Thursday, October 31, 2013

Flick Pick: Beetlejuice

(Warner Brothers, 1988)

Michael Keaton as the all-time Ghostest With The Mostest, as envisioned by Tim Burton, with special effects by the late Maitlands, and a soundtrack from Harry Belafonte.

(And if you have any sort of cinematic soul, you'll watch Disney's classic 1949 animated short Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, narrated by no less than Bing Crosby, as your pre-feature cartoon.)

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Flick Pick: Monster Squad

Monster Squad
(Tristar, 1987)

A treehouse full of youngsters at the right place, at the right time, and with the right weapons to save the day. Goonies, meet Ghostbusters.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Flick Pick: Young Frankenstien

Young Frankenstein
(20th C. Fox, 1974)

Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder send up Mary Shelley in the classic comedy spoof about a large zipper-headed gentleman, played to perfection by the late Peter Boyle. Anybody who comes to my door on Halloween dressed as Frankenstein in a tux, and sings "Puttin' On The Ritz" gets a $50 gift certificate to the candy store, and my undying admiration.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Flick Pick: Krippendorf's Tribe

Krippendorf's Tribe
(Touchstone, 1998)

Well-delivered farce with Richard Dreyfuss as a harried anthropologist who delivers a faux tribe in lieu of prison for embezzling his grant money, unwittingly assisted by Jenna Elfman.
O what a tangled web we weave...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Flick Pick: Twelve O'Clock High

Twelve O'clock High
(20th C. Fox, 1949)

Masterpiece production about a B-17 group in England early in WWII. Gregory Peck as the study in command, and Dean Jagger in a role that got him a Best Supporting Oscar. Not just a cracking good war story, this movie is consistently used in management classes to illustrate to the managerially tone-deaf how to motivate different types of people.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flick Pick: Tombstone

(Hollywood Pictures, 1993)

To commemorate the 132nd anniversary of the Shootout at the OK Corral, the best movie by far dealing with it, among several notable attempts. Though long on legend and light on facts, this is everything a western should be, with Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot, and Bill Paxton playing the Earps, and Val Kilmer stealing every scene he's in with a portrayal of Doc Holliday that sets the standard for that character for 50 years, if not forever. Peppered throughout are notable western stars from the past, including Charlton Heston, Harry Carey, Jr., Chris Mitchum, and Robert Mitchum narrating the opening and closing.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Paralysis Of Analysis

I've been following Bill Whittle's stuff since shortly after he started posting it online. I absolutely love it, and recommend him to anyone looking for the sort of rhetorical brilliance we used to take for granted among our political leadership, before we were gifted with such political kitty litter box truffles as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and John Boehner.

But I humbly suggest in this latest commentary Bill has gone off the reservation somewhat.

First, we aren't in a military campaign. Would that we were; our side has most of the guns, and nearly all the military veterans. (But then again, how'd that work out in 1861?)

Second, the media aren't the Air Force, for either side. They are merely the Ministry Of Propaganda. On their best day, that's exactly all they are. At the top of their game, whether you're talking Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, or Bill Maher and Rachel Madcow Maddow, they are preaching almost exclusively to the choir, and they have about as much effect on outcome as the fans in the stadium do on a game of Monday Night Football. Let's not confuse them, in any sense, with swarms of F-15s and an overcast of B-52s. They're generally more like a bunch of smart-alecks with paper airplanes, water balloons, spitwads, and cork-ammo pop guns. And as a rule, just about as intelligent or mature.

Third, as the rapidly declining ratings and print readership demonstrate, the average people get that. Don't look for the media itself to trumpet its own irrelevancy in print or on man-on-the-street broadcasts.
Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

So, IMHO, the Absolute Last Thing We Need is to rebrand conservatism as something else to make it hip, cool, or trendy. (We also don't need to go out of our way to make it seem uncool, stodgy, boring, and so-two-centuries-ago, thankyouverymuch).

Freedom is freedom, liberty is liberty, and goodness is goodness. As Bill has noted previously, changing "Do Unto Others" into "Don't Be A Jerk" is merely a translation of idiom into the modern vernacular, which is always well-advised.

But we don't need to morph into pretending to be some scrappy underground insurgency either. Yes, we need to take a long view, but the scrappy insurgents were the first people Ho's successors, and Fidel, and Mao, and Lenin rounded up and shot. Insurgents are unreliable, because they're ideologues, and they know how to topple a regime, and they scare the bejeezus out of control freaks for those reasons.

Conservatism isn't an insurgency (unless you currently work in the newsroom at MSNBC or at the NYTimes or WaPo. In that case, you don't need guerrilla tactics, you need regular intercessory prayer).

To the vast majority of America, who holds similar views on almost every issue one can name, conservatism is just What Everybody Thinks. Wheat farmers in South Dakota and auto mechanics in Flagstaff don't particularly give much of a damn about what some poncey faux hipster on the cable version of The Idiot Box, or some pointy-headed 20-something trying to be edgy at the NYT thinks about things (if such alleged mental activity can be said to discernibly occur there at all).

What they care about is how high their taxes are, what those taxes are being squandered on, and whether they can earn any kind of living, educate and raise their family, and if they can make it to retirement without needing to dine on cat food in their waning years or die between now and then from a lack of decent medical care.

Media gas on the subject generally brings only a small amount of familiarity and a large amount of noxious odor to such ruminations.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with endeavoring to best the liberal media at the game of swaying opinion, even if we do no more than get the truth out. But the fights on the editorial page of the papers had about as much effect on whether we won any war as the cheers and jeers did at any game ever played.

We don't need more megaphones and louder hooligans.

What we need are some players who know the playbook, can take whatever the other side dishes out, and still come back and pound them into the ground, on the field of sport, or battle, take your pick.

We aren't lacking fans nor cheerleaders.
We need competitors who'll suit up, butt heads, and play like they mean it.

What we've been getting are a cross between the Three Stooges and the Keystone Kops, without being either as accomplished or as entertaining as either.

So rather than rebranding conservatism for the 34th time, if we want to win more battles than Caesar's Legions, let's simply agree to stop sending in the clowns.

Flick Pick: Rob Roy

Rob Roy
(United Artists, 1995)

Honor and swordplay on the Scottish highlands, with Liam Neeson as the titular hero, and Tim Roth as the human embodiment of evil who done him wrong.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Flick Pick: North by Northwest

North By Northwest
(MGM, 1959)

Hitchcock's other perfect suspense-thriller, with sensibilities from Kafka and moves from Harold Lloyd, played with finesse and elan by Cary Grant, and supported again by Hitchcock's superb company of chosen players.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Flick Pick: To Catch A Thief

To Catch A Thief
(Paramount, 1954)

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's masterpiece thriller. Audiences in the 1950s didn't need James Bond: they had Cary Grant in movies like this, which set the table for that sophisticated series yet-to-come. Beautifully shot, this movie got the director of photography an Oscar, and Grace Kelly a husband. Neither she nor the French Riviera ever looked better on film.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Flick Pick: A Shock To The System

A Shock To The System
(Corsair Pictures, 1990)

Michael Caine as the consummate sorcerer of the black arts of revenge and murder. An engaging comedy noir, years before Falling Down, and written ten times smarter. This movie is proof Caine has more acting skill in one hand than all most actors know.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flick Pick: 3 Days Of The Condor

3 Days Of The Condor
(Paramount, 1975)

Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max Von Sydow in an all-time great spy tale, directed by Sydney Pollack, in the second of three noteworthy collaborations with Redford. Anytime you have that much talent in one place (6 Oscars between them), the odds favor a worthwhile product. This is.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Public Service Announcement

Yesterday into this morning, I had an experience for the second time in the last 5 years:
fever, chills and body aches, coming on rapidly, which subsequently went away with no further ill effects within a day.

Being a health care professional, getting an annual flu shot has become a non-optional event, and this is thus the second time I can attest that this year's shot works, as evidenced by someone giving me one of this year's strains, my immune system kicking in, and the total disappearance of symptoms within a day.

There are two vaccines out this year: a tri-valent and a quadra-valent brew, hopefully good against three and four possible strains, respectively. (I got the tri-valent recipe.) Every year the flu virus mutates, and the CDC et al try to guess which way the prevalent strains will jump, and then concocting, for example, a vaccine that'll kill African B, Asian Q, and European X (all pulled out of thin air to illustrate the point) strains. Some years they hit nothing, some one, occasionally two, and rarely all three prevalent strains.

But I can tell you three things this morning:
1) School is in session, so it's flu season. There's nothing like millions of children sharing their cooties by sticking their fingers into each others' mouths to breed and propagate the annual epidemic when they bring it home each day.
2) At least one (or more) of this year's virus(es) are covered by this year's shot, based on my personal anecdotal evidence.
3) Flu shots work. If you're anti-vaccination, I'll talk with you when you show me Jenny McCarthy's Ph.D. in biochemistry. Otherwise you're a lunatic Luddite, and deserve a week or two's misery.

Get your flu shot.

Flick Pick: The Sea Hawk

The Sea Hawk
(Warner Bros., 1940)

Errol Flynn, directed by Michael Curtiz for the 10th time, in one of the most lavish swashbuckling movies ever, back when $1.7M was a lot of real money. No expense was spared, including the construction of two actual full-sized sailing ships, with the entire production swathed in one of the most rousing and epic scores of all time. And to top it off, released when Australian-born Flynn's Commonwealth (of which he was then still a subject) was engaged in the midst of the Battle Of Britain, which gave quite a subtext to the patriotic speeches against tyranny. Ably supported by the usual Warner's/First National contract players, including veteran Flynn sidekick Alan Hale, the father of the future Skipper of Gilligan's Island.
Errol Flynn with a sword, a sailing ship, and an Erich Korngold musical score is reason enough to watch any movie, especially one of the best ever made.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Flick Pick: Rollerball

(United Artists, 1975)

James Caan stars in Norman Jewison's futuristic dystopia, where corporations rule, and the titular mindlessly violent game is the circus of choice to keep the worker drones preoccupied. Shot with a fantastic set and an array of top stuntmen from a time when there was no CGI, just what you actually captured on film, Caan's character shows that no matter how you rig the system, humanity squirts through like squeezing a handful of jello. Not only holds up well, but eerily prescient on multiple levels.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flick Pick: Patton

(20th C. Fox, 1970)

George C. Scott would be 86 today (he passed away in 1999).
This film earned 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Scott (which he declined, for foolishly transient reasons, IMHO).
He was a consummate actor, and this was truly a career pinnacle performance, and was an instant classic American movie. The anniversary of his birth is as good a reason as any to add this to the list here and now.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Flick Pick: The Package

The Package
(Orion, 1989)

Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, and Tommy Lee Jones, in a taut end-of-the-Cold-War political thriller.

Doing anywhere from one to five movies a year from the 1970s to the 1990s, you can't swing a dead cat and not hit his work with any list of movies. That's because Hackman is one of those gifted actors who could read a cereal box and give a great performance that would sell tickets and fill seats. In this one he's at the top of his game, with a good story, a great director, and a solid supporting cast.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Flick Pick: The Truman Show

Today's Flick Pick:

The Truman Show
(Paramount, 1998)

Again, Jim Carrey as the unwitting star of an elaborate whole-life reality show. In another turn that shows his acting chops, by turns funny, touching, and thought-provoking. This film features a cast, director, and writer who've received a total of 17 Academy Award nominations without once getting so much as one. Would that every such collection of talent would "fail" so engagingly as they do in this outing.

An absolutely worthwhile watch for every minute from fade in to final credits.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

365 Movies - Bruce Almighty

The quintessential art form of the last century, and probably the next tidy period to come, is the motion picture.
Tellingly, America not only largely invented them, and perfected them, but arguably we have mastered them.

Annoyingly, most of that heritage has been squandered by anti-American crybabies and pining leftists in Hollywood wishing to live in some socialist wet dream fantasyland that never existed, who now ceaselessly squat and produce films better left in your cat's litter box rather than projected onto movie theatre screens.

So starting today, and in no particular order, my choices for 365 films you should see.
They are sometimes classics, sometimes great genre flicks, and sometimes quirky personal selections. I don't pick artsy-fartsy movies for that sake alone, nor merely adjudge a movie a success merely because it brought home the box office bacon. Some of what will follow are both, and some are neither. But why not? It's my blog, and these are what I consider my movies, and which you ought to see.

Today's Pick:

Bruce Almighty
(Universal, 2003)

Jim Carrey as a down-trodden reporter so fed up with life he tells God to resign, because he could do a better job of running everything. So God (Morgan Freeman) calls him on it, and gives Bruce a shot.

