Monday, March 31, 2014

Flick Pick: Crocodile Dundee II

Crocodile Dundee II
(Paramount, 1988)

Opening with Mick Dundee fishing in NY harbor with Dupont spinners, the sequel lives up to the original, despite critics doing what they do best, which is crapping on success.
Turning in $240M on a $14M budget, Paul Hogan got the last laugh.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Flick Pick: Crocodile Dundee

Crocodile Dundee
(Paramount, 1986)

With one step, Paul Hogan went from Australian TV star best known in America for a tourist ad where he'd promised to "put another shrimp on the barbee" for us, to laid-back comedy action hero superstar, and this movie was the step. His instincts about this story were absolutely perfect, and this movie went to number one everywhere, and in the same release year as Top Gun, gave Paramount a very comfortable feeling around the wallet. If nothing else, he tapped into the American sensibility that given the choice, most of us would trade away New York City for Oz in a heartbeat.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Flick Pick: The Goonies

The Goonies
(Warner Bros., 1985)

Steven Spielberg/Chris Columbus/Richard Donner's (there's three aces for you) well-woven little gem of a flick about a PNW treasure hunt gone gloriously right. You can thank Donner's experience directing all those episodes of "Danger Island" on The Banana Splits Show in the '70s for what you get here, with a much better budget. The only possible way this could have been better would be if the writers had been clairvoyant, and One-Eyed Willie turns out to have actually been Barbossa or Captain Jack Sparrow.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

After spending some quality time under my desk, while my cat tried to climb up my butt, I'm having a few flashbacks to this little soiree . It sucked ass then, and one 5.1 and 9 significant, sharp, aftershocks later (and a change of undershorts), from about 2-3 miles to the epicenter, it really, really sucks ass now. 
The problem with little earthquakes after going through a big one, is you can no longer count on the little ones to stay little, or conveniently stop after a few seconds. And this close, with a shallow epicenter, everything doesn't sway. It rattles and booms like a retarded driver's ed student who keeps backing into your house randomly at 5-10 miles an hour.

Worse was the 3.6 about 70 minutes before the 5.1 was pretty mean, but over in seconds. Which is tres bitchin', until you find out it was just a foreshock to the 5.1 that put me under the desk listening to the place get its ass kicked (oh, look, there goes the backup PC's CRT flying by...) until it stops. And you start wondering if that is the foreshock to something another 2 points higher on the scale (which, if you live on stable ground, is the rough equivalent of a Cat III-V hurricane, except delivered in about a minute and change).

So I have most of the preps I'd druther have (other than living in the middle of a stable tectonic plate), but I'm extremely over the "house and stuff in the house could fall on me in my sleep" BS. So I probably won't sleep much tonight, and if I do, it'll be fully dressed, boots on but loosened, B.O.B. in the truck, and cursing every snap, crackle, and pop until they stop happening some days hence.

All this while every fire truck, ambulance, and police helicopter are out on patrol doing canned surveys for damage to the dams, bridges, and overpasses (10 major interstates for 90 miles around with an overpass about every 1/4 mile...) for the next few hours.

May I state for the record, "Fuck fuck fucking fuckitty fuck!"

And this was a minor localized event, with the walls and windows intact, and the power and water still working fine.

50/50 if I survive to the back end of another monstrous big one, I'll stop driving when I hit Chesapeake Bay, and maybe take a short vacation thereabouts before coming back here. You only get so many blood pressure points in one lifetime.

Song Of the Day: AC/DC You Shook Me All Night Long

Flick Pick: Throw Momma From The Train

Throw Momma From The Train
(Orion ,1987)

Danny DeVito's comedy masterpiece starring Billy Crystal, himself, and Anne Ramsey as a force of nature in her Oscar-nominated role.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flick Pick: Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
(Columbia, 1964)

Stanley Kubrick's black-humored satirical tour-de-force with Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Peter Sellers, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens riding a nuke right to detonation, and introducing to film a baby-faced youngster named James Earl Jones.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Flick Pick: The Wizard Of Oz

The Wizard Of Oz
(MGM, 1939)

If you don't know this movie without being told about it, I don't want to know you.
While mediocre in original release, barely breaking even for its $2.7M budget, it was properly recognized by being one of the ten films nominated for Best Picture in 1939 (five of which continue to shine, and three of which make my list here). Won two Oscars for music, including Best Original Song for "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", timelessly and flawlessly sung by Louis B. Mayer's third choice for her role, a young studio protégé suddenly known for all time worldwide as Judy Garland, then all of sixteen years of age. It was once classified as a "cult favorite", until television ratings and DVD/BD sales indicated that would require "cult" to be re-defined as "nearly every living American born after 1930". It is now consistently rated at one of the Top Ten Movies Of All Time on list after list, and has passed beyond mere film to a touchstone of American culture, and rightly so.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Flick Pick: The African Queen

The African Queen
(United Artists, 1951)

John Huston's classic film of the C.S. Forester story, with Katharine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart in his Best Actor winning role. Made for $1M back when that was a lot of money, and so iconic it even inspired Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Flick Pick: Fight Club

Fight Club
(20th Century Fox, 1999)

Chuck Palahniuk's bleeding edge exploration of schizophrenia as sanity, and anarchy as creation, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as each other, with Helena Bonhma Carter the sole relief to a two-hour-plus testosterone-fueled mayhem fest. The clarity of Brad Pitt's alter ego is highlighted by the self-destruction of the Edward Norton host, in an instruction manual of Sticking It To The Man. Even if you hate this movie, it's like watching a train wreck you can't look away from. And then...
oh crap, we're not supposed to talk about Fight Club.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Flick Pick: Cleopatra

(20th Century Fox, 1963)

The Film That (Almost) Bankrupted Fox, the budget ballooned from $2M to $44M, and still turned a profit, even in 1963 with the average movie tickets going for 85 cents or so. Studio accounting still reported it as a loss, apparently money earned overseas not actually counting as income when one is talking to the IRS. (You'll see this material again in motion picture finance.)
Monstrously lavish beyond belief, this is unquestionably the biggest display of eye candy in movie history, back when they couldn't just whisk it in with a mouse and keyboard. Notably, they did it twice, wasting the first $5M when they built it in England, and then threw it all out to move to Rome for the production that made it to the screen.
Elizabeth Taylor, seen before her late-life blotation and self-caricature, is the diva beauty of legend so richly displayed in this epic. The movie is really two films, the first with Rex Harrison (fantastic as Julius Caesar), and the latter with Richard Burton as a splendid Mark Anthony. In fact, replacement director Joseph Mankiewicz begged Fox to split the movie (originally cut by him as a 6-hour monster) into two successive films, but Fox, fearing the loss of PR buzz over the Burton-Taylor scandalous tryst, went with cutting it to a single flick of a mere 4 hours and 8 minutes.

It took another decade for people like Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg to help the studios figure out the point of building sequelization and franchise properties as a movie-making technique and studio enriching plan, and failure to learn early nearly killed them. If they'd learned the lesson earlier, we might have gotten more installments on this level of production value and spectacle, and the former MGM backlot wouldn't be an industrial park in Culver City.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Flick Pick: The Agony and The Ecstasy

The Agony and The Ecstasy
(20th Century Fox, 1965)

Superb adaptation of Irving Stone's novel, pitting titanic performances of Charlton Heston's Michaelangelo Buanorroti against Rex Harrison's Pope Julius II, over the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Beautifully and stunningly shot when Hollywood films still paid homage to religion rather than open contempt (Noah, I'm looking at you) and on the most recent versions of this work, including a pre-movie featurette on the actual miraculous work of art that is the centerpiece of the film, and an inspiration to millions for centuries since it was first created. Simply magnificent and inspiring throughout.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Once Upon A Time, This Is No Sh*t

The title is the official format for opening fairytales from civilians or the military, respectively.

You may perhaps remember the LAX airport shooting of last November, or my blog post on the subject when it happened.

Well, as the old saw goes, every project has several stages:
  1. Enthusiasm,
  2. Disillusionment,
  3. Panic and hysteria,
  4. Search for the guilty,
  5. Punishment of the innocent, and
  6. Praise and honor for the nonparticipants.

Under the heading of the last three stages, here is the fairytale from the City of Los Angeles, via their airport-running morons minions.

It's fascinating, even breathtaking, in the lengths to which they go to repeat fantasy despite the evidence of everyone's lying eyes, and miss the forest in order to focus on pruning a ficus tree in a clay pot.

For example, the report notes that the gunman entered the terminal area at 9:18, they began receiving shooting reports at 9:20, and by 9:25, the gunman was shot, down and in custody.

Once again, kudos to the LA Airport police for exemplary bravery and superb marksmanship, sparing the taxpayers further bloodshed, or even the necessity for a lengthy trial by their efforts.

But then, in a flight of fantasy usually reserved for serious writers of science fiction, the city goes on to say

"Airport Operations focused on passenger assistance and mass care for the 4,500 passengers who self-evacuated from Terminals 1, 2. and 3, and the more than 20,000 passengers who were sheltered in place on aircraft, and in terminals."

Much as the SS focused on assistance and mass care for the millions of Jews and such they "sheltered in place" in locations like Treblinka, Auschwitz, and the Warsaw Ghetto.

The report notes that operations were disrupted for days over an incident that was over in seven minutes. Then completely glosses over the fact that they interred tens of thousands of people needlessly from 9:30AM till nearly the time darkness fell without the slightest bit of information or assistance whatsoever, and left thousands more people, including children, pregnant women, and elderly passengers with wheelchairs and walkers, to fend for themselves, and trek miles and miles to reach safety, and access to shelter, water, and/or transport to parts of the city unaffected by their monumental civic stupidity on a biblical scale.

The one incontrovertible fact, totally ignored by the report, is that they provided somewhere between zero and NO passenger assistance or mass care for hours and hours and hours, and only let the Red Cross set up shelters miles away and distribute a pitifully small amount of water and blankets on site after it was clear to everyone but airport management that shelters wouldn't be necessary for the overwhelming bulk of those affected, due to them having successfully escaped the clutches of such institutional incompetence by fleeing on foot whenever able and as fast as humanly possible, lest they be "helped" any further that day.

So, other than glossing over that petty set of inconveniences and massive organizational and institutional incompetence, the report is fairly accurate in noting that after 9:25, they didn't do anything else right that day, or any day before or since, to include having no actual coherent plan for, y'know, actual emergencies, focusing their efforts on spending the millions of homeland security dollars on dealing with the day-to-day operations, while sort of completely neglecting any actual preparations sufficient to deal with even a lone gunman killed within minutes, thus dooming the city and over 1500 passenger flights to days of delays and flight cancellations and subjecting the airlines and their customers to millions and millions of dollars of lost revenue and delayed cargo shipments as well.

Having these buffoons self-critique their performance is a little like having clowns rate their own big top circus performance, if you like that sort of thing. I could go on, but their career-best performance of Assclownery On Parade can best be summed up by the line at the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark:
"Top. Men."

If so many as two active shooters descended on LAX on the same day, with rather more competence at terrorism that the sad little panda so well-ventilated on this recent outing, Los Angeles would probably be best served by simply shutting the airport down until the following summer, rather than straining the mental and managerial capabilities of city airport management, DHS, TSA, or the dozens of other incompetent levels of official stupidity we foolishly assign responsibility, to oversee the safety of people brighter than they are.

Sleep tight, America.

And remember, in any incident, the thing to do is GTFO as quickly as possible, because official assclownery is the only thing more comprehensively malicious than terrorist malice to get you killed in any incident they respond to, 110 times out of 100.

Flick Pick: My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady
(Warner Bros., 1964)

Absolutely spectacular George Cukor film version of Lerner & Loewe's Broadway musical, itself a musical version of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Audrey Hepburn shines in the role made famous by Julie Andrews; Andrews having been passed over because Jack Warner wasn't convinced she had the necessary screen presence for the role was busy making Mary Poppins down the street at Disney Studios, for which performance she won Best Actress.
My Fair Lady, meanwhile, came off beautifully, raked in returns at the box office, garnering eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor to Rex Harrison in a perfectly marvelous performance as Professor Higgins.
As proof that Hollywood currently can do nothing but generate an endless procession of unimaginative punchbowl turds, persistent halting efforts indicate that some bunch of idiots wishes to remake this classic, with an equally talentless procession of names tied to the project, the luckier of which will jump ship before going down with it.
This version is the movie for the ages, and remaking it would be nothing if not an attempt to reproduce the Mona Lisa by fingerpainting a by-the-numbers take-home edition.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Flick Pick: Around The World In 80 Days

Around The World In 80 Days
(UA, 1956)

Michael Todd's giant travelogue comedy, based on the Jules Verne novel, starring the incomparable David Niven, Chaplinesque latin comic actor Cantinflas, a barely post-teenage Shirley MacLaine in her third film, and cameos by practically every star in Hollywood. A tremendous critical and financial success, epic in scope and running length, universal in appeal, and recipient of five Oscars, including Best Picture.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Flick Pick: Aladdin

(Disney, 1992)

Developed from ideas pitched to Disney by lyricist Howard Ashman, and the last animated feature he fully worked on, then re-written by the team that later spun out Pirates Of The Caribbean, this was the biggest film of the year, starring a good story, great music, and Robin Williams doing a one-man extravaganza of 52 characters, which Disney animators then painted into existence.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Flick Pick: Always

(Universal, 1989)

A Guy Named Joe was a longtime favorite of both director Steven Spielberg and lead Richard Dreyfuss, discovered mutually as they worked together on Jaws fifteen years earlier, and they both wanted to remake it. What makes Spielberg a legendary director is that even on relatively modest non-blockbuster works like this, he gets things absolutely right. Casting Holly Hunter and John Goodman were masterstrokes, Brad Johnson plays his part to perfection, a bit part with Roberts Blossom was inspired, and Audrey Hepburn's cameo in her last film role was the cherry on top of this perfect little romantic dramedy. All the details are done to perfection, none of them get in the way of the story, and Spielberg's instincts in doing this film are the epitome of expert filmmaking. As a rule, I'm not a fan of remakes, but I make the occasional exception when the new surpasses the old. As in this case. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Flick Pick: The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man
(Republic, 1952)

A film that almost didn't get made, and yet has gone on to become a perennial favorite and screen classic. Turned down for production by every studio in Hollywood, John Ford was only able to get financing for it from Republic after agreeing to bring stars John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara and make them a cavalry western first (Rio Grande). This film is thus the second pairing of the two, and one for the ages. Beautifully shot in Technicolor on location in Ireland, the film was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture (the only Republic film ever to hold that distinction) and Best Supporting Actor for Victor McLaglen's larger-than-life screen performance here; it won two, for Best Color Cinematography, and for an all-time record-setting fourth Best Director honor, to John Ford. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flick Pick: Back to the Future III

Back To The Future III
(Universal, 1990)

Filmed consecutively with part II, the concluding piece of the series. A solid film, combining western, sci-fi, and romantic comedy, and with Christopher Lloyd and his screen interest Mary Steenburgen doing most of the heavy lifting, with all the loose ends neatly tied up at the conclusion of the film. Overall, the series was nominated for five Oscars and won one, with combined production costs of $99M, and a worldwide gross of $957M. And we never get tired of seeing Tom Wilson (a darn good sport and solid stand-up comedian and painter these days) end up with a mouthful of horse dung. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Flick Pick: Back To The Future II

Back To The Future II
(Universal, 1989)

Middle film in the series, still as fun to watch as the original, and pure entertainment.
Like all bridge films, you have to enjoy the journey, without expecting anything but getting form one end to the other without too many obnoxious delays. The loss of Claudia Wells and Crispin Glover from the original were unfortunate, but well-handled, and proof that you can't expect actors to always be smart enough to say "yes" to a slam dunk, any more than they say "no" to obvious utter garbage.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flick Pick: Back To The Future

Back To The Future
(Universal, 1985)

Wonderful Swiss Army knife movie: a sci-fi/action/adventure/comedy/romance, that does absolutely everything right, from the story to the casting to the score. Rewarded by great critical reviews, 11 weeks as number one at the box office from the 4th of July onwards, four Academy Award nominations and one Oscar, it became one of the most iconic movies of the last half-century.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Flick Pick: The Sure Thing

The Sure Thing
(Embassy, 1985)

Rob Reiner's second directorial effort, cementing his previously unimagined talents, and a classic romantic comedy (not just some teen movie), showcasing the phenomenal and still-untapped genius of John Cusack, all of 16 years old when this film was made. Co-stars Daphne Zuniga, who never shone as brightly again as she did in this film.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Flick Pick: Trading Places

Trading Places
(Paramount, 1983)

Another brilliant John Landis comedy done to perfection by Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and a truly inspired supporting cast. Cinematic proof that living well is the best revenge.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Flick Pick: Glory

(Tri-Star, 1989)

The moving and well-done story of the Massachussetts 54th Infantry, the first black troops mustered to serve for the Union in the Civil War. Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes are put through their paces in dramatic roles, and surpassing performances by Andre Braugher, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington, in the role that won him Best Supporting Actor, move this piece into the ranks of great American war films.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Flick Pick: Fiddler On The Roof

Fiddler On The Roof
(United Artists, 1971)

Topol and co. in the cinema version of the hit Broadway play, shot beautifully on location in then-Yugoslavia, and well-directed by master storyteller Norman Jewison (who, contrary to assumptions because of his name, is in fact a Presbyterian from Canada), who also has the rare distinction of being nominated for Oscars for both directing and/or producing some 7 times, and receiving not a one. No less than 4 of his works are or will be on this list by the time it concludes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flick Pick: Bullitt

(Warner Bros., 1968)

This movie left skidmarks on the prior attempts at the crime chase/action genre, including the original and still greatest car chase ever filmed, featuring Steve McQueen as the absolute king of cool, and one of the toughest anti-hero cops in cinematic history, who handles fast cars, beautiful women, and untangles a mob hit, while firing only three rounds in the entire movie, and only a few more words. There is more testosterone packed into this movie than can be found in entire Ivy-league colleges, most days.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Flick Pick: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
(Buena Vista, 1988)

Amazing blend of animation and live actions, uniting Bugs Bunny and Mickie Mouse onscreen for the first time ever, featuring Mel Blanc in one of his last big screen performances of his beloved voice characterizations, reviving animation as a medium, launching an entire addition to Disney's theme parks, and garnering 4 Oscars and several hundred million dollars in box office receipts.
The movie brought Bob Hoskins long overdue screen recognition, made Kathleen Turner's uncreditted role as Jessica Rabbit the height of sensuality, and combined Disney animation, Spielberg production, top actors, and a great story into a marvelous and unstoppable force of nature.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Flick Pick: Hopscotch

(Avco Embassy, 1980)

Low-key and high-value spy comedy, with Walter Matthau as the spy on the outs writing a tell-all, Glenda Jackson as his straightman love interest, Sam Waterston as his protégé trying to stop him, and Ned Beatty as the epitome of every pompous bureaucrat deserving comeuppance, which Matthau's Miles Kendig delivers with irony and aplomb. That the score is mostly Mozart and/or opera, chosen to no small degree by Matthau himself, is an added bonus. Definitely a little gem of a movie.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Flick Pick: The Alamo

The Alamo
(United Artists, 1960)

More recent attempts at revisionist filmmaking about this event are best left unmentioned.
This was the most personal project for producer/director/writer John Wayne, who hadn't intended to star in it, but was forced to in order to secure financing. A screen epic and Academy Award-winner (Best Sound), most efforts to downgrade it, then and now, rest on distaste for Wayne's politics, rather than any failings of the film itself. The final battle scene is suitably grand. The sets were meticulously built to recreate a 3/4-sized version of the historical site brick by adobe brick, and the film accurately represents actual events in the larger scope, while taking a bare few cinematic liberties with individual characters. Not least of these is that 189 Texans did in fact resist 13 days of siege and fight off two attack waves before being defeated and slaughtered in detail by the third wave, of some 2000 soldiers under General Santa Anna, 178 years ago today. John Wayne is John Wayne, and Laurence Harvey is excellent as Travis. In one memorable scene turning down the order to surrender, he forgot that cannons recoil, and it rolled over his foot, fracturing it. He held back any reaction until after Wayne yelled "Cut!", demonstrating Harvey was just as hard and disciplined in real life as an actor as the man he was portraying.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Flick Pick: Star Trek

Star Trek
(Paramount, 2009)

The biggest box office of the entire franchise, a radically new imagining of familiar characters, the first film in the series to win an Oscar, and the pivotal moment in sci-fi when space got loud.
Not a sequel of Roddenberry's universe, but an epic and brilliant re-imagining of the old characters played by new cast members, this film solved problems with increasing actors' salaries by killing off everyone except Spock (Prime).
Not so much an action movie as a drama movie with bursts of action, and absolutely more primal at every level, from lens flares to fist fights.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Flick Pick: Star Trek - First Contact

Star Trek - First Contact
(Paramount, 1996)

Best iteration of the film series with the stars of ST:TNG, eighth film overall, and helped in no small part by a really solid story, with the Borg as antagonists, and James Cromwell's quirky and scene-stealing portrayal of a living legend as a protagonist.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Flick Pick: Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home
(Paramount, 1986)

Another blockbuster, cementing the tradition that roughly every other outing in the series doesn't suck, this one brought the story begun in Wrath Of Khan home, metaphorically, and literally, to present-day San Francisco. The crew of the 23rd century Enterprise interacting with 20th century San Franciscans are some of the best in the movie(s).
Well made, coherent, and fun to watch, Nimoy brought it in under budget, and it made quite a financial pile for the studio, despite cast salaries beginning to reflect their worth to the franchise (which, offscreen, directly contributed to Paramount rebooting the TV series with new, relatively unknown, and undeniably less costly actors).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Flick Pick: Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan

Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan
(Paramount, 1982)

After thoroughly botching the first Star Trek film, made over a decade after the series' TV cancellation, Paramount bounced back with this sequel, made for a quarter the budget of the first film, and roughly 50 times better. Not least of which for having a suitably epic villain, played by consummate professional actor Ricardo Montalban, lifted directly from the episode in the series he'd played originally. The focus on an actual coherent plot let the translation of the TV series to film hit its stride, and in this cinematic episode, secured the promise of future installments with equally impressive performances on the screen and at the box office. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Flick Pick: Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet
(MGM, 1956)

One of the granddaddy films of great sci-fi, with Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen in a straight-up role, the stunningly beautiful and talented Anne Francis at all of 25, and the iconic Robbie The Robot, precursor of every good cinematic robot afterwards. Nominated for an Academy Award for visual effects, but just as conspicuously, in the hallmark of good science fiction, requiring the audience to use their minds as much as to oogle the screen magic.