Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Brewster McCloud (1970)
Altman's Brewster McCloud is somewhere between allegory and surreal, a whole trash can full of symbols,which are offered as untrue, with an urbane cynicism like Mephisto in Goethe's Faust. There's something inauthentic about everything, the color of falseness in our world, in our eyes, in our dreams. Altman is always exploring the inauthentic. There are so many levels to Brewster McCloud. I think we should begin that it's about innocence. Our hero is a pure innocent boy who has a guardian angel, and she guides him and protects him. The boy has a very pure aspiration. "through difficulty to the stars:" "Per aspera ad astra," as the Latin motto often reads. Like any good guardian angel, Brewster's keeps him from going astray. Central imagery is the fact that "Astrodome" means "dome of the stars," Of course, the name of the Astrodome refers to the Houston Space Center, but in the language of dream, it is very recognizably the Celestial Sphere(s), Heaven. This is all very good stuff. We also might find room for the Aeschylus symbol of a young man who put on wings his father made him and aspired to fly. Having flown too high, Aeschylus's wings melted and he crashed to Earth. Fortunately, within the gates of Surrealism, one can use symbols for unrelated purposes and never have to resolve the conflict, although it's likely that these Christian and Greek symbols aren't at all in conflict.
Standing in Brewster's way are the police/guards, each of whom manifests, I suspect, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The Gremlin (a car offered here for the value of its name), the vanity of the contact lenses, and the sloth of the morbidly obese guard waddling around, all making it clear that the forces against McCloud are evil, not in a grand way, but with a tongue in cheek, with an urbane wit, and an urbane doubt. They aren't terror but banality, a failure to hit the mark.
The way these elements play out is tinny and false as we expect everyday life to be. There is no grand evil nor does innocence seem very heroic. Are we supposed to believe this is true, somehow expressing something? Is it only a mockery? Well, probably both, like the mock "suicide" scene staged with and for the dentist everyone knows as "Painless" in Altman's "M.A.S.H."
I've not touched on the birds, but they make sense in the tradition of Greek epic and tragedy, that the fates speak through birds; somehow birds are closer to fate than we. And what connection does an angel have to do with birds? the pure freedom of the skies, I suppose, and angel's wings always have feathers, whereas the denizens of the dark realms usually have leathery wings.
Our Lecturer is some kind of seer, a Tiresias, who expresses his sensitivity to the fates by his affinity to the birds. He is so fascinated with all things avian, he seems to be morphing into one of them.
Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner isn't Dick
Having been recommended the (then) new film of Phillip K Dick's "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep," I saw and loved Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" when it was new. When I finally read "Androids" about two years ago and discovered that Blade Runner is obviously a jumping off point, but it's really a different story. Part "1984" and part "Children of Men," "Androids" is about a seriously dysfunctional, probably dieing society dominated by a pervasive propaganda effort.
While it's not clear that the world of "Blade Runner," is any less dysfunctional, the political elements seem very ordinary for a big city. Its focus is on the characters, which are very nearly human, as are we all. The focus is not on the times but on the experience of humanity that defines us and fails to draw a clear line between human and "replicant." Scott puts the question in the mouth of a replicant, to wonder whether our detective is himself human, at which point we may begin to remember what may be clues about this, but the question is never again raised. But they both seem to pass the tests we would make of their being human.
Where Dick is caught up in his own cynicism, Ridley Scott seems to have given us an anthem, especially with his dark and decadent future LA, but just magnificent, the last great non-CGI set, along with a dense and powerful Vangelis soundtrack.
That Was the Week That Was (1964)
Milestone in Comedy
"That Was the Week That Was" first appeared in the US in a special edition that was a memorial to John F Kennedy after his assassination. I believe that was the original British cast, but the show stimulated an enormous amount of interest in what they were doing over there, so an American version appeared the next year.
It was topical. It didn't pull its punches. It was sly, most Americans' introduction to "British Humor," more than a step up from Jerry Lewis, and it moved quickly. Its was urbane, a style that David Frost came to symbolize, although the conspicuous consumption lifestyle he developed was really something else. Perhaps he became what he started out to mock.
It's surprising it's gotten so little attention, as it was widely regarded a direct inspiration for "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," and it is surely not chance that the decades old American comedy show's weekly announced name isn't "Saturday Night Live," but "Saturday Night." Surely a tip of the hat to TW3's original name.
The Departed (2006)
Scorsese got his Oscar out of sentiment, not for this embarrassment
Very, very, very disappointing given the all-star cast. I love much of Nicholson's work, but in this he's not very believable as a crime boss. Nicholson can certainly do the man in charge, but not in this. Leonardo is fairly believable, although he seems to be working hard on looking sullen. Damon is okay, nothing special. Sheen is fairly good but Wahlberg is awful. Sheen has to pretend there's not a bad smell in the room when he's with Wahlberg. We are to believe that his Dignan is expressing real emotion, this is a real tough guy? This story relies on so many twists to carry itself, but the weakness of the characters and to some degree, the plot, is surprising. I didn't hate it, I just hated not seeing the performances I expect from these actors. It was okay as late night entertainment, but this thing won Oscars?
Highlander: The Source (2007)
Duncan is not a bloated James T Kirk in reprise
Witty, urbane, and entirely humane, the central character of the syndicated television series, Duncan MacLeod was a man in ways that the movie's Connor MacLeod never was. The central conflict for Duncan was never that he couldn't have children, but that, not only did he have to watch those he loved grow old and die, but that he was constantly forced into killing others. In his career, there were many Duncan regretted killing, and none that he killed that he didn't have to. He is driven by a passion for life and by a compassion for all, completely at home in whatever age we see him. It is his character more than his sword that makes Duncan a great warrior. And it was often in the living more than the pursuit that made our story.
The Source, which is a sequel to the television series, may have the problem of such films of reviving the characters in actors that may have outlived the role, but I think the problem is writers who lack a feeling for the story. Any disappointment in Adrian Paul's Duncan, Peter Wingfield's Mythos, or Jim Byrnes' Joe Dawson for me seemed to be more in the scripting than their acting and more in new characters than the revived roles. The telling could have depended more on conflict amongst Immortals than it did, but I think the resolution of the Immortal destiny, which has suddenly been given an object, called The Source (thus turning it into the Holy Grail), ultimately rewards Duncan as the most decent of the Immortals, but would have been more clever to have addressed Duncan's questions about the decency of the whole project, and the lives of those lost, or, better, not resolve the story at all.
offbeat surreal humor
I looked for anything about this film for years without luck. If I remember, it is without a music track. In any case, silence is an important element in the film. "Goldstein" is filled with the color and flavor of Chicago. Famous and new features of the city were many times featured cleverly in the tale. The eponymous character, Goldstein, appears as an old man with a full gray beard wading out of Lake Michigan in long johns in a way that suggests that he came from another realm or nowhere at all. A nearly silent character, he engages in scenes which are mime-like, silent and bizarre.
There is a scene in which Goldstein is in the back of a truck loaded with junk traveling on the nearly new and vast Dan Ryan Expressway. He is throwing items off the truck onto the expressway and a siren can be heard at a distance. Gradually the siren approaches, and a police car appears. It pulls up to the cab of the truck and the police look in. Seeing that no one is driving, after taking a beat, they speed on, siren still blaring, as if it was someone else they were chasing.
Another scene without Goldstein, but with a doctor played by Severn Darden, I believe, is riding in a car going up inside the Marina Towers, a cylindrical building with scalloped sections that stands just by the Chicago River. The absurd quality of the doctor's conversation is punctuated by the fact that they are going around and around, so not only does the journey seem interminable, it is entirely impossible that the car would have looped so many times.
These pieces deserve being shared because no one knows this movie. I won't tell more, but "Goldstein" is a forgotten comic masterpiece. I hope that it may be resurrected and live and that I live to see it. I remember it as black-and-white, so the film may be serviceable, if it exists, after 40 years.
Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (1983)
Bar named Vesuvio, volcano Vesuvius - a very hot story
There is the contrast between the Syria of Nacib's father and the Brazil of our movie's present. In Syria, barkeeper Nacib tells us, they kill and mutilate sexy women, and he declares his sympathy with that kind of treatment, but it seems that Brazil is a woman's country.
Gabriela is a fantasy of a completely unaffected, natural woman, who rises out of poverty and without education, but is completely confident of who she is with a marvelous natural grace, and is frankly open in her sexuality and lust for her employer Nacib, played by Marcello Mastroiani. But the pure femininity, I would like to call it innocence, of Sonia Braga's Gabriela, prevails. Such a character is probably only a man's fantasy, but it seems that nowhere more than Brazil would such a creature exist. And how Brazilian that not only is Gabriela, without comment, of unknown and obviously mixed race origins, but so is Nacib, who tells, after constant times of being called "Turk", that he is actually Italian, born of Syrian father and Italian mother.
Although this movie is fairly explicit sexually, it doesn't dwell on its sex scenes. It is its passion and Braga's beauty make this the sexiest mainstream flick I've seen, a heat-wave.
Beowulf has gained nothing from Sci-fi Channel's attentions
Where to begin? Anachronism? High tech cross bow with a scope in about 500AD? Arrows with explosive charges in 500AD? A monster Grendel that looks like a robocop and obviously never interacts with any of the weapons fired or swung against him? The heart torn out of his victim's chest without any sense of contact? Possibly the blond who would fit in on a recent fashion show with her make-up and streaked hair? The ancient Danish court represented in Classical Greek style? The queen played by Marina Sirtis more savaged by her makeup artist than by madness? The effects are way too weak to carry this story. There are some stories that don't mind or even benefit from cheap effects, but this Grendel isn't one of them.
What about characters who seem to jump about in their attitudes without motivation? A bravado idiot prince whose home has already been savaged more than once by the monster Grendel seems to have less respect for the danger he faces than Beowulf who was sent from afar from the land of the Geats to help the desperate Danes. In this it feels more like an old cowboy western than any kind of myth.
Beowulf is an ancient tale from an era with almost no literary tradition and much of both its sentiment and its drama is obscure. I suspect that any modern telling which doesn't make an intelligent attempt to penetrate the obscurity must fail. I didn't love the recent "Beowulf and Grendel" which sees Grendel essentially as human and sees Hrothgar and his Danes as too arrogant and stupid to recognize Grendel's attacks as well-justified vengeance, but I had to respect its revisionist position that Hrothgar's Danes were a bunch of macho thugs who never grasped, even after it was all over, that they had brought this nightmare on themselves, and therefore, the original story of Beowulf, as it was written, was a misrepresentation of the real story. I think there's a more complex meaning to be understood than that, but this "Grendel's" terrible secret that Grendel's attacks are tied to previous human sacrifice doesn't really bring us closer to the shame experienced by Hrothgar and the Danes.
This Beowulf has little to recommend it as traditional myth or as modern fantasy. I give it a 4: higher than it deserves, but always hopeful that a poor effort will draw attention by someone who is up to telling the story intelligently. In the meantime, Sci-Fi's movie-making seems to be following the NASA policy that it's better to build lots of probes that fail than a few that succeed.
original had wonderful humor this one didn't understand
Mel Gibson's Bret Maverick, Jr. could belong in the television Maverick family, which included Bart, Brent, and Beau, but not to James Garner's Bret Maverick. The old television Maverick was, in my view, Garner's best role. I love Jodie Foster whose roles are usually playing someone who is or seems to be in over her head, and she's not too bad in this as Annabelle, but we might want a more casual show of confidence from this sly coquette, though some of the original show's female hustlers played as easily on their own appearance of being un-confident, as they did and then didn't, upon Maverick's intent to be a gentleman towards them.
It's clever to have James Garner show up as "my old Pappy," but the line that inspires it doesn't really get played. The television program was filled with its in-jokes, the most notable were about Dad. The fill-in-the-blank line "my old Pappy used to say..." is a defining wackiness, a common source of all kinds of folksy wisdom, some obvious, some insightful, and some totally cockeyed, the nature and display of which leads us to wonder if any of these quotes actually comes from Dad. And Dad's exploits, as rendered by the Maverick brothers, add up to a bizarre collective unconscious more than a human being. There are two times I can remember when our curiosity about Pappy is addressed, once when we meet a stranger identified as Pappy, as it turns out, only to set up a hustle, and the other time, Pappy has apparently reincarnated as a slightly tamed crow, hopping around town and engaging humans a bit. Garner's secret connection as Dad in the movie is hardly the oddity we would expect from "my old Pappy" of yore.
The oddest mismatch, however, was the disappearance of the theme song. It isn't unusual that the music from an original doesn't make to the remake, but the film was written with the television theme song in mind, which has the chorus lines: "Riverboat ring your bell. Fair-thee-well Annabelle..," although the TV show may never have had an Annabel character. With the song clearly in my head, I laughed when it turned out that the movie would be with a lady named Annabelle and it would climax on a riverboat, but, as it turned out, the theme was a no-show; the film lacked any acknowledgment or reference to the song. Another victim of an unnecessary re-write, some frivolous cost-cutting?
Graham Greene's character, a larcenous Indian, though minor, was probably the best in the film, and the humor of his role was probably most typical of the spirit of the TV show. The visual comedy of Bret's hanging is not so bad, either.
If you liked the movie, you'll love the 1957 television series. If you liked the TV series, the movie is not utterly without merit. As my old Pappy used to say...