It's Carrey at his understated best, with help from then unknown Steve Carell as his workplace rival, and a girlfriend played by Jennifer Anniston.
Consistently entertaining, funny, and heart-warming without causing cavities.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Money Isn't A Substitute For IQ Points, And Neither Is Its Lack

Today's topic is true in any number of fields of endeavor, from warfare to politics to survival, or all of the above, by which I refer to the process of making movies in Hollywood.

I have noted how there's a budget bell-curve, with both low- and high-budget projects coming in at the low end of the IQ axis.

Observe how that works out in practice.

At work on a rather low-budget feature once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, we made the bulk of it out of town, and far enough from the locals that the folks we dealt with weren't hip to Hollywood, i.e. didn't fire up their weed trimmers every time we started to roll, with their palms helpfully out waiting for some cash to go away while we worked.

So it was, after several weeks in the hinterlands of the Golden State that we returned to a soundstage to finish final filming on the technical portion of our project.

Actually, "soundstage" in this case was more of an honorary title.

It was, in fact, a stage for everything but sound, being used, as we later found out, strictly for effects shots,  or music videos (where the entire soundtrack is the audio from the track, and sync sound largely doesn't exist).

But our location manager and the producers got an incredible deal on the use of this stage, so that's where our sets were built, including the big climactic custom-built water tank house-flooding finale. Neither producers nor location manager appears to have had enough sense to question why, when the entire town's sound stages were full up and sold out, they got such a great rate on this stage the weeks we were there, but as I said, lack of money makes you stupid. (Or more probably, the other way around.)

So we had settled into our stage, quite literally a stone's throw from a local muni airport. Which, by and large, meant Cessnas and Pipers mostly, and primarily on the weekend, not M-F while we were working. I settled in near the sound cart, and perused the advance schedule of our final weeks in town at said stage location.

So imagine my surprise, then inner mirth, as I noted that we were to be filming there at both ends of a weekend where an air show was scheduled. Not just any air show, but the premier air show for the greater area, put on free by the city, and one to which literally dozens of airplanes, not to mention a couple of dozen active duty military birds, would arrive. F-14s, F-15s, F-16s, B-1s, B-52s, and usually even an F-117 not least among them all.

Musing out loud, I noted those facts to the sound mixer.

When he dropped everything he was holding, and said "You're s******* me!" I perhaps should have realized the seriousness.

"No, really, F-15s and B-52s coming in all day Friday, and going out all day Monday, and us here filming both days" I repeated, deadpan. "It's really cool to watch, we usually watch on Monday when they take off, at the first aid station we work for the city at the event."

He calls the boom guy over and tells him the news. That guy just starts laughing. Looks at me, sees I'm serious, and laughs even harder.

"Classic! I love this gig! Can't wait to see how this goes over."

Then after lunch, sound guy is talking to producer, and they flag me down as I pass too near.

"Tell her what you told me earlier," he tells me.

So I do.

Producer does her best deer-in-the-headlights look.

"You're s******* me!" she states, hopefully.

I crush her hopes with the same information given the first time. I do try to look a little less amused.

"Well, I'll start making calls. Maybe we can have them drive the planes in on trucks or something."

Of course, that's genius! The military will just humor Pissant Productions, LLC and call Bekins to trundle their fighters and bombers down the interstate and across town!

I'm now trying not to bite through my tongue to keep from laughing in her face at the prospect of getting the Navy and Air Force to put B-1s and F-14s on trucks and drive them down city streets rather than simply flying them to the airport like they've done for 20 years. My tongue still has the impact dents from that effort to this day.

Needless to say, no such change is forthcoming. But it was worth it to see the director, 4 producers, and the sound guys all yank their headsets off during a take about 10:15 Friday morning, when the first pair of F-15s did a pattern fly-by and break coming in from wherever at full military power prior to slowing for the approach and landing. I'm pretty sure several eyeballs nearly popped.

Then the pissing and moaning started. Followed, at random 15-20  minute intervals for the next 6 hours, by all the other military jets zooming in to get spotted and settled in on the aircraft apron for the weekend.

And then the same thing in reverse on Monday.

For two days, the director basically just looked up at the ceiling, waved vaguely at the actors, and told them to do "Whatever...", as he watched his schedule and shooting budget go to crap.

So if you ever, when reading about Hollywood, or watching what issues therefrom, have Charlton Heston moments (as I and many others have had), wherein in your best Heston voice, you observe presciently Planet Of The Apes-like "If this is the best they've got, in six months we could be running the place", rest assured you're absolutely correct.