Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Films Of Alfred Hitchcock Pt.2: Lost Gems

Part One of this article focused on Alfred Hitchcock's most well known films: Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho.  But almost every Hitchcock film is worth watching, and there are some lost masterpieces in his oeuvre which are well worth seeking out.  Should you be inclined to sit back in your theater seat, relax and enjoy these lost gems, here's some you may not have heard of, which are well worth the effort to see:

BLACKMAIL, 1929: Hitchcock's first "talkie"--and among the first sound films ever made--was one of his earliest successes, both critically and commercially.  A woman murders a man who tries to rape her, and is subsequently blackmailed for it by an unexpected witness.  The film sets up several of Hitchcock's later trademarks, including a brief cameo appearance by the director; see if you can spot him.  And while the idea of watching such a primitive early film may seem appealing only to movie historians, trust us--with Hitchcock, there's a timeless quality that makes even these very early films a must-see.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT, 1937: This glorious film begins with the premise of many a Hitch classic--a man wrongly accused of murder, and on the run from the police--but is lighter in tone than many of his thrillers, being focused around the easy humor and repartee between its two main stars, Derrick De Marney and Nora Pilbeam.  Nora plays the girl who becomes convinced of the man's innocence, and helps him clear his name.  It's a delightful, yet still suspenseful, work that virtually defines the term "underrated".

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, 1940: An unjustly overlooked masterpiece, this was one of Hitchcock's first American films, and was a big production for its day.  A reporter is caught in a web of WWII-era political intrigue that carries him through several major setpieces, including a climactic plane battle and a memorable scene in a windmill.  Technically dazzling for its day, there's plenty of action and suspense, along with deep, scintillating performances by all the main actors. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture in 1941, but lost (Hitch's previous film, the gothic romance Rebecca, had taken honors the year prior).

SHADOW OF A DOUBT, 1943: Hitchcock peered into the darker side of the American suburban dream in this creepy, low-budget masterpiece which receives no less than a 100% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.  The director also named it his favorite of all of his films, no doubt due to the flesh-crawling suspense it generates on the sheer strength of the director's genius, without any big-budget production tricks. The story revolves around a teenage girl who comes to suspect her uncle Charlie of being a murderer, and the edgy psychological thrills this ostensibly unassuming film generates may give you nightmares for weeks! Be forewarned...

LIFEBOAT, 1944: Another WWII-era classic, Lifeboat is a straight-up drama which takes place entirely on a boat at sea, in which the survivors of a downed war vessel must survive until another boat comes to rescue them.  As they wait, the tension and animosity between them escalates, becoming a clear insight into human nature.  It's an unforgettable, compelling tale filled with Oscar-worthy performances.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, 1955: One of Shirley MacLaine's earliest films was this black comedy which once again exposed the dark underbelly of American life.  A man turns up dead in a small Vermont town, three of its people each think they are the ones responsible for his death, and everyone tries to cover up the incident from the authorities.  It's a seemingly lighthearted farce, but Hitchcock is able to inject his usual disturbing sense of uneasiness throughout.  Although it was a box office flop at the time, it was huge in Europe and has since been viewed as one of his best films.

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Films Of Alfred Hitchcock, Pt I: The Classics

Alfred Hitchcock is widely considered to be one of the greatest film directors of all time.  Although known as "the master of suspense", his genius extended to drama, comedy, and everything in-between.  His first film, The Pleasure Garden, was released in 1925 during the silent era when movies were in their infancy, and for the next fifty years Hitchcock would push the boundaries of film, developing and refining its lexicon while at the same time achieving the pinnacles of commercial and critical success.  His canon is so rich and varied--with masterpiece after masterpiece--that even his lesser-known films turn out to be gems.  And while his final film (Family Plot, 1976) is now nearly four decades in the distance, his legacy remains timeless with new generations of fans continually discovering his directorial magic.  To put it simply, Hitchcock is perfect for home theater viewing, quite simply because his films are among the greatest ever made.  Part one of this article will focus on ten of his most famous and beloved films, which are an essential addition to any film lover's collection:

THE 39 STEPS, 1935: Hitchcock's first blockbuster success firmly established his credentials and remains compelling viewing some 80 years after it was filmed.  Filmed in black and white during his "British" period, it set up a classic Hitchcock plot: a man is wrongly accused of murder and must flee from the authorities, all while going undercover to expose the real culprit.  It's the template in story, visual aesthetic, and feel along which all of his future films would follow.

