Monday, March 31, 2014

The Blockbuster Era Of Sci-Fi: 1985-1999

In the first two installments of our series, we took a look at the ways in which science fiction cinema grew and developed from its beginnings in the silent era, through its golden age in the 1970s and early 1980s.  By the mid-1980s, sci-fi had become huge business, to the extent that smaller, more dramatic films were entirely pushed aside in favor of big-budget action blockbusters dominated by eye-popping special effects.  Although the critics bemoaned the increasingly formulaic nature of these films, audiences flocked in droves, making science fiction the de rigeur mainstay of the summer--and, surprisingly, a number of enduring classics did result.  Here's a few of them:



1. BACK TO THE FUTURE, 1985.  Robert Zemeckis made a name for himself with this time-travel classic starring a lovable Michael J.Fox who inadvertently alters his past, and must bring his parents back together in the 1950s before he ceases to exist.  The film contained more character and heart than many of the action blockbusters of the period, but was not bereft of thrills; it was a perfect combination that stands up quite well today.  Two sequels, the complex but imaginative II and the rather formulaic III, followed.



2. BRAZIL, 1985.  Over in the United Kingdom, sci-fi had not yet succumbed to blockbuster fever, which led to this odd comedy helmed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam.  Like many sci-fi films it is set in a somber, dystopian future where mindless office workers are watched over by Big Brother, but the subject matter is taken with a satirical tone and plenty of quirky surrealism.  It's left-of-center plot and dialogue made it a firm cult favorite, and it is sometimes cited as one of the best movies of the decade.



3. ALIENS, 1986.  After proving himself on The Terminator, director Cameron helmed the highly popular sequel to Alien, which took the franchise into the action-blockbuster genre where it has remained through all subsequent entries.  None of the later films could match Cameron's heart-pounding style, however, which is relentless throughout its length; Sigourney Weaver gives a gripping performance that actually earned her a best actress nod at the Oscars.  This film is not for the faint of heart.



4. STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, 1986.  Leonard Nimoy stepped into the director's chair to helm the most popular of the Star Trek series' to feature the original cast.  It featured a popular time travel premise and timely ecological message, but what really made it stand out was its sense of humor, which took a scathing look at the current state of humanity.  The film was light on its feet and garnered the franchise a wider mass audience, although the series suffered a setback after the poorly received followup Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.



5. THE ABYSS, 1989.  Although it is the largely overlooked film in Cameron's ouvre, this underwater epic received good notices at the time and was actually a much more elaborate and sophisticated film than either Terminator or Aliens.  The majority of the film plays like a tense psychological thriller set deep beneath the ocean, before a strange alien presence takes the plot into the realm of Spielbergian wonder.  It's well worth revisiting, and also features an intense romance at its core which would end up influencing the tone of Cameron's later blockbuster Titanic.



6. TOTAL RECALL, 1990.  The governator-to-be, Arnold Schwarzenegger, starred in this futuristic thriller set on Mars, in which he plays an undercover agent who has had his memory wiped.  While Ah-nold was never Academy Award-winning material as an actor, the film's fanciful plot and web of conspiracy ushered in a grittier and more paranoid tone for 90s sci-fi.  It was a hit at the box-office, which led to a rather unsatisfying remake a few years ago--stick with the original.



7. JURASSIC PARK, 1993. Spielberg notched up another mega-hit with this adaptation of the popular Michael Crichton novel in which dinosaurs are free to roam the earth once more.  Although the plot was entirely based around the film's then-groundbreaking special effects, Spielberg directed with enough suspense to make it an enjoyable thrill ride (which led to its literally becoming a theme park ride).  Jurassic Park actually surpassed the director's earlier E.T. to become the highest-grossing film of all time, until unseated by James Cameron's aforementioned Titanic in 1996.  Needless, to say, Jurassic is an archetypal example of the action blockbuster genre that dominated the world of sci-fi during this era.



8. THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, 1995.  This French effort was in direct contrast to the prevailing style for sci-fi represented by Total Recall and Jurassic Park, and became a big cult favorite on the strength of its highly imaginative visual aesthetic.  The plot, in which a man kidnaps children to steal their dreams, is unusual but it takes a back seat here to the production design, which is noted for having pioneered the antique "steampunk" look which gained popularity in the new millennium.



