A Blast From The Past: Charlton Heston Explains The Ratings System


Hi!

Are you confused by the ratings system?  Well, fortunately for you, Charlton Heston was willing to take some time out of his tennis game in order to explain it to you.  This short film is from 1972 so it’s a little bit out-of-date.  There’s no mention of PG-13 or NC-17, for instance.  (And, of course, Charlton Heston is no longer with us…)  But the point comes across regardless.

When I went to see Kingsmen at the Alamo Drafthouse, they showed this clip before the movie.  The audience absolutely loved it.

Film Review: Focus (dir by Glenn Ficara and John Requa)


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The snow and ice finally melted today so, this afternoon, Jeff and I went down to the Alamo Drafthouse and we saw the just released Will Smith/Margot Robbie film, Focus.

You know how there’s some films that you see and you know that you had a good enough time while you were watching it and then, a few hours later, you realize that the movie itself is quickly fading from your memory?  It’s not that you just saw a bad movie as much as you just watched one that was not exceptionally good.  To a large extent, that sums up how I felt about Focus.  I watched it.  I was mildly entertained.  And I have a feeling that, 6 months from now, I’m going to come across this review and say something like, “Oh yeah, I guess I did see that movie.”  It gets the job done but it doesn’t do much else.

(I was actually tempted to start this review by saying that Focus was good for a “March movie” but then I remembered that last year, The Grand Budapest Hotel came out in March and proved that the date of release is no longer an excuse.)

In Focus, Will Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon.  Nicky’s nickname is Mellow but he didn’t get that nickname for the reason that you probably think he did.  (Though, rest assured, we do find out the exact reason why Nicky is called Mellow and yes, it does factor into the film’s final twist.)  Nicky is anything but mellow.  Instead, he’s a professional con artist who is always scheming, who always considers every detail, and who is always focused on getting what he wants.

The film is split into two parts and the first part is actually pretty good.  An inexperienced con artist named Jess (Margot Robbie) attempts to rob Nicky and gets a lecture as a result.  Nicky isn’t so much upset that Jess tried to con him as much as he, as a professional, is annoyed that Jess did such a bad job of it.  This leads to Nicky eventually becoming Jess’s mentor.  Nicky teaches Jess all the tools of the trade, introduces her to all the properly quirky members of his crew, and he even goes against his own advice (which is to never get close to anyone) when he and Jess become lovers.

The highlight of the first part of the film is a football game where Nicky and a compulsive gambler (B.D. Wong) end up making a series of increasingly ludicrous bets.  B.D. Wong gives such a memorably unhinged performance that he briefly made the entire film seem more interesting than it actually was.  In fact, as I look back over Focus, I find myself wishing that the entire film has just been about his character.

But, unfortunately, the film isn’t about B.D. Wong.  Instead, it’s about Nicky and Jess.  The second part of the film, which takes place three years after the first part, features Jess and Nicky as equals and it feels like almost an entirely different movie.  Whereas Smith and Robbie had a nice chemistry as teacher and student, that chemistry vanishes after the time jump.  Unfortunately, that’s not all that vanishes.  The film’s pace and playful sense of fun disappears as well.  If the first half of the film felt like an above average first episode of a quirky TV show, the second half felt like a long-running sitcom on which the show runner had been fired and suddenly replaced.  It was similar to what had come before but, ultimately, it felt very different.

Focus does end with a big twist but, long before it was revealed, Jeff and I both guessed what it was.  The problem is that we’ve seen so many movies about con artists that we know that all of them are destined to end with a big twist that reveals that there was another con going on that we didn’t know about.  It’s impossible to be surprised by the eventual twist because we all know that it’s coming.  For a “con movie” like Focus to work, it has to either be so cleverly written or so much fun to watch that we actually stop thinking about the inevitability of the upcoming twist.  But, since Focus is never as clever as it thinks it is, we instead spend our whole time thinking about the twist and, seeing as how you’re a clever and experience filmgoer, you probably won’t have much trouble predicting it.

