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Tuesday, 06 September 2016


I'll always remember Eraserhead as one of the most imaginative, funny, disturbing and visually compelling films ever made (in glorious B&W, of course). Elephant Man and Straight Story were good, solid story telling- films like Blue Velvet tried too hard, and none would ever have the creative genius of Lynch's first humble and yet pull all the plugs endeavor.

Sadly, whenever I read a bad review like this it makes me want to see the film so I can see the goofs for myself.

"It's like seeing Mr. Ed made into dog food."
Oh Wilbur!

For a great example of a book that shouldn't have been able to be turned into a good movie (but was) I submit L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy. The novel is, as they say, sprawling. The screenwriter (Brian Helgeland) and director (Curtis Hanson) were ingenious in how they dropped storylines wholesale, combined others, and narrowed the story focus. The director had previously never really demonstrated greatness, merely sufficiency. But he made a movie that works on every level. Brilliant acting from the 3 leads (two of whom were largely unknown to American audiences), beautiful set design/production design, gorgeous photography, and a musical score that knocked my socks off.

I just re-watched it, and read the novel. A fun fact: Mickey Cohen (the actual gangster) is a significant character in the book, but Paul Guilfoyle, cast as him in the movie, is listed in the opening credits despite Mickey not having any dialog or scenes (he only appears in news photos/newsreel, or in cut-away flashback of his arrest).


P.S. For an example of a movie that betrays it's novel source material, I present The Natural. Total star vehicle for Redford who was decades too old for the part (he produced the film) and an ending that is the exact opposite of the theme of the novel. I'm not opposed to changing the source material, but feel if the changes are so extreme, the producers owe it to the audience to at least change the title, as happened with the novel A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and it's film version Simon Birch.

I grew up next door to the Half Moon Hotel, in Coney Island, where Abe Reles fell to his death. The hotel closed, and eventually became the Hebrew Home for the Aged. It was demolished about twenty years ago.


Maybe it was the fashion back then—I don't know. As a young child, I still recall the day an upstairs neighbor jumped from the roof of my apartment building.

I think re-makes present some of the best examples of how various elements of a film can produce something engaging of just...something. Here are three quick examples that immediately come to my mind.

The Maltese Falcon
The 1931 version by director Roy Del Ruth was adequate but utterly forgettable after you saw John Huston's iconic 1941 version. Both are pretty faithful to the original Hammett story.

The 1998 version might have been okay summer fare... if you hadn't seen the original 1954 version Ishirô Honda's film imported from Japan's Toho studio. It just oozes fun and horror. But for decades I wondered what the hell Raymond Burr was doing in that film and why it seems a bit jumbled. It wasn't until some 10 years ago that I got the original original Japanese film, titled "Gojira", that I really came to appreciate Honda's sci-fi masterpiece in Japanese and un-hacked for American screens. Wow.

A Star is Born
My personal favorite version is the 1937 William Wellman version starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. It has a genuine, un-strained feeling that 1954 George Cukor version misses, probably because of the latter's insistence on making Judy Garland fill nearly every frame and every ear. But your taste may differ as they seem equally popular. Yet they're essentially the same story.

I've been a bit of a film buff all my life so I could go on all day. But I think that if you want to see contrasts in directorial and acting skills/styles, and slight differences in screenplays, and differences in cinematography and editing there's no better way than to watch two versions of the same story.

Leonard Cohen said at one point in his illustrious career, something to this effect, " If I knew where the music came from I'd go there more often".

The Reverant, last year's multiple award winning film. One which took an interesting true story so far over the top that at the end I was laughing at the idiotic absurdity. You knew it was gonna be silly from the beginning when John Colter---of John Colter's 1803 run from the Blackfeet---ran all the way into the era of Hugh Glass (1823) and showed up in his camp. Then they took every real or imagined experience of every single trapper in the fur trade era and had Ol' Glass (DiCaprio) experience them. When I watched that movie, I thought of some of the exaggerated, over-the-top ways of Donald Trump, and wondered if this sorta of thing represented the modern US.

I guess it could be compared to taking a possibly good straight photograph, running it through 20 or 30 filters, increasing saturation to the max along with clarity, adding vignette and vibrance, and photoshopping in a T-Rex and a shark.

I meant "The Revenant" above. My brain is trying to forget it in self-defense.

Alas, Burrough cribbed much of his book from Claire Potter's earlier "War on Crime" (1998). She detailed the experience here: http://tenured-radical.blogspot.com/2009/07/steal-this-book-public-enemies-john.html

I know a guy who laughed out loud when Holly Hunter went down with the piano.

D. Hufford- Though I admire your zeal for authenticity, the Revenant is a good ol' adventure yarn... "based on a true story," as the age old adage goes. Forget timeline liberties, the bear attack(s) alone would have clearly dismembered said hero several times over. That said, it's about as close to historical fact as Hollywood ever gets.

@Kenneth Tanaka

How about His Girl Friday v The Front Page? Both based on the same play.

Just watched Antonioni's "Blowup" again. Keeps reminding me how much "fun" we had with film and the darkroom.

Star Wars ("Episode IV" from 1977) should have flopped like a dying fish when it came out.

A "space opera," like Buck Rogers... in the mid-70's? Seriously? Add a cast of nearly unknowns, some ham-fisted dialogue, and it only comes off due to a young crew didn't know it was high-camp, and worked their butts off following the director's inexplicable vision.

Really, look at what came before it in terms of space adventures (if you're not old enough to already know). No way it should have such an impact. Like a toddler knocking out Mike Tyson.

I wasn't going to comment on this because I could not remember a specific good move with a horrible ending, although I have seen many. Then I watched "Julia" on Netflix last night and there it was. Great direction, great acting (Tilda Swinton), good story, and great cinematography. Then there was the ending—feh! It was a 2-½ hours movie that just died in the last 3 minutes.

The special effects helped too. When the Tantiv IV flew by you thought "cool, neat spaceship". Then the Star Destroyer entered the frame and kept going and going and going and you knew you were in for a treat. I went the first weekend it was released and the audience stood and applauded when the SFX guys showed up in the credits.

As far as a film firing on *no* cylinders I have to nominate "Battlefield Earth".

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