Magic Lantern Milestone: My 100th Post!!!

So here it is! Magic Lantern Film’s first real milestone — my 100th post on this website!!! I thought I would take a moment and reflect on my mighty blog and share some thoughts with you. First, as you know, I have always had a tremendous love for film. Ever since I was little, I have had an immense passion for theatre and motion pictures. But that isn’t what compelled me to start this website. I never even really gave the idea much thought, if any at all. Last year, I was inspired by a friend of mine who posted his “Top 10 Horror Films of the Decade” on his personal movie blog. He had posted it on Facebook and I gave it a read. I never looked at a film blog before this. I thought, “That’s pretty cool. I would love to start my own, especially as I tend to have rather loud opinions of my own on anything movie-related.” So I asked some questions, created a WordPress account, and wrote my very first post on December 26, 2009The 10 Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009).

I didn’t write another post until February, exactly two months later. I had no followers, of course (with the exception of a couple of close friends and family members). I didn’t realize at the time that it was something I wanted to keep up on a semi-regular basis. For this second post, I wrote about my personal thoughts on the nominations for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. It wasn’t until April 2010 that I really began to immerse myself into this blog. I started learning a bit more about WordPress and graphics and such; I began to write movie reviews and add other features to the site (movie polls, and the weekly “Gimme 5” feature that was given to me by Raul Duke). I saw that a few of the other sites had Podcasts, so I thought to do something a bit different. I started my own Video Web Rants to try to do the same thing, but on a more personal level (I need to get back to doing that more often and I certainly will, especially as the Oscar race begins to heat up). I started finding other film blogs and reading their opinions. I had no idea that there were so many movie bloggers out there! An entire sub-culture of people who have the same passion for movies as I do — and we communicate regularly on each other’s sites. All of these terrific movie blogs with voices of their own — all intelligent, creative, distinct, and pretty damn good writers. It has been my pleasure to get to know all of these movie lovers a bit via cyberspace. I won’t name them all, but my BlogRoll lists a good number of these excellent film blogs and the knowledgeable people behind them.

The blog takes up a good deal of my time and very often I get frustrated, wondering why I am even doing this. I don’t get paid (yet). The audience is a bit limited. I could be doing any number of other things. But then I get a few comments on a particular post, or people chime in on a weekly “Gimme 5” and it all seems worth it. I love going to the movies…I love writing about movies; I enjoy creating these Top 10 Lists, despite how much time it takes to research and write it all out.

It is also amazing to see just how many visitors the Magic Lantern Film Blog gets. Since March 2010, the number of visits to the site has grown exponentially each and every month — and it has continued to grow. That is very encouraging to me and puts a smile on my face when I see the statistics. I hope that trend continues. I also hope to keep adding to the site, bit by bit. A few goals I have for the near future are (1) to hire someone (much more knowledgeable than me) to create a new layout to the site and make it look much more appealing (2) to be linked to sites such as Amazon, Netflix and such where readers can make purchases (3) to produce the video web rants on a regular basis with much higher quality (4) connect to even more film bloggers and their sites, and (5) to continue the trend of having more and more people find the blog and to find it interesting enough to keep coming back to it.

So that is it! 100 posts. Sounded like a round enough number to resemble some sort of minor accomplishment. I hope to get through the next 100 in much quicker fashion. Thank you to everyone who has visited the site and many, many thanks to those who have bookmarked it and continue to read on a regular basis. As always, I would love to hear from you — your own thoughts and opinions on writing a blog, or any honest thoughts you have about this one in particular. I am always looking for constructive criticism to help make this site even better. Any questions you have, I’ll take those too.

Thanks again!!!

My Experience Seeing the Disastrous “The Room”

It has been described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” and by now, many movie-lovers have already heard about Tommy Wiseau’s debacle of a film, The Room. The first I had heard about it was in a feature story on Yahoo!, describing the film’s cult following, including some in the entertainment industry. I was lucky enough to catch a midnight screening of this back in March with a very good friend of mine in Dallas and promised myself that I would, at some point, write about this memorable experience. It took me some time to get around to it, but hey…better late than never, right?

OK, so my friend and I head to the Inwood Theater in Dallas in plenty of time to get our tickets. As we wait on the fairly lengthy line, we immediately feel somewhat out of place, noticing that the majority of the movie-goers there are much younger, with most seeming to be of collegiate age. The line grew larger and larger, up the extensive staircase — I see that many people are carrying props with them. I was curious so I approached a couple of young men and inquired. Having seen it a few times before, he explained the whole interactive experience of seeing The Room, and what the props were for, including the many plastic spoons which so many audience members were carrying that are meant for throwing at the screen every time there is a shot of the framed photos of cutlery that appear throughout for no apparent reason. The doors opened and everyone began taking their seats – to my surprise the theatre was packed solid. And for the next 99 minutes, I was fascinated by what I was watching on screen and throughout the theatre.

The plot is not at all extraordinary. It’s your basic love triangle. Johnny (Wiseau) loves his “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and will do anything for her, including buying her that house she always wanted. But Lisa is not happy with Johnny despite his successful career. She confides in her mother (Carolyn Minnott) and Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Lisa and Mark begin an illicit affair and that’s when the plot thickens. There are a number of supporting characters that randomly come in and out throughout the film. There are subplots that are introduced, and never mentioned again – the most grandiose being when Lisa’s mom tells her, “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.” This, of course, is never brought up again. It’s also not quite clear if the character of Denny (the young college student who Johnny plays a father-figure to) is a fully functioning adult or not – his lack of social etiquette puts this into question, especially when he decides to just jump into bed with the two lovers when things are about to get intimate. There is also a character that simply disappears halfway through the film, and I highly doubt that this is in homage to Shakespeare’s tendency to dismiss certain minor characters after Act II.

