Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Some Hidden Film Gems, and Some Guy Named Burt Lancaster...Who Knew?!?

So, I mentioned I just finished up on a project. At the tail end of the film me (and my fellow artists) spent long hours cleaning up drawings and making them very pretty so that a version of the movie could be screened for the public in a very polished and beautiful form.

To be honest it got a little tedious at times (but it was totally worth it, the screening went great and everything looked awesome). So to alleviate the tedium of cleaning up sketches day after day I made great use of my Netflix subscription.

There are a ton of great movies that you can stream directly over your computer (or Wii, or Xbox, or PS3 I think, or your Roku device) if you subscribe to Netflix. And it's unlimited - you can stream as much as you want. Most of their streaming choices are older movies, although many new ones are available too. So as I drew I spent many hours watching (well, mostly "listening", because I was drawing, but you know what I mean) movies on my computer. And I discovered a bunch of great movies I'd never even heard of before.

So in case some of you are ever in the same situation I'll share some recommendations with you. But as I said I only listened to and half-watched these films and I sort of wonder if maybe they just seemed good because they relieved my tedium so well. So take my advice with a grain of salt please! Also these type of films my not be everybody's cup of tea, exactly...I'll try to give an honest taste of what type of film they are in my description.

Also, in general, I definitely do not recommend watching movies while you're trying to animate or storyboard (or any other type of artistic job)! Personally I don't believe in even listening to music while animating or storyboarding! That's right, you heard me. Personally I find that listening to music uses a part of my brain that I need to do my job, and I think my work suffers when I listen to music. I know many people will disagree but that's my opinion based on my experience. The only time I ever listen to music or watch movies is when I'm cleaning up drawings and I need something to keep me going out of sheer desperation.

Okay, one more side note before we get to today's recommendations (and more coming soon). Anyone ever hear of the actor Burt Lancaster? I mean we've all heard of him, right? But I'd swear I've never seen a Burt Lancaster movie before, and all of a sudden I discovered a bunch, and now I'm kind of shocked that he doesn't seem to be remembered as well as some of his contemporaries. Because I thought he was really good....but then again, I mostly listened to these films like I said. Maybe I'm missing something? Does he have an odd nervous tick that I missed because I was drawing and not watching? Anyway...

I haven't watched "The Manchurian Candidate" in a long time but I liked it when I saw it originally. I think it's the only movie directed by John Frankenheimer that I've ever seen...until "The Train". "The Train" is a WWII thriller about a group of French resistance fighters trying to keep a train of famous French paintings in France long enough for the Allies to liberate France. The Germans are trying to get the train to Germany before the Allies catch up. Burt Lancaster plays a French railroad official who ends up forced to drive the train, knowing that if the train reaches Germany he and his fellow French rail workers will be killed and the paintings will be lost to France forever. The Germans know that if they can get the paintings to Germany that they will be able to use them to finance a renewed war effort.

Frankenheimer apparently called it "the last Black and White action film" and I'll have to take his word for it. There were a lot of (I assume) great French character actors that rounded out the cast and gave the film a lot of humor and heart. Many of the other actors seemed so clearly French that it might bother some that Lancaster stands out as so clearly not French...but I found his performance so good that I didn't mind. Also Paul Schofield is great as the German commander determined to get the paintings out of France, and he's an English actor, so I'm sure people who are German will watch the movie and say "that guy's clearly not German".

It's a very smart and suspenseful thriller and holds up better than many films from that era. There was a lot of entertainment mined from how the French tried to constantly fool the Germans in many inventive ways and I never really knew what was going to happen next. I'm a sucker for WWII movies and I thought this one was so well done that I was shocked that I'd never heard about it before.

Another film that also felt ahead of it's time is the Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper western "Vera Cruz". It also features bit parts by a young Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson. Cooper and Lancaster play two gunmen who get involved in the Mexican Revolution (the one against Maximilian) and end up working together (and against each other) to steal a fortune in gold. This film is much darker than I would have thought, as it was made in the early 50's. Lancaster's character is not a nice guy and does some surprisingly selfish and shocking things to make sure he gets his share of the wealth. Many critics seem to think this film was a big inspiration for Sergio Leone's westerns and I believe it. In fact the plot of this film is somewhat similar to Leone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (one of my favorite films) and so I was, again, surprised I'd never heard of it. Like WWII movies I'm a sucker for Westerns. If you like Westerns too check this one out.

Another Western starring Lancaster (along with Lee Marvin, Woody Strode and Jack Palance) is "The Professionals". Once again, I have to say that this film felt surprisingly modern. And also I can't believe I'd never heard of it before! Certainly there are a lot worse westerns that are more well-known. A ragtag band of misfits (is there any other kind?) is hired by a man to rescue his wife from a notorious Mexican outlaw (played by Palance). It's a lot of fun. For those that quibble about such things, Palance is about as convincing as a Mexican as Lancaster is as a Frenchman. So if that's going to bother you then you've been warned. But I really enjoyed this movie. I haven't seem a lot of Lee Marvin movies but after seeing this I definitely get why he has such a legendary reputation.

The best part about streaming these movies is that you can start them and then, if you're not really enjoying them, you can just turn them off and all you've lost is the time you spent watching them. All the streaming you want is included in your basic monthly fee (as far as I know...check to make sure, I don't know about all the plans!) and so why not try some films you've never heard of before? It's a great way to experiment and discover some hidden gems.

More coming soon!


tomsaville said...

I can see how animating to dialogue can cross you up...years of my life were spent plugging and unplugging ipod to computer. But, since moving to games, I find that animating physics based shots (falls, deaths, etc)is kind no holds barred when listening (movies or music). Where I find music (soundtracks in particular) comes in handy is getting a feel for a characters weight and attitude in non-dialogue shots. For example, I had to do a move set for a heavy weapons guy and found as much bass drum soundtracks as I could. Helped quite a bit...not so much for timing but the specific sound I thought of when I thought of this character.

Anyway, I love your site. Your posts are uber-inspiring!

Sam Nielson said...

I listen to music while I'm working, but I find one of two things happen:
1-My work suffers a little as I listen
2-I tune out and don't really listen at all.

So I think you're right, my brain needs that part for music listening to really work effectively. Unfortunately for me, if I don't have music on I get antsy and start wandering around the office. So I take the small hit in effectiveness for the sake of productivity. I admire people like you who can just turn it off and focus.

steve m said...

I'll check out the westerns you've mentioned when I'm not drawing, Mark. Just finished watching Wild Bunch and Hombre; and if memory serves, John Frankenheimer's Ronin is rather good.

Mark Mayerson said...

Vera Cruz is directed by Robert Aldrich, a director who was extremely cynical. Many of his other '50s films are worth seeing, such as Kiss Me Deadly and Attack! Attack! has Jack Palance, Lee Marvin and Eddie Albert and is an emotionally exhausting war movie.

Matt J said...

'The Sweet Smell of Success' directed by Sandy Mckendrick-Lancaster at his best.

Steve Hulett said...

Mr. K:

Yeah, Vera Cruz isn't vividly remembered today, but it was one of the big money-makers in the year of its release.

Lancaster's company produced it, and they paid Cooper a fortune to make the picture (big back-end, if a Lancaster bio I read is accurate.)

Gary Cooper was filming the picture in Mexico when he won the Academy Award for "High Noon." Legend has it that Cooper asked John Wayne to accept the Oscar for him if he won, which Wayne did. Legend also has it that Cooper KNEW Wayne hated "High Noon" (which is true), and that Cooper asked the Duke to go up and accept because he wanted to rub his nose in it (the legend).

Burt Lancaster was one of the BIG stars of the 1950s, but he has (unfortunately) faded from many memories. But he made interesting films to almost the end of his life.

Sarah said...

Available to stream:

The Killing (fantastic early Kubrick)
Gilda (Glenn Ford Rita Hayworth)
One Eyed Jacks
I Confess (Hitchcock)
Paths of Glory
East of Eden
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Bunny Lake is Missing
King Rat
Film Noir Collection: DOA
Thieves Highway (good, though no longer watch instantly)
Dead Reckoning
Night and the City
Fawlty Towers
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
All About Eve
His Girl Friday
Strait-Jacket (with Joan Crawford is hilarious camp)
The Guns of Navarone
Yes, Minister (great brit comedy, though not everyone's cup of tea)

Not streaming but a good Lancaster movie: The Killers

Roku is definitely worth the purchase to stream videos directly onto your tv if you like the "watch instantly" selection.

Steve m said...

Mark, I've just watched Vera Cruz and it was capital!

The Killers and The Killing from Sarah's list are both fantastic movies too, especially the latter (which seems to have been an influence on Tarantino).

mark kennedy said...

Tomasville- Good input, thanks for the thought, makes a lot of sense.

Sam-I know, that's the benefit of music, it keeps you in your seat. I know exactly what you mean. I also agree with your #1 and 2. Very true.

Steve m- I love Wild Bunch; I've never seen Hombre, I should check it out. Ronin is good as well, as I remember it...

Mark - thanks for the recommendations, I will check them out!

Matt J - I've always wanted to see it, it's not available for streaming, but I should bite the bullet and get the DVD from Netflix I suppose.

Steve - I didn't know any of that about Cooper and Wayne; that's funny. I am totally shocked at how much Burt L. is not remembered very much anymore. It's odd.

Sarah - wow, thanks for the great list! Some of those are on my list to recommend. "The Killing" is one of my all time favorites...with one of my favorite lines:

"There's not enough blood left in him to keep a chicken alive."

I have a Roku and I love it. For $99 it was a great buy.

Steve - Great! Glad you liked it. It's a lot of pressure recommending movies....!

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