Dream Project

I had some fun putting together concept posters for a dream project of mine: a biopic of the incredible singer Linda Ronstadt. These are totally created by a fan (me) and nothing else.

"They haven't invented a word for that loneliness that everybody goes through on the road. The world is tearing by you, real fast, and all these people are looking at you. ... People see me in my 'girl-singer' suit."   -- Linda Ronstadt

The Films My Dad Showed Me

I've been dreading writing, and more importantly, posting this. Because when I do, and if you're reading this now, my father, Francis King, has passed away.

One of the biggest influences he had on my life was introducing me to the films that he and my mom loved. When they were dating in Taiwan, they went to the movies a lot. And they saw a ton of American films.

I somehow think their love of going to the movies rubbed off on me and my love for cinema.

I want to share with you now the films my parents showed me -- and how I love them so much. Both my parents and the films.

REAR WINDOW (1954) - quite possibly THE FIRST Hitchcock film I ever saw. Still one of my all-time favorites to this day. As a kid, I experienced so much genuine terror and delight with its unique storyline and visual style. Watching it now, it still holds up and is an example of a master at work. It's a perfect film.

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) - As a kid, I never realized how "adult" the humor was in the film. I just enjoyed the slapstick and screwball antics. It was only until later did I come to appreciate its daring, bawdy, sexy side. The performances and directing are a true delight. The dialogue is a dream. This one gets better with every viewing.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) - Action. Suspense. Romance. Great score. Cary Grant. What else could you ask for?

THE MUSIC MAN (1962) - I love the songs. They're ingrained in my head. I probably saw this film at least once a week. I had a mad crush on Shirley Jones. "Marian the Librarian" is simply one of my favorite numbers I've ever seen (I couldn't find an online clip of the entire number or else I would've posted it). But this is also a great clip showing how much complexity there actually is to the songs.

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) - an epic adventure with an all-star cast. This was another film I probably watched at least once a month. Every time a favorite character of mine had an upcoming death scene, I secretly wished that for once -- just this time -- that they'd get away. And this was the film that introduced me to Steve McQueen. Enough said.

MY FAIR LADY (1964)  - another musical where I still think of the songs to this day. My dad used to hum the tunes all the time. That's probably one of my best memories. And I definitely had a crush on Eliza Doolittle.

WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) - this is the film (along with REAR WINDOW) that made me love the "single location thriller". I realized a good story didn't need tons of locations. And it's another film starring Audrey Hepburn. I think my parents must've loved her (who didn't?).

Spoilers in the clip below.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Dad

This morning my father, Francis King, passed away peacefully. He was the strongest, smartest, most honest, most humble man that I knew. Recently I was trying to think of his favorite hobby (besides working -- he was a passionate workaholic) and for the life of me I couldn't think of what he enjoyed doing. Until I realized it was family. His hobby was loving and caring for his family. For my mom, my brother and me. Everything he did was for us. He wanted us to be happy and succeed in whatever we did.

He was pretty quiet and private though. A typical phone conversation on his birthday would be:

Me: Happy birthday Dad. I love you.
Dad: Okay thank you. You wanna talk to mom now?

I loved those talks. I looked forward to them.

I will miss him terribly. I loved him so much. This post doesn't seem to do much justice. However, in some small way by sharing this with all of you, it helps to keep his memory alive. By reading this, you now know about him. And that makes me smile.


The Train (Arrow Films Blu-ray Review)

Preface: If you haven't heard of ARROW FILMS, think of them as the English counterpart to North America's Criterion Collection mixed with Shout Factory. Most of Arrow's catalogue is Region B, which means if you're in the US, your standard Blu-ray player won't play them. You'll need a region-free player, which can be found for under $200. It's worth it. I've expanded my collection and viewing opportunities by being able to get any film on Blu from around the world.

John Frankenheimer's THE TRAIN starring Burt Lancaster hits Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films (Note: it's a Region B disc).

THE FILM

Here's Arrow's official synopsis:

Synopsis: ONE MAN’S IMPOSSIBLE MISSION – TO SAVE HIS COUNTRY’S PRICELESS TREASURES

Directed by John Frankenheimer at the peak of his powers, The Train was made during a tremendous run of top-class pictures that also included Birdman of Alcatraz, Seven Days in May and The Manchurian Candidate, with Seconds soon to follow.

