WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? “I didn’t bring your breakfast, because you didn’t eat your din-din.”

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – 1962 – 133 minutes – ★★★★

Directed by Robert Aldrich

Starring Bette Davis (Jane Hudson), Joan Crawford (Blanche Hudson), Victor Buono (Edwin Flagg), Marjorie Bennett (Dehlia Flagg), Maidie Norman (Elvira Stitt), B.D. Merrill (Liza Bates)

Where to watch:   Warner Bros. Anniversary Edition blu ray (Comes in collectible digibook, with loads of extra features).


The new anthology series Feud debuts March 5 on FX, with season one (Bette and Joan) focusing on the often tortuous (and occasionally tortured) relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.   I expect good things from this series.  Creator Ryan Murphy hasn’t made a real misstep yet, and the casting of Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange in the starring roles certainly looks promising.  So this seems like a perfect time to take a look at the movie that launched the titular feud.

The movie opens on the vaudeville stage, with a young blond girl singing and dancing for a star-struck crowd.  She is not only a popular performer, but a bit of a marketing phenomenon as well.  Her father hawks life-size Baby Jane dolls (with matching blond ringlets) from the stage.   Jane’s dark-haired sister Blanche stands in the wings, radiating envy.  Not only does Jane get all the attention, she is also a spoiled brat.

Twenty years later, the tables have turned.  Blanche is a popular Hollywood actress, while her sister Jane struggles to keep herself out of the bottle long enough to act coherently.  One night after a party, an accident occurs, leaving Blanche paralyzed.  Did her own sister run her down?

This is the set-up of the movie, which jumps to the early 60’s, where we find Blanche (Joan Crawford) dependent on her sister Jane (Bette Davis) for her care.  Jane is resentful of her sister’s popularity before the accident, which had eclipsed her own, and resentful for having to care for her.   Jane is drinking far too much.  She also appears to be going completely bonkers.

This film does a marvelous job of slowly increasing the tension, as Jane’s behavior towards her sister grows more sadistic.  We begin to wonder if Blanche can possibly survive her sister’s cruelty.   I found myself really rooting for Blanche by the end of the film, which has an ending as strange and unpredictable as the movie deserves.

The first time I saw this movie was on late-night cable, maybe 15 years ago, and my memories were of rather campy performances.  Seeing it again, I was astonished at what a well-made film it is.  The bulk of the movie takes place in the Hudson sisters’ house, and the black-and-white cinematography, set design, musical score, and Oscar-winning costumes all combine to create a perfectly realized setting.   The acting is quite good throughout.  Joan Crawford creates a truly sympathetic character (and it takes a lot for me to sympathize with Joan Crawford.  Ever since seeing Mommie Dearest on HBO when I was about 10, she has thoroughly creeped me out).   And sure, Bette Davis’ performance does become campy at times, but in this particular role, I don’t think the term “too much” applies.

If you read enough of my reviews, you know I’m all about the character actors.  So I have to mention a couple. Victor Buono chews up the scenerey in his Oscar-nominated supporting role as a petulant man-child who is able to transform himself into a charming, Peter Ustinov-sounding English gentleman to woo Bette Davis out of some cash. Poor Victor died very young, but left his mark in this and a couple other fine roles.   And Maidie Norman is great as the housekeeper, who brings both tenderness and strength to her role.  Maidie had a long and prolific career, mostly in television.  If you are my age, you probably saw her in 15 different shows and never realized it.

Director Robert Aldrich had a very solid career, and he is almost forgotten today.  He basically launched the “crazy old lady” (some prefer “psycho biddy”) sub-genre with this movie, which had many imitators (most famously Aldrich’s own Hush, Hush  Sweet Charlotte).

The Feud series contends that the movie studio encouraged on-set rancor between the two stars.  I don’t know if that is true, but it certainly didn’t bleed over into the finished film.  (Well, Bette Davis does really seem to be enjoying herself when slapping and kicking Joan around).  It is rumored that  Crawford was upset when Davis received an Oscar nomination and she did not.  Bette Davis believed that Joan Crawford was campaigning against her, which may have contributed to her loss.  Or maybe, dear Bette, Anne Bancroft won for The Miracle Worker because she deserved it.   At any rate, Crawford had the last laugh.  Because Anne Bancroft was unable to attend the ceremony, and Crawford made arrangements in advance to accept the award on Bancroft’s behalf if she won.  Crawford’s smile as she walks out to accept the award  is certainly quite gleeful.  How much of that is because Bancroft won, and how much because Davis lost?

At any rate, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a good psychological thriller that holds up well after 55 years.  Below you can watch the clip of Joan Crawford accepting Anne Bancroft’s Oscar for Best Actress.



Grosse Pointe Blank: “I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How have you been?”

Grosse Pointe Blank – 1997 – 107 minutes.   ★★★1/2

Directed by George Armitage.

Starring:  John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Joan Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin, Jeremy Piven, Hank Azaria.

Where to watch:  15th Anniversary blu -ray (which unfortunately contains no extra features other than a standard format trailer).


Early in this film, the character Martin Blank (John Cusack) receives word of his upcoming ten-year high school reunion.  Most viewers will relate to Martin’s anxiety surrounding this event.  To go or not to go?  What will it be like to see everyone after so many years?  What if he runs into his old flame, a girl that he still hasn’t gotten over?  And the person he has been hired to assassinate, should he kill him before or after the reunion?  OK, maybe that last part is not so relatable.

Martin is a paid assassin,  who is good at what he does, and claims to have no moral qualms.  “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to deserve it” he tells his psychiatrist.  Martin is having recurring dreams about his high school sweetheart, Debi (Minnie Driver).  He stood her up on prom night, and still has some anxiety.  Of course this is nothing compared to the anxiety his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) experiences, because he has a killer for a client.

Martin Blank is being pressured by a business rival, Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) to join an assassin’s guild of sorts.  Martin wants no part of it, which makes Grocer unhappy.  It is at this point that Martin has a job opportunity in the same area that his reunion will take place, so he decides, after some prodding from his business partner (Joan Cusack) to kill two birds with one stone.  He can take out his target, and go to the reunion.

The rest of the movie is set around reunion weekend in Grosse Pointe, Michigan (hence the movie’s clever title).   The story is really two stories happening at once.  The drama of returning home after ten years, and reconnecting with family, friends and lovers;  and the day to day workings of an assassin who is himself being targeted by more than one person.

While this mixing of tone may not work for everyone, ultimately the film is funny, charming, and entertaining.   When Martin reconnects with Debi, there is a genuine chemistry between the two, which is fun to watch in all of their scenes together.  The ending of the movie does not quite work for me.  It is a bit frustrating to watch a movie that takes chances, and mixes tone well, kind of give up on itself in the last fifteen minutes, becoming very predictable.

The performances are great, throughout,  Cusack is a unique actor.  Give him the right material, and he fills a niche that nobody else could touch.  Come to think of it, one could say the same about his sister, Joan, who is also good in this movie.  Minnie Driver is just pitch perfect in her role.  Aykroyd plays his part over the top (does he know any other way?) but it works here.   Alan Arkin plays his small part so well,  you would swear it was written expressly for him.  This film is also a reminder that Jeremy Piven was funny before he became a total dickhead.

Director George Armitage is a bit of a mystery.  He came up in the stable of young directors that got their start under Roger Corman. (I don’t think you can overstate how influential a figure Corman has been to cinema). Armitage first made a name for himself with Miami Blues in 1990, which received positive reviews, but didn’t make a ton of money.  He didn’t direct again until this movie in 1997.  Why the long gap?  Grosse Pointe Blank would be the critical and commercial peak of Armitage’s career.  Another 7 years would pass before his next film, The Big Bounce, which was panned by critics and lost a lot of money.  Since then, Armitage hasn’t directed anything.  Again, I don’t understand the gap.   One would think he could have parleyed his success from Grosse Pointe Blank into other movie offers.

One cannot talk about Grosse Pointe Blank without talking about music.  The movie features snippets of dozens of songs, predominantly 80’s New Wave.  Minnie Driver’s character, Debi, is a DJ at the local radio station, which is an excuse to squeeze even more songs into the movie.  The late, great Joe Strummer of The Clash scored some music for the movie as well.  There is a great moment that features Guns ‘n Roses version of “Live and Let Die”, segueing into a muzak version of the same song as Cusack enters a convenience store.  I’m not sure if that was Stummer’s idea or not, but it’s a subtle moment that works well. I remember seeing this in the theater with my best friend Tom, and we both laughed at this moment.

This movie turns 20 this year, and it has aged pretty well.   So, if you like:  John Cusack, dark comedies, 80’s alternative music, or people getting stabbed in the neck with pens, this is the movie for you.  It is far from perfect, but it takes chances, and just like Martin Blank, it hits its mark more than it misses.

The disparate three: Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Music Man, The Player

Movies watched:  Fast Times At Ridgemont High  (home – 90 mins.), The Music Man (home – 151 minutes), The Player (home- 124 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  4 days, 12 hours, 2 minutes.


I don’t know what possessed me to re-watch Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  Having seen Ferris Bueller again in the theater over the summer, I think I was interested in doing a comparison of sorts.  They are two of the smartest and funniest teen movies of the 80’s, but their approach to subject matter is dramatically different.

Over the course of the movie, we follow the exploits of several high school students, including jocks (Forrest Whitaker), stoners (Sean Penn, Eric Stoltz), shrinking violets, eager to experience teenage love but unsure how to proceed (Brian Backer, Jennifer Jason Leigh), and others who pass of their inexperience behind braggadocio (Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates).

The cast are all quite good;  Sean Penn’s Spicoli is probably one of the most remembered, and quoted, characters from 80’s comedies.  Judge Reinhold is very good as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s older brother.   And Ray Walston, who quietly built a very solid and long-lasting career as a character actor, is perfect as teacher Mr. Hand, Spicoli’s comedic foil.

The movie takes a very frank and realistic view of sex, and yet the most memorable scene in the movie is a fantasy.  Of course I’m talking about Phoebe Cates’ topless scene, which is masturbatory fodder for Judge Reinhold’s character.


This movie was made by a woman director (Amy Heckerling), a rarity in the 1980’s, and her touch is all over the film.  The very unromantic scene in which Jennifer Jason Leigh loses her virginity (we see her POV as she is lying on the bench in the baseball field dugout, an older guy on top of her, and she is reading the graffiti on the ceiling) is something that more than a few women can relate to, in emotional tone if not in specifics.  And yet, Amy Heckerling still has the obligatory topless shot.  That’s an interesting tightrope to walk, but Heckerling demonstrated that she belonged in the “man’s world” of directing.

The mall scenes in this movie were shot in the Sherman Oaks Galleria,  which was nestled in the San Fernando Valley.  It is now long gone.  I visited that mall several times when I was a kid, and seeing the mall scenes, places I walked, shopped, ate, takes me back.  I can almost smell the Galleria when I watch those scenes.   Everyone who experienced high school  can find something to relate to here.


I could expound on the joys of The Music Man all day.  It is my favorite musical, bar none.  I’m not a musical fanatic;  most of Rogers and Hammerstein’s stuff just doesn’t grab me, although I make an exception for The Sound of Music because, well, it’s just so darned good, no matter how sappy.  My introduction to this movie was the soundtrack.  My grandmother had a large vinyl collection, which I was allowed to play from a very early age, as long as I promised to handle her records with care.  I played all almost all of her records, some only once.  But others I grew to love, and The Music Man soundtrack was one.  Meredith Wilson, the author, has a unique way of writing, both musically and lyrically, and I took to it immediately.  So when I saw the movie on television when I was 8 or 9, I already knew all the songs.  It was so amazing to see the glorious visuals that accompanies the music, surpassing everything I had imagined in my mind.

As a child, I had the biggest crush on Shirley Jones as Marion the Librarian; I wanted to be the brilliant, dynamic Robert Preston, wooing her, singing to her.  The movie deals with a traveling salesman calling himself Professor Harold Hill, who is a shyster.  He comes into town, sells the townspeople on the idea of a boy’s band, collects money for instruments and uniforms, then leaves in the dead of night.  But in River City Iowa, he has met his match.  He forms a bond with Marion the Librarian (Shirley Jones) and her younger brother, Winthrop (played by a young Ronny Howard), and is forced to look at his choices in life, and make a change.  Will it be a change for the better?  I’m sure you can figure that out.  After all, this is a big Hollywood musical.  This movie might not be for everyone, but if you’re at all a fan of musicals, you could do worse than to spend a couple of hours in River City.  This is a movie I watch at least once a year, and I never tire of it.  It nourishes my soul.


Finally, I re-watched Robert Altman’s The Player, because The Criterion Collection released it on blu-ray.  It looks fantastic, better than ever.  This movie is a very cynical look at Hollywood, and the making of movies.  It is just as relevant today as ever.

Some reflections:

The first shot of the movie goes on for several minutes, a bold opening which introduces many of the central characters, and gives us a sardonic look at the movie pitch process.  First of all, we see Buck Henry pitching The Graduate 2.  The fact that Henry wrote the screenplay for the original makes this joke really work.

I also thought it was really ballsy of Altman to have Fred Ward’s character reference Orson Welles’ tracking shot from Touch of Evil and Hitchcock’s uninterrupted takes in Rope, within his own uninterrupted tracking shot!  And he pulls it off, the clever bastard.


This is a self-referential movie that is in on the joke, winking to the audience as it tells the story of studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), who may be on the way out.   He’s also receiving death threats at work in the form of post cards.   Griffin confronts the man who he believes is threatening him, and an accident occurs in a movie theater parking lot.  Or was it an accident?

Soon Griffin Mill is a murder suspect, dating the girlfriend of the dead man, and trying to keep his job.  In the Hollywood of old, the murderer never gets away with it;  justice must be served.  But the Hollywood of the early 90’s was all polish, all glamour, and times were changing.

When this movie first came out, seeing all the Hollywood celebrities who play themselves in this movie was very cool. Many of them are not even cameos;  they are extras, populating the background of various scenes.   Now, many of those people are no longer with us.  They are ghosts, haunting the background, adding a slightly more somber tone to the proceedings, and somehow making the movie even more effective.  There’s Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows.  Gone.  Jack Lemmon.  Gone.  James Coburn.  Gone.  Rod Steiger.  Gone.  Peter Falk.  Gone.

Let’s not forget director Robert Altman.  He’s gone too.  But he left behind one hell of a body of work.  Far from perfect, but every bit his own.  If you’ve never seen an Altman film, this is perhaps the best place to start.


Three from 1950 (Harvey, Panic in the Streets, Born Yesterday). Plus The Secret Life Of Pets

Movies watched:  Harvey (home – 104 minutes), Panic in the Streets (home – 96 minutes), Born Yesterday (home – 103 minutes), The Secret Life of Pets (Bonney Lake Regal Tall Firs 10 – 90 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  4 days, 5 hours, 57 minutes

Boy, am I behind on my movie journal.  Work, vacation, more work and all of a sudden a month has passed.  So time to get caught up.


Harvey is a movie I first saw as a child.  Anybody in my general age group who grew up in California will remember the “Family Film Festival” on KTLA 5, hosted by Tom Hatten.  This is one of hundreds of movies that I was first exposed to watching that program.    The movie is based on a play by Mary Chase, and the film retains much of the dialogue and pacing of the play.  In the film, Jimmy Stewart plays a man named Elwood P. Dowd, an affable gentleman, who has a 6 foot tall invisible rabbit for a best friend.  His sister and niece, who are living with him, want to have him committed, because of his imaginary friend.  Much of the movie involves the sister’s attempt to have Elwood committed to a mental hospital.    The movie mixes comedy with moments of genuine affection, made all the more believable by Jimmy Stewart’s perfect performance.

It is a movie so gentle in tone, that I’m afraid it would be lost on many people today.  That’s a shame, because it still plays very well.  In addition to Stewart, there are several other standout performances.  Stewart’s sister is played by the great stage actress Josephine Hull, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Veta Louise Simmons in this movie.  Hull played a similar character in Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace, equally well.

Jimmy Stewart gestures towards the great Jesse White

There are several other great performances, including a couple of character actors that nobody else would probably know or recognize.  But I would be remiss if I did not mention the great Jesse White.  Jesse is spectacular in this movie, making the most of every moment he is onscreen.  He also provided what is arguably the funniest moment in the movie, when he is reading the definition of “Pooka” in the encyclopedia.  His line delivery is perfect.   If you watched any TV shows made between 1955-1975 then you know Jesse White.  Check out his credits, you’ll be amazed at how prolific he was.  The man did not stop working for over 40 years.  He guest starred on “The Andy Griffith Show”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Bonanza”, “The Munsters”, “Perry Mason”, “The Love Boat”, “Happy Days” and even “Seinfeld” (his last appearance before his death in 1997).

If you want a simple, funny, good-hearted movie, you could certainly do worse.


Watching Harvey got me thinking about what a great year for movies 1950 was, so I decided to watch another one:  Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets.  So first of all, Kazan was a very solid director who made at least 4 or 5 outstanding movies.  Yes, I know he named names.   But the man is dead, so let’s celebrate his art and forgive him his tresspasses.   Remember the 1999 Oscars, though?  When Kazan got his Lifetime Achievement Award?  Remember how uncomfortable Scorsese and DeNiro looked flanking Kazan on stage, like they would rather be somewhere else?  Some people made a point of standing and applauding loudly, others pointedly did not clap.  (You would think not clapping is the same as just sitting, right?  But no.  Not-clapping is a distinct action.  If you don’t believe me, just look at Ed Harris and Amy Madigan in the audience shots.  They are the living embodiment of “not clapping.”)  Then of course there is Spielberg, who tried to appease everybody by clapping, but not standing up.  Jeez, he really pisses me off sometimes.

I guess I’m more interested in talking about things peripherally related to the movie, so I’ll be brief about it:  it’s good.  There is a potential epidemic breaking out in New Orleans.  A contagious disease that could kill lots of people.  Richard Widmark is the man trying to track down an infected man.  But gangster Jack Palance and his henchman Zero Mostel (yes, I said Zero Mostel) are after the same man.  Who will find him first?

This is a magnificent movie, with elements of noir, but also a bit of documentary feel, as many scenes were shot on location.  Kazan was one of the first directors to do so regularly, which brought a rarely-seen gritty realism to his movies.  “Ahead of it’s time” is an over-used phrase, but I think it applies to this movie.  I’ve seen it three times now, and I like it more with every viewing.  I don’t remember what  I first saw Richard Widmark in, when I was a kid.  It might have been the episode of “I Love Lucy” he guest-starred in.  Then I probably saw him in Murder on the Orient Express.  I just know that I didn’t like him.  He seemed odd-looking and blustery.  Now that I’m older, I still think he’s odd-looking and blustery, but he was a versatile actor who gave some great performances (Judgment at Nuremberg, anyone?)   His occasionally manic performance in this movie suits the material.


Of course Palance was almost always typecast as the bad guy.  He came to resent that, but he could play a bad-ass as well as anybody.  Of course he was helped by his angular face and whispery voice.  It made him seem more threatening.  His character in this movie, Blackie, recently appeared on Empire magazines’ “50 Greatest Villians” list, and I can’t really argue with that.  Zero Mostel is good too.  And lest I forget the lovely Barbara Bel Geddes, who plays Widmark’s wife.  I absolutely love Barbara. Most people know her as “Miss Ellie Ewing” from Dallas.  To me she will always be Midge, from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  She never disappoints.


I was having so much fun in 1950 that I decided to stay there for one more movie:  Born Yesterday, directed by the George Cukor.   This movie was based on the popular Broadway play of the same name.  The plot involves an uncouth tycoon (really just a gangster who struck it rich), who comes to Washington D.C. to hobnob with some politicians, and see if he can tuck a few votes in his back pocket.  He is played by Broderick Crawford, another character actor with a very prolific career who is primarily remembered for one movie, All the King’s Men.  He was also in one of the most embarrassingly bad movies ever made, Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.  (Look it up.  It’s one of those rare movies that is such a train wreck, you can’t stop watching. It has cameos from dozens of actors well past their prime.  Everyone from Billy Barty to Stepin Fetchit.  Seriously.  I’ll have to review it later this year.  Maybe a week’s worth of bad/good movies).

Broderick Crawford’s girlfriend (played by Judy Holliday) comes with him to D.C.  She appears as a typical ditzy blonde, with an annoying high-pitched voice.  But there is nothing typical about her performance.  She practically originated the character.  It has been imitated, but never equaled.  And don’t even mention the God-awful remake with Melanie Griffith.  If you do, I will come to your house and pee on your car.  Judy Holliday gives one of the best performances ever captured on film.  Male or female.  Ever.  You got a problem with that?  You  seen the movie?  Didn’t think so.  She mixes tone so well.  She makes you laugh at her character at the same time she is endearing herself to you.  Then a little later she breaks your heart.  It is a rare performance that can have you laughing so hard your chest hurts, then later wiping away tears.  She does it all without every being a caricature.  She is a real, honest-to-God woman, something today’s movies could use more of.


Judy Holliday won the Oscar for Best Actress for this role, beating both Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, two of the most iconic female roles of all time.  And guess what?  Judy deserved it.  Judy died of breast cancer at the oh-so-young age of 43, leaving this one indelible performance to define her career.  And let’s forget William Holden.  His character is hired by Crawford to “educate” Judy Holliday.   Do you think they fall in love along the way?  Holden is a personal favorite of mine, in this movie, and just about everything else he did.  I think you could make a strong argument for him in “best actor of all time” discussion.   This movie deserves a bigger audience;  I only wish the remake could be “unmade.”


I don’t really have much to say about The Secret Life of Pets.  I watched it.  It was mildly entertaining.   A child would probably enjoy it more than I did.  I was aware of who did the voices, but thought that any of them (except maybe Kevin Hart) could have been interchanged with about 87 other people and it would not have altered the movie in any way.  Remember when animated movies had real voice talent?   Give me Phil Harris and Sterling Holloway any day.  Maybe I’m just becoming a crotchety old man.  While we’re at it, get off my lawn.

Two from Spielberg (Jurassic Park, The Lost World), two from Kubrick (The Killing, Killer’s Kiss)

Movies watched:  Jurassic Park (home – 127 minutes), The Lost World:  Jurassic Park (home – 129 minutes), The Killing (home – 85 minutes), Killer’s Kiss (home – 67 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  3 days, 23 hours, 24 minutes.


The Steven Spielberg blu-ray box set from Universal finishes out with his two entries in the Jurassic Park series.   The original was another game changer.  Based on the bestseller by Michael Crichton, the movie features a theme park of sorts, populated by dinosaurs, brought back from DNA found in mosquitoes trapped in amber.   Of course, things don’t go as planned in Jurassic Park, because “Nature finds a way.”  One of the reasons the premise is so appealing is because the science seems plausible, and perhaps prescient as well;  scientists are doing genome sequencing on woolly mammoth DNA right now, and may be able to clone one in only a couple of years.

When Jurassic Park was first released I was working at a Jack-in-the-Box in Whittier, California.  Almost every Friday night, a group of co-workers would go see a movie.  We would just pick from the current week’s new releases.  So this particular Friday night, the debate was between Jurassic Park and Last Action Hero, which both opened on the same day.  (It’s funny to think of now, but the box office prognosticators were split over which movie would take first place.  Nobody knew what a juggernaut Spielberg’s film would become).  It was timing that made the decision for us.  There was a JP showing in about 45 minutes.   I have seen hundreds of movies in the theater, and that night was one of the most thrilling, exciting, purely visceral experiences I have ever had in a theater.  The T-Rex attack sequence was amazing;  everybody gasping, screaming, jumping in their seats, at precisely the same moment.  What a great shared experience, and what a demonstration of how masterful Spielberg’s direction was.


And how about the cast?  Every character (and actor) is distinct and believable.  Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill had quietly been doing great work for decades;  this film brought them the bigger audience they deserved.  The screenplay is near perfect, the score (John Williams again, who else?) is memorable, the effects hold up well.  Jurassic Park did for movies in the 90’s what Jaws did in the 70’s.  This is Spielberg upping the ante.  And it still holds up today.

Because this movie was such a runaway success, a sequel was basically a foregone conclusion.  So Michael Crichton, who had not intended to write a sequel, wrote a second book.  Crichton killed off the Ian Malcolm character in the first book (which the movie thankfully did not), and I love the way Crichton just casually brought Malcolm back in his sequel.


The concept of The Lost World:  Jurassic Park  is pretty straightforward.  The idea is that the character of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, appearing in a cameo) had a second island, called Site B, where dinosaurs were still flourishing.  Is it plausible that Hammond would have had a second island, and never mentioned it to anyone in the first movie, or book?  It stretches plausibility, but it works.  So Hammond sends Ian Malcolm (played once again by Jeff Goldblum) to Site B to document the dinosaur activity.   Also along for the ride are Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore, as well as Richard Schiff and Vanessa Lee Chester as Goldblum’s young daughter, who stows away on the voyage.  There is a competing team on the island, who are there to hunt and capture dinosaurs, to transport them to the mainland for use in a new commercial enterprise.  The dinosaur hunters are led by the always brilliant Pete Postlethwaite, who wants to kill a T-Rex, the ultimate big-game trophy.

The first time I saw this movie, in the theater, I had a basically positive response.  Seeing it now, it does not hold up terribly well.  It is just a pale imitation of the first movie.  The acting is good, there are a couple of good set pieces, but it is missing the sense of wonder that made the original more than just a run-of-the-mill thriller.   The original movie had Spielberg’s imprint on it in virtually every scene.  His touch is mostly absent from the sequel. lostworld2The finale of this movie, which features a T-Rex on a rampage through the streets of San Diego, is my least fovorite part of the film.  It borrows heavily from King Kong.  I’m not sure why it bothers me so much, but the original Jurassic Park had seemed like a special film, and somehow moving this the mainland at the end just turns it into a very run-of-the-mill monster movie.  This may be one of the most uninspired movies in Steven Spielberg’s entire catalog.   It is definitely worth watching, at least once, but is a weak follow-up to the original.


Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors whose name carries a certain cachet.  I am not a member of the cult of Kubrick;  I do not fawn over his movies as many other cinephiles do.  But I do appreciate his unique visual style.  Kubrick started out as a photographer, and he always had an eye for framing.  But his movies often have a languorous pace that I find frustrating.  The Killing was Kubrick’s first feature-length movie that he made for a major studio.  It is small budget, compared to his later films, but it has a fantastic visual flare.

The Killing tells the story of a group of guys who are planning to rob a race track, and walk away with the day’s take.  The group (led by the great Sterling Hayden) have planned everything down to the last detail.  Unfortunately, one of the gang (the unforgettable character actor Elisha Cook, Jr.) spills the beans to his unfaithful wife, and soon their best-laid plans have gone awry.

This movie is one of the best film-noir of the 1950’s, and has been vastly influential.  It is one of the first movies to feature a fractured narrative structure, in which the same time period is viewed multiple times, from the viewpoint of different characters.  Quentin Tarantino has cited the influence of this movie on his early films, especially Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown.  The word genius is thrown about so frequently in Hollywood that is has lost all significance;  but I think Kubrick was truly a cinematic genius.  Few people in the history of movie-making have made a movie this visually sure-handed, at such a young age;


Anyone who likes heist movies, caper movies, or film noir will certainly enjoy this film.  And lovers of film will probably recall several movies made in the last 60 years that owe a debt of gratitude to this movie.  It is well-paced and features solid performances throughout.  The Criterion Collection did a fantastic job with their blu-ray version of this movie, it has never looked so good.

If you purchase this Criterion blu-ray, you will be able to view the Kubrick movie Killer’s Kiss, which is included as a bonus feature.  Killer’s Kiss is the movie that Kubrick made right before The Killing.  Essentially, he made this movie to try and get a deal with a major studio.  Killer’s Kiss was directed, shot and edited by Kubrick on a ridiculously small budget.  But his talent for framing, and his attention to detail, is already apparent at this point.


This very short movie (which breezes along at only 67 minutes) features a boxer who falls for a young woman that he sees in an adjacent apartment building.  They plan to move away together.  The only problem is, the girl has a night-club owner cum gangster who is in love with her, and does not want to give her up.  In order for our boxer hero to get the girl, he is going to have to fight for her.   The cast are all a bunch of unknowns.  One of the most interesting things about this movie is the casting of Frank Silvera (a black actor, born in Jamaica) as the lead antagonist.  It was not customary for a black man to get a prominent role in a movie in the 1950’s, (unless it was a role that specifically called for a “person of color”) and Kubrick cast Silvera because of his acting ability, not his race.  You will probably recognize Frank Silvera;  he was a good character actor who appeared in dozens of TV shows.

Kubrick’s camera work is so sure-handed.  There is a great shot on a rooftop, in which we watch our protagonist (played by Jamie Smith) run around the entire rooftop, searching for a means of escape.  The camera tracks him as he runs towards the camera, then away, then back again.  There is also a brilliantly chaotic fight sequence which involves axes and a mannequin warehouse!   Once again, Kubrick’s visual flare is astonishing.

killerskiss2Nothing that is seen on screen in a Kubrick film is ever accidental;  he meticulously planned and framed every single shot.  Look at this shot above, which is just one throwaway in a long sequence.   It is pitch-perfect.  If you are a fan of Kubrick, then it is well worth watching this movie, to see his early genius on display.




Jaws, 1941, E.T., Always

Movies watched:  Jaws (home – 124 minutes), 1941 (home – 146 minutes), E.T. (home – 114 minutes), Always (home – 123 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  3 days, 16 hours, 36 minutes


What is there to say about Jaws at this point?  So much hyperbole has been heaped upon it, (and deservedly so) over the last 35 years.  One of the most impactful movies of the 20th century.  The movie that gave birth to the “summer blockbuster”.  The first movie to gross over $100 million.   The movie tells the story of a great white shark terrorizing the beaches of Amity Island, a summer vacation retreat.  Roy Scheider is Police Chief Brody, who puts safety above all concerns.  Murray Hamilton is Mayor Vaughn, who is more concerned with the loss of revenue if the beaches are closed.  The movie also features a young and terrific Richard Dreyfuss as shark expert Matt Hooper, and the incomparable Robert Shaw as Captain Quint, a man who has a very personal reason to dislike sharks.


Everything about this movie is iconic, from John Williams’ often imitated musical score, to Spielberg’s sure-handed directing.  Spielberg’s camera work on this movie owes a lot to Alfred Hitchcock.  Not only does Spielberg borrow the “Vertigo” camera move in this movie, but many of the shots and angles are inspired by Hitchcock.

I was fortunate to see this movie on the big screen for the first time last year, with my son Kevin, when TCM brought it back into theaters.  I had seen it on the small screen at least 4 times, and I was blown away by how great it appeared on the big screen.  I noticed so much detail that I had never seen before.  If you ever have an opportunity to see a classic movie on the big screen, I highly recommend it.  You just might be amazed.


When I was a kid, 1941 used to air on cable a lot.  It was a movie I wanted to like.  It has a fantastic cast, and a decent premise.  The idea is that the Los Angeles is on edge after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  People are worried that the Japanese might attack the west coast of the US.  And the movie does feature one crazed Japanese submarine commander who is intent on attacking.  Unfortunately the movie is a big, jumbled mess.  I watched the extended version, and I can’t say that adding twenty-odd minutes did anything for the film, other than make it longer.

There are some good moments in this movie, and a lot of bad ones.  For the only all-out comedy that Steven Spielberg has ever directed, its just not very funny.  There is a dance-hall sequence that is ok, but feels like a dry-run for the opening sequence of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  The last 30 minutes of the movie, which adopts an increasingly manic pace, is the best part of the film.  But the amount of movie that one has to slog through to get to this point is virtually insufferable.  And what a squandering of great talent!  John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are wasted.  Not to mention Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee.

I want to like this movie, I really do, but it just doesn’t work.  I heard someone describe 1941 on a podcast recently as an entertaining mess.  I think he was half right.


Next up in the Spielberg Universal box set is E.T.  Again, this is a hard movie to talk about, because it transcends film, and has become a cultural icon.  This movie was one of the first “event films” of my youth.  I remember standing in line for hours, waiting to get in.  That phenomenon was essentially created by Spielberg and George Lucas.


Just as with Jaws this movie is full of iconic images and sounds.  I am grateful that this box set contains the original theatrical version of the movie, not the revisionist version that Spielberg re-released to theaters ten or so years ago.  In that version, he decided to replace the government agent’s guns with flashlights.  He also got rid of the awesome brotherly put down “penis breath.”  Thankfully, these two scenes are presented in their original theatrical format.

One of the most interesting things about this movie is the subtext.  This is not just a movie about an alien visiting earth, and befriending a family.   This is a movie about broken families.   Spielberg was a child of divorce, and this had a strong impact on him as a person, and a filmmaker.  I remember seeing this movie as a twelve year old, and watching the scene in the garage, when the two brothers smell their father’s shirt.  My twelve-year old mind realized that I wouldn’t even know what my father smelled like, because he left my life when I was only 2.


The other scene I loved as a kid, and still love very much, is the freeing of the frogs, and the kiss, which mirrors the kiss between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man.    Everybody has their own special moment in this movie, and I have to say, it does hold up pretty well.  Of course, part of that is the 12 year old in me, watching nostalgically.  I would love to know what a 12-year old today thought of this movie.


Audrey Hepburn, Always (1989, Steven Spielberg) starring Holly Hunter, Richard Dreyfuss and John Goodman

Always is a very different film in Spielberg’s body of work.  It is a sweet film, but ultimately pretty lightweight.   This movie came about because Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss were both fans of an old movie called A Guy Named Joe.  They talked about it while filming Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and joked that they would remake it one day.  Well, their joke became a reality in 1989.

The movie tells the story of a pilot named Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) who puts out fires.  His closest friend is fellow pilot Al Yackey (played by John Goodman) and the love of his life is Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter).  But Dreyfuss dies in a plane crash, after saving Goodman’s life. The rest of the movie involves Dreyfuss becoming the “guardian angel” of another pilot, a man who takes a shine to Holly Hunter.

One of the best parts of the movie features a cameo with Audrey Hepburn, in her last film role.  Dear sweet Audrey was sick with cancer at this point, but she is still absolutely sublime in the role of Hap, who explains to Dreyfuss what is happening to him in the afterlife.   A strong case could be made for Audrey Hepburn as the greatest film actress of all time, and this short role is a nice bookend to a great life in film.

Ultimately, however, this film is kind of forgettable.  I felt good while watching it, I enjoyed it, but very little of it resonates.   I still say it is worth watching, at least once.  And in any other director’s ouvre, this would be a minor masterpiece.  But because of the caliber of Spielberg’s catalogue, this becomes a minor entry at best.





Finding Dory, Pawn Sacrifice, Duel, Sugarland Express.

Movies watched:  Finding Dory (Bonney Lake Regal Tall Firs 10 – 103 minutes), Pawn Sacrifice (home – 115 minutes), Duel (home – 89 minutes), Sugarland Express (home – 110 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  3 days, 8 hours, 9 minutes


I’ve missed out on a lot of the animated movies of the last decade or so.  My son is an adult now, and has been for a while,  so the days when I had to see virtually every  animated movie made are long gone.  Of course, there are plenty of quality “kid’s” movies that have been released in the last decade, and maybe I’ve missed a few good ones.  But I never miss a Pixar movie.  They really have set the bar so high, and stumbled so infrequently.  Last year’s Inside Out  was one of the best movies of the year, animated or otherwise.

So Finding Nemo was never one of my favorite Pixar movies.  The animation is spectacular, but it didn’t grab me the way Toy Story  or Monsters Inc. did.  I feel like this movie is a worthy successor to the original.   It is very similar in tone to the first movie.  Ellen DeGeneres is really perfect as Dory, and the rest of the voice talent is good too.   I almost feel like Albert Brooks is wasted, because he’s basically playing his part the same way he did in the first movie.  Perhaps it would have been better if this was just Dory’s adventure.     And two people from “Modern Family” doing voices on a Disney movie?  Nobody is better than Disney at cross-promotion.  Synergy, baby.

I liked this movie; the kids in the theater loved it. It is a perfect movie for children, with a great message.


I don’t play a lot of chess these days, but I’ve always enjoyed movies about chess.  I’m also a fan of the oft-maligned Tobey Maguire.   The Fischer/Spassky world championship is great subject matter for a movie.  That tournament took place when the tensions of the cold war were very high, and every victory became politicized.  I had no idea how bonkers Bobby Fischer became.  Did his unstable home life contribute to his paranoia?   The movie does not explicitly make this claim, but it is certainly offered up as a possibility.  Fischer had an exceptional mind, and perhaps his extreme paranoia was a genetic offshoot of the way his brain functioned.

The movie is very entertaining, and Tobey MacGuire does a great job.  Liev Schreiber is also solid, and Peter Sarsgaard is outstanding.   The movie is directed by Edward Zwick, a very workmanlike director who has made several solid (but not great) films.  It is entertaining for the most part, but it doesn’t linger for long when it’s over.  If this story intrigues you, there are some good books about Fischer;  what a sad,  strange story.

"You want crazy?" says Tobey Maguire. "I'll show you crazy."
“You want crazy?” says Tobey Maguire. “I’ll show you crazy.”

Universal Pictures released an 8 movie blu ray box set of Steven Spielberg movies, which was available at Costco for a steal.  It’s a little spotty, because it only contains the movies Spielberg directed for Universal.  There are no real duds in the set though.  So I started watching them chronologically.


Duel was originally made for television, but several months after its TV debut an extended theatrical version was released.  This longer, theatrical cut was shown on television frequently when I was a kid.  I remember watching it with a mix of horror and fascination.  I couldn’t stop watching, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.  It was the fact that Spielberg never showed the face of the truck driver.  The idea of an unknown, faceless menace scared the crap out of me.   The bulk of the movie was shot near my hometown of Palmdale, California.  I had been on Sierra Highway,  where some of the scenes were shot. So when I would be riding in my mom’s car, I would hunker down and close my eyes every time we passed a truck.  It took me a couple of years to get over that one.

Dennis Weaver stars as a salesman, who has a chance encounter with a truck on a small desert highway, and is then stalked by the truck for the duration of the movie.  The movie is based on a short story by the brilliant Richard Matheson, who wrote dozens of “Twilight Zone” episodes.   Duel is very well paced, and brilliantly shot.  In many ways, it lays the groundwork for Spielberg’s entire career.


I had never seen Sugarland Express before, which is Spielberg’s official feature film debut.    It stars a young, cute, very talented Goldie Hawn, as Lou Jean, a woman who has made some bad choices in life, and has her young son taken away and placed in foster care.   Goldie breaks her husband out of a minimum-security prison, and they set off to take back their child.  Along the route, they end up with a Texas policeman as a hostage, and soon have half the lawmen in Texas following them.


It was a pleasant surprise to see William Atherton in the role of Clovis, Lou Jean’s equally goodhearted but misguided husband.  Atherton would later establish his career playing assholes throughout the 80’s (the EPA guy in Ghostbusters,  the TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2).  Here, he is incredibly likable.  One look in particular stands out, when he is supplying the sound effects to a Loony Tunes cartoon, and all of a sudden the joy drains from his face, as if he knows exactly how this escapade with his wife is going to end, but is going to follow it through to the end.

Then there is Ben Johnson as Captain Tanner, leading the seemingly hundreds of law enforcement agents trailing the kidnapping couple.  Johnson was a pretty basic actor.  He kept it simple, but always believable.  His quiet understatement would provide a good example to some of the bombast that passes for acting today.


The movie is different in tone from most Spielberg movies, but it is watchable.  It just feels like an odd choice sandwiched in between Duel and Jaws, as if he had to make this one, and make  it successfully, to make a movie that he really wanted to make.  It is also the first time Spielberg worked with John Williams, who used Toots Thielmans’ magnificent harmonica playing in the score.


The French Connection, French Connection II, The Connection. Plus To Catch A Thief

Movies watched:  The French Connection  (home – 104 minutes), French Connection II (home – 119 minutes), The Connection (home – 135 minutes), To Catch A Thief (106 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  3 days, 1 hour, 12 minutes


So last week I saw that the French movie The Connection was streaming on Amazon Prime, and I thought I would revisit the French Connection movies first.  The French Connection is a movie that holds up amazingly well.    Sometimes a young director does great things when a belief in infallibility is combined with true talent (until hubris topples the thrones of the mighty).  It happened with Welles, it happened with Coppola, and it definitely happened with William Friedkin.   Friedkin was too young to know how the game was supposed to be played.  He just knew the movie he wanted to make, and he made it.

The movie is kind of a solid stream of kinetic energy.  Friedkin got his start in documentary films, and so he shot this with a documentary feel.  Everything was shot on location, and the camerawork has a natural quality. Of course, everybody remembers the chase scene, with a car chasing a train under the elevated tracks.   It’s a scene that paved the way for a generation of car chases that followed, but still manages to be one of the best.  So many car chases today are exciting, but so perfectly choreographed;  the chase in The French Connection feels unrehearsed and real, which it was to an extent.  A couple of the crashes were not supposed to be crashes, they were supposed to be near misses.  Happy accidents, because they contribute to the sense of reality.


Speaking of happy accidents, the story of Fernando Rey being cast by accident is one of the greatest movie stories in Hollywood history.  William Friedkin told his casting director to hire the guy who was in all the Luis Bunuel movies to play Charnier, the antagonist.  The actor that Friedkin had in mind was Paco Rabal, but the casting director hired Fernando Rey, another actor that had appeared in several Bunuel films.  And of course, Rey is sublime as Alain Charnier;  its hard to imagine anyone else topping his performance.   The movie is full of great performances.  Gene Hackman won his first Oscar, and Roy Scheider was nominated.  The movie also won best direction and best picture.


And now we get to the sequel.  French Connection II is one of those sequels that was made for one reason only:  the first movie made a ton of money.  The original was based on a true story.  (If you dig the movie, check out the book by Robin Moore.  It is a good police procedural.)  The second movie has no basis in fact.  What it does have is Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey reprising their roles from the first movie.  It also has the vastly underrated director John Frankenheimer.

The first time I watched this movie, I so wanted it to be great, and it is so clearly not.  It is a decent movie, with many great moments, but overall it is a letdown compared to the first movie.   First of all, the fish out of water premise is fantastic; so is the idea of Hackman’s character getting strung out on heroin.  It just fails a little bit in the execution.  There are many great sequences.   Particularly when Hackman gets angry.  The scene in which he torches the hotel, that is a marriage of great directing and great acting.  frenchconnectiontwo1

My favorite scene in the movie has  Cathleen Nesbitt, veteran actress of the British stage, (in her 80’s when the movie was made!) stealing Gene Hackman’s watch.  What a great moment.  It is nothing like the original movie, but is worth watching at least once, particularly if you are a fan of Gene Hackman.


The Connection is a French movie that purports to be inspired by the events of The French Connection.  It is a loose inspiration, because in reality Jean Jehan (the drug kingpin from the first two movies) was never jailed.  France refused to extradite him.  The character in this movie (played by Gilles Lellouche) is a fictional druglord, who is controlling the flow of heroin into America.  He is basically untouchable, and everybody is on the take, including many of the police whose job it is to bust him.  Then along comes Pierre Michel (played by Jean Dujardin) who is placed in charge of the organized crime unit, and decides to bring Lellouche down.

For the most part, it is a compelling film, solidly paced, with good performances..  There are some cliches that have become all-too-familiar in cop movies, such as the wife who threatens to leave because her husband is spending too much time working, and forces him to make a choice.  I think this is the first time I have seen Dujardin act in his native French.  His portrayal is very powerful, and convincing.   He has a face that was made to be photographed. If you like crime thrillers, and are not averse to reading subtitles, then give this one a try.  It is a worthy successor to the French Connection series.


I also recently watched Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, so I could review it for my alfredhitblog site.  I always enjoy this film.  Two beautiful people, in a beautiful city, dressed in beautiful clothes, on beautiful sets, speaking beautiful dialogue.  Definitely a summer movie.

You can read my review here.

Northern Ireland double feature: Odd Man Out, ’71. Plus Ghostbusters.

Movies watched:  Odd Man Out (home – 116 minutes), ’71 (home – 99 minutes), Ghostbusters (AMC Southcenter 16 – 105 minutes).

Total elapsed time:  2 days, 17 hours, 28 minutes.


Director Carol Reed is far from a household name.   The only films of his that are really well known today are The Third Man and Oliver!   But his body of work contains quite a few gems, including Odd Man Out.  This film stars James Mason as Johnny McQueen, a leader in a Northern Irish “organization” that is never named, but is clearly meant to be the IRA.    One of the great things about this movie is that Carol Reed has removed politics from the plot.  Ultimately, this movie is about people dealing with the consequences of their choices  It delves into some rather deep subject matter, with ruminations on life, death and personal responsibility.

McQueen and his friends pull off a robbery,  and he scuffles with and shoots a guard.   He is left behind, hiding alone in Belfast.  The rest of the movie deals with everyone’s attempt to find McQueen, and his attempt to get to sanctuary.   This movie was released in 1947, so we know there can be know escape for Johnny McQueen.  He must be brought to justice.  So the movie has a sense of fatalism as it moves along.  And yet, for all that, the conclusion is incredibly moving.   Performances are strong throughout, but the real strengths of this movie lie in Carol Reed’s direction, Robert Krasker’s cinematography, and the musical score of William Alwyn.


Krasker, who would later win an Oscar for The Third Man, does a magnificent job lighting this film, with many elements of German expressionism;  long shadows abound. As Johnny begins to hallucinate, there are images like the one above, involving special effects photography, quite clever for the mid ’40’s.   The musical score is outstanding as well, particularly in the final moments of the film.  One small image in particular will stay with me forever.  James Mason’s character is lying in the snow, and he sees a curtain part, and two small boys looking with joy and wonder at the falling snow.  Then, the curtain closes.  The lighting, staging and music all combine to make this unforgettable, and a great metaphor for the fleeting nature of life, and the joys it brings. This film is highly recommended.


I guess I had Northern Ireland on the brain, or in the heart, because I next watched the 2014 movie ’71.   The movie is set in the titular year, when the conflict was at its most atrocious and bloody.  A young British soldier named Gary (played  by Jack O’Connell) is patrolling in Belfast when he becomes separated from his fellow soldiers.  He must then try to survive a night in Belfast.  So the movie shares that plot point at least with Odd Man Out, a man trying to get through a night in Belfast.  Otherwise, the movies are very different.

This excellent movie marks the directorial debut of Yann Demange.  The movie is a burst of frenetic energy unbelievable tension.  It is entertaining, moving, and at times difficult to watch..   Two times during the movie I felt tightness in my chest, from the tension.  Once, I stood up off the couch, unable to contain my emotion.


’71 also feature Sean Harris, who played the villain in  Mission Impossible:  Rogue Nation.  He is playing a different version of that character here, and manages to seem more menacing in this movie, despite the much smaller stakes.  His acting is like a kettle of water that is about to boil;  everything is bubbling just under the surface.   


And finally, last weekend I saw Ghostbusters on the big screen, for the first time since its original theatrical release.  It holds up very well.  Reflections:

–Remember the scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack’s character is going to rearrange his albums autobiographically?  I am that way about movies.  I can remember the circumstances of every movie I’ve seen (who with, when, where).  So I’m sitting there in the theater with my adult son and his girlfriend, thinking that the first time I saw Ghostbusters I was 12 years old, and with my mom.  She enjoyed it more than I thought she would.

–Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis:  good God, they all look so young.  And they were all so good.  This movie falls into that brief window when Aykroyd was genuinely funny.

–I had forgotten how late into the movie Ernie Hudson comes along, but I am glad he is there.  He has some of the best moments.

–There is sure is a lot of cigarette smoking in this movie.  I know, different time, but it seems gratuitous in a couple of scenes.  I was looking for a pack of cigs with a logo;  product placement perhaps?

–Finally, there is a Reginald VelJohnson sighting in this movie!  He is the cop that lets the Ghostbusters out of jail after they have been arrested.  Just 4 years later VelJo (as I affectionately call him) would play another policeman, the unforgettable Sgt. Al Powell, in Die Hard.  


–Finally, did you know there was a TV show called “The Ghostbusters” that aired in 1975?   It reteamed Larry Storch and the massively-schlonged Forrest Tucker from “F Troop”, as ghost-busting detectives, who have a gorilla as a sidekick!  It lasted one full season and is just about as bad as it sounds.  I almost made it through one episode on youtube, but the laugh track was just too much to take.  I do love Storch and Tucker though.  (And of course, I wish I was packing like FT.  Then again, what man doesn’t?)



I Confess, Her, Minority Report, Captain America: Civil War

Movies watched:  I Confess (home – 91 minutes), Her (home – 126 minutes), Minority Report (home – 145 minutes), Captain America:  Civil War (AMC Kent Station 14 – 147 minutes).

Total elapsed time:  2 days, 12 hours 8 minutes


This week I watched the Alfred Hitchcock movie I Confess so I could analyze and write about it for my alfredhitchblog site.  I hadn’t seen it for many years, and I was watching it with a particular eye for the religious symbolism.  It is a better movie than I remembered it, but far from Hitchcock’s best.  For a detailed look at this movie, look here.


Next I watched the Spike Jonze movie Her.   This was one of my two favorite movies of 2013. My son Kevin and I see all of the Oscar-nominated movies every year, and we both really enjoyed this one.  I was very happy when Spike Jonze won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for this movie (happy for Jonze because I thought he deserved it, and happy for me because I picked him to win in my Oscar predictions).

I like futuristic movies that are set in the near-future, as opposed to hundreds or thousands of years hence.  This movie is not some fabulist’s tale of bizarre unfamiliar machines, but a future that is palpably close, and therefore much more real.  The set design, costume design, and cinematography all work together to form a very believable aesthetic.

Will people ever fall in love with operating systems?  It would not surprise me;  the Japanese are already working on very life-like robots that will provide unconditional love and emotional support for people who live alone and feel alone.   Now whether those operating systems could ever achieve a state of self-awareness, and act autonomously, is another question entirely, with the answer farther away from us.


The performances are good (particularly Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson) the visual look is unique, and the screenplay is great.  The screenplay covers a wide range of emotion, not least of which is humor;  there are a few laugh-out-loud moments in this film.  This is one of those movies which makes me feel good about being alive, on this world, at this moment.

It was a pretty natural progression to go from Her to Minority Report.  After all, it is another movie set in the not-too-distant future, although the premise is not believable.  This was about the time that Steven Spielberg began to explore different genres and themes than he had for most of his career.   There are times when Spielberg seems to play it safe, to coast, but there are certainly times when he has taken chances, and many times they have paid off.


This movie is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.  I purchased a collection of his short stories many years ago, but had never opened it.  I figured it was about time, so I read the story this week, after re-watching the film.  The basic premise of the movie exists in the story, but honestly, the short story is weaker than the screenplay.

About that screenplay.   Overall, it is very good.  There are a few moments that don’t quite ring true to me.   (I mean true within the confines of the story.  Of course the very premise of “precogs” who can see crimes before they happen is ridiculous;  but once the premise is established, the story must follow its own logic.)  It’s actually a very engaging premise.  Isn’t there a fundamental paradox in arresting somebody for a crime they have not yet committed?

Visually, the movie works very well.  Spielberg used a “bleach bypass” on most of the film, giving it a washed look, drained of most color.  One exception is the color red, which is used as a color cue.  Many directors have used red as a color cue (Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Spielberg himself), and it works well here.  Next time you see this movie, watch for scenes with red in them.  They happen when the character of Danny Witwer (played by Colin Farrell) is on-screen.  This is foreshadowing; in his final scene the color red has a very strong significance.

Tom Cruise was just reaching the peak of his power at this point, and is very well cast in the lead role.  Max von Sydow, alas, has played so many villains over the last 20 years that the audience becomes immediately suspicious of him.   Samantha Morton is very good in the difficult role of the “precog”,  one of the three people who see the future crimes.   Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson are memorable in small supporting roles.  Their characters give the movie the feel of an old film noir, in the vein of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, which have a bizarre cast of memorable supporting characters.


This material definitely inspired Spielberg to up his game visually, with several memorable shots, including the one seen above.  There are also a couple of deliberate nods to Alfred Hitchcock (one involving umbrellas), and a fantastic overhead sequence in a tenement building.  Overall, this movie succeeds.  If you don’t pause to question the logic of what is happening, and just go along for the ride, it is a very entertaining movie.

Speaking of not pausing to question story logic, we get to Captain America:  Civil War.  

Nobody is more surprised than me that I saw this movie.  But my car was being serviced and I had some time to kill.  A few years ago, I declared a moratorium on comic book movies.  I just decided that I wanted a break.  I did see all of the Nolan Batman movies  I saw the first Iron Man.  I saw the second Captain America movie because my son and I were in London, and the movie premiered over there earlier than in the States, and he wanted to be able to scoop his friends and see it first.  I saw the first Avengers.   And that’s it.  So I’m missing a few pieces of the puzzle.  It’s not that I dislike the movies.  And it’s not that I’m highbrow or something like that, and frown on these types of movies.  I just got a little tired of the constant reinvention/rebooting of franchises.


That being said, this Marvel franchise has done it right.  They had a long-term plan, and it has paid off immensely.  So maybe I’m going to have to watch the movies I missed, to fill in the blank.  This movie is exactly what you want it to be, just a pure popcorn movie.   The premise of characters that the audience all love facing off against each other is a good one.  The problem, of course, is that we know ultimately that none of them will die, and that they will be reunited, so that takes a little of the suspense away.  That being said, it is a good movie.  It did feel like it had about 3 endings.  Couldn’t it have ended with a cliffhanger?   Leave some of the Avengers in prison, and open the next movie with their escape?  Apparently not, everything has to resolve itself.    Performances?  Well, everyone is playing characters that have already been established in earlier films, so they are all comfortable and enjoyable to watch.

I liked this movie enough  that I will go back and see some of the movies I missed along the way.  At least the Marvel ones.  I will never watch Batman v Superman..