THE LADY VANISHES, 1938: This superb mystery takes place almost entirely on a train, as one of its passengers disappears without a trace.  The attempt to find her turned into one of the masterpieces of 1930s cinema, and the height of Hitchcock's early period of UK filmmaking, before being lured away by Hollywood.

NOTORIOUS, 1946: The finest film Hitchcock made in black and white.  This intensely compelling film of a woman who goes undercover to expose a Nazi spy ring, is abetted by the complex love triangle she soon finds herself entangled in.  It's dazzling from start to finish, with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant at the peak of their game.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951: By now the director had become an institution in film, and this crackerjack thriller did nothing to erase that impression.  Two men agree to swap murders, one renegs on the deal, and so the other tries to frame him.  The scene on the tennis court towards its end is one of the most suspenseful in all of Hitch's ouvre.

REAR WINDOW, 1954: This film regularly enters critics' lists of the all-time greatest films.  As with several other Hitchcock classics such as The Lady Vanishes and Rope, it takes place in a single setting: a man's apartment where he thinks he has witnessed a murder.  The film draws strength from Jimmy Stewart's iconic performance, which manages to create suspense even in the absence of real action.

VERTIGO, 1958: Stewart dazzled again in Vertigo, which is not just considered one of the greatest films, but frequently a contender for the greatest movie ever made.  This complex, multi-layered psychological thriller is brooding and surreal, with a plot twist which can still leave audiences with their jaws to the floor.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959: In many ways the direct opposite of the single-set, claustrophobic dramas like Rear Window, this blockbuster was a slick spy thriller that hopped between several iconic American destinations.  The crop-dusting scene and climax on Mt.Rushmore are among the director's most memorable sequences.

PSYCHO, 1960: Although Hitchcock's films are very well-known, this is easily the most famous.  Millions of viewers never again stepped foot in a shower (let alone check into an isolated motel!), after seeing this bone-chilling B&W slice of pure horror. What is perhaps most unsettling, is that the director was able to create his shocking opus without any of the blood and gore which marks today's slice-em-dice-em Z-movies.

THE BIRDS, 1963: The unresolved ending of this film puzzled and frustrated audiences at the time, but that was the point--this was Hitchcock at his most dark and uncompromising.  Only a genius could make a creature as benign as a bird into a perpetrator of sheer terror; there is an eerie, unsettling vibe to the entire proceeding as it unfolds, which makes it an essential addition to any film collection.

FRENZY, 1972: Hitchcock's penultimate film and his last true masterpiece, Frenzy was also the first movie the director made under relaxed ratings restrictions, which allowed him to show both nudity and gore in a more explicit manner (and thus, is perhaps the only one of his works not suitable for children).  These elements do not eclipse what is essentially another classic tale of a man wrongly accused of murder, which brings us full circle from The 39 Steps: watch both films back-to-back and compare the fascinating evolution of Hitchcock's style over the years.

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Monroe

4seating is pleased to announce the arrival of The Monroe, a fantastic new home theater seat in Seatcraft’s acclaimed Signature series.  This chair radiates a smooth, unpretentious sense of laid-back natural grace, combined with several unique accents that lend it just the right touch of character. 

At first glance, the Monroe appears as a typically pleasing, smooth-grey theater chair with wide, roomy backrests. Its fabric material is soft and inviting, making you feel right at home.  Look closer, however, and you’ll see several delightful additions that provide a colorful yet perfectly understated contrast.   The lower armrest portion of the seat, where the cup holders and accessory mount are located, is outfitted with a polished wooden finish that imparts a naturalistic sense of class.  The wooden look is extended to the feet of the chair, once again providing just a dash of rich brown tone to the overall grey.  This superb mixture is enhanced by an impressive nailhead design which wraps around each armrest and around the base of the seat, giving the Monroe a chic outline that will put anyone in the right theater-going mood. 

Moving back to the armrest itself, we find lighted cup holders that keep drinks within a secure arm’s reach.  Make spills a thing of the past with the holder’s firm positioning, which is surrounded by a gorgeous sky-blue ambient ring that will discreetly outline your drink in a darkened room.  Meanwhile, ambient base lighting does the same thing for the chair itself, its marquee accent allowing for easy access in the dark.  Stainless steel accessory mounts on the armrest allow for the placement of iPad mounts, wine glass caddies, cigar hosts and more.  One accessory, free black tray tables, comes freely included with the Monroe so you can place food, remotes, laptops, reading materials, or anything else needed for a stellar evening of entertainment.  When finished for the night, simply place any items within the convenient, roomy storage compartments located within each armrest—you can clean up quickly and easily, without having to leave your seat!

Looking beyond its many features, the Monroe is also primarily about comfort.  The wide back sections are abetted by an exceptionally plush and supportive seating, while a full chaiselounger footrest extends the range of leisure to the lower body and feet.   So sit back, relax, and sink in with this charming addition to your home theater. 

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Films Of Woody Allen

Last Sunday, the Golden Globes presented the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement to Woody Allen, one of America's most iconic and beloved film directors.  Since 1969 he has written and directed over 40 films, including several which regularly appear on critic's lists of the greatest movies ever made.  His latest, Blue Jasmine, has received wild acclaim, including near-unanimous award wins for actress Cate Blanchett in her jaw-dropping lead performance. Allen has been making films like these for nearly half a century, so we here at 4seating pick his ten finest for a prospective comedy night in your home theater.  It's almost impossible to rank them, so these will be presented in chronological order:

1. THE SLEEPER, 1973: This absurd sci-fi farce belongs to the era of Allen's "early, funny movies".  It's the first film he directed which starred Diane Keaton, who became as much of a fixture of his greatest films as Allen himself. Basically, a man who was cryogenically frozen in the year 1973, wakes up 200 years later in a dystopian society.  Our hero leads the revolution, all while dressed as an orgasm-addicted robot (?!). There's enough slapstick humor, one-liners, and hysterical send-ups of sci-fi cliches to fill ten movies.

2. ANNIE HALL, 1977: This film--almost unanimously regarded as Allen's best, and as one of the greatest films ever made--marked a turning point for the director from comedic farce into a more serious, nuanced form of romantic comedy.  Diane Keaton's title character is among the most memorable female romantic roles ever, in a truly multi-faceted peformance that was highlighted by her daring fashion choices.  It's still the ultimate date night film, a brilliant mix of silliness, intellectual insight, and touching romanticism that pleases both genders.

3. MANHATTAN, 1979: Although not this author's personal favorite, many critics feel that Manhattan rivals or even surpasses Annie Hall.  The elegant black and white cinematography certainly dazzles in this all-out tribute to the city of its title, in which a man must choose between a teenage girl and his best friend's mistress.  Comedy and drama were perhaps never so seamlessly melded.

4. STARDUST MEMORIES, 1980: This film was critically trashed on its release, but Allen has since cited it as one of his two or three best films, and we wholeheartedly agree.  This extremely complex, surreal piece of cinema exists in carefully constructed layers that are gradually unfolded, revealing new surprises along the way.  The cinematography and art direction pays direct tribute to Allen's hero Fellini; while its dense, cerebral framework do not make it an easy starting point to his films, it is ultimately one of the most rewarding.

5. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, 1986: Although his 12-year relationship to lead actress Mia Farrow would end in scandal, she absolutely shines in this stunning comedy-drama about love, betrayal, and seemingly-impending death.  This is another one that frequently finds itself on all-time best lists, and was Allen's highest-grossing film at the box office until 2011.

6. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, 1994: After a somewhat lean period followed by the well-publicized Farrow scandal, Allen returned to form with this period charmer about a struggling scriptwriter who turns to a mobster to help him out with his story.  Dianne Wiest won best supporting actress for her over-the-top Norma Desmond-ish role in this film, just as she had for her much different character in Hannah And Her Sisters.

7. DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, 1997: This film is packed with stars including Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Billy Crystal, Tobey Maguire, and Robin Williams, but it is Allen himself who shines as the lead character--another kooky writer, who finds himself kidnapping his son from his ex-wife and galavanting around with a prostitute.  It's filled with pointed lines and memorable scenes, although after this film Allen would begin appearing less and less in his movies, preferring to stay in the director's chair.

8. MATCH POINT, 2005: Following another lean period, Allen returned with a vengeance after he switched locations from his beloved New York City, to London.  This taught, suspenseful, sexy thriller starring a sultry Scarlett Johansson was the result, something completely different from what his audiences had come to expect.  The film performed well at the box office and was seen as revitalizing his career.

9. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, 2008: The Euro-focused artistic renaissance continued with this film set in the gorgeous Spanish countryside.  Penelope Cruz gave a highly colorful performance that won her accolades, in a story about two sisters who become embroiled with a bohemian, free-living and free-loving artist.  The film's cutting insights into its unusual menage-a-trois relationship are underpinned by the incredibly lush scenery throughout.  Although it's only been a few years since its release, this film takes its place right along Allen's very best.

10. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, 2011: Allen's extended European vacation continued with Midnight In Paris, which captures all of the ethereal enchantment of the city of its title.  Sure, it received a mountain of critical acclaim, just like all of his other films--the difference this time was that it struck a chord with audiences who went to see it in droves, making it by far the highest-grossing film of his career.  The magic realism of the plot, in which (yet another!) struggling author steps into a taxi and is transported back in time to the Paris of the 1920s where he rubs shoulders with Hemingway, Dali, and Fitzgerald, was more clever and charming than almost any film put out by directors half his age.  We can only hope that the 78-year old makes many more films like these to come--and with last year's riveting Blue Jasmine, it looks like that's exactly what he intends to do.  So snuggle up with your loved one, add a wine glass caddy to your home theater seat, and bask in some of the greatest date films of all time.

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.

Friday, January 10, 2014

James Bond: 50 Years Of Film

A few days ago we looked back at the Star Wars franchise, the first in a planned series of articles that will review several other very famous movie brands.  When the 50th anniversary of the James Bond saga reared its head in 2012, MGM celebrated by releasing Skyfall, which garnered some of the best critical praise in the entire history of the franchise.  The commercial and critical success of the film naturally led to a new sequel now in pre-production, slated for a 2015 release (the same year, incidentally, that Star Wars: Episode VII is scheduled to drop).  As we look back at the half-century of 007 highs and lows--24 films total--it is prescient to note that the James Bond films often make outstanding home theater fare, with their exotic foreign locales and noisy, high-powered action sequences.  And who can forget the endless succession of sultry Bond girls?  So, sit back in your theater chair and enjoy these classics:


GOLDFINGER, 1964: The third James Bond film is often considered the very peak of the series, never to be matched again.  It introduces the series' most memorable arch-villain, the man of the film's title, who asphyxiates his victims by painting them gold.  Besides Goldfinger himself, the film is also notable for having what is arguably the most memorable henchman, Oddjob, whose hats can kill.  The script was also surprisingly risque for 1964, as its primary Bond girl goes under the saucy alias Pussy Galore.  Goldfinger is a tight, gritty, suspenseful film that has not dated in the least, and stars what is still the definitive Bond: Sean Connery.

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, 1969: George Lazenby was only James Bond for one film, which did relatively poorly at the box office; however, fans of the series consider it one of the very best, rivaling Goldfinger. Lazenby had neither the looks or charm of Connery, but he brought a rugged aspect to the character.  It's really the plot and action sequences which mark this film, however, as well as the finest turn of another of the series' quintessential villains, Ernst Blofeld.  

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, 1987: although its KGB/Cold War plot is somewhat dated now, this debut in the role for Timothy Dalton was one of the best Bond films in years.  It returns to the somewhat grittier, streamlined feel of the early Connery era, focusing on action and suspense rather than enormous, gaudy setpieces and cartoon villains.  And while the KGB is no more, the spy world hasn't changed much.   

TOMORROW NEVER DIES, 1997: Pierce Brosnan enjoyed a lengthy run of films as the lead character, and while 1995's Goldeneye received better reviews, this film is my pick of the litter.  Once again, the plot focuses on real-world troubles--tension between the United States and China--which allows for some breathtakingly beautiful Asian locales, and a surprisingly intelligent Bond girl, Wai Lin, who proves a capable equal to the man himself.

SKYFALL, 2012:  The newest Bond, Daniel Craig, has re-energized the franchise.  The last three Bond films with his lead are also the most packed with the latest audiovisual delights for home theater enthusiasts, and Skyfall is the most elaborate of these; the DVD/Blu-Ray editions are state-of-the-art in their quality and extras.  However, it was the plot and characterization of this film which enthralled critics, who applauded the look into Bond's early childhood, as well as the psychologically complex villain Silva.  These elements are deftly inserted into the film without bogging it down into over-seriousness, or eclipsing the action sequences which remain as riveting as ever.  


ANY ROGER MOORE FILM, 1973-1985: I know this sounds a bit harsh, but let's face it--Moore's endless reign as Bond almost spelled the death of the franchise.  Even the best films of his tenure, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only (1981), while praised at the time, look dated now.  The worst films--most infamously, the Bond-In-Space frolic Moonraker (1979)--rise to unbelievable levels of camp (blame Star Wars), although they might be fun if one approaches them in that vein. Moore himself was a very workmanlike Bond--not awful, but not especially dashing or debonaire, and the action sequences almost always fail to ignite (one need only peek at the obligatory 70s car chase scenes in Live And Let Die (1973) for an instant insomnia cure--although the film has a great theme song).  If one has to choose a Moore film to see, it's probably The Spy Who Loved Me, thanks largely to the chemistry that Bond girl Barbara Bach brought to her role.  But why bother, when Goldfinger and Skyfall are so much better?

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Star Wars: Worth The Hype?

With the announcement last year that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm over to Disney, there was some nervousness among the faithful.  The legendary Star Wars franchise--which continues to be as popular as ever, in spite of the tepidly-received prequel batch of films released a decade ago--was now going to be put into the hands of the studio known for The Jungle Book and The Lion King.  However, Disney moved to reassure audiences by announcing the pre-production on Episode VII, a sequel to 1983's Return Of The Jedi which was going to feature original cast members Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford reprising their roles as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo.  The director of the new film, JJ Abrams, is the mastermind behind Lost and the Mission Impossible films, who has also recently re-booted the Star Trek franchise to great success.  Furthermore, the studio has said that there will be a Star Wars-related film coming out every year, starting in 2015 with the release of VII.  The announcements sparked much discussion and excitement among fans, with Yahoo! entertainment news featuring an article about the script and casting for the new film, virtually every week.

While we all wait for new product, let's take a minute to review some of the highs and lows of the franchise over the decades:

1) STAR WARS (1977): the original film that started it all, now retitled Episode IV: A New Hope, is still a roller-coaster ride.  A groundbreaking film on release, with special effects which blew audiences right out of their seats, those effects look more antiquated with each passing year although the art direction remains superb.  Fortunately, the film was more than its special effects--the plot, characters, and dialogue are virtually immortal, winning over new generations of 6-year olds every time, while still providing plenty of heavy nostalgia for older viewers.  It's an all-time, undisputed movie masterpiece.

2) THE STAR WARS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (1978): this infamous train wreck aired on TV for the Christmas season in 1978 and was never broadcast again.  However, the "it's so bad, it's good" quality of the thing lived on in legend, where it can now be seen on youtube.  Simply hook a tablet to your screen, to experience this surreal disaster in all its cringe-inducing awfulness!

2) THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980): Widely considered the peak of the franchise, this darker, edgier movie packed in thrills galore.  Luke Skywalker meets the grammatically-challenged master Yoda, Darth Vader gets his revenge, and Han Solo becomes an intergalactic hood ornament--what's not to love?

3) THE RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983): the concluding film to the original trilogy, Jedi divided fans and critics on release, but looks better with each passing year.  The cutesy-cuddly Ewoks--once considered a shameless marketing ploy by Lucas--really aren't as offensive as they originally seemed, and the action packs as much of a punch as ever. Besides, seeing a barely-clad Carrie Fisher chained to Jabba The Hut has become semi-iconic in itself.

4) THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999): One of the most anticipated movies in history raked in at the box office, but was greeted with scorn and derision by fans.  Unlike Jedi, it hasn't aged at all well, either--it's pretty much a disaster barely a notch above the Christmas special, with wooden acting, a childish plot, and surprisingly stilted direction by Lucas.  Jar Jar Binks: need I say more?

5) THE ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002): This film was greeted with much the same poor reception as The Phantom Menace, and does indeed proceed much as its predecessor had, although this writer finds it redeemed by the high-power action sequences which take up the final 45 minutes of the film.  Lucas was very slowly getting his directing powers back--but really needed to work on the dialogue.  And still, more Jar-Jar.

6) THE REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005): While the final film of the prequel trilogy still suffers from some of the elements that marred its two predecessors, it is a vast improvement overall.  It's the darkest film of the franchise since Empire, and the fallen-hero plotline--with Anakin making his transformation into Darth Vader--is compelling (although there are some obvious plot holes).  The acting and dialogue is also a substantial step up, although still not a patch on the original trilogy.  Of all the films of the prequel saga, however, this is the one worth seeing.

The Star Wars franchise is such that there's been a large number of ancillary projects that have come and gone over the years: an early 80s Ewok TV special, comic books, novels, video games, and an animated series (The Clone Wars). A new animated series (The Rebels) is also in the works.  With so much to choose from, there's plenty to keep you occupied in your home theater seat until Episode VII arrives sometime at the end of 2015.  If you have kids, you can get them started on the legendary first two films, and work your way from there--although be forewarned, not even children find The Phantom Menace or Attack Of The Clones all that engaging (for a good prequel alternative, The Clone Wars is an interesting one to stream on the internet).  A Star Wars theme works great for birthday parties, which can be held right in the comfort of your home theater.  May the force be with you!

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.