Friday, April 29, 2022

TCM Film Festival Day Three

Saturday at the film festival would be our busiest day this year. First in the lineup was the Cary Grant Sophia Loren comedy, "Houseboat". I have a vague recollection of seeing this on TV as a kid, but in truth, I don't remember it at all. I'm not sure if Amanda had seen a Sophia Loren film, but she is a Cary Grant fan and this was playing in the big house so it seemed to be a good way to start the day. The host told stories about the affair that Grant and Loren had had on their previous picture together and how this film was made at an awkward time in their relationship as Grant was willing to leave his wife and marry Loren, and she fell in love with and married another man. The child actors were cute but a little wooden, and the slapstick elements sometimes overshadow whatever story there is here. 

It was not until the film was over that I prompted Amanda to identify the actor who played Al, Grant's friend who was rude to Loren in a dinner scene on the boat. When she realized it was Mayor Vaughn she was amused by how young he was in this film. 

It was early for us and she had stayed up to visit her sister, so I did not give her too much grief about not recognizing an actor from her favorite film. We skipped the popcorn and coke and decided to snack at some of the later screenings rather than first show of the day.

The next program we went to was up the hill at the American Legion Theater, and we felt like we had plenty of time to get there, but there was a surprisingly long queue when we arrived but it was still not going to be an issue for us, we would get in. Thank goodness because it was my most anticipated program of the weekend. "The Flame and the Arrow" is a Burt Lancaster adventure film that mimics much of "The Adventures of Robin Hood", and it is filled with the kinds of athletic stunts that Lancaster had done in his seven years in the circus. 

The reason that this event was anticipated by me was that this was the presentation that would feature a talk by Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, two tech wizards who have delighted me in the past with their explanations of the effects for "The Adventures of Robin Hood", "Gunga Din", "War of the Worlds", and more. Their presentation early on focused on the stunt work created by Lancaster and his Circus partner and actor Nick Cravat. They showed some great behind the scenes clips and a couple of home movies to illustrate the athleticism of the two. They also detailed the matte work used to create the illusion that the setting was grander than it actually is, including some mountains and castle shots. 

This was a project that Lancaster wanted to do so he could make use of his gymnastic skills. It was also a more comic adventure film and when Jack Warner stopped by the set during a shooting sequence that featured some tomfoolery, he was upset that he was getting the Marx Brothers rather than Errol Flynn.  

There was a major difference in this Barron/Burtt presentation from earlier Festival Programs they had done, they had a guest that they included. Gordon Gebert was a child actor who had a substantial part in the film, and now he is a architecture professor in his 70s, but still sharp and able to recall details of making the film.

Mr. Gebert also appeared in the classic "Holiday Affair" with Robert Mitchum. He pointed out a few places where the magic of Hollywood placed him in peril, when he was actually quite safe. He also did a little retconning of a brief smile that appears on his face in the film, suggesting that he was actually plotting his capture the whole time thus the smile is not incongruent. 

The film is a beautiful technicolor work that was being presented  in 35 mm and it looked grand.

One of the classifications that the programs at the festival get listed in is "Discoveries". We decided that since the pass level we had chosen for this year featured a picture from a film in the Discoveries category, we should go to see it. 

"A Man Called Adam" is a film I never heard of before and it was something of a box office success, but it is understandable how it might get lost in the years since it was released. It is a film with a civil rights theme, that was overshadowed in subsequent years for bigger hits that milked the same territory. With rapid changes in race relations over the next couple of decades, a film that was not an Academy Award winner, and did not feature the star power of Spenser Tracy, Sidney Pointier, Katharine Hepburn or Rod Steiger, could be misplaced.

Donal Bogle, is an author of nine books on African Americans in the entertainment world and he gave a splendid but brief talk about the history of the film and the participation of Sammy Davis Jr. and Cicely Tyson in the film. The movie itself focuses on jazz music and it does a nice job with the musical sequences. Sammy was great in the part but his character is written as being an ass, and it gets tiresome after a while, especially when the plot begins to repeat the same notes over again. I'm glad we saw it, but it was not special enough to me to be counted as a highlight of the festival, in spite of it's pedigree. 

Next we did something that others apparently do on a regular basis, but it was our first time. We went to a film for the program and left before the movie. The problem was that "The Hustler" was not scheduled to end until 8:45, and that would make us late for the program we wanted to see at 9:15. So we popped in and listened to Piper Laurie for twenty minutes as she and Eddie Muller talked about her career but particularly her involvement with "The Hustler". I was unfamiliar with how many films she had made prior to that movie, and it was nicely shown in a film clip tribute, how she was trying to break out of the kinds of parts she had been stuck in. There was going to be a much deeper conversation in a Club TCM Interview, but we had something scheduled against that, and once more had to make difficult choices. So we saw this interview, had some dinner, went up to the room to change and wash up, before the final program of the day.

"Diner" is a film I saw initially because my friend Rick Rollino had recommended it so highly, back in 1982. It is a precursor to Seinfeld because it is basically about nothing. Six friends have some conversations at the diner, one of them is planning a wedding, one is struggling through a young marriage, and the others are in college or trying to avoid going to work or school. It is an ensemble piece that featured several young actors on the brink of very successful careers. 

TCM Host Dave Karger interviewed the four guests, we were missing only Daniel Stern and Mickey Rourke from the main cast. Ellen Barkin was the closest there was to a meaningful female character and it would have been nice to have her included but it really was something of a boy's club from the start. 

