The Truth Will Out (at least some of it)
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) when they’re supportive or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) when they go negative.
Bad Education (Cory Finley, 2019) rated TV-MA
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): We’re fully back to “based on a true story” territory this week (even though last week’s posting included a review of True History of the Kelly Gang, but it’s been mocked within Australia as fictitious-twaddle, more about entertainment value than factual accuracy) with the primary spotlight on well-reviewed Bad Education about terrible embezzlement of a Long Island, NY school district by its Superintendent (Hugh Jackman) and an Assistant Super (Alison Janney) to the tune of $11 million (take note of what happens to your tax money intended for school financing), allowing them to live in lavish lifestyles, even as the prestige of the district continued to grow, until she was caught due to huge home-reconstruction-purchases by her adult son, he was accidentally undone by a school newspaper reporter who pushed further than anyone expected into expenses for a massive project at the school, then found much more than she anticipated. Excellent acting, useful moral lessons, proof that indiscriminate criminality can occur anywhere so we must keep the light of public transparency shining bright on all actions of public figures, their uses of public money. Short Takes includes another fact-based-story, The Report, about an even-more-serious-situation regarding the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into CIA torture of suspected al-Qaeda members in the post-9/11/Iraq War-era of the early 2000s where committee staffer Dan Jones (Adam Driver) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening) face fierce resistance from the “spooks” they’re attempting to get information from (also a winner—The Report's available on Amazon Prime; I saw Bad Education when it was on a regular HBO channel, seems to now be on HBO premium channels and HBO on Amazon Prime). Also in that section I’ll offer suggestions for some worthwhile choices on the Turner Classic Movies channel (but too much text for full-line-justified-layout like what you see here, at least to be done by this burned-out-BlogSpot-posting-guy—tedious software!) plus my usual dose of industry-related-trivia.
Here’s the trailer:
(Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate
that same button or use the “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.
What Happens: Frank Tassone (played by Hugh Jackman—real guy's on the right in the above photo) is School District Superintendent of the Roslyn, Long Island (usually just refers to the area east of Queens and Brooklyn, but those NYC boroughs are on the island as well; I know because I lived in Queens for a short time, sometimes drove out to Nassau or Suffolk counties' upscale-North Shore-communities just to enjoy some extra breathing room [a bit more on Roslyn's demographics in the next section of this review]) ,where by 2002 he’d managed to raise the high-school to the ranking of #4 in the nation in terms of academic achievement/college entrance for its students (with concurrent enhancement of the surrounding area, raising property values) so local parents and the School Board were very supportive of him for years, but he privately seethed, determined to become #1 (a good dose of ego on his part, given the relative smallness of this community). However, all’s not well in our ever-blooming-suburban-paradise because Assistant Superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) is skimming off a big chunk of the district’s budget ($4.3 million during her crime spree years) for her own style of comfortable living (3 homes) and in support of the material desires of her family. Her activities come to the notice of the School Board, headed by Big Bob Spicer (Ray Romano), when her young adult son—under the guise of buying construction materials for the Roslyn schools—not only makes a hefty purchase (for repairs on the family beach house) but buys from an ACE Hardware* store far from the district, easily setting up suspicion something shady’s going on. When confronted with the problems, Pam breaks down, admits guilt (how much of her response is genuine regret, how much is a calculated attempt for sympathy we’re not sure, but her hard-nosed-attitudes later clearly imply the latter). As it turns out, Frank’s got his own embezzlement scams going but seems genuinely surprised at Pam’s parallel thievery (that’s how I took it), which I assume is the case due to their close relationship (bordering on flirtation, although there’s no actual involvement between them) but Pam’s not threatening Frank with any sort of retaliation, so it seems they truly were ripping off the place with separate agendas, it’s just that she got caught first; however, a plea to the School Board by Tassone for leniency to Pam so a public scandal wouldn’t ruin their reputation and the students’ great success going on to prestigious colleges (as well as how such bad publicity would negatively-impact those delightfully-growing-properly values), resulting in Pam leaving the job in a big hurry, not charged with any crime.
*According to this 2004 New York magazine story (another source for the script) the immediate amount she was grabbed for was $250,000, with those hardware purchases actually made at Home Depot, but I can see how minor facts like this last one might need to be changed for dramatic or legal purposes; the total amount of her theft comes from the movie’s closing graphics. Additional details in this article will further enhance your understanding of what’s being depicted on screen. Then, if you’d like a specific comparison of fact vs. fiction in Bad Education here's one from Slate.
Frank, however, had even more going on in his private life than Pam in that he lived in a toney apartment in Manhattan with one man while owning a house in Las Vegas, NV where another man—an exotic dancer—awaited his frequent visits (with everyone else believing Frank’s story of a brief marriage to a woman who died at an early age), paid for under the guise of attending school-related-conferences in this convention-rich-desert-city. He also used his illicit gains to score a flashy wardrobe, a couple of trips to London on the Concorde, and other material gains through an array of illegal activities including padded-expense-accounts and authorizing money to vendors who didn’t exist, yet Frank seemed far-removed from any of this as he put up an effective façade (maybe it was true) of intense personal care for all of his students, their parents, teachers and administrators, so they all “thought [he] was a saint, not a sinner gone astray.”* Still, he managed to hid all this quite well until his support of a student journalist, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), writing a story about Tassone’s proposed $7 million project to build a Skyway from one end of the high-school to the other, leads her to pursue more leads than she originally intended for her “puff piece,” revealing awful lying-scam after lying-scam about Frank’s true life and many nefarious activities. ⇒The articles cited above put more emphasis on actual legal investigations of Frank resulting from Pam’s duplicity, but the student story was picked up by Long Island publication Newsday, which led to coverage by The New York Times and Frank’s downfall just a couple of years after all these hoodwinkings began to emerge into public scrutiny. Pam even became a helpful witness in order to keep her family from being charged with anything, ended up with a 3-9 years sentence. Closing graphics only show Frank with stealing "only" $2.2 million but his sentence was 4-12 years, while the total theft was put at $11 million—the largest from a school system in American history (another honor for the district, I’m sure)—so I don't know where the remainder of the stolen funds came from unless there were also others involved in the embezzlements who weren’t focused on for this movie, which is nicely streamlined as is over its 108 min. running time so maybe other crooks were too much of a narrative addition to something that works well already.⇐
*A line taken from the "The Ballad of Spider John" by Willis Alan Ramsey (from his self-named 1972 debut-album, his only one); back when I was an undergraduate at the U of Texas at Austin I was part of a group that ran a coffee house at the Catholic Student Center (boy, have I left a lot of that behind—no disrespect intended to my friends from those days who are still churchgoers, some of whom may even read these blogs) on the weekends, called The Basement. Somewhere in that time (1968-’70) Alan Ramsey (no Willis then) was one of our performers (also another undergrad), so I got to hear this wonderful song in person before he had a minor career or Jimmy Buffet included it on his 1974 Living & Dying in ¾ Time (at least Willis got a lot of songwriter royalties for that break).
So What? First of all, 2 things: (1) After veering off into violence for my posting last time for a useful-palette-cleanser after several weeks of mostly-arty-stuff (well, there’s some sociocultural considerations in True History of the Kelly Gang [Justin Kurzel] as well as the killings, but you’d be hard-pressed to find much significance beneath the surface of Extraction [Sam Hargrave] except Chris Hemsworth’s abs; see for yourself in my reviews), I’m now happy to return to the realm of thought-provoking films rather than more distraction-during-isolation-movies; (2) Despite their parallel titles (an item which can’t be copyrighted), don’t confuse this current high-quality-look at local corruption (taken to a much higher national degree in The Report, reviewed below) with Pedro Almodóvar’s equally-high-quality 2004 film of the same name about a transgender drag queen, childhood abuse by a Catholic school priest, and murder (having once lived near the suburbs where the current Bad Education is set, I’ll offer the opinion that no matter how scandalous things might be as you wander into Nassau County [or go further out toward “West Egg” and “East Egg” in the fictionalized tragedy of this area in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby]) you won’t normally find the intense level of interpersonal problems that are so well explored in Almodóvar’s masterpieces (such as Pain and Glory , my #3 for last year, Antonio Banderas rightfully nominated for a Best Actor Oscar; review in our October 23, 2019 posting). All that said, back to the Roslyn Union Free School District (named for the main village of this area [Roslyn Heights is another one, location of the movie’s high-school]; Roslyn’s also the original home of former New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, as I continue with my unnecessary asides) where most of our action takes place, either in the District offices with Frank and Pam or at Roslyn High (screenwriter Mike Makowsky was a 7th-grader at Roslyn Middle School when this scandal occurred, remembers it well—you can see him in the second item with this film in the Related Links section far below; unfortunately for upholding veracity within a dramatic narrative, the character of Rachel Bhargava is a composite of several kids on the high-school-newspaper, even though Viswanathan gives her a solid sense of identity as an individual who ironically takes her superintendent’s advice to not let her story on the proposed Skyway turn into a “puff piece,” bringing him down in the process). In that this paragraph’s already turned into a lengthy series of asides I’ll add just one more of “relevance”: If you consult the Wikipedia article about Roslyn you’ll find a list (quite lengthy) of Notable People who (I assume) were born or lived there but with no mention of Tassone, even though other high-profile-scandal-ridden-folks have been included—Bernie Madoff, Ponzi-scheme-con-artist; Darryl Strawberry, former Major League-baseballer with drug problems—so they must really be ashamed of Frank or he stashed away some of his embezzlement cash to buy good after-the-fact-PR (which he sort of gets in this movie anyway, given the consistent-cinematic-charm of Jackman's portrayal).
Bottom Line Final Comments: I predict Bad Education would (at least should) have been successful at the box-office with its well-embraced stars in a type of story often succeeding with audiences (especially those seeking bargain matinees to avoid the high prices of nighttime screenings) who enjoy crafty schemers ripping off well-healed-institutions (major case in point: Oceans Eleven [spectacular heist of Las Vegas casinos], whether the original [Lewis Milestone, 1960] or its remakes/sequels beginning with Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 version [consistent casts of big-name-stars also aid the attraction factor]), although—as someone who spent much of his life participating/working in higher education (at public universities and private ones without massive endowments, except UT Austin, of course)—I hope such glee at seeing theft (with assumed-insurance-protection) would be tempered a bit concerning a public school district, even one in an increasingly-wealthy-community because all those purloined dollars should have been spent on maintaining the educational quality Tassone, the School Board, and parents all seemed genuinely dedicated to preserving (admittedly, with additional material benefits they all enjoyed even without criminal enhancement—including admission to upper-crust-colleges which will hopefully pay off in the future for Roslyn grads [after they’re—ever?—able to pay off their massive student loan debts]).
So, with this entertaining, thought-provoking movie not available for financial analysis (but you can find it now on HBO cable [if you’re willing to pay for that] or soon on their various premium streaming services, including some connection with Amazon Prime where you can get a short free trial [I already have Prime as part of my wife’s intention to keep Jeff Bezos at the top of the billionaires’ ladder; OK with me—at least when I don’t dwell too much on working conditions at Amazon warehouses—as long as he keeps The Washington Post as a counter to Trump’s b.s.]), I can only indicate its success by its CCAL acceptance as critics at Rotten Tomatoes responded with 93% positive reviews, ones at Metacritic with a high (for them) 79% average score (more details about these results for both of the movies reviewed this time down in Related Links). My final word on Bad Education is “See it if you can” (with connections to The Report as due diligence by a reporter in the former, a Senate committee investigator in the latter provide terrible revelations in each case), with a Pink Floyd tune encouraging you in my usual-review-closure-tactic of a Musical Metaphor, this time, appropriately, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” (from the 1979 The Wall album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR5ApYxkU-U* about other aspects of educational shortcomings, although if you’re singing along you might benefit in thinking about applying this to Bad Education with a lyric change to “We don’t need no manipulation We don’t need no budget holes No dark accounting in the district office […] Hey, Super, leave them funds alone” because people like Tassone, Gluckin, and others of their ilk leave us saying “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall,” especially one isolating honest-achievers from self-focused-white-collar-criminals.
*This 6:00 clip is taken from The Wall film (Alan Parker, Gerald Scarle for the animation parts, 1982).
