Category Archives: Orson Welles

ROGER EBERT – “A MILLION THUMBS UP!”

our Roger Ebert 

EbertJohn: I grew up in Chicago where this guy started out with Gene Siskel on the local PBS station. Forty years later I was still watching different incarnations of the Ebert formula. In fact I had suggested to a friend that we do the same thing on the web. I said I would even write both parts if he wanted. When that didn’t fly, I did it with my dog instead—SpankyandJohnGoToTheMovies.com.

Sparky: I don’t blame the guy; you even got my name wrong. It’s Sparky, John, Sparky not Spanky!

John: Well I always liked those “Spanky and Our Gang” early shorts. But one way or another we’ve had almost 16,000 viewers from all parts of the globe (Norway, Taiwan, etc). And now we do old movies as well as new releases since many people watch Netflix or other movie options.

Sparky: So getting back to Ebert (if that really was his name), why do you think he was the best known movie critic?

John: People loved the discussion. It wasn’t just Pauline Kael telling us what to think, but two people discussing something they were participants in. It reminded me of college, arguing over Plato and the Existentialists. We felt we were a part of the dialogue—no, the best part of the dialogue. And Siskel and Ebert or Ebert and Roper demonstrated how that could be.

Sparky: So how is that different from today?

John: Now we are consumers, manipulated by the film industry. There’s big money at stake so they aren’t taking any chances. But with Ebert we were…artists, searching for meaning. Finding the memorable. Some people, like Hitchcock and Bergman, had enough confidence in their audiences to let them be players. Now, I don’t know. Roger Ebert’s time, our time, is over. Still it’s hard not to love a man who emblemized something so special.

Spanky: And we do that by keeping his spirit alive in our blog.

John: Four “Barks” out of four, my friend. Four “Barks” out of four.

Advertisements

THE PLAYER – “You’re the Movie”

Altman at the 1992 Cannes Festival

THE Player  – Robert Altman , director, 2011

JOHN: Fun to revisit  one of Altman’s best, and see it stand up so well. Tim Robbins is fantastic. And a couple scenes, real classics: he asks a table full of hangers-on if they can talk about anything but Hollywood (they can’t), the murder itself and his cold blooded look as he sits on a couch dressed in black and tells his girlfriend (Bonnie Sharon), she has been replaced—in a way that brings out the smarmy side in all of us.

GO, GO, GO, GO (4 GOs out of 4)

SPANKY: Don’t forget the ending which cleverly brings this full circle (we are watching the movie Graham Mill is blackmailed to make). And the opening 7 minute, 47 second tracking shot—an homage to Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.  Almost as much fun are the guest appearances of famous people playing themselves—Angelica Huston, Elliot Gould, Steve Allen, Jack Lemmon, Jeff Goldblume, Joel Grey, Sidney Pollack, etc. It’s almost like being in Hollywood and spotting these people on a street corner yourself. Then there’s the irony of Bruce Williams and Julia Roberts starring in the movie within a movie of how the rich (and we know that’s the Robbins’ character) never get prosecuted. Wow!

BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK(4 BARKs out of 4)

In November 2000, Altman claimed that he would move to Paris if Geroge W. Bush were elected, but joked that he had meant Paris, Texas when it came to pass. He noted that “the state would be better off if he (Bush) is out of it.”

THE THIRD MAN – Homage

SPANKY: Well John pleaded with me to run this black market version after our watching the Carol Reed classic at least a dozen times. What can I say (I need someone to type). For our real review click: Third Man

"Yours truly, Harry Lime."

Seeing Harry’s Ghost

by Jack Lehman

      Cue zither music.

     He didn’t know why, sitting in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the U of Notre Dame, he decided to turn around and look up at the choir loft.

     When someone dies who is older than you, you think, that’s the way it goes, death is a part of life. When that person is younger, it just seems a tragedy—all that they will have missed. But when it is someone your own age, in fact your old college roommate, it all becomes uncomfortably personal. That could have been they had been delivered by the same doctor, Harry’s grandfather, years ago in Chicago.

“Max,” Harry had said their sophomore year, “I’m sick of my roommate and you’re probably tired of living in the dorm alone. Let’s room together. With your grade-point average we could get anyplace on campus we want. What do you say?”

