A Note on Spoilers

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?

There’s Nothing Tacky About Oscar Isaac In This Short Film – Ticky Tacky (2014)

tt1Coming into writer/director/producer Brian Petsos’ 2014 short film Ticky Tacky, you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps you had stumbled upon some missed early Wes Anderson film. After all, there is the initial shot of the record stylus being placed on an LP thus establishing the source of the classical music which will make up the bulk of the soundtrack for this 15 minute short, and then there is the stylized wide-angle strictly-balanced establishing shot, in which, like many of Mr. Anderson’s set-ups, the right and left sides of the screen are practically mirror images of each other.

Fortunately, Mr. Petsos soon proves that he wants to be much more than just a slavish Anderson imitator as he puts his own unique stamp on what follows.

tt2I’ve written before about just how hard I think it is to create a truly great short film and the hazards that both the screenwriter for this sort of film and the director face when it come to being able to establish unique characters that are not merely two-dimensional placeholders which move the plot along, and to providing an actual story  with a beginning, middle, and end, rather than just shooting a scene and calling that a complete film.

Again. Petsos manages to avoid both of these pitfalls, giving his audience a compelling, even at times shocking story of a rich man who turns his mind to revenge for a perceived betrayal.

tt3Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the insanely talented Oscar Isaac to play the lead in your film, but as we know from Inside Llewyn Davis, even he can’t redeem everything he’s in. (Sorry, I know it’s kind of a cheap shot, but despite the acclaim for Davis, I really found myself disappointed by it.) In this case, Isaac certainly brings his “A” game, turning on an emotional dime and providing a truly compelling and at times downright terrifying protagonist. (Is that really the right word for this role? Hmm…)

tt4Another smart move that Pestos makes is casting the young Julian Shatkin as Isaac’s aide de camp. Shatkin proves himself well worthy of his role, and his seeming youthfulness provides the film with one of its most shocking moments.

Ticky Tacky is the first of Petsos’ short films that I have seen, (IMDB lists twelve writer credits for him and five directorial ones) but I look forward not only to checking out more of his already completed work but also seeing what he will bring to the screen going forward, For now, however, I highly recommend checking this one out. The 15 minutes it will take to watch it will definitely be well spent.

Throwback Thursday – The Parallax View (1974)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

The current political season has put me in a mindset to go back to revisit some of the great political conspiracy thrillers of the late 60s and early 70s. Thus, for this week’s Throwback Thursday I thought we’d revisit a post from July of 2013 and a look at one of my favorites, Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View.

By the way, I know the postings here have been even more sparse than usual of late, but I’m hoping to get back on track starting probably the first of next week with at least a couple of new posts including the return of the Top 250)

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Conspiracy Theorists Need To Apply – The Parallax View (1972)

Parallax_View_movie_posterI’m not sure exactly why I decided last night’s movie would be 1974’s The Parallax View, or even when I put it in my Netflix queue. Still, there it was, and since I was in a kind of “what the heck” mood, I decided to give it a go.

Coming out at a time when political corruption, conspiracy theories, and political assassinations were all at the forefront of the American psyche, The Parallax View is according to Wikipedia, the middle film in director Alan J. Pakula’s so-called “Political Paranoia Trilogy” which also includes 1971’s Klute, which I haven’t yet seen, and 1976’s All The President’s Men, which I have. (Though it has been awhile, and I probably should revisit it sometime soon.) This is not to say that the film relies on any knowledge of, or even directly relates to either of those films, as the link between them is one of theme more than plot.

The Parallax view stars Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady, a somewhat naive reporter who finds himself drawn unwillingly into a world of political intrigue and, yes. conspiratorial assassination. The guiding force behind these assassinations turns out to be the titular Parallax Corporation which actively recruits people like Frady, people who seem to be on the edge, to become assassins.

Or do they?

pSub2The movie is very much one of its time, making use of then-popular pop-culture tropes such as personality testing and visual brain washing. There is even a scene which echoes the forced retraining scene in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, with a very interesting video montage, though the scene itself is much less disturbing and intense than that of the Kubrick film.

And perhaps that’s the problem with the entire film, and why it was less well received and remains much less well remembered than Pakula’s two other films in this “trilogy”. It simply never manages to convey any real sense of intensity or immediacy. Under Pakula’s direction, scenes such as the opening fight on the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, which could have provided great tension seem much too removed and foreshortened to truly give it any sense of what is at stake, and that is something that carries through the length of the movie, making it seem rather disjointed and – while it’s not particularly hard to follow – jumpy, as Frady moves from point to point in following the conspiracy depending far too much on what seems coincidence.

pLight2Of course, it could be argued that these coincidences are not what they seem, but that is not a point that the movie really addresses, so the viewer is left at times having to play catch up just a bit too much.

As far as the acting goes, Beatty, whose talent onscreen was unfortunately for most of his career overshadowed by his offscreen reputation turns in his usual engaging performance. He is very ably backed by a supporting cast which includes Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss, all of whom are good here, but never seem as engaged as they would be in other roles.

In the end, The Parallax View is a pretty typical 70s conspiracy thriller, complete with a relatively nihilistic ending which was the going trend at the time. It is certainly worth the time if you have nothing better to do with an evening and are a fan of this kind of film, but at the same time, I can’t consider putting it in the category of a “must see”.

(The preceding review was, by the way, paid for by the Parallax Corporation, but you should not take that as any indication that it was designed to throw you off the scent of any ongoing assassination conspiracies or other ongoing schemes. Probably.)

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

Throwback Thursday – Captain America: The Serial (1944)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

This post from April 2014 was actually already an unofficial Throwback, since it was an adaptation of a post the originally appeared on the Professor’s blog – so I guess you can consider it a double throwback. Anyway, since Captain America: Civil War is opening here in the States this weekend, I figured this would be a good time to take another look at one of the earliest screen incarnations of the good captain…

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This Captain America Doesn’t Need A Shield, He’s Got A Gun – Captain America: The Serial (1944)

So since the big movie opening this weekend is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I thought it might be fun to revisit an earlier big-screen incarnation of the good captain, namely the 1944 Captain America serial, produced by Republic pictures.

This is actually another item that I covered back when I was writing Professor Damien’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, back when the first of the modern Cap movies, Captain America: The First Avenger was being released, and here’s what I wrote about it then:

cap2So pretty much anybody that’s been to a theater this summer or watched any kind of television has at least an idea of who Captain America is. The trailer for the new flick lays it out pretty well, and if you’ve actually seen the movie, well, then you’re steps ahead of the game here. Steve Rogers, a scrawny 78 pound weakling who has a big heart but is too stupid to know when to give up in a fight wants desperately to join the army so that he can join his bestest ever friend James “Bucky” Barnes in getting his face shot off in World War II. Repeatedly rejected by the military despite continuously trying and lying about who he is on his enlistment papers, this sad sack is finally spotted by an ex-nazi scientist who wants to continue his experiments in creating the master race of soldiers over here (experiments that the government and military apparently have no problem not only approving but financing, which should really come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the phrase “The Tuskegee Experiment”) and is taken back to a secret laboratory where he is shot chock full of super-steroids and irradiated until he finally becomes enough of a beefcake that the army decides he will, if not win the war single-handedly, at least be useful for some great propaganda films and USO tours.

Yeah, well, forget all of that, at least for today, because that’s not Captain America. At least not in this 1944 Republic serial.

Nope, instead Captain America is in reality crusading district Attorney Grant Gardner. Is he the subject of a secret super soldier program? Well, if so, it’s never mentioned, nor is any connection to the military. (And since poor Dick Purcell who plays Gardner/Cap passed away of a heart attack not long after the filming of the serial, it seems a bit disrespectful to point out that he looks rather more Adam West than Chris Evans, but there you go.) Does Cap spend his time fighting Nazis in Europe and rescuing P.O.W.s? Nope. How about fighting his arch-nemesis the Red Skull? Umm… no, but there is some guy called the Scarab (whose “secret identity” we actually find out in the first chapter, though it takes Cap a little longer). He at least has mind controlling powers. Well, ok, not powers exactly, but he’s got a mind controlling gas that he’s using to make people commit suicide. Bucky? Surely his sidekick Bucky is here in some form, either as a kid sidekick like in the comics or a contemporary and inspiration for Steve, oh, I mean Grant, to keep fighting the good fight? Not unless Grant’s secretary Gail Richards has a nickname that we’re not made privy to.

cap3“Oh, well”, I hear you say, “at least he’s still got the shield. After all, no matter what other changes they might make to the character, as long as he’s got that shield to throw around and bounce off of bad guys, there’s no doubt he’s the real Captain America, no matter what civilian guise he may be under.”

Yeah, kids, sorry. No shield here. Just a regular old revolver.

So what happened? How did Republic wind up making a Captain America serial that really doesn’t appear to have anything at all in common with the comic book character (or any other portrayal of the character) except for a fairly decent version of the costume? (And even it’s missing those little wings on the sides of his mask.)

cap1Well, that appears to be a good question. There is internal paperwork that suggests that Republic began work on the serial going on only a few sketches that the Timely/Marvel Comics company sent over, none of which showed any kind of a military setting or a shield, and by the time protests were made they were simply too far along to change things about. The most common theory, however is that the studio simply took a a script which they already had on hand, but was written for another character (perhaps The Copperhead from 1940’s The Mysterious Doctor Satan or Fawcett comics Mr. Scarlet, whose secret identity actually was “crusading district attorney” Brian Butler) and made enough changes in it to turn it into a Captain America script instead.

Nonetheless, whatever the behind-the-scenes reasons, this is what audiences in 1944 got, and the truth is, once you get past all the changes and simply let the serial unfurl, it’s not a bad piece of work. There’s plenty of action, the villain is nicely played by no less than Lionel Atwill, and the cliffhangers do leave you looking forward to the next chapter.

And it’s certainly more entertaining than the two Reb Brown starring TV movies made in the 70s, and they did have a character named Steve Rogers and super-steroids and a shield. So there is that.

At that point in the original post, I included a chapter of the serial to give my readers a taste of what the serial was like. However, because I love you folks so much, this time around I went ahead and threw together a playlist that will allow you to watch the entire serial, one chapter after the other, along with some bonus material at the end. Here ya go.

By the way, I’ll just mention that if you like watching these serials, you really should click on the Public Domain Treasure Chest link above and take a look, because I used to do a regular Sunday Serial feature there. Also, let me know in the comments below, because if there’s enough interest I might consider reviving it as a regular feature here.

Until next time, as always, Happy Viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

Throwback Thursday – Gamera (1965)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Here’s another Throwback Thursday post from Progessor Damien which takes a look at what sometimes happens or at least used to happen) when foreign films are broght over to the US for popular consumption.

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“Oh, no! They say say he’s got to go! Go, Go Gammera!”

gammera2Yeah, it really doesn’t have the same panache as the Blue Oyster Cult original, does it, Kiddies? But that’s ok, because the giant monster in question today gets his own rock anthem right in the middle of his first movie. Even his giant lizard predecessor had to wait more than 20 years for that.

Daikaiju Eiga – that’s the Japanese term for the type of movie (giant monster) that we’re looking at today, and since that’s where the best ones come from, it seems only appropriate to give them their correct name. Of course, considering what we’ve done to the actual movies, simply ignoring the Japanese term would seem only a minor slight.

Toho films began the tradition, of course, with their 1954 release of the original Gojira, which came to America in the form of Godzilla. Unfortunately another trend was also begun once it reached our shores. Believing that American audiences wouldn’t want to watch a film either with subtitles or where there were very few American actors for them to relate to, the film was not only dubbed into English, but it was heavily re-edited, with scenes moved around, many of them pulled, and new scenes were added starring Raymond Burr. Unfortunately between bad translations and terrible editing, (and an attempt to both appease and appeal to American audiences) much of the original meaning and subtext of the film was lost. Still, it was a hit both there and here, and this treatment became the trend for all subsequent Japanese monster movies brought to America.

gammera3As noted, Gojira (or Godzilla) first appeared in 1954. 11 years later, when the daikaiju eiga craze was really hitting its stride, Toho’s film studio rival, Daiei, decided to jump on the bandwagon and create their own giant critter. Now I’m not going to speculate on what the person who first proposed that they combat the big G. with a giant turtle was thinking, but fortunately they figured out some pretty neat ways to trick him out so that he could become a formidable foe for the forces that would soon be arrayed against him. First off, instead of “Atomic Breath”, they gave him fire breath. But this creature not only breathed fire, he could eat it. As a matter of fact, as the movie progresses, we find out that he is made of different stuff than those of us with lungs, and the big lug actually needs the flames as fuel to survive. More than that, though, Daiei also provided their Big G with a power that Godzilla would never get. When he pulled his head and legs into his shell, the giant turtle was able to shoot flames from his “port holes” and fly! Certainly helpful for an animal that otherwise has no way to get off his back, as the military soon finds out.

gammaera1Of course, upon his arrival in the US, Gamera (the Japanese name) was given a pretty complete makeover. An extra “m” was, for some reason, added to his name. Another pretty atrocious dubbing job was done. And again, scenes were cut, recut, and added, so that the movie once again bore little resemblance to what it had once been. Nonetheless, the film proved successful in both its Japanese and American versions, and Daiei went on to bring him back in a film a year until 1971, when Daiei went into bankruptcy. (The first was actually the only one released to American theaters, the rest were packaged for Television by American International.) Since then, there have been a couple of attempts at revivals, though they have proved less successful.

Here’s a short clip showing the monster’s initial emergence from his icy tomb and a bit of the American footage that was inserted.:

(Just a note: it is only the American version which was never properly copyrighted and is now in the Public Domain. The original Japanese version is still under copyright, and Shout factory has announced that they have licensed it and will be giving the film its first American DVD release on May 18th.)

Now for the Skinny:
Title: Gammera the Invincible
Release Date: 1965
Running Time: 86min
Black and White
Starring: Gamera, Brian Donlevy, Eiji Funakoshi
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Produced by: Hidemasa Nagata, Yonejiro Saito, Masaichi Nagata
Distributed by: Daiei

And as always, until next time, happy viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

A Couple Of Cuts Above – Barbershop (2002) And Barbershop 2: Back In Business (2004)

bs1In anticipation of seeing the newly released third Barbershop movie, Barbershop: The Next Cut, I decided to go back and give the first two entries in the series a re-watch. I remembered liking them when they first came out, and thought I’d see how well they held up over time.

The first film, simply titled Barbershop, was released in 2002 and was directed by Tim Story. Set in the south side of Chicago, the movie stars Ice Cube as Calvin Porter, who runs a neighborhood barbershop which was handed down to him by his father who opened the shop in 1958. Seeing being “just a barber” as a disappointment and wanting to better himself as he anticipates the arrival of his first child, Curtis decides to sell the shop to a local loan shark, the slick and greedy Lester Wallace, with the assurance that the store will remain a barbershop. When, immediately after the two have completed their handshake deal, Wallace reveals his real plan to turn the place into a strip club called The Barbershop, Calvin begins to have second thoughts and wonders if he has done the right thing.

Cube, who first came to prominence as a member of the gangster rap group NWA, but by this time had converted to Islam and had also proven himself not only a highly skilled actor, getting his first on screen role in John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz N the Hood  but also a screenwriter, with his first script being 1995’s Friday, in which he also starred.

bs3Barbershop is very much an ensemble piece, featuring Cedric the Entertainer in what has to be considered his breakout role as the elderly barber Eddie, alongside Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Michael Ealy, Troy Garity, and Keith David, among many others. Though the story centers around, Calvin and his efforts to keep the shop open, it really is the story of the shop itself and its place in the neighborhood, being the focal point where people can come together and be themselves, talk, share their stories, their concerns, and feel a sense of community. With sharp writing thanks to a screenplay by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd based on a story by Brown, and Story’s directorial skills, it proves to be a movie which, though it could easily slip either way into the overly maudlin or too broadly comic, instead walks the line between the two quite nicely and proves itself to have just the right amount of heart amongst the comic shenanigans.

bs2Barbershop was followed up in 2004 with Barbershop 2: Back in Business, which saw the reunion of most of the original cast, along with a few additions, most prominently that of Queen Latifah as the owner of a beauty shop just next door to Calvin’s. Also, original director Tim Story is replaced on this one by Kevin Rodney Sullivan and the screenplay is by Don D. Scott.

This time around, the threat to Calvin’s shop is not so much internal, as it was in the first movie, as it is eternal, with the impending arrival of a rival upscale chain shop called Nappy Cutz which is planned to open just across the street. The rival store in to be the first in a series of new development deals aimed at gentrifying the neighborhood, and is backed by a greedy land developer and on-the-take alderman Lalowe Brown.

Again, this is very much an ensemble piece, though it does focus a bit too much on Eddie, which would not be too bad, since Cedric is very entertaining in the role, but it winds up taking away too much time from the other players. Also, there is kind of a been-there-done-that feel to parts of the movie, as it once again places its focus on the shop’s place in the community, which, while certainly important, does seem to slow it down at times.

bs4Nonetheless, the film does prove to be an entertaining enough return to the setting, and does make a strong statement about the importance of local institutions trying to fight for their existence against those who would try to replace them simply for the sake of money.

Taken together, I have to say that though I definitely think the initial outing is the stronger of the pair, both Barbershop and Barbershop 2 are very strong and entertaining comedies, and I’m looking forward to hopping into a chair and spending another couple of hours with Calvin and the gang down at the shop.

Here’s the trailer for The Next Cut:

Let’s Just Go Ahead And Declare Today Trailer Day – Here’s A Whole Crop Of New Ones

It’s always interesting to just let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of the interwebs and see where you wind up. This time, the first link was a note that I got about The Founder, an upcoming movie starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the guy who… well, he didn’t exactly start McDonalds, but he was responsible for it becoming the fast food behemoth that it is today.

At the same time, I noticed that a new trailer had also been released for the Independence Day sequel. Yeah, te original is problematic and full of plot holes, and the ending makes no sense whatsoever, but it remains just a fun turn your mind off and go with it movie, and if Independence Day: Resurgence can at least come up to that standard, I’ll be happy enough with it.

From there, it was on to another upcoming supposed summer blockbuster, the return of Matt Damon as the titular character in Jason Bourne.

Lights Out is one of those horror movies that looks like it could either be completely terrifying or completely crap. The trailer definitely shows some promise, though, so I think I’m willing to give it a shot.

New Woody Allen movies, it seems, have become an annual tradition, This year’s offering, represented by this international trailer (complete with, for some reason, French subtitles) is Cafe Society.

I’m not sure how Nine Lives snuck in here, except possibly for my love of Kevin Spacey, but here ya go anyway.

The next few caught my eye mostly because of the talent involved with them. First up, The Girl on the Train with Emily Blunt, whose work I’ve really liked lately

Next, The Infiltrator with Byan Cranston and John Lguizamo

And though I don’t like the term modern noir much, that’s the vibe I get from Manhattan Nights with Adrian Brody and Yvonne Strahovsky

I don’t know much about Chevalier, but the premise looks like it could have some promise.

The Last Heist is another one of those movies that seems like it could really go either way. The trailer doesn’t excite me that much, but the premise of one of the gang members actually being a serial killer seems as though it could add at least another level of intensity if it’s played right

Next, a couple of trailers that have me hoping we might see some smart science fiction movies coming out this year. First up, Equals with Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. I’m not completely sold on this one, because the trailer mostly makes it look like another romance just covered in SF trappings, but maybe.

Then there’s this little oddity called Ickerman

Next, there’s this odd looking gem which features Liam Neeson: A Monster Calls

And to wrap things up, here’s one that, like the Russian movie Guardians which I featured here earlier in the week, shows that America isn’t the only country that can make superhero movies. It’s from Finland as is titled Rendel.

So those are just some of the trailers that have caught my eye recently. If you’ve got some that you want to share, please do so either in the comments section below or over on the Facebook page. I’d love to see what has you guys (and gals) intrigued or excited.

 

Will It Be As Magnificent As Its Predecessors? – Here’s The New Trailer For The Magnificent Seven

seven1Considering that the original was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, one of the things that I’m kind of curious about is how much credit will be given to that movie when it comes to this modern remake of John Sturges’s 1960 movie The Magnificent Seven.

Another question that I have is just how much of the epic nature of both of the previous versions of these films this new movie will be able to capture. When you consider that Samurai clocks in at 207 minutes, and the 60s version runs 128, will the new version be given the same chance to breathe and take some time developing its varied cast, or will it be choked down to a shorter running time and simply be another action-filled modern retelling?

There’s obviously no doubting the strength of the cast assembled here, what with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke headlining in front of the camera, and I trust the skill of Antoine Fuqua to give us great set pieces of action, but I really hope he’ll step a bit beyond what seems to be his comfort zone and really take advantage of the opportunity to give us a newly legendary take on the tale.

Of course, we’re just going to have to wait until the movie actually hits theaters to get the answers to these questions, but in the meantime, I highly recommend while you’re waiting to see this, going back and taking a new look at both of the earlier versions. Especially if you’ve never seen either of them before. You’ll find them both worth the time.

Here’s the trailer: