Sunday, July 5, 2020

10 Summer Suggestions 2020


Two years ago, I had the thought of looking at my collection of films and picking out some movies that would be perfect for a Summer evenings entertainment. With the current pandemic, most people have been streaming until their eyes are red, trying to fill the time that would normally be taken up by baseball games, family picnics, and a trip to the local movie house. People I have spoken too are binge watching gruesome murder mysteries, depressing true life documentaries and new films made for the streaming services (oh yeah, and Hamilton).  Hey, I stream with the best of them, but I also still rely on my physical media to get inspired. So with an aim to keep the mood light, the family engaged and to dig a little into the past, here is an updated list for your Covid Summer Family viewing pleasure.

Tim Allen Comedies

Once the king of 1990s family comedies, Allen has reverted back to television for the most part, with occasional returns as Bud Lightyear in the Toy Story Films. After the turn of the century, Allen's star dimmed a bit with some films that did not perform at the box office, and which may have been missed by you the first time around.

Joe Somebody



Allen plays a mid-level managerial type, who is not really appreciated at his job. He crosses paths with another employee, known to be a bully, who is physically bigger and more assertive than the mild mannered character Allen plays. What ensues is the equivalent to a schoolyard challenge to fight in the parking lot of their mutual employer on a given date. There is of course a moral to the story, but there are also some pretty good laughs along the way.

Big Trouble


You don't have to add the words "...in Little China", this is a completely different film. It's release date was pushed back several months in 2001 due to the terror attacks on 9/11. The plot of the film features bumbling criminals obtaining a nuclear device, while crossing paths with an ineffectual single Dad and a mob hit. The cast is phenomenal, with pros like Rene Russo, Dennis Farina and Stanley Tucci backing up Allen. It's a Barry Sonnenfeld directed film, and I quote it regularly almost 20 years later.














Animated Fun


Who Framed Roger Rabbit



It is certainly not a forgotten film, but it may have been a while since you checked it out. It is a technical marvel and the lead performance by Bob Hoskins should have been an awards contender. The not so secret weapon here is the supporting cast, all the toon from the old days. This mixture of live action/animation and film noir is also very funny and perfect family entertainment for a July or August night with the kids.




Bolt


A Disney film in the Pixar Style with a sly satire of Hollywood entertainment built in. Beloved TV Star Bolt, is under the impression that he really is a superdog with powers that he uses to protect his beloved little girl. There are supporting animals and a spy theme. 



So if you are a regular reader on this site, Dogs+Spy Stories+Hollywood Satire= Recommendation.



Gender Bender Comedies

Hairspray


Because the John Waters feature that the musical was based on featured the Cross Dressing Divine playing the Mother of our ingenue, the trick is repeated for the film version of the musical play, with John Travolta wearing the dress and the fat suit (before he no longer needed it). This 2007 musical has a nice open minded theme to promote, but even better, it has great dancing and fun songs. 



Happy Texas

An oddly matched pair of prison escapees pass themselves off as a gay couple who prep girls for children's beauty pageants. This late 90s comedy is stolen by Steve Zahn, but William H. Macy gives him a good run for the money in character charm. There is some violence and language issues but tweens and teens can watch with the family without too many worries. A detailed review for this is available in my collection of Movies I Want Everyone to See, it was originally published in 2013 but it is reprinted on this site as the post immediately prior to this. 


Old School Wedding Crashers

The Internship

One of the first indicators that straight comedies were dying, The Internship has a solid premise, two reliable comedy stars and an incredible product placement campaign that is not subtle at all. It still did no business and mid level comedies started drying up right after this. Don't worry, it was a function of audience trends, the movie is plenty entertaining with a PG-13 attitude.








70s Fun

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother















Gene Wilder wrote and directed this slapstick take off on the great detective. This movie is clearly influenced by the movies Wilder made with Mel Brooks and it features many players you would know from films made by Brooks. It is a period piece with swordfights and carriage chases and an opera scene that is quite amusing. Not as widely known as many of it's contemporaries, it is worth a dive to find it on Amazon. 


The Hot Rock


You've heard of serial criminals, the is a movie about a serial crime. This is a heist film with several different heists built in. A cast of 1970s stars including Robert Redford and George Segal, have the unfortunate luck to be stealing a cursed jewel for an African Government. The best laid plans go astray, over and over again. Maybe a little slow for modern audiences, but a breezy sense of humor passes the events very effectively.






