The Cotton Club: Fred Gwynne and Bob Hoskins share a moment.
La Mesa’s very own Reanimated Records was open, but only for curbside pickup. Owner Nic Friesen was a beautiful enough person to forward a photoset of recent acquisitions. What follows are but three jewels among the riches.
The Cotton Club: Encore (1984/2019)
Robert Evans, Mario Puzo, and Francis Ford Coppola, the team that brought you The Godfather, bring a musical gangster film that, if you listen hard enough, you still hear bombing at the box office. Richard Gere stars as the first caucasian musician to work the legendary mob-run Harlem nightspot, where the performers were predominantly black and clientele exclusively white. Last year, Coppola screened his director’s cut of the film as a Fathom Event.
The Cotton Club: Encore (1984/2019) trailer
A blu ray release soon followed. Watching both versions side-by-side shows this isn’t a simple case of reinstating individual scenes, but a longer (by 12 minutes), restructured cut that is in many ways superior to the Orion Pictures release. The studio was more interested in showcasing Gere and leading lady Diane Lane than they were Gregory Hines and Lonette McKee. This cut restores balance to the parallel love stories. Gere and Lane make a comely twosome, but no matter the running time, Coppola skips over their romance like a stone on a lake. Regrettably, there is no new footage of Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne together. In spite of the show-stopping feats of musical pyrotechnics that surround it, their urinal confab on Gere’s future is the film’s highlight.
The Bat Whispers (1930)
The Bat Whispers (1930)
The goal before checking out is to see every film released between 1928-1934, that magically tentative point in Hollywood’s history when sound was on the way in and the Production Code was just out of reach of enforcement. For those interested in experiencing what an effects-driven comic book movie looked like in the pre-code era, the search ends here, with the film that inspired Batman creator Bob Kane. Based on a 1920 stage play, this all-talking adaptation of his 1926 silent version of The Bat was director Roland West’s second go-round with the material. Not only was it an early sound picture, it was one of the few films released prior to 1954 to be shot and exhibited in a widescreen format. (Both the 65mm and 35mm versions can be found on the Milestone DVD.) It’s a genre-bender for sure: a bank robbery leads to a treasure hunt in an old dark house, with a slamming door farce that helps to unravel a murder mystery. A violence-prone, chutzpah-driven arch criminal known only as “The Bat,” makes a killing in Gotham before shifting his place of employment to the suburbs. Much of the action is confined to the second home of a bank president currently being leased to Cornelia Van Gorder (Grayce Hampton), who is joined by her comic-relief-in-maid’s-clothing Lizzie (Maude Eburne). (The excruciating domestic is the Golden Age equivalent to a “jump-scare” — every thrill, every chill is punctuated by an ear canal blasting shriek from Lizzie’s windpipe.) For a remote, countryside villa, the place is certainly abuzz with activity; there’s more foot traffic passing through the doors than a bustling bed and board. But what happens inside the house is nothing compared to the effects wizardry that takes place outside its walls. The comedy was crude even for its time, but the effects work — starting with a swoop down from a miniature clocktower that meshes endearingly (if not exactly) with a life-size street scene — is staggering.
A young Autobot escapes the planet Cybertron, but instead of landing in Smallville, it winds up a Volkswagen Beetle in a California junkyard. High school student and grease-monkey aspirant Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) takes ownership of the Bug, and in doing so sends out an intergalactic GPS alert to its mother planet. Why can’t Hollywood allow more tested animators a chance to crossover to live-action features? Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) is a perfect example of an animator whose cartoony and gravityless gracefulness conspired to make Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol a franchise standout. This was the only one of the six Transformers pictures that Michael Bay did not direct, and it shows in every frame. Nothing short of a visionary artist at the helm would make me consider a return to a Transformers picture; they’re what the Marx Bros. would have called nothing in its most violent form. Seeing Travis Knight’s name on the credits — he gave us the exceptional animated adventure Kubo and the Two Strings — and not the shitty by the Bay, was what drew me to the theatre. It’s when Charlie is on her back, working under the chassis, that Bumblebee decides to first show her what it’s made of; the backwards lift as he morphs from car to colossus stole my breath away. And the rapport struck between actress and green screen gargantuan — and the genuinely affecting experience it produced — kept me watching. (Unlike Bay, Knight never once sexualizes his female star. Had he, she’d have probably slapped him six ways from Sunday.)