I’m Comin’ Up, So You Better Get This Party Kickstarted…

15 March, 2014 at 10:26 am (benjamin, film, imdblr)

Comedian Doug Benson has a weekly gig called Doug Loves Movies, a trivia show about films that he runs at least partially because of his impressive recall of films he has idly consumed over his personal and professional life — both as a casual audience member and as someone who travels with some frequency and therefore watches a number of films on planes. He occasionally refers to himself as “IMDB”, because he an impressive depository of films and film credits that only the Internet Movie Database could rival, Deep Blue/Watson stylee, and because it allows him to say, “I am DB” — he is Doug Benson. (Not unlike Irwin Maurice Fletcher.)

This is a personal blog, and has been since November 2000, so ego-posting is hardly surprising. And while I (still) don’t (yet) have an entry on IMDB, I have been keeping track of my appearances in various DVD credits, a feat that is much easier to accomplish now that Kickstarter seems to be regularly offering it as a low-impact, high-cost perk for various film projects.

Unlike posts in the past, I haven’t actually made it to the credits of anything new, but I have created my own Doug Benson-inspired tag for this post and for the future: imdblr, or “in movies desperately: benjamin lawrence russell”. And while I haven’t been specifically named in any recent Kickfunded projects, I am thanked as part of a mass in two, appear unbilled in a third, and am thanked in the website credits for a fourth.


THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH: BEYOND EXPECTATIONS (Filmed in 2012, funded for distribution in 2013)

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GALLERY: Business Cards in Cinema

24 December, 2013 at 11:09 pm (film)

Still don’t have enough of these to warrant their own website yet, so just the occasional post, then. Like the last one, these are screencaps of business cards I’ve encountered in films, which interest me as a narrative device, as examples of real and fake phone numbers, and whether they are bog-standard insert shots or primary character shots. Also, like the last post, I’ve included one television card in the mix, because I’m fond of the show.

The In-Laws - Dr. Sheldon Kornpett
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BRIEFLY: Peter O’Toole

15 December, 2013 at 3:02 pm (film, webjunk)

The Guardian is reporting that Peter O’Toole has died. My grandfather loved How To Steal A Million, preferring it to Charade, and my aunt and I regularly bond over the majesty of his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence.

There’s a tradition over at The V that when someone famous or important dies, we memorialize him or her with silent, pictorial tributes. There are to be no personal remarks or sentimental platitudes. So while searching for the right image from Lawrence of Arabia with which to do this (something from the attack on the train, I thought), I found the following dynamic image:

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia

Goodness, I thought. That looks like it could be out of Star Wars or something. Luckily, someone else thought the very same thing. Good job, internet.

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50th Anniversary: Charade

5 December, 2013 at 10:04 pm (charade, film)

Audrey Hepburn in CHARADEToday is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Charade by Stanley Donen, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. (If you’re unfamiliar with the film, you can quickly watch a five-minute version of it here.) I own many, many, manymany copies of the film, having perversely tried to collect all of the cheapo, pharmacy-bargain-bin versions of the movie that sprang into being due to the film’s accidental lack of copyright. Each of them suffers from a variety of flaws based on how the individual company was able to acquire a battered 35mm print and digitize it. Most of these companies would list amongst the “special features” of their version of Charade that it had been “DIGITALLY REMASTERED!” Which was true, as there was no other way to get it onto a DVD, but the fact that it was a “special” feature was accurate only in the cruel, schoolyard way in which travelers on the short bus were taunted. The sound was tinny, the picture was scratchy, and sometimes the discs had as few as four chapter stops (one per film reel, perhaps?), but they were all between four and seven dollars, and they enabled me to watch one of my favorite films on my shiny new DVD player back in 1999, as well as to marvel at the fact that a film that felt like it should be a stone-cold classic could receive such shoddy treatment.

And then the Criterion edition came out, and all was right with the universe. I’ve purchased three versions of the Criterion Charade (letterbox, anamorphic widescreen, and Blu-Ray), and I eagerly expect to purchase one more when they eventually re-re-release it in their new standard combo pack edition. The lush, crisp visuals have enabled me to luxuriate in the film many times, so here are my thoughts for its silver anniversary:

The film is almost — almost! — able to have its cake and it, too. What do I mean by that? Charade wants to be both a romp and a thriller. It wants you to root for the romance between Grant and Hepburn, but it wants you to be genuinely worried that Grant might be the bad guy. It wants you to have a cheerful good time, but it wants to kill people off. It wants the people it kills to be menacing, but also to be sweet and a little daft. This is essentially an impossible goal, and even Charade is unfortunately unable to fully fulfill such demanding, lofty aspirations, but it gets close enough for the audience (read: me; please understand that I will brazenly assume hoi poloi surrogacy throughout this missive) to sweep past any misgivings in a flourish of batted eyelashes and warm Mancini brass.

Almost, but not quite. Let us begin with the three hapless war profiteers that are trying so hard throughout the film to recover the paltry quarter of a million dollars they secreted away during World War II (in his commentary for the UK DVD of the film, Ken Barnes claims the first place where the film seems dated is in the use of a record player at the funeral home, but the second is most certainly the film’s Dr. Evil-esque insistence that $250,000 is a lot of money*). They are the film’s three threatening bears: Scobie is too hot, Gideon is too cold, and Tex Panthollow is jussssst right, which is why he survives the longest (“My momma di’nt raise no stupid children”).

Leopold W. Gideon and Tex Panthollow

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3 July, 2012 at 4:45 pm (clerical, film)

This blog doesn’t get many comments. In part because, well, who reads it? I get my fair share of hits from people searching for images of the lady who was fired for being too hot and for Patrick Bateman’s business card, but few people actually stop here and smell the proverbial roses. I am not controversial, trendy, clever, or charismatic enough in person or in print to have “followers”. My twitter feed and my defunct Beehive forum testify to this. I have achieved relative peace with this fact.

So it was a mild shock to receive an email from WordPress saying that some rando had been incensed enough with my eight-year old post about Star Wars vs. Annie Hall that he needed to set me straight! All comments are moderated, so it sits sadly in limbo until I’m done with this post, and then I will send it to its stygian destiny. Because, well, it’s idiotic. He wiffles on for 200 words about how Star Wars, because it’s imaginary, took more creativity in its writing and production, because making up names like “Dirk Starkiller” is haaarrrrrd. Despite his lack of capitalization and despite a superfluity of appalling clauses, someone had successfully taught this young padawan that one should concede a point to the opposing view to show that one is not a complete rhetorical monster. He does this with the following:

Annie Hall made ​​me such a good time but did not reach me emotionally like star wars.

But his ultimate conclusion is that, “Annie Hall will be quickly forgotten.”

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22 June, 2012 at 7:01 pm (film)

Woody Allen's BLANK

Go on, which film is that again, exactly?

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Zero Days in Paris, One Day in New York

29 April, 2012 at 4:42 pm (film, performance)

"The Apartment" screenprint by M.OwenI was supposed to be in France right now. I haven’t done much in the way of traveling since jaunting off to Kathmandu several years ago to attend my sister’s wedding, and I was starting to get that itch to see something completely new just to really jolt one’s daily expectations. However, since my trip to France was going to happen under the auspices of chaperoning a student trip, it was not completely under my control and I didn’t make the chaperone cut (too many male chaperones, too many female students, and a justifiable need to try and achieve some balance). Instead, I have ended a quiet week off from work domestically revisiting former experiences in a slightly new way.

The first was that I attended Jason Reitman’s live reading of the screenplay of The Apartment at the Times Center in New York. Reitman had previously led a performance of this script as the second of his series of staged readings at LACMA in Los Angeles. I found out about it about a week and a half before the reading, and tickets were, despite a minimal charge of ten dollars, not sold out. I spent a frustrated few minutes with my cursor hovering over the purchase button, weighing whether it was worth it to abandon a prior commitment and fly out to L.A. for a single performance. It’s something I like to do — go to great lengths to attend a small event, not abandon commitments — I took a trip to Chicago just to see Terry Jones a few years ago, and once drove a crazed, weather-tossed twelve-hour round trip to see Peter S. Beagle for an hour. Both were minor, anecdotal adventures and well worth the stupidity.

In this case, however, I closed the ticket tab of my browser, told some L.A. friends about it, and resigned myself to missing it. It did sell out later that day, and a week later it was announced that Natalie Portman would be playing the role originated by Shirley MacLaine. Then Steve Carrell was announced in the role formerly occupied by Jack Lemmon. The casting coups for this tiny event went out over the entertainment wires, and all subsequent events in the series of six readings evaporated instantly upon pre-announcement. I had missed my chance to see something both star-studded and enviably ephemeral.

And then! Oh, yes, and then… things took a lovely turn. Read the rest of this entry »

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Credit Sequence

6 February, 2011 at 7:04 pm (benjamin, film, imdblr)

Well, I’ve done this twice before, and I think it’s officially becoming a trend. That is, in so much as if I’m going to keep contributing financially to fly-by-night DVD releases so that my name ends up in the credits, there will eventually be a string of these on the blog. Until I get my own IMDB page, at which point tooting my own horn in this fashion will become slightly redundant.

Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins title card Hello to Jason Isaacs... and Benjamin Russell ...and Fizzlebang Wonderpop.

This year’s DVD credit comes from the bizarre fan-film Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins. Unlike most of the fan films of the nerd spectrum, from Troops to Browncoats: Redemption, this is based not based on a film, but on a film review. BBC film reviewer Mark Kermode said, whilst castigating Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, that the plot was such an identikit punchcard knock-off of Harry Potter that it might as well be called “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins”. This made me laugh uproariously, and I did what most people do when they find something delirious: I made the comment into my Facebook status for the moment.

But Jeremy Dylan wasn’t most people, and instead of just parroting someone else’s punchline, he took it and ran with it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Alternate Musical Reference: Better Know How To Kneel

29 December, 2010 at 2:28 pm (film, webjunk)

My favorite place for pop-culture watching, New York magazine’s The Vulture, recently posted two “clickables”. The first was a Dreamworks-produced video for the song by the frontman for Sigur Ros that accompanied their thoroughly-enjoyable summer trifle, How to Train your Dragon. Now that the song is going to be on the Academy Award shortlist longlist, it seems that someone thought it would be a good idea to give the tune a little viral push, many months after the film graced screens and some months even after the film arrived on home video. They make it seem like it was just something the boys at the studio slapped together, but that’s part of the myth of viral videos, much like all successful computer companies “started in a garage“.

Regardless of it’s origins, watching it in close proximity to a young man’s Pixar tribute made me re-notice the trope of a character engaging in a little celestial wonder by reaching up to touch a piece of the sky, something I’d seen before.

Now, I’ve just spent an hour on TV Tropes trying to see if anyone else has categorized this particular visual theme, and aside from a stray comment that the flying sequence in Dragon echoes the magic carpet ride from Disney’s Aladdin, I didn’t find it. Now, that may be because TV Tropes loves cutesy referential names for their tropes, and I’m simply too obtuse to crack their codes, but it doesn’t seem to be in either the How to Train Your Dragon page, or the list of Hand-based tropes. I present to you the four I was able to find in my brain and video collection, and I hope to hear of many more. If it is a fully-fledged trope, may I nominate, “‘Scuse Me, While I Touch the Sky” at it’s cutesy name?

Touch the Sky: Wall-E
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MEME: Business Card Gallery

17 July, 2010 at 1:28 pm (film, webjunk)

One of the great things about the web is the depth to which people will go to catalogue and display seemingly trivial data. To the average person, such websites are neat, but clear evidence that the provider has no life, or has too much time on his hands, etc. I think it’s a pity that these efforts are trivialized in this manner. Inspiration is momentary, and the hard, dedicated slog from idea to fully-fledged execution takes time and commitment (q.v., again, Patton Oswalt’s insightful and vulgar commentary about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People). It’s easy to look at a finished product and airily dismiss it as a waste of time, but it’s an accomplishment to be in the midst of that use of time and not throw up one’s hands and abandon the project in process once the initial glimmer of the idea has cooled to a faint grey ash.

One of my favorite instances of dedication to the seemingly trivial is Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens page, wherein he takes screencaps of the appearance of the title in the film itself. Not to be swayed from his own parallel inspiration, Christian Annyas takes caps of the title image, any instance of a “The End” or “Fin” screen, as well as the title logo from trailers of a given film (which, due to marketing, are frequently different than the title within the film itself). And, yes, he has capped Charade. Is it terrible that either of these men has devoted so many hours of time to this project? Particularly when someone is doing essentially the same thing? Not to be hyperbolic, but that seems a little like saying that Samuel Johnson was an idiot, and Noah Webster and James Murray were compounded morons. Who had no lives.

Just to avoid misinterpretation of the above rhetorical: no, it’s not terrible. Reference is a wonderful thing, and it requires meticulous, sustained effort. I realize that I’m a librarian, and therefore biased, but — in a nutshell — it’s only trivial and dismissable if you don’t find it useful. If you do think it’s the most useful thing since a breadknife, then you’re surely not going to say about IMDB or Google or the phone book, etc., that whoever compiled those data had too much time on their collective hands.

None of which probably justifies my own nascent Steven Hill-inspired collection of screencaps. I forget what I was watching, but it occurred to me that practically every shot of a business card in a film is the same shot. They’re probably all second-unit insert shots using a hand double. They’re almost always at a slight tilt, in order to give the card some substance and not to have it rigidly framed by the shape of the film itself (interestingly enough, even Wes Anderson follows this and doesn’t apply his typical hyper-formal use of symmetry). So I started collecting them, just to see how pervasive this was. I figured once I got fifty or so, I’d compile a list and send it out for further contributions, and once I got a hundred, I’d start my own useless, whimsical reference website.

In the interim, though, I tripped over The Dancing Image‘s gallery meme, as mentioned by Glenn Kenny. I like it when Glenn posts a meme contribution, because he doesn’t tag people, he doesn’t forward on the chain letter. I don’t either, mostly because I don’t have any readers, but also because I don’t like the imposition. Be inspired to contribute, or don’t be. In honor of the meme, I present my meagre collection of Business Cards in Cinema:

card - Blues Brothers - Murph and Magictones
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