Monday, July 31, 2023

House of Wax and Theater of Blood Double Feature-Paramount's Summer Classic Films Series


We had started the day with "Disney's Sleeping Beauty", but we finished it with two Vincent Price Horror Classics. A pretty good juxtaposition for a Saturday spent in a movie theater. 


Vincent Price started his career as a horror icon with this 1953 production. Up to this point he had been a reliable secondary character who sometimes got a chance to steal a scene, but this is the film where his melodious voice starts being used for terrifying purposes. If you watch the trailer above, Price gets a small mention. but the thing that was being used to sell this movie was the 3-D presentation. I know that I saw this in 3-D at one point, because I remembered a couple of the obvious gimmicks they included to make the 3-D pop. I had this on my itinerary for the TCM Festival this year, but when we had to cancel our attendance at the last moment because our dog had to have life saving surgery, it went by the wayside, along with all of my other plans and money. 

Fortunately, The Paramount Classic Summer Film Series programmed it for this year. Maybe as a result of Steve, the main programmer having seen it himself at the TCMFF, which he referenced in his introduction of the films. Unfortunately this was not a 3-D screening, but the film doesn't really need that gimmick to work, it is very solid on it's own. Price is Professor Henry Jarrord, a sculptor who works in wax back in NYC around the turn of the 20th Century. He has great artistic pretentions and is a little too enamored by his Marie Antionette. When his business partner tries to murder him in an act of arson, he appears to have survived, but his hands are so injured that he cannot sculpt anymore. How does he compensate? Ah, that is where the mystery comes in.

The plotting is a little old fashioned but it moves along at a solid pace and the actors are interesting enough for us to follow along. Especially delightful is Carolyn Jones who most people will recognize from the 1960s version of the Addams Family. She plays the roommate of the main female lead, a girl who is a little free for the times and ends up like a lot of sexually liberated teens do in modern slashers. Her friend and the main character Sue is played by Phillis Kirk (pretty close to my Mom's Name, they both had SAG cards in the early fifties). The movie plays out as Sue is stalked by a mysterious lurker, and a boy she is romantically involved with, takes a role as sculptor for Jarrod's revived House of Wax. 

There are several grim scenes that might bug sensitive souls, but there is no gore in the film. The Wax figures are interesting but the set up is primitive compared to the way later exhibits would take on the sensational and macabre scenes that draw people in addition to celebrity's figures. Price is just great as a talented but demented figure, driven mad by the loss of his life's work and his talents. You will get a kick over his enthusiastic line readings when he talks about the sculptures as if they are real. He romanticizes his work to the nth degree. 


To the best of my recollection, I saw this while I was in High School. My friend Don Hayes seems to remember going with me, and that is quite possible. I know we saw "The House That Dripped Blood" together and so it's very likely we saw this one as well.  Vincent Price himself thought of this as one of his favorite films, and it is easy to see why. In addition to playing a mad actor wreaking revenge on critics who had maligned him, he gets a chance to quote liberally from the works of Shakespeare and it is a bit like a compilation reel for a stage actor to have when called for. His range is very good.

Like most horror films, it is the kills that the audience is waiting for and the trick here is that Edward Lionheart, the actor Price is playing, uses scenes from the Shakespeare plays he performed in his last repertory season. The film is as much a comedy as it is a horror film, so the gruesome deaths are often accompanied by a quip or two that might have come from either the Bard himself, or a stage critic. Either way, the justice that Lionheart feels he is doling out is poetic as a result. 

The film might very well encourage you to seek out some of the plays featured, because they are not all the best known of Shakespeare's works. One of the critic's continues to be dismissive of Lionheart, even after several murders when he points out that "The Merchant of Venice" has no murder in it, he declares " It's him, all right. Only Lionheart would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare!". Of course others have been doing so for years before and after this film, but it is still a funny line. 

As we encounter the critics, we can begin to see the coarseness of their opinions and the way those words might have a deeper impact than merely being playful metaphors in a review. Although it is one of the more creative murders in the story, the death of Robert Morely's character feels a little sadder because it is not just he who suffers the wrath of Lionheart. I heard several intakes of breath at the screening when audience members suddenly realized what was about to be revealed. It was a cruel moment with a horrifying visual exclamation point, but it is also completely memorable and in keeping with the thrust of the film. 

The band of addicts that make up Lionheart's new troupe of actors are the strangest part of the story, but I am willing to go along with their crazy behavior as long as it makes the film interesting. Diana Rigg plays Edward's loyal daughter and biggest fan. She bounces between scenes as a member of the crazed troupe and as a tech working on films, who provides some exposition for the chief critic that will be the last target of Lionheart. There are several very recognizable actors who play the guest victims if the film, and they also seem to be having some fun. 
Another patron with Amanda's Shirt

Our Usual Pose with the Marquee in the Background

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sleeping Beauty-Paramount's Summer Classic Films Series


In a complete turnaround from the previous night's Rocky Horror extravaganza, the Paramount had this Walt Disney Classic Scheduled, complete with Princess Aurora in the lobby to take pictures with for all the little princesses who came to the screening. Amanda was wearing her Sleeping Beauty dress, but I could not convince her to pose with Aurora. 

Disney's Sleeping Beauty was the last of the strictly hand drawn animation films, other processes using different technologies have followed. It is a fabulous looking movie with vivid colors, detailed backgrounds and  characters with very distinctive features. The three fairies  Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are delightful in their differences, and the color scheme becomes a running joke in the film, which ties them to the vision of the movie as well as the plot. 

In fact, the good fairies are really the main characters in the movie even though there is a love story and a hero. Merryweather is able to change the evil spell that Maleficent, an evil fairy has cast, so that it is sleep rather than death which ensnares the princess. The fairies are the ones who take the princess as an infant and hide her. When they discover that the young man that Briar Rose (Aurora) has fallen in love with, it is they who come to his rescue when he is captured by Maleficent. They give him weapons to fight her and cast spells to assist him. Aurora and Prince Phillip are almost secondary characters to the story of the fairies.

The film uses a score adapted from the Tchaikovsky's ballet "Sleeping Beauty." The music then feels completely familiar. The main theme which becomes the song "Once Upon a Dream" is lovely and very recognizable, even for neophytes of the ballet world. The style of the castles seems to be authentic of mediaeval European eras but my guess is that is was most closely based on the castle that was already at Disneyland and called Sleeping Beauty's castle, even before the film was finished.  

Maleficent is an evil and compelling villain and her look was so effective that when the reimagining of fairy tales fad took over a few years ago, she was a natural. I did not really think it was needed, and I am happy with this iteration of her character. The animals in the film are well used, including three birds who reflect the colors of the good fairies and the raven which is Maleficent's familiar. The two kings are great contrasts visually, one being stout and the other quite lean. 

Just as an aside, this is one of the most beautiful LaserDisc packages of a movie. 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Paramount's Summer Classic Films Series


I would like, ...if I may.

The greatest cult movie of all time was featured in the Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theater in Austin last night. The theater was packed with over 900 unconventional conventioneers. 

I wrote about this film back in February on my Throwback Thursdays 1975 Project. You can click here for that post.  

It may have been almost forty years since I saw this in a theater with an enthusiastic crowd. Thank goodness for this opportunity, because I'm not sure I will ever make it to a midnight screening again. Last night's show was at 9 pm, and I don't think waiting another three hours would have made the crowd any less raucous. 

Almost a third of the crowd had some kind of costuming. Some were quite elaborate and accurate to the screen characters, others just went with the spirit of the film without trying to do literal cosplay. I myself has a medical coat, I could just not bring myself to only wearing my underwear underneath. I think I spared the rest of the audience some trauma as a result. 

The Paramount is an older Movie Palace, so in deference to maintaining her condition, many of the props I remember from my days of Midnight screenings were missing. No Cards, Toast, Rice, Squirt Guns were present, and I did not see a Janet Umbrella, although it would be fine to use those. Maybe the fact that no one reads newspapers is the explanation for that. 

Many of the call backs, shout outs and interjections that were from my days, were still being used. Brad is still an Asshole, Janet is a Slut and Rocky Responds "What!" at several points. There were new comments being shouted as well, and a few audience members were over doing it because they insisted that everything have a commentary. That might have been a little irritating if not for the fact that the audience also joyfully sang along with most of the songs. The biggest response was of course when Tim Curry descends in the elevator for his big reveal, the audience response go even wilder.

It was so much fun being out with fans who really want to get into the experience.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Report to the Commisioner

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.

Report to the Commissioner  

One of the lost gems of 1975 is this gritty police thriller that draws us once again into the mean streets of NYC in the seventies. Much like "Serpico" which came out two years earlier, it follows a rookie police detective as he ends up over his head with official corruption and nasty criminals which are hard to sort out. It is hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys sometimes, because the cops can get just as violent as the crooks. There is also a heavy pall of racism hanging over the detective squad that our young protagonist is assigned to. 

It's tough enough being the new guy in any situation, school, a party, or the workplace. When you don't fit in physically or culturally, the inside group looks at you with suspicion and mistrust, and that is the scenario that faces Bo Lockley, played by Michael Moriarty. Moriarty was an interesting actor who is still working but has moved to material that is far from the quality work he did early in his career. He has a baby face and a mild voice, which makes him perfect for the naive and idealistic Detective Lockley. The sincerity of the character is what ends up bringing on the major dramatic points of the film.

Just a quick, synopsis as we get going. Detective Supervisor Hanson and Captain D'Angelo, authorize a questionable undercover operation featuring a pretty young policewoman. Bo Lockley is unwittingly used as cover for her identity, but his dogged pursuit of his assignment, runs afoul of the operation. Hanson is played by character actor Michael McGuire, who will come up in a post on "Hard Times" later this year. D'Angelo is played by the great Hector Elizondo. The year before, he had played the  arrogant pain in the ass who may be so  mad they threw him out of the Mafia Mr. Grey, in "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3". D'Angelo is politically adept but soulless and it is his arrogance that leads to the complicated resolution of the storyline. 

The film is filled with actors that you will know and others you will recognize. Yappet Kotto is in another NY Detective Squad, and he plays Bo's training officer/partner. Dana Eclar , who you may recognize from "The Sting" and Vic Tayback, play Kotto and Moriarty's superiors. William Devane shows up late in the movie to play a slick,sympathetic, but sinister district attorney, Sonny Grosso, the real life detective that Roy Scheider's character is based on in "The French Connection", plays another detective, naturally. Richard Gere makes his film debut as that most elusive creature, the white pimp.

Susan Blakely, who had a bit part in "Shampoo" and was about to become a TV Icon in "Rich Man, Poor Man", is the doomed undercover detective, who was the women no one could believe was a cop, and sent hundreds of pushers to prison. Her crusading ingenue has a pretty broad range of what is acceptable undercover work. The fact that she is dedicated to staying undercover is one of the complications that the film features as part of the story.

I saw this movie originally, at the El Rey Theater in Alhambra (a location that no longer exists). I went with my best friend Art, who worked for the Edwards Movie chain and got us in for free. I think I paid to see the movie again a couple of weeks later. Or, it may have been a second feature with some other film I saw, and fifty years later I just don't remember.

The two scenes that I do remember vividly were very different from one another. Bob Balaban, plays Joey, a Vietnam War veteran, injured mentally and physically. Bo becomes a bit of a friend of his by returning the roller sled he uses to push himself around the streets on, having lost the lower portions of his legs. Years later, I saw Eddie Murphy riffing on a character like this in "Trading Places". Anyway, Joey tries to follow Blakley's character for Bo, while Bo is having trouble finding a functioning payphone. The sequence I remember is him rolling through the traffic of NYC and holding onto the bumper of a Taxi, so he could keep up with the subjects he is following. It was a pretty harrowing chase, and very different from the usual car chases you get in movies.

The other memorable sequence is the climax of the film, when Bo and "Stick", the pusher/arms dealer that the woman detective was ingratiating herself with, get trapped in an Elevator at Saks 5th Ave, and basically have a Mexican Standoff with each other in a claustrophobic environment. Cop and crook are faced with bad choices and the characters do a little philosophizing while there.

The film is filled with the casual racism of the era, and Yappet Kotto expresses some of the dissonance that he has to accept in order to fit in with his fellow cops. Moriarty is basically playing a hippie type and that also is a source of the alienation he seems to have, even from his own father, for whom he really joined the force for. The squad rooms, decaying lofts, marquees of the Times Square Theaters, all give this film an aura of the times. It is gritty, dangerous and exciting all at once. Bo gets swallowed up in it, just as his partner predicted, and some of the higher ups try to take advantage of that. 

Formatting the story as a series of flashbacks, usually punctuating some narration from "The Report", the film feels fresh in contrast to some of the other movies of the time. Director Milton Katselas was a respected acting coach and teacher at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. "Butterfly's are Free" is probably the best know of the few films he directed. 

Although the report that is submitted, finally clears things up, this is another one of those 1970s films with a downer ending. "Chinatown", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Electra Glide in Blue" and a dozen others, all follow the trend of the time, and this picture does as well. In this case, the ending is earned, but that doesn't make it any less despairing. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) Paramount's Summer Classic Films Series


The Video clip above was shared with us on Saturday Night by Director Robert Rodriguez. He has been hosting a set of five films during the Paramount Classic Film Series, and he was there to share some enthusiasm about this movie. As he explained it, he picked films to talk about because he'd had a chance to meet the film makers responsible for these movies that he loved. Miller was a guest on a talk show that Rodriguez hosts called "The Director's Chair". It was a visit by miller to SXSW a few years ago that gave Rodriguez a chance to sit down with Miller and talk about this film. I have included a video of that interview below.

