David Knights' Weblog

March 2, 2019

Movie review: Dennis Miller: Fake News, Real Jokes (2018)

Filed under: General,Politics — dknights @ 6:40 am
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I’ve been a Dennis Miller fan since his SNL days.  His signature rants were some of the funniest comedy I’ve every seen.  Miller morphed from a stand up comic into a libertarian radio show host in his later years.  As such his last few comedy specials have taken on more and more political subject matter.  Frankly, I think politics is ruining comedy, but I don’t find Miller’s stuff as troublesome.  I suspect that this is because many of his political attitudes are very close to my own.  His latest stand up special, Fake News, Real Jokes, filmed in 2018 is now out on Amazon Prime.  As he’s gotten older, I think Miller has lost a bit of his edge and is maybe a step or two slower, but then again aren’t we all.  When he is at his best he can make obscure sub-reference after obscure sub-reference and make me laugh hard.  I enjoyed this special and it was 58 minutes well spent. 4 out of 5 stars.


February 19, 2019

Movie review: The Great Race (1965)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 12:01 pm
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The Great Race is a slapstick comedy and is an obvious homage to slapstick comedies of the silent era. It is loosely based on the actual 1908 New York to Paris race. The films stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and Natalie Wood, with supporting performances by Peter Falk and Keenan Wynn.  The film is notable in several respects.  First, when it was filmed in 1964, it had the largest budget ever for a comedy, over $12M.  Additionally, though comedies are usually shorter in length than dramas, this film clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Make no mistake, this is a slapstick comedy, and has many funny moments.  Its length hurts it, as the film drags in the third act.  Director Blake Edwards (of Pink Panther fame) could have used a good film editor.  30 minutes could have been cut out of the film with little loss.

Natalie Wood is gorgeous, possibly as pretty as she’s ever appeared on film.  She does an admirable acting job in the film, pulling off her comedy bits quite well.  However, in real life, her life was a mess, just having gotten divorced from Robert Wagner.  She reportedly did not want to make this film, and at the end of post production work, she made a half-hearted suicide attempt.

While this movie is by no means, high art, it is worth seeing once, if only to see part of the incredible range that Jack Lemon had.  Here he did slapstick very well, while today he is probably best known for his dramatic roles.  Also, of Kentucky interest, parts of the film (mostly at the beginning) were filmed near Frankfort, Kentucky.

Two and a half out of Five stars.

February 11, 2019

Movie review: They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 4:01 pm
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Wow.  Just wow.

OK, now let me tell you why you must go see this, and go see it while it is in theaters.  Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame (and Wingnut Wings fame for all of us modelers) was approached by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in 2013/14 to take all their archival footage and recorded interviews and do a documentary on the Great War.  He was given no specific theme, just access to all the resources and a request to do something innovative.  Boy did he.

Through the use of groundbreaking digital technologies, some of which they had to invent for this film, Jackson and his crew at Wingnut Films (yes, that is the company’s name) put together a restored and colorized version of these old films that gives real life and impact to them.  It is hard to explain how groundbreaking this film is.  Just go see it.  See it on the big screen.  The song over the end credits is great and if you stay after the credits you can watch the 20 minute documentary on the making of the film, you’ll appreciate it even more.  It will leave you even more impressed and really will make you want to hang out and have a beer with Peter Jackson.

GO SEE THIS FILM.  Needless to say, 5 stars!

February 5, 2019

Movie review: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 4:49 pm
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Turns out one of my favorite movies of all time was on last night on TCM and I was able to catch it as well as record it.  She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is my second favorite John Wayne movie, and in my top 10 of all time.  It won the 1949 Oscar for best color cinematography.  It is a great story, well-acted and beautifully shot.  It is part of John Ford’s “cavalry trilogy”.  In addition to Wayne, it has an excellent supporting cast.

It is the story of a cavalry captain at a frontier fort who is about to retire when the post-Custer massacre indian uprising takes place.  There is beautiful scenery and plenty of action.  The movie also has some important things to say about masculinity, manhood and brotherhood.  If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend you find it and watch it.  5 stars!

February 2, 2019

Movie review: Viva Zapata! (1952)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 9:45 pm
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Was able to catch this on TCM recently.  Normally, I would not have been interested in the film, but I’ve been listening to Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast series on the Mexican Revolution.  Frankly, I am not sure I would have understood what was going on in the movie without it.  It is the story of Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary and land reformer.

Marlon Brando stars as Zapata.  I was never a fan of Brando’s acting style, and I particularly don’t thinks it works with him playing a Mexican peasant.  The movie clocks in at 1 hour 53 minutes, and you feel every one of them.  Also, the actual story of the revolution is badly bastardized in the movie.  It was interesting to see, but not something I’d watch again. Two our of Five stars.

January 30, 2019

Movie review: Song of the Thin Man (1947)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 12:34 am
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This is the last of the six Thin Man films and the only one to take place post-WWII.  In this movie, Nick, Jr., played by Dean Stockwell in one of his early roles, is about 10, which places the movie about 5 years after the last film, The Thin Man Goes Home.  In this movie, we come to the end of the Thin Man saga.  Nick and Nora, who were young, newly married and carefree parties have progressed to a middle aged married couple concerned with family life.  In the first film and through the early ones, Nick and Nora go to clubs and enjoy big band music and drinking.  Now, they’d rather be home. Jazz is coming on the scene and Nick and Nora are fish out of water when it comes to the new musical scene.

The movie starts with Nick and Nora on a gambling and booze cruise among a society party.  They are there because Nora wants to try and fit in more with upscale society.  This is a change from the early films where Nora actively disdained high society and liked hanging out with Nick’s lowlife friends.  Of course, there is a murder aboard the ship and the usual adventure ensues, culminating with Nick solving the murder after gathering all the suspects back on the ship.

While many of the critics rate is one of the lesser Thin Man films, I rate it about 3rd or 4th mainly due to the progression shown in the main characters over the 13 year span of the films. (11 years pass in the timeline of the films)  Still better than most of the dreck put out by Hollywood today.

Five stars.

January 17, 2019

Movie review: The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 3:47 pm
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This is the fifth of the sixth Thin Man movies and the first that doesn’t take place mainly in NYC or San Francisco.  The fourth film was filmed in 1941, before America’s entry into WWII.  This film was originally slated to begin production in 1942, but Myrna Loy declined the job and instead she moved to NYC to marry the heir to the Hertz car rental fortune and to work in the Red Cross in New York.  Like many celebrities of the time, she threw herself into war related activities and did not return to film until shooting this film in mid and late 1944.  The film premiered in early 1945.

Though Nick and Nora have a child, he does not appear in this film.  It is explained in dialogue that Nicky is in kindergarten and they didn’t want to take him out of school.  If my guess about Nicky’s age in the fourth film is correct, that would mean that though 3-4 years have passed between production of the last film and this one, in the film world’s time, this film follows closely on the heels of the last one.

Though this movie was made while the US was deeply involved in WWII, there is no direct reference to the war in the film, though there are many oblique references to it.  The opening scene where Nick and Nora are traveling on a train to go to Nick’s old home town show plenty of men in uniform and the train traveling conditions are extremely crowded as was the case in the wartime USA.  In addition, a character is referred to as having returned from “the South Seas” and is waiting for his discharge from the Army.  The victim is shot with a Japanese Nambu light machine gun, though it is called a sniper rifle in the movie.  Finally, it turns out the reason for the murder is a plot to steal propeller plans for “a foreign power”.

While several years in real time have passed, neither Powell or Loy have lost any of their spark.  Their interplay is as good as in any of the films, and the writing really sparkles.  In fact, this may be the funniest film since the first one, with Loy stealing several scenes, including the climactic reveal of the killer, where she lampshades the entire process in a running commentary to Nick’s father.

I really enjoyed this one.  5 stars.


January 9, 2019

Movie review: Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 12:28 pm
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This is the fourth entry in the Thin Man series and the weakest of the four so far.  Not that its bad, it isn’t.  It just doesn’t have as much of the interplay between Nick and Nora, which is the heart of these films.  This may be, in part, due to the presence of Nick and Nora’s child, Nicky, who was a baby in the last film, but who appears to be about 5 in this film.  The film also stars famed acting teacher Stella Adler in one of her only 3 or 4 film roles.  Also, a very young Donna Reed, plays a key role.  This is several years before her breakout in It’s A Wonderful Life and decades before her sitcom.

For this film we are back in San Francisco.  Nick and Nora and their son Nicky are ensconced in the hotel St. Cloud.  This is interesting, as we established previously, Nick and Nora have (had) a home in San Francisco, which they returned to at the beginning of the second film of the series.  Have they sold it?  Is it just a continuity gaff? We don’t know.  When the last film (released in 1939) ended, Nick and Nora were celebrating Nicky’s first birthday.  As this film opens, Nick and Nicky are walking in the park together and Nicky appears to be about 5, which would put the events of the film occurring about 4 years after the end of the last film.  Young Nicky’s play outfit is a soldier’s uniform, and it serves as a reminder that the film was shot in August 1941 as Europe was at war and the US was gearing up it’s military.  The film was released in November 1941, only a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.

The film features a scene of the, at the time, brand new San Francisco-Oakland bay bridge.  It also features a scene at a wrestling match, giving the viewer a view of the early years of the development of professional wrestling.  As usual, the film ends with Nick gathering all the suspects together and figuring out who the killer is.  In the climactic scene, Nora gets to play the hero, wrestling Nick’s gun away from the revealed killer as he was about to shoot Nick.  It turns out the gun was unloaded, but of course Nora didn’t know that.

In the course of watching these films, I did learn two interesting things. 1. The original Thin Man film was nominated for an Academy Award.  2. Though they starred in 14 films together, including the 6 Thin Man films, and had fantastic screen chemistry, Powell and Loy were never romantically involved in real life, unlike a lot of screen couples of the time. (i.e. Bogart and Bacall, Gable and Lombard, etc.)

I’d give this film, 4 out of 5 stars.

January 5, 2019

Movie review: After the Thin Man (1936)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 11:35 pm

The second of the Thin Man films, and some argue the best story, picks up three days after the first film ends, with Nick and Nora returning to San Francisco from their New York adventure in the first film.  This film flips the first one on its head.  In the first film, we meet all of Nick’s friends and acquaintances many of whom are of questionable character.  In this film, we meet Nora’s Knob Hill family who are as upper crust as possible and very disapproving of lower class Nick.  Clearly part of Nick’s charm to Nora is that he irritates her upper crust family.

We knew from the first film that Nora was an upper crust socialite, and here we learn she is a Knob Hill San Francisco socialite.  As in the previous film, Nick wants to simply live the life of leisure enjoying his wife’s money, while Nora enjoys the excitement of the detective life.  Additionally, Nora wants to have Nick prove the innocence of her cousin Selma.

As before, the chemistry between Powell and Loy is amazing.  Additionally we get to see a pre-WWII Jimmy Stewart staring as the bad guy, a role he rarely played.  5 years after this film he’d be a B-24 pilot in Europe.

As with all these films, I highly recommend it.  5 stars.

January 3, 2019

Movie review: 2036 Origin Unknown (2018)

Filed under: General — dknights @ 12:00 pm
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Do not see this movie.  It is awful. You will never get that 94 minutes of your life back.  I made this mistake. Learn from it.

I am not sure I can tell you what the movie is about. It is a sci-fi movie and has something to do with artificial intelligence, but there is not a coherent story.  I think this was a vanity project of the director/producer, who, by the way, has seen way too much of the last 20 minutes of 2001.  I am a fan of Katee Sackhoff, and this was on Netflix, so I thought I’d give it a go.  While Ms. Sackhoff does a great job trying to keep this turd afloat, everything around her; the writing, the directing, the special effects are just awful.  Having lost 94 minutes to this monstrosity, I don’t want to spend any more of my life thinking about it further.  Just head my warning.  Skip this. 0 stars.

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