Thursday, March 31, 2011

Movie Of The Day - Stand by Me

STAND BY ME (1986) d: Rob Reiner

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

Maybe it was just a coincidence but I first saw 'Stand by Me' when I was 12 so I think it sort of struck a cord with me that was deeper than just the experience of watching a great film which this is. Before moving to Chicago I lived in Connecticut. I was there for those formative years where you start to figure out who you are and where friendships run deep. We ended up moving away a few weeks after I turned 12 after I had the best summer of my life. I was surrounded by friends and we just had fun. We enjoyed life and experienced a sort of simple joy. This was broken after I left and it actually took me several years to bounce back from. I felt alone for a very long time. It was during this time that I took my love of movies to a new level as, in a way, the movies became my new friends. I guess everything happens for a reason.

The story of four friends taking a trip to seek out the body of a dead classmate hit by a train 'Stand By Me' features standout performances by the the young Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, and the late River Phoenix. Their journey is filled with so many great and touching moments. It's that key moment as boys slowly enter the next phase of life from being boys to young men. Every time I watch the film I am just amazed by it. And watching it at different stages of my life it takes on a different meaning for me. It also reminds me of those times way back during that summer when I was 12. In some ways the last time I felt like I belonged somewhere and with other people. A memory I will cherish for the rest of my life and something that watching 'Stand By Me' takes me back to.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taxi Driver Restoration Screening

Tonight I went to a special screening of Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver' on the big screen. As I wrote about a few months back I went to a screening here of it which happened to take place on my birthday (which I wrote about HERE). How could I say no? That was an original film print. I believe from the original release because it was pretty beat up and faded. I love seeing older films on film. Even if the print is not in the best of shape. It represents the way the film was intended to be seen at the time it was made. It's why when I go to screenings of older films and it's not an actual print but a DVD projected I get mad. I can stay at home and watch the DVD. I can't see the print at home. So film all the way and I was happy to have the chance to see one of my all time favorite films on an actual print.

Now, that being said I love technology. I love digital. I just don't like manipulating something that wasn't intended to be. I fully support restoring older films in the new digital age and cleaning them up and making them closer to standards we have for current films. However older films were not made for our current film market. So they shouldn't be made to be in an unnatural way. They need to be preserved as closely to their original intent as possible. One such way is a film's grain structure. Grain is what makes up film. It's where the image lies. In some film stocks the grain isn't so apparent as in others. During the transition from the old Technicolor process which was extremely expensive the film studios dabbled in different film stocks until they eventually found one that was stable. It took a good 20 years or so but it happened. 'The Godfather Part II' remains the last studio film to be made under the old Technicolor process. The following years there were less stable film stocks used which is why many films during the 70's and 80's appear to be grainier. Mirroring the look of low budget films made on "cheaper" film stock. But that also lent itself the charm. The fact is the films made during this time have a thicker grain structure and it's part of how they are. It's there and it should not be taken away. Otherwise the films take on a very fake almost plastic look.

This leads me to the recent restoration done for 'Taxi Driver'. I wasn't sure what to expect. Hearing about one of my favorite films getting restored and getting a Blu-ray release is exciting for me. Having it get a theatrical run is even more exciting. The restoration was done carefully and tonight having watched this restored version in 4K digital projection I can say the film looks stunning in all of the best ways possible. The opening Columbia Pictures logo was soft which made it look like an old worn out print from the time. Then came the opening credits montage which have always been a little soft as well because the credits were superimposed over the footage which meant additional processing of the footage in a lab. It's why credit sequences, visual effects shots, and even transitions like dissolves and fades, may have a softer or faded look to them in older films compared to the shots around them because of additional printing in the lab to pull off those things. The opening credits looked great but softer. However, the first real shot which is full on straight film from the negative without additional printing is the second cut after Travis Bickle walks into the cab company's manager's office. The first shot is still a processed shot coming out of a dissolve. Then we cut to the great Joe Spinell sitting at the desk and the detail was absolutely incredible. I was floored but how good it looked. And not in a cheating way. The grain structure was completely intact. The grain was there but the image was clean and the detail was very fine. The colors were perfectly stable and exactly as they were intended to be.

The audio was not some spruced up audio remix. It was clear and had a little more oomph to it but it did not falsify the film's original mix. It was a solid stereo mix which upheld Bernard Herrmann's outstanding score. One that I still argue is one of the best ever written.

Read a great interview with Grover Crisp over at The Digital Bits who was in charge of doing the restoration HERE.

This was a limited showing in a handful of theatres across the US in AMC theatres. Luckily the one I go to all the time was one of these theatres. The downside was there were very few people there. But on the upside it wasn't filled with people who would disrespect the film. No kids sneaking in halfway through because the previous movie they snuck into had ended. It was people of different ages watching the film again or bringing someone with them who was experiencing it the first time. I would hope this would be done more often. I don't know how the returns were but I hope it was enough to warrant more special screenings of older restored films like this.

Me sitting in my seat wearing my Travis Bickle shirt right before the screening started.
To this day the film still manages to pack a wallop. There were times when I could feel the uneasiness of the people watching it as we descend into Travis' madness. And the ending still brought a silence to the theatre with only gasps as the carnage escalates.

'Taxi Driver' has been one of my favorite films for over 20 years now since I first saw it. It has lost nothing in my eyes and to have the honor to experience it not just once but twice on the big screen both in an original beat up film print and in a beautifully restored digital projection is beyond a special experience for me. Watching the film in a theatre humbles me. I know I will never make a film like this. I will never make a film this good. You know what though? I'm ok with that. I know where I stand in my career. I am just happy to have the chance to watch the film and feel the way I do. And to have seen it this way makes me appreciate it all the more.

Congratulations on the restoration Sony. You did the film good. And yes, I am talkin' to you.

UPDATE: has a review of the upcoming Blu-ray release and it looks to be amazing. Check it out HERE

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oscars 2011 And ... Yeah

Once again the Oscars came and went. People both applaud and debate who won and who should have won. I am not an Oscar basher. I believe in awards and honoring people. I like seeing everyone all glitzed and glamoured for the night. Althouggh the allure of celebrity is not what it used to be as in the modern age of knowing everything about everyone we know too much about these people. However, I am always happy to see someone awarded for their creative effort.

I in no way have any ill feelings toward the award or the importance of it with such a marvelous history behind it. I do have ill feelings towards the way the show is produced. It has really gone down hill. This might surprise some people but while I have made jokes about it the fact is the length of the show is not a problem with me. If it was five hours long then so be it. I say this not because I actually want to sit there for five hours but only because if it means bringing back what is missing from the Oscars then I'd rather it be longer. And the thing that is missing is the love of movies.

Over the years in their attempt to shorten the show and make it more "hip" they have stripped away all of the celebration and honoring of movies which is what the Oscars are. The Oscars were always more than just giving out the awards. It was celebrating the movies and the people that make them. Unfortunately it doesn't feel that way any longer. By cutting corners to shave off a few minutes they stripped away the one thing that used to inspire me. Every year when I would watch the show I would want to go out and make a film the second it ended. I felt so inspired. No longer. And that is a shame.

One such way they have completely ruined it for me is the recent decision to not include the giving out of the Honorary Oscar and the Irving Thalberg award. I don't mind them doing the main event at a different time and place but the actual awards should be given to the recipients on the show. Instead the entire presentation was done at a different venue and a few seconds of highlights was shown during the telecast as the recipients were brought out on stage to stand there awkwardly as they went to commercial. Considering one of the Honorary Oscars went to legendary actor Eli Wallach and the Thalberg award went to none other than Francis Ford Coppola(!) just made this a bigger insult to me. These awards represent part of the history of the awards and of the film industry. To treat them this way only emphasizes my point and my displeasure.

I will also say much like other people I was also disheartened to see that during the memoriam that Corey Haim was not included. Having been in so many amazing films in his life his absence was uncalled for. We fans honor you even if they don't.

I will say that unlike other years I was pretty much either happy or content with the winners. While I haven't seen it yet I do wish to congratulate 'The King's Speech' on all of its wins. Plus a congratulations to everything 'Inception' won. My favorite film of last year. I knew it wasn't going to win any of the major awards but I was happy to see it win what it did.

The one I was rooting for the most was for Christian Bale to win for Best Supporting Actor for 'The Fighter'. He was so amazing in that role that the moment I saw the film I said he better win it. So I was very happy that he did. Congratulations Christian. You deserve it.

Taxi Driver In 4K For Anniversary Screening

Coming to AMC theatres for two showings on Saturday March 19th and Tuesday March 22nd is Martin Scorsese's classic 'Taxi Driver' which is one of my all time favorite movies. I got to see it on my birthday this past August at a special screening which was so amazing. I am really looking forward to seeing the restoration they did though. And on April 5th it is finally coming out on Blu-ray which is really exciting. But any chance to see it on the big screen is always a treat. For more information on the two screenings go to the AMC website HERE.