Golden Oldies (well, maybe they're bronze-ish)
Reviews by Ken Burke
I invite you to join me on a regular basis to see how my responses to current cinematic offerings compare to the critical establishment, which I’ll refer to as either the CCAL (Collective Critics at Large) if they agree with me or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) if they choose to disagree.
|I don't mean to denigrate the real horrors of people dying from COVID-19, but maybe we |
can find some humor within this craziness especially when many mistakenly assume
you get coronavirus from Corona beer (no relation between them; in fact, at this point
a couple of beers might help take your mind off the growing panics about the virus).
(How things change over just a few days since I started writing initial thoughts for this posting!) Due to the current coronavirus health considerations for both my wife, Nina, and myself (ages 69, 72 respectively, plus a compromised immune system for her) we didn’t go out to the moviehouses last weekend; instead I chose a couple of Netflix streamings that were playing last fall I never got around to seeing, finally catching up now. Both have passed their “best if [seen] by” dates so I’ll keep my comments to the realm I’d usually call Short Takes because you may have watched them already long ago, you have too many other more current matters to address than to read our usual lengthy Two Guys postings, or you don’t care to pay for Netflix streaming (cheap for just a month, though, getting you access to lots of options [no kickbacks to Two Guys; no scam here if you want to sign up for awhile, plus a 1-month-fee’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a year’s worth of Amazon Prime but we also get that anyway—often for deliveries of Nina’s peculiar medications, lately for the fancy catfood our picky “companions” insist on far too often]). Neither of these reviewed movies are exactly “rush-out-to-see” (or, more accurately, rush to your computer/smart TV to stream), but, given what was selling at a much-less-than-normal-pace last weekend because of crowd concerns (although I salute my local Landmark Theaters for their initial attempt at limiting sales of each current showing to half of a room’s capacity so patrons who did choose to go could more easily spread out away from each other), I wasn’t much interested in the new options anyway—sorry, I Still Believe (Andrew Irvin, Jon Erwin), Bloodshot (Dennis S.F. Wilson), and The Hunt (Craig Zobel), but you’ve have done without me pandemic or not—so it was just as well to use the time catching up on 2 older releases I always had some interest in that aren’t so removed from now as to be totally irrelevant to current commentary, it’s just they had more immediate competition back when they were theatrically-available (check my Archive list to the right of this screen for what was playing last October/November for verification); now I can finally bring my curiosity to closure, although a key question to explore about both of them is "Why recreate the past when it’s already available in easily-accessible-recorded-fashion?" (Hey, Mr. Spielberg, I hope you’ve got a good answer ready for that concern when your version of West Side Story finally comes to our screens mid-December.)
Dolemite Is My Name (Craig Brewer, 2019) rated R
Eddie Murphy reclaims his screen prominence portraying actual entertainer/ filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore who rose to some degree of recognition during the 1970s Blaxploitation movie craze after establishing himself as a profane comic on stage and record; Murphy expertly exploits how Moore was more self-confident than talented but managed his success nevertheless.
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
As with Echo in the Canyon (reviewed below) the CCAL response to Dolemite Is My Name was certainly enough to intrigue my interest months ago (Rotten Tomatoes-surveyed-critics offered a whopping 97% cluster of positive reviews, even as the ones at Metacritic were more in their usual-restrained-mode of an average 76% score [still higher than any of the 2020 releases both they and I have addressed so far this year—more details on both in the Related Links section far below]), with most of the attention going to Eddie Murphy’s performance which did win him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, just as the movie was a Globes finalist in their Best Picture companion to Drama. While neither of those noms resulted in wins, the movie as a whole, Murphy as Best Actor, and other aspects of Dolemite … picked up a lot of nominations along with a decent number of wins from various critics groups although as a Netflix original mainly as a draw for streaming customers (with a limited theatrical release that, like other Netflix originals, plays on the big screen mainly to qualify for awards considerations) it isn’t tracked for ticket sales by Box Office Mojo so I have no idea how much money nor streaming-audience-size it achieved. What it did, though, was introduce me to entertainer/filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy), whose career I was completely unaware of, despite his Dolemite (D’Urville Martin, 1975; trailer here) movie (and its ongoing sequels into 2002) being part of the 1970s Blaxploitation era where Hollywood (and independent filmmakers like Moore joining in with the flow) set out to appeal to Black audiences with stories generally characterized by limited-script-sophistication, low-budget-production-values, minimal-intentions-for-crossover-appeal-to-White-viewers, yet were still successful enough in their intentionally-limited-concepts because they featured Black characters as protagonists (often in oppositional-attitudes to the White Establishment) rather than as supporting characters, although some such as Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971) and Super Fly (Gordon Parks Jr., 1972) were mainstream hits as well. What we get in this ... My Name docudrama is Moore struggling to be taken seriously in 1970s L.A. as a musician (local disc jockey won’t play his record) or comedian (manager of the club where he works nights only lets him do a 5-min. MC intro of other acts, not perform his own material) until he starts getting influenced by a local homeless guy, Ricco (Ron Cephas Jones), so Moore takes this guy's stories, puts them into extremely-profane-poetry, creates the persona of Dolemite, then becomes a hit at the club, leading to borrowing cash from his aunt (Luenell) to produce a comedy album, Eat Out More Often, which proves popular enough through direct sales (from his car trunk) to earn a record company contract, followed by a standup-tour of the South, where he meets singer Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), convincing her to join with him in his act.
As Moore’s (on the left just above) success grows he convinces his record producers to advance him enough money to produce an action/sex/kung-fu mess of a movie starring Dolemite, written by a-higher-aspiring-but-accommodating-playwright, Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key), co-starring minor-celebrity D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes)—seen in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967) and Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)—who joins in only because he’s allowed to direct; most of the production crew are UCLA film students, anxious to get some credits wherever they may be found. ⇒After completion of his project, Moore can’t find a distributor until he’s back on a comedy tour, gets encouragement from Indiana DJ Bobby Vale (Chris Rock) to show his film in this local market, leading to local success followed by Hollywood exec Lawrence Woolner (Bob Odenkirk) of Dimension Pictures who takes on full distribution resulting in terrible reviews but active audience acceptance, so much so that at a midnight showing there was such a big crowd the theater added a 2am show with Moore keeping the waiting patrons entertained out in the street until the later screening began.⇐ Although this movie is a fictionalized-dramatization of Moore’s big breakthrough you can visit this site to see that much of what’s presented really happened (in one way or another) along with this one (a 6:35 video) to learn the top 5 facts about Murphy’s presentation of Moore. However, based on that trailer noted above, I have minimal interest in watching the original Dolemite movie (especially paying even $2.99 [Amazon Prime] or $3.99 [You Tube] for it—although it’s available for free on Tubi, but even that hasn’t enticed me yet to invest 90 min. of my life into it) when what’s available in Murphy’s interpretation seems a lot more useful to see. Still, I’m taken back to that concluding concern from this posting’s opening paragraph, why recreate this seemingly-subpar-experience (although the 1975 Dolemite does get 64% positive responses at RT [based on a mere 14 reviews, though], a 67% average MC score, but I can’t help but see this support as being based on much else than a quirky-embrace of a funky-near-failure) when the original’s easily available to see (or hear, regarding those ribald comedy albums) directly?
As you’ll find in the second item connected to this movie farther below in Related Links, much of the impetus in creating Dolemite Is My Name comes from Murphy himself wanting to acknowledge Moore’s influence on his own career, with my acknowledgement that watching Murphy for almost 2 hours is a considerable upgrade from Moore’s actuality (charming as he may be in his original, mediocre big-screen-presentation), although, despite all the positive press Murphy got from this role, now that I’ve seen it I still can’t quite replace any of my Top 5 Best Actor Oscar preferences, although it’s a close call between him and my previously-chosen-#5, Adam Sandler, for Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie, 2019; review in our January 2, 2020 posting). I will honor Moore (and Murphy’s incarnation of him), though, with my usual-review-wrap-up of a Musical Metaphor by linking him as he’s often known now as the “Godfather of Rap” to the “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (1965 single hit, Grammy winner for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording; live versions on several Brown albums beginning with 1980’s Hot on the One) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMoEXGbdyc0 (2:58, featuring poor visuals but lots of motion, from a 1965 performance on the pop-TV-show, Shindig) although this longer version (14:57) from the Paris Opera House, 1967, is well worth your time.* Murphy’s version of Moore reminds me of Brown’s “Papa” in terms of moving with the times, making an impact because “He ain’t no drag [he’s] got a brand new bag.” Apparently it was best appreciated in Moore’s obscene comic routines, but his own faith in his public appeal give him some recognition in the “crazy scene” of Blaxploitation movies as well, turning what might be called ineptitude into his embraceable-charm.
*James Brown and the Famous Flames played the first concert I attended, sometime in fall 1965 when I was in high school in Galveston, TX (one of about 3 White guys in the building; a useful lesson in reverse-social-standing for me during a time of rampant racism); in that “Papa’s …” came out in June that year he probably performed it that night, but, honestly, I can’t remember. What I do recall is his standard showstopper, “Please Please Please” (1956 hit) which I’ll offer you here from the October 1964 T.A.M.I. (Teenage Awards Music International or Teen Age Music International) Concert, filmed then released as a documentary of that event in December ’64. This 1:52:26 movie, featuring, among others, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Supremes—as well as James Brown—is available in full here for free.
Echo in the Canyon (Andrew Slater, 2018) rated PG-13
Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob, fully immersed himself (and us) in his fascination with the Laurel Canyon (L.A.) sound of the mid-1960s as the folk-rock movement began to emerge so he interviewed members of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas & The Papas, along with Brian Wilson, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and others, then re-recorded some of that terrific music.
Here’s the trailer:
Normally I’d say “Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above,” but in this case there’s “nothing, really nothing to turn off”* so carry on.
*Lyric from Bob Dylan’s "Visions of Johanna" (on his 1966 Blonde on Blonde album, which has no connection to Echo ..., but I couldn’t resist hearing it again nor sneaking in here for Nina's delight).
So, you’re Jakob Dylan with a successful musical career of your own (including 2 Grammy awards) plus some likely casual help in being around other music stars due to the fame of your cultural-icon/musical-genius/Nobel Prize-winning father (what was his name again?), but because you were born in Dec. 1969 before growing up since the age of 3 in L.A. you were likely eventually aware of the famed Laurel Canyon music scene (1965-’67) yet were too young to directly experience it. So, what do you do when a fascination with those tunes takes control? Well, of course, you gather up some other notable musicians of roughly your generation (Fiona Apple, Beck, Jade Castrinos, Norah Jones Cat Power, Regina Spector), pull together an album of remade-cover-songs from back then, have a concert featuring all of you performing those tunes, and arrange to have a documentary movie made about the whole thing including you doing interviews with performers from that era—Roger McGuinn and David Crosby (The Byrds), Brian Wilson (The Beachboys, with the Pet Sounds album  proving very influential on those other bands who created more of a folk-rock-sound), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, along with old footage of Neil Young), Michelle Phillips (The Mamas & The Papas), plus others who were famous then but not Laurel Canyonites such as Ringo Starr (The Beatles, whose 1965 Rubber Soul album’s also cited as an influence on the Laurel Canyon musical evolution), Graham Nash (the Hollies, although right after this period Nash left that group to join up with Crosby, Stills, and Young), John Sebastian (the Loving Spoonful) and producer Lou Adler, then top it all off with commentary from those who’d become famous just a bit later but admired what they heard from the Laurel Canyon groups, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty (last recorded interviews with him before he died), giving you a concise 82 min. history lesson.
When it’s all put together you get a timeline followed chronologically from Rubber Soul to The Byrds electrifying Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”* to Brian Wilson’s complex studio work to the Buffalo Springfield to The Mamas & The Papas, all intercut with the contemporary interviews, performance footage from the mid-‘60s, some footage of the songs being recorded for the remake-album (including an interesting bit where Buffalo Springfield’s “Questions” [from their 1968 Last Time Around album] includes guitar work by Stills and Eric Clapton, each doing their parts in a studio while listening to other previously-recorded-tracks, even though they’re playing on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean) as well as some live performance of these revived-songs at L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre in 2015 as a 50th anniversary celebration of the Laurel Canyon originals (focused on that area of the city because many of those 1960s musicians lived there, actively interacted, influenced each other). Overall, this is a nice time-capsule, especially for those of us who lived through those years (although for me it was in Texas, not L.A.), maybe also for the younger listeners Jakob D. wanted to share his appreciation of this music with (although he and his impromptu band avoided most of the really big hits of the musicians they so admire in making this new album), with a few useful-inside-info-nuggets (Phillips’ easily-admitted-hedonism; Ringo noting he and George Harrison arriving at a place where many of these others were nude, then scrambled to put on clothes when they saw who was coming in [“That’s not very hippy, is it?”]) plus insert footage from another inspiration for J. Dylan, Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969), which fictionally-chronicles L.A. of about this time, but, truly, except for the unique sight of all these folks in one package I can’t say this overall experience much exceeded just listening to a few “best of” albums, although I guess for programming purposes this might make for a nice short-feature to double up with the 1969 events of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019; review in our August 1, 2019 posting).
*This movie implies (via Crosby commentary) the whole folk-rock movement began with this Byrds’ interpretation of Dylan’s song (his version on the Bringing It All Back Home album, from March 1965, uses mostly acoustic guitar, harmonica, plus some electric guitar enhancement; theirs was a huge hit single released in April, originally on their 1965 debut album [same name as the song], with electric guitars, bass, and drums); however, in an interview with Jakob (second item with Echo ... in Related Links) he claims he didn’t remember Crosby saying that to him, but, as with many Donald Trump-unremembered-statements, it’s there on film for verification, whether Jakob fully agrees with Crosby or not (I have no trouble at all disagreeing with Trump on just about everything).
|Jakob Dylan and Michelle Phillips|
The CCAL was quite supportive of Echo in the Canyon with 92% positive reviews at RT, a 70% MC average score (more details in Related Links, along with other items previously promised there), although audiences got little chance to find it as it opened in mid-May last year (didn’t get to my San Francisco area until well after that) but only reached 147 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters at its height, grossing a mere $3.4 million. If you’re interested, here’s the most relevant Musical Metaphor I can think of, The Mamas & The Papas “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon” (first released as a single, then included on their 1967 Farewell to the First Golden Era greatest hits album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dy3q6aq0eI (a live performance from 1967 or ’68), John Phillps’ commentary on the regular flow of “overnight guests” in the homes of these Laurel Canyon musicmakers (a scandalous situation which I’m sure never happens in today’s popular music scene; wait, what are these “groupies” you’re referring to?) who probably found some solace with John while wife Michelle was off doing who knows what with who knows who (which is what the song, "Go Where You Wanna Go"—on their 1966 If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears debut album—is all about, as she candidly admits [for an era-to-era-comparison, here’s Jakob Dylan and Jade Castrinos performing this song from Echo in the Canyon, both for their album and on stage]).
As noted in the first long paragraph of this posting way up above, the current coronavirus semi-lockdown/epidemic-panic situation has created financial and social-interaction chaos for the film industry, restricting many of us from attending a movie theater for at least the next few weeks (depending, country-by-country, on when local governments decide it’s safe for us to congregate publically in large number again in moviehouses, sporting events, bars, restaurants, etc). A quick look at last weekend’s domestic numbers from Box Office Mojo shows a very anemic financial response even when theaters were still open, a total of about $55.3 million, the worst weekend in ticket-sales-response for northern North America since the beginning of this century (internationally, in that virus concerns are dreadfully-active worldwide, the result was just as bad), a situation Owen Gleiberman of Variety feels will enhance the impact of streaming once this crisis is over (assuming we don’t go into 12 Monkeys [Terry Gilliam, 1995] territory [if you need a refresher on what I’d easily rate as a 5 stars-film, here's one) but won’t ultimately result in a massive move away from the traditional-crowds-at-the-theater-experience (we can all hope), yet for the near future we may see a hybrid-distribution-situation if other studios choose to follow Universal's tactic of offering some of their current releases—The Hunt, The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell; review in our March 4, 2020 posting), Emma (Autumn de Wilde)—on such streaming platforms as iTunes, Amazon Prime, Comcast, and others in various U.S. states for a fee of $20 each for a 48-hour-rental-period, due to the falling-domino-effect of theater-chain-closings-until-further-notice, with the ones I’m currently aware of being Alamo Drafthouse, AMC, Landmark, Odeon (also in the U.K., probably many other chains internationally I don’t know about), and Regal, but given local/state/national regulations I’m sure there are few (if any) U.S. movie theaters currently still in operation right now (here’s a list of some nationwide/regional closures as of today, along with commentary on how postponements of previously-scheduled-releases will complicate this year’s movie calendar in those months ahead).
|An image indicative of the chaos in a futuristic plague-ravaged-world in 12 Monkeys.|
So, where does that leave us at Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark? Largely unknown, at least for the near future; I’ve looked over the available free offerings to me on Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, finding nothing I’m all that interested in seeing I haven’t already reviewed (for that matter, the ones I could rent don’t entice me that much either). Sure, I could offer reviews from DVDs of true classics from Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) to The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) to Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)—all of which define what I’m looking for in a 5 stars-cinematic-experience, but these, and others of their caliber (or at least close to it) from years before this blog began in 2011, have already been written about extensively so I’d likely have nothing useful to contribute in trying to review them at this point. Maybe I’ll just offer some very short posts noting excellent films I’ve seen lately from sources such as Netflix and the Turner Classic Movies TV channel—or others I’d like to recommend—until such time as theaters are allowed to open again. We’ll just have to collectively see what happens as these next few (I hope) coronavirus-focused-weeks evolve, hopefully leaving us more united as an American society and a "global village" (to quote Marshall McLuhan, although there are arguments as to whether that’s a good thing or not) after the shared trauma has subsided. (If not, maybe Two Guys will offer one last look at 12 Monkeys while we bid adieu to our planet, maybe in the process of saving itself from us).
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Here’s more information about Dolemite Is My Name:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5IQnGXF5ho (10:35 interview with actor Eddie Murphy
[about half of this is about Murphy in general, then onto the movie])
Here’s more information about Echo in the Canyon:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axw03KyNx3k (28:48 interview with director Andrew Slater
and singer/movie focus Jakob Dylan [begins with the trailer from the review above])
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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,
https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)
If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world. I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game," offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.
By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 13,570 (we've shot way up in readership from last week’s tally we’re happy to say—I guess quarantined people have almost nothing better to do than read our wacky drivel; as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (Unknown Region, welcome back guys):