50% Off Criterion Collection Sale

Barnes & Noble’s 50% off Criterion Collection sale is an event I look forward to every year.  If you are unfamiliar with the Criterion Collection, go to your nearest Barnes & Noble, find the DVD department, look for the sign that says Criterion, go to that section of DVDs, pick up one of those DVDs, and flip it over.  In the bottom right hand corner of the DVD you will find a label which says “The Criterion Collection is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality, with supplemental features that enhance the appreciation of the art of film. Visit us at criterion.com“.

You may find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed once you see the number of Criterion films available for purchase.  I always have trouble deciding exactly which title I’m going to add to my budding Criterion collection.  So I usually have a process I follow in order to narrow down my choices.  This process includes visiting the Criterion website to check out all of the newest releases in the vault.  If I see a movie title that catches my eye, I’ll consult with my Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide for some direction.

Next, I’ll watch The Criterion Collection 99 Reasons DVD.  This DVD spotlights 33 Criterion titles, giving 3 reasons per movie for why you should watch that movie.  If you were not as fortunate as I to pick up this little gem of a sampler from Barnes & Noble, you can simply go to YouTube and search “Criterion 3 reasons” and a whole list of similar previews will come up for you.

I also always talk to my coworker and ask him for suggestions of which Criterion movie to buy.  I call him my “Criterion guru.”  If you ask around you should be able to find a friend at work who knows all about Criterion movies.  Their advice will lead you to a film you never knew about and expand your cinema horizons.  If you can’t find a friend at work, get on Twitter and search Criterion hashtags.  You’ll find tweets from people all over the world about their favorite Criterion films.

After doing all of my research, I decided to buy two titles for this year’s Barnes & Noble 50% off Criterion sale.  I bought Godzilla as a gift for my mom because she loves Godzilla.  And I bought Trilogy of Life based on my Criterion guru’s advice.

That’s it folks!  Now go on out there and start your own Criterion collection.  They’re awesome films and just loaded with extra special features you’ll enjoy for years to come.

What’s your favorite Criterion film?



Pinwheel (A Short, Short Comedy Film)

This is my short, short DIY (Do It Yourself) film called Pinwheel.  The running time is 1 minute and 49 seconds.  It is a comedy about a pinwheel who is obsessed with being the fastest spinning pinwheel in the world.  I shot it with a digital Vivitar Vivicam 7020.  I used Windows Movie Maker to process the video.  I used Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio, and a Dynamic Microphone DM-30 to record and process the audio.  I was inspired to create this short film after reading the book $30 Film School by Michael W. Dean, which I highly recommend for anyone out there who loves film, and wants to make their own movies.  I was also inspired by the Midwest breezes that blow in summer evenings.  They are perfect for pinwheels!  Thanks for taking the time to watch my short film.  I hope it makes you laugh 🙂


When I first heard about Hitchcock, the film starring Anthony Hopkins as the famed eccentric film director, I was excited to see it.  Then I found out that the movie was only going to be released in select theaters around the country.  Unfortunately, none of those select theaters were in reasonable driving distance from where I live.  When the movie was finally scheduled to be shown nearer to where I live, for some odd reason, I had lost the initial desire I felt to watch the film.  Maybe it’s because trailers from other movies clouded my brain and sponged up whatever anticipatory residue Hitchcock’s preview had first left behind…weeks ago.  Then I found out Ralph Macchio had a part in Hitchcock, and I began to get interested again.  It feels like he’s been away from movies for far too long, and I was eager to see him in something again.  Then I found out Scarlett Johansson was also in the film when she graced David Letterman’s Late Show, in a stunning dress, appearing from the guest stage entrance as if floating on a cloud, serenaded to the dreamy Paul Shaffer rendition of Chaka Khan’s Sweet Thing.  One adult ticket for Hitchcock at 1:30 pm please!

I found the interpersonal dynamics between Hitch (Alfred Hitchcock liked to be called Hitch) and his wife Alma Reville, played vigorously by Helen Mirren, fascinating.  To watch the lives of both Hitch and his wife exposed on the screen was voyeuristic, likened to a fly on the wall amidst the most intimate situations involving a genius filmmaker husband at work and an assistant director wife, equally as brilliant; managing constant challenges ranging from her husband’s obsessions with his leading ladies to fine tuning production on studio sets.  Often times the tension in their marriage seems to have teetered toward the boiling point, yet each, with respect to their filmmaking craft, remained sharp enough to produce some of the greatest art ever brought about in film.  Watching Hopkins and Mirren as actors, wading through the waters of this marital psychological passive aggressiveness, at times, is as suspenseful, and thrilling as any Hitchcock film.

The part of Janet Leigh handled wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson exuded everything the leading ladies of Hitchcock films are notorious for: elegance, grace, sex and sophistication.  It’s forgivable, as an audience member watching the movie, to see how Hitch becomes obsessed with his leading lady, less so when we find out what extreme measures he vainly employs to get what he desires.  Yet I couldn’t help but conclude that this enigmatic spell that seems to have been unwittingly, continuously cast on Hitch by his leading ladies, as ominous as its effects were as evidenced by his inexcusable resulting behavior, somehow, also ironically helped to add the irresistible appeal to his films.  In the presence of the violence that ensues in a Hitchcock film, is always found the charm of a gorgeous woman that stirs up a storm in the heart of a man which cannot be placated.  Who better to play this part than Scarlett Johansson?

When I was a teenager, my parents took my brother and I to Disney World for a family vacation.  I remember the Hitchcock exhibit at Universal Studios being one of my favorites.  For the first time ever I sat in a movie theater, and this was truly something magnificent for me because at that age, I had never been in a movie theater before due to our strict religious upbringing that forbade going to movie theaters.  But since technically this was an exhibit and not an official movie viewing, I was aloud to sit in the movie theater.  There, I learned all about the special effects that Alfred Hitchcock used in his movies, from chocolate syrup used as blood in Psycho to how he got all of those winged creatures to attack in The Birds.  They even showed segments of some of his films in 3D, which was the most amazing thing I had ever seen at that age.  Ever since then, I’ve been an avid Hitchcock film fan.  I love the nostalgia, music and clothes from the 1950’s and ‘60’s eras that his films capture.  The artistic direction of his films is often overwhelming to my sight as I take in all of the splashes of color from each object and wall, meticulously fussed over, frame by frame, that all come together to warm or cool the screen.

If I had to undertake the arduous task of picking out my favorite Hitchcock film from all the rest, I guess, reluctantly, I would choose Dial M for Murder.  I say that reluctantly, because Vertigo is also my favorite.  What’s your favorite Hitchcock film?

© 2013

The Top 10 Gangster Movie Roles of All Time

“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster…”  Every gangster movie fan will recall that quote from the film Goodfellas delivered ominously by Ray Liotta.  American society’s  fascination with violence and power did not escape me as a child, and as far back as I can remember, I was always a fan of the Gangster movie genre.  I watched gangster movies so much as a kid, I felt like some of these characters actually resided with me in my living room, or could have been members of my family-La Colesa Nostra has a good ring to it don’t you think?  So I thought it was time to compile a top ten list of my favorite gangsters in cinema.  (Number one being my favorite, in descending order).  So ladies and gentlemen, I hope you brought your bullet proof flash drives with you and remember not to sit with your backs facing your web portal, because this could get ugly…

