Friday, September 28, 2007

Logan's Run (1976).

The Scoop:
Some things just get more ridiculous and dated with age. This includes just about everything from the 1970s, but, most especially (and ironically), '70s science fiction.

And never did the future seem so retro as in "Logan's Run." In a utopian society (which lives inside a shopping mall done up to '70s excess) that keeps the peace by secretly killing every citizen on his or her 30th birthday, Logan (Michael York), who is 29, decides something is wrong and tries to escape along with his girlfriend (Jenny Agutter). You see, Logan's job as a "sand man" is to keep the 30-year-olds from running away from their date with destiny. So, of course, he bucks against the system and winds up hunted by his sand man buddy (Richard Jordan). Along the way, they discover giant cardboard-looking robot (Roscoe Lee Browne) and an old man who lives in the U.S. Senate chamber with hundreds of cats (Peter Ustinov). Somewhere along the line there is a moral message about environmental responsibility and overpopulation -- the usual '70s sci-fi concerns.

And don't blink, or you'll miss Farah Fawcett's ridiculously over-billed bit part as a medical secretary.

Best Line:
"Overwhelming, am I not?"

Side Note:
If the Sandman headquarters building looks familiar, that's because the model was later reused in several episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" as the Starfleet Academy.

Companion Viewing:
"THX 1138" (1970), "Zardoz" (1973) and "Rollerball" (1975).

Links:
IMDb.
The Cylon Alliance.
Retroland.

Take a Look:
Run!


Logan tries to get Jessica to run:


"There is no sanctuary!"


Let's get naked!


A great line, repeated for emphasis:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

He Knows You're Alone (1980).

The Scoop:
Before he was heralded as the greatest actor of his generation, Tom Hanks made a lot of dumb '80s comedies. And before he made those dumb '80s comedies, he made some truly bad movies. This is one of them.

"He Knows You're Alone" was his film debut, and he's the only reason to see this turd. Unfortunately, we don't even get the chance to see him in a big role. Instead, he turns up toward the end as a disposable boyfriend of another minor character.

The main plot involves a serial killer stalking women on the night before each one's wedding. As the corpses pile up at a sluggish rate, it's up to bride-to-be Caitlin O'Heaney and ex-boyfriend Don Scardino to put a stop the clich├ęd shenanigans.

If you're in the mood for a decent, mindless "first wave" (i.e., late-'70s/early-'80s) slasher film, this should be toward the bottom of your list.

Best Bit:
The end credits, I suppose, because that means it is finally, mercifully over.

Side Note:
O'Heaney is the great-great-great granddaughter of Jacob Best, the creator of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Companion Viewing:
"April Fool's Day" (1986).

Links:
IMDb.

Take a Look:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hamlet (1996).

The Scoop:
"Hamlet" is -- period, hands down -- the greatest piece of drama ever written. It's a stupendous achievement that was the keystone of Shakespeare's larger revolution in humanizing the dramatic arts. Unfortunately, its navigations of the psychological terrain are so vast that it has rarely been performed on stage (and never on film) in its entirety. All of Shakespeare's texts have been abridged and adapted over the years (and I'm a big advocate of uncut Shakespeare), but with "Hamlet" it has been as much a case of practical necessity as artistic interpretation. The play is just too long to expect an audience to get through in one sitting. Scholars say that even the very first performances by Shakespeare's company were edited down to a manageable size. However, even the best cuts have done a disservice to the work.

Kenneth Branagh has tried to remedy that history with this film, the only complete and unabridged film version of "Hamlet." The result, clocking in at more than four hours, is a treat. The cinematography is beautiful and extravagant, and the core group of actors (including Branagh, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi and Kate Winslet) hit all the right notes. Most of the smaller parts feature familiar faces, and with the exception of Jack Lemmon's uncharacteristically wooden take on Marcellus, they do their duties well, too. Charleton Heston is a particularly delightful surprise, in a role (The Player King) that usually doesn't require much more than good diction. This adaptation is essential Shakespeare.