9. INDEPENDENCE DAY, 1996.  Although not a critical favorite, this was one of the biggest hits of the decade.  What is essentially an updated remake of War Of The Worlds, with more special effects than plot, milked the action-blockbuster formula for cheap, vapid thrills--still, it's a mildly enjoyable effort as long as one leaves their brain at the door.



10. CONTACT, 1997.  This more thoughtful entry during the period starred Jodie Foster as a scientist who discovers evidence of alien life and is assigned to make first contact.  The project, developed by noted sci-fi author and pundit Carl Sagan, was in development for decades.  Although accompanied by some controversy over the use of President Clinton's image and words in the film, Contact was a success and sparked a re-awakening in interest for more studied and thoughtful sci-fi fare.



11. MEN IN BLACK, 1997. This sharp, hilarious sci-fi comedy took the now-cliche aspects of action blockbuster formula and turned them inside-out, for a fresh take on the genre that ended up spawning two equally popular sequels.  The idea that New York City is crawling with aliens in disguise, who must be rounded up and kept in line by the likes of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, was silly enough in itself.  Add in a loony plot involving a stolen "galaxy" kept inside a small jeweled necklace, and you get a superb send-up of the X-Files mentality that ruled the decade (The X-Files itself went big screen in 1998, although the film played largely like an expanded episode of the TV series--and you had to know what was going on in the series, to follow it.)



12. DARK CITY, 1998. Although a flop at the box office, this extraordinary effort was championed by noted film critic Roger Ebert and has since been hailed as one of the finest modern-day sci-fi films.  It's a dark, brooding effort that borrows its look from Metropolis, Murnau, and 40s noir films, matched to a rather dizzying plot in which nothing is as it seems.  The way the film plays with conceptions of reality is intriguing, but as with The City Of Lost Children it is the production design which ends up lingering long after the film has ended.

The final installment of our series will take us from The Matrix through to the present day, covering sci-fi in the new millennium.


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Golden Era Of Sci-Fi: 1968-1984

In part one of our Sci-Fi series, we looked at the development of the genre from its origins in the silent era with Metropolis, until the turning point that was 2001: A Space Odyssey.  2001 ushered in a new era in sci-fi filmmaking that is frequently hailed as its "golden age"; it's likely that you'll recognize most if not all of the films on this list, which still resonate with audiences some 30-40 years later.  So, grab some popcorn and lay back in your theater seat, and revisit these masterpieces of old:



1. PLANET OF THE APES, 1968.  Although technically speaking this was released a month or so before 2001, it had the same groundbreaking effect with critics and audiences.  With Charlton Heston chewing scenery in the lead role and some of the most iconic imagery in sci-fi history--who can forget the buried Statue Of Liberty?--it's a little campier now than it was then, but still enormous fun.  The recent Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes pales in comparison, though we look forward to Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes this July.

2. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, 1971.  Having revolutionized the genre with 2001, legendary director Stanley Kubrick wowed audiences once more with this cult classic based on the Anthony Burgess novel. Malcolm McDowell gives a career-making performance as the twisted leader of a gang of youths who terrorize a future world, before being captured and sent to a undergo a rehabilitation as shocking as his crimes.  The production design and direction has the post-counterculture feel of the early 70s, which gives it a hallucinatory quality.



3. SOLARIS, 1972.  True to the competitive spirit of the Cold War era, The Soviet Union responded to the new wave of American and British sci-fi by attempting to outdo everyone with this lengthy, highly intellectual meditation on the universe.  The psychological thriller was carried out with absolutely stunning cinematography, and while the plot may be confusing for some, it's the kind of film that you can see over and over again, and discover new things every time.



4. ZARDOZ, 1974.  John Boorman's followup to his Academy Award-winning Deliverance was panned at the time, but soon developed a huge cult following.  Another product of the acid-inspired, intellectual vein of sci-fi in the early-mid 70s, this very esoteric film recounts the tale of a dystopian future world where a "brutal" breaks into the highly guarded realm of the "eternals", and ends up challenging their authority. Known primarily for its scenes of Sean Connery running around in what looks like a giant red diaper, this classic features a dazzling production aesthetic and many references to philosophy and the occult woven into its tapestry.



5. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, 1976.  Rock star David Bowie had already crafted an alien persona for himself on his acclaimed 1972 concept album Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, so it only made sense to cast him as a wayward Martian who visits Earth looking for water, in this Nicolas Roeg adaptation of the 1963 novel. Bowie is a formidable presence on screen, and the story of his character's corruption by humanity makes for a depressing--but utterly compelling--plot.

6. STAR WARS, 1977. OK, although we've already written about this landmark release in a past article covering the Star Wars franchise, there's no way to ignore the monumental impact Lucas' spellbinding creation had not just on sci-fi, but on the entire movie industry.  Like 2001, it completely changed the paradigm, moving away from the brooding, intellectual films of the early-mid 70s and into the action-oriented blockbuster films of today.  Although accused of cheapening cinema, the original creation can hardly be blamed for its pale imitators, now can it?



7. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977.  Spielberg and Lucas competed with each other in 1977 to see who could release the more iconic sci-fi film, and both came up with winners.  Close Encounters is also regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, although it is more in the vein of the measured, dramatic films of the early part of the decade than Star Wars.  The kind of gosh-wow storytelling forever associated with Spielberg really began with this film, which was one of the first mainstream films to explore the idea of a government coverup involving UFO encounters.  Richard Dreyfuss gives a stunning performance in the lead.

8. ALIEN, 1979.  Ridley Scott made his name directing this slab of iconic sci-fi horror, about a spaceship that awakens a terror on an unknown world.  Whereas every sequel has followed the shoot 'em up action blockbuster style of James Cameron's equally epic followup Aliens, the measured tone of the original makes for a far more quietly disturbing affair.  Renowned German artist HR Giger shot to international fame, as a result of his twisted yet strangely beautiful production design for the film.



9. BLADE RUNNER, 1982. Scott followed Alien with this futuristic noir set in a 21st century Los Angeles, with Harrison Ford as a cop sent to exterminate errant "replicants" (androids).  Its thoughtful musings on the rights of artificial intelligence are matched by its grim but intensely detailed vision of the future. The film is known for having several alternate endings, depending on which version one saw; all of these are collected into a special 25th anniversary DVD/Blu-Ray edition released a few years back.

10. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, 1982.  After the success of Star Wars, Paramount Pictures took its legendary sci-fi franchise out of mothballs in an attempt to cash in.  1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture is this author's personal favorite, but its slow pace and cerebral plot left audiences dissatisfied; as a result, the series was streamlined into more traditional action fare for this memorable sequel. Khan is one of the most charismatic villains in sci-fi movie history, played to the hilt by Ricardo Montalban as he and William Shatner attempt to out-ham each other throughout the film's length, with awesome results.

11. E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, 1982. The highest-grossing movie of all time upon its release, Spielberg managed to mix family-friendly warmth with sci-fi thrills with results that everyone could identify with.  The film represented the continued seachange in sci-fi tastes since the advent of Star Wars, from esoteric pondering to mainstream fare, but holds up thanks to a series of memorable scenes and lines ("ET phone home", etc.) that, for once, made the alien the lovable good guy in the scenario.



12. THE TERMINATOR, 1984.  James Cameron burst onto the film world with this taut, highly suspenseful thriller that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star.  Although oft-parodied in the years since, that tends to be a marker of all great sci-fi (how many Planet Of The Apes or Star Wars parodies have you seen?), and the directorial style Cameron used was state-of-the-art back in its day.  While not quite as groundbreaking to audiences 30 years later, the compelling nature of the time-travel story and the urgency of its delivery, makes it worth coming back to.

Up next: Sci-Fi from 1984-2000, the era of the blockbuster.

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, March 17, 2014

The Early Days Of Sci-Fi: 1927-1968

The history of science fiction on film is rich and varied, stretching back from the silent era and on to today's mega-blockbusters.  The genre has always been snubbed by the Oscars, winning awards mostly in technical categories like visual effects and sound editing, although many critics place a number of science fiction films in their lists of the greatest films ever made.  Sci-fi has also proved wildly popular with audiences, and the stereotype that it is only liked by nerds in their mother's basement is unfounded, as people of every age, sex, and social standing make these films big business at the box office. This article is part one of a series which will attempt to trace the development of science fiction on film; this first installment begins with Fritz Lang's still-epic Metropolis and ends with the breakthrough of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which heralded a new kind of science fiction cinema.  Just remember--sci-fi, whether old or new, always looks great in a home theater!  No genre's sights and sounds are better equipped for big-screen thrills.



