Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Vast of Night, Seberg, plus Short Takes on suggestions for TCM cable offerings and other cinematic topics

“I am the eye in the sky”
(from the Alan Parsons Project song on their 1982 album Eye in the Sky)

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.
      The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson)   rated PG-13

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): It’s difficult to sit here doing such a relatively-inconsequential-thing as writing movie reviews when all around the U.S.A. (including communities very close to me—yikes!) there continues to be immediate concern about spread of the COVID-19 virus which may be exacerbated by the huge crowds protesting the blatant murder of Black man George Floyd by 4 White Minneapolis cops even as that tiny faction of violent disrupters of the demonstrations keep enflaming many localities with looting and property damage.  All I can hope for is somehow this volatile situation smoothes out into what Paul Simon sings about in "Peace Like a River" (from his 1972 Paul Simon album) where “you can’t outrun the history train.”  In the meantime, in grateful recognition of the several thousands of global Two Guys readers (this is no exaggeration; scroll down to the very end of this posting to see our latest weekly geographical-distribution; you’ll have to take my word on the monthly total, though, as it’s on a different [ugly, cluttered] graphic) I’ll continue suggesting diversions from the news with a couple of marvelous films, although they might evoke our real-world-tensions because The Vast of Night concerns extraterrestrials in our midst, which the government has denied for decades (just as they now try to deny what drives sociopolitical-wedges within our society) while Seberg is an explicit docudrama about how the FBI ran a harassment/disinformation campaign against a White actress in the mid-20th-century because her support of such groups as the Black Panthers was seen as seditious. The Vast … is low-budget but very captivating as 2 young adults in small-town 1950s New Mexico become increasingly concerned about unexplained occurrences on an unnerving night.  Seberg’s largely factual (plus some primary fictional characters) demonstrating the extent our assumed-social-guardians will go to in ruining individual lives for what they mistakenly assume is the greater good (both of these are available for streaming, no charge with an Amazon Prime subscription or 30-day-free trial).  Also, in the Short Takes section I’ll offer suggestions for some choices on the Turner Classic Movies channel (but too much extra text for line-justified-layout like you see here [Related Links stuff at each posting's end is similarly-ragged], at least to be done by this burned-out-BlogSpot-drone—oh, tedious software!) along with my standard 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: Sometime during the 1958 high-school-basketball-season in fictional small-town Cayuga, NM (actually shot in Whitney, TX, a town in Hill County, about 60 miles south of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex*) we’re told we’re watching “The Vast of Night,” an episode of TV’s (fictional) Paradox Theater (emphasized by placing us in that era with the images playing on a funky television set, an almost-oval-shaped-screen with poor resolution; as we get into the story the image quality improves a bit but most scenes are intentionally either somewhat desaturated, display too much of a yellow hue, or become too blue at night), which is intended to resemble Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (CBS TV 1959-’64, followed by a few revivals)** so there’s a certain disconnect set up from the beginning as we understand we’re not watching a singular dramatic tale as we do in most movies where we’re supposed to apply our “suspension of disbelief” to the characters, settings, events, accepting what we see on screen as “real” relative to these depicted activities, but here we should be aware we’re watching a constructed episode of a TV show (with reminders of that periodically as we see bluish images of this ongoing narrative on that same ancient TV set) so we have to remind ourselves what we’re watching is something shot for broadcast purposes using script, actors, sets, background music, etc., not a direct presentation of a story we’re supposed to lose ourselves in as if it were occurring in real time behind the large screen of a moviehouse rather than something produced for a TV network (where, blessedly, it runs for a well-structured 89 min. with no commercial interruptions, another anomaly we must contend with because if "The Vast ..." is supposed to be a broadcast episode from the time of the events shown then it wouldn’t be on such an ad-free-channel because they didn’t exist back then [except in early forms of instructional television, which certainly wouldn’t be running Paradox Theater]).  So, with all of that in mind for this unique approach to an independent movie, let’s move on to what we actually see on screen (our home video screens, of course, via Amazon Prime—now free for a 30-day-trial if you’re interested).

*Despite my many years living in Texas, I never visited Whitney (even lived close for 7 years while in Dallas, teaching at SMU) but I was aware of one of its features, Lake Whitney, site of a noted bass fishing competition, from Steve Fromholz's magnificent song, “Texas Trilogy: Daybreak, Trainride, Bosque County Romance & Daybreak (reprise)”—found on the 1969 Frummox album (with Dan McCrimmon) Here to There (I saw them perform it live several times), which explores the trials of nearly-forgotten-people enduring small-town-obscurity (in this case, tiny Kopperl in Bosque County, neighboring Whitney), which has a reasonable resonance with what we observe in this clever movie.
**Here’s a detailed exploration (11:04) of The Vast of Night (be careful: spoilers abound) concisely handled including a comparison of the opening narration of The Twilight Zone to Paradox Theatre, an articulate-summary of the plot, along with well-defended-speculations on the ambiguous ending.

 As just about everyone else in Cayuga’s at the high-school gym to watch the basketball game against nearby rivals, our night-shift-protagonists, Fay (Sierra McCormick) and Everett (Jake Horowitz) are off to their usual jobs, her running the telephone switchboard for the town, him providing entertainment as the DJ of local radio station WOTW, after he first gives her some instruction using the reel-to-reel tape recorder she’s borrowed from the school (she plays a horn in the school band, wants to practice at home), taping a few quick interviews with people in the school parking lot which he’ll likely play later on the air; she’s a bit nervously-quiet at first, then starts chattering nonstop, mostly recounting future technologies (cell phones, talking cars) she’s read about in Modern Mechanix magazine (a long tracking shot follows them from behind; some other scenes are done as dark screens with flashing lights and voiceovers, maybe for effect or maybe to save money).  On the job Fay hears a strange sound over her headphones,* then gets a call about the noise (it also briefly interrupts Everett’s broadcast).  At this point we’re treated to an amazingly-long-tracking-shot (which must be postproduction-aided; seems impossible in real time) through the town, into the basketball court, out a window, then to/into the station where Everett gets a call from Billy (voice of Bruce Davis), ex-military, who’s had experience with such signals as well as cleaning up strange sites but no one listens to him because he’s old, sick, and Black; someone else also had a tape of that type of sound but he’s now dead so Fay breaks into the library, retrieves the tape so that Everett can play it on air, asking if anyone knows anything about it.

*Patterson details an anatomy of a scene (4:17) about this, explaining what he needed from Sierra.

⇒After Fay gets a few calls about something strange in the sky, Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer) calls, wants Fay and Everett to come to her home where she shares a story of an alien encounter, followed by our protagonists rushing to Ethel’s (voice of Brianna Beasley) to rescue her baby which they do, in the process seeing a huge alien spaceship,  After that, we’re left with a few ambiguous images of crowds leaving the basketball game, the tape recorder just left in a field, no further sight of Fay or Everett (with implications the aliens have taken them, although a lot of what we’ve seen in this movie is kept intentionally quite vague [as with Primer, another fascinating low-budget-sci-fi-experience I’ll discuss more in the upcoming segment just below] so you must assume/fill in details yourself rather than have them explicitly clarified as if this were Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Steven Spielberg, 1977], although there’s a bit of tension seemingly-intentionally-lost when you remember this story isn’t a stand-alone-movie but instead an episode of an offbeat-TV-anthology so its fictional existence is more pronounced than if you’d see this as a regular movie, a narrative device which annoys some critics but defines The Vast of Night as all the more intriguing for me).⇐

