Saturday, February 17, 2018

Blade Runner (1982)

It’s 2019 and replicants (you know, andys) are used as slave labor on off-world colonies. Six escaped during an uprising and head to earth. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought out of his retirement to retire them. With a gun. He retires them by shooting them.

Way back in 1982 a fifteen year old me saw Blade Runner in theaters. Somewhat impressed, it somewhat stuck with me. Though I wanted to see it again, especially after the new cuts came out, I never did. When a historic theater presented the Final Cut, I collected my boys and had a night out. Wow, what a difference thirty-five years makes.

I don’t know if it was intentional by Ridley Scott or a problem with theater’s audio equipment, but the rain and trippy-ass soundtrack drowned out the dialog, making it hard to follow the story. I don’t know if that mattered much in the end. It’s not really a dialog-driven film, but still.

There are quite a few versions of Blade Runner floating around. The initial US release was severely tampered with by the studio to make more sense to a dim-witted US audience (a dim-witted fifteen year old me appreciated it), and then were different edits for various releases around the world. Scott’s original edit was found in the ‘90s and erroneously called the director’s cut. Back in aught seven Scott made a real director’s cut and is considered the definitive version.

Blade Runner is an immerse experience. Not all details of this world are explained onscreen and it would have been a terrible idea had they tried. The principle question it asks is what does it mean to be human. That's not as straight forward as it might seem as Deckard meets a replicant (Sean Young) that does not know what she is. And we have reason to believe Deckard himself may also be a replicant.

The case for this is somewhat tenuous. Deckard has a unicorn flashback and Gaff makes an origami unicorn to apparently tease him, implying it’s an implanted memory. Others have theorized that the Unicorn represents the replicants: real but not real. Director Ridley Scott was vague and mysterious about the question saying “He is definitely a replicant”, so take that for what it’s worth. I haven't seen 2049 yet, so NO SPOILERS!

The Blade Runner world is amazing. Expansive, expressive, familiar but not really. Neo-noir at it’s finest. It just may find its way into my library. AMRU 4.5.
“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.”

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Rings on her Fingers (1942)

A pretty shop girl (Gene Tierney) is enticed into working for a pair of con artists. She uses her womanly wiles to lure rich prey into their traps. One such is millionaire John Wheeler (Henry Fonda) who is convinced to buy a boat that they don’t own. Turns out he’s really a working stiff and has lost his life savings. He only led on that he was rich because she was, gosh, just so pretty. Her con friends want her to move to a new mark but she’s actually in love.

It was strange to see Tierney in the Barbara Stanwyck-esque role in what amounts to a slight retelling of the somewhat better Lady Eve, but she did a fine job. It was a departure for her and she was absolutely charming, as always. Fonda was basically the same character as in Eve.

Rings on her Fingers is a nice screwball comedy material, but nothing terribly original or surprising. Fonda and Tierney had good chemistry and I suppose that’s all that matters. The story clunked from time to time, but I think my mom would have liked it. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)

A crippled pianist is murdered after it is learned that his will was changed so that his nurse will inherit the bulk of his estate. As the will is being contested, it appears his disembodied hand is trying to kill again.

Creepy mansion? Check. Old time setting? Check. References to the occult? Check. The Beast with Five Fingers takes itself fairly seriously, even if its audience doesn’t. It’s a fairly atmospheric throw-away horror film that successfully gets the viewer an hour and a half older in a not unpleasant manner. The filmmakers wanted Paul Henreid (Casablanca) for a key role, but he wisely declined. Sources disagree what role he was to play but IMdB says Peter Lorre but I'm guessing it was the Robert Alda part.

Not too much to say. Some mystery, a love triangle, decent special effects for the day, and good atmosphere. Just don’t expect to be wow’d. AMRU 3.

Monday, January 15, 2018

42nd Street (1933)

Tried and overworked stage director Julian (Warner Baxter) decides, against his doctor’s recommendation, to produce one final show. It is financed by a creepy old rich Guy (Kibbee) on condition that the lead is given to the girl (Bebe Daniels), who has also agreed to touch his wiener for the honor. This is pre-code, mind you. Comedic mayhem ensues.

When sound movies became a thing, studios crammed as many musicals into theaters as possible, regardless of quality. By 1933, the genre was declared dead. Never-the-less, financially struggling Warner Brothers decided to produce 42nd Street, and it turned out to be a critical and financial success. Lucky thing for the Bro’s.

42nd Street resolves around the drama of getting the show on and the complication of our lead, her sugar daddy, and her actual boyfriend. It also featured ingenue Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in their first pairing. They would go on to star together in a string of light-hearted musical romantic comedies, like Gold Diggers of 1933. Dick would have a fairly long (57 feature films) Hollywood career and fairly short life (58 years). Ruby the opposite (14ish films, 83 years). 

Charming, amusing, and risque for its day, 42nd street is well worth watching. Ginger Rogers is charmingly amusing in a fairly small role. This is just prior to her pairing with Fred Astaire. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Retrospective

Early in 2016 it occurred to me that I should be watching movies with my mom. My dad passed away just over a year prior and I wanted to keep her company. And she, unlike most people in my life, really liked old films. I bought her a blu-ray player and arrived almost every Friday with movie and dinner in hand. This became my favorite ritual. I wish I started a year earlier.

