Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Theater is Closed

Interstellar is the final review in my movie blog.

"Shhh! The Movie's Starting" will remain online at least for the rest of 2015 before it's scheduled taken down at the end of the year. Then again, I may have seconds thoughts about this ...

Thanks for reading; there have been 1,362 movies reviewd during the past 5-1/2 years.

Interstellar (2014)

As Interstellar opens, a world food crisis is looming; dust storms rampage everywhere, crops are dying off, one species after another.

We meet Joseph "Coop" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widowed, former pilot who runs a dusty corn farm with his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow), his daughter, Murphy (Murph) (McKenzie Foy) and his son, Tom (Timothée Chalamet).

One day, Tom and his kids are buzzed by an Air Force surveillance drone. He uses laptop magic to take control and land the drone before going to teacher-parent conferences at school.

At the conference, it's recommended to him that Tom skip college and become a farmer. Also, Murph brought a space travel history book to class that refutes the newest versions that explain the moon landings of the '60s and '79s as fakes inspired to lead the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. She got into a fight with classmates over that.

Strange things start happening around the farm (magnetic and GPS anomalies) ... poltergeists? When a massive dust storm creates patterns on the floor, Coo interprets them as binary codes – coordinates – and heads off with Murph to find out what's there. It's a secret NASA installation, and Coop soon finds himself being interrogated by a robot called TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin)

He also meets Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), daughter of his college professor, Dr. John Brand (Michael Caine), who's also there. Mankind, it seems, is destined to leave Earth. An exploratory expedition of a dozen astronauts led by Dr. Hugh Mann (Matt Damon) has already been sent to find a new home for humans.

Dr. Brand recruits Coop to pilot the Endurance, the last ship available to enter a wormhole that appeared near Saturn 45 years ago. Three potential new Earths at the other end of the wormhole. If Coop can find a new home, Dr. Brand promises to solve the remaining problems before he returns.

Nearly a third-way into the film, after trying to deal with a devastated and angry Murph, Coop finally takes off in a shuttle. On board with Coop are Amelia Brand, Dr. Nikolai "Rom" Romilly (David Gyassi), and Dr. Doyle (Wes Bentley), TARS and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). It takes two years to get to Saturn, so everyone gets put into stasis.

Plan A: Find a new world, come back, take people back there. Plan B: Find a new world, abandon those left on Earth, repopulate with 5,000 frozen embryos they brought with them.

Two years later, wake up, wake up, and into the wormhole they go. They reach explorer Miller's planet first, zip down to get her data quickly because every hour there is seven years on Earth. It's a water planet with gigantic waves. They lose Dr. Doyle and are stuck there until the engines drain, while time flies by on Earth (23 years).

When he gets back to Endurance, where two years have passed, Coop gets 23 years of messages from his son, Tom (Casey Affleck) and Murph (Jessica Chastain), who still holds a grudge, but who is now working with Dr. Brand at the NASA facility. (This time passage thing is awfully confusing.)

Two options remain: Wolf Edmund's planet, or Mann's planet. Amelia has a conflict of interest – she's in love with Edmunds. They head off to Mann's planet, where they find and revive him. Mann gives them an encouraging report, but there is a complication or two, one reported by Murph back on Earth.

But Mann had lied to everybody, everything goes to hell ... so goodbye, Plan A? Things move quickly as situations in space and on Earth have us squirming at the edge of our seats.

Is there any chance for the future of humanity? Maybe. Back on Earth, Murph has figured something out with data TARS and Coop send after they're sucked into a black hole. 

Interesting Trivia: One second on Miller's planet would equal one-and-a-half days Earth time. Most of the TARS and CASE robot scenes were shot using puppets, the rest in CGI. Matt Damon's participation, which was significant, was kept secret until the film was released. Five hundred acres of corn were planted for a corn field scene. The ears were sold for a profit. Because her astronaut suit was kept open during an icy water shot, Anne Hathaway suffered from hypothermia.

Interstellar had a production budget of $165 million and returned a box office of $672.8 million. At 169 minutes in length, that works out to almost $1 million per minute ($976,000). It was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning the Best Visual Effects Oscar.

Interstellar is replete with parallels and philosophical allegories just beneath its surface, so to speak, teaching us much about ourselves and our capabilities ... more capabilities than we can ever imagine. We're treated to good performances throughout, especially from McKenzie Foy as young Murph. She is terrifically talented and believable. The ending, with Ellen Burstyn as an elderly Murph, will bring a flood of tears to your eyes.

Grade: A+

Quotations I Like from the Film

"Once you're a parent, you're a ghost to your children's future." – Joseph "Coop" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

"Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving that transcends time and space." – Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway)

"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we look down and worry about our place in the dirt." – Joseph "Coop" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Nightmare Alley (1947)

Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Tyrone Power) enjoys his work as a barker at a traveling carnival; he introduces mentalist Mademoiselle Zeena Krumbein (Joan Blondell), who reads the minds of the crowd.

Zeena and her alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith) used to be big time, according to young electric girl Molly Carlisle (Coleen Gray), whose boyfriend, strongman Bruno (Mike Mazurki), is jealous of Stan's attention to her. Molly tells Stan that the Krumbeins developed a communication code.

In need of money, Zeena wants to sell the code. Stan proposes that they leave the carny and use the code to form an act. First, she consults the Tarot and is distressed by the results. Then, Pete dies after drinking some wood alcohol Zeena keeps in her trunk, fulfilling her Tarot reading.

Stan and Zeena use the code to develop an audience-pleasing mind-reading act. When the side show is raided by the local marshall (James Burke), Stan's smooth talking gets them off the hook. Stan and Molly become an item, and eventually marry (albeit by shotgun). They break from the carnival and head out on their own.

"The Great Stanton." That's what he becomes, and headlines floor shows at the ritziest hotel dinner rooms. Impressed by his performance, and especially his answer to her trick question, Chicago consulting psychologist Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker) asks him to her office.

Skeptic Ezra Grindle (Taylor Holmes), adviser to an elderly rich matron whose dead daughter Stan claims to see, is determined to expose Stan. But by now, Stan is in cahoots with Lilith, who has been supplying him with confidential information she recorded in her sessions with patients. He turns Ezra around, but needs Molly's help to seal the deal by posing as his lost lover.

Oh boy. Pushback's a butch. And trust? It takes one to know one. The Tarot never lies.

Nightmare Alley is based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel. Although it is now considered a classic, the film originally suffered from some of its so-called scandalous content and was not a financial success. However, it is now considered Tyrone Power's best work.

Among the objectionable scenes cut before the film’s release were bloodied geeks insanely ripping apart chickens.

Nightmare Alley has got some holes and occasional improbable circumstances, I think, and it does leap ahead too quickly at times. But all in all, the story is good, and Powers' acting is very different from his usual swashbuckling roles. He does a marvelous transformation at the end.

Grade: B

Quotations I Like from the Film

We’ll keep you in coffee and cake. Bottle every day, place to sleep it off … It’s only temporary just until we can get a real geek.” – McGraw (Roy Roberts, uncredited)

Is he the missing link? Is he man or beast? Some have pronounced him man. But beneath that shaggy mane of hair lies the brain of a beast.” – Hoatley (James Flavin)

Since the dawn of history, man has sought to see behind the veil which hides him from tomorrow. And through the ages, certain men have looked into the polished crystal, and seen.” – Pete Krumbein (Ian Keith)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Satellite in the Sky (1956)

Commander Michael Haydon (Kieron Moor) is piloting the first launch of an orbital vehicle (Operation Stardust) designed to prove man can escape the Earth's gravitational bonds forever.

At a press briefing, World Press Service correspondent Kim Hamilton (Lois Maxwell, “Miss Moneypenny” in the James Bond films), is quite cynical about the usefulness of the project.

In her eagerness, inquisitiveness and determination to get her story and prove all this is a waste of time and money, Kim does something that would be quite impossible to do in today's security-conscious world of space travel – she stows away on the Stardust.

There is a twist. Haydon and his chief officer and navigator, Larry Noble (Jimmy Hanley), are advised by their boss, Prof. Blandford (Walter Hudd), that an experimental tritonium (T-1) bomb will be aboard as well. The atomic bomb will be test-exploded in space, because if exploded on Earth, the damage would be appalling. Prof. Merrity (Donald Wolffit) of the War Office will go along to trigger the bomb.

Pragmatic engineer Lefty Blake (Barry Keegan) rounds out the crew.

Meanwhile ... Larry's wife, Barbara (Thea Gregory), is tired of his putting work before her, and revels in the attentions of an acquaintance. Telescreen and radio operator Jimmy Wheeler (Bryan Forbes) almost misses a chance to propose to his girlfriend, Ellen (Shirley Lawrence).

Blast off! Once "up there," Kim is discovered and kind of fits in, except for her holier-than-thou attitude (stereotypical gender discrimination runs rampant). The bomb is released, but there's a malfunction with its rockets and it attaches to Stardust's stern. Merrity loses it and becomes hysterical.

Can they detach the bomb before it goes off? Or is there another solution?

The first British science fiction film to be shot in Cinemascope and WarnerColor, Satellite in the Sky was criticized for making space travel look too simple. Special effects director Walter Joseph Veevers went on to work on 2001: A Space Odessey, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and Superman: The Movie.

Watching Satellite in the Sky, one has to reset memory and recall how things were in America during the Cold War and the race for space of the '50s. Space travel in earnest was more than a decade away, and the movie makers, as clever as they were, got it all wrong. They used a launch ramp angling upward, they walked around upright in the ship while in space, and they made coffee and sandwiches on board. The exhaust smoke blew out of the rear, and then floated upwards.

Still, if one can overlook all of that and concentrate on the story and moral message, the movie can be enjoyable. This one, unfortunately, was average and flat.

Grade: C-

Quotations I Like from the Film

Some people find it impossible to be quite so impersonal, Commander. If I may be personal, I’m glad I’m not your wife..” – Kim Hamilton (Lois Maxwell)

"Is there any point in trying to do something just because it's never been done before?" – Kim Hamilton (Lois Maxwell)

"You storybook heroines never do think of things like that. You only think of how clever you'll be. And then impose on other people to save your silly necks." – Cmdr. Michael Haydon (Kieron Moor)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

Arizona, 1882 – Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer who thinks the world is out to get him. And it might be, because he's pretty much of a fast-talking wuss. His girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), is disillusioned. She breaks up with him because people are living up to 35 now, so she doesn't have to rush it.

Albert's best friend, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), is such a nice guy. He doesn't mind that his girlfriend, Ruth (Sarah Silverman), is a prostitute. Although, he is sensitive to her (ahem) penis breath when she has to (ahem) give a blowjob, and they've never had sex together.

And then, there's the infamous outlaw, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who always wears black and speaks with an Irish accent. Sometimes, his wife, Anna (Charlize Theron), just doesn't understand his ways. So she joins the church.

Things move forward: Louise has a new boyfriend – hair care store owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Edward wants to start sleeping with Ruth, who doesn't want to because they're Christians (what?). Albert saves Anna from harm in a saloon fight and they become friends. Albert postpones moving to San Francisco to attend the county fair with her.

When Anna shows up Foy at the shooting gallery, it results in a gunfight challenge in a week. Anna trains him until he's good. Well, not "good," but not as bad. And it turns out that’s okay because. Foy has the hilarious runs on duel day, and Albert doesn't care about Louise any more. 

Clinch's right-hand man, Lewis (Evan Jones) sees Albert and Anna kissing and tells Clinch. Another showdown is in the works – Albert v Clinch. But first, a few things have to happen. And happen, they do. Oh boy, they sure do, including a helpful Indian council campfire headed by Cochise (Wes Studi).

Jamie Foxx has a cameo role as Django Freeman, who shoots the owner of a racial shooting game. Other cameos include Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown (Great Scott!), Ewan McGregor as a laughing cowboy, Bill Maher as a dance emcee, and Gilbert Gottfried as Abraham Lincoln.

"Clinch Leatherwood" is obviously a nod to famous western star, Clint Eastwood. In fact, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a kicked up, irreverent version of Blazing Saddles. It's hilarious on so many levels. The saloon brawl scene is hilarious. People die everywhere, even the fair, and somehow it's not gruesome, it's funny. Louise gives Foy a mustache blow job, and THAT's very funny.

Produced on a $40-million budget, A Million Ways to Die in the West had a box office of $86.4 million.

Grade: A

Quotations I Like from the Film

"There was a sheep in the whorehouse the last week ... Wandered in there, and then when I went to pick it up, somehow it had made $20." – Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane)

"There is something about connecting over mutual hatred that is just so much deeper than mutual love." – Anna Leatherwood (Charlize Theron)

"There is an ancient proverb among my people: 'Sometimes the only way for a man to find true happiness is to take drugs in a group.'" – Cochise (Wes Studi)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Intruder in the Dust (1949)

Twelve years before Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, (book in 1960, movie in 1962), there was William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust (book in 1948, movie in 1949), one of the earliest books/movies to deal frankly with the social aspects of racial injustice.

In 1940s Yoknapatawpha County, rural Mississippi, black farmer Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernández) is accused of a murder he says he didn't commit.

As he's being led handcuffed into the jailhouse, past the glaring eyes of bigoted white men, he calls out a young man in the crowd – Chick Mallison (Claude Jarman Jr.) – and tells him to fetch his uncle, lawyer John Gavin Stevens (David Brian).

Chick had once spent a lot of time trying to pay Lucas back for a kindness, but to no avail. Uncle John assures him that Nub and Crawford Gowrie (Porter Hall and Charles Kemper), father and brother of victim Vinson Gowrie (David Clarke), won't start anything until Sunday's done.

Lucas sends Chick on a research mission to find out what kind of bullet killed Vinson Gowrie. When he gets no support or help from Uncle John, Chick takes matters into his own hands. But he does get help from a feisty old spinster, Miss Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson), and Lucas' son, Aleck (Elzie Emabuel). They head to the cemetery, but the coffin ... is ... empty.

The revelation gets Uncle John stirred up, and he calls on Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer) to do something about it. To keep the expected lynch mob from getting to Lucas, they need someone at the door – a white woman, say ... Miss Eunice. They find Vinson's body, but is it too late to save Lucas?

Here's where the truth comes out.

Intruder in the Dust is based on William Faulkner's 1948 novel. MGM Studios bought the film rights from Faulkner for $50,000, and shot the film in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. His novel contributed to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

The film, however, didn't even break even, with a box office about $150,000 below its production budget of $988,000.

As good a film as it is, Intruder in the Dust can’t hold a candle to To Kill a Mockingbird with its similar themes. And that’s about the size of it.

Grade: B

Quotations I Like from the Film

"In matters of life and death, a man's vocabulary is almighty small." – John Gavin Stevens (David Brian)

"Who can eat more'n two eggs?" – Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer)

"I'm going for eighty, and I'm not tired yet." – Miss Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Judge (2014)

Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a successful Chicago defense attorney. Very successful. So why does he walk out of the courtroom at the start of a trial, and his soon-to-be ex-wife? Because his mother just died, and Mr. Unpleasant Chicago Attorney has got to get back to his hometown of Carlinville for the funeral.

After reuniting with his brothers – younger, autistic Dale (Jeremy Strong) and older Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) – he also sits in at his recovering-alcoholic father Judge Joseph Palmer's (Robert Duvall) court. Hank and the Judge are estranged and haven't talked for a while ... at least not decently.

Hank bumps into Samantha “Sam” Powell (Vera Farmiga), his old girlfriend who owns the Flying Deer Diner. Later, out drinking with his brothers, he meets a cute bartender, Carla (Leighton Meester), and ends up making out with her in a phone booth, to his brothers' surprise.

The next day, he sees the family SUV backed into a crumbled garage door, and then discovers a broken headlight frame and deep scratches on the side of his father's 1971 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. The Judge refuses to believe it's his fault, words are exchanged and a pissed Hank leaves ... only to return when the Judge is suspected of a fatal hit and run. It's a Murder 2 arrest.

Despite all of Hank's efforts to help, the Judge obstinately shoves him aside and hires his own defense attorney – C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard), a nice guy, but not up to Hank's standards (he throws up before the first court appearance). Judge Warren (Ken Howard) presides; the prosecuting attorney is Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton).

Two revelations: Judge Palmer, it turns out, has colon cancer and is having chemotherapy, and Carla is Sam's unplanned daughter. Oh, there's another. To Hank's surprise, daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay) and the Judge get along just fine.

It's times like this that bring conflicted family closer together. And that's important, because the trial is pretty rough.

Also considered for the role of Judge Palmer were Jack Nicholson and Tommy Lee Jones. Elizabeth Banks was Vera Farmiga’s competition for the role of Samantha Powell.

Despite its high audience approval ratings, The Judge only did okay at the box office, bringing in $83.7 million against its estimated $50-million budget. Robert Duvall was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (his seventh acting nomination).

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are good, really good. But … everything is pretty much predictable and not very surprising.

Grade: B+

Quotations I Like from the Film

Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a bathtub.” – Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.)

You're a shined up wooden nickel, Mr Palmer. A bully with a bag of tricks. But unlike you, I have one simple belief. That the law is the only thing capable of making people equal.” – Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton)

Did you know ninety percent of the country believes in ghosts? Less than a third in evolution? Thirty-five percent can correctly identify Homer Simpson's fictional town in which he resides, less than one percent knows the name ‘Thurgood Marshall.’ But ... when you put twelve Americans together in a jury and you ask for justice? Something just south of brilliance happens. Often as not, they get it right.” – Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.)