Archives For Movies

Much will be said in the coming days about Martin Landau’s talent and career. It will all be deserved. He was a remarkable actor. Whether you consider actor an art or a craft, he was a master. And he was passionate about it until the end. If you haven’t heard his interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier this year, find it now. It’s incredible.

When I started pulling at the thread of what my favorite performance of his might be, the thought was torn open and a dozen titles spilled out before I knew it. His Lugosi in ED WOOD will be talked about — and it should be. Amazing. I never tire of it. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS — one of the great performances of all time in what is probably in the Top 5 of Woody Allen’s movies. He smolders and menaces in NORTH BY NORTHWEST — leaving little doubt that his character is both loyal to and in love with his boss, Mr. Vandamm.

I love those and a baker’s dozen more that I could rattle off here. But there are a couple of performances a little off the beaten path that I’ll always remember fondly. His work on TV (Mission Impossible, Space 1999) never felt like he was slumming. He became whatever part he played. I loved his turn as twin brothers — both villains — in an episode of Columbo. And I still get a little emotional thinking about what he brought to TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM. It was another well deserved nominated performance.

 

Here’s The Hollywood Reporter’s announcement that Mr. Landau has died.

“…the transition between old and new is never elegant or seamless.” – from the Introduction to Pictures At A Revolution

The Academy Awards are often controversial — either legitimately or artificially. And since they’ve been around so long they tend to have an identity crisis every twenty years or so. Or, maybe more accurately, every couple of decades the Oscars reflect a generation gap and/or an identity crisis within the movie industry. Witness The 1967 Academy Awards. Held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on April 8, 1968 the 1967 Best Picture Nominees included a mix of movies that hardly seemed like a matched set.

Half of the nominees seemed to be sneering at the other half: The father-knows-best values of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER were wittily trashed by THE GRADUATE; the hands-joined-in-brotherhood hopes expressed by IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT had little in common with the middle finger of insurrection extended by BONNIE AND CLYDE. (from Pictures At A Revolution)

Mark Harris’s wonderfully engaging book, Pictures At A Revolution, takes the five films nominated that year (BONNIE AND CLYDE, DOCTOR DOLITTLE, THE GRADUATE, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT ) and weaves together the stories of how those films came to be and with how they ended up reflecting the conflicted state of Hollywood’s body politic at the end of the 1960s. Harris is a seasoned writer with a strong commitment to research. He’s also not afraid to share a point of view. If you’re an Oscar buff this is a great book to dive into. If you’re a student of the American 1960s, Pictures At A Revolution, is also a great glimpse of that era through the lens of the USA’s biggest cultural export.

 
Pictures At A Revolution by Mark Harris | 2008 | The Penguin Press

THE MALTESE FALCON is my favorite movie of all time. My Dad introduced it to me when it aired on some local TV Friday Night Late Movie long ago. My memory tells me I was 13 or 14 years old. The banter, the intrigue, the humor, the drama of greed and desperation – it gripped me and never let me go. I’ve seen it many times on broadcast television, cable, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray over the last 35+ years. Last night I finally saw it – a pristine print – on the big screen. Thank you TCM Classics, Fathom Events and my favorite theater on the planet, Regal 12 (Little Rock). I wrote a short piece about the film here. May try to catch it again in L. A. on Wednesday. Check out an encore performance if you missed it yesterday.

the comedians cover_1I’ve been diving into Kliph Nesteroff’s “The Comedians” every night for the last few days – it’s fantastic! If you’re a fan of comedy and/or showbiz history it is, as Joel Hodgman says, “essential!”

Tracy and I finally got into a showing of DEADPOOL – still the #1 movie in the land. The mega-meta superhero is as outrageous, shocking, dirty, and funny as billed. Jeffrey Wells is taking the contrarian view on the movie’s charms. Fox made a bet on smirk and smut and won big. I wonder though if there really is a franchise here once the bracing shock of the thing wears off. How will a second DEADPOOL movie feel fresh? We’ll just have to wait and see because there’s one coming whether it works or not.

Can’t wait to see BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS on HBO tonight. Kim Masters spoke with director Douglas McGrath about the documentary on KCRW’s The Business. It’s worth a listen.

I’ll be in L A the rest of this week. It’s Oscar week – which adds a level of crazy/fun to an already crazy/fun town. I’ll post something about it here for CineFriday.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Maltese Falcon, The)_04

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer “The Gunsel” in John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON (Warner Bros. 1941)

There’s an oft-told tale about John Huston’s method of adapting THE MALTESE FALCON for the silver screen. The way the story goes, Huston was on his way to lunch (i.e., a bar) and told his secretary to take the novel line by line and convert it to the standard screenplay format. And that’s just what she did, and that’s pretty much the shooting script they ended up with. I don’t know if the story is true but Huston’s directoral debut was as faithful a book-to-screen adaptation as one could hope for. And why not? Dashiell Hammett’s second novel is practically the Rosetta Stone for film noir.

THE MALTESE FALCON is hands-down my favorite movie. There’s nothing I don’t love about it. So I’m as giddy as a kid at Christmas that Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are screening THE MALTESE FALCON this Sunday (with encore screenings Wednesday) for the film’s 75 Anniversary. Seventy-five years, amazing! This was the last, best adaptation of the book after a spotty run. The expectations weren’t high and in many ways the studio perceived it as “B team” effort. Bogart was not the first choice to play Sam Spade. This project probably saved his career and launched him to the stratosphere after years of struggle. Sydney Greenstreet’s performance is already perfection but add to the mix that FALCON is also his screen debut and it’s startling how good he is. Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook Jr. — all pitch perfect in their roles. Huston‘s approach to staging and shooting the film created a new look and filmmaking vocabulary.

Enjoy THE MALTESE FALCON in a theater near you this weekend. And here are some links for some more tidbits on the movie and the lore.

Vanity Fair’s piece on the Falcon — one of the most famous movie props of all time.

The Hollywood Reporter’s on the 75th Anniversary screenings

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Warren Beatty (l) and Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR (d. Elaine May, 1987, Columbia Pictures)

 

ISHTAR (PG-13, 107 min., Columbia Pictures, May 1987)

“Ishtar shall rise again,” Dustin Hoffman proclaimed to the audience on the occasion of Warren Beatty’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It could hardly have been any deader in Box Office or critical opinion in 1987. Roger Ebert gave the film one half star — not even a full star! In his original review (May 15, 1987), Ebert called ISHTAR “a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in comedy.” You can read the whole review here.

Twenty-six years later, the NYT’s A.O. Scott wrote thoughtfully about ISHTAR in a piece about reconsidering Box Office Bombs. Saying that, “ISHTAR has entreated the lexicon  – along with HEAVEN’S GATE, WATERWORLD and HOWARD THE DUCK – as shorthand for large scale cinematic unsuccess. Which is fine, except that ISHTAR is a really good movie that suffered, in its infancy, from very bad press.” Read Scott’s piece here.

Elaine May seems to have suffered the most from the fall out over the film’s 14.4 million dollar gross against a 55.5 millions dollar budget — an extraordinary amount at the time. Rumors about her swirled, blame was assigned. She hasn’t directed since. She once quipped, “If all the people who hate ISHTAR had seen it, I would be a rich woman today.” Thank God she kept writing. I wished she’d kept directing. If the charm, wit and timing of Elaine May have eluded you to this point in your life, watch this clip of May saluting her comedy partner, Mike Nichols, at his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s a bravura performance.

Director: Elaine May, Writer: Elaine May, Producer: Warren Beatty, Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro, Composer: Dave Grusin, Editors: Richard P. Cirincione, Wiliam Reynolds, Stephen A. Rotter, Production Designer: Paul Sylbert

CAST: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, Tess Harper, Carol Kane

Watched on Blu*ray (Sony Home Video)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

In the 1970s Steve Martin dated Mitzi Trumbo, Dalton Trumbo’s daughter. In his memoir, Martin recounts observing Dalton Trumbo’s exercise regimen in those days. Mr. Trumbo would walk laps around the perimeter of the swimming pool in his backyard. Every time he passed the diving board he marked the lap with the click of a counter in his hand. In his other hand Trumbo carried a cigarette, which he puffed on intermittently during his workout.

It’s hard to believe that elected officials in Washington considered the eccentric, contradictory, and talented Trumbo such a danger to Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But then again we should never be shocked at what elected officials believe, say, or try to put over on “we the people.”

116029580_origTrumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten. The infamy was not the Ten’s, it belonged mostly to the members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and their associates. You can dive into two films (both with same title) that tell Trumbo’s story in vivid detail. One is the outstanding (and personal favorite) documentary from 2007. The other is this year’s Oscar nominated narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston as Trumbo and a stellar supporting cast.

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? That was the refrain heard over and over in the chambers at the U.S. Capitol as American citizens were questioned about their interest and involvement with Communism.

Frank Rose’s landmark book, The Agency (1985, Harper Business) devotes significant space to the villains, victims and heroes in the whole sordid affair. I’d never realized until I read Rose’s book how HUAC effectively ended Edward G. Robinson’s career. I can’t recommend Rose’s book highly enough. (It’s a comprehensive history of Hollywood through the lens of the William Morris Agency.) For an up to date, in depth – and highly entertaining – audio examination of the Hollywood Red Scare era, check out the current season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This (Podcast).

And hooray for the Coen Brothers’ comedic portrait of the era in HAIL, CAESAR! It manages to be cheeky and sobering at the same time. The movie captures the paranoia, inhibitions and hypocrisy. At the same time there’s a genuine sense of the shifting ground under the characters’ feet. (I had a few things to say about the film in last Sunday’s Notebook.) The great joke in HAIL, CAESAR! — well, I won’t say it here in case you’re going to see the film soon.

For more on the subject of Hollywood and The Red Scare check out:

Films:

Hail, Caesar! (2016) A comedy from the Coen Brothers in theaters now

TRUMBO (2015, 124 mins, R) A narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston, on DVD & Bluray 2/16/16

TRUMBO (2007, 96 mins, PG-13) – Documentary

Books:

The Agency (1985, HarperCollins) by Frank Rose

Podcast:

You Must Remember This (Podcast) – Current season is all about HUAC & Hollywood

 

KurtRussellSamuelLJacksonHatefulEight

Kurt Russell (l) and Samuel L. Jackson are two of THE HATEFUL EIGHT, the 8th film from auteur/director Quentin Tarantino (Rated R, The Weinstien Company. In theaters now)

 

[A note from Tim Jackson: My friend, Joe Aaron — who’s guest posted here before — caught a 70mm Roadshow Screening of THE HATEFUL EIGHT over the weekend. I asked Joe if I could post his spoiler free takeaways here. He graciously agreed. Enjoy.]

 

No one can pull off a Quentin Tarantino hack like Tarantino himself. I was one of the blessed few to see “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992 at Sundance with Q.T. and cast present for the Q & A that followed. And though I like his other 7 films, none of them has lived up to that film or experience.

“The Hateful Eight” is good. Worth seeing. If you can see it projected on 70mm, do it. That said; is it great? Memorable? Not like some of his other work. There are flaws that bugged me that I won’t mention here. But I will offer some reasons to see it.

  1. The score. As most of you know Q.T. never has a score (never or almost never?) preferring to go with needle-drop music instead. (To great effect I might add.) Not only is it cool to see a film of his with its own score, the score itself is awesome. A big, fun, popcorn movie score!
  1. Acting. This is always true of his films. Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh stand out, but all are awesome.
  1. Staging. This is not normally something I’d say about a film but rather a play. But in TH8 Q.T. makes use of his ultra wide frame and stages many scenes with actors all over the set – Upstage, Center, Downstage, Left, Right, etc. This was done skillfully and makes me wonder if theater is not in Mr. T’s future? (He keeps talking about retiring after his tenth project.)
  1. Cinematography. Beautiful. I won’t talk about the story other than to say it didn’t hold up to the end for me as I found it impossible to “get on-board” or “stay on-board” with any of the characters till the end. They truly were a hateful bunch.

Also, I’m not one of the “one in ten million” who can tell the difference between 70mm shot and projected vs. 35mm shot and blown up to 70mm projected. The richness is lost on me. Perhaps I’m paying more attention to the story than the film quality.

I’m glad Tarantino is still out there making films. I’m glad he and others are championing film. I’m glad I saw “The Hateful Eight”. But it’s not on the Joe Aaron Top 100.

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Joe Aaron is a screenwriter, author and teacher living in Los Angeles, CA. He is a graduate of the American Film Institute and co-created “Doug” for the popular Disney series. Joe wrote GUTTERSNIPES — a screenplay he developed with his friend and fellow AFI grad, Shuchi Talati. The film is expected to go into production in 2016 with Tim Jackson producing. Joe’s unique take on writing low-budget feature films is captured in his book, The Low Budget Screenplay: How to Write a Produceable Script – available on Amazon.