All posts by Andrew Wickliffe

You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972, Bill Melendez)

A lot goes on in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, with the actual class president election stuff coming in at the end of the first act. Instead, Elected starts with Sally (Hilary Momberger-Powers) having school troubles. There’s a long conversation about all the possible school problems with Charlie Brown (Chad Webber), only for it to be Sally can’t get into her locker. Then there’s a lengthy breakfast sequence where Snoopy gets the kids ready for school.

The locker problem returns–with Charlie Brown trying to help Sally–only for it to be the locker height. She can’t reach. Though none of the kids could reach, even though all the doors are the right height. It’s a weird gag. The immediate subsequent scene visually invalidates it.

But then it turns out Sally just wants to get Charlie Brown to be her show and tell item, which gives him a panic attack. At the end of the panic attack, he sees a sign about class president elections. So here’s the class president story line? No.

Because there’s still a fun little Snoopy in school sequence with the “Joe Cool” song in the background. And a lot of physical violence.

Lucy (Robin Kohn) does some voter interest research and discovers Charlie Brown doesn’t have a chance at winning. But Linus (Stephen Shea) does.

So Charlie Brown isn’t elected in You’re Not Elected because he’s not even running.

The Linus campaign stuff is fantastic. Kohn and Shea are both really good, even if Lucy’s best sequence–getting more and more frustrated during an “ask the candidate” call-in–doesn’t have much dialogue. Shea’s got the big campaign speech, which is hilarious as Linus gets more and more authoritarian as the school body cheers.

Unfortunately, Linus has some peculiar tendencies and they eventually complicate the campaign. Rather amusingly.

Elected takes a little while to get going–the diversion with Sally is okay (Momberger-Powers is fine), but dramatically inert–once Lucy starts running campaigns though, the cartoon gets a nice, steady pace. Good direction from Melendez, some lovely visuals (particularly the backgrounds), and a fine score from Vince Guaraldi. Guaraldi also does the “Joe Cool” song.

Between the title and the clunky (if competent) first act, Elected is a bit of a surprise, both in narrative and quality.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Rudy Zamora Jr.; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Chad Webber (Charlie Brown), Robin Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Hilary Momberger-Powers (Sally Brown), and Todd Barbee (Russell).


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Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green)

Halloween never met a MacGuffin it didn’t embrace. Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and director Gordon’s script strings together MacGuffins to make the plot. And if it’s not a MacGuffin, it’s something they’re not going to do anything with. With a handful of exceptions, Halloween is usually at least reasonably acted. Sure, everyone lives in a 2018 where smartphones aren’t omnipresent but the screenwriters probably couldn’t figure out how to update the set pieces they lift from previous Halloween sequels for new technology.

Real quick, just because I probably don’t want to dwell on it–Halloween (2018) recreates some of the previous sequels’ thriller or slasher set pieces. It amps up the violence considerably–the film’s nowhere near as violent after it starts homaging the original Halloween as when it’s trudging through its first act mire. These set piece recreations tend to be extraordinarily violent, like Green is trying to set his Halloween–a sequel only to first film–apart from all the sequels. It’s bloodier. It’s meaner. It’s maybe louder. When Green isn’t luxuriating in the physical graphic violence, he uses the sound for off-screen graphic violence. It’s left up to the imagination.

Only not the result, because he always shows the result.

It seems weird, because for a while Halloween seems to at least be pretending it’s serious. But when Jamie Lee Curtis calls Donald Pleasence-stand in Haluk Bilginer “The New Loomis (Pleasence’s character from previous films, including the original), it’s like Halloween feels comfortable dropping the pretense.

Back to the MacGuffin-filled opening–wait, there’s a third MacGuffin there too–anyway, Halloween opens with Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees as these obnoxious British podcaster producers doing a “Serial” on Michael Myers and the first Halloween. They go see Michael (presumably Nick Castle when he’s got the mask off, but never shown clearly–maybe Green and editor Timothy Alverson’s greatest–and most effective–feat). They bring him into the movie. They go see Jamie Lee Curtis. They mention Judy Greer.

Greer is Curtis’s daughter, who lives in town (the same town from the other Halloween movies because even though both Curtis and Greer suffer from severe mental anxiety and depression, they never want to leave the town). She’s got bland “dad” husband Toby Huss and smart and capable daughter Andi Matichak. Matichak and Curtis ostensibly have a character development arc, but much of it either happens off-screen or when digetic sound is brought over it for effect. The screenwriters avoid the heck out of character for Curtis. With Castle–i.e. what’s happened to the slasher since the slasher movie ended forty years ago–it’s easy. He’s been tied to a stone, silent for forty years. No development whatsoever. Easy.

Curtis, Greer, and Matichak? Not so easy. Greer’s second-billed but barely relevant. She just gets to think her mom is crazy and tell her to get help. Over and over again. Huss should be there to support Greer and he gets more material than her. And, until she’s following in grandma’s final girl footsteps, Matichak gets less than her friends. There’s best girlfriend Virginia Gardner (who’s actually really good), Gardner’s boyfriend Miles Robbins, then Matichak’s boyfriend Dylan Arnold and his bro Drew Scheid.

Matichek gets less to do, outside being hunted by a quinquagenarian masked spree killer, than any of them. The other characters don’t get more development, but at least Gardner and Robbins get stuff to do. Gardner especially. She’s babysitting adorably foul-mouthed near tween Jibrail Nantambu. Another big change in Halloween as it goes on–somewhere in the second act it decides it’s going to do some comedy. The first act doesn’t have any except Hall being a dip and Huss being such a dad.

The frustrating thing about Halloween–not while watching it but while considering it–is how many weird, senseless plotting choices the screenwriters make, apparently for no reason. The film has spared down visuals. Green avoids establishing shots. Possibly because he’s shooting Charleston, South Carolina for mid-sized town Illinois. But probably not. When they’re most important, he’s avoiding them because he’s doing his whole Halloween (2018) is meaner and bloodier and realer.

That tone doesn’t fit with podcasters Hall and Rees. Either they’re jokes, in which case Halloween (2018) is a joke, or they’re serious. But the film kind of wants to take Rees seriously and not Hall. Only Hall’s the noisier one.

With the exception of Curtis, Halloween’s female characters tend to be silent sidekicks to their far less capable male partners. Patton and Curtis know each other–from the first Halloween night–but… it’s not like they get character development. Halloween (2018) doesn’t do character development, because it’s going to deliver an amazing finish. Jamie Lee Curtis vs. Michael Myers, forty years later.

It’s the point of the movie. Curtis has spent forty years arming and training herself to take out Michael Myers. And now she’s going to get to do it.

And the big finale… isn’t boring. It’s dumb. If it weren’t so visually flat, it might be worth some spoof value. Because Halloween (2018) plays like an unaware spoof of itself. Like the screenwriters had something else in mind and Green just sucked the laughs out of it. But Green’s one of the screenwriters.

Halloween (2018) takes itself way too seriously while seeming to know it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

Curtis is fine. She and Matichak have potential. She and Patton have potential. The movie explores neither. Matichak’s all right. She’s got very little. Patton’s fine but seems like he should be good. Greer–the movie avoids giving Greer character more than it does Curtis–Greer is hostilely wasted. Like she’s stunt-casted.

The teens–other than Gardner–are all thin, both part and performance; it doesn’t matter.

Gardner’s good. Nantambu’s funny. Not good, but funny.

Technically, nothing leaps out. Green’s direction is fine. It’s never terrible. The script’s weird, but not bad as far as dialogue. Usually. Except the podcasters. And the Donald Pleasence stand-in. Alverson’s editing is good. Simmonds’s photography is flat, visually and in terms of quality. The score–from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter (yes relation), and Daniel A. Davies–sounds like a Halloween score. Nothing special.

Richard A. Wright’s production design is lacking.

Halloween (2018) is a curiosity. Even though it had the ingredients for something else. Something more. The film’s stunningly unambitious. It’s also passive aggressively hostile to those unfamiliar with the previous movies. While the podcasters fill in a bit, it’s more what’s been happening since the last movie, not what happened in the last movie.

And Curtis gets nothing. Nothing with any of it. Because the script can’t figure out how to make her a protagonist. It can’t figure out a lot of things.

