A Year of Bond: The Quarantine Retrospective – Part One

Labor Day Weekend, 2020, in preparation for the release of “No Time to Die”, which at the time was scheduled to be released in April of 2021, I decided to embark on a mission – a Bond-a-thon, watching all of the James Bond Eon films (including the David Niven’s 1967 “Casino Royale” parody) in order of release from “Dr. No” (1962) to “Spectre” (2015).

This will be a five part series, just to break it up and not have it be so long. The bold is what we will cover today.

The undertaking took a year, and it was arguably one of the best movie watching experiences of my life. I enjoyed every moment of these films and have decided to speak on the experience in terms of top five favorites, or, Best, at least for me, in this list:

  • Moments
  • Chases
  • Villains
  • Villain Lairs
  • Villain Sidekick / Henchman / Henchmen
  • Theme Song
  • Opening Credits
  • Bond Girl
  • Bond Suit
  • Car
  • Gadgets
  • Production Design (Ken Adams Tribute)
  • Director
  • Bond
  • Overall Film

Disclaimer: This is my opinion, it is not a definitive list, and will probably change with time, this is just my current feelings at the present time having just finished all of the Bond films. It is my genuine reaction and response as fresh as it can be. I am excited for “No Time to Die” and I hope you enjoy my analysis and reasoning, if not, well, that’s what the comments are for. Be respectful and let’s have some fun!

A Year of Bond: The Quarantine Retrospective (Part One)

Best Moments:

#5: The Opening of “Goldfinger”, “Goldfinger” (1964)

Perhaps one of the most recognizable and famous openings of any film, especially of any Bond film, the opening of “Goldfinger” presents Bond emerging from the water and transitioning into a white suit, where he scales a wall and confronts a man in an exotic hotel, ultimately electrocuting him in a bathtub – exiting the bathroom with the iconic line: “Shocking”. The line delivery, the pacing, the cinematography, and the direction of this iconic opening scene, complete with the imagery that Sean Connery manages to deliver in the film that cemented him as James Bond and an icon of the spy genre, truly make this one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is because there are better moments throughout the series, but this one started it off in terms of best moments. Honestly, you could make a list of Best Bond Moments just from “Goldfinger” alone.

#4: Jill Masterson Dead on the Bed, “Goldfinger” (1964)

Okay, it’s unfair to include two moments back to back from the same film, but you can’t talk about Best Bond Moments without talking about this scene from “Goldfinger”. It is one of the most iconic shots in film history for its composition, its shock value, and its powerful imagery. Plus, it connects the film to the song, which is something that most Bond films would do in some way – “Quantum of Solace” would later reference this film, but with black instead of gold (which is the only good scene in that film, to be honest). This scene would be lampooned in various other mediums, from “The Simpsons” to SNL and everything in between, and its for a good reason – it’s simply great.

#3: The Ski Jump, “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)

One of my favorite opening scenes from any Bond film is from “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) – right in the middle of Sir Roger Moore’s run as Bond. This film opens with a fantastically shot ski chase that ends in an iconic jump where Bond pulls a Union Jack parachute that transitions beautifully into a fantastic opening credits sequence. It is a wonderful moment seeing Bond jump off the cliff and handling it with such class, and the added touch of the iconic theme beginning as the parachute unfurls really makes this moment work.

#2: The Introduction of Blofeld, “Thunderball” (1965)

While “Thunderball” is an okay film that is very lackluster in terms of story, it is beautiful in terms of location and it introduced many Bond elements that we have come to love – such as scuba diving, underwater sequences, exotic Caribbean locations, and Bond’s arch-nemesis, Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE. The introduction to the supervillain, played brilliantly by Donald Pleasance for many years, is one of the best introductions of an antagonist in film history – with Blofeld excommunicating a SPECTRE agent who failed him while stroking his fluffy Persian cat, all without seeing his face and the upper half of his body, just his torso and that stupid feline. You know you give a great performance of an executional character that audiences will love to hate, when all you have to do is set in a chair, deliver the dialogue, and pet a cat. Bravo Donald, bravo.

#1: “Bond, James Bond”, “Dr. No” (1962)

Of course the best moment is also the best line from the film that started it all. The introduction of James Bond in “Dr. No” is iconic for two reasons and is also a nod to “Casino Royale”, which was intended to be the first Bond film released, but wasn’t due to copyright issues. “Dr. No” begins with Bond playing cards, and for a while, we don’t see his face, we just expertly see his hands playing the game of the table; Bond sits across from Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) who tells him after winning a hand, “I admire your luck Mr…” she trails off, searching for an answer, a name, to which the camera cuts to Sean Connery casually lighting a cigarette and delivering one of the greatest lines in film history as the theme begins again: “Bond, James Bond”. It is the perfect introduction scene, the best Bond moment, and one of the best scenes ever filmed.

Best Chases:

#5: Foot Chase, “Casino Royale” (2006)

The foot chase in Daniel Craig’s revitalization of Bond after a few absent years with “Casino Royale” not only reinvigorated the franchise in a positive way, but managed to make Bond look cool in the process. The chase is not only long, epic, and prolongs the story, but sets the stage for what is to come later in the film and in Craig’s fantastic run as the British secret agent. This scene has everything, but the cinematography and movements are stellar to watch, it really makes you feel like you’re with Bond as he jumps through buildings and falls down a few stories. It’s just a masterfully crafted scene and one that remains engrained in the mind as one of the best Bond chase scenes, and one of the best action chase scenes – period.

#4: Boat Chase, “Live and Let Die” (1973)

A fantastic chase scene from Sir Roger Moore’s first outing, “Live and Let Die”. The climax chase scene in the bayous of Louisiana is perfect for Bond and this wonderfully fun film. Featuring a total of 26 boats, the scene is masterfully fun and full of action and explosions, ultimately causing 17 boats to be destroyed during filming. It also introduces the lovable, but albeit underused, sheriff that would appear alongside Moore’s Bond in later films, but “Live and Let Die” has the sheriff’s best moments. A fantastic entry for Moore into the world of boats, chases, and Bond, this is a fantastic scene you just have to see to believe.

#3: Night Car Chase, “Goldinger” (1964)

The main car chase from “Goldfinger” where we get to see Bond’s classic Aston Martin do it’s thing. It is the first instance of the car being the car and is the scene most people think of when they think of “James Bond’s car”. It is a wonderful scene full of explosions, silk spills, and fun driving scenes that, even though you can tell it was made with 1960s filmmaking techniques, is still fun and fantastic to watch. One of the best chase scenes in film history honestly, for a good reason. All complete with Sean Connery’s smug smile. It’s nearly perfect.

#2: Underwater Chase / Battle, “Thunderball” (1965)

“Thunderball” (1965) does not have a lot of things going for it overall. It is a slow burn of a film and one of the weakest Bond films; however, the film did introduce us to exotic locales, scuba diving, and underwater chase scenes, that would be staples of the Bond franchise. This is the film that started the wonderfully cool and awesome scuba diving and underwater chase scene, that is effectively an intense battle underwater. The underwater cinematography gained notice by the Academy, granering a win for Best Visual Effects, for a good reason. The film’s underwater climax is one of the best underwater scenes ever filmed and essentially began the genre of underwater photography all together for filmmaking. Despite the film’s flaws, “Thunderball” presents impressive cinematography and wonderful locations that deserve its place among film studies. It is one of the best and is a classic example of how to make something usually mundane into something cool and flashy.

#1: Car Chase Scene, “The Living Daylights” (1987)

While not the most popular Bond film, Timothy Dalton’s first of two films, “The Living Daylights” (1987), has some fantastic action sequences and perhaps my favorite Bond chase scene. The simplicity and danger presented here began a new era for Bond after the campiness of Sir Roger Moore. It spawned a grit and darkness that would carry on into the modern Bond films and Dalton delivers exceptionally well as Bond. Having only two Bond films to his credit, Dalton deserved to have his contract renewed, he would have been a wonderful Bond for the 1990s too, but it would have been weird to not have Pierce Brosnan in the role. Despite this, Brosnan was supposed to be in Dalton’s films anyway, if not for his show Remmington Steele, which kept Brosnan away from Bond for a few years. Still, that delay gave us Timothy Dalton, who in my opinion, was the better Bond of the two before Craig. It’s a shame he only got to do two films, but “The Living Daylights” is the better of the two out of “License to Kill”. A very fun film and very fun chase scene for the mid 1980s, that only mid 1980s Bond could deliver.

Best Villains:

Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen these films, you have been warned!

#5: Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)

Portrayed by phenomenal German-Austrian actor, Curd Jürgens, Karl Stromberg as a James Bond villain is notable for his plan. It is just crazy enough to work and Jürgens’ performance is convincing, conniving, and down-right brilliant. Stromberg, Flemming’s version of Captain Nemo, despises humanity and wishes to create a society underwater, that he calls Atlantis. All of this is conceived at Liparus, his base of operations, a large octopus-like structure in the middle of the ocean. After he manages to track the location of nuclear submarines, Stromberg captures a Soviet and a British submarine, his plan involves firing nuclear weapons from both subs, one aiming at Moscow, the other aimed at New York City, ultimately causing nuclear fallout and World War III. The plan is foiled by Bond of course in the end, resulting in Bond redirected the missiles to hit the submarines instead of the cities, and Bond also manages to destroy Liparus, resulting in Stromberg’s demise.

