Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten Films, Television and/or Other Audiovisuals: K-PAX starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges

I watched K-PAX a while back only because my daughter assured me it was a terrific movie. I had steered away from it (though I like Kevin Spacey) because this was apparently the kind of story line I dislike, i.e. a sympathetic main character sees or believes or knows or is something that nobody else in the movie sees or believes or knows or is. In this type of screenplay, the easiest ending is often an accommodation which is neither fish nor fowl. (Some might think that this film has that sort of ending and they might be right.)

Here's my gripe: For this sort of thing to work for me, the plot MUST provide a big pay-off in the end, otherwise why bother setting it and us up? 

Prot up a tree.

Well, I'm happy to say that though I began to despair  three quarters of the way through, eventually, K-PAX delivered very nicely, despite the 'fish nor fowl' comparison. The film is a 2001, sci-fi, mystery(sort of) film directed by Iain Softley with a screenplay by Charles Leavitt based on a novel by Gene Brewer, starring Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges and Alfre Woodard.

Spacey (who is wonderful here) plays a troublesome patient (most of the film takes place in or around a mental institution) named Prot, a self-assured, philosophical type who claims to be from the planet K-Pax. Bridges plays psychiatrist Mark Powell who attempts to 'cure' Prot of his 'alien delusion'. But the thing is, Prot and his beliefs are having a beneficial effect of several of the good doctor's more hard-case patients. 

Bridges (Mark Powell) and Spacey (Prot), doctor and patient.

In fact, Prot's beliefs, opinions and philosophy soon begin having an effect on the doctor himself. Not that that part of the plot mattered much to me one way or the other. Jeff Bridges is part everyman, part wooden Indian and part filter, a kind of requisite - occasionally tone deaf - wall for Prot to bounce (philosophically speaking) against. Otherwise who would Prot expound to? Powell is soft and squishy to Prot's hard charm. That Powell begins to doubt himself is to be expected but not really, that overly interesting. Or maybe I should sat that Bridges doesn't make it that overly interesting.

And expound Prot does, in a very dreamy but self-assured way that catches you up, makes you want to be in his presence as often as possible. He is full of empathy and complexity, a charmer with a hidden agenda, perhaps messianic, perhaps not.

Perhaps inviting Prot to a family event was not the best decision.

The audience is meant, I think, to believe completely in Prot simply because Spacey does such a fine job of believing in Prot himself. Even when his story begins to fall apart - or so we think - we want to keep believing. But the truth is, I almost turned off the film at that point, sensing I was doomed to disappointment. 

In the end you need to pay strict attention because if you leave the room for a minute or two, you'll believe the film ends one way. But if you stay glued to the screen, you'll see that the film actually ends another way - it just requires a bit of thinking and putting two and two together. Ambiguity works here though in truth, there's less ambiguity than first meets the eye.

Lots of people, i.e. reviewers, probably would have preferred a rational ending with explanation - it seems to be that way these days (though this movie was made fourteen years ago) with audiences inured to 'what if'. And yes, there is some sentimentality on display, but since my (not really mine but can't remember where I read it) meaning of sentimentality in plot lines is 'unearned emotion' - I'd say it doesn't completely apply here. Besides, sentiment is not always the kiss of death.

I'm probably going to want to see this film again one of these days, just to make sure that the ending I saw is the ending they meant. Jeez, I hate to be cheated.

Where exactly is K-Pax?

Later, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Films, Television and/or Other Audio-Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten Movie,Television, and/or Other Audio-Visuals: AS YOUNG AS WE ARE starring Pippa Scott and Robert Harland

I'd remembered this little potboiler of a movie as one I'd seen with my mother on a double bill at the local movie palace once upon a time in the long ago world of such things as double bills and ten cartoons - all inclusive. I also remember being embarrassed because there are several heated clinches between the 'hero' and the 'heroine' and I wasn't used to sitting next to my mother during this sort of 'realistic' love scene. But to my surprise, my mom seemed remarkably complacent about the whole thing.

