Friday, July 15, 2011

Evil in the Midst of Innocence

          "What religion are you preacher?"
          "The religion the almighty and me worked out betwixt ourselves."
       The Rev. Harry Powell's menacing conviction isn't that of a man of God but a pure psychopath. Like Dr. Childers said in Silence of the Lambs: so rare to catch one alive.
      The movie: The Night of the Hunter.
      The preacher: Robert Mitchum.
       The Night of the Hunter is a masterful work of story telling, cinematography and acting. Yet it sunk like a stone when it was released in 1955. The movie is part film noir, part fantasy in its dream-like quality and highly suspenseful, giving viewers a sick sense that evils lurks throughout, though it's camouflaged well. The forces of good versus evil set during the depression. Put that up against Cinemascope.
       Charles Laughton, a fine Brit actor, made his first and only directorial effort on Night of the Hunter, and did a great job. He also co-wrote it with script writer James Agee, who based the script on a novel that was based on a true story.
      In the 1930s, a man named Harry Powers who claimed he was a preacher was convicted and hanged for the murders of two widows. He went as far north as New England, but got nailed in West Virginia. Real life is stranger than fiction.
     This opening scene sets the tone:

       The Criterion Collection recently released Night of the Hunter in a 2-disk set. The first is the movie, a fabulous transfer of the film. The second disk has commentary by Laughton and a discussion by film critic Leonard Maltin. Lovers of cinema well done don't miss it. Go here.
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Of Peter Falk, Columbo, Husbands and glass eyes

      Anyone who has the chuztpah to pull out his glass eye and use it to taunt a baseball umpire is someone who has the stuff to be a winner in life. 

     Peter Falk, glass eye and all, was a winner.

     Everyone knows by now that Falk died yesterday, June 24. He was 83 and suffered with Alzheimers disease for about three years. The star of beloved Columbo  and many films had a start in life that would doom many others. He had a tumor at 3 years old that caused him to lose an eye. He also had a slight speech impediment. 

       Falk loved to tell a story about his glass eye. He was an  athlete in high school. Once, after he was called out at third base, Falk took out his glass eye, handed it to the umpire and said, "you'll do better with this."

     That's the stuff that makes legends.

     Falk was born in Manhattan, lived some in the Bronx and later in Ossining, NY. He went to college in New York, quit and joined the Merchant Marine, then returned to college and got a degree in public administration budgeting. Bah. Boring.  While working in Hartford, Connecticut as a pencil pusher, Falk got into local theatre. He made his Broadway debute in 1956.  The next year, he won a film role as the bartender in Eugene O'Neal's The Iceman Cometh.  Falk got early recognition after a role in Murder Inc. earned him an Oscar nomination.

       It was in 1967 that Falk created Columbo. He got the role after Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby turned it down. Falk blew off suggestions for a dapper attire and used his own raggedly trench coat, picked out a Peugot from the motor pool and made the Columbo character truly his own. The pilot, Prescription for Murder, aired that year.

     Most people think Columbo came after Falk's most notable movie roles, but it came first. The show aired off and on for the next three decades. Great roles: Falk was one of the trio of Husbands with Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara, a landmark film noted for its departure from traditional movie methods. That was 1971.
    Falks very best work ever was playing the husband of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence, 1976. Rowlands was Cassavetes' real life wife. It was a movie Cassavetes wrote and directed. Rowlands was nominated for an Oscar. It is a blistering story of a wife trapped and growing more claustrophobic, the film showing her descent into madness. 

   But man, beloved Columbo had staying power. The last round of feature length shows aired in the early 1990s and attracted the elite of movie stars. Watch this:

   Peter Falk beloved trenchcoat and all will be missed. RIP.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brando. Jiggle the molecules. TCM's marvelous bio in two parts.

           No other DVD  is as sought after, or is as hard to find, as Brando. The title says it all. Brando. This is TCM's two-part killer biography produced by Leslie Greif. The Greif company produced such penetrating and compelling video biographies, including one on Steve McQueen, called Steve McQueen, The Essence of Cool.

          You can't miss with great interviewees like Quincy Jones, who met Marlon Brando in the early 1950s, when the young man from the mid-West was falling in love with the Harlem jazz scene. Brando relished this knew, sultry and musical world and began playing conga. See this:


     Brando first aired in 2007, three years after Brando died and after his nine children settled most of the tangles over his estate. By the way, Brando left quite a huge estate. He did not die broke as some reported. He made and pissed away more money in his day than most small nations.

     Brando never ceases to fascinate. His childhood with a tough dad and drunk mom. His rebellious youth. Taking Broadway by storm. His re-defining acting, influencing nearly every actor of any repute. His smoldering sexy looks. His unflinching dedication to civil rights for all. 

    Nobody captures it like Greif. The trailer is tantalizing:


     The reluctant icon. Good way to put it. Now go get it. A deal you can't refuse. Just click here!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baby, I don't care

      Film Noir. They were just a bunch of entertaining B movies.  Then the French took a fancy to them. Now there are Film Noir scholars, Film Noir books. Film Noir DVD sets.

    They are the dark, brooding, movies with great contrasts of shadow and light, evil bad guys, bad good guys, and devastatingly beautiful femme fatales. Snappy dialog. Fast-paced plots. Often told by a narrator who goes into the past. Film noir isn't just the late 1940s and early '50s. There are a some great Film Noir today.

     I though Ronald Regan and the monkey were B movies. Then Film Noir Night came on TCM, so I watched three classics. 

    The best:  Out of the Past  (1950). Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas in a very early role. Mitchum's insouciance was a great contrast to Douglas' crisp, razor-sharp shark. I've never seen a man so big slouch so well in a chair while talking about so much money.

   I never thought muchl about Mitchum. I heard of him but  never appreciated his abilities on screen until this movie. Out of the Past caught my attention when I read that the film Against All Odds is a cheap knock off.  Having the best lines help. "You're like a leaf floating from gutter to gutter."  

   Night And The City  (1950). This is the better version even though so many love Robert DeNiro. Harry Fabian is a desperate guy, a two-bit hustler alternating between whiny resentment and enthusiasm for hare-brained schemes. He was was more desperate than funny. Always running. Fabian was running at the beginning of the movie in foggy London, and he was running at the end.

    In A Lonely Place (1950). Some say Humphrey Bogart's character here came closest to his true personality. I hope not. Bogie's a suspect in the murder of a young hat check girl. His beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame provides an alibi. But after she falls for him, Bogie's  violent and erratic behavior makes her wonder whether he IS the killer. 

    World weary anti-heros, tough bad guys, beautiful women who fall for the wrong men. Nothing new, but told well. Best film noir: Double Indemnity 1944 Fred MacMurry and Barbara Stanwick. Kiss of Death (1947) gave Richard Widmark his debut role in an chilling and creepy part. It was directed by Henry Hathaway who went onto the A-list, including the first True Grit in 1969. 
     Don't Bother To Knock (1952). This movie doesn't roll backward in time, but it stars Marilyn Monroe in a role that will put your hair on end. She was a fine actress, but I guess did not realize it. 

     Plenty of good Film Noir today. Pulp Fiction. Streets of Blood. Bad Lieutenant. Stone. Friends of Eddie Coyle. Ripley's Game. Angel Heart.. Film Noir is just too good to stay in the past.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great death scenes slow and low

         Great death scenes are really hard to come by. Lots of death scenes in film.  I'm talking about the really good ones. 

        Loud and explosive or slow and low? Slow and low are best, most suspenseful and shocking. Scare your hairs on end. 
        Take an early film noir death scene that has cinephiles still in awe today: Double Indemnity, the 1944 film Billy Wilder directed. Film noir was then called a "B" movie until the French took a fancy, noticing the great contrasts of shadow and light and the peppie story lines and anti-heros. Big in those days, like Indy flicks today. This one has Barbara Stanwyck in a lip-lock with lover Fred MacMurray when he pokes his pistol in her ribs and bye bye Barb. Double Indemnity Double Indemnity is an entertaining tale of greed, sex and betrayal in LA. And you thought Fred MacMurray did nothing exciting before he raised those three boys.

       Another slow and low is the fast shot the heart scene in LA Confidential,  leaving Kevin Spacey a few gasping moments, enough enough to breathe the movie's greatest clue: Rollo Tomasi.

       The best slow, and scary and creepy is the cross-bow through the gut in Deliverance .That scene let actor Bill McKinney all but almost steal the movie. John Boorman directed the 1972 film and was nominated for an Oscar. A tale of four city dwellers who were hoping to take an adventuresome but safe canoe trip down a beautiful Georgia river that soon would be a big lake due to construction. The four men had no idea what lawlessness lurked within. The movie is based on James Dickey's best-selling novel, Deliverance. The film propelled Burt Reynolds to stardom, fueled  Jon Voight's rising star, put Ned Beatty on the map and showed off Ronny Cox's beautiful guitar playing. 

     McKinney, a terrorizing, murderous hillbilly, is impaled by Reynold's cross-bow. He inches forward, slowly, back arched, pointing up at something. The camera swings around and around, character to character, showing their bulging eye shock, terror, curiosity, revulsion. Until the man finally plops on a tree limb, staring up, mouth agape. Everyone is paralyzed, even watching his hand twitch. "Is he dead?" 

     I saw Deliverance again a few days ago after many, many years. When it came out, a friend and I snuck in the local theatre because we were young teens and heard it was a wild movie and Reynolds and Voight were mega hunks. It was and they were.

