This seems to be my year to catch everything and the wild temperature swings aren't helping at all. Achoo. Anyway, I'd heard the great crime fiction writer James Ellroy rave about Stakeout On Dope Street, recorded it on the trusty dvr and watched it yesterday. Except for the ending, I'm not quite sure what Ellroy sees in it, but it has a swell title:
Here are some lobby cards featuring the young cast members. I suspect Warners hoped that one of them would be the next James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, or Dennis Hopper. It didn't happen.
I'm not the only who one thinks that the late rotund comedian would have made a smashing Rob Ford. Here's a pastiche of Farley film clips in trailer form. It's genius:
Happy Thanksgivukkah. Oy, such a holiday. Time to play a song by some goyim from Great Britain:
Pulp Fiction Thursday will return next week. I have one last holiday request, please don't cut the toikey without me:
The 50th anniversary of the assassination has passed, so let's turn to a highpoint of Jack Kennedy's Presidency, his visit to Ireland in June of 1963
No such meeting ever occurred but the Umbrella Man was spotted in the Zapruder film, which led to some wild speculation since it was a gorgeous sunny day in Dallas 50 years ago today. Errol Morris did a short film for the NYT 2 years ago, which contains the answer as to why this guy had an umbrella. The film also features one of the most interesting and engaging figures in JFK assassination buffdom, Josiah Thompson, philosophy professor and gumshoe:
Speaking of Zapruder, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Ron Rosenbaum, has an excellent piece in October's Smithsonian Magazine about the Zapruder film, Errol Morris, Josiah Thompson and the quirks of history.
More on the 50th anniversary later. The obsession continues.
The 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate is one of the best political thrillers of all time. (The Jonathan Demme remake is pretty good as well.) It was pulled from circulation in the wake of the Kennedy assassination by star/producer/former JFK pal, Frank Sinatra. The story has a few superficial similarities to Oswald's but many, many more differences. But it was still wise to pull the movie when the country was numb over the events in Dallas.
Here's an early cover of Richard Condon's 1959 novel:
Here's the poster for the re-release of John Frankenheimer's brilliant 1962 film:
It's trailer time:
Moms Mabley week at First Draft continues with three of her LP covers. I'd never seen the last one until the other day and it cracks me up since it has LBJ, HHH, and RFK waiting on the White House porch for the arrival of the grand dame. It is, of course, sci-fi since Lyndon and Bobby were *never* on speaking terms and not even Moms could have brought those two together:
My consumption of JFK 50th anniversary teevee continued unabated last week. It was such a televisual event that watching images, both familiar and unfamiliar, has occupied more of my time than reading stuff on the internets. I've skipped the more lurid programming that can be found around the dial and online. I'm inclined to reject the Warren Report but find the mega-coup/CIA/LBJ threads to be ludicrous albeit frequently unintentionally amusing. I'm not big on the Cubo-Soviet strand of assassination buffery either. I lean in the direction of Mob hit theory since it's one of the few plausible explanations as to why nobody has squealed.
Now that I've declared myself a lone gunman agnostic, here are some random comments on some of last week's programming with the odd link since I mustered the energy to consult with Mr. Google:
PBS' American Experience, JFK: Speaking of rehashing material and treading on familiar-to me at least-ground this two-parter was competently done in the Ken Burns style. But it featured way too many historians doing the whole big picture dance thing for my taste. As much as I enjoy seeing Robert Caro, I prefer earlier Kennedy documentaries that featured the people who were actually there and knew the man. Give me Ted Sorensen over scholar-squirrel Robert Dallek any day. (I don't know about you but I'm glad that my last name doesn't evoke images of the Whovian villains, the Daleks.) If they were going to feature histo-journalists, I wish they'd have turned to Salon founder David Talbot whose book Brothers broke some new ground in Kenendy lore.
This documentary is a decent introduction for the uninitiated since it has a lot of good film clips of the life and times of JFK, but if you know the story, it's strictly for obsessives such as moi.
I've been gassing on about the fog of history, so I decided to post Errol Morris' brilliant documentary about Vietnam war architect Robert Strange McNamara. Unlike a certain recent Defense Secretary whose nickname rhymes with crummy, McNamara learned some things from the mistakes he made in life:
I saw Horror Express for the first time on TCM on Halloween. It's one of those movies that's simultaneously good and bad and campy and scary. In short, it's everything you'd want from a flick starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee about terror on a train. It features a hammy and OTT performance by Telly Savalas as a Cossack commander. I'm surprised that Cousin Telly didn't eat the train, tracks and fake Siberian scenery. It's campy, spooky fun complete with a frozen dead guy/demon. Here's the poster:
Here's the trailer:
Here's the whole damn picture when you have some time for cossacks, conductors, and a Rasputin-like monk:
I had the privilege of seeing this over the weekend, and it was like a gut-punch. I had friends working in Egypt during some of the events depicted here, and the film does a great job of giving you the scale of what was happening while still making room for the personal stories (and personal consequences) of the revolution.
There's a moment at the end where Ahmed, the young man in the trailer, talks about what the real achievement of the revolution was, and how it gave rise not to one specific change in regime or law but in culture, because people now are expected to protest wrongs done to them. People who have been living in fear their whole lives aren't supposed to just sit back and take it anymore. They've heard what their own voices sound like and once you've heard that, once you've felt what it can be like to be powerful, it's over forever because you can never go back to being afraid ever again. Not the way you were afraid before.
