Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Movie Reviews 459 – Samurai Fiction (1998)

November 27, 2020

Nobody will ever accuse Japanese filmmakers of not pushing boundaries and trying new things and Samurai Fiction is another fine example of that. The similarity in title to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is no coincidence although it has more in common with the maverick director’s Kill Bill duology. The primary homage of this black comedy however is for that country’s celebrated samurai films of old going back to the Akira Kurusawa classics, even going so far as to be filmed in black and white. With a bit of a twist of course.

The tale begins when a rogue samurai named Kazamatsuri (Tomoyasu Hotei) kills a fellow clan member and runs off with a coveted sword given to the clan by a shogun. The clan’s chief councilor is hesitant to send a recovery squad but his son Heishiro (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) and his two best friends decide to retrieve the sword themselves. The self proclaimed ‘Three Stooges’ catch up with Kazamatsuri and promptly get their collective asses whooped before a stranger can put a halt to the fight. The wounded Heishiro is taken in by the interloper Hanbei (Morio Kazama) and his daughter Koharu (Tamaki Ogawa) but only after one of Heishiro’s friends dies at the hand of Kazamatsuri. As Heishiro recuperates Kazamatsuri takes up with a den of gamblers run by Lady Okatsu (Mari Natsuki) who tries to lure him as a business partner. When word gets back to Heishiro’s father of Kazamuri’s whereabouts he sends two ninja assassins to try to get Okatsu to poison Kazamuri.

As you can see the plot is quite convoluted but the one outstanding question that never gets answered is why did Kazamatsuri steal the sword in the first place and why won’t he just give it back? The stark contrasts between the solemn Kazamatsuri persona and the flighty Heishiro is just a sample of what makes this film so odd and hard to peg. More interesting is the background of the noble Hanbei and his ‘daughter’ (note the quotes) which does get addressed. Fans in Japan would have instantly recognized the casting of Hotei, a celebrated rock star there, and unsurprisingly the musical soundtrack reflects that with rollicking guitar riffs overlaying the traditional taiko drums. Despite the Tarantino influence there is not a lot going on from a martial arts action point of view, what little fighting shown being almost slapstick in nature.

The opening credits include a ‘part 1’ subtitle which may have been another nod to Tarantino’s Kill Bill ‘parts’ but a ‘part 2’, Stereo Future was supposedly filmed a few years later although there doesn’t seem to be much information regarding its content, at least none that I could find and director Hiroyuki Nakano has since gone on to directing documentaries

One thing that had me stumped with a Matrix Red Pill, Blue Pill like choice was when I first opened my dual DVD case. The DVD sleeve, sparse to begin with, makes no mention of it at all but there staring me in the face were two discs exactly like one another except one with a red label and the other a white label. Even a quick online search eluded me as to what was the difference so I had to plop it into my player to confirm that it was just a bunch of extra features (“Making of”, trailers, etc) along with the colorized versions of some select scenes.

This was clearly a work of passion for the director, however I would say a tad overambitious. It’s not bad but not as polished as I was hoping.

 

Movie Reviews 452 – The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

October 2, 2020

The first time I ever heard of the concept of multiple personalities was when the Made-for-TV movie Sybil was broadcast in 1976 to much fanfare and advance promotion. I was fascinated by the revelation that a person could have split personalities sharing one body and mind. The film itself was something of a sensation (more on that later) so I assumed this was all new scientific ground being adapted into a movie drama. Little did I realize at the time that this was well trodden ground having already been covered in the classic The Three Faces of Eve.

Based on a book written by a psychiatrist documenting the real life case of a housewife who was diagnosed with the dissociative identity disorder, Joanne Woodward plays the part of Eve White, a housewife who suddenly exhibits strange behaviour while claiming to have memory lapses coinciding with her out of character conduct. With friction developing between her husband and exhibiting danger to her daughter, she seeks the help of a psychiatrist (Lee J. Cobb) who incredulously sees her transform before his very eyes. Under hypnosis the normal quiet and demure Eve White first becomes Eve Black, a young spirited, outspoken even flirtatious persona who is well aware of Eve White’s presence.

Convinced she is not faking the metamorphosis the doctor is presented with a quandary as to whether he should even tell his patient the root cause of her blackouts. But as Eve Black becomes ever more troublesome she is told and in short time Eve White can command Eve Black to appear whenever she wants.