France, 1944. Art lover and fanatical Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim has plundered a Paris museum for its masterpieces, including works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Cezanne. His intention is to have them transported by rail to Berlin, but one man stands in his way. Aware that the Allied forces are fast approaching the French capital, Resistance fighter Labiche need only stall the train for a few more days, but he’ll have to use all of his wits and skills to do so.

Featuring two Oscar-winners in its lead roles – Burt Lancaster as Labiche and Paul Scofield as Von Waldheim – and Jeanne Moreau and Michel Simon in support, The Train combines star power with spectacular action sequences to produce a classic war movie.

Instead of a more traditional review I thought it'd be fun to do a running commentary for this. I jotted down my thoughts as the film played. It was my first time viewing so for the most part I paid attention unless I really needed to get a thought down.

There will be minor spoilers:

-----------------------------------------------

Silence in the opening  minutes. Draws me into the German soldier.

An action/thriller film starting with people talking about art? Only in the classic days. Love it.

Love the font of the opening credits. Can't wait to see Burt. Haven't seen him in a film for a few months. Jeane Morreau is in this?? Yes!

Frankenheimer's deep-focus composition and camera movement are hypnotic.

The plot is about protecting art. France's National pride.  Man, I love this.

Love how they have set up that Lancaster's character (Labiche) values his men's lives over art. Setting up his belief system.

"I'm too old to be careful" - great line by the engineer character (Papa Boule)

The composition is masterful when we see the shot--reverse shot of the engineer being lined up for execution.

Humor always breaks the tension. Such an effective tool to make me like a character. Labiche "you gonna tuck me in as well?" (when being closely watched by the Germans)

Awesome cut of the door closing to the station agent being struck in the face.

Love how Jeanne is being sucked into the story now as an unwilling participant at first. Now she's warming up to Burt. Interesting....of course, they're interrupted just as they're starting to connect. Great storytelling

Ok the train whistle is starting to get on my nerves.

That old lady who closed the gate and stepped aside for the train was dangerously close. Didn't seem like a stunt woman. Wow.

Authentic train derailing. Frankenheimer and collisions pre-CGI world. Love it

Burt did his own stunts. Falling on that bridge looked badass.

Damn stakes are high. All the French Resistance people are being killed.

Love this dialogue exchange:                                                                                       "No one will be hurt.."                                                                                                   "No one's ever hurt. Just dead."

Lancaster's performance is on fire when he's told England simply wants to paint the train to mark it. Damn he was good.

Such a physically demanding role for Lancaster. When he lays the explosives on the tracks and runs. He sells it. When he slides down that rocky hillside -- jesus!

Paul Scofield as Colonel Von Waldheim is electric. His obsession. His defeat. Can't take my eyes off him.

Here it comes. Mano a mano. The final face off.  Great fucking shot of Lancaster's feet walking alongside the train. HIs determination. Its no different than the Colonel's.

Incredible final shot. That's how you end movies. No epilogue or tagged on ending needed. The story's done. And scene.

VIDEO/AUDIO
Region: B
Rating: PG
Cat No: FCD1103
Duration: 133 mins
Language: English
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: 1.0 Mono
Discs: 1
Black & White

The picture quality is simply gorgeous. Seems like natural grain throughout. Image is crisp. The film looks brand new. Sound had no issues on my 5.1 system.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film
  • Uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
  • Optional isolated score by Maurice Jarre
  • Burt Lancaster in the Sixties – a newly-filmed interview with Lancaster’s biographer Kate Buford, tracing the actor’s career throughout the decade - I love Lancaster so this is a total treat and the star of the bonus features. It's over 30 mins long and you learn a ton about his career aspirations and his power in Hollywood.
  • French television news report on the making of The Train, containing interviews with the locals of Acquigny
  • Archive interview with Michel Simon
  • Footage of The Train’s gala screening in Marseilles
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Sheldon Hall, illustrated with original stills and artwork

BOTTOM LINE

I'd never gotten around to seeing THE TRAIN even though Lancaster is one of my favorite actors and I highly respect John Frankenheimer's work.

This film was amazing. It totally feels that it's the grandfather to the story formula of many action films that followed. It's tense. Its performances and stunts are phenomenal. I'd definitely add this one to your shelf!

Viva physical media.

 

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (Criterion Blu-ray Review)

SULLIVAN TRAVELS (written and directed by Preston Sturges) is the latest release from Criterion (#118). It was great to revisit this 1941 comedy/drama...maybe it's even one of the first American dramedies?

