Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jackie Brown on the "Walt Sent Me Podcast"



                                      I am a guest on this great podcast with Kristen Lopez and Todd Liebenow. We talk Disney News, discuss the Cartoon Short "Who Killed Cock Robin?" and worship at the alter of Pam Grier. Listen in, I think you will really enjoy it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Free Fire


There is something just great about a movie set in a single claustrophobic location, filled with criminals. "Reservoir Dogs" by Quentin Tarantino served as his introduction to the world. The colorful characters and bantering dialogue were a swift kick in the pants to movie fans who had become jaded by traditional action thrillers. Just a couple of years ago, he plagiarized himself with another location bound crime film, this one set in the old west, "The Hateful Eight". While he has played with the idea of a single location, both of those films involve substantial flashback stories that take us from the set spot to other locations during the run time of the movie. "Free Fire" does not do any such thing. Everyone arrives at the location, and then the rest of the film takes place exclusively in those confines.

This is basically a criminal deal gone bad, that ends up in a shootout. It sounds very basic and from the perspective of story, it is. There are however a few tweaks that director Ben Wheatley and his co-screenwriter Amy Jump throw into the concoction.  For instance, the spark that lights the already intense situation has nothing to do with the deal. By coincidence, a couple of hotheads with a beef are in the two factions and tempers flare around a bunch of volatile people. Almost all of the characters are given some distinctive personality quirks in a short set up, and as a result we know that even when they are allied with another person, their inclination is likely to be to shoot.

Like most films featuring criminal activity, the parties are not entirely reliable. There are a number of double crosses and switches of loyalty. When bullets start to fly, often the direction you point your gun in is largely determined by where a previous shot came from. Early on, one character quizzes another, trying to reassure themselves, "You're not FBI are you?" "No. I'm IFM, In it For Myself." By the midway point of the film, pretty much everyone has joined the same group.

The stars of the film are Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Academy Award Winner Brie Larson. Larson plays Justine, a go between for the IRA group that wants some weapons, and the black-marketeers that are willing to supply them.  Her part here makes a little more sense than her recent turn as a photo journalist in "Kong: Skull Island",  but she basically serves the same purpose, to be the sole representative of her gender with a part in the story. The humor that is the main selling point of this film is enhanced by her presence as a distraction to the others and an opportunity to use some lines of dialogue to promote gender equity in a more unusual way. Hammer is the cooler than thou broker who always has a bon mot to drop. Sometimes he insults the players, often he is incredulously commenting on the circumstances. Copley is the ace in the hole for the movie. His first appearance provokes laughter as his suit is so clearly a 70s cut and his hair and other styling reek  of the decade. His odd South African accent, combined with a belligerent manner and a chip on his shoulder make for a great character that you can just tell will be the source of all kinds of amusement.

I should mention two other scene stealers as they are the ones who lite the fuse and just won"t let it burn out during the story. Sam Riley is a weaselly junkie, brought in on the job simply to load weapons and act as back up muscle. Everybody in this movie kicks his ass to some degree or another. Jack Reynor, who was the standout supporting character of the older brother in "Sing Street" last year, adds another great character role as a counter part local thug who has a surprise connection to the other character. Testosterone induced violence, flavored with a heavy dose of grim humor, and a seemingly endless supply of ammo, makes this film sing as well.



 
Our attendance last night was at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, where there are frequent guest appearances to promote a film. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer were there last night and will return this evening to talk about some of the behind the scenes stories of the film. Both men were avuncular raconteurs who regaled us with amusing anecdotes about hair, wardrobe and the use of fire on set. The half hour was fun but not particularly deep. Let's face it the movie isn't deep, it is just entertaining as were the two stars.
After the Q and A.


Costume Display in the Arclight Lobby

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dirty Harry punks the Lambcast

I stand in for Clint in defending justice and the Dirty Harry Franchise


Saturday, April 15, 2017

TCM Film Festival Day Four



Sunday mornings in Hollywood are a quiet time most weeks, but when the TCM Film Festival is in town, the pace gets quicker on the last day and it starts early.

Cock of the Air (1931)

This was a Howard Hughes production and it was pre-code so it is definitely a little racy for the time. Although mild by today's standards, this film must have had tongues wagging with it's story of a flirtatious aviator and a French Opera singer. The fact that the Opera singer is given a medal for moving away from Paris, where she is a distraction to too many officers, let's you know that this is not a chaste figure making a sacrifice for her country.

The dialogue is full of innuendo and then there are the stars costumes. They leave little of her decolletage to the imagination. The Hayes office forced 12 minutes of cuts in the film and it was thought that they were gone for good but a decade ago, the Motion Picture Academy discovered an uncensored print that lacked a soundtrack. Using the existing material and a copy of the script, four actors dub in the lines from the scenes that were previously cut. In the screening we saw, the sections that had been cut were identifiable by an icon on the screen that came and went as the story played out.

It was a fascinating experience to see the restored film in excellent shape, but even more so with the "lost" material reinserted and the censors cuts clearly indicated.

The film has a contentious romance at it's heart but there is also a lot of humor built into the story. There is not really much in the way of battle action but there are a few flying scenes and the bedroom farce sections will keep you in stitches.

Lured (1947)

It's completely normal to think of Lucille Ball as a television star. That is where she ultimately made her biggest mark, but she also starred in over 70 features and she was sometimes thought of as the Queen of the Bs of her era. This film is a noir inspired melodrama featuring a serial killer, dance hall girls, the personal columns and George Sanders. It is directed by 50s favorite Douglas Sirk, but features the glorious black and white of the late 40s noir films rather than the technicolor of "Magnificent Obsession" or "All that Heaven Allows".

Lucy is an American actress, stranded in London trying to make ends meet as a hostess in a dancehall. Her friend disappears and Scotland yard uses her to try and bait a serial killer who has been sending poetry inspired by a disturbed bard. It is interesting to see that the procedural of using a profile of a killer has been around a lot longer than "The Silence of the Lambs".  Working as a police undercover agent, Ball encounters suspects and falls in love with the stylish and snobby George Sanders. Sanders turns out to be a suspect as well. complicating the romance. The use of the personal ads and the cop falling for a suspect reminds me of the Al Pacino movie, "Sea of Love".

For a film that ultimately relies on suspense, there is a lot of humor and fluff. Balancing a romance with a serial killer story is awkward. Boris Karloff is another suspect, and at first he is played as a bit of a comic character but it does turn dark pretty quickly. I know that I have seen Cedric Hardwicke in movies before, but it is only days later that I realized he played the Pharo in "The Ten Commandments", I should have made that connection sooner. Charles Couburn as the head of Scotland Yard's team investigating the murders, makes no attempt to do an English accent, he gets by on his general charm and old man wisdom. Alan Napier was in "The Court Jester" yesterday and interestingly enough is Detective Gordon in this movie. I say interesting because that's one step away from a part that he did not have in his most famous role. He was Alfred in the 1960s Batman, and there he just answered the"bat phone" when Commissioner Gordon called.

Boris Karloff's daughter Sara was in attendee and she told a few stories about her father who was featured in this film.

