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.

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.

Skip’s Quips: With Baseball Season A-Comin’, ‘Damn Yankees!’ Should Be on the Menu

Blog Sketch 082813I always thought Damn Yankees! was a severely underrated musical.

It has fun, catchy songs. Great, inimitable turns by Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston. And an amusing, baseball-centric story relating to the Washington Senators’ Devil-assisted quest for the pennant.

Now that baseball season is nearly upon us, this film should be on the plates of cineastes everywhere.

I’m not sure why it isn’t. For some reason, it’s hard to find on TV these days, despite the fame of many of its numbers (“You Gotta Have Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants” included). There are laughs and charm within this piece of celluloid. Someone should schedule it for the telly more often.

I admit that my thoughts do turn to baseball when February and March roll around, and though a wealth of film choices pertaining to the Great American Pastime is available year-round, musical options are limited. That’s one of the reasons why Damn Yankees! is so valuable. It’s unusual, an anomaly. And good enough to be a standard.

I, for one, can’t wait to see it again.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Irma la Douce’ a Prime Showcase for Sizzling Paris

Blog Sketch 082813Billy Wilder can do no wrong.

Well, that’s not exactly true. But he’s one of my favorite directors, and after seeing Irma la Douce the other night, I can confirm that he’s one of the most innuendo-laden as well.

This is pretty sexy stuff, the Paris-set tale of a prostitute (played by Shirley MacLaine) and her ex-policeman beau (Jack Lemmon). Terrific writing, cinematography and art direction, too, with the City of Light coming to marvelous life onscreen. It may not be my favorite Wilder picture, but it has a lot going for it, with the director’s usual tart dialogue livened up by a salacious setting.

It helps, of course, that Paris is one of my favorite places, and my fond memories of it complement the images put on celluloid.

Let’s not forget a performance by the inimitable Lou Jacobi as a worldly bartender; he helps make the movie. Which should be better known, in my opinion. That it isn’t smacks of a time-tested Puritan sensibility, though in this age of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wonder if that’s all in the past.

Well. I know which film I’d rather watch.

Skip’s Quips: Getting in (Tommy) Tune With Gershwin’s ‘Lady, Be Good’

Blog Sketch 082813Last night, I had the opportunity to see the legendary Tommy Tune perform live at the New York City Center in a production of George Gershwin’s scintillating musical Lady, Be Good … and I have to say, it was worth squeezing in the tight seats to do so.

The shimmering Gershwin numbers, which included “Fascinating Rhythm,” were played in a sparkling manner by the small, on-stage orchestra (which nevertheless featured two pianos) and were complemented by singing and dancing from the towering Tune and a terrific, talented cast. Yes, Tune, even though he’s in his mid-70s, showed excellent range and a solid, well-maintained voice, along with lively feet that didn’t miss a beat. He’s still got it.

Strangely, Tune’s career in feature films has been sporadic, though he’s had a number of onscreen appearances, as well as quite a few turns on TV. If movie musicals were more prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s, I wonder if his career path would’ve been different. I’m not lamenting anything … just wondering.

Anyway, it was a treat to see him and everyone else perform the effervescent material the way it was supposed to be done. Kudos to Tune and City Center for making this wonderful evening come to fruition.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: There’s No Imitating ‘Imitation of Life’ … in Lousiness

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I’m not sure even the hallowed Cahiers du Cinéma could convince me that Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life is a good movie.

Maybe I’m missing something, but after about five minutes of this noisome, overdone film I’d had enough. I stopped watching, preferring to listen to the dialogue as it buffeted my ears.

Not fun.

Sirk may be highly regarded in some circles, but I just didn’t care for this weepy, obvious picture, and I suspect I’d feel the same way about many of his other flicks. Yes, I’m generalizing, but if this is the kind of thing Sirk is known for, I’m not interested. Give me Seven Samurai any day.

Oh, I realize I’ve got to supplement my intake of Kurosawa with lesser works now and then. I already do. Imitation of Life, however, is not something I want to revisit again; I’d even rather watch an old Steven Seagal hack-a-thon instead.

Though I hope I won’t have to make that choice. Anyway, on to better cinematic options.

Skip’s Quips: Help! My Ears Got Punished During ‘The Trip to Italy’

Blog Sketch 082813Who doesn’t like movies about a couple of guys taking a trip to Italy to dine at fancy restaurants while doing interminable impersonations of assorted celebrities?

I don’t. And consequently, I didn’t care for Michael Winterbottom’s disastrously unfunny The Trip to Italy at all.

I wasn’t a big fan of The Trip, the film’s picaresque predecessor, but at least the concept, which involved Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon doing impressions during meals at various restaurants in England, was somewhat novel at the time. Its sequel, however, is not so lucky. In fact, many of the impersonations (Michael Caine, Al Pacino) seem to be rehashed from the original film, leaving the viewer wondering if they have anything actually new up their sleeves to bring to the table.

It’s quite an awkward mix, this picture, what with the “comedy” (basically Coogan and Brydon talking over each other without offering much context) juxtaposed with shots of food and Italian landscapes … though the cuisine and scenery seem to be extraneous, playing second fiddle to the duo’s tedious, presumably improvised schtick.

I’m sorry, but I like my comedy cooked throughout, not half-baked. And The Trip to Italy is so underdone it’s raw.

One of the biggest problems with the flick is that it’s not cinematic. It’s a collection of episodes punctuated by flat humor and pseudo-philosophical asides. You’d be hard pressed to find another picture in recent years that dwells so much on quotes provided by Shelley and Byron. But you’d also be hard-pressed to find one that trivializes their work so frustratingly by making fleeting references to them and not following up with any further insight. That’s pretentious, fellow viewers, and makes for problematic movie-watching. I like my Shelley and Byron well-done, too. Not the way The Trip to Italy cooks them up.

I’m not sure what the market is for this kind of thing; it can’t be too large. It’s definitely not my kind of comedy. All I can say is I hope a third installment isn’t in the works. Making this series into a trilogy would just be too much cinematically to bear.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Assessing the Virtues of ‘Calvary’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Whenever I see a good movie, I become happy. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. My mood changes … for the better.

I experienced that transformation last night after watching director John Michael McDonagh’s powerful, upsetting film Calvary, which concerns the self-reflection of a priest in Ireland who has been told during confession that he will be killed. There’s a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock mystery in this story, but much more Ingmar Bergman-esque philosophical rumination, and that suited me just fine. I like a picture that can think on Big Ideas without becoming pretentious. Calvary accomplished that. It pondered questions surrounding faith, good deeds and revenge. And it didn’t pull any punches. All while maintaining a good pace and strong dialogue.

Then there were the performances. Led by Brendan Gleeson as the priest, the cast was quite good, presenting a host of unpleasant characters with problems of their own. I think there were some credibility issues that were a bit difficult to believe (that Gleeson’s Father James wouldn’t immediately reveal his situation to the authorities didn’t make a lot of sense to me), but on the whole, Calvary presented an unusual situation realistically … and sympathetically. Perhaps it’s not a movie that I’d want to see again; parts were difficult to watch, and it wasn’t what I’d call cheerful. Still, it had a lot to offer, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.

After all, it made me happy last night. And that’s not easy from a cinematic perspective.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Is ‘Boyhood’ Over Yet, Papa Smurf?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613When you’re watching a movie and start thinking that a Robert Bresson film is faster than what you’re currently viewing, you know that’s not a good sign.

That’s what I thought about Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s tedious, overly praised exercise in navel-gazing that takes us through 12 years of a young man’s life. And oh, what a long, uninteresting ride it is, lasting approximately three hours … at least one of which could’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor. Plus, it has two of my least-favorite performers in it: Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. All of these ingredients add up to a pretentious whole, which is reflected in the flick’s general, all-encompassing title.

There’s a difference between something that’s deliberately paced and something that’s just plain slow. Boyhood is slow, and the dialogue doesn’t drive it; instead, it cuts the flow, makes it wallow in narcissistic pseudo-introspection. The characters aren’t intriguing. The plot isn’t involving. Yes, the concept is unusual, but in practice, it doesn’t work … at least, not in this movie. And it’s not like it hasn’t been done before; Michael Apted’s Seven Up! series followed the lives of people from childhood to adulthood, and so Linklater’s conceit isn’t unique or, for that matter, so innovative.

I’ve watched longer films that felt like they took no time at all. Never one of my favorite directors, Linklater has shown with Boyhood that if a simple subject is extended over the period of a decade in movie time, it can feel like a millennium for the filmgoer. Not an exciting prospect from a cinematic perspective … and certainly one that I don’t want to repeat.

If I live that long.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Kentucky Fried Movie’ Plods Along, Generates Few Laughs

Blog Sketch 082813You may be wondering: Why has it taken me so long to watch The Kentucky Fried Movie, which I just saw for the first time last night.

The answer: I have no idea. But after watching it yesterday, I can safely say that I don’t think I was missing anything.

Sure there were some diverting moments. Mostly, however, it was a collection of not-as-funny-as-they-should-be skits, including a longish courtroom sketch that plodded its way to a decision. Blah.

Yes, it’s quotable: In that regard, it’s a film of “extraordinary magnitude.” I just wish it had more laughs. With Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers as the writers, that should’ve been the case. Sadly, many of the jokes didn’t fulfill their expectations. Some good ideas here and there. Not a lot of great ones, though.

Now that I’ve seen KFM, I have no desire to see it again. Still, I’m happy I got to watch it once. It’s important to keep an open mind about movies, right … even for the ludicrous ones?

Well, maybe not for those.