Wednesday, December 27, 2017




Dir. - Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim Jackie Earle Haley, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, 
Katheryn Winnick
Screenplay - Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Based on THE DARK TOWER novels by Stephen King
Music - Tom Holkenborg
Dir. of Photograpy 
- Rasmus Videbaek
Edited by - Alan Edward Bell, 
Dan Zimmerman
Running Time: 95 mins.
Release: 7/28/17
Dist.: Columbia / Sony 

GullCottage rating
(**** on a scale of 1-5)


     And speaking of "forgive", forgive me if this sounds a tad arrogant. It isn't, I swear!  It's more a matter of "I just really don't care!". Now, "Is that any better?" you may ask. Hell yeah, it is! Arrogance is self-aggrandizingly insufferable. "I don't care" simply means one's opinion concerning what one likes and dislikes is based upon one's own decision making process and / or (for whatever random reasons in that infinitesimal universe) one's predilections, tastes and what fires / triggers one's own imagination regardless of the tastes, predilections et al of everyone else out there, ... or even Rotten Tomatoes' (they themselves admit) unscientific aggregate scoring process. That kind of positive "I don't care" mentality (as opposed to the negative and often self destructive kind) is not only "okay", I've always thought it downright necessary.

     What many people just can't seem to fathom however is that this doesn't mean my take is "right" while someone else's is "wrong", ... or vice versa. It just means (for whatever reason) my take is MY take, and I enjoy that take just as another should enjoy THEIRS without caring what I think or feel about it, or why. That said, this isn't any kind of "review" or "apology" or "debate bait" concerning summer 2017's film adaptation of THE DARK TOWER as directed by Nikolaj Arcel and based upon the series of novels by Stephen King. As I said, I really don't care whether you liked it or not, ... which isn't the same as "I don't care that you have an opinion". It's important and necessary that you do. Now, as long as we're all clear and cool on that ...

     I picked up THE DARK TOWER on Blu-ray the other day, and did a rewatch earlier tonight. Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the house, Craig had been so exhausted from the previous days activities he fell asleep on the couch. Hey, that rhymes! He awoke, popped the Blu into the player, cranked the sound (an awesome 5:1 mix) and actually liked it even more now than he did when he saw it theatrically - which is saying something because he really dug it back then too. Now, for those who say, "It isn't Stephen King's DARK TOWER books!", well, yeah, no sh*t Sherlock! Oh, and this part is a little arrogant - fair warning. The first DARK TOWER novel "The Gunslinger" (which King envisioned as a cross between Tolkein's LORD OF THE RINGS stories and Leone's "Dollars" trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns) was published in 1982 before some of you out there reading this were even born. So, re-phrasing Danny Glover in LETHAL WEAPON, "I was familiar with THE DARK TOWER before (some of) you were even an itch in your Daddy's pants". Always loved that line.

     At any rate, the film was never intended by Stephen King, producer Ron Howard, producer / screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and dir. Arcel as a literal adaptation. Even if it had been blessed with a $400 + million budget (which it wasn't - it was produced for a much more reasonable $60 million, which is considered a pittance by today's standards) it would have still been impossible as there are to date nine novels in THE DARK TOWER series (well, technically eight novels, a short story and a few comic books) which collectively consist of nearly 5,000 pages of numerous characters, timelines, subplots and more. No, the intent of all involved in this film (yes, King included!) was to fashion an all new "introductory story" - actually a sequel of sorts for "those who came in late" - which takes the audience from contemporary New York to parallel "Midworld" then back again, and to along the way integrate elements of the novels. Then in various later TV mini-series to go back and examine / focus / turn the microscope on those "integrated elements" by then literally adapting the individual books utilizing the aforementioned TV mini-series (or limited series) format so popular today with outlets such as Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access and others  - these outlets more conducive to the kind of long form, multi-location / multi-era / multi-character storytelling one tends to find in a series of such detailed novels. Just so you know, the plan was to do that rather than vainly attempt to trim and cram nine books into a single film or even a film trilogy. That said ...

     Even critics who don't care for this introductory DARK TOWER filmic chapter acknowledge that Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey and young Tom Taylor are great as (respectively) "Roland - The Gunslinger", "Walter - The Man In Black", and "Jake - The Pure Shine". And if those who can't get around the fact that "this and this and this wasn't in the movie" can have a little patience, wait for those later TV incarnations, and get passed years of preconceived notions which arguably no film could realize, they'll discover more than a few precious cinematic gems in director Arcel's (let's call it) "extrapolation" of King's legendary multi-dimensional adventure yarn.

     The growing father / son relationship between Roland and Jake is particularly engaging, extremely touching and (yes, while it may sound weird in the context of discussing a fantasy story) very real. Tom Holkenborg's epic orchestral score is a magnificently heroic wonder for the ears and the heart. The cinematography and production design are "old-school" painterly gorgeous. And the special FX are impressive (especially the virtual landscapes of "Midworld") without being distracting. For those more taken by action, the battle sequences are sufficiently bad-assed in both staging and execution. And Elba truly emerges as a towering new brand of mythic action hero.

     For those familiar with King and the powerful subtext which runs through the thematic central nervous system of soooo many of his stories - the one wherein young people who are abused, bullied, and / or who lose parents through divorce, death, abandonment and more, then respond, rebel and fight back (sometimes in a positive manner / sometimes in a negative one) against a cruel adult society ... .  Well, yeah, you'll notice that recurring "save the children" motif is just as powerfully at the core of this film every bit as much as it is the narrative and character fulcrum of CHRISTINE, FIRESTARTER, THE BODY (aka STAND BY ME), IT, CARRIE, CUJO, CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF (aka SILVER BULLET), THE TALISMAN, THE SHINING (along with it's recent sequel novel DOCTOR SLEEP) and others.

     Well, let's maybe say it's at least there for those who can see around the fact that their favorite scene from THE DARK TOWER books maybe didn't make it into the narrative cut of this introductory chapter. Me personally, I'll take the subtext, characters and thematics (as that's what truly makes King "King") over the monsters and interdimensional bells and whistles any day of the week, ... as much as I DO happen to love all of those bells and whistles in and of themselves. At any rate ...

     Plans are still on for the TV continuation, and Elba and Taylor are at present slated to reprise their roles. That could change of course depending upon how long, and under what circumstances, the TV incarnation takes to get into gear. And while McConaughey didn't commit beforehand to return as The Man In Black (time and contractual matters will later determine such), he was mentioned as a favored candidate by some to portray "Randall Flagg" (an earlier physical representation of the "Man In Black" character) in the still-in-development big screen version of King's THE STAND.

     Oh, and in keeping with the Leone western parallels, McConaughey's character is a deliberate (albeit satanic) knock-off of Lee Van Cleef in opposition to Elba's "Eastwood / Man With No Name" - right down to both McConaughey and Van Cleef always being decked out from head to toe in black. For those familiar with King's 1984 "medieval" fantasy novel THE EYES OF THE DRAGON, you'll recall that "Flagg" is the central villain of that one too. And in keeping with the more Joseph Campbell-like mythic crossover elements within THE DARK TOWER (hints of which also even pop up in Stephen King and Peter Straub's novel THE TALISMAN, by the way), we also know that the Gunslinger's pistols are fashioned from the metal of Arthur's Excalibur sword. Yeah, there's a lot of inter-connectedness going on here.

      Speaking of such - there's a prize of serious "Grade A" braggin' rights to anyone who catches the many Stephen King Easter Eggs (visual references to CHRISTINE, CUJO, THE SHINING, IT, 1408 and more) scattered throughout THE DARK TOWER film.

     At any rate for these reasons and more THE DARK TOWER is a film which gets better, and damned more impressively deep, with each viewing. And, as stated at the opening of this piece, I really don't care what you say, ... though I'll respect it. But then that's how it should always be anyway, right?

     Think I'll do yet another early A.M. viewing. In the meantime ...

     "Never forget the Face of Your Fathers". And ...


Monday, April 24, 2017


"Between childhood, boyhood, adolescence and manhood, 
there should be sharp lines drawn with tests, deaths, feats, rights, 
stories, songs, and judgments" 
                                                                            - Jim Morrison


     One of those classic "Movies That Make Men Cry", STAND BY ME, just started up after the Sunday evening news. And, while I planned on turning in at a decent hour tonight, I'm now here for the duration, ... and off on another one of these damned tangents too because, even if you own STAND BY ME, and have watched it a million times, if you're a guy you just can't not watch it again. Kind of like devout folks who can't bring themselves to turn off a movie about Jesus during Easter weekend. STAND BY ME is one that just gets us all.

     Something of a thematically revolutionary film when it opened in the summer of 1986, Rob Reiner's coming-of-age film adaptation of Stephen King's 1982 novella "The Body" arrived at the tail end of an intriguing year at the movies. It was the year IRON EAGLE, TOP GUN, HIGHLANDER, COBRA, RAW DEAL, BAND OF THE HAND, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON, LET'S GET HARRY and other testosterone-fueled films (all of which, with the exception of maybe HIGHLANDER, I have to admit I sill enjoy) were kinda / sorta telling young guys what real crotch-scratching, ass-slapping, butt-kicking, hairy-chested manhood was all about. But by '86 there was also a growing filmic blowback to some of this.

     It was still the era of the "ass kicker action hero" of MISSING IN ACTION, RAMBO and (right around the corner) COMMANDO and PREDATOR and more to come. And the wave of "smart guy heroes of the 90s", in films like JURASSIC PARK, ID4, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, THE FUGITIVE and others, was still a ways off.

     But there seemed to be a fulcrum shift going on in '86 with a handful of "alternately themed guy-centric" releases from studios. With titles like LUCAS, THE BOY WHO COULD FLY, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, SPACECAMP, and even Walter Hill's CROSSROADS and Wes Craven's DEADLY FRIEND, there was a (for lack of a better term) flip-side to Mr. John Q Ass-Kicker going on - with films featuring somewhat "sensitive young guy" protagonists. Grown men weren't exactly yet allowed to show the more mental and emotional side, but mainstream Hollywood was willing to ease into it gently by slowly permitting younger versions of guys on screen to, little by little, eschew the more grab-ass nature of PORKY's-type fare in favor of  allowing more intellectual and emotional characterizations to begin seeping through the cracks of commercial filmdom.

     The only problem with many of the "young guy" depictions of the day? Well, as refreshing as they were, many of them were also kind of cloying and wimpy. Yeah, the characters of Ferris, and Eugene from CROSSROADS, maybe had a little edge to them, but the others were still very much the guys who, as much as you respected and loved them up there on the screen, when the lights came up they were still gonna be the last ones chosen for the kickball team, and the losers with no dates for the school dance. Sorry, but that's just kind of how it was. Don't get pissed at the messenger here. I'm just sayin'. To me STAND BY ME on the other hand was the breakthrough film that finally "got it right".

     At the climax of that one, when Will Wheaton stands up for himself and his friends (his three put-upon surrogate brothers if you will) , and draws down on psychotic knife-wielding bully Kiefer Sutherland, this was the childhood "coming of age" drama I could personally relate to, as it reminded me of a life-changing showdown with a psychotic-assed bully named Nicholas (he and his brother) in a housing project our family lived in many years ago. And as such STAND BY ME seemed to be the springboard which finally allowed the "smart guy" hero to, not just come of age, but to grow up and command a certain degree of respect.

     For better and worse film has always been a mirror reflection, an attendant adjunct, of / to the society in which the film is made. And around the time of STAND BY ME a new breed of (call 'em) "X-Men" were evolving into popular culture, and by extension popular cinema. And this evolving breed came to possess the "super power?" of psychological introspection (without tipping over into Woody Allen-like nebbishness), and the ability to feel pain, remorse, suffering, rejection and regret, while also eventually whupping the bad guy, getting the girl, gaining respect and even saving the day.

30 year heroic evolution from LUCAS (1986) to LOGAN (2017)

     Over the next twenty years three overlapping generations of men would watch this evolution unfurl on screen, and they'd relate to it. And at times they'd relate to it so much in reminiscence to their own pasts it would break their hearts and bring tears to their eyes. Not that many of you dear ladies would ever know about it. But it was a long transitionary road from the Teflon coldness of Stallone's COBRA to the internally tortured hero that is Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Your guy totally "got it" and still "gets it" though. And watching this stuff on screen over the last few decades has torn him up inside because, larger than life aspects notwithstanding, it's reminded him at times of painful episodes from his own maybe "not larger than" life, ... though he probably hasn't allowed you to see or even know about any of this. But that's always been something of the norm between men and women, hasn't it? Now ...

     This bit is going to sound sexist to some, but I promise you it actually isn't. In fact I'm certain many women agree. Most women don't know shit about men, ... though they believe they do. No, they absolutely know that they do. As an example, I live in a South Philly neighborhood where women outnumber men almost 2 to 1. Good 'ol fashioned matriarchal moms and grandmoms of every ethnic and religious diversity. Young single mothers, married ladies, gentlewomen, chicks, broads, everyone. Just like your neighborhood I'd imagine.

     And the one thing they all (warning: a blanket statement coming here - but the generalization is to make a point; and you'll get it, and it'll make sense, ... it really will!) seem to have in common is a predilection for letting you know how you should be living your life. This runs the gamut from how to find the "right woman", to the best way to prune your trees or even walk your dog. And as such every now and then I've found it necessary to politely but firmly remind one or more, when they tend to unknowingly cross that "good neighbor" line, and get a little too comfortable offering sincere (if irritating) "life hacks", that a) "I realize you're a woman, which means you think you know everything", and b) if they're the older matriarchs, "... I also realize that as an older woman you think you have a right to say anything", but c) "... You don't, and you don't".

     Now, I honestly believe this benign, well-meaning, encroachment is because many women - be it at work, school, the supermarket checkout line, bus stop or wherever, have a tendency to treat, or at least relate to, other men in the same way they treat and relate to the men in their own personal lives - be they brothers, sons, students, boyfriends, husbands, etc. Okay, blanket generalization now over.

"Bones heal, pain is temporary, ... 
... And chicks dig scars" 
                                                            - Evel Knievel

Equal time to "the guy's point of view" in the underrated  HE SAID, SHE SAID (1991)
from the husband / wife directing team of Ken Kwapis & Marisa Silver

     Now, many women will say, "Well, guys don't know shit about women either; and that's for damn sure!". And yeah, you're absolutely right! The big difference however is that the vast majority of men realize and admit this, and tend to chalk it up in that, "Oh, well, some things (and people) in this universe are just unfathomnable" column. In fact there's a wonderfully accurate publication I've seen in novelty shops (and even some bookstores) with thousands of pages; the title of which is WHAT MEN KNOW ABOUT WOMEN. And every page is blank. Brilliant! But this is absolutely not intended to be one of those old-as-the-hills-and-twice-as-grey, and "so old it farts dust" He Said / She Said battle of the sexes things. They're a waste of time and energy.

Arrested developmentals Demo (Bradley Cooper) and Tripp (Matthew McConaughey)
in the more "guy-centric" rom-com FAILURE TO LAUNCH (2006)

     Uh, uh! The point with this one is to try to build a little bit of a bridge between the genders. And I think one of the best ways to do that is to open up one of the doors to the proverbial "private room" which we all have, and which we generally tend to not allow others to peek into. For so many of us guys I believe many women would be surprised to realize that the room (akin to what Matthew McConaughey's father, Terry Bradshaw, calls his "Naked Room" in the guy-centric romantic comedy FAILURE TO LAUNCH) isn't filled with porn, but rather with movies which make us cry like little-assed kids.

Why we drink. Why we love. Why we long for what we can't have. Why we make war.
Why we keep it all bottled up inside. CASABLANCA (1942) - the ultimate men's "secret room" movie.

     Years ago in a restaurant, I waited on a group of about 20 female teachers in town for a convention. And when they asked my opinion on why men tend to do certain things, ... as well as why we don't do certain things, my response was to give them a key to the "private room" by saying, "Read Hemingway's short story 'The Three-Day Blow', and rewatch CASABLANCA, ... and really pay attention. Everything you ever need to know about men is summed up perfectly in those two". As teachers they appreciated the Hemingway "homework assignment" as much as they were all also surprised that none of them had ever read that particular short story. I wish at the time I'd also mentioned STAND BY ME and / or Stephen King's novella "The Body" on which it was based, because that's another spot-on "what makes us guys tick" piece which has it down pat. So, if any of those teachers are reading this, here's what we DIDN'T get into that night ...


     Arguably always and forever at the pinnacle of that list of "Movies That Make Your Man Cry" is Phil Alden Robinson's story about the never-ending love / hate relationship between fathers and sons, ... but which cleverly masquerades as a baseball movie. Catch your fella in an extremely honest mindset one evening (or get his ass drunk), and you'll be surprised to learn he's got huge segments of dialog from this movie memorized the way religious scholars know and can rattle off sacred ancient text. He does "Dueling FIELD OF DREAMS" lines with other guys when you're not around, you know.


     Hey, brothers are freakin' crazy. It's a weird relationship, but an incredibly important one to every man, ... even if (especially if) he claims to absolutely hate his brother. So realize that, if your significant other has a brother or brothers, then these two films (if he's seen them) eat him up alive on the inside, as they perfectly capture the primitive "I'll hate my brother all I want, but if you or anyone else ever harms a hair on his head, I'll burn down the whole world to get to you" link between male sibs which all brothers just innately understand at birth. It's an unspoken (often unrealized as even existing until it explodes to life) ironic and lovingly psychotic "blood is thicker than water" inborn oath of the marrow which will damn well give Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills character in TAKEN a recurring case of fearful diarrhetic shits if he ever became the obsessive object of a brother bent on vengeance. Yeah, that's one loooong sentence there. But it's the short version of what'll happen if you ever wrong a man's brother. Fair warning has been given.

     Oh, and along those same thematic lines - two other films which perfectly nail that "certain something" about brothers? Honorable cinematic shout-outs to (believe it or not!!!) Marvel's THOR and the ending of the original RED DAWN - where the two brothers decide to die together at the playground were they used to go to as children. Yeah, man! We still get misty at that ending. And the whole Thor / Loki thing perfectly sums up the love / hate / rivalry / protection aspect we were talking about. This theme is a very trenchant one to men even if it's presented in a somewhat fanciful and larger than life manner, which, of course, THOR and RED DAWN certainly do. As for RED DAWN, say what you will about the rest of the film, but that ending is one of the truest depictions of brothers you'll ever see. Go figure, huh?

"... The American ideal of masculinity. This ideal has created cowboys and indians,
good guys and bad guys, punks and studs, tough guys and softies, butch and faggot, 
black and white.It is an ideal so paralytically infantile that it is virtually forbidden 
- an unpatriotic act - that the American boy evolve into the complexity of manhood." 
                                                       - James Baldwin 

* RADIO FLYER (1992)

     Sorry, can't spend too long on this one because, based on David Mickey Evans' (then) unpublished novel "The King Of Pacoima", RADIO FLYER's an emotional killer. Just say the title of this film to your fella, and sit for half a minute. If he's seen it, he'll get really really quiet. Last year we did a podcast show with RADIO FLYER writer / THE SANDLOT writer - director Evans. And my co-host, Jim Delaney, recalled how every night, while working as a theater usher when this film opened, he'd see men of every ethnicity and economic strata, exiting the theater and making a beeline straight for the men's room while wiping their eyes. Powerful stuff!

* RUDY (1993) and HOOSIERS (1986)

     Same writer (Angelo Pizzo), director (David Anspaugh), and composer (Jerry Goldsmith) on both films. On every list of "All Time Greatest Sports Films" these two frequently come in at the very top. But they're actually less about sports and more about family, and about believing in yourself when no one else does. Oh, they're also very much about f**king up your past, and about grabbing a second chance to get your shit together and make things right when the opportunity presents itself. And hey, what man can't relate to that?

(L) Gene Hackman & Steve Hollar - HOOSIERS (1986),
(R) Sean Astin & Charles S. Dutton - RUDY (1993)


     Essentially John Irving's New England update / combo of Homer's "Iliad" and Dickens' "Oliver Twist", every guy, regardless of how cool, how suave, how in-power / in-control and sophisticated he may be, or how "together" he may appear to have things, totally gets the CIDER HOUSE themes of stumbling through life in order to find yourself; and that yin and yang between needing to break away from your parents, and never wanting to stop having parents. Hard to watch this one and not get choked up, especially when Michael Caine (as Homer's surrogate father, Dr. Larch) dies while Homer's away. Yeah, there's a lot more of that FIELD OF DREAMS "Dad stuff" going on here.

     And oh, if we just gave away a plot spoiler, ... screw you! I mean, c'mon, this movie's been around for 18 years, ... and Irving's novel for 32. And if you haven't seen one or read the other by now, then it's not our responsibility to tip-toe around things. Don't worry though, there are still plenty of ripe narrative apples we haven't touched upon in what very well may be one of the most perfect tragio-comedies (not unlike life itself) ever made. Particular kudos to Caine's Oscar winning performance (one of the greatest of his illustrious career), Irving's Oscar winning screenplay adaptation of his own novel (which does the impossible in trimming things down while retaining the emotional guts of the book), and Rachel Portman's heartrendingly lyrical (and now legendary) Oscar nominated music score. A class act every which way. And deserving of every tear it draws from every man in the audience.

* APOLLO 13 (1995) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)

     WHAT!?!? Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. But, before you make that face, hear me out. I wouldn't necessarily say these two movies "bring tears to guys eyes", but each has one key sequence where I've heard many guys say, with a lump in their throats, "Yeah, I totally GET that". The sense of agonizing eternal longing in APOLLO 13 when Tom Hanks glances down at the lunar surface through the window of the Command Module, and he finally admits with his voice nearly cracking, "We've lost the moon, gentlemen". And in ID4, just after Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum blast into space aboard the captured alien craft, and Smith, who was turned down multiple times for NASA astronaut training, gazes out the window and, pretty much whispering to himself, says "I've dreamed about this my entire life".

     Men are dreamers. From childhood we want to do great things in life. It's all we ever think about while growing up (yes, much more than that other thing you gals are so fond of referencing!). It's part and parcel of our psychological, emotional and spiritual DNA. The Hanks and Smith characters in these two films represent finally reaching the threshold of one's lifelong desire  - and seeing one heartbreakingly dashed, and the other heartliftingly realized. These are two great emotional sequences to which every guy relates.

     And, of course, that which started this whole thing ...

* STAND BY ME (1986)

     Maybe a handful of novelists throughout history have simultaneously oh-so-accurately / oh-so-precisely captured to the proverbial "t" that combination of larger-than-life magic and equally deep-seeded dark emotional trauma that is childhood. And I'm talking childhood remembered accurately, and not necessarily as we'd have maybe wished it had been. We may have all wanted THE BRADY BUNCH, PARTRIDGE FAMILY, COSBY SHOW, or hell, even THE MUNSTERS or THE ADDAMS FAMILY. But the more lucky ones among us, even though there may have been a great deal of love, also grew up in that which was considerably more messy, confusing, and at times downright more painful than anything depicted in those renditions of family. I'd say some of the best writers at accurately capturing both the light and the deep dark of childhood have been Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, John Irving and J.K. Rowling. But the Heavyweight Championship Belt goes to Mr. Stephen King.

The young heroes of Stephen King's IT (1990 TV miniseries)

     Stephen King is a great big f**king liar, because he often pretends his stories are about one thing when they're really about something else - usually those everyday dysfunctional family / dysfunctional society things of which we're all so familiar and to which we all can relate. Below the surface of THE SHINING is a more-terrifying-than-the-ghosts story about alcoholism and physical abuse. DELORES CLAIBORNE covers some of that same territory too. CARRIE is about bullying and Columbine-style school violence, ... and it was so long before that sort of thing was acknowledged as even existing by the mainstream news. IT is about missing children, sexual abuse, homophobia, racism, and how these evils grow when normally decent people "look the other way" and "just want to mind their own business, and not get involved". SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (sorry, the original novella's title is too damned long!) is about spending our lives attempting to escape the prison we've constructed around ourselves. And STAND BY ME (as mentioned earlier based on the novella "The Body") is, for all intents and purposes "Hemingway remembering what it was like to be a 12 year boy".

     I remember first reading "The Body" (one of the four novellas in King's 1982 collection DIFFERENT SEASONS - which also included SHAWSHANK and APT PUPIL) and, no b.s., crying my eyes the hell out. And it wasn't (to borrow a hilariously un-P.C. phrase from comedian Dave Attell) one of those "Fat girl  'We're all outta ice cream' kinda crying jags". It was one of those "silently wailing from the deepest regions of your gut" experiences, where you felt years of everything (including shit you swore as an adult had no more significance or power in your life) regurgitating from the belly, into your heart, then finding escape through the eyes - in this case those (rain spattered) windows of the soul.

     I remember having to kinda keep to myself for a few days after reading "The Body" because (and this is where the power of those "stories that make men cry" comes from) I was still in the liberating slipstream of that catharsis of "Jeez, all these years I thought I was the only one who ever went through that or felt that way!". When I later saw the film version, STAND BY ME, I was wise enough to first see it opening weekend alone. Y'know, just in case. And that was the right move. Hey, call me an emotional pu**y on this one, but I believe most men, same as I, personally knew EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE FOUR GUYS from STAND BY ME while growing up. They were our closest friends. And more than a few of us were Gordy. We just lived in towns and cities other than Stephen King's fictional Castle Rock is all. And we had different names. Other than that we were all exactly the same as Gordy, Chris, Teddy and Verne. Their pain was ours. Their victories too. And the fact that someone else felt the same things we did, and came out winners in the end, still to this day jacks us all the righteous f**k up inside, ... but in the very best of ways.

     We'd be much obliged if you'd understand that, dear ladies. It's not something we can always (nor should we) talk about. But the fact that we want, or may need, to keep it to ourselves doesn't mean we don't feel it, or that you aren't important enough to us to share it with you. There are some things which are just YOURS, and which must be treated sacredly as such. And to expose them to someone else, even someone close, is akin to exposing a cherished, preserved and priceless heirloom found in a hermetically sealed temple, to the modern air, then watching as it suddenly oxidizes and decays. Some things we just can't do.

   Make no bones about it, guys can be complex too; just a different kind of complex than you, ladies. Get to know the real us. Maybe read the Hemingway short story, maybe see CASABLANCA again. And maybe even catch a few of the films on this list. And, just like I reminded the teacher conventioneers that night, really pay attention. You just may end up surprised at what you see, ... which actually was always already there the entire time. Anyway ...

     STAND BY ME just ended, and one of those "Bosley Hair Restoration For Men" mini info-mercials just came on. WTF!!!

     We're just a bit more interesting than that. I promise 'ya.

"But men are men; ...
... The best sometimes forget"
                                       - William Shakespeare


Wednesday, March 29, 2017



FUZZ (1972)  

Dir. - Richard A. Colla
Cast: Burt Reynolds, 
Rachel Welch, Jack Weston, 
Tom Skerritt, Yul Brynner
Screenplay - Evan Hunter 
From "Ed McBain"'s novel
Music - Dave Grusin
Dir. of Photography - Jacques Marquette
Edited by - Robert L. Kimble
Running Time: 92 mins.
Release: 7/14/72
Dist.: United Artists

GullCottage rating 
(***1/2 on a scale of 1 - 5)

    It's amazing how a "nothing" film can ... what? "Take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?". Ehhh, no! That was a good one. But we were gonna say "... can surprisingly leave a life-long indelible impression". Ultimately it's unfair to label any film as "nothing". So forgive us for using that word when more accurately what we're talking about is a film which perhaps in the context of cinema history ends up "slipping between the cracks" of most of the world's notice, and in time becomes either a cult title to a small group of admirers, a personal fave to an individual, or a long sequestered "guilty pleasure" - something one is almost mortified to admit to others that you not only like, but actually love. And which you treat with an almost "watch it in the wee hours", "hide it on your hide drive where no one can find it" stigma of something akin to hentai torture porn. Hey, remember waaay back when it was considered un-cool to dig Dino De Laurentiis' FLASH GORDON? Well, add Dino's KING KONG, DUNE and THE WHITE BUFFALO to that list for us. But try not to despise us for the confession. Anyway ..

     A film which certainly doesn't rate as a "guilty pleasure", but which does cover both sides of the aforementioned street for us personally (the one of leaving a life-long creative mark, and the other of falling between the cracks of celluloid history) was / is 1972's FUZZ - directed by Richard A. Colla. And if Colla's name just seems somehow familiar, but you can't quite put your finger on where you've heard it, it's because you've actually seen it a bazillion times over, even if it never consciously registered. He's the former DAYS OF OUR LIVES soap opera actor who went on to become one of the most popular and ominpresent directors in all of 1970s and 80s TV-dom, helming (among many others) multiple episodes of MacGYVER, HUNTER, MURDER SHE WROTE, MIAMI VICE, and (of course) that venerable fan-boy fave, the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

     Oh, and if this written mash-up of FUZZ personal commentary in particular, and commentary on the art of filmic adaptation in general, seems vaguely familiar to a handful of people out there, that's because the inspiration to "flesh out", do an "extended" or "director's cut?" (ha! ha!) version of a few thoughts banging around inside the noggin, was born upon making a couple of responses on the Facebook page thread of writer Paul Rowlands earlier today, where a few folks got into a social media discussion concerning FUZZ. As it would be extremely rude (or even worse - "very uncool" - there's that phrase again!) to Bogart the thread with EVERYthing the discussion triggered within us, we figured it would be more apropos to just blog it out here where anyone who wishes can read it at their leisure - all at once or in pieces. And chop it up, chew it up, and digest or spit out whatever suits or doesn't suit 'em as they wish.

     If you get the chance though, you definitely need to check out Rowland's incredible MONEY INTO LIGHT online film magazine which includes a fascinating and informative collection of essays and articles by the man himself, as well as a veritable film school's worth of interviews with cinema legends the likes of Mark Pellington, Alex Proyas, John MacNaughton, George Armitage, Nancy Allen and more. Anyway ...

     Based on Ed McBain's titular 1968 novel (one of his long series of "87th Precinct" mystery / crime thrillers featuring Detective Steve Carella and crew), the main plotline / conflict of 1972's FUZZ concerns the efforts of Carella (portrayed by Burt Reynolds) and his team (which includes Rachel Welch, Tom Skerritt and Jack Weston) to unravel an extortion plot designed by "The Deaf Man" - the criminal mastermind who appears in six McBain novels to date, and in the film is essayed by the forever cool, sophisticated, and here surprisingly funny Yul Brynner. This time around "The Deaf Man" threatens the assassination of a number of high ranking city officials if a predetermined ransom isn't paid by his deadline. And while racing against time (and bureaucracy) to prevent the murders, a couple of other subplots to divide the attention of Carella and his team include a string of neighborhood park robberies and sexual assaults, as well as a disturbing wave of arson attacks carried out against the homeless - a subplot which would kinda / sorta be borrowed / lifted in 1995's similarly toned MONEY TRAIN.

     We remember first (sort of ) seeing FUZZ at the drive-in. "Sort of" because it was the third of three features that evening, and, as was usually the case at that young age, we fell asleep not long into the film. We first saw it in it's (edited) entirety a couple of years later when it debuted on the ABC Sunday Night Movie. Anyone else out there old enough to remember that weekly TV staple? At any rate, to this day we love Ed McBain's 87 Precinct novels. We grew up on them. And realizing that FUZZ was based on a series of them is one of the reasons we came to do so. We remember later discovering with delight that the gritty, pulp-centric McBain, and the more "legit" and literary-praised Evan Hunter (the author of the acclaimed STRANGERS WHEN WE MET, THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS, THE PAPER DRAGON, and the screenplay to Hitchcock's THE BIRDS) were one and the same.

     As far as a love of the creative arts goes, FUZZ would also be one of the first film scores we ever noticed front and center. And that opening Main Title cue on the El train is still of the utmost musical bad-ass-ed-ness to this day! The film's score was by Dave Grusin, who we'd then learn had written the themes to some of our favorite TV series over the years including  IT TAKES A THIEF and THE NAME OF THE GAME; and who, over the next three successive years, would bang out some of our favorite alternately jazz / orchestral / funk-influenced film scores such as THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE ('73), THE MIDNIGHT MAN, THE NICKEL RIDE and THE YAKUZA (all '74), and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR ('75). An interest in Grusin in particular would lead us to a wider interest in his non-film jazz works, which in turn would then lead to an even wider and greater love of jazz and other musical genres in general. So yeah, in the end 1972's FUZZ held (and still holds) a great deal of creative-world nostalgia for us.

FUZZ composer Dave Grusin: (clockwise) THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973),

     But we're not gonna pretend either. The fact is FUZZ is a film which on the whole was pretty much dismissed (and even dissed) by many critics at the time, ... although Roger Ebert went against the grain as he found it surprisingly charming and engaging because of the three-dimensional nature of it's characters. It remains a film which oddly still doesn't get a whole helluva lotta love from contemporary cineastes - perhaps most damningly so from those McBain fans who see it as an erroneously too comical perversion of the original source material; they feeling this way even though "McBain's" novel was adapted into screenplay form by none other than "Evan Hunter" himself. Personally we think many of those feelings are themselves erroneously based upon a nostalgic love of McBain's novels in general, and less on the merits and / or demerits of the filmic version of FUZZ in and of itself. Try this on for size ...

     In 1969, during an interview with the New York Times Book Review, author James M. Cain was asked about his opinion on the variable quality of "What Hollywood had done" to his books throughout the 1930s and 40s - among them THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, MILDRED PIERCE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. And Cain's now legendary (and quite common-sense) response was ...

     "People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf".


     And therein lay our opinion on the film version of FUZZ ... and general filmic adaptations on the whole. While a film should certainly remain faithful to the core "central nervous system" of the novel (or other source material) on which it's based, we also have to realize that films, books, graphic novels, plays and more are all very different mediums with their own strengths and weaknesses in and out of their preferred environs. For example, while it's wonderful to read a play, it works best before a living, breathing and interactively responding audience. As such an actor may alter / adapt his or her performance in said play from day to day in response to the reaction of that audience. Also as such sometimes a film version of something will by necessity also be a literal "adaptation" in the truest sense of the word - wherein changes must be made in order for it to survive in an environment into which it was not originally born, nor in which it was initially intended to thrive.

     If a story was originally written for radio, for example, the challenge for film is to now make the narrative visual rather than aural. And with a novel, where much of the character motivations are internal, a film must now seek to somehow explain in an externally visual manner why those characters are doing what they are doing, as you can't always have their thoughts projected to the audience in convenient "voice over" narration. In such instances this may at times (often to the extremely vocal chagrin of some) predicate that the novel become a mere "jumping off point" from which something totally new and "all it's own" must be created, ... but which will still incorporate the (for lack of a better term) "DNA" of that original source material.

David Cronenberg and "Brundlefly" friend: THE FLY (1986)
     Sometimes this works out wonderfully and artistically as with David Cronenberg's remarkable 1991 adaptation / reworking of Burroughs' genuinely un-filmable NAKED LUNCH. Realizing Burroughs' original 1959 novel (actually less a "novel", and more a collection of loosely connected short stories and vignettes meant to be read in any order - as the main character is a junkie writer who astrally - or maybe even physically - leaps from locale to locale) was impossible to faithfully translate to film, Cronenberg decided to treat it as (his own word here) "Brundlefly".

     Those who recall Cronenberg's 1986 reworking of THE FLY realize the big difference between the "man and fly exchanging heads" scenario of the original 1959 film, and Cronenberg's mid 80s era take, is that, within the telepod in Cronenberg's version, man (in the personage of Jeff Goldblum's scientist Seth Brundle) and fly don't "exchange" anything. The DNA of both are rather combined. And what eventually emerges over time (revealing itself not unlike the slow onslaught of cancer or AIDS consuming the body) is a hitherto non-existent creature / combination of the two. In like fashion Cronenberg's treatment of Burroughs' NAKED LUNCH takes the character, tonal, thematic and some narrative elements (or "DNA" strands if you will) of the original book, then splices them into another wholly other "DNA" sequence: this new sequence being an original Cronenberg narrative which includes the genes of those personal themes for which his films have always been famously known - chief among those themes the notion that the mind and the body are inexorably connected. And that if there is any pronounced change in the one it will majorly effect the other.

(L to R) David Cronenberg with "Brundlefly"-esque friend, and Peter Weller: NAKED LUNCH (1991)

     If one does a quick mental review of the director's previous RABID, THE BROOD, VIDEODROME, SCANNERS and even THE DEAD ZONE, then fast-forward ahead to his yet-to-come DEAD RINGERS, M. BUTTERFLY, CRASH, eXistenZ, and even A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES, one sees this to perhaps be the predominate single thread thematic truism of this director's entire career. So, NAKED LUNCH the film becomes 50% Burroughs and 50% Cronenberg. And while some purists may not have dug that ratio, William Burroughs himself sure as hell did! He loved the film.

Stanley Kubrick's Arthur C. Clarke "Brundlefly" gene splice - 2001 (1968)

     Other adaptations which have also successfully done the "Brundlefly", 50 / 50, source material / film maker cinematic telepod gene splice, include John Sturges' big screen version of Paul Brickell's THE GREAT ESCAPE, and even Stnaley Kubrick's adaptation / Borg-like assimilation of Arthur C. Clarke's original story "The Sentinel" into what eventually became 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  This kind of creative genetic manipulation doesn't always end happily ever after however. On occasion the 50 / 50 "Brundlefly" fusion can create a "What the f**k where they thinking?" deformed monster of a mess. And for proof of this one we point to the fact that one probably isn't going to find too many who disagree that 1992's film version of Stephen King's THE LAWNMOWER MAN, or Roland Joffe's 1995 "rethink" of Nathaniel Hawthorne's THE SCARLET LETTER, are among the best worst examples out there. Hell, even Stephen King himself has never been shy in vocalizing his personal disappointment with Kubrick's adaptation of his THE SHINING, which, while a fantastic and intense film, certainly is more "Kubrick" than it is "King".

Brett Leonard's Stephen King / "Brundlefly" gene splice - THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992)

     We think it's fair to say that FUZZ falls somewhere in the middle. It's not a brilliantly unique reworking of McBain's original material, but, contrary to the social media trollings of some, it's far from an irredeemable piece of cinematic crap. So get that out of your head. With FUZZ (once again in particular), and adaptations (once again in general) it's also very important to remember and consider the era in which the film was / is made. During the late 1960s / early 1970s Hollywood was in a very uncomfortable state of trying to find it's "new self" after the formerly successful studio system had recently crashed, burned, and imploded with the force of a collapsed star, after massively budgeted, career destroying box office failures such as DOCTOR DOLITTLE, CLEOPATRA , HELLO DOLLY and PAINT YOUR WAGON triggered an industry-wide outbreak of commercial and creative self-doubt.

     During this same time American film makers were becoming hugely influenced by the French New Wave: that rough-and-tumble, often hand-held, "on the fly" visual style created in the 1950s, but later popularized around the world with films like Truffaut's JULES & JIM. This wave would even have an impact on Orson Welles, who (forward-thinking craftsman he always was) in 1958 borrowed the still-nascent Euro-born visual aesthetic in remarkable fashion, and to great success, for use in his own TOUCH OF EVIL.

     Meanwhile "back at the ranch" (so to speak) the U.S. film industry of the late 60s / early 70s had also fallen under the spell of gritty "youth centric" films such as EASY RIDER, FIVE EASY PIECES, THE GRADUATE and WILD IN THE STREETS. And films such as FUZZ (and M*A*S*H and THE HOSPITAL and MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED) were made in the slipstream of this era. It's a fair bet that studios and film makers at this juncture were very concerned that a "straight ahead" Ed McBain-like police procedural might not be accepted by the new young audience which at the time was plugging into an extreme counter-culture vibe. So with FUZZ it isn't a far stretch to understand how a decision may have been made to stress more of McBain's iconoclastic and (at times disturbingly) quirky elements to the point of those elements (admittedly) now and then perhaps being stretched a bit too broadly for the film's own good. No, we never said FUZZ was perfect, or what some might consider a classic. But it is a solid film.

(L to R) M*A*S*H (1970), THE HOSPITAL (1971), MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976)

     As iconoclastic social satire, M*A*S*H and THE HOSPITAL, by the very nature of their life-and-death setting / scenarios, allow a bit more thematic "elbow room" to be surreal. As a result a degree of deliberately larger-than-life absurdity works in those films, predicated on the fact that the intense pressure-cooker situations in which those films' characters find themselves have induced a degree of mental madness within those characters. 1976's MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (starring Bill Cosby, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Welch, and set within the high stress, life-and-death world of ambulance drivers), and Sidney Lumet's now-classic NETWORK, both also allow for this bit of surreal "mental madness" elbow room. And while the theme of "urban cops in the field" is surely capable of inducing a degree of mental imbalance within those characters (and this is touched upon in Robert Aldrich's 1977 adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's THE CHOIRBOYS), the uber real world scenario and tone of FUZZ proves an at times tenuous fit with that M*A*S*H / THE HOSPITAL sense of "over the top"-ness. But don't unfairly beat up on FUZZ. Because it's maybe / maybe not balancing act of molding and bending material to appeal to the sand-shifting nature of the industry at the time, wasn't unique.  Numerous books, plays and other narrative material of the day did the same.


     Certainly sci fi films like THE OMEGA MAN (a VERY 70s-ish rendition of Richard Matheson's classic novel I AM LEGEND), and "Rock Operas" like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and GODSPELL (both trippy new versions of the biblical Christ story) did so, as did others. And some of those films have survived the great litmus test of time while others have not. We therefore once again think it fair to say that FUZZ fell (and continues to fall) somewhere in the middle ground.

     FUZZ sure as hell isn't a perfect film. But, taken within the era-shifting context of that always-challenging "Brundlefly" adaptation conundrum, we feel Richard Colla's alternately rollicking, suspenseful, disturbing, and damned funny slice of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct "shared universe" is a filmic Vaulted Treasure deserving of a bit more retrospective respect than it's ever truly received. And we're hoping to place a few more bricks on the "Respect" side of that scale. Anyway ...

     Such is our opinion.  And we're fairly certain "The Deaf Man" wouldn't have a problem with that. If on the other hand you do, ...

     ... then we recommend you tell him yourself.  Heh, heh!


Sunday, October 30, 2016


  A "no spoilers" review and more 

GullCottage rating 
(**** on a scale of 1 - 5)

     Now running neck-and-neck with David Yates' THE LEGEND OF TARZAN and Antoine Fuqua's THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Ron Howard's INFERNO immediately shoots to the front of the pack as one of our favorite film-going experiences of 2016 ... thus far. Oh, and please keep in mind we said a "favorite" film, and not necessarily "best", "most important", "most artistically / brilliantly realized" or other fifty-five dollar "Oscar / Golden Globe wannabe" catch-bait phrase. That's important.

     Well, as 'ol Ferris Bueller once said, "That's it - why are you still hanging around?".

     Because from here on it's just us explaining why we feel that way. So, if you want you can skip the rest of this, save your time, and go back to social-media-dueling over Hillary and The Donald, emails, grabbin' pu**ies, and other infinitely more important things. Have at it. But if you wanna maybe step outside of yourself for a few minutes, lend an ear, light a smoke, and maybe even tip back a brewski or a glass of vino or whatever, we think by the end of this you may come away with a wee bit of a grin on your face, ... and maybe even (hopefully) a little more good 'ol fashioned healthy circumspection in regards to outside influences and opinions (in the form of critics) in general; and more confidence in one's own assessment ("gut response" or "educated opinion") of what constitutes the "good", "bad", "ugly", "important" or otherwise in particular. And hey, thinking for oneself, and making up one's own mind independent of the ever-swirling media and social media maelstrom, really isn't such a bad habit to get into during an election year anyway, is it? But that's entirely up to you.

INFERNO (2016): Official Trailer

     Hmmm? You still seem to be hanging around (and thanks for doing so, it means a lot!), so here goes ...


RATATOUILLE's "lordly" food critic Anton Ego

     We don't get it. If you read reviews, or at least follow aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and others, you'll see a great many critics don't seem to dig INFERNO. And that's okay. I mean, many literary critics don't exactly dig Dan Brown's source material novels either. ANGELS & DEMONS, THE DA VINCI CODE, THE LOST SYMBOL and INFERNO have all been called "preposterous" and worse. They've been said to be too dependent on deliberate malapropisms: y'know, when the mispronunciation or reading of a word or phrase (like "flamingo" / "flamenco") leads to deliberate audience misdirection and interpretation. And Brown's prose style (though many don't feel he has any) has more than once been ridiculed. And, hey, while some of these digs at Mr. Brown may have merit, we say ... "So what?".

     The man's not trying to cure cancer here, or the common cold, or even come up with a logical explanation for the existence of cockroaches or the Anophthalus Hitleri (the Blind Cave Beetle of Slovenia - considered by many to be the world's most useless insect, ... and named after Adolf Hitler! - we kid you not!). No, he (and director Ron Howard) are just unspooling an ALADDIN-like magic carpet ride if you want to hop aboard is all.

(L to R): Dan Brown, Omar Sy, Felicity Jones, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard

     Now, while we're in no way championing mediocrity (there's far too much of that in every corner of the arts these days), let's remember that over the years the literary elite has often leveled a lot of the same Dan Brown-like criticisms against other popular (and populist) writers such as Irving Wallace, Michael Crichton and even F. Scott Fitzgerald - as if popularity or "commercial" automatically equates with "selling out" or being devoid of artistic merit. And that just isn't so. Hell, Fitzgerald's final completed novel, TENDER IS THE NIGHT, which he personally felt was his best work, received a considerable drubbing from the literary "arbiters of good taste" of his day. And, since we're a film blog, we can't get away from the fact that some now-considered-classic films weren't spoken of too kindly during their initial runs either.

1982's legendary critical and financial "disappointments" (top to bottom) BLADE RUNNER and THE THING

     The first two which personally come to mind for us are BLADE RUNNER and John Carpenter's THE THING - both of which opened on the same day (June 25th, 1982), and which were so savaged by critics, and overlooked by audiences in a summer crowded with other cinematic options such as  E.T., POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, TRON, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, FIREFOX and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, they both tanked at the box office.

     Many at the time called BLADE RUNNER "dark and nilhistic" and an exercise in "style over substance", and THE THING "dark and nilhistic" and "style over substance, ... and needlessly gory". And word spread so quickly about both films (this long before the advent of social media), they financially crashed and burned so completely we were able to catch both a mere week later as a double feature for one price. Go figure! But long before there was also the critically lambasted, then later lauded, BRINGING UP BABY, as well as FANTASIA, David Lean's DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and most Kubrick films of the late 60s - early 80s. Yes, including 2001, BARRY LYNDON and THE SHINING. They're all considered classics now, but many critics didn't care for them back then. And the list goes on.

Pub. (clockwise) 2000, 2003, 2013, 2009

     Dan Brown's Robert Langdon novels (and Ron Howard's film adaptations of them) are essentially the literary and filmic versions of solving a puzzle with 1200 pieces on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Oh yeah, while simultaneously watching a two-part episode of the original MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE tv series, and trying not to get lost doing either. Which is to say on the one level they're great and entertaining mental exercises (you do end up talking to yourself, and find yourself pulling data from the personal mental rolodex of remembered high school history classes), but on another level, upon finishing the Langdon books and films, you kind of grin to yourself at how ultimately pointless it all was. And once again we say, ... "So what?".

     They're great fun - the admitted egghead's "We paid attention in English and History Class" version of a ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION serial or an afternoon watching RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Fun for it's own sake need not, and need not be equated, with "unintelligent", "selling out" or "devoid of artistic merit". If that's so then such films as KING KONG, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE STING, THE FUGITIVE, STAR WARS, THE LORD OF THE RINGS and more must, when lined up against others like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, SCHINDLER'S LIST and MALCOLM X,  be jettisoned and tossed onto the ash heap of "dumb and preposterous cinematic crap".  All of this to say if you dig the "intelligent fun" kind of thing, or at the very least can approach things with such a mindset (something of which many critics seem perplexingly incapable), we think you'll dig INFERNO in particular, and the Langdon films in general - which we feel, not unlike George Miller's original MAD MAX series, are just getting better and better.

     For any series (in book, TV or filmic form) to continue to succeed, every now and then the latest installment must be a different kind of story from that to which we've become accustomed. You know, how within the hard sociopolitical sci fi parameters of STAR TREK, or the fear and paranoia of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or OUTER LIMITS, one was occasionally treated to an episode devoted to flat out comedy or romance, etc. And with the last two Langdon thrillers, THE LOST SYMBOL (not yet a film) and INFERNO, Brown has thematically made them a breed apart from the first two, ANGELS and DA VINCI, and their (for lack of a better term) "Let's beat up on the church" narratives. For while ANGELS and DA VINCI do bring to the fore, and cleverly addresses, some pertinent issues dealing with contemporary (and institutionalized) religion, dogma, and the battle between faith and science, ... as well as pondering the fascinating conundrum "Does there need to be a battle between the two?", that kind of thamatic territory can get really old (and really dead) really, really fast if beaten incessantly like a baby seal on the high tundra. Sorry for the image there. But you get the idea.

     THE LOST SYMBOL uses as it's "puzzle box" the history of the Freemasons in America, and INFERNO spins and aligns it's "Rubic's Cube" narrative from the life of Dante Alighieri and his DIVINE COMEDY - that legendary work not only later influencing Milton, Chaucer and Tennyson, but emblazoning upon the global consciousness the most generally accepted conception and depiction of biblical hell. So yes, with Dante and INFERNO there's a great deal of intriguing raw material to turn into a nifty high tech puzzle. And Howard and company do it up right like nobody's business.


     The novels THE DA VINCI CODE and ANGELS & DEMONS come in at approx. 500 - 550 pages each, with their film versions clocking in at approx. 2 1/2 hrs. Howard brings INFERNO (the book exceeding 600 pages) in at a lean and mean / fast-and-furious-as-all-hell 121 mins. ... including end credits. And this is perhaps the film's greatest single asset among many. Film aficionados know how years ago Hitchock famously explained his "bomb theory" - differentiating cinematic shock from the more prolonged (and perhaps even more unbearable) suspense. And within the first seven minutes of INFERNO Howard tosses both into the audience's lap - wasting no time on voluminous verbal exposition, but rather starting things with a bang as an assassination attempt is made on Langdon (Tom Hanks)'s life while he lay in a hospital bed.

     Not long after the opening credits have finished rolling, and the audience is barely comfortable with their popcorn after watching 15 minutes of coming attraction trailers, bullet pings suddenly reverberate across the Dolby Surround Sound-theaterscape, tubes rip (Eccchh!) from Hanks' body, and he and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING and ROUGE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY) tear serious ass into a twisty-turvy cineamtic yarn which never lets up for the whole of the film's running time. As we said ... all of this beginning within the film's first seven minutes! Just like Hanks' character, unaware of what he's suddenly tumbled into, the audience too now has to just catch up (and keep up) with him - figuring things out from strategically placed "breadcrumb"-like clues as they go along for the ride.

     Interestingly however, while the story is indeed an appropriately rip-roaring yarn which would make Indiana Jones do a "WTF!!!" double-take, as film craft geeks since childhood we were particularly blown away by INFERNO's technical / artistic bravado.

(L to R) Cinematographer Salvatore Totino, Editor Dan Hanley, Editor Tom Elkins

     The cinematography of Salvatore Totino (ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, THE MISSING) is a visual wonder to behold. Yes, many films, maybe even too damned many films, have been shot on location in Europe, and look great. But Florence, Italy, and (especially) Venice and Istanbul, Turkey have never looked so gorgeous - especially on that sprawling IMAX screen. The sequences inside Hagia Sophia (formerly the St. Sophia Mosque, and now a museum), and within the subterranean Basilica Cistern (both a combination of actual locations and set reproductions) are particularly breathtaking. Editors Daniel Hanley (who has been Howard's cinema-artistic partner in crime since NIGHT SHIFT way back in 1982) and the young Tom Elkins (best known to date for horror films such as ANNABELLE and THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT) deserve an Oscar nomination, particularly for the film's climax - which differs considerably from the novel, by the way (we think the film's version of events makes more sense than that of the book, but you decide), and which plays (and feels) like a high tech bio-terror mash-up of Hitchcock's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (replete with a concert and orchestra) and THE DAY OF THE JACKAL.

(L to R) Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Irfan Khan, Ben Foster

     From a performance POV, Hanks and Jones are laudable. But the WWF belt this time around goes to the remarkable supporting cast. Ben Foster (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, LONE SURVIVOR) is genuinely both enigmatic and creepy as the mysterious biotech oligarch Bertrand Zobrist. And Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen is rock solid as WHO (World Health Organization) agent Elizabeth Sinskey. But the "steal the film" prize goes to both Omar Sy (THE INTOUCHABLES) and Irrfan Khan (LIFE OF PI) - both of whom were pretty much wasted in the silly yet enjoyable JURASSIC WORLD. Here they both slow-burn the screen with equal parts intelligence and old-fashioned bad-ass-ed-ness as two international operatives whose modus operandi (and motives) isn't / aren't always clear. And Khan deserves some kind of award simply by his delivery of what arguably might be the best filmic line of 2016, "Young people are disappointing; they don't become tolerable until 35". Though you may have to be over 35 yourself to appreciate the sentiment and humor of that one. Far and away however (Ha, ha! Howard fans will get that one) the biggest artistic surprise is the film's score by legendary composer Hans Zimmer (BLACK RAIN, THE LION KING, GLADIATOR).


Composer Hans Zimmer

     Having established the musical "voice" for the world of Robert Langdon in Howard's THE DA VINCI CODE and ANGELS & DEMONS (our "wins by a chin" favorite score of the trilogy), Zimmer here refuses to merely regurgitate the thematic paradigm of the previous two films in but another "narrative octave" as it were. And we have to admit at first we were a little disappointed by the lack of this. Until, that is, we realized what (at least we believe) he was doing. INFERNO opens with a bloodied and terrified Langdon in a hospital, with a head wound and a degree of retrograde amnesia - he the apparent victim of an accident and / or kidnap attempt gone awry. His mind a jumbled mess, during the first third of the film he experiences horrific visions of an inner city hell (a modern urban rendition of Dante's "Inferno") were it's denizens go about daily life in excruciating pain, yet somehow also resigned to the fact that they're chopped in half, burning, and / or possess heads twisted violently backwards atop their torsos.

     These are images which would give THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE's Leatherface bad dreams. And during the first first third of INFERNO Zimmer's score in some respects sounds (and feels) like an electro-horrific something which might not seem out of place in a Rob Zombie directed horror outing like THE DEVIL'S REJECTS or HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES. Interestingly (and fascinating) however, there is still a (for lack of a better term) "mathematic organization" beneath, ... even "holding together" ... the "disjointed musical chaos". This (as far as we can ascertain) is because, even while his mind is a stir-fried mess, Langdon's very essence is that of an extremely organized thinker. He's very much like Sherlock Holmes in this regard. And Zimmer's score reminds us of this.

     As the story progresses, and Langdon's memory and full mental resources slowly return, and as he begins to unravel the "whys" and "wherefores" of the labyrinthine conspiracy with which he finds himself enmeshed, slowly, imperceptibly the score begins to morph into a more traditionally thematic structure, and the ever popular "Da Vinci Code" theme - which we've been pining for the entire film (and which over the course of three cinematic adventures has become Langdon's defacto theme) begins to resurface not unlike someone slowly emerging from the depths of the sea where they've been lost for far too long. Most tenderly and powerfully we return to full blooded thematic traditionalism in the scene where a piece of Langdon's personal (romantic) history is revisited. And, the power as such comes from a delicate reading for piano and (sampled?) woodwinds of the Langdon / DaVinci Code theme.

"Elizabeth"- INFERNO score (H. Zimmer)

     For those wishing to cue this up on the INFERNO soundtrack, the cut is #14 "Elizabeth" -  a heartachingly gorgeous and emotionally rich piece of musical yearning realized in the most minimalist of manners. It's surely a film score highlight of the entire year - for us at least. And from that point onward Zimmer then plunges us into full throttle mode with the energy and power of our still favorite Langdon score to date, ANGELS & DEMONS; and perhaps supersedes it with the near Herrmann-esque scope of the Basilica Cistern climax. This "atonal to tonal" bit of musical prestidigitation is an elusively tricky thing to accomplish because, if not executed properly, one runs the risk of emotionally distancing the audience from the characters and narrative earlier in the film. But when done well ..., "Oh mamma!".

     Take a look at, and give a listen to, Jerry Goldsmith's LOGAN'S RUN, Maurice Jarre's ENEMY MINE, David Arnold's CASINO ROYALE, and Alberto Iglesias' EXODUS: GODS & KINGS. LOGAN'S director Michael Anderson famously recalled how, until Goldsmith's score was added to his now legendary sci-fier, he was unaware that what he had filmed was an old fashioned love story. And think about it. The first half of LOGAN'S RUN takes place within the sterile confines of the domed city - where the population has lived since an unnamed worldwide catastrophe (war, disease, whatever) brought civilization to a near end. The music as such in this setting is electronic, at times cold, and very often atonal - with very faint vestiges of (what will eventually become) the "Love Theme" interpolated when Logan and Jessica meet for the first time. At the film's halfway point - after the couple escapes the domed city into the raw and untamed outside world, the music becomes fully orchestral acoustic, and the "Love Theme" becomes the dominate emotional anchor for the remainder of the narrative.

Evolving themes: (L to R) Goldsmith's LOGAN'S RUN (1975), Arnold's CASINO ROYALE (2006)

     Arnold does a similar thing with CASINO ROYALE - creating a "defacto Bond theme" (wittily titled "You Know My Name") to carry the entire film, and only using disguised and subtle snippets of the famous "James Bond Theme" here and there - this hinting to the audience as to what the "legendary spy in the making" will eventually evolve into. At the film's climax, when Daniel Craig finally utters the iconic words "The name's Bond, James Bond" - only then does a full rendition of the JB Theme explode in all it's big band and full orchestral splendor, because now and only now has Bond become the Bond we know and love. The same with INFERNO and the Langdon / Da Vinci theme. When Langdon has very much returned to his Sherlockian self, and Dr. Sienna Brooks finally says, "It's nice to have you back again, Professor", we feel the same way, and Zimmer's score echoes our sentiment. Composer Gary Chang once opined that to be a decent film composer one must equally be a good painter (encompassing the artistic) and a good plumber (with a mastery of technical and mechanical craft). And with his score to INFERNO maestro Zimmer continues to prove he's very much all of the above. It's a subtly stunning and impressive piece of cine-musical work every bit as masterfully woven (emotionally, intellectually and technically) as the entire film itself.

     In the end critics may say what they will (and we guess in some regards we're acting as such right now too). But ultimately it's the paying audience which determines the worth of a film, book, album, TV series or whatever over time, and not those critics who see movies for free, ... and even get paid to do so. Sweet gig, huh? In the end there's something unique and special and irreplaceable about gathering with a few hundred like-minded individuals from across the societal spectrum. There's something genuinely remarkable - unable to be duplicated at home, even with the damnedest 4K TV and sound system, or even in a theater with a chosen preview audience - about gathering with a mass of others with whom you may otherwise have absolutely nothing in common; and you all find yourselves laughing and cheering and gasping and cowering and crying all at the same exact times.

     While it may sound corny, preposterous and hopelessly old school, in the end isn't that what we go to the movies to experience - that group psychology where we all find it within us at the same time to hiss Michael Myers, scream when JAWS appears, cheer Rocky Balboa as he goes the distance, applaud Kirk when he slyly lowers Khan's shields, and shout like banshees when Han Solo returns during the Death Star battle, proving what we knew all along, that he was more than just a mercenary out for a quick buck? Yeah, baby! Git it, Han! You see, this is our purview here. And while the critics may not always dig 'em, we kinda think so far Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and the rest of the gang have the right idea with INFERNO in particular, and the Langon adaptations in general.

     In the end, when it comes down to the audience vs. the critics, this weekend at least ...

     The audience wins!