Sunday, February 21, 2010

Little Close Encounters of a 2010 KInd

More movies recently watched: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 2010, Little Caesar.

I saw both Close Encounters and 2010 back when they originally aired in 1977 and 1984 respectively, and this was my first time to see the great Edward G. in Caesar.

Well. Close Encounters. What can I say? I remember being greatly interested in it when I was a boy because there was a real paucity of any big time mainstream examinations of UFO phenomenenonnonanonns, er, stuff, even though the 70s was the golden age of UFO mania. This seemed like a Serious examination by Somebody with some clout: that is Little Stevie Spielboig with his follow-up to the already much-worshipped Jaws. I remember having the novel, written by Spielberg, (yeah, right, and George Lucas wrote the novel of Star Wars -Alan Dean Foster-is that you?) I also nabbed the Fotonovel of the movie and a cool baby -pink bendy of the cool alien that "communicates" with Francois Truffaut at the end of the movie. The only problem was...The movie itself is kind of a bore...Oh, it has some great sequences, and some interesting ideas, but ultimately it just kind of is. None of the characters, although all very earnestly played, really touch you in any way, and I think that is the main deficit. It was interesting, too, from a cultural perspective, to see that the work begun in Close and then solidified in E.T. turned the mass perception , via the movies of course, from the aliens being hostile invaders from without, and the government being our saviour-as portrayed in 50s and 60s era sci-fi, to the aliens being friendly and wise ambassadors from beyond being squelched by a fascistic secretive government. Independence Day almost 20 years later reversed the trend again. The special effects are still quite fun to watch. I always found the portrayal of the ships to be quite unique.

2010. The sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not made by Kubrick, but with his blessing. This movie more or less ditched the trippy mysticism of 2001 and portrayed a joint Soviet-US mission to investigate the derelict vessel and the monolith that shared its orbit around Jupiter. Roy Scheider does great work as Dr. Heywood Floyd, intent on finding out how his first project went kerfluey, and Bob Balaban plays the fussy computer programmer whose prodigy,the HAL 3000, or whatever number of HAL it was , also wants to discover why his golden boy went homicidal. The acting is actually excellent throughout, with Helen Mirren portraying a very convincing Soviet pilot, and John Lithgow as an engineer in over his head. This movie suffers from being a victim of its time. For starters, of course, the US and the Soviet Union were still in a global pissing match. There was also a hot-headed Reaganesque President whose excursions into Honduras touch off a military showdown with the Russkies. The political backdrop of the entire story is familiar sturm and drang Cold War anxieties of the early eighties, back when everyone was more worried about THE bomb and not just bombs. So the pay-off that the movie presents, a hope for a larger family of lifeforms, breaking us free from our death spiral of petty tribal warfare, has lost some of its punch. I remember being impressed by the sympathetic portrayal of the crews trying to muddle through the political cloud hanging over their mission and seeing each other as real people, and that still is impressive. But after having exonerated HAL and taking the gas out of the enigmatic monoliths, I found myself kind of missing the elegant mysteries of the original.

Little Ceasar- just a straight-up gangster tale from the 30s with another great nasty performance by Edward G. Robinson in all of his "Yah, see, yah!" glory. It is a familiar tale of a little man with big cojones who climbs to the top of the gang world by out-gunning and out-doing all of the other evil-doers. He is a vain man, not unlike Tony Montana in Scarface, more into the prestige and bling of his position than anything else, who is only brought low by the determined opposition of some equally ambitious lawmen. I hope to snare the original Scarface in my DVR net soon, so I can see the master at work again. "Mother of Mercy-is this the end of Rico?"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mad as Hell about Network

Okay, tonight's TCM scoop was 1976's Network, starring William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall.

What a great movie. Oh, I could go through the predictable rigmarole about how what was far-out satire in the 1970s was actually a prescient foreshadowing of the three ring circus that is our modern News Infotainment industry, but it was more than that. It was a remarkably mature examination of the weird soul melding that has transpired between the individual and the zeitgeist, as transmitted by television. Watching this movie made me ache for a return to the times when not every film had to be produced to be a date movie or a stylistic masturbatory fantasy of a fifth generation film geek. The storytelling was on par with a fine novel; the characters well defined and archetypal rather than stereotypical; the language intelligent and flirting with true profundity. (The characters actually used some of them there big words now and then to express their ideas!) It was a tale about the very bright people behind the dumbing down of our collective character.

Fincher's "I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!" routine as the raving madman-cum-media star Howard Beale is of course an Academy Award winning legendary performance, and I don't need to throw any additional garlands on it. I will say Dunaway's character, a beautiful but soulless TV exec , was not just wonderfully executed but brilliantly written. As Holden's world weary ex-news executive pointed out, Dunaway's character was television: a seductive , dynamic, irresistible love who turns out to be all surface; a soulless unfeeling ratings machine, and ultimately a lousy lay to boot. Few women in movies have really done it for me quite like Dunaway in her prime. She is absolutely riveting.

Duvall is very believable as the Corporate slime ball, but for my money, Ned Beatty in a very small role as the biggest of the Corporate Big-wigs steals the show. He lays out the way the world really is to a dumbstruck Beale, breaking it all down to not a world of nations and laws, but a world of global titans above all world affairs , whose very life-blood is the ebb and flow of world currency. "I have seen the face of God," Beale murmurs in the wake of Beatty's holy tirade.

I guess the closest we have these days to this high level of film making is the occasional Coen brothers movie, when they are not trying to be too cute. If I think about this too much I have a Beale moment myself, "I am mad as hell, and I am not going to watch Seth Rogan anymore!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Okay...I need to break the ice on 2010 as regards this blog..I've not had much cooking other than usual survival stuff; but I have been watching quite a few old movies I have been catching with my DVR off of TCM lately...

I watched Hammer's The Hound of The Baskervilles with Peter Cushing as Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskervilles earlier this evening and found it an entertaining, if not terribly engrossing movie. I remember watching and enjoying it back in the day as well. I am by no means a huge Holmes fan, in fact I think the only story I ever read was The Red Headed League. I watched a few of those BBC productions with the actor Jeremy Britt and thought his was pretty much the best portrayal of the famous sleuth that I had seen. When I heard about the latest actor to don the deerstalker(although I am sure he didn't-that is far too old school) being Robert Downey Jr., I had to groan. I have nothing against him per se, but the match just doesn't sound that great to me. Several people whose judgement I trust have given the movie a thumbs up, and I will probably watch it when it comes out on DVD. My wife asked me who I would have cast instead, and after some thought I came up with Hugh Laurie. I think he has that intensity and cleverness about him along with the sly wit.

Last night I watched The Uninvited with Ray Milland, concerning a lonely windswept mansion on the English seacoast, and the mystery behind a pair of female ghosts who haunt the place and are battling over the life of a beautiful young woman. A good story that kept my interest to the end.

Other TCM viewings of late: In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart; Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, and White Heat all starring James Cagney (White Heat being the stand-out though all are excellent).

Blood on Satan's Claw is a great British production concerning a coven of witches attempting to flesh out their returning Dark Lord by growing patches of his skin on different people and then reaping it by way of sacrificing the afflicted victims. Quite creepy with a great old Judge who mercilessly snuffs out the evildoers-a character who would probably be a corrupt villain if the movie were made today. Also a small but great role of the Squire, played by the delightful old actor who portrayed Mr. Tibbs on Are You Being Served. Full of creaking rooks, fog and mossy stones, the atmosphere is perfect. It also boasts a brief but creepy glimpse of the gibbering devil, not yet fully made whole, that was quite effective.

That's all for now-the ice has been broken-stay tuned for more news of absurd goodness!