Thursday, October 27, 2016

Famous Director’s First Theatrical Movies, Part 4

                In this fourth installment of this series, we examine three more famous directors, and look at their first movie and the production behind getting the movie made. In this case, the directors today are Francis Ford Coppola, Cecil B. DeMille, and Michael Bay. 
                Francis Ford Coppola most famously directed the Godfather trilogy, as well as Apocalypse Now and The Outsiders.  In 1963, Coppola had recently graduated from UCLA and had directed two “soft-core nudie” movies in his credits.  Following those movies, he was given the opportunity to direct his first “mainstream” movie, Dementia 13.  Coppola was a sound technician on Roger Corman’s movie The Young Racers, and Corman gave him an opportunity to direct a low-budget horror film with a total budget of $42,000.  Coppola, who wrote the film himself, was given complete freedom during production, only for Corman to disapprove of the rough cut that Coppola showed him and shoot with a new director a new introduction for the film.  The film starred William Campbell, Luana Anders and Patrick Magee, who had all just completed filming of The Young Racers.  Dementia 13 follows Louise Haloran (Anders), who after her husband dies of a heart attack, tricks her husband’s family into letting her move into their Irish castle.  While she tries find a way receive some of the family fortune, a mysterious ax-crazy killer appears and starts killing people… The movie was released on September 23, 1963, as a double bill with Corman’s movie X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes and was given mixed reviews from critics. 
Cecil B. DeMille, before Steven Spielberg eventually became the most famous director name, was one of the most famous directors of the classic era, having directed such classics as The Ten Commandments (1956) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).  But way back in 1914, along with his co-director Oscar Apfel, DeMille was given an opportunity to direct his first feature, a silent western called The Squaw Man.  The movie has the distinction of being the very first feature-length movie filmed in Hollywood, with location shots in the surrounding areas in California.  In The Squaw Man, Dustin Farnum plays James Wynnegate, who is accused of taking money from an orphan’s fun (his cousin actually took money from the fund).  On the run, he rescues the daughter of an Indian Chef from a local outlaw named Cash Hawkins and they fall in love and have a child together.  The movie was released on February 12, 1914 and made $244,700 at the box office (which may not sound like much today, but at the time was quite a bit of money).
                While there’s no denying that Michael Bay isn’t the most critically lauded of directors, his franchise films, like Transformers 3 and 4, and have made billions of dollars (see here).  He also directed such major movies as Armageddon and Pearl Harbor.  In the early 1990s, Michael Bay was successful director of music videos and commercials, which attracted the attention of famous movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer.  He and producer Don Simpson gave Bay his first feature-length film, Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, which was filmed on location in Miami, Florida.  Lawrence and Smith play Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowery, respectively, play buddy cops investigating the theft of a heroin bust that was sitting down in evidence.  After Lowery’s ex-girlfriend is killed by the kingpin Fouchet, who is responsible for the theft of the heroin, her best friend Julie escapes to the police and specifically asks for Lowery, leading to all sorts of mayhem for the buddy cops.  The movie’s budget was $19 million and made $141.4 million at the box office, despite mixed reviews, showing Bay’s ability to make a bankable movie regardless of critical response. 

                These directors’ first theatrical movies are as varied as they come, from a low-budget horror to a silent western to a buddy cop action-comedy.  Each one, with their own weaknesses and strengths, show the emerging talent of these filmmakers.  Check out these first movies from Coppola, DeMille and Bay.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Famous Directors’ First Theatrical Movies, Part 3

                You know what they say about sequels: they just keep coming and coming.  In this third installment in this series, we look at three more famous directors, Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood and J.J. Abrams, and their first theatrical movies. 
Christopher Nolan is a director well known for his big budget movies, most famously for The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar.  But in 1997, he had none of those movies under his belt. Nolan started shooting Following, which he also wrote, co-produced and filmed much of it himself.  Nolan used available light and friends’ houses to save production costs and had the actors rehearse the scenes many times before filming so he could get as few takes as possible.  The movie was filmed on weekends over a year so that the actors and crew could keep their regular jobs and only cost a total of $6,000.  On September 12, 1998, Following was released in Toronto and starred Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, and Lucy Russell.  It focused on an unnamed Young Man who follows (hence the title) people as inspiration for his novel.  Unfortunately, he chooses to follow a man who robs houses for the thrill of the crime, not for monetary gain.  This intrigues the man, and the robber convinces him to commit similar crimes….  The movie has a non-linear plot structure, which Nolan returned to for later films.  The movie earned critical accolades and grossed $240,495. 
Clint Eastwood, best known for both acting and directing in his movies, for such movies as Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, (both of which he won the Academy Award for Best Movie and Best Director) and being an action hero in movies such as in the Dollars Trilogy and the Dirty Harry films.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clint Eastwood was already an established actor, having been an action hero in movies such as “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (released in 1966).  As part of a deal with the production company Malpaso Productions, he was given the opportunity to direct Play Misty for Me.  For his first movie, Eastwood convinced the production to film on location at places Carmel-By-the-Sea and Monterey instead of in Los Angeles.  Eastwood finished the movie under his budget $1 million (it actually cost $950,000) and four or five days ahead of schedule.  Play Misty for Me was psychological thriller focusing on Dave Garber (Eastwood) a disk jockey (an everyman type in sharp contrast to his usual action heroes).  Garber has a “chance meeting” with a woman named Evelyn at a bar, and the two hit it off.  But Evelyn soon reveals that she sought him out because he mentioned the bar on the radio.  At first, the two hit it off, but soon the woman becomes possessive, not willing to leave Dave alone and becoming jealous of any interaction with other women.  Garber tries to break it off that only makes Evelyn worse… The movie was released on November 3, 1971, and grossed $10.6 million at the box office. 
                J.J. Abrams, an established writer/producer for his trifecta of TV Shows (Felicity, Alias, and Lost, see here: ).  Abrams had already started to branch out in directing with two episodes of Felicity, three episodes of Alias and the pilot from Lost.  Meanwhile, production had stalled on the third Mission Impossible movie because the second director attached to the project had left.  Tom Cruise, after binge-watching Alias, asked Abrams to take over as director.  Abrams agreed, but production had to be halted for a year because of Abrams’ commitments to Alias and Lost.  Production finally started on July 18, 2005, with an entirely new cast, save for Cruise, who also took a pay cut.  Unlike many directors’ first movies, the movie was a high-profile big-budget production, costing $150 million to make. Production went around the world, to China, Germany, Italy and the Vatican City.  In this third Mission Impossible movie, Ethan Hunt, along with a new team of Impossible Mission Force agents, try to stop an arms dealer named Owen Davian from obtaining the “Rabbit’s Foot”, an object of unknown properties.  The movie was released on May 5, 2006, and made $397.9 million at the worldwide box office. J.J. Abrams went on to direct two Star Trek movies and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Each of these directors went on to bigger and better things after their debut movie they directed, but they honed their skills and showed off their talents in their first one.  Check out these first theatrical releases of the famous directors Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, and J.J. Abrams. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Romance is for Other People is #FREE – ONE DAY ONLY!

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Romance is for Other People by Lee Wolf nails the raging tsunami that is teen romance in the uncharted and turbulent waters of love as Lydia and Chris share their POVs, their feelings and their confusion when they each realize their BFF status is undergoing a metamorphosis that could spell the end of all things as they know it.  Can their relationship withstand the onslaught of hormones?  Will it bring them to a higher plane of awareness or end what they have shared for years? Is Chris really that clueless or is he avoiding acknowledging his heart’s desires?  Are Lydia’s “clues” going over Chris’ head?  Will the “villain” in all of this really be Cupid in disguise?

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 2

                In this, the second in the series of famous director’s first theatrical movies, the focus will be on Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and George Lucas.  While some directors’ first theatrical movies are released nationwide, other directors’ first-time movies receive minimal exposure, for example, the movie is released at a film festival but does not make it beyond that.  Still, most are available to watch somewhere, either to order on Amazon or watch/order on DVD through Netflix.  Here are the first time movies of three of the most famous directors.
                Martin Scorsese is known for films like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas and Casino, which feature, many times, Italian or Sicilian characters in a New York setting, though he has made many films which do not feature that setting or characters, such as The Last Temptation of Christ, The Aviator, Shutter Island and Hugo.  But back in 1965, Scorsese was making student short film called Bring on the Dancing Girls.  But Scorsese returned to his movie with a romance plot, which was introduced to the storyline.   The movie was released as I Call First at the Chicago Film Festival in 1967 but was later called Who’s That Knocking at My Door, and then after adding a sex scene to market for exploitation film purposes, the movie was released to the public as J.R. in 1970.  The story concerns a young Italian-American man, J.R., who at first just stays close to his friends, drinking without a care.  He then meets a girl, played by Zina Bethune, who makes him want to marry and settle down.  But her past, and J.R’s struggles with “Catholic guilt,” complicate their relationship.  The film was released on November 15, 1967, at the Chicago Film Festival, and can be found today under the name Who’s That Knocking at My Door.
Woody Allen has a neurotic comedic style that features New York in a very different way from the dramatic and many times violent style of Scorsese.  His most famous films are the ones which feature New York prominently and Allen starring in a comedic role, such as Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, though he considers his best films which feature other characters, such as Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Match Point.  In the early 1960s, Allen was given the opportunity to write the screenplay for the movie, What’s New Pussycat?  However, he was disappointed with the final film, so he decided to direct all the subsequent movies he wrote, so to have creative control over his works.  The first film he was able to direct was called, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?  The movie was actually an overdubbed Japanese movie called (in the English Translation) International Secret Police: Key of Keys.  Instead of the original dialogue, Allen dubbed comedic lines onto a Japanese movie that was made like a James Bond thriller.  In his story, Phil Moskowitz searches for stolen egg salad recipe.  Just like in the movie What’s New Pussycat?, several changes were made to the film after Allen had finished filming it, so in all subsequent projects, he assumed creative control of his works. The movie was released in April 1966.
                George Lucas will be forever linked to his most famous creation, the original Star Wars Trilogy from 1977 to 1983, and the prequel trilogy from 1999 to 2005.  Other than his 1950s nostalgia film American Graffiti, his only other work is his first film, THX-1138.  George Lucas based the feature-length movie on his student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.  In the late 1960s, Lucas and Coppola co-founded American Zoetrope Studio Company.  One of the first films on the list was THX-1138, in which totalitarian control from the State is exerted over the people where romantic engagements are outlawed, who have shaved heads, are forced to take drugs to control their mind and have designations like THX-1138 instead of names.  THX-1138 is a factory worker who has a female roommate named LUH 3147, who works surveillance.  After LUH secretly places her drugs instead of THX’s, THX is freed from his drugs and falls in love with LUH…but the truth of their relationship is soon discovered by the State and they are both put in danger.  But when the finished film was turned over to Warner Brothers, they were unhappy with the finished product and cut four minutes, and released on March 11, 1971.  In 1977, George Lucas re-released THX-1138 with the cut scenes reinserted, and this version is the one originally released to home video.  As George Lucas is prone to do, he released a 2004 Director’s Cut, digitally remastered with new background scenes added. 

