Archive for the ‘Now Showing’ Category

I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

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On Saturday, we went to our other favorite city, New York, for dinner with our good friends Dan and Marie Scapperotti (he late of Cinefantastique and Femme Fatales fame) and the Roundabout revival of the seminal “angry young man” play, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. This is the first time I’ve caught any of Osborne’s work onstage, although I’d seen the screen adaptations of both that and The Entertainer made by Woodfall Productions, the company Osborne formed with Liam Neeson’s father-in-law, Tony Richardson, who had directed both plays. The films teamed Richardson and Osborne—who later scripted Tom Jones (1963) for Woodfall—with future Bond producer Harry Saltzman, co-scenarist Nigel Kneale, and crack cinematographer Oswald Morris.

The 1959 film of Anger reunited Richardson with Mary Ure, who had created the role of Alison Porter in London and earned a Tony nomination when she played it on Broadway, also matching Richard Burton with Ure and Claire Bloom, his respective leading ladies in Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). Osborne left his wife for Ure, who then divorced him to marry frequent co-star Robert Shaw, who then cheated on her with his secretary; Ure’s unhappy life ended in 1975, at 42, with an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates. Because the play kicked off British “kitchen sink” realism—e.g., Woodfall’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and A Taste of Honey (1961)—I was hungry for the full impact of seeing it live.

The play relentlessly dramatizes the emotional wounds inflicted upon one another by Alison; her trumpet-playing husband, Jimmy; their flatmate, Cliff, with whom Jimmy runs a candy store; and her actress friend, Helena. It’s grueling (we later learned that a friend from our church choir had walked out of the matinee with his wife that very day!), but the cast—especially Matthew Rhys, who as Jimmy resembled and at times seemed to be channeling fellow Welshman Burton—was electrifying and the staging brilliant. The set was only about four feet deep; as an actor, I’d be in constant terror of falling off, yet it evoked the claustrophobic flat where one could scarcely move without touching another person, visualizing what Cliff calls “a very narrow strip of plain hell.”

Addendum: Remember my repeated threats—er, promises—that my contributions to Marvel University would continue to increase? Well, I’m making good on those by taking the point (i.e., providing the synopses and primary analysis) on one of my all-time favorite strips, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which at its peak reached unsurpassed brilliance under writer/artist Jim Steranko. So check out today’s post, as the strip debuts alongside the equally classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Dr. Strange in Strange Tales #135, and in the immortal words of Agent Jasper Sitwell, “Don’t Yield—back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”

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Nom de Zoom

Caught the announcement of the major Academy Award nominations in the shuttle on the way to the office. As those of you who take the time to read the comments know, the New York Frontiersman rebutted my post on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with a review in which Peter Hichens excoriated it. While I respect Mr. Hichens’s viewpoint, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one who liked the film, which garnered nominations for Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan), and Best Score (Alberto Iglesias). Although I haven’t seen their entries yet, I’ll also be championing such BOF faves as Max Von Sydow, perhaps our greatest living actor (who grabbed a supporting nom for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), and Terrence Malick, director of the criminally underrated The Thin Red Line (nominated for The Tree of Life). If it’s still playing at our local arthouse cinema, Madame BOF and I are scheduled to check out The Artist–which picked up several nominations–with the senior Mrs. B on Saturday, so that would be another contender I’ve actually seen (along with most-favored Hugo) when we gather chez Drax for the annual Oscar bash on February 26.

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Tailor Made

I had a lot of good food when the two Mrs. Bradleys and I visited my daughter in Washington, D.C., over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, where our whirlwind itinerary—with which the senior Mrs. B was hard pressed to keep up!—included the Washington, Lincoln, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and MLK monuments, plus one building of the National Gallery. Some of said food was prepared by Alexandra herself, at the apartment Madame BOF found for her and boyfriend Thomas on Connecticut Avenue, with which they’ve done wonders during their relatively brief time there so far, and where she finally introduced the Moms to one of her favorite films, Moulin Rouge! But the best meal I had was a delicious helping of crow called Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I’ve long called the 1979 miniseries based on John le Carré’s novel one of the best adaptations of anything, anywhere, ever, inspiring me to read the book, one of my Top 10, and most of his other adventures of “incongruous spy” George Smiley. I’ve watched Alec Guinness as Smiley in both the miniseries and its 1982 sequel, Smiley’s People, countless times, and despite running times of more than five hours apiece, I found them utterly riveting, to say nothing of flawlessly capturing le Carré’s characters and plots. So when I heard that this satisfyingly complex Cold War thriller was being boiled down into a two-hour feature—even one starring the formidable Gary Oldman and directed by Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson, of Let the Right One In fame—I was utterly aghast.

But then I heard about some of the other casting (John Hurt as Smiley’s erstwhile boss, Control, and Colin Firth as Bill Haydon), and I got a little encouraged, and then I read some of those rave reviews, and I started to wonder if they could really pull it off. So, is it as good or as rich as the miniseries? No. Does Oldman incarnate Smiley-as-flesh the way Guinness did, so successfully that le Carré said he could no longer write him without seeing Guinness in his mind? No. Did a superb cast and crew—including Oldman—bring to life a script (by a couple of which the wife, sadly, died before its release) that manages to distill the essence of le Carré’s epic of espionage, in the process creating a breathtakingly excellent film that is top-notch on all levels? Hell yeah.

Here’s the set-up: Control sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest to meet a Hungarian defector who will reveal the identity of a mole, or double agent, in the highest echelon of British intelligence (aka the Circus). The suspects are Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Haydon, and Control’s right-hand man, Smiley. When the report comes in that Prideaux has been shot dead, Control and Smiley are tossed out in favor of Alleline’s gang of four, but after Control dies and AWOL Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) resurfaces with a story about a mole, the reluctant Smiley is brought out of retirement by bureaucrat Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), who oversees the Circus, to pick up the trail where Control left off.

Smiley recruits Tarr’s boss, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), a protégé of George’s whom the Alleline regime had shunted off to a backwater division called the Scalphunters, and Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a retired Special Branch man he’d met on an earlier case. He calls upon the memories of similarly disfavored Circus vets Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham)—an amalgam of the eponymous character and le Carré’s Sam Collins—and research expert Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke) to help him sift through the facts and lies. Among the casualties of the shorter format are George’s serial-adulterer wife, Ann (Katrina Vasilieva), and nemesis, Karla, neither of whom we see in full, although in general, the screenwriters preserve that which is most essential to the tale.

Those in our party who had seen the miniseries felt that the film might actually appeal more to viewers already familiar with the story, who would appreciate the foreshadowings and nuances, but of course it’s impossible for us to see it through virgin eyes. And, aside from the inevitable compression, it was interesting to see the choices they made, with this version depicting or even creating some things the original did not; I only noticed two notable instances of stuff that I don’t remember from either the book or the miniseries, but won’t reveal them here. As with the show, there were many unfamiliar names and/or faces in the cast, though I recognized Jones as the guy who played Arnim Zola in Captain America, mostly because he looks like a Jack Kirby creation!

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Class Warfare

Warning: Semi-Spoilers Included

I knew when attending X-Men: First Class today with Drax and son Damian that I had to look at the film from two perspectives at once:  1)  Was it true to Marvel’s X-Men comics, or at least as I knew them until the early ’80s, and 2)  Was it a good movie on its own terms?  To which I would answer, respectively, not much and yes, if flawed; oh, they throw in plenty of the characters and situations from the comics, but in a kind of spaghetti-against-the-wall fashion, certainly not in any organized chronological manner.  They make mincemeat of the 1963 Lee/Kirby X-Men #1, of whose five original students (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl) fewer than two are seen here.

Angel is represented in name only, not as playboy heir Warren Worthington III, but as an erotic dancer (Zoë Kravitz) whose wings can be concealed much more easily than his.  The only actual holdover is Beast (Nicholas Hoult), although they conflate this tale with Hank McCoy’s change to his current blue, furry form in Amazing Adventures in 1972.  Supplanting his erstwhile allies in the film are Havok (Lucas Till)—with founding brother Cyclops nowhere in sight—Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, with a clever Rebecca Romijn cameo), and Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), all of whom joined the book in later years, as well as doomed, forgettable Darwin (Edi Gathegi).

The team’s rebooted origin involves struggles both internal, between optimistic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and pessimistic Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and external, opposing Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). The head of the Hellfire Club wants to trigger World War III, convinced that the resulting radiation will only make mutants stronger.  The fact that Shaw killed Erik’s mother to trigger his power gives the future Magneto a revenge motive, and the fact that Shaw’s Gal Friday is a fellow telepath, Emma Frost (January Jones), gives Charles competition until Hank, still a brilliant scientist, creates Cerebro to help him track down their fellow mutants.

The memory of his Holocaust trauma makes Erik suspicious of what the CIA’s attitude toward mutants will be even if Xavier et alia help them avert Armageddon.  The six credited scenarists (including director Matthew Vaughn and former franchise standard-bearer Bryan Singer) use the main story’s 1962 setting to turn these events into a backdrop for the Cuban Missile Crisis, thus providing a whole new set of nudges and winks for middle-aged fanboys like myself.  Too bad they bit off more than they could chew with the characters, introducing too many to do justice to them, like explaining why Shaw’s minion Azazel (Jason Flemyng)  is so much like Nightcrawler.

They’ve also juiced up Xavier’s Scottish scientist friend Moira MacTaggert into a CIA agent (Rose Byrne) who becomes a kind of X-mascot, working with the team to capture Emma and learn Shaw’s whereabouts, which at that point are with a Russian general (the ubiquitous Rade Serbedzija).  The climax consists of a face-off between Soviet ships and blockading American ones led by one “M. Ironside,” while Erik finally goes head to head with Shaw.  The film sets up a lot of familiar X-Men lore, if not always in a historically accurate way, and it is handled by a largely competent cast and crew, so I can recommend it to all but the most inflexible of purists.

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Hel Is Other People

On Saturday, the wife and I made the obligatory trip to Manhattan’s Film Forum to see the latest restoration of Fritz Lang’s silent SF classic Metropolis, now held over through May 27. For those of you who tuned in late, the film was cut substantially after its 1927 premiere in Berlin, and much of the missing footage was thought lost, until it began turning up in various locations; previous restorations included Giorgio Moroder’s controversial 1984 version and a major reconstruction in 2002. Then, in 2008, a 16mm print was found in Buenos Aires containing about half an hour of even more footage, bringing the film much closer to Lang’s original vision…although not, as Film Forum’s marquee erroneously and annoyingly calls it, “complete.”

There was only so much to be done with the worn footage that had reportedly been in private collections since 1928, so it’s easy to distinguish it, but that’s actually a blessing for those of us who have seen the film umpteen times and wanted to be able to spot the “new” shots immediately. Further muddying our mental waters is the fact that missing scenes were previously represented by stills and/or summaries (as are a few in this version that continue to elude historians), so even if you hadn’t actually seen a missing sequence, you sorta felt like you had anyway. Just for the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume that BOF readers are already familiar with some version of the story, and if not, well, I suggest you get your ass down to Film Forum for a remedial viewing.

Certain additions offer a welcome look at daily life in Metropolis that we’ve never really had, e.g., a shot of Joh Fredersen’s henchman, the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp), reading—or at least hiding behind—a copy of the Metropolis Chronicle, while others shed additional light on two complex sets of relationships. The first is between Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the master of Metropolis, and one-handed inventor C.A. Rotwang (played by Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, Rudolph Klein-Rogge), whose wife Hel left him for Fredersen and died after giving birth to the latter’s privileged but idealistic son, Freder (Gustav Frölich). The second involves Josaphat (Theodore Loos, strongly resembling Lang himself), who throws in with Freder after being dismissed for keeping Fredersen insufficiently informed about unrest among the workers, and Georgy, aka 11811 (Erwin Biswanger), the worker with whom Freder trades identities.

Freed from his virtual slavery, 11811 is told to wait for Freder at Josaphat’s apartment, but now we actually see him give in to the temptations offered by the shady nightclub Yoshiwara, where the false Maria (Brigitte Helm)—originally created in Hel’s image—later does her, uh, stimulating dance. While we’re on the subject, I understand that acting styles differed in the silent era, but the amount of breast-clutching and wild gesticulation on display in Metropolis is quite astounding, and I wasn’t the only one having an affectionate laugh at the reaction to said dance by Yoshiwara’s patrons, who seem to be almost frothing at the mouth, literally coming to blows over her. In any event, when 11811 is killed in the catacombs by a knife wound intended for Freder, his dying regret over his previous failing gives the scene an extra and poignant resonance.

Some of the new shots simply reinforce or augment existing footage, so their absence was hardly crippling in previous versions, but others considerably ratchet up the tension in ways that make the film more effective. For example, when Freder, Josaphat, and the real Maria (also Helm) are rescuing the children of the workers from their rapidly flooding underground city, they reach the top of the endless stairs, only to be met by a locked gate that takes them several nail-biting minutes to force open. Sure, we know they’re going to make it, but watching the extremely athletic Frölich maneuver around the children to reach the gate is impressive, as are some additional shots of water cascading down from collapsing ceilings that I can’t imagine anyone cutting for length.

Watching Metropolis 4.0, I was struck by several things, one of which is the number of scenes in the climax reminiscent of other films that may have influenced or been influenced by Lang. Shots of Maria being chased through the streets by a mob, and of Freder battling Rotwang on the parapets of what looked like a cathedral (I don’t remember if it was specifically identified in the film), evoked similar ones from, respectively, the Lon Chaney classics The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). Likewise, when Rotwang carried Maria over the rooftops, it seemed to anticipate the scene of the heroine being carried off by an ape in Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).

Most of all, and not for the first time, I marveled at the number of seemingly flawed plans afoot, like Fredersen’s desire to foment an uprising among the workers, apparently for the sole purpose of being able to crush it with an iron hand. At the risk of sounding naïve, did he really think that encouraging better relations between them and management—as Maria sought to do, with the help of a mediator who turned out to be his own son—was a bad idea, and whom did he think was going to run the machines afterward? Similarly, once he learns from eavesdropping on Rotwang (in one of the few scenes yet to turn up) that the inventor has vengefully programmed the false Maria to make the workers destroy the city, why does Fredersen still order Grot (Heinrich George), the guardian of the Heart Machine, to admit them and allow them to run amok?

All of this makes the presumably visionary “master of Metropolis” seem like a bit of a boob, but no more so than the workers, who wreak havoc despite being warned by Grot that doing so will flood the city where their children are. Yet these are quibbles in a work whose spectacular visuals and filmmaking virtuosity remain unmatched after almost a century. And as much as I champion Moroder’s hotly contested pop score, which I think was composed with great care for the visuals and story it accompanied, I can find no fault with Gottfried Huppertz’s original, used both here and in the 2002 restoration.

I had the good fortune at the screening to bump into producer Richard Gordon, who at 84 has both lived and made genre-film history, and Tom Weaver, who has so expertly chronicled it in his fine articles and books, most notably his many interview collections for McFarland. Gordon was behind such films as The Haunted Strangler, Corridors of Blood—both with Boris Karloff—and Fiend without a Face (all 1958), and his brother Alex was a key figure in the early days of AIP. We chatted a bit about screenwriter and novelist George Baxt, whom I befriended in his final years, and Gordon related how George never forgave him for allowing director Jim O’Connolly to rewrite his script for Tower of Evil (1972), a sad story Baxt had touched on when I interviewed him for Filmfax in the ’90s.

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I wanted to wait until just the right moment to say something substantive about Elmore Leonard’s new Tuesday-night FX series Justified, and with this week’s fifth episode, “The Lord of War and Thunder,” I knew the moment had come. First, a quick word about the show’s other primary creative force, head writer Graham Yost, who gets the “developed for television by” credit and serves with Leonard as one of the executive producers. Yost has worked mainly in television, but did script a few features, including John Woo’s Broken Arrow (1996) and a little number called Speed (1994), which I loved, not least for putting poor, beloved, betrayed Sandra Bullock on the map (“Stay on or get off?”).

Rather than muddying my mental waters, I decided to wait until the season is over before I catch up on the literary exploits of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Pronto, Riding the Rap, and the show’s official source, “Fire in the Hole”), so I can’t say how well his backstory has translated to the screen. But since the show’s premise is that Raylan (the excellent Timothy Olyphant) has been reluctantly reassigned from Miami to his boyhood home in Kentucky coal-mining country, you just know those loose ends aren’t going to dangle forever. Back in the day, the stand-alone “monster of the week” episodes of The X-Files alternated with those detailing the show’s central, and ultimately unmanageable, mythology; similarly, Justified tacks back and forth between fugitive-of-the-week and backstory episodes concerning Raylan’s family and (sometimes former) friends.

“The Lord of War and Thunder” features Raylan’s oft-invoked but hitherto unseen father, an old reprobate named Arlo, who is prone to heart attacks and reportedly suffers from both bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders. The show has already displayed a penchant for interesting guest casting, e.g., last week’s “Long in the Tooth,” which offered not only Speed’s Alan Ruck as Raylan’s quarry du jour but also a hilarious turn by Clarence Williams III, late of TV’s The Mod Squad and Twin Peaks and a frequent collaborator of John Frankenheimer’s. So it’s no surprise that Arlo is played by Raymond J. Barry—not exactly a household name…except in the Bradley household, since he was Senator Richard Matheson on The X-Files, in a nod by creator Chris Carter to the man whose Kolchak telefilms inspired the show.

I gather from some Internet comments that Justified is derived in large measure from Riding the Rap, and there is a precedent for adapting a Leonard novel episodically rather than as a film (the ill-fated Karen Sisco doesn’t count, as it was only spun off from Out of Sight). That would be the limited series Maximum Bob, which ran for seven weeks of glorious Twin Peaks-style weirdness during the summer of 1998, with the promise of a regular gig if it did well, which of course it didn’t, since I loved it. I remember the timing precisely, because that was the summer we sold our condo and bought our house, only our original deal fell through, forcing us to move twice and live for a single month in half of the duplex adjacent to my sister-in-law’s while we found another house.

The premature cancellation—or, in the case of Maximum Bob, non-continuation—of such shows as Twin Peaks, Karen Sisco, and Commander in Chief epitomized the fate of almost every show I’ve championed for decades, and made David-Lynch-abusing ABC second only to Carter-abusing Fox on the BOF merde-list. That’s why I gave up on dramatic television, watching only The Simpsons (since Fox criminally mishandled Futurama as well as the Carter oeuvre, not to mention cancelling Firefly and freakylinks), The Office, and its sister show, Parks and Recreation. That’s also why it took an artist of Leonard’s standing to get me to give it another try, and although I’m probably condemning Justified to an early death by watching and enjoying it, I’ll continue to do so as long as I can.

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Several musical strains run deeply in my blood. One is the Beatles. I have three older brothers whose ages range up to nine years my senior, so between that and the fact that my parents were pretty hip (e.g., Dad took me to Cheech and Chong movies), I grew up listening to Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Hey Jude—too young to know it wasn’t a real album—and, in the years before such compilations became as common as unnecessary remakes are now, the red and blue 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 double albums, which I got on audiocassette and played till they wore out. Last weekend I learned the crushing fact that my 22nd wedding anniversary was also the 40th anniversary of the official breakup of the Beatles, which should be a national day of mourning. My wife gets the last laugh because she never really liked them. If anyone ever wanted proof that it’s really love, they need look no further than the fact that I married a girl who wasn’t a Beatles fan.

By now, I’ve internalized their songs to the degree that I’ve rewritten the lyrics to about two dozen of them, for the amusement of my friends, and only Talking Heads has even approached them in my esteem. (While attending the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in Cambridge, I walked into a screening of Stop Making Sense knowing nothing about but having a total misconception of their music, just because I’d heard it was a really good movie, and walked out a fan for life.) I never got to see either band in concert, which in the case of the Beatles isn’t too surprising, but on one of the greatest nights of my life, Loreen took me to see David Byrne at Toad’s Place in New Haven in 1994, and he did seven Heads songs, including the truly transcendent “And She Was.”

But another one is the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and I’m proud to say that my daughter has embraced both strains. I was raised on the infectious melodies of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and especially the lyrics and libretti of that champion wordsmith W.S. Gilbert, who—like the Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog of the light-opera world, only less violent—created great art together even, or perhaps especially, when they didn’t get along. (Speaking of which, I highly recommend Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh’s film about the fractious creation of The Mikado, especially Jim Broadbent’s performance as Gilbert.) I can still sing slabs of some of their best-known shows, such as H.M.S. Pinafore, from memory pretty accurately, and at Trinity College in Hartford I even got to sing the modest role of the Lieutenant of the Tower in The Yeomen of the Guard.

Y’see, on and off since I was a kid, Mom has played cello for Troupers Light Opera in God’s Country (aka Connecticut), which next weekend finishes its 65th production in Fairfield County, The Gondoliers. She sometimes woke me up for school by dropping the needle on a classic D’Oyly Carte recording—we’re going back to Martyn Green here—and I’ve seen the major shows more times than I can count. Now, I’m not gonna lie to you: these are not the world’s most polished productions, featuring a decidedly mixed bag of local talent. But it tells you all you need to know that TLO co-founder Fred Scharmer celebrated his 97th birthday during rehearsals, and was up there on stage in the men’s chorus that very same Bradley/Beatles anniversary night. They’re truly keeping the spirit alive, and I for one wouldn’t miss it for the world. So check out http://trouperslightopera.org/ for further details, and tell ’em Jean Bradley’s son sent ya.

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Just a reminder that Turner Classic Movies kicks off its centennial celebration of legendary Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa tonight at 8:00 with a superb cross-section of better- and lesser-known films that display his diversity: Ikiru (1952), with the great Takashi Shimura unforgettable as a dying civil servant; Throne of Blood (1957), with Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s version of Macbeth; The Hidden Fortress (1958), a major inspiration for Star Wars (1977); the little-seen The Idiot (1951), based on the novel by Fyodor Dosotyevsky; and The Lower Depths (1957), based on the play by Maxim Gorky. They’ll have more starting in prime time next Tuesday, and then on the 23rd, the actual 100th anniversary of his birth, they’ll pull out all the stops with a 24-hour marathon. So fire up your VCR or DVR or Tivo or just barricade yourself in front of the set, but don’t miss this chance to wallow in the work of one of the cinema’s greatest.

Speaking of TCM retrospectives, not to mention Japan, I’ve just started watching Tokyo Joe (1949), an early example of what I think of as Humphrey Bogart’s “sourpuss period.” In fact, it’s funny how neatly Bogie’s career breaks down by decade. During the 1930s, he was honing his craft and paying his dues in a series of largely similar and/or unrewarding roles, with a few standouts, e.g., The Petrified Forest (1936), Dead End (1937). The 1940s saw the full flower of his Warner Brothers years, including most of my favorites: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946). These culminated in 1948 with his Oscar-worthy The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for which he was inexplicably not even nominated, and his fourth and final film with fourth and final wife Lauren Bacall, Key Largo.

Afterward, right through the ’50s to his death in 1957, he obviously tried to vary his output, especially with the films (like Tokyo Joe) made by his own production company, Santana, but the results were mixed indeed. Again, there was the occasional standout such as The African Queen (1951), for which he finally won an Oscar, and The Caine Mutiny (1954), which featured another of his best performances. For the most part, however, those later films were lackluster affairs in which one could see his hard-drinking and -smoking lifestyle catching up with him. He didn’t look any too happy to be in some of them, a sentiment I sadly shared all too often.

Anyway, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Tokyo Joe, which is why I’m watching it now, even though I don’t much care for it. But it must have been longer than I thought, because I don’t remember ever seeing it with the awareness that its leading lady is Florence Marly, who (as Florence Marley) played the title role in Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966). I mean, how can I take her seriously in this film when all I can see is her in green makeup draining Dennis Hopper’s blood? Well, at least it co-stars Alexander Knox, so memorable as George Smiley’s ailing boss, Control, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), and Sessue Hayakawa, Oscar-nominated for his supporting role as the camp commandant in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), so there should be some compensations.

One final, and truly bizarre, small-world note. As many of you know (although I didn’t mention it in my morning-after post), a woman named Elinor Burkett interrupted the Oscar acceptance speech of Roger Ross Williams, whose film Music by Prudence won for Best Documentary Short Subject. I didn’t place the name until I saw the news reports on the kerfuffle yesterday, and realized that I had once been her publicist when she and her husband, Frank Bruni, published A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church in 1993. Although I wish I had some amusing anecdote about the time we worked together, I honestly recall only an amiable relationship with her and Frank. I’m not defending her actions, and have no idea what she’s been up to in the meantime, but no “Kanye West moment” alters the fact that we were doing our best to get the word out on a subject about which I felt (and feel) strongly, at a time when far fewer people were doing so than today.

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Shameless Nepotism 2/23/10

If you’re in or near Ithaca, New York, over the next four days, treat yourself to a performance of Neil Simon’s Broadway hit Biloxi Blues—memorably filmed by Mike Nichols with Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken—at Cornell University’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.  (For details, see http://theatrefilmdance.cornell.edu/news/detail.cfm?customel_dataPageID_18256=62864)  Yes, that’s my daughter playing Rowena; my wife and I will be there with the Bradley Matriarch, cheering her on at Saturday evening’s performance.  Alexandra is currently battling projected budget cuts to the Department of Theatre, Film & Dance, so by showing up you support not only the greater BOF family but also the performing arts at Cornell.  I know at least one of those is a worthy cause!

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