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.

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: ‘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.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Driving Along With Spielberg’s ‘Duel’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Would you believe I’d never seen the Steven Spielberg movie Duel until last night?

A real shame, huh? Especially considering the fact that I’ve seen a host of other films helmed by the master director.

Duel, the story of an average businessman’s encounter with a homicidal, unseen truck driver on the lonely roads of California, was very tense and suspenseful. Great editing and cinematography, making the most of a tight script that was only hindered by a few bursts of internal monologues here and there … which it didn’t need.

I liked this movie a lot, and it was interesting to see such a strong picture so early in Spielberg’s career (the movie debuted in 1971). I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again; it’s not clear how the suspense and thrills will hold up. But it remains a well-crafted movie.

What film will come next for me? Only the screen has the answer.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Sipping at the Cup of Jon Stewart’s ‘Rosewater’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Yesterday, while at the theater to watch Nightcrawler, I saw the trailer for the Jon Stewart film Rosewater.

I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical about this production. Stewart directed the movie and wrote the script for it, and although I think he’s a funny, often insightful guy, I’m far from a devotee of his work and don’t agree with him on everything. This serious picture, which documents the imprisonment and questioning of a journalist in Iran, is hardly comic material, and comedy is Stewart’s specialty. From a cinematic standpoint, it’s a big risk.

On the other hand, the trailer suggests some interesting cinematography and intriguing dialogue, which would be a big step forward for the usually lighthearted Stewart. It’s also topical subject matter, given the tyrannical regime currently in Iran, and might call further attention to the events occurring there. So there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to seeing it.

The question is: Will it be good? It’s hard to say. I guess I have to wait and see.

I hate doing that.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: What Happened to All Those Great Opera Movies?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Remember Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent film of Verdi’s Otello? Lush production, sexy direction, terrific acting, and of course, the great Placido Domingo as the titular Moor.

Why can’t we get more movies like that today?

It seems like there isn’t as much of an impetus to develop cinematic spectaculars based on classic operas as there was three decades ago, and I think that’s a shame. Once upon a time, you had Ingmar Bergman doing Mozart’s The Magic Flute, too. But now, it appears that directors of a certain stature are more content to craft large-scale pictures out of popular contemporary musicals than operatic standards. It makes sense from a commercial standpoint, as the latter have a more limited audience. From an artistic perspective, however, it’s lamentable.

I want to see a great celluloid version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, darn it! And not the nonsense that is Tristan + Isolde, see?

Today, with New York’s Metropolitan Opera doing HD films of various productions, it’s easy to think that we’ve come to an era where the genre is made accessible to everyone. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Movies of productions aren’t the same as cinematic iterations that aren’t confined to one stage; Zeffirelli’s Otello is proof of that. It was an actual film, not a filmed opera. That’s one of the reasons why it worked so well onscreen. Editing, cinematography, music, art direction – everything combined to make a powerful whole. It became a motion picture.

I don’t think opera is a dying art, nor do I believe it should be relegated to the upper class. It’s for everyone, and the great works deserve to be viewed and listened to by all. That’s why I’d like to see more of the type of thing that Zeffirelli has done in the theaters – not just HD versions. Many of these stories are quite cinematic, with fanciful plots and engaging characters. Shouldn’t they be put onscreen where they belong?

I think so. And I hope one day, we’ll see opera once again take its rightful place in the cinema.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Bad Words’ Dials ‘O’ for ‘Obnoxious’

Blog Sketch 082813I sure wish the movie Bad Words was a lot funnier.

It wasn’t horrible. In fact, it was eminently watchable, this story of an obnoxious 40-year-old no-goodnik out to prove himself on the children’s spelling-bee circuit. But it felt like a lot of humor was either left on the cutting-room floor or forgotten. The movie tried so hard to be outrageous that it lost out on a lot of laughs.

Director and star Jason Bateman steered the flick with more assuredness than I expected, and the cinematography had an interesting washed-out quality. Still, there was something unsatisfying about this picture, as if it was attempting to be two things at once: a broad comedy and a sensitive drama delving into the protagonist’s background.

I think the film took some easy routes. It’s hard to be funny. Perhaps the thought process was that the wackiness of the plot would generate laughs on its own. It didn’t, though. So in that regard, the movie misfired.

Oh, well. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. I’m sure Bateman will try for more success with other projects. Bad Words is definitely one to learn from.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Ah, ‘Commando,’ How I Missed Ya

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Sometimes being away from a movie for a long time inspires nostalgia. Sometimes it makes you like the movie more.

I kinda felt that way about Commando, the ridiculous, absurdly high-body-count 1985 “action” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as human tank John Matrix. This is a junky picture, with all-too-quick editing, poor cinematography and a script that can euphemistically be said to need work. Plus, it’s bloody as all hell, with a ludicrous amount of violence as Matrix kills baddies while searching for his daughter.

Yet for some reason, despite all of these faults, I dig the movie. It’s a guilty pleasure. You can watch it while using your smartphone or doing the dishes. You can go to the bathroom without stopping it and not feel like you’ve missed anything. It’s the perfect thing to put on when you’re just casually viewing.

Which I was doing last night. I didn’t feel like seeing a quality picture. I wanted something crummy. And I hadn’t seen Commando in a long time, so yesterday was a good day to watch it. I know: This is coming from someone who loves Kurosawa and all kinds of high-falutin’ pictures, so what gives? All I can say is that sometimes I have to slum a little. I don’t do it all the time. It’s reserved for special occasions.

This was one of them. So Commando, thanks for the evening. And as John Matrix might say: “Grunt.”

Skip’s Quips: Having Another Go at ‘Conan the Barbarian’

Blog Sketch 082813Why, I asked myself last night, am I watching the original 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian again?

Isn’t once enough for this film? It doesn’t have great cinematography. Much of the acting – except for stalwarts such as James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow – is atrocious. And the special effects are pretty poor by today’s or even yesteryear’s standards.

Oh, yeah: And the blood squibs are gloppy. Really gloppy.

Well, parts of it are watchable, for some reason. I’ve read one of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories, “The People of the Black Circle,” and the film stays true to the tale’s sensibilities. You know: blood, gore, lust and all that. Plus, there’s the much-lauded score by Basil Poledouris, which is somewhat bombastic but definitely works.

Then there’s the script, courtesy of director John Milius and Oliver Stone. Pretty simple stuff, but at least it’s not verbose and pretentious. I was grateful for that.

There were also a number of seemingly derivative moments that may have been “inspired” by classic films such as Kwaidan (the scene in which the wizard writes runes on Conan’s body to protect him from demons) and The Seven Samurai (the stake-adorned defense against Thulsa Doom’s cohorts). Surprisingly erudite stuff for a film such as this. I did see part of an interview a long time ago in which Milius lauded Kwaidan as being “dreamlike,” so perhaps he was mining that movie for Conan. Nevertheless, it made for strong viewing.

So all in all: kind of a sloppy film, with dull moments and some very good ones. I may end up watching it again in the future and asking myself, once more, why I’m doing so. Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer myself the same way.