Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lady Bird



The characters portrayed in this film go to Catholic Schools and wear uniforms reflecting that status. Inspired by that vision and setting, I am prepared to make a confession. "Bless me internet for I have sinned. I am not a Catholic so it has been my whole life since my last confession,...I did not love this film."  Unlike Marion McPherson, I like Lady Bird rather than love her. After hearing so many podcast raves and seeing the 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which finally dropped today to 99%), maybe I was expecting too much. Don't get me wrong, this is a perfectly fine movie and it has some excellent qualities to share with us, but it is not a "perfect" film, although I can say it is an accurate and honest one.

One of the guys on the "In Session Film" podcast, said his only complaint was that "hella tight" sounded too early for 2003. He apparently is unaware that the term "hella" has been around the NorCal area since the early seventies and there was a No Doubt song that featured the phrase the year before. To me it sounded completely authentic to time and place. The one thing only that felt inauthentic was a sex scene where the girl keeps her bra on. I understand and respect the right of the film makers to present their story in a manner that is non-lascivious.  This is not an 80s teen comedy after all, but Saoirse Ronan is not Janet Leigh in the opening scene of "Psycho" released in 1960. The idea that a teen Lothario would be passive enough to ignore this undergarment is just ludicrous. Find a more modest angle, or use a bedsheet, which is a lot more probable, and that scene would still work without a topless shot.

I'm really not trying to pick at the film, that was just one minor example of the slight imperfections that people might overlook because they love so much of the rest of the film. Who can blame them? There is a lot to love about this movie. The actors are all pitch perfect.  Saoirse Ronan is deadpan funny in so many scenes that we ought to be laughing a lot. I did, but not as much or as deeply as I expected. Humor is subjective at times, and the contentious nature of her relationship with her mother Marion, while amusing, was also painfully expressed, which did not always deepen the laugh but soured it. The timing of the two actresses, Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, cannot be faulted. They are fine, it is the occasional bitter dialogue that sounds honest but hit my ear just a little too often as trying too hard. The same was true in a scene where "Lady Bird" confronts her best friend when being given the silent treatment. They both throw verbal jabs that are funny, but just a bit too perfectly set up.

Maybe the reason I am not quite as responsive to this is that I have lived this story to a large degree. Maybe I was off a year, but I have a daughter who longed to be going to school in NYC. She had a boyfriend who turned out to be something different than she had hoped. She worked as a barista to make cash so she could pay her own way. She was definitely smart but had work habits that held her back and she found friends late in her high school career in theater. The love/hate relationship was maybe more with her father than her mother, so the crisp dialogue in this film might just be too on the nose.

My favorite scene in the film involves Lady Bird's sudden realization that she doesn't want to fit in with her new friends. She wants to go to the prom. That was certainly the opposite of my child, who would never have bent her behavior to curry favor with a group of people she wanted to be "in" with, with only two exceptions, picking up cigarettes and automatically taking a position designed to irritate one or the other of her parents. Lady Bird has to come to realize that abandoning her friend Julie, played with a heart breaking degree of honesty by Beanie Feldstein,  was a big mistake, and it is one of several transformative moments in the movie. Lucas Hedges gets a second opportunity within just a couple of weeks to make a mark on the film business. His part here is deeper and more significant than his role as the neglected surviving sibling in "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri", and the tenderness between Ronan and he is wonderful despite the bitterness that accompanies it.

Writer/Director Greta Gerwig has fashioned a very effective coming of age story. There are plot elements that you can see coming, and the lines are sometimes to dead on, but it is a great script and film. It is however, just another coming of age story. The performances, elevate the movie quite a bit but the heaping of praise on everything about the movie burdens the experience rather than sharpening it.  There is nothing to not like about the film but that doesn't make me love it. To take advantage of one of the most derided quotes in movie history, "Love means never having to say you"re sorry". My guess is that it is apparent how I feel. Sorry.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Shane Black and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang/The Long Kiss Goodnight





This is designed to make all the bloggers out there jealous. An evening with two Shane Black films and Shane Black himself. Since it is the Christmas Season, it only seems appropriate that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the main feature here. If you haven't had enough of the question whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, get ready for the encore with this sour seasoned greeting. It is a delicious mixture of violence, comedy and tragedy, all told around the Christmas Holiday. It will certainly not be everyone's favorite pudding, but it will make a lot of people laugh at the holiday season and remember why they hate the holidays.




I love seeing films at the Egyptian and the American Cinematique has created some great programming for the month of December, including a new 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia which a certain youngest child and I will most certainly be taking in during the upcoming break. Tonight however is all about the marvelous Robert Downey Jr./Val Kilmer action comedy. Written and directed by Shane Black. 

From the beginning, I was reminded that I love this movie for it's idiosyncrasies. The titles are animated with shadow graphics and in a flash back sequence we see young Harry (The RDJ character) in his magician mode. The second character in this sequence who plays a major role later in the film is a little girl who grows up to be Harmony (the Michelle Monaghan character). That we pass the next twenty years in a few brief seconds is one of the marvels of how movies can be told.

The accidental nature of Harry's arrival in Hollywood and the guilt that trials him sets up the rest of the plot. This is a plot that is pretty complicated and may at times leave some gaps that are never completely filled. The Choice by Black to keep moving forward without lingering too much over the dangling threads is one of the things that keeps the film from getting bogged down in logical consistency at the expense of narrative drive.   When "Gay Perry" is introduced and becomes a foil for Harry for the rest of the film, we get a buddy comedy layered on top of a modern noir. Val Kilmer may not have had as good a role as this in the last fifteen years, and he was great. 

The big question that film fans have concerns what is Black's thing about Christmas. Most of his films are set around the holiday and make explicit references to it. As he explained, "''it's like falling asleep in the back seat of the car with your father driving and singing a tune as the lights flash past your window. It is a feeling of childhood security knowing your Dad is taking care of you. When you get to L/A. The Christmas references are different, a broken figure of a saint or lighting that looks slightly out of place, but it's still Christmas. It's a culturally shared experience." He credits "Three Days of the Condor" with inspiring the Christmas motif in his films. 

Black was modest and honest in describing his freshman directorial effort. He was happy to give credit to improvements in the dialogue to actors who improvised during rehearsal. He also noted that some of the photographic effects were a result of accident rather than planning. He uses the term "running and gunning" as the description of their filming schedule. One person asked if he had plans to film any other movies with different holidays and he joked about his time bomb race against the clock set during Breast Cancer Awareness week. There was also a question about the design of the story being a reverse "Chinatown" where the incest angle is different and not what you think it is going to be. "Every assumption you make is wrong and at the end you are faced with an old man bedridden that you beat on."


The second film on the program was "The Long Kiss Goodnight" and he frankly admitted that he wrote it alone in part as a way of coping with some depression. He was complimentary about director Renny Harlin but admitted there were some things that he would change about the film, which is one of the reasons he wanted to direct himself.



He strongly advised us to stick around for the second feature, which only about a third of the audience did, but we were rewarded with a great over the top serving of 90s action film that featured Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. He debunked the notion that the plot has any 9/11 foreshadowing, as he put it, "it's just a movie."

