FILM CRITICS, FLOPS, AND FLYPAPER (2011)

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even for us is not a giant sum of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. In 2013, Storage 24,  the British sci-fi/horror flick grossed just $72 (in the U.S.) after it was released for one day, on one screen. In 2012,  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 — the lowest-grossing film of that year. Still, the all time loser is definitely 2006’s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl which grossed $30. You can look this stuff up. You might be surprised at how many films lose money on initial release, though some make it up later when released to cable and DVD. The bigger the initial budget, the larger the potential for disaster, so despite these horrific numbers, many movies actually lost much more money.

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900. For a Hollywood bomb, that’s small potatoes. The movie was universally panned. It opened in one movie house on two screens, then disappeared until it popped up on cable. Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. A couple of nights ago, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. If Garry thinks its funny, it’s funny. He has a discerning sense of humor.

Flypaper  is a good little comedy. A spoof. A farce. A parody of bank heist movies plus a bit of slapstick, technobabble, and some fine explosions. The dialogue is witty, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies the critics thought were great.

I do not understand critics and often wonder if we saw the same movie they reviewed. Sometimes, I wonder if they actually saw the movie at all or they read someone else’s review and are just repeating what they heard.

Flypaper features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. Okay, it isn’t Blake Edwards, but it’s the same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it is a good one and fun to watch. Certainly worthy of at least a straight to DVD presentation. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from its studio. Showing it for a week in one theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a grand opening. It deserves better.

The reviews in IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate whoever wrote them never saw the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. I guess anonymity is not always bad. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t review a movie I’d never watched, or a book I haven’t read. Call me old-fashioned.

Critics heap praise on movies that are boring or worse. They pan movies that are creative, unique, and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one will be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

I couldn’t figure out what the movie was about and I doubt the critics knew, either. It was too “au courant” for anyone to admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. It was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group looked at each other and conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? We popped the movie out of the machine and moved on. Pop corn goes with conversation, too.

American Beauty reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track. He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it.

There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it.  We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does. It’s every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running amok. Everything that can go wrong does. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke.The pacing is appropriately frantic. The cast manages to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative. The more I write know about movies, the less I understand critics.

EVERYDAY IS A BEAUTIFUL DAY

Fireside Chat  — What person whom you don’t know very well in real life — it could be a blogger whose writing you enjoy, a friend you just recently made, etc. — would you like to have over for a long chat in which they tell you their life story?


I'll tell you how the sun rose ...

I woke up this morning to the bubbling and gurgling sound every asthmatic recognizes as a head cold with benefits. When I finally got my coffee, the computer turned on and all the other small things and not so small things done, and it was time to check the Daily Prompt. Lo and behold, it suggested I invite someone over and listen to his or her life story.

That didn’t appeal to me today. Too much bubbling and gurgling in my bronchial tubes. I would prefer inviting someone over to listen to my life story. It’s that kind of morning. I initially considered Sigmund Freud. He was a notoriously good listener, but his “penis envy” shtick never worked for me. I want a gentle, sympathetic ear to listen to my tale of woe. I need Harvey.

ELWOOD P. DOWD (Jimmy Stewart):

Harvey and I have things to do. We sit in the bar. Have a drink or two. Play the jukebox. Very soon the faces of all the other people turn towards me and they smile. They say: “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.”

Harvey and I warm ourselves in these golden moments. We came as strangers — soon we have friends. They come over. They sit with us. They drink with us. They talk to us. They tell us about the great big terrible things they’ve done and the great big wonderful things they’re going to do. Their hopes, their regrets. Their loves, their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. T

hen I introduce them to Harvey, and he’s bigger and grander than anything they can offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s — that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?

I’d just helped Ed Hickey into a taxi. Ed had been mixing his rye with his gin, and I felt he needed conveying.

I started to walk down the street when I heard a voice saying: “Good evening, Mr. Dowd”. I turned, and there was this big white rabbit leaning against a lamp-post. Well, I thought nothing of that, because when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name. And naturally, I went over to chat with him.

We talked like that for a while and then I said to him, “You have the advantage on me. You know my name and I don’t know yours.”

And right back at me he said, “What name do you like?” Well, I didn’t even have to think twice about that. Harvey’s always been my favorite name. So I said to him, I said,

“Harvey.” And, this — this is the interesting thing about the whole thing. He said, “What a coincidence. My name happens to be Harvey.”

