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Intriguing and overlooked
I believe this film was a companion to a Smithsonian exhibit/road show, and based upon the exhibit book by the same name. It has some great footage from 20th century sci-fi films, and magazines. The theme follows how the concept of "the world of tomorrow" changed through the events of the century: World War, Depression, World War, post-war industrial boom, tumultuous Sixties, etc. The visions of the future by artists, industrial designers, inventors, and consumer product mavens tells more than you'd think about the society at the moment.
Wish I could find this on DVD -- and get the book --as they are quite memorable, and rather unique.
Fighter Squadron (1948)
Corny and cardboard as they come, but TERRIFIC footage
If what you want is a thoughtful, authentic war drama, look elsewhere. This one's hilariously typecast, predictable, rigidly rah-rah, and ... gorgeous in Technicolor. The side story about the conniving sergeant is amusing, but distracting. The dialog is delivered with rapid-fire precision by the accomplished cast, so don't sneeze or you'll miss something.
The star of the picture is the combat footage. Lots and lots of great color footage of planes, some of them making emergency landings and airborne kills.
Oh, and look for a mighty young Rock Hudson in the squadron.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The theatrical trailer had Fleming fans looking forward to this one
There are a lot of great touches here, including the aging Roger Moore turning DOWN a little nymphet who's hot to bed the British agent. The realistic plot circles not on spaceships and impossible gadgets, but more down to earth plots and double-crosses.
But I remember the trailer making it clear that the new creative team had gone back to basics. The reef drag danger towards the end is right from LIVE AND LET DIE (the book). The plot intrigue of competing Greek smugglers is right from "Risico" (from the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY short story collection). Other touches are right from the classic Bond, not the impossible later self-satires.
Though Moore was aging, and the "ooh, it's James Bond" celebrity superstud fame which would be the death of any real spy was still in effect, the film has some real spy work, some truly icy villains, and ... Carole Bouquet, an intelligent and truly beautiful heroine. In all, this is probably the second best Bond film that Moore filmed. Your mileage may vary.
Sparkling performance by George Brent
Ever read George Brent's bio? He fled Ireland with a price on his head. It was reputed that he was a member of the IRA Active Service Unit, though he claimed he was simply a courier for Michael Collins. Dashing background, eh? More than his character here, the foreman of the team building the Golden Gate Bridge (more dashing glamor). But in this humble role, Brent positively shines as a comedic talent. Romancing Kay Francis, and fending off protection racketeers, he flies through the movie with apparent ease, making acting as they say "look easy." The scene when he takes Francis out for a date, and ends up chaperoning around four mail order brides and an unwed mother is hilarious -- his double takes are marvelous. One day, Warner will release this, and a new generation can appreciate George Brent.
British Agent (1934)
Lost gem based on real events, on real intrigues
Apparently based on the memoirs of Sir Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart, this film pits Leslie Howard versus the tumultuous events in Russia during 1917, and 1918. Though this film leaves out any mention of someone named Sidney Reilly (the infamous "Ace of Spies", whose exploits were also recounted by Lockhart), and Kay Francis steps in as a Russian firebrand. Meeting by accident the night of the first revolution, "Locke" and Elena are instantly smitten.
When Locke is sent back to Petrograd to stall the Soviet's armistice with Germany (which would endanger the Allies on the western front), Elena is now secretary to a certain V. Lenin, and from there the melodrama ignites. Short on romance, but long on suspenseful political drama and schemes. Leslie Howard is terrific as usual, and Michael Curtiz' direction is crackling. You have to hand it to a top-drawer director for illustrating political upheaval with such entertaining panache. Also hard to overlook is a young actor named Cesar Romero, displaying a light comedic touch.
Our Mother's House (1967)
Another effective, frightener from Jack Claton
Having only seen the last fifteen minutes on a rare TCM broadcast, the film is unmistakably the work of a master, Jack Clayton. He'd already directed the classic The Innocents (1961) with Deborah Kerr. Later he'd direct the cult favorite, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). He only directed ten films, but his deft touch is recognizable.
The impending suspense and doom as the child question their father isn't relieved by the climax ... one has no idea what will happen but it will be a shock. The great films maintain such suspense and the greatest films pay off without seeming cheap. One day, we can only hope, one day this will be shared in a DVD release.
Flawed masterwork, definitely deserving of a better cut, better release
I just happened to be down in Texas this past week, which gave me a rare chance to see Mike Judge's latest film in its "super-limited release" by 20th Century Fox. Long story made short, the creator of Beavis & Butthead, Office Space and King of the Hill made this in 2004 ... preview audiences pooh-poohed it, some re-shooting was done a year later, and since then Fox has had a terrible time coming up with an ad campaign angle for it. Focus and test groups have responded negatively to various approaches. (Fox has never heard of "word of mouth," and is apparently forgetting how Office Space became a cult hit in second run and home video releases.) So, presumably to satisfy contractual issues, they're releasing it in about 130 theaters, in only 7 cities. Most in Texas (where Judge lives). No advance adverts, no newspaper ads,... nothing. You pretty much have to trip over it by accident, or catch buzz of it on the grapevine.
The question is obvious: is it a stinker, or just so outside-the-box that a conventional, studio release can't be done? My answer: a little of both. I won't spoil the plot (you can read it on Amazon or Yahoo or IMDb) for you.
Some of the humor is gross, but it suits the story in which reverse natural selection (influenced by corporate and media interests, dumbing down the populace to a double-digit IQ standard) has made mankind a pack of shuffling, scatological morons. Much of Judge's satire is amazingly on target. This IS the guy whose modest workplace comedy became a mythic anthem to office workers everywhere who agreed that "work sucks." The motifs in OFFICE SPACE have spawned dozens of derivative works. The same may not play out here, but the wit and social commentary in IDIOCRACY is just as fresh.