1. METROPOLIS, 1927.  The first truly eye-popping sci-fi film was Fritz Lang's vision of a futuristic dystopia where workers service the ruling classes.  The film is notable for special effects which still look absolutely epic on-screen, most notably the future metropolis itself with its towering skyscrapers.  There's plenty more with which to feast one's eyes, including the famous robot creation scene with its electrifying bolts of lighting, a gargantuan factory flood, and thousands of extras everywhere you look.  The film is also notable for its sharp social commentary, still relevant today. Although it's a silent film, it's an absolute must-see and will not bore modern audiences.



2. THE INVISIBLE MAN, 1933.  Based on the HG Wells novel, The Invisible Man was one of a slew of classic horror films that came out in the early days of the silent era, including Dracula and Frankenstein; this film turned out to be among the very best, thanks to superb acting and direction.  The story of a scientist who discovers the secret of invisibility and is slowly driven mad, is convincingly portrayed through a series of slow, measured transformations.



3. THINGS TO COME, 1936.  Another Wells novel provided the inspiration for this screen adaptation, which is considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.  Wells himself wrote the script, which covers mankind's history from 1940 to 2054; watch for its astonishing prediction of the outbreak of WWII, including the bombing of England.  The film then moves far into the future, moving through periods of darkness and technological development, with visual effects that were state-of-the-art for their day. Definitely recommended.



4. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, 1951. A dearth of science fiction films in the 1940s was followed by an onslaught in the 1950s, a post-Roswell era when people seemed to see UFOs everywhere they turned.  Most sci-fi of the period was of the exploitative Z-movie type (Plan 9 From Outer Space being only the most infamous), but in the midst of all that came this undeniable classic, which was remade (rather poorly) a few years back.  A staunchly moral film about fear, prejudice, and peace, its central character--the alien Klaatu--has become iconic.



5. WAR OF THE WORLDS, 1953. HG Wells continued to provide much fodder for classic sci-fi during this period, and his story of the invasion of Earth by a fleet of Martian UFOs fit the tenor of the times as much as The Invisible Man's monster ethos plugged in to 30s fads.  This film, one of the first sci-fi epics to be filmed in color, also predicted much of the action-oriented battle aesthetic of the post-Star Wars blockbuster era.  So it made sense that Steven Spielberg directed a popular remake in 2005--but be sure and catch the still-watchable original.



6. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1956.  Although a product of the Z-movie craze of the era, Body Snatchers quickly rose above the crowd as much for its heart-pounding suspense, as its prescient commentary on McCarthyist paranoia.  One of the most frightening films of all time, it plays on some of our darkest fears, and does so in a pitch-perfect manner throughout.  This extremely low-budget film also proves that one does not need gigantic set-pieces or fancy visual effects, to produce ace sci-fi.   A credible remake was made with Leonard Nimoy in 1978.



7. FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956.  On the other hand, gigantic set pieces and fancy visual effects lend much of the splendor to this epic film, which can even still impress audiences today who are used to much more technologically sophisticated fare.  The plot of the movie, which involves a band of space explorers in the 23rd century, would provide Gene Roddenberry with the inspiration for Star Trek a decade or so later. Besides boasting the most elaborate production values of its day, many of the film's ideas like "thought-projection machines" also seem far ahead of their time. Besides, it's got Robby The Robot in it.



8. THE TIME MACHINE, 1960. Yet another HG Wells adaptation, this look into mankind's far, far distant future featured groundbreaking effects for its day.  The tale of a society where humans are slaves ruled over by the dreaded "Morlocks"--a twisted evolution of mankind prompted by a nuclear holocaust--contains messages of revolution and freedom, but is mostly just plain-old popcorn fun.



9. FAHRENHEIT 451, 1966. An adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic, this film was given an arty sheen by French New Wave director Francois Truffaut.  Its view of a future where books are banned leads to a philosophical debate on the merits of knowledge; the lack of the usual action setpieces common to sci-fi make this one of the most cerebral in the genre.  Excellent acting and direction keep the film from looking dated.



10. FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, 1967.  This film, known as Quartermass And The Pit in Britain, was the third in a series of Quartermass films produced by the famous Hammer studio.  It's a crackling thriller involving the discovery of a Martian artifact deep underground in the center of London, which unleashes a signal that causes triggers in the human subconscious.  Its theory of aliens having guided and developed human development here on Earth would foreshadow 2001, as well as various real-life alien conspiracy theories (David Icke and his kind) that make the rounds today!



11. BARBARELLA, 1968.  This very 1960s fantasia stars a young Jane Fonda in the role that initially made her famous.  It's an intentionally campy, humorous, and very psychedelic cult classic based on the French comic, in which a sexy space traveler is assigned to a strange planet to retrieve a deranged scientist. Her adventures are truly bizarre, as only those LSD-riddled times could conjure; look out for Anita Pallenberg's superb performance as one of the villains.  Fun fact: the rock group Duran Duran got its name from the scientist in the film.



12. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 1968. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the Arthur C. Clarke short story "The Sentinel", with script contributions from Clarke himself, turned the science fiction world on its head when released in 1968.  The film matched an intensely intellectual plot with visual effects that represented a quantum leap in the art of filmmaking. Everything about 2001 was memorable: its unique four-part structure, its shot of a bone turning into a spacecraft, the lovably errant computer HAL, the dazzling Jupiter Corridor sequence which blew stoner minds, and the highly enigmatic ending that kept audiences guessing for years.  Universally recognized as one of the greatest films of all time, 2001 seemed to bring sci-fi a new level of respect as a serious artistic form--although if you've seen any of the previous films on this list, you know that it had existed that way for quite some time previously.

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.  













Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Wine Glass Caddy


                                                           

Why a wine glass caddy?  You may not be a wine drinker, and besides, doesn’t each home theater seat already come equipped with cup holders?  Many people do not realize the many benefits a wine glass caddy will add, in both convenience and style, to their home theater seat.  Although labeled a “wine glass caddy”, this convenient accessory can be used for any beverage.  A cup holder can only hold a certain size of cup or glass, and many times you will want the full bottle of liquid and the glass within arm’s reach.  With the caddy, you can place the bottle in the cup holder slot and then pour it into a glass which remains firmly and securely attached right next to it.  This setup is perfect for not only wine enthusiasts but those who drink sparkling ciders, large bottled waters, or large bottled sodas.  You will never have to leave your seat during a movie, just to get the original bottle to re-pour yourself a glass.  And you will never have to leave bottles or glasses on the floor, where they can tip over and spill. 

Our wine glass caddies were also built with luxury style in mind.  You can instantly upgrade the look and feel of your home theater with these elegant-looking setpieces, with their beveled edges fashioned out of stainless steel.  The sleek, sophisticated look will impress anyone, and add a level of grace and convenience not even found in a movie theater itself!   Relax at home with your loved one over a glass of wine and a Blu-Ray copy of Casablanca, or perhaps use the caddies for a big get-together screening of the Dark Knight trilogy.  Whichever way you go, you can rest assured that these accessories were built with the Seatcraft commitment to quality and durability. 



The wine glass caddy is also a perfect match for our other accessories.   You can place the caddy on one armrest and a tray table on another, to enjoy a full dining experience.  Or, you can place an iPad on a tablet holder, so that you can sip and surf at the same time. Articulated lighting will enhance local ambience, if you just wanted to spend a quiet night alone reading with your favorite beverage.   Power recline is always an excellent choice for those who want to lay back in any desired position with a Merlot, after a long day at work.   With the variety of combinations available, there’s no reason why your wine glass caddy won’t become an absolutely indispensable addition to your home theater setup. 





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, March 7, 2014

Kung Fu Hustle

In the early 1970s, a craze for kung-fu movies out of Hong Kong swept through the United States, fueled largely by the sudden stardom of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee.  The craze was actually fairly new to Hong Kong itself, as martial arts films (called "wuxia" films in Chinese) had only gained prominence there in the mid-1960s.  Two major film studios, Shaw and Golden Harvest, responded to the insatiable demand by pumping out dozens of films a year, with the genre reaching a peak in the mid-70s although such films continue to be quite popular to this day.  The vast majority of wuxia films focus solely on the fighting sequences, to the extreme detriment of the plot, dialogue, characters, or acting; in addition, many of the original kung-fu movies of the 70s are frequently parodied for their hilarious mis-dubbed voices in broken English.

In order to pick from the cream of the crop of this highly exploitative genre, we here at 4seating have taken into account the films which not only feature spectacular fight scenes, but better-than average plot and acting as well, which stand on their own merits.  Choosing a bass shaker option for your home theater seat can also optimize the thrill of the martial arts experience, as the sound effects in the best kung-fu movies can truly immerse you in the action.  Here follows seven of the most acclaimed kung-fu films of the past half-century, for your consideration:



THE CHINESE CONNECTION (1972): This film, known as Fist Of Fury in Hong Kong, was Bruce Lee's second major film, and the one which catapulted him to superstar status both at home and abroad.  Its tale of a wuxia student in Shanghai during the 1930s who vows revenge on the Japanese martial arts school which poisoned his master, stoked anti-Japanese sentiment still running strong in the Chinese community after Japan's occupation of the country during WWII.  Americans, however, found much to marvel at in Lee's almost superhuman fighting skills, which were compounded by some of the best fight choreography seen in any film, martial arts or otherwise.  A scene at the Japanese school in which Lee single-handedly takes on an entire class of students, is one of the most iconic in kung-fu cinema.  Lee would go on to even greater success with his Hollywood film, Enter The Dragon (1973), but it's The Chinese Connection which features him at his most potent.  



THE MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976): Considered one of the greatest films to emerge from the initial wave of 70s kung-fu exploitation films, Flying Guillotine stands out thanks to a plot that centers around a martial arts tournament, in which a number of different kung-fu styles are displayed and pitted against each other.  The film is also known for its villain, the blind master of the flying guillotine himself who is played to perfection.  Quentin Tarantino has named this one of his all-time favorite films, and cites it as the primary inspiration for his Kill Bill series (see below).  



THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978): one of the first Hong Kong wuxia films to be shot in mainland China, 36th Chamber became renowned for its unusually fine production standards and acting.  A young rebel against the Manchu government seeks refuge in a Shaolin temple, where he slowly rises through all 36 "chambers" or classes of martial arts training that are offered, each chamber more difficult than the last. The personal transformation of the character is almost as fascinating as the dazzling martial arts sequences; this is certainly the finest and most well-known film to come out of the famed Shaw Brothers studio.  



DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994): In 1978 Jackie Chan became the biggest martial arts star since the late Bruce Lee, in a film named Drunken Master which--as indicated in the title--featured the visually entertaining "drunken" style of boxing, in which the martial artist's movements are deceptively slowed down as if intoxicated.  It took 16 years to produce a sequel, although it turned out superior to the original, and is this site's pick for the definitive Chan film.  Forget about the plot--this one's all about Jackie's extraordinary skills, in which he also happens to choreograph and perform his own stunts.  Drunken Master II was also one of the last films Chan made in Hong Kong, before a lucrative Hollywood career beckoned.  The Hollywood films were successful, but their focus on comedy de-emphasized Chan's greatest strengths.  



CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (1999): The world's premier "kung-fu chick flick" was a sensation at the box-office, becoming the highest-grossing wuxia film up to that point in time.  Crouching Tiger revolutionized the industry, as it took it out of the exploitation genre and turned the kung-fu film into a sumptuous artistic feast, with heavy emphasis on lush production values and A-list direction (Taiwanese director Ang Lee would go on to direct many acclaimed, Oscar-nominated films and eventually win for both Brokeback Mountain and Life Of Pi).  The film's romantic subplot ended up attracting many female viewers to this normally male-dominated genre, which was not lost on the many copycat films that followed in its wake, including the equally-superb House Of Flying Daggers (2004). 



SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001): Writer/actor/director Stephen Chow had been making extremely silly--and extremely clever--kung fu comedies through the 1990s when he shot Shaolin Soccer, which quickly became the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong history.  This film, which focuses on a downtrodden martial artist who attempts to reunite his estranged brothers in a soccer team that will use their kung-fu skills to win the final tournament, is a laugh riot from beginning to end.  It also established Chow's reputation in the United States, where he achieved a measure of mainstream success with the followup Kung Fu Hustle.  It is Shaolin Soccer, however, which remains his masterpiece.  



KILL BILL, VOL.1 (2003): We end our kung-fu odyssey with Quentin Tarantino's loving tribute to the original 70s films (ie. Master Of The Flying Guillotine) that had entranced him while growing up.  The two-part film was divided into an action half (Vol.1) and a drama half (Vol.2).  While Vol.2 is also highly recommended, Vol.1 is where most of the action is.  Tarantino brings all of his unique, postmodern pop-culture dialogue and directorial skills to bear in a classic revenge-oriented plot that even features an extended Manga-style animation sequence.  The climax of the film, in which Uma Thurman's "Bride" character single-handedly defeats hundreds of Japanese attackers, is directly reminiscent of Bruce Lee's scene in The Chinese Connection and now brings us full circle. 

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, March 3, 2014

The Oscars: Wrap-Up

Ah, The Oscars: Hollywood's biggest self-congratulatory night.  It's the most-watched awards show of the year, with an estimated audience of over one billion people worldwide tuning in.  The telecast is usually an overblown marathon of epic proportions, and anyone who has watched it over the decades will not find too much that is surprising.  This year was no exception, although there are always a few memorable moments worth looking back on.  What were the take-away moments from this year's festivities?  Let's see...




After last year's controversial pick of Seth MacFarlane to host the ceremony, the powers-that-be decided to stick with the more reliably safe Ellen DeGeneres this time around.  Ellen first attracted attention for her hosting capabilities when she turned in a very graceful and restrained performance as host of the 2001 Emmys, held just days after 9/11; she was first picked to host the Oscars in 2007 and was so popular that she's been invited back several times, becoming the most reliable host the ceremony has had since Billy Crystal.  This year, she was on fire with a series of inspired comic moments that were among the most talked-about of the evening.  First, she managed to comment on Jennifer Lawrence's comic fall on the red carpet; it was J.Law's second year in a row tripping over her dress, to which Ellen gently suggested that should she win an Oscar, maybe they should bring it to her this time around.  



This brand of inoffensive, but still amusing, humor rescued much of the tedium of the 3 1/2 hour broadcast. At one point, Ellen asked Meryl Streep to join her in a selfie.  A dozen celebrities--including Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Bradley Cooper--quickly tagged along to the shot, resulting in the most re-tweeted photo in Twitter history.  Some commentators actually made more hay out of the fact that Liza Minelli tried to join in on the shot, but was too vertically challenged to be seen!  At another point, Ellen ordered pizza for everyone, passed it out among the celebrities in attendance (with Brad Pitt handing out plates), and then took a collection for the tip...with Sandra Bullock then pretending she had no funds to contribute.  

Such lighter moments were too few and far between, however, in a ceremony that was largely filled with the kind of tedious padding we've all come to expect over the years.  Three-and-a-half hours is just too long for an awards broadcast, and there were far too many tributes and film montages that could have been cut or trimmed to fit the show within a more palatable three-hour time frame.  At one point The Wizard Of Oz was given its own tribute, simply because it was the 75th anniversary of its release.  Then, an otherwise-touching tribute to last year's recently deceased performers was unfortunately followed by Bette Midler performing a rather histrionic "Wind Beneath My Wings".  This was just the kind of canned Oscar "moment" that could have easily been excised, although it did allow this author enough time for both a bathroom and snack break. 




The winners this year were largely predictable, with Gravity and 12 Years A Slave dominating the pack. As usual, the Oscars picked a "message" film (12 Years) for best picture, although in an unusual twist, the best director award went to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity (ordinarily, the same film almost always captures both Best Picture and Best Director honors).  Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong'o won predictable but well-deserved awards for Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and each gave memorable speeches at the podium. Matthew McConaughey was another shoe-in for Best Actor, although there was some speculation about the Best Actress award.  Cate Blanchett was the heavy favorite going in for her stunning performance in Blue Jasmine, until the unresolved molestation scandal involving director Woody Allen suddenly tainted the film. The Academy decided to give her the award anyway, which led to one unavoidable but awkward moment when Blanchett thanked the director in her speech.  

Some noted the irony of Will Smith presenting the award for Best Picture, when he had just won a Golden Raspberry award ("Razzie") the night before for Worst Supporting Actor in the sci-fi dud After Earth. Speaking of which, the film which won Worst Picture that night at the Raspberries was Movie 43, the star-studded sketch comedy fiasco which was roundly panned as not just the worst film of 2013, but one of the worst movies ever made.  While the stars don't exactly take to the stage to accept their dubious honors at the Razzies, the ceremony has become a memorable antidote to the ego-filled pomp and circumstance of the Oscars themselves. 



Perhaps the most disappointing loss of this year's Oscars occurred in the Best Documentary category.  While there was nothing wrong with winner 20 Feet From Stardom, the favorite going in was Jeremy Scahill's riveting Dirty Wars, a scathing indictment of the current US drone strike program.  The subject matter was perhaps too controversial for an Academy still reeling from Michael Moore's infamous (or famous, depending on your point of view) "fictitious wars" speech at the 2003 Oscars, and so Scahill was shut out.  This snub was perhaps indicative of the safer tone the Oscars tried to take this year: no more Seth MacFarlane's, no more Michael Moore's.  Just give us a celeb-studded selfie to retweet and an extra slice of pizza, please!

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