Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 7

Welcome to the seventh installment of the series, Famous Director’s First Theatrical Movies.  Today we look at the first movies of Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and Spike Lee.  Wes Anderson is known for his quirky, visually beautiful movies, David Fincher’s movies are varied and distinct, and Spike Lee’s movies are known for their sharp racial commentary.  Let’s check out the first movies of these famous directors.
                Wes Anderson is known for the films The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  In 1994, Anderson made a short film titled Bottle Rocket with Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson.  The short film’s success at Sundance led them to contact with James L. Brooks and Polly Platt, the latter of whom served as producer on the feature film, Bottle Rocket. Polly Platt helped Anderson and the Wilson brothers secure financing from Columbia Pictures.  Bottle Rocket the feature film was released in 1996 and filmed entirely in Texas.  In Bottle Rocket, three friends, Anthony (Luke), Dignan (Owen) and Bob (Robert Musgraves) have a 75-year plan for several heists and live off the money from the robberies.  After they rob a bookstore and stop at a motel, Dignan falls in love with Inez, one of the hotel maids, decides to give Inez most of the money they stole…. While a critical success, Bottle Rocket, which was made for $7 million, only made $560,069 at the box office in 49 theaters. 
                David Fincher has directed such varied movies as Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network and Gone Girl.  In the early 1990s, Fincher was a co-founder of Propaganda Productions and had successfully directed music videos and commercials.  Meanwhile, Alien had a troubled pre-production, going through several writers and directors.  After Vincent Ward was fired from production, Fincher was asked to direct Alien 3.  During production, he clashed with the studio, 20th Century Fox, over the script and budget issues, and did much of the rewriting on the script.  Like James Cameron in Piranha 2, Fincher said that the producers did not have “the necessary trust” in him.  Ellen Ripley, the hero from the last two films, crashes in an escape pod on Fiorina “Fury” 161, a foundry made by a penal colony.  Everyone else from the escape pod is dead, and Ripley fears an alien embryo was inside someone from the escape pod.  An alien bursts out of a dog on the ship and starts attacking members of the Fury 161, forcing Ripley to battle the Alien once again.  The movie received mixed to negative reviews from critics (44% on Rotten Tomatoes), but grossed $149.8 million worldwide, thanks to a strong international box office (it only grossed $55.4 million in the US). 
                Spike Lee is known for such films as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, The Original Kings of Comedy, 25th Hour, and Inside Man.  After releasing his student film, Joe Bed-Study Barbershop: We Cut Heads in 1983, Spike Lee set to make his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, in 1985.  Spike Lee filmed on location in the African-American neighborhood of Fort Green, Brooklyn for two weeks with a budget of $170,000.  The story concerns Nola, who freely dates three men at the same time, Jamie, Greer, and Mars.  Eventually, all three find out and Jamie lays down an ultimatum: he wants to be the only lover.  It should be noted that a controversial scene makes light of rape, which Spike Lee later regretted.  Still, the movie was well regarded by critics for its depiction of a vibrant African-American community, not stereotypes as pimps and drug dealers.  The movie made $7 million at the box office.
                Spike Lee and Wes Anderson, filmmakers with unique visions, both made movies that showed their emerging talent.  David Fincher, like James Cameron before him, was given a sequel where studios and producers put too much influence on the movie and it suffered as a result.  Here are the first theatrical movies of Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and Spike Lee.
                Schedule note: I will be taking next week off. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 6

Welcome to the sixth edition of Director’s First Theatrical Movies.  Whether directors were given big budget movies or had to raise money to make low-budget passion projects, the fact remains that the director’s drive to direct their own project shines through.  Today we look at the varied talents of Stanley Kubrick, James Cameron, and Tim Burton. 
                Stanley Kubrick has directed some of the most influential movies of all time, including Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the violent A Clockwork Orange, and the historical epic Spartacus.  But in 1951, Kubrick was a Look photographer who had directed two short films.  Based on the positive response from those short films, Kubrick was able to secure funding for his first feature film.  Based on a screenplay by Howard Sackler, a high school classmate of Kubrick, and starring a total of five actors, Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Steve Colt, and Virginia Leith, Fear and Desire (with the working title The Trap) started filming.  The story concerned an unknown war between two unknown countries.  Four soldiers, a general, a sergeant, and two privates, fall behind enemy lines.  They capture a peasant girl and the youngest soldier starts to befriend her…  Fear and Desire was released on March 31, 1953, in New York City and April 1, 1953, in the rest of the US.  The movie is now regarded as “old shame” by Kubrick, who did not approve of attempts in the early 1990s to rerelease his early work.  He said Fear and Desire was a “bumbling amateur film exercise.” 
                James Cameron has directed some of the most expensive and most successful movies of all time, including Terminator, Terminator 2, Titanic, and Avatar.  In the late 1970s, after making his own short film, Xenogenesis, he was able to use that to have various roles on different projects, including a production assistant on Rock and Roll High School (1979), art director on Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), special effects work design and direction on Escape from New York (1981) and production designer on Galaxy of Terror (1981).  James Cameron was originally hired to be the special effects director on Piranha II: The Spawning.  When the original director, Miller Drake left the project, Cameron was placed as pretty much the puppet director for the Italian executive producer, Ovidio G. Assonitis.  Shortly into production (some accounts say a week, some two and a half weeks), Cameron was fired, but his name remained on the director credit because the contract required an American director. The story is about mutant flying piranhas (obviously) who are attacking a seaside town, and it’s up to the diving instructor and biochemist to try to stop them.  While Cameron later claimed The Terminator, made in 1984, was his first true movie, he did also say that Piranha II was “the best flying piranha film ever made”.  There is also an account that Cameron broke into the editing booth and tried to re-cut his film, but that Assonitis found out and cut the film again.  The movie was released in December 1981 and on November 5, 1982. (http://www.ew.com/article/2010/08/18/cameron-piranha-3d-dante).
                Tim Burton’s dark comedic style is well known throughout his movies, including his early efforts Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, the 1989 version of Batman, Batman Returns, and he also directed such big budget movies as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010).  In the early 1980s, Tim Burton had directed three shorts, Vincent, Hansel and Gretel (30-minute special for the Disney Channel) and Frankenweenie and was recently fired from Disney Studios.  Paul Rubens, the star of a stage show (which was turned into an HBO special) called The Pee-Wee Herman Show, saw Vincent and Frankenweeine and felt Burton’s style meshed well with his character, Pee Wee Herman.  Paul Rubens was given the chance to write and star in his own Pee-Wee Herman movie and asked Burton to direct Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.  The movie was filmed around California and Texas with a budget of $7 million.  The story concerns Pee-Wee, a childlike man who loves his red bike.  His neighbor Francis paid someone to steal Pee-Wee’s bike because he wants it for himself.  But Pee-Wee desperately wants his bike back, so Francis sends the bike away, and Pee-Wee has to travel to the Alamo in Texas to get his bike back, and has several crazy adventures along the way.  The movie was released on August 9, 1985, and was a surprise hit, grossing $45 million at the worldwide box office. 
                Two of these directors’ first films are not well regarded, and Kubrick would rather you forget about his first feature, while Cameron has a more humorous approach to his (supposed) first movie.  Burton, like J.J. Abrams for Mission Impossible III, was noticed for his talent with other projects and was given his chance to direct his first feature.  Each of these directors used their first film to springboard onto later, more successful films.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

Famous Director’s First Theatrical Movies, Part 5

                Our journey of famous directors' first theatrical movies continues: Now we explore the Horror and Superhero director Sam Raimi, the suspenseful Alfred Hitchcock and the entertaining but always violent Quentin Tarantino. These directors have created some of the most memorable movies throughout time.  Here we are to explore their first theatrical movies.
                Sam Raimi most famous productions include the 2002-2007 Spider-Man Trilogy, and the Evil Dead movies.  Sam Raimi also directed A Simple Plan, Drag Me to Hell, and Oz: the Great and Powerful.  While most people start Sam Raimi with The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi actually made a 70 minute movie during college called It’s Murder!, and features Sam Raimi, his brother Ted and frequent collaborator Bruce Campbell.  The movie was about a young man whose Uncle was murdered, and he received the inheritance from him.  But a police detective investigates the murder, while trying not to be killed as well.  Sam Raimi released the movie at Michigan State University at the Groves Little Theater for admission of $1.00.  Unfortunately, the movie was not a big hit, and now is only known as Sam Raimi’s first full-length movie.
                Alfred Hitchcock was considered the master of suspense, having directed such classics as Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.  But in the 1922, Alfred Hitchcock was living in England and his first potential first movie, Number 13, was cancelled due to the budget running out.  Hitchcock wanted to direct The Rat next, but the studio producing the film refused.  Finally in 1925 Hitchcock was given directorial control of a silent movie called The Pleasure Garden, and starred Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty, two popular American actresses.  In The Pleasure Garden, Valli is Pasty Brand and Geraghty is Jill Cheyne, two chorus girls at the Pleasure Garden Theater, and follows the girls’ numerous affairs, including Pasty’s with Jill’s fiancĂ© Hugh and Jill’s with the wealthy Prince Ivan.  Eventually Pasty marries Hugh’s friend Levet and Jill plans to marry the prince.  The movie ran for 75 minutes and filmed in Italy and Germany.  It was released in 1925 in Germany but wasn’t released until 1927 in the UK, after Hitchcock’s later film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog became a success there. 
                Quentin Tarantino’s violent but entertaining movies include Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill (Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Django Unchained.  Quentin Tarantino’s first movie was supposed to be My Best Friend’s Birthday, but a film lab fire destroyed most of the film, so only 36 minutes have survived.  Thus, Tarantino’s real first theatrical movie is his famous Reservoir Dogs.  Tarantino originally planned a low-budget, black and white version of the movie, but the script was passed to Harvey Keitel, who liked it so much he co-produced and helped secure $1.5 million for the movie.  In Reservoir Dogs, six men plan a heist along with a mob boss and his son and underboss.  Four of the six men, Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde and Mr. Pink start to slowly arrive back at the mob boss’s warehouse, where the rest of the film takes place.  Mr. White and Mr. Orange arrive first, with Orange bleeding severely, with Mr. Pink soon after.  Mr. Blonde brings a kidnapped police officer who they torture for information, and after Pink and White leave to retrieve the diamonds with the mob boss’s son.  But things start to fall apart when Blonde plans to set the police officer on fire…. The movie was released on October 23, 1992 and made $2.8 million at the U.S. Box Office, and has since become the first of many favorites by the violent filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. 

                All three experienced roadblocks on the way to their first theatrical movie: Raimi’s was not successful; Hitchcock’s first movie ran out of money, Tarantino’s was destroyed by a lab fire.  But they did not give up and went to make better movies than the ones they made before.  Check out these first theatrical movies of these famous directors.