The Breaking Point 07/22/17
You can tell it’s film noir — even the cabin cruiser has Venetian blinds. Ernest Hemingway’s favorite film adaptation of his work is this uncompromised story of a good man taking a criminal course on the high seas. John Garfield is again ‘one man alone’ against the system, and the moral quicksand all but swallows up Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter and Wallace Ford; this release comes just in time to herald Alan K. Rode’s new career biography of director Michael Curtiz. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Kong: Skull Island 3-D 07/22/17
Kong is back, transformed into a ‘MonsteVerse’ colossus suitable for combat with Kaiju-sized foes. The key inspiration is video games but the day is saved by capable performers in mostly amusing roles. Even though the show treats its fantasy halfway seriously, it’s still an infantile guns ‘n’ monsters romp, embellished with impressive visual effects. With Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly. On 3-DBlu-ray from Warner Home Video.
The Battle of the River Platte 07/22/17
Panzerschiff Graf Spee. Powell & Pressburger’s big-scale historical epic is perhaps the best show ever about an old-school naval encounter between battleships. The first half depicts the showdown between England and Germany in the South Atlantic, and the second half a tense diplomatic game in the neutral country of Uruguay. Peter Finch, Bernard Lee and Anthony Quayle shine as sea captains; the film was shot in big-format VistaVision and originally printed in Technicolor. On Region B Blu-ray from ITV Studios Home Entertainment.
This time I didn’t forget to ask. Savant correspondent and advisor Gary Teetzel goes to Comic-Con every year, and consistently writes diary-like emails to his friends that spell out what the experience is like. This time out I’m lining them up as part of the Savant column. I don’t know how he does it; it sounds like more waiting in line than Disneyland. But these first three ‘diary entries’ should speak for themselves, the first from
Greetings Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Comic-Con 2017 got off to a bumpy start for me: I got going over an hour later than I hoped, and then the drive from Van Nuys to San Diego took a grueling 4 1/2 hours. So my hopes of leisurely exploring the exhibits outside the convention center were dashed. I didn’t get in until 7:00 PM, an hour after Preview Night started. I just had time to hit some of the highlights of the main floor. “Profiles in History” has items from the Debbie Reynolds/Carrie Fisher Estate Sale on display. DC has costumes from Justice League. The Warners booth is a bit dull this year, with two displays of props/costumes from IT, and nothing else. Warner isn’t idle, but uses their booth to host a lot of autograph signings during the con. At the Alex Ross booth I saw the outlandishly priced Universal Monsters giclées. I asked if less expensive editions of the art might be made available later; I was told there were no current plans, but it is possible. AMC usually has an elaborate ‘photo op’ set up to promote The Walking Dead, but this year’s is pretty lame — you can sit next to a fake-looking stuffed tiger and pretend to be King Ezekiel. They also have a big ‘Deadquarters’ attraction across the street from the Convention Center. It wasn’t open yet, but I could see that one of the activities was ‘Negan’s Batting Cage,’ which sounds pretty tasteless.
Lots of promos up for Stranger Things, The Defenders, Inhumans etc. So TV seems to be dominating this year, over features.
I might go to the 20th Century Fox presentation tomorrow, and hope to get into a Battlestar Galactica (reboot version) reunion and a Marvel television panel.
Update tomorrow . . . Gary
Greetings Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Today began with me attending the 20th-Century Fox panel in the fabled Hall H. Hall H is usually impossible to get into since it hosts the biggest, hottest panels, but Thursday was a lighter day, and I got a wristband Wednesday night that guaranteed me entry provided I got in line by 7:30 AM. (Getting this wristband was easy, but long lines form to get the Friday, Saturday and Sunday wristbands. So essentially these are lines for the privilege of waiting in another line the following day.)
Fox chose to devote their entire panel to Kingsman: The Golden Circle, disappointing fans that were hoping for a glimpse of Deadpool 2, or perhaps a little something on the just-started-filming X-Men: Dark Phoenix. A half dozen members of the cast were present: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal and Jeff Bridges. (photo just below) Also there were comic-book legend Dave Gibbons and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman. We all received T-shirts and fidget spinners. There was an odd moment during the Q&A when Halle Berry was challenged to chug a large glass of (alleged) bourbon — and did it. Attendees were also offered a chance to get a free hamburger at the Hard Rock Cafe, inspired by a clip that was shown during the panel.
After that, I spent a little time on the main floor, which was insanely busy for a Comic-Con Thursday. I headed next to Ballroom 20, which had some panels I wanted to see. I arrived a bit early and saw ‘The Great Debates’, in which John Hodgman moderated debates between Adam Savage, Aisha Tyler, Orlando Jones, Charlie Jane Anders and John Barrowman on various pop culture topics: DC vs. Marvel, Star Trek vs. Star Wars, etc. Next there was the first of the panels I wanted to see, a reunion of Battlestar Galactica (reboot version). It brought together producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, and cast members Mary McDonnell, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Tahmoh Penikett and Michael Trucco; there was also a video greeting from Edward James Olmos.
This was followed by a panel on The Strain, which I don’t watch. Next up, a panel on the FX series Legion, with creator/writer Noah Hawley, executive producer Lauren Shuler and most of the cast, including Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart and Aubrey Plaza. Since the lead character is, in the Marvel comics, the son of Professor Xavier of the X-Men, the question inevitably arose as to whether we would ever see the Professor on the series and, if so, if he would be portrayed by one of the actors who portrayed him in the film series, Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. Hawley was evasive, simply commenting that they’d have to see who was willing/available should they ever choose to include Xavier in the show. At the end of the panel, Hawley said that he was developing a feature film with Fox that he felt the audience would be interested in. He said he couldn’t say much beyond two words:
“The first word,” Noah Hawley said, “is: Doctor
The second word is . . .
And the crowd went wild at the prospect of a Noah Hawley-scripted feature centered on one of Marvel’s greatest villains.
The afternoon came to a close with a panel devoted to Marvel’s upcoming Inhumans TV series. Moderated by Marvel’s Jeph Loeb, all of the leads were present, and four clips from the pilot were shown.
(One odd detail: In the show, Black Bolt, whose power lies in his voice, uses sign language to communicate to his wife Medusa, who then speaks on his behalf. It’s not American Sign Language, though, it’s a sign language made up for the show. Imagine you’re a deaf kid tuning in. Although Black Bolt isn’t deaf, you are excited to see a lead character — a superhero no less — who signs. And then you find you can’t understand the signs!
Lots of big TV panels in Hall H tomorrow: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks, The Defenders, etc. I’m not even going to try to get into those, as they’re way too popular, with too many people waiting all day to get a wristband, etc. Since most of the other panels early in the day Friday are of only moderate interest to me, I’m thinking that it might be a good day to check out some of the attractions outside of the Convention Center. There are more of these every year spreading over more San Diego; at times the Con seems to be slowly taking over the whole city, spreading Blob-like through the streets to occupy more and more real estate. One can imagine in 100 years San Diego will no longer exist, there will only be Comicconville, a town devoted to pop culture that only appears for four days per year, like a modern-day Brigadoon.
The only problem is that these off-site ‘experiences’ often feature lines as long as those in the Convention Center. It can take hours to get into, say, the Game of Thrones exhibit. This year there is also a Blade Runner experience, an IT V.R. experience, a Kong: Skull Island exhibit, etc. So there’s no way I can see them all. Tune in tomorrow to find out what I managed to see! — Gary
Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. As I indicated yesterday, I decided to devote a good portion of Friday to exploring the off-site attractions. Was going to try to get into the immensely popular Game of Thrones attraction (people camp out overnight on the sidewalk), but I didn’t get my wake-up call, so I got there later than planned. Someone estimated from experience that we’d probably get in around 4 PM, so I bailed. Went to the Kong: Skull Island attraction. It wasn’t much of anything. There was a photo op where you posed by bones of Kong ancestors, and another where you stood in front of Kong’s hand. And you got a free comic book.
I proceeded to the “Interactive Zone” at Petco Park. There was an area for Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones and Luke Cage-themed photo ops. Mr. Mercedes was being promoted with some sort of ice cream truck. There were a few other booths/attractions, but I gravitated to the IT Virtual Reality attraction. The line was short but very slow; I waited over an hour. The attraction was built to resemble a school bus. Inside, there were about eight seats with V.R. headsets and headphones. The V.R. “experience” involved going down into the sewers of Derry, pursuing a spectral child and being menaced by Pennywise the Clown. Pretty well done, even if some of the graphics have a video game feel.
