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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 …

Skip’s Quips: Giving ‘The Big Chill’ a Cool Reception

Blog Sketch 082813I must’ve been the last person standing who hadn’t seen The Big Chill yet when I tuned in to the movie for the first time a couple of days ago.

It goes without saying that this is a hugely popular flick. It also goes without saying that I wasn’t too impressed by it.

Lots of characters … little genuine development. Personages felt two-dimensional, without heft or texture. I got the names of various individuals confused. Like it mattered.

I think there are good things in the film: The dialogue is often sharp, and there are a number of amusing scenes. Plus, there’s a nice collection of popular songs accentuating the action. Ultimately, though, I didn’t find the picture credible, and that was exacerbated by the pat ending, which does a poor job of wrapping things up. Conflict is left hanging. And so was I.

Who knows why I waited so long to see TBC; that will probably remain one of the world’s unheralded mysteries. (Riiiight.)  I will say that I’m happy I watched it … as I now don’t feel obligated to view it again. All because this Chill left me cold.

Groan.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Enough With the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Remakes!

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613OK, maybe there has only been one remake of the “classic” Ira Levin tale. But still. The most recent iteration of Rosemary’s Baby (from 2014) just plain stunk.

So why did we watch it? Well, the blame for this falls on Trudi (love ya, Trudi!), who ordered this magnificent piece of garbage from Netflix. Hey, it has Zoe Saldana, Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs in it; can’t be bad, right?

Wrong.

A plodding, tiresome wreck of a film, RB slouches along interminably, stopping on the way to showcase tedious dream sequences, a bit of fake blood and bland dialogue. Unconvincing stuff, methinks, which is sad because the original 1968 version directed by Roman Polanski was so involving.

It just goes to show you: Some things do not need a remake. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And so on.

Apparently, this latest version of the story was made for TV, but in this day and age, that’s not necessarily the kiss of death. Plenty of quality television hits the airwaves in this era, much of it on cable, and so there’s no excuse for not churning out a good product on the small screen.

In other words, this flick should’ve been a lot better … especially given its bloodlines. Maybe they should’ve remade Robot Monster instead.

I would’ve watched that.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: ‘The Truth’ According to Michael Palin … and Its Movie Potential

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Ever read a good book and wonder what kind of film it would make?

That’s how I felt about The Truth, Michael Palin’s recent novel about a middle-aged British journalist’s quest to write his own tome about a famous globetrotting crusader for human rights. On the surface, this work is quiet, serious, unprepossessing … unusual for Palin, known for his hilarious turns on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But underneath, the story is all about doing what’s right, even if it means uncovering wrongs from the past, and that’s a deceptively simple concept.

I think it might work well on the big screen.

Not sure if that’s a possibility, but anything can happen, right? There’s good dialogue, strong descriptive content, a powerful story and a celebrity writer behind the pages. Why wouldn’t this be a good option for the cinema, I ask?

Fine: There’s not a lot of sex … at least, nothing graphic. That could potentially be a turn-off to Hollywood, especially in this age of Fifty Shades of Grey. Still, it has a lot to like, and the bloodlines are impressive. Maybe one day someone will look at this as a strong cinematic project; it’s still a relatively new novel, and it’s quite topical. And it’s a lot more interesting than FSoG, that’s for sure.

It would be nice in the future to see The Truth playing in the theaters. I’d go to see it, definitely. Perhaps one day that will happen.

Sooner, I hope, rather than later.

Skip’s Quips: My Feelings About Cronenberg, Yuckiness and ‘Maps to the Stars’

Blog Sketch 082813David Cronenberg’s movies will rub you one way or another, there’s no doubt about that. I think his latest opus, Maps to the Stars, will be in that category, too.

The question is, will it be as strong as his previous efforts, from Scanners to Eastern Promises? I’m not so sure. In general, this director has been one of the strongest (and in my opinion, one of the most underrated) in the industry, with a talent for generating oodles of interesting plots amid creatively yucky violence, biological horror and strong performances. It’s hard to say whether he has been a favorite of mine, but his body of work is unique, and his talent is always apparent. Plus, he’s quite consistent, even when working with subpar material; you can generally find some kind of inspiration there, no matter what.

So why am I so skeptical about Maps to the Stars?

I guess the main reason is because it has one of my least-favorite actors in it: John Cusack. That, to me, is not a lure; I generally don’t care for Cusack’s performances and find most of the vehicles I’ve seen him in to be maudlin. Though his presence in the movie isn’t a deal-breaker, it doesn’t bode well for the picture. It’s not the type of casting that’ll make me want to see it.

Still, Cronenberg’s direction brings with it the possibility of surmounting any obstacles, and it’s possible that Maps to the Stars could offer quite a bit. If it’s anything like the filmmaker’s vintage movies, that would be a triumph.

Hopefully, that’ll be the case.