Thursday, June 29, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: The Stepford Wives

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy

The Stepford Wives

I did some on-line reading about the reception of this movie at the time of it's release, and amazingly enough, it was objected to by some feminist groups who saw it as anti-woman. My immediate thought was that there is a large continent of the population that does not understand satire. This movie is for all intents and purposes a depiction of a feminist nightmare. It visualizes a world where women are erased as individuals and replaced by stereotypes of femininity. In other words it is mocking the men who want to have women be subservient sex machines with no purpose other than satisfying their mates needs. They are the villains of the piece but somehow in 1975, there were people who did not see this, amazing how ideological blinders can prevent you from recognizing an ally. 

Author and playwright Ira Levin had a big hit when his novel "Rosemary's Baby"   was adapted and filmed by Roman Polanski. No doubt the makers of this film had a similar goal of making a modern gothic horror story into a money making machine. The returns however were modest at best and it is the cultural impact that makes the movie memorable. the phrase "Stepford Wife" immediately produces an image of a docile, attractive, robotic perfectionist and the connotative meaning is all too well known, even by people who have never read the book or seen the movie (including the execrable 2004 remake/reinvention).  Regardless of the controversy or the lack of box office muscle, the film has managed to worm it's way into the culture and influence our thinking about gender roles ever since.

As a movie, this would definitely be a slow burn which is typical of the 1970s and one of the reasons that those movies can be appealing. We get introduced to characters before we get thrown into the plot. We see how Katherine Ross as the protagonist Joanna, slowly realizes that something is amiss. We understand because of her career ambitions and uncertainty about having relocated to Stepford, that the threat is to her being not just to her physical manifestation. As I watched the friendship she develops with Bobbie, played deliciously by Paula Prentiss, I cared about the women, even when I thought there were times that they were being annoying and self centered. The most arcane moment of the film comes when Joanna, Bobbie and their friend Charmaine (Tina Louise) make a deal to get the other local wives to participate in a consciousness raising meeting. Feminist ideas and relationship talk get sidetracked by the programming of the local women. 

The movement to a more horror driven "Body Snatchers" feel, comes in a couple of ways that were nicely set up. Charmaine's surrender of the tennis court that meant personal freedom for her, was a scary moment even though the only horrifying image is a Caterpillar Tractor pulling up some concrete. The Men's Association is visualized as an old dark house, and it is taboo to go there, even though the warning is the politest brush off a cop can give. We know that bad things are coming when Joanna's dog goes missing, and we simply see it in a cage in the bed of a truck driving down the road. These are the creepy moments that make the movie worth sitting through, even if you don't buy into all the social signaling that is going on. 

Screenwriter William Goldman was unhappy with changes made to his work. The well known story in Hollywood is that the Screenwriter has the least amount of power of the major players on a project. Somehow Goldman, had managed to block Brian DePalma as the director of the film and ironically, his replacement, Bryan Forbes, was the source of all of Goldman's subsequent unhappiness. Regardless of the power issues, Goldman's screenplay is a well paced reveal of the plot, with interesting characterizations along the way. Bobbie has the funniest lines, Joanna parry's with her husband and Diz, the head of the Men's Association who is played by Patrick O'Neal. You would expect a lot of gaslighting but Goldman let's the characters with bad intent, play things normally for the most part. The artist who is drawing details of Joanna's face doesn't try to hide them from her, he shares them with her. The stammering vocal designer has a logical reason for her to record his list of words. Her husband concedes that an ambulance did seem to go off in the wrong direction, instead of insisting she is nuts. He also suggests she get help, not at an inappropriate moment but at exactly the right time, he does not insist on a therapist of his choice but defers to her. It's during her first meeting with the therapist that the true horror gets stated, "If I am wrong, I'm insane... but if I'm right, it's even worse than if I was wrong."

The climax of the picture mixes some great moments with some unfortunately trite tropes. Joanna's confrontation with the changed Bobbie is a perfect moment, her running around in the rain and running from Diz in the Men's Association is just woman in jeopardy boiler plate writing. The visualization of the new Joanna is a great creepy moments that reveals the twist and it works without having to go into a lot of detail. Little shots of the town, the industry in the area and the jobs of the local men, were all we needed. An exposition dump is wisely avoided. 

On a side note, I find it particularly satisfying that Paula Prentis as Bobbie, is caught up in a world of artificial persons, since in real life she is married to Richard Benjamin, who two years before this movie, ran into the same problem in "Westworld".  

Monday, June 26, 2023

Lawrence of Arabia (2023 Visit)


Those of you who are regulars know the score here, If "Lawrence of Arabia" is on the big screen within throwing distance, I am going to go and see it. 

Yesterday was a return trip to the The Paramount Theater in Austin, where I will be spending most of my summer. They have a great film series and they have included an essential film for me. 

I have written about Lawrence many times before, you can find links to most of those posts on the Top Ten List I did a couple of years ago HERE

As usual it was a great experience, I was impressed by the turnout, the theater was packed. When the host asked who was seeing it for the first time, about 20% of the audience responded, so that was a surprise. 

Whenever I see the film, I try to pay attention to something new and this time it was the sky. Of course there is the famous edit where we go from a burning match to the sun rising on the horizon. There are some wonderful moments of the moon and stars as well. Seeing the flare streak across the sky to signal a stop to hostilities in one of the attacks looks pretty as well. The night swallowing Ali as Lawrence is being tortured is relieved by a brief glow of moonlight on his face as he awaits the outcome of the assault on Lawrence. 

By the way, the Sky here in Austin was beautiful and clear, and the temperature seemed to match the desert when Faisal's army is crossing the Sun's Anvil. "No Prisoners!"

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts


In the last two weeks we made an effort to catch up on all the Transformer Movies, as a way of preparing to see this one. I would not recommend doing that to anyone who wants to enjoy the films. They work best in small doses and the fact that many of them are two and a half hours is really depressing. I liked the First in the series pretty well when we saw it way back in 2007, but by the time the third one came out, I'd lost interest and even though I saw the fourth one, I'd forgotten it completely. The fifth one is equally forgettable, the main exception to this trend however was "BumbleBee" which was in fact quite enjoyable. 

"Rise of the Beasts" has something in common with most of the films, a solid opening forty minutes. The problem with these films is that once we get to the giant robots fighting each other, for long periods of time, it becomes monotonous. Also, watching Los Angeles, Chicago, Hong Kong and multiple other cites get destroyed is sadly disturbing and repetitive. "Beasts" does us a solid by locating the main battle scenes to the jungles of Peru, sparring us the sight on thousands of people being wiped out for entertainment purposes. Another variation that "Rise of the Beasts" gives us is the absence of a young child in the middle of that final battle. When the little boy in the story, who has sickle cell, talks about going with his older brother on the fight in South America, I started to roll my eyes. Imagine how happy I was when the older brother leaves and the kid is not accidentally smuggled in the trunk of a car or a suitcase. 

Anthony Ramos is the star of the film, and having seen him in a couple of other films, I was glad to see he was still doing good work, although more subdued than you might expect in a film like this. The real stars of these movies are the giant robots, and this version gives us another race of robots called Maximals, which instead of being modeled after cars are modeled after animals. Their leader is an ape robot named Optimus Primal, get it?  The main villain is a planet consuming being called Unicron, but mostly it is the minions of Unicron that we see on screen battling the Autobots. The nice thing about the battles in this film is that we get to see one on one action, frequently isolated, so we can tell what the hell is happening. It still runs long and gets tiresome at the end, but it looks a lot better. The story is more streamlined than any of the other films, so you get a good sense of what the hell is happening most of the time. 

"BumbleBee" will probably continue to be everyone's favorite, but "Mirage" was a robot who I did not want to see destroyed after five minutes, and by the end of the film I sort of liked the relationship that they tried to build through the rest of the film. It is probably a good thing that Michael Bay is producing rather than directing. Steven Caple Jr. seems to know how a movie should look and he tries to keep the story interesting. Like I said, the fight sequences were clearer than in most of the other episodes, but they do go on too long. This would work better if it were a hundred minute movie and the action was selected for story rather than spectacle. At least the jungles offer us a different environment, although futuristic mechanical structures rise out of the ground like instant mashed potatoes, and then become the focus of the fights. 

If you are completist for these films, and want to rank them, I think this one would be the third best. I liked the Mark Wahlberg reference, it was funny, and since the movie is set in the early 90s, it makes a little sense.  The stinger at the end, promoting a different film franchise is not clear, but when your goal is to sell toys, maybe that doesn't matter. I'll bet there are plenty of kids playing with these toys who have told more compelling stories in their backyards. Maybe I should look on YouTube for some of those.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Asteroid City


Somewhere over the last decade, I became a fan of Wes Anderson movies. I have enjoyed them all but not all of them are great. The previous film from the director, "The French Dispatch" is the least interesting of the films for me. It's style is elegantly in line with the visual flair of Anderson, but the content just seemed a little too on the nose for me. It was a movie filled with references to language and the way that we use words was the focus of the film. It did at least have that to hold it together. "Asteroid City" does not have these kinds of ambitions. There is a singular story told through multiple levels that will keep us amused and detached simultaneously,  and for me it worked a lot more effectively because I could not detect a point or theme, i only saw an entertainment. 

Once again, if you are not willing to be presented with artifice being passed off as a story, you should skip this, but if you look at the crystal blue sky and the phony desert horizons in the opening part of the film, and they make you laugh, then you are in the right place. This film cruises on the look Anderson can achieve in the circumstances he and his cowriters have conceived. This is a film, conceived as a play, being described by a documentary about the creation of the story. Every step we take leads down a different path and sometimes, just as you are getting involved with something that is happening on screen, the camera pulls back and we see the story from a completely new perspective, although the attitude and the moods remain the same. 

The film is filled with the usual suspects. Anderson has developed a company of players that he wants to have in his movies and when you see how they fit in, you can't blame him for wanting to keep some consistency. Jeffery Wright returns for what I think is his second Anderson film, and his delivery of General Gibson's speech is perfection. I'd love to have the laminated version that all of the attendees were promised, I think I could read it everyday and still laugh out loud. Jason Schwartzman is back for his seventh film with Anderson, and he has his biggest role since being the star of "Rushmore" back in 1998. He has mastered the deadpan delivery that is a signature of  Anderson's words. Even when he is supposed to be reacting strongly to a moment with co-star Scarlett Johansson, he still manages to keep the reaction dulled down to fit with the character. Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Adrian Brody and Willem Dafoe all show up for repeat appearances in one of these unusual films. Tom Hanks shows up in his maiden voyage on the good ship Anderson, apparently replacing the usual presence of Bill Murray who is surprisingly not in the film. Although he is in the movie for only a couple of seconds, I really want to believe that Jeff Goldblum was in the alien costume, although it is clearly some of the animation that has been used in Anderson's two best films, "Isle of Dogs" and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox". 

I mentioned the production design early on. The black and white sequences are fine, with some effective lighting and clever use of backstage tropes. As usual though, the colorful and cinematically electric visuals in the sequences that are in color are the thing that will hypnotize you. There is a filter on some of the scenes that will make you feel like you are driving through the desert on a summer evening, cruising Route 66 in 1956. There are two or three moments with some blue shading that are subtle but make the actor's eyes pop on screen. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman has done a fantastic job of bouncing between styles, and evoking moods with the lighting of this film. Also, as usual, the production design team should be given all the awards this year for their fake sandstone towers, two lane blacktops and especially the train that opens the film. This movie is just a visual delight. 

The story dances around grief as a subject, but it also touches on authoritarianism, love, music and family. None of the subjects are really the point of the film. This is a bauble, made to look amazing, with a stack of nesting doll type storytelling that reveals one new thing after another. It is not so much emotionally engaging as it is visually and intellectually evolving. Don't get caught up in whatever plot you might pick out, just sit back and watch the circus perform. If we are going to get movies that are all about the spectacle of how they look, this is a nice alternative to the CGI worlds of James Cameron. Both can be breathtaking, but one feels warm while the other simple seems to celebrate technology.  

Thursday, June 22, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: a Boy and his dog

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy

a Boy and his Dog

A dystopian nightmare as a dark comedy, "a Boy and his Dog" has been widely praised and criticized. Based on the novella of Harlan Ellison, This was the second film directed by actor L.Q. Jones, the first being a micro budgeted western 10 years earlier, "The Devil's Bedroom". Good luck finding that film, but "a Boy and his Dog" is available in a beautiful restoration from Shout Factory, and was also released in pan and scan on VHS and Laserdisc, with a later Widescreen Laserdisc Edition as well. 

I saw "a Boy and his Dog" in it's initial release in 1975, when it did not do much business. It did play continuously in repertory houses and by 1982, it had become a cult classic that demanded a second run at theatrical presentation. Jones distributed the movie himself so it played in different areas at different points and he was particular about the theaters that it played in.

The controversy over the film has largely to do with accusations of misogyny because the words of the telepathic dog are dismissive of women, females are seen largely as disposable objects to be taken by force by the men who scavenge the remains of the upper world, and they are treated as factories by the powers of the lower world. It is a science fiction film that is more misanthropic than misogynist, but that requires a perspective that existed in the 1970s. This is not a film that you could make today, it violates too many taboos. 

For those of you not familiar with the story, after WWIV, the surface of the planet is scoured by ravagers who take what they want by force and sustain themselves with leftovers of the previous world. Vic is affiliated with a telepathic dog who aids him in sniffing out danger and food, but for the teen age character Vic, the most important resource the dog can locate is a woman. My understanding is that the widely played video game "Fallout" is based on the concepts of this story. If you are a fan of "mad Max", especially the "road Warrior", you will see much of the foundation of that world in the opening half of this movie. Gangs dominating anyone they find, solo males craftily taking advantage of their own skills to beat others to the punch. It is a brutal world, with very little to recommend it except that Vic has a friend and companion in his dog Blood, who has more intelligence than anyone else in the film, and frankly, more humanity.

L.Q. Jones did a nice job of taking advantage of his main location. Supposedly, the landscape is the remnants of the outskirts of Phoenix after the war, but it is really the high desert of Southern California. The sets are make up of junk that feels like it could be debris from the city. Lean tos are made up of corrugated tin, there are shelters with appliance parts used to make walls or covers for a hole in the ground. In one scene, an overlord with a collection of slaves, is dragged around in a chariot made up of bicycle parts.  Lord Humungus and  Immortan Joe owe a debt to Fellini, the cut rate lord of this wasteland.

Vic falls into a honey trap, set by the underground community of Topeka, a blighted community, trying to survive by rolling back in time and submitting to a fascist regime administered by the elderly survivors . Jason Robards appears in this section as the patriarch of a society that is barren of children and a future. How Vic fits into this plot is one of the big jokes of the movie.  Quilla June, the girl who lures Vic into her underground city, has her own plans. She turns out to be a rebel without a clue and the machinery of the dying civilization is not going to go away simply because she wants it to.

The end of the movie is a notorious joke that is in bad taste and fueled the belief that the screenplay was a misogynist creation. Harlan Ellison's story has a more thoughtful and believe it or not, romantic exit line. L.Q. Jones used a line he and the other screenwriters came up with, and it is the biggest bone of contention that Ellison has with the film. Jones however, understood the audience that this film would be seen by, and he crafted a dark joke to finish off with, rather than the more sentimental commentary on the actual event that finishes the story and remained unchanged from the novella. 

Don Johnson is the star of the film, this is his second feature of the year on this project, and it is also listed on IMDB as coming out after "Return to Macon County". His performance in the gung ho humorous moments of the film, remind me of Kevin Costner in "Silverado" a decade later. He is very good in the movie, but he does get upstaged by the dog, who was one of the best animal performances on screen of the time. The voice characterization of the telepathic canine was supplied by Tim McIntire, an actor who also composed the music for several sections of the movie.

