Top 250 Tuesday #242 – Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #180 on the list,  Monte Helllmans Two-Lane Blacktop. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

tlb1 Two-Lane Blacktop is one of those films that seems as though it really could only have been made in the time period that it was.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been road movies both before and after the late 1960s and early ’70s that the film embodies so well and is the period I’m talking about. Certainly there have been. Just for one example, back in March for a Saturday Double Feature pairing with Need for Speed, I focused the spotlight on a rather obscure little gem from 1953 called Genvieve which featured a car race through the streets of London. And even that was far from the earliest Basically, as soon as movie makers were able to, they began pointing their cameras at cars and following them down the road, and they continue to do so today and probably always will.

But there’s something about the road movies that were produced during this time period that seems to make them oddly unique. Of course, in reality that’s true of a number of movies produced during that time period, not just road movies. There was definitely something about that time period, when what became known as the counter-culture  was clashing almost daily with a much more entrenched way of thinking and doing things that caused film studios – even major ones – struggling to figure out how to react, and the surge of films about people taking to the road to explore just what was going on in the U.S., just what American culture at the time was and was becoming, was really just a part of that. This was the time of films like Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, and, of course, today’s movie, Two-Lane Blacktop.

tlb2Then when you also take into consideration that Blacktop was directed by Monte Hellman, the man behind, among other films, Medium Cool which not only took place during, but actually incorporated actual footage shot during the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention, and that two of its four leads are played by James Taylor and Brian Wilson, both musicians who had never acted in movies before and never would again, and that the actors were never actually given a full script to work from, but simply given their lines for each day’s shooting, well, you’re certainly headed down the road to something unique.

And unique is certainly what you get.

tlb5Under Hellman’s direction, what could have been a fairly standard plot – two drivers racing across country to be the first to reach Washington D.C. – becomes much more, and at the same time, much less, than that. More, because really Hellman seems to have no interest in simply moving his characters from point A to point B with various stops and encounters along the way but instead is much more interested in exploring how the trip affects these characters. As a matter of fact, he is famously known for insisting that the entire film crew and the actors make the trip along with the characters because he knew that having the actual experience would not only change the characters of the script, but the actors themselves, which seems to have actually happened, and we see those changes throughout the film.

tlb3At the same time, it becomes less, because there comes a point where Hellman seems to abandon even that framework of a plot as if it no longer matters, and (okay I’ll throw up a quick spoiler warning here) in the end we never actually see either driver reach the intended destination, and the film itself simply seems to dissolve into nothingness on the screen.

So in the end, where does that leave us? Basically with a film that is not only unique to, but somewhat exemplary of its time period, and yet one which, taken in that context, certainly delivers a worthwhile viewing experience.

In other words, a trip down this particular Two-Lane Blacktop is definitely, at least in my mind, one worth taking.

 

 

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Which Critters Will Actually Wind Up Overtaking Mankind? And Which Already Have?

1881One of the more interesting aspects of the current Planet of the Apes series (though it’s more troublesome in a way with the first movie than the latest, where the conflicts are as much intra-species as they are inter-) is that in many ways the audience is asked to side with and put our sympathies with the “underdog” apes. However, in doing that, what we’re actually doing is cheering on the fall of humanity to these these creatures. And it’s a conflict of which – thanks not only to the original sequence of films, but to the very titles of the movies – we already know the outcome.

This (the fall of mankind to another species) is certainly not a new idea, and is at the heart of many films dating very far back. Heck, it’s in some ways at the heart of nearly every zombie movie, for instance, all the way back to 1964’s Vincent Price thriller The Last Man on Earth (yes, I know, the creatures there are treated as vampires instead of zombies, but really, in structure, it’s no different than many of today’s zombie flicks and certainly closer to them than to most vampire movies, so yeah, that’s the stand that I’m taking).

Anyway, like I said, this is certainly not a new idea, and Evan Hoovler over at blastr has posted this compilation of “The 10 most unexpected creatures to take over the world in sci-fi films“. It’s an interesting list, and if nothing else should give you a few fun and cheesy movies to while away a bit of time with. I say go check it out.

Too Smart For Television? – Police Squad! (1982)

ps1Police Squad! was cancelled because the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it.”

Supposedly that’s the reason given by then ABC Entertainment president Tony Thomopoulos in 1982 for the cancellation of the TV show Police Squad! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the show’s official name) after the network aired only six episodes of the show.

Created by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, the team behind the movie Airplane!, and starring Leslie Nielsen who had found a new rather surprising second life as a comedy star in that movie, the television show was a loving tribute to and parody of the great cop shows of the past.

ps2I recently took the time to rewatch all six episodes with my soon-to-be-14-year-old daughter, (well, it was a re-watch for me, and of course a first time viewing for her), and though Thomopoulos’s statement may seem a little ridiculous at first, there is quite a bit of truth behind what he says. Like its predecessor movie (and let me take just a moment right here to say that if you haven’t ever seen Airplane! you really should), it is not a show that rewards multi-tasking. So many of the jokes are sight gags or visual puns, that if you’re not giving the show your full attention, then you’re going to simply miss a lot of them.

Of course, some might say that that might be even more of a problem now, when so many people “watch” television while texting or spending time on the internet or doing so many other things, that to get people to pay attention enough to what is happening literally every second the show is on may seem impossible. However, there is also a flip side to that. Because of today’s technology, when it’s so much easier to pause or go back to catch some of the small “what did he say?” or “did I really see that?” moments, viewers who are willing to invest the time and attention into these episodes will find themselves amply rewarded in ways that viewers who originally watched these episodes on television may simply not have been able to.

ps3At the same time, I will say this: while there is a part of me that will always be sad that we didn’t get more episodes of the series, there is also a part that fears that had it gone on much longer it may very well have overstayed its welcome. Though I do think that the sixth and final episode is one of its strongest, at the same time, I can easily see some of the recurring gags becoming a bit stale had it gone for more than say thirteen or so. There is such a thing as going to the same well too often, and this may be one of those cases where it’s better that a show die a bit before its time and live as something that will be missed and considered cancelled too soon than to have gone on and on to the point that its reputation became “well, the first season was good, but…”

One other caveat I feel I should include about this show. It is definitely a product of its time, and there are a number of jokes that simply won’t make sense to younger viewers because they make reference to cultural phenomenon or include guest stars in cameos that those born after a certain period of time simply won’t be familiar with. But then, that’s another of the advantages to having things like Google and Wikipedia available. So that when Dr. Joyce Brothers shows up, there’s at least a chance for today’s viewers to figure out why it’s funny.

ps4Oh, and as for the daughter’s reaction to it? Well, lets just say that there were many times during the course of viewing these episodes where her constant refrain was “I hate this show!”. Which, as we all know is teenager-speak for “I don’t want to admit how much I’m loving this, even though it’s keeping me from Instagramming and all of the other stuff that I could be doing on my phone because I’m having to pay attention to it.”

Hmmm… perhaps Tony Thomopoulos was right after all.

(Want to judge the series for yourself? thanks to YouTube user yeahDrEuthanasia here’s a playlist containing all six episodes that should allow you to run them back to back. Though I do recommend taking them in smaller doses – perhaps two or three at a time – simply to avoid burnout.)

(One last note – yes, I am aware that I left out any mention of the subsequent Naked Gun movies, but the truth is, I was never as big a fan of them as I was the television series. Again, I suspect it may simply be a case where the argument could be made that this is a case where “less is more”, because it always seemed to me that they were having to work very hard to stretch the format for a lull-length feature film.)

Saturday Double Feature: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014) and…

Okay, 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.

Yeah, it’s been sort of an unexpectedly busy week here at la casa de moose, especially the past couple of days, thus the dearth of posts and the relative lateness of this one (though it is still Saturday, – well, here at least – so…). Anyway, one of the things that I did manage to squeeze in was a double feature viewing of both Rise of  and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. So it ain’t been all bad by any stretch.

Okay, so as always, here’s the trailer for the new movie this week:

Of course, it would be easiest to simply pair this one with one of the original Apes movies, but I decided to go in a decidedly different direction with this week’s double feature. What can I say? It’s just the kind of mood I’m in.

Instead, I thought maybe I would go with a different movie that featured the phrase “Planet of the…”. And I figured it would be even better if it featured, as the original Planet of the Apes does, astronauts journeying to that “planet”. The one that immediately came to mind was Mario Bava‘s Planet of the Vampires, but then I ran across this little jewel and decided to feature it instead. So here you go. From 1968 (yep, the same year as the original POTA), it’s Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. (unfortunately, I couldn’t find a real trailer, but here is a series of clips to give you a taste, and the entire thing is very easy to find on YouTube):

By the way, it’s not indicated in the clip, and onscreen he’s credited as Derek Thomas, but this film was actually directed by Peter Bogdanovich in between making Targets and The Last Picture Show. Yeah, really!

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? 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!

Saturday Double Feature: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) and…

Okay, 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.

