The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by Space Cadet on 9/25/2019, 6:20 pm

Jeff, somethin' tells me you're an Iron Chef America fan. Not a criticism. I've whiled away the occasional hour there myself. Though I'm really a Good Eats or Andrew Zimern kinda fan myself.

I became a fan of quirky cookin' shows, watchin' Justin Wilson's Cajun Cookin' on PBS back in the 70's.
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Post by ghemrats on 9/25/2019, 7:15 pm

Space wrote:Jeff, somethin' tells me you're an Iron Chef America fan. Not a criticism. I've whiled away the occasional hour there myself. Though I'm really a Good Eats or Andrew Zimern kinda fan myself.

I became a fan of quirky cookin' shows, watchin' Justin Wilson's Cajun Cookin' on PBS back in the 70's.

Woo yah, Hoo, Space. I a'member dat Cay Jun cookin' mighty well. Dat Justin used to make me laugh aha, yeah hoo dere.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/26/2019, 5:23 pm

Sometimes the very title of a film makes you cringe when someone asks, So what movies have you seen lately? You feel okay saying, Oh, I just revisited a wonderful Fellini classic *La Dolce Vita*, or *We watched this lovely romance *Somewhere In Time* filmed on Mackinaw Island with cascades of lace and love. Those film titles sound so lyrical, tripping off the tongue with delicate grace--*La Dolce Vita*, sounds like a perfume. So much more cultured than, Yeah, Bud, we just beat our brains out with *Boxcar Bertha* (1972). The title sounds like a grinding gut punch followed by a hammering roundhouse to the jaw. But that's what I watched last night.

Had it been made in the 1940s, *Boxcar Bertha* would have starred Marjorie Main, fresh from her last film *Ma And Pa Kettle Go To Hell*, and it would have faded into the dust to be fondly remembered today as a silly but gentle comedy. But *Boxcar Bertha* was filmed in the 1970s, bristling with the visceral excitement of the recent explosive shenanigans of Arthur Penn's *Bonnie And Clyde* (1967), with a 28-year-old Martin Scorsese directing his second feature after his rousing success with *Woodstock* (1970) as assistant director.

And true to the Scorsese style, *Boxcar Bertha* is filled with sex and violence, marking it an all-American project. Starring a twenty-four-year-old freckled Barbara Hershey, who looks disturbingly all of sixteen, and her on- and off-screen lover David Carradine, the film is drawn from the "Autobiography" of Bertha Thompson, *Sister Of The Road* by Ben Reitman. In truth "Bertha" was actually a fictionalized amalgam of women in the 1930s who were drawn with reckless abandon to a life of crime. Backed with a banjo-filled bluegrass musical score, it's a Roger Corman-produced B-picture with a little more style than the routine Corman quickie with intimations of the master director's camera magic and visual signals.

The simple exploitation-oriented story follows the rural Bertha's (Barbara Hershey) flowering (and deflowering) in the company of a stumblebum union organizer (David Carradine) in Depression-era Alabama. Bertha takes to the road following the death of her father in a sharecropping accident, hitching her star and hips to Big Bill Shelly, then a slicked-up gambling dandy Northerner on the run who tries clumsily to live up to his name Rake Brown(Barry Primus), and Von Martin, whose only offense to the world is being black in the South. The quartet stumble from corrupt police beatings to card sharping to murder and train robbery with relative ease, all the time invoking the wrath of union-breaking railroad tycoon H. Buckram Sartoris (John Carradine, David's famous father) and his blood-lust loving lackeys.

You'll find a lot of ugly racial epithets thrown around with the same profusion as the bullets, as well as scenes of prostitution, beatings, typically '70s nude scenes with Barbara Hershey's figure on full display, and a denouement stand-down that evokes a Christ-like crucifixion that in my mind has not been earned--neither in the story nor in symbolic significance, as the victim's character has not been fleshed out well enough to invited such comparisons. He is, in fact, little more than an opportunistic boob. But Barbara Hershey has been quoted on her reaction to the 24-day shoot: It was "a lot of fun even though it's terribly crippled by Roger Corman and the violence and sex. But between the actors and Martin Scorsese the director, we had a lot of fun. We really had characters down but one tends to not see all that, because you end up seeing all the blood and sex." In a word, Yup.

Outside of catching Scorsese's cameo as Bertha's well-heeled customer who pays an extra $15 to spend the night with her after their business has concluded, *Boxcar Bertha* is distinguished mainly as being the director's second feature-length film. Oh, if you follow the auteur through his career ramping up with *Mean Streets* (1973), *Taxi River* (1976) both with his mainstay Robert De Niro, gaining unprecedented momentum with *Raging Bull* (1980) and *GoodFellas* (1990), and becoming one of the greatest cinematic directors of the late twentieth century while still going strong with *The Wolf Of Wall Street* (2013) and two films in production, *The Irishman* (2019) with De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. He has also earned 70 film nominations total: 22 Academy Awards, 21 BAFTA Awards, and 27 Golden Globe Awards while expanding his base to include award-winning documentaries on George Harrison, The Rolling Stones and most recently Bob Dylan.

So, on second thought, I guess I'm not so embarrassed to mention the film I watched last night. With a pedigree like Scorsese's, how could you go wrong? Just don't tell my wife how I invested 88 minutes of my evening on his first big Hollywood picture described by his friend John Cassavetes thusly: "Marty, you've just spent a whole year of your life making a piece of shit. It's a good picture, but you're better than the people who make this kind of movie. Don't get hooked into the exploitation market, just try and do something different." I think he took that advice.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 9/26/2019, 5:49 pm

Suddenly, I've absolutely GOT to see Ma and Pa Kettle Go To Hell. If I remember correctly, Tor Johnson and Lyle Talbot were part of an all-starless supporting cast.
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Post by Seamus on 9/27/2019, 11:34 am

Loved 4D man off the wall movie. And dang I sure wish the mini pilot Lancing ran inside Star Trek where he was a time agent had been picked up. His sidekick was a shapeshifting cat. Come on now. Ah the could have beens.
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Post by ghemrats on 9/27/2019, 4:30 pm

What do you say to a filmmaker who knows he's going to piss off 90% of the people attending his latest movie? You say, Hi, Jim Jarmusch​, how's tricks? And what do you say if you're one of the remaining 10% who enjoyed his most recent film, *The Dead Don't Die* (2019)? You say, There are none so blind as those who will not see. . . and that's okay because there's always room for more endless reboots of *Charlie's Angels 6: Bleach, Boobs and Bullets*, *Escape Of The Hungry Divergent Maze Monkeys* angsty teeny bopper dystopias pitting pretty little airheads against veteran actors in the last gasp of their careers, or *Rocky Vs. Rambo: Who Draws Blood Wins* combos.

(I should apologize for the arch tone of that last paragraph. I'm actually not disparaging anyone who doesn't like Jim Jarmusch films, because I get it: they are like eating radishes and chocolate cake with a Boston Cooler, an acquired taste. And they are most definitely (and defiantly) not for everyone. So be forewarned--some small satellite of admiration for what Jarmusch offers orbits my brain on the periphery, and I'm honestly not looking down on anyone who doesn't like his style.) Anyway. . .

The expansive star stratosphere of talent is the big draw in *The Dead Don't Die*, many of these big names being repeat offenders (including one Oscar winner and six Oscar nominees) in the Jarmusch galaxy, so buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy re-entry: Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Tom Waits​, RZA, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Rosie Perez (all of whom have worked with Jarmusch in the past), Iggy Pop, Carol Kane, Danny Glover (*Lethal Weapon*), Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones and Sturgill Simpson, who sings the theme song and plays a guitar-toting zombie.

As you can tell from the title, *The Dead Don't Die* is about the impending Zombie Apocalypse, so deadheads across the country probably jumped out of their skins in anticipation of this film with such a roster of rascals. With any franchise as ironically lively as the Undead Corsortium ANY addition to *The Walking Dead*, *Resident Evil 1-9*, *World War Z*, *The Night Of The Living Dead*, *Return of The Living Dead* (and its three sequels), *Dawn Of The Dead* ad infinitum is a world event. Is there life after death? Absolutely--in the movies: Wikipedia lists 152 zombie films, and that's only up through the D's alphabetically.

So imagine their great gnashing of teeth and biting of their nails (or their neighbors' in case they're part of the infestation) when Jarmusch's film set out to undercut (with a machete, Ginsu Knife and an Odachi sword) every single expectation the genre dangled from its dismembered arms. *The Dead Don't Die* is wondrously deadpan (Yes, I'm sorry, puns are part of this commentary) revisionist comedy, not only revising but deconstructing every zombie trope that refuses to die. The first tip off is the title, obviously, and immediately behind is Bill Murray's Cliff Robertson, police chief of Centerville, "A Real Nice Place" of 738 (and fluctuating). Now, you may have visited this town before, as Centerville is where *Strange Invaders* (1983) landed and it's the setting for Frank Zappa's *200 Motels* (1971). Its very name signals Jarmusch's intentions--it's the center of our story, the center of the US, and the center of America's mindset in 2019, as Steve Buscemi's farmer sports a red baseball cap proclaiming "Make America White Again," while telling hardware store neighbor Hank (Danny Glover), "No offense."

But something is upsetting the tremulous balance of normalcy in Centerville (the following parethetical clarifications citing real-life causes). Animals are acting strangely (Oxford University has chronicled a marked change in animal behavior plasticity due to human-altered environmental changes), birds are disappearing (a quick check of the news today shows this is based in truth--29 percent of North American birds, or 3 billion, have declined since 1970), and polar fracking (reinstituted after Obama's ban in 2016) has thrown the Earth's axis off kilter. With the whole world going cattywompus, the dead just won't stand (or lie) for it any longer. So in purely satirical sharpness, the Dead resume some of their natural proclivities they enjoyed in life--zombies stagger around town with their cell phones looking for a proper Wi-Fi signal, they pour steaming urns of coffee into their maws to quell their caffeine addictions, they wake from their sleep droning "Chardonnay!" and they populate tennis courts while their zombie-kids groan, "Candy!"

Now I have long held the belief, and tossed it out to disbelieving students, that the decade-long interest in zombies is a metaphor for how we live, a cathartic distancing cloaked in irony suggesting we're mostly dead without the mess of actually transmogrification of the soul and teeming burial costs for our family, as we're so kindly bludgeoned by ads into being frightened. Thoreau, over 150 years ago said, "The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake." And with our almost total reliance on cell phones to tell us where/who we are, coffee to wake us from slumber and wine to draw us further away from reality, is the leap to becoming figurative zombies really such a stretch?

This was not particularly a popular set of ideas in the classroom, and since Jarmusch's film parodies that mindset of senseless consumerism, his movie has been eviscerated, disemboweled, excoriated and all but beheaded (because that's how you ensure a zombie is dead) by the hordes. Here are some of the biggest complaints, followed by my own assessment of the vitriol. But to prepare you for that, here's how Jarmusch responded to his "funniest" bit of criticism:
"It was from a right-wing newspaper in the South of France about my movie *Down by Law*, which said, 'Jim Jarmusch is celebrated by the French intelligentsia in a way that's reminiscent of deaf and dumb parents applauding their retarded child. He is 33 years old. This is the age that Christ was crucified on the cross. We can only hope for the same for the future of his film career.' Woah! I used to carry that one around in my wallet." So here we go:

*"It's not funny." No, it's not *Airplane*--it's dry humor, banking on how casually everyone treats a zombie overthrow of small town America. Bill Murray is the king of the understatement, and Adam Driver is his sidekick, less awed by the occurrence than put off that "this isn't gonna end well." If you enter the film expecting belly laughs, you won't find them in Jarmusch's rhythm because the humor is deeply embedded in satire and in our expectations. He's defying the cliche at every turn, right down to Tilda Swinton playing Zelda Winston (a malapropism of her name), the albino county mortician from Scotland who practices bujutsu as a spiritual art. For me, that is intellectually hilarious.

*"Jarmusch has no sense of pace, it's slow and uneventful." Well, no and yes. All of Jarmusch's films are intentionally plotless, free flowing exercises of attentiveness. Watch *Down By Law* (1986) or *Cigarettes and Coffee*(2003) or his award-winning *Stranger Than Paradise* (1984) sometime, and think about reassessing HOW we watch movies; Jarmusch has said he's "interested in the non-dramatic moments in life. I'm not at all attracted to making films that are about drama. A few years back, I saw a biopic about a famous American abstract expressionist artist. And you know what? It really horrified me. All they did was reduce his life to the big dramatic moments you could pick out of any biography. If that's supposed to be a portrait of somebody, I just don't get it. It's so reductive. It just seems all wrong to me."

"The characters are devoid of enthusiasm and are apathetic." EXACTLY, that is the point. In this world a zombie apocalypse visiting small town America is just another inconvenience. At the scene of a cozy little diner massacre, police man Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) off-handedly concludes with a shrug, "Must be zombies." People wrinkle their brows because it's so brightly sunlit in the evening, then days later so dark so early in the afternoon, but the environmental anomalies never rise above a subdued, "Huhn." Everybody IS apathetic, just going about their business as if the end of the world as we know it--and I feel fine--is a bummer, so pass the potatoes.

*The characters have no backstory and they are bland." I see this as a moot point relying on what viewers have been programmed to expect, and then being upset when the film does not fulfill expectations, as if any film could satisfy the nebulous landscape of every individual's mind. How many of your friends' backstories are common knowledge? Do we have to have every detail of a person's life sussed out before we accept him/her? This criticism is targeted at the passive viewer who needs everything spelled out or carved away with a chain saw. And for me the fertile imagination of my own perception is enough for me to enjoy the ciphers on the screen.

And make no mistake, Jarmusch is in full control of his vision; he knows what he wants, even if it's not what the masses are anticipating. "You see, I start with actors that I want to make a character for. Then I collect a whole lot of details and then I sit down with them and make a connect the dots drawing out of them; see what for of picture it is becoming. I don't know what the story is or where it's going, at all. I just sort of jump in and start. In fact, I think I do it backwards. Most people have a story idea and in the end they cast it, but I start with the actors first." When Iggy Pop asked him for a backstory for his newly undead character, Jarmusch said his character and girlfriend were killed in an accident returning from a Blue Oyster Cult concert in 1973, not coincidentally the same year Iggy performed on stage with the band.

*"It's got zombies, but it's not a zombie movie." Okay: Duh! *Endgame* (2019) had Iron Man, but it wasn't an Iron Man movie. *Die Hard* (1988) had jokes, but it wasn't a comedy. *Gigli* (2003) had Jennifer Lopez, but it wasn't watchable. Once again, we have experienced a tunnelvision when a film appears to give homage to a genre, then subverts anticipatory desires. Yes, zombies populate Centerville, but so does the moral core of the town, Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), who watches everything from behind the sanctity of his overgrown shrubbery of hair and beard (I haven't yet read the criticism that *The Dead Don't Die* has a hermit but isn't a "hermit movie." I'll wait. . . .). I agree with *The New Yorker*'s Richard Brody, who says Bob lives "relentlessly outside the system of property and consumption that bears the seeds of its own destruction, that promises happiness but brings misery, and that relentlessly destroys everyone who takes part in it."

Look, friends: Back in 1932 Aldous Huxley set the world on edge with his publication of *Brave New World*, which still exists on some banned books lists for demonstrating the audacity of dry British wit satirizing the foibles of modern society. Now, while I'm not putting *The Dead Don't Die* in the same pantheon, I can appreciate how many people miss the power of political commentary, especially today. I find *BNW* brimming with laconic comedy, just as I find it in Jarmusch's work. I don't get angry because Huxley is not living up to the humor of Dave Barry or Tim Dorsey. I'm not dismissive of John Savage's death or Cliff Robertson's demise as "not what I expected"--I take it all as the artist's intent and appreciate it for what it is.

So what IS *The Dead Don't Die"? We've basically outlined what it's NOT, but what should you expect? You can be assured the cast is impressive. Each actor has had fun in his/her role. A couple zombies bite off more than they can chew, so there will be blood. Adam Driver breaks the fourth wall a couple times, ensuring you realize you're just watching a movie. Like a lumbering Undeadite, the pace is leisurely, the narrative basically aimless, drifting. The racist farmer is attacked by a previously black man. Be sure to have some Pledge along since beheading the undead leaves a lot of dust and ashes around. If you possess an appreciation for desert-dry black humor poking fun at a society which has seen too much to be excited by anything, and a ready glass of water to slake that parched feeling in your mouth, pull up a political soap box, relax, and marvel at the alternative solution to Michael Bay's insistence that every film needs at least seventeen nuclear explosions to be interesting. Just be sure to keep your katana blade unsheathed just in case the neighbors have you to dinner.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/28/2019, 3:23 pm

Post #153: "Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December, But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame One hasn't got time for the waiting game." Such a plaintive thought, huh? September is drawing to a close, October is just around the bend of the weekend, and once again we're trading in frosty glass bottles of Coca-Cola and beach wear for hot cider and Halloween garb. So what movie could we find that would bring us the best of both seasons? Well, it's not the one I found, that's for sure: *The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini* (1966) even though it's a Beach Party movie featuring Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone in a haunted house. So because it's still September and we don't have time for the waiting game, let's plunge on. . . into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan, which we might find preferable to watching this film.

In the efforts of full disclosure, none of my friends bore the names Boogie, Moondoggie, Buzz, Potato Head, Deadhead, Sugar, Ladybug, Gogo, Candy or Jilda. Nor did we orbit a magically perfect couple, Annette and Frankie, for whom we served as extras who had little more to do than laugh uncontrollably when one of us fell over while chasing a frisbee or yelled "Surf's up!" on cue when one of us stopped singing and dancing the Monkey. Yes, some of us did hear ? and The Mysterians in person at Wenonah Beach's Battle of the Bands, but in my memory no one was wearing skimpy bikinis--it's Michigan, for Pete's sake, we had on three layers of windbreakers and earmuffs and little cans of Sterno keeping the ice from forming from the breezes sweeping in from the Bay. And the closest we ever got to meeting a big name celebrity in the throes of a dying career was when I saw Guy Lombardo moor his boat at the Yacht Club.

But as you all know, I am boring, seeking wild adventure vicariously through film. Sadly, then, I'm afraid I could not connect with Tommy Kirk or Deborah Walley or Nancy Sinatra in this seventh (and last) installment in the wildly, inconceivably plotted campy Beach movies. *The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini* in my mind rightfully nails the coffin on this genre. the coffin bearing Boris Karloff as Hiram Stokeley who has 24 hours to perform a redeeming act of kindness if he's to join his girlfriend Cecily (25 year old Susan Hart) in the Hereafter. And looking at Cecily, we are supposed to see what what Hiram is here after. . . because she cavorts through a mansion infested with Beach Kids as a spirit whose bikini blends in with her surroundings.

Naturally Hiram's lawyer, Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone) and Ripper's henchman J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White) do their darnedest to procure Hiram's fortune for themselves, wresting it away from the rightful heirs, Chuck and Lili (Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley), Hiram's cousin Myrtle (Patsy Kelly) and her son. As all the kids throw a wild and wacky pool party at Hiram's mansion, Ripper enlists the help of his voluptuous daughter Sinistra (Quinn O'Hara) and others to terrorize the teens into relinquishing their fortune. The Bobby Fuller Four (of "I Fought The Law And The Law Won" fame) lip-synch and practice their air guitar skills with groovy space-age designed instruments on the keen dance music and basically demonstrate why the Law won in their fight.

Jeepers, but it's all a lot of nutty fun (if you're twelve, horny and have never seen a shaking butt before), and even with the welcome sixth appearance (out of the seven Beach movies) by Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his "Stupids," i.e. his motorcycle gang who collectively have an IQ of a fence post, you might wonder how mentally dead audiences were when this was released. It's filled with exaggerated sound effects when people bump into one another (*Boiiiiinnnnggggg* and *Weeyoooop!*) sending the bumpees into top-spinning hilarity and riotous bellyflops. Everybody smiles klieg light grins while they're dancing and mugging for the camera and exhibiting awestruck amusement with pool toys that would bore a five year old.

Movies like this don't end, narratively. They just stop, as the ensembled cast Frug and Jerk and Swim away under the credits. Now technically there's a reason for this: Producers Nicholson and Arkoff hated the first cut of the film, which did not have Karloff and Nicholson's wife Susan Hart in it. Originally called *Bikini Party In A Haunted House*, the movie was slated for Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and Buster Keaton completely devoid of the "good deed" plotline. Well, Annette and Frankie bowed out, and Buster Keaton died before they could get to the screen.

So with principal shooting completed with Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley, along with silent star Francis X. Bushman in his 435th and final role, Danny Thomas's discovery Italian Piccola Pupa (who sang one song as herself), and Harvey Lembeck's villain returning, the producers shot new footage totally independent of the rest of the film with Karloff and Hart. Their scenes were inauspiciously added to the finished footage; the only interaction Hart's Cecily had with the beach crowd was her overlaid image pointing at something or someone in a completed scene. By today's standards the results are laughably obvious, as at times Cecily is not even proportionate to the actors with whom she's appearing. Her black velvet bikini filmed against a black velvet backdrop isn't really invisible as much as it is transparent.

I loved Eric Von Zipper's silly hijinks when I saw these movies back in the day, though even then I thought they were some whacked out adult's version of how young people acted because none of my friends were as weirdly insipid as these goofballs in the sand. It was high comedy indeed when Eric Von Zipper threatened to give his enemies The Finger--oh LOL, that was a testy, racy little joke in those days--a running gag that paralyzed people when Von Zipper touched his provoker's temple. (Invariably he always pointed to his own head and his Stupids had to cart him away like an idiotic statue.) But *The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini* didn't even make full use of his gang, a sorry sayonara to his character.

So I guess it's a long, long way from 1966 to 2019, and the beaches have grown colder than they were in the summer. And though this film turns comedy into low camp, you could wait a lifetime before you'd find this innocence again. For 82 minutes you can shake your head (or your butt) and marvel as Stephen King's narrator of *Stand By Me* does, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 9/28/2019, 4:58 pm

Add a ralking Great Dane and a cowardly beatnik and you've got an episode of...

...and this movie was released three years before the first episode of...

JENKIES!!!
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Post by ghemrats on 9/29/2019, 5:42 pm

Well, Ho-Leee COW, Space! Grab a Scooby Snack and sit back for this one, right up your alley. . .

Post #154: Put all the Universal Monsters in a clown car, let them spill out and run full tilt at me, and as a kid I wouldn't have proffered two drops of sweat. To me, they were goofy goobers who terrorized Lou Costello into breathless huffing and not a whole lot more. But even whisper the title *Invaders From Mars* (1953) and I'd be clawing at the wallpaper in search of the sanctuary offered by blankets over my head. For years visions of those luminous hovering spheres bearing stoic gold-plated disembodied heads encased in a crystal bowling ball held the promise of needing fresh, dry pajamas if I lingered too long on the images floating through my head.

Watching it last night reinforced why this Cold War parable with flying parabolas slinking through the skies scared the bejeepers out of me as a seven-year-old watching Channel 50 Detroit on a Saturday afternoon in 1960. Of course today, from my calm, incredibly cool and adult perspective, *Invaders From Mars* [the original, not the Tobe Hooper remake from 1986] is just a good old-fashioned Red Scare thriller with Martians whose zippers show when they run from the camera. It doesn't scare me anymore--dammit, where the hell is my frickin' Prozac!? Sorry, I'm just a little on edge for some reason today--but it's great fun and a nice trip back to a time when the movies didn't need buckets of Karo Syrup to make us squirm.

Freckled young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) lives in a Norman Rockwell family with a pretty mom who always wears dresses (Hillary Brooke) and an incredibly cool scientist father (Leif Erickson), both of whom are model 1950s parents, the picture of domesticity and unquestionable warmth. So at 4:40 one morning when David sees an eerie green (Green, they're always green) fluorescent saucer disappearing over the Hill behind his house, Dad naturally believes him and puts on his robe and slippers to investigate. Over two hours later Dad returns, mysteriously changed--he's gruff, he's emotionless, he doesn't blink anymore, he doesn't seem to notice he's wearing only one slipper now, and he knocks David across the room with a backhand slap when the kid exercises the audacity to say good morning. Oh yes, he also has Strange Scars at the back of his neck. . . . Cue the theremin.

Except in this film, the theremin has been replaced with a sixteen-voice choir (eight men and eight women with an echo chamber added in post-production) who hit minor chords, which I imagine caused their eyes to grow seven times their natural size in horror. Honestly, those voices, employed whenever the Martians have prepared a room with a view for its victims and suck them into the ground, are unquestionably the main reason I freaked when I watched the film. . . uh, when I was seven, not now. . . because now I'm coldly rational and mature. Theirs is a slowly mounting crescendo of moaning that I'm convinced is on the same sonic wave length as a heart murmur.

But David runs into the same problem I encountered when I taught: No one will listen to him. The police chief, who works at the end of an antiseptically long brightly lit hallway with his scarred neck, stares blankly without blinking and thinks David is "troubled" and should be in the custody of his father; the little girl next door refuses to blink and sets her house on fire after a trip up to the Hill; and soon his own mom, now dressed all in black with hollow eyes and a curious lack of empathy, wants to contain him too. Only Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter), a psychologist, and Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz) at the local Observatory put any stock in his story of invasion. In fact, they so quickly give credence to his claims that Dr. Kelston gets the army involved without the most infinitesimal shard of red tape or lost time.

Before we know it, a handful of generals return from the Hill sporting neck pins and sabotage on their minds, prompting top brass from the Pentagon to send armoured reconnaissance tanks and troops equipped with energy sensors to the Hill. Boy, that kid is persuasive. When we finally gain access to the Martians' underground subway system, we find them in two types: the gigantic bug faced boogers who dronishly follow silent instructions, and the Big Enchilada, the aforementioned disembodied head in a fishbowl.

The main Martians, or Mu-Tants as they were called, were played by Max Palmer, "the tallest man on earth" at 8'6". and Lock Martin, who at 7'7" also played Gort in *The Day The Earth Stood Still* (1951) two years prior to this filming. The creepy gold-toned intelligentsia in the globe was played by a former Munchkin in the original *Wizard Of Oz*, Luce Potter. According to Jimmy Hunt (David) years later, she was "a neat little lady. She sat on a box with the bubble around her whole head. She was just in her little street clothes, and all she did was move her eyes." But that was enough to creep out an entire generation of movie goers.

Two extant versions of the film are available: the original American cut and a British cut with an additional six minutes and a different ending, both of which I watched last night. For purists the additional six minutes consisted of, in my mind, a completely unnecessary observatory exposition which was actually filmed some months after the American release, so Helena Carter, Jimmy Hunt and Arthur Franz look a little different when wedged into the existing scene. The British ending was changed (no spoilers) by the producer after the UK film distributor complained the film was too short, a dream sequence was too ambiguous and should be deleted, and audiences wouldn't buy the original ending. Indeed the originator of the story Richard Blake had his name removed from the credits of the American release because he was so disgusted with the dream sequence. To each his own. . . .

Director William Cameron Menzies reportedly filled twelve notebooks filled with charcoal sketches, set designs and a complete storyboard of the entire film, hoping to expedite the shooting of the movie. Staff art director Boris Leven (who worked wonders on *West Side Story* (1961), *The Sound of Music* (1965) and Scorsese's *New York, New York* (1977)) said, "Menzies was overseeing the entire production. All his thinking and training was along the lines of art direction. I tried to carry out his ideas as much as I could. It was really tough to make this film because it was done on such a shoe-string budget ($290,000). Occasionally we had to give up ideas because of the cost. Yet it's effective due to the clever design."

It's that set design that really makes the film. Since it's filmed from the perspective of a child, the low angles reinforce David's view of the goings-on. High ceilings, grandiose sets like the planetarium and its telescope, the police station with its bare walls and interminable corridors and claustrophobic cells, and the twisting trail and trees leading to the sandpit atop the Hill conspire to create a surrealistic pillow on which David rests his head. The subterranean chunnels of the Martians lined with Lawrence Welk bubbles are actually "everyday condoms," said assistant director Ben Chapman. "I went out to the drugstore and bought a whole case of them. We got a real kick out of that."

And the subtle anti-McCarthy subtext of suspecting everyone, for the neighbors might be Commies, is explored as David's parents, his neighbors, and even the police and some of the generals (read: authority figures) can no longer be trusted, their subversion a part of a larger conspiracy to overtake or undermine our country. Only the intellectuals--the doctor and scientist--are to be worthy of leading David's campaign against the invasion; David's heroes are people McCarthy saw as pivotal threats, describing them as "egg-sucking liberals, dilettante diplomats and the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths," while McCarthy's "establishment" figures have had their brains circumvented by remote-control transmitters.

Regardless of the suggestion of political metaphor (I never metaphor I didn't like), *Invaders From Mars* is still 78 minutes of tight, quick-moving fantasy that successfully plumbs the imagination of the child while offering adults the opportunity to play Spot The Cameo with Barbara Billingsley (Beaver's mother, June Cleaver) as a secretary, Todd Karns (James Stewart's brother in *It's A Wonderful Life( (1946)) as an affable gas jockey, and Milburn Stone (Doc on *Gunsmoke*) as an army officer manning a wave detector on the Hill.

So however you watch it, *Invaders From Mars* is great fun that STILL has the potential to unnerve today. . . unless you're like me and you can deconstruct it and pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, repeating It's only a movie, camera magic, while beating down those spine shivers whenever you hear that doggone choir signalling danger . . . or so I've been told by people who are upset by such things. Not me.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 9/29/2019, 7:06 pm

Yup. I'm gonna have to dig out the DVD for this one. But not tonight. Tonight's movie in my world is my all time favorite version of The Three Musketeers. The 1948 version with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040876/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_12
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Post by ghemrats on 9/30/2019, 3:11 pm

Had I known *The Presence* (2011), today's feature, was brought to us by the same people responsible for *The Blair Witch Project* (1999), I would have gone running into the woods with a camera poised under my nose and cried, "No, no, anything but that, please, I can't subject myself to such torture. . . " Thank God I didn't associate this little gem in any way, shape or form with that overblown piece of handheld imbecility.

In many ways, *The Presence* is the antithesis of that there other movie: For the most part the camera is still. There is no dialogue for the first 17 minutes, just ambient noise, a little unobtrusive background music, and sound effects, all building a supreme sense of comfortable isolation. It is shot in subdued tones, often relying on sun- or lantern light to illumine the scene. It offers a leisurely, measured ghost story that is unique, original and thoughtful; on the surface very little seems to happen, but underneath are strong allegorical conflicts that are as creepy as they are poignant. Its partial inspiration for producer/writer/director Tom Provost came from C. S, Lewis's *The Screwtape Letters*. Star Mira Sorvino is the co-executive producer. And I found it offers no cheap jump scares; its scares come from psychological and spiritual nuance. Those elements alone separate this film from the goofy conceit of *Blair Witch*.

But be forewarned: Once again this wonderful ghost story is not for everyone. If you're into stark terror, heart-thudding thrills of imposing violence and special effects, go wrap yourself in a Freddy Krueger sweater and stare at your steak knives. If you yearn for crockery and furniture being hurled across the room, stage a fight with your significant other--if you're a man, tell her she's just like her mother; if you're a woman, tell him you've canceled your cable installation. If you're eager for a film with a chain saw, an ax, blunt-force trauma in slow motion, two-foot-long hypodermic needles, spikes, gigantic Venus Flytraps that call you Seymour, ventriloquist dummies or ugly weird-eyed dolls with a penchant for cutlery, or escaped mental patients brandishing Cuisinarts--you may have issues no movie can cure, but look elsewhere anyway. This is not your movie.

If, on the other hand, you might enjoy a slow building of tension with a silent looming, brooding ghost in the guise of a man dressed in white and a young woman seeking silence and quiet on a distant island, unencumbered by phone and electrical service, oh please give this a shot. Mira Sorvino has come to her grandmother's old cottage for many reasons, but the foremost is gaining some solitude and reflection in this safe haven, actually filmed at Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. The misty landscaping is lovely, dark and deep; above all, silent. Silence is a key factor in this film, almost becoming its own character in the plot. With the exception of one scene, in which the ghost is drawn up a stairway to the upper floor, the ghost is motionless, stoic, save for his facial expressions, registering. . . what, exactly? Anger? Fear? Growing affection for the woman? Shane West's portrayal is complex, at times a tabula rasa into which we can read our own personal interpretations.

Ambiguity permeates the story, another reason this film is not to everyone's liking. Yes, questions are raised and depend on individual readings of the subtleties lying about the cabin and the surrounding grounds. Why is the Ghost imprisoned in the cabin, never allowed to leave it confines? What is the significance of Duke Ellington's 78 recording of "Echoes Of Harlem" on the hand-cranked gramophone? Does the Ghost hold some significance for the woman? When her fiance appears at the cabin, is part of her exile tied to a fear of commitment? What's with the birds flying to their deaths as they smash into the side of the outhouse? Is the ghost protective or destructive? Is the whole movie taking place in the Woman's mind? And what do you make of that last slow reveal in the last frame of the movie in the boat?

For viewers who relish a good ghost story rather unlike any other and who enjoy peeling the layers of onions, without the tears, *The Presence* is a corker. It's brimming with spiritual symbolism shedding a light on such themes as healing, commitment, redemption, free will and choice, temptations, self-talk, personal boundaries erected as defense mechanisms, and the power of facing conflicts head-on. In some ways this is also a romance on many levels, but like a good relationship, patience is a given.

I'm being intentionally vague in this commentary because the beauty of this film for me is letting it all unfold gradually without the usual ballpeen hammer in the forehead signalling what's happening. When spirits arrive without bombast or the heralding of trumpets, suspense grows quietly. Mira Sorvino's range of emotions is striking in both its subtlety and power as her Woman wrestles like Jacob in her contribution to the mood and atmosphere of the film. Such ambiance is tremulous in small budget films like this, but its sparseness becomes the main point of the narrative. This is not a sensational crowd-rousing feature; chances are you've never even heard of it. But I found it a surprisingly effective low-key contemplation on morality and mortality that has stuck with me.

Sixty-six percent of Amazon reviews suggest the film was four or five stars, while 19% of the reviewers gave it one star. In every instance I read of the one-star reviews, it was clear to me the good folks were not in the mindset of thoughtful rumination or succumbed to the present conditioning that all movies had to offer fireballs and car chases to be viable. The word "boring" has been trotted out so often as to be a cliche, and some nice people completely misread spiritual interaction in the film as homoerotic when nothing could be further from the truth: Just gleaning the most insignificant shard of knowledge about the machinations of Evil will completely dispel this notion. Gay ghosts? Puh-lease. . . .

I tried to teach *The Screwtape Letters* once to an Honors class and was rewarded with a miserable experience, as it didn't register with my students. But for anyone who has enjoyed that classic and found it an endless source of humor and insight, I'd recommend *The Presence* as an interesting dovetail to Lewis's foundation. Okay, it won't appeal to everyone, but then neither did C.S. Lewis, and in my mind though *The Presence* is not in the same artistic pantheon, it's still darn good company to share.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/1/2019, 4:25 pm

Post #156: I, he said self-referentially, read Sterne's *The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman* in a British Literature class in graduate school, that same semester ploughing through Defoe's *Moll Flanders*, Fielding's *Tom Jones*, Smollet's *The Expedition Of Humphry Clinker*, and Hogg's *The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself: With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor*. And, he sneered in recalling how many of his students would moan and whine in pained suffering over having to read four novels each under two hundred pages over a similar span of weeks, I loved every thoughtful minute of it.

He paused, choosing his words carefully, framing his commentary with deliberate care, wondering how many of the kind folks who stopped by his posting had read Sterne's progressive novel and would enjoy the stab at filming the unfilmable literary classic, the riotous *Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story* (2006). Actually, he thought to himself (for was there anyone else to whom he could think such a thought?), it was entirely possible that someone HAD read the original novel and seen the movie and NOT enjoyed one or the other? That was an idea worth pursuing, but not now, he reasoned, suddenly realizing this digression itself might alienate readers. His fingers waiting over the keyboard, he tried again.

*Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story*, he wrote, safely bringing the focus to the film on which he was commenting, explores the nether regions of metafiction, just as Sterne's novel written in nine volumes between 1759 and 1767 chronicles the "autobiography" of a fictional character about whose life we learn little in the 700 pages. He paused again, realizing he could lurch off in a lengthy discourse of how Sterne's novel presented a book about writing a book, thus heightening the meta- aspects of the novel, two hundred years before such a mirror-facing-a-mirror with infinite bouncing reflections would become fashionable in literature, and thus far ahead of its time, making it nearly impossible to transfer to the screen. But that, in itself, was another digression which readers would find frustrating, causing them to retract their LIKE rating on Facebook, which was meta- in and of itself as people booked their faces online. . . And who would wish to diagram THIS commentary, he asked himself, because there was no one else in this room, save his wife who was engrossed in a Hallmark film. . . . Taking stock (bullishly, to befit the film) he started again.

*Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story*, a British production, was directed by Michael Winterbottom starring Steve Coogan (perhaps best known in Great Britain as Alan Partridge) and Rob Brydon, who play versions of themselves in the film. Back up, he said internally, clarify what you mean by that: In *Tristram Shandy* "Coogan and Brydon" are starring in a film adaptation of Sterne's novel. Our first scene shows the two actors in their makeup chairs being prepped for their scenes, and they are casually discussing the color of "Brydon"'s teeth, a scene that was improvised on the spot. We then cut to a beautifully framed Shandy Hall in Yorkshire, classical music booming (actually procured from Fellini's *8 1/2*), as "Coogan" approaches the camera in long shot as Tristram himself, who will narrate his story, breaking the fourth wall by addressing us viewers directly. (I, he wrote intrusively, am placing Coogan's and Brydon's names in quotation marks here, because they are playing versions of themselves in the film, not as they actually are but caricatures to make our experiences even more distanced from reality, while creating an illusion of a documentary; I believe, he interjected yet again, today we would call this "a mockumentary" along the lines of *This Is Spinal Tap* (1984), which is another example of metacinema.)

We get to see some of the highpoints of the life of Tristram Shandy (Coogan) including his conception and his life in utero, his Uncle Toby (Brydon) whose manhood was irrevocably wounded in the war, his father Walter (also Coogan), his mother Elizabeth (Keely Hawkes, who also plays "Keely Hawkes") and among others Widow Wadman (Gillian Anderson, who also plays "Gillian Anderson"). We also see "behind the scenes" as Sterne's narrative is interrupted by the director yelling, "Cut!" and we become privy to the inflated egos, personal and personnel clashes, re-shooting of battle scenes (because only ten people are employed to stage the conflict), re-writing of the script, and "Coogan"'s philandering (and rumors thereof) while his "girlfriend" and baby wait patiently in the wings.

It's all very zany and crazy, keeping all the layers of reality separate, which is the main point of the whole picture, in keeping with Sterne's stream-of-consciousness. It's a film inside a film about filmmaking, a Russian nesting doll of a movie reminiscent of Fellini's *8 1/2* (1963) (still one of my favorites of all time, he said) or Truffaut's *Day For Night* (1973) or even Pinter's screenplay for Karel Reitz's *The French Lieutenant's Woman* (1981). Except it's all played for laughs, weird, crazy, at times burlesque or slapstick laughs, as when "Coogan" shows how dropping a hot chestnut into a character's trousers might be "acted," and then actually dropping a hot chestnut in his pants to illustrate the point further.

Surely it is pure British humor, sometimes cerebral, sometimes reliant on your willingness to go with the conceit, and sometimes dependent on your knowledge of the politics of producers, directors and stars. If you find the lines of reality blurring occasionally, then you're in on the joke. And if you enjoy British comedy (beyond Monty Python) and its dry parody, you will love Stephen Fry's turns as Parson Yorick, Sterne's actual curator Patrick, and of course "Stephen Fry." If you're a casual filmgoer, you might find *A Cock And Bull Story* frustrating and somewhat tedious, waiting for the punch line, but the whole movie is the punch line. It's brimming with the spirit of Sterne, who wrote, "Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

If you enjoy double entendres, exposing one layer of illusion to find another, the wonder of not knowing if it's live or Memorex, or if you plan to write an extended essay on the nature of simulacra in modern life, sit down with your vodka and tonic to enjoy a fanciful homage to a digressive master, he said using up his quota of quasi-pseudo-intellectual musings for the month before returning to mainstream of consciousness which grows more polluted with each bad film. But there's comfort along that bank as well, as picking up a gnarled piece of driftwood can become a nice centerpiece at a modest buffet. He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water. . . .
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/2/2019, 2:20 pm

If you're from Michigan, you might remember a popular commercial for Kroger grocery stores: "A million Michigan shoppers can't be wrong." Well, actually, yes, they can, as evidenced by the popularity of Madonna, anchovies, the Kardashians, the slang words "bogue" and "munchies," and Trump. But that pervasive slogan also applies to comedy, if we substitute "critics" for "shoppers." Almost unanimously, today feature, *Fatal Instinct* (1993), was critically vilified on its release, thus proving to me once again that many critics' taste is all in their mouths.

Now look: I know comedy is a very personal reactive genre. And usually I can agree when a comedy is pronounced "sophomoric," "stupid," "silly," "puerile," or "asinine"--all of which are true of *Fatal Instinct*, but critics use these adjectives as if that's a bad thing. I agree there are some egregious comedies out there, capitalizing on audiences watching in a state of such drugged out delirium they would laugh at fresh produce at Kroger. To me the cardinal rule of a good comedy is Does it make me laugh consistently without chemical stimulation? *Fatal Instinct* did that for me.

Maybe *Mad* magazine permanently warped my sense of humor, but I love a good parody, and director Carl Reiner (who in my mind knows something about funny and knew how to bring Steve Martin to the screen in five films) knows how to poke holes in the erotic thriller genre. *Fatal Instinct* evolved from a long string of movies that created tropes that nearly parodied themselves: In fact, the original title of the film was *Triple Indemnity* since its plot hit just about every noir trademark around.

Ned Ravine (Armand Assante) is a cop and a lawyer who almost immediately is enticed by a flaming hot femme fatale (Sean Young) Lola Cain, more than a passing homage to Jame M. Cain, author of *Double Indemnity* (1944) and *The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946 and 1981) as well as countless other pulp fictions; Ned Ravine is also a nod to William Hurt's Ned Racine in *Body Heat* (1981). Ned is a straight-laced, straight-faced straight shooter who is as straight as an eros, except for that one time in a fraternity prank, who is married to the adulterous adulteress Lana (Kate Nelligan), as in Lana Turner who starred in *Postman*. Lana is openly duplicitous in planning to murder and cash in on Ned's insurance policy with her garage mechanic lover Frank (Christopher McDonald, who played Shooter McGavin in *Happy Gilmore*). Aiding Ned is his ever-intrepid secretary Laura (Sherilynn Fen) who draws memories of Gene Tierney in a film named. . . *Laura*.

Of course sexual tension underlies the whole film, which relentlessly pokes fun at every smokey corner of noir. Sight gags abound, some subtle, some over the top in *Airplane*(1980) fashion. Some hit, some miss, but the sheer volume of jokes played with absolute deadpan style had me laughing out loud rather than just snickering with a distant aesthetic appreciation. Plots and subplots abound, all tied to the familiar territory of its core genre. I counted fourteen film references through the course of the movie, which made it that much more fun. SPOILER ALERT: Skip the following list if you want to play Catch The Reference for yourself:

*Laura* (1944)
*Fatal Attraction* (1987)
*Basic Instinct* (1992)
*JFK* (1991)
*Home Alone* (1990)
*Sleeping With The Enemy* (1991)
*Cape Fear* (1962 and 1991)
*Body Heat* (1981)
*The Postman Always Rings Twice* (1946 and 1981)
*Double Indemnity* (1944)
*Chinatown* (1974)
*9 1/2 Weeks* (1986)
*Body of Evidence* (1992)
*The Temp* (1992) with Sherilyn Fenn's *Twin Peaks* co-star Lara Flynn Boyle
*The Mambo Kings* (1992) which starred Assante

Let me know if you watch the film and find others I missed; they're probably there.

*Fatal Instinct* is aided and abetted with cameos of Tony Randall, Rosie O'Donnell, Clarence Clemmons who provides the necessary saxophone mood music, James Remar, John Witherspoon, Eartha Kitt, Bob "Mr. Baseball" Eucker, and Bill Cobbs. Dudley Moore was also filmed as a convict's mother, but his scene was cut due to time constraints and the rhythm of the film, according to director Reiner. Sherilyn Fenn (*Twin Peaks*) was originally slated to play the part of Lola Cain, but opted to play the faithful secretary instead and recommended Sean Young to Carl Reiner, who followed through on her suggestion.

Personally, I loved this movie. It was goofy, silly, wonderfully pointed in hitting all the main noir points, especially the solemn voice-over, with Sean Young playing sexy in the broadest strokes imaginable and Armand Assante remaining deliberately impassive in every scene. I feel he rose to the challenge of matching Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebbin in the *Naked Gun* films with easy grace and great comic timing. Yes, a lot of the jokes are puerile and sophomoric, but when you're laughing you just chalk it up to a guilty pleasure. All in all, then, it's a quick 91 minutes of unrelenting mirth, and if a million IMDB reviewers liked it, they can't be wrong. (Well, technically, I used the word "If" because there weren't one million reviews for this movie on IMDB, but most of the liked it, and we could probably find a million who liked it too . . .)
Enjoy,
Jeff

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Post by JazzMan on 10/2/2019, 2:46 pm

Spot On!

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Post by ghemrats on 10/3/2019, 3:52 pm

John Gillespie Magee Jr. was an American pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force who died at age 19 on December 11, 1941. In addition to his service he is remembered for the beautiful sonnet "High Flight," quoted here:

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds -
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of -
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
"Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God."

No introduction could better inform your sensibilities for today's British feature, *A Matter Of Life And Death* (1946), released in America as *Stairway To Heaven* because American marketers Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin deemed it indelicate to refer to death in the title just after the war. The film stars David Niven as RAF squadron leader Peter Carter, facing imminent death, his plane afire and he without a parachute, just as he connects with the American radio operator June (Kim Hunter) who hears his dying wishes. In the pressure cooker of the moment they fall in love as Peter determines he will eject, determining it's better to fall than to burn.

And fall he does through a fiercely dense English fog bank which deposits him in the English Channel, only to wash ashore apparently intact, fully alive to find June cycling en route to her quarters having finished her shift. Is this heaven? Well, it ain't Iowa, and there are no whispering voices pushing Peter toward construction: This is a wide-awake albeit miraculous condition, allowing Peter and June to recognize one another immediately and fall in love in the corporeal realm. But in another realm, populated by vast crowds of war heroes signing in for a glimpse of eternity, Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) has been dispatched to rectify a mistake--Peter was scheduled to die and ride an immense escalator (actually 106 steps twenty feet wide) to join his crew Above (Heaven is not officially invoked, but nudge nudge, you get it).

So begins an Empyrean set of judgments hovering literally between life and death: Ethereal Laws prescribe Peter must be interred to the Other World, but his transcendent love for June compels him to live on in an earthly reprieve. Powell's wife, Thelma Schoonmaker, a great film editor herself introduced to Powell by Martin Scorsese, said, "Michael felt strongly that love is about sacrifice and sacrifice is about love. And that's what you see in this movie. . ." In the next world, as the Firesign Theater said, you're on your own; that is, you can never go back, and as such Peter and June's love takes "till death do us part" to another dimension (literally and figuratively).

Directed, written and produced by the great team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the realm Above is rendered in luscious monochrome (actually "Colour and Dye-Monochrome Processed in Technicolor") while Earth scenes explode in saturated Technicolor, as you can see from the trailer's still. The scenes Above are masterpieces of stylized art-moderne's sweeping and swooping curves and shadows on massive sets that dwarf the inhabitants. Wings are kept intact in individually wrapped cellophane coverlets in an assembly line, and though the black-and-white world is beautifully otherworldly, Conductor 71, entering our colorful world pines, "One is starved for Technicolor up there!"

*A Matter of Life And Death* is progressive in many ways, presenting many technical challenges to which Powell and Pressburger rose. In pre-production head of England's Ministry of Information's film commission approached the duo with a task: to close the perceived post-war rift between Great Britain and the United States. "There's a danger," he said, "that the ordinary man and woman in the services will forget what they have learnt about each other. The old jealousies, misunderstandings, and distrusts will return." Powell responded, "You wish us to write a story which will make the English and Americans love each other, with a mixed American and English cast, with one or two big names in it, and it obviously has to be a comedy, and spectacular, and imaginative, and you want it to be a success on both sides of the Atlantic, and you want it to go on playing to audiences for the next fifty years." And Beddington replied, "Thirty years will do."

Today it remains a fantastic (in all senses of the word) romance, an epistle to the power of commitment and love, aided by some gorgeous color treatments and brilliant cinematography from Jack Cardiff, progressive stop-action sequences (long before such possibilities were conceived with the help of computers), and powerhouse performances from the actors. It's a given that David Niven and Kim Hunter form the epicenter, but Roger Livesey, as Frank Reeves, Peter's dear friend and British interlocutor in the celestial trial, steals every scene he's in. His impassioned case before the Judge and Jury Above is smooth, logical and heart-felt, while Raymond Massey's American prosecutor Abraham Farlan flings fire and brimstone against allowing Peter to live on, his own rancor stirred by his death during the American Revolutionary War at the hands of the British. This raging, intense debate between the two acts as the pivotal platform for not only Peter's fate, but an exploration of post-war sentiments between two powerful political nations.

*A Matter Of Life And Death* remains the favorite movie of J.K. Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe and Martin Sheen, with good reason. In 1999, it placed 20th on the British Film Institute's list of Best 100 British films, and in 2004, a poll of 25 film critics named *A Matter of Life and Death* the second greatest British film ever made, behind *Get Carter* (1971) with Michael Caine. In addition the film employed RAF survivors, 72 Red Cross nurses and 25 WACS in the Other World Court scenes, all of whom donated their earnings from the picture to the Red Cross.

So if you have a romantic soul or dreams of a life fashioned by something greater than yourself, I thoroughly endorse your sitting down with this lovely little film, especially around the holidays, since it was released at the same time as *It's A Wonderful Life* (1946). With it, you can slip the surly bonds of earth. . . and top the wind-swept heights with easy grace. . .
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/4/2019, 4:10 pm

Post #160:  Don't you just hate it when you have the strange feeling of Vuja De? (That happens when you have the odd sensation that you've never done something or been somewhere before.)  I experienced it big time when I first watched today's feature *Triangle* (2009), an absolutely mind-blowing British film that stands up to--and almost demands--repeat viewings.


You know how in watching horror movies you occasionally want to yell at the screen, "Don't go into the basement because the light switch doesn't work and you hear someone calling your name in eerie cadences and there's a maniac with a Cuisinart on the loose, you idiot!"?  Well, you won't do that with *Triangle*, but I hope you'll take heed of my yelling at you, "DON'T WATCH THE TRAILER, JUST WATCH THE MOVIE KNOWING AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE ABOUT IT< BECAUSE THE TRAILER GIVES AWAY TOO MUCH [again]!"

Of course the big issue with movies like *Triangle*, *Memento* (2000), *Inception*(2010) *Dead Of Night* (1945) and *The Shining* (1980) lies in the victory of surprise, of catching the viewer unawares not with hackneyed jump scares (which some people think make a "good" movie) but with solid plot and the question of characters' motivation.  Some people call such films *WTF* movies because they require thoughtful attention to detail and perhaps some lingering mysteries or puzzles that can stimulate discussion and thought. (Hokey Smoke, Bullwinkle, I just realized all of the aforementioned films have been expertly executed by British directors!) So with all that in mind, I can't give away too much, but can titillate just enough to goad you into watching this--provided you understand there will be blood.

Jess (Melissa George) struggles as a mother of an autistic son, but takes a day trip on a sailboat with her friend Greg (Michael Dorman), accompanied by his friends Sally, Heather, Downey and Victor (Liam Hemsworth), a runaway teen whom Greg has befriended onboard.  For some reason (oooo weeee ooooo) Jess seems distracted, a little distant, but all sail out into open water where all goes swimmingly until a sudden, mysterious storm swirls in, capsizing their boat. At this point Heather drowns (heck, she's only in the film for fifteen minutes, if that) and all others await until the appearance of an ocean liner, *The Aeolus*, named after the Greek God of the Winds and father to Sisyphus (!).  And, as Forrest Gump said, 'guess that's all I got to say about that. . . .

Now.  I heartily recommend this movie if you're in the state of mind to take your time and realize just about EVERY shot of the film matters.  You have to watch for motifs and details to make this game pay off all its dividends.  This film is so tightly constructed--it's like *Stay* (2005) in its convolutions and call-backs--but everything fits, philosophically and metaphysically.  A film doesn't just drop philosophical references for no purpose, and knowing that Sisyphus's fate came from breaking a promise (because Jess does too) will help you untie the Gordian Knot of this story. Pay particular attention to the Cab Driver!  This is one of those films that nearly screams for you to become an active viewer.  So if you just want to veg out, and, as John Lennon said, relax, turn off your mind and float downstream, skip this one.

*Triangle* was directed and written by Christopher Smith, whose filmography lists projects in the suspense/horror genre, and who excels here, liberally sprinkling somewhat esoteric references to Kubrick's *The Shining* throughout the film: Room 237, claustrophobic corridors, messages written on a mirror, ax appeal, sinister ballrooms, and past sins returning to haunt.  The real treat for me in this film is catching subtle clues including multiple shots of mirrors and reflective surfaces, used to splendid effect.

I would call this an underappreciated gem of a film, and audience/critical response bears that out, as full websites have been dedicated to unraveling its secrets and questions.  It's not laden with the standard overkill of special effects or CGI--it uses characters and plot and suspense to build tension and a search for answers.  Yes, blood washes the walls, but it is genuinely in service to the plot development and reason prevails. So it's not a Boogedy Boogedy Monster or raving maniac movie--it runs rings around your cheap-jack spooky spectacle; it soars and loops like a seagull in the stormy sky.

And with Halloween coming, this is just the intellectual exercise you can enjoy if you tire of The Great Pumpkin handing out rocks, Michael Meyers still not lying down on the job, or zombies stepping out for some finger food.  Just keep repeating,  "Oh you're just having a bad dream, that's all, baby. That's all it was. Bad dreams make you think you're seeing things that you haven't. You know what I do when I have a bad dream? I close my eyes and I think of something nice - like being here with you."
Enjoy.
Jeff


Last edited by ghemrats on 10/4/2019, 4:32 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Space Cadet on 10/4/2019, 4:24 pm

Jeff, I can't decide if you should be writin' movie reviews or advertisin'. But then again, one of those is morally questionable and the other's usually worse. Shocked Either way, you've got me out lookin' for quite a few movies I'd never heard of before.
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Post by ghemrats on 10/5/2019, 2:14 pm

Space, I'm sorry, man. But I like sharing my pain with my friends. So here's another terrific film that I'm sure you know. . .

Post #160: I took the *Undercover Brother* Trivia Test last night, and my Blackness is confirmed, so I can recommend this hilarious comedy made in (2002). This comedy has so much going for it, you have to wonder why, in a world where sequels spin off their reels before the first movie is even released and bombs spectacularly, this one was a one hit wonder. I double dog dare any English-speaking people to watch this film without laughing their Astrophel and Stella off (because Stella got her groove back).

*Undercover Brother* (2002) stars Eddie Griffin as the titular solo agent recruited to help The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., a secret organization dedicated to ensuring equality for all. At odds with that noble mission is THE MAN, a mysterious megalomaniac with designs on derailing the campaign of the first Black Presidential candidate, a Colin Powell clone General Warren Boutel (Billy Dee Williams who is the King of Cool) through an insidious mind control scheme. Serving The Man is Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan), a funk-repressed toady who masterminds the plan by employing and dispatching "Black man's Kryptonite" Penelope Snow (Denise Richards), a mayonnaise loving temptress also known as White She Devil.

Heading the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. is the Chief (Chi McBride) and his troupe of intrepid agents--Sistah Girl (the wonderfully limber Aunjanue Ellis), Conspiracy Brother (the riotous Dave Chappelle), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams doing his best Al Roker) and Lance (Neil Patrick Harris, who draws suspicion from Conspiracy Brother because he's white; "Affirmative Action," says the Chief). When Undercover Brother joins their ranks, though Eddie Griffin holds the center spot in the story, this ensemble cast forms the tightest, hippest group since the Temp and Tops shared the stage on tour. And just to make it all so much better than it already is, "Operation Brand New Bag" offers the Godfather of Soul James Brown in a fabulous cameo. Push it into the stratosphere with a soundtrack of popular funk selections and a score by Return To Forever's Stanley Clarke. Solid. Solid as a rock.

Inspired by such popular Blaxploitation films of the '60s and '70s--*Shaft*(1971) , *Coffy* (1973), *Cleopatra Jones* (1973), *Superflay* (1972) and *Foxy Brown* (1974)--this high-octane comedy is non-stop, rapid-fire full-on jokes, slapstick, and pun laden. As Dave Chappell has noted, it's not mean-spirited but pokes fun at everyone to equal effect. *The San Francisco Chronicle*said, "The picture is crammed with shameless satire, engaging moments of pure silliness and jokes that border on the outrageous. It combines relentless energy with an aura of good nature for a formula that works." With so many films going the gross-out or drug-infused route, *Undercover Brother* remains a fresh shot of genuine hilarity with a cool factor that is like a Big Gulp of orange soda.

A generous helping of in-jokes make the movie more than just dumb comedy: The Man's influence over Hollywood is "out to get" Spike Lee, who is *Undercover Brother* director Malcolm D. Lee's cousin. The theme song running under the '70s inspired title sequence is actually the Average White Band, "Pick Up The Pieces," a caucasian group formed in 1971. When Lance is labeled an unappreciated epithet, he employs three of the Mortal Kombat finishing moves. And while I have always found Chris Kattan a little cloying in most of his *Saturday Night Live* routines, here he demonstrates a manic energy that propels his character into out-of-control outrage which is a great addition to the action sequences.

With this much talent and enough satirical material to make Orwell smile, in the words of the Chief, "Today is a great day for black people of all races." I'd suggest *Undercover Brother* is just as topical and funny as it was seventeen years ago. And it inspires more than a little trepidation in me to learn that *Undercover Brother 2* is up for release November 5, with a completely different cast--and evidently straight to video. But I'll remain nonjudgmental about it, for in the words of Undercover Brother, "There are times for falling apart, and there are times for getting' funky. This is one of them funky times. So what's it gonna be? You ready to play some funky music, white boy?" I am, as long as they play that funky music right. But in the meantime I'll stick with this one.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 10/5/2019, 3:08 pm

Absolutely love Undercover Brother. Have it right here on DVD it gets heavy rotation. Dave Chappell is standout with his conspiracies and the stuff he says best ever. Great cast, just a brilliant movie I so hoped we would get 5 sequels at least. Doogie Howser is standout as well made me laugh.

Only thing funnier is Eddie crashing a Ferrari LOL look it up.
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Post by ghemrats on 10/6/2019, 2:49 pm

Post #161: Don't go away, it's time to play *Spot The Cliche*! Hi, Everybody, and welcome to America's most reliably underwhelming game that allows you, the viewer, a chance to bite the heel of your hand in quiet frustration over the missed opportunities for a real, rewarding payoff. Now here's the host of *Spot The Cliche*--Bob Banality. . . . Thank you, thank you for that introduction, Johnny. Say, is everybody ready to gnash some teeth and roll your eyes right out of your head? [Thunderous applause, because today's story takes place in July hurricane season in Florida]

Oh-ho-kay! Today's Contestant Chestnut comes to us via postcard from a Mrs. Tondelayo Birkenstock from Dade Country, Florida. She says, "I have watched many movies, Bob, that use Florida as the backdrop for suspense, and I love the novels of Tim Dorsey who knows the state like the back of his hand. But I nominate *The Mean Season* (1985) as one of my top picks for Good Premise Gone Wrong. I mean, I like the people involved, but it was filled with cliches, one in particular that made me want to throw a shoe--one of my heavy orthopedic clunkers, not a sandal--right through the tube." Well, Mrs. Birkenstock, we all know that feeling, don't we? So let's see if your offering can take away today's grand prize--A Brand New Self-Defrosting Norge Refrigerator complete with ice maker and gleaming designer avocado finish. . . .When you need a cold shoulder, you know it's Norge.

Cliche #1: Johnny, start the clock: Malcolm Anderson (Kurt Russel) is the Brenda Starr reporter at the Miami Journal who is ready to quit due to burnout after eight years on the job. How can we tell this is a cliche? [Bell rings as Caller One has an answer over the loudspeaker] "Is it because he wears the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, has a stack of paper all over his desk, and tells his boss he's done, he's finished, this is his last day?" [Sirens whoop] You've got it. Add to that his boss's insistence that he's the best and can't quit then walks away, and you've got the makings of a great journalism-based cliche.

Cliche #2: Malcolm has a beautiful girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) named Christine who is a grade school teacher. What--[Bell rings as Caller Two interrupts] "Does she want Malcolm to move away with her to a less stressful job as editor in the Midwest so they can get married?" Yes-- "And after we're introduced, from the killer's perspective, to the first of a serial killing, is there a chance she'll become one of his victims?" Well, Caller, you-- "And is there an obligatory shower sequence where she's lathered up but we see, again from a subjective camera view, someone walking stealthily toward the half-closed bathroom door?" You're on a roll, Caller. "And she thinks she hears something, so she stops long enough to allow the audience to glimpse her pert breasts while she quizzically calls out 'Malcolm?' as we see the bathroom door open slowly from the darkened apartment?" Our hearts are pounding out a rhythm like a hopped up Gene Krupa solo, Caller; do you have more? "Yes, and she starts to realize she may be in danger when--WHOOSH--the curtain is swept back to show--Malcolm standing there grinning at his funny joke!" [Sirens whoop three times like a submarine diving signal] Yes, congratulations, Caller Two--you caught the *Psycho* homage that lets everyone down. Congratulations!

Johnny, let's cue up Cliche #3: Just as Malcolm is ready to submit his resignation--[Bell rings as Caller One interjects] "That was the scene that made me so mad, the shower thing. But the other caller beat me to it. Heck." Do you want to try the third Cliche, Caller? "Oh, shoot, uhm, okay: Does the serial killer call Malcolm at the paper and tell him he likes the way he reports crime? And the two form some sort of weird connection as the serial killer--whose face is never shown because the camera is positioned in such a way as to obscure anything but his hand holding the receiver--as the killer keeps leaving Malcolm hints about who he's going to kill next--" Whom, Caller. Whom he's going to kill. . . "Yeah, okay, whatever, am I right?" [Sirens again] You've got it! So, Audience, we're neck in neck as we move toward the finish line. Johnny, what's up next?

Cliche #4: With the inside track on the escalating serial killings, Malcolm immerses himself in his work. Christine worries that he's drawing away from her and closer to notoriety as his stories make a big splash while the body count rises. What visual is used to show Malcolm's intrepid rise to fame? [Long pause, no bells] I'll give you a hint: This visual device was beaten to death in the 1930s and 1940s to show [slight dramatic pause] the WHIRLWIND of media frenzy. [Pause, then foghorn] Oh, you missed that one--it was the spinning newspaper approaching the camera from a black background or over running presses backed by strumming violins on the soundtrack. Either one would have sufficed, since both are used.

Cliche #5: As we watch Malcolm and Christine giving one another the cold shoulder--think Norge, friends--in their home, the telephone rings, Christine answers and what happens? [Caller Two] "It's the serial killer calling them at home, he's staked out their private life now, he calls Christine by name, and Malcolm wrestles the phone from her while she screams 'Why are you killing people? Don't you realize that's wrong?' and he screams into the phone, 'How did you get this number?' which is stupid because Malcolm is in the phone book, for pity's sake, and he immediately tells Christine she's not safe and maybe they should take a break, and she cries and yells at him that he loves the serial killer more than he loves her, and, and. . ." [Three whoop siren] Take a breath, Caller, you've just taken over the lead. [Audience erupts in joy, as prescribed by the electronic sign over the stage].

Now, our penultimate Cliche, with no spoilers, Cliche #6: Malcolm gets drunk and returns to the unlocked door to their darkened home. What does he do? [Caller One] "He runs through the house, calling for Christine, sees someone out back, grabs a baseball bat and swings like Lou Gehrig at a shadowy figure who turns out to be Christine staggering from the bedroom, instantly smacking her in the head and killing her--and then, and then, the real serial killer steps out from a closet behind the weeping Malcolm and tells him 'Now we're REALLY partners!" [Trombone wah-wah-wah followed by a sound effect of water splashing] Oh, I'm soooo sorry, Caller One. You were on the right track, but no, he doesn't give Christine a home run, he just scares the milkman. No points there, I'm afraid. But don't worry, you still have a chance with our last Cliche. Johnny, cue the clock.

[Tense, brooding music issues in anticipation] Cliche #7: The serial killer, upset that he's not getting the recognition that Malcolm is, expresses his disfavor with Malcolm over the phone and hints that maybe Christine would like some help with her car at school since maybe someone switched the wires on her distributor cap. . . For all the points, what kind of car does Malcolm drive at breakneck speed while the police (Andy Garcia and Richard Bradford, who looks like *Bewitched*'s Larry Tate) and Malcolm's photographer (Joe Pantoliano) try to catch up? [Caller One] "An AMC Gremlin!"
No, that puts you out of the running. Caller Two, any ideas? [Ring] "It's got to be either a pale yellow 1968 Camaro 286 convertible with black racing stripes or a crusty Ford Mustang. . . [voices in the background of the call] Are you sure? Do you think? Okay, Bob, we'll go with the crusty Ford Mustang."

[Submarine whoops as confetti falls in ribbons all over the audience, who are on their feet] Congratulations, Caller Two--you and Mrs. Tondelayo Birkenstock of Dade County, Florida, will be receiving a newly reconditioned Norge refrigerator with the sparkling avocado patina finish--plus as an extra prize a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat, five cartons of Elmer's Glue, and enough Screaming Yellow Zonkers to host a party in the privacy of your own homes--which will be furnished with a beautiful three-piece sofa, love seat and ottoman set courtesy of Broyhill, the first name in comfort. And Caller One, you'll receive a complimentary parting gift of Jiffy Pop, as much fun to make as it is to eat, for your contributions.

So to recap, ladies and gentlemen, *The Mean Season* (1985) might have some good moments and fine actors pulling together to offer a fair suspense story, but as we like to say here on *Spot The Cliche*, If you can tell what's gonna happen. . . [Audience chants in unison] the movie just ain't snappin'! [Uproarious applause under Bob] Thanks so much, everyone, help control overpopulation, have yourself spayed or neutered, goodbye, see you next time. . . .
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/7/2019, 2:48 pm

Post #162:  Evidently the question "What would you do if you were given absolute power and anything you wanted could be granted with a wave of your hand?" has not yet been answered to everyone's satisfaction. Hence today's film, a BBC production released only in Great Britain but now available in the States on DVD, *Absolutely Anything* (2015).

Once again the cast is beyond measure: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Robin Williams (his last film, in voice only), the remaining members of Monty Python's Flying Circus (Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam--Graham Chapman died of tonsil cancer in 1989), Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Joanne Lumley, and Sanjeev Bhaksar.  Co-written (twenty years ago) and directed by Terry Jones, *Absolutely Anything* is a largely harmless comedy that proved it couldn't do "Absolutely Anything" for the English audiences who had it drawn and quartered upon release. Which is a shame because given its premise, it's no worse and no better than *Bruce Almighty* (2003), *Evan Almighty* (2007), *Click* (2006), *Bedazzled* (2000 and 1967), *Weird Science* (1985) and *Aladdin* (too many permutations to list) and how many situation comedies on TV?--the mind reels.

Naturally, in keeping with tradition, Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) is a hapless (that is, he is without hap) secondary school teacher in a failing district, and though he lives in an apartment above a beautiful tenant (Kate Beckinsale), his only real friend is his dog (voiced by Robin Williams, who in 2009 said he wanted to star in a movie with Pegg). Meanwhile, as Neil struggles daily in just scraping by, The Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings (The Pythons providing voices for weird aliens) summarily decide to destroy the Earth unless one random candidate can prove Earthlings can make high moral choices. (Didn't I read somewhere a variation on that theme about a guy named Job? Maybe it was *Arrested Development*. . .) Neil is that candidate--it had better be, or there'd be no sense in focusing our story on Simon Pegg. So begin the shenanigans.

Stock choices are rolled out--wishes for a better selection of body parts, better treatment at work, improved romantic entanglements, communication with his dog--and are pleasantly handled, yielding some nice laughs, even though we know the outcome well before we're shown.  And the stock lessons are learned--like yourself as you are because you're beautiful in every single way, words can't bring you down; you can't hurry love, no, you'll just have to wait--love don't come easy, it's a game of give and take; it's the terror of knowing what this world is about, watching some good friends screaming Let me out; right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be; and living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see, it's getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn't matter much to me.

I've always found Simon Pegg affable (that is, able to be aff) so I enjoyed this film, even though The Pythons' aliens grew tedious quickly (and I love Monty Python) and Rob Riggle could easily win the Most Annoying Character Award for his turn as an obsessive hound who dogs Kate Beckinsale's Catherine for no apparent reason other than we need a villain. Even so, he doesn't seem to know what "Take it down a peg(g)" means, even if we held a circular band saw to his testicles.  There are moments of cleverness, and no one needs to tell Pegg to get thee to a punnery, as he's already there. So once again, I am behooved to bemoan the fact that so many people suffer from a serious lack of a sense of humor. I liked this film, while acknowledging it falls victim to the Curse of Not Living Up To People's Expectations.  Take it for what it is--a cute largely unoffensive fantasy with people who like to laugh at themselves--and you may well enjoy this little movie. It even pays homage to Billy Wilder's *Some Like It Hot* (1959) by repeating its famous last line as the last line of this film.

*Absolutely Anything* is memorable as a testament to a number of notable, sad "Lasts." It was the last film Terry Jones made before succumbing to a rare form of dementia in 2015; "my frontal lobe has absconded," he said. It was Robin Williams' last film; he died three weeks after wrapping his part.  It stands as the last collaboration of the surviving members of Monty Python.  In those ways, on reflection, it's a bit like saying goodbye to some of the great talents of comedy whose like we will not see again.  For Terry and Robin, then, I close with Robert Burns:
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/8/2019, 4:25 pm

Post # 163: Oh dang! I'm sorry for the use of such a strong expletive, but I am frustrated, dadgum it. I mean, darn it all to heck and jeepers, but I just can't get it through my frickin' head why people keep assessing a film's merit by their myopic expectations than taking it at its own merits. I don't mean to morph into some one-note boob with opinions, but once again I thoroughly enjoyed the road trip of *Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World* (2012) while more than once it's been proclaimed a "bomb" at the box office and incurred a torrential rain of wrath because it wasn't what people expected. Cheese and Crackers, people, can't you learn to relax and enjoy your ice cream?

Trigger Warning: Hold on, baby, hold on, 'cause it's closer than you think, and you're standing on the brink. . . of a tirade about attitudes. If you're not up to it, skip the next paragraph and go right to the film commentary.

Maybe I like to root for the underdog (and his girlfriend reporter Sweet Polly Purebread) or maybe I'm deluding myself with the belief that I have some modicum of taste. I don't mean to prescribe how people should respond or think, but now I'm extrapolating: If people's mindsets are so mired in being let down, maybe this is why so many relationships fail--"Gee, you've changed. You're not who I thought you were, you're not what I wanted you to be, you let me down because you didn't live up to goals I set for you as a human being, goals that Jesus on a good day could not fulfill. You weren't funny enough, you are sad sometimes, you bore me, I never knew you didn't like sushi--everybody does, what's wrong with not wanting pineapple on a pizza, that way your jaw cracks when you chew that I used to find so endearing--it's actually annoying me to death, you disappointed me by growing older when I thought you could just stick around in Carbonite like Han Solo. . . ."

But I digress. End times will be explored in the cinema until end times, stimulated by zombie apocalypses, celestial bombardment, or human invention. For the purposes of today's commentary, let's totally disavow all of the post-apocalyptic What-If-doms, the dystopian futures, and the rebuilding of civilization; let's stick with those films dealing with the earth as a game of Hot Potato. *Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World* is not *Armageddon* (1998), *Melancholia* (2011), *Another Earth* (2011) or *Avengers: Endgame* (2019), though all of these hold a commonality with it: A 70-mile-wide asteroid named Matilda is hurtling toward the Earth, and we have limited time to reconcile our affairs. But while *Armageddon* and *Avengers: Endgame* deal in high-explosive kinetic energy and *Melancholia* and *Another Earth* play with resignation and depression, *Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World* I found sweet, cautiously funny, and hyperreal, because I believe it shows how a great many people would actually respond if they knew the world was going to end in 21 days.

Let's be clear, so as not to build up expectations: It's not a comedy, even though it's Steve Carell's first film after wrapping seven years on *The Office*. Steve plays Dodge Petersen, who in the opening scene is abandoned by his wife Linda (Nancy Carell, Steve's wife off screen as well) after sixteen years of marriage. [Incidentally, if you watch carefully you'll see Nancy struggle with the car door, lose her shoe against the car frame, then speed away into a park wearing only one shoe. This was not planned, but spoke so truthfully about the finality of Linda's decision, the director left it in] With 21 days left before utter annihilation, Dodge (whose name is significant) continues going to work, employing his housekeeper, and generally dealing with the ultimate unavoidable just to retain sanity while those around him go mad, loosing their inhibitions upon a doomed planet. Because, hey, what difference does it all make anyway?

He attends parties with his friends (Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswald, Amy Schumer in a cameo) who carry on in ways some viewers found objectionable, but I just chalked up to being accurate: Facing death some people will try any drug they can get their hands on, party like it's 1999, become indiscriminate in their fidelity, and generally try dancing away their fears while gnawing their lips (or others') in denial. Some people will riot and destroy property, some will become introspective, and some will hire assassins to kill them before the end. Some, like Linda, will run in panic, God knows where, and others, like Penny Lockhart (Kiera Knightley) will wish to be with their families or loved ones, an ocean away or somewhere in the past. And some, like Dodge, will drink window cleaner and codeine cough syrup, pass out in a park, and wake to find a cute little dog tethered to their leg with a note saying, "Sorry," which becomes the dog's name.

So begins a road trip with Sorry, Dodge and Penny, neighbors in the same building who come together to find solace and help one another find for whom the bell tolls all too soon. Penny wants to find passage to London where her family lives, and Dodge strives to reconnect with his first love, Olivia (writer/director Lorene Scafaria who appears in an old photograph hugging Carell). Along the way they run out of gas, hitchhike with a truck driver (William Petersen from *CSI*), stop at a raucous family restaurant Friendlies "where everybody is a friend," get arrested, and meet up with former flames. The laughs are occasional, tinged with sadness, but the real point here is the realization of what is truly important. It raises the important question, How would you spend your last seven days?

A full 70% of Amazon reviewers gave this film four or five stars, with a mere 9% giving it one. I wouldn't quibble with the nine-percenters if they raised legitimate issues, because we can agree to disagree. But I find it sad that so many would miss the point; one *Vanity Fair* reviewer called it "the worst movie ever made." Wow, I'm glad I don't go to barbecues with that person: "Ketchup? Who puts ketchup on a hot dog? That's the most disgusting condiment on the face of the world!"

Sorry (the interjection, not the dog), but *Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World* for me was heartfelt, genuine, yes touching, thoughtful, thought-provoking and far from depressing (the operative word for many reviewers). Sure, it has sad moments--it's the end of the world, for crying out loud. But if you want depressing, watch a Darren Aronofsky film like *Mother* (2017), *Black Swan* (2010) or *Requiem For A Dream* (2000)--those will have you slamming your head into a brick and mortar Rally's where fast foodies know the DEAL. And again, it's probably me, but I felt a lovely sense of hope in Elsa (Tonita Castro), Dodge's cleaning lady, and a sense of renewal in the last twenty minutes, even though the world DOES end (no spoiler there, as the title tells you that).

It's all summed up in one of the songs by The Hollies, played on the soundtrack:
If I could make a wish
I think I'd pass
Can't think of anything I need
No cigarettes, no sleep, no light, no sound
Nothing to eat, no books to read
Making love with you
Has left me peaceful warm and tired
What more could I ask
There's nothing left to be desired
Peace came upon me and it leaves me weak
So sleep, silent angel go to sleep

For me, there's nothing depressing in feeling that.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/9/2019, 3:16 pm

Post #164: I really look forward to talking with my sons. Number 1: Because they are cool. Number 2: Because they always make me laugh. Number 3: Because they are smarter than I am. Number 4: Because no one else beyond my wife will talk to me, though our dog has been known to make odd noises when I enter the room. So when I have a strong movie recommendation, like today's film *Coherence* (2014), I am quick to ask their advice. I can count on Kris giving me a fiercely philosophical breakdown, referencing anything from Wittgenstein's *Tractatus* to an obscure rap song by Tupac. Kyle will make a measured response, perhaps saying with thoughtful resignation, "I don't know whether I LIKED it or not, but portions of it reminded me of Isaiah 32:2," a response that sends me running to a Bible.

So I hope they'll add this one to their growing lists of movies that demand discussion so we can have something to talk about over Thanksgiving or the next phone call.  

*Coherence* (2014) is a very low-budget ($50,000) first effort by writer/director/executive producer/cameraman James Ward Byrkit starring a cast of relative unknowns, with the possible exception of Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander during the run of *Buffy The Vampire Slayer*.  Filmed in Byrkit's house, it's one heck of a Mobius Strip, not just a mind bender but a bend-me-shape-me-anyway-you-want-me-you-got-the-power-to-turn-on-the-light kind of movie that I almost guarantee will inundate you theories, questions or frustrations if you don't like games of Guess The Significance.  It's been compared to a *Twilight Zone* episode (particularly "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street"), *Primer* (2004) and a bad acid trip (was there such a thing as a GOOD acid trip?).

But you CAN figure it out because the clues are all there.  You might need a few Trapper Keepers to track all the twists, but if you're up for the challenge, take it.  The story largely unfolds in a California residence housing a dinner party for eight friends during the passing of a comet, which may or may not alter the fabric of their lives.  The eight comprise married couples, dates, and former flames, all in a camaraderie that grows increasingly strained as the evening wears on.  There are power blackouts (which are significant to the story) and eerie, mood upsetting events that rely on absolutely no special effects whatsoever. No knife-wielding maniacs, no mass murderers on the loose, no ghosts or zombies, none of that run of the mill spooky excrement you have come to expect from thrillers.  No, it's all so cozy in the house, except it's not.

We come to know--or grow more acquainted--with the dynamics of these eight folks as conversation spins and swirls, unveiling secrets and conflicts.  Soon it becomes apparent that Em (Emily Baldoni, a Swedish actress who is marvelous) is our anchor, while the neighborhood electrical blackouts move other members to investigate their source, since a house two blocks down is flooded with light.  Glow sticks of various colors figure prominently in the dark, bathing the friends in a blue glow--or red, depending on who you are.  (I know, I'm being obtuse, but I cannot give away too much or I'll spoil the story for you.)  Let's just say you may not really know who your friends are, and leave it at that.

*Coherence* was filmed over five nights, though the outline for the film took Byrkit and his writing partner Alex Manugian (who plays Amir) over one year, and the dialogue was largely improvised during filming.  None of the actors knew from scene to scene what was going to happen, receiving only a page of notes each day. This leads the film to feel spontaneous (or unhinged, if you are impatient and want easy answers). In fact, Lorene Scafaria (who plays Lee, and had just finished wrapping her direction on yesterday's movie, *Seeking A Friend. . .*) thought the whole movie was a comedy until a couple days into the shoot. Byrkit said,

"...instead of having a script, each actor was given a page of notes each day with their back story or sort of motivation for the night. But they wouldn't know what the other actors had received so it had a very natural, very spontaneous collision of motivations that ended up being what you see on film; obviously guided by a very strict outline that we have been working on for about a year that tracked all the clues and the puzzles and all the rehearsals and things like that. But the actors weren't aware of those, those things happened because we were sort of guiding them through it."

The results are pretty pretty pretty fascinating, though some of the 14% of Amazon viewers who gave the film one star felt the handheld camera looked cheesy; conversely, 60% of Amazonians gave it four or five stars for the well sustained puzzling it offers.  It's best not to know too much about the proceedings, hence my hesitancy to provide too many plot points, but let me hint at some elements that might poke at your interest.

*There are sharp cuts to a black screen, which at first appear to fractionate the narrative.  Initially I thought the director did not work hard enough to provide transitions or fade-outs.  Nope. I was wrong, as I determined halfway through the film. They are deliberate stylistic devices.  But what do they mean?  Well, studying semantics will tell you they don't intrinsically MEAN anything, as meaning is derived from within--you decide meaning; it's not imposed on you. The abrupt chops indicate something, they are intentional, so don't dismiss them immediately as cheap transitions.

*To some degree *Coherence* deals with the quantum realm.  Reality is impermanent. Listen to the dialogue carefully and look for inconsistencies.  They matter in this film.  It's a film in which choices are very important and can lead to unexpected circumstances.

*When there is a blackout, pay particular attention to the house down the street that blazes with light while the entire neighborhood is engulfed in darkness.  And be very aware of the deep darkness that exists in the street which, if you pass through, will change your perspective.  Simply switching on the generator will not guarantee complete safety.

*Emily is the one to watch carefully.  And Mike has some issues that will lurch through the front door and throttle you. Is Beth's ketamine responsible for some of the antics around the house? Can't say, just be ready for some red herrings (or blue if that's the color of your glow stick).

All right.  Enough. This is a thinking person's movie, a venture into the minds and doglegs of at least eight people gathered together for a night's dinner and entertainment.  Once again, it's a film that is not for mass consumption. Not everyone will like it since no one blows up or screeches tires billowing smoke on wet pavement, and in the strictest sense it's not a romance.  But it's not stupid either, nor is *Coherence* incoherent.  If you watched and enjoyed *Triangle* as I commented a couple posts ago, this one will take you further.  And for me, and maybe my sons, that's close enough for jazz. . . or Tupac or Isaiah.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/10/2019, 4:09 pm

Post #165: You know a film is not going to be a thigh-slapping comedy when the opening scene shows the main character writing a suicide note, then sinking into a bathtub while his life force pools around him. Nor are you doubled over with laughter when the next shot shows his sister interrupted from swallowing a heaping handful of pills by a call from the hospital alerting her that her brother is fine but suicidal. After that rather dark opening, cheer up--things grow darker. Welcome to *The Skeleton Twins* (2014) starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, today's feature.

Written and directed by Craig Johnson, *The Skeleton Twins* took seven years to bring to the screen, earned seventeen nominations for awards from various film groups, and won five, including the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award from the Sundance Film Festival, To 10 Independent Film Award from the National Board of Review, and Best International Feature Film Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig also won Best Equality of the Sexes and Best Onscreen Couple Awards from the Women's Film Critics Circle. AND if that's not enough, it was resoundingly praised by critics on all fronts.

With a supporting cast of Luke Wilson (who may well be the kindest, most understanding character in modern film) and Ty Burrell (who is complex and just a little creepy), our principals are surrounded by talent that make the tale very real, very sad and very human. Why, then, did *The Skeleton Twins* join the ranks of movies I've seen that fall into the category of Glad I Saw It, Will Never Watch It Again and Didn't Really Like It?

Since Bill Hader's character Milo buys a copy of *Moby Dick*, I can relate my response to the movie to the same feeling I had after finishing Melville's epic shaggy mammal story: Unquestionably well done, interesting pacing, some memorable moments, but will never return to again. But as par for the course, I reiterate--treat my commentary as my former students might treat one of my lectures--ignore it and judge for yourself. Here goes.

Milo and Maggie are estranged twins, coming back together after ten years after Milo's thwarted suicide attempt. Both wear the scars and not quite healed over tissue of their father's suicide, now barely holding on to lives of dashed dreams and self-assessed failures. Milo is a gay actor "living" in California, while Maggie is pretending to be happily married in their hometown of Nyack, New York. Following Milo's hospitalization, Maggie convinces him to move in temporarily with her and her outgoing, accepting quasi-goofball husband (Luke Wilson). Through the 93-minute snapshot of their manic moments and tragedian low points we find quick glimpses of their bond before they fade like an aged Polaroid. Shaken and stirred.

I doubt anyone could deny the palpable chemistry Hader and Wiig share; truly they are kindred spirits, brother and sister on and off-screen, and their moments of joy soar. Especially wonderful is a lip-synch battle they share to [Jefferson] Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," which endears us to these characters despite their eternal Mopiness of Doom. Both show a great range of emotion and acting range, which I find admirable--the balance of comedy and tragedy can be tremulous, risking mawkishness or overly dramatic swings, but both of these actors show they are far more than just gifted comedians. They earn our respect for their craft.

So look: I am not a hypocrite, not liking this movie because "it wasn't funny enough, I thought it was going to be a comedy like *Saturday Night Live*, but it was slow moving and depressing." No, as I've mentioned in previous commentaries I go into a movie on its own terms. And *The Skeleton Twins* is not in any form being promoted as a comedy. It's lifelike. I am sure it's a painfully accurate portrayal of mental illness as depression, and it's not a one-note, facile After School Special; it's sometimes raw, badgered by the consequences of actions taken or ignored. Milo and Maggie make self-destructive decisions in damaged relationships that invariably, obstinately refuse to elevate them, but offer more conclusive proof to them that they are not whole people. . .

And that is hard to watch. I understand: People seek connections sometimes out of desperation, out of fear, out of a nagging wish to reprieve themselves from the internal insistence that they are "not good enough" to be cared for. Milo and Maggie's parents did them no favors--their father was not distant but flat-out gone in the most permanent way, and their mother (Joanna Gleason) has retreated into a New Age escape (booby) hatch believing that all their problems can be healed by "cleansing their auras." Only Luke Wilson's Lance seems capable of offering the twins sincere, redemptive care--but Maggie can't understand what she's never felt and so learns late in the game the pain of facing herself truly.

We're dealing with heavy issues here--suicidal predisposition, abuse, past inappropriate relationships with a minor, adultery, abandonment and betrayal, dead goldfish! So this is a serious treatment of an emotional landmine field with dashes of improvised humor and love methodically buried right adjacent to the next buried explosive. So if you're a casual parachutist hovering over the terrain of *The Skeleton Twins*, be advised that you might want to be cautious where you land. You may enjoy the view from above, but when you come to land, all the pitted ground falls attract all your attention in a very sharp focus. Gravity sucks that way.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/11/2019, 3:17 pm

Post #166: According to folks from Ketchikan, Alaska, today's feature, *Cry Vengeance* (1954), is a fair and accurate presentation of the town, and for that alone they love the film. Personally, I've never been to Ketchikan or Alaska proper; in fact the closest I've ever come to the frozen north is when as a child I ate a lot of Eskimo Pies and later watched *Northern Exposure*. So my initial reaction to *Cry Vengeance* suggested that it was Half-Baked Alaska.

For me it's a fairly routine noir snatched from *The Big Heat* (1953) which I commented on some posts ago. It distinguishes itself from that superior noir in a couple ways, though the plot is very similar: Some days you just can't catch a break--Former San Francisco cop Vic Barrow's wife and daughter were killed in a car bombing meant for Vic, Vic escaped with half a face of Silly Putty and was then sentenced to a three-year prison term for bribery as part of a frame by the nasty critters responsible for the explosion. Now, having served his time and returned a hardened, bitter soul with a permanent scowl and only revenge on his mind, Vic tracks down the bad guys and goes to town. . . in Alaska.

Yup, we've traveled this road before, but despite some familiar scenery and the usual potholes we've come to expect, *Cry Vengeance* does have some unique landmarks along the way. Mark Stevens, who starred on TV's *Martin Kane, Private Eye* and *Big Town* around the time this film was released, directed and starred in this film. He's aided by Academy Award winner Martha Hyer as Peggy Chapman, a sympathetic tavern owner, whose chief duty is to look stunning and act as a moral compass for Vic the Vindicator. A blonder than blonde Skip Homeier is on hand as Roxey, a particularly unsavory sociopath who'd as soon smack his girl Lily (Joan Vohs) across the room as do a push-up.

But the target of Vic's vitriol is Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy) who has gone straight for three years, moved to Ketchikan with his cherubic daughter, changed his name, and become a model citizen sporting a trim 1950s mustache. Thus begins the moral quagmire, because unknown to Vic, Tino didn't order the fateful bombing--Roxey the hothead did--and Tino just wants bygones and a peaceful life raising his daughter to become the national ambassador to world peace and harmonic convergence.

So will Vic ventilate Tino, leaving his daughter without a father? Will Roxey plug Vic and slug Peggy after he grows tired of sparring with Lily? Will Vic become friends with Tino's daughter, immediately be reminded of his own daughter, and decide hey, we all make mistakes, and forgive Tino? Will Dr. Joel Fleischman find happiness and a full life with pilot Maggie O'Connell? [Whoops--that's *Northern Exposure* not *Cry Vengeance*] Well, most of those questions are answered in 83 minutes (not the *Northern Exposure* question, though) of dutiful late-day noir.

Skip Homeier is particularly fun to watch in this basic little potboiler. His Roxey talks through perpetually gritted teeth and loud sports coats and he relishes conflict, always ready with a snotty little needling that begs for a violent reaction. But his breadbasket is pure soggy Wonder Bread, his jaw smashes to bits if he tries to chew gum, and unless he has his gun ready, he folds over like a vintage newspaper kept in a clammy basement at the first hint of a gut punch. I have never seen a less capable hand-to-hand fighter in movies, while still somehow managing to exude an air of unmitigated evil. In several scenes we're treated to Roxey's mercilessly goading of Vic who then snaps him like a Frito without moving an eyebrow. Now THAT is fun.

Overall, though, *Cry Vengeance* suffers from fatigue. Mark Stevens' brooding menace and mopey demeanor makes him very difficult to feel for, and after he gives the mobster's angelic daughter a bullet as a "present for your father" he loses his Father Of The Year Award in my mind. And for pity's sake, people, couldn't the writers come up with a better phone number for Peggy to call than "4321"? How many times do we need to see Roxey smack Lily across the face or grab a fistful of her hair and then slam her head against the wall before we infer he's not a perfect gentleman? And if Lily has "changed," as she tells Vic with a hopeful glint in her eye, suggesting she's a better person than she was, why does she stick with Roxey's abuse and wear skin-tight leather pants--holy cow, what was she like before? Not judging, mind you, just sayin' . . . .

*Cry Vengeance* is not a waste of time, but you won't put it at the top of your noir favorites, either. It's a capable, nearly dismissible film unless you're from Alaska. But even then, you'd be better served watching Christopher Nolan's creepy and affecting *Insomnia* (2002) set in the Land of the Midnight Sun with a ravenously unraveling Al Pacino, a delectably evil Robin Williams and an underrated, dedicated Hillary Swank. Now THAT is baked Alaska that'll leave you hungry for more.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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