OFCC Podcast: Episode 17 – COCO, JUSTICE LEAGUE, WONDER & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 17: Justice (be)League(rd), Cozy Coco, & Tear-Jerking Wonder

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, our roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle return to discuss the latest in movies for the latter half of November 2017.

You can also stream Episode 17 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

DISCUSSIONS
Justice League (1:24)
Coco (18:05)
Wonder (26:24)
Last Flag Flying (34:00)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the November 29, 2017 episode.

CASABLANCA at 75

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Casablanca is a movie about both fate and choices.

It’s fitting, then, that its journey to the screen was a mix of fate and choices.

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, finally bringing the United States into the Second World War. One day later, on December 8th, a story analyst in the Warner Bros development department received a manuscript to an unproduced play. It was called “Everybody Comes To Rick’s”.

Many of the story’s elements instantly jumped out to the analyst as being eerily relevant. Perhaps chief among them was the cynical indifference embodied by its lead character, Rick. Like America herself, Rick was ambivalent to take sides in the war. Set in the summer of 1941, the story takes place at a time when the United States was still neutral and unengaged. As Rick puts it, “They’re asleep all over America.” But like America, Rick would eventually be forced to wake up.

The analyst’s final report enthusiastically recommended that this story be immediately put into production, saying:

  • “Excellent melodrama! Colorful, timely background, tense mood, suspense, psychological and physical conflict, tight plotting, and sophisticated hokum. A box office natural for Bogart, or perhaps Cagney in an out-of-the-usual role, and Mary Astor.”

While that description reads like a great summary of the film we’ve all come to know and love, the play manuscript went through an extensive overhaul in its adaptation. Using the play’s narrative as the basic spine, producer Hal Wallis hired four different screenwriters to mold it into the story that he wanted to tell, with the themes that were important to him.

First were the Epstein twins, Julius J. and Philip G., a brother duo with a strength for comedy and experience working for Orson Welles on his radio productions. Then came Howard Koch; he was brought in to beef up the script’s dramatic stakes and social consciousness. And finally, writer Casey Robinson developed the romance, although he remained uncredited.

To bring these writing voices together, Wallis hired director Michael Curtiz. Primarily known as an action filmmaker with big hits like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Curtiz was a bit of a gamble for something with deeper thematic ambitions.

But after legendary director William Wyler turned the gig down, Wallis tapped Curtiz because of his inventiveness with camera movement and lighting, use of visual symbolism, and the ability to blend diverse styles into a cohesive aesthetic.

This would launch Curtiz’s career into another realm, leading to further successes like Mildred Pierce and the enduring holiday classic White Christmas.

The production, while not tumultuous, was in a constant state of flux, starting with the last minute casting of the young, mostly unknown Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. Even the lead, Humphrey Bogart, was a replacement for the originally announced Ronald Reagan.

Primarily known as a baddie, Bogart was a risk for a romantic lead, but no one could’ve made Rick – a tough guy wrecked by a broken heart – this real, or iconic.

More notable were ongoing daily rewrites throughout production, including several passes at the now classic ending. In fact, the writers gave Bogart a line as a nod to this challenge, when Rick says to Ilsa of their romance, “It’s still a story without an ending.”

The shoot wrapped late summer of 1942 and was being prepped for a January 1943 release. But then, current events triggered a rush in post-production to make a premiere date of November 26th, 1942. This enabled Casablanca‘s debut as to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa, the region of the film’s setting.

Casablanca went on to win three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz, and Best Adapted Screenplay. And for the past 75 years, as time has gone by, we’ve been playing it again and again and again.

Watching it today, we can see visual motifs that future directors would later emulate, notable among them Steven Spielberg in his Indiana Jones movies. Curtiz’s use of dolly – starting on one subject, then tracking, and eventually ending on another subject – is a staple of Spielberg’s entire career.

There are also wonderful visual cues that foreshadow. For example, the first reveal of Rick is of him playing chess; the final act, fittingly, is entirely driven by Rick as he plays a complex chess game with everyone’s lives and fates.

We can also see how its themes remain relevant even to this very day, with its story of refugees fleeing a war torn land, hoping to find safety in America.

But perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind in our contemporary viewing – and this point can’t be stressed enough – is that Casablanca was made and seen during World War II, not after it.

At the time of the film’s release, the fate of the war and the world was very uncertain. Casablanca played in theaters 18 months prior to the D-Day invasion, well before that crucial turning point. A Nazi Europe wasn’t just a possible future; it was a present reality.

So when we see expressions of patriotism in this movie, ones that still get many choked up today, we must remember that these were portrayed in very uncertain times, making them all the more inspiring and substantial. The “dueling anthems” scene especially was a true act of courage, resolve, and defiance.

The late, great film critic Roger Ebert defined “a classic” as being a movie he couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing again. He then added that, for him, Casablanca fits that definition perhaps more than any other movie in history.

Listed at #2 on the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the greatest American films of all time, second only to Citizen Kane, this enduring work celebrates its 75th Anniversary as one of the greatest films ever made.

Here’s looking at you, Casablanca.

OFCC Podcast: Episode 16 – THOR: RAGNAROK, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES, & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 16: Thor Laugh, Hulk Smash, Family Fight

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, our roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle return to discuss the latest in movies for early November 2017.

You can also stream Episode 16 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

DISCUSSIONS
Thor: Ragnarok (starting at 1:28)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (at 26:38)

HOT TAKES
Netflix New: Geralds Game / 1922 / The Babysitter & more (at 43:50)
Jigsaw (at 48:18)
Goodbye Christopher Robin (at 52:13)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the November 2, 2017 episode.

NETFLIX AND KILL: The Real Victims Of Their Day-And-Date Strategy (ANALYSIS)

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The Hollywood studios aren’t the ones who need to worry. Neither are the multiplexes.

The threat that Netflix poses to the movie industry, with their streaming exclusive releases of Awards Season-style hopefuls, is to the independent movie houses that cater to discerning cinephiles. To the art house theaters that actually care about film as an art form, not just a business, and fight to keep their doors open while providing a sophisticated experience for diehard film aficionados.

One need only look at three Netflix originals that have premiered this fall to see how direct the threat is.

Through September and October of 2017, Netflix debuted two films that garnered raves at the world’s premiere film festivals. A third also dropped, one that’s right in the wheelhouse of every indie theater’s primary demographic – older adults:

The festival track that Meyerowitz and Father followed, first starting at Cannes, is exactly the type you see leading up to strong fall release strategies. It’s these movies – with their calculated rollouts – that smaller, smarter movie theaters look to for solid, reliable, sustainable business.

But then Netflix came along to snag the new critically-acclaimed films by Noah Baumbach and Angelina Jolie, keeping them almost singularly for its own small screen subscription venue, save for a handful of lucky theaters in New York, LA, and a few other major cities where these films played in limited runs so that Netflix could crassly qualify for Oscar consideration.

There was also Our Souls at Night, a film not strong enough for a big awards push (despite its multi-Academy Award winning leads Jane Fonda and Robert Redford), but still one that would play like a bread-and-butter tentpole for indie theaters whose core base is older patrons and well-to-do retirees.

The local historic theater in my city of Tulsa – Circle Cinema – could’ve fed off receipts from Our Souls at Night for a solid month, probably longer. Add Meyerowitz and Father to that and it’s a banner quarter.

We can go further back, too, to June with Okja, the latest from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho; he tells artful, gonzo tales that parallel relevant issues. Art house theaters really could’ve benefited from that one when trying to fend off the onslaught from Marvel, DC, Pixar, and more during the summer months.

Yes, on its war path to marginalize theatrical distribution (and even burn it all down), Netflix has major studios in its sights, too. In December, it’ll stream Will Smith’s Bright, a sci-fi spectacle made with the blockbuster price tag of $90 million.

There’s less to worry about here, though (if anything), because the studios and theater chains will continue their symbiotic relationship regardless of what Netflix does, or achieves, even as they make necessary adaptations to lure customers from their couches.

But indie theaters don’t have that kind of money. They need the product that Netflix has begun to hoard at major film festivals.

Art house cinemas give a platform to more ambitious fare. Even when those movies do middling business, they become a part of the cinematic conversation – both now and ongoing – because of the life they’re given through theatrical release windows, instead of being buried in the casket of the Netflix streaming app.

So what can we do, those who care about independent cinema and the theaters that serve as a cornerstone to any city’s artistic culture and community? Boycott Netflix? No. That is futile fool’s errand. To say so is not defeatist resignation, it’s a practical reality.

Instead, we need to frequent our local art house theaters like never before, to keep those vibrant circles of society alive, and thriving, to show the shareholders of Netflix what Amazon Studios has already proven with their Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea: there is money and prestige to be had by embracing independent theaters, not abandoning them.

Here’s perhaps the best way to consider it:

Do you think Moonlight would’ve had a shot at its historic Oscar upset had Netflix streamed it? Would its director Barry Jenkins now be a premiere auteur? Would that small $1.5 million budgeted passion project with no stars have secured the place it now holds as a landmark work that will be talked about, studied, and appreciated in the canon of great American movies? Of course not.

It’s the Moonlight’s that Netflix endangers, and the indie theaters that give those movies their chance to stand out, soar, and make history, not the Dunkirk’s or the multiplexes anchored by an IMAX screen.

photos by Andrew Nichols

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OFCC Podcast: Episode 15 – BLADE RUNNER 2049, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 15: Replicating The Future and The Past

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, our roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle return after a month off from podcasting to discuss the latest in movies for early October 2017.

You can also stream Episode 15 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

DISCUSSIONS
 Blade Runner 2049 (starting at 1:20)
Battle of the Sexes (at 20:40)

HOT TAKES
– American Made (at 38:46)
– Kingsman: The Golden Circle (at 40:10)
– Stronger (at 43:12)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the October 14, 2017 episode.

The Gospel According To Rick Deckard (ANALYSIS) (SPOILERS)

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Is Deckard really a replicant?

Despite my perception that Blade Runner 2049 cleared that issue up once and for all – with an obvious answer of “No” – apparently it’s still an open question, according to some of the filmmakers involved.

That’s a shame, because declaring Deckard human is what gives this whole universe spiritual meaning.

First, just the facts. The case should’ve been closed with the trailer, quite frankly. Why? Because we see an old Deckard, and replicants don’t age. Sure, fans may have been wondering if 2049 would reveal that this replicant could age, but that twist wouldn’t make any sense. It would actually defy logic. Replicants were made to be slaves, after all, and what’s the purpose of an aging slave?

The only reason this was ever debated to begin with is because, long ago, original director Ridley Scott posited quite firmly that, so far as he was concerned, Deckard was a replicant. Meanwhile, screenwriter Hampton Fancher (for both Blade Runner films) has always and resolutely stated that Deckard is, without a doubt, human. Harrison Ford has prescribed to Fancher’s view as well.

But movie geeks will never be able to set aside a fascinating nerd mystery that lingers in pop culture lore, and the Deckard/Replicant question has become an all-timer for fans of the cult classic.

I’ve always felt that “Deckard as replicant” made him a less interesting character, and the story’s themes less compelling. Once you get past what a nifty little plot twist that would be, having two replicants go on the run together (after falling for each other) is, well, pretty boring. Of course that’s what two replicants would do because that’s what replicants do! They flee for their lives.

What’s more interesting is for a human and a replicant to choose to cross that species divide, particularly between “Creator” and “Creation”. The implications, themes, and ideas are much more complex and riveting.

When I saw Blade Runner 2049, it seemed to embrace and double-down on the potential of those implications. To me, the confirmation of Deckard’s humanity was pretty simple:

Deckard impregnated Rachel.

I mean, what more do you need? Human semen mysteriously (miraculously?) found fertile soil in a replicant womb. Unless, of course, we’re to suppose that Replicants have organic semen, too, not just artificial, the kind that can create life.

Nothing in the film substantiates this, which makes it harder to buy into, plus it’d be far less miraculous. Indeed, it would be literal science. Impressive, sure, and even revolutionary, but not truly miraculous. And this movie stressed in no uncertain terms that what happened here was a miracle.

Now lets take this even further, to how it all played out in the story and some of the religious symbolism going on.

The primary reason their child was so valuable was because it was a hybrid child, both human and replicant. A first of its kind (as opposed to just another replicant that happened to be conceived, not made). Their child was a new creation, not a common one created by new means.

Which finally leads us to the symbolism: their child is a Christ figure.

Sure, it’s a daughter in this case, Ana, not a son, despite being deceptively suggested for most of the movie that it was K (well played, Denis). And here’s why the Christ figure is more intriguing, even beyond the narrative Messianic possibilities.

Christ had two natures, equal parts God and man. His father was God and his mother was human. Same thing here. Deckard (“Creator”) and Rachel (“Creation”) gave birth to a child of two equal natures. This was the miracle alluded to in the opening scene, a miracle that inextricably united Creator and Creation.

The ultimate purpose of this union? To reconcile the two, so that Creator and Creation would be one. Salvation itself is at stake.

Consider these words by St. John Kronstadt, on the Incarnation of Christ:

  • “The incarnation is not only an act of love but an act of salvation. Jesus Christ, by uniting man and God in his own person, reopened for man the path to union with God.”

Another Blade Runner film could approach Ana in the same way, reopening for replicant the path to union with humanity.

In the event of another sequel (unlikely, given the low box office), this could serve as a fascinating basis, not just for the “Replicant Uprising” alluded to in 2049 but to actually have a Christ figure confound both its followers and enemies by pursuing love, peace, and forgiveness, not retribution or an earthly throne.

This would be infinitely more interesting, and challenging, than a simple “battle”, and given the philosophical depth that the first two films were driven by I’d trust that a third movie could do well by this possibility.

And in terms of the characters, they could bring K back (either not having died, or rebooting him) to serve as a John the Baptist figure for Ana Deckard’s messiah. Plus, we’d be given another Chosen One that’s female rather than male. Our pop culture could use more of those so that Rey isn’t all by her lonesome.

With Villeneuve, Fancher, and Scott guiding it all, I’d trust that this Chosen One would be as much about actual ideas and virtues and not restricted to just an iconic template for an action narrative.

That said: if it all ends here, there’s something really poetic about the final shot being of Deckard seeing his daughter for the first time. That was a moving, poignant grace note to end on.

But there’s truly great potential for so much more.

 

BBC Unveils “100 Greatest Comedies Of All Time” List

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The BBC is starting to make this an annual event.

Exactly one year ago, the UK’s flagship media network announced their list of “The 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century” (so far). Now they’ve followed that up by unveiling their choices for “The 100 Greatest Comedies of All Time“.

The decision to go for Comedy was made by BBC Culture after they saw how few films from the genre actually landed on their 21st Century list.

This year, they asked 253 film critics (118 women and 135 men) from 52 countries across six continents to compile their own personal Top 10 Lists for the best comedies of all time.

Averaging those choices out, the BBC ended up with its Top 100.

Interesting stats:

  • The most represented directors are:
    • Rob Reiner – 4 films
    • Charlie Chaplin – 4 films (none in Top 10)
    • Ernst Lubitsch – 4 films (none in Top 10)
    • Woody Allen – 3 films
    • Jacques Tati – 3 films
    • David Zucker – 3 films
    • Buster Keaton – 3 films
    • Howard Hawks – 3 films (highest at #14)
    • Preston Sturges – 3 films (highest at #19)
    • Mel Brooks – 3 films (highest at #20)
    • John Landis – 3 films (highest at #47)
  • Only 1 woman made the list: Amy Heckerling, for 1995’s Clueless (#34)
  • 26 directors accounted for 64 films. Or, roughly, for 2/3 of the list. That’s domination by a small, elite group.
  • The actors who appear most:
    • Bill Murray – 6 times
    • Cary Grant – 5 times
    • Charlie Chaplin, Christopher Guest – 4 times

So here they are, in ascending order, The 100 Greatest Comedies of All Time:

100. (tie) The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982)
100. The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)
99. The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979)
98. The Hangover (Todd Phillips, 2009)
97. The Music Box (James Parrott, 1932)
96. Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)
95. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
94. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
93. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Trey Parker, 1999)
92. The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)
91. What’s Up, Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972)
90. A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
89. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966)
88. Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001)
87. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)
86. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)
85. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)
84. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996)
83. Safety Last! (Fred C Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1923)
82. Top Secret! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1984)
81. There’s Something About Mary (Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 1998)
80. Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
79. The Dinner Game (Francis Veber, 1998)
78. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987)
77. Divorce Italian Style (Pietro Germi, 1961)
76. Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)
75. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942)
74. Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)
73. The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis, 1963)
72. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (David Zucker, 1988)
71. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
70. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)
69. Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975)
68. Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939)
67. Sons of the Desert (William A Seiter, 1933)
66. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
65. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis, 1980)
64. Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008)
63. Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra, 1944)
62. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2014)
61. Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)
60. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
59. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
58. Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983)
57. Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)
56. Broadcast News (James L Brooks, 1987)
55. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
54. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
53. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)
52. My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936)
51. Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925)
50. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)
49. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)
48. Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)
47. Animal House (John Landis, 1978)
46. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
45. Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli, 1958)
44. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)
43. M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970)
42. The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
41. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006)
40. The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967)
39. A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood and Edmund Goulding, 1935)
38. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
37. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
36. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton and John Cleese, 1988)
35. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
34. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
33. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)
32. Raising Arizona (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1987)
31. Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982)
30. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Jacques Tati, 1953)
29. When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989)
28. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
27. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
26. Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958)
25. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
24. Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
23. The Party (Blake Edwards, 1968)
22. Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
21. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
20. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)
19. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
18. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
17. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
16. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)
15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975)
14. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
13. To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
12. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
11. The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998)
10. The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)
9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
8. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
7. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980)
6. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

For more interesting info about this list, check out these links: