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The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by ghemrats on 10/12/2019, 4:59 pm

Post #167: Am I in the minority again in noticing the entrance of a new sub-sub-sub-genre of film popping out of the Hollywood birth canal?  For lack of originality and imagination I'll call it The Renovated Beautiful Woman Loner Who Rises From Poverty Or Relative Oblivion To Become A Chameleonic Kick-A$$assin For A Foreign Government But Secretly Wishes To Live Freely.  Hmm, that may be a little unwieldy, but at least it's accurate.  Over the past year or two I've seen at least four high-profile films in this "new" category: *Lucy* (2014), *Atomic Blonde* (2017), *Red Sparrow* (2018), and now *Anna* (2019). CLARIFICATION: I don't count Black Widow or Dark Phoenix in the Marvel Universe in this category because she's part of a bigger teaming; these women are solo acts.

So how does this new genre evolve? Disavowing the other genre of Super Heroes with super powers, but focusing on Just Plain Humans, let's take a trip down the Abstraction Ladder to track this progress: In the beginning there was the Action Hero (AH)--predominately male, laconic, square jawed, noble with a penchant for straight-faced one-liners (Dirty Harry standing at the base of a stairwell as a mass murderer runs away in stark terror. Harry raises his magnum, aims it at the man's rectum and intones, "You're a pain in the a$$"--BLAM--"Now you don't have one."; today John Wick has come from a line of ancestors too numerous to mention). He begat the Woman Action Hero (WAH)--a woman wronged by male dominance, fiercely hormonally attractive, part of a larger constituency (The Girl from UNCLE, Agent Carter working for SHIELD, Charlie's Angels--Fluffy, Muffy and Snuffy--worked for Charlie), usually not a wisenheimer with glib remarks, just female empowerment. And so it came to pass that the Woman Action Hero Solo (WAHS) took her place in the Pantheon--another woman wronged by male malfeasance, even more fiercely hormonally striking because she is coolly detached, making her that much more desirable, sometimes aloof yet trained in the art of seduction (TV's Honey West was a prototype (though she was more from the Detective lineage), Catwoman, Lady Zorro, Lady Rawhide, Black Cat, and Villanelle in *Killing Eve* goes solo for the most part). And Lo, emerging from the backlit glow of the sunrise, comes the Hauntingly Outrageous Operative Woman Action Hero (HOOWAH! exclamation point optional depending on performance)--as the name implies, a spy equipped with such incredible martial art skills that she can make Chuck Norris suck his thumb and cower in a corner, a whirling dervish of improvisational assault, taking an occasional nunchuck to the thorax but countering with a Five Point Palm Exploding Heart move with a crooked smile.  And I say unto you, saying, this is our sub-sub-sub-genre heroine of today's commentary.  

BACK TRACK:  Usually I shy away from commenting on freshly released films because they have been flogged to death by the media, but occasionally one slips through relatively unnoticed so I can rationalize posting about it. *Anna* (2019) is one of those films, the story that makes you say HOOWAH several times during its 118 minute running time.  

Written, produced and directed by Luc Beeson [*Nikita* (1990), *Leon: The Professional* (1994), *The Fifth Element* (1997), *Lucy* (2014)], *Anna* stars Russian newcomer Sasha Luss, as Anna Poliatova, a beaten near-junkie who is recruited by KGB agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) to serve Olga Vassiliev (a totally unrecognizable Helen Mirren) for five years, after which time she can live freely. Customarily for a HOOWAH, Anna undergoes extensive training, finally banking on her extraordinary cool appearance to become a top fashion model--undercover and under covers.  But she quickly establishes herself as an adaptive, almost coldly rational killer who could go toe-to-toe with Tarantino's Beatrix Kiddo in *Kill Bill* with a china table setting and little more. Now, ganted, this is Fan Boy stuff--sex, violence, intrigue and nice scenery--but I can't help admitting I keep thinking how much "cooler" this all would have been if I were permanently stuck in puberty or had never seen this plot countless times before.

When Anna is approached by CIA agent Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy who reportedly scared Sasha Luss to distraction on set with his piercing gaze), she reflects on her betrayal by the KGB and considers becoming a double agent.  I know, we've heard this all before. . . It's a standard spy connect-the-dots book in which most of the dots come equipped not just with sequential numbers but little arrows pointing the way.  And that's what left me ready to watch my thumb hovering over the fast forward button several times. Yes, Anna is lovely, yes she's poised, yes she's lethal when pushed, yes she's in love with Alex and Leonard and her live-in girlfriend, the big eyed waif Maud (Lera Abova), and no, we don't know where her loyalties lie, but cheese and crackers, riddle me this, Batman: I’m a film conservationist, but isn’t there such a thing as too much recycling?  

For me two elements save *Anna* from fulfilling her strange destiny at the bottom of a Wal-Mart Discount DVD bin: Sasha Luss does her own stunts, which are frenetic, rocket-fueled fight sequences that elevate the action to appreciable stand-alone set pieces.  A restaurant fracas alone took five days to film, and it is truly outstanding in its energy, marking a genuine first in action films for employing a plate, fork, brass bar foot rest and Luss's Gumby spine to wreak havoc.  The second saving grace is setting the film in the 1990s, before the KGB became a technocratic nightmare and was still operating on Gilbert Erector Sets cobbling together wires and small grey cathode ray monitors.  It's a quaint throwback that gives the film some internal low level comedy.  

One drawback is *Anna*'s narrative flashback structure, which at first rises to self-parody level but then evens out toward the ending. And when are filmmakers going to get over mounting a passenger-seat camera to catch a monstrous truck bearing down on the unaware driver, broadsiding the auto in a blinding cascade of splintered glass?  In *No Country For Old Men* (2007) it was a great surprise, but this device has been ground into the pavement in countless "Cliffhanging Very Special Episodes" of television series ever since. Dang, people, change up the crash for once--have the car pummeled by 30,000 pounds of bananas when it's parked at the Farmer's Market and use Harry Chapin's song to punctuate it. . . .

So if you can just Google the fight sequences and skip the rest, *Anna* will provide a nice diversion on a slow afternoon. It's a polished, nice to look at tour of Paris and Russia, and Sasha Luss looks smashing in her white ermine coat and square Russian fur hat--which bears the bloody slashes of her restaurant encounter by the time she's through with it--and her acting is functional, but in the final analysis, though I'll probably watch the movie again, it probably will not stimulate enough interest in a sub-sub-sub-SUB genre in its wake.  And for that I guess I can modestly like it.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/13/2019, 5:29 pm

Post #168: I have learned much from my sons, much more than they have doubtlessly learned from me. One of their exclamations has cemented itself in me and replaced a more profane proclamation known roundly as the excremental oath. I prefer theirs: Holy Wow.  Now, you may notice that I did not include an exclamation point at its end, and today that is purposeful, because sometimes when in confused and nonplussed (there is no plussed) awe the expletive is a perfect delineation of my mental condition. (I also use "Huhn," as if I were free falling from a skydiving spree, suddenly aware that my parachute is faulty and I'm going to hit the ground but panic won't help because it's inevitable anyway, so let's enjoy the scenery.)

That's not an altogether inappropriate or morbid analogy either, considering today's film *Drowning By Numbers* (1988) written and directed by Peter Greenaway and winner of the 1988 Cannes Film Festival for Best Artistic Contribution.  Though I've heard of Greenaway who's been recommended to me, I had never encountered any of his films before this, so I approached it as I do with any film, I went in blindly.  And I am eternally grateful that I am not blind, for the film is gorgeously, lushly filmed and staged with meticulous care.  It is in every way a great Dutch Masters (not the cigar but the painters) moving portrait of still lives in motion, which fits because this is a joint British-Dutch production.

And from a narrative standpoint its languid procession of choreographed events leaves even the most seasoned film mavens wondering what in God's name they've just witnessed.  *Drowning By Numbers* immediately evoked in me fond memories of my initiation into Grimm's Fairy Tales, the real ones filled with strange brightly lit darkness instead of the Disney-fied pastel watercolored smilers.  Or maybe it was my first outing with Harold Pinter, who was clearly a genius of illusion and elusive intention.  Greenaway's characters seem to delight in holding you at an arm's length as they cavort and nonchalantly murder and present full-frontal nudity without consequence while they dizzy us with freshly invented games and puzzles and numerical hide-and-seek.  But it's beautiful to watch unfold even while you're mind pirouettes, looking for a thread or a shred of purpose.

So, with Tom Petty whining "Yeah I'm FREEEE free fallin'" in your ear, let's throw *Drowning By Numbers* in broad strokes against our canvas.  The number start immediately: A young woman in a hoop skirt jumps with a neon rope while counting and naming the stars above her, stopping at one hundred because, as she says,  “Once you’ve counted to a hundred, all the other hundreds are the same.”  O-kay. For the next 116 minutes we will find consecutive numbers placed in conversation, on animals, bees, landscaping, people and food in various stages of life. (I will list all of spots in a post following this commentary for completists or those with anal retentive tendencies.)

Three generations of married women named Cissie Colpitts (Joan Plowright--mother, Juliet Stevenson--daughter, and Joely Richardson--niece) share unspectacular lives with very boorish men--one who commits adultery, one who has no interest in sex, and one who can't swim, all horrific moral deficiencies.  Consequently, each of the Cissies determines to drown her spouse who trespasses against her, and leading her not into temptation but delivering her from evil, each enlists the local coroner Madgett (Bernard Hill) to cover her indiscretion by offering (but never fulfilling) sexual favor.  Meanwhile, Madgett's son Smut concocts all sorts of games while chronicling dead animals and paying tribute to them with rockets into the big blue.  All filmed against the pastoral verdancy of Southwold, Suffolk, England with subtle references to folk tales, the Flemish palette and composition of Brueghel, and majesty of panoramic night skies.

But what does it all mean? Well, that's up to you (I won't pull out my semantic horse flogger again; you know the drill). What does it mean to me? Allow me to reiterate: Huhn.  Or Holy Wow, if you prefer.  I think because there is such an ongoing linking of sex and death throughout the film, *Drowning By Numbers* might be intimating the old Unity of Opposites--as Kahlil Gibran said, "For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one."  Take the first Cissie's drowning of her husband as he's caught in drunken flagrant delicto: Perhaps it's odd to put it this way, but do you recall the old commercial for erectile dysfunction, showing a couple in two adjacent bathtubs, holding hands and facing a glorious sunset?--now how that reflected the successful attempt at copulation has long puzzled me, but be that as it may, perhaps Peter Greenaway's influence is clearly shown.  Cissie One's husband is resting in a stewed stupor in an apple harvesting tub while his paramour lies in a similar tub of floating apples beside him; Cissie attempts three times (a significant number throughout the film) to hold him under water, finally succeeding, as the camera languidly passes rotting fruit littered with insects.  You don't need to be Fellini to figure out the juxtaposition. . . . .

The coroner (Death) wishes for sex (Life) in return for his compliance.  His son Smut's intricate and obsessive counting games reminded me (and probably me alone) of Herb Gardner's *A Thousand Clowns* (1965) which made an incredible impact on me in my first year of college; one quote in particular rang true as I thought about *Drowning By Numbers* and Smut's mindset:  "I gotta know what day it is. I gotta know what's the name of the game and what the rules are without anyone else telling me. You gotta own your own days and name 'em, each one of 'em, every one of 'em, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you. And that ain't just for weekends, kiddo."  Smut is playing with the laws of probability, patterns within the giant puzzle of Living, and he's searching for some unifying, underlying structure, just as we are while watching this seemingly meandering movie.  Is he mathematically creating meaning, or is he frittering and wasting his hours in no offhand way?

Once again I pull out my copy of Don DeLillo's *White Noise* and return to a highlighted passage suggesting how one should live: "May the days be aimless.  Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan."

So the question is: Should we number each day, do our best to possess it wholly through conscious endeavor as Smut does, or should we "Flow" with it, as advocated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in investigations into "optimal experience" and deep enjoyment of life through an effortless zen-like commitment to contentment.  Big decisions worth tussling with, in my mind. In some way perhaps *Drowning By Numbers* warns us that either approach might be freighted with life-altering choices: the Skipping Girl is hit by a car, Smut is irretrievably moved by her end, and the three Cissies and Madgett continue the fates they initiated in a boat labeled "100."

Beats me, but maybe the struggle between life and death comes down to our choice to be The Sundance Kid or Butch Cassidy. We can be like Sundance who, facing the 100-foot drop off the precipice into churning rapids below, finds himself filled with panic because he can't swim.  Or we can laugh uproariously like Butch, realizing it's the fall that going to kill us and just jump.  Either way the descent will allow us to enjoy the beautiful scenery from a bird's eye view. . . . before we make it to the 100 mark and all the other hundreds are the same.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/14/2019, 3:44 pm

Post #169: As it nears Halloween and people are on the lookout for bizarre films to slake their thirst for All Things Weird, I figured today's film, *Delicatessen* (1991) would ease the transition into the spooky.  This is another quirky bronze-tinged black humor entry in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fevered imagination. (And just to reorient, he's the writer and director of such films as *City Of Lost Children* (1995), *Amelie* (2001), and among others *Micmacs* (2009) which I reviewed a number of posts ago.  His style is immediately unique, odd, fast-paced and zany as bedbugs in summer.

*Delicatessen* is his first feature length film, and to help ground this one, it was appropriately presented to American audiences by grand madman Terry Gilliam [first of Monty Python fame, then in his own right for wonderfully baroque films including *Time Bandits* (1981), *Brazil* (1985), *The Adventures of Baron Munchausen* (1988) and *The Fisher King* (1991).]  Entering a Jeunet film, you can always expect to be surprised--by expressionistic camera angles, brilliant use of the fish-eye lens, a macabre, slapstick sense of humor, zooming camera dollys and a focus on outcasts or underdogs who quickly endear themselves to your sensibilities.  In Jenuet's universe, everyone is slightly off-kilter as innocents clash with the manically self-centered in a series of encounters that bounce and ping tangentially rather than following a straight narrative course.  You become a willing ball bearing in a Rube Goldberg contraption caroming around the little pockets of strangeness and convolution that have become Jeunet's trademark.

But make no mistake about it--Jenunet's world is at bottom romantic.  There is always room for affection in the desperation, a happenstance of hope for love in the clockwork machinery.  And so it is in *Delicatessen*'s desiccated post-apocalyptic France wherein grains have become currency (corn is especially priceless) and meat is in such short supply that butcher Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) has resorted to advertising for (disposable) tenants in his apartment building so he might have a ready supply of meats for sale.  Yes, I know, we should frown on such entrepreneurial creativity as cannibalism is a social taboo, but times are tough, folks.  It hardly seems plausible that a film that bleakly chronicles such dark territory would have a heart (which is not offered for consumption); but an able heart beats at the center of this story.

You'll see in the wonderful trailer a solitary cellist practicing her art while a rhythm of life swirls around her.  Julie is the butcher's cloistered daughter, never allowed outside the building for fear of being bushwhacked and taken away by the notorious Troglodistes, a radical vegetarian group housed in the fetid underground labyrinth of sewer canals and tunnels. Answering one of the butcher's advertisements in the *Hard Times* newspaper, Louison (Dominique Pinon, the perfect blend of Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Marcel Marceau) becomes the new tenant, eager to please as a handyman since his days as a professional clown have ended with the death of his partner, Livingstone.  Soon he ingratiates himself into the tenants' good graces and captures the sweet attention of Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), a waif so wide-eyed and wistful she risks causing calamity by tucking her glasses away since she fears men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.

Despite the butcher's intentions to make Louison the next selection of produce for his store, Louison remains blissfully unaware of his fate, even while everyone around him knows his shelf life is limited. His basic philosophy is simple--"Nobody is entirely evil: it's that circumstances that make them evil, or they don't know they are doing evil."  Our film then skips and jumps from tenant to tenant, providing a full understanding of how bad life in a dystopia can be: A couple upstairs with two young boys re-purpose used condoms, patching them with black electrical tape and testing them with water; a neighboring woman hears voices in her head (or are they?) that goad her into committing suicide by the most overcomplicated means available to her; two men work tirelessly creating small drums that MOO when turned over; a lower level tenant occupies a flooded basement run amok with frogs; an attractive young tenant who barters with the butcher for his. . . uhm, produce suffers the noise of overused bedsprings,and the beat goes on.

As you might expect, everything comes to a head as conflicts converge: Julie falls in love with Louison and pleads for clemency from her retractable father, an elderly grandmother is quickly reaching her prime (cut), the butcher grows more hungry, the Troglodistes work with Julie to save the hapless clown, and the Frogman feasts on snails as his water table rises.  It's all frantic and frenzied and a tremendous amount of bloodless fun if you don't mind your humor "darker'n a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night."  Not to worry: Jeunet does not actually put the butcher's craft on vivid display, though we know full well what it entrails. . . err, entails (darn that spellcheck).

Of course, this is not for the kids, unless they've been raised in an unabashedly existential vacuum and have had Viktor Frankl's *Man's Search For Meaning* or Sartre's *No Exit* read to them at bedtime.  But for the most part you still experience the childlike wonder Jenuet invested in his surroundings. Because his budget was so extremely tight, all the sets were carefully constructed from scavenged items and odd broken bric-a-brac that oh so aptly signals end times and the detritus of civilization, right down to the tarnished silver glow of the 1950s 13-inch television tube housed in a bulky wooden box frame.  Every square inch of the Delicatessen world is in some level of decay, but still people trudge onward, beating on, boats against the polluted current, borne ceaselessly into the past. . .

With *Delicatessen* you can get a glimpse of the future, and though it's filled with mirth and mystery and mayhem, it's not so bright that you'll have to wear sunglasses.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by artatoldotr on 10/15/2019, 8:59 am

With all the talk about global warming and climate change lately, here's a movie that you might want to check out.

"The Day After Tomorrow "

When global warming triggers the onset of a new Ice Age, tornadoes flatten Los Angeles, a tidal wave engulfs New

York City and the entire Northern Hemisphere begins to freeze solid. As full-scale, massive evacuations to the south begin,

a world-renowned climatologist (Quaid) who predicted the storm just a few days prior, must now risk his life to rescue

his teenage son (Gyllenhaal) who is stranded in frozen, desolate Manhattan.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjMlLqsXJ6s

Best regards
Art
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Post by ghemrats on 10/15/2019, 4:47 pm

Thanks for the suggestion, Art. I saw *Day After Tomorrow* when it first came out, hot on the heels of my appreciation of Gyllenhaall's performance in *Donnie Darko* (2001), which is a masterpiece of creepiness. Here's another creeper for today:

Post #170: If you're on *Jeopardy* and the category is "Mermaids," how many mermaid movies can you think of right off the top of your head? I envisioned around five, disavowing such excursions as *Aquaman* and all those DC Comics offshoots that had the guy in them. And I don't count *The Shape Of Water* (2017) either because that dealt with a quasi-fish-guy rather than a maid. I am talking about hardcore girl with a tail films--no, wait, that line sounds terrible and could conjure the wrong images. Anyway, I came up with *The Little Mermaid* (1989) [Duh] and all its Disney sequels and incarnations which I count as one, *Splash* (1984) , *Mr. Peabody And the Mermaid* (1948), *The Mermaids of Tiburon* (1962) and God help me, *Beach Blanket Bingo* (1965).

A quick Google search unearthed 55 more, some of which I wouldn't count because mermaids are only brief splashes in the pan and not main courses. Well, prepare yourselves as I've found a tanked beauty who's not on the lists I consulted, and she will hook and lure you in without any mathematical hint of an algae bra. She's *She-Creature* (2001), part of Columbia-Tri-Star's Creature Feature series, originally titled *The Mermaid Chronicles, Part 1*, directed by Sebastian Gutierrez--and you will never see her combing her hair with a dinglehopper or pining away on a moonlit rock outcropping. This little chicken of the sea is closer to outer space's Alien and she'll be on you so fast no one will hear you scream.

We first meet her in Ireland in 1905, after carney huckster Angus Shaw (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Lily (Carla Gugino) accompany one of their drunken patrons (Aubrey Morris) to his palatial seaside mansion, where he houses a mysterious secret (Rya Kihlstedt) in a leaded tank. Naturally Angus senses a great fortuna in this discovery, and so later breaks into the mansion, accidentally induces a fatal heart attack to his patron, and faster than you can say Long John Silver's absconds with the catch of the day.

Boarding a ship to America (no less than the *Mary Celeste*), Angus, Lily and their lackeys who work for scale keep the mermaid sequestered below, avoiding any contact with the ship's crew so as not to provoke unwanted attention. Soon Lily find herself psychically linked to the fish fillet, who can sense Lily's inner emotional seascape and obligingly dispatches a blackmailer Lily's met onboard. Cue the theremin because if the boat starts rockin', don't come knockin'.

Writer and director Gutierrez is known for his ability to create mood and suspense on a minimal budget in quick turnaround time (this one was filmed in 18 days). What separates *She-Creature* from many other basic catch-and-release horror films is multi-fold: It's a period piece with all the actors save Carla Gugino and Gil Bellows hailing from Great Britain, Wales or Ireland, which infuses the story with real linguistic texture. The claustrophobic sets on the ship are rich with burnished wood, and Gutierrez VERY subtly arcs his camera angles to simulate movements of the waves. Rufus Sewell brings humanity and a little gravitas to his role, and you'd swear Carla Gugino came from England as her accent is effortless, as is her stealthy fear and growing paranoia as she and the mermaid move closer spiritually. The amber glow of hurricane lamps and the eerie green translucence masterfully cloak the cabins in atmospheric tension.

Folks wishing for a piscatorial gorefest will probably be slightly disappointed as the carnage is limited to a few slashes and red-filtered POV shots as the creature evolves into the Queen of the Mermaid Lair. But most of the special effects are practical with very little CGI thanks to FX wizard Stan Winston (who co-produced the film with Colleen Camp and Lou Arkoff, son of Samuel Z. Arkoff, the head of American International Pictures, the drive-in movie assembly line of the 1950s and 1960s). The final incarnation of the mermaid, the Queen, looks like a cross between Stripe the Gremlin and the nasty acid-drooler in Alien captured in all her stalking glory by Hanna Sim, an immensely talented performance artist from Lansing, Michigan, who was also featured in Will Smith's *I Am Legend* (2007).

Considering Rya Kihlstedt could not see Carla Gugino or any of the other actors through the murky water and thick glass, I felt her gaze was even more hypnotic and innocently menacing than I first thought. She's ethereal, compelling and more than a little daunting as she entrances with her fluid motions and webbed fingers when she's below the water line. When she's a fish out of water, she maintains her graceful flow in an even more sinister balletic glide; for the record she is not a Pisces. Winston's makeup took three hours each day to prepare her for the tank, and I can only imagine how she must have felt when her character made a fish stick out of Kihlstedt's real life husband Gill Bellows.

So between the bare breasts (there's a mole), the violence which includes munching on a sailor without tartar sauce and a little bloodletting, some sexuality between Lily and Angus, who ends up having a beef with his wife, *She-Creature* is not for the kids. Conceived as one of a series of films inspired by the titles of American International Pictures' schlocky drive-in fares, it's a fresh (water) excursion into mermaid myth and genealogy, tracking back to the seldom-investigated roots of the creature in literature. Take it for what it is and you'll not wish to be part of her world under da sea, and if you ever run into LIly's daughter Miranda, you may not want to look too deeply into the limpid pools of her eyes or take her out for a bite at Red Lobster.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/16/2019, 3:53 pm

Post #171: I doubt Bruce Springsteen ever suffered from the same malady that drives Jeanne, our protagonist in today's feature *Don't Look Back* (2009), a French/Italian film with Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci. But his lyrics speak to some level of recognition: "Messages keep gettin' clearer/Radio's on and I'm movin' 'round my place/I check my look in the mirror/Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face . . ."

*Ne Te Retourne Pas*, the film's original French title, does not wind you up slowly but cranks up the key in your back with aggressive turns and then lets you loose to run off the tabletop like a runaway mechanical Satchel Paige who told us "Don't look back, something may be gaining on you." And it's rocketing toward Jeanne (Sophie Marceau), a historical journalist struggling with a fictive account of her own biography. But with the first seven years of her life cloaked in an amnesiac haze, and her reality morphing and undulating by the moment, messages are not gettin' clearer--they're clouding her every attempt to function normally.

First the kitchen table has shifted position, a fact completely unnoticed by her husband Teo (Andrea Di Stefano) and two children. Then pictures on the walls and the rooms they decorate change. Everything outside remains as it is to her, but the interiors are in a state of flux. Then scars on her legs, which she has had for years, disappear while the radio's on and she's movin' round her place. Her terror is palpable, and we feel it with her, for we are compelled to take her at her word, since this is the first time we've seen the table, pictures and rooms. Jeanne is our lynch pin to the narrative, and she's holding our armor of perception together and without it we're clueless and naked.

Are we held captive in the mind of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Is she totally delusional? Would Gnarls Barkley conclude maybe she's crazy? Is Rod Serling lurking around the next corner or behind the signpost up ahead? Will she unlock this door with the key of imagination, only to find an endless corridor of doors as in a dream? Well, we'll find no easy answers for the first hour, when at almost exactly the midpoint, Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) fulfills Bruce's wish to change her clothes, her hair, and her face to become Jeanne (Monica Bellucci), an Italian woman haunted by the same past.

Flummoxed yet? Well, by the time you witness Jeanne's facial histrionics aided by some sophisticated CGI, you may well be. The transmogrification of Jeanne (Sophie) to Jeanne (Monica) is unsettling in the least as it happens seamlessly before our eyes. Bone structure changes, highlights in her hair swirl away, eyes widen subtly and it's all fashioned in a public place, not the sanctity of a personal bathroom. Now it's Jeanne's (Monica) turn to take a healing train ride from France to Italy, still toting the same baggage, including disturbing flashes of appearance of a young girl who lingers long enough to be chased.

SIDEBAR: I once taught a book by Douglas Coupland, one of my favorite writers, called *Player One*. Among the frisky, odd characters was a woman suffering from prosopagnosia, or face blindness, a neurological disorder preventing the victim from recognizing faces of loved ones, friends, and in extreme cases themselves. Now there is a frightening prospect which, I began to wonder, would help account for Jeanne's actions and fears. But that's not the whole answer by a long shot--it's a deeper existential issue tied to search for identity, depression, repression, personal tragedy and trauma (at least in this case, thank God, it's not sexually based).

*Don't Look Back* presents a complex psychological profile of a soul aching for wholeness. Sophie Marceau is given the opportunity to show the not-so-slow unraveling of Jeanne with a strong performance shaded by determination and frustration, a fierce argument with a reality which will not yield to her wishes for stability. Monica Bellucci takes that foundation and builds with confidence and confusion, an investigative Alice who has smashed through the looking glass to find sanity in an insane world of swirling emotions and memories. The Lewis Carroll comparison is well founded, I think, as Jeanne's body image subtext leads to a nightmarish sequence wherein she shrinks and expands in a surrealistic fury.

Some folks may find this journey into the long, dark tea time of the soul impenetrable. It is a daring film in some respects, but I found the search inside worth the effort; it's treacherous ground when you go poking at a person's psyche with a sharp stick. *Don't Look Back* reflects the ideas of Douglas Adams, “It was his subconscious which told him this---that infuriating part of a person's brain which never responds to interrogation, merely gives little meaningful nudges and then sits humming quietly to itself, saying nothing.” By the end of the film, Jeanne (whoever is playing her at this point) nobly wears the scars of that nudging while we who have been with her in her trek sort out the remaining details. And I was up for the challenge.

*Don't Look Back* may be a lot of dancing in the dark, but I also found it an appropriate metaphor for our time as well: The search for Meaning and self, etching a place for yourself in the world, breaching the obstacles of uncertainty, reconciling body image with self-image, connecting in significant ways with those close to us, making peace with the past--even though we may be finished with it, the past is not finished with us, ad infinitum. A Halloween treat for thinkers, *Don't Look Back* perfectly captured another tune rattling around in my head, this one from The Temptations: "Round and round and around we go, where the world's headed nobody knows/Great googa mooga, can't you hear me talkin' to you, just a/Ball of Confusion that's what the world is today. . . ."

In spite of all that, remember you can't start a fire without a spark. I guess the trick is not allowing the fire to consume you, so let's grab some marshmallows and make some s'mores. Who's with me?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 10/16/2019, 8:16 pm

What a great collection of metaphors and quotes. Ya outdid yourself today Jeff. Anyone who quotes The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, gets extra points in my humble opinion. Now if there had been a Heinlein or Asimov quote incorporated into it as well... Oh Man! Or maybe Orwell. Somethin' like:

"Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else."

Or maybe:

"To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle."

Of course I may be off on a tangent again too.
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Post by ghemrats on 10/17/2019, 7:10 pm

This one's for you, Space.

Post #172: Show of hands--right hand red, left foot blue: How many of you remember playing Twister?  I don't know about you, but I love films that take your mind and make you feel like you're Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four playing that old Milton Bradley game. They bend your expectations, tie your powers to calculate logic in knots, cause you to fall on your back on the floor and laugh at your intellectual clumsiness.  The only thing lacking from this simile--comparing a movie to the high-physical-contact vinyl sheet game--is the hormonal pubescent rush promised by engaging in co-ed body contact; today's movie, *Predestination* (2014) won't work you up physically, but it will offer a ton of fun.

Daily I am reminded how many movies I haven't seen or heard of.  How did the Australian film *Predestination* with Ethan Hawke escape my notice? It has all the finesse of *Inception* (2010), the cool moves of *Shutter Island* (2010), the physics of *Primer* (2004) and *Back To The Future* (1985-1990)--but is wholly its own.  Drawn from a short story "All You Zombies" by Robert Heinlein (Space, hope that perked up your ears), *Predestination* was nominated for 27 Australian film awards (winning eight, including two separate Best Actress Awards for Sarah Snook) and won another three awards at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (Special Award for Best Sci-Fi Film, Special Award for Best Screenplay, and Audience Award for Best Feature Film).

As with any top-notch science fiction film, supplying a full plot synopsis positively ruins the enjoyment you'll gain from this lean 97-minute epic.  So let's just give you the faintest outline: Temporal Agent Ethan Hawke works for a shadow Bureau to "correct" historical events through time travel.  Now, on his last assignment he trails the elusive and destructive "Fizzle Bomber" responsible for the deaths of thousands in 1975 New York. Working a cover job as a bartender, the Agent is engaged in conversation with a customer who bets him a most amazing life story in return for a bottle of whiskey.  And so we begin. . . .

Produced, written and directed by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (who also wrote the Award-nominated score), *Predestination* wastes no frame of the film.  Every minute detail is loaded with significance, foreshadowing and sly innuendo that yields big dividends on repeat viewing.  In true auteur fashion the Brothers coyly tip their hats to Robert Heinlein throughout the film, which employs near-verbatim dialogue from his work: A copy of *Stranger In A Strange Land* lies next a typewriter, a saleswoman in a bookstore holds a copy of *The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress*, and at Space Corps during a routine examination, a doctor named Heinlein in the credits bears a striking resemblance to the author.  

And I can't even touch the hailstorm of grace notes that populate the background acoustic landscape and dialogue that nudge the audience on in the unfolding mystery.  I would hold up this film as evidence to skeptical cinematic newbies who tip their heads like puzzled dogs when faced with the possibility that the filmmakers ACTUALLY PLANNED some of the symbols in their movies; that no, these minutiae are not "accidental" and NO, I'm not reading too much into the scene. The tight construction and eye for revealing developments make this required viewing for human beings who love the movies . . . and for people who just sit there and allow the images to wash over them passively.

But we haven't even inched toward the philosophical questions this movie raises: Naturally, there's the old Free Will vs. Determinism battle, but when a film's first frame throws in your lap "What if I could put him in front of you? The man that ruined your life. If I could guarantee that you'd get away with it, would you kill him?"--Holy Wow, Toto, something tells me we're not in Kansas anymore.  Ever the jokester, Heinlein himself said, “Thinking doesn't pay. Just makes you discontented with what you see around you.” But any movie that freely tosses away the old Chicken-Egg chestnut and still manages to make it freshly relevant is my kind of film.  Chickens, eggs, Shroedinger's Cat, Pavlov's Dog, Skinner's Box, Marty McFly's Delorean, Descartes' walking into a bar, being asked if he'd like a martini and saying "I think not" and then disappearing--I'll take them all.  Granted, I am no Huxley-lite John the Savage, but I enjoy a good head scratcher.

Douglas Adams suggested 42 is the Answer to such Big Questions, and I love that he said, "There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."  Films like *Predestination* fuel that investigation, darn the torpedoes.  Risk being discontented.  Exercise that brain.  Get it out on the Twister mat and see just how limber you are.  It may not satisfy a primal desire to bump your uglies with another, but it'll give you a satisfying evening of conversation with yourself.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 10/18/2019, 7:05 am

Jeff great reviews always a treat to read and grab the nuances I might miss when viewing. Thanks to your diligence I have added 140000000 movies to my must see list. I am now quitting my job to dedicate the time I need to catch up. But Yahoo Seriously I love this thread its grand. We gotta maybe launch a Cobalt Club podcast that we rotate through all our likes, OTR, movies, Pulps, Books, Books, Scripts, vinyl records and Logs. I do not see anything out there with the eclectic taste we have it would be boffo to the community. Have greybelt and toebig interviews and stories all grand adventure.
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Post by ghemrats on 10/18/2019, 4:41 pm

Seamus, you are truly a great man of words. I humbly accept your kind thoughts and heartily look forward to the podcast days at the Cobalt. Once again you have proven to us all that you are the mastermind.  Kudos to you all around.  And now, to add to your list of watchable films. . . .

Post #173: Today, a Long Distance Dedication [Read in Casey Kasem's voice] coming to us from Fond Du Loc, Wisconsin, it reads: "Dear Casey, I've always been a big fan of Alan Rickman and that wonderful voice of his. I remember the days sitting on the family couch, watching his movies with my mom. We'd heat up Jiffy Pop--the magic treat, as much fun to make as it is to eat--pull up a wool blanket and float away on the delirium of Alan Rickman's intonations. They were warm and soothing, even when he was a terrorist shooting the obnoxious bearded guy in *Die Hard* before he was ready to totally nuke the Nakatomi Plaza; it's still one of my favorite Christmas memories. I'm older now, and I don't get to see my mom as often as I'd like, but would you play *Quigley Down Under* (1990) for her?  I know it would make her day. Thanks, Emily Williams​."

Well, Emily, I never liked that movie, so no.  But I will load up *Snow Cake* (2006) for you and your mom.  A joint English/Canadian production, the story goes like this:

Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman) has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for murder.  Tortured and world-weary on his way to Winnepeg, he is approached by the outgoing, eccentric teen with purple streaks in her hair, Vivienne Freeman (an endearing Emily Hampshire) who is hitchhiking to Wawa, Ontario.  Begrudgingly bemused by the teen, Alex agrees to give her passage as long as he can stand her. As mentioned in other movie commentaries, the ubiquitous fatal accident of a sixteen-wheeler broadsiding Alex's minivan leaves Alex shaken and Vivienne out of rest of the picture.  Alex completes the trip to Wawa with Vivienne's bagful of presents and heartache for Vivienne's mother (Sigourney Weaver) Linda, a high functioning austic woman.  So begins the forming of a bond between Alex and Linda as he helps her through the tragic wake of her daughter's death.

Critics are fairly evenly split about this film, though 90% of Amazon reviewers gave it four or five stars. Sigourney Weaver has been (and should be) heralded for her outstanding performance, having studied autism with an English woman after whom Linda is modeled, especially her interest in trampolining and sparkling lights.  Weaver's is a nuanced and powerful portrayal that stops the film from dissolving into soap opera or formula.  *Snow Cake* is not always easy to watch, as Alan Rickman's curmudgeon tends toward guilt-ridden misanthropy and Weaver's Linda tests the patience and boundaries of those around her.  There are moments of wonderful humor, fleeting though they may be, and scenes of warmth that help thaw some of the snow that covers the script and the grounds in Wawa.

Carrie-Anne Moss as Maggie, Linda's backyard neighbor whom Linda believes is a hooker (she's not), brings the romantic entanglement Alex needs to flesh out the story to a full 112 minutes.  As a character Maggie is a bit too New-Wavey for my tastes, cloaking her home in perpetual red lighting, complete with incense and herbal teas, but she works as a dramatic foil for Alex's long-suffering demeanor.  Criminally underused is Emily Hampshire as the free spirit (evinced by her last name, Freeman) Vivienne, who in a very short time infuses her joie de vivre in the undercurrent of the movie.  It is easy to see how she acted as an anchor to Linda's wistful drifting amidst a strict territorial and behavioral regimen Linda's life demanded.  And when we learn what drew her to Alex in the diner in the opening scene, we realize Vivienne's heart was much older than her years.

If we were to track all the tropes this film promises, we would have to conclude someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don't think that I could take it:  Grieving man meets carefree life force in a damaged woman, a road trip to answer unresolved conflicts, tremulous rejuvenation of the emotionally broken, jealous and suspicious police not-quite-boyfriend hovering at the periphery, oddball obsessive-compulsive teaches uptight judgmental townspeople what it is to dream and see beyond yourself, Big Symbolic speeches, resolution of conflict.

But somehow *Snow Cake* tends to rise above these elements when taken as a whole. Cynics may be moved, as Mencken said, to look for coffins when sniffing flowers, but there are very few flowers in this film.  Coffins, yes. A couple scenes that uncomfortably stretch to sound profound in their simplicity but really don't achieve the payoff, yes. (The grandfather reading Vivienne's children's book at her funeral? No, thank you--the seams are showing on the heart worn on that raveled sleeve of care)  But the snow motif is well handled, I thought. Vivienne singing "All Right Now" by Free (there's that word again, wonder if it was intentional. . . he said, sarcastically) becomes the anthemic subtext.  The slow revelations tied to Alex's lot in life are palpable forces in the narrative, deepening our understanding and appreciation of human suffering and the inexpressible impulses that drive silence. "I don't have baggage," Alex says. "I have haulage."

I think, above all, *Snow Cake* pleads with us to cease the endless smugness with which we may judge others.  One of Linda's pea-brained neighbors typifies the intellectual shorthand we use to determine others' worth; she "knows all about autism" because she saw that movie on TV, which evidently confers upon her a psychologist status.  Rickman said Alex was "a character I could live inside. It’s very rare for me to be sent a script, read it and say I’ll do it. It’s a film about relationships, so inevitably it’s going to be complex: otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? But it was also very camera-ready - more than any other screenplay I can remember. A big change happens to Alex in the course of the film, and there’s time in here to do it: it’s a very patient script, and it says an awful lot about how we set our moral compasses.”

So for people who do not have patience but want instant gratification of their cinematic needs, *Snow Cake* is a pass; many people looking at the DVD box will be led to believe it's a cozy little comedy along the lines of *Love Actually* (2003).  Actually--no.  This is a serious drama about letting go, seeking redemption, committing small acts of contrition, and learning how to find peace in a world bursting with choices of how we can fashion an attitude.  Perhaps it would be instructive to step under the metal helmet of Doctor Doom following an intense battle with The Fantastic Four, cited by Linda over a game of Scrabble:
 
"He stops for one second and he's totally overwhelmed by how big the world is and how small and unimportant he is. And as he turns around, we see his face look to the sky. And he says, very quietly, so that no one can hear him: 'Dazlious.'"  

Pop some Jiffy Pop, wrap yourself in a woolen blanket (unless you're allergic to wool, then substitute polyester), and have yourself a big slice of *Snow Cake* with someone meaningful in your life. You might find it dazilious.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 10/18/2019, 5:19 pm

For me and many others, it's not officially the Christmas Season, until I see Hans Gruber get tossed off the Nakatomi Plaza. Well, that and the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol.
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Post by ghemrats on 10/18/2019, 7:07 pm

Space, you must be reading my mail. I am with you 100%.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/19/2019, 5:46 pm

Post #174: You all know that there are bad movies that withstand the test of time in their awfulness. In fact, such films are perpetually a breath of lemon-scented Pledge when we watch them in wonder, relishing their endearing stink with a wide smile on our faces.  They know they are terrible, and we're in on the joke. Joel Hodgson, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo have made a living making fun of them, and MST3K fans line up in droves to watch them.  All hail the Garbage Pail.

Then there are those like today's film, *The Biggest Bundle Of Them All* (1968), that go about their smug business  radiating confidence that they are going to knock the socks off an admiring public.  Big names have been drawn to them--Vittorio de Sica, Robert Wagner, Raquel Welch (!), Godfrey Cambridge, Victor Spinetti, Edward G. Robinson, Davy Kaye! And the locales in Naples yearn to draw the very breath from us in aerial splendor. Such films have so much going for them, including Raquel Welch in a body-hugging wardrobe guaranteed to lurch young boys into early puberty and older men into wishing they were granted ten minutes with her before dying with a smile.  Oh, the humanity!

And still. . . . they suck every molecule of intelligent (and imbecilic) life out of the room in the first frame until, like a parched child reaching the bottom of a massive milk shake, all that is left is the hollow sucking sound of desperation. (Have I used up my quota of "suck" usage yet? Hmm, too bad. I had hope my supply was fuller.)

Oh where to begin? This is the kind of movie that not only lets you down, but assists in digging a hole for you so you can sink lower, feeling IQ points plummeting by the minute.  First, the opening theme sung by the comfortable, soothing warble of Johnny Mathis. "Most Of All There's You," he sings, which in retrospect makes me wonder what that has to do with the featured train robbery . . .  But since I watched this nightmare before Halloween, I'm moved to ask What's this? What's this? There's something very wrong. . .What's this? . . .There are people singing songs--Wake up, Jack! This isn't fair! The lyrics must have been written by Mrs. Shluckteluzengaard's Kindergarten Class, and the melody is resplendent in the '60s orchestration in the worst possible way. But at least the helicopter scenery of Italy is nice, so there is still hope.

Oh, I see--this is an American heist film made with an Italian film crew with the main characters sharing the spotlight, the great director Vittorio de Sica (*The Bicycle Thieves* (1948) and founder of Italian Neorealism, and Robert Wagner (TV's *It Takes A Thief*). Everyone else stands around these two, as you can see in the trailer still, wondering what to do; the script flounders and wastes the talents of the supporting cast, who are relegated to delivering one line at a time, then dashing away in earnest.  And as much as I admire the ineffable talents of Raquel Welch I cannot for the life of me figure out why she's in this film--except to teach Edward G. Robinson the watusi (in an embarrassing scene of dance that would have been vastly improved had they inserted Adam West as Batman doing the Batusi, making it much less cringeworthy), wear revealing, nearly-painted on ensembles, and look enamored when Robert Wagner calls her "Baby" and territorially intones, "Hey, that's my chick." [I will pause while we collectively shudder]

After the ponderous opening song, something happens, after which something else happens. . . and it goes on like this for 105 minutes. I apologize, but between scenes featuring Raquel Welch I can't recall in detail what occurs.  In fact several times while I was watching it, I seemed to have forgotten what I was watching.  Here's the "plot": A group of inept first-time nutballs kidnap an Italian don (Vittorio de Sica) for a big payoff, not realizing he's broke, on the downside skids after a life of affluence. When they can't get money from him, they force his hand into masterminding a heist. Raquel Welch wears revealing clothing, dances, mouths insipid dialogue, fawns over Robert Wagner, almost seduces Vittorio de Sica in a flimsy aqua burnoose, and generally looks amazing, defying the laws of nature (not that there's anything wrong with that).  She is, after all, the only truly bankable asset in the movie since everyone else is hamstrung by a script that lacks any consistent tone, shifting from straightforward crime caper to weak attempts at humor based in the team's ineptitude.  Not even a cameo by Eric Burdon and The Animals playing the eponymous title song can make it interesting. Granted, we don't actually SEE them playing in the club where Ms. Welch and Mr. Robinson are enacting their seizures, but the group WAS hot in 1968.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned comedy is slow to come.  The first forty-seven or so minutes plod from one failed attempt to another until a Big Plan is put in motion. Even then the director plays it safe with fizzling, modest quasi-slapstick that does not mesh well with the near-serious opening salvos.  The supporting gang of four just don't have that much to support. Robert Wagner is far too cool (that is, emotionally detached) and punkish to care about, actually distancing himself from everybody else in the film with his condescending man-in-control act. He plays his role a head gangster with such seriousness and faux-swagger that he doesn't earn or deserve that he becomes a turgid rectal pain when he should be an engaging, charming Cary Grant-inspired thief.

Once the Plan to steal five million dollars' worth of platinum bars is underway, and Wagner takes a backseat to the supporting players, things perk up momentarily, but by then it's fifteen minutes from the end and I was well into calculating the number of angels who could dance the watusi on the head of a pin to be buoyed by it.

From what I've gleaned from Raquel Welch's book, Robert Wagner's memoir and other sources, filming was not an altogether pleasant venture either, which may account for the shambling mess that appears on screen. And it appears Raquel was the root cause of some of the disharmony: She was notoriously late to set often, did not take especial pains to learn her lines (line? What lines? We doan need no steenkin' lines?), and fell very quickly out of favor when Edward G. Robinson was on the lot.  He said, "I didn't get to know Raquel Welch too well - we didn't have too many scenes together. I must say she has quite a body. She has been the product of a good publicity campaign. I hope she lives up to it because a body will only take you so far."  At one point in the filming Robinson took her aside and gave her a fierce ten-minute dressing down (not the way we might hope) for being unprofessionally late and making people wait for her, which left her in tears but did not change her behavior.

Even though director Ken Annakin made over fifty films, was honored by Disney as one of a very few Disney Legends (the only director to hold such an honor), was awarded the chivalrous Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and was conferred an honorary Doctor Of Letters degree at Hull University, he will not be remembered for this film.  At some time it must have been a good idea, but when the whole strength of its marketing campaign rests on the bikini'd bodice of its female supporting member, you know what you're in for.  Critically the film has been lauded for catching Raquel Welch in her prime and in her fitness--and that is all.  But even as an exploitative collection of close-ups of her wiggling backside, her committed upper frontal super structure, and her glorious mane of chestnut hair, *The Biggest Bundle Of Them All* is hardly more than *The Biggest Blunder [or Bumble] of Them All*.

But something good has come out of this excursion: Tomorrow I'll be commenting on a genuinely Knows It's Bad 1950s thriller, and like for contrast, it's uniquely positioned to entertain precisely because of its loony putridness makes no claims to be more than it is.  Stay tuned, as it will gleefully wash away the gross aftertaste of this 1960s acid washing. (And in case I wasn't clear, I really didn't like *The Biggest Bundle of Them All*, but then that's just me.)
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/20/2019, 6:02 pm

Post #175: DISCLAIMER: In commenting on today's film, I want to make it clear that I have never been one to populate a cult of any type.  They're just not my thing.  And I'm quick to point out that it's not my place to judge anyone who would surrender his/her free will to a moronic, soul-sucking, sacrificial, candle-coated back room congregation of needy bone-headed lemmings who collectively hold the IQ of a fence post.  My non-judgmental philosophy has always been live and let live. Even if a cult's followers enact weird ceremonial rituals with cabbages while dancing nude around a bird bath in their backyards and chant while playing Cootie in a pyramid--I'm okay with that, as long as they cut their lawn and don't shout their incantations too late in the evening, disturbing our dog, or etch runic symbols on the wall of my garage.  I'm talking property values here, folks.

With that said, prepare yourself for a High Campy, sexy little romp which lies near the bottom of Dumbdom, a goofy spooky spectacle which may have been racy for its time but today offers the giddy joy of ineptitude, *The Devil's Hand* (1961).  Starring Alan Alda's father, an accomplished actor in his own right, Robert Alda, and a voluptuous vixen ironically named Linda Christian, this gigglefest also sports in a supporting role Neil Hamilton, who would climb out of this firepit of foolishness to redeem himself as Commissioner Gordon five years later on *Batman* (Holy Hellmonger, as Robin would say).

Our tale of terror-ible truculence inflicted on a young engaged couple begins with Rick Turner's bothersome bouts of bad dreams--a beautiful blonde in a diaphanous gown swirling and dancing in a cloud bank (even though you can see the formica floor in her superimposition).  She's entrancing, leaving a barely awake Rick to do little more than sweat and pant in his pajamas. Later, when he and his blindly trusting fiancee Donna Trent (Ariadna Welter) stumble upon a doll shop, they are drawn in by a black gowned doll bearing a startling resemblance (is there any other kind in these movies?) to the woman in Rick's dreams.  Could it be a coincidence? Oh, come on, how gullible are you anyway?

Entering the store, the couple meet the kindly old devil worshipper behind the counter Frank Lamont (Neil Hamilton) who recognizes Rick, insisting Rick ordered the compelling black gowned doll who resembles Bianca Milan (Linda Christian), whom Rick has never met.  Confused, they find ANOTHER doll which looks amazingly like Donna! which Frank will not sell to them, for unknown to them, he has special nefarious plans for the Donna Doll in his cellar altar.  Do you need a Rand McNally road map to see where this is headed?

The bewitching Bianca comes to Rick again that night, actually speaking to him while the clouds bump into her ample bosom straining to break free of her wispy gown.  Hot and bothered, Rick returns to Frank's Olde Shoppe For All Things Satanic (serving the public since 1692, repossessions enforced seriously), picks up the Bianca doll--though he has no memory of having already paid for it or ordered it in the first place--and takes it to Bianca herself.  Surprisingly (if you're seven years old) she is waiting for him, flouncing around her apartment in a gossamer gown and fixing him drinks ("Ooh, tastes like Devil's Brew" Rick says without a trace of irony or awareness) and dinner before languidly stretching out on the couch and, as the youngsters call it, sucking his face with animal abandon.  Why, Rick! How could you do this to Donna?  Oh yes, Donna's doll has now accessorized her outfit with a twelve-inch ball-ended stick pin through the heart, which has landed her real-life counterpart in the hospital, so I guess technically Rick can be forgiven for this little slip with Bianca.

Yes, it all goes on like this for a grand 71 minutes, fast tracking Rick's descent into selling out to Big Red, here named the devil god Gamba.  I kept waiting for Gamba's best friend Poka, the happy orange horse, to show up, but he never did. Oh, there's the obligatory bongo playing and modified Twyla Tharp wannabe dance routine suggesting primal itching, and the instrument of death is nothing so banal as a jewel-encrusted scimitar or zircon-encrusted tweezers but there is a Wheel! Of! Unfortunate! Knives! (and paper knives) hanging overhead, ready to drop down anytime someone says the Secret Word and splits $50.

