Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

True crime notes.

Monday, March 20th, 2017

I don’t want to seem like I’m making light of this story: it’s awful, and I hope the victims are able to achieve some level of peace.

But when you see a headline like

Vegas jury convicts War Machine of 29 counts

on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s website, it gets your attention.

“War Machine”, in this case, is Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver.

Koppenhaver went by his birth name during the two-week trial but had legally changed it to War Machine during his 19-fight MMA career.

The jury deadlocked on attempted murder charges, but found him guilty of the other crimes. It isn’t clear to me if those include the eight counts of “domestic battery” that his lawyer conceded to.

He could face up to life in prison.

And I hope he does every damn day of it.

[The female victim – DB] testified that Koppenhaver attacked her after [the male victim – DB] left. The jury saw photos of [the female victim] with a broken nose, missing teeth, fractured eye socket and leg injuries. She also suffered a lacerated liver.

In other words, he beat the shit out of them both. But he apparently reserved special attention for her.

[The female victim] said she fled her home and ran bleeding to neighbors when Koppenhaver went to the kitchen to fetch a knife.

He has been serving a 1½- to four-year sentence for violating his probation on a 2009 conviction for attempted battery involving a 21-year-old woman.

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On what I hope is at least a slightly less depressing note, here’s something I stumbled across in my reading over the weekend, but haven’t had time to dig into in depth: Taylorology. This apparently started out as a zine in the old pre-Internet/”Factsheet Five” days, but eventually migrated online.

What’s it all about? Quoting the introduction:

TAYLOROLOGY is a newsletter focusing on the life and death of William Desmond Taylor, a top Paramount film director in early Hollywood who was shot to death on February 1, 1922. His unsolved murder was one of Hollywood’s major scandals. This newsletter will deal with: (a) The facts of Taylor’s life; (b) The facts and rumors of Taylor’s murder; (c) The impact of the Taylor murder on Hollywood and the nation; (d) Taylor’s associates and the Hollywood silent film industry in which Taylor worked. Primary emphasis will be given on reprinting, referencing and analyzing source material, and sifting it for accuracy.

The Taylor murder is one of those great unsolved Hollywood mysteries that everyone seems to have a theory about; some of those theories may even have an element of truth to them. Bruce Long, who runs Taylorology, has collected a great deal of archival material related to the Taylor case. And he’s a man after my own heart: he mentions in the biographical information on his site that he first became interested in the case when he was nine.

When I have some spare time (mumble years from now, the way things are going) I’d like to dig deeper into this site. One thing I can give Mr. Long credit for: he’s steered me away from purchasing one of the more famous books on the case. (Actually, I stumbled across Taylorology by reading another book on the case that references the website. Apologies for being elliptical, but I may do a brief review of the second book in the near future.)

Welles. Welles Welles Welles. Welles.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Netflix has signed on to help complete and release “The Other Side of the Wind”, Orson Welles’ legendary last and unfinished film.

I do want to see this, even though I don’t have Netflix (and won’t pay for it just for this). I have a pretty strong suspicion that this is…not going to be good. But hey, Welles! (What I’m really hoping for is a Criterion package like they did for “F Is For Fake”.)

(And can someone explain to me why I keep confusing “The Other Side of the Wind” with The Wind Done Gone?)

Other unrelated stuff:

By way of Lawrence, follow-up on Captain Bill Dowling and his funeral. (Previously.)

“He was a mean son-of-a-buck, but very tender-hearted … and very competitive,” John Dowling said Tuesday of his older brother. “He made the best out of it. He didn’t get sour, he didn’t get upset. The life lesson he could teach the world – no matter what your situation, you can choose to be happy.”

From the WP: a summary of the players in the “Fat Leonard” scandal, including the eight recent indictments.

Edited to add: One other minor follow-up that I forgot to add: the NYT obit for Mother Divine. I don’t think it adds much over the WP obit, but I did want to note it for the historical record.

Obit watch: March 7, 2017.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Robert Osborne, the Turner Classic Movies guy. I wish I had more to say about him, but I rarely have cable and thus rarely watch TCM.

Dr. Thomas Starzl, noted surgeon. Among other accomplishments, he did the first liver transplants and pioneered the use of anti-rejection drugs.

Dr. Starzl later described those early liver transplants as both a “test of endurance” and “a curious exercise in brutality.” It involved, he explained, “brutality as you’re taking the liver out, then sophistication as you put it back in and hook up all of these little bile ducts and other structures.”

From the arts beat.

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Two stories that I think are noteworthy.

I was not aware, until Lawrence forwarded me this Vulture article, that the NYT had fired theater critic Charles Isherwood. And “fired”, apparently, does not mean “laid off because we’re cutting back on arts coverage”. but instead means “here are some boxes, pack your s–t, security will escort you out the door”. I’m having a hard time remembering the last firing I heard about at the paper of record that was supposedly “for cause”. Technically, they didn’t even fire Jayson Blair (he resigned first).

