The Last Picture Show

Bogdanovich Last Picture Show

“I thought you might want to go to the picture show. Miss Mosey is having to close it. Tonight’s the last night.” – Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms)

How is it that nobody has done a modern version of The Last Picture Show? I realize that Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 film, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, is about much more than Miss Mosey having to close down the movie theater due to dwindling business and the rise of television, but let’s face it: the death of the Royal Theater in a small town, circa 1952, serves as a larger emblem of the many chapters in life that open and close for the characters of Anarene, Texas. It does so in ways that are understandable for anyone going through adolescence, their mid-life, and even death. Still: so much is implied by the four simple words of the title that it’s no surprise the book caught the eye of someone like Bogdanovich.

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Film Fest Favorites: The Ties that Bind

sffdeadmansposterI saw three of the best narrative feature films I have seen all year at the Sarasota Film Festival, and two of them are getting a theatrical release, which means other viewers will be able to catch them, too. Coincidentally, all of them are about family and community ties.

What movie lover doesn’t carry a soft spot for the western—a genre that Hollywood has all but abandoned. Dead Man’s Burden is a gripping indie western with a stripped-down, straightforward storyline that belies its complex character relationships. I was impressed with the film as soon as I realized it was shot on 35mm. Nothing is better suited for 35mm film than the western because of the narrative significance of the land, often depicted in lingering long shots. Robert Hauer’s crisp cinematography of the vast New Mexico landscape implies that land is important in this film, too, but it is family ties and divisions that make up the heart of this small-scale story. The main location was an actual house from the 1890s that had been built into the side of a hill, providing the perfect setting for a story in which the hard-scrabble pioneer lifestyle is central to character motivations.

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Snapshots of the Fall

The art house film calendar that I program goes to press in two days and, although I’m still waiting for some confirmations, I’m sharing the rough-draft with TCM readers, along with some brief thoughts regarding the choices made.

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The Hazy Lives of Nobuhiro Yamashita

The characters in a Nobuhiro Yamashita film do a lot of standing around. They are waiting for something, whether it be a friend, a bus, or simply for the day to end. Yamashita’s films are about killing time, in the hope that the following morning will contain less of it. But each day seems to grow longer, and these young men and women continue to stand, until they have forgotten what they were waiting for in the first place. These are films attuned to the rhythms of in-between moments , reveling in their awkward absurdity and percolating anxiousness. Yamashita’s films are frequently hilarious but of a kind that sticks in the throat, as life sails by his weightless, indecisive characters. Operating in near-anonymity out of Japan, with little festival or international distribution, Yamashita has forged a consistently funny and bittersweet body of work that is deserving of a vastly wider audience.

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DTV Action Items (Part 3): Inmate at The Asylum, an interview with director Richard Schenkman

This is the third and final post in  DTV ACTION ITEMS, a three-part series on direct-to-video action movies. Click here for Part 1, an interview with Outlaw Vern, and here for Part 2, a profile of actor Stone Cold Steve Austin.

The Asylum is the most disreputable studio in that most disreputable of markets: direct-to-video. They made their name cranking out cheaply made “mockbusters”, thinly veiled ripoffs of Hollywood blockbusters starring Z-list celebrities, many of which air in constant rotation on the SyFy channel. Last month Universal Studios sued them for copyright infringement on The Asylum’s Battleship take-off, American Battleship, starring Mario Van Peebles and Carl Weathers. Despite a hilariously cocky press release defending their film (” Looking for a scapegoat, or more publicity, for its pending box-office disaster, the executives at Universal filed this lawsuit in fear of a repeat of the box office flop, John Carter of Mars. The Universal action is wholly without merit and we will vigorously defend their claims in Court. Nonetheless, we appreciate the publicity.”), they changed the title to American Warships, which will be released on video May 22nd.

They are a crew of brilliantly amoral hucksters pranking Hollywood for fun and profit — a commendable goal for sure, but are the movies worth watching? When I spoke to Outlaw Vern two weeks back, he didn’t think so, nothing that “I get a laugh from the titles and covers like everybody else, but the parts I’ve seen have been terrible and not in a fun way.” One of their upcoming releases may indicate an uptick in quality, for Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (out on DVD/Blu on May 29th) is a taut, resourceful piece of survival horror, completely lacking the forced campiness of most of The Asylum product. First-time Asylum director Richard Schenkman is an industry veteran who has made everything from indie comedies (The Pompatus of Love) to sci-fi (The Man From Earth), and his experience pays off. The pace is snappy, the action well-staged, and lead actor Bill Oberst is gruffly engaging as Honest Abe. I’d be surprised if its Hollywood counterpart, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is as energetically entertaining. I spoke with Mr. Schenkman about his path into moviemaking, his opinion of The Asylum, and his experience shooting Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.

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The Spring Lineup

Before delving into some highlights for my upcoming calendar film program, which has everything from singing cannibals and Robby the Robot to sex addicts and Pam Grier (in-person!)… I’d like to back-track a little. In my last post I wrote that the venues where I screen films were akin to a leaky rowboat. While this statement remains essentially true, especially when we are compared to any state-of-the-art dedicated film theater, I would like to amend the metaphor a bit. In retrospect, I feel it would be more accurate to say that the film series I program is more like the Orca boat commandeered by Robert Shaw in Jaws. It’s big enough to chase large game, but you still can’t help wishing you had a bigger boat – especially when you get a clear glimpse of the challenge ahead. When I previously said that we do a lot with very little, the “we” in that statement referred to the small crew that has kept this particular boat from becoming an artificial coral reef on the ocean floor, and this despite staying afloat long past its expiration date.  [...MORE]

First Look: An Adventurous New Series at the Museum of the Moving Image

Since I’m not stinking rich just yet, my plan to go on a heavily medicated tour of international film festivals has been put on indefinite hold. Luckily, the Museum of the Moving Image has purloined 13 new features from all over the world, most without U.S. distribution, for their inaugural “First Look” series (Jan. 6-15), bringing the best of the fests to NYC. Since distributors continue to lose money on any film not in English (or, occasionally, French), it’s something of a miracle that any foreign titles reach our shores at all. This leaves a huge glut of films without any stateside release, left as rumors of masterpieces in the words of the few industrious critics and curators able to send word back to us in the sticks. “First Look” was programmed by some of these proud few: Dennis Lim, the editor of Moving Image Source, Assistant Curator of film Rachael Rakes and Chief Curator David Schwartz. It’s a small but impactful series, with invigorating entries from old masters like Chantal Akerman and enchanting young voices like Goncalo Tocha.

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Films about Faith – a sequel

It’s been more than four and a half years since my first Morlocks blog on this topic, which is so long ago that Google no longer caches the page. While I’ve added a little bit to the original essay on my site (after watching Martin Luther (1953), A Man Called Peter (1955) – available via DIRECTV’s TCM on Demand this month, and One Man’s Way (1964) in fairly quick succession this fall), I haven’t written about the most deeply spiritual and openly Christian films I’ve seen, until now.

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Seriously?

It’s been a little over a year since I debuted here, and in that time I’ve stirred up a handful of firestorms–but weirdly, not the ones I expected.  I posted a clip of Buster Keaton as a sympathetic Nazi general, and nobody chirped a word of protest.  I ran a whole blog about blackface comedians, and the comments thread it initiated was reasoned, intelligent and low-key.  I facetioustly pretended that The Thing was a Christmas movie, defended Popeye, and praised Charlie Chaplin imitators.

But the one time I provoked serious anger and acrimony was the time I suggested that William Haines–William Haines!–wasn’t all that funny (I got called “hateful” for that one!)

When I wrote last week’s post about the Muppets, I figured I was running a risk.  Critics say nice things about heavily hyped contemporary movies at their own peril.  But my positive thoughts on the new Muppets wasn’t what kicked up dust–heavens, no.  The vitriol came out in my offhanded reference to Orson Welles having appeared in the 1979 Muppet MovieSomehow, this prompted the comments thread to start to tear into F for Fake. (how?)

To be fair, it was just one lone voice, wailing into the ether about how much he hated the Muppets, and F for Fake.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a put-on, somebody simply trying to bait me.  But I’m not above being baited.  I won’t stand by and let anybody talk smack about F for Fake, one of my 10 favorite movies of all time.  Consider the battle joined.

Let's get in on!

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A New Film Roster

Today marks the last day of my Fall calendar film program. Now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get working on the next one. My goal is to find 50 titles that provide repertory programming, community and academic outreach, festival favorites, cult oddities, challenging cinema, quality docs, along with enough arthouse money-makers and crowd-pleasers to keep the whole damn thing alive. The ideal mix honors the past, is grounded in the present, and has an eye for the future. Like a good friend, it needs to have the temerity to confront you with uncomfortable truths, take you to new places, introduce you to new talents, provide a window to other cultures, feed the mind, feed the soul, provide catharsis, tears, laughter, and a wide variety of surprises.  A few directors come to mind who try to do all those things in one film, but this at risk of making you nauseous. (I’m looking at you Takashi Miike!) What follows are some of my top-picks (so far) as I consider titles to include in my Spring calendar. [...MORE]

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