ABE & PHIL’S LAST POKER GAME (2018)

January 9, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. There really isn’t an age where one’s level of horniness is of interest to the outside world. The topic is certainly cringe-inducing as we listen in on two old men bemoaning their current state of dysfunction, while simultaneously recalling their glorious past conquests. Were these two gents played by lesser actors than screen legends Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino, there would be no need to tune in.

Writer/director Howard Weiner (a Neurologist and Harvard professor – thanks Google) delivers his first narrative feature film as a statement on old age, pride and dying. In Mr. Landau’s final film, he plays Dr. (not Mister!) Abe Mandelbaum (I’m giving credit as a “Seinfeld” reference, whether intentional or not), who, along with his dementia-riddled wife Molly (Ann Marie Shea), moves into Cliffside Manor – a Retirement Center and Nursing Home. Abe quickly bonds with fellow resident Phil (Mr. Sorvino) as the two exchange dirty jokes and tales of yesteryear.

The other story line involves a nurse (Maria Dizzia, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE) who has reason to believe the biological father she’s never met is a resident at the manor. The obvious development is whether Abe or the notoriously womanizing Phil might be her father. Other minor story lines include the center’s director (Alexander Cook) who admittedly hates old people as he searches for a miracle potion to prevent his own aging, Molly’s struggle with dementia which can only be soothed with her fur coat or relief in bed, and a last hurrah field trip to a local sports bar with the nurse, Abe and Phil.

If not for the vulgarities and three of the most uncomfortable sex scenes you’ve likely ever witnessed, this would have been a textbook Lifetime Channel movie. Watching two pros like Mr. Landau and Mr. Sorvino go at each other is quite a treat – though you best enjoy old men talking about sex, as the subtleties of pride, masculinity and self-identity of men are mere afterthoughts here. Oscar winner Landau (ED WOOD) deserved a send-off more in line with Harry Dean Stanton’s LUCKY, but fortunately he has a 60 year career as his legacy.

watch the trailer:

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REMEMBER (2016)

March 31, 2016

remember Greetings again from the darkness. Earlier this year, 81 year old Maggie Smith impressed with her lead role in The Lady in the Van. And now, just a few weeks later, comes 86 year old Christopher Plummer in a gut-wrenching performance as Zev Guttman, a 90 year old German grieving widower suffering from dementia. Don’t let that description fool you … Zev goes on a cross-continent road trip with a mission of seeking justice against the Auschwitz guard who killed his family more than 70 years ago.

Zev lives in a nursing home and often can’t remember to wear shoes, much less that his beloved wife Ruth has passed away. It turns out another resident/patient at the home shares a history at Auschwitz with him. Wheelchair-bound Max (Martin Landau) says the two men are the last surviving members of their cell block, and must work together to find the guard – now living under the assumed name of Rudy Kurlander – and find justice for their families. So we find ourselves with a coalition of sympathetic senior citizen Nazi hunters.

Given the war atrocities, it makes sense that over the years, many movies have placed Nazi hunting as a core theme. Among the most well known are: The Odessa File (1974), Marathon Man (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Inglourious Bastards (2009), and The Debt (2010). But leave it to director Atom Egoyan (Ararat, Where the Truth Lies) to find a different spin and a twist on a familiar theme. At times, Zev’s dementia distracts us from his vengeful mission, while at various other times, the innocence of children acts as a dual reminder – the fragility of old age vs. the eye-for-eye brutality.

It’s Landau’s Max who acts as a type of narrative structure for the story. His sharp and focused plan is written out in letter form so that Zev can constantly refer and be reminded of his purpose. The letter also provides us viewers with the necessary back-story to fully comprehend the what’s and why’s. Each time Zev re-reads the letter, he re-experiences the loss of his wife – yet another of the film’s reminders of the effects of dementia.

Zev’s search takes him from Ohio to Canada to Idaho to Lake Tahoe. He goes through four Rudy Kurlanders – with Bruno Ganz (Downfall, 2004) and Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot (1981) representing two. There is also a very uncomfortable sequence involving Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”) which reminds that hatred is often passed down through generations.

The nursing home “getaway” and the purchase of a gun have us thinking Zev is some type of senior citizen Jason Bourne – sharing the lack of memory, but none of the skills. The title of “Remember” has many meanings and interpretations here, not the least of which is as a display of loss, guilt, revenge, family and old age. Even the most poignant moment of the film occurs when Zev says “I remember”.

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


FRANKENWEENIE (2012)

October 15, 2012

Greetings again from the darkness. Being a huge fan of Tim Burton’s 1984 short of the same title, news of a feature length feature was very exciting. It’s obvious from both films that director Mr. Burton holds the story and project close to his heart. The obvious guess is that young Victor Frankenstein has much in common with the enigmatic director’s childhood experience … a social misfit who finds joy in less than popular outlets (science, sci-fi, filmmaking).  Burton then adds the crucial elements of nostalgia and fun.

