For many years, we have attended the Hollywood Bowl Movie nights and enjoyed the live orchestra as an accompaniment to the images that they show on the screen. Last night was a similar experience but instead of scenes or clips we got the whole film with a live symphony.
movie cannot be faulted in any way. Almost universally "The Godfather"
is recognized as one of the great achievements in cinema. It is another
reminder of the second golden age in Hollywood that lasted most of the
decade of the 1970s. The music from the movie is iconic. It is
immediately identifiable and has become iconic. A few notes and suddenly
anyone in listening range will be transported to the violent,
romanticized world of the mafia from the mid-20th Century. The sounds of
the film have been used in a million parodies because everyone knows
the central themes.
This was my first visit
to the Nokia Theater in the L.A. Live plaza. The theater, which has
been seen by many on a dozen award shows, seats over 7,000 which is
comparable and maybe even a little larger than the Radio City Music Hall
in NYC. We arrived early because the Will Call message said there would
be line ups, but we were so early I could walk right up. With some time
on our hands, the three of us walked over to have dinner at the Lawry's
Carvery on the corner. This is an informal dining experience that
features some of the same foods served at my favorite dining
establishment, Lawry's The Prime Rib. We each ordered a prime rib based
sandwich, and a drink, as well as a dessert to share. The total was just
over $60, that is until they ran my VIP card and discovered my
accumulated points. The three of us ended up dining on .48 cents. That
was a nice treat.
walked back to the theater and enjoyed all the lighted marquees for the
restaurants and events and movies and television programs that were
being advertised. The Electronic marquee of the Nokia had the logo for
the event on it in dramatic red, white and black. There was a minor
glitch in trying to enter the theater. I had three sets of keys in my
pocket and on two of the key rings I have small tools which include
knife blades that are maybe an inch long. I hardly every think of these,
much less consider them as potential weapons, but the woman at the
metal detector was having none of it so I sent my wife and daughter in
and I walked back to the car to unload my dangerous tools.
returning to the theater, I sought my companions but I ended up on the
mezzanine level instead of the loge level and had to be redirected. The
theater is impressive in size and elegantly simple. It is not overly
ornamented but it has some classic lines and there are subtle colored
florescent accent lights on the loge boxes on the sides of the theater.
we first sat down, the seats were nearly empty, we were almost forty
minutes away from the start of the program. By the time 8:00 arrived,
every seat was filled. Seven thousand people had shown up to see a movie
that is forty three years old.That is the power that "The Godfather"
still holds over cinema lovers.
of one large screen, there were three. One located immediately above
the orchestra on stage and then one on either side of the stage. You
would have a very clear view no matter were you sat in the venue. The
movie would be digitally projected, which must certainly simplify the
process of synching up the score as played by the musicians with the
images on the screen. It was never distracting to me, but I could see
that the conductor had a computer screen on the podium in front of him,
with the click track imposed on top of the film images so that
everything would be timed perfectly. For three hours that is exactly
The score by Nino Rota, is
filled with original music but also traditional Italian melodies and
American popular jazz of the 1940s. The musicians moved seamlessly from
style to style and they were all excellent. Special notice should
however be given to the lead trumpet, the pianist, the mandolin player,
and the principle cellist. They had to work the hardest and there are
several sections in the movie where they are unaccompanied by any of the
other musicians and their solo work was excellent.
thing that is very noticeable when watching a film with an orchestra
playing the music, is the number of times that there is no background
music. The dialogue in so many scenes weaves a musical tapestry all by
itself. At the convocation of mobsters, the voice of Marlon Brando, and
the words that he speaks, flow smoothly through the scene as if they
were a music passage. The sounds of gravel and crickets in Sicily, and
the noisy children and gunfire on the New York City streets also fill
the atmosphere a number of times with any musical sweetening. Of course
when a dramatic act takes place, there is a powerful punctuation of the
emotion with a fanfare or motif that fits just as it should.
of the first dates I took my wife on, was a double feature of "The
Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II", at the State theater in
Pasadena, California. Together, the two films are almost six and a half
hours long. At that distant screening way back in 1976, as the first
movie ended and we stood up to take advantage of a break, the lights
suddenly went down again and the second film stared almost immediately.
