Category Archives: movies

Ape is killing ape

1-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-review-jpg-20140714 You would think that the decline in quality of the original 5 “Apes” movies, each one lower-budget and worse quality than the one that preceded it, would give filmmakers pause, but since 2001 we have endured 3 awful s/prequel/remakes.   And yet these films do well at the box office, and are generally well-reviewed.

If this were the “Transformers” series I would care that much, but the original “Planet of the Apes” is indeed brilliant. Based on Rod Serling’s adaptation of  Pierre Boulle’s novel La Planète des singes , it was released in 1968, and features zero CGI.  Instead it featured real actors doing “acting” while wearing make-up and simian-looking prosthetics.  These devices were considered advanced at the time, but now appear rather primitive: article-2150936-135482EB000005DC-726_634x455   Still how scary-looking is that?  Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, and Maurice Evans used their costumes to enhance their performances, to give them an “otherness” that they employed, but also had to overcome in order to create full characters. This is the opposite of what Jack Nicholson said about his role as The Joker in 1989’s “Batman”, essentially to “let the costume do the work”.

The tension between artifice and reality is something CGI erases.  While this makes for more realism, it also seems to infect movies with a slackness when it comes to developing stories and characters.  Critics praise CGI and forget that a realistic wink or tear does not a character make. This was the case for the second remake of King Kong, of which A.O. Scott said:

The sheer audacious novelty of the first “King Kong” is not something that can be replicated, but in throwing every available imaginative and technological resource into the effort, Mr. Jackson comes pretty close.

Novelty and technology can’t sustain a movie for 3 hours, characters and narrative can.  Inexplicably Roger Ebert called Kong II “A stupendous cliffhanger, a glorious adventure, a shameless celebration of every single resource of the blockbuster, told in a film of visual beauty and surprising emotional impact.”   Roger Ebert is a wonderful human being, but I find his writing unmemorable.  A.O. Scott seems to specialize in plot summaries.  Plot summary + apologia that this is a “spirited” movie that isn’t perfect = A.O. Scott review. 

Despite my griping, I too wanted to see chimpanzees on horseback firing machine guns (I’m only human).  I found that it was just not as thrilling as what the original “Apes” movie did for me: imagine a world where humans are no longer the pre-eminent species, where it’s payback time for the creatures we have abused for millenia.   Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie modernist score helped create this sense of unease – so different from the crash, boom, bang of near-constant violence in “Dawn”, which has a strange calming effect on me because it seems to be in almost every movie now, and signifies that the good guy is going to win.  The other parts of the score could have been used in a life insurance commercial.

Speaking of good guys, did Director Matt Reeves have to make ape-leader Caesar into an absolute saint?  Consider the strategy in the original “Apes” franchise.  Caesar is a killer, but you understand his rage as he sees his enslaved ape-brothers stun-gunned, and watches his kindly guardian, played by Ricardo Montalban, die in order to protect him.    I go to movies to see people who are worse than me, not better.

The final visual in “Dawn” is another capitulation to feel-good non-reality: caesarclarke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recall the harrowing last scene in “Planet of the Apes” with Taylor and Nova about to enter into the Forbidden Zone after seeing the ruined Statue of Liberty: liberty3 Final verdict on “The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”: mqdefault

“You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

 

 

 

 

Postscript:   “Planet of the Apes” features one of my favorite opening scenes in movies, Charlton Heston, the spaceship captain is smoking a cigar on the bridge, recording into his log before he goes into suspended animation:

Tell me, though, does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother…keep his neighbor’s children starving?”

charlton_heston                                 Post-postscript: Really getting tired of seeing Gary Oldman, one of my favorite actors, trotting out his American accent in these trumped-up, square-spectacled Commissioner-Gordon-type roles.

Pleasing our mothers, our fathers

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— SPOILER ALERT.  There are spoilers in this review.  —

“Generation War” is a 5 hour epic that follows the lives of 5 young Germans throughout the course of World War II. Originally titled “Our Mothers, Our Fathers”, it had a successful run as a miniseries on German t.v.

Reviews in the U.S. have been mixed.  David Denby in The New Yorker says “…it may be clunky, even embarrassing, but it’s certainly never dull.”  I’ve seen this same line of exculpation so many times in reviews, perhaps resulting from the desire by the reviewer not to come across as too negative.  Rarely are movies described in the opposite way “….graceful and meaningful but certainly quite dull”.

The main knock on “Generation War” in the U.S. has been that it sanitizes the German war experience avoiding difficult questions about what level of culpability ordinary German citizens had in the rise of Hitler and the atrocities that followed.

This criticism has been less apparent in Germany.  “Der Spiegel” magazine described it as “a turning point in German television”, and claims:

“Germany apparently remains eternally wounded, dependent upon the healing power of remembrance. Germans must live with their trauma and occasionally reopen the wound to prevent it from festering.”

“Generation War” does everything it can to avoid reopening the wound.    It focuses on the collective conscience of a group of 5 tolerant, young, liberal friends, while ignoring the national conscience and the national character that lead to the ascendence of the Third Reich.   The film uses the trope of good Germans versus bad Germans, creating sympathy for these ordinary people against whom so much is happening.

Here is our wacky, close-knit group of protagonists:

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Remind you of anyone?

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The level of character development remains on a “t.v.” level as well, as if there were just half an hour to get to know them rather than 5.  They fall into conventional types: the responsible upstanding one, the sensitive poet, the chanteuse, the “good girl”.   Yes, there is even a Jew.   To be played by David Schwimmer, perhaps, in the American version.

What follows is fairly predictable.  The sensitive one becomes a stone-cold killer (because of his sensitivity) ,  the good girl hardens, the chanteuse sells out, the responsible one becomes disillusioned, and the Jew survives (this is not “Shoah” after all).   In the end the remaining survivors gather at the bar where we met them in the opening scene, to toast their fallen friends.  Unlike “The Deer Hunter” they do not break out into patriotic song.

It’s a near-impossible task to capture the German experience of WWII.  The most successful German war film that I’ve seen is Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot”, precisely because its scope is limited to the experience of life onboard a German submarine.  It should be noted that “Das Boot” too, pits “good” German protagonists against evil Nazis, the difference is that the characters in “Das Boot” begin disillusioned by war.   The opening scene also takes place in a bar, with nervous submariners drinking to the point of vomiting, not innocently clowning and posing for group pictures.   

“Generation War”, if done correctly, would evince a greater tragedy than “Das Boot”, look how far the characters fall, they are all compromised and disillusioned by the end.  But the script is so hackneyed, the direction so obvious (long draw on a cigarette = deep thinking) that we see the end hours before it arrives. The final scene in “Das Boot”, on the other hand, is truly shocking, and we empathize with the characters, despite their mordancy, partially because of the extraordinary plot device of being trapped in a submarine with them (just as being trapped in a stuck elevator would encourage commonality) but also because we have seen them be brave while knowing they are both doomed and compromised and so is everyone else.  There is an unforgettable scene where we witness the German sailors watching men jump from a ship they have just torpedoed, on fire and begging for help.   No one is innocent, and a redemptive story about the perpetrators of the second Great War must proceed from this fact as a starting point in order to be taken seriously.

“Generation War” has been praised for its war scenes: typically shakey-cam speeded-up jittery cuts.  These seemed to be done by a different director, not so of course, and while riveting (“certainly never dull”) this technique evoked that “Sopranos” strategy  of interjecting bursts of violence to “juice” the audience when things were getting heavy or dull.   It also reminded me of U.S. war movies – “Generation War” has been described as a German “Band of Brothers” – which function as action movies, shocking the moral reflection out of the viewer and pouring in platitudes about cameraderie.  The message is always “bad things happen to good people, but at least we have each other”.

In “Generation War” there is a sense that those “bad things” which “happen” include the protagonists own moral failings.  These are limited to a personal rather than societal scale.  When the good-girl nurse turns in her Jewish assistant we have no sense that she was capable of the betrayal,  that she had become morally compromised and had lost the memory of her Jewish friend, Ross, uh, Viktor.  Instead the focus is on how badly she feels afterwards.  The deed is later forgiven in one of the final scenes where the Jewish nurse’s aide  returns, improbably, as a Russian commanding officer, who not only conveniently spares the nurse from rape by the advancing Stalinist troops (something I don’t think the filmmakers wanted to address) but also provides the film’s redemptive dollop by stating, in effect, “this must end somewhere”.

With all its flaws, the best legacy “Generation War” can provide is to encourage us to look at the compartmentalization and moral relativism in our own war films.  Critical praise for movies like “Zero-Dark Thirty” demonstrate how difficult it is to come to terms with the moral failings of our own society.  As it stands “Generation War” is a slick apologia, an immaculately-wrapped present by dutiful German children to their (grand)mothers and (grand)fathers.

 

 

Phillip Roth – Masked

 

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Phillip Roth turns 80 today.  He’s quite a pleasant fellow, at least based on the recent documentary “Phillip Roth – Unmasked” which just wrapped up at the Film Forum yesterday. One doesn’t get a sense of how dark, sardonic, and satyric (is that a word?) his writing is.

Given that he’s faced a lot of feminist criticism, it’s interesting that most of the commentators in this film are women, including Mia Farrow, who we learn is a staunch friend.  I wondered whether Claudia Roth Pierpoint, another commentator, was related to the author, that’s never explained and I haven’t been able to find out online.

Although it’s not an in-depth view, I did learn some things about Phillip Roth:

 

  • He was extraordinarily handsome as a younger man and attracted women easily
  • He had a terrible first marriage and went into psychoanalysis 3 to 4 times per week, which he felt helped him
  • “Portnoy’s Complaint” was written using the model of an analysand speaking to a psychotherapist
  • He suffered from chronic back pain for years, which made him suicidal (I have since learned there is a character in “Everyman” who commits suicide due to back pain)
  • He fears death and is very discouraged by aging

So although this wasn’t a comprehensive biography, I found it refreshing to see a movie with intelligent conversation and at least a few insights.  I’m looking forward seeing “Andre Gregory – Before and After Dinner”

Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Absent (thanks to HBO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to decide which is more depressing: the state of American film criticism or the current quality of mainstream documentaries.  In “Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Present” HBO Documentaries and Matthew Akers have made a film that undermines the power of her seminal career, and that’s a considerable feat.

Critics are lauding “The Artist is Present”: Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles times calls it “A riveting portrait”.  It’s easier for them to conflate subject with film, than it is to analyze what does and doesn’t work in this piece. The truth is that t.v. director Akers has cobbled together a couple of bad Lifetime t.v. episodes, called it a documentary and done Abramovic a disservice.

Marina Abramovic is a hard-core performance artist whose best work has brought “negative” elements such as stillness, grief, hunger, pain, and isolation into sharp focus, through works that often involve great endurance and physical suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In 1997 she performed Balkan Baroque at the Venice Biennale. It involved her scrubbing clean 1,500 cow bones six hours a day for four days and weeping as she sang songs and told stories from her native country” (Sean O’Hagan, Guardian UK).

In “Rhythm 0” she lay quietly next to 72 objects, including a loaded gun, scissors, and a whip, and let museum-goers do whatever they wanted to her.  As time passed the audience became more aggressive, cutting up her clothes and poking her with thorns.

“The Artist is Present” is organized around the event of her eponymous 2010 MoMA exhibition.  There she sat silent and immobile for 7 hours a day while museum spectators took turns sitting opposite her.  As the exhibition continued, Abramovic’s rock-star status began to grow – people would camp out overnight for the chance to sit with her.  Eventually she became so popular that tight controls were placed on spectators, they could only sit for 4 minutes at a time, whereas before the time was unimited, they could not make any gestures or sounds.  There is a touching scene where a young woman removes her dress as she sits down and is swiftly escorted away by the security squad.  This is jarring because most of Abramovic’s work involves her being nude, we get very familiar with her body.  Witnessing young fan shut down for that act of emulation is ironic and telling, but this goes unexplored.

Instead the focus is on the crying.  Many attendees tear-up when looking at the impassive queen-bee-like Abrmovoic, in her religious-looking smock.  The soundtrack repeats the sins of  “March of the Penguins”, a cloying musical score, telling us dummies that “it’s time to feel now”.  A montage of artfully-focused ethnically-and-age-balanced faces, in varying stages of composure, felt like a Benetton ad.  Akers should have been smart enough to realize that viewers can’t help but intuit the tarnished corporate halo in this aesthetic.  Too many t.v. ads are like this, especially ones for big “faceless” corporations.  It’s about as far from cleaning bloody bones as you can get.

Focusing on a singlular event feels like a panicky move by documentarians.  Sure there are some films where the event is the event (“The Last Waltz”), but here it’s used as a way to expose the artist, and honestly I did not know much about Marina after 2 hours than I did after 15 minutes. And the fact that the film literally ends with her final bow at MoMA makes me think that Akers didn’t have the curiousity to explore the question “What is it like to enter the normal world after that intense level of communication with thousands of people?”

As I’ve suggested before, the way to make documentaries interesting is to show themes, to then illustrate patterns within those themes, and then to identify when and why those patterns are broken.  That is all the event you need.  And indeed the audience wants something to happen in any performance.  Focusing on an orchestrated “happening” can cover up the actual personal changes that make for narrative.

What are some of those themes that could have been explored?  In the beginning of the film we see Marina in her huge NYC loft, also at her beautiful Hudson Valley farmhouse.  Later she enters a truck that she livd in for 5 years in Europe (it has been brought to MoMA as an exhibit) and begins weeping, saying that this was the simplest, happiest time of her life.    She is visited by her former lover, Ulay, with whom she lived in the truck.  He is deflated by her wealth, you can see he longs for that level of material success.

So to me a central question raised by the film was “What does success mean and what has it done to the artist?”  Is she less successful now that she is “successful”?  What is the significance of the change from allowing the audience to do anything they want  (“Rhythm 0”) to being prohibited from make a simple gesture (“The Artist is Present”)?

Another theme is artist vs. art. Marina admits to craving attention, to using performance as a way of getting the love she didn’t as a neglected child.  Does this minimize the value of her statements about war and suffering?  If she were to find love, would her art suffer?  She says that when her performances with Ulay were at their best, their personal relationship was at it’s worst.  What does this say about art?

There are many other areas in this artist’s life that would have been fruitful to explore.  Instead, by the end, I felt like an audience member denied my time across from Marina.

Chicago 10: Gen X’er gets the 60’s wrong

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1968-born director Brett Morgan makes two excellent choices in creating “Chicago 10”: to avoid the use of 60’s songs in the soundtrack, and to employ a fluid style of animation for much of the picture. Ultimately though he proves himself to be unwilling to grapple with the complexities and emotional underpinnings of the events of the 1960’s, and the result is a mashed-up documentary without a point of view, rather than a serious film.

In a “Fresh Air” interview, Morgan explained that because the anthemic music of the 60’s has been so thoroughly co-opted by Madison Avenue, he could no longer use it in the movie. He’s right. Imagine hearing “Revolution” by the Beatles while watching documentary footage of a protest march: it’s only a matter of time before the Nike logo appears. Morgan instead employs modern music, although it’s a stretch to say that the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine are truly contemporary.

The near 3-dimensional animation used throughout the film is detailed enough to allow you actually look into the character’s mouths, but it serves the traditional reductive purposes of puppetry: to take the audience out of context, to remove the prejudices inherent in viewing human actors, to symbolize reality rather than portray it. These opportunties are squandered. Instead, 70’s-sitcom-viewer Morgan uses animation as a comic counterpoint to the harsh documentary film footage of the Chicago riots.