The story begins simply enough, Victor – a socially inept boy, whose only friend is his loyal dog Sparky, quickly connects with the new science teacher, Mr. Rzykroski (who bears a striking resemblance to the late, great Vincent Price). Victor’s parents try to get him more engaged and that leads to a tragic accident that kills Sparky. Victor is heart-broken but his scientific mind leads to a shocking development thanks to a local lightning storm. Soon enough, Sparky is back! Of course, the secret gets out and the Science Fair takes on quite a competitive nature.

Burton really treats the film as an homage to old monster, horror and sci-fi films. We get tributes to Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula (complete with Christopher Lee), Godzilla, Bride of Frankenstein, Gremlins, Jurrassic Park and others I certainly missed on first viewing. But this is so much more. Mr. Rzykroski gives a less than PC speech to the local townspeople, and though it is straight to the point, that point is lost on these fine folks. The importance of science and learning and accepting the differences of others is all touched upon, but not in a preachy way.

 The voice work is stellar thanks to Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau and Atticus Shaffer (Brick on “The Middle”). The style and texture of the film is extraordinary. The shadows and lighting provide an atmosphere that adds just enough creepiness. The detail involved with the characters and setting is remarkable for stop-motion animation. Not just that, but how many movies have you seen recently that include a cat-bat, sea monkeys, and a giant turtle? The suburban setting is almost identical to the neighborhood seen in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, just without the 1960’s color palette.

 This is excellent movie entertainmentand FUN for adults and children alike. Unfortunately, the black and white presentation has meant a lack of interest from today’s kids. Sure it has some darkness to it, but the PG rating means nothing too heavy. This is Tim Burton at his finest … and without Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter! Also, Danny Elfman’s score perfectly compliments the story and characters, and stay for the credits to hear a very odd Karen O song.

 

** NOTE: don’t miss the opportunity to compare the original short with this updated feature length version. The creative differences really show the technical advances over the past 28 years.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy fun movies and a tip of the cap to old horror films OR you want to see Tim Burton in peak form

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you refuse to believe a black & white animated film can provide any entertainment value

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2luLW-9ySw


NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) revisited

July 19, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. It seems apropos that Hollywood’s first stylish thriller with tongue planted firmly in cheek should come from director Alfred Hitchcock. We get two of the most iconic scenes in one film: Cary Grant being targeted by a crop duster, and the chase across the faces of Mt Rushmore. That combined with the stellar writing of famed screenwriter Ernest Lehman (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) provide one of the all-time most entertaining and beloved thrillers.

Cary Grant plays Roger O Thornhill (the O stands for nothing), a Madison Avenue Advertising hotshot who gets mixed up in a wild case of mistaken identity that involves the CIA and an unnamed foreign intelligence agency. Spies who nab the wrong guy … there’s something funny about that, as long as you aren’t “the guy”. The story is tied into the Cold War, but really the fun part of the film involves watching Thornhill maneuver his way through the maze with very little assistance. Well, Eve Kendall (played by Eva Marie Saint) says she is helping, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that she’s no innocent bystander … what blonde is ever innocent in a Hitchcock film? The bad guy is Vandamm, played with true menace by James Mason (whose wonderfully creepy voice always made him a terrific villain). His henchman is a young Martin Landau, whose mannerisms will have you raising an eyebrow throughout. While many rave about the scenes with Grant and Ms. Saint, my favorites involve Grant and Mason. Two suave masters going at each other with verbal sparring that stands up more than 50 years later.

 This was Hitchcock’s only film for MGM, and I would argue it is his most visually stylish … clothing, set decorations and the beautiful scenery and camera work. Also, he makes his cameo very early here … just missing a city bus as the doors close in his face.  And of course, one can’t help notice the poor gray suit that Grant wears through most of the film. It looks fabulous on him, even after he crawls out of the corn fields. Mr. Grant may be the most elegant actor to ever grace the silver screen. He moves like a dancer and has the face of model. This is a true movie star. I have often stated that he mastered the confounded grimace and the quick, sly smile and built a career.

Bernard Herrmann delivered yet another perfect score and Lehman’s risqué’ (for the times) dialogue is especially fun in the train’s dining car. Finally getting to see this one on the big screen gave me a whole new appreciation for the crop dusting scene and Mt Rushmore. The scale of both segments is pure Hitchcock art. On a final note, there are so many character actors whom you will recognize throughout the film. Many went on to long careers in the 60’s and 70’s and even beyond. A true classic from the master.

**Note: Jessie Royce Landis plays Cary Grant’s mother in the film … actually, she was only 7 years older than Grant.

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