Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Father's Day 2024


There is a long history of seeing "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" on Father's Day. Here is a link to a video blog post on one of those visits several years ago. 

This film has a couple of great ideas, that play out perfectly for a Father's Day screening. The opening sequence, featuring a Young Indiana in what must have been his first big adventure, sets up both the character, and his somewhat contentious relationship with his father. We hear Dad's voice but barely see the back of his head. When Sean Connery returns in full force later in the picture, he is the personification of the impervious father figure. It is as the adventure plays out that Junior and his dad start to mend fences and build bridges to a more familial relationship.

I love the sequences in Venice, the Austrian Castle and the rally in Berlin, they all remind us of the time and places that Dr. Jones lived in and how he boldly traversed the world. The action scenes that take place in the deserts of the Middle East however, are the most memorable, including a tank/horse chase that is choreographed brilliantly.

The film is loaded with memorable moments, some of which have become memes that are used all over the internet. This is not a full blown review, but there are other remarks you can find on the site if you like. 

Paramount Summer Classic Film Series-Alice in Wonderland


Another packed family movie, although this one was presented under the "Banned Camp" label that the film series is using this summer. Steven Janise, the programmer spoke at the start of the show, pointing out that the original book of "Alice in Wonderland" appeared on some lists of books banned by schools or libraries. It was not more specific than that so I can't tell you why.

The film experienced a renaissance in the late sixties when the drug counter-culture embraced all of the weird elements of the movie, and if you watch the movie, you will see why. This film is loaded with characters right out of a dream or a nightmare. The background flora and fauna are terrifically designed and would hold up in a contemporary film even if the form of animation was different. 

"Alice in Wonderland" does not really have a structure. The main character of young Alice, simply wanders through the enchanted world, encountering odd stories and characters along the way. Although nominally chasing the white rabbit, there was no real purpose for doing so, and if she spends ten minutes listening to a story or song, it is perfectly acceptable because all that happens next is another story or song .The Walrus and the Carpenter is a little creepy, since the adorable baby oysters get eaten, but at least it happens off screen. The Queen of Hearts is a little shrill too often for my taste but the game of croquet was a lot of fun.

The Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar are exactly the things that hippies smoking pot or dropping acid would relate to. They are surreal moments in an abstract kind of film  that feels very ahead of itself, until you hear the songs. The songs are all standard child friendly 50s fare that have no hooks but are not unpleasant. 

Lush backgrounds, fluid characters and amazing designs are the reason you want to see this movie. It is a lot of fun at times, but it does get a little tiresome with the story pattern repetition.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Inside Out 2 (2024)


I admired the original "Inside Out" from 2015 but I was not really a big fan. Some of the bloggers I follow loved it the best of all the Pixar films, but I found it only modestly satisfying. I have never quite put my finger on why it failed to resonate with me more, until I saw the sequel, to which I had the exact same response. It is fine, with some very clever moments, but there is something not quite right. I think my ambivalence is a result of a very small story arc, that is breached only by a long series of nearly random elements. It's the exact same pattern in both movies.

The best part of the films, is the creative production design and visualization of the concepts. We are getting a simplification of a complex mental process, and if we keep it at that level it works. The problem is that every time a concept is established, a new variation comes along and changes the immediate direction of the story and the process. Of course you need to have complications, but they should grow out of the world that is being created, and not simply imposed on the characters or scenario. As a result, each solution is less of a journey accomplished than an ex-machina imposition. There are simply too many of them to stay compelling, it undermines the drama.

Another reservation that I have detected, is an inherent flaw in character development. The emotions don't really have any legitimate  range. Joy needs to stay joyful, because that is her whole reason for being. If she can have other emotions, why do all of the separate characters exist? Her best line is that :"Maybe that is what happens when you grow up—you feel less joy." She utters it mournfully. She also has a breakdown and becomes frustrated that she needs to be joyful all the time. The scenario is clever but it sets out some impossible to meet rules for a story to work.    

There is a lot to like about the film. Anxiety as a character is a good add, but needs a little bit of moderation from the other new emotions. The Brainstorm sequence made me laugh out loud, as did the parade balloons of future occupations. The stream of consciousness continues to be a clever idea integrated into the world that has been created here. Visually, the movie succeeds at every turn, with creative imaging and beautiful execution. The sequences of Riley skating and playing hockey are exquisitely presented, and as I've said before, I'm not really a hockey fan.

All of us have gone through the things that Riley is facing in this film. It is tough to balance the conceit of the emotional universe with the daily experiences of the main character. I thought it was a bit more involving in this version of the movie, because we spend so much more time with Riley as a whole character. Joy on the other hand, is basically repeating the same mistake she made in the first film, with a different set of complications that just get resolved arbitrarily. I'm happy the film is doing well, I want the movie business to continue and hits make that happen. I just wish this hit was a little more deserving. 


Friday, June 14, 2024

Paramount Summer Classic Film Series -The Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula's Daughter


Midweek we enjoyed a double feature of horror films from the 1930s. The classic "Bride of Frankenstein", and the lesser known but very stylish "Dracula's Daughter". It's been less than 18 months since I saw the Bride of Frankenstein in a theater. Back in 2022 I saw The Bride with "The Mummy" in a Fathom event and I wrote about it then and you can read about it here.

The "Bride of Frankenstein" is one of the most stylish films from the 1930s. Filled with what might be described as German expressionism, the lighting and shadows are dramatic and exactly the kind of thing that foreshadows film noir coming in the next decade. Of course there are also the over-the-top performances of Dr Frankenstein and Doctor Septimus Pretorius. The one actor who clearly outshines everyone in the film continues to be Boris Karloff. Although he was against it, this version of the monster developed some language skills, and it helps the story take on some even greater moral dilemmas.

Where is Henry Frankenstein stitched together body parts of the Dead and used electricity to try and bring them back to life, Dr. Pretorius seems to have been using recombinant DNA to achieve his goal, and this is well before the concept of DNA was understood. He appears to have been using cloning and some kind of genetic Magic to produce his set of miniature living beings. That sequence is mostly used for humor, but it does set up the idea that they're going to grow a body around a bone structure as opposed to trying to assemble one from body parts of others. Of course the one exception as they get close to creating the bride, comes when they have to have a fresh heart. Now we're not dealing with grave robbers but murderers.

The Bride of Frankenstein does continue to raise the question of man's control over life and death, and whether we are crossing a Rubicon by trying to create life. The film is all the better for the prologue that features Byron and Shelly and Mary  Wollstonecraft Shelly telling the stories on a dark and stormy night. Byron in particular is portrayed as a romantic in a very theatrical way, which sets up the rest of the story very effectively.

"The Bride of Frankenstein" relies on a variety of special photographic effects, miniatures, and production design that creates a Gothic image in a faraway place to give us the creeps. "Dracula's Daughter" is much more sparse in its use of any special effects. They are one or two moments where the process of hypnosis is visualized using some photographic techniques, but when they get to Dracula's castle it's a very basic sequence that is not drawing attention to itself the way the exploding Laboratory at the end of the "Bride of Frankenstein" was doing.

I know I saw this movie two or three times as a kid, but I remembered only a few particular moments. I remembered the ring the Countess Zeleska uses to hypnotize and subdue her victims. I remembered the creepy familiar, Sandor, with his pasty face greased down hair and deep set eyes. He looked like a vampire well before being given eternal life. I also remembered the sequence where the Countess is testing herself with a girl she acquires as a model. When the young woman takes off her blouse and drops down the straps on her chemise, there is a moment of desire that overcomes the Countess,  and that largely accounts for the films Sapphic reputation. 

The film is atmospheric and has some nice visuals, but it feels like a very straightforward drama with a few horror elements added. The opening and closing of the coffin at the count is sleeps in, and the wrap that she cloaks herself in, revealing only her eyes are as close to transforming into a bat or revealing fangs that we are going to get. We never even see the puncture wounds that doctors refer to on the victims. So everything is played very subtly. Of course that's part of the story The Countess thinks now that Count Dracula is gone, that the spell she is under is broken and it is only her mental state that forces her into continuing to live the nocturnal vampire existence. Thus her interest in the mealy mouth psychiatrist/doctor that she begins to consult and ultimately decides that she wishes to make her Eternal mate.

I had completely forgotten that Van Helsing appears in the film, and that the reason the doctor is involved in the story in the first place is to help his former mentor escape conviction for murdering Count Dracula. The chief of Scotland Yard is portrayed as barely competent, and completely skeptical, but surprisingly accommodating to both Van Helsing and his young former pupil.

There are no big action scenes, we don't get a stake through the heart, at least not on screen. The Countess is betrayed by her familiar rather than the hero. And the vampire doesn't melt in the sunlight at the last minute. The movie ends with very little in the way of dramatic climax, and although we're supposed to have some sympathy for countess Zaleska, we're mostly left with a feeling of sadness for everybody involved. For a movie with very limited horror effects it manages to have the desired outcome on our emotions. A a very worthwhile sequel to the original Dracula.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Paramount Summer Classic Film Series-The Sting

So in the last 2 weeks we have been able to see three of the Best Picture winners from the mid-70s. A week and a half ago it was "Godfather Part 2", two nights ago it was "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", and last night was our chance to see "The Sting" the film that won the award between the other two. I've seen "The Sting" on the big screen several times, and it is always a pleasure. But seeing it with a full audience adds an extra dimension. Let me explain why.

When the auditorium is packed you can hear the reaction of other audience members around you. I could tell from the gasps and laughter of people sitting behind me and down a few rows, that they were seeing "The Sting" for the very first time. Those who are familiar with the movie are aware that there are several surprise twists in various spots in the film, but most especially in the last Act. It is a complete delight to listen to people who are surprised and amused at the twist that shows up next. Another one of the reasons that seeing a film with an audience on the big screen is so important to me.

The event had some special extras to go with it, in addition to our usual popcorn, a drink coupon was provided for us. We also had a selection of Halloween sized candy that we could pick up before we went into the theater. That stop also gave us a chance to wave at and say hi to Danielle who we had met the week before. Erin, the community outreach member that we met last year, greeted us as we were getting our popcorn. She also shared that our picture was used in the latest email to all of the film fans who signed up for Paramount notifications. That was cool.

Before the film started, a series of screen slides provided some trivia information about the making of the film. Included was a detail that Jack Nicholson had been offered the role of Hooker, ultimately played by Robert Redford. Yeah, I think this was a good outcome, having Jack in the part would have been a completely different kind of movie. The biggest draw for me has always been the outsized villain played by Robert Shaw.  is Doyle Lonnegan is a joyless mobster who simply cares only for money and being the top dog. Any action that undermines his pride becomes a motivation for him to seek revenge. That's why the poker game on the train is so important. It provides all the incentive that Lonnegan needs in order to accept a chance at getting back at Newman's character. It allows the subterfuge to go undetected because of his desire for revenge. Shaw plays the part with barely a single smile in any of his scenes. Once in awhile a small smirk appears to indicate to Hooker or to Loneaggan's lackeys that he has the upper hand. It's a joy to see that smirk it wiped off of his face two or three times in the course of the movie.

Director George Roy Hill won the Academy Award for this particular film, and although he is a respected technician, you don't hear many people speak of him with the same degree of awe as Scorsese, Coppola, or Spielberg. He did some amazing films in the '70s and later on this summer we get a chance to revisit the movie that he made with Paul Newman and Robert Redford prior to this, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". I recently saw the film "A Little Romance", which he made with Lawrence Olivier and a very young Diane Lane, and it's absolutely terrific. Combine that with the fact that he made the greatest sports movie ever, "Slap Shot", and turned my favorite book into a fairly reasonable film version, "The World According to Garp", and I feel he deserves a little more cache with film fans.

It's not even the middle of June yet, and I feel like I've had a summers worth of great movies already. I'm looking forward to several things in the next few weeks, and you can expect continued updates on the Paramount classic film series 50th anniversary.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Paramount Summer Classic Film Series-One flew over the cuckoo's nest


I wrote about this film just a few months ago on the Thursday 1975 Throwback project that I am doing. So I will give you that link (here) if you want to see more complete thoughts on the film. For this screening, let me say it was nice to be in a theater full of adults, although I was surprised at the people behind me who had never seen the film before. Their quite cries of anguish when the s*** hits the fan was indicative of the power of this film, even after nearly fifty years. 

Nicholson's performance is so much more physical than I remembered and those moments of  pain, rage and enthusiasm are all the things that make his character work. In contrast to the cool Miss Ratched played by Louise Fletcher, McMurphy is an angry bag of cats, waiting to be unleashed. The supporting actors are all excellent as well. Director Milos Forman took actors with very distinctive looks and allowed them room to be "off" if not entirely crazy. DeVito, Lloyd, and Schiavelli have great individual moments, Sydney Lassick practically steals the movie from everyone else. Of course Will Sampson is magnificent when he simply utters an unexpected "Thank You". Brad Dourif as Billy will break your heart.

The screening was at the State Theater instead of next door at the Paramount. They had a live show booked in there this last evening. 

Paramount Summer Classic Film Series-Paddington 2


It is almost beyond comprehension to me that the first time I saw either of the Paddington films was not in a theater. It is however sadly true so this is the first time I get an opportunity to properly write about one of them on this project. For those of you unaware, "Paddington" is the name of a bear who has migrated from Peru to London, and is taken in by a kindly and quirky family, the Browns. The stories are full of fish out of water moments as Paddington moves from being a stranger in a strange land to a loved member of the family and community.

Everywhere you look in the movie, there are charming images and clever little visual prompts. Paddington hops on a bicycle, driven by a local, makes a quick connection to a trash collector's truck that he hitches a ride on, and then meets a bus where he can end up at his destination. There is always a slapstick moment or two for the kids, but adults will smile at the good natured way that Paddington gives everyone he meets the benefit of his trust. Of course we know that doing so is a dangerous thing and the poor bear ends up in trouble as a consequence. 

There were frequent moments in the film, where I was reminded of a Wes Anderson movie. The sets, the camera angles and the movements of the actors in the scenes mimic some of the tropes of an Anderson film. The color palate of the prison where Paddington ends up, with the accidentally pink inmates garb is especially reminiscent of  some of those Anderson films. Here however, we have an exceedingly polite bear as our central figure, rather than one of the grotesque figures from "The Hotel Budapest". 

Enhancing this second Paddington movie is the presence of Hugh Grant, playing the heavy part, but doing so with an incredibly light touch. In many places in the film, you can spot him mocking his own career and joking about his thespian skills. The first film had Nicole Kidman as the villain, and her plot line and tone were quite a bit darker than might be fitting for a kid's picture. Grant however is a perfect, goofball style foil for our intrepid bear with the positive attitude. 

This film was at the State Theater, next door to the Paramount. Several of the Family film series pictures will be screening here rather than in the grand movie palace next door. I was happy to see the theater full of families who had small children, most of whom were very cooperative with the idea of staying seated and quite during the film. The delightful howls of laughter when Paddington cuts hair in a barbershop or cleans windows at a high rise, were an extra bonus for a Sunday afternoon. I know some people don't like kids, but those people are deranged. A kid having a good time at a movie is one of the joyous things we should share in our culture.