At any rate, this is not exactly a shining gem of a movie, but still, I think, worth seeing for the anachronisms (most of them laughable) of the times and the aforementioned 'heated clinches' which seemed to me to be rather daring, then. Not so much today when a kiss singles the immediate jumping into bed of the people involved. Ah well, back then, we used our imaginations. Remember when we had them?

Robert Harland and Pippa Scott were steamy enough for 1958 and then some. If you enjoy the good old fashioned clinches of the past, then this movie is for you. Not to mention Robert Harland's smoldering eyes when he looks at his Pippa aka Kim Hutchins, early in the movie. It's hard to fathom why Harland never made it big as a leading man, his acting wasn't great, but surely his good looks and 'smoldering' should have counted for something.

AS YOUNG AS WE ARE is a 1950's film directed by Bernard Girard and written by Meyer Dolinsky based on a story by William Alland, which purports to show the plight of a couple of young California teachers just out of university, who, for vague reasons, can't seem to get jobs in schools at the locations of their choosing so are forced to travel to an isolated desert town which apparently has the only school district willing to give them work. I know - really?

Well, anyway, off they go with the misgivings of their families. The naive Kim Hutchins (Pippa Scott) and the less naive Joyce Goodwin (Majel Barrett - remember her from Star Trek? She was married to Gene Roddenberry.) driving off into the desert looking for their fortunes - not in gold, but in educational careers and husbands.

On the way they have car trouble on a lonely road and sure enough, a couple of drunken louts stop to give the young ladies a hard time. But when all seems lost, our hero, Hank Moore (well, you knew his name had to be Hank or Joe or something like it) drives up in his truck with, not one, but two giggling girls sitting beside him. He coolly stops to help the ladies in distress, routs the drunks, takes a good look at Kim (Pippa Scott) and is instantly smitten.

Hank (Robert Harland) is a tall, muscular, smoldering lad (yeah, I stress the smoldering, but really he's so good at it) whom Kim finds hard to resist. Later, after the road side incident, he shows up at the young teachers' boarding house and asks Kim out for a beer. She goes with him, eagerly, much to Joyce's chagrin at being left behind, but hey, threes a crowd. Of the two teachers, starry-eyed Kim is supposed to be the pretty one and Joyce the 'not-so-pretty' and there are hints that Joyce is the more experienced one. And you know where that got you in the 1950's.

Anyway, it's not much of a date destination, but what can you expect from a desert town in the middle of nowhere? They go to the local bar and grill, have a couple of beers and are soon slow dancing and well, you can guess the rest. Think: heated clinch. Actually, for a teacher, a supposed molder of young(er) minds, Kim seems a bit, well, the word 'easy' comes to mind, but maybe I'm just being picky.

Soon enough storm clouds appear on the horizon as we kind of thought they would. Imagine Kim's shock and horror when on her first day of teaching at the high school, who should stroll into class but Hank Moore. He is a Senior at the school - hard to believe since he looks older than everyone else and in real life was actually a year older than Pippa Scott. But there he is. Suprise. Poor Kim, she had no clue since Hank hadn't troubled to tell her once he'd found out she was one of the new teachers.

Of course, Kim immediately cancels their personal life. But Hank isn't having any of that. He is thoroughly smitten to the point of idiocy and smitten he will stay.

The second half of the film is an over-reaction by EVERYONE, and I could have thought of several other ways out for the characters, but this was the 50's and as everyone knows inappropriate sex or even the hint of inappropriate sex back then caused histrionics. Remember SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS? - sex caused nervous breakdowns if you weren't careful.

At any rate, do see the film for the reasons I've given you - I think it might be available on Netflix. (Amazon has it too on pay for view.) It's a fun anachronistic piece worth a look if only for all the prurient smoldering or perhaps for the chance to shake your head and think back to the good old days when everything seemed so clear cut.