I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.

I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.

I want a long, pleasant evening with Harvey. Maybe with the wood stove fired up. It’s a nice touch. Homey. It makes the house smell woody and smoky.

Who is Harvey?

P-O-O-K-A. Pooka. From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?

I thought everyone knew but you youngsters probably haven’t seen it. It’s in black and white. No one wants to watch old black and white movies anymore. They want action and CGI in blazing color with lots of sound effect. Harvey is a peaceful, gentle, funny movie without special effects. It is about a 12-foot invisible (mostly) rabbit from … mythology? Another dimension? A Pooka.

Some people can see him. Many others can’t. Regardless,  Harvey is the best friend you always wanted. And I would love to borrow him, just for an evening. I hope the dogs won’t mind.

From the lips of Elwood P. Down:

Oh, yes! Yes. Yes — these things always work out just the way Harvey says they will. He is very, very versatile. Did I tell you he could stop clocks? Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by. … You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space — but any objections.

Harvey. I’ll invite Harvey over for a lovely chat. Tonight, maybe.

A PORCELAIN UNICORN

A Moment in Time – Until today, it was the last picture I had taken. I captured it January 11, 2015 in honor of Unicorn Appreciation Day. This is the story of the porcelain Unicorn, including the best (very) short movie I’ve ever seen.

music unicorn

Release Date – August 2010
Genre – Historical / Drama
Awards – Grand prize — Philips Parallel Lines ‘Tell It Your Way’ International Competition

Starring – Trevor Teichmann, Fiona Perry
Directed By – Keegan Wilcox
Screenplay By  – Keegan Wilcox
Produced By – Anselm Clinard

The requirements: The  film could be no more than 3 minutes long, contain no more than six lines of dialogue or narrative and yet present a compelling story. The winner was  “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

It presents a lyrical, touching story of an act of conscience and kindness during a time of great peril, and a reunion many years later.

JAMES GARNER AND THE GARNER FILES

Marilyn Armstrong:

I reviewed this a couple of times. Now, yet another great review by a great blogger. James Garner was an under-appreciated performer, but turned out a wonderful body of work. His autobiography is worth reading … rather better written and less self-promotion than you expect from a celebrity bio. And this is a fine review.

Also see: THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012) on Serendipity.

Originally posted on Eagle-Eyed Editor:

Oklahoma Sunset in Oklahoma. Image courtesy of zaccrain, Morguefile.

The movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” with James Garner playing sheriff Jason McCullough has to be one of the funniest Western spoofs ever made.  One of the best scenes has Garner walking out of the sheriff’s office during a gunfight, hollering “Hold it! Just hold it!” A bunch of puzzled gunfighters stop shooting as the sheriff makes his way across the street. As Garner reaches the other side, he shouts, “Okay, go ahead!” and dives behind a woodpile as the shooting resumes.

Humor seems to have played a large part of Garner’s career as an actor. With Jon Winokur, James Garner wrote a wonderful memoir called The Garner Files. (Hey, when a book has an introduction by singer/actress/legend Julie Andrews, can it fail to be good?) In the book, James Garner talks about growing up in Oklahoma, what it was like working on “Maverick”…

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IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE – RICH PASCHALL

Watching Foreign Language Films, Rich Paschall

Unless you were born in another country or became fluent in another language, you probably have little interest in foreign language films. The language barrier is something many of us do not wish to overcome while reading subtitles. So we take a pass on them, and in turn may be missing some of the best films ever made.

Even if you are interested in films of another language, where would you go to see them? Large cities might have “art houses” that show indie and foreign language films, but that is not the case in most locales. You can always order them online, but do you want to own a foreign language DVD or stream a film to your computer or tablet? Perhaps the whole process of tracking down the good ones to watch seems to be more trouble than it is worth.

For most of my life I had zero interest in these films. Yes, I could find some and I was aware that there were excellent foreign films showing here, but basically I thought it should be left to the snobs who were proud of themselves for seeing something the rest of us did not. I thought of that in much the same way I see pretentious art critics standing in front of a painting while making pronouncements about brush strokes or some other obscure point. I was wrong, not about the art snobs but about foreign language films. They are as vibrant and artistic as anything Hollywood has to offer.

Living in a largely German American neighborhood, I often heard of the 1981 German-made World War II movie, Das Boot (The Boat). Some friends talked me into watching the gritty and often claustrophobic tale of life and conflict on the U-Boat. At the time it was made, it was the most expensive German film ever produced. The picture received six Oscar nominations. It was both unpleasant and powerful.

Years later a French intern at the company that gave me my day job was surprised to learn I had never seen the highly praised French film, Amelie (French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain). The 2001 comedy concerns the title character and her attempts to manipulate everyone’s life but her own. She even sets out to improve the life of her father, depressed since the death of his wife. Without giving away more, I can say that I now know why there was a travelling gnome in the Travelocity commercials.

My friendship with several Frenchmen, including one who is now among my best friends, has led me to a number of French films, including the classic comedy La Cage Aux Folles. Roughly translated this means The Cage with Madwomen (or Queens, as in homosexuals).  I have enjoyed the French films, and while my French is terrible, I followed along nicely with the aid of subtitles.

Recently I was reading a list of best films of 2014 and found a Portuguese language film from Brazil, Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (Today I Want To Go Back Alone), but titled The Way He Looks for English-speaking audiences. It is based on a highly regarded 2010 short film, Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho (I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone) by the same film maker. The coming of age story originally ran just 17 minutes, the new feature runs 96.

There are plenty of coming of age stories and I thought I had seen my fair share. This included the German language film Sommersturm (Summer Storm) which I viewed at the Music Box theater in Chicago. The one time first run theater, and home of many of my Saturday afternoon movie and cartoon features as a child, has mercifully found new life playing indie films and old features. A former screening room, holding less that 100 seats, is now the site of many of  these foreign language films that will not find a wide audience.

On the recommendation of the reviewer, I sought out the Brazilian short film on You Tube. It was easy to find and I confess I was memorized by the tale of the teenagers trying to make their way in the world.  The writer and director Daniel Ribeiro found his young players through auditions. They are all perfectly cast and totally believable in their roles. This was particularly difficult for the lead character as I will explain below the short.

When it came time to make the feature, some years after the short, the director faced an interesting decision. Who shall be the lead teenagers in the movie? After all, the charm of the short, now with almost 4 million hits on You Tube, is the principal players. The solution was to bring the two boys and lead girl back.  The fact that they looked a little older actually works in pushing the story a little further. No, you will not see portrayals of teenage sex. There is nothing even close. You will learn how they feel as they grow to realize their feelings for one another.

My research indicated the DVD would be out in March, but my good fortune discovered the film was playing at the Music Box! I was off to see the feature film almost immediately. The longer version meant additional characters. Leonardo, the main character portrayed by Ghilherme Lobo who at this writing is only 19 in real life, now has protective parents. Additional classmates include boys who torment him for being different. He’s blind. Giovana, portrayed by Tess Amorim, is the girl who helps him get around and develops feelings for her friend. The new boy, who gets a seat in class behind Leo, is Gabriel as played by Fabio Audi. His introduction into the mix creates both an awakening and confusion of feelings for Leo.

When someone mentions that Gabriel is good-looking, Leo asks Giovana if he himself is good-looking. He has no idea the way he looks. When Gabriel takes Leo on adventures only sighted people have, Leo is intrigued and Giovana is jealous. Just who loves whom will become clear enough in due time. The ending, while not a total surprise or even huge in a cinematic sense, is nonetheless satisfying.

Having opened in Brazil in April 2014 to strong attendance and critical acclaim after a round of successful screenings and awards at film festivals, Brazil chose this film as its entrant in the Best Foreign Film category at the 87th Academy Awards. Fifty countries submitted their best efforts. The short list for consideration by the Academy was cut down to 9 movies. The Way He Looks was not on the list, so you will not hear it announced in the coming week. Perhaps it did not stand a chance against the heavy crime dramas and political stories. It is just a charming film, beautifully enacted by a crew of handsome young players and a strong supporting cast. It will leave you with a smile, and sometimes that is all a film should aspire to do.

Be sure to hit the CC at the bottom for captions, unless you know Portuguese, of course. Here is the trailer for American audiences:

100 YEARS AGO: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial cease fires along the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. During the days leading to Christmas day, German and British soldiers left their trenches to exchange greetings. To talk man-to-man, exchange personal information, share food and drink.

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

World War I had been raging for only four months. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches and extremely wary of sniper fire. On battlefields mired in mud, frozen with snow and ice, soldiers emerged from their holes in a rare, spontaneous outbreak of peace.