The main tagline of the film is "an R rated , rather kinky tale of survival". It's interesting that the director urged the ratings board to give it an R instead of a PG (this was before PG-13 existed).   It certainly needed to be more closely scrutinized by parents who might think they were going to a family film based on the title. The film is also set in 2024, as the poster proclaims, "a future you'll probably live to see". Well we hopefully will make it to next year, I'm happy to say this fiure is not quite as grim. . 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Paramount Theater Summer Classics Father's Day Double Feature: The Maltese Falcon and the Treasure of the Sierra Madre


The Paramount Theater planned a nice Father's Day for me, of and a couple hundred other lucky dads, by showing two films from the great John Huston. It was actually a Huston Family Weekend because Angelica Huston starred in yesterdays film, "The Royal Tenenbaums. 

I have been lucky enough in my life to see "The Maltese Falcon" on the big screen a number of times. Almost certainly, the first time was a screening at the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena in the early seventies when that theater was a revival house. I'd bet a dollar that it was on a double bill with the same film from today. The one time that I have written about it was from a Fathom Event from 2016

Humphrey Bogart is simply great as Sam Spade. There are so many wonderful moments where he gets to demonstrate what a formidable actor he was. The sly half smile he shows, every time he manages to one up another of the characters is just deviously perfect.. The momentary hand tremor when he feigns outrage as a way to get Gutman off balance was also a nice touch. All the interactions with Mary Astor as the duplicitous  Bridget O'Shaughnessy, come off well, including the famous ending where he promises to wait for her. 

Bogart's part in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is perhaps less subtle but it is certainly a tour de force. Fred C. Dobbs is a figure of pity, a man of action, a self centered loser and a good partner, and that's all before he starts to go made while he is out prospecting for gold. This is another film that I wrote about as a result of a Fathom Event in 2018. As great as he is in "Falcon", and even though I adore that movie slightly more than "Treasure", it is his character in this film that I think might be his best remembered role outside of "Casablanca".  Dobbs is haggard and filthy at the start of the film, and he cleans up nicely a couple times during the story, but ultimately, he returns to the gutter in spite of the riches that come from working with two partners who teach him lessons of humanity that he just can't take to.

Tim Holt as Curtain, and Walter Huston as the grizzled Howard, hold up their ends incredibly well. Walter Huston , indulged by his son the director, steals the picture with his wise, tough and ultimately moral character. His ebullient laugh and dance when they do find gold was a perfect moment in the film before things start turning really dark. His whole "take it as it comes" philosophy is a nice counterpart to the driven intensity of his two partners. None of the men are Saints, they do choose at one point to murder the intruding Bruce Bennett, simply because they foresee accepting his offer of partnership as a power failure.  They are saved from that moral lapse by the intervention of truly evil men. Still Hobb's paranoia gets the better of him, and the moral of the story is sealed.

As usual, my advice is to always see these movies in a theater with an audience. The collective atmosphere and the required focus on the films, will give you a greater appreciation of their talents of the artists than if you watch it on video. 

Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Royal Tenenbaums


When I first saw this movie on it's original release, I have to admit that I did not quite get it. There is a vibe to Wes Anderson's film making style that I was not tuned into. The arch, dry, detached story telling left me less engaged than I thought I should be. I did not dislike the film, I was simply indifferent to it. Flash forward twenty years and I have evolved a bit when it comes to Anderson's style. I have seen more of his films, adjusted to the off kilter approach and I have embraced the absurdity of the production design with enthusiasm.

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is Anderson's most commercially successful film, but it is not my favorite. "Isle of Dogs" the stop motion animated film, was my number one film of it's release year and contains most of the mannerisms that this film has, but it adds more heart to the story, which is where I think "Tenenbaums" shoots for but only partially succeeds at. The film is not meant for us to love the characters, they are all deeply flawed and that is the joke. We do understand them a bit better by the end and we don't wish them ill, but we can also see that they are still problematic human beings. Laughing at Royal's clueless cruelty and self centered behavior was easy, seeing him as a figure of redemption is a little harder but the steps he took seem right in retrospect.

As always there is an impressive cast in a film from Anderson, and the thing that helps me re-evaluate this film more positively is the presence of my favorite actor, Gene Hackman. As the patriarch of the family, Royal is a passively malevolent figure in his children's lives. As the lead character, he is a delightful figure to watch with jaws dropped as he utters the cluelessly cruel comments about his own family. Hackman sells this narcissistic persona flawlessly. His rapid delivery of the lines may finish before we even realize how thoughtless his words are. At this stage in his career, it pleased me to note that I was not put off by those flashbacks where he is made up to look younger. Although the image is imperfect, the acting was spot on.

If I have a reservation about the film, it is that there is a scene that involves the death of an animal. It takes place off screen, and there is some acknowledgement that it is supposed to be in a humorous context. Unlike the same sort of scene in "A Fish Called Wanda", we had a bit of a connection with this dog and that makes the film a little more sensitive for us animal lovers. Maybe this is the reason we got Isle of Dogs", if that's the case than the fiction is worth it.   

