I’ve just recorded the inaugural Movies Past and Present podcast! In the episode, I discuss the new movies opening this Friday, November 9, 2018 as well as movies recently reviewed on the blog (specifically, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Bohemian Rhapsody), and some classic movie info for the week.
I’m hoping to put it on some podcasting services, but in the meantime, here’s this week’s podcast. Thanks for listening!
The story of the British rock band Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury gets the Hollywood treatment in the new bio pic Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox, 2018).
Named after one of Queen’s iconic songs, Bohemian Rhapsody is told mostly from the point of view of Freddie Mercury, expertly played by actor Rami Malek in the film. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, Mercury and his family (who are of Parsi descent) moved from India to England when he was a teenager. The film picks up where Mercury meets soon-to-be Queen band members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon for the first time in the London club scene.
The film then primarily focuses on Mercury’s relationships with the band, with the band’s management and record company, and with his girlfriend Mary Austin. Mercury’s well-known sex-drugs-and rock-and-roll and bi-sexual lifestyle is also clearly addressed, but kept within PG-13 boundaries.
Where the film really soars is with the scenes showing the creative process of the band as they make some of their best loved recordings, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” itself (pictured below).
Where the film really didn’t work for me was in its overly-melodramatic retelling of the events of Mercury’s life, with many of the facts and actual timeline of events being altered and moved for dramatic effect.
For example, the film has the band breaking up and then reuniting right before the 1985 Live Aid concert. In reality, the band never broke up. (Rolling Stone magazine has a great fact checking article about the film here.) To also add drama and gravitas to the Live Aid concert, the film portrays Mercury as receiving his AIDS diagnosis before Live Aid and then revealing the sad news to the band at a rehearsal before the show. This also didn’t happen (Mercury most likely received the diagnosis in 1986 or 1987, long after Live Aid; he died from AIDS-related complications in 1991).
I get it that some kind of artistic license has to be taken in order to condense things into feature film length and format, but the decisions made with the script turned the film into more of a standard bio pic that you might see on TV instead of something more artistic and special that’s worthy of Mercury’s talent, persona, and esteem.
Still, the film’s re-creation of the Live Aid concert which bookends the film is positively electric and is worth the price of admission alone. The filmmakers made a very smart decision by putting one of the band’s all-time great performances as the final thing you see in the film, viewing Mercury and the band at their artistic peak and giving Rami Malek and the rest of the actors and creative team a chance to bring to life again one of the great moments in rock history.
Clara has a big new (emphasis on new) adventure in Disney’s latest CGI extravaganza The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
“Inspired by” the short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) and The Nutcracker ballet by ballet master and choreographer Marius Petipa (1818-1910), the film tells an original story written by screenwriter Ashleigh Powell (this is her first produced screenplay). Co-directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston have taken Powell’s story and have given it a beautiful look, even if the actual contents of the story itself are a bit lacking.
The film, as in the ballet that we’re all so familiar with, is focused on a young girl named Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy (this is where the similarities with the traditional Nutcracker end). Clara lives in London with her father and her two siblings. Sadly, Clara’s mother has recently passed away and the family is experiencing their first Christmas without her. On Christmas Eve before the family departs for a big party, the father gives each of the children a sentimental gift from their mother. Clara receives a beautiful golden box, but it requires a key in order for it to be opened—a key which she currently does not possess.
At the party, which is at the expansive estate of Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer, played by Morgan Freeman (I guess using the Drosselmeyer character is also a similarity to the source material), each of the children in attendance receives a gift, but the gifts are attached to the end of a series of individual strings which have been strung throughout the home. For Clara’s gift, her string leads her outside of her godfather’s home and into a magical, mysterious parallel world. She spots a key in a pine tree, but she is quickly thwarted in retrieving it and thus begins Clara’s journey into the “four realms” as stated in the film’s title.
While in the four realms, Clara joins forces with a soldier named Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight (who is about as close to a “nutcracker” that we get in the movie). She also meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, played by Keira Knightley, and Mother Ginger, played by Helen Mirren, who are both at war with each other. Clara and Phillip get caught in the middle of the ongoing battle and must navigate it while trying to stay on task to the find the key to unlock the golden box.
The film gets off to a promising and beautiful start, but what follows is a pretty simplistic (and rather boring, at least for this adult) story that never really gains much momentum. The production design is a real knockout, but without a compelling and interesting story, it all becomes an exercise into thinking about what might have been.
On the plus side, the original score by James Newton Howard along with components of The Nutcracker ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky are all lovely. The score was conducted by classical music superstar Gustavo Dudamel, who is currently the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel also makes a couple of brief cameos in a cool homage to Walt Disney’s original Fantasia. Here’s a tweet from Gustavo Dudamel himself about it.
While I love a good Disney family movie, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ended up having more style than substance. Still, the little kids who attended the screening I was in enthusiastically clapped at the end of the film, which was a clear reminder that I’m probably not the target audience for this one.
One of the great classic movie events of the year is the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California. The festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019.
The 2019 festival dates were recently announced—April 11-14, 2019. And now, TCM has revealed the first nine films of the lineup with this graphic they posted to the TCM Facebook page.
As is typically the case, the lineup looks diverse and interesting, with different genres and time periods represented. I’m particularly excited about seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Sunrise on the big screen.
Festival passes go on sale 12:00 p.m. ET on November 15, 2018 on the TCM Classic Film Festival website at tcm.com/festival.
Citi, a sponsor of the festival, is doing a pre-sale for festival passes, allowing Citi cardmembers to buy tickets with their Citi credit card starting at 10:00 a.m ET on November 13, 2018. The link for the Citi presale is citiprivatepass.com.
We can’t wait! Make sure to follow TCM on Facebook and Twitter for the latest TCM Classic Film Festival updates. And hope to see you in Hollywood next April!
When a buddy asked if I wanted to see the classic, pre-code, James Whale directed haunted house pic The Old Dark House (Universal, 1932) on the big screen, I jumped at the chance. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen any of the classic Universal horror films from the 1930s on the big screen, so this was a rare opportunity to see a James Whale pic the way it was intended to be seen.
The film stars Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, and Charles Laughton among others as hapless voyagers who take shelter in a large and scary looking house for the night after a relentless rain storm washes out the nearby roads. Boris Karloff (in some seriously creepy makeup) terrifyingly answers the door which sets off a 24-hour period of one bizarre event after the other (memo to me–never go up the staircase in one of these haunted houses…better yet, don’t go into the house at all).
The film was released the year after the wildly successful screen retelling of Frankenstein (1931), also directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, and was initially a disappointment at the box office. According to an informative article on TCM.com, “After its mediocre theatrical run, The Old Dark House was put on the shelf at Universal and, until 1968 – unavailable for bookings. That year, Whale’s protégé, director Curtis Harrington, helped find the negative and convinced Kodak to return a print to its original brilliance. When the film was once again viewed in its original form, critics hailed it as a lost masterpiece. That might be overstating the case a little, but it still bears the mark of one of the studio era’s more insistently unique directors.”
One other interesting bit of trivia from the TCM.com article–“When director James Cameron watched a laserdisc release of The Old Dark House, he was so taken with Gloria Stuart’s amusing audio commentary, he wound up casting her in a little film he was planning called Titanic (1997).”
Mostly what was fun for me was seeing an incredibly cheesy yet creepy film in glorious black and white on the big screen. I typically stay away from most modern horror pics, but seeing this film provided an insight at the simple, basic pleasures of watching a scary movie in a theater—the collective jumps, screams, and dread; the wincing when bad things happen or are about to happen; and the cheers and relief when the evil threat has been defeated (or when you think it has been…). James Whale definitely knew how to direct a good horror pic, Boris Karloff definitely knew how to act in one, and The Old Dark House made for some simple, scary Halloween season fun at the movies.
(And I’m still holding out for a big screen double feature of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein…someday.)
A big thanks and shoutout to the Cohen Media Group for the beautiful 4K restoration of the film and to the Salt Lake Film Society for their cool “Tower of Terror” Halloween programming at the Tower Theatre again this year.
And check out this cool poster art (I believe this is the U.S. theatrical release one-sheet, but I’m not 100% certain).
La La Land director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling have teamed up again for a completely different type of film–this time, it’s the very personal journey of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the U.S.A.’s first manned mission to the moon.
First Man (Universal Pictures, 2018) focuses on the decade leading up to the historic NASA Apollo 11 flight in 1969 where Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) became the first man to walk on the moon. Told primarily through Armstrong’s point of view (the film is based on the authorized biography First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen), the story shows first-hand the sacrifices, the dangers, the successes, and the extreme personal costs of being a part of the “space race” in the 1960s.
I’ve heard comments about how slow the film is, and it’s true. If you’re expecting an epic, fast paced, feel good film, this isn’t it. Instead, Damien Chazelle and team give us a methodical and cerebral experience in an attempt to personalize what it must have been like to live through this. Armstrong and his wife Janet (expertly played by Claire Foy) both sacrifice a lot as Neil and the NASA team pursue this incredibly lofty and challenging goal, and the film made me, well, feel it.
The film also makes you feel the physical turbulence of traveling through the earth’s atmosphere into outer space, so much so that it’s made some movie goers feel ill. So, be aware of that if you’ve got a tendency towards motion sickness. Personally, I only felt awe and exhilaration in experiencing what it might have been like being on one of the NASA Apollo spaceships.
Probably what I liked most about First Man is just that–it made me feel something. As a movie goer, I felt the high stakes of the mission, the physical challenges, the emotional battles, and, ultimately, an interpretation of what it feels like to truly walk on the moon.
The latest version of the romantic tragedy A Star Is Born (Warner Bros., 2018) opened in U.S. theaters a couple of weeks ago and I finally got a chance to see it.
Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, this is the fourth Hollywood retelling of this classic story of love, sacrifice, and loss. Like the most recent version (the 1976 remake with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this 2018 version is set in the rock/pop music world. (Both the 1937 original and 1954 remake were set in the Hollywood film business.)
Here’s the official plot summary from Warner Bros. (just in case you’re not familiar with the story): “In this new take on the tragic love story, [Bradley Cooper] plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers—and falls in love with—struggling artist Ally [Lady Gaga]. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer…until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.”
The MVP award goes to Bradley Cooper, who not only starred in the film, but directed it (it’s his first feature film) and co-wrote the screenplay. The film also marks the first starring role in a major motion picture for Lady Gaga. Both are very credible in their respective roles as lovers and musicians with opposite trajectories. The film also has a stellar supporting cast with Sam Elliott, who plays the older brother and manager of Bradley Cooper’s character, Andrew Dice Clay, who plays Lady Gaga’s father, and Dave Chapelle, who plays Cooper’s friend and former bandmate.
It’s a well-made, high quality film that people are loving and I’m good with that. I really have only two beefs with it. I’m just not a big Lady Gaga fan and the up-close and personal time with her on the big screen did little to change that. And, I don’t see why this story needed yet another retelling. Sure, the music is good and Bradley Cooper and team did a nice job in their adaptation and “modernization,” if you will, of the storyline. Still, the film ends the same way as the other ones did and we’re left with the same sad results.
It was a serious thrill to see Warner Bros.’ Bullitt (1968) on the big screen again this past week. The film is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
While it’s not necessarily my favorite storyline, it’s all about the 15-minute car chase in the middle of the picture. Steve McQueen (along with some fantastic stunt drivers) in the iconic Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback and the ominous black Dodge Charger (being driven by the great stunt driver Bill Hickman) chasing each other through the streets of San Francisco still holds up as one of the best, if not the best, car chase scene ever put on film.
Recently, one of the 1968 Mustangs driven in the film resurfaced after having been missing for many years (the blonde woman is Molly McQueen, Steve McQueen’s granddaughter).
With the movie turning 50, the Ford Motor Company also has made available a cool “Bullitt” equipment package on their their latest Mustang GT. Check out this video with Jay Leno as he gets to see both the old and new “Bullitt” Mustangs.
Here’s a fun Bullitt homage put together by Ford to celebrate the new Mustang Bullitt (and making another appearance is Molly McQueen as the driver of the Mustang).
UPDATE 10/17/2018: The official Warner Bros. Studios blog has posted a cool article commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bullitt with some great behind the scenes photos and facts from the film’s production. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a Bullitt fan.
And here’s a cool photo from the Ford Performance Instagram feed with the past and present versions of the Bullitt Mustang:
As the great Cole Porter song goes, “I love Paris in the springtime…” It’s true — Paris, France is one of my favorite cities in the world. So, you’d think that I’d enjoy the classic film An American in Paris (1951) more. In the past, it’s been a film that I’ve more respected than enjoyed. But that all changed this week when I had the chance to see the film on the big screen for the first time as part of Megaplex Theatres’ wonderful Silver Screen Classics Series.
Watching An American in Paris on the big screen was a revelation, to say the least. The clear and bright projection of the digital print magnified the film’s incredible production design in ways that I could never distinguish, yet alone appreciate (the film was primarily made in soundstages on the MGM studio lot in Hollywood, which almost makes it even more impressive). Gene Kelly’s phenomenal choreography and dancing were perfectly framed and filmed by director Vincente Minnelli. In fact, the dancing came to life more vividly than I ever remember on TV. And hearing the sublime music by George and Ira Gershwin on the marvelous theater sound system was just icing on the cake.
The 17-minute ballet at the end of the film is something that I even liked on the small screen, and my appreciation for it grew tenfold. Seeing Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dance through living representations of the works of famous French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, including Raoul Dufy, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was truly breathtaking.
Probably my main criticism that still remains is the film’s central love story. I’ve just never been convinced about the depth and sincerity of the love between Jerry (Gene Kelly) and Lise (Leslie Caron), not to mention the unkindness that Jerry shows to his temporary benefactress Milo (Nina Foch). However, I was so overtaken by the beauty of the production design, music, and dancing, that it was something that I decided to let evaporate away along with all of my other criticisms, for better or for worse.
While Singin’ in the Rain (1952) still remains my favorite Gene Kelly film, primarily for its great setting, cast, story, and comedy, An American in Paris has become a new and respected favorite in my Hollywood musical catalog. If you get an offer to see An American in Paris on the big screen, the answer is oui.
It’s been a couple of weeks, but I’m still thinking about my maiden voyage watching Rebel Without a Cause (1955) in its entirety.
I think I started watching it a couple of times when the film played on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), but I just don’t ever remember finishing it. Well, that was a mistake which I’ll never do again now that I’ve seen the film on the big screen courtesy of this year’s TCM Big Screen Classics series (the film screened on September 23 and 26).
The tragedy that unfolds is, sadly, inevitable, but still heart-wrenching nonetheless. Director Nicholas Ray does such an excellent job with his storytelling. The visual cues of the families’ dysfunction is obvious, yet artfully brought in as part of the unfolding of the plot. The performances are stellar, as are the Los Angeles locations, particularly the beloved Griffith Observatory which is used so perfectly in the film.
I now get it why people were so crazy about James Dean’s performance and why it remains such a classic today. Sorry to be slow to the party, but I’m grateful that I at least arrived. Thanks again to TCM and their outstanding Big Screen Classics series!