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?

Not Just Another Middle Child – Quickie Review: Insurgent (2015)

ins1It would be easy to simply write Insurgent off as simply another “middle picture” in a movie trilogy, and there is some of that feeling to it. You know what I mean. In most movie trilogies, the first picture is there to set things up, give you the lay of the land, introduce the main characters, etc. Then the second movie comes along, and it’s function is to hopefully expand a bit on everything that has gone before while getting everything in place for the third movie (or, just as likely today when the final movie is split into two so that the studio can reap double benefits – see, for example, The Hobbit, the third/fourth movie) which will provide the final, “epic” ending.

It would be easy to do that, but in the case of Insurgent, it would be doing the movie a disservice to simply dismiss it in that way.

Of course, I’m obviously not part of the target audience for a movie like this, and if it weren’t for my fourteen year old daughter, I probably would never have bothered going to see the first movie in this series, Divergent, at all. That being said. I found myself enjoying the first installment well enough that I was certainly willing to accompany her to Insurgent. One of the things that I liked about the first movie was that there were a number of places where I expected the movie to end on more of a cliffhanger type note, but rather than do that, it told a pretty complete story in itself while certainly leaving enough unanswered questions and a feeling that there was certainly more of the story to be told that it was definitely a satisfying view, and that is also the case here. While, yes, Insurgent definitely sets up the rather obvious next step in the plotline it at the same time completes the section of the story that was necessary for these characters to move to that next level without simply ending on a cliffhanger or leaving the viewer feeling like they’ve only seen a part of a movie, and I have to applaud those in charge of adapting this series for that.

ins2So basically, yes, this is to a large extent, a “more of the same” movie insofar as if you enjoyed the first movie, you should enjoy this one also. How would it work as a stand alone experience? Well, I can’t speak directly to that, but my feeling is definitely that while it would probably work, there is quite a bit of assumed knowledge that would leave someone who hasn’t seen Divergent playing quite a game of catch up as far as the characters and their inter-relationships.

The bottom line then: If you’ve seen the first movie, and enjoyed it, then yes, I’d recommend this as a very adequate and satsfying follow-up. If you haven’t, then I would recommend seeking out and watching Divergent first, and then deciding if you’re interested in following the adventures of these characters any further.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 020 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 9: Beheaded

dt9Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4 5, 6, 7, 8.

Last week we finished up our look at the history of Republic Pictures, at least as far as the serial era went, but, just as the feature length films of the studio era had distinguishing features and styles that differentiated them from those coming from their rivals, the same was true with the serials that they produced, so  I thought it might be interesting this week to take a look at just what made a Republic serial stand out from those coming from other studios.

Since one of the foundations of Republic was Mascot Pictures, a studio already devoted to the making of serials, it should probably come as no surprise that the serial division was considered one of the major parts of the studio’s inner workings, and therefore generally received more funding and respect than was true of its rivals. This respect for the division translated very well to the screen, especially in terms of the special effects that were used, not just during the cliffhanger scenes, but throughout the episodes. When you see an explosion or a flooded tunnel or whatever in a Republic serial, the effects work just seems that touch more realistic, and therefore more threatening. This larger special effects budget also was brought to bear on some of the more fantastical effects, such as the flying scenes featured in their superhero serials.

dt8Republic was also the first studio to really choreograph the fights within its serial. Instead of the director simply telling the actor “Okay, you two go at it for a couple of minutes”, Republic serials would bring in stuntmen who knew more about what they were doing and how to plan out and better stage a fight sequence. These guys also were not afraid to use the other material on the set to either throw at each other or hit each other with, which again brought a greater sense of realism to their serials and heightened the action.

The extra money that Republic was willing to spend upon its serials was not only seen on the screen, however, but was also a factor in the plotting and writing of their serials, where they had a full team of writers – sometimes as many as seven people – working on the scripts.

There’s also one other feature that an eagle-eyed viewer might note that makes a Republic Serial easily identifiable and distinguishable from those of its competitors: the presence of either (or both) a Packard limousine or a Ford Woodie station wagon which constantly and consistently appeared in their serials. Why? Because by consistently using these cars, it made it easier for Republic to integrate and reuse already shot footage – especially in chase scenes.

And with that, I think it’s time to get on with Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Here’s chapter 8.

Next time: Chapter 9: Flaming Peril, and we’ll shift our focus from Republic Pictures to one of its main rivals, Columbia .

The Green, Green Grass of Sexual Frustration – A Quickie Review of Splendor In The Grass (1961)

sp1Okay, I admit it, like most teenagers I wet through my share of angst and sexual frustration, but damn, have these kids got it bad.

Wait, did I say teenagers? Yeah, I did. And honestly, that’s one of this movies biggest problems. At the time this movie was made, both Warren Beatty (making his film debut here) and Natalie Wood were in their late 20s. And while I know it’s traditional at the to cast older actors as teenagers, the entire cast of this movie is simply too old to in any way resemble teenagers, and Wood especially just looks silly when she’s happily bouncing up and down every time she greets her girlfriends.

Maybe it was the desire to hire actors who director Elia Kazan felt could carry the emotional weight of the story he wanted to tell. Perhaps it was, as is often the case, simply the desire to avoid have to make the necessary concessions that come along with hiring more age-appropriate actors. I don’t know. What I do know is that, despite the strength of their performance, the fact that neither of the leads could shed the maturity of both their age and skill really undercuts any sense that these characters belong in a high school classroom, or that they should be wearing their hearts so vividly upon their sleeves.

Maybe that’s the reason this supposed tearjerker left me far from moved by the plight of its main characters? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s simply that the entire endeavor seems overwrought and that the emotions and motivations of Beatty’s Bud Stamper and Wood’s “Deanie” Loomis veer so strongly from scene to scene that it’s really hard to figure out not only where they actually are emotionally, but to really buy into their frustrated love plights.

sg2Taking just one example, when we’re first introduced to the couple, they’re making out in Bud’s car, and we have Deanie telling Bud “No, stop, we mustn’t, we mustn’t”, which is met with utter frustration by a car door slamming Bud. Not long after, in a scene that remains rather shocking, and I suspect was even moreso back in 1961, We see Bud forcing Deanie to her knees into a position that seems one zipper away from him forcing her to… well, I suspect you get the idea. Though Bud eventually backs off from this, the scene ends with Deanie telling Bud she really will do anything he wants her to, because she loves him so much.

And so it goes, back and forth, back and forth, and maybe all of this “I will, I won’t” type thing is supposed to mirror the over-the-top rampaging hormones of the teenage years, and it certainly isn’t helped by Deanie’s mother who keeps telling her that good girls don’t let boys touch them, much less have sex with them, nor by Bud’s father, who encourages Him to – if he’s that frustrated by Deanie’s continuous refutations – find a “different kind of girl” to sow his wild oats with.

sp2By the way, I should take this moment to note that though I was somewhat less than impressed by bith Beatty and Wood in this, since they both really overact a lot of their scenes, with Beatty in particular not just chewing the scenery, but seeming to look around for even more to chomp upon every chance he gets, I did enjoy seeing Pat Hingle in the cast as Bud’s mostly single minded oil-baron father. Not that is performance is any more restrained than anyone else in the film, but at least he does seem to understand that his role is ridiculously over the top, something the younger stars never quite seem to grasp.

The film does deserve credit for (spoiler warning, I suppose) not giving it’s characters a “they lived happily ever after” ending, which is rather satisfying, but, not unlike its stars, beautiful though the film is, never seems to know just what it wants, nor how to properly express itself.

Classic Television Thursday #027 – Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963)

hg1Have Gun Will Travel reads the card of a man.
A knight without armor in a savage land.
His fast gun for hire heed’s the calling wind.
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.
Paladin, Paladin Where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, Far, far from home.
He travels on to wherever he must;
A chess knight of silver is his badge of trust.
There are campfire legends that the plainsmen spin
Of the man with the gun,
of the man called Pa-l-l-l-l-a-din

Ah, for a return to actual theme songs for TV shows. I mean, really, what more do you need to know going into this show than what’s contained in that song?

hg2Well, for those who are unfamiliar with Have Gun Will Travel, I’ll give you just a bit more. The character of Paladin was played by Richard Boone in a role that became iconic for the actor. It premiered on Sept. 14, 1957, and lasted until April 20, 1963, airing an impressive total of 225 episodes during that period. This was, of course, a time when, much as police and forensics procedural do now, westerns ruled the airwaves, and consistently ranked either 3rd or 4th in the ratings race, usually behind only Gunsmoke and Wagon Train.

It’s also one of the few shows that, as opposed to the usual direction of things, where a show that had first become popular on the radio spawned a television show when that medium became prevalent, had a radio show developed from it for that audience.

As far as how Paladin became the traveling gunslinger, well to find that out, all you need do is watch the pilot episode, which I’ve posted below.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paranoia Can Be Quite Invasive – A Quickie Review of 1978’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

bs1I feel as though I should start this with a bit of full disclosure. I am a huge fan of the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s one that has ranked extremely high on my personal all-time favorites list ever since I first saw it back when I was a teenager. So I’ve always had a bit of a snobbish attitude towards this remake. It’s one that I’ve always been rather dismissive of in that too easy to adopt “There’s no way the remake could be anywhere near as good as the original” way that, while not inevitable, certainly comes as part of the baggage anytime one approaches a remake of one of one’s favorite movies. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly sure that this was not a first time view of this version. I know I’ve at least watched parts of it before, but this time around I decided I’d try to view it completely separately, and try to judge it on its own merits. Was I successful? Well, I don’t think there’s any way I could completely dismiss my previous experience with the title, but let’s just say I did my best.

So how did this version of Invasion come out? Pretty darned well, actually.

bs3Of course, I’ve long been a fan of both Mr. Nimoy and his lead in this, Donald Sutherland, and with Jeff Goldblum along for the ride, well, I figured at least I wouldn’t be bored. What I didn’t expect was a movie that actually managed to update the themes of the original, while at the same time expanding upon them and bringing in just the right amount of late 70s paranoia, along with using the newer special effects techniques available at the time to give the movie a fresh gloss without it feeling overblown or simply an exercise in “See how much better we can do this now?’.

bs4Actually, I realized fairly quickly, that though I certainly could have continued my attempt to “forget” the ’56 version while watching this, that didn’t necessarily fit with the creator’s intent. As a matter of fact, in many ways, this version could be considered as much a sequel to the original as a remake. First, there is the early-on appearance by the star of the ’56 version, Kevin McCarthy, reprising his role from the earlier take, thus directly connecting the two. Also, since this Invasion is taking place in the much larger city of San Francisco, it’s easy to see it as an expansion upon the other – kind of a “what happens next” as the action – along with the pods – moves from the smaller, more encapsulated town of Santa Mira to the big city. Yet at the same time, those little bits of allusion, along with a few other points, don’t really require one to have seen the earlier version, as this film stands very well on its own as a nicely paced sci-fi thriller.

bs2Overall, I found this a very entertaining watch, and while I don’t see any way that this version will ever take the place of the original in my heart, I can easily see why it has been so solidly embraced, and why, especially for those who are younger or who encounter this one first, it would be their Invasion of choice.

My recommendation? Watch them both. Enjoy them both. And whichever way your own tastes fall after having done so, just remember: Don’t fall asleep. Plus, you might just want to keep an eye on that guy or gal next to you. After all, they may not turn out to be quite what they seem.

Quickie Review: The French Connection (1971)

fc1It really is all about the chase.

Really.

It’s certainly not about the plot. If that were the case, The French Connection would qualify as a 30 minute short film.

Nor is it about the acting. Even though stars Gene Hackman (who won the Best Actor Oscar for the film) and Roy Scheider (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor) turn in their usual stellar performances. (And maybe that’s part of the problem. I expect them to be this good, so their work in this film doesn’t particularly stand out as anything better than what we usually get from them.)

So why did this film receive The Best Picture Award (becoming the first R-Rated movie to do so after the introduction of the MPAA’s film rating system), and director William Friedkin win Best Director, and why did it also garner Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing? Why is it consistently hailed as one of the all-time great crime dramas?

It’s all about the chase.

Of course, the funny thing is that as pivotal as that grand car vs elevated train chase sequence is, it didn’t even go as planned, since there weren’t actually supposed to be any crashes.

Nonetheless, yeah, it’s all about the chase.

And that ain’t a bad thing at all.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 019 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 8: Train Of Doom

dt8Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, 6, 7.

It’s time, I think, to wrap up our look at the history of the prolific serial producer Republic Pictures.

As is typical for a number of the smaller studios, the downfall of Republic can largely be attributed to one word: television. However, one of the things that differentiates them from some of those studios is that Republic actually at first attempted to embrace the new medium, seeing its potential, and in 1951 created a subsidiary arm, Hollywood Television Service which was tasked with repackaging and selling screening rights to its vintage westerns and action thrillers. HTS also took many of these films, especially the westerns, and edited them to fit in a one-hour television slot. At the same time, Hollywood Television Service also produced television shows filmed in the same style as Republic’s serials, such as The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1956).

rp3During this time, Republic also paired with MCA to produce new movies and television shows, a move which allowed them to stay afloat financially for another few years, though by the mid 50s the writing was definitely on the wall. In 1957, the studio’s output dwindled to a mere 18 features, and the next year Republic’s founder and president, Herbert J. Yates informed the company’s stockholders that feature film production was ending, and the company’s distribution offices closed the following year. Finally, in 1959, Victor M. Carter, a Los Angeles businessman and turn-around specialist, acquired controlling interest in Republic, becoming its president. Carter did manage to keep Republic around, mostly by building it into a diversified business which included plastics and appliances in addition to its film and studio rentals and Consolidated Film Industries, and he renamed the resulting  company Republic Corporations. Not long after, Republic began leasing its backlot to other firms, including CBS in 1963, and in 1967 Republic’s studio was purchased outright by CBS.

Today the studio lot is known as CBS Studio Center.

Okay, time to move on. Here’s the next chapter of our ongoing serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

Next time: Chapter 9: Beheaded, and more serial history.