Archive for the ‘ Movie Reviews ’ Category

Back Street

Susan Hayward would have turned 100 today.

She died at the age of 57 after developing brain cancer.  Most likely, Hayward was another victim of radioactive poisoning from the movie set of The Conqueror, which was filmed in St. George, Utah a former atomic test site.

There were 220 people on the set, 91 would develop cancer of one sort or another, and 46 had already died from the disease by 1980.

The deaths included Agnes Moorehead, John Wayne, and Dick Powell.

Hayward isn’t remembered for the way she died, she’s remembered for her films.

Moving to Hollywood in 1937 to land the role of Scarlett O’Hara (she didn’t), the girl who would eventually live on a large farm in Georgia, started her career as a model, and quickly found bit parts in films throughout WW II.

After the war, she was “discovered” by Walter Wagner and signed a seven year contract.

Wagner, apparently a visionary, paid her, a veritable unknown, $100,000 a year.

In 1947, she received the first of five Academy Award nominations when she played an alcoholic nightclub singer in Smash UP, the Story of a Woman.

She went on to become one of the public’s favorite leading ladies, delighting audiences by portraying Rachel Jackson in The President’s Lady,  another boozer in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and a California murderer, Barbara Graham, in I Want To Live.

She won her only Oscar for that one.

But my favorite and one that gets little attention is Back Street, a lavish Ross Hunter re-make of an earlier film.

No one played the role of the “other woman” like Susan Hayward, and Rae of  Back Street was an “other woman” role like no other!

Back Street is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite memories.  My sister, Zola, and I would stay UP late, lie in front of the black and white swivel bottom TV, get as close as we could get,  turn the sound low to keep from waking the house, and watch Back Street.

Mother of course, would come out and tell us to get to bed; quite frankly, I think I was an adult before I saw the end of the film.

Melodrama at its best, Back Street is the story of a wealthy department store heir’s love affair with a small town dress shop owner.  The dress shop owner dumps him when she finds out he’s married.

Of course, she runs to New York, becomes a fashion designer, moves to Rome and becomes the brains behind a salon and becomes an even more famous designer.

The heir pursues her, telling her his lush of a wife won’t give him a divorce, pledging his love yadda, yadda, yadda.

Of course, she caves, they become lovers, things happen, the wife shows UP, Chautauqua hits the fan…you know the drill.

I won’t spoil the end, but it’s one of Old Hollywood’s classiest.

Check it out, make a new memory.

Hey, it’s gonna be hot this weekend, and you need something to do.

Hollywood Connection…

So, there’s this little movie out there called Hunter Gatherer.

photo credit: Josh Locy

It’s an indie film, the kind I like.

I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone, and the story line isn’t the happiest all the time.  But there’s redemption in there somewhere.

Beautifully filmed in a Bonnie and Clyde gritty kinda way, the film tells the struggle of an ex-con’s reentry into society.

He looks for his last love; she’s not looking for him.

He looks for his friends; they’re not looking for him.

He looks for a future; and finds one that’s an unsure surprise.

The film was featured and was a winner at the 2016 South by Southwest film festival.

Roger Ebert said this, “…Written and directed by Joshua Locy, “Hunter Gatherer” doesn’t look or feel like many movies being made right now. It’s about African-Americans living modestly in a black neighborhood in our second largest city, and the sense of inequity and systemic discrimination is implicit in the story, but it’s a quiet, gentle film, laid back without seeming sluggish. It never veers into a brutal crime plot to juice things up (as many similarly-set movies tend to do), nor does it feel compelled to make a statement about anything other than its eccentric characters’ relationships to each other and the wider world.”

So, why this film? And Who’s Josh Locy?

Josh Locy is the son of a childhood friend, Linda McKemy Locy of Virginia and Ohio.  His mom and I were sweethearts while on the cradle roll at Kerrs Creek Baptist Church back in the day.

She was six, I was five.  Really, there’s no there, there.

Our families have remained close over the years and their family is one of those five or so families that form a core friend base.

photo credit: IMDB.com

So, I had to see it.

The problem was, it isn’t in too many theaters.  It’s a small film.  But luckily I was able to watch it on demand, and luckily, I had an in to the writer director, Josh, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

So here goes…
RLR:  Why films?

JL:  All my friends growing up were in bands. I wanted so badly to be in a band but they were way more talented musically than I was. In our eyes they were super successful. So I regulated myself to being a superfan. But they opened the door up to creative endeavors.

RLR:  Directing/writing v. acting?

JL:  I know I have a couple acting credits on my imdb but I’m truly not an actor. Just a couple of projects I did to help out friends.  But writing and directing is the ultimate act of collaborative creation! I love having my vision expanded by the technicians, creatives, and actors who embody the script I wrote! It’s a truly magical experience and I can’t wait to do it again!

RLR:  What are your Inspiration points?

JL:  I am inspired by the realism and naturalism of great films from the 70’s like Panic in Needle Park, Straight Time, and Midnight Cowboy. I am also inspired by the magical realism of filmmakers like Apitchatpong Weerasethekul and novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. HG starts off strictly based in reality, but those boundaries are slowly erased.

RLR:  Where did Hunter Gatherer come from?

JL:  HG was inspired by stories I heard from a friend named Eddie who was a heroin addicted pimp in 1980’s Philadelphia. When I first started writing the script, it was terrible because I had no real connection to the drugs and illicit activities, so I made a conceptual move to remove all of that stuff from the script and find what it is that truly connected me to this world and these characters. Upon doing that I realized that I was connected to the similarities between my own experiences in searching for true human connection with the experience of these characters who were so different from me.

RLR:  Which brings me to this question, How does a pasty white boy from Lynchburg, Virginia come UP with a story like HG?

JL:  haha — well — I think it comes from an intention to focus on the humanity of the characters. I was raised in a relatively homogenous community so knew that I needed to be intimately involved in an artistic endeavor with people who were different than me. I needed to be challenged and I needed my worldview expanded to understand myself and the world better. More than any assumed knowledge I have of the world I am portraying, ultimately the story is a product of constant, unquenchable curiosity about that world and a desire to connect with it at a deeper level.

RLR:  How difficult is it to get buy in and support for a film like this?

JL:  It’s impossible! Everything in the film industry is impossible until it’s not.  There are only so many investors at our budget level and we talked with all of them!  Finally – a company called cinetic connected us with two of their investor connections who were looking for exactly this kind of project. There was a lot of serendipity involved as well but my producers Sara Murphy and April Lamb kept pushing and pushing until we found the right people!

RLR:  How does your upbringing impact your motivation and style in art?

JL:  I was raised super religious in the south. I think there was a certain amount of humility and naiveté imbued in me from a young age. This fuels my curiosity and keeps me nice to people!

RLR:  What is the best thing anyone has said about the film?

JL:  An older gentleman at AFI Fest who had grown up in the neighborhood where we shot said that he had never seen his neighborhood represented so well on film. He told me that it is depicted just as it is. This meant a lot to me considering my answer to the next question.

RLR:  The worst?

JL:  People who suggest that I am not allowed to tell a story that features people who are different than I am have said the meanest things to me. It was to be expected and I understand that there are lot of questions to answer and conversations to be had in this regard.

RLR:  How did you snag Andre Royo?  (Great choice BTW.)

JL:  I’ve been a big fan of André’s since the wire and the spectacular now, but I avoided him because I didn’t want HG to feel like a stepson to the wire. But our mutual friend, the casting director Julia Kim, sent him the script anyway. He connected with the material on a deep, emotional level like no one else had. We met and discussed our goals and fears and agreed that we should give this thing a go.

RLR:  What’s next?

JL:  I’m working on a project with my friend about cheating and intrigue in the early days of professional bass fishing. A comedic noir in the vein of Fargo with nutso characters, high stakes, and murders!

So…it’s one of those films that stick with you, you have to pay attention to, and leaves you wanting to know more.

Check it out.

It’s not in theaters much, so you’ll have to down load or on demand it.  And you should.

It’s A Mary Story…

I went to see Manchester by the Sea on Christmas Day.

So not a Christmas movie, so not.

Sad, depressing, foul language beyond the pale; it was a bad choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The acting, story, script, etc. all great.

It was just sad, sad, sad.

The death of his brother is just the beginning of one sad event after another.

And, it has one of those endings you have to make UP yourself.

It’s what we used to call a Mary Story.

Mary stories don’t have an ending, they just stop.

We called them, and by we, I mean Connie, Kim, and I, called them Mary Stories because of our mutual friend Mary.

Her stories just stopped, they didn’t end.

The Subject Was Roses comes to mind.

They leave you hanging, and I don’t mean in a “who shot JR” kind of way.

They just stop – no ending – no resolution – no answers.

Manchester by the Sea is one of those, it’s a Mary Story.

But the acting’s good, and the UP side is I never thought I’d say that about Casey Afleck.

It’s A Wonderful Life

70 years ago today,It’s A Wonderful Life made it’s theatrical premier.

I wasn’t there.

The Christmas Classic is a heartwarming film by Frank Capra starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, and tops the Christmas Movie Favorites lists of millions of folks.

It is based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern wrote in 1939 and published privately in 1945, the story was called “The Greatest Gift.”

Stewart plays George Bailey, a man who has given UP his dreams in order to help others and is at the end of his rope.  His imminent suicide on Christmas Eve, no less, is thwarted by his guardian angel – Clarence Odbody.

Clarence shows George all the live he’s impacted and how his community would be much worse had he not been born.

The movie, adored by millions, was preceded by a promotional campaign which included daily advertisement highlighting one of the film’s stars.

Each day was accompanied by commentary by the Hollywood reviewers lauding the film.  Jimmy Starr said, “If I were an Oscar, I’d elope with It’s a Wonderful Life on the night of the Academy Adards.”

After its debut on December 20, 1946, the film went into release on January 7th of the following year.  It placed 26th in box office revenues.

Released early to make the Academy Awards, the film was nominated for five awards including best actor for Stewart and best picture.

It won for technical achievement.

In its first year of release, the film lost $525,000 at the box office.

RKO was unhappy, but needn’t fret.  The film caught on, became a Christmas Classic, and the holiday season wouldn’t be the same without at least one viewing of the movie by many.

The story or at least the story line has be co-opted by most other forms of entertainment.

It’s been parodied by Married …with Children, Mork & Mindy, The Facts of Life, Moonlighting, Night Court, Rug Rats, Dallas, and even Bevis and Butthead!

The movie tells the story of a man who learns what the world would be like without him and makes us wonder what the world would be like without the movie.

Happy Holidays!  It is a wonderful life!