Drink of the Week: Jezebel (TCM Fest 2017 Salute #1)

Jezebel.Yes, it’s time once again for our annual salute to classic cinema and this year’s TCM Film Fest. The 2017 edition was a bittersweet affair this year due to the passing of the network’s universally beloved host, Robert Osborne. Mr. Osborne was a unique figure in the annals of cinephiles and movie buffs in that, though he never looked old enough for this to be true, he had begun his career as an actor in the old studio contract system of Hollywood’s classic-era heyday. So, I guess we should go ahead and dedicate the first of our cocktails to him.

We’ll start with the first film I caught this year, William Wyler’s 1938 “Jezebel,” starring Bette Davis as a fiery, self-centered belle who manages to muck everything up between her and fiancé Henry Fonda with her acts of wanton rebellion. On the one hand, there’s no getting around the idea that Davis’ character is set-up as an antiheroine not so different from Scarlet O’Hara of “Gone with the Wind” fame, a role many fans felt was tailor made for Davis. (This film was regarded as something of a consolation prize, though it’s quite possibly the better film.) On the other hand, looking at things through a more contemporary and more feminist lens, it’s really about a woman driven to assert some power in a world ruled by males, who start all the wars and make all the rules.

When she finally breaks one rule too many, it’s by wearing a red dress to a ball. Yup, in pre-bellum New Orleans, an unmarried woman wearing a red dress in public was enough to start a chain of events that could lead to death for anyone foolish enough to take a strong position on the lady’s honor. It was really the worst thing in the world to wear that dress. And, yeah, these people all own slaves. So much for priorities.

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Movie Review: “Free Fire”

Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
Ben Wheatley

“Free Fire” is the idea that hits someone 12 hours deep into a Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie movie marathon. “You know what would be cool? It’s like paintball, but with real guns.” And to be fair, that is an interesting framing device, but when everything that follows has been done several times before, the device loses its charm rather quickly. This would explain why the film felt like the longest 85-minute film ever made. It’s interesting, but maddening, thanks in large part to a threadbare story structure, underwritten dialogue and next to no character development.

The story is set in Boston in the late ‘70s, where Ord (Armie Hammer) is serving as an intermediary in a weapons deal between career criminal Frank (Michael Smiley) and gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley) in an abandoned warehouse. The guns that Vernon brings to the deal are not the ones that Frank’s main man Chris (Cillian Murphy) requested, making a tense negotiation worse, but the deal blows up when Vernon’s driver Harry (Jack Reynor) shoots Frank’s junkie son-in-law Stevo (Sam Riley) in retaliation for something that happened the night before. Everyone runs for cover and the battle lines drawn, but they’re all trapped in the warehouse with no easy way out. To further complicate matters, two snipers begin shooting at both parties from the rafters, at which point everyone realizes that they’ve been double crossed by someone on the main floor.

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Blu Tuesday: Split and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.


Contrary to what some people have suggested, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film isn’t much of a comeback at all. Instead, it’s yet another case of the premise being better than the final product. A psychological thriller that’s largely devoid of actual thrills, “Split” owes much of its success to James McAvoy, who gets a chance to flex his acting muscles as a man with 23 distinct personalities. Though we only see a handful of them in action, each one is so unique (from their voices to their mannerisms) that it’s amazing to watch as McAvoy jumps back and forth between them, sometimes in the same scene. Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s inability to get out of his own way prevents “Split” from fulfilling its full potential, despite a killer last-minute twist that will excite fans of his early work.

Extras include a making-of featurette, profiles on actor James McAvoy and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, an alternate ending and deleted scenes. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Family & Fan Belts: The evolution of the “Fast and Furious” franchise

For characters that live “a quarter mile at a time,” it’s been a long, strange trip for the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Starting in the drag racing scene of downtown L.A., it has since become a global enterprise that has grown with every entry. There’s even talk now that the series may go into space, and the weirdest part is that such a concept isn’t even that strange in the “Fast and Furious” film universe. But it’s important to regard the series as a whole, and with the eighth installment (“The Fate of the Furious“) opening this weekend, now is the perfect time to chart its bizarre evolution from action film knockoff to genuine pop culture phenomenon.

Before going any further, it has to be noted that there’s a clear delineation in the series: the first four movies, and “Fast Five” onward. There’s a clear shift in narrative approach and visualization used in the latter half of the franchise that simply isn’t evident in “The Fast and the Furious” through “Fast & Furious.” But despite that separation (which will be explored below), it’s all part of a (mostly) coherent whole that has its most basic elements in place from the first film. It’s surprising how many of the themes carry through despite the films’ various permutations, but it’s also clear that audiences are dealing with two different beasts when considering the entire series.

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Cool tribute to Carrie Fisher

Here’s a great tribute to Carrie Fisher posted on the Star Wars YouTube channel. R.I.P.