But here’s the thing: I think it’s possible to be too critical of a film like Focus.  Focus may not be good but it does have it fun moments.  Will Smith could play Nicky in his sleep.  (And, to be honest, he occasionally seems to be doing just that.)  Margot Robbie looks like she belongs in an old film noir.  The settings are glamorous.  The clothes are to die for.  Ultimately, Focus is both moderately enjoyable and extremely forgettable.  If you don’t see it in a theater, you won’t regret it.  However, when it show up on cable in December, it’ll make for inoffensive background noise.

Review: The Walking Dead S5E12 “Remember”


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“We’re almost out there too long.” — Glenn Rhee

[spoilers within]

Can a group of people who have survived through the most dangerous situations ever remember to return to some form of normalcy? Can they ever accept such an offer and not feel out of place?

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead brings up this question as we finally see the group enter the fortified walls of the Alexandria Community. Rick and his people have been on the road for as long as they’ve found themselves a safe haven to call home since the zombie apocalypse began. They’ve lost many along this journey through attrition, carelessness and betrayal. This is a group that has lived every day in a constant state of war. It’s something that the people of Alexandria seem to be very short in.

There’s an almost comical difference in how Rick’s unwashed, hardened survivors when compared to the people of Alexandria who seem to have been able to weather much of the storm that the apocalypse has rained down upon the world. They’ve been able to have constant running water, electricity and an abundance of food. They also have walls which seem to be designed to maximize protection from both zombies and raiders alike. It’s the gated community for the apocalypse and it’s current inhabitants either put too much faith in what has kept them safe and alive or playing at being badass survivors when we as an audience can see the opposite.

Alexandria is not like Woodbury where just enough of what was past was brought back to keep people happy. It’s not like Terminus which became corrupted once the dangers outside the walls entered. This is a community that seems like paradise and willing to give Rick and his people a chance to fit in and contribute. It’s the hope they’ve been searching for since they left the prison. A place that has a chance to sustain not just everyone physically but mentally and spiritually.

Yet, we also see that Rick and his people still have their guard up despite it all. Like pets who have gone feral, Rick and his people want to accept this hopeful situation as genuine, but also aware that when things look to be too good to be true then it probably is. They search for a hidden agenda in what Alexandria’s leader, former Ohio Senator Deanna Monroe, has for taking them in when she has admitted to Rick herself that his group was the first large group of outsiders they’ve deemed worthy enough to invite in.

Characters like Carol, Daryl and Glenn seem to share Rick’s doubts about this new safe haven in one way or another. With Daryl we see him become even more outward with his belligerence towards the strangers in their midst. There’s nothing hidden about how Daryl feels, but he’s willing to go along with things while Rick and Carol play along. With Glenn he wants this opportunity to finally get off the road and settle down to work, but we can see that he’s already waiting for that hidden agenda to reveal itself as another betrayal.

Outside of Rick it’s Carol who seems to be looking to play the long game with Deanna and her people. We see how Carol begins to act like her former self from all the way back in season 1. Melissa McBride’s performance during tonight’s episode shows why she has become one of the stalwarts in this huge cast. One second she’s the observant, veteran killer looking for the danger she knows is just waiting for them. Then next moment she’s the clumsy, mousy and battered housewife we first saw in season 1 and 2. She understands that this place can be a good place for them, but once again willing to be the one to do the dirty work to protect her new family when the time comes.

Tonight’s episode was all about Rick Grimes and whether he’s able to remember how things were suppose to be for him and his family when they had something good going in their prison community. Since they fled that sanctuary’s destruction Rick has been going through several moments of crisis that just chip away at the Officer Friendly that we first met in season 1. The bigger and more unkempt his beard got the more Rick steeled himself form the dangers that strangers posed for him and his group.

There’s a moment when he’s being interviewed and videotaped by Deanna that showed Rick’s two side at war with each other. The Rick of the road was ready to strike at the possible dangers around him. Unable to sit still and even uncomfortable to be sitting in a nice sofa chair. This is the Rick that has learned what deprivation and constant danger means and lived through everything this new world threw at him. Yet, we also saw the Officer Friendly of those early seasons wanting to accept this offer of hope and renewal. Even the act of shaving off the beard was a powerful symbol of Rick trying to shed some of the mistrust and paranoia he’d acquired since leaving the prison.

The Walking Dead will always have it’s great moments of zombie gore and action. It’s the show’s bread and butter, but when the show’s writers decide it’s time to lay down the seeds for a much longer game the show under current showrunner Scott M. Gimple seem to have gotten better. Not much zombies or action, but the episode still was full of tension as we’ve all come to expect that other shoe to drop and when it does it comes from a surprising source.

Will Rick and his people remember what it was to be able to trust others again? Will Rick be able to get back to that balancing act of being both pragmatic and compassionate when it comes to being leader of his group? Or are Rick and the group too far gone to remember what made them decent people even when the apocalypse landed in their laps.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Remember”, was directed by series producer Greg Nicotero and written by series writer Channing Powell.
  • It looks like Law & Order‘s own Danielle Melnick (Tovah Feldshuh) will be the leader of the Alexandria Community.
  • In the comics the leader of Alexandria was also a senator but was a man named Douglas.
  • Alexandra Breckinride has gone ditched the red locks of her American Horror Story character and gone blonde as Jessie of the Alexandria Community.
  • Deanna’s son Aiden, a former lieutenant in the ROTC (snicker), does not deserve the rifle he was carrying when he took Glenn, Tara and Noah our for a dry run outside the walls of the Alexandria community. I think that SCAR-L should be given to someone who can use it better like Glenn or Carl or Abraham.
  • I do believe that was Scott Ian of Anthrax playing the zombie that Carl killed with the steel pole.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Timothy Simons (Veep) and Alanna Masterson (Tara of The Walking Dead) and Denise Huth (series producer)

Season 5

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: A Few Good Men (dir by Rob Reiner)


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So, late Saturday night, I turned over to TCM’s 31 Days Of Oscar and I was watching the 1992 best picture nominee, A Few Good Men, and I noticed that not only was there only one woman in the entire film but she was also portrayed as being humorless and overwhelmed.  While all of the male characters were allowed to speak in quippy one liners and all had at least one memorable personality trait, Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) didn’t get to do much beyond frown and struggle to keep up.

“Hmmmm…” I wondered, “why is it that the only woman in the film is portrayed as basically being a humorless scold?”  Then I remembered that A Few Good Men was written by Aaron Sorkin and it all made sense.  As I’ve discussed on this site before, Aaron Sorkin has no idea how to write woman and that’s certainly evident in A Few Good Men.  Joanne (who goes by the masculine Jo) is the one character who doesn’t get to say anything funny or wise.  Instead, she mostly serves to repeat platitudes and to be ridiculed (both subtly and not-so subtly) by her male colleagues.  You can tell that Sorkin was so busy patting himself on the back for making Jo into a professional that he never actually got around to actually giving her any personality.  As a result, there’s really not much for her to do, other than occasionally scowling and giving Tom Cruise a “that’s not funny” look.

(“C’mon,” Tom says at one point, “that one was pretty good.”  You tell her, Aaron Tom.)

A Few Good Men, of course, is the film where Tom Cruise yells, “I want the truth!” and then Jack Nicholson yells back, “You can’t handle the truth!”  At that point in the film, I was totally on Nicholson’s side and I was kinda hoping that the scene would conclude with Cruise staring down at the floor, struggling to find the perfect come back.  However, this is an Aaron Sorkin script which means that the big bad military guy is never going to have a legitimate point and that the film’s hero is always going to have the perfect comeback.  Fortunately, the scene took place in a courtroom so there was a wise judge present and he was able to let us know that, even if he seemed to be making the better point, Nicholson was still in the wrong.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a courtroom drama.  At Guantanamo Bay, a marine (Michael DeLorenzo) has died as the result of a hazing.  Two other marines (Wolfgang Bodison and James Marshall) have been accused of the murder.  Daniel Kafee (Tom Cruise), Joanne Galloyway (Demi Moore), and Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) have been assigned to defend them.  Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) is prosecuting them.  Kafee thinks that the hazing was ordered by Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) and Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland).

We know that Kendrick’s a bad guy because he speaks in a Southern accent and is religious, which is pretty much the mark of the devil in an Aaron Sorkin script.  We know that Jessup is evil because he’s played by Jack Nicholson.  For that matter, we also know that Kafee is cocky, arrogant, and has father issues.  Why?  Because he’s played by Tom Cruise, of course.  And, while we’re at it, we know that Sam is going to be full of common sense wisdom because he’s played by Kevin Pollack…

What I’m saying here is that there’s absolutely nothing surprising about A Few Good Men.  It may pretend to be about big issues of national security but, ultimately, it’s a very slick and somewhat hollow Hollywood production.  This, after all, is a Rob Reiner film and that, above all else, means that it’s going to be a very conventional and very calculated crowd pleaser.

Which isn’t to say that A Few Good Men wasn’t enjoyable.  I love courtroom dramas and, with the exception of Demi Moore, all of the actors do a good job.  (And, in Demi’s defense, it’s not as if she had much to work with.  It’s not her fault that Sorkin hates women.)  A Few Good Men is entertaining without being particularly memorable.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #115: Kept Woman (dir by Michel Poulette)


Earlier, I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Kept Woman!

Kept Woman

Why Was I Watching It?

Well, why not?  First off, it was on Lifetime.  Secondly, the commercials made it look really creepy.  Third, I checked on the imdb and I discovered that this film was made in Canada and everyone knows how much I love Canada.  And finally, I read a very misleading article on Bustle that insinuated that this film was based on the Ariel Castro case.

What Was It About?

One night, after an evening at the theater, Jessica (Courtney Ford) and her fiancée Evan (Andrew W. Walker) return to their apartment and discover that they’re being robbed by a guy who looks like Jack Black’s younger, thinner brother.

Jessica says, “Enough of this city living!  We’re moving to the suburbs!”  Evan agrees to use his life savings to purchase a house in the suburbs.  It’s here that Jessica will work on her book while skyping with her true crime-obsessed friend Oscar (Jesse Camacho).

From the minute he first shows up and offers them a bottle of wine as a welcoming gift, it’s obvious that there is something off about their new neighbor, Simon (Shaun Benson).  For one thing, he dresses like he’s in a community theater production of The Music Man.  He’s a professor of Men’s Studies at the local university and, when he comes over for dinner, he’s clearly both offended and aroused by the sight of Jessica’s visible bra straps.  Also, he’s likes to wear bowties and we all know that, in a Lifetime movie, bowties often equal evil.

Of course, the main clue that there’s something wrong with Simon comes when he kidnaps Jessica and locks her in his basement.  There’s another woman already living in the basement.  Her name is Robin (Rachel Wilson) and she’s been down in the basement for so long that she’s now in love with Simon.

And did I mention that the basement is specifically made up to look like the 1950s?

Because it so totally is!

What Worked?

Oh my God!  Shaun Benson was sooooo creepy!  Seriously, he gave a great over-the-top psycho performance in this film.  Rachel Wilson did a good job too, poignantly portraying just how brainwashed her character had become.  As well, whoever designed and decorated that basement deserves some sort of award.  It was truly a creepy location.

What Did Not Work?

This is one of those films that should have been an insane masterpiece but, somehow, it never worked quite as well as I wanted it to.  The film could never seem to quite decide whether it wanted to be an over-the-top melodrama or a serious look at abduction, abuse, and brainwashing.  Courtney Ford and Andrew W. Walker did not have much chemistry as the endangered couple and, for the film to work, characters often had to behave in the stupidest way possible.  Even the film’s ending, which was obviously meant to be a big “You go, girl!” moment, felt forced.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Jessica, I am totally obsessed with true crime and I enjoy trying to solve real-life unsolved mysteries.  I also imagine that, much like Jessica, I would probably break into my neighbor’s house to investigate whether he was a potential murderer.

Lessons Learned

Creepy neighbors should be handled with extreme caution.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: Chariots of Fire (dir by Hugh Hudson)


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It took me two viewings to really appreciate the film Chariot of Fire.

First released in 1981, Chariots of Fire won the Oscar for best picture.  It’s also one of the few British productions to take the top award.  (British films are regularly nominated but the winner is usually an American production.)  A few nights ago, it was broadcast on TCM and I watched it for the first time.  And I have to admit that I struggled to follow the film.

It’s not that the film’s story was exceptionally complicated.  At heart, it’s an inspirational sports film and it features all of the clichés that one usually associates with inspirational sports films — i.e., come-from-behind victories, eccentric trainers, athletes who are determined to compete under their own terms, training montages, and a memorable score.  (The score for Chariots of Fire was so effective that it’s still used as the background music for countless Olympic specials.)

No, I struggled to follow the film because it really was just so extremely British, featuring everything from Cambridge to Gilbert and Sullivan to a rigidly enforced class system to casual anti-Semitism,  This may have been a sports film but it was a very reserved sports film.  If Chariots of Fire had been an American film, we would have gotten countless shots of people screaming, “YESSSSS!  GO! GO! GO! GO!” Instead, the characters in Chariots of Fire are far more likely to say, “Good show, old boy.”  Whereas an American sports film would have scored a montage of competition to the sound of “Eye of the Tiger,” Chariots of Fire features a men’s chorus singing, “For he is an Englishman….”

It takes a bit of getting used to and perhaps I knew that because, even as I was watching Chariots of Fire, I still set the DVR to record it.  The first time I watched the film, I was overwhelmed by the culture shock and the resolute Britishness of it all.  My reaction was to think that, much like The Big Chill, Chariots of Fire was a “you just had to be there” type of film, the type of film that was once impressive but now just inspires you to go “meh.”

And I was prepared to write a review stating just that.  But, somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that I should give Chariots of Fire another chance before I dismissed it.  Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get the damn music out of my head.  Who knows?  But I couldn’t think about the film’s opening — with all those men running on the beach and getting mud all over their white uniforms — without smiling.

So, seeing as how I am currently snowed in for the weekend, I spent this morning watching Chariots of Fire for a second time and I’m glad that I did.  Because you know what?  Chariots of Fire is actually a pretty good film.  It tells the story of Eric Lidell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), two British runners who competed at the 1924 Olympics.  Harold is a student at Cambridge.  He’s an angry young man who is running to prove all of the anti-Semites wrong.  (Of course, Harold is angry in a very sort of upper class British way).  Eric is the son of missionaries who views running as a mission from God and who refuses to run on a Sunday.  The film looks gorgeous, Charleson and Cross both give good performances, and that music demands an emotional response.  While Chariots of Fire may not be a great film, it’s definitely a likable film and there’s something to be said for that.

Plus, did I mention that the music’s great?

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Big Chill (dir by Lawrence Kasdan)


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There are certain films that truly are “You just had to be there” films.  These are the movies that were apparently loved by contemporary audiences but, when viewed today, it’s difficult to see just what exactly everyone was getting so excited about.  Sometimes, this is because the film itself was so influential and has been copied by so many other films that the original has had its power diluted.  And then, sometimes, it’s just a case that the film was never that good to begin with.

I’m guessing that The Big Chill must be one of those “you just had to be there” type of films.  First released in 1983, The Big Chill was nominated for best picture.  If you look the film up over at the imdb, you’ll find lots of comments from people who absolutely adore this film.  However, when I watched the film as a part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, I have to admit that my reaction can be best summed in one word.

Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that The Big Chill was a bad film.  To be honest, it was neither memorably bad nor remarkably good.  Instead, it just was.  Overall, the performances were good, the direction was shallow, and the screenplay was occasionally good and occasionally shallow but mostly, it was the epitome of serviceable.

At the start of The Big Chill, Alex is dead.  With the exception of a scene where his corpse is being prepared for burial, Alex never actually appears on screen.  (Originally, Kevin Costner was cast to play the role in a flashback but director Lawrence Kasdan cut the scene.)  What little we learn about Alex, we learn from listening to the other characters in the film talk about him.  For instance, Alex was apparently brilliant but troubled.  He attended the University of Michigan in the 1960s and was close to 7 other politically radical students.  While everyone else was busy selling out their ideals, Alex stayed true to his and, as a result, he ended up spending his life depressed and poor.  Alex ultimately ended up committing suicide, an act that leads to his 7 friends reuniting for his funeral.

Opening with Alex’s funeral and taking place over one long weekend, The Big Chill follows Alex’s friends as they try to figure out why Alex committed suicide and debate whether or not they’ve sold out their college ideals.  They also spend a lot of time listening to the music of the youth, getting high, watching a football game, and washing dishes.

(Interestingly enough, they spend the weekend in the exact same house where Alex committed suicide.  Which, to be honest, I would think would be kind of creepy.)

There’s Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close), who are the unofficial grown ups of the group.  It was at their vacation home that Alex committed suicide and, over the course of the film, we find out that Alex and Sarah had a brief affair.  Harold owns a company that makes running shoes and, to at least one friend’s horror, is now good friends with the local police.  Sarah, meanwhile, splits her time between crying in the shower and smiling beatifically at her friends.

(Incidentally, throughout the film, Kevin Kline speaks in one of the least convincing southern accents that I’ve ever heard…)

Meg (Mary Kay Place) is a former public defender who, after deciding that all of her poverty-stricken clients really were scum, has now become a real estate attorney.  Meg wants a baby and is hoping that one of the men at the funeral might be willing to impregnate her.  Meg is a chain smoker so good luck, unborn child.  Before Alex killed himself, she had an argument with him.  (“That’s probably why he killed himself,” someone suggests.)

I liked Karen (JoBeth Williams) because she’s prettier than Meg and less condescending than Sarah.  She’s unhappily married to an advertising executive named Richard (Dan Galloway).  As they drive to the cemetery, Richard tells Karen that he can’t believe her famous friends all turned out to be so boring.  Karen is unhappy in her marriage and, after Richard returns home and leaves her in South Carolina for the weekend, decides that she wants a divorce.

That’s good news for Sam (Tom Berenger), an actor who is best known for playing private detective J.T. Lancer on television.  Sam is upset that nobody takes him or his career seriously.  Meg was hoping that Sam would be the father of her baby but, instead, Sam is more interested in Karen.

And then there’s Nick (William Hurt), who is a former radio psychologist-turned-drug dealer.  Nick was wounded in Vietnam and is impotent as a result.  In case you somehow forget that fact, don’t worry.  Nick brings it up every few minutes.

Michael (Jeff Goldblum) was my favorite among the men because he’s at least willing to admit that he’s a self-centered jerk.  Michael is a former underground journalist who now works for People Magazine.  Nobody seems to like Michael and yet, he’s still invited to stay over the weekend.  Personally, I like to think that he does so just to get on everyone’s nerves.  Good for him.

And finally, there’s Chloe (Meg Tillis), who was Alex’s much younger girlfriend and who doesn’t seem to be impressed with any of Alex’s friends (with the exception, of course, of impotent old Nick).

I have to admit that I probably would have responded more to The Big Chill if it was actually about my generation, as opposed to being about my grandparents. Someday, someone my age will make a movie about a bunch of college friends reunited for a funeral and it will be filled with my music and my cultural references and I’ll think it’s brilliant.  And then, a 30 years later, some snotty little film reviewer will watch and probably say, “Meh.  Old people.”

Such is life.