We sat right back down and made it through both movies without a break.
Last night, the screening inserted an intermission right after Michael
assassinates Sollozzo and Captain McClusky. I know all too well that
there was no intermission in the original film, but it worked well last
night and I'm sure it was as much for the musicians benefit as it was
for the audience. That
gave us an opportunity to narcissisticly have our picture taken in
our seats. Those are very genuine smiles because we were having a
wonderful time. The love song from "The Godfather", "Speak Softly Love"
was the music we played at our wedding back in 1980. The minister at my
childhood church questioned us about it a little but she understood that
it was a love song and not really an endorsement of the gangsters in
the film and she went along with our preference very easily.
the end of the film, when I was waiting in the lobby for my companions
in the ladies room, I checked my phone and saw there was a message on my
Facebook page. I'd posted that we were attending and an old high school
friend messaged me that he was there as well. I would have loved
connecting with him for a few minutes, we haven't really seen each other
in forty years but it looks like the movies of that decade still hold
sway over those of us who came of age at that time. Next time Ron.
heard someone in the bathroom suggest "Lawrence of Arabia" for a
similar experience. I am already waiting for such an announcement, "long
live classic movie music!". I
know that this event played in New York last summer, I hope it makes it
to your town so that you can share the experience of a great film with a
magnificent score, performed right in front of you by professionals
that really know how to bring it all home. Here in Southern California,
we have the finest studio musicians in the world and they did this movie
and it's score proud.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Forty years ago, as a young man, I hiked many sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. In my scout troop we had a guy who backpacked the entire length of the trail but he did not do it in one fell swoop like Cheryl Strayed did. The accomplishment of such a monumental feat by someone not trained, experienced or wise in the ways of the wilderness is pretty impressive and at the same time completely foolish. Walking into the wild by yourself is an invitation to self reflection, a strong communing with nature and disaster. Watching the event take place for two hours in a comfortable theater at a ripe older age made me nostalgic until the first snowfall encountered.
This is a highly personal story that will strongly appeal to the navel gazers among the cinema going population. It will serve as a travelogue for those who have never been from the depths of the Mojave to the heights of the Sierras and it will depress anyone who has lost a loved one. It will also confuse those of us who lack the personal tragedy gene that would drive someone to wreck their life when a loved one passes unexpectedly. I cannot sit in judgement of a person's emotional life, everyone is different in the way they cope, but this film left me empty at the experience that drove Cheryl to attempt this trip. I certainly appreciated the flashbacks that accentuated her relationship with her mother, but I was bewildered at how the level headed, bright young woman that she was when her mother is lost, became the bitter, drug addicted victim of serialized promiscuity, forsaking a man that seemed to truly love her. That it happened and that there was a reason for it I do not doubt, I just don't understand any better as a result of watching this movie.
The story unfolds as Cheryl hikes the 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest trail and thinks back on the life that had brought her to this point. The flashbacks give us detail in the way she grew up and the warm relationship she had with her mother, but they do not clarify the path that lead her to the self destructive behavior in the first place and there is not a very clear reason why she choose this task as a way of closure and repentance. Maybe there is a moment of clarity or an epiphany that brings this sad Minnesota girl to the West Coast and the Sierra Nevada range of mountains, but without a context it felt like an arbitrary odyssey to set out on. Reese Witherspoon is effective as Cheryl, both in her moments on the trail and in her earlier life. The struggle of the wilderness is however the thing that brings out the most impressive parts of her performance. She plays awkward, fearful and frustrated at various moments. In two sequences you can fathom the possible human dangers that a young woman on a mission like this could face. The dangers from the wilderness get a little bit less attention but she does present a woman struggling with an obsession very clearly.
