I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?
I have to admit that when I first heard the George Clooney was starring in a movie called Hail Caesar a part of me was hoping for a return to the kind of Hollywood epic that is depicted in the “movie within a movie” that is depicted in this trailer.
In lieu of that, however, (can Hollywood even pull that kind of thing off well nowadays? And if ) this will definitely do.
Considering it something to look forward to in the midst of a cold February:
In this week’s Classic Television Thursday post, I mentioned 1994’s Alec Baldwin-starring movie The Shadow, noting that I needed to rewatch it sometime soon to see if it really is as bad as it is reputed to be.
Yeah, it really is.
There’s really so much bad here that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong. There’s the plot, the dialogue, the acting, the characterization, the special effects, the opening scene, the climax, and pretty much everything that comes in between the two.
And remember, I was watching this again with hope that it would redeem itself.
As I said in that earlier post, I just happened upon some copies of the paperback reprints of the original Shadow pulps at a local bookstore recently at a really cheap price, and have been having fun reading – or in a few cases re-reading – them.
One of the hopes that I had was that maybe part of the film’s reputation came from those who were fans of the radio incarnation of the character but who were not aware of the radically different original incarnation of the character and that the film perhaps took its interpretation of the character from those stories.
Perhaps the creators were going for some kind of amalgamation of these two versions, but even given that doesn’t excuse the mess of a character that made it to the screen. It seems more like someone who had a vague knowledge of the character described him to screenwriter David Koepp (perhaps using Google translate to change it to and back from Mandarin along the way?) and then Koepp decided to also put his own spin on it.
Actually, according to Wikipedia, which I didn’t consult until after I’d written the above paragraphs, my guesses (well, except for the Mandarin part) aren’t that far off, as the site states
Screenwriter David Koepp had listened to The Shadow radio show as a child when CBS radio re-ran it on Sunday nights. He was hired in 1990 to write a new draft and was able to find the right tone that the studio liked. Bregman remembers, “Some of them were light, some of them were darker, and others were supposedly funnier – which they weren’t. It just didn’t work”. Koepp’s script relied predominantly on the pulp novels while taking the overall tone from the radio show with the actual plot originated by Koepp himself in consultation with Bregman.
“It just didn’t work.” Yeah, that pretty well sums things up.
Okay, I could keep going on here, but I think you get the idea. Even given the usual “Hey, some changes have to be made to bring a character from the printed page to the big screen” allowances, The Shadow really “just doesn’t work” in so many ways.
(Oh, and in what incarnation of the character is Margot Lane psychic? Really?)
Okay, I will give the producers one bit of credit. When we do see Baldwin actually in costume in a couple of “hero shots”, they did get the look right. At least as long as he’s standing still. (Though I’m still not sure how putting on the Shadow’s cloak and slouch hat also gives Baldwin such incredibly bushy eyebrows and completely changes the shape of his nose, but I guess we can just chalk that up to the whole “clouding men’s minds” thing.)
Now if only I could meet someone who could cloud my mind and make me forget that I saw this.
Here’s the trailer:
(A couple of months ago, I was in my local McKay’s bookstore and happened across a handful of Shadow pulps for less than $1 apiece. I’ve had a lot of fun reading – or in a couple of cases re-reading – them, and that’s what led to this post.)
One of the genres that sees to be very hot right now on TV (and in the movies, of course) is the superhero show. On the CW we’ve got The Flash and Arrow, Fox has Gotham (which, at the moment is really more of a cop show that a superhero show, but it is set in the world of Batman, so it qualifies), ABC has Marvel’s Agents of Shield, CBS will soon be debuting Supergirl, and there are more on the way.
Plus you have Netflix which dove in head first with Daredevil and will soon be releasing Jessica Jones on the world, again with more series waiting in the wings.
All of these trends make me think that the time is right for a new set of shows based on the pulp characters from the 30s and 40s.
Think about it. These characters, while quite often somewhat outlandish in and of themselves, for the most part operated in the kind of grounded world that television loves to set shows like Arrow or Daredevil in, and though many of them are the prototypes for the kind of anti- or quasi-hero that seems so popular today, most of their adventures would not require a whole lot of special-effects work because they really didn’t have super powers per se.
Plus, there are many different ways they could be approached. You could take the Sherlock route and do a series of mini-movies with them, you could go Netflix style and do say a 10 episode season featuring one of them, or you could even do what I would really like to see, a rotating anthology under the umbrella title of The Pulp Heroes, which would feature say four different characters each with their own self contained episodes with, oh, The Shadow on the first week of the month, Doc Savage on the second, The Avenger on the third, and The Spider on the fourth. Then in months where you had a fifth week, that could be used as a try-put for a different character who, depending on the response, might eventually get his own slot or show.
Another thing in favor of this proposal is that there would be no shortage of material to draw from. Why there were 325 pulp stories featuring just The Shadow.
And finally, if you need any more convincing, well, just look at some of the covers for these mags adorning this article.
Yeah, I’d say this idea is a blast from the past whose time has finally come.
(Plus, who knows, maybe we could finally erase the stigma that accompanies this:)
(Y’know, I really do need to revisit that one sometime soon just to see if it really deserves the bad rap that it’s gotten over time. Though re-watching just the trailer really makes me think it probably does.)
This should really be a pretty short review. I could actually simply say that if you’ve seen the trailers for The Intern, you pretty well know where this movie is going. An older man (Robert De Niro in complete cuddly mode) is taken on as an intern to internet start-up president Anne Hathaway, and hilarity ensues.
Well, not hilarity, exactly. One positive move the movie makes is gracefully eliding over the usual “old guy has no idea about modern technology” cliche. As a matter of fact, it instead uses De Niro’s character Ben’s 40 years of business experience in very positive ways. Actually, instead of “hilarity”, I’d say insert “cuteness”, because that’s really the best word to sum up this movie: cute.
Yeah, really, it’s mostly a little piece of fluff, though there is a third act turn that gives it a bit more substance than that, and keeps it from being completely by the numbers.
Also, I should give shout outs to the supporting cast here. All of the characters, while taking on familiar could-have-been-cookie-cutter roles, bring just enough spark and wit (and, at appropriate times seriousness) to their roles to keep them from being completely two-dimensional. Of course, a lot of the credit for that also has to go to Director/Writer/Producer Nancy Meyers who brings just the right touch to the film to keep it from becoming overly saccharine. Also, I should give the film extra points for allowing Rene Russo to be extremely sexy while allowing her also to act her age.
Yeah, in the end, there’s really nothing new to see here, but there doesn’t always need to be, does there? Sometimes it’s enough just to have a film that delivers a good way to pass a couple of hours in the theater without having to be world changing or full of explosions, or what have you. Nor does it have to rely on crude humor to save it from dumb writing.
And hey. there’s even a heist in the middle of it.
So go ahead, see the intern. Let yourself be charmed. And who knows, maybe, like my 15-year-old daughter who wanted to see the movie because of Hathaway and who wouldn’t know De Niro from any other older actor, you’ll come away saying “I want him for a grandfather.”
Hmmm… Yeah, maybe I should hold off just a bit on showing her Taxi Driver.
As the upcoming so-called “all-female” Ghostbusters movie attracts new attention to the franchise, I thought this might be a good moment to take a look at an earlier group of guys who spent their time busting not just ghosts, but all kinds of creatures of the night.
The Ghost Busters was a Saturday Morning Live-action comedy show that featured former F-Troopers Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker alongside Tracy the Gorilla who was “trained” by Bob Burns.
(Just as an aside: If you see a movie or TV show from that time period that featured a particularly good “guy in a gorilla suit”, the chances are most likely that that “guy” was Bob Burns. Burns is one of the original “Monster Kids”, and is renowned as an archivist and historian, but he also made many appearances as a gorilla, most often named either Tracy or Kogar.)
Each episode of The Ghost Busters actually followed a fairly set pattern. Before the opening credits, we would be introduced to that week’s adversaries (which could be as varied as actual ghosts, mummies, werewolves, or, as in the episode featured below Count and Countess Dracula). Then would come the opening, then a short bit in the Busters; office, then the receiving of that week’s assignment from the mysterious “Zero”. In a tribute to the TV show Mission:Impossible, the message would self-destruct five seconds after being played, usually by blowing up in Tracy’s face.
The trio would then proceed to the monster’s hideout (always the same place, a mysterious castle set on the outskirts of town), and general chaos, including usually a number of chase scenes would occur, until finally that week’s adversary would be “Zapped!” into oblivion by Kong’s “Ghost De-Materializer”.
Oh, I don’t think I’ve noted it yet, but since the resident Gorilla’s name was Tracy (and Larry Storch’s character was named Spencer, thus giving us Spencer and Tracy) it only made sense (?) that Tucker’s character would be named “Kong”.
Just a couple of other notes: Once it became clear that the 1984 Ghostbusters movie was a huge hit, the series was revived as an animated series in 1986. And, since this show actually had a prior claim to the name (Columbia did pay Filmation, the company behind this series a licensing fee to use the name for their film), when it came time for an animated series based on the movie to be made, that series billed itself as The Real Ghostbusters.
I’ll leave it to you to argue amongst yourselves as to which title is actually more appropriate to which series.
Anyway, here, for your enjoyment, is episode 10, “The Vampire’s Apprentice”:
Oh, and just for the record, none of these should be confused with this much earlier film:
They? A wonderful word. And who are they? They’re the nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit. Does it exist? Who cares? Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what?
Like those two later films, the lesson that seems to be at the heart of Robert Aldrich’s celebrated noir is that some things shouldn’t be sought after because eventually they will be found.
And that never ends well.
Kiss Me Deadly is ostensibly an adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer private-eye mystery novel of the same name, but so much change was made between the novel and the actual film that screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides once noted “Spillane didn’t like what I did with his book. I ran into him at a restaurant and, boy, he didn’t like me.”
The plot of the film is definitely a twisty (and twisted) one, which begins with Hammer picking up a woman wearing only a raincoat who has run in front of his car on the highway, desperately trying to get a ride. Not long after learning that her name is Christina, Hammer is forced off the road, beaten, shoved back into his car with a now-dead Christina, and the car is subsequently pushed over a cliff. Hammer somehow escapes and awakens to find himself in a hospital.
And things really only go downhill from there.
Kiss Me Deadly is widely considered to be a classic of the film noir genre, and it’s easy to see why. It certainly makes use of the requisite light and shadow that in some ways defines the genre, and heroes don’t come much more luckless than Hammer who is portrayed in a particularly hard-nosed (and even more hard-fisted) manner by Ralph Meeker.
There’s also the presence of a classic McGuffin, or as Hammer’s world-weary secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) describes it in the quote above, “the great whatsit”. In this case, the true nature of the whatsit turns out to be even less defined than usual, as it turns out to be a small briefcase containing… well, the truth is, we’re never actually made privy to what it contains, except that it might be radioactive and may have some relationship to the Manhattan Project (where the nuclear bomb was developed). and that it brings pretty much instantaneous fiery death to anyone who dares to open it.
All of this leads to an ending that, depending on which version you actually see is either depressingly ambiguous or vaguely hopeful. The end of the film was actually changed after its first American release, with scenes which showed Hammer and Velda escaping from the fiery remains of the house where the briefcase has finally been opened excised so that the viewer is actually left with the question of whether they made it out of the house or not. Those scenes were eventually restored when the film was re-released in 1997, but even so, they really only make the finale slightly more hopeful, as befits the film’s noir roots.
Kiss Me Deadly can also be seen, in a way, as a precursor to many films that would come subsequently. Of course, as I noted above, the ambiguous yet fiery nature of the “whatsit” is echoed in films from a much later period, and the essential question of “What’s in the box” which forms the ending of David Fincher’s Seven (or, if you prefer to be pretentious Se7en) is almost a direct echo of the question which forms much of the basis for this film.
What is not ambiguous, however, is that Kiss Me Deadly is definitelt a film worth watching.
Here’s a trailer:
Earlier today I posted one possible Double Feature idea that I had based on the trailer for an upcoming movie, and, well, since the idea is “Twofer Tuesday”, why not another one?
I’m actually of two minds about Vin Diesel’s upcoming The Last Witch Hunter. It could be a fun just grab some popcorn and check your brain at the door action flick, or it could be a complete CGI crapfest. That’s something we won’t know until it comes out. But, I’m inclined at the moment to give it the benefit of the doubt, and will probably at least give it a look.
The thing is, though, that whenever I hear the title I can’t help but think of Vincent Price’s 1968 movie Witchfinder General. Plus, let’s be honest, any time I have an excuse to plug a Vincent Price movie here it’s a good day.
So what do you think? Have you seen Witchfindeer General? Do you have any kind of anticipation for The Last Witch Hunter? And do you have any thoughts about other possible double feature pairings of this type? If so, let me know about them in the comments below or over on the DMM Facebook page.