Saturday, July 25, 2020
How odd. I always thought of Regis Philbin as.. a permanent fixture. He'd seemed sort of ageless all his years on TV.
But he seems to have passed.
For the kids - Regis was a sort of gadfly of the media industry who had his greatest success with "Regis and Kathie Lee" back in the 90's, a softball morning show where he drank coffee and met celebrities and clearly had no idea who they were or what they were pitching. He was a great default guest for late-night talk shows (I always suspected he was on speed dial when they had a cancellation) because he'd been a sort of Jiminy Glick for so long that he had tons of crazy stories.
Anyway, he was someone I always found pretty funny. He had a certain joie de vivre that made him a kick to have on. And, when he hosted the game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, our own Nathan Cone got to meet him as a contestant.
Format: Criterion BluRay
Director: Wei Lo
So, if the *last* Bruce Lee movie I watched I wondered "hey, why didn't they use more of the snow cone girl?" - friends, I have learned that is Nora Miao, and I was not the only one who thought she should get more screentime. Here she plays the childhood sweetheart of Bruce Lee's Chen Zhen, and she appears in a few of Bruce Lee's big-name movies.
First, I loved Fist of Fury (1972). Great story, interesting character arc, complex scenarios and amazing fight scenes. Nothing to not like. I don't know if the film had a much higher budget than The Big Boss, but it just *looks* better than the prior film, and the story is infinitely tighter.
The story will feel a bit familiar to those of us who've seen Fist of Legend (which you should 100% see), and I'm unclear if this movie is based on a true story of any kind. I don't think so, but... the movie says it does?
When a Master of a martial arts school dies under mysterious circumstances, his star pupil, a passionate young Bruce Lee, returns to Shanghai to mourn - and, once he's clicked to the fact the death made no sense - seek out justice. The story takes place in The Settlement, something I had to look up, an international portion of Shanghai that has a fascinating history.
The Japanese come to the funeral for the Master and basically bully multiple schools at once, knowing that the Chinese can't push back. Except for Chen Zhen, who comes to the Japanese dojo and kicks the living crap out of *everyone* in a dynamic fight sequence. However, this leads to retribution on several fronts and an impossible situation for Chen Zhen's school.
|Bruce realizes this was the girl selling shave-ice in the last movie|
At the heart of the film is Chen Zhen's romance with Nora Miao, and their interrupted dreams of settling down and running a martial-arts school, and the opportunity for Lee to do some dramatic acting alongside his angry-young-man work.
Anyway - shocker, this is a good Bruce Lee film.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Format: Amazon Streaming
Viewing: No idea
Director: James Cameron
ArnieFest continues with a mid-90's film that dares to ask "what if James Bond were married? And Austrian? And American? And Tom Arnold was there?" It's the action comedy sensation that everyone in film school had to write a paper about and feel bad for enjoying. SimonUK and Ryan go on a less-than-secret mission to revisit this Arnie favorite.
Main Theme - Brad Fiedel, True Lies OST
Nuclear Kiss - Shirley Walker, True Lies OST
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Format: Criterion BluRay
Director: Lo Wei
I've only ever seen two Bruce Lee movies, but - like everyone - I like the *idea* of Bruce Lee. His byzantine relationship with America and Hong Kong, his cocksure manner that he could 200% back up, his ability to synthesize the old into the new, his drive and his ability to cut to the quick of reality in a few spare words that it comes off as spiritualism.
Be water, indeed.
The Big Boss (1971) is not Lee's first movie. He'd been a child actor before getting sent to the US (where he was born and so had citizenship - his father touring in the US as a performer at the time of his birth) for street-fighting and headng down a bad path. Lee had starred in 20 movies or so in Hong Kong, and appeared on US television as Kato and other roles, as well as appearing in the Chandler adapted film Marlowe (he's good, but his exit is not great).
He returned to Hong Kong to find out he was a bit of a star thanks to The Green Hornet, and was hired by Golden Harvest, who put him in The Big Boss. By American standards of 1971, it's a low-budget production. The story is fairly straightforward. And Lee is used very strangely.
According to an interview attached to the disc, The producers weren't sure which of the two main characters at the start of the film would be the hero of the story, so Lee's character just sort of watches from the sidelines. Apparently the producer, Raymond Chow, liked what he saw, because he canned the director and put Lee in the rest of the film - and the rest is history.
When he's finally allowed to cut loose, Lee is like a magnesium flare suddenly bursting into the film. His martial arts are totally different, he's the fully formed, swagger-prone Lee you know. The beginning of the movie is a decent set-up, if a bit stiff, but once Lee enters the fray (breaking a promise to his mother not fight), the rest of the movie takes off like a shot. Including simple, dramatic scenes.
In a way, it's like seeing a character dropped in from another movie, and I am not bagging on 1970's martial arts films, but there's a reason The Big Boss kick-started Lee's superstardom. He's really frikkin' good and clearly an innovator of character and fighting style.
I won't oversell the actual film. It's creaky and clunky, and marginally more adult than I had expected (some light nudity and sexuality paired with an axe to the head or two, and piles upon piles of dead people). And there are plot holes. But when it takes off, you don't really care all that much.
Mostly I want to know what happened to the girl you see selling snow cones at the beginning. I kept thinking she'd be relevant - but not so much.
Here's to you, snow cone lady.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
The outerspace equivalent of Seinfeld's "Rochelle, Rochelle" - Barbarella is a young girl's strange, erotic journey from one dopey planet to another.
It's really pitched as being sexy, and maybe this does it for someone out there, but aside from giving us the name of a great 1980's band and containing a series of WTF moments and an electric organ with quite the bonus features, Barbarella is kind of like a movie that promises you the sexy and then lifts the hem of her skirt to show you some ankle whilst smiling coyly.
Anyway, it IS batshit crazy, so we're going to watch it. It co-stars John Phillip Law, which makes me wish Danger: Diabolik were available. But it is not.
Day: Friday 07/24/2020
Time: 8:30 PM Central
Format: Amazon Watch Party streaming
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Format: Amazon Prime Watch Party
Director: Bryan Forbes
The Stepford Wives (1975) is a movie you will absolutely guess how it works and what it is, and how it will end, and you should absolutely still watch it.
Starring Katharine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), it's a New York City woman with two young girls and a husband as they move into the suburban town of Stepford, CT. Good schools, big houses and yards, it's a post WWII dream. Immediately we learn that Joanna's (Ross) husband didn't actually consult with her about the move, which she found out was a done deal after she saw the house and agreed to it. But she let that slide.
Monday, July 20, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: John Sturges
A sort of gothic noir, The Sign of the Ram (1948) is a peculiar film. Set in a sprawling English countryside home, a seemingly happy family welcomes a new secretary into the fold (Phyllis Thaxter). She's to be the aid, in particular, to the beautiful, young, wheelchair bound stepmother to the family.
The film is a showcase for actress Susan Peters who had screen success until a hunting accident left her in a wheelchair. She's actually fantastic in the role, which is that of the antagonist. This is, apparently, the screenplay she finally accepted after being asked to play a chipper Pollyanna overcoming adversity in offer after offer. I'll not play armchair psychologist, but it's a hell of a heel turn for Peters to take on - but she nails it, showing tremendous range in the single role (young actors, take note: you can play all sorts of things with an angry character and none of them have to read "angry").
That said, there's something both entirely believable about the tension at the center of the film - a family completely dominated by the iron willed matriarch who plays everyone like puppets without them ever noticing it - and a sense of melodrama that skews a bit too much toward telegraphing where the film is headed.
It's well shot, Peters and Thaxter are great, but I can't say it was exactly my cup of tea. It was clearly made in the shadow of stuff like Rebecca, but never quite hits those notes. But for a solid melodrama, you could do worse.
Watched: July 3, 2020
Decade: 2020/ 2010
Director: Thomas Kail
Certainly the most discussed musical in decades - and with far better reason than most (whether you like it or not) - Hamilton had become a cultural event well before Disney+ released a recorded version of the show on the platform on July 3rd. This was not a film adaptation like we've seen in the last few years - like Les Miserables or even Cats. Movie stars who can carry a tune were not swapped out for the Broadway cast, and we're not decades away from shows debuting, making a splash, touring and becoming so ubiquitous, you might as well make a movie because why not?
Instead, Hamilton (2020) as released is the version shot on stage roughly four years ago, starring mostly the original cast, which - since 2016 - has since scattered to the four winds, seeking their Hamilton-derived fortunes (I actually like Leslie Odom Jr's new record, Mr., for whatever that is worth to you). The film existing is a wonderful change for Broadway, who has told themselves lots of stories about the need for the immediacy of theater's live experience and has usually only dropped original cast recordings as documents of how a show was conceived and presented. Directed by the show's actual director, Thomas Kail, the "film" of Hamilton is thoughtfully, and, indeed, artfully shot. Heck, last week "One Perfect Shot", a twitter account with the best in cinematography, included a shot from Hamilton.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Louis Malle
Look - I'd never seen this movie, thoroughly enjoyed it, and would quickly recommend. But I can also imagine it hits the buttons of every pretentious film dork out there.
A shining example of (a) made in the 1950's, (b) being French (b) more or less New Wave (c) noir, (d) with a fatalistic, downbeat ending and (e) the soundtrack is by Miles Davis. Ferchrissake - I can just see my film school instructors getting the vapors talking about this one.
And, you know, deservedly so.