Tag Archives: coen brothers

London: ground zero for the apocalypse! Movies viewed

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967) was the third film adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s TV scientist Quatermass; happily where the first two films starred a very miscast Brian Donlevy as the tart-tongued, crotchety rocket expert, this cast Andrew Keir, a much better choice. Just as Quatermass is feuding with the Army officer (Julian Glover) appointed to militarize space research, they’re both distracted by a strange unexploded bomb found in the London Underground. Only it turns out to be a rocket, and the long-dead occupants weren’t human … and they wield a power that may not be dead yet. This is a first-rate film, though with a couple of flaws (yes, Quatermass is brilliant, but I can’t see how he figures out so much about Martian society); the cast includes James Donald as another scientist and Barbara Shelley as his assistant. Originally released in the US as Five Million Years to Earth. “So that’s your big theory — that we owe our human condition to the intervention of insects?”

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961) has burned-out, divorced reporter Edward Judd trying to get the government to explain why the weather has been so freaky lately. As the government becomes more and more cagey while the weather gets freakier and freakier, he begins to suspect something big’s going on, and starts returning to life — but surely science reporter Leo McKern can’t be right that twin nuclear blasts have disrupted the Earth’s rotation … can he? This is a first-rate newspaper movie (as I’ve mentioned before they manage to get the perfect balance of SF and real world elements) which might double-bill well with All the President’s Men for another pair of reporters cracking government secrets. However Judd’s pursuit of government office girl Janet Munro is really pushy by today’s standards. “What is the nutation of the Earth?”

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) is the new Coen Brothers film (direct to Netflix which says a lot about streaming’s clout), a Western anthology film in which a singing cowboy meets a rival, a hanged man learns he doesn’t get a do-over and stagecoach passengers debate ethics. Unfortunately this felt like A Serious Man in that the point is mostly “life is shit and then you die” (and without the absurd humor that infects the similarly pessimistic Burn After Reading) which isn’t that good a point. In the singing cowboy yarn, for instance, it shows him effortlessly defeating every foe (while singing) until he goes up against a gunfighter who kills him. That’s pretty feeble. “I challenge your credentials, madam, for assessing human worth.”

THE NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS (1935) is based on one of Thorne Smith’s novels (he’s best known now as the author of Topper) in which an eccentric scientist uses a stone-to-flesh (and vice versa) ray to animate statues of the Olympians and introduce them to modern life. This movie version stars Alan Mowbray as the inventor but devotes most of its screen time to his obnoxious screwball family rather than the Olympians running wild — and that’s just a hallucination (unusually the film telegraphs this in advance instead of revealing it later). Amusing enough though. “But I came here to be alone — that’s what being a fugitive means!”

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies

Neo-noir drama, Person of Interest and other films and TV watched (#SFWApro)

As I’ve already caught Hail Caesar, watching INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIES (2013) wraps up my Coen Brothers perusing for the time being, and unfortunately not on a high note. Like the Coens’ A Serious Man and Barton Fink, this takes what one of my film books describes as a basic noir concept — the universe suddenly decides to wreck your life for no reason at all — and applies it to a non-crime film. Oscar Isaac plays the eponymous surly folk singer in the early 1960s dealing with professional rejection, a lack of cash, a runaway cat and hitching a ride with a guy who gets hauled in by the cops. As I said of A Serious Man, this is just a string of random bad-luck events with no real plot, and Davies is too unlikable to care (though I agree with several critics his actions are mostly those of a decent guy).  Justin Timberlake plays half of a folk-singing duo, F. Murray Abraham runs a record label and John Goodman is an ill-fated jazz man. Might double-bill well with Next Stop, Greenwich Village with its more upbeat portrayal of struggling Big Apple creative types. “I’m not hearing any money in that.”

Just as Woody Allen’s Scoop harkened back to 1930s comedies, so Woody Allen’s MATCH POINT (2006) seems to reflect 1960s social dramas such as Room at the Top with its story of a tennis pro marrying into a wealthy family via smitten Emily Mortimer, then risking his success on an affair with in-law Scarlett Johannson. This is as plodding and dull as Crimes and Misdemeanors. “Did anyone ever tell you you have very sensual lips?”

RUMOR HAS IT (2005) is the best film of the week, a slight but pleasant comedy in which Jennifer Aniston learns her family’s sordid past was the inspiration for The Graduate, hunts down the Benjamin Braddock character (Kevin Costner) in the belief he’s her father, and upon learning he isn’t winds up becoming the third generation of women to fall for him. Mark Ruffalo plays Aniston’s bland fiancee, Shirley Maclaine plays Mrs. Robinson and Mena Suvari is Aniston’s bubbly sister. “Life should be a little nuts—otherwise it’s just a bunch of Thursdays.”

MV5BMjhkNzU3ZDktNmI2Zi00YzUwLWFhMzQtOGE1OTJjMzFjY2U5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjE5MjEyNjM@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_After watching the pilot of FANTASTIC JOURNEY (1977) for Now and Then We Time Travel I kept watching the story of a handful of travelers from different eras struggling through the Bermuda Triangle to find a path back to the present (or for Jared Martin’s Varian, the 23rd century). Rewatching this I can see why I liked it in my teens—the writers do a good job with pulp staples involving mad conquerors, utopian civilizations,  sorcerers, etc.—but also why it lasted less than a dozen episodes. The acting is bland (except for Roddy McDowell as cynical scientist Willoway) and the characters except Varian have little besides looks to distinguish them. No great loss to American TV that it didn’t last.

PERSON OF INTEREST on the other hand, I’ll miss greatly, as it wrapped up the final season this year. The cast members continued operating in the shadow of the all-powerful AI Samaritan which we learn was attempting to steer human history in the direction it believed we needed to go. Solid drama, though I can see why a number of fans were angry that Root (Amy Acker) joined the list of dead lesbians who populated TV this year (when I thought most of the heroes would wind up dead it didn’t seem significant, but as the body count turned out to be low …). I still enjoyed the season though.


Filed under Movies, TV

Documentaries, cowboys and super-hero doctors: films and TV (#SFWApro)

True Grit - Hailee SteinfeldTRUE GRIT (2010) is the Coen Brothers’ remake of the John Wayne classic with Jeff Bridges as the grizzled drunk Rooster Cogburn, Hailee Steinfeld as the stubbornly determined girl who recruits Rooster to catch her father’s killer (Josh Brolin) and Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger hunting Brolin for unrelated crimes (all rights to poster with current holder). This is a remarkably straight Western compared to what I’d expect from the Coens, and overall very good. Bridges, of course, has the advantage that not being Wayne, he can disappear into the part in a way Wayne never could, though I never felt the same Bond between him and Mattie that I did with the original. Steinfeld is awesome, though I find the ending rather flat, with the adult Mackie showing none of the presence of her younger self. Overall a winner, though. “If they wanted to be buried, they should have died in the summer.”

GO FOR SISTERS (2013) is John Sayles most recent film (until his next, To Save the Man comes out), wherein Lisa Gay Harden and her estranged Dioscuri (“Back in high school folks said we were so close, we could go for sisters.”) must reunite to save Harden’s adult son after his Mysterious Disappearance south of the border. This is much closer to a crime drama than Sayles’ more usual slice-of-life approach, and while the actors held my attention, the quest to find the vanished son meanders too much to work. Edward James Olmos plays a retired cop and Hector Elizondo is his south-of-the-border buddy. “That officer is using the latest in audio technology.”

GOOD OL’ FRIEDA (2013) is a documentary about Frieda Kelly, who after finding herself an early fan of the Beatles when they were just a local Liverpool band became their secretary and organizer/manager of their fan club, all of which proved much more overwhelming when the band went viral (“The postman told me I had 200 letters—in a few weeks it was two thousand.”). Nothing deep, but fun as an Eyewitness to History story. “The smell was a mixture of disinfectant, rotting fruit and sweat, all rolled into one.”

DIRTY WARS (2013) is a good documentary about our ongoing military activity in the Middle East, our determination to keep waging war even after taking out bin Laden (the auteur here admits he thought that would end the war on terror) and our complete lack of concern about not only due process but whether the people we target are even on the enemy’s side. Effective, serious stuff, though nothing radically new to me. “We have built this amazing hammer—for the rest of my life, for the rest of this generation, we will be searching for the nail.”

I watched the first two episodes of MIGHTY MED, a comedy in which two tweens stumble into the eponymous secret hospital for super-heroes and wind up as volunteers due to their knowledge of comic-book trivia (though why they’d know it better than the heroes isn’t explained). Not a bad idea but the Disney kid-sitcom formula doesn’t work for me (of course I’m hardly the target audience). “We chronicle our adventures and sell them as comic books to finance this hospital, the League of Heroes and the Bowling League of Heroes!”

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, TV

Calvin & Hobbes, religious epics & time travel: movies I’ve watched (#SFWApro)

I assumed WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (2013) was a documentary about Jewish comedians, but instead it’s a Talking Heads film with an interviewer asking various comics and comedy writers what makes Jews so funny, whether they are, in fact, all that funny, and whether they were funnier back in the days of Henny Youngman. This had its moments, but the heads weren’t offering enough interesting talk for me. “So he turns and yells at me ‘Tunic, let’s get going.’”

DEAR MR. WATTERSON (2013) is much a better, looking back at the Calvin and Hobbes strip, its fans and its notoriously publicity-shy creator. Like Back in Time this has generic quality when discussing the strip’s impact on readers and other cartoonists (which is not to say it doesn’t deserve the admiration, it certainly does) but gets more interesting when discussing Watterson’s Sunday pages as a throw-back to an earlier generation of strips, the creator’s point-blank refusal to allow any merchandising, and other creators’ mixed reactions. Several interviewees are pleasantly surprised that the no-merchandising decision doesn’t appear to affect the strip’s continued success (“I thought it would end up like Krazy Kat or Pogo, a strip you mention with reverence but nobody reads.”). And as with so many other fields, there’s an agreement the changing media landscape means it’s unlikely we’ll see hit of that magnitude again (I’m inclined to agree hopscotching to different websites isn’t as easy as when the strips were all gathered together in one place, at a decent size). All rights to image with current holder. “If he licensed Hobbes dolls, it would settle once and for all whether Hobbes is real or a stuffed toy—there he is, a stuffed toy.”
HAIL, CAESAR! (2016) is the Coen Brothers film starring Josh Brolin as a fictionalized version of fixer Eddie Mannix, alongside George Clooney as the nitwit star of the eponymous religious epic, kidnapped and converted by Communist screenwriters (“Doug wrote All the Way to Uruguay but did he see a penny of the profits?”). This is such a movie-lover’s movie I was surprised TYG liked it too, but she did; cast includes Channing Tatum as a Commie homosexual (the ultimate enemy of American decency!), Tilda Swinton as twin gossip columnists, Frances McDormand as a film editor, Scarlett Johansson as a star with an inconvenient pregnancy and Ralph Fiennes as a director. “That’s exactly what happened to me when I went to Reno with Danny Kaye and he asked me to shave his back!”
THE VISITORS 2—THE CORRIDORS OF TIME (1998) has Jean Reno discover that Christian Clavier’s squire trading places with his descendant has disrupted the time stream catastrophically, forcing everyone to jump back and forth through the ages to get things sorted out. This is more frantic than the first film for much lower returns. “Virgin boy, be vigorous with your beloved on your wedding night.”


Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel

Movies, TV, books, all in one post! (#SFWApro)

In A SERIOUS MAN (2009) the Coen brothers draw on their Midwestern childhood for the story of a Jewish physicist coping with a pot-smoking tween son, a wife who wants a divorce to marry the Other Man, his brother’s gambling habit, having to pay for the Other Man’s funeral, and rabbis giving incomprehensible life lessons (“Let me tell you about the goy’s teeth.”). Departs from their usual style though the protagonist’s endless hard knocks is very reminiscent of the neo-noir they love so much—except that in noir, there’s at least some reason for what happens (you made a bad decision, someone picked you as a fall guy, etc.). Here, it’s just random crappy luck, making this as shallow as Crimes and Misdemeanors — life sucks, bad things happen to good people, that’s about it. “Look at the parking lot—just look at it.”

BRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2004) is a Bollywood version of Jane Austen in which Darcy is an Indian-American businessman whose marked lack of affection for the motherland is just one more detail that annoys his prospective Indian sweetie. This worked for me better than most Bollywood (possibly because it’s much closer to an American musical in style) but not enough to actually like it—the big problem is that Darcy comes off as too nice a guy, despite his flaws, to have the requisite arrogance. With Marsha Mason and Alexis Bledel as Darcy’s family back in the states. “Only you could say you love me yet insult me in the same breath.”

The anime TV series A GOOD LIBRARIAN LIKE A GOOD SHEPHERD caught my attention, but it turns out it’s about seeing the future, not time-travel: the plot involves a magic library in which everyone’s future is written down in a book, so the chosen librarians can read the book “shepherd” people away from problems. Even at that level it doesn’t work for me—too much Japanese high-school life (much like In Search of the Lost Future)and way too many shots of teenage girls in extremely short school-uniform skirts.

DEJA VU was a Taiwanese drama in which a woman suicidal from the death of her husband gets the chance to go back in time and prevent his death by preventing them ever meeting. But after her life takes a different path, she meets him again … I cherry picked the first two episodes and then the last one, and didn’t miss much, though the statement they’ve been ripped apart in multiple past lives was interesting (not enough to go back and watch more, though). And it’s oddly amusing that Chinese TV uses the same stereotypes of Cryptic Chinese Mystics as a lot of American films—though of course, it’s balanced out by this series having lots of non-stereotypical roles (Chinese ballet dancer, businessman, office worker, sales people …) “Here are photos of five children—can you guess which one was Hai Lin when she was young?”


the-house-on-the-borderland+hodgsonTHE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (cover by Ed Emshwiller, all rights to current holder) has two guys on a fishing holiday in rural Ireland discover the ruins of a creepy old house over a strange pit, and then a manuscript written by the final occupant, telling of out-of-body trips, mysterious attacks by beastmen and finally witnessing the doom of the Earth itself … A fine job, and one Lovecraft greatly admired (it’s easy to see the influence on “Color Out of Space,”).

ENGRAVED ON THE EYE is a collection of Saladin Ahmed’s short stories, mostly fantasy and mostly very good (the super-villain yarn “Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions” is a pointless exercise). One story is a prequel of sorts to Ahmed’s novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, another has an Arab physician helping out a ghul, while in others a dervish faces a turning point, a Muslim actor endures the slings and arrows of getting lousy movie parts and a Western bounty hunter realizes he should have listened to his Muslim mentor.


Filed under Movies, Reading, TV

Movies that aren’t time travel, television that is (#SFWApro)

The only time travel film I got to this week was (shudder) MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987)—I’ve watched it before for the book, but I must have given up in despair too soon, as I missed the last minute bit of time travel at the end. So this qualifies for the appendix, but lord, it’s dreadful.

THE DRAGON PEARL (2011) is a standard kidvid in which the tween protagonists must recover a magic McGuffin that will allow the Last Chinese Dragon to return home. I thought this might involve an actual time trip, but no.

BURN AFTER READING (2008) is the Coen Brothers’ black comedy in which CIA analyst Jon Malkovich’s decision to quit and write his memoirs has disastrous fall-out for faithless wife Tilda Swinton, her lover George Clooney, and health-club staffers Brad Pitts and Frances McDormand. With very little tinkering, this could be another noir from the Coens, but as is, extremely funny. Nice to have time to watch their films again. “Hollywood would laugh at me—I have very limited breasts.”

Pal-Joey-poster1PAL JOEY (1957) adapts the John O’Hara/Rodgers and Hart stage musical that gave Gene Kelly his big break. Frank Sinatra takes over the role of Joey here, a weaselly womanizer who discovers becoming kept man to widow Rita Hayworth guarantees him financing for his own night club, if only he can get past his feelings for showgirl Kim Novak. Sinatra is terrific here, Hayworth is good and there are lots of Rodgers and Hart classics (“My Funny Valentine” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” are probably the best known); Novak, however, is way too bland to be serious competition. While this keeps Joey’s unscrupulous side it unsurprisingly softens the cynical ending for a more conventional finish. Not a classic in my book but worth watching (all rights to poster with current holder). “When Joey told you to keep his clothes on, it was the greatest love scene in his career.”

Now, the TV—MAN DOG is a six-part BBC miniseries from British author Peter Dickinson in which three teens discover refugees from a dystopian future hiding out near their house to complete some kind of weapon—and of course, the future’s secret police are on their trail … unfortunately there’s only one episode available online and I can’t find much about the rest of the plot, or what role the title character (a dog with a human mind trapped inside it) plays. “The dog does not look as if he will change the world much.”

THE MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN SHOW is a new Netflix show turning the Jay Ward characters into hosts of a cable talk show running in Mr. Peabody’s penthouse. The part of the show actually dealing with time travel in the old series style is fun, but the talk-show set up just doesn’t work for me. As it doesn’t seem to have any series arc (not that it needs one) I’ll just check the episode guide to see if there’s any after the first two I need to catch—otherwise I’ll just skip it. “For my first performance, I shall impersonate Ludwig von Butthoven!”

GOD’S GIFT—14 DAYS is another one I’m skipping: it’s good enough, but as it’s a Korean TV series, I can put it in the appendix. The premise is that after a serial killer murders a small child, the mother commits suicide and wakes up two weeks previous—can she find the killer in time?

The new TV series BLINDSPOT could turn out to be time-travel: Jamie Alexander (MCU Sif) is an amnesiac whose tattoos all seem to relate to significant, imminent crimes or terrorist action, but even she doesn’t know how or why. The show isn’t quite good enough to watch on its own merits—the premise by today’s standards isn’t that unusual (John Doe did something similar a few years back), and the cast aren’t terribly interesting besides Alexander—so I’m just going to check the “Previously” clips at the beginning of each episode and if I discover this is indeed time-travel, I’ll resume watching. Otherwise, no.


Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel, TV

Movies (#SFWApro)

THE CAMDEN 28 (2007) is a documentary about a group of Catholic anti-Vietnam War activists whose draft-board burglary went south after one of the team—anti-war but anti-lawbreaking too—turned informant and helped the FBI nab them. Much to his surprise, the FBI then reneged on its assurances the thieves would get a slap on the wrist, which led to him turning into a defense star witness. In five years of draft-board attacks, this was the first to result in acquittal, partly because of the informant’s testimony (pointing out how the FBI had provided the group with all its burglary tools) but primarily because the jurors saw it as a referendum on the war. The documentary reveals the reason for trying to jail them was Hoover’s conviction this would not only break the Catholic anti-war movement but that the 28 were also involved with the FBI break-in described in Burglary; two of them were actually part of both robberies but nobody could prove it (the movie itself doesn’t acknowledge this, but the book does). “The terrible question we have to ask is—who went too far?”

PARIS JE T’AIME (2006) is an anthology showing various brief scenes of love or something like it in different Paris neighborhoods. I caught this for the Coen Brothers segment in which Steve Buscemi is a tourist who gets assaulted in a Metro station (very much in their Barton Fink mode of absurdist noir). While there are several other good scenes, such as Wes Craven’s (Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell have an argument at Oscar Wilde’s grave), most of them were too insubstantial to hold my interest. “Let’s go back to my hotel room—I promise I’ll make you laugh.”

ROBOCOP (1987) is, of course, the original story of a corporate police force that transforms injured cop Peter Weller into an unstoppable cyborg only to discover he has more humanity left than they expected. While some of the details have dated (South Africa having a white government) this doesn’t feel that far off from the 21st century with its stories of privatized cops, corporate corruption (Miguel Ferrer and Ronny Cox play rival corporate sharks), sleazy TV comedy and psycho gang leader Kurtwood Smith. As Weller’s partner, Nancy Allen is as close to good as she ever got, though it’s a shame Stephanie Zimbalist didn’t get the gig (the renewal of Remington Steele made that impossible, much as it derailed Pierce Brosnan’s original shot at James Bond). “You’re our product—and we can’t very well have our product turning against us.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

Movies and TV

SHARPE’S PERIL is to date the last of the series, following the premise of Sharpe’s Challenge that after the death of his wife, Sharpe winds up in India working with Harper putting down various threats to empire. In this case, it’s a renegade army using a supposed native uprising as the cover for murder and theft. This was one of the weaker entries—part of the problem is that without the battle against Napoleon to focus Sharpe’s efforts, this comes off as swashbuckling for its own sake (which is not a bad thing but lacks punch). And as Sharpe’s no longer regular army, there’s also none of the struggle to keep or advance his rank that fueled his earlier adventures. “A strong mind is as unwelcome in a woman as it is in a horse.”

