Small Town Hero

Here is a change of pace review for this site. I had an opportunity to watch a video screener of a small U.K. film which is getting a digital release in a couple of weeks and it will probably not be playing in a theater so it is a bit unusual for me to cover it here. The movie is “Small Town Hero” and it is set in a bucolic village in England which is beset by some troublesome aspects of modern life. You know the sorts of things that grind the average person down; littering, problem parking behavior, drunk teens creating problems for local shops. The setting could be anyplace that fancies itself as a nice place to live, but does have the rough edges that come from social interaction with those with whom we have minor conflicts.

Pep is an angry younger man that most of us movie fans can identify with immediately. At the start of the film he is off on a rant about rude theatrical behavior, including the use of phones during a show. I may not have said the words out loud the way he does, but I have thought them plenty of times. The injustice of rude behavior often tips us into reactions that our more rational selves would refrain from. Pep stops listening to his rational self and starts tuning in to his own anger at the world. As we learn in the course of the film, he has a failed relationship with an imperfect woman with whom he shares a child. Billy is seven years old and splits time between his Mom and Dad. Pep dotes on the boy and fancies himself as a good person. In part because he is tired of the small injustices in the world, he takes a stand for a local shopkeeper who keeps losing his windows to drunken teens in inebriated shows of power. Pep steps in, starts a nightwatch in front of the shop, and after bullying the vandals a bit, becomes something of a local hero for taking a stand. Fueled by his belief that he is making the world a better place for his son, and maybe being seen by his ex as more worthy, he begins a crusade against all sorts of petty crimes.

At first, although we can see that his behavior fuels his anger, we are likely to be supportive of his acts. The film is put together as one of those interview/reality/documentaries that have become ubiquitous in the last few years. Having got some favorable publicity from his stand against the drunken vandals, a film crew starts following our local vigilante as he develops into a one man crime strike force. The arc of the story will not be too hard to surmise. Writer/Director Darren Bolton has visualized the worst case scenario for this kind of social justice. When Charles Bronson picked up a sock full of quarters forty-five years ago, the audience was primed for a revenge flick where justice rather than the law was the solution. There was a muted attempt to suggest that street vigilantes could inflict damage that would be problematic, but that reservation was largely put aside for a 70s audience oppressed in their own homes by violence. “Small Town Hero” presents the darker side as a more realistic scenario. Pep, set free from social inhibition, rewarded for his chutzpah and embraced by a neighborhood watch type group, begins to embrace his empowerment.

The film manages to keep the story involving by using some humor and genuine moments of tenderness. For instance, Pep has stickers made up to plaster on the wind screeds of automobiles that have parked in an inconsideration manner, who among us has not wanted to do something similar?  The film crew catches him urinating on someone he found urinating on the public street, how appropriate. Unfortunately, these little victories are not enough to assuage his anger or his ego. He escalates the violence against those who are unwilling to conform and the people who supported him before fear that he has become a bully. When another local intervenes in a petty theft and gets some coverage, Pep looks for bigger success for himself. He keeps telling himself that he is doing this for others but the focus is usually on him. In spite of the fact that we see him as a belligerent small town tyrant, he also has moments that reveal his vulnerability. Pep interacts with Billy in a loving way, and when he realizes he has crossed a line after being berated by his ex, Pep apologizes to Billy in an off screen moment that is cleverly included in the film, without us actually seeing it. His rage at the phantom figure of the new man in his ex’s life, is set aside when she gives birth to Billy’s little brother. We are likely to feel one last moment of sympathy for Pep when one of his crusades gets very brutal but results in a moment of happiness for the elderly Mother of his ex.

Everything gets darker in the second half of the film as the need to return to hero status drives Pep to seek out a pedophile in the neighborhood.  The problem is there is probably not a real threat, but many people will be traumatized by the paranoia and desperation that takes over this angry young man’s life. As a story telling device, the film crew works to help us be included in the escalating events. The weakness in the execution here has to do with the implausible passivity of the film crew. This sort of amoral behavior on the part of the team making a movie about reality, has been seen on the screen at least since “Network” and maybe even earlier. “Man Bites Dog” and “Nightcrawler” plumb similar themes. The indifference of the film crew is not really the story here. Just like in “Natural Born Killers”, we are fascinated by the subject of the film and only partially taken aback by the supposed “objectivity” of the movie makers.

This is a tough little film with something to say, but what it is saying is pretty sour. It ends on a moment of tragedy that has been foreshadowed for almost an hour. Our sympathies are challenged and changed, while we are still drawn to the main character. There is a terrific sequence where the film crew is recording a series of rants that Pep goes off on as he drives his car. The camera is in the back seat and Pep sometimes turns to look at it as he grouses and yells and rails against perceived injustices. He holds nothing back. The editing on this is clever as each rant blends into another and at the close of the sequence we get a brilliant humorous payoff. I don’t know that you will enjoy the film, despite it’s moments of dark levity, but you will certainly admire actor Simon Cassidy as Pep, and the whole crew who put this together.

 

Available May 6, 2019

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/small-town-hero/id1459164031

 

Avengers: Endgame

The culmination of eleven years of intricate story building, expanded universe and a plethora of characters, “Avengers: Endgame” has arrived. With a film like this, we have to be careful about avoiding spoilers. This is probably the most anticipated film of the year and the one that has had the most written about it. Everyone has a theory and everyone is afraid for characters they have invested in. It takes over three hours to spill out onto the screen, and there is still too much to be taken in all at once. My general take on the film is that it is a slow burn that tries to build on the emotional remnants of “Infinity War” and falls a little flat there. By the end however, the action is furious and the spectacle is visually overwhelming.

One of the things that was so amazing about “Infinity War” was that it actually told a story that made the villain into someone we can understand, even if we don’t agree with him. Thanos is the biggest of Big bads in the comic world. Once he has the Infinity Stones, there is no stopping him. So the inevitable conclusion of the previous film is a somber kick in the teeth for our heroes and us. With one little credit sequence, a ray of hope got dropped on us and it has had to sustain us for a year, now it is payoff time. Captain Marvel was introduced in a film that is still playing in cinemas at the moment. She is an inspiring character, but she is equally somber as the start of this movie. Admittedly there is little to smile about, with half the population gone and the other half mourning them. Out of the blue we get a rescue of our stranded hero and a reunion with the remaining Avengers. That moment of sunshine disappears in a big plate of resentment by one of the Avengers against the others. For some reason, the drama in this segment is so sour as to be off putting. Because it takes another forty minutes or so to get resolved, the first hour feels padded.

One of the Avengers appears to have been changed for the better by the experience of failure. The image of this character in their present form is another element that shakes the foundations we have with the series. It was a strange choice and I don’t think it works very well. Some of it is played for laughs, which also seems out of place in this section of the movie. There were two other paths that fit more effectively with the characters we know. Two Avengers take journeys, one into conventional bliss and the other into criminal darkness. Captain America appears to be trying to cope with what has happened by being a mentor in a survivors group while Thor has mostly abandoned his place in the group. Again, this will all seem very abstract because I want you to be able to discover the pleasures and pitfalls for yourselves.

After this lengthy opening hour, the plot begins to drive the film more. This becomes a time traveling heist film. Now both of those genres of stories have appeal to them, but the conundrums created by time travel make things incredibly complicated, despite the attempt to dismiss all of that change as irrelevant. We are going to revisit several earlier moments from the other 21 MCU films and retcon them to make a solution to the Thanos problem possible. There are so many balls in the air at once that it will be easy to get lost or confused. Don’t worry, you won’t have to keep track too long because things start to gel and rush forward once the objects of the heist are gathered. Of course the pleasure of a heist film is that nothing ever goes as planned and the operatives have to improvise. This results in some unnecessary side journeys which do little to move us forward but do provide the kind of fan service that followers of these movies want. So you want it, you got it. Cap makes Hydra look stupid, Starlord ends up being a bigger dolt, and Tony will get an opportunity that he missed out on in an earlier story.

Again, I don’t want things to be too directly revealed, but if you suspected that Dr. Strange and Scott Lang were going to be important to the mechanics of how this will all work out, give yourself a gold star. If you understand quantum physics, you know, just to keep up with conversations, then maybe it will all make sense. I’m willing to let it be a comic book solution to  comic book problem and move on with my life. However it all got done, let me assure you that you get a final battle that will stand alongside any of the great epics of our time. So many characters are involved and there are so many reverses, short lived successes and premature victories and defeats that your head will be swimming.  I suspect the Game of Thrones battle coming up in the last season will have similar effects. My personal favorite moment in the movie was foreshadowed by a brief shot in “Age of Ultron”, and it comes to full life in the segment.

Again, trying to avoid spoilery material, let’s just say that the resolution of a couple of stories are indeed quite sad. I won’t tell you that I cried but there was a little mist in a couple of moments. I probably would have enjoyed one final reveal a little more if the asshat behind me had not guessed it out loud two seconds before it showed up. That gas bag is the reason I am being extra circumspect with my comments here. On the podcast this weekend, we will do the best we can to keep the spoilers in a distinct section that you can skip, but I do look forward to talking with everyone about the plotlines, character twists and action moments of the film. “Endgame ” is satisfying for the story lines that were developed but I don’t think it works as well as a movie as many of the other MCU films have. I don’t do ratings on my site but at the Lamb there will be ratings. It is maybe a top ten MCU film for me but not a top five.

 

TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Four

Holiday

The last day of the Festival is always a bit melancholic, after waiting a whole year for the event to arrive, it is suddenly on the brink of departure for another year. However, just as we try to enjoy the days off after Christmas, the last day of the festival should be something to treasure as well. If you can find a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, I think you are onto the path for success in overcoming your doldrums. If the movie also features Katherine Hepburn, my goodness you have hit the Jackpot.

There were a couple of things that were hard for me to believe about “Holiday”. First it was hard for me to believe I’ve never seen this movie before. I’ve seen “The Philadelphia Story” dozens of times and “Bringing Up Baby” is also an old friend. Grant and Hepburn only made four films together. I don’t have any memory of Sylvia Scarlett and I thought I might have watched “Holiday” at some point but as it played out, it was clear to me that I had not. The second thing that was hard to believe was that this movie was not screening in the main house for Sunday morning. This is just the kind of film that should bring all the classic buffs to a theater on a lazy Sunday morning at the festival. The crowd was quite large for the event, and I don’t know if there were disappointed fans turned away. As far as I could tell, the big house was not being used at the time so it probably could be done. Well, I’m not in charge of programming and I’m sure someone wiser than I calculated all the relevant factors.

There is a sense of the same kind of madcap foolishness in this film as found in the two pairings of the stars I had seen. Grant is an investment accountant of modest background who falls in love with the daughter of a millionaire. She loves him back but it becomes apparent that she has reservations about his odd life plan. He hopes to score an economic windfall that will allow him to retire on Holiday as a young man, and then get back into work when he has that experience behind him. The eccentric sister of Grant’s fiance is Hepburn, who approves of him when the others in the family have their doubts. As a critique of greed and convention, “Holiday” is a little light in themes, but when it comes to what a real love entails, Hepburn has it in spades over her bifurcated sister.

The morning hosts were Diane Baker and Ron Perlman. They talked generally about classic movies but did not have many specifics about this film. The conversation was fun but not essential to this experience.

The Robe

On the previous day, at the Fox Appreciation event, a nice clip of “The Robe” was shown, that highlighted the width of Cinemascope and the beautiful cinematography. I’d been a little uncertain about what we might see at this time slot, but that moment settled it for me. It was also fortuitous that this showing of the film was happening on Palm Sunday. There is even a sequence in the movie where we see Jesus arriving in Jerusalem and the crowd waving their palms in the air.

The crowd at the Egyptian was solid but not entirely packed. Our host for the screening was President of the Motion Picture Academy and celebrated cinematographer John Bailey. If you look at the list of movies he worked on you will be suitably impressed. Of course Amanda and I appreciated that he filmed the recent Lambcast Movie of the Month “Silverado”. It made complete sense for a director of photography to talk about this film, since it was the first movie to be produced in CinemaScope. Mr. Bailey provided a brief guide to the process and explained how the focus has to be adjusted by the lenses that are used in the process. It appears that the Technicolor label on the film is a bit of a misnomer because there was a new film stock used that had been created by the studio for it’s new process, it was simply that Technicolor had to do the corrections and prints.

The film stars Richard Burton in one of his first prominent roles. There is definitely a vibe around his character that is similar to Ben Hur, but in reverse. He is a Roman Tribune who is banished to Jerusalem because of a contentions relationship with soon to be Emperor Caligula. He and the slave that he has outbid his rival for, arrive in time to participate in the Crucifixion. What follows is a religious conversation and a variety of spectacular sets.  Victor Mature is quite good in his part but he is definitely a supporting player. The part of Caligula was played by actor Jay Robinson in his first big screen performance. He is incredibly over the top here that he might have had trouble getting subsequent work, except he has a distinctive voice and eyebrows.

The Killers (1964)

I had long heard of this movie but I have only a vague memory of seeing clips and those were black and white [at least in my memory].  This is supposedly a loose remake of an even more loosely adapted Ernest Hemingway story. I can’t testify to either of the previous sources, not having seen them, but I can say I see some Hemingway roots. The men in this film are all tough and fatalistic. The woman is cold and duplicitous. I also understood the film to be a low budget TV production that instead got a theatrical release. Well let me tell you, it does not play like a TV movie at all.

Director Don Siegel was the right man for the job. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and there are some brutal moments of violence that the camera does not turn away from. Just as in the future collaborations with Clint Eastwood, the possibility of violence floats under almost every scene and the characters are not sentimentalized at all. This was shot in color, and it does look like the kinds of color timing and saturation that you might get in a TV movie but it all worked well.  There are a half dozen really solid actors in their parts and I was impressed with the cast list as it came up on the screen during the titles.

Norman Fell and Claude Aikins are well known television actors, and both made frequent forays into the theatrical film as well. Clu Gulager is also a staple of television but has been in some of my favorite movies over the years including “The Last Picture Show”, “Into the Night” and “The Hidden”. He is also still working, he is going to be in the Tarantino film coming this summer. I think his role here was maybe the biggest part he had. He is a sadistic hit man who is partnered with Lee Marvin, so he is in the film for most of the running time. The image he cultivates with the ever present sunglasses is one that is always threatening. Lee Marvin owns the picture although you never think of him as a hero, he is clearly a bad man, he is also however a clever man. The two killers figure there must be a financial reason behind the hit they pull off at the start of the film and they plan on getting a part of the pot.

John Cassavetes is the doomed race car driver who gets involved with a mystery woman played by Angie Dickinson. He is very low key in this part until the final sequence of flashbacks that shows us when he ended up being dead, long before his actual death. Angie Dickinson plays a femme fatale who has eyes for more than one man in the story. She was the guest at the screening

 

The real revelation in the movie was Ronald Reagan. This was his last film, and although he reportedly hated playing a heavy and the slap he gives to Dickinson, he was really quite good in the part. Reagan always had charisma on screen, but he was usually most effective in a secondary role rather than trying to carry the picture. This movie shows that in addition to the charming comedic parts he usually played, his range could be broader.

This was a heavily attended program and we were in the last group to be admitted to the theater. I felt we were fortunate to get in and see a great star like Dickinson, who was generous in her praise of everyone in the movie. She said that even though she is a Democrat, she thinks everyone can agree that Reagan was a good President, but she also thought he was a good actor. Someone in the crowd is a friend of Clu Gulager, and we got a little shout out from him via a text message of greeting to Angie.

Although there were still opportunities to see some more films at the Festival, Amanda had to be at work early on Monday, and all the screenings were not going to finish until nine. We skipped another film and the closing party, and headed home, completing the 2019 Festival with a very satisfying piece of crime film and history.

 

TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Three

When Worlds Collide

Starting off Saturday morning with a 1950s Science Fiction film just seems appropriate. This George Pal produced extravaganza features many of the disaster tropes from future films like “Armageddon” and “2012”, but the human story is actually more the point. There are a few brief sequences of disaster when the planet orbiting the star that is approaching Earth is near, but most of the drama is in the decisions about who gets to ride in the Ark spaceship and who loves who.

The screening was hosted by Dennis Miller, an avid film fan and the perfect stand in for me. His gee whiz enthusiasm for the movie and his fanboy crush on movie star Barbara Rush, reflected exactly how I would have felt if I were sitting in his seat. They talked about her career quite a bit and she still works. She had kind things to say about Producer George Pal and she seemed to be a fan of the movie as well. Maybe we can get a screening of Robin and the Seven Hoods next year and it can all be about working with the Rat Pack.

The special effects in the film are really quite good and the miniatures and photographic effects are convincing up until the climax of the movie. The survivors arrival on the new planet is a bit rushed and the background art matte looks like a coloring book rendition of another world. It was flat, overly simple and the colors were garish. Before this, the movie looked great and the cinematography was top notch. Actor John Hoyt, who will be familiar to anyone who has watched a TV show from the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s because he was in everything, plays the cartoonish bad guy in a wheelchair. When he gets his comeuppance, everyone was happy.

Fox: An Appreciation

No one seems to want to acknowledge that Twentieth Century Fox exists in name only right now. I suppose, much like the once potent United Artists, the logo and masthead will continue to appear on theatrical releases, but as an independent film studio, Fox is no more. They will be a Disney brand for films that Disney does not want to have the Disney name on. I thought the event would be a bit more bittersweet, but instead, it was a celebration of the restoration efforts of the Fox Archive project, and that was certainly worthwhile.

Our guide for this review of great Fox films was Schawn Belston, who is the Executive Vice President of Media and Library services at Fox. This was a clip presentation with maybe twenty to thirty films getting a few moments of special attention. The opening of the program featured all of the 20th Century Fox logos and the fanfare that have opened their films since the founding of the studio. The first clip also reflected their greatest success, “Star Wars” which did play at the Festival but I skipped to see something else.

From Shirley Temple to Die Hard, a long list of distinguished movies were honored and a little bit of history about their restorations was thrown in as well. I especially appreciated Mr. Belston singling out the amazing score for the original “Planet of the Apes” and naming it’s composer out loud. Jerry Goldsmith is my favorite movie music man and this was a nice little bonus from my perspective.

This presentation was at the newest venue to join the TCM FF, American Legion Post 43.  Now you might think a Legion Hall is just a bar, a hall and some pool tables, but in this case you would be wrong. The main hall has been fitted out to be an elegant theater which would be capable of handling live productions as well as film presentations.

I did not get a shot from the back of the theater but the proscenium is quite large and you can see how cavernous this place is.

This was the only event that we attended at the Legion Post but there were films playing here all weekend. The only real drawback was the hike to the location. It is not actually any further than the Egyptian Theater is from the Roosevelt or the Chinese Theater, but the trip is a little up hill and the grade made it a bit intimidating. That plus the fact that the weekend featured typical warm California Spring days, probably deterred a few souls from attending events here.  I know my blogging friend Kristen Lopez bailed out on Wuthering Heights because of it. She has a chair and moving uphill was not going to be comfortable for her. Maybe nest year there can be a shuttle for those with mobility issues.

Those who did make it to the venue, I hope you went downstairs to use the bathroom. That would have given you a chance to see an old school hospitality room.

All About Nora

This was a panel presentation about writer/director Nora Ephron. She was responsible for some of the biggest adult targeted films of the last couple decades. I already mentioned “When Harry Met Sally”, but she wrote and directed two other famous and worthy romantic comedies, “Sleepless in Seattle’ and “You’ve Got Mail”. She passed in 2012 and the last film she worked on was “Julie & Julia”.

This event took place in Club TCM, the main meeting room in the Roosevelt Hotel. There were a number of items on display that are going up for auction through Bonhams pretty soon, so while I was waiting for the discussion, I browsed but made no purchases.

When the presentation began, it was hosted by one of the rookie hosts on TCM  Dave Karger. He introduced a distinguished panel of Ephron experts. Lauren Shuller Donner, who produced several of Ephrons films, J.J. Sacha who was her personal assistant for 14 years, actress/producer Rita Wilson who was cast in “Sleepless in Seattle” and has a great scene in the movie and Jacob Bernstein, her son and the creator of a documentary on her work.

Karger led the discussion with some appropriate questions and everyone had stories to tell. There was also a Q and A with the audience and some of those questions were worthwhile. There was a very nice touch for the conclusion of the program. Nora Ephron produced her own memorial service and had very strict food and drink guidelines. There was a pink champagne that she specified to be served at her memorial. At the conclusion of this event, everyone in the audience was served a glass of that beverage and we all offered a toast to the missing honoree.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Right off the bat I need to tell you that this was going to be on my schedule from the moment it was announced. I love this movie so much that one of my dogs is named after the outlaw played by Paul Newman. Another reason is that it features a performance by character actor Strother Martin, and as the keeper of the flame on the Strother Martin Film Project, I could not very well miss it. The frosting on the cake however was the appearance of the composer of the Academy Award winning song and score for the film, Mr. Burt Bacharach.

The film holds up marvelously and I can’t imagine I need to tell anyone reading this how entertaining it is. It was the biggest hit of 1969 and probably even better remembered for pairing Paul Newman and Robert Redford than “The Sting”. This was another packed house at the main Chinese Theater.

Bacharach is ninety-one this year and he was a little unsteady but his mind was sharp and his wit was keen. Eddie Muller conducted the interview and of course there was a lot of talk about all of the hits that Burt had written over the years. If you think you don’t know his work, guess again, you have heard dozens of his songs.

At the time the movie was made, he was married to Angie Dickinson, and she was theone who sort have got him the job. They were staying at a hotel in NYC when she ran into George Roy hill and she mentioned that her husband was a composer. The story Bacharach tells then involved sending information back and forth and ultimately getting the gig by chance.

Bacharach also said that his favorite composition was for the theme for “Alfie” another Academy Award Nominated song, again with lyrics by Hal David.

As we watched the movie play out, once again i was caught up in the cleverness of the dialogue and the effectiveness of Paul Newman’s comedic timing. He apparently thought he was miscast in a comedy, but this showed that he was capable in the right vehicle. He and director George Roy Hill would do another comedy in the 1970s, “Slap Shot”. That movie also features a performance by another co-star of “butch and Sundance, Strother Martin.

I was really pleased by the fact that when Strother showed up on screen, there was a smattering of applause for him. We had gotten those bits of audience approval for the stars of the film when they first show up, but leave it to a TCM Film crowd to know that they were seeing one of the great character actors of the second half of the Twentieth century.

Escape From New York

I know there are fans of the channel who will be aghast at the fact that this film is playing at the festival. It is not from the golden age of Hollywood, it is a low budget film and it is a genre that is probably not well loved by some of the TCM fans. Well the hell with all that, I am perfectly happy this was on the program and so were a number of other people. This was a high priority for Amanda and I, we are both big fans of the star and the director of this film, and both of them were going to be at the screening.

This is an mp3 file of the conversation that took place before the movie. I have not included any video because frankly, we were well in the back of the theater and just happy to get in.

The stories were fun and Carpenter pointed out that the only reason that the sequel exists is that Kurt Russel wanted to play the character again. Fans of the film have probably heard the legendary commentary track that came from the Laser Disc release originally and then appeared on DVD versions of the film. John Carpenter and Kurt Russel are friends and they seem to enjoy the heck out of each others company and it showed on that audio track and in this interview as well.

At one point the film was censored because of the presence of the World Trade Center Towers, and Carpenter thought that was a silly thing to have happen for the kind of fantasy film this really is.

We stayed for the film, even though I practically have it memorized and it was getting late. It’s just hard to skip an opportunity to watch it all on the big screen. The cast really is terrific, and it’s interesting that both Kurt and John’s former wives have roles in the movie.  So ended the long Saturday at the Festival. Next up, Last Day.

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TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Two

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The Postman Always Rings Twice

Although I’ve seen this film several times before, my daughter had not and it is one of those essential film experiences so this was a choice for Friday morning. The screening was hosted by the Eddie Muller, the TCM Czar of Noir, and let’s face it, “Postman” is the prototypical noir. John Garfield is a genial drifter who happens into a job at a roadside diner. The wife of the proprietor is played by Lana Turner and the sparks immediately begin to fly. Suddenly, sex and murder are in the air and romance makes a root for two people who kill a genial old man for being in their way.

Like many classic films, you do have to accept some dramatic flair that goes along with the plot. The audience is supposed to laugh a bit at the cop who sympathizes so much with a cat that is collateral damage in the scheme, but it goes on a bit more than contemporary audiences will be used to, and it is the screenplay and direction that ends up being the source of mirth in the end.  The story is also pretty convoluted with double crosses and reversals galore. Frank and Cora are a little too clever for their own good, but they are not more clever than the D.A. or their own attorney.  There are too many trips to the hospital, accidental encounters with cops and nefarious background characters to keep track of. I think the film is vastly entertaining. My daughter enjoyed it but thought is was way too long and that the plot reversals go a bit too far at times.

There is little doubt that this is the film that most people will remember Lana Turner for. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for “Peyton Place”, that melodrama is largely a misty memory for most. Her appearance here in the white shorts and the turban, is iconic and a reveal that will echo for decades down through other films like “Dr. No” and “Body Heat”. The house was packed and everyone seemed to have a grand time with this quintessential noir thriller.

Sleeping Beauty

 

This Walt Disney Masterpiece is Amanda’s favorite “Princess” film [as you should be able to tell by her wardrobe choice this day],so naturally we stuck around to

see it in the same theater we started the day in. The meticulous drawings of the characters and the vivid background make this one of the most beautiful animated films you are ever likely to encounter. The host for the discussion was author Mindy Johnson, who wrote a fantastic book on the women of the golden age of animation that we bought last year and had signed by all of the guests on last year’s panel. 

Her two guests this day were Jane Baer and Floyd Norman, two artists who worked on the film. Both of these guests were well into their eighties but had vivid memories of working on the project. Baer remembers doing the flames on the candles of the falling birthday cake, although she was not sure if her work was used or if other artists work was preferred. Norman was graciously polite by offering that the women animators where better at the facial details of the characters and that their work exceeded that of most of the men on the project.

 

Some nice photos of the guests in their time working on the project were shared with the audience and produced the requisite aaahs from the audience.

 

Academy Conversations: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Not only is one of my favorite films of all time being screened at the festival, it is featured in the Academy Conversations program, which is always one of the best features at the TCM Film Festival. This year is extra special because the two perennial hosts of this series, Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, both worked on the film. So in addition to the archives they were able to raid for information and picture, they have a treasure trove of personal stories and photos to add to the presentation. I may go a little overboard in covering this event, but it was hard to resist all the details that we were being given. Burtt is the Academy Award winning sound designer and he made substantial contributions to this particular movie. In fact one of the Academy Awards he possess is for this film. Barron was almost a newby by comparison. His one previous film was “the Empire Strikes Back”.  Both of these veterans of ILM are respected experts in their fields.  The very first presentation at a TCMFF that I attended was their presentation on “The Adventures of Robin Hood“, which just so happens to be my favorite film.

The whole Indiana Jones mythology is deeply rooted in the serials and B pictures of the 1930s and 40s. There was an elaborate comparison of pictures from some of those films to the images that ended up in Raiders and some of the subsequent sequels. The truck chase for instance was right out of an old Zorro serial, and the whip work is also cleverly mimicked in the movie. They showed some behind the scenes photos of them as young men working on the film, these shots were highly entertaining.

Even the sound of the whip is a complicated process as you can see from the clip above. Nothing in a movie is exactly what you expect it to be, and the additional sound that Burtt talks about here takes the scene up a notch. Another illustration that he provided concerned the gunshots and ricochets heard in the gun battles.

Depending on the environment in which it was being recorded, the gunshots come across as mild whistling sounds or booming blasts from a cannon. To get the ricochets, they fired along a dirt road in the desert, with a series of microphones along the path to pick up a distinctive echo effect.

The sound of an egg being peeled was used to make the crackling noise as a desiccated corpse turns toward Marion when they are escaping from the “Well of Souls”.  Ben Burtt  also explained how he was inspired even as a kid by sound effects. The class clown in his elementary school would take a ruler, slide it partially off the desktop and then pull it up and release to make a repeating twang sound. Burtt used this school day technique to create the sounds of the darts in the opening sequence of Raiders.

Craig Barron revealed some of the secrets for the visual effects, including the elaborate fishtank used to film oil and cloudy water together in different gradients to produce the well known cloud effects found in several early Spielberg films, including “Close Encounters” and “Poltergeist.”

 Of course the days of matte paintings and rear projection are largely behind us due to advances in Computer generated images, but it was not so long ago that they were the height of visual miracles in films. The example Barron shared is maybe one of the most famous end shots of all film history. The crated Ark of the Covenant is rolled down an aisle between dozens of other crates and as the camera pulls back, a warehouse full of similar crates is revealed, suggesting that the Ark is about to be lost again.

The team created blocks of wood as models for the artists to follow. A actual set of crates on either side is filmed with the Ark crate being rolled down the aisle and then the matte work is added to give the impression of an enormous room filled with similar looking boxes.

With the Famous Real “Indiana”

These two also did a presentation on Tarzan and His Mate for the festival, but that conflicted with another program that we wanted to see. If you ever get a chance to see them at work, be sure to take advantage of it.

As a side note, this was the program where I stumbled walking up the aisle of the Chinese Theater and took a tumble on the landing between the front and back sections of the theater. I was less worried about my dignity than I was about the impact I had on my righjt leg which began to stiffen up later that evening and threatened my mobility for the rest of the festival. It all worked out, but for a few hours I thought I might have to see a doctor this week, and not Dr. Jones.

Day For Night

I have a number of blind spots in my film going background and a lot of them are made up of foreign language films. I knew the name of Francois Truffaut from back in the day, even though I’d never seen any of his films. Of course he was recognizable to me from his role in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. This Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language film has been a movie that I looked forward to seeing for years. I even knew the reference that the title makes well before I knew anything else about the film.

The host for the program was again Eddie Muller, who basically identified this as the movie which cemented his desire to be a part of the film industry in some capacity. His guest was the International Star of the film Jaqueline Bisset. This is a woman who has accurately been described as one of the most beautiful women to grace the screen. In person, she lived up to that praise. She was also loquacious and honest in sharing her story about the film and the actors she worked with.

 

It turned out that the film is one of the highlights of the festival for me. It was completely charming and full of the kinds of behind the camera sorts of details about movie making that make the subject so interesting to all of us. The performances were first rate and the movie is very funny at times. I did not realize that there were going to be so many comic elements to it. This may have been Amanda’s favorite film of the Festival as well.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

This was a sentimental favorite to close out the second day of the festival. The program was hosted by Michael uslan, a prolific film producer and fan of classic movies. He mostly told stories about the actors in the film and about the original production’s history. He also briefly mentioned to remake featuring Peter O’Toole, but the focus was on this 1939 classic. This is the performance that won Robert Donat his Academy award, famously beating out Clark Gable’s iconic appearance i “Gone With the Wind”.

The storytelling is a little old fashioned from the perspective of mu daughter, and frankly I think I understand what she means. Somethings do not get well explained and the passage of time is often shown in a way that might be parodied by a modern film. It all still works but the film does feel a bit longer than necessary. At nearly two hours it does try to encapsulate several decades in the life of our title character.  Greer Garson is terrific in the film, but she is probably only in it for about forty minutes in the middle and we will miss her substantially in the back half of the movie.

This was our longest day at the festival and while watching the film, my leg started tightening up as a result of the fall I had earlier. I limped back to the car, and Amanda was worried that I could not drive home but I was fine. Luckily, a nice dose of Advil helped me get to sleep. So I finished the evening with more “Goodnight Mr. Slips” than I wanted.

TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day One

This was the sixth TCM Film festival that I have attended, and the third year in a row that we included the Opening Night Red carpet Event in our schedule. I see that a lot of festival attendees begin their experience a day or two earlier with special lectures or tours in the area. Since I am usually squeezing in the Festival around my work schedule, I have to wait util the official beginning of the event. [although I am retiring and next year I will be free to gallivant wherever and whenever I please.]

For the past four festivals I have been accompanied by my youngest daughter Amanda, who is as movie crazed as I am and will gladly sit down for a pre-code classic or a late eighties recent classic. Like her old man, her favorite decade of film is the glorious 1970s, but we have a healthy love for all the prior decades as well. We started off the opening day by checking in and getting the gift bag that came with the pass we had purchased, and then we strolled down the street to have dinner at the venerable Musso and Frank, which is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this year. Thursday night is Chicken Pot Pie night, which is what I had last year, so Amanda ordered that. I chose the scallops and was rewarded with a light but very rich meal. Since I skipped the Lyonnaise Potatoes, I did not feel too bad devouring the hard crusted sourdough bread and butter that was set on the table when we ordered.

We turned down desert and walked back to the Chinese Theater to walk the Red Carpet Event. We saw a couple of celebrities, including the Chair of TCM itself, and David Paymer was out front talking with some of the crowd.

We went into our seats in the theater, loaded down with the popcorn and soda that comes with the celebration of opening night. I did a quick little Facetime video while we awaited the start of the proceedings.

The Opening night film this year was “When Harry Met Sally”, which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. I was a little sad at times during the evening because my memories of the film are now bittersweet. My wife and I went to see the film when it opened, on our ninth wedding anniversary. “When Harry Met Sally” was also the first Laserdisc I purchased a year later when we treated ourselves to a new Laserdisc player as an anniversary gift for our 10th. I remember how pleased and surprised my wife was at the selection, and we enjoyed the film many more times over the years. This coming August will be the first year I will be alone for our wedding Anniversary, and the cloud of loneliness hovers over the heartwarming memories.

Before the film presentation, there was a brief video salute to the founder of TCM and it’s namesake, Ted Turner. Mr. Turner was there in person, seated about five rows behind where we were. In a nod to social politeness, nothing was mentioned about film colorization and his early advocacy of that. Instead, the focus was on his love of old movies and the desire to create a place for all of us who love them as well. Best to dwell on the positive at an event like this.

The main guests for the film were the two stars and the director. Rob Reiner was brought out first by host Ben Mankiewicz, and then Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan appeared, and they were rolled out on a couch like the one the married couples were interviewed on in the film. That of course was the close of the movie, so it was as if Billy and Meg had been sitting on the couch for 30 years since and are in the same spot for this evening. It was a very cute idea that when over well with the crowd.

What followed was a delightfully entertaining conversation about the origins of the movie, the work of screenwriter Nora Ephron and the contributions made by all of the cast members during the shoot. It seems that the iconic gag line “I’ll have what she’s having” was suggested by Billy Crystal, and that Meg Ryan was the one who actually volunteered to act it all out in front of the full crowd at the deli. Everyone seemed in good spirits and talked graciously about the late Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. Nora Ephron was the focus of a tribute that would happen later in the festival, and another of her films was also being shown during the weekend.

A truly cool moment emerged when Rob Reiner, while talking about the music of the film, mentioned the work of composer Marc Shaiman, who was there in the audience and then came forward and briefly joined in the conversation. He was an enthusiastic spark plug in the middle of the discussion and made the moment feel even more special by his contribution.

When the movie actually runs, you are reminded how it really reinvigorated the idea of romantic comedies. The approach was fresh and instead of a series of contrived events, you got moments of personal revelation and witty dialogue to boot. All of the stars were excellent in their roles and the promise of the young Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby is weighed down a bit by their absence in the  opening discussion. The scenes where all four characters are talking simultaneously on the phone will  remind you of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and the clever echoed dialogue shows how we all want the same sort of thing, to be loved.

Shazam!

This is one of those posts that I look forward to writing after seeing a movie. That usually comes because of one of two reasons, I either hated the movie and can’t wait to dump on it (see Us) or I am overjoyed and want the world to share in my enthusiasm. So take a guess what I am motivated by here, it’s OK, I’ll wait…

“Boom” you probably guessed right, I loved this film. “Shazam!” is the kind of movie going experience I crave. When I walk out of the theater, I want to tell everyone I see how much I enjoyed the film and I want them to go out and see it too. Let’s spread some happiness and put your tail in a seat for this lighthearted piece of comic book fantasy, that delivers exactly what most people who loved comics as a kid first got from them, …a rush of pleasure. “Shazam!” is not going to be a breakthrough cinematic event. The movie is not going to set up a compelling narrative that will allow us to explore characters with deep flaws and themes of human frailty. It is simply going to entertain you for a couple of hours and leave you feeling refreshed rather than exhausted.

Director David Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden have managed to remove the stick that has been up the bum of the previous DC films. Our hero here is not brooding, the color palate is not dark, and the humor is not gallows. “Shazam!” instead is a conventional hero origin story, told with a sense of humor and the goal of entertaining the kid in us who loved comic books because they were fantasy adventure and colorful. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel, rather it puts the wheels on a straightforward and simple tale of good vs. evil, and rides it all the way to the end. You can see what is coming from a mile away, but you want care that there are no story surprises because the way you get through the story has all of the small pleasures.

Billy Batson is a teen foster child who has run away from several group home in pursuit of finding the Mother that he was separated from at a very young age.  He becomes the vessel of a wizards power, to fight against the seven deadly sins which are being harnessed by a grown man who was once offered the same opportunity but could not pass a test of worthiness. The two stories of the hero and villain are set up in the first half hour, not with a rapid fire action sequence that throws us into the middle of what we don’t understand (ala Captain Marvel) but instead with a coherent series of events that allows us to be invested in both characters. Mark Strong, who I think most movie fans will have loved from a bucketload of other films, but especially “Kick Ass” and the two Kingsman movies, plays the grown up version of Thad Sivana. Sivana is a kid who is misused by his family in ways not too dissimilar from Billy, buy he is clearly under the influence of the deadly sins. Billy, played by an appealing young actor named Asher Angel, is a ne’er do well , who has yet to figure out his real source of strength. When he becomes the superhero, Billy is played by Zachary Levi, who is just goofy enough to convince us that he is a fifteen year old occupying the body of a god-like man. The flashy costume and a struggle to come up with an appropriate moniker for the new hero are just two of the plot points that provide a plethora of humor.

Freddy Freeman is another kid in the foster home who helps Billy become the hero that we all will need. Jack Dylan Grazer, who played the asthmatic Eddie in “It”, has grown a couple of inches but can still play the youthful and hopeful type that he is cast here as. The banter between him and both versions of Billy is what drives the story and the comedy. I found something to laugh at ever couple of minutes and Grazer is one of the sources of that mirth. Levi gets to ham it up as a kid who is just not quite grown into the body he is occupying. Grazer occupies the role of side kick, mentor and brother just right. The group family has some interesting characters and fortunately they don’t go into overdrive to make jokes out of eves archetype that gets thrown in. Little sister Darla goes right up to the edge of annoying, but never crosses the line. She is also so adorable that you might be willing to forgive her if she did.

“Shazam!” is a bit of a send up of comic book movies, but it is not a deconstruction of the myths. This story just takes advantage of the youthful fascination with power and uses it to explore responsibility a little bit, but laughter a lot more. The tone is reminiscent of “Sky High”, a kids film from back in 2005. This is a playful movie that has the usual adventure action story attached to it, but it is executed with a sense of fun. DC fans will find themselves amused at some of the lightly self depreciating humor of the film. Be sure to stick around for a mid credit sequence and a final stinger. They are not as hip as the MCU films try to be, but both work for this film.

After more than a month of dreary films that don’t inspire me much as a movie goer, what a refreshing way to break the cycle and fall back in love with going to the movies. I can’t imagine anyone not being able to enjoy this. I would take this movie over almost all of the other films I’ve seen this year. Not because it is a great movie, but because it made me feel great about going to a movie.