Musings on Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind documentary

I’ve subscribed to HBO for a month so I could watch season 3 of Westworld. Well, I finished on Friday night and this documentary’s key art on the HBO’s interface and decided to watch it.

The film began with the narration of Natalie Wood‘s own daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, who was only 11 years old when her mother died, saying that so much has been written about her mother’s mysterious death that it practically overshadowed who she was as a person. I think that’s a real tragedy because as I was watching the film, I learned just how accomplished she was as an actress.

Now, I personally wasn’t at all familiar with the legendary performer. I’ve only seen one of her films, Rebel Without A Cause, but news about her death surely hasn’t let up for decades. Even though I haven’t read up much about it, I did remember reading about her case being reopened as late as 2018!

Wood’s husband at the time of her death, Robert Wagner (known as RJ to those close to him), was never charged but was still a ‘person of interest’ in the case. But before we got to that case, the first two acts pretty much focused on Natalie’s story since childhood, born to Russian immigrants, and how she got discovered. She was one of the most accomplished child actors who’ve made a successful transition as a formidable Hollywood star. She began acting at the age of 4, got her first starring role at the age of 9 in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and received three Oscar nominations before she was 25.

It was really fascinating and moving to see all the archival footage and photos of Wood in various productions, from the not-so-well-known films to the iconic ones such as ‘Rebel’ and West Side Story. Interesting that one of the people interviewed said if she were alive today, she would’ve never gotten the role that made her famous as she played a Puerto Rican character in the famous musical. One thing for sure, Natalie Wood is much more than just a pretty face. Though she was definitely one of the most beautiful Hollywood stars, in her home life she’s shown as down to earth and a dotting mom. She was also intelligent and ambitious, and wanted to take charge of her career. One photo that strikes me the most is this one of her in a film board meeting sitting confidently at a table surrounded by all-male studio honchos. It’s definitely not the kind of photo I often associated with Natalie Wood, who’s often painted as a victim. So it’s good for her daughter to show the world a different side of her late mother.

Now, the third act did address her mysterious death. It’s the huge elephant in the room that everyone expects to be covered in the film. The one-on-one interview between Natasha and her stepfather RJ is no doubt the most emotional moments of the film, both of them looked quite emotional talking about her death. Robert himself was quite candid when talking about their careers. Though he was more famous when they first met, soon her career far outpaced Robert’s, which became a strain to her marriage. Even Robert himself admitted to being so jealous when, after their first marriage ended, she started dating her Splendor in the Grass‘ co-star Warren Beatty. But never did the film ever paint Robert as the guilty party in her death. If anything, it showed how much Natalie loved him and vice versa. I learned that she ended up marrying him twice after both had remarried after their divorce.

It’s clear that from Natasha’s and the doc’s director Laurent Bouzereau‘s perspective, Wood’s death was a tragic accident. Natasha and her younger sister Courtney even said that it’s hurtful to them that the media, and Natalie’s sister Lana Wood, constantly pointed their finger at their stepdad RJ. That fateful night started with RJ having an argument with Natalie’s co-star in her last film Brainstorm, Christopher Walken, but then RJ couldn’t find her, which led to him instigating a search involving the coast guards, etc. But even with the film covering some of the details about that fateful night, we’re still left in the dark about what happened to Natalie. We probably will never know the real truth, only Natalie would know… as Walken himself said at the end.

It’s definitely an intriguing documentary for film fans, especially if you’re a fan of her work. Given it’s produced by her own daughter, it feels personal and full of heart. I’m never bored in the entire 99-minute running time as the film seamlessly combines archival footage and talking heads featuring the who’s who of classic cinema: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Elliot Gould, etc. There are also a myriad of photos and clips from her family, as well as those of her famous parties featuring famous Hollywood guests. I mean, according to IMDb, the pallbearers at her funeral were Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Elia Kazan, Gregory Peck, David Niven and Fred Astaire.

I’m glad I watched this beautiful tribute to a legend that’s equally fascinating and heart-wrenching. I can’t help feeling sad as I’m watching it… Natalie Wood was such a stunning bright star who left us far too soon. I’m glad I got to see just how much she meant to her family as well as her legacy in the film world.

4/5 stars


Have you seen this documentary? What are some of your favorite film(s) of Natalie Wood?

FlixChatter Review: Disney’s The Jungle Book (2016)

JungleBookBanner

It’s been ages since I saw the cartoon version of The Jungle Book. I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on this remake idea when it was first announced, despite the amazing voice cast. But I love when films I wasn’t even anticipating end up being such a pleasant surprise, and The Jungle Book did exactly that.

There’s always something intriguing about unlikely friendships, especially amongst humans and animals, so there’s definitely a big market for such genre movies. But seeing them in an animated format and live action automatically gives the story a different feel. A fellow blogger asked me if she could bring her 4-year-old niece to it and my first instinct is that some of the darker scenes might be too scary for her. So yes, it’s still family entertainment, but it certainly has a big appeal to adults as well.

The fact that I don’t much remember the original story perhaps made me enjoy the movie more. Yet for the most part I think this remake stays true to Rudyard Kipling‘s written text. We’re first introduced to the man-cub Mowgli in an exhilarating chase through the jungle that immediately showcased the movie’s spectacular 3D visual prowess. I was immediately transported to the jungle as Mowgli is on the run. It turns out to be a training sequence as he’s being mentored by Bagheera the panther to be more like his wolf brothers he’s raised with. It also didn’t take long for the movie to introduce the villain, the tiger Shere Khan, who looks and sounds menacing, thanks to the deep & mesmerizing voice of Idris Elba.


Neel Sethi
, a 12-year-old kid of Indian descent who lives in NYC is perfectly cast as Mowgli. He may not have the acting experience for some of the dramatic scenes, but still convincing in the role and made me feel for his character. Besides, he’s surrounded by top-notch voice cast, some are acting legends like Ben Kingsley who provided the voice of Bagheera. But the scene stealer is Baloo, voiced by the inimitable Bill Murray. As soon as Baloo enters the picture, the movie’s entertainment quotient goes up a few notches. I love how he cajoled Mowgli to get his supply of honey and convinces him to stay in the jungle (instead of going to the man village) after discovering the kid’s resourceful-ness. It’s certainly one of the most fun pairing of human/animal since Hiccup and Toothless in the animated feature How To Train Your Dragon.

Scarlett Johansson‘s perfectly cast as the seductive snake Kaa. It’s a brief scene but a pretty memorable one. Christopher Walken, whose distinct speaking voice is endlessly entertaining, is fun to watch as the 10-foot-tall Gigantopithecus aptly-named King Louie. So instead of an orangutan, we’ve got this gigantic ape whose face is made to resemble Walken a bit and he got to sing a bit as well. The scenes with King Louie in his *temple* is one of the most action-packed in the film, but there are no shortage of action in this movie. Which takes me to the phenomenal visuals. From the opening sequence down to the fiery finale between Mowgli and Shere Khan, this film surely sets the bar high for live-action CGI movies. I think the last time I was truly in awe by a film’s 3D visuals was Avatar back in 2009. The way the animals look so realistic, and the excruciating details of the forest Mowgli lives in is breathtaking to behold. It’s an immersive experience as it felt as if you could smell and touch the lush trees in the jungle!

JungleBook_visuals2

But it’s also nice that the movie isn’t just all style-over-substance. It’s a testament to how wonderful the original story is, but director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks made the classic tale come alive again and feels new. Even the musical numbers were fun and not at all distracting or annoying, which is another pleasant surprise. I find Mowgli’s journey quite moving and I really do love all the characters. Favreau is definitely a force to be reckoned with, which seems relatively under the radar compared to say, Zack Snyder, but he churns in good work far more consistently. The first Iron Man was utterly entertaining and Elf is practically a Christmas classic. But even his smaller fare like Chef (in which he starred in) is an indie gem.

The Jungle Book is another huge hit for Disney. It’s nice that a behemoth movie (with $175 mil budget) is also massively entertaining, so I think its success is well-deserved. I don’t even mind seeing this again in IMAX as I much prefer seeing it in a larger screen with great sound than in 3D. Pure escapism stuff that Disney’s known for and the colossal studio delivered once again.

4halfReels


oiehwgshl

Filmmaker Spotlight: John Irvin’s Triple Play

jackdethbanner

Welcome, friends, fans and aficionados of film and television.

As does happen occasionally. An excavation and exploration of one topic can take a hop and a turn in another completely unexpected layer of depth and direction. As I found myself recently breaking the topsoil and troweling around the body of work accumulated by the long standing, versatile character actor, Tom Berenger. And my first introductions to his talents as executive officer to mercenary, Christopher Walken in The Dogs of War. Which will receive due diligence later in this critique.

When I came across a name. One that I had come across more than thirty years ago. Didn’t connect with until very recently. As the director of one of the flagship mini series of the late 1970s. Courtesy of PBS in 1983. Creating the grist for this.

JohnIrvin

John Irvin Triple Play

#1: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

TinkerTailor_miniseries

After making a small, though reputable name for himself in short films, documentaries and projects for television. Mr. Irvin was given the daunting task of translating John Le Carre‘s worldwide bestselling novel. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from paper to film.

A task that entailed seven full hour long episodes. With a sterling cast of talent populating the titled characters, From Sir Alec Guinness‘ Cold War, MI-6 operative, George Smiley. To Sir Ian Richardson‘s Golden Boy, Bill Hayden. Bernard Hepton‘s foppish, going nowhere, Toby Esterhase. Terence Rigby‘s perpetually broke Roy Bland. Anthony Bate‘s half way out the door, Sir Oliver Lacon and Michael Aldridge‘s prissy, arrogant and without a clue, Percy Alleline. All falling under suspicion for a years old failed and embarrassing mission into Czechoslovakia called ‘Testify’. Which would hopefully, flush the “mole” from MI-6’s Piccadilly headquarters (“Circus”). Redeem the tattered career of Alexander Knox’s “Control”. But instead would cost close to the life and career of always stalwart, Ian Bannen’s operative, Jim Prideaux.

