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?

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Say “Cheese” 003 – The Gun And The Pulpit (1974)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

Well we’re back in the realm of made for TV movies this time with 1974’s The Gun and the Pulpit starring Marjoe Gortner. Oh, and we’re also back in Western territory.

This time out we actually begin mid-hanging, with Gortner, as gunslinger Ernie Parsons at the wrong end of the rope. Just as he is about to be set swinging, salvation arrives in the form of a cute girl who is smitten with him an tells the posse that someone else has confessed to the murder he has been convicted of. Parsons is released and sent on his way, but when he refuses to take the girl with him, she admits that she lied about the confession, and the chase is on.

Once the credits have finished, Parsons figures he’s far enough ahead that he can stop and rest for a moment.When he does, he runs across the dead body of a preacher who was on his way to a new town. Fortunately for Ernie, the townsfolk had never met their new preacher, so he assumes the dead man’s identity and his role as the new preacher.

As it happens, Parsons arrival coincides with the funeral of a man named Sam Underwood who was murdered under the orders of the town boss known as Mr. Ross. Though he is reluctant to stay, Ernie takes a liking to Underwood’s daughter Sally (Pamela Sue Martin), and decides to attempt to rally the townfolk to fight against the evil Ross.

Parsons is aided in his efforts by an old gunslinger known as Bolly One-Eye, played by the always entertaining western veteran Slim Pickens.  There’s also an interesting turn by character actor Geoffrey Lewis as rival gunslinger Jason McCoy.

This is an interesting role for Gortner, whose parents arranged to have him ordained as an evangelical preacher when he was only four years old. He then spent most of his early childhood performing on the revival circuit until he found out his family seemed actually more interested in amassing a fortune than in serving the lord. Then shortly after Gortner’s sixteenth birthday his father ran off with what was later estimated to be around three million dollars.

In 1970 his dissatisfaction with the church and his lifestyle grew to the point where he agreed to participate in what was to become the Academy Award winning documentary Marjoe, an expose of the practices of the evangelical revival movement. Ir was after this that Gortner began his acting career.

The Gun and the Pulpit was based on the novel The Fastest Gun in the Pulpit by Jack Ehrlich and was, like The Hanged Man, intended to be the pilot for a possible series.Would it have made it had it been picked up? It’s hard to say, but Gortner is engaging in the role, an the script is light and has just the right amount of humor to keep things moving along briskly.

I couldn’t find an embeddable trailer for the movie (not surprising for a made for TV film), but here’s  a short clip showing the confrontation between Parsons and McCoy:

Up Next: The Excellent 80s  Disk 1 Movie 1: Intimate Agony – General Hospital’s Anthony Geary discovers herpes!

Throwback Thursday -Starring Al Pacino As…

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 a fun one from back in March of 2013.

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So Who Is Al Pacino Going To Play In His Next Movie? That’s Easy: He’ll Be Playing Al Pacino.

Al Pacino
Al Pacino (Photo credit: Martin McKenna)

In some ways, it’s become something of a joke. There are certain actors who lose themselves so deeply into a movie role that you lose sight of the actor and see nothing but the character. These are the actors who tend to get the acclaim when it comes to awards season. As a matter of fact, all you really have to do is look at the two strongest contenders in this year’s Academy Awards Best Actor category – Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix – for examples of this. The actor somehow seems to “become” the character in a way that seems almost incredible.

Pacino turns it up...
Pacino turns it up…

Then there are the other actors. The ones who have become so recognizable for playing a certain type or for something that is so inherently “them” that it’s become impossible for them to really take on any role other than themselves, or at least the onscreen persona they have developed over the years. Again, all one has to do is look at last year’s Lincoln for a perfect example of this. Whereas Day-Lewis seems to become Lincoln to the extent that you have to look for the actor behind the character, Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Thaddeeus Stevens, could be no one but Tomyy Lee Jones. He has become a Type. As in “if you can’t get me Tommy Lee Jones for the role, get me a Tommy Lee Jones Type.”

...and UP....
…and UP….

Other actors who fit this category are people like Nic Cage and Jack Nicholson. When you see their name on a poster or in the credits for a movie, you know precisely what you’re going to get from them. They have become predictable, they have, in a way, lost the ability to surprise us in any role. Oh, sure, there are the occasional exceptions, but for the most part, that’s just the way it is. And in a lot of ways, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Going to see a Nicholson movie can be like putting on a well-worn but beloved pair of shoes. You do it precisely because they’re comfortable and you know they’re going to be without having to think about it.

Which brings us to Al Pacino. There was a time when Pacino still had that ability to surprise, and if you look at some of his early work, it’s obviously there. But after awhile – I’d say most likely after Scarface – Al Pacino became known mostly for playing “Al Pacino”. Again, if you talk to somebody who has seen the latest Al Pacino movie – whatever it might be – and you ask them how Pacino was in the flick, you’re going to get the answer “He was Pacino”.

...AND U!!!!
…AND U!!!!

So what is it that makes Pacino “Pacino”? Well, there are a number of things, I’m sure, little ticks and quirks, a certain way of talking, of carrying himself, that simply cannot be hidden or disguised. But whatever other things might encompass a Pacino role, one thing you can be sure of: at some point, Al’s gonna lose it. He’s gonna start yelling. He’s gonna start cursing. And from there on out HE’S GONNA F#^@*ING BE F#^@*ING AL PACINO AND THERE’S GONNA BE NO F#^@*ING COMING BACK DOWN!!!

And that’s what today’s video is about. In it, Nelson Carvajal has compiled a great sequence of scenes that show exactly those moments in Pacino’s movies where he cranks up the intensity and the volume, and you know that, once again, no matter what the character’s onscreen name may be, you are watching Al Pacino. Here, take a look:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these are bad movies or that Pacino is a bad actor. Far from it. I love Pacino, and I almost always enjoy seeing him turn it up. Sure, there are times lately when it’s seemed more like he was “phoning it in”, and there are times when I wish a director would try to get something more from him, that he would surprise us with something new and different, but at the same time, like that well-worn pair of shoes I mentioned earlier, there’s something comforting about knowing what your going to get from a particular actor before you walk into the theater or pop in that DVD or Blu-Ray disk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m off to watch an Al Pacino flick.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Flying High At The Close Of The Day – The High Flight TV Sign-Off

A while back I posted a comment on Facebook about movies whose premise was basically undone by modern technology. One example that came to mind at the time was William Castle’s 1965 flick I Saw What You Did And I Know Who You Are. Based as it is on the anonymity of pre-cell phone land lines, and the phone pranks that those lines used to lend themselves to, in an age of ubiquitous Caller ID and the fact that not just land lines but even the phone books where the girls initially get their victims names, numbers, and addresses are now considered obsolete, the movie is pretty much a non-starter nowadays.

Anyway, when I posted that, I asked for other examples of movies that fit into that same mold – of course, there are many possible examples, not just in the realm of films, but television shows, also.simply in the way we view those things.

One of the biggest changes, one that started really with the advent of cable television and the shift to 24 hour programming is the television sign off.

You see, back in the day when most programming came from the networks and was fed to local stations – or perhaps those stations would be independent an depend on syndicated programming – it was generally accepted that there was a very small viewing audience in the wee hours of the late night or early morning. Therefore, the stations would “sign off” – usually somewhere between midnight an two a.m. – and after that would show only a test pattern such as the one at the right or might even go completely dark until they signed back on, usually somewhere around six a.m.

One of the most memorable ways that television stations would sign off was with a showing of a short film known as “High Flight”, based on a poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

The playing of the film would often be accompanied by a voice-over announcing the technical details of the station and that it would now “end it’s programming day.”

Magee was born in 1922 and was a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force who died in a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire in 1941. He was also a poet who won a prize for his poetry while still in middle school. Magee began the poem High Flight on August 18, 1941 and included it in a letter to his parents dated Sept 3, 1941. The poem gained most of its fame, however,  through the efforts of Archibald MacLeish, who was then the Librarian of Congress, and included it in an exhibition of poems called “Faith and Freedom” at the Library of Congress in February 1942.

Here’s the complete text of Magee’s poem:

 

john_gillespie_magee_jrHigh Flight
John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

It’s not entirely clear why station managers took to playing the short films base on the poem as their evening sign off, but as one who can remember seeing it from a very early age, I can say that it does serve well to set a contemplative and relaxed tone for preparations for sleep at the en of a long day.

There have been many variations of the film created over the years, often updated with more modern planes and technology. Here’s another version from 1972:

And with that, Durnmoose Movie Musings ends its own programming day. Or at least ends this post.

Sight and Sound Top 250 #248 – The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #248, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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*** SPOILER WARNING*** I’m going to go ahead and throw a great big spoiler warning up here at the head of the review, because there are certain aspects of this film which are definitely meant to be surprises for the first time viewer, but without revealing them it would be impossible to properly write about it. So, if you want an untainted viewing experience, it might be best to go watch the movie first, then come back to read this. You have been warned. ***SPOILER WARNING***

Who are we in the world when we are not ourselves? In many ways this is the essential (and existential) question that is at the heart of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1991 film The Double Life of Veronique.

The film opens with two short scenes of young girls being taught about nature by their mothers. One, the Polish Weronika, is shown the stars in the night sky, while the other, the French Veronique, is shown the veins on the back of a leaf. Both are taught that there is more to life than that which appears in front of them :Just as there are more stars in the sky, some of them not easily seen as individual by the naked eye, there will also soon be trees full of leaves which will hide their uniqueness.

After the credits we pick up with the life of a now grown Weronika (played by the always-stunning Irene Jacob) who is singing at an outdoor concert with a choir. A sudden downpour ends the concert – though Weronika embraces the rain and holds on through the end of the last note -and the choir disperses. Weronika runs off and meets up with her boyfriend  Antek. The next day she leaves for Krakow to see her sick aunt, though not before telling her father that recently she has had a strange feeling that she is “not alone in the world”.

While in Krakow, Weronika visits a friend at a rehearsal for a male choir and finds herself unable to keep from adding a soprano accompaniment to the voices. She is noticed by the director who asks her to audition for a part in an upcoming concert. Unsurprisingly, Weronika wins the part, but on the night of her debut, mid-solo, she collapses onstage and dies, and we are then given a perspective shot of her spirit as it flies above the audience and out of the auditorium.

Cut to an also now-grown-up Veronique (also Jacob) who is living in Paris, and at the time we meet her is making love to her boyfriend.Suddenly she finds herself filled with an inexplicable sadness which she likens to grieving, though she is unable to account for the reason behind the emotion.

Veronique, we come to find, is a music teacher, and after an interlude in which she take her students to see a marionette performance, we see her teaching them a passage from the same piece of music that Weronika was singing when she died.

The lives of Veronique and the puppeteer who performed the marionette show then begin to intertwine in ways that are at first mysterious then later are at least somewhat explained.

I say somewhat explained because Kieślowski is not so much about explaining the mysteries of life or of death – of solving them. Instead, he is much more interested in embracing the questions and following where ever they might lead. He is also curious about the ways in which his characters (and by that I mean not just the main characters, but also those on the periphery) are, or at least may be, connected. This is a theme he will return to again an again, finally making perhaps his most compelling statement on the subject in the conclusion to his epic Three Colors trilogy, Red.

The Double Life of Veronique is a film that is also very much a song about life and longing, and about the connections between us all. Music obviously plays a huge role in the film, not only in Weronika’s singing and Veronique’s music teaching, but in setting the tone and mood of the entire movie an the lives of his protagonists. This is yet another conceit that Kieślowski would return to often in his films, most notably in Three Colors: Blue..

The passion that Jacob brings to her performance – in both roles – cannot be overstated. Kieślowski’s camera adores her and it is easy to see why. Whether singing, making love, or simply reading a book, Jacob is fully invested in every moment of each character. As a matter of fact, she won the Best Actress Award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991.

So does The Double Life of Veronique earn its spot on the list? Well, as I suspect you can tell from my reactions above my personal answer is an unqualifie “yes”. As a matter of fact, I’d probably place it even higher. This is one to seek out, folks, and definitely one time you won’t mind seeing double.

Here’s your trailer:

She May Be, But The Movie Isn’t – A Taxing Woman (1987)

One of my all-time favorite films is 1985’s Tampopo directed by Juzo Itami and starring his wife Nobuko Miyamoto which I have written about here and here.

In 1987 the pair teamed again for a new movie, A Taxing Woman. Now one might think that having taken on the task of turning the search for the perfect bowl of ramen into a spahetti-western style comedy might be enough of a challenge for any director, but for his next film Itami set himself an even harder task: making tax inspecting and collection interesting.

A Taxing Woman is set during Japan’s economic bubble of the 1980s, when the post-war economic recovery of the 1950s had grown into a time of rampant speculation and indulgence, and when real estate, especially, was seen as an extremely easy way to make money – especially for the unscrupulous.

One problem, however, for those who were at the time raking in money hand over fist was how to hold on to it. More specifically to the point of the movie, how to hide it from the tax bureau so that they would not take their share of it.

That’s the constant problem for the “villain” of the film, Hideki Gondo, portrayed by Tsutomu Yamazaki. Through various schemes and dealings he has made millions of yen, but he is also constantly struggling to figure out new ways to hide his illicit gains from the tax collectors.

Enter Ryoko Itakua (Miyamoto), an up-and-coming tax inspector who has made a name for herself not only as dogged in her pursuit of those upon whom she has set her sights, but as possessing a true intuition for unraveling the schemes of those who try to evade her and the law.

Thus, Itami sets up the movie as a cat and mouse game between Itakua and Gondo where it seems that despite her best efforts the real estate baron is constantly outwitting her. However, if you’re expecting some sedate Columbo style “Oh, just one more thing” back and forth, then you have forgotten which director we’re dealing with here.

Just as he did in Tampopo, Itami ups the stakes with gangsters, violence and sexuality. It may seem an odd combination for what could be a fairly pedestrian film about tax fraud, but “pedestrian” is never a word that can be used to describe Itami’s work.

Ultimately, I have to admit that A Taxing Woman doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but that would be a high bar to reach by any standard. Nonetheless, it is definitely entertaining and certainly leaves me looking forward to exploring more of Itami’s films.

Here’s your trailer – though I should throw up a NSFW warning:

Saturday Double Feature: Downsizing (2017) and…

Saturday! Double Feature time!

Okay, as always, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit I’m not all that thrilled about the new Matt Damon flick Downsizing. I’m sure it has good intentions and all, but really, from what I’ve seen there;s just not enough beyond the visuals of little people in a big world to draw me in.

The problem is that though I’m sure the effects are impressive, they’re really nothing that hasn’t been done before. In the 60s there was the TV show Land of the Giants, an even before that, there was The Incredible Shrinking Man. And I’m sure there were plenty of films before that that explored the theme

Then, of course, in 1989 came this movie, starring the then-popular Rick Moranis.

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Downsizing? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!