Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My top 5 favorite War movies OF ALL TIME.

Again, my list, not yours. I didn't include "Apocalypse Now" "Platoon," or "Full Metal Jacket" on my list. I think they're all a little over-rated and that it's cool to like them. Personally, I have others that I prefer.

I also didn't include POW or concentration camp movies, war satires, or pre-20th century war films as I think there are enough of those films to warrant their own categories.

So, without further ado...

5) Hell's Angels (1930) Directed by Howard Hughes. Staring Jean Harlow, Ben Lyon, and James Hall.

This epic that was way over-budget -being the most expensive film ever made at the time - has some of the greatest dog fights ever put to film. Unlike many of the CGI scenes we see today, these were real men in real flyng machines, doing some of the most amazing stunts, ever, in a war movie. Surprisingly, the effects stand up well, almost 80 years later.

The first two acts are, admittedly, pretty dull, but the last 30 minutes of this film - the flying - make it worth the wait. Check it out if you haven't.

4) The Dirty Dozen (1967) Directed by Robert Aldrich. Starring Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, and Telly Savalas.

I've seen this movie more times than I can count - I watched it every time it was on television when I was a kid - and I still love it.

Lee Marvin is perfect as the commander of this dysfunctional bunch of anti-heroes. I love the rhyme they memorize to remember the different steps of their operation. Another of my favorite scenes is the war-game.If you don't know what I'm talking about, then rent this winner. You won't be sorry.

3) The Longest Day (1962) Directed by Ken Annakin. Starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Robert Mitchum.

This is the original "Saving Private Ryan." While its presentation of D-Day is less gut-wrenching, it still does a great job of telling the horrors of that day.

There's a lot more here, too, about other activities the allies were engaged in to help make the invasion successful. Probably one of Wayne's better films, and certainly his best war movie.

2) Band of Brothers (2001) Various Directors, Produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Starring Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Ron Livingston, others.

O.K. I know it's not a movie, technically. But I own this mini-series on DVD and have watched it several times.
I love the characters - many of which are based on real-life heroes - and the story-telling. The effects are incredible, as is the cinematography, the editing, and the soundtrack. If you get the chance, be sure to see this.

1) Saving Private Ryan (1998) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, and Matt Damon.

Bravo. I've never seen a movie that so realistically portrayed the horrors of combat. I felt like I was there on Omaha Beach that morning over 60 years ago and the things I witnessed horrified me. I just wanted it to stop. For me, "Saving Private Ryan" has set the standard by which all other combat films will be measured.

One other film of note worth mentioning is, "The Guns of Navarone."

Next up: My top 5 favorite Spy films OF ALL TIME.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Top 5 Favorite Science Fiction Movies (OF ALL TIME!)

I had to throw in that "OF ALL TIME" bit just for kicks (imagine the cavernous echo as you say it). The reality is, my top fives change with my mood, so don't hold me to this forever. After watching the fiasco that was the Oscars last night, I've decided to write my own lists of top five movies, by category. To start off, I'm listing my top 5 favorite SCI-FI movies- OF ALL TIME.

I'm intentionally leaving alien movies off my list for another category: Alien Movies. (Well, duh!)The same is true of '50s sci-fi movies, time-travel movies, apocalyptic movies, and one-guy-kicking-everybody-else's-butts movies. These all warrant their own categories.

Now, keep in mind that these are MY top five, not yours. So I really don't want to hear about how I couldn't possibly leave "Star Wars" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" off my list. I did, because they simply don't make my top five. I like them, but quite frankly, I think they are two of the most over-rated movies, OF ALL TIME.

So here they are, in reverse order, of course, with a brief description and rational as to why they made my list.

WARNING: SPOILERS may exist beyond this point! (Darth Vader is Luke's dad and Spock dies.)

5) Blade Runner (1982) Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, M. Emmett Walsh, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Joanna Cassidy, William Sanderson, and the late, but great Brion James.

"Blade Runner," based on Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is the tale of Rick Decker, an L.A. cop in the future who is hunting down and terminating a group of genetically-engineered "humans" who have returned to earth to meet their creator after having escaped from a deep-space work colony and having killed their keepers.

A lot of people say this is the greatest sci-fi movie of all time. I will admit, at the time it was released, it forever changed the way we would imagine our future. Of course, Ridley Scott changed the way we looked at space travel with 1978's "Alien," too.

My only real criticism of this film is, like 2001, it has some really tedious moments where the pacing is just a little too slow. Also, the studio ruined the film by adding Decker's ridiculous narration to help people who "didn't get it" understand what was happening. I won't watch any version other than the director's cut for that reason.For just about everyone in the cast, this film showcases their best performances on film. (Excepting Walsh and Olmos who have done other work that is even better.)

One more thing- Ridley said it: Decker is a replicant. Get over it. (When you stop and think for a moment, he had to be, or the unicorn at the end doesn't make sense!)

4) The Matrix (1999) Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano.

The Matrix tells the tale of a future Earth that has been over-run by machines. Unawares, most humans are tied into a giant network where the energy their body innately generates is used to power the machine world. These humans live out their lives in a computer program where they believe life goes on as it always has.

This movie blew me away the first time I saw it, and it still does. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this film, except that the sequels which followed it were far beneath the same level of story-telling that this first film achieved. The special effects in this film are awesome, too, but the story is unparalleled in science fiction movies.

3) The War of the Worlds (1953) Directed by Byron Haskin. Starring Gene Barry and Anne Robinson.

Based on H.G. Wells novel, this remains my favorite film version of this story. I loved Steven Spielberg's version, too, but it still takes a back seat to this 50's sci-fi classic. (Yes, it will be on my list of top 5 favorite 50's sci-fi films OF ALL TIME. Sheesh.)

The story basically revolves around a Martian invasion of Earth. All of mankind is doomed as the Martians move from one city to the next in indestructible hovering machines, destroying everything in their path. Man can do nothing to stop them. Even our most powerful weapon - the atomic bomb - has no effect on them and cannot penetrate their defensive shields. In the end, as our heroes are huddled in a church awaiting their own death, it is the microbes and the Viruses on earth to which the Martians succumb.

The acting in this film is over the top, but there are some indelible scenes and the story - which gives a nod to the Divine as the ultimate savior of mankind - is just great. Even the special effects still stand up to today's scrutiny. Great- and chilling - stuff.

2) The Fifth Element (1997) Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Brion James, and Chris Carter.

Without a doubt, several of the reasons I love this film are the art direction, production design, soundtrack, and the costuming.
I've always been a big fan of Bruce Willis, too, who puts in a great performance as Korben Dallas, former space marine turned cab-driver who is down on his luck. Leeloo, played by Milla Jovovich lands in his cab, literally. Dallas must help Leeloo, the Fifth Element, complete her mission: to save Earth from a fast-approaching moon-sized ball of evil.
Jovovich is terrific in this role, having created a never-before heard language for her character, adding to her overall believability. Chris Carter adds the comic-relief as an over-the-top radio personality, and Oldman puts in another great bad-guy performance as Zorg, the guy in league with the approaching evil.

I love the sets, the costumes, the music, the special effects, the story- shall I go on? This is simply one of the greatest sci-fi films OF ALL TIME.

1) Planet of the Apes (1968) Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, and Linda Harrison.

Deep-space pioneer Captain George Taylor finds himself stranded in the distant future (the 36th century or so) on a planet where humans are primitive and mute, and the Apes (Chimps, Orangutans, and Gorillas) are the higher-evolved beings who treat humans like animals. Of course, we learn in the end that Taylor isn't really so far from home, but that he is actually still on Earth, just in a distant and twisted future.

In addition to the incredible make-up effects created by John Chambers and his team, this film is raised to a level all its own by the social commentary, the great time travel story, and Heston's incredible performance. I never tire of this movie, or its sequels that expand on and explore the paradoxes of time travel like no other films have ever done before. They also deal with a post-nuclear apocalypse that, at the time, fed on my fears of nuclear war being a real possibility.

Admittedly, the sequels aren't as good as this first film (although I consider "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" to be the second half of the first film), but they do build on the mythology and raise the ultimate question of, "What came first, the chicken of the egg?"
And I love the dialog: "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" How can you beat that?

So that's my top 5 sci-fi films OF ALL TIME. Next up: My top 5 war movies OF ALL TIME.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Happy upcoming birthday, Mr. Matheson.

I recently wrote a post about John Llewellyn Moxey, a director who'd directed several of my favorite films, but a name that I'd been unaware of until recently.

Well, as an aspiring director and screenwriter, one would think I'd have a favorite screenwriter. Well, I don't know that I have just one, but one I've recently become aware of is Richard Matheson.

Matheson was born on February 20, 1926 in, of all places, New Jersey. He was raised in Brooklyn and started writing fiction as a child. Eventually, he would write the sci-fi classic, "I Am Legend," the source for Vincent Price's 1964 classic, "The Last Man on Earth," which Matheson also wrote the screenplay for, 1971's "Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston, and the more recent, "I Am Legend," starring Will Smith, released in 2007. All three of these movies are great, (Price's still being the best in my mind), and I own all of them on DVD. For this contribution alone Matheson is in my list of favorite screenwriters.

Yet over his career, Matheson has written a number of other highly-regarded horror, sci-fi, and fantasy stories and screenplays - many of them on my list of great movies. In 1956, Mateheson started his screenplay writing career with the adaptation of his novel, "The Shrinking Man" into the "The Incredible Shrinking Man," a film being remade in 2010.

In the early 60's Matheson wrote several classic episodes of "The Twilight Zone," including, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," the episode featuring William Shatner as a passenger trying to warn others of the gremlin on the wing! Matheson also wrote for Shatner again in an episode of "Star Trek," in which Kirk is divided into two halves, called, "The Enemy Within."

Matheson continued to write for television and the screen throughout that decade until he wrote the screenplay for Steven Speilberg's "Duel." I own this classic on DVD and still love to watch that dirty old oil tanker chase down Dennis Weaver in the desert.

After writing several episodes for "Night Gallery," another show I own on DVD, Matheson penned, "The Night Stalker," the made for TV movie directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. Isn't it odd how things like this coincide? Again, as I mentioned in my tribute to Moxey, this is a classic I own. Matheson also wrote the follow-up, "The Night Strangler," available on the same DVD with "The Night Stalker."

In 1973, Matheson was the brain behind my favorite Dracula movie, "Dracula," starring Jack Palance as the evil Count. I love the end of this movie- which I won't spoil for you here.

Another unforgettable contribution of Matheson's was 1975's "Trilogy of Terror." The third installment of that trilogy was the story in which Karen Black's character was chased around her apartment by an animated Zuni fetish doll. This has come out on DVD while I wasn't watching and I hope to add this to my collection.

Then, in 1980, Matheson wrote the screenplay for "Somewhere in Time," the love story across time starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeves. My wife and I love this movie, own it, and have been to Mackinac Island several times, including our honeymoon.

Since then, his work has continued for television and the big screen with teleplays written for "Twilight Zone," "Amazing Stories," and the "Outer Limits," and screenplays written for "The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)," "Jaws 3-D (1981)" and others. His novels were the inspiration for 1996's "What Dreams May Come," 1999's "Stir of Echoes," and of course, 2007's blockbuster, "I Am Legend."

So again, without even realizing it, I've found myself the owner of at least seven movies on DVD and several television episodes on DVD that were all written by or derived from the works of Richard Matheson. Wow.

Here's to you Mr. Matheson. If you are still with us, and I hope you are, may you enjoy a wonderful 83rd birthday on February 20th. I plan on watching several of your films that day just to celebrate.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mmmmm, Sushi

I love sushi and would eat it several times a week if I could afford it. In addition to trying several places near my home, I try to have sushi whenever I visit another place. I've had sushi in Stamford, Hartford, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville, Phoenix, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and places I can't even remember. Every restaurant does it a little different.

I love Maguro (Tuna), Sake (Salmon), Tai (Red Snapper), Sea Bass (Suzuki) and Hirame (Fluke or Flounder). I eat these either as Nigiri-zushi - that is, the fish served on a ball of rice - or as Sashimi, which is the fish by itself; no rice, etc., just the fish. My favorite listed here is Hirame, topped with delicately sliced scallions and ponzu sauce.

I also enjoy several types of Maki-zushi which is usually called a "roll." There is also Temaki-zushi, or TekaMaki which is referred to as a "hand roll." The difference is that a "roll" is cut into several pieces (generally 4 to 8) and a "hand roll" resembles an ice cream cone made of seaweed, or Nori, the actual name for the sheet they use to roll sushi. I do not care for the TekaMaki or Temaki-zushi as it is heavy on the Nori, a taste I don't care for much on its own.

Rolls, though, in which the Nori is well balanced with other ingredients, can be fantastic.

Often, restaurants develop their own custom selection of rolls. I even have a roll named after me at a particular sushi restaurant. My favorites are the Shrimp Tempura roll (topped with eel sauce, please), Spicy Tuna roll, Salmon Skin roll, and my favorite of all, Spicy Scallop roll topped with a thin slice of lemon. The "Bobby Roll," is a spicy scallop roll topped with lemon and alvacado. Mmmm, Bobby Roll.

I was recently at a restaurant where they made a spicy scallop and lobster roll in a white Nori wrapper. It was amazing.

Another favorite of mine is Tobiko with quail egg. They make a small cup by wrapping a narrow sheet of Nori around a rice ball, then fill the cup with Tobiko- that is flying fish roe - and top it off with the yolk of a quail egg. Sound gross, doesn't it? The first time this was presented to me, 4 grown men deferred to one another, none having the courage to try it, myself included. I gave in and tried it.

I can't put into words how amazing it is.

I've also had baby octopus, regular octopus, fresh and sea-water eel, squid, jellyfish, Tomago (scrambled egg), Ebi (shrimp), mackerel, seared albacore, oysters, white tuna, green mussels, and even Uni (sea urchin). Some of them I've liked very much (seared albacore) and others, not-so-much (Uni).

I've also found that actually knowing something about what you're eating sometimes impresses the chef. On more than one occasion, I've had special dishes prepared and presented to my by the chef, free of charge: oysters on the half-shell, jellyfish, sashimi appetizers, baby octopus, and more.

I remain open to trying new things and expanding my palate. I even hope to someday try Fugu, the flesh of the poisonous puffer fish. Eat your heart out, Homer.

For more info about Sushi, check out: