Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mystery, Alaska

Directed by
Jay Roach
Written by David E. Kelley, Sean O’Byrne
Starring Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Colm Meany, Lolita Davidovich, Maury Chaykin
IMDB Entry

In the 1990s, David E. Kelley was riding high.  He produced (and wrote) several successful TV shows, including Emmy winner Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, and The Practice. In his spare time, he wrote screenplays for films, using his penchant for quirky characters and situations.  Mystery, Alaska was one of his best.

The name refers to a small town filled (like most of Kelley’s work) with eccentric characters.  Town life revolves around the “Saturday Game,” played on a frozen pond.  John Biebe (Russell Crowe) is the town sheriff, reaching the age when he’s having trouble keeping up with the youngsters.  Among the small stories of characters, there is some big news:  a reporter from Sports Illustrated hears about the game and writes up an article about it.  Suddenly, Mystery is on the map, and the townspeople are all affected by it.   And things get more frenzied when the New York Rangers show up in town to play an exhibition.

The sporting element is a small part of the film.  Most of it involves the characters, their loves, and their dreams.  Burt Reynolds is good as the town judge who has problems with the the hockey craziness, while Colm Meany* is the mayor who sees this as a way to promote the town.

One thing I really like about the film is the ending, which is a logical anti-cliche that has a strong emotional kick.

The movie did not do well.  The fact that it was subverting the tropes of a sports film probably didn’t help; it’s safe to saw there are few sports films like this.  But I found it an excellent entertainment.

*Who never seems to make a bad movie.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The King of Hearts

king of hearts(1966)
Directed by
Philippe de Broca
Written by Daniel Boulangier, from a idea by Maurice Bessy
Starring Alan Bates, Genevieve Bujold, Pierre Brasseur
IMDB Entry

It was a movie that flopped when it first came out.  Years later, movie houses and fans discovered it and it became a major success, with weekly showings in front of enthusiastic audiences.  No, not Rocky Horror (which came years later).  It’s Le roi de couerThe King of Hearts.

In the late days of World War I, the Germans are retreating from an occupied town, but leave an unpleasant surprise:  enough bombs to destroy it all and the bridge nearby.  The allies are warned and mistakenly send Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates) to find the bomb and defuse it. 

Word of the bomb has gotten around, and the townspeople have deserted it.  Plumpick is spotted by the last German patrol and accidentally releases the inmates, who go into the town and take over the roles of the people.

imageThese are the type of joyously insane people that you see in old movies; everyone is having the time of their lives being what that imagined themselves to be. But Plumpick needs to enlist them in finding the bomb, something they do not care about and don’t feel the need to understand. Plumpick is named “The King of Hearts” and is treated like royalty, falling in love with the beautiful Coquelicot (Genevieve Bujold)

As you might have guessed, this is an antiwar film; the soldiers and the fighting is portrayed as being far more dangerous and insane than the inmates of the asylum.  The concept is hardly original, but the inmates are so utterly charming from start to finish, especially compared to the stupidity of the leaders, that it’s hard not to fall in love with the film.

De Broca was an up-and-coming director of the time.  “That Man from Rio,” two years earlier, was considered one of the best spy spoofs of the era, but that didn’t transfer.  After flopping in France, it eventually made it to the US.  Someone figured that the antiwar message was just the thing for the era, and a small theater in Cambridge, MA, started running it regularly.  It ran there for five years, and gained cult status.  It is still one of the better antiwar films made.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rosel George Brown (author)


Rosel George BrownRight now, there is some debate in the science fiction field about the role of women in current science fiction. It’s indisputable that SF has had more male writers than females over the years, but even from the very beginning, women did try their hand at the genre.*  Many are overlooked today, and one that needs to be rediscovered is Rosel George Brown.

Brown was born in New Orleans and lived there most of her life, after getting an MA in Greek from the University of Minnesota. Biographical information is scarce; I believe her birth name was Rosel George, since her husband’s last name was Brown.

Her first sale was “From an Unseen Censor,” which appeared in Galaxy in September 1958.  Most of her short stories appeared there and in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She was praised both by critics and readers of the time.

I imagefirst encountered her with her anthology A Handful of Time, which included most of her best short stories.  It was a book I kept rereading for years, but I seem to have lost my copy in the interim. 

Brown switched over to novels with Sybil Sue Blue, about a female detective of the future.  Sybil was strong and competent, a single mother who has to juggle both her work life and dealing with her teen daughter. 

She collaborated on the novel Earthblood with Keith Laumer.

In this time frame, of course, a lot of the sexist assumptions of the 50s and earlier fit among the more feminist concepts. You can’t blame Brown for that, though. Feminism started gaining mainstream attention in the mid-60s, but Brown’s last story short story came out in 1964, with Earthblood out two years later.    She was diagnosed with lymphoma and died in 1967 at age 41.

That left her to be just a minor footnote in the history of SF.  However, if she hadn’t died so young, she may have been recognized as one of the major names of the genre.

*John W. Campbell published a story by Amelia Reynolds Long in the third issue of Astounding SF in 1937, and Long had been publishing regularly since 1928.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

T.H.E. Cat (TV)

Created by
Harry Julian Fink
Starring Robert Loggia
IMDB Entry
Tribute Page

imageHe was reformed cat burglar and circus aerialist, and worked as a private detective and bodyguard, who used karate and his acrobatic skills.  His name was Cat.  Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat.

T.H.E. Cat* starred Robert Loggia as the main character in a role that was influenced by the hard boiled detective genre. He worked out of a bar Casa del Gato in San Francisco and went up against gangsters and the usual lowlifes.

The show was infused with style, with jazz music** and a film noir mood. Cat was laconic, content to use his skills to gain the upper hand instead of his mouth.  Bad guys were mean and bigger than life, and women, well, they all fell in love with him.  He played it much like Humphrey Bogart, though Bogart certainly was not one for acrobatics or climbing up walls.  Loggia was excellent in the role and was indeed what made the show worth watching.  He had a cool confidence that was hard not to admire.

The show only ran for one season, but did stick in the mind. 

*The letters were always pronounced individually.

**Written by a pre-Mission: Impossible Lalo Schriffrin