I haven't seen it since Criterion first released the film on DVD in 2001. I picked up the film to watch one of my screen crushes, Veronica Lake. It was not the screwball comedy that I was expecting.

I'd never seen anything like it before and wasn't sure how I felt about it. If anything I found SULLIVAN’s TRAVELS rather odd. Revisiting it 14 years later, the film is much more profound than I remembered.

THE FILM

Here's Criterion's official synopsis:

Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he encounters a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.

This is one smart script, full of witty, snappy dialogue. It's full of memorable moments. I really love a hilarious car chase scene where Sullivan tries to outrun a press entourage by taking a ride in a sports car.

Driven by a 13-yr old.

It's as silly as it sounds.

Another brilliant moment sees Sullivan taken in by a love-starved Good Samaritan. The scene would be deleted if the film were remade today because it's quite a detour from the main story. But it stands out in a good way.

On a technical note....it was intriguing to watch the way Sturges and his DP (John F. Seitz) deal with the fact that Veronica Lake was pregnant during the filming. They do some ingenious framing and blocking to avoid showing her baby bump.

Also, the decision to shoot much of the film on location vs. a sound stage really helps lend a whole sense of realism to the movie (good call gents!).

And be sure to look out for their 4-minute oner. It's a joy to watch, knowing the filmmakers did it on a bet (allegedly) as well as to make it harder for studios to make cuts to the film.

The tone of the film is a bit uneven and unexpected for a film from this era. I was taken aback, particularly by its darker second half which seems to come out of nowhere. Revisiting it now the first half of the film is actually a bit clunkier to me, particularly its slapstick gags. McCrea is no Cary Grant.

I think the sudden shift from the comedic to dramatic tone is now actually what I love most about SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. It's unpredictability in story and theme is a welcome surprise.

As I viewed it, I couldn't help but wonder how SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS would be updated for a modern audience. Not that I'd want to remake the film, but it's an interesting exercise to think about how the story would unfold with its lead characters in today's world.

Movies at that time couldn’t be overtly sexual. Watch Veronica Lake get around the censors by playing with her hairbrush during the swimming pool scene. Or is that just me?

Nowadays, would there be more sexual tension and gratification with their relationship treated out in the open? Would they actually kiss? And how brutal and authentic would the homeless sequences play out in the darker half of the movie?

The more I think about it, Sturges was a clever filmmaker to get away with what he does for 1941. Bravo Mr. Sturges. Bravo.

VIDEO/AUDIO

  • Black and White
  • 1.37:1
  • English
  • New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

It looks and sounds beautiful on Blu-ray. Criterion always does it right.

BONUS FEATURES

  • Audio commentary from 2001 by filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean - This was pretty insightful in how each person explores the themes of the film and anecdotes surround the production. It was also interesting to see how the film relates to them. Thankfully, no one spends much time simply narrating what's happening on screen.
  • Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1990), a seventy-five-minute documentary made by Bowser for PBS’s American Masters series - A thoroughly and fascinating exploration about Sturges' rocky career. It sounded like a dream to me until I learned what ultimately happened to him.
  • New video essay by film critic David Cairns, featuring filmmaker Bill Forsyth - This one was fairly interesting. It used too many straight clips without any VO/narration over it so it felt like bit overlong.
  • Interview with Sandy Sturges, the director’s widow, from 2001 - A quick interview. Pretty candid. More sad than anything knowing she's passed away.
  • Interview with Sturges by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper from 1951 - a fun 4-minute interview (I believe in front of a live-audience). Sounds a bit staged, but cool to hear him talk.
  • Archival audio recordings of Sturges - Nothing earth shattering. Probably of interest to die-hard Sturges fans (which I'm not).
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans

 

BOTTOM LINE

A classic film that explores more serious subject matter than expected. Veronica Lake is lovely. The Criterion treatment helped educate me more about this production which I value.

Add this one to your shelf!

Viva physical media.







LOVELY Poster Art (Stuff We Never Ended Up Using)

Back in 2010, when deciding on how to market and get the appropriate tone for the surreal, dreamlike world of WHAT'S UP LOVELY, my talented brother (Mike King) and I were put to task on playing around with various images.

I found these as I was organizing some files and thought it'd be pretty fun to share versions that never saw the light of day.

Here are some versions that I designed.

 

Here's the teaser poster that we did prior to filming. A talented photographer friend Nicole Marie Polec went out with the lead actress Jenn Dees and me and shot around the Lower East Side. It's still one of my favorite posters for any of my films.

Here's the theatrical poster.