Both films were on 35mm but Black's parting comment was that 35mm bows in the middle and is fuzzy, so he is happy with digital projection.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Movie of the Month Lambcast: Die Hard



KAMAD gets in the Holiday spirit with several other Lambs to discuss the greatest of Christmas Films.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Movies I Want Everyone to See: Get Shorty

get_shorty

Review by Richard Kirkham  Originally Published in the Fall of 2014

This summer has been a cruel one for fans of "Get Shorty".  In June, James Gandolfini who played Bear the enforcer for Bo the Drug Dealer/wanna be movie producer, passed away at a relatively young 51. Last month, Dennis Farina who played Ray "Bones" Barboni left us at 69. This last week, Elmore Leonard the novelist and screenwriter responsible for the story and characters in the first place, left us at age 87. I'm not suggesting there is a curse or anything, but if this film does not get included before anyone else from the cast dies, I will feel terrible. "Get Shorty" is a star vehicle, and it featured John Travolta in a great part immediately after his comeback role in "Pulp Fiction". In spite of the obvious star driven nature of the film, there is a great ensemble cast that adds to the quality of the movie and makes it something I think everyone will be glad to have seen.

For movie fans, this is a film that should give them a warm feeling in their dreams. This is a gangster movie about gangsters who want to make a gangster movie. There are dozens of colorful characters both in the crime world and in Hollywood as the story gets told. The crime stuff may be accurate, someone with a better sense of that can judge for us, but the movie end of the story cuts incredibly close to the bone that is the film making process. Last year in the movie "Argo", John Goodman's character summed it up this way:

John Chambers: [after hearing of the plan to get the hostages out] So you want to come to Hollywood, act like a big shot...
Tony Mendez: Yeah.
John Chambers: ...without actually doing anything?
Tony Mendez: Yeah.
John Chambers: [smiles] You'll fit right in!

That is the plot of this movie. Everyone thinks they can be in the movie business and they are right. Yet being in the movie business does not always mean making a movie, sometimes it is about talking about making a movie. Our lead character Chili Palmer, played by John Travolta is good at talking.
look at me
Look At Me
Chili is a loan shark from Miami, who ends up in Hollywood while running down a customer who has tried to outsmart the mob. He is not a thug but he is not a pushover by any stretch of the imagination. Chili is the kind of guy who is usually too smart for everyone else in the room. He is also a movie fan and like many other fans of film, he thinks he can do better than the people who are currently making it in "Tinseltown". The plot involves him trying to find financing and a star for the movie he has in his head. That's right, the movie in his head. There is a screenplay for another movie that is pivotal to the plot, but most of what we see on the screen is the movie that Chili sees turning into his own film. It's a movie about a loan shark who comes to Hollywood in pursuit of a bad debt. He is making up the movie out of his life story as he is living it. That is a pretty awesome way of creating a screen story, if only all of us could lead an interesting enough life to do that, we would be able to get rid of all the remakes and sequels that come out of the film world today.

Travolta is a walking advertisement of "cool" in this film. He dresses in a sharp manner that doesn't seem ostentatious, he looks great in sunglasses and finally, he may be able to set the anti-smoking cause back by ten years. When he lights up and stares down an adversary, it is a moment everyone in the business will want to emulate. Travolta was at the top of his game in the moment this film was made. He was natural, charismatic and he had an everyman touch despite the fact that it was clear he was not everyone. Warren Beatty was apparently offered the role, and from the looks department and the cool factor you can understand why he seemed a good fit, but Travolta has a sense of humor in his eye that makes the part work, and when he drops the veneer of friendliness he feels dangerous in a way that I think Beatty would not have been able to match.

4379_3In addition to Chili Palmer, there are a dozen other characters that flicker around the flame of Hollywood success. Delroy Lindo, a charismatic presence himself, plays Bo the drug dealer. Bo wants into the business of movies and sees an opportunity to leverage himself in because a director owes him a large sum of cash. Another debt that Chili is trying to recover is owed by that director and Chili manages to insert himself into the process of making movies ( or more accurately movie deals) by trying to extricate the director from his entanglement with the drug dealer. Bo has a partner and an enforcer. The enforcer is a giant of a man who was once a stunt guy in the movie business. "Bear" is played by the late James Gandolfini as a menacing but ultimately ineffective threat. Muscle alone will not be sufficient to put Chili Palmer out of the deal. This is the first time I remember Gandolfini from a movie role. He had a sweet disposition for a thug and his wardrobe was California casual to the max. The big beard and long pony tail he came equipped with was authentic for the times, I know because I saw it in the mirror every day in the 1990s.
get-shorty3Every comedy has to have a fool somewhere, otherwise everyone would just act in their best interests and reason would dominate rather than laughter. "Get Shorty" has the biggest self deluded fool in Hollywood; low budget exploitation director/producer Harry Zimm. Harry wants to play with the big boys but we know he doesn't have what it takes from the beginning. Harry owes a Vegas casino, he owes a drug dealer, he has a script he can't quite get control over and a girlfriend who is way too smart for him. Casting gives this movie another secret weapon, Gene Hackman.  Pound for pound, movie for movie, I would put Hackman up against any other actor of any time, but he was not always thought of as a comedian. That makes no sense in light of the Superman movies where he was the antagonist and the comic relief at the same time. His three minutes in "Young Frankenstein" may be the highlight of one of the greatest comedies ever made.  He turned down the part originally because he did not usually do comedies. Zimm is a funny character not because he makes jokes but because he is a parody of the movie business itself. Hackman just had to play a character who was so clueless and yet so certain that he could really be a Hollywood figure. He nailed it.


Gene and Danny One of his funniest lines comes when he can't even speak because of a beating that he took. Crawling out of the hospital to make it to a lunch with the potential star of his breakthrough quality picture, Chili and Karen, Harry's girlfriend, wonder what the hell he is doing at the lunch meeting at "The Ivy" in his condition. Harry can only croak out the phrase "My project" through  his jaws that have been wired shut. That is a true sense of commitment from a producer protecting his interests.

dennis farinaSo far our focus has been on the Hollywood element, let's not neglect the gangster part of the story. Bo and his partners have problems of their own, a South American drug lord has come in search of money and a lost nephew. The FBI is watching money that has been stored in an airport locker, and Bo tries to trick Chili into exposing himself to get at the cash. Harry's big mistake in addition to not listening to Chili earlier and getting more deeply involved with Bo, is that he thinks he can big shot his way around the mob. Harry makes the mistake of trying to go it alone and contacts Chili's gangland connection in Miami, hoping to shake loose some cash for his film. Enter Ray "Bones", played with the usual gusto by Dennis Farina. Farina played gangsters in dozens of projects (he also played cops pretty well being a former Chicago cop himself). Farina had a poetic way of delivering a line with complete disdain and superiority. His conversations with just about everyone in this film suggest a barely contained rage at how idiotic he thought everyone else was. From the start of the film, he was the east Coast version of Harry Zimm, too big for his britches and not able to really stand toe to toe with Chili despite his elevated position of power. The scene where he and Harry meet is a high point of comedy in the movie. It is violent and abusive in the way that modern gangster films are wont to be. It is also hysterical.




rene
Rene Russo is Karen, a b-movie scream queen, and Harry's girlfriend. It doesn't take long for Chili and Karen to connect because they are the two most intelligent characters in the movie. Whenever Chili is confounded by some stupidity in Hollywood, Karen is right there to to interpret for him. Russo is completely believable as a working actress who should know better and has greater ambition than originally seems. As the ex-wife of movie star Martin Weir, she connects Chili and Harry to some real power in Hollywood, a major star. Danny Devito seems like an odd candidate for the role but he channels his friend Jack Nicholson and creates an actor who is serious about his work but indifferent to how it effects others. In the film "The Player" Tim Robbins' character orders a different kind of fashionable water at every meeting, and then he never drinks. Martin Weir special orders food and then never takes a bite. It is one of the irritating ways that the pecking order in Hollywood might be measured.

In the background of the story are several other perfectly cast characters. David Paymer does nervous and combative at the same time. Bette Midler, who was unbilled in the film, does sexy and smart ass. Miguel Sandoval has made a living playing drug lords and government officials. Here he is menacing as he discusses taking in the Universal Tour and then maybe murdering some of the other characters in the movie. There is a long line of character actors who all bring this movie some realism and personality.

The director Barry Sonnenfield should get a lot of credit for making the movie play so well. There are great tracking shots that don't call attention to themselves but make the movie feel even more movie like. The look of all the locations is also important. Martin Weir's arrival for lunch at "The Ivy" is staged like a red carpet moment for an every day Hollywood activity. Harry's office looks rundown, over stuffed and heavenly to a movie fan who would love to have those kinds of film mementos on the walls and bookshelves. Bo's house in the Hollywood Hills is both pretentious and strangely attractive.


0820-elmore-leonard-getty-3The real hero of the movie though is the creator of all of these characters, the late Elmore Leonard. His book is really the script for the movie. Scott Frank is credited with the screenplay and he and Leonard shared the same relationship on another project "Out of Sight" a couple of years later. Leonard's plotting and dialogue keep us involved. The actors bring the characters to life and it all comes off as a good natured poke in the eye to the movie business that is responsible for putting this out in the first place. In light of all the recent passings, it is a good time to embrace the quality of this film and remember how much a talented cast of professionals can do to entertain us. "Get Shorty" may have been a star vehicle for John Travolta, but it was a project that showed us that real stars are found in every well cast part.

get shorty Travolta



Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

West Side Story:L.A.Philharmonic

I'd not intended to write a post on this event, because I did not realize until we got to the venue that they were going to play the entire film. I was under the impression we would be getting a medley type concert, but it turns out this was one of those performances where the music in the film is entirely replaced with the live music in the concert hall. Since it is my policy to post on any film I see in a theater, this roughly qualifies.

"West Side Story" is one of the few movies I remember going to with just my Mother and older brother. It must have been 1968 when I first saw it and it was on a double bill with "In the Heat of the Night" of all films. I don't know if it was a nationwide match but I do know that the Mirish Company produced both films so a double feature was a probability. So I saw two Best Picture winners on the same night and I was probably just ten years old. I did write about "In the Heat of the Night" earlier this year when it was the opening film at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival, but as far as I can see, there is not a previous post on "West Side Story".

I know that the Lambcast this week was going to be a movie musical draft, and I hope this is one of the films that got picked. It has always been a film that moves me. My daughter laughs at me because I tear up at the finale of the film. That's right, I'm a big wuss. The modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet is deeply moving just concerning the story, but when you pile on the fantastic dancing, the dynamic performances and the Leonard Bernstein music, it just knocks me over.

The overture today got my heart racing. As each melody is introduced, I could pick out the instruments in the orchestra that were playing and listen for the personality of each performer. When the lush violins come in for "Tonight" I began to feel the emotion build. The Jet Song gets the plot started and sets up the premise of the rivalry, and then Tony sings "Maria" and I frankly well up with admiration for the delicate poetry of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. The whole orchestra bangs into the Dance at the Gym numbers and it was loud and powerful and gets the blood stirring. When people say they don't like musicals, to me it is almost like saying you don't like music. How could you not want to follow our lovers, fear for our friends and families and marvel at the dances in this movie?

So much of the credit goes to the original Broadway director/choreographer Jerome Robbins. He managed to make gangs doing ballet moves look like something that would express their feelings and still leave them as dangerous youth. Robert Wise brought cinematic magic to the movie as well. The opening helicopter shots and the quick edits to the locations match up with the Bernstien music and drag us into the context of the film quickly. There are a half dozen transitions that are clearly created by Wise and the color design of the film with the terrific cinematography is definitely more Hollywood than Broadway. Twenty years ago, one of the English Teachers who taught a cinema based class was out for a few weeks. The Dean asked me if I could take over the class and show a film one day and talk about it enough the next class day to help the students with their paper. I was happy to do so and the film that they were showing was "West Side Story". The Dean knew that I was a film buff and could probably carry it off. Fortunately, I did not have to read the thirty or so papers that were written, but I did get to talk about the film making techniques, and director's choices made here. It might have been my first attempt at a movie blog, even if it was not published on line.

The emotional peak of the music occurs during the "Tonight" Quintet, as several different voices trade off their stanzas, each one using the same notes but lyrics that are sadly at odds. The heart breaking innocence of Tony and Maria is contrasted with the bitter sniping from Riff and Bernardo and underscored with Anita's lustful planning. It builds to a crescendo and then it is immediately followed by the haunting silence which is broken by familiar whistles as the two gangs converge for the rumble. The L.A/ Philharmonic stays right in place with the screen and the music works marvelously. Today they were led by David Newman, an Oscar nominated composer and a regular conductor of classical music and film performances. I have seen and heard his conducting work at the Hollywood Bowl on numerous occasions and this day he dis another smashing job bringing the music of the movies to life for an audience.

The experience today was an invigorating end to a long holiday weekend. It was a great surprise and offered me an additional opportunity to write something for you "Tonight".

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri



It might look like a comedy from the trailer, but "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has a subject as unfunny as anything you can probably think of. The fact that Writer/Director Martin McDonagh manages to get us to smile so often is a testament to his writing skills. The death of a child through a brutal crime generally does not set off the chuckle meter for most of us. However, if you have seen his previous films, "In Bruges" or "Seven Psychopaths", you might not be too surprised. Each of them deals with dark themes with comic overtones and while not always successful in the case of "Seven Psychopaths", it all clicked in the feature debut "In Bruges".

Crime leaves a scar on everyone it touches. The feelings may not be the same from one victim to another, and they certainly do not get expressed the same way, but everyone has a piece of themselves changed by these kinds of events. Mildred Hayes is the mother of a dead teenage daughter. Her anger seethes for months and when she reaches a boiling point she is ready to let it out on anyone in the vicinity. Frances McDormand will probably win her second Oscar as the brutally self centered, guilt ridden and thoughtless Mildred. She is pushing for answers but there are none coming her way. Mildred is a character that you can at first feel for, but as we see what her mania is doing to others in the community that would otherwise sympathize with her, we can also hate her a little. She still has one child and he is battered by her pitbull like approach to the problem she sees. The Sheriff in the town is not guilty of negligence, just a lack of evidence to pursue. A man who shows a romantic interest in her and tries to be a friend, is belittled by her blindness to the feelings of others.

This movie never goes where you think it is going to. It feels like a vengeance film and a procedural, wrapped up in small town melodrama, but it never takes a conventional course. There are a number of moments that come out of left field, although they really are significant and related to the characters. The Sheriff's story turns out to be as sympathetic as Mildred's. Just when you think the deputy is getting his just desserts, there is a string of information and behavior that changes our attitude towards the character. People in this movie say and do hurtful things to each other, but rarely with the intention of having the kind of effect that occurs. It's as if each is throwing a temper tantrum and the whole town feels like the bewildered Mother in the grocery store with a ego-centric toddler to deal with.