SHORT TAKES (it's all established history in the review below so there are no true spoilers to reveal—but I will admit the review’s not all that short for being in this section)
The Report (Scott Z. Burns, 2019) rated R
Based in fact (mostly the extensive document indicating the title) we follow Dan Jones (Adam Driver), a Senate Intelligence Committee top staffer, digging through a mountain of CIA files about torture of al-Qaeda prisoners after 9/11, conclusions about the value of such tactics, plus the intense CIA pushback to limit the study, redact much of it.
Here’s the trailer:
Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
While I find this film (released in theaters in mid-November 2019, followed almost immediately by streaming on Amazon Prime [where you’ll still find it today] so its run on public screens was short) to be fascinating to watch, extremely well-searched/produced, enormously-relevant to the topic of government secrecy (if not criminality requiring such secrecy), I’m addressing it in Short Takes because it’s been available for so long, even if it’s taken me until now to finally get to it (I had enough else keeping me busy pre-pandemic so I didn’t do much streaming last fall/winter/early spring, but I’m sure catching up on such options now). When I look back on what I was paying attention to in theaters during those months (especially when The Report was released, with some advertising calling it The Torture Report to emphasize its focus on redacted responses to CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques” [EIT], promoted to George W. Bush-administration-honchos by Deputy Assn. Attorney General John Yoo [Pun Bandhu], now a law professor at UC Berkeley), I also see I had a solid investment anyway in Adam Driver for Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019; review in our December 11, 2019 posting)—putting him in my top 5 actors for the year, certainly deserving of his Best Actor Oscar nomination—and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (J.J. Abrams, 2019; review in our January 2, 2020 posting)—where I finally could partially-forgive him for killing his father, Han Solo, in an earlier episode of this final trilogy. However, even if his presence in notable end-of-the-year-fare might seem to put him in over-drive(r), he should not be overlooked for his sizable (and I don’t just mean his height) presence in The Report, a penetrating look at top-level-governmental-malfeasance which is all the more chilling because it’s not about leaking top-secret-documents to the press as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers situation regarding cover-ups about conduct of the Vietnam War or All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976) about intrepid journalists doggedly-digging out the truth about the Watergate scandal; no, what we have here is an ultimate conflict of interest (and procedure) between 2 of the 3 branches of our federal government (sound familiar?), this time concerning extensive CIA evidence about their brutal tactics in squeezing responses from ca;ptured al-Qaeda terrorists (but not necessarily as crucial to the 9/11 attacks on America as these guys were made out to be) vs. the years-long-search to find/analyze this evidence by Daniel Jones (Driver), Chief Investigator of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chaired by Sen. Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening), with the CIA stonewalling as much as possible, to the point of accusing Jones of criminally hacking into their computers (he didn't) while they were actually doing the same to the Senate probe, a complaint she and Sen. John McCain fiercely made public. What doesn’t see the light of day, though, is the full Jones-team-report (about 6,700 pages) with even the 500 + page summary released by Feinstein in 2014 full of redactions by the CIA (long version’s not yet put forth by the Senate, being under Republican control since 2012).