#4:  Dr. Kananga / Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto), “Live and Let Die” (1973)

Yaphet Kotto plays Dr. Kanaga / Mr. Big perfectly here in Sir Roger Moore’s first outing. The drug lord’s scheme is simple – he wants to control a large supply of heroin in the United States, with no cost, driving his competitors out of business and controlling the trade. Bond foils his scheme by destroying Mr. Big’s poppy fields. This villain is simple, and sometimes that is the best kind of villain – one who has a clear goal, and one who has a fun actor behind them. Yaphet Kotto sadly passed away earlier this year, and his performance in “Live and Let Die” is one of his best, alongside “Alien” of course. Rest In Peace sir, you did great.

#3: Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974)

The follow up to “Live and Let Die”, “The Man with the Golden Gun” is arguably one of the best of Sir Roger Moore’s stint as Bond. It pits the secret agent against a former one, Francisco Scaramanga, an expert sharpshooter who enjoys playing various games and uses an iconic golden gun for his dirty work. Scaramanga’s plan involves killing James Bond, because Bond is the best in the world, and to sell a machine that harnesses the power of the sun. This idea would later be repeated in the form of Icarus in “Die Another Day” (2002), but “The Man with the Golden Gun” does this premise leaps and miles better, and a large part of that has to do with Christopher Lee’s masterful performance as one of the best Bond villains we will probably ever get. The film is fantastic, underrated, and you can’t go wrong with Christopher Lee – the man is a genius.

#2: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), “Casino Royale” (2006)

Arguably one of the best Bond villains of the modern era, Mads Mikkelsen delivers as Le Chiffre, the greatest card player in the world. Le Chiffre’s plan is simple, recover funds of his clients by winning a poker game at Casino Royale. Being a banker who funds the world’s criminals, he almost gets away with his plan, only to be foiled by Bond who wins the tournament. Ultimately, La Chiffre is shot in the head by Mr. White, who is dissatisfied with the result. One of the best performances by an actor in a Bond film ever, Mads Mikkelsen has always been underrated in every film he is in, and is always the standout performance regardless of the role. He plays this one exceptionally well and is one of the most memorable faces to grace Bond in a long time.

#1: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence / Telly Savalas / Charles Gray / Max von Sydow / Christoph Waltz), Various Films (1965 – Present)

Of course Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the top of the list. Bond’s arch-nemesis and portrayed by various actors over the entire Bond series practically, this feline loving head of SPECTRE takes top cheese.

SPECTRE, the secret organization against MI6 with plans to rule the world, achieves their goals mostly by taking over, toppling, destroying governments through nuclear warheads, coverups, stealing various assets, and other nefarious means. Blofeld is the head of the entire show, and with his signature appearance of a prominent scar, suit of some sort, and fluffy white Persian cat companion at his side, Blofeld was, is, and always will be, the best Bond villain. Just for his constant presence, even if it’s just his voice, or the mention of his name. He is one of the greatest villains of all time, and his on screen presence is felt with almost every actor, most famously Donald Pleasence, but every actor brings their own spin on the classic character in a memorable way, though some are better than others (I understand why Waltz was underwhelming, let’s be honest, he was). Plasence is perhaps the favorite though, if only for his appearance, notable voice, and his persona that he brought to the character originally, allows for the viewer to have that specific image of Blofeld in their mind. Pleasence made Blofeld, Blofeld.

So that’s it for part one! Thanks for reading, hope you had fun!

Stay tuned for part two where we continue with the list where we’ll cover:

Part Two:

  • Best Villain Lairs
  • Villain Sidekick/Henchman/Henchmen
  • Best Theme Song

How to Spell Beagle: “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”, The Legacy of Bill Melendez

On this day in 2008, we lost of the great pioneers of 1960s animation and one of cartoons most beloved voices. Mr. Bill Melendez. A director of a majority of the Peanuts films, Melendez also served as the voice of Snoopy. Throughout his storied and wonderful career, Melendez delivered some of the most wholesome, enduring, and beloved animated films of all time, but it is the first feature that is a standout – 1969’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”.

Bill Melendez

The first Peanuts feature which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score (it lost to “Let It Be”, honestly, this should have won). This small but wonderful film inspired by the famed Peanuts strip is not as popular as some of the half hour specials or even some of the later features, but it manages to do some creative animation, employing various techniques that would make the Peanuts property famous. The first use of psychedelic sequences in a longer format, longer musical numbers, interludes with rotoscoping, UPA backgrounds, extensive use of multiple jazz themes throughout the entire runtime and sequences, avant garde instrumentations through jaw harp, clear evidence of character development and story through an anthology writing carried over from the comics. This gambit of wonderful things make this film worthy of preservation in any film archive – it honestly should be preserved by the National Film Registry as being culturally and historically significant. This is a wonderful of merit, as being only the third animated film to premiere at Radio City (behind “Snow White” and “Bambi”), and the first Peanuts film to be a commerical success, spawning not only a franchise, but a brand that has stood the test of time in an animated format that long surpasses network syndications. This is arguably a prime example of breaking the Disney formula in a time when it was desperately needed and warranted.

If you have never seen this gem, it comes highly recommended because of how strangely life affirming it is. This film is absolutely lovely and personally, I will always champion its importance. As a life long Peanuts fan, this one is one of my favorite Peanuts films and one of my favorite animated films period.

It is by no means perfect, but that is why it almost is. There are imperfections in the animation, there are screw ups, but that’s what Bill and team were good at, they made those screw ups and goofs look good and intentional.

Thank you so much Bill Melendez, for lending not only your creative voice to animation, but your voice as the world’s best beagle. Your little movie made me smile today when I just couldn’t; so from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much, sir.

Keep on skating Snoopy.

“A Boy Named Charlie Brown” can be viewed on Hulu.

Theatrical poster

Modern Metropolis: The Legacy of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”

Arguably one of the greatest films ever made, “Metropolis” has been a mainstay in film courses and the lexicon of cinema since its creation in 1927. The German science fiction dystopia of a crumbling society rising up against the machine has inspired numerous films, novels, and other mediums since then. As we approach the century anniversary in a few years, it might be necessary to revisit the lessons of this landmark achievement and how it dictates modern discourse in terms of society and filmmaking.

The film is simple, about a man leading an uprising against a mogul in a society built upon slave labor – where the high society look down upon the poor, and the poor are left dispute. This simple story of H.G. Wells ire and the dreams of C.S. Lewis (who wrote “Out of the Silent Planet”, which was inspired by Wells’ work and others), allows for a modern examination of society. While we are not currently dealing with a literal machine takeover or overlords who control every aspect of our existence, we may as well be. With the invention of social media, smart phones, and constant surveillance, the warnings of “Metropolis” are becoming more real than science fiction – this is a problem. We should not allow ourselves to be so consumed by society and the luxuries of technology that we lose our soul in the process.

There is a reason why dystopian fiction, specifically films, are so popular, it’s because they serve as a warning for what we want society to try and fix for us. Ultimately, we discover through the act of living and through the filmmaking process of these films, that we come to understand, or at least, should understand, that we actually don’t want the things that we claim we want. We want things of ease, but at what cost? We want immediacy, but what data is collected? How? What is being used for? These modern questions are ones that we will have to deal with as they come, especially when it comes to the modern age as we zip toward who knows what else in the future.

“Metropolis” does offer a solution to these problems though – we must be able to think for ourselves, and we must be able to take control and accountability for our own actions, good or ill. In an age where people are criticized for virtually everything and are either part of the machine, the mob, or the problem, depending on the issue or the side or whatever else you wish to label the -ism, there has to be a discourse. There has to be a forum of agreement and disagreement. There has to be a sense of understanding of the imperfectness of humanity that simply is. If such a forum does not exist, then we are simply a cog in the machine god that Metropolis warns us we already are in.

Perhaps this is a bit conspiratorial, but then again, “Metropolis” is exactly that – a conspiratorial film that warns us about what society is, what it could be, and what it should be. Utopias are impossible to maintain. They cannot be sustained, regardless of the dream of whatever -ism you subscribe to – that is simply a fact of the human condition. What we can deduce from Metropolis is not to aim for utopia, but to aim for a world that strives to be understanding of our human nature, and to use that understanding to better the world around us by returning to a universal understanding of cooperation and humanness. Technology has the ability to bring us together, but also tear the fabric of society apart, and we must be mindful of this.

The legacy of “Metropolis” is more than just watch out for the machine, but to also understand why the machine exists, how to stop the machine from controlling our lives, and how to better ourselves and humanity. It is a film worth revisiting and analyzing again – in a world full of people who just want to make machines instead of people. Let us strive to work to be human first, instead of working to make the machine do everything for us, let us do the work that we think we ought not to do – maybe the world will be better at the end of the day.