This hasn’t gotten a whole lot of coverage: the only other story Google turned up was from Forbes, and I’m not linking to it because it doesn’t say much. It sounds like the paper is saying he was too close to (and exchanged “improper” emails with) some prominent theater producers, while the pro-Isherwood side seems to be spinning those emails as perfectly reasonable, and sees the problem as Isherwood not getting along with others at the paper (especially Ben Brantley, the other (and senior) critic).

This came across a mailing list I’m on over the weekend, and I found it interesting as well: the search for “Porgy and Bess”, the 1959 film version directed by Otto Preminger. It has a great cast: Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Poitier, and Sammy Davis Jr., but prints are extremely rare. There was one known to be in the hands of a private collector (who died last year: his widow still has it) and one owned by the “National Audiovisual Institute of Finland” who loaned out their copy for two NYC screenings in 2007.

Why is it so hard to find? Reply hazy and faded (the 70mm prints have all apparently turned pinkish, but there are supposedly some good 35mm prints), but some people suggest that Ira Gershwin and his wife hated the movie and used a contractual clause to have most of the prints destroyed. Other people dispute this theory. But the main problem seems to be: nobody wants to pay for a home video restoration.

Which is a damn shame, in my humble opnion. I’ve never seen a productuon of “Porgy and Bess”, but I’d like to. And I’d purchase a good quality DVD or blu-ray release, especially if it came with decent extras. This sounds like a job for the Criterion Collection.

(At least one person on that same mailing list claims this whole article is “frankly, nonsense” and asserts he saw a good print “just a few years ago in New York”. I wonder if he saw one of the 2007 Finnish print screenings.)

I’ll leave you with this still, which for some reason I find oddly charming:

The guy on the right is Otto Preminger. I’m sure you all know who the guy on the left is.

Obit watch: February 27, 2017.

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Judge Joseph A. Wapner, of the Los Angeles Coun6y Superior Court. NYT.

During World War II, he served with the Army in the Pacific and was wounded by sniper fire on Cebu Island in the Philippines, leaving him with shrapnel in his left foot. He won the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his bravery and was honorably discharged in 1945.

Of course, he’s better known to those of us in the older set as the first judge of “The People’s Court”.

For the record: Bill Paxton. A/V Club.

Obit watch: February 23, 2017.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Noted Japanese film director Seijun Suzuki.

Haven’t watched Tokyo Drifter yet (do have it) but Mike the Musicologist and I watched Branded to Kill a while back. I think that would definitely fall in my top ten strange movies list…

Obit watch: February 8, 2017.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Professor Irwin Corey, “the world’s foremost authority”, has passed away. He was 102.

One of Mr. Corey’s best-remembered routines was staged not in a club or broadcast studio but at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan, at the National Book Awards ceremony in 1974. That year the fiction prize was shared by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Thomas Pynchon. No one in the crowd had any idea what the reclusive Mr. Pynchon looked like, and when Mr. Corey arrived to accept the award for him (the novelist had approved the stunt), many people thought they were getting their first look at Mr. Pynchon.

For the record, Richard Hatch: NYT. A/V Club.

Obit watch: January 28, 2017.

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

John Hurt. NYT. A/V Club.

Since the A/V Club hit one of his most famous scenes, I’ll hit the other:

For the calm dignity he brought to this performance — a powerful reproof to those who demonized and humiliated Merrick — Mr. Hurt was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for best actor, critical plaudits and the admiration of the film’s director, David Lynch, who said 10 years later, in an interview in The New York Times Magazine: “John Hurt is simply the greatest actor in the world.” (Robert De Niro won the best actor award in 1981.)

(I’d kind of like to see the Hurt/Egoyan “Krapp’s Last Tape”, but it looks like you can only get that in the “Beckett On Film” set, which is pricy but contains some other stuff I’d like to see as well.)

Barbara Hale, who knocked around movies and TV a bit before she settled into her most famous role. LAT. NYT.

That role, by the way, was “Della Street”, Perry Mason’s secretary during the Raymond Burr run from the beginning of the TV series in 1957 all the way through the last TV movie in 1993. (I make the distinction because: while I personally don’t remember this and it didn’t last very long, there was an attempt to revive Mason in the 1970s, with Monte Markham in the titular role. Ms. Hale was not involved with that. She was, however, involved with “The Perry Mason Mysteries” which were made after Burr’s death and didn’t involve Perry Mason at all.)

Noted: she was also the wife of Dean Martin’s character in “Airport”.

Obit watch: January 27, 2017.

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Mike Connors.

He served in the Air Force during World War II, then enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he played basketball (and earned the nickname “Touch” on the court).

Under the name Touch Connors, he also appeared in several forgettable films (“Swamp Women,” “Flesh and the Spur”), many of them for the director Roger Corman, and at least one enduring film: “The Ten Commandments” (1956).

By the end of its eight-season run, “Mannix” earned Mr. Connors a salary of $40,000 an episode. He used his fame to publicize a then-underreported chapter in Armenian history by narrating “The Forgotten Genocide,” a 1975 documentary about the targeted killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. He would later narrate another Armenian-themed documentary, “Ararat Beckons,” by the same director, J. Michael Hagopian.

Serdar Argic, call your office, please.

One more crime series lay in Mr. Connors’s future — “Today’s FBI,” which lasted one season on ABC in 1981…

I remember liking that show. Doesn’t look like it has ever had a DVD release, and I can’t tell if it streaming anywhere. But the opening is on YouTube.

Remember when TV shows had openings? And theme music?

Notes on film: Hidden Figures

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

The Oscar nominations are out. Once again this year, I have seen exactly one of the nominated films. And I didn’t get around to seeing it until this past Sunday, and mostly because my mother wanted to see it.

I’m going to put in a jump and talk about “Hidden Figures” a bit. Before the jump, a couple of notes:

A) As I’ve said before, my father worked for NASA during some of the same period covered by “Hidden Figures”. Specifically, he worked at what is now known as the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Some of what I’m going to say is filtered in part through my mother’s experience. (I wasn’t born for much of the time my dad worked for NASA, and am too young to remember the rest of his time there.)

B) There may be some things here that could be considered as spoilers, which is why I’m inserting the jump. The movie itself is based on historical fact that you can look up, so I’m not sure how much of what I’m about to say is really “spoilers”. (John Glenn orbited the Earth and returned safely. If that’s a spoiler for you, well, welcome to our planet, I hope you enjoy your stay here.)

(more…)

Obit watch: January 15, 2017.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

Tommy Allsup, guitarist, producer, and historical footnote.

As a guitarist, he was touring as a part of Buddy Holly’s band in February of 1959. This is the same tour that Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson were on…

Mr. Allsup flipped a coin to see whether he or Valens would get a seat on the plane. He lost and took a bus to the next stop on the tour.
Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside. Their deaths were recalled as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie.”

For the record: William Peter “The Exorcist” Blatty. NYT. WP.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I’m torn about this. On the one hand, I hate to see nearly 150 years of history flushed down the drain, and I’m sad for the circus population that’s going to lose their jobs (and possibly, for some of them, homes). I’m also sad that this decision appears to have some roots in the organized campaigns by various “animal welfare” organizations. (Remember, when you see those sad animals on TV and Sarah McLachlan in the backgrond: that money’s going to pay Ringling’s legal fees.)

On the other hand…the last time I went to a Ringling Circus was over 30 years ago, before my first attempt at college. And what I remember most about it from that time was that I found it kind of sad and depressing. It isn’t that I’m some sort of crypto-animal-rights activist; it just felt like there was something sad and wrong about the whole thing. I guess I’m sad for the people, and sad for the lost history, but I’m not so sad for the institution itself. (And as the article notes, Feld Entertainment has a bunch of other stuff going on, much of which appears to contain the phrase “…On Ice!” so they’ll probably do okay for a while longer.)

Obit watch: December 29, 2016.

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

The Grim Reaper finally caught up with Vesna Vulovic (or Vesna Vulović). She was 66 years old, and had managed to outrun him for nearly 45 of those years.

If that sounds callous, well, Ms. Vulovic had an amazing story. You might even remember it if you were an obsessive reader of the Guinness Book of World Records when you were young.

Ms. Vulovic was a flight attendant on JAT Flight 367 between Stockholm and Belgrade on January 26, 1972. She had actually swapped places with another girl and wasn’t originally scheduled to work this flight. As we see so often in movies and television, this never ends well…

An hour into the flight, the plane, a DC-9, blew up over the Czech village of Srbska Kamenice. As others were believed to have been sucked out of the jet into subfreezing temperatures, Ms. Vulovic remained inside part of the shattered fuselage, wedged in by a food cart, as it plunged.
Trees broke the fall of the fuselage section and snow on the hill cushioned its landing.

Ms. Vulovic is believed to have fallen 33,000 feet, which (according to Guinness, at least) is the longest documented fall survived without a parachute. She was badly injured, but Ms. Vulovic was the only survivor of Flight 367. It is generally believed that the plane was blown up by a terrorist bomb in the forward cargo hold.

But an investigation by two reporters in Prague in 2009 challenged that account. They concluded that the DC-9 was mistakenly shot down by the Czechoslovak Air Force at an altitude of only 800 meters, or about 2,625 feet.

I think the Wikipedia page (I know, I know) on Flight 367 has a fairly good explanation of why this theory is bolshie bushwa. Here’s a hint: the black boxes…

…which provided the exact data about the time, speed, direction, acceleration and altitude of the plane at the moment of the explosion. Both black boxes were opened and analysed by the service companies in Amsterdam in the presence of experts from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Dutch Aviation Office (Raad voor de Luchtvaart).

I could buy a couple of Communist countries being in on the conspiracy. But the Dutch?

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can say. Debbie Reynolds: NYT. LAT. A/V Club.