0

From Skip and Setter’s Creator: Me and My Interview … in the ‘Times of Israel’

Blog Sketch of Me 092213Well, this is my first post in months, and it has nothing to do with cinema. It does, however, concern a very important thing that happened to me after an interview I conducted 30 years ago (when I was in seventh grade) with two Auschwitz survivors was accepted to the permanent collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: The Times of Israel interviewed me for a feature story, which you can read here. The full link:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/how-a-rediscovered-7th-grade-history-project-ended-up-in-a-museum/

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or comments. I think the writer of this story did a wonderful job.

1

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Uneasy Blink the Eyes That Watch ‘Easy Rider’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Please don’t blame me for not seeing Easy Rider all the way through until yesterday.

For some reason, I’d never got around to viewing it. I realize it’s a part of history, a seminal film of the 1960s, but I wasn’t something I felt like rushing to watch.

Well, I had the time yesterday while recuperating from a bout of food poisoning, and I have to question whether it was worth the wait.

Sure, it has fine cinematography. A terrific rock soundtrack. A bit of ambition from director/star Dennis Hopper mixed in with the counterculture ethos.

Unfortunately, it also has pretentious dialogue and quite a few dull moments, many of which are spent on the highway while the United States landscape flits by. Politically, it’s interesting, perhaps a bit dated, but I don’t think it’s enough to carry the film. The picture meanders, doesn’t go anywhere. And for a road movie, that’s a real issue.

Sure, it’s important. It played a role in stitching the American fabric. But I have no desire to see it again. Once was enough.

Not the mark of a true classic, in my opinion. Sadly, I think Easy Rider, as Peter Fonda’s Wyatt says in the end, blew it.

1

Skip’s Quips: Continuing to Relish ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

Blog Sketch 082813After watching a sobering documentary on the 1960s TV band The Monkees last night, I tuned in to more lighthearted fare: Richard Lester’s classic Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I’d seen it countless times, yet in each instance it remained as fresh as ever. Nothing changed on Friday evening. The jokes were still funny, the cinematography superb, the editing slick, the direction sharp. Plus there was that Beatles music. You can’t go wrong with that.

Well, maybe you can with songs such as “Wild Honey Pie.” But thankfully, AHDN didn’t showcase ditties such as those.

The Monkees definitely tried to replicate the style and substance of The Beatles. But in my opinion, they didn’t come close. The material wasn’t the same. AHDN was an innovative picture. It changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll and its appearance in the cinema. To this day, there’s nothing like it, not even the myriad music videos that followed the flick years later. It’s one of a kind.

So I will continue to enjoy it, as I’ve done for decades. It may be a product of a bygone era. Yet there’s nothing dated about it. That’s the mark of a great movie. That’s the mark of art.

0

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Criticizing ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ … a Lot

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Somehow I knew The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies wasn’t going to be good.

Oh, sure, I hoped it would be magnificent. Better than its predecessors. A real winner.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was a mess. And it had none of the soul that director Peter Jackson’s previous installments in the series featured, despite its sizable length and myriad characters.

It’s a shame. I would’ve liked a greater film. But I expected this, sadly. Drawing out the last part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book didn’t seem like a good idea to me, and the picture felt bloated, padded. It didn’t feel real.

The battle scenes had little excitement. The dialogue seemed stilted. And there was the introduction of a fight to save the wizard Gandalf that smacked of falseness, artificiality. It didn’t work.

Too bad. I wanted it to succeed. I like Jackson’s work a lot. I just didn’t like this one.

And that makes me sad. I don’t know why, but it does.

Will I see it again? Who knows. Maybe it’ll be more interesting on second viewing. I doubt it, though. The idea of that doesn’t appeal to me.

I wish it did.

0

Skip’s Quips: Turn Off ‘Girls,’ Please; I Can’t Stand It!

Blog Sketch 082813Count me as one of those who dislikes the TV show Girls.

I’ve tried watching it, albeit sporadically. The verdict: Yuck.

Creator Lena Dunham has talent; there’s no doubt about that. I don’t always care for her work; Tiny Furniture was, in my opinion, tedious and unconvincing. But she does have a certain style and, well, je ne sais quoi. She can write.

If only Girls used her talents better.

There’s something about the program that seems off-the-cuff, in a bad way. It feels forced, uninvolving. I’m not invested in the characters, who generally aren’t compelling. And the whole thing smacks of navel-gazing, to the extent that it’s hard to watch. I may be in the minority on this, but I strongly believe in what I say. Girls, to me, is artificial, plastic. I bounce off it, as a viewer, rather than get absorbed by it.

So why am I watching it? Well, it’s a not-so-long story. My wife enjoys it greatly, and when it’s on, I tune in. Then tune out just as fast. Without an engaging storyline, it doesn’t drive me to stick with it. I invariably end up checking out clips of wacky animals on my cell phone.

A good TV show won’t give you the chance to do that. A good TV show will force you to watch and avoid those charming YouTube videos.

I need a good TV show in my life. I don’t need Girls.

0

Setter’s ‘Spectives: The Pain of Bothering With ‘Nancy Goes to Rio’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613When you’re looking for Carmen Miranda to save a movie, you know something’s really wrong with it.

I was hoping for a bit of that salvation from Miranda while watching Nancy Goes to Rio, a generally flat, dreary musical starring the famous Latin personality, along with Ann Sothern and Jane Powell. Try as she might, however, Miranda wasn’t able to salvage quality from the wreckage, and I ultimately had to turn the film off in frustration.

It wasn’t funny. The songs were poor. What more could you not want?

All kidding aside, I do like Miranda a lot; I just wished this movie was a little better … and that she was onscreen more often. She did liven the proceedings to a certain extent, but unfortunately she seemed to take a back seat to the blah storyline and uninteresting main characters played by Sothern and Powell.

My biggest concern with the flick, though, was the music, which was remarkably subpar. That includes the dreadful title number, a repetitious little ditty with a dull melody and weak lyrics. The other songs didn’t fare much better. In a musical, you just gotta have good tunes. There’s no way around that.

Needless to say, I won’t be watching the rest of this picture any time soon.

0

Skip’s Quips: Reconnecting With ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’

Blog Sketch 082813Sometimes movies that were childhood favorites remain just as good when you see them through an adult’s eyes.

I felt that way while watching the classic, leprechaun-filled Disney fantasy Darby O’Gill and the Little People last night. Boy is this a fun picture, and just as charming as I remembered it, with lovely, lilting dialogue, colorful cinematography and brilliant effects work … including some stellar scares via the depiction of a banshee that used to creep me out big time when I was a kid.

Oh, yes: And you have Albert Sharpe as the title character, plus Sean Connery as a young man. What’s not to like?

I was actually surprised at how well this film stands up today. It really is quite entertaining, and I even relished parts of it. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but as a piece of escapist movie-making it’s just fine. Certainly better than many flicks I’ve seen recently.

In truth, I probably shouldn’t have waited so long to revisit it. Maybe it’ll become a personal favorite for me as a grownup; I sure wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Not right away, of course, but give me a few months.

I might just develop the taste for it once more.

0

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Some Incoherent Thoughts About ‘The Warriors’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613One of these days, the film community is going to recognize Walter Hill’s movie The Warriors as the classic that it is.

I think it gets short shrift because of the controversy it generated when it came out in the late-1970s owing to its depiction of New York City gangs and associated violence. But the truth is, it’s an exceptionally well-made film, with brilliant direction, strong performances, sharp editing and terrific cinematography … including some great slow-motion camerawork during the myriad fight scenes.

Surprisingly, it also has a sensitive script that calls attention to class discrepancies, most notably in a sequence set on a subway car. Not your average action flick, methinks.

So this is more than a guilty pleasure. It’s a quality picture, one that I can watch over and over again. I don’t really get tired of it. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in The Big Apple, and I have an affinity for the film’s depiction of my city. Or maybe it’s just because I like good movies.

Of course, it could be both. Still, one thing’s for certain: It should be in better cinematic standing. And that’s something I’ll advocate with all my heart.

0

Skip’s Quips: Boy, Do I Miss Wallace & Gromit

Blog Sketch 082813Where have you gone, Nick Park?

It seems like only yesterday I was watching a variety of classics created by this great animator and starring his most beloved creations: the befuddled inventor Wallace and his trusty, whip-smart dog Gromit. There was The Wrong Trousers. Then there was A Close Shave. Heck, I even loved the duo’s earliest entry into cinema, A Grand Day Out.

Sadly, we haven’t seen any more of these brilliant movies in a while. I think that’s a shame.

The pair is as inimitable as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, or Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The few films they’ve starred in are comic treasures, filled with lovingly designed animation and wonderful, witty scripts, along with terrific, iconic characterizations.

I miss them.

Maybe one day Park will revisit these two cartoon stalwarts. I still remember watching them at Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation in New York long ago, relishing their delightful humor. Please grace us with more films in which they appear, Mr. Park. We could use them.

Signing off now …

0

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Why ‘Whiplash’ Didn’t Strike Me as Great

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I love a good movie villain. Almost everyone does. He or she can help make a film.

Whiplash has one, played near-psychotically by J.K. Simmons. It’s a fine performance, nasty and sadistic, a portrayal of a vicious jazz instructor at a prestigious music conservatory. And Simmons is quite chilling in the role.

But it’s not multidimensional, in my opinion; instead, it’s relatively one-note. That’s part of the reason why I don’t consider Whiplash a masterpiece.

Yes, it’s compelling in places, but this tale of a student drummer who aspires to greatness lacks credibility in many places … including in the scenes at the school itself, where Simmons’ character abuses and manipulates his charges horribly without anyone confronting him or complaining for a long time. There’s also the aftermath of a car wreck that doesn’t seem believable, along with a host of other situations that stretch the imagination.

The picture does have dash and style, and it tells a strong story. The holes, however, are sizable and prevent me from lauding it too much. Director Damien Chazelle moves the action along, yet it still feels padded, with multiple places where it could have ended.

I’m not interested in seeing this movie again; it was very unpleasant to watch, and I can’t say I enjoyed it. It does have lots to offer, however … just not enough to make it great.

There are few films in that class, I know. And many have more than just a strong villain.