Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Haunted Mansion VS Pirates of the Caribbean

     Growing up as a kid in San Diego, California allowed me to frequently visit Disney Land for vacation, and the two rides that I always looked forward to riding the most were The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. Most agree that these are the two most classic amusement park rides from the Disney Land park, in fact there so popular that in 2003, both rides had their own movie adaption. First there was “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and in 2004 there was “The Haunted Mansion”. Now when it comes to the two rides, it’s still up for debate as to which is better, I say that the haunted mansion is better but that’s just my own opinion. On the other hand, when it comes to the two movies, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is considered to be the far superior film and it’s pretty obvious why. I won’t even bother arguing why Pirates is better than mansion, but I am curious as to why Mansion failed so badly by comparison when there both only based on theme park rides, so in this different rendition of movie vs. movie, I’m simply going to try and determine why one works while the other doesn’t.
     The first big thing that separates these two films are the characters.  
     The characters in “The Haunted Mansion” were all pretty forgettable, I don’t even remember the name of Eddie Murphy’s character. We’ll than again, it wasn’t really a character, it was just Eddie Murphy playing Eddie Murphy for the hundredth time. All the other characters were just generic, with the exception of two stand out characters. One was Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota, who really brought the character to life with personality and spooky charms. The other was the butler named Ramsley, who’s brought to life perfectly by Terence Stamp. But it’s the characters from “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” that stand out to us the most. Johnny Depp wasn’t just funny and animated as Jack Sparrow, he created a classic character in his own right, deserving to go down in Hollywood history along with Harrison ford Indiana Jones. The rest of the characters are all great too, Orlando Bloom plays Will Turner, who’s a terrific side hero and Captain Barbossa is an awesome villain and played very well by Geoffrey Rush. I’ll admit, I never liked Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, but I do at least remember her. Overall, the Pirate characters are all mini classics and very memorable, and that makes them leaps and bounds better than what “The Haunted Mansion” has to offer.
As for the visual effects and art direction in these films, it’s much harder to pick which is better.

     In “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, we were given an incredible display a visual effects, with pirates morphing into skeletons whenever they inter the moon light. This was so unique and really cool to look at. To this day, I still don’t know how they pulled this off so well, it’s just a perfect example of CG done well without being to over the top. However, even after saying all of that, I still love the visuals in “The Haunted Mansion”. The CG effects are all done well but what I really love is the art direction, the sets and props on display are just so detailed and impressive. Everything is so decorative that I discover something new every time I watch it. Visuals are always more impressive to me when there’s something physically on screen, I just lose myself in this fascinating display of detailed sets and crafts. Hard chose, but I honestly like the visuals in “The Haunted Mansion” the most.   

 Now let’s be honest, the story’s for both these films are very basic, but that dosn't make them bad. but one's certainly better.

     In the case of both films, the plots about a curse that needs to be lifted, however “The Haunted Mansion”, doesn’t give you much more than that. It’s just this family being lead by the nose and given clues on how to break the curse, that’s really it. They try and throw in a subplot about Eddie Murphy’s character and how he isn’t paying attention to his family, which is fine but it’s honestly not that interesting. The curse in this film itself isn’t even explained that we’ll, we learn that the mistress of the mansion was murdered and the master of the house hung himself but how does that create a curse? There was no magic in the house before the murder, nothing to fully explain why everyone’s soul was trapped in the mansion or how statures could come to life and sing, everything just sort of happens at random. “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” explained a lot more, not just how the curse worked and why it’s so important to remove but there’s a lot more substance to the film. The characters are all more fleshed out, given far more back story and are a lot more interesting. It’s still a basic, swashbuckling, action packed, popcorn flick but done with style, ingenuity and a nice three act structure with every scene feeling necessary. Nothing felt random and even when referencing the ride, it still felt in place with the story. Haunted Mansion just seemed to throw random things in there, just because it was in the ride. You really feel that with Pirates, there was more of an effort to make it more than an adaption of off a theme park attraction, like it’s trying to be its own creation and for that “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” definitely wins as the the superior film. Having said that, I'd take "The Haunted Mansion" over any of those awful “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels and I suppose that stands for something.

                                               Stay tuned for my second October marathon, beginning next month.           


Rear Window (1954 Movie Review)

     The last Hitchcock film I reviewed was his TV movie titled “Lamb to the Slaughter”, which I referred to as the absolute worst example of a murder mystery story. Now I’m doing the exact opposite, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 motion picture titled “Rear Window” is perhaps the finest crime drama, mystery of its kind and is rightfully regarded as a generally favored movie in the cinema. The plot revolves around a professional photographer played by Jimmy Stewart, who just broke his leg and is now stuck in his apartment building until he fully recovers. He's so bored that he just spends his time observing the life styles of all his neighbors. Soon, he begins to suspect that one of the neighbors committed murder. He tries to warn the officials but they think he’s just hallucinating do to cabin fever. Now it’s up to him to solve this mystery on his own and with the aid of his beautiful girl friend played by Grace Kelly, he might be able to catch this killer. 
   This is how you make a perfect mystery flick, because you see everything from our lead characters perspective and for the majority of the film, you feel like you’re in his shoes, spying on the neighbor. The murderer himself is only observed throughout the film, it’s not until the very end that we see him in person and even then, he just act’s like a regular guy and not a stock, cliché Hollywood villain.
    Jimmy Stewart is great in the lead role and has played in many of Hitchcock’s movies before, including “Vertigo”, which was another really good one. In this film, Stewart gives a very natural and energized performance. His relationship with the girl friend is also a lot of fun because they have completely opposite interests in life but working together on this mystery brings them closer together, it’s brilliant. Originally, “Rear Window” was based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, titled “It had to be Murder”. Latter in 2007, there was a movie titled “Disturbia”, which followed the same formula of someone stuck at home, spying on a neighbor who might just be a killer. That was a decent adaptation but it lacked all the same subtle charms of “Rear Window”.   
     You’d think that sense the movie takes place in this little apartment room, everything would feel confined and claustrophobic, however this neighborhood is so lively and full of activity that the setting practically becomes a character in of itself and it allows you to just breath in this environment. The movie is so beautifully photographed and edited which becomes the films style. There’s a moment when we see Alfred Hitchcock himself making his traditional cameo as a guy in the window of an apartment and he seems to be winding a clock.
    Overall, “Rear Window” offers a lot of genuine suspense, great performances and it still stands as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films. I really hope common movie goers don’t pass this film up because it’s old and there’s no gore, but it doesn’t need any of that. It’s so genuine, exciting and stands as a staple of how to make a great mystery movie. I give “Rear Window” 4 stars.        

Lamb to the Slaughter (TV movie Review)

      Alfred Hitchcock is well known as the great master of suspense, mystery and psychological thrillers, delivering us some of the most influential films of all time including “Vertigo”, “North by North West” and “Shadow of a Doubt”. Midway in his career, he aired “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”, which ran from 1962 through 1965. This show was a dramatic anthology series that aired hour long episodes in the same great style of an Alfred Hitchcock motion picture. For the most part, this show was quiet good and the episodes would often have the viewer’s strung along with the story, never knowing which way the final twist would turn. However, there was one particular episode titled “Lamb to the Slaughter” that triggered a huge knee-jerking reaction out of me that I feel I need to share because this story is as far removed from a proper mystery, suspense, thriller as you can possibly get. 

       The story plays out as follows, a woman named Marry learns that her husband has been cheating on her, secretly going out with another woman. Filled with rage, she picks up a big leg of lamb that was meant to be their dinner and whacks him on the head with it, killing him. She then calls the police and makes up a story about an armed robber interring the house and murdering her husband. The cops investigate, find no clear evidence that she killed her husband and after discovering the leg of lamb cooked, they eat it and the woman gets away free with murder, the end. Immediately, I asked myself, what was the point, we know that the wife was the killer and the film tries to make it exciting whenever the police get close to discovering the truth. But the problem is, we want the wife to get caught, sure the husband was a jerk, but still that didn’t give her the right to just kill him and if she’s not even going to get caught in the end, what’s the point of having us watch this?
        There are two things that could have made this story work, first it should have started with the cops coming in to investigate the murder, with we the audience not knowing what transpierced earlier, then let the mystery unfold. Second, how interesting would it have been if the shock of killing her husband traumatizes her to such an extent that she honestly begins to think that someone else did kill him. This wouldn’t excuse what she did but it would make her look more vulnerable and it would have made for a far more powerful ending in the cops found out what happened with her refusing that she could have done something like that. Unfortunately, neither of these two things happen and where just left with this empty murder mystery which isn’t a mystery at all. I know this film was based on the short story of the same name, wrote by the twisted author Roland Dahl and his dark stories do make good ideas for Hitchcock to adapt into film but I just feel that this episode could have been so much better. For an example of a great Alfred Hitchcock murder mystery film, join me in my next review of “Rear Window”. As for “Lamb to the Slaughter”, it stands as one of the worst crime-dramas I’ve ever seen. I give “Lamb to the Slaughter” 1 ½ stars.

The Legacy of Orson Welles

    Every once in a while, there’s a visionary artist whose dreams and ambitions re-shape the way we view art, especially in the world of electronic media. It was David Sarnoff’s vision to invent a black box that would eliminate static, and thanks to his idea, we now have FM radio. Stanly Kubrick is another individual that added a newly stylized and artistic approach to directing movies. But one such individual that transcended the quality of both radio and film is Orson Welles. Even as a child, he showed a lot of talented potential but he never imagined himself becoming one of the most respected film makers of all time. He was just a man with a creative vision and as Orson Welles would say onto others, visions are worth fighting for.

  Born on May sixth, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, George Orson Welles was raised by a caring and sophisticated mother and father. They encouraged their son to explore interests or ideas outside of just his Wisconsin homeland. Unfortunately, child hood was not easy for Orson Welles, his parents divorced when he was very young and by the time he was thirteen, they both had tragically passed away. Fortunately, he was a boy who already showed creativity and artistic qualities. His current guardian was aware of his creative talents and enrolled him at Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois. It was here that Orson Welles began his first career as a stage actor. Welles had a passion for the theater and would go on to captivate audiences, including his on stage production of “Jew Suss” at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. He would do further stage productions that wowed audiences. The one that seemed to change everything was his Broadway debut in the role of Tybalt in Shakespears “Romeo and Juliet”. As you’d expect, it was a big hit but more importantly, it got the attention of director John Houseman, who formed an important partnership with Welles in a Federal Theater project. The two men formed the Mercury Theater together, beginning with a production of “Julius Caesar”, which turned out to be a huge success. Several other successful theater productions followed including a version of Shakespears “Macbeth” which had a cast that was all black. Keep in mind that this was 1937, the idea of two white guys producing a play with an all-black cast was un-herd of at the time.
      After three years of successful, on stage productions, the Mercury theature moved into radio and produced a new weekly program titled “The Mercury Theatre on the Air”. This show aired on CBS and ran from 1938 to 1940, it re-aired again in 1946. Orson Welles was now 23 years old and was about the make a huge name for himself with their first big radio production of “War of the Worlds” in 1938. It was the night before Halloween and it was broadcasted in the style of a real news bulletin, so everyone who tuned in thought that this alien invasion was really happening and it caused mass hysteria. People were barricading themselves in their bunkers, evacuating their homes and in New Jersey, citizens fired live rounds at a water tower, fearing it to be alien war machines. Welles provided a chilling narration from the perspective of a man witnessing the invasion unfolding before him. He also used very unique sound effects that sounded very startling and alien to common audiences. Radio was still a powerful new medium and at the time it was used primarily for delivering braking news stories. Shortly after the broadcast wrapped up, Orson Welles stated that it was all just a show and a way for us radio announcers to properly say “Happy Halloween”!
       At first people were furious with him for having been so deceiving, but after a while audiences paid more attention to the brilliance of this broadcast. To this day, Orson Welles radio presentation of “War of the Worlds” is still regarded as one of the most famous and maybe even greatest radio broadcasts of all time. Never before had a single form of entertainment triggered such a huge, public reaction and it’s an event that will probably never occur again. This is when audiences discovered the thrill of escaping from the real world and submersing themselves into the technically brilliant world of radio and entertainment in general. On a side note, it made this famous alien invasion story a definitive classic all over again. 
     Shortly after the radio broadcasting of “War of the Worlds”, a nice little mini miracle occurred that’s certainly worth mentioning. H. G. Wells, the author of the original “War of the Worlds” novel was driving through San Antonio, Texas and was a little lost. When he pulled over to ask for directions, he bumped into non-other than Orson Welles himself. The two titans that introduced the world to this classic story had unexpectedly discovered one another and they got along with each other very well. Despite sharing the same last name (although spelled differently), the two men are not related, in fact ones American while the other is European. After sharing a day together, the two men shared a live radio interview with each other, in which H. G. Wells stated that the biggest highlight of visiting America was meeting another Welles that continued the legacy of his classic story (this recording can be found on You Tube titled “Orson Welles meets H. G. Wells”). 
       His radio career was a short three years but it was successful none the less. It’s a good thing he had a very deep and commanding voice to go along with all his other talents. His voice became one of the most well know and recognizable in the radio industry. George Lucas had even planed for Welles to supply the voice of Darth Vader in his “Star Wars” series but then thought his voice would be too recognizable and that it would distract from the character. Of course Welles broadcast of “War of the Worlds” cemented him as a genius but his media career (as well as his influence on media) was only just beginning. Soon Hollywood found his talents fascinating and then in 1940 he signed a contract with a small studio called RKO. The deal was that Orson Welles would write, direct and produce two movies for the studio in exchange for $225’000, which was a lot of money  back then. But the money didn’t matter to him because this was his big dream to show case his inventive techniques in film and he was only twenty four years old at this time. His first movie project was titled “Heart of Darkness” and was meant to be an adaption off of a novel of the same name by author Joseph Conrad. However, it was his next daring film project that would go on to become one of the most successful and influential movies ever made.
     In 1941, Orson Welles directed, produced and starred in the motion picture classic titled “Citizen Kane”. This single film has developed a huge reputation for being labeled the greatest movie of all time and while that may be up for debate, there’s certainly no denying that it’s one of the biggest, landmark achievements in film. This is the movie that changed everything in terms of moviemaking and would be the influence for countless filmmakers to follow. In many respects, this film alone earned Orson Welles to be titled the father of modern filmmaking. It’s just an epic story about a publishing tycoons rise to power and his inevitable fall from grace. There was even a fake news real, which was another new trend. The film is loosely based on real life newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who was furious with this production and refused for it to be mentioned in any of his papers, which only helped bring down the films already small box-office numbers. Even though it wasn’t a hit upon its initial airing, it didn’t take long for the genius of “Citizen Kane” to be discovered and appreciated. Welles developed a number of pioneer, filmmaking techniques for the film including a heavy use of shadows that compliment the mood that the film and its characters create. Right from the beginning, this film grabs your attention with its heavy atmosphere, gothic angles, unique sound effects and incandescent lighting. There’s a lot of deep-focus cinematography, which presented all objects in sharp detail, making things feel alienating. Another technical achievement that’s usually associated with this film is the low angle shot, this made the character of Charles Foster Kane to seem larger than life, abusive and powerful. Even by today’s standards, every single shot in this film is just incredible to look at.
    Citizen Kane” won the academy award for best original screen play and had eight other nominations, including best picture. In 1943, Orson Welles married Rita Hayworth, whose best known from the TV show “The Love Goddess”. Marriage life was great for him, however life in Hollywood would get more and more complicated over the years. He later cut his connection with RKO studios and left Hollywood for ten years. But he eventually returned to Hollywood and continued to direct, produce, write and star in a number of successful films, including “The Stranger” in 1943, “The Third Man” in 1949 and even his own film rendition of “Macbeth” in 1948. His 1958 film titled “Touch of Evil” (while still a critical success) was the lowest grossing movie that he screen-wrote, so for the next few years he would just act in hit films including “A Man for all Seasons” in 1966. Welles played the lead character in the 1959 crime drama titled “Compulsion”, which was his second most successful part in a lead role next to his performance of Charles Foster Kane. The lowest point of his film career was playing a character called Le Chiffre in the 1967 stinker titled “Casino Royale”, which was a spoof on the famous James Bond Character. (I could list a few more of his films but that would take all day.)
     At last in 1974, Orson Welles wrote and directed one last film titled “F for Fake”. Unlike “Citizen Kane”, this movie was filmed as a documentary with a focus on the topic of trickery and establishing how some things are faked. The basic idea that Orson Welles had going into this project was to argue that there is an extremely close relationship between art and lying, even citing instances from his own career to prove this point, most notably his own “War of the Worlds” broadcast. At times, this documentary would offer something interesting, especially when analyzing real people like Elmyr de Hory, who was extremely skillful with making forgeries of famous paintings which caused unrest amongst expert art collectors. Other times this film would discuss how someone faked a biography on Howard Hughes and while all this was interesting, it didn’t quiet connect with the original message that Orson Welles was trying to convey. In the end, this film came off as less of a documentary and more of an editing experiment, in fact this movie has influenced filmmakers on how to cleverly and artistically edit a film, so it has its significance. “F for Fake” turned out to be a modest success, however it’s far more valuable to students in film school as opposed to the general public and for that, Orson Welles regrettably didn’t end his filming career on the same high note that he started.  
      While “F for Fake” was the last movie Orson Welles would write and direct, his movie career wasn’t over just yet, he would still continue to act in films like “Voyage of the Damned” and the Mel Brooks comedy “History of the World Part 1”. In 1986, there was an animated motion picture titled “Transformers: The Movie”, adapted from the hit TV show of the same name. In this film, Orson Welles supplied the voice of the movies lead villain named Unicron. According to the film’s director, Welles accepted the role only for his admiration to animated movies. However, he had no interest in the actual series, he didn’t even bother to remember the name of his character and even stated that he spent the day doing voice work for a toy that destroys other toys. Never the less, he put his all into the voice acting and supplied this character with one of the most fascinating and sinister villain voices ever. At this time, his voice was getting very week and his health was really declining. The voice recording was completed a year before the movie’s release and tragically this would be the last thing he did before dying of a heart attack on October 10th 1985 at the age of 70. Five days earlier, he did one last interview on “The Merv Griffin Show”, making it his last public appearance and ending his great legacy.
      To this day Orson Welles is still one of the most famous and respected film makers, as well as actor and radio personality. Orson Welles was more than just a creative visionist, he was an architect that re-defined art in electronic media, even giving birth to a new era of film. Over the years, many other filmmakers have drawn influence from his filming techniques, including Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam and just about any other filmmaker has been inspired by Welles in some way. If more people followed his example of filming, then the world of electronic media can be taken to new, brilliant places that we can’t even imagine. If one were pursuing a career in the world of electronic media, then you can draw inspiration from Orson Welles and how he set a perfect example that visions are worth fighting for and that a little creative vision can go a long way.  
                                            Orson Welles, Born May 6th 1959, Died October 10th 1985.