked up another hit TV show (Happy Days), added a few more celebrated co-stars to his resume (John Wayne, James Stewart), and entered the mid-‘70s with a solid, scandal free future intact.

But just like the old Tinseltown adage, what Ron Howard really wanted to do was direct. Long before he would walk away with an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind and helm such hits as Splash, Cocoon, Apollo 13, and The Da Vinci Code, the plucky teen was nothing more than a wannabe, circling around the various crews he worked under during breaks and off hours to try and absorb as much information and technical knowledge as he could. Of course, the options for any untried filmmaker in the cutthroat business of Hollywood were limited, even for someone as bright and popular as he. It took that savior of the soon to be important - Roger Corman - to give Howard his break.

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Friday, May 13, 2011
For many, this movie will indeed be nothing special. For others, it stands at the crossroads when movies went from elitist to everywhere, for good and for bad.

It’s almost here. In another decade, if not sooner. Before, culture was contained within a small box of presumed scholarship, writers in differing fields formulating classicism based on a small, selective frame of reference and a wide berth of personal experience - nowhere more so than in film. With its territorial restraints, limited availability, and lack of realistic replay value, movie consensus was created out of festival attendance, scholastic investigation, journalism, job, revivals, revisions, and that rare glimpse of lost genius on the late, late movie. Music had a broader basis, and print just seems to linger forever. But it wasn’t until the dawn of the VCR where cinema got a chance to open the artform to (almost) everything available.

Of course, a lack of exclusivity has also lead to a far more mainstream set of standards. Appreciation can and was ladled onto often undeserving entries, while others demanding attention remained caught in the cult (or, more often, complex rights issues). And then there is the generation for whom life without a VCR - and by extrapolation, without the ready access to any and all film - never existed. For them, a weird combination of nostalgia and knowledge drives their obsessions and aesthetic conclusions. In addition, scarcity and the ability to reconnect with a beloved artifact from said formative years can also function as a final conclusion. Such is the case with the first “direct to video” horror film Sledgehammer. Many have been waiting for this rarity to hit DVD since it made the rounds way back in the early ‘80s. Clearly, they see something here that contemporaries will mock as meaningless.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011
A documentary on a potential landmark movie, differed.

In 1964, Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique, The Wages of Fear) began shooting a film with a simple concept. A husband (Serge Reggiani) is so pathologically jealous of his wife (Romy Schneider) that the black-and-white footage of their lives becomes expressively distorted with his color fantasies. Clouzot was going to use all kinds of wiggy avant-garde techniques (including the soundtrack), for which a lot of test footage was shot. When he received backing for an unlimited budget from Columbia Pictures, any chance of shooting the film quickly on a tight schedule seems to have gone out the window as Clouzot slowed down shooting and prolonged the experiments. Reggiani left the project and Clouzot had a heart attack, shutting down production after three weeks.

Later Claude Chabrol shot his own version of the script, L’Enfer (1994), a straightforward bore. On the evidence of the footage revealed in Serge Bromberg’s documentary, if Clouzot’s film had used half the wild techniques and tour-de-force photography on display, the film would have been a psychedelic benchmark on a level with 2001: A Space Odyssey. The shots of Schneider alone, whether “plain” or fantastically fetishized, are uncanny goddess material. Bromberg’s fascinating film relies on Clouzot’s footage and interviews with a several participants, plus a few enacted dialogues from the script.

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Friday, May 6, 2011
Two films highlighting the recent strides in Iranian cinema.

Facets has released two DVDs of 21st Century Iranian films made by filmmakers who fought the law, and sometimes the law won. One is a reissue that they’re calling attention to because of the director’s struggles, and the other is new on DVD. It’s strangely consoling (except to those in jail) to know that art can get you into serious trouble.

The 2002 movie The Twilight (Gagooman), shot on video, is a documentary-like reconstruction of events with the real people playing themselves. (This has become something of a specialty in Iranian cinema, for example Close-Up and A Moment of Innocence.) It begins with the camera looking out through the windshield of a car on its way to some location, which may be intended to remind us of Abbas Kiarostami’s The Taste of Cherry. The main character has lived in prison all his adult life, and now the warden arranges for him to marry a female prisoner, with his mother (also in prison!) acting as intermediary. These scenes are handled in a simple, even unprofessional fashion, accumulating details at a steady pace until we have a wedding (apparently the actual wedding footage, not re-enacted).

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