Star Trek: The Motion Picture (4K Director’s Cut)

I went to see “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” on opening day at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The crowd was massive, the movie was gorgeous and our mood afterward was hopeful. The film did not play like a space war rip off of Star Wars” but rather an extended version of a cerebral episode of the original series.   There were sequences that felt long, and the special effects got more attention than the characters, but I was happy it existed, I’d waited ten years for Trek to rise from the dead and when it did, I make two or three trips to see it in theaters.

The home video market started in the early 1980s, when sell through pricing became real and the idea of owning your favorite film, not just renting it was a dream come true. Trek was one of the early franchise adopters of the sell through price, where a film was sold to a general audience rather than just video rental stores. When STTMP was available, a longer special edition was sold and it had some different
effects shots and additional scenes to tantalize us. I owned that edition on VHS and on Laser Disc, as well as a Laser Disc version of the original theatrical cut. I suppose it was my purchase of a collection of Star Trek films from the first to the fifth in a Laserdisc Box set that made me complacent about updating the films when they had subsequent releases.  

I have never seen the Director’s Cut by Robert Wise from the 2001 DVD offering. I bypassed it, figuring ist was simply a remaster of the Special Edition. It was not until I saw the film last night that I saw what substantial improvements in the story had been made by the inclusion of two previously cut scenes and the trimming of other moments here and there. This 4K version is a remastering of the Director’s Cut from 2001 and of course it is digitally enhanced to improve the video and the audio. 

My choices for the Fathom Event were limited, and I ended up at a theater here in the Austin Area that I had not yet been to. This was a Regal Theater and coincidentally, I had just removed the Regal App from my phone because it had been two plus years since I had used it. There were a couple of drawbacks to this location. While they did have a digital presentation, the screen was not sufficiently shielded from lighting in the theater, especially the forward Exit signs, so the image was soft at times. The theater also lacked a dynamic stereo system for the audio tracks so the presentation did not show off the technical aspects of the 4K release as dramatically as one would have hoped. [The biggest drawback of the theater is that they serve Pepsi products, resulting in my usual movie thirst going unquenched.  I’m a Coke guy.]  One thing that I did approve of however, was the traditional theater seating. No tiers, no electronic lounge chairs, just a slight sloping of the theater floor. The big advantage of this was that it enhanced the chatter between me and some other guests before the film started. Instead of being isolated from one another by the admittedly more comfortable confines of today’s stadium and  lounge chairs, we felt like a group of kindred spirits revisiting an old friend on screen but also new friends in the audience. 

The film itself is vastly improved over the theatrical version. I liked the sequence where Spock weeps for Vger because he sees himself in the emptiness of pure logic and realizes that there can only be more if he moves beyond that. In the end sequence, Mr. Scott activates a self destruct protocol, which would be a very Kirk maneuver in the face of overwhelming odds to try to defend the planet Earth. You can find other places on line to explore the differences in the various versions, that’s what I did. Here is one that is pretty thorough without getting too technical (The Movie Sleuth).

One of the complaints that people have made over the years is that so much time is devoted to fetishizing the Enterprise in this film. There are multiple tours of the exterior of the ship, and whenever possible, a scene is shown of the interior that is not on the bridge. I think one of the things that makes the first outside view of the Enterprise feel so long is that there is basically no dialogue for the sequence. Kirk and Scotty are in a small shuttle, traversing the immensity of the ship and they say nothing, all of the acting is done with their faces as the detailed model is explored in depth. This was a moment of fan service that might put off non-Trekkers but it was needed by the long time fans, because dammit, we had waited so long for it to become a reality.

The Special Effects of the Vger Cloud, Ship, Probes and union with humanity were beautiful back in 1979 and they continue to impress still. The slingshot warp drive effect with the sonic punch is still cool. I was struck by a moment in the film that had been done in a completely different film a few months earlier. The James Bond Space story “Moonraker” had used the idea of geosynchronous orbiting objects spreading death like a necklace around the planet. Here we had the same general idea, visualized in a way that was slightly different but did seem to be cut from the same cloth. Another 1979 parallel that I realized was that two great science fiction film scores came out this year and they were both from the same mind. Jerry Goldsmith first brought us “Alien“, but finished the year with a completely different sounding score for “Star Trek”, including a theme that was subsequently used for the “Next Generation” TV series and run of films. The attack on the Klingon ships is also a noteworthy motif that we will hear in subsequent adventures.  It was worth the trip to the theater just to listen to the music, even if the sound system was not optimal.  