Woody Harrelson can play both psycho and family man. Here, you will find his performance ultimately heartbreaking. At the same time, he manages, even when off screen to delight us with a sense of humor or a moment of empathy that everyone should appreciate. John Hawkes plays Mildred's ex-husband, the abusive Charlie. He too can be sympathetic one moment and loathsome the next. Lucas Hedges, who was so effective in "Manchester by the Sea" last year, again plays a teen, trapped by a family drama that he has difficulty coping with. There are a dozen performances by secondary characters that are just spot on: Zeljko Ivanek, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones and others make this feel like a real place with real people who have real faults and qualities. 


Special attention however must go to a second likely Academy nominee for this film. Sam Rockwell has been a favorite of mine since I first saw "Galaxy Quest". He was neglected for Awards attention a few years ago for one of my favorite films from 2013,  "The Way, Way Back".  That injustice is unlikely to be repeated. Rockwell is simultaneously repellent and sympathetic in the part of a Dim Deputy who has anger issues but also a strong need for justice. The less you know about the film and it's plot twists, the more compelling the performances turn out to be, Dixon is a character in search of a redemptive storyline, and it doesn't matter that he is sometimes an awful person, he is also a human being. Mildred's quest for justice for her daughter changes lives in many ways, none of them are predictable, and Rockwell's Dixon is the least predictable of all. 

 

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)





Elegantly filmed and put together with great craftsmanship, this new version of "Murder on the Orient Express" is fine entertainment for an evening but it lacks the elements that would make it a true classic. Remakes inevitably will suffer by comparison to earlier versions because of changes that might need to be made to the story, the use of technology that distracts from an older version of the same events, or simply nostalgia. We can't unsee that which we have previously watched, and we can't unknow that which has been previously unraveled for us. Kenneth Branagh can't escape comparisons to the Sidney Lumet version from 1974. There is much to be admired here but in the final analysis, this film will live in the shadow of it's older twin.

There are things to compliment about the film, but let's save those for the end and start with the disappointments. The first thing that I noticed is that the score of the film is serviceable but not elegant. Patrick Doyle has worked with director Branagh on a number of projects and he has a great track record on many contemporary films. Unfortunately there is nothing that stands out about this music. It sometimes helps build a little tension, but it does not accomplish the same thing that the score from the 1974 movie provided, romance. Listen to the opening musical passage as the train leaves the station, it is light, elegant and decidedly romantic in a traditional sense. It sets the tone for the whole film and that touch provided by the late Richard Rodney Bennett is sorely missing in the new incarnation.

Another element of the new film that I think is problematic, is the very rapid introduction of characters, many of whom are shown before we even get to Istanbul. There is a very solid attempt to familiarize us with the detective Hercule Poirot at the start of the movie. The eccentricity that Albert Finney brought to the part in manner of dress and personal grooming cannot be matched, so Branagh goes for character in some idiosyncrasies. As he solves a puzzle in Jerusalem that starts off like a bad joke, we get a small taste of the OCD that the character must suffer from. He manages to be cordial however, to even the most tiresome people he encounters. Branagh lets his mustache do a lot of the acting for him. Other than Poirot however, we get very little from the other characters by way of personality. They often feel like pieces on a board game being moved around merely for the benefit of blocking the detective's progress. That is especially true of the four youngest passengers on the train, the Count and Countess and the Governess and the Doctor.

Now for a few things that work. Johnny Depp has been scorned quite a bit the last few years for his personal life and film selection. In this movie however, he plays an ensemble character very effectively and let's just say that he gets treated the way a person guilty of his crimes probably deserves. Depp had the right attitude as the gangster Ratchett, he is self confident and sniveling at the same time. The exchange between him and Poirot over a piece of cake was a dlightful sequence of droll put downs by the detective. He also has an effective moment with Michelle Pfeiffer in the hallways of the train. For her part, Pfeiffer started off a little rocky but by the climax of the film, her performance settled into a more intriguing character. The film also features Penelope Cruz, Jason Gad, Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench, none of whom manage to make much of an impression despite all the histrionics involved. The reveal of the plot comes much too rapidly and the flashbacks to the events that launched the whole affair are lifeless.

It's a good old fashioned plot and the performance of Branagh as the Belgian detective that make this worth seeing. The sets are fine but my memory of the original is that it was more detailed and elegant, even without all the special effects computer graphics. If you are looking for a night out, this is still doing business and you will find that it is entertaining enough. If you are staying home however, watch the '74 version and appreciate the old time storytelling and performances that make the movie so memorable. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Lambcast Justice League

KAMAD is featured on another Lambcast in the very next week. Check it out below.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Lambcast 400th Episode





                         KAMAD is included in the epic 400th Episode of the Lambcast.

Click on the link HERE to vote for the 007 Draft, assuming you are going to support my slate of films of course.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Justice League



The DC Universe has been a controversial playground for film fans and comics aficionados. With the exception of this years earlier entry in the collection, "Wonder Woman", the films have not had a great deal of enthusiastic reception. That has not kept them from being financially successful, but it does leave fans dissatisfied and ready to jump on the next film with every misstep. "Justice League" will probably continue that trend instead of reversing it. Many of the issues that cause hesitation are still present in this entry, but despite the mistakes, this film was satisfactory in accomplishing some of it's goals but mostly in entertaining the audience. It may not be "Wonder Woman" but it is a step up from the murkiness of the other films that preceded it.

Goal number one, get all of the characters in this Universe introduced and started on their own stories. "Man of Steel" was supposed to do that for Superman, and it did set up a lot of the material that has followed, but it was stodgy and grim and lacked the spark that made the Christopher Reeve films fun. I hope it is not a spoiler to say that Clark Kent/Superman does play a significant role in this movie. More on that later, I'll put a mild spoiler warning on that section for anyone who wants to go into this blind. Batman got reintroduced in "Batman vs. Superman", a film that was convoluted but had some great spectacle and the irresistible appeal of the two superheroes dueling.  Ben Affleck's Batman was more impressive in that film, here he seems to be less engaged. It's not until near the finale that Affleck starts to give the character the energy we want. Gal Gadot can do no wrong this year. She is the character that we most want to see and she leads the narrative strings around so that everyone else can follow what the heck is going on in the story. I'm not tired of seeing her fight CGI bullies yet, but at least she gets a more complete one to fight here than she did in the stand alone film.

Three new characters get introduced in a more elaborate manner than the brief thirty seconds they were afforded in the prior film. You would think with so much to do that the story lines would begin to feel over stuffed. That's not the case with these three characters. Judicious editing and story telling give us just enough on each one so that we feel they do really exist in this Universe, but we don't dwell on their backgrounds more than is necessary. I suspect that Jason Momoa as the Aquaman will be a big hit with the fairer sex. My wife liked him quite well and his belligerent humor was one of the things that helped make this movie a little more fun.  Ray Fisher has to perform under prosthetic metal and through elaborate CGI accoutrements, but he still makes a solid impression. His character has the most detailed backstory and includes actor Joe Morton, a face that should be familiar to fans from his association with another cybernetic character. The breakout character however has to be Ezra Miller's Flash. Like a yopung Justin Long, Miller comes across with puppy dog enthusiasm and a sense of humor that is sorely needed in this Universe.  There is a mid-credit stinger that you will want to wait for that gives him one more chance to make us laugh.

[Something of a mild spoiler ahead]

The best thing about this film however is the restoration of a sense of humanity to Superman. In the initial stages of his return, we are threatened with a repeat of the grim countenance of Kalel and it looks like "Man of Steel" will repeat. Somewhere after Henry Cavill reunites with Amy Adams as Lois and Diane Lane as his mom, Clark Kent returns and Superman becomes something much closer to the character we love.  When the final battle begins, Superman shows up and it feels like Christopher Reeve is being channeled by Cavill. There is a spot where he gets to smile and suddenly, this feels like the movie I have wanted all along. I don't mind the series being more serious, but our main characters have to give us something to root for. Finally, I think the series is getting to that point. I like the work of Zack Snyder for the most part, but he does have those crutches he relies on for drama in the fights. He is the credited director although Joss Whedon took over in the last few months when Snyder had to step away from his project for personal reasons. Maybe Whedon lightened things up a bit, but this is definately the film that Snyder has been nurturing to fruition for several years.

The antagonist in this story is another CGI creation, but there is at least some backstory and it does not feel rushed. The transformation of the planet into a world that the character wants is  mechanical in nature, but it was tempered with a little family story to make the stakes more meaningful. If everything is about the end of the world every time, it is going to get a little boring. This brief side trip from time to time reminds us of the human stakes involved. This is the sort of thing that seemed to be missing from the earlier films. The stakes have to be something that we can relate to or else it is just going through the motions.

I enjoyed the film far more than the second wave of negative word would have me expecting. Early reviews were promising, round two was wholly negative, and now I have seen it for myself. They have not solved all of the problems the DC franchises have faced but they did make great strides into turning this into something more than just a money making enterprise. If the new characters are given a chance to shine a bit more and Superman keeps up the more optimistic demeanor, I will be able to look forward to more of these films. It is probably a good idea to allow some other directors a chance to invigorate these stories, but the Snyder lead trilogy has set a better framework than many critics have asserted. Good news for film fans, it is also just two hours.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Only the Brave



Most of us will never have to do anything that is heroic in a death defying manner. We will get chances to take heroic positions or act in a manner that is consistent with our principles, but very few of us will be called on to look death in the face in order to protect others. That is one of the reasons that films like this work for me. I have to live vicariously and deploy my empathy for men and women who put themselves on the line every day. Our military, police, firefighters and other first responders have something in them that makes them step forward and say, "My Turn". Sometimes the stakes of those voluntary actions are grave and this is one of those stories.

I think people have a general understanding of what firefighters in a structure fire face. Everyone has probably heard the saying about those souls, "When everyone else is running out of the building, they are running in." The people who fight wildfires are working in a completely different environment. There may be no place to run. They set backfires rather than extinguish fires, and their incident may go on for days not simply hours. "Only the Brave" is a film about these types of heroes and the work and sacrifice they go through. I really enjoy films that show me lifestyles and working conditions that are new to me. The cultures and labor of these people can be fascinating. Military stories based on true events, like "Dunkirk", "13 Hours" or "Lone Survivor" carry with them the weight of history. Even when a story is fictional, like "Battle L.A.", with aliens invading the planet, the opportunity to watch dedicated people do the things they are trained for inspires me. "Only the Brave" emulates those films by showing us similar kinds of struggles but in a much less familiar context. There are thousands of war films, but movies about dangerous occupations where you don't carry a gun are much more scarce. The most comparable film to this that I can think of in the last few years is "Deepwater Horizon".

Since this movie is also based on a real world event, some of you going in will already know the outcome. I know I largely knew what was coming. My daughter did not so she was unprepared for how overwhelming the events in this story would be. Now obviously, this film is an entertainment so liberties are probably taken in events or dialogue to make things more compelling, but there is nothing in this film that does not feel real to a degree. Even the personal stories, which can sometimes be hyped up to make the background more engaging, still seem like they could be everyday experiences for the kinds of people the story depicts.

Miles Teller is a young actor who is making quite a mark on the film business. He was incredible in my favorite film of 2014, "Whiplash". He has another film out at this same time "Thank You for Your Service", which is on my "want to see" list. It looks like he has some turkeys  on his resume, but they are offset but some solid performances in quality films like this. Here he plays Brendan McDonough, a young man floating on the edge of self destruction through drug use. He finds a need to redeem himself and a path to do so in joining the firefighting team of Josh Brolin's Eric Marsh, the Prescott Arizona supervisor. This municipal unit is attempting to get certified as a "Hotshot" unit, the first line of defense in wildfires. The film has some local politics and extended training sequences and that may feel a little familiar, but it is a legitimate part of the story. The domestic issues that Brolin's character and his wife, played by Jennifer Connely, have are maybe a little melodramatic but they are not over the top. Teller is a wastrel, trying to change so that he can be a man that his new daughter can depend on. Of course he has a troubled past and the others on the team are suspicious of him, but as in most workplaces, when people come to know each other and especially rely on one another, those relationships develop. Brendan becomes friends with one of his team mates in the unit, another solid turn by actor Taylor Kitch. In a way, Kitch is getting a chance to redeem his career a bit as well. He went from being the next big thing to anonymous very quickly. It is with secondary roles like this and the recent "American Assassin" that he is moving back to a more solid footing as a film performer.

Jeff Bridges plays a senior fire official who is assisting  his friend Marsh in trying to get the team certified. Between Bridges and Brolin, you will want to turn down your sub-woofer for home viewing, because they both have their grumbling low pitched delivery styles going. I like the fact that the towns that these guys help protect appreciate the work the team is doing. The folks at the local store or bar, know what it means to do a job like this. Small town America is full of values where neighbors understand each other more often, even when they are not always agreed on things. Of course an official like Bridges character will have a band that plays at the local rodeo or roadhouse. [Bridges by the way is a talented musician]. People in small towns know each other, they see one another at the grocery store or at the local school. When bad things happen, everyone shares in the misery, and when good things happen, they get to bask in the glory of their home town heroes. Be aware that both of these emotions will be present in this story.

The firefighting sequences in this film are harrowing. We have been prepped to know some of the things that are coming because we saw training exercises that deal with those emergencies. Clearly, the best strategies are not always going to work out in the worst case scenario. As the credits role at the end of the film, we get an even greater sense of the enormity of the sacrifice that families and communities make to help each other out. This movie is an excellent tribute to the spirit of small town folk living big time lives. When a film can be dramatically honest and subtle and it still isn't over the top but it draws you in and makes you care, then you know it is well done. "Only the Brave" might be seen as a cliche by some, but if it would be seen by anyone, you will have a greater understanding of some of the things that make everyday American exceptional.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok



If anybody was holding their breath because they were worried about this film, you can let it out now. "Thor: Ragnarok" is as good as promised and entertaining as hell.  I keep hearing how it is the shortest of the Marvel Films, but it did not feel to me like it was shorting us on anything. We got an expansion of the Asgardian Universe, there are significant connections to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and "the Avengers" get to play a little in this sandbox as well. It may not be essential to the progress of the phases of the Marvel plan, but it is a solid stand-alone with enough Easter Eggs to keep the faithful happy.

I want to start with something that is usually a side-note or an endcap to most film reviews, the use of source music. Whatever they paid for the use of the Led Zeppelin "Immigrant Song", it is worth twice that. You almost certainly heard it in the teaser trailer and you know the hypnotic effect it can have when combined with images from the film. In the movie itself, the tune gets used in two places and each one is just perfect. It works the way the "Mission Impossible" theme does, it underlies the mythos  of Thor, it accentuates the mood and it tells us that a moment of heroic action is on the way. Zeppelin may have been finished since 1980, but the songs have continued to transfix listeners for almost 40 years since they left the stage, with this use of the tune, they will safely be around for forty more years. There is one other tune that gets used in a slightly different spot. It has not been advertised so I won't spoil it for you, but if you don't laugh out loud when it comes up, you are either without a sense of humor, or you were never a child of the seventies.