The Big Stretch

The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)



This movie does not have a good reputation, but that is unfortunate. Although it is a little clunky at times, it is a solid introduction for younger viewers to Westerns in general, and the character of the Lone Ranger in particular. Star Klinton Spillsbury, made only one feature, and it is easy to tell why. Everyone else is fine however, including Christopher Lloyd in one of his many 1980s villain incarnations and Jason Robards as an appropriately gruff Ulysses S. Grant.   



Happy Texas [Movies I Want Everyone to See]


Happy Texas Review by Richard Kirkham


The world is full of little movies that have charm, whimsy and a great story to tell. Once in awhile, a movie like that catches fire and becomes a critics and audiences darling. “Little Miss Sunshine” is a good example of that. It went on to garner Awards and sell tickets and DVDs for years. Unfortunately, that was not the fate of my first entry for FMR. “Happy, Texas” did enjoy some solid reviews and everyone I know who saw it has told me they enjoyed it immensely. That would be three people. This movie was made on a small budget of 1.7 million dollars, and it brought back 1.9 million in U.S. box office, without any International release that I found. That means that it lost money, because budget does not cover prints and advertising. Putting the movie in theaters cost someone some cash.

Now the film has been available since 1999, so some may have seen it on home video in some format or other. I hope you are one of those lucky people, but even more than that, I hope you are one of those people who has yet to see it and you have this joyful experience to look forward to. While I do think it has a high level of repeatability, it is a great discovery that will bring huge rewards to first time viewers. There is a funny premise, a heart warming story, and some of the best character actors around filling up the screen. This movie is flat out funny with quotable lines and awkward situations, as well as a simple plot device that drives much of the fun.

Harry Sawyer and Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr are two convicts who get caught up in a prison break by a violent offender named Bob Maslow. They are not particularly dangerous but even more telling, they are not particularly smart. This film is not a slapstick based on their stupidity, it is a character story that follows the misadventures they get into, every time they make a decision. The biggest choice they make is to take on the personae of the two men from whom they steal an RV, in an attempt to hide in plain sight and gain access to some cash. This requires them to pass themselves off as pageant consultants for little girls in the small town of Happy, Texas. What follows should not be revealed too much, except to say they both succeed and fail in their disguise.


The two leads are played by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam. Northam was in the middle of the high point of his career. He had been the lead or co-star in several well reviewed “tea on the lawn” English style films such as “Emma”, “An Ideal Husband” and “Gosford Park”. He is one of those talented British actors who manages a very effective American accent in this movie. Zahn is a comic genius, who takes goofy oddball characters and manages to make them endearing without becoming too cloying. Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr., bounces between being a borderline nut job and a warm hearted good ole boy. Whereas Northam has two love stories to tell, Zahn has a half dozen, including a romance with local pageant director Illeana Douglas. It is his commitment to the role that he has taken on that makes the film so funny. Harry just wants to get the money and get out but he is tripped up completely confounding romantic entanglements. Wayne gets sucked in by the little girls he is trying to make pageant worthy.

There are several wonderful performances by talented old hands. M.C. Gainey, has made a career out of playing menacing criminal types on TV and in movies. He is the heavy in this piece but has a few well placed lines and looks that add to the comedy as well as building up some tension. Ally Walker is smoking hot as the banker that Harry is trying to get close to in order to score the money he and Wayne need to make good their escape. The prize performance though belongs to William H. Macy, as Sheriff Chappy Dent. He is a small town sheriff with a heart too big, even for Texas. When I first saw this movie I was sure he would be up in the same category for the Oscars as he was just a few years earlier in “Fargo”. It is a part that could be lampooned and made fun of but he turns it into a solid role that makes you care for the character. He is a figure to empathize with and to respect. I think it is the lack of exposure that denied him in this go round. Never the less it is a great part and you will love the way he is described by a fellow lawman in the action sequence near the end of the picture. It is a classic line that bears repeating whenever the opportunity presents itself. 


The other kudos go to the set of little girls that play the hopefuls in the pageant. They give back what is put before them in terms of performance. When we finally get to see the whole routine they have prepared for the competition, it is as funny and charming as the talent dance in “Little Miss Sunshine”. All the effort that went into making the story work pays off with a display that is believable and charming on it’s own. The plot issues may seem a little pat, but they are secondary to the characters and the performances. This is a movie that sets out to create a specific tone and you know it is deliberately trying to move you in a sentimental way. What is so delightful is that it succeeds regardless of your defenses.



If you want to be entertained by a movie that creates great characters, features wonderful performances and provides a satisfying resolution, than “Happy, Texas” is for you. If that’s not what you are looking for in a movie, then this column may not be for you. For my part I love it when a movie hits me in the heart and knocks me over the head at the same time. This is the kind of movie that makes me Happy.

Representative Quote
Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr.: Okay, God, just... want you to look down on these girls here. They're like little flowers, and the rain you send 'em gutta be gentle and sweet. We come to you today, and we ask you to just... help 'em - help us grab this pageant by the balls and rip 'em off! I mean, if those judges don't like us, then screw 'em. These girls here - they're talented, they're pretty, and if those judges say anything different, then I hope that on Judgement Day you put their asses through a meat grinder!... Amen.


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, June 7, 2020

Becky



Hallelujah, the drought is broken, at least for a bit.  It has been 87 days since I saw a movie in a theater, and it was driving me a little mad. I know others have sacrificed so much more than I in this pandemic, but I can only speak to my pain, and not going to the movies was incredibly painful to me. Sure, it's not like a disease, but ask anyone who gives up those things they love, it means something to them. Fortunately my addiction  is relatively innocuous so there was no physical danger, just mental anguish. How did this dam finally burst, especially since movie theaters are still not open? It's simple, there is an nearly outdated concept called a "Drive-In". It'e been twenty years since I went to a "Drive-In" theater, and that was for a special event for a local radio program at Halloween. It was twelve years prior to that when I last saw a regular feature at a drive-in. Yesterday, I saw a post while I happened to be on Facebook, and when I clicked the link, there was a trailer and information about where the movie was playing locally. That is if you think of 20 miles away as being local. I will get to the review in just a minute but a few more words about the Drive-In first.

The show was scheduled to start at 8:30 pm, so I left the house at 7:30, and arrived at the destination pretty much ten before 8. The line of cars was four lanes wide, and backed up a block. It took twenty-five minutes to pay and get into the screening area. This complex had four screens, every screen had a full lot under the social distancing rules of one empty space on each side. So they could only be at 1/3 of their capacity. The line for the bathroom was slow and longer than most lines at Disneyland. The concession stand was also a long line, so I skipped both. I missed having popcorn more than trying to relieve myself, fortunately I was not in need as many others were.

Okay, enough about the experience, let's talk about the movie. "Becky" is perfect Drive-In fare. It reminded me of some of the grindhouse style films that I did see in those venues when I was young and went to Drive-Ins regularly. It is a nasty piece of survival/revenge porn, that finds the most awful ideas, shows them to you, slathers on some blood, and then serves it up with enough inventiveness to make you cheer when the bad guys get their comeuppance. The premise is simple, a thirteen year old girl has to fight back against neo-Nazi escaped convicts. It is exploitation material, but it was not as lurid as many things you may have seen.

The cast features comedic actor  Joel McHale, best known for the TV series "Community" , in a straight dramatic part as the father of 13 year old Becky. The two of them have been struggling since the death of her Mother, and he is trying to move on to a new relationship but Becky is having none of it. They cross paths with the ruthless Dominick, an Aryan Brotherhood type who has lead a band of four escaped prisoners to the cabin of Becky and her dad, They are seeking a key, which turns out to be a McGuffin, simply used to bring the victims into the sights of the predators. Dominick is played by another comedic actor form TV, Kevin James. The two sitcom actors acquit themselves fairly well in the dramatic roles, though James gets the meatier part and has a chance to ham it up a little bit.

The star of the film is Lulu Wilson, who I did not know but I have seen in "The Haunting of Hill House" net series. The character of Becky is traumatized from the death of her Mom, she is in rage at the choices her father is making about her life and his own, and finally, she has reached puberty and at the age of 13 has all the resentment and anger that that stage in life often brings. When you couple that with the traumas she witnesses on this weekend visit to the family cabin, you can begin to believe she is capable of doing some of the things that the story has her executing. Imagine Kevin McCallister, only without the comedy and you will get the idea. A poke in the eye in this film does not result in three stooges guffaws, but rather dangling eyeballs that will have to be operated on with blunt instruments in the kitchen. Motorboating will not be a sex game played between a woman's breasts. Plowing the field is also not going to feel the same after witnessing this. Maybe the Joker can make a pencil disappear without all the blood, but Becky can get a lot of blood from pencils and especially a ruler.

Sure there are a few things that don't make much sense. For instance, the movie starts like so many films do these days, at the epilogue instead of the beginning of the narration. We never know why the key is supposed to be in the house, or how Becky came to have it. It is also hard to believe that the little girl is strong enough to overcome at least some of the men in this film. The one sympathetic bad guy, played by wrestler turned actor Robert Maillet. Frankly, if I saw that guy coming for me, I'd lose it instantly, he is a monster. Surprisingly, he is a somewhat sympathetic character in the film. Ultimately, no one gets out of the scenario unscarred, and I guess that is the point. Well not really, the point is to take pleasure in the horrible things that happen to the horrible people. Some of the films playing on the other screens were comedies or Academy quality dramas. I was happy to be enjoying an exploitation film in its natural habitat. I almost felt like I was back in mine. Hopefully soon, but till then, all hail the drive in. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Top Five Animated Title Sequences

On a recent Lambcast I discussed my Top Five Animated Titles in Movies. I thought I would write a little about my thoughts and post them here so those of you who do not listen to the podcast can enjoy them as well.

My selections were narrowed so that the on line discussion did not wander into just credit sequences, but those where animation is a key component.

I tried to exclude titles where the text is animated but there are no additional artistic elements of the sequence. So I wanted artwork. Characters, background paintings, graphics that move are all considered. If there is storytelling that is a plus, but sometimes it just has to be cool in my view. The category is fairly elastic and anyone who wants to bend it to play is welcome.

Number 5. “A Fist Full of Dollars”



It was the start of Italian Westerns.
It is accompanied by Ennio Morricone's theme
Stark two color contrast
Starts as White on Red, then switches to Black on Red, Then Red on Black,
The Gunshots signal each title card which also uses a two color contrast.
The images look rotoscoped and the silhouettes are graphically simple and clear.


I Cheated on Number 4 because there are two films in the series that use animation that would qualify for my list, but I did not want to limit myself to just one of the other

Number 4 “James Bond Films”

Dr. No was designed by Maurice Binder, who did 16 James Bond films. I could cheat again and just say that the gunbarrel sequence counts for all of them, but I wanted something more elaborate. Unlike other Bond titles which sometimes have limited animation over filmed elements, this was strictly a graphic animation using Modernist design and color elements to grab our attention.
The first part consists of flashing colored dots against a black background, occasionally breaking into typeface for the credits, all of it over the Monty Norman/John Barry 007 theme.
Then we get a series of rotoscoped images in color over the same black background, sometimes with multiple layers and images. Finally you get the silhouette images of the three blind assassins in black against a colorful background, and then a transition to the filmed characters.




Casino Royale goes a completely different direction. The work is by Daniel Kleinman who took over the task of doing the Bond films from Maurice Binder. Having done over a hundred music video promos for bands in the 1980s, he used computers to animate the graphic designs that were drawn and animate them in the titles. Most of this is as the background for some Daniel Craig Rotoscoped action shots. The Playing card graphics indicate a major part of the storyline without giving anything away. I was not originally a big fan of the Chris Cornell song, but it has grown on me quite a bit.



Number 3  Christmas Vacation

Kroyer Films, who had done the titles for the previous two adventures of the Griswolds, came up with the titles after they saw a cut of the film. They were stumped because most Christmas Traditions are already pariodied in the movie. After some beer at a nearby Pub, they came up with the idea of killing Santa Claus.

They use a combination of digital, hand drawn and 3D computer animation to make what is essentially a mini-cartoon to run the titles over. The song was not complete when they were working on the images so the titles were originally scored by Angelo Badalamenti and timed to work with the gags. The studio slapped the song on, replacing the score and Bill Kroyer felt it ruined the timing of the sequence. I however think that the charm of the song works well for setting up the story and in the long run the gags work regardless of the music.




Number 2 The Pink Panther

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises created the iconic comic character to represent the image that is supposedly visible in the stone. A flaw that looked like a leaping panther and the jewel has a pink tint to it.

It is a cartoon that features interaction between the Panther Character and a comic drawing of Inspector Clouseau. The cat and mouse chase elements are pretty straight forward but there is a difference in this title sequence, the characters also interact with the typeface credits as they appear.

The Panther Spins Robert Wagner's name and it becomes a propeller, flying him off in an invisible plane. The cat then rubs up against Capucine’s name, as a cat is wont to do, the name drops out and the Panther falls over. The Panther Watches as the film title is revealed a few letters at a time and reacts with questioning expressions and then puts the last piece of the puzzle into place.

The nature of the character is revealed as title cards come up and the Panther tries to graffiti his name into the credits. This will set up the cartoon franchise for the next decade.

The character takes on the persona of a conductor for the music credit and gets yanked. There are also a number of line graphics that get animated as the title cards come on and off screen.
All of it accompanied by the fantastic title theme by Henry Mancini. The music and the action are synched up in this one perfectly.




Number 1  “Catch Me If You Can”

FLORENCE DEYGAS and OLIVIER KUNTZEL. Designed the title in the style of Saul Bass, who is mysteriously missing from my top five list. Flowing Typeface, smooth lines and a Jazz based score.

They used Stamp Cut images to design the action sequences, mimicking some of the crude techniques used by the lead character.

Characters are drawn with an eye to 1960s aesthetics. Clothes, furniture and color schemes, like teal and black with blue backgrounds. Sometimes it looks like a cocktail party and other times it looks like it could be poolside at a Miami Hotel.[When you add the Pink Graphics against the black backgrounds that is even more clear].  The typewriters and files that are shown also evoke a 60s theme.

The long shadows and fading bottom half of the graphics tell a story filled with mystery. The settings of the film ate introduced in the titles but once again, not much is revealed. You can clearly pick out two characters that represent Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, and you can’t tell just from the animated graphics, who it is we should be rooting for. People who say John Williams music all sound the same, have never listened to this theme.



Friday, May 29, 2020

10 Years of Special Moments on KAMAD




While the primary focus on Kirkham A Movie A Day [KAMAD] has been on movie reviews or retrospectives, there have been a lot of Special Events that I have reported on or championed myself. This Blog acts as a diary of moments in my life that are not necessarily just about a movie. Living in Southern California has given me plenty of opportunities to attend movie related activities or participate in pop culture in some way. Since I am a little older than most of the people in my on-line cinema community, I get to pontificate like a cranky old guy about a number of things as well. What follows are a few events over the last ten years where maybe the movie was not the most important thing to be paying attention to. 

Supporting My Cinema Community


The same year I started blogging about movies, I found another movie fan who often did what I was doing. Eric Friedman has a site where he reviews the films in his collection and he has been doing it alphabetically. Eric also adds personal history and perspective to his reviews. He took his on-line project, and turned it into a Book. 


I was proud to write a review for my friend, his book is very entertaining and insightful about growing up as a film fan. He is working on a sequel and I can't wait to read it as well. 


A Special Evening to Pay Tribute to an Actor that We Lost


Usually, any excuse to see "Robocop" on the Big Screen would be a joy. This particular evening event was great but it was for a sad occasion, the passing of actor Miguel Ferrer. 



Dr. Peter Weller is tired of doing these kinds of events but for his friend, he made the effort and we were all better for it. 


A Visit to the Museum


I have had the opportunity to see exhibits that are movie related at a number of museums over the years. This was a special day because my wife was not a Kubrick fan, but she loved the exhibit anyway.


Stanley Kubrick was an amazing director and kept meticulous notes. I would have been happy to browse through them for the whole day, but there was a lot to see. 


Soon the Motion Picture Academy will debut it's new museum, but I had a chance to go through the previous exhibit halls they used for a visit backstage in the costume department. 


I can hardly wait to get in line at the new venue.

This one is in London, not in L.A.



A Cranky Old Guy Complains


Sitting at home one day, enjoying an artifact on a video that I own, I was inspired to talk about a few changes th the theatrical experience of movie going. 

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-few-things-i-miss-at-modern-movie.html

This post is due for an update. Social Media, Pre-sold tickets and concession stand offerings suggest there is more to bitch about. 


Southern California Movie Palaces


Obviously the movie is an important part of going out, but it may not be the most important part. Visiting Downtown Los Angeles has given me a chance to see some of the great movie palaces that thrived her a century ago, and died here fifty years later. Fortunately, there are people out ther trying to keep them alive.

The Million Dollar Theater


We went to a screening of John Carpenter's "The Thing" at this venue, but also spent some time across the street at a location film fans will recognize and love.

















The Theater at the Ace Hotel [The United Artists Theater]



My most recent visit to the Ace Hotel was for the final podcast of "The West Wing Weekly" . Before that however, we went to a Christmas party with our friends from the Nakatomi Company here.
















The Orpheum Theater



This was a great visit to a theater to see the great movie that this site pays tribute too as much as possible.




















Meeting Heroes In Person







Physical Media on A Personal Level


A Special Family Memory Prompted a lookback at a Laserdisc



I Love Physical Media and I Say Why.


IMG_1019
A Long term Possession gets the right Treatment

My Attempt at a Movie Wall Begins




I Continue to Love My Laserdiscs



Something Different




My current hometown is the location of the Art Clokey production facilities, they made Gumby and a lot of other things. When you see the guest list, your mouths will drop open.