Review Page and Column
The Irishman 11/28/20
Martin Scorsese’s best feature in years is a lengthy but fully rewarding underworld version of the life and untimely demise of Union leader Jimmy Hoffa. As part of the new media alignment with streaming companies, Netflix backed the ambitious, not-conventionally-bankable premise. Special digital manipulation was used to partly rejuvenate the three leads — Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci (Pesci makes a stunning comeback). “I Heard You Paint Houses” was the title of Charles Brandt’s book; screenwriter Steve Zalian’s adaptation embraces the longform format afforded by Netflix — 3.5 hours. Out on parole, recidivist reviewer Charlie Largent puts the 2019 epic under the crime lab microscope… it isn’t multi-generational in the Edna Ferber sense, but it feels as if it captures an entire lifetime. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Day of the Locust 11/28/20
John Schlesinger’s adaptation of Nathanael West’s novel is one of the best ‘Hollywood on Hollywood’ pictures ever, even if it soaks everything about The Golden Age of Tinseltown in an acid bath of cynicism. The perverse dystopia of dreams and vice is beautifully rendered in every respect, and culminates in a finale that caught ordinary audiences by surprise. Is this an indictment of the shallow aims of America’s Fantasyland, or one misanthrope’s vision of self-loathing and apocalyptic wish fulfillment? Don’t look for anyone to root for, as even the benign characters are moral freaks. Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, Donald Sutherland and William Atherton give utterly original performances. [Imprint] has a secured a great new interview extra with Atherton. With Geraldine Page, Richard Dysart, Bo Hopkins, Pepe Serna, Lelia Goldoni, Billy Barty and Jackie Earle Haley. On Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
King Kong (1976) 11/28/20
Dino De Laurentiis took a lot of flack for his underwhelming remake of the incomparable 1933 horror classic, which he promoted into a monster-sized hit. Nothing could eclipse the original but the good casting still appeals. An honest ad campaign would have leaned on two points: SEE Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin carry an insultingly ugly production like real stars! SEE ‘newcomer’ Jessica Lange play a sexualized ditz so well that she retains her dignity! …and most importantly, SEE the biggest special effects fraud ever perpetrated on movie screens! Umbrella Entertainment of Australia puts this one back in print, on Blu-ray. With Rick Baker, Rene Auberjonois, Julius Harris, John Randolph, Jack O’Halloran and Ed Lauter. On Region B Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment.
Writing the King Kong ’76 review was a workout … I have friends to thank for correcting my faulty memory. But I forgot about one more wrinkle, and a notable one. I’ve seen makeup specialist Rick Baker several times at events, book signings, etc., but I forgot that I met Baker ‘sort of’ on the set of 1941 late in 1978. I say ‘sort of’ because I never saw his face.
The first shoot on 1941 was the Ocean Park Amusement Park miniature, which filled half of MGM’s giant Stage 30, the famous Esther Williams stage with the enormous water tank. Tension was high during filming, until the all-important Ferris Wheel gag came off like a charm. The Wheel was so impressive, and the subsequent filming of Ken Swenson’s terrific radio controlled tank so smooth, that the pressure came down considerably. Greg Jein’s miniature prop makers won the full admiration of Bill Fraker’s demanding camera crew.
John Landis had been on the miniature set a lot, joking and having fun. On the last day of filming my fellow production assistant (soon to be promoted to Associate Producer) asked me to help cue something special. As a surprise, Landis had asked his close friend and collaborator Rick Baker to don one of his ape suits (I assume he had more than one) so that when Spielberg called the wrap, he could rush out onto the Ocean Park Set as if he was going to destroy it, like King Kong would. I knew all about Rick Baker from Landis’s movie Schlock and his achievement in Kong ’76, but when I opened the trailer to tell Baker it was time to come out I wasn’t prepared for the sight of the ape suit. I believe he was in there with his wife (?) who had helped him ‘dress.’ All I did was smile, and say something dumb like, ‘this must be the suit from Kong.’ There was a delay and somebody else went out to actually bring Baker to the set, maybe Landis himself. The gag could only be so effective because the lights on the big miniature had already been turned off and the wrap called. Baker/Kong did indeed do a one-minute rampage through Ocean park, waving his arms. Spielberg thought it pretty crazy.
Because of the dim lighting, the only photos taken of the gag were semi-silhouetted. I thought one was printed in The Making of ‘1941’ but apparently not. The miniature crew was almost too exhausted to laugh. I remember master prop maker Tim Huchthausen not being happy, concerned that ‘Kong’ would smash his beautiful carousel with its painted horses. But Kong was respectful.
The best pictures were of Spielberg mugging with Baker/Kong afterwards. In the photo I somehow ended up with, Kong’s perfect-looking ape hand is wrapped around Steven’s neck; he’d engineered these ‘finger extensions’ that gave an impression of full dexterity. Baker is wearing Spielberg’s cap, from the ‘Oak Tree Gun Club’ where John Milius held frequent gatherings.
You had to admire Rick Baker and that suit … most actors in monster suits can’t see where they are going or what they are doing, but Baker barely needed assistance to move through the set, and climb stairs. It was just one of many amazing days on that movie, with so many stars, stunts, and action comedy set pieces.
Plus one more item … the Warner Archive Collection promised a big holiday bounty of desirable discs, sort of a pandemic surprise. They’ve certainly come through. I need to get reviews going on these right away!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Pirate 11/24/20
Now for a real treat for musical fans, a core MGM dazzler with top stars, fully restored and looking incredibly good. Vincente Minnelli’s snappy, funny 1948 show isn’t ranked among producer Arthur Freed’s best but it ought to be. Silly farce gets a high-toned, technically amazing workout as Judy Garland’s demure señorita secretly lusts after the ruthless corsair of the title, Mack the Black! Gene Kelly’s slippery carny womanizer impersonates her piratical fantasy sex object, and it all ends in clowning and killer musical numbers. Cole Porter’s smart songs attest to the great orchestrators and arrangers in MGM’s world-class music department; the new full digital restoration makes the movie look and sound better than I’ve certainly ever seen it. Co-starring Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, George Zucco and The Nicholas Brothers. The John Fricke commentary is excellent. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Silent Running 11/24/20
Bruce Dern is on a life-saving mission! After killing John Wayne in The Cowboys but before trying to massacre the Super Bowl in Black Sunday, his forest ranger Freeman Lowell committed space piracy to save the trees, man! The only one back on Earth who seems to care is Joan Baez. Douglas Trumbull’s technically-accomplished first feature film does 2001 on a tiny budget, and creates something original, if a bit mushy. The screenplay by Derek Washburn, Michael Cimino and Steven Bochco reaches a wistful ending — but is it uplifting or depressing? With new input by Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
It’s no secret that every page at CineSavant hawks my 2012 book with a linking graphic …
… and I naturally think it’s a great thing … the book of Classic Sci-fi reviews still sells. But today I want to highlight some other books I’ve reviewed over the past few years, by linking to my CineSavant Column reviews. I’ve chosen one title each from six CineSavant correspondents that have been helpful or encouraging to my page… or that simply wrote great books that I keep referring to.
From Alan K. Rode is the show-biz biography
Joseph McBride allowed me an early look at his investigatory account
A likely-desirable Tom Weaver tome is his
For those into genre studies there’s Lee Broughton’s
It’s not written by a friend, but this book recommended by friend Craig Reardon certainly lived up to its promise and is great gift material:
And, although I couldn’t find my original review in time, here’s a good notice for John McElwee’s
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Gunfighter 11/21/20
When Hollywood from time to time reinvented the western the results were sometimes sensationally good, as attested to by this superior neglected classic. We’d call it the first psychological western if the term weren’t so limiting. Gregory Peck once again proves how good he can be when well cast and he’s surrounded by fine characterizations, not typical oater walk-ons. The screenplay and direction are so pleasing that the downbeat finale isn’t a drawback — it doesn’t strain to enforce an irony, or to sell a deep-dish ‘author’s message.’ This one’s just a winner in all categories. Co-starring Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell, Skip Homeier, Jean Parker, Karl Malden & Anthony Ross. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Ulysses (1954) 11/21/20
No, it’s not the story of the 18th President of the United States. Kirk Douglas must have been a big hit in Rome, starring in one of the first and best of the Italo epic ‘classics,’ before the musclemen cornered the market. Homer’s tale of the husband who took ten years to come back from Troy is given real star power, a splendid production and best of all, an intelligent script. This disc looks a lot better than the ragged earlier DVD, plus it offers a superior Italian language soundtrack. Co-starring Silvana Mangano, Anthony Quinn, and Rossana Podestà. And don’t forget Gary Teetzel’s recommendation: as an adaptation of The Odyssey, it’s right up there with O Brother Where Art Thou! On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Gee, the holidays are almost here, and CineSavant’s elfin associates are bursting with great ideas for ‘interesting’ Christmas gifts. The last couple of days has seen the CineSavant emailbox filled with terrific suggestions for horror and fantasy themed Christmas Tree Ornaments… you know, the kind that your mother would demand you take down, were you to sneak one onto a bough of holly. (Note the boughs of holly just above. Festive thoughts need graphic reinforcement.)
The barrage of gift suggestions began with a highly unlikely candidate suggested because of our unrestrained love for a noted Iberian filmmaker, whose glory is so exalted that he deserves a place on every tree. He’s top-center below, dressed as Santa, although I think the Fez comes from one of his unforgettable film roles. It was found at the Little Shop of Gore, but I didn’t see it there today… the Severin people posted it, and then Tim Lucas shared it on Facebook.
Also up, more amazing delights to cause family members to accuse you of destroying the Merry good cheer vibe:
and a Phantasm Death Sphere.
And I was asked, how can I live without these gems?
our favorite aquatic mouth-breather
and, in honor of a bold man of 2020 who may be our savior in 2021,
there’s The Fabulous Dr. Fauci.
