How Far Can You Push The Con? – House of Games (1987)

I actually came to David Mamet’s House of Games a bit sideways. Nowadays, of course, it would catch my eye because of Mamet’s name and my love for his unique style of writing dialogue. However I actually saw House of Games long before I was aware if Mamet as a screenwriter and director. No, it was another name that first drew me to this movie. One of the actors.

Ricky Jay.

Now, I can already hear many of you out there saying “Ricky Who?”, and that’s completely understandable, because Ricky Jay is not exactly a name that, as they say, puts butts in seats – at least not for the majority of people. For people who enjoy illusionists and especially card manipulation, on the other hand, Ricky Jay’s name is one to – pardon the pun – conjure with.

Ricky Jay was born with magic in his blood, being the grandson of illusionist Max Katz, and made his first television performance at the age of four. In what had to be an absolutely intriguing evening, Ricky Jay once performed between rock queen Tina Turner and Timothy Leary who was there that night to lecture about LSD.

What makes Jay so intriguing, though, is not so much his skill at card manipulation, which is prodigious, but his interest in, and exploration of, the history of magic. He has written a number of books on the subject and also produced a number of specials featuring not only illusions that he created but also those of the masters of the past.

Anyway, it was the presence of Ricky Jay in the cast list that initially brought me to House of Games.

Then I discovered Mamet

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not one off those who think David Mamet can do no wrong (State and Main, I’m looking at you), but when he is on, Mamet has a control of dialogue that is rarely equaled.

It does, however, take someone who is in sync with Mamet’s style to deliver that dialogue properly. There is definitely a stiltedness to it that can be off-putting and can sound incredibly forced and fake without the proper attitude behind it.

Fortunately for House of Games, which is in many ways an updated version of The Sting, where no one can be trusted and nothing and no-one is ever quite what they seem, Mamet’s dialogue s a perfect fit, and in stars Lindsay Crouse an Joe Mantegna he has found the perfect actors to bring that dialogue to life.

There is a certain flatness, a remove to the delivery that can be a bit off-putting, but at the same times adds to the sense of distrust the pervades the movie and makes ever person, every action, and every statement seem suspect. Plus, the plot takes a number of twists that keeps the viewers on their toes and uncomfortable, which is just how the con artists that are at the center of the film want things.

Here’s your trailer:

 

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OTR Tuesday – A (Re)Introduction

Some of the most popular posts here recently seem to have been those dealing with Old Time Radio, so I thought maybe it was time to bring back a regular weekly feature on old radio shows. Back when I first started this blog, a regular feature was Old Time Radio Thursday, so I figured that as a good way to restart the exploration of old radio I’d re-present the introduction that I wrote back in 2013 to give you a taste of what’s to come.


Old Time Radio Thursdays – #001: An Introduction

No real long-winded introduction today. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day.

 People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and '30s CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer.

People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and ’30s
CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. “Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio.” National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

These shows encompassed many different genres, including drama, adventure, comedy, science fiction, westerns, soap operas, sports… basically it was the television of its day. Before, that is, television (network television at least) became overrun mostly by unreality tv and CSI clones.

So why am I writing about old radio shows on what is ostensibly a blog about movies? Well, two reasons really. First of all, I have an affinity to these shows that dates back to my childhood when my father collected these shows on cassette tapes that he would either purchase or trade with other collectors, and secondly, many of these shows had definite connections to Hollywood. Many of them would simply adapt popular movies for radio audiences, others would feature or even star Hollywood performers.

Anyway, I said I was going to try not to be too long-winded with this introduction, so for now I’m going to stop there, and let the shows begin speaking for themselves. For this first installment, I’m simply going to give you a variety of different shows to help those unfamiliar with the whole concept get a taste of what I’m talking about. Then, in weeks to come, I’ll feature a specific show and talk more about it and its Hollywood connections, and hopefully. over time, some of you will come to enjoy these shows as much as I do.

Plus, who knows, we might even find some connections between these shows and current movies, too. (As a matter of fact, I know we will.)