As with any docudrama based on historical records (as best they’re known, although in cases such as this one the extreme lack of full transparency—due to the old “national security” dodge—confuses the entire concept of what’s factual vs. what’s fictional), a crucial concern is how much we can believe of what we see on screen (yet, even with the convenience of getting a crucial episode in our national history boiled down to a digestible 2 hours [Jones’ committee worked for 6 years on their investigation, following the 2006 revelation of CIA destruction of many hours of videotape of these interrogation methods], we can’t expect even the most-well-made-film to present all we need to know on a crucial subject), so while I highly encourage you to see The Report I also think you’ll find valuable reading in this Time magazine summary of the events this film’s based on along with this PBS story (7:59) in which we hear from both director Burns and the actual Dan Jones plus this direct address from Jones (5:37). In these videos we learn of the CIA’s unofficial “black sites” where these sadistic approaches are used for “learned helplessness” of the captives (chaining prisoners close to the ground, pounding them up against a wall, sleep deprivation, loud heavy metal music, “rectal rehydration” [a vicious form of an enema] and—worst of all—waterboarding, with gruesome scenes focused on such methods applied to Abu Zubaydah [Zuhdi Boueri] who almost dies, but he’s ultimately better off than Gul Rahman, dead in his cell in 2002 from hypothermia), which you might think is an acceptable means of retribution to answer for all those American lives killed in the 9/11 catastrophe, but as these videos, Jones’ report, Feinstein’s public testimony in the Senate all relate, no useful information came from such torture (these prisoners either lied or just repeated what was already known through other means), the program was poorly managed, the CIA provided misinformation to other U.S. agencies to justify their borderline-legal-tactics (if that; supposedly these methods were acceptable only if they resulted in useful intel) as well as keeping these activities secret from other government entities. (Bush seemingly didn’t know until 2004 when he denounced torture, yet even Obama—who officially forbid such actions soon after taking office—didn’t want a public thrashing of Bush officials in order to help bring about healing in a divided, economically-blasted [Great Recession, late 2007-mid 2009] nation as explained to Feinstein’s team by Obama National Security Council advisor/later White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough [John Hamm], much to the frustration of the Senate committee.) As the country attempted to move on from the 9/11 al-Qaeda atrocities, some weariness with the ongoing military investment in Afghanistan and Iraq along with the successful prevention of other intended attacks on U.S. soil by dedicated federal/state/local authorities probably eroded interest somewhat in ongoing concerns about revenge against stereotyped-“Arab enemies” (just wishful thinking on my part?), so attempts by Jones to finish his work even began to meet active resistance from Feinstein.
Conversely, the 2004 public outcry against cruel treatment of Iraqi prisoners (after our invasion of that country under flimsy pretenses about "Weapons of Mass Destruction") at Abu Ghraib by U.S. soldiers did leave ongoing disgust among many in American government (as well as the general public) against our use of torture in the early 2000s, but that didn’t keep the CIA from trying desperately to deny Jones’ report, providing the ongoing source of conflict in this film, yet he remained dedicated to his intended duty, insisting to a New York Times reporter his findings should be revealed only through public Senate vetting, not in leaked newspaper stories, so the bulk of what he and his co-workers found in millions of CIA documents and emails remains secret, with only cinematic reprises such as this to stir interest in demanding transparency from our elected leaders. Despite my failure to find The Report until now, the CCAL was generally supportive with an RT haul of 82% positive reviews while the often-stingier-MCers offered a much-lower-66% average score (as they frequently do). There’s no data on domestic (U.S.-Canada) box-office, but a few showings in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand pulled in $232,305 (estimates imply about the same here). I don’t recall it being in release in my San Francisco area very long (even if it was, opening near Thanksgiving put it in heavy competition from emerging Oscar contenders), but I’m glad it’s available on Amazon Prime (still free to non-subscribers on a 30-day-trail-basis), just as I’m glad I finally got a look at it (with another strong performance by Driver, a decent-enough-representation of Feinstein by Bening [Diane’s one of my Senators so I see/read a lot about her, find this depiction to be reasonably valid]), especially when it’s still far-too-often-dubious about what to trust from governmental-pronouncements (“Anyone who needs a [coronavirus] test can get one.”), what we think we know about governmental-operations (especially when various U.S. Inspector Generals have been fired lately by Trump simply for calling into question his actions or misstatements of fact).
Given all this film sets out to address about the recent past and continuing implications for our troubled-present my easy selection for a Musical Metaphor is John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” (1971 Imagine album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbhktzkGoH0 (his political concern was with the Presidency/associates of Richard Nixon, who’s now #2 on my list of most reviled Commanders-In-Chief given the absurdities of the current [thin] orange-skinned White House occupant) with lyrics still ringing true about: “I’m sick and tired of hearing things from Uptight short-sided narrow-minded hypocrites […] I’ve had enough of reading things By neurotic, psychotic, pigheaded politicians […] I’ve had enough of watching scenes from Schizophrenic, egocentric, paranoiac primadonnas All I want is the truth.” Maybe in November (however we vote, assuming the Russians haven’t already determined the outcome) some new truth will emerge about how this country should be governed as it’s all too clear in the years since the Jones report about CIA torture we still haven’t learned enough about being willing and able to hold our leaders fully accountable for their actions or the lack of understanding about what their high-level-associates might be doing.
Suggestions for TCM cablecasts
At least until the current pandemic subsides Two Guys also want to encourage you to consider movies you might be interested in that don’t require subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, similar Internet platforms (we may well be stuck inside for longer than those 30-day free initial offers), or premium-tier-cable-TV-fees. While there are a good number of video networks offering movies of various sorts (mostly broken up by commercials), one dependable source of fine cinematic programming is Turner Classic Movies (available in lots of basic-cable-packages) so I’ll be offering suggestions of possible choices for you running from Thursday afternoon of the current week (given that I usually get this blog posted by early Thursday mornings) on through Thursday morning of the following week. All times are U.S. Eastern Daylight so if you see something of interest please verify actual show time in your area for the day listed. These recommendations are particular favorites (no matter what time they’re on, although some early-day-ones might need to be recorded, watched later), but there’s considerably more to pick from on TCM; feel free to peruse their entire schedule.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
8:00 PM Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931) Another of the seminal gangster films, this one’s about Rico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and his friend, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), who seek fame in Chicago, with Joe becoming a dancer but Rico drifting successfully into a life of crime where his hot temper and authoritarian attitudes bring him great power but a lot of enemies (some see an easy homosexual subtext in Rico, angrily denied by original novelist W.R. Burnett, claiming changes in the screenplay; if so, quite daring for the time).
Friday, May 8, 2000
12:30 AM Key Largo (John Huston, 1948) Then here's another crucial gangster story, more in the film noir realm as exiled gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson again, alluding to his earlier Rico role) is smuggled back into the country during a Florida hurricane where he and his gang take hotel occupants Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore hostage. Claire Trevor as Rocco’s desperate-for-a-drink-moll, Gaye Dawn, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
4:45 PM Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960) Early masterpiece of the French New Wave (although not so widely embraced upon its initial release) about a bar pianist, Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour), who’s trying to hide his identity as a member of the Saroyan family but is dragged back into their crime life. Lots of intentional discontinuity, jump-cutting, voiceover, etc. exploring cinema as experimental-art as well as engaging-narrative.
10:15 PM Mr. Roberts (John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy [uncredited Joshua Logan], 1955) Drama with some great comic scenes as well, set on a Navy cargo ship toward the end of WW II with conflicts between the captain (James Cagney) and one of his junior officers (Henry Fonda), with Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon) avoiding the captain at all costs. Ford was fired after conflicts with Cagney and Fonda, but the end result’s a smooth-flowing winner. (I saw this at a drive-in with my mother and grandmother in Las Cruses, NM sometime in the early 1960s, still remember it fond[a]-ly.)
Saturday, May 9, 2020
12:00 PM The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) Best pairing of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton outside of Citizen Kane (Reed's film as one of my very few 5 stars-ratings, after I saw it again on
re-release). Cotton’s a pulp writer come to Vienna looking for old friend Harry Lime (Welles) but hears he’s dead, seemingly in an auto accident, yet Cotton suspects otherwise, especially given Harry’s underworld activities. As fabulous as are all the other elements of this film (Oscar for
B & W Cinematography) is Anton Karas’ score, played on the zither.
Sunday, May 10, 2020
2:15 AM Brewster McCloud (Robert Altman, 1970) One of Altman’s quirky comedies about a young guy (Bud Cort) hiding out in the Houston Astrodome, building a pair of wings so he can fly, with help from Louise (Sally Kellerman) who may be a fallen angel, but soon he’s being chased by police convinced he’s a serial killer. No spoiler here on the ending but it has some resemblance to Fellini’s 8½ (with other movie references throughout). Critical response is divided, definitely a film for me but not for all tastes so give it a try if you like.
Monday, May 11, 2020 (a cluster of great musicals)
6:00 AM Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952) The beloved-musical (another standard reference for achievement in its genre) starring Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, and Cyd Charisse about Hollywood’s clumsy transition into sound movies, featuring the fabulous “Broadway Melody” sequence, one of the most grand of all MGM spectaculars. (TCM keeps running this wonder it so I’ll keep repeating my summary.)
10:00 AM 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley for lavish choreography, 1933) Another genre-foundational-movie, this one a musical based on an already-successful play. Set in the Depression, an upcoming-Broadway show has to be a hit for the financially-desperate cast and crew with the classic scenes where ingénue Ruby Keeler has to replace injured star Bebe Daniels, under intense pressure to save the production. Also stars Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers.
4:00 PM Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935) Ginger Rogers again, now teamed with famed-partner Fred Astaire in what I call a Performance Musical (a thin plot existing only to give the stars opportunity to showcase their skills on screen). A professional dancer (Astaire) in London for a show falls in love at first sight (with Rogers) but misunderstandings keep them apart until reconciliation in Venice. Silly as hell but fun to watch; songs by Irving Berlin and Max Steiner, a true classic of the genre.
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
4:00 AM Pennies from Heaven (Herbert Ross, 1981) Based on a BBC TV series this takes Depression-era musicals in a different direction as a philandering sheet-music salesman (Steve Martin) strikes up a brief affair with a shy schoolteacher (Bernadette Peters), gets her pregnant.
The musical numbers are generally fantasy breakaways from the sad realities of the plot, ironic commentary on the planned escapism of actual ‘30s musicals that inspire this haunting story.
8:00 PM The Miracle Worker (Arthur Penn, 1962) Based on the true story of blind/deaf child Helen Keller (Patty Duke) and the intense, dedicated work of tutor Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) to bring this girl out of her frequently-violent, inner isolation, based on a play and Keller’s autobiography, intense—a bit brutal at times—but rewarding to watch. Bancroft and Duke were in the Broadway version, won Oscars (Actress, Supporting Actress respectively) for the film.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
11:00 AM The Diary of Anne Frank (George Stevens, 1959) Also based on a play of the same name and what amounts to an autobiography, young Anne’s (Mille Perkins) diary, during her family’s confinement in an Amsterdam attic, a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis, simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking (I once toured those living quarters, now a museum, a chilling experience). Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Shelly Winters), B&W Cinematography, B&W Art Direction.
2:15 PM Dinner at Eight (George Cukor, 1933) Another one adapted from a play, this grand comedy (95% on Rotten Tomatoes, but based on just 19 reviews) with a plot as thin as the 1930s musicals but marvelous to watch in execution as major stars of the day—Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Berry, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Billie Burke (no relation to me)—endure various connived-complications to propel us toward the titular dinner.
If you’d like your own PDF of ratings/summaries of this week's reviews, suggestions for TCM cablecasts, links to Two Guys info click this link to access then save, print, or whatever you need.
Other Cinema-Related Stuff: In quick fashion, here are some other items you might be interested in: (1) Ongoing conflict between AMC Theaters and Universal Pictures; (2) Universal still intends to offer some movies simultaneously in theaters and premium Video On Demand; (3) some Texas theaters reopen (contains a chart of nationwide theater chains still closed); (4) Official reopening procedures from Santikos Theaters, San Antonio, TX (info from long-time-Two Guys-contributor, Richard Parker); (5) Connections among Hollywood director King Vidor, The Wizard of Oz, and the horrible Galveston, TX hurricane of 1900—I grew up in Galveston 50 years later (link provided by my long-time-friend, Rick Ansell, both of us graduates of Ball High School, 1966). As usual for now I’ll close out this section with Joni Mitchell’s "Big Yellow Taxi" (from her 1970 Ladies of the Canyon album)—because “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”—and a reminder you can search streaming/rental/purchase movie options at JustWatch.
5/7/2020—Last week I fretted my need for a new (actually, newly-renovated) computer might delay this posting; fortunately, it hasn’t, but now another problem’s cropped up so I’ll likely be back next week, but, if not, I vow Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark will return.
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Here’s more information about Bad Education:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1AZt3svo9I (19:46 interview with director Cory Finley, screenwriter Mike Makowsky, actors Hari Dhillon, Rafael Casal, Alex Wolff, Geraldine
Viswanathan, Ray Romano, Allison Janney, and producers Fred Berger, Eddie
Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Oren Moverman)
Here’s more information about The Report:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFBmgOLujDQ (23:33 interview with screenwriter-director-producer Scott Z. Burns, producer Jennifer Fox, actors John Hamm, Annette Bening, Adam
Driver, and Daniel Jones former U.S. Senate staff member/focus of this film)
Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post. You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).
If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of email@example.com. (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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