[Stopped Buttons] Day 68 | April 27

Janine Turner and Eric Roberts star in THE AMBULANCE, directed by Larry Cohen for Triumph Films.

The Ambulance (1990, Larry Cohen)
2011

I remember my mom talking about THE AMBULANCE when it was first on (it premiered on basic cable in the US). She had heard good things about it, but then didn’t have interest in it. I love how there was buzz around stuff on video back then. I only saw it because I needed a Larry Cohen movie to link (I think) and I do like Eric Roberts. THE AMBULANCE’s a nice surprise. The AMBULANCE post doesn’t get a lot of readers–it did almost okay the first year–which is disappointing. It’s under-discovered.


A shot from MANHATTAN, directed by Woody Allen for United Artists.

Manhattan (1979, Woody Allen)
2012

I always have this memory of MANHATTAN being ingloriously in the widescreen VHS section at Video Adventure. MANHATTAN did not have a “special” widescreen VHS release; it just never had a pan and scan. I didn’t see it until college (and DVD). This viewing was in the theater; MANHATTAN seems like it should be better and it never quite comes through. Just doesn’t connect. Not many readers for the MANHATTAN post. Woody Allen posts don’t get a lot of readers in general, with the MANHATTAN mid-range.


Dennis Quaid and Bess Armstrong star in JAWS 3-D, directed by Joe Alves for Universal Pictures.

Jaws 3-D (1983, Joe Alves)
2014

I first saw JAWS 3-D right after high school, not 3-D and in pan and scan, during an all-night JAWS marathon. I really liked JAWS 3-D, which my friends mocked. When the widescreen DVD came out in R4, I got it right away. And still liked it. This viewing was the first in a decade or so. Matt (co-host from the podcast) mocked me for liking JAWS 3-D, as he should. But I do. The JAWS 3-D post is too recent to see how it’s going to do over time, but it looks like (after a good first year), not too well.

The Parallax View (1974, Alan J. Pakula)

Not quite halfway through The Parallax View, the film loses its footing. Director Pakula keeps the audience a good three car lengths from not just the action of the film–with long shots in Panavision–but also understanding the action of the film. Parallax even goes so far to introduce protagonist Warren Beatty with a proverbial wink.

But Beatty isn’t a traditional protagonist. Screenwriters Dean Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr. don’t just keep viewers from passing judgement on Beatty, the writers keep viewers from even thinking they might want to think about the character at all. Beatty moves through the film just fine, but he’s being endearingly indignant or running most of the time. It’s not a hard job.

It’s especially not a hard job since a lot of the effectiveness comes through due to the technical aspects of Parallax. Gordon Willis’s photography is amazing, even if Pakula does mostly utilize the right side of the frame for action; the left tends to be for setting information and the shots are beautiful, just beautiful with too much free space.

John W. Wheeler’s editing is also of note. Every cut in Parallax, which is always trying to surprise the viewer–whether with big conspiracy stuff or, in the first half, Beatty’s roguish behavior–and it works thanks to Wheeler.

Well, Wheeler and composer Michael Small. Parallax’s a cynical take on a patriotic hero story; Small’s music plays to it sincerely.

Parallax may have its problems, but it’s also gorgeous filmmaking.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the novel by Loren Singer; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (Joseph Frady), Paula Prentiss (Lee Carter), William Daniels (Austin Tucker), Walter McGinn (Jack Younger), Hume Cronyn (Bill Rintels), Kelly Thordsen (Sheriff L.D. Wicker), Chuck Waters (Thomas Richard Linder), Earl Hindman (Deputy Red), Anthony Zerbe (Prof. Nelson Schwartzkopf) and William Joyce (Senator Charles Carroll).

[Stopped Buttons] Day 67 | April 26

A scene from HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, CHARLIE BROWN, directed by Andrew Beall and Frank Molieri for Warner Premiere.

Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (2011, Andrew Beall and Frank Molieri)
2011

I watched HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, CHARLIE BROWN after getting a reviewers’ copy of the comic adaptation. At the beginning of Short Stop, I concentrated mostly on famous (or what I thought were famous) short films. I didn’t think about TV. After HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, I thought I’d go back and watch good the Charlie Brown cartoons. That proved an uneven experience. For some reason, the HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, CHARLIE BROWN did phenomenally well for a couple years. It’s since dropped a lot.


A scene from IT WAS A SHORT SUMMER, CHARLIE BROWN, directed by Bill Melendez for CBS.

It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969, Bill Melendez)
2012

I guess IT WAS A SHORT SUMMER, CHARLIE BROWN was one of the good cartoons. Sometimes they gel in memory. I paged through the post and SHORT SUMMER is the cartoon with the teenager, which I saw as a big deal. Peanuts is interesting stuff. Of course, I might think Peanuts is interesting because I grew up with it; the cartoons are, at the least, a cultural standard. Not many readers for IT WAS A SHORT SUMMER, CHARLIE BROWN, not many readers at all. And the number’s dropping. Unsurprisingly.


Shelley Long and Tom Hanks star in THE MONEY PIT, directed by Richard Benjamin for Universal Pictures.

The Money Pit (1986, Richard Benjamin)
2013

My wife introduced me to THE MONEY PIT in college. I’d seen the VHS at the video store, but never seen it. I wasn’t a Tom Hanks fan in the eighties (and never much of one after, but I did see more of his stuff). So no MONEY PIT then. I remember we got my dad to watch MONEY PIT; this viewing was a refresher for the blog. I like David Giler scripts sometimes. Not many readers for the MONEY PIT post. It’s been a steady number, but a steady, low number, which is too bad. It’s a solid comedy.

The Doll (2007, Danté James)

The Doll is adapted from a short story and falls victim to a standard adaptation problem. Director James uses the protagonist’s internal monologue for exposition; he doesn’t open the film with it either, so it just pops in a few minutes later.

Luckily, James’s direction is good and his attention to detail meticulous. Oh, and he’s got Clayton LeBouef in the lead role and LeBouef is fantastic. So much of The Doll just happens in LeBouef’s expressions, it makes the narrated sequences stick out.

LeBouef plays a black businessman sometime post-Reconstruction, Jan Forbes is a visiting Southerner; they have history. Forbes overacts; every one of his scenes comes off exaggerated, which LeBouef’s scenes temper.

The Doll isn’t subtle but it’s successful. LeBouef and James’s sincerity and seriousness is obvious. James’s decisions might make the film more accessible, but subtly (and better actor in Forbes’s role) would’ve made it better.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Danté James; screenplay by James and Joy Kecken, based on the story by Charles W. Chestnut; director of photography, Josh Gibson; edited by Marian Sears Hunter; music by Anthony M. Kelley; production designer, Richard Montgomery.

Starring Clayton LeBouef (Tom Taylor), Monique Brown (Daisy Taylor), Jan Forbes (Colonel Forsythe) and Carter Jahncke (Judge Breeman).

[Stopped Buttons] Day 66 | April 25

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn star in STATE OF THE UNION, directed by Frank Capra for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

State of the Union (1948, Frank Capra)
2008

I got into Frank Capra through AMC in the 90s and had been looking forward to STATE OF THE UNION for years. By the time I got around to it, I had met my wife and she’s the big Spencer Tracy fan (and Capra thanks to me). So we were excited. Sadly, STATE OF THE UNION is a monumental disappointment. Just not a successful film. At all. I was really bummed out by it. The STATE OF THE UNION post has had some really big readership numbers over the years. Lately, it’s been more in the decent range.


Sarah Paulson and Gabriel Macht star in THE SPIRIT, directed by Frank Miller for Lions Gate Films.

The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller)
2009

I was dreading THE SPIRIT. I love the comic, hated the idea of Frank Miller turning Eisner into SIN CITY. Plus, THE SPIRIT’s full of actors I don’t tend to like–Sam Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes; I was primed to tear it apart. But, while Frank Miller’s take on Eisner isn’t mine, he does love the material and he does show it respect, if not giving it justice. The SPIRIT post does real bad as far as readers. It’s neared decent (one year), but it’s been bad since then, which isn’t surprising.


Michael Moriarty stars in THE STUFF, directed by Larry Cohen for New World Pictures.

The Stuff (1985, Larry Cohen)
2011

When I was a kid–like eight or nine–I had friends who saw THE STUFF on video would always tell me about it. As a teenager, I mostly avoided horror so I never saw THE STUFF then. I finally got to it when I was seeing Larry Cohen movies. THE STUFF is actually pretty good in parts; lots of good performances. I wish there were an extended, more sensible cut. But not yet. The STUFF post hasn’t done particularly well. It’s had a solid base over the years, but never really changed. Limited interest.


Woody Allen and Mia Farrow star in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, directed by Woody Allen for Orion Pictures.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)
2012

I asked my dad to take me to see CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. A friend and I wanted to be ready for Woody Allen. My dad didn’t think I was ready (at ten) for CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. He was right. I didn’t even appreciate it fully in college. This latest viewing was a refresher on the film after a friend was telling me CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS’s exceptional. He’s right. The CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS post doesn’t get a lot of readers. It’s had a bad year (of its three), but the others aren’t much better.


Jason London and Emily Bergl star in THE RAGE: CARRIE 2, directed by Katt Shea for United Artists.

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999, Katt Shea)
2013

THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. From when putting the franchise name after the subtitle was cool. So that’s 90s and 70s. We watched CARRIE and THE RAGE for the podcast; CARRIE was something I should’ve seen long before. Never should’ve seen THE RAGE. I remember reading about THE RAGE’s production at Dark Horizons. Nothing specific, just that Dark Horizons was still good then. The RAGE: CARRIE 2 post hasn’t gotten a lot of readership, which is fine. It’s not a surprise there’s no lasting interest in it.

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

The funniest thing in Birdman is, surprisingly, not when Michael Keaton and Edward Norton get into fisticuffs and Norton’s in nothing but speedos. The funniest thing in Birdman, which is about former superhero movie megastar Keaton staging a pseudo-intellectual comeback stage production of a Raymond Carver adaptation, is–after Norton makes fun of Keaton’s character’s overly wordy adaptation (Carver wasn’t a wordy writer, as published)–how pointlessly wordiness of director Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo’s script.

There’s also a huge gaffe when Emma Stone talks about Carver’s story being sixty years old (unless Birdman takes place in 2041 and, given the constant references to social media networks, it isn’t).

Birdman is a pretentious, Hollywood “indie” melodrama. Iñárritu’s fake single shot style, expertly manipulated by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, brings nothing to the film except a distance from the audience. Iñárritu uses the style–and Antonio Sanchez’s drum score–to keep up the film’s energy, because otherwise, there’s nothing but Batman references, superhero movie jabs, New York condescension of Hollywood, trite father-daughter problems and expository dialogue.

Oh, and Keaton being haunted by Birdman, the superhero his character played to great financial success.

There’s nothing in the script for Keaton to do. He does it all pretty well, but his part’s exceptionally shallow. The “deep” scenes with ex-wife Amy Ryan suggest Keaton and Ryan could make a good film. Not this one.

Norton’s great, Stone’s awful. Nice supporting work from Naomi Watts.

Birdman’s gallingly light stuff.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu; written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione; music by Antonio Sanchez; production designer, Kevin Thompson; produced by Arnon Milchan, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole and Iñárritu; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Riggan), Edward Norton (Mike), Emma Stone (Sam), Naomi Watts (Lesley), Zach Galifianakis (Jake), Andrea Riseborough (Laura), Amy Ryan (Sylvia), Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha), Jeremy Shamos (Ralph) and Merritt Wever (Annie).

[Stopped Buttons] Day 65 | April 24

Fredric March and Katharine Hepburn star in MARY OF SCOTLAND, directed by John Ford for RKO Radio Pictures.

Mary of Scotland (1936, John Ford)
2008

I had heard about MARY OF SCOTLAND (and the affair) for many years, but it took me quite a while to see it. I saw most of the John Ford movies I’ve seen in college, before the site, but mostly Westerns. John Ford English period piece? Weird. There’s some great stuff in MARY OF SCOTLAND. Ford really did some fantastic things in black and white. Also a big Fredric March fan. The MARY OF SCOTLAND post did pretty well its first couple years with readers, then it started to drop and is now (sadly) low.


Robert Margolis stars in THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY, directed by Robert Margolis and Frank Matter.

The Definition of Insanity (2004, Robert Margolis and Frank Matter)
2010

I saw THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY through MRQE; it was a themed movie for that site, the only they’ve had (I think). By the time I saw it, DEFINITION OF INSANITY was already six years old and independent film was changing thanks to the Internet. Having seen some truly independent, self-financed features… it’s a very different genre now thanks to DV and not a better one. The DEFINITION OF INSANITY post gets very, very low readership. It actually has the worst single year I’ve seen so far in the stats.


A scene from GOLIATH II, directed by Wolfgang Reitherman for Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Goliath II (1960, Wolfgang Reitherman)
2012

I had been looking forward to GOLIATH II; I figured at least the Disney animation would be high quality. I had seen GOLIATH II as a kid, at Lincolnwood in the auditorium, which I remembered when I watched the cartoon, which is lame. The big difference between Disney and Warner, from what I saw, was Disney was desperate for an Oscar. Warner wasn’t even interested. The GOLIATH II post hasn’t had very many readers. It had a low first year, lower second, then bounced a little since. No interest.


Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell star in BEWITCHED, directed by Nora Ephron for Columbia Pictures.

Bewitched (2005, Nora Ephron)
2013

We watched BEWITCHED for the podcast, paired with I MARRIED A WITCH. Thank goodness that film’s wonderful. I don’t like Nicole Kidman, opinion less on Nora Ephron, Will Ferrell’s good, even if his movies aren’t. BEWITCHED isn’t for me. Even so, BEWITCHED is most ineptly done wannabe blockbusters I can remember seeing. It’s not really for anyone, near as I could tell. The BEWITCHED post, mercifully, doesn’t get many readers. Very low numbers, which hopefully corresponds to general interest.

Mystery Train (1989, Jim Jarmusch)

Mystery Train is a comedy. It’s many other things–an examination and comparison of various kinds of differentness–but it’s also a very funny comedy. In fact, Jarmusch keeps characters around for nothing else. Train is the interconnected story of seven people (across three chapters) all culminating at a Memphis hotel. Cinqué Lee is the suffering bellboy, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is the far more chill clerk. Hawkins and Lee get some great scenes together; both actors separately build their performances and then Jarmusch sits them next to each other. It greats a wonderful energy.

With the exception of the first story–which has Nagase Masatoshi and Kudô Yûki as Japanese tourists obsessed with classic rock–all of the characters come defined. Since Train is interconnected and set in the same locations at different times of one day, Jarmusch occasionally introduces characters early and momentarily, but distinctively enough to jump start their character development.

Or, in the case of Joe Strummer’s British emigre, he gets introduced in dialogue.

The first two parts of the film are the most independent. Nagase and Kudô have their own story arc going separate from the location; ditto for Nicoletta Braschi (as an Italian on an unplanned layover) in the second part. When Elizabeth Bracco shows up (halfway through the film), Jarmusch starts revealing how things might come together. And it’s great. What is background in the first and second stories is foreground in the third.

Great acting. Gorgeous photography from Robby Müller.

Train is singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by Melody London; music by John Lurie; production designer, Dan Bishop; produced by Jim Stark; released by Orion Classics.

Starring Kudô Yûki (Mitsuko), Nagase Masatoshi (Jun), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (Night Clerk), Cinqué Lee (Bellboy), Nicoletta Braschi (Luisa), Elizabeth Bracco (Dee Dee), Joe Strummer (Johnny), Rick Aviles (Will Robinson), Steve Buscemi (Charlie), Tom Noonan (Man in Arcade Diner), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Ed), Rufus Thomas (Man in Station) and Tom Waits (Radio D.J).

[Stopped Buttons] Day 64 | April 23

Mary Steenburgen and Steve Martin star in PARENTHOOD, directed by Ron Howard for Universal Pictures.

Parenthood (1989, Ron Howard)
2008

PARENTHOOD was a big deal when it came out in 1989. It was a grown-up movie while still accessible to kids. I saw it in the theater at least once with my summer camp (Summer Adventure Club) and constantly on VHS and TV into the early 90s. I hadn’t seen PARENTHOOD in 15 years plus before this viewing. I think the first DVD was P&S. It was kind of strange to revisit. The PARENTHOOD post doesn’t get a lot of readers. It nearly does decent, but not quite. I’m a little surprised (the all-star cast).


Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone star in ROCKY IV, directed by Sylvester Stallone for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Rocky IV (1985, Sylvester Stallone)
2010

In the mid-aughts, my wife and I watched all the ROCKY movies. I’d never seen them (except the first). I disliked ROCKY III through V and really didn’t understand why ROCKY IV was such a phenomenon to my childhood peers. Don’t get it. Hilariously enough, my wife got my best friend to suffer through ROCKY IV (imposed childhood nostalgia) on this viewing. Very funny. The ROCKY IV post actually got a number of readers for a couple years before dropping to bad numbers. Maybe CREED’ll bring it back.


A scene from A NEW LIFE, directed by Alan Alda for Paramount Pictures.

A New Life (1988, Alan Alda)
2012

Growing up, I was aware my parents liked Alan Alda, which led me to “MASH,” then his movies (like A NEW LIFE). I was surprised I had never heard of A NEW LIFE; 1988’s a weird transitional year between the 80s and 90s for my movie awareness. I think I found A NEW LIFE streaming on Netflix, actually. It’s not very good and I can understand why no one talked about it. The NEW LIFE post doesn’t have a steady readership–wide ranges from year-to-year, between bad and practically decent numbers.


A scene from DEADBALL, directed by Yamaguchi Yudai for Nikkatsu.

Deadball (2011, Yamaguchi Yudai)
2013

When I got the DEADBALL screener, I wasn’t particularly interested. When I noticed the credits, that changed. DEADBALL isn’t just a “sort of” sequel BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL (more in tone than anything else), it stars Tak Sakaguchi, who’s awesome. So I went from no interest in DEADBALL to some interest in it just from the credits. Most screeners it’s hard to get any interest. The DEADBALL post gets very few readers. First month had as many readers as the entire second year and the first month was low.

[Stopped Buttons] Day 63 | April 22

Richard Burton and Peter Firth star in EQUUS, directed by Sidney Lumet for United Artists.

Equus (1977, Sidney Lumet)
2008

I’m a little young to have a Richard Burton prejudice. I’d heard he was a ham, but never really seen it. I was reading about Richard Burton somewhere and it said EQUUS was a great performance in a bad spot of his career. So I watched it. Since EQUUS is Sidney Lumet, he might’ve mentioned it in “Making Movies” but I don’t remember. EQUUS is really good, very creepy. The EQUUS post had a couple rather good years followed by a couple decent years. Interest seems to be slowing gradually on it.


Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead star in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, directed by Edgar Wright for Universal Pictures.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright)
2011

I nearly drug my wife my wife to see SCOTT PILGRIM in the theater. I’m glad I didn’t; that would’ve been bad. Not that my wife would’ve hated it so much she’d have been mad–I’m the one who gets mad about wasting time on a movie theatrically. Only one friend ever recommended SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD to me and not too seriously, which was cool. Saved from awkwardness. The SCOTT PILGRIM post got attention on publication, but little since, which is funny given it was supposed to be a cult classic.


A scene from DOGS OF WAR, directed by Robert F. McGowan for Pathé Exchange.

Dogs of War (1923, Robert F. McGowan)
2012

Of all the Our Gang shorts I watched, DOGS OF WAR stands out. Not just because it’s actually a good short. I find the pre-WWII war movies–whether they’re about WWI or not–interesting, but particularly WWI ones. They’re hard to watch. I guess the short’s pretty good–I paged through the DOGS OF WAR post, but I don’t remember. Even when they’re good, they gel. The DOGS OF WAR post barely got readers its first two years (again, why Short Stop stopped being a priority) but boomed once in 2014.


Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise star in OBLIVION, directed by Joseph Kosinski for Universal Pictures.

Oblivion (2013, Joseph Kosinski)
2013

I was really looking forward to OBLIVION. Kosinski seemed like he could deliver the visceral experience. We saw OBLIVION opening night in the theater; it could have been better, but it was a pretty good–and very pretty–motion picture. As someone who loathes bad Tom Cruise (mostly back when he was popular), I don’t get why people don’t like him when he’s good. The OBLIVION post has never done well with readers. Almost decent its first year (with a home video release bump), it’s fallen lots.

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