Kevin Bacon and Tim Day had some stories to tell, but Karger seemed to be under the impression there was an Animal House style living situation when they shot the film and it was clear that that was not the case. Bacon had appeared in some films and had just decided to forgo a long term contract on the soap opera, "The Guiding Light". This was Daly's first film role.

Paul Reiser was a comedian at the time and had no clear explanation how he ended up being cast. He felt it was a little bit of an accident, and when he asked about the movie, he was told it was a story about five friends and he would be the sixth. He told a story about his manager calling him after reading the script and asking about his character. When Reiser told him the character's name, his manager said, "yeah, you're not in this movie", because his character had no lines. Director Barry Levinson allowed a lot of improvisation on the shoot and Reiser is in the movie with a lot more to say, all of which he largely created himself. As
the comedian of the group, he had a lot of punchlines about other cast members stories as the discussion went along, and it was clear he was having a great time talking about the movie and his friends. By the way, his look on "The Kominsky Method" is clearly a result of hair and make-up, he was not nearly as schlumpy on the stage this evening as his character in that TV show.  
I know that Steve Guttenberg has been the subject of derision in the past few years, as a result of a stunt where he appeared naked in Central Park. It looks though as if he is the best preserved of the group and he has retained a youthful exuberance that came across on the program. Although he steered off course several times, he was well aware of it and usually returned to the question Karger was asking, but he always wanted to get in an extra comment or piece of information and they were all welcome. 

Just two other things about the day. We rode up in the shuttle to the "Diner" presentation and it was not a time saver, but it was a comfortable ride rather than a long walk. The line at the Legion Theater was long, but everyone was friendly and we had a nice time visiting with a woman from the Valley in the bar and on the line. Several people also complimented me on my Errol Flynn T-Shirt, which did please me because I got it for the purpose of wearing at the festival. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

TCM Film Festival Day Two

I had a complicated time trying to get the tablet I brought with me to the festival, to interface with the blog site and allow me to both write and post pictures. The brief E.T. Post took longer than it should have, so I finally decided to just push the coverage until after I was home. 

Day Two of the Festival started with my favorite Disney film and a conversation with a key animator who is the subject of his own documentary. Floyd Norman is an amazingly spry 86 year old, who broke color barriers and became a favorite of the old man "Walt Disney" himself. 

The Venue for the event was the El Capitan Theater, across the street from the Chinese Theater, and right next door to where Jimmy Kimmel films his nightly show. The theater was only used this one time at the festival this year, and if you have not been here before you are missing a real piece of Hollywood Showmanship. In addition to being restored to a beautiful condition, this nearly 100 year old movie palace features an organist playing a pipe organ on stage, primarily Disney film tunes.

Mr. Norman was interviewed by film critic and scholar Leonard Maltin who himself is the recipient of this year's Robert Osborne Award at the Festival. 

You can hear a brief excerpt of their conversation on this Soundcloud Link.

After the discussion, the theater gets set for the movie by darkening and then this happens:

The film itself was just as great as when I first saw it in 1967. Most of the songs are by the Sherman Brothers and they are hysterical. Having had Buzzards dancing around over roadkill in front of our place in Texas, I have a new appreciation for the animated moptops who show up in the climax of the film. In the old days, before home video, we revisited the movie by playing the LP  soundtrack over and ove, so all of the songs are in my head from more than fifty years ago. 

This year, Amanda and I decided to add more of the Club TCM talks to our itinerary and that lead us back to the Roosevelt for a fun presentation by animation historian Mark McCray.  Looney Tunes in Hollywood featured clips of celebrities from the Golden Age who appeared in cartoons of the time. The combination of clips was entertaining and the talk was very informative and fun. 

We then got in line to see "Pride of the Marines" a John Garfield film about a real war hero who loses his sight in battle and almost loses his faith in the world as well. This was a project that Garfield championed and he reportedly said this was his favorite role of his career. It would be perfectly understandable if that were true because Garfield is excellent and although the movie has some rough edges, it is a stirring combat film as well as a tribute to those who returned from the war with some pretty heavy burdens. 

The presentation before the film was given by Jim Beaver, a favorite character actor from today, and also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp. We were in the second row for this screening and we were very happy to see "Bobby" give his talk about Garfield, the subject of a Book that Beaver authored. 

We headed back to Club TCM for our next event, which was a conversation about Actress Doris Day. We had skipped the screening of "The Pajama Game" but we got a chance to hear stories from several of Doris Day's friends, some of whom contributed to a photobook that was available for signing after the event. 

Eddie Muller hosted the four women as they shared memories and told their personal stories about becoming friends with Miss Day. All of them were charming and I was happy to recognize actress Jackie Joseph, from the original "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Gremlins". She had worked on Day's last film and Television projects. 
Amanda has a Moment with Jackie Joseph

There were several other programs we might have seen, but as luck would have it, my other daughter was able to come down to Hollywood for the evening and she brought Cheesecake from Canter's Deli. We spent the rest of the evening having room service dinner and visiting with Allison. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

TCMFF Opening Night. E.T. The Extraterrestrial

The Turner Classic Movie Film Festival returns to Hollywood after a two year hiatus.  The virtual festivals of the last two pandemic years were fine, but everyone seems thrilled to be back in person, including me. The opening film,complete with a red carpet, is a premier of a new IMAX version of 1982s E.T. The Extraterrestrial. 