Another thought: a film based on this sort of forbidden relationship should give you a bit of the creeps, don't you think? Well, this one doesn't. Probably because you don't believe for a moment that Hank Moore is a Senior in high school.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films and whatnot other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: LOST HORIZON (1933) by James Hilton

I'd seen the movie many, MANY, years ago, with Ronald Colman . But I'd never read the book until now. What brought me to it at this moment in time? Who knows. Maybe I waited just long enough. There's always the enticing possibility that due to serendipity, you are reading certain books at the perfect time in your life.  At any rate, LOST HORIZON will stay with me for a while. Don't you love when that happens? Of course this makes it difficult to jump right into another book, but I can live with that.

Let's face it, most books don't stay with you, not these days of hurried reading two and three books at a time, trying to fulfill a challenge or deadline or blog post, every one's in a hurry, hurry, hurry.

LOST HORIZON is all about not being in a hurry. Not rushing about in a frenzy. It is a book about spiritual acceptance and rationality. About taking the time to be true to your innermost self. In a way it is a book about selfishness and how that's not such a bad thing. It is also a book about - the world being what it is - the inevitability of war. An anti-war polemic about the follies of mankind that carries a grim prophecy of war (WWII was on the horizon even then). A pragmatic book full of dreams if that makes any sense. A book abundant in themes - political, moral and spiritual - worth discussing in detail. But that's something for another reviewer. I don't do that kind of thing well, so I'm keeping this short.

The main protagonist is my favorite kind of hero, the competent man. This we accept from the beginning - Hugh Conway is seen by most as an exceptional man, a natural born leader, an ex-soldier, stalwart, intelligent, handsome, with an appeal that is instantly recognizable though not entirely accessible.  In a fix, he is the man to turn to. His old school chums remember him with fascination.

Aware of this, Conway is burdened by an inner duality which he occasionally has a difficult time coming to terms with. He is a disillusioned man risen from the horrors of WWI; a contemplative man who wants to be left alone to nurse his psyche.

"A pity you didn't know him at Oxford. He was just brilliant - there's no other word. After the War people said he was different. I, myself, think he was. But I can't help feeling that with all his gifts he ought to have been doing bigger work. All that Britannic Majesty stuff isn't my idea of a great man's career. And Conway was - or should have been great. You and I have both known him, and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it's an experience we shan't ever forget. And even when he and I met in the middle of China, with his mind a blank and his past a mystery, there was still that queer core of attractiveness in him."

Conway has one of those vague government jobs as consul for the British colony in Baskul (he is regarded as too independent to be given anything more important to do), a country situated in the Middle East. He seems to be coasting through life because as he says, his real life took place between the years 1914 and 1918. The war has derailed him, in a way, made him unfit for 'normality'. I believe this happens to many soldiers, probably, in every war. I often think: how could it not?

The plot:

On the night when Conway and three other passengers: a woman missionary, an American ex-pat, and a young British soldier who had fought alongside Conway in some battle and holds Conway in extreme hero-worship, are evacuated from Baskul in the midst of escalating unrest, the plane is hijacked by the pilot.

After a harrowing journey, the plane crash-lands high in a remote area of the Himalayas, and the hijacker is killed.

We all kind of know what happens next, but it's still thrilling to read. Of the four passengers, Conway is the only one who realizes at journey's end that he has come home. That here is the place he's always yearned for and never knew existed, the place where he can, perhaps, compromise the duality in his troubled nature.

Shangri-La: an almost inaccessible (but not quite) paradise hidden away from the world, where time has little meaning, and everyone lives in relative harmony. A spiritual place of beauty and mystery. To this day, even if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, the name of Shangri-La still carries a magical resonance.

Upon their perilous arrival at the lamasery, The High Lama, an old man ancient in years, recognizes in Conway, a fellow 'passionless' being, someone with whom he can talk, someone to whom he can reveal the secret of Shangri-La.

LOST HORIZON is a mystical fable with an extraordinarily pragmatic view of religion and was, I think, Hilton's favorite book. Though, to Hilton's surprise, it took a while to become the classic it is today.

Because of the time in which it was written, there is, of course, some hint of 'the white man's burden' but not overly so since everyone in Shangri-La lives in harmony, primarily because each person there knows his or her place. (And perhaps that is the secret to human happiness.) It is a community of workers and thinkers - the thinkers in the lamasery on the plateau of a high mountain, the workers below, separate but happy in their separateness. They know of the outside world, but are content not to travel there.

What happens then to the four travelers from the outside world when they land in this strangely enigmatic place, makes for an intriguing and thought-provoking tale of folly and courage.

Usually we check in at Patti Abbott's blog, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. But I see that Todd Mason is doing hosting duties today at his blog, Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to check in there.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Forgotten Film: THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU (1943) starring Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson

WWII ended in Europe in May of 1945 and in Japan in August of the same year, so we are 70 years into the future and in a celebratory mood, a good time to remind you of one of my all time favorite WWII movies.

I've written about this film before, a couple of years ago - I'll add the link to my review at the bottom of this post. But I wouldn't wait a moment longer if I were you (if you haven't seen it, that is), I'd watch it on this page for as long as it is available You know how chancy these things are - it may disappear tomorrow (though in truth, it's been on youtube for awhile, but you never know), so drop everything and watch one of my very favorite WWII movies. THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU starring Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson with Glynis Johns in a small heartbreaking role. This is a film directed by Harold S. Bucquet and written by John Lee Mahin, Howard Emmett Rogers and Miles Malleson from an original story by John C. Higgins. 

I know you've never heard of it (unless you read my original post) - few have - but I'm here to tell you that it is one of those (unjustly) forgotten films definitely worth watching.

Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson - what'd not to love? A spy thriller  filmed in the midst of WWII - action, suspense and a dynamite ending. What could be better? Not much.

View my original review here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Forgotten Book: APPLEBY'S END (1945) by Michael Innes. Okay, one more post about Appleby and Michael Innes' writing and I'm done. With Appleby that is. For now, that is.

Bear with me, I simply have to tell you about this one and then I promise to stop - for awhile. Lately, in between other books, I've been re-reading a few of Michael Innes' Appleby books - the ones I have in my own library and while I'm at it, making up a list of the Appleby books I don't have and must get. Always a good thing to do, I think. But I'm not going to heap tons of Appleby reviews on you - not to worry (three isn't 'tons'). This is the last one. You know how much I enjoy the books.

So I beg your indulgence. I don't get into these moods often.

Well, actually, yeah, I kind of do.

But I mean no harm.

The very bizzare, APPLEBY'S END is a one of Innes' more surreal (the perfect word, Les) endeavors and suffice to say you'll either like it or hate it and if you hate it you'll put it down and never pick it up again. Or if, like me, you keep chugging right along and roll your eyes at the parts you don't quite get and enjoy the parts you do, then fine. Don't expect a long, detailed review - this is a kind of mini-review (well, maybe not mini-mini) - I'm hoping that Sergio or John or Les will take up Innes on their blogs one of these days and give us several of their well-written, well-wrought, well thought-out reviews and expert analysis, so we can take the books apart and have a really good, long chat on the fascination of Innes and Appleby.

APPLEBY'S END is the book in which Appleby meets his future wife Judith Raven, an erstwhile sculptor with an eye for what she wants. Needless to say, it is not the most conventional of romances - if, indeed, it is a romance at all. I'd call it more or less the inevitable outcome of the meeting of two well-bred pragmatists (with a well-bred tolerance for absurdity) with standards to uphold. But maybe that's just me. Appleby, ever the gentleman, apparently has no fear of his future wife's relations, though possibly he should have. But after all the strange things he's seen in his life, it's possible that the spectre of outlandish eccentricity holds no fears for Appleby.

At any rate, forget about that, as I mentioned, this is not the sort of book that inspires instant affection in the reader, it's more a book you may instantly hate or, perhaps (like me) you'll be stunned into a trance-like state, transfixed into immobility. It all depends, in the end, on your tolerance for British eccentricity and literary preening. I happen to enjoy it and can tolerate quite a lot.

In this book, there are destinations improbably named Sneak and Snarl. Yes, a village called Sneak. And a village called Snarl. Appleby needs to get to Snarl, and in that effort, he is on a train chugging along in the night though we are not given a specific reason as to why he should be.

One of the passengers sharing the compartment is a gentleman with a literary bent (he's in the middle of writing an encyclopedia) and an odd willingness to make himself useful to Appleby.

"Yatter," said Mr. Raven.

"I beg your pardon."

"Yatter. A ghastly little place. Yatter, Abbot's Yatter and King's Yatter. Then we come to Drool...I think you said you hoped to change at Linger?"


"Um." Mr. Raven peered into the darkness which was again jolting leisurely by. "Inclement," he said gloomily; "really very inclement indeed."

"You think there may be some difficulty about changing at Linger?"

"But presently" - Mr. Raven spoke briskly and inconsequently, as one who avoids the premature disclosure of discomfiting intelligence - "but presently we shall be filling up. .....I suppose it was your aim to get to Sneak or Snarl?"

"I've booked a room at the inn at Snarl. And I certainly hope to get there tonight."

Mr. Raven shook his head. "I am very sorry to have to tell you that it can't be done. The train for Snarl never waits to make this connection."

Appleby stared at his companion aghast. "But," he said feebly, "the timetable - "

Again Mr. Raven shook his head - in commiseration, and also perhaps in some amusement at the extravagant expectations of the urban mind. "My dear sir, the timetable was printed long before Gregory Grope's grandmother fell down the well."

"I hardly see - "

"For a long time she was just missing, and her house at Sneak - a very nice house - stood empty. But when she came up with the bucket one day......and it was quite clear that she was dead, Gregory Grope's mother moved to Sneak from Snarl."

"Do I understand," asked Appleby resignedly, "that Gregory Grope is the engine-driver?"

"Exactly so. If I may say so, Mr. Appleby, you possess a keen power of inference. Gregory Grope drives the Snarl train, and the train of course spends the night at Snarl. But Gregory has to get home on his motor-bicycle to Sneak, and his mother is decidedly strict about late hours. It appears that it was as the consequence of a nocturnal diversion, somewhat surprising in a woman of her years, that old Mrs. Grope came to her unfortunate end. But I digress. The point is that Gregory and his train now leave Linger somewhat earlier than before. Of course you could complain to the district superintendent and I dare say something might be done about it in time."

And so it goes...

All manner of strange events will occur, a near disaster on the river in the middle of a snow storm, resulting in Appleby's having to spend the night in a barnyard - in a haystack, actually, alongside the previously mentioned Judith Raven - an event that more or less necessitates an instant matrimonial engagement when gossip in the village runs a bit amok. Appleby is a gentleman, after all. Although nothing of import actually happens in the haystack - that I can tell, anyway.

Of course, I haven't mentioned the head buried in the snow...

Later, if you're still reading, you'll get to meet one of the more endearing characters Michael Innes is so adept at creating, Mr. Smith, the local vicar:

'Appleby knocked and the door was opened - or rather manipulated, for it seemed to be possessed of only one hinge - by a red-faced, white-haired clergyman standing some six-feet-four in badly cracked shoes. "Come in," said the clergyman; "come in, by all means. I don't know you from Adam - though I've always had a shrewd idea, mark you, that Adam would be eminently recognizable if one passed passed him in the street. Bother this door! I must tell the village carpenter that here is something very like a work of corporal mercy...A wise dispensation, no doubt, since we come rather noticeably short at present in the matter of Faith. Come in. Smith is my name and this is Hodge, my cat." He pointed to a large brindled creature sedately posed in the crook of his arm. "I was just going to butter the buns."

Near the end the denizens of Sneak and Snarl and Drool and Linger (among others) run about the snow covered countryside in frenzied pursuit of a witch and just when all seems lost - inheritance-wise - and the reason for all the madness revealed, there's a final exclamation/revelation which will leave you smiling and shaking your head.

Unless you gave up early and threw the book across the room.

Friday Forgotten Books is a meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

Oh by the way, here's my previous APPLEBY'S END review from a couple of years ago - John reminded me that I'd written about this book before. Sorry about that.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Another strange Inspector Appleby adventure by Michael Innes: THE OPEN HOUSE (1972)

This book has one of the best beginnings EVER! (At least the kind of beginning I love.) Retired Scotland Yard man, John Appleby, now Lord Appleby, is driving alone on a lonely stretch of road at night...

"The sudden immobilizing of his car hadn't much discomposed John Appleby, but the subsequent failure of his electric torch was another matter.

Not that what had happened to the car wasn't absurd enough to make anybody cross. The night was uncommonly dark and the road unfrequented; he had neither overtaken nor met any other vehicle for miles; there seemed to be no nocturnal pedestrianism or bicycling in this part of the countryside, so that his powerful headlights had the verges comfortably to themselves. Then suddenly there had been the tail-lights of a slow-moving van ahead of him and the brow of a hill beyond. So he had slowed, and changed down to third. Only the gears somehow hadn't engaged, and in a moment he knew why. He was waving the gear-lever in the air.

It hadn't been difficult to steer on to a reliable-looking grass verge, and there he has come to a halt and investigated. He was in neutral, he found, and in neutral he was going to remain. The confounded lever had broken off close to the gear-box. There was nothing whatsoever to be done..."

So he gets out of the incapacitated car and goes out into the night on foot expecting his trusty flashlight (electric torch to you) to last indefinitely - which it almost immediately doesn't. Then there are several more paragraphs of Appleby lost in the dark, looking for help, musing upon his predicament (and of course a Shakespearean quote comes into the mix) until:

"...Appleby moved on, and almost at once sensed that he was heading for an even deeper opacity than that which had hitherto surrounded him. Deep and large. A great rectangular block of darkness, which for a moment he thought to interpret as an enormous barn. And then, in another moment, the scene (if it could be called that) was shatteringly transformed. In place of blinding obscurity there was equally blinding light. For seconds Appleby's night-attuned vision was utterly confounded. Then he saw that what had sprung into existence before him was an imposing mansion-house. Its every window was uncurtained - and all had been simultaneously illuminated. The effect was as a great fanfare of trumpets released upon the dark."

A few moments later, eyesight adjusted, he finds the front door of this huge Palladian house standing wide open. What is a policeman (even a retired one) to do but enter and find himself suddenly thrown into an odd mystery of very strange proportions - complete with requisite dead body, of course.

Not to mention an eccentric professor named Snodgrass, an enigmatic woman, a malevolent servant named Leonidas, a long lost heir, and a suspicious vicar named Absolon. Just the usual.

Truth to tell, in the end there's not much satisfaction, as mysteries go: what the plot boils down to is a murderous tussle over an inheritance and a very odd yearly ritual gone wrong. But in this particular book, it's the weird journey along the way that saves the day and of course the company of Appleby for whom a seemingly insoluble puzzle is like a wounded gazelle to a lion.

I read this alongside (right after) Innes' SHEIKS AND ADDERS - a terrific duo if you're in the mood for this sort of thing and I have been, lately.

Friday Forgotten Books is a meme hosted by author Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Go check out the rest of today's terrific listings, I'll still be here when you get back.

List of all Michael Innes books.