Trekkers are glad to see their favorite crew return after a decade off. Kirk’s interactions with Captain Decker start off with an uncharacteristic bite, but when the good Doctor joins the crew and moderates his old friend, the Kirk we knew seems to come back to life before our eyes. Had Spock been a pure Vulcan, we get a chance to see how his calculating nature might have diminished the character in the larger scheme of things. When his analysis of Vger’s defect is complete, Spock returns as well to the character that we all fell in love with during the Original Series. Chekov has the best moments of the secondary characters, but everyone gets a spotlight here and there and it made us anticipate new adventures even more.

Although the story did seem to have elements from the television episodes, the time given to some of the philosophical questions raised was much greater and deeper in this film. I like a space battle as much as the next person, but Trek was always about more than action, it was about ideas. This is the Star Trek film that cleaves closest to the spirit of the series. It may lack the action elements that people want in a movie, but it has the soul that fans of the original love. 

“The human adventure is just beginning.”

Men

In 2015, I listed Alex Garland’s debut directorial effort as my favorite film of the year. It was a provocative science fiction film that had big ideas and themes to build around. It reminded me of a lot of 70s science fiction films and the ending was a bit nihilistic. like the three Charlton Heston sci fi films of that era. I waited on his second film “Annihilation”, because something in the marketing warned me that it was going to be a tough go. I watched it finally, just a few days ago and my instinct was correct. “Annihilation” is beautifully mounted and skillfully assembled, but the story feels incomplete and there is not an discernable theme to pull it together. I don’t need the theme to hit me over the head but when it is so obtuse that I don’t care to think about it, I believe the film maker has come up short. That brings us to his newest film, “Men”. Will this be a thought provoking horror film, one that potentially says something about the title subject, or will this be an exercise in abstraction, satisfying only those who have enough imagination to impose an idea on the film? 

Let me make a couple of comparisons for you that might make my point clearer. Robert Eggers has directed two films that I have come to loathe, because of his instance that internal logic and a plot are less important than mood and exaggerated characterizations. David Lowery, made a movie that I loved, a reimagining of “Pete’s Dragon“, that mixed sadness with hope and a clear story. He then followed it with the acutely dense, slow and cryptic “A Ghost Story” and last years “The Green Knight“, both of which have much going for them, except a point. I’m afraid that Alex Garland has joined their cult of artistic ambiguity and instead of prompting thought, his films now stimulate irritation. “Men” is a horror film that works on atmosphere in the first two acts, and then revulsion in the third, all in aid of shrugged shoulders as some might ponder what it was all about, and others ponder why they bothered.

The set up of a woman, damaged by a marriage that ended in a tragically ugly way, seeking solace in the countryside, seems perfectly fine as a starting point. There is a juxtaposition of beauty in the natural countryside with the ugliness of people she encounters in the small village and the manor house that she has leased for a few weeks.  It won’t take you too long to figure out why all of the men she encounters become increasingly creepy. The subtle similarities are there for us to catch on to, and that is great, but it is not clear why her fears are manifesting in this manner. There is a very strong suggestion that all of this is a projection of her feelings about her husband and their relationship, but there are also signs and evidence that this is far from just a mental breakdown, and in fact there is a malevolence that is imposing itself on her in real life. I don’t see a third way to explain what is going on and the bifurcation of sources here is never really resolved which is very deflating to the film. When a final character appears at the very end, there is another element that evokes possible meaning, but the strain that you would have to go through to get there is not worth the effort.

If there is anything to recommend the film more positively, it is the three pronged fork of Rory Kinnear, Jessie Buckley, and the special effects team that does dramatic work in the last act. Kinnear is a prolific television actor in British episodic programs. He has been best known to me as Bill Tanner, “M”‘s Chief of Staff in the James Bond films of Daniel Craig. Here he manifests some startlingly different character traits, across a plethora of opportunities. It is best to let you discover those on your own if you are inclined to see the film. Jessie Buckley has captivated me since “Wild Rose” and her character here is vastly different than that role. Harper, the woman Buckley portrays, is emotionally fragile but also self sufficient and a bit stubborn. She can scream with the best of them, but she can also fight back, and in an interesting way at the end, her battle is the most passive strategy you can imagine. I’m not sure it makes sense, but she sells it. Finally, if you are a fan of body horror and creatively grotesque visual effects, the climax of the film will impress you as far as the gore facto is concerned. There is a Russian style nest of dolls sequence which will nauseate you enough to at least get an ick factor out of this horror film.

The aggressively woke title of the film, seems to mean nothing in the long run. If you were expecting a political or social commentary from the film, prepare to be disappointed. At best, the theme of one man’s obsessive possessiveness , is cloudy. It might be there, or it might just be a figment of your imagination. Whoa, that’s the same problem as the whole film, imagine that. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I suspect this will be one of the most controversial films in the MCU. We will do our best to avoid spoilers but there is one element that is revealed in the first ten minutes that is unavoidable if we are to have an intelligent discussion of the flaws of this film. If you have to wait until you see the movie to discover the villain, then you have not seen a trailer and you should stop reading now and come back next week after you have seen the movie. 

This second film in the Doctor Strange centric universe does some damage to the story arc of a major character who has been an Avenger and the subject of their own Disney Plus spinoff show. It may be a plot thread that is consistent with the comic books that the character originated in, but it is a complete reversal of the character’s journey in the steaming television series.Wanda Maximoff is a character that we have suffered with and who managed her grief , ultimately learning to live with it in a mature manner after the events of “WandaVision”. This movie throws out most of the character development of that show and it keeps only the concept of the children that Wanda invented. Somehow, the Scarlet Witch takes over and becomes obsessed with a problem that Wanda has already managed. This makes Wanda the major antagonist of the film, and for people who feel her pain and the steps she has gone through up to this point, it feels like a betrayal. 

Writer Michael Waldron, who did a terrific job with the “Hawkeye” series, has fumbled the ball with this film and some of the lazy writing is evident in the most obvious of places. Taking a character who can manufacture a world that Doctor Strange feels is “so real”, make the most annoying slip possible to accidentally reveal her intentions is the most basic example of that laziness. Later in the story, the wisest beings in one of the multiverse worlds, are completely blind to the threat that the Scarlet Witch presents, which makes what happens satisfying in a way that is also cheap. Wanda’s character is also so focused on the selfish goal that she is pursuing, she ignores all of the sacrifice made by others, including her lost love, and it is as if the grieving process never took place at all. Her inability to look at reason, and to think that the absence of killing everyone is a measured choice, just seems silly.

Having said this, I still want to say I enjoyed the film for what it is on it’s own, rather than for it’s place in the extended MCU. Doctor Strange and Wanda are like a different version of magical wizards Harry Potter and Voldemort. They cast spells at one another, they find ways to trick each other to gain the upper hand, and it is always about the fact that it has to be these two characters who face off. Replace wands with the fling rings and magic shields, and you get the picture. They even stage a sequence that will remind you of the battle of Hogwarts. That is not a bad thing, but it is derivative and another example of the lazy writing. Regardless of those points, I did like the last act, and even though you can see the resolution coming, it still works.

Director Sam Rami was chosen for this project for a pretty obvious reason, that final act. You could easily think you had stumbled onto the sequel to “Army of Darkness”. The Doctor Strange in the final showdown is an extended version of a comic book character that Rami created for his 1990 film, and it is just as cool as an outake from “The Evil Dead”. There are deadites but there is no chain saw. In the one consistency in telling the story, there is a consequence to using the “Book of the Dead”, I’m sorry, the “Darkhold”, but you do have to wait for the final moment of the main film to see it. 

There are spectacular visuals everywhere you look. In visiting some of the other Universes, we get clever twists on our own world, and there are nods to some of the elements of the comic book cosmos as well. Blink and you might miss a reference to another Multiverse Marvel film that will be coming out later this year. I think red means go is another lazy plot transition, but it does justify some of the actions that Steven Strange commits in that world. The actors are all good, although Michael Stuhlbarg is even more wasted as a presence than he was in the origin story. Elizabeth Olsen gets a wide range of deviousness to play, Benedict Wong continues to be an MVP in the films he is in, and Rachel McAdams does have something to do in the film, but I can’t say too much. There is a fun piece of fan service with the Illuminati, serving as a alternative universe set of Avengers, and I was was surprised by the characters and cast and would not dream of saying more. 

So having dissed the storytelling and praised the technical accomplishments, let me say that some people will enjoy the heck out of the movie, I know I did, but not for the reasons you might want to enjoy the movie for. I did not see the Delta 33 but I’m sure it was there. I did however see his other trademark and enjoyed it immensely. Rami fans will know what I mean, and you want to stick around for the end of the credits to get the final stinger. 

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

This is the longest I have gone between seeing a new film in a theater and having a post for it here on the blog. You think for a guy who is retired, I’d have plenty of time for the content I post here, but my life is never as simple as I think it is going to be. For instance, on the Lambcast, of which I am the host, I had my friend and previous cohost Jay Cluitt of Deep Blue Sea: The Podcast, host in my place, because I was in California for the TCM Film Festival the weekend this opened. The podcast records on Sunday, I could not start editing it until Tuesday, and I wanted to get the post up on time, so I edited the podcast before seeing the movie myself. The guests and Jay were pretty good about not giving too much away, but I did have to hum to myself in a couple of places while still trying to make the recording presentable.

It has been a week since I saw the movie and I am happy to say that if I had been on the podcast, my reaction would have mirrored the other guests. “Massive Talent” is one of the most meta, self aware projects you can imagine, while still being sincere and a real movie. It is not all jokes about Nicholas Cage and his eccentricities, which he seems willing to acknowledge, it is also a buddy picture and an action adventure film. The action adventure part is not as effective as it could be because director, Tom Gormican, is no Michael Bay. The stunts and action remain in a lower budget range and they are a little too much by the numbers, but the relationship material sings.

Cage is terrific, playing a fictionalized version of himself and mocking some of his own predilections as an actor. His esoteric delivery style mixed with his true skill at dramatics helps keep this from flying off the rails as a simple parody film. He underplays the scenes with the Hollywood types and hams it up with the gangsters that the film has him get mixed up in. Pedro Pascal is hilarious as the super-fan Javi, a rich guy willing to go to any length to get Nic Cage to do a movie he has written out of love for the actor. Their relationship is the core of the picture and it is developed pretty well. The scenes of them bonding are well thought out, and then they are subverted by a couple of film tropes that are obvious but fun. There are a lot of chase scenes, and there are a couple of misunderstandings that could have come out of any 1970s sitcom. The most out of place but still fun example is a sequence where the pair have dropped acid and are operating a vehicle and living with a huge amount of paranoia.

The family issues that the screen writer/director and his collaborator tack on to the movie feel a bit off. They seem to miss some of the humorous elements of Cage’s real life family history and instead create a fictional conflict that is merely a convivence for the action plot that takes over in the second half. That was probably going to be necessary for Cage to sign on for in the first place, Five marriages seems like it would be fertile ground for some humor, especially the one relationship with the only child of the greatest entertainer to ever touch the stage. My guess is that Cage would be less light hearted about those issues than the professional ups and downs he has faced.

Here is a link to the Lambcast I mentioned earlier. I agree with everyone.

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2022-04-26T14_11_33-07_00

TCM Film Festival Day Four

 It’s always a bit sad when you reach the last day of the festival. Even though you might have a full slate of events to attend, the knowledge that it is all coming to an end sometimes hangs over you. That’s one reason to start the day off with something that you know is going to get you going on the right foot. I’d watched “Paper Moon” just a couple of months ago, when Director Peter Bogdanovich had passed away. My film salute that weekend also included “The Last Picture Show”.  It was just five years ago that he attended the festival to talk about “What’s Up Doc?”, the second of a trio of films that had made him the hottest director in Hollywood. “Paper Moon” was the third film in this string of hits and it won nine year old Tatum O’Neal the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

“Paper Moon” is a terrific film that is hugely entertaining, and it had the bonus of being a film my daughter had yet to see. It is my pleasure to have introduced it to her and to say that it was her favorite film of the festival,  what a great surprise and joy. TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz interviewed Louise Stratten about Bogdanovich and his career. She was his former wife, longtime collaborator and friend to the end of his life. She is also the sister of the late Dorothy Stratten, who Bogdanovich fell in love with before she was murdered by her husband. 

She spoke very highly of Bogdanovich and is trying to carry on his legacy with some film projects. Ben had recently spent a great deal of time talking with the director for the TCM Podcast 

The Plot Thickens“. It is worth your time to listen, especially if you are a lover of older films. 

After our first film of the day, we zipped upstairs to get inline for “Fly by Night”, a comic thriller that I had never heard of before. Alas, we had a high queue number and it did not look promising for us to get in. We went over to the adjacent line to get a queue number for “High Noon” as a backup. Sure enough, with about seven people in front of us, we were informed that “Fly by Night” was full, so we zipped over and got seats in the back for the Gary Cooper Classic Western. 

So maybe it wasn’t our first choice, after all we have both seen it numerous times before, but it certainly deserves a showcase at the festival. We were Ok with the substitute and then we got something we did not expect and which was one of the highlights of the festival for us. Country Music star Marty Stuart was doing the introduction and he was fantastic. He expressed all the themes that the film was about and talked about how engaging the music was. He got so wrapped up in the energy of the tune that is the theme, he practically played it out by slapping his chest, like Matthew McConaughey in the “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
Of all the introductions of films at the festival, his was the most moving and generous and I felt really lucky to have been locked out of the other film. In addition to Mr. Stuart, we were introduced to Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper Janis who had some stories of her own to tell about the film and her father. 

We had checked out of the hotel, but our luggage was with the bell captain and the lobby was available for the festival guests, so we took a brief break for a light snack in the lobby before our final film of the weekend. Amanda’s friend Kili was meeting us for dinner at 6 pm and then taking us to her house for the evening before we got on our flight home Monday morning. 

The Academy Award winning best picture of 1973 was the ensemble comedy classic “The Sting“. This was a nice pairing with “Paper Moon” since both center on con artists during the depression era, but they are vastly different stories with divergent tones. This film was an audience favorite in 1973 and it was delighting everyone who was here to experience it in the Big House at the Chinese Theater complex. 

This is a complex story about con artists and criminals and it requires that you pay attention. There are a dozen great character actors in the film, and I can only guess that Strother Martin was not available, because director George Roy Hill used him in both “Butch and Sundance” and “Slap Shot” which he made before and after this film, and there are a couple of roles that he would have been great in. 

The discussion of the film took place after the movie and that was the first time at this year’s gathering, in which the feature preceded the discussion. The guests though were great. We got two of the surviving producers of the film, and the screenwriter of the movie. All of them won the Academy Awards for this picture. The missing producer for the film was Julia Phillips, the first woman to win an Academy Award for Producing the Best Picture winner. 

Tony Bill, David S. Ward, Michael Phillips with Ben Mankiewicz

They talked about the casting issues and adapting the book to a workable screenplay. One story that they mentioned was that Robert Shaw’s limp in the film was a result of an accident he had and instead of recasting the part, it simply became part of the character. Shaw got the part because the originally cast Richard Boone, mercurially vanished after being offered the part and no one knew how to get a hold of him. 

And so we say farewell to another TCM Film Festival. It was a blast. See you next year.

TCM Film Festival Day Three

Saturday at the film festival would be our busiest day this year. First in the lineup was the Cary Grant Sophia Loren comedy, “Houseboat”. I have a vague recollection of seeing this on TV as a kid, but in truth, I don’t remember it at all. I’m not sure if Amanda had seen a Sophia Loren film, but she is a Cary Grant fan and this was playing in the big house so it seemed to be a good way to start the day. The host told stories about the affair that Grant and Loren had had on their previous picture together and how this film was made at an awkward time in their relationship as Grant was willing to leave his wife and marry Loren, and she fell in love with and married another man. The child actors were cute but a little wooden, and the slapstick elements sometimes overshadow whatever story there is here. 

It was not until the film was over that I prompted Amanda to identify the actor who played Al, Grant’s friend who was rude to Loren in a dinner scene on the boat. When she realized it was Mayor Vaughn she was amused by how young he was in this film. 

It was early for us and she had stayed up to visit her sister, so I did not give her too much grief about not recognizing an actor from her favorite film. We skipped the popcorn and coke and decided to snack at some of the later screenings rather than first show of the day.

The next program we went to was up the hill at the American Legion Theater, and we felt like we had plenty of time to get there, but there was a surprisingly long queue when we arrived but it was still not going to be an issue for us, we would get in. Thank goodness because it was my most anticipated program of the weekend. “The Flame and the Arrow” is a Burt Lancaster adventure film that mimics much of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, and it is filled with the kinds of athletic stunts that Lancaster had done in his seven years in the circus. 

The reason that this event was anticipated by me was that this was the presentation that would feature a talk by Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, two tech wizards who have delighted me in the past with their explanations of the effects for “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Gunga Din”, “War of the Worlds”, and more. Their presentation early on focused on the stunt work created by Lancaster and his Circus partner and actor Nick Cravat. They showed some great behind the scenes clips and a couple of home movies to illustrate the athleticism of the two. They also detailed the matte work used to create the illusion that the setting was grander than it actually is, including some mountains and castle shots. 

This was a project that Lancaster wanted to do so he could make use of his gymnastic skills. It was also a more comic adventure film and when Jack Warner stopped by the set during a shooting sequence that featured some tomfoolery, he was upset that he was getting the Marx Brothers rather than Errol Flynn.  

There was a major difference in this Barron/Burtt presentation from earlier Festival Programs they had done, they had a guest that they included. Gordon Gebert was a child actor who had a substantial part in the film, and now he is a architecture professor in his 70s, but still sharp and able to recall details of making the film.

Mr. Gebert also appeared in the classic “Holiday Affair” with Robert Mitchum. He pointed out a few places where the magic of Hollywood placed him in peril, when he was actually quite safe. He also did a little retconning of a brief smile that appears on his face in the film, suggesting that he was actually plotting his capture the whole time thus the smile is not incongruent. 

The film is a beautiful technicolor work that was being presented  in 35 mm and it looked grand.

One of the classifications that the programs at the festival get listed in is “Discoveries”. We decided that since the pass level we had chosen for this year featured a picture from a film in the Discoveries category, we should go to see it. 

“A Man Called Adam” is a film I never heard of before and it was something of a box office success, but it is understandable how it might get lost in the years since it was released. It is a film with a civil rights theme, that was overshadowed in subsequent years for bigger hits that milked the same territory. With rapid changes in race relations over the next couple of decades, a film that was not an Academy Award winner, and did not feature the star power of Spenser Tracy, Sidney Pointier, Katharine Hepburn or Rod Steiger, could be misplaced.

