06 June '13 by Ronn Ives, under Uncategorized.
Web site NEWS is found below as the first column.
All OPINION pieces follow that column.
November 4, 2013:
Computers are our cars, search engines are our maps, and web sites are places to visit during our drives.
…but, not every trip goes well.
For those of us who own web businesses (FUTURES Antiques was established in 1996), we each have our tech-horror stories. Most are not humorous. My last seventeen years have been marked with small and gigantic digital breakdowns. When you’re trying to earn a living, these incidents are not good and they do not create nostalgia.
Currently, I own a vintage Ferrari that is stalled on the side of the road. (Metaphorically speaking)
As you may have noticed on the Home, News and Information pages, FUTURES Antiques has experienced a major web site crash which somehow made inaccessible my SHOP page with its myriad of galleries: ALL the galleries of antique and vintage furnishings, lighting, appliances, decorative arts, fine arts, clothing, jewelry, folk art, table ware, etc., PLUS all the secondary, non-inventory galleries showing various design, historical, and cultural eras. Attempts to regain or repair the SHOP page have thus far failed. This hits me where it really hurts.
I’m not a Ferrari expert. I just like driving beautiful, fast cars. So, I’m trying to find someone to repair the breakdown.
Here I sit. Stalled. With my huge investment. I may need to rent a Hyundai for awhile.
The road to this FUTURES is (and has always been) paved with glorious things and ideas, great additions for the home and heart, constant activity, honest intentions, and the occasional disaster which burns up time and budget.
So it goes.
You’re invited to visit the Archives section when you’re in the mood to read, and please trust I am working on the SHOP page problem every day as I can.
Thanks. Ronn Ives, owner of FUTURES Antiques.
May 13, 2013: I have added TONS of new photos to existing galleries: “1940s Hot Rods and the Teenagers Who Loved Them“, “Propaganda Posters“, “Beautiful Women“, “Predicting the Future“, “The VERY Best Pin Ups“, “The Best of Rat Rods“, “Dream Cars, Concept Cars, and Nightmares“, “Goofy Cars a.k.a. Folk Art“, “I HATE jerk offs“, “Yeh, but NEVER MAKE ME SEE THAT animal, human, thing, tattoo EVER AGAIN!”, “Really, REALLY Dead Animals“, and a NEW Gallery: “Car Wrecks. REAL Car Wrecks“. This one is no joke.
April 27, 2013: A new gallery (just beginning) for you design freaks: “Kid, put down the pencil real slow-like… and back away from your sketch pad!“
You’ll find it here:
April 26, 2013: A new gallery has been built for your enjoyment. It is called “The VERY Best Pin Ups!“ … and they ARE.
April 19, 2013: A new gallery has been built for your amazement! It is called “The Year of the Futures: Past Eras fantasizing about Future Eras“.
I love Predictions.
They’re so HOPEFUL in their hallucinatory way…
April 18, 2013: The FUTURES Antiques “Best Offer” Gallery has passed on. It had a good life. It wanted me to tell you “Thanks for all your support these last few years”.
Rest in Peace, old friend.
A new gallery has been built, and can be found on the first “SHOP” page. It is called “Today’s Strange Image“. Count on it.
April 8, 2013: “Propaganda Posters“. Here is another new gallery with TONS of great posters trying to convince you to think their way. They are funny, horrifying, intense, silly, insulting, sneaky, and very often visually beautiful. Open the gallery from this link:
March 1, 2013: “Before Photos Lied“. This is the name of the new gallery I began today, found at:
What was Life like BEFORE Photoshop? Before digital cameras? Before computers? I will show you.
Click on the gallery to open it, click on the first photo to enlarge it, then just click “Next” to your heart’s content.
Photos don’t lie. Life was simpler… and wierder.
And, I think you’ll also enjoy this brand new gallery on my web site: “EAT HERE: REAL diners – no stinkin’ retro faux-nostalgia ‘ooh remember when’ dining experiences” !! Make it the REAL THING or nothin’ at all, pal !!
Open it, click on the first shot, then just keep clicking “NEXT” !
Pass me the mustard. The bright YELLOW mustard!
5-22-13: Currently, I have unresolved photo processing difficulties limiting preparation and posting of new item images. Please have patience.
A challenging GALLERY: “Why your animal would leave you if it could“.
It is both an “exhibition” and a psychological test. View it. If you look at any of these photos and say “Awwww… ain’t that CUTE!!??“, you may be one of the people whose pets secretly hate you. You can find this gallery on page 2 (“NEXT”) of the “SHOP” page.
AND, I am always adding more photos to my “Beautiful Women” Gallery. It is on the second “SHOP” page. Here you will find the most beautiful women of the last 100+ years (!), including GENE TIERNEY, BETTY PAGE, ISABELLE ADJANI, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, PATRICIA ARQUETTE, MARILYN MONROE, ELIZABETH TAYLOR, CLARA BOW, BARBARA PALVIN, AVA GARDNER, ALICE TERRY, BRIGITTE HELM, VIRNA LISI, NATALIE WOOD, AMANDA SEYFRIED, BRIGITTE BARDOT, and many, MANY more. (If you can identify any of the unnamed women, please send the information to me!) This gallery will NEVER be complete! There are so many beautiful women!!
You’ll enjoy these insights into the world of television and “The Wheel of Fortune“!
Read this from a man who was there:
I offered an old, t.v. show, game-worn, autographed “Wheel of Fortune” letter here on my web site. It sold. During chats with my customer, I learned he collected W. of F. items due to his being ON the show! I asked about that experience. He responded with this great story. It is absolutely fascinating!
Growing daily: I have other NEW galleries on my web site! “40′s Hot Rods and the Teens Who Loved Them“, “Rat Rods“, “Dream Cars & Nightmares“, AND, “‘I woke up screaming… and then I screamed MORE!!’ – Journeys into the Ugly Interior“. If you are interested in Concept Cars, Lead Sleds, Low Riders, Decor, creativity, odd things, American culture, and/or other automobiles, you will enjoy these [slightly-hidden-from-view] galleries!
COMING SOON ALL THE TIME: Great things waiting for their portraits!
You may have noticed FUTURESantiques.com was “quiet” for a few weeks. Virginia was having unusually pleasant weather which allowed me to quietly work alone on the exterior of our home – maintaining what is good and making improvements where needed or wanted – in other words, giving it “the love”. Now, with the change in weather, I’ve come inside and returned to web site uploads and commentaries.
For a sample of what I am doing to our home, click on this link:
REMEMBER: IT IS IN PROGRESS but your comments are welcome!
There is much more to come !!
Films I Saw in 2013
(New reviews are added each evening)
Watching Films is our way of fulfilling a deep-seated need
to nestle ’round the campfire listening to our Story Tellers.
This is when and where we express our fears of the Unknown,
debate the Mystical, and find support for our assumptions about
the Sunlit World.
CODES: “again” = I’ve seen it before, “WOTO” = We Own This One, “IMDB” = my opinions also found on The Internet Movie Data Base site
Below are the majority of the films I’ve seen to date this year. Those most recently viewed are placed at the top of each selected category.
Last updated: 11-11-13
2013 MOVING PICTURES * NEVER enough time, SO many films
“FILMS THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE”
“Shoah” (International documentary, 1985): By Claude Lanzmann, this 9 ½ hour French documentary is unique and very important within WWII/holocaust history. (Caveat: I have access to only 2 ½ hours of the film.) What is unique – and uniquely powerful – is that no archival film footage is used. The entire project was done (openly and covertly) forty years after the war by interviewing survivors, participants, perpetrators, the uneducated, and those in denial. Lanzmann is brilliant in gaining the casual confidence of those he interviews, and, with the use of interpreters, quickly gets below the surface of people’s psyches and memories. This film is about content, not style. There is no concern for stylish shots or fancy editing. This is a serious accumulation of devastating revelations. You will never again believe anyone who said/says “I knew nothing!”
“Rebirth” (2010): This is a ten year documentary which follows a small group of people who survived the 9-11-01 murders in New York City. They are interviewed each year. We watch them age, rage, cry, feel guilt, loneliness, alienation, and a thousand other emotions. “Rebirth” will not change your life because it is about the terrorist attack on 9-11 (although that IS enough) – it will change your life because it is a first-hand guide you should keep and use for the pain that has come (or will come) into YOUR life. These people – in various ways – paid high prices for their knowledge. It came to them unwanted and hated, but they were stuck facing each day as best they knew how. Over ten years they learned a few things. “Rebirth” is very sad but equally inspirational as you see average people – just like you and me – wrestle with the ultimate questions year after year after year, and find little places of peace in which they can live. Bless them for sharing their wisdom.
“Le Quattro Volte” (“The Four Times”) (Italian, 2010): What a wonderful consideration about the cycles of life/lives! Inspired from Pythagoras’ concept of the “four-fold transmigration of the soul”, the director Michelangelo Frammartino created an exquisitely sensuous, understated non-dialog film. Embedded in it are cycles within cycles, all reflecting parts of the Bigger Picture in elegant, quiet, sad and humorous ways. All things must pass. All things are connected. All things play their parts. This IS a unique work of Art. A MUST for the art film lover.
“A Film Unfinished” (2010): This is a documentary brought about by the discovery of never-before-seen raw film footage shot by the Nazis for use in propaganda films against Jews, combined with narratives from Jewish prisoners’ secret journals kept in the Warsaw ghetto, and interviews with victims, victimizers and collaborators. Shown are various “takes” of supposed spontaneous Nazi documents of Jewish depravity, greed, etc., using either actors or cherry-picked prisoners who no doubt thought if they cooperated they’d find some sort of “relief” from their current, fragile existence. This film is very informative, sad, and difficult to watch. It is not for the faint-hearted, but is for those who want more truth.
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (again, French, 2007): Directed by painter Julian Schnabel. I prefer his film making to his painting! This is a profound, true story scripted from the original, autobiographical book by and about a man who, due to a stroke, ends up “a vegetable”. How he – and to a certain extent, others – deal with “it” is a fascinating subject made uniquely visual through the talents of the cinematographer, sound and lighting people, director, actors, etc.. Why so unique? Because you see the film through the eye and mind of the paralyzed man, Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of Elle Magazine in Paris. HE created the book. The “vegetable”. This is a sad, frightening, artistic, and very uplifting film. WOTO
“The Crucible” (again, 1996): This has been, is, and will continue to be one of the most powerful scripts and films of my life. Prepare for a slow, steadily increasing pitch of concocted insanity which builds in 17th century Salem Massachusetts, as a group of silly, flighty girls set the stage for their conniving parents to begin a “witch hunt”. The mass hysteria, greed, ulterior motives, threats, and power plays intensify until you – right along with the residents of Salem – cannot fathom or manage another moment of this delusion. Arthur Miller wrote this American Icon during the McCarthy “Commie hunts” of the early 50′s. There are GREAT sets and costuming. There is superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, etc. I am awestruck by the power, intelligence, and soul of this TRUE MASTERPIECE. I do not use these words lightly. This film WILL change your life. WOTO
“Annie Hall” (again, 1977): Simply one of the most innovative, interesting, insightful films you will ever experience – again and again. THIS work announced Woody Allen would never again return to slapstick comedy, and would instead draw from deeply personal sources in the manner of other serious artists. It’s innovative for his use of static camera shots allowing characters to leave (or never enter) a scene (yet you hear their conversation), subtitling of thoughts vs spoken words, movies within movies, the use of animation within a “normal” film, giving the dialog to other actors on a stage, characters who leave their bodies and still carry on conversations, characters who break from the film and talk to us the audience, split screen depictions of different times or places with the characters speaking to one another across the splits, flashbacks of characters who describe their futures… superb breaks from what is expected. It’s interesting on more than artistic levels, as Allen delves into references far beyond the mundane, and presents them with wit, humor, and awkward honesty. It’s insightful for his honest and thoughtful look at how humans behave under different realities. “Annie Hall” is a masterpiece. (And watch for many lucky young actors (such as Jeff Goldblume, Christopher Walken, Shelley Duval, etc.) who, thirty years ago, could only dream that “Annie Hall” would help kickstart their hopeful careers. WOTO IMDB
“The Best Years of Our Lives” (again, 1946): If you love Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”, you’ll love this one too. However, this one takes on even more serious issues (and using less humor) at THE time they were happening: soldiers returning from the war, and EVERYONE trying to adjust. It’s a very patient (170 minutes), evenly paced film that refuses to cut corners or avoid what needed to be faced. We come to know three soldiers with different military experiences, ages and social classes, a variety of home lives they must face, job opportunities (or lack of), and physical or psychological wounds. On the other side are those to whom they return – who have missed them terribly or learned to “get along” without them, and do not understand what their soldier experienced. Acting, dialog, scoring, sets, situations, characters are especially gritty for 1946. It won numerous Academy Awards, and was selected at one of the most important films of all time by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. Directed by William Wyler, Starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Hoagy Carmichael, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell (who won Best Supporting Actor, AND was given a special award for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans”. This is a no-nonsense, dramatic, often profound film. WOTO
“Taxi Driver” (again, 1976): Martin Scorcese hires Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Sybil Sheppard… and the rest is history. This is one of the Top 5 character studies of all time, and a truly great Film Noir. A socially awkward taxi driver can’t emotionally connect with anyone… and the pressure builds… and builds… and builds. WOTO
“Bug” (again, 2007): “Pi”. “The Fight Club”. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” “Thelma and Louise”. “Memento”. “The Trial”. “Sid and Nancy”. “Clean, Shaven”. “Eraserhead”. “They Might be Giants”. Somewhere within all these films – yet standing entirely on its own – is “Bug”. Ashley Judd is AMAZING (as is Michael Shannon), with strong support from Harry Connick Jr. and Lynn Collins. Originally a stage play, “Bug” is one fascinating, FASCINATING story. It has one goal, and it meets its goal driving faster and faster in one unswerving direction. As of this year, I have placed it here in my top category because it has implications we all should interpret and consider: issues about reality, conforming, status quo, relationships, love, and support. Many questions are asked in this hot house environment. Only they, you, can find the answers. No one else has your answers. Fascinating. Nerve wracking and insane, but fascinating. WOTO. IMDB
“The Piano Teacher” (2001): Directed by the reliably unique Michael Haneke, written by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, starring Isabelle Huppert, Annie Giradot and Benoit Magimel, this is a story not for the psychologically or sexually squeamish. Like all of Haneke’s films, he delves enthusiastically into that which remains taboo and outcast. Meet a punishing piano teacher, her oppressive mother, and an admiring young man too willing to take chances. The acting is superb, the script full of patient and disturbing signs, and the overall atmosphere is one of cold, hollow, harsh, self-imposed danger brought on by mental issues controlling the characters like puppets. This is a serious character study of the highest order which will not be “enjoyed” but certainly “admired”.
“All About Eve” (1950): Each year I see A LOT of films. I’ve always believed I’d seen “All About Eve”. I seemed to feel so “familiar” with it. I was wrong. This is a famous film and I absorbed it without a single viewing. Well, NOW I’ve seen it and I understand why it’s an Icon. Nominated for fourteen Academy Awards (winning six including Best Actress for Bette Davis, and Best Picture), this is a patiently plotted, conniving, sharp-tongued battle of wits not only between characters but between the script and the audience. Anne Baxter also stars (along with many others, and up-n-comers like Marilyn Monroe). “Eve…“ could easily be interpreted as a mere 138 minute soap opera, but would be wrong. The writing and acting make it much more. This is the stone heart and soft underbelly not merely of the theater world or Hollywood, but Humanity. Greed, jealousy, manipulation, lust, treachery, selfcenteredness… it has it all in spades. This is a masterpiece of reminders and warnings. WOTO
“Day of Wrath” (Danish, 1943): One of my favorite films of all time is the silent “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The entire “script” was taken word-for-word from the real court inquisition against Joan of Arc. It – the facts, the acting, the photography, the Art of it all – is ASTOUNDING. Fifteen years later, while Denmark was under Nazi occupation, Dreyer made “Day of Wrath” – a metaphorical film set in 1623 within a small village full of paranoia and hopelessness, accusations and punishments. If you are familiar with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, you will see its inspiration coming not only from the early 1950s Commie Hunts (once again couched in metaphors) but Dreyer’s work. “Day of Wrath” is dark and patient with an increasing sense of disaster. Look for no relief in this dedicated, superb work. It starts low and goes down from there.
“Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” (2001): Though not of the depth or equal to the quality of “The Endurance” (2000), this made-for-Imax documentary (with useful recreations where needed), is an hour of striking photography and shocking information. It DEMANDS you ask yourself “At what point would I have given up and been happy to die?” Outside of war, there was perhaps NO circumstance more dramatic, demanding, and documented than Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition attempt at survival on the south axis of the world, completely isolated, frozen in the ice, running out of food, with seventy below temperatures and one hundred mile an hour winds… for what was an “eternity”. I, for one, am not the equal of any of these men. If you find this film amazing, please see “The Endurance” and a quality recreation “Shackleton” (2002)* with Kenneth Branagh. Each are unique and add their own pieces to this puzzle. WOTO
*“Shackleton” (British, 2002): This is a recreation of the infamous 1914-1916 Ernest Shackleton expedition to cross the entire Antarctic continent. Starring Kenneth Branagh (a good indicator of quality projects), the film is a three and one half hour depiction of obsession, deprivation, torture, and the fight to not lose all hope. I have seen at least three films on this expedition. Each one adds insight, yet each one omits aspects and downplays various circumstances. This version is a little sloppy in depicting the horrifying cold and wind of Antarctica, which here appears to often be nothing more than an inconvenience. None the less, this expedition is one of the most amazing feats of survival in recorded human history, and is not to be left ignored.
“7 Days in September” (2002): This is amateur documentary film footage shot in New York City on 9-11-01 and for the following week. It is well assembled, and gives most of its attention to the feelings of those who experienced the trauma first-hand. I have collected available film from this attack. No two collections are alike. They are all worth viewing. Never forget.
“Elmer Gantry” (again, 2 hrs. 27 min., 1960:) Brilliant. Without a doubt, Burt Lancaster deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor. He took Sinclair Lewis’ character and RAN with it. This was wonderful casting. His over-the-top, shit-eatin’ grin and relentless glad-handin’ were perfection for a drifting grifter of a con man who used and abused everyone while leaving many of them still happy he’d been there. He was everyone’s back-slappin’, lip-kissin’, butt-squeezing’ best acquaintance. Also starring was Jean Simmons, Shirley Jones (who also won an Oscar), Dean Jagger, Arthur Kennedy, Patti Page, and lots of character actors and perfect looking extras who filled out this 1920’s setting in the Bible Belt Midwest with its traveling Revival shows. Prepare yourself for a dark, bitter look at the colorful carnival of Bible thumpin’ corruption. Everyone – on both sides of the tent canvas – is as secretly dirty as they come. Everyone has their angle. Everyone has their agenda. Everyone has everyone. I do not have this film in my collection. I WILL get it.
“Of Mice and Men” (again, 1939): This was the first adaptation of John Steinbeck’s brilliant, contemporary novel – seen by audiences during their Great Depression about their Great Depression. It was nominated for Best Picture of the Year, and remains my favorite of the three versions I have seen. (Five were created.) It stars Burgess Meredith, Lon Chaney Jr., Betty Field, Noah Berry Jr., and lots of good character actors. The producer was Hal Roach, the director Lewis Milestone, and scoring by Aaron Copeland. Photography and lighting are exquisite. The second version (done in 1981) is weak and lacks believability. The third version (done in 1992) is very strong (this too is in our collection), but lacks the “here and now” feeling of the original. Other versions – 1968, 1975 – I have not seen. The 1939 original still tears my heart out. WOTO
“Albert Nobbs” (2011): This is the first 2013 entry into my top category. “Albert Nobbs” is a quiet, smart, dramatic, well-crafted, character study. It patiently leads you to powerful levels of emotion and meaning. Unblinking, you, like Nobbs, stare at everyone caught in their societal “positions”. The story is intimate, painful, sad, frustrating, and reeks of past, present, and future tragedy. Yet, there exists a “bigger picture” – holding wisdom worthy of reminder no matter how heart aching. Glenn Close is the central character. She is astounding. She carries the film. The supporting cast is great – no doubt about it – but here there is no film without her. The photography, scoring, editing, etc. are all very fine – all supportive – all aimed at keeping the films’ intent on track. It is seldom I put a film in my Top Category after a first viewing. This was a first viewing. WOTO
“ FILMS EASILY WORTH TWO HOURS OF YOUR LIFE”
“A Beautiful Mind” (again, 2001): The first time I saw this film it blew my mind (pun intended). The storyline parallels “The Sixth Sense” or “Fight Club”, but “A Beautiful Mind” is a TRUE story… an amazing story. Actor Russell Crowe studied with the real man (“Nash”, who he portrayed), and the film was approved by Nash. It is assembled expertly (directed by Ron Howard, photographed by Roger Deakins), putting you in the same convoluted mind as this brilliant and tortured man, which is a frightening and frustrating place. At times, it left me literally gasping for breath. The film holds all the high standards one would expect AND it’s a creative effort to show nearly impossible states of mind. The acting is great by all, but it’s Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly (Nash’s wife) who are the awe-inspiring leads. KNOWING this is a true story forces its way into your consciousness – “How would I handle this if it were me?” See this film, appreciate your life, and hope you too have someone who loves you beyond reason. WOTO
“A Letter to Three Wives” (1949): Starring three lovely actresses: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, and Ann Southern. The story is simple but interesting, especially within the context of its being made soon after WWII. Three women – friends – suddenly find themselves on a day-long outing pondering the quality of their marriages after receiving a written message from their fourth (absent) woman friend who claims she has now run off with one of their husbands. Though somewhat quaint in the issue of gender roles, remember this IS 1949, and WWII took a high toll on many people in many subtle ways. The fact one woman was ALSO in the military adds additional depth to what could’ve been nothing more than a soap opera. The film takes on issues with a more honesty and openness and unflinching stares than many films even today. WOTO
“Apocalypse Now” (again, 1979): This is not a historical film about any war. It doesn’t even pretend to be “reality”. This is an incredible, surreal depiction of insanity at all levels brought on from stress and lack of consistent rationale, set within a war zone (our war in Viet Nam, in this case). It is an expression of nightmares – contradictions that make sense only to those who are living them. Francis Ford Coppola created a masterpiece of psychological horror. Martin Sheen becomes our eyes as we meet and experience those who have gone before him and not made it out for one or more reasons. Also starring Robert Duval, Marlon Brando, Lawrence Fishburn, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, and Dennis Hopper. All the films’ components add to the theatrical, dreamlike, unreality of this story. Lighting, scoring, photography, acting, sets, costuming, script, dialog, you name it – all used for one goal. This is a very pure film. WOTO
“Ghost World” (again, 2001): Modern Teen Angst. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson star along with Steve Buscemi, Terri Garr, Brad Renfro and others in this nihilistic comedy-drama about best girl friends, who, upon graduating from their high school hell, try to establish the next phase of their lives… with varying degrees of… hmmm… not exactly success… but… something… If you liked “Welcome to the Doll House”, “Crumb”, “Happiness”, “Rocket Science”, “Election”, or “Napolean Dynamite”, you’ll somehow like this one too. It’s sarcastic, dark, alienated, funny, pathetic, and way too often true. WOTO
“La Dolce Vita” (Italian, 1960): I like this film. I like it a lot. I like Federico Fellini’s films from “La Dolce Vita” back, whereas forward we end up with that “all of life is a carnival” staging which can be foreseen in his earlier work but without the relentlessly frantic, narrower feel. I prefer the earlier films full of quieter desperation looming like the proverbial elephant in every party room and boudoir. Here is where he and Michelangelo Antonioni (one of my favorite directors) agree… where Existentialism and Nihilism share their stories. “We have the moment. We have little else. …Oh well.” What separates Fellini from Antonioni is a tiny, momentary sparkle from a glass splinter of hope causing discomfort. WOTO
“Stalingrad” (again, 1993, German): By the same people that made “Das Boot”, “Stalingrad” comes with a certain amount of automatic respectability. I am not disappointed (except for the lighting of interior scenes). This is an epic film about Hitler’s attempts to conquer Russia during WWII – Stalingrad being one major downfall for the Germans. Just as in “Das Boot”, the viewer is WORN DOWN right along with the soldiers. Relentless violence, fear, depravation, arrogant Generals, and brutal weather were only relieved by death. Think “Full Metal Jacket” meets “Saving Private Ryan” meets “Das Boot” (no Hollywood romance here). Be prepared. WOTO
“Behind Locked Doors” (1948): With caveats: the acting is, well, okay-to-poor, but the story is sort of interesting (!), and the Noir b/w lighting and photography is wonderfully textured and composed. A real visual treat.
“Brothers” (again, 2009): Directed by Jim Sheridan, starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Mare Winningham, Sam Shepard, and two very talented little girls (sorry, I don’t have their names at the moment). This is the story of soldiers and their loved ones – of loss, change, wounds, guilt, fears, sadness, lack of words, pent up pain, wanting to give up, wanting to hold still, wanting to move forward, and trying to find, then undo, the blame. It is a frightening, terrible, horrifying scenario laid before us – and WE are the ONLY people allowed to see all sides and the truth. WE have the insight, empathy, and dread as the only clear-headed ones involved. If YOU could just scream at them to HOLD ON! TALK! OPEN UP! ADMIT! BE PATIENT! PLEASE!! The acting is amazing. Expect to end up very tense – you’ll need a shoulder massage. This is a very fine psychological drama.
“It Happened One Night” (again, 1934): One of the classic Depression era “road movies”, this Frank Capra comedy starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert never fails to entertain. A disenchanted rich girl meets up with a drunken, shifty newsman for a haphazard journey with questionable goals. What more do you need? WOTO
“Osama” (Afghanistan, 2003): Award winning and inspired from a true story, this is the first film to come out of Afghanistan after the removal of the Taliban. However, the story is set BEFORE they were defeated. It is a harrowing look at what happened not only to adults and parents, but to children. Expect constant tension, acts of desperation, and pain seared into the soul. Director Siddiq Barmak used no professional actors, only citizens of Kabul. Apparently they needed little “coaching” to express their emotions. WOTO
“Rendition” (2007): This is a solid, intricate, tense drama starring Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, and Peter Sarsgaard. It’s another one of the catch-terrorists-before-more-goes-wrong stories, but it’s a good one with plenty of people to dislike and distrust. WOTO
“Les Miserables” (again, 1998): This is a GREAT film version of social consciousness in the 19th century. Starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes. Lush filming, great acting, solid story telling, grand sets and costuming… and no singing. THIS is the version you want to see. WOTO
Should you be especially interested in film versions of this story, see:
“Les Miserables” (1933): This film on dvd comes in three parts totaling 279 minutes. At one time, audiences were appreciative of long, complex stories. They didn’t need everything stated and resolved in 22 minutes – they had an attention span. This is THE definitive interpretation of Victor Hugo’s novel. The photography is flawlessly inventive and artistic. The scoring is everything from subtle to emotional and sweeping. The story is, of course, HUGE. Like other authors of that time, the use of irony was a major and wonderful device. Expect the film to expect YOU to keep up. The acting is all over the map – from superb and aware to stiff and overstated (from the only-then-dying silent film era). The sets and costumes are great; the landscapes and cityscapes sometimes contrived as flat imagery. This film, like “All Quiet on the Western Front”, is a must-see example of what powerful, early film making can be. IMDB
“They Drive by Night” (1940): Starring George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and Ida Lupino. Top notch Great Depression Working Stiff drama about two blue collar brothers trying to keep their lives together under the typical, trying times of that era. Though not quite a Noir in style (there ARE Good Guys and daylight in this story), it has all the features of a Morality Tale with a rich, 1940 look. I knew nothing about this film, and I’m thrilled to have discovered it. WOTO
“True Grit” (again, 2010): Count on the Coen brothers to give you interesting, quirky characters whatever the setting. Here they take an old “John Wayne” vehicle and make it their own: a young girl comes into a rough town asking for help to find the killer of her father. She’s looking for a man with “true grit”. She wants justice, yes, but she also wants vengeance. Enter Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a very disreputable lawman who is a slurring mess of a bum and nearly-random killer. She decides he’s perfect, prods and bribes him into her hunt, and off goes the film. Also starring Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and a sizable group who create wonderful odd, sleazy characters, this intimate but sweeping Western was photographed by the great Roger Deakins. WOTO
“The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler” (again, 2008): A made-for-tv Hallmark production that rises above what I’d come to expect from the greeting card company. Anna Paquin stars as a woman driven to save children from the Nazis and their Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Though not at the level of “Sophie’s Choice” or “Schindler’s List”, there is something of both stories in this harrowing depiction of good against evil, and, since it is true, deserves to be known. WOTO
“This Must be the Place” (2011): Perhaps the strangest, stylized role Sean Penn has ever taken on – a wealthy, retired, child-like rock star from the 1980s – this story is carried almost entirely on his shoulders. It is a mesmerizing look at someone who at first seems entirely incapable of thinking or acting, but as he sets out to conquer fears and find specific answers, we see he is much more complex than first assumed. I need to see this film again – not because I’m debating the quality of the work, but the story left me debating whether I would’ve taken it in another direction. It’s simply too early for me to decide. Also starring is Francis McDormand, with supporting roles by Harry Dean Stanton and other talented people… but it is Penn’s film.
“Die Nibelungen – Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge” (German, 5 hours, 1924): The Kino release of this restored epic by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou is a dandy. It includes a small booklet with the two discs to help you prepare for and understand the VERY GERMAN Journey you about to undertake. Set in the Ancient Time of the Gods, warring Nordic and Asiatic tribes fight for domination all the while looking like exotic versions of what was fashionable in 1924 Germany and Austria. Think Vikings meet Secessionists and Wiener Werkstatte. It’s a complex tale of honor, heroes, vows, violence, treachery, and doom… big, heavy, dark Doom. Germanic Doom. Ironically (?), though made way before Hitler gained any traction, it was picked up by the Nazis as a film which spun nicely with their agendas and propaganda, and was re-released with minor tweaks guided by Joseph Goebbels. This was a very expensive film to create, with special effects and sets still able to amaze. Again, this is a FIVE HOUR film, but the discs divide it up at the intended “acts”, and is perfectly acceptable. I used two nights. Although I still enjoy Lang and Harbou’s “Metropolis” more, this is certainly a great film of the silent era. Be prepared for dialog and narrative texts using the Old
German font. Yikes! WOTO
“Barton Fink” (1991): I wrestle with “Barton Fink”. I know I like Coen brothers films, and the strange atmosphere of “B.F.” keeps me interested, but I’ve never settled on WHY I like this one or what its main point might be. That said, the acting of John Turturro and John Goodman is especially powerful, with other characters often caricatures who are “over the top”. The sets MUST be considered another of the “stars” – that well-worn, aging, grimy, peeling Art Deco of 1941. And certainly, the Coens owe a tip of the fedora to David Lynch’s film “Eraserhead”. WOTO
“Fahrenheit 451” (again, 1966): Quite “dated” in its presentation of the “future” (few film makers seem to get past their own sense of the contemporary), this is none the less an interesting idea worth following to the end. Books are illegal. The job of “firemen” is to find and destroy books. All women look like 1966 Twiggy or Jane Campion, the decor is early post-modern (which fashion was beginning to dictate in 1966), the altered “future” vehicles are just plain clunky, the music track is heavy over the images (but eerily effective), and the future – so “far” ahead – still enjoys using rotary telephones and metal file cabinets. You’ll find no hint of a computer-like machine anywhere in this future, but they DO have giant flat screen tee-vees on the walls. Of course. They’re controlling the minds of their civilians. Now go kiss your books. WOTO
“The Tillman Story” (again, 2010): Documentary about the life, death, and lies built around Pat Tillman, football player-turned soldier in Afghanistan. Through excruciating research, his family discovers the hidden truth about his being killing while in the service, and who – leading right to the top – was behind the abusive concoctions deemed useful by our government. If you are still naïve about the mindset of governments, this will be an eye-opener for you. YOU mean nothing until you are USEFUL to those in power, and, once you are no longer useful, you are sent back to nothingness… or at least they will try. WOTO
“Cool Hand Luke” (again, 1967): Starring Paul Newman, Arthur Kennedy, Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Joe Don Baker and other actors you will recognize. A minor offense lands a man in a Southern work prison. He has no ability to bide his time or follow rules. There is a price for the direction of his path, yet he becomes a symbol of rebellion and strength to the other inmates. Who will win? Who will THINK they won? Who will pay what price? Although “Cool Hand Luke” starts with “lightness” to its drama, the light slowly fades. This is probably my second favorite film of Paul Newman’s (the first being “Hud”.) WOTO
“Stories We Tell” (2012): Actress Sarah Polley created a very interesting and sly documentary about her family. It centers on the death of her mother. The question is: In a family of story tellers with their own points of view, how do you find “the Truth”? There’s more going on here than first meets the eye and ear.
“Marie Antoinette” (again, 2006): Starring the fantastic Kirsten Dunst, the mildly talented Jason Swartzman, the nearly unrecognizable Molly Shannon, Judy Davis, and [I challenge you to spot] Marianne Faithful. Let’s get the problem out of the way first: the film uses recent music, including Gang of Four. Not a great idea. Yes, I understand not only attempts to “sell” a movie to a younger audience and to give a “flavor” of youth to the new Louis 16th monarchy, but this was NOT the way to do it. If anything, using more contemporary sounds – perhaps with traditional instruments – or some other exploration might have worked. Sophia Coppola’s directing fell down here. Now on to the rest of the film: It is SO much better than I expected! The sets, costuming, camera work, lighting, dialog, and acting were wonderful. The decadence was overwhelming, and though you NEVER see the impoverished, starving French peasants (because you’re viewing the world through Marie), YOU KNOW they are out there, YOU know this is incredibly decadent, and you KNOW from your history what is coming. Marie’s social and psychic transition from Austria to France is a surreal leap into the looking glass. Any excesses Marie found or created were to divert her attention from the crushing rituals and pettiness of the French courts. Had it not been for the score of “Marie Antoinette”, I would have NO hesitations about this film. None. IMDB WOTO
“Buffalo ’66″ (again, 1999): Vincent Gallo is the reason this film exists. He did EVERYTHING. He wrote, directed, scored, performed… ALL of it. This is a true Auteur film. Christina Ricci was another shining star in this dark shuffle through lower-middle class life in upstate New York. “Billy” (Gallo) is released from prison. (You eventually learn why he was put in.) He has his mind set on killing the guy who [Billy claims] is the reason he was sent away. Coming from the ultimate dysfunctional family, but still wanting to “please” his parents, he kidnaps a woman tap dancer (Ricci) and demands she pretend to be his wife who loves him very much. And THEN it gets bizarre… “Buffalo ’66″ is SO quirky and weird you bust up laughing – out of nervous fear someone like him could be your neighbor or coworker. Anjelica Huston, Roseanna Arquette, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Jan-Michael Vincent, and other perfectly cast greats make for an “Eraserhead” mood set in the seemingly normal world of run-down Buffalo New York. Harsh lighting, hyper-sensitive sound, off-putting color, grainy film, neurotic dialog… all add up to a solidly unique experience. WOTO
“Farewell, My Queen” (French, 2012): This is a rich period drama set at Versailles during the first four days of the French Revolution. It is centered on the woman who attends and reads to Marie Antoinette while observing the comings, goings, and intrigues of an obviously corrupt Court and its denizens. Not only does the story get more interesting as it moves along, but the costumes, locations, sets, lighting, detailing, etc. are fantastic and informative.
“Carnal Knowledge” (again, 1971): Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Art Garfunkle, Ann-Margret, Carol Kane star in this c. 25 year story of a friendship between two men and the women who happened to be in their paths. It’s a dark look at common, immature men. They’re pathetic. The women have their flaws too, but this film is about two men and their inabilities. It was a shocking film in 1971, and still carries its harsh edge very well. WOTO
“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (again, 1956): Starring Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Lee J. Cobb, and Fredric March. It’s ten years after WWII: welcome to contemporary America where there is peace, relative prosperity, and personal values that are becoming skewed. Gregory Peck plays a man who works hard, pays his bills, and tries to find satisfaction in what he does… but then there are the others in and around his life… You’ll have a tough time finding anyone else to like within his range. They all seem to be working overtime to meet their fantasies and crush him in the process. Plus, he’s trying to deny what the war did to him, but is plagued with flashbacks. Peck is great, most of the other actors are also very good – good enough that you’d never want to meet them in real life. WOTO
“The Invisible War” (2012): Documentary. Want to get angry? Watch this. It is about sexual assault and rape of both women and men in the Armed Services of The United States of America… NOT by “the enemy” but by fellow soldiers and the administration that protects them. How? See this.
“Bottle Rocket” (again, 1996): Three buddies. They have NOTHING going in their lame ass lives… except for their lame dreams of getting a plan and striking it big with the ultimate, lame crime. Their energy, god bless ‘em, is commendable, but just SO lame. They have no clue. They’re caught in lameness. If you love dry humor, you’ll love this one. In the flavor of “Waiting for Guffman”, “Best in Show”, or “Welcome to the Dollhouse”, “Bottle Rocket” is worth your time. This was Luke and Owen Wilson’s first film. WOTO
“The Return of Martin Guerre” (French, 1982): This is a fascinating true story of a young man in 16th century France who vanishes from his new marriage, returns (with explanations) to welcoming arms, only to then have his identity questioned. You will feel like a ping pong ball in a tornado as the accusations, possible realizations, and admissions turns keep swirling around you. Wonderful sets and costuming add gritty realism to this complex adult drama. Starring Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye.
“Fear Me Not” (Danish, 2008): Fascinating story of a man who is considering retirement yet find life too quiet and unchallenging despite his family. He secretly volunteers for a drug study, and begins to slowly change. Great acting, moody dialog, and little clues on along the way still leave you unprepared for more than one realization.
“The Public Enemy” (again, 1931): Starring James Cagney and Edward Woods. This Prohibition Era film is presented as an “educational explanation” as to how good kids can go bad, and how we, as struggling Americans, must step in and turn them around. And, it is shown in a year-by-year format. It’s wonderfully simple and straightforward in its Melodrama, with a naïve presentation… but this film has essential truths. Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell support but were simply box office dressing. What this film does have – especially for its time – is an increasingly intense story line leading to an inevitable – and even now powerful – last scene. I love how it was edited. WOTO
“Smart Money” (1931): Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney star. This is the story of the rise and the fall of a small town barber who becomes a big time gambler. Set during the contemporary Great Depression, the issues of money and power are never far away. We see the weaknesses of an otherwise likeable fellow (Robinson) as he gets savvy in a world full of cons and leeches. What is fascinating is his strange ability to retain an almost chronically manic optimism through even the worst of tragedies and ugly outcomes. Also, expect some fine Art Deco sets, costumes, cars, and graphics. WOTO
“The Loneliest Planet” (2011): A young, engaged couple hires a guide to hike the Caucasus mountains of Georgia (Russia). It’s a severe but beautiful land into which they head. During this journey, they encounter themselves (and others) in unexpected ways, which requires time to ponder their relationship and themselves. This is a casually paced, wide-angled, big-picture film requiring your patience, but the issues raised are interesting and the outcomes uncertain. Talented actors, amazing landscapes, and a unique score add up to a worthwhile viewing.
“The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988): Directed by Martin Scorcese, starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie, and more, screenplay by Paul Schrader, score by Peter Gabriel. Knee-jerk “christians” had a field day with this one despite the fact it announces right up front this story does not reflect the gospels. It’s a fascinating film. Full of old world symbolism and mysticism, narrative reconsiderations, plot twists, character suppositions, story extensions, gore, sex, passion, and unfortunately stylish hair cuts for Jesus and Lazarus. Except for that last point, this film brings me back to it again and again. The “reluctant Christ” concept, the doubting followers, a very relaxed Pilot… all very interesting in relation to what has been the traditional story. WOTO
“Beautiful Boy” (2010): This is a straightforward story about a married couple already facing crises only to then face the loss of their son. Acting by Michael Sheen and Maria Bello is superb. Cinematography is intimate and often puts the viewer in a voyeur position. “Beautiful Boy” is a sad film from start to finish. However, there IS a process forming – a HOPEFUL process – which does keep you plowing through the pain. Go in strong because it will wear you ragged.
“America America” (1963): Written and directed by Elia Kazan, this is a retelling of the story of his Greek immigrant Uncle Stavros. It is an epic journey full of setbacks, fears, mistakes, cruelties, and successes. Beautiful b/w photography, good scoring, fine acting, and a forceful plot show the underbelly of leaving one’s country, trying to reach another, and the compromises chosen along the way. “America America” was then and is still considered an important, honest film about trying to follow a dream.
“Anatomy of a Murder” (again, 1959): I’d seen it before but I’d never really seen it. I was too young and inexperienced. Now I’m less of both. If there was ever a Film Noir set around a courtroom drama, this is it. Directed by Otto Preminger, starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, and George C. Scott, and beautifully scored by Duke Ellington, this is a well written, sharp edged story about a possible rape that is being considered by flawed, world-weary witnesses, investigators, and lawyers. Upon its release, “Anatomy of a Murder” was actually banned in some locations for the dialog (a quaint concept now). However, this is NOT a quaint film. It is sophisticated, insightful, rich in character and legal wrangling, witty, and no nonsense.
“Aftershock” (Chinese, 2010): In 1975, a huge earthquake in China killed a quarter of a million people in a matter of minutes. This reenactment makes it personal. DEEPLY personal. This is not a “disaster movie” nor a mere soap opera, but an ironic, emotionally epic story about two families who faced immediate horrors and long term wounds. Think “Sophie’s Choice” but in a different setting. Almost flawless casting with great actors, acceptable special effects (which were not needed for much of the film), and a story line worthy of Thomas Hardy add up to an amazing experience.
“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (again, 2012): This was good… COMPLEX and good. It is SO good and SO complex my wife and I watched it two nights in a row last year! (You have no idea how RARE it is for her to request such an action!) The story is mainly set in eastern Europe, 1973. The Cold War has dragged on for more than twenty years. 007 is nowhere to be found… no Aston Martins with ejector-seats. The film has two main goals: to present the lives of Cold Warrior spying as a lonely, deadly game of paranoid Chess, and, to make certain every visual and audio component of this film creates a bleak, cold, dank, confusing, lonely, fearful feeling. The score is fog filled with ennui. Gary Oldman, in the lead role, is perfection. All goals are met. It is a very disciplined film. You’ll find no flights of artful fancy where designers show chops simply to attract their next gig. “One Hour Photo”, “The Ice Storm”, “The Blair Witch Project”, and “Vagabond” are other films which come immediately to mind for their “Problem set / Solution found” approach.
“Searching for Sugar Man” (documentary, 2012): Pay little attention to the hype or you’ll be disappointed. This film is about a guy who was an American musician in the late 60s/early 70s… then, the movie claims, he vanished. Meanwhile, one copy of his recordings innocently slipped into South Africa (then under heavy control and censorship), and began being rerecorded and shared among the then protesting youth of that country. There, he became a music/social idol. Caveat: his music is mediocre and derivative – being one and two-shot attempts made three and four years too late trying to clone Dylan, Donovan, and other socially conscious artists, as well as entertainers like James Taylor, etc.. However, due to the tight controls of South Africa at that time, he seemed like a breath of fresh, vital air to those people. This is the story of a series of investigators who try to learn what happened to Sixto Rodriquez, the musician and writer… and it is this detective work and the results which make the film so interesting.
“Platoon” (again, 1986): If “The Thin Red Line” is a contender for the ultimate poetic film about war (and I say it is), then “Platoon” is the gritty, tense, realistic contender. There is NOTHING soft, easy, relaxing, funny, or romantic about this story. The acting is superb by all (the list is too long, although Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, and Willem Defoe take main characters), and each scene is a creation with only one goal in mind – to attempt an explanation of what it is to be a soldier in war, and specifically, the Vietnam war. The photography is confusing and violent, the lighting leaves movement and perception in doubt, the sanity of the characters is fragile, and the scoring is both epic and era-driven. This is Art on all levels. WOTO IMDB
“Sullivan’s Travels” (again&again, 1941): Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea (whose comedic sense is not the equal of Lake), star in a pre-WWII, Depression Era story about a millionaire movie mogul who decides to make a “serious” but warm movie (“with a little sex”) – “in the spirit of Frank Capra” – about the hardships Americans are facing. Convinced by one of his butlers that he knows NOTHING about the real world, he decides to be fitted with a “tramp costume” and set out for the “real” America, with only a dime in his pocket. If THIS wasn’t pathetically funny enough, it only gets better thanks to Veronica Lake and the director Preston Sturgis. I’ve always felt Lake did not receive enough credit for her ability to perform comedy just as easily as she did the vampy, noir-ish blonde. Her timing, reactions, willingness to get down and dirty (literally), etc. is top notch. Sturgis’ control makes for a uniquely good looking film, with rapid fire dialog exchanges and overlaps. All THIS and STILL a “Capra-esque” message by the end. What more could you fairly expect? WOTO IMDB
“Paper Moon” (again&again, 1973): Starring Ryan O’Neal and [real life daughter] Tatum O’Neal (age nine), with Madeline Kahn. This is one of my favorite comedies of all time. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes quietly witty (even sad or tense for moments), this deceptively smart film is RICH in feelings for the 1930s American Depression, the Midwest, bleak locations, plain folk, music, and velvety, silver-screen blacks, grays, and whites. This is a “road” movie of sorts, populated with scammers, hookers, moon-shiners, bible thumpers, hillbillies, and potential suckers. The story relationship between Ryan and Tatum is set as POTENTIAL father and daughter, but the chemistry is so wonderful it could only happen from their real history. The ongoing battles of wit, struggles for control and occasional truces are brilliant. Deadpan humor is the best, and they have it mastered. The entire film is pure, unadulterated, sophisticated, down home joy. You don’t want the film to end… but then you remember you can always watch it again. Life is good. WOTO
“Silkwood” (again 1983): There was a whole slew of atomic / radiation / blast / corruption movies during this era. “The China Syndrome” was a good suspense story which came out only three weeks before the real “Three Mile Island” atomic reactor mess. “Silkwood” – based on a true story and carried to a marvelous level by a young Meryl Streep – has many of the “slew” components, however it is made much more complex and interesting by her performance as a common blue collar worker with no activist inclinations and lots of clumsy behaviors. Directed by Mike Nichols. Also starring Kurt Russell, and a very good (non-Vegas) Cher, along with a ton of actors (up-and-coming major stars) with small roles.
“Harlan: In the Shadow of ‘Jew Suss’” (2008): This documentary has numerous levels: a look at the life of Feit Harlan, major film director in Germany during the Nazi era; the moral issues of an artist (or anyone else) working within a system currently holding power; and, the legacy one leaves for his/her family and country. Being a student of WWII, I have seen the film “Jew Suss”. Overseen by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, it was designed to incite further suspicion, hate and action against the Jews in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. The film is a “period” costume drama set in a former era of Germany in which the Good People (Aryans) of Germany let down their Guard and were infiltrated by the Bad Sub-humans (Jews) who use their conniving and evil actions. In the end, the Good People, through direct and stern action, remove the Vermin (Jews) from their lands. Yes, it’s that ugly, and was done in a manner effective for the average, slightly or uneducated citizen of that time. The documentary takes on the various levels in part through archival film as well as interviews with many of Feit Harlan’s relatives. Do they all have the SAME point of view? Absolutely not. With whom do YOU stand? I don’t know.
“Christmas in July” (twice this year, 1940): Written and directed by Preston Sturges. This is a witty and humorous story about a man who faces sudden, apparent fame and fortune. Plenty of sharp insights about people – the desire to be “in the know”, their greed, and a deep-down decency – drive the plot and dialog. This is entirely enjoyable, fast-paced, and intelligent. WOTO
“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012): I can’t call myself a fan of Wes Anderson’s films… in fact, some I detest (“The Life Aquatic”, “The Royal Tennenbaums”), some bore me (“Rushmore”), but he also did “Bottle Rocket” which I loved… so, I keep an open mind with him and I’m glad I do. I really enjoyed “Moonrise Kingdom”. Despite the write ups labeling this a drama, etc., I found it a humorous and oddly sweet nostalgia/young romance film. I will see it again. Plus, Mark Mothersbaugh’s scoring was very good. The overly stylized photography (nearly ever shot is structured as a symmetrical composition) seems obsessively art oriented without a functional justification (though most people will not notice this). I simply found the story and the actors – especially the two central kids – charming and funny in the same sort of odd, true, bittersweet way kids are presented in films such as “Stand by Me”.
“High Noon” (again, 1952): Gary Cooper plays such a low key role as the successful, retiring sheriff of a small western town that it’s easy to slip into the passive slumber in which most of the towns’ citizens tend to exist. THEN, from out of the past, comes the Threat. With the old sheriff retired and the new sheriff yet to arrive, who will confront a proven evil? “High Noon” will blow apart most of your Hollywood stereotypes of Old West characters, and may cause you to ask why, in 1952, did this unexpected story struck such a strong chord with the public and critics alike. WOTO
“The Aviator” (again, 2004): I don’t know a lot about Howard Hughes. I truly hope this film played it straight with history because it is a fascinating story and I’d rather it be accurate. (Martin Scorsese directed it – not Oliver Stone – so there IS a better chance it honors the truth.) We’ve ALL heard about Hughes’ final, reclusive, CRAZY years, but “The Aviator” covers the years before he became entirely lost in what I’m sure would now be labeled Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. The story immediately peeks into his childhood where an important issue is clarified. We then dive into his start with aviation as a young man. We see his mind working 1,000 miles per hour, flying in 4 directions at a time, and NEVER shooting down ideas. He gambles everything, often, and fights for what he gets. He’s no namby-pamby rich boy. You have to admire him, even if you DON’T want to be in his hire. Leonardo DiCaprio does a wonderful job, as does Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Gwen Stefani, and Alec Baldwin. The dirty business of politics & payoffs is covered, as are the glorious, imaginative efforts of Hughes and his engineers. The special effects are solid, photography is exciting and era-appropriate, dialog interesting, sets & costumes rich with era, scoring great… it’s an all-around solid character study and re-creation of an era worth another look. If you liked the film “Tucker”, I can assure you “The Aviator” will do nothing but equal or better it – which is quite a compliment. IMDB WOTO
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012): As long as you’re not burned out on “coming of age” films, this is a good one containing less of the typical “irony” and more sensitivity. Set in the early 1990s, we watch one solo character as he navigates his way through the first weeks of high school, his internal issues, his history, and a mix of other characters. The acting is quite good, and the ensemble work seems very earnest. Prepare yourself – the actors playing aging adults in this film were born in the late 60s and early 70s. The actors playing teens were born in, yes, the 90s.
“Higher Ground” (again, 2011): Vera Farmiga isn’t merely beautiful she’s a talented director and a great actress. Combined with the writer of both the book (“This Dark World”) and the screenplay, this film is a powerful yet understated look at ambivalence and doubt. Here the setting is organized religion, though many stages could be used for the subject. I knew immediately I wanted to OWN this work. It will offer rich insights each time I see it. The entire cast is talented; the sets and costuming fantastic in their commonness; the dialog perfectly natural and the counterpoint to Farmiga’s subtle acting; the photography honest, informative, unpretentious. This has it all. It is humane, philosophical, psychological, emotional, and intelligent. WOW. WOTO
“Being Flynn” (2012): Starring Paul Dano, Robert DeNiro, and Julianne Moore. A broken home, deluded father, desperate mother, and confused son is the basis for this true story. DeNiro is especially impressive as the combative, self-absorbed drunk. Despite the desperation shown throughout the film, there are glimmers of hope which balance the otherwise relentless burdens within these characters’ lives.
“Angela” (again, 1995): Follow and observe two sisters through their odd, unstable, poor, common, magical, joyful, fearful lives with and without their parents (and other people and places) – all of whom they must decipher for themselves as best they can. The world is a confusing place, but Angela always comes up with an answer, taking charge of herself and her younger sister. Her answers come from unknown and imaginative, mystical sources, but you’ll see a certain Angela-logic at work, which give the girls iffy solace, stability, and romantic mystery to their otherwise very modest lives with their all-too-human parents. Seldom do films work so convincingly from the viewpoint of children (although parts of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Little Fugitive”, and “Ponette” come to mind), with their need/pleasure to explain the world to themselves. It would be possible to take this entire film as an indictment of the dangers of religion, also. The dialog, scoring, and photography are just right, along with the astoundingly natural presentation of and acting by both young girls. A “must see”. WOTO
“The Manchurian Candidate” (again, 1962): This is one of THE BEST paranoid, Cold War, political/espionage stories of the entire era – hardly dating itself, and not James Bond in flavor. This is one creepy, interesting, unique film… and you will NEVER think of Angela Lansbury the same way again. Yikes. Shot in a harsh black and white, with strong camera angles and edgy music, it is a patient but relentless story headed one direction only – a darkening direction – which gives you glimpses of truth it as it moves along at its pace, not yours. The tension builds. You’ve come to like, sympathize, and hate characters… but “The Manchurian Candidate” never panders to your wants. You’ll also find it eerily predictive of the J.F.K. and R.F.K. assassinations – which had NOT yet occurred. It’s almost as though this fiction book-turned-film was the rough draft for our soon-to-be real political environment. Amazing. WOTO
“Kalifornia” (again, 1992): This film proves Brad Pitt is more than just a pretty boy. It is further evidence Juliette Lewis is one of our best actresses (although I’m ready to see her try a “mainstream middle class” sort of role). The story: two yuppies (David Duchovny & Michelle Forbes) want to travel cross country on a book research tour of serial murder sites. They need help with gasoline costs, advertise for riders, and meet another young couple – two trailer trash characters – who want to go along. This one is NOT for kids: sex and lots of violence. If you thought “Reservoir Dogs” was an unpleasant but important film; if you thought “Pulp Fiction” was an unpleasant but interesting story, you’ll also want to see “Kalifornia”. WOTO
“The Good Life” (2007): A strong Indie film, it has a singular vision and sets out to make all its artistic components support that goal. This I always respect and enjoy. Is this film “entertainment”? Depends on your definition. It’s set in dismal weather in a dismal town under dismal circumstances with very flawed people who can’t find their way out. Yes, the title is “ironic”. However, this is a journey worth taking. Actors Mark Webber, Zooey Deschanel, Chris Klein, Harry Dean Stanton, and Bill Paxton help create a powerful and surprising story leaving you worn-out yet satisfied.
“Das Goebbels Experiment” (2005): Documentary, narrated by Kenneth Branaugh. Excerpts are read from Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels diaries linked to original film footage of his activities and speeches. This would only be interesting to those who want to understand more about that horrific time and the people who helped create it.
“Citizen Kane” (again, 1941): The following is what I wrote in 2004: “So many people hold this film so high, it’s hard to see it for what it might yet be. None the less, I see gorgeous, uniquely lit, well-composed shots and a simple story about a man who gains too much yet always has too little. It is NOT, to my mind, one of the great character studies nor built on astounding dialog, outstanding acting, or even an especially unique morality play. It’s a formal, artistic leap… a great visual work.” WOTO
for 2011: I hold to those thoughts, but also add: much of the time I am distracted by the mediocre quality of painted and animated backgrounds, and the makeup used to “age” the characters. I am impressed with the great look of the faux-documentary film footage, and the brilliant (and gutsy) use of lighting in almost every single scene. What drives this film is the story, and what enhances (or distracts) the long journey are many of the visuals, but it lacks emotion at every turn. This is an intellectual film, even when it’s trying to express emotion. This is its weakness. Ironically, the film is something like the character it criticizes.
for 2013: I hold to those thoughts.
“Conspiracy Theory” (again, 1997): Mel Gibson is great as a taxi-driving, conspiracy theory freak of a man who can’t shut up to anyone about anything. He seems to be especially focused on reporting his claims to a bureaucratic woman (Julia Roberts), who has, to her regret, lent a semi-tolerant ear. This movie starts fast and takes off from there. Gibson carries it full force. He is both entertaining and sympathetic as a very disturbed man who is completely consumed by his beliefs… and may eventually convince someone to not entirely write him off. WOTO
“Time of the Wolf” (French, 2003): Another great film by Michael Haneke. His work fascinates me. This one is something along the line of “The Road” – a post-apocalyptic story with, however, very little visual drama and gore but plenty of first-weeks social collapses happening at every horrifying psychological turn. Starring Isabelle Huppert.
“Zoolander” (again, 2001): It’s as ridiculous as the Austin Powers movies, and just as funny… maybe funnier… but with different actors. Ben Stiller wrote, directed, and starred in this story of male fashion models who have, throughout history, been the brainwashed dupes committing all the international political assassinations. Far fetched? Derek Zoolander first thought so! Well, not “thought” exactly, but was eventually convinced… sort of… I guess. Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller, Jon Voight, and a mile long list of real stars playing real stars. Do you like break-dancing kung-fu fashion fighters? Do you like male model “walk off” posing-competitions held at the old “Members Only” warehouse with David Bowie as the judge? Then you’ll like this one. We watched it two nights in a row. It’s just plain funny. Hilarious, stupid, fun. WOTO
“Braveheart” (again, 1995): Huge, powerful, violent, interesting, romantic, inspiring, and… did I say VIOLENT? The story (fertile myth) retells the fantasized life of William Wallace, who, in the 12th century, lead his ragtag band of commoners into larger and larger battles against highly militarized England, eventually winning freedom for “his” Scotland. With big scoring, majestic landscapes, Shakespearian situations, and absolutely no effort to tell history with any credibility, this IS a story WORTH telling into the centuries. Some people are Driven and Focused. THIS the man Wallace becomes after experiencing for himself the cruel and unfair treatment of “his” people by the monarchy of England. It’s an inspiring story full of blood, torture, fire, steel, mud, and courage. The acting is high quality across the board, photography is lush, sets and costuming wonderful (despite inaccuracies), and moments of dialog are nearly worthy of Henry the VIII. Starring, produced and directed by Mel Gibson, with Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, and many other talented people. CAVEAT: DO NOT think of this film as in ANY WAY historically accurate. WOTO IMDB
“The China Syndrome” (1978): Great suspense drama set in a tv station and a nuclear reactor. Starring Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, and Michael Douglas. No music score is used during the film. The tension mounts steadily. Thirteen days after this film release was the “Three Mile Island” event. (Superfluous note: it’s amazing how much the colors brown, tan, and orange are seen throughout this story… but it WAS 1978…) WOTO
“L.A. Story” (again, 1991): After the very first viewing of this film twenty two years ago, I knew Steve Martin had matured… crossed the line… and I was thrilled. I said then and I still say now: THIS is HIS “Annie Hall” – with which he leaves his old comedic style behind and explores the more complex world of Life in all its glory, ridiculousness, irony, existential kneejerkiness, and sweetness. I can’t imagine Martin being so self-centered as to not give Allen credit for his basic inspiration, indirect and direct. Martin allows himself more “magic”, let’s call it, in the shifts from harsh daylight moments of Los Angeles to the twinkling unreality of city neon. The tone of L.A. is quite different than New York, and the love/hate of their favorite cities comes through. Also starring Victoria Tennet (his real life wife, now ex), Sarah Jessica Parker (as the wonderfully sexy, bouncy, L.A. “pop tart”), and Marilu Henner as the self-centered, empty bitch-wife, plus Woody Harrelson, Rick Moranis, and many more talented people in minor roles. Were I to put a “Double Feature” together, one evening WOULD be “Annie Hall” (first) followed by “L.A. Story”. WOTO
“His Girl Friday” (again, 1940): Starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy. This is what they call a “screwball comedy”. Expect machine gun-rapid, overlapping, witty dialog for 92 minutes without taking a breath. Seriously. It will WEAR YOU OUT! However, it’s a funny and dark look at the newspaper business and politics-as-usual. WOTO
“Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry” (2011): This is a documentary about Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. It is as much an expose of Chinas’ power structure as it is a look at art. You may like Weiweis’ art, you may not, but there is no doubt you will like China even less than you may already. You may like Weiwei himself, you may not, but there is no doubt he has the stubbornness to confront the government and all of its drones with an almost reckless abandon for his safety. Here you will find a unique circumstance unlike any other.
“The Hustler” (again, 1961): Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott star in this black, white, and VERY gray film set in the pool halls and shanty apartments of down-and-out dead-enders always on the lookout for a break. Stark photography, great Jazz, grimy sets and locations, and dialog as deadly as a rusty scalpel make for the perfect damaged psyche and Existentialist drama. WOTO
“Hysterical” (2011): This is a funny, odd but true story about late Victorian England, the medical profession, social politics, and a very important invention. Starring Hugh Dancey and Maggie Gyllenhaal. This entire production is aimed at telling a story, and it does it quite well. Not for children. THERE! THAT got your interest…
“Educating Rita” (again, 1983): Starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters (both of whom won numerous awards for their roles), this is the story of a determined, potential student and a burned out drunk of a Professor. The script is razor sharp, often funny, always humane, and occasionally sad. Were I to illustrate the plot with a symbol, I would use an “X” as they start in very different places, then cross to meet in the middle, then… (p.s.: the early Eighties score is pretty close to awful. TRY to ignore it.) WOTO
“Touch of Evil” (1958): Brilliant and amazing. Frankly, I prefer this one over “Citizen Kane”. Orson Welles out-did himself here (despite a deeply messy Hollywood battle once again). Starring Welles, Charlton Heston, and Janet Leigh, this grimy, sleazy, political crime drama is set in a Mexican border town. Shot mostly at night, I was glued to this film as perfectly composed, photographed, lit, and scored scene after scene astounded my artistic senses, while the acting and story kept me fascinated and repulsed at the same time. You can ask no more from this type of film. It is a candidate for my top category after more viewings. THIS is a DEFINITIVE Film Noir. DO NOT SEE the 95 min. version. SEE ONLY the newly restored 1 hr. 51 min. version, restored. WOTO
“Waco – A New Revelation” (1999): 1993. Waco Texas. David Karesh. The Branch Davidians. ATF, FBI, CIA. Dead agents, children, mothers, fathers, and religious leader. Lies. Disappearing evidence. Asses being covered right and left. Whether you watched this drama unfold, or whether this is something about which you’ve never heard, incidents like this occur in our country and we need to be aware of them while keeping an open mind. April 19, 1993, Waco Texas. April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City. All Americans. WOTO
“Absence of Malice” (again, 1981): Directed by Sidney Pollack, starring Paul Newman, Sally Field, Bob Balaban, Melinda Dillon and plenty of other characters worthy of your hissing, this is a look at “journalism”. It scared people then – and this was before the web! It is a dark, dirty journey through one man’s encounter with those hungry enough to get a paycheck living off rumor and lies. The acting is wonderful, the music is too aggressive, the photography and lighting are acceptable (they get the job done), and it’s interesting to view this also as a period piece, especially within “phase two” of “women’s lib” going into the 80s. WOTO
“Beetlejuice” (again, 1988): Sometimes you come home and you don’t need to see the NEWS on t.v., “Schindler’s List” on video, or the BILLS waiting on your desk. “Beetlejuice”, with all the great people involved in its making, is funny and witty from start to finish. It’s a Tim Burton film, with a shiny faced Alec Baldwin, youthful Geena Davis, hilarious, edgy Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, young, Goth Winona Ryder, and a wonderful, insane Michael Keaton! Special effects are both intentionally cheezie and limited by contemporary terms. There are scenes you’ll suddenly remember as you’re driving along, and you’ll laugh out loud. You’ll never again think of Harry Belafonte in the same way. WOTO
”Chasing Madoff” (2011): This is a documentary about the attempts to decipher the financial schemes of “Bernie” Madoff, and why everyone ignored or suppressed the facts for over a decade. It is maddening, and every one of us is paying the price for their crimes. I take issue with the STYLE of this film – using stills and footage unrelated to the actual events for the simple purpose of what I will call “representational entertainment”. None the less, the information IS here.
”To the Moon” (1999): This is a two hour documentary on the Space Program from the first satellite to the last Moon landing. It focuses on the REAL reason we pushed on with it – to beat the Russians. Motives aside, this grandest of human efforts should be studied and admired by all people for all time. WOTO
“Welcome to the Dollhouse” (again, 1996): It is THE DEFINITIVE “Junior High is Hell” film. Follow one typical kid through just a few daze of Junior High life. It’s as amazing and funny as it is painful and dark. Solondz’ production values are slightly less refined here, but that is of no concern. This is a bleak, suburban story full of angst, pettiness, silliness, embarrassments, personality flaws, and real dangers. Across the board, the cast is outstanding in their portrayal of classic, flawed, middle class life. Are there always people in the herd who are singled out and pecked all their lives by the others? Yes. WOTO
“Heist” (again, 2002): This is a complex, high speed cat-n-mouse crime caper drama by David Mamet. Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, Danny Devito, Rebecca Pidgeon, and others make for an exciting heist story where one-upmanship is the name of the game. WOTO
“Menace II Society” (again, 1993): I have some caveats for my support of this film: first, a simple warning it is extremely vulgar and violent; second, racial issues are right in your face, and third, it gets preachy and a tad grandiose at times. Okay, then WHY do I have it in my #2 category? It has a certain Shakespearian urban grittiness to it that I like very much. We have lost souls, creeps, schemers, killers, innocents, and those in transition. There are both surprises and the Inevitable. Set in sunny California, the convertibles glide and the street blood glitters like spilled rubies. Who comes out on top? WOTO
“Code Unknown” (twice this year, 2000): Directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Juliet Binoche and Thierry Neuvic. Here, you’ll sense a story [of sorts] requiring your attention. However, the main goal of this film is to create feelings in you about their worlds (and yours). You’ll experience isolation, the inability and refusal to communicate, alienation, loneliness, anxiety, stress, fear, displaced aggression, and all the other frighteningly common results of too many people feeling hard-pressed in a place getting smaller by the day. I think I’ll enjoy it even more next time. No, really.
“A Simple Plan” (again, 1999): The plot is straight forward: three average men find a plane crashed in the woods. It is filled with money. They struggle with whether to keep it or not, and how to keep it if they do. Then it gets complicated. Even now knowing the story – which is a tight, exciting, interesting suspense drama – I’ll see it again just for the acting by Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Paxton, Brent Briscoe, and Bridget Fonda. If you liked “Presumed Innocent”, you’ll be glad you saw this one too. Great suspense is built on the psychology of the characters, not a scary ghoul waiting in the shadows of an alley. WOTO
“Blue Valentine” (2011): Have you and a friend ever built a wonderful sand castle for which you felt proud and satisfied, only to then to watch it be slowly encroached, damaged, and eaten by the patient forces nearby? “Not a bang, but a whimper…” Go to this film with patience and a willingness to admit we all carry the invisible devils. Produced by and starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, this is a superb work of dramatic acting, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance. WOTO
“Secretary” (again, 2002): It is SO incredibly refreshing when I have the opportunity to see an intelligent, unique film… and THIS IS certainly one of them. Despite what negativity you may have heard by the same type of nut who thought “Life of Brian” was sacrilegious, “Secretary” is NOT about meanness or domination/control of “women”, it is about ALL relationships. Maggie Gyllenhaal does a superb (career making) job as a ‘mentally unstable’ girl who lands her first job as secretary to a lawyer (James Spader) and may gain some independence from her past and a family that does NOT help her condition. Will she find independence? Should she? Is she the only one feeling trapped by their psyche? What about him? This is an often funny, sometimes dark look at what can drive a person on. It is an unblinking stare at what works for one may not work for another but the search should continue… the end goal being to make things work on your terms and that of no one else. The longer I think about this film (and it DOES encourage lots of thought), I actually find the story beautiful and romantic along with tender, crazy, and funny. It is SO complex in its psychology… yet so decipherable (with work)… that I know I will revisit this one repeatedly. It is FASCINATING. WOTO
“Bernie” (2011): Imagine Werner Herzog out hunting for a good story, and when he finds it he turns it over to Christopher Guest. We have perfect casting with Jack Black as a mortician in this true story of small town delusions, gossip, and compulsive support. This is a hilarious (but true) and creepy (but true) chapter from a Texas town, where a seemingly wonderful man, without much history, causes an entire community to adore him while he begins changing without notice. Jack Black’s casting limits had become a cliché for me. THIS film revives my faith (Amen!) in his broader talents. I look forward to more unique roles in his career.
“Interview with a Vampire” (again, 1994): The reviews back then were only luke warm… but I think it’s better than that. My initial hesitation was in casting all the male vampires with Hollywood pretty boys (Cruise, Banderas, Pitt, Slater) – yet this somehow added an ever sadder note - maybe because these vampires had NO trouble attracting and killing – which, for them, made consuming easy but added to the boredom and guilt of their eternal Hell. This is also the film that caused me to follow the career of Kirsten Dunst. Fabulous. WOTO
“Gallipoli” (again, Australian, 1981): See a young Mel Gibson early in his career star in a strong film by Peter Weir. Set in 1914-15 Australia at the outbreak of World War I, we meet a number of young men who react to the enlistment fervor with differing attitudes. We follow them through the fantasies and realities of war. Except for Weir’s occasional poor choice of music, this is a handsome, engaging film – an anti-war statement which may remind you of “Paths of Glory” or other classics of the genre. WOTO
“The Dreamers” (again, 2003): Bernardo Bertolucci is one of my favorite directors. He makes beautiful, powerful, memorable movies that do not shy from the blatantly sexual, violent, dark, or abnormal in life. This is the story of an intelligent but naive visiting American student, who, in 1968, meets a witty and secretive Parisian brother and sister who share obsessions over movies and themselves. The American is invited into their “world” – where the parents are often absent, leave money for their general use, and everyone seems oblivious or are in denial towards the worlds outside or inside. For this reason (at least), it occasionally reminds me of the film “Performance” (1970), mixed with Bertolucci’s own film “Last Tango in Paris”. NOTE: “The Dreamers” is NOT for children. WOTO
“Guilty by Suspicion” (again, 1990): This is the true story of the Hollywood Commie Hunts by ladder-climbing politicians (gee, that sounds familiar) of the early 1950s, focusing on director David Merrill, his family, friends, and associates. If you don’t think YOU could be affected by “social” pressure, or it’s just a matter of finding “another” job, or simply moving “away”, or “taking the Fifth Amendment”, then you need to see this film. Robert DeNiro, Annette Bening, George Wendt, Patricia Wettig, Sam Wanamaker make this a tense, thorough, maddening depiction of what can happen “at Home”. “Oh heck, it wouldn’t ever happen here again!” Yeh. Right. WOTO
“Flirting” (again, Australian, 1991): Want to see what Nicole Kidman looked like before she became NICOLE KIDMAN? She, Thandie Newton, and Noah Taylor star in a warm, funny, sad, and relatable “coming of age” story set at a pair of private schools in 1961 Australia. There is nothing much special about the cinematography, special effects, lighting, sets or costuming, but the story has more subtlety, honesty and sophistication than most American equivalents. This is about Class Division, Herd Instinct, Racism, the breaking of Barriers, and, above all else, First Loves. WOTO
“The Blair Witch Project” (again, 1999): It’s been a few years since I’ve written about this film… but my appreciation for it does not lessen. Shot in hand held b/w 16 mm film and color video tape, this student film project takes three art major pals deep into the woods to document the legend of a local witch or at least the horrific crimes said to have been committed by her. (The story behind the film is nearly as interesting as the legend of the Blair Witch but let’s stick to the film.) It is a VERY smart work of Art, with camera, lighting, and audio that matches the increasing tension in this VERY scary story. We watch THE film makers MAKE THIS film and discover, along with us, what awaits them. The stress, exhaustion, and fear expressed by them is NOT all fiction. Some people dislike “Blair Witch”. I assume it’s because it’s not only a unique movie, but stressful. You CANNOT stand back and pretend distance. In this sense, it reminds me of Lynch’s film “Eraserhead”. Try as you might, it’s GONNA GETCHA. WOTO
“Primer” (again, 2005): Created by Shane Carruth. Having won two major awards at the Sundance Film Festival, this low key, dialog heavy, high-tech sounding “garage” sci-fi film is very interesting if you stick with it. It starts slow and jumbled. You could give up. If you don’t, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a story that contains just enough clues that you’ll think about the “what ifs” right along with our two main characters. If you insist on punch lines, conclusions, tidy wrap-ups, clear aims… this isn’t it. Think an Indy film inspired by Dilbert meeting Ridley Scott who’d just played pool with David Lynch. Did you like “Following” or “Pi” or “Memento” or Clean Shaven”? No? Then you’re probably on the wrong track here, too. WOTO
“Upstream Color” (2013): Created by Shane Carruth, who also made “Primer”. Carruth makes intuitive, thoughtful films that require your attention, intellect, and creativity. There are no easy answers. And, they require your learning as much of his intrinsic language as possible… which may mean audio and visual signs, not necessarily verbal. He is an upcoming auteur film maker – a “control freak” (as he describes himself), and keeps a nice balance between open-minded artistic exploration and personal intellectual logic. In “Upstream Color” you will see grub worms used for mind control, pigs who take on burdens of very confused and understandably upset humans, and lots of compulsive behaviors. What is THIS film ABOUT? Cycles and their random, momentary participants.
“Unstrung Heroes” (again, 1995): With wonderful acting by all (Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards. Maury Chaykin, with direction from Diane Keaton), this quirky story makes more and more sense as you follow a family through their own comedies, oddities and tragedies. Shown are some of the most subtle, lovely realizations of all time… which become profound as you realize how and what the young boy is learning from his split, bickering family tree… how they ALL are very important to his best upbringing. Very good scoring never becomes assertive, and signals various factions of the family and mental states. This one will make you laugh loudly and cry quietly. WOTO
“Lord of War” (2005): Starring Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, and Ethan Hawke, this is an interesting story of international arms deals. It has an agenda, it has its points. Do NOT confuse this movie with a documentary or a docu-drama. It is not a quotable source. Appreciate it as having good action, photography, acting, sets and so forth along with good points, limited information, and broader agendas. Always beware agendas, always relax and enjoy a good film. WOTO
“The Asphalt Jungle” (1950): Directed by John Huston, starring Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffee, Louis Calhern, and other up-and-coming actors including a young, thin Marilyn Monroe, this Noir is perhaps the BEST of the genre. It has the down-and-out characters, the dark sleaze of urban grime and crime, plenty of hood and moll lingo, and The Caper. “Asphalt Jungle” has some of the most beautifully filmed, lit, and composed b/w scenes of all time, bar none. It is amazing. The story has a certain inevitable feel of Doom to it, which is quite appropriate. Absolutely top notch, post-WWII, lost-soul Existentialism.
“The Color Purple” (1985): Despite its flaws and mistakes, it is always a joyous pleasure and deeply painful. This film took Spielberg into broader respect. Be prepared for early career, now-famous actors. Witness the superb premier of Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey (who I long to go back to acting), Danny Glover (doing an admirable job in a very ugly role), “Larry” Fishburn, Margaret Avery, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, Akosua Busia. Taken from the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, and keeping its epic, ironic, twists-of-Karma sensibility, we live and breathe the pains, degradation, and joys of very difficult lives over many decades. Towards the end, the film takes on less of a literary, and more of a theatrical, even musical nature – which I seriously question – but this is a small point compared to the overall film, its craft, acting, and heart of a very emotional story. Full of lessons in life, I watch it with a kind of awe – KNOWING that people HAVE faced these issues – some succumbing, some rising above – and I am both embarrassed and proud to be a part of this Human Race. WOTO IMDB
“Five Easy Pieces” (again, 1970): Though not Jack Nicholson’s first film, I think it’s fair to call it his first serious film (not a hot rod or motorcycle or monster to be found), and no doubt the film which set his true course. He’s a dislikable man – a man from whom you’d grab your daughter and, if need be, lock her away until the threat has moved on. Slowly, you gain insights into his previous world. There ARE explanations behind all of us. Still, he moves in worlds you might find repulsive, and from which he may never escape… by choice. This is a wonderful, bleak, gritty, disgusting story of a self-indulgent, wounded, mess of an immature man. And it’s wonderful, like I said. Karen Black received Best Supporting Actress for her role as the wimpering simp of a punching bobo controlled by Robert Dupea (Nicholson). WOTO
“The Seventh Continent” (1989): This is Michael Haneke’s first film – and what a start! It announces the arrival of a director with a singular vision expressed through purity of presentation even when depicting what first appear to be vague scenarios. This film is based on a true incident – a middle class family leads their rote life without many downs or ups. The repetition Haneke creates will test the patience of less dedicated, trusting viewers. Hang in there. Have faith. He’s taking you somewhere very distinct. His cropped compositions, black-outs, stillness, use of spatial divisions, and symbols are Art. The actors are fascinating. The dialog and narrative are bleak. It is a very smart film.
“The Family Man” (again, 2000): If it wasn’t that this story is basically a contemporary spin of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Version 2000), it would be in the next category above. It’s witty, funny, emotional, sad, inspiring, and loaded with reminders of what Life really IS about. Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni are perfect for this one. It’s what they call a “feel-good” movie (with its ups and downs along the way). WOTO
“The Queen” (again, 2006): Helen Mirren stars as Queen Elizabeth during the period just before, during, and after the death of ex-Princess Diana. This is a VERY focused film that does not veer off into studies of the other members of the royal family. If it looks at a second person with any depth, it’s Tony Blair, who was new to the government. I found it interesting for the events of Diana’s death as seen through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth, compressed into 103 minutes. One set of very interesting scenes revolve around a huge, elegant, 16-point stag on their “country” property. Elizabeth has two encounters with him, and you realize she reveals her “humanity” through him, because she sees herself AS him… with the second encounter not having the elegance of the first. IMDB
“The French Connection” (again, 1971): GREAT, gritty character study set in the great, gritty city of 1971 New York… still the really nasty, grimy, dirty, rotten-to-the-core Big Apple. Gene Hackman plays a piggish, uncouth, intuitive undercover cop who begins spotting “signs” his gut tells him to follow – and follow – and follow. Roy Scheider is his partner, and together they begin unpeeling a complex, international drug deal about to go down. Based on a true story (?), this is a superb work that holds up very well in concert with the era’s blatant, funky look, strong photography, and a spectacular score. A patient and interesting drama turns to exciting and dangerous as they begin to piece together the French Connection puzzle. It is one of the best cat-and-mouse “cop” films of all time. WOTO
“Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012): This is a sly, cool, Gen-X indie film full of dry humor, recognizable character types, and issues of transition from youth and idealism to aging and fantasy. Totally enjoyable, start to finish, this low budget film has high production values, wonderful acting by all, and metaphors galore. I’ll see it again!
“Children of Men” (again, 2006): It’s 2027. No children have been born for 18 years. This means there is no future, and one sees any reason to plan for or maintain any thing. There is NO investment in a tomorrow. It is bleak indeed. Eventually, new factors enter the story and drive it along, but the real star of the film are the astounding sets and their detailing, expressing this cultural death. Brilliant. Rich. A total, progressive collapse of civilization. The conception of 2027 in England is quite interesting. It is NOT the “futuristic”, sci-fi type. Progress had generally ceased. It is a past being held together with duct tape for a short term present soiling itself. It is gray, dank, gritty, infested, and dangerous. Is there hope? Maybe. Towards the end, there are a few scenes too heavily symbolically for me, but they can be overlooked with a little effort. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine star. WOTO IMDB
“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012): Caveat: I think this film has “short legs”. I don’t expect it to be considered of great value once this era and its newsworthiness passes out of emotion and into drier history. However, for now – especially for Americans who remember (and remain angry) over the attacks on our country the last 15+ years – this is a good movie to relive some of the sadness, frustration, and sense of revenge many of us share. (The opening “scene” of a black screen with 9-11-01 voices brought me to quiet tears.) It is a pleasure to watch Jessica Chastain (and others) take the roles of dedicated, shadowy sleuths driven by both emotions and ego. (No doubt Claire Danes’ character in “Homelands” was inspired by the real woman leading the search for Bin Laden.) The photography and scoring are good, and though the script condenses or stretches events to a silver screen pace, “Zero Dark Thirty” was an interesting and tense 2.5 hour drama.
“On the Beach” (again, 1959): Starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins. Directed by Stanley Kramer. We find ourselves in the near-future of 1964 Australia. There is an odd, “informal” feeling to what we see… and people are tired or depressed or drinking excessively… is THIS what Australians are like? We soon learn THE Atomic War is OVER, the whole of life on the planet is, they suspect, now dead, and, from the very few and dwindling reports they’ve gathered, radioactive clouds are slowly drifting towards Australia – possibly the last location with “clean” air. People are in manic or stupefying denial, or trying to prepare for everyone’s death – including their children. No longer are scientists madly searching for a last-minute cure, but the military is out searching for safe ground in an exploratory submarine. “Up periscope. No life. High radiation. Dive. Move on.” Back in Australia, cars run out of petrol and are left abandoned. It’s become a bicycle society. “On the Beach” actors do a solid job depicting people trying to be stoic or fatalistic or casual as their deaths approach. The b/w photography is appropriate and good. If I could, I would rip 90% of the scoring OUT – since it uses “Waltzing Matilda” REPEATEDLY (in a variety of styles for moods), which really got under my skin. The individual character situations are powerful, their reactions thoughtful and sad. This is one of the three finest Cold War/anti-war films ever made. It may or may not be equal to “Failsafe” and “Dr. Strangelove”, but none are alike, and they ARE the Ultimate Cold War trio. WOTO IMDB
“Donnie Darko” (again, 2002): A film with average production values, but interesting photographic ideas, uses of music, and a story line you haven’t heard before. There are lots of “isn’t that…?” movie stars, a moody feeling to the entire film that gets under your skin… and yet, you’re not quite sure what to do with it all once it’s done. Try to mix some of “The Ice Storm” with “Poltergeist” and “Carrie”, plus the story structure of “The Sixth Sense”. I saw “Donnie Darko” for the first time a few years ago. Tonight, on my third viewing, I deciphered the story to a much greater degree – which I will not divulge here. (I hate people who ruin movies for others.) I think it’d be interesting to watch it twice in one night… and double check my theory. (The dvd special features discuss some of its issues, but I avoid these offerings until I’ve done my own thinking.) WOTO
“Body Heat” (1981): First-time director Lawrence Kasdan wrote this story and gave it what would become his signature touches. Watch for various objects to symbolically describe their owners mental and emotional states. William Hurt (in his second role after “Altered States“) and Kathleen Turner (in her first role) bring great mood to an already strong “noir” style drama. The plot thickens with a deadly patience while the actors scorch the screen with impatient sex. Ted Danson, Richard Crenna, and Mickey Rourke co-star. If you haven’t seen this film, don’t pre-inform yourself. Jump in, go for the sweaty ride in the thick fog of Florida, and expect to be conned like the rest of us. It’s wonderful. WOTO
“Carnage” (2011): Directed by Roman Polanski, this concentrated, one-room “comic-drama” between two sets of parents debating an unfortunate incident between their children is intense, funny, and disgusting. Think of it as a less insightful, less painful, less draining “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”. Talented acting by Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz brings out the best in the script. In the end, you don’t want to know ANY of these people… yet, in your real life, you know you DO.
“The Big Chill” (again, 1983): It is staged within my age group and subculture (the college crowd, late ‘60’s/70’s). For that reason, I have a de facto relationship to it, but many more people treasure “The Big Chill”. The dialog is dead-on accurate about relationships with all the b.s. of hidden agendas, fantasized outcomes, shared hopes and dreams of each group of friends, and, the true bonds created by good friends. Issues of aging (this IS a mid-life crisis film), fading communication and intimacy, urges to reignite former ideals, the struggle over practical life versus philosophical stands… it’s all here, done in an admirable way with zero superfluous chatter. Yet, it is also witty, funny, sad, maddening, tender, and given a rich depth due to a large, talented, ensemble cast, including Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Mary Kay Place, and Meg Tilly. You will also see Kevin Costner’s leg and scalp. What?? Why?? An ultimate trivia question! WOTO
“Blackboard Jungle” (again, 1955): “Blackboard Jungle” was banned in many cities. On one level, it is now simply a good period piece and an accurate description of what many teachers face every day, to this day. But, on more important levels, it’s filled with statements about post-war America, the kids who were growing up without fathers (lost to WWII & Korea), and the rapidly changing reality of contemporary life (see “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild One” for other classic, good examples) that were almost too much for many Americans to handle. This is the first of what would become a genre. Bill Haley and the Comets had (what many consider) the very FIRST Rock & Roll hit (used in the film), Elvis was just on the scene, the war babies were hitting their teens (and the streets), and the first wave of suburban flight was on. If you view “Blackboard Jungle” through the lens of 2013, you may get nothing but a “quaint” feeling, but if you’re smart enough to avoid the “That was then, this is now” trap, it offers much more – and is quite satisfying. The acting of leads Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Sidney Portier, and Vic Morrow are stronger and grittier than you expect from a 1955 film. WOTO
“The Day After Trinity” (again, docum., 1980): This is an older look at the inventors, the making and the use of the atomic and hydrogen bombs during WWII and the “Cold War”. It centers on Robert Oppenheimer, his intelligence, quirky leadership, and poetic hesitations which brought about the eventual, hypocritical governmental wrath. One must view this 1980 piece accepting that some of it is opinionated and statements were made thirty three years ago when less information had yet to be uncovered (especially about our understanding of the bombs effects, the current status of German attempts to create the first bomb, the mentality of the warring Japanese, and the Russians secret research about which we knew next to nothing). It is, none the less, fascinating.
“Last Days” (2005): Written and directed by Gus Van Sant. For you action, story line, mood-change movie people I have a warning: there ain’t none here. It’s a good film – I’ll even say a BOLD film – loaded with aimless, repetitious, mumbled and stumbled scenes of a young man beyond help, falling towards death while still exhibiting moments of brilliance. Inspired by Curt Cobain’s short life (but NOT Cobain’s facts), this film is like watching an inevitable accident in slow motion. You may not “like” “Last Days” but you might admire it (I do), or, you will hate it. There isn’t one “entertaining” moment in the entire thing. Characters wander without purpose, the audio recording sounds accidental, the camera work voyeuristic and hesitant, and the story has no real beginning or end. It’s Existential without the interest in continue existence. WOTO
“Miss Evers’ Boys” (again, ): Starring Alfre Woodard and Laurence Fishburn, this is the [basically] true story of “The Tuskegee Experiment” (which is unrelated to “The Tuskegee Airmen” of the same era.) It’s 1930’s Alabama. Syphilis is rampant among the black residents of the area. The U.S. government funds research which causes guaranteed terrible results for many. And, there was a cover up. Woodard is especially good, the sets and costuming rich in era and location. (My only real complaint is the entire film was shot with a soft focus filter. Not a good decision.) WOTO
“Robots” (again, 2005): This is SO MUCH FUN every time I see it! If you love design from the 20th century, especially the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, especially industrial/machine age design, you’ll gawk & drool your way through “Robots”. If you love innuendo, obscure references, and witty plays on words, you’ll listen close… and feel worn-out by the end. No, the plot is nothing unique… little good guy against big bad guy. Love, family, friendship, honesty, determination, courage, and other aspects of human interest are introduced but never deeply explored – after all, this ISN’T made by Pixar. However, the visuals are inventive, exciting, beautiful, and fun. They are masterpieces of image making. The jokes tend to be adult oriented and funny. For pure PLEASURE – with no philosophical demands made on the adult mind – “Robots” is top notch. I will see it repeatedly – whenever I want tons of quality visual and audio stimulation, without any challenges to my intellect. WOTO
“Life of Pi” (India, 2012): Although generally set in the East, the making of this film has an international flavor due to the languages and actors used. Initially, I questioned the CGI as possibly faulty and somewhat easy to spot, but as the story progressed, I saw it had a purpose (which I cannot discuss here except to say it was a great artistic decision). The story itself is humorous, tender, sad, frightening, and always thoughtful. You’ll see images and experience scenarios absolutely unique to your experience. This too has its purpose. There is a “magical realism” to this film quite justified by its goals. It is a powerful yet charming film that will drain yet refresh you.
“Fallen Angel” (again, 1945): This is a great film starring Dana Andrews, Alice Faye, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, and lots of character actors from the time. The photography is strong, the scoring moody, the sets appropriate, and the dialog full of tough guy talk and hot dame repartee. Crime, passion, sleazy motivations, innocent girls, booze, rooms full of smoke, and a few twists and turns. Truly a top notch example of the Film Noir genre. WOTO
“Winterset” (1936): First a stage play (winning the Pulitzer Prize) then a screenplay by the same writer – Maxwell Anderson – this early, pre-Noir-style work called for Depression Era fairness for those who suffered the most. Set in dark stone hovels under the Brooklyn Bridge during a cold, relentless period of rain and sleet, we are first shown the problems immigrants faced in this country (a la Sacco and Vanzetti), then fast-fowarded to contemporary 1936. We now understand the motives of the main characters (starring a young Burgess Meredith, Margo (who you may remember from Capra’s film “Lost Horizon”), Eduardo Ciannelli, Maurice Moscovitch, Paul Guifoyle, John Carradine, Mischa Auer, and Edward Ellis). The sets are dark, dank, claustrophobic, and reek of stink and poverty. The scoring supports nicely (nominated for an Oscar). Scenes such as the people dancing on cobblestones to a calliope (and the resulting tension) add another desperate, almost surreal flavor. Add in a touch of gangster / Greek tragedy, and a few moments of grandiose speeches (in the style of “Grapes of Wrath”). For what could now be called its “overly expressive” moments, it keeps your attention, offers unique resolutions, is NOT dime-a-dozen entertainment, and has you thinking about it long after. It received the Venice Film Award for photography. Anderson also wrote “Key Largo” and “The Bad Seed”. For me, this was a wonderful surprise of a film about which I’d never heard a word. WOTO
“Riding in Cars with Boys” (again, 2002): Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Steve Zahn and Brittany Murphy star in a wonderful story of common people dealing with their uncommon events – things we all must somehow face. There are Dreams, there are Plans, and then there’s Life. Sets and costuming over time stay period-accurate (although there IS some of the “Spotless Car Syndrome” I dislike), the main characters are not one-dimensional, and the situations not out of reach or unbelievable. Occasionally, the children become precocious but not to the point of distraction. “Riding in Cars with Boys” has comedy, tragedy, frustration, anger, tenderness, irony, the plain truth to much of that is depicted and, in the end, hope. Always Hope. WOTO
“The Murderers are Among Us” (German, 1946): Made in Germany when it was still full of corpses, refugees, defeated civilians and soldiers, and miles of rubble, this dark anti-war film is a unique look into the REAL German mindsets mere months after their surrender. Since much of Germany was yet completely shattered, the need for sets and locations was minimal. This is part of the New Realism movement. Masses of people shown are not actors and no doubt wear their actual daily rags. The photography is often powerful and bleakly beautiful, the acting and dialog is dramatic (and seldom subtle), the editing is patient and ponderous. Were you to believe all that is implied in this film, you would conclude nearly every German was innocent of any serious support of the Nazi party and should be quickly excused from those associations. Well, history shows this is NOT the case, but I love “The Murderers are Among Us” for its being a German statement about how they are trying to see themselves AND how they want the world to see them. This is a film of desperation on many levels.
“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (again, 1973): Made for television, this high quality work won nine Emmy awards. I saw it first-run on t.v.. It astounded me (especially compared to other “consciousness raising” attempts of that era) – much of which is due to the acting of Cicely Tyson and the abilities of the makeup specialists. The story covers the life of Jane Pittman, 109 years old in 1962, who is being interviewed by a young white man about her life. In lengthy flashbacks from childhood, we experience the challenges of a black child/woman growing up in the South. The film is brutal, charming, very sad, funny, tender, frightening, and powerful. My only complaint is the official dvd presents a great work in desperate need of color restoration (as do many works from the 1970’s). I suggest shutting off its distractingly bad color and watching it in a purer black & white. WOTO
“Theremin – An Electronic Odyssey” (1993): Did you know that electronic music basically started in the 1920’s with the Russian inventor Lev Termen? This is 1 hour and 22 minutes of Learning. If you love music, avant garde thinking, and history, you’ll appreciate this fortunate last documentary on the complicated life of Termen, who died soon after. He was a man of relentless intellectual curiosity. Ya gotta love that.
“Angel” (English, French, 2007): This is Francois Ozon’s first English language film. It stars Romola Garai, Michael Fassbender, Sam Neill, and Charlotte Rampling. “Angel” is a unique experience. First appearing to a be little more than a Period Drama set in Edwardian England, you’ll meet a very obnoxious young woman with no concern for others or reality. She lives within a fantasy she will become a famous novelist. Slowly, YOU begin wondering what is and isn’t real in the film due to the story line, people’s behavior, the visuals, the scoring, etc.. Surely all these factors CAN’T be mistakes! Well, I stuck with it, and, they weren’t. We are taken inside the highly edited vision of “Angel” and watch the world through her eyes – AND those souls who have surrendered themselves to her meandering, ill-conceived vision. I will see this one again.
“Minority Report” (again, 2002): If you like intelligent Sci-Fi – a complex, suspense whodunit with top notch special effects, a story with moral undertones, and lots of action & twists (“Total Recall” would be another example) – then this is one for you. The acting is good to great across the board. Tom Cruise has some strong scenes, and Samantha Morton is always good. Max von Sydow does an incredible amount with the little he uses. The script does not treat you like an idiot (though IF you think you’re on top of it, you WILL slap your forehead a few times), the photography is harsh, cold, and artistically appropriate (do not adjust your set), and the representation of technology 50 years from now is wonderful (though I’m sure entirely quaint by 2054 A.D.). WOTO
“Runaway Jury” (2003): This is a TOTALLY engrossing story of American legal system corruption, written by John Grisham. Centered on the act of lawyers choosing and affecting a jury in order to manipulate them into an outcome, Gene Hackman, John Cusak, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Weisz make for an exciting, complex plot full of ugly maneuvers that are too easy for us to accept as what could happen within ANY case – YOUR case – MY case – ANY case. Are there ANY GOOD guys? That’s something I won’t discuss. Just see it. It is a top quality script delivered by great actors, especially Hackman and Weisz. WOTO
“Seven Years in Tibet” (again, 1997): Brad Pitt, David Thewlis, and other talents make this true story an emotional and tactical ride through the years just before and during WWII. After years of being held in a P.O.W. camp, these Axis soldiers escape only to find more difficult and life changing events ahead of them. Despite its adventuresome plot, the real meaning of this film is about personal growth. You are also treated to MAGNIFICENT landscapes and visits to other cultures (especially Tibet). It is a wonderful, stressful, beautiful film. WOTO
“Jacknife” (1989): Starring Robert De Niro, Ed Harris, and Kathy Baker. This is a post-Vietnam movie. Yes, there are others, and no, this story is not unique. Plus, the “eighties” score is dated and blatant, and the photography is nothing special. However, the acting is of such high quality the everydayness of these events and people with their scars and fears reach right to the core of meaningful human experience. See this film for what these three people bring to it. It is well worth your time. WOTO
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968): by Stanley Kubrick. Caveat: I’ve slowly gained mixed feelings about this epic film. In 1968, I put it in the “Changed My Life” category… because it DID just that. Kubrick’s vision was so grand and challenging, the film itself so carefully and courageously assembled in details, effects, writing, scoring, and ideas, I simply could not grasp all he’d created but knew I wanted to and, as an artist, should aim this high with my own work. I have viewed this film many times since. Why have I gained mixed feelings? For one, it is now easy to see it does not “transcend” its Time. It IS OF its time in every way. It speaks in rich and optimistic terms about the near future of 1968, it does not speak about 2001 let alone 2013. It uses the then-popular visual effects and symbols representing the other / higher consciousness / psychedelic / drug related involvements. Its vagaries were an important component of the era. It shows complex machines extrapolated from the limits of 1968 thinking. (A more powerful computer should be much larger, for example.) “2001” expresses our vision in and of 1968 – it simply does it better than other films. It IS a period piece. (Note that the phone company logo never changed. Witty, but very out of place with the entire Space Age modernism depicted with existing designer furniture, costuming ideas, etc.). I have a deep, personal-growth attachment to this film. It showed me how far one can reach as an artist. Now, forty five years later, it has aged right along with me. Now, we are both closer to curiosities than cutting edges. Such is the Passage of Time. WOTO
“Bellflower” (2011): Think of “Bellflower” as the slacker version of “Gummo” and “Kids” in attitude and appearance. We meet a group of pathetically unproductive twenty-something men and woman who not only waste their time in selfish, pointless ways, but insist everyone else be affected by them as well. More time is given to the men, whose guiding fantasies were formed as adolescents when first seeing the movies “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior”. They want to build a flame thrower and a bad-ass car, and cruise around scaring everyone with their awesomeness. In the meantime, they kill lots of random time. Visually, “Bellflower” appears related to “Gummo”. These independent film makers may have used a program very similar to what quickly became its own cliché – Instagram. The look has a built-in “dirtiness”, with color and focus distortions normally seen only in those static digital photos. At times, the effects seem random, but due to the thematic content I couldn’t argue its point. The audio also has a slightly tweaked, walking-in-your-sleep treatment. Acting is generally good, dialog is a perfect expression of these useless humans, and plot movement is just cohesive enough to keep you hanging out with these losers (who reminded me most of older versions of the teens found in “Kids”). “Bellflower” will make you want to take a shower, look in the mirror at yourself, and say out loud: “I’m not doing so bad after all…”.
“Heavenly Creatures” (again, ): Unique and disturbing, this is the true story of two “outcast” New Zealand school girls who created their own private, hallucinatory fantasy world until faced with adults wanting to disassemble it. This film – Winslett’s first – made me want to see anything she does (EXCEPT for that godawful “Tit-and-Ick” moovie). Co-starring was Melanie Lynskey, who did a good job, but was outclassed by Winslett. I enjoyed the cinematography indicating their different levels of consciousness. Except for “clean car syndrome”, I appreciated the sets and costuming. “Heavenly Creatures” is not for children! WOTO
“Miller’s Crossing” (again, 1990): Here is another of the Coen brothers unique films. They create characters you cannot stop watching within stories that spin with events crashing into one another. “Miller’s Crossing” depicts “the Mob” and their lackies in late 1920’s America – criminals creating power struggles, double crosses, fake honor, greed, grifts, opportunism, and existential dog-eat-dogness. No one makes films like the Coens, though this one has a similar – ONLY similar – dark humor to “Pulp Fiction”, but without the hip snideness or pop culture references. “Miller’s Crossing” is a period film, theatrical, and nearly operatic. How about this: half Sam Peckinpah, half Quentin Tarantino, all Coen brothers. ? Yeh, THAT works for me. WOTO
“To Rome with Love” (2012): Written and directed by Woody Allen. This is a multi-facet film set in Rome with various people under the romance and delusions of the moment. Allen takes his life-long involvement in movie casting and slyly shifts it onto a higher plane – now asking us to consider OUR roles in OUR lives – the CONTEXT (Time and Place) being interesting but temporary. It’s funny, tender, sexy, ridiculous, ironic, beautiful, and full of the advice to enjoy who you are now, here, with those you love and who love you. THAT is your greener grass. Very nice. Thoughtful. Uplifting. And, like I said, funny.
“The Good Shepard” (2006): 168 minutes. Directed and produced (and with a small acting role) by Robert DeNiro, starring Matt Damon, William Hurt, Angelina Jolie, Joe Pesci, and many other talented actors. This is a dark, DARK story of life deep, DEEP in the “Skull and Bones” Club, the U.S. Government, and specifically, the CIA. Who is attracted to such activities? What is the price for such a life? Who are the victims? Is there ANYONE you can trust? This is not a mere “paranoid” film, but a complex, nicely woven story covering about 40 years of the larger circles who brought the CIA into existence. You’ll need to pay attention, because it jumps around in time A LOT. It’s a cold, unemotional, calculating, narrow film that makes no effort to offer solutions. There probably aren’t any. But the ride through this world is worth your time. WOTO
“State of the Union” (1948): Originally a stage play (and in the film you can see and hear those roots), this movie version was created by Frank Capra. Starring Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Angela Lansbury, and a huge cast of character actors (often seen in Capra films), this is the story of an already powerful, wealthy man who, though hesitant, is convinced by political groomers and glommers he should run for President of the United States. Slowly he is brought along to the point of … well, I’m not going to ruin it for you, but I will say the film is listed as a comedy – and there ARE comedic moments – but it’s mainly a very edgy, angry look into politics and greed. I may prefer “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as another Capra work with similar interests (as is “The Candidate” with Robert Redford), but “State of the Union” is a good, tough film that reminds everyone what America has tried to be when at its best. And, it IS a primer for anyone who wants insight into the political system. WOTO
”The Visitor” (2007): Except for an undercurrent agenda of post-9-11 reactions to terrorism and foreigners, this is an understated psychological study of a college professor who has disconnected from life, and, if he realizes it at all, is doing nothing about it. Enter “the situation”. The basics are not new territory, but this is a good version, with real heart and great acting. There are few moments too easily predicted, and overall it captures and holds your interest. Kudos to all four main actors: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, and (sorry) the woman who plays “Tarek’s” Mother. “The Visitor” is a gem of a little film about which I’d heard nothing. WOTO
“Desperate Characters” (1970): This one has me fascinated with the artistic questions I felt the need to ask and, as of yet, cannot answer. There are numerous components to Frank Gilroy’s film which I think were intentional but my wife thinks were mistakes. They include: some stiff exchanges of dialog, and ambient audio recording giving all locations a chilly, harsh, empty sound. The story is about alienated, detached married people in 1970 New York City – which was then nothing much more than an expensive cesspool of trash, disease, and crime. The people are miserable, sad, afraid, and angry. My inclination is to give the stiff interactions and hollow audio credit for adding to the ambiance of a VERY moody film. My wife thinks they were accidents. We DO agree that Shirley MacLaine is wonderful in her low key, passive-aggressive role. I also liked Kenneth Mars as her brash, gross, outspoken husband. It was the supporting cast who made us wonder about the style of dialog. Some of it was almost surreal in its detachment. I’m going to stick with “intentional”. You’ll decide for yourself. It’s worth it.
“Napolean Dynamite” (again, 2004): A caveat: This is one uniquely funny movie IF you like dry, Dry, DRY humor. If, like me, you love Christopher Guest movies (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, etc.), and stories like Welcome to the Doll House, Drop Dead Gorgeous, or even The Brady Bunch Movie, you should like this one too. It doesn’t have the dark edge of Dollhouse, or the intellectual references of Guffman, but this is the ULTIMATE dead pan, dry-as-a-bone, walking-in-your-sleep, never-cracks-a-smile, supremely LAME-O movie of all time. Everything you see and hear is in support of that one goal. Every stitch of clothing, shot of landscape, choice of song, piece of furniture, and stunted word of dialog takes you deeper into the Land of Nowhere. And where do you end up? Nowhere, but somewhere, and it ain’t spectacular, but it is what it is, and that’s exactly what it should be. I watched it twice in the first week I rented it. Now we own it. Consider it a swweeet. love story. Sorta. IMDB WOTO
“The Jacket” (again, 2004): Go into this one feeling sharp. Expect to manage many puzzle pieces. It is a combination of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” mixed with “Frequency” mixed with “Black Hawk Down” mixed with “The Sixth Sense” or something… and more, including it being itself. I like the visual representations of memories, drug states, consciousness, etc.., and the score by Brian Eno is quite effective. Actors Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kris Krisofferson, Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch, and Brad Renfro do a fine job. For those of you with Claustrophobia, watch out. WOTO
“Desert Bloom” (1985): Set in the 1950 post-war desert community of Las Vegas Nevada, this is far from a gloppy glitzy gambling soaper. It is the complex, dramatic, subtle, sad, elegant, hopeful story of one average family dealing with their personal realities at a time when “Duck and Cover” meant atomic bombs being tested within view. It is a feast of period accurate messiness from average American home décor to the psychic wounds of young parents lucky enough to have “survived” World War II. Think of “Desert Bloom” as the older cousin to “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio”. This is high praise. I must own this film for multiple viewings. Starring Jon Voight, Jobeth Williams, Ellen Barkin, and a wonderful newcomer Annabelle Gish, plus plenty of other supporting actors.
“Young Adult” (again, 2011): Starring Charlize Theron (who continues to prove she is one of our finest actresses) and an entire cast of talent who does the writing, casting, acting, set designing, filming, etc.. This is the story of a dreary, deluded mess of a young woman who supposedly has “everything” – living the high life in the Big City of the “Mini-Apple” (Minneapolis) – yet feels empty. She decides to return to her home town and relocate (or steal, if necessary) her glory days. Every admirable aspect of this film is aimed at depicting the desperation of a person on the verge of collapse who seems determined to smash against reality until she is shattered. Believe it or not, much of it is humorous in a dark, pathetic way – a VERY pathetic way – an EMBARRASSINGLY PATHETIC way – where your choice is either laugh or cry, get on with life or end it all. I highly recommend “Young Adult” as one of the best of 2011.
“Leave Her to Heaven” (1945): This one was shot in lurid Technicolor (but received the Oscar for best color photography… it was actually the set decorator who made things look so good). It is an interesting story of increasingly obsessive love and control, starring the all-time most beautiful woman with an overbite – Gene Tierney (nominated for Best Actress). Also starring are one of the two most zombiesque actors of all time (competing with Torg from “Plan Nine from Outer Space” fame) – Cornel Wilde, plus the just-plain-cute Jeanne Craine, and a moustacheless Vincent Price. Tierney plays a deeply flawed psychological mess of a woman who slowly takes everyone down in her dark world. From the moment she locks eyes with Wilde, you know there’s trouble comin’… but, like him, you can’t help but stare back. It is creepy! WOTO
“Summer of ’42” (again, and again, and again, 1971): Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I will – for the rest of my life – have a crush on Jennifer O’Neill …because of this film. For that reason – if it WAS the only reason – I would put this film in my “Guilty Pleasures” category. But… it’s not the only reason I return and return to this work. Simply put, when it’s funny, it makes me laugh harder than most others; when it’s tender, very few films can touch it; when it’s sad, it’s really sad; and when it reaches my fragile spots – which all men have whether they admit it or not – it makes me feel as though I could shatter. It’s also full of lovely landscapes, nicely framed shots, elegant music (won the Oscar), wonderful dialog, and perhaps the finest LACK of dialog ever created. Everyday adults play no role in this story. It’s about three boys – best Summer Pals – who, for this season, stay in a New England beach island community. They’re bored, they make their own fun, they’re horny and have no idea how to deal with that, they’re embarrassed and embarrassing, they’re innocent and dopey, they’re funny, desperate, and very human. Maybe “Summer of ‘42” is a tad more of a male-film, but only if females aren’t willing to see the Truths in this delicate, insightful story. I adore it. Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser, and Oliver Conant play the boys. Despite the fact there ARE other people on the island, and they DO inhabit parts of the film, together, these four people (O’Neill included) will seem like the only ones left on Earth… and that’s pretty much how they feel about it, too. WOTO IMDB
“The Dead Girl” (2006): Piper Laurie, Marcia Gay Harden, Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi, Tony Collette, James Franco, Mary Beth Hurt, and other great actors star in this low key, chilly, dark murder mystery. The story is told from varying points of view and characters who have little in common but a young woman found brutally murdered on the desert outside Los Angeles. The photography and scoring are beautifully supportive of the film’s goal to fill you with sadness, horror, fear, and suspicion. This film was nominated for three “Independent Spirit” awards. Except for laughs, watch this for every reason you want to see a good film. It’s all here.
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” (2009): by Terry Gilliam. Anyone who says they totally understand a Gilliam film after one viewing is deluded or a liar. I have viewed this film once – only last night. I always look forward to his films. No one else alive on Earth has his vision. His characters are mythic but flawed, they’re always funny while being dark and complex, and there always exists a contest of strength (good vs. evil, generally). No one else better combines special effects with live action. Gilliam understands their potential and limits, wisely using both. At times, the sets and circumstances outweigh the characters – or you must consider the environments themselves characters. Starring Christopher Plummer, co-starring Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, and Heath Ledger, with fine supporting work by Verne Troyer and a glorious, scene-stealing Tom Waits, this story takes you into the “outdated”, steampunkish world of Dr. Panassus and his little troupe who, seemingly, try to “get by” in a world which has moved on. The story itself resembles the relationship of Parnassus to the outside world – there seems to be a “center” of simplicity which is completely engulfed in frantic excesses. Could both have more easily found “peace”? Yes, and perhaps some trimming would not have hurt this huge Gilliam effort, but this is not Gilliam’s way and I would fear over-editing to the point where his uniqueness is snipped to a calm death. I do not totally understand this film, and need to view it again.
“Full Metal Jacket” (again, 1987): One of the things I like about Stanley Kubrick’s directorial career (as it progressed) was his way of keeping things from becoming as simple as they might first appear. Humans and their interactions are complex, and he seems to go out of his way to avoid supplying clean, one-liner endings. His earlier films, at least through “Doctor Strangelove”, ARE “simpler” (and by that, I DO NOT MEAN simplistic), but by “2001″, Kubrick was properly muddying the waters. “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut” are good examples of his ability to avoid supplying easy answers. You might want to tag “Full Metal Jacket” an “anti-war, anti-military” film, and in ways that might be true – at least, for awhile – but more and more pieces of the film keep you from being lulled into a single statement. These guys signed on to the Marines, they weren’t drafted. No two men are alike, and no two respond to their training stresses in the same way. Once in Viet Nam, they retain their individual personalities, with two things binding them together – the shared stress of surviving the war, and the drive for revenge over losing buddies. Although not powerfully “matter of fact” like “Band of Brothers”, or supremely “poetic” like “The Thin Red Line”, nor is it an “agenda” film like “Doctor Strangelove”, “How I Won the War”, “Apocalypse Now”, or “Beach Red”, I prefer these later films of Kubrick’s. They are more mature. They allow me room to think. This is a sign of greater Art. WOTO
“Stagecoach” (again, 1939): Because this is an ensemble film AND directed by John Ford, the fact it contains John Wayne is not enough to deter me. In fact, kept out of any singular spotlights and kept within the group of characters, he was a good member. “Stagecoach” is a seemingly simple story: a group of people, each with their own motives, hires a stagecoach to cross the western plains and deserts for various goals… and thus begins a journey of challenges and soul searching. It is not only an interesting journey, but equally interesting to see a serious interpretation of the American West via contemporary 1939 – a HUGE year in films, World Fairs, design, and the “official” start of World War Two. Not only were people transient due to lack of work in the Great Depression, but the mood was yet Isolationist despite the roving, attacking enemies everywhere around us. The subtext of “Stagecoach” cannot be missed. “We may have our problems, but if you PUSH US, we’ll unite and PUSH back until you are gone or dead.” WOTO
“The Contender” (again, 2000): This is a superb in-house political drama from which you feel dirty and infected after watching these characters, and yet… things aren’t all what they seem, and yet… others most certainly are. With actors like Gary Oldman and Joan Allen leading the talent, you can rightly expect top level jobs. Watch for devices designed to add to the repulsiveness of a scene, especially the up-close eating, drinking, smoking, and perspiring. You just want to get away from these slime balls. Some of the plot twists were predictable (intentional?) but others – equally important – weren’t.. “The Contender” is an interesting story and well done from start to finish, with its only flaw being a slightly heavy-handed, agenda-leaning ending. Let’s see if YOU want to be in politics after this… WOTO
“The Battle of the Sexes” (the KINO restored version, again, 1928): By D.W. Griffith? Really? The man who brought you those huge, sweeping dramas? A comedy? That’s right! On the other hand, this is also a drama. Caveat: You must forgive some of the nearly 100 year old acting style. It comes from the stage, and many actors had not made the shift to the camera with its close-ups and other concepts entirely foreign to Broadway. As a film, this is probably the most beautifully photographed silent film I’ve ever seen (by Karl Struss and Billy Bitzer), and quite funny… for awhile… then it gets serious. Much of the actors physical comedy and drama is of the highest quality for its time, especially the girl who plays the “daughter” who uses her face with the insight she’s playing to a lens not a group of people off in the back row of a darkened room. ”The Battle of the Sexes” is a morality tale. It was made BEFORE the Great Stock Market Crash and the first skyscraper – the Chrysler Building – when Jazz was early and wild, liquor was no-no, and sexual behavior / gender roles were being questioned. This was an exuberant and trying time. Think of it as the elder 1960’s. “The Battle of the Sexes” was expertly made, most of the actors were top notch for their time, the new music written for this silent film (by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) is good (see the KINO restored version), and, like I said, the photography is fantastic. Watch it without your 2013 biases, if you can. WOTO
“The Big Sleep” (1946): Take a Raymond Chandler thriller novel, have William Faulkner write the screenplay, put Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the lead roles… and yet you still get a film that feels too long and too muddled with less than enough payoff for it to have been worth more than a stylish way to spend a couple of hours on the sofa. GREAT “mugs and dames” dialog, some enjoyable décor, good cars, nothing but Hollywood stage sets inside and “out of doors” – it’s a mixed bag of ups and downs within limited entertainment. But, ya gotta love Bacall’s vampy voice, and Bogart’s cool sarcasm. However, there exists (now on dvd) a less vampy version released in 1945 to our soldiers overseas, with a clearer plot line. I have a dvd with both versions. This might be the one you want. WOTO
“Badlands” (again, 1972): Created and directed by the then UPSTART Terrence Malick (he did other favorites later (including “Days of Heaven” (1978) and “The Thin Red Line” (1998). This is a beautiful, quirky, disturbing, recreation of a true story about two young people who, in 1959, ended up on a killing spree that shocked and frightened the entire country. The violence is there for us to see but the most disturbing thing about “Badlands” – even today – is the detached, sociopathic, unemotional randomness of these youths. Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen are barely teens in these roles, who add a mesmerizing, creepy atmosphere to the bleak north central United States. The photography, scoring, etc. are all given over to the goal of presenting these deeply flawed, Existentially-soaked teens. Even in 1972 this would’ve been a shocking film from a psychological point of view. Seen were no major motivations, drugs, alcohol, or much sex… they simply did what they did when they did it and that was that. Much later, films like “Natural Born Killers” would arrive. But “Badlands” took earlier stories like “The Wild One” and “Rebel Without a Cause” into new territory. Alienation-gone-numb. WOTO
“Days of Heaven” (1978): NOW I understand why everyone was thrilled when Terrence Malick returned to film-making after a twenty year self-retreat. Although I am familiar with his earlier “Bad Lands” and his later, brilliant “The Thin Red Line” (my favorite) and “The Tree of Life”, “Days of Heaven“ points to what he would do once returning to writing/directing. His films have a deep sense of an intimacy with the Moment in a Place. His use of a single character narrative floating over the film adds a meditative calm and slightly surreal context to what you are viewing. Clearly, Malick is willing to experiment and allow for coincidental creations. His camera stares into a scene with a patience Werner Herzog uses as well. His editing juxtaposes the simple with the dramatically implied. Malick films are rooted in philosophy, time, to a lesser degree story, and components such as action or conclusion used only if absolutely necessary to support the philosophy. He is a director I will thoroughly investigate, despite my nagging suspicion his “The New World” will be a mistake (from the previews seen). (More on that later.) I hope I’m wrong. Of what I’ve seen, I admire it all.
“Good Night, and Good Luck” (again, 2005): This is the true story of Edward R. Murrow’s television commentator/news career in the early 1950’s, and his battle with the fear mongering, political bully Eugene McCarthy. Restrained acting, subtle period sets, low key costuming, the use of actual footage when possible, and the most beautiful, velvety blacks, grays, and whites of any film ever, made this an extremely high quality film experience. For those too young or uneducated to have knowledge of this period of history, it is a good start towards understanding what not only happened, but what can easily happen again, if we remain a society of passive consumers. David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella star. WOTO IMDB
“The Triplets of Belleville” (again, French, 2004): Prepare yourself for a unique experience. This is pure animation in the very best sense of the word. Take the high point of Disney… better yet, the Fleischer Brothers in the 30’s and 40’s, remove the Disney schmaltz, make the visuals even better (!), create an entire story with no dialog, cool music, extremely sensitive ambient sound, incredible insights into the details of daily creatures (human and otherwise), rooms, machines, etc., sprinkle in some really weird, gross, and dark humor moments… then just sit back and let it wash over you. It’s VERY refreshing. I wish I could say I’d been in on this Vision. WOTO IMDB
“The Dark Corner” (again, 1946): Fine Noir thriller set in the gritty city of post-WWII New York and the office of a down-n-out mug of an investigator who has his own history and ain’t all that proud of it. Mark Stevens, Lucille Ball (BEFORE she was “Lucy”), William Bendix, and Clifton Webb star. Lots of slam bang, hard shell, tough talkin’ men, wary women, shifty vixens, and weasley high-hats. Expect some of the finest Noir lighting, shadows, textures, and compositions ever. It is a feast of artistic black, grays, and white.
“John Adams” (third viewing, 2008): One small caveat here: I think this story is essentially for Americans. Although it IS about larger issues of freedom, etc., the framework is entirely constructed of AMERICAN HISTORY. Okay, with that out of the way… this is a fantastic retelling of the turbulent years just before, during, and after the American Revolution. The sets and costuming are amazingly down to earth and gritty, the politics complex and crude, the personalities clear and interesting, the situations understandable on ALL sides of the multiple fences. Starring Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, David Morse, Stephen Dillane, Tom Wilkinson, and more and more talented people – they (I hate to sound like a cliché here but) “bring history alive”. The WEIGHT of reality given to their situations, their debates, their decisions, and finally, to their actions is immense and palpable. Made by HBO? Yes, and not one iota lesser in quality than any top notch film willing to take on such a sweeping story. Must-see History. I was “riveted” to every single moment of this 501 minute work of Art. WOTO
“Dark Days” (2000): This is a low budget documentary unlike any you’ve probably ever seen. Shot in black and white, and using crude lighting and sound equipment, Marc Singer (and crew) go into the perpetually unlit bowels of New York City underground train tunnels to spend time with homeless men and women. Living in self-made “shacks”, surrounded by drugs and rats, with thieves and arsonists for “neighbors”, you watch and listen to their stories, history, excuses, foul mouths, bullshit, and occasional glimmers of insight only a terrible life can bring about. Want a film to scare kids away from “crack”? This is the one.
“The Silence of the Lambs” (again, 1991): Ever needed the insightful help of an intelligent, murdering cannibal to find a serial killer who skins his women victims? Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and Scott Glen, with photography by Tak Fujimoto, and direction by Jonathan Demme. This is a tight, frightening, psychological suspense drama – and NOT for kids. Expect two hours of engaged tension. WOTO
“Game Change” (2012): Sarah Palin, John McCain, Barack Obama, we know them all. We know the story (or most of it, anyhow). This is not a film loaded with surprises, especially if you kept one ear on the campaign. THIS film is about how and who retells the story. The screenplay is well done. It lays out the main steps leading towards the selection of Palin, and the slow realization she (and they) were entirely unprepared to deal with the myriad of daunting realities. Palin was a flawed choice, but she was who she was, and the “vetters” didn’t do their jobs. Julianne Moore worked hard in the role in Sarah Palin, and, as usual, she was up to it and brilliant. I ended up with a limited but true empathy for this Vice President candidate who simply was unprepared at all levels for the pressures that would be applied. Very few of us could handle those demands – and I don’t know why anyone would choose them. Ed Harris as John McCain was great. Woody Harrelson as the lead campaign organizer was also great. There wasn’t a bad acting job in this film. “Game Change” is a sly look at the shallow, corrupt, misguided political process we still like to call “democracy”. It reminds me of a mix between “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “The Candidate”, “All the President’s Men”, and few other darker ones thrown in such as the original “Manchurian Candidate”, “Charlie Wilson‘s War“, and “Bob Roberts“.
“Pork Chop Hill” (1959): Created and released only six years after the real conclusion of the Korean War, this is the story of the war‘s “last” battle – a harrowing, dirty look at terrible losses for questionable purposes. Though not directly anti-war or anti-bureaucracy, it leans that direction while still honoring the courage and dedication of real men under extreme circumstances. Starring Gregory Peck as the cool, calm leader in the trenches, we watch him slowly drain of patience and hope while nothing seems to go right – none of which is his fault. The film is loaded with almost unrecognizable young stars. The b/w photography is gorgeous; the lighting – despite its lack of continuity – is effective. This is, after all, Hollywood… but less so than most films of the 1950’s. WOTO
“The Ground Truth” (2006): You need to watch and listen to our soldiers returning from war, who, during this era, are mainly the soldiers of Afghanistan and Iraq. You need to hear it from THEM. YOU will never gain appropriate insight by using only your ideas and logic, your fantasies and fears. You need to see documentary film, photos and interviews with those who “survived” but carry the amputations, and emotional and psychological wounds. This is not the only documentary of its kind, but it’s a good one. WOTO
“Chris & Don: A Love Story” (2007): This is a documentary about Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachhardy – their lives and lifestyles, their long term relationship, their associations, careers, their ups and downs but never outs. Using home movies, photos, art, diaries, and recreated scenes, we are invited in for a close look at a gay romance between two men thirty years different in age – one a writer, one a visual artist. Once I got beyond Don’s affectations (to which he fully admits), I found their story interesting from various points of reference: the second half of the twentieth century in America, the gay community, the Hollywood community, the Arts community, and the human community. This film was touching, happy, sad, and complex. Its scoring is lovely and appropriate, the photography a mixed bag of results… but overall, this is a fine work patiently considering what it is to be “a couple”.
“I Shot Andy Warhol” (again, 1996): Lili Taylor is one of my favorite actors, and this is one of my favorite films in which she stars. Valerie Solanis (played by Taylor) is the paranoid feminist lesbian “writer” who did, in fact, confront Warhol as had no other. Her fringe “involvement” with him, “The Factory”, its denizens and their intense, pathetic, deluded lifestyles are the perfect environment for tragedy. WOTO
“Sullivan’s Travels” (again 1941): Veronica Lake (one of my 40′s Babe crushes) had a film career that peaked before I was born. (It’s a DISTANT crush, for sure.) She and Joel McCrea (whose comedic sense is not the equal of Lake), star in a pre-WWII, Depression Era story about a millionaire movie mogul who decides to make a “serious” but warm movie (“with a little sex”) in the spirit of Frank Capra” about the hardships Americans are facing. Convinced by one of his butlers that he knows NOTHING of the real world, he decides to find a “tramp costume” and set out for the “real” America with only a dime in his pocket. If THIS wasn’t pathetically funny enough, it only gets better thanks to Veronica Lake and the director Preston Sturgis. I’ve always felt Lake did not receive enough credit for her ability to perform comedy as easily as a vampy, noir-ish blonde. Her timing, reactions, willingness to get down and dirty (literally), etc. is top notch. Sturgis’ control makes for a uniquely good looking film with rapid fire dialog exchanges and overlaps. All THIS and STILL a “Capra-esque” message by the end. What more could you fairly expect? WOTO IMDB
“Into the Wild” ” (again, 2007): Directed by Sean Penn, this is the recreation of the true story of a bright, emotionally wounded young man who sets out on a solo journey, thinking His Solution was removal from all attachments, if not society altogether. His final goal was to be self-sufficient, living alone in the Alaskan wilderness. In many ways, comparisons could be made to “Grizzly Man”, but there’s something warmer in the way this young man, Christopher McCandless, related to others (or avoided them) and what was at the heart of his search. He was lost in his psychic scars, guided by romantic visions (fueled by famous writers), totally unprepared for what he enters, and was fool-hearty to the point of having a death wish. Don’t research this story before viewing the film. Just join him on the journey. WOTO
“Mean Streets” (again, 1973): This is the one that put writer/director Martin Scorcese on the map. It is a frantic, non-stop, story-less slice-of-life about a bunch of small time hoods in their trashy, little Italian New York neighborhood, using up their daily lives in meaningless, pathetic ways. Excellent depictions. Rober DeNiro shines as “Johnny Boy” – the charming, explosive, full-of-excuses liar who expects everyone else to pick up his slack. Harvey Keitel plays his well-meaning but misguided cousin – also a loser – who keeps covering for Johnny. They redefine “co-dependent”. Everyone else takes supporting roles and does a great job. The photography is rich and harsh, the score loud and straight from a juke box, and the dialog perfectly petty. Scorcese would improve (with “Taxi Driver” !), but this one hell of a start. WOTO
“Of Mice and Men” (again, 1992): Gary Sinise almost single handedly created this film version of Steinbeck’s novel, and with John Malkovich co-starring it’s a potent version of a potent story. Set in the era of 1930′s Great Depression America, two drifters, who are life long friends, make-do riding the rails, getting odd jobs, and clinging to any dream that helps them get one more mile down the tracks. The photography is beautiful and effective, the sound track rich and earthy, scoring very supportive, its inspiration is flawless, of course, and the acting by all involved (including Ray Walston) is magnificent. If nothing else causes you to now read all of John Steinbeck’s work, this should do it. I also admire the first film version made in 1939. See BOTH. WOTO
“Wings” (silent, 1927): This is the FIRST film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Starring Richard Arlen, Buddy Rogers, and “The It Girl”, Clara Bow. This is a story of Youth caught up in the naïve excitement and terrible horror of World War I (which ended only ten years before the premier of this film). It is a story about love, loss, and war. Melodrama presides but the quality of camera work, the pure magnitude of on-location shooting, the special effects, stunts, and gritty realism (when needed), makes it easy to see why “Wings” took the first honors. It has the “size” of “Gone With the Wind”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, or “Doctor Zhivago”. BIG. You’ll see Gary Cooper in a role lasting about three minutes. He was not yet a headliner. “Wings” has nostalgia, heart, action, violence, passion, sexiness, and a somewhat predictable story line which barely detracts from its consistent quality. WOTO
“Baby Doll” (again, 1956): This is the least known yet most controversial story and screenplay by Tennessee Williams… and, it was banned by the Roman Catholic’s “Legion of Decency”. The church told their followers if they saw the film they’d go to Hell. That’s right. But, if YOU see it, you’ll keep waiting for the ticket to Hell – and it won’t arrive. Directed by Elia Kazan, this film IS a steamy, seedy, sensual, almost surreal story – Southern Gothic in nature, and wonderfully weird. It was shot in Beloit, Mississippi, and uses many of its “locals” as extras – which adds additional flavor. There’s no film like it. You CAN see it’s a Williams work, and you might think “David Lynch” or “Werner Herzog” on occasion, but “Baby Doll” is unique. It stars an insane Karl Malden, a fantastic Carroll Baker (lord I loved watching her ever-shifting face and twitchy body), and Eli Wallach in his first, sleazy, major role. WOTO
“Unforgivable Blackness – The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” (2004): I don’t care WHAT subject he takes on, Ken Burns pulls you in, teaches you, and you enjoy it – ALWAYS. In this case, it’s the history of a turn-of-the-last-century professional boxer who was his own biggest fan and one of his own worst enemies… along with the whites who hated this first black man to force his way towards the Heavyweight Boxing Title of the World. Jack Johnson was a first-generation free-black who, due to ego more than social concern, was determined to live his life his way – right or wrong. This is a complex story of alienation, dedication, obsession, defensiveness, and self-destruction. The fact he and his world were documented so well in periodicals, photographs, and films makes this a visual treat and one of the early examples of the power of daily news and commercial hype. I was “glued” to the screen. WOTO
“The Taming of the Shrew” (again, 1967): As you know, this was written by William Shakespeare, but was directed for film by Franco Zeffirelli (a few centuries later). It stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (the “ideal” match), and introduces Michael York. Taylor is at her best both as the SHREW from Hell AND the angelic, gorgeous wife. Burton is brash, bold, and blustery. The machinations of dowry arrangements explain the initial driving force for all the characters, but from thereon out, it is character transformations we watch… and, we watch them in costumes and sets ranging from the disgusting to the lush. Zeffirelli, who also did my favorite version of “Romeo and Juliet”, does a superb job of creating environments which help explain the characters and (hopefully) the era. Yes, as was often the case in films, the stars were coiffed in the style of THEIR time not the story‘s, but there were attempts to camouflage this incessant habit (which we only sometimes escape even today). Taylor is beautiful, everyone is funny, charming, and conniving. This is great fun. WOTO
“Quicksand” (again, 1950): Starring Mickey Rooney, Peter Lorre, Barbara Bates, and the lovely girl-next-door, Jeanne Cagney. This is a good drama about a decent enough fella who stupidly allows himself to slip ever-deeper into trouble from double-dealings. “Quicksand” is a perfect title for this semi-Noir, and all the actors are well-suited to their roles. The story contains abrupt changes at the end – about which I debate their effectiveness – but “Quicksand” is focused on Spiraling Down, and it’s very well constructed. For those of you who also like to watch for sets, costumes, and cars, this film is loaded. WOTO
“Public Enemy” (1931): Starring James Cagney and Edward Woods. This Prohibition Era film is presented as an “educational explanation” as to how good kids can go bad, and how we, as struggling Americans, must step in and turn them around. And, it is shown in a time-time format. It’s wonderfully simple and straightforward in its Melodrama, with a naïve presentation… but has essential truths to it. Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell support, but play no significant role. They were simply box office dressing. What this film does have – especially for its time – is an increasingly intense story line leading to an inevitable – but even now, powerful – last scene. I love how it was edited. WOTO
“Marathon Man” (again, 1976): Written by William Goldman, directed by John Schlesinger, starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, William Devane, Roy Scheider, and Marthe Keller. Although the production quality of this film has that 1970’s look of poor quality, this is the suspenseful story of an average NYC nobody who leads a solitary shlub of a life, and whose big goal is to practice jogging until he can run in a marathon. He begins receiving attention from people he knows… or thinks he knows, and some he knows he doesn’t know but maybe a couple he wants to know, and plenty who are not his idea who‘s healthy to know. He’s in the middle of a deep, dark conspiracy with people who have a lot to lose… and they all believe he holds the key to their success. WOTO
“Claire Dolan” (2000): Starring a great Katrin Cartlidge as a distant, robotic, wounded hooker constantly hounded by her very controlling pimp (Colm Meaney). This is a bleak story set in detached environments that offer very little relief let alone hope. The creation of this film has a unique atmosphere (photography, scoring, sets, costuming) that helps power the singular goal of “Claire Dolan”: to underscore the complete lack of Hollywood romanticism (bullshit) given to such myths as “Pretty Woman”. Cartlidge was known best for her role in “Breaking the Waves”. Sadly, she died in 2002 of pneumonia - at the age of 41.
“Things to Come” (again, 1936): I have never seen this film in a fresh restoration, but would like to own one. (I own two poor VHS versions, one put out by “United American Video Corp”. I have researched and ordered a supposedly improved version on dvd by Image Entertainment. More on that later.*) You WILL need patience and forgiveness with the quality of its film transfers… probably in their 88th generation by now.
And, there are caveats with my enthusiasm for this futurist style sci-fi film: If you don’t care about no-holds-barred set design, costuming, and special effects, it will be of less interest to you. (Much of its look was taken from such designers as Norman Bel Geddes (and his book “Horizons” of 1932), the general atmosphere of “streamlining”, and recent and upcoming World‘s Fairs.) If a “prediction” film (taken from H. G. Wells book and screenplay) – which is fascist-sci-fi – sounds interesting, you’ll love this one.
It covers the one hundred year history of “Everytown” (in Britain) from 1936 to 2036. To write this book in 1936 required little courage, only talent. To make this film in 1936 took courage and talent. From the silver screen, it looked down on the public and said “YOU are in DENIAL!” After all, World War II was brewing in Europe… but still short of incidents making it an undeniable certainty. “Things to Come” is a dark look at the threat of war, war itself, its long term effects, and the odd but understandable fantasy solutions concocted in the 1930’s. (In that sense, it reminds me of a scientific version of “Gabriel Over the White House” (1933) – another truly unique response to a collapsing world.)
“Things to Come” is both silly and smart, ugly and beautiful, preachy and realistic, but isn’t an excuse for a sugary love affair. H. G. Wells may have not had the distant future pinned down, but he nailed the near future to the wall. WOTO
(* The dvd version has arrived (Jan. 3, 2013). It is a MAJOR improvement over the older available copies. “Image Entertainment” version is highly recommended.)
“Brokedown Palace” (again, 1999): Two American high school girls, best friends, take off on a last vacation before their lives separate at the fork in the road – one to college, one not. Through a series of seemingly random, childish events, they are suddenly swept up into a nightmare that has no solution. Great acting by Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale make this “it could happen to YOU too” film an intense, emotional, frightening story… and a warning to others. Have your teens watch this one. WOTO
“Hey, relax and ride the sofa”
“The Southerner” (1945): Of the American films French writer/director Jean Renoir created (dialect written by William Faulkner), this is was his favorite. I prefer others works of his (such as “Grand Illusion” 1937), but, with my having a soft spot for films made during our Great Depression, I also like this late entry enough to recommend it. It’s rough around the edges, but its heart is in the right place depicting a certain “can-do” brutality and stamina one must admire. (Yes, Jean was the son of painter August Renoir.) There are “American” scenes clearly written by a French man, which I also found interesting (such as children having morning coffee with their parents, and a man rolling a cigarette for a woman). I may move this film one category higher upon further consideration. WOTO
“Baby Mama” (2008): I have a habit of listening to everyone and waiting to hear sentences that I figure have never EVER been uttered on planet Earth before. There are numerous lines in this Tina Fey / Amy Poehler comedy that fit this rare, glorious category. This movie is full of just plain stupid people that are funny and tacky as hell. No more. When you’re in that mood, this is a fine one for it. WOTO
“Mary of Scotland” (1936): Katherine Hepburn stars in this VERY Hollywoodish version of history set in sixteenth century Scotland. It is full of relatively unbelievable sets, lighting, behaviors, etc.. Totally Hollywood. None the less, the political Shakespearian intrigues are worth following. WOTO
“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” (2011): She was the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and curator of costumes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps anyone who has reached these levels of influence MUST be interesting, MIGHT NOT be likable, and CERTAINLY has Attitude. You may like her, you may not, but she’s certainly 110% of what she set out to be.
“Trespass” (2011): I watched this one for Nicholas Cage and Nicole Kidman. It is a fairly standard burglar/break-in/hostage flick (with a couple of minor twists and additional violence), but I wanted to see how the actors handled their roles. They were good. They made it worth the time. The set of a modernist house was also quite good. WOTO
“The Roaring Twenties” (1939): With a “news flash” historical narrative and the classic Depression Era stance of fighting social problems in the movie house, this James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart crime vehicle takes us through the WWI and Prohibition years by following two men who make bad choices. There are plenty of ups and downs… but we know what’s going to happen. WOTO
“Swimming Pool” (again, 2003): This is a suspense-mystery story starring Charlotte Rampling (aging very nicely thank you) and Ludivine Sagnier. It is beautifully lit and recorded scene by scene in the lovely, sun drenched French countryside. “Swimming Pool” is a nicely paced whodunit drama full of moist nudity and sex. Kudos go to Rampling and Sagnier for their acting. WOTO
“The Grass Harp” (again, 1996): Based on a story by Truman Capote, and full of talented actors, this is the funny, caricatured yet sad and delicate tale of a boy who, upon losing his parents, must go live in a small Southern town with his unusual Aunts. What he learns during those odd years prepares him for adulthood. There is the occasional problem with continuity and consistently poor lighting (not to mention one of my pet peeves: “clean car syndrome”), but it is forgivable. Edward Furlong, Walter Matthau, Piper Laurie, Joe Don Baker, Nell Carter, Roddy MacDowall, Sissy Spacek and others make this an enjoyable experience – one you’d like to see continue like a long, lazy summer day. WOTO
“Little Caesar” (again, 1930): Starring Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. This is the story of the rise and the fall of a gangster. Patterned after the still very active Al Capone, this “fictional” movie looks at the brutal, no-honor-among-thieves world of crime. It’s a morality play that wrestles with their contemporary issues of the Great Depression, Prohibition, and a system that seemed incapable of handling the collapses of such a demanding time. Acting and dialog are delivered in a strange, halting rhythm, and the photography is full of luxurious blacks, grays, and whites. Watch for great Art Deco sets, costumes, cars, and graphics. WOTO
“The Shining” (again, 1980): Okay, Stanley Kubrick isn’t a god after all. It had been a long time since seeing this horror film and it’ll probably be my last. Upon each viewing, it drops lower on my lists. Why? I’m conflicted. Jack Nicholson is at his insane best, the photography is often superb (WOW how about those garden mazes at night in the snow?), the sets are strong… and YET… much of the acting is weak-ish with Shelley Duvall (although once she gets a head of steam, stand back!), Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers (yes!), but perhaps the most distracting, non-artful aspect is the overbearing score of music and other soundscapes meant to add tension, fear, adrenaline… they were obvious and overused… and relentlessly present. It really damaged the overall quality, for me. And finally, writer Stephen King has nothing to brag about. I’m not sure he EVER has… WOTO
“The Birdcage” (again, 1996): This is the American spin-off of “La Cage aux Folles”, the story of a very expressive gay couple. I can’t tell you which version is better. They’re both very funny. “The Birdcage” stars Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Dianne Wiest, Gene Hackman, Christine Baranski, and others. It is set in the glitzy section of South Beach, Miami, Florida… and away we go! WOTO
“Meet the Parents” (again, 2000): I hope DeNiro and Stiller work together again. They’ve got IT. The supporting cast is good. This film is somewhat predictable, but funnier than expected, and wonderfully awkward/uncomfortable. One short segment goes limp and gooey, but it’s easy to overlook. (I have not seen the sequels, or if I have, they were not memorable.) WOTO
“Hail the Conquering Hero” (1943): This is a Preston Sturgis comedy about a young man who is rejected from the Marines for having Hay Fever. He is depressed – he cannot follow in his family’s tradition. Along come some veteran Marines on leave from the island battles in the Pacific, and through an incredible series of small, crazy moments, the young man becomes a War Hero who gains all the accolades. Though the mood makes a U-turn into seriousness at the very end (almost expected due to the fact we were still IN the war in 1943), this is an entertaining, screwball comedy worth a one-time viewing. WOTO
“As Far as My Feet will Carry Me” (German, 2002): Although hyped as “based on a true story”, this epic tale is – upon research – more fantasy than anything. With that said, it’s still an acceptable drama of one man’s journey across thousands of inhospitable miles and terrain while being tracked by those from whom he escaped. Set in WWII through the early 1950s, this German production has the look of made-for-television, and pushes some details into Der Hollywood mentality, but also has some solid acting and interesting moments.
“4:44 – Last Day on Earth” (2011): Starring Willem Defoe and Shanyn Leigh, this is an Apocalypse film set mainly in one apartment on the lower East Side of NYC. Everyone knows – with no further delusions of hope – that all of life ends at 4:44 the next day. What could have been a great and fascinating film was made only mildly so by shortchanging the chance to explore deeper levels of human nature. It tried – but left skimming issues somehow. I can’t quite put my finger on it… but there lacked a cohesive binding to the many scenes and reactions. However, Leigh was very good as the young lover of Defoe. Intense, romantic, mystical, she played a woman who wanted to wear her favorite clothes, work on a painting, and have sex – including on her painting. The film asked little of Defoe, the special effects were sometimes weak, and moments seemed quilted together. Loved the idea, was only mildly drawn to the result.
“The Great Moment” (1944): This is a Hollywoodized version of the man who discovered anesthetic, his experiments, his successes, and the people who tried to take it all from him. It’s an historical episode that should be depicted in scenes of great pain, great joy, great greed, and great anger, yet this version rides along in a strange atmosphere of almost mediocre slapstick humor. Preston Sturgis was the director – the WRONG person for this one. None the less, the history-light is better than nothing (and this is something about which I knew nothing). WOTO
“Brooklyn Castle” (2012): Documentary. In Brooklyn New York, at I.S. 318 exists our nations’ best Middle School Chess team. If any one of these kids walked past you down the sidewalk you’d have no clue s/he was special and very driven. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am NOT wired to understand and play Chess. My brain works in other ways. These kids are not only wired but work very, very hard at study and practice of this mind/tactic game. However – and despite the respect and glory they bring to the NYC school system – their budget is repeatedly cut which causes them great stress and insecurity. This is both the story of hard working kids and a system on makeshift life support. Bless the parents, teachers and kids who care.
“Design for Living” (1933): Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins star in a slightly sexy screwball comedy that is very uneven. It repeatedly jumps around from witty to dull. Watch for wonderful, high style Art Moderne interiors.
“The Lady Eve” (1941): Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, directed by Preston Sturges. This is a romantic comedy with a con game plot. Stanwyck is sparkling, Fonda somewhat dim-witted (but partially as the character), and the dialog very snappy. An enjoyable cruise. WOTO
“The Brothers Grimm” (2005): A Terry Gilliam film. This is about the Grimm brothers out collecting folk tales, but in the vivid, insane, special effects Gilliam way. It’s not his best work, and the pace is relentlessly fast and often of the slapstick action variety. It is entertaining, sometimes wonderful (especially visually), but also one speed. WOTO
“The Great McGinty” (1940): This is first film to be written and directed by the same person: Preston Sturges. “The Great McGinty” is a Depression Era morality tale centering on the dangers of greed and ill-gotten wealth. It is, none the less, often light in nature, and a well-told tale. WOTO
“That Thing You Do!” (again, 1996): Tom Hanks wrote and directed this mid-1960s nostalgia comedy/romance about good friends with a homegrown love for music who suddenly find themselves moving into the Big Time by leaps and bounds. It is obviously based on the career of the Beatles (but without all the later tragedies and huge shifts in power). Steve Zahn is especially fun. Liv Tyler is supportive and darling. This is a light, feel-good movie that occasionally touches on real issues of Life. WOTO
“50 First Dates” (2004): This is a somewhat interesting, charming little romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. Sandler, eh, I can take or leave, but Barrymore has a certain comedic warmth you just have to love. If you liked “Groundhog Day” you’ll probably like this one too. WOTO
“Fear” (again, 1996): Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, Alyssa Milano, William Petersen, and Amy Brenneman star in a boyfriend-gone-bad (Jekyl/Hyde) drama. Acting is all around fine. Most everything about it all around fine… it’s simply not unique. It builds to a predictable crescendo with just enough over-the-topness to keep you there to the end. WOTO
“The Searchers” (1956): Personally, I think this one is held too high in history, but I do think it is one of the more earnest attempts in the 1950s to take on complex human issues. Set in the 1880s of southwest America, this is a non-cowboy “Western”. Instead, we meet ex-soldiers, racists, farmers, pioneers, mercenaries, and loners at various, distant outposts of Existentialism. For me, what dulls the “edge”, despite director John Ford’s attempts, is the over-abundance of Hollywoodishness. There’s some bad makeup, loads of mistakes and discontinuity (no doubt for budget and time conditions), and some inexcusable flatness in characters given lots of plot-line power (such as the kidnapped girl played by Natalie Wood). I enjoyed the more complex character given John Wayne, and Ward Bond is wonderfully brash. A couple of minor characters were perhaps the richest portrayals. All in all, the film was both a flip-flopping let-down and revelation throughout.
“India – A Dangerous Place to be a Woman” ( ): BBC documentary. A young woman with ties to India returns for another visit. This time it’s different. She’s working on a documentary about the rape and killing of females in a country with its own set of rules. “India…” is a somewhat anecdotal but solid and emotional look at what is done to half the citizens of its culture. The title is an understatement.
“Twentieth Century” (1934): This is considered the very first “screwball comedy”. It stars John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. Set in urbane theater and train environments, it’s the story of delicate, conniving actors and their delusional, hilarious beliefs in themselves. If there’s one word to describe “screwball comedies” it is “RELENTLESS”. The actions and dialog are machine gun rapid and non-stop from the lion’s roar to the scrolling credits. You barely have time to breathe. If you go in with energy, you exit sapped. Directed by Howard Hawkes, this game-changer will pound you into comedic submission. WOTO
“Malice” (again, 1993): If you like whodunits and actors Bill Pullman, Nicole Kidman, Alec Baldwin, George C. Scott, Bebe Neuwirth, Peter Gallagher, Anne Bancroft, and George C. Scott you’ll like this roller coaster ride. WOTO
“Anything Else” (2002): Woody Allen. If you’re not a fan, this one won’t change your attitude. If you are a fan, this one will be right up there with many of his other screwed-up relationship, life-is-so-complex-and-terrible-but-it’s-all-we-have, funny-paranoid stories about people trying to figure out what life means and how they feel about it. In terms of feel, “Anything Else” is similar to “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”, but without the high quality, and it’s as though he’s taken someone under his wing (Jason Biggs)… passed the torch… become the teacher and cheerleader… because THAT level of neurosis takes too much energy for an aging man. All the classic Allen film devices are there. This is not so much an innovative new film for him as a signal to his audience (and perhaps himself), that the clock is ticking and it’s time to pass on thoughts about passing on thoughts. WOTO
“The Bone Collector” (again, 1999): Very tense murder mystery, with all the components of “Silence of the Lambs”, including lots of major graphic violence. Angelina Jolie is especially great. The story is interesting and keeps you glued to the screen. My one complaint is the lack of weaving used in the plot to include the psycho murderer. S/he is not on the edge of your insight. S/he simply pops up when it’s time to resolve the story. This was weak. WOTO
”Revenge” (1990): Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn, Madeleine Stowe star in this average thriller set in contemporary Mexico amongst wanderers. criminals, peasants, and whores. It’s not a great story, it’s not a great anything, but it’s a decent time-passer if that’s what you need. WOTO
”The Razor’s Edge” (seen twice this year, 1946): This film has been described as “cerebral melodrama”. That works for me. It’s a long journey of a group of “friends” who face various dramas and traumas between the World Wars. Gene Tierney is luminously beautiful as always but SUCH A BITCH, Anne Baxter plays a woman facing disasters and alcoholism, Tyrone Power is a man without meaning, and Clifton Webb – in a wonderful role – is the DEFINITION of a fastidious, social climbing snipe. WOTO
“RKO 281″ (again, 2000): IF you care about the film “Citizen Kane”, you’ll find this one interesting, but its production has something of a tee-vee-lite feel (early HBO). WOTO
”Regarding Henry” (again, 1991): Harrison Ford and Annette Bening star in this somewhat obvious but heart-felt story about a man who encounters tragedy, and his family who must carry the weight. Although this film wears its emotions on its sleeve, the points made are good ones and worth hearing again. WOTO
”Robot & Frank” (2012): Frank Langella is a favorite actor of mine (“Lolita” (newer version), “Frost/Nixon”, “Good Night and Good Luck”), and he does a wonderful job within the limits of this entertaining and sometimes insightful story about an aging man in the near-future who needs a robot to assist him in daily routines. Also starring Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, and James Marsden.
”Vicki” (1953): Somewhat standard murder mystery in which you must determine (right along with the characters) who killed the lovely lady. Nothing outstanding here in any way, but nor is it objectionable. Starring Elliot Reid, Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, and Jean Peters, along with plenty of familiar faces.
”Amazing Adventure” (1936): Starring Cary Grant. Think of this as a much weaker version of “Sullivan’s Travels”. Wealthy man decides to “experience” the Great Depression and learns things along the way. WOTO
”Hometown Story” (1951): Although now billed as a “Marilyn Monroe” movie, she had a mere bit part in this early effort. It is Jeffrey Lynn, Donald Crisp, and Alan Hale Jr. who carry the story. Definitely a grade B film with average acting, less than subtle story and dialog, and most every moment being “telegraphed” in advance, it none the less has a nice, naïve Morality Tale sense to it that I found pleasing. A man loses an election, goes back to his old job, gains power, and sets out to cause trouble for those who beat him. In the hard, painful process, he learns things. It is NO “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but it has its heart in the right place, even if it wears it on its sleeve. WOTO
”Payback” (1999): Starring Mel Gibson, with Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Kris Kristopherson and others. This is a surprising film for Gibson due to his BAD guy role. He has few redeeming qualities, and only looks “better” in comparison to some of the other scum bags presented. Think of “Payback” as Noirish cousins to “Pulp Fiction”, but in a Gibson/ultra-splat way. I found it very entertaining, even with some silly continuity mistakes, etc.. WOTO
”The 6th Day” (2000): This is another Schwarzenegger sci-fi flik, so don’t expect superb acting but do expect lots of action and another interesting story of further potential threats to the personal and moral status of our future existence. This one centers on cloning, and even within the last thirteen years further evidence of the progress of such ideas has developed on our front. It provides us a point of meditation even during the slambangskid of chase scenes. WOTO
”True Crime” (again, 1999): Fairly standard crime/journalism whodunit starring (and directed by) Clint Eastwood, also starring Isaiah Washington, Denis Leary, and James Woods. A down-and-out journalist (who has made a perfect mess of his life), gets on the trail of a possible clue to solve a case and get a man off “death row”. This story is a nail-biter as it gains more and more speed towards a generally predictable ending. WOTO
”3:10 to Yuma” (again, 1957): Starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, this is a sprawling, burning desert story of criminals, gutless wonders, and plain farmers caught in circumstances that test their souls. The b/w photography is wonderful, the story often interesting, and the music score heavily spackled over the entire effort. I prefer the newer (2007) version.
”Thirteen rue Madeleine” (1947): This is both a documentary using actual film footage and a recreation a la Hollywood. It is the story of agents the U.S. sent into collaborator France (Vichy) during WWII. Their goals were to further false information, learn new information, and set up destruction of specific, important German sites. Starring James Cagney, this is an unusual film for him due to its non-fictional nature. It IS interesting and somewhat exciting, but is mainly another reminder that dedicated, brave people died for us. WOTO
”John Q.” (again, 2002): I would call this one a high quality average Hollywood movie, starring Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, Kimberly Elise, Ray Liotta, and Shawn Hatosy. An average working guy is put in the position of needing to protect his son in ways he never imagined. The situation goes from bad to worse… and become life threatening. Although the written characters are on about a 20% solution of steroids, the scenarios are amped up to match, and the health care programs are nearly in an edu-agenda status here, “John Q”s heart is in the right place. WOTO
”Counterspy vs Scotland Yard” (1950): It’s only five years after WWII, and lots of technology is being tried in secret. Spies are everywhere. This is a fun, simplistic cat-n-mouse look at spying and counterspying. Watch for a young Amanda Blake, later to become “Miss Kitty” on “Gunsmoke”. There’re some pretty good cars, trucks, buildings, and décor too. WOTO
”The Big Heat” (1953): Directed by Fritz Lang, I expected more frankly. None the less, this is decent entertainment. I am disappointed only due to my inclination and love of Film Noir, of which “The Big Heat” is considered a member of the genre. I disagree. The lighting, the “heartwarming” use of a child, and the other-than-Noir ending easily make it a crime drama, but not a Noir. Noir is Existentialism from title to credits. It has no patience for any version of Good Guys Riding Off into Any Kind of Hopeful Sunset. “The Big Heat” is trying to segue into the 1950’s with its newer/older outlook. It is structured much closer to “Blackboard Jungle” than any other film I can currently recall (not to mention Glen Ford’s starring) – a film I like! If you like it, you will like this. PS: It’s amazing how bullets never made people bleed when shot and killed in 1953.
“Safe Men” (1999): This is a sometimes witty example of the “retro dork deadpan” school of comedy. (Think “Starsky & Hutch”, “Bad Ass”, “Anchorman”, “Blades of Glory”, “Step Brothers”, “Zoolander”, “Dodgeball”, etc. + the king of them all: “Napolean Dynamite”.) Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Pais, Paul Giamatti, Harvey Fierstein, Michael Lerner, and Christina Kirk. Don’t think, just enjoy its tacky, dry, gross, awkward humor. WOTO
“Starsky & Hutch” (again, 2004): I HATED the original tee-vee show. Any questions? No? Fine. Moving on… I found this MOVIE in a thrift store for $1.49, and was willing to risk it since the chemistry of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson is already a proven formula, not to mention Vince Vaughn, Snoop Dog, Will Ferrell, and a much-too-minor role for Juliette Lewis. This version of silliness is also sometimes witty, funny, definitely FUNKY, and full of visual, story, dialog, and photographic period references. “S & H” is stupid fun and enjoyable when you want to give your brain an easy couple of hours. WOTO
“U-Turn” (2006): There are a few reasons you might enjoy this film, and just as many why you may not. First, the Againsts: It’s waaaay too late to do a “Pulp Fiction” wannabee, but that’s what it is from the intro titling font right through with the camera tricks, editing, retro autos, uber-violence, and funky, pop culture music. It’s a kitschy splat film without that extra touch of panache. Now the Fors: It’s interesting to see Sean Penn as a bumbling, hesitant loser; Billy Bob Thornton as a GREAT oddball-greaseball of a garage mechanic; and Jon Voight is Unrecognizable as a blind (?) old Indian who totes around a dead (?) dog and spews fortune cookie mysticism at anyone who gets near him. The location shots are great, and the sets are equally expressive of the characters. Joachin Phoenix is somewhat interesting as an Elvis Badass wish-he-was, Claire Danes is kooky as his tacky trailer trash girl, Nick Nolte does his Nick Nolte, Powers Booth and Jennifer Lopez left me yawning, and it was fun to spot Laurie Metcalf (from “Roseanne”) as the bus station ticket agent, Bo Hopkins (from “American Graffiti”) as a diner customer, Julie Haggerty as a frighteningly tacky waitress, and Liv Tyler as an innocent bus station customer. If you like “Pulp Fiction”, “Natural Born Killers”, “Love and a .45”, etc., you’ll find a reason to like this one too, but it won’t be your new Number One. WOTO
“The Last Station” (again, 2009): This is the depiction of the last period of Leo Tolstoy’s life as a Russian writer, in Russia. Russia. So… WHY were all the actors British or American, and very comfortable using their home accents? This one started off on the wrong foot with me, and then it began limping. Tolstoy? Should be interesting. Russia in that era? Should be interesting. Yet much of it wasn’t. We are presented with a group of people who seem distracted, petty, dull, and unworthy of our attention. We don’t care one whit about these people. In fact, we’re grateful they aren’t our neighbors. “The Last Station” is a king with no clothes. It is a soap opera dressed up in rented formal wear. However, there’s some pretty nudity on occasion, good to great acting, and strong location shots. It’s okay… just don’t expect “War and Peace” or “Anna Karenina”. WOTO
“Stalingrad” (German, 1993): Think of this as the land version of “Das Boot”, but done less artfully. What carries this film is the fact the Battle of Stalingrad was the real beginning of the end of Germany’s “vision” of ruling the world. This film version has the look of a television production. The acting was okay to great, the lighting was terrible, special effects were weak, sets were very good, mistakes were made, continuity and historical accuracy was spotty, and it carries the whiff of an edited look at what the Germans did. You will follow a group of “Average Johanns” through the experiences of soldiers warring for Germany against the U.S.S.R.. It’s not a pretty sight, but I felt it still went soft when describing what the Germans did to the Russians. And, like much of Germany’s outlook, there is an undercurrent of seeing themselves as the Victim. A new film “Stalingrad” has been made in 2013. I am anxious to see it.
“Kingdom of Heaven” (2005): By Ridley Scott. I like his films “Gladiator”, and especially “Black Hawk Down”, but this one is all action with a little story buried beneath… and the story is depicted in a barely believable manner. It’s all battle scenes, stoic speeches, and fuming lust dampened by honor. In other words, it felt empty… a big, empty film full of ringing steel and flying blood. See it only for the action – and don’t ask too many questions. WOTO
“Back to the Future” (again, 1986): Directed by Robert Zemeckis (with an influence from Steven Spielberg), starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, and Lea Thompson, this is classic 1980’s fun. The characters are cartoonish, the story silly, the music score real music-y, there’s dancing, romance, innuendos, and yet it’s pure, occasionally witty fun with no deeper intent than to entertain. And, I should add, contains more cliff-hanging, jerks-you-around moments in the last 15 minutes than you can manage without getting downright giddy. Roll with it. It’s pure, dopey fun. Just fun. You’ll learn nothing… though you might ponder your entire existence at some point. Yeh. Maybe. WOTO
“Elf” (again, 2003): Starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, and Mary Steenburgen. I consider “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers” two of Ferrell’s best films. “Elf” is not one of them. It’s just okay. I don’t blame the actors. I think they did what they were asked, and then went home. The script is generally uninspired, the results are a mixed bag of funny moments and lots of misses, and you find yourself waiting for opportunities to laugh. It’s just “okay”. WOTO
“Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers” (again, 1956): If it wasn’t for the special effects created by Ray Harryhausen, and the wonderful expression of Cold War fears and WWII solutions, I’d have this film down in my “Guilty Pleasures” category. It IS a Grade B film – a Drive-In flick – but a cut above most. In this story, the U.S. is putting up the very first satellites (which in reality was first accomplished by the Russians in 1957), but they’re mysteriously coming back down again in flames. And, flying saucers are being seen. A relationship? And just who ARE these saucer fliers? Sit back, enjoy, and think about the world in 1956. WOTO
“City Slickers” (again, 1991): The midlife crisis for men… expressed in hilarious, insightful, and tender ways. When my head feels just a tad off-kilter, I watch this one. WOTO
“Detropia” (2012): Documentary. This takes a look at crumbling Detroit Michigan, the people who work there, live there, and who want to stay under very trying circumstances. It is bleak and eerie place. Much of the “tour” is given by two residents who may wear as thin on you as they did me: a UAW union president who is unable to say anything only once, and a foul-mouthed blogger. What is GOOD about this documentary is the photography and audio that captures a mood of almost mystical sadness and grasping isolation. Are there glimmers of splinters of slight hope? Yes, maybe, sort of.
“Reality Bites” (again, 1994): Starring up-and-comers Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, and Steve Zahn, this is a twenties-something Angstian slacker / career vehicle like many others of various five and ten year periods within our twentieth century culture… but it’s better than some. Thanks go to the actors more than the script. They turn lines into humor and pathos. WOTO
“The Hobbit” (part one, 2013): Prequelized after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson went back to the book that started it all, and has begun releasing this new trilogy. At this time, only Part One is out. Though it is enjoyable, don’t spend time thinking or anticipating. It lacks the patience and depth of the others. Like so many films made on the heels of success, efforts of detailing and variety are given over to amplified and lengthened scenes attempting to cash in on the most popular past moments, i.e., “give ’em what they want”. The C.G.I. runs from mediocre to great but seems to partially function as a crutch to enhance the excess time used in crowd-pleaser scenes. You’ll find less patience with story and character, more pointless humor, more contemporary slang (what I call “Shrek humor”), and relentless action with predictable outcomes. “The Hobbit” does not reach the level of “Lord of the Rings”.
“Lost Horizon” (again, 1937): Frank Capra’s VERY expensive story about a group of people escaping China and finding themselves in a world that was barely a rumor of a fantasy. Costing more than four times the amount of any film made to date at Columbia Studios, this film is considered important enough that numerous restorations have been made over the years, as the original length is slowly reassembled from edited copies. A perfect expression of its time, “Lost Horizon” expresses the fears of an upcoming World War (yet to begin in Europe), the predominant U.S. position of Isolationism, an economy beginning to find its way out of the Great Depression, the growing optimism that humans could do what they set out to do (Example: the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair), and the American desire to simply be left ALONE. “Let the storms rage OUT THERE. We want nothing to do with it!” Well, Pearl Harbor would change that – but not for four more years. Meanwhile, it was only two before Hitler began attacking other countries. All of this is set symbolically in “Lost Horizon”. It has its flaws in overwrought characterizations and small tangents, but I continue to find it interesting, often beautiful in appearance, and worth pondering. I may again put it up in the next higher category… WOTO
“Ransom” ( ): Directed by Ron Howard, starring Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinese, Delroy Lindo, and Lili Taylor. GREAT cat-n-mouse kidnapping film. It never lets up. There are also moments of discontinuity, and good acting, scoring, and photography. WOTO
”Django Unchained” (2012): Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort. Except for a couple of very memorable scenes in some of his more recent films, I basically gave up on him after his two films I own and consider “brilliant”: “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”. The rest struck me as wayward and derivative at best, and pathetic at worst.. I’m as of yet undecided, but “Django…” strikes me as the closest is quality to “Pulp…”. It is loaded with shifting cultural references, kitschy reuses of kitschy original sources, and kept a sense of humor. It KNOWS what it is… and isn’t. This I can respect. Will I own this one? As of yet, I don’t know. I already own the “original” Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960’s and repeatedly enjoy their odd, Italian macho funkiness. “Django” is more violent than Sam Peckinpah’s films and more graphic in its violence than most films. That doesn’t impress me. The sense of humor does. I laughed – hard – through some of the scenes. Just wait for the gang of KKK riders with their hoods…
“Argo” (2012): Some of us remember the real events depicted in “Argo” since we lived in that and similar environments. Keeping in mind this IS a movie, and movies have their own practical demands of time and budget, this is a good “period” piece representing 1979-1980. You may say “Yeh, but it was easy since it wasn’t long ago!” I did too… until I did the math. 33-34 years ago. That’s long enough to make almost everything in the film need adjusting or replacement. Are there nitpicky details to be found if you have no life? Yes. Check IMDB.com if you’re wondering. And let’s not make as mistake about it: this film IS a HOLLYWOOD product. History has been flexed, Time has been compressed, and characters morphed. None the less, this is a tight, interesting, exciting film (even if you know how it turns out), and worth at least one viewing. The Story is the Star.
“Meet the Stewarts” (1942): Starring William Holden and Frances Dee. This is a light comedy about a hard working young man who marries a flighty but charming young woman who comes from a life of ease and has no clue how to run a home. That’s it. It’s pleasant fun (with one crisis to spice things up). Expect nothing more and you’ll have… well… a pleasant time.
“Flying Down to Rio” (1933): If you’re in a mood-lite and don’t want a Filmic Challenge, this might do it for you. It’s Fred and Ginger’s first film together, and without a doubt they are the ones who bring fun and spice to an otherwise weak, sometimes weird attempt at a musical-romance-comedy with confused Busby Berkeley-style dance routines. The acting is poor, the costuming odd as hell, the décor, etc. pure Hollywood 1933. It’s occasionally funny, VERY Great Depression, silly, surprisingly sexy, and clunky. Let it take you away. That’s why it was made in the first place. WOTO
“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (again, 1974): This is early Martin Scorsese, and was “book-ended“ by “Mean Streets“ and “Taxi Driver“. It has an eye catching, weird beginning which is suddenly abandoned for a version of daily “reality” which lasts the rest of the film. (“Alice…“ has a lot of that 1970’s film-reality to it, including heavy use of soft focus filters, period music laid over the scenes like an extra layer of glass, and the “documentary” shaky-camera look.) Little about the film (which later spawned the god-awful “Mel’s Diner” tee-vee show) reaches the greatness of which Scorsese was capable, but neither is this a flat, lifeless story. Ellen Burstyn received the Best Actress Oscar for her single mom role, Harvey Keitel does a great job as an early suitor, Kris Kristofferson does what he can, the young “son” is… okay…, watch for a very young Jodie Foster, and Diane Ladd gives some depth to the foul-mouthed beehive waitress queen role. It is better than most films of the 1970’s. It is, by comparison, one of his weakest. THAT is the curse of being great: good just isn’t enough. WOTO
“Bubba Ho Tep” (again, 2003): Ever wondered where the REAL Elvis went, since we all know His death was faked? How about John F. Kennedy? He wasn’t assassinated! Where’d HE go? This movie answers those questions AND how to kill the evil spirit of a mediocre Egyptian King mummy. With scoring that has the ring of big, cheezie, cowboy westerns, and dialog of pulp fiction novels, this kitschy, funny film may not be for all tastes, but if you like self-conscious faux-dramas, this IS for you! Starring Bruce Campbell (Elvis) and Ossie Davis (J.F.K.). No joke.
“The Circus” (1928): Written by and starring Charlie Chaplin. This is one of his lesser known comedy-dramas using The Little Tramp character. It’s full of physical shtick, witty ideas, and small emotional moments related to his themes of being an outsider and wanting to belong. The “Innocent Girl” is played by a gorgeous young woman. The “Villainous Man” is worthy of hissing. The natural light photography – luminous grays surrounded by brilliant whites and velvet blacks – restored on this dvd (the Roy Export Establishment) – is lovely. The sets, costumes, and vehicles are nostalgic despite this being a contemporary film. I am not a huge Chaplin fan, and the scoring was a little heavy-handed, but I enjoyed much of this movie.
“Knowing” (2009): Starring Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne. This is a fun sci-fi thriller with lots of build up and typical cliches… but it starts going flat towards the end and will remind you VERY MUCH of another movie I needn’t mention here. Special effects are everything from good to really lame. It’s a mixed bag, average quality, easy-evening-on-the-sofa type of movie. That’s it. Oh, and Rose Byrne is really cute. WOTO
“Treasure Island” (again, 1934): Written by Robert Louis Stevenson, starring Jackie Cooper, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Nigel Bruce, Otto Kruger, Lewis Stone, and “Chic” Sale. This is the story of a young 18th century lad who befriends the wrong people – PIRATES! – while on a dangerous treasure hunt far from home. Cashing in on 1931’s Beery/Cooper collaboration “The Champ”, we again find a naïve, good hearted young man putting faith in a questionable father figure. The wonderful parts about “Treasure Island” are: the scroungy smelly ugly nasty old pirates; the sets by (who else but) Cedric Gibbons; a tale as satisfying as a good meal; and (if you turn off the Bastard Turner-ized colorization) a lovely black and white visual experience. WOTO
“The Phantom of the Opera” (silent, 1925): I own a mediocre, unrestored version of this film on vhs tape with zero music score (United American Video Corp.). Okay, it’s not ideal, but still… I enjoy it on a few levels: seeing its relationships to other early films such as “Nosferatu”, “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, etc.; some of the dramatic photography; the VERY theatrical gestures by the actors, especially the female lead’s movements (the gorgeous Mary Philbin); and a truly scary Lon Chaney Sr.. WOTO
“Mystery Men” (again, 1999): A silly comedy full of perfectly cast stars having lots of fun in a witty, totally dumb-funny movie about a group of LAME-O “super heroes” trying to make a name for themselves. This is adolescent humor made for adults. It cracks me up. I admit it. Ben Stiller, Paul Reubens, Janeane Garofalo, Hank Azaria, William Macy, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Waits… WOTO
“A Town Like Alice” (Australian, 1991): Last night I was reminded to do that which I seldom bother: read the film package for the running time. Half way through this film – a story I was enjoying despite its low production qualities (which felt more like 1970’s television than a movie) – I began thinking “This plot feels FAR from any conclusions…”, so I checked the package. 305 minutes. Five hours. Well, THAT would explain it! “A Town Like Alice” was an all-evening experience. The story is set in Malaysia during WWII, and Australia and England a few years later. We follow three main characters along many criss-crossing paths. I am a student of WWII history, so the settings may be of more interest to me than you. I also found the Australian representation of their country in the late 1940’s – in small, isolate towns and ranches – interesting in their bleakness. Stripped of all its locations and peripheral characters, it is essentially a typical drama-romance. WOTO
Not Quite So-sofa but not quite Crap
“The Fountain” (2006): By Darren Arondofsky. How could the man who made the great films “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” go wrong? I’m not sure, but he sure did. This was a film made by a teenage lad with pimpled urges who’d grown up and didn’t notice. Loaded with a crazy quilt of thirteen year old boy fantasies (modern romance, goth battles and chivalry, futuristic space travel and whirly-twirly faux-Heaviosity), this movie was a good looking, empty mess of early male doodles on Pee-Chee film. The one saving grace: Rachel Weisz never looked more beautiful. She made me feel thirteen again. WOTO
“Mars Attacks” (again, 2000): Chocked full of stars given very little to do within a story that is only on occasion witty, this is something you watch when you don’t really want to pay attention. It’s probably the weakest film of Tim Burton’s career. I don’t hate it… it’s too mediocre to hate. It’s just… dull much of the time. WOTO
“Colditz” (2005): This WWII story has something of the flavor of a television production using war as an excuse for adventure and romance. Often, it has a weak appearance, inconsistencies, and too light a hand to be believable (considering the subject of war, and POWS under Nazi rule). At 184 minutes, there needs to be more.
“Gothika” (2003): Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz, and Charles Dutton star in this passable-but-nothing-special suspense-paranormal-murder mystery. It demands you not only suspend your disbelief but your everyday common sense when it comes to special effects, timing, and continuity. Relax, kill some spooky time. What the heck. WOTO
“To Sir, with Love” (again, 1966): If it wasn’t for the terrible production values, I’d be willing to put it in my “Guilty Pleasures” category, but the look, sound, and formulaic, stereotypical Teacher-with-Bad-Kids theme was lifted directed from “Blackboard Jungle”. The surface changes were merely to update an ongoing issue for another generation of “rebellious youths” and the increasing inclusion of black actors into mainstream movies. (I enjoyed Sidney Poitier playing a very straight, proper, shell-shocked first-year teacher.) What’re enjoyable about this Mod London Teens version of angst are their fashions, slang, and dances. What WERE they (we) thinking? Here were the last attempts to express social Modernism before it all collapsed into Post Modern nostalgia and slumber. I’ll give these kids that much – in their naïve way, they still believed a few solutions might be found in the Future. PS: You also have the chance to see “Lulu” (the mod redhead to sang this famous hit) and a backup band then known as only “The Mindbenders” (soon to become “Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders”). Put on your tiny rectangular purple shades and swing baby, swing! WOTO
“How to Survive a Plague” (2012): I tend to hate documentaries that have one-sided, self-serving agendas. THEY are not Documentaries. They are typically poor-me and/or great-me, Mirror Mirror on the Wall Products. This one, created mainly by and for “ACT UP” in New York, is such a product, unfortunately. Apparently the real drama of suffering and dying people, and the searches for cures of HIV/AIDS isn’t enough material. Apparently, the public needs narcissistic star wannabees spending most of the time hyping themselves for us to appreciate the importance of finding a cure for a disease. Look, I’ve lost friends and loved ones to AIDS. It’s NOT a gay disease, nor simply found in one or two cities of America. It’s not transmitted in one way, it did not originate in America, and the largest losses have not been within one segment of this community. You’d never know that going by this “WE are THE Victims, WE are THE Heroes” home movies presented here. ACT UP isn’t alone. Just about EVERY grassroots organization goes through the pathetic stages of immaturity and power struggles caught here on tape. THIS is why I don’t give “”How to Survive…” a lowest rating. It IS a primer on what the next group of people should consider doing and NOT doing in the future.
”Grave of the Fireflies” (Japanese, 1988/1992): Since this film was both Japanese and “anime”, I approached it with both enthusiasm and hesitation. I love how the Japanese can tell a large story in a small, intimate way. I don’t love anime or the blatant methods of audience manipulation – the tugging at heart strings which reminds me of early, silent American films. This animated film is a story of two children trying to survive the last days of WWII, when it was clear their country had lost the war it instigated. The kids face devastating circumstances at every turn. There ARE some subtle, delicate moments which avoid shoving emotions in your face, but for the most part this is an overt effort that insulted my sensibilities – especially regarding my expectations of Japanese understatement. WOTO
“The Day After” (again, 1983): In 1983, this made-for-tv movie was a real shocker to the average audience. Admittedly, its “heart” and “theories” are in the right place: atomic war is bad, can only get worse, and survivors won’t do well at all. Fair enough. However, the production quality is simply too low for todays’ unforgiving, more discriminating (spoiled?) audience. The acting, scoring, lighting, music, make up, costuming, special effects… almost every thing and moment you see and hear is simply too crude and naïve to not be distracting much of the time. For more respectable considerations of the subject, see “On the Beach” and “Fail Safe”. WOTO
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2011): I wanted to like this one. It’s about September 11th, and I approach the subject with awe, anger, and reverence. Yet, I couldn’t help but wish that every scene, character, gesture, and word uttered would’ve been “dialed back” – PLEASE – just a little. Everything was on steroids!!!! It was over the top – !!!!! – sacrificed for style (apparently). This made empathy very difficult when I was constantly distracted by all the unbelievable characters and behaviors. And, the more I pondered it, the less I believed.
“Torn Curtain” (1966): Honestly, why do some of you think Alfred Hitchcock was a great director? “Torn Curtain”, with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, is a Cold War spy movie that quickly reveals its tedious rhythm of extended scenes (= tension?) and formulaic stumbling blocks. Glimmers of wit are few and far between, and not enough to keep your interest. Acting is called-in. The film isn’t awful, but nears awful by the end. You’re laughing at it instead of getting tense with it. WOTO
“Lincoln” (2012): For all the hype, for all the “obsessive dedication to historical accuracy” claimed for this film, it’s loaded with intentional changes and clumsy mistakes. I REALLY expected to like this, and the actors did not let me down. Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, all of them – good. The time period in our history can only be considered fascinating and terrifying. Yet, something… SOMETHING… kept me detached. It is a film focused on Lincoln, yes, but it’s more about the political process in all its slippery, slimy reality. That’s okay with me too. But my wife and I look INTO films after seeing them, and as we learned about name changes and other absolute denials to historical accuracy for questionable if not ridiculous reasons, “Lincoln” lost all its credibility with me. Its hype is a lie. Its truths come and go at the whim of contemporary needs. This makes me sick. There you go. That’s it. Do NOT rely on this film to teach you more about that period.
“Pecker” (again, 1998): I’ve tried to like John Waters’ films BEFORE “Hairspray”, but keep failing (even though I “enjoyed” the Odorama card for “Polyester”). I want to like his films SINCE “Hairspray”, but tend to feel let down. I don’t know, maybe it’s because Divine is dead…Whatever the case, I think Waters wanted “Pecker” to be HIS “Manhattan” (Woody Allen), and in the process of making “insights” about the the Art-fashion-gallery world, lost his edge. I also think each and every actor WALKED through this script without breaking a sweat, which was disappointing. Try “Serial Mom” if you liked “Hairspray”… it’s closer to what I look for with his films. WOTO
“Won’t Back Down” (2012): Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, this is another “public schools are awful, we gotta DO something!” movies. It’s not BAD, generally, nor is it good. All the scenarios are pumped up on stereotypes we’ve seen before, and we know where this is going. There IS some talented acting going on, which kept me going on an otherwise predictable, occasionally ridiculous presentation.
“Of Human Bondage” (1934): Starring Betty Davis (already getting her nasty chops), Leslie Howard (with “SUCKER” written on his forehead) (characters both unlikable for different reasons), Francis Dee (a lovely young woman), and other actors fill out this soapy version of Somerset Maugham’s novel about emotional entrapment. Perhaps if the script and setting had been interpreted as American, it might have been more interesting and had “edge“. As it is, a group of limp, unexpressive British people with very little to offer isn’t much of a tale. Its point, which has tons of potential – “Each one of us is bonded to another for better or worse” – is not brought to much dramatic intensity. WOTO
“Flying Leathernecks” (1951): Starring John Wayne, Robert Ryan, and Jay Flippen. Directed by Nicholas Ray. I’m not a fan of John Wayne, but I am a student of World War II. Many early post-WWII films used lots of real film footage – not only because it was credible, but much less expensive. I watch this sort of film for two reasons: the real footage, and to watch for the “spin” put on a story designed for our American audience. It’s interesting and I don’t exactly fault it. It’s VERY easy to understand how any group wants to put itself in the best light. And, by 1951, we were fighting the people who’d been our Allies (and who we’d saved from the Japanese) only six years earlier – the Chinese. It’s an upside-down world. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. “Flying Leathernecks” has some historical interest, but is, as expected, a weak film. With me, John Wayne’s reputation remains intact – poor. WOTO
“Cold Creek Manor” (2003): A New York City couple (and their kids) are sick of city life, so they leave and begin anew in an old, crumbly mansion out in the country. The “locals” aren’t all that friendly, and there are a couple outright aggressive types. Why? Well, you’ll find out. Much of the acting is good, though Dennis Quaid is a disappointment. Continuity and credibility are weak. Scoring may be a little heavy-handed, but it is interesting. Lighting and camera work are clichéd. The story line is loaded with manipulations you’ve experienced before, but it’s an occasionally fun ride down a well-worn back country road. Also starring Sharon Stone, Kristen Scott, and Christopher Plummer in an odd cameo role.
“Ziegfeld Follies” (1946): MGM tried to revive the Follies right after WWII. Despite tons of stars, dancing, singing, “comedy”, and staged extravaganzas, this two hour shish kabob of shtick is just plain tiring. The Technicolor is lurid, which, for once, is perfect. Talk about a gaudy experience! I admit to not liking most musicals or many “broadway” stage plays. Their complete lack of real world “context” leaves me baffled and only occasionally amused. What I DO enjoy about this mess of a “show” are the sets by Cedric Gibbons. He ruled film sets for decades – and deservedly so. “Ziegfeld” sets are bizarre, abstract, sparse, and spewing with excesses, but always smart and innovative. For me, THEY (and some of the costuming) are worth the viewing. WOTO
“QUICK ! DUCK !!
It just hit the fan !!!
“The Hunter” (2011): Even Willem Dafoe couldn’t save this big pile of confused motivations trying to be a taut thriller. A mysterious chemical corporation wants control of a gene found only in an animal thought to be extinct. Dafoe is the hired hunter who heads into Tasmania – full of pissed off locals, odd women, children who hold secrets, and a landscape that may or may not still host this “lost” animal. Everyone behaves in ways not explained by the film – as though the script were written using the I-ching. Silly and messy. Skip it. You’ll only end up feeling cheated.
“Room 237” (2012): I call it “Inkblotting”. It’s a favorite sport of dumb people who wish they had insights into Art… but since they don’t and were given permission by Freud and Surrealism to puke up any associations they swallowed, they masturbate their overactive tiny glands into self-excitement. In THIS case, we have some embarrassing Inkblotters and Wish-they-weres delving into their swirly visions of Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining”. Think of it as a sport in the Obsessive Dimwit Olympics. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll give up in twenty minutes.
“Pretty Models all in a Row” (aka “Love Feast”, 1969): Hey, I enjoy laughing at “Plan 9 from Outer Space” or “Glen or Glenda?” just as much as you. I love films. But… THIS 8mm celluloid tapeworm is absolutely, irredeemably, start-to-finishly AWFUL without the charmingly stoopid characteristics of a klassick Edward Wood Jr. flick. It’s sixty four minutes of pathetic attempts by Ed to be a vaudevillian funnyman, with an increasing pile of twenty-something mod street walkers and male hookers all naked and writhing on one bed, exhibiting bad breasts, nervous laughter, various bruises, and, oh my god, are those needle tracks on her ass?! Seriously, don’t let my words confuse you. There is NOT one moment worth your time. My wife and I yawned and wretched through the entire mess. Out of boredom, I tried keeping count of bruises for awhile but gave up.
“Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding” (2011): Unlikable characters are set in a cliché environment apparently intended to be funny, sensitive, and insightful. Skip it. It ain’t. It’s irritating and predictable.
“The Palm Beach Story” (1942): I love Preston Sturgis’ film “Sullivan’s Travels”, so it came as a huge surprise I hated his “Palm Beach Story”. But I do. I HATE it. It is the weakest, most repetitive, obvious, shticky bunch of trite tripe I’ve seen in a long time. Add very unlikable characters and what do you have? – a waste of your precious time. For some reason, there are people who like this thing. They probably also think the Three Stooges are genius. Therefore, I cannot like them. Simple Social Logic.
“Line of Fire” (1969, 1979, 1983): That’s right, it was made in all three of these years over a fourteen year period. Say WHAT???? I’ll explain in a minute. For now, let me just say it’s “marketed” as a Robert DeNiro film, I wanted to see it because it was DeNiro, and it doesn’t have a date on the box. Well, lemme tell ya – it’s a swirling mess of a screw up of a piece of crap made by idiots on crack cocaine. It’s AWFUL, and not the kind of awful that is hilarious. It’s just homegrown awful. With some research by my wife, we learned that “Line of Fire” is not listed in DeNiro’s filmography. (“Okay, he was so embarrassed by it, he must’ve bought it to wipe it off the market…”) No, it was originally shot as footage for a movie called “Sam’s Song”… but… “Sam’s Song” was never released. The footage remained never used, rough reels of an idea that deserved to die. And it became dead film – basemented, shelved, whatever. Along come some guys who had a chance to buy the rights to it in 1979. “Hey, this is DeNiro! We got somethin’ here!!! All we need to do is shoot more film, sew this stuff together into a movie of some kind, use a later photo of DeNiro on the box, leave its date off, change the title, and ooh mama the money’s gonna roll in!!” Well, DeNiro apparently got wind of this “project”, apparently attempted a law suit, and clearly didn’t get it stopped. By 1983 it was released as “Line of Fire”. Imagine the deluded dolts who tried making a film from someone else’s raw footage, added in their own scenes, and hyped it as something new and legitimate. Holy Stupid Crap.
“Hang ‘Em High” (again, 1968): The Man with No Name returns… but without a bit of that stylish, funky, romantic bad-assness of the previous flix made in Italy. THIS is a pale attempt to continue the saga. If you love “A Fistful of Dollars”, “For a Few Dollars More”, and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, you will be terribly disappointed in this one. No Sergio Leone direction, no Ennio Morricone score, no Italian faux-American West. Add Inger Stevens, the actress with the personality of Play-Doh, and you have absolutely no reason to watch the demise of this otherwise kitschy, fun series.
“The Scarlet Letter” (1934): I’m sure the book is fine, but this movie is one big, soapy, poorly made drama that is only interesting to see examples of what may have been the nightmare that was 17th century America. WOTO
“Star Trek Insurrection” (1998): Oh my god. This is one big bag of ultra-tired story, movie, and sci-fi clichés. It has NO redeeming value. Start to finish, it is awful. It has 1960s simplistic Gene Roddenberry tee-vee written all over it. WOTO
“Big Business” (1988?): I LOVE Lily Tomlin, and I enjoy Bette Midler, but even they cannot fix an entire script. Although this “twins mixed up at birth” theme COULD’VE been hilarious, it was mild smiles at best and usually less. The occasional snappy line could not make up for the repetitive predictability of the other 99.9%. WOTO
“Two Brothers” (2004): Ugh. Ick. Vomit. Here, you’ll encounter Disney style sweetness and intellectual absence. Two Tiger cubs are brothers. They go through “mischievous adventures” and “remarkable journeys”. Consider it a warning when language of this sort is used in promotions. (“Heartwarming story”, “Timeless Tale”, etc..) “Two Brothers” is awful. It treats animals as humans with fur coats, treats most humans as evil (except, of course, one starry-eyed child), and uses the movie as a vehicle for external agendas. I cannot count the ways it insults everyone and everything. Don’t raise your children on this distorted stuff. Give them a chance in life.
“Marnie” (1964): Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I’m not a big fan of his work, but I do like a few in the early part of his career. That said, this is a film from late in his career. It’s supposed to be a psychological drama about a very troubled woman with a dark past. Starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, it begins interestingly enough but continually sinks due to poor acting (by all involved), poor special effects and sets, and a story that insisted on dragging every 1964 social issue AND the kitchen sink into what could have been a simple and neat thriller. But, it’s not. WOTO
“Hell’s Angels on Wheels” (1967): I saw this one first-run at where else ? but a drive in. This was BEFORE Jack Nicholson was JACK NICHOLSON, and, if you’ve ever seen any of his early paid-my-rent movie jobs (horror, hot rods, motorcycles), you’d understand EVERYONE pays their dues and then prays it‘s all lost and forgotten. This one is so bad it’s hardly even worthy of being a “period piece”, and certainly not a “cult classic”. Sure, there’s hipster jive, lots of action slathered with bad scoring, terrible camera work and acting, sex, drugs, rock & roll, dancing, fighting, stealing, telling women what to do (and with who) (when the women aren’t being manipulative on their own), pointless filler-scenes of random behavior, and a story with only the loosest of threads. It really IS awful. Is it so awful it’s wonderful? No. It’s just awful. WOTO
“Spider Baby” (1968): Just stab me repeatedly. Let’s get this over. I like a bad movie as much as the next tongue-in-cheeker, but this one is SO self-conscious it hurt. After thirty minutes, I’d had enough. It wasn’t going to get any better – not wittier, not scarier, not anythinger to pull it out of the awkwardness it seemed determined to hold hostage. Lon Chaney Jr. was on his last leg. I’m sure everyone on the set thought this $65,000. budget-slasher was destined to be their rocket ride to fame and infamy. Eh. I don’t think so.
“Uh… Say WHAT?”
“The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (again, 2004): I SUSPECT eventually I’ll have an idea about this film, but for now, let’s keep it here. Five people fall from the foot bridge of San Luis Rey, in Peru, during the Inquisition. A monk sets out to “divine” WHY THESE five people met with tragedy. What brought them to that point at that time? Was it pure bad luck? God’s plan? Satan? The result was his book, filled with data on these people, and, since it was the Inquisition, he was taken to “Court” for trial of Heresy or anything else they could conjure up. This film is FULL of stars and requires a heavy suspension of disbelief because of all the high recognition (and the lack of proper accents). The photography was good, the music fine, but what requires your WORK is listening to the philosophical dialog. It IS work, and does not tie itself into a neat little package at the end. However, there ARE things you can discern for yourself, and this may be its value. WOTO
“Pumpkin” (again, 2002): Christina Ricci & Dominique Swain make “Pumpkin”… well… sort of a “Animal House” meets every one of the teen/activist movies of 1963 in an orgy of intentional clichés and non-PC bad taste (which is what brings it into 2002). It’s meant to be funny – and it often is – as long as you’re willing to enjoy the sarcastic, toe-smashing flavor. There are plenty of bubble-headed blonde sorority bitches, square-jawed pinchy-eyed tennis playing frat boys, insulated face-lifted socialite mothers… and a bunch of retarded fellows who need to be trained for the Special Olympics. Yes, THAT’S the plot. Really. However, the people who wrote/filmed/scored/etc. this thing were taking EVERY dopey word, scene, angle and tune from the theoretical ’1963′ movie and cramming them all together into one condensed, relentless, predictable, often witty movie that never quite gels into a flowing story but is more like a collection of overused and used again tricks of the B-grade, drive in movie trade. Occasionally it loses itself into an almost serious tone, which left me hesitating about it…. “Just what DO you want to BE?!” In fact, THAT is why I put “Pumpkin” in THIS category. I wonder if its slipping in and out of dark humor was intentional or a lack of focus. I honestly don’t know. I do know I enjoyed it… in a weird way. WOTO
“Jew Suss” (German, 1940): Joseph Goebbels was the Propaganda Minister for the Nazis. He controlled radio, print, books, recordings, and films. He considered this film his “masterpiece” of propaganda. He set out to “educate” the German public about the threat of Jews. “Jew Suss” is the “retelling” of 18th century Germany which – claimed the film – was infiltrated by Jews who attempted to destroy all that was good and decent, but, in the end, the Germans eventually saw through this deceit and righted the Jewish wrongs by “removing” the cancerous effects of those who did not belong amongst the decent Aryans. It is a period piece clearly aimed at the less educated populace intended to help push them along the path of proper “racial purity” and cooperation. It should be laughable, but it is too slick for mere chuckles. The prejudice is injected in slow, steady doses. It cannot but chill you to see such a serious effort to get everyone in line.
“Our Hitler – A Film from Germany” (German, 1977): This is a seven hour film. It comes on two dvds. I got through the first half of 3.5 hours. That’s all I could do. It’s an extremely creative work in many ways, but the production values are low budget, it has never been restored from its 70s “look”, and it’s VERY German. What do I mean? I mean it’s as dense and weighty as Wagner, with huge, poetic speeches and unreal environments holding mythical beings set on artificial stages presented in something of a cabaret style. I simply could not continue consuming this thirty course highly garnished meat and potatoes meal. It beat me. It won. You’ll have to see the second half for me.
“A Complete History of my Sexual Failures” (doc., British, 2008): This documentary is not professional, artistic, as humorous as it claims, or honest in its stated intent – which is: a young man sets out to learn about himself by interviewing former girlfriends, family, and therapists of varying sorts. What becomes clear – if not to him, to us as viewers – is he has no true interest in changing. He holds his repulsive “identity” close and seems to cherish – if not revel in – this one thing of value he “owns”. The first impressions of humor, which soon vanish as your insights increase, are replaced by feelings of gratitude you are not this person and don’t know him personally. He has serious problems and will fight for them to the day of his lonely death.
(Okay, you caught me!)
“Jaws” (again, 1975): It’s a tense, fun, adventuresome drama with little witticisms and humorous moments tossed in for variety. On the heels of his first film “Duel”, Spielberg creates another monster stalking the innocent: a big, hungry, mean-spirited Great White Shark. This is an ominous and sometimes bloody story that kept movie-going audiences away from beaches for years. It’s great, silly fun in its horrifying way. Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. WOTO
“Gangster Story” (c. 1959-60): Ever wondered what Walter Matthau would look like as a killer? Well, I guess he wondered too because HE directed “Gangster Story”. Set in sunny California on what must’ve been a whopping $300. budget, we cruise the broad boulevards, banks, orchards, and ranch homes in two-toned finned convertibles while watching bad production and bad acting. It’s a bad movie, but unique for its being a Matthau fantasy. And, if you’re a fan of 1950’s west coast architecture and décor, this is a fun one. WOTO
“Gangs, Inc.” (1941): Joan Woodbury, Jack Larue, Linda Ware, and Alan Ladd star in this grade-C “Crime Don’t Pay” flik. You gotcher tough guys, hard dames, heaters (and bloodless shootings), coppers, dough, and Lessons in Life. Watch the fashions and cars for pleasure, and be shocked at the brutal editing. WOTO
“Don’t Knock the Rock” (1956): Sleazy real life promoter Alan Freed (headed to prison in 1959 for payola deals) plays himself in this ironic, wonderfully naïve story of Rock & Roll as it fights its way into “respectability”. It’s a Grade D drive-in flik intended to cash in on the latest wave of Rebellious Teens and the parents who were petrified of the latest changes. Frankly, it’s just an excuse to market acts – from the soon-to-become greats like Little Richard and the one-act ponies like Bill Haley & the Comets, to the mind-bogglingly mediocre Alan Dale and the truly awful “Treniers”. Professional dancers play teens who can move like no real teen ever, quality acting is not to be found, and the entire production lacks everything. None the less, this is a great, clunky, self-righteous Period Piece about an era adoring itself while feeling growing pains.
“The Girl from Chicago” (1932): Think of the incredibly unprofessional “Plan 9 from Outer Space”… and then think lower… and then lower yet. This is an all-black production made only for blacks in an unbelievably clunky, low-budget, non-artistic, un-inventive way. It’s awful in every possible aspect. Why do I find “pleasure” in it? I enjoy the fashions, cars, city scenes, some of the contemporary black community insights, AND the astoundingly hilarious, terrible production. When an actor forgets his lines and you can hear the “director” off camera giving him his lines – which the “actor” then repeats – you KNOW you’re in for a special experience. What’s the story of this flik? Does it matter? WOTO
“Our Daily Bread” (again, 1934): By King Vidor. This is a WONDERFUL American Depression Era propaganda film. It is blatant in promoting Socialist, Communist, Fascists, and even Democratic concepts… but generally degrading Democracy. After all, Democracy seemed to have failed Americans at that time. It has fine period photography, dialog, and other noble “Salt of the Earth” presentations. This is SUCH fun for its naïve, simplistic idealism. Acting is weak, but who cares? Its heart – and it DOES have heart – was in the right place, even if its mind was not. It represented much of what was on the minds of the American public at that time – economically, politically, socially, and morally. Knowledge of the era helps you appreciate what and why things are presented as they are. It is a shallow but very rich period piece… an oddly satisfying film I’ve enjoyed repeatedly. WOTO
“The Long, Long Trailer” (again & again, 1953): There’s not a single curse word, drop of blood, bodily function, or sexual innuendo in this comedy. It is Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at their very best. I liked their t.v. show, especially the early ones, but this film tops them all. (My wife looks at me like I’m nuts the way I enjoy every moment of this movie.) Taking on other character names, this story is of a newly wed couple who decides to go in hock, live on wheels, and cross America towing a 40 foot trailer in their new Mercury convertible. It’s a cool trailer, cool car, and an excellent representation of post-WWII postcard U.S.A. road dreams. And, it’s funny as all… heck. Lucy was one of the best physical comediennes. Desi is her perfect foil. Their timing is amazing. What she does with her face is beyond words. The “Ansco Color” film scenarios are a joyful mess of awkwardness, tension, slapstick, sugary romance, and bits of simple wisdom thrown in for good measure. THIS one is NOT a true “guilty” pleasure” for me. It is just a pleasure. WOTO
“Min and Bill” (1930): Starring Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler. Although this early “talkie” is rough around the edges, I love the atmosphere of films of this time, as well as the type of acting, story, and emotions. It’s funny, feisty, dramatic, and sad. This one has some surprises too – so feel free to get sucked into believing it’s predictable and you have masterful insight. WOTO
“Gun Crazy” (1949): Truly an inspiration for the later film “Bonnie & Clyde”, “Gun Crazy” is an obvious attempt at a social drama mixed with steamy sex and violence, none of which can meet the expectations of a 2013 audience. However, it is an interesting period film with one twist in the plot you will NOT see coming. PS: the violence is entirely bloodless, but I still would not recommend it for younger viewers.
”Our Gang” and “The Little Rascals” (1922 to 1944): I have many of these short films, and adore most of them. This is partly due to personal nostalgia, having grown up with these shown on early television as reruns from the theater. As far as I’m concerned, the earlier ones (“Our Gang”) are the best, including the earliest silent examples. The “golden age” of Our Gang is, for me, the Jackie Cooper/Farina/Mary Ann/Wheezer years with that wonderful, rougher quality of film and audio but the “focus” still remaining on CHILDREN who ARE CHILDREN and do CHILDISH things in their own world WITHOUT much adult interference. Most people think of the Alfalfa/Spanky/Darla/Buckwheat era, but for me, these kids were preciously preened little people who lost their natural innocence to programming big people during the same later era of much slicker technologies, bigger budgets, and too many adults. There are many compilation sets available. Try to find those that cover the entire range. You may see what I mean. WOTO
”Highway 13” (1948): Run of the mill “sabotage” story with average to poor acting, unremarkable visuals and audio, and laughable special effects but a slightly surprising ending and plenty of cool cars, buildings, décor, and costuming. WOTO
“Motor Patrol” (1950): Grade C crime drama about a car theft ring and the motorcycle cops who risk their lives to enforce law and order. It has the depth of a “Dragnet” episode with bad special effects, poor acting, and very few surprises, but it’s worth the trip to see the 1930s, 40s, and early 50s cars, costuming, buildings, and décor. WOTO
“Saving Silverman” (again, 2001): Immature, stupid, ridiculous, and funny as hell sometimes. Think “Animal House” meets “High Fidelity” with a touch of “The Big Lebowski”. How could you ask for more?? WOTO
“Tarzan the Fearless” (again, 1933): After the very early silent film about Tarzan the Ape Man of the Jungle, starring the very apey, odd Elmo Lincoln, Hollywood left Tarzan to swing alone on the vine fifteen years. He was then revisited by the up-and-coming handsome athlete-star Buster Crabbe (who would soon gain fame with his roles as “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon”). I LOVE the muffled sound and soft look of late 1920s / early 1930s films. I enjoy the choppy, semi-cliffhanger editing, and the lack of great acting, story continuity, or really, ANY credibility at all. There is NO “Jane” in this one, but there IS a platinum blonde “Mary” – whose makeup remains Jean-Harlow-flawless whether after swimming naked in a jungle lake or being manhandled by various lustful males. Why, even her torn jungle-ware (EXPOSED THIGH!!) regenerates itself as we begin to resolve the tropical turmoil. And hey, who doesn’t love jungle animals dancing to a 30s jazz band record out there in the wild? I mean, really! WOTO
“Boys Town” (1938): Oscars: Best Original Story, Best Actor. “Boy’s Town” (the real place) was already famous by 1938, and the writers felt it was a story worth retelling. It also fit the late 30’s era. The Depression was dragging on and people were getting the idea that if you weren’t part of the solution, you were part of the problem. Father Flannigan was a good story symbol besides a real guy who got real things done. Starting with nothing but attitude, he began, pushed, and maintained “Boy’s Town” – the place where orphan boys could find a home. I’ve visited the real place. It has never stopped growing in size and complexity. I’ve seldom been more impressed with what determination can accomplish on the personal scale. As for the film, Spencer Tracey received the Oscar for an understated role as Father Flannigan. A young Mickey Rooney stars as the boy “beyond help”. As with Rooney’s entire career, he shows no restraint in his acting. Occasionally, but not often, it seems appropriate. I have mixed feelings about this. His character NEEDS to be center stage, and his attitude NEEDS to be excessive, but his style is so “stylized”, it has more to do with the Vaudeville stage than what Film can offer. This is my only complaint about “Boy’s Town”. If I could dial down Rooney’s job, the film – including its heart-tugging goals – even the “Hollywoodness” of it – would be in a higher category. The black and white is SO beautifully shot, I was in constant admiration of it. The story is told in a solid, linear fashion. Everything about it was designed to reach the common person of 1938. It reached me, again, in 2013. WOTO
”The Purple Heart” (1944): This is a drum-beating, all-American propaganda film made while World War II remained unresolved. Its fiction spins off a “what if” story related to the true exploits of the “Doolittle Raid” over Tokyo which shocked the confidence out of the Japanese, and gave a very needed boost to American morale. In the fictional setting of the film, one B-25 bomber crew has to bale out over China, is caught by the Japanese, and faces jail, torture, and a rigged trial in Japan. The men eventually make tough choices which will affect not only their lives but the course of the war. Make no mistake about it: this IS a highly nationalist, flag waving effort at a time when it was needed, and, in review, an interesting effort to do so.
“Radar Secret Service” (1950): 1950 was a bad time for fashion, a pretty good time for cars, and a busy time for Grade B, side street / drive-in crime dramas. Think of this one as part “Dragnet Meets J. Edgar Hoover”, part “Buck Rogers and his Amazing Radar Machine”, and part “Discontinuity Orgy”. It’s a fun, stupid ride indeed, and contains one of the most amazing continuity mistakes (?) of ALL TIME. Did they really think we wouldn’t notice???? WOTO
“Moulin Rouge” (again, 2001): I REALLY dislike “Musicals” (“West Side Story”, “The Music Man”, ad nauseum), but there are a couple I do enjoy, and I add “Moulin…” to that VERY short list. (It includes “Little Shop of Horrors” (newer version), and “Hairspray” (the film NOT the film made of the musical)…i.e., the rare musical that does NOT take itself seriously (which SHOULD be the STANCE, considering the nature of those dopey musicals, in the first place…) Other than the “love interest” angle to Moulin Rouge, this is truly a unique, frantic, over-the-top, creative film. It most reminds me of the work of Terry Gilliam, especially his “Brazil”. Nicole Kidman and Ewen McGregor should NOT have sung, but they did, and I suppose they wake up screaming once in awhile. I appreciated the high-kitsch of this entire project. What I added this year: “The stage version must certainly seem DULL compared to this swirling, computer-manipulated, extravagant, hyper-insane event on film. The “references” to other musicals, music, artists, and events – very few of which existed in 1899-1900 – were fun to identify. I wonder what John Leguizamo said when first approached about being in this film: “John, we think you’d be PERFECT as the faggoty, absinthe addicted, stoned dwarf artist with a heavy lisp! How about it?!” WOTO
“Child Bride” (again, 1938): This is truly an awful thing, but it’s one of those “wreck-by-the-side-of-the-road” movies for which you MUST slow down and stare. Set in Hill Billy hills-n-hollers, this is about people who ain’t knowed no better, and the mens folkses who marry little girls. You’ll see dirty old coots kissing 10 year old girls, killin’ one t’other at the Still and danged near ev’rywheres, and all sorts of goddawful bad dialog turned worse with bad acting. It’s really pretty funny, despite the repulsive ideas. Why, you’re even “treated” to the “funny” old phrase “I figgered there wuz a nigger in th’ woodpile somewhere!” When I say CAR WRECK, I MEAN CAR WRECK! WOTO
“Pale Rider” (again, 1985): I think of this film as an earnest attempt by Clint Eastwood to transition from the “Man with No Name” Spaghetti Westerns towards the later, great films such as “Unforgiven”. The source of inspiration for “Pale Rider” is “Shane”. This Eastwood vehicle is less cartoonish, darker, grimier and grimmer but he still has quite a ways to go. The sets are perfectly bleak, the costuming somewhat down to earth, the landscapes spectacular, and most of the characters are less romantic but remain archetypal to a fault. They brim with larger-than-life, legendary meanings. I enjoy “Pale Rider” AND recognize Eastwood needed it to move on in more interesting directions. Awkward gaps exist in the editing which fail to maintain a sense of natural Time. For example, in the opening scene, bandits are charging ahead on their horses over the mountains and through the valleys, non-stop, full-tilt, relentlessly pounding on mile after mile after mile – which is absolutely pointless to the story and which the horses could never manage. Other scenes depict characters behaving in unbelievable ways (for example, pioneers relax by OPEN cabin doors during the winter while simultaneously trying to stay warm inside – and acting as though someone ELSE took care of their firewood needs, for free!). Dramatic license? Sure, but distracting to the realism? Yes. Sloppy continuity? Single dynamite sticks that explode more than once? Come on now… we ARE WATCHING, you know! THIS is a Guilty Pleasure. WOTO
“Heaven” (again, 1987): This is a semi-documentary about fringe American beliefs of a place some call “Heaven”. Diane Keaton relies heavily on two sources: film and television clips (c. 1920’s through 1980’s), and, unique people she accumulated for on-camera, sit-down interviews. She sets a tone of outrageous (hilarious) delusions and capitalist (chilling) greed. It is certainly entertaining, but seldom informative. Avoid it if you seek an in-depth, academic study. I enjoy it for its near-insanity. Her staging of interviews in “german expressionist” style sets with fragmented lighting are interesting and unique, but often distracting. The editing shows clear intent to pound away at the craziness of those people she displays… and they ARE on display. “Heaven” is one of a kind, and has its flaws, but if you’re ready for an entire belief system to be nothing but skewered, you’ll have fun. WOTO
“The Wild Ride” (1960): This is a very early, obscure “hot rod” film starring Jack Nicholson. He was 23 when making this (and the awful, first attempt at “Little Shop of Horrors“), but he looks 17. “The Wild Ride” is a bad film… but it has a certain good-bad flavor to it. He plays a nasty punk of a bully who heads up a little gang of California teen hot rodding cats and their chicks. “I follow the laws! I follow MY laws!“ he sez to the fuzz. I like this film – it is a “Guilty Pleasure” for me – due to the Car Scene, the RELENTLESS Beatnik hip lingo, the bongo-n-jazz flute scoring, the social hierarchy and “rebellion” themes, and its shameless, low quality rip off of “The Wild One” (made 7 years earlier, starring Marlin Brando, lots of motorcycles, and Lee Marvin). If you’re looking for another good-bad drive-in quality movie, this should be on your list… in my good-bad opinion. WOTO
“Valley of the Dolls” (again, 1967): Lurid, candy colored, soapy and trashy… and lots of Guilty Pleasure fun! Made from the book, this movie is a timely Hollywood expression of changing sexual and social roles in the none-the-less slower, conservative worlds herein depicted, the beginning of a drug problem barely forecasting at what was yet to come, and some of the tackiest and suaviest architecture and décor to date. “Valley of the Dolls” is pumped full of current, past, and future stars. It centers on four driven women played by Susan Hayward, Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, and Sharon Tate. Also see Martin Milner, Lee Grant, George Jessel, Joey Bishop… even the very first moment Richard Dreyfuss is seen on film! (Watch close or you’ll miss him.) Beautiful women with big hair, glittering gowns, throats full of “dolls” (pills) fight among themselves and against the slick-haired men in sharkskin suits who never stop smoking or wanting a piece-o-that. WOTO
“Superstar – Dare to Dream” (2000): I’ve never seen a character from the television show “Saturday Night Live” used successfully in a full-length feature film. At best, these movies are as shish kabob string of short skits one might see on SNL. A film they do not make. That aside, if you like this or that character – in this case Molly Shannon’s “Mary Katherine Gallagher”, the deluded, horny, clumsy Catholic high school girl – you’ll still enjoy these films as guilty pleasures – brainless spurts. WOTO
“Hot Rods to Hell” (again, 1966): “Hell couldn’t hold these angels!!!” Bored desert-rat teens with souped up mod-rods are waiting for their next road victim. A decent, god-fearing family is on their way to start a new life. There’s gonna be trouble, I tell ya, and it’ll be out on the anything-goes asphalt!! It’s pedal-to-metal-time as Dad (Dana Andrews), Mom (the lovely Jeanne Crain), their hot daughter and Beaver-esque son duel it with petty punks out along the lonely stretches between nowhere and Hell! I saw this first run, and it always stuck with me. It’s funky, silly, weird, and addictive. You WON’T be able to stop watching. It’s like what they say about bad car accidents… you just gotta stare. WOTO
“This isn’t a “Film”, but I don’t know where else to put it”
“Olympia” (German, 202 min., 1936): Hitler’s favorite German film director made this documentary by his order. Leni Riefenstahl said “Ja, mein Fuhrer”. She was happy to work for him / Germany. Recorded is the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Germany was in the midst of still trying to create an international image of power and goodness. They hadn’t yet physically attacked any countries, but were of course attacking groups of their own people. In this film – a long film – you are essentially treated to artistically photographed athletes from many nations competing for laurels. On occasion, you are also shown Hitler, Goering, and Propaganda Minister Jospeh Goebbels rooting on and applauding “their” athletes, and back-slapping one another IF a German wins. However, this did not occur as often as they expected. In fact, Jessie Owens and the other Americans did a near clean-sweep of sprints and jumps. The stadium full of visitors loved them, and for a short time made them “stars” of Berlin. You are NOT shown the Nazi leaders reactions. They were not enthusiastic. Events did not and would not go their way… WOTO
“Frost / Nixon” (docum., again, 1977): I saw David Frost’s interviews with Richard Nixon first run on television where they were intended. These interviews lasted 28 hours. Forty five million Americans alone watched them. It was the largest audience EVER for a news interview. Why? For some, it was Watergate. For others it was Viet Nam. For others it was Nixon himself. For many of us it was all three and more. These interviews occurred when television was in its last struggles to be pertinent to our culture. The above reasons should be enough to explain why everyone should sit through a mere 88 minutes of 28 hours. For those who see History as merely old stuff having NOTHING to do with them and their current world, I can’t help you. Maybe you’ll become wiser later. Maybe you’ll remain uninformed. Maybe you’ll never care. It’s not my job. Your ignorance may be your bliss, but I can assure you your ignorance is NOT OUR bliss. WOTO
17 March '13 by Ronn Ives, under Larger Forces at Work.
A good customer of mine recently purchased more 1952 Raymond Loewy ”Service 2000″ dish ware. I’ve seen photos of his table settings. Creative and beautiful. I’m glad I can help. This guy deserves free rein and a budget to produce a book on table arrangements.
We all have our little niches of insight… AND blindness.
I don’t know how we get some of them… others I do.
I’m NOT talking about academic Education and Training (or lack of). It’s that OTHER stuff which seems to form from thin air… during times passing unnoticed. I put a lot of weight on Education - much of which is far from an institutional experience. Most of any life time is NOT spent in formal Education, yet many people accept the thought that “We LEARN in school, then REPEAT on the OUTSIDE what we learned while INSIDE. That’s that.”
Perhaps most parents understand the limits of that thought, but after my years of teaching I must say many, many parents DO hand over most of the responsibility of educating their children to various institutions. I’m NOT talking about any specific group like high or low income single parents, OR, specific institutions like public or private school or church. I AM talking about parents who give EXCESS weight to the institution over their own guidance of that unique child.
THAT isn’t education. It’s barely policing. But who am I to talk? I didn’t raise kids day in and day out for decades. But, I am an ex-child. I struggled with all the venues of education – school teachers, parents, other adults, the medias, the streets, peers… and depending upon the day, month and year, one source held significant power as EASILY as another.
Lately, I’ve considered the impact pop music had on me while a young teen. Sure, I had a brain, yet I also had my “heroes” – right or wrong, good or bad, real or fake – many in the music industry, with MOST of their effect from lyrics and publicized behaviors.
It’s laughable NOW, but it wasn’t then. My life and brain were smaller. My body was drowning in an overabundance of new juices. Through delivery girls like Joannie Sommers, Shelley Fabares, The Angels, The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes, The Crystals… ALL FEMALES!… I was instructed how girls wanted to be treated: with roughness, distance, uncertainty, and as a carnival prize and a second-class creature from another planet. Girls had unreliable thoughts and moods, said “no” when they meant “yes,” and could be had by offering a few softly uttered words or unhealthy candies in a heart-shaped, flat red cardboard box.
By 8th grade, people told me I looked at least 18 years old. This was GREAT for me because I gained illegitimate access to all sorts of activities and behaviors with older people. I’d recently been uprooted from my entire life through a cross-country move, and was so lonely, so angry, and so sad and confused over this, I would’ve attached myself to a box of dynamite if it would’ve said friendly things. In fact, I sort of did just that.
While an 8th grader, my 9th grade steady girlfriend looked as much 18 as did I. (The more mature-appearing kids always find one another.) She was pretty, stylish, and already owned her adult figure of 40-28-38. Her mother was seldom home. Her father was alcoholic, missing a leg, and beat both females. I encouraged my girlfriend to run from this one-legged man when he’d go on a rampage. She left her bedroom window unlatched. There I was at 14 learning about girls from her, her family, teen magazines, peer rumor, and musical heroes.
“This girl must be the ‘right’ girl/woman…” because she was not only good looking and “stacked”, she behaved the way I was being taught she should. I learned the more I mistreated her the more she’d warm up to me. If I hit her she’d tell me she loved me. And, SHE knew she had the “right” boy/man not only because I looked fashionable and was part of the In Crowd but because I too behaved as I should. MY actions proved to her I was emotional – thus, I LOVED her. Listen to the tunes of that era! We were good students.
In the cross-country move, I’d lost much of significance in my life. In its place was a vague feeling – I had little for comparison – and I was uncomfortable with what I apparently expected to do for her and my relationship to “work”. I didn’t like the idea of growing up if THIS is what it meant! WHAT WAS NEXT???
Within the next year, we broke up (not due to any great wisdom on either of our parts), she dropped out of school, was becoming alcoholic, got married and began having babies. Eventually, one by one, each of her three husbands ended up in prison. She and I kept in touch (during her good, communicative spells) for 25 years but, sadly – slowly – I gave up on her. To this day it depresses me to think about it. I could no longer stand by someone who was a landmine. It was too difficult. I’d worried about her for a quarter century, I was never of any help, and it was time for me to go. I had to move on… and away.
It seems to take an entire lifetime to find and remove some of those early ideas installed in the backwater areas of our brains. Could our parents have helped protect us from these confusions if they’d just asked that one more question? … the kind of questions I would’ve (at the time) considered intrusive and none of their damned business?
“Where did you get those car parts?”
“……………from a friend.”
(“Whew! This is gonna be easy…”)
19 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under The Antiques, Design and Art World.
I was recently called a “motorhead”, and it’s true. I am. I’m not the “shade tree mechanic/how to” type like I once was, but I am the design type. The “how to” type is a dying breed as microchips replace more and more mechanical parts of the car. By “design” I don’t mean only the appearance of the body and interior. Much of that is mere passing fashion – tail fins – “style” – not true design.
TRUE Design is a very complex set of issues for any object/idea, whether a painting, city, or car. For me, AUTOMOBILES are THE focal point – THE Zen object – of practical, everyday design (in “first world” nations). Many designers/teams fail miserably, and when they do, the cost to us is in money, comfort, and LIVES. It is serious business. When you read the stats on recalls and class action law suits, or listen to water cooler griping, it begins to add up that some bring you misery while others greatly reduce those odds. Yugo… or Toyota?
Okay, point made. It’s obvious at that level. Going deeper into it, I’m extremely interested in the efforts made by an honorable company to produce the “right” cars. What IS “the right car”? (All these thoughts can be applied to most objects, and some art.) At the company’s most basic level it’s their car they want you to buy and later not sue them. You’ll hopefully be a repeat customer when the time comes, all the while telling others about your car owning experience. So far, this doesn’t include many considerations that would raise the company up to the “honorable” level. A huge company can still produce very unreliable cars and treat their customers like crap. Chrysler comes to mind, but is far from alone. (Do you know what American car has the worst reliability record, the most problems yet the highest resale value, and the most dedicated customer base? Think about it. I’ll tell you later. Try to figure it out.)
What’s pathetic is the human urge to DENY our poor decisions, and, be concerned with IMAGE beyond what even your energy and budget can handle. “Image” is the only thing that can explain why millions of people would continue to accept low standards and big trouble from a machine and its representatives. Such companies rely on this phenomenon of “image defensiveness”. Most people would rather lie about their car than admit they’d been an idiot.
Alright, so why do CARS – machines that merely roll really fast along a path and hopefully stop when and where we choose – become a point of meditation? (Hey, it’s NOT just me thinking about this! Look at the shelves of magazine and book stores!) So, what makes a car ”right”? …
- They must fit the human body. (Duh, right????? No! I’ve been in cars where the FIT was WRONG – I don’t mean just “uncomfortable” – I mean because important aspects were given secondary status to another design consideration! A good example is in most Lamborghinis where foot pedals are terribly off driver-center in order to accommodate the turning angles of the front wheels which intrude deep into the leg tunnels! Those wacky, emotional, impractical Italians!! A third of a million bucks for a car with the pedals in the wrong place? Is this some sort of “exclusivity” thing? “Yeh, the ONLY thing I’m not thrilled with about my NEW ‘LAMBO’ (!!) is that pesky PEDAL problem. You DO know what I’m talking about, DON’T YOU?? I mean, you pay nearly a half million for a car, you should get more, right?! Am I RIGHT!!?? But hey, it’s a LAMBORGHINI!” … Those brilliant, sneaky Italians!)
- Cars simplify life. They give us more leisure time. (Yes, it IS a self-fulfilling prophecy in a country that redesigned itself to be “auto-centric,” but it IS the current reality for 99% of us.)
- They are rolling advertisements as to how we want to be “seen”. Image. We can’t take our HOUSES with us so the transportable things – car, clothes, hair – become our mobile Symbols. (Someone out there right now is saying: “Well, I AM NOT one of those people that use a CAR as a way to describe myself! In fact, I chose a car that DIDN’T describe me! IT says “THIS person doesn’t want to be understood by the car they drive! ……………………….. oops.”)
- Humans love challenges. Scientists and technicians love to wrestle with major earthly forces such as friction and gravity. We built large wooden boats for sailing off into the Nothingness at the edge of the water looking for the edge of the world. We built ships that scorched us to a Moon with no air or water. Humans NEED challenges. Cars challenge designers to create vehicles which demand many - and often opposing - concepts such as the power to reach, hold, and have speed in reserve vs fuel efficiency, or creating forward speed (lack of friction) vs the ability to corner and stop moving (abundance of friction). (Cars have gone over 700 miles per hour ON LAND, so clearly other issues are in our daily-car equation.)
- Cars challenge stylists (the “Appearance” people) to create an overall look (and feel, sound, and smell) that will not just attract buyers but satisfy the emotions and psychology of homo autosapiens. And, as if that weren’t complex enough, they try to meet the demands of constantly changing fashion within cultures and sub-cultures. (For example, there is no single color that has always been the favorite. In fact, the MEANING of most colors changes all the time! MEANING? I’ll give you an example: To keep the price affordable on the original Model T Ford, it was offered only in black. BLACK paint was the cheapest, so black cars meant AFFORDABLE. The more expensive, exclusive cars were NEVER black during those years. They were two and three tone celebrations of the palette. During WWII, BLACK changed to mean SOMBER, SERIOUS, and PATRIOTIC (black was also good for air raid “black outs”). After the war, BLACK went back to meaning LOW PRICED and CONSERVATIVE when it was again more expensive to buy a 2 or 3-toned car. In the 60′s, BLACK meant RESERVED, COOL, and POWERFUL as we rejected the excesses of the 50′s. Then there was the 70′s. (General shudder) In the 80′s, BLACK returned to now mean TECHNO, POWERFUL, and SUAVE. But IT’S JUST PAINT, RIGHT???? It’s just “black”! Wrong.) (You might enjoy this: over 250 exhaust notes were recorded, studied, and considered before one was chosen for the Mazda Miata. Did you think cars SOUND like they do… well, just “because”? Why does a Cadillac horn sound so distinct from a Volkswagen? Is one right and one wrong?)
- Cars challenge designers to protect the occupants from incredible forces such as high wind, water pressure, firey explosions inside the engine, and impact with immovable objects. (How do you make a car strong enough to withstand a front end crash yet light enough to get 40 miles per gallon? How do you design a tire to stay attached to a wet road when speed limits are higher than the point of “hydroplaning” (when a car lifts off the ground and is sliding atop water only) – even if the driver knows better? How do you design an all-terrain vehicle to cross a river and climb over boulders but not tip over at a corner in the mall because you were traveling one mile per hour over its limit? Why, how do you design control switches to be in the RIGHT, user friendly, keep working, and “feel” solid, sophisticated, and silky? There’s been all sorts of research into that!)
And let’s not forget that OTHER factor: YOU. If you don’t check the oil, if you drive like an idiot, you’ll end up by the side of the road stranded or legless asking stupid questions like how THIS could have happened and why didn’t the car company protect you from yourself? Duh.
Ask yourself this: “How did Chrysler get away with designing the “PT Cruiser”? Why have so many of them sold?” (Chrysler IS an interesting visual design company despite its terrible mechanical record. (If they would only DECIDE to build their products with even a hint of reliability!) WHAT is in our “cultural air” that would encourage such design in the first place, AND, secondly make it such a success? (Yeh, and how about their “Prowler”, taken out of production????)
Obviously this is a subject with which I am capable of driving on and on – and on – (pun intended) – AND right over (pun intended), so I’ll brake for now (pun intended) and pick up (pun intended) again on some later roadside diner with greasy food and real coffee.
PS: The car with all the yearly problems decade after decade but the dedicated fan base? The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette. Gawd Bless Amerika!
18 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under What Really Matters.
With Kate Bush on the stereo (“The Red Shoes”): Outside, it’s chilly, rainy, gray, and windy. Inside, it’s light, warm, dry, and Bushy. It hardly gets any better. I’ve had decent sales today from the moment I opened the computer. If it was like this every day, I might even get some retirement socked away…
…………Okay, let’s not get carried off. Kate does that to me.
There’s a young boy named ”Justin” (about 10 years old), who lives nearby. He stops to see me when he’s walking home from errands at 7-11. (He seems to buy a lot of Twinkies for his Mom.) He loves my Miata sports car and is always bugging me to “drive it”.
“Yeh, right Justin, sure!!!”
I have fun with him about it. I keep throwing excuses at him, and he keeps coming back for more. Originally, I’d tell him things like “Okay, come back at 5:30 and we’ll discuss it…”… he’d light up… then realize I planned to be gone at 5:00. He no longer expects me to EVER say “yes” but my excuses must now be elaborate and creative since I used up all the easy ones a year ago.
We’ve built an entire Abbott and Costello routine.
“Okay Justin, you’re close enough to legal now I’ve decided you can drive my car to the corner and back… but first I’ll need a deposit in case something happens… and I’ll need a release form from your Mom, so send her by, let me discuss the “conditions” with her, and I’ll run it past my lawyer. If all that goes fine, we’ll look over my schedule – and YOURS of course. I think about 11:00 a.m. on a weekday is best for me….”
“But I’m IN SCHOOL then!”
“…dang, THAT IS a problem. Okay, we’ll try another day, but get your Mom down here, and we’ll discuss the $10,000. deposit…”
“…Well yeh! Plus she has to sign the release saying if you kill yourself not only do I get a NEW car but can’t be held responsible for your lousy driving… you know, like if you wreck and all we can find are a few little scraps of you that the street sweeper missed…”
“Hey. You don’t even know how to shift the gears, so we HAVE to look at these REAL possibilities, pal!”
Justin is black, short for his age, and sports a huge, 1970 style Afro hair do… you know, like twice the size of his head. I’ve always liked those ‘Fros, but on him - looking even younger than his age, short, with a happy face and eyes framed in silver wire-rimmed spectacles - it seems overworked. Justin may be considered a “nerd” within his school community. I don’t know. He’s too nice to be a “cool” guy associated with the “cool” crowd, I am sure. His Mom, a large woman about 30 years old, has walked by with her son many, many times. In good weather I might be outside basking in the sun or working but SHE has never acknowledged my existence… not to chat or even say hello… nothing. She seems angry and distrustful… won’t even make eye contact. I don’t take it personally. It could be a Man thing, it could be a White Man thing, it could be a Stranger thing. I have no clue.
What surprises me is Justin has NOT absorbed her feelings and reflected them back at me. Nor have I ever seen a father figure anywhere near him, and he does not run with a crowd of boys having fun OR causing trouble.
“Man, I’m NEVER gonna get to drive your car!”
“…sure you ARE, Justin, but there are DETAILS that have to be worked out!”
“Well, how about if I bought it from you for like… a thousand dollars a year?”
“Hmmm… so what will you do, deliver the money to the graveyard?”
“Do the math, buddy! You’d owe me $23,000. That’s 23 years. You’d be delivering final payments to me with a shovel! I’m more impatient than that!”
This is what we do. He’s a nice kid.
17 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under Films, FILMS - 2006+.
For someone who doesn’t get paid, I see and write about a lot of films. I see them because I love them. I write about them so I can later look them up and review my thoughts. Let’s face it – not all movies are memorable or worth a second viewing, and, my memory sucks.
As in the past, I again watched “The Big Sleep” (1945 & 1946), starring who-else-but pop culture icons Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. My previous viewings left me with mixed, unenthusiastic feelings. It’s not a stand-out film… at least not the 1946 version I’d always seen released to the public. However, recently I purchased a dvd that held a 1945 version. My wife and I decided to watch 1945 one night, and 1946 the next. Stick with me on this…
“The Big Sleep” was made during the war and sent first to our soldiers overseas. Whether this shipment was a gesture of Patriotism by Hollywood or merely an easy way to test market a movie without getting critics involved, you decide. Either way, the studio learned a few things related to their investment: 1) the story was complex but sufficiently clear, and Bacall, the female they wanted to sell as the Star, had serious competition in Martha Vickers who played her lovely, flirtatious, out-in-left field sister. I agree with what must have been the soldiers responses: Vickers is much better. Bacall was neither equal in looks or acting dynamics… but, she had Bogart.
In 1945, at age 46, Bogart was a big star. Bacall, at age 23, had a couple films on her resume - box office bombs. Investors were afraid one more flop would kill her with the public. Bogart had other big issues in his life: he was alcoholic, married, and had the hots for Bacall. He was becoming known for unreliable behavior and costing Warner Brothers more money through delays. In 1945 Hollywood, neither of these as-is people were a solid investment.
This is where it becomes easy to say “I’m going to stop reading about Hollywood and its machinations, and stick to watching films.” But, like driving by the proverbial car wreck and seeing damaged people getting loaded into ambulances or hearses, I admit my wife and I look on. There’s a “tabloid history” angle hard to ignore… now made even easier with a tablet computer next to us on the sofa for immediate research after the film.
“The Big Sleep” needed to be “re-vamped”. Literally. Most everyone had a vested interest in getting Bogey and Bacall into the limelight without unnecessary delays. This would require editing out the “problems” and shooting additional scenes to be inserted. Removal of film footage focused on Martha Vickers. The studio wanted Bacall as the marketable Star, and Bogart wanted Bacall as… well, for the time being anyhow, his mistress. Bacall no doubt saw the scrawls on the walls – she was on her way out and other women could out-dazzle her. But, now she had a big star who would fight for her in ways she could not. Vickers, too good to be removed entirely, was snipped out until no longer a screen “distraction”, and with the newly created open spots in the film, additional Bogart/Bacall scenes were created – scenes with plenty of Hollywood Heat. The people who needed to make money would make more money. The people with careers on the line would ally in ways necessary for self-defense and power. A product would be altered, careers would be sculpted, people would be built up or torn down, and the public would be none the wiser while happily paying their twenty five cents at the box office window to see Their Stars. Only later would they debate a confusing, incomplete-feeling plot.
All is Glorious in Hollywood… just don’t wander into the back lots.
(PS: Martha Vickers’ career and life would flail about unsuccessfully up to her death at age 46 in 1971.)
16 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under Uncategorized.
Yes, this is a Confession. I collect photos of beautiful women. I am a Flaming Heterosexual. I’ve been gratefully married for decades, AND, I continue to love beauty. Sue me. I love women.
During my hobby of collecting images, I run across anomalies and outright lies such as what you see above. One is a fake, one is not. Feel free to decide for yourself, and, if you’d like, cast your vote here.
Personally, I hate liars.
(PS: If anyone can identify the original artist who did this lovely shot, please inform me so s/he can receive proper credit.)
15 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under The Antiques, Design and Art World.
February 21, 2003: (Dedicated to younger artists everywhere in all mediums)
I am listening to an album by Leonard Cohen. It contains some of the best lyrics of all time and he uses back up vocalists better than anyone else. I once thought (at age 20) I SHOULD simply overlook his BAD, ROUGH voice for the better qualities of his music. (Wow… Why do we EVER think we totally understand ANYTHING?)
If I must pick ONE Cohen album (for the proverbial “desert island”), it would be his first, titled “Leonard Cohen” (c. 1970). On it is ”Suzanne,” “So Long Mary Anne,” and “The Sisters of Mercy” and many other pieces of brilliance. Truly, he is an artist who has not received the broad level of respect and renown deserved. Everyone else performs his music… but seldom does it justice.
A pattern of preferences formed as I worked through my twenties. I preferred Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Melanie Safka, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Marianne Faithful, Tom Waits, and Nico with the Velvet Underground over artists such as Joan Baez, Glen Campbell, Scott McKenzie, and others with “pretty” voices. For awhile I thought it was that I preferred rougher, straightforward, unadorned music… but I’d stumble across an artist – such as Vivaldi – who would break my nice, tight, little concept! If anyone was ornate and sweet, it was Vivaldi! Therefore, somehow, I was looking for answers in a “less right” place.
For me, as a young artist, these were important questions. They functioned as gauges to my personality. How could my own Art be honest if I didn’t understand this process of selection? My Thesis Chairman once said to me: “Your best work is your darkest work.” For the time, he was right. For the most part, he’s still right. I prefer salt over sugar. I prefer painters Franz Kline, Willem DeKooning, Vincent Van Gogh, and the etchings of Rembrandt van Rijn over artists Frank Frazetta, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Auguste Renoir, and Georgia O’Keeffe. I prefer whiskey over wine. I smoked non-filter, non-menthol cigarettes. I loved Mexican food, not French. I didn’t want a car with an automatic transmission, power windows, or a cushy ride. I wanted the top to come down and blast me with the wind and sun. I kept snakes and dogs not cats and parakeets. I cussed a lot and intentionally misspelled words. I loved the desert, its cacti, heat, scorpions, and wild pigs, not the seashore with its soft, lapping edge. Yet, it was too easy to think I simply preferred being rough around the edges - thinking, creating, and behaving in unsubtle (“honest”) ways. It simply wasn’t right on the mark, and if I was going to be truly accurate (honest) in my self expression, I had to identify what was hiding out in the open. I much preferred Brian Eno over Philip Glass. Why????
The missing link was “internal logic”!
I’ll say it again:
The missing link was “INTERNAL LOGIC”!
I once listened to a university trained black vocalist – a woman well trained in European OPERA - perform slave songs using her highly stylized, Italianesque, operatic voice. There was NO internal logic. It was dishonest – or call it contradictory – to the intent. She wasn’t trying to be witty, sarcastic, or ironic. She just didn’t “get it”. She was Pat Boone crooning the Sex Pistols. She was Vivaldi’s orchestra performing African fertility ritual tribal music. Henry Mancini performing Nirvana.
You have intent, you have tools, and you have a language. If you want to depict the world as a lovely, colorful, soft place you don’t use black & white Intaglio etching as your medium. You use a palette of pastels on genteel paper. THAT’S when “I got it” (for as obvious as it must sound now)… Leonard Cohen’s voice – rough, sour, angry, depressed, conflicted - was perfect – PERFECT – for HIS lyrics. Vivaldi wasn’t talking about the misery and eventual death of tortured humans – HE celebrated the beauty of four seasons, and used the appropriate tools in masterful ways to reach HIS goals.. like all other powerful artists with intelligence.
Talk about the light bulb going on! Chopin knew he needed the piano, not the banjo! My “darkest” work was better not simply because it was how I ”saw” the world, but because what I had to say was said best with etching on metal, using black ink formed into lines and rough areas of tone smashed into damp, heavy paper. I’d always felt “at home” with that medium. Now I knew better why and could move on with the insight I needed for faster growth and stronger images.
In the bigger picture, it’s not about visual art, music, or dance. It’s about SELECTING from the AVAILABLE ELEMENTS of your DAY, using those appropriate for the betterment of the LIFE you are intentionally creating for yourself and those around you.
Thank you my Educators, my Overseers, my Challengers, my Friends & Protectors – you Heavy People.
14 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under What Really Matters.
(Recalling 2003:) (Thank you to Bernadette Kinlaw for helping with this rewrite)
Reggie, one of FUTURES Antiques “pickers” delivered items for my inspection. Some I liked, and, despite the nation’s poor economic conditions, he offered fair deals. I need the inventory, and I wanted to help him, so I bought some things. But this is not why I’m writing.
We began talking. He’s a hell of a nice guy. Another customer was nearby, and the three of us started a long conversation. Reggie announced he’d finally begun receiving the monthly payments owed to him from the Veterans Administration.
They’ve been putting him off — stalling him — since 1976, when he came home from Vietnam.
He’s not bitter or angry. I would be. I have been and am, because of what I saw happen to friends and acquaintances who went to Vietnam. These men returned filled with fear, delusions, hate, violence, and addiction to admininstered drugs. Or, returned in a pine box. In the 1960s and 70s I was against that war and prepared to deny the draft. Now I was talking with a man who served in the Marines, LEAD everyone else into that Hell.
The paperwork for Reggie’s service from 1970 to 1976 was finally approved in 2000, 24 years after he came home. Three more years passed before he began receiving his rightful, monthly benefits. Oh, but DON’T think the benefits are retroactive to when he came home from the war in 1976. No, benefits only begin upon approval and activation of paperwork. THAT is 2003, NOT when he left Vietnam. As we talked, I became angrier. Reggie practically had to calm me down.
We’re the same age but I DON’T have Agent Orange in my lungs and cells. I didn’t go to Vietnam. I don’t carry the unimaginable images, sounds, and odors in my head. He did, and he does.
I said, “Let me ask you something - and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want.”
Reggie said, “Okay.”
“IF you could go back to 1970, would you do things differently?
He’d already thought about it. He didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, I’d take the 4 years of prison. time instead, even with all the problems that follow you through life with a record like that… I’d do it that way because of what I know now. They lied to us, they took away what was promised, they treated us badly even before we got home. You think we didn’t know we were being sprayed with Agent Orange? We knew. We didn’t know it was as bad as it was, but we knew. We did what we were told. When they said, ‘Kill anything that moves from this line, north,’ we did it. After we were done, then the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard came in for clean up. No one communicated worth a damn. Because of that, one in every 4 or 5 of our men were killed from ‘friendly fire’… our own guns… target coordinates were screwed up… bombs were sent in… and we took the hits.”
The other man listened closely. His father served in Vietnam and was then laid up for years from Agent Orange, while our government denied the facts and those affected. For decades, Agent Orange was a “classified secret”. Allow me to translate: ”Keep denying these soldiers – delay – wait for them to die – to die on the vine waiting for their help. We can’t AFFORD to pay out all those benefits. Leave them hanging. To Hell with them. Again.”
But, it’s no longer a secret. (No thanks going to the bureaucrats on our payroll). Is ANYONE WITHIN THE SYSTEM informing our youth, our fresh soldiers in our newest “political unrest” what they will face not only in battle but (if they’re lucky) when they return home? If they make it back, they’ll still be facing the same lousy bureaucratic odds.
I am ANGRY. I want SOMEONE to do a feature article on this… then I want someone else to do one… and then someone else to do another. I don’t want this to go away. I don’t want this to be a fad. I don’t want one more soldier treated poorly after doing what WE ASKED OF him.
You can bet someone out there is going to say:
”Hey, I DIDN’T ask them to risk a thing!”
I tried using that same detached argument years ago.
It’s bull shit. We all play a part. We all are responsible.
05 February '13 by Ronn Ives, under What Really Matters.
I’m listening to “Jethro Tull” on the stereo. For all the recognition they received, it still seems less than they deserve. They were one sophisticated group of musicians.
In the early 1970′s, I helped jockey discs for friends at an independent FM radio station. They liked how I lined up music for an evening. Being left to our own devices, we truly “ran the show”. I loved doing it, and this gave the real DJ’s a break.
It was SUCH a pleasure to receive the latest Jethro Tull, Jimmie Spheeris, Stevie Wonder, Blind Faith, Melanie, Mark & Almond, Joe Cocker, Marvin Gaye, or Led Zeppelin vinyl! They were shipped to the station, free, as promotions. Sure, also sent was LOTS of junk, but, if you had the patience, previewing crate loads of mystery-albums could offer up a new, waiting-to-be-discovered genius.
When we found one – a perfectly cut gem mixed in with the mud such as Jimmie Spheeris’ first album “Isle of View” – oh MAN did we play it! Since NO ONE told US how to run the show, if we played a cut and liked it, we played the entire side, and if we liked that we flipped it over and played the entire “B” side, and if we wanted to hear the “A” side again, we flipped it over right then!! And you know what? No one EVER called to complain. We received nothing but compliments and support.
It was a GLORIOUS opportunity. It was glorious and we KNEW IT even THEN. It was a period of time in OUR lives which we could NOT take for granted. We celebrated that time AT that time.
Watch for them now in YOUR time.