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Flash


Warner Bros. and D.C. find themselves in an odd place. They have cracked the nut of making a comic book movie both dramatic and fun, but they have done so with a star who has become problematic and in the middle of a regime change over the plotting of the DC films. With that said, lets get to the artistic issues before we come back to the social and political ones. "The Flash" is a bucket load of fun, it takes advantage of the premise and gives us a brief origin story, while addressing the dangling plot line left over from "the Justice League" (either version).

In the set up of the story, we discover that the Justice League is operating like an international law enforcement agency. Alfred appears to be in charge of coordinating assignments, and Barry Allen and Bruce Wayne, are operating in different cities but cross paths occasionally and their current assignment has them addressing a single crisis on multiple levels. Just as we are getting set up for another round of buildings being destroyed and multiple off screen casualties, the screenwriters, Christina Hodson and Joby Harold, inject a fantastic comic moment in the movie that allows us to relax and enjoy what is coming, instead of sitting in our seats and just anticipating the usual DC Strum and drang. The Flash gets to save a dozen people and a dog, in the most amusing manner that you can imagine. Suddenly, we know it is alright to enjoy the movie.

If there is a reservation about the plot, it comes from the fact that this movie is mimicking some of the multiverse concepts from the MCU. Instead of the quantum realm, we have a time travel variant,  akin to Doctor Strange. but based on physics more than mysticism. There is even a moment when we get some exposition to try to explain how the timelines work, and that they are not all parallel. The spaghetti visualization is both clearer and more entertaining than the walk though that we have had in other movies. Time travel stories are fun, but I frankly can't be bothered trying to learn string theory during a movie. I will let any logical plot holes pass by my eyes for the time being and simply focus on the characters and the story.   

The quirky Barry Allen has an endearing quality, despite also being slightly irritating. There is a great moment when one version of Barry confronts that quality in himself when he has to deal with his alternate version. That moment was worth a chuckle and there are several more where that comes from. Unlike "Back to the Future" which does get some amusing references in this film, Barry is not incapable of interacting with his alternate self, in fact, that relationship forms the spine of the story for us. The two Barry's have a clever brotherly relationship in the film. They are at odds on some things and partners on others. While having the powers switch was a little convoluted, it did give the story a lot of opportunities to have fun with discovering the limitations of The Flash's powers and also the possibilities. Ezra Miller playing both parts simply nails the tone and hits the notes perfectly. His persona is half of the charm of the character (and also the reason that DC/Warners might be in trouble if they have to let him go). 

It's not a spoiler to admit that an alternate Batman is present in this film. Michael Keaton has been prominently featured in the ads, trailers and posters. Keaton's return as Bruce Wayne/Batman is truly welcome because his version allows us to again mix the dramatic with the humorous. Is there a bunch of fan service as a result? Of course there is, but it was all welcome. The Wayne Manor production design was enough to get me cheering, much less the return to the Batcave. I did miss having a trip in the Batmobile as part of the story, but the Batwing gets used well, it has some nice innovations, and there is a great shot that reminds us of the first Batman movie with the moon in the background.  If you have seen "Spider-Man: No Way Home", you will get the idea about the alternate versions of the characters being plugged into the story. The most intriguing plug in being Kara, the cousin of Kal-el (Superman). The Butterfly effect is in operation at every level and that explains in part the absence of some of the Justice League members from the story, and the variations that do appear. 

The Speed Force environment, works a bit like the multiverse in "Quantumania" and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness". We see bits and pieces of other realms, universes, and story lines. One thing that is true in these stories, you are often your own worst enemy and that is the case here as well. How much sense it all makes depends on a more complicated analysis of time travel that I am just not willing to engage in for the moment. It feels in the long run that the writers made the appropriate choices and Director Andy Muschietti, has put it together very efficiently for a film that is almost two and a half hours. 

Back to the marketing problem for just a moment. Ezra Miller is an odd duck, there are things in his life that are strange, bordering on evil and certainly questionable in regard to morality. Miller may also be suffering from some form of mental illness, so it is difficult to say he should be dismissed entirely because of some of his behaviors. It would be hard to imagine going forward with this version of the character without him, he is such a natural fit. On the other hand, the story closes out very conveniently, so there is not a dangling issue that will require another film. This will be a self selected conclusion if James Gunn and the new people in charge decide that the Flash is taking some time off.

I always avoid spoilers, but I will say there are some great moments of fan service that long time DC fans will appreciate. It is also a very good demonstration that the company recognizes that they are not just doing an action movie. We can get plenty of world wide destruction from Transformers or the Fast and the Furious. What brings people to a comic book based movie are the characters, let's pay attention to that from now on.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Death Race 2000

 Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy

Death Race 2000 

In a way, this film itself was a race. The premise is amazingly similar to that of the previously discussed "Rollerball", and it turns out there is a reason for that. The innovative low budget producer Roger Corman had heard about the upcoming film featuring a futuristic society, sated by the bread and circuses of a violent game, and he created his own version of that storyline. The production was rushed to take advantage of the heat that was being generated from advance publicity for "Rollerball", and it beat that film to the marketplace by a couple of months.

We quickly learn that a fascist style bipartisan government has taken over the nation after an economic collapse, and uses an annual cross country road race as a distraction from the totalitarian rule and an appeal to nationalism. Corman wrote the original treatment for the film, but it went through several other hands, as the tone became more often comic in nature. Probably a good choice considering the absurdity of the idea. Five teams of racers dash across the country, from location to location, choosing their own paths and scoring points by running over and killing pedestrians. 

The movie inspired a video game that became quite controversial in the late 1970s, and it is one of the few arcade games I ever played. 


I enjoyed the grave markers whenever the players successfully ran over a pedestrian in this game. 

The low budget of the film is hardly a hindrance, since the design of the cars and the outlandish nature of the drivers and navigators is really where the fun is. I was actually impressed that they took shots of an actual race at Ontario Speedway and integrated it into the opening of the film. The futuristic background matte paintings may but be perfect, but they served their purpose in trying to set the world of this film, twenty-five years into the future. Most of the racing that takes place is in open spaces (largely in the SoCal Foothills), only occasionally making it into urban settings where a chance for scoring would be a lot higher. 

The least convincing part of the film is the rebel group trying to either kidnap or kill the favorite driver, Frankenstein, in order to negotiate with the tyrannical "Mr. President". They dress like a bunch of sanitation workers and set up booby traps across the country in order to achieve their ends. They are led by an old woman who is a descendant of Thomas Paine, and she is just not convincing at all. The traps themselves however are some time amusing, for instance, they use a trick right out of Wile Coyote's playbook, a detour through a painting of a tunnel. 

From a logical point of view, the twist with Frankenstein and the rebel group does not make much sense, but as drama it will do. The real goal of the movie is to get the drive in audiences who would eat this kind of stuff up, to show up and buy a ticket. To that end, there are several gruesome deaths featured and a bucketload of gratuitous  nudity. I'm not sure why a massage room is provided for all of the drivers and their navigators, but it does help get them into nothing but a towel, and that will come off for a catfight or a love making session pretty easily.

David Carradine is the lead actor in the film, and he is most effective behind the wheel of the car he is driving. The mask he wears disguises the fact that he is not as mangled as he appears to be to the world, and when driving with his new partner, he takes off the mask frequently and smirks at her naivete or the plodding efforts of the rebels. Sylvester Stallone made this film right before "Rocky" and he was allowed to shout and chew up the scenery as Frankenstein's main rival, Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. Apparently he was allowed to write some of his own lines, and he wisely is not given credit for doing so, because the character is a one note petulant idiot. 

The cars that were used were not actual racing vehicles but kit cars that were modified to look ominous, and it seems that at times they did not run properly and required a push start to get going. The racing footage is very good in the sense that we can see the whole picture, and the close up and fast cut style that is so prominent nowadays is missing. Instead we get to see the cars jockeying for position, spinning out on the road, crashing into pedestrians and generally looking like the mayhem they are supposed to be. I was impressed by the shots of the road from under the front carriage of the cars, which makes the race look faster and comes closer to putting us in the race than if it was all shot from the driver's perspective. 

Paul Bartel was the director of the film, he was a genre veteran actor who did several low budget films over the years, his most well known film he directed being "Eating Raoul".  He was dissatisfied with the interference of Roger Corman, who seems to have cut several comic moments from the film, to emphasize the violence instead. Still there are great comedy moments in the film, as when Frankenstein options for lower points by going after the Doctors and Nurses setting up Euthanasia day, rather than the easy bonus points of elderly people in wheelchairs. My favorite joke however has to be the "hand grenade" that gets revealed near the end of the film. It is both a pun and a visual joke and I laughed hard at it. 

I know I saw this film when it came out, but I don't think it was at a drive in, rather it was in a theater on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, I just can't say which one it was. This would have been a summer second billed film since the L.A. release was at a bad time for me, and I would have had to catch it in a second run theater. 

In an earlier post I mentioned Siskel and Ebert, and both of them gave this film terrible reviews, this was before they were appearing together on TV. I seem to remember that Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times gave it a pretty solid review, at least for the kind of film it was, and Thomas was always one of my favorite reviewers for the Times.

This movie is complexly ridiculous but also a lot of fun, if you can overlook those things that are the usual points of contention in exploitation fare, you know, the objectification of women, the excessive violence, and the glorification of anti-heroes. It is of it's time, but then again, so am I.   

Monday, June 12, 2023

Robocop Revisit 2023


One of the great films from the 1980s, and my personal favorite from 1987, "Robocop" is a tough, violent, near dystopian satire on capitalism, the justice system, and technology, all in a package that is action filled and funny as hell. If for some reason you have never seen "Robocop", stop reading, go watch it now. Every minute of your life without this film in it already, is a waste. 

The last time I wrote about this movie, it was based on a special presentation of the film in tribute to Miguel Ferrer who had passed just a few weeks before that screening. (Robocop: Miguel Ferrer Remembered With Dr. Peter Weller). That crowd was very enthusiastic as was the audience yesterday at the Paramount Theater in Austin. I will be going to a number of classic films this summer at the Paramount, and if you follow Social Media, you should be able to see the traditional photo I take each time in front of the marquee. I don't have tee shirts for all of the films I will be seeing this summer, but for some of them, I have more choices than are really necessary.

I have spoken about the film multiple times on podcasts and in conversation. The first time I saw the film was in a sneak preview, and the audience reaction sounded like a freight train. The movie is assembled so much more artfully than anyone hearing the title is likely to expect. I am just going to mention a few things for this post, at some point I will include this on my Movies I Want Everyone to See list, and then I will do a real deep dive.