Postcards From the Edge (1990)

Just as Robert Osborne's death hung over the Festival which was dedicated to him, the double whammy of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds was also heavy on many film lovers minds. There were two films being screened to honor the Mother/Daughter tandem that we lost in December. "Singin' in the Rain" was in the big house at Grauman's but we had been to a screening in January so chose instead to see the Roman à clef  "Postcards from the Edge", screenplay by Carrie Fisher. Although Fisher denied that it was based on her relationship with her own mother, the parallels are to obvious to ignore.

Meryl Streep first sang on screen not in "Mama Mia" or "Into the Woods" or "Ricki and the Flash", but rather in this film, where she plays the drug abusing actress daughter of a famous old time Hollywood singer Actress, played by Shirley MacLaine. There are a lot of Hollywood inside jokes, including a running story line concern the casual mating behaviors of people in the film business. The movie is littered with a variety of well known actors in brief parts including Rob Reiner, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfess, Dennis Quaid, and in one last minor role before she broke out into stardom later in this year Annette Bening.

I can't say that there is a strong narrative but I can say that the two leads were great in their parts. You can see under the brash enthusiasm of MacLaine's character to her more vulnerable parts. As usual, Streep is excellent and she is called on to do several district moods. She plays it straight when acting in a not very good film, she is angry as the casual lover betrayed by her own casualness, and she is frightened by the stupidity of her own choices when it comes to drug use. I thought her best moments were with Director Hackman as he tries to be honest with her and rescue her career at the same time.

This was the second Mike Nichols film we saw at the festival. It is not a work as assured and ground breaking as "The Graduate" but it was typical of the kinds of comedic dramas he would specialize in most of his later career.



What's Up Doc? (1972)

We left the screening of "Postcards" before the guests, Todd Fisher and Richard Dreyfess came out, because scheduling was tight and we wanted to get in to see this second Peter Bogdanovich film. Amanda had seen the bleak but moving "Last Picture Show" the day before, and this was an opportunity to cut loose and see what else he can do. From one year to the next it is hard to imagine a bigger shift in tone that this revival of the screwball comedy, featuring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neal.

Streisand has the role that in the 1930s would have been played by Katherine Hepburn or in the 1940s by Barbara Stanwyk. She is a slightly nutty misfit with a huge pool of knowledge on the tip of her tongue because she has been thrown out of so many colleges and so many majors. She latches onto O'Neal as a cute professor of Musicology with an interesting theory of music and rocks. His fiance introduces us to Madeline Kahn, in her first film role where she steals the whole picture. Kahn is the dowdy and dominating woman that runs the life of the absent minded O'Neal and Streisand is jsut the ticket to relieve him of that burden.

Throw in four identical suitcases with stolen jewellery, secret government information, rock specimens and clothes and underwear and you are all set for the kind of slapstick and mistaken identity that made those films of an earlier era so fun. There is literally a gag with people going in and out of hotel room doors that looks like it could have been cribbed from a Marx Brothers film.  Like most of those older films, this movie has scene stealing character actors and wild shifts in momentum. The last section of the movie features an astounding chase through the streets of San Francisco, on foot, bike and in cars. "Bullit" looks simple by comparison.
 Bogdanovich appeared before the film to talk about the actors and the process of getting the movie made. He seemed to have clearly understood that if he wanted to have the ability to wok in different genres, he need to get to direct this film. This was also a film written in part by Buck Henry, who had been the guest the night before for "The Graduate".

Speedy (1928)

We finished the festival with a silent film from Harold Lloyd. Along with Keaton and Chaplin, Lloyd is one of the cornerstones of not just silent films but comedy films specifically. This version of the film is apparently widely available but this screening had something extra special to recommend it. It was to be accompanied by a live orchestra playing original music for the film.

The Alloy Orchestra is really a four piece ensemble and they follow the action closely throughout the film. Sprinkled in the score are familiar motifs relating to baseball and carnivals, which are both featured in the story. A feckless young man with great confidence, goes from job to job, trying to impress the parents of the girl he is in love with. His failure as a soda jerk or cab driver is incidental to the wild moments he encounters on the streets of New York and Coney Island.

The film narrative is slight but there are dozens of visual gags and the actors do a nice job playing sweethearts who are unaffected by the upheaval that surrounds them. In the end, the young man saves the day for his future father-in-law, but he ruins a suit and Babe Ruth's day along the way.  Suzanne Lloyd, Harold's Granddaughter and keeper of his legacy was present to reminisce with film historian and critic Leonard Maltin.

If you want to see what NYC looked like nearly a century ago, this movie will give you an extensive tour and make you long for the days when Coney Island served cotton candy in paper sacks.


Friday, April 14, 2017

TCM Film Festival Day Three



So let's see if we can get the whole day in on one post rather than spreading it out over several. Saturday is always a densely packed day at the TCMFF. It begins with one of the movies I treasure from my nostalgia bank. A comedy takeoff on my favorite film.

The Court Jester

The film features the clown prince of movie comedy from the 1940s and 50s, the amazing Danny Kaye. Like most people my age, I encountered this movie in reruns on Sunday afternoon movie programs. It is a brilliant take off on "Robin Hood" and other swashbucklers.

The movie looks great on the big screen and this is one of the reasons I chose to see a movie I practically know by heart, because I have never seen it it a theater. The color bursts forth in amazing hues and the costumes look lush and detailed. The opening number with Kaye pretending to be The Black Fox and dancing with miniature versions of himself was a riot. The Foxes outfit was reproduced a dozen times for the diminutive actors playing the acrobatic troop that Hawkins once worked with.  Captain Jean shows up in a similar outfit, tailored for a woman and with a slightly different color. This is the start of the little details that make a big screen viewing extra special.

The audience was full and host Illeana Douglas and guest Fred Willard shared their stories about seeing the film and loving Danny Kaye. Outside in line for the next film, I encountered a woman who had a myriad of tattoos, but her most recent ones were the focus of my attention.  If you look closely you will see here on the wrist a Vessel with a Pestle, a Chalice from the Palace, and a Flagon with the figure of a dragon. She definitely is a fan. My fandom will not go so far as to paint my body, but I do have a full post on the film here. I think you will find the review and story there worth your trip.







The Awful Truth

This was a last minute call for me. I'd originally planned on seeing "The Last Picture Show" with director Peter Bogdonovicth , but I decided that since I'd seen it only a month earlier, I'd look for
something else. My daughter Amanda and I split up at this point and she headed off to see the 70's classic while I queued up for a screwball comedy that I saw three decades or so before and had only a vague memory of.

This was a chance for me to sit with some of the TCM Party People I know from on-line. Kellee Pratt and her husband Gary were there as was Aurora from Citizen Screen. I saved a seat for my local blogging buddy Michael, and there were a dozen others from the group around us as well. Some of those folks were introduced to me and some were not but all of the group was friendly and full of anticipation.  The excitement was completely understandable because this movie is a delight. As with most screwball films, the premise is a little far fetched and convoluted but once you accept that, everything falls into place. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are married couple who have some secrets that they keep from one another but they appear to be a little innocuous. Grant however lets his suspicions get the best of him and they pursue a divorce that neither of them really wants.

Ralph Bellamy plays the third wheel love interest who complicates the couples reunion. This is a part that he most have done in films a dozen times, including "His Girl Friday" where again his romantic proclivities are thwarted by Cary Grant. I'd just seen Grant in "North By Northwest" a few days ago, and It is amazing how great his range was. The picture at the top of this post was taken by TCM of the line for the film. If you look closely, you will see me giving the "Fight On" victory salute of my Trojan Family.

The Jerk

I saw this movie when it was first released and I thought it was hysterical but a bit of a thrown together piece of work. I must have watched bits and pieces of it over the years so that I knew it intimately. Watching the whole thing once more, it was much more coherent and professionally assembled than I remembered, although it was just as funny 38 years later.

Much of that credit belongs to the director Carl Reiner, who along with star and screenwriter Steve Martin, put together a series of loose sketches (much like they had done throughout their careers) to make a real movie. Reiner was present before the screening for a book signing that went on quite a while and caused a pretty big delay in the schedule.  I was worried I'd not make it in time to get to the next film where I was scheduled to reconnect with Amanda.

Reiner was much like Mel Brooks was, full of stories and very funny. He does digress a bit into some political themes that are prevalent these days. One of the reasons I  want to go to the festival is to get away from that subject matter and it was a little annoying. I was glad when he got the subject off his chest and went back to the film and his admiration of Steve Martin. Host Ben Mankiewicz, while interviewing him had a hard time understanding the baseball cap he had handy. The information that Reiner is not a Colorado Rockies fan, lead to realization that the hat logo had more to do with the guest than baseball. I'll bet you figure it out faster than Ben did.

I was Mr. Reiner last year at the TCM FF talking about "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid". At age 95, he has not lost his wit or enthusiasm for working. Apparently he has two other books coming out this year as well.





Best In Show

The least "classic" in terms of date released film I saw at the Festival was the most successful of the Christopher Guest directed improvisational films, "Best in Show". I suspect some classic film fans would be wondering why this movie is included in the program. It is barely seventeen years old and hardly the sort of thing that would attract this audience. It was however not only well attended but completely booked and I don't think anyone in the standby line got in.

Since the theme of the festival was comedy, it makes sense to have some of the funniest movies around included in your program. Since the Festival makes a great effort to add value to the screenings with special guests, this film really paid in spades because there were four actors from the film present to share some stories.

John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban and Jim Piddock sat down front and spoke of the process that is used to put these ensemble films together and they reminisced about the making of the film. Poor Bob Balaban had such a sore throat that he could not speak, but he participated with notes that the host or one of the co-stars would read. It seems appropriate that he was the one with a wing down since it was also true when they made the film. He had a large footbrace on his leg the whole time that they were shooting and had to have his slacks altered so that he could hide the fact but still wear the piece. Piddock recalled how difficult it was to play straight man to Willard. He also noted that all of their work was basically done in an afternoon and that there were no dogs present at the location where they shot.

We had an interesting encounter with a woman in line for the next movie. She had been in the screeing with us and she and her friend were discussing the film while we waited to get back into the main Chinese theater. She hated the film, and I think she represents many of the fans who would have questioned it's inclusion. However if you judge by the volume of laughter in the room and it's frequency, the movie was a success with most of the crowd.

The Graduate

While it may not be from the studio era that most fans of TCM would use to define "classic film", the rest of the world would certainly concede that this is at least a modern classic. "The Graduate" introduced Dustin Hoffman to the world and the themes of the movie reverberate throughout Hollywood for ten years after the film was released. As hard as it was for me to believe, my daughter had never seen it and I was anxious to get her take on the film.

The Simon and Garfunkel songs that are littered throughout the story are part of the soundtrack of we baby boomers lives. The opening sequence with Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin, being moved without any effort on his part by the people conveyor at LAX, with the blank tile walls behind him, completely forecasts the characters story and ambivalence. Much has been written about the final shots and the tentative smiles and uncertainty on the actors faces, but if you ask me, this was the moment that Mike Nichols earned his Academy Award.

Screenwriter Buck Henry was the guest and his was one of the most interesting interviews of the weekend. Mr. Henry is eighty seven years old and not quite as spry as Carl Reiner or his old collaborator Mel Brooks. He was in fact in a wheelchair, but he did not appear to be infirm. As he was interviewed, there were times when he seemed indifferent to or confused by the questions, but just when you thought he was out of it, he usually made an insightful comment or quip, and I began to think he was really just toying with us.

The fact that Robert Redford walked away from the part as Nichols continued to try and interest him in it might be well known. Henry added to the story however by explaining that Redford's reason given to the director was simple, he didn't get it. He also shared a piece of info that I was unaware of , Murray Hamilton was a replacement for an actor who Nichols let go. The actor was very capable but Nichols simply did not think he could play "rich". The actor was Gene Hackman, perhaps my very favorite actor ever. To me the bigger question was how he could play older. Hackman and Hoffman are pretty close to the same age and they shared rooms together at one point. Hackman moved on to "Bonnie and Clyde" which was not at all a bad trade for him.

The best part of the film came in the car on the ride home that night. I had the kind of discussion with my daughter that film fans always want to have. We had insights and disagreements and intelligent comments to make about a movie that inspired us. She has asked me several times what my favorite part of the festival was. I've not said it before but I will put it in writing right here. My favorite thing about this years TCM Film Festival was the forty minute ride home that night, talking to her about a great movie.





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TCM FF Day 2 Part 4 Friday April 7

High Anxiety


I could have warned host Ben Mankiewicz that his notes would be worthless when interviewing Mel Brooks. I had the pleasure just a couple of months ago of watching Brooks participate in a presentation of Blazing Saddles. The man is a force of nature that cannot be controlled. The twenty or so minutes that Brooks was given was filled with laughter and applause. He repeated some of the same stories he told two months ago, but he added some new ones. I especially enjoyed hearing about his revenge on Harry Cohn and the pleading that was done on his behalf to keep his job.

High Anxiety is a pastiche of Hitchcock films that touches on several more than a dozen of the master's works or characters. I've heard it said that it is one of his lesser accomplishments, but since the story and jokes have to borrow from so many well known sources to begin with, it is a real achievement that it feels like a regular film and not a parody like one of the Airplane! or Naked Gun films.

The cast of this movie was packed with the funniest of actors from the 1970s. Madeline Kahn should have a statute somewhere to commemorate the day she entered our motion picture world. Her rendition of Hitch's icy blonde is spot on. Cloris Leachman has no vanity to serve when it comes to getting the laughs. He marble mouthed mustached nurse, is a nightmare version of the nightmare that was Mrs. Danvers seventy years ago. Harvey Korman was funny in almost everything he did and his fussy, emasculated psychiatrist is a character that can safely sit next to his role in Blazing Saddles.

Finally, Mel Brooks turns in a wonderful comedic performance as a psychiatrist with a major hang up that probably accounts for why he chose the profession in the first place. Brooks looks great in 1977, and could pull off a leading man role without having a matinee star like face. The two high points of the film for him are the shower scene where he effectively stands in for Janet leigh, and a musical turn at the piano bar. Brooks sells the title song as if it were part of the Great American Songbook, but also as a comic tune that sets the stage for events in the movie. The theme of this years Festival was Comedy, and this was one of the many films I saw that had the audience reeling. Of course they did get a big appitiezer to start the meal off with. 


Day 2 TCM FF Friday April 7 (Part 3)

The Bridge on the River Kwai

One of my on-line friends , in answer to a poll question concerning what movies are best on the big screen, answered "None". He believes that a movie isn't very good if it has to be experienced in a theater. Here is exhibit A in the case against this ridiculous claim. Movies were made for theaters not for TV screens, and the framing, cinematography, and spectacle can sometimes best be appreciated when it is thirty feet tall and seventy feet wide. "David Lean" is the answer to any of your friends who have a similar opinion. 

I've seen The Bridge on the River Kwai maybe a dozen times in my life. I own a beautiful Laserdisc edition. This however was the first time I think I have seen it on a big screen, and this was in the main theater at the famed home of Grauman's (now TCL). The expansiveness of the jungle can be appreciated more on the big screen. The Bridge itself, both as it is being completed and destroyed is much more impressive on the giant screen in this theater. The climax of the film looks more impressive and the madness of the characters involved is more completely noticeable as two of the principles lie in the foreground of the destruction.

It was the 60th anniversary of the films release and our host was Alex Trebeck, the quiz master of "Jeopardy". He shared the familiar story of how two blacklisted screenwriters were deprived of their credits for the film, which won the award for screenplay. The Award was given in 1958 to the author of the book, of whom one of the screenwriters said, "At least he had the good grace to not appear at the Awards to accept.".

William Holden manages to be even better in the film than I remembered, but it is Alec Guinness who really stands out and clear deserved to honor bestowed on him that year. The cast looks incredibly emaciated in the early parts of the film. It was probably as accurate as you could get without being accused of deliberately mistreating the actors. The battle of wills that dominates the first part of the movie is both tragic and comic. Col. Nichols remained dryly sardonic in spite of the hardships he had to endure. A Great Film in a great venue.

TCM Film Festival l Day Two (Part 3)

Friday April 7, 2017

Panique'

This was a restoration presentation of a film noir in French, made immediately after the war. It is based on a novel by a widely read and published Belgium author Georges Simenon. There is a combination of sadism, racism and voyeurism in the movie that makes it stand out. The actors seemed to be cast well and they were convincing in their roles.

Rather than being a procedural or a tradition femme fatale murder plot, the story opens with a crime having already been committed. A mysterious woman who does have the traditional markings of the dangerous woman, arrives in a provincial town and is immediately the subject of unwanted attention from a standoffish resident who others in the town dislike. She is just out of prison and is reconnecting with an old lover who she took the fall for. The loner knows more about the two of them then they are comfortable with and a cat and mouse game begins.

There is a slight hint of the paranormal, with a fortune teller at a traveling carnival indicating danger ahead. The loner turns out to have some pseudo scientific fortune telling skills of his own. The lover she has returned to is a complete cad and ultimately manages a betrayal of trust and the mob vengeance of the entire community. The stunning black and white composition, the clever plotting and the weirdness of the characters made this one of my favorites of the festival.

The son of Georges Simenon, an accomplished writer himself, came to the festival to discuss the film. His father had a wide group of friends and admirers and while some of his novels were turned into films. he was often opposed to the way that the stories had to be told. Once again, it was an interesting history lesson that included some international cinema. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Day 2 TCM Film Festival Friday April 7 (Part 2)

Beat the Devil

If you have never seen this odd film from director John Huston and Star Humphrey Bogart, you are likely to be thrown for a loop when you do. It is not at all what you would expect. It started out as a serious project but some of the circumstances are odd and after Truman Capote signed on to work th script, it becomes an outright comedy.

Jennifer Jones is really interesting as a woman who is fickle in love and has a tenuous relationship with the truth. The oddball characters start stacking up and although there is murder in the air, the drama of the story never seems to be the focus. Instead we are anticipating the next outrageous turn of events or quip from Bogart.

The first half of the film takes place onshore as the cast of characters awaits repairs to the vessel they are supposed to sail on. We take in local ruins, and the cast mistakenly think that characters have died. When you have Gina Lollobrigda and Jennifer Jones as romantic interests, you are a lucky guy. At least in love, but the scheme seems to be going off the rails at times. Bogart's partners include Robert Morely and Peter Lorre and Italian actor Marco Tulli. Everyone is double crossing everyone else and you will have a hard time following the plot and scheme, but that is mostly not relevant to enjoying the picture.

The program featured a discussion of the filming by script supervisor Angela Allen, who told several amusing stories about working with the cast. Apparently, one day when they were shooting at sea, the captain misunderstood the directions and had the ship sailing off to North Africa for a couple of hours before anyone realized it. The cast and crew did not get back into port until many hours into the night and they were lucky they did not wake up in Tunisia.


Day Two TCMFF Friday April 7

Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks


This/morning we have animated fare on the plate. The works of Ub Iwerks are going to be the subject of the program, Beyond the Mouse. There were ten cartoons from the 1930 period, starting with an Oswald Rabbit short that was pretty primitive but very amusing. The level/of violence was a bit high but it was entertaining. Steamboat Willie was next and it is probably a bit harsher than you remember.

Iwerks was very much responsible for the Look of Mickey Mouse early on. The reasons he went off on his own for this period did not seem to be about a problem with his friend Walt Disney, but rather exploring his creative impulses. There were a couple of early color cartoons and some of the background stuff stands out a bit more.

The Skeletons Dance was a great Black and White, I think that was still with the Disney group, but there were two follow ups with a character named Flip the Frog. They were both amusing but definitely a bit different. There was one sequence that the frog ends up with his pants around his ankles for a/big chunk of time. That seemed awkward. There were two Willie Whopper cartoons, a character I was not familiar with who tells tall tales. One was kinda dark about a trip to Hell and the Devil. So we got a little history lesson to start our day.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

TCM Film Festival Opening Night: In the Heat of the Night

Opening night at the TCM Film Festival was a double edged sword this evening. My plan had been to see the main event and then cruise down afterwards to see "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)". Something created a hangup, and the screening did not start until forty-five minutes past the scheduled time. The late start meant that if we stayed for the whole film, we would miss the Hitchcock film. A real bummer because at the last minute it was announced that Martin Scorsese was going to introduce the film. Amanda had never scene the whole of "In the Heat of the Night" so it seemed wrong to leave, plus once the film gets started, you don't want to go anywhere. You get a chance to watch actors who are really good do what they do so well. Also, the guest list for the film is impressive.

Our host was TCM's Ben Mankiewicz, and his line up was amazing. Actress Lee Grant, who had been blacklisted and not worked for twelve years before this film, was there to talk about her experience. She was joined by the director Norman Jewison, who's CV is about the length of your arm. The producer of the film, who won the Academy Award that year for Best Picture, is Walter Mirisch. He is ninety-six years old, and still amazingly engaged with the film business. If you loved a movie from the sixties or seventies, there is a good chance his name is attached to it somewhere. He mentioned that he has lunch every week with the man he considers his best friend, the star of this film Sidney Pointier.  Mr. Pointier has voice issues so he could not participate in the discussion, so he just sat and watched the film from the row right in front of us.

Just on the other side of the aisle from us were Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who wrote the title song that was sung by Ray Charles. Their other musical collaborations are too long to even think about listing. Right behind them was actor Scott Wilson, who played the second suspect in the film. He is a personal favorite of mine because of his starring role in The Ninth Configuration among others. OK, now that the name dropping is over, let me share a little bit of what they shared.

Mirisch talked about his seventy year friendship with Poitier, and how the two of them found the property and spent a great deal of time developing it. The original treatment fixed a number of issues that the book had, but the screen writer had a job offer he could not turn down and he left the project to be replaced by Stirling Silliphant, who went on to win the Academy Award for best screenplay. Mirisch also told of how he negotiated the production cost of the film, based on the possibility that it would not play south of the Mason-Dixon line. He handicapped Director Jewison with a tight budget but a great script that they did not want to change. There was worry that the slap that Pointier gives to a white gentrified suspect might create race riots. Jewison regaled us with stories about how he and Rod Stieger worked out Chief Gillespie's character. The gum Stieger chews in the film is almost a co-star.

Of course the film holds up well in spite of the progress we have made as a country. The raw racism shown so casually would certainly shock today's younger viewers who would have a hard time seeing how blatant such prejudice was, not that long ago. The film is an important landmark in the transition from the Jim Crow attitudes of the day to more enlightened perspectives just a few years later. The murder mystery is a plot device to allow us to see racial tension boil over and remain in an undercurrent simultaneously.  Pointier was also in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" in the same year. He was the number one box office star, and it mattered that this film succeed as it did.


We got to walk the Red carpet before the movie, so for a brief moment, we felt like celebrities, but no one asked me "Who I was wearing?"

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

TCM Film Festival Plan





This is the plan, of course that is the thing that makes God Laugh. We will see what parts of it we manage to accomplish. I hope some of my blogging colleagues will be attending and will look for me. I'll be looking for them. [I know the first three things are Thursday and not Friday. Don't Worry.]



Sunday, April 2, 2017

North By Northwest TCM and Fathom Events



With many film series, it is easy to say what your favorite is. Star Wars fans seem pretty passionate about "The Empire Strikes Back" and let's face it, no one likes "Cars 2". With directors, the same is not as obvious. When the film maker has such a unique style but also the talent to apply it to almost any genre, it gets to be more difficult. If asked, I would say my favorite Hitchcock films are "Vertigo", "North By Northwest" and "Psycho". As to which one I think is the best, well it depends on which one I saw last. Today, my favorite is the Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason thriller from 1959.



Since I am such a big fan of James Bond, it seems natural to love "North by Northwest" because it really feels like it set the groundwork for contemporary spy films.  There is an intricate plot, but most of the mystery is background for a series of sequences that are amazingly staged or performed. The actors get to play with their characters and make them something unique because the dialogue is so arch. 007 could easily have spouted the lines spoken by either Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint. Mason is a forerunner for Dr. No and a dozen other masterminds who trade quips with the protagonist and make plans that in the end go awry.



Two major Hitchcock themes are fully exploited by this film. There is a cool blonde with the aura of danger surrounding her and there is the innocent man, caught up in a story wrongfully but effectively. Mild maneuvered mama's boy Roger Thornhill does not seem to be the type to be able to stand up to ruthless spies and killers but he turns out to be resourceful and charming enough to get halfway across the country to the climax of the film. His cleverness at escaping is demonstrated by his witty performance at a Chicago auction. The manner in which he thwarts the henchmen of the lead baddie is just the kind of thing that James Bond and Indiana Jones would specialize in later. Eva Marie Saint comes on like a locamotive which is appropriate given where she first meets Grant's Thornhill. Eve Kendall is a mystery wrapped in a most appealing package and dropping hints as to what is inside in the sexiest way possible.

Eve Kendall: I'm a big girl.
Roger Thornhill: Yeah, and in all the right places, too. 

Their exchanges while on the train to Chicago are worth the price of admission all on their own.



The two big set pieces of this movie are justifiably famous. The whole sequence with Grant out in the hinterlands of Iowa, waiting for a non-existent man to meet him in the middle of nowhere, is fascinating . From the time his bus drops him off to the moment the crop duster ends up as it does, there is basically only the sound of the fields and the infrequent traffic on the roads. Hitchcock doesn't have to sweeten the suspense with music at this point. Everything build tension by developing slowly and quietly. It is a far cry from the manner of most modern films which overdo it ninety percent of the time.  The spectacular chase across the heads and faces of Mt. Rushmore however, are perfectly framed by the amazing Bernard Hermann theme from the film. When silence is required, the music pulls back to allow the menacing face of Martin Landau to move closer to our heroes and really frighten us.

Everywhere in the movie, Hitchcock and his collaborator , writer Ernest Lehman, have created little moments of character that provide humor for the story. Roger Thornhill is a befuddled man, but he is also a creative advertising executive who can toss off a quip as easily as most jingles of the day. He has lines to his secretary, the thugs who kidnap him and his love interest, that would be memorable if they were in a pure comedy. Lehman and Hitchcock put those bon mots in his mouth at just the right time for effect but never in the way that some of the lines made famous by action stars of the 80s dropped like a hammer. Subtlety is a gift that the makers of this piece of entertainment provide us in regular doses.

I own this Blu ray and have watched it a number of times, but as usual with film, the experience of seeing it in a theater with an audience just as captivated as you are is intangibly better. There is an extensive selection of films being provided by TCM and Fathom for the next few months. Maybe if you are lucky, you will find something as wonderful as this movie to fill your eyes and brain with.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Power Rangers



Children of the 90s can rejoice. Your childhood will not be besmirched by a film that takes your memories and mangles them. The new version of Power Rangers should be exactly what you want. It takes a stupid premise, removes the ridiculous, adds some real teen angst, and comes up with a popcorn film that won't make you hate yourself for going.

My kids were just the age for the show when it first aired. They liked it well enough but they never obsessed about the "Green Ranger" the way some kids at the time did. As a dutiful dad, I endured the cheese factory that was "The Mighty Morphin Power rangers Movie" in 1995, but I have not revisited it since then. My kids grew up and out of this phase and we moved on to other things. I thought I was done with all of this, but nostalgia isn't what it used to be. The film makers of today are the children of yesterday, and apparently they needed to have a worthy Power Rangers reboot. OK,  here it is.

There are two things about the movie I'd warn you about, after that, everything else is on you if you are interested. First, there is a crude old joke used in the introduction of the first of our soon to be hero kids, that is disgusting and probably not something that should be heard by anyone under thirteen. My guess is that it was included to get the film up to a PG-13, because a PG rating would just not be enough for the cool kids. Every other reference to a four letter word is turned into a joke without actually saying the word. So the film pushes the edges by playing it safe. The second warning is that the film is long. It is over two hours, and the Rangers don't morph until well into the second hour. That's a lot of back story, exposition and set up for the comic book action we will want. It does however give the movie a little more seriousness and it feels like a movie, not a cartoon show simply blown up to the big scree.

That said, if you don't mind weird monsters and karate mixed with some Transformers style effects and action, you should enjoy this film. Elizabeth Banks and Bryan Cranston add a bit of depth to the cast, which otherwise consists of five young actors I've never heard of before. They all seemed perfectly acceptable for their roles. Billy and Naomi are the two with the most interesting background. The film gives a nod to special needs communities and also makes a plea for redemption of stupidity. None of which should be taken very seriously but it was nice anyway.

I doubt that I will ever see this again, except in passing as I scroll through channels, but someone out there is going to love this. It takes something completely disposable, and treats it seriously for two hours before we can dispose of it again. Millennials  may now celebrate, now let's get some Junior Mints and remember the past as being better than it really was.

Friday, March 24, 2017

LIFE



[This is traditionally a spoiler free site. This review may have content which indirectly gives away some plot elements. Sorry, but the movie turned me a bit reactionary.]

I will hold my powder dry until the end of this post. There are so many things I liked about this movie that it would be a disservice to start with the thing that irritated me the most. Instead, we'll concentrate on the strong points at the outset and hope that my ire calms down enough to be fair to the movie. "Life" is a horror film in a science fiction atmosphere. That makes it sound derivative of "Alien", but that's OK because as great as "Alien" is, it is also a product of ideas that came before it, and it made a great film, so this could do the same.

An International Space Station, set up to process materials from other planets, (basically Mars), receives a sample back after the delivery capsule encounters some problems on it's way to them. A group of six scientists and engineers are ready to take possession and begin analysis in the safety of space, above the Earth. Naturally things do not go as smoothly as expected. Proof of life beyond our planet becomes an international moment of celebration, but the initial joy of the scientists becomes dread as the life form begins to develop some dangerous characteristics.

As with all horror films, the group of potential victims is faced with a variety of options. Almost all of the choices are bad and most of the actions of the crew will in retrospect seem foolish. An early mistake that supposedly can't happen allows the life form access to a larger area of the space lab. This sequence happens so fast that it is difficult to tell exactly what happened. However, the sequence that immediately follows is the best section of the film. Astronaut Ryan Reynolds attempts to rescue his comrade from a seemingly sudden attack. Just like in "Alien" someone has to break the protocol to allow events to play out. Immediately we get a sense of the power and potential intelligence of the new life form. Just as with Alien, the use of fire is not particularly effective.  The results are gruesome and frightening in a very tense five or six minute scene. It is exactly the kind of thing you hope for in a story of this type.

It begins to feel like we are playing out the "Ten Little Indians" scenario in a horror film one more time. We are given glimpses of the personalities of the crew and one by one they will be killed by the monster. A few red herrings are set up and the plotline plays them out reasonably well for a while. The visual effects of the activities on the station and the movement of the creature are very disturbing and effective. The actions of stars Jake Gyllenhaal , Rebecca Ferguson, and the rest of the cast, sometimes are heroic, sometimes lucky and occasionally clever. For most of the ride we get the kinds of action and suspense that we paid our money for. Just as I thought last year's "The Shallows" was a reasonably entertaining variation of the "Jaws" concept, I found this to be a pretty effective variant on "Alien". That is until we get to the Ian Malcolm moment.

[Potential spoilers. We wary of proceeding].

In "Jurassic Park", the character of Ian Malcolm explains very simply that  "If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh... well, there it is. ..."Life" finds a way." We might be lead to believe that this is a description of the science team, and that gives us the rooting interest that an audience will need. Unfortunately just as most of the characters make a mistake  or bad choice along the way, just as we think the writers responsible for "Deadpool" and "Zombieland"  are about to show that they can find a way the make "Life" work, ...they choose poorly. The twist suckerpunch at the end of the film destroys most of the goodwill the film built up for me. There were a lot of other options that could have been more satisfying, but no, the film makers go for a big finish and they flop.

There will be people out there who like the choice made at the end, I think those people are wrong. It denies the value of most of what we saw for the opening hour and forty minutes of the film. I saw this coming as soon as a sequence continues past a natural stopping place. I guess I could do what some folks do, step out at that point, or turn the movie off before the finale. That's not in my nature. Which is why, like Sky Masterson I say, "Daddy, I got cider in my ear."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)




There is a world full of film bloggers who dislike the whole idea of live action remakes or reboots of classic animation films. They regularly let it be known that there is no need for a live action film, that the existing version is excellent and, "gasp", the production of such a movie is a money grab. Well those are all ideas that I can sometimes understand, they often get bandied about without regard to the product for which those comments are intended. I try to hold my opinion until I see each film and I do my best to judge it by it's own merits. That goal is exceptionally hard to achieve with the current "Beauty and the Beast". The animated film from 1991 is beloved by many, and I include myself in that group. It holds a pivotal place in my nostalgia file, since my kids were the perfect ages to see that film when it came out and we lived on a steady diet of "B & B" video watches for almost five years. Although I try to avoid other reviews and certainly spoilers on line, it is hard to exclude them entirely, and I'd heard one of the regular guests on the Lambcast, knock this version for being lifeless. So although I wanted this film to be a success, it was with some slight trepidation that I approached the screening. To put it mildly, there is nothing to worry about, this film is solid.

The legend of the original animated design of Belle was that they wanted her to resemble Julia Roberts. I think we can dispense with that image. Emma Watson is a fantastic fit as the heroine of this story. She has the pluckiness that we want out proto-feminist character to deliver and the charm that we remember. I think her voice is very solid as a singer and the big numbers at the beginning of the movie are carried off with aplomb. She also seemed to develop some chemistry with the Beast, through hard work as an actor in some pretty well filled out sections of the film. The transformation from antagonist to friend and love interest was very believable in this version of the movie. I also thought her relationship with her father was more adult like and based in a long standing status rather than just being patronizing.

There are places in the film where there are additions to the well known story that I think work, but there are also a couple that seem unnecessary. I don't know that the enchantress that places a spell on the castle and town, needs to be a character after the first sequence. I did like the fact that the town was included in the enchantment, which helps to explain a couple of minor inconsistencies in the '91 animated film. The character of LeFou changes in a couple of ways. Much has been made of the character's "identification", and those that are bothered by that sort of thing will probably ind the slight bit of humor related to that offensive. I wonder if that alteration is the justification for turning the character into a more sympathetic figure toward the end of the film. As if an orientation transplant also requires a morality defense. It's just a thought I had as I was considering the whole film. It doesn't qualify or disqualify the movie for me.

Here and there are minor changes in scene and blocking. Gaston, as played very effectively by Luke Evans, is introduced in much the same manner but already as a suitor for Belle, in fact she has turned him down before. Their interactions have less of the comic effect than the animated film was able to achieve, and that is a small drawback, but the back story of Gaston as a soldier  makes some of his attitudes a little more sensible. His temper issue, which replaces the blackmail into marriage strategy of the animated version, is a lot more logical and it also justifies LeFou a bit more.  Another set of background issues concerns Maurice, Belle's Father played by Kevin Kline. Instead of being an inventor, he is an artist, and some of his work is mechanical like clock making. I suppose it makes sense to enlarge the part if you are going to expand the film and hire an actor of this stature, but I don't know that we needed to know all the history of their departure from Paris to the provincial areas.

The Beast himself, is seen early on as an adult, although they disguise his appearance a little for the reveal at the end. This was another place where the story gets expanded. It seems the young Prince, when denied maternal oversight became a reflection of his father. Not much was told to us about all of that, but because we get a little more of his origins, the library becomes more important as a way of connecting Belle and he. One of the minor criticisms of the animated film is the quick step to love that occurs. I think this is a little more realistic in timing, although it still happens faster than one might expect.

I may be an outlier on this film. On the podcast that I was a guest on today, two of the other participants were quite harsh in their judgments and the other was mildly enthusiastic. I'm all in, so take that for what it is worth. If you are interested in hearing the discussion, I will be posting a link when the podcast gets published. Until then, you are invited to be my guest, and enjoy this tale as old as time, without worrying that all those little people in the provincial town you find yourself in, will judge you too harshly.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island



There is no news here. This is a big action film with a giant ape that fights humans an monsters on an island. It is pretty much what you expect it to be. It is entertaining while you watch it and forgettable almost immediately. You will have enough time to consume your popcorn, but I don't expect there to be deep conversations into the night over the nuances of the story. Samuel Jackson may be playing Captain Ahab or Colonel Kurtz, trying to win the Vietnam War after we abandon our ally, but  that plotline goes no where except to create a little motivation for otherwise foolish choices by a professional.

Tom Hiddleston seems to be auditioning for his role as the next James Bond by playing a SAS agent, out of service but willing to contract for a fee. He is supposed to be the hero part in the movie and he was fine, but the character is so thin that we don't get much rooting interest. Academy Award Winner Brie Larson is on hand as a photo journalist who smells a story. It's never clear how she got authorized to be there but that doesn't matter. I was completely surprised that the film is set in 1973. I suppose there are story issues that are easier to sell that way but it does seem a bit disconcerting. John C. Reilly is part Rip Van Winkle and part Dennis Hopper when the expedition gets to the island. Somebody on the writing team must be a Cubs fan because that is a thing here.

Anyone who has seen a King Kong movie before, knows that Kong is a double edged sword. He is as scary and dangerous as hell, but there are always other things that are more frightening and dangerous, including mankind.  There is actually a subtle environmentalist message in the movie, but I doubt anyone will notice it between all the helicopter crashes and monster battles. The tribesmen on this version of the island are just as silent as the ones in the Peter Jackson film of a Dozen years ago, but thety are less malevolent and apparently wise in the balance of nature. They have the role of religious shamans who convey wisdom to the modern world but do so in a silent manner.

John Goodman got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in conjunction with the release of this film. This is a good sized part but nothing special as far as his performance. It would have been so much more befitting if the honor had been bestowed on him last year. Samuel Jackson is a lot more subdued than he usually is, I don't think I can remember one  use by him of his favorite adjective. There was a nice call back however to his role in Jurassic Park. That was entirely fitting given the nature of this film being about giant monsters on the loose on an island.

You are probably aware that there is an after the credits scene. It is entirely there to set up a series of future films featuring Kong. The studios that combined to create this movie are trying to set up a cinematic universe which will support all kinds of 50s monsters being in a story. It will probably work, this movie will do business until another action film worthy of our attention shows up. Until then, check your common sense at the service counter and pass the Hot Tamales. They will go well with the butter oil in the popcorn, and they will be satisfying for about the same amount of time as this film.



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Logan



The X-Men franchise has been going pretty strong for the better part of two decades now. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have grown older in their roles as Wolverine and Professor Xavier. I don't know how they will replace Jackman, but Stewart has been gracefully edged aside for James McAvoy in the last few outings, including a dual casting in "X-Men: Days of Future Past". The two of them have been cast in this capstone film, which basically cements their exit from the franchise. This episode is tonally very different from any of the other films, including the last outing for Jackman which was "The Wolverine" back in 2013.

Most of these films have been cartoony super hero stories with a new "big Bad" to fight against in each edition. There is some subtext about ethnicity/sexuality and culture but usually it comes down to some big action sequences that everyone is looking forward to. "Logan" has plenty of action scenes but they are mostly a series of mutants versus mercenaries, and usually involve a car chase or two. No stadiums are lifted into the air, the Statue of Liberty is not at risk, and the wold does not seem to teeter on a single moment. The darker subtext here has to do with genetic manipulation for intentional purposes. Since the film is set ten years in the future, it is safe to make some jokes about GMO crops and GMO humans. The Frankenfood that most alarmists are worried about is mocked, but the human process is the thing that provides some depth to the movie.

Let me share a quote with you from my review of the 2013 film: " I know the film is PG-13 because we get only one f-bomb, and the blood from all the fighting and evisceration that is taking place, stays mainly on the characters. Body parts don't come flying off the screen, there are no fountains of blood spraying the walls, and the violence remains mostly in the imagination." Apparently, director/writer James Mangold felt the same way, or else he read my comments and decided to fix this deficiency. "Logan" is R-rated for blood and language. It's not a surprise that when freed from some contractual restrictions, Wolverine would find colorful uses for the f-adjective. What is a little more of a shock is the degree to which the claws get set free. The number of times the three prongs end up in the head, throat, or chest of a bad guy rivals John Wick's kill count. It gets a little wearisome at times. Let's throw in another character with claws, and the dismemberment, decapitations and general viscera is way up. If you have trouble with violence that looks really violent, then this film may not be for you.

I mentioned that the tone of the movie is different. Both Charles and Logan have medical issues in this movie. In a different X-Men Universe, there would be brilliant blue furry mutants and mystic scientists working to discover solutions for their problems. Instead, we have a pair of overworked caregivers who are struggling to get by while hiding from the world. Some vaguely hinted at disaster has made the X-Men disappear. Getting the pill count and schedule is hard enough, but some characters also need assistance in going to the toilet. That's not something you will see in the comic books I bet. Another thing that will show how different and dark this world is, no one is spared in the story. Sympathetic characters die and often in gruesome ways. I thought we were being set up at one point for a secondary character to use some skills that are human based, but no. As soon as we hear about those accomplishments and start thinking of how they might be used, the character is dead. The warmth of friendship or humanity is held out only long enough to make us feel something when it is snatched away.

Overall I liked the movie quite a bit, but I have my reservations. The violence is continuous without the self awareness of a movie like John Wick. There is background missing that would make the story a little more interesting, and just as we get some monologing to  explain it, a bit of violence jumps in and cuts it off as if to say "That's not the story we are telling here." This is really an elegy for the X-Men characters we have known and a passing of the torch to new mutants. It feels like the studio has set up the whole franchise for a second reboot since they got started. The Deadpool 2 teaser at the start of this film has nothing to do with this movie except for a brief reference to Logan as a joke. The mood of the opening teaser is incredibly different from the movie that follows it. The final tip off for where this is all going to end up is contained in the use of a Johnny Cash song in the trailer and a different Cash song in the end credits. The dire and desperate voice of Johnny Cash is a natural for Mangold to use. He was after all the director of "Walk the Line". It is also a Cliff Note sized clue that this movie is a tragedy and not an adventure.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Get Out



Last night I had a disappointing experience. We decided to watch a horror film and we chose "The VVitch" because we'd heard a lot of positive things about it. Maybe it works for other people but I was not happy. In fact I found it quite irritating in the way the story gets resolved, or at least sort of resolved. Today, to wash the bad memory out of my brain, we picked another widely acclaimed horror film. This movie is more contemporary and it has an interesting perspective on the world. I'd seen the trailer and I was afraid it was going to be a polemic on white privilege, instead, the movie twists the idea of cultural appropriation in a way that is totally off the wall and satisfying.

Daniel Kaluuya is a name I did not recognize, but he was in a movie I saw a couple of years ago, "Kick Ass 2". His part in that movie was not significant, but his role in this movie is impressive. He is the lead and he carries most of the drama and horror of the film on his shoulders. The only thing I know Allison Williams from is the highly criticized Peter Pan Live form a couple of years ago. She was also very good in this film and her character has surprising elements to it that will turn the story at some points. Three other well known old timers are also in the cast. Bradley Whitford from the West Wing and "Cabin in the Woods" plays the neurosurgeon father of Rose, the white girl that is dating Kaluuya's character Chris. Dad is just enough of a social justice liberal to be disarming, but still he and his wife player by Catherine Keener, are just a little off.  Mom is a psychiatrist who uses hypnotherapy to help clients deal with smoking and other issues. At first they seem just a little odd but as time passes, Chris begins to listen to the doubts that he might be expected to have as a lonely black face in a well off suburban neighborhood. The third character played by an old hand is Jim Hudson, another blind character played by Steven Root. He turns out to be a key element of the reveal when it shows up.

The slow burn creep factor in this movie is exquisitely patient. We know things are off but we have no idea exactly what is going on. Chris gets warnings from his friend Rod, who is concerned about him going into the country with all the white people.  Rose is supportive in the way a girlfriend ought to be, but she is also a bit nonplussed by the potential of her black boyfriend meeting her parents without their knowledge of his background. All of the family friends that show up at the parents house are also a little too awkward and direct about Chris and his ethnic difference. There are a couple of disturbing or frightening scenes that involve the servants at the house, and there is definitely a Stepford Wives feel to the goings on.

The twist comes and it is a dozy. Suddenly things are more frightening than they might have appeared and the story gets clever with the social conventions but maybe a little to direct with the horror elements. Rod gets some great sequences that add some comic moments to the film, and that makes the story feel a lot more believable than it otherwise would have. I can't give away anything, it's not my style to do so, but I can say that the story is a lot more satisfying than the psychological supernatural film I saw last night. The wrap up to this film may be more conventional, but at least it feels like it is part of the story that we have been watching.

Writer /Director Jordan Peele is a guy I recognize but I have not really paid much attention to. I have seen the routine with the substitute teacher, in fact, I plan on using it in my classes. As an actor, I remember him from the "Fargo" TV series, as one of the FBI guys who screws up massively. This film shows that his talent is not limited to comedy and he clearly understands the check points for a good horror film. This probably does not need any recommendation from me, the movie is doing good business after all, but I will be telling anyone who will listen, this is worth your time. As I said to my daughter at the end of the film, "Now that's how you make a horror film!".





Sunday, February 26, 2017

AMC Best Picture Showcase Day 2


Day two promised to be a long one. There are five films left and none of them is a crisp ninety minutes. Even the two that manage to come in under two hours are deliberately paced. Shane, who has been our regular host for a couple of years now, was out of town but AMC employee Johnny was an enthusiastic substitute and ran the trivia with efficiency. Of course maybe I say that because we cleaned up with three movie poster prizes and some Batman Lego pieces.  I'd seen all of the films already, so this will mostly be a quick recap and there are links back to my original comments in each title and picture below.

Moonlight

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2016/12/moonlight.html
As an exploration in anthropology, this was a revelation to me. I'd not expected myself to have a lot of empathy for drug dealers but the way this story unfolds gives us a lot more to connect with. The three part structure of the film is not subtle but it does choose the three stops in Chiron's life that seem to be most critical in our understanding of him. As much praised as the first chapter was, I found the last chapter with the regretful visit with his mother and the reunion with his somewhat reformed school buddy Kevin, to be most interesting this time out. The performances are very solid in this adult world.

LION

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2017/01/lion.htmlI was pretty critical of this film when I first saw it. The structure is so bifurcated that it seems like two different pictures. On this viewing I was more able to appreciate the connection between the two and give the second section a little more credit. Inevitably, it is the miraculous story of Saroo's use of Google Earth to reconnect with his original family which is the heart of the film. Little boy lost is
found, but the story has some sad twists to it. Once again I cried at the last ten minutes of the movie as our hero reconciles his two lives and we discover some resilience in his mothers as well. I did not give Nicole Kidman much credit before but as I watched the movie again, my appreciation for her work was elevated. Dev Patel is a good actor, and supporting actor is the right category for him even though he is the first listed star of the film.

Hacksaw + Ridge

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2016/11/hacksaw-ridge.html
This movie is the closest thing to a sure thing for me. I am eternally grateful to our fathers and grandfathers for the sacrifices they made in two world wars. The exceptionalism of Desmond Doss is a perfect illustration of the diversity of Americans who stood up to tyranny in all kinds of ways. I recently listened to a Lambcast where one blogger complained about this movie and the prayer that Doss made on that day of his heroism. She found it cliched and annoying, she also asked about the triage issue. Doss acted as a fellow soldier would at times rather than just as a medic. I found it humbling and inspiring. The opening act in the film should get some credit as well, Hugo Weaving was not nominated but he was very good as the battle embittered father of Doss, and an indirect inspiration for the choices he made.

Arrival

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2016/11/arrival.htmlThis movie about communication is also a thoughtful puzzle for us to solve. This second viewing allowed me to percieve scenes in a way that I could not have expected in the first screening. There are secrets revealed at the end of the movie which force us to rethink much of what is going on. Since there is a time shifting component to the process, it also introduces some of those pesky conundrums that make our brains hurt to much if we get carried away trying to work them all out. I can confidently say that the biggest Oscar snub this year was Amy Adams, who carries this movie in almost every frame and who not only deserved to be nominated but also to win. The production design her also deserves to be singled out, it sells the concepts in great ways, both the fantastic and the mundane.

Hidden Figures

 

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2017/01/hidden-figures.html
My wife has been sick the last two days and she toughed it out as long as she could but this film was starting at 8:30 and she was spent, so we left before we got to re-watch this fine entertainment.  I think this is a popular choice to include in the categories that it was nominated in, but I will be surprised if it wins in any of them. While the story and the themes are important, and the film was entertaining, the film making did not seem extraordinary. This is an excellent film that deserved to be included but it is not quite in the same class as some of the other contenders. A second viewing changed my mind a little about Manchester By the Sea" and "Lion", maybe this one would have gone up in my mind as well.