Thursday, November 29, 2018

Will You "Love, Simon?"

Regularly visitors to The Underworld are keenly aware that I never, but never, profile contemporary movies or TV shows. Every once in a while something may slip in, but my content is almost exclusively vintage. I do occasionally push aside the rock which serves as my gateway to the surface world and partake in a modern-day entertainment, but it is rare indeed. (As an example, I am only just now - a scant fourteen years after its premiere - viewing season one of Desperate Housewives for the first time!) The reason I am departing from form is because I watched a 2018 movie last night that, for reasons I will share, kept me awake almost all night afterwards. It wasn't that it upset me or anything. It just caused a tidal wave of long-buried feelings to wash over me and the ruminations on them kept me up. The movie was Love, Simon.

I approached Love, Simon with the same trepidation that I do any current form of scripted entertainment. I figure I'm going to be pelted with all sorts of hipster, too-cool-for-the-room dialogue, idiotic situations and self-indulgent performances. I can't say that the movie was utterly free of these things, but I will say that, for me anyway, the good outweighed the bad. Based upon a young adult novel called "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda," I'm not necessarily the target audience for the high school-set movie, though I think its appeal is not only rather universal, but also fairly important. (Several folks agreed, such as Neil Patrick Harris, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and even people with only two names like Kristen Bell and Matt Bomer, who all bought out theaters in their hometowns in order to offer viewings of the film to as many people as possible.) I should mention that I will not reveal any considerable spoilers herein. I try to avoid those in general, but certainly want to for a film this recent.

The central figure of the film is played by Nick Robinson, a high school senior in an upper middle class Atlanta, Georgia suburb. The young man is bright, appealing, reasonably popular and comfortable in all but one way. He has a secret, one that he's kept hidden for close to a decade. He's gay.

He lives with his family, a liberal-minded child psychologist mother (Jennifer Garner), a proud, sensitive, wise-cracking father (Josh Duhamel) and a younger sister (Talitha Bateman) who is obsessed with trying out recipes every day after having watched every episode of the cooking reality series Chopped. (The novel contained an older sister who is not included in the movie.)

He also has a close gang of friends who he drives to school each day, stopping for iced coffee along the way. They include Katherine Langford as his best female pal since childhood, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as his closest male buddy, and Alexandra Shipp as a transfer student from Washington, D.C. who has rather seamlessly entered their close-knit gaggle.

As far as anyone knows, there is only one "out" gay student at their school, and he is way out! Clark Moore (of Glee) wears his long hair in a feminine style and is always draped in designer duds, leading to a fair amount of ribbing from classmates, notably two troublemakers who can't seem to leave him alone.

Class clown and general all-around annoyance Logan Miller has an attraction to Shipp, but she barely knows he's alive (this despite the fact that they are about to play the Emcee and Sally Bowles together in a school production of Cabaret, presided over by a sassy black teacher.)

One day a tattletale blog called Creekwood Secrets contains an anonymous post from a student at Robinson's high school who admits to being gay, comparing it to being on a Ferris wheel, with a series of highs and lows. The poster is known only as "Blue."

Robinson is compelled to create an e-mail account, using the pseudonym "Jacques," and reach out to "Blue" in order to share the fact that he is in the same boat. The two begin to correspond, with each successive e-mail becoming more enlightening and drawing the two closer, though they have no idea of each other's identity.

The school principal, who while maintaining authority also seems to want to be everyone's buddy, has a strict "no cellphone in the halls" policy and confiscates Robinson's phone while he's awaiting his latest message from "Blue."

Using one of the school computers to check his mail, Robinson is interrupted and leaves his e-mail screen up as he departs. Miller happens to use the computer next and can hardly believe what he sees. Soon, he's after Robinson to help him land Shipp as a girlfriend "or else..."

Robinson, dressed up as John Lennon for a huge Halloween party, begins to manipulate his friends in order to get Miller in with them and to quash feelings that otherwise might be developing between Shipp and Lendeborg.
I wasn't about to ignore this brief Speedo incident.
Shipp hasn't got the slightest interest in Miller and, thanks to his offbeat personality, would prefer not to have him around at all, but out of fear from repercussions, Robinson persists in putting them together whenever possible. (Shipp is dressed in a Wonder Woman variation while Miller is a "Freudian Slip!")

Robinson's lenient parents allow Langford to spend the night in his room, realizing that they've been lifelong, platonic friends, though Langford seems to be grappling with feelings that go beyond their accepted boundaries.

Still struggling with not only the behavior he's being coerced into but also his fears about coming out to his family, friends and classmates, Robinson reveals to "Blue" that he had intended to wait until after graduation, whereupon he could attend college completely out. (This leads to a musical daydream in which he is surrounded on all sides by colorful dancers as he attends college for the first time.)

Bursting to get his secret off his chest to someone "real," he suddenly informs Shipp of his sexual identity. As she has lived in far more urban and cosmopolitan surroundings, she takes the news with little to no concern or surprise.

In a situation many of us can probably identify with, Robinson awaits each missive from "Blue" with bated breath, keeping his phone near his bed, near the shower, never wanting to miss a message from the person who he by now has developed deep feelings for. But who is it??? The film cleverly keeps this a mystery by changing the identity of the other student based upon Robinson's own suspicions or by having red herrings nearby throughout the story.
Any of these guys look "Blue" to you?
When Miller feels he has gotten far along enough with Shipp to publicly declare his affection, things take a turn for the worst. Before the dust has settled, Robinson's sexuality has found its way to the Creekwood Secrets blog and his life is in danger of crumbling down around him thanks not only to the fact that he's gay, but also that he toyed with the feelings of his friends.

He's left with no choice but to come out to his parents. No matter how liberal one's parents might seem to be, there is still for most people, the fear that they are not going to take things as openly as one might hope. I won't share any more about the movie's storyline because there is still plenty to go and I wouldn't want to ruin it for a first time viewer. I've deliberately avoided certain details for that same reason.

Robinson, about twenty-two at the time of filming, is highly convincing as a high school teen. A cast member of the sitcom Melissa & Joey (i.e. - Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence) from 2010 to 2015, he also had a featured role in Jurassic World (2015.) He gives a soulful, understated, often relatable performance in Simon (and has a full workload of movies in front of him as of this writing.)

I guess I'm just getting old and don't realize it yet, but I was pretty shocked to see Garner and Duhamel as the parents of an eighteen year-old. However, they are of completely feasible age for that to be the case. (They'd have been around twenty-three at the time of his birth.) In my (feeble) mind, they are only just past being young themselves!

Garner began acting on screen in 1995, winning attention for her role on Alias (2001-2006) which was parlayed into a movie career with projects like Daredevil (2003) and Elektra (2005.) After a long string of features, she recently returned to TV again with Camping. If I ever did buy into her little girl pucker act, I quit it when she had an affair with her Alias costar while she was wed to Scott Foley, so I was prepared for the worst from her. However, even through a Botoxed face and pursed mouth, she managed to impart some strong emotion into her role, particularly in a scene that was written at her request when she came on board the project.

Duhamel got started on All My Children and shifted to movies (including the teen idol rom-com Win a Date with Ted Hamilton!, 2004) and the series Las Vegas. He's balanced TV and movies ever since with success. In Simon, he's one very hot daddy! He also, while occasionally laying on the schtick just a teensy bit thick, gives a solid, enjoyable performance.

Langford, an Australian in her early-twenties, seamlessly morphs into an American teen here. A relative newcomer, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her TV series 13 Reasons Why (losing to The Handmaid's Tale's Elizabeth Moss) and has a full schedule ahead of her at this time. She was excellent in Simon and has such pretty eyes.

Shipp is among the oldest of the actors playing teens here (in her mid-twenties), though it doesn't immediately stand out that way. Having worked on Days of Our Lives, played the title role in the TV-movie Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (2014) and portrayed Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), she, like her costars, has all sorts of movies lined up. She brought an infectious friendliness to her role in Simon.

Lendeborg is a newcomer with only a handful of prior credits, but did appear in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming and is in the forthcoming Bumblebee (2018) with Hailee Steinfeld. He brought a natural charm to his underwritten role here.

As someone who has little use for children, especially cloying child actors, it came as a delightful surprise that I enjoyed Bateman so much in her part as the little sister. Already a busy performer in quite a few films since 2012, we're going to be hearing more from her, no doubt. This role has a built-in risk of being too cutesy and precious, but her extreme natural charm (and chops when they were needed) allayed any issues.
This scene was the first of four times that I teared up.
The high school (and its inhabitants) depicted in this movie are idealized to be sure. This is meant to be a teen romance along the lines of such John Hughes movies such as Sixteen Candles (1984) and Pretty in Pink (1986), but with the gay angle. Nevertheless, this unexpectedly resounded with me and brought back a tidal wave of memories from my own years in high school. (I drove two or three girls to school each day, too, though coffee was never on our radar.) I went through my own Ferris wheel of highs and lows and by the time of my 1985 graduation, I'd finally been able to balance school work, part-time work and social life beautifully and was in an ideal situation (but for the fact of my own deep secret I'd held - and tried to change - since I was six.) The day I was graduated, I cried like a baby because I knew that the insular, comfortable world I had been existing in was going to end forever. And it did. Within months, I was thirty pounds heavier, cut off from nearly all friends and seriously on the verge of suicide. Coming out in 1985 - during the fever pitch of the AIDS crisis when gay sex practically equaled death and being gay often equaled disassociation from many (most?) people (in the mid-west anyway) - was an almost insurmountable hurdle. And I was one incurably naive eighteen year-old to be certain.

The calm before the storm.
I did eventually come out to friends and coworkers in 1989 and it was still tough. Later, I tackled my mother and father. You hear about gay men worrying that their parents will freak out if they know, but then it all works out all right in the end? Well, in my case, with divorced parents, my father took the news calmly but declared that the subject would never be raised again and my mother went off the rails, with the two of us in a screaming match in the middle of a busy road, going for months without speaking afterwards. So, yes, even with a light romantic movie like this, there was enough material in it to tug at my heartstrings over my own long ago teenage years. I was driven to tears four times during the first viewing of Love, Simon. They were good tears, though. (And I've always been a big crybaby at movies. Madame X, 1966, is a top ten favorite and I fall for it every time!) I can encourage anyone who hasn't been completely overtaken with cynicism to give Love, Simon a shot. While it contains some cliches of the genre and some pat situations, I feel it's still unique and well done enough to warm the heart. If it changes/opens even one mind, it's a roaring success as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

It's Turkey-Lurkey Time

Happy Thanksgiving from Poseidon and some of his amazing friends!

Lucille Ball during the making of Valley of the Sun (1942.)
Miss Shirley Temple, stuffing the bird.
Virginia Dale, on the hunt.
Kathryn Grant (Crosby), having second thoughts?
Ann Sheridan prepared to dig in (something the rail-thin chain-smoker never did in real life!)
Ann Miller, making a quick cut.
Janis Paige, with the bird in the bag.
Gloria DeHaven, unsure if the turkey will stop at the snack and start in on her!
Donna Reed, all gussied up and showing her own fine feathers.
Miss Joan Crawford, brandishing one serious knife!
Marilyn Monroe, driving the turkey up a tree.
Doris Day, with a heavily-ornamented bird.
Hmmm, there's a rooster in the hen house, so to speak! Mr. Charles Farrell.
Sally Field has such a puny bird (a Cornish hen?) that she has to put her finger in someone's pie.
Ann-Margret, serving up flame-roasted?
And we go out with a bang Bing! A color shot of der Bingle and his holiday turkey. We hope your holiday is a blast if you celebrate Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Best & The Worst: Wake Island

I had almost given up on doing any more of these after the initial one, but I'm going to try to do them if I can because it's less intensive than a full-blown post and we can cut to the chase, i.e. - the best and worst parts of a movie! Today's flick, Wake Island (1942), was one that I watched on Veteran's Day and it would have been posted sooner after, but Morgan Fairchild swayed the vote! LOL

Filmed in the heat of the early days of the U.S.'s involvement with World War II, Wake Island centers on the title locale, a spot located in the Pacific Ocean between Guam and Midway. The story concerns the men working on the island (soldiers as well as a large contingent of civilian contractors) just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact, Wake Island suffered an attack just eight hours after the far more famous Pearl Harbor. Three of the stars of the film are (as seen here) MacDonald Carey, Brian Donlevy and Albert Dekker. They are all quite good and don't necessarily fall into my categories of best or worst, but a few words about them nonetheless.

Donlevy was a rough and tumble, compact young man who'd served (while secretly underage) in the U.S. Army during the Mexican Revolution as well as in the Lafayette Escadrille during WWI. A handsome guy despite his hard image, he played villains well and dotted many a movie with snarling nastiness while also maintaining a level of appeal. (Not all his costars were fond, however. During Beau Geste, 1939, for which he was Oscar-nominated as a sadistic sergeant, the leads allegedly hated him and one - Ray Milland - reportedly stabbed him in real life "accidentally!" Thomas Mitchell of Stagecoach won the statuette, by the way.) Donlevy was also nominated for a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Wake Island, but James Cagney got it for Yankee Doodle Dandy. Donlevy worked until 1969 before passing of throat cancer in 1972 at the age of seventy-one.

Dekker is an actor whose often impressive career is almost completely overshadowed now by his incredible demise. A stage performer who found success in the movies from mid-1930s on, he popped up in wildly varied roles in things like The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), Beau Geste (1939), Dr. Cyclops (1940), Seven Sinners (1940) and Honky Tonk (1941.) Later projects of note include Gentleman's Agreement (1947), East of Eden (1955) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959.) In 1968, however, when he was sixty-two, he was found strangled, hanging from the shower rod in his bathroom with sadomasochistic items on him and with expletives and vulgarities written on his nude body with lipstick! Apparently, he'd been engaged in a kinky ritual that went wrong. His final film, The Wild Bunch (1969) was released after his death.

Carey was just at the beginning of his film career, having risen to fame on Broadway as Gertrude Lawrence's love interest in Lady in the Dark, which resulted in a Paramount Pictures contract. In quite an admirable move, he found himself compelled (after squeezing in roles in Shadow of a Doubt and Salute for Three, both released in 1943) to enlist in the armed forces in real life, having enacted a heroic role here. This resulted in a four-year lapse in his movie career just as it had been heating up. He did continue with some moderate success until 1965 when he assumed the patriarchal role of Tom Horton on Days of Our Lives, a part he played until his 1984 death from lung cancer at age eighty-one. It was his voice that opened the show each day with, "Like sands from the hourglass... so are the days of our lives."

It's almost not fair to point out the "worst" about a movie that not only was a huge box office success and earned a Best Picture Academy Award nomination along with nods for Director (John Farrow, who'd been in the Canadian navy during the war until illness forced him out), Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (an engaging William Bendix.) These awards went to Mrs. Miniver, William Wyler for the same, Woman of the Year and Van Heflin in Johnny Eager. However, we will say that one thing we grew tired of were the endless shots of loud airplanes in the sky as the participants fought it out.

Also a minor negative was the use of grainy stock footage of bombs dropping and in some of the air sequences. These moments, obviously from true and real war films, are of jarringly different quality than the crisp, new (well-handled) sequences of destruction on the ground. (I say well-handled, and they are, but there is one explosive shot in which very stiff mannequins are used in lieu of stuntmen.)

Another potential negative for some viewers today might be the way the Japanese are depicted. Chinese actor Richard Loo is depicted as a duplicitous repre- sentative of the soon-to-be enemy government with unusual, very thick glasses and prominent teeth, not to mention a rather slippery manner.

However, apart from the style of glasses, he did look reasonably close to the actual man he was portraying, including the suit, tie and lapel pin. (And subsequent pictures of Japanese soldiers and statesmen from that era did wear glasses of that type. These can be seen in particular on the men arranging the eventual surrender of the island.)
All the Japanese pilots and seamen are depicted with some degree of extremity. Some are almost goofily pudgy and comic,
...some are gleefully destructive...
...and some are intensely deranged during their assault on the island. However, one must remember that this movie was filmed not very long after Pearl Harbor and the war was not only ongoing, but still in its infancy as far at the U.S. was concerned. So one cannot expect a loving, affectionate balance in the depiction of people who attacked and killed a large number of our soldiers and civilians! (As an aside, the outcome on the actual Wake Island was far worse than anything shown here. Many men were captured, then worked or starved to death and, ultimately, nearly one hundred - some of them civilian - were mercilessly gunned down after having survived as long as they did. Those in charge of this outrage were later executed for war crimes.)

But, on a brighter note, lets move on to some of the things that could be considered "best." One is the appearance of the young Rod Cameron. He's the very tall (6'5") officer at left here and at far left in the dining sequence shown below. The 5'8" Donlevy had to get creative in this movie to not be dwarfed by the towering gent. Already a busy movie actor in small roles despite just having begun in 1939, he would soon be starring in serials of his own and eventually westerns.
In fact, he became best known for his cowboy image in westerns even though he'd never once been on a horse prior to his initial visit to Los Angeles. He felt hopelessly typecast and often did detective series to try to shift his image, but it was to no considerable effect. One notable thing about him is that he divorced his second wife, with whom he had a son, and almost immediately married HER mother! Happy Thanksgiving everybody...! LOL He passed away of cancer at seventy-two in 1983, leaving his wife/mother-in-law a widow.

Another plus for me, dog lover that I am, is the appearance of a cute little pooch who belongs to the afore- mentioned Bendix. I tried to determine whether or not this was Toto (aka Terry), the most famous Cairn terrier of the movies, and have come to the conclusion that it is not. But whoever the little doggie was, she was sweet in her own right. But the real BEST part of Wake Island, the reason for this post if you want the truth, is the man shown below to the left, sunning on the beach with Bendix and the dog.
Here's another glimpse of him. If you aren't familiar with the movie, I doubt you'll be able to tell who it is...
Here's another teasing shot from behind. You know this actor, almost surely, but I doubt you ever glimpsed him quite this way.
Getting closer to the reveal...
It's Robert Preston! Despite a long career in the movies and on stage, Preston is surely best known for his 1962 film The Music Man. By then in his mid-forties, he had shed the fresh, twenty-something gleam that he has here (at twenty-four!) Admittedly, 1962 was a tough year, but he didn't even warrant an Oscar nom for his iconic role of Harold Hill in Man.

I don't recall ever having seen his hair cut this short before and I do have a thing for closely-cropped hair on a man. He oozes relaxed charm in this part, a sort of buck-the-system ne'er do well who is always affectionately brawling with his best pal Bendix.

The two of them fight over a Russian net-covered urn that has washed ashore until their squabbling causes it to fall on the rocks and break.

The humpy Preston is shown for a lengthy period of time early on without his shirt on.
He also has a morning sequence in a clingy t-shirt and boxer shorts (which he, unfor- tunately, has briefs on under them...) I am confident that this is the sexiest that Robert Preston ever looked, but I'll happily research it further if there are suggestions!  Ha ha!
By the way, Preston, too, joined the armed forces (the U.S. Air Force) not long after this film and likewise experienced a four-year lull before his next movie. He did proceed to a successful film and stage career with some latter day highlights that included a showy part in Victor/Victoria (1982.) He was nominated for an Oscar that time, but lost to Louis Gossett Jr. for An Officer and a Gentleman. Preston died of lung cancer in 1987 at age sixty-eight.
The End!