Monday, August 29, 2016

Remembering Gene Wilder's films, most of all the end of "Silver Streak"

We will all remember Gene Wilder today, as he passed away at age 83.  I actually learned this first from a tweet from Jack Andraka.

Two films in particular that I remember him for.  One was the black-and-white horror comedy "Young Frankenstein" (1974), by Mel Brooks, which I saw for $1 at the old St. Marks theater in the East Village in New York City, not too far from the Ninth Street Center when I was attending it just after moving there.  Wilder plays the mad surgeon. I don’t recall “Blazing Saddles” quite as well.

But the best film I recall him in is “Silver Streak” (1976, Arthur Hiller), where he finds romance but evades being pushed off the train, until it crashes into Union Station in Chicago.  Washington DC had such a wreck when I was a boy in 1953.

The video above shows the end of “Silver Streak”, where the railroad has unbelievable bureaucratic incompetence – filmed at an aircraft hangar and partly in Toronto, although it’s supposed to happen in Chicago – the train engineer is apparently murdered.  The other clip is “Murder in a Private Car” (1934) where people are rescued by a steam engine.

Of course, we're reminded of the real, horrific Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May 2015.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Visit to Cumberland Gap recalls Disney "Frontierland" movies

I can remember the weekly “Wonderful World of Walt Disney”, back in my boyhood, as well as the opening of Disneyland, first in California (I would visit it the day before a job interview when getting out of the Army in 1969).

The four lands were “Fantasyland” “Adventureland”, “Tomorrowland” and “Frontierland”.  And an early “Frontierland film” would be “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier”  (bio) with Fess Parker, directed by Normal Foster (1955).  It would be followed in 1956 by “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956).

Another favorite was “The Great Locomotive Chase” (1956)  set in the Civil War, again with Fess Parker by Francis D. Lyon.

Skip 11 years and see Roddy McDowall in James Nielson’s “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” about an opportunistic young man in the California gold rush.

All these movies came to mind at the Cumberland Gap Visitor’s Center where they showed “Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement”, for which I bought the DVD and will review soon on my Wordpress blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Gabe the Babe" and Reid Ewing team up for a comedy short film in Salt Lake; In Heaven (or Zion), everything is indeed fine. (Bonus: DuoSkin)

Gabe the Babe TV: Exposed” may be part of a web series, but by itself it functions well as an 11-munute mockumentary short film.  Gabe (and I guess a little brother) visit the home of Reid Ewing in Salt Lake City.  Even Reid’s dad (a well known college professor, as I understand) appears.

It appears that the home may be in the wooded northeast side of the city, toward the mountains and Park City, above 6000 feet.  Much of the city is around 4500 and looks like desert as it approaches the Great Salt Lake (with all those Mormon suburbs like Jordan Valley and Taylorsville).  If in the higher section, it would give Reid a good shot of training to pitch for the Colorado Rockies (in Denver, right at 5280 feet0.  In Coors Field, nobody can get anybody out anyway, as breaking pitches don’t work.  Actually, Coors Field would be a good site for another mockumentary, Modern style.  (I saw a game in the old stadium in 1994 one week before the baseball strike.)

Reid shows off his dogs, and says that the future of mankind isn’t just in having kids, it’s with animals, or learning to communicate with them.  I didn't see the cat ("Mikan") show up in the film.  He could have been outside hunting.  I once had a cat who adopted me at night and hunted outdoors all day and would return every night.

So how about a short film about the orca – the most intelligent animal on Earth, with a brain hardwired for distributed consciousness (or cosmic consciousness).  Orca’s can switch between individual mode and group mode, and their brains have a biological Internet connection (through Sonar) that enables them to feel one another’s pain directly.  Maybe the new innovation “Duoskin” will do that for humans.   Anyway, the Orca has a language like ours, and you would think Mark Zuckerberg would have learned it by now.

Or do a short film about the immortal jellyfish (not the extraterrestrial box jellyfish) that doesn’t have to reproduce, but achieves immortality in “Benjamin Button” style by retrogressing back to infancy and starting over.  Peter Thiel will notice.  (And neither the orca or jellyfish qualify as true “Free Fish”).

Anyway, this short film is done very well technically (they took pains to make this comedy skit look sharp) and would play well on its own in short film collections, in film festivals, especially LGBTQ.
I found the film on Reid’s Twitter feed, right next to a post about “Beauty and the Beast” (1946) which I retweeted with a post about the Lady in the Radiator in David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” (1977).
In Heaven, everything is indeed fine.

Pictures: Not exactly Danganronpa or Pokemon, but settings for the screenplay for my own "Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany".  If only I could raise $40 million to make it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"The Caine Mutiny" (1954) and all memories of the Trump-like captain, through stream-of-consciousness

Here’s a three minute short film showing break dancing “Outkast: Crocodile on my Feet”, link.

I give the link because it reminds me of an ad I saw in the Washington Post in 1954 one day when my mother was taking me and an older cousin to a movie in downtown Washington.  The ad was at a theater called the Pix (with a companion called the Art), and was called “Burlesque in Harlem”.  Mother had to explain to us kids what striptease meant, given the world of the 1950s, when a two-piece showed too much.

The movie we went to see was “The Caine Mutiny” (1954, Columbia, directed Edward Dmytryk) based on the novel by HermanWouk), where Humprhey Bogart made me hate him as Captain Queeg, who was the Donald Trump of his ship.  Maybe there's even some "extreme vetting".

I feel there is a foreshadowing of Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” in 1992.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"It's Up to You: Basic Combat Training": Army film recall the experience of getting drafted during the Vietnam War

It’s Up to You: Basic Combat Training”  is a 28 minute film part of “The Big Picture”, apparently shot mostly in 1966, and shown to some troops in 1967 during the era of the Vietnam War draft. The title refers to the challenge of getting through the first eight weeks and graduating from Basic.  The protagonist is in AIT and looking back (which means he "got infantry").

I took Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC from Feb. 8 until late May 1968 (I spent some time in the infirmary and got recycled through Special Training Company, adding six weeks to the whole experience).  The scenery does not look like Fort Jackson; but the film comes from the “Third Army” which is HQ-ed in S.C., so I presume this was filmed at Fort Gordon, GA, nearby. In a few scenes there is light snow in the ground, and then film seems to have been shot in winter in the South.   The recruits in the film arrive by train, but we arrived by bus from Richmond.

The training shown does not quite jive with the details that I experienced (for example here) , from my own DADT-III book).  I don’t recall a long confidence course at the end, or throwing grenades during bivouac infiltration.  I recall the G-3 testing, but I don’t think we had a chemical weapons test (where reagents are placed in a certain sequence on the back of the hand).  I do recall the pugil sticks, and the hand-to-hand (which was only moderately “intimate”), and certainly the inspections.

The film starts with a curious shot of chickens -- referring to the "Chickenman", of Saturday morning cartoons of the period, and that is that is what I was called.

You can also try "Stay Alert, Stay Alive", an Army training film for Vietnam (23 min). 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Casting of Matt Damon for "The Great Wall" raises diversity issue that seems valid for this film, but wouldn't be for mine

There is plenty of controversy over casting a prominent white male as the superhero in the upcoming film “The Great Wall”, referring to China.  Constance Wu claimed that the casting perpetuates a “racist myth”.  That white man is Matt Damon.

The film will be directed by Yimou Zhang, for Universal and Legendary Pictures.

A couple of accounts:  Variety, and Complex.  The Washington Post, in a piece by Gene Park, asks "What will it take to tear down the wall of Hollywood racism?"

Damon had been a target of the whimsical essay in the (conservative) Weekly Standard in 1999 by David Skinner, “Notes on the Hairless Man”.

Given the location of the film,  Wu’s comments do seem somewhat appropriate.  But I’d be concerned if the insistence on “diversity casting” spread to independent films with erotic subplots or contexts.  Sometimes, gender and race are simply not interchangeable.  That would be the case for my own screenplay script “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”.  Quirky fetishes can be affected by race.
Some of the controversy has spilled over into discussion at “Project Greenlight” as Adaptive Studios leads its rebirth.

What about the idea that only a "white man" can save the world?  Tom Welling, cast as the teen Clark Kent for "Smallville" (and the Remy Zero head song "Save Me") certainly at one time pandered to the northern European fantasy of physical perfection.  Not so much now as the actor has aged too quickly.

Damon, now a youthful 45, had played (at age 26) the genius kid alongside Ben Affleck and Robin Williams in Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting” (Miramax) in 1997, one of my all time favorites.
I remember seeing it in the good old days in the Shirlington Theater, long before remodeling.  Remember the line from Williams, "It isn't your fault." Will Hunting anticipated the genius of a real life Jack Andraka or Taylor Wilson. 

Monday, August 01, 2016

A pastor reviews "Fight Club", and doesn't mention the targeted presidential candidate's name; guess who

A pastor (at MCCNOVA in Fairfax, VA) delivered a “mini-review” of the "Fight Club", the 1999 film by David Fincher where Ed Norton plays an adaptive “misfit” who doesn’t make it in the material world and starts his club to explore male identity.

She mentioned a quote from the script, “I buy what I don’t need with money I don’t have to impress people I don’t even like.”  The entire sermon was “Jesus is not a capitalist”.  Guess which political candidate was targeted but not named in the sermon. 
The film was wildly popular with men in the workplace in 1999.  You can get Tyler Mowery's take on the film with a 2021 video.