Both sides — most notably in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient — combatants briefly laid down their weapons and met in No Man’s Land.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they mingled. Exchanged food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Several meetings ended in carol-singing.

The high command on both sides issued warnings to all soldiers that such fraternization would make participating soldiers subject to charges of treason. Not surprisingly, there were far fewer spontaneous truces the following year and virtually none by 1916. A sad commentary on human “civilization” when peace, however temporary, is called treason.

This year, the Boston Pops honored this moment of sanity in one of the bloodiest conflicts of human history.

Other bloggers have also posted about this. Please check them out on EVELYNE HOLINGUE and The Eye Dancers: (Not Quite) All Quiet on the Western Front.

SEASONAL TOUCHES AND AN OLD MOVIE

The new bouquet came complete with one bright red decoration, a red carnation, some green flowers (not sure what they are) and a large sprig of pine. It fits well with the decorations awaiting the one more small tree that, according to LL Bean, is en route, the Christmas cards, the generally festive look in our living room right now. It’s a nice backdrop for our annual orgy of old Christmas movies.

Today’s feature was The Shop Around the Corner. It’s a 1940 American romantic comedy produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan. The screenplay, by Samson Raphaelson, is based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László. The entire story takes place in Budapest — something that has always struck me as odd, considering it’s an American cast and no one explains why these people are living in Budapest.

The plot has become familiar: two people who don’t much like each other developing a love relationship through correspondence. It has been remade a bunch of times, including as the ever-popular You’ve Got Mail (1998) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Sorry, digressed again. Just that it’s an interesting movie with a rather more abrasive set of relationships that we see in most holiday-themed movies. Take a look if you have never seen it.

And of course, I hope you enjoy the photographs.

UNSUNG HEROES – ALL MINE TO GIVE – 1957

Unsung Heroes — We all have our semi-secret, less-known personal favorites — a great B-side, an early work by an artist that later became famous, an obscure (but delicious) family recipe. Share one of your unsung heroes with us — how did you discover it? Why has it stayed off everyone’s radar?


all mine to giveI have quite a few favorite obscure movies (and Garry has many more), but this one is particularly appropriate since it is, after all, nearly Christmas.

All Mine to Give (British title: The Day They Gave Babies Away) is a 1957 film starring Glynis Johns and Cameron Mitchell that’s a four hankie special.

I crossed paths with it sometime in the pre-dawn hours during the late spring of 1969 while I was nursing my son and the television was playing late night movies. I was deeply hormonal at the time and though I’d missed the beginning, I watched it to the end.


The Story

Robert and Mamie Eunson (Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns) are Scots who have just landed in America (the year is 1856). Mamie is heavily pregnant upon their reaching Eureka; she delivers baby Robbie (Rex Thompson) soon after the cabin is completed. Robert eventually starts a successful boat building business and Mamie gives birth to five more children.

The Eunsons are doing well and happy — until little Kirk is diagnosed with diphtheria. Mamie and Kirk are quarantined while Robert takes the other children away. The boy recovers, but the goodbye kiss Kirk gave his Dadda before his departure proves fatal, and Robert succumbs.

Mamie takes to working as a seamstress and Robbie becomes the man of the house. Things stabilize, but only briefly: tired and work-worn, Mamie contracts typhoid. Knowing she will not survive, she charges Robbie, her eldest, with finding good homes for his siblings.

After Mamie’s death, Robbie places his brothers and sisters with townsfolk as Christmas approaches. Baby Jane is the last to be handed over — Robbie stands at the door of a house and asks the woman who answers, “Please, ma’am, I was wondering if you’d care to have my sister.”

The Rest of the Story

It would be 30 years before I found out the name of the movie. When I described it, Garry knew it immediately. Garry always knows. He’s the Movie Maven.

We watched it the other day. He saw it was on and recorded in on our DVR. What would we do without Turner Classic Movies? Surprisingly, it was still good. Still gave me the sniffles. Because now we have Google and all that implies, I looked it up and discovered the story is based on real events. The movie was made from a book written by one of the kids (grandkids?) of the children portrayed in the movie. If you are up for a good cry, this is an excellent choice.

This is definitely a Christmas story. I’m not sure if you would call it inspiring. I’d have to ponder the definition of inspiring. Touching, for sure.