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  • La La Land – a 1940s Musical in Modern Los Angeles

    Posted on January 24th, 2017 "Tiki Chris" Pinto No comments

    la-la-land-poster“La La Land”, Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle. Released Summer, 2016

    It was announced today that “La La Land” has been nominated for an astounding 14 Oscar awards, including best directing, best picture and best original screenplay. Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both received best acting nominations. Oh, and don’t forget the seven Gold Globes the movie won.

    If you haven’t seen it, you’re probably thinking, “So what’s all the fuss about?”

    Answer: Beautiful cinematography, great story, fantastic acting and direction, incredible music; From the moody jazz clubs to the brightly-costumed dance numbers, everything about this movie screams the things we love. Fred and Ginger would have been right at home making this picture.la-la-land-dancing

    As my title says, this is a story set in modern-day LA, but is really a 1940s-1950s style musical, complete with traditional-sounding show tunes, dancing, and vintage décor. The music is incredible, featuring big band sounds, traditional jazz and modern influences blended together like a perfect musical cocktail.

    La La Land-piano

    Then there is the cinematography. Oh, how beautifully and carefully this atmospheric movie is filmed, each shot creating a specific mood while maintaining the vintage-esque feel throughout. Dreamy and cool, there’s a touch of magic…just as a 1940s musical should have. (For example, they say every jazz piece tells a story; in this movie, the jazz piano piece literally tells a story. Very cool.)

    Beyond the music, the acting and the story are fantastic. Stone and Gosling effortlessly take characters who should be un-relatable to most people (an aspiring young actress and a bohemian jazz musician) and make them warm and inviting, even with their faults. The blossoming romance is real, corny, and magical all at the same time.la-la-land-gosling-stone=stars

    For people who dig vintage and mid-century fun, this a movie that is right up your alley.

    The film has an overall Art Deco, Vintage & Mid-Century look and feel. Sets and locations are all about the past, including the Angels Flight Funicular Railway, The Colorado Street Bridge, and the very famous Griffith Observatory (the Planetarium in “Rebel Without A Cause”).

    Griffith Observatory (Planetarium)

    Griffith Observatory (Planetarium)

     

    The tap dancing and jazz numbers (Gosling learned jazz piano for this role) take you back to the decades of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, perfectly choreographed and played for this vintage musical style. The music was scored for a 90-piece orchestra on the same stage as “Singin’ in the Rain”.

     

     

    ryan-gosling-Riviera-in-la-la-land

    Gosling in an early 1980s Buick Riviera, a classic-styled throwback to the 1930s.

    Gosling’s character, Sebastian, is a jazz transplant from the late 1950s, right down to his thin ties and choice of classic style cars (an early 1980s Rivera convertible at first, a 1980 Cadillac Eldorado convertible near the end). He is the symbol of tradition, of the past, to a fault – his career as a jazz musician is hampered by his unwillingness to change with the times. Once he begrudgingly evolves musically, opportunities begin to open for him.

    Stone’s character, Mia, is a modern woman who seems at odds in the modern world (even though she doesn’t realize it). She has problems with modern electronics and doesn’t do well in scenes that involve her Prius. Yet she seems most at home in the vintage settings she discovers (the jazz clubs, period piece performances) and with the vintage-style man she keeps running into. It’s only when she embraces the past that she becomes successful.

    Together, these marvelous characters both sing and dance though life in the style that made Fred and Ginger famous.La La Land-piano

    Personally, I think Fred and Ginger would love it.
    And I think you will too.

    -Tiki Chris reporting from the screening room at Tiki Lounge Talk

     

     

  • Noir Movie Monday: The Big Heat, 1953

    Posted on January 6th, 2014 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 2 comments

    the-big-heat-posterIt’s hard for a movie from the 1950s to be so harsh that it can still shock today’s jaded viewers, but

    The Big Heat

    still packs a couple of punches that will make you gasp.

    (no spoilers)

    Set in early ’50s Kentport (basically Los Angeles), The Big Heat shows us a glimpse into the lives of brutal gangsters, women of questionable morals, straight cops, crooked cops, politicians on the payroll and cold-blooded murderers.

