Sunday, January 16, 2022



This is the other side of the banner that reads “To Be Continued.” Yet another column with encapsulated movie reviews, with a guesstimate that this may very well be the penultimate column relating to the “new” films of 2021. I sure hope so. Even I have lost track of how many there have been, but like Macbeth, I am “in blood stepped in so far, that….” well, you get my drift. And so, with apologies to the Bard, here is the latest quartet of reviews:

tIck, tIck… BOOM!

In a eulogy I delivered at the funeral of my dear friend, writer Ronald M. Cohen, …and as an illustration of one of the ways in which we differed, I said, “Ronald even liked Rent.

I had occasion to think back on that statement about my friend, and the Broadway show I disliked so intensely, as I settled in to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut as a filmmaker. The movie is not the off-Broadway show of the same title, but a limited biography of Jonathan Larson, the creator of both Rent and its predecessor, the semi-autobiographical show, tick, tick… BOOM!

I am sure it can now be appreciated that I came to this material with reluctance. Turns out, I was wrong. It took me a while, I admit, but when the film came to its conclusion, I responded emotionally, taken by what I had seen.

It was not the “music.” Please note my use of quotation marks, used as emphasis, to bring attention to the fact that the monotonal aspects of the sounds that emanate from the keyboard, guitar, and percussive instruments in this show…as in Rentcontinue to leave me cold.

What I eventually responded to is the (apparently) true tale of someone remaining steadfast about his belief in his “art.” It didn’t hurt having the tale told so nicely by another steadfast artist, first time director, Miranda. I must also give points to an ensemble of actors who were remarkably effective in relating the story.

If you are at all like me, you may well have to be patient with this motion picture from Netflix. It does take its own sweet time before hitting its stride, but get there it does, without question.

And while, however briefly, I am expounding on music and the musical, I feel compelled to share that composer Ron Ramin, who created the scores for most of The Trials of Rosie O’Neill series, as well as a great many of the Cagney & Lacey episodes, wrote me the other day to point out that in the tome that was my West Side Story review, I did not mention the music. Well, score one for him. I think I must have thought that it went without saying that the music is fabulous (Ron referred to it as “glorious,” but then he has an axe to grind: his father, Sid Ramin, along with Bernstein and Irwin Kostal did the original Broadway orchestrations as well as those for the 1961 movie). Ron’s dad won an Academy Award for Music Supervision for that film and, as Ron points out, “thankfully—and smartly—the new WSS mostly uses the original orchestrations.” I will say it, even though Mr. Ramin was kind enough not to: shame on me for even coming close to diminishing the work of all the wonderful musical contributors on both the old and the new versions of West Side Story.

Nightmare Alley

I was either nine or ten years old when I saw Nightmare Alley for the first time. It starred Tyrone Power, a huge deal in the Hollywood of the 1940s, in what was quite a departure from the swashbuckling, leading man roles that had helped make him famous. This film noir presentation, with its very un-Hollywood type ending, made quite an impression on the pre-pubescent me…enough so that when it was recently re-run on the TCM channel, I found myself…once again… semi-spellbound, until the wee hours of the morning.

Now I have seen it again…this time with a new Hollywood heart throb, Bradley Cooper. The Tyrone Power version was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This new one may also be nominated, primarily (I think) because of its pedigree (Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro, impressive cinematography by Dan Laustsen, the production design by the extremely talented Tamara Deverell, and an all-star cast led by Cooper, then Mara Rooney, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, William Dafoe, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn, Mary Steenburgen, and Richard Jenkins).

I need to be perfectly clear: this is not a great movie. The original wasn’t either. Still, there is a great deal about it that resonates. It did for me when I was ten, and it sorta still does. Obviously, it did for director del Toro as well, and he certainly is no easy pushover.

One thing still nags at me. My memory of that night in the theatre nearly three quarters of a century ago was of a film with a very gruesome and shocking ending. I was therefore brought up short when watching TCM and seeing the film again. There, on my TV screen, just before the end credits, was the promise of some hope…not at all the ghastly scene I had remembered from all those years ago.

The possibility of an alternate ending replacing the one I saw so many years ago is not far-fetched. One example would be at Warner Brothers, where at least two alternate endings were ordered photographed for Casablanca. Such a thing was not uncommon back in the big studio era of Hollywood.

The rationale for doing such a thing should be obvious. Happy endings were so de rigueur in the film capital that they were actually called The Hollywood Ending. It might well have been argued at the time that a softer conclusion be inserted to replace the one I originally saw, in a vain attempt to turn around what would (no matter what they did) become a notorious box office failure.

Del Toro does not provide any answer with his Bradley Cooper version. He splits the difference between the two ending extremes, and once again, Nightmare Alley proves to be anything but a dream at the American box office which… to date…is the only place one can see this motion picture remake.

C’Mon C’Mon: In a year with no obvious “winner” to take home the Oscar at the Academy Awards, this tiny movie just might pull it off. Believe me, stranger things have happened. In Cagney & Lacey… and Me I relay a story about Director Ray Danton, after I had turned him down on his argument for an additional day of shooting on a Cagney & Lacey two-parter. Finally, admitting defeat, he paraphrased Robert Browning, as he sighed, “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?”

I remember nodding, then countering with a phrase of my own: “Ah, but ‘tis better to aim for San Diego, and hit it, then to shoot for the moon and fall on your ass.” Director Mike Mills has done just that. A perfect bullseye on “San Diego.”

The movie may be small, but it is a gem. Joaquin Phoenix is terrific in his role as an all too human, quirky kind of leading man. Gaby Hoffmann, as his sister, is equally real. But it is nine-year-old Woody Norman who is nothing short of spectacular as the boy who will steal your heart as he simultaneously runs away with this brilliantly directed little movie. You can rent C’Mon C’Mon on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu.

The Harder They Fall:  Think of maybe the best spaghetti western you ever saw, mix it with an old-fashioned blaxploitation flick, stir in Nina Simone, Jay Z, and other Black icons of the music world, then populate the screen with some of the best and most charismatic actors you have probably never (or rarely) seen, and the sound that you hear just may be John Ford turning over in his grave.

As the movie starts… and (again) at the very end of the lengthy list of end credits…there is a note that, although the story is fiction, “These people existed.” I dunno. Could be, but if so, Hollywood certainly took its own sweet time to get around to putting them together in a movie.

…And a movie it is. It is only the second film directed by Jeymes Samuel, but it is filled with all the solid cinematic fun stuff you hope to see in a Hollywood action flick. It is not for everyone… certainly not the squeamish, or the kind of folks who define a western by the standard of Power of the Dog or Lonely Are The Brave.

This one is right out of Sergio Leone’s playbook, assuming of course, that he could ever conceive of dramatizing the old west with an entirely Black cast while also delivering the goods in a grisly story of betrayal, revenge, and greed, peppered in with a few tender scenes of loyalty with just a smidgeon of sex and all served up with plenty of red sauce gushing out of open wounds.

There is humor as well: a bank robbery that takes place in an all-white town that is painted…wait for it…all white. Even the horses are white. There is Regina King, wearing a dress that is sort of an homage to what her character wore in HBO’s Watchmen. And there are some terrific fight scenes, the best of which is between Ms. King and Stagecoach Mary, played by the very beautiful Zazie Beetz. No cat fight, this. It is a legit, down, and dirty action sequence.

Reality is of course stretched beyond any reasonable limit, but once you are into this movie you do not care as it is all you can do to keep from spilling your popcorn. See it on Netflix and enjoy it for what it is, a solid piece of movie craft.

More to come, but hopefully only one more for this season. Meanwhile, may the New Year become a happier one than the last…and, please,  much sooner, than later.


Barney Rosenzweig


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