Paul Thomas Anderson’s On Cinema

20 01 2015

On October 4, 2014, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk where Paul Thomas Anderson elaborated on his inspirations and influences.  His knowledge and love of cinema shone brightly, leaving me quite rejuvenated in the power of the medium.  Basically, he would be the best film professor EVER.  Here are some highlights from that session.

Part 1

The program unfolded largely based on discussions following clips selected by Paul Thomas Anderson and, presumptively, moderator Kent Jones.  He began with an opening from “Police Squad,” a television show from the 1980s.  Not the first thing I associated with the director of “The Master,” I’ll be honest.

I knew the team behind “Police Squad” mostly for their inane “Scary Movie” installments, but I actually explored the older Abrahams-Zucker comedy on Netflix via “The Naked Gun” films.  Now I see where Anderson comes from when he descirbed the serious “hilarious, brilliant” and that it “doesn’t get any better.”

He rediscovered the joy of the show while watching videos on YouTube during smoke breaks, reminded how much the humor was ahead of its time.  Moreover, it made him remember that anything is possible.  That kind of energy plays out clearly in “Inherent Vice,” whether its Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot Bjornsen fellating a chocolate banana or Martin Short’s Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd doing lines of cocaine.  The gags are silly, but they are always clever.

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Classics Corner: It’s a Wonderful Life

24 12 2014


Everyone, including people like me, has blind spots in their knowledge of classic films from the cinematic canon.  In the past few months, I have only just seen “Gone with the Wind,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Birds,” and “Dead Poets Society.”

Now, I am someone who loves Christmas movies (if you have any doubt, I’ll direct you to my insanely detailed moviegoer’s challenge for “Elf”) and Frank Capra films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (though I am rather blasé about “It Happened One Night“).  So, you would expect that by now, I would have seen the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  If you assumed I had, you would be wrong.

To be clear, it is not for lack of effort.  Two years ago, some friends and I attempted to see a screening held at a local theater.  We deduced that since it was readily available for people to watch at home, the theater would not be crowded.  And we were wrong.  (A humorous aside: they spelled the movie wrong on their marquee. It was a “wonderderful” life, apparently…)

I have also pretty much absorbed the story through cultural osmosis.  Everyone knows the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” to some extent, just like they know the shower scene in “Psycho.”  My primary exposure to the film came through – and this will date me tremendously – the 2002 TV movie “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas.”

(Oh, and “Shrek Forever After” too, I suppose.)

But last night, Christmas Eve Eve, I decided it was time to end my ignorance.  Armed with a copy of the DVD acquired from the Houston Public Library, I would finally figure out why the movie is a mainstay of the Christmas season on television.

How to turn it into an interesting blog post, though?  I had the epiphany to essentially live blog my viewing experience and then add in a reflection at the close.  All times listed are from the 60th anniversary DVD (unsure if that changes anything but thought it might be worth noting).  So, without further ado, enjoy my thought process as I experience “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the very first time…

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Classics Corner: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

6 11 2012

I wish I could have voted for Jefferson Smith today.

It’s rare that a movie rings as true today as when it was released and far less common for them to be even more relevant in the modern era, but “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” does the unthinkable.  Granted, that’s less of a compliment to Frank Capra’s superb morality tale and more of a disgrace on a country more divided than it has been since the Civil War.  Though perhaps the problem is that a post-Watergate world refuses to see a Capra-esque worldview as anything other than naive fantasy.

If that’s true, then bury this country.  I rarely engage in idealism, but these classics of a bygone era inspire those sensibilities to come flowing out of me.  The times then might have been more innocent, and the world now might be far more hostile.  But there are still Jefferson Smiths among us.  There might even be one in us.

And obviously, there’s no one better than Jimmy Stewart to play the best of us, Jefferson Smith.  As a non-politician transported to Washington as a thinly-veiled ploy, he’s a symbol of the purity of the common man.  Yet set against the backdrop of a systemic culture of corruption, his high hopes are quickly squelched.  He’s a big proponent of building a camp for boys in his unidentified home state; however, when it collides with the entrenched interest of the other Senators planning to build a dam on that land, Smith finds himself in hot water.

We all like to think we would do what Jefferson Smith does.  He stands up for what he believes in even when it’s unpopular.  He fights for what he believes in even when it collides with the wills of more powerful men than he.  He is not swayed by fickle public opinion or the press.

Yet most politicians today switch their positions as soon as a poll suggest their voting bloc opposes their position.  They might not be the best of us or even the best for us – just the best choice we have.  On this election day, my hope is that the vision Capra had for an America where the average American’s purity can inspire real change in a sick society can become less of a hope and more of a reality.  Regardless of what party you support, we should all aspire to have a candidate who fights for his convictions with all his might like Mr. Smith.  And if you can’t vote for Mr. Smith, then be one.

Classics Corner: It Happened One Night

12 10 2011

According to the American Film Institute, it’s the eighth funniest movie and third best romantic comedy ever.  The Library of Congress has added it to the National Film Registry of movies deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  It was the first movie to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.  By all measures, Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” is a movie for the books.

So then why was I so unaffected by it?  Is the movie really so seminal that it feels hackneyed and trite in retrospect?

My conclusion is yes, “It Happened One Night” is a movie that contributed so much to the medium of cinema that Frank Capra’s film itself looks so small in comparison.  The fact that the “opposites attract” premise is still the dominant plot point of romantic comedy over 75 years later should serve as testament enough to the movie’s influence.  While my lack of definitive cinematic knowledge prohibits me from declaring with certainty that this is the first movie to introduce the idea, I think the movie’s widespread industry and critical acclaim cemented that the formula was acceptable.

I wouldn’t DARE compare a Frank Capra movie to a horrible Jennifer Aniston movie, but I will say that “The Bounty Hunter” sure did rip off this classic.  The romantic comedy babe, played here by a star of the century, Claudette Colbert as Ellie Andrews, is a spoiled brat running away from her tyrannical father.  The hunk is the great Clark Gable as Peter Warne, a rogue reporter looking for a story … and finds one in her.  The story is amusing enough, but it’s very cut and dry.  I’m happy to call it generational differences because I sure can respect “It Happened One Night,” but that doesn’t mean I have to be head over heels for it.