The few minutes that our host spent talking with us about this film was plenty to get everyone stoked to see "The Road Warrior" as it was known in the States. I first saw this film in 1982, during one of the great cinema summers of all time. I had not seen the original "Mad Max" at that point, so the marketing of the film to an audience as if it were a stand alone feature seems to have worked, since the U.S. was the one territory that "mad Max" was not a big hit in. Rodriguez attributes the failure to the version that played in the states which had a dreadful dubbing, supposedly because we Americans would have a hard time making out the Australian dialect. There was very little chance for that to be a problem with this movie, which is told so visually, you could just about forgo the dialogue.

A dystopian story of survival, where fuel is the most precious resource and gangs of marauders kill and destroy their way across the countryside seeking it, "the Road Warrior " feels like a samurai movie, with a lone outcast coming to the rescue of a town of innocents besieged by the desert pirates. This movie is full of inventive moments and ideas. The Gyro Captain is an antagonist at first, and then an ally. The very idea of the mini-helicopter in this setting was really creative. Max has a symbiotic relationship with a dog that is paralleled by the Gyro Capitan and his snake. Of course the dog is a lot more appealing, and when he exits the story (off screen thankfully) the audience responds sympathetically. 

The film is forty years old but I still want to avoid spoilers if any of you have not seen it yet. I do need to say that the twist in the plot to escape at the end was very effective, and another one of those inventive elements that make this movie rise to a level far above the other exploitation material that it could be compared to from the era. In addition to the clever plot moments, the film has some of the greatest car stunts you are likely to encounter. They were done in camera, on set, not in a computer while someone was working from home. The video clip above hints at the dangerous nature of the stunts, but the real breathtaking moments are in the film. Cars levitate due to explosions. Bodies are thrown spinning through the air because of collisions, and jump scares pop out at 70 miles an hour. 

The climax of the film is a long chase sequence that is deservedly legendary. Mel Gibson is the stoic hero who drives a tanker seemingly filled with the black gold. as it is pursued by a horde of ruffians that are so distinctive, as to have been copied by a dozen other dystopian movies ever since. The whole chase is accentuated by a propulsive score from Australian composer Brian May. In an aside to the audience, Robert Rodriguez advised us not to listen to it when we are behind the wheel of a car, it might propel us to hit the accelerator inappropriately. 

I can rewatch this movie endlessly, it works so well and never feels like it gives you a moment to breathe, even though there are some interludes where there is no action taking place. The poster you see here, was one of two that I helped my friend Dan Hasegawa mount so he could display them in his office at Cal State Fullerton while he was in grad school. I never owned a copy of it and frankly that is to my shame because it is really spectacular. [The other Poster was for "Red Dawn" which I also wish I had.]

Max is an anti-hero in the traditional sense of the word. He does things that are heroic, but he does them for his own reasons, never out of a sense of altruism. One of the points that this movie makes is that such a world view is likely to be the end of civilization, so we ought to give a damn about something, even if it is cool on screen to be a little nihilistic. 

Rodriguez displaying a gift he received from Road Warrior Director George Miller. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Mary Poppins Paramount's Summer Classic Films Series


There is nothing so wonderful as embracing an old friend that you have not seen for years, and discovering all over again, why you loved them in the first place. There were two screenings at the Paramount Theater yesterday, and no it was not a double feature. In the evening we were seeing "The Road Warrior" but first up, we went downtown early so we could enjoy "Mary Poppins" on the big screen. It was an absolute delight and a good tonic to help overcome the dreck that is "Barbie". While  both "Mary Poppins" and "Barbie" are fantasy films, one is a delivery system for a ambiguously described political point of view, and the other is an entertainment who has as it's purpose bringing people together instead of driving them apart. 

I never read any of the Poppins books, so other than the references made in the film "Saving Mr. Banks", I can't speak to the fidelity of Walt Disney's film to the source material. I can say that Julie Andrews' interpretation is not all sweetness and light, in spite of the clip of her duetting with a bird perched on her finger. She may not be the hard as nails character that appears in the original stories, but she still has a stern visage at times, that said, it does alter in the right circumstances.  This may account for why she won the Academy Award for this picture, that and of course her musical talents.

The structure of the film does tend to be very episodic, moving from one musical number to the next. The numbers however do advance the storyline indirectly and lead us to the final evolution of Mr. Banks as a more engaged and attentive father. I was impressed by all of the performers but I was surprised by how well Michael Tomlinson stands up next to the two leads. He has a strong voice and his exuberance in the closing number is the satisfying exclamation point that this film is looking for. 

 You might think that some of the old style special effects and humorous moments would fall flat with today's audiences and children. We are supposedly more evolved now than we were almost sixty years ago. I however, heard laughter repeatedly, in the right spots, and the audience was eating up some of the funny lines in the script. This was not a jade group getting hipster joy out of nostalgia. This was an audience of families who were sharing something that they could each relate to in the same way.  The three year old in front of us was having his first visit to a movie theater, and except for moving onto his Mom's lap in the last hour of the film, was quite taken with what he was seeing. As was I. 

The film looks wonderful and the long animated sequence was delightful. Even though Dick Van Dyke is hamming it up at times, it was all in the way of entertaining us, not in showing off. When as Mr. Dawes Senior, he pratfalls slightly with his cane and steps, everyone knew it was meant to be funny and responded in a manner befitting the moment, we all laughed together. Maybe part of the joy I felt was because there was nothing divisive about what we were seeing. This film made me want to revisit the sequel that came out just a few years ago, which I enjoyed immensely. It is a happy thing when a film prompts you to stick with a character, way too often, that is a mistake, but in this case, Mary Poppins is timeless. 

Saturday, July 22, 2023



It does not matter how much money this movie makes, it is a swing and a miss for me. There was a dullness to the film that is almost incomprehensible given the attention to production design and the Barbie mythology. How could it miss, the casting seemed perfect, the look was accurate for the subject, where did this fail? The answer is the script and the tone that director writer Greta Gerwig and her partner Noah Baumbach have taken with the characters. They have failed the fans of Barbie the toy, fans of musicals, and probably even the fans looking for social political commentary. This movie is a slog that should move along like a pop ditty, and instead it drones on like a folk song that has an unironic theme. It just sits there wanting to be loved, but doing nothing to earn that love.

Let's start with  some premises that create problems in the first place. Margo Robbie's Barbie is supposed to be stereotypical Barbie.  She is surrounded by other Barbies that have the detail and backgrounds created to make the doll more diverse and play worthy to young girls. That the stereotypical Barbie has no job (not even fashion model) is ok, if that is the only way she was ever played with. We learn who it was that was playing with her later in the story, and that person is not lacking imagination, even if she is not as ambitious as she thinks the culture wants her to be. She is the real stereotype and the one that betrays the intent of the film makers to make social commentary. So the seed is planted that it is the actions of the kids in the real world that dictates the actions in Barbie Land, but that does not work if the real world critique is to be believed, because the rest of the Barbie's all reflect the toy company image of the doll, and we have no idea why they would stick to those roles f the society is as oppressive as is suggested. 

