Hidden Netflix Gems – Ladybug Ladybug

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Frank Perry’s Ladybug Ladybug feels dated in many ways, and not just because it is in black & white; it is a quintessential Cold War paranoia movie, from the era of Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the only film of its era to make the threat of nuclear annihilation the subject of comedy. While those films are revered to this day, Ladybug Ladybug has fallen unfairly by the wayside, though its unique approach and hypnotic style are definitely worthy of viewing by a modern audience.

Written by Perry’s wife and frequent collaborator, Eleanor Perry, from a story by Lois Dickert, Ladybug Ladybug‘s title comes from the children’s rhyme, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home / Your house is on fire and your children are gone.” Based on a real incident, the film examines the course of events following a nuclear attack alarm at a small town elementary school. The alarm is a “code yellow,” which translates to “nuclear attack imminent within an hour.” After some panicked deliberation, the school’s principal, Mr. Calkins (William Daniels), decides to heed the alarm and send the children home. After this, the film follows one particular group of children as they are escorted home along a country road by a teacher, Mrs. Andrews (Nancy Marchand, best known as Tony’s vindictive mother, Livia, on The Sopranos).

We also see several of the schoolchildren camped out in the bomb shelter owned by one of their families, playing the waiting game and gradually evolving into their own small version of society. The way in which they instinctively form hierarchies and begin to govern themselves when left to their own devices recalls William Golding’s brilliant 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, though the savagery portrayed in that book is given far less time to flourish here. Instead of hunting and killing one another, these children discuss their situation with a rationality nowhere to be found in the adult world of Strangelove, for example. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, the children take a vote on whether or not war should be allowed; they all vote against it before concluding that nobody will listen to children.

It’s not all polite discussion, though, as the inherent selfishness of human nature comes out in the children’s refusal to allow their fellow student, Sarah (Marilyn Rogers), into the bomb shelter, claiming there is simply not enough room. The result of this, though ambiguous, implies great tragedy for Sarah, and this tragic ambiguity extends to the film’s ending. Though its political import is a bit heavy-handed, as a narrative conclusion it is striking, poignant and memorable, all adjectives that could be applied to the film as a whole.

  

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I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale

Can you name all the major actors from the “Godfather” movies? If you’re missing one, it’s probably John Cazale. He played the initially minor character of Fredo, the tragic runt of the gangster litter who figured so prominently in “The Godfather: Part II.” An accomplished stage actor, Cazale appeared in only five moves before his death from lung cancer in 1978 at age 42, but since they also included “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Conversation” and “The Deer Hunter” — all nominated for Best Picture Oscars — it is slightly strange he isn’t better known. It’s definitely not for lack of esteem from his peers. This short HBO documentary from director Richard Shepard (“The Matador“) proves that point with testimonials from friends, colleagues and fans including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Gene Hackman, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Meryl Streep, who was Cazale’s girlfriend at his death. It seems that, aside from his ability to submerge himself into a role and raise the game of his fellow actors, the unglamorous and good-natured Cazale also had a way with beautiful women.

Though the packaging of this DVD is first-rate if overly elaborate, it also attempts to hide the fact that “I Knew It Was You” is only 40 minutes long, not counting about an hour’s worth of special features. Nevertheless, this is a sincere, well-made, and entirely laudable labor of movie love.

Click to buy “I Knew It Was You: Redisocovering John Cazale”

  

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RIP Dino De Laurentiis

Another link to cinema’s past has left us with the passing of the legendary Italian and eventually American producer at age 91. A truly old school style movie mogul with all the good and bad that went with that, creatively speaking, Dino De Laurentiis was instrumental in launching the worldwide vogue for European cinema, particularly in his partnership with fellow powerhouse producer Carlo Ponti and ultimate Italian auteur Federico Fellini.

During a period I personally consider Fellini’s creative prime, De Laurentiis co-produced two of the director’s most powerful films, the classic tearjerker “La Strada” with Anthony Quinn and the great Giulietta Masina, and “Nights of Cabiria” also with Masina, a great tragicomedy and a huge personal favorite of mine. He also produced two now somewhat obscure adaptations, a version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” with Audrey Hepburn and “Ulysses.” Fortunately, the latter was not an adaptation of the James Joyce stream-of-consciousness meganovel, but Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and starred Kirk Douglas in the heroic title role.

No snob, De Laurentiis had a gift for commingling arthouse fare, quality middlebrow entertainment, and complete schlock — some of it fun, some it merely schlocky. Geeks cried foul when he eschewed stop-motion for an unworkable animatronic monstrosity and, mostly, Rick Baker in a monkey suit for his silly mega-blockbuster remake attempt, “King Kong,” but that movie was a classic when compared to something like the hugely regrettable killer-whale flick “Orca.”

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It’s your post MTV Movie Awards debacle movie news

Yes, isn’t it?

* Okay, so as I wrote in the post below, I felt slightly ill-used by the MTV Movie Awards PR apparatus. However, the question they asked Mrs. Lincoln remains: what did I think of the show? Well, when I finally watched it at home after a long drive home and an only-at-Universal-City-Walk possibility of following up a Pink’s chili dog w/sauerkruat with a Tommy’s Chili burger, I found it…okay. It was loud, vulgar — and not always in a good way — and it had excellent production values that the Oscars could learn from. I think I was as moved as everyone else by Dr. Ken Jeong’s speech about his wife’s former illness.

On the other hand, I could have done with less of the Tom Cruise dancing with Jennifer Lopez thing. The Les Grossman character was very funny, and definitely reminiscent of some real Hollywood characters, in the context of “Tropic Thunder,” but now it seems to have taken on an unneeded life of its own that is starting to creep me out and not in a funny way. But, once again, no one is listening to me and Cruise is talking about, Lord helps us, a Grossman movie. I’m starting to think he should talk more about Scientology.

Tom Cruise,Jennifer Lopez

As far as I what I felt about the actual awards and the movies and performances that were recognized…is there even the slightest point in complaining? I don’t think there’s any pretense that these awards are intended to honor good movies. Of course the “Twilight” movie was going to win. And I guess it’s somehow appropriate to know there’s at least one award Christoph Waltz just can’t get for playing Col. Hans Landa.

One thing that irked me slightly and then later amused me greatly, but not for the reason the MTV producers would have liked, was the much remarked upon proliferation of swear words. I use relatively few curse words for a modern-day American, but I’m not particularly opposed to them, especially when used in a clever or entertaining fashion. In the context of a show where the curses are to go out bleeped, however, more than one or two in a sentence can be a real problem for the audience at home that doesn’t hear it, and it really did bury many of the jokes in a volley of random silence.

Still, one comic highlight was Peter Facinelli’s acceptance speech on behalf of the rest of the “Twilight: New Moon” cast in which he apparently simply overwhelmed the person on the kill-switch with his deliberate carpet F-bombing, and several fuck-words made it through. It was a really funny moment that did not go on unnoticed by society’s killjoys who, just this once, weren’t completely in the wrong, I suppose.  I nevertheless believe that the religious fundamentalist-driven PTC should get a fucking life.

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Mid-holiday week movie news report (updated)

Somewhat to my surprise, given how slow Monday and Tuesday was, we have some movie news to report. Sadly, the first item is a bummer.

* Our very sincere condolences to the friends, family, and avid readers of writer and horror/gore maven Chas Balun, who died of cancer on December 18th. Probably mostly because of my phobia of the kind of movies he championed, Balun’s name wasn’t immediately familiar to me before this, but clearly the author and longtime contributor to Fangoria and Gorezone was a writer whose work meant a great deal to genre fans as well as a very sincere film geek/cinephile, and for that he has my respect. The Fangoria blog has a very good obituary.

* Sony has not been including a screener DVD for Duncan Jones’ highly regarded science fiction film, “Moon,” in its pre-Oscar promotional package. The result: “Twitter storm“!

Moon

* It’s now Sir Peter Jackson to you.  Considering the positive impact his LOTR tour de force must have had on the New Zealand economy, they might have considered making him king. Okay, New Zealand doesn’t have one. Also, I gather it’s more of a British Commonwealthy kind of a thing.

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