Next it was off to AMC “Deadquarters” with a variety of Walking Dead– themed attractions. There was the Negan batting cage, an area for assorted photo ops, a demo of an “augmented reality” app that involved being put into a photo with a zombie. There were also video games and, most terrifying of all, free Mountain Dew.
Next it was off to the Blade Runner experience. There were two lines, one that included a V.R. portion, and one without. I opted for the “non-V.R.” version because the line was shorter. They handed out free BLADE RUNNER umbrellas to people in line–but ran out just before they got to me. Although the line wasn’t that long, it was slow, since they stopped you four times: (1) A security check, including a metal detector and bag check; (2) filling out a disclaimer/waiver on a laptop; (3) another stop to give your name, e-mail, etc. and be given a wrist band; and (4) another stop to give your T-shirt size. Fortunately, the attraction inside was pretty good. They had a “L.A. 2049” environment, complete with a full-size spinner and costumed characters that would interact with you. Every once and a while, a police chase would break out. There was a testing station to determine if you were human or a Replicant. (I’m a human. Of course, if I were a Replicant, that’s exactly what I’d say . . . ) There was a ramen noodle vendor (yes, you could get real noodles), props and costumes on display, and a “vending machine” that dispensed your BLADE RUNNER t-shirt after you scanned your wristband. Finally, there was free whiskey. Yes, your read that right–free whiskey, courtesy of Johnny Walker, a sponsor of the attraction. That beats a free Mountain Dew.
I then swung by a nearby hotel to pick up my official Comic-Con t-shirt, then onto the exhibit floor, where I witnessed the annual madness of the Game of Thrones autograph session, and, at another booth, a less crazy TWIN PEAKS autograph signing.
(Sorry, Darren, but the Twin Peaks exclusive toys sold out.)
Then off to the J. Michael Straczynski panel, an annual tradition. He mentioned that he turned in a draft of Rising Stars to MGM, who hopes to turn it into a franchise.
After a break and some food, I was back in the evening for the Shout/Scream Factory panel. A number of Blu-ray titles were announced, including Matinee, Into the Night, Mac and Me, Cyborg, Attack of the Puppet People, Eye of the Cat, American Gothic, Misery, etc. They also spoke about dipping their toes into the theatrical market, and plans to issue some UHD discs.
Final event of the night was an advance screening of the next episode of Twin Peaks. Executive Producer Sabrina Sutherland gave a brief intro, extending greetings from David Lynch, who she had spoken to via Facetime a little earlier. The crowd was also thrilled to see cast members Don Murray, Kimmy Robertson, Everett McGill, Matthew Lillard and James Marshall join the audience, although they did not do a Q & A.
Tomorrow: Not sure. Maybe Ballroom 20 for a big chunk of the day. — Gary
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Sea Chase 07/17/17
John Wayne plays a German sea captain in a film that goes out of its way to create a favorable image of our former enemy, with hardly a Nazi flag or even a German accent in sight. Wayne and his co-star Lana Turner are as Teutonic as Blondie and Dagwood, yet the film works as a basic adventure – we like the charismatic star, and the sea chase format guarantees extra interest. John Farrow’s direction and a fun cast are assets as well: Lyle Bettger, Richard Davalos, Tab Hunter, John Qualen & Claude Akins are all German sailors! On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
It’s 007 in the saddle! Sean Connery didn’t become a career cowboy but this one stint as a Louis L’Amour hero is a diverting change of pace. And we couldn’t resist the pairing of two of moviedom’s most attractive actors — Connery and Brigitte Bardot. Terence Young’s cast is almost all-star: Jack Hawkins, Honor Blackman, Peter Van Eyck, Stephen Boyd, Alexander Knox and Valerie French — with Woody Strode as Chato, challenging BondShalako to a duel to the death. Actually, it’s rather good. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Quiet American (1958) 07/17/17
There appear to be no rules governing tricky politics in movies — Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel about terrorism in French-held Vietnam completely reverses the author’s message. Does a conspiracy theory about a movie still carry any weight, when our daily political life now plays like one giant conspiracy? All-American Audie Murphy is the whitewashed ‘U.S. aid representative,’ while Michael Redgrave is the dissolute Brit correspondent. The main attraction may be all the atmospheric location work filmed in Saigon in 1957. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
October’s Criterion lineup is out, and it’s special: Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Welles’ Othello, Dreyer’s Vampyr, Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me plus the newer attractions Personal Shopper and The Lure. That’s a great month — I’ve been curious to see Barry Lyndon again, I’m eager to see Vampyr at higher rez (it appears to be the same restoration as the previous DVD) and . . . wait for it . . . I’ve never seen more than a few clips of Othello.
Twilight Time’s October release list was divulged a couple of days back: Walter Hill’s Wild Bill, André De Toth’s Play Dirty (!), Henry King’s The Captain from Castile and John Gilling’s Hammer shocker The Pirates of Blood River. How about some great Hammer-Columbia B&W titles, TT? Double bills, maybe? Twilight Time’s July titles just came in and I’m trying to figure out how to tackle the PC minefield indicated by the presence of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but were Afraid to Ask . . . I still find much of it charming and hilarious.
And a welcome 3-D Blu of Kong: Skull Island just sashayed in off a FedEx truck. I have no idea what to expect and am keeping an open mind.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Straw Dogs 07/15/17
Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent takes on Sam Peckinpah’s contribution to the ultra-violent movies of 1971. Originally rated ‘X’, details of a gang rape scene weren’t shown until the home video era arrived. What does a nerdy math professor do when uncouth hooligans take his wife and violate the sanctity of his solid-stone country home? Defend his turf with deadly force, that’s what. Pauline Kael called it ‘fascist cinema,’ but it’s one of Sam’s better pictures. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
The Valachi Papers 07/15/17
Charles Bronson plays a real-life Mafiosi in a period gangland saga with a fine script, some good performances and a production so sloppy that the whole thing could be called The Anachronism Papers. Joseph Wiseman and Lino Ventura supply the tough-guy star-power and Bronson actually commits himself to the role — quite a change of pace for one of his later pictures. Also with Jill Ireland. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
What a great sales hook — a feature film with a Bernard Herrmann music score that we hadn’t heard of. And one of the writers was Martin Scorsese, before Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets! But wait, it isn’t as simple as that. The new release is more than a little confusing. Its own ad copy first calls this Dutch production ‘obscure,’ and not four sentences later describes it as a ‘classic exploitation film.’ Starring Alexandra Stewart. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from Cult Epics.
The Angry Red Planet 07/15/17
Hey, Ib Melchoir’s Opus Mars-us is back, in a not-bad new scan and color-grading job. If the nostalgia bug has bitten you deep enough to appreciate a fairly maladroit but frequently arresting space exploration melodrama, this may be the disc for you. Let’s be honest: NOBODY can resist the allure of the fabulous Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab, and in glorious Cinemagic, no less. Starring the non-angry redhead Nora Hayden, Gerald Mohr, Les Tremayne and jumpin’ Jack Kruschen. Finally remastered on Blu-ray in its proper aspect ratio, by Scream Factory.
Some fun links tonight. Longtime correspondent ‘B’ sends along an amusing link to Thrillist Entertainment’s illustrated article The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them, which has a lot of funky choices but is still an okay read. The Great Whatsis from Kiss Me Deadly is there, so I’m satisfied.
We were told he retired from audio commentaries, but perhaps this one was in the can from an earlier time: Kino says that Richard Harland Smith will be heard on the yak-track for their upcoming Blu-ray of Tobor the Great, which has been given a street date of September 12. The hero brat is the kid from Night of the Hunter!
Gary Teetzel forwards this syfywire link to The 23 Most Hilariously Wrong Genre Movie Closed Captions. I suspect that many of these are from Hong-Kong generated discs.
An excellent trailer-promo surfaced for about a day for Cohen’s promised Blu-ray of The Old Dark House, and then disappeared. The quality was phenomenal for a picture we’d only seen pretty grungy quality. A facebook post claimed that Cohen had leaked a release date, but being the Savant, I missed it. If the promo pops up again, check it out, it’s quite good.
And finally, judging by the online response, I ought to ditch this movie boosh-wah and call myself OLD MUSTANG CAR SAVANT. Thanks for all the notes and interest in a vehicle I had for many years, but never felt secure enough to invest in properly restoring. Now my daughter is finishing the job. Wotta gal!
I will now return to movie-brain mode, at least until the next time I get to visit my old car again.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Lost City of Z 07/11/17
They don’t make ’em like this any more, and the original TV spots for James Gray’s accurate retelling of history almost didn’t know how to sell it. Charlie Hunnam spends his life trying to solve a riddle of the Peruvian rainforest, in between fighting in WW1 and dealing with class prejudice. Yup, one could say the picture was filmed in a ‘classic’ style . . . can that kind of show find an audience these days? With Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland. On Blu-ray from Broadstreet / Amazon Studios.
Hello! I’ve returned from a break. All kinds of time-consuming things loom ahead, but I’ll be back on the review warpath soon enough.
This is a book review, for Joseph McBride’s big new compendium of his writing for the past fifty years, Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies. It was long ago that I first became aware of McBride, through his first book on John Ford. I also enjoyed the articles and reviews he brought to Daily Variety, at a time when its coverage stopped being pitched solely to exhibitors and became the most reliable review source around. Two Cheers is not a collection of reviews or learned essays but the full range of McBride’s journalistic work. Since the early 1970s McBride was being tapped as a key resource for film-related screenwriting and career recaps for famous directors; his interviews of the greats pretty much picked up where Peter Bogdanovich left off.
The book’s satisfying loose organization soon reveals a broad range of interests and subject matter. McBride begins with pieces about writers, giving his take on the Blacklist, and the controversy with Elia Kazan’s honorary Oscar. A very large section covers his extensive interviews and articles on directors, with more than one piece about John Ford, who was just as irascible with a fellow Irishman as he was with others. McBride doesn’t shy away from the politics of his subjects, acknowledging that his favorite actor John Wayne carried totally opposite political opinions. The articles never go for the obvious — he looks at George Stevens and François Truffaut, but also the partnership of Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg, and the man who directed the Three Stooges, Edward L. Bernds. McBride wrote an entire book on Frank Capra, but explains in articles reprinted here the distinction between Capra’s earlier work and his later problematic ‘important’ pictures. It’s refreshing to read someone willing to fully take down Capra, whose 1971 autobiography is mostly self-aggrandizing fiction. He also wades deep into the controversy of the Coen Bros.
McBride’s on- set visits reveal unseen personalities for famous actors we think we know, like James Stewart. He has a surprising interview-based piece on Stephin Fetchit, and another on Alma Reville. He even devotes a nice piece to designer Richard Sylbert, and takes time to examine Spielberg’s relationship with his editor.
The book is full of surprises. Each piece is preceded by new notes that describe why it was written, and in many cases, how editors removed bits of controversy here and there. Those sections have been replaced. An article in which McBride described the Bush administration as a ‘regime’ did get him into hot water with one publication. A piece on two movies about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and another on ‘George Orwell in the movies’ reveal more of McBride’s strong opinions on national politics — one of his books is about the Kennedy assassination. We read about McBride’s various efforts to bring suppressed pictures to light, like John Huston’s Let There Be Light and Orson Welles’ Too Much Johnson. He openly embraces John Ford & Leo McCarey’s most sentimental films. Yet McBride is entirely persuasive in his arguments — he devotes an entire chapter to Elia Kazan’s Wild River, which I want to go back and read again.
Joseph McBride has a way with his opinions, which are never taken lightly. When he gets rough with Frank Capra or Jean-Luc Godard, he doesn’t care where the fur flies. By just explaining the bizarre storyline of a film left unmade by Alfred Hitchcock, we get deeper into the director’s psychology than a dozen essays tossing around gossip about his mistreatment of Tippi Hedren. McBride is a journalist first. His writing invariably finds an interesting hook, and then goes beyond to uncover something meaningful.
It’s a big book, almost 700 pages. I know I’m going to be dipping into it again soon. It is always liberating to read the thoughts of people that communicate well. This copy already has six or seven provisional bookmarks. I don’t want to forget the exact words McBride uses to slam Lost Horizon.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson