THE SEA AROUND US

Before Irwin Allen went on to produce crappy, clumsy, cardboard disaster epics with gaudy but primitive special effects, he managed to get himself noticed by throwing together a film version of Rachel Carson’s bestselling (82 weeks on the NY Times list) The Sea Around Us. I say put together because this film, which impressed everybody (1953 Academy Award) in the early Fifties by merely having undersea color photography, because the footage was supplied by people and organizations with an interest in self promotion like oil companies, commercial fishing companies, shipping companies and the Australian National Tourist Board.

FADOS

Fado, the flamenco of Portugal is on full display here in Carlos Saura’s latest musical tribute FADOS. As with his earlier films, FLAMENCO (1995) and TANGO (1998), Saura tells the story of a lower class music genre without dialogue, just musical set pieces. Dating to the 1820s slums of Portugal and most likely earlier, fado (“destiny”) is composed of melancholic vocal and instrumental ballads of a sentimental nostalgic nature.

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2008

For the second year in a row I have seen less than 400 films (usually it’s way over 1,000).  The films are getting worse, or else I’ve finally decided it’s better to live life than sit in a darkened room watching navel gazing films that should have had their negatives (or hard drives for you newbies) burnt before being foisted upon the masses — or better yet, had the laptops taken away from their pretentious wannabe “writers” and mini-DV cams wrenched from the hands of their “auteurs” and run over with a steamroller.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: SOUTHERN ARIZONA

In 1969 Tucson received unexpected worldwide fame when Paul McCartney sang the lyric “Jo Jo left his home in Tucson, Arizona for some California grass” in one of the Beatles’ last hits, “Get Back.” These days Californians and many others are coming to Tucson to either live or spend long vacations because of its balmy climate and its low cost of living.

THE DARK KNIGHT

Madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push. If you were impressed with Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow, get ready for a truly horrifying performance about a guy who can’t be swayed by money or power – The Joker, portrayed by the incredible Heath Ledger. The living symbol of chaos, he just wants to see the human race fall apart.

WAR PAINT

A hot, dusty, situation-western filmed in the oven like alkali desert of Death Valley. Not really very good, it’s a variation on the “Lost Patrol” theme. It does have a thing in showing a remarkable variety of gun battles from cover. It’s almost like a stock shot catalogue of Winchester fights. There’s some excellent overwrought character acting here. Charles McGraw is at his most stalwart and he’s in fine voice here too – tough and gravelly. Paul Richards – I never realized he was so short! is the ripest of all and mercifully dies early. John Doucette has a different role here as a Polish immigrant who left Poland because they wanted to put him in the army. Peter Graves gets to try the villain thing before STALAG 17.

BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA

Forget the prequel to Midway tag. It’s a war picture but the sub-genre isn’t naval warfare, but rather a POW picture. The only things representing the battle are the bookends, stock footage (some anachronistic) of naval warfare kind of stuff. The set-up: Cliff Robertson is a sub commander sent out on a recon mission before the aforementioned battle with the strong suggestion that if he has to sacrifice his boat, his men, and himself he must not reveal the dingus, the rendezvous point. Emphasis. So of course that’s just what happens. Japanese Navy frogmen in post war scuba (!) gear attach mines to the sub and Robertson gives up after scuttling the boat. That’s the first half hour.

INVENTING THE ABBOTTS

There was a time when films made for women, the so-called “Women’s picture”, were also entertaining and involving for a wider audience to enjoy. Now they are an exclusively female designed, designated, manufactured and sold product. The “chick flick” of today. There’s got to be more than just endless variations on “who’s going with whom”. The same giggly obsession of 8-year-old girls in the schoolyard matching up their schoolmates. It reminds me of an analogy with duplicate bridge where the same characters and elements can be played a different way each time and still lead to an arbitrary predetermined ending. Maybe there’s a better analogy.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: SAN DIEGO

Forty years ago San Diego was a sleepy navy town that most regarded as a far-flung Los Angeles suburb. Fast-forward to today and San Diego is now California’s second largest city that is no longer in L.A.’s shadow. While San Diego still has what many regard to be the most beautiful climate in the country, there have been social costs that have come along with its rapid growth. The high cost of living here would make even a jaded New Yorker blush and the standstill rush hour traffic makes the Long Island Expressway look like the Daytona Speedway in comparison. Nonetheless San Diego remains an excellent getaway.