The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by Seamus on 2/21/2020, 10:45 pm

Ah what a classic. I loved the Rutles. So funny George played by an Indian actor. It was a perfect send up. Neil as John was perfect. Loved the pepper and white album eras so well done. The hype around the Beatles was absurd this movie grabbed onto that absurdity and ran with it.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/22/2020, 4:54 pm

Post #300: Clean up your abacuses (abacui?) because math figures in today's commentary. In celebration of Post #300, I am posting this little French romance, *He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (À la folie... pas du tout)* (2002) because I have shown it to more people than Planters has peanuts. It was the final assignment in my senior Communications and Interpersonal Relations class, which I taught roughly nine times a year at the clip of three sections per quarter, for probably fifteen years; now factor in the range of variation as a function of a curve, and calculate if a train showing the film headed north at the rate of 96 minutes to 94 people per quarter, not counting Honors sections of 25 which saw another film, at what time will this first paragraph be completed? Okay, did you remember to carry the ones who skipped class and watched it on their own? Decode your answer now.

Delivered fast on the success of *Amelie* (2001) with Audrey Tautou, *He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not* is a lovely little PG-13 film centered around a lovely couple, budding art student Angelique (Audrey Tautou) and cardiologist Dr. Loic Le Garrec (Samuel Le Bihan) who clearly appear to define a love for the ages. Angelique has just won a career-changing scholarship with the prestigious art gallery allowing her to show her paintings to a wider audience, while Loic's practice is suffering some hardships partially flavored by his incompetent secretary Anita (Élodie Navarre). But there is always solace to be found in Angelique's undying affection and support. It's just too bad Loic is married to Rachel (Isabelle Carré) who is five months pregnant.

In her spare moments in the sun-drenched hominess of Bordeaux, Angelique (from whose point of view the film is told for the first half) seems blind to the unrequited love of her good friend David (Clément Sibony), a student preparing for his own medical career. She also commiserates with her best friend Heloise (Sophie Guillemin) who is hoping to gain custody of her little sister from the wayward lifestyle of their mother. Meanwhile, Loic and Rachel are experiencing their own emotional meltdown, much to Angelique's pleasure since these fights will hasten Loic's leaving and Angelique's future with him.

Tensions all around reach a pressure point at mid-film, culminating in a suicide attempt. At this juncture the entire film rewinds to our opening scene, and we witness the entire turn of events from a shifting perspective, no longer Angelique's. And as Forest Gump would say, Guess that's all I got to say about that. For beyond that centerpiece the film gains power, resonance and more than a little gasping from the audience. After all, there was a reason I showed this film well over 142 times to my classes.

HUGE SPOILER ADVICE: Do not read anything or listen to others' perceptions of the film before you see it, which I heartily recommend. In the same way Hitchcock instituted a No-Seating Policy after the first few minutes in the initial run of *Psycho* (1960), you should similarly go into this movie blind without many preconceptions, even though I can assure you no one is stabbed in a shower. The excrement just gets intense, is all.

Audrey Tautou is one smart lady, following up the highest grossing French film *Amelie* with this one. In many ways she symbolically reprises the large eyed waif we came to love in Jeunet's movie, innocence radiating from her like a halo. This call to empathy perfectly suits the vision of first-time director Lætitia Colombani, who at 26 also co-wrote the film. Tautou told Ceri Thomas of the BBC, "I found her very precise. She knew exactly what she wanted. Even though she's very young, she managed to control the whole production. She knew her subject - this strange kind of madness - very well because she had studied it for a very long time. It was odd working with someone about the same age as me - she's just a little bit older - but it was very nice."

Critics applauded *He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not* for its freshness and twisty scenario. Jacalyn Duffin of ht NYU Literature Arts Medicine Database said, "A romantic thriller? a tragic comedy? A Janus-faced portrayal of a doomed love affair? This jewel of a film is all of the above, and more. . . . The remarkable achievement of this film is its wit, and clever plausibility. The writer-director began this project as a short script during her studies at Ecole Lumière, but subsequently expanded and refined it over four years. She was 26 years old when it was released to much acclaim as her directing début."

The only niggling point for me is the perfect use of Nat King Cole's "L-O-V-E", Angelique and Loic's song, even as its lyrics could not be more tailor-made for the proceedings. After hearing it three times in the movie, over 142 times, it's become a song I can't listen to anymore; after well over 426 repetitions, I still love Nat's voice, but it no longer rests on the surface of my prefrontal lobe but has burrowed itself into the base of my spinal column. Even then, however, I wouldn't scream if I heard it again.

I know it's past Valentine's Day, but I would seriously just throw away the family abacus, pop some Orville Redenbacher with extra butter, and curl up with this little collection of sweet French bonbons that will offer more surprises than a fresh box of Crunchy Frogs. You might even come away with a fresh perception of what fuels your relationships. Consider the words of Mario Andretti: "Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” Uh huh, said Dr. Phil, how's that workin' for you? Let me know.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 2/23/2020, 5:30 pm

Post #301:  Today's feature offers us a glimpse into the early career of Gene Tierney, as *The Return of Frank James* (1940) is her screen debut at age twenty.  It also bears the strange distinction of being the first re-teaming of "Little Rascals" Jackie Cooper and Matthew 'Stymie' Beard (as Stymie Beard) since 1931.  With Fritz Lang as director (it's his first film in Technicolor) and Henry Fonda as star, something whispered in my ear that this was going to be a western to be reckoned with, for it also featured John Carradine and Henry Hull in supporting roles.  What a nostalgia rush this would be.

Yeah, I guess.  It's the sequel to *Jesse James* (1939), the fourth largest grossing film in the same year as *Gone With The Wind*, audiences evidently demanded with Fonda and most of the supporting cast reprising their original roles.  As with the original film, *The Return Of Frank James* does not go in for historical accuracy but extends the story of events following Jesse's underhanded plugging by Robert Ford (John Carradine) in the back.  It's highly fictionalized, originally slated to promote the romance between Frank (Fonda) and the first female reporter for *The Denver Star*, Eleanor Stone (Gene Tierney of the gorgeous blue-green eyes).  But fearing legal reprisals from the James family, Frank's widow and/or son, Twentieth Century Fox excised only but the barest nuances of a budding love.

So, for better or worse, we're left with a rather routine western of the time, for my tastes, existing more as a character study (which is fine, though facile) than a rip-snortin' shooter. On the set Henry Fonda hated Fritz Lang, who could be autocratic and demanding, at one point berating Gene Tierney for her habit of slightly parting her lips even when she had no lines (Are you kidding me? That's one of her most endearing traits), barking, "You little bitch! When you have no lines, keep your mouth shut!"  Perhaps such direction helped contribute to Gold Derby's listing *The Return of Frank James* Number 24 out of 25 Worst to Best Henry Fonda roles. Lang was quoted, “I am profoundly fascinated by cruelty, fear, horror and death.”  Not a good guy to take on a camping trip.

Our story begins as Frank, now living under the assumed name Ben Woodson and managing his ranch in the Ozarks, hears of the death of his brother and the arrest, trial and pardon of the Ford Brothers, Charlie and Bob (Charles Tannen and John Carradine). Played with restraint but determination, Frank and his adopted son Clem (Jackie Cooper) set out in revenge for Jesse's murder.  That Frank becomes an empathetic center of our interest is Lang's intent.  He reportedly told Henry Fonda, "I thought the James boys were the greatest heroes since Robin Hood--I used to cry over Jesse's death."  

Along the way Frank robs a bank to bankroll his pursuit of the Brothers Ford while being doggedly pursued by bespeckled railroad detective George Runyan (J. Edward Bromberg) who nearly froths with condescending zeal. Culminating in Frank's attendance of a stage play glorifying the Fords' killing of Jesse, the first half of the story keeps the focus on Frank rather than a wistful vistas and panoramic scenery for which most westerns are known.  A tense chase sequence through the mountain ranges shows Charlie dying from a fall, leaving Bob to scamper off into the wilderness until our second half which bubbles over with a court trial.  In these scenes Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) defends Frank from all manner of injustice while sputtering and spitting in a ferocious display of curmudgeonly crankiness. For me, a little Henry Hull a more than plentiful, but in his court scenes he's ablaze to the point of caricature, flailing and whirling in manic energy, the antithesis of Fonda's Frank.  Cobb's self-righteous insistence that "If we are ever going to have law and order in this part of the country, we got to take vipers like those Fords and that slimy railroad detective Runyan and shoot 'em down like dogs" turns the film into much more of a melodrama than a classic western.

A final showdown in the shadowy recesses of a barn puts Lang in his element, drawing suspense from the play of light and darkness. Moody and atmospheric as it gets, these scenes in the purest sense still lack some punch because Carradine's Bob Ford is so patently colorless; outside of a few fraught looks, he's left with precious little to do, so he's not so much a hateful villain as an integer.  And it's probably me, but when Frank bids Eleanor farewell with her open invitation to visit Denver, the awkwardness of the scene underscores the excised potential Fox had for a romance.  In a film that so clearly romanticized the majority of the historical events, this rather clumsy goodbye squelches a dramatic ending.

You should know that by today's standards the microaggressive racism is cringeworthy, as often roles are relegated to farmhands, servants and Black characters are openly referred to in disparaging terms.  While Frank puts himself in jeopardy to save his simple and innocent pal Pinky (Ernest Whitman) from the gallows, he'll still make passing references to offensive labels. All right, all right, I know--the movie was filmed in less enlightened times and may reflect a certain cultural bias, but it's embarrassing nonetheless.

*The Return of Frank James* is a real mixed bag of talking points, with Lang's demeanor not reserved just for Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney.  Jackie Cooper said, “He wanted everybody to be a puppet. He would tell you when to put your elbow on the table and when to take it off. He would tell you how to read a line. Everything was a picture to Fritz, and actors were not important at all.”  Surely Lang's image-centric style is exemplified by his biographer, Patrick McGilligan:

“Studio edict would make this [*The Return of Frank James*] one of Fritz Lang’s rare ‘exterior’ films, with most of the outdoor scenes to be shot northeast of Los Angeles, near the Sierra Nevadas. Adapting to the new Technicolor process was another of the challenges. [It also marked the first color work for director of photography George Barnes, whose astonishing black-and-white work on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) would earn him an Academy Award.] ‘As an example,’ Lang explained on one occasion, ‘let’s say it is night, and a woman lies in bed with her head against a white pillow, and a man stands against a dark wall. You have a close-up of this woman, who is well-lit by a lamp on the night table and, with the white pillow, you have a bright background. Not you cut to the man against a dark wall. White – black. Shocks you. Therefore, with a little thought and experimentation, I learned that if you have consecutive close-ups with the backgrounds lit in a similar way, your eyes weren’t shocked. Another thing (which became especially important later when you were shooting in Cinemascope) was that if you have a shot in subdued color of, say, a woman with an apple in her hand – every painter can tell you that your eye will immediately be attracted to the red apple. So I  learned to avoid points of bright light, of reflecting glass or bright color.’”

Handing directorial controls to the German Expressionistic Lang, producer Daryl Zanuck said he was a good choice   “Because he’ll see things we won’t.”  Yes, he did; this film is an almost revisionist film with Fonda, Tierney and others navigating an interesting story with solid performances.  It's not the nostalgia rush I expected—I freely admit the only reason I bought it was for Gene Tierney, but taken as it is, it's still an intriguing treatment balanced by understatement and overstatement, leaving me to feel neutral about the whole thing.  Maybe you'll like it more.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 2/23/2020, 10:33 pm

Tryin' to make a Western "Art" film in the 40's wasn't really a thing. I'm gonna vote no, but give it a watch because of the cast. Ya had me at Gene Tierney.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/24/2020, 5:55 pm

It's time to smile, said Eddie Cantor. I concur.

Post #302: Well, we've seen our share of disreputable, dastardly dung beetles in the past couple of weeks, all played with serious intent of a bowling ball streaking down toward the pins. (I even watched *Joker (2019) the other night and sank deeper into the floor under its weight than Robin Williams in the original *Jumanji* (1995); "I like to get out of the floor now. . .") So I turned to director Frank Oz (voice of Grover, Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster and Fozzie Bear on *Sesame Street* as well as Yoda) and director of such great fare as *What About Bob?* (1991) and *Little Shop Of Horrors* (1986) and his *Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* (1988). If Steve Martin and Michael Caine couldn't pull me up, I am not sure who could.

Usually I don't go in for remakes, but in this case I'll make an exception, and it had paid off amiably. The original *Bedtime Story* (1964) starred David Niven and Marlon Brando with Shirley Jones, employing screenwriters Stanley Shapiro (three Doris Day comedies, earning him a Writers' Guild Award) and Paul Henning (best known for creating *The Beverly Hillbillies*, *Green Acres* and *Petticoat Junction*), who wrote the script for this update. . . which was made a third time as the Anne Hathaway-Rebel Wilson pale imitation, *The Hustle* (2018) with a 3.83 out of 10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For my money you can't beat Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

What makes this version of scheming con men sizzle and pop is the genuine friendship between the stars and Frank Oz. All three have gone on record to state that they never had more fun making a film than when they conspired over *Dirty Rotten Scoundrels*. Oz laughed through the entire filming, allowing the stars free reign to improvise and play off one another. Add Glenne Headly to the fizzy concoction and you have comedy gold on the French Riviera. Oz specifically chose a colorful backdrop and a classical cinematic style to achieve what he calls an homage to the great 1950s films of which he was a fan.

Oz establishes the suave appeal of Cary Grant in *To Catch A Thief* (1955) immediately as an elegant string of pearls adorn the nape of a cultured young woman's neck, unclasped and draped luxuriously over her delicate hand as the dialogue tells us she wishes to help "the cause." No faces are shown as the extravagant jewel passes hands in affection and gratitude. Fluidly we are introduced to Sir Lawrence Jamieson (Caine), an ultra-smooth confidence man who masterminds elaborate ruses to part rich women from their fortunes to support his lavish lifestyle.

On a train to Beaumont-sur-Mer, Sir Lawrence happens upon a brash, less polished but equally determined American huckster Freddy Benson (Martin) ready to sweep the French Riviera with his own brand of confidence. Fearing the competition from The Jackal, another high-stakes con artist, Sir Lawrence maneuvers Freddy into staying on the train until it reaches Portofino. Thus begins the furious cat-and-mouse game between the seasoned and dignified European and the less experienced yet boldly insistent American, with a $50,000 prize hanging in the balance in the form of Janet Colgate (Headly), a sweet, rather dim American heiress (to a toothpaste dynasty).

Taking Freddy under his wing (the north wing of his elegant estate), Sir Lawrence schools his charge in the ways of distinguished mannerisms and social graces. But when the competitive spirit gnaws away at Freddy, he finds his new arsenal of urbanity and chicanery comes in handy and the two vie for the affections of Ms. Colgate in their own separate schemes, culminating in a contest to see who can win her over first.

In addition to the differing styles of Sir Lawrence and Freddy, Michael Caine and Steve Martin benefit from a mutual comic demeanor, a smooth dry-martini wit versus a wild and crazy physical bravura. In an NPR interview with Scott Simon, Caine said, "*Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* was the happiest film I ever made. I was co-starring with Steve Martin, who is the most wonderful guy, Glenne Headly, who's a wonderful actress and a great girl. I was being directed by Miss Piggy - Frank Oz, who's Miss Piggy in The Muppets. And I'd worked with her before, because I did *The Muppets Christmas Carol.* And not only that, it was - my favorite place for holiday in the world is the French Riviera, and we shot it on the French Riviera. And two of my closest friends lived there - Roger Moore and the composer Leslie Bricusse. So I had the best summer and the best time and I never made a happier picture. This was a double whammy because the picture was a big hit and a big success and it was a picture that I loved watching even, and I don't watch my own movies very much."

Steve Martin similarly admired Glenne Headly. "Being around Glenne is like being around Marty Short. All those voices she has. And the way she always has a new angle on things. She has a funny personality. We speak the same comedy language. It was like hanging out with the guys. But she's also a fighter. She stood up when she didn't like the direction the script was going." It may come as a surprise that the film, according to Oz, did not have a suitable ending, that for a time they didn't know how it would conclude. Oz said, "Finally Glenne and Steve came to me with this angle. I had to be convinced. If she didn't have that character in her, it never would have worked. But the minute she did that Long Island Lady voice, I knew we had our solution. If it weren't for that ending, she'd just be considered another ingenue. People so far--and in a way I almost did it myself--have just been scratching the surface of her talent."

Indeed Glenne Headly is so much more than mere eye candy for the antics of Caine and Martin. In many ways for me she makes the film. (Big SPOILER here; if you have not seen this classic, skip the remainder of this paragraph. As a perfect grace note, recall the name of the con artist Sir Lawrence does not wish to run afoul, then take the first syllable of Glenne Headly's character name, and you'll find a nice pun tipping you off.)

Sadly Glenne Headly died of complications from a pulmonary embolism on June 8, 2017, at the age of 62 in Santa Monica, California, leaving a long list of memorable performances at such a youthful age. Steve Martin wrote at the time of her death, "Our household mourns the sudden loss of beloved friend, actress, and comic genius, Glenne Headly." Josh Hutcherson (Peeta in *The Hunger Games*) expressed what many felt: She was powerful and strong and hilarious. Her eyes brought to life so many amazing characters over the years and her love brought to life a beautiful family. I'm gonna miss her presence, her smile, and the way she made me feel like her son before, between, and after they called action and cut. Grab onto those who make you feel loved. My heart is broken today and I can only imagine what those closest to her are going through. My broken heart goes out to all of you as well." For her work in *Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* Glenne was named Most Promising New Actress winning a CFCA Award at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards in 1989.

But it's the joy that lingers with *Dirty Rotten Scoundrels*, making it a consistent top contender in Best Movies Of. . . lists. Even today it feels fresh and timeless, a rare comedy whose infectious spirit of freewheeling joie de vivre makes it great viewing for all ages, with little to no reason to worry about its impact on kids. Yet how very different it might have been had Michael Caine and Steve Martin stepped in to unleash their talents: Originally *Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* was to be a vehicle for, of all people, Mick Jagger and David Bowie, whose chemistry was revealed in the video for 1985's "Dancing In The Street." Also considered for the role of Sir Lawrence were Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), John Cleese, Richard Dreyfuss, Eric Idle, Dudley Moore, Leslie Nielsen, Michael Palin, and Gene Wilder, while Steve Martin himself was interested in Caine's role before he was recruited. Eddie Murphy was also considered for the role of Freddy.

And sharp eyed viewers will recognize Ian McDiarmid, Sir Lawrence's laconic butler Arthur (named in homage to Sir John Guilgud's Hobson in the Dudley Moore film *Arthur* (1981), as Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious) in *Star Wars* films. And according to IMDB, the movie was used as the source for the musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels", which opened at the Imperial Theater in New York City on March 3, 2005, ran for six hundred twenty-seven performances, and was nominated for the 2005 Tony Awards for the Best Musical, Book, and Score.

So the rewards of this wonderful comedy are plentiful. Even if you've seen it or remember it fondly, isn't it about time to revisit it if for no other reason than seeing actors and directors at their prime, doing what they love best. Even from a technical aspect, *Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* is an easy viewing. Film editor Stephen Rotter has said, "For whatever reason, the stuff went together really easily because, I suppose, you can’t really screw something like this up. . . . The only thing about the editing that you had to do was to figure out how long you should hold each moment and get out while you should… You don’t overplay your hand, you don’t want to stay too long, but you want to give a portion of what’s funny to let the audience digest it.”

Digest away, my friends. This one will lift your spirits and wedge you out of that sinking feeling after a spate of angry films that weigh down and wear away at your sentiments. Sometimes it's good to be reminded, as the trailer shows in scenes filmed expressly for the teaser and not included in the finished film, that a shove into the Mediterranean or a faceful of cotton candy might just brighten your outlook.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 2/25/2020, 6:08 pm

Post #303: "This is for all the lonely people, thinking that life has passed them by. . .Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup And ride that highway in the sky." That moldy oldie from the group America is appropriate for a couple reasons: They sing the opening theme for today's feature, and those sentiments sum up the film's plot, too. But rather than bask in wistful contemplation, *The Lonely Guy* (1984) plays desperate singlehood for all-out laughs with star Steve Martin and Charles Grodin improvising, according to Martin, roughly 30% of their lines.

Based on Bruce Jay Friedman's *The Lonely Guy's Book Of Life*, adapted for the screen by Neil Simon, with a screenplay by Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels (the driving forces behind *The Mary Tyler Moore Show*, *Taxi* and *Cheers*), *The Lonely Guy* swings between inspired, zany farce (most of the time) and a few scenes that today come across as painfully embarrassing, garnering its *R* rating. On the whole, though, I found this an inspired lunacy in a largely underrated film.

Larry Hubbard (Steve Martin) is slogging through life alone, working as a greeting card writer, since returning home one day to find his girlfriend Danielle (Robyn Douglass) flaunting her new lover, whom she dumps fifteen minutes after Larry embarks on a life of solitude. Despairing in the park, he meets a fellow "Lonely Guy" Warren (Charles Grodin) also carrying all his worldly possessions with him. Played with deadpan straight faces, Martin and Grodin form as pathetic a team as you can find, tallying up the ways they can stave off depression.

Interestingly, this approach invites and repels empathy and pathos simultaneously, depending on your ability to distance yourself from the serious topic of solitary yearning. Separately Larry and Warren go about their lives, intersecting at times to commiserate over whatever "progress" they've made in establishing meaningful contact with an elusive significant other. Larry is more successful, buying ferns, decorating his new apartment, and actually talking to women. In an effort to strike up a conversation with a young woman reading a Thomas Hardy novel, Larry eagerly trots out an encyclopedic knowledge of Hardy's life before she begs off, leaving her name, Iris (Judith Ivey), and number on a napkin for him to follow.

