DVD/Stream of the Week: HELL OR HIGH WATER – you won’t see a better movie in 2016

Chris Pine in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Chris Pine in HELL OR HIGH WATER

For the second straight week, my DVD/Stream recommendation is the superb Hell or High Water.

Toby: “You’re talkin’ like you don’t think we’re going to get away with it.”
Tanner: “I never met anyone who got away with anything.”

The character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water is remarkably atmospheric and gripping, and I have it at the very top of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far. As it begins, we think we’re watching a very well-made film about white trash losers on a crime spree, but eventually, as we understand how original the characters are and how intricate the plot is, we understand that we’re watching a triumph of the perfect crime genre – and with an embedded political point of view. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, an actor who wrote last year’s Sicario, has proven that he is an artist of uncommon depth.

Director David Mackenzie imbues Hell or High Water with an astonishing sense of time (the present) and place (rural West Texas). The story is set in the dusty flatlands between Lubbock and Wichita Falls (shot just over the border in eastern New Mexico). Mackenzie employs Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography and the music, some composed by Nick Cave, to evoke an environment that is rich in horizons but, except in the bursts of occasional oil booms, dirt poor in every way. He begins Hell or High Water with a 360 degree shot of a bank branch parking lot with a teller sneaking the last cigarette before her shift; the starkness and anonymity of the dying downtown immerses us right where Mackenzie wants us.

It’s a place where people know the difference between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb – and it’s important. It’s also a place where many civilians are gun-totin’, which adds a whole new element to the average bank robbery.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers. Toby is the more complex – both poorly educated and wise. While Toby takes personal responsibility for the bad choices of his youth that have ruined a marriage and left him unable to contribute to the future of his two sons, he appreciates that generational poverty and the economic system have stacked the odds against him. Toby cared for his dying mother and is now committed to making things right for his sons and ex-wife; he is highly moral but he’s not about to follow rules that he sees as unjust. He looks like another unemployed oilfield roughneck, but he’s surprisingly cagey and strategic.

Tanner is the classic lowlife psychopath, whose impulses have always led him into trouble with the law. Asked “How have you stayed out of jail for a year?”, Tanner replies, “It’s been difficult.” He’s also a little smarter and lot more charming than he looks, but it’s clear that he is destined for a bad end.

Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aged Texas ranger who is three weeks from retirement, is on the brothers’ trail. Marcus is an astute and unsentimental student of human behavior. Marcus relishes a good whodunit, and the wheels in his mind are always turning. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) offers that, for a happy retirement “you’ll need someone to outsmart”. Indeed, it’s from Marcus, not the brothers themselves, that we learn that the bank robbers are likely raising money for some cause, against some deadline

In Hell or High Water, the banks are the real robbers. Marcus spots a bank manager with “Now this looks like a man who could foreclose on a house”. In the world of Bonnie and Clyde, victims of the Depression lost farms to foreclosure, but many banks failed, too; that movie’s anti-heroes were misfits like Tanner. In the world of Hell or High Water, the game is fixed so that the banks can’t fail, and so banking is just legalized criminality.

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell or High Water is exceptionally well-acted. This is the best work so far by Chris Pine (Kirk in Star Trek). Ben Foster, unsurprisingly, nails the Born To Lose character of Tanner. Gil Birmingham (Billy Black in the Twilight movies) is stellar as Marcus’ reflective and long-suffering partner Alberto. Jeff Bridges has matured into a master actor who delivers absolute perfection and makes it look effortless.

And the high quality performances just keep coming throughout Hell or High Water. The film opens with nice turns by Dale Dickey (unforgettable in Winter’s Bone) and veteran Buck Taylor. Marin Ireland is excellent as Toby’s ex-wife, and Margaret Bowman sparks a diner scene as the world’s most authoritarian waitress. Katy Mixon is Oscar-worthy in a role as a waitress who may long for companionship, but really, really needs to keep her tip; I just hope enough people see this movie and experience Mixon’s eyes narrowing and gleaming with resolve.

While Jeff Bridges is reason enough to see Hell or High Water, all of its elements add up to a masterpiece. Not that Chris Pine needs a star-making breakthrough performance, but Hell or High Water certainly proves that he can carry a better movie than Hollywood franchises allow. I’m going to see Hell or High Water again; then I’m going to line up to see Taylor Sheridan’s next film, whatever and whenever that will be.

Hell or High Water is now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movies to See Right Now on Thanksgiving Weekend

Isabelle Huppert in ELLE

Isabelle Huppert in ELLE


My top movie recommendation is Isabelle Huppert in the perverse wowzer Elle. Other top choices:

  • The Korean period con artist movie The Handmaiden is gorgeous, erotic and extraordinarily entertaining.
  • Sonia Braga is still luminous in the character-driven Brazilian drama Aquarius.
  • Mascots is the latest mockumentary from Christopher Guest (Best in Show) and it’s very funny. Mascots is streaming on Netflix Instant.

Also in theaters or on video:

    • Despite a delicious performance by one of may faves, Michael Shannon, I’m not recommending Nocturnal Animals; I’m writing about it tomorrow.
    • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
    • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
    • The end of the thriller The Girl on the Train (starring Emily Blunt) is indeed thrilling. But the 82 minutes before the Big Plot Twist is murky, confusing and boring.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is one of the year’s very, very best films, the character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water. It’s now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On November 28, Turner Classic Movies will present two excellent (and totally different) films:

  • Chandler is the 1971 neo-noir starring Warren Oates as a seedy private detective who gets in over his head. I mention, but don’t dwell on Chandler in my essay Warren Oates: a gift for desperation.
  • Crumb is the award-winning 1994 documentary, Terry Zwigoff’s profile of the counterculture cartoonist R. Crumb, the creator of Keep On Truckin’, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat and influential rock album covers. By exploring Crumb’s troubled family, Zwigoff reveals the origins of Crumb’s art. When we meet Crumb’s shattered brothers, it’s clear that Crumb’s artistic expression preserved his very sanity. I thought that Crumb was the very best movie of the year – and so did Gene Siskel; Roger Ebert pegged it at #2.
CRUMB

CRUMB

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DVD/Stream of the Week: HELL OR HIGH WATER – you won’t see a better movie in 2016

Chris Pine and Ben Foster in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Chris Pine and Ben Foster in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Toby: “You’re talkin’ like you don’t think we’re going to get away with it.”
Tanner: “I never met anyone who got away with anything.”

The character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water is remarkably atmospheric and gripping, and I have it at the very top of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far. As it begins, we think we’re watching a very well-made film about white trash losers on a crime spree, but eventually, as we understand how original the characters are and how intricate the plot is, we understand that we’re watching a triumph of the perfect crime genre – and with an embedded political point of view. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, an actor who wrote last year’s Sicario, has proven that he is an artist of uncommon depth.

Director David Mackenzie imbues Hell or High Water with an astonishing sense of time (the present) and place (rural West Texas). The story is set in the dusty flatlands between Lubbock and Wichita Falls (shot just over the border in eastern New Mexico). Mackenzie employs Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography and the music, some composed by Nick Cave, to evoke an environment that is rich in horizons but, except in the bursts of occasional oil booms, dirt poor in every way. He begins Hell or High Water with a 360 degree shot of a bank branch parking lot with a teller sneaking the last cigarette before her shift; the starkness and anonymity of the dying downtown immerses us right where Mackenzie wants us.

It’s a place where people know the difference between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb – and it’s important. It’s also a place where many civilians are gun-totin’, which adds a whole new element to the average bank robbery.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers. Toby is the more complex – both poorly educated and wise. While Toby takes personal responsibility for the bad choices of his youth that have ruined a marriage and left him unable to contribute to the future of his two sons, he appreciates that generational poverty and the economic system have stacked the odds against him. Toby cared for his dying mother and is now committed to making things right for his sons and ex-wife; he is highly moral but he’s not about to follow rules that he sees as unjust. He looks like another unemployed oilfield roughneck, but he’s surprisingly cagey and strategic.

Tanner is the classic lowlife psychopath, whose impulses have always led him into trouble with the law. Asked “How have you stayed out of jail for a year?”, Tanner replies, “It’s been difficult.” He’s also a little smarter and lot more charming than he looks, but it’s clear that he is destined for a bad end.

Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aged Texas ranger who is three weeks from retirement, is on the brothers’ trail. Marcus is an astute and unsentimental student of human behavior. Marcus relishes a good whodunit, and the wheels in his mind are always turning. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) offers that, for a happy retirement “you’ll need someone to outsmart”. Indeed, it’s from Marcus, not the brothers themselves, that we learn that the bank robbers are likely raising money for some cause, against some deadline

In Hell or High Water, the banks are the real robbers. Marcus spots a bank manager with “Now this looks like a man who could foreclose on a house”. In the world of Bonnie and Clyde, victims of the Depression lost farms to foreclosure, but many banks failed, too; that movie’s anti-heroes were misfits like Tanner. In the world of Hell or High Water, the game is fixed so that the banks can’t fail, and so banking is just legalized criminality.

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell or High Water is exceptionally well-acted. This is the best work so far by Chris Pine (Kirk in Star Trek). Ben Foster, unsurprisingly, nails the Born To Lose character of Tanner. Gil Birmingham (Billy Black in the Twilight movies) is stellar as Marcus’ reflective and long-suffering partner Alberto. Jeff Bridges has matured into a master actor who delivers absolute perfection and makes it look effortless.

And the high quality performances just keep coming throughout Hell or High Water. The film opens with nice turns by Dale Dickey (unforgettable in Winter’s Bone) and veteran Buck Taylor. Marin Ireland is excellent as Toby’s ex-wife, and Margaret Bowman sparks a diner scene as the world’s most authoritarian waitress. Katy Mixon is Oscar-worthy in a role as a waitress who may long for companionship, but really, really needs to keep her tip; I just hope enough people see this movie and experience Mixon’s eyes narrowing and gleaming with resolve.

While Jeff Bridges is reason enough to see Hell or High Water, all of its elements add up to a masterpiece. Not that Chris Pine needs a star-making breakthrough performance, but Hell or High Water certainly proves that he can carry a better movie than Hollywood franchises allow. I’m going to see Hell or High Water again; then I’m going to line up to see Taylor Sheridan’s next film, whatever and whenever that will be.

Hell or High Water is now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS: melodrama, squirming and then, finally, Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon, the only reason to see NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Michael Shannon, the only reason to see NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

In the would-be-thriller-but-really-squirmer Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams plays a young woman who becomes infatuated with the romance of being with a starving artist, the sensitive Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). After the romance wears off, she dumps him for a higher testosterone model, the striving businessman Hutton (Armie Hammer). Twenty years later, she has become a successful art dealer with all the trappings of an affluent life, buy plunges into a midlife crisis. At this moment, Edward finally gets a novel published and sends her an advance copy. Shocked to see that it is dedicated to her, she starts reading it and becomes engrosses, which is exactly what Edward has intended.

Nocturnal Animals is the braiding of three plot threads: the story of the doomed romance between the young Susan and Edward, Susan’s current melodrama with Hutton and a reenactment of the plot of Edward’s novel. The novel’s story takes up most of the screen time. It’s a garden variety, but particularly grim, revenge story, with a man (also played by Gyllenhaal) whose family is high jacked in desolate West Texas by a crew of sadistic lowlifes with the very worst intentions. If you’ve ever seen a crime movie, you know what is going to happen to the guy’s wife and daughter. After an excruciatingly long menace-and-dread segment, Gyllenhaal escapes and stumbles into the potential for revenge, guided by the local detective (Michael Shannon).

If you’ve survived the squirming caused by the unremittingly and gratuitously uncomfortable kidnapping sequence, you’re in for a treat with Michael Shannon’s performance, which is really the only reason to see Nocturnal Animals. Shannon doesn’t make any unnecessary movements, which focuses us his piercing and unblinking eyes, which make clear that he is a particularly dangerous man. And, we learn, even more dangerous because he is a man without anything to lose.

Actually, though, Laura Linney is also superb as Susan’s mom, unrecognizable underneath a formidable Dina Merill bouffant. Linney actually gets the one sure thing LOL laugh line in the movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is also devastatingly despicable as the most sadistic and loathsome of the thugs. Adams, Gyllenhaal and Hammer are all fine, too.

This is the second movie from director Tom Ford, the fashion designer; it’s nothing at all like the his A Single Man, with its exploration of loneliness, grief and identity repression. Ford’s background in fashion probably informs some jokiness in Susan’s world of overly precious art dealers and silly avant garde “art”. But other than that, there really isn’t any humor to leaven the unpleasantness of the Gyllenhaal story.

The reason that Susan’s dumping of Edward is supposed to be so scarring is overblown, and I’m finding it has become an all too easy screenwriting device. (We’ve come a long way since Alfie in 1966.)

I should note that I think that I do GET this movie, with its layers of revenge and its comments on art. I just don’t think that the payoff is there. Nocturnal Animals will make for a solid $3.99 video rental so you can fast forward until you see Michael Shannon on the screen.

Amy Adams in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Amy Adams in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movies to See Right Now

Isabelle Huppert in ELLE

Isabelle Huppert in ELLE

The best reason to go to the movies is to see Isabelle Huppert in the wowzer Elle, which has opened at the Embarcadero in San Francisco and will open more widely in the Bay Area on the Thanksgiving weekend.  Here are top choices that are easier to find:

  • The Korean period con artist movie The Handmaiden is gorgeous, erotic and extraordinarily entertaining.
  • Sonia Braga is still luminous in the character-driven Brazilian drama Aquarius.
  • John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Jumpy the dog sparkle in the spaghetti western In a Valley of Violence.
  • Mascots is the latest mockumentary from Christopher Guest (Best in Show) and it’s very funny. Mascots is playing in very few theaters, but it’s streaming on Netflix Instant, too.

Also in theaters or on video:

      • Despite a delicious performance by one of may faves, Michael Shannon, I’m not recommending Nocturnal Animals;  I’m writing about it tomorrow.
      • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
      • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
      • Not much happens in the talented and idiosyncratic filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, but it’s well-acted and feels real.
      • If you are entertained by the epically disgusting, you can catch the horror comedy The Greasy Strangler before it hits the midnight cult movie circuit. The Greasy Strangler can be streamed from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
      • The end of the thriller The Girl on the Train (starring Emily Blunt) is indeed thrilling. But the 82 minutes before the Big Plot Twist is murky, confusing and boring.

I’ve written farewells to actor Robert Vaughn and musician Leon Russell, who died earlier this week.

My Stream of the Week is the documentary The Lovers and the Despot, the story of a crazy dictator’s kidnapping of a movie director and his movie star wife – and how they escaped and proved that it really happened.  The Lovers and the Despot is now available streaming from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and cable and satellite TV on demand.

On November 23, Turner Classic Movies plays a groundbreaking cinéma vérité documentary from 1968. Salesman is as revealing a depiction of the sales life as Glengarry Glen Ross, and just as heartbreaking – you can’t have capitalism without winners and losers. Imagine selling Bibles door-to-door.

SALESMAN

SALESMAN

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ELLE: subversive and absorbing, with Huppert’s stunning performance

Isabelle Huppert in ELLE

Isabelle Huppert in ELLE

The extraordinary performance of French actress Isabelle Huppert makes the already subversive Elle into a Must See.  Huppert plays the middle-aged businesswoman Michèle,  who is raped in her home in the first seconds of this movie.  Elle is likely to be controversial; Michèle’s reaction to the rape will not meet anyone’s expectations.   At first, Elle seems like it will be a looks like a whodunit (who is the attacker?), then it shifts into a revenge fantasy, all the while remaining, at its core, an amazing study of Michèle, a character that we haven’t seen before.  This is a woman who refuses to accept – and may not be capable of – victimhood.

The screenplay, which turns upside down any expectations we may have, is written by David Birke from a Philippe Djian novel.  The hunted becomes the hunter, we never know what to expect from Michèle and shockers abound.  Who better than Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) to direct?  Especially since the willful Michèle has a lusty sexual appetite, with adventuresome tastes.

Michèle needs to be in control, and she’s generally tough enough to stay in charge.  The way to understand her actions is that she will do anything to regain that control and to avenge any moment that someone else has wrested it from her.  One would expect the rape to be shattering enough, but Michèle starts getting messages from her attacker that would send ANYONE into a puddle of  paralyzing terror; instead she’s only momentarily unnerved.

With the exception of two monsters, all the men in Michèle are weak (despite any internal sense of bravado), and she handles them all easily. (Those two monsters better watch out, too.)

One way of watching Elle is to keep score, as in:  Michèle 6, Men 0.  But Elle is not a man-bashing film – Michèle’s ridiculously self-centered mom and her son’s abusive nightmare of a girlfriend are just as unsympathetic as all but two of the men.

There’s plenty of dark humor in Elle.  For example, immediately after the opening rape scene, we watch Michèle at work as the founding CEO of a video game company.  She’s watching a clip from her company’s newest video game in development.  The clip is so hyper-violent and misogynistic that it would trigger massive PTSD for any rape victim, but Michèle’s complaint is that it’s NOT VIOLENT ENOUGH.

Isabelle Huppert may be the best screen actress working today, she’s certainly the most fearless.  She’s so fearless, you gotta wonder if there any scripts that she rejects for being TOO weird, challenging or transgressive.  She is comfortable with roles that range from the kinky (The Piano Teacher) to the most twisted (Ma Mere).

Huppert is especially gifted at playing impenetrable.  She is at her best when she simply REGARDS other characters, assessing and judging them. With almost no lines,and very little screen time, her sphinx-like character dominated the recent Louder Than Bombs.

I also have to note that her character in Elle is in her early 50s – a sexy early 50s – while Huppert herself is 63.  She seems to have somehow stopped the aging process about 15 years ago.

Elle ends in a moment of friendship, with the final line an homage to my favorite movie of all time.  There’s a difference between perverse and perverted, and Elle keeps just inside that fine line.  The shockers, the very dark humor and Huppert’s singular and compelling performance make Elle one of the year’s most absorbing films.  Two weeks after screening it, I’m still thinking about it.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stream of the Week: THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT – a crazy dictator makes for a crazy story

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT

The documentary The Lovers and the Despot tells one of those you-would-never-believe-it-if it-were-made-up stories.  The late North Korean nutcase Kim Jong-Il, dissatisfied with the cinematic element in his propaganda machine, sought an upgrade by KIDNAPPING a top South Korean director and his movie star wife.

The story of the kidnapping and their escape spans two decades and is a real Cold War thriller.  One interesting aspect is that there was some question as to whether the two were actually kidnapped or instead defected – after all, the director’s career was in a downturn in South Korea and was ultimately resurrected in the North.  But, come one, who escapes from South Korea to North Korea?

The proof of their kidnapping is both convincing and mind-boggling.  The craziness of the North Korean regime has created such anti-communist paranoia in South Korea that the kidnapping vs defection question is still unresolved for some – and that’s crazy in and of itself.

The Lovers and the Despot will make good companion piece to Under the Sun, the documentary expose of Korea under its current Great Madman Leader, Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un.

The Lovers and the Despot is now available streaming from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and cable and satellite TV on demand.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ARRIVAL: communicating in an unknown dimension

ARRIVAL

ARRIVAL

In Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor at a Midwestern college who is drifting, having not recovered emotionally from the death of her child and the failure of her marriage.  When space aliens come to earth (!) with very unclear intentions,  she is deployed to figure out how to communicate with them.

Now if aliens (meaning living creatures in the universe who are not us) ever DO visit earth, I guarantee that we will be surprised at their appearance.  I can’t imagine what they will look like, but they won’t look like the ones in The Day the Earth Stood Still, E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Here, Arrival hits a home run.  These aliens don’t look how we would expect, they don’t sound like we would expect and they don’t communicate like we would expect.

More central to the story, the aliens don’t think like we do.  For them, time is not linear, which adds the mystic element that defines Arrival.  Will our linguist learn how to communicate with these advanced beings who don’t seem to have language as we understand it?  Will she connect with beings that think in different (additional?) dimensions?

Arrival is directed by Denis Villaneuve, who made Incendies, rated at the #1 slot on my Best Movies of 2011, as well as the thrillers Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario.  His skill at thrillers pays off in the scenes with the aliens, when we are constantly on the edges of our seats.  The people are actually going INTO the alien spacecraft?  Holy Moley!

I loved Amy Adams in Arrival, as I tend to do in everything she does.  Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg are also solid.  The Wife pointed out that Renner succeeds in an unusual movie role – a hotshot with a healthy ego who recognizes that someone else has the better idea and becomes collaborative.  But Arrival is about the story, not the performances.

Arrival is real science fiction.  So many so-called “sci-fi” movies are really just war movies, revenge dramas, survival tales or Westerns that are set in the future or in space.  Fortunately, we have recently had some truly thoughtful sci-fi including I Origins, Her and, now, Arrival.

Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival.  How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Leon Russell – leading the first grand benefit concert

Leon Russell in A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON

Leon Russell in A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON

I first noticed the musician Leon Russell with his distinctive top hat in the concert movie Mad Dogs and Englishmen. In another (and really, really good) concert film, The Concert for Bangladesh, I wondered, “who is this long-hair, and why is he the bandleader in a band with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr?”.  (The Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison, broke ground as the first big benefit concert with a collection of mega-stars.)  I soon became a big fan of Leon’s solo career, and I’m saddened by his death this morning.

You can enjoy lots of unfiltered 1972-74 Leon, both on- and off-stage in the documentary A Poem is a Naked PersonA Poem Is a Naked Person has been a bit of a Lost Film –  until recently only shown at screening where Blank was present. Now you can stream it on Amazon Instant, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. The Concert for Bangladesh is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.

Share
Posted in Rants and Ruminations | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Robert Vaughn: Mr. Icy

Robert Vaughn in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

Robert Vaughn in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

The actor Robert Vaughn has died. Vaughn left a body of work with 226 screen credits, mostly on television.  He was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for The Young Philadelphians, but I think his most enduring feature film role was as one of The Magnificent Seven.

Of course, for us Baby Boomers, Vaughn will always be remembered as Napoleon Solo in the Bond spy spoof The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which absolutely dominated television briefly in the mid-1960s.

Not an actor with a lot of range or depth, Vaughn’s greatest attribute was his presence – a very cool presence.  Not cool as in “hip”, but cool as in “icy”.  That presence served him well in action films.  And his unremitting dead pan was PERFECT for a parody like U.N.C.L.E.

His NYT obit indicates that, in real life, he was noted for his militant rejection of any artistic pretension whatsoever and for his liberal politics.

Share
Posted in Rants and Ruminations | Tagged | Leave a comment