Best Line:
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Side Note:
Nicholas Farrell, who plays Horatio here, was in Franco Zefferelli's "Hamlet" (1990) as Rosencrantz and in Branagh's "A Midwinter's Tale" (1995) as the actor playing Laertes in a stage production of "Hamlet."

Companion Viewing:
"A Midwinter's Tale" (1995).

Links:
IMDb.
Movie Links.
Read the play.

Take a Look:
The trailer:


Branagh asks the most famous question in literature in an odd aspect ratio:


I've always thought this was a better soliloquy than "To be or not to be":

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Greed (1924).

The Scoop:
Avarice, violence, hate -- it's all here, every bit of the dark side of human nature. "Greed" is an adaptation of the Frank Norris novel "McTeague," about the disasterous consequences a lottery jackpot has on the lives of two men (Gibson Gowland and Jean Hersholt) who are battling over the same woman (Zasu Pitts). The film is also both Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece and perhaps the most notorious example of loss of creative control in film history.

The original director's cut was nearly nine hours long and was only shown once, to a group of studio executives. After the studio took control, the film was edited down to only 140 minutes. Most of the outtakes were eventually destroyed. Several attempts at reconstructing the movie have been made by film scholars over the years, but it was not until 1999 that Turner Classic Movies released the most complete restoration.

Using the small amount of surviving outtakes and still photographs from the lost scenes, the newest version runs just over four hours. While that might be a mind-numbing length for most movies, "Greed" holds its own the whole way -- and still feels incomplete. Too bad this is probably the most complete version we will ever get to see.

Best Bit:
The grim ending, shot on location in Death Valley. (The 37-day shoot was just as hard on the actors as it was on the characters. Hersholt lost 27 pounds and had to be hospitalized when it was all over.)

Side Note:
Herscholt was better known for his philanthropic efforts, and is the namesake of the Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award given at the Oscars. He was also the uncle of actor Leslie Nielsen.

Companion Viewing:
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948).

Links:
IMDb.
Frank Norris' original novel.
Fan site.

Take a Look:
TCM offers this spoiler-y clip from the Death Valley sequence. Watch with caution!

Newsreel footage of the cast and crew trekking into Death Valley:

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Fool There Was (1915).

The Scoop:
Theda Bara was the first of the silver screen's sex goddesses, and this is the film that launched her reputation. In fact, the word "vamp" was invented specifically by the studio (the Willam Fox Vaudeville Company, the ancestor of today's Fox Film Corporation) to describe her in this role.

The plot and script are conventional for the era -- a loose women tempts then ruins a series of wealthy men -- and it can be rough slogging for the modern viewer. But Bara's performance alone makes it memorable and worth watching today. It would be nothing without her. Every celebrity sex symbol and every movie vixen to come after owes a major debt to Theda.

Best Line:
"Kiss me, my Fool!"

Side Note:
The lack of preservation of early films has really taken its toll on the work of Theda Bara -- she was the biggest star of her time, but the only other feature films of hers that still exist in their entirety are her pre-fame "The Stain" (1914) and "The Unchastened Woman" (1925), which was made on the downside of her career.

Companion Viewing:
"It" (1926) and "Pandora's Box" (1929).

Links:
IMDb.

Take a Look:
You can see the film in its entirety on YouTube:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999).

The Scoop:
This mock documentary covering a teen beauty pageant in a small Minnesota town is a capable satire of both pageant culture and Midwestern provincialism, but ultimately it falls short.

The cast and crew give a good effort across the board, but what really handicaps this film is its mockumentary style. The best mockumentaries out there (from the comedy of "This is Spinal Tap" to the seriousness of "The Blair Witch Project" or "Man Bites Dog") work because of their spontaneity. "Drop Dead Gorgeous," on the other hand, is too tightly scripted and its satire too unbelievably over-the-top to be an effective mockumentary. Instead, it would have been better served by a conventional narrative format.

Despite this handicap, though, there are terrific performances from the whole cast (led by Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin and Kirstie Alley) and some great gags (both visual and verbal). Much like Dunst's character Amber Atkins, this is a little, disadvantaged film that succeeds on effort and charm.

Best Line:
"Hi. I'm Amber Atkins, and I am signing up 'cause two of my favorite persons in the world competed in pageants: my mom and Diane Sawyer. Of course, I want to end up more like Diane Sawyer than my mom."

Side Note:
Screenwriter Lona Williams, who is also a writer and producer for "The Drew Carey Show," was a first runner-up in the national Junior Miss competition. She also has a cameo in the movie as a pageant judge.

Companion Viewing:
"Waiting for Guffman" (1996).

Links:
IMDb.

Take a Look:
A collection of clips to give you the Cliffs Notes version of the movie. Part one:


And part two:

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957).

The Scoop:
A cabal of mad scientists trying to live forever use the front of running a reform school for girls in order who have a fresh supply nubile young women to drain of their life force. After a crusading young case worker notices the death toll rising a little too much, she and a generic do-gooder scientist guy team up to uncover the truth.

It's all pretty standard fare that distinguished by -- well, by nothing, really. The execution fails to live up the premise as no '50s B-movie cliche is left unturned. Even if you're an enthusiast of the genre, you'll likely forget it a half hour after its over.

(And for what it's worth, a man does indeed turn to stone, but it's a huge anticlimax.)

Best Line:
"Those twisted features... He may be a mongoloid."

Side Note:
Screenwriter Bernard Gordon was a victim of the Hollywood Ten blacklist, and worked for several years under the pseudonym Raymond T. Marcus. He is also responsible for penning such classic scripts as "Day of the Triffids" (1962), "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1956), "Zombies of Mora Tau" (1957) and "Krakatoa, East of Java" (1969).

Companion Viewing:
"The Wasp Woman" (1957).

Links:
IMDb.

Take a Look:
This is a movie so anonymous, it doesn't even exist on YouTube. Someday I'll get it together enough to post my own clips. Until then, you'll just have to use your imagination. (Sorry!)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006).

The Scoop:
This wonderful documentary from David Leaf and John Scheinfeld is a must-see. It does more than just detail the FBI's campaign to discredit and deport John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early '70s; it also examines the issues and personalities of the antiwar movement, displays the horrors of the Vietnam War and gives a loving portrayal of John and Yoko's marriage.

Lennon coupled his intelligence and principle with the pop smarts he learned from the Beatles to propel himself to the front of the antiwar movement and into the orbit of the likes of Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Ron Kovic and Angela Davis. Along the way he made powerful enemies both in J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and Richard Nixon's White House.

The film presents in-depth interviews with Ono (of course), Seale, Davis, Gore Vidal, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Walter Cronkite, Geraldo Rivera and a host of others. With these, Leaf and Scheinfeld make liberal use of archival interviews with Lennon, especially John and Yoko's appearances on "The Dick Cavett Show", and Lennon's own music.

What emerges is a powerful depiction of a celebrity willing to risk everything to use his fame and influence to try to affect positive change on the world -- as well as the lengths corrupt powerholders will go to protect their own selfish interests and stifle dissent. It's a prescient message for today, as we still await an artist capable of making the same stand.

Best Line:
"Mr. Lennon came to represent life and was admirable. Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death." -- Gore Vidal

Side Note:
Among the celebrities singing on "Give Peace a Chance" (recorded at John and Yoko's Bed-In in Montreal in 1969) were Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Allen Ginsberg and Dick Gregory.

Companion Viewing:
"Imagine: John Lennon" (1988) and "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara" (2003).

Links:
IMDb.
Official Site.
Cinematic Intelligence Agency.
Mooviees!

Take a Look:
The trailer that makes it look almost like a Hollywood thriller: