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Month: September 2017

Kids Are Alright, The (1979)

Kids Are Alright, The (1979)

“You can’t stop doing what you’re doing, because you’d let down all these people.”

Synopsis:
The raucuous style of British rock band The Who — singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon — evolves over their 15 years of performing together.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “very good documentary about the early years of the seminal British supergroup The Who” contains “interview material” that is “kept brief and doesn’t interfere with the group’s many songs, taken from concert footage, television appearances, and studio jam sessions”. We get an excellent sense of the four band members’ irreverent humor, as well as their diverse personalities: charming Daltrey (that hair! those abs!), dynamic Townshend (his energy and talent — and nose — are truly one-of-a-kind), goofy Moon (never not clowning on camera), and aloof Entwistle (static in comparison with his band-mates). Peary notes that throughout the non-linear film, “we see the group age and their style of dress switch from mod to flamboyant to casual, but if anything, their energy level picks up, their songs become louder, their musicianship becomes more complex, and their anarchic style, typified by Pete Townshend smashing his guitars and Keith Moon his drums, becomes less an angry, ostentatious gesture than a way they can properly convey the artist’s/musician’s need for completely free self-expression”.

I’m not positive about the veracity of the latter assertion, especially given the following rather cynical quote by young Townshend early in the group’s career:

You have to resign yourself to the fact that a large part of the audience is sort of thick, you know, and don’t appreciate quality, however much you try and put it over. The fact is that our group isn’t… hasn’t got any quality. It’s just musical sensationalism.

as well as the film’s closing quote by an older Townshend (see beginning of this review), which continues as follows:

It’s not people just saying, “Listen, you’ll disappoint your fans if you don’t go on. The show must go on. You must go on, otherwise all those people will be so upset.” It’s, “You’ve got to go on, man. Otherwise, all those kids, they’ll be finished. They’ll have nothing to live for.” That’s rock and roll.

With that said, this final interview clip is followed by an enjoyably energetic and well-staged performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and surprisingly touching shots of the band embracing their adoring fans on-stage — thus making it seem like these men truly are playing for the enjoyment they bring to their fans (and continue to do so today).

Note: According to Wikipedia, the deeply drug-addicted “Moon… died one week after seeing the rough cut [of this documentary] with Daltrey.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Valuable, enjoyable footage of the group’s dynamic performance style and audience appeal




Must See?
No, but I think most film fanatics will want to check it out simply for general cultural interest and rockin’ music.

Links:

Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952)

Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952)

“It was almost as if I’d suddenly run into a solid sheet of water…”

Synopsis:
An RAF pilot (Nigel Patrick) marries the daughter (Ann Todd) of an airplane manufacturing magnate (Ralph Richardson) who is determined to send a test pilot through the sound barrier.

Genres:

Review:
Inspired by the life of British aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland, this David Lean flick is an interesting mix of revisionist history and science fiction. By claiming victory over one of the most profound challenges of aeroscience (flying faster than “Mach 1”), Breaking the Sound Barrier plants a false narrative of how this endeavor was achieved; those wanting a more authentic history must watch The Right Stuff (1983) about Chuck Yeager. With that enormous caveat in mind, this film succeeds in showing how a “stiff upper lip” is apparently an endemic British cultural trait, and how the desire to advance scientific knowledge sometimes trumps common sense and one’s personal survival-instinct. Less compelling is the overall storyline about a tough-as-nails magnate (Richardson) who seems willing to risk the happiness of both his son (Denholm Elliott) and daughter (Ann Todd) for the sake of his empire (and knowledge); if this were based on a true story, it would be easier to accept the conveniently plotted twists and turns — but, it’s not. The direction and cinematography are excellent, though.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many expertly filmed dramatic moments

  • Jack Hildyard’s cinematography

Must See?
No. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Silver Streak (1976)

Silver Streak (1976)

“If there’s one thing I have learned from this trip it’s that you play the game, and take what you get.”

Synopsis:
A book editor (Gene Wilder) meets a beautiful secretary (Jill Clayburgh) while travelling onboard a train called the Silver Streak. After seeing the man Clayburgh works for hanging dead outside a window, he panics but can’t get anyone to believe him — until a fellow passenger (Ned Beatty) reveals his true identity, and Wilder later meets a thief (Richard Pryor) who attempts to help him catch the murderers.

Genres:

Review:
Directed by Arthur Hiller and scored by Henry Mancini, Silver Streak was the first of four on-screen pairings between comedians Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, who next teamed up for Stir Crazy (1980). Of Silver Streak, screenwriter Colin Higgins — best known for scripting Harold and Maude (1971) — stated in an interview, “I had always wanted to get on a train and meet some blonde. It never happened, so I wrote a script” — thus explaining the rather haphazard nature of the storyline, which tosses in every action-murder-mystery-romance convention in the book, plus race relations, a plucky female pilot, and a bit of a buddy theme. It’s competently made and acted, but doesn’t hold one’s attention in the same way as Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) or Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974), which it seems to aspire towards.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Good use of a train as a primary locale

Must See?
No, though you may want to check it out if you’re a fan of Wilder or Pryor.

Links:

Below the Belt (1980)

Below the Belt (1980)

“She’s stronger than she looks — I’m working on the image!”

Synopsis:
A waitress (Regina Baff) tries her luck as a female wrestler, travelling across the United States with a group of diverse and determined women.

Genres:

Review:
A year before Robert Aldrich’s All the Marbles (1981) (a.k.a. The California Dolls) was released, writer-director Robert Fowler made this character study about a down-on-her-luck waitress hoping for a more empowered and exciting life through female wrestling. Fowler and Sherry Sonnet’s screenplay — based on an autobiographical novel by Rosalyn Drexler — contains plenty of authentic insights into the seamy world of low-rent wrestling, showing both the challenges and the bonds that occur along the way. (For the most part, the wrestlers are supportive rather than combative with one another, understanding that it’s primarily a show rather than a contest.) Given its parallels with the underdog film Rocky (1976), Below the Belt naturally ends with “The Big Fight”, which is actually quite gripping given that it stars real-life wrestler Jane O’Brien as “Terrible Tommy” (missing a front tooth, and menacing as all-get-out). Less engaging are Baff’s romantic foibles and a side-story about a middle-aged couple (Sierra Pecheur and Dolph Sweet) debating leaving the wrestling world for different pastures — but it all adds to the amiably paced flow of the film, which is more ethnographic than plot-driven. Watch for Shirley Stoler in a supporting role as one of Baff’s co-wrestlers.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Regina Baff as Rosa
  • Seemingly authentic “behind the scenes” footage of life for wrestlers
  • Good use of real-life wrestlers and matches
  • A catchy and unusual soundtrack (“Some folks are so mean, they gargle gin and gasoline”)

Must See?
No, but it’s worth seeking out for a one-time look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Circle of Iron (1978)

Circle of Iron (1978)

“Whatever you think I am — or want me to be — I am.”

Synopsis:
After being formally defeated in a fight overseen by a leader in a white robe (Roddy McDowell), a warrior (Jeff Cooper) seeking a mysterious seer named Zetan (Christopher Lee) finds unexpected assistance from a blind, martially-talented flute-player (David Carradine).

Genres:

Review:
This martial arts fantasy flick is perhaps best known as the movie Bruce Lee co-wrote and intended to star in before his untimely death. As a viewer not particularly well-versed in martial arts films, I can’t speak to the quality or nature of the fights — but the rest of the picture sure is a wacky, at-times surreal adventure. While Cooper is the nominal protagonist, Carradine steals the show as a blind flautist who may or may not be able to teach Cooper valuable lessons grounded in Eastern philosophy. Naturally, there’s plenty of ripe dialogue to enjoy:

“Are you waiting for fear to freeze my heart before you carve it out?”

and the fantasy sets are reasonably impressive. This one isn’t must-see for all film fanatics, but fans of the genre will likely want to check it out. Most surreal sequence: Eli Wallach explains his ten-year “tub cure” to Cooper.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • David Carradine’s tongue-in cheek performance(s)
  • Fine cinematography and outdoor sets

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look for its wacky cult flavor. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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