10.  Chazz Palminteri as Sonny LoSpecchio in A Bronx Tale:  Everything about Sonny is cool, from his suits, to the way he talks with his fingers, to the way he drives his car in reverse around the block.  I have to admit, I took my vehicle for a spin in reverse around a block or two after watching this movie over and over again.  Fortunately the police didn’t catch me acting out my gangster fantasies of being Sonny the mob boss in my 1994 Ford Escort Sport.  Those were the days, when I could follow Sonny’s advice about dumping a girl on the spot if she was too selfish to reach over and unlock my door from the inside after I extended the courtesy of opening and shutting her car door for her.  Now that philosophy is obsolete because of electric and remote access locks.  But one of Sonny’s maxims, “Sometimes hurting somebody ain’t the answer”  still rings true today, as he schools Calogero AKA “C” during his frustration over an attempt to collect $20 he lent to a friend of his.  Sonny tells him, “He’s outta your life for $20, you got off cheap, forget it,” after convincing C that violence is not necessary to solve such a small problem.  Who says gangsters can’t be diplomatic?

9.  Gregory Hines as Goldy in A Rage in Harlem:  The virtuoso of Tap dance scores big time in this mad rush for gold gangster story in which  Mississippi and New York mobsters clash over loot and booty.  One of the best chase scenes ever filmed features Gregory Hines’ Goldy dashing up flights of stairs, flying from roof top to roof top, and in and out of get-away-cars.  Goldy’s footwork is as fanciful as the real life Hines’ dance choreography and his timing with his gun as sharp as the moves he flashed on Broadway.  Any good crime and suspense drama is always enhanced by comic relief, and Goldy wisecracks with the best of them!  Never once is he fooled by a pretty smile or intimidated by an opponent, be it crook or copper.  The gold is what is eminent, hence the appropriate moniker – Goldy.  From his first appearance on screen, groovily strolling out of a ballroom where later Screamin’ Jay Hawkins will perform at the Annual Undertaker’s Ball, momentarily pausing to greet a pretty girl on the sidewalk, and seconds later warding off a mob boss, all within a couple of strides, Goldy makes a memorable impression.

8.  Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas: The character of Tommy is more like the Terminator than a button; a true maniac that somehow in his madness conjures up wit and charisma that makes you laugh seconds before or after he’s just totally annihilated somebody for no reason at all.  But I’m not going to lie.  If I had to go to war and I was in the trenches on a battlefield, there’s no doubt I would be calling Tommy to come to my aid.  This guy is a machine, a time bomb just waiting to explode.  Don’t ever remind him he used to shine shoes before he wore silk suits, forget to serve him a drink at a game of cards, or embarrass him in public.  Because if you do, believe me you’re asking for trouble…and lots of it!

7.  Tupac Shakur as Roland Bishop in Juice:  It’s been 19 years since Juice was released in theaters and I still haven’t forgiven Bishop for killing Raheem.  I mean everything was going as planned: they got in the store, they successfully held it up, they were on their way to proving they belonged in the same league as Radames, and then BANG!  Bishop becomes the neighborhood’s worst nightmare.  Q couldn’t even finish his set at the DJ contest with a clear conscious, and he had been waiting for that moment his whole life…Queen Latifah was hosting man!  But I thought Bishop was the definition of cool when I was a teenager: The Gumby box fade, the flowing hoody, the baggy jeans and boots, and the machine gun necklace charm.  Bishop turned me on to James Cagney movies like White Heat (“Made it ma, top of the world!”) and made being an outlaw look like a never ending adrenaline rush.  Tupac proved to be the quintessential artist, having certainly acquired his acting chops at the Baltimore School for the Arts as a teen.  As Bishop, he sums up his significance within his crew and in Hollywood with the now infamous line, “I’m the one ya’ll need to be worried about, partner!”  Classic!

6.  Calvin Lockhart as Silky Slim and Biggie Smalls in Uptown Saturday Night and Let’s Do it Again:  Both of these Sidney Poitier directed films starring him and Bill Cosby were second to none in my household growing up as a kid.  Calvin Lockhart’s portrayals are consistently as gangster as it gets and it’s difficult to choose one role over the other in each of the films, so I had to pair his characters together in the number 6 slot.  When Silky Slim holds up Madame Zenobia’s establishment, he delivers the smoothest line I’ve ever heard in my life.  With a machine gun clutched in his hands and mask over his face, he thanks the crowd for their cooperation by saying, “Never before have so few owed so much to so many.”  Whew!  It get’s even better in Let’s Do it Again when he and John Amos who, cast as Kansas City Mack, gets an honorable mention in this top ten list, go at each other’s throats over gambling territory in New Orleans, LA.  Lockhart’s Biggie Smalls (Yes that’s where The Notorious B.I.G. got his alias) is cooler than cool, with a gritty baritone voice best described as unearthly, and wardrobe including leather jackets, platforms and berets.  He looks like he could have just finished a set with Curtis Mayfield, who provides the masterful score for Let’s Do it Again, as he collects and pays off.

5.  Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II:  Another tandem this time fills in the 5th spot on this list, appropriately so, as there is no way for me to choose between these two phenomenal actors portraying two memorable roles.  The Godfather Part II and it’s two main protagonists simply are a cut above most gangster films because of the way the past tale of Vito Corleone is intricately woven into the present story of Michael Corleone.  Vito’s rise to power is chronicled by his emergence as a man of the common people, standing up to tyranny and economic exploitation.  Michael is left to struggle with his own demons in his attempt to establish his family’s business as legitimate.  From Vito insisting a neighbor’s rent be reduced by a greedy landlord, to Michael’s chess match with hypocritical government representatives who rendezvous in fancy hotels with mistresses, the Corleone men aim to find their place in world full of deceit, tricks and lies.  And they do it often by making offers others seldom can refuse.

4.  James Cagney as Eddie Bartlett and Humphrey Bogart as George Hally in The Roaring Twenties:  The Depression era takes center stage in this gangster film where Eddie and George, former soldiers in World War I, find themselves interlocked in another war when they return home over bootlegging, prohibition.  If  you’ve  never seen this one, James Cagney’s Eddie Bartlett will dazzle you with right hand hooks that level two brutes with one punch, fits of controlled rage that leave pretend tough guys with their cigars smashed in their faces, and one of the best gangster end scene chase sequences of all time, probably only second to White Heat.  Humphrey Bogart’s George Hally is no slouch either, with an itchy trigger finger and dialing finger, never hesitating to put in his own work or telephone someone else to carry out his orders.  The two characters combine to produce something really special in this timeless tale of early 2oth century America.

3.  Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas in American Gangster:  I literally watched this movie every single time it was broadcast on HBO when it was first released on cable, for like three weeks, or so it seemed.  Wow!  I understand this was a biopic and horrible events occurred in the real life account of Frank Lucas, but didn’t Denzel make you want to fill out a job application for his organization in this one?  Maybe it’s just me, but I definitely wanted to go along on the ride to meet beautiful Puerto Rican beauty pageant winners, sit ringside at heavy weight championship bouts, fly to Vietnam and tell kingpins and warlords, uninvited, that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to run my own business in the states, and hold serve in a game reserved for Anglo Saxons and Italians.  This character was some sort of three-part Molotov cocktail made up of politics, entrepreneurship, and racketeering.  And he knew how to properly maintain carpet, as he emphatically reminded us when his was stained during a party, to use club soda and blot…never rub!

2.  Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction:  “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.  Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness.  For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.  And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.  And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”  -Jules Winnfield.  Um…Mr. scary  hit man with the curly afro who just ate my Big Kahuna burger and drank my Sprite, I know I offended your boss and that I am guilty.  But could you please just have mercy on me and kill me without reciting that Bible scripture first, because, I’ve never heard such a frightening thing!  I think that’s how I would have responded to Jules Winnfield’s soliloquy if I was Brett, the victim, right after I lost control of my bodily fluids, and in between my tears and snotty, running nose.  I honestly don’t know of a scarier hit man in the movies than Jules, who is more like a wandering philosopher.  One minute he has me cracking up with laughter, the next minute contemplating miracles, and the next, double checking to make sure my door is locked.  And no gangster has ever had better hair, period.

And the number 1 gangster movie role of all time is (drum roll please)…James Caan as Santino “Sonny” Corleone in The Godfather:  I believe, way down in my heart, that as a child, I was immediately traumatized when I saw Sonny mowed down like wheat in a field at that tollbooth.  At that young tender age, I knew nothing about stunts, special effects, blank ammunition, and fake blood.  All I knew was that my hero, who saved Rocky Balboa’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) from a physically abusive husband Carlo, by giving him the ass whipping of his life, which included punches to his face, knees to his midsection, biting his knuckles, and hitting him with his own shoe, a garbage can, the lid of the garbage can, and finally kicking him into a spewing fire hydrant, was just shot with a zillion bullets.  I honestly thought it was real the first time I saw it.  What are we going to do about this, I wondered?  Is there anyone we can report this to or can we just take up arms to avenge this?  I was ready to go after those thugs, even if it meant something bad might happen to me, like getting punched or having my toys stolen or something.  But anyone who can hand out a beat down like the one Sonny, my all time favorite cinematic gangster, gives Carlo, and do it without their loose tie strung around the collar of their shirt falling off, has to be the greatest of all time.

© 2011

Blinding Goldfish: African-American Short Film Review

Here’s another blast from the past article from when I was blogging on Blackplanet.com as L_Mellow.  Enjoy!

On Sunday mornings, I stick to a fairly constant routine: wake up no earlier than 8am, have breakfast while watching The Three Stooges, avoid shaving my face if at all possible, and go to a matinee.  However, this past Sunday, no movie title jumped out at me from the cinema pages of the local arts magazine I regularly scan for events happening in my city.  Instead, to my delight, after wearily surfing the channels of my cable box (Yes cable, I’ve not yet made the switch to a dish in my one bed-room apartment) and tumbling off my remote-control-surfboard into an ocean of uninspiring programming, I was rescued by a buoy of sorts: a program featuring African American short films on the CW network.

One film especially struck a chord with my cinematic receptivity.  It was a film titled Blinding Goldfish, (Directed by Jay Paramsothy) a story about a reporter who is assigned to interview a professor who survived the Jewish Holocaust.  During the interview, the professor retells an account of how his father was murdered by a German soldier during World War II.  The reporter, a young African-American man, immediately identifies with the sense of loss the professor has experienced, because he too has endured a similar tragedy, although not from a homicide, but rather through a disconnect brought on by the abusive nature of his Dad.  This level of abuse culminated one afternoon when his father killed his pet goldfish, sending him, then only a child, into a vengeful frenzy in which he attacked his father with a baseball bat.

The irony lies in the fact that the professor had lied to him about the murder of his father.  The journalist finds out later, to his shock, that the professor’s father had actually been in love with the German soldier whom was falsely accused of his murder.  It was the professor who actually killed his own father, after secretly witnessing a kiss the two tabooed lovers shared in the midst of a chaotic scene, where his father’s lover tries to plan a route of escape for his beloved, endangered prisoner.  The professor felt betrayed by his father, as did the reporter at the killing of his goldfish, and similarly, sought to avenge the offense.

I felt this film wonderfully explored the many paradoxes that are inherent with regard to matters of the heart.  I also felt the film creatively highlighted the fact that affliction is not bound by race.  As Michael Lerner best sums up with his comments in his conversation with Cornel West in Bridges And Boundaries, a book of essays exploring the commonality between the African-American and Jewish-American experience, “…our common history of suffering and common victimhood make a real basis for unity.”  (George Braziller © 1992)

© 2011

I ♥ The Karate Kid

Mr. Miyagi

I grew up in the 80’s which means I spent a lot of time watching, what else; 80’s movies!  I was also extremely sheltered so I lived vicariously through Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders, Marty McFly in the Back to the Future Trilogy, and Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars Saga.  (Even though Episode 4 technically can’t be considered an 80’s movie because it was released in 1977).  But my all-time favorite 80’s movie series has to be, without question, hands down…The Karate Kid.