TinkerTailor1979_1

As mentioned earlier. No small task. In a tale that didn’t allow me to get past page 100. Until a third attempt. And then allowed me to then immerse myself. Once all the characters and plot were set in the oblique, sometimes frustrating mystique that is John Le Carre’s well renown stock in trade.

Thankfully, the thought of paring down the sweeping tale never crossed the writers’ or Mr. Irvin’s mind. Delivering in my opinion, the finest and detailed adaptation of a John leCarre novel on film. And yes, that includes Martin Ritt’s 1960s B&W The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

The characters, words and action seem to step from the pages. As a slight change in location from Hong Kong to Spain is hinted at in Hywell Bennett’s slimy take on discredited stringer, Rikki Tarr. And his persistent claim that there is indeed a mole in the circus. As mentioned by the wife of the Resident “Hood” Tarr had seduced. And who had died under lurid circumstances only days later. Creating the impetus to get first, Lacon. And Sir Alec’s George Smiley back in the saddle.

TinkerTailor1979_3TinkerTailor1979_2

Creating a fine example of what the British do best! Unraveling a mystery whose meat is the slowly revealed back stories, rivalries, adulteries and intrigues petty and large. Adding pieces large and small to the puzzle. That moves at its own sedate pace. Requiring sharp ears as well eyes for their revelation and proper place in the time line of spider webbed past events. Delivered by the likes of Beryl Reid’s Oxford Doyenne and “Russia Watcher”, Connie Sachs. John Standing’s razor sharp Sam Collins, who was babysitting the Circus’s Operations desk the night “Testify” blew up with the wounding and capturing of Jim Prideaux. And Joss Ackland’s retired spy and reporter, Jerry Westerby. Who had been in Czechoslovakia and found that sections of Russian infantry were prepared and waiting to spring that ambush.

And with that said. Is Mr. Irvin’s work better than the Thomas Alfredson directed re-make from 2011?…. Certainly! No doubt. Taken in perspective and with the availability of 1979 ‘A-List” talents available. Mr. Irvin does have the upper hand. And the luxury of time to spot locations and acquiring the novel’s author and Arthur Hopcraft to produce a remarkably faithful screenplay’ Which both adaptations adhere to. Though less so in the 2011 version. Which seems stripped down to key moments from the original seven episodes. And expounded upon and stretched to the next key scene. Creating an experience likened to a drive thru burger or fast food joint. When the earlier sumptuous original can just as easily be had.

TinkerTailor2011

Kudos to the long list of producers, though. For acquiring Britain’s present assembly of top talent. Each works well within the confines of their characters. Some memorably. John Hurt’s “Control”. Toby Jones’ prissy Percy Alleline, David Dencik’s spineless, beholding to everyone Toby Easterhase. Tom Hardy’s equal to Hywell Bennett’s Rikki Tarr. Though Gary Oldman’s George Smiley and Mark Strong’s Jim Prideaux just seem to fall short. Physically and dramatically.

Overall Consensus:

Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!


#2: The Dogs of War (1980)

DogsOfWar_poster

I have early 1970s political journalist, novelist and storyteller, Frederick Forsythe to thank for my next chance meeting with Mr. Irvin’s surprising talent. In Mr. Forsythe’s second political intrigue primer and thriller, The Dogs of War, a world wide Best Seller from 1974. Which goes into great and grand detail the United Kingdom’s proclivities for employing deniable mercenaries to stage coups and overthrow small backwater African countries. Which have nothing to offer but Empire expansion, precious metals and perhaps, natural resources. Exotic or otherwise.

With its minor political damage done. The novel sat on shelves and was allowed a few years of cooling off. Before having its right purchased by producer, Norman Jewison. Then lateraled to director, John Irvin. Acquiring Gary DeVore, George Malko and Mr. Forsythe to render a remarkably faithful screenplay. Prior to setting up a superlative multi national cast and preparatory locations in London, Manhattan and Belize. Subbing for Paris and the fictional African country of Zangaro.

DogsOfWar_Walken

The film’s principal character, mercenary Jamie “Cat” Shannon. Played to coiled spring, issue laden, believably paranoid, handgun in every room perfection by a young Christopher Walken. Is approached obliquely at first. And less so later. By impeccably suited and manicured representatives of unnamed British conglomerates. Led by smooth talking Endean (Hugh Millais). With a proposal. One that will require a lot more time, subtlety, finesse, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance than Cat’s benefactors had even contemplated!

Cat starts putting the band back together with late night telegrams and calls. The first is it his Second In Command, Drew. Who is married, with two daughters. Always looking for any reason to get out of the house. And is played with equal parts charm, humor and frightening intimidation by Mr. Berenger.

DogsOfWar_Berenger

Confident, energetic and meticulous. Drew shares the same kind of elan and fresh faced, rugged good looks that dooms him to be killed towards the end of the final reel. The same ironic fate shared by Mr. Walken in his earlier role as “The Kid” in The Anderson Tapes nine years earlier.

But for his time on screen, Mr. Berenger holds his own with and without Cat. Who prepares for an overt infiltration and recon of Zangaro. Arriving as any American would. With a surfeit of Duty Free cigarettes and alcohol. Which are immediately and ceremoniously confiscated. Shannon is allowed to go about his business. Meeting a British documentary director, Alan North (Colin Blakeley). A walking font of knowledge of Zangaro’s corrupt, tortuous history. With emphasis on the installation of puppet dictator, General Kimba four years earlier. And later photographing key buildings (Armory, Garrisons, Motor Pool, stone walled jails) in the company of Evelyn (Isabel Grandin), an attractive local woman.

Cover is where you find or create it. And Shannon’s lasts about as long as can be expected. Before he’s pulled from Evelyn’s bed. Arrested. Tortured and tossed in a cell with Zangaro’s version of Nelson Mandela, Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona). Who tends to Shannon’s wounds between beatings and long oblique discussions.

DogsOfWar_still2

Shannon is released and deported after two days. With the help of North. Who smells a story, but the wrong one. As Shannon returns to London and brief Endean that Kimba’s grip is too tight on his equally corrupt, but too scared subordinates. An internal coup is impossible. And that there had better be a “Plan B”.

There is. Endean offers Shannon $100,000 to invade Zangaro. Destroy as much military as possible. Kill Kimba and await the arrival of Kimba’s ousted rival, Colonel Bobi (George Harris). Who still owns Zangaro’s mineral rights. As the country’s new puppet dictator. Shannon says no, but Endean forwards a million dollars in expenses a few days later, anyway. And Shannon goes to work. Bouncing between New York, South America and Paris to arrange transportation for smuggled firepower. WWII German MP-40 sub machine guns, magazines and ammo packed in Cosmoline in the novel. Uzis and tricked out MAC-10s in the film (Courtesy IMFDb). Good for pistol range, close up work. But some Fire Support would be needed. Claymor Mines. Several M-60 machine guns. Two Manville 25mm. Projectile Launcher. Known as the “XM-18”. Loaded with smoke, fragmentation, Anti-Personnel and White Phosphorus shells.

DogsOfWar_still3

All used to great explosive effect once Cat, Drew and their crew and about 75 Zangaran expatriates land by Zodic rubber boats and blitzkrieg Kimba’s military compound. Which ends with Mr. Walken’s Cat delivering an ending no one sees coming!

Overall Consensus:

In what could be considered a “How To” film on the details and intricacies of Military-Industrial wheeling and dealing. From Endean’s betters’ initially flawed concept. To recruitment, acquisition of firepower. Its covert and illegal transport. And slow, methodical reconnaissance under the noses of the Zangaran police. Few films are better at revealing “the nuts and bolts” of intended coups and political overthrows.

Mr. Forsythe cast his nets wide for his novel. And Mr. Irvin kept the flavor and feel of rummaging through the journals of Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare and his “3 Commando” in Africa, Or Paul Renard’s failed attempt at a coup to unseat Haiti’s “Papa Doc” Duvalier in the early 1970s.

DogsOfWar_still

Extreme Kudos to veteran Cinematographer, Jack Cardiff for brief, though telling locations. Especially the Customs stop at the Calais piers. Where smuggled in oil drums are inspected by uniformed officials amid banter ef Francais. Without subtitles. Letting the dark damp mood and close quarters claustrophobia speak volumes while the armed driver sweats bullets under a calm facade, While Geoffrey string chamber music maintains suspense and tension throughout.

Film editing by Antony Gibbs is masterful. In trimming away all that is not needed. While keeping plenty of slack for verbal and silent nuance. And with Endean, Saville Row suited British arms dealers (Terrence Rigby, David Schofield) there is plenty of nuance!


I’m going to side step two of Mr. Irvin’s films. Raw Deal (1986) and Hamburger Hill (1987). Which I had thumb-nailed for Michael, over at It Rains… You Get Wet as part of my premier guest post years ago. And focus some criminally over due attention to a small gem from HBO cranked out during Hollywood’s return to “The Greatest Generation” and World War II with Saving Private Ryan. And before HBO’s flag ship, Band of Brothers.

Encompassing around 95 minutes. And shot on location along the tank trapping “Dragon’s Teeth” of the Siegfried Line and the Hungarian Border. And Germany. Lake Balaton and strategic dams beyond. A 50 square mile area of forest, hills and mountains occupied by polyglot units of US and German Infantry and armor escaping the Fallaise Gap and creating a time and life consuming bottleneck. Though the Germans have the high ground and upper hand in artillery. And every inch of forest marked off and dialed in for high altitude “Tree Bursts” of 75, 88mm and larger caliber tanks, self propelled and dug in gun positions.

Basically. A meat grinder. And a campaign I’d never heard about until finding it featured in a “Sgt. Rock” graphic novel from Vertigo comics. Which sent me on the path of Mr. Irvin’s offering. Which, to my knowledge is the only film about this six month (August 1944 to February, 1945) Pyhrric exercise in futility.

So, without further ado. Let’s take a look at…

#3: When Trumpets Fade (1998) a.k.a. The Battle For Hurtgen Forest

WhenTrumpetsFade

Which begins with B&W stock Army footage of divisions of “Class A” parade dressed G.I.s marching through the Arche de Triumph in Paris. To George M. Cohan’s “Over There”. Signalling the months old occupation of France. The containment of German forces within their own country. And that the war may be over soon. Perhaps, by Christmas?

Cut to the sound of far off artillery and a cold, snowy, sunless and gray fogged November day. Where we are introduced to three day in country veteran, Pvt. David Manning (Ron Eldard). G Company. 28th Infantry Division. Returning back to American held lines after a disastrous patrol around the industrial town of Schmidt. Of which, Manning is its sole survivor. After leaving a too badly burned and injured to travel squad mate (Jeffrey Donovan ‘Burn Notice’) to die.

WhenTrumpetsFade_still1

Expecting to be called before the platoon’s “Highers”, Lieutenant Lukas (Timothy Olyphant, ‘Deadwood,’ ‘Justified’) and Commander of “C” Company. Captain Pritchett (Martin Donovan ‘Insomnia,’ ‘Ant-Man’) to be debriefed. Or chewed out. Instead, Manning is informed that of the fifty plus men who went out on that morning’s patrol. He is its sole survivor. Promoted to Sergeant. And given five fresh new replacement Privates. Overweight and spectacled Warren “Sandy” Sanderson (Zak Orth). Andrew Lonnie (Devon Gummerssall). Doug Despin (Dan Futterman) and Sam Baxter (Steven Petrarca) to fill out the ranks of Manning’s rifle squad. And Sgt. Manning’s first order to execute. Get to know his men. And take them out on a patrol to get them acclimated!

An elongated and suspenseful scene that magically blends the eerie quiet of the forest. The odd addition of falling snowflakes mixed with swirling embers from recently exploded and smoldering trees, And the dismal, thick ground fog. Courtesy of Cinematographer, Thomas Burstyn. Which slowly swallows Pvt. Sanderson whole within minutes of his being assigned “Point”.

Sanderson gets out too far ahead and becomes lost. Mostly due to the fog and lack of any recognizable landmarks. Hears a sound. Hides in the branches of a fallen Soft Pine tree. Hears and later, glimpses a similarly armed and lost German patrol. Waits. Holds his breath. Waits for the Germans to move. Falls back. Retraces his steps. Finds Manning and the squad. As a strategic retreat is decided upon.

WhenTrumpetsFade_still3

Once back at base there’s hot food and mail. Which Manning and others read as another “Push” in the offing. Though, with poor visibility. No close by landmarks. Outdated maps.No air cover. No aerial reconnaissance or recent photographs.The plan is far from perfect. Tanks will be used on the road leading to the bridge head on the outskirts of Schmidt. Infantry will be off the road. Flanking from the woods.With German artillery, tanks and infantry defending their turf every inch of the way. Tanks are shelled on and off the road and are quickly bogged down and destroyed. Artillery is good only for breaking contact and buying time for the Americans to retreat into mne fields. Chaos and confusion reign as individuals and units regroup. Barely containing panic as German tanks and self propelled guns follow the retreat back to camp and open fire in a spoiling raid.

The Germans leave. The American wounded are tended to in open air Aid Stations. While the dead are stripped of ammo and gear. Covered. And stacked like cord wood for Graves Registration. While Captain Pritchett calls Manning aside and negotiates the Sergeant into “volunteering” for a suicide mission. Take a squad armed with flame throwers to attack the German artillery emplacements, powder charges and shells from behind prior to the next morning’s “Push”.

Manning balks. Pritchett counters with a “Section 8” upon successful completion of the mission. The attack goes off well enough. Panicking the enemy more than actually destroying large numbers of artillery pieces. But it does cause enough delay for the Americans to break the bottle neck at the Schmidt bridge head. At the cost of Bazter being executed by Manning for running away. His flame thrower alight and more of a danger to the squad than the Germans. Steeling the rest to hold their ground and give covering fire to Sanderson as he burns two 88mm. howitzers and their crews.

WhenTrumpetsFade_still2

The bottom seems to be falling out on both sides as fresh replacements are brought forward. LT. Lukas cracks under pressure. Captain Pritchett killed holding the bridge. The Lt. Colonel (Dwight Yoakum) shows up and is none too pleased. Captain Zenek (Bobby Cannavale, ‘Blue Bloods’) takes command of “C” Company and takes Manning aside. For a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. His own platoon. And marching orders for tomorrow’s final “Push”.

But Manning has other ideas. Another pre dawn raid. With more men and bazookas. To create as much havoc and destroy as many tanks as possible before what’s left of “C” Company steps off. Creating another near trademark ironic ending for Mr. Irvin once the smoke starts to clear. With a seriously wounded and bleeding out Manning riding on Pvt. Sanderson’s back. As he tries to find friendly lines less than a mile away.

Overall Consensus:

Since there is so little known and put to paper about this campaign. Due to it being dwarfed by the far more intriguing and dramatic “Battle of The Bulge”. There are not alot of historic landmarks or date to attach to this six month meat grinder that accounted for 33.00 US casualties from a rotation of ten US Infantry and one Army Air Corps Wing. And 28,000 German casualties among Infantry. armor, one parachute and five Home Guard (Volksstrum) divisions.

In an Order of Battle that began much like Gettysburg. In a series of skirmishes between US troops and Germans fleeing France. And quickly became a salient and center of battle once the Germans began massing and organizing units. Doing what Germans have always done best. Counter attacking. Taking ground and buying time during one of the worst winters in Germany’s history. In hopes of possibly negotiating something other than unconditional surrender.

So, the idea of a Private being bumped to Sergeant and later, 2nd Lieutenant solely due to personal survival skills versus attrition may not seem so strange in filling out the TO &E of a nearly decimated Company. Manning adapts. Even though he doesn’t want to.Thinking on the fly and leading. Which is what NCOs and junior grade officers are supposed to do.

WhenTrumpetsFade_still4

Does the film work?… Oh, yes! As stated before. Cinematography by Thomas Burstyn performs minor miracles of foreboding and dread with varying shades of gray, black and white among the forests. While making the most of cramped, lamp lit interiors. Throwing shadows across men’s faces as they are told to perform the impossible. And perhaps, die in the event?

Music by Geoffrey Burgon is occasionally of its time. But shifts to orchestral to heighten dram and move action along. While Art and Decorating departments to numerous to mention press the illusion that you are in an Eastern European version of Hell. And that there is no way out!


Author’s Note:

All the films noted here are available on You Tube. And are fine examples that like his fellow director, Martin Ritt. Mr. Irvin can get the most from casts of character actors from both sides of the pond. While creating long enduring, sometimes elegant. Often down and dirty “Guy Flicks”.

JackDeth_post

Check out Kevin G’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Wish to offer personal choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion!

Guest Post – Jersey Boys: The musical or the movie?

This review is courtesy of guest blogger Sarah Johnson who mainly contributes reviews for the Twin Cities Film Fest.

JerseyBoysBanner

I love it when books or musicals I like become movies because it allows me to enjoy the same story again and pick up subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences in different mediums. “Jersey Boys,” the new movie directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It is based on the phenomenally successful Broadway musical which won four 2006 Tony Awards including Best Musical. I have seen and enjoyed both the musical and movie for the same reason – everyone has heard the famous songs (“Big Girls Don’t Cry, “Oh What a Night,” “Sherry”) but the story behind the music is so well-told by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who did both the book for the musical and the screenplay for the movie, that it was just a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.

JerseyBoys_MovieStills

The main difference between the musical and the movie is the beginning – about the first 20 minutes of the movie are devoted to Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) dragging Frankie Castelluccio (later Frankie Valli, played by John Lloyd Young) along to get into trouble in their blue collar Jersey neighborhood. In this way I felt like the musical was stronger because it introduces Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) earlier and that’s when their story really begins. For people who have seen the musical, the rest of the movie is the same as the musical and includes all of the famous lines that I found myself looking forward to in the movie. I don’t want to give too many of them away if you haven’t seen either version but there is one when a young Bob Gaudio meets flamboyant producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and he says, “I remember thinking there was something a little off about this guy. But this was 1959, back when people thought Liberace was just…theatrical.” Both iterations also feature actors breaking the “fourth wall” to talk to the audience.

JerseyBoysBroadway
John Lloyd Young (second from left) in the Broadway version of ‘Jersey Boys’

The cast is led by the superb John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Frankie Valli in the Broadway version. After seeing the movie, I know why. I don’t know if I can objectively assess Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio since I am still infatuated with Andrew Rannells’ portrayal of Bob Gaudio when I saw the musical at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in 2008. I thought Michael Lomenda gave an unexpectedly strong performance as Nick Massi, the group’s bass and self-proclaimed “Ringo” of the quartet. When he is stopped by local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (played by Christopher Walken being…Christopher Walken) while trying to leave the group amid money issues and personal tensions, he proclaims, “With all due respect Mr. DeCarlo, I’d like to see you sell 100 million records by the time you’re 30 and see how you handle it.” Neither the movie nor the musical gloss over the price these guys paid for fame. Frankie Valli was an absentee father whose golden voice couldn’t stop the fact that his daughter died of a drug overdose in 1980. And neither version is a show for kids – there is a large amount of foul language throughout the show.

Both the movie and the musical end on a high note with a montage of the group’s famous songs. Although Frankie Valli is now in his 80’s, he was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis as recently as 2012. (At the end of the movie in his turn to address the audience, he says “I’m like the Energizer bunny, I just keep going and going and going…”) One thing to note about this show is that while Broadway musicals generally aren’t known for being a “guy thing,” this is a notable exception. Both my dad and uncle have seen the stage version and still talk about how enjoyable it was. There are several live versions on the road now (including one coming to the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in April 2015) to compliment the movie, allowing anyone to enjoy this nostalgic, tune-filled story.

four reels

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


What do you think of Jersey Boys? Have you seen both the film and/or the Broadway play?

TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.

TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.

Justin Long & Ted Koland at the LUMPY panel – photo by James Ramsay

Below is a recap and review from Friday,

FRIDAY

Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.

Things I Don’t Understand

Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.

Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.

Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.

Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:

This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.

I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.

It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.

Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.

I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.

Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!

3halfReels


A Late Quartet

When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.

In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.

This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.

Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.

4Reels


Problem Solving the Republic

Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.

Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:

Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated  superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.

I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.

During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.

The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.

3Reels

Check out the trailer below:


Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!


Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!

TCFF: 6 Films. 2 Days. 1 Programmer’s Personal Picks

Call it the Ultimate Film Fest Experience. With only 2 more days to go, there are still a bunch of great films playing at the ShowPlace ICON Theatre through Saturday. If you haven’t been able to catch any of the films during the weekdays, but you’re ready for a TCFF movie marathon this weekend, then you’re not too late!

Earlier today I sat down with Steve Snyder, TCFF’s Artistic Director—who’s also TIME.com’s Assistant Managing Editor—to list his recommendations for the last stretch of the film fest. After screening about 200 submissions including a mix of features and shots, and circling other film festivals around the country with executive director Jatin Setia, here are Steve’s picks are that you can still catch at TCFF.


Get your tickets now before they sell out!  Oh and check out this
Amazing Ticket Deal of Saturday Movie Marathon.


FRIDAY:

6pm – Things I Don’t Understand (independent)

I’ve mentioned this on yesterday’s post when I met with director David Spaltro. Well, this film has won Best Feature Film and Best Actress for Minnesota-born actress Molly Ryman in various film festivals. Steve calls Molly a ‘MN star is born’ and this is one of the films that he’s most thrilled about that he was able to get it screened at TCFF. Both David and Molly will be in attendance for a red carpet spotlight and Q&A after.

Having recently chatted with him, I’m even more intrigued by his film and can’t wait to see it. I will post the transcript of the interview when it’s ready, but check out the trailer below:

///

9pmA Late Quartet

This is also on my most-anticipated list. I mean the cast alone should get you to rush to see it. Christopher Walken + Philip Seymour Hoffman + Catherine Keener playing members of a string quartet struggling to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and in-suppressible lust. Great thespians making beautiful music together? Steve said you can’t miss this, and I tend to agree. You can view the trailer here.

SATURDAY:

10:45Bay of All Saints

Winner of Audience Award, Documentary at SXSW 2012: In Bahia, Brazil, generations of impoverished families live in palafitas, shacks built on stilts over the ocean bay. Steve said that not only is the subject matter intriguing, but the incredible access director Annie Eastman was able to get to shoot this film gives it a uniquely intimate portrait of the individual stories of poverty shown in the film.

12:45 After I Pick the Fruit

This is a documentary that follows the lives of five immigrant farm worker women over a ten-year period as they labor in the apple orchards and fields of rural western New York, migrate seasonally to Florida, raise their families, and try to hide from the Bush-era immigration raids that were conducted in response to September 11, 2001. This doc is more of an investigative journalism of sort, which illuminates a community that is nearly invisible to most Americans. Director Nancy Ghertner will be in attendance.

These two documentaries are also my picks I’ve listed on this post.

3 pm Take Care

Two estranged women tread cautiously into each other’s lives and their newfound friendship creates a mirror of self-discovery in this character-driven indie drama. I actually have had the pleasure of seeing this one earlier this month and I absolutely agree with Steve that this one is definitely worth checking out. It’s rare to see a meaty role written for a woman, let alone two in one film. Both Ryan Driscoll and Elise Ivy are both fantastic here, and the revelation for both characters are quite intriguing to watch. Don’t miss Ryan Driscoll and director Scott Tanner Jones in attendance for Q&A.

5:30 Dead Dad

When their dad dies unexpectedly, estranged siblings Russell, Jane and their adopted brother, Alex, come home to tend to his remains. Don’t be put off by the title, even though it deals with the loss of a loved one, it’s also about a celebration of family and how they come together to achieve a proper goodbye. Steve said he’s very impressed how the actors could pull off such complex characters. He even went so far as calling it some of the best acting performances of this year. Trailer below:


So, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets now »


Counting Down to TCFF! The Films I Can’t Wait to See

TCFF is just four days away and I’ve finalized the movies I’ll be watching during the 9-day film fest. I’m just thrilled that there’s quite an eclectic lineup we’ve got this year, practically there’s something from every genre. I’ve blogged about some of them on this post, but below is my full schedule of what I’ll be watching.

Before we get to that though, here’s TCFF’s Preview Video with our hosts Amanda Day & Joe Kessler.

The perk of blogging for the film fest is that I could watch as many films as I could (yay!). Of course it’d still not be possible for me to see every single film, but heck I’m certainly going to try to see at least a dozen films or more if I could help it. This year, I’m also getting some blogging help from fellow Twin Citians (I actually never ever use that term before but seems kinda appropriate here, ahah): June from Girl Producer blog and Emery, a U of M Film Student and aspiring film reviewer. So expect to see TCFF movie reviews from all three of us starting this weekend.

So here are the list of films I can’t wait to see:


Full Film Schedule & Trailers at TCFF Official Site


Friday – October 12
A PLACE AT THE TABLE

This important documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges shines a light on the 30% of American families that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, there are plenty of other compelling docs playing at the film fest. I’ll be highlighting those later this week.


Saturday – October 13
IT’S A DISASTER

I like Julia Stiles, and I always think she should get more leading roles! Well, she’s got a starring role in this quirky apocalypse comedy, along with David Cross and America Ferrera.  Directed by actor/director Todd Berger (The Scenesters). Here’s a clip from the movie:


Sunday –  October 14
QUARTET

I just re-watched the trailer again and I’m even more excited about it now. Dustin Hoffman in his directorial debut has assembled quite a cast (Maggie Smith, Billy Connelly, Michael Gambon, etc.) in what looks like a delightful comedy about retired Opera singers. Sponsored by The Minnesota Opera.
///


Monday –  October 15
FINDING HOME

This character-driven drama was shot in just 10 days in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Check out the promo for Minnesota films:


Tuesday – October 16
THE SESSIONS

Normally I wouldn’t think of someone being paralyzed from polio as being funny, yet somehow director Ben Lewin seems to have crafted a heartwarming comedy on that topic. The cast is a winner, I’ve always loved William H. Macy and he’s poised to be the scene-stealer here. John Hawkes is one of those instantly-likable actor, plus it’s been a while since I saw Helen Hunt in anything. Check out the trailer if you haven’t already.


Wednesday – October 17
NOBODY WALKS

I actually saw this trailer before I saw it on TCFF schedule, and I’m intrigued by the story. I’ve been hearing Olivia Thirlby‘s name being mentioned a lot lately as she starred in Dredd 3D, but this looks like a very different role for her. The cast includes John Krasinski and Rosemary DeWitt.



Thursday – October 18
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

I’ve mentioned in the lineup post that this film won Audience Award at TIFF. Well, this past week it just received another similar prize at Hamptons International Film Festival Awards. I’m normally not a Bradley Cooper fan but I’m prepared for him to change my mind. I do love Jennifer Lawrence and she’s perhaps poised to get another Oscar nom on this one.


Friday – October 19
NOT FADE AWAY

Feature film debut from the creator of The Sopranos David Chase. Set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s, a group of friends form a rock band and try to make it big. James Gandolfini also stars in the film.

A LATE QUARTET

This is one of those films you watch just for the cast. I mean, check this out, Christopher Walken AND Philip Seymour Hoffman, plus the excellent Catherine Keener in a string quartet where one of the member receives a life changing diagnosis which threatens the unity of the group. So there are TWO music-themed films with ‘quartet’ in the title that I’m looking forward to playing at TCFF! 🙂


Saturday – October 20
THE STORY OF LUKE

27 year-old Lou Taylor Pucci has got over two dozen films under his belt, yet I haven’t seen a single one yet. Well this will be the first then. He stars as a young man with autism who’s breaking free from the shelter of his grandparents and go on a quest for a job and true love. Also starring Seth Green and Cary Elwes.

….
LUMPY

We don’t get a lot of films being filmed here in Minnesota, so it’s always nice to see it when that happens. Directed by a Minnesota- born director Ted Koland in his first feature film. It stars Justin Long and Jessica Weixler in story about a pair of newlyweds who has to bring their best man Lumpy’s body back to Minnesota for burial and what happens as friends try to reconnect with people who were in the dead guy’s life.


October is going to be the best movie-watching month for me. If you live in the area, I hope you’ll make time to check out TCFF!

What do you think of these movies, folks, which one(s) interest you most?