Yeah, the multiplex is offering you More Great Big Robots and the latest Let’s Watch the Fat Chick Cuss People Out “comedy” for your Fourth of July weekend viewing, but I’m not going down that road today. Instead I’m turning the Double Feature eye on one of the smaller films that unfortunately, if you have to depend on the chains-stream theaters for your movie going pleasure, you’ll probably have to catch some other way – either on Netflix, or On Demand, or disk or however you manage to see these kind of films, if you do at all.

Though officially dated as a 2013 film since that’s when it began its festival runs, Jim Jarmusch‘s latest film Only Lovers Left Alive which stars Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright – seriously, you get a cast like that and an acclaimed director and still have to fight to get screen space? even when your film is riding the still-hot vampire train? – is really only now getting its proper release on big screens across America (for instance it’s currently showing at our local “arthouse” theater) so I’m letting it count as today’s “new” film.

Honestly, when I saw that trailer it immediately reminded me of another sexy/classy vampire flick that also had to fight for screen space back in the day and really only developed a cult following once it was released to video: 1983’s The Hunger, directed by Tony Scott and starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon.

Hmm… maybe if they could have found some way to work more teen angst into these films they’d have done better.

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Only Lovers Left Alive? 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!

Top 250 Tuesday #174 – Notorious (1946)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #180 on the list,  Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

not1So  in writing about today’s entry into the Sight and Sound Top 250 line-up, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, one has to consider what can only be termed the “Hitchcock problem” which is somewhat inherent in any poll like this, and especially in one that produces such a large list of films.

Simply put, the problem is an overabundance of truly excellent films to choose from.

Yeah, it may perhaps seem strange to consider this a “problem”, but…

Here’s the deal from my perspective: Hitchcock directed so many truly great movies over the years that there’s no way that anyone can possibly make a list of “Greatest Movies” without including him somewhere on the list. Well, that’s not quite true, I suppose. One could certainly make such a list, but the exclusion of Sir Alfred would have to be purposeful and mostly an exercise not just in trying to be non-conformist, but also in denying an truly great director his place in the film-making landscape.

not2 So then the question really becomes two separate ones. It’s not so much “does Hitchcock get a place on my list”, but “how many places?” and “which Hitchcock”?

Obviously, the consensus answer to the second question at least in 2012, the year this version of the poll was released fell to Vertigo enough times that it actually managed to displace Citizen Kane from it’s long standing place in the top spot of the list. Is it really the best film Hitchcock made in his long career? Personally, I’d argue no – my vote goes to Rear Window, which has become my go-to answer when anyone asks me for my all-time favorite movie, if for no other reason than one has to have an answer to that question readily available, and I think it goes a long way towards being Hitchcock’s best and certainly a good way to open the discussion – but at that point one truly gets into personal preference, which, in the end is where these lists are finally built anyway.

not3As far as the first question above, that of how many places one allows for Hitchcock films, well, that’s not one that I’m really looking at to answer numerically, but rather I bring it up in order to point out that I think it’s that question that places at least five different movies from the director’s filmography on the list, and finds (or perhaps makes?) room for a movie like Notorious on it.

Make no mistake. Notorious is an excellent movie, and if it were made by anyone other than Hitchcock it could easily qualify as a director’s greatest work. However, when placed within the scope of this particular director’s achievements, one has to wonder in a way if it simply doesn’t pale in comparison.

Again, another aspect of the “Hitchcock problem”: when a director has made so many movies that could be considered other directors’ best work, how does one deal with those which are simply “great” but not “the greatest” in compiling a list like this?

not4Okay, so I’m six hundred words into this, and i really haven’t even gotten to the movie itself, but I suspect you’ve likely already picked up in the comments that I’ve made my response to it. Simply put, Notorious is an excellent film from an excellent director that, while it may not be his very best certainly shows why he has to be considered as one of the most elite film-makers of all time.

It’s a movie that showcases a number of Hitch’s favorite tropes – especially that of a relatively “common man” (though in this case the “common man” is female) caught up in unexpected circumstances beyond their experience or control. In a way, one could actually consider it largely a gender-swapped version of North By Northwest – which, just by the way, also appears on the list at number 54.

not5It also is a movie that shows why the director is so highly ranked among his peers as it contains a number of unique camera angles, editing decisions, and shot set-ups that showcase a great dramatist at the height of his game.

And finally, it is a movie that – no matter how various actors may have responded to their treatment by Hitchcock both on and off screen, and his reported attitudes toward those who worked under him, once again simply shows just how good he was at pulling quality performances from not only his stars – Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains all shine here – but from those who are also simply there to help populate his films.

In other words, yes, Notorious really is a great film which deserves its place on the list, and one which I highly recommend not just watching, but seeking out if you haven’t seen it already.

And that’s an evaluation I have no problem making at all.