“The Vast of Night” – Something in the Sky

I hadn’t heard of The Vast of Night before reading the New York Times review last May. It sounded very interesting, so I watched it on Amazon Prime two days later. The film is a knockout, a superior piece of work on every level. I watched The Vast of Night again a week later. I intended to write about it then, but experienced a failure to launch, so to speak. Now, two months later, I’m making good on my original intention, albeit a bit rushed. As a refresher, I watched it for a third time yesterday. It’s just as good as it was the first time.

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The film’s opening takes us into an empty living room where we see a retro television set with flickering, indistinct images on the screen. We hear a voice that is uncannily evocative of Rod Serling’s introduction to Twilight Zone. The sound and cadences are perfect. We hear the following:

“You are entering a realm between clandestine and forgotten, a slipstream caught between channels, the secret museum of mankind, the private library of shadows – all taking place on a stage forged from mystery and found only on a frequency caught between logic and myth. You are entering Paradox Theater. Tonight’s episode: The Vast of Night.

Black and white becomes color as the TV screen expands and takes us into the story. The conceit is that what we’re about to see is a TV show. But I don’t know if I take The Vast of Night as an episode on television. Maybe this is a portal into the “real” story. By the way, I love the line “…caught between logic and myth.” This very much applies to The Vast of Night.

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Per Wikipedia, the premise is that  “…a young switchboard operator and a radio disc jockey discover a mysterious audio frequency that could be extraterrestrial in origin.” The Vast of Night is set in Cayuga, New Mexico, population 492. The year is 1958. Sputnik, launched into orbit in 1957, is mentioned in the dialogue. Desert settings were popular in science fiction films of the 1950s, such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Them! (1954), and Tarantula (1955). New Mexico is also where Roswell and Area 51 are located. So the landscape is appropriate for weird stuff to go down. Cayuga is a fictional town, but feels very real.

The first 20 minutes or so is a lot of chitchat that serves to introduce the two main characters and get to know them. Everett Sloan (played by Jake Horowitz) is a disc jockey on a local radio show. He’s probably 19 or 20 and tends to speak in wise cracks. Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick) is a 16-year-old switchboard operator for the phone company. We first meet them in the gymnasium at the Cayuga High School where the first basketball game of the season is about to start. Seemingly the entire town is there.

Fay is smart, a bit twitchy, and often breathless. Her first rapid-fire words to Everett as they leave the gym are these: “Can I bring you my tape recorder so you can show me how it works?” They’re obviously good friends, but Everett makes fun of Fay a lot. He responds with “I don’t know what you just said, Fay. You sound like a mouse being eaten by a possum.”

The camera follows them in a long, low tracking shot that reminds me of Stanley Kubrick’s low tracking shots following Danny Torrence down the halls on his small bike in The Shining (1980). The camera work by Miguel I. Littin-Menz is superb throughout.

Fay is going to her night shift on the switchboard and Everett to the radio station to DJ his “Highway Hits” show. During their walk Fay, excited about scientific predictions she’s read about, is anxious to tell Everett. She chatters on about “vacuum tube transportation…the trains travel between 2000 & 5000 mph in these tubes all across the country. That’s how it’s all gonna be. It’s called vacuum tube transportation. All these tubes, they crisscross all of the world, so we’re gonna sit in cars that run through the tubes like little hotdogs through a garden hose. It’s gonna be everywhere by the year 2000.”

She also talks about self-driving cars with what sounds like a kind of GPS guidance system and tiny TV telephones. Fay says she read about this in Modern Mechanix magazine. This resonated with me because I used to read predictions like this in magazines such as Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics that my dad would get during the 50s.

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At the switchboard, Fay hears a strange, distorted kind of static on one of her lines. She calls Everett at the radio station to see if he knows anything about it. He tells her to send the signal and he’ll put it on the air, asking listeners if they’ve heard anything like it before. At this point, about 30 minutes in, the story begins in earnest.

After Fay sends the signal, she leaves the board and opens door of the switchboard office to stand in the doorway and light a cigarette. The camera goes past her out the door and begins to glide down the empty street and across open lots, very low. Goes to school gym and enters, the basketball game is in progress. Leaves through a window (I think there’s a cut at this point) and continues tracking through town to the radio station where Everett stands outside smoking a cigarette. The shot ends as a call comes in.

This is a bravura sequence, shot to look like a single take. This kind of thing can call attention to itself; it’s not invisible. But there’s something about it that captures a sense of strangeness and expectation that I think defines the film. This was the moment when I knew I was in good hands, that I was seeing something special. Here, see for yourself.

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Everett takes a call from a man named Billy, who says he has heard the sound before. Years before, when he was in the military, he was on a detail with other soldiers who were flown to an undisclosed spot where they buried something large and mysterious in the ground. During this time he heard the sound. In the ensuing years he learns that the sound was being recorded at different times and places, sometimes at altitudes higher than any plane could fly. Billy speaks in a soothing, even voice, but there’s an ominous quality to what he says. As he talks, the image changes to that of the Paradox Theater TV screen, then fades to black entirely as he tells his story. His basically uninterrupted monologue lasts approximately 12 minutes. The sound of his voice is mesmerizing.

Fay, who has also listened to Billy’s account, asks Everett if he believes Mr. Billy’s story. He replies, “I don’t know, but if there’s something in the sky, I want to know.”

They then receive a call from a woman named Mabel Blanche, who lives in Cayuga. She says she can tell them what’s behind the sound, but they have to come to her home to hear it. At 60 minutes in, we go to see Mabel Blanche at 1616 Sycamore. She says things like, “They’ve come here before…the people in the sky.” And then speaks of her son Hollis, who one night walked outside and vanished. Hers is a monologue that, like Billy’s, is hypnotic. And, like Billy’s, it also lasts around 12 minutes.

Fay and Everett encounter a man and woman who have driven in from the desert. The man and woman are alarmed and upset. “There’s something in the sky. Have you seen it? Hiding in the clouds.”

A crowd leaves the gymnasium, game over, unaware of what’s happened. But what has happened? The Vast of Night never quite spells it out, but it comes pretty close.

This is an extraordinary film. With a very low budget of $700,00, the filmmakers have achieved something quite special. I think Steven Spielberg and J. J. Abrams would be impressed. I know I was.

The Vast of Night was directed by Andrew Patterson. It was written by Patterson (under the name James Montague) and Craig W. Sanger. The excellent sound design was by Johnny Marshall and David Rosenblad, with an original score by Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer. Not to forget the performances of Sierra McCormick as Fay and Jake Horowitz as Everett. They are wonderful.

It would be nice to see this film in a theater, but for the time being you can watch it on Amazon Prime.

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Supplemental Material

This will probably be most useful once you’ve seen the film.

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How the long-take prowl around town was achieved.

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Anatomy of a Scene: Building Tension with a Strange Sound.

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Interviews with Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz.

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That about wraps it up. See you later. Be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Feature films, Film posters, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

Actors on Acting – Lockdown Edition

I follow Chris Evans on Twitter. A few days ago he referenced a conversation he’d recently had with Paul Rudd for the Variety series “Actors on Actors.” Due to Covid-19, this was filmed remotely with each of them in separate locations. When I looked it up on YouTube, I found a number of such conversations between other actors, which I’m including here.

To varying degrees, there’s a lot of talk in these about how great and wonderful the other person is, but that’s not all. Each actor has a recent project or projects to discuss, and frequently real talk breaks through as they get into the nuts and bolts of their work. The conversations are very much of the moment, especially when discussing the realities of Covid life in lockdown and how that affects their lives.

All of these talks are very interesting, but I especially like the Patrick Stewart/Henry Cavill and Sandra Oh/Kerry Washington discussions.

Below I’ve cited the shows they discuss in each segment and where those can be seen.

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Chris EvansDefending Jacob (Apple TV)

Paul RuddLiving with Yourself (Netflix)

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Jennifer Aniston The Morning Show (Apple TV)

Lisa Kudrow Feel Good (Netflix), Space Force (Netflix)

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Patrick StewartStar Trek: Picard (CBS All Access/Amazon Prime)

Henry Cavill The Witcher (Netflix)

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Reese Witherspoon Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu), The Morning Show (Apple TV)

Regina King Watchmen (HBO)

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Sandra Oh Killing Eve (Hulu seasons 1 & 2 now; season 3 available December 2020)

Kerry WashingtonLittle Fires Everywhere (Hulu)

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Wait, one more. I thought I was finished with this, but was checking YouTube to see if I’d missed anything and found this conversation between Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. This was put up just one day ago. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but want to include it.

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Anne Hathaway Modern Love (Amazon Prime)

Hugh Jackman Bad Education (HBO/Amazon Prime)

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That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next post. Meanwhile, with apologies to Hill Street Blues, be careful out there. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Comics, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

Films During Lockdown – Highlights of What I’ve Seen, Part 2

Part 2 — May 1 to May 23

As I mentioned in Part 1, until movie theaters reopen, I’ll continue seeing films on my laptop or our flat screen TV. Nothing beats seeing them on a theater screen, but until they reopen, this will have to do. I saw 61 films between April 4 and May 23. Here are notes on a few of those, taking up where I left off in the previous post, listed in the order I saw them.

Unless otherwise specified, these films are all available from Amazon Prime.

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I’d only seen You Can Count on Me once before, when it was released in 2000, but it stayed with me. Kenneth Lonergan’s first feature — he wrote as well as directing — is extraordinary and deeply moving. The writing is incredible and the performances outstanding. Even though Mark Ruffalo has credits going back to 1989, this was when I became aware of him, and also the first time I remember seeing Laura Linney. It was the first real screen role for Rory Culkin, who plays Linney’s young son. The relationship he has with Ruffalo, who plays Linney’s visiting brother, is wonderful. Their night out playing pool in a local tavern is a charmer. This is a film I love, and I don’t know why it took so long for me to see it again. (Viewed on DVD)

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Seeing Laura Linney in You Can Count on Me made me think of a film we’d liked that she did with Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages (2007 – Tamara Jenkins, director). So that was next on the list. Linney and Hoffman play a brother and sister with a cantankerous relationship who suddenly have to move their father into a nursing home. They’re really great, no surprise there. The final image with a dog on the reservoir track in Central Park is deeply moving and hopeful.

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Not sure why, but Elmore Leonard came to mind and I naturally thought of two excellent movies made from his novels, Out of Sight (1999 – directed by Steven Soderbergh) and Get Shorty (1995 – directed by Barry Sonnenfeld). Both were scripted by Scott Frank, who perfectly captured Leonard’s tone and language. I think Out of Sight is the better film, but Get Shorty — especially John Travolta — is so much fun it’s impossible to resist.

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Directed by Howard Hawks in 1946 and written by Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, and William Faulkner, The Big Sleep is near perfection. It has one of the definitive Humphrey Bogart performances as private eye Philip Marlowe. This was Lauren Bacall’s second time co-starring with Bogart after To Have and Have Not (1944 – also directed by Hawks). Their on-screen chemistry is almost supernatural. A really great film. I’ve seen it many times and it’s always a pleasure.

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Bogart again. Black Legion (1937 – Archie Mayo, director). This is a film I knew basically nothing about. I saw a reference to it somewhere recently and looked to see if it could be streamed. I was suitable impressed. Bogart plays a factory worker who gets persuaded to join a Ku Klux Klan-inspired group known as the Black Legion. This was before his screen persona became more defined. He’s quite good in the role. The film resonates with today in unsettling ways, particularly in the anti-immigrant, “America first” views professed by the Black Legion. Where have I heard that lately?

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If I believed in the concept of guilty pleasures, which I don’t, films like this would probably be one of them. Den of Thieves (2018 – Christian Gudegast, director & writer) strives for epic scale, and with a running time of 148 minutes and solid production values and performances, it almost gets there. Gerard Butler leads an elite squad of cops trying to take down an elite gang of bank robbers. He’s an actor with a kind of thuggish charm who often edges into the unappealing for me. But not this time. He fits this part perfectly. Butler frequently plays action heroes who save the day a la Bruce Willis in films such as Olympus Has Fallen (2013), London Has Fallen (2016), and Angel Has Fallen (2019). These are films that can be fine to watch if you take your brain out of gear.  That said, I saw Den of Thieves in a theater and watched it again here. It’s a cut above. A sequel is on the way.

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I saw The Company Men (2010 – John Wells, director & writer) at a screening ten years ago. I always intended to see it again, so when I was thinking of what to watch last month, it came to mind. The Company Men is a very well made film concerning a group of executives in a ship-building company who get laid off and have to deal with finding work again. The excellent cast is led by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Costner. Chris Cooper is particularly affecting.

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The Quarry (2020 – Scott Teems, director & co-writer) may not be fully realized, but it sure sets a mood. Shea Whigham plays a man on the run who kills a preacher at the outset and takes his place in a small Texas town. Michael Shannon, tightly wrapped as usual, is the town sheriff who knows there’s something off about Whigham. Both are excellent actors who seldom disappoint. They previously acted together in Jeff Nichols’ terrific feature Take Shelter (2011) and the 6-part Netflix series Waco (2018). If not for the current pandemic, The Quarry would certainly have played in theaters before being released to streaming, but this is where we are. It’s very noirish, which is always good. It never quite gets there, but I found it well worth seeing.

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Just as seeing Laura Linney in You Can Count on Me made me want to see her in The Savages, that film made me want to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man (2014 – Anton Corbjin, director), which was his final leading film role. This in turn made me want to see him in Capote (2005 – Bennett Miller, director), in which he gives a truly stunning performance as Truman Capote, for which he justly received an Academy Award. Capote takes place during the time Capote was researching and writing In Cold Blood. Catherine Keener plays his childhood friend, Harper Lee. I hadn’t seen Capote in 15 years and had forgotten a lot of it. Seeing it again reinforced how great Hoffman was, but there’s also the sorrow and anger I feel when I think of how he died from a drug overdose in 2014 at age 46. This makes me want to track down and see again or for the first time his other films. One of those is A Late Quartet (2013 – Yaron Zilberman, director), in which he acts opposite Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener. I have a good memory of it. This, too, is available on Amazon Prime.

I previously wrote about A Most Wanted Man in a blog post from 2014, which can be accessed here.

As a supplemental feature, here is Philip Seymour Hoffman discussing Capote on an episode of The Charlie Rose Show.

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For the record, here are the rest of the films I saw from May 1 to May 23, listed in the order viewed. You’ll see I went through a frenzy of Marvel superhero films, for which I offer no apologies or excuse.

As previously noted, unless otherwise specified, these titles are all available from Amazon Prime.

Django Unchained (2012 – Quentin Tarantino, director & writer) NETFLIX

Funeral in Berlin (1966 – Guy Hamilton, director)

The Wretched (2020 – Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce, directors & writers)

Fright Night (2011 – Craig Gillespie, director)

American Ultra (2015 – Nima Nourizadeh, director)

The Man from Nowhere (2010 – Jeong-beom Lee, director & writer)

Atomic Blonde (2017 – David Leitch, director)

Evening (2007 – Lajos Koltai, director)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011 – Joe Johnston, director)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014 – Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, directors)

Captain America: Civil War (2016 – Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, directors)

The Avengers (2012 – Joss Whedon, director & writer)

Thor (2011 – Kenneth Branagh, director)

Captain Marvel (2019 – Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, directors & co-writers)

The Kingdom (2007 – Peter Berg, director)

Sleepless (2017 – Baran bo Odar, director) NETFLIX

Point Blank (2019 – Joe Lynch, director) NETFLIX

Good Fellas (1990 – Martin Scorsese, director)

Empire Falls, Parts 1 & 2 (2005 – Fred Schepisi, director)

Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story (2019 – Michelle Esrick, director) NETFLIX

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That wraps it up for now. Stay tuned for whatever comes next. Until then, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Comics, Feature films, Film posters, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 3 Comments

Films During Lockdown – Highlights of What I’ve Seen, Part 1

Part 1 — April 4 to April 30

We used to say that we “see” movies in a theater, but “watch” them on TV. The semantics of that difference are interesting to me. Though as more and more films have been viewed in recent years via streaming and video discs on flat screens in the home, I’m not sure it’s a valid distinction anymore. And since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down movie theaters, seeing (or watching) films can only be done on television or computer screens, and even (shudder) your phone.

So until movie theaters reopen, I’ll continue seeing films on my laptop or our flat screen TV. As I’ve said before, nothing beats seeing them in a theater, but in the meantime, this will have to do. I saw 61 films between April 4 and May 23. Here are notes on a few of those, listed in the order I saw them. Part 2 will cover May 1 to May 23.

Unless otherwise specified, these films are all available from Amazon Prime.

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I’d only seen Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, director) once before, when it was released in 2008. I felt badly let down by it, especially when compared to Daniel Craig’s initial appearance as James Bond two years before in Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, director). That film took Bond back to his beginnings and effectively reinvented the character for the new millennium. It was tough, gritty, and often brutal, with a physicality that had some heft to it. Quantum of Solace did not seem up to that level. For one thing, what the hell did the title mean? Also, Mathieu Amalric, an excellent French actor I always enjoy seeing, did not seem up to the larger-than-life level required of a Bond villain. He was too ordinary. Nonetheless, I decided to record it when I saw that HBO was showing the film a month or so ago. Since I’ve recently seen all the Bond films with Daniel Craig, including the so far unsurpassed Skyfall, I thought this was a good opportunity to take another run at Quantum of Solace. It was much better this time than I’d remembered. I’m not sure why, exactly, but maybe I want everything I see during this plague year to be good, which makes me feel more generous. Movies don’t change, but our responses often do.

Since I was in the mood, over the next two days I checked out some classic Connery Bond. I’d always felt that From Russia with Love (directed by Terence Young, 1963) was the best Bond film, the most realistic. Then Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) set the template for what was to come. So I was surprised to find that, with the exception of the fight on the train, From Russia with Love didn’t seem very good at all. And oddly enough, Goldfinger, which I hadn’t much cared for the last time I saw it, now seemed a lot better. Weird.

Sean Connery’s fight with Robert Shaw on the train in From Russia with Love is still great — dimly lit, violent and claustrophobic. You can feel the punches. An interesting aspect of the fight is that it plays without any music whatsoever. This was much more effective than having a bombastic score laid over it. In Spectre (2015), Daniel Craig has a brutal slugfest with Dave Bautista on a train that pays homage to the From Russia with Love fight. It also doesn’t have music, except near the end.

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I’d been dipping in an out of Scott Eyman’s biography of John Wayne and thought I’d revisit The Alamo (1960) and The Shootist (1976). The Alamo, directed without much distinction by Wayne is overlong, overblown, and over the top, but it’s not terrible. Lawrence Harvey as William Travis and Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie bring some style to their roles. John Wayne brings John Wayne to his role as Davy Crockett. The Shootist was directed by Don Siegel, who might seem an unlikely choice for a John Wayne movie. But it’s a good film, probably made more interesting by the fact that it was Wayne’s final film, and that he had cancer, as did his character in the movie. This provided a somewhat ghoulish meta-level to the proceedings.

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The Harder They Fall (1956) is a film I hadn’t seen before. I knew Humphrey Bogart was in it, but that’s about all. Directed by Mark Robson, this was Bogart’s last film role. Like John Wayne, he was dying of cancer, but his performance as a sportswriter who gets caught up in the dirty end of the prize fight business is as strong as anything I’ve seen him give. The boxing scenes are quite brutal.

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Next up was a Mel Gibson triple feature. I’d basically written him off, but his performances in these films go a long way in changing my mind. Get the Gringo (2012), directed and co-written by Adrian Grunberg, has a kind of twisty Elmore Leonard/Coen Bros. vibe. In Blood Father (2016), directed by Jean-Francois Richet, Gibson is a father determined to rescue his daughter from drug dealers. The best of the lot is Dragged Across Concrete (2018), written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. The film definitely lives up to its title. Anyone familiar with Zahler’s work knows that he plays for keeps. A very, very tough movie.

Blood Father is on Netflix.

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Criminal (2016, directed by Ariel Vroman). This film isn’t really about anything, but I found it quite engaging. It’s interesting seeing Kevin Costner play a character like this. His transgressive behavior is both appalling and liberating at the same time. Of course, he ends up being a good guy. The film has a good cast, including Gal Gadot the year before she broke big in Wonder Woman.

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And now, a genuine classic, All About Eve (1950, written & directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Top notch in every way. Terrific dialogue and a definitive performance by Bette Davis. And once again, the great Thelma Ritter shines.

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I hadn’t seen Public Enemies since it was first released in 2009. Michael Mann, who directed and co-wrote, is one of my favorite directors. I think of him in the same league as David Fincher and Ridley Scott, all very serious guys.

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I guess I wasn’t done with John Wayne, because I decided to see Rio Bravo again. Directed by Howard Hawks in 1959, I liked it a lot better this time. Lots of reappraisals happening in lockdown. Would have been nice to read the comic book, too, but you can’t have everything.

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I’d seen Forsaken (2015) twice before and liked it a lot. It has the well-worn premise of a gunfighter determined to hang up his guns for good. It’s inevitable that by the end he’ll be forced to pick them up again. Nothing new, but it’s all in the telling, and Forsaken, directed by Jon Cassar, does it well. Cassar had directed Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the gunfighter, in the TV series 24, so they were used to each other. Donald Sutherland plays his father, a preacher angry with his son for the life he chose. This was the first time they’d been in a film together. It’s hard not to wonder if some real-life tensions were being worked out on screen. For me, seeing it is a very satisfying experience. The ending isn’t quite what you’d expect from this type of  story. Michael Wincott stands out as a gentleman gunfighter for the other side.

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Another film written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. I’d resisted seeing this in theaters because the first film of his I’d seen, Bone Tomahawk (2015), freaked me out so much I was afraid to see what he might do next. That film has some of the most frightening images, one in particular, that I’ve ever seen on the screen. I’m reluctant to see it again, though part of me very much wants to. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a tough movie, too, if not quite as extreme. Vince Vaughn fullty inhabits his character to an impressive degree in a go-for-broke performance. I was surprised, just now when I double-checked Zahler’s credits, to find that he’s made only three features so far. He’s a major talent, though a very scary one.

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For the record, here’s the rest of I saw from April 1 to April 30, listed in the order I saw them. As previously noted, unless otherwise specified, these titles are all available from Amazon Prime.

World War Z (2013 – Mark Forster, director)

Top Gun (1985 – Tony Scott, director)

Outbreak (1995 – Wolfgang Peterson, director)

Miami Vice (2006 – Michael Mann, director & writer)

Man on Fire (2004 – Tony Scott, director

Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit (2014 – Kenneth Branagh, director)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956 – Fred F. Sears, director)

Extraction (2020 – Sam Hargrave, director) NETFLIX

John Wick (2014 – Chad Stahelski, director)

Body of Lies (2008 – Ridley Scott, director)

Bad Education (2020 – Corey Finley, director) HBO

Blood and Wine (1996 – Bob Rafelson, director)

Sea of Love (1989 – Harold Becker, director; Richard Price, writer)

Wonder Woman (2017 – Patty Jenkins, director)

Angel Has Fallen (2019 – Ric Roman, director & co-writer) NETFLIX

Salt (2010 – Phillip Noyce, director)

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Stay tuned for Part 2, which will continue with films watched from May 1 to May 23. Be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Comics, Documentaries, Feature films, Film posters, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 4 Comments

Best TV 2019 & 2020 – Supplemental

Here are supplemental materials for some of the titles listed in my last two posts. I didn’t think there was going to be much, but it turns out I found a lot. Pick and choose, as per your interests.

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The following interview with Titus Welliver and author Michael Connelly was recorded in 2014 after the release of the first season.

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Counterpart

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Deadwood: The Movie

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Gentleman Jack

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Goliath

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Grantchester

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Marc Maron: End Times Fun

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The Plot Against America

An article by critic A.O. Scott on The Plot Against America and alternative histories can be accessed here.

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Unbelievable

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Unorthodox

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I know this is a lot, especially all the podcasts for The Plot Against America, but we all have more time on our hands these days than we normally would (whatever “normal” was). In any event, I promise not to post anything new for a few days. Be safe in the meantime (and all the time). — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Film, Film posters, History, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

TV, Cable & Streaming – Best of 2019 & 2020 (so far) – Part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marc Maron: End Times Fun – (Netflix)  This was obviously recorded well before the coronavirus outbreak, but it feels like it was done five minutes ago. Resonates sharply with our current times. Maron is also incredibly funny and inventive. An extended bit in the last ten minutes featuring Jesus, Mike Pence, Iron Man, and Satan on Judgement Day will have your jaw on the floor, wondering how he came up with that and then had the nerve to do it.

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My Brilliant Friend – The second season is currently showing on HBO. We loved the first. The series is based on four novels by Elena Ferrante. Each season adapts one of the books, so there will be two more seasons. So far, the current season is as good as the first. As the characters are getting older, the stakes are higher. It’s very layered, emotional, and upsetting at times. The atmosphere is rich and almost three-dimensional.

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Occupied – (Netflix)  We came to this series late, and as usual when we like something, binged through all three seasons. Most of these series are fairly formulaic, but it comes down to how it’s done, and this one is very, very good.

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The Outsider – (HBO)  Based on Stephen King’s terrific novel, this series combines the police procedural with the supernatural in a very concrete way. Ben Mendelson, great as usual, plays a police detective struggling to get his head around a seemingly impossible mystery. Cynthia Erivo is a self-styled investigator who shows him the way. My initial attraction, other than that I really liked the novel, was that Richard Price created the series and co-wrote it. Besides being an excellent novelist, he was also behind another great series on HBO, The Night Of, not to mention writing several episodes of The Wire, the greatest series ever, as I never get tired of saying.

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The Plot Against America (HBO) – David Simon series based on a Philip Roth novel that posits an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh runs against Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president. He wins on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of World War II. Jews in America rightly fear that Lindbergh’s embrace of Hitler is not good news. The sixth and final episode, written by Simon, aired last night, and it was a killer. The parallels with what’s going on in this country today have been unavoidable throughout. I doubt that Trump Republicans would like this series, assuming they would even watch it. Which would be appropriate.

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Santa Clarita Diet – (Netflix)  Another series I came late to, after much prodding by a friend. I loved it immediately and proceeded to watch all three seasons. Timothy Olyphant discovers his wife (Drew Barrymore) is a zombie. Hilarity ensues. It’s quite a change seeing him in a comic role like this, after knowing him from Deadwood and Justified.

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Secret City – Two seasons on Netflix – a political thriller set in Australia, with Anna Torv (Fringe) a nosey reporter. Murders, coverups, and conspiracies that go all the way to the top. Very well done. Anna Torv, besides having a great name, is very appealing and, as we know from her time on Fringe, she can carry a show. Jacki Weaver plays a scary character, as only she can.

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The Sinner – Seasons one & two are on Netflix, the third season just wrapped on USA. We started this series this year, burned through first two seasons, and loved it. I’m less sure about the third. It’s still very good, especially Bill Pullman as the police detective, but I found it disturbing in ways I didn’t like.

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The Stranger (Netflix) – Excellent thriller. This is yet another series based on a book by crime novelist Harlan Coben. As usual in this type of story, there are many twists and turns and much misdirection on the way to the end.

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Trapped – Two seasons on Amazon Prime – a great cop show set in Iceland. This is one of the best series we’ve seen, either last year or this. Great cast and characters.

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True Detective – (HBO)  The first season of True Detective, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, was fantastic and set a very high bar. Most people didn’t like the second season. I was one of the few who did, though it clearly wasn’t on the level of the first. This third season hasn’t received much love either. Shuttling three different time periods, it unravels a story heavy with gloom. Very noir. Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff are excellent. Plus it has one hell of a shootout in episode five, which you can see in the following clip.

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Unbelievable – Netflix mini-series. This is excellent! A young rape victim in Seattle isn’t believed, then two female detectives in Colorado get involved. Kaitlin Dever (Justified and Booksmart) is the rape victim; Toni Collette and Merritt Wever are the cops. Very detailed and takes its time.

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Unforgotten – Three seasons have aired on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery and are now  available on Amazon Prime. Cop unit in the UK finds old cases thought to have been solved, but new evidence reveals the truths that have been buried. The great Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax) is head of the team, with Sanjeev Bhaskar as her partner. Both are excellent.

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Unorthodox – (Netflix)  Over four episodes this show tells the story of a young, unhappy bride in an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She gets the courage to escape this world and goes to Berlin to find her mother and start a new life. Shira Haas is both inspiring and heartbreaking as the main character, Esty.

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The Valhalla Murders (Netflix) – More cops in Iceland. Another layered narrative with tragic dimensions. Very good.

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Veep – (HBO) The seventh and final season. Since the 2016 presidential election (shudder), the challenge of this excellent political satire has been to keep moving the narrative forward in ways that seem fresh. The current administration in the White House is a farce and satire in reality, so it’s hard for a show like Veep to stay ahead of that. But it does a good job, and this season was a fitting end to a great series.

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Vera – Ten seasons on Amazon Prime/Acorn/BritBox. Yet another cop show from the UK, this one with Brenda Blethyn as the prickly head of a team in Halifax. Excellent! We discovered it last year and burned through the nine seasons then available one after the other. Have now seen the tenth, which became available earlier this year. Each season is four episodes of approximately 90 minutes each. Vera is quite a character.

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What We Do in the Shadows –  The first season is available on Amazon Prime, the second kicked off on FX on April 15. I love this show. A small group of vampires share a house on Staten Island. They have the usual domestic problems. As with The Office, an unseen film crew is ostensibly shooting a documentary, which allows for direct-to-camera commentary by the characters. Very black, deadpan comedy. 

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When They See Us – (Netflix)  A very powerful account of the young African-American men who became known as the Central Park Five. They were wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a white jogger in Central Park. The series, directed by Ava Duvernay, follows the story from the night of the attack to their eventual exoneration after years in prison. It’s another sad commentary on race and injustice in this country.

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That’s all for now. See you next time. Stay strong. — Ted Hicks

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TV, Cable & Streaming – Best of 2019 & 2020 (so far) – Part 1

It’s a good thing there’s an abundance of good and even great stuff to watch on TV, computers, and (shudder) mobile phones, considering that movie theaters are closed and we don’t really have anywhere to go except grocery stores, drug stores, and walks. Before we went into lockdown, I was going to post a “Best TV, Cable & Streaming” recap for 2019, but have decided to include shows I’ve seen in 2020 so far that I’ve liked. Many of these are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or on demand from HBO and Showtime, and can be accessed any time. I’m putting them all in one alphabetical listing, without separating them by year. I’m sure many of you are familiar with most of these shows, but there may be some that you either weren’t aware of or haven’t caught up with yet.

Okay, it’s showtime! This will be in two parts.

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At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Olympics Scandal (HBO)  Devastating documentary made by Erin Lee Carr about the USA Gymnastics scandal and the investigation of Larry Nassar, the national team doctor who abused young athletes for decades.

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Babylon Berlin – 3rd season (Netflix)  The first two seasons (released by Netflix in one 16-episode package) were amazing. We’ve just started the third season, but it promises to be just as good.

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Barry – 2nd season (HBO)  I have to confess I haven’t yet watched the final three episodes of this season, but will definitely do so. This is a great series. Bill Hader is excellent as a hit man in California who starts taking an acting class. There’s a lot of oddball humor, but the violence is very real. The fifth episode of season two in which Barry is confronted by a “feral beast child” who is practically superhuman is absolutely amazing.

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Better Call Saul – Prequel to Breaking Bad, first four seasons on Amazon Prime, fifth season currently on AMC, and it rocks! Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seahorn, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jonathan Banks are standouts in an overall great cast.

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Bosch – 6 seasons (Amazon Prime) – Great series about an LAPD homicide cop, based on a long-running series of novels by Michael Connelly. Titus Welliver totally inhabits the character of Harry Bosch. I’d had doubts initially because he didn’t match my image of the character, but he’s great. Jamie Hector plays Bosch’s partner and Lance Reddick is the LAPD chief of police. Both were on David Simon’s The Wire, still the greatest series ever. It’s nice seeing them doing excellent work here. Season 6 became available on April 17. I intended to watch only the first episode that day, but ended up burning through all ten the same day. Now what do I do? Wait for season 7, I guess, which reportedly will be the last.

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Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – Terrific Jerry Seinfeld series, all seasons are now on Netflix. We’ve seen most of them. The episode with Eddie Murphy is one of my favorites. 

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Counterpart – This was originally on Starz, which we don’t have, but both seasons are now on Amazon Prime. We got through those in about 4 days. J. K. Simmons is phenomenal. The premise of a duplicate world co-existing with ours, populated by duplicates of everyone in this world who travel back and forth between worlds is twisty and provocative and will make you crazy. It’s excellent science fiction and a great spy thriller. If you like this kind of material and haven’t seen this yet, definitely check it out.

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Country Music – Ken Burns series on PBS. Not sure if this can be streamed yet, but it is amazing. Once we started watching, we cleared our schedule for the remaining seven episodes. I especially liked the first three, which dug up the roots of this truly American music.

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Criminal: UK, French, German, Spanish – Gripping series on Amazon, four separate “seasons” all taking place almost entirely inside a police interrogation room in the respective countries, four episodes per country.

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The Crown – 3 seasons (Netflix)  Created by Peter Morgan, this engaging series dramatizes the life and reign of Elizabeth II, Queen of England. Claire Foy plays her in the first two seasons, with Olivia Coleman taking the role in season three.

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Deadwood: The Movie (HBO)  It was a huge disappointment when the series Deadwood was cancelled after three seasons in 2006. For years there was talk and rumors that it would return in some form or other. This 110 minute movie may not be the fourth season many of us hoped for, but it’s a lot better than nothing. A more than satisfying coda to a great show.

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Dracula – 3 episode mini-series (Netflix)  Not for everyone (though you know who you are), this not entirely successful revamp (so to speak) of the Dracula story is nonetheless very good. Created by Steven Moffet and Mark Gattis, who were responsible for the Doctor Who reboot from 2005 to 2017, and the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock from 2010 to 2017. Claus Bang is terrific as Dracula. My main criticism is that it ended too soon. The game-changing shift in the third episode clearly deserved more time and development. That said, I quite enjoyed it.

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Gentleman Jack – HBO. This was my favorite new show from last year. Suranne Jones is wonderful as Anne Lister, aka Gentleman Jack. Lister was a real-life figure who favored men’s clothing. This series was developed from the many diaries she wrote, and was created by Sally Wainwright, who already had my vote for two previous shows, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.

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Giri/Haji (Netflix) – Japanese cops & yakuza gangsters plus British cops & gangsters in a storyline that combines them all. Very violent, but also very well made. I liked it. 

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Glow – 3 seasons (Netflix)  With Mel Maron as the lady wrestlers’ acerbic manager. That’s all I need to know. We’ve seen all three seasons, which have expanded the initial premise.

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Goliath – 3 seasons (Amazon Prime) – Billy Bob Thornton as an unorthodox lawyer (is there any other kind?) in Los Angeles. Excellent. The third season has a Twin Peaks vibe, weird and intriguing.

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Grantchester – 4 seasons on PBS Masterpiece Theater. James Norton plays a pastor in the village of Grantchester in the early 1950s, just outside Cambridge. He saves souls and solves crimes in a sometimes adversarial partnership with a local cop, wonderfully played by Robson Greene. In the fourth season, a new pastor, played by Tom Brittney, replaces Norton. It’s a great series.

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Hinterland – 3 seasons on Netflix, cop show set in Wales. Dark, tragic storylines. It’s excellent. Four 90-minute episodes per season. We do like our police procedurals, especially ones from the UK.

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Homeland (Showtime) – 8th & final season. Claire Danes as sometimes CIA operative Carrie Matheson goes off the reservation once again to do what she thinks is right, despite the odds and regardless of how many toes she has to flatten in the process. Mandy Patinkin is great as Saul Berenson, Carrie’s friend and mentor. The current season shows a world in chaos, with everything going wrong that possibly could. Like real life, in other words. We’ve seen all but the finale, which is on Sunday, April 26.

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Killing Eve – Amazon Prime. We loved the first two seasons. Sandra Oh as MI6 agent Eve Polastri and Jodie Comer as the inventive assassin Villanelle are great. Comer had the flashier role, but they’re both great. It’s a very black comedy. The third season has just begun on BBC America and AMC.

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That wraps it up for now. Part 2 will follow shortly. — Ted Hicks

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Seeing Movies in These Crazy Times: Pt. 2 – New Films to Stream + One Classic

All movie theaters and film programs in New York City were shut down by March 15. At that time, quite a few new films had their theatrical runs cut short. A number of these films have since been made available for streaming, most with a three or five day rental fee of $12 (this varies), which benefits the theaters. There are probably more films available than what I list in this post, but these are the ones I know about.

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The following titles can be rented at the Film Forum website. I’ve seen them all and they’re excellent. A Chinese film, The Wild Goose Lake (Yi’Nan Dia, director) and Luchino Visconti’s final film, L’Innocente (1976), are also available at this site.

Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach, director)  This is a great film, one of Loach’s best.

The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, director & writer)

Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, director)

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The following film can be rented for streaming from Magnolia Pictures. I wanted to see this while it was playing at the IFC Center, but didn’t make it in time.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band (David Roher, director & writer)

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The following film can be streamed on Hulu. If you don’t subscribe to Hulu, they have a free trial period.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, director & writer)  I don’t think this was still in theaters here, but it’s an excellent film and should be seen.

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These two films can be streamed from Amazon Prime for a two-day rental charge of $19.95 each. A bit pricey, but there it is.

The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell, director & writer)  This is very good. Elizabeth Moss, especially, is great.

The Hunt (Craig Zobel, director)

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As far as I know, there are no plans to stream the following film at this time. A24, the distributor, will be re-releasing it in theaters at a later date. But it’s so good, I want you to have it on your radar in case it becomes available sooner.

First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, director & co-writer)  Reichardt is an excellent filmmaker whose singular work includes Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Certain Women (2016), and the sublime Wendy and Lucy (2008). First Cow is no exception.

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Finally, last night I watched a film on Amazon Prime I’d only seen once before, years ago — William Wyler’s riveting Detective Story (1951), based on the hit Broadway play by Sidney Kingsley. Shot in crisp black and white,  the film is set almost entirely in a New York police station over the course of one day, but there’s nothing static or stagey about it at all. Kirk Douglas stars in a truly powerful performance as Detective Jim McLeod, a cop obsessed with a strict definition of the law, where everything is either right or wrong, with no gray areas to cloud the issue. The entire cast is excellent, including Eleanor Parker is his wife Mary, William Bendix as his partner, Detective Lou Brody, as well as Lee Grant in her feature film debut as a shoplifter, and Joseph Wiseman as a criminal given to impressively hysterical outbursts. Wiseman would later appear as the title character in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). I’m trying to up my game with films I’m watching, and this was a good start.

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That’s all for now. I’m not sure what’s next for this blog, but with movie theaters closed, this is a good opportunity to work on the extensive backlog of subjects I’ve accumulated. Stay tuned.

Be safe and remember to keep your distance! — Ted Hicks

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Great poster, isn’t it?

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Seeing Movies in These Crazy Times

Well, there’s nothing quite like a pandemic to put things in perspective, is there? I don’t see how the country — and the world — will be able to recover from the financial loss the coronavirus is causing, not to mention the impact culturally, socially, and on everything else. I doubt that we’ll ever return to the “normal” we knew, whatever that was. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s like nothing else is happening except this. I guess, basically, nothing is. Except, of course, life goes on. What does that mean for someone like me, who is used to seeing movies, mostly in theaters, all the time? It means you go online, obviously. Here’s how I got there.

By the first of March coronavirus stories were all over the news, but movie theaters, museums, and restaurants had yet to shut down. I couldn’t quite imagine that happening, not really. On Tuesday, March 3, the Museum of Modern Art was kicking off a Daniel Craig retrospective with Casino Royale (2006), his first film as James Bond. Craig was in New York City to host Saturday Night Live that weekend, and would be at MoMA to introduce the screening. I definitely wanted to be there for that. It turned out that he didn’t simply introduce Casino Royale, but was interviewed before the film for a full 30 minutes by MoMA’s Chief Film Curator, Rajendra Roy. It was great. And Casino Royale was better than I’d remembered. Though maybe I was more disposed to like it since Craig was actually there. (I was in the second row and took these shots.)

The next day or the day after that I read that the release of  Craig’s new Bond film, No Time to Die, had been moved from April 19 to just before Thanksgiving in November. It was the first big film to pull out, but wouldn’t be the last.

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Over a week later, on Thursday, March 12, I was back at MoMA to see Road to Perdition (2002), a film directed by Sam Mendes with Daniel Craig in a supporting role. Before the film, I heard someone in the audience say that Film at Lincoln Center was cancelling all screenings until further notice as of 5:00 pm that day. This meant Nancy and I were going to miss three films in their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series that we had tickets to that weekend. I think the Metropolitan Museum of Art had already shut down. As it turned out, MoMA closed up the next day, which meant Road to Perdition would be the last film I’d see there for a while.

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During the Casino Royale showing at MoMA the previous week, I’d felt a sore throat coming on. It only lasted a couple of days, but then became more of a head cold. I saw my doctor the next Monday, who said he didn’t think it was any more than that. I asked about going to movie theaters. While he didn’t flat out tell me not to do go, he did say that people were recommended not to. I still wasn’t scared enough, so I went to films in theaters the next five days before closures put an end to that. (I’m fine now, just more careful and appropriately scared.)

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On Friday the 13th I saw The Hunt on its opening day at the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex. I liked it a lot. The Hunt was only in theaters for three days. By Monday, AMC theaters had closed, along with all the other theaters.

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On Saturday I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright at Film Forum, partly because I’d not seen it before, but mainly because I didn’t know how much longer they’d be open. The first hour of the film is pretty good, the rest of it not so much. But I was glad I went, because they closed the next day. That’s the last film I’ve seen in a movie theater to date.

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Before this I’d frequently streamed films on our flat screen or my laptop, so it was more of a psychological adjustment than anything else to start doing it exclusively. Nothing beats seeing movies in a theater, but this is better than not seeing them at all.  That Saturday night I opted for something I knew would satisfy, Three Days of the Condor, directed by Sidney Pollack in 1975. I’ve seen it a bunch of times over the years. It always works, except for the few parts that don’t, and I’m willing to ignore those. It has a distinctly 70s vibe, and great performances by Robert Redford and especially Max von Sydow and John Houseman. (Three Days of the Condor can be streamed on Netflix.)

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A day later I watched Layer Cake, directed by Matthew Vaughn in 2004. I hadn’t been able to see this in MoMA’s Daniel Craig series, which had been cut short by more than a week. I’d not seen it before, but had been told by a friend that it was very good, and it is. Craig’s performance in this film is reportedly what got him seriously considered to be the new James Bond. Layer Cake is a very British gangster film with an excellent cast, made with lots of flash and polish, snap and violence. (You can see it on Amazon Prime.)

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Staying in the mood for more Daniel Craig, a couple days later I watched Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015) five days after that. Both are directed by Sam Mendes. If Spectre disappoints at all, it’s only because Skyfall is so strong, easily one of the best Bond films in the entire series. (Both are available on Amazon Prime.)

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In between those Bond films I saw some other stuff, starting off with The Bourne Legacy (2012), co-written and directed by Tony Gilroy. It has the challenge of being a Bourne film without Jason Bourne, but I think it’s pretty good. Jeremy Renner is strong as an alternative Bourne. Rachel Weisz is also very good. The scene in which Zeljko Ivanek methodically guns down everyone he can in a research lab is perhaps a little too close to reality. The Bourne Legacy may not be on par with the Bourne films directed by Paul Greengrass, but I like it and find it very watchable. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

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Next up was The Other Guys, a comedy directed by Adam McKay in 2010. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star as mismatched cop partners, losers who get no respect in their precinct. It’s very funny for the most part. What had stayed with me in the 10 years since I first saw it was a demented debate between the two as to who would win in a fight between a tuna and a tiger. Their commitment to the premise is impressive. (The Other Guys can be seen on Netflix.)

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My choices since embarking on this post-theater journey have been, with the exception of the Daniel Craig films, basically impulsive. I ran across the following two John Wayne films in a book about Hollywood films made in Mexico, and thought, “Let’s see those!” In almost all cases, the films I’ve been watching are ones I’ve seen before. I want known quantities, kind of a comfort-food approach. Anyway, I watched The War Wagon (Burt Kennedy, 1967) and The Sons of Katie Elder (Henry Hathaway, 1965). I’d remembered The War Wagon as being better, but it’s not so good. It’s watchable for Kirk Douglas’ enjoyable performance, but not much else. Katie Elder is a better film, but still not great, though Wayne and Dean Martin play well together. At the time of their release, you could have added to the experience by getting these comic book versions. (Both films are available on Amazon Prime. You’re on your own finding the comic books.)

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I next watched two films from one of my favorite directors, Steven Soderbergh, Contagion and Haywire, both released in 2011. Contagion is currently trending for obvious reasons.  I’m not sure it will necessarily lower one’s anxiety level, but there is something reassuring in that the characters in the film beat the virus in the end. Of course, real life doesn’t always have movie endings. Haywire is a rush, a very tightly put together thriller with a great cast. (Contagion is on Amazon Prime, Haywire is on Netflix.)

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We’re almost to the present date. Last Thursday I watched a recent film I hadn’t seen when it was in theaters, and hadn’t particularly wanted to. Now I know why. This was Midway, directed by Roland Emmerich, a big-budget action epic about a pivotal sea battle in the Pacific during World War II. Something felt very out of place about this film, like we should have seen it in the 1970s. In fact, we did see it in the ’70s — 1976 to be exact.

That Midway was directed by Jack Smight, with Charleton Heston and an all-star cast. It was about same battle, though perhaps less historically accurate. It had the distinction of being the second of only four films to be “…presented in ‘Sensurround’, a special low-frequency bass speaker setup consisting of four huge speakers loaned by distributors to select theaters showing the film. This system was employed only during certain sequences of the film, and was so powerful that it actually cracked plaster at some movie theaters.” Luckily we were spared that in the new version. Besides the heavy CGI video-game combat graphics in the new film, I was very put off by Ed Skrein, the actor who had the lead role. I don’t know why exactly, just something about him. You can see for yourself on Amazon Prime.

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By the way, I realize that with well over 1,000 DVDs and Blu-ray discs in the Ted Hicks Memorial Cinema Library, I don’t have to limit myself to what’s available on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I think I have to get more used to this new reality before I can begin to know how best to use my time and resources. Watching some classics, for one thing.

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That said, the next film I watched was Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. This is the latest in the series lead by Tom Cruise, reportedly doing most of his own stunt work, all of which seem quite insane. I’d seen it before and like it a lot. It’s very well made, if utterly preposterous. An especially good scene takes place in a large men’s room with Cruise and another agent, played by Henry Cavill, up against a seemingly unstoppable adversary. It’s bone-crunching, without Cruise or Cavill apparently any the worse for wear when it’s over. It’s also worth noting that the entire encounter plays without a music score, which is very effective. (This film is available on Amazon Prime.)

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On Sunday I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), directed by Tomas Alfredson, based on the novel by John le Carré. I remember not liking it when I saw it nine years ago. I was comparing it unfavorably to the six-hour BBC version in 1979 with Alec Guinness as George Smiley. A two-hour feature couldn’t begin to have the detail of a six-hour production. True enough, but I didn’t have any reservations this time around. It’s very good. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

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Yesterday we watched Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (2016). It’s terrific, joyful, and just perfect for these times. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

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That brings us up to today, and I’m writing this piece instead of watching a film. Maybe later.

In the meantime, I have to say that what I miss as much as anything is Film Forum popcorn. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. This is really great popcorn. I can’t wait to have it again.

Everyone be safe! — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Comics, Documentaries, Feature films, Film posters, History, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

Best Documentaries 2019 – Supplemental

My blog post from last August, Recent Documentaries: Supplemental, contains materials on the following films on my 2019 list. (Click on the link to access.)

Echo in the Canyon, David Crosby: Remember My Name, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Mike Wallace Is Here, Jay Myself, For Sama

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American Factory

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Be Natural: The Untold Story of  Alice Guy-Blaché 

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Bitter Bread

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Carmine Street Guitars

New York Times review

Variety review

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The Edge of Democracy

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63 Up

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They Shall Not Grow Old

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Varda by Agnès

This is not available for streaming yet, but in the meantime, the glorious Faces Places, her previous film made with photographer JR, can be seen on the Amazon Prime/Cohen Media Channel. It gives a good sense of her total engagement with the world around her and the people in it.

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Where’s My Roy Cohn?

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Bully. Coward. Victim. The Roy Cohn Story

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Next up, my picks for Best TV, Cable & Streaming for 2019. Stay tuned. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Documentaries, Feature films, Film, Film posters, History, Home Video, Non-Fiction, photography, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment