Tag: Movies

What’s a Film Director?


In the beginning of film, there were no directors; there were only cameramen. The first movies had no plot, only the real-life silent spectacles of 1890s street traffic, ballerinas dancing coquettishly, armies on parade, and most famously, in 1895, a locomotive that seemed to be bearing down on the thrilled, frightened audiences of the fairgrounds.

By the turn of the century, two new elements would give lasting shape to what we came to call “the movies”: scripts and actors. They’d been together in the theater practically forever, of course, and now those masks of comedy and tragedy had a technician with a cine camera to record them for distant audiences. Well into the first decades of silent, ten-minute films, their production was loosely supervised, usually by the main actors.

Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll 1912-2013


John Wayne No. 1 Money Making Star 1912-2013

The other day, during my ramblings online, I came across this Wikipedia page regarding something called Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll. Although I knew something of it (for example, I knew that Shirley Temple had been named the top movie star for several years in the 1930s), I had no idea how that determination had been made.

Classic Visual Effects


Films have always relied on visual magic, on camera and laboratory tricks, never more than today. Special photographic visual effects existed for a century before the advent of computer-generated imagery, and often play a part in our fondest memories of favorite movies. There were few electronically created effects of any kind before the Eighties, and we’ll eventually get to the CGI era, but first, a guide to the classic processes and trade secrets that made the magic that most of us loved, from Metropolis through 2001, from Inside the Third Reich through Back to the Future. It’s the story of a distinctive twentieth century craft that still has relevance today.

Every history of special effects starts with George Melies, who was a fairground illusionist who brought trick photography to audiences in Paris. Other early films mostly ignored effects, except for a perennial fantasy favorite, ghosts, easy to do with a double exposure. Silent films began using glass shots: painting an elaborate setting on a sheet of glass and filming through it. Simple, but if you’ve ever seen the YouTube clip of Charlie Chaplin roller-skating in a department store, getting “dangerously” close to a “sheer drop”, you’ve seen how good it could look, even back then, if you lined it up right.

Novels and Movies with an Industrial Theme or Setting?


An increasing number of Americans seem to be recognizing the downsides of deindustrialization, with its malign implications ranging from national security vulnerabilities to ‘deaths of despair’ and reduced social cohesion.  I was wondering what novels and movies we can think of that (a) have an industrial theme or setting, and (b) do not portray industry in a totally negative way.  Here are a few to start with:

In the Valley of Decision, a 1942 book by Marcia Davenport that inspired a 1945 movie starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck. The story centers on a Pittsburgh steel mill and the family that owns it.  I saw the movie and then read the book; both are excellent.  My review, which I just put up a few days ago, is here. It was Valley of Decision that got me thinking about the subject matter of this post.

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Law & Liberty asked me to write a review of Hollywood’s favorite screenwriter. If you are a fan of Taylor Sheridan written films (Hell or High Water, Wind River, Sicario) or his streaming shows (Yellowstone, for instance) you might appreciate my take on his view of the world. https://bit.ly/42QjXh3 Preview Open

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Hey, He’s (or She’s) Got My Name!


Playing off Susan Quinn’s post on nicknames, have you ever gotten excited to see your name used in movies or other media? Maybe a character from a book? Now, this probably doesn’t happen to those with common names, like John Smith or Jim Jones, but for those of us with somewhat more uncommon names, it can be exciting.

I only know of about three appearances of my last name in any sort of big media. There was some sort of historical movie, it may have been made-for-television, made in the 1970s, where a distant cousin was one of the characters. I could swear it was Robert Vaughn who played the part, but can’t find it in his IMDB credits. (Maybe that was a different universe?) The second was that there was a narcoleptic  veterinarian in one episode of Mr. Ed where the character name was “Dr. Weatherford.”

12 Angry Men


One of my favorite movies of all time is the movie 12 Angry Men. (Yes, I agree. The trailer is a bit over the top, but I guess that’s how they made “Coming Attractions” shorts back in 1957!) Here is how the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) summarizes the plot:

The defense and the prosecution have rested, and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young man is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open-and-shut case of murder soon becomes a detective story that presents a succession of clues creating doubt, and a mini-drama of each of the jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, AND each other. Based on the play, all of the action takes place on the stage of the jury room.

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First, my disclaimer: As a Christian, Christ should be the fount and goal of all of our lives, and certainly of Christmas. Most Christmas media omit that, sadly. Yet I am glad when Christian virtues, which I believe all depend on Him and His presence in our world, are celebrated. So I rejoice in both […]

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This was so up my alley that I am not even sure a review is necessary. The trailer above is filled with spoilers of some of the best moments in the film, and I still managed to enjoy, laugh and groan at the things that I’d already been tipped off to. This is the kind […]

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Get Woke? No, Get Boring; Go Broke


A phrase about modern entertainment has gone about nowadays. It rhymes, it’s pithy, and it seems to fit the situation perfectly, “get woke, go broke.” I’d argue, however, that the reality is the massive failure in entertainment hasn’t been the wokeness at all, but the sheer dearth of creative talent. To be entirely honest, if the last couple of decades were producing well-written and entertaining movies and television, “get woke, go broke” would be a phrase people would laugh about all the way to the bank. The entire problem overall has been that writing has been, in general, not necessarily awful but rather boring.

Boring is worse than bad, in fact. Bad movies can still entertain (if not for the intended reason). People will talk about bad movies and TV. People will watch bad movies and TV programs because they are bad. Boring doesn’t get talked about. Boring doesn’t get repeat views. Boring television loses viewers. The problem with streaming is they’ll make an entire season and are stuck with it even after it bleeds viewers. In network days, a TV show that lost viewers was gone, often fast.

Give ‘Em Props – and Sets


Props and settings can have a great effect on how authentic, imaginative, and even how much fun a movie is. This is especially true when the prop is something that doesn’t actually exist or may never exist. The technology behind the gadget often can’t really be explained, yet a skilled production designer can suspend a lot of disbelief, making a made-for-the-movies device seem dramatically real.

Back in the day, Walt Disney, the man and the studio, had a particular knack for great model work and props, whether it was Jules Verne’s Nautilus, re-imagined in 1955 as a 19th-century atomic submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or using a flying Model T Ford as a testbed for anti-gravity in 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor, or that same year creating an inventive-looking but believable space-age toy fabricator, a 3D printer 50 years ahead of its time in Babes in Toyland. Clever movie props make something that you know to be impossible into something you want to believe in.

Halloween Recommendations


It’s that season, the season of my people. Since some folks only watch horror flicks this time of year, I thought I’d provide my services and offer up a charcuterie board of spooky movies for those precious days we have left before All Hallows’ Eve. I assume you already know Beetlejuice and The Bride of Frankenstein. This will be a list of the lesser known, the overlooked, and the unsung. Grab a bag of Takis and let the Caro Syrup flow.

Fiend Without a Face (1958)

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One summer Robin and I were catching up on Breaking Bad, at that time considered to be one of the most ground-breaking episodic shows on television. We were so into the storyline that we were staying up until 1 or 2 a.m. saying to each other, “Can you do another one? I can do another one? Wanna’ do […]

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My update on what to watch and what to avoid: Nicholas and Alexandra: Sweeping, epic–here’s a movie that earns these adjectives. This film, made in the 70’s, sympathetically and beautifully portrays the Romanov family’s life from the early 1900’s through the Bolshevik Revolution.  However, this three-hour saga doesn’t ignore the struggles of other Russian players, including […]

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Clarity From a Hollywood Leader


Deadline has a great interview with Tom Rothman, Motion Picture Chairman at Sony Pictures.  He explains why the theatrical model for movies is far from dead, how streaming will help movies, and doesn’t pull any punches.  The best quote is on the Academy:

You mentioned the Academy. That was never particularly relevant to young people, but it was much more relevant culturally. Failings of the show aside, and we could talk about that forever, the Academy itself, and the pictures that it picks, has lost complete touch with the large audience. It’s become a self-defining elitist redoubt, and you’re just not going to be relevant if you’re that.

On this episode of “The Federalist Radio Hour,” Federalist Publisher Ben Domenech joins Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky to discuss their favorite and least favorite films of 2021 and evaluate whether movies finally made a comeback from a pandemic-induced cinema drought.

Economic Realities I Confront Students with in Public University


Helping students to understand the outcomes of their assumptions.

These are comments I send to each student after they have written their final project for one of my classes. The lines of thought deal with issues of economics based on the movie “Parasite” (Joon-ho, 2019). Most students write about class, capitalism, discrimination, equity, or the like as a theme that they draw from the movie and then do a semester full of research on their topic. I have suggested alternate viewpoints throughout the semester, pointing out economic approaches students in a public university do not always hear. Student tendencies espouse a general socialistic perspective where “government” is seen as having jurisdiction over monetary affairs. I never press my views on students but I surely have them consider the implications of theirs (or any) economic theory.

My general comments about the “Argumentative Writing” final project:

Marx and Freud Go to the Movies … and Nearly Ruin a Classic


My day back at the multiplex:

I saw the original “West Side Story” in the 1980s, and to me in my craven youth, it seemed kind of dorky, what with those skinny boys snapping their fingers and crooning Daddy-O, in a deeply un-ironic way. Not hip at all. But the music and dancing were glorious. And so I found myself today at the new “West Side Story” mouthing the words of classics like “One Hand, One Heart,” and even “Cool” with its toned-down Daddy-O’s, singing along softly enough not to disturb the four others in the theater, who I think were singing along too. The technology today is of course superior to the ‘80s, and conductor Gustavo Dudamel brings new richness and beauty to the score.