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Believe it or not, the only time I'd seen "2001: A Space Odyssey" was when it was released in 1968 (I was six-years old, and quite honestly, I remember being bored) - it was about time I watched it again. The only thing I remembered from the movie - which was wildly promoted and marketed at the time - was an usher in the theater, walking around and hawking programs before the movie started, saying "2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001: A Space Odyssey." Isn't it amazing what trivial memories get implanted in the minds of children? And isn't it upsetting what important things children don't remember? There is a very real possibility I attended the world premiere, on April 2, 1968, at the Uptown, but at this point, there's no way for me to ever know. As I watch it (I'm still watching it as I begin this post), I'm astonished at how much it reminds me of "Solaris," the film by Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky, who is perhaps the greatest director you've never heard of - he is a legend in his native country, and was heavily influenced by Ingmar Bergman, who said of Tarkovsky: "Tarkovsky for me is the greatest (director), the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream." And you can rest assured, Tarkovsky most likely said something similar about Bergman. Anyway, if you love the cinema, and you're not familiar with Tarkovsky, you'd be doing very well to put him next on your list. So, which came first? "2001" was either a great pioneering masterpiece, or a rip-off of "Solaris" - which was it? It was a great pioneering masterpiece: "Solaris" came out four-years later, in 1972. I've always loved Stanley Kubrick ("Dr. Strangelove," "A Clockwork Orange"), and thought him most likely a genius, and "2001" only serves to reinforce that supposition. *One* Academy Award for "2001?" For Best Visual Effects? Not even nominated for Best Picture? No win for Best Director? Are you kidding me? This is the same Academy that nominated the ridiculous "Dr. Dolittle" for Best Picture just one year before, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised: This only serves to bolster my belief that mediocrity is rampant in humanity, even at the highest positions of influence and power. Science Fiction and Horror are two genres of movie making that have always been overlooked, but this goes much deeper than that. Just the beginning of the movie, with the screen entirely dark, and an "overture" of sorts playing in the background for nearly three full minutes, exudes self-confidence on the part of Kubrick - I'm not convinced it worked entirely, but it most certainly set the tone for the epic nature of the film, as well as preparing the viewer for the bleak darkness of space. The scene when the B Pod is preparing and performing EVA, the use of deep human breathing as the only sound is incredibly effective - it conjures up primal fears in the viewer. What could be more frightening than not being able to breathe? Out of all the basic human needs (with the possibility of "shelter" during, for example, a tornado), denial of oxygen is the one thing that kills most quickly. And given that we're in space, that possibility is always in the background. This was pure Kubrick, and it was pure brilliance - what could have been a dull, torpid scene to watch invoked a sense of dread, and Kubrick thought of employing this technique out of thin air. As I write this paragraph, I've now finished the movie - I clearly saw the post-Saturn psychedelic scene within the past ten years or so, probably on YouTube, but that's about the only thing I remembered about the movie. It's a masterpiece, while at the same time being both dated in parts, and fresh as a daisy in other parts.
I recently commented on my seemingly non-stop run of good luck with American Westerns, but I've just come across two-in-a-row that I'd say were of the "good-but-not-great" variety: "The Magnificent Seven" and "Firecreek," and this makes me wonder - have I been good at selecting Westerns, or have I simply been selecting movies involving John Ford and Clint Eastwood? One problem I see in "Firecreek" is that there's no strongman (yes, the same can be said about "Shane," but I also didn't like Shane). The lead protagonist is a 70-year-old Jimmy Stewart, and the lead antagonist is a 73-year-old Henry Fonda, neither of whom - even in their physical primes - were particularly imposing. I love both of these actors, but this does conjure up notions of two elderly men shaking their canes at each other in the nursing home. Their age doesn't bother me per se (hell, I'm getting there myself), but we have people being beaten, killed, etc., and there isn't going to be any John Wayne riding into town to save the day. Still, the mere thought of Stewart and Fonda being together in the same picture is enough to give me optimism. Two out of the five bad guys played important roles on "Star Trek" episodes, and it's hard to get their Trek portrayals out of my head: Gary Lockwood ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") and Morgan Woodward ("Dagger of the Mind"): Halfway into the movie, I retract what I said about Stewart and Fonda - the primary antagonist has been Gary Lockwood (by a long-shot), and Henry Fonda has been wounded, and barely even noticeable in the film - so far, this is a classic "Wild One"- or "Born Losers"-type film about a gang coming into town (sometimes on motorcycles, sometimes on horses), and making trouble for otherwise-peaceful people who did nothing to ask for it. I'm pretty sure there's going to be something bad that happens, since there's so much movie left, and Jimmy Stewart seems like the one who may rise to the occasion, overcoming his normally gentle nature (refer to "Straw Dogs"). I'm liking "Firecreek" more than I thought I might - it's not a great film, but it does follow a classic model, and so far, is doing it pretty well. *** SPOILERS ALERT *** Uh, yeah ... something bad happened: Bad guys and whisky don't mix, and they were hammered when I wrote that last paragraph. Man, this "wake" the antagonists have is like something out of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (and I'm talking about the "family dinner" scene) - this is pretty creepy stuff while not completely going over the top. In many ways, this is what I would term a "small film" - a movie that deals with relatively minor issues on a less-than-grand scale. Not a boring, period piece, but just relatively compact in overall size. With that said, the music - scored by the well-known Alfred Newman - is arguably more ambitious than the movie. There are times when you notice the music, but shouldn't, and I'll go far enough to say that in a couple of spots, it's a bit maudlin - when a film's music is in balance, you don't really notice it, but there are a couple of times in Firecreek when you do, and I wish Newman had toned it down maybe just ten percent. The music is good, mind you, but it can be just a touch too amped up for the situation. One example is when Stewart leaves his wife (who is in false labor) and rides back into town - that whole scene is a little too dramatized, aurally, and would be better served by a more pensive score. (Of course, that dramatic music could indicate that something is about to, ahem, happen.) Oh my goodness, my "Straw Dogs" comment isn't all that far off. I don't read critics' reviews until after I finish watching films. I don't care what anyone says - of the previous two Westerns I've seen, neither "The Magnificent Seven" nor "Firecreek" are great, but both are good, and "Firecreek" is the better of the two. [I've now read what scant reviews are out there.] "The Magnificent Seven" is wildly overrated; "Firecreek" is slightly underrated.