Monday, May 20, 2024

Abigai (2024)

 

This is a movie that would have worked so much better if the premise had not been given away in all of the advertising and the trailer. What starts off as a tense kidnapping story, takes a turn a quarter of the way into the movie, and it's a very clever twist. The problem is that we all knew it was coming, which undermines a lot of the stuff they get set up at the start of the film. That said, there is still fun to be had here because when it hits the fan, there's a glorious amount of Gore, violence, and ironic comedy.

Basically this is a variation of 100 other horror stories over the years. 10 Little Indians, Alien, The House on Haunted Hill, and dozens of other movies where a group of people are trapped in a situation where they will be picked off one at a time. Will they be able to figure out a solution? Will the antagonist reveal a motive? Is there any point to the story? The answers to these and other questions will come if you stay to the end of the movie. As in a lot of contemporary films, the people involved are not particularly pleasant, and we may very well feel that as things go along that some of them are getting what they deserved. Let's face it, everybody in this house was there because they were kidnapping a little girl. Maybe some of them are worse than others, and maybe there is possible redemption, but we're going to have to get a lot of dead bodies before we get to the point where we're glad that anybody is surviving.

Imagine if you were Claudia from the film "Interview with the Vampire", and you had to spend your eternal life as a child. What kinds of amusements could you come up with to keep you interested and at the same time allow you to continue your cover as an innocent child? Well that's basically what this film attempts to answer. The fact that the house it's full of booby traps, secret passages, and dark foreboding images adds to the fun. Characters betray one another and sometimes they actually support one another, but we're never sure of which outcome we're going to get before the events play out. This is where some of the fun comes in. This movie is not quite as engaging as "Ready or Not", the film from the directors that preceded this, but it's unlikely that you'll feel ripped off by watching it. Especially if you enjoy over the top monster action that results in blood splattered all over the screen on the set.

Actor Kevin Durant is a Canadian performer that I have seen in movies since the late 1990s. He's a big guy with a distinctive face and I've enjoyed most of his performances. This week, after not having seen him in films for several years because he was working regularly on on several television series, he turns up in two movies that I saw back to back. In "Abigail" he is the muscle on the team of kidnappers, and in "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes", he performs and voices the King,  Proximo. It's strange sometimes how little things line up and create interesting coincidences. He's actually very good in this film trying to be a sympathetic monster of a human when faced with a real life monster it's even more evil than he is.

It's true that in most survival stories, the participants are going to be faced with choices that they have to make which involve moral dilemmas. It's also true that we can probably pick out some of the characters who will not have any moral qualms about stabbing their fellow survivors in the back in order to be the ones who are still standing at the end of the story. We got a couple of those in this film, Complicated by some storytelling that is a little shaky. The resolutions come however they're kind of satisfying.

Don't be too panicked, the people who deserve to go will. Some people who don't deserve to die will. And logic will go out the window pretty quickly, actually just as fast as the windows are shut to close people into the house. Then all bets are off and you should just enjoy the bloody Mayhem.



Friday, May 17, 2024

The Fall Guy (2024)

 


This is arriving two plus weeks after I saw the movie. I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to get to it, except that I did spend quite a bit of time with it on the podcast and then the video of that podcast, maybe I just needed a little space. I also have had a couple of my friends on Social Media disparage the film, and my temperature needed to cool down a bit. I understand when you are disappointed with a film and want to mouth off a bit at it. I've done that a couple of times. "Frozen II", "The Lighthouse" and and "US" I'm looking at you. Most of the time when I have disliked a film to the point of despising it, I bite my tongue and cryptically diss it (My posts on "Vice" and "Women Talking" are available on this site if you want to see. ). That said, it is usually the opposite when I am enthusiastic about a film. I am quick to praise and post, it just did not happen here.

"The Fall Guy" is a Summer Entertainment that aims to be fun, action filled and have some humorous moments punctuated by romance. It does all of these things pretty well.  Is it trying to please everyone to a degree that none are satisfied? That seems to be the knock that I have seen from the haters. Allow me to retort...this hit all cylinders with me, and I think it is an excellent argument for making stunt work an active category at the Academy Awards. The film is directed by a former stunt double and coordinator, David Leitch, and when I hear people criticizing the movies stunts, I wonder who they think put together most of the stunts that they unfavorably compare these to.  There are some terrific stunt sequences in the film, including multiple hand to hand combat style fights, which are done on screen in camera, not on a computer. When CGI is used, it is almost always used in environmental contexts rather than inserting a character into the stunt.

Maybe the premise of the film is a little weak. The idea that the stunt man becomes an investigator man seem a little far fetched, but my guess is that this was not a bigger stretch than any episode of the original TV series. The mystery plot is the least essential part for the film to work, what is necessary for the movie to function is the rom-com center, situated in the movie industry itself. Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt have a natural chemistry together that I found completely winning. The opening section of the film is loaded with sly comic quips between the two of them, and I found their relationship to be very believable. Unlike most rom-coms, the complication here happens at the start of the film, and we spend two hours resolving it and looking in on the complications it created for both of our protagonists. You have two below the line movie people in love with one another, and they get broken up by an accident and some success. The way it plays out is not always logical but it is amusing

Blunt's character has a chance to step up as the director of a science fiction piece that she is shaping into a autobiography of her relationship with our lead. As Jody, a first time director, she seems very competent and has a clear vision of what she wants. When Colt, her former flame ends up on the shoot, she plays out some of her frustrations on him and attempts to humiliate him while still reflecting that there is a spark between them. Gosling's Colt makes no bones about the fact that their disintegration was his fault. The reasons become clearer as they go along, and the slow reconciliation between them keeps the charm of their story center to the film.

Of course the movie has to play with the stunts and that is why the thriller element has to be there, to justify some of the things that Colt ends up having to do. There are stunts within the movie in the movie. For example there is a great car roll that reportedly broke some records and it looks great on screen and there is no CGI substitution that I could see. Another big car stunt takes place near the end of the film, and while there may be some CGI enhancements in perspective and environment, the stunt, when it is shown externally, looks solidly real to me. Maybe they don't really crash a helicopter, but that is an actual stunt guy doing a long fall from the helicopter and it looks spectacular.    When it comes to the fight scenes, you can see that stunt men are falling down stairs, crashing through windows, being flipped and kicked across rooms. Sometimes there is a computer boost, but the hard work is shown in each scene. 

People who jump on this movie may be missing some of the satire that is clearly intended. Movie mavens will appreciate the not so subtle jabs at the marketing departments, the duplicitous producers or the striving wannabe producers. Aaron Taylor Johnson plays the entitled star of the film within a film, and he riffs on Tom Cruise, Matthew McConoughey and Brad Pitt repeatedly. Not in a sharp, dismissive way, but rather by poking at their film personas gently. His speech in the movie, was hysterical not because of the dialogue but because he had an impersonation down completely. Another way to tell that this is gentle parody and not biting criticism is the appearance at the end of the film of a Hollywood heavyweight, spoofing his own film role in a science fiction movie parallel to the one being made in this story.   

Maybe I was seduced by the music cues in the film. There is a Taylor Swift moment that almost makes me want to listen to Taylor Swift. Of course the biggest spoonful of sugar for me is the liberal use of a Kiss song that has been around for 45 years. It is a cheesy bit of pop, but it works perfectly for the tone of the film. If you don't buy into the tone, you will probably not like the movie. I bought in immediately because of that needle drop. 

It also turns out that "The Fall Guy" is really an idiomatic phrase that describes the plot more than the lead character. A bit of legerdemain that I approve of. At the end of the year, when I list my favorite films, I don't necessarily choose movies that are the best quality. I leave that to others. I pick films that I can appreciate for all sorts of reasons, This one might make the list simply because it reaches it's goal, to entertain us. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Mummy (1999) Revisit

 

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The 1999 version of The Mummy is mostly critic proof because it is full of the kinds of things that a summer movie needs, with a nostalgic feel, that even people who never experienced movies of this type will recognize. It's full of the kinds of things that I love in an old style Adventure. There are horrible booby traps, secret passages, and rooms and tunnels that have to be explored by Torchlight. I'm not sure that there's anything more satisfying, then sitting in the dark theater watching adventurers try to Traverse dangerous passages in the dark aided only by a flame at the end of a stick. Who knows how such Flames managed to keep burning for as long as they do, it doesn't matter because we are enchanted by the idea and ready to take the journey with them.

