Saturday, January 28, 2023

After Time After


Last night Essie I and traveled back to 1979 to watch TIME AFTER TIME, the directorial debut of Nicholas Meyer, featuring Malcom McDowell, a very young Mary Steenburgen, and the recently late David Warner. This was one of those very talked-up, log-rolled pictures back in the day, receiving glowing notices from the critics, that now seems largely forgotten. Film criticism was not then the lost art that it is today, film critics had not yet become mere shills for the huge corporate conglomerates that now own the studios; even so I had already learned a healthy mistrust of certain critical types. Janet Maslin of the (New York) Times thought it was terrific, and I respected her opinion a lot; still, I stayed away from this one, until now.

It was probably for the best; there’s much more to appreciate about TIME AFTER TIME in 2023, with the movie industry in absolute tatters, than there was in the late seventies, when far better movies were still relatively abundant.

It's very much “all right.” Meyer does love those High Concepts, and that's fine; but this one involves Jack the Ripper, a figure who is probably not as “old hat” nowadays as he was in ’79. In Victorian England, yet-to-be Famous Novelist H.G. Wells has invented a real Time Machine, which the nefarious Jack avails himself of to escape apprehension. Wells (McDowell) then pursues Jack through time, which might have been an even higher concept if that pursuit wasn’t confined to 1979 San Francisco.

Meyer instinctively knows how to tell a story and frame a shot, which guarantees a strong first effort, but a visual stylist he is not. In a way, that made him perfect for STAR TREK a couple of years later, because he brought to the table everything they needed and nothing that they didn't need. But this picture? It really could have used the visual flair of a Terry Gilliam. Just as an example, the Victorian scenes look dreadful: very artificial and inauthentic. The time machine itself looks as if it’s made of plastic, which it probably was. A good production designer could have concealed this; perhaps the studio was not entirely convinced that Meyer, who rose to sudden fame with a clever pastiche novel about Sherlock Holmes, could hold down a picture with a larger budget.

Warner is fine, Steenburgen is TERRIFIC, but McDowell looks like a fish out of water. He was trying to shed the mayhem that saturated his acting image thanks to a certain couple of movies, and this doesn’t quite do the trick. He’d already attempted this to greater effect a year earlier, in SHE FELL AMONG THIEVES, a terrific television melodrama starring Eileen Atkins in the villainous, Cruella DeVille-type of role, but neither part succeeded in washing Alec or Caligula from his shadow, did they? Not all that long after, he was back to Evil Things like killing Captain Kirk and harassing Tank Girl.

Meyer really is kind of the smartest guy in the room, and yet he still can't come up with a time travel story that isn't riddled with gaping holes. It's just the nature of the beast.

— Thorn.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Winter (Be)Wilderland


Yes, it’s Winter here in the northeast United States, and although the season has been notably kind to us until now, she has finally gone into Full Queen Bitch mode. Although some people persist in characterizing Winter as an Old White Man, those of us who have lived through a few bad ones know better. Winter is Female. And She is Not To Be Trifled With.

The cold spell that was her first gambit wasn’t nearly as bad as some that I wish I hadn’t experienced. Once, in a December still within human memory, the temperatures never rose above fifteen below zero during the day, for an entire month, and at night regularly dipped down to thirty below. Cold like that kills: Misty the horse went out of our barn one morning dragging a foot as she walked; by night she was dead, and we could not even bury her because the ground was frozen too hard.

But this winter we’ve yet to reach temperatures significantly below zero, and have hardly seen single digits. The snow held off almost entirely until last week. The fifteen inches we got at that time was bothersome but not an extreme hardship, as it was feather-light, halfway between powder and fluff.

But the two inches that we got overnight Wednesday? That was a different story. Two inches doesn’t look so bad on the ground, compared to fifteen or more, until you try to shovel it and discover that it’s saturated with two more inches (at least) of Freezing Rain. This is the kind of snow that makes you feel your age, no matter what your age is; and quite suddenly you begin to understand that you are not as young as you used to be. That’s the message that Lady Winter delivered to me yesterday: “I’m coming for you, and you can’t escape me forever.” Death comes not with a scythe, but with a freezing thick coating of white.