Laura Dern is the mother who inspires and maddens her. This is the third film I have seen her in during the last year or so. She has the reverse role of a mother losing her child in "The Fault in our Stars" and she is much more grounded and less showy in "When the Game Stands Tall". As Cheryl's mother, she shows us in brief moments the kind of love and fortitude that would make her a hero to her daughter. There is also an implied sense that her early life with the abusive father of her children is a source of some of Cheryl's anger, but Dern never played the mom as a doorman. She was cautious and had limited options but as far as we can tell she ultimately did the right thing by her kids. Some of the film editing might make the performance more meaningful by contrasting the adult Cheryl with her younger self in some places.
Cheryl encounters a variety of obstacles along her path. Some of those are natural, some man made and many are self inflicted. The people she meets along the way are occasionally interesting but they rarely get much opportunity to sparkle and take focus away from the story we are watching. I suspect that the book delves deeply into some of the philosophies that are represented by the variety of fellow trekkers on her march. I am not at all surprised that the spiritual descendants of hippies are prevalent in the story. Yurt living, Jerry Garcia worshiping, iconoclasts populate some of the outskirts of civilization in the forest. Whether they are free spirits to be admired or outcasts to be puzzled over is not clear from the story. What is clear is that if you can look deeply into a Grateful Dead lyric or jam, or if dead poets and writers are inspiring to you, than you will get more out of this film than the rest of us.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
This should not take too long. This is a perfunctory sequel to a sequel to a terrific movie. It has little to offer on it's own, except for standard action sequences and interminable car chases and crashes. The story is convoluted nonsense that fits into many of today's thrillers where criminals lurk around every corner and there is a convenient betrayal behind every door. All the actors do their jobs but it is mostly going through the motions rather than creating something memorable or essential. None of this is a surprise after the lackluster second entry, also directed by Olivier Megaton. When I looked back, I was more enthusiastic than I remember, and I know I must have been somewhat blinded because I have never revisited the sequel.
There are three things that make this movie worth a visit. Forrest Whitaker does a nice job playing a sharp LAPD Detective. At some point in his career, someone decides that he would make a good cop. I think he has been an FBI agent or a cop in the last two or three things I saw him in. The part is not especially well written but he adds some thoughtfulness to it through his performance and especially his voice. The second element that makes this somewhat worthy is the use of Bryan Mills team of buddies. That actually get to do something in this movie and they show they are pretty clever also. They still could have been utilized more but at least they don't just show up and drop something off for him.
The third thing that makes this somewhat worth seeing is the star himself. Liam Neeson can now play these parts without breaking much of a sweat. Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on your view of Neeson. I have always liked him as an actor, my family jokes a little that I have a mancrush on him. I'm a fan, and I will probably always be available if Liam wants to show up on screen and kill a bunch of people. I do think it is interesting that he became an action star at the point in life when other action stars who have been doing these kinds of movies much longer, are sometimes mocked for being geriatric. He did star as "Darkman" in 1990, but his career did not really become littered with action roles until maybe ten years ago. I suppose he still feels fresh enough to the audience that we can still go with it.
Now the other things that made this movie a problem for me. I already mentioned the frequency of car chase sequences but they are problematic for some other reasons as well. The director shoots the car scenes in such frequent close ups that at times you might forget that the characters are in cars. The action of the cars is also so tight that you can't really get a sense of what is happening to whom, except that there is a lot of mayhem in most of these parts. The ubiquitous shaky cam is present in all of these scenes as well, and once again instead of creating tension or a feeling of being in the action, it creates a sense of vertigo that made at least one member of our part nauseous enough that they had to leave the theater. The action sequences also have that problem, but they suffer from a bigger deficiency, "sanitized brutality". There is a minimum of blood, the broken bones and cracked skulls don't jump out and make you winch they way they did in the first film. There is something too "PG-13" in the way the material is being put together. I did however appreciate Bryan's impromptu waterboarding sequence. It can't hold a candle to the electric shock scene in the original "Taken", but it does show what a nasty customer Bryan can be.
I liked the movie a little more than the second film, but neither will be very memorable. If you are a connoisseur of Liam Neeson action films, than you can't really skip this one. It is a part of a Neeson Franchise and so it is necessary for you. If you are interested in an average action thriller for a date night, this will suffice. If you wanted a good movie, move along, this will not give you what you need. The fact that i enjoyed it probably says more about my faults than it does about the quality of the film.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
The most controversial movie of the year. Yep, I said it and as hard as it is to believe it is true. This stupid, vulgar, lazy excuse for killing two hours and a tub of popcorn became the focus of international tension, craven corporate decision making, and judgement by movie fans around the world. All of you who read anything on line already know what the battle lines are. Now it is to to discover what we are fighting over.
"The Interview" is basically a comedy in the vein of "Spies Like Us". It pairs two well known comic figures in an outrageous espionage story that no one would mistake as a James Bond movie, much less a piece of political propaganda. The Soviets were not as thin skinned as the North Koreans, or perhaps they were more worried about their citizens living conditions and so ignored drivel that is not a real affront to any state or sovereign. This movie is arrested development, adolescent, shart humor, financed by money grubbing studios and narcissistic performers. I don't think it is anyone's patriotic duty to see it simply because you support free speech, but it is a good example of why we have protection from the government for free expression, so that the stupidest ideas in the world can be expressed.
If you have seen any of the comedies from Seth Rogan in the past, you know that the humor relies on stoner jokes and vulgar language. The frequency with which the f-word is bandied about in this film could be dangerous to the comics themselves. If people really used the term as frequently and with such reckless abandon as the characters in these films, it would lose any taboo status and stop being funny when inserted into conventional conversation.
So far, I have probably given you the impression that I did not like the movie. far from it, I laughed hard at a number of things. The movie has random violence done for comic effect, I like that. It is full of stupid people being judged by others and by themselves in pretty harsh terms, that is funny also. It lampoons the most xenophobic and dangerous nation on the planet, and guess what, it's not the U.S., I like that too. Are the characters engaged in racist and sexist stereotyping, uh duh. As is usual with these kinds of movies, we are supposed to see that they are morons and laugh at them for their stupidity, it is called satire, a concept that the politically correct in this world seem to be unable to comprehend.
When Katy Perry's "Fireworks" becomes an anthem for revolution, it is not hard to guess that sarcasm is part of the mix. Not everything works in the movie, but there are enough but jokes and penis references to make the average college fraternity laugh a dozen times in the movie. One brief shot of nudity is included to be titillating, unless you are thinking of the longer shots of Seth Rogan's naked character or Kim Jung Un's backside.
For me the real political controversy is over the use of streaming services to deliver movies. On a Sunday night, my network slowed down enough to stop the film three or four times. Until the delivery is seamless, theaters should not be too worried about day and date VOD releases. Plus, this way, all the pot smokers will be at home watching instead of on the road driving to the movie in a highly lit condition. This movie is exactly what you think it is, and if that appeals to you, as it did to me, you will enjoy it well enough.
OK, this is a good way to start the New Year on a movie blog. Last night I had the chance to see the three films from Robert Zemekis that cemented his position as the most commercial director of the 1980s outside of Steven Spielberg, who of course was a producer on all three films himself. This was a digital presentation at the Egyptian Theater and the house was packed. I saw several attendees wearing down vests and one guy with Griff's hat on from the second movie. It is now 2015 and that was the year in the future that Marty and Doc went to to try and straighten out Marty's kids. Unfortunately we don't have the Hoverboards, Flying cars and self tying shoes predicted in the film, but we do have skype, flatscreen TVs, Google Glass, and more channel choices that someone could watch at the same time than anyone should find necessary.
This will not be a full review on each film but rather just a quick recap and a few comments. These movies are pretty well known and are beloved by millions. The first in the series is one of the great pop entertainment surprises ever. While the follow ups struggle to achieve the same kind of magic as the original, they manage to do the one thing that every consumer of films wants, entertain us.
The original film roared out of no where in 1985 to incredible popular success and made Michael J. Fox an entertainment icon rather than simply a good character on a successful TV show. The cleverness of the concept and it's execution are hard to match. This film is funny, exciting and it manages to raise our awareness of family history and it's significance along the way. While Fox is clearly the star, the secret weapon in this film is Christopher Lloyd, who got laughs from an intake of breath and a bug eyed scream. He manages to make some of the slapstick work where so often it does not in modern films. I will also mention that Lea Thompson is best used in this film and she does the "good girl with a bad side" 50s character just perfectly. She is also strikingly attractive in the film.