    The Big Heat is a classic noir film directed by Fritz Lang, with award-winning actor Glenn Ford at the helm. As detective Sgt. Dave Bannion, he uncovers a network of criminals and crooked cops running the city, getting away with anything they want for a buck. But he steps to close to the action, and his life crumbles in the fallout.

    Shot in gritty black and white with those shadows and effects that make a good noir movie great, The Big Heat is one of the most impactful, realistic thrillers of the era. Ford does a fantastic job of keeping his character low key yet intense. He’s serious…all business, because his work is serious, as are the consequences of his well-intended actions.The-Big-Heat-motel-room

    I don’t like to give anything away in my posts, but without spoiling I can say this: If you remember hearing about an old movie where someone gets a pot of boiling hot coffee thrown in their face, this is it. That should give you an idea of how far this movie goes, blowing away our current perception of 1950s censors’ standards.

    The Big Heat also features a young Lee Marvin in a role that suits him well, but that you might find in opposition to what he is usually known for. It also features Gloria Grahame (know for her role as Ado Annie in Oklahoma) as the sarcastic, alcoholic and fed-up gangster girlfriend.Big-Heat-mirror

    Dinner & Drinks: There’s a scene where Bannion and his wife share a gargantuan steak. Seriously, I don’t think they make cows that big anymore. If you can find one, go for it. Highballs and Martinis are appropriate for this cocktail-era moving picture.

    My Take: The first time I tried to watch this movie I couldn’t get into it. Granted, I was distracted while trying to watch it, but my issue was that I was expecting a bullet-riddled B-movie with a lot of action. I was wrong; The Big Heat is an intelligent movie, well written and very well acted. The pace builds as the action intensifies. It’s important that you regard this movie on par with The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity or The Lost Weekend.

    the-big-heat-glenn-fordTiki Chris P. reporting from the Screening Room at Tiki Lounge Talk

    If you love Noir fiction, check out my Noir mystery books, including the Detective Bill Riggins series at StarDustMysteries.com.

  • Noir Movie of the Week: “Murder Me, Murder You”, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer starring Stacy Keach, 1983

    Posted on March 13th, 2013 "Tiki Chris" Pinto No comments

    murder-me-murder-youIt’s in color, made for TV, and from the ’80s…in spite of all that, this flick is a surprisingly well done, gripping movie with Keach playing Hammer truly like his namesake from  the book. He pulls no punches, and has no qualms about killing the bad guys.

    “Murder Me, Murder You,”

    from 1983 staring Stacy Keach, Tanya Roberts, Don Stroud and Tom Atkins.

    The 1980s were not known for the decade’s great Noir movies, and TV murder mysteries of the era were often some of the worst ever made. Consider this flick an exception. With a limited TV budget and Reagan-era censorship, Director Gary Nelson (a seasoned TV & Film director) managed to capture the true essence of Spillane’s style: dark and deadly serious, kept human by a few rays of sarcasm, a few laughs, and some hard liquor.

    Stacy Keach as Mike Hammer

    Stacy Keach as Mike Hammer

    What makes this movie interesting to people like you and me is that it’s timeless. Mike Hammer is a 1950’s detective, living in the ’80s, driving a ’66 Mustang and listening to music from the ’40s. He talks, dresses and acts like a Noir gumshoe (including Porkpie hat) while fighting off Punk rockers and spandex-wearing muscle-heads.  He carries his army issue .45 (named Betsy, just like in the books) and hangs out in a basement bar that only plays Swing on the Wurlitzer. Yet he’s got modern smarts, and although he runs into trouble with a whiny DA, he doesn’t think twice about beating the pulp out of some scumbags – and always gets away with it.

    Velda

    Velda

    The Scene: The Art Director and locations manager did a bang-up job picking out “old” looking streets in New York. If it weren’t for the modern cars, this filrm would look like the outdoors were shot in the middle of the century. Don Stroud makes a grew Pat Chambers, Hammer’s friend and connection on the police force. And Tanya Roberts plays a fantastic Velda, sexy and sweet but tough underneath. Her ‘look’ is a lot more ’80s than you might expect, but it works – because Hammer is the only one really pulled from the past.