Kurtwood Smith, as Clarence Boddicker, is the kind of villain that every movie fan longs for. He has personality and is sometimes appealing, but in a repellant manner. We want him to keep acting in the outrageous manner he does, but we are also impatient for him to get what is coming to him because he is so loathsome. Smith smirks his bad guy smile through crimes, meetings, murders and everyday social moments. We know from looking at him that he is an asshat, but he is a fascinating one. Ronny Cox is the real big bad of the story, but I will save him for next time.

Dan O'Herlihy, as "The Old Man", the chair of Omni Consumer Products, is not an evil character in this film. In fact, despite some callousness in the face of a demonstration mishap, he really seems concerned about doing something to restore Old Detroit. It was not until the sequel that his indifference is extended to evil subterfuge. His gravitas goes a long way in selling the corporate climate that director Paul Verhoeven  is shooting for. The script even gives him some warmth at the conclusion of the film, and that is the right choice for this particular story. 

I am a big fan of stop motion effects, and I think they look so much more interesting when used the right way, than some of the excessive CGI that you see in movies nowadays. It is strange that something that is so clearly artificial; can feel more real than the computer images that replicate the real world that actors surrounded by green screens are forced to exist in. The legendary Phil Tippet, working with designer Craig Hayes, created the ED 209 sequences in the film. Robocop fighting Ed 209 is the highlight of the technology in the film, but it is the battle with Boddicker's gang that provides the emotional component of the film. 

I return to Robocop at least annually, and having just experienced it, I am ready to do it again. 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Love and Death

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Love and Death  

Years ago, I saw a trailer for a Woody Allen film, it might have been "Stardust Memories", where the voice over complained, "remember when he used to make funny movies?". As a matter of fact I do, and this was the last in his earlier films that were absurdist more than introspective. I have no problems with the later movies, many of them can proudly stand as some of the best films ever made, but there is a clear demarcation point where Woody stopped being a Mel Brooks sort of film maker, and tacked off in a different direction.

The film is sort of a take off on Russian Literature. Much like Mel Brooks did parodies of Westerns and Hitchcock, this film is sort of a parody of Russian novels, particularly those by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, such as The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and War and Peace. There are so many characters and they are intertwined in ways that requires a diagram to make sense of it. Here is a nice example of Allen mocking the absurd convolutions of some Russian Novels, this is a line of dialogue spoken by Jessica Harer late in the film:

"It's a very complicated situation,cousin Sonja.          

I'm in love with Alexei. He loves Alicia. 

Alicia's having an affair with Lev.

Lev loves Tatiana.

Tatiana loves Simkin.

Simkin loves me.

I love Simkin,

but in a different way than Alexei.

Alexei loves Tatiana like a sister.

Tatiana's sister loves Trigorian

like a brother.

Trigorian's brother

is having an affair with my sister, who he likes physically,

but not spiritually.

The exception here is that the names are not nearly as complicated and similar as you might find in some of that literature. That's OK because Woody uses names for characters that are actually in the plot, which are : Anton Inbedkov, Leon Voskovec, Countess Alexandrovna, Boris Grushenko, Vladimir Maximovitch, Old Nehamkin and Young Nehamkin.

In addition to the Russian Literature, European films get a little tweak as well. Ingmar Bergman, one of Allen's heroes, has his visage of Death from the "Seventh Seal", played with well before Bill and Ted got ahold of it. There is alo a clever shot of Diane Keaton and Jessica Harper which replicates an image from persona.

In spite of the serious pretentions of those themes, the movie is closer to slapstick than satire. Allen engages in ridiculous wordplay with other characters, some of which sounds like it came right out of a Daffy Duck/Bugs Bunny cartoon. The training sequence when his character of Boris is being prepared to be in the army, fighting against Napoleon's invasion of Russia, is a series of comic shots that use simple images as gags, like a rifle that falls apart or a bayonet that can't be withdrawn from a practice dummy. This material could easily have come from "Blazing Saddles" or "History of the World Part 1".

Woody gets only a little more serious when he does some verbal comic riffs on the metaphysics of existence and on morality. As a long time instructor in argumentation, I enjoyed his twisted version of the famous Aristotelian Syllogism:


murder... the most foul of all crimes. What would Socrates say? All those Greeks were homosexuals. Boy, they must have had some wild parties. I bet they all took a house together in Crete for the summer. A: Socrates is a man. B: All men are mortal. C: All men are Socrates. That means all men are homosexuals. Heh... I'm not a homosexual. Once, some cossacks whistled at me. I happen to have the kind of body that excites both persuasions. You know, some men are heterosexual and some men are bisexual and some men don't think about sex at all, you know... they become lawyers."

The story does not have to make much sense, it just has to give Allen and Diane Keaton a chance to go wild with the long winded quotes and the shocked double takes that break the fourth wall at times, but then this could easily have been one of Allen's stand up routines from his early days. Add to those amusingly drol moments, the silly puns and visual jokes, like Boris's fathers piece of pand, and you have a great example of someone making a movie to make us laugh rather than to make a point. This may have been the transition between the pointlessness of films like "Bananas" and Sleeper" and the later gems like "Annie Hall" and Hannah and Her Sisters". Both types of films deserve our attention, but for different reasons.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Fathom Events)


I just happened on this screening by looking at the app for one of the Cinema Chains that I have a membership to. I suppose this has been scheduled in anticipation of the upcoming "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny". In essence, we are paying for a commercial that lasts two hours for a movie that opens at the end of the month, frankly I'm OK with that, as was the nearly full auditorium of movie fans I saw this with. 

You can find previous posts on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" here, and here, and also here, and at least one more here. So I am not going to do a deep dive on this post, although there is always something more to see or talk about on a great movie. I just want to cover two quick things as an acknowledgement of my seeing the film again on the big screen.

First up, I want to address the notion, widely promulgated after an episode of  "The Big Bang Theory", that Indiana Jones is really irrelevant to the plot in this, since the Nazis would have found the ark regardless and been destroyed by it, just like what happens in the film. People who believe this are ignoring two big points. First and perhaps most importantly, they would not have found the Ark without Dr. Jones. The whole opening sequence sets up the premise that Rene Belloq is a parasite who claims treasures after Indy find them. 

Dr. Jones. Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away."

This has been a pattern that continues with the search for the Ark. They need Ravenwood's headpiece but don't know where he is and how to contact him. So what do they do? They follow Indiana, who has taken up the task himself. Toht follows Indy to Nepal, follows him to Marion's place, and then follows up Indy's offer to Marion with threats instead. It may not be the best influence on the plot, because he gives away the location of the prize, but it is certainly relevant. 

Second, we learn that the head piece the Nazi team is using is missing key information. Information that allows Indiana to find and take possession of the Ark. Belloq only gets his hands on it because Indy found it first. Repeating their pattern.

 "So once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine."

It is also true that without Indy, the Ark might have remained with the Nazi's . We don't see how it is accomplished but the famous last scene in the film shows the Ark being buried again, this time by the American Government, in a tomb of ephemera and flotsam, contained in nearly identical crates. That does not happen without Dr. Jones and Marion, even if we don't get to see how it was done.

Now, as to a couple of different points, I'd like to give a shout out to a couple of the supporting actors. Ronald Lacey as the despicable Toht, Gestapo tool and torturer, is delightfully fiendish in his role. He oozes menace in Nepal, whines like a wounded animal when he handles the red hot head piece, and nicely plays the visual joke of the coat hanger that looks so menacing in Cairo. His scream in the climactic sequence is also frightfully deserving.

William Hootkins, who plays Major Eaton, from Army Intelligence, is the personification of the old joke that the phrase "Army Intelligence" is an oxymoron. In the first meeting with Jones he comes off as a clueless but inquisitive investigator. In the last segment, he is an officious bureaucrat, whose curt answer of "Top Men" as the team that will be investigating the Ark, is perfect. It is dismissive and condescending and exactly parodies the type of government incompetence that Dr. Jones has to deal with.   

Friday, June 2, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: The Drowning Pool

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Drowning Pool

At one point, I was set to buy this on ebay, believing that Strother Martin was in the film for a second Harper Story. It would have been for my companion blog, "The Strother Martin Film Project". When I looked closer at the credits, I realized that Strother does not appear in this film, so I skipped it and never ended up seeing it until this last weekend. In 1975, I could easily have skipped this simply because I had limited resources or availability. Although there were six screens within walking distance of where I lived, not everything played in my town.

This is a fish out of water story following Lew Harper, a private detective from California, who ends up in Louisiana, trying to help out a woman that he'd had an affair with several years earlier. The plot at first involves blackmail, but as things roll along, there is political corruption, bribery, kidnapping, murder and assorted other felonies that become part of the story. This is a sequel of sorts to "Harper" which did feature the same character that Paul Newman is playing and in which Strother did have a part. Since it was directed by Stuart Rosenberg, who had done "Cool Hand Luke" and "Pocket Money" with Newman and Martin in each, that's why I was confused. 

Newman is a natural at playing an aw shucks, slightly disheveled, low key private investigator. Harper's persona is not unlike that of Jim Rockford from the TV series, they are both wise guys, eager to talk their way out of trouble rather than fight their way out, but willing to sucker punch someone in the right circumstances. Newman is playing against his real life wife Joanne Woodward, as Iris, his ex-flame. Melanie Griffith is an ingenue in the film, and she is in the middle of a busy year here. In 1975 she was previously in "Smile", and  she will appear in "Night Moves" which was released the same month as this. Character actors Richard Jaeckel, Andy Robinson and Paul Koslo also are in the movie, but the most important other character was played by a co-star in the most important film of the year, decade, era and maybe ever. 

Murray Hamilton plays the not very well disguised villain of the piece, J.H. Kilbourne, a wealthy oil baron, aching for the land that belongs to the family that Woodward's character Iris is a member of. There is a secondary villain that you can probably figure out but is much better hidden for the eventual reveal at the end of the film. Hamilton is an oily, self centered kook, with a slightly Cajon accent. His performance is very distinctive from his role as the feckless mayor of Amity in "Jaws". Hamilton worked primarily in television but had an important part in "The Graduate" and then his two biggest parts were the films that came out this year.

The movie is a diverting piece of slow burn southern mystery, that will not compel you to rewatch it but also will not irritate you for taking the time to check it off of your list. The sequence referred to in the title is actually pretty effective and it is all done in camera so it looks really good. Not an essential film from the era, but definitely has the vibe of all those other 70s films that you remember so well.