Four years later, the second film was released at the Thanksgiving holidays. It was a success but came nowhere close to matching the original box office draw of it's predecessor. Maybe too much time had elapsed or maybe it is the sour tone of the movie. Fox is still great, but the complicated movement between time periods and the inconsistency of some of the rules make it a little sloppy. Having to invent a character fault in Marty, in order to justify the story line is also a bit frustrating. Thomas Wilson as Biff/Griff does a great job in building his malignant character, but because the movie uses him in such cartoony ways and so frequently, the movie feels shrill. Doc Brown gets short shrift in this chapter of the story and Elizabeth Shue, as the new Jennifer, is put to sleep a third of the way into the movie and does not return until the coda of the third film. When I first saw this thirty years ago, it was a bit of a letdown. Last night however, it was pure joy. The future sequences play even more effectively now that we are in 2015 and the suspense bits still work. While I feel as if this is the weakest of the three films, that does not mean it is not a success. There is plenty here to enjoy.
The third chapter was awkwardly set up in the second film, but once it gets started it works just fine and it feels seamless rather than forced. The historical context is fun and the western tropes that are lampooned were amusing. Marty adopts the "Man with No Name" persona, and gives him a name, Clint Eastwood. The fact that Clint was a big star at the time but also the only star who tried to keep Westerns alive during the 80s was a big whoop for film fans. Familiar Western character actors are sprinkled through the film and the gulf between the real west and the movie west is explored just a bit. The addition of Mary Steenburgen to the cast was a nice touch and gives Doc a great conclusion to his story. Watch Wilson copy Lee Marvin from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance" in his portrayal of "Mad Dog Tannen". He gets the walk, swagger and body movement just right, and in case you missed it, he carries a riding crop in his non-shooting hand. This was a simpler version of the time travel story and it effectively wrapped up the story lines they had created in the second movie. The fact that the two sequels were shot simultaneously saved some money and allowed this film to be released just seven months after the second installment.
A pleasant evening was had by all and I am much more ready to come back to these films than I have been for a while. They really were terrific entertainment even when there are some issues in the time story sequences.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Here at KAMAD, I focus on movie reviews of films I have seen in theaters. Reviews however are not the only thing that takes up space on this blog page. Movie related events come up on a regular basis in my world and they get some on-line love from me as well.
In case you are not a regular at Kirkham A Movie A Day, here are some items you may enjoy but may have missed in the last year. Click on the picture to be magically transported to the post.
A personal appearance by the Man in Black (no, not Johnny Cash)
There is something satisfying about closing out the past year and starting the new year with an inventory of favorites. Almost everyone enjoys making and reading lists, and I think it's because it reminds us of what is out there and it allows a quick form of social comparison to everyone else inventory. I don't know how other bloggers feel about their work, but all of us are narcissistic enough to hope that others will enjoy reading what we have to say. Frankly, when I look back I appreciate the tone of what I have written and my own enthusiasm or disdain.
My list is not an attempt to thoroughly evaluate the films of the last year, there are too many quality pictures that I have yet to see. "Birdman", "The Theory of Everything", "Boyhood", "The Imitation Game" are all films that are mentioned during awards season here that I have yet to experience. I know that I will be seeing some of these at the upcoming "Best Picture Showcase" put on by AMC Theaters, so I am not in a panic, but I am limited to ranking those films that I did see.
I have varied tastes and limited resources. I pay for everything I see in a theater, and on a weekly basis I have to decide based on mood and release patterns what it is I will see. Of the 54 new films released in 2014 that I paid to see in a theater, these are my favorites, click on the poster image for the original review.
10. Jodorowsky's DuneFilm makers are craftsmen, artists, businessmen and sometimes they are visionaries. Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of those directors with a vision. It was grandiose, wondrous, and completely over the top. The ideas for his version of "Dune", the Frank Herbert novel that he had never even read were impractical but also spectacular for the time period he was working in. When you hear him tell the story, you will know why the film did not come together, and you will mourn this lost opportunity.
9. Captain America: The Winter SoldierMarvel Film Studios have been providing solid comic book action for more than a decade now. They don't control all of the crown jewels in their own stable of heroes but they have made many of the less well known figures into icons. Of the Avenger's, Captain America has been my favorite. His traditional sense of right and wrong often conflicts with the murky world of the spies he ends up working with. This film is a terrific concoction of political intrigue and super hero conflict. A thinking man's comic story in a great piece of pop entertainment.
8. Gone Girl
7. A Walk Among the TombstonesI have not seen much love for this film at the end of the year. When it was released, a number of other bloggers found it to be average and classified it with the other Liam Neeson action pictures of the last few years. I beg to differ. This somber and depressing story about an alcoholic ex-cop seeking redemption through work as an unlicensed private investigator gives Neeson a chance to stretch those acting chops and the story frankly gives me nightmares. When a shot of someone eating a bowl of cereal is a frightening prospect, you know someone created a real story of horror.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. The Lego MovieI usually end up with an animated film on my list because I love that medium and there is usually a Pixar, Disney, or Dreamworks product to fit the slot. Not this year, the animated movie of the year and one of the best movies of any type is this Warner Brothers release of a movie based on a toyline. Chris Pratt and Liam Neeson make back to back appearances on my list. The voice talent is this movie is amazingly diverse and at times hysterical. Will Arnett's Batman will entertain you for hours. The look of this movie is like something you have never seen before. The pinnacle of boisterous fun in the film is the theme song that says it all, "Everything is Awesome."
4. The Grand Budapest HotelWes Anderson films are an acquired taste. I can't say I have seen everything he has made, but I can say that I am always impressed when I have seen his films. This movie could almost qualify as a live action version of the "Fantastic Mr. Fox". The diversity of characters, the caper elements to the plot and the quirkiness in the action are all repeated in a slightly different story. Ralph Fiennes gives a performance of comic genius proportions and the movie is marvelous to look at. This is a rich meal to be savored rather than junk food to be consumed. I look forward to stumbling upon this film over the years and becoming caught up in it's elegant weirdness.
3. NightcrawlerThe central performance that drives this movie is one of the main reasons to see it. Jake Gyllenhall is creepy magnetic and scary, in the most passive ways you can imagine. The movie also has something to say about our culture and the news media, and it does so in a stunningly honest way. It is amazing that the local media here in L.A. allowed themselves to be examined in this way while participating so much in the films production. The nightmare of uncontrolled ambition and manipulation that fills all of the characters but especially Lou Bloom, an entrepreneur in the worst case imaginable example, will haunt you well past the film's conclusion.
2. InterstellarThe last film I saw in the year, despite being one of my most anticipated. I found much to admire in "Inception" from a few years ago, but I did not drink the Kool Aid at the time. I still thought Christopher Nolan was one of the best film makers of our current crop but that film felt constantly like it was trying to dazzle us rather than say something. I feel the exact opposite about "Interstellar". It has something to say while dazzling us with the visual story telling. This is an intelligent and thoughtful script with much to say about humanity and love. If "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the new generation "Star Wars" than "Interstellar" is the new generation "2001". It may not be a film for everyone, but it is a film everyone should see.
1. WhiplashAs "Nightcrawler" was a film about unbridled ambition, "Whiplash" treads the same territory from the point of view of two characters rather than just the one. Andrew Neiman, the student drummer with ambition as big as the sky, is as self centered as they come. He manages his relationships but is most satisfied only when he achieves greatness at his vocation. Terrance Fletcher is the teacher that will never tell him he is great. In Fletcher's mind, that would ruin the clay he is trying to mold. This story could have been another in a long line of inspirational teacher films, instead it plays like a thriller with a high amount of tension and a monster lurking in every scene. J.K. Simmons may be evil incarnate or he may be the greatest mentor in music history. Whichever it turns out to be, you will not forget this performance. This is a movie so completely realized that I can't think of anything about it that I would want to change. Beware of what you wish for has never been more true a warning.
A few movies just missing my top ten list include: Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men Days of Future Past and Muppets Most Wanted.