The film continues to grab you by the heart, 40 years after it originally took the world by storm.  The lumpy alien communicates his desperation and fear and somehow we immediately respond.  Henry Thomas in a great child performance stands in for all of us and we can only hope that we would be as courageous and kind as Elliott is. 

Mr. Spielberg was present to be interviewed by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. They covered much of his career leading up to E.T. and as Classic film fans we all appreciate the stories of his working with Joan Crawford.  Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore were a scheduled but had to bow out at the last minute.  Dee Wallace, Robert McNaughton and many crew members were in attendance and were introduced from the audience.  

It was a great way to start the film festival. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Everything Everywhere All At Once


It won't take long for the "WTF" phrase to come out of your mouth when you are watching this film. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is basically a psychotic breakdown that we enter into in the middle. You will spend a good deal of the opening act trying to catch up with the premise, and also trying to catch your breath from a lot of laughter. While it may not all turn out to be coherent, by the end it makes enough sense for you to accept the wild ride you have been on, but you will also question the reality of the resolution of the story.

Six years ago, the two writer/directors of this film, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collaborated on the similarly weird "Swiss Army Man", a film that put me off several times but then pulled me back in over and over. In much the same way, there were times when I would get frustrated with the quirky dialogue or odd actions of the characters, and I would start to think about why it was manipulative or a contrivance. Usually, just when I hit the point that I was ready to dismiss the movie as simply being a visual showpiece, something would show up to make me interested again. My love for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension" , reminded me several times that what at first may be off putting, can quickly become essential. I have no idea why the IRS has an award that is basically a butt plug, but I also have no idea what that watermelon is doing there.

This is a showpiece for actress Michelle Yeoh, who has been killing it in Asian based martial arts films for years, and continues to do good dramatic work as well. This film gives her a chance to do both things really well in a lot of different situations. She also has impeccable comic timing, delivering a droll line or cryptic word at just the right moment. Ke Huy Quan, who was "Short Round" in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", is now a middle aged man who gets a very solid role that he handles extremely well. Sometimes he is the sweet natured version of Yeoh's Evelyn' husband. In other universes, he is smooth and successful, manic and committed and a bad ass. Also, a shout out to 92 year old James Hong who gets a chance to bring his A game to a movie for more than just a brief scene. 

The premise takes the idea of a multiverse and mashes it together with some strange technology and a Matrix-like adversary. There is a turn in the story when suddenly, the plot seems like it is much more about a mother/daughter relationship than the meaning of the universe. There is a lot of repetition on some of these philosophical quests, and sometimes the action scenarios seem to be a bit long as well. The fakeout ending of the film about two thirds of the way through, is going to catch a lot of people unaware, because the concept does feel played out at that point. The last third of the film has some funny moments but it did feel dragged out.  

There is so much inventive film technique in the movie that you can be a little overwhelmed by it. Overlaid images, split screen, time lapse, quick edits, near subliminal moments and wire work in slo-motion, as well as dozens of other tools I can't begin to name. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is certain to delight film fans but it may frustrate narrative purists to some degree. I will say that it has the best use of Rocks and Raccoons since Guardians of the Galaxy. Have fun, don't try too hard to figure out what the hell is going on and what it all means. And when Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Leigh Curtis get hot dog fingers, try not to lose your mustard. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Jesus Christ Superstar (2022 Visit)


The above clip is not the trailer for this movie, but rather the opening Overture sequence. I decided to share this because when seeing the film again last night, it brought chills to me in my seat and made me so happy that we had made plans to see this film in a theater on easter Sunday. This is my daughter's favorite musical, and we have watched it every year since she was in high school and maybe even before that, I can't quite remember. Two years ago, at the start of the Pandemic, she was already living in Texas and I was still packing up the house at easter time. We did a simultaneous watch on physical media and shared through Facebook Live. This was much better.

There have of course been multiple performers of the parts in numerous productions over the years, but it does not seem to me that anyone else could be as definitive as the two leads in this filmed version of the Broadway rock opera. In the 1980 book "The Golden Turkey Awards" by Harry and Michael Medved, Ted Neely won the award for The Worst Performance by an Actor as Jesus Christ for his role in the film adaptation of "Jesus Christ Superstar". This is maybe the most unjust slight I have heard from film critics. Neely was tremendous in the role and the rampage at the temple and his performance in the Gethsemane number matches the vocal performance extremely well. Because Carl Anderson was so dynamic, Neely may be seen by some as a Jesús secondary to Judas. The play/album/concept was written to be from Judas' perspective, but I feel that Jesus comes through very effectively because of Neely's performance. The rest of the world seems to agree with me because Neely has played the role for over fifty years on stage in dozens of tours.

Carl Anderson as Judas has a voice that comes right out of 1973. He sounds soulful with a rough edge and could easily have been an R n B singer with any of the great seventies soul bands. Both he and Neely come from a theatrical background and their performances reflect that the roles they are playing are to be sung. 

Norman Jewison, who has made multiple Academy Award Nominated Best Pictures (one was also a winner) worked closely with choreographer Robert Iscove to get the exuberant dance scenes to pop in a non stage setting. The use of wipes, dutch angles, freeze frames all integrated creatively with the setting makes the film much more elaborate than any version of the stage play. I think the set, which mostly consists of natural rock formations and ancient ruins, was used really effectively. There is a terrific long shot of several columns that dancers move out from behind in a synchronized move that reveals them in the background that I particularly admired. The sensibility of the era was clearly based in the hippy culture, in spite of the traditional Christian story. The costumes and dances all reflect the times more accurately than a series of pictures of "Jesus People" would have. 

I like the rock themes that Andrew Lloyd Webber twists into Broadway show tunes, and the lyrics of Tim Rice are reasonably respectful of the story that is being told. The final shot of the cross on the hill in the sunset comes complete with a shepard walking through the backlight in the foreground. That was an unplanned mistake that offers a slight spiritual coda to the whole show. I can hardly wait till next year.  

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Father Stu


This was a film that was not on my radar, and although it features two actors I have enjoyed immensely over the years, I had no plans to see it. Other members of the family however think differently and so we went to Saturday afternoon screening, with several people behind us who were advancing in age a bit faster than I, and we all enjoyed an inspiring story for a couple of hours. I doubt that I will ever see this again, but there was nothing wrong with it, it just was very obvious what it was. 

Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long, a ne'er do well boxer who at an age when most boxers have already retired, decides that he can make it in the movies and he heads to California to be a star. As a recruiting film for the Catholic faith, this is an interesting story of how a man finds his calling through adversity. Stu is not a religious zealot, but a man changed by the world he encounters and the spiritual feeling he gets in recovering from a major trauma. The juxtaposition of Stu's life before and after this experience, is the stuff that these kinds of inspirational movies thrive on. This just happens to be a grittier, down and dirty story when it comes to Stu's language and behavior. The charm that let him skip through life early on, slipping past the disasters his family lived through, is not enough to get him what he thinks he wants. His spiritual choice has to come from a different place and this story tries to show that to us, warts and all.

Catholic dogma on redemption and baptism are heavily interspersed with the biographical elements of Father Stu's story after he has come to a realization of his calling. For dramatic purposes, the story includes another acolyte with doubts about his calling, and some unflattering economic assessment by the church itself.  I can't say how accurate Mel Gibson's portrayal of Stu's long absent father is, but Gibson and Wahlberg are very good together and Jackie Weaver as Stu's conflicted mother is both infuriating and endearing. I was pleased to see Malcolm McDowell in a non-sinister role, I always enjoy seeing him on screen. 

The only flaw in the film is that it is not very surprising. It is sincere in it's message and it wants to be inspirational. I found it admirable but I was rarely moved by the events in Father Stu's life, I was mostly just interested in what was happening at the moment. If a movie like this does not grab your heart, it is not doing completely what it intends. I wanted to understand more about the paths that Stu was following, but the film is so tied into the biopic structure, that I never felt involved with the spiritual elements the way I should have been. 

As a drama with some comedic elements, it worked well enough that I was glad I saw it. As a spiritual film designed for an Easter Holiday emotional magnet, it missed the mark. I'm glad there there are Father Stu characters in the world and that these stories get told, for the faithful it may be enough, but for the audience, we need a little more. 



I am not a Michael Bay hater, there are plenty out there who can take up that mantle, but I understand why some people find his style intolerable, it's because of movies like this. "Ambulance" is an action chase film, that takes every camera trick you can imagine and inserts it into every scene in the movie, for no reason other than to try to convince you that you are watching something exciting. Sometimes it works, when we can see all the cars in a chase at once, or when we switch to an aerial view occasionally, but often it is simply distracting and annoying. Every sequence set inside the ambulance does not really need to be highlighted with ten different camera angles and constant shaky cam photography. One in a while, a static shot of the details would make us focus on the event, rather than how it is being shot.

At times Bay appears to be parodying himself. The characters actually reference "The Rock" and "Bad Boys" so the film is self aware that it is just an action piece of entertainment, not to be taken too seriously. I would be ok with that if the plot made a little more sense.  This is a movie based on a Danish film that was only 80 minutes long, somehow they manage to add an extra hour to that, and I suspect you can pick out a series of plot complications that make up that extra time. The paramedic performing surgery directed by two doctors on the golf course using Face Time, would be one of those additions. The gang cartel connection would be another. This film finds several ridiculous concepts and strings them together to fill in story. 

"Ambulance" looks like it is going to start as a heist film, but we mostly see the after effects of an escape and  that is probably a good thing. Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Danny, is supposed to be a world class bank robber but he has hired the biggest bunch of goons to help him carry off the film, you wonder who he used in all the other crimes he is supposed to have committed, where are they? Some of the guys look like standard Black Ops Mercenaries, and some look like hippie recruited off the street. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays his adopted brother Will and he is supposedly not a criminal but a war hero. As a driver he is dragooned to replace some other clown at the last minute and you can see that this is just a justification to get a "good" brother "bad" brother story which does not feel at all organic.
In the poster title of the film, they draw attention to the location of the movie by highlighting two letters in the title "AMBULANCE", so if you like movies set in L.A., you should like this right? Well, as a sixty year former resident of the city, this movie continues to make the same mistakes a hundred other films have made. Twenty minutes of driving at high speeds in downtown, leaving destruction in your wake, will not result in your finding clear roads in the same area you drive to five minutes later. Tourists will be disappointed to learn that the airport is not ten minutes from the civic center. Oh, and the biggest laugh of the film is the reference the lead S.I.S. captain makes to "rush hour starting in 45 minutes". In Southern California, there has not been a distinct rush hour for three decades, it is pretty much 24/7 bumper to bumper on all the roads that get referred to in the film. If you want the film to be about a car chase in L.A., you factor that in, there are car chases on the local news there once a week and they are more compelling than the stuff that happens here. 

The best parts of the film are the credits, which only last a couple of minutes. If only Hollywood would steal that concept and leave the visual mayhem to Bay for the movies he makes. Eiza González as the EMT that gets caught up in the story is fine, but she is asked to do the impossible, play a rational character in an irrational scenario. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore


If you have been following recently, you will not be surprised to see that I am a fan of the Harry Potter films. In the past month I have seen three of them on the big screen, and I was happy to get the opportunity to write about them since I had not yet started blogging when they first arrived. The Wizarding World is an umbrella label that Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling have coined to cover an expanded universe of materials, including this second series of films that are basically a prequel to the original stories. The first in the series, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", was a welcome addition to the fantasy world and id a great job at setting up a new set of characters. The follow up film, "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" is another case altogether. While it had the requisite visuals, it lacked the spark of the first film, misused some of the characters that had been created, and was basically a series of exposition dumps that were hard to keep track of and boring to begin with. "The Secrets of Dumbledore" needs to pull the series back from the brink of self destruction, and it largely does that.

This movie is not as narratively strong as the first film was, but it is a lot better at keeping us involved and it uses the characters pretty well. Ever since the back story of Dumbledore and Grindelwald in the last of the Potter Books, it has been believed that there was a love story gone wrong there. This film confirms that in the stories, and as a side note has created problems for the studio as a result. Apparently the Chinese market is not ready to accept a gay subplot in a western made film, so references to that aspect are being trimmed for that market. There is a little bit of hypocrisy here because of the attitudes of Hollywood to stateside policies. but as an economic decision it is inevitable. The film needs as big a market as possible to justify what they have invested in and to be able to pursue more films. 

There are two or three course corrections her in this story that help put the series back on proper footing. The most important of which is that there is plot not just narrative. We know the objective of our antagonist (although the background on why Grindelwald is motivated in this direction is very murky. Power! seems to be all that is there). Jude Law as Albus Dumledore is much more a part of what is happening in the film.  Newt Scamander is more engaging in this story than in the last one, where his character was the dullest thing in a dull movie. He is used expeditiously as one of the main characters, rather than as the lead character. That helps keep the story from becoming tiresome. Eddie Redmayne continues to mumble and remain understated, but at least his characters brother is around to translate on a regular basis, and he has a couple of charming scenes that do play off of his character, rather than just inserting his character into a scene where the personality does not match up. If he were on his own in a scene confronting the International Wizards Confederation, it would be a disaster, but fortunately, his brother Theseus, is more articulate, and a new witch "Lally" is around to fill in gaps. This new character is a welcome addition to the film and fills in where the moping drudge of Leta Lestrange would have dragged the film down more. Katherine Waterston must not be available for shooting most of the time, this would have been a part that she could have played, but she only shows up in a couple of inserts and right at coda. 

The biggest miscarriages of the second film were the misuse of  Queenie and Jacob. The way Queenie gets drawn into Grindelwald's circle is not convincing, and Jacob was barely noticeable last time out. Queenie is still a little out of place but at least we can see why she was needed in the camp of the dark wizard. Her character is conflicted in this story and that is exactly the way they needed to go. Having stumbled with her, J.K. Rowling and returning co screenwriter Steve Kloves, find a way to at least use their mistake and get out of it by the end. Jacob Kowalski, the Muggle/No Maj, played by Dan Fogler, is the most entertaining character in the films and his charm has been completely restored in this story. He and Redmayne play off of one another really well, and he gets to be included in the plot in a way that makes sense, not just as a tag a long character. The scene where he interacts with the students at Hogwarts is delightful. 

The series is titled "Fantastic Beasts" so it is perfectly acceptable to have the fantasy creatures play a part in the story. Their presence was overdone in "The Crimes of Grindelwald", but there is just enough in this film to make them relevant without becoming obnoxious. There is a mythical creature with the power to see the future and the decency of a person, the Qilin is charmingly visualized but be ready for a horrifying moment early on in the film, it was disturbing. Newt gets a chance to return to his quirky persona in a prison break scene set in a black site which is a German Wizard's prison, along the lines of Azkaban, but even more gruesome. In spite of the grim setting, there is a very humorous element that reminds us that we are watching something that should be fun, and this scene reaches for that goal and achieves it.

There are still problems with the narrative. Most of these would have been solved if Rowling had written full books for each of the films, and then adapted the stories so they could be coherent. Because there is not a literary history to fill in details, certain things just have to be taken as a given, and that does not always work. Holes in the plotline are rushed. Grindelwald goes from loathed fugitive to favorite for political office, almost instantaneously. The current head of the International Wizard Confederation is a character with inconsistent actions, and looks substantially like Mads Mickelson who is playing Grindelwald, and that suggests some collusion as well. The Credence plot line is resolved with the least annoying retcon possible, but the whole family connection was a mistake in the first place. 

I don't know that this film can keep the franchise going. The theatrical revenues will be affected by changes since Covid, as well as the missteps of the prior film. There are still plot lines that could be followed up on, but if it ends with this entry, the conclusion is satisfactory. I'd still enjoy seeing more of the characters, and I would be interested in the timeline and the way it gets integrated into actual history, but that might be a landmine that Rowling should take a lot more time to figure out. The film is largely successful and I would keep following the plot, I'm just not sure it will do enough to expand the audience back to Potter sized proportions.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Singin' in the Rain (Fathom 70th Anniversary Presentation)


This will be a short post to remind everyone to add a little joy to their life now and then. Last year on my birthday, I finally committed to a top ten list of my favorite films. Number five on my list is this greatest musical ever made featuring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and the delightfully young Debbie Reynolds. It feels like every five years it's time to celebrate an anniversary by making sure this gem is on the big screen once again. I know I went ten years ago and had a wonderful time and this film made it onto my blog. Five years ago, just after the passing of Debbie Reynolds, there was also a screening I attended, again another Fathom Event. 

There is so much to appreciate about the film that you could spend a couple of thousand words on it before you even get to something new that you wanted to focus on. I'm not going that direction today, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes of your time to focus on one sequence. The "Broadway Rhythm Ballet" section of the film was something I had not seen in my original encounter with the film. Local TV stations in the 60s and 70s would cut a movie to make it fit a weekday afternoon slot, and that sequence was missing the first time I saw "Singin' in the Rain" on TV. Watching it this last Sunday makes me wonder what kind of monsters they had working for those Stations in those days, who could take out the biggest, brightest and most creative section of the movie, simply to save some time. 

In the film, Don Lockwood is describing the scene to studio head R.F. Simpson, so it is a fantasy scene and it was being plugged into the disastrous "The Dancing Cavalier". So I can see that it was convenient, because it has nothing to do with the plot of the movie, but boy does it look great on the big screen. Lockwood/Kelly showing us as a country rube, trying to make it on Broadway is funny. The montage sequences where each performance gets more elaborate as they go along, even though the song stays the same is pretty satiric without being mean spirited. It is the nightclub sequence with Cyd Charisse that makes the whole thing finally so memorable. Every costume of the flappers and hipsters of the day was outlandishly garish. Charisse in her bob haircut is enigmatic and beautiful. The grace and choreography that Kelly used in the ballet section with the long dress train is astounding. Even today, with all the technical wizardry at your fingertips, you would be hard pressed to find a way to make that work, Kelly, Stanley Donen and the craftsmen at MGM managed to do so 70 years ago.

Two recent and fairly modern references are going to close out this post. Rita Moreno, who is the last surviving cast member of this film, recently was in Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story", which is the film she won the Academy Award for, This movie was almost a decade earlier, but she had a nice bit part which was a little more substantial than I had remembered. I was paying more attention to Rita in this film than I had in the past because of this recent history. The other thing that comes to my mind was a film I watched the day before at home. Hugo Speer, a prolific British TV actor, played Guy in "The Full Monty" a story about a group of working class men trying to put together a man strip review. In his audition for the troop, he wants to demonstrate his athletic dancing ability. He points to the wall and says. "There's the wall, and I'm Donald O'Connor." He then proceeds to prove that Donald O'Connor  is a dancing god and the rest of us are mere mortals.

There are so many great numbers in the film, you sometimes forget that the next thing you see will be even better than the last thing you saw. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Revisit)

The first two Harry Potter films had a lot riding on them, and Director Christopher Columbus is often criticized for lacking an edge to the films. In truth though, it wasn't until the later books that the stories got deeper and the history started building on itself. This was a new venture and the book series was not complete when work on the first movies began. The kids in the story really are kids, not teenagers and so it seems appropriate to make these movies as children's films and establish the universe that the characters will occupy for subsequent stories. This film came after "Adventures in Babysitting", "Home Alone", and "Mrs. Doubtfire", all films that have a comic kids sensibility. He was the right choice to baptize Harry into films and the two movies he made are excellent. They may not be everyone's favorite Potter films, but they are essential and vastly entertaining. 

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets "is the second film in the franchise and takes us to the second year at Hogwarts. It continues to build the history of the school, show us an elaborate environment for the story to take place, and gives us another mostly stand alone hero story before the more complex interweaving of the following films. The beloved character of Dobby the house elf is introduced and even though he is primarily a CGI character, he comes to life and endears us in a way that Jar Jar Binks never could. Although Dobby can be annoying, his personality is understood as part of a character forced into a the circumstances that created him. He also is redemptive by the end of the series and was not overused just for laughs. 

A character who appears only in this one film, but dominates the movie (although not the plot) is Gilderoy Lockhart, as depicted by Kenneth Branagh. When I first read the book, and thought of an actor to play this character, Hugh Grant came immediately to mind. The vain, slightly silly and lightweight nature of the character seemed a perfect fit. The trivia on IMDB says that Grant was actually cast but had to withdraw due to a scheduling conflict. Nothing against Hugh Grant, I really enjoy him as an actor, but Kenneth Branagh was perfection in this film. He had the same qualities I mentioned above, but he also plays an unctuousness that I'm not sure Grant could have brought. Lockhart is the real comic relief in the film and he is inserted just enough to justify his presence, even though the character is superfluous to the main story. This is the only Patter film with a post credits sequence and it naturally is a joke about Gilderoy Lockhart. 

While the film is a little more dark in plot line, the photography matches that pretty well while still managing to keep the mostly upbeat tone of the first two books. There are still kids style shenanigans.  and the young actors sometimes over do the mugging for the camera, Radcliffe is stronger in the role as he is moving into the other films, Grint and Watson are a little behind but still better than in the first movie. The maturation process of growing up seems to have worked on the actors because they get better with each subsequent film. 

This was the last film for Richard Harris who originated the role of Dumbledore. In the same year he played a part in a terrific version of "The Count of Monte Cristo", where his character is quite aged and infirm. Harris was dying of Hodgkin's lymphoma when he made both movies and his delicate state was unfortunately obvious on film. I would never say it was a blessing that he passed on, but I will say that recasting was needed because Dumbledore, while aging, is still a vital and dynamic figure in the series, and Michael Gambon was more up to the task in the remaining films. 

One of the most inventive elements of the story was Tom Riddle's Diary. The effect of Harry, entering the pages of the diary, foreshadows the magic of the pensive which will become essential later in the stories. The other element of this is that the diary turns out to be one of the Horcrux that Harry is searching for in the last two films and it really helps tie the universe together without making every new component feel like it is being retconned into the plot. "The Chamber of Secrets" is surprisingly, the longest of the Harry Potter films, but it does not feel that way because of the light touch Chris Columbus brought to assembling it and the brilliant insertion of Kenneth Branagh into the role of Gilderoy Lockhart.  

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Revisit 2022)


When it was announced that the final Harry Potter book would be split into two parts for two final films, there was a lot of complaining. Cynics around the world saw it as a cash grab, merely a way to extend the series to an additional film and pull in some extra bucks. Harry Potter fans who read the books on the other hand understood immediately the need for this decision. While "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is not the longest book in the series (that honor goes to Order of the Phoenix) it is the one with the greatest number of incidents to visualize as part of the over arching narrative. When seeing the results of the final two films, it is hard to imagine how it could have been condensed to a single three hour film and still be comprehended. 

The majority of the film does focus on the battle of Hogwarts, but there are so many adjoining paths that need to be resolved, and yet it still feels like it is doing the minimum possible with some threads of the story. For instance, the information about Aberforth and Ariana is skimmed over quickly, just enough to keep the characters in the story, but with very little background (which may be the justification for the Fantastic Beasts Series of films). On the other hand, it was essential to get Lily and Severus in the story as students at Hogwarts and the time spent in doing so is one of the best moments in the whole series. So Screenwriter Steven Kloves and Director David Yates made some very sound decisions in choosing what to include and how much time to devote to those elements.

There are fans of heist movies that should really appreciate the way in which the jobs get taken care of in these last two films. The Poly Juice Potion does seem to get overdone a bit in the movies, but it is an effective technique and it is used in clever ways here. Helena Bonham Carter gets to be in the movie a bit more than would have otherwise been justified by her part, simply because Hermione is passing herself off as that vile character when the three leads are trying to infiltrate Gringotts. Carter is really terrific playing a character who is so uncomfortable playing the character that Carter actually is. Her shoulders slump like Hermione's might if she was uncertain,. She hesitates with eye contact the way someone might when testing out an acting role. Rupert Grint  does not have to transform himself  except by disguising himself with a beard, but he gets the surly facial expression of Bellatrix Lestrange's vassal, just right.  I liked that Harry and Griphook are using one of the Deathly Hallows in pursuing a Horcrux, although I am a little unclear if the curse Harry uses in one of the Unforgivable curses or if it is some other variation.

The Model used for the films at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Experience in the U.K.

The special effects in the vault sequence are pretty darn good, although I do miss the amount of practical work that made the mine chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom so much fun. The albino dragon who is nearly blind is a perfect match for my imagination when I first read the book, and the Goblin supervisor who is is entranced, shaking his empty hand as if he has one of the warning bells in it, is a very nice touch, both humorous and disturbing as it plays out. There is plenty of action and excitement in the sequence, but it does not hold back the story, it really does feel like the launching point.

         (From the Gringotts Exhibit at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Experience in the U.K.)

Inevitably, the audience is going to have to fill in the blanks in a few places. When our three protagonists return to Hogsmeade after the raid on the bank, they are greeted with alarms that we don't quite know are set off by. Seeing how it is a magical place, we can sort of assume that Harry's mere presence would be enough to get them going. The explanation in the book is more interesting and clearer, but it would require more exposition and the film requirements mean we should be focusing on story rather than minutia. The same sort of choices are made with Aberforth, and with just a couple of slight references in the dungeon of Hogwarts, we move on past what was a whole chapter in the book. Fans of both the books and the films can appreciate the arrival of the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix. We remember that you can't apparat directly into the castle, so when they appear at the door of the great hall at the moment Harry is confronting Snape, we can fill in the blanks perfectly well.

The key emotional turning point in the film is not the confrontation with Voldemort at the climax, it is the sequence that comes before that, when Harry discovers that the man he has resented since his arrival at the school, the man he thought betrayed his beloved headmaster Dumbledore, is in fact a more important connection to his mother and the resolution of the conflict, than any other character in the film. Snape is revealed as the true hero of the story, having endured horrors on an equal level with Harry, but never able to show that to anyone and having to sacrifice himself so that harry can finally understand. It is Harry's five minutes in the Pensive that clarifies everything and forces Harry to become a man, and not just the boy who lived. When taken together with the intrusion of Snape's memories in "Order of the Phoenix, we have a very complete picture of Snapes motives and actions. That he has had to stand by while others suffered so that he can allow the trap to be sprung is a pretty good example of the kind of control a wizard would need to justify being called a Headmaster of Hogwarts. That Harry has to eat the words he only moments before threw at Snape, make this a story arc worthy of eight films. 

All of the major characters get a few moments to shine in the battle that ensues. The novel makes some of the losses more poignant with details, like the loss of Lupin and Tonks, but the visions we are given do them adequate justice. It is the moments of action that we really get our money's worth out of here. McGonagal going off on Snape and then setting the guardians of Hogwarts loose makes us revere her even more. Mrs. Wesley battling Bellatrix and surprising her with a completely unexpected spell is a moment of ecstatic release. The best addition however has to be the elevation of Neville Longbottom to the status he always deserved but was denied him as a secondary character. He could easily have been the one who was in Harry's place, and we discover that if that had happened, he would have been a worthy "chosen one" as well. 

The stars of the movie evolved into solid actors over the ten years that they made these pictures. At first, they were cute kids who played the parts well, since they were mostly cast as cute kids. As the series got more serious, so did their chops. Ron as a character matters more in the last three films, he is not just a sidekick. Grint does a good job being a stalwart follower who becomes a leader along the way. Emma Watson grew into her beauty in these films and that she sells us on Hermione's relationship with Ron, is a testament to her skills as an actor. Daniel Radcliffe had the whole enterprise resting on his shoulders since he was eleven. He often got to have a few humorous moments in the films, but in Deathly Hallows Part 2, those moments are far fewer. Instead we get some great line delivery, like the slam at Snape, or the grasping of Voldemort and flinging himself off the parapet while calling him Tom. The most moving moment of the film is in the Coda, when grown Harry tells his young son that he is named after two headmasters of Hogwarts, and he can proudly say one of them was a Slytherin and the bravest man he ever knew. Radcliffe had his big boy pants on in that scene and he nailed it.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows Part 2" is not just the conclusion of the last book, but also of the series that made a difference in real kids lives. There are still some who only know these characters from the movies, but to millions of children, reading became the wand that could open their imaginations. All of the Young Adult fantasy that dominates the film markets these days on Netflix, Hulu, Prime and similar platforms, all owe a debt of gratitude to J.K. Rowling and her imagination and skill with language. The film makers were smart enough to figure out that they needed to keep the movies as close to those kids imaginations as they could, and they succeeded.


Saturday, April 2, 2022



I almost skipped posting a trailer because in the last three years, probably everyone who comes to this site has seen a trailer for this film several times.  Surprise! the film is finally in theaters after being bumped from the schedule six different times. Many people have taken that as a sign that Sony had no faith in the film and as a result, there has been a high level of low expectations for the movie. This is a Marvel Film, but it is in the Sony  Galaxy of the Marvel Universe, you know, that part of the Multiverse where Venom lives and Spider-Man visits.  The film looks more like Venom than an MCU Spider-Man film, and that may be another reason that so many are skeptical about it.

There is no gentile way  of saying it, "Morbius" is not a very good film. In spite of the fact that it is not very good, that does not mean it is bad or garbage. For people who are looking for an hour and a half of mildly entertaining comic book action with a dark flare, it works well enough to justify your time. If you have no interest, you will not lose anything by skipping the movie, but if the idea of a living vampire, engaging in battle with evil forces while knocking holes in the city around them  is something you can get behind, then this is fine. 

Actually, the first half hour or so of the movie is a pretty good origin story that sets up the main characters for the story, the exigencies that lead to the scientific cross pollination of blood and DNA, and the setting that it all takes place in. Things don't start to go off the rails until we get on the boat where the main transformation takes place. I can't say it was intellectually sound, but it makes as much sense as the "Spider-Man" science. The problem with the story at this point is that it has to develop some place to go. Batman and Spider-Man have motivation, Superman has enemies, Iron Man and Captain America have political objectives. "Morbius" is a creature created without a reason for being. We get a Jekyll/Hyde figure who is not really conflicted so much as distracted. An enemy is created for him to be in opposition to, but that feels like a mechanical step to simply fulfill the expectations of the genre. 

In aesthetic and story, the film feels like a throwback to Spawn, The Fantastic Four, and Judge Dredd. Sometimes they look cool, but in a way that a drawing or painting holds your eye, rather than an organic story. The concept itself can't be the movie, you have to have something to make the audience care, and this film for the most part lacks that spark. Jared Leto as the lead is perfectly fine, with the right look for a dark character and convincing in the early segments as the infirm doctor looking for a cure to his own blood disease. Frankly, the biggest drawback to his performance is the manbun he adopts to keep his long hair out of the way when he is in the lab or clinic. Matt Smith as his childhood friend suffering from the same disease, is never as convincing in that role, but as his part evolves, he is a lot more animated than the lead is, and that is not always for the best. The tone of his performance and the character arc might work well in a different movie, the question becomes which film are they making here? Is this a dramatic brooding vampire's story or is it a comic book action film?  "Morbius" can't quite make up it's mind.

The film also feels like chunks have been taken out of it to make it lean, but those chunks contain exposition that might have clarified some of the things that are happening or they could have added more character to the lead roles. Either way it leaves the movie feeling undercooked, and the set ups in the end credit sequence make no sense in light of what we saw before. There is a desperation to the effort to connect this to the Spider-Man/Venom part of the universe and it does not do the movie any favors. Al Madrigal as Agent Rodriguez provides a little bit of humor, and Tyrese Gibson is trying to inject a little bit of gravitas to the proceedings, but those ingredients are not sufficient to lift this movie out of the classification of mediocre. 

Those of you who expect to hate this probably will, so stay away. Those who think it is going to be fun stupidity like the Venom films, be prepared for a letdown. But those of you, who like me have no preconceptions about the movie, will tolerate it at times, enjoy it for some moments and then forget about it until we stumble across it on cable or streaming and wonder what it is that we have forgotten.