Collected Dailies 6

In the Name of the King (2007) – If I were king of the movies and you wanted to make one of those tales in which the guy’s wife and/or kid are foully murdered or kidnapped, to set the guy up for,  and loose him on, a 90-minute quest of  enraged vengeance-taking audience-pleasin violence, I’d give you five minutes of screen time to complete that family-devastating prologue. Wife and kid must be dead or kidnapped by 5:00 into the film. That should be plenty of time. She’s beautiful. Modest cleavage. He loves her. He loves the kid. He spends his days growing turnips and splitting firewood, whilst, as it happens, he’s the greatest martial-arts swordsman in the kingdom. So by 5:01 of the film, not one second later, I want action. Why must I watch him teach the kid how to harvest turnips, when the kid is going to be pushing up turnips directly? I don’t want to wait longer than five minutes for him to shovel into the grave the strangely rich, soft, black, loamy soil that he’s managed to find in a totally rocky landscape. No later than that for his teeth-gritting oaths, etc. Ray Liotta is out there, waiting, one of our current great, if not greatest, vengeance magnets for guys like Statham… Question raised by movie: how do you get your boomerang to kill somebody and still come back to you?

***

When Deliverance (1972) came out, my dad and I went to see it together. Afterwards (afterward), I asked him what he thought about it, because he grew up in the hills, whereas I grew up down on the flats. He said, “It was realistic, except for the people.” I was thinking about that tonight as I watched Winter’s Bone (2010). That is, I see what he meant… The movie reminded me how cold it can get in winter. Especially if you’re living in a house with a chimney that’s come away from the wall… The first image that comes up for me when I think about the folks around about where we lived: we knew a family that kept a little store on the highway and one night when we were leaving their house after dinner, the mom stood in the doorway and called, “Ya’ll come back, hear?” Everybody  always said that – we said that – so I don’t know why I happen to remember her so well. She had her apron on… I’m adding this movie to my top-5 movies-where-somebody-loses-a-tooth list.

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A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (1946) – Having watched Powell and Pressburger’s Colonel Blimp, I thought I’d try another, and the FilmSpotters raved about this one. RAF pilot bails out without a parachute, should be dead, but his “conductor” (guy standing in for Death) loses him in the fog and he survives. The movie immediately put me in mind of A Guy Named Joe (1943), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946),  and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), movies in which men almost die, die and come back, or just plain die, but then find themselves in touch with both the living and the beyond. During the U.S. Civil War, there was a dramatic increase in interest in the supernatural. Psychics abounded. So many young men taken from their families. Could they at least be contacted one last time? Could they tell those left behind where they had gone? It made me wonder whether these movies were a similar response, to the multitudes killed in WWII. In the present, we’ve had a spate of shows in which the protagonists are dead but don’t know it. Hope that’s not a sign of something… Lots of closeups. Raymond Massey’s craggy face. What, on the human face, constitutes a crag? In the end, the movie turns on the question, should an American gal marry an English guy? Argument against: cricket and cold rooms. Rebuttal: Frank Sinatra singing to screaming young females. Then a bunch of stuff about American exceptionalism that would ring true and delight today’s tea-party members.

***

I’m one of those who reads Pride and Prejudice again every so often (and Persuasion too), and has watched many a miniseries of it, as well as a few feature films, including the Keira Knightley misfire. It was with great delight that my eye fell on Lost in Austen (2008) on the library shelves. I plucked it up and was careful not to read any reviews of it, because I didn’t want to be told that it was a stinker; let me savor my anticipation of a little fresh Austen, sort of, and let me find out for myself whether it’s good or  disappointment, in due course. LIA is an English miniseries in which a young woman, Amanda, , obsessed with P and P, to the exclusion of any interest in her boyfriend, finds herself magically trapped back in time in the Bennett domicile, just at the start of the action in the book. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is thought to be away visiting Amanda’s home at the same time. In other words, British TV has devised a way for us to take one more look at a favorite novel, from a novel perspective. (Elizabeth is played by Gemma Arterton, prepping for her  roles as Io in Clash of the Titans (2010) and Tamina, Queen of the Persians (or whatever) in Prince of Persia (2010))… Later: This is great. So unexpected. A revisit with tweaks. Hat off to Guy Andrews, who shares the writing credits with, naturally, Jane Austen. Notes: Mrs. Bennett isn’t hare-brained enough in this version; Hugh Bonneville seemed to be channeling Sir A. Hopkins a time or two; every so often, as Elliot Cowen (6′ 2″) and Jemima Rooper (5′ 3″) argued, Jemima appeared to be staring straight up to meet Elliot’s eye; once or twice, Cowen put me in mind of a young Val Kilmer; the movie includes the expression “Steering the punt from the Cambridge end.”

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Predators (2010) – Adrien Brody. Makeup and facial prosthetics for the role? Don’t know why, but I like it. Doesn’t look like him. I’ve got an in-law working in makeup; I must ask her about this. They’ve made Brody look just that much less dippy as he assumes the Schwarzenegger role. He lets Poley push him around in Splice (2009) and look what happened to him there. He’s not let some combat-hardened girl push him around this time, nor no alien either… The problem of proportion: as the wild pigs attack, Brody and his mates open fire, the Russian with a gattling gun that expends about a thousand rounds, and next to him the Yakuza popping off a couple of shots with a Sig 9. Sort of like a fireman with a fire hose wide open, and next to him, a companion with a squirt gun… Scene that defines the movie: the band of misfits commences fire and expends enough ammo to stop a battalion. All pause to reload. These guys have enough room in their pockets to provision an armory and none of it shows… As with horror movies, part of the fun is guessing in what order the protagonists will get picked off. The first here is a no brainer if you’re thinking in terms of actor’s contracts and schedules. Other than that, the guy I chose to go first was still kicking after two others had gone down. Take a drink every time you get one wrong… Let’s keep in mind that these Predators hunt Aliens for fun, too, not just humans, another issue of proportion…OK, I was in the ballpark, picked-off-wise. I’ll try to do better in the sequel.

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Temple Grandin (2010) – Worthy HBO effort. Claire Danes earns her paycheck, going full autistic. Most viewers probably know the general facts presented by this biopic, but it’s interesting and informative to see Grandin’s story realized onscreen. Austin environs stand in for Scottsdale, which seems a little odd if you’re familiar with Scottsdale in the 60s, but that’s a nit. The same trope is cycled multiple times throughout the film: mean, uncaring grammar school kids; mean, uncaring high-school kids; mean, uncaring college kids; mean, uncaring graduate school teachers; mean, uncaring feed-lot workers; so forth. But in each cycle, Grandin takes another step. Lazy screenwriting, but the material overcomes that. This is perhaps the only movie outside the Third Reich with a happy ending based on the improved design of a slaughterhouse.

***

Death at a Funeral (2010) – I heard/read more than once that this remake is funnier than the original. Maybe it is, although I liked the original a lot, and maybe if I had waited longer between watching the two of them, I would have enjoyed the second one more, but plot/action/arc were just too familiar the second time around, deflating the humor of surprise, and so I bailed.

***

Jumping from Crowe’s Robin Hood to FanFan le Tulipe (1952) makes me realize, in contrast at least, how turgid Robin Hood is. Gérard Philipe  and Gina Lollobrigida leap off the screen.

***

Right at Your Door (2006) – Huh? I thought that this was a recent release, but I guess not… My theory is that it was funded by one of the major big-box stores, to get us to go out and stock up on emergency supplies: a dirty, virus-infested series of bombs are detonated in L.A (I had to look up “series is” vs “series are”). The only hope of the locals is to duct-tape their houses to a fare-thee-well. Some time is spent on tape acquisition at the outset. Meanwhile, my spousal unit, during the initial scenes, kept remarking on how unsympathetic the main character was. Made me wonder whether the writer/director planned it that way or not. See, the whole point of the movie  is that the guy tapes himself inside, but his wife is outside, downtown, probably infected with the toxic virus. She makes it home and wants to come in, naturally, virus or no virus; he says no, please curl up out back. So my question is, did the writer/director intend for the guy to be sympathetic at that point or not? Does it matter? He’s running around concerned about his wife in the beginning, so he cares, but it’s tough to make him the nice guy when his wife is outside the door pleading and he goes, Baby, I’m sorry, but… The movie continues. Stuff happens. It’s a movie for our time, a cautionary tale, a horror story, operating on multiple levels, a nice little, have-a-nice-day-but-oh-by-the-way-you’re-screwed movie, sort of like the daily news. Kudos to Chris Gorak, writer/director. May he prosper.

***

I’ve been reading Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, Amy Kelly (1950), for, well, for years, a few lines at a time. I keep the book in a spot where I usually only have time for, say, a half page or less, not being one to dawdle. And now, in Robin Hood (2010), it’s spoiled for me in the first five minutes of the film? Unbelievable… I wasn’t interested in the movie until I listened to an interview with the director, who described the historical research that went into the script-making. I’m a total sucker for historical dramas, so I obtained the movie immediately… Kermode and Mayo have been merciless re Crowe’s accent or accents in this movie. Northumberland residents writing in, Irish-Scottish-Kiwish references made. Good example of ignorance (mine) being bliss: I can’t hear the problem. I’m postponing my plans to become wiser by learning the Northumberlish accent, at least till I’ve finished this movie… Why would a major-league scriptwriter put dialog into these twelfth-century mouths like “We go all the way back, me and him.”  “Stay safe!”  “I love you all to bits!” “Don’t go in harm’s way1” and worst of all, “They’re men of the hood”?… And speaking of accents, William Hurt did just fine in Yellow Handkerchief, with his Louisiana oil-platform speakin. But here, as a Norman noble, he looks pained and wisely lets out his assigned dialog, in barely disguised American, as surreptitiously as possible. King John to Hurt: “What the devil are you doing here?” which is what I was thinking too… How many English are in this movie? Any at all?… Lot of black capes in this movie. Bill Russell wore a black cape. Velvet. You have to be a mighty cool dude to carry that off, and when I saw him in an S.F. restaurant with it on, he was… Request for comment: Does a steel sword pulled quickly from a leather scabbard always give a mighty ringing sound?… Anyway, the history: 1200 A.D. is sort of early to be doing the English/French thing. Is it better to insist on getting the history right, or just go ahead and make a movie full of nonsense because it, at least, introduces the subject?… There is something basicly wrong with this movie, history aside. It’s got the visuals, Ridley Scott in good form, the stars. Was it me, just wanting a Roberto Rossellini cinema history lesson, or was there something more going on here? Perhaps there should have been less history, to mitigate the nonsense. Yes, that’s it.  This is a fundamental good guys/bad guys tale; history isn’t; lose the history… Has someone done a chemistry comparison of the Robin/Marian couples in cinema? Do Crowe and Blanchett have chemistry? Together, I mean. She’s still Queen Elizabeth to me, even if she’s hanging out in the Saxon fields here. Crowe and Blanchett, the beauty and the beast… Flynn and DeHavilland, Connery and Hepburn, Costner and Mastrantonio, Elwes and Yasbeck, Bedford and Evans, Fairbanks and Bennett, Bergin and Thurman, Greene and Driscoll, Greene and O’Farrell, Todd and Rice? Ten couples to watch and rank on the romantic-o-meter. I seem to recall Connery and Hepburn squabbling before one or both of them expires tragically. Bummer! Don’t end a Hood movie with a dead Hood, even if he’s a geezer!… Romance question: when one member of the couple, usually the female in the case of a heterosexual pairing, is grievously or mortally wounded, often with blood on, in, or about the mouth and lips, how often in real life does the couple go into a passionate lingering kiss? Seems like the suffering one would push off weakly and go “Jesus. Please…” weakly… One thing that this R.H. got right: in the ’38 version, Flynn brings down a huge buck and later carries it in to the Sheriff’s banquet hall over his shoulders. The thing would have weighed 500 pounds. In the finally scene of the 2010 R.H., one of his men strolls along with what is essentially a doe over his shoulders. Less dramatic, but there’s good eatin in those does!

***

I had a strong sense that something was wrong with MacGruber (2010) as I was watching it. Maybe something about its mixture of silliness and action violence. Tropic  Thunder (2008) and Pineapple Express (2008) brought that off, but it must be tricky to do.  I frequently found myself, at the beginning for example, relating to the movie as action-only; wherefore the sudden goofiness was then somewhat jarring. Or something. But having said that, I smiled, chuckled, and chortled quite a bit… Val Kilmer. This guy. He’s kind of a mess. Works in anything and everything. And he’s an actor I love to watch. Perhaps the fact that in MacGruber he played a character named Dieter Von Cunth, silent h, helps explain the movie’s R rating… Remind me to research the surname “Wiig.”

***

Splice (2010) – You may be wondering what genes get spliced together to make the critter in this movie. Answer: just the ones necessary to advance the plot… Sarah Polley – what a filmography for someone only 31, and she looks like a normal person. Now she’s been in both my favorite modern series (Slings and Arrows) and a truly silly movie.

***

The Yellow Handkerchief (2008) – Engaging road movie with two  youngsters still fresh to me, Kristen Stewart (oops, turns out I”ve seen her in six other movies, and I have yet to catch a Twilight movie) and Eddie Redmayne, doing an interesting American accent, plus William Hurt, playing that guy who is gruff and uneducated, but does the right thing a couple of times up front to ensure that you like him and root for him in the movie, and who utters a profound screenwriter’s thought from time to time (and the kids get to utter those thoughts, too), but who in flashbacks and the heat of passion commits an accidental  sin or two, for which he seeks forgiveness after serving six years. You know, that guy. Also Maria Bello, taking her clothes off a couple of times, per usual. Great locations along the Mississippi that had me sketching a map of the states as I watched, to see if I could remember the course of the river and its Missouri and Ohio tributaries. Hurt waxes voluble with his Louisiana accent, whereas in Robin Hood, he limits himself (I’m just imagining him standing there in the Hood scenes, telling himself that he’s English royalty.).

***

A lot of my movie-watching choices are inspired by film discussions that I listen to on podcasts such as /Filmcast, B-Movie Cast, Movies 101, Double Feature, etc. Such is the case with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), featured on Filmspotting recently. First thing to impress me in the movie is its color. I wrote a review of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and I remember reading about the care and trouble taken with the color in that movie. Some woman – I forget her name – was the great Technicolor expert, I think. When Speed Racer (2008) came out, I remember a lot of chatter about the color in it (I liked the color, but not enough to finish the movie). We’re living in an age of greater subtlety in color palates, not to mention the ubiquitous blue light, but it’s still a pleasure to feast one’s eyes on the richness of a Colonel Blimp. And what happened to the “r” in “colonel”?

The first startup that I worked for encountered a rough patch and was acquired by the Arthur J. Rank company, which also made Colonel Blimp. Perhaps you’ve seen the big dude hitting the… the gong? Whatever that big cymbal thing is called… I never got to meet Mr. Rank, if he was in fact still living at the time. Rank Co.  eventually sold the company to some awful Texas conglomerate of three letters, the first being D, but I was long gone by then.

It’s remarkable to me that this movie, made in 1942/1943 in England, can be as temperate as it is toward the German people.

***

The Square (2008) – It’s been done many times before and it’ll be done many times again, but mixing a bag of money, adultery, blackmail, arson, lowlifes, dog-eating sharks, general violence, and multiple deaths, well, that’s entertainment!

***

Proof (1991) – Russell Crowe at 27, playing a lot younger. Just a kid. A lot of miles to go, to turn into Robin Hood. Hugo Weaving at 31, maybe playing a bit younger as well. Genevieve Picot, a Tasmanian (and I met another Tasmanian a couple of weeks ago as we waited in line at the Rinconada Children’s Pool), who beguiles the young Crowe.

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Robin Hood (2010)

I’ve been reading Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, Amy Kelly (1950), for, well, for years, a few lines at a time. I keep the book in a spot where I usually only have time for, say, a half page or less, not being one to dawdle. And now, in Robin Hood (2010), it’s spoiled for me in the first five minutes of the film. Unbelievable…I wasn’t interested in the movie until I listened to an interview with the director, who described the historical research that went into the script-making. I’m a total sucker for historical dramas, so I obtained the movie immediately.

Kermode and Mayo have been merciless re Crowe’s accent or accents in this movie. Northumberland residents writing in to the show, Irish-Scottish-Kiwish references made. Good example of ignorance (mine) being bliss: I can’t hear the problem. I’m postponing my plans to become wiser by learning the Northumberlish accent, at least till I’ve finished this movie.

Why would a major-league scriptwriter put dialog into these twelfth-century mouths like “We go all the way back, me and him.”  “Stay safe!”  “I love you all to bits!” “Don’t go in harm’s way!” and worst of all, “They’re men of the hood”?… And speaking of accents, William Hurt did just fine in The Yellow Handkerchief,(2008), with his Louisiana oil-platform speakin. But here, as a Norman noble, he looks pained and wisely lets out his assigned dialog, in barely disguised American, as surreptitiously as possible. King John to Hurt: “What the devil are you doing here?” which is what I was wondering, too… How many actual Englishmen are there in this movie? Any at all?…

Lot of black capes in this movie. Bill Russell wore a black cape. Velvet. You have to be a mighty cool dude to carry that off, and when I saw him in an S.F. restaurant with it on, he was…

Request for comment: Does a steel sword pulled quickly from a leather scabbard always give that mighty ringing sound?

Anyway, the history: 1200 A.D. is sort of early to be doing the English/French thing. Is it better to insist on getting the history right, or to just go ahead (splitting the infinitive) and make a movie full of nonsense because it, at least, introduces the subject?… There is something basicly wrong with this movie. It’s got the visuals, and Ridley Scott in good form, and the stars. Was it just me, wanting a Roberto Rossellini cinema history lesson, or was there something more going amiss here? Perhaps there should have been less history, to mitigate the nonsense. Yes, that’s it.  This is a fundamental good guys/bad guys tale, and the good are very good and the bad are melodramatically bad, and history isn’t; lose the history and keep the fable.

Jumping from Crowe’s Robin Hood to FanFan le Tulipe (1952) makes me realize, in contrast at least, how turgid R.H. is. Gérard Philipe  and Gina Lollobrigida leap off the screen in FanFan. Rotten Tomatoes has Robin Hood at 43%. I think that the MRQE graph gives a better idea of the critical situation: the movie is regarded as a solid C. Why? Because half the critics came in expecting some fun in the movie, and found none; instead, Robin gets the Blade Runner/Gladiator glowering glum trudging treatment, which, in sum, caused the reviewers to average out  with an “It was just OK” judgement.

Has someone done a chemistry comparison of the Robin/Marian couples in cinema? Do Crowe and Blanchett have chemistry? Together, I mean. She’s still Queen Elizabeth to me, even if she’s hanging out in the Saxon fields here. Crowe and Blanchett, the beauty and the beast… Flynn and DeHavilland, Connery and Hepburn, Costner and Mastrantonio, Elwes and Yasbeck, Bedford and Evans, Fairbanks and Bennett, Bergin and Thurman, Greene and Driscoll, Greene and O’Farrell, Todd and Rice. Ten couples to watch and rank on the romant-o-meter. I seem to recall Connery and Hepburn squabbling before one or both of them expires tragically. Bummer! Don’t end a Hood movie with a dead Hood, even if he’s a geezer!… Romance question: when one member of the couple, usually the female in the case of a heterosexual pairing, is grievously or mortally wounded, often with blood on, in, or about the mouth and lips, how often in real life do the man and woman go into a passionate lingering kiss? Seems like the suffering one would push off weakly, going “Jesus, Robin. Please…”

One thing that this R.H. got right: in the ’38 version, Flynn brings down a huge buck and later carries it into the noble’s banquet hall draped over his shoulders. The real thing would have weighed 500 pounds. In the final scene of the 2010 R.H., one of Robin’s men strolls along with what is essentially a fawn over his shoulders. Less dramatic, but there’s good eatin in those fawns!

The final climax with the bad guy ***spoiler alert*** struck me as a case of lazy writing or a need to wrap things up sooner than expected: bad guy spends whole movie doing bad things and then at the end, goes riding off. Robin steps up, nocks the shaft, draws, releases, and skewers the dude with a clean neck shoot at three hundred yards, from the top of a cliff (two-hundred-foot drop, say). Plot point checked off. Robin should be hunting mountain goats in Peru, or traveling with the circus.

Pitch the LAMB – Mystery

SCENE FROM MY SCREENPLAY-IN-PROGRESS, “THE DEATH OF AMY LAMB”

[A foggy night in London. Carriages clatter past. A large Edwardian house in affluent Hedgerow. A brass plate beside the door reads “Sir R. A. Wolfe.” A cloaked figure hammers the door-knocker, which is shaped like a ram’s head with huge curling horns.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

[The door swings open. Sir Wolfe stands against the light in his evening coat and slippers, a glass of sangria in his hand. Confronting him is Dr. Shepherd, DD, Th.D., J.C.L. ]

Sir Wolfe: “Odd time of night to be making house calls, Doctor.”

Shepherd: “Let me in, you fool!”

[Wolfe stands aside. The Abbot pushes in, bustling like a border collie that has lost a member of his flock. His curly hair is wet and smells of lanolin. He rounds on Wolfe, who strokes his muttonchops.]

Shepherd [barking, as he rips off his Fleece]: “Where is she?”

Wolfe: “To whom do you refer?”

Shepherd: “Don’t get foxy with me! You’re holding back, Ricardo! By God, I’ll give you a lick you won’t forget!… I ask you again. Where is she?”

Wolfe [sheepishly, but with a wolfish grin]: “Calm eweself, my dear Clifford, haw haw. Why so worried about such a small loss… What was the value of the item? ”

Shepherd [growling, big face red]: “Item? Item! That’s how you think of her?… I warn you, Ricardo, I’ve just climbed your back wall and looked over it. You’ve got a hole dug back there. A hole that looks very like a shallow grave. Something smells fishy and it’s not the tuna casserole… Hold on! Wait a minute! By all that’s holy, Ricardo! That’s lamb stew I smell! With mint, bay leaf, and rosemary. It can’t be anything else! Why dig a grave for the wooly remnants that must be bagged up even now in your waste receptacle?… No wonder there are never any suspects. No wonder the clues do not add up… You’ve eaten the suspects. And the clues… By the pipes of Saint Cuthbert, I can still find fingerprints, you know. On your cleavers, your boning knives, your crockpot!”

Wolfe:   “Fingerprints? There are no fingerprints, you fool! How many of your precious flock have fingers? By the traps of Saint Eustachius, I believe they sheared your brain along with your body last time round.”

Shepherd: “Bah! Baaaa! Baaaaaaaa! Lies! All lies! How come there is no body? I’m no lamb in the woods!”

Wolfe [as he approaches Shepherd with a Little Bo Peep staff gripped in his lupine paws, while the doctor chases his tail in agitation]: “You are correct, Clifford, you big red fool. Ms Lamb wasn’t just an item on my menu. She was the pièce de résistance. The grave, Doctor, is not for Amy Lamb, but for he who did not nip at her heels with wit sufficient to keep her safe in his flock…”

[A yelp and a howl, followed by the well-known sounds of a gentleman’s dessert being served in the library.]

Right at Your Door (2006)

Right at Your Door (2006) – I thought this was a recent release, but I guess not… My theory is that it was funded by one of the major big-box stores, to get us to go out and stock up on emergency supplies: a series of dirty, virus-infested bombs are detonated in L.A (I had to look up “series is” vs “series are”). The only hope for the locals is to duct-tape their houses to a fare-thee-well. Some time is spent on tape acquisition at the outset. Meanwhile, my spousal unit, during the initial scenes, kept remarking on how unsympathetic the main character was. Made me wonder whether the writer/director planned it that way or not. See, the whole point of the movie  is that the guy tapes himself inside, but his wife is outside, downtown, probably infected with the toxic virus. She makes it home and wants to come in, naturally, virus or no virus; he says no, please curl up out back. So my question is, did the writer/director intend for the guy to be sympathetic at that point or not? Does it matter? He’s running around concerned about his wife in the beginning, so he cares, but it’s tough to make him the nice guy when his wife is outside the door pleading and he goes, Baby, I’m sorry, but… The movie continues. Stuff happens. It’s a movie for our time, a cautionary tale, a horror story, operating on multiple levels, a nice little, have-a-nice-day-but-oh-by-the-way-you’re-totally-screwed movie, fiendish in the end, sort of like the daily news. Kudos to Chris Gorak, writer/director. May he prosper.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Watched Gunga Din (1939) the other night. It’s a Hollywood movie, made for fun, with Hollywood Englishmen and Hollywood Indians. Nothing wrong with that. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), though, reminds us that there are real Englishmen and that some of them, the upper upper class,  aren’t like you and me, unless you happen to be one of them – perhaps one like that fellow in Seven Up! (1964) who later in the series refused to return, but made an exception when he married a Bulgarian woman who was fostering a cause – in which case can you lend me 50 lbs till the weekend?

A lot of my movie-watching choices are inspired by film discussions that I listen to on podcasts such as /Filmcast, B-Movie Cast, Movies 101, Double Feature, etc. Such is the case with Colonel Blimp, featured on Filmspotting recently. First thing to impress me in the movie was its color. I wrote a review of  The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and I remember reading about the care and trouble taken with the color in that movie. Some woman – I forget her name – was the great Technicolor expert. She’d come on set and… choose the colors? Tweak the lighting? Do something with the film or developing lab instructions? Whatever it was, the color jumps out at you in Hood and Blimp. Cinematographer Georges Perinal handled the color chores in  Blimp. He was lucky to find the color stock in 1943, at the height of the war. When Speed Racer (2008) came out, I remember a lot of chatter about the color in it (I liked the color, but not enough to finish the movie). We’re living in an age of greater subtlety in color palates now, and different taste, but it’s still a pleasure to feast one’s eyes on the richness of a Colonel Blimp. And what happened to the “r” in “colonel,” anyway?

The first startup company that I worked for encountered a rough patch and was acquired by the Arthur J. Rank company, which also made Colonel Blimp. Perhaps you’ve seen the big dude at the beginning of any Rank film, hitting the… the gong? Whatever that big cymbal thing is called… I never got to meet Mr. Rank, if he was in fact still living at the time of my company’s acquisition. Before I could, Rank Co.  turned around and sold us to some awful Texas conglomerate with a three-letter name, the first being D, the other two I don’t remember. DTS? DBT? But I was long-gone by then anyway. While Rank held us, though, young English engineers would trek over to the U.S. They always wore ties and sport coats, which in Silicon Valley made them seem even geekier than they were in the first place.

Colonel Blimp was written by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Michael Powell, a team that made a number of great movies, including (1946), A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948). Powell is the one who wrecked his career with Peeping Tom (1960) and then later came to Hollywood to do some work with Coppola and Scorsese and to marry, in his senior years, Scorsese’s brilliant young editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

Blimp takes us briskly through the life of one soldier, comparing his ideas of decent behavior with those of England’s Boer, WW I German, and Nazi opponents. The movie surprised me with its temperance where the German people were concerned, considering that the movie was made in 1942/1943. Surprised me and enraged a great many in the English audience of the time, who were not in the mood to share Blimp’s readiness to forgive. Churchill tried to have the movie banned, and it was censored somewhat before its release. Blimp the cartoon character was created in 1934 and was meant to personify stupidity in its many forms; the movie’s Blimp character, however, is provided with a core of romantic sentiments and decency that cause us to understand that in evil times, “good” can seem like “stupid.”

One spot where the movie jarred me came with the arrival of World War I. Colonel Candy (the Blimp character) has spent years shooting big game in lieu of possessing his beloved, while continuing to serve in the army, and now, having left him onscreen moments ago as the young man bereft, we find him older, in 1918 toward the end of the Great War, behaving more as if it were 1914 at the war’s beginning, all polish and privilege, not after the years of horror that the army had endured by the end. Otherwise, I’ve never seen a better movie for aging a character from glowing youth to corpulent red-faced age. Roger Livesay in the role of a lifetime.

Collected Dailies 5

What’s missing most in movies today? Sharp dialog? I keep hearing about Mamet, perhaps because he’s fundamentally a dramatist, with dialog his stock in trade. Last night I just sat luxuriating in the interchanges betwixt Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion (1938)… At one point in the movie, at the start of a grand ball, a diplomat strides into the hall and then pauses at the foot of the stairs with his hand to his ear. For a moment, I assumed he was taking a call that would affect the plot.

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The House of the Devil (2009) – I don’t get it. How many times does the devil have to be born? Every time I turn around, another young woman has been impregnated in a satanic ritual. Wasn’t Rosemary’s little boy enough? Nursery schools are going to hell.

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Paging through the Flick Nation yearbook, I’m reminded of how many movies I see and then forget forever. Movies from the past year like War, Inc., Severance, Flawless, Married Life, Smart People. If you average a movie a day, say, that’s 7,000 movies over 20 years. Even if you’re one of those who focuses on top-1000 lists and the like, you still need thousands of unsung flicks to fill your dance card. Thousands of movies watched, for what? Does writing about the experience help excuse the waste of time?

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The Man from Earth (2007) – Netflix Instant. A little movie about a conversation between friends, one of whom mentions that he’s been alive since paleolithic times. In fact, back in the day, he was Jesus. His friends doubt this. The movie reminds me a little of the old Steve Allen TV show Meeting of Minds, in which Allen sits at a table with three historical figures and discusses their accomplishments and history from their perspective. Allen was a man of many parts. As for Man of Earth, let’s have a sequel and take the conversation to the next level.

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Watching Just Friends (2005), I made a note: “Seven bags of rock salt.” If you have any idea why, please contact me… Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit and then out of the fat suit, strange sensation. He seemed, something, more real? in the suit… Some rainy day, I’d like to spill some ink about this movie. To me, it’s endearing and a mess. Reynolds – compare and contrast this outright channeling of Will Farrell with his subtle turn in Adventureland (2009). And props to him for making a whole movie in a coffin… Chemistry between Reynolds and Amy Smart in this rom com? When he’s goofing, which is most of the time, zero chemistry. In the moments when he drops that and exposes the actual dude that we know is there, there is as much chemistry as is possible with Ms Smart, who is (or was) engaged to 12-year boyfriend Branden Williams.

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I went to see The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) at a tiny metroplex in Phoenix, just when multiple-screen cinemas were newly invented. Only, at the door I swerved and bought a ticket for something junky, against my better judgment. But finally, after hearing folks rave about the movie lately,  I moved Coyle up to the top of my Netflix queue. It’s never too late! Criterion. My main problem now, as I watch it, is that I remember the ending from the book. Nothing else, just the ending, but that’s enough, cause on one level I’m just waiting for the bad news here. George V. Higgins made a splash, at least in the Boston area, when he wrote the book. He was a what, I can’t remember, a  D.A. or defense lawyer or something like that. His books were almost 100% dialog. Every fourth scene, say, in the movie, one of the actors gets to spout a page or so. Best parts of the movie, by far…  I remember reading that Higgins died a while back, RIP… The movie has that strong 60s-70s flavor, which I think is mostly about hair, mostly sideburn hair. There’s a scene in the new-at-the-time and sterile Government Square, which replaced the lively, lowlife Scollay Square. The movie was made three years after I left but I’m sitting here with the locations, Sharon, Weymouth, waiting for Wakefield or other points north, or Somerville or Medford, as if the thing is a travel log. You can’t go home again, but you can watch old movies… Those cars – all American, all big – though I was driving a bug at the time. Boston, and I had no plans for the future and now it’s, what, 40 years later. Still, no plans, so I shouldn’t feel sorry for anybody in the movie who is stuck in their job… There is a guy in the movie, so familiar. I check IMDB but most of the cast, no head shots. This guy should have a head shot. Please, somebody in the movie, call him by name so I can look him up by his character’s name… Ok, it was Richard Jordan. Died much later of a brain tumor; Mitchum, lung cancer; Steven Keats, suicide; Boyle, I can’t remember; Bobby Orr, bad knees killed his career. Remind me to just watch the damn movie and let it go at that. Nah, I was there then and I’m not there now and neither is anybody else in the movie, so what the hell… Funny to watch this, the ultimate in movie realism, at the same time as Le Samurai, the ultimate in auteur, the two with such similar arcs.

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Stir of Echoes (1999) – I took this one for the team, as she who must be obeyed sometimes wants a scary movie. Scary the genre, not scary the fact, though this one did make me jump a couple of times. And I like Kevin Bacon. He had to drink a lot of OJ and water and beer in this movie, and dig with a shovel and pick and no gloves on, and sometimes act all wild-eyed and stuff. Kathryn Erbe, whom I don’t know but who seemed familiar – would that be Ur-bee or Urbah or just plain old Urb? – has the thankless task of playing the wife and mother who time after time experiences something that would bring any normal person’s life to a standstill till she figured out and understood what the hell was going on, but who, to keep the plot moving forward, is constrained to continue with her normal housewifely chores, looking good!, getting naked at least once, whilst periodically also acting all wild-eyed and stuff, though not so much as her husband, the star of the movie.

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I keep hearing about Le samourai (1967), so I finally started watching it. It has a great many moments in it where you (and by you I mean me, no I mean I) go “wait… what…?” I hope that this guy, Mr. Samourai, ***spoilers***, a premier hitman in Paris, has better luck on most of his jobs than he does on this one. He doesn’t exercise a lot of finesse, though, so maybe he gets what he deserves. Walks into a crowded club, shoots the boss in his office, and the next thing he knows, he’s in a lineup with six witnesses eyeballing him. Is this good hitman craft here? Or a recipe for hitman fail? This movie is #1 on many Hitman Top 5 lists. It’s got an IMDB 8.1 rating. I must keep watching, to discern what I’m missing or what is to come. Perhaps Delon and Melville and the vibe in the movie were taken as ultra cool in ’67; I mean, Peter Gunn was ultra cool in ’58 – at least, I thought he was – but that doesn’t mean he’s  cool now. When I finish the movie, I’ll read a bunch of reviews by respected cinema professionals. They’ll tell me what to think… Ok, I couldn’t wait. I checked out the first part of Ebert’s great-movie paean. Whoa. From the first scenes of the movie, we are in the hands of a master. The world is screwed up enough already; who am I to disagree with Ebert here? Still… Ebert writes that the master hit-man hot-wires a car. In fact, the hit-man steps into a 60s-vintage Citroen and pulls out a key ring with about a thousand keys on it, and starts trying them in the lock. Fortunately for him, and for us, he finds one that works after four or five tries. After decades of watching actors hot-wire cars, is it so strange that this might wring a smile from me. Wouldn’t Mr. Bean start the car this way? (Later, a cop with a similar key ring uses the same method to gain access to the hit-man’s apartment. It takes him longer to find the right key, so that his partner can do various bits of business while we’re waiting.)… Also worrisome in the movie are the shots of the hit-man’s pet bird acting upset in its cage. How did the director get the bird to act so upset? Could it be that the director in fact upset the bird before rolling the cameras? I’d hate to see bird abuse perpetrated solely for our amusement… One of the cops or one of the bad guys, can’t remember which, when asked something, replies (in French, not in the subtitles) “impossible.” I remember reading somewhere that this is a typical first response in France to various questions and requests… Paris is older than where I live now. The hallways, yikes, scabrous paint. Funky molding. Layers of plaster… Melville is known for the details, the scenes which show us somebody doing something. Bugging the hit-man’s apartment, for example. How they did it 40 years ago in Paris, that is. I don’t care… The hitman (I was using hit-man to avoid the red “incorrect spelling” marks, but I like hitman better. Ditto hotwire instead of hot-wire. I refuse to be ruled by the spelling Nazis.) returns to the woman who refused to identify him in the police lineup even though she recognized him. I thought perhaps we were going rom com here, weirdly, but no, there eventuated in their meeting a bunch of plot… There are a couple of jarring cuts that maybe made sense and maybe didn’t. One doesn’t expect any such in a masterpiece… But credit where due: the hitman seems to steal only Citroens for his jobs, so that ring of keys that he carries are probably only Citroen keys, right?… Some day, which is to say probably never, I’ll take the time to explain why this film has so many cross-resonances 43 years later; for now, let me just say that Point Blank with Lee Marvin that same year got right what Le Samourai got right, without the autuer, the Parisian bushido, and what to the non-Gaul can seem goofiness.

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What to watch on TV with a three-year-old who doesn’t have a chance to watch at home, but would like to, although it’s probably a good thing that she doesn’t, but who does get a few minutes of viewing time during the week at the grandparents’ house? (And who does watch some video on Mama’s iPhone.) I can recommend the PBS Curious George DVDs (2006 – Present). Brief gentle stories narrated by William Macy, posing a problem for George to solve, followed by real-life kids doing something similar. Maybe George is a little too human for a little monkey, but it’s not like watching Splice (2010).

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Get Him to the Greek (2010) – Back in the 50s and 60s, you had to scuffle to find and enjoy blue comedy. Rusty Warren’s “Knockers Up” came out in 1960, but it was hard to find. Redd Foxx albums, same thing. Now, you can just sit back and let it wash over you. I was listening to Comedy Death-Ray today and Aukerman had to rein in Nick Swardson and Jon Daly, who accelerated out of control into bluer than blue. Mix in lots of non-PC material and it’s even better.

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She’s Out of My League (2010) – I’m going to do a viewer poll. Do Alice Eve and Jay Baruchel have onscreen chemistry?

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Letters to Juliet (2010) – Amanda Seyfried, do your three moms know that you’re out making movies like this?…And what kind of movie is it? The kind where Amanda says to the guy, “Oh my, can you move?” and everybody watching shouts “Only my lips!” just before the guy does… This movie makes me worried about Vanessa Redgrave. Maybe she was just distracted, getting pulled into a shot here and there to read her lines while she actually had something else on her mind. The effect, though, is that she seems to be going prematurely senile.

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***SPOILER***  Passengers (2008) and Lost, Season 6 (2010). Same plot. Who borrowed from whom, or did both borrow from someone else? Not worth researching, but it would be interesting to know. “Passengers” might have more kick for viewers who haven’t just watched the final episodes of Lost… And why watch a movie that received such poor reviews? In my case, because someone local liked it and my spouse wanted “something scary” and I was in a hurry at the library.

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Why do Canadian geese insist on walking across busy streets in a flock? You can tell they don’t like it, that they’re nervous about it, that they stop and start as the cars and trucks whiz by, at the honking (of horns, not of each other). One good flap of the wings and they’d be over to the opposite grassy verge, but they don’t do it. Strange.

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I’ve heard about Johnnie To, but I can’t remember if I’ve seen any of his movies. After listening to a discussion about him on a podcast, I Netflix’d Election (2005). Fast-paced, well-made, I didn’t know what was going on in a couple of the major set pieces, but with two chapters to go, I got the picture. Plus, my English has taken on that Cantonese ahhh  sound at the end of every sentence… Later: After the last two chapters, I’ve learned that it’s hard to kill somebody by hacking at him with a machete, kicking him, and breaking bottle after bottle over his head, but you can do it; also hard to kill a guy by bashing him repeatedly over the head with a rock, but again, it can be done. I also learned that I’m not going to say anything bad about Mr. To, as I don’t want him coming after me.

Gunga Din (1939)

William Goldman has named Gunga Din (1939), multitudinously and vociferously, as the greatest movie ever made, and his favorite, of course. He was eight years old when the movie came out. Obviously it made a big impression on him, one that has not faded with time.

The movie is old-fashioned cowboy-and-indians in spirit, with Bengal Lancer cowboys and Indian indians. Working as I do with many from the subcontinent, it was hard to ignore the colonial spirit of the thing. I queried some Indians about the movie – five thirty-somethings first. None had heard of Gunga Din, the poem or the movie, or Rudyard Kipling either. One of them knew the Jungle Books, perhaps because she’s a mother with young children. An older Indian friend didn’t know the movie but took a dim view of Western adventure movies set in India in general. I also asked about hats in India, as there was many a turban in evidence in the movie and it occurred to me  that I’d never seen a non-Western, Indian hat. My coworkers and friends reported that there is no Indian tradition of hats, but that the turbans in their many forms, a feature of northern India, could sometimes be doffed and undoffed like hats. A Sikh friend wrapped one out of lemon-yellow cloth for my daughter years ago, on Halloween. It’s still sitting around somewhere. Southern India not only has no tradition of hats, but also has no tradition of turbans. Bare heads all the way.

So then I asked a random selection of non-Indian coworkers about Gunga Din. The first fellow I chose recalled that Gunga was a water-carrier. Good Kipling knowledge! But the next few uniformly had no clue, had never heard of Kipling.  😦  A couple guessed that Gunga Din was a musical group. I checked LinkedIn for possible Gunga contacts. There are a few, all last-named Gunga. Grupo Malungos de Capoeira could be useful in combating Thuggee, the bad guys in the moive. Ganga is a river, the Ganges, the river goddess who flows from the head of Lord Rama, but that’s not an alternate Gunga.

Anyway, the first hurdle that must be mastered on the way to enjoyment of Gunga Din, for some viewers – those of us who spend part of the time in a movie just eyeballing the set locations – is the Californianess of the Hindu Kush in the film. Same problem as with Sherwood Forest’s Chico-like aspect in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Gunga Din was filmed near Lone Pine, California. The backsides of the Sierras filled in for the Himalayas. These days in California, those thousands of extras in the movie could be actual Indians from India. (The movie was RKO’s most expensive to that date, but it made the money back, and plenty more. Faulkner took a first crack at the screenplay.)

Pandro Berman, the production manager, claimed that many an Indian told him that the locations look just like the Hindu Kush, do maybe just because I thought they looked like California didn’t mean that they didn’t look like India as well.

After locations, and Cary Grant’s coming-and-going English accent, it’s all good fun. The kind of fun where the background music is sort of jolly and zippy as the three Lancer heroes kill Thuggees in droves. These days, the music would be more ironic as the dead pile up. We’ve lost some of the innocence of 1939, what with the degradation of the planet, extinction of countless species, deterioration of retirement accounts and pensions, and use of steroids. Fortunately, high body counts in the movies can still be fun. And WW II did shortly provide Hollywood with priceless Nazi drama gold.

Gunga Din also features the old-fashioned type of socking and punching: quick, short blows that put down the opponent quickly. I watched Johnnie To’s Election (2005) the other night and brother ben, guys had to hack guys, and kick them, and whack them with large rocks on and on to finally force quiessence upon them. Added 30 minutes to the film.

I listened to a Kipling biography on tape some time in the past. One thing I remember from it: in a long life, there is plenty of time to do a lot of things and go to a lot of places. Kipling wrote the poem Gunga Din, along with the Jungle Books, Captains Courageous, and various other pieces, while living in Vermont, for example. Reading the poem again, it’s a heckofa poem. The man really got it right with that one. In the movie, they magically transport him to the scene of Gunga Din’s sacrifice and have him write the poem right there on the spot. Then they read it at the grave site. Or at least the final line. Like Gunga, the leader of the other side sacrifices his life for the Indian nationalist cause, jumping into a pit of cobras sort of like Borgnine with the wolves  in The Vikings (1958) (RIP, Tony Curtis, who played the young Viking Eric; Janet Leigh was Morgana; Jamie Lee was born that same year.). Gunga (Sam Jaffe) gets the graveside plaudits; the Indian nationalist (Eduardo Ciannelli) is execrated.

Finally, there is a punch-bowl-at-a-party scene, in which Grant adds the potent contents of a bottle (elephant tranquilizer?) to a bowl of punch. The Key Club (junior Kiwanis)  did the same thing in high school at a Women’s League luncheon, though we used something more conventional than liquid animal trank. Subsequently, as we bused the ladies’ tables, we were disappointed to observe that they seemed to be enjoying their drinks an awful lot without any concomitant falling down dead drunk, or anything more than heightened color in their cheeks. In retrospect, I think that we were doing them all a favor as they faced a spate of boring presentations. Once started, they returned with increasing frequency to the bowl to top off their cups. This was back before doing a couple of lines in the powder room had been accepted by the moms as a way to take the edge off.