Todd invited me to be a guest on his show again, and we picked a film that let me get in another post for the Strother Martin Film Project.
Stop by and listen for an hour of Satanic horror.
Todd invited me to be a guest on his show again, and we picked a film that let me get in another post for the Strother Martin Film Project.
Stop by and listen for an hour of Satanic horror.
So, thirty-five years ago tonight, my best friend and I sat on Hollywood Blvd. for more than sixteen hours, waiting in line to get a ticket to Return of the Jedi. A frat guy from UCLA was holding a place for his fraternity brothers and they all crashed the line a couple of hours before the midnight screening, almost starting a small riot. Our wives met us after work and joined us in line so they had been there for six hours, and they were not happy either. We got bumped from the first show and ended up near the front of the line for the 3 am show. That’s right, 3 am. After it let out, Art and Kathy wisely went home, Dee and I went around to the front of the theater, got in line again, and went to the 6 am show. We later met Art and Kathy about 2 pm for a show in West Covina. So Three times on opening day, what a bunch of geeks. The world today is soooo different. Pre-opening ticket sales, reserved seats, a screening well before midnight, where did all the stupid fun go?
Tonight we left the house after ten, there was no line up for our showing of “Solo” because we were in a theater with reserved seats, and the suburban crowd was not as raucous as the crowd at the Egyptian 35 years ago. This time I was joined by my wife and my daughter who will turn 30 next month, yikes I am old. I’m not too old however to not enjoy a “Star Wars” film, which I definitely did. “Solo” is a controversial film because of the production disruption, the casting rumors and for some fans, a fatigue around the development of films in this franchise. Forget all of that, taken on it’s own, “Solo” is a solid space action film with a central character that we already know about and some side characters that will make the story even more rewarding.
My two major criticisms of the film are easy to knock off at the start. The set up of the character Han and his relationship with Qi’ra is rushed and a bit murky. We are dropped into an action sequence before we have much opportunity to figure out the lay of the land. It is ultimately fine but I don’t think it sets up their relationship as well as it needs to be. That’s because there is a case sequence and series of action scenes that are visually strong but don’t let their characters play off of each other enough to quite pull us into the relationship as much as is needed. The connection between Han and the band of criminals he ends up running with is developed a lot more effectively later on, and the movie gets that the character and not the action should be driving the story. The second weakness I i felt concerns the music. Without the ear friendly themes of John Williams, the music simply fills in spots rather than heightening them. It’s only when a well known motif shows up that the score comes alive. I have loved scores by John Powell before, but this just misses being the ear candy that I crave in these movies.
OK, now for the good stuff. This is a caper film with two elaborate heists driving the story. There is a lot of creativity that was put into the visuals in the film, to make those stories interesting. Traditionally, you would have a planning sequence in a heist film and the audience would be let in on the agenda. That way when things go wrong, we will be reacting to the shifts and bumps with the characters. Here the first plan is just laid out quickly to give some context but we are immediately plunged into the action and that is the locomotive for the plot at this point. This is a train heist with a myriad of complications including a rival band of pirates that attempt to steal from the thieves. The action on a freight train in a hostile world in space was elaborate, visually inventive and it allowed for some character development as well. This was the kind of thing that was necessary but missing in the opening section.
The introduction of iconic characters is the strongest element in the film. Han and Chewbacca get connected in a very appropriate manner and one that sets up a relationship that we will see play out over the original films very effectively. There is some great humor in their sequence and the by play that develops between these characters is almost immediately natural. The one character that everyone will be talking about is Lando Calrissian. Donald Glover sparks the scenes he is in in just the same way that Billy Dee Williams did in the two films from the early 80s. He is debonair and clever, but not always as clever as he thinks he is. Some might call his interactions with Han “fan service” but it is exactly the kind of story seed set up almost 40 years ago that we want to see come to fruition, and it is glorious.
There are some other characters introduced into the story that that make this film a bit more unique. The aforementioned Qi’ra is both a love interest and a potential femme fatale. Dryden Vos is the Jabba like villain who is in the threatening background of the story until the climax when he is much more at the center. Paul Bettany does not get to do much more than wear some scars until the end of the film. Woody Harrelson’s Becket is a cipher. Maybe some good in him, certainly some scoundrel, but not the light hearted scoundrel that is out title character. I especially liked the vocal performance of Phobe Waller-Bridge as the droid L3. Her tone matches the quirky and combative nature of this crew member of the team. The relationship L3 has with Lando is both touching and farcical. Along with K-2SO in “Rogue One” and R2D2 with C3PO in the other stories, it seems like the richest characters in this universe may be the droids.
There was a lot of speculation and rumor about Alden Ehrenreich in the lead role. In some quarters it was suggested that the movie was doomed because of his performance and that maybe the two directors who left the project had not done enough to get a solid performance out of him. I don’t know what went on before Ron Howard came on the project, but Ehrenreich is great. He looks the part and he can carry off the attitude in a lot of the scenes where he is called on to be both naive and a bit too clever for his own good. That he can hold himself against the charisma of Glover’s Lando is enough to tell you he is solid in the part.
Haters are going to be disappointed because this is not the failure that was predicted. This is an entertaining picture, set in the Star Wars universe, and it meets it’s objectives. The characters we want are set up for more adventures and they have the personality to succeed. There are subplots that suggest connections to the larger story but they do not dominate the film. Finally, there is a clear atmosphere of fun that is a lot closer to the original film than we have had in any of the contemporary Star Wars movies. Box office watchers will speculate all they like, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” succeeds as a movie, whether or not it outpaces, lags behind or matches any other Star Wars films or expectations.
Two years ago, the character of Deadpool was revived from a disastrous turn as a secondary character in a largely reviled X-Men movie. The character in that film was the mercenary named Wade Wilson, and the actor playing him was Ryan Reynolds, but in the most misbegotten script tuning imaginable, the character had his mouth removed permanently. Is there any way you can imagine Deadpool from two years ago and the one in this movie without the mouth that roars: sarcasm, cynicism non-sequesters and insults? It’s enough to stage a revolt, which is apparently how Ryan Reynolds managed to wrangle the character back into his hands and become the embodiment of this non-X-men mutant.
“Deadpool” (2016) had so much going for it and it was so fresh, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. What is not inevitable is that it would work a second time. The original director was not attached, we’ve had a series of very successful “Avengers” films filling the void for the last two years, and the surprise of the filthy language, gross visualizations and overall snarkiness is going to be gone. Well never fear my friends, the people who are responsible for this property know what they are doing and they understand the treasure they have in Reynolds. They were very careful not to blow it while at the same time not trying to repeat the whole movie as a simple cash grab. Look there is nothing very deep in the film, it is not creating a universe that we will be seriously invested in, rather it is creating an alternate Marvel Universe, one that is closer to “Thor Ragnarok” than an X-Men movie.
Let me explain how this movie won me over in the very first few minutes. Anyone who has been on this site before will have discovered that I am a James Bond fan. Hell, I’m even an apologist for some of the worst 007 films. I thought I’d seen the perfect parody of the Bond signature title sequence in the comedy film “Spy Hard“. It turns out I was wrong. Nothing against Weird Al, but the title sequence from “Deadpool 2” has taken every trope used in the Daniel Craig Bond films and turned them into a perfect visual parody. The song is an Adele knock off that lacks the silliness of Weird Al, but fits the CGI heavy synchronized graphics of recent Bond films more accurately than the Leslie Nielson joke film. It was a joy to watch and it matched the brilliance of the titles from the first “Deadpool”.
After the opening, we settle in for a story of redemption, hardly the thing that you would expect from this film series. Deadpool 2’s time altered opening sequence, like the first film, starts us a quarter of the way into the story, then takes us back to the beginning, and climaxes with the events we saw in the opening. OK, so they copied the exact device they used in the first film, but they did make it work anyway. Along the way we are reacquainted with some of the characters from the original film, but a new timeline is introduced as well. This second set of events brings the main story plot into focus. A futuristic soldier comes back in time to stop a series of events from his time period. Look, if you are going to rip off another story, you might as well go big and do “Terminator“. Of course the movie not only acknowledges that it is doing so, it has a lot of fun along the way mocking itself for doing so.
In my review of the first “Deadpool” I suggested that it was not outright parody. I withdraw that statement. This movie is so full of pop culture references and self aware criticisms, that it is a little difficult to take any of it seriously. So don’t. Instead, you should luxuriate in the mocking of all comic book movies, regardless of what Cinematic Universe they occupy. I was on a podcast recently where one of the guests suggested that the offensive language in “Midnight Run” might have been done for shock and laughs but that it does not have the same appeal to someone at forty, that it might have had for someone at fifteen. That may be true, and if you hate the use of the F@#k bomb and the potty mouth antics of smart ass hipsters, then you will be less enamored of this movie. It has enough references to body parts, sex acts and other taboo topics, to fill a couple of Guy Richie films. It also has some great fight choreography that is acknowledged as being ridiculous while at the same time being entertaining. This movie is not just a parody, it is a paradox. It undermines it’s very premises while still managing to tell a story that in the end was worth telling.
As is my policy, I have not given away any spoilers, so you are safe to read on. There are several post credit moments that will take you out of the film that you just saw and put you into several other perspectives. You should enjoy them. Along with the title sequence, the end credits serve as the rye bread to the film’s sloppy Reuben sandwich. You get the spiced meat, served with sauerkraut plot points and a sweet thousand island dressing that every word from Deadpool himself represents. I don’t know if it is a great movie, but I do know it was a great meal.Just sit down and eat it, don’t worry about counting the calories. That would be like trying to keep track of all the people killed in the story, a distraction and nearly impossible.
The Manny Mota of the Lambcast steps up to the plate with four other dudes to talk about this 80s classic.
David Armstrong is a director who cut his teeth on dozens of projects but is best known as the cinematographer on the “Saw” series. He has one previous feature film to his credit, the crime thriller “Pawn” which looks like it has a very impressive cast. “The Assassin’s Code” is also a low budget crime thriller and Mr. Armstrong knows how to get as much out of a budget as is possible. The production value on this film is impressive, given that the shoot was only twenty days and it all takes place in Cleveland. Without showing Jacob’s Field or The Rock and Roll Hall of fame, the director has managed to make this mid-western crime thriller feel like it really is a part of the city. There are clever uses of some b-roll of the city streets, a nice drone shot to open the film, (big surprise it is a shot swooping in over water and focusing on the down town area.), and some very nice locations that can pass for city hall offices, concert halls and local mansions.
Michael Connolly is young detective, eager to make his own mark and overcome the disgraced reputation of his police officer father, a man killed in what looks like a drug deal he was involved in. Connolly is married to a concert cellist, who wants to help him live and earn the respect of others, but he shuts her out when he feels it is necessary, which puts a strain on their relationship. Michael gets his chance to make a good impression as a detective when the man tasked with following leads on a theft of department drug evidence, disappears. The themes of the movie concern living up to expectations and living by a code of conduct that many others will not understand. Like most cops in movies, Connolly, played by Justin Chatwin, is his own worst enemy. He rubs all the other cops the wrong way, in part because of his family legacy, but also because he is the mouthy sort of wise-ass he has probably seen in a thousand cop movies and TV shows. None of his colleagues want him working with them, and he makes it clear that he has very little regard for their abilities.
Chatwin is young, photogenic and can carry a scene when he needs to. He does sometimes over play the intensity moments but he is truly excellent when tossing off a insult under his breath or as he is walking away from a tormentor or a suspect. There are three other standout performances in the film that help balance out some inconsistency from out lead character. Rich Grosso plays a mid-level mafioso in the Cleveland Crime syndicate. Carmen Puccinaldi owns a Tropical fish store that serves as a front for various criminal activities. Grosso as Puccinaldi has a several nice scenes in a bar, meeting with criminals who owe him money or who work at his direction. Armstrong gets the most out of the tropical fish store as a backdrop to two murders, done in the store, by the light from the tanks. The blue illumination makes the killing feel otherworldly in just about the most mundane spot you can imagine. Grosso’s smile and delivery of the line explaining the plastic sheeting on the ground is just right to carry the moment. Later he has two scenes on a park bench and some very funny lines, including the facetious question, “Why ruin this body with muscles?” He is not a comic character but he does have many of the grim punchlines in the movie.
Radio personality/actor Mark Thompson, from the Mark and Brian Show and the Mark and Lynda Podcast, gets to sink his acting teeth into a very meaty role. Armstrong was the Cinematographer on Thompson’s self penned starring project “2:13”. Armstrong cast him on the basis of the friendship they formed there and it pays off in this film. Thompson plays Chatwin’s Captain, an old friend of his fathers and part of the police legacy that Michael Connolly is trying to live up to. Thompson is a traditional authority figure as Captain Jack O’Brien. In a scene in a bar, the young cop and the somewhat mechanical Captain, review progress of the case but also discuss the past. Thompson has a nice way of speaking in an ingratiating manner to the youngster. His best scene however is played out against the seeming mastermind of criminal activity in Cleveland, a local philanthropist with ties to politicians and other cops. Two tough guys engaging in a pissing contest is not a new element of a crime drama, but it needs to be executed well. Thompson plays off of veteran character actor Robin Thomas perfectly. He silently gets in the last word while dusting off the other mans shoulder, as if he is removing a chip there instead of a bit of dog hair.
The third excellent performance belongs to well known movie tough guy Peter Stormare. He plays a hulking menace of an enforcer for the mob. As the assassin of the title, he is cruel and efficient and does not make any mistakes. His mysterious Kurt Schlychter is a one man tornado of death. Dissipating big wigs and minions with equal calm, the character is a part that Stormare could play in his sleep, except he gets one great scene that makes the movie feel very different. In much the way Robert Shaw’s monologue in “Jaws” dominates that movie without any action or histrionics, Stormare gets a similar chance. His character crashes a solo rehearsal of Connolly’s wife in a small concert hall we’d seen earlier. At first we expect his presence to menace her or end in her death as a way of fueling the detectives fire. Instead, we get a great character moment as the assassin tells a tale about his grandfather in Germany and Mrs. Connolly plays some Bach on her cello. Director Armstrong uses the classical music cue to switch the tone of the encounter and the circling camera work makes this moment much more cinematic than some of the flatter interactions we have seen between other characters. The killer reveals that he too has a legacy to live up to. It is not any prettier than that of the detective but it does make a cardboard character into a real human being for the remainder of the film.
Edward Lee Cornett based the script on stories he heard while growing up in his Cleveland neighborhood . Together with script supervisor turned screenwriter Valerie Grant, they create a story that contains well worn tropes of police corruption. The innocent young cop is in over his head, both with the criminals he is chasing, and the unseen police corruption that is his biggest threat. The story is repetitive at times, featuring as it does the assassination of one character after another as Connolly gets closer to the truth. Each death does seem a little different because while all but one person is shot, they are all shown differently. A shot to the face at point blank range, execution style in the back of the head in a car, and simple flashes of light in a window, each gives Armstrong a chance to make his low budget film into something a bit more special.
Video game composer Austin Wintory creates a standard thriller soundtrack, but does add several moments that turn the film into a more modern noir rather than an 80s crime show. He borrows heavily from two great post modern noir films; “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential”. The influence of Jerry Goldsmith (my favorite film composer) is obvious. There is just enough personality in the score to set a mood but not so many themes that the film becomes a cliche.
“The Assassin’s Code” will not be on anybody’s top ten list at the end of the year, but it could be if that list is made up of undersized movies that shake off their budgets and manage to work because of the film makers skill. “Assassin’s Code ” makes a well worn story succeed though good performances by the supporting cast, a solid score that makes the film bigger than it really is, and an excellent use of location to add production value. It is playing in a few theaters but it will be easier to catch streaming at :
I saw “The Assassin’s Code” at a private screening at Harmony Gold on Sunset Blvd. last night. I have been a long time fan of Mark Thompson as a radio host and podcaster, so I sprang for tickets when they had their premier screening her in the L.A. Area.
The theater is the location of the old “Preview House”, where I went a couple of times as an audience member for advertising analysis. We were usually shown a TV episode for an unsold pilot, but the real purpose was to test ads that were run during commercial breaks. The theater no longer has the handsets that allowed the audience members to record their feelings as the film clips screened, but the configuration is still the same, I think it has been slightly refurbished.
We got to the theater when we were advised to and there was already a line up the block.
My wife has some mobility issues and the event organizers and staff at the Harmony Gold could not have been nicer. They let us in through the back so we could avoid having to climb a set of stairs and she was able to be seated without being in anyone’s way as people were checking in. We chose some seats off to stage left (right from the audience’s point of view) so people would not have to walk awkwardly across her every time they got out of their seats. On the way down the hallway, we walked right by David Armstrong, who greeted us with a very friendly hello as he passed us.
There were several lighted poster marquees and they had the version of the poster that featured Mark looking over Justin Chatwin’s shoulder.
After the show there was a beer and wine reception, and everyone was getting a wristband so they could be served later. A backdrop was at one end of the lobby and people were posing for pictures and being interviewed for a video production.
It did take a while for everyone to get checked in and be seated, and there were several rows reserved for the cast and crew of the film who were in attendance last night.
The director greeted us before the movie began and he introduced Mark Thompson who thanked everyone for coming out to support the film. They reminded everyone that there would be a presentation after the film and David Armstrong introduced several cast members and key personnel from the film.
After the movie, most of the cast, and the director, co-producer and screenwriters came up on stage to share a little of their experience. Mark conducted the interviews like he must have done a thousand times in his radio days. He had a little bit of research, a couple of questions and a fun attitude with a willingness to tell his own stories along the way.
|Rich Grosso, Edward Lee Cornett, Elizabeth Anweis, William Baker, Mark Thompson, David Armstrong, Justin Chatwin, Yancy Butler, Robin Thomas, and Valerie Grant|
Mark made an effort to have questions for each of the guests and he told his own stories as well. If he could embarrass someone he was happy to do so. Elizabeth Anweis seemed the most reticent to share so of course she became a target for Mark’s sarcasm. Toward the end there were a few questions, but most of those who spoke up really wanted to offer their assessment of the film or to thank everybody for making the event so much fun for them. Me, I stayed quiet and thus avoided Mark’s scorn.
We are not drinkers and Mother’s Day plans were set for the morning, so we left after the Q and A, and missed getting a picture with any of the cast or Mark’s family, although his Daughter in law Eleni and I did trip over each other as I escorted my wife to the elevator. Sorry Eleni, Hope you don’t bruise easy.
I really liked the Jason Reitman directed film “Juno” from a decade ago. The main reason it was so great was the script by Diablo Cody. Well here they are together again and they have come up with something different. It has many of the same qualities of their award winning earlier collaboration, but there are some left turns in the story that make it a completely different animal. In the long run, it is the kind of animal that you watch from a distance and admire, rather than a puppy or kitten that you take up in your arms and embrace whole heartedly.
Charlize Theron is a strong performer. She has immense talent, but sometimes it seems that she only gets credit for that talent when she is willing to deny her other great attribute, her beauty. In this film, the story tellers go a long way to make the character of Marlo seem average. She appears at first as an extremely pregnant woman, who’s distended belly can’t be contained in her clothes. Theron manages to have a weary expression on her face through most of the encounters she has. Even when giving birth,she looks more like she needs a nap than pain killers. After she has given birth, the everyday drudgery of caring for three high maintenance children and her loving but detached husband, starts to get to her.
Marlo has a brother who loves her, and has been very successful. His family is equally large but so much different as to be painful. The humor in the story comes from characters and their mannerisms more than any situation, and her brother Craig and his wife Elyse are definitely characters. It is hard enough putting up with strangers who judge you because there are traces of caffeine in your coffee when you are pregnant, but when your own family seems to engage in subtle social comparison, it has to hurt. It is Craig who introduces the idea of a “night” nanny to help out. The suggestion seems ludicrous when coming from the pretentious and self righteous brother, but it is an idea that takes hold when Marlo’s last good nerve is plucked one too many times.
Mackenzie Davis shows up as the title character and begins to have an influence on the world that Marlo inhabits. There is an on-going visual metaphor in the story that should give some expectation that something deeper is happening, but frankly I was not expecting a couple of the twists that arrive, and that is what makes this movie so interesting. The snarky humor and ironic posture of the story is enough to make it work. I though that the television show that Marlo occupies her sleepless nights with was an invention of the story. It turns out that it is a real thing, which makes the humor that comes from Marlo describing it to Tully, all the more clever. There are a couple of sequences that seem strangely voyeuristic, put turn out to be something completely different when we get the whole picture.
I liked the movie pretty well, but there are things about it that may have you scratching your head afterwards. I don’t really feel that I can discuss those without giving away spoilers, and unfortunately, those are some of the most interesting ideas in the film. Regardless of the surprises, the dialogue, and settings will be familiar to most parents and they will nod appreciatively or in embarrassment at the things they may see in themselves. “Tully” is the kind of adult film that has the potential to be embraced by critics and audiences, but the awkward humor and occasionally unpleasant reality of everyday life, may make it a little hard for general audiences to take it to heart. I hope they do, because it is thought provoking and very funny.
This is over a week late and probably unnecessary. It looks like everyone will have seen this movie by the time anyone gets around to reading my comments, but for what it’s worth, I want to be part of the conversation. I spent the last few days trying to catch up on my coverage of the TCM Film Festival, which was also delayed. The reason everything is running late is that I went to a late night screening of “Infinity War” during the Festival and my old butt has been dragging ever since. The advantage of waiting however has been that I got a chance to see it a second time this weekend and there are some more insights I can add as a result.
My impression of the film originally was very positive, but I did not think it would rank near the top of my list of MCU films. The second viewing may change that because it is a better experience than I originally thought. This was a complicated story to put together. There are three or four parallel story lines at any time and each of them involve characters from different MCU films being fitted together. Connecting Iron Man with Dr. Strange may not be that hard but getting Spider-Man in there and then layering on part of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” is quite an effort. Meanwhile, Thor is in two sequences separate from most of the other cast but he gets connected with the Guardians as well and does end up in Wakanda as part of the story.
The Avengers are split up after the events of “Civil War”, but they still have common enemies that they must face down. This is the story that brings them all together, and frankly, it is not an Avengers film per se. This is the story of Thanos, the mad Titan who has a plan to restore balance to the universe. Criticism of MCU villains extends back to the first Iron Man film. No one will be criticizing this movie for villain characterization or story. This movie does show Thanos as an enemy, but much like Kilmonger in “Black Panther”, you can understand and even sympathize with Thanos and his quest. From his perspective, it is not power or rule that he seeks. Those are simply by-products of the task he has set himself. His iron will is to balance the universe and preserve its’ resources and create a paradise. This is also the goal of many environmentalists here on this planet.
While he does have a tendency to lecture and monologue as he carries out his plans, it is done in the context of his story. The Dark Children who follow him and carry out the destruction of civilizations around the galaxy, also have a herald who proclaims their task and laments the sacrifice that those who are destroyed are making. Thanos is a Malthusian on a galactic order. He is Paul Erlich with infinite power. It turns out that Thanos does also have a heart. We may not have expected it, but after this film, his character will be seen less as a monster and rather a tragic force of nature who is willing to break his own heart in order to reach his goal. There are three or four times in the story where another character gives in to him in order to save someone who matters to them. Thanos does not do that when he is faced with the same choice. He makes the sacrifice and we get to see what it does to him.
Josh Brolin may be acting using motion capture and most of the visual element is computer generated, but he still injects the character with facial expressions that are powerful, rueful and ultimately very compelling. He has a great voice and it is used to full effect in this film. Thanos has several scenes with his adopted daughter Gamora, both in the present and the past. It is the success of those scenes that makes his character a tragic villain rather than merely a cartoon evil monster.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor gets the other great meaty part in the film. Having lost so much, Thor finds a way to go on, and his rationalization of how his life story is playing out hives us all a little hope. Interestingly, he is teamed with the most cynical character from the MCU for most of the film. They create an interesting balance between the two of them. When Thor appears at the end of the film, there is hope that Thanos will fail for just a moment. Let’s face it however, if you have control of all the Infinity stones, it is going to take something more clever than brute strength and rage to defeat.
As you probably have been lead to expect, there are a number of deaths of super heroes in the story. Some will come as surprises, others may be expected, but the core group of heroes will be back for part two. I suspect there are a large number of seeming deaths that can be reversed in the world of comic book story telling, but some of these deaths seem definitive. You should know that there will be more before this story is completed.
Despite the generally serious tone of the outcome of each sequence, there are moments of pleasure and humor that you will savor for months to come. Spider-man’s use of pop culture to solve a problem is great. Bucky and Rocket, battling together in Wakanda may be my favorite shot in the film. It makes me laugh just remembering it. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man trading insults and comparing egos with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stange is also entertaining as hell. Drax and Mantis are amusing in most of their scenes and Chris Pratt continues to show why he should be a movie star. He can play light on his feet and deliver an emotional performance in back to back moments. The Hulk is a surprising source of laughs as well. Even though the tone of the film changes frequently, it still feels as balanced as the universe Thanos wants to create.
As a side note to finish this off, one of the great things about living in Southern California and going to a screening in Hollywood, is that the talent some times drops by. Our screening at the Cinerama Dome was introduced by one half of the directing team of the Russo Brothers, Joe Russo. He was joined by MCU mastermind and producer Kevin Feige. Just a bonus.
[Originally Published on Fogs Movie Reviews Fall of 2013] [Re-Published now in conjunction with the 2018 TCM Film Festival]
I recently spent the weekend with some friends and a guy I know well, and have been friends with for more than thirty five years, had the audacity to suggest that the remake of this film was more entertaining than the original. I instantly dropped my jaw, exclaimed loudly that he had to be kidding and then proceeded to disagree in a condescending manner. I have to apologize for the tone, it was not called for and I would not want my friend to be angry at me because I mocked his preference for the 2009 version. I do want him to know and understand that although I liked the Denzel/Travolta film, it can’t really hold a candle to the original and that vigorous defense of the 1974 classic begins now as I once more recommend a movie that I want everyone to see.
The nineteen seventies were the last golden age of movie making. There have been plenty of great movies since then, and there have even been periods of time when a film making movement has taken center stage. Yet pound for pound the period of time when the studios were still controlled by film makers and not corporate conglomerates, remains the longest sustained period of film making excellence since the 30s. The mavericks that ran the studios lead by the seat of their pants, and their taste in films. When they succeeded, like Robert Evans did at Paramount, the atmosphere was invigorating. After “Heaven’s Gate” and the fall of United Artists, the movie business changed. Not always in negative ways but it was very different. “The Taking of Pelham 123” is one of those films that represent a gritty view of the world, with cynicism that reflected the time and place and was not simply a joke or a stylistic flourish. It’s not the kind of film that would have appealed to a modern studio as much. Maybe the indie world would be able to put something like this on the screen these days but it would not have had the cache of this version. The remake exists because there is already a story, and a success that the marketers can shoehorn into their philosophy. The remake is a casting gimmick, it worked but only because the groundwork had been laid out by the original.
This is a crime film where the crime involves holding hostages for ransom. The conceit is that the location of the kidnapping is a moving target underground. The set up of the movie familiarizes us with a variety of characters, most of whom are working stiffs in the NY Transit System. Walter Matthau, who made his daily bread playing cynical types, is the worn down head of the transit police in charge of one section of the subway system. Lt. Garber, mouths off at his co-workers, dutifully provides a tour to visiting transit dignitaries and generally growls his way through another work day. The re-make casts Denzel as as a dispatcher rather than a cop. OK that might work, except it the remake then gives him a back story and a plot line that have nothing to do with the main event. The goal is to layer the character and make the plot deeper. In my view it comes off as uncertainty as to how to make the plot as tense as possible. They resort to tricks to build empathy for Garber. Matthau’s cop version is just doing his job. He is good at it and he struggles with the crisis he is faced with but our rooting interest is in the events not the man. Denzel is given multiple crisis to deal with and his willingness to do the job is undermined by the suspicion around him because of a separate story that is not really the focus of the film.
As a great illustration of the urban grittiness found in the original, take a listen to this terrific main theme that muscles the story onto the screen and tells you this is a film about tough men and dangerous situations, and manages to do so without resorting to theatrics.
I don’t remember the score from the remake, but I do remember the over the top “bad guy” played by John Travolta. Dark glasses, close cropped hair, Fu Manchu mustache and tattoos galore are all trademarks of movie bad guys in the last twenty years. All the gang in the original had fake mustaches but they wore them as a cover not as an attempt to intimidate. Even though there is not any back story or character costuming, the four hijackers in the 1974 film all had distinct personalities and they were easy to remember by their colorful sobriquets. I am pretty sure this is where Tarantino cribbed the idea for naming his characters in “Reservoir Dogs”.
The ultimate measure of any story like this is the villain, and while Travolta was scary and played the part as was written, his character is not as interesting or unnerving as Robert Shaw’s Mr. Blue. While we ultimately hear a little bit more about his background, the truth is none of it matters because we know from the beginning that he is a ruthless professional. The look in his eye and the demeanor he conveys is all we need to know he is an alpha. Shaw never screams or shouts. Mr. Blue’s cool voice and nearly expressionless face tells every passenger on that train that he is not a man to be f***ed with. The next year after this, Shaw did “Jaws” which was a performance that draws attention to the characters idiosyncrasies. Except for his intolerance of the psycho Mr. Grey, we see little of his motivation or internal processes. Shaw underplays every scene and the dialogue with Matthau on the radio is deadly earnest. He never compromises. The one time his timetable is adjusted has nothing to do with negotiating but everything to do with the situation, he still is in charge.
The way the hijackers maintain their control of the situation is by following Mr. Blue’s lead. He guns down a hostage in cold blood and he doesn’t accept the improvisation of his reckless ex mafia colleague. When he speaks to the passengers there is no mock sympathy or reassurance. He simply speaks directly and he acts as he has promised to.
The supporting players are a combination of believable types and loathsome stereotypes. Most of the employees of the N.Y. Transit system come off as they are supposed to, harried professionals who view these events from the point of view of a bureaucrat rather than an average citizen. Ben Stiller’s Dad shows up, not cracking wise so much as he is humorously supporting Garber as his partner in the Transit police. Veteran TV character actor Dick O’Neil plays the intolerant train schedule manager who can’t be bothered to worry about dead customers when the trains are getting off schedule. He asks at one point what the customers want for their lousy 35 cents, to live forever? This is the kind of casual negativity that pushes Garber into one of his few outward displays of frustration. We get a chance to see the craven actions of political figures as they calculate the costs of paying a ransom. A calculation that has more to do with the next election than saving the lives of the hostages. We never get to know much about the captives, they are stereotypes; old man, panicked mother, hooker etc. This is not a story of the lives of the victims of this crime or the perpetrators or the cops. The story focuses on the events of the crime.
The New York subway system seems familiar because we’ve seen it in a hundred movies. Overcrowded, not quite clean, sometimes antiquated and claustrophobic. The film manages to convey all of that without dwelling on any of it. The darkness surrounding the train car becomes the background for some good tense scenes. One cop even jokes that because of his color he wants everyone to be aware that he is between the SWAT team and the criminals. There is a very morbid sense that everyone in those tunnels is just another rat in a hole and they all have to fend for themselves. While there are nihilistic films out there today, it is hard to see a major studio building a film around that sort of attitude. The characters would have to be sympathetic and the bureaucracy would be the focus of anger rather than the kidnappers. The cops at the surface have many of the same attitudes that we might see fifteen years later in “Die Hard”. They are ready to shoot first and ask questions later. They are not always competent, witness the car crash that delays delivery of the money, but they don’t play most of this for laughs. The police in authority are not figures to be mocked like Dwayne Robinson, they are also working professionals that are worn from the job but shrug their shoulders and do it anyway. This whole film is very much a blue collar thriller. The bad guys are a team of desperate men not an army of tactically trained experts. The Transit employees are real people in a tough thankless job that have become jaded. The cops are overwhelmed and smart but not brilliant. The only pure comic personae is the Mayor with the flu.
The remake is filled with visual twists and plot developments to astound us. This movie is not filled with fireworks but it manages to hold our attention and be entertaining. The plot scenario might sound farfetched but set in the days of D.B. Cooper and hijacking of planes to Cuba it feels real. The city, the subway the passengers, the crooks and the cops all come across as real people. This is not a spy adventure or an action film with a hero who overcomes incredible odds. It is an urban thriller that makes it’s story feel like it could happen and characters that might really exist. The final clue that nails the hijacker that gets away is even more fun now a days when we see so many stories about stupid criminals. Even though the denouncement is played for a laugh, it also feels authentic.
I’m sure most of the readers of this site have probably watched this film a time or two. Fogs gave me a term in a on-line post that I now use regularly. This is a “Black Hole” film. It’s gravitational pull for me is overwhelming, and every time I encounter it I lose another 104 minutes of my life but I gain a 104 minutes of time with story tellers who know what the hell they were doing.
Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.
After waiting a whole year and salivating over all the choices for a number on months, it is always a little melancholic to arrive at the final day of the Film Festival. Like the end of a Christmas day or most weekends, the conclusion of something you enjoy so much feels a little heavy, like sun-downer syndrome. Still I had a day full of films ahead of me, and since I am a 70s guy, I made the most of the bigger venues and saw three from the last golden age of Hollywood film making.
This is one of the most beautiful films you ever saw. The cinematography by Caleb Daschanel is entrancing, both the sections set on a Mediterranean Island and those taking place in middle America in the 1940s. I think the phrase “magic hour” might have been invented to describe much of the work here. Amanda had never seen this film. I bought a copy on DVD for the girls when they were younger but they never got around to watching it before they were off to college, so I guess it is my fault for not forcing it down their throats.
We are suckers for animal stories around here. we have had dogs and cats and snakes and rats and assorted amphibians and rodents as members of the household . We have never however had a horse. I have a cousin who has devoted large parts of her life to horses and after seeing movies like this, you can easily understand how this could happen. “The Black” as he comes to be known, has a magnetic effect on the young boy Alec, who is the star of the movie. Our screening was hosted by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. He noted that Kelly Reno, who played young Alec was basically just a ranh kid who could ride from the time he was very young. He has to carry a lot of the film and it is a very good child performance.
Maltin was joined by co-screenwriter Jeanne Rosenberg, who was fresh out of film school at USC when she happened into the gig. Originally she connected with the director as a production assistant just based on a phone call when she heard that Carroll Ballard was going to make a movie of her favorite childhood book. The screenplay was not something the first time director had nailed down and it was still being revised by Melissa Matheson. As the production geared up, Rosenberg worked with Matheson to fashion the story into a screenplay and get so many things right.
The first half of the movie is a magical story of the boy and the horse coming together and saving each other after a maritime disaster. Hoyt Axton plays Alec’s dad, a man who is lucky at cards but maybe not at much else as we see. He played a similar type of character a few years later in “Gremlins”. The shipwright and beach sequences are the most memorable scenes in the film and they just look gorgeous. When the story shifts back to the small town setting for the final half, two new adult characters become part of the story. Terri Garr who is always so welcome is Alec’s long suffering mother. It’s Mickey Rooney however who comes closest to stealing the film from the horse. As a retired race horse trainer, who is struggling with his farm and separation from the racing life, Rooney comes across as a sincere and interesting mentor to Alec. He was nominated for Supporting actor that year, and that performance probably lead to the Honorary Oscar he deservedly received three years later.
One of our favorite films of all times was playing in the same Egyptian Theater right after “The Black Stallion”, so we went right out the door for one and got back in line for the next. I did a write up for “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” for a Robert Shaw Film Festival that I did on the web site seven years ago, you can read the original post here. I also wrote about the film for a series I contributed to on the now defunct Fog’s Movie Reviews. I have been slowly re-posting those reviews on this site under my series “Movies I Want Everyone to See”. As soon as this post goes up, I will add the Pelham post to the blog and you can read about it in more depth.
This screening need to be special because we passed up the showing of “The Ten Commandments” hosted by Ben Burt and Craig Barron. Their presentations have been the highlights of each of my previous Film Festival experiences and the Special Effects and Set Design are the best things about the Ten Commandments. I sure hope their presentation ends up on TCM Backlot so I can enjoy it. Anyway, it turns out that we made a good choice because the movie was preceded by a most insightful presentation by Bruce Goldstein, who among other things is the director of Repertory Programming at the New York Film Forum.
Goldstein’s talk was punctuated with historical references to NYC in the 1970s and also an extensive review of the use of the New York subway system as a film location. There were clips from “Death Wish’, “The Incident”, “The Warriors” and even Michael Jackson’s “Bad” which was shot by Martin Scorsese in some of the same spots. The best clip however was the video of former Mayor of NYC Ed Koch, introducing the film at a 1991 Film Forum event. Actor Lee Wallace plays the Mayor of NY in Pelham, and he bears an astonishing resemblance to Koch, who became the mayor much later. People often thought the film Mayor was modeled after Koch but the film preceded Koch’s term by 4 years. Wallace would also play the Mayor of Gotham City in Tim Burton’s “Batman”, almost certainly this time inspired by Koch. Goldstein says that “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is the one film that gets New York Geography absolutely right. We got a little travelogue of the subway system as part of his talk as well.
The soundtrack of this film is terrific and it is a great example of the muscular style of gritty crime films made in the seventies. In a theater with a good sound system it is like being punched into paying attention to what is happening. So much is great about this movie, I hope you will take the time to visit my post on it.
Shakespeare is the greatest writer in history. You may love someone else’s work more but no one had the impact on the language and culture that the Bard has had. In the Twentieth Century, there have been plenty of actors who have made their mark as interpreters of the works of William Shakespeare. The boards are littered with English actors who cut their teeth on the plays of Shakespeare. My guess is that most of them would say that Laurence Olivier was the leading Shakespearean of his time. He headed Theatrical companies that specialized in the plays and he made movies out of several of them. The 1948 version of “Hamlet” may leave out a substantial portion of the play, but it gets the most important elements in with enough interest for film audiences to have been awarded the Best Picture Oscar that year and Olivier himself was named Best Actor.
Actor Alan Cummings joined new TCM Host Dave Karger for an exploration of the play and the film. Cummings was polite but did communicate that he had reservations about the interpretation that Olivier had made of the play. He was especially miffed at the prologue that suggested the play was about a man who could not make up his mind. He felt this was a disservice to the true themes of the story. Cummings spoke of his own experiences doing the play in an almost accidental fashion in London.
From my perspective, the film was excellent, showcasing the setting as well as the actors. While Olivier gets credit as the first director to direct himself to an Academy Award for acting, his direction of “Hamlet” includes some great uses of camera and lighting to make the plays ghosts and murderous subplots more intriguing. The film gets the big scenes right and anyone can follow what is going on. The outdoor locations that are used in just a couple of scenes add to the sense that this is not just a stage-bound version of the play.
Before the start of the movie I had a chance to briefly visit with fellow Lamb member Kristen Lopez. She has been another guest on several of the Lambcast Podcasts that I have been on and I was a guest last year on the show “Walt Sent Me” which she and co-host Todd Liebnow put together. I know she is a big fan of Oscar Isaac and she went to see him doing “Hamlet” last year on Broadway. I suspect he is her favorite Hamlet.
I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh complete text version of the film, and the Mel Gibson version, which like the 1948 film cuts things down to it’s essentials. I still think Laurence Olivier is definitive, but maybe I will change my mind if Oscar brings his version of the play to the West Coast.
The passage of time is not always enough to qualify a film as a classic. There are plenty of films from the 1970s that would never reach that threshold even if another forty years passes. “Animal House” however was a “Classic” from the moment it first screened. This is one of the films that I covered on the original project that started this blog.
I have seen this movie dozens of times and I might well have skipped this to see the 1925 “Phantom of the Opera’ at the Egyptian, but this was closing night, it was playing on the TLC Chinese Imax screen and most of the original cast was going to be there to share some memories. So even though it is a well worn path, we followed it to a great closing night presentation.
This is Amanda’s favorite comedy. I’m sure much of that has to do with her college experience with the Trojan Marching Band. They play the closing song as a theme for their post game performances, and all the band members do the Bluto.
The line up for the presentation included most of the cast. Peter Riegert, Tom Hulce and Kevin Bacon were missing, but everyone else of note was there and director John Landis, co-producer Matty Simmons, lead a lively recount of behind the scenes events. Landis told how the studio wanted Chevy Chase in the film bur Landis was afraid it would become a SNL film and he did not think Chase was right. In his memory, he maneuvered Chase into passing on the film because choosing Foul Play would give him leading man status opposite Goldie Hawn and “Animal House” would mean he was part of an ensemble.
James Widdoes told a story about the cast getting into a fight with the members of a fraternity at the University of Oregon. The cast had been invited to a party by some of the sorority girls who were hanging around the shoot but the guys in the frat, many of them on the football team, took exception to the actors “crashing” the party. Bruce McGill and Tim Matheson seemed to be getting the bums rush out the door and Widdoes tossed his beer at the frat guys and gave them an “f@#k you”, which as you can imagine did not go over well.
Mark Metcalf, who was the authoritarian Niedermeyer from the rival frat in the film, described how he arrived on set several days after the rest of the cast and was invited over to the table in the cafeteria where they were seated. As he approached them, they started flinging food at him in a manner very similar to the food fight that breaks out in the film.
Everyone had a contribution to make which made the effort to see this film worthwhile. And then of course the movie is hysterical and all the jokes continue to land, forty years later.
Singer Steven Bishop also did a nice a Capella version of the closing song, which many in the audience attempted to join in on. Basically, a splendid time was had by all.
A lot of great films over the course of four days. I found this picture on the Festival Web Site and thought you might appreciate where we sat for most of the screenings. This is from the Bullitt Screening. In the Yellow circle you will see me in my burnt orange shirt, Amanda to the right and next to her is our friend Michael. Good Times
The original plan was to see “Kiss Me Deadly” and try to squeeze in a program called “Crackin’ Wise” and finish off the day with a nitrates screening of “Spellbound”. None of those three things happened. This was still a jam packed day and there were other programs to see that held all kinds of allure for me.
The first change of the day began before anything had really started. I was with my daughter and while we are not locked at the hip, I do enjoy taking in the films at the festival with her as much as possible. Although I wanted to keep a Noir thing going by seeing the Mickey Spillane based “Kiss Me Deadly”. I have seen it before however and missing it was not going to hurt that much. Amanda had not seen His Girl Friday before and that’s where she was headed so I chose to tag along. There was another reason I chose this, my friend Michael, who is a blogger here in Southern California, was going to see this and I hadn’t seen him in almost a year so this would be a good chance to catch up because he was going to see Rosalind Russel and Cary Grant as well.
Sure enough we caught up with him and we spent several screenings together for the rest of the festival.
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel are great in this rapid fire remake of “The Front Page”. The switch in gender and relationship from the previous film works really well, and Ralph Bellamy gets pushed off as a third wheel in another picture that he stars in. Author Cari Beauchamp, an Academy Scholar and contributor to numerous publications, walked us through some background on the film and mentioned something that particularly interested me. The average person speaks at a rate of 120 to 150 words a minute, according to Beauchamp, Grant and Russel both exceed 200 words a minute in most of their scenes. Even with that active pace and shap direction, because of the two late nights in a row, I dozed in a couple of spots. I may have missed five to ten minutes of the film, fortunately, I’ve watched it a number of times. Amanda was very entertained by the whole thing.
Jaqueline Bisset was scheduled to appear at this which was one enticement to see this movie, but she had to cancel at the last minute for a family emergency. Host Eddie Muller was particularly disappointed, but vowed to try to get her on the program next year. [My suggestion is a screening of “The Deep”]. Miss Bisset however was not the main reason I wanted to see this screening. The car chase that begins and ends all car chases was the main draw. This looked like the movie that was going to have the biggest crowd at the festival, despite being perceived by many of the fans as outside the “classic” studio period. I had just seen a story on CBS Sunday Morning about the Mustang that was featured in the film.
Amanda also has the wits to recognize McQueen as the King of Cool. She dotes on him almost as much as her favorite, Robert Shaw (tomorrow). McQueen’s image was everywhere at the festival, including the “Essential” passes that we wore around our necks for admission to every Festival activity.
The sound design on this movie is tremendous and when the Charger and Mustang take over the streets of San Francisco, it is a wonder to behold and especially to hear. I saw “Bullitt” in it’s original theatrical release in 1968. My older brother Chris took me, it was playing with a long forgotten George Peppard film, “House of Cards”. I remember describing to my friends on the playground the violent shotgun killing of the witness, but especially detailing the car chase.
McQueen looks so cool in his turtleneck sweater and blazer, the sunglasses cap off the effect and you have an authority figure that the rebel generation of the 1960s can relate to.
This was flat out my favorite program at this years TCM Film Festival. The gathering of talent and history was incredible and the stories these women shared were fascinating insights into the world of animation, particularly at the Disney Studios.
|Mindi Johnson introducing Ruthie Tompson|
To begin with, author and animation historian Mindi Johnson, introduced us to Ruthie Tompson, who as a little girl was a model for the kids featured in Disney’s original Alice shorts, which mixed animation and live action, before Mickey Mouse. If you can do math, you will have figured out that Miss Tompson is not exactly a kid. Here she is in her 108 years of glory. She sounded great and made just a couple of remarks as an introduction to the rest of the program. She ended up going to work for Walt and did ink and paint on the first real Mickey Mouse short, “Plane Crazy” which was screened as part of the audio visual presentation put together by the host.
What followed that introduction was a long line of innovators in the animation arts. Mindi Johnson described the bungalows that the inkers worked in and showed us a variety of pictures that illustrated the labor intensive process that was required to get these cartoons in shape. When color entered into the scene in more abundant ways, the painting process became more complicated and the women who participated in putting these shorts together began to be designers in addition to the detailed ink work they did.
On the program, there were women who contributed to every Disney Feature Film ever released, including Pixar films and Roger Rabbit.
After the presentation, there was a book signing at the Roosevelt Hotel Lobby. Amanda and I scrambled over there, bought a beautiful copy of Mindi Johnson’s book, and then had it signed by all the women on the panel.
I frankly pity any animation fan who was not there for this wonderful look at the hidden history of outstanding women in the field.
We headed back to the Main Chinese theater and reconnected with Michael for our next screening, the comedy “Heaven Can Wait” which was nominated for nine Oscars in 1978, including the big one, but walked away with just the prize for set decoration. This film had Warren Beatty’s influence all over it. Three of the actors were nominated [including Beatty] and the film was co-directed by Beatty and Buck Henry , who was one of the guests for the presentation. We saw Henry last year at a screening of “The Graduate”, and he was a little more mobile then. This year he did not get out of his wheelchair. He was also a bit more cryptic and slow with his answers, but when he interjected a comment, the wit and sharpness are still there.
Ben Mankiewicz lead the discussion and Dyan Cannon, nominated for her role in the film, took the lead on most of the background, allowing Buck to participate when he was good and ready and not before.
This film is a loose remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was screened last year at the festival although I missed it. This was the 40th anniversary of the film, although Dyan Cannon did not want to acknowledge that, I know what she means, it just does not seem possible that it was that long ago.
The movie is a featherweight story of a heavenly mix up with some body swapping comedy and slapstick humor from Charles Grodin and Miss Cannon. Amanda had never seen it before and she enjoyed it while recognizing that it was largely a frothy entertainment from the decade of cinema that she most loves. Ben made mention of the fact that Cannon was at one time married to Festival favorite Cary grant, and she quikly volunteered that their love life was great. It was a big laugh and she does have a book coming which looks back on that time so that should be interesting.
The one thing that could lure me away from the nitrate screening of “Spellbound” that was was originally planning on, was the last minute addition of Jeff Bridges to the line up of guests to talk about the Coen Brother’s stoner film noir. Lebowski is twenty years old this year, and I know many classic film fans would probably find it’s inclusion problematic because of it’s recent vintage. I did hear a few people complaining because there is a Fathom Screening in conjunction with TCM coming up later this year so maybe this showing was superfluous. Forget that, the movie is entertaining as hell and still completely weird. Which was pretty much a description of Jeff Bridges as well.
Just as Mel Brooks and William Friedkin had, Bridges barely sat during his time in front of the audience. He roamed the stage and actually lead us all in a Buddhist style chant before the interview actually began.
Eventually, Ben managed to corral him and get him to sit for some questions. It is probably well known that much of The Dudes” costuming came directly from Bridges own closet, including the sweater jacket that is so iconic. Bridges mentioned that co-star John Turturro was not quite sure that the film was something he thought much of, but after several years he has come around and it seems that it may be his most recognized part.
Bridges had very nice things to say about the late Ben Gazzara, who had been a contemporary of his father. Even though the subject might have called for it, and in California, the laws do not frown on it, I did not detect the scent of herb in the air. Bridges loopy conversation might suggest that he was taking advantage of the new policy, but I suspect he was mostly high from the warm reception he got from the crowd at the festival.