Saturday movie #7

Good Night, And Good Luck.
Good Night, And Good Luck.

Cindy and I went to see “Good Night, And Good Luck.” when it came out in 2005. At the time I thought that it was just an historical drama about the communist witch hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, and the reaction of Edward R. Murrow of CBS news. It does a fine job on that level, focusing on a few incidents in a troubled time. But that is just the surface.

When I watched the movie on Saturday, I was struck again about how much the movie is something of a cautionary tale about the relationships between politics, the news media, and entertainment. In some respects the movie seems more enlightening and relevent today than it did ten years ago.

Many of my favorite actors are in the cast. George Clooney plays Fred Friendly, who was Murrow’s friend and co-producer of “See It Now”. Clooney also co-wrote and directed the movie.

David Straithairn plays Edward R. Murrow. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal. I had seen Straithairn in many roles in many movies but never caught his name until this movie. My second favorite role of his was as Erwin in “Sneakers.”

Pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. plays Joseph Wershba; Jeff Daniels plays Sig Mickelson; and Frank Langella (post Dracula and pre-Nixon) plays William Paley.

There are a lot of other familiar faces in the cast; and other historic figures, such as Senator McCarthy appear in archive footage. The movie is in black and white. Everything seems true to the time it is portraying. I am surprised that no one developed lung cancer from all of the cigarette smoking that goes on in the film.

There is one more reason I recommend this movie, and that is the music. Dianne Reeves and a small jazz combo did the sound track for the movie, and appear in a number of scenes. The soundtrack won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. If you don’t want to see the movie, at least listen to the music.

Saturday movie #6

A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda

It has taken a few days, but I’m finally getting around to writing about the movie I watched on Saturday. It was one of my favorite comedies “A Fish Called Wanda.” You might have thought, based on past writings, that I don’t watch comedies; but I do. I’m just very  particular about what I think is funny. “A Fish Called Wanda ” is very funny!

The story was conceived by John Cleese, who also worked on the screenplay with director Charles Crichton. Most people in the U.S., including me, became aware of Cleese as a member of Monty Python. I also remember hearing recordings of an earlier radio program he had been on, “I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again.” In “A Fish Called Wanda,” Cleese plays barrister Archie Leach. You probably know that Archibald “Archie” Leach was Cary Grant’s birth name.

Fellow Python alum, Michael Palin, plays animal lover Ken Pile who suffers through most of the picture. I love it that he is able to yell “Revenge!” near the end of the movie.

Kevin Kline plays Otto. It seems to me that Kline refuses to be typecast in the roles that he chooses. Otto reads philosophy to prove that he is intelligent. Ah, if only that was all it took. One regret that I have in life is that Kline and I attended Indiana University at the same time, but I never met him. Of course, if we had been in the same degree program…but we had different goals in life.

That brings us to Jamie Lee Curtis. She plays Wanda Gershwitz in this funny caper movie. Every man in the movie wants her to be his love interest, and she plays it for all she is worth. I have to admit that while she is an attractive woman ( the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh after all), I never saw her as a sex symbol…until this film. It was like she could throw a switch and turn on the sex appeal. It amazed me!

So, as always, I’m not giving spoilers, or very much information about the actual picture. I encourage you to watch “A Fish Called Wanda” either for the first time, or as revisiting an old friend.

Saturday movie #5

Eye of the Needle
Eye of the Needle

Tonight the Oscars will be given out to people in the film industry by people in the film industry. Let us hope that no one gets a broken arm from patting themselves on the back. In honor of the Academy Awards I am writing about a movie that got no nominations for an Oscar. It seems fitting.

Yesterday I watched “Eye of the Needle,” which is a 1981 film based on Ken Follett’s 1978 novel. The novel was originally titled “Storm Island,” scene of much of the action. And there is a lot of action in the movie.

The basic plot is about a German spy, played by Donald Sutherland, during World War II. He has information about the D-Day invasion that he is trying to get out of England and into the hands of Adolph Hitler. Along the way he meets a married British woman, played by Kate Nelligan, on Storm Island.

I only have two minor complaints about the movie. 1) For me the story seems to move too quickly. I’m pretty sure that is was written and cut that way to keep the excitement level high, so I shouldn’t complain…I suppose. But a more moderately paced movie would have suited me better. 2) Donald Sutherland’s English accent didn’t ring true to me. I’m sure his accent was better than any I could do, and it was consistent throughout the movie, but it struck me as false. Maybe I’ve seen him in too many other movies where he wasn’t using an accent.

Offsetting my quibbles was the fact that one of the most minor roles in the movie, Squadron Leader Blenkinsop, was played by one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was credited as the last actor in order of appearance. At least he got a credit.

I like thrillers, and this movie was certainly thrilling. There is no air of inevitability in the way the movie ends, even though we know how the war ended. I recommend that you find a copy of the movie and watch it…unless you are 13 or younger.

Saturday…er…make that Sunday movie #4

Dodge City
Dodge City

There is a reason that I don’t have a movie from Saturday to write about I didn’t watch any movies on Saturday, so I’m making up for it on Sunday. In my next post I’ll explain why I didn’t watch any movies on Saturday. Today’s movie is “Dodge City” starring Errol Flynn and the lovely Olivia de Havilland.

Like most movies set in the historical American west, there is very little historical fact in the movie. But it is still a movie worth watching. Westerns are often used as morality plays, and good usually wins out in the end. I grew up watching these movies on television when I was very young. That’s why I am such a good person, I suppose. Do I hear sniggering in the balcony?

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz who also directed Flynn and de Havilland in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Captain Blood.” They also starred together in five other movies, many of which I like very much. I was surprised to learn later in my life that they weren’t married to each other. Of the two, I believe that de Havilland was the better actor. Or maybe I was just enthralled with her good looks. I can be shallow that way.

Also in the movie was Alan Hale, frequent sidekick to Flynn and father to The Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island.” Bruce Cabot played the villain and Victor Jory was his main henchman. Ann Sheridan was the singer and dancer in the saloon. Ward Bond also had a small role in the movie. I had forgotten that.

I had also forgotten that the temperance meeting that Alan Hale’s character attended was put on by the Pure Prairie League. And yes, that was the inspiration of the name for the Country Western group.

I’ve read that “Dodge City” inspired Mel Brook’s “Blazing Saddles.” I suppose that could be correct. I just know that I enjoy watching the film every couple of years. It made for a fun Sunday afternoon.

I hope to be back on my Saturday movie write-up next week.

Saturday movie #3

The Company You Keep
The Company You Keep

For those of you who have long memories, I mentioned this week’s movie in a post back in December of 2013. I believe I devoted a few sentences to it then. I’ll write more today.

The Company You Keep is based on a novel by Neil Gordon. The story is set in the mid 2000’s and involves former members of the Weather Underground. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because, you know, spoilers. I am not a fan of spoilers, no matter how old the book or movie might be. Shia LeBeouf’s character is not one of the former members of the Underground, but is rather, a career hungry reporter. I did want to make that clear.

I should probably tell you that I read the novel a number of years before the movie came out, and I loved it. For me it captured the spirit of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The movie tried, and in some respects succeeded in capturing it as well. But a movie doesn’t have the time to spend on that sort of background.

The movie casting was excellent. I was particularly impressed with Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Sharon Solarz and Julie Christie as Mimi Lurie. Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins were also very good. I hate to admit it, but I was bothered by Robert Redford. As director and one of the producers, I understand why he cast himself as the lead. But I have to say that I thought he looked too old for the part. It could be that his makeup seemed uneven in the course of the film. In some cases it looked as if he was wearing too much makeup, and in other scenes he looked totally washed out. I am not knocking his acting skills. If it weren’t for the way he appeared, he could totally sell the part.

But that aside, I really like this movie. I would recommend it to anyone. I like the novel better, but the movie is fine.

***

Big Brother or Coincidence? Last week’s movie was The Big Fix, remember? When I checked my email this morning, I found a recommendation from Amazon.com to purchase the book that the movie was based upon. Now, I doubt that Amazon’s recommendation algorithm reads Classical Gasbagbut I’ll be checking their recommendations closer in the future.

Saturday movie #2

The Big Fix
The Big Fix

As Cindy’s friends gathered to play cards last night, I settled in to watch my Saturday night movie pick, The Big Fix, starring Richard Dreyfus and Bonnie Bedelia. This is a mystery and Dreyfus plays the Private Investigator, Moses Wine. It was released in 1978. Yes, I like older movies. You had better get used to it.

In the movie, Wine is brought in to investigate a political smear campaign, but it quickly adds in a search for missing people, a terrorist plot and a murder investigation. While the action takes place in the present, the 1970’s, there are many roots back in the politically and socially turbulent 1960’s. That is definitely my cup of tea.

There are many humorous elements in the movie. I particularly liked Wine taking his son’s on his investigations because he had custody at the time. Also his communist aunt Sonya was a real treat.

Some elements of older films can be jarring. The clothing style sensibilities of the 1970’s are always cringe-worthy to me. The fact that in this movie John Lithgow had long brown hair as well as a beard and mustache surprised me. I didn’t recognize Lithgow until I heard his voice. I guess it had been so long since I saw the movie that I forgot he was even in the cast.

I wouldn’t go so far as to classify this as a great movie, but for me it was a satisfying movie. I’ll try to not wait so long between screenings in the future.

***

If you are wondering why I watched this movie rather than the Republican Presidential Debate, it is simple. I knew that all of the over the top statements would be on the morning news. I also went through much of the live tweeting from the debate. I don’t think that I missed anything of value to my decision making.

Saturday movie and other stuff

Absence of Malice
Absence of Malice

More about this movie further down the page.

I received a notification from WordPress that I’ve begun my fourth year with Classical Gasbag. I knew that it was about time for that anniversary to roll around. Knowing that, I made my annual change to the header picture. I also changed the title font. Did you notice? I would guess that it didn’t grab your eye. I may change the theme later if I get bored. But for now, those are the cosmetic changes.

This year I also plan on at least one post per week that will feature a movie that I watch on Saturday. Ever since Cindy started playing cards with her friends every Saturday night, I have been watching movies because…well for various reasons. I have a large collection of movies on DVD, and our local library is also well stocked.

Don’t expect an in-depth analysis of the movie. I am no critic. I’ll probably just stick to things such as my background with the movie, who the stars are, and if I like the movie or not. If I can come up with some clever graphical representation I’ll use that as well, but stars and thumbs have already been taken. I’ll accept any ideas that you may have.

Last night I pulled out my DVD of Absence of Malice. The movie was released in 1981, and, in my opinion was one of the best that year. It didn’t win any Oscars, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t deserve a couple. The stars were Paul Newman and Sally Fields, with a strong supporting cast. This was the first movie where I noticed Bob Balaban; it was probably the way he played with rubber bands. Wilford Brimley also put in a fine, though short,  performance. I didn’t see it in the theater, but I watched it as soon as it came to cable, back in my bachelor days living in the upstairs of a house in Auburn.

The plot of the story is basically how a leaked story to the press by a prosecutor can affect a man’s life and the lives of those around him. But the movie is more than that. It gives insight into the way some news people make decisions and react to the consequences. Even more, it is a study in the differences between perceptions and truth. That’s something we all need to be reminded of. Remember, don’t mistake the map for the terrain.

Now I didn’t really give anything away about the actual story, I hope, so find a copy of the movie if you haven’t seen it already or watch it again if it has been awhile since you’ve seen it. Wilford Brimley’s performance near the end of the movie is worth the price of admission or rental or whatever/however you pay.

Feel free to tell me about your reactions to the movie.

#10 of 501: Charade

Charade
Charade

I’ll bet that you thought that Cindy and I had given up on watching movies from the book 501 Must-See Movies. I had pretty much given up as well. But the other night I was able to convince Cindy to watch something other than a British murder mystery. I love them too; but I also like a little variety, leavened with a hearty dose regularity, in my life. I don’t do tacos every Tuesday, but I do watch an episode of Pie In The Sky with my lunch on most Mondays.

Sorry about that digression. We watched another favorite from my youth, Charade. The stars are Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Having Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy and others in the film didn’t hurt. It was released in 1963, and I remember going to see the film when I was in high school. Those were innocent years when the characters had to explain what the CIA was, and soon enough after WWII that the plot was plausible.

The screenplay by Peter Stone is a melange of comedy, mystery, suspense, and love story. Most of the comedic heavy lifting goes to Grant, who was a master, but Matthau’s character also had some brilliant moments. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you saw the 2002 movie The Truth About Charlie you know how Charade ends. My own taste prefers Cary Grant to Mark Wahlberg and Audrey Hepburn to Thandie Newton, but I’m a geezer.

I read that Charade started as a screenplay that Peter Stone couldn’t sell, so he adapted it to a novel. Once it was in novel form and selling, he was able to sell the screenplay. When I was younger I never bothered to check the writing credits on films, so when I read the novel I remember thinking that the movie had been very faithful to the book. Now I know that it was the other way around.

OK. Ten down and four hundred ninety-one to go.

Movies, a magazine, and a book

copenhagen
Copenhagen

Saturday evening is my time to watch movies. Cindy always plays cards with her friends, and there is seldom anything worth watching on regular TV with the exception of an occasional IU basketball game. I started watching early yesterday because Cindy went in and worked before her card game. First up was Diamonds Are Forever, the 7th James Bond movie (not counting the, in my opinion, execrable Casino Royale from 1967), starring Sean Connery. From there I went to the Inspector Morse mystery, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. starring John Thaw. Finally I watched a DVD that I had borrowed from our county library, Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is a movie based on a play by Michael Frayn. I believe that it can be found on YouTube, but I like the DVD because it has a section that explains the historical background. Oh, I should tell you that I highly recommend this play. I want to think about it for a while, and then go back and watch it again…probably more than once. I know that while watching it last night I only caught a lot of the surface meaning. It is denser than that.

When I finished watching it I was ready to sit and think deep thoughts. But, I’m not really a deep thinker so instead I read the Bob Dylan interview in AARP Magazine. The article was ostensibly to cover his newest album which contains ten songs from the great American songbook. I shan’t be purchasing that album. I know the songs, and I know Dylan’s voice. It is possible that I would enjoy some of the music, but it doesn’t seem likely.

From that article I went back to reading the autobiography, Who Am I by Pete Townshend. The book is part of the reading challenge that I have set for myself this year (more on that in a soon-to-be post). His humility seems almost as faked as mine is. I mean, can a person (me, not him) who writes about what they did in one evening pretend to be humble?

Movies I didn’t see

I want to stay in bed
I want to stay in bed

Yes, I know I should get out of bed and go in search of a picture; but it is so warm and comfortable under the covers. If I were bright I would find a way to remove the reflection of the flash that is in the window; but I don’t want to get out of bed to work on it. Besides, it was the blue in the sky that caught my attention. I’m staying in bed for a little while longer.

***

In the past I’ve told you about books that were advertised in catalogues that I receive in the mail. The other day I opened the mailbox and found a catalogue of DVDs for sale. Some of the movies look quite interesting. Here are a few that caught my eye.

If I spoke Spanish I would be tempted to buy a copy of Las Mujer Murcielago. According to the as copy, this movie is about “A mad scientist (who) is bent on creating a race of superhumans, and only with the glands of wrestlers can he hope to achieve his evil plan. With wrestlers turning up dead all over Acapulco, the mysterious yet voluptuous crime fighter Batwoman is called in to save the city.” Perhaps if I purchase this amazing sounding movie, Cindy will translate the dialogue for me. I wonder if Batman puts in a cameo appearance?

Then there is the classic Girl Boss Revenge. It is described as follows. “A car loaded with delinquent girls is headed to reform school when it crashes and the girls escape to freedom. The girl boss Komasa and her friends seek refuge in Osaka’s hardcore gang territory, only to become currency in a brutal gang transaction. Now, the girls are out for revenge.” I never would have guessed that the girls wouldn’t be safely delivered to reform school. What a surprise! Thank goodness there are English subtitles. Cindy can’t translate Japanese.

One of the more intriguing movies appears to be Blondes Have More Guns“A scarf, a chainsaw, and a mysterious blonde are the only clues to a growing number of stiffs (and not all of them are dead bodies). To solve the case, the police turn to trigger-happy Harry Bates, his partner Dick Smoker, and his faithful dog (who seems to be a guy in a dog suit).” I wonder who wrote the screenplay?

I don’t know how I managed to miss seeing these movies when they were first released. Maybe it was because the first two were released in other countries. I have no excuse for missing Blondes Have More Guns. The library doesn’t have any of these titles in their collection, so I can’t borrow them. I would order these DVDs, but unfortunately I have put myself on a strict budget. I can only sigh and whimper, “If only…”