Sights and Sounds

Noises Off

Noises off coverI’ve always liked films and plays that are about films and plays themselves.  Maybe it’s because there is still a part of me that would have like to have been “an actor.” (Said term must be pronounced with the air of exaggerated sophistication that implies the lack of same.)  Noises Off is one of my favorites.  It has an all-star comedy cast featuring Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Marilu Henner, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeve.  The story is about a group of actors in a touring company performing a comedic play that they hope will head to the big time.  In this case the action behind the scenes is as funny, or funnier, than what is taking place on stage.  The film gives us a chance to the see the action from both sides.  From the front we see the play “Nothing On,” from the back we see the interactions among the actors.  There are affairs, personality conflicts, and drinking to the point of drunkenness.  The term “noises off” comes from the direction that backstage sounds are to cease, something that doesn’t exactly happen backstage in the movie.

Noises Off is a comedy based on the play by Michael Frayn. It is a fast paced and driven movie that reminds me quite a bit of some of the best skits from the Carol Burnett Show.  In most plays backstage is an area of controlled chaos.  In the case of the backstage action in Noises Off remove the word controlled.   If you like a good, semi intelligent comedy mixed with slapstick and outrageous personalities you should give Noises Off a try.

Muscle Shoals

Muscle Shoals is great music documentary about the "special sound" that came out of the studio recordings of this small town in Alabama that includes names like Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Allman Brothers (among others). Interviews with the studio musicians, the engineers, and some of the more famous people involved on the bands listed above help tell the story of this great place to make music. I was particularly interested in the story of the session musicians from that town, named "The Swampers" that played behind the varied kinds of musicians that came to record over the years.

Harvey

“Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Elwood P. Dowd.

Jimmy Stewart once said that his role as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey was one of his favorites.  It is perhaps his most famous movie role beside that of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”   Harvey is a laid back and enjoyable film about a man who has left the work-a-day world and apparently entered into a life of unreality.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

I chose to highlight this film, released (and slightly forgotten) last year, because the holds queue has recently run its course. The plot concerns a small-town Texas man who escapes from prison to reunite with his wife and their child he has never seen. If you're looking for a crime picture that is equal parts emotional relationship drama and technical detail period piece (mid 20th century), check this out. The box advertises it as a "modern western", which I suppose it is, in the way a film like Down in the Valley or Lonely Are The Brave (the last "good Western", according to Sam Shepard's True West) is. It has a few action scenes, but this film is more Badlands than Bonnie & Clyde.

Unpublished

Auto Focus

In the 1960’s one of the top rated TV shows of the time was a comedy about the unusual subject of a prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany.    The show was the story was about a group of prisoners in Stalag 13 whose mission was to conduct secret operations behind enemy lines.  It was known as Hogan’s Heroes.   The film Auto Focus is not about this television show but about its star who found himself in the public’s eye and being held up to public as the example of the ideal family man.  His life and his actions were anything but ideal. 

Firefly

“Here's how it is: The Earth got used up, so we moved out and terraformed a whole new galaxy of Earths. Some rich and flush with the new technologies, some not so much. The Central Planets, thems formed the Alliance, waged war to bring everyone under their rule; a few idiots tried to fight it, among them myself. I'm Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity. She's a transport ship; Firefly class. Got a good crew: fighters, pilot, mechanic. We even picked up a preacher for some reason, and a bona fide companion. There's a doctor, too, took his genius sister outta some Alliance camp, so they're keepin' a low profile. You understand. You got a job, we can do it, don't much care what it is.” – Opening Credits

The television series Firefly is a show that many say was never really given a chance.  I would have to agree. Produced by Joss Whedon for the Fox Network, the show was originally planned to have a seven year story ark.  It was canceled after airing only 11out of 14 filmed episodes.  It suffered from a variety of issues.  Fox aired the episodes out of order and swapped the times that it aired in an ill-advised attempt to raise ratings.  Those who found the show had trouble finding it again.  Even with these issues, Firefly gathered such a strong fan following that with the release of the DVDs its popularity has continued to build over time. 

Homeland Season 1

Homeland is absolutely great tv drama! Imagine a decorated United States Marine who unexpectedly returns home from Iraq after being held a prisoner of war. Further imagine that the CIA has credible intelligence that a returning soldier has been converted into an Al-quaeda operative. Now imagine the clash of a war hero trying to clear his name with the CIA when the CIA suspects him of being a terrorist. Season one of Homeland will keep you on the edge of your seat. The library has five copies of the first season.

Across the Universe

I’m not much of a purist about most things but Beatles’ songs are an exception. The idea of a movie that used the songs of The Beatles to tell a story did not really appeal to me. That the songs were not the original recordings made the idea seem even worse.  However after re-reading Roger Ebert’s review of the movie “Across the Universe” I felt I had to at least give the film a shot.   Jude (Jim Sturgess) has come to the United States to find his father and make his way as an artist.  While here he meets Max Carrigon and his sister Lucy.   From here the film follows Jude and Lucy through the turbulent sixties while capturing their up and down relationship.  This happens to the beat of the accompanying background of Beatles tunes.

Deceptive practice

If you like magic, Deceptive practice: the mysteries and mentors of Ricky Jay is definitely worth checking out. Ricky Jay is one of the most well respected living magicians, a bit of a scholar when it comes to the history of magic, and a frequent consultant on Hollywood films that deal with magic. You may recognize him as an actor from several movies by David Mamet or Paul Thomas Anderson, if you don't remember his frequent appearances on television (he was the youngest magician to perform a full act on TV in 1953).

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