Thursday, April 28, 2016

Take a Bow

Film: The Entertainer
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every generation has its own greatest actor. A couple of generations ago, that greatest actor was Laurence Olivier, who, despite that appellation, won only a single competitive Oscar in his career. He was nominated plenty of times, though, and since this is Olivier we’re talking about, I’m not going to be the person who says he didn’t deserve all of the acclaim he got. For me, thinking of Olivier immediately calls up images of Shakespearean dramas, which makes a film like The Entertainer not specifically a departure from his career, but a departure from what I think of when I think of him.

The Entertainer is the story of Archie Rice (Olivier), a Vaudeville-style performer whose career has been dying for years and is hanging on by the smallest thread. He has a show in a seaside resort town in England that is drawing smaller and smaller crowds that are becoming less and less enthusiastic. When the movie starts, his daughter Jean (Joan Plowright) has returned to the town. Her brother Mick (Albert Finney in his screen debut) has just shipped out to the Suez Canal, a hotspot at the time. Her other brother Frank (Alan Bates, also in his movie debut) helps out with the show and is somewhat in awe of his father.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Connection

Film: The Visitor
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

In a real way, all drama is personal. The biggest science fiction action movie or war film, boiled down to its core essence, is a personal drama. A film like The Visitor strips all of that away and gives us just that focus on the small drama, the personal moments that make up a life. We start with perhaps the most disconnected person in recent years, someone who is living in the world but not a part of the world, and through the story of the film, reconnect him back with a world that is real and vibrant. Real life is hard and The Visitor doesn’t shy away from this. Being disconnected is safe but lonely and boring. Connection brings life and vibrancy and joy, but it also brings pain, loss, and disappointment.

Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a professor of economics who is completely detached from everything around him. He goes through the motions, connecting with no one. We slowly learn that he lives alone because his wife, a concert pianist, has died. He tries to connect to her by taking piano lessons, but is constantly dissatisfied with both himself and his series of teachers. To everything else, Walter is not really a participant but an observer. He teaches only one class and can barely be bothered to teach it. One of his students complains that he still hasn’t handed out the syllabus.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In Memoriam

One of the realities of this blog is that I frequently have to plan ahead. Since I have specific feature posts on specific days every month, I sometimes work ahead. Just this morning as I was waiting for my daughter to get ready to leave for school, I went through my NetFlix queue to plan the two films I’d watch from Chip Lary and Nick Jobe for May. It was also a chance for me to look through the blogs of other people and see what I’ve missed in the last couple of work-heavy days.

What had I missed? A few lists, reviews of movies I’ve seen, reviews of movies I haven’t seen. And then “In Memory of Chip Lary.” What?

Chip had been ill I knew. For the last 16 months, he and I have been posting reviews of films we’ve challenged each other to on the second Monday of the month. In March, I got an email from him telling me that he’d been having some health problems and that he’d be a day or two late. A little later he had surgery to remove his gall bladder and was hoping that things would get better. I don’t know if the causes of Chip’s passing were related to this, complications from this, or something entirely unrelated. All I knew was that Chip seemed to be slowly getting back to health.

The loss of Chip is a blow to the blogging world and to anyone who is a fan of movies. Chip was more than generous with his time, reading and commenting on blogs everywhere, and commenting not just a word or two but often well-thought and clear posts that showed insight and a real depth of knowledge. He was capable of disagreeing with a review in a way that didn’t make anyone feel dumb or wrong for having a different opinion. He went out of his way to help people locate movies they couldn’t find, and for the last few years was the standard when it came time to rewrite and rearrange the new additions to the 1001 Movies list to put things in a standardized order for all of us who follow that list. Every now and then I will post a film reviewed from “The Magic Flashdrive.” Those movies are ones that Chip sent me, films that I likely could not have found on my own.

More than that, though, Chip was a friend, and he was a friend to many of us in this community. Most of us knew about his extensive movie knowledge and his ability to, when the mood struck him, to watch more movies in a month than many of us watch in a year. He was more than that, though. He was a true and real friend, someone who was far more than his movie collection. When I tell people that I have friends I’ve never met in person, he has been one of the first two or three people I think of. Through email, we talked movies, but we talked other things, too. He was a smart guy who knew a lot about a lot, and just like with movies, he had that talent for giving advice and opinions in a way that didn’t seem rude or condescending.

Chip and I agreed on plenty, but we didn't always agree. You don’t have to look any further than the last review he posted. He treated everyone with respect, though. For many of us, I’d venture a guess that he was something of an older sibling.

I’m going to miss the hell out of him for a long time, probably the rest of my life. The entire community will.

Requiescat in pace, Chip, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pride Goeth

Film: The Great White Hope
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

James Earl Jones has been nominated for a single Oscar. I find that surprising, although a look through his filmography, there’s a lot of schlock. It’s that voice, though. The man has a voice that can say just about anything and make anyone listening happy. That one Oscar nomination comes in The Great White Hope, an interesting title for a film that stars James Earl Jones. This is a boxing movie, at least nominally. In truth, it’s a drama with something like a romance thrown in. Even more, this is a film about just how good at racism Americans were 100 years ago. I say that, as an American, with no small amount of shame regarding my country’s past.

The Great White Hope is the story of Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones), a character loosely based on the life and career of boxer Jack Johnson in and around the first two decades of the 20th century. As the film starts, Jefferson has been winning bout after bout, but the current champion Brady (Larry Pennell) has retired. This makes Jefferson kind of a de facto world champion. Brady is forced out of retirement to defend his title and Jack Jefferson pastes him as well, giving him the belt and the title for real, something that doesn’t sit well with white America.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Off Script: The Hidden

Film: The Hidden
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

There’s no good reason why The Hidden should work as a film or even as a story. This is the kind of movie that requires its audience to have a massive willing suspension of disbelief for any of it to work. It’s also a film that has a cast made up almost entirely of “that-guys”; watching it is like seeing every character actor from the 1970s and 1980s in one place. There are some definite horror elements here even though this is primarily a science fiction film. It’s also a spin on the buddy cop formula and the idea of an odd couple in terms of our two main characters. There’s a lot at play here, some of which seems to have been picked up by the high budget and much higher grossing Alien Nation of the following year.

The eventual buy-in is that you have to accept that there are alien creatures who have shown up on Earth and can invade the body of people and animals and take them over. We don’t know this right away, although we learn pretty quickly. What we also learn eventually is that one of these creatures is a nasty slug-like monster and that it’s a criminal that enjoys nothing more than slaughtering innocents, stealing fast cars, and causing as much mayhem as possible. The other is essentially a cop tracking down the bad alien. Got it? Good, because we’re going to go on quite the joyride in the 97 minutes The Hidden runs.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Off Script: Alone in the Dark (1982)

Film: Alone in the Dark (1982)
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

There’s a particular sick pleasure to a film like Alone in the Dark from 1982. This is a cheap horror film, the first film ever produced and distributed by New Line Cinema, so there aren’t a lot of surprises in terms of the subject matter here. The cast, though, is crazy for a cheap slasher film. It says something when Dwight Schultz whose greatest claim to acting fame comes from his roles as the crazy Murdoch on The A-Team plays the sanest one in the bunch. Donald Pleasence isn’t too difficult to cast in a film like this one—he had a track record, and seeing Jack Palance hamming it up as a psycho isn’t a stretch. But Martin Landau? If nothing else, I had to see this just for that.

Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) shows up for his new job in a psychiatric hospital headed by Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence), who operates a very different sort of mental facility. Bain is of the belief that his patients should be given a great deal of autonomy and that they aren’t so much crazy as they are simply off on little mental vacations. He thinks this of all of his mental patients, including the dangerously, criminally insane men on the third floor. This group of four includes military veteran Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance), a dangerous paranoid who is convinced that Dan Potter got his position by killing the previous doctor; Byron Sutcliff (Martin Landau), a preacher with a penchant for burning churches with the congregation still inside; Ronald “Fatty” Elster (Erland van Lidth), a gigantic child molester; and Skaggs (Phillip Clark), known as “the Bleeder” because he gets nose bleeds when he attacks a victim.