We've seen the conventions of connectivity in countless other films, but less so have we seen it from the perspective of desperation as Larry uses Iris's napkin to wipe away a vanilla yogurt shake mustache in his boundless joy at finding someone who's dated lonely guys before, and is willing to try again. The ensuing scenes afford us to witness Steve Martin's manic energy as he combs telephone books under a magnifying glass for anyone close to the smeared ink on his napkin. Warren, meanwhile, hosts parties with cardboard cutouts of celebrities, throwing shadows on his window shades suggesting a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

There's a thread of elevated truth running through the film, which some might find an uneasy alliance between pathos and the merely pathetic. The jokes are quick and incisive as Larry searches for Iris, finds her, loses her, regains her, and learns to balance his time with her and Warren, who sinks deeper into depression, and perhaps some of the humor comes from your own tolerance or understanding of Charles Grodin. Appearing on David Letterman's show, it seemed his stonefaced seriousness--an ironic adoption--often caught audiences off guard, thinking he and Letterman actually hated one another; of course this was part of his persona as he and Letterman were actually in on the joke. And so it is here--he's playing a humorless schlub, for one of the first times no sporting his toupee, who bears the weight of a snowflake as if it were an anvil. "I remember after I saw *Rocky*," he says. "I ran out in the park jogging, shadow boxing. Some guy came up to me and punched me right in the face." He even plays chess with a tabletop talking robot (actually a very funny scene).

In today's PC environment, *The Lonely Guy* would never float: With too many jokes playing off isolation, the slapstick handling of people jumping off the Manhattan Bridge, and the determined moroseness of Warren's lack of luck, some audiences will call it a compendium of all the conflict-ridden Hallmark movie tropes laced in a highlight reel. But take the lagging sections out of the 90 minutes (strangely some of those showcasing Judith Ivey's Iris) and you're still left with 72 minutes (by my count) that offer genuine goofy laughs.

Cameos from the rich and famous sparkle when Larry stops writing horrific romance novel after being fired and composes a book based on what he knows best--Being a lonely guy. His tome zips to the top of the Best Seller list, and he appears on TV talk shows and book signing tours, allowing director Arthur Hiller to bring in Steve Lawrence as Jack Fenwick, Larry's snide Lothario neighbor, and as themselves Loni Anderson, Merv Griffin (in a great self-mockery) and Dr. Joyce Brothers, as well as a Jimmy Carter look-alike.

You know none of this is to be taken too seriously when in its media blitz an Australian poster offered the following comic questionnaire: "YOU KNOW YOU'RE LONELY WHEN: A. Your inflatable doll has a headache; B. You have long, intimate conversations with your pet fern; C. Your answering machine puts you on hold; D. You drive the wrong way down a one-way street so someone will wave at you; E. You eat garlic and nobody notices." And that point seems to be clear, as even "Spirituality and Practice" critics Frederic and Mary Anne Brussat say, "These hilarious bits make this drama, which is based on Bruce Jay Friedman's *The Lonely Guy's Book of Life*, an inventive black comic meditation on being single."

Critically *The Lonely Guy* took a drubbing, though two-thirds of Amazon's ratings put it today at four or five stars with 16 percent placing it at one or two stars, suggesting once again that black humor may be an acquired taste depending on your ability to enjoy absurdity. I am reminded of e.e. cummings' assessment: "The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful." That, to me, defines this film. Underneath all the burdens and compulsions of society to ensure no one has to live alone (see *The Lobster* (2015) for socially demanded relationships) there lies the question, Can you be alone without being lonely? What drives people to hang out in singles bars and say, as Larry does, "Oh, I hate these places. Don't you? It's like, most of these guys are just here for one thing. I guess I want to meet someone I can talk to, just get to know. And go to dinners with, and museums, art galleries. I think what I'm looking for is more of a *real* relationship," and receive the comment, "Oh, that's great, Larry. But I just came here to get laid"?

The world IS "mud-luscious"--and it seems to me our ability to accept and forgive ourselves for our lack of perfection. Mark Twain said, “It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always.” So it is with Larry and Warren, who finally come to realize the will to embrace life on its own terms, to overcome social impingements in favor of drawing their own maps of the territory and abiding by them.

This is a very complicated case, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's head. But why not laugh while we're sorting them out. I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself. . . Anyway, good luck riding that highway in the sky. We'll leave a light on for you.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 2/26/2020, 5:22 pm

Post #304: Please excuse this slip back into academia, but it's relevant to today's feature, *Bad Words* (2014) produced and directed by star Jason Bateman, in his directorial debut.  In semantics, we learn a concept called the Container Myth, which states "Words have (or contain) meaning." But of course that is not true because Meaning rests in people; it is we who give words their impact through the way we perceive them. Somehow we unlearned the childhood taunt, "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." No, they can't hurt because they are in and of themselves meaningless unless we give them power. That's why thinking words implicitly contain the power to devastate is a *myth*. The only way a word can hurt is if we're sitting under the Hollywood sign and it falls on us during an earthquake. Yup, THAT would hurt.

If you decide to accept the challenge of watching (and hearing) *Bad Words*, keep that preamble in mind. Because Jason Bateman's Guy Trilby has no filter linguistically or behaviorally; he is, in short, a downright nasty, offensive, bad mother--shut your mouth--but he gives people the shaft, and he can dig it.  He's a forty-year-old eighth grade dropout whose genius-level intellect allows him to exploit the loop holes of the prestigious Golden Quill Spelling Bee Championship, designed for, but evidently not limited to, grade school children.  Guy wants it all and will do everything in his devious grasp to win, including prey on the contestants' insecurities.

Accompanying him in his going for the gold is Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn, one of Bateman's closest friends), a struggling journalist who hopes to win some respect with an expose of Guy's rising through the ranks.  In the words of Bob Seger, he uses her, she uses him, but they just don't care--they're getting their share of the night moves while otherwise Guy remains aloof and fortified about his motives.  Along the road to success Guy is latched onto by a ten-year-old contender Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), whose huge soulful eyes reflect an innocent desire just to please his determined father.  But the more Guy demeans the boy, as he does everyone to keep his distance, the more Chaitanya desires to become his friend.

While *Bad Words* and Guy's machinations are harsh and unrelenting, beneath them lie some touching connections as we see a strained relationship form between the man and boy.  In many ways Guy never matured beyond the much put-upon kid in the eighth grade, striking out at the world in blind rage, hurling insults as easily and fluidly as Olivier quoted Hamlet.  Together Guy and Chaitanya expand their small universes, however crudely Guy's contributions may be. When a grand betrayal (in Guy's mind) asserts itself, his meltdown signals a severe case of arrested development, a tantrum we would never expect from an adult, while Chaitanya behaves much more maturely.

But there is slyness at work in this film.  In an attempt to disqualify Guy, the spelling bee's director Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) spikes his word challenges with multi-syllabic spears at his character: "floccinaucinihilipilification" means the action or habit of estimating something as worthless, and "slubberdegullion" means a filthy, slobbering person; a sloven, a villain, a fiend, a louse. A worthless person. A drunk or alcoholic person.  Yes, Guy fulfills those criteria, unless you take the challenge and submit your empathy to *Bad Words*' acid test and find something redeeming in the character; however crass and manipulative he is, he is a man with a backstory mired in pain.

Naturally, it's all played for shock-value laughs, a very dark neighborhood for comedy, as the film runs a real risk of alienating audiences with Guy's shenanigans; it was nominated for "Worst Male Image In The Movies" by the Women Film Critics Circle Awards.  On the other hand, Jason Bateman was nominated at SxSW Film Festival for the Festival Favorite Award and won two Best Comedy Awards from the Golden Trailer Awards and two additional nominations for Best Comedy Poster and Best Wildposts.

Eighty-five percent of reviewers on Amazon gave *Bad Words* four or five stars (72% rated it at five stars), and for the most part I would give it four out of five with a huge caveat that if you saw *Bad Santa* (2003) and found it morally debasing, skip *Bad Words*. If, on the other hand, you can accept some comedies with a hard edge going in, you may in fact be able to get past a provoked knee-jerk reaction and find some rewards lurking beneath its labels of "racism and misogyny."  Yes, guilty as charged, but knowingly so. In the commentary accompanying the DVD Bateman admits taking especial care to ensure Rohan Chand's family was on board with the twists of the story and his exposure to its various elements. For it is Rohan who brings the heart to the film and makes it work with a child's trust; he has not yet unlearned the "Sticks and stones" adage.

And if you watch it, stay with it through to the end instead of expressing moral umbrage without knowing the whole. For me the final twenty minutes of its 89 minutes ceased using cursing and insults as mere vehicles to shock and uncovered the scars of desperation in their employment.  Fiercely private, carefully guarded distress gave way to prove swearing is much more than the refuge of the inarticulate; Guy is not at a loss for words, his command of vocabulary is expansive, as evidenced by his intellectual ability to recognize, spell and give meaning to language even the Golden Quill experts cannot handle. But emotionally he chooses to flout rather than flaunt that side of his intelligence, and ironically allow the perception that he is a mere concatenation of curses, crudity and coarseness, and thus be treated with utter disdain, as he feels it's his inheritance from an early age.  Besides, flipping people off, banking on their ability to understand HIS meaning, is much easier than committing feelings to words, which are ultimately hollow and empty anyway.

So if you're a brave soul who can find humor in language with a purpose, give *Bad Words* a shot.  Pay attention to the voice over that opens the film and closes it, enjoy the deadpan performances, Jenny Widgeon's dogged determination and Philip Baker Hall's crusty indignation as flame keeper of the Golden Quill (a great variation of Mr. Bookman on *Seinfeld* the library policeman), and Bateman's ever roving camera.  Bateman constantly worried that the film would move over the line from touching to treacly, but he balanced the denouement masterfully.

There's just one thing, Dude. . . .Do you have to use so many cuss words?  Well, yes, I suppose you do.  It’s just the inarticulate speech of the heart.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 2/26/2020, 5:47 pm

A thing I spent a great deal of time teaching my kids when they were growing up, is that the only power words have over you, is the power which you give those words.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/26/2020, 6:15 pm

You are such a wise man, Space, as opposed to being a wiseguy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 2/27/2020, 1:50 pm

Lads, the power of words is true. Never give out your real name to anyone you do not know lest it be used in an incantation against you. I will open a new thread to discuss how to ward off evil. juju bags and simple wards etc. Nothing to intricate yet. Beware the power of ancient enemies of man. Yes and get some bags of rock salt and iron filings at your next outing to the hardware store.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/27/2020, 6:08 pm

Post #305: I like to think of myself as a trusting soul, someone who prefers to see the good in every situation and person. I'm proud to say this outlook on life has karmically rewarded me tenfold: I receive regular correspondence from Princes of small fiefdoms in Third World countries offering me millions of tax-free dollars just by supplying my bank's routing numbers (Foreign governments are notoriously slow in remitting my winnings, as I have been waiting for months now); I've won incredible cruises through such exotic tropicalities as the Isle of Langerhans just by supplying my credit card information (which, I have been assured, will not be charged); and I'm excited to share with you my latest purchases, augmenting my collection of signed first printings with signed and numbered first editions of Aristotle's *Nicomachean Ethics* and the *Eudemian Ethics* (True, they're paperbacks, but with such an historic find, you can't be too choosy) and my crowning possession--a rare autographed copy of The Bible, with a motivational note from Jesus saying, "Abide, Dude, Love, J." Yes, being open to life is indeed a blessing.

So, today's feature, *Confidence* (2003) has caught me somewhat off-guard, as it follows the story of four people who actually take advantage of people's willingness to place their fortunes in others' honesty. Can you imagine? Wow. Talk about cynicism. In any event, in spite of its capitalization on the exploitation of people's good nature *Confidence* is a nifty exercise in the "fine art" of manipulation. Its cast is first-rate: Edward Burns, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia and Dustin Hoffman. And with a strong supporting cast of Robert Forster, Luis Guzman, Donal Logue, Morris Chestnut, Franky G, and Brian Van Holt, you've got a dynamic interplay of strong opposing forces, demonstrated in the dropping of the notorious F-Bomb one hundred thirty times, by no means a record, but its usage surely leaves craters around the actors.

Get past the linguistic assault and the murky morality, and you may find yourself in the hands of a slick and innovative direction under the control of James Foley, who also directed one of my favorites *Glengarry Glen Ross* (1992), David Mamet's Pulitzer-Prize winning play. This is a flawlessly executed, fast-paced neo-noir replete with heavy shadows, neon highlights, moody motivations and claustrophobic close-ups that zip and zoom through a labyrinthine plot. Drawing inspiration from *The Sting* (1973), this is a caper film of style, wit and gritty power. I am surprised more people have not scarfed up this film and talked about it more than they have; maybe, like me, they hate to think such trust can be so easily violated by professionals out to make money.

Jake Vig (Edward Burns) narrates the story in flashback from the Hereafter, much like Joe Gillis deadman-floating in the swimming pool in *Sunset Boulevard* (1950), except here Jake is deadman-sprawled in the rain- and neon-tinged black cement of an alley. Rewind three weeks: Jake, Gordo (Paul Giamatti), Miles (Brian Van Holt), and Big Al (Louis Lombardi) have just pulled off a lucrative con of $150,000. Little do they realize that the money has actually come from Los Angeles crime boss, the ADHD-afflicted King (Dustin Hoffman), realized only after Big Al is found with a bullet in his forehead.

Since paying back The King directly is not an option, Jake decides to deal with the mobster himself, offering to front a con with the mark of The King's choosing. During the tense negotiations, the affable but dangerously unbalanced King decides they will tackle his rival Morgan Price (Robert Forster), owner of a monolithic bank. With great chutzpah comes even greater responsibility and danger, and since Jake's troupe is one grifter short of a quorum, he convinces Gordo and Miles to recruit an accomplished freelancer Lily (one of noir's smokiest femme fatales Rachel Weisz) to join their crew. With Lupus (Franky G), one of The King's watchdogs, in tow to ensure they don't skip with the bundle, our foursome venture out in a complicated scheme to fleece the banker out of a five million dollar purse.

*Confidence* is an archetypal heist/con game with constant suspicion of shifting alliances, crosses and double-crosses. It is helped by Edward Burns's charismatic self-assuredness, Paul Giamatti's pragmatic grounded caution, and Rachel Weisz's sensuality and cynicism engulfed in heavy cigarette smoke. Clearly Dustin Hoffman relished his role as the mercurial King whose toothy grin and restless motion create an unpredictable menace which could erupt at any time. Run a separate parallel investigation by FBI Special Agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) aided by two corrupt cops (Luis Guzman and Donal Logue), and a lively fast-paced editing style and you'll want to keep your wits operating at full tilt. But as The King says, "Style can get you killed," fulfilled in Jake's opening words of the film, "So I'm dead. And I think it's because of this redhead."

Eighty percent of Amazon reviewers voted this three or four stars with ten percent placing it at one star. Count me among the four to five stars, as I found *Confidence* polished and fun to second-guess, not always successfully. It's certainly darker than *The Sting* and may join the main courses of such slippery capers as Mamet's *House Of Cards* (1987), *The Spanish Prisoner* (1997) and *Heist* (2001) with a side dish of *The Usual Suspects* (1995) at my table. I'd be happy to serve it alongside my genuine Last Supper place setting with the certification of authenticity signed by St. Thomas The Contender in original Aramaic תוּמָא. (I got it by special arrangement through the Bradford Exchange, a rare antiquities dealer I've come to trust. I really lucked out, for as a special bonus I also received a set of Ginsu Knives passed down by the bride and groom married in Cana of Galilee.) As I said, it just makes good karmic sense to seek the best in people.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 2/27/2020, 7:07 pm

Sadly, I have a serious mental block on movies with one of the stars in this one. I won't name the malefactor. But some years ago, I spent several days in close quarters with the individual, as a result of being this persons assigned facilitator by my employer. I was the luckiest person this "Star" came into contact with during this adventure. Because I was never spoken to once, throughout entire time. All communication was done by pointing, grunting and the occasional scribbled note. How this person treated everyone else they came into contact with, started at verbal abuse and went rapidly downhill from there. Including one member of the "entourage" being narrowly missed by a thrown lamp. After three days of this Psycho Circus, I went to my management, threw the company car's keys on their desk and told them to get me out of there or I quit. They got me out and thanked me for lasting as long as I did. I found out later, that I was only one out of six people who tried to keep this person on schedule and sober during the eight days they were in town, who lasted even one entire day.

This happened about 18 years ago. And I've never watched anything this person appeared in since.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/27/2020, 9:59 pm

Wow, Dude, I'm sorry I plumbed those depths for you. Do you want me to boycott this person's movies from now on, out of my respect for you?  So sad when "Stars" think they're immune to manners.

Sheesh. Mad

Maybe we'll have better luck with tomorrow's feature, a rollicking comedy with Steve and Idi Amin, Papa Doc Duvalier, Quadaffi Duck, Kim Jong Il  and Oscar Homolka in Bedtime For Bozos (1964).

Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 2/27/2020, 10:32 pm

No need for that Jeff. I'd hate to ruin the fantasy. That's why I was careful to not even indicate the sex of the social miscreant.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/28/2020, 7:07 pm

Post #306: After the last Matt Helm movie (*Murderers' Row*) and knowing a little of the back story for its follow-up, today's feature *The Ambushers* (1967), I was ready to pay a penance for all my sins. It was going to be an agonizing 102 minutes since Harry Levin was returning to direct it, and I found his work plodding, egregious and lazy. *The Ambushers* appears in Harry Medved's and Randy Lowell's *Fifty Worst Movies Ever Made* book, and co-star Janice Rule has gone on record to say she regrets having made it, since it's the "worst movie" she ever made. Additionally, it's the last appearance of James Gregory as Matt's superior Macdonald, the last glimpse of Beverly Adams as Lovey Kravezit, and the last time Matt would go up against Big O. All that suggests the lemmings are headed for the mountain's edge. Happily. Saving themselves from extended torture.

Well, put some wheels on me and call me a bus. I found *The Ambushers* (the third and penultimate Matt Helm film out of the proposed five) *almost* good enough to knock away the sludge from the cleats of *Murderers' Row*. While in the previous entry Dean Martin seemed tired, in a sophomore slump, here he was sprightly, lively and game; it's still not a grand slam, but it's far from the strike-out of the second Matt.

Instead of the staid and, in my mind, totally misplaced Karl Malden, we now have a much more ominous Albert Salmi as Jose Ortega, the Big O nemesis who has used an electromagnetic beam to hijack an highly progressive experimental US UFO piloted by ICE agent Sheila Sommers (Janice Rule); due to a fail safe drive, only women can fly the craft, as men will be consumed by the magnetic energy. Macdonald sends Matt to uncover the mole operating in ICE and help a returned, nearly catatonic Sheila to recover not only her memory but the location of the UFO in Central America. (Look, you either buy the premise and enjoy it, or just avoid it altogether.)

Snapping out of her shock at the first sight of Matt, but thinking their cover of marriage on a previous assignment is reality, Sheila accompanies Matt on a trip to Acapulco on the trail of Ortega, owner of the Montezuma Brewery, and his toady Quintana (Kurt Kasznar). They almost immediately run into the sexy Francesca Madeiros (Senta Berger, whose key acting abilities lie at the cleft of her cleavage, which is amply displayed), who may be working for Big O and Ortega. Revealing any more of the plot, such as it is, would defeat the purpose of the film, which is basically mindless action and titillation for its own sake with some obligatory go-go-gadget props thrown in to fulfill the mission of parody.

It's important to remember what other spy and spy spoof films were released the same year as *The Ambushers*--*The Venetian Affair* (Robert Vaughn not as Napoleon Solo and Elke Sommer), *In Like Flint* (James Coburn's sequel to *Our Man Flint*), three Elvis Presley films, *Casino Royale* (David Niven and Peter Sellers' spoof), *Caprice* (Doris Day comedy thriller), *You Only Live Twice* (The fifth James Bond film), *The Billion Dollar Brain* (Michael Caine), *The Capetown Affair* (James Brolin), *Come Spy With Me* (Troy Donahue), *Deadlier Than The Male* (Elke Sommer), *The Deadly Affair* (Lee Marvin), *Fathom* (Raquel Welch), and that's just in America and Great Britain. For the record *Tony Rome* with Frank Sinatra was also released that year, though that film's focus was more in the private detective genre.

Concurrently television was bursting with spy shows in 1967: *I Spy*, *The Prisoner* and *Secret Agent [aka Danger Man]* starring Patrick McGoohan as the same agent, *The Man From UNCLE* and the short-lived *Girl From UNCLE*, *The Saint* with Roger Moore, *Mission: Impossible*, *The Avengers* with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, *Get Smart* created by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, and *The Wild Wild West*.

So Matt Helm films had some very tough competition yet still managed to hold their own. In *The Ambushers* a couple glaring drawbacks relegate this entry to many folks' lower level in the Spy Glut of '67, though on balance it's the most demonstrative inspiration for *Austin Powers*, with its bullet-bras being resurrected by Austin's Fembots and the use of the magnetic beam to slip the zipper on women's clothing being borrowed by Roger Moore as a Rolex Submainer in *Live And Let Die*. Those are fun. But again, Levin's use of green screen and rear projection is atrocious, drawing attention to itself with a howl of unintended laughter.

But most dispiriting are any scenes involving the Ronco Anti-Gravity Raygun (And Kitchen Magician) emitting socked-in cartoon "beams" that levitate anything within its sights. I'm not convinced the film crew even attempted to disguise the wires that lifted and lowered the UFO and the bad guys off the ground, and the scene in which Sheila is electromagnetically hoisted off a runaway platform and delicately dropped onto Matt's motorcycle ("Let Helm put you in the driver's seat," playing off the old Hertz ad) is so badly filmed with green screen AND wires, you almost want to wince in pain. Critic Judith Crist at the time said, "The sole distinction of this vomitous mess is that it just about reaches the nadir of witlessness, smirky sexiness and bad taste - and it's dull, dull, dull to boot."

Now I wouldn't go that far, though I think she nails *Murderers' Row* with the same quote. *The Ambushers* rehashes some of the same jokes directed at Frank Sinatra, plays up Dean's only hit on the Billboard Top 100 "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime," which I still never tire of hearing, and really sidelines James Gregory and Beverly Adams while relying on audiences' awareness of the past Helm tropes. But it holds elements of high camp once it dispenses all the boob jokes available and struggles to make for some lively action, and it comes off literally as lost *Austin Powers* footage with a slightly less prominent emphasis on slapstick.

As for now, I'd put *The Ambushers* as Number 2 out of the three Helm films I've commented on, for at least attempting to parody the spy conventions successfully. Janice Rule, God bless her, may have hated her appearance in it, but she does breathe some life into it while not merely appearing as gratuitous eye candy; that's reserved for Senta Berger, who just vanishes without any explanation or resolution. She deserved better. And though Albert Salmi largely stands around like a trussed and back-braced mannequin with timber in his crotch, he still emotes enough sinister dread that he leaves Karl Malden in the dust to wonder where his American Express card is.

I've been told by a number of people that the last Matt Helm film, *The Wrecking Crew* (1969) is the best of the bunch. That would be a nice surprise, and I'm hopeful if for no other reason than it took two years to make rather than Helm's usual six-month rush to the rushes. We'll see. That one is set on the pile for a few days from now. We all need some time to regain a shard of perspective before jumping back into Matt's universe, with or without the wires showing.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 2/28/2020, 7:45 pm

Personally, I think the greatest TV Spy show didn't arrive until 1970. That year we were gifted with Lancelot Link Secret Chimp. Along with the greatest collection of villains ever assembled. And the actin' was on par with the last few Star Wars movies.
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Post by ghemrats on 2/29/2020, 5:45 pm

Trigger Warning: The following commentary decries a little-known malady in strong terms. Reader discretion is advised.

Post #307: Personally I found it so very comforting to hear the President assure our nation that the current pandemic is going to miraculously disappear soon. Refuting the world's authorities yet again, for what do they know, they don't have the insight he does, he offers us solace while the medical community urges us to wash our hands. But I've researched the rise of alien bacterial forces and now want to expose a palpable threat that surfaced in the 1960s and still persists to some degree today. Yes, I'm talking about the Susceptible Hormone Infestation Torrent, which initially hit the fans of campy movies like *Deadlier Than The Male* (1967), which I commented on back in October (Post #181, to be precise).

Transmitted in the closed ecosystems of classic movie theaters, hitting the pubescent male community hard (female attendees seem to have developed some resistance to the raging infection, fighting it off in balconies), symptoms of the plague included heart palpitations, rising temperatures and blood pressure and swelling of the extremities, and a troubling bypassing of the rational, causing euphoric surrender of common sense to delusions of implacable attractiveness. In short, every poor victim of the infection was particularly susceptible to unshakable beliefs that he existed as a deific embodiment of every woman's search and such woman lived in a perpetual state of yearning for him.

Movie studios both domestically and in the European markets fell prey to its advanced strains, once staved off tenuously in the late 1950s but now exploding in the '60s. Soon filmmakers were churning out SHIT-induced delirium to a taste-impaired public, growing increasingly ravenous for images of impetuous, uninhibited women who paraded around in skimpy fashions and appeared to be in perpetual state of heat.

Which brings us to today's feature, *Some Girls Do* (1969), a sequel to *Deadlier Than The Male* starring the sad but aptly named Dick Johnson returning as Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond. This time around diabolical women take evil delight in causing a rash of "accidents" to be visited upon men attached to the development of the world's first supersonic aircraft, the SST-1, surprisingly not named the Supersonic Transport Device or STD-1. So it's up to Hugh to uncover the cunning plot of mastermind Carl Petersen (James Villiers) to profit from the aircraft's sabotage to the tune of eight million pounds. Along for the ride is (I'm not making this up) a flirty but dim American agent (because this is a British film) Flicky (Sydne Rome) whose eyes match the size of her bosom, which is amply on display.

Carrying out Petersen's wishes are his bounteous assassins Helga (Daliah Lavi) and Pandora (Beba Lončar), along with his race of vapid female robots (Fembots!) whom he controls to stand conveniently so the camera might capture the approach of Drummond from an upskirt angle. Not that that vantage point is necessary because all the skirts barely skirt the "robots"' buttocks anyway. But before arriving at Petersen's Island for Wayward Amazons, Drummond must contend with the deaths of a smirking 1960s gay gourmet spy Miss Mary (Robert Morley) and engineer Dudley Mortimer (Maurice Denham), killed by subsonic waves.

A fairly thrilling attempt on Drummond's life by Helga takes us into the terrain of 007 explicitly, backed by a suitably stinging score from Charles Blackwell, alas his final score. And on balance, when the film breaks the stranglehold of the SHIT-virus, there's finally some drama to be explored, reminding us that Richard Johnson turned down the role of James Bond, leaving it open to Sean Connery. (Thank you, Jesus) And Johnson is more than competent as a spy, as he takes his role quite seriously, bringing gravitas to the plot, when he's not fighting off women who want to bed him.

To extend the comic effect, I suppose, is the fairly reckless, inexperienced British Embassy agent Peregrine Carruthers (Ronnie Stevens), who joins Drummond in North Africa, where an infrasound-fueled powerboat is moored, the next target to complete Petersen's plot. Naturally Helga and Pandora are on hand to impede the investigation and try their luck at killing their quarry again. Another Bondian knot of intrigue and action ensues, allowing *Some Girls Do* to be just palatable enough not to dismiss it totally out of hand as a tiresome retread; it's more like a British Matt Helm with more attention to plot and fewer groaning double entendres. Yup, there's enough mayhem and snarling villainy to go around with the condescending Petersen, and with the help of "Robot 7" (Vanessa Howard) explosions abound.

For Background Glancing's sake, let's point out that actresses Virginia North (Robot Number 9) and Joanna Lumley (uncredited but now an Absolutely Fabulous star and *The Avengers* Mrs. Peel replacement Tara King) were concurrently filming their roles here and on the sixth "legitimate" Bond feature *On Her Majesty's Secret Service* (1969), Lumley's first film role. But the real mystery behind this film is how two women of power, producer Betty E. Box and co-writer Liz Charles-Williams (actually wife to co-writer David Osborn) could have put something so patently male-fantasy-centric together. Maybe it was the money. . . or they somehow contracted a mutant strain of the Susceptible Hormone Infestation Torrent.

*Some Girls Do* is far from the worst offender in this fatuous plague, but might be held up as a good example of what can happen when a frenzy is fed and stoked. While no one is hurt demonstratively by this lesser affliction, we could have been treated so much better. It's akin to an official saying, "Well, at least no one in America has died from it yet, and that's the good news" while so many around us globally are not so lucky. As the Optimist says, It tastes like SHIT--but GOOD!
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/1/2020, 5:10 pm

Post #308: "Feel Good Movies Of The Summer" usually bum me out. For me too many have left me thinking of the song "Happy," which makes me want to take a crowbar to the radio on which it's playing. Such movies and songs ("Everything Is Awesome" is another bouncy little ditty that induces primal screaming in me like Stanley Kowalski yawping over Stella) are trying too hard. There's a manic desperation in their relentless indoctrination toward unprecedented joy that reeks of manipulation of the Prozac Nation. "Don't demand or mandate euphoria from me, just let it come naturally," I project through a jaw clenched so tightly I can hear my mandibles creak. "And for God's sake why should I clap along if I feel like a room without a roof? Do you not have rain where you live? I live in Michigan and if it's not raining it's snowing, and I don't want to shovel out my living room or take out additional flood insurance."

Not that I'm not a basically optimistic, spirit-filled guy. I am. Usually when people ask me, How ya doon? I can honestly answer, Oh, fair to partly sunny. So when I stumbled upon today's feature, *The Way, Way Back* (2013), the story of a Cape Cod summer vacation with a glum 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) who's dragged off to spend "family time" with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), his too-cool sister, and Mom's overbearing dillweed love interest Trent (Steve Carrell), I was worried on three counts: It could be strained "Feel Gooder" or an abrasive horny teen movie or a creaky drama ending in a water park of tears and loss. Praise the skies, it is not on all counts. And I just may have found a movie that will rank high on my Sleeper List--a cataloging label for movies I had never heard of but ended up loving, ready for repeat viewing.

To quote the great 20th Century philosopher Gomer Pyle, Surprise surprise surprise. It was none of those. Nor was it a silly slapstick, just a fairly honest examination of how good intentions can manifest themselves in cruelty by ricochet and kindness can be discovered in decency. Written, directed and executive produced by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also act in supporting roles, *The Way, Way Back* also stars Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Rob Codrey and Amanda Peet, with Annasophia Robb as Susanna Thompson. Nominated for 30 awards and winner of five (including AARP's winner For best Comedy For Grownups, Newport Beach FIlm Festival Best Feature Film, North Carolina's Film Critics Award, and Breakthrough Performance for Liam James at the Young Hollywood Awards), just about every aspect of the film offers life-affirming treasures without being cloying or condescending.

Duncan is a morose teen, experiencing a hard time with his divorced mother's infatuation with her stern, demanding but somehow charismatic Alpha dog of a boyfriend, Trent Ramsey. The opening drill between Duncan and Trent, based "almost verbatim" on Jim Rash's discussion with his stepfather when he was fourteen, sets the tension bar high as Trent asks the teen how he'd rate himself on a ten-point scale. "He said I was a three. He asked me what I thought I was on, a scale from one to ten. He called me a three. Who says that to somebody?" Duncan explains later. "I didn't want to have to answer! I shouldn't have to answer!"

And the pain doesn't stop there, as Trent (Steve Carell in a very serious turn here, expertly so) continues to chip away at the boy's self-esteem. But somewhere within this authority figure we might figure (graciously) that his intentions, however awkwardly and brutally executed they may be, may be aimed to get Duncan to build a stronger backbone. Certainly that's how he sees himself. On the other hand, he might just be an officious dick, and I'm sticking with that.

The adults are certainly at home in the beachfront property, carrying on with plenty of wine and freewheeling, while Duncan's sister Steph (Zoe Levin) establishes herself as a Queen B among her friends at the water side. This leaves Duncan to fend for himself, insulated by insecurities and his IPod. Slowly he forges a passing conversation with Susanna, who lives next door with her gregarious, flirty mother Betty who can be distracted from her own interests only long enough to good-naturedly belittle her son Peter (River Alexander) who sports a lazy eye. In *The Way, Way Back* most of the adults are at various levels of self-involved idiocy struggling to balance their own lives with their obligations as parents. Duncan's mother Pam (the wonderful Toni Collette) seems the most torn as she tries to keep the peace, honor her son's introspection while still maintaining order, and establish a "new" family dynamic with Trent.

But at its heart *The Way, Way Back* is filled with human comedy--it's very funny as Duncan ventures out on a pink girl's bicycle complete with streamers and a little flowered basket where a headlight should rest and lands a job at the local water park, Water Wizz. The film takes flight with the park's manager Owen (the underrated Sam Rockwell), an iconoclastic lunatic whose responsibilities are followed up by Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph) who really keeps the park running. The Water Wizz is a sanctuary for Duncan, filled with people who have a penchant for life--Roddy (Nat Faxon) guides the Devil's Peak, the largest tube slide around; Lewis (Jim Rash) tends the service booth which no one visits, causing him to emulate Oscar the Grouch and return each day for more; and Caitlyn who barely tolerates Owen's manic disregard for rules, while slyly admiring his verve.

Sam Rockwell steals the show whenever he's onscreen, admittedly gaining inspiration from having watched Bill Murray in *Meatballs* (1979) eleven times, as he admits in a featurette accompanying the disc. His frenetic energy and rapid-fire joking belie Owen's genuine regard for people, and Duncan seems drawn to this perhaps without fully understanding why. The ensemble gathered her are playing at their peak, each actor being afforded strong scenes to demonstrate his/her commitment to the characters. As a result, *The Way, Way Back* evolves into a very sweet, kind-hearted film that allows laugh-out-loud comedy to rest comfortably next to stinging dramatic truths enlivened by a carefully orchestrated soundtrack.

Betsy Sharkey of the *Los Angeles Times* said of *The Way, Way Back,* "Authenticity gives the movie its witty, heartwarming, hopeful, sentimental, searing and relatable edge. It is merciless in probing the tender spots of times like these, and tough-guy sweet in patching up the wounds. A nifty balancing act by the first-time directors, who almost didn’t get to make their film." It earns its laughs and woes honestly, never dipping into schmaltz or choreographed conflict--after all, Trent's vacation house is not called The Riptide for nothing. And Toni Collette's magnificent stand-out meltdown over a game of Candy Land mixes humor, pathos and truth in swirling power.

Don't be fooled by overbloated claims of many "Feel Good" movies, but actually put a little faith in this one. It doesn't moralize or become mawkish nor does it beat you senseless with a tacked on resolution of all dangling dangers. No pans to the sky as the orchestra reaches for a crescendo, no need to cue the stars to twinkle, just a nice trip in the way, way back of the Griswold Family truckster, leaving you not quite alone with your thoughts anymore. And I for one will take that ride again.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/2/2020, 5:42 pm

Post #309: Have you ever wanted to like, really really like a film, and after seeing it felt . . . nothing? It hasn't happened to me much, but with today's feature *Garden State* (2004) I just felt. . . whelmed. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed, just whelmed, eliciting the response, "Well, that was a movie." As I've noted time and again--here's another time--I do my best to accept films without preconceptions, the equivalent of throwing up my arms and saying, "Okay, here I am. Let's go." And I loved the TV series *Scrubs* which starred *Garden State*'s writer and first-time director Zach Braff, so I guess that must have colored my expectations a bit. Perhaps its main character, Andrew Largeman (Braff), a moderately successful television actor isolated from living by medications since he was a child, did his job too well: His relative numbness was contagious so even now my response is "Huhn."

"When I wrote *Garden State*," Braff has said, "I was completely depressed, waiting tables and lonesome as I've ever been in my life. The script was a way for me to articulate what I was feeling; alone, isolated, 'a dime a dozen' and homesick for a place that didn't even exist." That state of mind drives the film, beginning with a dream sequence involving a plane in distress while Andrew, now twenty-six, remains oblivious to the panic around him. He wakes to the ringing of a white phone in the most sterile white bedroom imaginable, tightly bound to his bed by sheets drawn taut over him. His estranged father chokes back emotion, explaining Andrew's paraplegic mother has died and asking him to come home to New Jersey. For the next 100 minutes or so, we follow Andrew--who appears in every scene--through the murky haze of non-involvement while quietly searching to connect to something or someone as he leaves his drugstore cabinet of medications at his apartment.

Watching *Garden State* I was reminded often of The Waitresses' song "Bread And Butter," which casually drops the line, "Can’t drug or dance it away/Can’t get away from it all/Guess what? I’m 'it'/As the world winds down/And I slam into limits/Frozen in and frozen out of my/Bread and butter" or Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Andrew doesn't reconnect as much as abut with old friends, who are still rutted in the old home town, doing drugs and digging graves (literally). And he's been suffering lately from transitory blinding flashes of pain in his head, so he's referred to the town doctor Dr. Cohen (Ron Liebman). While waiting Andrew meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a self-defined pathological liar who fulfills the criteria for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG), an archetypal character (now a trope) whom Roger Ebert describes as "one of those creatures you sometimes find in the movies, a girl who is completely available, absolutely desirable and really likes you. Portman's success in creating this character is all the more impressive because we learn almost nothing about her, except that she's great to look at and has those positive attributes." More on her later.

Dr. Cohen finds nothing wrong with Andrew but suggests seeing a psychiatrist other than his father, who has acted as his chief counsel since Andrew's age nine, prescribing lithium and an apothecary full of mood altering drugs to help him deal with a tragic family accident. (I will not disclose this in case you want to try the film yourself.) But you will notice in the accompanying trailer still that Andrew's visual metaphor completes his immersion into himself because of it.

The film meanders through vignettes and a parade of quirky characters while developing some sort of relationship between Andrew and Sam. Some filmgoers have complained that the screenplay defies natural expectations as it totally dispenses with the traditional structure of "Acts" in favor of a drifting narrative anchored by our duo; it forsakes a third act and a comfortable denouement which polarized audiences, many applauding the departure with accolades ranging from "real, poignant, existential," to the assessment by Peter DeBruge in *Premiere* magazine who believed it "nailed the beautiful terror of standing on the brink of adulthood with such satisfying precision." Others less moved by its approach found it "pretentious, contrived, confused, and egoistic."

For me, some moments and performances stand out memorably: I can see the purely existential application as Andrew, Sam and friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) stand in the torrential rain on a rusted crane overlooking a bottomless quarry and lob primal screams into the pit, the abyss, which stares back at them. The entire sequence at the quarry, involving a couple who live in a make-shift ark-like landlocked cabin cruiser and who guard the quarry against intruders, marks an endearing turning point of sorts, executed subtly and through nuance. And Natalie Portman comes alive, fleshing out her eccentricities with a hidden depth we would not see at first, relegating her to the MPDG status. Her quirkiness established early, though, harbors a more complex character, one of vulnerability and potential growth at age twenty-six.

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around: *Garden State*, I would imagine, can hold a significance or importance as a "voice" similar to *Rebel Without A Cause* (1955), for me *The Graduate* (1967), and *The Breakfast Club* (1985) for their generations, though perhaps in a less polished way. I remember the moments of trepidation when confronting the urgent whisper of "adult responsibility," that cloudburst thundering in my ears, as Pink Floyd called it; with the conventional wisdom of my peers pounding out the slogan "Never trust anyone over thirty," how did I face thirty and not trust myself? The oxymoronic quandary was very real and confounding. Similarly, if Andrew, pre-puberty, was parentally and medically shielded from feeling to be saved from pain, how could he possibly know the exquisite pleasure of living? Catatonic zombie lifestyles of the rich and famous--can't dance or drug it away--would be the realization of "Aldous Huxtable's" (as he referred to by Andrew's friends) Brave New World.

And that, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, is why *Garden State* did not resonate completely for me. I've passed through that phase, though not in the way Andrew does, and I wouldn't care to revisit it. But that doesn't deter me from understanding what Zach Braff was intending, with his hand-picked collection of songs in his Grammy-Award-winning soundtrack (outstanding taste in music, my friend). So its pluses are plentiful, even meaningful, and Portman's performance is stellar and sweet; I guess I would just rather believe my dear friends of Andrew's age can navigate those choppy waters resting somewhere deep in the void more capably, realizing they've got someone standing in the rain on the decrepit old rust-bucket crane cheering them on.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/3/2020, 5:34 pm

Post #310: How many romantic comedies can you name that cast allusions of Shakespeare like a fly fisher, offer completely likable star-crossed lovers, boast a stellar supporting cast and an impressive group of cameos, satirize culture without meanness or rancor, send messages through electronic freeway traffic condition signs, and embrace the feeling of an adult fairy tale without resorting to crass cheap gags designed to shock? Oh, and it's written by executive producer and star Steve Martin AND offer you cash back on every purchase you make? All right, scratch that last point. I hope I've narrowed it down enough for you. Because I can think only of today's feature, *LA Story* (1991), which in Steve Martin's words ends his "mature movie career."

Spending seven years polishing the final script, Martin pays sweet homage to a traditional Irish ballad "Maid of Coolmore" whose lyrics read in part: "If I had the power, the storm to rise/I would blow the wind higher for to darken the skies/I would blow the wind higher to make the salt seas to roar/On the day that my love sailed away from Coolmore." From that inspiration comes Wacky Weekend meteorologist Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin) who finds himself rutted in a demeaning job, barely holding onto a convenient relationship with the social butterfly Trudi (Marilu Henner), while tolerating the pretentious environment of Los Angeles that has the depth of a high-priced paper plate (perhaps Chinet, since its name gives the illusion of priciness).

Modern romantic comedies too often, for me, lapse into cliche or dumb down their characters by introducing some last-minute manufactured conflict just to wring out as much faux trepidation from their audiences as possible, setting them up for sudden enlightenment on the part of one or more of the particulars and reconfirm the foregone conclusion that we knew from looking at the poster: Love will out. *LA Story* does its best to avoid those traps, giving us the opportunity to be engaged while laughing out loud at the pure intelligence of the script. When Harris meets Sarah McDowel (Victoria Tennant, Martin's wife at the time) at a typically fatuous power lunch with friends who assign numbers ("I give it a seven") to everything, he is entranced by her British wit and lack of affectation. It's a shame she's working to reconcile with her former husband, Roland (Richard E. Grant).

One night on the freeway Harris's car sputters to a stop before an electronic traffic sign which appears to be lobbing cryptic questions specifically directed to Harris. A sign! This magical realism and subtle Shakespearean asides from *The Tempest*, *Hamlet* and *A Midsummer Night's Dream* set *LA Story* in its own class, aided by such luminary yet uncredited cameos from Woody Harrelson, Chevy Chase, Iman (David Bowie's wife and model), Rick Moranis (as a comic gravedigger, *Hamlet*, Act V, scene i), Kevin Pollack, Patrick Stewart, Martin Lawrence, Monty Python's Terry Jones (as Sarah's mother on a phone call), Sam McMurray, George Plimpton and Paula Abdul (as a skater outside restaurant).

The Shakespeare allusions are plentiful, from plot points (storms of the soul, a character named Ariel (Susan Forestal), weather stranding lovers) to outright comic bastardizations of dialogue (Harris says, "Sitting there at that moment I thought of something else Shakespeare said. He said, 'Hey... life is pretty stupid; with lots of hubbub to keep you busy, but really not amounting to much.' Of course I'm paraphrasing: 'Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'") It's also telling that an exclusive restaurant requiring a credit background check is named L'Idiot, while a swanky hotel is El Pollo del Mar, which means Chicken of the Sea. I'll leave you to find other terrific Bardian nods.

Discovering Trudi has been cheating on him, Harris meets SanDeE (Sarah Jessica Parker), a hyper-animated free spirit working as a tailor with ambitions of being a hand- and spokesmodel like Vanna White. Smarting over his yearning for Sarah and Trudi's infidelity (he says, "Why is it that we don't always recognize the moment when love begins but we always know when it ends?"), he begins spending time with the much younger and energetic SanDeE. In some ways this is a breakout role for Sarah Jessica Parker, as prior to this film she was relegated to mousy roles as she played on the TV series *Square Pegs* or third-wheel best friends instead of sexy, vibrant women. SanDeE changed that for her, and her fantastic mane of hair completes her carefree bouncy spirit.

Personally I count this film as one of Steve Martin's best for a charming combination of heart and outrageous comedy, but the comedy comes organically, from reality rather than artificiality for the sake of a laugh. We learn to care for these people because we know people like them. Roger Ebert gave *LA Story* four out of four stars, citing, "The film is astonishing in the amount of material it contains. . . . It isn't thin or superficial; there is an abundance of observation and invention here, and perhaps because the filmmakers know they have so much good material, there's never the feeling that anything is being punched up, or made to carry more than its share." It is a credit to director Mick Jackson (who would go on to direct *The Bodyguard* 1991) that he keeps the energy flowing while smoothly transitioning from overt comedy to dramatic tension with a visual flair that makes The City Of Angels come alive.

While people clamor over *The Jerk* (1979) and his admittedly kooky but wonderful '80s comedies which helped define the comic climate of that decade, *LA Story* should not be missed as a wholly representative film of a maturing talent, still a little manic, still a little wild and crazy, but moving toward deeper satisfaction we'd see in a dramatic turn of *Grand Canyon* (1991) and his parental roles in *Father Of The Bride* (1991 and 1995) and *Cheaper By The Dozen* (2003 and 2005) films. I will always enjoy the Steve Martin who simmered indignation under the barely tolerant effusiveness of John Candy's Del Griffith in *Planes, Trains and Automobiles* (1987), but I hold a special place for Steve Martin the artist who starred with Robin Williams on Broadway in *Waiting For Godot*. He can drop Big Thoughts when you least expect them--"Forget for this moment the smog and the cars and the restaurant and the skating and remember only this. A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true."

See? You can be hilarious and heartfelt at the same time. And *LA Story* fulfills that balancing act while leaving you feeling the label "romantic comedy" is not a synonym for sappy, trite emotional manipulation. In this case Steve Martin instructs us how we CAN care enough to send the very best to those we love.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 3/4/2020, 4:07 pm

I enjoyed both Garden State and LA Story. The coffee orders in L.A. Story were kind of prescient to the stupid options in todays coffee shops. And LA has always been too precious for me. I used to fly in there regularly for business. I much preferred the warm vibe of San Fran to the frantic pace and absurdity of L.A.
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Post by ghemrats on 3/4/2020, 4:52 pm

Post #311: Today's feature *Beautiful Creatures* (2000) could easily be sponsored by the Elmer Fudd Academy For Gender Politics, a think tank devoted to cinematic representations of female empowerment in a repressive Europhallicentric society. Starring Rachel Weisz and Susan Lynch, this Scottish film involves Wayward Waylaid World-Weary Wounded Women Waging Waggish War With Whatever Weaponwy Wests Within Weach--Weawwy! All the way home. Ha ha ha ha ha. . . .

But aww sewiousness aside, that's a pwetty accuwate way to descwibe what twanspires in this economical 86-minute tour of female hell. [Shaking off Elmer's voice from my interior monologue] Ahem. In Glasgow every man is a brutal, senseless Id running rampant against his female partner, drug-addled, ham fisted, money grubbing Neanderthal rakes whose detestation for women will occasional spill over into violence against his fellow man if he intercedes. In short, boys being boys, while their counterparts basically whimper and go all dewy-eyed in their defense. . . because you don't know him the way I know him, he's a basically good guy when he isn't shooting heroin and beating the shite out of me.

Oh joy. This is not to imply *Beautiful Creatures* doesn't have a sense of humor about such treatment. On some level it's disguised as the black hole of comedy, drawing a weird snicker for the audience since, as the French adage suggested, sometimes the only thing left to do is laugh. Dorothy (Susan Lynch, who was nominated for her performance by The British Independent Film Awards) is on the run from her abusive junkie boyfriend Tony (Iain Glen) who's gone on a tear because she pawned his golf clubs--he's boiled her brassiere in a pot on the stove, doused all her clothing with blue paint, ransacked her apartment and trussed up her white Alsatian on the balcony and washed him in red paint. I think at this point we can say he's teed off; if not, obviously you're not a golfer.

Escaping further wrath, out in the rain soaked streets she comes upon Petula (Rachel Weisz, unrecognizable as a platinum blonde) who is on the receiving end of a profanity-laced knocking about by her boyfriend Brian (Tom Mannion). So Dorothy acts as conflict mediator by beaning him in the head with a twenty-foot scaffolding rod lying close by. This is where the comedy comes in, just in case you missed it due to the lack of a laugh track. Together they drag him back to Dorothy's apartment, dump him the bathtub and console themselves while bonding on the couch while Brian waits for his brain to cease hemorrhaging. Just another Saturday night and I ain't got no body.

Imagine the ladies' surprise when he attempts standing and falls on the bathroom floor, bleeding from his eyes. Oh, great, and Dorothy's out of Dow's scrubbing bubbles. They wrap him in towels and deposit him on the balcony, starting to spin a scenario whereby they can dump the body and make it appear he's fallen and he can't get up. To complicate matters, Brian is Petula's boss, and his brother Ronnie (Maurice Roëves) who owns the business, a colorless misanthrope dining only on overripe lemons and castor oil cocktails I presume, hovers over Petula perpetually wondering where his brother is when he doesn't show up for work. Oh, and did I mention Pluto the Alsatian mistakes Brian's ring finger for a Milk Bone, which does away with the "accidental fall" cover story? Yes, friends, the laughs keep coming, even though the cast's stern poker faces underplay the hilarity substantially.

Let's add some more seasoning to this leaden souffle, shall we? Let's will our Wonder Whisk to wile away more weird pwedicadments with a woefully cweepy interwoper Deputy Inspector Hepburn (Alex Norton) who's working for Wonnie to find the Wunaway Bwother Bwian and weave the wetched, wepelwent, wepwehensible wastrel Tony back into the story. [Here comes the Fudd Influence again] Ahem. Yes, Tony wants his golf clubs (he's serious duffer, it appears--no, wait, Poppa's got a brand new bag full of heroin and guns and an incredibly wicked hunting knife) which Dorothy has regained from the pawn shop, and happening over Brian's body, wants a piece of the action, preferably not his ring finger.

So round and round and round we go, and where we stop nobody knows, except you can check your watch and see how much longer this will last. *Beautiful Creatures* will test your tolerance for drug usage, grotesque humor and role reversal. There's no getting around the horrible reality that many men are in fact despicable wastes of space and women have borne the brunt of execrable hostility and violence. But I have to wonder why we're supposed to root for these women solely on the basis of their gender. Does bearing the deep scars of abuse excuse them from inflicting their own brand of heinous retribution on these miscreants? Roger Ebert weighs in: "I am not really offended by the movie's gender politics, since I am accustomed to the universal assumption in pop (and academic) culture that women are in possession of truth and goodness and men can only benefit from learning from them. In fact, if the movie had been able to make me laugh, I might have forgiven it almost anything."

As it stands, *Beautiful Creatures* seems to falter since the mix of black humor and bleak drug usage and violence is so uneven: the "lighter" moments (how many shades of dark grey are there once you're past fifty?) for me are held down by the ugliness of the men (literal and behavioral), and the women's "beauty," which is commented on frequently throughout the film, is not enough to escape their own moral gravitas (Petula, who can't drive, says, "Brian was giving me lessons. Well, at least he was screaming filthy abuse at me and punching me in an old Saab. . . [talking to herself] Neutral. Always make sure your vehicle is in neutral before you start your engine, Petula. Or I will punch your f***ing lights out.")

In the end the body count is high, suggesting, I guess, that abuses will cancel themselves out karmically. But if this is an exploration of gender politics, turning Tarantino's tables in a pre-*Kill Bill* inversion of cinematic gangster film tropes hinted at nine years after *Thelma And Louise*, I'm still bothered by the title, referring to women as "Creatures." Is that intended as irony? Beats me, but at least Dorothy and Petula don't drive off into the sunset off a cliff, and that's some small consolation.

By the way, can somebody tell me what season it is--Duck Season? Wabbit Season? Basebaww Season? After this movie watching a widdle of the Democwatic Pwimary Covewage and aww this talk about powitics, I'm having twouble tewwing what's what in this cwazy, wascawwy countwy. Ha ha ha ha ha. . . .
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/5/2020, 5:12 pm

Post #312: Watching the trailer for today's feature, *The Wrecking Crew* (1968), the final Matt Helm film, reminds us what could have been. It's one of the few times you'll hear me say the trailer is actually funnier and looser than the picture it's promoting, so watch the trailer and skip the movie. Earning mixed reviews at the time of its release in Canada first and then the states, *The Wrecking Crew* marks the end of the franchise, not due to weak performance at the box office but because of Dean Martin's despondency over the brutal murder of his co-star Sharon Tate while the film was still in the theaters. The film closes with a teaser for *The Ravagers*, the fifth proposed link in the chain, but it was not to be.

In this go-round everything seems subdued: Largely gone are the leering sex gags and the gadgets, James Gregory's MacDonald is replaced by John Larch (Gregory refused to work at a reduced rate when the producers cut costs), and completely missing is Beverly Adams' Lovey who joined series writer Herbert Baker doing another more serious spy film for producer Irving Allen *Hammerhead*. With those changes we find Matt turning from parody to pastiche of the spy game. Oh, we still have Helm's staple stable of gorgeous women--Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan and Tina Louise, fresh from Gilligan's floating flotsam. And they are all filling out their roles and wardrobes as the series demands, but tonally it's running lower on the Zip Factor.

The plot centers around the hijacking of (wait for it) One BEELION dollars in gold bullion cubes by a blandly nasty Count Massimo Contini (Nigel Green) who stacks his bounty ten feet high and paints it beige to blend in as a feature wall in his chateau in Denmark. Since the Count's Operation Rainbow is dedicated to destroying the world economy, Matt is dispatched to recover the booty while being provided an assist from Freya Carlson (Sharon Tate, who is one of the two main reasons to sit through this one), a fumbling, bumbling guide from the Danish Tourism Bureau, whose own booty is the focus of a lingering camera. (Look: I don't mean that in a gross, sexist and reductive way--it's just the sensibility of the spy spoof of the times.)

Sidebar: If you've seen Quentin Tarantino's recent excursion into a parallel reality, *Once Upon A Time In Hollywood* (2019), you may recall Margot Robbie's wonderful portrayal of Sharon Tate sneaking into a theater to watch herself in *The Wrecking Crew*. It's a touching scene given history because in this film Tate's terrific flare for comedy and well executed fight sequences shines a spotlight on her, showing such promise. In *The Wrecking Crew* she was trained by Bruce Lee, also in Tarantino's homage, appearing totally at ease in a fine duel with Nancy Kwan. Every time she's on screen, she steals the film from Dean Martin, who at 52 is a little more dry yet quite spry in his fight sequences.

Elke Sommer is the other key reason to watch this film. Duplicating the role and relationship with Nigel Green she played in *Deadlier Than The Male* one year earlier, she adds instant class to the film, telegraphing deadly cold-blooded regard while still maintaining seductive approachability. Her interactions with the other characters are spicy, impish and glamorous, everything required for a solid femme fatale. Her paramour Nigel Green just isn't given enough to do with his continental Count; beyond staring at tiny screens monitoring the action and intoning ominously into a microphone, he brings little color to the main villain. And with that pivotal lynch pin weakened, he becomes just an interchangeable integer in a spy film instead of a memorable Goldfinger or Dr. No mastermind.

Dean is, well, Dean, a little less overtly boozing but still self-effacing with his occasional silent pleading with the audience, staring plaintively at the camera, which endears him to us. But the patter isn't as snappy as it once was and the gadgets--in this case just handkerchief bombs and a lame gas spewing camera--draw attention to the lesser budget, but the explosions look nice and it's sad that Matt has to almost chase victims of the gas to get close enough to prove its efficacy, and in the final analysis the gas renders them blind for only a minute and a half. Sheesh.

Kinda Spoiler-ish: Linka Karensky (Sommer), Lola Medina (Tina Louise) and Wen Yu-Rang (Nancy Kwan) take turns seducing Matt, each meeting a bang-up finish, while Freya (Sharon Tate) reveals she is a deep cover agent who makes it through to the end of the film and was slated to return in *The Ravagers*, much to the delight of Dean Martin. But he vowed never to return to role again after Sharon's death. Incidentally, the footage shown in Tarantino's film is not doctored or remade with Margot Robbie--Robbie is actually watching vintage scenes from the original film.

Three small trivial notes make *The Wrecking Crew* interesting minimally: Dean Martin's stunt double was karate champion Mike Stone, who was dating Priscilla Presley after her split from Elvis, and the film signals Chuck Norris's film debut as an extra in the House of 7 Joys scene. Also the Count's chateau was actually a California mansion owned by Tony Curtis who as a friend to Dean and Sharon Tate graciously loaned it out for filming.

*The Wrecking Crew* may come in like a wrecking ball, but it's one of the few times the demolition tool is more meatball than forged steel. When it hits the wall, there's a nice splatter of marinara but very little impact that stays with you or makes you want to revisit the rubble left in its wake. It says That's amore, but it's really a lesser.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 3/5/2020, 6:22 pm

One of these days, I'm gonna do a Matt Helm marathon, just to try to spot all the Easter Eggs and spy film references. Then I'll have to do an Austin Powers marathon, just to cross and circular reference even more Easter Eggs and references. These films are full of em'.
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Post by ghemrats on 3/6/2020, 5:36 pm

Post #313: In my movie library, admittedly accumulated so my sons will have something to fight over when I'm gone, some movies hold a revered spot in my heart and mind.  I may not watch them for a while, but when I do I'm instantly transported back to places in time that transcend the film.  Today's feature, *Galaxy Quest* (1999), is one such treasure, a super strip of cinema that works on so many levels my sons grew up on it.  With so much written about it, today's commentary can do it scant justice, so I'll be abbreviating my comments while making a couple recommendations at the closing.

An affectionate homage to space operas that actually succeeds on it own (how meta), *Galaxy Quest* allows all the stars to shine: Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, "Chill" Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, and the first film for both Missi Pyle and Rainn Wilson (Dwight on *The Office* here as Thermian Lahnk).  With laugh-out-loud direction from Dean Parisot (TV's *Northern Exposure*, *Monk* and *Curb Your Enthusiasm*), the film streaks along with the ensemble cast rallying around the narrative, playing it straight for even more heightened comic effect.

Winning six Saturn Awards (for Best Science Fiction Film, Tim Allen for Best Actor, Best Actress Sigourney Weaver, Best Supporting Actor Alan Rickman, Best Performance by a Younger Actor/Actress Justin Long, and Best Director Dean Parisot) and nominated for an additional four, *Galaxy Quest* also earned wins from The Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival (Silver Scream Award), Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (BIFFF) (Pegasus Audience Award for director Parisot and the Silver Raven Award for Best Screenplay), Hochi Film Awards (Best Foreign Language Film), the prestigious Hugo Award (Best Dramatic Presentation), and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (Best Script).  It was also nominated for an additional fifteen awards from various film societies.

None less than Commander Jean-Luc Picard Patrick Stewart was quoted: "I had originally not wanted to see [Galaxy Quest] because I heard that it was making fun of *Star Trek* and then Jonathan Frakes rang me up and said ‘You must not miss this movie! See it on a Saturday night in a full theatre.’ And I did and of course I found it was brilliant. Brilliant. No one laughed louder or longer in the cinema than I did, but the idea that the ship was saved and all of our heroes in that movie were saved simply by the fact that there were fans who did understand the scientific principles on which the ship worked was absolutely wonderful. And it was both funny and also touching in that it paid tribute to the dedication of these fans."

Somehow the film tapped into the same giddy joy I felt at the first screening of the original *Star Wars* (1977), and watching it again last night confirmed how darned much fun it was.  In a nutshell for the possibly three people who haven't seen it, the narrative follows the cast of a canceled 1980s television program as they appear at a *Galaxy Quest* convention populated by rabid fans.  A troupe of fans, pasty faced with an odd cadence in their voices, approach the cast with awe and a plea for help.  They are Thermians, a doomed race marked for extermination by the evil General Sarris (Robin Sachs)--actually named after Andrew Sarris, a film critic who savaged producer Mark Johnson's *The Natural* (1984). Childlike in their innocence, the Termians, headed by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni), believe the television series was actually a set of historical documents, and thus they have created remarkable exact working replicas of every singular detail of their ship, *The NSEA Protector*, serial number NTE-3120 (Not the Enterprise).

Now they need to recruit Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, who is actually actor Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) and his intrepid crew (of actors) to wage war in interstellar space.  Thinking they are just doing another acting gig, they are dumbstruck by their transport to the outer reaches of space, forced to draw upon their TV roles in order to survive the very real threat posed to the Thermians and now themselves.  

The female Thermian Lillari was evidently very tough to cast, but according to casting director Debra Zane, "Missi saw it and got it immediately.  And then we came into the audition room, and we taped her, and she was so great that when I sent the audition tape to Dean Parisot, the director, on her picture and résumé, I put a little Post-it…. I actually made a Xeroxed copy of my Casting Society of America membership card, and I said, ‘If this is not Laliari, I will resign from the CSA.’”  Even Steven Spielberg, one of the founders of Dreamworks SKG (Spielberg, Katzenberg and Giffen) was so impressed by her performance, he suggested enlarging her role, hence the romance between Lillari and Tech Sergeant Chen (Tony Shalhoub).  Evidently author John Updike was also a fan of the film, mentioning Lillari in his novel *Rabbit Remembered*.  Their romance is also the cause behind one of my favorite lines in the film, Sam Rockwell's ad-lib, "Oh, that's not right!"  Another of my favorite lines belongs to Sigourney Weaver who, faced with the Compers, drops the F-bomb, dubbed to "Well, screw that" to avoid a harsher MPAA rating; this is one time I think the former usage was more appropriate, and you can see it if you're a lip reader. Mark Johnson said, "To this day I'm sorry we made it PG rather than PG-13. We took out Sigourney Weaver's “F--k,” one of the best laughs in the movie."

There is so much to like about *Galaxy Quest*, there's no wondering why it has become a cult classic.  David Mamet loved the film, writing about it in one of his books.  Even Nicholas Meyer, writer and/or director of three *Star Trek* films and consulting producer of *Star Trek: Discovery*, says *Galaxy Quest* is his favorite *Star Trek* movie. And Graeme McMillan from *The Hollywood Reporter* said, “*Galaxy Quest* is the seventh greatest *Star Trek* movie ever made, according to Trek fans [who voted at] this past weekend's Star Trek 2013 Convention in Las Vegas."  If you haven't visited or revisited this film, I urge you to do so.  If I carry no weight, listen to Alan Rickman: "People didn’t get it when it first came out. It is genuinely funny, however. Extremely funny. A truly great piece of writing."  It is also a nice reminder that we must never give up, never surrender, by Grabthar's Hammer.

*******As an addendum, I'd also like to put you onto two other recent releases you might thoroughly enjoy as Joyce and I have:  For a funny, abundantly sad but moving, fresh look at Germany during WWII, check out *JoJo Rabbit* about a young boy (Roman Griffin Davis) indoctrinated by the politics of Hitler (director/writer/producer Taiki Waitiki, of *What We Do In The Shadows* fame), even as his mother (Scarlett Johansson) discreetly fights injustice.  It's won an amazing 32 awards, including an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and 146 nominations, deserving every one of them. Spectacular filmmaking.

And for crime epics in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie and America's *Columbo*, another sure-fire can't-miss film is *Knives Out*.  Director/writer/producer Rian Johnson (known for *Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi* (2017) and more importantly three of the best *Breaking Bad* episodes) has crafted a mystery with so many twists, turns and unexpected lurches that you may find yourself breathless.  For me Daniel Craig (James Bond) steals the show as a hyper-perceptive detective Benoit Blanc as he peels away the onion-like layers of the death of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), investigating a motley crew of family members and employees including Ana de Armis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, K Callan, and Michael Shannon. Earning 44 awards and another 91 nominations, and with *Knives Out 2* currently announced for production, we can happily report stories of the demise of the classic whodunnit are grossly exaggerated.

*******So if you've a mind to, stop back tomorrow for another commentary, returning to the long-forgotten or ignored films from the pile of films that keeps growing and testing the limitations of my wife's patience.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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