Fall Back: Year of Bests – 2017
A few years back, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. Time to slowly start closing out this fast fading year.
If so let’s continue, shall we?
Might as well kick this off with another fine review by my friend and blogger J.D. over at his blog, Radiator Heaven, for one of the great neo noirs of the ’70s that seems to fit our current time to a tee:
“Some of the best American cinema from the 1970s reflected a sense of disillusionment and pessimism as a result of a series of shocking political assassinations in the 1960s and culminated with the Watergate scandal in the early ‘70s. There was a deep feeling of mistrust in authority and a sense that the United States was no longer the great country people perceived to be.”
Have grown to really appreciate the precise writing of Nic Clement, here contributing for the Podcasting Them Softly site and showcasing why Ridley Scott’s distillation of Mark Bowen’s 1999 book, detailing the Battle of Mogadishu (1993), was so significant:
“With stunning spatial clarity and obsessive technical finesse, Scott and the brilliant cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (a frequent collaborator of Krzysztof Kieślowski and who would re-team with Bruckheimer on Antoine Fuqua’s underrated medieval epic King Arthur ) created a gorgeous yet brutal film that pummeled the audience with a sense of sustained cinematic intensity that few other films have matched; Idziak would receive an Oscar nomination for his harrowing depiction of sustained warfare, with many of his tricks and tendencies become emulated by various filmmakers moving forward, including Peter Berg’s gripping Lone Survivor, Michael Bay’s underrated 13 Hours, and portions of Randall Wallace’s blood-soaked We Were Soldiers and John Woo’s Windtalkers.”
Sometimes, you only need to read about a movie to know why it’s not worth buying a ticket, even the matinee senior citizen variety. Hence, why Rob Bricken‘s Spoiler FAQ over at io9 for a certain Michael Bay franchise entry was an enjoyable must-read for something must-not:
Transformers: The Last Knight: The Spoiler FAQ
“Michael Bay made a Transformers movie with a story that actually makes sense?!
Oh, god no. There’s a ton of story, as our review pointed out, but maybe a quarter of it drunkenly follows what could charitably called “the plot.” And virtually nothing whatsoever connects to the previous films, unless you consider “constantly contradicting them” to be a connection.”
The cool kids that are CineFix have once again posted an enthralling video list for those of us who love crime films:
“Sundance’s NEXT FEST is hosting a special 35mm screening of Reservoir Dogs in downtown Los Angeles on August 10th. Head to http://www.sundance.org/nextfest to get your tickets! They’re celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Reservoir Dogs and so are we! Sure, they’re giving Tarantino the Sundance Institute’s Vanguard award, but we’re giving him one better… a coveted spot on a CineFix Movie List! This week, we’re breaking down cinema’s greatest crimes!”
Certainly with this month’s reissue to theaters of Spielberg’s astounding sophomore feature film, it was a Cinephilia & Beyond treatment back in July that brought it all into perspective:
‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’: Steven Spielberg’s Gamble That Paid Off Generously
“From today’s point of view, it was an all-star crew. Dreyfuss and Truffaut aside, helped by a good performance from Melinda Dillon, with the young lion in the director’s chair, Close Encounters of the Third Kind gathered such talents as the great Douglass Trumbull, the 2001: A Space Oddysey veteran, who served as the visual effects supervisor, John Williams, the celebrated composer who just came off working on Star Wars, the iconic Vilmos Zsigmond behind the camera, and the skilled editor Michael Kahn, with whom Spielberg would continue working for the next thirty years. The strength of Close Encounters of the Third Kind lies not only in the mentioned experts’ skill and experience, but in Spielberg’s vision, his sensitivity and indisputable storytelling mastery.”
Disco continues to get a poor rap…okay, sometimes by me…partly due to its mainstream rise in the late-’70s that overlooked its roots and originators. When everyone simply followed a formula and floated crap. Marco Werman, writing for PBS, noted why the form is still underappreciated care of his tribute via one song and artist:
1979 | Ring My Bell by Anita Ward
“And then there’s the song’s sexual innuendo. In the late ‘70s, the media was obsessed by a new cultural phenomenon: the female orgasm. But it was more than fodder for magazine writers, as many women realized for the first time that men ain’t the only ones who should get a turn. “Ring My Bell” was the sound of that realization — though interestingly enough, it almost wasn’t heard.”
This is becoming habit-forming, but Cinephilia & Beyond finds fascinating subjects to cover. Next up, their look at what easily is Michael Mann’s low point. A film adaptation fans of this director still find absorbing, warts and all:
The Uses of Disenchantment: How Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ Fell Into Neglect
“It is telling how in this 1983 Film Comment interview with Harlan Kennedy Mann is pulling away from some of the very elements that appeal to die-hard fans of the film, like German soldiers exploding, Scanners style (hilariously in slow-motion, and very obviously dummies). Elements which have also influenced other war horror, such as 2001’s The Bunker. “The idea of making this film within the genre of horror films appealed to me not at all,” he said. “It also did not appeal to Paramount. That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t scary. It’s very scary, very horrifying, and it’s also very erotic in parts (Glenn and Watson get it on with barely an introduction, the seduction another victim of the cutting room floor). But what it is overall is very dreamy, very magical, and intensely emotional.”
Well, the title to Ralph Jones‘ ShortList piece pretty much covers why, if you haven’t seen it and you’re an action movie fan, you must rectify this shortsight:
A deep dive into ‘Face/Off’: the best, most absurd action film ever made
“Hollywood wisdom has it that you don’t pitch a spec script between Thanksgiving and January, on account of the many distractions. The Mikes’ agent therefore advised that they wait until mid-January 1991 to send Face/Off. But, on Monday, January 16, the day the Mikes had expected the phones to ring with glowing responses to the script, George H W Bush announced Operation Desert Storm: the US began to bomb Iraqi forces in an attempt to expel them from Kuwait. All of a sudden no one cared much about a film in which two guys borrow each other’s faces for a while.”
To this day, I remain a big fan of Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel that haunts the ’90s with Jody Foster’s mesmerizing performance. One of our Duo Posts examined it a couple of years ago, to boot. And for its 20th anniversary, Germain Lussier crafted a fine tribute article for io9 that others should read:
Contact Is More Than a Movie About Science vs. Religion
“Back in 1997, one of the biggest reasons Contact made such an impact on me was its captivating depiction of the eternal struggle between science and religion. The argument is the core of the film and, frankly, not subtle in the least, but it fascinated me. Contact takes the two equally compelling sides of the argument and personifies them with Jodie Foster’s scientist Ellie Arroway and Matthew McConaughey’s religious scholar Palmer Joss. Science demands proof, but religion makes it okay to believe without proof. Watching the film again, when Palmer asks Ellie if she loves her father and then asks her to prove it, I can’t imagine a simpler, more understandable breakdown of the great debate.”
Here at It Rains…You Get Wet, you know if there’s an article out there giving props to one of my all-time favorites, which is this site’s namesake, it’ll be referenced. Just a given. So let’s hear it for Woodson Hughes doing just that over at Taste of Cinema:
7 Reasons Why “Heat” is a Modern Masterpiece of American Cinema
“Dante Spinotti had been a noted cinematographer in his native Italy for some time when he came to Hollywood and, for his third American film, he was chosen by Mann for “Manhunter” (and, in a tribute to his work, was later chosen to lens the remake, “Red Dragon”). His talent hadn’t quite manifested in his two previous film but his dark and stylish work was a perfect compliment for Mann’s dark and stylish creative path.
He has done exemplary work consistently since that time (Oscar nominated for “L.A. Confidential” and another Mann film, “The Insider”). Many maintain that a large part of the reason Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans” is so memorable is due to Spinotti’s stark but colorful and vibrant work.”
Let’s just say blogger Bill. R (who writes for The Kind of Face You Hate) had me at hello with a piece about a scary ghost tale from Japan:
“Back in the early 2000s, one of these booms occurred in the film world when – and as near as I can tell this was the locus, but it’s possible I wasn’t paying attention to other factors – The Ring, Gore Verbinski’s remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu from 1998 became a huge success. And so now, everybody wanted to see more Asian horror, specifically Japanese horror, so much so that amongst nerds it was even given the stupid nickname “J-horror.” In America, this wave of Asian horror more often than not, it seems to me, took the form of Hollywood remakes, because, hell, that’s what got us here in the first place. Hence your Dark Waters starring your Jennifers Connelly and your The Grudges starring your Sarahs Michelle Gellar and whatnot. It did also create a market in the US for the real thing, however, and whatever expected downside that went along with it, there were also some really terrific movies that were suddenly readily available. Including that which has brought us here today, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, from 2001, one of the great horror films of the new century. I’m sure Pulse would exist with or without The Ring. I’m just not sure when we would have been able to see it.”
Currently, good friend and writer Sammy Juliano, over at Wonders in the Dark, is completing another worthy summer series. A countdown of some of the greatest things ever to pop up on the small screen. We shared the same trait of wanting to come home from school to watch a soap opera, of all things.
“It all began as a harmless curiosity. A few of my seventh-grade friends clued me in on an afternoon soap opera they had been watching daily. Mind you, they didn’t initially volunteer the information, almost as if to keep this new discovery a private matter that might be compromised if it became too popular. But when I got frustrated that our after school stickball games had lost the majority of the players, I pressed harder for the cause. I was told the half hour show, known as Dark Shadows, which ran between 4:00 and 4:30 from Monday through Friday on ABC, had recently introduced a vampire among its characters. His named was Barnabus Collins, and it seemed that his first appearances on the show brought what was initially a rather tepid affair a new prominence, one that turned into quite a sensation – certainly the equivalent of a present day online viral.”
With the passing of one of the greats, whether film critics ever acknowledged George Romero, had a number of fine tributes. One that caught my eye was by another filmmaker, Edgar Wright, and it was certainly worth reading:
“I had been infatuated about George’s work before I saw it, scouring through horror and fantasy magazine for stills, posters and articles way before I was old enough to see his movies. When I finally did watch, on VHS or late night TV, the likes of ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, ‘Martin’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, ‘Creepshow’, ‘Day Of The Dead’ and others, I was a true devotee to all things Romero.
Later, after making ‘Spaced’, myself and Pegg had this wild notion of making a film that took place in George’s universe, but with a distinctly deadpan North London response to his Pittsburgh zombie epics. The resulting film ‘Shaun Of The Dead’, would obviously not exist without the master himself and when we completed the movie, we decided that we should try and contact George and screen the film for him. To us, his was the only opinion that mattered.”
Originally published a couple of years ago on a film blog now deleted, it’s worth revisiting Richard Kirkham‘s fine essay on one of the great later films by a legendary director over at Kirkham A Movie A Day:
The Man Who Would Be King [Movies I Want Everybody To See]
“All you film fans out there who were born after 1970 are about to eat your hearts out. You may know that the 70s were the second golden age of Hollywood, after all that’s when “Star Wars”, “The Godfather”, and “Alien” all started. You may even be aware that the greatest adventure film ever made, “Jaws”, was released in the Summer of 1975. It would be a solid argument to make that 1975 was the apex of Hollywood film making in that decade. Here is a partial list of the movies released that year: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Barry Lyndon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rollerball, Three Days of the Condor, Shampoo, Nashville, Seven Beauties, Cousin cousine,The Passenger as well as the aforementioned fish story. ” That is a list of essential films for anyone who loves movies to partake of. Buried in the avalanche of great films from that year, is the one film that stars Michael Caine and Sean Connery together as the leading men (each had a small part in “A Bridge Too Far”) and as a bonus it was directed by John Huston.”
Sammy Juliano, over at Wonders in the Dark, added to his worthy summer series with one of the all-time enthralling documentaries that helped make the medium one of my preferred:
“More documentaries, narrative films and volumes have been made or written about the cataclysmic event known as World War II, than about any era in world history. It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 85 million people were erased during the six years the conflict was fought in theaters around the globe making it the most widespread war in history, and directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. Because the war affected so many and was fought on so many continents, historians and those who remain endlessly fascinated if deeply disturbed by the conflict’s long ranging implications, there are many who prefer to focus on different aspects of the war. i.e. the Holocaust, the war in the Pacific, the European front, the Battle for Stalingrad, the Battle of Britain and so on. Any attempt to encapsulate this unconscionably horrific event via an overview will almost always result in the need for expansion or studied elaboration.”
One of favorite experiences this summer was another Christopher Nolan feature. Still, his work always makes you think about it, even if it’s not along the lines the studio wishes. Andre Seewood‘s piece over at Shadow and Act regarding this historical war film was equally worth pondering:
How ‘Dunkirk’ failed and the continued historical whitewashing of World War II in big budget film
“In spite of all the glowing reviews, marketing headlines, fanboy fetishism and the illustrious reputation of its star director, Dunkirk, in the estimation of this critic, is a ho-hum visual spectacle and a staggering dramatic failure. Christopher Nolan proves with this single film that he is no good at historical drama, and even less impressive at trying to make a war film that would put him in the hallowed directorial pantheon of other White filmmaker’s like Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Stone’s Platoon (1986), Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980) or any one of Stanley Kubrick’s great war films. The central problem with the entire effort is that Nolan doesn’t have enough of a dramatic foundation upon which to overlay his ambitious time disjuncture method where three stories intersect at different narrative points. In short, you just don’t give a damn enough about the characters nor does the film make any attempt to orientate the viewer with the immediate political context of Britain, France, Belgium and the other allied countries during the battle of Dunkirk, which took place before the Americans entered WW2. Without this important context, as well as any interesting dialogue, it is difficult if not impossible to sustain the mental effort Nolan is demanding of his viewers to keep interest in the three different time perspectives that are broken up and alternating within the film.”
…as was this Guardian article by Sunny Singh:
Why the lack of Indian and African faces in Dunkirk matters
“The stories that we share among ourselves give us the vision of our individual and collective identities. When those stories consistently – and in a big budget, well-researched production like Dunkirk, one must assume, purposely – erase the presence of those who are still considered “other” and less-than-equal, these narratives also decide who is seen as “us” as opposed to “them”. Does this removal of those deemed “foreign” and “other” from narratives of the past express a discomfort with the same people in the present? More chillingly, does it also contain a wish to excise the same people from a utopian, national future?”
Cinephilia & Beyond is back to look at James Cameron’s initial box office failure that has gone on to improved status and appreciation, especially with its subsequent director’s cut:
‘The Abyss’: James Cameron’s Exploration of Humanity and Love in the Heart of the Ocean
“Having made The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), two huge box office hits and pillars of modern Hollywood science fiction action films, James Cameron could have shot any kind of a film his heart desired. A new, fresh and highly profitable name in the American film machinery, Cameron remembered the idea he had while still in high school—a short story he developed during a biology lecture and which he, fascinated by the stories of deep ocean exploration and intrigued by the concept of liquid breathing, decided to call The Abyss. After discussing it with his then-wife, the producer of The Terminator and Aliens Gale Anne Hurd, Cameron decided to concentrate on expanding this old idea lying dormant somewhere in the corner of his mind and enrich his childhood passions with the preoccupations he developed and cultivated as a serious filmmaker. In the context of deep ocean sci-fi philosophical action, he was eager to do with The Abyss what Stanley Kubrick did with space exploration in 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
In another stellar tribute of a fallen comrade by a fellow artist, Patti Smith shared why the loss of Sam Shepard this year hits home over at The New Yorker:
“He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most often he would call from his place in Kentucky, on a cold, still night, when one could hear the stars breathing. Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere. I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.”
Time for a break so let’s turn it over to the good folk at Art of the Title on the reason the start of a new Bond era could not have had a better opening sequence than the one paired with Pierce Brosnan’s debut in the franchise:
“When GoldenEye was released in 1995, it had been six years since audiences had looked down this barrel at James Bond. After a slew of legal difficulties between distributor MGM and production company Eon, the departures of actor Timothy Dalton and director John Glen, and the death of title designer Maurice Binder in 1991, the franchise was on shaky ground. At the same time, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions and producer on the Bond films for 40 years, stepped down from his duties due to health problems and tapped his daughter Barbara Broccoli to succeed him. Some critics speculated that it was time to throw in the towel, suggesting as The Sunday Times’ Tom Shone did in 1992 that it was “time to junk Bond.””
Chuck Bowen made the case in Slant…okay, I was already convinced…why this Clint Eastwood Best Picture winner was still worth all the fuss now twenty-five years:
“Twenty-five years after Unforgiven’s initial release, it’s still distinctive to watch an American revenge film in which violence is accorded this sort of awful and surreal weight. Looking to the notorious William Munny (Eastwood) for comfort after his initiation into murder, the Schofield Kid says that the killing doesn’t feel real, evincing a poetically human response to atrocity that’s unusual for genre cinema. Eastwood and Peoples often juxtapose legendary killers, the protagonists and primary antagonists of the film, with outsiders, supporting characters such as the Schofield Kid and the writer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), who blithely echo our own distanced and worshipful embrace of violence in pop art, as a transmitted energy that’s divorced of the ramifications of the destruction it simulates.”
Oh, and you’ll get no argument from me with Taste of Cinema‘s Chad Durham on his…:
8 Reasons Why “Unforgiven” is the Best Western Since 1980
“The movie follows this expected trajectory, hurtling our outlaw heroes toward a climactic face-off. It uses gorgeous compositions and Henry Bumstead’s constructed sets to echo an older, more quaint style. As well, Eastwood’s directorial approach, though effective, has always been more straightforward that risk-taking. Here, that approach serves the material well, establishing a languid pace emblematic of the classical Western style. Unforgiven succeeds for its ability to pay tribute to its roots.”
Still my all-time favorite “epic”, Art of the Title focused on this classic back in August:
“The opening scene of director David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia is the end for its titular character, acting both as prologue and epilogue. Moments after the main title sequence concludes and the final credit fades, T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is killed in a motorcycle crash on a quiet road in South West England. Lawrence’s death is the viewer’s introduction to the decorated British Army officer and controversial hero of The Great War — a figure whose exploits and global accolades would seem to preclude such an inglorious fate. And yet it is here outside a quaint cottage in Dorset that we first meet Lawrence, filling the oil tank on his Brough Superior motorbike before heading out for a ride.”
Next up…the classic oater. From shootouts, outlaws, love, comedy, and tragedy, the venerable western still retain much in its historic range. And the CineFix crew gave no quarter in this top 10:
“It’s time to put another genre on the ranking block. This week, we’re talking about Westerns and how they’ve been remixed, reinterpreted, imported and exported from genre defining classics to tradition defying Post Westerns.”
Let’s hear it for Katherine Trendacosta, James Whitbrook, and Charles Pulliam-Moore absolutely nailing over at io9 what worked, and importantly what didn’t, in the recent Netflix entry of Marvel’s characters on cable:
6 Things We Liked About The Defenders (and 4 We Didn’t)
“This was the big surprise of the show. Colleen and Misty meeting up and Luke and Danny spending time together were pre-ordained by the comic book gods. Jessica and Matt were paired basically because they had to be, and they ended up being great together. Matt’s drama with Elektra, Stick, and the Hand were made much more palatable by Jessica taking the piss all the time. Jessica and Matt’s mutual stalking of each other was a stand-out scene in a pile of them.”
Once again, Sammy Juliano via Wonders in the Dark puts an entertaining spin in his examination for one of the best sci-fi TV series ever that has stuck with me since childhood:
“Andro: And then there’s the final scene, one of The Outer Limits’ most celebated, where Noelle and Andro head through the time-warp, and Andro realizes that because Noelle won’t be around to give birth to Bertram Cabot, Jr., the whole world of the future will have changed, and Andro himself will have never been born. Then he fades away, leaving us with an expressionistic shot of Noelle on an empty stage, adrift. The narrator spouts some positive words about the transformative power of love, but the image on the screen belies what he’s saying. We’re watching a woman weeping and shrinking into the vastness of the universe, completely alone, destined to blend in with the background. I also thought Dominic Frontier’s beautiful score gave a delivate aural underpinning to the dreamy images from cinematographer Conrad Hall.”
These days, seems like every quarter many turn to write heartfelt, serious tributes for those that meant so much to them and have passed on. Steely Dan’s loss of Walter Becker hit such a chord, as noted by Rob Sheffield writing for Rolling Stone:
Farewell, Walter Becker: Remembering the Elusive Genius of Steely Dan
“Steely Dan approached rock & roll that way. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were two hard unsmiling men doing a dirty job that seemed to give them no pleasure except the checks, which (as they made no effort to hide) were massive. They wanted all the perks of stardom – money, sex, drugs, more money – without making any concessions to the fame game, no touring or glad-handing. Fagen was the grumpiest of frontmen, but compared to Becker, Fagen was Peter Frampton – at least we knew what his voice sounded like. Becker lurked so far in the background, nobody knew he was writing half the lyrics as well as music – in fact, nobody was sure what he did. He liked it that way. As he told Rolling Stone’s Cameron Crowe in 1977, “It wouldn’t bother me at all not to play on my own album.””
Cinephilia & Beyond returned to gives us a glimpse of cinematic evil that once resided in our version of Venice…California, that is:
‘Touch of Evil’: Orson Welles’ Grandiose Film Noir that Took Four Decades to Shine In Its Intended Form
“The dark, convoluted, spiraling story of a Mexican and American investigator battling for dominance in a corrupt, gritty little border town was based on the novel ‘Badge of Evil’ written by American authors Robert Allison Wade and H. Bill Miller, who published their work under the pen name of Whit Masterson. The story might seem a bit tricky to follow the first time you watch the film, but it’s not the narrative that mesmerizes and attracts you during first contact. “I’d seen the film four or five times before I noticed the story,” confessed Peter Bogdanovich to Welles, explaining it was the direction and cinematography that blew him away.”
Good friend and blogger Richard Kirkham, who unbeknownst to me at the time was at the very same screening I attended in Westwood Village thirty-five years ago, wrote wistfully about then and of the most recent showing for the best Star Trek film for the whole canon:
35th Anniversary Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
“One of the great movie experiences of my life was seeing Star Trek the Wrath of Khan when it opened in 1982. I was a huge fan of the original series and when the first film came out I was there on opening day. A lot of people seem to be disappointed in Star Trek the Motion Picture, but I ate it up and the audiences turned out in droves. Despite some lingering negative feelings it was a huge hit. In spite of the fact that Wrath of Khan was the second film in the series, it felt like the film franchise was being rebooted. The action was going to be more dramatic, the uniforms for the Federation were dramatically different, but the best thing about this film was that it would focus so much more on the relationship between the three main characters on the Enterprise.”
Adam Ferenz added to Sammy’s Wonders in the Dark with his entry for this summer’s best:
“The premise sounds like it should not work. Yet work it does, like a Walter White master plan. A man, dying of cancer, decides to take his skills as a Nobel-winning chemist, and apply them to cooking meth, to leave money for his family after he dies. Oh, and he is also a high school chemistry teacher, with a disabled son, pushy in-laws and a very pregnant wife that is never satisfied with anything or anyone. At least, that is how it appears, on the surface. It seems to be full of clichés. Yet, as the series progresses, those clichés reveal themselves as anything but, and therein lies a fraction, though crucial fraction, of the genius of this series.”
Always good to look back on the bad boys of the British Invasion, and Mitchell Cohen of Music Aficionado pulled it off:
When and How The Stones Changed Rock Forever
“The first time you saw the Stones, if you were following pop music in ’64, may have been through a black-and-white picture in a fan magazine, the five of them posed around, perhaps, a London streetlamp: Mick Jagger, Keith Richard (he’d dropped the “s” for a while), Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts. Their manager Andrew Loog Oldham writes that upon initially encountering the band in a club, “I saw rock ‘n’ roll in 3-D and Cinerama for the first time,” but it wasn’t quite like that: our first exposure to the band was monochrome. They looked like a new breed of hoodlum from an exploitation B-movie, and those were never in color, and over the following months, every time we saw them perform, on TV and then on the big screen in The T.A.M.I. Show, it was in black and white. Who had color television in 1964?”
Given one of my all-time favorite “L.A.” films…one of my favorites, period…turned twenty this year, a big thank you has to go to Jared Cowan of the L.A. Weekly for this wonderful bit of location history and hunting:
Revisiting the L.A. Locations From L.A. Confidential 20 Years Later
“It’s Saturday afternoon in the City of Angels, and while I wait for location managers John Panzarella and Leslie Thorson at the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea, decent citizens run their weekend errands at Target, grab lattes at Starbucks and eat lunch at a variety of chain restaurants at West Hollywood Gateway shopping center. As some tourists snap selfies on the corner and top-40 tunes play over the mall’s sound system, I’m reminded that more than 20 years ago, when Panzarella and Thorson were amassing the filming locations for what is considered by many to be the greatest L.A. film of all time, this expansive shopping complex didn’t exist. Nor did the modern, blocklike apartment buildings across the street. The landmark Formosa Cafe and the old United Artists studios (later part of Warner Bros. and ultimately renamed the Lot in 1999) being the most visible buildings on the block at the time, the filmmakers could actually shoot this West Hollywood street and pass it off as the 1950s. A few years later and the film might not be the landmark picture that it is. L.A. Confidential came along at just the right time.”
Fifty years ago this summer, I witnessed one of most contemplative and bewildering series I ever saw on television. And even though a teen in ’67, surmised it as one of the greatest. Reaching its 50th anniversary this year, it has lost none of its power, as some have nicely written
Colin Fleming, Salon:
“Who is Number One?” asks “The Prisoner” 50 years late
“Television had never seen anything like this. It’s like the remnant of the spy genre, an afterlife situation — while still alive — for a Bond-like character, with sci-fi elements, borrowings from fantasy, political horror, and just flat-out horror, stemming at first from fear of the unknown, then mushrooming ever larger as we see that this is a world in which the individual has ceased to exist, gobbled up by a society-driven need to align yourself with a group, lest you be crushed underfoot by it and deemed a transgressor.
Sound familiar? The plight of Number Six is the plight of anyone who seeks to more frequently look inward rather than exclusively outward in what we still call our culture, for lack of a better term.”
J.D., Wonders in the Dark:
“Each episode sees a different Village administrator, known only as Number Two, try to find dissimilar ways to get Number Six to reveal why he resigned while he devises ways to escape and figure out the identity of the mysterious Number One who supposedly rules over the Village. His captors don’t want Number Six running around in the world with the kind of knowledge and secrets that he knows. After all, information is power and they want to know what he knows. Naturally, Number Six resists (“My life is my own.”), and it is his resilience the Village will put to the test repeatedly, and therein lies the main source of conflict.”
No surprise another Sixties television program made Sammy Juliano’s list over at Wonders in the Dark:
“Often referred to as “Wagon Train to the Stars”, “Horatio Hornblower in Space” or a more categorically as a science fiction space opera, Star Trek as per its famous tagline To boldly go where no man has gone before has achieved what no television show has managed. While timing and luck have played a major role in the show’s spectacular prominence in the entertainment industry, there have been some more tangible factors that paved the way for this singular kind of accomplishment. The idea of a spaceship traveling to the outer reaches of the galaxy and beyond has built-in intrigue and unlimited fascination not only for the adventures and fantasy it creates but for many a look at a future that may well conceivably occur. Most envision a day when spaceships will travel long distances and that life aboard will be comparable to that of a passenger train or an airplane flight. While Star Trek presented a scenario with many original ideas, it followed a long line of space stories, serials, novels, early films and television shows.”
With a certain clown and cast gathering much needed box office receipts, Joshua Rothman waxed with clarity what this cinematic juggernaut missed. From The New Yorker:
What the New Movie Misses About Stephen King’s “It”
“All of which is to say that “It” is a stranger novel than most people remember. The new film version, directed by Andy Muschietti, which premièred this week, is, by comparison, more wholesome and sane. It’s a likable but slight movie. Bill Skarsgård brings a pair of crazy eyes and a feral physicality to the role of the evil clown, Pennywise, which is It’s favorite disguise—he is captivating in his first scene, in which he convinces a small boy to reach down a storm drain. The young actors are lively, particularly Finn Wolfhard, as Richie Tozier, the group’s loudmouth, and Sophia Lillis, as the swaggering, fearless Beverly Marsh (her tomboy outfits—olive-drab overalls, oversized belts—are one of the best parts of the movie). The film has its hallucinatory moments—instances when its kid heroes seem to be on drugs—and, in that sense, it captures some of the book’s fun-house vibe. What’s missing is a sense of dramatic scale. In King’s “It,” the universe is out of joint. The monster is the product of a cosmic evil. The new “It” is an oddly quotidian film in which ordinary kids fight a random clown who’s haunting their town. (Last year’s “Stranger Things,” which borrowed liberally from “It,” got closer to the original’s atmosphere of vastness—its wintry, desolate “Upside Down” suggested that all of existence might be in danger.) Muschietti’s “It,” moreover, isn’t very scary. The most frightening moment at my screening, at a movie theatre in midtown Manhattan, came afterward, when I walked into the men’s room to find a fan dressed in a clown outfit at the sink.”
A painful year on many fronts 2017 has been, made so by the loss of many of our favorites in the popular arts. Greg Cwik for Slant Magazine only highlighted the latest:
The Right Stuff: Harry Dean Stanton Remembered
“Willowy and wise, with a down-home voice abraded by a lifelong affinity for smoking, Harry Dean Stanton was the great supporting actor of American cinema. As cowboys, detectives, bar-stool sages, scruffy-faced wage slaves, he was a man comfortable dwelling in silence, whose presence and unfussy utterances commanded, without begging for, your attention. He had the air of a proletarian flaneur, a dusty wanderer with a landscape for a face, carved with wrinkles. As prolific as he was consistent, he appeared, by his own estimations, in over 200 films and television shows, and he never gave a bad performance. He didn’t seem to even be giving a performance. He simply existed. Like Robert Mitchum, he under-acted his parts, buttressing a film, augmenting its other performances, with authentic behavior and natural reactions. “You look at me when I talk to you,” he spits to Alan Ladd in 1958’s The Proud Rebel. “I’m looking but I don’t see anything,” Ladd retorts.”
I had one aunt and a couple of cousins who played recreational tennis regularly. In fact, I learned to play the game from those women. Still, my mother and her other sisters who didn’t participate in the sport sure as hell watched right along with them the nationally televised match in 1973 for what it meant, and good friend Kellee Pratt put that all in context, smartly and with feeling, in her recent Verily piece:
“Battle of the Sexes” Is a Reminder That Feminism Doesn’t Mean Beating Men
“At the beginning of the film, approximately two years prior to the infamous 1973 showdown, Billie Jean was considered the top player in women’s tennis and its top earner. She was the first female athlete—not just tennis, but ANY female athlete—to earn more than $100k within a year, more than $600k today. That may seem like enough to satisfy anyone, but King had a gripe—she discovered that the male tennis players would be compensated eight times that of the women, despite bringing in equal sales and attendance to the men. She threatened to start her own union and tournament, just for women. Jack Kramer, the USTA promoter, responded by threatening to kick them out of the USTA, freezing their abilities to participate in any of the grand slam tournaments.”
As we near the end of this highlight reel, let Vimeo film journalist and video editor Ignacio Montalvo frame just the right angle for looking back at the ’90s.
The Most Beautiful Shots of the 90s from Ignacio Montalvo on Vimeo.
Sammy Juliano had writer Robert Hornak draw the curtain closed on his greatest TV shows series, and summer, with a program that was part science-fiction, drama, horror, fantasy, and suspenseful thriller. Up ahead, from the great Rod Serling care of Wonders in the Dark, it could only be…
1. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
“In many ways, season four was a different show. First, the obvious: it went from a half-hour to an hour per episode. The result of this decision is obvious with any episode you watch from that season, made even clearer by virtue of the fifth season beating a hasty retreat back to thirty minutes. Second, for reasons that I can’t find in research anywhere, the title card dropped the “The”, so that now it’s called just Twilight Zone. And third, Serling as on-set dynamo of energy was a thing of the past. He’d already begun a second career as a writing professor at his alma mater, Antioch College in Ohio. What had begun as a retreat back home became a minor, and loved, obsession. Thus, whatever writing contributions he made for the season were sent by envelope across country and modified by phone conversations. He made notes on the other writers’ scripts, but otherwise had little role in casting or any other on-set decision.”
Yes, we celebrated L.A. Confidential filming locations earlier, but Chris Eggertsen won’t leave it with that. Curbed L.A.’s graphically articulated tour piece is the only way for Angelenos to go forth, in other words:
‘L.A. Confidential’: The ultimate filming locations map
“As if to underscore that point, director Curtis Hanson shot the film at a number of locations noted for their nostalgic allure: The Frolic Room, Formosa Cafe, Boardners, Crossroads of the World. Within them, you are as likely to find gangsters and call girls as movie stars. It’s not that the director (who grew up in Los Angeles) wants us to despise the city. He simply encourages us to see the beauty in its contradictions.”
Closing out the warmth and welcoming autumn, let’s put this reel to bed with one more spotlight on a short-lived but seminal series. Stephen Dalton, writing for BFI, on why it impacted then, but especially how it prophesied today’s society fifty years ago:
Six ways cult show The Prisoner prepared us for the modern world
“Number 5: The Prisoner makes more sense in a post-truth, post-ideological age
Any political messages in The Prisoner are tangled and murky, but the show arguably resonates more deeply today than 50 years ago. McGoohan satirises the totalitarian horrors of communist China and Soviet Russia in episodes like ‘A Change of Mind’, but he also mocks the hollow spectacle of western consumer democracy in ‘Free for All’, when Number Six stands for election in The Village. “Brainwashed imbeciles,” he sneers at his fellow citizens. “Can you laugh? Can you cry? Can you think?””
The entire series can be found here.
6 Responses to “Fall Back: Year of Bests – 2017”
Wow. An extraordinary and extraordinarily eclectic collection Michael. Might take me until next year to work through all this!
In the meantime, just love the inclusion (not once, but twice!) of The Prisoner. One of the most bewildering and addictive TV shows ever (with one of the worst ever denouements in the visual arts!).
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This is a towering and overwhelming piece. You say you haven’t written much but you have come back with an extraordinary appreciation of many of the year’s highlights including a bevy of posts from our Greatest Television Countdown at Wonders in the Dark. I am so grateful for this and the opportunity to avail myself of the year’s riches. Thank you so much Robert!!
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As always I am grateful to be included on your personal list of sites read. That you share a couple of posts here with your other readers is an additional honor. I love that fact that we shared these experiences together in one form or another. Looking forward to more opportunities to share our love of movies. Now, where am I going to find the time to read all of these other great posts. I may need a vacation.
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Great collection of articles!
Excellent selection of articles and topics, my friend!
Can’t disagree with Radiator Heaven’s ‘Night Moves’. Gene Hackman marvelously underplaying in a tale Chandler or Hammett would certainly approve of.
‘Black Hawk Down’ rules as cinema’s first “Modern Warfare” film. And succeeds with the Urban Warfare arena where ‘Full Metal Jacket’ unintentionally falls short.
With all of that talent backing up ‘CE#K’, how could it not fail to fill seats and define Big Budget Sci~Fi?
Always thought Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ got a raw deal. Like Sydney Pollacks, ‘Castle Keep’. A great mysterious location for a respite from the war.
Michael mann covered his bases twice with ‘Heat’. Holding on until he had the right cast and crews for his masterpiece. Before a dry run with his Made For Television, ‘L.A. Take Down’. Which, given budget and the censor restraints, is often every bit as good as the later higher priced project.
My older sister was a huge fan of ‘Dark Shadows’. I never paid attention until Angelique showed up to nosh on necks.
George A. Romero, like Roger Corman was one of the last true Pioneers (The Guy With The Arrows In His Back!) of low budget, “Bang For The Buck!” cinema. The simplicity, claustrophobia and paranoia of ‘The Night Of The Loving Dead’ has been often copied, but never duplicated.
John Huston’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is Caine at his most conniving and Connery at his lumbering, Shaggy Dog best!
‘The World at War’ kept me informed and entertained after ‘Victory At Sea’ and before the equally good, ‘Battlefield’. Also from the BBC.
Always though ‘The Abyss’ was more about testing and playing with technology than telling a story.
Still think the best depiction of “Operation Dynamo” was in Noel Coward’s and David Lean’s ‘In Which We Serve’. Where captain Kinross and an Army Major direct counter battery from the open bridge of HMS Torrin. While the evacuees are treated and made to feel at home below decks before being repatriated at the Thames.
ABC’s original ‘The Outer Limits’ will always be the last great hurrah for smart, adult Science Fiction. And Domenic Frontiere will forever be a major part of it.
Welles’ ‘Touch Of Evil’ still rocks after many decades.
Never understood why ‘The Prisoner’ never achieved its potential greatness in a genre the Brits do better than anyone else.
Gotta love ‘L.A, Confidential’ for its sights, writing, mood and it seething with humid, sticky, 1940s Los Angeles Noir!
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Oh, I love these posts! Trying to catch up on some blog reading as I’m months behind. This gives me some great stuff to check out! 🙂
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