But beyond the overwrought sweaty close-ups of Robert Alda, the mincing attempts at melodramatic seriousness of Neil Hamilton and the simple seductive prowess of Linda Christian, you have to hear the theme to believe it.  I doubt I have ever--even in Beach Party fiascoes--heard a trashier surf rock twang that ushers in this movie.  Even if you don't have time for the whole film (just over an hour?), at least get your heinie over to Youtube and cue up the opening for the sheer, completely oblivious to the plot, '60s tinny tinkling of the reverb'd guitar strings.  It is unbearably classic. "Dance Theme" as it's called was written by Baxter Knight and is reprised once during a ritual late in the film, though no one gets up and does The Swim or The Monkey. It was also released as a 45 by Chess Records, probably to help boost the morale of  Satanic surfer cults throughout California.

Linda Christian, it should be noted, was Erroll Flynn's lover, and it was Flynn who convinced her to go into acting. After a screen test she underwent extensive dental surgery funded by Erroll Flynn who, years later upon seeing her, said, "Smile, baby – I want to see those choppers: they took their first bite out of me."  She was also once married to Tyrone Power and holds the distinction of being the very first Bond girl in the television adaptation of *Casino Royale* on *Climax* on October 21, 1954; the show also starred Barry Nelson, as Bond, and Peter Lorre as Le Schiffre.   Referring to *The Devil's Hand*, Christian said,  "The picture was shot really quickly. They were having financial problems and wanted to get it in the can. ... I don't think everybody got paid. They owed us quite a bit of money. My sister, Ariadna [Welter] was also in the film ... she said later, 'Never again!' to doing a film in America."  Ariadna Welter (Donna) returned to her native Mexico where she starred in nine additional films.

Christian voiced her disappointment in the film: "I liked my part. It was rather glamorous, but I was disappointed when the script was made into a film because it was so superficial. They changed the emphasis from magic and witchcraft to devil worship." Robert Alda voiced similar concerns.  One can only speculate how the exorcism of the cult thread would have changed the film, but perhaps the Wacky Factor would have been reduced and made it less fun than the witless wonder it is.  It's all played So. Very. Seriously--and evokes laughs because of it, making *The Devil's Hand* (what has THAT got to do with baleful, beastly Barbies?) a great deal of bloodless, harmless, toothless fun.  

So for a low-creep factor Halloween treat, plug in this little flicker and prepare your best Crow T. Robot or Tom Servo quips.  Just don't go decorating my garage with Neolithic Physical Graffiti which translated and played backward say, "Sit with elders of the gentle race/This world has seldom seen/They talk of days for which they sit and wait/All will be revealed."  It has a great beat, and I'd like dancing to it, but it's no Baxter Knight "Dance Theme."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/21/2019, 6:25 pm

Post #176: Today's feature *Atlantic City* (1981) could be considered a study in demolished dreams, just as many of its buildings are crumbling in decay.  The movie itself is a testament to broken dreams as it was nominated for five Academy Awards--Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director--and won none of them, a distinction shared with only five other movies in filmdom.  That's a shame, because with such talent as Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon and director Louis Malle with a script by John Guare (*Six Degrees Of Separation*), you know you have a slow burn hit. A genuine classic by any standard.


Released in France and Germany in 1980 before reaching American audiences, this French-Canadian film marks Burt Lancaster's final Oscar nod. His portrait of Lou Pascal, 68, one of the last remnants of high-profile organized crime, is marked by delusional, inflated importance and a low yearning for the good ol' days of Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. One of the scant thrills he can eke out of life is covertly watching his neighbor, Sally Matthews (Susan Sarandon) (34 exactly half the age of Lou) an oyster bar hostess with aspirations of working as a dealer in a casino, as she nightly washes the fishy perfume of the day from her skin with sliced lemons.  Lou also suffers the indignity of running numbers and serving (and servicing) the demands of Grace Pinza (Kate Reid), the crabby bedridden widow of one of his crime cronies.  Gone are the glory days Lou recalls when he was a man of singular importance, all his familiar haunts being wrecking balled to make way for fresh legalized gambling.

Drawn to the promise of quick wealth, Sally's estranged husband Dave (Robert Joy) returns, having impregnated Sally's sister and stolen a huge cache of cocaine from the Philadelphia crime syndicate.  Pinched for ready cash, Dave enlists Lou's help in distributing the drugs, but is quickly dispatched by vengeful hoods in search of their stash.  Thus Lou is back in the saddle again, holding a fortune in illicit powder with nothing significant tying him to Dave.  Crank up the dream machine--he's reclaiming his status as The Man, which can help him get closer to his neighbor who is now standing at the epicenter of a snow storm.

The clip I've linked to shows Lou and Sally early in their unusual relationship. (Don't watch the film's trailer as it suffers from that Too Many Spoilers routine.)   A sweet sadness imbues Lancaster and Sarandon's scenes together as we watch two broken people striving to redeem their tired lives with noble ambitions. Even early on as Burt Lancaster walks the wind swept streets, pushed along by roiling newsprint and urban blight, he exudes a kind of dignity few actors possess. Susan Sarandon's soulful eyes mask deep emotional entrapment, a life of disappointments that all but extinguish her striving for Something Better that keeps inching away with her every step toward it.

For Lou, Sally represents everything redemptive, vitally alive and hopeful.  She is the innocence he lost to time, the romantic ideal of life as a succession of spectacular dreams, achievable, real and filled with the crisp scent of fresh lemons. For Sally, Lou represents knowledge, connectivity with something great and worldly, the romantic proof that life can stretch beyond musky walls papered with disenchantment, bad luck, poor choices and an unshakable urging not to dream because she's not part of the gifted class.  Her lemons are utilitarian, not symbols of romance.

The dialogue is tinged with reminiscence. One exchange between Lou and Dave is particularly telling:

Lou: I'd feel bad for a while, but I'd jump into the ocean, swim way out. Come back in feeling nice and clean and start all over again.

Dave: I never seen the Atlantic Ocean till just now.

Lou: The Atlantic Ocean was something then. Yes, you should've seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days. . . . It's all shit now. It's a shame you never saw Atlantic City when it had floy floy. Remember the song, "Flatfoot Floogie with the Floy Floy"?

Dave: No.

Lou: Hep cat and zoot suit. That was the floogie part.

Dave: Yeah?

Lou: The floy floy. That was something special. Atlantic City had floy floy coming out of its ears in those days. Now it's all so goddamn legal. Howard Johnson running a casino. Tutti-frutti ice cream with craps don't mix.


Lou's memory, we learn, is an unreliable narrator, not only for us but for himself. His delineation of *Flatfoot Floogie With The Floy Floy* is romanticized in reflection, as is his association with organized crime, all in an effort to glamorize the unattainable past; after all, few of the original gangsters are still alive to validate Lou's memories. "Flatfoot Floogie" was originally written as "floozie," which refers even today as a woman who has no trouble making "friends" sexually, but censors of the day objected to it, so it was rewritten as "Floogie." And though Lou would like to remember "floy floy" as affluence gained illegally, a nice neologism in his mind, the actual slang usage implied venereal disease, obviously contracted by a floozie's indiscriminate indiscretion.  

But this self selection of details is part of Atlantic City's DNA. Grace Pinza pines away her days, reliving the glory of being a beauty queen.  "I came here during the war. Betty Grable look-alike contest. The boardwalk filled with hundreds of Betty Grable look-alikes - from all over America - selling war bonds," she says, though Lou remembers her sarcastically and not altogether charitably as "Miss Pinball Machine."  And Grace is quick to point out that Lou is not the man about town he thinks he is, as a way of building up her sagging self image: "I'm still a very important woman in this town. I'm Cookie Pinza's widow! He used to deliver coffee for Cookie. He's my servant."  And so the clash between reality and a comforting illusion becomes a sharp commentary on the wages of age and the limitations of one's own reach.

By the end we have come to realize, for many, dreams come equipped with ceilings.  For some, life will offer short respites in nice restaurants and clothiers' fine showrooms, but you can't keep what's not yours. In spite of that rather somber modern noir lesson, *Atlantic City* keeps pumping out the dreams; they may be a little scaled back and scuffed up, but they're still yours, and every once in a while you can still catch the whiff of freshly slivered lemons to wash the air clean.  And for that moment the world opens like a faithful lover's arms.  
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/22/2019, 12:34 pm

Post #177:  Any movie that features the song stylings of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding, Richie Valens, Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney, Elvis Presley, AND Fine Young Cannibals' "Good Thing" is a winner in my collection. And if those names alone don't sell you on sitting down for the fun and frustrations of aluminum siding salesmen, then this blurb from the promotional posters should: "The Year - 1963. Selling the American Dream is a risky, funny business - you could wind up paying with your wife!"  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you today's feature *Tin Men* (1987),

In full disclosure mode here, I bought this film years ago on the wisp of a memory that I liked it when it first came out. Beyond its stars Danny DeVito, Richard Dreyfuss and Barbara Hershey, though, I could remember only that it was about competitive aluminum siding salesmen who escalated a dirty war after a chance encounter.  I had completely forgotten, until last night, how darned funny and wicked it was, backed by writer/director Barry Levinson's fantastic ear for dialogue, which may be second only to David Mamet and The Coen Brothers, though that's a tough call.

Ernest Tilley (Danny DeVito) starts his day out with a painful crick in the neck and a quiet, simmering disinterest in his wife Nora (Barbara Hershey, who is transformative in her role).  Tilley is stuck in a slump at work, and to make matters worse the newly formed Maryland Home Improvement Commission has ramped up its investigation into the aluminum siding industry's fraudulent and corrupt selling practices.  But at least Tilley can take comfort in the status and luxury of his Cadillac Eldorado. . . .

That is, until rival siding salesman Bill "BB" Babowsky (Richard Dreyfuss) exits a Cadillac showroom in a brand new baby blue Cadillac Coup deVille, smashing into Tilley's pride and joy in a harrowing clash of metal. Neither driver being a poster boy for calm reason, the two explode in a furious flurry of fists and promises to "get" the other as surrounding bystanders try to mitigate their temper tantrums. But BB and Tilley are men of principle, doggone it, if by "principle" we mean behaving as one might in a Cage Grudge Match with a lot of kicking and crowbars.  Theirs is a oneupmanship extending well past the provocation in traffic, escalating to BB's seduction of Tilley's rather mousy wife, Nora.

*Tin Men* becomes a wonderful examination of the multi-faceted American Dream and definitions of success. Surrounding the particulars are wonderfully cohesive supporting players including John Mahoney (best remembered as *Frasier*'s father Martin), Michael Turner (*LA Law*), Bruno Kirby (a Barry Levinson regular and supporting player for Billy Crystal films including *City Slickers* (1991) and *When Harry Met Sally* (1989)) and Jackie Gayle, whose preoccupation with the lack of realism in *Bonanza* is a great running gag.  According to Mahoney and Kirby, the shoot was a grand experience with the entire ensemble cast dining, joking and hanging around together.  Levinson purposefully conducted no rehearsals or running of lines with the actors, as he wanted to promote a loose camaraderie on set.  In fact, Levinson once caught Dreyfuss and Mahoney practicing their delivery in a quiet corner and told them "No no no! Stop it!" The actors obliged.

While DeVito and Dreyfuss are notably center stage, Barbara Hershey just about steals every scene she's in. Her gradual flowering into empowerment is a joy, as she gives a sweetly nuanced performance as the dutiful, recessive Nora who has grown used to her routine as marital partner, then opening her horizons to blossom as a fully formed advocate for her own happiness.  But her influence is not contained within her--in her transfigured crucible, her quiet fire burns away the rust and corrosion of Tilley and BB, forcing them to confront their true selves.  Yet it comes slowly, starting with BB's planned "chance" meeting in a supermarket, which stirs Nora's ardor.  She tells her friend at work:

"I just want to know what it's like to be with someone else. [She sips her Coke.] Because if what I've got with Tilley is as good as it gets, I just...[she shrugs her shoulders] ... I gotta know." Her friend Nellie responds, "I hope you know what you're doing ... you speak to some guy at the frozen food section for five minutes, you could jeopardize your whole marriage."  And then Nora spells out her whole disenchantment with the stereotypical American Dream that she is *supposed* to embrace: "Everything I've done in my life has been safe and practical, and where's that gotten me? [She lifts her paper cup] Well, here's to who knows what."  They touch their cups.

Even though the story is set in Baltimore in 1963, this scene could be enacted anywhere in America today. In Tilley's drive to succeed at any cost--hence the investigations into the business's corrupt techniques which become a game to see who can outwit the greatest number of witless buyers--his definition of success does not correlate to the formation of relationships.  Every transaction is attached to a price tag, spiritual or tangible. Nora is a pawn in BB's game of Get Even, and Tilley's reaction to that game is striking--his marriage is reduced to the acquisition of material goods which he throws on the front lawn without much compunction. "I'm a free man! I'm a free man!" he yells to the neighborhood, then drives his Caddy around the town listening to Sinatra--even the shooting script offers the stage direction "He's hard to read... a mixture of happiness and sadness."

What motivates these guys?  Levinson offers us a nice color commentary in the aftermath of Nora's infidelity. Over lunch Tilley says, "I keep racking my brain. I gotta find a way to really get even with this guy. It isn't enough to wreck his car... even breaking into his house and messing it up or something, that don't have enough impact. I mean, the man poked my wife! I gotta come up with something ingenious...something ingenious." Take Nora's emotional landscape out of the equation--this is business! At the end of the day, where does the payoff lie? You're in a sales slump, you have lost your wife (not that you ever HAD her to begin with), you're being investigated and could lose your license, the IRS is hounding you--and your chief concern is settling a score with a competitor who can beat you on the Shallowness Meter.

But Levinson's aim is more than just playing up the cultural narcissism of salesmen whose breed is slowly dissolving around them (Hello, Willy Loman).  Some of the characters are moved out of their complacent bloolust for "success," whatever that is, into a moment of clarity. Sam (our *Bonanza* expert) seeks something stronger as a motivating force, and he explains his epiphany at a salad bar:

Tilley says, "You found God at the smorgasbord? . . . Sam, people have religious experiences like on a lake or when they go up into the mountains, that kind of thing."  Sam reflects, "Maybe... but I had mine in a smorgasbord. So I see celery, I see the lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower... and I think, all these things come out of the ground... they just grow out of the ground. They had corn -- out of the ground... radish -- out of the ground. You say to yourself, how can all these things come out of the ground? You know what I'm talking about? All these things are out of the ground. . . .I mean, how can that be? It just happened that way? And I'm not even getting into the fruits...I'm just dealing with vegetables right now. With all those things coming out of the earth, there must be a God."

Sing along with me now, "above the fruited plane. . ." Sam's flashback to the agrarian roots of the American Dream seems so childlike in its awe that we laugh, especially since we've been so focused on the competitive drive of our central conflict. When Tilley is divesting himself of the whole of Nora's wardrobe, it's certainly not out of the adoption of an ascetic code of ethics; in fact, it instantly and inversely reminded me of the "baptismal" scene in *The Great Gatsby* wherein Gatsby showers Daisy with his cascade of colored shirts.  This is how we define the worth of a person--through clothes. Gatsby defines himself by volume; Tilley symbolically frees himself by scattering Nora's clothes all over the front lawn in a colorful display of rejection: You are disposable, Nora.  And all those spaces that held her accoutrements leave empty spaces he won't recognize immediately but soon and for the rest of his life.

So it becomes necessary to pay attention to the acoustic background of this film too. The songs are perfectly representative of the time, the actions and the emotional undercurrent. "Sweet Lorraine" by Nat Cole sweeps us into a romantic mindset as we open with less than perfect marital harmony of the Tilleys. Jo Stafford's lilting "You Belong To Me" underscores relationships as a passive, material possession--to HAVE and to hold, and her "All The Things You Are" is pretty inclusive if you think about it. "Try A Little Tenderness" by Otis Redding plays as BB considers stealing Tilley's "property," and Fine Young Cannibals' "Good Thing [Where Have You Gone?]" punctuates the pain. I laughed out loud at Gene Pitney's contribution for the associations it held within the accompanying scene. Here is a filmmaker who knows how to subtly underscore his portrayals of Americana.

The title itself, *Tin Men*, by mental association becomes a wonderful metaphor for BB and Tilley. All they need is heart, but by their very nature and choice of profession, in their present mind set, that's not possible: They are Men, they are hard, shiny happy people as long as they're on top, and their biggest mortal sin is failure at the competition's hand. But the Tin Man of Oz was also hollow, mechanical, and as the Maryland Home Improvement Commission indicates, dying one way or another--of a heart attack, moral corrosion or simple misuse and neglect.  

That's tough stuff of such a delicate comedy of manners, but it's also one heckuva neglected classic. With its warm palette of pastel colors, its rippling dialogue, spot-on performances and easy pacing, *Tin Men* can be a really filling pass through the smorgasbord--and we're not even getting into the fruits.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/23/2019, 2:00 pm

Post #178:  I was sixteen when I saw *2001: A Space Odyssey* for the first (and second and third) time, and I was one of a select number of people in the audience who were not stoned or chemically altered in some form. Entranced by the majesty and mystery of Kubrick's vision, I spent many hours discussing its intricacies with friends, acquaintances and, in strict compliance with Neal Diamond's "I Am, I said," even the chair.  Years later as I planned a future with the woman who is now my wife, I shared with her my passionate interest in Kubrick's conundrum.  She hated it.  Every single minute of it.  I should have known that reaction would predict the future and become Standard Operating Procedure for the majority of movies I loved, but as Tommy Wiseau so sagely pointed out, "Luff is blind." But we have been married for over forty years now and we haven't killed one another, so her hating my movies is fine, I'm still blessed.

That little prologue is actually relevant to the film I finally watched last night, today's feature, *The Fountain* (2007) written and directed by Darren Aronofsky.  That's a name to remember, for reasons I'll explain in a moment. Aronofsky is not Kubrick--shoot, Kubrick himself wasn't Kubrick toward the end--but he carries on the tradition of intricate, provocative and meticulous craftmanship with a vast scope and visual bravura.  His movies tend to be heavily binary--you love them or hate them.  Don't mess with Mr. In-Between. In a word, Aronofsky's films are pithy.

With that said, *The Fountain* pithed me off.

Have you ever experienced that wondrous phenomenon I call Cinematic Temporal Displacement (CTD)? Even though the film you've sat through is three- to four-hours long, you walk out saying, "I would never have guessed it was that long. It just flew by, I was so into it"  It's happened to me many times; Joyce tends to say, "That didn't feeeeel like two hours."  I must admit I don't know what the standard of ANY time unit should feel like, but I do know how *The Fountain* made me feel.  Even though it's really fairly short, just 96 minutes, I felt like I had taken a three-hour tour. A three-hour tour. The weather started getting rough within the first twenty minutes or so (who can tell when you’re suffering from CTD?), and then it de-escalated into a dry tsunami.

Visually, *The Fountain* is stunning. You can tell that from the trailer. And realizing that Aronofsky did employed only practical effects, not CGI, enhances my appreciation of his work as a filmmaker. The colossal cosmos he chronicles is the product of macro cellular photography, and its ability to catch the symmetry of the liquid world is strikingly beautiful.  On a big screen it surely is a feast of composition.

And the stars (not the celestial ones but the actors) are two of my favorites—Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, who was Aronofsky’s significant other at the time the film was made, much the same way Jennifer Lawrence and he were an item during the shooting of *mother!* (2017); am I sensing a pattern here? Both actors play incarnations of at least two characters (three, depending on your interpretation of the plot), forging a powerful bond as lovers in various stages of acceptance and denial. At this point I should clarify that *The Fountain*, like most of Aronofsky’s films, is highly ambiguous, open to dozens if not hundreds of interpretations. This propensity toward the abstract is one of his great strengths and weaknesses for audiences, hence the love/hate responses.  So if you think I’m being notoriously obtuse here, it’s the nature of the work, not my fevered inability to be precise. Although it could be that too.

So if I liked Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Tom and Izzie Creo) playing a potently in love married couple, and the cinematography was breathtaking, and the visuals were so detailed, controlled and imaginative, why the long face, Mr. Horse?  Well, I don’t want to get pithy, but for all its technological expertise, its philosophical underpinning, and its unrelenting demands of Hugh Jackman’s emotional stages, *The Fountain* for me threw too many disparate cultural impulses at the screen without benefit of a discernable narrative thread to hold them all together.

It was like an extremely expensive local warehouse commercial with a screaming pitchman: “Come on down to The Fountain Retailers Warehouse, friends. We got Mayans, we got Catholics, we got the Inquisition flown in special from 16th Century Spain, we got conquistadors, we even have bald headed New Wave mavens sitting in the lotus position floating in our warehouse space.  Degenerative brain disorders? We got ‘em.  Looking for the golden nebula of Xibalba resting on the cusp of a supernova—get it while it lasts!  Easy financing available. No shirt? No shoes? No cash? No problem! No life too big, no life too small. Now open for all eternity. Locations in 1500, 2000, and 2500 AD. . . No matter what time you come in, you’ll get a free Tree Of Life with every purchase!”

There is no doubt that Aronofsky went to extreme lengths of time, energy and thought in preparing this film.  Every dollar of its $35,000,000 budget is on display, and many critics hail the film as “transcendent,” “worth the six year wait,” and an artistic achievement; just as many audience members proclaim it’s pretentious, incoherent, “a yawn fest,” and one indignant critic said he’d rather be punched in the face.  Several of his other films have earned similarly polarized reviews: *Pi* (1998), *The Wrestler* (2008), *Black Swan* (2010), and most recently *mother!* (2017)—all of which I either loved or appreciated for whatever mission they were on.  His *Requiem For A Dream* (2000) I still maintain is one of the most depressing films ever committed to celluloid. But you can never discount his efforts as frivolous fluff pieces.

After all this circumlocution, for those who still want to give *The Fountain* a shot, here lie the bare bones of the “story” as far as I can figure it out. Caveat: this is just my interpretation, others’ will vary; objects in the rear view mirror may be closer than they appear; close cover before striking. . . .

Izzie Creo (uh oh, check that name—it’s symbolic! translated from the Spanish as “I believe,” her whole name  derived from "Y sí, creo," or "And yes, I do believe") has been writing a book with the titular title as she is terminally ill with cancer. She has finished all but the last chapter which she asks her husband Tom to finish at her death.  Tom is a frantic, driven scientist whose experiments with a South American tree may yield a cure for Izzie’s brain cancer if he can just complete his findings in time to save her.

Izzie’s book follows the 16th Century captive Queen Isabella I of Castille (also Rachel Weisz) as she sends her conquistador Tomas Verde (also Hugh Jackman) into the South American jungles to find a legendary tree to help save her and her subjects from the Inquisition. This story is intercut with scenes from the present as Izzie reconciles herself to death while Tom refuses to accept the prospect of life without her. The third story (some people believe is set in 2500) follows the mental, spiritual and physical training of a monkish traveler (still Hugh Jackman) as he and The Tree of Life encapsulated in a globe move inexorably toward the Xibalba nebula about to enter a supernova phase.  The film moves fluidly and sometimes jarringly among these three frames.

I should hasten to point out none of these frames is clearly spelled out narratively; understanding comes to us gradually as we attempt to decipher timelines and intersecting symbols and people, or it remains elusive and as frustrating as trying to stop a circular band saw with your thumb and forefinger.  Izzie appears before the monk who appears before the Mayan priest who kills Tomas, so if one these bottle should happen to fall, forty-two bottles of beer on the wall. . . .

Now I THINK we’re seeing (1.) an enactment of Izzie’s book with the conquistador and his trek to find the Tree at the top of a Mayan temple, where he has a showdown with the priest; (2.) Tom’s tireless attempts to find a cure for Izzie’s brain cancer in the present day; (3.) Tom finishing Izzie’s book with the monk reaching the nebula and metaphorically representing Tom’s acceptance of Izzie’s death, so when the nebula supernovas, they are reunited in “the spiritual realm” or Heaven.  Up to this time Tom’s suffering and depression are stopping him from completing Izzie’s blank Chapter 12, the last chapter, because doing so would mean facing she’s really gone.

OR I have drunk way too much cough syrup and the whole thing is about stealing souped up cars and racing against terrorists in a marathon.  Either way, I think the next movie is see may be something along the intellectual lines of Beany and Cecil. Boy, I do love that Dishonest John—Nyaa Ahh Ahh!

Oh, and by the way, if you DO watch *The Fountain* and get something altogether different from your viewing, I will gladly acknowledge you’re probably right.  Just remember to keep your pith helmet within reach.  
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/24/2019, 4:39 pm

Post #179: Author Kimberly McCreight wrote, “Sometimes it's hard to tell how fast the current's moving until you're headed over a waterfall.” That's a sentiment (or is it sediment if we're talking about being swept up and away?) I've felt a lot lately: Just this week we've had new windows installed, received two bids on returning our basement (the unwilling subject of a sewer flood back in July) to a state of zero toxicity so we don't continue using ourselves as a radium dial night light anymore, started prepping for my wife's oral surgery today (all the bottom teeth are like the stars, coming out) and getting our dog's nails trimmed. I feel like Ferris Bueller's right: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." So if you want to stretch back and relax with a nice little no-brainer movie that will wind down your tightly sprung internal clock, don't see *2 Days In The Valley* (1996), today's feature.

Now don't get me wrong (he said for the forty-second time): *2 Days In The Valley* is, in my mind, a really funny dark comedy posing as a crime film, and its cast positively kills . . . in a good way. It's a fierce amalgam of comedic styles and sarcastic menace involving violence, indignation, crosses and double crosses, sex, betrayal and a dash of sweetness and romance; in other words, it has something for everyone, though it's not for everyone. There is blood, there is F-bomb strafing, and there is murder, but there is also a theme of connectivity, loyalty and optimism among the chaos, just to balance out the wild teeter totter of action and laughter.

But wait! There's more. Most conventional crime films give you one plot with perhaps three characters. Not so with *2 Days In The Valley*, my friends. With this film, if you act before last midnight, you get five--count 'em, 5--plots taking place over a forty-eight-hour period in the San Fernando Valley. And not just three characters but eleven, one of whom is dispatched pretty quickly. Step right up, folks, you can't tell the stories without a score card. Here's how the five plots expose themselves, with no spoilers because I'd hate to ruin your fun:

*Sociopathic hitman Lee Woods (James Spader) and over-the-hill gangster Dosmo Pizzo (Anny Aiello) are hired to kill the philandering Roy Foxx (Peter Horton), which they do after drugging his wife (Teri Hatcher) Becky, an Olympic skiier, as she lies in bed next to him. Becky wakes the next morning to find what's left of her husband and runs down the street, bruised and bloody, in search of help.

*Dosmo ends up at the high-modern house of a condescending art dealer Allen Hopper (Greg Cruttwell) who's suffering from painful kidney stones, taking out his worst frustrations on his submissive secretary Susan (Glenne Headly). Dosmo takes them hostage, finds Hopper's mistreatment of Susan unconscionable and befriends and defends her.

*Meanwhile, across town, Emmy-winner director Teddy Peppers (Paul Mazursky) grows more depressed and suicidal by the moment, his key link to life being his dog Bogie. Interrupted at his wife's gravesite where he intends to follow through with his plan, Teddy sees a fellow mourner Audrey Hopper, a nurse (Marsha Mason) to whom he bequeaths Bogie. Audrey convinces Teddy to join her in a visit to her brother, who will become Bogie's new owner.

*Downtown, two cops--the idealistic rookie Wes Taylor (Eric Stoltz) and his grizzled, pessimistic partner Alvin Strayer (Jeff Daniels)--work out a half-baked scheme to rid the Valley of Japanese/Vietnamese massage parlors.

*Dealing with her husband's assassination, Becky meets with her best friend, Helga Svelgen (Charlize Theron) who may have been having an affair with Becky's dead husband Roy and is now the lover of Roy's killer, Lee.

And the green grass grew all around all around, and the green grass grew all around. In smartly manicured lawns of palatial homes in the Valley. Since this is all taking place in 48 hours, you can bet all five stories weave and interconnect as it plays out in screwball comedic action with deadly overtones. This could be deemed a spoof of by-the-book noir convolutions, but I prefer to think of it as boldly original with crisp dialogue and very clearly defined characterizations. Every protagonist and antagonist in the film has quirks to be sure, but a character does not breathe as an accumulation of odd personal trademarks. And I think this is where *2 Days In The Valley succeeds--there are surprises in these people and their motivations are genuinely intriguing as we get to know them.

For me two actors establish themselves above the rest, though all are perfect in their roles: James Spader, with his red hair with a permanent wave, his carefree lack of social regard for anyone or anything, and his reliance on a stop watch to annoy, badger and create a general sense of impending dread; and Danny Aiello with his perpetually slippery bad toupee, his chivalrous indignation with Hopper's humiliating disdain for the doormat Susan, and his self-effacing embarrassment over working part-time in a pizzaria. These two actors are the spine of the stories' intersection, and they stand as imposing forces in their own ways, a pathologically narcissistic pain-giver of no moral compass whatsoever facing a morally flawed but basically principled former gangster fallen on hard times but seeking redemption--as long as there are no dogs around.

The film also refuses to shy away from showcasing the estimable talents of a young Charlize Theron in two show-stopping set pieces. Notably the first film to offer her an incredibly steamy nude scene with James Spader (who remains mostly clothed), this film unveils Theron's total commitment to her character. Perhaps only she can outdo Spader in telegraphing a dangerous roiling passion lurking just beneath the surface. Since this was her first speaking role, she proves early on (in the film and in her career) that she is a force to be reckoned with. With her image securely cemented as a temptress, in the same film, she displays her action chops in a dynamic all-out brawl against Teri Hatcher. It's a scene of tremendous energy and fairly high brutality, especially when you consider Theron, unaccustomed to fight scenes, literally connected with one of her punches, injuring Hatcher and apologizing with a gift of cheap beer. Since then she has shaken us to the core with her Imperator Infuriosa in *mad Max: Fury Road* (2015), *Atomic Blonde* (2017), her portrayal of evil in *The Fate Of The Furious* (2017) and her *Time* magazine award as "One of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2016.

There is no weak link in *2 Days In The Valley*'s chain of events if you're up for a good time and you are not put off by a tongue-in-cheek foray into crime, sex, violence and humor. It is, again, not your kids' Saturday matinee, but with John Herzfeld at the helm as writer and director we are once again treated to an underrated, largely undiscovered crime caper demonstrating that we're all connected in some ways. And if all this happened in only two days in the Valley, what on earth could we find if we spent a week there?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/25/2019, 6:38 pm

Post #180: There are precious few times in my life when I have intoned the OMG exclamation with the same staggered cadence of a truly awful soap opera star, but today marks such an occasion. OH! MY! GOD!. . . and imagine my holding my hands up to my temples as I say it and apologize to Jesus for calling on Him to assuage my incredulity. But Holy Wow, today's feature nearly set a new standard for how egregious a movie can be. You may have seen this little skidmark in one of its two incarnations, but I watched both last night. Let's start with the better of the two, which is tantamount to vacillating between chewing a mouthful of tin foil after a root canal or running full tilt into a briar patch filled with poison oak. Perhaps I should clarify--I didn't do back flips over either of these variations, but at least I didn't try passing a kidney stone either.

The first, and "superior," using that term as a dung beetle might discriminate between different entrees, is *The Madmen of Mandoros* (1963), an infamous Crown International film, the last directed by auteur David Bradley. Bradley was a Chicago filmmaker whose low-budget entry *Julius Caesar* (1950) was filmed in 16mm around the Indiana sand dunes on Lake Michigan with a seventeen-year-old Charlton Heston and marks the film debut of Jeffrey Hunter. After that things tapered with a couple low budgeters culminating in *Dragstrip Riot* (1958) and *12 To The Moon* (1960). *The Madmen of Mandoros* remains his seminal horrible entry in film history, joining the ranks of Ed Wood's famous *Plan 9 From Outer Space* (1959), a dubious honor if there ever was one. And critics have suggested Bradley STARTED with an impossibly bad script which no director could salvage even on a best day.

Our story blasts off at CID headquarters where Professor Coleman lectures a bridge club-sized group on the dangers of G-Gas, a wretched poisonous toxin that could obliterate civilization with just a few canisters. Lingering afterward Phil Day, the professor's son-in-law, presses the professor on his antidote for the gas, which places everyone nearby in danger. Sure enough, within a few heavy sighs from the audience at the bad acting, the professor and his other daughter Suzanne, and Phil and his wife KC are kidnapped in two couples by men with guns. Luckily, Phil and KC's captor is not a bad guy, just panic-stricken and desperate, but don't worry--he's shot--hilariously--within a couple minutes, and Phil and KC leave him propped up in a phone booth in blazing sunlight on a busy street like a bad Candid Camera joke.

But the Professor and Suzanne are held by Nazis! who have kept Hitler's head alive and well in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall's front porch, and if you've ever seen *Futurama* you now have witnessed the inspiration for many of its episodes showcasing the noggins of Nixon, Mr. Spock and Al Gore encased in--what's this, some sort of TUBE? But this Hitlerian head (Bill Freed) can't speak, it just plays Barney Google rolling its eyes and looking peeved at the whole thing. And I can't blame it--I mean, who would want to go through post-life floating in a mason jar brimming with briny pickle juice? But it's Hitler, so I don't feel sorry for it; throw a couple piranhas in there for good measure.

By the time Phil and KC show up in a stereotypical Caribbean island, Mandoros, occupied by nutsy Nazis who've infiltrated the government, we realize the Third Reich plans a Comeback Tour, even though it's 1963 and pictures of Eisenhower (why not Kennedy?) still look down on CID operatives. With the imminent arrival of German generals and the fate of the modern world hanging in the balance, Phil, KC, and dedicated Mandoroan rebels pull out all the stops and lob hand grenades at the Nazis to prevent them from releasing the G-gas and creating a new world order. Spoiler: They win and Hitler's wax head substitution for Bill Freed melts and melts and melts. . . and then melts some more. . . until . . . it finishes melting. Good God, Major Arnold Toht's face didn't take this long in *Raiders of the Lost Ark*! Phil and KC rescue the Professor and Suzanne, and the film fizzles with a non sequitur mashing of the married couple as if they are horny teenagers. Black screen, white letters (Courier bold) The End.

Once again I apologize if I've ruined the movie for you. Consider it an early Christmas present so you don't have to sit through all 74 minutes of it. You will notice I didn't name too many actors in my commentary. That's because I never heard of any of them, and none of them made any form of psychic dent in my memory. Bill Freed is a howl, though, a literal shriek of hilarity as his disembodied head works so hard at not showing depressed embarrassment but rolls his bug eyes and pouts like the pro he is.

But as terrible as *The Madmen of Mandoros* is, presently holding a solid 1/10 rating at Cinema Monolith and a 2.7/10 rating at IMDB, just when you thought movies could not sink lower, welcome to the alternate version known as *They Saved Hitler's Brain* (1968), which takes the original *Madmen* film, lops off ten minutes and adds twenty-five minutes of completely extraneous "new" footage made by UCLA film students at the behest of Crown International, now bearded as Paragon Pictures. *They Saved Hitler's Brain* has earned the distinction of a 0% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and was awarded top honors of the Golden Turkey Award by Harry and Michael Medved as "The Most Brainless Brain Movie."

If *Mandoros* hit the ground like a jumper without a parachute, its variant goes further by being a sinkhole made by iceholes. The additional scenes, added because the original film did not reach a full ninety minutes, making it eligible for television distribution, are not even created with a similar film stock. So their inclusion with Bradley's work does not even attempt to fit seamlessly as two CID agents, Vic and Toni. Some film historians suggest the additional footage was actually filmed in 1972 or 1973 because Toni's VW Beetle used for cruising around town had taillights not manufactured before that time. The American mystery deepens.

Vic sports a classic porn star mustache that would make Joe Namath do a double take back in the day, while Toni is a big-boned blonde wearing a Robert Hall knock-off wardrobe that accentuates her gravitas. Together they interact with the chemistry of soot and rain water, mouthing their lines with the passion of a Brillo pad. In congruity (incongruity?) with the *Mandoros* plot, as CID agents they aimlessly but with weathered concentration wander around California, following up on the kidnapped Professor and finding double agents who look like The Blues Brothers on a bender (that is NOT hyperbole--they really look like Aykroyd and Belushi in their shades). Badly photographed and shoddily edited (the print I had actually showed seams between shots) in natural light, these scenes don't add up to much because Vic and Toni are killed anyway. That'll teach 'em, trying to get into the big time with David Bradley!

The only other discernible change from *Mandoros* is the tightening of the Hitler Melt (a variation of the Paddy Melt) at the end, allegedly edited for more "wholesome" family viewing on TV.

Now, if you're into an absolutely mindless, so-bad-it-must-be-good movie, slap in *The Madmen Of Mandoras*: The hideously hackneyed Spanish accents, flamenco dancers, simpering dictatorial El Presidente and the German gibberish issuing from the bad guys (and Hitler himself for a couple frames) will make your stay at the Mandoras Hotel nearly bearable, but the goopy romantic shenanigans between Phil and KC--and Suzanne's mushy lusting after Phil--will toss you off the nearest knoll. But at least you can giggle on the way down. My key recommendation is to avoid *They Saved Hitler's Brain* at all costs. They may have saved his brain, but they sure didn't use it.

And by the way, Jesus said He forgives me for calling out--it's okay when the circumstances warrant.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 10/26/2019, 5:33 pm

Post #181: In 1964 I went into pubescent mourning because my folks wouldn't let me see *Goldfinger* in the theater because it was rated "M" for Mature audiences, the equivalent today of a PG-13 probably. Even though I was far more cool and mature than my parents allowed, I had to wait another year before I could join the ranks of Bond aficionados with *Thunderball* (1965). Since then I have eagerly anticipated every new installment, though for me Sean Connery is the quintessential 007, with Daniel Craig gaining speed with each extension of the story, reportedly his fifth and last appearance coming in April 3, 2020 in *No Time To Die*.

Imagine how life would have changed had director Terence Young's wishes been fulfilled for *Dr. No* (1962) by casting Richard Johnson (Kim Novac's husband at the time) in the role of James Bond. Paraphrasing the words of Peter and Gordon, "Please lock me away, and don't allow the day here inside where I hide with my loneliness--I don't care what they say I won't stay in a world without Sean Connery!" Luckily we don't need to go down that bullet strewn path, but we can see Richard Johnson in quasi-Bond action in today's feature, arguably the Best 007 Movie That Was Never Made, *Deadlier Than The Male* (1967) starring Johnson, Elke Sommer and Sylvia Koscina.

And for old radio mavens like myself, it's ripping good form to see Johnson playing Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond. At the request of Sir John Bledlow (Lawrence Naismith doing his best "M" impression), one of the directors of Phoenician Oil, Drummond investigates a pair of murders, and within the first six minutes of the film, there are as many deaths. But wait--*Deadlier Than The Male* replicates the Bond pre-credit action sequence and offers a popular group singing the theme in the best spy tradition. In this case it's The Walker Brothers, best known for "Make It Easy On Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." And the soundtrack itself by Malcolm Lockyer could easily have been ghosted by John Barry, filled with explosions of brass and groovy electric guitar solos. It's all so BOSS, man.

While other films like Dean Martin's Matt Helm series (1966-1969) and James Coburn's Derek Flint films (1966-1967) were full-on parodies or homages to the Bond legacy, capitalizing on the womanizing agent theme, *Deadlier Than The Male* keeps both of Drummond's feet securely on the ground. In this one it's the women who are on the prowl, with Sylvia Koscina's Penelope licking her chops at any man within heavy breathing distance. And when Drummond in full control of himself rebuffs Elke Sommer's hot pursuit of seduction, you will either marvel at his resolve or hasten the preparation of his committal papers.

Amid the rising body count perpetrated by our two deadly female assassins Irma and Penelope, Drummond is saddled with his skirt-chasing nephew Robert (Steve Carlson). Little do our heroes realize, Robert has become a target due to his college friendship with Akmatan King Fedra (Zia Mohyeddin), who wishes to develop his country's oil fields himself rather than sell his oil concession to Phoenician Oil. We are treated to more assassination attempts, including a funky little bondage and torture scene tossed off in a playful manner that reminds us, yes, these women are beautiful and fashionable and busty and consummate professionals at their craft, but they have a sense of humor too, so are they really THAT sociopathic?

Interestingly, at least to me, is the knowledge that the film's producers had to fight the British Board of Film Censors against a notorious *X* rating due to the murder sequences, which by today's standards might afford the film a PG rating. This is a nearly bloodless, somewhat light fare, but back in the day I suppose watching women dispatch high-ranking officials with a smirk, some cool aplomb and tame pun as the coup de grace was shocking. There is none but the faintest hint at nudity and a little innuendo, but again nothing that today would push it into even Restricted ground. While the director Ralph Thomas even admitted he did this film for the money, and the possibility of its becoming a television pilot, it's brisk, innocent, breezy fun played straight.

By the time we meet the Big Boss (Nigel Green) behind all these roguish romps of recklessness, we are prepped for a Chinese-German mastermind with an egg-beater for a hand or a Greek-German cat fancier with one eye, or at least a hyphenate German whose head floats in a jar of pickle brine. Instead we are treated to an aristocratic stiff-upper-lipper whose almost comical facial expressions belie an evil intent and the worst poker face ever when playing human-sized chess. But any other portrayal would help *Deadlier Than The Male* dissolve into camp, and it does its level best not to do so. That being said, Big Boss does have a brawny Chinese bulldozer (Milton Reid) armed with--not a razor-brimmed derby, but a six-foot scimitar, a barrel chest and doughy gut ready for punching, and the graceful lumbering menace of a bull moose in roller skates. He's not really bodyguard material but could do odd jobs around the house like light dusting or being a door stop.

Once again, I have left most of the plot points purposefully vague, so not to spoil the fun of your watching this neat little contemporary of classic spy films. It has the humor, the pounding propulsion of musical accents, the promiscuity, the relative suaveness, the body count and swagger of the Bond franchise, but it is lacking two major components which leave it on the main floor of the theater rather than the exalted balcony: the credit sequences are bland-o script and none of the trademark shadow work of weightless slo-mo beauties and bullets courtesy of the great Maurice Binder, and the ultra-cool gadgetry aiding jaw-dropping chase scenes are curiously absent. The Aston Martin has been traded in for a Rolls Silver Wraith, a couple Alpha Romeros, a handful of Fiats, a Bentley Continental, a Chevy Bel Air, a Ford Zephyr and three Volvos. But hey, you can't have everything when your budget is $1.7 million and you have only a trim 98 minutes to tell a story.

Well, friends, since we've got five months to kill before our next Bond extravaganza, try *Deadlier Than The Male* for all the scenery, safe sex and sympathetic sadism in sheltering dosages you could desire. And if you have a child who is straining at the restrictive confines of encroaching adulthood but you don't want to loose him/her to the temptations of Tarantino, or if those labels apply to you whatever your age may be--park it in front of this film. Offing your competition may not be the moral lesson you wish to impart, but it's pretty far-out on a cold afternoon, Man.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 10/26/2019, 7:22 pm

You mentioned em'. And while they may not be my favorite, I love em'.
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Post by ghemrats on 10/27/2019, 4:52 pm

Thanks, Space. Here's one for Seamus:

Post #182: Sometimes I imagine myself skeet shooting, especially after watching a movie that I wanted to like but turned out to be a pile of skeet. What can you say about a film whose star hated the script so much she said, "Thank God we don't have to do movies like that anymore!"? And what can you say when her manager/husband replied, "We've already made the deal - there's no sense getting all steamed up about it!"? You say, "PULL" and take a shot at it.

*Caprice* (1967) is remembered, when it is recalled at all, for many notable crash and burn attributes:
*It was the last movie to be filmed in Cinemascope; Doris Day incidentally starred in the first Cinemascope movie too;
*Of all movies in which she starred, *Caprice* is Doris Day's least favorite film;
*Co-star Richard Harris hated the film so much he claimed to have never watched it and publicly disowned it;
*Forced by contractual obligations Miss Day performed the bare minimum of promotional appearances;
*Caprice*, the theme song, was Doris Day's last single release;
*The film's failure at the box office ended Doris Day's ten-year standing as Top Ten Box Office Stars;
*In close-up shots of Miss Day hanging from beneath a cantilevered pool deck, she suffered such bad splinters that she could not even use a TV remote for days afterward;
*The film lost nearly half the $7,200,000 budget in box office receipts and was declared a bomb.

So while *Caprice* showers the audience with shards of sputtering shrapnel, can we find any reason to watch this film? Well, yes, there are some good points. First of all, it's only 98 minutes long and it moves along at a fair clip. It's a spy spoof, so there's that. It's directed by cartoonist/animator/screenwriter Frank Tashlin, whose work I have always enjoyed since the days he worked at Termite Terrace of Warner Brothers, developing two of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons, *The Unruly Hare* and *Hare Remover* as well as the Private Snafu series for the war effort. He was a gag writer for Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, The Marx Brothers, and he directed six Jerry Lewis films, my favorite being *The Disorderly Orderly* (1964). He brought a new level to sight gags and pacing, and the few scenes I enjoyed the most in *Caprice* were pure Tashlin.

In one, industrial spy Patricia Foster (Doris Day) knows she's being pumped for information over lunch (a microphone is hidden in a prominently displayed sugar cube in the bowl), and so thwarts every attempt at bugging her conversation with cutlery and potato chips. Another sequence bounces along as she attempts to gather forensic evidence of a ground-breaking cosmetic formula by surreptitiously clipping a lock of hair from the scientist's secretary. These scenes border on slapstick, bringing Tashlin's comic sensibilities to full life.

The main problem with *Caprice*--and there are many--for me was the unsuccessful balancing act it was aiming to perform. The pre-credit opening sequence, which was later borrowed and improved upon by the Bond film *The Spy Who Loved Me* (1977), sets the somber tone of a serious spy film which was hot property in the earlier sixties. A skier in pure white is being stalked by another skier in pure black with an assault rifle. Frank DeVol's score tries amping up the suspense as the two slalom through the Alpine trees. The skier in white succumbs to the chase, making the headlines in Paris, where Patricia Foster, Doris behind freakishly large sunglasses and a "mod" fashion statement, is tracked by a succession of covert watchers who usher in the credits in a series of swipes and thought bubbles. Pretty neat.

Then we start up the Convoluted Plot Machine: Patricia becomes a spy for her boss Sir Jason Fox (Edward Mulhare), owner of Femina Cosmetics, to infiltrate his key rival's firm, May Fortune owned by Matthew Cutter (Jack Kruschen), and steal their key chemist's secret formula for water-resistant hair spray. Okay. So we're firmly planted in Spy Land, but it has the terrain of flan. . . Tef Flon. On one hand *Caprice* stubbornly tries to build a plot out of espionage and suspense; on the other hand, it's playing with broad comic interludes suggesting it wants to be a frisky comedy complete with Looney Tunes' nutty sound effects; on the other other hand, the two tones clash like a bad paint-and-patch job on a rusty '65 Corvair.

Richard Harris as Christopher White, Cutter's right-hand spy and Patricia's romantic handler (in more than one way), seems particularly uncomfortable with his serio-comic portrayal, though he gives the comic material his best efforts. In my mind between all the crosses, double-crosses and audience members crossing themselves in prayer that it's all going to get better, I just couldn't see any spark between Doris and Richard, even though both stars were highly complimentary of the other. Richard Harris said he "learned more about comedy from Doris Day, than four years at the Royal Academy," and Doris Day said her working relationship with Harris was "wonderful." Still, their lukewarm if not disdainful acceptance of the job seems to show in a general lack of chemistry on screen. Gone is the bubbly enthusiasm Miss Day exhibited in *The Glass-Bottom Boat* (1966), in my mind a far superior spy spoof even though Miss Day basically dismissed it as a sit-com on film.

One nice nod to *The Glass-Bottom Boat* is a subtle pun when we learn the slain White Skier in Switzerland is Patricia's father, and his newspaper photo shows Arthur Godfrey, itself a nice laugh (picturing Godfrey as the accomplished shusher we saw at the opening), but knowing he played Doris Day's father in *The Glass-Bottom Boat* the year before makes it doubly cute.

Another nice grace note comes in the theater balcony as Patricia fights off the sneaky amorous attentions of a smarmy, squeamy Michael J. Pollard as he simultaneously mashes with his girlfriend. That scene in itself is pure slapstick, but in a nice nod to spies everywhere also in the balcony is an uncredited Barbara Feldon (Agent 99 on *Get Smart*) locking lips with her boyfriend next to Patricia. These little points of interest give the serious undertones of the labyrinthine plot a nice little goose, but can't save the whole from its schizophrenic mood swings. In the end I just didn't care enough for these participants to sort out the vagaries of allegiances since they switched so often, and the comedy wasn't sustained enough to see past the sudden turns.

Have you ever realized, after having trimmed your fingernails, that you can't undo the ties on your sneakers' double or triple knotting? And the frustration at not being able to extract your feet from your shoes grows to comical heights and you can't help but laugh in exhaustion, but it's still incredibly annoying? THAT'S *Caprice*. Doris Day didn't want to do it, but her husband committed to it before she could turn it down; wrapping the film, Richard Harris vowed never to speak again about the film unless he was presented with a letter of permission from Doris.

For folks who love 1960s Mod Fashion (Emily Williams​ you will be in your glory just for the visuals), this is the film to see: Doris Day's wardrobe reflects the background of every shot, though I still find her Stop-Sign-sized sunglasses weirdly ineffective and distancing. But at forty-five years old, she does not seem moved enough to bank on her full range of facial features, sticking with a serious stoicism for much of the film. That said, I find it reprehensible that critics of the time, like Judith Crist, called her performance that of "an aging transvestite," while a kinder Leonard Maltin gave the film a "zero percent" rating with the final pronouncement that it was "a terrible vehicle for Day."

But, hey, in recent years film students have rallied to the film, praising it for its odd mixture of adventure and satire, moving Doris Day to say, though she'd not watched the film in decades, perhaps she would revisit it. Whether she did or not at this point is moot, since she died last May at age 97. Her marriage to Martin Melcher left her broke due to his bad management, causing her to remark about her television series after his death, "It was awful. I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he'd signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry [Melcher] took me walking in Beverly Hills and explained that it wasn't nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me." Melcher's death is said to have saved her from total financial ruin.

So for those of us who have enjoyed her films, in which we can still bask with DVD and movies on demand, we find Doris Day one of a kind, and as President Bush so aptly put it when he conferred upon her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004: ". . . .she has kept her fans and shown the breadth of her talent in television and the movies. She starred on screen with leading men from Jimmy Stewart to Ronald Reagan, from Rock Hudson to James Garner. It was a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio decided to become an entertainer. It was a good day for our fellow creatures when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare. Doris Day is one of the greats, and America will always love its sweetheart."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 10/27/2019, 5:04 pm

You had me at Doris Day.
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The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony - Page 7 Empty Re: The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

Post by Space Cadet on 10/27/2019, 7:36 pm

I read this and suddenly felt the need to see What's Up Doc.
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The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony - Page 7 Empty Re: The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

Post by Space Cadet on 10/27/2019, 7:42 pm

A little more. I love a good screwball comedy.
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The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony - Page 7 Empty Re: The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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