Monday, September 1, 2014

Brosnan Shoots, Kline Scores

I recently reviewed a couple of new movies on cable's Arise TV for the show Arise On Screen.  One movie opened wide.  It's The November Man, an action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan.  He's a disgruntled ex-CIA operative who gets pulled back into the espionage game.   Bad Russians are involved.  You get intrigue, war, doomed love, double-crosses, car chases and lots of gunfire.  I felt like I'd seen this story before -- either starring Liam Neeson or done as a made-for-TV movie.  You can tell Brosnan is the hero because he walks casually towards the camera as a vehicle explodes behind him.
He's good.  I think, to distance this undercover character from Brosnan's years as James Bond, his dialogue was pepper-sprayed with four-letter words.  The November Man would be an entertaining in-flight movie but the bad words might have to be dubbed over.  Pierce Brosnan has still got the stuff to pull this kind of role off...even though most of what he had to do onscreen was run, squint and shoot.
Brosnan plays the CIA veteran whose best friend is his cocky, young protege.   Something happens and they become rivals.  Luke Bracy has the young hotshot role.
The script problem is this -- you know they're rivals but you never see how and why they were best friends.  Think of the Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd characters in the classic Ben-Hur.  We see why they were friends, how close they were, and what caused the friendship to dissolve.  We needed to see that in The November Man.

There is a very attractive, intelligent middle-aged woman for the over-50 Brosnan at the beginning.  Then she's removed.  Male AARP action heroes rarely go through the movie with a female their own age.  The November Man gets a hot, young damsel-in-distress social worker who survived horrors of the Second Chechen War .  She knows personally how evil the man who wants to be Russia's President-elect truly is.  She was a victim of his military atrocities.
Most of the story takes place in a big Eastern European city where, obviously, it's ok to travel with all sorts of guns in your airport carry-on luggage.  It's also ok to chase a woman with a big-ass gun in a busy train station because there's not one single security guard or cop on duty anywhere.
There's a Russian hitwoman in The November Man.  She's a fascinating character (because men are usually the assassins) but, to me, she was miscast.  When you see an assassin in a political thriller, the killer often has a look that can be both attractive (to seduce someone) yet generic enough to be disguised. Think of James Fox as the hitman who donned different looks in Fred Zinnemann's 1973 The Day of the Jackal. 

He could blend in.

Not this hitwoman.  She's shapely, yes.  And she does ballet moves to limber up for a kill.  She can do splits and lift up her leg to touch her forehead.

But she's got a nose like that bird on the Kellogg's box of Froot Loops.  She couldn't blend in if she tried.  And who would she disguise herself as?  Adrien Brody?  And why did the movie bother showing her doing all those ballet calisthenics only to have her disguised as a waitress?  She entered the restaurant's dining area ten seconds after her nose did.  I would've disguised her as a killer Fanny in a Russian production of Funny Girl.  But that's just me.

The November Man.  Pierce Brosnan is very good in a thriller that's pretty standard.

"Errol Flynn is a walking penis!," says the angry father in The Last of Robin Hood.

We see the angry father's wife at the open of the film tell 1959 news reporters "My baby was a virgin the day she met Errol Flynn."

Aging movie star Errol Flynn says "Mothers see what mothers want to see."
Kevin Kline (above) does some of his best film work ever as Hollywood legend Errol Flynn in his "big chill" years.  A handsome and talented action/adventure movie star, Flynn was tainted by scandal because of his fondness for booze and babes.  In the 1930s, he was a major movie star when he starred in the 1938 classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

In future top Warner Bros. releases like The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Gentleman Jim, Flynn proved that he was not just eye-candy.  He could act.

But he was a notorious party boy.

The drink, some  drugs and his hedonistic lifestyle dissipated his dashing good looks.  When he died in 1959, he was only 50 but he looked much older.

This movie focuses on Flynn's last romantic relationship.  The action goes from its beginning to its conclusion, an end that came with his death in 1959.  I was aware that he'd had a younger girlfriend, Beverly Aadland, and they appeared in one of his last films, the low-budget and low-quality Cuban Rebel Girls (1959).  Although his leading man glory days were gone in the 1950s, he still had flashes of talent.  That's evident in Fox's big budget adaptation of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, a 1957 release starring Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner.  Flynn's work in that film was worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  But, sadly, he never got an Oscar nomination in his film career.