And that's a tremendous thing. We've talked here before about how the worst thing an abuser does to you is to make you afraid of yourself. Is make you think, "There's no point in speaking out. There's no point in speaking up. I'll only get hit. I'll only get hurt." Is not just make you small but make you want to be small, and want others around you who agree with you to be small as well.
How many times do we hear this, every single day? Sit down, don't make trouble, don't be bitchy or obnoxious or needy, don't talk about what you think is important. Don't sing up to God the only song you possess about the rage inside you to be more, because you'll only call attention to yourself. You'll only make yourself a target. And instead of screaming GOOD, instead of saying "I am pissed off because there are things here to be pissed off about," we settle back down and we stifle ourselves, and we tell ourselves we're helpless.
We've never been helpless. We'll never be helpless. Occupy, the union movement in Wisconsin and Ohio, the protests against the Iraq War, all the things we're told are so silly and un-serious, all the times we've spoken up and been told that we failed ... Don't think I'm making a direct comparison to Egypt because I'm not, there are different kinds of risk involved and vastly different costs, but you tell me where standing up hasn't made things better, if in no other way than remding us what we sound like, when we open our mouths and speak.
It's Veterans Day, which began life as Armistice Day way back in 1918. Remember the war to end all wars? In the United Kingdom, it's called Remembrance Day and it's celebrated by everyone wearing red poppies in honor of the fallen. Dr. A and I recall seeing poppies in the US when we were tadpoles but the practice seems to have died out in the US and A. It's a pity.
According to the Daily Mirror, the parish council of nearby Watlington requested filming be suspended for the weekend, but it went ahead.
Council chairman Ian Hill said: "Whoever is responsible is insensitive. A letter has been sent to express our feelings of how inappropriate it was for Sherman tanks to be rolling across the countryside while explosions were being let off. Local people are very angry."
Shadow defence minister Kevan Jones called it "inappropriate" and "outrageous".
Fury, directed by David Ayer, has attracted considerable attention ever since it began shooting in and around the village of Shirburn last month. Producers put leaflets through locals' doors warning of the likelihood of explosions and gunfire in the vicinity, and a stuntman was accidentally stabbed on set with a bayonet.
Extras, some of whom were ex-forces members, were apparently upset at having to film before dawn on Sunday. One was quoted by the mirror as saying: "[Director David Ayer] just charged on ruthlessly filming a movie about American heroism ... and ignoring British sensitivities towards Remembrance.
"This was grotesquely disrespectful and offensive. I can't believe I wore an SS uniform on Remembrance Sunday."
The film's producers later released a statement saying they "deeply regret any misunderstandings caused". The statement goes on to say a night shoot was scheduled for the Saturday, and finished at 2am. "The film honours the personal sacrifices of the men that died in World War II, and as writer/director David Ayer explains: 'I have only the deepest esteem for the British military, its storied History and the sacrifices of those who have fallen.'"
These folks violated an important rule of location shooting: do not piss off the locals, especially on solemn national holidays shared by Brits and Yanks alike. This misstep is odd considering the fact that Brad Pitt is legendary for his PR savvy and ability to charm the hell out of the locals wherever he pitches his cinematic tent. His good works in New Orleans have even charmed your curmudgeonly correspondent.
Time may be money in the world of flilm making, but it's a bad idea to be setting off fake explosive while claiming to honor "the sacrifices of the fallen." It's bad for business as well as bad for Fury's juju, mojo, or whatever short superstitious word you prefer to use. It could lead to the locals singing this wee Richard Thompson ditty:
2012 Ashley award winner and all around nice guy Lamar White has written a great and highly personal post about 12 Years a Slave. It turns out that Lamar's aunt, Sue Eakin, was one of the editors of the 1968 LSU Press edition of Solomon Northup's memoirs. Here's a link to Lamar's post at his swell blog, CenLamar.
There are movies I love seeing over and over again because I get something different out of them on each viewing or just flat out enjoy revisiting the characters. Then there are great films that are searing, unsettling, and intense that I am very glad to have seen but don't plan to watch again. Schindler's List was such a film as is 12 Years A Slave. Obviously being mentioned in the same sentence as Spielberg's magnum opus means that it's an outstanding film. It is, but it's still not an experience I'd repeat.
My biggest issue was the way director Steve McQueen's camera lingered on the beating/torture scenes, which while absolutely necessary last a bit too long for my taste. This is *realistic* screen violence, not cartoonish violence ala Tarantino, which is why at times it felt like torture porn instead of art. Perhaps I should just call it a necessary evil and move on to the film's many strengths.
12 Years A Slave is a fascinating and well acted film featuring a great lead performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, and stellar supporting turns by Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson as the barking mad and sadistic Epps' who were Solomon's second owners. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a "humane" slave owner who when push comes to shove sells Solomon to the crazed Fassbender. Paulson as Mrs. Epps may be even scarier than her wild-eyed husband because she's cool, calm and collected in her cruelty.