Donal Bogle, is an author of nine books on African Americans in the entertainment world and he gave a splendid but brief talk about the history of the film and the participation of Sammy Davis Jr. and Cicely Tyson in the film. The movie itself focuses on jazz music and it does a nice job with the musical sequences. Sammy was great in the part but his character is written as being an ass, and it gets tiresome after a while, especially when the plot begins to repeat the same notes over again. I’m glad we saw it, but it was not special enough to me to be counted as a highlight of the festival, in spite of it’s pedigree. 

Next we did something that others apparently do on a regular basis, but it was our first time. We went to a film for the program and left before the movie. The problem was that “The Hustler” was not scheduled to end until 8:45, and that would make us late for the program we wanted to see at 9:15. So we popped in and listened to Piper Laurie for twenty minutes as she and Eddie Muller talked about her career but particularly her involvement with “The Hustler”. I was unfamiliar with how many films she had made prior to that movie, and it was nicely shown in a film clip tribute, how she was trying to break out of the kinds of parts she had been stuck in. There was going to be a much deeper conversation in a Club TCM Interview, but we had something scheduled against that, and once more had to make difficult choices. So we saw this interview, had some dinner, went up to the room to change and wash up, before the final program of the day.

“Diner” is a film I saw initially because my friend Rick Rollino had recommended it so highly, back in 1982. It is a precursor to Seinfeld because it is basically about nothing. Six friends have some conversations at the diner, one of them is planning a wedding, one is struggling through a young marriage, and the others are in college or trying to avoid going to work or school. It is an ensemble piece that featured several young actors on the brink of very successful careers. 

TCM Host Dave Karger interviewed the four guests, we were missing only Daniel Stern and Mickey Rourke from the main cast. Ellen Barkin was the closest there was to a meaningful female character and it would have been nice to have her included but it really was something of a boy’s club from the start. 

Kevin Bacon and Tim Day had some stories to tell, but Karger seemed to be under the impression there was an Animal House style living situation when they shot the film and it was clear that that was not the case. Bacon had appeared in some films and had just decided to forgo a long term contract on the soap opera, “The Guiding Light”. This was Daly’s first film role.

Paul Reiser was a comedian at the time and had no clear explanation how he ended up being cast. He felt it was a little bit of an accident, and when he asked about the movie, he was told it was a story about five friends and he would be the sixth. He told a story about his manager calling him after reading the script and asking about his character. When Reiser told him the character’s name, his manager said, “yeah, you’re not in this movie”, because his character had no lines. Director Barry Levinson allowed a lot of improvisation on the shoot and Reiser is in the movie with a lot more to say, all of which he largely created himself. As

the comedian of the group, he had a lot of punchlines about other cast members stories as the discussion went along, and it was clear he was having a great time talking about the movie and his friends. By the way, his look on “The Kominsky Method” is clearly a result of hair and make-up, he was not nearly as schlumpy on the stage this evening as his character in that TV show.  

I know that Steve Guttenberg has been the subject of derision in the past few years, as a result of a stunt where he appeared naked in Central Park. It looks though as if he is the best preserved of the group and he has retained a youthful exuberance that came across on the program. Although he steered off course several times, he was well aware of it and usually returned to the question Karger was asking, but he always wanted to get in an extra comment or piece of information and they were all welcome. 

Just two other things about the day. We rode up in the shuttle to the “Diner” presentation and it was not a time saver, but it was a comfortable ride rather than a long walk. The line at the Legion Theater was long, but everyone was friendly and we had a nice time visiting with a woman from the Valley in the bar and on the line. Several people also complimented me on my Errol Flynn T-Shirt, which did please me because I got it for the purpose of wearing at the festival. 

TCM Film Festival Day Two

I had a complicated time trying to get the tablet I brought with me to the festival, to interface with the blog site and allow me to both write and post pictures. The brief E.T. Post took longer than it should have, so I finally decided to just push the coverage until after I was home. 

Day Two of the Festival started with my favorite Disney film and a conversation with a key animator who is the subject of his own documentary. Floyd Norman is an amazingly spry 86 year old, who broke color barriers and became a favorite of the old man “Walt Disney” himself. 

The Venue for the event was the El Capitan Theater, across the street from the Chinese Theater, and right next door to where Jimmy Kimmel films his nightly show. The theater was only used this one time at the festival this year, and if you have not been here before you are missing a real piece of Hollywood Showmanship. In addition to being restored to a beautiful condition, this nearly 100 year old movie palace features an organist playing a pipe organ on stage, primarily Disney film tunes.

Mr. Norman was interviewed by film critic and scholar Leonard Maltin who himself is the recipient of this year’s Robert Osborne Award at the Festival. 

You can hear a brief excerpt of their conversation on this Sound Cloud Link.

After the discussion, the theater gets set for the movie by darkening and then this happens:

The film itself was just as great as when I first saw it in 1967. Most of the songs are by the Sherman Brothers and they are hysterical. Having had Buzzards dancing around over roadkill in front of our place in Texas, I have a new appreciation for the animated moptops who show up in the climax of the film. In the old days, before home video, we revisited the movie by playing the LP  soundtrack over and ove, so all of the songs are in my head from more than fifty years ago. 

This year, Amanda and I decided to add more of the Club TCM talks to our itinerary and that lead us back to the Roosevelt for a fun presentation by animation historian Mark McCray.  Looney Tunes in Hollywood featured clips of celebrities from the Golden Age who appeared in cartoons of the time. The combination of clips was entertaining and the talk was very informative and fun. 

We then got in line to see “Pride of the Marines” a John Garfield film about a real war hero who loses his sight in battle and almost loses his faith in the world as well. This was a project that Garfield championed and he reportedly said this was his favorite role of his career. It would be perfectly understandable if that were true because Garfield is excellent and although the movie has some rough edges, it is a stirring combat film as well as a tribute to those who returned from the war with some pretty heavy burdens. 

The presentation before the film was given by Jim Beaver, a favorite character actor from today, and also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp. We were in the second row for this screening and we were very happy to see “Bobby” give his talk about Garfield, the subject of a Book that Beaver authored. 

We headed back to Club TCM for our next event, which was a conversation about Actress Doris Day. We had skipped the screening of “The Pajama Game” but we got a chance to hear stories from several of Doris Day’s friends, some of whom contributed to a photobook that was available for signing after the event. 

Eddie Muller hosted the four women as they shared memories and told their personal stories about becoming friends with Miss Day. All of them were charming and I was happy to recognize actress Jackie Joseph, from the original “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Gremlins”. She had worked on Day’s last film and Television projects. 

Amanda has a Moment with Jackie Joseph

There were several other programs we might have seen, but as luck would have it, my other daughter was able to come down to Hollywood for the evening and she brought Cheesecake from Canter’s Deli. We spent the rest of the evening having room service dinner and visiting with Allison. 

Everything Everywhere All At Once

It won’t take long for the “WTF” phrase to come out of your mouth when you are watching this film. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is basically a psychotic breakdown that we enter into in the middle. You will spend a good deal of the opening act trying to catch up with the premise, and also trying to catch your breath from a lot of laughter. While it may not all turn out to be coherent, by the end it makes enough sense for you to accept the wild ride you have been on, but you will also question the reality of the resolution of the story.

Six years ago, the two writer/directors of this film, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collaborated on the similarly weird “Swiss Army Man“, a film that put me off several times but then pulled me back in over and over. In much the same way, there were times when I would get frustrated with the quirky dialogue or odd actions of the characters, and I would start to think about why it was manipulative or a contrivance. Usually, just when I hit the point that I was ready to dismiss the movie as simply being a visual showpiece, something would show up to make me interested again. My love for “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension” , reminded me several times that what at first may be off putting, can quickly become essential. I have no idea why the IRS has an award that is basically a butt plug, but I also have no idea what that watermelon is doing there.

This is a showpiece for actress Michelle Yeoh, who has been killing it in Asian based martial arts films for years, and continues to do good dramatic work as well. This film gives her a chance to do both things really well in a lot of different situations. She also has impeccable comic timing, delivering a droll line or cryptic word at just the right moment. Ke Huy Quan, who was “Short Round” in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, is now a middle aged man who gets a very solid role that he handles extremely well. Sometimes he is the sweet natured version of Yeoh’s Evelyn’ husband. In other universes, he is smooth and successful, manic and committed and a bad ass. Also, a shout out to 92 year old James Hong who gets a chance to bring his A game to a movie for more than just a brief scene. 

The premise takes the idea of a multiverse and mashes it together with some strange technology and a Matrix-like like adversary. There is a turn in the story when suddenly, the plot seems like it is much more about a mother/daughter relationship than the meaning of the universe. There is a lot of repetition on some of these philosophical quests, and sometimes the action scenarios seem to be a bit long as well. The fakeout ending of the film about two thirds of the way through, is going to catch a lot of people unaware, because the concept does feel played out at that point. The last third of the film has some funny moments but it did feel dragged out.  

There is so much inventive film technique in the movie that you can be a little overwhelmed by it. Overlaid images, split screen, time lapse, quick edits, near subliminal moments and wire work in slo-motion, as well as dozens of other tools I can’t begin to name. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is certain to delight film fans but it may frustrate narrative purists to some degree. I will say that it has the best use of Rocks and Raccoons since Guardians of the Galaxy. Have fun, don’t try too hard to figure out what the hell is going on and what it all means. And when Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Leigh Curtis get hot dog fingers, try not to lose your mustard. 

Jesus Christ Superstar (2022 Visit)

The above clip is not the trailer for this movie, but rather the opening Overture sequence. I decided to share this because when seeing the film again last night, it brought chills to me in my seat and made me so happy that we had made plans to see this film in a theater on easter Sunday. This is my daughter’s favorite musical, and we have watched it every year since she was in high school and maybe even before that, I can’t quite remember. Two years ago, at the start of the Pandemic, she was already living in Texas and I was still packing up the house at easter time. We did a simultaneous watch on physical media and shared through Facebook Live. This was much better.

There have of course been multiple performers of the parts in numerous productions over the years, but it does not seem to me that anyone else could be as definitive as the two leads in this filmed version of the Broadway rock opera. In the 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards” by Harry and Michael Medved, Ted Neely won the award for The Worst Performance by an Actor as Jesus Christ for his role in the film adaptation of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. This is maybe the most unjust slight I have heard from film critics. Neely was tremendous in the role and the rampage at the temple and his performance in the Gethsemane number matches the vocal performance extremely well. Because Carl Anderson was so dynamic, Neely may be seen by some as a Jesús secondary to Judas. The play/album/concept was written to be from Judas’ perspective, but I feel that Jesus comes through very effectively because of Neely’s performance. The rest of the world seems to agree with me because Neely has played the role for over fifty years on stage in dozens of tours.

Carl Anderson as Judas has a voice that comes right out of 1973. He sounds soulful with a rough edge and could easily have been an R n B singer with any of the great seventies soul bands. Both he and Neely come from a theatrical background and their performances reflect that the roles they are playing are to be sung. 

Norman Jewison, who has made multiple Academy Award Nominated Best Pictures (one was also a winner) worked closely with choreographer Robert Iscove to get the exuberant dance scenes to pop in a non stage setting. The use of wipes, dutch angles, freeze frames all integrated creatively with the setting makes the film much more elaborate than any version of the stage play. I think the set, which mostly consists of natural rock formations and ancient ruins, was used really effectively. There is a terrific long shot of several columns that dancers move out from behind in a synchronized move that reveals them in the background that I particularly admired. The sensibility of the era was clearly based in the hippy culture, in spite of the traditional Christian story. The costumes and dances all reflect the times more accurately than a series of pictures of “Jesus People” would have. 

I like the rock themes that Andrew Lloyd Webber twists into Broadway show tunes, and the lyrics of Tim Rice are reasonably respectful of the story that is being told. The final shot of the cross on the his in the sunset comes complete with a shepard walking through the backlight in the foreground. That was an unplanned mistake that offeres a slight spiritual coda to the whole show. I can hardly wait till next year. 

Father Stu

This was a film that was not on my radar, and although it features two actors I have enjoyed immensely over the years, I had no plans to see it. Other members of the family however think differently and so we went to Saturday afternoon screening, with several people behind us who were advancing in age a bit faster than I, and we all enjoyed an inspiring story for a couple of hours. I doubt that I will ever see this again, but there was nothing wrong with it, it just was very obvious what it was. 

Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long, a ne’er do well boxer who at an age when most boxers have already retired, decides that he can make it in the movies and he heads to California to be a star. As a recruiting film for the Catholic faith, this is an interesting story of how a man finds his calling through adversity. Stu is not a religious zealot, but a man changed by the world he encounters and the spiritual feeling he gets in recovering from a major trauma. The juxtaposition of Stu’s life before and after this experience, is the stuff that these kinds of inspirational movies thrive on. This just happens to be a grittier, down and dirty story when it comes to Stu’s language and behavior. The charm that let him skip through life early on, slipping past the disasters his family lived through, is not enough to get him what he thinks he wants. His spiritual choice has to come from a different place and this story tries to show that to us, warts and all.

Catholic dogma on redemption and baptism are heavily interspersed with the biographical elements of Father Stu’s story after he has come to a realization of his calling. For dramatic purposes, the story includes another acolyte with doubts about his calling, and some unflattering economic assessment by the church itself.  I can’t say how accurate Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Stu’s long absent father is, but Gibson and Wahlberg are very good together and Jackie Weaver as Stu’s conflicted mother is both infuriating and endearing. I was pleased to see Malcolm McDowell in a non-sinister role, I always enjoy seeing him on screen. 

The only flaw in the film is that it is not very surprising. It is sincere in it’s message and it wants to be inspirational. I found it admirable but I was rarely moved by the events in Father Stu’s life, I was mostly just interested in what was happening at the moment. If a movie like this does not grab your heart, it is not doing completely what it intends. I wanted to understand more about the paths that Stu was following, but the film is so tied into the biopic structure, that I never felt involved with the spiritual elements the way I should have been. 

As a drama with some comedic elements, it worked well enough that I was glad I saw it. As a spiritual film designed for an Easter Holiday emotional magnet, it missed the mark. I’m glad there there are Father Stu characters in the world and that these stories get told, for the faithful it may be enough, but for the audience, we need a little more.