erik lundegaard

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Friday November 30, 2018

FilmStruck, We Hardly Knew Ye

Last night, the last night in existence for FilmStruck, the streaming service that combined Turner Classic Movies, the Warners archive, and the Criterion Collection, I watched “The Sword of Doom,” a 1966 Japanese samurai/ronin movie directed by Kihachi Okamoto, and starring Tatsuya Nakadai—the gun-wielding Elvis samurai villain from Akira Kurosawa's classic “Yojimbo.” He's a villain in this one, too—a lethal, dead-eyed warrior who only gains some aspect of humanity when he comes across a greater master—Toshiro Mifune, of course. It's a beautiful, horrifying and strange movie, with an end that compares to Kurosawa's “Throne of Blood” in the lengths it takes for the protagonist to fall. I fell in love with young Yoko Naito, who only made movies from 1965 to 1970. She's barely online. 

Now neither is FilmStruck, thanks to AT&T. The partners go their separate ways and each tries to come up with their own Netflix, whose lack of classic films led me to FilmStruck in the first place. 

This was part of my Watchlist at the end:

FilmStruck RIP

I'd already seen some of these but wanted to watch them again—including Edward Yang's four-hour masterpiece, “A Brighter Summer Day,” about Taiwan in the late 1950s. 

The site was obviously designed by people who love movies. AT&T, no doubt, will give us a website designed by people who love money. 

Goodbye, FilmStruck. Thanks for the Cagney movies. Thanks for being a happy place when I needed one. Au revoir, adios, sayonara, auf wiedersehen, 再见。

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Posted at 03:22 PM on Nov 30, 2018 in category Movies
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Saturday September 22, 2018

Fun with Subtitles: The Mayor of Hell (1933)

Watching Hollywood movies with the subtitles on can lead to some interesting discoveries.

The two images below are from the 1933 Warner Bros. flick “The Mayor of Hell,” nominally starring James Cagney, but really starring a group of ne‘er-do-well kids, led by Frankie Darro, who are somewhere between Our Gang and the Dead End Kids. They’re sent to a reform school, which is more prison than school, with a corrupt superintendent smoking a fat cigar. One of the few people in their corner, besides eventually Cagney, is the nurse, Dorothy Griffith (Madge Evans), whom the boys always call Miss Griffith. Except the subtitles are more progressive than that. 

 Mayor of Hell: Ms.

I assumed that honorofic didn't even exist in 1933 but according to Wiki it was first used in the 17th century, derived from the title “Mistress.” It was also bandied about by reform-minded folks for the first six decades of the 20th century but never caught on until the women's movement of the late ‘60s and early ’70s. Anyway, it's a mistake here. The boys are saying “Miss.” It's actually spelled on her door that way. But the subtitles keep saying “Ms.”

If the subtitles are progressive with feminist honorofics, they‘re less so with languages other than Anglo-Saxon English. One of the gang kids is Jewish, and, per the time and the stereotype, focused on money and mercantilism more than the other kids. He even begins to run a store in the reform school. But one hungry kid steals a candy bar from him and this is how he responds. 

Mayor of Hell: gonif

He’s saying gonif, Yiddish for thief, ya schmucks. I'm a gentile kid from Minnesota and even I know that. But then I had Philip Roth to help raise me.

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Posted at 04:16 AM on Sep 22, 2018 in category Movies
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Wednesday September 19, 2018

George Papadopoulos in Crime School

Last night I was watching the 1938 Warner Bros. movie “Crime School,” a remake of the 1933 Warner Bros. movie “The Mayor Hell,” which was remade again as the 1939 Warner Bros. flick “Hell's Kitchen.” They‘re all about a gang of tough kids sent to a draconian reform school, run by a corrupt superintendent, and the adult, a former tough guy, who helps them out. Since they’re Warner Bros. flicks, they‘re more about reforming the reform school system than the kids. In the last two movies, the gang is played by the Dead End Kids: Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, et al. 

Early in “Crime School,” after they’ve been caught in the midst of a serious crime—seriously injuring or possibly killing a corrupt pawn broker—and after they refuse to rat on the one kid who struck the blow, everyone is brought before a judge to explain themselves. Most of the kids have monickers: Squirt, Goofy, Fats, Spike, Bugs. But the judge calls them by their real names. This is the real name for Fats (Bernard Punsly):

 George Papadopoulos in "Crime School"

I practically fell over. Afterwards I kept on the lookout for any Manaforts, Cohens, Flynns, Kushners or Trumps that might creep by. Crime school, indeed. 

By the way, here are the stars who play the adult tough guy/social reformer in the various movies. See if you can spot the dropoff:

  • The Mayor of Hell (1933): James Cagney
  • Crime School (1938): Humphrey Bogart
  • Hell's Kitchen (1939): Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan—social reformer? Of course, he was a Democrat then. And Jack Warner wasn't a rat.

George Papaodpoulos in Crime School

Yes, George, it is. 

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Posted at 02:33 AM on Sep 19, 2018 in category Movies
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Tuesday September 11, 2018

International Hero

Last night, my friend Nick IMed me about recent deaths. For Burt Reynolds, he said, “My fave of his is Breaking In, directed by Bill Forsyth (Local Hero &) , written by J Sayles (that guy). A little jewel.” I said I'd just gotten a Filmstruck subscription (Criterion, Warner Bros.: expect a lot of Cagney reviews) and had come across my own forgotten Forsyth jewel: the once beloved “Gregory's Girl.” A few years back I'd been looking for good movies about adolesence/growing up for my nephew, got a few good ones (“Dazed and Confused”), couldn't find others (“Twist and Shout”), and had completely spaced on “Gregory‘s.” For shame.

“Whatever happened to Forstyth?” I wondered. “Is he still making movies?”

Nope. Done before 2000, according to IMDb. This quote in his bio may explain:

And so the passion ultimately fizzles out because of the limitations of the goal; because movies are really not that important. At the very end of the day you’re sitting with an audience of four or five hundred people and all they want is to be entertained. You see we‘re dealing with a medium which really only wants to involve itself in the superficial manipulation of emotions.

That’s one of two “personal quotes” IMDb lists. As much as it jibes with my own experience, I think I like the second quote better. It's actually a lot like the first, it just sounds more Forsythian. I‘ve put it in dialogue form:

Reporter: Why aren’t there any bad guys in your films?
Forsyth: Everybody has reasons.

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Posted at 02:31 AM on Sep 11, 2018 in category Movies
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Sunday September 09, 2018

Burt Reynolds (1936-2018)

Burt Reynolds hosting the Tonight Show

Reynolds hosting “The Tonight Show” in 1976, with his guest, “Gator” co-star Lauren Hutton. 

Here's a not-bad trivia question: The year “Star Wars” was released and remade the movies as we know them, what was the No. 2 box-office hit of the year?

According to Box Office Mojo, “Smokey and the Bandit,” which grossed the equivalent of $526 million during its summer run. Yep, that much. Adjusted for inflation, it's the 75th biggest movie of all time, just behind “Superman: The Movie,” and just ahead of “Finding Dory” and “West Side Story.” That's how big Burt Reynolds was.

According to Quigley Publishing, Reynolds was a top 10 box-office star every year between 1973 and 1984, and was No. 1 for five years straight: 1978-82. (Since then, no one has topped that chart for more than two years in a row.) He was on talk shows all the time. He was so good—funny and self-deprecating—he was a regular guest host for Johnny Carson. He was sexy. Women loved him and men wanted to be him—or at least hang with him. He was the first movie star I knew who wore a toupee and probably the last white movie star who regularly wore a mustache.

He was also the first big movie star I saw fall from grace. He went from being ubiquitous to being nowhere. To my young self, it felt like an object lesson—Louis XVI for the celebrity age.

In 1973, after breaking through with “Deliverance” and the Cosmo centerfold (which he came to regret, since he felt it kept him away from more serious roles), he alternated between good ol' boy car-chase movies (“White Lightning,” “Gator,” “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings”) and attempts at respectability (co-starring with Gene Hackman and Catherine Deneuve). He starred in Peter Bogdanovich's 1975 bomb “At Long Last Love,” with Ryan O‘Neal, and the next year, lesson unlearned, they all made the inside-Hollywood period piece, “Nickelodeon.” It bombed, too.

Then Reynolds did “Smokey and the Bandit.” What made it break out the way it did? How did he get people like me to see it? I think I saw it three times in the theater. (It’s the only Burt Reynolds-starring movie I ever saw in the theater.) Was it the whole C.B. radio fad? Maybe his romance with Sally Field? Jackie Gleason chewing scenery as Sheriff Buford T. Justice? I loved Jerry Reed as the good ol' boy sidekick with his basset hound Fred and his great soundtrack song, “East Bound and Down”? The movie had endless car chases and an Evel Knievel-esque jump over the swamp. It had Reynolds breaking the fourth wall—smiling at the camera as Superman would a year later. It was just fun

But Reynolds still kept trying for respectability. He shaved the ‘stache and played sensitive in Alan J. Pakula’s divorce rom-com “Starting Over.” He was in the Broadway hit, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with Dolly. He played off his image—Burt Reynolds wants to have your baby in “Paternity”—and played off of Hollywood top leading ladies: Field, Jill Clayburgh, Goldie Hawn. After that, he'd go and do another Hal Needham-directed car chase flick.

It all worked until it didn‘t.

Year Movie Box Office* Ann. Rnk**
1977 Smokey and the Bandit $126 2
  Semi-Tough $37 13
1978 Hooper $78 7
1979 Starting Over $36 17
1980 Smokey and the Bandit II $66 8
  Rough Cut $16 41
1981 The Cannonball Run  $72 6
  Sharky’s Machine $35 17
  Paternity $19 39
1982 The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas $70 9
  Best Friends $37 19
1983 Stroker Ace $13 56
  The Man Who Loved Women $11 65
1984 Cannonball Run II $28 32
  City Heat $38 22
1985 Stick $8 96
1987 Heat $3 135
  Malone $3 132
1988 Switching Channels $9 91
  Rent-a-Cop $0.2 213

* in millions, unadjusted

** all top 20 films highlighted in yellow

Joe Posnanski has written about the end for athletes—how they seem to be doing OK and then the bottom falls out. This was that for a movie star. He had top 10 hits every year until 1983, then never again. Even teaming with Clint Eastwood in “City Heat” in 1984 didn't take. He was never my guy but it was weird coming back from Taiwan in the late 1980s and seeing him on TV, or seeing his films in the straight-to-video bin of the nearest Blockbuster. Where did his fan base go? I guess inside, to watch “Evening Shade.” 

Reynolds finally got the Oscar nomination he coveted in 1997, playing a porn director in Paul Thomas Anderson's “Boogie Nights,” but he probably shouldn't have. Over, say, Philip Seymour Hoffman from the same movie? Reynolds was the name and everybody likes a comeback tale. What he didn't come back with, at least in the movies I saw, was the gleam in the eye and the devil-may-care grin. He probably didn't appreciate that part of him. He probably didn't appreciate the parts that come easy. Who does? 

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Posted at 07:14 AM on Sep 09, 2018 in category Movies
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