Documentary Sidebar : “Batman & Bill”


Trash Film Guru

Odds are pretty good that the 50%- or- so of my regular readers (not that there’s anything “regular” about any of us, of course!) who speak fluent “comic book-ese” are well aware of the industry’s sorry ethical history, but for the other half who are blissfully unaware of how badly outfits like Marvel and DC have put the screws to the creative geniuses who dreamed up their billion-dollar properties, the reality can be shocking : Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster selling away the rights to Superman in perpetuity for the princely sum of $130 just before they were shipped off to war because they wanted to provide a little something for their families in case they didn’t come back home; Jack Kirby’s struggles just to get back the thousands of pages of original art he drew of the hundreds of characters he invented and his family’s subsequent legal battles after…

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She Was Never Lovelier: Rita Hayworth in COVER GIRL (Columbia 1944)


cracked rear viewer

Bright, bold, and bouncy, COVER GIRL was a breakthrough film for both Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. Sultry, redheaded Rita had been kicking around Hollywood for ten years before Columbia Pictures gave her this star-making vehicle, while Kelly, on loan from MGM, was given free rein to create the memorable dance sequences. Throw in the comedic talents of Phil Silvers   and Eve Arden , plus a bevy of beauties and songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, and you have what very well may be the quintessential 40’s musical.

Rusty Parker (Rita) is a hoofer at Danny McGuire’s (Kelly) joint in Brooklyn (where else?). She enters a contest sponsored by Vanity Magazine to find a new cover girl for their 50th anniversary issue. Editor John Coudair ( Otto Kruger ) spots her and is reminded of the girl he once loved and lost (who turns out to have been…

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A Movie A Day #126: Baby Face Nelson (1957, directed by Don Siegel)


The place is Chicago.  The time is the era of Prohibition.  The head of the Chicago Outfit, Rocca (Ted de Corsia), has arranged for a career criminal named Lester Gillis (Mickey Rooney) to be released from prison.  A crack shot and all-around tough customer, Gillis has only two insecurities: his diminutive height and his youthful appearance.  Rocca wants to use Gillis as a hit man but Gillis prefers to rob banks.  When Rocca attempts to frame Gillis for a murder, Gillis first guns down his former benefactor and then goes on the run with his girlfriend, Sue Nelson (Carolyn Jones).  Because they are both patients of the same underworld doctor (played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Gillis eventually meets public enemy number one, John Dillinger (Leo Gordon).  Joining Dillinger’s gang, Gillis becomes a famous bank robber and is saddled with a nickname that he hates: Baby Face Nelson.

While it is true that Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis was an associate of John Dillinger’s and supposedly hated his nickname, the rest of this biopic is highly fictionalized.  The real Baby Face Nelson was a family man who, when he went on the run, took his wife and two children with him.  While he did get his start running with a Chicago street gang, there is also no evidence that Nelson was ever affiliated with the Chicago Outfit.  (The film’s Rocca is an obvious stand-in for Al Capone.)  In real life, it was Dillinger, having just recently escaped from jail, who hooked up with Nelson’s gang.  The film Nelson is jealous of Dillinger and wants to take over the gang but, in reality, the gang had no leader.  Because Nelson killed three FBI agents (more than any other criminal), he has developed a reputation for being one of the most dangerous of the Depression-era outlaws but, actually, he was no more violent than the typical 1930s bank robber.  Among the era’s outlaws, Dillinger was more unique for only having committed one murder over the course of his career.  In this film (and practically every other film that has featured Baby Face Nelson as a character), Nelson is a full on psychopath, one who even aims his gun at children.

Baby Face Nelson may be terrible history but it is still an excellent B-movie.  Don Siegel directs in his usual no-nonsense style and Mickey Rooney does a great job, playing Baby Face Nelson as a ruthless but insecure criminal with a perpetual chip on his shoulder.  As his fictional girlfriend, Carolyn Jones is both tough and sexy, a moll that any gangster would be lucky to have waiting for him back at the safe house.  B-movie veterans like Thayer David, Jack Elam, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Hoyt all have colorful supporting roles but the most unexpected name in the cast is that of Cedric Hardwicke, playing an alcoholic surgeon with broken down dignity.

Don’t watch Baby Face Nelson for a history lesson.  Watch it for an entertaining B-masterpiece.

 

Film Review: Snatched (dir by Jonathan Levine)


So, here’s the thing.

Lately, I’ve been seeing way too many good movies.  Seriously.  In March, I saw Logan and I thought it was great.  Then, roughly a month later, I saw Free Fire and, at first, I thought it was disappointing but, as the weeks have passed, I haven’t been able to get the film out of my mind.  Free Fire is definitely flawed but, if nothing else, all of the 70s-era costuming choices have stuck with me.  And then last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, which I really enjoyed.

However, when you’re serious about movies, you can’t just watch the good ones and pretend that the bad ones don’t exist.  So, this weekend, I decided that I would devote myself to seeing some bad movies.  Fortunately, it appears that every film that opened today is bad so that definitely makes my task a bit easier.

With that in mind, earlier tonight, my BFF Evelyn and I went to a showing of Snatched.  Snatched is a comedy that stars Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn as a daughter and a mother who go on vacation in South America and end up getting kidnapped and then lost in the Amazon rain forest.  This was one of those movies that sounded terrible from the beginning.  The plot sounded terrible.  The trailer looked awful.  For the most part, the reviews have been lacerating and the few good comments have largely been of the “It’s not a very good movie but I don’t want to be too critical lest anyone mistake me for a member of the Schumer-hating alt-right” variety.

In other words, I wasn’t expecting much when I saw Snatched and, for the most part, the film met my expectations.  It’s not so much awful as it’s just forgettable and generic.  Even the film’s “raunchy” moments feel rather bland, as if the filmmakers said, “Let’s just let Amy be Amy,” and then Amy showed up on the set with a bunch of sketches that were previously judged to be not quite good enough for Inside Amy Schumer.  (Actually, in all fairness and as opposed to Trainwreck, Schumer did not write Snatched.  Instead, the script for Snatched was written by Kate Dippold, who also wrote the script for Ghostbusters, another film that often struggled to maintain narrative momentum from scene to scene.  Though the script was undoubtedly rewritten to accommodate her comic persona, a few reviews have been too quick to exclusively blame Amy Schumer for Snatched‘s flaws.)

The film actually starts with some promise.  Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) loses her job and her boyfriend, Micheal (Randall Park), in the same day.  (The break-up scene, with Michael blithely dumping her and Emily desperately trying to convince both him and herself that she actually dumped him, is hilarious and briefly gave me hope for the rest of the movie.)  Emily had been planning on going on a trip to Ecuador with Michael but now she’s stuck with two, nonrefundable tickets.  Unfortunately, none of Emily’s friends are willing to go on a trip with her because, it turns out, they all kind of hate Emily.

In the end, Emily asks her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), to go to Ecuador with her.  Linda, as evidenced by a scrapbook of all the trips that she took when she was younger, used to be adventurous but, after being abandoned by her husband, she now spends almost all of her time locked away in her house.  She loves cats and her children, even if her son, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) is kind of creepy.  Linda is reluctant to go to Ecuador.  She’s heard that it’s unsafe.  But those tickets are non-refundable and soon, Emily and Linda are in South America.

And really, if Snatched had just been Linda and Emily hanging out at the resort and bonding, it probably would have been a better movie.  Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer are believable as mother and daughter and their relationship had a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, the plot demands that Emily and Linda end up getting kidnapped and held for ransom.  They escape fairly easily (and Emily kills a few people) but then they end up wandering through the rain forest, trying to make their way to the American embassy.  Along the way, they meet a few people.  Christopher Meloni is occasionally funny as a wannabe explorer but the film dispatches his character in a way that feels needlessly mean-spirited.  There’s also a scene with a tapeworm, which would be funny if it was an isolated bit on a sketch comedy show but which feels out-of-place here.  There’s even a poorly conceived scene, in which Emily helps a group of native villagers with their daily tasks and is complimented on it by Linda.  At first, I thought the scene was supposed to be a parody of condescending white liberalism but then I realized that it actually was condescending  white liberalism.  (You can almost hear the story meeting where an executive said, “Since some people might find our portrayal of South America to be xenophobic and borderline racist, we need to have one scene where Goldie and Amy interact with some natives without having to kill any of them.  One or two minutes will do.  Don’t put too much effort into it, time is money…”)  Snatched never seems to know what it’s trying to say or be.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t chuckle sometimes.  As I said, the first quarter of the movie was fairly enjoyable in its slapdash way.  However, once the whole kidnapping plot kicked in and the film really got started, the only time I really laughed was when Linda reprimands her daughter with a sharp, “EMILY LOUISE!”  I laughed because it reminded me of all the times that my mom would stop my bratty behavior by snapping, “LISA MARIE!”  It was a moment that felt like an authentic and true mother-daughter moment and the fact that it happened while Emily and Linda were lost in the rain forest and being pursued by murderers is what made me laugh.  At the same time, it’s also one of the few moments in Snatched that actually felt spontaneous.  For a few seconds, the film actually felt alive.

Unfortunately, it’s very much an isolated moment.  Snatched is not terrible but it is awfully forgettable.  If you miss it in the theaters, don’t worry.  It’ll probably be mainstay on TBS for years to come.

Music Video of the Day: Madness by Muse (2012, directed by Anthony Mandler)


I, I can’t get these memories out of my mind
And some kind of madness has started to evolve
I, I tried so hard to let you go
But some kind of madness is swallowing me whole, yeah

I don’t smoke because 1) I have asthma, 2) I have a predisposition to addiction, and 3) I’m so obsessive compulsive that if I did start smoking, I would become the biggest chain smoker in the world and I’d end up being one of those women you see in anti-smoking commercials, popping out her fake teeth and pointing at the hole in her throat.  That’s not for me.

That said, if I ever do start smoking, it’ll probably because of this song and this video.  Seriously, just the opening bass line makes me want to light up.  And then the video itself proves that smoking is pretty photogenic when the cigarettes are being held by beautiful people.

The song, itself, was written by Matt Bellamy after he had a fight with his then-girlfriend, Kate Hudson.  According to Bellamy, he was reflecting on the fight and thought to himself, “Yeah, she was right, wasn’t she?”

As for the video, it features two lovers on a train, dealing with their own issues while a riot rages around them.  The two lovers are played by Erin Wasson and Max Silberman, both of whom are achingly pretty.  (For some reason, the usually reliable imvdb insists that the man on the train was played by Emile Hirsch.  Sorry, that’s definitely Max Silberman.)

Of course, the idea of two lovers in the middle of a protest immediately makes me think of this famous picture, which was taken in Vancouver during a riot:

And, of course, there’s this Ray-Ban advertisement:

(If the majority of protesters looked as good as the people in the video and these two pictures, I might even be inspired to go to a march or two.)

(Also, be happy that I resisted the temptation to include a picture from that Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.  I came really close to doing it but, in the end, I couldn’t do it.  I was born a Coke drinker and I’ll die a Coke drinker.  Pepsi tastes too much like Vermont for me.)

This video was directed by Anthony Mandler, who has directed several videos for everyone from Jay-Z to Taylor Swift to Justin Bieber.  (The imvdb credits him with 74 videos.)  The gorgeous cinematography is credited to David Devlin.

Mario Contini, who is credited as being 1st Assistant Cameraman on Madness, was later the director of photography for Saint Motel’s My Type.

Enjoy!