Temporarily separated from her husband and daughter Eve White tries to live with her inner demon, but Black becomes ever bolder and basically escapes every night to party at local bars and dance halls. A tipping point is reached and eventually when Eve Black herself confesses to having her own blackouts and yet another persona, Jane emerges. And Jane it turns out holds the biggest secret of all.

Woodward deservingly won an academy award for her role, or should I say roles, as she manages to almost magically and convincingly reconstruct before our very eyes. Ironically she would go on to play the psychiatrist role in Sybil which was supposed based on an entirely different real life case. Both Eve/Jane and Sybil’s real names were revealed in time and both microscopically investigated both academically and journalistically regarding the veracity of their claims, which remain mostly inconclusive to this day.

Not your usual film in any way as it can be viewed as either a biopic or docu-drama or just plain drama. Highly recommended either way. From all three of us.

Movie Reviews 450 – La Femme Nikita (1990)

September 18, 2020

Most North American audiences were first introduced to the Nikita story by the American adaptation, Point of No Return which is a pretty decent film in its own right. Other incarnations include two acclaimed television series, one from right here in Canada. But the original French film La Femme Nikita by director Luc Besson is, as is usually the case, far superior and well worth seeking out.

To those unfamiliar with the story, Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a rebellious young woman who gets into serious trouble with the law but instead of merely being incarcerated for her crimes she is enlisted into a covert government organization and is trained to be a super agent with emphasis on killing skills. As a mock funeral has already been held, so as far as the world knows she is already dead, so her choices are to either agree to the recruitment or to be ‘disposed of’ for real. Not much of a choice really.

At first a captive in a semi office-prison facility under the watchful eye of her mentor and recruiter Bob (Tchéky Karyo) she shows great potential in all areas of her training such as hand-to-hand combat and firearms. But her rebellious spirit has not been abandoned completely much to the consternation of some of her instructors and the leader of the organization. She does find a friend in the grooming and etiquette teacher Amande (Jeanne Moreau) who transforms that ragged punk youth into an elegant beauty,  which can be her greatest weapon under some circumstances.

Invited to a ‘dinner date’ by Bob who has clearly fallen for her, she is led to believe that it will be nothing more than a private affair within the cafeteria until Bob surprisingly not only leads her out of the facility but escorts her to the fanciest posh restaurant in Paris. Only there she learns that romance was not the reason for this trip, and in fact she is about to start the first of many missions in her new career.

Now given the latitude to live by herself, her tumultuous clandestine operations become more complicated when she falls for Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) a grocery store clerk. Accepting tickets for Venice as a gift from ‘uncle’ Bob results in yet more complications for a mission, one that goes terribly wrong and requiring calling in  Victor “The Cleaner” (Jean Reno). But the cleaner wants more than just to scrub the operation and the resulting melee will be unlike any mission she has been on before.

On the face of it, La Femme Nikita (also released in some instances simply as Nikita) is nearly non-stop John Woo style action that has dizzying mood shifts to go along with Nikita’s Jekyll/Hide transformations as she is called to duty. But it also offers tender moments setting up the Nikita/Bob/Marco love triangle to the point that you forget this is an action film at all, even if only for a few moments. When Jean Reno barges on screen, the very manner of his entrance is enough to signal that the film is now on an altogether different trajectory from a both bullet count and laughs perspective. I suspect that Victor “The Cleaner” was the inspiration for Harvey Keitel’s “Cleaner” character Mr. Wolf in Pulp Fiction, although they are dissimilar in many ways, indicative of how Quentin Tarantino adopts characters but makes them his own.

The film sidesteps any discussion regarding the ethics of a government agency that skirts it’s own laws and that enlists deadly mercenaries to deal with troublesome individuals, albeit seemingly deserving of their fates. Nikita’s issue with her involvement is purely from a point of view of freedom and having paid one’s dues. Even finding love in the complicated manner that she does, comes second to being free.

Unless you abhor some of the over the top action sequences, it’s hard for anyone not to love this film. And anyone who can enjoy a Jean Reno performance (if it were even possible not to) will have reason enough to watch this by his presence alone.

Movie Reviews 446 – Stalag 17 (1953)

August 21, 2020

Stalag 17 has always been one of my favourite WWII movies and a film that was on my DVD search list for a long time. As luck would have it, when I recently acquired an entire box full of free DVDs whose actual contents were a mystery, there it was at the very bottom. Score!

Now the first thing about the title is that it would sound awfully familiar to anyone who used to watch the old Hogan’s Heroes sitcom which took place in Stalag 13, “Stalag” being the German term for prisoner-of-war camps. While there are a few similarities including a doltish sergeant Schultz as a character, the similarities pretty much end there.

Another one of director Billy Wilder’s acclaimed films, this comedy drama sometimes gets short shrift only because he was such a prolific and successful director. And with a competing roster that includes Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, Witness for the Prosecution , The Apartment, Ace in the Hole , and Sunset Boulevard, who can you blame?

William Holden, being no stranger to playing a POWs as he did in The Bridge on the River Kwai, won the Academy Award for Best Actor playing J.J. Sefton, one of the inmates in Stalag 17. Ostracized not only because he trades with the German guards for favours, but also because he runs a bunch of schemes such as mice races earning him cigarettes and dough from the other inmates.

Sefton’s troubles begin when two escapees are shot the minute they make their break, a sure sign that the Germans were tipped off and laying suspicions that Sefton may have been responsible. When two new prisoners arrive after blowing up a German ammunition train and one of them is soon summed by the Commandant, Colonel von Scherbach (marvelously played by renown director Otto Preminger), only those sharing Sefton’s barracks could have spilled the fact that the new prisoners were involved in the sabotage. Now convinced that Sefton is the stoolie the former mere antagonism by his fellow captives turns to violence with a vicious beating and the confiscation of his lucrative personal goods chest. Not only is Sefton now a complete pariah, but what bothers him most is that there is a traitor among his fellow cabin inmates who no longer has to fear suspicion given that a convenient, yet innocent, scapegoat has already been identified. Even once Sefton does figure out which of his mates is the turncoat he realizes that merely outing the enemy in their midst would only be a temporary setback for them. Sefton must use his conniving mind for his greatest scheme of all if he is to come out on top this time.

Wilder brilliantly lays out a hilarious comedy while not sacrificing a moment of drama with many characters playing equally in both dispositions. Among the comedic elements, front and center are Harry “Sugar Lips” Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Stanislas “Animal” Kuzawa (Robert Strauss) the former goading the latter who fantasizes romancing famed war pin-up Betty Grable. Other amusing characters include a prisoner unquestioning his wife’s highly questionable letters, while on the darker side we have a shell-shocked prisoner who no longer speaks and only finds solace playing his prized ocarina.

Fans of the original Mission Impossible series will take note of a young Peter Graves as the designated Security Officer, and future director Don Taylor among the POWs.

Watch this for the drama or watch it for the comedy, either way you will be entertained with a brilliant screenplay that straddles the dichotomy right down to the very last words.

Movie Reviews 442 – Green Room (2015)

July 17, 2020

While Sam Peckinpah can lay claim as the progenitor of ultra violence in films, writer director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room proves once again that there are still innovative creators willing to push some of those boundaries further while maintaining a high standard of storytelling as a framework and not just relying on blood and gore as the main draw.

A group of punk rock musicians have an unfortunate streak of botched concerts planned by a promoter who, in a last ditch effort to find them at least one decent gig, refers them to a cousin of his willing to host them in a remote Oregon bar. With an understated warning that his cousin hangs with a ‘rough crowd’ the band heads out hoping to recoup at least enough money to buy some real food and eliminate the need to siphon gas from parked vehicles as they have been doing to get this far.

After a few quick introductions upon arrival and setting up their equipment the band takes to the stage and play, unfazed by the discordant audience, even taunting them with a playlist that includes the lyrics “Nazi punks! Nazi punks! Fuck’em!”. With their performance completed, they gladly collect their pay and start packing the van for whatever comes next. That is until one of the band members, Sam (Alia Shawkat), forgets her phone in their dressing room and Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes back to retrieve it only to stumble upon the body of a young girl in the room full of anxious looking skinheads.

