When sitting down to watch The Dark Crystal, a labor of love directed by legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and his frequent collaborator Frank Oz, you know you’re in for something unique in the truest sense of the word: not merely unusual, but one-of-a-kind. There really hasn’t been another film quite like it before or since. A “digitally enhanced” sequel titled The Power of the Dark Crystal is rumored to be in the works, but even that film won’t match its predecessor for sheer daring and ambition. Released in 1982 after being in production for five years, The Dark Crystal was conceptualized by Henson and British artist Brian Froud as the first live action film to feature only puppets and not a single human actor. This was a dream project for Henson, an attempt to explore new territory and push his art further.
Written by Kristoffer Tronerud
USA, 1982. 129 min. UA/ Dino De Laurentiis Pictures. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Mako; Music: Basil Poledouris; Cinematography: Duke Callaghan; Production Design: Ron Cobb; Based on Stories by: Robert Howard; Screenplay: Oliver Stone, John Milius; Directed by: Milius
“Iâ€™m a Zen Fascistâ€ John Milius once famously remarked, and, while his tongue was firmly planted in cheek, that description goes a long way in explaining the unique appeal of this very talented and likable rogue artist. While it may take courage to be left of center in the country at large, in Hollywood, the conservative is the true maverick, and, as a director and screenwriter, Milius has paid a price for his cheerful unwillingness to toe a politically correct line for Tinseltown convenience. Still, it is a big mistake to paint Milius with the broad brush of the political simplemindedness of, say, a John Wayne or a Jack Webb. From the start of his career, Miliusâ€™s projects have evidenced a complexity and thoughtfulness that make such easy classification impossible. His work embraces the reality that men and women are different and that courage and violence are sometimes unavoidable and necessary, in a way that makes knee-jerk liberals uncomfortable, but his work also betrays a tenderness and respect for women and a keen sense of the limits of the macho ideal that give lie to the stereotype that generally accompanies any discussion of his oeuvre.
USA, 1985. 90 min. Warner Brothers/ Aspen Film Society. Cast: Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, Milton Berle. Music: Danny Elfman; Cinematography: Victor Kemper; Production Design: David Snyder; Produced by: Richard Abramson, William McEuen; Written by: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol; Directed by: Tim Burton.
Living high up a mountain in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire in the late 1980s, I had no cable and absolutely miserable television reception, which meant that I began listening in earnest to National Public Radio and took to watching a few of the shows available on the two network channels I was able to get. Though I adored the quirky Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and The Wonder Years, I also watched a few shows to which I probably would not have been drawn had my selection been more diverse–I developed a Who’s the Boss? habit, once it was syndicated. Oddest of all was the show I’d occasionally switch to on Saturday mornings, when I was just returning from a grocery run and starting to put things away in the kitchen. Pee-wee’s Playhouse turned out to be a sort of cross between a live-action Warner Brothers cartoon–both fun for kids and zinging much of its humor straight over their heads–and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
(MÃ¸nti PythÃ¸n ik den HÃ¸li GrÃ¤ilen )
Written by Jill Silos. Jill Silos, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of History at Hesser College. In her spare time she volunteers with Confuse-a-Cat Ltd. and collects grail-shaped beacons. A moose once bit her sister. No, realli!
USA, 1975. 91 min. Python Pictures Ltd./ Michael White Productions. Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin; Animated Sequences: Terry Gilliam; Production Design: Roy Forge Smith; Produced by: Mark Forstater, Michael White; Written by: Monty Python; Directed by: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam.
Monty Python is big business these days. In addition to all the calendars, key chains, refrigerator magnets, and stuffed killer bunnies with nasty, big, pointy teeth available at your local novelty store, the market-savvy Pythons have conquered the world of video games, websites, and now, the Great White Way with Eric Idleâ€™s Tony-winning musical Spamalot. The once cult status of Python has given way to a media juggernaut, ensuring that even when Michael Palin travels the globe for the BBC and winds up in some remote village, someone will run up to him and say, â€œNi!â€
Written by Jason Haas
U.S.A., 1979. 97 min. Henson Associates. Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom Deluise, Elliot Goud, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles; Music: Paul Williams; Produced by: Jim Henson; Written by: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl; Directed by: James Frawley
The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving â€œlook-at-meâ€ filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of oneâ€™s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TVâ€™s The Muppet Show.
â€œI’m not a storyteller, I’m a man who draws pictures,” says Hayao Miyazaki the super-director of some of the highest grossing Japanese films of all time, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and most recently, Howl’s Moving Castle.
In Hollywood, children’s films in general and animated ones in particular follow the classical storytelling mold. A state of equilibrium is disturbed, the protagonist faces difficulties attempting to restore order, and the protagonist secures a new equilibrium, overcoming said difficulties and, in the process, learning something about him- or herself. While the world that is built around these stories may be enchantingly detailed and richly populatedâ€”Iâ€™m thinking of the talking furniture of Beauty and the Beast or the fun forest friends of Bambiâ€”the story arc of the protagonist is central to the film and the tapestry is for show.
Written by Jessica Wilton
USA, 1985. 114 min. Amblin Entertainment/ Warners Bros. Pictures. Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Quan, Joe Pantoliano; Cinematography: Nick McLean; Editing: Michael Kahn, Steven Spielberg; Written by: Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus; Directed by: Richard Donner
To truly appreciate The Goonies, you must imagine yourself transported back to 1985. Pediatric asthma was on the rise, shoulder pads were in, and pirhana-like business execs were poised to devour whatever survived of the sixties and seventies. The collective anxiety of Americans was overwhelmingâ€”we were afraid of terrorists, Russians, and stockbrokers. We were nervous about computers and robots. AIDS had just been identified, and Reagan reelected. It was a nerve-wracking time in a prosperous nation, a time when we needed Stephen Spielberg. He knew just what was needed to soothe our collective angst: pirate treasure, booby traps, ethnic jokes, and three stooges gags.
U.S.A, 1959. 136 min. MGM / Loew’s Inc. Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Ernest Lehman; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
During the 1950s and early 1960s there arose a type of film that I nebulously think of as the “cheerful Technicolor sex comedy.” Including such points on the spectrum as Daddy Long Legs, the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bell Book and Candle, and I’d Rather Be Rich, these films have dated noticeably, but that’s part of the fun of watching them. Their particular brand of romance, especially if it had a cat-and-mouse quality, was found to blend nicely with an element of adventure. If you imagine a tale of such ilk crossed with an ultra-stylish suspensor of the noir mien, you get North by Northwest.
Written by Jess Wilton
Japan, 2005. 90 min. Fever Dreams/ Media Suits Ltd. Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, YÃ´ko Fujita, Kentaro Seagal, Takamasa Suga, YÃ»ki Takeuchi; Music: Dir en Grey, Rui Ogawa; Cinematography: Shinichi Fujita; Action Director: Go Ohara, Tak Sakaguchi; Written by: Seiji Chiba, Shinichi Fujita, Junya Kato; Directed by: Yuji Shimomura
It seems almost counter-intuitive to try to lend depth to Death Trance. It is, as indicated in its promotional materials, a movie about â€œan unknown time, an unknown place, [a man] without reasons, with no future.â€ Whatever meaning we might glean from its ninety minutes of dizzying camera angles, extravagant choreography, and outrageous costumes, it only detracts from the filmâ€™s ultimate purposeâ€”destruction. Which is not to say that director Yuji Shimomura and his team are after exactly the same sort of destruction as Grave, the filmâ€™s â€˜heroâ€™ (using the word loosely). Grave is after a good fight, and if that means the end of the world, heâ€™s ok with that. Similarly, the filmmakers are largely concerned with making the coolest-looking movie they can. If, as an afterthought, they dismantle a few traditional notions of narrative and identification, wellâ€”theyâ€™re ok with that too.
Written by Kris Tonerud
Japan, 2005. 124 min. Kadokawa Eiga K.K./ Nippon Television Network Corp. Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Bunta Sugawara, Chiaki Kuriyama, Hiroyuki Etsushi Tokoyawa; Music: Koji Endo; Cinematography: Hideo Yamamoto; Produced by: Fumio Inoue; Written by: Hiroshi Aramata and Takeshi Miike; Directed by: Takeshi Miike
One can only imagine the discussions that must have taken place in the boardroom of Daei, the venerable Japanese Studio that has for decades played Paramount to Tohoâ€™s MGM, concerning the proposed revival of the beloved Childrenâ€™s Cultural Phenomenon known as the Yokai Monsters; a series of Manga, TV Series, and feature films based on Shinto and secular folk tales, hugely popular in Japan throughout the sixties. A studio flack, with more inspiration than brains, says â€œI think we should offer it to Takashi Miike.â€ A stunned silence falls over the room. Miike?