I focused on movies I thought she would like. She had no interest in westerns and war films. Horror was ok so long as they weren’t violent. But mostly she loved mysteries, especially Hitchcock and Sherlock Holmes. We watched many movies new to me and I had the opportunity to introduce her to films I loved. I treasure those times.

On December 30, sometime before noon, Lymphoma finally took my mother. In the almost four years since her (and my father’s) diagnosis, death has been a constant companion. We all know that the time we get is all we ever have, but we kid ourselves it will be a bit longer. I was determined to not leave things unsaid and feelings unexpressed, like I had with my father, but death is a hard thing to stare down. I did my best.

I quickly checked my blog of films we saw together and counted exactly 100. I know I missed a few, but I like that number. The last movie I saw in my childhood home was The Red Shoes (1948), the last new film for the blog was Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and the last overall was A Christmas Carol (1951), which we saw in a rehab facility just prior to going back into the VA. I thought maybe to host old films for residents of her elderly living facility but she wasn’t there long.

Death made his presence very apparent in late 2017. In late October I said goodbye to a childhood neighbor who was very much like an aunt. In November we said goodbye to my father in law’s cousin. And just before Thanksgiving, to my father in law. This holiday season has been very unkind.

I do not know why anyone would want to be a nurse, but thank god they do. I owe a huge thanks to so many people whose names I do not remember or never learned, at the VA and with Hospice. Cancer is a bitch and death leaves little room for dignity, but I have immense gratitude for the people who did their best to ease her and my family through this transition.

My mom led an active and interesting life, especially for someone from a small town in Texas. By her own account, a good life. She was proud of her military service, saw the world, and lived long enough to see her grandchildren grow into fine adults. She said she enjoyed every movie I brought, but I know we both thought Cat People (1982) was a stinker. I will think of her with every movie from this time forward and consider if she would have liked it. And every time I order hot wieners. Every holiday. Really, every day of my life. I will always miss you, mom.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

After discovering her Thanksgivings Day Parade Santa is drunk, pretty Doris (Maureen O’Hara) hires a spectator who looks the part. He does such a good job that he is hired by Macy’s to be their regular store Santa. But rather than talk children into Macy’s overstock product, he refers them to competitors to get the exact toy they want. Initially this goes over poorly with management until it becomes a public relations boon. Things get complicated when they realize that Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) actually believes himself to be Santa. Like, for real!

So, the objects in play are the stern realist Doris with a precocious daughter (Natalie Wood). They have little time for such fantasies like Santa. Also, the neighbor Fred who wants to know Doris a little better, nudge nudge. He also happens to be a lawyer, which will come in handy later. Macy’s has a psychiatrist who thinks Kris Kringle ought to be locked up. Finally there is R.H. Macy himself who wants to keep the goodwill train rolling, and heads will roll if it doesn’t. They couldn’t get the real R.H. Macy to play the part because he’d been dead seventy years before filming began. It’s been another seventy years since so you can see how long the “Christmas is so commercialized nowadays” mantra has been going.

Gene Lockhart, whom I saw most recently as Bob Cratchit, is the judge caught in the position of determining Santa's sanity. Here also is Thelma Ritter’s first role. Also is possibly Jack Albertson’s first screen role. He was Charlie’s granddad but I remember him most from television.

Macy's and Gimbel's department stores play a significant part in the film. They agreed to have their names used only if they liked the finished product. This means if either one vetoed, significant parts would have to be reshot. As such, many of the references to the stores were cut-aways. Fortunately, both parties liked the movie and it was released in time for ... summer solstice? What the hell, people ...

Miracle on 34th Street is a charming film that holds up very well. That is, if you overlook the ‘frigid woman must learn to love so she can catch a man’ angle. Also, the part about the little girl being left in the care of a 30-something stranger living next door. Yea, that wouldn’t fly today. But apart from that, it still hits all the right notes. Edmund Gwenn (remember him from Them!) is the best Santa analog we can hope for, Maureen O’Hara is a wonderfully charming ice queen, and Natalie Wood basically steals the show. Few child actors were as impactful as she was here. AMRU 4.
“The DA's a Republican”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Onibaba (1964)

A young woman and her mother-in-law, waiting for the return of their husband/son, survive in war-torn medieval Japan by killing soldiers and selling their armor. After learning from a neighbor that he has been killed, the neighbor takes an interest in the young widow. Mother-in-law disapproves.

Onibaba is a film about jealousy and manipulation. It is frequently put into the genres of fantasy and horror, but I feel it defies categorization. It’s a simple story (essentially just three characters) with a strange, fantasy-like tone. A scary mask is involved but I resist giving too much away. The three characters relationship, and that of the dead man, are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Interesting tone, abrupt and ambiguous ending, Onibaba (which means Demon Hag or Devil Woman), is simple in story and complex in content. It’s a film that’s difficult to talk too much about, lest we go down a rabbit hole. AMRU 4.