There’s Only You and Me and (sometimes) We Just Disagree

As I sit down to write another post for the Movie Morlocks, I often think about the reaction, what it will be, and how it will affect me.  Sometimes, in my everyday life, I avoid talking about movies in specific situations because I don’t want to get into a heated debate over something I love or hate and I know the person I’m with feels the other way.  Other times, I can’t wait to get into it because it’s a movie I feel so passionate about I can’t hold my tongue.  Personally, and I’m not just saying this to make anyone feel better, I think this blog has the best commenters of any blog for which I’ve had the pleasure to write.  The commenters here are engaging, knowledgeable, and quick to assert their opinion without being distasteful or rude.  We won’t agree all of the time but when we disagree, I know it won’t be an awkward situation.  In other words, I’ve never noticed any scorched earth reactions like, “Well if you don’t like this movie, you must not know movies!”  That said, I’m now going to list several of the things that often get the most disagreement from fellow movie lovers, spurred by a movie on the TCM schedule tonight.  I expect disagreement but, please, go easy on me.

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My Visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery

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If you’re a member of the TCM Wine Club, and even if you’re not, you are probably aware of the fact that director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery located in California’s picturesque Sonoma County. I recently had the opportunity to visit the winery’s Rustic restaurant and explore the grounds, which house memorabilia from many of Coppola’s movies.

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Farewell to the Frisco Kid

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The much-mourned passing of comic actor, writer, and director Gene Wilder on June 11, 2016 was one of the saddest shocks in a year already full of them. A master of both physical and verbal comic timing as well as an underrated dramatic actor, Wilder will be honored on Thursday, September 29, with a four-film sampling of his formidable talents including Young Frankenstein (1974), Start the Revolution without Me (1970), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), plus a double airing of his one-hour Role Model interview episode from 2008. Of course, you could easily program an entire day of Wilder without covering everything, so hopefully this will be enough to either get fans back in the mood to explore his output or awaken newbies to the riches in his filmography, which also includes such milestones as Blazing Saddles (1974), The Producers (1967), and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). [...MORE]

Law and Disorder: The Naked Gun (1988)

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David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker were three wiseasses from Milwaukee who killed time watching movies. They gained an admiration for the stoic leading men in cheap genre productions, those actors who jutted their chins and remained expressionless through the most absurd scenarios. ZAZ’s whole comic ethos stems from these viewings – their main characters are virtuous idiots wandering through a world that explodes with gags around them. These dopes’ deadpan obliviousness provide the majority of punchlines in  Airplane!, Top Secret, and The Naked Gun trilogy. And there was no one more virtuous or more idiotic than the fools portrayed by Leslie Nielsen – who was ZAZ’s platonic ideal for a comic actor. Often mistaken for his  Airplane!-mates Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, he had that aging leading man gravitas (and mane of gray hair) and could play everything straight, reciting the most ridiculous lines as if he was in an airplane disaster film like Zero Hour (1957, the model for Airplane!). ZAZ’s follow-up to Airplane! was the short-lived and joke-packed TV show Police Squad! (1982), a parody of M-Squad and other square-jawed cop shows. The TV version was canceled after four episodes (six would air), but strong reviews (and a lead actor Emmy nomination for Nielsen) kept the project alive until ZAZ adapted it into the  The Naked Gun, which airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of their “Salute to Slapstick.” It is with The Naked Gun that Nielsen fully displays his comic gifts, a tour-de-force of deadpan, face-pulling, and pratfall.

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Remade, Reworked, and Recycled: Who Knew?

The big Hollywood studios continue to insist that audiences will line up around the block to see movie remakes, though that is counter to conversations I overhear at theaters or among movie-goers. Even my students groan at the idea, often asking me why Hollywood insists on remaking popular movies. Remake mania is so rampant that studios are reworking films from less than a generation ago.

THE REMAKE OF 'THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN' DOES NOT DISAPPOINT, WHICH IS MUCH MORE THAN YOU CAN SAY FOR MOST REMAKES.

ANTOINE FUQUA’S ‘THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN’ DOES NOT DISAPPOINT, WHICH IS MUCH MORE THAN YOU CAN SAY FOR MOST REMAKES.

Among the retools for 2016 was Ben-Hur, which has been called the biggest box-office bomb of the year so far. The reboot of Ghostbusters hit the screens this summer, which alienated fanboys, but the movie delighted many of my female students who accepted its shortcomings in exchange for women characters of all sizes and types. Happily, not all remakes are cause for groans and moans. I just saw Antoine Fuqua’s interpretation of The Magnificent Seven, which was a well-executed update that can compete with the original in terms of star power, action scenes, and a satisfying ending. It’s a bona fide classic western that looks contemporary.