     I never followed either Reynolds' or Voights' careers.  Deliverance, though, still is a riveting, excellent movie. Directing, acting, cinematography, Dickey's terrifying tale. Anyway, John Boorman is one of my favorite directors. I love Point Blank.  People think Lee Marvin's best role was in The Dirty Dozen but Point Blank really was his film. 

    For a great Blu-Ray version of Deliverance on DVD see The HD and Blu-Ray versions have running commentary by John Boorman, the Blu-Ray also has a vintage feature called "The Dangerous World of Deliverance." The movie was made for $2 million and grossed something like $46 million. Well. Squeal like a pig.

  See scenes from Point Blank and other great flicks in my store here gmt's youtube channel

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five not so easy movies

     Actually, there are seven movies, but five if you want to count those worth watching. I'm talking about of course the new release America Lost and Found: The BBS Story:. When I first heard of this I thought what  is the BBS? It sounds like a new British warship.

   Not so. BBS is taken from the filmmaking crew of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, a trio who together put out some inexpensive but wildly influential films. I think the Criterion Collection, which culled these together, pulled a sort of sleight of hand giving this the "so and so series" label because they are not like, say John Cassavetes who influenced an entire generation of movie makers. But it is a good excuse to plug good films, re-package and add some great interviews. A few flicks are quite good but never got the appreciation they deserved.

   Let's go a head and get past Head. That's the movie about The Monkees and the oldest, released in 1968.  No plot, no script, no acting. But the songs in the movie are probably the best ever done by Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork.  The film  is full of disconnected events and psychedelic scenes. The real charm is that they make no bones about being a media creation, actually poked fun at themselves.  I did like the new Head DVD for its extra features: the outtakes, screen tests, interviews and audio commentary. It's a hoot hearing those now-middle age men look back at the time they showed up for a "cattle call" auditions and see young Jack Nicholson hob-nobbing with Peter Tork. Who'da thunk? 

  America Lost and Found has its two blockbusters: Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) Easy Rider: What can we say that would illuminate this iconic movie any brighter? Who can forget the chicken salad scene in Five Easy Pieces? But each movie is a two-disk set with interesting interviews and commentary by Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and others involved as well as outtakes and theatrical trailers.

  So what's left? Of the four, two are fabulous films that were overlooked at the time: 
   The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) is an engrossing little flick I saw only a year ago, before this collection was released. It stars the usual suspects of back then: Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn. Nicholson is never better than when he plays it restrained. It forces him to give more. The complexity of characters and their interactions lept my interest piqued and my stomach a bit queazy.

  Last Picture Show (1971). Jeff Bridges was so young. It made Peter Bogdanovich a household name at the time. He shot it in black and white, which was pretty bold for an era when color film making was growing more and more vibrant. It works so well for the mood, time and space. This is also a 2-DVD disk set and the more interesting is the one with the comments from Cybill Shephard, Bogdanovich, Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman. She was one of two Oscar-winners. Most of us probably just remember her as the ditzy doctor's wife in Rhoda but Cloris Leachman is a fine dramatic actress. Ellen Burstyn and Ben Johnson also star.
   The little obscure: A Safe Place  (1971). I don't think there could be a more obscure flick, other than say, The Brain Eaters (1958). It stars Tuesday Weld with Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles. Did I say it stars Tuesday Weld? She's in nearly every single frame. Director Henry Jaglom must have fallen hard for her.  But the pacing and jumping around made me dizzy. There's no plot and who knows what Orson Welles is there for. 

   The other little known film is Drive, He Said Drive, He Said (1970). Jack Nicholson directed this feverish snapshot of a college basketball player who begins to unravel, and his loony roommate. Bruce Dern is great as the coach. He's always playing someone on the edge.

  Hey hey we're the know! 
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Watching paint dry....

          Ground-breaking. Visionary. Visually stunning.

          Oh please.
           I am probably the only one not blown away by the Michelangelo Antinioni film The Passenger. It stars Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris fame. To listen to the trite accolades you'd think the director invented the wheel. I do agree that many camera shots are artistic, daring and ahead of their time. The last scene, a very long panoramic shot, something like eight minutes, is masterful. There are no cut or jump shots. It's one long 180-degree camera turn from inside the window bars to looking outside the window to looking back in. But that's the work of the cameraman, Luciano Tovoli.

       Otherwise the plot is predictable and common. The pacing is akin to watching paint dry. It's not a movie where one has to make many leaps to figure out what's going on. The main character David Locke is frazzled with his life. When a fellow guest at his motel dies, he swaps identities. Within the next five minutes into the film, you also know exactly how it will end. 

      I got razzed for my failure to fawn over Antinioni for his indy- cinema verite - attitude of his own pacing (a snail's). This is not true art or departure in meaningful ways. It is a lack of knowing what else to do but show the tick-tick-tick of the character's life as it progresses to the end. Well yeah Europeans are more tolerant of self-indulgent directors and there is a lot less flash and boom than in American movies. I love foreign movies mostly because they do tend to be about people and situations, and a lot less flash and boom. Actors are much less over the top. But fresh look at storytelling? Nah.

     Someone said it was -- get this -- visually stunning. Please. Other movies released in Europe blow this away and are indeed visually stunning.
That movie was a feast for the eyes, the score was gorgeous and the actors in their beautiful prime. The story was riveting. Of course it was also based on a true story and on a book by a compelling writer, Joseph Conrad. 

     I understand the final shot took a heck of a lot of work. My YouTube upload is only one quarter of the shot, but trust me you do not miss much more watching the full eight minutes, other than the amazement of a very brilliant cameraman one shot. See my My YouTube channel for two great scenes from the Duellists (among others). To find both, check this out

Friday, July 9, 2010

Jack, Sondra and Richard Oh My!

           You got to get started somewhere. 
          It was 1958 when a boyish Jack Nicholson starred in horror movie called the Cry Baby Killer. He might want to cry if he saw it today. But the B-grade flick got him some basic experience and excellent exposure. It also created a movie now a cult hit. 

         Sondra Lock was Jesus. Richard Dreyfuss was one of her disciples. Michelle Pfeiffer was a socialite in a role so forgettable I'll bet she's forgot. Sonda Lock looked so young and fragile she's nearly androgynous. The movie is called The Second Coming of Suzanne. To call it bizarre is kind. And if you have enough money you can hire a few hippies who will do to anything in front of a camera. Ask Norman Mailer

         Here's a scene from Little Shop that I'm sure ever film lover has scene by now (How many movies go on to become Broadway hits and re-filmed blockbusters?):    

This is just plain weird:


 This Alfred Hitchcock episode with John CassavetesJohn Cassavetes is quite good, but then, Hitchcock was a master:

Pre-Death Wish franchise:

Go here for the flick  if you'd like to buy the double feature The Second Coming of Suzanne and Power, Passion and Murder (Michelle Pfeiffer).  Please see more videos on My YouTube Channel 

This is best to find great flicks

YOU GOT TO see this, fans of Jack Nicholson and lovers of cinema. I wish I could take credit for this exhilarating piece of video editing which is an amazing tribute to the films of Jack Nicholson. It is the work of Billyscreeningroom2 on YouTube and is one of the best pieces of film editing I've seen. Enjoy:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Johnny Depp: push-up bra, angora sweater and swell pumps

     Okay I saw Ed Wood  finally.  A lot of them were of Johnny Depp in drag (a favorite for trailers and previews). He is one brave guy. And not bad in angora sweaters, wool skirts and kitten heels. But it was the push up bra that made the outfit. 
      I have to admire an actor willing to take such chances. Especially those who pulled it off. The only others I can recall right off-hand are Patrick Swayze (RIP, glorious dancer), Nathan Lane (Birdcage), Guy Pearce (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) All three of those actors looked pretty good. It's depressing.....
     This isn't about parading around on Cinemascope in drag. It's about taking on roles that are so daring and then pulling them off. I recently watched a bio on Johnny Depp, part of a two-disk set put out by Biography called Silver Screen Mavericks. It is 300 wonderful minutes of interviews and footage of four actors labeled mavericks. I don't think Steve McQueen, one of them, was a maverick. He actually was quite conventional in his role choices. The essence of cool. The segment on him was still quite good, though. The other two were James Dean and Marlon Brando (buy that great TCM Leslie Greif bio two hours of Brando). I did not see Dean's segment, but he was not around long enough to have established  himself. Brando marched to his own drummer.
    But I love that Johnny Depp, the only one still among us, got the label. It is fitting. His role choices have been off-beat, like Cry Baby (a musical, almost?) I give him points for what he turned down, like the role that went to Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise. First it was offered to Depp.  He wants to do not just interesting and off-beat (Edward Scissorhand) but what also pleased him, what satisfied the artist him, even if it meant getting raked apart at Cannes (The Brave). The Brave, produced and written by Depp was so bad, it only got play in Europe. Better to try and fail than never to try at all.
   All in all, not bad for a kid who grew up in Miramar. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, just a few miles north of the sleepy Miramar a few years ahead of him. It was real easy in those days to get lost among the worthless Broward County school system growing so fast it couldn't possibly cope with the multitudes.
  Depp turned out a fine actor (loved Blow, Scissorhands, From Hell and that great Pirate franchise.
  See a scene from Depp's Silver Screen segment:

  I hope you will see my other youtube uploads: click here
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 and more wonderful movies right here!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

No Fair!

      Okay, we've all seen the movie  Creature From The Black Lagoon at some point or another. It was released in 1954. That's a long time ago. Even before my time!

       One of the stars was the young and beautiful ingenue Julie Adams. Twenty years later, the same woman was one of the main characters in another B-grade science fiction bomb called Psychic killer. It was so bad, it was good. That had some heavy hitters, too: Adams, Jim Hutton and Paul Burke. There were spots for Neville Brande and Della Reese and you could tell those two were just having a rip of a time with their  stupid scene. However, it never achieved much status, much less the cult status of Creature.

     First let me say I've seen sci fi flicks they are not really my cup of tea except I liked Outland. (I haven't seen Avatar and really no desire to). Science fiction movies it seems like no other genre achieve cult status with a fervent, devoted following. Look at the Star Trek franchise, going back to the original TV show (which I'm old enough to recall). Another great sci fi flick: The Blob. Did you know that Steve McQueen the dolt gave up any percentage of the gross and instead took the cash up front, which was like $1,000. That came right from the lips of Neils his ex-wife. McQueen trivia: The only time he and his wife was on screen together was in a 1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode.
    To the point: Julie Adams looks as good in Psychic Killer as she did in Creature. Well almost. She might have had some work but if so, it sure was well done and subtle. Good genes and she probably took good care of herself. But genes call so many of the shots. Who said life was fair?    
see this

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Farewell to the two Mr. Dunnes

       It's been nine months since the death of Dominick Dunne, author, commentator and for his 15 minutes of fame, Los Angeles jet-setter. Few people know that Mr. Dunne was part of the 1960s California scene, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, directing Playhouse 90 and being, generally, cool.

      Until, that is, his wife decided she had outgrown him and divorced him. Mr. Dunne went from hot commodity to Dog of the Dow in his social circles. At the time his three children, including namesake Dominique, were young. It was before Mr. Dunne found his true calling, and only then so after tragedy struck, a heartbreak so profound it pierced him to the marrow. And it happened at a time when Mr. Dunne was so broke he couldn't find two nickels to rub together. That sad time when newly divorced, Mr. Dunne packed all he could fit into his car and drove to Oregon where he lived in a cabin and tried to eke out a living as a writer.  
       Now, most people are aware of the Mr. Dunne who is rich and famous and marvelously gossipy. The one who wrote best selling novels: A Season in Purgatory,  The Two Mrs. Grenvilles: A Novel (also based on a true story); An Inconvenient Woman; People Like Us: A Novel and Another City, Not My Own, based on the OJ Simpson murder trial. (Read it, couldn't put it down). Mr. Dunne gave voice to voiceless victims. He did it in many books and on television in Power, Privilege and Justice on TruTV.
       But before all that, Mr. Dunne was trying to put out a book while living in a cold one-room flat in Oregon. Daughter Dominique was finding parts as an actress on television and movies, her biggest role in the Poltergeist (25th Anniversary Edition).  During these months she also met and broke up with nut case John Thomas Sweeney.  Dominique sought and won a restraining order against the physically abusive Sweeney, but the obsessed and enraged Sweeney found out where Dominique was staying one night in November, 1982. He went to see her. She made the mistake of going out to speak to him. In a fit of rage, Sweeney beat Dominique to death.

       An editor for Vanity Fair noticed Mr. Dunne at the trial, day after sorrowful day. He took notes. He was in despair. So she asked if Dunne would write a column about how he felt, just his feelings and views. He felt the victim was getting more protection than Dominique ever got. Soon a writer of legend was born, the other Mr. Dunne. He wrote about Sweeney getting a mere 6 1/2 years after brutally taking a life, and Mr. Dunne went on to write about many other true murder cases in a fictionalized style for Vanity Fair. The other Mr. Dunne had no stomach for Los Angeles. He wrote of his feeling about LA in his sort- of autobiography, Another City: " Good times. Bad times. The bad times were badder than the good times were good...." 

      I recently finished A Season In Purgatory. Gripping and fast-paced. Mr. Dunne has a wonderful way with character development that I envy. The novel is based on the Martha Moxley murder in Connecticut. Yes, the rich and famous just seem to get away with so much. We are more enlightened for having the two Mr. Dunnes. Good night, sweet prince.

don't forget this

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Voice, a vision and Vietnam

        I saw Heaven and Earth a few nights ago. I don't know how these little gems slip by me. Not my favorite movie but Oliver Stone did a pretty good job. He does have a love affair with Vietnam. The film was released in 1993 and stars Tommy Lee Jones (always so good) and then newcomer Hiep Thi Le, with Joan Chen, Haing S. Ngor and others in a big strong cast.

       Oliver Stone is one of a few exceptional directors. His resume includes Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born of the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers and JFK. 

     Movies that snag me fast are those with a great voice. Not necessarily narration, but it usually is a narrated film. Voice-over story tellers and epic tales. Breathtaking cinematography. Some I love are as short as Out Of The Past to Days Of Heaven to Memoirs of a Geisha and The Joy Luck Club (something entrancing about the Asian accented.) Giovanni Riblisi narrating The Virgin Suicides and  Alec Baldwin's telling us about the Royal Tenenbaums. Stacy Keach's marvelous pipes telling of the The Duel.     Nothing can ruin a great movie faster than a bad narrator. (think Sam Shepard in The Voyager). A story, a score and a great voice. The triple crown for movies.

For some of these great epics and film noir see right here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Snap out of it!

          Snap out of it!

            One of the best lines in one of the best movies of the 1980s. Moonstruck, with Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis (who won best supporting actress Oscar) and the late wonderful Vince Gardenia. 

            As far as good romantic flicks go, this ranks right up there. Okay hey it's a chick flick some like to say. But Moonstruck has a smart story line (no sappy schlock), funny, great cast and the flavor of New York City. There are lots of romantic comedies but few are really good. 

           Nicolas Cage is one of my favorite actors. I think he is underrated. But that's probably because of some dump role choices. But he was good in Moonstruck (1987), Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2002) and Leaving Las Vegas for which he won the 1995 Oscar. Elizabeth Shue was superb, but so underrated. We never hear much about Capt. Corelli's Mandolin, with Penelope Cruz and John Hurt and takes place during one of my favorite eras for movies: World War 2. What a time to be alive.

        Back to Cage. How can someone do such excellent work (including the anxiety-riddled con man in Matchstick Men) Cage was hilarious as the anxiety-riddled grifter with a dozen ticks.  And then he does this completely stupid ghastly film called The Wicker Man.  OMG. I guess he needed the money.   I read recently Cage filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Hey, bad stuff happens to the best of us. But come on he was married to Lisa Marie Presley, plus he made some big bucks for those movies. Nick, jeepers, what did you do with it? You got top-flight kin in the business (nephew to directorial titan Francis Ford Coppola and cousin to the gifted and wonderful director Sophia Coppola.(The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation). 

       Hey those back IRS taxes will do you in every time. Don't you hate it when that happens? These things work themselves out. So Nick snap out of it!   

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Here's to Toots and a haunting harmonica

        I am embarrassed to admit this but I saw Midnight Cowboy (1969) only last year. Of course I have seen bits and pieces of it.  I knew it put Jon Voight on the map. I knew Dustin Hoffman's character was Ratso Rizzo. The role showcased his remarkable talents, coming off of his clean-cut innocence in The Graduate

        But I never watched Midnight Cowboy from beginning to end. What a great flick. The ending really hit me. I don't recall a movie that gave me such a feeling of sadness at the end. Not teary hanky sad. Just sad like a void. A loss.

      Without the gifted harmonica playing it would not have had the impact. Even as true to form as it was to James Leo Herlihy's brilliant book.  The glorious playing was done by Jean Toots Theilemans. I'll tell you some instruments need gifted musicians to show you their capabilities. The harmonica is one of them.

     Music sets the tone.  The youthful exuberance the opening of Across the Universe with the Beatles song "It's you," so energized and sparkling. Or the creepy feeling the Doors music brought to Apocalypse Now.  The best is the jazz score set to a low-budget 1958 science fiction thriller called 4D Man. Great jazz music by itself, but it really made the action bounce along.

    That's why if I love a book, I hesitate to see the movie. Who wants your imagery ruined if you heard raggae and they do rock? I sometimes get the book, though, if the movie is good.Sometimes I avoid the movie after reading an exceptional book. You see some movies not even close to the book. Like LA Confidental. Both a great book and flick. The book starts out with a conversation between two LA cops, one of whom is a major player in the book. But in the movie he's just a bit character and on top it of he's killed off fast. I have read most of Elroy's books. The master of novel noir.

  Here's a my badly edited liberty with Midnight Cowboy to showcase Toots' haunting harmonica:

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Better to be smart, or lucky?

    The answer of course, is both. But most people aren't. They aren't even one or the other. But given a choice, luck is best. How many smart, talented people end up living utterly miserable lives?

     What a dour prelude to this blog. I read three books in a row by the same author, Sam Shepard. All three were his collections of short stories Day out of Days: Stories, this book being the most recent. I know he's also a noted playwright whose early work Buried Child won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969.

    I confess I don't read plays. The stage directions get annoying. They clutter the story. So, I haven't had had a full view of  his work. Though the short stories I read seem to get repetitive. Collections of this or that, all the same just different packages covers.
   Love books? Almost as much as I love movies and I  got the jammed bookshelves to prove it. Read 'em all. I am partial to mysteries (love Sue Grafton starting with  A Is for Alibi and that wonderful novelist noir James Elroy) and read so many true crime stories for example, Truman Capote's In cold blood (I have stacks by the best) and then there are just plain good books like Anna Quindlin's Black and Blue: A Novel

      So I read in order of publication Shepard's three collections of short stories starting with Great Dream of Heaven: Stories published, if I recall, in 1986, then his Cruising Paradise: Tales in 1997 and his most recent Day out of Days: Stories published this year. 

    The books aren't just short stories as much as a few good tales with a bunch of essays, remembrances of personal events, poems, and a few chapters that are no more than a paragraph. You can say some pretty powerful stuff in a paragraph. But each book seems weaker than the next. Each had fewer stories and more essays, on, for example, Shepard's escapades during this latest acting job. Or his childhood. I saw a number of those movies and I recognized a lot of those locations and situations. If he disliked it that much why do it? He didn't need the money.

     Shepard made well as an actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. That was more because Yeager was an amazing man than Shepard an amazing actor.  Shepard's best roles were in 1977 Days of Heaven  by Terrence Malick, co-starring Richard Gere and Brook Adams. The other was a part as Ethan Hawk's courageous publisher dad in Snow Falling on Cedars.. (The book and film  were marvelous).

    I read autobiographical material in which I shared with Shepard a  childhood with an abusive, alcoholic parent. So I checked his books out of my local library. I know what he means when, in one of his essays he talks about intrusions of prickly thoughts. Maybe that's the genesis of the series on the severed head. A treacherous childhood can leave its tattoos. I don't read or watch much on westerns. Cowboys themselves are more interesting but so much information is available on the internet. Like everything you want to know about Hank Williams Sr. Beats me why the New York Times went ga ga over Shepard's last book. Genius? I guess it is a matter of taste. Still, it's better to be lucky. Shepard sure was in his adult life.


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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Swords, snits and sinewy soldiers

     One of the most lusciously filmed movies I ever watched was released in 1977. The Duellists starred very young and fairly new actors Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel. Both were beautiful, fit, lean. Sinewy legs and round buns in skin tight uniforms. 

    Besides the actors, the movie scenery was lavish and the score was  sensual. I think a the producers used a lot of Mozart. The movie also was Ridley Scott's debut film. What surprised me was that such an excellent movie had such limited release at the time. I saw it for the first time last year. 
    It was narrated artfully by Stacey Keach. The story was based on actual events. Novel-noir writer Joseph Conrad read about the duelists an old newspaper. The clipping told of a lifelong grudge between two soldiers who dueled every few years over the same insult. The transgression was long forgotten, or perhaps never really existed but in the minds of one or both.  In the movie, the duels take place during the course of the Napoleonic rule, and end when it ends.

     Period pieces have to be gripping to keep my attention. I did enjoy both  Pride And Prejudice 1995 and 2006. Also Sense and Sensibility and most recently  Marie Antoinette in 2004.  If you get a chance, Joseph Conrad's the Duellists is worth watching. Oh those men in uniform can be a handful.

   Here are a few scenes:

and this little gem:

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Wambaugh, war and other bloody messes

         Joseph Wambaugh probably had no idea what a love affair he was creating when he wrote The New Centurions, published in 1970. The LAPD cop-turned-novelist gave us some interesting crime and good and bad guy stuff in the day. But the thing Wambaugh did that generates the most devotion isn't in his resume. 

       The Police Story, first aired in 1973, still has the hearts and minds. It was a collaboration between script writers and Wambaugh and stars Vic Morrow in the lead. But it has quite an ensemble cast in Ed Asner, Chuck Connors, Harry Guardino and Ralph Meeker. Over its long run, actors of both genders took the lead and supporting actors came and went but the show stayed strong.

       I have a DVD of 1973's The Police Story pilot show in top-flight condition, and a slew of happy customers to prove it. The show provided the formula for all those cop serials to come: it was realistic and gritty. Maybe Vic Morrow's gruesome death adds to the mystique. Morrow and two youngsters, as you all know, was killed in the helicopter crash while filming a scene for Twilight Zone, The Movie. He was 52, and on the verge of a come back after he fell off the face of the Earth. It had to be tough to take after Morrow's success in the 1960s World War II show Combat!  
      Morrow's real talents were behind the camera. Some of Combat's best episodes were directed by Morrow: The Pillbox, and more. Innovative camera angles, smart story lines and ground-breaking approaches to war shows. Who knows what might have been. No one was held accountable for those deaths during the filming. Want an intriguing read and penetrating view into the hidden side of Hollywood? Read Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case

    Here is a scene from The Police Story pilot, Slow Boy. Please check out my YouTube channel I just added a second season episode on Aug. 18, 2011 called Love, Mabel. It aired in 1974 and starred William Shatner and Dean Stockwell. In the first five seasons the main characters changed quite often, with bad guys coming back in later shows as cops.

        I read a few years ago that Combat co-star Rick Jason shot himself. He was at home with his wife. He woke up, got up, and shot himself (if what I read was accurate.) Jason never had the fame or acclaim of Morrow, but to watch him on youtube at Combat! reunions, in interviews, he never seemed disappointed or unhappy. Outward appearances are deceptive. No one knows what goes on in a person's head. Did anyone out there in cyberspace know him? Know of him? Have any insight into what might have been going on? Was he ill?  I was a fan of his.
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ear-biting cinema

        Wow. I finally found and watched Norman Mailer's improvised 1970 movie Maidstone. Yup, the infamous hammer-bonking, ear biting, blood and mud wrestling flick that is among the four movies Mailer directed.

       Odd. Two days later, I read a review of Norris Church Mailer's A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir. Church is Mailer's sixth and last wife. Her title also could sum up hubby's forays into film making: journeys into the bizarre, unreal and self-indulgence. 

       The New York Times gave Mrs. Mailer high marks for honesty in describing a life devoted to fulfilling Mailer's quirky needs and whims. Secretarial and maid service included. Example: Mrs. M labors to remodel a room taking great pains to make sure it suited all Mailer's needs and he criticizes the way she hung one of his suits. Well, yeah.

      On the Mailer movie front. Cinema verite? Gonzo Cinema? Well Hunter Thompson was talented. Mailer's entire flick is an exercise in the kind of narcissism his last missus describes.

      Maidstone was one of four films he made. His last movie, "Tough Guys Don't Dance," Mailer did not appear in. The star role went to Ryan O'Neal. The NY Times called that movie demented film noir.   The three better known ones are "Maidstone," and "Wild 90," and "Just Beyond the Law". The last one again featured Rip Torn. 

     I figured Mailer's films would be, uh, off-beat. In Maidstone, as most people know, Mailer plays famous film maker Norman T. Kinglsey. He is considering a run for president. Alter ego for Mailer, the  man who would be director, and who did run for New York mayor in 1972. 

     Yes yes the usual full frontal nudity. This is a hoot: Mailer as director is in a scene telling his prospective actresses they need to be prepared to bare all for some scenes so don't have hissy fits, yet he says bad taste in nudity makes him squeamish. Puleeeeeeeeeeeeze!  Nothing shows Mailer's sexism, racism and common-mentality better than his character's interviews-lectures to the prospective actresses. None of that for the men in the film, though.

    Worth watching? You bet. If for anything it is a worthwhile art house flick for 1) the hilarious spontaneous fight between Mailer and Torn and 2) getting a view of a person who gave us The Naked Face 1948, and The Executioner's Song in 1976, Armies of the Night in the 1960s, among other great books. Mailer was one of the literary giants of our day. What a gulf between the writer and the man who created those movies. Mailer lived quite a life. Better to have lived out loud than not at all.

   See Maidstone, uncut version, region one DVD at look for Bohemian_bungalow. 



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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Genius or just gross?

For all the fuss, the Tropic of Cancer (1970) has frontal nudity and what is now considered tame sex scenes. Just watching the movie, you would not know what an uproar Henry Miller's book created. It was banned in the U.S. in 1934. I think what made the book, and movie, objectionable is the sex talk: raw and exploitive, both obsessive and misogynistic. The language is racy even by today's standards.

As a cinephile, I saw both sex flicks Rip Torn did, the other being Coming Apart (1969). Coming Apart is far more graphic. I mean, nothing is left to the imagination. In the movie, Torn plays a salacious psychologist who lures his female patients to an apartment, seduces them and secretly videotapes these encounters. One might think his decent into madness is scary, but it's not nearly as nerve-wracking as his betrayals of vulnerable female patients.

The movie, which I believe was unrated at the time, was released and within a few months fell off the face of the Earth. It was re-released in 1999 to a choir singing bravo about the movie's cinematic "genius, brilliance" and its "challenging, visionary" accomplishments and other such stuff.

Well a pox on the revisionary history. I think the movie took a dive not because of sex or all the skin. And boy there is a lot of it in those 90-some minutes.

Let me digress and say I think Torn does a fine work in both his roles as the salacious and mooching Henry Miller, and as the tormented and equally salacious Dr. Glazier. Yes, yes, it's cinema verite and worthwhile. But it suffers from its director, Milton Moses Ginsburg. He had an idea, a good one, but didn't actually know how to quite pull it off. All that acting talent. The flick suffers from a need of being fleshing out (no pun intended).

It lacks cohesion. Oh let me just say it: It's a mess. The guy wasn't sure what he was doing and winged it, too much. Even film noir and verity need some set up and a story line strong enough to pull viewers through. One chance where Ginsburg had, he muffed it. He could have pull loose ends together through the monologue by the increasingly psychotic doctor. Instead, Ginsburg just cuts the sound. We see Torn saying his lines, and looking like a dying man but we are robbed of the chance to see what brought him to this point, and where he might end up from there. And the last section I would have cut. Utterly pointless. One would think Sally Kirkland (Anna) was smarter than that. Maybe they were getting bored and started to like getting naked. See snippets of scenes through these links: