Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dancing Irish Lawmen, or something like that

I keep seeing more and more movies I want to write something about, so I'd better get something down before the queue gets any longer.

Kill The Irishman (2001)  - Somebody needs to explain to me how we got to the point where a mob movie with stylistic and cast connections to Tarantino, Scorsese, The Godfather and The Sopranos ends up only getting a token release in a few "arthouse cinemas".  That's just what happened to this film.  It is the true story of Danny Green, an Irish dockworker in Cleveland who worked his way up to be head of the local union, got in good with the local Mafia and eventually started a war with them which caused the bombing deaths of dozens of criminals as the mob tried to kill him over and over without success.

Like a classic western, you know how the story is going to go but it is so well told it's a pleasure to see it unfold, even if it nods directly to Godfather in a couple of scenes. It stars Irish actor Ray Stevenson who is very good as Green and he is supported by a stunning list of familiar crime movie and TV badasses including  Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony LoBianco, Christopher Walken, Vinnie Jones, Robert Davi, and Stephen R. Schrripa AKA Bobby Bacala from The Sopranos. When Paul Sorvino shows up late in the film playing Mafia don "Fat Tony" Salerno, it feels inevitable, not a surprise.

The movie is classic "tough guy" entertainment yet they couldn't find room for it in the multiplexes among all the CGI animated features, video game-derived fantasys and lunkheaded fratboy comedies around. Sad, just sad.

Lawman (1970) - By 1970 the Western genre was in total thrall to the gritty, hard-nosed sensibilities of the European "spaghetti westerns" and The Wild Bunch.  This is a fine example of what resulted.  Burt Lancaster plays a marshall who comes to a strange town to arrest a bunch of cowboys who had ridden into his town a few months earlier, shot up the place and accidentally killed an old man.  He finds that everyone around is hostile to him because the cowboys all work for the town's big rancher, played by Lee J. Cobb, a man everyone around owes their livelihood to.

It's the sort of tragic film where everybody knowingly acts out of duty or pride rather than common sense. The marshall knows that when he brings the men back they'll just probably pay a fine rather than be charged with murder, yet he goes after them all the same. The rancher knows he can make the entire thing go away with some apologies and money but some of his men insist on gunning for the marshall and wind up dead, meaning he now feels obligated to go after him.

The film shows its Euro influences in details like the realistic bloody shootings and having most of the local citizens including the mayor and the local marshall, played by Robert Ryan, spending their evenings at the town brothel where the women look older and plainer than the usual run of Western movie prostitutes.  Lancaster and Ryan are great as always as are supporting players like Sheree North, Robert Duvall and Richard Jordan but the best work comes from Lee J. Cobb, who constantly plays the rancher as a man tired of violence and death, not the blustery villain you might expect. Michael Winner directed this with maybe too many zoom shots but he gets the feeling of the story right.  I'm at a loss at to why he is so largely considered a hack. 

The Dance Of Death (1969) - My response to Netflix's upcoming price hike is going to be cutting loose of the streaming service I rarely use before the new pricing starts on September 1.  Before that I'll go over there more often to cherry pick a few things I might otherwise not see, like this 1969 film production of August Strindberg's famous play starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Geraldine McEwan (right) as an Army captain and his wife trapped in a hellish marriage. The two spend three acts torturing each other with insults, adulteries, betrayals and threats made palpable by the superb, roaring histrionics of Olivier and McEwan's subtler playing. By the way, I'd only seen McEwan before playing Miss Marple in recent years.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that back in '69 she was a babe.

The story drags a bit in the third act which feels like an epilogue to the preceding action designed to leave the audience with a somewhat happy ending and spends far too much time on the soppy characters of the couple's daughter and her pop-eyed cadet suitors but when Olivier and McEwan are snarling at each other, it is wonderful fun.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cuckoos Will Dance!!!

Below is a press release that appeared as part of a release annoucement on the blog.  I've read this over and over but I can still scarcely believe it.


Celebrating the genius of the most beloved comedy team of all time, Laurel and Hardy - The Essential Collection debuts in a stunning 10-disc set on October 25, 2011 from RHI Entertainment and Vivendi Entertainment. With a comedic style that defined an era and created a legacy that is still celebrated today, 58 of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s talking shorts and feature films, produced under legendary movie mogul Hal Roach from 1929 through 1940, are now available for the first time in the U.S. all together in one magnificent collection.

Transferred in high definition for the first time and digitally enhanced for home viewing in the finest quality available to date, the set contains favorites that have been enjoyed for generations including Helpmates, Hog Wild, Another Fine Mess, Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, and the Academy Award winning film The Music Box.

Laurel and Hardy - The Essential Collection comes housed in collectible, book-style packaging with an extensive, detailed film guide. The set also boasts over two hours of special features including exclusive, never-before-seen interviews with comedy legends Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Lewis, Tim Conway and more, who discuss the enduring impact and influence of Laurel and Hardy.

Additional features include commentaries by Laurel and Hardy aficionados, along with a virtual location map that allows viewers to take an interactive tour of the iconic places in and around Los Angeles where Laurel and Hardy filmed.
In a word...YAHOOOO!!!!  Somebody will probably bitch that their silent shorts aren't included but who cares?  A Region 1 comprehensive Laurel and Hardy set is so overdue it's not even funny. I already know exactly what I want for Christmas if there was anybody around to get it for me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not Horrible Bosses

The alleged comedy Horrible Bosses comes out in theaters today. I have no interest in seeing this movie. From the TV ads alone it looks about as funny as a severe hernia and I have a lot of trouble swallowing the plotline that some undersized nerd would complain about Jennifer Aniston putting the moves on him. I have been surprised though at the favorable critical reaction the movie has been getting, particularly from unexpected sources like Rex Reed and Leonard Maltin.

One note struck in most of the reviews I've read bothers me though, that everyone can identify with this film because everybody has had terrible bosses they wanted to see come to a bad end.  Oh really? Maybe if you're in your early 20's and balk at the idea of anyone telling you what to do, but us older folks?  I've only had one boss in my life that I really considered a disaster and that was only for three years.

Then again, I have a sort of unique situation. I work for the Navy and have had an officer in the LT/LCDR/CDR range as my supervisor since 1985. The unique part is that military people don't stay in one job forever. They do three to four years at one post and then move on to another job somewhere in another part of the world. Therefore in the last 26 years I've had 13 military bosses and the great majority have been fine to work for. They've all been different, some quiet, some the type who'd go out to a bar with you after work. One was a college football fanatic. One always decorated the office for holidays and brought in cakes for peoples' birthdays. One called me into her office one mid-December, told me I had a ridiculous amount of use-or-lose leave on the books and that I was going on holiday leave immediately until January 8th, a three week period. The point is most of them have been genuinely nice, decent people who have treated me fairly and respectfully and been a pleasure to work with, not the Wicked Dragons of this movie.

Between 2005 and 2008, I did have one boss who was a terror.  I don't want to go into detail about what she did but she made my life miserable. My consolation was that I wasn't alone. She treated everyone in our office badly driving some people to tears and she even treated other officers like crap and drove the most mild-mannered, even-tempered people into profane tirades. Fortunately in the fall of 2008 she left and our entire agency breathed a collective sigh of relief. The three people who have held that job since her have been saints in comparisons and have even all joked with me at times about the bad old days.

So even when I had a horrible boss, it wasn't for very long,  one of many reasons why I'll be avoiding this movie like the proverbial plague for now. Actually if there's one thing I want to do this weekend, it's finally get off my fat ass and go see The Tree Of Life.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Now What?

I'm about to be at a point where for the first time in over 20 years, I'll be wondering what to do with most of my free time.  Since the 80's a large part of my time outside of work has been dedicated to writing reviews for one publication or another, first, movie reviews for the Prince Georges' Post, then music reviews for OPtion Magazine, and since about 1990 Jazz CD reviews for Cadence Magazine.  The first two of those titles bit the dust long ago and Cadence is going away at the end of the year. More to the point I have just finished the major work on my last reviews for Cadence. In addition at the end of this month I will finally be paying off a large debt that has been hanging over me for some time, so I will soon have both more time and spending money on my hands.

Now I know there are a lot of practical things I could and should do when I get more cash but the fact is I'm an unrepentant music and movie geek and some money will be going towards those things though it's daunting to think of how much is out there.  The mainstream media keeps blithely saying that physical media like CDs, DVDs and books are dying out but despite their blather, all that stuff keeps coming out week after week and there is always something new arriving to attract people into various genres and niches like me. There are books on the work of comics artists like Bill Everett, Milt Gross, John Stanley, and Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, collections of Mickey Mouse and Popeye comic strips, and a 3-DVD set of the first 37 Tom & Jerry cartoons in chronological order all either out or about to come out. As for music the Jazz specialist label Mosaic alone has put out box sets on the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jimmy Lunceford, Sam Rivers and Charles Tolliver in recent months. None of this counts things that actually involve leaving the house like going to a movie. (I still intend to see The Tree Of Life while it's in theatres.)

The killer for me in all this is not money but time. I've seen fellow geeks in other blogs come to the realization that you cannot see/hear everything that is out there, especially with both the new and old material constantly being released and all the venues available now for listening or watching.  Even if you could devote 24 hours a day to this stuff you would never catch up. So I'm not going to worry about it. I am aware of all the more popular work out there I haven't seen and I may get around to experiencing it someday but I won't feel unfulfilled if I never do. I may watch Saving Private Ryan or Anchorman if the opportunity comes along but if Turner Classic is showing a Laurel and Hardy marathon or Celine And Julie Go Boating opposite it, I know what I'm doing.  As for music I am far more knowledgeable about Kurt Elling and Julie Tippetts than I ever will be about Lil' Wayne and Beyonce and I am fine with that.  From now on I will able to spend most of my free time on things I really enjoy and that will be an interesting change,