Saturday, May 4, 2024

Cereal Watch: Unfrosted (2024)

Watched:  05/03/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jerry Seinfeld

It's almost impossible to discuss this movie or not get a soft clucking of tongues for watching Unfrosted (2024) since director Jerry Seinfeld made some ill-advised comments about "woke" and "comedy" this week.  I won't get into it all here, but, yeah, billionaire comedians who haven't had to pitch anything since the 1980's probably shouldn't be weighing in.

I also am not bothering to read reviews.  There's just too much room for too many factors to color opinions on Seinfeld instead of the movie itself.

But Fridays are for goofy movies at our house, and we'd planned on Unfrosted on its release for a week or so.  

Friday, May 3, 2024

Scorsese Watch: After Hours (1985)

Watched:  05/03/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Martin Scorsese

I have massive gaps in my Scorsese viewing - just huge, unforgivable gaps - and this movie was among the missing pieces.  I've been intending to watch it since watching the one-off episode of Ted Lasso, "Beard After Hours", which, to me, is one of the best episodes of TV ever produced.  And, you will guess, took inspiration from this movie.

The movie was pitched on the Criterion Channel as part of a collection of movies that happen over one night, and I assume After Hours (1985) was the first one they put on the white board when working out the idea.   It's the rare Scorsese comedy, steeped in 1980's-ness - maybe specifically New York 1980's-ness - and has a cast that is both very of the era, and maybe helped make some careers.

If Woody Allen made kids think that moving to New York was going to be all upper-middle-class shenanigans and politely having sex off-screen, Scorsese was tuned into other neighborhoods, and what happened in the city that never sleeps after Woody had turned in for the evening.  

Griffin Dunne was riding a wave of "maybe this guy is our next star" around this period, as a sort of charming everyman.  How and why these things pivot is anyone's guess.  He's kind of perfect in the role here, a guy who just works a dull office job in what we'd now call data entry, and who - despite his relative youth - is already pretty jaded.  He can't even feign attention when his trainee (Bronson Pinchot!) starts talking about his *real* aspirations.  

Monday, April 29, 2024

Lupino Watch: The Big Knife (1955)

Watched:  04/29/2023
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Aldrich

I'd been meaning to watch The Big Knife (1955) for at least the past year through a few different channels.  Fortunately, Eddie Muller programmed the film as part of Noir Alley over on TCM.

The film is based on a play by Clifford Odets*, a playwright who had his own bad experience in Hollywood.  And, in many ways, feels very much like a filmed play.

My interests were Ida Lupino and Jean Hagen related, as both appear in the film, and I'd read Lupino was quite good in this (she is).  But it's an all-star cast, with Jack Palance as our lead - a successful actor who is a piece of studio machinery but who once had nobler aspirations for acting, film and theater.  Rod Steiger is astounding as a studio chief who needs Palance to sign a seven year contract, and Wendell Corey is similarly great as his fixer (a la Eddie Mannix).  Shelley Winters plays a would-be actress with information about Palance that's a big problem.

This is, by far, the best acting I've seen Palance do in any of the handful of films in which I've seen him.  He's not limited to general weird malevolence, or a bruiser of some kind.  He's a thoughtful guy juggling a lot of things and maybe just in over his head - and I bought him through the whole film.

In my opinion, this movie is very, very good, if a product of its time - not that the story doesn't work or even feels irrelevant.  It's more that the ending felt telegraphed in a mid-century drama sort of way.  But that doesn't make it bad.  I still felt like it worked, and was managed brilliantly.

Lupino just being rad as hell

This write-up is brief because I'm genuinely in a "I have no notes" mode with this one.  The story, performances, limited set, etc... all worked for me.  And Ida Lupino looked smashing, and was terrific.  And if you ever doubted Hagen, now's the time to see her once again nail the assignment.  

I'll take Muller's reasoning for why it's noir, and throw the tag on it.    

*who I've seen cited as the basis for Barton Fink

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Horror Watch: Ghostwatch (1992)

Watched:  04/28/2024
Format:  AMC+/ Shudder trial
Viewing:  First
Director:  Lesley Manning

So, I was watching the Half In the Bag guys discuss Late Night With the Devil, and they brought up a BBC TV special (that for our purposes I'm calling a movie) from 1992.   I'd heard of Ghostwatch and seen it cited multiple places over the years, but I couldn't say exactly where or when.  What I recalled was that, much like the Mercury Theatre's famed War of the Worlds Halloween radio play that emulated a real broadcast, Ghostwatch did same on BBC, but with video, presaging both found footage movies like The Blair Witch Project, and the frenzy for supernatural investigation reality TV shows that I feel started with Ghost Hunters (which I watched, and there's a whole arc there).  

If I took Late Night With the Devil to task for not sticking with the bit, and it making things not work as a movie (and keep it from ever feeling scary) I'm doubling down on that idea.  Ghostwatch is clearly staged - the line delivery is too smooth, things are happening quickly and conveniently, etc...  But, dammit, they commit to the bit.  And they hired presenters instead of actors in key roles.

A few things that make this work:  the show originally ran on BBC on Halloween night 1992.  We were only a few years away from TV stunts like Al Capone's Vault at this time, wherein cameras would go live to some extraordinary event (although as someone who watched the vault business live, I can say - it could be a tremendous bust).  The show was hosted by Michael Parkinson, a legitimate television presenter.  This would have been a bit like having Barbara Walters host your made up Halloween special here in the US.  And they also have real presenters Mike Smith in studio and Sarah Greene as their reporter in the field - and Smith and Greene were well known TV presenters/ personalities already in 1992.