The band is quickly rounded up back into the room and held at gunpoint until it can be decided what to do with the witnesses which include the despondent friend of the deceased (Imogen Poots). While the band pleads for their release promising to keep their noses out of the affair, the burly group confer among themselves as to their next steps and summon Darcy (Patrick Stewart) their evident leader. But with a bit of luck (and a lot of violence) the band regains control within the room, but are locked in. Thus begins a cat and mouse game of wits, proposals, counter-proposals, weapon exchanges, and … more violence.

With violence on par with Straw Dogs, the dire situation of the barricaded victims is further exacerbated by other things they find within their environs. Led by the geriatric leader figure Darcy, their captors are both a cult and a criminal organization, the hierarchy of which is based on the colour of the laces on their Doc Martens. With total command of his often dimwitted followers, Darcy is sharp as a knife, a meticulous planner and always it seems, one step ahead of the band.

Great suspense, excellent acting throughout and another example of the great loss it was to lose Yelchin, an actor who already made a huge mark at such a young age and was destined for so much more until his untimely, and nonsensical demise.

Movie Reviews 437 – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

June 4, 2020

We’ve been living in a political dark period for some time now. The growing presence of Internet social networking sites has transformed them into powerful political influence conduits that are not only vulnerable, but being actively exploited not only by political parties, but also foreign powers which are even a greater threat.

While some of the younger people may believe that this is a new phenomena that has come about because of online social networking, the manipulation of a voting public has been around since there have been politicians. Newspapers going back hundreds of years have been empires built and manipulated by controlling owners, often brazenly favoring candidates, parties or ideological stripes. When Television came along, it proved an even more powerful tool given the inherent audio and video capabilities.

One of the first presidential campaigns in which it is acknowledged television was a deciding factor was the John F. Kennedy win over Nixon in 1961. Charisma aside, even makeup and lighting during the televised debate proved to present remarkable differences between the men. Ironically president Kennedy plays a part in this review of The Manchurian Candidate, a classic thriller that hinges on the then nascent Cold War.

Former Korean War prisoner Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) returns home to a hero’s welcome orchestrated by his mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) who stages the event as a photo opportunity for her husband, Senator Iselin (James Gregory) who is running for president. Shaw, despising his manipulative mother and buffoon step-father is being bestowed a congressional Medal of Honor, hailed for reputedly escaping his captors and single handedly saving a number of his battle comrades.

The only problem is that none of what he remembers actually happened. While he and the others have clouded recollections of the official story, they have lingering nightmares of an entirely different scenario. In their dreams they are seated onstage listening to a speech on horticulture delivered to a women’s auxiliary club. But those very memories waver and at times the women are actually Communist henchmen, and even worse, a brainwashed Shaw obediently chokes a fellow serviceman when asked. That dead serviceman is one who supposedly was killed in action.

These conflicting memories have a greater impact on Shaw’s former commanding officer, Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) who never got along with the loutish Shaw, and yet when asked what he thinks about him uncontrollably replies in a trancelike state “Raymond Shaw is the bravest, kindest, warmest most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Marco’s persistence in flagging the authorities that something is wrong finally pays off, but while convinced Shaw has been brainwashed by the enemy, the purpose for his release and supposed mission remain unknown. That is until Marco figures out the psychological trigger, the appearance of the Queen of Hearts in a card deck, which makes Shaw submissive to following instructions.

This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with remarkable performances by the entire cast, but particularly by Lansbury as the ice-cold calculating pivotal figure. The unloved Shaw whose only redeeming quality is seeing his mother for what she is, has a brief tinge of humanity restored when he falls for the daughter (Leslie Parrish) of his step-father’s political nemesis (John McGiver), but even that interlude falls victim to his mother’s interference. The entire relationship is as interesting as the political intrigue and there are some not so subtle hints of an incestuous relationship. Less enjoyable is a shoehorned in love interest for Sinatra with Janet Leigh that just falls flat.

Front and center of course is the political maneuvering. While some may find the idea of simple brainwashing a bit much, as a plot element it remains effective even if only symbolically. The sequences in which the filming interleaves the old ladies transforming into a communist audience is mesmerizing. If the ending were not good enough after we find out what the endgame Shaw was being driven into, there is an added twist to make it all the better.

There was a longstanding myth that this film was pulled from theatres after JFK’s assasination due to the eerily similar aspects in the film but that has largely been dispelled over the years. What is true is that it was not promoted or marketed for a number of years following the incident and fell into obscurity for a long time until a revival in the late 80’s after which it gained praise and established itself as a classic film.

Richard Condon’s novel on which the film was based or perhaps the film itself seems to have been the inspiration for the episode The Hundred Days of the Dragon from the original Outer Limits television show. Shortly after this release director John Frankenheimer went on to helm 7 days in May which also shares elements of this story.  My MGM special edition DVD also had a nice featurette by fellow director William Friedkin as well as interviews with Frankenheimer, Sinatra and Screenplay writer George Axlerod.

I have to admit that while I have watched this film several times before, I find it all the more chilling in this political climate we find ourselves today. Foreign political interference is hardly even concealed and the effects of having a weak candidate in a position of power is all too evident.

We were warned.

Movie Reviews 435 – M (1931)

May 22, 2020

German expressionist director Fritz Lang will forever be remembered as the man who brought us the silent science fiction classic Metropolis. But sometimes lost in the accolades are the many other remarkable films he gave us, one such being the singular letter titled M.

Starring future Film Noir star Peter Lorre (mister Cairo of The Maltese Falcon fame), M captures a city nearly paralyzed by the spree of a child murderer, the repercussions of which not only touches the routines of the common citizen but also the darker side of humanity. With a police force incapable of making any headway in the case, fears escalate and fingers are pointed for any act that seems out of place, even innocent ones that happen to put adults in contact with any child.

The increased vigilance from both the police and everyday civilians have an unintended but beneficial upshot: the sudden decrease in common crime. As the months drag on the hoodlum gangs feel the pinch and find themselves effectively out of business. But what can they do? The solution is to put their own manpower to do what the authorities seem incapable of doing, and that is to find this elusive child killer themselves.

Lorre plays the guilty party in this tale of vigilantism turned on its head. What begins as an intriguing mystery transforms into social commentary as two criminal elements, the child killer and the gangs who take him on, collide. Which is the greater evil? Lorre, the calculating perpetrator becomes the pitiful troubled soul forced to endure a mock trial, but given the judicial tools and exigencies he would have in a real trial. His prosecutors lay out their argument for punishment as would a bona fide judge and jury. However farcical, the proceedings and consequences are undeniably real. At the core is the argument of insanity pleas and the moral dilemma they present to victims. Lorre is sincere as he pleads the agony of his curse, his inability to control it, and how he himself is haunted by the ghosts of mothers. The final argument that “Nothing will bring the children back” is left to his court, and ours, to decide.

As are many films that emerged from post World War I Germany this film has all the innovative, stunning, avant-garde cinematography first developed by Lang and his colleagues. The German soundtrack just adds to the atmosphere. If you were wondering about that title, the letter is indeed relevant at one point in the story, but I will leave that for viewers to savour.

One of the most interesting features on the Criterion DVD set is an interview of the headstrong Lang, eyesight failing and wearing an eyepatch, recorded just before his passing by Exorcist director William Friedkin. There is also a segment that discusses how the film was edited over the years, some scenes reshot for different languages (Lorre speaking fluently French for that language’s release) and supposedly still missing footage.

Befitting the title, this one gets an “A” regardless of whichever version you come across.

Movie Reviews 433 – King Kong (1976)

May 8, 2020

You know the story. A ship in search of some precious resource journeys to a supposedly secret mid-ocean island, perpetually shrouded by fog. When the crew make landfall they are surprised to not only find a race of wild natives, but the natives have enclosed their village within a towering fence and sing and dance praises to simian deity. The inhabitants are captivated by the young blonde and fair skinned woman who, through some odd circumstances, arrives with the ship’s entourage. The natives kidnap the woman, tie her spread eagled to an offering altar outside the perimeter of their enclosed village, and await the mighty beast King Kong. But Kong takes a shining to the beauty. In attempting to rescue her, the ship’s contingent capture the mighty Kong, and with visions of fortunes, bring him to the Big Apple, to show their miraculous find to the world. But Kong makes his escape, and with the girl in hand makes his way to the top of the Empire State building, only to plummet to his doom.

The original 1933 King Kong created a stir at the time of it’s release largely because of the then revolutionary stop motion cinematography by Willis O’Brien and has remained a cult favorite ever since. It wasn’t until 1976 that King Kong finally got a remake by none other than the flamboyant Italian Dino De laurentiis. The producer, known to be somewhat of a sensationalist with movies like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, also produced a vast number of mainstream movies after starting his career with Fellini films. Never shying away from thinking “Big” this King Kong would be different while still adhering to the conventional story.

Most notably this film substituted the then newly opened World Trade Center twin towers as substitutes for the Empire State building, a fact prominently featured in the magnificent John Berkley porter art – despite the highly exaggerated proportions added for appeal. When it came to production and the depiction of Kong himself, the big question was of course which type of technology would bring the gargantuan ape to life. Costuming and practical effects had come a long way since the original and so for the vast majority of the shots a costume developed by Rick Baker and Carlo Rimbaldi was used with Baker himself donning the suit despite not being pleased with the final product. While the evident man-in-a-suit is certainly a detraction at times, they compensated with a number of clever superimposed live action foregrounds and backgrounds and innovative angles. Some animatronics were used such as the mandatory ‘giant hand’ gripping our shrieking heroine (Jessica Lange in her first film gig), and even some embedded within the suit to better articulate facial gestures.

In this remake, made at the tail end of the 70’s energy crisis, the original mission of the ship is a search for a hidden oil reserve by a corporate climber (Charles Grodin) working for the Petrox corporation. Desperately needing a boost to his boardroom ambitions, he relies on a geologist’s (René Auberjonois) satellite research of the island whose very existence only recently came to light. Their plans are thwarted by Jack, a stowaway paleontologist (Jeff Bridges, unshaven here and nearly as scruffy as Kong) who is convinced that some huge animal is living on the island. The damsel-in-distress, a wannabe movie starlet, arrives via a mid-ocean drifting dinghy and immediately takes a shine to Jack to complete the eventual interspecies love triangle.

This film is a bit of hodgepodge in that while we do get the thrills of seeing a decent (but sometimes flawed) Kong, you really do have to put your brain aside to enjoy it and even then there are moments you just can’t help groaning. There is so much of an attempt to focus on Lange’s beauty that we have to accept that she arrives wearing a spotless, pristine black evening dress after being adrift for who knows how long. Her on-ship wardrobe thereafter is supposedly cobbled up from sewn sailor threads, but inexplicably that ends up being a pair of skimpy, snug denim hot pants. Kong’s handling of her includes an exhale breath blow dry after her taking a waterfall shower (think wet T-shirt contest) and literally stripping her at one point. Making matters worse is her ditsy horoscope revelations that include her “Crossing water and meeting the biggest person in my life”. So sexual is her presence in the film that she even has a silly line about how she was saved by Deep Throat. (Dig into the history of pornography to understand that one kids. Skip the Watergate references.)

On the positive side this was a successful showcase for the World Trade Center, now of course ingrained in all of us after the events of 9/11. Watching the ads for this film back then was the first time I became personally aware of the towers as I must have missed news of the plans to change the Manhattan skyline with them earlier. I love how the film cleverly integrated them by having Kong associate the towers with the two restraining poles of the sacrificial altar back on the island. On my visits to the towers in years before 9/11 I would always think of King Kong while standing on the observatory floors.

One last comment on this King Kong is that when the beast comes to his eventual demise, it is presented in a very shocking and bloody end. Given the fate of those towers it stands as a startlingly prescient moment.

Movie Reviews 430 – The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)

April 9, 2020

Is this pandemic isolation getting you down? Things can be worse you know, even from an isolation point of view. Consider the people who have the Severe Combined Immunodeficiency genetic disorder. Immortalized on Seinfeld in the hilarious “The Bubble Boy” episode, this was not the first time the disorder was featured on television. That credit indirectly goes to another television comedy show.

Soon after the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter hit the airwaves it made a stars out of the dysfunctional students in inner the city high school class featured in the series. The studio execs at host network ABC singled out John Travolta in particular for greater stardom, and he was soon cast in the starring role of the made-for-television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

The story is about Tod (Travolta) a boy born into a family with a genetic predisposition to the disorder, his fate being determined pre-birth and confirming his parents worst fears. After living a few years in isolation in a hospital, his parents (played by “Brady Bunch” dad Robert Reed and Diana Hyland) research and convince his doctor (Ralph Bellamy) that with an elaborate similar setup he can be brought into their home. But with all the provisions and barriers, the boy grows up shielded and distant from anything normal and becomes a news and media sensation for his every move.

As a teenager Tod is relatively intelligent and well learned, developing an interest in space exploration and sciences. He spies frequently on his next door neighbour Gina (Glynnis O’Connor) one of the few kids he grew up with however infrequent and distant they interacted with one another. The urge to break out of his shell (as well as hormonal calls) soon embitters Tod until he gets the bright idea to attend school via a remote TV monitor and camera system (naturally being placed in Gina’s class) eventually even attending in person using a space-like self contained environment suit.

Of course he falls for Gina who isn’t exactly as enamoured by the idea and worse, goes along with some friends mocking Tod and his condition. With promises that there may eventually be a cure for his condition or that he may slowly develop an immune system on his own, Tod has to make some tough decisions.

As television movies go, you can certainly do worse than this but it does have some cringe worthy dialog and corny scenes, the pinnacle being when Tod is introduced to lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I found it particularly funny that even at that young age and at the very beginning of his career there was already a scene in which the later Saturday Night Fever star was cutting some nifty dance moves despite being solo.

Adding to the 70’s vintage video is a theme song by prolific and acclaimed singer, songwriter and actor Paul Williams and even a brief appearance by “Throw Momma from the Train”’s Anne Ramsey. And speaking of Mommas, offscreen loverboy Travolta had a real life tryst with Hyland (that’s right, the woman playing his mom, not his love interest), reputedly having her die from cancer in his arms just a little over a year later.

Unfortunately my DVD contained such a lousy source or transfer that it was almost like looking through a bubble myself. And for the record, there is no scene in which The Bubble Boy plays Trivial Pursuit so we’ll never know if “The Moops” is the correct answer to  “Who invaded Spain in the eighth century?”

Movie Reviews 429 – Mildred Pierce (1945)

March 26, 2020

Film Noir fans are all too familiar with the cliché beginning of a movie in which someone is shot (often in the dark), uttering a name or phrase, and then dying in a pool of (unseen on screen) blood, leaving audiences to figure out the murderer. In the case of Mildred Pierce, the man who dies whispers “Mildred”, is indeed her husband, and we see her fleeing the beach house scene of the crime, even managing to lock in someone who arrived minutes later with the hopes to pin them to the murder. Cliché aside however, nothing is as it seems, or to be precise, nobody is really as they seem in this Noir classic.

Starring in the title role, Mildred Pierce not only revived Joan Crawford’s then flailing career but earned her an Oscar, all later to be undone with the release of her daughter’s book and the film Mommie Dearest. But that’s another story.

Playing largely as one lifelong flashback we see how doting mother Mildred separates from her first husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) after he loses his job, makes do with a job as a waitress – much to the chagrin of her vain daughter Veta (Ann Blyth) – and with the help of Wally (Jack Carson) her former husband’s business partner, slowly builds a chain of successful restaurants. Eventually falling for and marrying wealthy heir Monte (Zachary Scott), her one driving force was devotion to her daughters Kay and Veta. When Kay sadly dies at a young age, all her attention, and money, go to Veta’s happiness.

Now putting all that into context of the murder. The victim is her husband Monte, Wally is the one Mildred briefly tries to entrap to take the rap, and Bert, her first husband surprisingly and out of nowhere turns himself in and confesses. Mildred is stunned to find that she isn’t even a suspect. In trying to solve the murder mystery none of this makes sense taken at face value. But taken from a different angle, largely hinted at throughout the film as the characters are peeled back to reveal their true dispositions (hint: often the opposite of what we believe at first), in the end everything makes sense as the killer is revealed.

Crawford donning her signature epaulette shouldered dresses is remarkably solid, although I confess I thought she was even better in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. While I can’t say the script was anything stellar, the story itself and the manner in which the mystery is built up does make this a riveting film. Welcome additions include Eve Arden (better known for her sitcom Our Miss Brooks) as a feisty waitress who works up the ranks in Mildred’s enterprise and Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s servant.

My Warner.- Turner 2005 DVD with remastered transfer also contained the documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star on the flip side, which I would also heartily recommend for those wanting to learn more of this former diva. Almost as long as the movie but well worth it for details on her legendary feud with arch rival Bette Davis alone.