Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Invasion

Year 8, Day 301 - 10/27/16 - Movie #2,479

BEFORE: This is it, the end of my horror chain (for now), so this will stand as the film closest to Halloween.  You can probably see how tempting it was to put this one first, and use "Spectre" as the lead-in with Daniel Craig carrying over, but that would have been a mistake.  Why?  Well, partially there's the connection between Halloween and alien invasions due to Orson Welles' broadcast of "The War of the Worlds", which aired on October 30, 1938.   But also, this film is SET on Halloween - in an early scene we see kids trick-or-treating (I spied this while dubbing the film to DVD...) so I've deemed this the most appropriate film for Halloween viewing this year.  

So this becomes my horror chain outro film, and it will link to the first film of November, which I'll watch on November 6, so that a war film can land on Veterans Day.  Linking from "The Faculty", Elijah Wood voiced a character in "Happy Feet", and so did Nicole Kidman (last seen in "Paddington").  (Alternately, Salma Hayek was also in "Frida" with Roger Rees.)  


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (Movie #1,203)

THE PLOT: As a Washington psychiatrist unearths the origin of an alien epidemic, she also discovers her son might be the only way it can be stopped.

AFTER: The year of the sequels, remakes and reboots continues - by my count, this story has been filmed four times - "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in 1956 and 1978, and "Body Snatchers" in 1993.  I guess we were due again for an updated version in 2007, finally people in this story can talk via cell phone and be aware of contagious diseases like Ebola.  

What I said last night about aliens being smart by taking over a high school - tonight they're even smarter, and they head straight for the Centers for Disease Control.  What better way to hit humanity right where it hurts, than to go for the scientists who are specialists in contagious things?  While previous films may have centered on the use of plant-like pods to replicate human bodies, the process here is mostly viral, spread partially by (and I wish I were kidding) waiters vomiting directly into coffee pots at a CDC press conference.  Umm, thanks, I'll have tea.  It's a good time to try and cut down on coffee intake.  

(NOTE: This film could give really bad ideas to terrorists - anyone who wants to attack America could simply start handing out free flu shots at the start of cold season, but inject people with a deadly virus instead.  I bet they could infect hundreds of cost-conscious patients before anyone caught on.)  

Compared to the previous 1978 version I watched, yeah, this is something of an update, but it also feels like a shortcut.  That previous pod process also left a human corpse that needed to be disposed of, but tonight's process is much simpler, the virus merely hijacks the existing body, the alien hive-mind takes over, and the human brain just goes unconscious for the duration.  Another shortcut.  

And similar to the result in "The Faculty", the resulting creature looks exactly like he or she did before, except now they're more content (allegedly) and more robotic (definitely) and they don't care much for dogs, who can apparently smell that there's something wrong with them.  Sorry, Fido, we're going to have to drown you.  The lead character's ex-husband (who works for the CDC) returns to Washington after a few years in Atlanta, and takes a sudden interest in his son's life (yeah, that should have been a tip-off right there...) and is acting very politely to his ex-wife (another warning sign) whose patients are also reporting that their spouses are suddenly acting civil and unlike their usual selves.  

So this psychiatrist character is in a unique position to observe the changes (shortcut) and has a boyfriend who's a medical expert (another shortcut) and a patient AND a son who might be immune to the alien virus (HUGE shortcut, really, I mean COME ON, what are the chances against this?).  But before anyone can fix this situation, they have to get out of Washington by acting like the aliens, in other words, expressionless and robotic - ah, NOW the casting of Nicole Kidman starts to make some sense.  The best thing about using a lot of shortcuts, at least in this case, is that it keeps the plot moving - the problem, conflict and resolution all happen here in less than 100 minutes.

Knowing that she's been exposed to the virus, and knowing that the changeover happens during REM sleep, our heroine finds herself holed up in a drug-store after rescuing her son, frantically popping stimulant drugs and drinking Mountain Dew in order to stay awake.  Since I usually start my films after midnight, all I can say is, "Welcome to my world, honey."  This blog would not be in its 8th year without the magical beverage called Diet Mountain Dew.  

How dare these aliens come to our planet and try to destroy the world?  Don't they know it's humanity's job to destroy the world?  I suppose it's debatable whether there's a political metaphor here, since the aliens claim to be more "in touch" with each other, some may interpret the hive mind as a form of socialism or similarly leftist thinking.  But since we're in the middle of a campaign where both sides seem to be made up of zombified voters, I'd say there's a lot of leeway in the political interpretations here.  Probably both Democrats and Republicans who are not satisfied with their party's candidate could empathize with the few free-thinkers seen here who are left after the majority of people seem to be working as part of the collective.  Still others might favor an alien takeover instead of the election we've got coming up, and the seemingly endless coverage of it.

NITPICK POINT: Maybe things have changed since 2007, and admittedly I'm not an expert on such things as autism, but generally speaking, if a kid's mother saw that he was suddenly acting detached and emotionless, the first natural thought wouldn't be that he was replaced by an alien, it would be "Get this kid some Ritalin."  I know that if I saw a kid methodically organizing his Halloween candy without eating it, I'd go straight to the ADHD meds.  Unless that was somehow MY kid, in which case, I'd completely understand.  Heck, I'd probably jump in and help him organize it.

NITPICK POINT #2: It's doubtful that any office building would allow anyone entering through the parking garage access to an elevator that would take them to the upper floors, because this would be a way to bypass building security on the main floor.  It's much more likely that the parking garage elevator would only take them to the building's lobby, where they'd have to pass through some kind of security check. 

The final tally for October, discounting the two "non-horror" films: 21 films, including 7 about vampires, 5 appearances of Frankenstein's Monster, 3 of the Wolf Man, 4 films with ghosts, 3 alien invasions, 1 film about serial killers, 3 circus sideshows, but the leader seems to be mad doctors and scientists, appearing in 9 or 10 films, if I count the "Ghostbusters" crew.

Also starring Daniel Craig (last seen in "Spectre"), Jeremy Northam (last seen in "Emma"), Jeffrey Wright (last seen in "Syriana"), Veronica Cartwright (last seen in "Goin' South"), Josef Sommer (last seen in "Nobody's Fool"), Celia Weston (last seen in "Hearts in Atlantis"), Roger Rees (last seen in "Frida"), Jackson Bond, Adam LeFevre (last seen in "Two Weeks Notice"), Joanna Merlin, with a cameo from Malin Akerman (last seen in "CBGB").

RATING: 4 out of 10 space shuttle fragments

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Faculty

Year 8, Day 300 - 10/26/16 - Movie #2,478

BEFORE: I went back and forth several times this year about what order to watch October's horror films in, basically flipping the whole thing around each time I saw a better way to link in and out of the month.  The justification for doing October the other way around was - it would have put this film closer to September, when school starts, and my back-to-school chain ("Pitch Perfect 2", "Breaking Away") was really light this year. 

But I'm glad it worked out the way it did, because (in general) I got the sillier stuff out of the way first, and as October 31 approaches, I've got the scarier stuff closest to the date in question.  I'll end the chain with two more alien invasion films, though I wasn't able to get to "The Fifth Wave" and the recent "Independence Day" sequel.  I wasn't able to squeeze in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" either, because I think the Starz channel is going to premiere it really close to Halloween, too late for me to watch it.  Hey, there's always next year.

Edward Norton from "Red Dragon" links to Salma Hayek (last heard in "The Prophet") through a couple of films, including "Frida" and "Sausage Party", which is another film I probably won't have time for this year. 


THE PLOT: Students suspect that their teachers are aliens after bizarre occurrences.

AFTER: If you remember the film "Cocoon", it was set in a retirement home because the aliens needed to use the swimming pool as a place to store their pods, and this set up a regenerative effect for the old people who went swimming there.  But those were benevolent aliens, and when you're dealing with the kind who want to take over the world, a high-school seems like such a better place to start.  A high school would also have a swimming pool, plus there's already a power heirarchy in place (not to mention the clique system), where the teachers have command of the students, and they can ask the kids to report to the office in alphabetical order - for assimilation!  Also, if you're talking about the type of aliens that take over human bodies, who wants a bunch of flabby senior citizens with arthritis and gout, when they could be taking over young, fit, hormonal teenagers?  

Plus, high school is also a weird place, where everyone is awkward and trying desperately to fit in, but they remain hopelessly unsure of themselves.  And those are just the teachers.  Come to think of it, most of the students are probably like that too.  And the aliens come along and offer conformity and happiness and a grander sense of purpose and wait, what was the down side again?  No more cramming for exams, no more being beat up by bullies, no more P.E. class unless you enjoy it - yeah, I'm really struggling here to see how regular high school, without the aliens in control, is a better system.  

Nevertheless, a few rebellious outsider teens buck the system here, and decide to fight off the alien invasion, before it's too late.  (Kids today, what are you gonna do with them?  In my day, we would have welcomed our new alien overlords...)  But first they have to make sure that their suspicions are correct, then get out of the school and plan the proper attack.  Wouldn't you know, one of the kids deals drugs on the side, and one of his drugs just HAPPENS to have an effect on the aliens.  What was that I was saying yesterday about plot shortcuts?  No no, there's no need to try multiple chemical compounds to devise the proper antidote for alien chemistry, by all means, go with what you have. 

This sends out a weird message to the teens at home, counter to the usual "Just Say No" messages - here the kids HAVE to take the drugs, to prove that they're human.  OK, but just this once - it's hard to fend off alien attacks if you're also tweaking or going through withdrawal symptoms.  But we've seen this sort of "Which one is really an alien" plot points before, in films like "The Thing" and the first "Alien" movie.  Is it really original at all just to repurpose that tension in the high school setting? 

Which is my way of noting that this film has its share of those "Oh, snap!" moments - the gross-out sort of shocks and the surprise reveals, some that you may see coming and others that you probably won't.  And that itself is sort of high praise for a horror film - but I guess since I don't really watch the more disturbing slasher films, any shock at this point is a good one.  

(SPOILER ALERT, stop here if you haven't seen the film before...) But the ending, or rather, the aftermath, amounts to a NITPICK POINT because they stated that any evidence of an alien invasion would have been covered up, but at the same time, tabloid reporters are swarming the school and making one of the students into a national hero of sorts.  So, which is it, is there a cover-up or are reporters investigating the scene?  You can't really have both of those things, unless it's a failed attempt at a cover-up.  

I'm going through all of my old music on cassettes and CDs now, trying to get it all on iTunes in some format so I can listen to more things on my phone.  So I can't really buy new music right now, I'm too busy buying OLD stuff, but if I could, I'd really consider getting this soundtrack, with some great late 90's covers of songs like "Changes", "School's Out" and "Another Brick in the Wall".  I just started watching the CW show "Frequency", which is a time-travel show partially set in 1996, and it's bumming me out that the music played in the background from that year is consider the "old" music.  I also hate when classic rock stations will play grunge or metal music from the 1990's (Pearl Jam, STP, Metallica) and also the stuff from the 1970's, while completely ignoring acts like the Cars and REO Speedwagon.  If the 90's stuff is classic now, then by extension you HAVE to accept the 80's music as well, you can't just skip a decade like that.

Also starring Robert Patrick (last seen in "Identity Thief"), Elijah Wood (last seen in "Celeste & Jesse Forever"), Josh Hartnett (last seen in "O"), Clea Duvall (last seen in "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing"), Famke Janssen (last seen in "Taken 3"), Bebe Neuwirth (last seen in "Summer of Sam"), Laura Harris, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy (last seen in "Anywhere But Here"), Jon Stewart (last seen in "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Usher Raymond (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald (last seen in "Grumpy Old Men"), Daniel von Bargen (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Danny Masterson (last seen in "Comic Book Villains"), Wiley Wiggins, with a cameo from Harry Knowles.

RATING: 5 out of 10 gym lockers

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Red Dragon

Year 8, Day 299 - 10/25/16 - Movie #2,477  

BEFORE: There's one more fictional doctor I need to cover before October ends - in addition to Doctors Frankenstein, Jekyll, and Moreau - and that's Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  Anthony Hopkins carries over from "The Elephant Man", obviously.  


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Manhunter" (Movie #583)

THE PLOT: A retired FBI agent with psychological gifts is assigned to help track down "The Tooth Fairy", a mysterious serial killer - aiding him is imprisoned criminal genius Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.

AFTER: My relationship to the "Hannibal" films (based on the books of Thomas Harris) has been slow to develop.  Before starting this project, my wife convinced me to watch "The Silence of the Lambs", this would have been back in the late 1990's, and I probably caught "Hannibal" out of curiosity in 2004 or so, then I watched "Manhunter" in 2010.  So I'm good for a new film in the series every six years or so, which means I'm due.  In the meantime, the franchise has been kept alive with another film "Hannibal Rising" and an NBC series that ran for three seasons, which I did not watch.  (And now I've just learned that the 2nd half of season 3 essentially adapted the "Red Dragon" story, so I'm saving a bunch of time by watching this film tonight...)

Another reason for avoiding this film for so long is the fact that it was directed by Brett Ratner, who I knew back at NYU and had a massive argument with, over his refusal to show up at all when he was supposed to crew on my films.  Meanwhile he spent all of his time flirting with random women when he was supposed to be directing his own films - and I finally figured out that he was just there to get a degree, there was a high-profile job waiting for him directing rap videos, he just needed the diploma, and nothing else was important.  As such, he felt entitled and saw no reason to do any work that would help out anyone else in the class.  

I swore to never watch one of his films, but that only lasted until he directed one of the "X-Men" films, "The Last Stand", which is universally regarded as the worst "X-Men" film ever made, even worse than this year's "X-Men: Apocalypse".  But this is the year for me to get to some films that have been outstanding for a long time - this is also the year of sequels, reboots and remakes.  "Red Dragon" manages to simultaneously be a prequel (to "Silence of the Lambs") and a remake (of "Manhunter").  There was nothing really wrong with "Manhunter", except it made the mistake of being released before "The Silence of the Lambs", and featuring a different actor (Brian Cox) as Hannibal "Lecktor".  (It's now regarded a bit like the original "Casino Royale" with David Niven, that is to say, it's not officially part of the franchise.)  

But let's talk about shortcuts, because from where I stand, this film is full of them - and that fits perfectly with what I know about the director, and his driving purpose to avoid hard work.  Doing a remake is a big shortcut - you know in advance that the basic story will work as a film, plus you've already got a road map of the basic plot points, and possibly another director's mistakes to avoid as well.  The film's half-made before you even begin shooting, in a way.  

And then when I started looking for shortcuts, I saw them all over the place.  Using the tabloid journalist's article as the way that the serial killers find out that Will Graham is working the case? That's a shortcut.  Showing us the history of the Tooth Fairy as a collage of newspaper articles in the opening credits?  Shortcut.  Pulling nearly the EXACT same fake-out with "Who's at the door?" that they did in "Silence of the Lambs"?  HUGE shortcut.  Having things take place within close proximity to other things, to cut down on the travel time?  And for not allowing travel time for the things that DON'T take place in the same city, giving the illusion that people are essentially teleporting across the country?  Shortcut, shortcut, shortcut.  (To be fair, a lot of shows use that last gimmick, like "CSI: Cyber" and "Criminal Minds", but on the latter, at least they show the agents on their private jet each week).  

I get that there's an attempt to display Lecter and FBI agent Graham as "two sides of the same coin" or whatever, but on some level, I'm just not buying that their abilities are the same - one analyzes crime scenes because it's his job, and the other one analyzes crime scenes for sick pleasure - this feels like another shortcut.  While it's true that you might need to think like a bank robber to be a security expert, I'm not sure that you have to think like an insane serial killer in order to catch one.  This feels like yet another shortcut, to imply that analyzing murder scenes is in danger of having an adverse effect on Graham, if it hasn't already.  I would wager that the CSI-style approach to solving crime (as seen when the FBI team analyzes the Tooth Fairy's note) is much more common, and much more effective than this whole "getting inside the killer's head" nonsense.  

Like, how can we expect a sane man (Graham) to follow the logic of an insane person (Tooth Fairy), who thinks that gouging his victims' eyes out will help them "see"? And this is another example of how forensic work is sometimes portrayed as mystical, as when someone "reads" a scene, it goes beyond Sherlock Holmes-style observation to a technique that is more visceral or subconscious, and again, I'd wager that the basic building blocks of fingerprints, traces and paper trails are much more effective than gut instincts and sudden flashes of inspiration.

However, the end result is something that's truly scary, in the chilling serial-killer sense, and probably the only movie this month that I can say that about, after focusing so much on the ridiculous Frankenstein films from Universal's later years, and cartoonish fare like "Hotel Transylvania 2", and idiotic films like "Vampire's Kiss".  It really, really pains me to give this film an acceptable score - but when placed adjacent to "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and "The Elephant Man", I've got to give it credit for at least doing what it set out to do.  

OK, now for the NITPICK POINTS: the opening scene shows Lector entertaining dinner guests from the symphony board, and there's a casual mention of the fact that the orchestra's flute player is missing.  If you're familiar with Hannibal's history, it's not too hard to guess that the missing man might be found on the guests' plates, and this is almost played for laughs.  But the guests are willing to eat the appetizer without knowing exactly what it contains, and in these modern times, when people have all sorts of food allergies, that's just not going to fly.  Chances are that at least one person at the table would demand to know whether the dish contains any nuts, shellfish, dairy or gluten.  

Also starring Edward Norton (last seen in "Frida"), Ralph Fiennes (last seen in "Spectre"), Harvey Keitel (last seen in "The Pick-Up Artist"), Emily Watson (last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Philip Seymour Hoffman (last seen in "Nobody's Fool"), Mary-Louise Parker (last seen in "RED 2"), Anthony Heald (last seen in "Postcards From the Edge"), Frank Whaley (last seen in "Swimming With Sharks"), Ken Leung (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Frankie Faison (last seen in "Betsy's Wedding"), with cameos from Bill Duke (last seen in "American Gigolo"), Lalo Schifrin, Mary Beth Hurt (last seen in "Young Adult") and the voice of Ellen Burstyn (last seen in "The Exorcist").

RATING: 6 out of 10 antique wheelchairs 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Elephant Man

Year 8, Day 298 - 10/24/16 - Movie #2,476       

BEFORE: I originally had this scheduled for a few days ago, but adding those Frankenstein films at the last minute had an unexpected effect on my linking - so this got rescheduled, and now I have to link from Marlon Brando.  Simple enough, Brando was in the 1953 version of "Julius Caesar" with John Gielgud.  I should know, I watched it.  

This is a David Lynch film, and I'm approaching this with caution, because I've been burned by him before, at least three times now.  "Eraserhead" last October, and both "Mulholland Dr." and "Lost Highway" earlier this year all turned out to be maddening, confusing pieces of non-linear narrative, and they drove me bonkers.  I mean, I love the guy for "Twin Peaks", but his movies just leave me scratching my head.


THE PLOT:  A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity.

AFTER: I started this Halloween chain with haunting ghosts and seductive vampires, but this second half of the month has turned out to be more about mad doctors (Frankenstein, Moreau) and their disfigured subjects (and assistants).  So this film should fit in rather nicely here, though the doctor here isn't such a mad scientist, he's much more compassionate.  Still, he struggles with the notion that his actions may not be completely good, as he puts John Merrick on display and starts to feel a bit like a sideshow barker. (And the circus sideshow has also popped up again and again this year, go figure...there's something of an echo here from "Victor Frankenstein", with the doctor finding Igor at the circus.)

But this story just sort of left me cold.  And I am sympathetic to the plight of John Merrick as a character, this horribly disfigured man, but I just don't know if his story works well as a movie.  And I wonder if Lynch had a similar crisis of conscience as Dr. Treves did - it's impossible to tell this man's story without putting him on display, and isn't the movie just an updated version of the circus sideshow?  Doesn't this exploit him again, decades after the fact?  And after the big reveal (his face is kept covered for the first 30 minutes or so of the film) what more can the movie tell us?  Really, there's just one shock when you first see what he looks like, and then after that, it's the same point, over and over.  We get it, he doesn't look normal...

And why is he called "Elephant Man"?  I don't think he looked that much like an elephant, he didn't have a trunk or even a particularly long nose, for example, or gray rough skin like an elephant's hide, so why an elephant?  If he had elephantitis in his feet I could even understand it, but as it is, it seems like there would be simpler ways to refer to him than to cite a creature that he simply does not resemble.  

I must say, this is the most linear narrative I've ever seen in a David Lynch film, except for maybe "Blue Velvet".  There's a bit at the end that seems like a little montage-y, where what's happening on screen is not exactly stated but only hinted at - but there's no tiny person living in the radiator, or any character that turns into another character inexplicably.  So that means he CAN tell a straight story when he wants to, he just chooses not to. (Ironically, after tonight "A Straight Story" is now perhaps the only major Lynch film I haven't seen yet.)  

Any black-and-white film made in the modern age seems to develop a repuation for being "arty", but whether this film deserves this classification is somewhat subjective to me.  The truth seems to be that the prosthetic make-up used on Merrick's character didn't look very realistic in color, so shooting in black and white had the effect of making it more believable.  To me, that's a clear case of putting the cart before the horse, making the whole thing appear more classy, almost by accident.

Also starring Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), John Hurt (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Anne Bancroft (last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"), Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones (last seen in "The Count of Monte Cristo"), Michael Elphick (last seen in "Quadrophenia"), Hannah Gordon, Helen Ryan, John Standing (last seen in "Scoop"), Dexter Fletcher (last seen in "Layer Cake"), Kenny Baker (last seen in "24 Hour Party People").

RATING: 4 out of 10 tea parties

Listen to Me Marlon

Year 8, Day 297 - 10/23/16 - Movie #2,475

 BEFORE: I had a birthday weekend that essentially amounted to an eating tour.  Cake at the office on Friday, out for a giant deli sandwich that night with a friend, and then the German restaurant in Queens on Sunday.  It's not really my birthday until I make the rounds and eat all the things. 

And now I'm embarking on another long-term project, I'm determined to replace all the music I have on cassettes with either CD or downloaded files, because I have a ton of music that I bought over the years that I simply can't listen to on my phone.  So I have boxes of music that I can't enjoy, what's the point of that.  Sure, it burns me that I have to pay TWICE to listen to the same music, and that's been a sticking point for years, and why I haven't started the process. I've heard about these devices that will play cassettes and transfer the songs into MP3 files, but it seems like a lot of work to figure out if the device will work with my Mac, then comes the tedious process of playing all those cassettes to make the files, when I'm not even sure that will work right.  

Instead, I'm going to start at "A" and buy two albums on iTunes each week, which will get expensive over time, but hey, I just cancelled home phone service, so that's $65 or $70 bucks I'm saving each month now that I can throw at this project.  Plus I'll get an incentive to come into the office each Monday, with a couple of CDs in my pack and the name of two albums to download, and I'll get new (old) music on my phone each week!  It could take me two or three years to go from Aerosmith to ZZ Top, but hey, by week 2 I'll have Badfinger songs on my phone, so that's something to look forward to.   

Meanwhile, I'm reaching the home stretch on this year's films, 25 movies to go - that's four more Halloween films, then 12 movies in November and 9 in December.  No problem, I can more or less coast to the finish from here.  Marlon Brando carries over from "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and...what's that you say?  This documentary about Brando's career seems out of place in a horror chain?  Well, I heard that the film is narrated by a digitized scan of Brando's floating head, and if that isn't spooky, I don't know what is.  


THE PLOT:  A documentary that utilizes hundreds of hours of audio that Marlon Brando recorded over the course of his life to tell the screen legend's story.

AFTER: Speaking of audio cassettes, he attempt here is to give some insight into the mind and acting style of Brando, via the tapes he recorded, sort of a cross between an auto-biography and a form of self-hypnosis.  Frequently he imagines himself on a tropical beach, bathing in the sun, or sneaking out of the house as a child in the morning to go sit under a favorite elm tree.  The danger, of course, is that the calming nature of Brando's messages to himself could easily put viewers to sleep.  

Of course, what everyone wants to know is about method acting, the style that got him nominated for Academy Awards eight times, winning twice, for "On the Waterfront" and "The Godfather" (the latter of which he shockingly declined, due to Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans as villains in Westerns.  He wasn't wrong, just ahead of his time in this way of thinking.)  Regarding acting, Brando singles out Clark Gable, James Cagney and other actors of the previous generation as being safe, predictable, and delivering whatever the directors feel the audiences wanted out of their performances. By contrast, Brando studied with Stella Adler so that he could breakthrough this wall of fakery, and try to deliver something more real, something with feeling.  Because the theory states that if he's feeling an emotion, he should be better able to convey that on film, even if the physical action involved equates to doing nothing.  The "method" goes back to Stanislavski, and his three pupils, Adler, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner.  I bet they were a fun bunch when they all got together.   

To put it another way, when performing "A Streetcar Named Desire" on stage, any actor could have come out and read the lines as written, and pretended to experience the emotions connected to them, but Brando would get out on stage, scream, cry, break dishes, punch the walls, and experience the emotions for real, all in the name of giving a more honest performance.  I wish Brando (and this film) could have touched more on what this meant to him, and how it affected him years down the road. 

For that matter, based on what I read last night, I would have loved to have seen more of the disputes on films late in Brando's career - I think someone made a whole documentary about the difficulties involved in making "The Island of Dr. Moreau", with writers and actors quitting and being fired in a constant stream.  Compared with, say, Coppola's experiences working with Brando on "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now".  Even there, it seems there was a world of difference between those two films, you don't really hear many complaints about directing Marlon in the 1972 "Godfather", but then by 1979's "Apocalypse Now", Coppola complained about how difficult he was to manage, demanding script rewrites and showing up greatly overweight. 

If I'm a little skeptical about the earnestness of Brando's insights into his own career, it's only because I'm aware of how editing down so much material could easily skew it, merely by deciding what to leave in and what to leave out.  It makes me wonder what the agenda was, whether to humanize a mythical acting figure by pointing out his feet of clay, or to lionize him by only focusing on his most iconic roles: Don Corleone, Marc Anthony, Colonel Kurtz, Terry Malloy, Fletcher Christian and Stanley.  Even when reference is made to his portrayal of Jor-El in the first "Superman" movie, his $14 million paycheck for a few days work is spun as Brando getting one over on the film's producers, not being greedy, for example. 

There's also insight into Brando's personal life, thanks to news footage and interviews that focus on his short marriage to Anna Kashfi, the mother of his son Christian, and his later marriage to a Tahitian actress, the mother of his daughter Cheyenne.  But a little research on Wikipedia tells me that Brando had 16 or 17 children (some adopted), so why does the film focus on just these two?  Well, that's easy, because of the incident where Christian shot Cheyenne's boyfriend, but I think that mentioning this without the context of Brando's other kids does him something of a disservice. 


Also starring (in archive footage) Stella Adler, Dick Cavett (last seen in "Bobby Fischer Against the World"), Bernardo Bertolucci, Bette Davis (last seen in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"), Francis Ford Coppola, Sacheen Littlefeather, Karl Malden (last seen in "The Cincinnati Kid"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Catch-22"), Kim Hunter, Trevor Howard, Al Pacino (last seen in "Two For the Money"), Robert Duvall (last seen in "The Judge")

RATING: 4 out of 10 wind chimes