Since we are on issues not related so much to the plot, let me explain how valuable a second investment the makers of these movies chose that pays off in spades. The Grandmaster is not an essential character in the Cinematic Universe, but he is essential to the humor in this film. It may be that any movie without Jeff Goldblum in it will never seem funny by comparison. You "Jurassic Park" fans will smile with every line reading. It is as if the funny parts of Ian Malcom were transplanted onto this alien being who has control of a trash planet and uses his power for evil. His line readings are incredibly arch and dry. Goldblum's facial expressions match the vocal performance with the same kind of wit, it is never over the top but rather pitch perfect for the brief moment we are given it.

Cate Blanchett is Hela, the villainess of the film. Her character has a more reasonable explanation for existence than most of the similar female antagonists in these kinds of films do ( see "The Mummy" or "Suicide Squad for examples). In the big scheme of things, Hela turns out to be a one off for this story, but she was an exceptionally effective one off. Taika Waititi is a director that I am not familiar with although his two prior films have lots of admirers, I've yet to see either one of them. He deploys Blanchett in small doses and lets her actually act in some of the scenes rather than simply pose, but she does also get to pose. If the three point stance of a super-hero is now a trope, the slow motion turn of a villain must be as well, and it is used here regularly.

The relationship of Chris Hemsworth's Thor to Tom Hiddlestons Loki, continues to be the thread that holds the line of films together. The characters have grown enough to be interesting, Thor is still arrogant, but he is wiser and his humor is much more self effacing than in previous installments. Loki doesn't change so much as he does adjust to circumstances. We can almost always count on him to betray his brother, but we can also now see that he understands how important it is to have someone to betray. It is an amusing conundrum. The two actors play off of each other really well. When you throw in Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, it gets even better. At one point Thor gets the treatment that Loki did in "The Avengers" and the smirk of satisfaction on Hiddleston's face is great.

Earlier this year we got Chris Pine in "Wonder Woman", this film has a feature role for Karl Urban. Now we somehow have to get Zachery Quinto into one of these super hero stories so that all the main cast of the "Star Trek" films can point to a comic book movie on their resume. I did not recognize Urban at first but I did know that the actor in the part was much better than the part first appeared to require. As the film went on, there was more to it and suddenly we see why you needed an actor like Urban. Anthony Hopkins appears to finish off his role as Odin, the father of the main characters, and a figure of stature that seems to embody the idea of real Gods. He is used sparingly, but just his visage matters in the later parts of the story.

"Thor: Ragnarok" is funny as heck, with a couple of subplots that pay off in the end. I don't see a huge tie in to the whole Marvel Universe but maybe I was laughing to hard to notice some of the connections. It feels like a seventies psychedelic comic book has come to life. The colors and characters will keep you amused and the story is just about as solid as you can get for a non-Avengers Avengers movie. It's hard to think of this film as being part of the same world as the Spiderman film we got earlier this year, except someone clearly remembers  that the word "Comic" implies funny.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Little Shop of Horrors Director's Cut Fathom Event



I loved this movie when it first came out. The humor is sly, the songs are hum-able and the performances were hysterical. I'd actually read about the changes made to the film before it was released. There was an article in the LA Times back in 1986 and Frank Oz talked very openly about how the previews just lost all their energy and enthusiasm when the originally planned ending was shown.  "Little Shop of Horrors" is based on a Roger Corman cheapo film, that was turned into an off-broadway production and it was getting a big screen treatment. It's not as if they were hacking away at a classic and deciding that  Rick and Ilsa should end up together. The stinger at the end of the film still kept the biting edge alive, without losing the two characters that we had just spent an hour learning to love.

Tonight's Fathom event features the original ending and I have to say there was a lot about it that was impressive, but they made the right choice thirty-three years ago. To call this a director's cut is to ignore that Frank Oz himself could see what was happening to the audience, and that is why changes were made. The whole of the movie would be done ten minutes before the film ended. The originally planned ending plays out like a Joe Dante film. Not that that is a bad thing, but it is so different from the tone that was established in the first two acts. We start off with a great musical that sets up scene and characters in act one. Act two establishes the drama and romance that makes a story worth paying attention to, and then act three turns into a Japanese Monster movie with repetitive buildings collapsing. It might have felt like a bigger film but it is not a better film. I had seen some of this material on YouTube but in black and white. There was supposed to be a special edition fifteen years ago but it got pulled at the last moment.  It is available now so this is really a commercial for the blu-ray.

Everyone in the movie is terrific. Seeing this tonight reminds me of how much I miss having Rick Moranis in a movie. I also could not believe that Steve Martin was ignored for a best supporting actor nomination, he is pitch perfect in his role. Because the songs were from the original stage play, they were not eligible for nomination, with the exception of one original song written mostly for the new ending. "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" may not be a classic, but it was a way to honor the music and lyrics of Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman. Of course two years later, they would be showered with awards for their work on "The Little Mermaid" and the prolific work that follows is impressive.Ellen Greene was so good in this film. She has had a nice career but this most certainly was her crowning achievement and it came early.


This might have been a film I saw with Bob and Susan Gass along with my wife and Dan Hasegawa. I have a distinct memory of talking with Bob about the Greek Chorus of singers and him responding to it because he did not really like musicals. I could be conflating this conversation with the theatrical experience however. I do know that I saw the film again at the home of a Glendale Physician who had a spectacular view from a hillside residence in Glendale. My friend's sister was house sitting for the Doctor and she invited us to come and look at his home theater. There was a descending screen and a projector that was hooked up to a Laser Disc player.  We looked at his discs and selected
"Little Shop" for our evenings pleasure. It sounded great and the picture left VHS presentations in the dust. It was just a couple years later that I made the jump to Laser myself.





This is the end of a long week that held some sadness for our family. This seemed just the recipe to get us back on track after the disruption and frustrations. We ate popcorn and basically sang along with the movie. "Suddenly Seymour" and "Somewhere that's Green" are standouts for me, but I giggled throughout the film at the clever lyrics of Howard Ashman.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

American Made



Now that we have talked about the foreigners, let's discuss a home brewed concoction of history, baloney and Tom Cruise. "American Made" is the supposed true story of Barry Seal, who as a convicted drug smuggler negotiated a deal to assist the D.E.A. in in their investigations. The makers of this film, decide to splice the C.I.A., Iran-Contra and every president from Jimmy Carter up to George W. Bush into this story. I just hope that film goers recognize that Hollywood is a bad place to learn about history, even when it is a good place to make an engaging film.

All of the political material is nearly superfluous, since there is no real agenda in this movie other than to entertain us for a couple of hours.  The time line, characters and general insanity that take place are clearly the invention of creative minds rather than advocates with an agenda. In my opinion, this is the movie that "the Wolf of Wall Street" could have been if that film making crew had stuck to telling an interesting story instead of glorifying in excess and then pontificating at us. Director Doug Liman has the good fortune to have his personable con-man played by the personable Tom Cruise, who shakes off the unfortunate "Mummy" curse with a much more polished performance here.

The visions of excess here do not involve repeated episodes of drug use, sex and humiliation of other human beings. Rather, the situation attempts to lampoon the success of the drug trade by noting how problematic the issue of laundering the money would be. While there is one scene where Cruise as Seal gets covered in the imported product, he does not spend two thirds of the movie cranked up like Leonardo DiCapro. Instead, he is waist deep in cash and can't find a way to hide the money as fast as he is making it. The story plays out like a comedy version of a double episode of "Miami Vice". Seal and his wife argue over when he should rake up all the buried cash the dog has dug up. The town that he relocates to is flush with newly created financial institutions that seem to be serving a population of under 3000 with the kinds of banking services you'd find not too far off of Wall Street.

Domhnall Gleeson plays the imaginary C.I.A. recruiter who is supposed to have set Barry down the path to self destruction. He has a great American Accent, but not a very believable role. Sarah Wright plays the spouse of our gun running, drug smuggling, money laundering hero. I've not seen her before that I recall but she fits the part as written just fine. Caleb Landry Jones plays the misbegotten brother-in-law JB. Up to the point when his character exits the picture, the film plays like "Hogan's Heroes" set in Central America. The movie takes a nasty turn after that and you will find that the real life BarrySeal had real life consequences to his actions.

I was a little nonplussed at the inclusion of a sequence that seems to have been taken from last year's "Jack Reacher" film, also starring Cruise. I suppose the allure of Tom being so untouchable is just too much catnip to resist for film makers. I will however advise that they drop this soon to be Cruise Trope before the next "Mission Impossible". I don't think you want your Crown Jewel film franchise to be seen as cribbing from lesser works. Even if they are entertaining.

The Foreigner



Doesn't everyone like Jackie Chan? Although he has made some political statements over the last few years that I think are ill informed, I still love the guy. He is a true athlete with charisma to burn and even at his age he makes most younger action stars look like they are standing still. His new movie was produced by him and financed by Chinese media companies, but it is as slick an action spy film as you might hope to see for the price. As an added bonus we get two former Bond veterans to go along with it.

If you watch the trailer you might be expecting a straight action revenge film, but there is a lot more involved here. Quan is a bereaved father on a one man mission to take out the terrorists that killed his daughter. To do so he must squeeze whatever resource he can to find out who is at fault. Here is where the extra material comes in. Pierce Brosnan is a Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland, working for the British, he happens to be a former terrorist with the IRA who now seeks the best interests of the area in peace. There are conflicting goals for the people he represents and he is caught in the middle. The plot is full of multiple double crosses, switching loyalties and complex twists of real political events. It's the usual spy territory and Jackie Chan just happens to have dropped into it.

I'll make a confession here that will probably result in a few points being deducted from my "Man Card". As  reference let me include this two and a half minute scene from the 1985 movie "VisionQuest":

 

The way this character responded to Pele', is the way I respond to Jackie Chan. I feel elevated as a human being when I see the stuff he is capable of doing. I teared up at "Rumble In the Bronx " twenty years ago because Jackie Chan is so damn graceful and amazing. I didn't choke up today, but I should have, because he is older than I am and he still does this incredible stuff. He is also a very solid actor in this part. There is no clowning around in the film. We don't get a shot of that 1000 watt smile of his. Quan is nearly a broken man, and he fights back the tears and memories in a way that reminds us that Chan is not just an athlete but an actor as well.

Brosnan gets a chance to act as well. He is reunited with the director of his first 007 outing, Martin Campbell. Campbell has twice revived James Bond, first with "Golden Eye" and then a dozen years later with "Casino Royale". He knows his way around material like this. There are some great action sequences true, but he also gets the drawing room show downs right as well. He may not be anyone's idea of an auteur, but he clearly knows his way around a movie like this. Brosnan is good as the duplicitous minister with a hidden agenda that ties into the events but also shows how good outcomes can't necessarily justify bad deeds.

"The Foreigner" is a well made , standard issue action spy film that is elevated by the presence of the two stars. It may not play well for MI-5's public relations but those of us who like to see justice done in the cinema world, now have one more film to add to the list. Now can we please get that Jackie Chan, Liam Neeson, Jason Statham movie going? If Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell are available, let's cast them too.

Happy Death Day



A horror film for 14 year old girls. It's not particularly scary, it's not as funny as it could be, and it is designed to mock those things that the Queen Bees do in belittling and mocking the other girls. It is so derivative of "Groundhog's Day" that it actually mentions "Groundhog's Day" at the conclusion of the film. There is little to recommend here despite the fun idea of stealing the Bill Murray premise. 

From the moment the film starts, the screenplay fills every crevice with suspects. "Tree" our birthday girl, has what appears to be a drunken night with a handsome but apparently socially outcast stranger. Her sorority house is filled with women who might have reasons to hate her, or at least think they do She is having an affair with one of her professors who is a medical doctor, and she meets his wife when they are almost caught in a clinch. She is dodging her Father's birthday call and brunch appointment. Oh yeah, there is also a serial killer who has been caught and is being treated in the hospital, we learn this from a news broadcast in the background.

If the repeated deaths that "Tree" has to endure were a little more creative, this could have been a lot more fun. It is only the automobile sequence that seems to care about providing thrills. The college mascot of the University she attends is "The Babies" which explains the creepy masks in every dorm, frat, office and locker room on campus. The murder sequences and red herrings are standard stuff and it just does not pop out at you the way these movies need to. This is another case of PG-13 undermining the point of the horror film.

The one thing that the film does manage to do is humanize "Tree" the same way that Bill Murray's "Phil" learns a little humility. When the film starts, you are not going to have a lot of sympathy for her, but as it progresses, she starts to recognize the bad choices she has made. She can see the "bitch" in the mirror and she tries to rectify that persona as part of the process of discovering who it is that repeatedly murders her. It';s not a great reason to see the film, but it does give it a little bit of emotional substance.

The rules of the repeating universe she finds herself in are not very clear. The injuries she sustains disappear, except when they don't. In one scenario she kills herself, and that seems odd. Her motivation for that action is partially explained, but why she thinks that solution is better that stopping the whole process is not clear at all.  I probably should not worry about inconsistencies in a movie like this, but sometimes those thoughts creep into your head and then the story premise gets undermined. I saw this on Friday, and there was a pretty big crowd, it's so embarrassing to be part of a species that will see this movie but not bother with "Blade Runner 2049".

Monday, October 9, 2017

Movies I Want Everyone to See:Into the Night

Inspired by this films recommendation on "The Forgotten Filmcast" I have slipped this in a bit earlier than it was scheduled to show up. This is another of my "Movies I Want Everyone to See" series that was originally published on the defunct site "Fogs Movie Reviews" in the Fall of 2013.

Poster 2
Review by Richard Kirkham
"Into the Night" is a film that I recommend for a somewhat narrow range of reasons. Although it is referred to as a comedy, action, thriller, it barely qualifies in each of those categories. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot that is funny about the movie, and there is some action and tension along the way, and what could be more thrilling than seeing Michelle Pfeiffer at the peak of her beauty and charm? The real reason to see this movie however is the tour of Southern California culture from the 1980s that you get along the way. It is a very loose film with some nice sequences and dialogue but as a film it seems to lurch forward and wander around the story at times, but oh what interesting times.



intothenight2
An essay over at A.V. Club, classifies this film and several others, as films which fit into a particular genre, actually called into the night films. The classification is based first on story line. The lead disappears into another subculture, usually starting with a night time excursion. The second point the essay suggests is that these mostly eighties films are sociological examinations of the conflict that the baby boomer generation feels over the rejection of the values championed by the counter culture of the 1960 and 70s by the preponderant culture in the 1980s. It is an interesting point and as a paper submitted in a graduate writing class in Cinema, it probably scored the author an A. Let's extend their point for one more comment, all of the films that were mentioned (with the exception of two John Hughes films which probably don't fit) were culturally marginal as well.
Henson_IntotheNight_001When this film was released it received quite negative reviews from the critics. The New York Times was very dismissive but Roget Ebert went one step further, giving the film a single star rating on his scale. Both reviews focused on the insider nature of the movie. The film features cameo appearances by a variety of Hollywood types, including at least 17 film directors. The suggestion here is that the film was mostly an excuse to get a bunch of friends together and have an extended party at the studio's expense. It is not possible to say for sure that this was not the case, but it can be said that those guest shots are not distracting from the movie. While sometimes the interjection of these actors, directors and writers did turn the movie into a game of "spot the hidden celebrity", that added to the fun of the premise and emphasized what the movie is about. The subject here is Hollywood itself.


IntotheNight251A quick plot summary: Ed Okin is an aerospace engineer suffering from insomnia and job burnout. After he discovers his marriage is even less than he thought it to be, he drives to the airport to clear his thoughts, maybe with the idea of going to Vegas for the night. Just as he starts to fall asleep in his car in the parking structure, a woman screams, jumps on the hood of his car and asks for help. Men are chasing her and guns are blazing and he reacts instinctively by driving her off. That woman is Diana and it turns out she is involved in a smuggling escapade. The two of them travel around Los Angeles for the next twenty-four hours, trying to figure a way out of the predicament they have become trapped in. The plot involves Elvis impersonators, high stakes gambling,film production, real estate, high end shopping and the fall of the Shah of Iran. As you can tell, the movie meanders and touches on lots of different elements.
Here is the real deal for you though. You have to pay close attention because it is not front and center of the movie. The subject of the film is how the City and the Hollywood community work. Jeff Goldblum's character Ed, is an engineer in an industry in Southern California that the Hollywood people think is boring. They show him at his job, being disinterested, he complains about not caring himself. To the showbiz world, this validates their view of themselves. Unlike Ed, "We are exciting", "We are different every day". Diana is a beautiful woman who came to Southern California in all likelihood to be a star. Instead she falls into a relationship with a rich older man. There is a cliche of Hollywood that you can see everyday as you drive through town. Later, the older man seems to discard her, another Southern California dream gone bad.

Into the Night 2As you watch the film progress, you get a travelogue of L.A. area haunts, usually of the rich. The yacht of Diana's older lover is in Marina Del Rey. She and Ed visit a set in Hollywood and meet up with one of her friends who got into the Biz, by sleeping with the producer. They suffer the indignity of being escorted off the set and of being rejected by her brother, whose connection to the entertainment business is as an Elvis impersonator.  Later in the film they stroll through Beverly Hills shopping district and spend some time in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. There is a car chase through Century City, in that most annoying of L.A. locations, a multi-storied underground parking garage. If you are from the Southland you know that a parking garage is a necessary anathema. This is a car culture and Ed and Diana end up in the most unlikely vehicle in L.A., a taxi. To make matters worse, the taxi is chased through a parking garage which residents hate, since free parking was at one time a birthright of Angeleno's (those days are long gone). It wouldn't be L.A. if there were not a beach scene, so we get a murder in Malibu. The whole movie is really a critique of the L.A. lifestyle.

into the night synwEverywhere in the movie are L.A. references. In the opening sequences there are radio shows playing in the background  and defining what the radio was like in Southern California. People from out of the area will not understand why they are watching references to car salesmen in commercials. Pete Ellis was ubiquitous  on TV at the time, he had car dealerships in all the major American brands at some point or another. Most of you probably have a commercial jingle or two stuck in your head. Those earworms are often a result of repetition. "Pete Ellis Dodge, Long Beach Freeway, Firestone Exit, South Gate." It doesn't sound all that memorable, but you put a catchy tune behind it and play it fifty times a day on the local TV stations it will be. Twenty five years after that dealership went away, the sound is still ringing in my head. Cal Worthington is famous in So. Cal for his silly TV commercials where he mocked another car dealer who put his dog in commercials selling cars. Cal's dog "Spot" was a tiger, an elephant, a killer whale. He would do really loopy things like wing walking and then put them in the ads. "Into the Night" is filled with those late night TV ads in the backgrounds of several scenes.
Bowie Into the Night
Another odd reference to show business, is a fight to the death between two characters played by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Carl Perkins and David Bowie. This was Perkins only screen appearance and he is a natural. Bowie of course had made several movies at that point and several more since. In the sequence where they face off, the TV is running in the background, playing an old Abbott and Costello movie. So two icons of pop music are dueling for attention with classic comedians who made movies. It is an odd juxtaposition but typical of this movie, directed by John Landis, a fan of horror films especially. If you were not aware of it, Landis uses the phrase "See You Next Wednesday" as a signature in all of his movies. Here it is on movie posters in the trailer that Ed and Diana get escorted out of. The line comes from Kubrick's "2001". It is no accident that movie references populate this film, even to the point of providing a distraction from a violent fight scene.

There are extended segments in Beverly Hills, both in the shopping district and in the residential neighborhoods. Fans of "Chinatown" know that the plot of that classic is mostly a giant real estate swindle, well it turns out that this movie is heavily involved in that same business. The jewels are supposed to help secure financing for a real estate deal being pursued by rich "Iranian" refugees. Large numbers of said refugees found homes in Beverly Hills and so the sound of Farsi being spoken in the stylish salons of Rodeo Drive was not unusual. It turns out that Jack, Diana's rich patron, is also involved in real estate and that brings some strings of the plot together at the end.
intothenightscreen1The end of the film takes place at the location that most visitors first encounter the city, the Airport. LAX is always busy but we don't typically have shoot outs there (although it has happened). The odd way in which the stand off resolves itself is again spurred on by Ed's manner. Through the whole picture Jeff  Goldblum plays Ed as if he is exhausted and can barely be bothered to respond to the events taking place around him. The casualness is another one of those L.A. critiques, nothing really seems important to anyone, except the business. The rich and powerful control the political process, the lower level functionaries are corrupt, and the beautiful people get to make their own rules.

"Into the Night" is not an essential movie, but it is one that I always want people to see because it is a tour of the world that I lived in at the time. It features an odd leading man, and a beautiful leading lady, wandering around the city that I both love and hate. There are plenty of amusing bits and pieces that often have nothing to do with the story, they are just a chance to visit at a touchstone of 80s L.A. culture. The scene at Ships Coffee Shop has nothing to do with the story, and everything to do with where you can go in the middle of the night to get dessert. There is no reason to hide the jewels at the flower market, except that then viewers will get a chance to see the flower market. Jake Steiner is in the movie because he turned being a trainer for Harrison Ford into a career as a pitchman for physical fitness (and getting into the business). A movie with a different plot but a very similar look at L.A. almost fifteen years earlier is "Hickey and Bogs". In the place of Goldblum and Pfeiffer, are Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Maybe it will justify a little analysis down the road, right now I mention it just wanted to show that these sorts of films do repeat themselves and reflect the changes of the city over time. "Get Shorty" in the 1990s and this years "This is the End" cover the same themes. A lot of bad stuff can happen here but if you make it in the movie business , you'll be alright.into the night publicityRichard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.