“Reminiscence”and “The Matrix Problem”

Hugh Jackman’s “Reminiscence” premiered on HBO Max and in theaters recently, and while the film is lavishly shot and presents an interesting premise, it seems to have “The Matrix” Problem.

What is “The Matrix Problem”? Simply put, the film is too complicated for its own good, namely with its protagonist. In “The Matrix”, Neo is supposed to be an analogy for Christ, and is called The One – it is a simple story with an interesting world and premise, at first. As the series evolves into the sequel and third film, it becomes too convoluted for its own good, introducing too many elements that bog down the story and diverge from the original idea. This ultimately results in a mess unrecognizable from what the film was trying to do.

“Reminiscence” follows Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a detective who operates a machine that allows a person to go back into their memories, relieving specific moments. Bannister and his partner, Watts (Thandiwe Newton) make a good living as essentially what can be described as a more sophisticated, legal version of what Cobb does in “Inception”. The film is set in the future, specifically in a world where water levels have risen, causing the world dynamics to shift in a Gotham city atmosphere that is more interesting than the film tries to present. The world itself is beautiful, wonderfully shot, and brilliant, but it doesn’t allow itself time to explore any reasoning behind it, and we don’t spend enough time with characters for any of this dynamic of the underworld, the police, the distitute, for it to matter.

The main idea of the film is that Nick is looking for a woman, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), whom he meets, helps, and falls in love with. As Nick looks for Mae in the underworld of Miami, he discovers secrets about himself and her that ultimately lead to tragedy. Without giving too much of the plot away, the film’s premise sounds interesting enough, but the execution is too choppy and thinks itself too complicated than it is. This film wants to be Inception and The Matrix again, but it just isn’t. It is a film noir film that doesn’t want to be a film noir film, but a film noir-mind-bending-insane film on steroids.

Sometimes, films that try to add elements of different genres work, and sometimes they do not. While this film has merits, it is too bloated for its own good. This is a beautiful film in terms of cinematography, but it leaves a lot to be desired everywhere else. Ultimately, it is a forgettable experience that tries to be something it isn’t, which is a shame because the acting and direction is admirable. If only the script matched what the director and everyone else had envisioned for this.

Horse in Motion: Film is Now 143 Years Old*

Summer is here!

That means it’s time for pools, movies, and fun!

As movie theaters slowly come back, it is a good time to look back at film history to the first film ever made.

While there has been discussion about what the first animated film was, and what the first film ultimately is, in the modern sense – if we were to get technical about what the definition of film is, we will discover that the first film created was either in 1878 or 1888, and that’s a huge ten year difference, especially when it comes to technological advances.

In the world of filmmaking there is generally a canonical pantheon of Filmmaking Godfathers. Who is the Father of Filmmaking, The Father of Cinematography, The Father of the Camera? Usually whenever people talk about The Father, or rather, Fathers, of Filmmaking, they are referring to two French Lumiere Brothers, but recent scholarship has proven that the famed Frenchmen probably weren’t the first to put movie magic in front of a viewing public; nor was it Thomas Edison, who somehow retains credit for his “work” in the film industry for “his” camera (that he stole). The Father of Filmmaking goes to a select group of people, so regardless of who manages to claim credit, via posthumously through historical efforts, it is safe to assume that The Founders of Filmmaking are anywhere from 10-40 people, a range of men and women from about 15 countries.

Regardless of personal feelings, and baring current scholarship (excluding Thomas Edison, who was known to take credit for other people’s work) these people deserve mentioning and the credit as founding one of the most enduring mediums of all time (this is not a complete list, but names worth mentioning):

Louis Le Prince (considered the Father of Cinematography)

The Lumiere Brothers

Nikola Tesla

Lotte Reiniger (completed the oldest surviving animated film, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed”)

J. Stuart Blackton

Eadweard Muybridge

Vladislav Starevich

Emile Cohl

Romeo Bosetti

Émile Reynaud

Winsor McKay

Dudley Buxton

Anson Dyer

John Bary (considered to be the Father of the Modern Studio)

As with all history, when it comes to dates, especially when records are missing and so many people were working on different projects at the same time, we can only use our best guess to date the “birthday” of film.

On June 15th, 1878, the world witnessed “The Horse in Motion”, a film captured by 12 individual cameras, with footage edited and played on a loop, featuring the world’s first film star – a horse. The work is technically a series of twelve looped “cabinet cards” – a type of photograph that was produced on a card. When edited together, and considering that it was photographed with a camera, it can, for all intents and purposes be considered film, even if a precursor to what we consider film today to be.

The work is considered to be one of the finest achievements in photography and the earliest example of editing. While it may not be the makings of a blockbuster, “The Horse in Motion” should be credited as one of the first films created, and Eadweard Muybridge placed on a humble pedestal of his own as the first director and editor.

So to the film genre as a whole, Happy Birthday*

“The Horse in Motion” (1878)

The Secret Lesson of Walter Mitty: Revisited After The Year We’ve Had

When it was released over the holiday season of 2013, Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, a remake of the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, was a rather remarkable sleeper hit with the message of doing what you love, finding meaning in life, and discovering who you are. While some have pointed to the realistic ramifications of Walter losing his job, the Life magazine shutting down its print division, and the consequences of Walter’s actions in relation to his new girlfriend – that wasn’t the point of the movie.

The film riffs on one of the greatest mottos ever written, the one of Life Magazine, which ran in various periods in print til 2000 when it was discontinued for good. It was regarded as one of the most successful magazines ever circulated and changed the landscape of print media with its impressive photography and various topics of articles. The motto in reality is: “To see Life, to see the World”, not as grandiose as the film portrays it, but the sentiment is real and incredible; and that is precisely what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty wants us to do – to see Life, we must see the World. To live, we must be a part of life.

The film follows Walter Mitty, an incredibly introverted, shy, daydreamer who yearns for adventure in his hum-drum life far away from the basement of a dying magazine in the midst of an online transition. As he tries to gain the affection, or rather, the attention, of a new marketing hire, played beautifully by Kristen Wigg, we begin to understand that Walter sees himself as an incredibly boring figure and wants to live his life through his correspondent in the field, world renowned photographer, Sean, played by Sean Penn. When one of Sean’s photographs, the one picked out for the final issue of the magazine is missing, after Walter receives a gift from the man in the form a wallet, Walter begins a global quest for Sean to find the find the image, and ultimately himself.

Walter does catch up with Sean in the middle of the mountains of Afghanistan, and the location of the picture is revealed to be in Walter’s wallet this entire time, we, and Walter discover that the point of life, is to reflect on the little things that make up our lives. The picture, is of Walter doing his work, affirming that it is the people in our lives that mean the most to us, and perhaps what we believe is mundane, can lead to great importance. Life itself is the adventure. We don’t have to go on a global quest to discover that, but it would be great if we could.

Walter teaches us to live, then what does Sean teach us? Simple, to be content with our lot. These two seemingly contradicting viewpoints serve the same purpose of the overall message – life is complicated, feel free to go out and live, but you have to go back home too – contentment, especially with your job and your current situation is key to mental health. Even when the situation is bleak, it is possible to be optimistic about the future, it is perhaps when situations are darkest when faith and optimism are most important.

In the past year, with lockdowns, viruses, elections, protests, and whatever else happened, this film is a wonderful reminder of not only the importance of life, but the importance of being able to live – to take risks, to be able to see the unknown, and to be able to come back home. For the purpose of Ben Stiller’s film is to help us understand what it means to be alive in a world that is seemingly closed off. Everyone is Walter right now. Stuck in the basement of the world’s worst company. It’s time to travel. It’s time to go somewhere extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to live your life because of the events of this past year – it is possible to be Walter and Sean at the same time. Perhaps we’re meant to be anyway.

The Little Black Bird Behind the Glass Case: 80 Years of The Maltese Falcon

Los Angeles is full of tourist destinations for film lovers, it is Hollywood, after all. From the Dolby Theater to the glamorous homes of Bel Air, to the amazing art found at the Getty, Los Angeles is a city full of life, color, and cinema history. If you travel up past Griffith Park you will head into Studio City right next to Burbank. On Riverside Drive to the right is the famed Warner Brothers Studio, where you can embark on a wonderful tour of one of Hollywood’s finest studios. Toward the end of the Classic Tour, you will travel to a large warehouse, where Props and Costumes eagerly await their next performance. You can even rent props for your own production if you wish, but one of the first you’ll notice is a small black bird behind a glass display case next to a picture of Humphrey Bogart.

This is a replica of the Maltese Falcon, the famous MacGuffin from the film of the same name that celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. While the original bird is lost, Jack Warner made numerous casts for friends and family as gifts, he personally loved the film and thought the bird was the coolest piece. Indeed, that copied bird is awesome, and the history of the bird and the film that it comes from is just as interesting as the unknown original.

Directed by first-timer John Huston, who was given the position due to his father being a friend of the studio, The Maltese Falcon chronicles the journey of gumshoe Sam Spade, played by the immortal Humphrey Bogart in his signature role, as he tries to deduce the murder of his partner, the reasoning for why a beautiful woman walked into his door, and what it all has to do with a black bird. The end result is one of espionage, betrayal, and a lot of beautiful cinematography that not only cemented noir as a legitimate film genre, but catapulted the careers of Bogart and Huston. The film was nominated for Best Picture, but lost the award to How Green Was My Valley, a relatively unknown film compared to Falcon and another heavyweight from that year, Citizen Kane.

The film is a wonderful addition to any collection and is frankly one of the greatest films ever put to film, if only for cinematography alone, but the script is solid, the pacing is wonderful, and Bogart delivers a memorable performance. There is a reason most noir films copy this classic original, with the detective’s office, to the damsel in distress, to the wonderful villain, Falcon is incredibly fun to watch and is deserving of a re-watch after the credits roll.

The Maltese Falcon is currently available to stream on HBO Max.

The Kid: A Century of a Laugh and a Tear

The silent films era produced some of the most creative and innovative films ever produced, it is how this blog got its name, and why filmmaking exists today. Sadly, a majority of films produced prior to sound are lost, including the first animated films, and the ever cherished Lon Chaney feature “London After Midnight” (1927); but we do have some, and those we have we must treasure and view as not only marvels of historical significance, but as films that allowed us to escape into a world of comedy, fantasy, mystery, romance, and whatever other genres you can think of. Silent film is incredibly important to understanding film, and one of the most endearing and beloved films is Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, “The Kid”.

Released in January 1921, “The Kid” is a simple story of Chaplin’s The Tramp finding an abandoned baby and raising it as his own only to meet the mother years later. It is a comedy, a drama, a fantasy, and full of heart that only Chaplin could produce. The simplicity of the story allows for Chaplin’s character to animate across the screen in a way that still mesmerizes and amuses. Chaplin became an auteur filmmaker with this one, having a hand in writing, producing, directing, starring, and scoring. A Renaissance man with questionable life choices, Chaplin is one of those people that had an extraordinary life, whether you love him or hate him, and “The Kid” was the gateway into American hearts that Chaplin needed at the time.

The film is barely an hour long, which is something that modern audiences would not even think twice about as a movie, but for 1921 it was a considerable length and it manages to tell its story without any padding or unnecessary plot points. A recommended watch for lovers of silent era films, those needing a good laugh, or perhaps a tear.

“The Kid” (1921) poster

The Merry Go-Round Goes Round Again (and Again): How Peter Browngardt Saved Bugs Bunny

Despite controversy surrounding same-day theatrical and streaming release for its Warner Brothers films, HBO Max as a streaming service is wonderful. While the repercussions of the move have damaged the profitability and viability of the theater experience, coupled with the ongoing closure of the New York City and Los Angeles market from state lockdowns and mandates; it is at least comforting to know that one of the main five streaming services has some content appealing to nostalgia correctly without pandering and flanderization.

When the new series launched in May 2020, skepticism arose as to how this would play out – would it be another gimmicky show like “The Looney Tunes Show” (2011-2014) and with Cartoon Network veteran Peter Browngardt at the helm, there was concern, at least from this viewer, about the genuine zaniness and cartoon of this new iteration, but what Browngardt and his team managed to pull out of the rabbit hole is something that Chuck, Tex, Friz, Bugs, Bob, and Mel would all be proud of.

Slight Tangent on Political Correctness in Cartoons:

In this current era of political correctness, where Yosemite Sam no longer has guns and Wile E. Coyote… well, actually he’s still ACME’s number one buyer — there is something to be said about the authenticity of the characters. Firstly, Yosemite Sam is a cartoon character parodying the outlaws of the Old West and was created as an anthesis to Elmer Fudd by Tex Avery (who believed that Fudd was too dumb and formulaic). Chuck Jones’ famed chasing duo of the Southwest and Friz Freleng’s cat and bird of the suburbs are perfectly preserved. Secondly, if violence is a concern – as it always has been with cartoons, welcome to the generations of parents and adults with the same grievance – you’re not alone; but for the argument (and albeit tangent), if your children are learning from the television instead of you, then to quote Bugs Bunny: boy do you have your lion’s crossed. There is a case for this concern, and sometimes it is warranted, but we are talking about cartoons who are older than most people at the moment. You can only (properly) judge things such as this by the time in which they were created, instead of a modern lens – that doesn’t make it wrong or right, but it puts everything into context.

Now, where were we? Oh yes…

Peter Browngardt, Cartoon Network, The Looney Tunes Show, and Concern.

In 2011, Cartoon Network released an okay version of Bugs and Co. entitled simply, “The Looney Tunes Show“. Running for three seasons, this sitcom style half-hour cartoon features the Looney Tunes in suburbia dealing with modern day issues – neighbors, politics, restaurants, their own questionable antics met with questionable consequences – very Simpsons in nature. Speaking of the famous yellow family, in the Cartoon Network iteration of Looney Tunes, almost every character succumbed to flanderization.