    Ah yes, Hammer. Mike Hammer. Stacy Keach. Big, muscular, and already in his 40s when he shot these movies, Keach plays Hammer closer to the book than any other actor I’ve ever seen, including Spillane himself (No offense, Mickey). He perfectly combines the sarcastic, know-it-all detective with the dark, lonely and murderous killer that lurks beneath. That’s right, killer: In the books, Hammer admits to enjoying killing bad guys. He likes it. He looks forward to it. He admits (to himself) that he’s basically a serial killer who gets off on the thrill of watching someone (who deserves it) die, and found a way to do it legally. He does this very well, without the corniness or silliness that other actors just couldn’t leave alone.

    Dark stuff.

    Keach pulls it off like a champ. And the writing, although a little hokey at times (to be expected from an 80s TV movie, I think) really nails the character when it comes down to how Hammer would react to the given situations.

    Hammer's old Mustang, What would expect him to drive, a Yugo?

    Hammer's old Mustang, What would expect him to drive, a Yugo?

    What the movie is about:
    Any movie that starts off with two hot chicks getting knocked off the road and crushed and burned to death in their car is going to keep you enthralled. Two female couriers, transporting an important briefcase (contents unknown) are murdered. Mike Hammer is subpoenaed when it turns out his ex-fiance (Chris) is connected to the courier agency (in fact, she is a partner). The big bomb is dropped when it’s revealed that this chick had Hammer’s daughter 19 years earlier. She of course never told him.

    Chris dies in the courtroom in Hammer’s arms, and although it looks like a heart attack he knows it’s murder. That’s when the Hammer character from the book kicks in full swing, vowing to avenge her death by killing her killer. He also needs to track down his daughter, and embarks on a journey that takes him through his own past, the pornography business, corrupt businesses and a 1-2 punch ending that will have your head spinning.

    Fun stuff: Look for Michelle Phillips (yes, THE Michelle Phillips) and a very young, very sexy Delta Burke with more hair than should be legal on a chick’s head. Also look for Lee Meredith (Ulla from “The Producers”) and Jonathan Banks (that guy who was in a million things and always looked like he was about to fall asleep).

    mike-hammerFood & Booze:
    This is an easy one. Hammer orders a “Police Special” which, apparently, is a bottle of Jack Daniels in a paper sack. So, yeah. As for food, this a New York movie. Throw together a couple of fat, corned beef sandwiches with slaw and Russian Dressing and a pickle.

    Note: The Mike Hammer series and TV movies from the ’80s were great. In the 1990s, Keach revived the series which, I believe, went straight to video. Although still decent, the production value of the later series isn’t as good as the original. Watch the originals first. If you dig them, move on to the 90s episodes.

    My Take: Although I was a young teenager when these movies came out, I was already a fan of Spillane, the Hammer novels, and wearing fedoras. Spillane’s writing and Keach’s portrayal of Mike Hammer would highly influence my first works of writing, including my scripts for Stardust Theater in the 90s. Hammer’s character would also influence the main character in my best-selling murder mysteries, “Murder on Tiki Island” and “Murder Behind the Closet Door”: Detective Bill Riggins.

    I found a TV trailer from ’83. This movie is second (around the 1:00 mark). Prepare to go back in time 30 years…

    -Tiki Chris reporting from a basement bar with a 1939 Wurlitzer playing “Harlem Nocturn”.

  • Your Mod Movie Monday Movie Suggestion: Tough Guys, 1986

    Posted on December 4th, 2012 "Tiki Chris" Pinto No comments

    tough-guys-posterI’ve always been a fan of gangster films, from The Public Enemy to Johnny Dangerously. There are dozens of great gangster/crime comedies, but one that’s often overlooked is a gem from 1986,

    Tough Guys

    Starring Kirk Douglass, Burt Lancaster, Eli Wallach, Charles Durning, Alexis Smith, and Dana Carvey.

    It’s a great concept: Two big-time bank robbers (Douglass and Lancaster) get busted robbing a train in 1956, and serve a 30 year stretch for their trouble. They get out in 1986…at the ages of 68 and 72, but it tip-top shape. (This is attributed to years of being…you guessed it, tough guys in prison). They’ve been totally disconnected from modern life, and once paroled the have to try to adjust to a 1980’s world of wimpy street gangs, rap music, strange fashions, and the “old neighborhood” not being what it used to be.

    If life on the outside ain’t bad enough, they’re hounded by the cop who busted them in ’56 (Durning) and are followed relentlessly by a hit-man bent on fulfilling a 30-year old contract (Wallach). In between crappy jobs and bad rest home grub, they manage to score a couple of broads…and with the help of their P.O. (Carvey), even try their hand at a few jobs they’re good at…

    TOUGH GUYS, Eli Wallach, Dana Carvey, Alexis Smith, 1986

    TOUGH GUYS, Eli Wallach, Dana Carvey, Alexis Smith, 1986

    It’s not the most well produced film (it’s filmed in that kind of “flat” style that was too common in the 1980s, with no real “style”) but the acting is top notch, and watching these two old time tough guys act like they’re 30 years old again is great. There’s even a small part by Billy Barty (no pun intended).

    Irony: One of Eli Wallach’s lines, is that if he gets locked up while trying to kill Lancaster and Douglass’ characters, that he’ll wait another 30 years and come after them again. It’s funny, because at their ages there’s no way they’d last that long.

    Kirk Douglas & Burt Lancaster

    Kirk Douglas & Burt Lancaster

    Well…as it turns out, it’s been 26 years since the movie came out, and although we said goodbye to Burt Lancaster in 1994, Kirk Douglass is still kickin’…at the age of 96, Durning is still going at 79, and Eli Wallach…according to IMDB…is still ready to pull that hit at the rip old age of 95.

    Maybe it’s time for a Tough Guys 2?

    BTW: For our “younger” readers, dig this: Dana Carvey is 57. Yeah.

    Here’s the trailer…

    -Tiki Chris P. reporting from Cell Block 8

  • The African Queen 1951 with Bogie for Mod Movie Monday

    Posted on August 29th, 2011 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 2 comments

    aftican-queen-posterThis week we take a trip down the river with Humphrey Bogart and Kathrine Hepburn on

    The African Queen, 1951.

    Noir at heart but filmed in Technicolor, The African Queen easily fits under Noir and Mod Movie Monday categories as it definitely deals with the darker side of humanity. Swing back to North Africa, 1914. News reaches a small German settlement that the Fatherland is at war. British missionaries are suddenly caught in the crossfire, and when Kathrine Hepburn’s character’s brother dies, she leaves the burning wreckage of her church with none other than alcoholic captain Bogie on his beat-up old jalopy of a steamer, The African Queen. Together they trek down a treacherous river full of all sorts of nasty things, including Germans with those funny little spikes sticking up out of their helmets. They catch wind that a German warship is anchored at the mouth of the river, and Hepburn does all she can (in the eyes of God) to sober up Bogie and get him to help her find a way to destroy the ship.

    The African Queen

    The African Queen

    One of Bogie’s finest roles, he is very convincing as a gin-swilling roughneck. That may have something to do with the fact that while they filmed this flick in the jungles of Africa, Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston stuck to a steady diet of baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whiskey. There was a method to their madness…they were the only two from the cast and crew that made it through filming without getting dysentery or malaria. This included Hepburn, who drank only water and had dysentery so bad they had to keep a bucket next to the camera.

    There is some great trivia on The African Queen at IMDB.

    The African Queen dry-docked in Key Largo, FL

    The African Queen dry-docked in Key Largo, FL

    Just as the ’58 Plymouth Fury was a character in Christine and the pimped-out Dunham Coach Eldorado was a character in Superfly, so was the little steamer The African Queen (I suppose this turn of the name was to indicate the double meaning, as Hepburn’s character also acted like the Queen of Africa). The boat had already been in actual service for 4o years when they used it for the film, and went on for many years after working hard along the river. Today the boat is still in service…it’s docked in Key Largo, FL just off the Overseas Highway (US 1). It’s on display, looking very close to the way it did in the movie, and is available for charters. It’s really no where near as big as it looks in the movie. Kind of funny that it would end up in Key Largo, with Bogie’s connection to that island with his 1948 movie.

    Booze: Gin. British Gin.

    Here’s the trailer from 1951…

    – Tiki Chris reporting from the jungles behind The Pirate’s Cove Tiki Bar, South Florida