Max had said yes and it had been a good choice. Harry was a sociology major and Max was in the Great Books Program which meant they had two years of endless, friendly arguments—sometimes late into the night.

Once, after a meal of Chinese take-out, the roommates had actually turned in at the 10:30 lights out. They both slept soundly, Max might add. The next morning the guy next door, Walt, asked, “What were you guys fighting about so noisily all last night?” Max and Harry had been debating each other in their sleep.

These were memories that filled Max’s mind as he sat in one of the rows of long, wooden benches at Sacred Heart. Shafts of afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows to his right as the priest droned on to an empty church (except for Max, a strikingly-beautiful woman Max assumed was Harry’s widow, a younger person—their daughter —and a boy who was probably Harry’s grandson. Oh there were two or three students further back, but he assumed they had nothing to do with the memorial service.

Max and Harry had argued about the Cubs versus the White Sox, genetics versus environment, the pros and cons of capital punishment and a thousand other unsolvable dilemmas. But the one which didn’t seem particularly important at the time was what kept the two separated for the fifteen years after graduation. It was whether one should marry for love or for money. Max, the romantic idealist, argued for love. Sociologist Harry took the position that we needed financial security to put worry behind us and actually find ourselves. He pointed to both their parents and asked, “After six months how much of your honeymoon romance is going to remain anyway?”

Max didn’t know. He had had only two or three dates, total, up to that time. Harry began traveling to expensive girls’ schools for dances on weekends. He was practicing what he preached. Max tried not to pay attention, and when Harry’s wedding invitation came, Max was overseas in the Army, happy to have an excuse not to attend.

But a memorial service, at his old college—at their old college. Harry’s daughter had written, it had been his final request. So here Max was even if he didn’t arrive until after the service had begun. Max was quickly lost in thought. Then, inexplicably, he turned around. There was Harry looking down at them.

In retrospect Max realized, he should have stayed in his pew, with closed eyes, feigned prayer, later introduced myself to Harry’s family. Offered his condolences. Maybe invited everyone out for pie. But he didn’t.

Max jumped up and hurried to the back of the church. No one noticed. He had remembered a stairway in the vestibule when he’d come in. He rushed up the steps and sure enough, through the door there was the choir loft. But it was empty. Max didn’t  know why but he’d half expected that it would be. In any case he knew just were Harry would be.

In those intervening years between graduation and today’s memorial service, Max had often envisioned Harry and himself sitting toward the top of the deserted outdoor football stadium, like Joseph Cotton (as hack writer Holly Martins) and Orson Welles riding the giant Ferris wheel in Vienna three quarters of the way through The Third Man. That scene concludes with Welles reciting the film’s famous little piece, which Welles, in fact, had improvised and Graham Greene decided to put into the script. Harry Lime: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love—they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.” Continue reading

BODY HEAT – Dead On, Terrific Noir!

Body Heat, written/directed by Lawrence Kasdan, 1981 

The GOOD: Ted Danson dancing like Fred Astaire on a deserted boardwalk late at night. William Hurt spotting a clown driving through town in an old convertible. A cast of unknowns who became mega-stars in a production by a first-time director that proved in retrospect to be their finest work. 

The BAD:  How we the audience congratulate ourselves all the way through on being smarter than Ned Racine. (At the end, in an anti-climax to die for, he uncovers a secret that blindsides all of us smug viewers.) 

What BUGS ME: The narrow spectrum traditionally given to film noir: from The Maltese Falcon to Touch of Evil.  What about Chinatown, Kiss Me Deadly and The Long Goodbye? This film, originally written-off as a Double Indemnity clone, offers something new to the black and white code hero walking mean streets. Hurt’s character is a shop-worn, over-aged guy kidding himself about his womanizing skills. Like updated Chandler and Hammet anti-heroes, he is us, sitting out there in the dark. 

SPANKY: Incredible that the writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark should strike gold with his directorial debut. Sure it owes something to Double Indemnity but its ending when Kathleen Turner’s character must be wondering about the price she has paid for her dreams should leave all actors who become famous by pretending to be other people (and we in the audience who enable this) wondering the same.

     Did you know this film, originally to be shot in New Jersey, was forced to be moved to Florida because of labor disputes out East. But the new location suffered record low temperatures. The sweat is sprayed on; actors had to chew ice cubes and spit them out so when they said their lines outside we wouldn’t see their breath in the cold. Amazing.

     The dialogue is the stuff of great noir, with lines no one would ever hear in real life, but they work seamlessly in the film. Plus an outstanding musical score by John Barry. 

BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK (4 BARKS out of four) 

JOHN: Sounds like a great introduction to my poem, Spanky:  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GO, GO, GO, GO (4 GOs out of four)

 

Me and Orson Welles— Don’t Miss This!

Me and Orson Welles, Richard Linklater,  director, 2009

Rosebud!

HOOK: Orson Welles 

LINE:  “How the hell do I top this?” 

SINKER: The chance to be sprayed by Orson Welles spit. 

JOHN: I love this film. Christian McKay plays Welles better than the real Welles could have, and despite second billing in the title, the great man is center stage. But like in real life as with McKay’s flawless channeling, how do you deal with Orson Welles—not only how do actors in his stage production of a modern dress Julius Caesar deal with him, but how do we in the audience respond after reeling from his histrionics/genius. The answer is “carefully.” Linklater gives us Disney star Zac Efron, who is taken in and spit out, and that almost balances off the maestro, exhibitionist, conjurer, Falstaff, self-romancer, spotlight-hogging, cigar-gnawing, womanizer Welles. There’s a seemingly effortless recreation of the 1937 times, and what I loved best was the spirit of putting a show together (doing whatever it takes), pulling it off and then wondering if any of this matters to anyone. It is the basis of everything theatrical from  a high school play to Shakespeare. If you’ve ever been bit by the artistic bug, see this movie, it’s about you. 

GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four) 

SPANKY: Well, John, what could I expect from someone who called his literary magazine Rosebud or if I am to believe you, actually saw Orson Welles direct a made-for-TV film in Yugoslavia?  But your last sentence proviso might explain the empty theater and poor distribution of this good film. You have to bring something to the viewing experience. The romantic connection between Zac Efron and Zoe Kazan is pleasant enough to watch and a fitting consolation to the young actor’s betrayal by Welles, but there is a distance between the “me” and the audience. Maybe necessary because Welles is originally snagged by the young man’s moxi (above and beyond what most of us are capable of). We are shocked by his being fired, but it is not as if it has happened to us. I’m not faulting the performances, just saying that it would be a leap to imagine being part of something so much bigger than life and many movies do a better job of making the story something we experience rather than watch. In my mind the director has yet to bridge that gap between Before Sunset and Citizen Kane, but hey, who has. On the plus side, what the movie presents of the play makes me want to see Caesar and the radio broadcast was equally enthralling. This is a love letter to show business, it’s just that to appreciate it you already have to have those stars in your eyes. 

BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK,  (4 BARKs out of four) 

ADDITIONAL. I’d just left the Army and we are on the first leg of a year’s journey that took us to Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal and back to Germany. Anyway, it was a warm early fall afternoon in Split, Yugoslavia, and a crowd was gathering several blocks away. With our one-year-old in a carrier on my back, we hurry down the seaside street to see what possibly could be going on.     

     There’s the snapshot in my memory that remains. A movie was being shot in front of an old hotel. This is intriguing in itself. But then we look past the actors and cameras and see that the man directing it is none other than…the legendary…Orson Welles. 

     He looked terrible. As wide as he was tall, he was dressed in a black shirt, black trousers, and a black suit coat that he must have slept in. His hair was greasy and hanging straight over his forehead and his corpulent face was a sweaty, beet red. He seemed to be tilting slightly backwards to balance his colossal weight.

     But it was the Orson Welles. Orson Welles directing!

     A taxi pulled in front of the hotel entrance and as the woman got out the camera on the other side zoomed in, shooting into the interior of the automobile she was leaving. All this was done without any verbal direction. In fact this seemed to be more a rehearsal or a scene that would be shot.    

     Then Orson Welles turned to the cameraman.     

     My God, I thought, I am going to hear the greatest cinematic genius of all time actually tell his cameraman what to do.

     He said, with that still-sonorous Orson Welles voice coming from deep in his diaphragm as if from the bottom of a huge, empty barrel, “Mario, keep your eyes on the camera, these people will steal anything.” 

     That was it?

     Probably no one in the crowd but my now ex-wife, Pat, and I understood English, but we laughed all afternoon repeating the words:

     “Mario, keep your eyes on the camera.”

     And our baby laughed too…so hard and so beautifully…that during the whole rest of the trip if we wanted him to roll with laughter, we say…“Mario, keep your eyes on the camera!”

     What an anticlimax, but looking back what could he have said that would be more memorable? For Orson Welles—known as the boy genius because of his early masterpiece, Citizen Kane—making movies for TV in Yugoslavia was probably the low point of his career. And here was my son beginning his life…with wonderful giggles. My little boy’s laughter was his masterpiece. To his parents, he was “our baby genius.”

WOODY ALLEN WEEK CONTINUES

 

When I grow up I want to be Marilyn Monroe.

When I grow up I want to be Marilyn Monroe.

 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, Woody Allen, writer/director

 

HOOK: What do women want?

 

LINE:  “Let’s not get into one of those categorical imperative arguments,” spoken by a yuppie New York Businessman.

 

SINKER: Wait a minute, let’s look a little beyond Emperor Allen’s new clothes.

 

JOHN: It’s easy to see this as a film where Javier Bardem (who we all know is really a serial killer) is playing a romanticized version of Allen all women (the cheek-boned Scarlett Johansson, an anguished Rebecca Hall and a demented Penelope Cruz) are fixated on in sunny Barcelona. But don’t go that route. The men in this movie are all two-dimensional, at best. But here, for once, is a complex look at three very different women that is thought-provoking and avoids easy movie solutions. Plus the unique suggestion that in life it is the mix that matters. Maybe we do learn something from relationships we have, and maybe that is the stuff of real art. This not only achieves, it surpasses.

 

GO GO GO GO (4 GOS out of four)

 

SPANKY: We dogs often must listen to a disembodied master’s voice so I wasn’t bothered by the somewhat heavy-handed voice over. In fact I think most movies offer about a short story’s worth of content and here, thanks to that VO and the introduction of new characters throughout the presentation, we have a novel. Penelope Cruz (like Orson Welles in The Third Man) enters well after half the movie is over, but we have been so prepped for her it seems she has been a part of the story all along. When she does appear, she is spectacular, knocking the excellent Hall and Johansson down to almost secondary roles. The great novels, like the great films, don’t provide easy answers as much as they lead us to better, more fully, understand the big questions.

 

“TWO PAWS UP” (4 BARKs out of four)

 

IN BRUGES

"Is there honor among hit men?" asks John dressed for the role of an extra.

"Is there honor among hit men?" asks John dressed for the role of an extra.

In Bruges, Martin McDonagh director, 2008

 

 

 

HOOK: Two professional killers on holiday in a picturesque Belgian town. Or are they?

 

LINE:  “That’s for John Lennon,” Farrell yells decking an American objects to the hit man’s girlfriend blowing cigarette smoke his way in a restaurant.

 

SINKER: The theme of this Coen Brothers-like romp is one that once was the staple of Hollywood movies: father/son relationships is pretty much lost in playwright Martin McDonoagh’s debut feature. But it’s there after the gun smoke clears.

 

JOHN: Collin Ferrell is terrific as the erratic fish out- of- water Ray, who on his first hit, accidently kills a child. Brendan Gleeson (ordered by Ralph Fiennes to kill his side-kick) becomes paternal instead. Like Orson Welles in The Third Man, Fiennes shows up half way through the film, his reputation preceding him. All three deliver in all ways possible. And though some might see the ending as contrived, I thought it powerful.

 

 GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)

 

SPANKY: To what end, I’m not sure. This isn’t a comedy or a traditional drama. But I liked the unpredictability, and agree with you, John, about the performances. Perhaps a bit more could have been made of the fairy-tale movie being shot in Bruges at the same time (except for some of its participants it remains in the background). Fellini would not have let that opportunity slip through his fingers. The dwarf’s prediction of who will be on whose side in a race war (black midgets against white ones) is certainly something we haven’t seen or heard before. Keep your eye on McDonagh. I’d want him on my side if it were dogs against men.

 

“TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four)