For now, though, just sit back, relax, maybe close your eyes, and let the magic of radio transport you back to an earlier time…

(By the way, just a quick note… you’ll notice varying quality on some of these recordings. While many of them are taken from transcription records that would be sent to various stations for playing at the appropriate time, others were simply recorded from the actual broadcasts by listeners who had set up (most likely) reel-to-reel tape machines to capture the broadcasts, and it is from those amateur recordings that the only known copies of those shows still exist. Hopefully, however, these quality variences won’t take away too much from your enjoyment of the shows themselves.)

This last one is actually from a later period, and is a show that I actually grew up listening to. Locally it was broadcast at 9pm on our CBS affiliate, so I got to lie in bed and listen to it each weeknight before nodding off to sleep. One of the interesting things about going back and listening to these today is that many of them, this one included, also include the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour of programming, and since this one, for instance, was first broadcast in 1974, the news often included coverage of the developing scandal which would become known as Watergate. Just keep listening through the commercials at the end, and you can hear how radio was reporting the latest news coming from the Nixon White House as more facts were coming to light.

(Oh, and yes, there are some definite movie connections in this story also, as you’ll see. Or should I say, as you’ll hear?)

Well, I hope that’s given you at least a taste of what’s to come as we explore the connections between Old Time Radio and the cinema, and be sure to check back next week as we focus in more closely on one of these great shows. And if you have any particular memories of radio shows, or any favorites, or if any of these caught your attention and you want to hear more, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #013 Breathless (1960)

And here we are, back again with another look at one of the world’s best movies as designated by the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list. This time around, it’s #013 on the list, Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless. 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.

Stark.

That’s the first word that comes to mind when viewing Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.

In Breathless, Godard has pared down the nature of narrative film, making it, (as was his intent) almost documentary in nature.

Coming from a background in film criticism, a large part of Godard’s purpose was not just to make films, but use those films to comment on the nature of film and to transform it. In order to do this, he not only stepped outside of the studio, filming on the streets without permission and often surreptitiously, but also filming largely without a script, deciding on the day what scenes he wanted to film (largely filming in order) and giving the lines to the actors ust before shooting.

However, Godard’s innovative shooting style also extended to the editing room, where he decided to cut not only between scenes, but inside them, taking out anything he felt extraneous or boring. This led to what have been called “jump cuts”where the background may change dramatically while conversations may be taking place. These jump cuts also occur during action scenes, often with the camera only focusing on individual objects or quick actions, all of which serves to make the movie move much more quickly an adding an extra layer of intensity.

The film opens with a dedication to film noir house Monogram Pictures, an the reason for that seems to be two-fol. First, the movie is obviously Goard’s riff on the noir genre, including many direct references to classics of the style such as The Maltese Falcon, which is paraphrased in a statement by our protagonist Michel who states that he always falls in love with the wrong woman. For that matter Michel’s American girlfriend Patricia is, despite her outwardly light demeanor, an almost prototypical femme fatale, eventually holding all the cards and becoming the final arbiter of MIchel’s fate.

The dedication to Monogram carries a further significance also. Here’s an excerpt from a 1964 interview:

Godard, why did you really dedicate Breathless to “Monogram Pictures”?

I did it to prove that you can do pictures that are both interesting and cheap. In America a cheap picture is not considered interesting, and I said “Why not?” because actually there are many American directors who do B and C pictures who are very interesting. Vivre Sa Vie I dedicated to B pictures, because in my opinion it is a B picture.

You’re being dead serious now?

If it’s less than $100,000, it’s a B picture. The trouble is that in Hollywood the B budget is all they consider; it can be a B or Z budget, but even with a Z budget you can attempt to make an A quality picture. If you talk to a Hollywood producer-if you make a B picture then you are a B director. You are only an A director if you make films with A budgets. … I think this idea is wrong. But if you go to see bankers or producers in America they still think in Hollywood’s way.

So both in setting up the movie the way he did and carrying his thoughts on the nature of film all the way through the editing, Godard attempted to change the very nature of film, and with Breathless he succeeded

Here’s your trailer:

Saturday Double Feature: Game Night (2018) and…

Hey, it’s Saturday, and that means the return of the Saturday Double Feature!

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.

It’s a bit hard to tell from the trailer just what kind of movie Game Night is going to be. For one thing it’s hard to nail down the tone of the movie. There are points where it looks like it could be a slasher variation, others where it resembles an old dark house style thriller, and still others where it looks more like a horror comedy.

So in considering all of this when looking for a double feature to pair with it, I decided to go with a comedic take on the old dark house flick, 1976’s Murder By Death.  The movie features parodies of famous movie detectives brought together by a man (a rare film performance by Truman Capote) who claims to be the world’s greatest detective, and to prove it he challenges them to solve a murder which will take place at midnight.

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Game Night? 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!

Superman to Fight The KKK Again!

This past week, DC Comics held a meeting with the American Library Association at which they announced two new imprints within the company – DC Ink and DC Zoom, both of which will be aimed at younger readers than their current main line of comics.

One of the interesting announcements to come out of the meeting was of a new graphic novel which will be written by Gene Luen Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, which was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz award. The new graphic novel he is writing for C s to be entitled Superman Smashes the Klan.

The graphic novel is not going to be set, however, in the present day. Instead it will be set in 1946, and will relate directly to the Adventures of Superman radio show, and especially to the serial within the show known as “The Clan of the Fiery Cross”.

According to DC, Superman Smashes the Klan will tell the story of an American Chinese girl who moves to Metropolis to find herself and her family’s ethnicity targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. Through her experience with Superman and the radio serial, she learns to overcome some of the trials and understand what it means to be American.

I’ve written a couple of times before about the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” serial and how it was a prime example of a radio serial taking on what could have been a controversial topic, even if it was within a superhero setting. So, even though it’s not Thursday, I thought I’d go ahead and give you an extra throwback article to give you some info on the serial, and even an opportunity to listen to it if you’d like.

So, here you go, from June 14, 2015:


When Superman Fought The KKK – The Adventures Of Superman (1946)

aos2Considering the current furor over the Confederate battle flag, African-American church burnings occurring across the south, a possible resurgence of Klan groups and other ongoing problems across America, I was reminded of this series of shows and thought perhaps it might be apropos to take a quick look. Yes, I’ve actually written about this series-within-a-series before, but it’s been long enough ago that I figured you all wouldn’t mind an expanded revisit.

Long time readers will know that I have a special love for Old Time Radio shows. As a matter of fact, I used to run a regular weekly feature here that focused on these shows. During that run I wrote a couple of posts that focused on or featured episodes of the Adventures of Superman radio show which ran roughly and in various formats from 1940 to 1952.

In 1946, the show was running in the afternoon as daily 15 minute broadcasts, and was sponsored by Kellogg’s cereal, specifically Kellogg’s Pep. Of course, running so many episodes, the show was continuously looking for new antagonists to pit its titular hero against. It was during this period that the producers were approached by journalist and human rights activist Stetson Kennedy to help expose the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.

aos1Though many of his claims of infiltrating the KKK have since fallen into dispute, at the time, Kennedy was known for his biting expose’s of that organization and of the Jim Crow laws of the south. Kennedy’s idea was that with him providing information that he had gleaned by investigating the organization, including details of their secret rituals and codewords, the show could use this information to help demystify the organization and make it less appealing through ridicule, an idea which the producers were quick to embrace.

Thus, in June of 1946, The Adventures of Superman began a sixteen part serial (the show at that time basically consisted of various arcs which would run for roughly two to four weeks and then would move on to a different story) which became known as “The Clan of the Fiery Cross”. Here’s a description of the beginning of the series from a review on the Superman Homepage, written by James Lantz:

Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are taking a cab on a sunny afternoon in Metropolis. Clark is covering a story for the Daily Planet, and Jimmy is going to baseball practice for the Unity House team in which he manages. Two boys, Tommy Lee and Chuck Riggs, are fighting when Jimmy arrives. Chuck has been acting like a sore loser since Tommy, who just moved into the neighborhood, replaced him as number one pitcher on the squad. During practice, Chuck crowds the home plate and gets hit in the head by a ball thrown by Tommy. Chuck believes Tommy did it on purpose, and Jimmy is forced to remove the former from the team because of his attitude toward Tommy.

Chuck has just returned home to find his Uncle Matt waiting for him. The boy tells him of the incident with Tommy. Knowing Tommy’s father Doctor Wan Lee, an Asian American, was promoted to the Metropolis Health Department as a bacteriologist, Matt gets an idea. He makes his nephew believe that Tommy beaned him on purpose and invites the boy to a secret meeting of what he calls “true Americans.” Matt Riggs has every intention of making Tommy Lee and Jimmy Olsen pay for humiliating Chuck.

Matt is now donning a white robe with a blue scorpion design and hood. He then takes Chuck to a secluded place where a wooden cross burns. Other similarly dressed men are in the area. Uncle Mack reveals that he’s the leader of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. Chuck is coached into saying that Tommy Lee was trying to kill him in order to keep his position on the Unity House baseball team. Chuck says that this will help Lee’s people take over America. The first phase of the Grand Scorpion Uncle Matt’s plan is now in place. Now, The Clan of the Fiery Cross can cleanse the country of those that are not “True Americans.”

Obviously, once Clark learns of the Clan’s activities from Jimmy, it’s not long before he (and thereby Superman, too) is actively investigating the goings on of the group. What happens after that? Well, I’ll just let you listen and find out for yourselves. Here’s a YouTube playlist that should let you listen to all sixteen parts of the serial one after the other.

So how was this series-within-the-series received? Well, according to Wikipedia, “Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg’s products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings and the food company stood by its support of the show.” Also, reports are that it did, to some extent, have the desired effect, and according to a story in a then-current issue of The New Republic, the trivialization of the Klan’s rituals and codewords was perceived to have had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership.

So what do you think? How much should characters like Superman be taking on real-world problems like the KKK? Do you think they have the potential to help the situation. or do they instead trivialize them? Of course, in a way the question is somewhat moot since there really are no shows like the Adventures of Superman on the airwaves today, even considering the rising number of comic-book based shows and movies, but still I think the topic is worthy of consideration and would love to see some debate of it either in the comments below or on the DMM Facebook page, so let me know what you think.

Throwback Thursday -Black Bart TV Series (1975)

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 February of 2014.

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Throwing A Wet Blanket On A Blazing Saddle – It’s The Pilot For The Unsold Black Bart TV Series (1975)

10Why? Really, just… why?

Why try to spin a TV show out of a hit comedy film like Blazing Saddles when you can’t use any of the elements that made to film so original and funny?

And why am I sharing it with you now?

I’ll admit, most of the time I would file this kind of thing under the heading of either “Yeah, this exists” and go ahead and maybe post a link to it on the Durnmoose Movie Facebook page (see the kind of fun you’re missing if you haven’t gone there and “liked” the page? Why don’t you take a minute to do that now? Trust me, Black Bart and I will still be here when you get back. Unfortunately.) or I’d not even bother doing that and just let it go with a shrug and put it in my own personal “Okay, I watched that so you don’t have to” file. (Yeah, honestly, there’s a lot of this kind of thing that I sort through and throw away without ever even bothering to mention having watched it. See what a nice guy I am?)

black-bartBut no, I think this time I’m actually going to post the whole dang thing.

Why?

Because I know that there are going to be some of you out there who are going to find this wildly entertaining.

Because I know somewhere out there there’s going to be that person who thinks that Lou Gossett and Steve Landesberg are adequate replacements for Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder.

Because I know that some of you are actually going to be shocked by the fact that a major network sitcom could actually use the “N-word” (GASP! How dare they!) back in 1975. (Of course, there may actually be some validity to that shock when we can’t even use the word on television today even in a discussion of using it.)

But you want to know the real reason I’m posting it and encouraging you to go ahead and watch it?

Because sometimes, as “they” say, misery simply loves company.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.