The production values are terrific. Though clearly shot on a budget, the film ably depicts a future dystopic America, where various crises and inaction have left the country a garbage strewn slum, a claustrophobic cage of advertising, discarded packaging, thoughtless automated vending machines, and decadence. I was repeatedly wishing I could freeze-frame the images and focus on the background details ... which clearly were as funny as what was in foreground focus.
Clearly, the film needs re-editing. It drags in spots. It shifts back to the bookend, mock-documentary narration at odd transitions, sometimes just summarizing a scene that isn't moving fast enough. Yeah, very clunky. The narration gives the whole film a distance from the lead character that saps energy. When you ought to be in his skin, seeing "Uh-merica" in 2505 through his eyes, the narration has you standing in a lab smock, watching this pilgrim's progress through a telescope. Portions of the script come across as a first draft, so fresh and candid that it wasn't subjected to needed rewrites to polish the "jewels in the rough." That Judge crafted a non-stop comedy that is essentially apocalyptic sci-fi tragedy dressed up with wit and gags, is impressive. Animal House crossed with Soylent Green, if that makes sense. Office Space was unassuming, but close analysis of it yields a deep well of mythic parody and commentary on modern life. (Well, *I* think so. ;) ) If Hollywood execs expected more of the same, he failed. If they wanted him to up the ante, it would seem that he DID. He just didn't do it in the direction they wanted.
It's not playing in your town unless you live in one of the seven Fox contracted for. Maybe letters or phone calls to local theaters, or letters to Fox directly, could remedy that. But most likely, you'll be seeing this on DVD within 6-8 months. Hopefully the disc will include bonus production info and deleted scenes that provide insight into this slightly flawed masterwork.
Discs of Tron (1983)
Superb video game that transcended the genre
This started out as a game that was supposed to be part of the 4-part game that was released with the movie. Development dragged on, and it was released later. Essentially an adaptation of the "discs" game portrayed in the movie, it's a futuristic game of racquetball. You have three discs which you can launch at Sark; he has three also. You can "block" seven times per level; Sark cannot. But Sark has additional weapons to lob at you, and if you can shoot those with your disc(s), you score many more points. Once "thrown," discs bounced around the court 2-3 times before "returning" to the player. While they were in play, Tron couldn't throw more, so you had to be judicious about your "throws." Discs that collided blew up, and each player gained a new disc.
What set this game apart is that game play did not become hysterically accelerated or task-saturated like most VGs. Every level was over when you'd "de-rezed" Sark twice. Higher levels offered more complicated arrangements of platforms. After 7 levels, new levels with 3D targeting (your cursor moved up and down 7 or so degrees, in addition to the 360 degrees around the playing court), and your ring/platforms started moving up and down (like merry-go-round horses). Finally, the top two levels offered the opportunity to aim at the ceiling, thus bouncing your discs at Sark's and starting a "de-rez" of one of his platforms (for, once again, big big points). The sound and the visual of this was quite striking; jumping to the ring ceased the de-rezzing. But with discs and other weapons bouncing around the court, this wasn't always easy. I found that I could corner Sark on the left or right, then de-rez his center ring, then de-rez the opposite one at my ease. Lots of fun.
Controls were simple. A two-axis joystick with trigger (launches discs), and thumb button (the "shield"). A 360 degree spinner knob controlled your targeting cursor, and the knob moved up and down (spring-loaded) for the higher levels.
The final killer feature of this game is that, although levels got more complicated, Sark's abilities did not drastically increase. His strategies, and array of weapons, was pretty much static. Once you, the player, learned your way around the court, and learned tactics to avoid and destroy Sark's more lethal weapons, you could play for an hour or more. Rare, indeed, for a commercial arcade video game.
The complete, original version of "Discs of Tron" is now available on the "Tron 2.0: Killer App" cartridge for GameBoy Advance, along with the original "Tron" video game. With the appropriate adapter, the cartridge can be played on a Nintendo GameCube on a full size TV. It can also be found as a "MAME" program for execution in personal computers.
Toni Basil: Word of Mouth (1982)
Toni Basil is divine...
Toni Basil ... some trivia masters may remember her only by her "Hey, Mickey!" song and video. If you were lucky enough to catch the video, you realized that the woman could dance the planet into a frothy mess. The short video also featured an incredible blend of dance styles and influences, primarily cheer-leading movies. Guess who choreographed it? ;) Flashdancing ... before the movie by that name came out and started a craze.
So, who is Toni Basil? A choreographer whose resume reads like a history of dance in film for 20 years. Just look her up, and you'll see. The woman left her mark on the end of the 20th century, and that mark was ... a hot footprint.
Swing Your Lady (1938)
Goofy, yes. Lowbrow, yes. Funny, absolutely!
Sometimes actors are displeased with films for purely personal reasons. Harrison Ford positively hates Blade Runner (1982). Bogart disliked this one for his own reasons. But consider how few comedy films Bogart was cast in. His talent there was ignored in favor of the money-reaping tough guy roles, but his performance here is just cracking. Nat Pendleton (usually cast as the lunkhead tough guy cop) gets a deserved near-star turn as the lovesick wrestler with a childlike innocence. Penny Singleton (sometimes billed as Dorothy McNulty) gets to show a variety of talents that she only got to hint at in After The Thin Man (1936). With comedy, musical numbers, and character roles galore, this film is a great treat.