Pre Code Confidential #10: Cecil B. DeMille’s CLEOPATRA (Paramount 1934)

cracked rear viewer


When I hear the words ‘Hollywood Epic’, the name Cecil B. DeMille immediately springs to mind. From his first film, 1914’s THE SQUAW MAN to his last, 1956’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, DeMille was synonymous with big, sprawling productions. The producer/director, who’s credited with almost singlehandedly inventing the language of film, made a smooth transition from silents to talkies, and his 1934 CLEOPATRA is a lavish Pre-Code spectacular featuring sex, violence, and a commanding performance by Claudette Colbert as the Queen of the Nile.

1934: Claudette Colbert in title role of Cecil B. DeMille's film Cleopatra.

While the film’s opulent sets (by Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier) and gorgeous B&W cinematography (by Victor Milner) are stunning, all eyes will be on the beautiful, half-naked Colbert. She gives a bravura performance as Cleopatra, the ambitious, scheming Egyptian queen. She’s sensuous and seductive, wrapping both Caesar and Marc Antony around her little finger, and devious in her political machinations. If I were compare her to Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 Joseph…

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Here Are The Producer’s Guild Nominations!

Earlier today, the Producer’s Guild of America announced its ten nominees for best picture of 2013.  Here they are:

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club




Saving Mr. Banks

The Wolf of Wall Street

There are two big shocks here: 1) Inside Llewyn Davis was not nominated and 2) Blue Jasmine was.  As critically acclaimed as Blue Jasmine was, it’s mostly been viewed as a vehicle for Cate Blanchett to pick up her second Oscar.

Some people are also surprised that The Butler didn’t pick up a nomination.  I’m not.

The PGA also nominated five films for Best Animated Feature:

The Croods,

Despicable Me 2,



Monsters University

Last year, the PGA correctly predicted 4 of the 5 eventual nominees for the Oscar for Best Animated Film.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see that happen again, with The Wind Rises replacing Epic.


Here Are The 19 Films Eligible To Be Nominated For Best Animated Feature


Oscar season continues!  The Academy today released it’s list of the films that are eligible for Best Animated Feature.  Here are the 19 films that are in the running.

Per Academy Rules, no less than two  and no more than 5 of these films will ultimately be nominated.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest and Celestine
The Fake
Free Birds
The Legend of Sarila
A Letter to Momo
Monsters University
O Apóstolo
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie — Rebellion
Rio: 2096 A Story of Love and Fury
The Smurfs 2
The Wind Rises


Ten Years #20: Equilibrium

Decade of scrobbling countdown:
20. Equilibrium (1,323 plays)
Top track (104 plays): Prolog Auf Erden, from Sagas (2008)

At the end of 2008, I made the peculiar decision to rank Sagas only 6th on my albums of the year list. I knew at the time that it would long outlive the albums that trumped it–The Tallest Man on Earth’s Shallow Grave, Boris’s Smile, Waylander’s Honour Amongst Chaos to name a few–but I suppose I was prioritizing some sort of artsy aesthetic over direct appeal. That was silly. Sagas is the most badass, epic 80 minutes of sound you will ever hear, and it deserves all the glory. Since I don’t know German, I can’t really judge how the lyrics hold up against comparable masterpieces like Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth and Turisas’s The Varangian Way, but musically it pretty much perfects every epic/symphonic trend in the world of folk metal. What you hear on the opening track, “Prolog Auf Erden”, is a pretty accurate summary of the full album; it’s an explosive, relentless drive through one of the most imaginative worlds metal has ever conjured.

I can’t say I am terribly experienced in Equilibrium’s broader discography. Turis Fratyr (2005) did not grab me quite so immediately, and at the time I was too caught up in enjoying Sagas to really engage it. Rekreatur (2010) had its merits, but I could never fully get over the change in vocalists from Helge Stang to Robert Dahn. Never a band to rush out the new releases, their fourth studio album is not expected until some time in 2014.

Ten Years #26: Summoning

Decade of scrobbling countdown:
26. Summoning (1,154 plays)
Top track (86 plays): Menegroth, from Oath Bound (2006)
Featured track: Ashen Cold, from Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame (2001)

Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth might be the most inspired musical retelling of any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works to date, but no band has crafted an atmospheric sound to capture that world quite so convincingly as Summoning. With a sound that would just as soon excite fans of video game music or “new age” artists like David Arkenstone as their orginal black metal fan base, Summoning have forged a truly unique musical path. While their first studio album, Lugburz (1995), was relatively standard for the synth-laden black metal of its day, they nearly finalized the sound that made them famous on Minas Morgul, released later that same year. Since then, the only perceptible change has been a slow decline in the use of tremolo guitar; the quality of the songwriting and the imaginative world it invokes has remained pretty consistently superb.

For me at least, Summoning and Tolkien’s fantasy world have become nearly inseparable. The echoing, tribal drums paint vast landscapes cast dark by distorted vocals and guitar. The synth speckles the scene in a light that, never breaching the world of full orchestration, retains a fantasy aspect through its unnatural sound. The lyrics enliven the music with the spirit of an epic tale–whether it be the dramatic narrated loop on on “South Away”–“By the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards!”–the water god Ulmo’s bold proclamations on “Farewell”–Who can tell you the age of the moon? But I can! Who can call the fish from the depths of the sea? Yes, I can! Who can change the shapes of the hills and the headlands? I can!–or the spirit of perseverance on the track here featured–“Though his body is not tall and his courage seems small, his fame will take long to fade.”

Tolkien’s greatest achievement was to craft a fantasy world so vast that imaginative minds ever since have managed to forge a place within it. Summoning have done so with a level of excellence nearly unrivaled, and they continue to today. There might have been a seven year gap between Oath Bound (2006) and Old Mornings Dawn (2013), but their new release is in every way on par with the rest. It’s a bit of a wonder that they’re only ranked 26th on my decade-spanning charts. I suspect that, another ten years from now, they’ll be much nearer the top, because their music takes me to a place that is eternal.

AMV of the Day: Nothing to Lose (One Piece)


Awhile back site editor pantsukudasai56 wrote that the term “epic” has been overused and lost all its meaning. Everything and everyone has been called epic when most do not truly deserved the label. He did say that if there was anything which truly deserved the label of being “epic” then it would be one of the longest running manga and anime series: Oda Eiichiro’s One Piece.

It’s from One Piece that the latest “AMV of the Day” comes from. To be even more specific it’s from one of the most epic story arcs in the series that the latest chosen AMV originates from: the Marineford Arc (aka Paramount War Arc). It’s a story arc that lasts as long as most anime series (30+ episodes) yet is just a fraction of the current total number of episodes already shown. No other piece of entertainment has had such a long-running success which it continues to this day.

Not much else to say other than watch why this series deserve the title of “epic”.

Anime: One Piece

Song: “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” by Shinedown

Creator: freakinerd

Past AMVs of the Day


AMV of the Day: The New Era (One Piece)

To say that Mass Effect 3 has been ruling my free time for the last two weeks would be an understatement. During breaks in-between playing the game I’ve been checking out YouTube and I came across a new AMV which somewhat ties in to Mass Effect 3 through the piece of music used to launch the game. The latest “AMV of the Day” once again takes us back to the epic anime series One Piece.

This anime music video acts less like your typical music video and more like a trailer to help convince the non-believers why One Piece is an anime series that should be watched by everyone. Creator Schandlover does a great job of using the ban Two Steps From Hell and their song, “Protectors of the Earth”, and creating a trailer that truly shows why Eiichiro Oda’s long-running manga and anime really deserves to be called epic. This is the same song used by BioWare as they also try to point out the epic epicness of Mass Effect 3 .

Anime: One Piece

Song: “Protectors of the Earth” by Two Steps From Hell

Creator: Schandlover

Probicus Parley 006

Probicus Parley
A Starcraft 2 Daily


This is worth watching even if you don’t play the game. I want to post up a replay I watched about a week ago of an absolutely epic Starcraft 2 match, Toss against Zerg. This might be the most ridiculous SC2 match played to date.

The game pits MasterAsia, one of the top 5 zerg players on the US server, against protoss player TTOne, a pro from Brood War. If I remember correctly this is a 1v1 Quick Match, not a planned encounter. The match lasts a little over an hour and can be downloaded as a replay here:

The four youtube videos that follow condense the game down to about half an hour, with commentary provided by HDstarcraft. You can probably skip the third video without missing much, but definitely watch the final few minutes. The word epic was invented for events such as these.

Film Review: Avatar (directed by James Cameron)

When was the last time any film became an experience for you? Not just a film that made you think or whose narrative and story exercised your mind. I mean a film that despite some of its flaws became such an experience that you became swept up with the rest of the audience in immersing yourself within the film. The biggest and most hyped film of 2009 and, most likely, this first decade of the new millenium, was such a film for me. A film over 15 and more years in the making for mega-director James Cameron more than lives up to the imposed upon hype (fair or not this film couldn’t escape the hype) which hounded it right from the very first new bit leaked about its production.

James Cameron’s Avatar is not the greatest film ever made despite what the studio heads financing it may declare. Nor does it change filmmaking the way technicolor film did during the late 50’s and early 60’s. What he has accomplished with this film is to finally give filmmakers a blueprint on how to make the intimacy between an audience and a film get much closer than in the past. Stories and ideas which in the past were said to be unfilmmable because the technology is just not there to make it happen is finally arriving, if not already here.

This film was and is an experience that should be seen whether one buys into the story or not. It is a story that is not very original and for some may conjure up a certain Oscar-winning Costner-directed film or a certain animated feature with Gully in the title. I won’t say that it doesn’t matter that it’s not original, but I will say that the story works in the film. Cliched and hackneyed dialogue and all they work within the film Cameron was making. I will never mistake Cameron’s writing skills when it comes to dialogue to be on the level of Kaufman or Mamet, but he does know how to tell a simple story and make the audience follow it and, if they’re willing, immerse themselves in it. It helps that he has an innate sense for keeping the story moving forward to prop up what may be lacking in the tale.

With that particular flaw out of the way I must say that I haven’t felt like this about a film (not even the best one I’ve seen this year) since the first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring and, prior to that, Spielberg’s first Jurassic Park. Only a few films can truly sweep me into what I was watching and just hold on and enjoy the ride. It didn’t matter that what I was watching wasn’t the second coming of Rashomon or this generation’s Citizen Kane. What I watched I fully bought into. The new world of Pandora as imagined by Cameron and brought to life by the magicians at WETA Digital and ILM. There was a sense of dedication in what I was witnessing. The detail, clarity and realness of someone’s imagination come to life made me hopeful that some of the boundaries people said would never be crossed creatively will finally have people stepping over them.

While the film is also being shown on 2D for theaters who haven’t upgraded some rooms with 3D-capable gear I will say that Avatar must and need to be seen in 3D with IMAX 3D being the ideal format. It is the way Cameron has utilized the new “emotion capture” cameras he helped develop and create just to finally achieve that CGI-photoreal flaw which makes films like Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol creepy in a certain way when seen. The so-called “Uncanny Valley” which exist in past films where CGI-characters replace flesh and blood actors doesn’t exist in this film. Using the groundbreaking “mo-cap” technique developed by WETA Digital for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (the trilogy which finally convinced Cameron that it was time to make Avatar and do it they way he envisioned it). The computer-generated Na’Vi have taken the crown from WETA’s first CGI creation (Gollum) and are now the most realistic CGI characters ever put on screen. Cameron shows with Avatar that there’s no limit on how much CGI should be used in a film. It’s how they’re implemented and pulled off that counts. Lucas, Bay and other proponents of CGI who have failed in its creative use down the years have much to learn from what Cameron has achieved with this film.

While it took several minutes to adjust to the 3D-effect in the film the moment my eyes finally adjusted to what it was watching everything clicked for me and the thought I was watching a film almost left my mind. The combination of CGI and real-life scenes didn’t just blur but disappeared altogether. I’m more than willing to nitpick a film’s heavy use of CGI and even some of the very best and most entertaining CGI-heavy films have certain scenes which can shock an audience out of the moment. I didn’t feel that in this film and it was that total immersion in the work done by Cameron and his digital magicians which helped me overcome the story’s familiarity and, as some would call it, ordinary-ness.

Even with the kind of material the actors had to work with the overall performances by everyone involved ranged from good to excellent. While I will admit that characters who were definitely written to be villains were done so one-dimensionally the way the performers played to be done these characters did a fine enough job that I bought into them. Yes, the corporate weasel and Burke-reborn played by Giovanni Ribisi did look very cartoonish in his execution of his character’s motivations. Again Cameron is not known and will never be known for very deep and well-rounded characters. The same one-dimensionality in characterization still holds with the one character who stood out the most. Stephen Lang as Col. Miles Quaritch was scenery-chewing at its best. It has been quite the year for this journeyman actor. First he stands out in Mann’s Public Enemies and now literally steals the film from Sam Worthington’s “Hero on a Journey”. While I doubt his performance won’t win him much accolades this awards season and will probably be overlooked it still stands as one of the most riveting and grab-you-by-the-collar performance of the year. He joins an elite group of characters audiences love to hate, but still can’t forget or take their eyes off of.

For those expecting the usual breakdown and deconstruction of this film will probably think I’ve joined the Jim Cameron train and drank the Kool-Aid (the purple stuff even), but I can’t seem to wrap my ahead around why I enjoy and love this film despite the aforementioned familiarity and weakness in the story, the sometimes cliched dialogue and one-dimensional take on characters. Is Avatar just a technical and visual marvel that delivers on what Cameron has promised? Yes, it is and more so. Does the CGI and bombastic climax get in the way of the storytelling? No, I believe it actually helps it along and props it on legs as fragile and weak as Jake Sully’s own human ones.

In the end, I have to conclude that my love for this film despite all its flaws comes down to the fact that watching Avatar was an experience for me and one that only happens so very rarely with film nowadays. Yes, Cameron didn’t make a perfect film nor did he craft a film that is better than sliced bread. But what he did make was a filmgoing experience that decades from now would be talked about in the same way people talk about how they felt when they first saw Star Wars and believed in Jedis and space battles. Or how people felt when they saw Donner’s first Superman and believed that a man could indeed fly. Cameron and his Avatar made me believe that there is a Pandora and that it is a place I hope to visit, but barring that at least experience it through Cameron’s eyes as he sees it. I am definitely ready for what he has in store next and what other filmmakers can create with what he has shown them to be possible.