Peter O'Toole was brilliantly funny in My Favorite Year, a comedy that brought him one of his several Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
His role as the famous movie star who swashbuckled his way through many popular Hollywood adventure films was based on Errol Flynn doing a guest appearance on a TV comedy show.  I think The Last of Robin Hood is a bad title for this good movie because it sounds like a comedy about Flynn.  This film is not a comedy.

In his 40s, Flynn booked TV appearances.  He and Beverly did The Red Skelton Show.

I bet this was a complicated script to write because of Flynn's much-publicized weakness for young females.  Sometimes a bit too young.   I didn't know he wanted to star in the film version of Lolita.  That business is brought up in the film with Kline's Flynn meeting with director Stanley Kubrick.  The complication of The Last of Robin Hood would be to make Flynn sympathetic although some behavior was inappropriate.
As portrayed in The Last of Robin Hood, Beverly Aadland was younger than she said she was.  She lied about her age to get Hollywood film work.  Her suffocating, one-legged mother -- very well-played by Susan Sarandon -- is in a league with Mama Rose from Gypsy.  She pushes her daughter into the career and life she wishes she could've had for herself.  She's practically pimping Beverly to Errol Flynn.  That's why the father is angry and wants no part of the mother's irresponsible showbiz plan.

Beverly, as played by Dakota Fanning, comes to care about Errol Flynn, a man whose career and health are both fading.  To me, that's what made this film interesting and brought something new to the Flynn legend that classic film fans know.  Beverly realized her limited acting talents.  In The Last of Robin Hood, she cares more about being a loyal partner to Flynn than she does about becoming a celebrity.  Her mother wants to use the Flynn celebrity connection for financial gain.  Beverly does not.
In this, the Bronze Age of the Kardashians, that is novel.  We're in a tell-all and show-all reality TV and entertainment gossip era.  Beverly Aadland could've manipulated the spotlight from her relationship with a world-famous Hollywood star to make herself a celebrity and sell her story to press and/or a book publisher for big money.  But, apparently, she didn't.  Beverly died a few years ago.  She was never indiscreet about her relationship with Errol Flynn.  When Flynn died, she was 17.

Sarandon steps into some Shelley Winters turf with her juicy turn as the conniving, unsophisticated mother.  The big light of the movie is Kevin Kline as Flynn.  I've liked Kline since his Sophie's Choice, The Big Chill and A Fish Called Wanda days.  The latter, a comedy, earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.   I've seen Kline on Broadway.  On film, I often catch him "acting."  I see his technique.  On stage, I didn't.  On film, I do see it because doing less is part of the art of good screen acting.  George Cukor taught that art to young Jack Lemmon.  Kline plays Errol Flynn as a man well aware of the error of his "wicked, wicked ways" (to borrow the title from a Flynn autobiography).  He's aware that his movie glory days are over, yet he still retains a mist of Old School Hollywood charm to carry him through the humiliations of his middle-age.  It's all in Kline's eyes -- the lust, the shame, the fears, the sadness.  Kevin Kline really gets the broken soul inside the aging movie star exterior of Errol Flynn.  He gives you an Errol Flynn who seems to wish he could turn back the hands of time and do it all over again -- with a little more self-discipline.  Ultimately, he's got no one to blame but himself.

In this performance, Kevin Kline did less and gave us more.  I didn't catch him acting.  I saw him being Errol Flynn.  This is Kline at his best.  It's not a great film, but Kevin Kline makes The Last of Robin Hood worth watching.  It's now playing in limited release.

Beverly died in 2010 at age 67.

I wonder what Flynn's relationship with his own mother was like.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roz Russell Labor Day Double Feature

"Labor Day.  That's sometime in November, isn't it?"                                                                          
So says the charming and charismatic Auntie Mame to her new little love at the end of the colorful comedy that highlights diversity and chosen family in New York City. Transferring her Broadway hit to the big screen, the role brought Rosalind Russell another Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  This was a role she was born to play. In her early 50s, Russell was sophisticated, radiant, energetic and memorably funny in the part.  It's a great performance in a must-see classic film comedy.

Auntie Mame was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1958.

Picnic, co-starring Rosalind Russell, was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1955.  Like Auntie Mame, it was a project that originated on the Broadway stage.  Roz didn't star in the Broadway play.  She replaced Eileen Heckart as the middle-aged, high school teacher who's afraid she'll live the rest of her life as an old maid, an unmarried woman.  In 1950s movies, you were an old maid if you were 29 and a single woman without a steady boyfriend.  Rosemary digs a good stiff drink once a while.  Well, more than once in a while.  You'll see at the Labor Day picnic.
This is of my longtime favorite Labor Day movie rentals.  The action starts on Labor Day.  William Holden plays a drifter in Kansas.  He'd been in L.A. and there was a hint of him becoming a movie star because of his butch good looks, but nothing happened.  Now he's in Kansas looking up a buddy from college days.  The town is preparing for the holiday picnic.  The drifter, Hal, seeks some handyman work but everyone has the day off.  He stays and helps a local family.  Come to find out, the oldest daughter, Madge, is the town beauty queen and the girlfriend of Hal's old frat house buddy, Alan.

Madge has an intellectual and neurotic younger sister, an unmarried and bitter mother who's pushing Madge to marry the safe and financially secure college Alan...and Rosemary the spinster lives in the house too.  Rosemary has a bumpkin of a middle-aged man she sees but she doesn't take him seriously in that conservative, dull town.

Hal enters with his macho self and carbonates the hormones of all those females.  They're all repressed in a very 1950s way.  He sets their hormones spinning like they're in those giant teacups at DisneyLand.  Of course, Madge falls for Hal.  The dames will have a corn-fed meltdown at the picnic.  Rosemary will drink too much and cruise Hal's package.  Then she'll make a drunken pass at him.
The intellectual sister will have a drink and cry because she's not pretty like Madge.  The mother is still angry that her husband deserted her.  Madge realizes that Hal is sexier that Alan.  Kim Novak plays Madge and Cliff Robertson plays nice-guy Alan.  One reason why I love the letter-boxed DVD is the community pool locker room scene in the first 20 minutes.  Shirtless William Holden and Cliff Robertson are talking.  On a big screen, Robertson's nipples look the size of nuclear missiles ready for launching.
The other thing I love is the famous dance scene.  This is one of the coolest and sexiest movie dances from Old Hollywood studio days that was ever performed by two non-dancers.  Holden didn't want to do the role.  He felt he was too old.  Technically, he was.  But, he was big box office at the time and he'd won a Best Actor Oscar for Billy Wilder's 1953 World War 2 prison story, Stalag 17.  Holden's name on a marquee brought in movie goers -- and it certainly did with this hit film.  Also, Holden hated having to shave his chest hair to make him look younger.  Those discomforts gave him an edginess and insecurity that worked for the Hal character.
The only woman who can handle Hal's rugged masculinity is the kindly old next door neighbor played by Verna Felton.  She lives with her ailing -- and loud -- elderly mother.  As soon as Helen Potts (Felton) meets Hal the drifter, she offers him food and tells him to take off his shirt.  Work it, Helen!
The love theme to Picnic, blended into an instrumental of "Moonglow," became a pop music hit from the soundtrack.  That jazz cut knocks me out in the movie.  It makes no sense in the scene but it totally works.  Watch it and notice what a master Holden was of screen technique.  He's not a dancer.  But look at how he sensually caresses Kim Novak's hand.  That's where his real choreography is.  It reveals Hal's hidden feelings.  Plus the way they stop, gaze at each other, then resume swaying to the beat.  Oh, baby, I dig that.

Why does the instrumental make no sense?  The town is at this Kansas picnic.

Listen to the conservative music that's played from bandstands during the picnic portion of the movie.  At nighttime, the music has all been on the bland Lawrence Welk side.  Perfect for that section of Heartland America. When Hal tells the bookworm sister that he'll teach her a dance step her learned in L.A., the music instantly goes from small town whitebread to sounding like the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  A cool Pacific Coast jazz beat comes out of nowhere -- but I'm so glad it did.

Hal and Madge have fallen in love.  But Rosemary has been drinking straight from the bottle and wants to dance with Hal horizontally. And feels him up to prove it.  She makes a hot mess of herself at the picnic.  Maybe life will give her break come the morning light.
There you have it.  The same holiday mentioned in two classic films with Roz -- Auntie Mame and Picnic.  You can have a holiday double feature starring Rosalind Russell and see Cliff Robertson's perky nipples in one of her films.  Happy Labor Day.