Now that I’m an adult, I think back and realize how really inspirational those movies were to me, and I’m sure also for lots of other social outcasts.  Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is the archetype cinematic hero for “the new kid on the block,” the geek, the pretty-boy all the other guys hated because their girlfriends thought he was cute, and all around odd-ball, fish-out-of-water, high-school, teenaged B-crowd nobody.  The guy repeatedly gets the crap beat out of him by the more popular jocks, instantly making him identifiable with any kid whose ever been bullied in the school yard.  This merciless assault on his puny bag of bones continues until Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), the quintessential fictional savior of all us pitiful “dweebs,” shows up to rescue him.  The only thing better than seeing Daniel crane kick Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in his chin at the climax of the movie is when Ali Mills, played by Elisabeth Shue (Yes I had a crush on her too!) comes rushing out of the stands to congratulate him with a big, warm hug.  So not only does Daniel get revenge, he also gets the girl.  And I can honestly report as a certified dork, that never, ever happens in real life…which is why movies are the ultimate escapism in American society.

But besides the obvious attraction to the film because of the social invisibility motif, I also found other very profound elements within The Karate Kid.  Honor is the theme of the second installment in which Daniel and Mr. Miyagi travel to Okinawa and save Mr. Miyagi’s village from being destroyed by an old friend turned nemesis.  The most endearing scene of this movie, in my opinion, is the tea ceremony that Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) performs for Daniel.  Everything about it evokes love, maturity, dignity, sophistication, culture and respect.  It’s a sharp contrast, in comparison, to the frivolous and superficial image of romance often portrayed in western culture; whether it be “every kiss begins with Kay” engagement commercials or instant self-gratification sexual stimulation.

In the Karate Kid, Part III, nature takes center stage and we watch a bonsai tree that is uprooted from its natural habitat and badly damaged, fight for its survival.  Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that the bonsai has a strong root, just like him, and that they both can survive anything.  The landscape is amazing in this film and despite the tricks and lies of a false sensei who seduces Daniel through the weakness of his fierce temper, our hero finds redemption; and the bonsai is returned home.  It’s as if we are all called home to nature in this movie, where we can find peace.

I have to admit that, as a teenager, I was a male chauvinsit…as I believe most males to be at that age.  We cannot help it.  We are taught that boys are athletic, strong, and courageous.  We are taught that girls are weak, clumsy, and in need of a strong man to save them.  How could the Karate Kid be a girl, I wondered confusingly when I saw the advertisement for The Next Karate Kid staring Hilary Swank.  So being the chauvinist pig that I was at 17 years of age, I never paid any attention to the fourth movie when it was originally released.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I only watched it a few weeks ago…what an idiot I am!  Julie Pierce kicks ass!  I would not have messed with that girl in high school-at all!  So we see the equality of women surface as a major theme of this movie and, once again, nature resurfaces as a minor theme through the explored concept of respect for all life, no matter how small or seemingly trifle to us human beings.  Nothing living is permitted to be killed in the Buddhist monastery Mr. Miyagi and Julie visit during her training.  That’s still a very timely message in this day and age.

Finally, the 2010 release of The Karate Kid staring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han brings everything around full circle with the inclusion of African-Americans into this martial arts mythology.  I sat in the movie theater and watched amongst a full house of Karate Kid fans, young and old, cheer Dre Parker on to victory.  If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought I was watching an actual kung fu tournament live on a closed circuit feed.  We cheered as if we actually knew little Dre.  He was our son, little brother, nephew or neighbor.  The response of the crowd was definitely a testament to this franchises’ ability to connect with its audience time after time, generation after generation.

So where will the Karate Kid legend go from here?  Has the journey ended or are there still miles ahead?  Have the lessons concluded or are more themes waiting to be developed?  Should there be another Karate Kid movie made, and I am definitely in favor of another movie, we’ll be there; the corny nerds all grown up, waiting to see some bully get a taste of their own medicine.

© 2011