Solomon Northup is an interesting character. An educated fiddler, he's also terribly naive and way too trusting at two points in the narrative. The men who sell him into bondage lure him with praise for his talents and high pay for the time: 4 bucks a day. With the scent of greed wafting in the air, Solomon agrees to go to Washington DC, which was a quasi Southern city in 1841. A big mistake for which he pays with his freedom. The second mistake was in trusting a "down on his luck" former overseer played by Garret Dillahunt of Deadwood fame. The minute I saw him I knew that he'd betray Solomon. Mercifully, kindly Brad Pitt saves the day and Solomon is freed.
12 Years A Slave was shot in Louisiana and the story behind Northup's 1853 memoir being re-printed by the LSU Press was featured in an Advocate story:
Solomon Northup’s story in the film “12 Years a Slave” may never have seen the screen if not for two dedicated Louisiana historians.
More than a century after its initial publication, Northup’s memoir was known to few outside of the academic world before a new edition edited by Sue Eakin, then an University of Southwestern Louisiana history student, and Joseph Logsdon, a New Orleans history professor, helped the world rediscover the harrowing tale.
After separately discovering the story, Eakin and Logsdon each tracked down scores of historical documents supporting Northup’s account and published the proof in their 1968 LSU Press edition.
“Without their work, it would probably have been dismissed as hearsay to a certain extent and challenged,” said Dawn Logsdon, the 52-year-old daughter of Joseph Logsdon who lives in San Francisco. “It’s nice to have that sort of authentication behind it.”
Go Tigers. We do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to them. It would be nice if they received some acknowledgement if the movie version wins an Oscar but I'm not holding my breath.
I give 12 Years A Slave a grade of A, 4 stars, 9 out of 10, or whatever rating system floats your boat. It's disturbing, well-made and faithful to both history and the source material. It was so good that I neglected to comment on director Steve McQueen's having the same name as the King of Cool. Until now, that is...
Since it's Halloween, this week's entry is the campy horror classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Vincent Price is out to avenge the death of his wife and not only eats the scenery, he devours the entire set.
When I did my search, I discovered that the whole film is uploaded to the YouTube for your Halloween enjoyment:
But it was "ransom" — a word Obama has used repeatedly to describe Republican negotiating tactics — that struck the last press corps nerve. The usual briefing room decorum, such as it is, broke down entirely when Carney said finally that Obama would sign a debt-ceiling extension but not if it meant "paying a ransom" to Republicans.
"The president will not pay ransom for ... " Carney began.
"You see it as a ransom, but it's a metaphor that doesn't serve our purposes ... " NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro shouted back with broad support from other confused reporters.
"You guys are just too literal then, right? Carney said.
"We just want to accurately report," Shapiro began before Carney interjected. "We're trying to be accurate in our description of what's going on."
One would think that the MSM would feast on colorful language but not when it gets in the way of its eternal pursuit of non-existent balance. I realize that Jay Carney is a former hack but he's there to serve the President's purposes, not the press pool's.
The word ransom quite accurately describes what the teahadists are demanding. It's starting to remind me of the scene in Blazing Saddles wherein Cleavon Little takes himself hostage to escape the town full of bigots named Johnson:
The analogy, of course, breaks down because there aren't many teanuts who look like Cleavon BUT the entire "movement" is a farce worthy of Mel Brooks. And you can guess what kind of movement it reminds me of...
This post accurately describes my beliefs on this matter even if it doesn't suit the purposes of twits such as Ari Shapiro who, apparently, aspires to be, if not a high priest, a rabbi of false equivalency. Me, I think the White House should keep the metaphors flowing .
And that's the way it is, on the 15th day that the American economy has been held hostage by a bunch of malakatudinous, unpatriotic nimrods.
Prelude To A Cave: There appears to be a light at the end of the shutdown tunnel. Why? The GOP is shocked, shocked by a NBC/WSJ poll showing that people hate them and blame them for all the bad shit that's happening. I wish they were caving because they're patriotic and cared about the country but a cave is a cave is a cave is a cave. I'm long past expecting the Me Party to do anything unselfish and in the national interest and 70% of the country agrees with me.
Buzzing In The Beehive State: Speaking of unpopular, Ted Cruz's sidekick Utah Senator Mike Lee's approval rating has dipped to 40% in deep red Utah. That's right Utah, home of the Mormons, Karl Malone, and sister wives. Lee is the idiot cousin of the Senators Udall and I'm amazed that Cruz even speaks to Lee since he went to BYU and Cruz would only study with other Ivy League grads when he attended Havud Law School. Snooty elitist cocksucker. Does Sarah Palin know about this?
Hollywood Wingnut Blues: Right wing actor James Woods is getting all whiny and victimy over the guvmint shutdown. As a good wingnut, he blames Obama for everything, including his alleged future unemployability after tweeting this:
Barack Obama's petty jihad against World War II heroes is simply the nadir of politics in America. He is just vile. A small, small man.
Woods is actually a very good actor,especially if you're looking for someone to play a racist right wing prick such as Roy Cohn or HR Haldeman. Interestingly enough, he's worked with Oliver Stone on several occasions, and Stone is known to say "Viva Fidel" at the drop of a hat. I guess Woods has forgotten that the blacklist is a tool used by right wing tools in the film industry, not by the liberal cabal that he imagines is out to get him. If a director needs a gifted dickhead to play an asshole role, Woods will be cast. Make that type cast...
Ditka Dumbassery:Former Bears and Saints Coach Mike Ditka has made an unwelcome return to the national scene by musing about a political campaign he didn't mount in 2004:
Confident that he would have come out on top, former NFL coach Mike Ditka said earlier this month that he regrets not running in Illinois's 2004 U.S. Senate race and stopping Barack Obama's career in its tracks.
“Biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” Ditka said while attending the opening ceremony of North Dakota's Oil Patch, according to the Dickinson Press. “Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn’t be in the White House.”
Ditka is well known for playing 12 years in the NFL without a helmet and for being an absolutely horrendous coach of the New Orleans Saints from 1997 to 1999. I hope his tea party pals haven't seen the "wedding" picture of him and noted dreadlock wearing pothead, Ricky Williams:
It's probably a good thing from the Republican perspective that Ditka wasn't elected to the Senate. He's the world's worst negotiator: he traded away all of the Saints draft choices to pick Ricky who drove Ditka batshit crazy with his preference for chillaxing over being all manly and shit.
Finally, in the spirit of helpfulness for which I am well known, I'd like to suggest a theme song for the default denial caucus:
Yeah, I know that calling The Desperate Hours pulp fiction is a bit of a stretch. It starred cinema icon and Oscar winner Humphrey Bogart. It co-starred one of the greatest actors of the day, 2-time Oscar winner, Fredric March. It also features Oscar winning character actor and Adrastos favorite, Arthur Kennedy. And it was directed by "prestige" director and Oscar winner, Willy Wyler. It is, however, about a home invasion with Bogie going all bad ass like some of his earlier characters such as Mad Dog Roy Earle and Duke Mantee. Hostage taking is in right now, y'all.
There was a remake in 1990. I never saw it. For one thing, I have a policy of avoiding movies with Mickey Rourke. For another, I hate remakes. Speaking of which, they've remade Carrie? Really?
Here's the lobby card:
The Desperate Hours was based on a book by Joseph Hayes. I've never read it and am not terribly interested in doing so:
Back to the movie. Here's the trailer:
I keep dating myself (I kiss and tell too) on this blog but I do it for a good cause. I remember when ABC News launched a late night newscast after bored students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took a bunch of hostages to avoid studying for finals. The show was originally called America Held Hostage before morphing into Nightline, which is apparently still airing but I haven't seen it in eons. A late night network news show is now kinda quaint but it was cutting edge in 1979.
We're in the second day of House Gopers holding the economy and guvmint hostage. Apparently, they were all likkered up on Monday night, which could explain why they did something that's going to blow up in their collective faces. Many bad decisions in life are fueled by alcohol; especially vodka, which always gives me a hangover but that's neither here not there. Actually, I get a hangover if I'm in the same room as vodka, which means I stay away from bibulous Russians. Sorry Vlad. I stick to whiskey and rum when it comes to spirits and beer when it doesn't. You probably don't care about this but I suspect Jude does...
Hopefully, this hostage crisis won't last 444 days like the Iran one did, but if a movie is made of this blog feature, I want Steve Martin to play me. Once upon a time, I was told I looked like him. I never saw it myself (other than the hilariously funny part) but it's too cliched,as well as wildly inaccurate, to cast George Clooney and I'll pass on Ben Affleck and the beard he wore in Argo. Of course, I'd rather cast Ben than my countrymen Michael Chiklis or Zach Galifinakis. On my worst day, I was never as hairy as Zach or as bald as Michael...
I'd like to dedicate this song to House Republicans and the gynormous hangover they're about to give the country:
To paraphrase Walter Cronkite: And that's the way it is, Wednesday October 2, 2013, the second day Americans have been held hostage by crazed members of the Me Party.
Bad Day At Black Rock is almost a genre unto itself. It's a socially concerned, anti-racist, noir Western. How's that for a mouthful? The hero, Spencer Tracy, is a wounded veteran who learns that bad things happened to the Japanese American family of one of his ARMY buddies. Two of the nicest people in movies, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine, played racist, hiss provoking villains and played them well. This is a must see 4 star flick.
Here's the trailer:
As a rabid Anglophile, I even have favorite fictional butlers. My all-time favorite was Steven Fry as Jeeves but I'm also quite partial to Gordon Jackson as Mr. Hudson on Upstairs Downstairs. The semi-eponymous butler of the title of the recent film is definitely more Angus Hudson than Jeeves. He's more royalist than the King, by analogy at least.
I wasn't sure if I'd like The Butler but I did, even if it *was* uplifting. I typically hate uplifting movies but this one was pretty good despite the odd melodramatic swell of music that sounded rather Max Steineresque. In short, many things about this movie were old school, which isn't a bad thing in a sweeping highly fictionalized historical biopic such as this one.
I also don't like Oprah Winfrey: martyred shopper. But she was one of the best things about this movie as the butler's boozy, cheating spouse. I cannot tell you how relieved I was that Oprah's character wasn't noble. (I guess I just did.) Her minions will be clamoring for her to be Oscarized and I won't object or Henry Cavil about it either. Sorry, Homan...
I enjoyed Forest Whitaker and his White House colleagues as played by Lenny Kravitz and a shockingly dignified Cuba Gooding Jr. The latter never once hollered, and the only time he showed the money was when he bailed young Louis Gaines out of the pokey.