So What? I'm leading off with The Vast of Night because Seberg had a brief theatrical release back in late Feb.-early March, 2020, so maybe some of you had a chance to see it already or read other reviews about it a few weeks ago whereas The Vast of Night (either one of the most poetic or tongue-twisting titles I’ve encountered in a long time, but it does catch your attention) is a new streaming option, seen previously only by those who came upon it in various 2019 film festivals; however, even though I’m placing it first here I’m not giving it quite as much posting space as Seberg because that film (reviewed below) offers the combination of a lot of clear activities presented within the context of a much larger life story of an actual person so I found a lot to say about it (particularly in defending it from the OCCU’s dismissal) whereas … Night is considerably more singular—even esoteric you could easily say—with a lot of allusions/implications/conjectures (adding to its now-honored-critical-embrace, even though they originate from the necessities of a tiny budget) so I can’t really say all that much definitive about it anyway as it’s one of those things you need to watch more than think aboutas I encourage you to make an opportunity, see it soon.

 While The Vast … has some aspects that individually resonate quite well with me (Fay as a telephone operator connecting the residents of her small town with all those appropriate plugs at her switchboard, a job my mother had during WW II while Dad was off fighting in the Philippines, learning it from my grandmother in the equally-small, farther-west-of-Ft. Worth-Texas-town of Clyde where she continued doing it into the 1960s, an amazing skill to me I watched her perform with ease when I’d come to visit in the summers; Jake as a radio DJ, reminding me of my own limited time on the airwaves [KILE-AM, top 40] during high-school in Galveston, TX on a weekly show promoting our local Youth Council and premiering the upcoming week’s Top 10 records, then for a couple of years much later as a film critic on the radio [KTXQ-FM, adult contemporary] in Dallas; the clear allusions here to the supposed remains of a crash-landed-alien-spaceship near Roswell, NM in summer, 1947 [I was born in December of that year, out of wedlock, still don’t know who my father wasalien? some who know me think that wouldn’t be such a stretch!] but my adoptive Dad worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s building a state park in Roswell I visited once) I mostly appreciate ... Night for its odd-but-intriguing-attitude (won Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival), reminding me of another unique indie, Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004 [also produced, wrote, co-starred, edited, wrote the music]), on an even tighter budget ($7,000) yet won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (I saw it there twice, was overwhelmed, but took some friends to see it upon later release; they fell asleep)Primer’s also sci-fi, in its case about time travel to cheat the stock market, but hard to follow as it’s so obtuse (see this site for a decent explanation of its plot); The Vast of Night’s more conventional in its elements (alien encounters), yet a much-easier-delight to watch for its restrained presentation.

Bottom Line Final Comments: I do have a conceptual bone to pick with Patterson, though, about The Vast of Night as part of a Twilight Zone-type TV anthology series; my minor complaint here is there’s nothing about how this plot plays out resembling the irony/surprise that often was the marvelous payoff in Twilight Zone stories; instead, we just have a straightforward sci-fi-alien-encounter where clues indicate the presence of extraterrestrials, ⇒testimony’s presented to verify such occurrences, then we actually see the spaceship followed by a clear implication our protagonists are unwillingly taken aboard.⇐  This seems more like The Outer Limits (ABC TV 1963-’65, a Showtime revival 1995-2000, another on the Sci-Fi Channel 2001-’02), which had a clearer science-fiction-format (often with alien monsters), is a more-likely-reference for Paradox Theater (also, I find no paradox in “The Vast of Night” episode).  Despite my qualms, the CCAL’s very supportive with 91% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, an unusually-high 84% average score at Metacritic (second highest response for 2020 releases both they and I addressed, only Never Rarely Sometimes Maybe [Eliza Hittman; review in our April 9, 2020 posting] tops it with a huge [for them] 92%)—more details from both analysis-collectives in the Related Links section of this review far below (same for Seberg when you get to it)—so there’s a resounding-critical-chorus imploring you to find and see this well-conceived, properly-constructed-to-work-within-its-financial-restraints, using-charming-lead-actors debut-feature from a guy who polished his craft making video segments for Oklahoma City Thunder basketball games (just as some emerging directors hone their skills with TV commercials or music videos [Do they still make those latter image-explosions anymore?  I haven’t seen MTV or VH1 in years, so that reference may be as dated as phone booths or typewriters.]), with assumptions we’ll see more from him, given all the fawning over The Vast of Night, which I think is well deserved, but with Shane Carruth’s unspectacular career after Primer (a tiny $545.4 thousand box-office-haul; his second film, Upstream Color [2013], was praised but hardly any marketplace-presence) we know one round of festival/critical successes is no guarantee of a career so we’ll just have to see what becomes of Mr. Patterson as time goes on.  I’ve gone on enough, though, on The Vast of Night so I’ll conclude with my usual trope of a Musical Metaphor to add one last (aural) comment with this connection to The Twilight Zone’s brief (00:30) opening, this one from the 1963 season, at, even though I still don’t think The Vast … is really much of a … Zone clone, although it does give me the excuse to also offer this link (5:07) which contains all of those openings, 1959-2002, including from the 1983 movie (John Landis, Steven Spielberg, George Miller, Joe Dante), a revival of the broadcast series 1985-’89, another revival 2002-’03 (audio drops down a bit at times) so you can briefly lose yourself into another dimension if you’re going numb from the news about this one.
                            Seberg (Benedict Andrews)   rated R
Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

What Happens: We begin with a little footage of Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) starring in Saint Joan (Otto Preminger, 1957)—we later learn she got an accidental-torso-scar in the burned-at-the-stake-scene—but then we’re in Paris in 1968.  (As this film skips over the critical lambasting Jean got for that debut performance [even though this demanding director chose her over 18,000 other possibilities]—but as you see here I'm not skipping over anything, so please bear with me for a momentfollowed by her embrace by creators and patrons of the French New Wave for co-starring with Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless; she’s also in a good number of other films prior to 1968, yet they have no significance to our plot [see this extensive site if you want a more complete biography/filmography] nor does a short marriage to François Moreuil [1958-1960], all of which would contribute to a longer, more detailed history of this tragic actor, but with Seberg clocking in at a brisk 1 hr. 42 min. the intention’s not to focus on her entire career or even a third marriage before her untimely death, instead to understand the impetus/application/impact of how the FBI essentially ruined her life over choices about political involvement deemed detrimental to the image of the USA during the first Presidential-era of those anti-Commie-paranoia-twins, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon [that is, until the latter reached out to the Soviet Union and China in an attempt to somewhat thaw the Cold War, but that’s not the tenor of the times we’re exploring in Seberg, for which I’ll include some spoiler-noted-details below just for the expectations of my normal format, although nothing I might try to keep from you here is difficult to find in accounts of this once-controversial-woman, likely hounded to her death by bad policies of our mid-20th-century-ideological-overlords].)

 OK, now we'll return to what's actually in the film: 1968, when Seberg’s married to husband #2, Romain Gary (Yvan Attal), has a young son, Diego (Gabriel Sky), flies back to L.A. to resume her Hollywood career (but not exactly in a movie of her ideal interest, Paint Your Wagon [a bit more about that in the next section of this review], lacking the relevance-roles she now seeks); flying in first class she witnesses a stewardess’ refusal to civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) who wants to upgrade the coach seats for himself and Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, to this more-luxurious-cabin, even though there are plenty of open options.  Jean makes a snap decision to trade the seats she and her agent, Walt Breckman (Stephen Root), are occupying for the ones sought by Jamal; when the plane lands she sees Jamal and a group of his followers being interviewed by the press so she joins them in their Black Power salute which not only gets her some quick publicity but also the attention of the FBI, convinced any support for radical groups such as those headed by Jamal or the somewhat-rival Black Panthers amounts to subversion which needs to be documented/exposed/nipped in the bud (she also doesn’t support the Vietnam War—oh no!).