Flanderization:

The process by which a single trait from a character is overstated and brandished to the point that it becomes the character’s only trait. Flanderization is almost always for the worst and tends to draw viewers away from the the medium that the character represents.

(i.e. Ned Flanders, all of Family Guy, etc.)

While not all of “The Looney Tunes Show” was bad, there was some admittedly great writing (sometimes) and sight gags (sometimes), but it’s main flaw was the flaw that every Looney Tunes property has followed. They boiled down characters to one specific trait – and while they are essentially one trait most of the time, that is what makes the characters funny, in Cartoon Network’s flanderization of Bugs, Daffy, and Porky, it became… uncomfortable and unrecgonizable. Bugs was always the smart one, Daffy was the egotistical jerk, Porky was a whimp, and Lola (who was given more of a character), was subject to fill the dumb blonde role. That’s about it. It was very unsettling (bordering annoying) to see these beloved characters just exude one emotion for three seasons on cable television. There shouldn’t be an expectation for children’s cartoons to have deep character development, or even any at all, but that doesn’t mean characters for children’s cartoons can’t have any. While Cartoon Network tried to develop these characters, they ultimately became something they weren’t, and thus, Bugs was distanced from what made him funny.

While there isn’t a doubt that Cartoon Network had a talented team behind the show, it seemed that nostalgia for the characters carried this show longer than it needed to – but the nostalgia was improper. It was good to see the characters, but the situations were not well placed. Perhaps this could have been remedied if it was based more in the zany world of Looney Tunes instead of a world that is more reality focused like “The Simpsons“.

Peter Browngardt came onto the scene in 2000, but his tenure at Cartoon Network includes “Chowder” and “Uncle Grandpa“, two shows that admittedly were fine for their target audience, but also fell victim to flanderization eventually. So there was skepticism that when he was to helm HBO Max’s “Looney Tunes Cartoons“, the characters would once again fall victim to the same thing again. Fortunately, Browngardt and team did their homework.

Bugs Bunny is smart, but he is also a bit of a stinker. Daffy is insane again, he’s not so much of a jerk. Elmer is a goofball, Porky is the everyman. Everyone is back where they should be. In terms of story, there is none – each episode is unique to itself and is a callback in some sort to a classic short from the golden years. It is perhaps one of most pure iterations of the characters since “Space Jam” and will become a definitive staple of the IP.

This series is wonderfully animated through vectors, voiced beautifully – every single detail has been taken into account. The colors, the atmosphere, carries a neo-vintage look, even the title cards are nearly identical to the Merrie Melodies and Warner Brothers Cartoons of the mid 1940s (which is honestly the favorite part for this viewer). It is perhaps in this way, through properly placed nostalgia, you will want to revisit the old gang in their original theatrical shorts. As we approach the 100th anniversary of these characters (we still have eight years, but it’s close enough), we should celebrate their significance to not only film, but to the culture as a whole. Let us hope that the flanderization of these characters will cease now.

The merry go round, for now at least, is up and running again.

Thank you Mr. Browngardt, Tex, Chuck, and Mel would be proud.

Looney Tunes Cartoons and Looney Tunes are available on HBO Max.

Brittle: The Story of the First Animated Films* (Introduction)

What was the world’s first animated film?

It is a question that, for many, is already answered in the form of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs“, or perhaps, if you are more specific, “The Enchanted Drawing” or “Fantasmagorie” or “The French Moving Company“. The list goes on and on.

(from left to right: “Fantasmagorie”, Émile Cohl, J. Stuart Blackton, “The Enchanted Drawing”)

The history of animated film is as long and complicated as live action film, but when the film industry began with a murder in Dijon, France (more on that in a future post), the animated film industry began in several places around the world and involved several fires, backroom deals, and people that are forgotten about, or are virtually unknown to history.

We shall explore the world of animation and it’s rather blurry beginnings in this series on the first animated films.

What constitutes as film? Is it something that is shot or produced on literal celluloid film? Is it a narrative story that has a beginning, middle, and end? Is it a certain length? The answer to these questions is yes, yes, and it doesn’t matter. For our purposes, an animated film is a film produced on celluloid regardless of content that is not composed of live action characters of any length. This includes “shorts” and “features”.

Our purposes will not be to discredit any work that is known, but to set the record straight when it comes to animated film, specifically, to shed light on previously forgotten and unknown artists and their work.

The Adventures of Pinocchio (1936) Italy, unfinished/lost
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