Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Watching the world end

By Steve Evans
In cognizance of the Trump Administration's infuriatingly obvious efforts to destroy the world one idiotic move after another, today I'm starting a series of film clips that artfully illustrate what happens when arrogant, hate-filled and quite probably insane fools acquire power. You know, like Adolph. Mussolini, Hirohito and Hussein. Stalin. Dada. Pol Pot. Ceausescu and Ivan the Terrible. Ming the Merciless. Hell, Charles Manson. And Mao Zedong. History provides us with a very long list that merits a refresher. But back to the clips: Let's start big with the best one I know. You can never go wrong leading with Kubrick.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Soylent Green for Everyone

By Steve Evans

Tump's censorship of scientific environmental information on government websites this week got me to thinking about an old movie, because that's how my mind works, and I realized we're just six years away from the dystopian future portrayed in Soylent Green (1973). The film shows the social consequences of global warming, dying oceans, urban decay and overpopulation. It's based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. Bleak, with a twist ending that was shocking in its time and remains potent today.

On the upside, Soylent Green is 100 percent organic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Remembering MTM, Feminist Icon

By Steve Evans

A fond remembrance of Mary Tyler Moore, whose eponymous 1970s television show was an inestimable influence on feminism and advancing respect in this country for professional women. To the best of my knowledge, she was the first single career woman portrayed on television, working in a world of arrogant and often stupid men. One of the co-creators of her show, James L. Brooks, would go on to make Oscar-winning films, including Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good As it Gets, all featuring strong, progressive women characters.

But it was Mary who anchored the show that carried her name for eight years. She was capable and sensible, smart and at least as sweet as the charming theme song for the show. Even as a kid I felt vaguely protective of Mary -- that was part of her appeal -- but I knew then as now that she needed no help from me or any other man or boy. She made it, after all.

Mary Tyler Moore won 9 Emmys and was Oscar nominated. She also holds the distinction of appearing as the love interest in the last picture Elvis made, although I cannot in good conscience recommend Change of Habit (1969) as anything more than an odd curio of its time.

RIP Mary. Te adoro.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bob Roberts in 2020

By Steve Evans

Eerily prescient, this political satire from 25 years ago.

Bob Roberts is a mockumentary starring, written and directed by Tim Robbins. It was his directing debut and history shows he has seldom surpassed that freshman effort. Only Dead Man Walking comes close.

Bob Roberts is a hard right-winger running for the US Senate with a beaming stage smile. He's wrapped in the flag, conceals a dark temper, and has a sociopath's instinct for exploiting the easily persuaded. With $5,000 Dolce & Gabanna suits and silk ties to cloak him in a veneer of success, Roberts plays acoustic guitar at his rallies, singing ersatz folk songs set to the lyrics of a fascist. His scam is performance art in pursuit of unchecked political power. A journalist for a radical publication pursues Roberts across the campaign trail, ever-so-close to linking the candidate with all manner of corruption, including connections to CIA drug runners in banana republics. (Amusing side note for my fellow film obsessives: Giancarlo Esposito plays the crusading journalist, and 20 years later he would portray the murderous drug baron Gus Fring in Breaking Bad.)

Look fast for familiar faces in small roles peppered throughout this merciless and hysterically funny film that now terrifies in light of contemporary events. Bob Roberts anticipates the rise of Donald Trump and the mainstreaming of white nationalist hatreds. What was once a satire has become a horror film.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Umbrellas over La La Land

By Steve Evans

If you've fallen in love with La La Land -- it's a sure bet for a Best Picture Oscar nomination this year -- you might want to check out one of its inspirations.

Jacque Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is a hopelessly romantic musical with a score by the incomparable Michel Legrand. The lovers sing virtually all of the dialog to each other. Catherine Deneuve is gorgeous. The film was shot in three-strip Technicolor and restored to a 2K resolution (better than Hi-Def) in 2013. It's absolutely eye-popping. For film obssesives like me, The Criterion Collection is finally releasing this wonderful movie in a stand-alone edition on April 11. Previously it was only available in a box of Demy films with a $100 price tag.

You can see and hear the influence on La La Land in the dreamy cinematography, the pensive and often melancholy tone of its songs. Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Cannes 1964 Palme d'Or. This is a great motion picture.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Luck be a Lady To-nite

By Steve Evans

Text this afternoon from a fellow film-obsessive: "Dude! I just got The Lady from Shanghai on DVD for a fiver. Not a bad deal." Steve (who is never too busy for a smart-ass response): "Dude. You can get a night with the lady herself for a deuce and fifty cent. She's from Shanghai, for crissakes." (((Anyway, it's a great Orson Welles' picture from 1947. Woody Allen paid hommage in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). This rambling, esoteric FBF brought to you by Cinematic Cteve.)))

Monday, January 9, 2017

Those Goofy Golden Globes

By Steve Evans

Let's not Monday morning quarterback last night's Golden Globes, beyond the observation that the awards remain the biggest con job in Hollywood. Most everyone knows the Hollywood Foreign Press Association controls the outcome of this lesser event (Oscar is still the gold standard, naturally). Fewer may realize that the Globes are chosen on the votes of less-than-100 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. They are hardly arbiters of taste or quality in the cinematic and television arts. Yes, but the Globes deliver something the Oscars do not: a looser atmosphere fueled by an open bar. Through the years I've seen celebs stoned as monkeys during this show. Liz Taylor was trashed at the 2001 awards. Jack Nicholson stuck his ass out at the audience three years later during his acceptance speech for About Schmidt.

This is all a jolly lark, of course, and makes for good television (you can still check out Liz and Jack on YouTube), but the idiosyncratic nature of  the HFPA makes the Globes a lousy bellweather for the Academy Awards.

Although La La Land took a record 7 Globes last night, Moonlight will win the Oscar for Best Picture on Feb. 26. This is a political reality as certain as Meryl Streep dissing some asshole who was elected president by a bunch of -- yep -- gullible assholes.

Trump is an easy, though deserving, target. Whether Moonlight deserves to win Best Picture next month is a separate issue from the fact that it's going to win -- because Hollywood will have to deal with the banshee screaming that will result if it doesn't.

Let me be clear: I absolutely agree that Hollywood can do a better job of inclusion by employing people of all creeds, races and persuasions both in front of and behind the camera. I reject the notion that entertainment awards should have a quota system so that X number of minorities or other underrepresented groups are sure to get an Oscar. If films and talent cannot win on merit, then let's abolish awards.

And yet a boorish buffoon has won the presidency in the absence of merit, talent, appeal or even basic human decency. Is it obscene to compare silly awards to the Democratic process? Perhaps not if we drill down to a common motivation between the HFPA and the president-elect. It is this:

The Hollywood Foreign Press, ever-slick as weasel shit, manages to avoid hot-button issues of racism, sexism and quota-based awards by maintaining a ludicrous number of award categories, though especially the top two. They gave Best Drama to Moonlight and Best Comedy or Musical to La La Land. Equal, safe and predictable. Everybody goes home happy after the Globes. By eschewing controversy while allowing celebrities an open mic to blabber drunkenly about whatever comes to mind, the people behind the Globes last night not only solidified their reputation for irrelevance but managed to underline it at least three times, all for the sake of ratings and their own unquenchable thirst for self-aggrandizement. What irks me today is how they reveal themselves to be similar to the scary clown soon to take the oath of office. Whether you're the purveyor of a hokey awards show or a billionaire con artist, it's all about money and attention. Always has been. Dare I say, always will be.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cold War Boredom: Ice Station Zzzebra

By Steve Evans

Curiosity finally got the better of me so I just watched what turned out to be one of the worst, more boring films I've seen -- Ice Station Zebra (1968). A Cold War espionage thriller, characters fight each other at the climax on a laughably obvious soundstage dressed to resemble the Arctic. The special effects are bad. Paratroopers look like green plastic GI Joe men dropped from string-and-vinyl parachutes onto a tabletop diorama. The submarine might be a bathtub toy. Rock Hudson's acting range can be measured in centimeters. Ernest Borgnine does a ludicrous Russian accent. And Patrick McGoohan is just as strange in this film as he was on the cult TV show, The Prisoner, which is perhaps the ne plus ultra of 1960s weirdness on television, although Green Acres gives it some competition. Ice Station Zebra isn't so much weird, as inept. It appears expensive, but in the way shiny things look when created by people with lots of money but no talent or taste. Worth a look to see spies running around the North Pole without proper coats, gloves or even steam coming off their breath from the frigid air. Filmed in the wide-screen process known as Cinerama, which will be lost on television or a laptop.

The film was based on a novel by Alistair MacLean, whose Guns of the Navarone had been made into a thrilling WWII adventure with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthomy Quinn in 1961. Whereas that film followed the road to greatness, Ice Station Zebra takes the opposite path. Disappointing as hell, as this was directed by John Sturges, who helmed The Great Escape and the original Magnificent Seven.

I finally. finally watched this old bore only because it was sitting there on the library's DVD shelves this week, and I felt a sense of obligation. Decades ago the picture got a publicity boost when it was reported to be Howard Hughes' favorite film. He apparently watched it more than 150 times in the final years of his life, haunting his penthouse in the Las Vegas Desert Inn. So I was curious, Now, while the verdict's still out on me, Hughes was clearly out of his damned mind. Watching Ice Station Zebra over and over may have been the poor billionaire's tipping point.

On a related note, another famous lunatic, Charlie Manson, has been chillin' in the hospital this week with critical intestinal problems according to news reports and may not come out alive, which is long overdue. Then again, Manson isn't boring. I don't know his favorite film, but if I did, I suppose I'd watch that one, too. Couldn't be duller than this.