Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 6

The Man With Two Brains

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 One year after Steve Martin and Carl Reiner spoofed the P.I. genre in “Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid,” (their third of four collaborations), they reteamed to do a takeoff on Mad Scientist flicks in this delightful though sometimes uneven comedy. Martin through sheer talent pulls out enough laughs to make it worth seeing. Some jokes may slip by if you’re not familiar with films like “Frankenstein” and “Donavan’s Brain.” Kathleen Turner makes for a perfect slinky, devilish siren, in a perfect send up on her previous femme fatale in “Body Heat,” who marries our crazy hero only to soak him for his money.
Martin portrays brain surgeon, Dr. Hfuhruhurr who has perfected a new type of brain surgery, something called the cranial screw-top method. He uses it to save the life of a beautiful young woman (Turner) he hit with his Mercedes. The woman turns out to be a golddigger who seduces every hunk she meets while avoiding to sleep with her new husband. Frustrated, our hero falls in love with the brain of another woman — a brain that has been pickled jarred by another mad scientist (David Warner). Despite some bits falling flat, there are more than enough good ones, though it never rises to the level of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

                                                                      Tony Rome

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With Tony Rome, Frank Sinatra found the smart ass, wise guy loner role the public always felt the singer/actor was in real life. He’s a bit too old for the role, he was 51, however, that hard, tired face and look surely adds to the aura. So how good, or bad, is Tony Rome? Well, it’s neither. It’s somewhere in that hazy middle ground of shades of gray. One of the film’s obvious failures is the wardrobe choices Sinatra’s Rome wears. He looks like he came out of a 1950’s film complete with fedora and “ring-a-ding” repartee he is given to pontificate. What was rat pack hip in the late 1950s and early ’60s was completely old fashion in the psychedelic world of Purple Haze, Surrealistic Pillows, and Sgt. Pepper in the late ’60s. Worst is the wardrobe he wears when he is on the houseboat where he lives. The Captain’s hat and white slacks are cheesy God awful. That said, Sinatra handles himself well. He’s convincing as the streetwise loner. The plot is a bit convoluted, but then what P.I. film isn’t? Rome is asked by his ex-partner to help get a rich, drunk teen out of a Miami hotel without being seen and keeping the hotel’s name out of it. It sounds like a quick $200 bucks, but of course, it’s not.
The film is lightweight, more like a TV detective show than say The Maltese Falcon. There’s no deep probing into the meaning of life or Rome questioning his own sense of morality. There are no rain-soaked darky lit mean streets that many shamus roam. The setting is Miami and it’s all sunshine and heat. Sinatra is good with the wisecracks; they come quickly and often. There’s a good supporting cast that includes Richard Conte, Jill St. John, Gena Rowlands, and Sue Lyons. There’s also a cameo by the former middleweight/welterweight champion boxer Rocky Graziano, and daughter Nancy Sinatra sings the title song.

 

The Wild Bunch

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THE WILD BUNCH – Both Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” released in 1969 take a look at the end of an era: the Wild West. They are two films coming at you from different points of view. Butch Cassidy is a loving, romanticized take on the Wild West featuring two of the most charismatic stars of the era. Butch and the Sundance Kid are outlaws but they are fun-loving and good-humored. It’s an honor, as Woodcock (George Furth) the train employee tells Butch, to be robbed by Butch and his gang. With Butch and Sundance it comes down to that you wouldn’t mind having a beer with these guys. Not so much with The Wild Bunch crew. There is an inherent violent streak in this film whether its kids burning a scorpion, or lawman blatantly gunning down innocent townsfolks while attempting to stop a robbery, outlaws shooting U.S. soldiers, outlaws shooting Mexican soldiers or Mexican soldiers torturing outlaws. They kill for revenge, profit, power, fun, and any other reason. It was a way of life.
The Wild Bunch, like “Bonnie and Clyde” a few years earlier was considered violent and bloody. After more than 50 years of cinematic violence, the shock value had numbed us some but it still holds a grip on the audience. Like Butch and Sundance where the future is seen in the form of a bicycle, here it’s represented by the automobile. The closing final shootout is a violent visually poetic take that closes the book on a way of life. Oh yeah, “The Wild Bunch” is a modern day masterpiece of filmmaking.

Pay or Die

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For three years, 1906-1909, Lt. Giuseppe “Joseph” Petrosino headed what became known as the Italian Squad of the New York Police Dept. As a detective, Petrosino focused on fighting the Italian criminal element in New York’s Little Italy, a group known as La Mano Nera or the BLACK HAND a forerunner to the Mafia. “Pay or Die” is a vivid account of the life and times of Giuseppe Petrosino. Like most film biographies liberties have been taken but the overall story is true, including an extortion attempt on Opera star Enrico Caruso as portrayed in the film. Though filmed on a studio lot, the film reflects an accurate look at immigrant life at the turn of the 20th Century. Italian immigrants were pouring into the United States mostly from the poorer parts of Italy. Many of these families settled in New York, in what became known as Little Italy. The Black Hand preyed on the Italian community extorting money from store owners. If they didn’t pay, storefronts were blown up or worst. The owners brutally murdered. A note would be left with the body, a black hand imprinted on it as a warning to others. The film provides a tough look at the early days of the Italian criminal element in the United States and how they as predators, extorted and terrorized their own people. The film uses the phrases “Mafia” and “Mafioso” at a time when J. Edgar Hoover only just began to admit that the Mafia even existed (maybe he watched this movie). “Pay or Die” was a small B film that came and went into theaters without much fanfare. Ernest Borgnine is perfectly cast as Petrosino who comes across as a tough honest cop dedicated to cleaning up the Black Hand out of Little Italy and giving honest Italian immigrants the chance to become part of the American dream.

Marathon Man

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For a time in the 1970s, William Goldman was one of my favorite authors: Magic, Control, Tinsel, and Marathon Man were some of his best sellers. He also was a prolific screenwriter: Harper, No way to Treat a Lady, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, and The Stepford Wives. He also adapted many of his own novels to the screen Including Magic and Marathon Man. Marathon Man is a fast paced, diabolical thriller about former Nazis, smuggled diamonds, a rouge government agent, and a dentist scene that still brings nightmares to me each time I have a dental appointment. John Schlesinger’s film version is not perfect. If plot holes bother you, it could be bothersome, but putting that aside, it’s a thrilling ride. Dustin Hoffman is well cast and Laurence Olivier delivers a frightening performance. After watching this film, you’ll never want to hear your dentist say, “Is it safe?”

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 5

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

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John Ford’s brilliant western is both a romantic, three-way, love story and a look at the west on the cusp of change. Watching it again I realized how political a movie this is. There are battles between two factions. Those who want to remain a territory and those who want to become a state. It’s a typical rich versus the everyman battle. The future versus the status quo. Even the film’s love story, a triangle between a tenderfoot, a gunslinger, and the woman they love represents a dying western way of life. John Ford blends it all together with this filmmaking classic, his last great western.

 

The Graduate

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Some films are indelibly burned into your psyche for many reasons. It may have to do with the heart of every audience member jumping into their throats the first time the shark comes out of the water in “Jaws,” or the blaring rock sound of The Ronettes great song, “Be My Baby,” on the soundtrack in “Mean Streets,” or the discovery of a little know film called “The Panic in Needle Park” as you watch a then unknown actor named Al Pacino blow you away. There are certain films that are etched into your life and become a brick on the wall that helped build your love for movies. For me “The Graduate” was one of those films. It’s one of the seminal films of the 1960s ushering the “New Hollywood.”

Bananas

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One of the early, funny films that the more mature Woody Allen would dismiss later in his career. That said, this disjointed, sometime hodgepodge of a film remains funny. The jokes come fast, some fall flat, others remain fresh. Of all of Allen’s films “Bananas” is the closest he ever came to the satirical lunacy of the Marx Brothers (think “Duck Soup”). Here Allen’s banana republic of San Marcos meets Freedonia! Look for an unknown Sylvester Stallone stretching himself as an actor playing a subway thug.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

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This is no masterpiece but there is a dark streak of satirical comedy running through the film as it strikes at the ideal the perfect American family trip. Yes, the Griswold’s are on an ill-fated trip across America. Destination? The vacation promise land, Wally World, (think Disney World). It’ a bumpy road but there’s enough fun along the way thanks to Chase, Imogen Coca, and especially Dennis Quaid as the family’s country hick cousin (“I don’t know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper. It does just fine by itself”). There’s a great soundtrack headed by Lindsay Buckingham’s catchy “Holiday Road”.

 

A Kiss Before Dying

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Not wanting to marry his pregnant girlfriend Dorothy (Joanne Woodward) who will be disowned by her over strict and cold-hearted father if he found out, Slick college student, Bud Corliss (Robert Wagner) gives her a loving kiss and tosses her off the roof of a seven story building. The police are convinced it was a suicide, but her sister, Ellen (Virginia Leith) does some investigating of her own. Bud meanwhile begins dating Ellen, never bothering to mention he knew or dated Dorothy. Soon Ellen’s life is in danger as Bud’s perfect murder begins to unravel. Based on Ira Levin’s (Rosemary’s Baby) novel this is a dark thriller that will keep the tension building in high gear throughout.

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 4

Here is scene 4 in my Movies Watched in Quarantine series

The Roaring Twenties

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WNEW Channel 5 broadcast, on Sunday afternoons, one Warner Brothers movie after another. The Roaring Twenties was a mainstay. It was James Cagney’s last gangster film until White Heat some ten years later.
The Roaring Twenties is a rise and fall tale, in this case, of Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) a World War 1 vet who came home alive but with no prospects for the future. His old job as a mechanic is taken. He settles for a job driving a taxi with his old buddy Frank McHugh, that is until he accidentally stumbles in the bootleg business. With prohibition now the law of the land Eddie builds an empire becoming the king of New York. His old war buddy, George (Humphrey Bogart) works with him. However, like in many of his early roles, Bogie is a sniveling weasel who cannot be trusted. He runs true to form here.
Eddie’s world comes crashing down with the end of prohibition, and the girl (Priscilla Lane) he loved, but never loved him back. The film ends with one of the great endings of all time. Severely wounded in a shootout, Eddie is left stumbling along a snowy street, collapsing in front of a church in the arms of another woman (Gladys George). When asked by a cop what he did, she replies, “he used to be a big shot.”
Cagney, along with Raoul Walsh’s sharp direction drives the film never letting a moment of dullness creep in.

Da 5 Bloods

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There are a few rare times in history when art and life collide at the perfect moment in time. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is one of those films that has come out at the right moment when the anguished cries of Black Lives Matter have been in the headlines and history is being made. Lee has delivered what may be the best and most innovative film of the year. The director intercuts archival and newsreel footage into the film, nicely providing historical content. Da 5 Bloods is a thought provoking work about war, America, and race. Delroy Lindo leads the way in a cast of superb performances. There have been many films about The Vietnam War some great (Apocalypse Now Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Hearts and Minds) and others that have been false takes of the war including The Green Berets, any and all Rambo and Missing in Action movies. Fortunately, Spike Lee’s new epic tale falls into the first category. Watch on Netflix.

The Boston Strangler

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Based on Gerold Frank’s non-fiction best-seller. In the early 1960s, 13 women were strangled in the greater Boston area. The unknown killer was labeled the Boston Strangler. It made national news. Albert DeSalvo was eventually arrested and confessed to the hideous crimes. The 1968 film claims to be a true representation, but as with almost all fact based films there is plenty of fiction tossed in. This a typical police procedural spruced up with plenty of unnecessary “modern” split-screen effects that add nothing. Unlike Richard Brooks earlier true crime film, In Cold Blood (1966), which delves deep into the personalities of the killers, the filmmakers here though seeming to want to make a serious film couldn’t help themselves to make a sensationalistic tabloid feature. Tony Curtis gives what may be his best performance and was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination. Henry Fonda co-stars. Look for future stars Sally Kellerman (one of DeSalvo’s victims who survives) and James Brolin. 

Out of Sight

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Elmore Leonard created some of the most quirky characters to ever grace the page. In “Out of Sight,” Steven Soderbergh, along with screenwriter Scott Frank, captures Leonard’s tone and spirit perfectly. Leonard has generally not been served well when translated to the screen. “Get Shorty” and this film are the exceptions. Cheeky, sexy, witty, and poignant with a few unexpected bursts of violence. The performances are all pitch-perfect. Clooney is full of wisecracks and charm. Jennifer Lopez, in a pre J-Lo performance, has never been better possessing both a toughness yet vulnerable facade. The rest of the cast includes. Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Isaiah Washington, Steve Zahn, and Nancy Allen all deliver spot-on performances.

Book Review: The Big Goodbye

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Chinatown is one of the golden apples of 70s cinema. Sam Wasson has written an interesting, if sometimes overly detailed history on the making of the movie. Wasson brings you into the minds of the creators and participants: Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski, John Alonzo, Jack Nicholson, and Faye Dunaway. It’s also an intimate portrayal of Los Angeles and the Hollywood of the 1970s. Like the movie,  it’s convoluted at times. But the story is fascinating. It took Towne years to write the screenplay and he didn’t want to give up control. But filmmaking is a collaborative art, and the director, especially a director of Polanski’s caliber, has the final say. Wasson writes that the film’s ending is more Polanski’s doing than Towne.

The Big Goodbye is more than about Chinatown. It’s about the end of a golden era in films. Soon movies like Chinatown, The Conversation,   Marathon Man, The Godfather, and Network would give way to mindless blockbusters. There was more money to be made with trashy, splashy lightweight entertainment, lots more money, and after all, that’s what the business is about. Making money and box office trends, not art.

 

 

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 3

Here is scene 3 in my list of Movies Watched in Quarantine.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

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 With the mood, the ambiance, the Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, the perfect deadpan voice-over by Steve Martin, we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain-filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all, that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an affectionate, funny, and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames, and mean darkly lit streets.

 

Murder By Natural Causes

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Written by William Levinson and Richard Link (creators of Colombo) the 1979 Made for TV movie is a clever and devious story filled with one twist after another, and when you think you have it figured out, there’s another twist. A must-see for mystery lovers. I originally saw this on CBS back in 1979. In the late 1990s, I found a used VHS copy at Blockbuster Video and held onto it to this day. Unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD. The film stars Katherine Ross, Hal Holbrook, and Barry Boswick.

 

The Narrow Margin

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One of my all-time favorite Film Noir’s. Running a rapid 71 minutes, the film’s pace is as hi-speed as the rails they are riding. We are back in time when most people still traveled by train. It’s a world filled with sleeping berths, club cars, dining cars, porters, and whistles shrieking in the dark of the night. Most of all, the film has the great Charles McGraw, the unofficial king of B film noir. Whether portraying a cop or a criminal, his gravel like voice and square jaw looks have graced many film noirs. McGraw meets his hardcore match in Marie Windsor. Known as the “Queen of the B’s,” for the countless low budget films she made in her career. Windsor’s off-beat beauty graced a wide variety of films most importantly, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. Windsor’s 5’9” slinky frame, her coldhearted, seen everything looks make her a perfect femme fatale, and a superb counterpoint to McGraw’s rugged honest cop.

 

Broadway Danny Rose

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Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business: a one-legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his client’s worth no matter how bad they are. Allen creates a nostalgic world filled with the lower levels of New York’s show business community that he knew well from his early days as a TV writer and standup comedian. Many of the characters have a colorful Damon Runyon like quality to them. Classic Woody!

 

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 2

Here are a few more films I  watched while social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic which is still not under control. Here in Florida it continues to spread. I hope everyone is staying safe. Please wear a mask, it’s not that big a sacrifice. I know you can handle it  Anyway, as I shelter from the storm, here are a few thoughts on some of the films I’ve watched. More to come!

Misery

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Whether you are a musician, writer, actor, artist or any other public figure, you know having fans is an integral part of the experience. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted. However, with some fans there comes the point when that devotion takes a turn toward some very dark places; far from the ordinary, toward the bizarre, the maniacal or even worst. Fan is short for fanatic which derives from the Latin adjective fanaticus. The fanatic has lost all perspective of their relationship to the artist. They are overly passionate and unreasonable in their devotion to their idol. Some even feel they know the artist and have a personal relationship where the artist is speaking directly to them. It’s all very delusional, and needless to say, way outside the boundaries of what is considered conventional behavior. Then there is Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates).
Misery is one of my favorite Stephen King novels and one of the best adaptations of a King novel. Filled with dark witty humor and a sense of dread that builds throughout. Would have loved to have seen Hitchcock make this film

The Incredible Shrinking Man

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Ignore the silly title this is one of the greatest existential science fiction films ever made. It’s based on Richard Matheson’s novel, The Shrinking Man. On the surface, the film is fun to watch, but it does carry some serious underlying themes. Our Shrinking hero sees his shrinkage as a loss of his masculinity. As he continues to shrink, he feels his manhood and his place as the man of the house are being diminished as well. He is no longer sexually adequate. He also faces a life where everyday objects are now life-threatening. A spider he once would have stepped on is now the size of a prehistoric monster. The pet cat is a predatory beast ready to attack. Small leaks from the basement water heater turn into a major flood for our minuscule hero. He hates being a scientific experiment and a spectacle for the media. He now fights for survival in his own house where everyday objects are now the enemy to his existence. Finally, he must face the biggest question of all. If he continues to shrink, will he eventually even exist?

 

Lost in America

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“Turn on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in this hilarious off-beat comedy, Lost in America is his third feature film as a director and writer (script co-written with, Monica McGowan Johnson). David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California, but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company where he works. However, on the big day, he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him. A transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. David is stunned; His jaw-dropping response is, “a transfer??? I can get that at a bus stop!” He goes on a verbal rampage directed at his boss and is fired. He convinces Linda to quit her job, sell all their assets, buy a Winnebago, and go searching for America just like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper..well almost.

And so they hit the road to the tune of Steppenwolf’s’ Born to Be Wild blasting on the soundtrack. We watch as their new Winnebago heads out on the highway, looking for adventure, in this superb parody of the counterculture hit, Easy Rider.

The free-spirited lifestyle doesn’t work out and the couple comes to realize that dropping out may not be the answer, at least not for them. Two weeks after hitting the road David and Linda make their way to New York with plans and hopes of David begging to get his job back

 

Between the Lines

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I have always had an affinity for newspaper themed films. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole,  Sam Fuller’s Park Row, Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Phil Karlson’s Scandal Sheet, Richard Brooks’ Deadline U.S.A, and more recently Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight are just some of my favorites. As you can tell from this small list, newspaper reporting can be a heroic endeavor or it can be down and dirty, even scandalous.

A forgotten film in this sub-genre is Between the Lines. With the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s, as well as the Vietnam anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and the feminist movement, underground newspapers representing the growing and influential youth market of the time were beginning to pop up throughout the country. The heyday of the underground newspaper was between 1965-1973. By 1977, when this film was made the idealism and the paper’s circulation has faded thanks to an apathetic public. The film works best as a document of its times, capturing the shabby conditions, the idealistic anti-establishment attitude of the characters, and finally the realization that it’s all about to change. The cast includes John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Crouse, Bruno Kirby, Gwen Welles, Stephen Collins, Michael J. Pollard, and others. One of the highlights is a couple of live performances from Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes.

Movie Watching in Quarantine

As a writer, I stay home and write. That’s the nature of the process, but when I put my photographer’s hat on I am outside. Again, that’s the nature of the process. Covid-19 has put my photography on hold. Sure, I can do indoor photography, but my taste has usually run toward the outdoors.
These days, I’m spending more time inside than out. My writing is at its best in the early hours. Subsequently, to pass the time I read, and I have been watching movies, movies and more movies.
I have been posting on Facebook a few thoughts on most and decided to share a few here.

Cape Fear

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Cape Fear one of the great thrillers from the early 60s. Robert Mitchum’s revenge-seeking crazed Max Cady is one of cinema’s great psychopaths. What makes his performance so effectively terrifying is his laid back style. He’s a relentless, vengeful, monster that would put fear in anyone’s heart. The film is a twisted tale that will keep your nails short due to all the biting you will do while sitting on the edge of your seat. Bernard Herrmann’s score is one of his best as is Mitchum’s off-kilter, heavy-lidded, sexually charged, nasty performance.

Carrie

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Brian DePalma’s Carrie is best remembered for the film’s prom night climax: the bucket filled with pig blood dropping on Carrie, the split-screen, the bursting flames of fire, and the deadly revenge filled bloodshed as the highlights in this film. True, it’s one of the most shocking of screen massacres and all-time great sequences in horror. But complementing thasequence is the sequence that comes prior to it. The tense filled scenes beginning with the collection of prom queen ballots to the tracking shot of the bucket’s cord and the fated spilling of blood onto Carrie’s hair and body. That sequence creates a slow, but tense, nail-biting buildup to the final destruction

Three Days Of the Condor

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Paranoia Strikes Deep as Buffalo Springfield once sang. Three Days of the Condor strikes deep into the heart of the CIA. Robert Redford reads books for the agency looking for ideas, plans, secret codes that may be Thembedded. He is not a field agent. So when there is a mass slaughter of his co-workers (with the hits occurring while he is literally out to lunch). Redford calls his superior and wants to be brought in from the cold. One little problem. He finds himself a target not only from the assassins but the Agency itself. Condor is one of the great paranoid thrillers of the day. Sydney Pollack was an efficient filmmaker whose crisp, no nonsense style moves the film along at a sharp pace. There are no fancy shots, and he manages to clearly explain what is sometimes a convoluted tale. Even in quiet, simple scenes like the elevator ride where Redford slowly comes to the realization that Max Van Sydow, his co-rider on the elevator is the enemy Pollack can build up suspense. I did find the love affair that ensues between Redford and Faye Dunaway lacking believability but this is a film I like watching over and over.

The Professionals

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Recently watched Richard Brooks’ classic western, The Professionals, a film that contains one of the great closing lines in cinema. Ralph Bellamy’s arrogant and lying Texas millionaire calls Lee Marvin, one of four men he hired to bring his alleged kidnapped wife back, a bastard. Marvin’s character responds “Yes sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, you’re a self-made man.”