 Soon, (fictitious) agents Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) and belligerent-patriarch-at-home Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) are tailing Seberg everywhere, wiretapping her phone, bugging her lavish home, all under direct orders of Hoover, with increasing exasperation from Jack’s wife, Linette (Margaret Qualley), over the amount of time Jack spends on this assignment, concerned her husband’s having an affair with this ultra-left-wing-movie-star (in contrast to the first scene we see with them where he retrieves a valuable 1941 Captain America comic of his she’s thrown away even as they quickly reconcile).  Seberg’s having an affair alright, not with Jack but with Hakim whose wife, Dorothy (Zazie Beetz), doesn’t yet know about her husband’s infidelity but does become increasingly irritated with the constant presence of this White interloper whom she considers more of a “tourist” (with a ready checkbook) to their cause than a sincere ally against the racist Establishment Hakim’s trying to resist through his organization (further, he doesn’t care for Jean’s willingness to also support the Black Panthers so there’s plenty of tension floating around here pulling everyone into its orbit).  This FBI counter-intelligence-program, COINTELPRO, keeps a close enough tab on Jean to gather evidence of her having sex with Hakim which they leak to Dorothy, effectively ending the affair with anger, hurt feelings all around.  The FBI boys aren’t through, though, as they leak rumors (which become widely reported, even by the Los Angeles Times [which they admit in this article noting background facts about Jean Seberg in relation to the release of this film]) the baby is Jamal’s even though Seberg says it’s from an affair she had with Carlos Omelas Navarra while in Mexico filming Macho Callahan [Bernard L. Kowalski, 1970]).  ⇒Earlier, Romain and Diego joined Jean in the U.S., husband now defending wife, even claiming the baby is his, but press gossip continues to fly so fiercely Jean endures great psychological trauma, delivers the baby prematurely, the poor little girl dying a mere 2 days later (Seberg even sues Newsweek over this whole mess).  By this time even Agent Solomon regrets what he’s been a party to, wants to be reassigned (denied) although that doesn’t result in any less surveillance/harassment of Seberg who will continue to find various film work over the next few years but with increasing depression; in 1971 Congress ends COINTELRO, Jack steals Jean’s file from his office, later meets her at a bar in Paris where he tries to give it to her but she just walks out, leaves the file with him.  End pre-credits graphics let us know she was found dead in 1979 in Paris at the age of 40, seemingly as a result of suicide (although there are those who still believe she was the victim of a physical conspiracy to go along with the U.S. government’s plan of character assassination).⇐  The credits are underscored with Bob Dylan’s plaintive memory, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” sung soulfully by Nina Simone.

So What? At times I take issue with decisions of my local film-critic-guru, Mick LaSalle, in the San Francisco Chronicle, but concerning Seberg I must thank him for his solid support of the film, which, along with my own growing admiration for Stewart’s on-screen-impact (he says “She is just utterly and authentically present”; I agree)—described in more length in my next paragraph—was enough to get me interested in this account of the actor who portrayed that fascinating young woman in the French New Wave masterpiece À bout de soufffe (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960; literally “out of breath” but known as Breathless in English*), even though I realized this new film focused only on Seberg’s roughly 1968-‘71 life when she’d be found in well-known-American-genre-movies (but not so much due to her contributions), the musical Paint Your Wagon (Joshua Logan, 1969)—eternally infamous for the “singing” of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood—and the seminal disaster movie, Airport (George Seaton, 1970)—where her role struggles for notice among co-stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, and Van Heflin—so the focus of Seberg wouldn’t be on her films but instead her public support of various minority-empowering-movements, especially the Black Panthers, resulting in FBI surveillance and false rumors impacting her Hollywood career (largely “blacklisted” in the 1970s) along with her personal life.  LaSalle’s support became important for its encouragement to see Seberg despite OCCU rejection, with RT's 35% positive reviews, MC as surprisingly more upbeat but only to the tune of a 54% average score.  So, I was set to see Seberg after its Feb. 28, 2020 opening in my area, but other options took precedence when theaters were still open, then other streaming options kept cropping up until I finally decided to ignore those massively-dismissive-opinions, see Seberg for myself; I found it intriguing, marvelously well-acted by Stewart, conforming enough to what I’ve read of Jean’s biography (even if these specific agents hounding her are fictional), and well worth my ongoing Shelter-At-Home time on a Saturday night (which has since added an 8pm curfew in my Alameda County, location of a rising tide of coronavirus cases/deaths plus a good number of looter sites the last couple of nights).  Of course, it being free on my wife’s Amazon Prime account didn’t hurt either, which can be the case for you also under their 30-day-free-trial-offers.  (The only thing puzzling me about Seberg is why Stewart’s always shown with her hair swept to the right when all the photos I find of Jean from that time show it swept to the left—but it's a minor curiosity.)

*Here’s an interview with Seberg (6:26) about Saint Joan and its aftermath—in French but with built-in-subtitles(Oh, by the way, don’t confuse Godard’s Breathless with the American remake [Jim McBride, 1983] which does, at least, feature Jerry Lee Lewis' 1958 hit of the same old name.)

Bottom Line Final Comments: Seberg’s one of the few I’ve reviewed lately that got to be on theatrical screens before the pandemic-response-shutdown of most of the world’s movie theaters over the past few months.  It opened in the domestic market (U.S.-Canada) on February 21, 2020 but only made it to 373 venues over the next 3 weeks before COVID-19 changed all our lives, so its domestic total was just $434,702 with enough from a few international markets to bring its global take to $587,000 before it switched to streaming on Amazon Prime—it’s biggest overseas haul was in the U.K., making about $63 thousand; depending on how actual Seberg’s popular-remembrance remains in France from those glory days in the 1960s-‘70s, I imagine it would have played quite well there but apparently never opened before the shutdowns arrived (maybe it’ll get another chance when French cinemas reopen later this month [see Other Cinema-Related Stuff much farther below]).  While I obviously have a much better reaction to this film than does the OCCU—I certainly don’t find it to be the kind of bland, superficial take on a controversial story many of those critics complain about—how you would respond to Seberg could possibly be based on 1 of 2 factors: Like me, you might continue to appreciate how Stewart’s acting accomplishments have been substantially on the rise after her sudden fame from the 5 Twilight Saga movies (2008-2012, based on Stephenie Meyer’s novels, directed [in order] by Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, David Slade, Bill Condon [last 2]) where her character’s great ambition was to follow her new-found-love into the passionate (?) realm of vampirism.  (The entire enterprise was forgettable for my taste, as I didn’t care for the concept of the whole franchise, not just Stewart’s participation in it [now I’ve come to also have a much better appreciation of her co-star, Robert Pattinson, in his work following these vampires vs. werewolves tales]; true, I saw only the first of those massively-popular-narratives [grossed about $3.3 billion worldwide, with me about as far as possible from the target audience of teenage girls, although only the first and last of the series even got to 49% positive RT reviews, while the third one topped MC’s average scores at 58% so I’m not alone in this opinion, although some did praise specific aspects of various episodes], forced into it to evaluate the veracity of student papers written about it, but one was more than enough.)  Post-Twilight, though, I’ve really come to appreciate Stewart, with Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014; review in our May 14, 2015 posting), Café Society (Woody Allen, 2016; review in our August 2, 2016 posting), Personal Shopper (Assayas, 2016; review in our April 13, 2017 posting) representing some of her most notable accomplishments—at least so far—with Oscar-consideration-Seberg as her best of the lot.

 However (like the FBI back then), you might still be disgusted with the idea of a celebrity offering public support to groups many Americans consider subversives, if not outright terrorists.  (I’ll admit, in Texas during the years depicted in Seberg I was convinced by mainstream-media-accounts the Black Panthers were simply a violent organization, deadly to my hopes for needed civil rights and integration in our historically-racist-society, so much so when I first drove through Oakland, CA in 1975, needing to stop for the night, I hesitated, concerned my White presence would bring trouble; fortunately for the state of expanding my own naïve consciousness, I stayed at some motel anyway, encountered nothing, then 9 years later moved to the SF Bay Area [several homes since 1984, including Oakland] where I’ve happily lived ever since, married to Oakland-born-Nina Kindblad [OK, she's White, but she respects what the Panthers were intended to accomplish].)  I now have a completely different understanding of the Panthers’ support of their marginalized communities, but I see why others might recoil from Seberg’s depiction of them, although it’s hard to know at this point how these FBI manipulators* will be seen today given how recent agency actions have been praised or condemned in our increasingly-polarized-society (if you really believe Seberg was a quasi-terrorist [although there’s no supportive evidence] you might condone how she was treated by our government but still be angered by her allegiances).  Personally, I’d like to use something as the Musical Metaphor here praising her determination to live life as she saw fit but the more pressing matter is how she was hounded by the FBI (in the name of “national security”), so I’m going with The Police (ironic name, given all that’s going on in our streets as I write/post this) song “Every Breath You Take” (from their 1983 Synchronicity album) at (lyrics below the video screen) because it’s not—if you only listen casually to the words, assuming it’s sung by some love-struck-guy—a romantic daydream but instead a creepy warning from a jealous, possessive partner, ready to wreak havoc if he feels he’s been wronged, just as Seberg’s trackers watched (and recorded) “every move you make Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”  After awhile she could no longer fake those smiles in her own version of “I can’t breathe": what's happened to her then still haunts much that is manifesting today.

*Here’s a short video (8:33) about how the FBI’s action essentially destroyed Jean Seberg’s life, leaving little room for argument, in my mind, about how vile was Director J. Edgar Hoover’s paranoia about Communists infiltrating American institutions during this period (an ongoing concern among many in the U.S. government from the end of WW II to the fall of the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s), to the point of ruining many lives associated with movements to bring about social justice in this country.  Ironically, now we find aspects of our current government and many American voters actually under the sway of Russian influence/disinformation campaigns, a more overt threat than much of anything this country faced during Seberg’s time except our fears of nuclear confrontation.
Suggestions for TCM cablecasts
At least until the 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 my particular favorites (no matter when 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 here.

Thursday June 4, 2020

6:15 PM His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) From Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur's play, The Front Page, this version turns a sensationalistic journalism story into something retaining those aspects but also becomes a screwball comedy where now-divorced newspaper editor Walter Burns (Gary Grant) conspires to get ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) back (and on the payroll to cover a scoop) despite upcoming wedlock to mild-mannered Ralph Bellamy. Bang-bang dialogue.

Friday June 5, 2020

8:00 PM Monkey Business (Norman McLeod, 1931) 9:30 PM Horse Feathers (Norman McLeod, 1932) 10:45 PM Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman, 1930)  3 early Marx Bros. movies (done at Paramount, followed by Duck Soup, before they moved to more sanitized [but more famous] fare 
at MGM). Zeppo joins Groucho, Harpo, and Chico as the straight man in these zany romps which don’t need much detail because you probably know enough about what to expect from these guys.

Saturday June 6, 2020

12:30 AM Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933) For me, the best of the Marx Bros. because it’s so anarchic/satirical about patriotism during the Depression when national solidarity was just short of mandated. Groucho as leader of fictional Freedonia (Zeppo as his secretary), on the verge of war with neighboring Sylvania, Chico and Harpo as spies; contains the famous “mirror scene” with Groucho and Harpo “reflecting” each other and “All God’s chillun got guns!” minstrel show parody.

3:00 PM Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959) A powerful courtroom drama enhanced by constant twists; you never know what to believe, even at the end with James Stewart defending G.I. Ben Gazzara on a murder charge, a guy who can’t fully remember his actions except retaliation for the victim raping his wife (Lee Remick). Eve Arden and George C. Scott are there too; nominated for 7 Oscars (no wins) but the score by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn won 3 Grammy Awards.

8:00 PM Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) Oscar winner as Best Picture, Best Director (5 more) in this history-based-version of Brit T.E. Lawrence working with desert-dwelling Arabs against Ottoman Empire Turks in WW I, starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, José Ferrer, many others; monumental visuals, calling for a decent-size widescreen format to see it on (no cell phones!) as well as time to spare because it runs for about 3½ hours.

Sunday June 7, 2020

2:00 PM The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) Another screwball standard (again from a popular play, also starred Katharine Hepburn) also with Cary Grant, also as an ex-husband, this time of Hepburn who’s set to remarry when her ex shows up along with pulp-journalist James Stewart. Potential bride is re-attracted to Grant, intrigued by Stewart as the triangle (plus the would-be groom) continues right to the end. Oscars for Best Actor (Stewart), Best Adapted Screenplay.

8:00 PM My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936) Yet another screwball classic, this time acknowledging the reality of the era’s Depression as “forgotten” man Godfrey’s (William Powell) chosen by socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) to be her prize in a scavenger hunt resulting in him becoming the family butler where he’s pursued by sister Irene (Carole Lombard), no one aware he’s really from a posh Boston family. First to be nominated for all 4 acting Oscars (but no wins).

Tuesday June 9, 2020

2:00 AM Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) Marvelous; big hit then now ranked as one of the best if not the actual top comedy of all time, with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis disguised as women in a nightclub band in Florida trying to escape gangsters after they witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago; also stars Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, and Pat O’Brien (won an Oscar for Best B&W Costume Design). Joe E. Brown’s final line was terrific for its time, now immortal.

4:45 PM The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960) Remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai (even more worthwhile; get it on streaming or cheap rental) with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz, and James Coburn as gunfighters hired to protect a Mexican village from bandits (led by Eli Wallach), leading to lots of gunfire, deaths, noble actions. 2016 Magnificent … remake starred Denzel Washington, others.

Wednesday June 10, 2020

4:00 PM Easter Parade (Charles Walters, 1948) In 1912 a Broadway star (Fred Astaire) is breaking up with his dancing partner (Ann Miller) who seems to be attracted to their best friend (Peter Lawford) so Don (Astaire) sets out to make a new star of Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) with various professional mistakes and corrections, romantic rearrangements along the way in this beloved musical; won the Oscar for Best Original Music Score, with songs and music by Irving Berlin.

6:00 PM Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944) Another MGM gem also starring Judy Garland beginning in summer 1903, working its way up seasonally to spring with the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, focused on actions of the 4 siblings of the Smith family where the usual complications end up resolved by the end. Enormously popular at the time, still embraced today. Songs include “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis,” “The Trolley Song,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

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) France will reopen movie theaters on June 22, 2020, pandemic-permitting; (2) Horror movie, "The Wretched," breaking box-office records (in asterisk fashion, though, as it's mostly showing at drive-ins with little competition); (3) Prediction that 2020 box-office revenues will be down 50%.  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.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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*Please ignore previous warnings about a “dead link” to our Summary page because the problems’ been manually fixed so that all postings since July 11, 2013 now have the proper functioning link.

Here’s more information about The Vast of Night: (24:56 interview with director Andrew Patterson, actors Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Bruce Davis, producers Adam Dietrich, Melissa Kirkendall, cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin-Menz [some of the audio’s quite low at first; you might want to use the Closed Captions icon on the lower right of the video screen until the volume comes up])

Here’s more information about Seberg: (11:41 interview with director Benedict Andrews, actor Kristen Stewart, and screenwriters Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse [unnecessary background music used here as well as interruptive musical interludes at about 6:00 and 8:00])

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 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 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,, 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.
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 38,807 (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:

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