by Julian Spivey
August is one of the best months of the year for classic movie lovers as Turner Classic Movies, the one television network dedicated to classic film, airs its annual Summer Under the Stars where one legendary movie actor is featured for the entire 24 hours with some of his or her all-time greatest flicks.
The entire TCM Summer Under the Stars schedule can be found HERE.
But, I wanted to take the moment to highlight five days during the month that all film lovers should instantly mark down on their calendars and set their DVRs for.
Arguably the four greatest actors to ever live are being featured as part of Summer Under the Stars this August, as well as one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the movie screen.
The month begins with one of the greatest, most naturalistic actors of all-time: Henry Fonda. Fonda could do everything from the greatest dramatic performances you’ve ever seen to laugh-out-loud comedies. Known for playing heroic everyman figures for the majority of his career he even branched out and played an all-time classic villain in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, which you unfortunately won’t see on the TCM schedule on Thursday, August 1. However, some of Fonda’s finest roles are on tap including “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “The Lady Eve” (1941) and “Mister Roberts” (1955). But, the one you should most make time for is Sidney Lumet’s jury room drama “12 Angry Men,” a top-10 all-time film, in my opinion.
The first week of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars is truly lit with three of the greatest actors to ever grace the big screen being featured on the small screen. Saturday, August 3 is Marlon Brando’s time to shine. Brando was truly a force to be reckoned with on the movie screen bringing the more modern method style of acting to the forefront. Among the classics being shown on his day are “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962), “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “The Wild One” (1953), but the one most worth your attention is his performance as a guy who could’ve been a little bit more of a contender in Elia Kazan’s 1954 classic “On the Waterfront.”
James Stewart, who is personally my favorite actor of all-time, will be featured on Wednesday, August 7 wrapping up a fantastic first week of the month-long Summer Under the Stars. Stewart, much like his real-life best buddy Fonda, was known for playing heroic everymen, but also could play characters who were far from perfect and had a mean streak to them – and both of these aspects of his work are featured on his day. Among the notable films selected for his day are “The Naked Spur” (1953), “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) and “Harvey” (1950), but the one you’re going to want top set your DVR for (because it’s airing in the middle of the night at 2:30 a.m.) is his all-time greatest performance in Frank Capra’s brilliant “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939).
When the American Film Institute did its list of the greatest movie stars of all-time about two decades ago now the greatest actor of all-time on the list was Humphrey Bogart. Some of Bogart’s greatest work is being featured via Summer Under the Stars on Sunday, August 11 including “The Treasure of the Sierra Made” (1948,) “The African Queen” (1951) and “The Big Sleep” (1946). However, the one you should most look for is one of his most underrated roles of all-time as a writer going mad in Nicholas Ray’s 1950 film noir “In a Lonely Place.”
When you think of grace on the movie screen one of the first names to come to mind is the lovely Audrey Hepburn, who was without a doubt one of the greatest actresses to ever live. Her day being featured as part of Summer Under the Stars is Sunday, August 18 and among her most notable selections that day are “My Fair Lady” (1964), “Sabrina” (1954) and “Charade” (1963), but I highly recommend setting your DVR for her final film of the day “Wait Until Dark” airing at 3 a.m. where Hepburn plays a blind woman trying to hide from people out to rob and kill her in an incredibly taut thriller directed by Terence Young.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
by Philip Price
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal & Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 2 hours & 9 minutes
Jon Watts' second ‘Spider-Man’ film, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” has a lot of things going on, but just as Thanos preached in “Avengers: Infinity War,” what keeps everything intact and moving at a sustainable pace in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a post-Mad Titan world is, somewhat ironically I guess, the fact Watts and the screenwriters are able to keep everything "perfectly balanced". What is most interesting in slating the sequel to Watts' 2017 film as the immediate successor to “Avengers: Endgame” though, is that it immediately signaled the type of tone Marvel Studios and "showrunner" Kevin Feige would be addressing the fallout of the monumental events that any average viewer of the MCU knew were coming. The fact remaining that while ‘Endgame’ concludes on something of an uplifting note for Steve Rogers the ramifications for many other characters were nowhere near as...complete. There were countless questions that required the attention of the creators behind the curtain: what is the state of organized religion in a post-snap world? How did those who'd gotten re-married in the five years since the snap and weren't polygamists deal with the fact their husband and/or wife just showed back up one day? If kids not snapped away aged five years and presumably continued their schooling, why would they still be in the same grade as their counterparts that did "blip" away? As Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) puts it at the beginning of ‘Far From Home,’ "it's been a long, dramatic, somewhat confusing road," and while the subject of our review today might be intended to bridge the gap and help audiences, "move on...to a new phase in our lives," the fact remains that this "bridging of the gap" could have been handled in a multitude of ways, but for one reason or another Feige and co. decided to place this responsibility on the back of their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and thus the question remains the same: why? Why is Tom Holland's 16-year old Peter Parker, the youngest avenger, the one to bear this responsibility? It all comes back to that aspect of tone and knowing what consequences to take seriously and place weight in while knowing which to laugh off; Watts' high school comedies dressed up as super hero flicks make an ideal vehicle to blend the heart and the humor and it doesn't hurt that the film becomes a pretty good ‘Spider-Man’ movie along the way as well.
This being something of a delayed review, I'm sure you've heard by this point that in ‘Far From Home,’ both Holland's Parker and Parker's secret identity are dealing with those aforementioned ramifications by attempting to take a break, but as any of those revenging avengers would tell Parker or, you know, as his Uncle Ben likely once did..."with great power comes great responsibility." This is essentially what Parker is learning here despite Feige and the MCU convincing us that it skipped Spider-Man’s origin story altogether. Nearly every scene in ‘Far From Home’ has Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man reiterating the fact he’s just a kid and that he isn’t ready to take on the weight of the role that is being thrust upon him. As if inheriting super powers weren’t enough the precedent set by his teacher and mentor, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man, has added more pressure to rise to the occasion while-as a viewer-one just wants to see our young webslinger get his way every now and then. It is in this aspect though, this upending of Peter’s hopes and dreams every time he seemingly comes close to achieving something that Watts and the writers generate a sense of the comic book wall crawler as set within the confines of the MCU. Wanting to escape to Europe on a class trip after the events of ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame,’ Peter Parker is keen on leaving his secret identity in Queens, but even on this short getaway and even after the cataclysmic events of ‘Endgame,’ the world can’t help but to throw another hurdle at the high-schooler and thus is the reason Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill are finally, properly introduced to Peter Parker and furthermore, why they introduce Peter to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a scientist posing as a super hero from another dimension that has come to the MCU’s Earth in order to help stop a gang of “elementals” that destroyed his world and have now moved on to theirs. Of course, given Mysterio is a golden age villain from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery going back as far as the mid-sixties and given Beck is Mysterio’s alter ego, it’s also a given that Beck would turn out to be a liar and a fraud…an illusionist of sorts, if you will. This isn’t as much spoiling anything as it is confirming suspicions, but nonetheless ‘Far From Home’ essentially goes on to ape the villain arc from ‘Homecoming’ (at this rate, half of the sinister six will have bones to pick with Spider-Man based solely on feuds created by Stark) and “Iron Man 3” before that and “Iron Man 2” before that, and Civil War to a certain extent as well. See the crutch here?
This isn't necessarily a complaint per se and Gyllenhaal is such a strong presence and good actor that the arc doesn't so much matter because the guy is going to sell it regardless, but there is a certain hope that in Spider-Man's future things might shift from him having to deal with remnants of Tony Stark's past to actually dealing with Spider-Man inspired foes. On the plus side, screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) use the inevitable after-effects of Tony Stark burning so many bridges to genuinely further our main character here as the growth of Peter from ‘Homecoming’ to ‘Far From Home’ is apparent with certain events that take place here only destined to continue to force Spider-Man to change and adapt. In ‘Homecoming,’ Peter couldn't wait to become a member of the Avengers and yearned to tackle more than neighborhood thugs and small time crooks, but in ‘Far From Home’ he actually considers not taking his Spider-Man suit with him on vacation. There is a crevice opening between the two identities and thus the birth of this internal conflict that makes Peter Parker Spider-Man. One can only imagine that in what will be Holland's "senior year" film as Spider-Man, that Peter Parker will be attempting to find a balance between the two especially given that revelation in the mid-credits scene. Balancing the inner turmoil of his main character torn between his responsibilities as Spider-Man and his desire to chase after Zendaya's MJ while on their class trip, Watts effectively utilizes the majority of ‘Far From Home’ to solidify just how much growing up Parker has done and still needs to do while also dealing in aspects of that five year jump from ‘Endgame,’ Mysterio's own endgame plans, while setting up who knows how many narrative strands for the future of the MCU even when they don't necessarily seem to be warranted in this movie in particular (I'm looking at you, Fury). As far as larger themes and ideas, ‘Far From Home’ largely sticks to these guns of sacrificing one's own desires for the greater good, but due to the ever moving larger machinations of the MCU this standard motif feels more grave when set against Mysterio's motivations, by involving Nick Fury and therefore involving S.H.I.E.L.D. and simply by virtue of the implications of Mysterio's story and what it could mean for the bigger picture (Hello, Doctor Strange!). Does this make the latest installment in Marvel: The Series less enjoyable? No, but does it imply its existence is more surplus than necessity? Kind of.
At its heart though, ‘Far From Home’ is a teen comedy about a boy trying to win over a girl and it is these unique to the MCU elements that allow Holland's Spider-Man to stand apart from both his fellow heroes in this universe as well as from the previous incarnations of Spider-Man. The camaraderie between Holland and Jacob Batalon, returning as Ned, is effortless while the dynamic between Holland and Zendaya is both the right amount of cute and credible as Zendaya continues to embody the most endearing of rebels. Tony Revolori's Flash Thompson continues to be more fleshed out as well with the writers setting up some pretty solid running gags for the character if not trying to make him a little more sympathetic while Ned and Betty's tryst, no matter how short-lived, is a nice little touch and a convenient way of bringing more of Peter's classmates into the fold in order to have them feel more essential and the viewer more ingrained with this group of classmates. Dealing with "the blip" via Remy Hii's Brad character is both a funny way to illustrate how everything works in a post-‘Endgame’ world, not to mention some funny bits as conveyed via Martin Starr's Mr. Harrington, while also feeling like something of a cop-out given the aftermath of ‘Endgame’ felt as if it should maybe permeate throughout more of everyone's daily life. I know, Aunt May's (Marisa Tomei) whole arc here deals in re-building after "the blip" and helping those displaced by the event and I guess focusing on a group of teens more self-involved than they are involved with the world around them is again, the reason Marvel chose to follow-up that last ‘Avengers’ film with a ‘Spider-Man’ flick, but the choice to do this in the first place reinforces that whole feeling of superfluity. I hate to sound too down on the film because it's undoubtedly an enjoyable vacation romp with one of my favorite super heroes of all time in the lead and great performances across the board, but the lack of a real, vital heartbeat only beginning to truly pulse in the final moments of the film is something of an issue. It's also easy to see that Watts is a gifted storyteller as gleaned from the fact the character interactions are the most enjoyable and entertaining moments in the movie, but outside of a single sequence the visual stylings of ‘Far From Home’ largely feel muted and flat with the reliance on CGI seeming abundant. If the creativity on display in that aforementioned sequence can be combined with the more visceral aesthetic of the first post-credits scene it would seem that Spider-Man's return to Manhattan would indeed feel more necessary...probably even amazing. P.S. Jon Favreau is low-key this movies MVP.
by Julian Spivey
Rutger Hauer, the Dutch actor best known for playing the terrific villain Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” died on Friday, July 19 after a short illness at his home in the Netherlands, according to Variety. News of his death was revealed on Wednesday, July 24, the day of his funeral. Hauer was 75.
Hauer had a career that lasted more than 40 years dating back to the early ‘70s, but the only film I’ve ever seen him in was “Blade Runner.” It was a performance that completely blew me away and will go down in history as one of the most memorable villain portrayals of all-time.
Hauer played Roy Batty, the leader of a renegade group of replicants being hunted by the film’s protagonist Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. The performance by Batty was intelligent, intense and in the end poetic. A group of traits that will truly make Batty one of cinema’s greatest villains from here to eternity.
The thing most memorable of Hauer’s performance is Batty’s final scene – and if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want it spoiled stop reading right here.
Batty’s “tears in rain” speech has been called “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history,” by critic Mark Rowlands. The monologue as originally written by screenwriter David Peoples was much longer, but Hauer decided it was too long and maybe took away some of its power. He decided to trim many lines to make it more succinct and added a final line that truly made it poetic and all the more powerful, especially given that the character’s death was taking place during a downpour.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the should of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
It’s a moment that makes you truly care for this villain, even though he’s not human, but the beauty of it – even if we never understand things like C-beams and the Tannhauser Gate – all shows that there was humanity within him. Not only is it one of cinema’s greatest monologues – if not the best one I’ve ever seen – but one of film’s best death scenes of all-time.
“Blade Runner” takes place in the dystopian future – at least what they thought a dystopian future might look like in 1982. That dystopian future was set in … 2019. Thus, Roy Batty and the man who brought him to life in such an incredible way both went out in the same year. Hauer will be missed and as a movie lover I thank him for adding so much to this beautiful scene that would’ve looked completely different and likely not as iconic had he not been involved.
The Lion King
by Julian Spivey
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor & Beyonce
Runtime: 1 hour & 58 minutes
Philip Price, who has written most of the movie reviews on this very site since it began 10 years ago, began his review of “Toy Story 4” last month by saying, “’Toy Story 4’ is necessary.’ And, then he went on to explain why and how a movie that’s the fourth in a series still had something worthwhile to say.
“Is this necessary?” is a question that instantly popped into my head upon seeing Jon Favreau’s live-action, computer-generated remake of Disney’s 1994 animated classic “The Lion King.” I hate that it’s a relevant question to ask about cinema today, but with all of the remakes and sequels and prequels and what have you it simply is worth asking.
Is “The Lion King” (2019) necessary?
“The Lion King” is the second live-action adaptation of a classic Disney animated movie I’ve seen this summer, after watching “Aladdin” in May. I enjoyed “Aladdin” with it’s actual acting and some changes I recognized – and it certainly helped that I hadn’t seen the animated original in more than 25 years. It probably wasn’t necessary either. I haven’t seen the live-action Disney remakes of “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book” (also directed by Favreau) or “Beauty and the Beast,” but they didn’t seem necessary either. Before “The Lion King” a trailer was shown for Disney’s upcoming film in this series of live-action remakes “Mulan,” to be released in March of next year. It also does not seem necessary.
But, again, this is just a part of cinema in 2019 and it has been for years now and it seems it will be for the foreseeable future.
The movies are merely easy ways for Disney, who already had all of the money in the world, to make even more money. I realize this is cynical of me, but it’s just the plain truth.
My issue with this is art should feel necessary. The original ‘Lion King’ from 1994, the very first Disney movie I ever saw in a theater, was necessary. It was a terrific story in a long line of terrific Disney stories. Nothing about that has changed for the 2019 remake. It’s still a terrific story, because it’s the same story – almost completely scene for scene and even word for word. It’s lovely to see interactions between actual realistic looking lions, but ultimately you could save your money and pop in your DVD or Blu-ray copy (or maybe even that VHS you’ve had since you were a child).
So, “The Lion King” (2019) isn’t necessary. But, is it entertaining?
“The Lion King” is very likely my favorite Disney movie – granted I’m not the Disney enthusiast many are – so anything that is that original story is going to be entertaining and enjoyable for me. So, even though I knew the whole time this was essentially something I didn’t need and there were better things I could’ve spent my hard-earned money on I didn’t dwell on that for one second during the viewing.
There are pros to this live-action movie.
Like I previously said, it’s cute to see some of these animals as more realistic looking. It really ramps up the cute factor. Also, the voice acting by the entire cast, including Donald Glover (adult Simba), Beyoncé (adult Nala), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), John Oliver (Zazu), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon) and others was enjoyable. The performances by Rogen and Eichner particularly were entertaining. The only issue is the dialogue is almost so word-for-word that Disney literally could’ve used the tapes from the original and built the images around it.
It’s also more heartbreaking to see the death of Mufasa, voiced by James Earl Jones as he was in the original, in the live-action version because it’s just more life-life. If you can watch this scene and it not at least make your eyes water I have some worries about you.
I would never tell someone to not go see a movie that I fully admit I enjoyed watching. If you’re a fan of the animated ‘Lion King,’ you’re more than likely going to be a fan of this new version. I doubt you’ll like it better. Just know going in pretty much everything you’re going to see is something you’ve already seen before.