Yo-Ho-Hollywood!: TREASURE ISLAND (MGM 1934)


cracked rear viewer

Robert Louis Stevenson’s  venerable 1883 adventure novel TREASURE ISLAND has been filmed over 50 times throughout the years, beginning with a 1918 silent version. There was a 1920 silent starring Charles Ogle (the original screen FRANKENSTEIN monster!) as that dastardly pirate Long John Silver, a 1972 adaptation with Orson Welles, a 1990 TV Movie headlined by Charlton Heston, and even a 1996 Muppet version! Most movie buffs cite Disney’s 1950 film as the definitive screen TREASURE ISLAND, with Bobby Driscoll as young Jim Hawkins and Robert Newton as Long John (and Newton would go on to star in the TV series LONG JOHN SILVER, practically making a career out of playing the infamous fictional buccaneer), but…

…a case can certainly be made for MGM’s star-studded 1934 interpretation of the story, teaming Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper as Long John and Jim. This was the first talking TREASURE ISLAND, and the…

View original post 572 more words

Wasn’t Born to Follow: RIP Peter Fonda


cracked rear viewer

It’s ironic that on this, the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, one of our biggest counter-culture icons has passed away. When I saw Peter Fonda had died at age 79, my first reaction was, “Gee, I didn’t know he was that old” (while sitting in an audience waiting for a concert by 72 -year-old Dennis DeYoung of Styx fame!). But we don’t really think of our pop culture heroes as ever aging, do we? I mean, c’mon… how could EASY RIDER’s Wyatt (aka Captain America) possibly be 79??

Be that as it may, Peter Fonda was born into Hollywood royalty February 23. 1940. Henry Fonda was already a star before Peter arrived, thanks to classics like YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, JEZEBEL, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and THE GRAPES OF WRATH (released a month before Peter’s birth). Henry has often been described as cold and aloof, not…

View original post 962 more words

Peter Fonda, Rest In Peace


Peter Fonda has died from complications due to lung cancer.  He was 79 years old.

As an actor, Peter Fonda never got as much respect as the rest of this family.  Unlike his sister or his father, he never won an Academy Award, though he was nominated for two of them (one for writing Easy Rider and another for starring in Ulee’s Gold).  During the late 80s and the 90s, he was better known for being Bridget Fonda’s father than for the majority of the films that he appeared in during that time.  While the rest of his family was appearing in prestige pictures and working with directors like Fred Zinnemann, Sidney Lumet, William Wyler, Francis Ford Coppola, and Quentin Tarantino, Peter Fonda spent most of his career appearing in B-movies.  But today, many of those B-movies are more fondly remembered than the big films that he missed out on.

Peter Fonda made his film debut in 1963, playing the romantic lead in Tammy and the Doctor.  Fonda hated the film and often called it Tammy and the Schmuckface.  After that less-than-stellar beginning, Peter went on to find his groove as a lifelong member of the Hollywood counterculture.  In the classic biker film, The Wild Angels, he played Heavenly Blues and let the world know that all he wanted to do was “get loaded and have a good time.”  In The Trip, he played a disillusioned television director whose world is turned upside down by acid.

And then there was Easy Rider.  In this seminal independent film from 1969, Peter played Wyatt, a.k.a. Captain America.  Wyatt was the biker and drug smuggler who went “searching for America and couldn’t find it.”  This was Peter Fonda’s most famous role.  Along with acting in the film, he also produced it and co-wrote it.  (He was also responsible for keeping Dennis Hopper under control.  Or, at least as under control as anyone could keep Dennis Hopper in 1969.)  The role made Peter Fonda a symbol of rebellion, an American icon riding across the desert with the American Flag literally on his back.  Today, we still debate what Wyatt meant when he said, “We blew it.”  Peter Fonda, himself, later said that he was delivering the line as himself and not as Wyatt because he was convinced that Easy Rider would be a career-ending flop.

In the 70s and 80s, Fonda continued to play rebels.  His subsequent films were never as successful as Easy Rider, though many of them are still entertaining.  Peter made his directorial debut in 1971, with The Hired Hand, an elegiac and thoughtful Western in which Peter co-starred with another cult icon, Warren Oates.  Years later, Fonda would be among the many celebrities who made a cameo appearance in The Cannonball Run.  Of course, Peter played a biker and he got to fight Jackie Chan.

In the 90s, Peter Fonda played a lot of old hippies in many forgettable films.  However, in that decade, he also gave two of his best performances.  In The Limey, Fonda played the music producer who Terrence Stamp holds responsible for the death of his daughter.  And, in Ulee’s Gold, Fonda played a cantankerous bee keeper who finds himself taking care of his two granddaughters.  It was a role that many could imagine having once been played by Henry Fonda.  For Ulee’s Gold, Peter was nominated for an Oscar.  He lost to his co-star from Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson.

Peter Fonda continued to work up until his death.  With his passing, America loses another screen icon and a man who epitomized an era.  Rest in Peace.

Film Review: After (dir by Jenny Gage)


After, which was released back in April, tells the story of the world’s most boring college romance.

Tessa (Josephine Langford) is a beautiful, intelligent, but shy good girl who has just stared college and who is struggling to fit in with her fellow students.  Her new roommate has tattoos and a nose ring and Tessa’s just not sure if she can keep up with a group of campus rebels who drink, vape, and play extremely anodyne games of truth or dare.  Tessa’s roommate demands to know why Tessa has so many old books.  It’s because Tessa loves to read but we soon discover that her literary tastes seem to be dominated by her old high school reading list.  In her lit class, she says that Pride and Prejudice is a “revolutionary feminist novel,” in a tone of voice that indicates that she googled “revolutionary feminism” for the first time the previous night.

Hardin (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) is a bad boy because he has tattoos and he tends to smirk before leaving a room.  Hardin seems like he’s …. well, I guess he’s supposed to be dangerous.  He’s cynical and he says there’s no such thing as love but actually, he just needs someone to help tend to his emotional wounds.  We know that he’s not really a bad dude because he likes Jane Austen and he has a copy of Wuthering Heights in his room, one that’s full of book marks, indicating that he is an actual serious student of literature.  He also says that The Great Gatsby was all a dream.  (Seriously, you know he’s serious about literature when he owns copies of both Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby.  I imagine if the movie had lasted a few minutes longer, he would have said, “Hemingway was the poor man’s Hemingway,” and everyone’s mind would have been totally blown.)

Anyway, from the minute that a towel-clad Tessa returns to her dorm room from taking a shower and discovers Hardin sitting in the corner (and reading, of course!), it’s pretty obvious that they’re destined to fall in love.  (Of course, considering that Hardin refused to leave the room so Tessa could get dressed, it was perhaps just as likely that she would end up filing a harassment complaint.)  Of course, the path to true love never runs smoothly.  Tessa has a sweet boyfriend that she’ll need to dump.  Hardin has all sorts of emotional baggage that he needs someone to unpack for him.  Still, while Hardin and Tessa are swimming in the nearby lake, Hardin says, “We could never be just friends….”

If this all sounds like bad fanfic, that’s because it is.  After is based on a novel by Anna Todd.  The novel started out as fan fiction and Hardin was originally named Harry Styles.  Anyway, the novel sold a lot of copies and developed a reputation for being an innocent version of Fifty Shades of Grey so I guess it’s inevitable that it would later be adapted into an amazingly bad movie.  I mean, the sex was the only good thing about Fifty Shades so I’m not sure why someone would say, “Let’s make a chaste version of this book!”

The main problem with After is that both Tessa and Hardin are such inherently boring characters and all the soft-focus shots in the world can’t make them interesting.  It doesn’t matter how much time they spend interlocking their fingers, they never seem like people who you’d want to get stuck in a conversation with.  Tessa may claim to be into “revolutionary feminism” but she only exists to find a man.  She’s defined by how she feels about Hardin and Hardin seems to be the only thing she’s interested in.  Meanwhile, Hardin is the worst type of phony intellectual, the self-centered rich boy who has a convenient tragedy for every occasion.  Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin are both attractive in a “I just shot a pilot for the CW” sort of way but neither has much screen presence and, together, they generate so little chemistry that they might as well be two wax figures staring into each other’s glass eyes.

“I’m a mess,” Hardin says and Tessa agrees, “I think we’re both a mess,” and everyone who is a real mess replies, ‘Oh, fuck off, you two.”

 

 

Film Review: Greta (dir by Neil Jordan)


I always worry a little bit about Chloe Grace Moretz.

Seriously, it seems as if every film in which she appears features her either losing her entire family or getting stalked by some psycho or both.  It’s rare that she ever gets to play someone who is happy with their life.  Even when she was cast against type as a spoiled, vacuous brat in Clouds of Sils Maria, she still came across as being the saddest spoiled, vacuous brat imaginable.  Obviously, Mortez has the dramatic talent necessary to play these type of roles and, out of all the young actresses working today, she seems the most likely to still have an interesting career 30 years from now.  Still, it’s hard not to wish that she could just do a nice, romantic comedy at some point in the future, if just to give her a break from constantly being menaced on screen.

This year’s Chloe Moretz Gets Stalked film was Greta.  In this one, Moretz plays Frances McMullen, a waitress living in New York City.  Frances lives in a nice loft, has a fantastic roommate and best friend named Erica (Maika Monroe), and a strained relationship with her wealthy father (Colm Feore). As is typical of any character played by Chloe Moretz, Frances is still struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her mother.

After Frances finds an expensive handbag on the subway, she returns it to its owner, a piano teacher named Greta Hibeg (Isabelle Huppert).  Greta claims to be French and says that she’s been lonely ever since her daughter left home to study music in France.  Frances needs a substitute mother.  Greta needs a substitute daughter.

Can you tell where this is going?

If you said, “Together, they solve crimes!,” — well, you’re wrong but you’re still my hero.  Instead, what all this leads to is Greta becoming rather obsessed with Frances.  When Frances discovers that Greta has a whole closet full of handbags and that she’s not even French, Frances decides to end their friendship.  However, Greta will not take no for an answer.  Soon, Greta is following both Frances and Erica all around New York City.  Greta even goes to Frances’s place of employment and makes a scene that leads to Frances losing her job.  (Considering the amazingly ugly waitress uniform that Frances was required to wear, I’d say that Greta was doing her a favor.)  Eventually, it all leads to a kidnapping, a drugging, and an unexpected visual gag involving the Eiffel Tower.

About 30 minutes into Greta, there’s a scene in which Isabelle Huppert spits a piece of chewing gum into Chloe Moretz’s hair and it was at that moment that I knew that I was going to absolutely love this film.  I mean, there have been a lot of films made about people being stalked but it takes a certain amount of demented genius to have one of the world’s most acclaimed actresses actually spit a piece of gum into someone’s hair.  Brilliantly, the film follows this up with a scene of Frances and Erica trying to press assault charges against Greta, all because of the gum incident.  The cop is so cynical and unimpressed by their story that you just know that Frances is probably like the hundredth person to get attacked by chewing gum in just that day.

My point here is that there’s absolutely nothing subtle about Greta and we’re all the better for it.  As directed by Neil Jordan, Greta is a thoroughly excessive and deliberately campy little film and definitely not one to be taken too seriously.  Everything, from the lush cinematography to Greta’s sudden rages, is wonderfully over-the-top.  While Moretz wisely underplays her role (because, after all, someone has to keep things at least vaguely grounded in reality), Maika Monroe and especially Isabelle Huppert dive head first into the film’s melodramatic atmosphere.  Huppert, especially, deserves a lot of credit for her ferocious performance as Greta.  Whether she’s cheerfully celebrating a murder by doing an impromptu dance or suddenly screaming in Hungarian, Huppert is never less than entertaining while, at the same time, remaining credible as a very threatening individual.  One of the great joys of Greta is watching this masterful French actress play a Hungarian who is obsessed with Paris.  (It’s also probably not a coincidence that Greta is obsessed with someone named Frances.)

There’s an interesting subtext to the Greta and Frances relationship, one that goes beyond a girl who needs a mother and a woman who needs a daughter.  In many of the scenes where Greta stalks Frances, Huppert plays her as if she’s a spurned lover, crying out, “I love you!” and demanding that Frances return her phone calls.  As for Frances, she’s portrayed as being an almost absurdly repressed single girl who spends all of her personal time with two very different women, the accepting and fun-loving Erica and the predatory and destructive Greta.  (When Erica tells Frances that a guy who is interested in her is throwing a party, Frances says that she already has plans with Greta.)  Watching Greta, it occurred to me that the film was really about Frances coming to terms with her own sexuality, with Greta representing her fears and Erica representing the peace of accepting who you are.  The film may be about Greta stalking Frances but it’s also about Frances struggling to decide whether to give in to her fears or to accept her own identity.

Then again, it’s also totally possible that there’s no intentional subtext at all to this film.  It might just be an entertaining film about Isabelle Huppert stalking Chloe Moretz.  And that’s fine, too!  Either way, it’s a fun movie.

You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


cracked rear viewer


Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play…

View original post 433 more words

Film Review: Miss Bala (dir by Catherine Hardwicke)


About 75 minutes into the American remake of Miss Bala, Gloria (played by Gina Rodriguez) is inadvertently responsible for getting a totally innocent women killed by a Mexican drug cartel.

After I finished watching Miss Bala and I was trying to figure out why exactly this remake did not work for me, my mind kept returning to that scene.  It’s a very dramatic scene and yet, at the same time, it has almost no emotional impact.  Some of that’s because the woman only appears in one other scene before she gets executed and it’s obvious that the only reason the character was included in the film was so she could be killed.  The film itself doesn’t really seem to care about the innocent woman.  Instead, its focus remains on Gloria and how she feels about the violence.  While we get some scenes of Gloria looking distraught and, at one point, vomiting over a balcony, it still doesn’t seem as if Gloria is really that upset about the fact that the woman’s been executed.  Instead, she mostly seems to be annoyed by the fact that she had to witness it.  In the scene afterwards, you never really get the feeling that Gloria’s carrying around any sort of lingering guilt for the role that she played in the woman’s death.

However, I think that what really bothered me was that, in this film that took place almost entirely in Mexico, the executed woman was one of the few positively-portrayed Mexican characters and she was killed off as almost an afterthought.  The film was more concerned with how the American Gloria felt about the woman’s death than about the woman herself.

Miss Bala is a remake of a Mexican film.  The original Miss Bala came out in 2011 and it starred Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero, an aspiring beauty queen who finds herself caught in the middle of the never ending war between the DEA and the Mexican drug cartels.  The original Miss Bala was a violent and often lurid film but it was also an unusually powerful examination of what it’s like to be an innocent trapped in the middle of war.  Stephanie Sigman played Laura with the sad-eyed stoicism of someone who knew that she had little choice but to do whatever the cartel ordered her to do.  In the original Miss Bala, Laura stood-in for every innocent who had been victimized by either side of the War on Drugs.  The film ended up a note of cynical ambiguity, suggesting that survival had less to do with skill and everything to do with luck.

In the remake, Laura is transformed into Gloria, an American makeup artist from Los Angeles who comes to Tijuana to help her friend compete for the title of Miss Baja.  By changing the lead character’s nationality, the remake also changes the story’s focus.  It’s no longer the story of someone trying to survive living in a war zone.  Instead, it becomes just another film about an American getting into trouble while traveling abroad.  Interestingly enough, Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), the aspiring drug lord who kidnaps Gloria, is also an American who happens to live in Tijuana. I assume this was done so the film would have an excuse to have everyone speaking English but it still feels odd to watch a movie about the Mexican drug war in which we rarely hear anyone having a substantive conversation in Spanish.

Gina Rodriguez plays the role of Gloria with a sort of open-faced blandness that occasionally makes Miss Bala feel as if it’s an extended episode of Jane The Virgin.  While the remake tries to make Gloria into a more proactive character than the original’s Laura, Rodriguez never suggests that there’s much going on below the surface.  Far more impressive is Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays Lino with a sexy and dangerous swagger.  Cordova bring so much charisma to the role that it’s not until the end credits role that you realize that nothing Lino did made much sense.

Director Catherine Hardwicke is responsible for one of my favorite film of all time (Thirteen).  She also directed the enjoyably melodramatic Red Riding Hood.  And, of course, she’ll always be known for directing the first Twilight.  With Miss Bala, though, Hardwicke seems to just going through the standard action film motions.  She never captures the original’s outrage about what the never ending drug war is doing to the people of Mexico.  Instead, for the most part, the remake of Miss Bala shrugs off any intentional subtext and instead focuses on building up to a sequel that will probably never come.

Skip the remake of Miss Bala.  The original is all you need.