Tuesday, May 29, 2018

TV: Streaming

"I'll be dreamin', dreamin'," sang Vanessa Williams on her first hit ballad, "hoping, baby, you will be there."  Us?  We keep streamin', streamin', hoping, baby, something worth watching will be there.  Two of the most recent huge disappointments?  AUDIENCE and FILMSTRUCK.

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AUDIENCE still can't produce a series to justify its existence.  If you're like most viewers, you took a pass on YOU ME HER -- another straight male fantasy where a plain looking man gets two attractive women.  If you're like most viewers, next month you will take a pass on CONDOR.

We just finished watching the so-so series and why anyone gave this nonsense the greenlight is beyond us.  The series is flabby, each episode overflowing with unneeded scenes that meander to an obvious close apparently due to the director's inability to yell "Cut!"  The editing doesn't help either.

For those who missed the 70s classic film THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, it starred Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway.   Redford is Joe Hale, CIA analyst, whose office gets hit and he goes on the run, encounters Kathy Hale (Dunaway) who assists him -- at first reluctantly.

The chemistry between Robert and Faye made up for a lot in the film (and is referenced by Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney's characters in Steven Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT).  THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR was directed by Sydney Pollack -- a man not known for handling tense thrillers.  Pollack was given his big break by Natalie Wood -- as was Robert Redford.  When she okayed each -- as director and co-star of THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, she took a big risk.  It's a risk that neither man ever felt the need to repay.  When she returned to acting after taking time off to raise her daughters, both men played dumb when she contacted them about working on new projects together.


To be clear, THE SLENDER THREAD, the only film Pollack directed prior TO THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, was not a success -- critical or commercial -- and Warners didn't want him to direct but Natalie demanded it.  And Redford?  They'd worked together on INSIDE DAISY CLOVER but he had a minor role in the film she starred in -- made more minor by his refusal to play the part as written -- the gay man her character marries. Redford had not starred in a film and the studios weren't keen on him due to his temperament (he didn't work well on TV sets) and weren't crazy about the bumps on the side of his face.

But Natalie stood up for both men and she was the queen of Warner Brothers so she got what she wanted.  And both men?  They got careers.

What did Natalie get?

When Redford needed her to do a cameo in his 1972 film THE CANDIDATE, despite being in retirement, she agreed to help the man she thought was her friend.

That was the kind of person she was.

The kind of people Redford and Pollack were?  They never lifted a finger to help her when she decided to return to films.


In fairness, Redford's vanity has always occupied so much of his time.  And Sydney?  Well he was so very busy being a spy for the Israeli government.

If the Academy Awards can expel Roman Polanski, why can't they expel Sydney who was an American citizen spying on America for a foreign government.  That's reason enough to expel Sydney.

We're not saying he didn't direct a few good movies.  Certainly, TOOTSIE will always be a classic.  But we are saying if he helped supply weapons and worse (possibly nuclear triggers as well as helping to score uranium for Israel), he certainly doesn't demonstrate the behavior that one expects.


With THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, Pollack directed a script, routinely directed -- Lorenzo Semple supplied the tension (as he did on other scripts he co-wrote or wrote solo -- including the classics PRETTY POISON, THE PARALLAX VIEW and THE DROWNING POOL).

So while it would have been a good idea for all the episodes to have been directed by one person, it's even more important that the piece be strongly written.  It has not been.  Jason Smilovic has done some writing and 'creating' in the same way that he did on such TV disasters as KIDNAPPED, MY OWN WORST ENEMY, BIONIC WOMAN and KAREN SISCO.  Where do you go after those flops?

AUDIENCE, obviously.

The series is poorly written, badly edited and shapeless in terms of direction.  In terms of acting?

Brendan Fraser's the only one he truly delivers.  2018 has been a strong year for Fraser -- doing the only solid job on CONDOR (and as the villain, no less) as well as being part of an outstanding cast on FX's TRUST.  Other than Brendan, there's no real reason for CONDOR to even exist.

Well there's William Hurt.

No, Hurt's not delivering a great performance -- or even a good one.  It's the same performance that went stale in the eighties.  But it's great to see him -- the man Marlee Matlin revealed raped her and beat her -- starring opposite hypocrite Mira Sorvino to demonstrate just how shallow Mira's supposed commitment to survivors of abuse truly is -- as shallow as her acting in CONDOR.

CONDOR should never  have been made.  To remake a classic, you should have a passion, a driving need to tell the story again but this series has all the energy of a LOVE BOAT episode.

NETFLIX is supposedly more powerful than DISNEY -- among others.  Last week, THE GUARDIAN noted:



Netflix surpassed Disney as the most valuable US media company on Thursday, a sign that Netflix’s subscriber growth, coupled with potential problems in Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s TV and film assets, as well as changes in entertainment media consumption habits, are contributing to fundamental shifts in power.


That's surprising since NETFLIX has so little to offer.

Once upon a time, they had a steady flow of classic films -- via their deal with STARZ.  That ended. They insisted at the time that they would have new deals to replace it.  Subscribers are still waiting for those deals to emerge and classic films to return.

Instead, DISNEY is planning its own streaming service which would result in NETFLIX losing those films.  And idiotic decision like cancelling fan favorite SENSE8 (a tele-film wraps the series up in June) don't help the service.

The reason for its popularity at present has to do with the latecomers coming on board and wanting to see what everyone used to be talking about.

