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Summer of Movies: Art House Edition August 5, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
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Put down that Pabst Blue Ribbon and pick up that Heineken, it’s time for some upper-end, high-falutin’ fancy-schmanzty movies… oh, excuse me – FILMS to discuss in an intelligent and sophisticated manner.

In other words, films where nuthin blow’d up.

I’ve also given up on attending this echelon of moviegoing in person. While attending the supposed cinema-for-smart-people oozes the cultural vibe of avoiding the great unwashed talking on their cellphones throughout the entirety of the latest CGI-loaded comic book-based piece of assembly line formula crap from three different studios pooling their money to make it all back in China, audiences in the art house cinemas have often annoyed me for different reasons.

A lot of the time, it’s the virtue-signalling or hipness-signalling that goes on – to this day, I remember a couple of annoying dudes affecting intellectual edginess going out of their fucking way to laugh, and laugh LOUD – Robert DeNiro laughing at Problem Child in Cape Fear style loud – at the OBVIOUS and overdone supposed shock humor of Man Bites Dog, a French mockumentary about a serial killer that uses up its premise in its first few minutes and totally blows for the following 90. Yeah guys, I get it – you’re supposed to show people you think it’s funny because nothing shocks you, you oh-so-cool cultural trail blazers! Well, except for the endless list of harmless bullshit that you need trigger warnings for.

Save your energy, boys! There’s a repertory cinema up the street showing old romantic comedies and crime movies from the 1930s and 40s that you can hiss sexist-in-2018 dialogue at to demonstrate to everyone around you what an enlightened and superior person you are! I guess culturally we’ve graduated from that particular style of douchebaggery to organizing screenings of stuff like Animal House or Blazing Saddles for the sole purpose of pointing out why we shouldn’t be allowed to laugh at them anymore.

Yes. I hate everyone.

But usually at the cinema I’d most often wind up in, a branch of the Laemmle art house chain in Encino, the audience were mostly locals, which meant a small army of doddering alte kakers understandingly looking for better fare than what’s on the cable, but most often forgetting their hearing aids and repeating “What’d he say? What’d he say?” over and over again, EVEN IN SUBTITLED FILMS.

I used to tell my regular movie freak cohort it felt more like going to temple.

It was more eye-roll inducing than the anger-inducing hipster behavior, but it still interfered with my cinematic experience.

The amazing Cuban restaurant just up the street usually made up for it, tho – even if the movie turned out to be disappointing.

So, it’s been watching the same sort of thing at home, now – lumped in with the modern Hollywood fare I can stand, and with the old movies that escaped my radar that I never get tired of discovering. I guess if I learned to make garlic roast chicken the way they do at Versailles, it’d complete the circle.

Let’s start with a couple of them there foreign French films. Well, the first one might be in French, but it’s all about a bunch of Russian musicians. Le Concert (2009) tells the story of a bunch of former Russian classical musicians who had been shut down and banned by Brezhnev back during a 1980 Soviet crackdown who disguise themselves as the actual orchestra booked to play Paris. (more…)


I Don’t Trust These Visitors July 25, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, General, Movies.
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One of them smells like a tart’s handkerchief too.

Another Wonderful Movie Website July 12, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies, Writing.
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Go check out Pre-Code.com, a nice site filled with reviews & material on all sorts of pre-production code Hollywood material.

I landed on it while reading about an old Wheeler & Woolsey comedy, Diplomaniacs, which I just sat through.

And as always, they made me appreciate the Marx Brothers even more.

But check out all the material on Pre-Code.com. I might vary in opinion with the reviews, of course, but this guy’s stuff is thorough, detailed and extremely well designed and illustrated. It’s a great place for obscure movie tips.

Summer of Movies: Some ’70s Made-For-TV Youtube Fare July 10, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Movies.
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A hearty thank-you and a Derek Jeter gift basket for all the movie nerds who digitized old VHS off-the-air recordings of otherwise unavailable 1970s material and uploaded it to youtube.

There’s a ton of the stuff on there. I’ve only begun to fend my way through it. I’m trying to focus on stuff I’ve never seen, while maybe throwing in a repeated viewing of some fond memory here and there, to maintain some balance.

So I won’t be discussing the big 1970s TV movie titles that spring to most minds whenever the genre is mentioned – no Duel, or Trilogy of Terror, or Satan’s Triangle, or Bad Ronald or Killdozer… at least not YET, since a lot of those are on youtube as well. The majority come from the ABC Movie of the Week series, a 90 minute weekly slot filled by various TV production factories of the day – Universal, Aaron Spelling, etc. Here’s a site that lists ’em all, from 1969 to 1975.

Hell, I’m showing Duel for a class next year. It’s still one of Spielberg’s best.

And battling that lil’ cannibal™ doll was certainly Karen Black’s best. But let’s get to a handful of old TV films I screened recently, most of which are worth checking out.

In Broad Daylight (1971) stars Richard Boone as a recently blinded actor who plots to kill his cheatin’ wife (Stella Stevens) and pin the murder on her lover. In order to pull off the plot, he has to work the entire caper after learning how to independently move around Los Angeles now that he’s blind. Susanne Pleshette plays his counselor, John Marley plays the cop. This one plays out like a really good Alfred Hitchcock hour, and it’s set up in a way that makes you root for Boone to get away with it. (more…)

Summer Of Movies: Youtube Noir July 7, 2018

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If you’re a B-movie fan like me, youtube is a wonderful thing. Tons of old obscure movies reside there – many of ’em in the public domain, many more in what I like to refer to as “copyright defensive indifference,” since whatever level of piracy exists in their free access is something no obscure rights holder knows and/or cares about.

This summer, I’ve binged on two categories of films you can’t really find anywhere else – minor noirs too obscure for TCM and the like, and old 1970s era TV movies of the week, which I’ll review in some upcoming posts.

Let’s start with some noir, ranging from the very good to the, well, merely okay.

Pushover (1954) features Fred MacMurray as a cop assigned to woo gangster moll Kim Novak (in her film debut), enough to find out where her bank robbin’ boyfriend and the stolen money is. Borrowing a lot from Double Indemnity, MacMurray plays a guy bored & stuck in his own life, this time a cop and not an insurance salesman. While he and his partners set up a peeping tom stakeout of Novak’s apartment, MacMurray plots with Novak to trap her gangster boyfriend and run off with the money themselves. Philip Carey plays his bachelor-for-life partner who then peeps on neighbor Dorothy Malone, back in her brunette good girl days, and his subsequent flirting with her drives other elements of the plot. This one wasn’t bad – if not for MacMurray’s casting, I doubt I’d’ve made the Double Indemnity comparisons. He always plays a good sullen weasel, and Novak makes a good femme fatale. Usually in any sort of plot-counterplot crime or caper films, the degree of believability  in either the plan or the way in which the plan inevitably collapses is key to the success of the film. In something like Kubrick’s The Killing, the mechanics of the plan make up the entire film, and it’s all undone by the wrong choice of a cheap suitcase. The Killing still works despite the character making that mistake – unlike what happens in Plunder Road or The Chase, which I’ll discuss later. In Pushover, the unraveling of MacMurray’s game is handled very well, without any feelings of movies that are forced simply to wrap up the plot. So, this one is pretty good. (more…)

Summer of Movies: The Incredibles II (2018) – See It For The Short! July 3, 2018

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It’s gotten to the point where I only go out to the theater once a year or so. Used to go all the time. No more.

The experience just sucks. What else can I say? Bombarded with ads, trailers for some of the most God-awful looking drek, one after another, like body blows. People on their stupid omnipresent phones. Endless onscreen interactive wifi bullshit for all those God damn omnipresent phones.

Get off my lawn, I know.

Anyway, I ventured out to see a film I figured I’d like a lot, Incredibles 2. I thought the first one was wonderful, one of the best cartoons and flat out one of the best films of the last decade, really.

The sequel? Well, I liked it, but it’s nowhere near as good as the first one. How could it be, when the first one seemed so original at the time, a more comical version of “Watchmen,” really, with a phony universe of superheroes who’d been banned by society.

But in the years since the first film, I think we (especially me) have been inundated and overdosed on superheroes. Too many movies made from too many comic books, and even too many parody versions of the superhero genre like Venture Brothers and the like filling up the pop culture. So an Incredibles II has that uphill battle to wage – how can it deliver the familiarity of the original without seeming like yet another rehash of a cultural zeitgeist that’s turned into a flood?

Well, for one thing, the animation is pretty impressive. The sophistication of the computer animation used keeps getting better and better, and the object rendering, motion, and moving camera illusions are amazing to see.

But as far as story, I thought it fell short. A lot of it is a rehash of the first film, where much of the plot revolves around arguments over the necessity of superheroes and the like. And Incredibles II spends the majority of its screentime on two parallel stories – one with Mr. Incredible home with Jack-Jack the baby discovering his powers, the other with Elastagirl out saving the world with a publicity campaign designed to decriminalize superheroes. The schizo nature of this set-up makes up the bulk of the movie – we really don’t get a mesh of the two plots until good ol’ act 3, basically the final half hour, when the family comes together to save the day.

While I liked it and was entertained, my first reaction was that it wasn’t in the same league as the first one, and the obvious set-up for three, four and whatever else Disney wants to milk this thing to death the way they do with everything else made me simply sigh. I mean, you KNOW Brad Bird will move on to other stuff and we’ll get THE FORMULA from THE ANOINTED FRANCHISE SUCCESSOR like with every friggin thing else.

I’ve liked a lot of Bird’s work, from Iron Giant to Ratatouille. I wonder if he only made this one to secure deals for other stuff, to be honest. Who knows.

BUT – I can STRONGLY recommend and praise TO THE RAFTERS the Pixar short shown with it, the absolutely wonderful “Bao,” Domee Shi’s brilliant ode to mothers & sons. Again, the computer animation is astonishing, with character design being properly “cartoony” and universe objects (especially food in this one) looking amazingly real. But the simple story, told without dialogue, about a mom dealing with her son growing up is handled brilliantly, cleverly and humorously. Really hit home to see the difference between something special like “Bao” and then something that was basically well-designed calculated entertainment right after. Anyhoo,  it’ll be interesting to see if Shi gets to do a feature at some point. Here’s hopin’.

And now, back home, to my safe little CAVE to watch more old crap. But I’ll only briefly mention the crap and focus more on some nice discoveries on youtube for the next installment.

Summer of Movies: Some Edward Dmytryk Films June 30, 2018

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I’d been looking to expand a look at Dmytryk’s work and career for a film class this upcoming year. Calendars move in ebbs and flows, Jewish holidays move around, etc. Long story short, a few weeks got added to the first half of my class. A lot of the class deals with the transition from page to screen, and two directors who wrote substantially about their processes of doing that, Sidney Lumet and Edward Dmytryk, are focused on.

Lumet’s easier – he wrote an excellent book on his films and there are more great films to choose from. He’s also great to examine since “auteur” signatures can be discerned, yet Lumet hated to be thought of that way. So the commonalities are way more subtle than a Hitchcock, or Burton or Kubrick.

Dmytryk started out as an editor and wrote a great obscure book on editing, portions of which I’ll use since he goes into some decent detail on translating script pages to the screen. He also had an interesting career arc – originally part of the Hollywood Ten, Blacklisted, went to England to find work, and then got back into Hollywood by naming names  – not as prominently as Kazan or others, but it got him back into low budget material that he built upon, and then regularly working into the 1970s in more mainstream features.

After Kazan named names, he made On The Waterfront as a personal statement about loyalties, criminal association, and conscience.

When Dmytryk returned to Hollywood, he made a film I’ll add to my class – The Sniper (1952), a low budget job focusing on a lone gunman psycho shooting at brunettes in San Francisco. It explores the psyche of the killer (Arthur Franz) without giving us blatant cause-and-effect flashback scenes or Simon Oakland speeches about Freud to explain why he’s nuts. Franz is very good here, the police procedural material handled very well, along with an early Richard Kiley performance as the police profiler/psychiatrist assigned to the case. The thing that makes it stand out is the reality of the characters, and Dmytryk’s signature anticlimactic ending. His love of underwhelming endings hurts some of his films, but not here, in what could have been a standard formula ending for 1952. (more…)

Summer of Movies: Bookending the ’70s with They Might Be Giants (1971) and Winter Kills (1979) June 29, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Movies.
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Watching these two right after one another got me thinking a lot about how they’re both products of their time – more specifically, products of a very precise time.

The ’70s began with all sorts of hope and promise – we were fresh off the moon landings and remnants of all the peace ‘n’ love crap from the late ’60s still had a residue in the culture. I found They Might Be Giants as a good example of this particular zeitgeist. George C Scott plays a judge who has gone insane, thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes. Joanne Woodward plays the therapist brought in to treat him, and it turns out she’s actually Dr. Watson.

Based on a stage play (and feeling like it often), Scott does Holmes more as Don Quixote (the origin of the title – those windmills might be giants, after all) and eventually wins over the sad ‘n’ frustrated creature-of-boring-habit Watson into his happier world of make believe. He galavants around NYC and we meet all the street crazy friends he has who play along with his fantasy, and eventually we wind up with a very similar manifesto to Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s the seemingly crazy who not only can see the magic of living, but MUST see it in order to go on – while those of us who are supposedly sane not only can’t see it, but won’t. (more…)

RIP, Harlan Ellison June 28, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Television, Writing.
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Died in his sleep, according to a family announcement today. He was 84.

As he said, “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”

Ellison is one my favorites. I wrote this about him many years ago, so I’ll link it here.

Summer Of Movies: Bedtime Story (1964) June 27, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1960s, Movies.
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I play hooky from writing by watching more and more old movies. And the combo of whatever speed bumps I’ve hit while working on Wagstaff 3 and the discovery of WAY too many old noirs and the like on youtube have produced a lot of regular movie viewing the past few weeks.

I also needed to screen a bunch of stuff to evaluate for classes.

So I’ll begin a run down of what I’ve viewed so far, with some brief reviews and commentary.

I started with Bedtime Story from 1964, the original version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. David Niven and Marlon Brando play the roles that’d be redone as Michael Caine and Steve Martin, while Shirley Jones gets to play the mark that’d be redone with Glenn Headley. And redone better, actually – in the original, Jones is basically the innocent, whose honest love reforms the Brando character. Changing her to another con artist in the remake is a rare example of a story change in a remake that improves on the original. The character change for Headley is altogether brilliant – a way to basically redo the original set-up, where the Niven/Caine and Brando/Martin characters have their private challenge to see who can get rid of the other by taking Jones/Headley for a sap. We can have all the same gags where Brando/Martin pretends to be the soldier with psychological paralysis and Niven/Caine swoops in pretending to be the psychiatrist and so forth, but now our memory of the entire story arc changes when we find out that Headley was not the sappy mark but instead a superior con artist playing both of them (and us) at the same time. I kept waiting for that in the original, but instead got the standard character-reformed ending common to older films.

The original is still fairly funny. Niven is a natural, and Brando isn’t too bad at comedy.  This was post-Mutiny on the Bounty, when Brando’s star power had waned and his reputation for being difficult started to affect his casting, but I suspected he only did a little movie like this only to work with Niven, possibly bed down with some of the babe extras playing other marks, and a little research proved me right, at least on the Niven part. Jerry Lewis’ theory on Brando (and actors in general) was that directors that worked well understood how to confer with the inner “troubled child” inside every actor – Kazan could confer with it, but Lewis Milestone could not. Watch Hearts of Darkness to see Coppola deal with it, or perhaps, lose the ability he once had during The Godfather. Or even better, watch Lost Soul, a fascinating 2014 documentary on Richard Stanley’s failure to complete the awful Island of Dr. Moreau remake. Brando’s sabotage of the film seems to be an act of revenge in defense of Stanley once he had been fired. Val Kilmer’s sabotage was more in defiance of Stanley’s authority on set to begin with. Two great docs on moviemaking, and windows into the later career of Brando, anyway.

Brando took direction here, however. And from Ralph Levy, a longtime TV director. This was his only feature. He went back to episodic TV right afterwards. And this was back in the days where television people were routinely looked down upon like minor leaguers in the entertainment field.

And now we see how important the Niven factor may have been, eh?

For some reason this one never turns up on TV or TCM and I’d never seen it. But you can find it on youtube, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

And yes, I know it’s presently being remade AGAIN with the STARTLINGLY ORIGINAL IDEA of SWITCHING THE GENDERS!!!!!

OMIGOD!!!! THAT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!!!! Pat yourselves on the back for that one, Hollywood!

And yes, let’s make sure we follow save-the-cat/McKee story structure like it’s Holy writ, people.

And yes, make sure to insert current pop culture catch-phrases, buzzwords and the like.

And to run the table: keeping in line with the current trend in Hollywood comedies, let’s go totally overboard on bathroom humor, body excretions, and other overused and trite attempts at gross-out humor.

Oh dear GOD, will it most certainly SUCK.

Hollywood actually got a remake correct back in 1988, I guess they couldn’t just let it be. Gotta make sure all remakes are unnecessary and pointless somehow. Just another day at the office.

Meh. The more I think about what will most certainly be in the upcoming re-remake, the more I like the simplicity of the original, and the silliness of the first remake.

When do we get the gender swapped version of Victor/Victoria? I think we will have reached the singularity by then.