Monday, August 22, 2022

Dr. No (60th Anniversary) Fathom Events

I was unable to find a Fathom Events Trailer for the screening of Dr. No last night, so instead you get this original trailer which is a lot of fun in itself.

I was only four when Dr. No was first released so I obviously did not see it then. It wasn't until the late part of the sixties that I caught up with it in a double bill with either "Thunderball" or "Goldfinger", I can' quite remember the match up. Whichever one it was , the other played on a separate bill with "From Russia with Love". That's how I first saw the original four James Bond films. 

Three of my five favorite 007 films are from the original Sean Connery list. "Dr. No" clocks in at number 4 of all the James Bond films for me. It was the first film in the series that launched my sixty year love for all things Bond. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book with a few minor changes (there is no giant squid and SPECTRE has been retconned into the film series). 

Dr. No looks great on the big screen, this was a Digital Projection so there were no flaws from the film stock, it looks like it was from the remastering done for the Blu-ray set that came out ten years ago. I have been to Jamaica, although not Kingston, and the ocean and islands do look like what you see in the film. It is a beautiful place although I know there are some dark places that you probably don't want to visit. 

When I was getting ready for "Spectre", I did a countdown of 007 films, with the top seven reasons to love each film. For "Dr. No" here are the seven things I picked. There are some additional reasons you should invest in seeing this film. Although he is the first of the sacrificial lambs to go in Bonds place over the years, Quarrel is also one of the most memorable. John Kitzmiller, who played Quarrel, was an actor I'd never looked up before, but there are a couple of important highlights to mention. He won the Best Actor Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947, but even better, he was born in my parents hometown of Battle Creek Michigan. The parts that don't age well are when Bond orders him around when they are on Crab Key, you know, "Fetch my shoes" and that kind of stuff. Still he was a salwart companion and ally of 007, and he died bravely fighting dragons. 

This was the introduction of the Monty Norman theme, jazzed up by John Barry, which has had some controversy over the years but for which the late Mr. Norman deserves credit for writing. The theme gets used as a running score element and is mixed with some of the Island tunes that set the locale. The scene in the nightclub with all of the patrons dancing to "Jump Up" has plenty of visual charm in a simple way, and the "Three Blind Mice" calypso version is used with the Maurice Binder titles and transitioned to a live shot very effectively at the end of the titles. This is also a film notable for not having a pre-title sequence. 

As a Fathom Event, they always put in a little extra. The Trivia screen shots were a nice touch before the movie, and they included a statement from Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson on the passing of Sean Connery from two years ago. After the movie, there was a long featurette on Daniel Craig called "Being James Bond", it is not on my Blu-ray copy of "No Time to Die", but it was clearly prepared as a promotional piece for the last of Craig's Bond films. This was a legacy screening so it did not feel inappropriate to me to include it in the show. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022



If you look at the masthead of this site, or count the number of posts relating to the 1975 classic, you will know how much I love Spielberg's "Jaws".  In fact, in a couple of weeks there will be more posts because it is getting a release in IMAX and 3D. That may make it a little unfair to compare today's film to the beloved shark story, but in many ways it is the same story, simply adapted to a different environment. "Beast" is a nature gone malevolent film where instead of a shark we get a lion. There is an initial attack, and then the slow burn discovery of the continuing danger, followed by an extended sequence where man is pitted against nature in a single vehicle that is crippled. There are plenty more comparisons to come but I'll save those to first talk about whether the film works.

Idris Elba has been in 30 films in one form or another in the last 10 years. Before that he was in a bucket load more and some essential television shows, so it is not a stretch for him to have to hold the attention of an audience for 90 minutes. The part of Doctor Nate Samuels is low key and calm in the face of overwhelming danger. The Doctor has two children that he has brought to South Africa to visit the home of their deceased mother. The husband and wife were separated at the time of her death and as a doctor, he feels guilt about not being able to do more about the cancer that killed her. It is a cliched trope that a trip like this is designed to repair the estrangement he has with his teen daughters. That the relationships will have to be repaired under the most pressure filled scenario is typical in a movie like this [Bruce Willis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Live Free or Die Hard is an example of the stress repairing parental bonds trope].  

