Movie Gold = Blue Gold

DATELINE: Blue Denim without Brandon De Wilde

 blue gold

Though we expected this documentary to be frivolous, it turned out to be entertaining and smart.

Blue Gold: American Jeans tells the story of how the fashion-plate pants of the Old West have become a big business and an art form. Yes, you will regret having tossed out those moth-eaten old pair of blue jeans. They are worth thousands of dollars today.

Oh, the film traces the historical process of how jeans are made with indigo dye and rivets by Levi Strauss, or Lee, or Wrangler. You will surely learn how the business of fashionable jeans in America has gone to the Far East.

This little film compiles everything you want to know about blue jeans—from Calvins to Brooke Shields with nothing next to her. Every morsel of trivia about blue jeans is here. And, you can’t be much closer to a subject than how it fits and shapes your scrotum and ass.

Authentic blue jeans are indeed valuable, especially in Japan nowadays. Collectors travel the Midwest and Nevada to find old trunks with old trunks. You will not find many documentaries that will combine Bob Dylan, Bruce Lee, with Iggy Pop and James Dean.

It struck us that those looking for authentic jeans, worn by real workers years ago, are actually big phonies. They never worked for their jeans, but they paid thousands of dollars for the privilege of looking like blue collar types in their pantaloons.

With a main host who looks a great deal like John Goodman on a lark, the film will not make your butt look fat.

Directed with holes in the right places by Christian D. Bruun, the film is sheer delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twin Peaks (s3 Half-Way Point)

 DATELINE:  NO Spoilers Possibletwin peaks

There is no such thing as a spoiler in Twin Peaks. We are not even sure we are still in Twin Peaks after the face of Laura Palmer emerges from the mist in the opening credits.

We have now come to the half-way point of no-return for Season 3 on the bizarre David Lynch TV series, and we can explain everything that happened and you will have no idea what we are talking about.

The episode started with Kyle McLachlan’s Doppleganger Agent D.B. Cooper in a jail break with an accomplice who promptly shoots and kills him. Then, he is beset upon by demonic spirits that apparently bring him back to life.

At this point there is a flashback to a flashpoint in the plot. We find ourselves in Desert Sands, New Mexico, as the first atomic bomb is detonated. If you think of this as a hole in the plot, you may have fallen into the trap.

We are then thrust into a five-minute Stanley Kubrick-style hallucinogenic trip inside a radioactive cloud. When we emerged, we found ourselves in a 1950s black and white horror movie with zombies murdering people.

Oh, yes, somewhere in there we found ourselves in the waiting room of an imperious theater where Lurch the Butler of the Addams Family sends a golden plasma bubble with the face of Laura Palmer back to Earth.

Back on Earth, an alien lizard with wings hatches from an egg near the site of the nuclear explosion in 1956 and enters the mouth of sleeping adolescent girl. Now we feel the Illuminati are lurking somewhere in the storyline.

Is that clear? Are you spoiled yet? Have you any idea if David Lynch has lost his lunch?

Yes, we will watch again next week, not that it matters.

Rita, Kim, & Frank: Pals of Joey

DATELINE:  Another Lost Classic

star power

From 1957 comes an overlooked musical from Rogers and Hart, based on a John O’Hara book. Pal Joey has top-drawer firepower with Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, and Frank Sinatra.

Set in San Francisco with much location shooting, you will have a sense of what it was like in the Red Light district. Not a year later, Hitchcock would bring Kim Novak back to the setting for Vertigo.

Sinatra is in typecast form as the brash lounge singer who foists himself on whoever is handy. He downplayed what he didn’t like and made the character a version of himself. His dream is to have his own nightclub where he can sing and star. In the meantime, his two-bit hoodlum act wears thin on almost everyone, but he is a ladies’ man, as they used to say.

Sinatra could not have two better, bigger co-stars. Sinatra even gave Hayworth top billing as the “older woman.”  Mae West was originally considered for the role with Billy Wilder directing.

Rita Hayworth is on the cusp of middle-age and seems to be playing her patented Gilda a dozen years later. She is now a rich widow with a tainted show busy past. When Sinatra forces her to perform at a charity auction, she seems about ready to sing “Put the Blame on Mame,” and actually does a satiric number in which she strips off her gloves (both of them, this time).

Sinatra woos her for the start-up money for his lounge on Nob Hill—and voluptuous Kim Novak rises from the chorus to a featured singer and dancer.

Once the tunes start humming, you have a bunch of standards coming one after another: Sinatra sings “The Lady is a Tramp,” to Hayworth—and Hayworth sings “Betwitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” while Novak gives a sensitive rendition of “Funny Valentine.”

Sinatra even re-did the final fantasy dance scene with all three stars, which is sad because Rita Hayworth was a real dancer.

The film shines, despite changes orchestrated by producer Harry Cohn and Sinatra. It’s still classic crooner Sinatra.

Hurricane Clint Eastwood Downgraded to Breezy

DATELINE: Better to Stay Lost

breezy

In his third directorial effort, back in 1973, Clint Eastwood took up the challenge of a romantic comedy.  It probably sounded easier than he expected because he had William Holden, even aging and falling apart, as his charming, cynical leading man.

This atrocity is called Breezy, rhymes with easy, named after the hippie free spirit who haunts William Holden. It might have been more hilarious if Breezy was a teenage boy. But Clint doesn’t eat sweets.

However, the moribund script features one fantasy hippie girl who believed in free love of the era. Perhaps it was realistic back in the early 1970s in L.A., but Kay Lenz presents one of the most annoying, anachronistic versions of a promiscuous teenager we have seen in decades.

We cannot figure out why Holden’s well-to-do businessman didn’t toss this annoying and cloying girl out on her keester when she first appears to panhandle and try to con him. Are all men victims of their sex drive?

That Holden falls in love with her seems to stretch credulity for a character who never has fallen in love with any woman.

On top of all this, we are then faced with the embarrassments of May-December romance being denigrated by every other character Holden knows in the movie script. Really, Clint?

We almost hoped Holden would turn into Dirty Sex Harry and shoot the whole lot of slut hustlers. Of course, it’s not that kind of film, alas.

If the saccharine hippie girl isn’t enough to rot the script, you have an overlay of Michel Legrand music. Apparently, Clint gave himself plenty of challenges to overcome. You may drown in movie sweetness, not typical Eastwood.

Clint fans knew better than the novice director—and ran away from this clinkeroo. This was not even a good character-driven story, though you can see how Eastwood wants to develop it. The film wastes William Holden– and Eastwood too.

Many critics in hindsight think this was Clint’s most “personal” film. We doubt it. He was still learning his craft by directing in an unusual setting and genre.

Destroying the film negative might be a better challenge to undertake. Clint likely chose to ignore the movie as time passed as an experiment in directing. This movie is a freak of his oeuvre.

Dramatic Musical: The Bolero

DATELINE:  Best Short Film 1974 Oscar

Mehta

Winning the Best Short Subject Oscar for 1974, The Bolero may be one of the most breathtaking documentaries about music put on film.

From its opening scenes, setting up chairs for musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, to its climax, you will have a deep appreciation for the challenge and creativity of symphony orchestras.

Most people know Ravel’s “Bolero” from the Walt Disney animated classic, as the music that portends the end of the dinosaurs. Or, worse, you may recall Bo Derek.

At first you have violinists, bassoonists, and flutists, all making mention of the difficulty of small solos in the overall performance. Behind them you hear the occasional melody from the piece.

Zubin Mehta was young and dynamic as the conductor, expressive and humorous. He notes after this performance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic he never wants to do The Bolero ever again. His tongue is firmly in cheek.

Drama always builds slowly, and if Mehta has any real challenge here, it is in keeping the pace of the music in check.

When the orchestra begins to play the entire score, you see them lit against a satin black background—and you are faced with fierce concentration from individual players as they read their music, look up to the conductor, and listen to their colleagues in the symphony. It mirrors any struggle Jack London ever described in Nature.

Mehta plays a conductor as you always expected one to be. When he is in full charge, his face shows how much he loves music, art, and helps director Alan Miller create something so special that 45 years later, you will be thrilled and delighted by the 25-minute experience.

 

 

A Good Mechanic is Hard to Find

DATELINE:  Off-duty Killers

 Mechanics off duty

Charles Bronson teamed with Jan-Michael Vincent in 1972 for their fascinating mob hitman movie called The Mechanic, which was changed to Killer of Killers when a bad remake of the original was made recently.

In contrast to the recently viewed The Assignment, this has more stops pulled out, but the gender-issues came across in full force. Bronson, in fact, demanded that a scene with his wife Jill Ireland be gratuitously added to the movie so the main character, Mr. Bishop, could be seen having sex with a woman. It was pointless. He only has eyes for the son of the mob boss.

When Bronson meets the beautiful blond Jan-Michael, all is lost.

Their courtship as partners in the assassination business tells all. When they go to a strip joint, they have eyes only for each other—and ignore the cavorting girls who are nude on stage. Vincent seems to have moved into a luxurious art-laced house with Bishop, “Nice to see what inside your mind looks like,” opines the seductive Jan-Michael.

However, their murderous relationship runs afoul of the mob that disapproves—of something that dares not speak its name. It is 1972, after all, when Boys in the Band was nascent.

Bronson’s need for a companion is his undoing when he starts to suspect his young friend has a hidden agenda. Mr. Bishop needs a companion, and his young protégé notes, “That’s your weakness.”

“See Naples and die,” becomes more than a throwaway slogan amid the explosions and gunfights as the film moves swiftly to a surprise ending.

Beautiful settings and beautiful sets make the sordid story fly by. If you want a lost gem, The Mechanic still shines 45 years later.

 

 

 

 

Original New York Terror Movie

DATELINE:  Classic Thriller

 

Matthau

Taking of Pelham One Two Three, from 1974, is a masterpiece

Directed by Joseph Sargent, it holds up after 40 years of action thrillers have passed into oblivion. Twenty-five years before 9-11, it showed New York City in full terrorist mode. Of course, back then, it was not called “terrorism,” but when a gang of dangerous criminals hijacks a subway train, the word fits.

Acutely written and underplayed by a bunch of New York actors, the leading transit policeman is Walter Matthau, a man give over to snippy one-liners and packaging disheveled frumpiness. He is at the top of the game here. And, his sidekick is Jerry Stiller, not Jack Lemmon.

Indeed, the passel of familiar faces from TV and movies of the era is a who’s who cast: James Broderick, Tony Roberts, Dick O’Neill, Kenneth McMillan, Dolph Sweet, Tom Pedi, and Doris Roberts. For the most part they throw out some zinger lines to break up the tension.

The bad guys are gems: Hector Elizondo and Martin Balsam, of course, effective as always, but Robert Shaw added another villain portrait to his growing gallery as the mercenary ringleader. His end rivals his work in Jaws the following year.

New York City is magnificent as itself, harsh, bustling, dirty, cynical, and unique.

To watch a well-put together suspense thriller, you may be surprised to learn it won next to nothing in awards, a few nominations, but nothing from Oscar land. They didn’t take terror films lightly back then, and this one dishes out some great entertainment along with the speeding subway trains and crashing police cars.

Dangerous Warsaw, or Suicide Squad (American Title)

 

warsaw

DATELINE: Dangerous Moonlight!

Exasperating comments like “out-dated,” or “old-fashioned,” start to grate on our nerves more often nowadays. So, we did not take kindly to the Amazon comments about the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight.

The film stars the debonair Teutonic star Anton Walbrook, who always looks grand in a tux when he sits down at the piano to play “classical” music.

In this curio, he is a Polish composer—and the story revolves around Walbrook trying to finish his great creation while World War II and the Nazis decimate his homeland of Poland. He must go to the United States and do a concert tour to raise money to help Polish refugees.

Rachmaninoff reportedly declined the offer to write a composition for the movie character to compose. So, the British film classic went to studio composer Richard Addinsell who wrote the “Warsaw Concerto.”  The film may be stunning for the music alone.

Daring in a way that today’s movies would never attempt, the first 14 minutes of the movie are basically the “Warsaw Concerto” being played to help Walbrook regain his memory lost in war—and explain how he met his wife. Movies about amnesia were big in 1941 with Random Harvest about another war hero with memory problems.

That the British film chose to make a film about an American girl who happens to be a millionaire who marries a Polish composer is a surprise too.

The music is so stirring and became so famous that it outrivals Rachmaninoff, though purists think of it as fast food classical music. When Walbrook sits down to play, the movie is a catalogue of audience reactions. Nearly 25 minutes of the 75-minute movie is given over to the music being played by a symphony or by Walbrook’s composer character.

In between moments of the “Warsaw Concerto,” he prefers to fly a fighter plane against Nazis in dogfights on suicide missions. It’s certainly true they don’t make movies like this any more. No one would dare to produce it.

Is It Real??? or Just Another Movie!*

realkindlecover cover pictures include real and fake!

DATELINE:  New Book of Movie Reviews

Ossurworld wants to announce that a collection of reviews and commentaries on documentaries, docudramas, and biopics, is now available on Amazon.com for discerning movie fans and smart readers.

If Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” he’d be accused today of being a fake news critic…We have mixed up the real documentaries with those based on a true story in this compendium. You likely can guess when you have a real documentary on your hands, but not always. Sometimes it’s a biopic, or a docudrama, or just speculative facts and opinion. Sometimes the film is a masterpiece, and sometimes it’s just another movie.

We are sure that Ossurworld will start giving these away with a set of dishes sometime in the future. We think these reviews are swell, sometimes even funny. We hope you will too.

*Includes a few TV reviews.

 

Becket’s Unspeakable Love Story

Becket Cavorting Adults

DATELINE: Burton & O’Toole in Epical Struggle

In 1964 came the extraordinary event of a literate play turned into an epic movie. This was the Hollywood version of Murder in the Cathedral.  The more mundane play version by Jean Anhouilh was called simply Becket.  Its Broadway incarnation was a legend with Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn playing the leads, and exchanging roles every other night.

So, the movie version had big shoes to fill. Director Peter Glenville went out and arranged for the two biggest stars of the decade to go head-to-head:  Welsh Richard Burton, fresh off Cleopatra’s couch, and Irish Peter O’Toole, fresh off an Arabian oasis.

Everyone expected fireworks, but the two stars actually liked each other.

The movie shows it. O’Toole’s Henry II is utterly hysterical, and funny too. Burton’s Thomas Beckett is somber and sly. You will first be shocked at how young they are: the dissipation would set in, like dry rot, over the next decade.

They enjoyed their roles because, as O’Toole said at the time, in two blockbuster movies he was allowed a love interest of camels (Lawrence of Arabia) and Burton (Becket). And Burton was allowed only Elizabeth Taylor as his love interest. So, it was a natural affair between the actors.

Love interest indeed!

The docudrama goes grandiose in damp castles and Sherwood Forest, as Henry and Becket are like smitten boyfriends. That was the historical take—as no one could really figure how the Norman king and the Saxon aide-de-camp could be so entwined.

In a series of long capes, O’Toole is flashy and a hoot—and Burton’s character becomes more ethical and somber. Henry made Becket the recipient of many gifts: deaconship, chancellor, and Archbishop of Canterbury, to win his affection. Alas, it never worked the way Henry wanted, as Becket began to oppose his schemes.

Henry threw a fit in which he basically said he was surrounded by idiots, and the smartest man in the kingdom was opposed to him.

Well, the Knights took that to mean they had to relieve their king of a strange affection. As normal heterosexuals, they figured, you kill the one he loves. It’s a British tradition.

Of course, it all backfires. Henry II did penance with flagellation—and made Becket a saint, literally, by church canon. It makes for a rousing adventure and fascinating intellectual thriller.

 

 

Grant, Kerr, & Nesbitt in Charming Weeper

Memorable Affair.jpg

DATELINE: Nearest Thing to Heaven

You cannot judge An Affair to Remember by any normal standard of film-making. Since its 1957 debut, Leo McCarey’s dinosaur storyline and archaic approach passes for classic movie-making.

The film has anachronisms abounding, but cast that aside. It is the cast he assembled and has given them reins of control. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are at the peak of their careers, slightly past the middle-age that would soon have them by-passed by a new Hollywood.

The film’s plot is a trifle, yet elegant, charming, sophisticated, and sentimental. Your stars are clearly not typical American celebrities, and they play social climbers way ahead of their social standing, ready to plunge into high society by means of deceptive façade. Any fault in this movie does not lie in the stars.

On a ship voyage to the United States, Cary and Deborah have a frothy, light comedy of interplay, under the watchful eye of paparazzi and gossip. It’s a pink champagne tale. Engaged to money, they both eschew this for true love before it’s too late.

Interspersed here is a small role by Cathleen Nesbitt as Cary’s grandmother. She’s closer to the age of his real mother, but no matter. The trio of actors know something about loss: Nesbitt in her youth was engaged to marry the beautiful poet Rupert Brooke when he was killed in World War I. Grant went through multiple marriages and gave up Randy Scott.

Add a melody that remains an emotional stake in the heart, replayed constantly to put tragedy next to love. It isn’t a mid-life Tristan and Isolde, but it will do.

The film may cause you to weep through a box of Kleenex. If not, you are a victim of Medusa’s stony glare. You cannot watch the final 15 minutes of the film and not find two actors in better form anywhere.

Who Was Heath Ledger?

DATELINE:  No Answers in I am Heath Ledger

 heath

Derik Murray has put together a series of “I am..” documentaries. They are intimate, unflinching, and hypnotic films about subjects with charisma and cult interest. Something went wrong along the way on this one called I am Heath Ledger.

So it is not surprising to find Heath Ledger being given the mythic figure treatment. He is no James Dean because he was filled with joie d’vivre and was a man with a cause and a mission.

Ledger said openly that he was on a mission to push his artistic feelings to the limit. He surrounded himself with his Australian friends from boyhood as an entourage for the most part, but there were no naysayers in the bunch. There was also no one to help him discipline himself. He was brilliant, a chess prodigy and potential major film director.

Going without sleep and pushing his physical limits, Heath Ledger was a whirling dervish of inspired talents. He was into music and film in particular, but showed unlimited artistic abilities. He took endless videos of himself, almost each snippet a movie in miniature. He was observing and teaching himself what reactions worked in a role.

He managed to improve with each role, but seemingly his happy demeanor hinted at a less satisfying deeper sense. His marriage fell apart, and he increasingly covered his beautiful body with tattoos. He used himself as a laboratory for life.

He spoke that he had limited time, like so many music and movie legends who went beyond before age 30. Was he prescient, or just a workaholic?

Heath left several stunning performances in Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight, but his colleagues do not line up to appear in this film tribute—only family and close friends are anguished and full of love.  Naomi Watts and Ang Lee speak about him, but the film turns on the achievements of his friends, rather than on Heath finally.

The spin of final repeated clips at the end of the documentary without words may be more telling as the film seems to spin away too.

 

 

Twin Peaks Returns from the Dead

 DATELINE:  Will the Real Harry Truman Ever Show Up?

twin peaks

In the immortal words of James Cagney, “what have we got he-yah?”

Yes, Twin Peaks has returned after 25 years. For a story that hinged on a murder of a lead character who is dead from the first moment, we find the new show starting with long-dead Laura Palmer in flashback telling Agent D.B. Cooper that she will see him again in 25 years.

That marvelous opening music is back.

Well, he-yah we are.

It doesn’t take long for the Lunacy to set in.  Director David Lynch clearly is ready for his old series to begin afresh. Dead actors are as apparent has dead characters. All you can do is hold on for as long as possible, until vertigo sets in or a bad case of dyspepsia forces you to give up.

Lynch has made very few films over the past 10 years but now in one season, he’s going to do the equivalent of nine feature films. However, he clearly is enjoying himself.

You will see A glass box under observation by three cameras controlled by a mysterious billionaire not named Trump. You will find two dead bodies mismatched in a bed. You will find the magnificent Douglas firs of Twin Peaks echoing like the towers of New York City with wind between them. Lynch can do things like that.

The series Twin Peaks has now reached cult status in mythical terms. It was always a cult show from its opening moments 25 years ago. Now it is off the charts. For 18 hours.

If you’ve never seen the show, you will be as confused as anyone who has seen all of the early episodes from the original two-year run 25 years ago by the end of the first hour.

The best we can do is monitor the situation and present you with updates. You can’t spoil anything that’s based on rot setting in. Fear not.

Everywhere a Movie Set in La-La Land

DATELINE: Movie Myths in Song & Dance

lalla land

 

You may remember La La Land as the film that won the Oscar for five minutes. It was a mistake, for sure. We aren’t sure if the film is supposed to be a take off, or a throwback, or just to feel good old-fashioned musical. It may be much more.

La la Land is some mystic, mythic American place where gridlock results in a mile-long sing-along.  If this is your cup of tea, stay out of Starbucks. If you love movies, this has more movie references than a Mel Brooks comedy. Yet, this one is a romantic gem.

Director Damien Chazelle manages to squeeze everything from Fellini’s 8 & a Half to Rebel without a Cause into his film, while resonating Gene Kelly’s American in Paris.

Ryan Gosling’s character wants to single-handedly save jazz for a new generation—and Chazelle does too. We thought there must be a trick to Gosling’s piano performance, which is bravura at the least. He sings and dances too.

Emma Stone’s eyes may be reminiscent of Bette Davis, but she is show busy to the nth degree. Attention, movie fans, we have a movie here, right down to the fluorescent green drapes out of Vertigo.

Dreams in La-La Land may be achievable—but at great cost, though the journey is richly detailed in this hypnotic movie.

The last musical we enjoyed was A Chorus Line, which we saw a dozen times because our friend Jimmy Kirkwood wrote it. He loved show biz stories too, and this would have grabbed him.

Though this movie missed out on its big Oscar, it’s the sort that will live in legend and re-telling and re-viewing in the generations to come. You cannot miss this film and call yourself a fan of Hollywood, jazz, or creative impulse.

Antidote to Perry Mason and Precursor of Law & Order

DATELINE:  The Defenders

son & father defenders

The precursor to Law & Order, and arguably the best legal show ever on television, The Defenders has finally come to DVD with its first complete season. Back in 1961, you had a choice of two shows going head to head: Perry Mason with Raymond Burr—and the more socially conscious, New York-filmed show with E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as his son.

Back in those days Reed played Ken Preston, and was considered an up-and-coming dramatic star. You may wonder why he chose to move into sit-com after seeing him here. E.G. Marshall was an unusual lead character, a highly paid lawyer who often gave bad advice or even made a bad decision. Unlike Mason, Marshall’s Preston even lost cases often.

The show remains remarkable, topical, and intelligent, ready for discovery by a generation that likely never heard of it. However, they will know the guest stars. It reads like a litany of New York stage actors and movie stars in their early days.

In the first few episodes, the show tackled mercy killing, traumatic stress disorder, multiple personalities and legal insanity, and drug addiction. It shocked audiences of the early 1960s.

It also gave many actors a chance at a serious television drama in the wake of the Golden Age of anthology shows. You will see Gene Hackman and Jack Klugman in one drama, another with 1930s character actor Frank McHugh and Western star Clu Gulager. Also on tap is Frank Gorshin playing a nightclub imitator of movie stars with multiple personalities—one who has committed murder.  And, almost in premonition of his future as the father of the Brady Bunch, Robert Reed plays opposite 9-year old Richard Thomas in his pre-Waltons days.

A prison show featured an unbilled Godfrey Cambridge and a costar Ossie Davis with Gomer Pyle’s Frank Sutton as a psychotic rioting prisoner.

The first season is now available, but future seasons were considered even higher quality by viewers. This is a treat that should not be missed by Law & Order fans—and those who appreciate solid drama. And, E.G. Marshall was always marvelous.