Tag Archives: movies

Sunset Boulevard – “Silents Speak”

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Sunset Boulevard

SPANKY: The Netflix rejuvenated version is great. And the plot holds up well.

JOHN: I first saw this as a kid with an audience in a small town theater who lived through the silent film days. I was struck by the exaggerated poses and facial gestures of Gloria Swanson. Now (though I still remembered some of the lines) I paid more attention to the story and how it fits movies and writing today.

SPANKY: Before we get that wisdom, didn’t you think the ending stunning. She is before the cameras—granted it is the news-media cameras—but she has come full circle.

JOHN: Haven’t we also come full circle. Longing for movies like this instead of pre-teen chase epics. Here is substance. But each generation has its needs and mine, like Gloria Swanson’ before me, has passed.

SPANKY: Television supposedly replaced movies, then cable replaced networks and now… Now we get movies for all ages and appeals over the internet. I don’t know that this forces one generation to understand the next (it is more, indulgingyourself in the familiar). But you want substance, John, and I want dog food. And those, Gloria, are words that don’t make any more sense than talkies.

SPANKY: 4 Barks out of 4

JOHN:  4 GOs out of 4



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.


JUNO, Jason Reitman, director, 2007


HOOK: Little Miss Sunshine, Part 2


STORY: Teenaged girl wisecracking her way through pregnancy. Tattooed script writer gets Oscar. Viewers turn to drugs and alcohol.


GOSSIP: Quote from stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody’s former “Pussy Ranch” blog: “I need clean-up in Booth C.”


JOHN: My God, Ellen Page is twenty-one, she looks twelve. What did she like at twelve, that fetus? And why is a movie about teen pregnancy, divorce, giving up a child for adoption, unsafe sex, alienation and teen pregnancy (whoops, I said that already) a comedy? But Jennifer Garner—who looks like my daughter—is heartbreaking. This is a trip to adolescence for those of us glad to be past it.


GO GO (2 GOs out of four)


SPANKY: I liked the dad. He was the only one (including the stepmom) not talking that self-conscious teenspeak. John and I agree for once. Movie goers are pretty desperate to be excited by this one. What next a laugh-riot about anorexia. And that Once-style duet at the end! Sure life is going to work out well for this pair. Kids, use a condom. Adults, if you watch this one, pull the condom over your head.


“TWO PAWS DOWN” (1 BARK out of four)


KEEPER: “Juno? Like Juno, Alaska?” “No.”


Dark City

Dark City, Alex Proyas, director, 1998

PITCH: A Blade Runner film noir that literally keeps you in the dark.

STORY: What if everything you remember never happened but someone just wanted you to think it did? Sorry, what was that again?

HOOK: Six Special Effects in Search of an Author.

JOHN: Well, as I see it, this could be one of two things:
1) an homage to the first real science fiction movie, Fritz Lang’s 1920s Metropolis (set in a corporate city-state, society has been divided into two groups: one of planners who live high above earth in sky scrapers and another of workers who live underground toiling to sustain the lives of the privileged).
2) a dramatization of the struggle between the collective consciousness and individualism ala The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (We assume that the individual consciousness we have today has always existed in humans, but Jaynes points to studies of the two hemispheres of the brain and to archeological and even literary evidence to dispute that.). A fascinating book but not one that immediately jumps to mind for adaptation into a movie—and as the talky, intellectualizing conclusion of this film shows, one that won’t have movie audiences leaving the theater humming any Star Wars-like theme.

GO GO (2 GOs out of four)

SPANKY: I thought we were going to see Sex and the City, which come to think of it probably would have been scarier. There’s a danger in seeing a movie in which everyone falls asleep, as the characters in this one do at midnight every night. I fell asleep but unfortunately when I awoke the same plot was just droning on and on, Ketiher Sutherland trying to act creepy, William Hurt being creepy. When Metorpolis first came out critics called called it “vague,”confusing” and at times ”plain silly.” Fritz Lang (after breaking up with his Nazi-supporting wife who wrote the original story) said he didn’t even like the film, and he found its ending “false.” So Proyas couldn’t have made a better homage. Dark City is vague, confusing, just pain silly and its ending seems completely false. Way to go Hollywood!

“NO PAWS UP” (1 BARK out of four)

KEEPER: “When was the last time you remember doing anything during the day?”


Clifford, The Big Red Dog, 2005


PITCH: A two-story high, red cartoon dog befriends kids instead of eating them.


STORY: The little girl, Jetta, jealous of Emily Elizabeth’s giant dog, falsely claims she has a pet that is even bigger and smarter—a giant parrot. When the neighborhood kids challenge her she dresses up the good-natured Clifford as the bird, with a hose tied to his neck through which she pretends he can talk. Her own dog, Machiavelli, is shamed, and Jetta forced to tell the truth when Clifford can’t fly.  


HOOK: A canine King Kong is betrayed by one deceitful human but cherished by another, a kindergarten-aged Fay Ray.


JOHN: I’m helped today by my three-year old grandson, Desmond, who will give you the perspective of the intended demographic.

J: How did you like the movie, Desmond? D: I want a popsicle.

J: What did you think of such a big dog? D: He looks like a turkey!

J: Well, Clifford is dressed up like a bird, but is meant to be a parrot. Anyway, what was the best part? D: I want a popsicle.

J: You can’t have a popsicle. D: You’re a turkey! Boink. Boink. Boink.  

                                                  GO GO GO (3 GOs out of four)


SPANKY: Who’s following this monster with a pooper scooper, that’s what I want to know. I think with all this attention focused on Clifford most audiences miss the angst Jetta’s real dog is experiencing. That’s the tragedy here, not that a kid lies or that a dog can’t convincingly impersonate a parrot. “Machiavelli’s Revenge,” that’s the episode I want to see, which dramatizes the little dog pointing at Clifford and telling all the kids, “A prince may be perceived to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious, but he should only seem to have these qualities.” A message every real dog already knows well.    

                                                 “TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four)


KEEPER: Neighborhood kid to Jetta about the parrot, “It’s Clifford. It’s not even real.” (As if the big, red dog is.)



Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich, director, 1955 


PITCH: Hard-boiled private eye vs. the atomic age. The P.I. loses. 


STORY: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), a cheap, sleazy, vigilante, is searching for a mysterious box he knows nothing about, save for the fact that it contains something more valuable than anything he has ever chased in the past. This great whatzit is a symbol of truth that promises each character an answer to something inexplicable. The final discovery buried the film noir genre forever.


HOOK: If the 50s seem surreal, this is a b&w Dali masterpiece.


JOHN: Mike Hammer was the tough guy hero of kids my age. Ralph Meeker gives him a snarling brutishness that is necessary for the ending of the film but not the kind of Clint Eastwood, Humphrey Bogart tough guy you want to emulate (even in your male fantasies). The women are more psycho than seductive and the light pulsating form the mysterious case everyone is searching for is the best symbol of evil the movies have ever come up with. Warning: The re-mastered DVD shows a more romanticized ending, the “alternative ending,” which is a bit more existential, is the one that was shown in theaters during the films initial release. In both the final words THE END zoom out from the inside of the exploding house. And it is.


 GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)


SPANKY: This film fits my category of  “Cars You Love to Chase.” The film starts with a white Jaguar convertible coupe driving down a lost highway. Then we get a classic MG, followed later by an early model Corvette. What we want to do when the Jag plunges off the cliff is stop the film and run it backward. In fact if you did that with the entire film you’d have a contemporary Book of Genesis, starting with a Big Bang and ending with a naked lady running down the road (also that way Ralph would become “meeker”).


“TWO PAWS UP” (4 BARKs out of four)


KEEPER: “Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me…The liar’s kiss that says ‘I love you,’ but means something else. You’re good at giving such kisses. Kiss me.”



Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958


PITCH: Woman as embodiment of a hidden, male rescue-fantasy.


STORY: A fat, short, bald director (Hitchcock) has a popular movie star, Jimmy Stewart, rejected by a cool platinum blonde Kim Novak. Stewart gets pissed; Novak falls to her death. His illness is cured. The film was passed over by the Academy for Gigi about a young woman trained to be a courtesan of a wealthy suitor. 

HOOK: This movie is the beginning of the end for Hitchcock (he would only do Marnie, Psycho and The Birds afterwards). The Sixties would reject big studios, big stars, big (fat, short, bald) directors, and here we see Hitch making a pre-emptive strike by starting to reject us. He takes the quintessential learn-from-your-mistakes, It’s a Wonderful Life guy and hangs him between life and death by a bent gutter—literally at the beginning, figuratively at the end. His friend Midge with a career designing brassieres is a maternal figure who desires him to be a more mature “big boy,” which he ultimately rejects. 


JOHN: Three things strike me 50 years later. 1) the shoulder-less Steward delivers real angst in his last scene. 2) With Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears and Lindsay Lohan we have come full circle—can a new Sixties be around the corner? And 3) The real genius of this film is in its pacing: It starts with a chase, but slows to an endless, dialogue-free, stalking of Novak through a San Francisco of meandering streets, a bridge to nowhere and classical facades suggesting eternal themes. The plot unwinds with half-expected surprises, but the ending is abrupt. We don’t have time to process it. We panic. This genuine, metaphysical moment shared by actor, director and audience transcends Hitchcock’s body of otherwise interesting but overly manipulative work. Bernard Herrmann’s music, yes; Saul Bass’s opening titles, no.  


 GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)  


SPANKY: A revisit to this classic (it is Voyeurism 201; the earlier Rear Windowwas Voyeurism 101) reveals that the James Stewart character has no past and the Kim Novak woman too much of one (Novak is pretending to be Judy pretending to be Madeleine pretending to be Carlotta—too bad none of them can act). Animals have feelings too you know, but we don’t project them on other animals and then get pissed because they are deceiving us. Jimmy “yup,” “yup” Stewart should simply smell Kim’s butt and avoid high places. Laugh if you like but isn’t necrophilia a little creepy? 


“TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four) 


KEEPER: “Don’t touch me; I just put on my face.”