Hyperlapse: CicLAvia To The Searchers

Yestardae I rhode ma byke. For the furst tyme inna looooong time. And I did so on The Beast, more specifically known as La Bestia con los Gigantes Zapatos, a 50-pound-plus ultra fat-tired bike that’s really only good for beachcruising and going downhill — certainly NOT at all ideal for 20-miles’ worth of  city tripping in 90-plus degree temperatures… as I only all too well learned upon getting my semi-heatstroked self home.

Anyway, I rolled the CicLAvia route and then over to a Laemmle Theater in Beverly Hills to catch a 60th-anniversary showing of “The Searchers,” which I’d not ever seen on a screen bigger than our 42-inch TV. It was glooooorious. There should be a drinking game every time John Wayne’s Ethan says “That’ll be the day,” and/or Hank Worden’s Mose says “Thankee kindly!”

Bonusesses: At the beginning of the clip, you’ll find I finally got to check out an art alley in Historic Filipinotown that I had been told me about not too long ago, but didn’t realize its magnificent scope, and on the way along 4th Street toward Beverly Hills had the pleasure of coincidentally finding and riding the last few miles there with Greg Laemmle, who just so happens to run the entire Laemmle Theaters chain, and was kind enough to let me park La Bestia safely inside during the movie, which was glorious (and yes I did get choked up sitting there in the dark as the music swelled and the opening credits rolled).

Not so bonus: About a third of the way through the clip you might catch me flagging down a patrol officer to report an assault I had just witnessed across from me on 6th Street involving a cyclist and what I learned later was a disgruntled bus passenger who got impatient when the cyclist stopped the bus to discuss the driver allegedly passing him unsafely. The joys of big city livin’.

Biff! Ka-POW!

biffI really hadn’t given much thought of late to the upcoming film “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I remember reading that Ben Affleck would be the next in a long line of actors to don the cape and I was left entirely nonplussed at that shred of entertainment news.

I grew up adoring Batman as a child — the campy Adam West version. Then sometime in the early 1980s I absorbed the mythology of the originating comic book hero — the Dark Knight — and my adoration turned to something bordering on idolatry. I loved the concept of flawed archtypes walking awkwardly and outcast on something of a frayed tightrope fighting an inner duality pulling them between sinister and savior. Into that mix you can add The Shadow, the Phantom of the Opera, and what the hell: Darkman.

My favorite film version still remains Tim Burton’s with Michael Keaton as the caped crusader. I thought it confidently treaded that fine line between the light and dark. The sequels that followed grew progressively goofy, until the reboot trilogy with Christian Bale, which restored a certain semblance of order, but also got a bit too caught up in the beauty of its own reflection.

So now along will come “Batman v. Superman” and my entire lack of enthusiasm for the movie — nevermind Affleck’s involvement — was quantified by the premise that a fight between the two couldn’t possibly be waged or sustained; that a battle between the two icons would/could last no more than it would take Superman to melt Batman’s brain with a bolt of his eye lasers.

Than along comes this extraordinary column and it blew a lot of conceptions I’d held straight outta Gotham:

Batman Is A Corny Dingus, And Superman Should Whomp His Ass

Don’t let the headline fool ya, it is one of the most compelling opinion pieces I’ve ever read. Written gloriously bug-eyed and spittle-inflected by a fella named Albert Burneko, he not only succeeds in defending why this movie will suck as an enterprise, but much to my shock and awe he also with more than a few salient points succeeds entirely in stripping away the veneer of Batman that I’ve spent the majority of my life polishing and reveals him not only to not be very super, but also certainly no hero. and I quote:

Even on the terms of his most generous depictions, Batman is a dingus. He is a trust-fund billionaire who puts on a balaclava with ears so that he can do technology-enhanced karate at pickpockets and muggers; who sinks his fortune into paramilitary hardware in support of his one-man campaign to punch a major city into peace; whose concept of justice is throwing on his Goth Navy SEAL costume and terrifying people so they’ll follow the rules better; who evidently has never once considered that Gotham City’s continued awfulness might refute his methods. He throws darts shaped like his brand logo. He’s Jeff Bezos on steroids and paint-thinner fumes. He is a choad.

I wanted to hate Burneko for spouting such Batman blasphemy. But I can’t. Because it’s not. It’s the truth. A giant Biff! and Ka-POW! to all I’d held dear.

I can never look upon Batman with anything but contempt again.


‘Diviner’ Divine

wdI’ve looked sideways at Russell Crowe ever since I made the mistake of watching him star in the unintentionally hilarious “Noah” a couple years ago. Nevertheless, this week’s Friday night movie was “The Water Diviner,” reportedly inspired by true events and powered by Crowe who both directed and starred in it.

Absent any information, you might think this could be a tale of a farmer and his family attempting to eke out a living in the parched Australian outback that becomes increasingly dependent on the Crowe’s skills as a finder of underground water, but it is instead a tale of a farmer who loses his family to war and with his skills as a water diviner undertakes a seemingly impossible mission to locate his sons’ bodies halfway around the world where they fell on a battlefield during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.

Crowe soon finds himself in the killing zone four years after the fighting, where he manages through luck, determination and sympathy to secure permission to search for the remains of his boys in the midst of a multi-national, large-scale, first-of-its-kind effort to recover the war dead, identify them and bury them with proper honors.

I do have to take issue with the fact that Crowe’s character on essentially his first day searching manages to use his water divining skills to locate their bones on the very first try. It wouldn’t have hurt to include a couple false starts — but that’s just an editing quibble.

For the most part, it is a gem of a film that provides an important and unique perspective on the horrific campaign of Gallipoli during World War I from the allied side as well as the Turkish side. The cinematography is exquisite, aided in large part by the visually stunning locations utilized in Istanbul; and Crowe’s performance as well as those in the supporting roles are  all exceptional. The battle sequences — especially given the ultimate futility of the seven-month campaign that resulted in an estimated 500,000 dead, wounded and missing — are particularly harrowing and heart-wrenching.

Where the film falters a bit is near the end where it apparently had to be Hollywood’ified with a rather contrived romance that of course blossoms and something of a textbook “they all lived happily ever after ending.” But none of that detracts from what is a well-paced and compelling motion picture.


Beyond Pointless

ffPoint of order with regard to the headline/article (screengrabbed at right): I’d be amazed if a studio would dare to call for an embargo of reviews already written. Can you imagine 20th Century Fox ordering the Los Angeles Times not to print its theater critic’s column until the film’s actual release date? The Times would laugh.
What a studio can do (and what seems far more likely) is refuse to screen the film for critics until the release date (or the day before), who therefore then can’t write reviews in time to run prior to the film’s opening.
ff2Having said all that, even if every review was glowing I wouldn’t waste my time seeing this film either in the theater, three months from now when its available on-demand, or a year from now when HBO airs it for free. The reason being this literally is the very same story that was done a brief 10 years ago.
Has it really come to this that creativity is so extinct in Hollywood that a decade-old film is worth a redoing in its entirety. That a studio can just pointlessly slap a new cast, crew and effects together to retell something so recently done. Are they counting on attention deficit disorder being so prevalent in moviegoers that they won’t remember the version with Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans and Jessica Alba?
Maybe so. But for those of us with greater recall, as a frame of reference, imagine reading about a reboot this summer of “War of the Worlds” (which also came out in 2005) with, say, Mark Wahlberg in Tom Cruise’s role? 

‘The Drop’ Is Tops

thedropSo this is how I chose to watch “The Drop” last night. First I scanned through the on-demands available, and finding nothing that piqued my interest, I checked out what was on the 10 channels of HBO — but I knew already what was on HBO because practically all they’ve been showing this last few weeks/months is “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Ride Along,” and “Draft Day,” all of which I’ve seen and are not worth repeating (except maybe that scene in “A Million” when the block of ice crushes that guy and Seth McFarlane yells out in distress “That went south SO fast!” I could watch that a dozen times).

The same ol’ same ol’ lineup was broken up by some boxing which I’m always good for, and slotted after that was something called “The Drop,” which rang absolutely no bells whatsoever. None. I read the info blurb about some barkeep in Brooklyn and squinted at the tiny image of the poster at what I thought was Gene Hackman, and I was in. I could watch Gene Hackman watching a movie with Gene Hackman in it.

So I hit the record button on the remote, clicked on over to the boxing match in progress and watched a light-heavyweight boxer named Gonazalez dominate a boxer named Pascal only to get robbed by the judges of his victory, and then I watched a boxer named Kovalev put down a challenger named Mohammedi in four rounds. By then “The Drop” had started recording so we set that in motion.

Spoiler alert: Gene Hackman’s not in it. The face I thought was his in the thumbnail was actually James Gandolfini (in essentially his final film). My bad. Gandolfini’s costar? Tom Hardy, who you might remember for his turn in the lead role of The Best Film This summer “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The female lead is Noomi Rapace, who’s amazing.

They are completely brilliant as is every performer in a brilliantly brooding film based on a Dennis Lehane short story called “Animal Rescue,” which centers on a Brooklyn bar that serves as a money drop for the underworld that gets robbed. Gandolfini plays the proprietor beholden to the mob and Hardy is the quiet and lonely and seemingly dimwitted barkeep who’d probably gut you if you called him a “mixologist.” So would I. And he’s about as dimwitted as Einstein it turns out.

The film is appropriately dark and overloaded with wonderfully lyrical and smart dialogue all the while imbued with a sinister tension that never lets up right to the twist ending. Plus there’s an adorable puppy in it. Named Rocco. After Saint Rocco, patron saint of dogs. And falsely accused people.

This one snuck under my radar in its theatrical release. I’m so glad I lucked into and you will be too. Put it on your list.

Lost Angeles: Tara Spotting

Oh no: not that Tara. I’m talking about the famed fictional plantation manse from a little film back in the day whose name coincidentally rhymes with the last name of the film’s central character — O’Hara, as in Scarlett. As in “Gone With The Wind,” or GWTW, if you will.
 Yeah, that Tara.

Let me back up. I ravenously follow the Photos of Los Angeles group on Facebook, gobbling up its never-ending parade of pictures of L.A.’s distant and not-so-distant past. A few days ago this photo (at right, click to enlargify), was posted of a still from an episode of the 1950s TV series “SupermClark! Behind You!an,” showing its star, George Reeves (who coincidentally had a part in GWTW) in full Clark Kent mode, on a hill back-dropped by a broad swath of our smog-inundated city. The poster, Sally Deupree, asked, “Culver City. Recognize the building in the lower left with four columns?”

I immediately recognized it as Tara, which meant Reeves was standing hat in hand on what is now a section of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park — which meant beyond him was Jefferson Boulevard, then the Ballona Creek channel and then the old Pathe Studio backlot, where so many of the exterior scenes of GWTW were realized.

In an attempt to get a past/present frame of reference (I last did that with the location of Wrigley Field’s homeplate in South Los Angeles), I went on a googlehunt for a layout of the old studio, and hit gold at the 40 Acres website with this 1940 map (click to enlargify) pinpointing the various GWTW sets on the Pathe Studio backlot, with Tara’s position indicated there on the left.


Then, of course, for a present-day juxtaposition I google-mapped the location (click to enlargify):
Which means basically that at the deadend of Hayden Place south of Higuera Street, somewhere around the current location of Woo Agency and Omelet you can stand on the paved-over land upon which Tara once stood, not to forget Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and, yes, George Reeves. Cue the sweeping overture that is “Tara’s Theme”:


Book ‘Em: Search Complete

When I discovered a book review last week about “The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend” by Glenn Frankel, I was already ordering it before I read whether the reviewer thought it was good or not.

My motivation wasn’t just my unconditional adoration of John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece, starring John Wayne. It was also because I was hoping for an answer or at least insight into Ford’s decision as to why he filmed the climactic scene where Wayne’s Ethan Edwards finally catches up to Natalie Wood’s Debbie at Bronson Canyon here in Hollywood.

caveIn the film Debbie flees across the barren plains of Monument Valley with Ethan in hot pursuit on horseback. But instead of reuniting them there, Ford quick-cuts to Debbie running up to the mouth of the Bronson Canyon cave/tunnel. Wayne comes charging down the adjacent slope, dismounts and approaches his long-lost niece, undecided still as to whether he’s going to save her because she’s kin or let his hatred of Indians take over and kill her because she’s long assimilated into the native culture she was abducted into as a child.

As a local who’s haunted them thar Hollywood Hills since I was a kid, I’ve known about Bronson Canyon since I was in elementary school, and I can remember watching “The Searchers” for the umpteenth time about 10 years ago and finally recognizing it. And yes, during visits since, I’ve gone to the mouth of that cave entrance in full-on fanboy awe knowing that I was standing in the exact spots where The Duke and Ford themselves had stood. One time, while overhearing a trio of visitors talking about the place’s use in lesser vehicles such as “Batman” (the ’60s TV series), “Star Trek VI,” and “Army of Darkness.,” I shared what I knew with them. Sadly, my enthusiastic description of the scene (complete with where Ford set up the camera) was lost because none of the three had seen the classic (which I feel should be a crime against entertainment).

I hold the film dearer to my heart knowing part of it was filmed in what is basically the playground of my past and so readily accessible at present. But with so much of the film’s exteriors shot in and around the organic magnificence of Monument Valley (itself a star of the film), I’ve long wondered what happened to bring Ford and Wayne and Wood to film that pivotal scene back here in Hollywood at what is in essence so fake a location entirely incongruous to the established wide-open scope of the West’s great outdoors. As such, I couldn’t resist diving into the back of the book to see if it was there. Thanks to Frankel, I now have the answer and so much more.

From the book:

Four days later, Ford took John Wayne, Natalie Wood, and a camera crew to Bronson Canyon to shoot the film’s climactic scene in which Ethan finally hunts down Debbie. The canyon was one of Hollywood’s classic outdoor locations, a former quarry carved into the southwest corner of Griffith Park just a few miles east of the Culver City studio. Brown and barren, it readily stood in for the rocky terrain of the West. From “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1925) to “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (1932) to “Zorro Rides Again” (1937), anyone who needed a cheap natural location within a bus ride from a studio had resorted to Bronson Canyon over the years. Ford didn’t go there save money, however, but to solve a problem. As usual, he left no notes to explain. But it’s likely Ford and his crew had filmed the climactic scene in Monument Valley in July according to the [Frank] Nugent screenplay and that Ford had decided at the last minute to change it.

Nugent’s original script spells out exactly what is supposed to happen and why:

Ethan Dismounts with his gun drawn, pointing it at Debbie. “I’m sorry, girl,” he tells her. “Shut your eyes.”

The camera holds on Debbie’s face — the eyes gaze fearlessly, innocently into Ethan’. After a moment, he lowers his gun and puts it away. “You sure do favor your moth,” he tells her. Then he extends his hand, puts his arm protectively around her and a reconciled uncle and niece head for home.

013-Debbie-Cowering-In-Cave-The-Searchers-1956Somewhere between the original filming of the scene and August 12, Ford decided to reach for a different ending. He clearly wanted something more visual and ambiguous — something the audience could see and feel and not have explained to them. “I wonder, did they box themselves into a corner and find themselves having to shoot this at the very end?” asked Ford scholar James D’Arc. “Bronson Canyon’s the obvious quickie solution.”

As he did so many times, Ford threw away Nugent’s dialogue and improvised. The face that he would be jump-cutting from the flat parched floor of Monument Valley to the hilly rock-strewn path leading to Bronson Canyon did not seem to trouble him. In the filmed version, Ethan chases Debbie down, calling out her name — similar to the way he had called out Martha’s name earlier in the film when he searched for her among the flaming ruins of the ranch house. Desperate to escape him, Debbie reaches the mouth of the cave and then collapses. Ethan dismounts, stands over her, then lifts her over his head in one sweeping motion and takers her in his amrs. “Let’s go home, Debbie,” is all he says.

For Ford and his crew, it was a quick visit. They started shooting at Bronson Canyon at 11:00 that morning and finished up at 12:45. They broke a half hour for lunch and then headed back to the studio.

Damn. I’ve long been a searcher for that information. I can’t wait to start at the beginning of Frankel’s book and see what else he has to show me about one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.