Hopefully the national theme, on January 20 will become, “Fauci Unchained.”
This year we’re being entreated, of course, to cancel out our biggest family gathering holidays of the year. Don’t travel! Tie yourself to a tree with roots! Embrace the stay-at-home glow of responsible citizenship. It’s Harrow Alley * out there, folks, and none of the news is fake.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
* Harrow Alley is, or for a long time was, the hands-down winner as best un-filmed screenplay. William Froug at UCLA wrote about it when we were students. When we read it we thought it was the perfect epic for Roman Polanski, and imagined Bob Hoskins, Tim Roth, Timothy Spall and others in key roles. Written in the 1960s, it was thought too grim and too expensive. And now the world is living it.
The Wonders of Aladdin 11/17/20
Wow, what a combination – Donald O’Connor goes Full Arabian Nights kiddie fantasy in this perfect example of the kind of movie our parents took us to see, instead of Mister Sardonicus. The ‘family fun’ feature has the regulation number of pliant harem girls, frequently in bondage (You know – for Kids!) plus the requisite number of special effects. Vittorio De Sica is a genie, but don’t get your hopes up for a Cyclops or a dragon. With Michèle Mercier. It’s also co-directed by Mario Bava, which means there’s an automatic umbilical to commentary input by the authoritative Tim Lucas. Reviewed by Charlie Largent, who asks, ‘So where’s The Brass Bottle? On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
I’ve been totally swamped the last week with an outside job, so this is going to be a poor excuse for a CineSavant Tuesday. I thank Charlie Largent for coming through with a must-read review. As a teenager I saw about ten minutes of The Wonders of Aladdin on a B&W TV with poor reception, and gave up on it. I became curious again in college when we discovered Donald O’Connor & loved him in a certain musical. Later on Tim Lucas reminded us that the show carries a credit for Mario Bava. So I’ll want to check it out after this workload goes away.
I did grab a very important quickie news item for today: we hope that the experts handling the Pandemic response do a better job than seen in this fifty-year-old news item about PCM … Poor Cetacean Management.
It’s a textbook case on how to make an annoying problem 1,000 times worse: Blasted Blubber Beyond all Believable Bounds. Aliteration helps to calm the nerves after you’ve Screwed the Pooch, I guess. The old video news item really plays like a parody … just like so many legit news reports do NOW.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Mortal Storm 11/14/20
It’s pretty scary to think that as late as 1940, after Poland had been overrun and with France about to fall that both Washington and the American public were sharply divided over Nazi Germany. MGM waited until 1940 to produce this softened adaptation of a novel written in 1937 as a warning to the world. Handsomely produced with MGM’s high-gloss production values, it’s remembered as a valiant and courageous anti-Nazi film… with an all-star cast that reunited the romantic team of James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan for sentimental fireworks. With Robert Young, Frank Morgan, Robert Stack, Bonita Granville, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Ward Bond… and Dan Dailey as maniacal Nazi! On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Mad Max (1979) 11/14/20
The true breakdown of society appears to have begun in Australia around 1979, when George Miller made this berserk extrapolation of every toxic futurist prediction on the books. Out on the open road the only thing saving society from horrifying motorized gang violence is a corps of equally crazed patrolmen in their interceptor vehicles. With this picture Mel Gibson went from zero to ninety on the star-meters, even though U.S. distribution fell to the failing American International Pictures. Kino gathers up the best existing extras, and includes audio mixes in two separate languages — incomprehensible Australian and marginally understandable Australian. With the non-stop action on screen, who cares? On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Correspondent David S. Schow turns us toward an opinion article that meets with CineSavant’s full approval, mainly because it coincides neatly with my pre-formed personal bias! Actually, Carly Foy’s article on the advantages of hard disc video over streaming, An argument for physical over digital media makes good sense. Foy sketches the usual reasons in her brief piece, and David pointed out one very real point made by the article — browsing through stacks of discs in a store or on a shelf is much more pleasant than an endless search for something to see on Netflix. The article is in ‘The Badger Herald’ of Madison Wisconsin. That paper is probably a modern media outlet, but I can’t help but mentally picture a man in bow tie and suspenders, rummaging around an old newspaper office.
Coming in February from Criterion is something special … Alan Pakula’s ultimate paranoid conspiracy film The Parallax View will be out from the flagship hard media disc company on February 9. The movie’s Corporate-Mabuse scheme to seize power no longer seems farfetched. The ice-cold visuals that once seemed so confining, now resemble the world we live in — nothing is what it seems, and even after you’ve imagined the worst, you’re still surprised at how evil things can become. Yes, it’s a feel-good movie for political defeatists!
The L.A. County Museum of art once showed Parallax in a film series devoted to widescreen movies. It seemed especially wide, with its graphics-oriented images that place Warren Beatty in an endless maze. And the show has one of the most impressive special montages ever put together … it’s meant to be a psych test for potential assassins, but now it looks like a political re-election TV commercial.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson