Movie Review: Time After Time (1979)


Title: Time After Time
Release Date: September 28, 1979
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Production Company: Orion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Time After Time is one of those movies I always liked as a child when it was frequently shown on tv. I was wondering how well it would hold up and I’m pleasantly surprised that it does.  The movie tells the story of 19th century author and futurist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) inventing an actual time machine.  When showing off the machine to a party of fellow intellectuals, it is revealed that one of his guests is actually Jack the Ripper (David Warner).

The Ripper steals the time machine, and Wells follows him into the future arriving in San Francisco in 1970.  To Wells’ horror, the future is not the utopia he dreamed of but a place where the scale of violence is such that Jack claims he’s an “amateur.” While attempting to track down Jack the Ripper and prevent more murders, Wells forms a romantic relationship with bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

The movie does a really great job of blending together several genres – time travel science fiction, fish-out-of-water comedy, romance, and crime thriller.  Like a lot of time travel stories there are plot elements that don’t hold up to much scrutiny, but can be easily hand-waved away. This movie also has a great font of quirky trivia associated with it, such as:

  • Director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer also wrote the script for another movie where time travelers arrive in present-day San Francisco, have a lot of fish-out-of-water comic experiences, and one of the time travelers forms a romantic relationship with a contemporary woman who ends up joining the time traveler.  That movie, of course, is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  • Mary Steenburgen appeared in yet another movie where she falls in love with a time traveler and leaves to go with him, Back to the Future III.
  • Speaking about the Back to the Future franchise, the date on which Marty arrives in the past is November 5, which is that same date that H.G. Wells arrives in San Francisco.
  • Finally, Cyndi Lauper saw the title of this film in TV Guide and used it to write one of her classic ballads.

Rating: ****

Documentary Movie Review: We Were Here (2011) #atozchallenge


Welcome to Panorama of the Mountains! My name is Liam and I enjoy watching documentary movies.  This month I will be reviewing 26 documentaries from A-to-Z!

Documentaries starting with the letter Documentaries starting with the letter W that I have previously reviewed include: 

Title: We Were Here
Release Date: September 2011
Director: David Weissman and Bill Weber
Production Company:  Weismann Projects
Summary/Review:

We Were There examines the HIV/AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s through interviews with five members of the community who lived through the plague. The subjects include a counselor to gay men, a nurse, and a florist who ended up providing flowers for many funerals.  They tell heart wrenching stories of the unfathomable numbers of deaths of friends, partners, and family members while at the same time facing stigmatization from a society that discriminates against queer people.  And yet, there’s a lot of hope in these stories too.  LGBTQ people often talk of their community as family, when their blood relatives may have shunned them.  The epidemic brought this family in San Francisco together to care for one another and inspired a generation of activists.  This is a very simple documentary in form but it contains a very powerful message.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)


Title: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Release Date: September 3, 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Shaun (Simu Liu) a Chinese immigrant in San Francisco, working as a valet and spending nights out at karaoke with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina, previously in The Farewell). When they are attacked on a city bus and Shaun shows considerable martial arts skill in their defense, he admits that his real name is Shang-Chi and he comes from a complex family background in China. His father Wenwu (Tony Leung, previously in In the Mood for Love) gained immortality through the use of a magical bracelets called the Ten Rings, and used the power they give to create an international crime syndicate also called the Ten Rings.  His mother Ying Li (Fala Chen) was the guardian of a magical village of Ta Lo which is home to many mythical beasts. The murder of Ying Li drove Wenwu back into crime and eventually into the mad belief that Ying Li is being held captive in Ta Lo.  In order to stop Wenwu from destroying Ta Lo, Shaun and Katy must first reunited with his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) in Macau.

As far as origin stories goes, this movie does a great job at efficiency with the backstories of Shaun, Xialing, Ying Li, and Wenwu filled in by a short prelude and many flashbacks that fit smoothly in to the flow of the movie.  There are a lot of great martial arts sequences, some well-timed humor (mostly from Awkwafina), and some imaginative wonders rooted in Chinese folklore.  A number of small parts and cameos of familiar characters include Wong (Benedict Wong) from Doctor Strange and Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) from Iron Man 3, who provides some more humor.

I knew nothing of Shang-Chi going into the movie, but I’ve read that the original Marvel comics used a lot of ethnic stereotypes.  The film has people from Asia and of Asian heritage working on both sides of the camera, and does a great job at winding Chinese folklore into a modern superhero action film. I’d say the biggest flaw is that Xialing, who is constantly said to be in Shang-Chi’s shadow in the movie, is ironically given very little character development in the movie.  A post-credit scene indicates that Marvel has plans for Xialing in future films, though.  Other than that though, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an excellent Marvel movie with a great cast, story, and effects.  It’s also Awkwafina’s second movie of the year featuring dragons after Raya and the Last Dragon, which makes for an interesting footnote.

Rating: ***1/2

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

Movie Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)


Title: The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Director: Joe Talbot
Production Company: Plan B Entertainment | Longshot Features
Summary/Review:

Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails) is young Black man living in San Francisco.  Alienated from both of his parents, he lives in a cramped apartment with his friend Montgomery “Mont” Allen (Jonathan Majors) and Mont’s grandfather Allen (Danny Glover).  In his spare time, Jimmie goes to his childhood home, a Victorian-style house in the Fillmore District, and carries out repairs on the exterior, much to the annoyance of the older white couple who now live there.  When the older couple vacate the house due to an estate conflict in their family, Jimmie and Mont move in as squatters.

The movie satirizes gentrification and displacement – the Fillmore was a predominantly Black neighborhood from the end of World War II until the 1990s.  But it is also a very personal story of Jimmie coming to terms with facing reality and not cling to happy memories of his childhood. I appreciate that the two lead characters are introverted, artistic types who don’t typically get to be the main characters in a movie.  The result is a quiet and introspective film. I didn’t particularly like the dénouement where Mont confronts Jimmie during a play, but the rest of the film is golden.

Joe Talbot, like many directors before him, incorporates the beauty of San Francisco in many shots, especially ones of Jimmie skateboarding the city’s famous hills.  The soundtrack also includes San Francisco music by Jefferson Airplane and a beautiful cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair).”  Jello Biafra (of Dead Kennedys fame) and Thora Birch make brief but memorable appearances.  Talbot cites Birch’s 2001 movie Ghost World as an influence on his film.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Classic Movie Review: The Maltese Falcon (1941) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter M

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Summary/Review:

I watched The Maltese Falcon several years ago – maybe at The Brattle Theatre or maybe I just borrowed the DVD from the library – and I also read the Dashiell Hammett book it is based upon around the same time.  But I didn’t remember much about it, which is a good thing since it meant I could enjoy the mystery of it once again.  I also felt that I thought the movie was good but not great, so I was also surprised to find I was really enjoying it the second time around.

The Maltese Falcon is a detective story featuring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade.  The movie is considered to be one of the examples of the film noir genre, or at least a predecessor to film noir.  Spade is definitely a morally ambiguous character and it is unclear whether he is actually willing to go along with the criminals’ plans or if he is just playing them.  When he does the right thing at the end of the movie, it seems like he does it more out of spite than justice.

The story begins when a woman, Ruth Wonderly or Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) depending on which version of her life she’s telling, hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan).  When Archer is murdered, Spade finds himself drawn into a plot around finding the titular MacGuffin, a medieval figurine covered in valuable gemstones.  Also seeking the Maltese Falcon are conman Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and mobster Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).

This was John Huston’s first film as a director, and despite the detective story, it is not really an action film.  In fact, I found it has a lot of unexpected parallels to Huston’s final film, The Dead, which is also a book adaptation about people who spend a lot of time talking but rarely speak the truth.  Subtext is key in the battle of wits among Spade, Brigid, Cairo, and Gutman.  The film succeeds because of the high quality acting of its cast.  Surprisingly, this was Greenstreet’s first film, while Lorre was just making his way into American films, and even Bogart was just becoming an A-list celebrity.  They’re firing on all cylinders in this film and the trio would reunite in Casablanca the following year, and Greenstreet and Lorre would make a total of nine movies together!

For whatever reason, this movie failed to make a big impression on my around 17 years ago.  But upon revisiting this movie I feel it has earned a spot among my favorite movies of all time.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Greed (1924)


Title: Greed
Release Date: December 4, 1924
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

I came to this film reluctantly because in college I read the awful book it’s based on, McTeague, about a horrible dentist who abuses his wife. The novel’s author, Frank Norris, practiced scientific racism and the fictional work is supposed to be his expose of the inferiority of the working class, immigrants, Jewish people, et al. So, you know this is going to be a fun movie!

In a sense, the movie is better than the book, especially since director Erich von Stroheim removed the prejudicial undertones. Gibson Gowland plays the irascible John McTeague, a dentist in San Francisco. His friendship with Marcus Schoule (Jean Hersholt) deteriorates when he marries Trina Sieppe (ZaSu Pitts, one of the great names in Hollywood history), whom they both courted. McTeagues marriage swiftly falls apart, partly dur to Trina clinging to $5000 she won in a lottery even as the couple fall into destitution.

Von Stroheim largely filmed on location which means you get a lot of cool glimpses of San Francisco from a century ago. The final scenes were filmed on location in Death Valley under brutal conditions for the actors and crew. Still, the final shot is about as iconic as they come in film history. Von Stroheim also used tinting to add a golden glow to the objects of desire that the characters lust after. The movie is melodramatic and the characters are more types than realized people. Overall, this is another film that I’m glad to have watched from a film history perspective, but not one that I would otherwise have enjoyed.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Electric Dreams (1984) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Electric Dreams
Release Date: July 20, 1984
Director: Steve Barron
Production Company: Virgin Films
Synopsis:

In a world where humans are distracted by electronic devices, a talented but disorganized young architect Miles Harding (Lenny Von Dohlen) is convinced to buy a personal computer to help keep on track. When he tries to download data from his company’s mainframe, his PC starts to smoke and the only thing nearby he has to try to put the fire out is champagne.  The combination of the too results in the computer gaining sentience and the voice of Bud Cort of Harold and Maude fame.

A concert cellist, Madeline (Virginia Madsen), moves in upstairs from Miles and they form an attraction. One day while Madeline is rehearsing Bach’s Minuet in G major, Miles’ computer hears her through the air vents and begins playing a duet with her in 8-bit electronic beeps.  Madeline believes that Miles is a talented, but shy, musician as is drawn to him more, while Miles tries to hide his computer from Madeline. The computer, trying to understand love, becomes jealous that he spend time with Madeline since he is impressing her with his music.

And thus begins a bizarre love triangle among man, women, and computer. The movie director, Steve Barron, primarily directed music videos including notable classics like “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, and “Take On Me” by a-ha. The music video style of editing and camera angles is used to great effect in this movie as well as a soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder and songs by several New Wave synthpop acts.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

In spring of 1984, we moved a new house, and as a treat, my mom subscribed us to cable tv for the first time. And thus came that opportunity to watch movies, lots of movies, and without commercial interruptions.  Soon, the realization dawned that I’d end up watching the same movies over and over again, and Electric Dreams became one of those movies I loved to watch again and again.

What Did I Remember?:

It’s a testament to the elasticity of the young, developing brain that so much of this movie I haven’t watched since the 1980s remained in memory, even specific dialogue and tones of voice.

What Did I Forget?:

I did forget the part where Edgar has a party with projections from an old movie, though.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

It’s a simple idea, a love triangle with a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac, but it’s told well.  Lenny Von Dohlen is a great likable nerd character in what I believe may be the only leading role in his career in a movie. Madsen is also great, and their fumbling romantic chemistry is believable. Cort’s voice is the right balance of innocent curiosity of a new being trying to learn as well as evil menace when Edgar the computer turns against Miles. Of all the movies I rewatched for this A to Z project, this is one that I thought would age poorly, but I’m pleasantly surprised that it remains a solid, little rom-com.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This is a movie about computing technology of 1984, and I suspect anyone too young to remember 1984 will find it laughable.  On the other hand, Miles’ computer (even before it became sentient) was remarkable sophisticated for its time.  Nobody had a personal computer system operating their apartment in the 1980s so the movie has a weird retro-future vibe to it.  The finale of the movie has Edgar taking over the radio airwaves to dedicate a new song to Miles and Madeline and there is a sequence of people around San Francisco dancing to it that is INCREDIBLY CHEEZY, even by the standard of the 1980s.  The song, “Together in Electric Dreams” by Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder, is really good though.

Is It a Classic?:

Maybe not a classic, but definitely an underrated gem of the 1980s.

Rating: ***1/2

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with E:

  1. Eight Men Out (1988)
  2. Eighth Grade (2018)
  3. Election (1999)
  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  5. The Exorcist (1973)

What is your favorite movie starting with E? What’s your guess for my movie starting with F?  Let me know in the comments!

Classic Movie Review: The Conversation (1974)


Title: The Conversation
Release Date: April 7, 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Production Company: The Directors Company
Summary/Review:

Gene Hackman portrays Harry Caul, a surveillance expert for hire in San Francisco.  The movie begins with his team recording the conversation of a young couple, Ann (Cindy Williams) and Mark (Frederic Forrest) as they stroll through Union Square during lunch hour.  They talk as if they have something to hide but their actual conversation appears innocuous.  As Caul edits and replays the conversation he starts to hear different things (not unlike Blowup where enlarging a photograph reveals tantalizing details).  Caul faces a moral quandary when he believes that if he delivers the recording to his client it could lead to the Ann and Mark’s murder.

Coppola made this movie as a personal project in-between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. The story reflects the increasing mistrust of government and Big Business the grew in the turbulent late 60s and early 70s, and inadvertently reflected the Watergate scandal that unfolded in 1974.  There are some great scenes of Caul and other surveillance experts at a trade show and party that show the surprisingly sophisticated technology of the era. Harrison Ford has a good small part as a snarky assistant to Caul’s client.  The movie is a slow-burn thriller with a fair amount of ambiguity and a surprising twist.

Rating: ***

TV Review: Further Tales of the City (2001)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2001
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 3
Summary/Review:

I’ve finished off watching all the televisual adaptions of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books with 2001’s More Tales of the City.  This is the shortest of all the miniseries and apparently was released in three episodes, although the version I watched on YouTube was edited together into a single three hour movie.  The brevity actually benefits the film, because this is the weakest of all 9 Tales of the City books and consolidating the story actually improves the narrative a bit.

More Tales of the City revolved a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about an Episcopalian cannibal cult. Further Tales of the City revolves around a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about cult leader Jim Jones living in San Francisco three years after the Jonestown massacre.  This main story line has DeDe (Barbara Garrick) and her adorable toddler children returning home after having gone to live at Jonestown, surviving the massacre, escaping to Cuba, and then being expelled for being lesbian.  The story does give Garrick a part with more gravitas which she performs well and makes me wonder why DeDe was played mostly for laughs in the 2019 miniseries.

Another central character is Prue (Mary Kay Place), a friend of DeDe’s who had only a small role in previous series, but is the one who discovers and befriends Jim Jones, using the alias Luke (Henry Czerny), when he was living in a maintenance shed in Golden Gate Park.  Her sidekick is Father Paddy, a gossipy and secretly gay priest, played by Bruce McCullough (the second member of Kids in the Hall to appear in Tales of the City after Scott Thompson played a bit part in the previous installment). Another newcomer is a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh as news anchor Bambi Kanetaka, who is Mary Ann’s rival at the tv station and who’s mistreatment by the 28 Barbary Lane family reflects poorly on them and is another reason I like this book the least.

The other storylines seem to be treading water.  Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Brian (Whip Hubley) are in a long-term relationship now, but straining over Mary Ann’s career focus (something that is better developed in the later books).  Michael (Paul Hopkins) has broken off with Jon (Billy Campbell) basically because of low self-esteem and has a series of flings with an actor (a character Maupin based on his real life lover Rock Hudson), a cop, and a cowboy.  And Mother Mucca (Jackie Burroughs) introduces Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) to a man named Royal Reichenbach (John McMartin) in a story created solely for television.

It’s a shame that they were never able to continue adapting the books with the original-ish cast.  Book 4, Babycakes, is my favorite of all the books and all three of the books from the 1980s are more character-driven and deal with more serious issues, especially the AIDS crisis.  Maupin was one of the first authors to include depictions of AIDS in fiction.  Alas, to what could’ve been.

Related posts:

TV Review: More Tales of the City (1998)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 1998
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

Having watched the new Netflix series Tales of the City and then rewatched the classic 1993 miniseries Tales of the City, I dug up the sequel to the original, More Tales of the City on YouTube of all places. This miniseries suffers from the fact that it’s based on one of the weakest books in the Tales of the City series and can’t improve on its source material. The series also  anfeatures several characters cast with new actors that can be jarring.

Paul Hopkins takes over as Michael Tolliver and he end being my least favorite of the three actors to play Michael, as he overdoes the Southern accent and seems to lean in to hard on playing a stereotype of 70s gay man. Nina Siemaszko is somewhat more successful as Mona, playing the character with more vulnerability, but also looking like she’s cosplaying Chloe Webb as Mona. Diana Leblanc takes over for Frannie Halcyon who has a much bigger role in this story, and bears a startling resemblance to Barbara Garrick who plays her onscreen daughter.  Françoise Robertson takes over for D’orothea and also is an improvement for a character getting a bigger role.  Finally, Whip Hubley plays Brian, and while he looks too much like a 70s sitcom character, he does inhabit the role well.

The miniseries overall does have more of a sitcom feel and a lot of the cinematography and direction that made the original Tales of the City great is replaced by more pedestrian styles. I find the plot twists over-the-top (SPOILER) such as Beauchamp dies in a car wreck, Michael is suddenly paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome, and Burke uncovered a Episcopalian cannibal cult! Again, though, those all come from the original source, so they do the best they can.

The main plots of the story involve Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Michael going on a cruise to Mexico.  Mary Ann finds romance with a man who has amnesia regarding his time in San Francisco, Burke (Colin Ferguson), while Michael is reacquainted with Jon (William Campbell).  Meanwhile, Mona, feeling lost in life, journeys to Nevada where she ends up working as a receptionist at a brothel for Mother Mucca (a cracking good Jackie Burroughs who is actually 8 years younger than Olympia Dukakis, despite appearances).  Brian, enjoying voyeurism from his new penthouse apartment, starts a long distance fling with a mysterious woman (Swoosie Kurtz, 14 years younger than Olympia Dukakis) in another building via binoculars. DeDe has her babies with the help of her new friend-come-lover D’orthea.

It was interesting to finaly see this after 21 years, but unlike the original, I don’t think it would be worth an additional viewing.