Now that I've briefly described what I liked about the movie, it's time to mention the bits I didn't like in teevee recap format:
Louis Gaines as Forrest Gump: I didn't read anything about the movie before seeing it BUT I knew right off that Forest and Oprah's oldest offspring had to be fictional. He was *always* there for every important moment of the Civil Rights movement. Not only did he attend Fisk and become a freedom rider, but he just happened to be on the bus that a mob of Alabamans burned to a Coco Crisp and was there when MLK was murdered. Then, he became an early Black Panther complete with a beret and a hot surly girlfriend with an awesome 'fro. Then, Louis ran for Congress and eventually became an anti-apartheid activist. Not 100% impossible but unlikely. The character of course was pure-D fiction.
Having complained about Louis Gump, I did enjoy the father-son interplay between the uptight establishment dad and his radical son. It happened in the best of families. They called it the g-g-g-g-eneration gap.
Stunt Casting Blues: Most of the much ballyhooed stunt casting fizzled. Hairy, stocky Robin Williams as svelte, tall General/President Eisenhower? Not bloody likely. James Marsden as JFK was a bit better but looked more like Kennedy circa 1952 than 1961. Plus, faux Jackie called him John. Nobody called him anything but Jack even Rose. I know that because Lloyd Bentsen told me so...
Liev Schreiber had the bulk and crudeness of LBJ just right but his makeup sucked. I kept staring at his fake ears and kept waiting for them to fall off. (That's what happens when you're a Face Off fanatic, you notice the makeup.) I did, however, get a kick out of the scene of him issuing orders whilst seated on the crapper. It was historically accurate weirdness, y'all. But I think that Liev should stick to narrating HBO documentaries and not play LBJ again.
The worst bit of stunt casting was Glenn Greenwald acolyte John Cusack as Tricky Dick. They went to the opposite extreme with him and didn't give him *any* Nixonian features. One can play Tricky without imitating his voice but you need the ski-jump Nixonian nose. The whole thing played like a SNL skit but Dan Aykroyd was more convincing as the Trickster.
The one bit of stunt casting that worked was Rickman and Fonda as the Reagans. People have compared Rickman's makeup to a waxwork and that's why it's so perfect: Ronnie always looked slightly unreal in his White House Days. Jane Fonda looked and sounded fabulous as Nancy and that bit of stunt casting pissed off all the wingnuts, but not Mrs. Reagan herself according to her son Ron. Of course, he's a librul so his views should be discounted. What does he know? He's only Reagan's son and namesake…
Whatever the truth of the details presented in the movie, they nailed Ronald Reagan. He was the direct opposite of LBJ. Reagan was genuinely compassionate to individuals but clueless when it came to the unwashed masses. LBJ, on the other hand, was a miserable sumbitch who treated people like shit but declared war on poverty and meant it.
The Plantation Scene: A string of cliches that weren't based on the story of Eugene Allen (the model for the reel Cecil Gaines) and were badly set up and shot. The redneck dude who killed Papa Gaines and interfered with Mama Gaines had a 2013 hipster hairdo and beard. Plus, Mariah Carey as Forest Whitaker's mother? Yikes. That was another piece of stunt casting gone awry. At least she didn't sing…
Now that I've bashed parts of the movie, I must admit to *really* liking at least 75% of it. I'm not sure if was an "antidote" to The Help as some folks have written, but it was an entertaining and well-acted film. And that's something one cannot say about most summer releases. I'd give it 3 stars or a letter grade of B. It could have been better but it could have been much, much worse.
I haven't posted anything from Mike and the bots for a while so here we go:
In A Lonely Place used to be the "lost Bogart classic" but thanks to TCM and Roger Ebert it has become part of the Bogie canon. Bogart is genuinely scary as hot tempered screenwriter Dixon Steele in a film that was, in part, a return to his bad guys roles. Dix, however, was more of an anti-hero, which made it fit the times since anti-heroes were "in" in 1950.
In A Lonely Place was the first major film directed by Nicholas Ray who had a great decade in the Fifties before going down in flames in what should have been *his* decade: the Sixties.
Other than Bogart, Gloria Grahame is the only "name" cast member and she gave a typically wonderful performance as a woman who put the dame in damsel in distress.
Here are some lobby cards:
Here's the trailer:
Since I posted the feature about this Joan Crawford scream fest on Sunday, it's only fitting that it grace our fair blog for PFT. Additionally, I learned on Facebook that this film is a particular favorite of Tommy T's, which is an even better reason to pick up an axe and don a Strait-Jacket:
Here's the trailer. Chop, chop:
Dr. A and I saw Fruitvale Station last weekend. It's an account of a day in the life of Oscar Grant who was, of course, the poor bastard who was murdered by BART cops on New Year's Day in 2009. It's *that* day obviously. It's an excellent film that portrays young Oscar warts and all, trying to be a better person before his life was snuffed out by a stupid transit cop.
Oscar Grant is played by Michael B. Jordan best known, to me at least, as Wallace the lovable young member of the Barksdale gang's crew in the projects in The Wire. Wallace's life was snuffed out prematurely as well, but in his case by his friends and "business associates."
You're probably wondering why I called this post the name game. Seeing Fruitvale Station got me pondering film titles and show biz name changes. Fruitvale Station is a weak title for an excellent film. It's the Oakland BART station where Oscar Grant was killed but unless you're from Oakland, or super familiar with the incident, it's meaningless and not terribly memorable. They obviously couldn't call the movie Oscar because everyone would have assumed it was about my cat...
Speaking of bad titles for good movies, we recently saw a 1956 Cornel Wilde film called Storm Fear on TCM.Wilde not only starred in the picture, he was the director and did a excellent job in both roles. The title, however, is from hunger, even I though I *really* liked this noir thriller, I kept forgetting the title. If anything, it's a much worse title than Fruitvale Station, but neither does a good job of describing or representing the films. Do I have a better title for either? Nope. I'm a critic, not a flack and I hope I don't take any flack for liking Fruitvale Station and disliking the title...
One more name related note inspired by my little trip to the movie theatre. Why do fewer show people change their names nowadays? Using his middle initial is a good start, but a movie star should stand out and there's only one Michael Jordan. A British actor named James Stewart faced the same issue back in the day. His solution was to become Stewart Granger. The other recent movie name that causes me confusion is the film director, Steve McQueen. There is only one king of cool and using the McQueen name causes brand confusion. Again, I understand wanting to use one's own name but where the hell would Archie Leach be if he hadn't changed his name to Cary Grant?
Here's a swell short feature about the making of the camp classic, Strait-Jacket, with Joan Crawford, her shoulder pads, and an axe:
The enduring excellence of The Big Combo proves that a movie does not have to be 7 hours long to tell a good story or pack a punch. It's one of the best film noirs (films noir?) of all-time and clocks in at a breathtaking 83 minutes. It features a cast and crew of noir all-stars from director Joseph H. Lewis to composer David Raksin to cinematographer John Alton to stars Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte. It's one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films and he pays tribute to The Big Combo in several ways in Reservoir Dogs. Here's my little pulpy fictiony tribute:
I'm really getting into the new FX border cop show, The Bridge. If y'all haven't seen it, check it out. It, of course,has me thinking of the *ultimate* noir border cop film, Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil. It's one of the few films wherein I can tolerate Charlton Heston. Why? His character is a pompous egomaniac. Talk about type casting.
Welles famously lost control of the movie, but it's still a classic. My favorite parts of the film are the scenes between Welles and Marlene Dietrich. One of her lines "you a mess, honey" has been a catch phrase around my house for many moons, Kemosabe. Sorry for the brief Tonto relapse...
Here's the legendary opening tracking shot:
Dr. A and I celebrated Murica's birthday by seeing The Lone Ranger on Independence Day. I have a weakness for westerns and was curious to see Johnny Depp pretending to be a pretend Indian. My expectations were low but I quite liked it, especially because of the dead crow on Depp's head...
The movie has already been declared a flop after less than a week in theatres. I thought it was a decent popcorn movie, but the whole thing is out of balance: it's Tonto's tale. I barely remember the Lone Ranger other than the fact that the guy who plays him has a silly first name. Who the hell names a kid Armie? And why doesn't it end with a y?
I remain gobsmacked that they even tried to revive this idea to begin with and compounded this unforced error by casting a white boy as Tonto. Heap big mistake, Kemosabe. Do I believe that someone in Johnny Depp's family told him he was part Cherokee? Sure, why not? But lots of families stretch the truth to make their lineage sound grander or more interesting. I wish someone had committed an act of journalism and done some genealogical research to see if the Deppmeister's story is true. Hell, we know that Obama and Cheney are distant relatives even if the former Veep doesn't look like a Kenyan Mau-Mau Marxist.
In the end, the whole Depp as Tonto controversy doesn't matter. There's not going to be a sequel. Tonto flop, Kemosabe.
Dick Powell had a remarkable film career. At a time when typecasting was SOP, Powell was able to move from being the star of light musical comedies to the tough guy roles he perfected in films like Murder, My Sweet and this week's PFT entry, Cornered. It's a multi-genre movie that hops from film noir to revenge flick to social commentary. It works on all those levels, plus the night photography is to die for. Here are the lobby cards:
Here's the trailer:
I just got an email from the AMC movie chain. They're proud that their smart phone/tablet app has added a practical but somewhat gnarly feature:
Plan potty breaks with RunPee. Click the ‘RunPee’ button on any movie page and find the best times to go, so you don’t miss any crucial plot twists or action sequences. We’ll let you know what you missed, and if there’s anything after the credits.
Given the size of the big ass uber diuretic sodas they sell this is practical, but calling it RunPee? Sheesh. It should, however, make New Orleanians feel like it's Mardi Gras. Having a place to pee on the pee-rade route is a high priority in these parts...
Athenae beat me to the punch in posting about James Gandolfini's passing. So, I decided to do something a little different for PFT this week.
Tony Soprano was a die hard film buff and one of his favorites was William Wellman's The Public Enemy. Here's Tony watching Cagney in the episode wherein his virago mother Livia proved that she really wasn't too mean to die:
Film noir is one of the most overused term in film buffdom. It was an after the fact label that was applied to a wide range of movies. High Wall is often described as film noir when it's really more of a psychological melodrama, and a good one at that. Audrey Totter was one of the finest actresses of the late 1940's and her performance as Robert Taylor's shrink is one of her best. One reason I don't consider this to be a film noir is that in that genre the leading man can either be a hero or an anti-hero. Robert Taylor was *always* the hero on the big screen-off-screen he was a witch hunting shit-but audiences that saw this film in theatres would *never* have bought him as a possible murderer like they would have if Bogart or Alan Ladd had been cast in the lead. Taylor is usually pretty wooden but he's actually not bad in this role even if he's a stiff albeit a handsome one.
Here's the trailer:
I finally got around to seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness on Sunday. I avoided it the first week because I hate being put in the dread pre-show queue pen. I'm not crazy about long lines to begin with but being cooped up with Kliingons, Ferenghis, and Cardassians gives me the willies. The Bajorans, however, are all right...
The other reason for my reluctance is JJ Abrams' stated dislike of the franchise he now helms. He is, obviously, entitled to his opinion but kicking the fan base makes no sense whatsoever. It's kind of like the Beltway Borg Collective's love for pols who bash their own supporters. I hope that Abrams doesn't trash the Star Wars Borg Collective or he'll be wrasslin' with Wookies and locked in a closet with Jar Jar Bloody Binks who will annoy him to death...
On to the movie itself. I didn't like the first act because it was confusing and more like a standard action film than anything else. Also, Abrams tends to use Star Trek lore when it suits him and disregards it the rest of the time. For example, the prime directive wouldn't bar Kirk from saving a planet. That's as goofy as Simon Pegg's accent as Scotty.
More importantly, KLINGONS DO NOT WEAR HELMETS. I nearly resorted to an exclamation point but all caps will suffice. Your basic Klingon would feel like a pussy for strapping on a helmet. Plus, the only Klingon we saw wasn't butt ugly enough. Klingons should make Joe Torre look like George Clooney. Another big problem with the scene was the Enterprise warning the super villain before landing on the planet, all that did was alert the pussy helmet wearing Klingons who were then slaughtered. Repeat after me: KLINGONS DO NOT WEAR HELMETS.
Okay, now that I've rubbished the first half of the movie, the second half was a pretty darn exciting space action flick. It even struck some appropriately Trekkie moments but even then its disconnection from the Star Trek universe is jarring. Hardcore buffs/fans/geeks know that the reason the Vulcans are so cold and logical, logical, logical is that they are boiling cauldrons of emotion and if they let loose they make Klingons look like choir boys.
I guess I'm feeling adamant because I've been rewatching The Next Generation on DVD, and doing my Worf impression to enhance the experience. It scares the cats but I like it.
Anyway, I give the movie a B for a strong second half but at the risk of being repetitive: KLINGONS DO NOT WEAR HELMETS. They do, however, listen to War:
The Guardian has been all over the Cannes Film Festival this week. Today's coverage included an interweb slide show thingee of the worst movies on the market at this year's cinematic shebang. This is by far and away the most outlandish:
I hunted down the trailer and learned that it's played for laughs but OMG. Barry Bostwick is a fellow graduate of San Mateo High School. I wonder if we can have his diploma rescinded. Probably not. Anyway, here's the trailer:
I still have Star Trek on my mind. I stumbled into this documentary on cable the other day and watched it again. The fans are a bit nutty but also pretty darn intelligent, just like my readers. My favorite is the woman who is devoted to Data from TNG and calls herself a Spinerfem. Now, that's a suffix I can get behind:
This was one of the last times Orson Welles directed a picture at a major Hollywood studio. It's a good one, but the stories surrounding it are better than the movie itself. Orson royally pissed off Columbia Studio goniff Harry Cohn by getting Rita Hayworth to cut her hair short and dye it blond. Rita had already changed hair color from brunette to red BUT she was famous for her flowing locks. Cohn essentially blackballed Orson, which wasn't hard to do but this may have been the last nail in his career coffin.
The first image is the poster, which is kinda mundane. The lobby card is special: from the Fun House scene filmed at Playland on the Beach in San Francisco. I have fond childhood memories of it but that's all I got. it was torn down years ago.
Here's the trailer:
It's a pity that Cameron Crowe hasn't made a good film in years. Say Anything, Almost Famous, and Jerry Maguire are 3 of the best films of our time. I thought of CamCro when I read this item about Geno Smith firing his agent:
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's fall out of the first-round of the 2013 NFL draft has claimed its first casualty as Liz Mullen of the SportsBusiness Journal reports that the rookie quarterback is parting ways with his agents, Jeff Nalley of the Houston-based Select Sports Group.
Smith accepted an invitation to attend the draft and was in the green room at Radio City Music Hall for most of the first-round. However, when the first-round reached the final few picks, and those picks were held by teams that have no need for a quarterback, Smith left the building as it was evident he would not be selected until Day 2.
ESPN's Suzy Kolber reported that Smith was not going to attend Day 2 of the draft, but Smith changed his mind and returned to Radio City Music Hall on Friday. Smith was selected by the New York Jets with the eighth pick in Round 2, the 39th overall pick in the draft, which is expected come with a contract worth just under $5 million with over $3.1 million in guaranteed money. Had Smith been selected in Round 1, his contract would be worth, at minimum, $6.7 million with around $5.4 million in guaranteed money.
The financial difference, as well as having to return to a green room for a second day, appear to be the reason why Smith is changing agents.
According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Smith was under the impression that he should be and would be the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. It is understandable for Smith to be disappointed about not being a first-round pick, but unless he was specifically being told by his agents that he would go No. 1, we're not sure how they are at fault for his tumble out of Round 1.
Obviously, Nalley screwed up by not doing this:
Or he could have tried the old I am a golden God gambit:
Since it's kitty week here at First Draft, I give you Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff:
Here's the trailer:
Hatred can be like rocket fuel for an artist. Margaret Thatcher inspired many fantastic films, plays, books and songs. The Guardian has a fine article by John Harris about how Thatcherism politicized the arts in the UK. Plus, the always awesome Mary Elizabeth Williams has a piece at Salon on Mrs. Thatcher and pop culture.But my personal favorite, Brassed Off. was not on her movie list. Oh well, nobody's perfect...
I'm going to feature some of the best anti-Thatcher, anti-Tory tunes this week as a sort of reverse hommage to Mrs. Thatcher. The good news is that she's no longer here to handbag me...
The first in the Thatcher series is one of the best. Elvis Costello's Tramp The Dirt Down from his classic Spike album. I stumbled upon this version, which opens with a brief rant by Elvis/Declan, on my friend Luke's facebook feed. Luke is a labor laywer and fellow lefty Anglophile who I met in London some 6 years ago. End of this brief stroll down memory lane. Here's Mr. Costello/MacManus:
I'm the de facto obituary guy here at First Draft. I usually post when someone I admire passes away and sometimes I'm genuinely upset. Writing about Roger Ebert's death today at the age of 70 fits into the latter category.
I first heard of Roger when his PBS film review show with the late Gene Siskel launched in the 1970's. I don't think I missed many episodes through its different permutations and names over the years. I enjoyed watching the sweater boys duke it out, and I usually agreed with Roger, If I had a dollar for every time I watched an obscure film recommended by Roger I wouldn't be rich, but I'd be more solvent.
Roger was also a superb writer. Take a peak at his Sun-Times web site and ready away. I'm particularly fond of his great movies series. He made film criticism come alive, and he was never pedantic or preachy. My favorite thing about his style as a reviewer is that he never reviewed the fillm he wished they had made instead writing about the one that they did make. That's one thing about critics that drives me crazy, and lots of them do it, including, I daresay, his partner and frenemy Gene Siskel.
Roger had been horribly ill for many years but he soldiered on, writing about movies, and even starting his own blog. I traded the odd email and twitter direct message with Roger over the years and the man was even kind to me. Talk about tolerant. He was aware of First Draft and even read it from time-to-time. Why I never humblebragged about that, I'll never know but I didn't. So it goes.
Just 2 days ago, he announced what he called a "leave of presence" from daily criticism. I'm unsure as to whether he knew that he would die this soon but I considered starting a RIP post that day, but didn't because it struck me as ghoulish when instead it proved to be sadly prescient. Roger Ebert was a great film critic and an even better man. He'll be greatly missed by film buffs everywhere; especially this one. Here's a passage from the aforementioned 4-2-2013 post:
Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter. However you came to know me, I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for.
Typically, I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I'm taking what I like to call "a leave of presence."
What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What's more, I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.
Thank you, Roger. If there *is* an after-life, I hope you and Siskel are back at it, talking movies and trading genial insults. Thumbs up to that, but thumbs down to your passing.
The balcony is closed.
Since Ted Cuz seems bound and determined (he should be bound and gagged instead) to single-handedly revive McCarthyism, it strikes me as a good time to to bring the red scare to PFT. I've posted a lot of trashy covers of crappy books but most of the films I've talked about are good 'uns. There is an exception to every rule and I Married A Communist is one of them. Despite featuring the always awesome Robert Ryan, it's a real stinker that has nothing to do with the fine Philip Roth novel of the same title.
Check out the lobby card and decide if you'd rather be dead than red or vice versa:
In spite of the red scare, the title made the film unpopular with audiences and theatre owners alike so it was re-titled, The Woman On Pier 13 but either way it was from hunger. Here's the trailer:
"I don't use 3D, I'm a spectacle wearer, so I hate going to 3D movies because you have to wear two pairs of spectacles, which makes you feel like even more of a prat. You know how everybody feels a bit of prat wearing 3D spectacles? You as a spectacle wearer feel a double prat."
It comes from Roger Ebert's review of David Mamet's Spector starring Al Pacino as the "wall-of-sound" producer turned convicted murderer:
The long unwinding Phil: Trouble Deep, Hairdo High
I first saw Tod Browning's Freaks when I was a mere lad in a rather odd movie theatre. It was a converted apartment building on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. We literally sat in someone's former living room and watched the film on a small screen. I was still mesmerized.
Freaks was condemned in its time as exploitative since the sideshow was on its way out as a form of semi-mainstream entertainment. But the monsters are the "normal" people who mock and manipulate the freaks until the latter rise against them.
It is also a period piece. You do not see these folks around nowadays due to advances in science and pre-natal care. Of course, there was a freak show last weekend in the DC burbs so maybe that comment was, uh, premature.
In the end, Freaks is an effective early talking picture parts of which will send chills up your spine. It, alas, more or less destroyed the career of director Tod Browning since it was released by MGM, which was the high gloss, low calorie studio of the day, and this was a big budget bust. He was a major director who was then relegated to programmers and low budget fare before his career faded out a mere 7 years later.
Here's the trailer: