Thursday, January 27, 2022

Stephen Schaefer’s Hollywood & Mine

As we (hopefully) emerge from the quarantines and limitations of a pandemic, it is comforting to see what appears to be deliberate responses to the suspension of normal daily life with people who have been caged indoors for more than a year. Several summer shows have drawn attention to how people do – or not! – act together. Agatha Christie, who characteristically ended her riddles with a small group that gathers in one room to find out who is guilty, or ‘Titanic’ where characters on board in a very large boat suddenly have life or death circumstances. HBOs “The White Lotus,” of which the 6 episodes are gradually launched week by week, a diverse group looting during one fateful week in a dreamy, luxurious Hawaiian resort and exploring, like mice in a Skinner maze, how they deal with stress, civilization and expectations while occasionally reacting to each other. and the staff. Oh, did I mention from the first moments that we chased someone away in a coffin after the end of the week? There is a murderous mystery with this study of human behavior under these specifically closed circumstances.

Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy in a scene from ‘The White Lotus’ miniseries on HBO Max

Netflix’s romantic comedy ‘Refuge to love’ can be seen as – and is – silly escape, but the area is a distant exotic Mauritius, the refuge loved by the French in the Indian Ocean. Here, in another luxury resort, our heroine (Christina Milian) finds herself ‘banished’ from her home island of Manhattan to the lush greenery on the other side of the world. She is there to nurse her double broken heart – her singing career is thwarted by the peculiarities of a recording star and her wedding is canceled by her fiancé. Now she discovers that her island flight is not an escape after all. Her ex is in the same Mauritius resort (!) With his new fiancé (!!) for an extended island wedding where she is expected to be the Wedding Singer (!!!).

Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine
Christina Milian, Sinqua Walls and Jay Pharoah star in “Resort to Love” on Netflix.

The biggest joke here is how the striking coincidence of how this bunch ends up on a distant island, trapped for a long weekend together, is acknowledged. And immediately forgotten. It’s time, ‘Resort’ suggests doing a scoping during this forced familiarity and asking who we really are and what we want out of this life. Is it too much to ask during a pandemic if we can not do so many things?

The arrival in August is another example of a pandemic theme ‘Nine perfect strangers’ on Hulu. Here, a carefully selected group gathers for ten days at an extremely expensive California Welfare Institute. This crowd, ranging from couples, a family of 3, bitterly single and optimistic hopefuls, is seen as a very intense bunch and a big challenge to the guru-like wellness maestro. Will be there, as in “White Lotus,” murder of possibilities? Emotional breakthroughs? Life-changing revelations? Stay tuned.

Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine
A scene from the trailer for ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’. Hulu

What “White Lotus,” authored and directed by Mike White (‘School of Rock’) ingeniously injected into his ‘Grand Hotel’ update is a consideration of the Haves and Have Nots. The guests are almost all white, while the staff are mainly local Hawaiian. White has a subplot about how guests can manipulate staff into thinking they will support their dreams of coming out and being the boss or mistress of their own business. These revelations give the sunset’s warm glow a decidedly darker hue.


FABULOUS FOREVER FAYE You will not become more legendary – or camping – than Frank Perry’s 1981 ‘Mommy Sweetheart’ (Blu-ray, Paramount, PG). It is a film notorious for its attractive moments, temporary details in clothes, cars and homes, and it is especially legendary that Oscar winner Faye Dunaway takes no prisoners or a fire hanger portrait of Hollywood drama queen Joan Crawford not. Shocking then, still full of shocks today, thanks to an inspired commentary, one that defines the word ‘droll’ by ‘American Drag Queen Hedda Lettuce’ as she is announced.

Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine
A scene from the 1981 “Mommie Dearest”, starring Mara Hobel as little Christina and Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Crawford, famously infertile, used her celebrity connections to violate the protocols that prevented other single women from adopting (sounds familiar, a celebrity using fame to hug nobles?) And eventually adopted four children. The first was the blonde Christina, followed by a brother and then a twin. When she died, Joan Crawford’s will indicated that nothing would go to her two eldest, only to the twins. Christina Crawford then published “Mommy Dear,” a bestseller that prompted a bunch of unhappy offspring to write celebrity narrators. Christina has launched debates that continue about exploitation, image and truth telling. Many of Joan Crawford’s movie star friends pulled up to her side and accused Christina of libel – to make money! Others accuse an image-conscious industry of a cover-up at the expense of abused minors. Christina’s story is definitely a wonderful relaxation from continued child abuse. I remember a quote from Kirk Douglas who once went out with Joan in the late 40’s and saw the 2 oldest kids being strapped into their beds. “I came out quickly,” he later said. Joan, a functioning alcoholic, undoubtedly has OCD and a mania for germs and neatness. When ‘Mommy Sweetheart’ opened in 1981, it was immediately ridiculed by critics and Paramount desperately launched a ‘No More Wire Hangers’ campaign, theoretically targeting gays (it was AIDS). The flop immediately turned into a cult classic – and this is where people like Hedda Lettuce emerge, fans of the film who respect it and help popularize it. However, Dunaway did not accept the film and blames it for making it difficult for cast agents over the past 40 years. Special features outside Hedda include: A filmmaker focuses on director Frank Perry through biographer Justin Bozung, ‘The Revival of Joan’, ‘Life with Joan’, ‘Joan Lives On’, a photo gallery and a commentary by John (‘Pink Flamingos’, ‘Hairspray’) Waters.

MEET KNOW! A giant of independent American cinema, ‘Ken Jacobs Collection: Vol. 1 ‘ (Blu-ray, 2 slides, Cinema Classics, Not Rated) gives this unique experimental artist his award in an extensive program. Jacobs (born May 25, 1933, now 88) has been making films since the ’50s. Here is his most famous work, the 1969 “Tom Tom, the son of the piper,” together with the 2002 ” Tom Tom Chaser. ‘ Legendary silent cameraman Billy Bitzer made the original ‘Tom Tom’ lost movie, except for a 5 minute snippet, which became the basis for Jacobs’ nearly 2 hours “Tom Tom, The Piper’s Son.” Found footage became the basis for much of Jacobs’ later work. The earliest film, from ’55, is the 27 minutes “Orchard Street.” The most recent, this year “Movie that invites break.” Honored by the AFI, Guggenheim Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, Jacobs and his wife Flo founded the free film school Millennium Film Workshop. Bonus: A conversation between Jacobs and film scientist Tom Gunning.Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine

WHAT IS LINK GRASS? A starring cast increases the serial killer thriller ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ (Blu-ray + Digital, Lionsgate, R). Bruce Willis continues his less-is-really-no-more performance phase as an FBI agent linked to Meghan Fox’s agent Lombardo. Down in Florida, the duo meets a policeman (Emile Hirsch) who believes he is on the trail of a serial killer on women. Lukas Haas chews as the clever murder sociopath.Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine

CHINESE DOGGY TALE A true story from China of a suddenly blind famous chef and the guide dog who changed his attitude, ‘Klein Q’ (Blu-ray, Well Go, Not Rated) is well-known story material stolen by the infectious canine charm of the Labradors playing the tolerant Q. In Cantonese with English or Chinese captions.

NAZI PROPAGANDA CINEMA Two popular Nazi-era German films have been restored in Blu-ray. These are the best examples of propaganda director Joseph Goebbels’ use of cinema to spread Nazi ideology. Veit Harlan both directed and played his blonde Swedish third wife Kristina Söderbaum. The 1943 ‘Immensee: A German national anthem’ and 1944s ‘The Great Silence’) (Blu-ray, Cinema Classics, Not Rated) was loved because of their innate endorsement of Nazi-Aryan philosophy that compatriots were more spiritual, holy, stronger, and orderly than their peers in the big city. Their restoration continues with the lighting of the popular Nazi-era cinema with the spotlight on two of Germany’s most popular, most expensive (with Agfacolor!) World War II films. Veit Harlan is the only director from the Nazi era who was tried during the end of the war for ‘crimes against humanity’. In fact, he was tried three times before being cleared. The reason he was singled out is his 1940s ‘Jud Süss’ (Süss die Jood) which is rightly regarded as the most anti-Semitic film ever made (perhaps comparable in its malicious consequences in the real world to the racial bait of DW Griffith’s landmark film in 1916 ‘Birth of a nation’ which completely distorted black history and reconstruction when it demonized blacks, praised the Ku Klux Klan, and was in fact responsible for the murderous Klan’s decades-long revival). Harlan’s film, made at the instigation of propaganda minister Goebbels, starred his wife and was huge, seen by 20 million Germans and Austrians. Harlan won his court case by arguing that he actually pulled off the anti-Semitism that Goebbels demanded. Harlan made nine more films before dying in 1964. Special features include the comments of the film historian Olaf Möller ‘Immensee’ and for ‘Great sacrifice’ a commentary by film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson. In German with optional English captions.Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine

MYSTERIOUS CAKE At a counter-only Shanghai restaurant, open from midnight to 7 p.m. ‘Midnight Diner’ (Blu-ray, Well Go, Not Rated) gives an outline of a chef minus any menu capable of creating any dish a customer may desire. At each customer, the chef listens to his stories. Adapted from a comic strip that has long inspired TV shows in Japan, Korea and China ‘Dinner’ is directed by Tony Leung Ka-Fai and plays the lead role.Stephen Schaefer's Hollywood & Mine

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