The movie can’t figure out a lot of things. It’s really flimsy and kind of cynical–it’s like a one hundred minute exploration of why you shouldn’t try to make a “serious” movie sequel. To Halloween specifically, but also in general. Again, if it were a spoof–even a dark comedy one–there might be something here.

It’s not. And instead Halloween H40 just a lot of actors wasting their time and some remixed John Carpenter music.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Gordon Green; screenplay by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and Green, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Michael Simmonds; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies; production designer, Richard A. Wright; produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum, and Bill Block; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie), Judy Greer (Karen), Andi Matichak (Allyson), Will Patton (Hawkins), Toby Huss (Ray), Haluk Bilginer (Sartain), Rhian Rees (Dana), Jefferson Hall (Aaron), Virginia Gardner (Vicky), Dylan Arnold (Cameron), Miles Robbins (Dave), Drew Scheid (Oscar), Jibrail Nantambu (Julian), and Nick Castle (Shape).


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Lonelyhearts (1958, Vincent J. Donehue)

The most frustrating thing about Lonelyhearts is Donehue’s direction. While not a television production, Donehue directs it like one. He’ll have these shots of star Montgomery Clift baring his soul to girlfriend Dolores Hart and Donehue will stick with Clift, no reaction shot on Hart much less letting her hear the whole thing. Of course, less reaction shots in Lonelyhearts isn’t a bad thing. Donehue shoots them terribly. The first scene has one, while Clift is sitting in a booth with Myrna Loy and Robert Ryan and cuts from the three shot to a medium shot of Clift in his seat… obviously alone at the table. Coverage isn’t Donehue’s strong suit. Nothing is Donehue’s strong suit.

Lonelyhearts is based on a novel and a play, but producer and writer Dore Schary’s screenplay seems to favor the play. Unless the Robert Ryan character spoke in incessant monologue in the novel too. Not to complain about Ryan, who kind of gives the film’s best performance as a cruel newspaper editor who enjoys torturing his discontented staff almost as much as he likes torturing suffering wife Loy. She cheated on him once ten years ago, as a response to his multiple affairs, and has been waiting for him to forgive her since.

Yeah, Lonelyhearts has a lot of misogyny issues, even when it tries not to have them. While Ryan’s not a good guy because his cruelty, Loy’s only sympathetic because so she’s so contrite (and has been for so long).

Ryan gives the best performance throughout–he’s incredibly believable in his cynicism and loathing and self-loathing–and occasionally steals scenes from Clift. Only Ryan and Clift are guaranteed close-ups. They’re not the two top-billed for nothing. But once Clift’s story gets going and he starts collapsing in on himself, once he gets to make that self-loathing Ryan wants to engender in him physical, Clift’s got some great scenes. But he’s also got a somewhat crappy part.

Clift’s a young man with gumption (clearly not playing his thirty-eight years) who gets stuck writing the advice column because Ryan thinks he’s an idealist and Ryan likes breaking idealists. Clift’s also attractive and nice to Loy, so it gives Ryan a chance to be cruel to her about something else. Hart–Clift’s girlfriend and de facto fiancée–is twenty. Clift looks too old for her as the movie starts and he always looks older than her, but once he starts getting broken down, it’s like it takes the years off him.

The first half of the movie is everyone telling Clift he cares too much about the people writing to the advice column. It’s most effective when it’s Hart telling him he’s too empathetic because it just seems like Clift’s life is lose-lose. Then we find out he’s an orphan, then we find out he’s not really an orphan, his dad (Onslow Stevens) is just in jail for killing his mom for she cheating on him. The scene with Clift and Stevens facing off ought to be a lot better. It’s poorly directed and paced, but at that moment Clift looks way too old for the scene, even though Stevens actually is old enough to be his father.

Lonelyhearts has some terribly bland lighting from John Alton. It’s visually tedious, with these occasional moments when–somehow–Donehue manages to hold the shot on Clift or Ryan and get something good. Then it’ll cut away and Alton won’t match the lighting. But still, the actors are there to work. So it’s really unfortunate Loy gets squat and poorly directed squat at that. And it’s even more unfortunate Hart gets the “faithful girlfriend” role, only for Donehue to avoid her during her character development scenes, and her most frequent costars–Frank Overton (two years Clift’s senior) as her dad, Don and Johnny Washbrook as her brothers–give shockingly inept performances. Particularly bad writing for them as well. Schary’s not comfortable with silences, but he also doesn’t write background chatter well.

And the film’s use of sound effects to suggest they’re not shooting on a sound stage or an empty bar set? Inept. If Lonelyhearts were a television production upgraded to feature, it’d have some excuses. But as a feature made with television production standards? It’s got none.

The real drama in the film involves Maureen Stapleton and Frnak Maxwell. She writes to the column, devastated about the state of her marriage to handicapped Maxwell. Clift feels sympathy for her. Ryan says she’s a tramp wife on the make and demands he meet her in person. Things get complicated.

All Lonelyhearts needs is better direction. The script, albeit problematic, is more than passable–it doesn’t seem likely a film of its era would be able to get rid of the undercurrent of passive misogyny, given the subject matter–maybe some awareness of it would be nice. Though Hart getting a reasonable character arc and Clift or Ryan showing some real self-awareness instead of just implied future self-awareness would do a lot too. But Donehue’s direction sinks it.

The film starts low and claws its way up through its stagy production, poor technical efforts, wonky screenplay, all thanks to the cast. Ryan’s outstanding, Clift’s is occasionally but usually excellent. Both Stapleton and Maxwell have great moments; it’s unfortunate higher billed Hart and Loy don’t get the same courtesy.

A real musical score might’ve helped too. Conrad Salinger’s credited with one but it’s beyond sparse.

For having so many problems, Lonelyhearts is a kind of achievement. Acting-wise, anyway.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent J. Donehue; screenplay by Dore Schary, based on a play by Howard Teichmann and a novel by Nathanael West; director of photography, John Alton; edited by John Faure and Aaron Stell; music by Conrad Salinger; produced by Schary; released by United Artists.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Adam White), Robert Ryan (William Shrike), Myrna Loy (Florence Shrike), Dolores Hart (Justy Sargeant), Maureen Stapleton (Fay Doyle), Frank Maxwell (Pat Doyle), Frank Overton (Mr. Sargeant), Jackie Coogan (Ned Gates), Mike Kellin (Frank Goldsmith), and Onslow Stevens (Mr. Lassiter).


THIS POST IS PART OF FROM THE STARS TO A STAR: CELEBRATING DOLORES HART HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks)

The first forty-five minutes of Only Angels Have Wings is mostly continual present action. Jean Arthur arrives in a South American port town, looking around–followed by two possible ne’er-do-wells (Allyn Joslyn and Noah Beery Jr.)–and the film tracks her experience. Great direction from Hawks, beautiful cinematography from Joseph Walker. Pretty soon she discovers they’re not ne’er-do-wells but ex-pat American fliers doing mail deliveries.

It actually takes a while to understand the mail outfit, with Jules Furthman’s ingenious script taking its sweet time to reveal everything. Arthur with Joslyn and Beery–then meeting adorable entreprenur Sig Ruman–seems like its doing character introduction on Arthur and maybe some setting setup, but it’s not. Arthur’s going to get character introduction and ground situation stuff done, but not in these opening moments. And while it’s establishing the physical setting, it’s only hinting at it. It’s moving the action to it without actually establishing it. Arthur’s only on layover, after all. Her boat leaves before dawn the next morning.

Instead, Hawks and Furthman are subtly using this time to acclimate the audience to the setting. All that stuff about the town and the boat, it’s not really important, what’s really important is the hotel slash bar slash airport. Ruman’s co-owner is Cary Grant, who shows up about eight minutes in. Hawks and Furthman have already done an extraordinary amount of work in those eight minutes. And there’s no time to establish Grant when he does arrive because it’s time for the mail to go out and so there’s an airplane action sequence. Hawks excels at the airplane action sequences. The miniatures are always spot on, the actual airplane footage is breathtaking (and terrifying).

It’s after the twenty-five minute mark–so twenty minutes left in the opening “prologue”–before real character work on Grant starts happening. There’s a lot of exposition and implied stuff. There’s the entirely functional introduction of Thomas Mitchell during that first action sequence; he’s one of the main characters, but he’s a stranger to Arthur and the audience for the first ten minutes he’s on screen. Because Hawks has got a tense action sequence to do and it comes first.

Once Arthur and Grant finally do start getting talking and flirting, Wings momentarily becomes almost a romantic dramedy. Furthman’s dialogue, Arthur and Grant’s chemistry, it’s a break from everything going on in this microcosm Hawks and Furthman have submerged the audience in.

But Only Angels Have Wings isn’t some short subject about Jean Arthur’s layover with some ex-pat fliers before she continues on her way. It’s not even about what happens when she decides to stay because, well, she just found Cary Grant in the jungle and he’s single. At the forty-six minute mark, the film shifts protagonists. Those first forty-five minutes were to transition to top-billed Grant taking over from second-billed Arthur. Hawks and Furthman have gotten the audience acclimated and it’s time to get into everything else, like Ruman and Grant’s business failing and the constant danger of the mail delivery.

The next section of the film, which really runs to the end as far as pacing goes, but the next big event in the film is the arrival of Richard Barthelmess. He’s got history with Grant and Mitchell, but Grant needs a new pilot, leading right away to some great action sequences. But Barthelmess isn’t alone it turns out, he’s got wife Rita Hayworth with him. And Hayworth’s got some history with Grant.

Furthman and Hawks are able to get away with the one-two punch of Barthelmess and Hayworth and all their baggage with the existing cast and it never comes off contrived. It’s even gently foreshadowed. So the whole thing then becomes about this group of people–Grant, Mitchell, Barthelmess, Hayworth (and the other pilots to some degree)–figuring out how they’re all going to exist in this place. Because even though everyone’s flying around, they’re all stranded. The passenger boat only comes every couple weeks, which means Arthur is still around, moving through the film–mostly removed from the subplots save for her now prickly relationship with Grant.

The film resolves the romance stuff by the end of the second act. Furthman’s script always takes the time to do the scenes right–there’s other stuff going on too, Wings gets away with bubbling up subplots whenever it wants, specifically ones involving Ruman and Mitchell.

Then the third act starts with a bang, only to keep intensifying to almost excruitatingly intolerable levels, both through action and drama. The drama then moves on to echo and resolve items introduced at the beginning and during the character setup. It’s a phenomenal script.

All the acting is great. Grant’s able to toggle between his nearly screwball romance with Arthur to the weight of being this flier in a constantly dangerous situation to being a manager. He’s got a slightly different relationship with every one of his pilots, something the film never stops acknowledging. Arthur gets this big stuff at the opening–in the forty-five minutes–and then has to share the rest of the film, only her story isn’t always the most interesting since she’s basically just waiting, so her scenes have to count. They do. Apparently Hawks hated her performance but she’s what makes Grant work the way he does. She unsettles him.

Barthelmess is awesome. He and Mitchell have the hardest parts in the film, but Mitchell gets to be both lovable and sympathetic. Barthelmess gets neither. Until Hayworth somehow makes him sympathetic. She and Grant have these complex, layered scenes together–basically all of their scenes together–and they give Grant some very different character development.

But never at the expense of Hayworth or Barthelmess. They get their character development too. Hayworth getting it a lot less dramatically than Barthelmess.

And then Ruman’s great. He’s louder than most of the characters in the film, but it makes him lovable. Also great is Victor Killian as the radio operator. He’s never loud; he steals scenes quietly. He and Arthur have this whispering scene and it’s stunning.

Only Angels Have Wings is this fast, complex, beautifully made–everything about the production is stellar, down to the costumes–wonderfully acted strange little big movie. Hawks has all sorts of ambitions, some he realizes on his own, some he needs the actors for. But damn if he doesn’t accomplish them all. Even if he didn’t like Arthur’s performance.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Hawks; written by Jules Furthman; director of photography, Joseph Walker; edited by Viola Lawrence; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Cary Grant (Geoff Carter), Jean Arthur (Bonnie Lee), Richard Barthelmess (Bat MacPherson), Rita Hayworth (Judy MacPherson), Thomas Mitchell (Kid Dabb), Allyn Joslyn (Les Peters), Sig Ruman (Dutchy), Victor Kilian (Sparks), John Carroll (Gent Shelton), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Tex), Milisa Sierra (Lily), and Noah Beery Jr. (Joe).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 100 YEARS OF RITA HAYWORTH BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD.


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