Also struggling in TCM -- TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES.  Still a premium channel when it comes to payment, the channel long ago lost luster and has taken to airing 'classics' that most would consider to be bombs.  Due to incessant complaints from viewers about the repetition in their schedule of the last six months, they've taken to airing old franchises -- Ann Southern's ten Maisie films, Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy films, Lupe Velez's series (THE GIRL FROM MEXICO and the seven Mexican Spitfire films that followed), Bonita Granville's four Nancy Drew films, the six Perry Mason films from WARNER BROTHERS (four starring Warren Williams), William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in THE THIN MAN films (six in all), Margaret Rutherford's four films playing Agatha Christie's detective Jane Marple, among others.  Quite a difference from their usual sole reliance on the BULLDOG DRUMMOND films.

In last 2016, TCM launched the streaming service FILMSTRUCK -- right away, they became the streamers of The Criterion Collection (a collection made famous for their remastered DVDs of film classics), stealing the Collection from HULU.

Grumblings in e-mails have noted the belief many TCM viewers have that the streaming service is what is depriving them of quality films.

The grumblers are wrong.

We spent the weekend going through FILMSTRUCK.  The bulk of what they have makes it to TCM regularly.  The only exception might be the Jean Harlow films.  You're far more likely, on TCM these days, to see Carroll Baker playing Jean Harlow than to see a film starring the first bombshell of American films herself.  And if you care the actual Jean Harlow on TCM, it's most likely going to be yet another airing of DINNER AT EIGHT and not one of her classic films like BOMBSHELL.  TCM also can't seem to discover the Anita Loos films Jean Harlow made.

But otherwise?

Katharine Hepburn is currently represented on FILMSTRUCK by these films: BRINGING UP BABY, SUMMERTIME, PAT AND MIKE, ADAM'S RIB, THE SEA OF GRASS, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, KEEPER OF THE FLAME, WITHOUT LOVE and THE TROJAN WOMAN.  So if you're thinking that SYLVIA SCARLETT (her first of four teamings with Cary Grant) is being kept off TCM by FILMSTRUCK, think again.

Some performers are better represented.  Cary Grant isn't one.  FILMSTRUCK only has his BRINGING UP BABY, SUZY (with Jean Harlow) and HIS GIRL FRIDAY (with Rosalind Russell).  The ones who are better represented tend to be WARNER BROTHERS performers like Bette Davis (queen of the lot in the late 30s and early 40s) and Natalie Wood (queen of the lot in the sixties).  That's because WARNER's has ended their own streaming service and now instead have partnered with FILMSTRUCK.  Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando are also well represented as a result of their WARNER films.

But where, for example, is Betty Grable?

If she's on TCM at all these days, it's HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE -- the 1953 film that teams her with Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall.  1953 is not her strong year in terms of box office.  From 1941 to 1951, Betty Grabe was a top ten box office draw in the US -- and in 1942 and 1943, she was the number one box office draw.

I WAKE UP SCREAMING is a film noir starring Betty Grable, a classic film noir.  But it doesn't feature on the film noir slot Saturday nights or early Sunday mornings (NOIR ALLEY).  Why? It's apparently not mach enough for host Eddie Muller (but he was fine with being paid to do commentary on the film's DVD).  The same sexist thinking appears to keep Deanna Durbin's film noir classic CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY and so many offerings by Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford out of the running.  Don't even try to look for Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake teamings, they simply won't be aired.

But Betty Grable, one of the biggest stars in the US for countless films in a ten year period, is exactly the sort of performer TMC should exist for.  They should highlight the films and provide context on them -- both in terms of art and in terms of their times -- what led people to respond so strongly to Betty Grable onscreen?

But you won't see her on TMC or FILMSTRUCK -- and you won't see her on FXM -- FOX's FX MOVIE CHANNEL.  You might see her classic films -- especially her comedies -- on the over the air broadcast channel MOVIES! but that's really about it.

So PIN-UP GIRL, MOTHER WORE TIGHTS, MY BLUE HEAVEN and the Preston Sturges directed THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND are not being shown and their impact not being addressed.

It's really amazing, when you think about TCM being a premium channel and FILMSTRUCK being a subscription service, that they offer so little that is truly rare or necessary for a film history education.

And when it comes to film classics, you will find more on HULU or AMAZON PRIME than you will on NETFLIX.  In fact, you'll find more film classics on the free streaming service TUBI than you will on NETFLIX.  On TUBI right now, for example, you can find the documentary SING YOUR SONG: HARRY BELAFONTE as well as films like THE WOOD, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE,  THE DUKE IS TOPS, MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE, THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, RADIO DAYS, PAPER MOON, BILLY LIAR, THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, ETERNALLY YOURS, ROYAL WEDDING, SECOND CHORUS, BAGHDAD CAFE, CHARADE, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, BOUND, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DIAL M FOR MURDER,  DETROIT 9000, BALL OF FIRE, CAUSE FOR ALARM!, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, NOTHING SACRED, ROAD TO BALI, D.O.A., CONTEMPT, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, THE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, MEET JOHN DOE, LADY OF BURLESQUE, THE HITCH-HIKER, THE STRANGER, SCARLET STREET, THE BAT, LOVE AFFAIR, THE NAKED KISS, THE OUTLAW, THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL . . .

NETFLIX is doing well right now -- for the most part, due to name recognition.  Should a streaming service emerge that really serves fans of film, that could change very quickly.



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