                With these films, studio interference can directly influence the direction of filmmakers in the future, such as George Lucas or Woody Allen, and that during the making of the movie, several different version may exist, such as Scorsese’s movie or Lucas’ film.  However, it is still fascinating to see first time director’s efforts.  Check out these first movies from famous directors.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 1

                Everyone has start somewhere.  Famous directors, now with long, impressive credits, will be honored by film buffs and historians for their most famous films.  But sometimes their first film is not so well known.  Sometimes it is, depending on the anticipation of the particular release.  This series will look at the first films of various first directors. 
                While Steven Spielberg’s films don’t bring the press they used to from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, nevertheless he is one of the most well known directors of all time.  His major films, such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, are some of the most original and exciting movies ever made.  But in 1974, after cutting his teeth with several television films (including most famously, 1971’s Duel), Steven Spielberg was given his first major theatrical film The Sugarland Express, which starred Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, William Atherton, and Michael Sacks.   Based on a true story, Hawn plays a wife/mother who breaks her husband (Johnson) out of jail to find their son, who has been placed with foster parents in Sugar Land, .  They end up kidnapping a patrolman who joins them on a cross-country trip, with the police and news crews following their every move.  The movie was released on April 5, 1974 and made $12.8 million at the box office. 
                Ron Howard, best known today for directing smart, effecting films like Cocoon, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind, first started in acting as the child Opie Taylor in the Andy Griffith Show, and then as the young adult Richie Cunningham in Happy Days.  He also appeared in several famous films, including The Music Man, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, American Graffiti, and The Shootist.  While he was still on Happy Days in 1977, Ron Howard was given the chance to direct the movie he was starring in, Grand Theft Auto.  In Grand Theft Auto, rich Paula (Nancy Morgan) introduces her boyfriend/fiancĂ©e poor Sam (Howard) to her parents, who think he is a “fortune hunter” and only after her for her money.  Sam is thrown out, but Paula escapes with her parents expensive Rolls Royce (hence the title) and they begin a cross country chase to Las Vegas to get married, with their angry parents chasing them.  The movie was released on July 16, 1977 and made $15 million at the world wide box office.
                Peter Jackson name will be forever linked to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy, though he was also known for directing a remake of King Kong (2009) and the adaptation of The Lovely Bones.  In the late 1980s, however, Peter Jackson was a young filmmaker, who had only directed one short, The Valley.  For his feature film debut, over a period of four years Peter Jackson pretty much did every single role he could: writing, producing, directing, and acting in the movie Bad Taste, filmed in and around Pukera Bay, near Wellington, New Zealand.  In Bad Taste, which certainly lives up to its name, three AIDS investigators (Astro Investigation and Defense Services) go to the fictional town of Kaihoro, New Zealand to investigate the disappearance of the entire town.  Once there, they battle aliens who harvest humans as fast food.  The movie features a huge amount of comedic gore, giving the title a double meaning.  The movie was released on December 11, 1987 and made $150,000 at the world wide box office.

These three filmmakers will probably not be remembered for their first theatrical feature films, but nevertheless by learning their talents with these movies, not nearly as well known, they were able to hone their skills to make some of the most famous movies of all time.  Check out these first theatrical films by famous directors.