Maybe the goal was to be transgressive by suggesting that the imaginary world of Barbie, is designed to placate the girls in the real world so a patriarchy can continue to wield power undisturbed. That might be an interesting way to take the story, but it is not reflected in the Barbieworld. The connection between the two universes does not work in this film. It is also strange that each universe is aware of the other, without having anything more than one previous crossover that gets referenced only briefly.  It is apparently no secret to the real world or the Barbie world as to how you get from one to the other. It is a cute little visual transition, but not an obstacle, so why is there limited contact?  If I were trying to fix this  in the script, maybe the best way would be to use the "Lego Movie" strategy and turn the whole thing into playtime, and we see that the events happening in the Barbie world are a result of changing behavior by those playing with the toys. This script goes only partway on that, and then sets off on a different path.

The whole plotline with Ken is nothing more than a tool to introduce a social commentary into the Barbie Universe, in a way that makes no sense. The existential crisis faced by both Barbie and Ken has to do with their relationship, but that gets shunted aside for some jokes about the patriarchy that might have seemed relevant in 1980, but apparently Gerwig and Baumbach never saw "9 to 5". The excerpts from academic tracts concerning women's roles and men's defining themselves only by their status in contrast to women, sounded silly coming from the mouths of the characters in this film. It was gibberish at times and while there may be a place for such a discussion, this cartoon of a movie isn't it. Those issues seem silly in this context. 

Having got the look of the film right, the creators stopped trying to make it entertaining and instead tried to make it relevant and insightful. They failed on both of those points, and at the expense of what should have been some joyful moments.  There are two dance sequences in the film which are elaborately choregraphed and performed with complete skill, but instead of being awed by the light hearted moment, I felt exhausted by the tone of the film. Every time I wanted to embrace to movie and jubilantly bath in the elaborate moment, I could feel a hand pushing back, seeming to suggest that my impulses were wrong given what the movie wants to say to us. When Ryan Gosling danced through a fantasy in "La La Land", it was improbable in setting but easy to accept because the film makers on that project wanted us to give into our suspension of disbelief. Here, when Gosling has his big number, I felt like I was being put through the paces, and the tune and lyrics are so forgettable that the moment passes without any impact.  

Look, I laughed a couple of times, but when the off screen narrator is the best thing in the movie, there is something wrong. This meta takedown of  consumerism, sex roles and what should be joyous, is just a drag. I thought "Oppenheimer" was long, but at least I felt that way in part because it was three hours. This film is not quite two hours but it felt so much longer. If you want to see what this film could have been, go back to 2001 and watch "Josie and the Pussycats". If you want to know how to make a social point and still have fun, watch "The Lego Movie". If you want a valuable lesson about growing up and the role of play time and heartbreak, watch "Toy Story 2 or 3". [Notice I have left a certain actor out of the discussion entirely, the less said the better]

This movie feels like a SNL sketch that would have been mildly funny for three minutes. SNL would have smothered it by letting it run for ten minutes, but Gerwig and Baumbach not only put a pillow over it's face, they do a jig on the grave site, and still don't have any fun. I was not anticipating this movie as much as some other film fans were, but I did hope that it would be fun. Apparently "Good Entertainment" is sold separately. 

Friday, July 21, 2023



When a Christopher Nolan film opens, you can count on a fan base to show up, regardless of the subject matter. Nolan has established himself as the preeminent film director of the last fifteen years. Ever since "The Dark Knight", film fans have looked forward to a film with his name attached, regardless of the acting talent involved.  His technical excellence, commitment to film and theatrical presentation and his intricately plotted films have given him a reputation deserving of respect. That said, there is such a thing as overhyping a film, and that is exactly the defect that I had with this movie. 

“OPPENHEIMER. The best, most important film of this century. If you see one film in cinemas this year it should be Oppenheimer. I’m not a Nolan groupie but this one blows the doors off the hinges,” wrote Paul Schrader. This sort of statement will raise expectations beyond reason, and should be a flag that the writer has an agenda in his praise. My guess is that the subject of the first Atomic Bomb and the impact that achievement had on subsequent weapons development, is what generates this type of enthusiasm. Look, no advocates a nuclear war. Everyone recognizes the dangers to the planet should such an event occur. This has not been a secret for the last  78 years. So a movie that warns us of those dangers, is not groundbreaking, and how important it is depends a great deal on what issues matter to you personally. Writer/Director Paul Schrader has tipped his hand at what he sees as critical, I don't know that the film lives up to that standard. 

None of the reservations I have expressed so far are intended to suggest the movie is unworthy, quite the contrary, it is an excellent historical biography about a misunderstood giant of science from the last century. You should certainly go and see it, just tame your ambitions for the film to a practical level and focus on the film making and story telling. The people who are writing about how gut punched they were by this movie, must not have seen a Cold War Thriller in the last fifty years. "Nuclear War=Bad" , got it.

Nolan's films are famous for the use of time manipulation to tell the story. In this film, there is the smallest amount of that approach in any of his films since "Insomnia". There are black and white segments that distinguish timelines in the story from the vivid color sequences, but it is more a technique for indicating flashbacks and flash forwards than it is for advancing the plot. The plot of the movie is basically the rise and fall of Robert Oppenheimer. This is surely a valid project because Oppenheimer was indeed a critical figure in science and the key figure of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. His complex life lead to his successes and ultimate embarrassment in being denied an extension of his security clearance, in spite of his service in creating the bomb. 

The first third of the film is a long recap of his academic and personal quagmires. Many of the incidents are relevant to later criticism of him, but as a film subject, they feel like they are slowing our progress to the subject of the Manhattan Project itself. As a biography, these segments are acceptable, but the film is sold in part as a thriller concerning the development of the weapon, and that part of the story takes a long time to arrive on screen. The time at Los Alamos is the most effective  act in the film. This is where Nolan's expertise with visuals seems key to the movies success. Seeing the film in the large screen IMAX format with the XD enhancements, made the audience feel like they were there with the other observers at Trinity. The sound design is outstanding and the visual largely eschew CGI in favor of more practical effects.

Other than the weapon itself, the two hearings  that bracket the story, provide the fireworks for the plot. Lewis Strauss, from the Atomic Energy Commission, becomes an antagonist to Oppenheimer, and his plotting to deny the security clearance produces blowback several years later in his own hearings when nominated to be in Eisenhower's Cabinet. It is the crossing of these two men's paths that sustains the film since we largely are familiar with the bombs results. The drama surrounding Oppenheimer takes place in the early fifties and the Strauss confirmation hearings were in the late part of the decade. 