The premise is simple, the family in emotional crisis suddenly finds itself under attack from an outside source. In this case the threat comes from a rogue lion, angry about the slaughter of it's pride and reeking vengeance on all humans it encounters.  In the opening sequence we get a night time attack on the poachers left behind to clean up after the initial destruction of the pride. There are a couple of moments that feel like a mid-night swim and the CGI lion is pretty effective at providing jump scares. When Elba and his friend Martin, played by Sharlto Copley, come across a decimated village, it's as if Brody and Hooper are finding Ben Gardner's boat, only this time Brody brought his kids with him. Later, it turns out that Martin is also Quint, intrepid hunter of poachers and the victim of the creatures he tries to protect. 

The lion attacks on the vehicle that the doctor and his daughters are trapped in are pretty dramatic and scary. The idea that the lion is using one of our characters as bait is similar to the mysterious behavior of the shark in "Jaws" going under the boat. Animals are inscrutable, but they do follow their nature, and we were given a foreshadowing lecture on lion behavior that tips us to how this is ultimately going to be played out. Of course a couple of characters have to do some stupid things to keep the story going in a few spots and that does undermine the value of the film. 

I don't know of anyone who wants to see animals harmed as a part of the story, but as this tale goes on, you really are rooting for something to happen to this lion. The most brutal violence on an animal is in the openings sequence, so if you get through that you will be OK. We mostly see the aftermath of the mauling that the humans get, but in the climax we are given a pretty graphic depiction of what happened to a variety of characters, and it happens in broad daylight, so night does not cover up what is going on. The locations look beautiful and there is some terrific nature photography early on, but once the peril starts, the plot takes over and most of the shots are about building fear rather than amazing footage.

"Crawl" was a similar story from a couple of years ago. It was much more aware of it's exploitation roots and leaned into them to make an effective summer entertainment. "Beast" has a little too much sincerity to pull off the entertainment value at an equally high level, but it mostly works. That is due to the two leads and the premise, more than anything else. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Spielberg Double Feature August 2022


Any time you can see one of Spielberg's classic films on the big screen, you should take the opportunity to do so. As repeatable as most of his films are, a theatrical presentation enhances the experience by making the action more urgent in the size of the screen, the volume of the sound system and the response from your fellow movie goers. Raiders is 41 years old, but for a Saturday matinee, with a cost of  $14, the theater was nearly full. This screen was part of the Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theater in Austin Texas.

The presentation was a digital projection, so it may have lacked some of the warmth and texture of a 35mm screening, but the images were great and the movie just plays like gangbusters. The opening ten minutes is still a standard by which many action based films today fail to live up to. Indiana Jones is defined as a character by his look, his actions and the way the movie is shot. Harrison Ford does not have a lot of dialogue in the opening sequence, but when he does speak, we get a sense of the adventurous archeologist and his strengths and weaknesses.  

Not only did I get a chance to see one of the Spielberg masterpieces on the big screen, I got a second one on the same day. This year is the 40th anniversary of "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" and in celebration, Universal is releasing it on IMAX screens around the country.  We had just seen "E.T." at the TCM Film Festival back in April, and Spielberg was there to discuss it. Why would we need to go again? Because it's fricking great, that's why. 

The thrilling flying bicycle scenes don't hold up as well as you might hope, but everything else does. Once again, John Williams accounts for half the success of the movie because his score for this is so touching and appropriate that the emotions on the screen can be felt over and over again, just by hearing the score.

If the first ten minutes of Raiders defines action, the last ten minutes of E.T. defines heart. The closing moments of the film never fail to bring me the tears that I remember shedding the first time I saw this film forty years ago. Henry Thomas continues to work as an actor, after giving one of the great child performances of all time. If he had never made another film, he should be enshrined in Valhalla for this alone. 

All of you out there stewing in jealousy over this great day that I got to indulge in, you can still catch "E.T." on an IMAX screen somewhere. Why are you still here?

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

John Carpenter's The Thing (Round 2)

Just a quick update to remind myself that I did go and see "The Thing" again on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse last Friday.  They are doing a summer series on films that came out in 1982, forty years ago now, and of course John Carpenter's masterpiece is included. 

This video is from the same program seven years ago, but it still kicks ass. 

As early arrivals, we scored a nice mini-poster of John Carpenter films that have apparently played at the Drafthouse at some point or another. 

I'll be looking at the Drafthouse theaters near me to see if I can catch up with any of these movies. The only one I have never seen is "Christine". Don't ask me why, I have no idea how I missed it. 

Once again, the greatest performance in this movie is turned in by the dog in the opening section. The trainer who got this dog to stand so still and stare in just the right ominous manner, deserves a round of applause

Friday, August 5, 2022

Bullet Train


Director David Leitch knows his way around a contemporary action scene. Having been a producer and an uncredited director on John Wick,  he took on "Deadpool 2" and the "Fast and Furious Spinoff Hobbs and Shaw". In other words, Leitch has become adept at making action films that are short on credulity but long on humor and style, and this is one of them. "Bullet Train", to use the obvious metaphor, is a fast moving vehicle that has few stops, no real scenery and a self contained environment for the players to bounce around in.

Brad Pitt plays an operative who has gone through some kind of existential crisis and is trying to maintain his career as a top clandestine agent, without having to kill or confront anyone in a violent manner. Of course when your job is to steal valuable assets from dangerous people, your life goals may have to take a backseat to your survival skills. In this situation Pitt's character, code named "Ladybug", has to steal a briefcase containing a large amount of money. Of course there is a reason for the money to be there, and there are others on the train who are after the same thing for different reasons, and there are other "fixers" from crime syndicates all trying to eliminate one another. If you took the characters from "Clue" and you moved them from a locked house mystery, to a trapped on a train crime thriller, this would be the result. This is one of those films that plays dismemberment for laughs and violence as a mere inconvenience until the next quip or visual joke comes along. 

"Ladybug" is a Buster Keaton like character who manages to get into and out of situations with a combination of great skills and incredible luck. The physical jokes are over the top and completely unbelievable, they are also incredibly fun to watch and they are accompanied by the relaxed performance of Brad Pitt. It is as if Pitt is not only channeling the laid back character he played in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", but he is now calling on the spirit of Owen Wilson to add a zen like daze to his hipster cool. Pitt seems to know how silly it all is but is having a good time anyway. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry, in addition to using three names, play salt and pepper brothers who are contract killers/operatives for hire, who having thought they completed their mission, now have to deliver the briefcase that is the target of Ladybug. They too have cute code names, Tangerine and Lemon, and they are full of some of the same cool headed hipster violence and humor that dominate these types of movies. 

If you saw "The Lost City" earlier this year, you probably won't be too surprised at a couple of cameo spots that show up in the movie. Also, if you liked Pitt's role in Deadpool 2, we get a turnabout moment that lasts just as long in this film. Maybe this is a little close to spoiler territory, but none of it gives away plot and you know how these things go anyway, so it is really more a moment of pleasure more than surprise when these things happen. I was also a bit pleased when I finally recognized the big bad who shows up at the climax of the film, it was not a role I had any foreknowledge of and it was another moment of cinema fan service more than plot development. Speaking of plot, unlike "Atomic Blonde" which still does not make any sense, this convoluted series of set ups works pretty well at bringing everything together in a reasonably coherent way. There may still be plot holes, but you will understand why everyone is in the picture and what their motives ultimately turn out to be. Pay no attention to the other passengers who appear and then vanish from the train. At best they provide a quick joke, most of the time they would be in the way, but by the end no one cares because the action and the train have accelerated way past reality a third of the way into the movie. By the last act we are watching a live action Road Runner cartoon, and that will be fine for most of us.

"Bullet Train" is the kind of summer movie you should be looking for right about now. It has no long term agenda, there is nothing serious going on that will haunt your memories, and it is easy to watch. Any film that has a Bee Gees tune and mimics the opening of "Saturday Night Fever" must have something going for it. Layer a Jim Steinman song on top of that with a bunch of other upbeat tunes and you will find yourself refreshingly immersed in a pop culture mashup, perfect for these times and this time of year. Jump the turnstile or buy a ticket, "Bullet Train" will entertain you for the dog days of summer.


Tuesday, August 2, 2022



I am as big a fan of comic book films and action movies as anybody you can think of, but my two favorite films so far this year are small independents created by film makers with distinct visions, and this movie is one of those films. This was written and directed by actor B.J. Novak, and I am impressed with his ability to balance the story he is telling with the subjects he is dealing with. It would be easy to see this as a take down of fly over culture, except that it isn't. Certainly, the idiosyncrasies of Texas life are shown in a humorous light, but just when you think they are being mocked, there is a note that not only validates the point but expresses some appreciation for it. Oh, and by the way, the coasts are not immune from the being targeted. In the long run, this film does a lot to unify the culture in a way that may not be appreciated by everyone, but was certainly welcome by me. 

Novak has identified Rob Reiner as his favorite director, citing the marvelous stretch of films from the early 80s to the early 90s. Among those films is "This is Spinal Tap", a mockumentary that has been an inspiration for film makers ever since and  clearly has influenced this film. "Vengeance" is a little more subtle about taking down the podcast/media establishment, but the humor and satire in this script is no less biting than Spinal Tap's songs that mimic heavy metal themes. When Ben and his editor/mentor start calling the project, "Dead White Girl", the rest of us can see that this is "Sex Farm Woman" and "Big Bottom" redux. The shallowness of our gawker consumption of true crime podcasts is also indicated by the opening conversation that Novak's character Ben has with his friend at the party. Their supposedly rational approach to relationships sound insincere from the start, and it sets up the payoff for this film at the climax. 

Everybody in the film is excellent, but I would be remiss if I neglected to take special notice of actor Ashston Kutcher in the role of West Texas music producer Quentin Sellars, with a charismatic grasp of that job, but a warped philosophy about life. He is in two long sequences in the film and those moments both owe a debt to Robert Shaw's monologue in "Jaws". Kutcher is not quite Shaw in those moments, but he is damn good and watchable as all get out. Novak's Ben is basically Richard Dreyfuss  in the monologue sequence on the Orca. We see astonishment on his face as Kutcher pulls a greater performance out of his recording artist with a story that seems incongruent but perfectly taps the inspiration he is looking for. The growing admiration Ben feels for Quentin Sellars in this moment will be juxtaposed later in the film when the ramification of the philosophy is causally laid out in front of him by a smug and self righteous charlatan. Ben's facial expressions mirror the horror and disbelief that Hooper felt as he listened to Quint. The final reaction is priceless and justifies classifying this film as a revenge drama along side the phrase comedy/mockumentary.

There are three distinct turns that the film takes in story and tone. At first we are treated to what looks like a comedy takedown of life outside of the big city. There was plenty to laugh about and the characters don't feel too exaggerated as to make the perception feel skewed. The second section goes a long way to building a warm relationship between disparate characters and the way they approach life. I have to admit that as a transplant to Texas, I learned more about the "What-a-burger" obsession that some people here have than I have learned in my two years of living here. Unfortunately, the jurisdictional law enforcement politics hits it's mark a bit too accurately in light of the police response to the Uvalde shooting. The third section of the film, forces us to confront some ugly truths about all of the characters. Our ability for denial in the face of the truth, our willingness to emotionally betray those we care for in pursuit of our own needs are both big parts of the last act. It is however redemption, in the most unlikely Liam Neeson moment of a film called "Vengeance", that will let you love or hate this film.  I felt the climax was earned, and in the end, like a long string of revenge movies before it, "Vengeance" surprisingly earns it's title.

As writer, director and principle actor in the film, B.J. Novak has earned my respect. This is a sophisticated and balanced look at our contemporary culture. He finds the sad, meaningless relationships of modern men and destroys them. The use of stereotyping is shown to be destructive in multiple directions, finally acknowledging that sophisticates are capable of being just as blind as those in the hinterlands. The tonal shifts do come abruptly, but they come from revelations that are natural and human. Maybe the journalist/writer is a little too self confident in his interviews, but he is capable of screwing up like the rest of us and gets called out for his condescension each time. The one time that being called out for his so called selfish acts, is the mic drop moment of the film.