If you’re casting around for something to read this winter, I would heartily recommend Robertson Davies’ “Deptford Trilogy,” comprised of FIFTH BUSINESS, THE MANTICORE, and WORLD OF WONDERS — in which the lives of at least four people are forever changed by One Single Snowball. Actions Have Consequence, after all: this is a lesson that the human race never seems to learn. The second book is the real climax of the series, with WORLD OF WONDERS acting as a pleasing, prolonged epilogue. If you enjoy it, Davies was a prolific writer who found real magic in life and left many volumes of it behind for us when he left. 

Stay warm.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

I've (Finally) Got a Little List


Folks often talk about their "Top Ten" or "Top Fifty" favorite films -- I never made a formal list until the other day. 

It was hard! At the start I had a list of 130 movies all wanting to be in my Top Fifty! As I whittled titles away, the choice of what to keep and what to cut was often pretty arbitrary, and often turned on whether the director or stars already had one or more pictures on the list. On any given day, most of the titles that got cut might outrank some of the titles that stayed. At least a couple of titles only made the final cut because better movies were culled for the above reasons, and others. Ask me tomorrow, and the list might be different.

Also, this is a list of FAVORITES, not a BEST list. A "Best" list would look very different indeed. It also wouldn't tell you as much about me as this list does.

The films are listed are in no particular order, not ranked in any way -- other than that the first ten or fifteen titles probably do rank higher the ones that follow. 

I've already written about some of these pictures here on the blog: a quick search should take you right to those posts. I'll be writing about some of the other titles here in the coming days.

Why did I do this? "Just Because." I'm twelve years older than I was wren I started this blog. As you start getting on in years, you start wanting to codify things, if only to bolster your sense of perspective.

Here we go: "Doug's Favorite Fifty, Sort Of"

Sherlock, Jr. - 1924

Oliver! - 1968

King Kong -1933

Metropolis - 1927

M. Hulot’s Holiday - 1953

The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain - 2001

Modern Times - 1936

My Little Chickadee - 1940

Yellow Submarine - 1968

Kid Millions - 1934

Lawrence of Arabia - 1962

They Might Be Giants - 1971

The Maltese Falcon - 1941

Lili - 1953

The Wizard of Oz - 1939

Godspell - 1973

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 1988

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir - 1947

The Horse Without a Head - 1963

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean - 1972

Rose Marie - 1936

The Late Show - 1976

The Magician - 1958

The Bride of Frankenstein - 1935

Dumbo - 1941

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? - 1969

The Fearless Vampire Killers - 1966

The Crimson Pig / Porco Rosso - 1992

Annie Hall - 1977

Babes In Toyland  - 1934

Duck Soup - 1933

Way Out West - 1937

Ninotchka - 1939

Sweet November - 1968

Paper Moon - 1973

The Commitments - 1991

7 Faces of Dr. Lao - 1963

Return to Oz - 1985

Peter Pan - 2003

The Mummy - 1932

The Abominable Dr. Phibes - 1971

Black Narcissus - 1947

The Night Stalker - 1972

Carousel - 1956

Flash Gordon (serial) - 1936

Duel In the Sun - 1948

The Ladykillers - 1955

Pay It Again, Sam - 1972

Willard - 1971

The Mark of Zorro - 1940


More later! I really am going to make an effort to post here more often. Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Something's Coming


For reasons that I vaguely remember writing about here, some time in the distant past, This Ol' Website has lain Mostly Fallow for some time now. 

That's about to change, because for the first time in ages, I actually have Things to Post and possibly even some Things to Say. 

I can't promise you that it'll be The Greatest Thing since the invention of toenail clippers, especially in a world that's resoundingly flooded by content and drowning in voices. Everyone's talking at once, fewer people than ever are actually listening, but Because Reasons I've got the clutch down to the floorboards and am toying with the notion of actually throwing the vehicle into gear. 

We'll see what comes of it, okay?

-- Thorn.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...