The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by ghemrats on 8/29/2019, 2:13 pm

A fiery force with the speed of night, a cloud of musk and a hearty "I own silver!" Never before in the pages of history, can one find a greater champion of just us. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear--*Dishonored Lady* (1947) writhes again.  


So who is this mysterious masked woman?  She's Madeleine Damien, art director for *Boulevard* magazine, also described by the doctor into whose house she has driven her sedan in a suicidal rage, "an intelligent woman, not an idiot." She is also Hedy Lamarr, who brandishes her masks with the sharp intensity of a diamond. Hard as cut crystal, jaded as a Chinese sculpture, cultured as a pearl, she remains as impenetrable as Fort Knox--unless she bathes herself in champagne, vodkas-and-tonic, Cosmopolitans and Annie Green Springs wine coolers. Then she's beluga puttin' on the Ritz cracker, and the line of society's gentlemen, Drew Cash-And-Carrys, are more than ready to come on down because the price is right as long as she's in her fine china cups.  But beneath those icy platinum masks is a lone arranger.  And she is quickly reaching her breaking point.

Directed by Robert Stevenson (under contract to David O. Selznick and best remembered for directing a stable of Disney films, including *Mary Poppins* (1964)) and produced by Jack Chertok (who produced 182 episodes of the *Lone Ranger TV series), *Dishonored Lady* is more a melodrama than a film noir, though it's often labeled a noir due to its third act involving murder.  Melodrama also figured prominently in the making of the film for several reasons: Hedy Lamarr and co-star John Loder (who plays wealthy taker-of-advantage Felix Courtland) were married during the filming and divorced  one year before the film came out; the Hays Office delayed filming on the basis of its "sordid passion," gratuitous sex (including Madeleine's dreaded, unsavory family secret which was excised from the final film), and affairs in Mexico also edited; the finished film went $1.2 million over its declared budget, and it never achieved any commercial success.

The weird fun of *Dishonored Lady* comes from two basic sources: the film is steeped in 1940s sexism as Madeleine is basically slut-shamed at every turn for being a successful woman--nudge nudge, wink wink, we know how she got that way, know what I mean know what I mean? She's a "goer," and she's even paraded in court as unscrupulous due to her shocking past.  The second source of weird energy comes as the filmmakers execute a set of acrobatic Twyla-Tharp-on-acid choreographic gyrations to avoid painting Madeleine as a nymphomaniac, even as her psychiatrist stumbles over his diagnosis that she is constantly “seeking reassurance in excitement,” rising from her daddy issues.  So submerged is the exacting nature of her depression and behavior, today's audiences could easily shake their heads wondering why she's so wracked with guilt to begin with.

When, in the words of a more sympathetic friend, she's "busy growing a new soul, so keep off the grass," she meets a fair haired pathologist, David Cousins (Dennis O'Keefe) and falls deeply in love for the first time in her life. And, wow, what a romantic pull he is--his idea of a keen evening is discussing his treatise on "the effect of anti-reticular serum on cell tissue."  (Oh, I am getting the vapors!) Clearly not too well versed in matters of the heart, when he learns that Madeleine has--gasp--kissed other men!, David spurns her on the spot and throws the city's biggest Pity Party, serving worms in the backyard as The First Man Ever Who Has Been Hurt.

True to the Hollywood ethos, we're supposed to root for David, as he embodies everything solid and lasting--science; a down-home aw-shucks modesty even though his work is, in Madeleine's gushing tribute, "important, isn’t it?  I mean, not just to you, but...really important”; and innocence of all things worldly, i.e. drinking Manhattans, dancing in Manhattan, dressing in tuxedos and being a fatuous ass in glass and chrome ballrooms.  Madeleine's hangers-on are clearly opportunistic gossip mongers and social climbing soul suckers feasting on her weaknesses, but since her lurid scandals of the past are so well buried, I never felt the palpitations of panic for the poor girl. And for me David was a boob; for all his superior scientific skill, he struck me as someone who could not tell a bosom from a blender.

As I mentioned, the late-in-the-game murder spices up an otherwise banal bandwagon of buffoonery--I mean, how many vapid vipers can we encounter in 85 minutes?  It turns out, a pretty impressive parade. And anyone who's seen two episodes of *Perry Mason* can laugh out loud at the fractured protocols in the court room scenes, not to mention the psychiatric malpractice practiced by Madeleine's mentor.  But who cares?  

Hedy Lamarr (who according to Harvey Korman in *Blazing Saddles* had "such tiny feet") does her best wringing life from Madeleine, and she actually championed the science angle of the film. Though it's not widely publicized, in her personal life she helped develop and patented a jamming-resistant radio guidance system for use in Allied torpedoes (it's known as spread spectrum telecommunications).  She sold the patent to the US government in 1942, and that technology now serves as the basis for our wireless networks and mobile phones.  [I'm not kidding here] Not bad for a dishonored lady.

And if you look carefully, you'll find Margaret Hamilton, the famed Wicked Witch Of The West, playing an Elmira Gulch wannabe (Mrs. Geiger) as Madeleine's landlady. You can also spot Natalie Schafer, who will go on to marry Thurston Howell III on a three-hour tour of a deserted island.  So if you want to spend a little time among the nattering glitterati knocking back dirty martinis loaded with Spanish Fly, share a couple glasses with *Dishonored Lady*--she'll leave you shaken but not stirred. And Tonto is nowhere in sight.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/30/2019, 3:21 pm

"WAR! Huhn! Good God, ya'll. What is it GOOD for? Absolutely--Nuthin', say it again. . . ." Evidently the majority of film goers who saw today's film agreed with Edwin Starr, because this one does not score very highly with critics.

*War Inc.* (2008) stars the film's co-writer and producer John Cusack, whom media pundit Chuck Klosterman holds responsible for sabotaging every relationship Klosterman has entered--after all, he did play Lloyd Dobler in *Say Anything* (1989) who set the tone for the sensitive male for all others who would follow in what *Entertainment Weekly* called "the greatest modern movie romance."

In *War Inc.* Cusack is no longer in high school, but reprises his role of hitman, which he honed in *Gross Pointe Blank* (1997).  It seems most critics and audiences loved that film (I did too) and have been let down by their expectations that *War Inc.* is its "spiritual cousin," as Cusack refers to *War Inc.*  You can't fault the roster of co-stars--Joan Cusack (John's sister and quite capable second banana), Marisa Tomei as a left-wing reporter, Hillary Duff as Middle Eastern pop star Yonica Bayyeah, Dan Aykroyd as a Dick Cheney stand-in, and Ben Kingsley who won a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor.  

Cusack is his usual smart self, which you may like or despise, which will color your appreciation of the film; Marisa Tomei tries a bit too hard to be hard as nails in her character--but I don't care; I like her in anything she's done; Hillary Duff is largely unrecognizable and to me is a strident, annoying, foul mouthed pop star, so she accomplishes her goal though for me she does not become sympathetic or interesting; and Ben Kingsley has adopted a dumb southern accent for reasons I'm not sure I understand.   Blink and you'll probably miss Dan Aykroyd.

Its satire of free enterprise farming out a war to a conglomerate has some promising possibilities, though the film itself lurches from disaster to impediment pretty pretty pretty pretty briskly.  My main complaint with it is its unevenness. As directed by the former US Vice President, Cusack's hitman Hauser positions himself to assassinate Omar Sharif, the Middle Eastern oil minister and CEO of Ugigas Oil, who plans to run a pipeline right through the opposing interests of the monolithic Tamerlane Corporation.  And since America is pro-business, the best way to ensure profits are not interrupted is through covert means.  This means Hauser must pose as the organizer of a Tamerlane trade show in the green "safe" zone of Turaqistan (known as The Emerald City); the show will be an orgiastic celebration of free enterprise culminating in the gala wedding of Yonica Babyyeah who sings such tunes as "I Want To Blow You. . . Up."  

Maybe it's because I like John Cusack and Marisa Tomei and basic satire anyway, but I did laugh at the film and generally enjoyed the anarchy and black humor of this frenetic film.  I know it's pedestrian, but I thought it was funny that Tamerlane Corporation housed a hi-tech bunker with jogging security squads beneath a Popeye's restaurant in a war torn, American sponsored Turaqistan.  And the high velocity pandering to patrons of the trade show was right on, especially if you have read Natalie Klein's article in *Harpers* which seems to have inspired at least some of the scenes in *War Inc.* ( http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2004/09/baghdad-year-zero-pillaging-iraq-pursuit-neo-con-utopia ; anyone interested in an interview with Klein, check here: ( https://www.democracynow.org/2004/9/20/baghdad_year_zero_pillaging_iraq_in )

Forty-six percent of reviewers on Amazon give it four- to five-stars, while 41% leave it at one- or two-stars, so audiences seem fairly well divided on the satire.  Interestingly, many of the one/two star folk complain they didn't make it through the first ten minutes.  I will save a rant for later but observe that I have walked out of only one movie in my movie going lifetime, and I still stand by it--*The Lords of Flatbush* (1974) starring Sylvester Stallone, Susan Blakely and Henry Winkler, a film capitalizing on the "Greaser" genre hot on the heels of *American Graffiti* (1973) that was so low budget that I couldn't see much beyond physical darkness on the screen, only the main characters' faces illuminated, and the actors appeared to be actually reading their lines from cue cards. (As a trivia fact, Richard Gere was originally on the film but left due to conflicts with Stallone) So I have urged myself to sit through some stinkers (*Idaho Transfer* (1973) comes to mind) but stayed with them before I rendered judgment.

I understand people turning off a movie after a few minutes because something offends them--how often have I tried to expand my wife's cinematic interests with a film I loved, only to hear her suggest, "Is this something we have to sit through? Is this how you want to waste your time?"  Okay, I get it: but how can you write a "review" of a film you haven't seen by saying its first ten minutes were boring?  Move on, but inform people of your base criteria for judgment.  When I was teaching, I tried wedging more than "I didn't like it" or "It was dumb" from students. That, to me, is not an intelligent response.  What are your guidelines for dumb-ness?

And so it is with this film. I liked it. I thought John and Joan Cusack were terrific bookends for one another, John frantically swigging tabasco sauce from a shot glass and Joan struggling to maintain control of the chaos. Marisa Tomei's journalist telegraphed her disdain for Hauser's bull early on, and she was right.  He did talk like a game show host--because that's his character, and she's perceptive enough to see through him.  I found the satire relevant and mostly sharp, more fun and more trenchant than similar recent films like *Whiskey Tango Foxtrot* (2016) with Tina Fey. The twist at the conclusion was clever, and while the overall film was sometimes as chaotic as war itself, and some of the gags fell flat, I was still glad to see that people can still make satire with a hint of *Dr. Strangelove* in their missions.

So while War itself ain't nothing but a heartbreaker, friend only to the undertaker, *War Inc.* still manages to wring out some sardonic laughs at the folly of man and the costs of doing business with the devil. And by the way, "Good God, ya'll" and "Absolutely nuthin'" were ad libs Edwin Starr riffed in during the recording of the song. My life is trivia if nothing else.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/31/2019, 1:57 pm

I was going to post the original theatrical trailer for today's feature, but it gave away too much, so we'll have to content ourselves with this TV spot, grainy though it is. Back in June I posted frustration at how many *Black Widow* movies were floating around, so before Marvel plops another one in our laps on May 1, 2020 (with Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz), here is a good noir from 1987 I alluded to two months ago.


*Black Widow* (1987) boasts a really impressive pedigree, so allow me to bore you with the roster of talented people associated with this cat-and-mouse mystery that jumps right into the fire, thus suspending much of the suspense right at the outset. Anyway: Debra Winger plays a zealous Department of Justice agent just this side of obsessed with Theresa Russell, who dispatches husbands with cool disdain. The title of the film kind of gives away a lot, as the opening scene is a funeral. So there's no pussy footing around here--within the first ten minutes we're on to our next Dead Husband before Dennis Hopper can even flash his maniacal grin; even though he's listed prominently in the credits, he's on his way into the ground after the briefest of cameos. Nicol Williamson fares a bit better--I think he's got just enough time to let us know he's a nice, unassuming guy.

In its 108 minute running time we're obviously less concerned with building a case against Theresa Russell (she might as well wear a placard around her neck proclaiming, "Will kill for money") as we are waiting to see if/how she's caught. But what a powerhouse of talent behind the proceedings: Bob Rafelson, known for founding the "New Hollywood" scene in the 1970s, was responsible for *Easy Rider* (producer, 1969), *Five Easy Pieces* (1970), *The Last Picture Show* (producer, 1971), the Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange remake of *The Postman Always Rings Twice* (1981)--and The Monkees.

His cinematographer on *Black Widow* was Conrad Hall, who filmed some greats--*Cool Hand Luke* (1967), *Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid* (1969) for which he won an Oscar, *Marathon Man* (1976), *American Beauty* (1999) and *Road To Perdition* (2002). The screenplay was penned by Ronald Bass, who would go on to write *Rain Man* (1988), and the musical soundtrack was supplied by one of my favorite movie composers Michael Small, known in Hollywood as "The Poet Of Paranoia" for such scores as *The Parallax View* (1974), *Marathon Man* (1977) and *The Star Chamber* (1983).

*Black Widow* to me rests comfortably in the neo-noir tradition of feisty femme fatale fables popular in the late '70s and '80s when studios didn't need to worry quite so much about the Hays Board whitewashing a tawdry tale. Now that we have "grown" as audiences, we can see every sordid detail in full Technicolor splendor. Heck, given the track record for this new Hollywood the sociopathic villain of today might even get away with murder, mayhem, sexual manipulation, cheating Cancer research out of an endowment, inducing a suicide at the muzzle of a gun, and even leaving a Bohemian cut crystal decanter in the bathroom sink. Will they know no limits in bad taste?

So begins the strange Unity Of Opposites that makes the film an enjoyable albeit not very taut "thriller." Debra Winger's Alex and Theresa Russell's Catherine, in the words of Jerry McGuire, "complete" each other. They form a Yin and Yang of carbon negatives as the story reveals Catherine's newest cash cow, the ruggedly continental Paul Nuytten (Sami Frey), an international hotel tycoon. Alex is a compact brunette with loose curly hair; Catherine is a tall, willowy blonde with hair so sharp you could cut a finger (or a throat) on it. Alex is married to her work with a utilitarian drive to fight for the greater good; Catherine is married to most of the Fortune 500 candidates with an egoistic self-preservation instinct that believes "Enough" is just a combination of consonants and vowels signifying nothing. Alex is socially inept, yearning for a person to appreciate her for who she is; Catherine is a sensual maneater who would scare the sh*t out of Hall and Oates. Alex is expressive facially, able to play poker with the boys, but just as quick to become an emotional chameleon with her body language; Catherine is impassive facially, a blank slate into which her prey can read anything they desire, which is usually roiling sexuality housed behind the glacial exterior, as she never smiles with her eyes. Alex is dogged in her determination to serve justice; Catherine is pure feline aloofness who knows the less interested she appears, the more stupid men will seek her out and plead with her to Please! Allow me to die of Ondine's Curse for you, I'll stop breathing in my sleep with a smile on my face while you rifle through my briefs and portfolios at the foot of the bed.

Okay, we know the drill, but the relatively tame fun comes from watching the two ladies circle each other in the arena. But I have to agree with the suggestion that there was a missed opportunity at work in the film, as the two leads signal a sub-current of eroticism in their attachment to one another. At one point Catherine, ever arctic, forcibly kisses Alex on the mouth, a mixed signal of erotic attraction, Judas Kissing and mob death sentencing. Now, I'm not advocating the film should have gone in that subtextual direction, but if you've ever seen Nicholson and Lange's animalistic wrestling in *The Postman Always Rings Twice* you might realize Rafelson was not above exploring the deeper impulses. But that kinetic charge could have pushed the noir aspect of the film a bit further; instead it's just tossed off. Consequently, as Roger Ebert pointed out, the film remains pretty pretty pretty pretty safe for the most part. Not that there's anything wrong with that. . . . its result just remains, Oh, okay. Well, that was interesting. . . .

Unless Scarlet Johannson's film does better next May, we can still relax on a lazy evening with this Black Widow without worrying that we'll succumb to sleep apnea either during or after the film. We may even find ourselves identifying with Theresa Russell's Catherine in wishing for a little more.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 8/31/2019, 3:58 pm

Thanks to this thread I am remembering old gems and finding new movies to watch. Top notch boffo box office thread that I visit everyday. We have some good activity on the CC now so happy for that.
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Post by ghemrats on 8/31/2019, 6:24 pm

Thanks, Seamus. It's good to know I'm not shouting into a vacuum with these notes. I appreciate your support muchly. Very Happy
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 9/1/2019, 9:09 am

Jeff, you are most assuredly not playing to an empty theater. You've added quite a few movies to my must see list. And you've hit the bulls eye for some of my all time favorites.

Now, here's one to consider for the future. I seldom get excited by new movie releases. We're on pretty much the same page, when it comes to the vast majority of movies released in this day and age. Too much flash, too much CG and not nearly enough story or acting. But I'm very hopeful for a movie scheduled for release on December 6th. The Aeronauts. A period piece, based on a true story. I'm sure that the "True Story" will be liberally salted with "Poetic License." As well as being given lots of CG and action adventure shove. But gosh darn it, I'm still excited.

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Post by Seamus on 9/1/2019, 9:37 am

I enjoyed this trailer even though I am well aware of the real story of the two men who actually accomplished this task. Glaisher and Coxwell had the high altitude ballooning record. Being an aeronautical buff I had come across this story years ago. Throwing in a woman as the aeronaut is like okay... yeah.

I find it absolutely nuts these two reach an altitude of nearly 37,000 feet without any protective gear or oxygen. They almost died and like the trailer Coxwell climbed out to release the stuck air release valve.

Fair play to these two going into the unknown but how much of history are we missing from the ones who went off and never came back from hair raising trials that were plain nuts. Balloon rises too high you suffocate. Lucky to have made it through.

At least when Zefram Cochrane took off he had Riker in the back seat telling him what to do.

Still I will be watching this movie and enjoying it for what it is a slice of adventure entertainment.
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Post by ghemrats on 9/1/2019, 4:02 pm

You guys are the best.  So now I must admit a glint of guilt as I offer you today's film. . . .


The old *Match Game* with Gene Rayburn continues to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures. One of the recurring jokes was about a horrible country from which nothing good came. NerdoCrumbezia.  And so it is with great trepidation that today's offering is the crowning achievement of NerdoCrumbezia's cinematic history, *Lifeforce* (1985).  Universally (appropriate since a good part of it takes place in space) *Lifeforce* has withstood the test of time to be one of the most reviled sci-fi films to be set to the screen.  Well, naturally with a reputation like that I had to buy it on Blu-Ray so my sons would inherit one of the finest DVD/Blu Ray Libraries I could amass.

Only recently has this space opera taken on new life (sorry, that pun was beneath even me). Directed by Tobe Hooper (heralded as the director of *Poltergeist* (1992) which won three Academy Award nominations) and *The Texas Chain Saw Massacre* (1974) which *The Guardian* described as "one of the most influential films ever made"), *Lifeforce* was a nightmare on many levels: shooting delays, cost overruns, technical malfunctions, such a bad reception in theaters it largely signaled the end of the director's career and doomed the future of its production company Cannon into bankruptcy, and then there was the problem of its running time, originally 128 minutes.  When trimmed to 101 minutes, the final version was a critical and audience mega-bomb. Janet Maslin of *The New York Times* wrote:

"About 30 seconds into Tobe Hooper’s “Lifeforce,” two things become clear: that this film is going to make no sense, and that Hooper’s directorial work on “Poltergeist” may indeed have been heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg, who wrote and co-produced that film. “Lifeforce” shows off Hooper’s way with a whirling mass of protoplasm, just as “Poltergeist” did. But its style is shrill and fragmented enough to turn “Lifeforce” into hysterical vampire porn."

Okay. But what did the author of the source novel Colin Wilson think about it? “John Fowles once told me that the film *The Magus* [made from his highly successful novel] was the worst movie ever made, [But] after seeing *Lifeforce*, I sent him a postcard, telling him I had done him one better.”

So what's the big deal with *Lifeforce* anyway?  Is it really that bad?  The answer lies in your ability to sit down to a huge banquet composed solely of an appetizer of Wensleydale cheese and a wedge of Cornish Yarg, a salad with Dorset Blue Vinney dressing, a main course of Blue Murder cubes served with a blue stilton sauce, and then for dessert an assortment of Red Windsor served on garlic crackers. Of course that includes a $5,000 Finlandia wine glass carved from gouda.  Yes, the movie is a British production powered by dairy and for some, bad taste.

Originally slated to be released as *The Space Vampires*, which kind of tips you off, eh?, the film starts with methodical patience with a mission to investigate a 150-mile-long craft housed in the tail of Halley's Comet. By the time that crew are finished, all but one are dead, petrified and left as crispy critters. But three aliens remain--their nude humanoid forms safely stored in clear hermetically sealed Tupperware, their naughty bits obscured by bands holding them down. One of them is a "woman" (Mathilda May, a 20-year-old French  ballet star who learned her dialogue phonetically for the film) who appears throughout most of the film "completely starkers" in the British parlance of the times.

Can you foresee any reasons for the film's failure yet?  If not, stay tuned. The Aliens are brought to earth and at breakneck speed start sucking the very soul--or lifeforce, get it?--from their hosts.  In proper stoic fashion, the Brits keep a stiff upper lip, registering indignant umbrage at this inconvenience. "Bloody hell" becomes the standard response to the desiccated hulks left by contact with the aliens. Only Peter Firth as Col. Colin Caine and Frank Finlay as Dr. Hans Fallada are moved enough to see the gravity of this assault. Meanwhile, in Texas, Steve Railsback as Col. Tom Carlsen, the last surviving member of the original mission, crash lands his escape pod and immediately hops a plane to London. Together the team of three track the trail of bodies like blown roses as the nude female alien, like Elvis, has left the building.  Thus we are treated to incisive dialogue: Col. Caine stares dispassionately at a wizened corpse, once one of his men, and intones solemnly, "And this was murder, you say?"

At this point evidently nude twenty-year-olds walking down the street are fairly commonplace in London. Even so, Little Annie Fanny exerts a special power that compels men to her, incapable of resisting her implacable draw.  "The web of destiny carries your blood and soul back to the genesis of my lifeform," she says at one point (she learned English for THIS?).  Evidently being nude alone is not enough to attract a man in London. She must be a sparkling conversationalist.

From here we're gonna have to face it--they're addicted to love: All those prunish victims, after two hours, come back to life, zombified and hungry for others to infect, i.e. Space Vampires. Now as you may guess, London becomes Ground Zero for the Apocalypse, as zombies are popping up like ugly Pop Tarts, becoming hordes of hungry cheese mongers. In the midst of all this chaos, Dr. Fallada maintains, "I mean, in a sense we're all vampires. We drain energy from other life forms. The difference is one of degree. That girl was no girl. She's totally alien to this planet and our life form... and totally dangerous."  Well, DUH!

Of course, that's not discounting her own personal charms, as the following exchange suggests:
Colonel Colin Caine: Tell me again how the girl overpowered you.
Dr. Bukovsky: She... was the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I have ever encountered. I was drawn to her on a level...
Colonel Colin Caine: Was it sexual?
Dr. Bukovsky: Yes. Overwhelmingly so, and horrible. Loss of control.


*Lifeforce* clips along like this without worrying too much about making sense, but technically that's one of the reasons it's realizing a resurgence now.  For some reason we've lost control. . . After 28 years of obscurity and indifference, *Lifeforce* was recently given the star treatment in February by Chicago's Music Box Theater as it celebrated a two week festival of movies shot in 70mm, the large-sized film format offering nearly twice the resolution of the standard 35mm. This little vampire that could stood alongside a screening of Kubrick's *2001: A Space Odyssey*, for Heaven's sake.  And its recent release on SHOUT! DVD and Blu-Ray has given it new life. . . and we didn't even need to swat spit with Little Annie Fanny.

For all its laughable goofiness (and there is a lot of it on display), it's offering us some great fun: We get to see Patrick Stewart's first on-screen kiss (really!)--with Steve Railsback--and the future Captain Picard demonstrates he can chew scenery with the best of them.  Steve Railsback is powerfully emotive with a furrowed brow and gaping scream.  Frank Finlay frowns better than any of his colleagues, and Mathilda May is. . . really naked, but gracefully so as she walks through broken glass.  Henry Mancini--yes, that one--provides a terrific score that soars and rumbles and brings a certain level of class to the asylum.  And above all John Dykstra--the FX genius behind *Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope*, Sam Raimi's *Spider-Man* films, *Star Trek: The Motion Picture* and countless others--provides the sweeping magic to the film.

Absolutely, *Lifeforce* is silly, wonderful to make fun of, earnest, messy, illogical, brimming with nudity and surprisingly quaint violence, over the top and under the radar, but you can't call it not entertaining.  Your experience of it will depend on your pain level and willingness to let go and just . . . lose. . . control. . . overwhelmingly so. . . Help support the economy of NerdoCrumbezia and watch this at your own risk.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 9/2/2019, 10:33 am

I saw this a while back and laughed my ass off. I did enjoy Patrick Stewart. It was a big messy slice of the 80's the fodder that is wound into the likes of Stranger Things.
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Post by ghemrats on 9/2/2019, 3:20 pm

Today is a day to celebrate: It's Labor Day, a time to commemorate pregnancy everywhere; it's the fiftieth anniversary of the ATM; and it's the last day of the 73rd Annual Michigan Bean Festival. So to honor these achievements of American ingenuity, prepare for a Double Feature!  Yes, hard to believe, but we have before us two similarly themed films which together--in terms of running time and quality--might make one fairly good movie: *Man Bait* (1952) and *Bait* (1954). Why, the titles alone set the blood to boiling, don't they? So sit back and relax--it's Labor Day.

First up: *Man Bait* (1952), because The First Rule of Cinematic Dynamics is start strong. That's why this Hammer Film Production, in its official British release, was originally titled *The Last Page* but was renamed for American theaters because Americans know the value of less lurid, more subtle marquee advertising.  *Man Bait* signals the beginning of director Terence Young's career at Hammer--Young would go on to develop the spate of B-horror Hammer pictures that ruled British cinemas in the '60s and '70s. It's also the first Hammer film to import American actors (second-tier or top talent fallen on hard times and willing to act for modest fees) in Hammer films to help US distribution.

But how is the film?  Well, it stars George Brent, Marguerite Chapman and a 20-year-old Diana Dors, a blonde bombshell who was touted as the Jayne Mansfield of Britain.  The story revolves around veddy propah book store owner (Brent) with a disabled wife who is drawn into a blackmail scheme after a momentary lapse of reason causing him to kiss (more like Eskimo kiss it's so chaste) his young clerk (Dors). Events spiral out of control in fine noir tradition with some intriguing twists as Brent and his secretary (Chapman) struggle to extricate the book store owner from tightening circumstance.

For all its 84 minutes *Man Bait* clips right along, though for me George Brent is a bit stiff and stodgy. I know he's supposed to be, and he bears the weight of dusty antiquarian books like he's stuffed most of them in his trousers and in a backpack, but beyond respectability I don't know what Marguerite Chapman's faithful Stella sees in him, because it isn't energy. It appears Brent's book store owner has picked up too many dusty volumes and is fighting a hernia at each step.

The real fun comes from Diana Dors' Ruby and her slimy scoundrel boyfriend Peter Reynolds' Jeffrey Hart, who configures the set up. Depending on your preference, you can see Ruby as a rather vulnerable dim bulb innocent taken in by the compelling affairs of the Hart, or if your inclinations pull you in the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who condemned Dors as a "wayward hussy," she is a budding opportunist whose sexuality is bursting like steam from an angry tea kettle.  Certainly the marketing of the film would have you believe the latter.  Posters for the film blatantly instruct Dors to arch her back in a pink bikini and look up from under the screaming copy: *The cards are STACKED. . . against any man who falls for her kind of MAN BAIT."  So we're back in the realm of a trap set with cheese.

Yet for all its sleazy suggestiveness the film never rises to the challenge of the posters. It's not an embarrassment of physicality (for that, watch yesterday's movie), and Dors' pout, while provocative, is more cute than decalcifying. (It is certainly easy to see what attracted *Family Feud*'s Richard Dawson to marry her from 1959-1966; she could balance a piano on that lower lip) So for audiences who flocked in to see a real potboiler, most undoubtedly got the flock out of their seats having cooled off with a good, tidy little noir rather than shaking their hands from something too hot to handle.  Ruby reminds me of a yapping puppy chasing a car, but who has no idea what to do with it when the car stops.  Which brings us to Peter Reynolds' turn as Jeffrey Hart, arguably one of the most narcissistic nimrods in nor-dom. Inept as a thief trying to steal a priceless first edition from the book store, he slithers his way into blackmail and more with the easy grace of an oil slick.  His interactions with Ruby make the film bristle with menace.

So don't let the title dissuade you from enjoying this film. It's not something you have to smuggle into the house in a paper bag for fear of being spotted with it.  To reiterate my first paragraph, it's pregnant with possibility, and A Tidy Movie that's full of beans, the perfect little diversion you don't need to labor through to enjoy.

Now I wish I could say the same about our second feature, *Bait* (1954) which is coming soon to a theater near the screen.

You've got to hand it to Hugo Haas, who produced, directed, wrote and stars in today's second of our Labor Day Double Feature, *Bait* (1954): In fact after watching this film, you WILL want to hand it to him, in the biggest Hefty bag you can find. To be fair, not all of Hugo's films are unbearable, though the inclusion of a grizzly in this shard of hokey smoke would add SOMETHING of interest; in fact, Hugo Haas has every right to be proud of his impressive list of roles as part of the Prague National Theater and a well known character actor in Hollywood in the '40s.

But *Bait*--another one of those weirdly titled promises of exploitation--is far from his crowning achievement. In the world of haberdashery it's a beanie with a broken propeller. Along with Haas, who plays Marko, an eccentric but driven gold miner who has searched twenty years for his missing mine, we have John Agar as Ray Brighton, his new partner, and Cleo Moore, known as the "Poverty Row Marilyn Monroe," who is really the focal point of the next 78 minutes.  

But wait! This masherpiece draws us in with a prologue conducted by The Devil Himself, a snappy dressing dandy besieged by autograph hunters, who breaks the fourth wall and addresses us as the moral voice of Chaos in the following story.  We could easily dismiss this jamoke if it weren't Sir Cedric Hardwicke, aloof and erudite as hell itself. He leads us into the convoluted fever dream of a forced romantic triangle among our principals. Marko is a crusty, disagreeable old gas bag who buries himself in the Bible while appearing to absorb none of its message. John Agar joins Marko in his search for his lost gold mine, spontaneously bursting into bizarre, open-mouthed laughter at the most questionable times for no discernible reason. And then we have Cleo Moore as Peggy, a hardened, smart mouthed virago whose sex appeal is supposed to leave us breathless. But contrary to the promotional posters, there is scant chance we're going to see her lounging around in carelessly trashy dishabille.

Marko, who doesn't appear to have the intellectual acuity of a boiled turnip, concocts an elaborate scheme to enlist the other two as hard labor and infidelity.  After spending a third of the movie berating Peggy, he marries her, ignores her and sets her up to shack up with Ray in the one room shack they share in the mountains. This will give him grounds to catch them in the act, kill them in a jealous fit, and keep all the gold they've excavated.  Which raises the question: Why doesn't he just leave Peggy alone at her crappy job in town, and beat Ray to death in the mountains with a nylon stocking?  Sure would save a lot of time and brain power, of which Marko has a limited supply anyway.

But then we wouldn't have the tantalizing prospect of adultery to dangle, would we? Agar and Moore do their best to keep their passions intact, though one scene in which Ray teaches Peggy how to roll a cigarette does stretch the constraints of the Hollywood Production Code of decency.  For her part Cleo Moore reins in her sexual chemistry while still parading in a silken slip, but overall her demeanor is so strident she cancels out any attraction--unless you're a dopey young guy with raging hormones and a forced laugh cooped up in the stifling isolation of a crepe-paper shack in the bitter cold of winter, as Chaucer called it "the time the stones die," with no other companionship than a grizzled old Bible inhaler who killed your dog.   Oh, wait a minute. . . maybe it's a trap! [Pause for reflection] Naaah, who'd want to watch that for 78 minutes?

The saddest thing about *Bait* is not its stupid plot, its nearly complete disregard for creating likable people, its thundering lack of suspense, or its squandering of dramatic tension. No, it's none of that. What's really distressing is finding out The Devil is an idiot who checks out from the film after the first five minutes, claims his paycheck in giddy satisfaction that his job is done, and leaves these three boobs to fend for themselves, thus proving Elie Wiesel's belief that "the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/3/2019, 3:50 pm

Survey Time: You know how classic old movies (i.e. movies made before 1968) scream their highlights in bold peel-away capital letters, usually on an angle?  How many of you kind folks actually found their claims true? When the good ole 1950s sci-fi monster movies shouted that you would "TREMBLE WITH TERROR" at the "GREATEST EVIL SCIENCE EVER UNLEASHED ON INNOCENT HUMANS," did all the shrieking come true when you saw the movie? When the romantic melodramas yelped "NEVER BEFORE IN THE ANNALS OF HUMAN HISTORY HAS THERE BEEN A LOVE SO PASSIONATELY TRUE, SO PULSE-POUNDINGLY PURE, AND YET SO TRAGICALLY MISUNDERSTOOD BY OTHERS," did you gasp at the star-crossed lovers' travails in the face of narrow-minded town folk who just would not accept them?  Chances are you answered Nope. Such outlandish self-promotions are usually employed by either buffoons or Presidents, sometimes both.


Which brings us to today's offering, whose trailer, like the film itself, seems to defy the unwritten rule of movie marketing: Above all, don't be honest about what people will actually experience in the theater.  Samuel Fuller's 1964 pulp fiction *The Naked Kiss* fulfills every promise made in the advertising. Truth be known, I really had to tussle with myself to determine if I would post this one, because my tolerance for shock is really high.  I can point to only a small grouping of films that made me reel back in disquieting surprise and left me asking How did they get away with THAT?  *The Naked Kiss* is one of them.

From the very first frame of the film we're beaten senseless--I am not kidding. The opening of this POV sequence shot with a flurry of blurry hand held fury smacks you in the face, repeatedly, until our heroine calmly stares into the camera while the credits roll. “Film is like a battleground,” Fuller once said, “with love, hate, action, violence, death . . . in one word, emotion.”  Well, prepare yourself, kids, because the salvos are streaking toward you before you can shout "Incoming."

Keep in mind that we visited Sam Fuller's universe a month ago in these posts with *The Crimson Kimono* (1959). Well, Sam has really hit stride with this one, which he produced, directed and wrote. In fact, if you watch carefully in *The Naked Kiss* you'll see our heroine walking past a movie theater playing his visceral 1963 film *Shock Corridor*. What a guy.

Kelly (Constance Towers, who in her later years starred in NBC's long-running soap opera *Another World*) leaves her explosive opening sequence and flashes forward a year to land in Norman Rockwell's backyard, Grantville, where she exerts her entrepreneurial impulses by selling Angel Foam Champagne from a suitcase for $10 a bottle.  Her first customer turns out to be Griff, Grantville's captain of police.  You might have guessed by this time that your ten bucks gets you more than bubbly (and you can read "bubbly" as a noun or an adjective, since both apply).  The next morning Griff tells her she can't sell her heady mixture in Grantville but can join Candy's emporium across the river, where "bon bons" are freely distributed under Candy's management.

After a lingering assessment in the mirror, Kelly decides to start fresh, forsaking her torturous past for a CHANCE AT HAPPINESS, seeking out a quaint Mayberry room with ruffles rented out by a cookie-dough-faced old spinster who talks to a mannequin's torso dressed as her deceased war hero beau.  "Do you realize we spend one-third of our lives in bed?" she asks Kelly, to whom the film cuts in close-up.  Wah-wah-wah. . . .

So begins Kelly's Path Back To Respectability. She starts working in a disabled children's ward of the Grantville Orthopaedic Medical Center, quickly establishing herself as "the best nurse in her wing." Over the course of the next half hour she's teaching crippled children of all races, creeds and ethnic backgrounds to walk and sing weirdly unnerving songs that will come back to creep the crap out of us. Oh yes, and along the way she falls in love with one of the town's founding family members, everybody's buddy, Grant, who has the face of ruggedly chiseled Play-Doh.

Together they listen to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, fantasize floating down Venetian canals in gondolas, discuss Goethe (whose name Kelly pronounces Go-thee), and stop just this shy of guzzling Angel Foam (nudge nudge) because Grant bestows upon her a "Naked Kiss." (I won't disclose what that is, as it's a spoiler, but chances are it's not what you think).  Let's just say, for the sake of suspense, that after they decide to marry, and Griff gets over his high-horse moral superiority (which he has no right lording over anyone), the story does not go as planned.  In fact, it honestly shocked me.

And by shock I mean full tilt Three Stooges Curly reaction. (I didn't really fall on my side and run in circles on the floor, but I did manage a face slap followed by a dead-on "Ngyong ngyong ngyong--woo woo woo woo woo!" incantation.) That was followed by an honest, mouth-hanging-open, "Sweet Fancy Moses! They can't do that in 1964, can they?" As I have warned you faithful friends in earlier posts, I react to film glandularly, and *The Naked Kiss* certainly grabbed me by the [fill in with your favorite gland].  The film takes such a nihilistic turn (well, in retrospect, it hadn't been so fully filled with unicorns and exploding daisies to begin with, but still!) I started to wonder if this whole show was going to turn into one of those great Looney Tune cartoons ("Falling Hare" (1943)) showing Bugs Bunny and a Gremlin going into a free fall in a P-38, plummeting toward the earth with ever-increasing speed until only vertical lines and whiz marks indicate our hero.

Of course if you've seen that cartoon, [Spoiler Alert] you realize the plane stops two inches from the ground, having run out of gasoline due to the war shortage.  So with *The Naked Kiss* you kind of hope it's going to end in that vein.  Don't ask me to reveal the end because I won't.  But it does make me realize that such a movie could not be made today with the same feral force because we've traded in rotary dial phones for stupid little palm puppies.

Constance Towers gives Kelly her all, and that's quite a bit.  Her opening scenes and subsequent tribulations allow her to twist her soft features into a rampaging rictus of pain and indignation if not primal madness.  When she's with the children she alternates toughness with tenderness, and her interactions with Candy form a Holy Schnikes! moment as she erupts from placid businesswoman to Tasmanian Devil.  Anthony Eisley as Griff, like most of the rest of the cast, is the embodiment of *Chicago*'s "Mr. Cellophane" since he's so transparent as a character he barely exists beyond his explosions of emotion. Virginia Gray's Candy is properly slimy, and you can keep your eyes ready for Russ Meyer's wife and early Playboy model Edy Williams as "Hatrack" so named because men want to park their chapeaus on her.  (If nothing else, after all the analysis of depravity, hypocrisy, masks of respectability, sexuality and violence, *The Naked Kiss* offers some great character names like Peanuts, Angel Face, Buff, Dusty, and Rembrandt.)

So if like Lou Reed you'd like to take a little walk on the wild side, you can find a little of everything in this one. It's like a Bizarro World game show posing such questions as What's an unlikely use for a clutch purse and a telephone?, How can you tell when a nurse is newly pregnant without her telling you?, and Why are we so quick to judge territorial prostitutes who karate chop their Johns if their eyes wander?  Answers to these and other questions can be exposed in this SIZZLING SENSATIONALIZED DRAMA SEETHING WITH SLEAZY INNUENDO AND TITILLATING TRAUMA THE LIKES OF WHICH THE WORLD HAS NEVER KNOWN!  IS REDEMPTION EVEN POSSIBLE IN THE RUTHLESS WHIRLPOOL OF BEDS, BOOZE AND BADNESS ACHING TO BE LEFT IN THE PAST?  All I can say is "Ngynong ngyong nyong, woo woo woo woo woo."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/4/2019, 1:21 pm

Here's a shout out to my friend Space Cadet, who has supplied our offering for today!

Here's a question: What if Scarlet O'Hara were a vain, manipulative, self-serving raven haired beauty whose only joy in life was amassing wealth and power while stabbing her friends in the back? Oh. Heck. She was. Well, forget I said that and apply it to Hedy Lemarr's Jenny Hager and change Atlanta to Bangor. Now you have the gist of today's offering--*The Strange Woman* (1946).

Looking every inch of her southern twin cousin Scarlet, Sister From Another Mister Jenny could go toe to toe in a cage match and probably best the belle. She starts young, giddily near-drowning her buddy Ephraim Poster, body blocking him into the pond and holding his head down with her foot, knowing he can't swim, but then "saves" him when adults stop by. But, hey, girls will be girls after all, as she proudly announces "I'm going to be beautiful one day." Yes, beautiful like trash in a pretty bucket.

Ten years pass in a ripple of the pond, and Jenny is in fact correct in her prediction, now antedating the ZZ Topp admonition "She's got le-egs (and bosom and pretty face), she knows how to use them. She never begs, she knows how to choose them." So when her drunken, abusive father catches her flirting with sailors (she was rotten to the corps but great to the infantry), he savagely whips her, whips her good, though she doesn't seem to mind all that much and turns it to her sympathetic advantage. She is "adopted" by the kindly, stodgy, mutton-chopped but filthy rich Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockhart), conveniently Ephraim's father, whom she later marries.

Strangely enough, she becomes a strong advocate for the downtrodden, while spouting such liberating lines as, "Every time I say something honest about men and women, you say 'Jenny!' Why does a proper lady have to be embarrassed about plain talk? It isn't honest, and it makes for old maids." Oh, she's a spitfire all right. And since she's so progressive in her pontification of women's roles, she doesn't allow a messy little complication like marriage to stand in her way when someone younger and more handsome--Ephraim, let's say--pops into her line of sight.

Hedy Lemarr sparkles in her portrayal of this beautiful bee-yotch who's not above adding murder by proxy to her strengths. Her seductive narrowing-of-sidelong glances, by today's standards, may make you wonder how the men around her could be so stupid to fall for such blatant displays of will twisting. But come on, it's 1824 and women are the weaker sex. Even the staunchly principled George Sanders, engaged to a lovely young Hillary Brooke, Jenny's best friend, refuses to recognize her machinations. When Jenny's carefully calculated three-hour tour of the countryside "strands" them in a thunderous storm after Jenny sends the horses away with a smack, goodman John suggests they walk the ten miles back to town. But heavy lidded Jenny, in weirdly out of place slippers, pleads, "But... the rain. You know what happens to the roads in the rain." But stalwart John, hardly wavering, slightly answers, "Yes, they get very muddy, but they don't change the direction." Neither does Jenny. And soon principles fall like darkness (and like gowns from shoulders) in the little hut, and John spring boards into the passion pit.

Can you almost hear Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels howling in the distance, "Oh see, see see rider, I said see, what you have done now, Ahh you made me love you, Jenny Jenny Jenny wooo Jenny Jenny, I worry bout you baby (spendin nights in misery)?" Yes, the Hays Code was still holding some sway in 1946, so buckle up while Jenny takes a ride.

*The Strange Woman* is sometimes referred to as a "noir," but it's not really. The twisted Machiavellian overtones are strong, death lingers around the corner, and Hedy Lemarr is a classic femme fatale, but it's much more a straight period drama than a noir. Oh, there are finely crafted shadows and rather fine production values at work here since Hedy and *The Lone Ranger*'s Jack Chertok produced the endeavor. The costumes are striking, with Hedy Lemarr providing ample justice, if not to the characters she encounters, to the gowns she wears so well, and there's a real effort employed to create 19th century Maine. And Hedy herself is a bold embodiment of evil when she wears black, her ensemble igniting her fiery eyes and shining updo. But her real acting comes from her eyes as they radiate smutty self-satisfaction in gorgeous black and white.

So, no, *The Strange Woman* is not part of the Marvel franchise capitalizing on a mystical paramour of the signature Doctor, shooting odd runic hexagons from her palms and twisting reality to meet her own desires. This Strange Woman doesn't need no stinkin' batches of magic to get what she wants--she has something much more insidious and powerful at her disposal: a strong woman's charms.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/5/2019, 1:52 pm

"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."  So sings Scott McKenzie in a fey warbling sort of way that would immediately get him rapped in the mouth, run over by a careening taxi or flat out shot with a long-barrel silencer extending the metaphor of a hitman's gun.  And if you wear flowers in your hair, you'd better make sure they're tucked under your wide brimmed hat that never comes off, even in the worst fist fight of you life. . . because you're in the Bay City of *The Lineup* (1958), an early directorial wonder by Don Siegel, who already scared the pods out of people in *Invasion of the Body-Snatchers* (1956) and would go on to ask if you felt lucky--well, do ya, PUNK?--via *Dirty Harry* (1971).


Based on the CBS radio and television series, *The Lineup* (1958) offers a slam-bang opening even before the credits, then settles into a sturdy, if uninspiring police procedural for about forty minutes before exploding into a final forty minutes of sharply etched character studies, car chases and unexpected hairpin violence that make you wonder if Siegel is like that strikingly gorgeous, sweet-tempered girl-next-door cheerleader you knew in high school who had an All-American, well scrubbed Idaho-potato reputation but after graduation was discovered to have founded and chaired the volatile local chapter of The Symbionese Weathergirl Brigade For The Radical Overthrow of Domestication and Subjugation of Young Women Everywhere who were arrested for carving obscene crop circles in Farmer Peet's Corn Maze.   Or not.

(Once again, I wrote that last exhausting sentence to hammer home a point--once Siegel gets started, he doesn't let up or let go for a second.)

*The Lineup* is best known for its historic backdrop of San Francisco as actual locations figure prominently in the script. Heroin is being smuggled into the city at an alarming rate, and it's up to our stalwart police Lt. Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson, known even more for his voice than his permanent scowl) and Inspector Al Quine (Emile Meyer, whose face we surmise has been molded from Silly Putty and punched askew from the mouth down) to push back the growing tide. Together they are all business, professional without the expansive flamboyance of Joe Friday.  Consequently, their dynamic flair for the job exhibits the pulse pounding tension of applying lacquer to a tabletop.

But when we're introduced to our antagonists, under the direction of The Man (Vaughn Taylor, who is a menace of silence), the narrative slams on the accelerator.  Dancer (Eli Wallach in his early days, fresh from his controversial role in Elia Kazan's *Baby Doll* (1956)) is a grenade without a pin, a perfectly disquieting sadist with the patience of a fruit fly. His partner Julian (Robert Keith as the simmering voice of quasi-reason) is Dancer's "handler," a more even tempered, slick philosopher who keeps a journal of their victims' last words. Clearly, these guys are not folks you'd like to have over for the neighborhood barbecue, but Siegel obviously enjoys working with them far more than the police.

The scenes with Dancer and Julian crackle with electricity and life, even though their business is death. Along for the ride, quite literally, is Richard Jaeckel's blonde-coiffed Sandy McLain, their getaway driver with a penchant for guzzling Bosco straight from the bottle, although it might be something stronger.  He's the rookie who seems to be trying hard to predict *77 Sunset Strip*'s Edd Byrnes' Kooky Kooky Lend Me Your Comb kool kat demeanor. All together they form an ominous Three Stooges if Moe were even more homicidal and destructive than he usually is.

Eli Wallach drives the second half of the film, even as Jaeckel powers their car through one of the most frenetic car chases that wouldn't be beaten in streets of San Francisco for another ten years with *Bullitt*, culminating in the same stretch of The Embarcadero audiences would see in *Freebie And The Bean* (posted earlier here). Through it all Wallach's Dancer reads books on English grammar and usage to "improve himself," and unflinchingly leaves a trail of bodies in twisted heaps. Service with a smile, and not a particularly ingratiating one.  The alternating charm and malice he shows a young woman and her daughter who later become kidnap victims are as unnerving as they are compelling.

And his electric encounter with The Man is a major highlight as the loquacious blathering Dancer dances around the silent wheelchair bound Man who barely moves facial musculature and retains the power of a tightly coiled serpent. Yeesh.

But if your sense and sensibilities lie more in the safety of law enforcement, you can still enjoy the early minutes of the film when we follow the Lt. and Inspector’s lead of Philip Dressler, an uptight businessman who has just returned from Japan with a suitcase full of bric a brac, which just MAY conceal contraband. What makes this interesting is who Philip Dressler is—none other than Raymond Bailey, aka Mr. Drysdale from *The Beverly Hillbillies*. His presence now answers the age-old question of where he got all that money as a “bank president”—he was a heroin smuggler! Oh, Miss Hathaway would faint dead away at the truth. . . .

So underneath the cacophony of screaming sirens, skidding brakes, the fusillade of gunfire and the occasional thudding of a body hitting the ground, if you listen hard enough you can still hear Scott McKenzie's wistful advice, "If you're going to San Francisco, You're gonna meet some gentle people there."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/6/2019, 3:25 pm

This one goes out in all its Irish Glory to my spiritual brother Seamus.

I may have mentioned in passing that my wife has seen every Hallmark movie seven to ten times, so that sometimes in her sleep she smiles and utters "Oh, Prince Gregory of Sugartonia , how can I, a lowly chocolatier from Tawas, compete with the glamorous Coffee Princess Daphne of Sludgeperkistan? What? You'll give up your kingdom for happiness with ME?" (My wife has extraordinary breath control)

Now in that short introduction, you might note a certain eye-rolling tolerance I hold for formulaic romantic comedies. I tend to get hives the instant I catch sight of a small crown in the lower right corner of the TV screen. "Oh, this one is different," my wife will say. "This one is *Popsicles and Icicles* with Lacy Chabert and Danica McKeller as two perky but lonely owners of a quaint antique shop in a small Cape Cod village who find love and fulfillment in the affections of twin Good Humor ice cream truck vendors. . . .It also has Ed Asner as a crusty but benign angel. . . " It will end with a pan to the sky accompanied by swirling violins in the background.


So when I bought today's offering, an Irish film, *Satellites and Meteorites" (2009), despite the lone Amazon two-star review yelling at me that it was "LAAAME!", I hesitated only slightly. Even if it did turn out to be a Gaelic Greeting Card, it still had Amy Huberman in it, and I have loved Amy Huberman after bingeing the Irish series she wrote and starred in, *Finding Joy*. (Really recommend it if you don't mind some swearing). Last night I girded my loins and plopped it in the DVD player.

Taking a rhetorical lesson from Amazon, I can tell you I FOUND IT WONDERFUL! Filmed in three weeks on location in the Hermitage Medical Clinic, Dublin, Tyrrelstown and Dunboyne, *Satellites and Meteorites* is--to us, yes, lo and behold I agree with Joyce--a charming, quirky comedy-romance with Amy Huberman and Adam Fergus as Lucinda and Daniel whose relationship is freighted with metaphysical complications. I honestly don't want to give away too much here, but as their affection for one another grows, it's also complicated with serious existential impediments.

Okay, that makes it sound more intellectual than it is. . . but it's that philosophical underpinning that makes this such a fun film. Lucinda is an effusive American satellite engineer alone in Ireland at a large conglomerate, and Daniel is a wealthy novelist whose playful imagination at times becomes unwieldy. Their night sky blazes with a meteor shower that knocks out satellites under Lucinda's charge. . . or does it? At the periphery of the story, folding in gradually to become central to the batter, are a doctor John and nurse Isabelle (Geoff Minogue and Joanne Crawford) treating two comatose patients in their ward.

Shot on Fuji S16mm, the film plays with its characters just as it plays with the audience. According to Carey Fitzgerald, managing director for High Point studios, "'Satellites & Meteorites' is a charming gem which manages both to tap into the imagination, with its parallel universe angle, and to pull the heart strings as the story of two people destined to be together. . . .The growing success of 'Satellites & Meteorites' just goes to show how small, low-budget gems such as this can enjoy just as much success worldwide as their bigger, more obvious cousins. Its combination of parallel universe theme and feel-good love story has proven to be a winning formula in today’s rather gloomy climate."

And it's that "parallel universe" angle that sets this film apart from mass-produced pablum. Writer and director Rick Larkin, in his film debut, has crafted a crafty, sweet and finely layered examination of connectivity and the need to establish meaningful interactions--and sustain them. Larkin credits the core of the film's inception with a small meteorite that fell to his garden, but his story is much more fully textured than just an incident of happenstance in the Irish countryside. It becomes a playful examination of perception and reality using the fantasy context to explore those realms we've been struggling to understand for centuries--what makes the mind work and does the soul bind us to one another?

It would appear (it's all real) a good number of people still allow flights of romantic fantasy to invade the hard-edged cynicism we so often see on display in today's media. Winning an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, *Satellites and Meteorites* has also a nice cache of 2009 awards and nominations in its coffers--at Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, it won Best Onscreen Couple, Santa Cruz Film Festival awarded it the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film, Rhode Island's International Film Festival awarded it Best Editing--all most deserving. The Montreal World Film Festival nominated Rick Larkin for Best Direction.

Even though my posts seem larded with noir, I quietly assert I am a soppy sentimentalist at heart, and when a smart little shard of romanticism like *Satellites and Meteorites* crashes into my backyard, if it's well done, I'll be the first to dig it up and exhibit it in the glass case of Facebook. Look carefully and you'll see little sparkles and shining in that chip of Irish stone. It will play with the light and shoot some quasars in your direction, temporarily blinding you and causing you to wonder why some of those people around you bear different names than you remember; you may be momentarily disoriented, questioning what's illusion and what's true, but in the final analysis, as Lucinda's mantra suggests. . . It's all real.

And for me, I'll take that reality over Coffee Princess Daphne from Sludgeperkistan any day of the week.
Sláinte mhaith,
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 9/6/2019, 5:58 pm

Ah sure doesn't it warm my Irish heart that you posted this movie Jeff. I do like Amy Huberman and Adam Fergus is a fave. See him in the brilliant Canadian show called "Being Erica" This was a good Irish movie twist my arm and I will post a list of Indie Irish movies that will have you on the floor they are so good.

Go raibh maith agat Jeff
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Post by ghemrats on 9/6/2019, 6:07 pm

Consider your fine Irish arm twisted, my friend.

Go raibh míle maith agat!
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 9/6/2019, 7:32 pm

Here are some of my faves

The Guard
Perrier's Bounty
The Button War
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Into The West
Ondine
Waking Ned Devine
The Secret of Roan Inish
The Butcher Boy
The Boys from County Clare
Frank (totally off the wall this one)
Grabbers(Irish scifi horror total fun)
The Disappearance of Finbar
The Field (Classic Irish movie where everyone ends up losing everything)

Lots more but its a good start
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Post by ghemrats on 9/7/2019, 3:51 pm

Thank you, Seamus. I must admit to seeing only two of those, and *Waking Ned Devine* chokes me up everytime I watch it.  Today, we're leaving Ireland for Algiers a handful of years before Bogart decided not to stick his neck out for nobody.

Sharif may not like it, but today we're going to rock the Casbah with the inspiration of the classic *Casablanca* and Pepe Le Pew.  In honor of Post #125, today's travelogue takes us to *Algiers* (1938) with Charles Boyer, Hedy Lemarr in her first American film, and Sigrid Gurie.  Interesting to me is knowing *Casablanca*--one of my top favorites of all time--was originally written with Hedy Lemarr in mind.  I wonder how that would have altered Bogart's portrayal of Rick? (Trivia time: Hedy had appeared nude in a 1933 Czech film *Ekstace* (in which she provided an overly suggestive orgasm) which concerned MGM's publicity department head Howard Dietz. He asked her,  "Did you look good?" to which she answered, "Of course!"  "Then it's all right", he said, "no damage has been done.") As it turned out, MGM would not release Hedy from her contract to star in the Warner Brothers film, and history was made. *Casablanca* screenwriter Julius Epstein pitched an exhaustive summary of his film to David O. Selnick, finally concluding, "Oh, what the hell! It's going to be a lot of shit like 'Algiers'!"

But I digress. The suave Charles Boyer here is Pepe Le Moko, a slippery French jewel thief who has housed himself in the hedge maze of the Casbah, the native quarter of Algiers, for two years of self-imposed exile.  Within its corkscrew of interlocking alleyways, hidden passages and teeming marketplace Pepe lords over the Casbah denizens like an approachable, well respected and charismatic celebrity-next-door in a den of thieves.  He is sought after with equal obsessive zeal by the police and his mistress Ines (the sultry Norwegian actress Sigrid Gurie, who generates enough extra heat to peel the wallpaper off Pepe's opulent flat).  Yet he evades all intrusions into his private life with the graceful aplomb of an ice cube on Arizona asphalt.

. . .Until the smokey Gaby (Hedy Lemarr), a French tourist, attracts his sly gaze.  Now Charles Boyer is too much of a smooth operator to allow his eyes to expand and bulge from its sockets like a Tex Avery Wolf salivating over a chorus girl, but there's no mistaking the spike in his electricity bill when he crosses her path. And for the most part--that's the plot.  And that's enough as the non-stop assembly line of supporting colorful characters keeps pumping them through with Boyer, Lemarr and Gurie looking every bit the glamorous late 1930s prototypes they are.  

*Algiers* earned an impressive list of awards--This is Gene Lockhart's (June's father and an exceedingly recognizable character actor on his own) first and only Academy Award nomination; Charles Boyer was nominated for Best Actor; Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography nominations followed, with actual Algerian exteriors and backgrounds interpolated into the finished film. Joseph Calleia received the 1938 National Board of Review Award for his performance as Slimane, the determined police Inspector.

But for me, along with the claustrophobic streets twisting through the 16th century walled fortress, the intensely rich texture in the classic black and white print, and the time-honored close-ups that fill the screen, one of the greatest pulls of the film is its dialogue, augmented by the gritty ashcan poet James M. Cain (*Double Indemnity*, *The Postman Always Rings Twice*, *Mildred Pierce* and many other hardboiled masterpieces). "If I can't see Paris when I open my eyes in the morning, I want to go right back to sleep," breathes Gaby at one point, igniting already flaming passions in the Parisian Pepe.  The crisp exchanges throughout *Algiers* alone make this a fun viewing for a rainy afternoon. When Commissioner Janvier enjoins Inspector Slimane, we have this taut exchange:  “When one can’t choose guns one must work with written brains.” Slimane: “I prefer guns.” Janvier: “In your case, honest sir, such a preference is unavoidable.”

And now, to sweeten your enjoyment, let's cover a couple of the controversies swirling around the film. Director John Cromwell (*Prisoner of Zenda*, *Anna And The King Of Siam*, *Dead Reckoning*) so closely followed the original French Jean Gabin film *Pepe Le Moka* (1937), that Boyer had a "terrible time" filming, feeling the scene-by-scene shooting following the original film inhibited his performance, as if Cromwell wanted him to duplicate Gabin's approach.
   
Boyer also had no ambivalent feelings toward the film in later years since nowhere in the film does he utter the line "Come with me to the Casbah."  He said, "In America, when you have an accent, in the mind of the people they associate you with kissing hands and being gallant. I think this has harmed me, just as it has harmed me to be followed and plagued by a line I never even said."

Additionally, Cromwell had little respect for Hedy Lemarr's performance, once suggesting, "She had presence, but no personality. He [Boyer] sensed a lack of confidence in her, which she sometimes revealed in a slight arrogance. He acted with sincerity and with integrity, and she responded to it. . . . How could they think she could become a second Garbo? … I'll take some credit for making her acting passable but can only share credit with Boyer fifty-fifty." She earned her contracted weekly salary of $550/week, while asserting, “We European actresses have to fight harder in Hollywood . . . I have much more to learn . . . I want to earn my salary. I take my work very seriously. It means everything to me."

Then there were the complications drawn from the Hays Code, resulting in a couple pivotal changes: The depiction of "lewd women" and prostitution in and around the Casbah had to be toned down considerably, Pepe's rumored insatiable appetite for promiscuity was hosed down with cold water, and his proposed suicide was altered for dramatic effect and common decency.  Still, the film cost $691,833 to make, grossing $951,801 with a net profit of $150,466, and a future cumulative earning of $2.4 million in U.S. rentals alone.  

So if you're a *Casablanca* maven like me, or if you've seen the original French *Pepe Le Moko* (I have not yet, but have the Criterion Collection edition coming), or if you just like watching stories of betrayal, romance with the odds stacked against you, smoldering jealousy in exotic locales, give *Algiers* a shot--but preferably not from the barrel of a French Inspector's gun.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/8/2019, 5:49 pm

Congratulate me! This is my lucky day! (I know I've said before that I eschew the use of exclamation points, especially in these days of the hyperbolic explosions of their usage--in writing courses I call it diarrhea of the expletive. But today I feel it's warranted:) I just received an email from a Nigerian Prince whose father is a recently deposed African potentate, and he's transferred a sizable fortune--I'd prefer not to publicize the amount, but it's a lot--to an English barrister who has been instructed to transfer those funds to ME! I just have to supply him with my bank's routing number, and the funds will be disbursed immediately. Now, I don't want to be a hog with this, so each of you can expect a small windfall shortly because I appreciate all the support and kindness you've shown me and Mrs. Ghemrats, and I trust you implicitly. . . .


And since today signals such a flood of good fortune, I want to share with you a favorite quote. You may know I love collecting quotes; it's so much easier than creating my own pithy thoughts. So here's a relevant thought from the great philosopher Lemony Snicket to celebrate and introduce our film: “Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch or you might simply get covered in sap and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors where it is harder to get a splinter.”

It is no coincidence, then, that today's offering *The Spanish Prisoner* (1997) written and directed by David Mamet explores the subject of trust, a commodity Brandon Sanderson called "a willful self-delusion." So it is that our protagonist Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) comes to develop simultaneously a glowing innocence and a creeping paranoia when it comes to his development of The Process, a potentially exponentially lucrative MacGuffin for the corporation employing him. When he flies to a island resort in St. Estephe to pitch his Process to company investors, Joe snaps a photo of his secretary (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife), unwittingly catching a man and woman in the background. A man who values his privacy, Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin in sunglasses) approaches Joe and offers him $1,000 for his camera, presumably to protect his paramour's reputation. After all, Jimmy is, by his own admission, "a problem solver, with a heart of gold." Thus begins a complex twisting tale of friendship, shifting allegiances, self-protection greed, and yes, self-deceit.

To say much about the plot would destroy your enjoyment, so let's concentrate on some spoiler-free notes that might enhance your experience of this fascinating drama. First of all, David Mamet is known for his Howard Hawksian, layered, overlapping staccato dialogue. Usually it's peppered with cursing, resulting in what has come to be known as "Mamet-speak," or the poetry of profanity, but here there is nary a harsh word spoken, allowing Mamet to earn his first PG rating. But it still holds the old Mamet zing. Jimmy ramps up Joe's worries about The Process and his stake in it with this exchange: "I think you'll find that if what you've done for them [his employers] is as valuable as you say it is, if they are indebted to you morally but not legally, my experience is they will give you nothing, and they will begin to act cruelly toward you. . . . To suppress their guilt."

Mamet wrote the role of Jimmy Dell expressly for Steve Martin, believing the comedian would add a powerful presence to the drama, by directing him as a confident, mercurial, and sometimes aloof character, tantalizing the wide eyed boy scout Joe with spontaneous acts of kindness. In *The Spanish Prisoner* you won't find the same Steve who wore an arrow through his head and played the banjo with an infectious grin like he was wearing a coat hanger in his mouth. No, here he is serious, near sullen at times, well mannered but charismatic. It's all subtle, underscoring the mounting isolation Joe feels while the plot tightens in the best Hitchcock tradition--the good guy trapped in a maze of his own undoing.

Knowing Mamet is so well schooled in suspense, let's toss this out: is it any coincidence that Franz Kafka's *The Trial* is translated from the German *Der Prozess*, and its protagonist, caught in a serpentine scenario, is also named Joseph? Heck, I don't know, but it fills up space here, doesn't it? But there is a sense of growing dread and judgment with more than a hint of bureaucratic busyness in his film--between Joe's boss (Ben Gazzara) and the stone faced FBI team (Felicity Huffman--how ironic in retrospect--and Ed O'Neill, Ed Bundy In Charge?) and surrounded at every turn by promotional posters at his business ("Someone Talked!") and at the opening shot in the airport ("Do Not Accept Packages From Other People"). Finding himself enmeshed in a tightly constructed frame-up, perhaps Joe should have heeded the words of Jimmy early on in the film: “Always do business as if the person you're doing business with is trying to screw you, because he probably is. And if he's not, you can be pleasantly surprised.”

For me music can help define a film, and personally I think Carter Burwell is at the top of the composers' list for efficacy. He's a near-constant for the Coen Brothers, scoring fourteen of their films, including a folky hokey score for *Raising Arizona* that is immediately recognizable and quirky. Recipient of the ASCAP Henry Mancini Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and nominated for one Satellite and one Saturn award, three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for best score, Burwell's understated, methodical style is on full display in this picture: it signals both menace and quiet comfort in the same chord structure.

*The Spanish Prisoner* is a spellbinding mystery that fuses all of its cinematic elements to create a well tailored tale which may have you question how you assess truth and misrepresentation. In a time when "truthiness" (the winner of the 2005 American Dialect Society's Word of the Year, and was acknowledged by Merriam-Webster the following year) has become not just part of our lexicon but a bankable skill, practiced repeatedly by an elected official who has lied to the American people over an estimated 10,000 times in the past three years, it would seem we're groomed, like Joe Ross, as fodder to keep America's Con-fidence Rating burgeoning.

So I endorse this movie as a good time, a sharp commentary on trust, and a primer on the consequences of desiring truth. Now personally I'm not so cynical as H. L. Mencken who said he was suspicious of all the things the average people believes, but I would like to hope I am trustworthy. And judging from the amount of confidence entrusted to me by my email friend the Nigerian Prince, I feel pretty good about myself and my anti-gullibility shield. BTW: Be on the lookout for that prize money I'll be sending as soon as the money clears customs.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 9/9/2019, 7:45 am

Thanks Jeff since this is guaranteed money I have already spent my share on a top of the line new McIntosh stereo system. It was worth every penny of the $175,000 the Nigerian prince spent on it. Its studio reference the Turntable plinth is 275 pounds. The Nautilus speakers are 6 feet tall and I got 8. The sound is phenomenal. Right now playing Prince's Let get Crazy as its so appropriate.

Alagba yii yoo sanwo fun gbogbo rẹ
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Post by ghemrats on 9/9/2019, 2:16 pm

Harry Nilsson wrote a ton of great songs, but the one standing at the forefront of my reaction to today's film was *Joy*. Here's an excerpt: "The other day, I met a girl named Joy/She said, 'Come here, I'm going to make you my Joy Boy'/Well, things went good, things went bad/Now every time I think of Joy it makes me sad. . . Joy to the world was a beautiful girl/But to me Joy meant only sorrow. . . " But then what other reaction would be suitable for a film entitled *Melancholia*(2011)?

I should have known what to expect, given the titular condition that drenches the film and having seen one of director Lars von Trier's other films *Breaking The Waves* (1997) with Emily Watson over twenty years ago. CLARIFICATION: I didn't see the film with Emily Watson--by that time I was married nearly twenty years, and Joyce would have frowned on that--Watson was the star. For you folks who have not encountered Lars von Trier, you should know he's Danish, so following in Hamlet's footsteps, he suffers from severe bouts of depression. With that mindset, approaching one of his films is akin to running full tilt into a circular band saw or willingly embracing a shower of ball peen hammers emotionally--in slow motion. Except it's aesthetically beautiful to watch.

In "Melancholia*'s gorgeous prologue, we languish in a succession of lushly choreographed shots that are as enigmatic as they are breathtaking in exceptionally slow motion: A close-up of star Kirsten Durst slowly opening her eyes as if from sleep as small birds waft behind her, falling from the bleached sky; a sundial at a vast estate registering two shadows; a close-up of Breugel's "Hunters In The Snow (Winter)" curling at the edges and blackening; celestial bodies; a mother carrying her son trudging across a saturated golf course; a horse gracefully falling to its knees; white butterflies and white flecks swirling around Kirsten Dunst, arms outstretched; a wedding party at night; more celestial bodies; light escaping Kirsten's fingers; a bride (KD again) struggling to move forward as skeletal trees and plants tug at her; more planetary action; an interior mansion shot; KD floating in her wedding gown as Ophelia in water; a boy whittling away at a thin tree branch, preparing a "cave" as KD approaches stage right; planets. This is set to Wagner's sweeping *Tristan And Isolde*, which becomes a thread through the entire film. Dang.

Are you depressed yet? Perhaps it would help if you knew "Melancholia" is the name given to a small planet set on a collision course for Earth, and what we've been visiting for the first eight minutes of the film are the micro- and macro-cosmic reactions to knowing life as we now know it will cease to exist shortly. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. . . .

"Melancholia" is also the condition saddling Justine (Kirsten Dunst) as she and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) arrive at their extravagant wedding reception thrown by Claire, Justine's sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Tensions are running especially high as family dynamics are more strained than the pulp in an orange squeezer. I would pause here to suggest your ability to appreciate this film rests in your ability to identify with that pulp--how much squeezing can you withstand? The wedding reception is a flowing study of detachment, resentment, egoistic greed and self-centeredness, social graces, indignation, the illusion of happiness and roiling underneath it all--nihilism. Justine says at one point, "I know things. And when I say we're alone, we're alone. Life is only on earth. And not for long. . .The Earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody would miss it.” And the band played on.

So as Justine's crippling depression manifests itself, causing her to lock herself in her room and soak in a bathtub while the revelers dance and drink, while her father shmoozes and drunkenly kisses his partners whom he indiscriminately calls Bettie, and while John grouses about how much this whole affair is costing him, Claire flits in near hysteria to keep things in balance. She is the peacemaker, the brave face who grapples with control to ensure everyone is happy. Thus we have the story presented in two parts, title cards indicating Part I: "Justine" and Part II: "Claire," the yin and yang who to some degree exchange psychological states as the planet Melancholia grows more beautiful and deadly in its approach. When Claire wants to face the end of the world with an appreciation of all things corporeally aesthetic, Justine snaps, "You want me to have a glass of wine on your terrace? … How about a song? Beethoven’s Ninth, something like that? Your plan is full of sh*t."

Perhaps Justine and Claire suffer such disparate personalities because of their views of the world. Justine believes in divesting herself of everything--she cannot consummate her marriage bed, preferring the spontaneous sinking of a putt in a sandtrap, her marriage crumbles and dissolves itself into a dew, she cannot connect with her father, no one asks why she is depressed but rather concentrate on the celebration of her wedding, she has no children or worldly possessions. In this divestiture of complications which Justine believes is all for nothing anyway, she sees the inevitable death of her world as liberating from the deep depression of knowing. And Claire is the picture of ownership--a huge estate, a billionaire husband, a sprightly son, a stable of thoroughbreds and the insulation of believing all must be perfect. There is no initial liberation awaiting her--it's all symbolic of loss, relinquishing everything she's spent her life accumulating, according to "how it's supposed to be."

Director von Trier believes *Melancholia* presents the happiest ending of his film canon. [Skip this paragraph if you don't wish to know what happens, even though it's a foregone conclusion based on your viewing of the last two hours and four minutes.] And if you can dip inside his vision, there is a certain majestic peace in the destruction of our planet, as it's filmed here: a long shot of three connected people staring boldly in the apocalyptic strafing of our existence. For Justine it's a form of ecstacy, for Claire an acceptance of the inevitable. Such a heartwarming slide of depression. . . . In defending his decision to begin the film with its certainty that Earth would not survive, von Trier said, "In a James Bond movie we expect the hero to survive. It can get exciting nonetheless. And some things may be thrilling precisely because we know what's going to happen, but not how they will happen. In *Melancholia* it's interesting to see how the characters we follow react as the planet approaches Earth."

Lest I have left you with the impression that *Melancholia* is a psychological disaster movie that will leave you so burdened you'll just want to empty a bottle of Jack Daniels and float open-mouthed in a swimming pool all your days, let me assure you this is a stirring examination of a life-draining condition. Kirsten Dunst, rightfully, won Best Actress at the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival, the US National Society of Film Critics, and the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards: International category. The film itself also received 12 votes—seven from critics and five from directors—in the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest movies ever made. Charlotte Gainsborough was equally brilliant, especially in her desperation as a mother and wife to maintain the perfect life. Combined the two actresses infuse wholeness and symmetry into the film, so that far from being a diatribe against the hollowness of modern society, *Melancholia* provides an alternative view: life can be troubling in its insistence not to yield easy answers to the question of purpose and happiness.

So I'd advise the unmarried among us, this is not a date movie. It's a movie that demands discussion, as the consensus of critical opinion suggests it haunts you long after you leave the theater or shut off the disc player. Its languid pacing may test your patience, you might find it pretentious "art house" meandering, but you might just walk away from it with some wonder too. If you knew the world were going to end in five days, would that idiot who stole your parking space at Kroger really matter so much? Or would you throttle him/her because, hey, what's the difference anyway?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to switch out my Harry Nilsson disc for some Talking Heads. . . maybe a little "Once In A Lifetime"?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/10/2019, 5:20 pm

After yesterday's giggle-fest I didn't want to follow up with a smashing box office success--that would be too much of a jump scare. So today we'll initiate a slow building back to greatness, easing back into wide appeal. Today's offering is *5 Against The House* (1955), and no, it's not a special HDTV Property Brothers, *Love It Or List It* and *One Of A Kind* teaming vs. a decrepit Southern Mansion. It's a weirdly entertaining heist movie.

Based on a Jack Finney novel (*Assault On A Queen*--the basis of a Sinatra heist, *The Body Snatchers*--the basis of the *Invasion of. . .* film) serialized in *Good Housekeeping* if you can believe it, this is a quick noir clocking in at 83 minutes whose only claim to fame rests in its cast. A veritable TV trove of actors populate this lesser crime epic. Check it out: Guy Madison (who would play Wild Bill Hickok for seven years on TV), Brian Keith (forever memorialized as Unka Beeoh in *Family Affair* with Cissy and Buffy and Jodie and Mr. French), Kerwin Mathews (who marks his film debut here and would become a Saturday matinee quasi-hero with *The 7th Voyage of Sinbad* and *Three Worlds Of Gulliver* with Ray Harryhausen effects, but only after appearing on a *Space Patrol* episode), and the best for last, Alvy Moore who soared to great heights of fame as county agent Hank Kimble on *Green Acres*--it's the place to be). Oh yeah, Kim Novak is also onboard, though her role is basically delegated to winding herself around a column in a night club while breathlessly cooing over a flame song and working hard to look as if she's in heat. Also look for a portly William Conrad, famous on radio for being Matt Dillon on *Gunsmoke* and later on TV as *Cannon* and *Jake And The Fat Man*.

The unlikely plot involves two Korean War vets and their two college student buddies crafting a "fool proof" (there's your first tip off that things go awry) scheme to rob Harold's Club Casino in Reno, which is close to the college they're all attending. Careful to emphasize they're not in it for the money (mostly) but the thrill of being the first to beat the System, purely as an academic exercise in ego and logistics (yeah, right), they methodically plot their every move. Of course we've seen this before, but this is the movie that set the heist genre in motion. Martin Scorcese points to this film as the inspiration for his *Casino* forty years later. The Stirling Silliphant script is rife with crisp exchanges like this: Brick says, "I would like to make one of my deathless remarks now. There may be some things better than sex, some worse, but there's nothing quite like it." To which Roy replies, "That was kind of a deathless remark at that." And Kaye murmurs, "Al, I grew up in this town. I've been dating college boys since I was old enough to be noticed by them."

So much of the fun of this film lies in the colorful interaction of the main characters. Guy Madison's Al and Brian Keith's Brick (accurate name as he looks like one) look way too old for college, but then they ARE war vets, so let's let that point float. Al is the cool, level headed voice of reason who's engaged to the sultry lounge singer Kaye (Novak), who slinks and purrs and basically does her best add the necessary estrogen to balance out the cocky testosterone of the film. Al's big dream is a cozy little suburban cottage with a pole in the boudoir for Kaye, a typical 1950s goal for men returning from the war. Brick, on the other hand, is the shell-shocked psychoneurotic who couldn't smoke more if his shorts were on fire (At least he's not vaping). He's a cuddly, lumbering jamoke, a man of manners unless you anger him, at which point he flips into his migraine-filled dissociative homicidal rage that makes his eyes swell to three times their regular size, causes the Incredible Hulk shrink in fear, and generally disrupts the good natured fun at cocktail parties. But following the thundering madness, he's quick to extend his hand and say bygones for having ripped out your thorax and swinging you by your heels at the other partygoers like Thor's hammer.

Kerwin Mathews' Ronnie, perhaps the youngest of the college roommates living in the dorms at 29, is a mathematical and logical whiz kid who formulates the plan to knock over the casino. Exhibiting all the juices of fried bread, Ronnie comes from a wealthy family, so money is not his aim. Neither, evidently, is the morality of such a play: "If we don't keep the money," he reasons, "we haven't actually committed a crime." He's one of those 1950s collegiate stereotypes who sit around wearing argyle sweaters and concern themselves with Nietszche's Will to Power, though between Ronnie and Al they fulfill Nietzsche's belief that "The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything." Al takes the woman, Ronnie takes the play. Which leaves us with Alvy Moore's Roy, the comic relief, reputedly scripted by the uncredited Frank Tashlin, a comedy director of 1950s swingin' bachelor movies and Jerry Lewis vehicles with an animation background with Warner Brothers. In this film he's on the road to becoming Hooterville's county agent with his constant wise-cracks and bouyant personality.

Throw these jokers into a cocktail shaker and you have a potable that goes down fairly smoothly but will leave your system as quickly as you ingested it. While the MacGuffin of the film is the heist's execution, the real drive behind it is the exploration of friendships. They are united by the quest for fun, but eventually the splinter and fracture their bonding as Brick proves to be the loosest one in the wall. To Ronnie and the others the plan is just a rudimentary scheme to disprove the impossible: Harold's Club is impenetrable, incapable of being robbed. (I am reminded of my teaching days when I would advise students that cheating on the open-book, open-note final exam was useless, an impossible dream. Each year I marveled as typically one student would face that challenge and say, "No way to cheat? I'll find a way!")

But Brick is seduced by the lure of the dollar. He lusts after Steve Martin's lifestyle: "I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too." And for Brick, if it means he has to browbeat, or just plain beat, his friends to accomplish that, well, those are the breaks, which may extend to your arm or neck if you don't follow through. Al and Kaye are especially distressed at this turn of events--will they be able to sustain conjugal visits if they're in prison? Ronnie and Roy just sputter and wrinkle their brows, Ronnie pulling nubs off his sweater and Roy burying himself in a Burpee seed catalog, as Brick brandishes a gun and growls menacingly, foaming at the mouth, as he did when Mr. French was late with his morning coffee.

But Al is also concerned for Brick's mental state of health--he persists in rolling marbles in his hand, mumbling about strawberries and how a duplicate key to the wardroom ice box DID exist, not to mention his recurring crippling headaches. Al knows Brick could use some more time in the psych ward, that he was usually an affable, kind teddy bear of a Brick if it just weren't for his war trauma--and it's that sense of responsibility that holds the group together in the final analysis. That, and the threat of bullets pounding into them. So when the scheme finally materializes, there's some suspense to be had, and the automatic car park, stacking autos like Jenga pieces, is an unexpected highlight of the Reno nightlife.

Director Phil Karlson is revered by critics, having helmed such gritty films as *Kansas City Confidential* (1952),*The Phenix City Story* (1955), *Tight Spot* (1955) and *Scandal Sheet* (1952) and generally agree *5 Against the House* is one of his lesser victories. But his ethos projects a corrupt America in which few people can be trusted, especially authority figures who are solely out for their own selfish interests. He embodies the Rolling Stones' advice You Can't Always Get What You Want, But If You Try Sometimes You Just Might Find You Get What You Need--but not without sacrifice and a fight. A gag writer for Buster Keaton and his very good friend to Lou Costello, who helped him launch his career in film, Karlson was pressured by Harry Cohn (known for grooming Rita Hayworth for films) to push Kim Novak into the stratosphere, but was later blackballed by Cohn just as his own career was hitting stride.

Karlson said of his early days, "I was born in Chicago, and I was raised in Chicago, and I went through the days of the killings and whatnot in Chicago. I remember getting twenty-five cents to stand on a corner, and if the cop was on this side of the street, to whistle real loud, and if he was on that side of the street, just to whistle softly. I was keeping a brewery going by a little whistle. So, I sort of saw all that." And we see that sensibility on the screen.

So here's another beautifully photographed black and white paean to the gritty determinism of fate and hard times. It might not be a classic, but as one of the very first heist films, it will do its best to steal your time and let you hook a laconic smile its way while it's doing it.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/11/2019, 4:51 pm

Pete Hamill said, “The only way to fight nostalgia is to listen to somebody else's nostalgia,” So listen up, Pilgrim: Autumn in Michigan always makes me nostalgic, dreaming of a reality hued by Ray Bradbury stories and old favored movies. In 1983 I enthralled myself with my Betamax and the exquisite joy of HBO, both of which would allow me the unfathomable joy of knowing Everything In America Is Collectible and I could be part of it. I amassed a library of films that would make the Library of Congress shiver at the promise of my competition.

This was the time I reveled in the sound of "Overkill" by Men At Work and "Africa" by Toto (still do) issuing from my Camaro's small speakers (which have fallen silent now, since that Camaro has probably been recycled into cans of green beans and gelatinous cranberry sauce). And my Betamax hummed in contented accumulation while *The A Team* and *Fraggle Rock* fought for our attention.


But time inched forward and nuked my Betamax, causing me to replicate all those hours of meticulous taping with this new technology, the VHS, which was swiftly supplanted by the DVD and the Blu Ray. And in that thoughtful duplication of 1983 I found *Strange Invaders*, veiled in memory but newly released in a limited edition Blu Ray. When it arrived in the mail, I danced like Leland Palmer around the house, holding it at an arm's length as if it would recede into the past like my elder son's childhood.

The first twenty minutes of *Strange Invaders* stirred me again with its saturated colors, though I didn't recall how much of a stick Paul LeMat was when I first watched it thirty-six years ago. He was great in *American Graffiti* (maybe. . . I haven't re-watched THAT in decades), but in this movie he walked like Slim Chipley, the Flavor Deputy for Paramount Potato Chips. And today I fully embrace the nomination of Diana Scarwid a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress, since he embodies the acting range of a real-life Little Orphan Annie with her blank eyes. With each passing moment I found another nagging if slight disappointment: The special effects were fun if a bit dated, the once-hot Nancy Allen had become tepid, and its economical 94 minutes passed like those dreams I've had where I'm trying to run through pre-set Jell-O (I favor orange).

So now in retrospect, with my growing sophistication and the evolution of my "cool" factor, *Strange Invaders* has come to reside, not at the bottom of the barrel, but closer to the middle stave of the container. As a pastiche, an homage, a spoof, an affectionate nod, or any of a slew of other synonyms for goofy tribute, *Strange Invaders* has become a guilty pleasure. It's still fun to see Louis Fletcher do her Nurse Ratched impression, this time as a high-level governmental lip-tightener, an Eisenhower hanger-on who knows more about the aliens than she is allowed to discuss. But I think I understand why this little space oddity recouped only $1.4 million at the box office of its $5.5 million budget.

Following a Simpler Time Prologue set in Centerville, Illinois, in 1958, our story follows Charles Bigelow (LeMat), a professor of entymology, which should be an early tip-off that we're in Bugville Alien Resort territory, whose estranged wife (Diana Scarwid) drops off their daughter at his apartment before mysteriously disappearing. After mounting concern, Charles follows her trail to her hometown of Centerville where the emotion-free stiff walkers who inhabit the town all share the same last name but claim to have never known his wife. Cue the therimin--which the film does.

The local church emits an ominous blue light, which spooks Charles, who has evidently never encountered a Kmart special. But before he can get to his car it's struck by a silver fork of lightning, and deciding not to wait around for the rest of the flatware service, he bolts. Something is not right, he decides--that's why he's a professor at a university; he has an incisive mind. And its this superior intellect that leads him to the tabloids, his primary source of research, showing a photo of one of the Centerville Bugs he encountered. Enter tabloid reporter Margaret (Nancy Allen) who begrudgingly--because that's the initial condition necessary for a love interest--helps Charles, even though she remains skeptical and secretly wonders why he's got all the charisma of Floyd R. Turbo.

And as a special tribute to the '50s, on hand are Mark Goddard and June Lockhart from TV's *Lost In Space*, Bobby "Boris" Pickett ("Monster Mash") pops in for a cameo as Margaret's editor, Fiona Lewis (*The Fearless Vampire Killers* (1967), *Dr. Phibes Rises Again* (1972) glides through as a sinister Avon Lady, and Kennth Tobey (*The Thing From Another World* (1951)) walks in duty like the night as a Centerville homie. Wallace Shawn also has a bit part to wheeze and wince through in his own inimitable, inconceivable way. Michael Lerner's flummoxed Willie Collins eats up the scenery as a man declared insane for the same reasons Charles is knee deep the plot--he's lost his family to the Aliens. Finally, as a bit of trivia, Paul Le Mat's Charles was, according to studio chief preferences, to be played by either Mel Gibson or Powers Boothe.

Now we can excuse the Farmer Peet Rendered Lard acting for the most part because it's supposed to be a tip of the helmet to '50s B pictures, so it's (I hope) intentional. And viewed that way, it's honest fun, right down to the ever shrinking noose of aliens closing in on Charles and Margaret for their own insidious purposes involving Charles' daughter. The tone is played straight but winks at the camera often, prompting its nominations for three Saturn Awards (Best make-up, best special effects and best writing), and winning Best Cinematography at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. It is beautifully filmed with gauzy lenses to promote the nostalgic homegrown appeal.

Sure, it's silly--damn the condescension of High Art and the upper crust pretensions of the A-Listers, not the A-Team--but it holds a certain charm in its own right, as it represents to me another time, when I was playing on the floor with my two-year-old son and doing my best to keep him from stuffing a Care Bear into the top loading Betamax machine where I housed what I thought would be the stuff dreams were made of.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 9/12/2019, 2:55 pm

Sometimes when the plot of a film holds at its periphery a bomb, the results can be a wondrous explosion of harmless fun. Peter Sellers' *The Mouse That Roared* (1959) stands in my memory as one such film. Today's offering, Peter Ustinov's *Lady L* (1965) is another, but this one does not stand, it just lies around looking pretty with the opulent charms of Switzerland, Paris, England, and its star Sophia Loren.  How can you top the glorious architectural marvels of Europe and Ms. Loren? You can populate your film with Paul Newman and David Niven, that's how. So everything is in place to create a frothy bit of fluff, or a fluffy bit of froth.  Why then is this combination of talents not just a bomb but a dud?

The answers are plentiful, but let's start with the plot. According to screenwriter, director and cameo star Peter Ustinov, there is no plot, just picaresque moments. He had aimed at "a cross between Rene Clair and Preston Sturges," but he was given a budget too large instead of too small, so *Lady L* was too sweeping to be as funny as he'd intended. The plot, such that is it, begins with octogenarian Lady Louise Lendale (Sophia Loren in a pancake breakfast of make-up) reflecting on the arc of her life to her biographer. Escaping Corsica as a healthy young woman, she worked as a laundress in a Paris brothel, where she was mistaken for one of the entrepreneurial ladies by a charming anarchist (Paul Newman) with whom she fell in love and became pregnant. Simply stated, stuff happened, and she caught the eye of Lord "Dickey" Lendale (David Niven), at his debonair finest. More stuff happened and she married him to save her bomb-throwing Armand.  

All this against the backdrop of lavish edifices filmed on location including Castle Howard in Yorkshire, which was used in the television adaptation of *Brideshead Revisited*. Ustinov said he could "now shoot indoors, which is more difficult to do but eminently worth it because you get production values of the sort you couldn't build. This was particularly true with *Lady L* because there is now a growing appreciation for the art and decor of that period: people are beginning to see merit and beauty in what was once dismissed as Victorian, Neo-baroque vulgarity. . . . The railway station we used in Monaco - that's gone. There are many aspects of this film that are of historical value because we put on record things that are paradoxically coming back into vogue again. But so many things have been destroyed because people hadn't the patience to wait a bit longer, and potential Parthenons are obliterated."

The grand locations overshadowed some of the production issues facing the film also.  Originally slated three years earlier to star Gina Lollobrigida, Tony Curtis and Sir Ralph Richardson, the film was helmed by George Cukor. Unfortunately, Cukor and Lollobrigida clashed in spectacular fashion so that, prompted by script problems--Cukor imagined it as a romantic melodrama rather than the modulated slapstick of Ustinov--Cukor walked off the set. The property remained in limbo until Ustinov took over, provided he could scrap the script and re-imagine the story as he saw fit.

Thus *Lady L* became a joint production between France, Italy and England, Sophia Loren's husband Carlo Ponti acting as producer.  Since this is a romantic adventure sprinkled with whimsy, the chemistry among the principals is a must to fuel this perpetual motion machine.  Alas, it's all steam and gas: Sophia Loren and Paul Newman fiercely disliked each other, so their combustible interactions fizzle; instead of wine and roses, theirs is a banquet of flat Ripple and poison oak. While Ms. Loren dazzles the screen in her vast, lush wardrobe accentuating her unearthly figure--you'd swear the daring plunge from an outstanding upper frontal superstructure to a what appears a twelve-inch waist is not within human possibility--Paul Newman's famed blue eyes boar through her with casual disinterest. Only David Niven, who seems to be playing David Niven, excels in his casting.  He steals every scene he's in.

Originally running at 150 minutes, the film, according to Ustinov, was cut to 117 by MGM and Ponti, which sacrificed a pivotal ingredient--logic, hence the movie to Ustinov didn't make sense.  It boasts grandiose sets, exotic locales, some amusing vignettes, and a broad scope that dilutes the comic sensibility in a flood of excess. Ustinov is briefly wonderful as the bumbling Prince Otto of Bavaria (and the dubbed voice of Philippe Noiret's Ambroise Gérôme), but it's too little too late. I for one just didn't buy Paul Newman as a passionate anarchist--his pilot light is so subdued it wouldn't spark a bomb's fuse. And as much as I like looking at Sophia Loren, her distaste for her co-star feels like it's tossing warm Evian (which is Naive backwards) on her usual fiery portrayal.  If it's supposed to be "scandalous"--a modern Moll Flanders--it lacks bite; if it's a robust comedy, it's rather anemic; if it's a romance, its dishwater rather than rosewater. Sadly, then, *Lady L* (which ends up standing for lackluster) fulfills the definition of soft pornography--it titillates but fails to satisfy, failing to live up to its sexy promises.
Enjoy if you can.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 9/12/2019, 4:10 pm

Thanks a lot Jeff. Now I've gotta dig up The Lady L, The Mouse That Roared and The Mouse on the Moon. The last two being old favorites, of which I don't have copies. This must be remedied at once.
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