How to Steal a Million was written by Harry Kurnitz and directed by William Wyler. It was released in 1966. It was produced by World Wide Productions and was distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. The main title design was done by Phill Norman.
The film gives us the wonderful pairing of Audrey Hepburn as Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of an art forger, and Peter O’Toole as Simon Dermott, a charming burglar. Nicole’s father is lending a much-lauded Cellini Venus statuette to a local art museum but unknowingly agreed to have this piece inspected for authenticity. Should this happen, his fraud would be found out, ruining his life and work. Following an unsuccessful robbery attempt at Nicole’s home, Simon agrees to help her steal her father’s statue before his livelihood can be put at risk.
I would call myself a pretty unabashed Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole fan,1 but my experience with their films is startling in its meager size. Sure, I’ve seen Charade and Venus, but that’s about as far as it goes. I desperately need to see more of their work. When my wife suggested watching this one, I was intrigued. How could you not be with a title like that? I didn’t know how much fun I would have watching this one. Truly, it was a blast. A nice and breezy caper is sure to please anybody who watches it. Throw this duo of actors together, and it’s impossible not to have magic. This film may be the reason why I end up seeing a lot more of their work, and for that, I’m also grateful for it. 🎞
I’m always curious to know if people rate movies and tv shows based on their perceived quality of the production or how much they enjoyed what they watched. I don’t think those are the same metric. 🎥📺
The more I read about what went on with the making of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, the more I’ve come to understand how misguided Warner Bros. has been about their understanding of the characters in those films.1 Likewise, how inept they have been in crafting coherent stories that are worth telling.
Before Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite and direct Justice League, Chris Terrio had written the script. It was his words that were being filmed by Zack Snyder and his crew. After Snyder’s exit from the film, the whole thing went off the rails, leaving Terrio behind and feeling frustrated.
The 2017 theatrical cut was an act of vandalism. Zack may be too much of a gentleman to say that, but I’m not.
He’s got well-considered opinions to back this up. He’s not just mindlessly pissed about how things with both films turned out. Seems that Warner Bros. just doesn’t understand the necessities of storytelling:
I was proud of the [Batman v Superman] script when I completed it, but it turns out that when you remove the 30 minutes that give the characters motivation for the climax, the film just doesn’t work. As we learned from the two versions of Justice League, you can’t skip on the character and think the audience will give a shit about the VFX. That stuff was later restored in the extended version.
None of this is surprising to read. Since Justice League came out in 2017, it’s been clear that there’s a fundamental problem with how Warner Bros. handled the making of the film:
When the movie was taken away, that felt like it was some directive that had come from people who are neither filmmakers nor film-friendly—the directive to make the movie under two hours, regardless of what the movie needed to do, and to make the colors brighter, and to have funny sitcom jokes in it.
Contrast that to his approach to Batman v Superman:
I came into it thinking the only way that this could work is as a fever dream or as a revenge tragedy. I thought, How do we create a story in which Bruce Wayne is traumatized by the war of Krypton coming to Earth, and in which he enters into this kind of madness? He becomes Captain Ahab, and he won’t listen to saner voices, like Alfred, for example, who are telling him to just see reason. He’s a man possessed.
This is clearly someone who understands the motivations and nuances of the characters. He knows what it takes to write a good story. It’s just a shame that his role will always be subservient to studio heads and money people who think they know better:
These [investor] guys were in charge because they controlled the money at the very top of the pyramid. They were making big decisions—not the film executives we’re talking about, but Wall Street guys. One guy, who I can only describe as the man who Central Casting sends you when you’re trying to cast Douchebag #1, pulled me aside and started telling me how to write Batman.
There’s a lot more that can be quoted in this article, but this is a good primer. It’s a fascinating interview that’s worth reading. I’ve always enjoyed Snyder’s vision for these characters. Now, I’ve also come to understand that he’s not the one who’s been the issue with the films. If they’re not your particular cup o’ tea, that’s fine. If you want brighter, more comedic, less serious superhero movies, then watch a Marvel film. However, not all superhero films have to be copies of, say, Iron Man. They can be darker visions like Snyder’s have been. He’s been consistent in his storytelling and love for the characters he’s bringing to the screen. Unfortunately, his work appears to be hamstrung by those working above him.
It’s a damn shame that Warner Bros. isn’t run by people who understand the films they’re making. 🎥
It’s a truly sad day for the movies. It’s been announced that the ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres won’t be reopening, and possibly for good. I’ve only been to the glorious Cinerama Dome a few times, but it was always a special experience. 🎥
Speaking of AT&T and its acquisition of Time Warner, and therefore also HBO, the whole deal has always disappointed me.
On the one hand, HBO Max has done well for AT&T. It got 4.1 million new signups in its first month of existence, which is nothing to sneeze at. Even more impressive is that it’s accomplished this while demanding $15 a month, making it one of the most expensive streaming services available. By all accounts, it’s a big success for AT&T. No doubt it was helped along by the COVID pandemic; when we’re all stuck at home, it helps to have excellent and fresh programming to consume.
The decision to premiere feature films that otherwise would have been theater exclusives on the service was another boon for them. Sure, it upset many people involved with both the entertainment and theater industries, but their objections were never going to sway business daddy AT&T. Until HBO Max starts losing money, nothing will deter them from their present course.
On the other hand, HBO as we knew it before the acquisition is gone and will likely never return. The blame for that lies entirely on the shoulders of AT&T’s CEO, John Stankey.1 In an incredibly detailed and well-researched CNBC article, Alex Sherman details the rocky process of this acquisition. The article boils down to this quote from a former HBO executive:
If HBO stood for anything, it was making a product for the customer, not the advertiser. It’s not as though John is unpleasant. He doesn’t throw stuff. He just knows much less about television than he thinks and won’t be debated.
Is Time Warner and HBO’s acquisitions by AT&T good for business, or at least the business of AT&T? Undoubtedly. This opens up a bevy of new revenue opportunities, which will, in turn, make the bottom line of the telecommunication giant look great. However, I don’t believe this will improve the quality of the content that’ll appear on HBO Max in the coming years. HBO was doing just fine without AT&T’s heavy, leading hand before the acquisition. You can expect the familiar HBO quality to get watered down as AT&T spreads the focus to areas that have never mattered to past HBO. In an interview with Jillian Morgan at Realscreen, executive vice-president of original non-fiction and kids programming, Jennifer O’Connell, says:
There is a ton of weight on unscripted… We’re doing dating, we’re doing social experiments, we have competition shows, we have really big competition shows… That is an area that, for example, our colleagues at HBO, they are not necessarily in that space so deeply, so it’s very rich, very fertile ground for us to dig into.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with unscripted programming. It’s enormously popular for a reason—people flock to those shows in droves. However, it was never HBO’s area of interest. AT&T doesn’t care about that history. It cares about making money, and there’s a lot of money to be made in unscripted, non-HBO style content.
If you’re looking for a future replacement for HBO, the service that’s making the strongest play is Apple TV+. Netflix has become flooded with content that’s aimed at appealing to the broadest number of viewers. A service like Hulu has an advertising-supported pricing tier, meaning their content is ultimately beholden to other entities. Disney+ has shown that they’re interested in telling unique stories, but they’re doing it off the springboard of their massive library of previously made content.
The only service out there that’s charting a unique course is Apple TV+. They’re walking the HBO path of debuting movies and shows that will, over time, grow to be a body of impressive work that’s all their own. They’re going to stumble along the way—even HBO was never perfect—but they’ll catch themselves and improve on their mistakes. They’ve invested too much money already to just ditch all their hard work. I’m looking forward to seeing where they’ll go.
It’s just a damn shame about HBO.
UPDATE: From a 9to5Mac article published on April 13, 2021: Apple TV+ features the highest-rated content of any streaming service, study says. Seems like Apple TV+ is already beginning to deliver on my estimation of it being the new HBO.
The Fall was written by Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Tarsem Singh, and was directed by Tarsem Singh. It was released in 2006. Radical Media and Absolute Entertainment produced the film, while Roadside Attractions distributed it. The title design was done by Stefan G. Bucher and John R. Waters. The main title typography was done by Stefan G. Bucher and 344 Design.
The film stars Lee Pace as a hospitalized stuntman named Roy Walker, who is bedridden in early 20th century Los Angeles. While in the hospital, he meets a young girl recovering from a broken arm named Alexandria, played by Catinca Untaru. He takes a friendly liking to her and spins her a fantastical tale about five mythical heroes. Her youthful imagination allows us to witness Roy’s story as he tells it. However, Roy is in a bad way, and between tellings of his story, convinces Alexandria to steal morphine pills from the hospital. He wishes to end his life. Thankfully, that doesn’t pan out for Roy, and he’s willed by Alexandria to tell her the full, wonderful story.
This film’s heart, its story, the beauty of its production design, costume design, and cinematography, are all unlike anything that’s ever been set to film. The entire title sequence is itself a masterwork of storytelling and filmmaking. It exists in its own microcosm within the film. In it, we see a large group of locomotive workers attempting to lift a horse out of a river beneath a railroad bridge. It does not appear to have any direct connection to the rest of the story. Instead, it sets a time and place, along with a unique mood. It’s shown in black and white, slow motion, and accompanied by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto. Watching it, we understand that we’re entering a world of hardship and backbreaking work. There will be no modern conveniences. No mobile phones or television or internet. It’s a tough world where rescuing a horse from a river requires a band of sweaty, yelling men and a freaking train. Color-wise, it’s quite the contrast with the rest of the film, which is shown in brilliantly saturated hues of many colors. This title sequence is a wonder.
In fact, it’s so remarkable that you must watch it. This title sequence is a compelling short film in its own right. 🎞
I first made reference to this problem in a previous post. That one dealt more with the thoughts I was having about separating art from the artist, but it’s still a good primer.
On April 6, The Hollywood Reporter released this lengthy story that delves further into the heaps of bullshit that actor Ray Fisher has had to deal with concerning the production and aftermath of Justice League. It’s a fine read. What I find unpleasant is that Fisher is still engaged with this fight with Warner Bros., and how much he’s having to defend his own grievances and actions. There appears to be a lot of disbelief over his side of the story, as if he’s a person who would willingly risk the ruination of his acting career just to stick it to some film industry execs. And for what? Out of spite? Boredom? Please.
Isn’t it far more likely that Fisher is telling the truth, and Warner Bros., Joss Whedon, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns are now scrambling to cover their asses for fear of public backlash and losing future employment? This story is continuing to develop, but I believe this latter scenario to be the truer one. 🎥
Starting today, More Movies Please! is kicking off a whole month of animated films. This week, Steven and I watched a charming film about a lonely robot who falls in love with a futuristic bot from the stars. Make sure to listen to our episode about WALL•E today!🎙🎥
Total movies watched: 24
Be sure to follow me on Letterboxd! 🎥
On More Movies Please! this week, Steven and I talked about a film that’s remarkable, beautiful, elegiac, tragic, and important. Be sure to listen today as we discuss Terrence Malick’s film about conscientious objection, A Hidden Life. 🎙🎥
The Great Beauty (or La grande bellezza, as it’s originally known) was directed by Paolo Sorrentino and released in 2013. It was produced by Indigo Film, Medusa Film, Babe Film, Pathé, and France 2 Cinéma. The main titles supervisor was Francesca Di Giamberardino.
The film stars Toni Servillo as theater critic, Jep Gambardella. Turning 65 and learning of the death of his first and greatest love is a complete shock to his system. Now feeling without purpose, he ventures out into Italy, and away from the vapid parties he once frequented as nothing much more than a socialite. He meets people, hears their captivating, sometimes painful stories, and finds the inspiration and drive to create again.
Since first seeing this film when it was released by The Criterion Collection sometime around 2014, I’ve continuously been awestruck by its storytelling and beauty. Paolo Sorrentino’s exquisite writing and direction, couple with the brilliant camerawork of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, is truly something special. I try to get everyone I know to watch it. I’m not of the age or status where I can see myself reflected in the character of Jep, but his search for truth, beauty, and lost creativity is something that can rightly be called universal. This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards in March, 2014, and deservedly so. There was no other film released that year that better examines what it means to search for meaning in life, and then feel the satisfaction of finding it.
Criterion did a nice interview with Paolo Sorrentino around the release of this film, in which they talk about his history with and love for movies. It’s a quick watch and fun to hear from a modern master about his filmmaking inspirations. 🎞
For this month’s B-movie bonus episode of More Movies Please!, Steven and I watched and talked about the satirical Paul Verhoeven film that’s dressed up as a gruesome sci-fi war tale, Starship Troopers. It’s a bloody good time. 🎙🎥
Since watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I’ve been happy to read up on any news story regarding the long road that the film took to becoming a thing we could all enjoy. It’s a fascinating tale that’s recounted in a Vanity Fair article by Anthony Breznican titled, The Justice System (Apple News+ link). It was a pleasure to read about the groundswell of support Snyder and his version of the film received. Doubly so since his reason for leaving the production was because of the tragic death of his daughter. I can’t think of another director who’s been given the incredible opportunity he was given.
I think he knocked it out of the park.
However, there’s another story that’s been needling me since reading this article, and that’s what actor Ray Fisher, who played the character of Cyborg, had to say about working with director Joss Whedon. By his account, the experience was deeply negative and painful. Since the production for what would turn out to be the theatrical cut of the film ended, Fisher has made public accusations about the mistreatment he was subject to by Whedon, Warner Bros. co-president of production Jon Berg, and former DC Entertainment president and chief creative officer Geoff Johns. On July 1, 2020, Fisher tweeted:
Joss Wheadon’s on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.— Ray Fisher (@ray8fisher) July 1, 2020
He was enabled, in many ways, by Geoff Johns and Jon Berg.
It’s all so damn terrible. I’m sorry that Fisher had to endure to that mistreatment, and has to continue to fight for his own withheld justice. I hope he gets it sooner rather than later.
The accusation against Whedon has led me to ponder on the idea of “separating art from the artist” and how damn hard that can be to do. I enjoy the tv show Firefly, and its accompanying follow-up film, Serenity, very much. They’ve brought me joy in the past, and I continue to have fond memories of those stories and characters.
But it was created by someone who may have leveled significant abuse toward an actor in Justice League. Turns out that may also be just the tip of the iceberg with him. To purchase any copy of Firefly or Serenity now would be supportive of the man. It would tell the Hollywood powers that be that there’s continued interest in his future employment.
Likewise, I have absolutely loved some Kevin Spacey movies. The Usual Suspects is a masterful film,1 but following the allegations aimed at him, I feel hesitant to give it any more of my time. Roman Polanski has made some monumental and important films, but his grotesque past has made me falter at the thought of supporting his work by watching them. In a more recent example, I liked watching Silicon Valley, but Thomas Middleditch appears to be a malevolent asshole.
And yet, Whedon’s not the only person who was involved with Firefly. There were hundreds of other cast and crew members who brought it to life. Loads of people made The Usual Suspects, and it continues to be an influential film for good reason. Silicon Valley had its own group of committed people making it, and it had its moments of levity. That’s always something we can use more of in our lives.
Filmmaking is not done in a vacuum—there are many others for whom my dollars would support. A film is not created by just its director. Does refusing to watch Firefly or The Usual Suspects hurt the good people involved with those productions in some indirect way?
I may be completely wrong in thinking there could be any reason to continue watching media that’s created in part by heinous people. I invite that criticism because it’ll help me learn to be better. On the other hand, I appreciate the perspective that Brynley Louise takes in the Film Daily article I linked to earlier in this post:
It’s hard to hear accusations like these when you follow someone’s work. Trust us, we aren’t going to stop watching the original Toy Story just because he helped write it. However, this doesn’t mean Whedon needs to be praised as a good person just because he’s worked on some of popular culture’s favorite shows and movies.
I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer to the question of “is separating art from the artist an acceptable act?” It may all come down to personal choice, and that no feeling in this matter is incorrect.
Still, it’s a puzzle I’m working on… 🎥
UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter has published a story wherein they interview Ray Fisher about the details of his accusations. I discuss that article in this follow-up.
On the More Movies Please! podcast this week, Steven and I share a fun and adoring conversation about one of the best films we’ve seen all year. We watched The Peanut Butter Falcon, starring Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Zack Gottsagen. Give it a listen today! 🎙
I came away from watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League feeling impressed. It was quite the feat to get this one made the way it was.
Now, after reading about Snyder’s vision for sequels, I’d love to see them finish this grand story. There’s no reason not to do them. 🎥
The film stars Leslie Banks and Edna Best as the parents of a young girl, played by Nova Pilbeam. The couple become wrapped up in a plot to assassinate a European head of state when a militant group, led by Peter Lorre, kidnaps their daughter.
This title card was immediately striking, and it ended up being the reason why I thought it would be fun to start a series about them. In this one, there are at least six, and most likely more, different typefaces being used throughout, but it never appears distracting. It’s packed with information, but none of what’s written distracts the eye away from the title of the film. “The Man Who Knew Too Much” is written in a unique, stylized typeface and slashes across the screen in an aggressive curve. The rest of the text is shown in plain, unassuming serifs (save for the bit about how it was recorded at the bottom). It’s impossible not to focus on the title—it grabs at you.
(Be sure to contrast this title card with the one used in the 1956 remake of this film, also by Alfred Hitchcock.)
Also worth watching is the fascinating video from The Criterion Collection about this film’s restoration. Technical director, Lee Kline, narrates the story about their long journey to create a version that looks as if it was just made yesterday. 🎞
I haven’t gotten to several of the Oscar nominees yet because most of them are very heavy, and I’ve been desiring comedies lately. At this point, I really need to see:
The nominees for the 2021 Oscars have been announced, thus starting my anticipation for one of my favorite events of the year. I haven’t seen all of the nominees yet, but it looks like a good assortment of films, as well as a growing and welcome amount of non-white talent. 🎥
This week on More Movies Please!, Steven and I watched and talked about the Luc Besson film, Leon: The Professional. It’s a problematic film in some ways, but it’s also thrilling. The performances are some of the best you can see in an action movie.
Give it a listen today! 🎙🎥
Onward: This one’s probably thought of as a “lesser” Pixar film, but I thought it was heartfelt and a lot of fun. They’re able to do that like no one else. (★★★★)
The Good Liar: A heist-drama for the older crowd (of which I count myself amongst). I could watch Helene Mirren and Ian McKellen play off each other all day. (★★★½)
Avengers: Endgame: This one is as thrilling, engaging, and affecting as it was the first time I saw it. This time I got to enjoy it with my wife, and even she enjoyed it nearly as much as I did. (★★★★★)
In & of Itself: I fell into the hype around this one and I’m glad I did. I had no idea what it was going to be going into it, and I think that’s the best way to watch this magical (in many ways) performance. (★★★★½)
A Hidden Life: This should really just be required viewing for everybody. I didn’t know the story of Franz Jägerstätter and his family before watching it, but my life has improved in great ways since. (★★★★★)
An American Pickle: I think I appreciate the technical accomplishment of this film more than I do the story. It was okay—not that funny, but not painful to watch. (★★★)
The Little Things: This might have been Jared Leto’s most appropriate role. Did he even have to act at all? (★★★)
WALL•E: I don’t think WALL•E will ever get old for me. It’s an evergreen film that never fails to move and delight me. (★★★★★)
What If: Or The F Word, I guess? Can’t make the MPAA blush, so I guess the original had to go. I wish I had seen this one when it came out. Mid-20s me would have loved it. (★★★½)
Heavy Metal: This film was certainly of its time and clearly made by a bunch of guys. It was more entertaining than I thought it would be, but I doubt I’ll be remembering it too fondly. (★★½)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: I can’t say enough great things about this, the best animated film of the last decade. It breathes fresh life into the character of Spider-Man, and shows that another adaptation doesn’t have to be tiresome or stale. (★★★★★)
The Girl with All the Gifts: I’d call this a halfway decent adaptation of a halfway decent novel, although the novel had a slightly better ending. The entire concept is fascinating and has echoes of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. (★★★½)
By the Sea: Aside from this one being far longer than it needed to be, I don’t understand why it was received so poorly. My best guess is that it felt like an old French film, appropriate considering its setting, and people just aren’t used to that anymore. (★★★★)
6 Underground: I had more fun watching this movie than I had any right to, and I place that honor squarely on Ryan Reynolds’s shoulders. Was the story and the editing great? Nah, but that’s what you should expect when you start a Michael Bay film. This was just a fun way to spend some time. (★★★½)
Loving Vincent: A relatively simple story makes way for a truly astonishing work of art. The entire dang thing is done in oil paintings. I was invested and wowed in this film the entire time I was watching it. (★★★★½)
Total movies watched this month: 15.
I really like Letterboxd, and I think you might enjoy it, too. You should sign up for it if you haven’t already. It’s a great and friendly, movie-based social site. If you’re new or old to it, you should definitely give me a follow on there. 🎥
I’m working on the show notes for an upcoming episode of More Movies Please! We talked about Terrence Malick’s, A Hidden Life. It’s been a couple weeks since I watched the film, but I still can’t get it out of my mind. Once again, Malick made a beautiful, important film. 🎥