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Made for TV, but Shown in a Theater

Last night, Patterns played on TCM, the 1956 drama adapted from the television presentation of a year earlier.  Both were written by Rod Serling and both are very good but the point is, television has been producing ideas for the movies and the movies for television as long as the two have been around together.  As I noted the other day, the air of resentment the movies had over television in the fifties may have actually come from some of that success.  After all, everyone knew that the winner of Best Picture for 1955, Marty, had been adapted from a television presentation the previous year.  And television had provided a platform for entertainers the movies deemed second tier, like Lucille Ball, to show off their talents in a way the movies never could.  So the give and take had been there from the beginning.  But in the spirit of expanding the idea of the two mediums working together, I’d like to now explore which stories might now work best on television and, if the times had been different, what might have changed in the past.

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And Now a Word from Our Resentment

What happens when art is created in anger? What if there’s a sense of resentment hanging over it?  Maybe it has a feeling of retribution that darkens the whole enterprise.  After the Beatles broke up, John Lennon wrote and recorded “How do You Sleep” on his Imagine album, a song whose target was, quite obviously, Paul McCartney.   Later, Lennon regretted it saying it had more to do with his own resentment towards Paul than anything else.  Sometimes, you gotta vent.  Still, musically, it’s a pretty good song so something good came from the whole thing.  What if instead of one songwriter to another, it’s one medium to another?  The movies relationship with television often feels like one of resentment, and yet it has created some damn good cinema, as well as some that’s not so good.  Sometimes, within the same movie.

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Offbeat Otto: Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970)

bray One of my favorite Otto Preminger films has finally found its way onto DVD and Blu-ray thanks to Olive Films. Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970) was never released on home video so this marks the first time Preminger’s offbeat comedy-drama has been made easily accessible outside of airing on television where it was often edited or given the pan and scan treatment. Hopefully the Olive Films release will help the film find a new audience that appreciates its thought-provoking premise and quirky charm.

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon was originally based on a 1968 novel by Marjorie Kellogg, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. It tells the story of three misfits who form a makeshift family after leaving the hospital where they had been convalescing. Liza Minelli plays Junie Moon, a quirky and resourceful young woman disfigured in a vicious attack by a psychopath she once dated. Her compatriots include Robert Moore as Warren; a wheelchair bound gay man crippled in a shooting incident and Ken Howard as the childlike Arthur. Arthur is suffering from an undiagnosed form of epilepsy or neurological disorder as well as mental trauma after being involuntarily institutionalized when he was a child. We get to know these three unlikely companions as they move into a dilapidated old house owned by a flamboyant landlady (Kay Thompson), find work with a local fishmonger (James Coco), adopt a neighborhood owl and stray dog and frolic at a seaside resort with an affable beach boy (Fred Williamson). Things don’t end well for the troubled trio but they make the most of their short time together.

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Panning for Gold with Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

Eureka 1 I have a real soft spot for that strange period after the ‘70s when all the British filmmaking enfants terribles tried to wedge their styles into a movie landscape that had radically changed in front of them. Ken Russell tore into the American cinematic arena with Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984); Lindsay Anderson veered from satirical outrage with Britannia Hospital (1982) to genteel drama with The Whales of August (1987); John Boorman went phantasmagorical with Excalibur (1981) and primitive with The Emerald Forest (1985); Derek Jarman dispensed with narrative entirely for The Angelic Conversation (1985) and The Last of England (1988). Then there’s the strange case of Nicolas Roeg, who was riding high after the triple punch of Walkabout (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Needless to say, the early ‘80s took him in some very surprising directions, first with the very ill-received Bad Timing (1980), which is now regarded as a transgressive classic, and what remains one of his most neglected and misunderstood films, Eureka (1983), airing on TCM in the appropriately wee hours of Friday. [...MORE]

Other Gold Diggers of 1933: Girl Missing (1933)

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In the first scene of Girl Missing (1933), Guy Kibbee tries to seduce Mary Brian with the line: “I don’t feel fatherly, I feel…hotcha!” And so begins this randy, money-grubbing, mystery-solving pre-code starring Brian and motormouth Glenda Farrell. They are two out-of-work chorus girls indulging in some gold-digging to leach cash from old lechers. But in the wildly convoluted plot that races through 68 minutes, they get roped into the murder of a mafia bookie and the disappearance of a society dame (or so she seems). It’s a trial run for Farrell’s tamer post-code Torchy Blane (nine films between 1937 – 1939) movies, in which she played a sassy investigative newsgal sans sexual innuendo. In Girl Missing Farrell machine-guns her dialogue to mow down con-men, con-women, and anyone else who has the misfortune to walk past her in the frame. It airs tomorrow on TCM at 6:15AM, and is also available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

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