I first saw this film in the theaters when it originally opened, and I took my kids and we had an adventure on a Saturday afternoon, it was exactly what a family would want for a summer day. A few years ago "The Mummy" was chosen as movie of the month on the Lambcast, and I revisited it then, as a way of getting ready for our discussion. Like a character in this film, I had to go in search of some treasure, the recording of the original Lambcast for this movie of the month. This was one of the recordings that I had deleted when I took over the podcast as host and I was trying to make room on our hosting site, by deleting files. I finally gave up on that and just started paying for the site so that I can have unlimited storage. Unfortunately by then several years of old episodes, had been lost. I say lost but not completely. The former host of the Lamb does have a treasure trove of archived podcast episodes on a hard drive that he's still owns. I contacted him, he went searching, and now I have restored the podcast to its original link. I feel a little bit like the lead character in this movie.

Rick O'Connell as played by Brendan Fraser, is a dashing ne'er-do-well  who is basically the Han Solo of this adventure. He went on to do the character two more times in this series of films, and this helped make him a legitimate action star until injuries and other Hollywood insider crap took him out of the movies for several years. He recently won an Academy Award in a comeback film "The Whale", and of course he's put on quite a bit of weight and age but he still has a personality that is quite appealing on screen when given a chance. These films gave him the best chance to convey that kind of personality. Rachel Weisz, has also gone on to win an Academy Award since performing in this movie, and she is the Plucky Damsel in Distress, who is not a helpless woman but rather one slightly over her depths, but with enough intelligence and gumption to be a legitimate partner in the Treasure Hunt that these people are engaging in. Most people will remember the film as having taken place largely in the Subterranean temples of the lost city where the Mummy is located. There are however large sections of the movie, that take place in Cairo, and there's a segment where a group of treasure Hunters, is on a boat headed down the Nile and some of the adventure takes place on board.

The Mummy himself is played by Arnold Vaslovo, who had played Darkman in the two sequels to the original Sam Rami film. Of course half the time, The Mummy is a CGI creation, and the 1990s version of CGI would have been impressive at the time but now looks a little worse for wear. It's not bad but it does sometimes take you out of the film. I don't have a problem with casting outside of a racial identity, but I suspect that having Kevin J O'Connor, a white American, playing an Egyptian with dark face would not pass mustard these days. It is however his performance that adds much of the humor and satiric charm to the movie. When his resolution comes up we are both disappointed and satisfied that his end arrived as it did.

From my point of view maybe the best thing about the film is the heroic score by composer Jerry Goldsmith. I've said it on numerous occasions on this site, that Goldsmith is my favorite film composer, and his work here is excellent as usual. With a rousing heroic theme, and appropriate cultural motifs, the soundtrack for this film is something that you could probably listen to on its own, and enjoy with a great deal of pleasure as you remember the film that you saw.

I haven't yet listened to the whole Lambcast episode, but I have included it here, and I doubt that my opinion of the film has changed very much. It may not be a great artistic achievement, but it's one of those fun adventure films that you see as a kid, which make an impression on you and convince you that swashbuckling films are where you should be spending your time. I know my kids grew up loving movies like this, which were vague echoes of Indiana Jones, but sometimes you just take what you can get.


Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Alien 45th Anniversary Revisit (2024)



It's hard to believe that 45 years ago  “Alien" opened and I saw it at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood California. I was preparing to graduate from USC, and begin a graduate program in rhetoric of all things. I'd had a period of difficulty in my last semester as an undergraduate, including losing a close friend in a horrible car accident, and my debate partner also being severely injured in the same accident. I was in a mood to recover from the end of the term and some of the tragedies that life throws at you. Interestingly enough I've always said that the summer of 1979 may have been my favorite. That's because I didn't have to work, I had no active School responsibilities, and my girlfriend graduated at the same time and had her own place and a job that was taking care of her. Despite the fact that the recent past had been tough, the immediate future looked bright. That summer I did two things consistently, swim in the pool at our apartment building everyday, and go see “Alien” multiple times.


I've said it before in other posts, my favorite between Alien and Aliens is whichever one I've seen most recently. That means for this week at least, Alien is my favorite. Seeing it at a 45th anniversary screening, during a week in which it reappeared on the box office charts 45 years later was a lot of fun. It's easy to get caught up in nostalgia, because I always equate the movies that I see with the times in my life that I saw them. Of course they have their own qualities that make them memorable as well, and “Alien” is certainly memorable.


Thank goodness this was the original theatrical cut and not the enhanced Edition that has been released in several forms since the movie came out. Those versions add information and sequences that are unnecessary and frankly distracting. I found it much more mysterious and frightening that Dallas simply disappeared. Although there is some setup for a future film in those deleted scenes, I don't think James Cameron thought they were necessary when it was time for him to direct the sequel. So we'll stick with the best things about the original version. That's how I'm going to spend a little bit of time on this post.


The music score for Alien was created by my favorite composer Jerry Goldsmith. The theme, which plays as the title is slowly being spelled out, letter segment by letter segment, is mysterious and creepy. It's not, however the theme that makes Goldsmith's music so effective here. He created some mood sequences that are very effective. The excursion onto the planet, where they encounter the alien egg, is filled with suspense and fear in the background score. Toward the end of the film there is a torrid, energetic, and frantic musical sequence that accompanies Ripley's desperate attempt to destroy the ship and to cancel the destruction. When she's not successful stopping the self-destruction process, there's another musical sequence, as she prepares for a long rest, and is interrupted one more time by the unwelcome visitor. This score can be played over and over and you will get those images in your head, this is the way that film music should work.


Once again it's probably unnecessary to point to the fabulous production design of this film. The H.R. Geiger inspired look of the alien vessel, and the used space pallette that had been adopted to some degree from Dark Star, is just terrific. We have a very clear sense of the differences in the work responsibilities of the crew. Parker and Brett are trapped working in a dark environment with grease and steam all around them, and they're doing the tough work of keeping the ship and processing centers functioning. The resentment that they feel that their Shares are not equivalent to the rest of the crew is completely understandable. This adds a little bit of social reality to what otherwise would be a nondescript group of astronauts. The jobs of all of the space travelers, matter.


When we discover that the real monster is the corporation that all of them work for, it is a gut punch to these laborers, who have trusted their employer with their lives. The added surprise that one of them is secretly working on behalf of the company, and in fact is an artificial person, is another terrific element in this reality based setting. Yeah it's science fiction, but it's grounded in the economics and social systems that most of us encounter on a regular basis.


A 100 other voices have said it more effectively than I'll ever be able to, but Ellen Ripley is one of the Great Movie heroes of American Cinema. I think her role in this film reflects some of the issues faced by women in the workplace in the 1970s. In the sequel, the issues have more to do with military adventurism, and distrust of corporate profit seeking. Both versions of the character are excellent, but the second does require the existence of the first.



There are still jump scares that work, even though I've seen the film dozens of times. The race against the clock at the end, may be an overused plot device but it works anyway. All of the actors don't get as much screen time as they probably deserve, but they all make great use of what time they do get on the screen. Director Ridley Scott has come back to this franchise a couple of times with much less success. As a producer he will be overseeing a new episode that opens later this summer. We can only hope that it comes closer to “Aliens”, then it comes to any of the subsequent films.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Turner Classic Movies Film Festival 2024

 

The TCM Film Festival is now in our rearview mirrors for a couple of weeks. I traveled back from Southern California to Texas by car, and then immediately got on a plane back to Vegas the day after I got home. When I left Vegas I went back to Southern California and spent 3 days packing the shed in my backyard into a storage pod in preparation for tearing down the shed and replacing it. I then flew back to Texas, and spent three days trying to catch up with the Lambcast episodes that needed to be edited, and posted, and then have a YouTube video made for them. Oh and then I had another Lambcast to record. I also saw three other films in this time. I still need to post about them as well. All of this is by way of an explanation for why this post is not more timely.


After missing the festival last year, because of a pet emergency, I was happy to be back in Hollywood among people that love movies the way I do. The Thursday night opening film for the TCM Film Festival was Pulp Fiction. This 30-year-old film may not be considered a classic by many of the attendees, because it doesn't come from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I think however that the passage of time helps put into perspective what the definition of "classic" is. This was a game breaking film and the collection of guests there to talk about it was very impressive. We had had dinner at Musso and Frank before the movie and almost missed getting to walk on the red carpet. We did get in at the tail end and got to wave at the fans in the stands as if we were celebrities as well. We did manage to find seats, but they were much further back than we usually sit for these events. Still, just being in the room is enough to make you satisfied that you spent the extra money to get the pass that allows you to attend the opening night film.


Pulp Fiction may have single-handedly created a market for independent films at a much broader level than had existed before. The nonlinear storytelling, the oddball conversational passages, and the stellar performances of everybody in the cast make the film worthy of the title classic. John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, and a half dozen others were present for the discussion of the movie. All of them told stories about the making of the film, many of which I had read before but enjoyed hearing first hand. It seemed especially fortuitous that the first time Travolta met with Quentin Tarantino was at Tarantino's apartment, which Travolta was able to describe to him before he even entered, because it was the same apartment that Travolta lived in years before. The audience was appreciative of the stories and those who were in attendance seemed very happy to be seeing the movie on the big screen in the main house the first night of the festival.


Day Two at the festival for Amanda and I started off a bit awkwardly. We had meant to go to the Vitaphone presentation, but got shut out at the last minute. Damn L.A. traffic. Instead, we went over to the El Capitan and got in line for 101 Dalmatians which was introduced by Mario Cantone and he interviewed animator Floyd Norman. We'd seen Norman 2 years ago in the same venue, but that didn't lessen the pleasure of getting to listen to him tell stories about the making of this film, and working with Walt Disney. Maybe the most pleasurable thing about the experience was the Wurlitzer organ


performance before the movie started, and then the lowering and raising of multiple curtains as if what we are seeing was something special that needed to be revealed and reveled in not just experienced.

We only stayed for the first half of the movie because we were anxious to get into the presentation across the street for "Them!", which was being hosted by Ben Burtt and Craig Barron. These two have been the most interesting, informative, and entertaining presenters at almost every Festival we have attended.


This presentation was no different. With a great deal of humor they introduced themselves, and proceeded to pull out a grab bag of visual Treasures to Thrill the audience with. It was an extra Delight to discover that the actress who plays the young girl at the beginning of the film, Sandy Descher, who has been traumatized by the ants killing her family, was there for this presentation and spoke about her experience. Even more exciting was the fact that she had brought home movies that her mother had made while she was on the set. We got to see clips of behind the scene moments, conversations with the directors and the co-stars, and just a short tour of the studio, all silent of course but all fascinating. There was an extensive discussion of how the giant ants were created and manipulated on screen, and as usual Burtt and Barron provided a ton of entertaining commentary about it all.


Scheduling at this Festival this year was tight, so we didn't stay for the whole film of "Them!", because we needed to get our queue tickets for the screening of "The Silence of the Lambs". This presentation was also in the big house, and the main guest was star Jodie Foster, who, while we had been in seeing "Them!", had got her hands and feet put into cement in a ceremony in front of the theater. Miss Foster was one of the most articulate and intelligent guests, and she answered the questions thoroughly and with great thought. As we watched the movie, several of the things that she had mentioned during her conversation were noticeable, and even more interesting as a result of her insights. Once again, this is a film from a more modern era, and some might not think of it as a classic, but age of the film and the fact that it won the five top Awards at the Academy Awards that year, I think qualify it again for the title.

Our final film of the second day of the festival was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", also presented in the big house. One of the reasons that we make the extra effort to see a film like this at the festival, despite the fact that it's not from the earlier age of Hollywood, is the that the festival is able to get guests of the caliber they do for a screening of this nature. The guest for this presentation was none other than the writer and director of the film, and one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history, Steven Spielberg. It was interesting to hear Spielberg talk about the film because it was so personal to him. Having seen his movie "The Fablemens", which is almost an autobiography, it was fascinating to see the way in which he morphed into the character played by Richard Dreyfuss in the film. It's hard to be anything other than Starstruck, when Steven Spielberg is talking. I'm sure he said many memorable things that others will hold on to, once again I was just happy to be in the room. In the movie is fantastic, as was the John Williams score.

The Third day of the festival, we actually got to see all of the movies in their totality. Instead of having to leave halfway through a film in order to get to another screening, we largely stayed in the Hollywood Chinese Multiplex complex. I was a little disappointed that we couldn't make it over to the nitrate screening of Annie Get Your Gun at the Egyptian Theater, but trade-offs always have to be made at a festival like this

I had looked forward to seeing the first movie of the day, "Dirty Harry", since it was announced as part of the film programs. What I didn't know was that the guest they were going to have, was Andy Robinson, who played the villain in the movie, in an iconic performance that is truly unforgettable. It was not just his performance though that we appreciated in this screening, but it was his vivid recall of moments during filming, and his history of being included in the film that made the discussion so fascinating. He genuinely seemed excited to be talking to all of us, and excited about the film itself. I have been a fan of Dirty Harry since it came out in 1971. It was the first R-rated film I ever saw, and it has been a near annual staple ever since the Home Video Market began. The story of a cop who is more interested in Justice than following the rules, became a template for 100 films that followed. Eastwood's iconic role lead to four sequels, one of which he directed himself. The film will almost certainly draw criticism from viewers who were not born before 1990. Harry's attitude and the whole Law and Order vibe, will probably be at odds with the perception that many in younger Generations have of the police. As someone who lived through the seventies, I know how frustrated many average citizens were with the amount of crime that existed and the frustrations that newly enforced civil rights laws sometimes created in fighting those crimes, it occasionally felt as if the law was not on the side of the citizens, and Harry became a stand-in for our frustrations. The movie contains some of the most familiar moments in movie history, especially the scene where Harry confronts a bank robber and quizzes him about the number of shots that he has fired during the confrontation. Seeing it in a theater and hearing the audience react to it once again was a complete pleasure for me. The presentation by Andy Robinson was maybe my favorite thing about the festival, his enthusiasm was contagious and I was happy that he made the effort to be there for the early morning screening.

No less delightful was the next film in our schedule, "A Little Romance", starring Lawrence Olivier and Diane Lane. Olivier of course is passed on, but Diane Lane was only 13 when the movie came out in 1979 and she was there to talk about the movie and her experiences working with the legendary actor. A Little Romance is a sweet love story about a couple of adolescents who are struggling to find their place in the world and find each other in Paris. They are determined to go to Venice to fulfill a fantasy that they share. The movie is full of charming moments, including embarrassment at the sort of film they managed to sneak into, and also when the geeky friends established their own connection. Most important especially is the revelation about their older friend played by Lord Olivier. Lane was very generous in sharing thoughts about the film and about her career. She seemed to be particularly laudatory to director George Roy Hill, a man who despite having won an Academy Award and having directed three of the great films of the era, is frequently forgotten.

After this incredibly enjoyable interlude, we got in line to get back into the big theater to see my favorite Hitchcock film "North by Northwest". To me this is the prototypical wrong man scenario that Hitchcock did so well in many of his films. Cary Grant is it the height of his charm, and some of the lines that he delivers will only work because he is the person who is delivering them. Eva Marie Saint was simply Delicious in the role of a bad girl turned spy, who really simply longs for true love. There are impressive scenes every few minutes in "North by Northwest". For example, the moment that Cary Grant ends up with the knife in his hands at the UN, or the ridiculous bidding war at the auction in Chicago. Of course maybe the most iconic of all, is the attack by the crop duster on Grant in the middle of nowhere. There are many more events that are special in the climax of the film In fact there are so many scenes I love, I may be seeing this again at the end of the month in a Fathom presentation, just because I can. The guest for this presentation was writer/director Nancy Myers.


She had no direct connection to the film, and talked about it mostly from the point of view of a fan. There was however one highly significant element to her experience that made her one of the perfect people to have as a guest at this screening. She told the story of going with a friend of hers to meet Cary Grant at an interview that her friend was doing. Mr. Grant, not quite understanding her relationship with her friend or what she was doing at the interview, included her in an invitation to fly to Palm Springs for the weekend. With no luggage or additional clothes, she put it this way, "who is going to turn down the chance to spend the weekend with Cary Grant?” The most memorable thing that she mentioned, was how Grant said that she was the first girl he knew who didn't spend an hour putting on her makeup when she first started the day. Of course she didn't have any, and it is at that point that the two of them laughed about the whole experience, and she had a memory of spending time with maybe the greatest star that Hollywood ever produced. And she shared the story with us.

We capped off the third day of the festival with a screening in the big house of the "Shawshank Redemption". The guests were the two stars of the film Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. What a pleasure to see and hear these two gentlemen talk about a film that both of them think was pivotal to their careers. Each of them had slight variations of the story the other one was telling, but never in a manner that suggested the other person was wrong, just trying to fill in some gaps or reorganize a moment or two.



The final day of the festival began with an event that was both sweet and bitter. The sweet part was returning to the Egyptian Theater, which had been closed for the final two years that I had been in Southern California, and was not used in the last few TCM film festivals because it was undergoing renovation. Netflix has done a beautiful job restoring the theater improving the size of the screen, replacing the seats, and reconfiguring the theater so that it feels more intimate while still accommodating a large number in the audience. The lobby includes a much more functional concession stand now, and a much easier access and egress from the theater. Which leads to the bitter, we were seeing "Lawrence of Arabia". Anybody who has read this site knows this one of my favorite films, but like day two of the festival, the schedule is such that we had to leave early in order to make it to another screening. This meant that we only got to see 2 hours of Lawrence of Arabia instead of the full four,:-( .


The other screening that we were rushing off to was for the "Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings", where the guest would be Billy Dee Williams. He had been honored earlier in a ceremony at a different presentation and venue of the festival. Those of you not familiar with the movie, need to arrange to see it because it is one of the Forgotten gems of the seventies. The story of Negro League baseball players, trying to get a leg up on a monopolistic set of owners, who in spite of being black, are just as greedy and exploitive as the white owners of the Major Leagues. The cast included James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor. I also saw in the cast actor Tony Burton, who had been a customer of my late wife's boss when she worked for the insurance company in our neighborhood in Alhambra. The story is largely lighthearted although there are some dark moments in the telling, but the baseball shenanigans are a lot of fun. Billy Dee Williams talked a lot about his career and he had maybe the sunniest attitude about being in movies of anybody that I saw at the festival. His memories of being cast in films or missing out on roles, are not clouded with negative attitudes about the racial inequities of the times, but rather the opportunities he had to work with people he admired and doing things that he enjoyed. He is older now but he still has the charisma that he had back in the 1970s. There was a beautiful little tribute film they ran before the movie extolling his career and reminding us of his place in Hollywood history.


I still think that the era between 1967 and 1977 was the second golden age of Hollywood. Whether or not you would classify films made in that time as classics, it is undeniable that they are some of the most accomplished, thoughtful, and representative of the individuals who made them. This is the era that gave us two Godfathers, The Conversation, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Jaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a dozen other films that anybody who loves movies will recognize as film classics. Maybe Chief among them is a film with what many consider to be the greatest screenplay ever written, "Chinatown".

Before I left for the festival I read a book entitled "The Big Goodbye and the Last Years of Hollywood". It is primarily about the making of Chinatown. I knew I would be seeing the film and I wanted to have as much context as possible to be able to enjoy the experience again on the premier movie screen in the world. This film was at the big house on the boulevard and deserved to be a part of the festival. Writer/director Carl Franklin was the guest invited to talk about Chinatown, and as a knowledgeable fan he gave us some good insights and told some stories of what he knew about making a film like this. While he was not directly involved in the making of the film, as a future filmmaker drawn to Noir, "Chinatown" is a little bit like a film School for a director. I read the book and so I knew the story the Franklin told about the score of the film. Polansky and producer Robert Evans were both surprised at how the film played in previews, despite what they considered to be a well-produced story. One of the things that they decided was that the score that they had enlisted a composer for and given specific directions to, just did not seem to work. At the last minute my favorite composer Jerry Goldsmith was asked to redo the entire score, and make it sound as if it was from the time period in which the movie is set. Anyone who listens to the score knows how Goldsmith hit it out of the park with one of the most interesting of his compositions. The fact that he was not awarded the Academy Award for this accomplishment is one of the great mysteries of that sometimes questionable Institution. The score as it is, is perfection when integrated with the movie. The fact that we see everything that takes place from the perspective of Jake Gittes makes the movie feel more energetic and mysterious then it might otherwise have seemed. And seeing the fabulous photography, and the Glorious costumes, and the long lost Los Angeles spots, makes me nostalgic for this film every time I see it. I'm not sure how it escaped being on my list 10 favorite films but I'm willing to say right now that if it's not number 11, it's actually higher on the list and something will have to be displaced.


Our final film of the festival was the Buster Keaton classic "Sherlock Jr.", a silent comedy. It is a little bit of a meta presentation of a film lovers dream. Keaton appears as a wannabe Detective, who's daydreams about the movies, put him into a fantasy role as the great Detective Sherlock Jr. The film was presented with a appropriate silent film score from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. A group of five musicians, and a composer conductor, who played live during the film. The short comedy "The Goat", played before Sherlock Jr, and it was equally delightful. Silent films are often not an easy reach for moviegoers, but if you have Chaplain, Lloyd, or Keaton, you are probably going to have a pretty good time and you shouldn't worry about the fact that it's a silent film. In the end it will work for you. This one certainly did for me.






Thursday, May 2, 2024

Monkey Man (2024)

 


This is a pretty standard Revenge film but done in the style of a movie from India. That makes sense because it is set in India, features actors who are from India, and calls on many Hindu Legends and Indian myths to fill out the story. The most unusual element of the film is that it was written and directed by the actor Dev Patel, who also stars in the film. Patel has been a frequent subject on this site, I really enjoyed the version of David Copperfield that he participated in back in 2020, and although The Green Knight was not my favorite film of its year he was quite good in it.

The film can roughly be divided into two parts, both of which are told in a nonlinear fashion. There are frequent flashbacks that slowly reveal the motivation for the Revenge plot, and the perpetrators that deserve to have vengeance rain down upon them. Patel's character has a clever plan in the first part of the film, but of course the best laid plans often go awry. When this section of the film ends, there is a strange transition to the second part of the film, where his character is transformed through Supernatural means into an even stronger avenging angel, mimicking a character that was in a story told to him as a child by his mother. That by the way will probably give you some idea of why he is seeking Revenge.

The movie is full of martial arts flourishes that are so popular these days. There are rapid fight sequences against multiple opponents, and there is frequent use of materials in the scene as weapons. It all looks fairly standard for the kinds of films that we are used to at this point. In fact, the character of John Wick even gets name checked in the movie. While Patel's character does engage in vigorous combat, there are some interesting ideas included in the story. For instance the main character that Patel is trying to kill is a corrupt police captain, who is lauded by a religious figure, who seems to have a strong influence in a political movement in India. Of course it turns out that the police officer is not the ultimate power, but rather that position is held by the duplicitous religious leader, who uses his influence to gain power and wealth for those in the Inner Circle. There are frequent references to the poverty that exists in the country, and that is juxtaposed with the lifestyle of the guru and the police captain.

As I said the film could be divided into two parts, and it is the second part that gave me the most trouble in providing a wholehearted endorsement of the movie. In trying to create a cultural Touchstone, Patel has included some characters that seem less believable and extremely unusual, at least in the American culture. Having read John Irving's a son of the circus, I know that there is a tradition of transgenderism in the Indian subculture. What seems strange here is that there is a collective of these individuals who have their own Temple, and seem to understand how to draw on the forces of the Gods more effectively than anyone else. It just seems very odd, and when an army of transvestites shows up at just the right moment to assist in the climax of the film, it makes everything that happened in the first part of the film feel like it is from a completely different story 

In the long run I would recommend the movie, with some reservations. It is not as strictly action based as it might first appear, but there are some terrific action sequences, and when you get to the end it definitely fulfills our expectations of a Revenge film. There are characters that basically vanish from the story halfway through, who could probably have been useful in making the transition to the more fantasy-based power issues in the second part of the movie. For those not familiar, like me, some of the cultural references will feel alien and be difficult to understand. By the end of the movie it will make more sense, but that's a long time to wait to completely comprehend what is going on in the movie that you've spent 2 hours watching.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Untouchables (1987) Revisit

 


This movie is as hypnotic as any DePalma film, with the added advantage that it is straightforward and to the point. Maybe it is just good guys versus the bad guys, but when the Good Guys are lead by Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, I don't know how anyone can turn away. Throw in DeNiro as Al Capone and you have a heavyweight fight that would break pay per view records if it were a boxing match.

Even before the first scene, the movie is pulling you in with a haunting and propulsive theme played over artistically rendered Titles. Ennio Morricone was Oscar Nominated for the score of this film and it should have been his. The background themes are  great at accentuating the heroes in their glory moments, and the action scenes are supplemented with exciting motifs that come up in various sections of the film. There are plenty of opportunities for the music to make an impact on you.

The botched opening raid is a nice way to set our expectations at a different place. Later, when the group of Untouchable Law Enforcement agents swoop down on smugglers at the Canadian border, we are amped up to see the results after the earlier futile effort. The key set piece is the train station shootout with the slow build and all the closeups. DePalma has studied the Serio Leone films meticulously and lets those beats play out at the same agonizing and tension filled pace as we got in the Spaghetti Westerns. Every complication adds to the suspense, every effort to get the accountant and keep him alive makes our anticipation of Andy Garcia as Stone worthwhile. Costner plays it so cool in this scene in comparison to some of the early moments of the film. You can see the character arc in his demeanor here.


Of course Sean Connery is the lynchpin for the film. His world weary folksiness and Chicago cantankerous nature were a perfect realization of the character. The combination of his story and that of Charles Martin Smith gives license to Eliot Ness to get a little dirty, in spite of his white knight image. Charlie Martin Smith and Billy Drago are the unsung heroes of the cast, one showing the exuberance of a puppy dog and the other reflecting the darkest elements of the Capone organization. Maybe Capone doesn't go flying to his death, but we know that his empire has crumbled because of the turning of his own tactics against him.

Filmed in the 80s, DePalma and Company make Chicago look like fifty years earlier, and the soundstage sets match up so well with the exteriors, you can believe it was all shot in the time and place depicted. This movie is just a lot of fun. Fidelity to the real story is lacking, and the conclusion in the court is a bit baffling, but you won't care because everything else is so rousing.