Cillian Murphy is Oppenheimer personified, with his thin and tall build he is a physical match for the scientist. The makeup team does a terrific job helping him play a character that moves across thirty years of time. His youthful gaunt looks in the early years are echoed by a more skeletal visage in his later life. Murphy has a way of speaking that sounds authoritative, cocky, and inquisitive. The one time that it is suggested that Oppenheimer was showing off was when he demeans Strauss's reservations about sharing isotopes with a friendly country. Otherwise, Murphy plays him as respectful of other physicists and intellectuals, although in private he could be dismissive. The personal moments are the least clear in the film. He has a passionate affair with Jean Tatlock, played by Florence Pugh, but other than their physical connection, it was had to see how these two triggered one another. Oppenheimer's wife is played by Emily Blunt, and she is seen as a fragile woman with deep problems, but one who is fiercely committed to her husband and his legacy. Her best scenes are in the hearings where she listens to derogatory information about her husband and she looks like she wants to stab the people testifying, without having to move.  

The cast is packed, and I won't take time to salute everyone who probably deserves it, but there are two other performances that stand out. Matt Damon, in a second film this year (Air being the first) is terrific as Leslie Groves, the military commander in charge of the project. He has to be persuasive, belligerent, patient and intelligent in a lot of sequences in the film, and he nails it every time. If I were taking bets on the Academy Awards for the year, I'd put a large wager down on Robert Downey Jr. for supporting actor. I literally did not recognize him in the film, I did not even know he was in it until the credits rolled. As Lewis Strauss, he is venal, powerful and ridged in his persona. The conniving scheme may be an exaggeration of the real events, but Downey Jr. sells us on Strauss as a villain, at least in regard to his dealings with Oppenheimer. Nolan as writer/director and Downy combine to make an accomplished man with insecurity issues, feel like a vindictive bureaucrat with petty personal animus toward Oppenheimer. 

So the film is overlong, over praised, but still a great achievement. Like his other films, especially "Interstellar" and "Inception", Nolan is showing off his intellectual credentials a bit, but it would not be undeserved. He has clearly put in the work to understand the basic physics of the atomic process, as well as the political landscape of Washington D.C. . The movie could have been as compelling as "Dunkirk" was, if we had a little more story devoted to the competition with the Nazi group that the Manhattan Project was trying to catch up to and beat, instead of the personal drama that does not feel very clear in the long run. The technical details, production design and performances compensate a bit for the flagging story, but if you have a realistic expectation of the film, you will enjoy it a lot more. 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Dog Day Afternoon

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.

Dog Day Afternoon

We are just over halfway thru this series, and although I have covered a lot of interesting pictures, the ones most likely to be recalled by audiences have stacked up a bit in the queue. That logjam of high quality, award worthy, box office successes, is about to be broken. "Dog Day Afternoon" is one of those films from the 70s that everyone knows, admires and it came out in 1975. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including, Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and it won for Original Screenplay. This is the first of the nominated films to be covered on the project, but we will certainly be getting to the others.

The Director, Sidney Lumet, is an icon of the film world. His gritty New York stories filled theater screens in the early 70s, and he made films that actors lionize, like "12 Angry Men", "Fail Safe", "the Pawnbroker" and "The Verdict". It is amazing that he was never awarded a competitive Oscar in his career, but thankfully, the Academy provided him an Honorary Award for his body of work. I would say that this film was probably the best of his career, although "The Verdict" might make a run at that title. The fact that the film is set in a Brooklyn neighborhood, on a hot summer day, makes it a perfect medium for Lumet. He has a knack for filming gritty environments and plugging the story into those places which served those stories so well.

Before any of the main characters are introduced, we are shown a variety of quick moments of people walking on the sidewalks, working in the sweltering heat, trying to cool off in a park, and just generally surviving the day. Our two bank robbers, Sonny and Sal, are doing the same thing, but their venue is a bank and the activity is illicit. The world is tough enough when things go wrong, but when you add the oppressive heat and the tension from an illegal activity with the threat of violence, looming over everything, that's when you get a film like this from Lumet. This is not a precision heist, timed out with meticulous planning, this is a poorly thought out act of desperation, by two men who are in over their heads. 

One of the ways that the film feels so natural is the way the characters inside the bank act. Sonny is bellicose to try and gain control, but he is also thoughtful of the employees in spite of his threats. Al Pacino may have had his best role with the character of Sonny, who is conflicted about his actions, motivated by very different pressures and coping with braggadocio at times. In the scenes where he is talking with his lover, there is an odd tenderness but also frustration and his temper is barely contained. When he gets on the phone with the mother of his two kids, he loses all composure and explodes. This is a character that allows an actor to show his range and not be accused of grandstanding. Pacino takes the part and owns every moment on screen.

The supporting cast is equally up to the challenge. The lead bank teller is marvelous, the pizza delivery guy is just right. The manager of the bank is neither craven or heroic, he is just trying to do what will keep his employees safe and get the experience over as fast as possible. Carol Kane plays one of the "girls" who is a teller in the bank, this same year she was an Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress, so she was having a career year. Charles Durning, who has made a ton of films better over the years, adds another fine performance to his body of 1970s films that include: "The Hindenburg", "The Sting", "Sisters", "Twilight's Last Gleaming" and "The Muppet Movie". Also in the cast is future vampire and prince, Chris Sarandon, and Lance Hendrickson who will make a lot of bad movies over the years but also a lot of great ones. James Broderick, who plays a warm hearted father in the TV show "Family", is a steely eyed, manipulative FBI agent in this movie.

I certainly do not want to forget to mention the late great John Cazale who plays Sal, Sonny's partner in crime. Cazale famously only made five movies, and all of those films were nominated for Best Picture. I tried to watch this film on a streaming platform, but I decided to buy a Blu Ray because I could not believe I did not have this movie in my collection. The Blu ray package I bought includes the wonderful documentary "I Knew it was You", about the career of Cazale. Sal is a sad sack introvert, who Sonny brings to the robbery as a menacing wing man.   The actor gives him a pathos in spite of his job as intimidator. You can understand the Stockholm Syndrome identification that the hostages have with Sal because of Cazale's gentle eyes and subdued voice. 

Whenever someone levels a criticism at a movie plotline, suggesting that it is improbable enough to reject as realistic, they should be reminded of this film, which was based on a real incident with real people, in the same scenario. The dramatic license the film takes is with the characters, but not with the plot, which takes a turn that uniformed audiences would not see coming. 

This is one of the true classics of 70s American Cinema, and it came out in 1975. It is arguably Pacino's best performance, Lumet's best film and has an ensemble cast that can match up with any film of the era. There are a lot of films that I covered on this project so far, that are not memorable. This is not one of those, it is a film that stands the test of time and can be rewatched on a regular basis if you ever want to feel like you were living in NYC in the seventies. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

No Hard Feelings


Do you remember when comedies used to come out on a regular basis and they were funny?  Somewhere in the last ten years, people seem to have lost their sense of humor. Comedy films got released, ignored and then disappeared, and as a result, there are far fewer of them. Nowadays, the comedy has to be mashed up with horror, action, romance, to get to the big screen. The last straight up comedy that I saw was "Good Boys" from 2019. Don't get me wrong, I love me some "Stuber", or "Sisu", or "Renfield", but they all bring you in on a different vibe. This movie is a throwback to films like "I Love You Man" or "Role Models". The goal is to tickle your funny bone and break your heart, with a little lesson included. The mayhem is of the everyday variety, no hatchets to the head or super heroes. 

"No Hard Feelings" aspires to be "The Hangover" or "Bridesmaids" and it almost succeeds. There is enough here however to recommend it, and you will definitely laugh out load at a couple of sequences. Does it get the mix of raunchy, sentimental and outrageousness perfect, no. It is the best thing this side of the Farrelly Brothers you are likely to see this year, and you have star and producer Jennifer Lawrence to thank for that. 

As is often the case in a comedy, our protagonist is not an entirely sympathetic character.  Maddie Barker is a self centered underachiever, living in the house she inherited from her mother, and struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising property taxes due to the influx of wealthy summer people driving up land values in her Montauk Beach community. Lawrence plays her as a mean girl with a bitter tongue but one who can also sweet talk her way out of some things, but not everything. Maddie drinks too much, is promiscuous, and indifferent to the feelings of some of the people she comes into contact with. The premise of the film is far fetched, but it is supposedly based on a real Craigslist ad. Maddie has lost her car, the main source of her income as an Uber driver. She sees an ad that offers a car in exchange for giving an introverted high school graduate, the "girlfriend" experience. Desperate times call for desperate measures and this early 30s party girl decides to take up the offer to make a man out of a 19 year old college bound innocent.   

In spite of the extreme unlikelihood of the premise, the follow through is very entertaining. Andrew Barth Feldman as Percy Becker, has the right geek quality that confirms him as an outsider, but not necessarily a loser. The idea that exposure to, and a sexual relationship with, the older woman might help bring him out of his shell seems conceivable. The humor comes from the awkwardness of the situation, the inevitable subterfuge from passing Maddie off as a woman attracted to Percy and not as an employee of his helicopter parents, and the fact that Maddie defies conventions that Percy has learned to accept or impose on himself. 

The boldest scene in the movie involves Maddie convincing Percy to go skinny dipping with her in the ocean, and then having some teenagers bully them by taking their clothes. They have no idea what they are in for. Maddie shamelessly comes out of the water and engages them in a fistfight, completely nude, but fearless. Lawrence does not shy away from the demands of the scene and she plays Maddie exactly they way we would expect of this ballsy woman with a lot to lose if things go wrong. Seth Macfarlane will have a lot to add to his actress shaming song if he ever hosts the Academy Awards again. 

Maddie is the butt of a lot of cracks about her age, which at 32 does not seem old to me, but to the college bound kids at the Princeton mixer, it is like she was born in another century...oh wait, she was. The humor in this party scene includes referencing the Gen Z obsession with recoding every little thing, and then using it to create a cancel culture. I about bust a gut when the virtue signaling parents at the party get incensed at a joke they consider inappropriate. The juxtaposition of generations in the scene was way too on the nose for comfort.

Like all real stories, there need to be high points and low points in the relationship between the characters. We can see trouble coming when Percy is more enamored of Maddie than she is comfortable with. He breaks through her hard shell with a sweet musical moment, that she smothers as quickly as she can. Of course there will also be crossed wires, unintended over heard conversations, and personal revelations that make the story more interesting and engaging, even if we see most of it coming.  Director and co screen writer Gene Stupnitsky, who also made "good Boys", has all the ingredients of a great comedy, but somewhere in the process, it just does not jell as well as it should. Maybe it's a timing issue or the tone switches need a little more  percolating, but it just misses working all of the time.

Don't worry though, it works enough to make it worth a visit. I laughed out loud several times and I did understand the sweetness that underlies the raunchy. Jennifer Lawrence is very good and carries off the funny quite well. Matthew Broderick plays Percy's overprotective and indulgent father, and it seems completely appropriate, since forty years ago, he would have been playing Percy himself. There are amusing side characters with strings of plotline that are not particularly important, but they add to the film to make it more rounded. Frankly, the line about "Jaws" would have been enough for me to recommend the film, even if if fall just short of being great. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

National Lampoon's Vacation (Fathom Event)


I was sure I had a post on this film, but when I looked for it, it was not showing up in the search. Then I remembered by project from two years ago, "80s Nostalgia Central" and it came back to me that this is where my post was located. 

It was only two years ago, and there is not a lot to add to my thoughts at the time. "National Lampoon's Vacation " continues to be a raucous, politically incorrect, entertaining experience. Once again. I'd forgotten how many f*#@ bombs are dropped during the film and the number of brief nude scenes is double what I remembered. What I did remember however is how funny the movie is and how easy it was for me to related to it.

Yesterday, the theater was about half full for a 4 pm screening. Leonard Maltin is doing the intros for the Fathom Classic Movie Series now, since TCM has pulled out of the co-sponsorship. He did a nice job talking about the film and it's legacy, three sequels and a reboot. The best indicator however, that the movie should be revisited on a regular basis (and not just on the occasional anniversary/this was the 40th), was the laughter heard during the film. Everyone was enjoying it. It's nice to have that communal experience on a summer afternoon. 

To get more discussion of the film itself you can click on the above links or right HERE

Friday, July 14, 2023

Sound of Freedom


If you want to have nightmares, this is a movie to give them to you. Not because some CGI monster is going to show up, but because this is a depiction of real world monsters. They attack and take people everyday around the world, and they hide in shadows protected by digital anonymity and public indifference. This film is well made, compelling and will certainly stick to your brain, but it is not just an entertainment to be dismissed. This is a message film, more compelling than most documentaries because it uses a thriller narrative to pull you in and engage you. There are a couple of places where you will get some narrative exposition, but the film makers play this honestly, and then at the end of the film make their pitch, one that is very effective.

Let's start with a bareboned explanation of the plot. A Homeland Security Agent, investigating international child pornography, gets involved with trying to break up a trafficking ring and recover children who have been stolen.  If you are a parent, the opening sequence will scare you out of ever letting your children out of your grasp. In addition to the dramatized narrative, there are several brief video clips of children being snatched up in places that seem relatively safe, as well as some streets that we have no idea about. All of this comes before we meet the agent who is the lead character in the film, played by Jim Caviezel. Tim Ballard is the real life person that the story is based on. There is an acknowledgment that in various parts of the film, a dramatic narrative was created that is fiction, but there are several moments that directly come from Ballard's experience.  

It will not be hard to accept that the trauma of tracking down child pornography is soul crushing, and that the opportunity to help a child more directly would be tempting, even for someone without faith. The fact that the agent is a devout family man makes it all the more difficult to walk away when there is a problem that he can keep pulling threads on. The process by which Caviezel's Ballard pursues a group of traffickers is not far removed from a number of sting operations where suspected criminals are lured into revealing themselves in the hopes of completing a large scale financial windfall. There are several tense moments visualized in the "sting" as it is portrayed in the film. Some dramatic license may also give the audience the ability of get the retribution catharsis that most films of this type thrive on. There is not a violent explosion of retribution, but rather the figures we have seen participating in the plots get manipulated into turning on one another and revealing the depths of their involvement. 

Critics of the film have focused on an imagined connection between the film makers and a certain conspiracy group that will go unnamed here. The main claims of that group are never made in this movie. This film is purely an advocacy piece for fighting not just child trafficking, but other forms of slavery as well. When that group's identification is connected to this movie, it undermines the real value of the film. Caviezel had a tenuous connection to the group by speaking to some of it's members, but he did not write the movie or live the story. His sincere desire to address the threat to kids is presented at the end of the movie, instead of some mid-title stinger. The conspiracy ideas are never raised, only facts that are widely accepted are presented in the movie and implications that this is some political screed are completely misplaced.

Most audience members will be moved by the mistreatment of children, and will be glad that it is handled without visual exploitation. I saw a couple of reviews that carried the implication that somehow this film glorified the process because of it's slow development approach. I think anyone who believes that is revealing more about themselves than they should. If this is such an obvious subject with a appeal that is a easy sell, why is it we have not seen those films? There are plenty that have focused on the more controversial issue of drug smuggling, child soldiers, and a variety of environmental issues. That this movie takes on a subject that everyone will agree is distasteful, is not really a criticism, it is a justification. The nonsense from an outlier group should be dismissed. It would also be wise to judge the movie on it's own merits, and not assume that because political opponents have embraced it, that you should oppose it. Sometimes cognitive complexity requires that we accept that people we don't like can sometimes be on the same side we are. 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Picnic at Hanging Rock

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

Picnic at Hanging Rock 

I was aware of Peter Weir's phantasmagoric film back in 1975, but I never had a chance to see it in a theater. Over the years I certainly could have caught up with it on home video or on my satellite service, but again, I never did. This last weekend on "The Lambcast", we had a Roll Your Own show and my colleague David Brook was choosing Cinema New Wave Films from different parts of the world. Director Peter Weir was the essential film maker of that period. "Gallipoli" and "The Year of Living Dangerously" were the films that first brought him to my attention. His subsequent American films have been among the best of the last forty years.   Picnic at Hanging Rock was voted the best Australian film of all time by members of the Australian Film Institute, industry guilds and unions, film critics and reviewers, academics and media teachers, and Kookaburra Card members of the National Film and Sound Archive, in a 1996 poll.

The film is a languid mystery about the disappearance of school girls from a young woman's college while on an outing to nearby Hanging Rock, a geological formation that is quite unique. There is a soft horror story that goes along with the mystery because everybody at the school and surrounding community is effected negatively by the vanishing. Some of the consequences of the event are mild hysteria but other manifestations are more deeply complex, frightening and tragic. All of this takes place in a beautiful setting with historically elegant period design. The cinematography is gorgeous, which is of course strongly reflecting the surroundings. 

Early on you get a feel for Weir's hand in the film, when the principle young woman, Miranda, is shown in her room, reflected on a mirror that is reflected off of another surface. This is a movie that is composed so that the images will be memorable and attractive, even if the consequences are ambiguous and somewhat creepy. The feel of the movie is almost always like an episode of "The Twilight Zone", where we know what we are seeing is going to be changed by the events that occur, and a pall of sadness lingers even if the images are beautiful. 

In addition to the photography, the mood is heightened by the selections of classical music on the soundtrack and the frequent contributions of Greek pan-flautist Zamfir. 

I have to admit that my familiarity with his work consisted only of the infomercial sales pitches on saw on independent TV stations in the 1980s, an example of which you can see above. The cheesy ad may undermine your confidence in the quality of his product, but in the film it sets a very strong emotional tone. The flute compositions are haunting and beautiful, which fits perfectly with the movie and the way it has been shot.

The film plays out as a series of events which lead to surprising outcomes. A young Englishman, who lives with his Uncle and Aunt, is mesmerized by the young women when he sees them walking up the rock formation very briefly. Their vanishing cannot simply be ignored and he obsesses over the missing girls. One unfortunate girl, Sara, who has a deep connection with Miranda, also suffers in her absence and the school becomes something more oppressive to her as time passes. The headmistress Mrs. Appleyard sees her school being crushed by the events and she feels the moral crisis of having to deal with an unjust financial situation. The other teachers are flummoxed as to how to respond to developments, and the one girl who does return from being missing, sheds no light on the subject. 

All of this takes place in a world vaguely tinged by burgeoning sexuality. The girls are somewhat objectified as sexual beings by the two youths who observe them. Sara seems romantically drawn to Miranda, and one of the teachers seems to feel the influence of the young ladies who are coming into their womanhood. One of the maids at the school is having a sexual dalliance with one of the groundskeepers, and the police and local doctor seem to be particularly careful about the implication that the girls might have been sexually assaulted. Mrs. Appleyard seems to imply that some of the relationships between the guardians of the girls and their charges are suspiciously unclear. There is no actual sexual activity shown on screen but there is an undercurrent in some of the images. 

Those of you who are narrative lovers and want a complete story, may be frustrated by the fact that the movie ends ambiguously. We don't discover what happened to the girls, we only learn what happened to everyone else. The landscapes and costumes are attractive, and the movie plays slowly, but it is magnetic to look at and will probably get you thinking about the ripple effect, in a way that is completely different than was talked about in Jurassic Park. I was very happy to catch up with this classic from 1975. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One


An interesting thing happened last night at the Mission Impossible Fan Event we attended. After the two short promo reels that were part of the event, the wrong movie started running. "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" is a joint Paramount/Disney production but when we saw the Disney Studio credit logo, we knew this was not Mission Impossible and that the wrong IMAX film was running. Two dozen people got up immediately to inform the management, but it still took nearly fifteen minutes of running the wrong movie before it was corrected. That accident allowed us to see the difference between a completely CGI train fight, which would later compare unfavorably to the practical train fight in the movie we came to see. This was an inadvertent reveal of how meticulous director/writer Christopher McQuarrie and star/producer Tom Cruise are about making their movies. They sure put in the extra effort to make it work for the audience.

"Dead Reckoning" has the kind of plot that could easily befuddle you the first time through. I know a lot of people had difficulty with the first of the Mission Impossible movie plots, and those folks may be happy to learn they are not the only ones who can get confused by the events in these movies. I've got a pretty good grasp on some of the elements but I will probably need a re-watch to clarify some other points of the story. I don't think audiences will be put off however. We know that Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is the good guy, and that his team can be trusted, although uncertainty about Ilsa Faust is understandable. This is the third film in the series in which Rebecca Ferguson's disavowed MI-6 agent has been a part. After "Fallout" we are pretty confident she is on our side, and that's a good thing because she is incredibly competent and formidable. 

The other members of the team return and they continue to provide both humor and some grounding for the series. Simon Pegg is as always, a gas who can lighten up a situation with an ironic acknowledgement of the difficulty in front of the team at any time. Ving Rhames brings calm and gravitas to his scenes and makes the tech crew a lot more humanly relatable. The newest member of the team is Haley Atwell, who gets involved with the team and is completely unreliable from the start. Atwell has experience playing a spy so she will be a good fit, although it was jarring to see he character so quickly develop the combat level qualifications that make her equal to some others in the group. She is fit enough and fine, and when her character has to improvise, especially in the climax, she is terrific, but her character is supposed to have a different background and that difference gets ignored as the film moves on. 

All the Mission Impossible Films are anchored by great stunts and clever visual sequences. The opening of the film riffs on "The Hunt for Red October", with the same outcome for a Russian sub that was seen in that movie. This is where the confusion starts as well. Although we get an exposition scene from an under utilized Cary Elwes, that comes almost two hours after we have witnessed the opening and we are still trying to figure it out. Of course that is part of the intrigue, but the audience may be wary of everything after this. Elwes and the returning Henry Czerny as former IMF director Kittridge, are set up to be the partial villains of the bureaucracy, the real bad guy appears to be Esai Morales as Gabriel, working on behalf the the real big bad, "The Entity, a self aware A.I. that has taken control of the digital world and is using it to achieve an end that we are not yet sure of. Gabriel has a team, the Intelligence Community has a team, multiple local jurisdictions are involved, and there is a band of bounty hunters, and all of them are after Ethan and Atwell's Grace. At times this feels like one long continuous chase movie. The moments of tension are less about achieving an objective than giving us a bit of a break from the chase. But damn, those are some good chases.

Tom gets to do his patented running man routine at least three times during the film. There are two excellent motorcycle sequences and two equally great car chases. There is certainly a lot of action to go around. The shooting that takes place exhibits the usual poor marksmanship of the bad guys, and the hero team never seems to miss. That is boiler plate stuff. The real highlights come in the train sequence at the end of the film. There is a solid fight on the top of the train, and the Spielberg/Hitchcock inspired action after the train begins going off the edge is going to make your butt clench, even though we know it is just a movie. Once again, the stunt team and the practical effects, make this movie feel completely different from so many action films nowadays. The film ends on a cliff hanging moment, but since it it Part One of Two, no one should be too surprised by that. There is no teaser sequence during or after the titles, these film makers are keeping it real.

This was my most highly anticipated movie of the year with the possible exception of "Dune Part II". It lived up to my expectations and the audience I saw it with was quite responsive. Once more Lalo Schifrin should be getting a huge residual check, his theme is used in the right places and it provides the audience energy needed to propel us through the story. The release of this movie is one of the twisted tales that resulted from the Covis-19 shutdowns. This movie got held up in production by the Pandemic, and the studios juggled how to release this and last years Tom Cruise vehicle "Top Gun Maverick". And just like last year, there is a good chance that Tom Cruise will break the movie going doldrums and get folks out to the theater. Like last year, Cruise may save the summer and the cinema experience. Who says there are no movie stars left? 

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Enter the Dragon (2023 Visit)


I wrote about "Enter the Dragon" on my original project and you can read that post here. I can pretty much stick with what I said then, although I may have been a little harsh on the story structure and the acting. It is true that the evil fighters working for the villain Han, seem to get more menacing as we go along. The level of loathsome is ramped up to make us feel the catharsis that comes when an injustice is addressed, and that happens several times in the movie. I probably should not have been so harsh on those aspects of the film. One of the things that has led me to this conclusion, is the reaction of the audience in last night's screening at the Paramount Theater. 

Paramount Theater's Summer Film Classic Series is drawing a lot of movie fans like me. People who have seen a film before and are looking to recreate their first experience by seeing it on the big screen again. I last watched this movie just a couple of years ago for an Episode of The Lambcast. We had a terrific time talking about the movie and you can listen here:

I had watched the film on my Special Edition Laserdisc, which was pretty darn good, but it is nothing compared to seeing the movie in a real theater with an audience, amped up to see the Mater kick some butt. I was barely prepared for the grunts and ahhs and cheers that I heard from my fellow movie goers last night. When an amazing moment from Bruce Lee happened, you could hear a collective WOW from the audience. There were enough people with pain empathy in the audience to insure that there was a groan whenever Bruce executed a groin kick, head slap, or leg break. It was all enhanced by the sound system last night. I never realized how much the foley in this picture makes the fight scenes so intense. The volume of the punches to the solar plexus, the slap echo from a hand across an opponents face, all of it may seem like a cartoon out of context, but it works when we are in our seats together. Oh, and you should have heard the audience howls of anger and fear when it looked like Blofeld's cat was going to get guillotined. 

Listen, I know we have to suspend disbelief occasionally in a movie and I willingly do so on a regular basis, but someone needed to cast the guys in the black gees in the scenes in the prison cells. Those are two completely different sets of prisoners and it undermines the final battle royale for a minute. None of it undermines the main attraction however, Bruce Lee is as amazing as you remember. The speed of his strikes against O'Hara was incredible. It looked like a magic trick. The nun chuck display that Lee puts on is also flawless and speedy. This is part of why his legend continues. The cool factor of Bruce Lee comes out repeatedly. The corner of his mouth moves up only slightly when he has mentally bested his enemy before there is even a hit. When he tastes his own blood in his fight with Han at the end, we know that Han has just sealed his own fate. Maybe there is a little too much Eastern Philosophy in some of the early sequences, but there is nothing inscrutable when the three leads are in fighting form.

Jim Kelly gets a pretty good fight scene before he is required to get his ass kicked by a guy he easily outmatches, it's just the way the script goes and Director Robert Clouse can only do so much to sell it. Although you might think John Saxon is an actor who had to be carried through the fight scenes, nothing could be further from the truth. He is great in the action, getting off kicks and punches that don't look like movie fighting but seem like real martial arts. He did have training and you can see it in the movie.  

Bruce Lee moves like a silent cat when he is in those scenes where his character is spying on the inner workings of Han's island. He dances nimbly around the furniture, machinery and guards, as if he were a ballet dancer, on point and filled with helium. The loss of Bruce Lee was a tragedy, but his legacy is secure as long as people can see this movie. Lucky for me, I also got to see it in a theater.