The cast is…I want to be nice here, but there is really no way around it…the cast is simply awful and Wiseau, with his heavy (and at times, unintelligible) accent is the worst of the lot. I posted a scene from YouTube on here just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about. Wanna laugh? Then take a peek for yourself and enjoy. It’s the car wreck you can’t turn your eyes away from. There are also a number (too many, in fact) of graphic sex scenes that are embarrassingly bad — and the fact that they try to come off as being “tasteful” just makes it all the more humorous. There are a ridiculous amount of shots that pan across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge — some shots make it all the way (and the audience cheers the victory), while other shots are cut abruptly (and the audience groans in defeat). The use of the green screen is appallingly evident and the screenplay too, is laughable. A few choice lines include: “You don’t understand anything, man. Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!” “As far as I’m concerned, you can drop off the Earth. That’s a promise,” and my personal favorite was how Wiseau screams in agony, “You are lying! I never hit you! You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”

So yes, Wiseau’s film surely surpassed any and all expectations of awful filmmaking that I had before seeing it. I had heard all the comparisons made to Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, Troll 2, and The Creeping Terror – and The Room most deservedly ranks right up there with this elite group of film waste. But did I enjoy myself? Hell, yes! We had a ball — and it seemed that everyone around us did as well. I know the film is now available to rent on Netflix, but I would not recommend someone who hasn’t seen it to watch it in the safe confines of their home. No – to fully appreciate this film, you must experience it in a theatre with the cult-crazed fans surrounding you. If you are lucky enough to be living next to a theatre that screens a midnight showing (and the film has indeed made its way across the States), then go with a few friends (and some plastic spoons) and see for yourself. I promise you that you won’t soon forget it. It’s worth it.

It’s funny because on one hand, I admire the hell out of Wiseau because he actually did it. He conceived this project, however lame it was, and put his money where his mouth was (an estimated $7 million spent on production and marketing with zero studio support). He took action, followed through and made this film. And let’s face it, as dreadful as the movie may be, we are still talking about it. Midnight screenings are showing up throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The classic catastrophe of it all has been written up in daily newspapers, online and even in Entertainment Weekly. It was featured on “ABC World News with Charles Gibson” – so for all that Wiseau may have done wrong, he did something right, even if he never intended for it to go down like this.

The Happy 101 Award

Olive of the very insightful Movie News First blog was kind enough to tag me in this new meme making its rounds to film bloggers everywhere. So thank you very much, Olive! It is called the “Happy 101” Award and the idea is to compose a list of things in life that bring us joy. We then have to pass it along to a few of our blogging brethren who have yet to be tagged. The idea behind this award reminded me of that brilliant scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (see video below), where he is laying on the couch, speaking into his tape recorder and asks himself the profound question, “why is life worth living?” He goes on to rattle off some of the things in life that he enjoys — a great scene in one of his very best films. Anyway, I’ll just go with what comes to mind instantly here. My personal joy list is as follows:

#1. I’ll start with the obvious – I LOVE MOVIES!!! If I didn’t, I would surely not have created this website. Almost nothing like seeing a really good film. Some of my favorites bring back so many memories.

#2. Coffee and cigarettes — can’t go without my many cups of coffee each day and hopefully, the other, I’ll quit some day soon.

#3. The sound of seagulls on the beach — my favorite sound. Soothing, serene, peaceful.

#4. Sports — in particular, baseball, football, hockey and tennis. Love my New York Rangers and New York Jets!!! I’m also addicted to sports radio — and am very excited about another Fantasy Football season!!!

#5. The Theatre — all aspects of it. Going to see plays, writing plays, acting in plays, directing plays. Just the whole lot of it. Something magical about this live art form that surpasses even the brilliance of movie-making. O’Neill, Strindberg, Miller, Mamet, Pirandello, Chekhov, Beckett, McDonogh, Shepard, Ibsen, etc…true masters of the stage.

#6. My pug Lily! Really, most animals. I am an animal-lover. Elephants especially.

#7. Reading a good book. Writing (a short story, a play).

#8. Christmas & New York City in the wintertime.

#9. Political incorrectness. Humor, laughter, great comedy. Those who are easily offended just piss me off…

#10. A wonderful meal with good company and interesting conversation. Followed by #2, of course.

#11. Travelling and seeing new places; weekend getaways, bed-and-breakfasts.

#12. Seeing my former students grown up and finding their way in the world…especially those many marvelous students who have stood by and supported me these past few years. God Bless them…some of my most cherished memories are directing these same students in school productions.

#13. Ice cream during summertime and seeing the sun set. Great spot to do this at Fire Island…it’s a remarkable experience because when the sun has fully set, everyone watching on the pier applauds in awe. A great sight.

#14. Good music — I try to listen as much as I can while going about my daily routines. Almost always playing on the iPod are: James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, CSN, Tom Petty, Tori Amos, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Marc Cohn, Danya Manning, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Cat Stevens, David Gray, Ella Fitzgerald, the Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, R.E.M.

#15. My family — including my adorable 4-year old nephew Maceo and my beautiful and intelligent niece Fiona.

That’s about it. Here are a couple of prolific and astute bloggers I will bother with the task of doing more work:

Gimme 5: Famous Crushes!

Here’s a fun & easy one for you and just about everyone can sprout off at least five — so no excuses this week! We all have those actors and actresses who we just love to look at…those men and women who we think are simply hot, hot, hot! From those handsome and gorgeous men and women in those early classic films to the sexy and dazzling stars of today, I am asking this week for you to:

GIMME 5 CELEBRITY CRUSHES:

 

I Will Start:

1.  Ingrid Bergman
(never to be duplicated; never to be matched)
2. Scarlett Johansson
(a stunning blend of 40’s Hollywood and present day all rolled into one)
3. Jessica Biel
(She doesn’t make many good films at all, but The Illusionist is terrific & so is watching her in it!)
4. Christina Hendricks
(it won’t be long before she starts doing big time films…trust me)
5. Diane Keaton
(the tie, the hat, the vest…the epitome of sexiness forever tattooed in my head — and
she still looks dynamite!
)

My apologies to the beautiful Marisa Tomei!!! You’d be perfect on anyone’s Top 5 List!!!

Now It’s YOUR Turn!

Gimme 5: Seriously Shitty Sequels!

I just posted a list of 10 movies to look forward to over the last few months of this year and included in this list is Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. This is of course, a sequel to the original that was released 23 years ago. I’m not a fan of sequels, especially the ones without much reason for them, the ones that are made so blatantly for money purposes. The trailer for Stone’s sequel is quite captivating and I am very much looking forward to seeing where Gordon Gekko goes from prison. But it got me to thinking about sequels in general and all the ones (as there have been oh-so-many) that have simply stunk up the screen. So for this week’s “Gimme 5” feature, I am asking you to share your own thoughts and, off the top of your head:

GIMME 5 SERIOUSLY SHITTY SEQUELS!!!

I will start…(in no particular order)

1. Caddyshack 2 (1988)
everyone but Chevy was smart enough to bail out
2. Ocean’s 12 (2004)
so bad Clooney had to apologize for it when the 3rd came out
3. The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions (2003)
I get a two-fer here!!!
4. Staying Alive (1983)
bad sequel, but does make for an awesome comedy!
5. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
campy in the worst way possible; Michael Caine to this day says he only did it for the money…

Now it’s YOUR Turn!!!

In Honor of the Boss: George Steinbrenner on “Seinfeld”

I know that this is a film blog, but in addition to being a film fanatic, I am also an avid sports fan. In particular, I love baseball and have followed the New York Yankees for years. Today, the baseball world was hit with the very sad news of the passing of the legendary, lion-hearted owner of the New York Yankees, Mr. George Steinbrenner. He was 80 years old. Mr. Steinbrenner purchased the team in 1973 and the Yankees have won 7 World Championships under his reign. Known for his fiery temper and passion for winning, he also had a great sense of humor, which he showed off by hosting “Saturday Night Live.” However, it was the hilarious “Seinfeld” sitcom that he is perhaps more famously associated with. Larry David always played his voice on the show, but Steinbrenner himself made a cameo appearance that was never aired on national TV. I thought today would be a good time to have a laugh and post this terrific clip.

Rest in peace, Mr. Steinbrenner. There will never be another one like you — and you will surely be missed.

 

Gimme 5: Your 5 Favorite Animated Flicks!

I chose the theme for this week’s Gimme 5! feature in honor of the release of Despicable Me,which stars the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segal, Miranda Cosgrove and Kristin Wiig. The film opens nationwide today and as a fan of animated features, I remain very excited to see it.

The Pixar animated film Toy Story 3 was released on June 18th and has already made an astronomical $313 million at the box-office and is still steadily rising. In recent years, animated features have proven that they aren’t just for children anymore — with many showing more originality, intelligence and humor than most of the dreck that comes  out of Hollywood.

So for this week’s Gimme 5!….

Gimme Your 5 Favorite Animated Movies!

I Will Start…

5. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
4. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
3. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
2. Dumbo (1941)
1. The Iron Giant (1999)

Now It’s Your Turn….

A Few Words About Mel Gibson

Oh, Mel…looks like you’ve done it again.

In 2006, when he was arrested for DUI, he shocked us all when he ranted that, “”The Jews are responsible for all wars in the world” and admitted to saying as much on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer. Four years later, poor Mel is on the proverbial crucifix again and up to his neck in more negative press. Radar Online first broke the exclusive story, revealing that Mel was taped going off on a racist and vulgar rant towards Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of their baby daughter, Lucia. On the infamous tape, Mel is alledged to have called Oksana a “bitch,” a “fucking fake,” and “an embarrassment” to him. Most damaging of all, he tells her: “You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of ni**ers, it will be your fault.” Later, more news. It was discovered that Mel had actually hit this woman and is even caught on tape declaring that she “fucking deserved it.”

I am not writing this article to vilify or voice my negative opinions about Mr. Gibson. In fact, on the contrary. I’m writing in response to the many movie-goers I have seen since this discomforting story broke denouncing his work and claiming to boycott his future films. Whatever. I think these people are hypocrites. Seen a Hugh Grant movie the past few years? How about Eddie Murphy? Did you go see Christian Bale in The Dark Knight or the superfluous T3 after his vulgar, moronic and mean-spirited 4-minute rant against a helpless crew member? Watch any Tom Cruise flicks after he tried imposing his personal religious beliefs on others? Any Russell Crowe fans still out there after all his violent outbursts? Or we can look to just about any Hollywood celebrity or musician that feels it their civic duty to vociferously spew their immaterial political opinions every four years. And on and on we go.  

All I know is that if we boycotted every movie or concert of our favorite artists from music and film who said/did something wrong or stupid, then we wouldn’t be seeing a whole hell of a lot of movies or buying into much music at all. I for one have tremendous respect for Mel Gibson as a filmmaker and as an actor so I will gladly continue to pay my money to see his work. Part of what was coined the ‘Australian New Wave,’ this is the man responsible for bringing the magnificent Oscar-winning Braveheart to the screen — snatching up two well-deserved Academy Awards in the process. The highest paid celebrity in 2004, he has mostly chosen projects that revolve around characters fighting for justice or seeking revenge. I loved his performances in Payback, The Man Without A Face, Lethal Weapon, and The Bounty opposite Sir Anthony Hopkins. He did a terrific job tackling William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and showed off his charm and famous sense of humor in What Women Want. Whatever you may think of his Apocalypto, I thought it to be gorgeously filmed and a pretty impressive achievement.

I can’t stand political correctness. Not much offends me. What does offend me is when narrow-minded people are offended by material deemed politically incorrect. We’ve all lost our tempers at some point. We’ve all said things to others in the heat of the moment that we surely do not mean. It happens. We’re human. Some of us are more emotional and volatile than others (Gibson admits to being guilty of this in his GMA interview). The difference is that we don’t have paparazzi following us everywhere; nor does anything we say/do make the newspapers or electronic media. No one cares what we say. But they certainly do care what Mr. Gibson has to say. That’s where he gets screwed, and yes, that’s the price one pays for worldwide fame and making that kind of money.

So I really don’t care what Mr. Gibson says in the privacy of his own home. That’s his business, not mine. Where people do have a right to be upset is his admittance to striking a woman. That ain’t cool. I have no idea what was going on between the two, what was being said or how it came about, but I personally don’t believe in ever hitting a woman. I have never done it and don’t think I ever would. But let’s not all get on our soap boxes and condemn him, pretending that we were there and know what happened. These are the same small-minded people who ask me with a sour face, “How can you like Woody Allen? He’s a pedophile!” Or how I can pay good money to support a Roman Polanski film. It’s actually pretty easy. I love their work. I admire them as artists. I don’t give a shit about their personal lives.

I am sorry to see this all happening to Mel Gibson. I have always enjoyed seeing him on-screen and I respect him as an artist. I know that when Jodie Foster’s upcoming movie The Beaver comes out (in which he stars), I will most certainly go and try not to let the tabloids deter me from doing otherwise. Chin up, Mel!

Postscript: 7/9/10: After listening to the 2-minute heated exchange of the actual tape today, I do find it conspicuously odd that Oksana remains so terribly calm throughout. Sounds as if she had planned to set poor Mel up all along.

Peter Eramo Reviews: Knight and Day

To its credit, Knight and Day does not pretend to be something it is not. It never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously nor does it try to outsmart its audience. Rather, James Mangold’s action-comedy-romance-spy flick aims to simply entertain and please its audience without worrying all that much about thorough characterization, realistic dialogue or sensical plot lines. In what has so far been a severely disappointing summer blockbuster season filled with uninspired, derivative titles that I have no desire in wasting my time with, I chose to see one that isn’t a sequel or in 3-D (the flavor of the month) or based on a silly TV show. And you know what? It kinda did the trick.

Sure, the movie is clearly a vehicle designed for two of Hollywood’s bigger stars in Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.  And their chemistry on-screen here is quite strong (although I thought they were terrific opposite one another in the oft-maligned Vanilla Sky as well). As for its supporting characters, the film doesn’t bother developing them at all which is a shame when you have the talents of Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano at your disposal. Unfortunately, they are used mainly as background to our two stars here, as the script gives them all very little to offer its viewers.

Cameron Diaz plays simple gal (who knows her cars) June Havens, whose life is turned completely upside down when she meets the mysterious Roy Miller (Cruise) on an airplane to Boston on her way to her sister’s wedding. They strike up some friendly, flirtatious banter and she goes off to the restroom to try and figure out the best protocol in luring in this handsome fish. What she doesn’t know is that Miller is a secret spy and she is not supposed to be on this particular flight. From here on out, Miller spends the entire film protecting the innocent girl’s life across the globe while June spends most of the film trying to figure out if Miller is truly her ally/protector or if he’s some crazed, paranoid agent-gone rogue as others would have her believe. Cruise’s special agent is always smiling and is ever so kind and complimentary towards June as he goes about protecting a specialized battery that never loses power. Created by young genius Simon Feck (Dano), the battery is in high demand and everyone is killing to get their greedy hands on it.

There are some very funny scenes here between Cruise and Diaz and the action scenes are filmed especially well, including the many chase scenes involved (one featuring bulls in Spain that is quite impressive to watch). Cruise is very tongue-in-cheek throughout, and for this film, it certainly works. He has done comedy and he has done a lot of action, but has never really had the opportunity to do both of them at once and he gets to do that here in the same way that Cary Grant used to do. He is charming throughout and delivers all of the absurdity with such sincerity that it is hard not to laugh. Diaz is also up to the task; very sweet and funny. After taking a truth serum, she is clearly upset and tells Miller that he doesn’t look so happy to see her again — this, while being shot at from all angles. Of course Miller walks through a hail of misfired bullets to show her just how happy he is to see her again. And if you can go with that, then you will certainly enjoy this movie. My problem here is that, as good as Diaz is, I felt she was all wrong for the part – too able to take on the task. I think the film would have been better served if they had cast someone not as strong as her – an actress who is much softer and who would be more believable as being the complete opposite of Cruise’s super spy. I mean, she’s a Charlie’s Angel, for Christ’s sake. Since they didn’t go that route, they should have then done a much better job at making her seem more out of her league — more helpless and feeble.

Overall though, the film does what it sets out to do and that is simply to entertain a summer audience. It doesn’t bore and never lets up, going from one action sequence into another. Many times, the writers never even have to worry about showing how the duo manages to get out of a life-threatening situation as Miller keeps drugging June and the screen simply goes to black and we see June awaken in an entirely new setting. I’d say if you are looking to take your brain out for a little while, kick back with some buttery popcorn and just have fun, then I would surely recommend Knight and Day. Cruise looks to be having a lot of fun here and it is nice to see him back in the action genre after a few years — and with so much slim pickings out in multiplexes right now, this may be your best bet.

Director:  James Mangold
Year:        2010
Rating:    

To view the trailer for Knight and Day, please click here.

Gimme 5: Cast Away Theme

The only merit I feel that the over-long, over-dull film Cast Away really has is that it suits my own personal needs for this week’s “Gimme 5” feature. So here it is: you are stranded on a remote island all by yourself. It’s just you alone and a bunch of coconuts. And ok, fine…I’ll throw Wilson on the island with you just to keep you company. What 5 DVD’s would you want packed in your knapsack? Or, to really stick with the Cast Away theme, which 5 DVD’s would you want preserved in one of your FedEx boxes?

And don’t worry about where your power/electricity is coming from. Just pretend it’s like that overly pretentious, style-over-substance TV show that just went off the air (Thank God) where things just popped up on the island without any reason or logic attached to it whatsoever. So what 5 movies could you not live without on this tropical haven all by yourself???

Gimme 5 Movies You Want With You on A Deserted Island!!!

I will start:

1. The Godfather (gotta have my Brando/Corleone fix)
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Annie Hall Hannah & Her Sisters (this Woody film actually has an uplifting ending)
4. Scenes from A Marriage (not sure I’d survive without some Bergman)
5. It’s A Wonderful Life (to inspire me and keep me cool on those 95 degree days)

Now, it’s YOUR Turn!!!

Peter Eramo’s Open Letter to Tom Cruise

It has been widely reported that Tom Cruise is in talks with Paramount Pictures and MTV Films to reprise his role as the foul-mouthed, hip-hop loving Les Grossman (from Ben Stiller’s hilarious 2008 film, Tropic Thunder). However, it won’t be in another scene-stealing supporting role but rather, a movie revolving around the Grossman character — Les Grossman’s own movie. I absolutely loved Tropic Thunder (voting it the #1 comedy of the decade in a recent list published on this website) and feel that Cruise’s performance in it helped make it the great success that it was. When I read about this possibility, I became worried. I’m not usually one for writing letters to actors at all, but I feel it my professional duty as a writer of film and tremendous fan of the fictional role to write one now. The reputation of Grossman is at stake! So here is my letter to Tom Cruise:

 

Dear Mr. Cruise:

First, I would like to start by telling you that I have enjoyed so much of your work over the years and think you have created some of the most memorable film roles in the past 20+ years. Growing up, I remember loving your work in Risky Business, opposite the legendary Paul Newman in The Color of Money, and yes, I even enjoyed Cocktail immensely (still proudly ranking high in my favorite “guilty pleasure” films of all-time). I thought you were quite brilliant in Rain Man and gave a moving and unforgettable performance in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July.  I thought your superb work as Frank Mackey in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia was daring and courageous, helping to make it the masterpiece that it is. And of course, as you know by now, you stole the show in Tropic Thunder, showing us your funny side by playing the now famously vile, money-hungry, vulgar movie executive Les Grossman. Your resume is certainly an impressive one and still, you remain one of America’s most bankable stars. What I have always found so impressive is how you’ve always managed to balance your enormous celebrity, while at the same time, apply yourself to your craft as an actor in such demanding roles and working for some of our most talented filmmakers (Kubrick, Spielberg, Redford, Levinson, et al). Though you are one of Hollywood’s biggest “movie stars” you still manage to push yourself as an actor and I certainly admire that. With that said, I feel that, in the wake of your recent appearance on the MTV Movie Awards and your ongoing discussions concerning the “Untitled Les Grossman Project,” I need to voice my tremendous concern to you at this time.

I understand all of the reasons you might have for wanting to actually go through with starring in such a vehicle — well, money for starters. It’s almost always about the money (didn’t you have to scream that loudly into a phone once to Cuba Gooding, Jr.?). I understand that if you are planning on gunning for that Oscar which has eluded you thus far, that starring in such a raucous comedy gives you the ability to show everyone your range. Also, playing the Les Grossman character helps to continue to build massive goodwill with the movie-going public who may remember you jumping on Oprah’s couch like a sophomoric wild man and knocking Brooke Shields down a couple of pegs because you don’t believe that people should be taking prescription medication as it goes against what you personally may believe in. I also understand that many simply like seeing you having fun at your own expense. I get all of that. And yet, I still think it’s a terrible idea.

Spin-offs, for the most part, usually suck. There are too many examples of the failures (U.S. Marshals, The Scorpion King, Beauty Shop, etc.) and very few, if any, that can be called good movies. Les Grossman had, what? Ten minutes of screen time in Tropic Thunder? Maybe 15 minutes at most. That was the perfect amount. It left us wanting more. It still keeps us wanting more, which is why it’s so damn good. The old comedian’s adage is to “Leave them wanting more.”  Starring in a full-length film revolving around Grossman will only kill it. It will turn into a “Saturday Night Live” sketch which is funny for 4 minutes and turn into a terrible 100 minutes of disappointment (see just about any SNL skit-turned-movie). What also made Les Grossman such a great screen character was the element of surprise. When it was playing in theatres, very few even knew that you were even in it, let alone heard of such a character. I know when I saw it, I was completely taken by surprise and I loved every minute of it. Now, that surprise factor is completely gone only to be replaced by high expectations that most likely cannot be met.

To put it simply, making such a movie would be overkill. And as a big fan of your work (despite having to sit through Far and Away and Days of Thunder), I feel that you are better than that and have so much more to offer to your fans. You already make the big money, so it can’t just be about the financial reward here. You can make that money doing just about any other film. Don’t kill the Golden Goose, Mr. Cruise…it was great for the small part it played in Stiller’s wonderful comedy and will always be remembered. A full-length feature will only hurt the legacy of the character that you brought to remarkable life.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you have a very successful opening weekend with your new film. If you need any further career advice, then I’m always here…you know where to find me.

Yours Truly,

Peter Eramo, Jr.

The Top 10 Greatest Movies to Win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar

A few weeks ago, I created a Top 10 List of what I think are the worst films to “win” the Academy Award for “Best Picture.” The terrific website ListVerse was kind enough to pick it up and what followed was a barrage of comments (over 400+ in less than 48 hours) that was great fun to read. Comments ranged from highly complimentary to others that were, well…not so nice and aimed at yours truly. No matter. That is what is such fun about these lists and what I was hoping for when I began my Magic Lantern Film Blog — a place for film lovers to speak passionately about the films that they love and hate, a place where people can have healthy debates with one another…quite simply, a place for movie geeks like me to communicate. A handful of those commenters suggested that rather than be so negative, that I create a Top 10 List of those “Best Picture” winners that I found to be the most deserving. I thought that was a fair point and that is what you see here – The Top 10 Greatest Movies to Win the “Best Picture” Oscar!

This list was a bit easier for me to compile, especially the Top 3. What I found to be most difficult was trying to squeeze in so many wonderful films that took home the award in just ten slots. Sadly, a few of them didn’t make the cut, though I wish there was more room. My criteria? Well, first it has to be a superb, timeless movie; a film that, looking back, you can still tell that it was the best in that respective year. A movie that if it didn’t win “Best Picture,” you’d say, “Really? That didn’t win?” Second, it had to be (in my opinion) the best of the films nominated in that year. If I thought another film was better, then it didn’t make the list (i.e. I think “JFK” is far superior to the victorious “Silence of the Lambs“). Finally, I looked at the competition each winning film faced and what the movie had to beat out (have you ever looked at all fantastic films battling it out in 1939?). When all was said and done, I came up with these 10 magnificent Oscar-winning films. I hope this brings just as much reaction and discussion as the prior list. 

10. The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946)

Wyler made some truly unbelievable films (“Mrs. Miniver,” “The Heiress,” “Jezebel” and the Oscar-winning “Ben-Hur” which could have easily made this list), but for some reason, few cite this one as being one of his greatest. I first saw this film only three years ago and was completely blown away by it — and the war-film genre is not one of my favorites. Winner of 7 Academy Awards, this is the film that beat out “The Yearling” and the classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” and in my mind, deservedly so. The movie centers on three WW II veterans who come home to Smalltown, America from the war only to find that everything has drastically changed. Wyler and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood aren’t concerned with showing us any scenes of the men in battle, but are wholly invested in showing us the crisis that each man faces upon his return. Sixty years later, the movie leaves a lasting impact on its audience and the cast is stellar. Frederic March won an Oscar for “Best Actor” here and Harold Russell, who plays Homer, a man who lost both hands during the war, won “Best Supporting Actor” — both great to watch. Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy also give heartfelt, riveting performances here. I was so impressed with how real everything seemed to feel and, like another film on this list, did such a beautiful and poetic job at showing the psyche of a post-war nation. All three stories blend so brilliantly together, I wish it had continued even longer than its 160+ minutes. For some reason, I am under the impression that many have not experienced this American classic. If you are one of those, you should put this in your queue right away.

9. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen, 1977)

You can count the number of comedic films to win “Best Picture” on two hands and this one is arguably the best of the lot (unless you want to debate “The Apartment,” which I could understand). I look at it like this – people bitch and complain that Stanley Kubrick, Charles Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, & Robert Altman never won an Oscar. Fine. The same would be said for Woody Allen if one of his movies never took home the golden statue. “Really? How could that be possible?! He never one after all those great movies?” Now of course if you’re not a Woody fan, you won’t like this selection. I had to find room for it. It is one of the all-time greatest comedies and stands as the seminal turning point in the filmmaker’s career. Diane Keaton created one of film’s greatest screen characters here (“Lah-di-dah”) and the chemistry between the two is a marvel and tremendous fun to watch. A classic love story filled with some of Woody’s greatest one-liners (“I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light”), there are also moments of great drama and depth. I know “Star Wars” nuts think that their film got robbed. I understand that it was a ground-breaking film and changed the way movies were made. When a comedy wins, most don’t find it deserving. I like “Star Wars” very much, but to me, it looks a bit dated now and perhaps that’s because special effects has grown by leaps and bounds. I just know “Annie Hall” (which I believe is his 2nd greatest movie) will be looked at as one of cinema’s greatest comedies decades from now. It also doesn’t sell out at the end and gives a realistic portrayal of a relationship gone sour. I can watch this anytime, anywhere…so it makes the list.

8. Terms of Endearment (dir. James L. Brooks, 1983)

I think James L. Brooks is one of the finest, most clever screenwriters we have and there are usually about 10 classic lines in each of his best works. Here, after years of writing successfully for television, he made his directorial debut and, after winning 5 Oscars, has become a modern-day classic. I know many poo-poo this movie, though I am not sure why. Perhaps because it is overly sentimental and falls under the genre of “tear-jerker,” but I think that’s just silly. It’s a beautifully woven story with rich and fascinating characters. I love that it always makes me cry when Emma (Debra Winger) has to say good-bye to her two sons or when her mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) is screaming for someone to help medicate her daughter. The chemistry between Jack Nicholson (as the vain ex-astronaut turned playboy, Garrett) and MacLaine is so strong and they are simply a delight to watch. Their first date is one of the great screen dates and Jack gets to do his thing throughout, which is enjoyable to watch. But even he goes through a maturation process that leaves the viewer quite moved. The core of this film however, rests in the mother-daughter relationship, which is funny, conflicting, heart-breaking…the stuff of real life. Brooks gets top supporting performances from a young Jeff Daniels (what a cad!), Danny DeVito, and John Lithgow. The movie strikes the ideal balance between comedy and drama and flows into one another so effortlessly. I find this to be such a charming, slice-of-life film. You’ve heard the old adage, “I laughed, I cried.” Each time I watch this movie, I find it to be the epitome of that very saying.

7. Schindler’s List (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Simply put, a glorious piece of filmmaking. Splendid cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, a stirring score by John Williams and Michael Kahn’s adept editing help create this engaging and important work of art. I have not read the Keneally book (though most of my students have), but Steven Zaillian’s screenplay brings this chilling and inspiring true story to life in such a skilled, crafted way. There are many films focused on the Holocaust, and though this may not be my favorite one, it is surely the one that most people point to as being the quintessential “Holocaust film.” Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, who starts off as a vain and avaricious businessman who uses the Jews as cheap labor to start a factory in Poland during WW II. Slowly, he begins to see first-hand, the horrors endured by the Jews and begins a quest in trying to save as many lives as possible. In the end, he composes a list of over 1,100 Jewish people who he rescued from death. I know there is a lot of praise & glorification being thrown around throughout this list, but that is because these are 10 magnificent films that stand out among literally thousands. Here is one statement though that is in no way hyperbole — Ralph Fiennes, in bringing to life Amon Goeth, created (in my estimation) the most vile screen villain ever put on film. In Goeth, we witness the true evil a human being is capable of. He is terrifying, unpredictable and oh-so genuine. He wants so desperately to be admired and liked as Schindler is; the way he looks at himself in the mirror, the clumsy manner in which he tries to “pardon” a Jew that he so desperately wants to kill, the blunt manner in which he shoots another human being…Fiennes does it all with impeccable authenticity. The film didn’t have much competition that year, but I don’t think it really matters. No matter what movies were released that year, Spielberg’s movie (winner of 7 Oscars) was taking home the grand prize…it’s that remarkable an achievement.

6. The Deer Hunter (dir. Michael Cimino, 1978)

One of the great war films ever made, Cimino’s epic examines the lives of three close friends, all working-class factory workers in Pennsylvania, who decide to enlist in the Army during the Vietnam War. Before they go, Steven (John Savage) marries his pregnant girlfriend and the first act of the film shows us the wedding, which also serves as a farewell party for the bridegroom and his friends Michael (Robert DeNiro) and Nick (Christopher Walken). I know many people to find this part of the film to be a bit slow and lengthy, but I take the glass-half-full approach and say that Cimino and screenwriter Deric Washburn do an incredible job in developing their 3-dimensional characters. Plus, a lot of what is here is essential when you get further into the movie. The second act picks up and we are thrust into a prisoner-of-war camp where the three friends are detained in nightmarish conditions. The final act shows the horrific effects that war has on people and their surroundings. The film is graphic, daring, sincere and deeply affecting. Wonderful performances all around. A young Meryl Streep is so good here (a real shock, right?); sometimes she doesn’t even speak a line and we know exactly what she is thinking. This is also when DeNiro and Walken weren’t just cashing in checks and really immersed themselves in their craft — and both are spectacular here. A shell-shocked Walken in the hospital trying to answer what his name is — or those haunting Russian roulette scenes are images that I have yet to forget since I first watched this film. “The Deer Hunter” shows us a quaint small town in America, the merciless horrors of war and the daunting effects that it has on the people who served and those who are close to them. A 5-time Oscar winner (beating out “Midnight Express“), it remains one of the most powerful films ever made.

5. On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan, 1954)

Winner of 8 Academy Awards, “On the Waterfront” is one of the great American film ever made. Having been nominated for “Best Actor” the previous three years, Marlon Brando finally won his first Oscar in his fourth consecutive year being nominated playing Terry Malloy, an ex-prizefighter turned longshoreman who witnesses a murder and struggles with himself to stand up to a corrupt union boss (a terrific Lee J. Cobb). Watching Brando’s transformation of this character is something to behold. Like something out of an Arthur Miller play, Budd Schulberg’s screenplay is authentic, powerful and enduring. On top of the flawless performance by Brando, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint turn in moving performances as well. The controversial film does not seem to have aged at all either, though the politics of the time may not be the same as today, especially in the aftermath of HUAC and Kazan’s highly publicized “naming of names. It has been said that Brando didn’t even want to work with Kazan after he named names of some of his close friends. Thank God he did do this. Close friends and collaborators, Miller and Kazan always wanted to do a film together covering the corruption on the docks – but never got to after HUAC. Miller did “The Crucible” and here, Kazan answers back with a statement of his own in this brilliant piece of filmmaking.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (dir. Milos Forman, 1975)

Milos Forman’s powerful, disturbing and, at times, humorous film is a brilliant adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel.  Jack Nicholson has been outstanding in so many roles, but this may be his very best work to date. Here, he plays the rebellious Randle P. McMurphy who is serving time at a state mental hospital and instantly tries to challenge all authority. In doing so, he tries to recruit the other patients to take on the dictatorial rule of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) who is more despot than nurse. Every time he tries to have a little harmless fun (playing cards, watching the World Series), he is stopped by this oppressive woman. This film is a modern classic, featuring great supporting performances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Ted Markland, and Vincent Schiavelli. Brad Dourif is painful to watch as Billy Bibbit who is terrified of Nurse Ratched and the haunting image of his mother (who we never see). Fletcher is perfect in this role and creates one of cinema’s most despicable characters ever. Every note she hits is just right and her toe-to-toe scenes with Nicholson are akin to watching two heavyweights battle it out. McMurphy’s scenes with Chief Bromdom are also a treat to watch. The symbolism of McMurphy as a Christ-like figure, though more perceptible in the novel, are still quite evident here, albeit in more subtle fashion. What starts out as McMurphy trying to get out of work and prison by pretending to be insane, slowly morphs into something dark, perverse and terribly unsettling as he begins to win over the patients one by one. Forman manages to hit so many notes here, and just when things seem to be jubilant and hopeful, it all crashes down and your stomach is in knots. The film had pretty fierce competition for the “Best Picture” prize and was the first to win the 5 ‘major’ Oscar awards since 1934 and in viewing it, you can easily see why.

3. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

This could just as easily be #1 on this list as I find it the second best film ever made. Coppola’s masterpiece lost out to “Cabaret” in a number of categories, but thankfully, it took home the one Oscar that mattered. Marlon Brando, back at the top of his game. Exceptional performances by Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and Talia Shire. The coming out of Al Pacino, playing one of the most complex characters in movie history in Michael Corleone, the dutiful war-hero son turn immoral Don. I have seen this film more times than I care to mention and it never gets dull to me for a second. A young Coppola handles this film with such subtlety and such grace, showing audiences the inner workings of a mafia family before “The Sopranos” and others of its ilk romanticized it to the point of being cartoonish and false. The Corleone family, on the other hand, rings quite authentic. The transformation of Michael is mesmerizing to watch; Brando meeting with the heads of the five families after declaring that the war stops here; the infamous horse head under the sheets; Carlo finally paying for Sonny…I can go on and on with another thirty or forty moments and it won’t be enough. An iconic film score, a great screenplay adaptation and glorious cinematography by the legendary Gordon Willis help make this a film you simply can’t refuse.

2. Gone With the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming, 1939)

I watch this film and cannot believe that this was made 71 years ago. What a gorgeous piece of filmmaking this is – a grand achievement on such an epic scale. When you think of “classic” films, this must surely be one of them. And still, to this day, it remains the #1 box-office success when you adjust for inflation (besting “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” and “Titanic” among others). Here, we are given Vivien Leigh in one of film’s most iconic roles, doing a masterful job as Scarlett O’Hara. We witness her epic tale through one of the most turbulent periods in this nation’s history. She is truly one of cinema’s most enduring characters, as she goes through so many transformations in her life – and Leigh pulls it all off seamlessly. On top of her duties to the Tara plantation, we watch the love story between her and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), an immortal story in itself. The film gives us so many classic lines that we all know by heart and never ceases to feel new and timely. Many would probably put this as #1, and I couldn’t call them crazy. On top of being such a fantastic film, look at the competition it beat out in 1939! I don’t think there has been a stronger list of nominees since: “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Dark Victory, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Of Mice and Men” are just a few and these are all unbelievably great movies. What do they say? “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” Sometimes I think they’re right.

1. The Godfather: Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

For my money, the finest American film ever made. How many sequels can you say are just-as-good if not better than the first? Not many at all. I believe this one actually outdoes the masterpiece released in 1972 (though by only a very slim margin). It also beat out stiff competition that year with terrific films such as “Chinatown,” “Lenny” and “The Conversation.” I love the backstory of young Vito Andolini coming to Ellis Island and his rise to becoming Don Corleone which includes the assassination of Don Fanucci. The Little Italy scenes showing us a mesmerizing Robert DeNiro (as the young Don) taking on all of the subtle nuances of Brando are a pleasure to watch. Meanwhile, we watch as the character of Michael (Al Pacino in perhaps his greatest performance) sinks deeper and deeper into the bowels of evil, while tightening the grip on his crime family in Las Vegas. Coppola had so much to lose here, but more than delivers and the performances again, are extraordinary. The late John Cazale gets more screen-time as Fredo (poor Fredo – “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart”), the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg makes his screen debut as Hyman Roth, and we are also given terrific supporting performances from Michael Gazzo and Bruno Kirby. A wonderful job of storytelling here and I catch something new each time I watch it. This was a no-brainer #1 for me because I haven’t seen a better film so far and thankfully, it took home 6 Oscars, including “Best Picture.”

P.S. — My apologies to “Midnight Cowboy,” “All About Eve,” “Braveheart” and “From Here to Eternity” — all remarkable 4-star films in my book and all deserving of winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar. As I said in my intro, I wish there was room for all of them. I just couldn’t omit the ten that you see above.

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