From time to time the totemic potential of using animated characters emerges though. Watching a cartoon Abbie Hoffman doing stand-up short-circuits all those “oh god it’s political stand-up” thoughts, he is free to function as a greek chorus, commenting on the action in the courtroom that took place earlier that day.

But for the most part “Chicago 10” fails to provide context. There is brief footage of the announcement of Martin Luther King’s death, but no sense of the the reasons for the worldwide social changes that were coming to a head in 1968, and no in-depth examination of the burgeoning youth demographic as it realized the moral bankruptcy of the old guard.

Morgan makes no attemp to reconcile the urgent protests of 1968 with the Sarandon/Mumia/Earth-First watered-down antiwar protests of today.   Imagine how energized Iraq war protests be if there were an active draft and big daily casualty counts like there were in Vietnam.  Jim Crow laws were in effect a up until the mid-60’s. “Loving vs. Virginia” was a court case that ended race-based restrictions on marriage. It was decided in 1967.

“Chicago 10” inadvertently minimizes the legitimacy of opposition to these injustices by focusing on the antics of the defendants. We don’t see the pain and frustration of a real human beings. Instead we see the Yippies descend on a city officials office and threaten to put LSD in the city water if they aren’t given the permit they want. Grainy film footage of cops wielding billyclubs substitutes for the more complicated social grievances rather than symbolizing them. Similarly the much-touted courtoom shackling of defendant Bobby Seale at the hands of a deliciously insidious Judge Julius Hoffman functions as a calculated shorthand for addressing racial injustice, which is absent elsewhere in the film.

It’s unreasonable to expect a single fim to capture the complexity of the 60’s, but “Chicago 10” doesn’t come close. Director Morgan, a child of the 70’s, babies the audience, using the animated sequences for emotional relief when the documentary footage gets frightening or boring. He puts the drama in a courtroom where he knows there is only farce. Opportunities for real drama abound: in the latter part of the film there is footage of Allen Ginsberg deciding, as he talks, whether or not to go on a prohibited march where there may be violence. What would you have done? What if you had just been drafted? And why did this idealism die? Why did this gritty passion get swept away into the Pina Colada 70’s?

Credit needs to be given to Brett Morgan for addressing this time in history. And to Roy Schieder for his wonderful voiceover of Julius Hoffman. But in the end “Chicago 10” doesn’t even rise to the level of received wisdom, it’s received footage.

Lumet loves Lattices: The Pawnbroker

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(photo from K. Silam Mohammad’s lostintheframe.blogspot.com)

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“The Pawnbroker” stars Rod Steiger as a Holocaust survivor who becomes a pawnbroker in Spanish Harlem in the early-60’s. This places the action 20 years out from WWII, roughly the same time that has passed since the first Desert Storm — not a long time.  It must have been even more powerful to see this harrowing film in the 1960’s than it is today.

Steiger has a sheer presence that makes minor quibbles, like his hard-to-place accent, inconsequential. The weight of experience is so heavy upon the main character, Mr. Nazerman, that he can only respond to people in the most perfunctory manner. All social niceties have left him. Thus when the pimp who is laundering money through Nazerman’s pawnshop mockingly calls him “Professor”, Nazerman simply hangs up the phone. Or when a junkie, trying to sell a gimcrack radio, berates him as a “filthy blood-sucking kike”, he barely glances up as he replies “Still at the same address?”. Seeing this disregard for social convention is a guilty pleasure, like watching Michael Imperioli of The Soproanos pull out a gun in order to get faster service in a donut shop. It brings you over to Nazerman’s side, a dangerous place to be, because when the emotions do come out, they will be titanic.

Lumet uses grids and latticework as a symbol of confinement throughout the film: the metal protective metal grid inside the pawnshop, often casting shadows on the characters, the fancy cross-hatched room divider in the pimp Rodriguez’ pad, the railing on the patio of the social worker’s apartment, the barbed wire in the flashbacks to the concentration camp. And who can blame Nazerman for staying within the lines?

Ultimately though, Nazerman discovers that his business is being financed through prostitution, he flashes back to images of his wife (girlfriend?) in Nazi “Joy Division” sexual slavery, and he has a breakdown. The final scene is of Steiger plunging his hand through the sharp ticket-holder spine, then wandering the streets of Spanish Harlem, staring at his stigmata, shortly after his assistant has been killed in a botched robbery attempt.

The power of Steiger’s performance isn’t in the shaking and grimacing though, it’s in his non-reactivity. Being non-reactive is a high-status trait, and we find it intriguing that Nazerman, essentially a schlemiel who is at the behest of petty crooks, can carry himself with such authority. Perhaps we fellow schlemiels can model ourselves after him in some way.

Yet there is an underlying tension of knowing that, in order to achieve this equanimity, he must essentially kill the parts of himself that are human, and this cannot last for long. How tempting it would be for an actor of lesser stature to give up on this theme, to instead portray the character as angry or simmering, and to try to force meaning into the dialog that Steiger wisely treats as throwaway. Steiger rejects poignancy and is a master of self-control. Thus when he breaks down it is all the more terrible.

Minor notes and other gulity pleasures: Interiors are shot with that old klieg-light style that makes every character look like an escaped prisoner pinned against a prison drainpipe. The apartment furnishings inside Brock Peter’s apartment are authentic Saarinen pedestal items (Saarinen claimed he wanted to provide a “solution for clearing up the slums of legs in US homes”) and Eames chairs. Peter’s manservant looks like a photographic negative of himself, instead of a black man in white clothing it’s a white man with silver hair in black clothing, an early Andersen Cooper type.

1940’s meet the 1960’s: “Go Man Go!”

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A charming time-capsule starring another charismatic but forgotten actor, Dane Clark (not the execrable Dane Cook), alongside a young Sidney Poitier, “Go Man Go!” features a bebop score by Slim Galliard, who was a favorite of Jack Kerouac. I wonder what the connection with “On the Road” is — I remember the phrase “Go Man Go” as an exhortation Sal Paradise shouted out to improvising jazz musicians.

Slim Galliard makes an appearance, playing a piano with his fingers upside down for a small gathering of Globetrotters. I love Kerouac’s description of a Galliard concert:

‘… we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who’s always saying ‘Right-orooni’ and ‘How ’bout a little bourbon-arooni.’ In Frisco great eager crowds of young semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar and bongo drums.”

“…Then he slowly gets up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, ‘Great-orooni … fine-ovauti … hello-orooni … bourbon-orooni … all-orooni … how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni … orooni … vauti … oroonirooni …” He keeps this up for fifteen minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can’t hear. His great sad eyes scan the audience.”

What kills me is “ovauti“, it makes sense next to “o-rooni” but it’s so weird, where is it coming from? It’s perfect though.

That’s the 1950’s part of this movie, the 1940’s part consists of stereotypical interactions between Clark as Abe Saperstein, Bill Stern (as himself) a hard-bitten but honest sportswriter, and the evil Potter-like sports magnate Mr. Willoughby. The Bowery-Boys-style slang they use — “Hey ya mug! Ya gonna be a chump all your life? Of course you’re invited!” — is the direct precursor of today’s crushingly unimaginative board-room Ebonics appropriation: “Quarterly earnings doubled? Girl, go on with your bad self!”. It was probably just as hard to listen to back then.

The 1960’s part of the movie is best shown in the final scene, Abe Saperstein, arm-in-arm with the Globetrotters, walking triumphantly towards the camera, in a hopeful message of racial healing. Shades of Blackboard Jungle. I can’t recall another movie from the 1950’s that was this hopeful and unabashed about race. Today’s derivative ironic culture cannibalizes sentiment like this.

“Go Man Go” also has something to say about acting. In an early scene real-life Globetrotter “Sweetwater Clifton” speaks some lines about how he likes soda pop (the origin of his nickname). He delivers them woodenly, although with charm. This is the low end of the acting scale.

Raising the bar, Dane Clark as Abe Saperstein, shows real conviction, but he’s always hitting something when he acts. “I’m going to get us into big arenas if it’s the last thing I do!’ (SMACK). It’s as if the director fired him up before every scene (“Now this time really mean it!”) without thinking what the cumulative effect would be. Clark’s “average Joe” always seems to be in a harangue.

The best actor in the movie is Sidney Poitier, in a relatively minor role, who pops up from time-to-time to speak a few impassioned lines. He does so with quiet conviction, and having seen the other actors telegraph and flail, one gets a sense of the star quality of Sidney Poitier.

A couple of minor points about this movie: it is exemplary in showing what I like to call “old-time small basketball court syndrome”, action shot in a remarkably cramped gym. Another film that features this is “Angels with Dirty Faces” where the players are dodging trapezes and other non-basketball equipment as they play on a tiny court.

“Go Man Go” made me think of why, although everyone knows Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, no one knows who did it in the NBA. It turns out that Charles Cooper was the first drafted, Nat Clifton was the first signed, and Earl Lloyd the first to play in a game, all in 1950. Even though it’s complicated, I would think this deserves a little more recognition. Is it because basketball is not “America’s Game”?

Love Story

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Ali McGraw is so appealing in Love Story. Ryan O’Neal too. The movie is overwrought but it’s truly character-driven. Ali McGraw looks like an ex of mine, and the deathbed scenes reminded me of my mom’s recent passing so I suppose the experience was preloaded. I found myself feeling that slightly painful feeling of falling in love. I suppose that’s the motivation for the teenage girls who would see the movie multiple times during its first run.

Ryan O’Neal was great at one time, fantastic in “Paper Moon”, funny in “What’s Up Doc?” How did he turn into a bloated angry mess? Ali McGraw wrote a book called “Moving Pictures” where she describes her battles with alcohol and her relationship problems – like Jane Fonda she was only attracted to cold, witholding men. Who could have predicted that watching her be so fresh-faced, funny and cynical back in 1970?

Forgotten actors you must love

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I just saw William Wellman’s “Lost Boys of the Road”[correction:”Wild Boys of the Road”, ed.], a 1933 film about Depression era kids leaving home and jumping freight trains. Frankie Darro stars and is GREAT. What a natural, I don’t know why he didn’t become a big star. He has an ability to convey honesty and decency in a way that isn’t as self-aware as Jimmy Stewart, and not as acidic as Henry Fonda. Interesting facts about Frankie: according to Wikipedia he played jockeys a lot because of his small stature, and played the voice of “Lampwick” the in one of my favorite animated films, 1940’s “Pinnochio”. Lampwick is the bad boy who is turned into a donkey.

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Darro opened a bar in Hollywood called the “Try Again” [correction: “Try Later” ed.] (because that’s what he heard every time he would call Central Casting). He became an alcoholic and died of a heart attack at age 59, on Christmas Day in 1976.

Once upon a time in your living room.


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If I walk around with a t-shirt that says “main character” will I be protected from harm?

Clint Eastwood, as Pauline Kael said, only has one expression, but he does that expression really well.

Does no one else notice the similarity between Clint Eastwood and Hugh Jackman? Both gracile action stars who bulk up to keep their bodies from giving away the message of vulnerability.

70’s-era Westerns can be damn funny. There is always a dwarf named Mordecai, and a balding Franklin Pangborn meets Crispin Glover terrified shopkeeper.

These Westerns also function as horror movies, with eerie soundtracks and weird views of Mono lake desert moonscapes. Now I know where the sounds effects from Planet of the Apes orginated.

I’m trying to experience Nietszche’s idea of sickness being cleansing, energizing and necessary. It only works when I have a minor cold-induced hysteria, which is quickly over and I’m even less energetic for having had it.