Having made film noir and pastiched Preston Sturges, the Coen Brothers then gave the British Ealing Studio a shot in THE LADYKILLERS (2004), a remake of a 1955 Alec Guinness comedy. Tom Hanks plays a dignified Southern gentleman (the Guinness role) who rents a room from a black widow in a small Mississippi town so that he and his crew can dig a tunnel through her basement and rip off a local gambling boat. This falls thoroughly flat, with pretty much every character a stereotype (bossy black momma, foul-mouthed black hood), none of the Ealing charm and some real head-scratcher moments (why would a devoutly religious black woman give her money to Bob Jones University with its history of racial issues?). “I think our musicians just struck a gas pocket.”

GRAVITY (2013) stars Sandra Bullock as a scientist working on the Hubble Telescope alongside astronaut George Clooney when a storm of space debris leaves them drifting in space, struggling to find a way home—and before long, Bullock’s fighting the struggle alone. A real nail-biter and great looking, plus a spectacular performance by Bullock (it’s a one-woman show for much of the film). Although it’s often described as Open Water in Space, Bullock has much more to do than float helplessly, so Apollo 13 might be a better choice for a double bill. “Tell me what happened to the hairy guy.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV

Movies: Two documentaries, two films about marital scheming

An unexpectedly disorganized weekend, due to extra cooking and family visits, or I’d have gotten this done yesterday.

ABSINTHE (2010) was a Netflix streaming documentary I wouldn’t have watchined if it wasn’t getting yanked from the service. As it turns out, this is quite good, chronicling how a woman herbalist’s stimulant potion became a popular drink of artistes, then soldiers (“They put it in canteens in the belief it prevented infection.”) who then brought it home to the cafes of Paris (“Five o’clock was known as the ‘green hour.”). The movie tracks the outlawing of absinthe, which it sees as a forerunner of the Reefer Madness view of pot (wine vendors tying absinthe to sensational murder cases), through its return and the legal wrangles of getting it approved in the US as well. Minor, but interesting. “It took people several years to realize absinthe was once again legal in Europe.”
In THE FLAT (2011), a German family sorting through their late grandma’s possessions discover she and grandpa had a history of friendship with an SS officer that starts when Grandpa went with him to Palestine (“The Nazis wanted the Jews to leave Germany. So did the Zionists.”) and astonishingly keeps going post-war despite one of grandma’s daughters going to a concentration camp. This reminds me a lot of the American documentary Secret Daughter and the German drama The Nasty Girl as it explores the stream of denial flowing through the WW II and post-war generations (“Why is it third-generation Germans are the only ones to ask questions?”) and what to do about them (“Do you tell a friend that her father was a murderer?”). Good. “This is an individual Jew, he will have to go someday, but until then we can have interesting conversations.”
What a tangled web we weave, when first we marry to deceive—
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003) is the Coen Brothers film that reminds me the most of the great Preston Sturges, with George Clooney as super-divorce lawyer Miles Massey (“The Massey prenup gets its own semester at Harvard Law.”) who successfully thwarts Catherine Zeta Jones’ scheme to marry and rip off millionaire Edward Herrmann. When Massey tries to hit on her afterwards, he’s annoyed to find her falling for oil tycoon Billy Bob Thornton instead, then annoyed to realize how annoyed he is, but he’s no idea what’s reall going on. Great fun that would double-bill well with Clooney’s other look at an emotionally detached man in Up in the Air. Julia Duffy plays an LA divorcee. “Your honor, this is harassment—and to be frank, it’s still a little arty-farty.”
Preston Sturges THE LADY EVE (1941) stars Barbara Stanwyck as a card sharp who’s plan to seduce and fleece uber-serious millionaire snake expert Henry Fonda goes somewhat askew when she falls for her mark, then discovers he can’t forgive her shady past. Her response is to re-invent herself as the eponymous aristocrat in order to get her revenge (“I need him like the axe needs the turkey.”) much to the disapproval of valet William Demarest, father Charles Coburn and phony nobleman Eric Blore. Not my favorite Sturges (I prefer Palm Beach Story or Miracle of Morgan’s Creek) but the stars put it over (I’ve always had a crush on Stanwyck, and she’s delightful here). “Do you want to bring the walls tumbling about our ears? Silence to the grave—and beyond!”
A dying man lives long enough to wonder WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? (1980), thereby kicking off a mystery as the man who heard the cryptic message teams up with duchess Francesca Annis to find out what the heck that means. I enjoyed the Agatha Christie novel this is based on and loved Francesca Annis in the Christie-based Partners in Crime (it is very weird to see her do Christie without co-star Ben Cross) but this adaptation didn’t work for me at all. John Gielgud plays the hero’s father. “She’s not the girl in the photograph.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

TV and Movies

Finishing up some series—THE AMERICANS was FX’s take on the sleeper-agent concept (which I wrote about a lot in Screen Enemies of the American Way): It’s the early 1980s and Keri Russell is one half of a Soviet couple who’ve been posing as married Americans for the past 20 years. With Reagan heating up the Cold War, their jobs have never been more crucial, especially with the administration working on a missile defense program that could render Soviet missiles useless (it’s a few years too early for that to be an issue, but as my friend Ross says, it makes such a good McGuffin). This is a solidly entertaining show (though right-winger Jonah Goldberg claims I should hate it because it undercuts my liberal beliefs. Umm, no) where everyone on both sides is constantly surrounded by mistrust and deceit and forced to do stuff they shouldn’t. Looking forward to season two.
ONCE UPON A TIME‘s second season is set, like the first, in a town in our world to which Snow White’s evil stepmother Regina (Lana Parilla) banished all the fairytale characters so that they’d never know a happy ending again. Only at the end of last season, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse: magic works in the town, everyone knows who they are and very few of them are happy with what Regina did. I found this season thoroughly enjoyable, though given Regina’s history as a murderous tyrant, they seem awfully soft on her at times (something I’ll discuss in depth soon).
ARROW is the CW’s adaptation of DC’s Green Arrow (whose strange history I’ve covered before). As in the comics, Oliver Queen is a shallow playboy transformed by several years on a desert island (though a much livelier one than the print version). Returning home, he carries out his father’s wishes to root out the corrupt businessmen strangling Starling City, not hesitating to murder if it comes to it. However, millionaire Merlyn (John Barrowman) has a plan, and the skills to carry it out without letting “the Hood” (as the press have labeled Ollie’s alter ego) get in his way (curious trivia point: The comic-book archer Merlyn was never really a Green Arrow adversary, just someone who engaged in an archery contest with him once and later crossed paths in a couple of JLA adventures, the first of which is shown here. Art by Neal Adams, rights with whoever currently holds them). It ain’t great art, but it’s a fun show.

The Coen Brothers’ neo-noir THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) has a lot of similarities with Fargo in that like William Macey in the earlier film, barber Billy Bob Thornton is fed up with working for his in-laws and determined to change his life by financing a business opportunity through crime (blackmailing wife Frances McDormand’s employer/lover James Gandolfini)—which, of course, spirals into Horribly Wrong territory almost at once (reminding me of wrter John Roger’s view that the underlying theme of neo-noir is that you’re not as smart as you think). Unfortunately instead of Macey’s desperate, frantic schemer, Thornton is far too phlegmatic: He may not like his life, but he’s resigned to his fate and never struggles more than he absolutely has to. Despite the striking black-and-white photography, that makes this ultimately too uninvolving to hold me. With John Polito as an entrepreneur, Tony Shalhoub as a fast-talking lawyer and Scarlett Johanssen as a young pianist. “That helps—not that she didn’t do it, but that she hasn’t confessed.”
IRON MAN III (2013) has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) PTSDed by his experiences in Avengers (“Gods, aliens—I’m just a guy in a can.”) which leads to some bad decisions when tackling a terrorist campaign by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in alliance with scheming CEO Guy Pearce (“I control both terrorism and counter-terrorism.”). They obviously decided Robert Downey Jr. was way more interesting out of costume as he stays as Tony almost all of the film; Kingsley turns in a terrific performance though I’ll be saying more about the yellowface aspects in my next post. “Jarvis, it’s time for the house party.”
AMERICAN WEDDING (2003) is the third installment wherein Jason Biggs pops the question to Alyson Hannigan, resulting in the usual problems of wedding jitters, wedding-party romances, obnoxious relatives and various leftover elements from the previous movies. Surprisingly charming; with Fred Willard as Hannigan’s dad and January Jones as a cute bridesmaid. “I need help with my wedding vows, not my period.”


Filed under Comics, Movies, TV