DIY Film Fest: Great directors who were One and Done

by Tim Cogshell | Off-Ramp®

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Marlon Brando on the set of “One Eyed Jacks.”

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC’s FilmWeek and Alt Film Guide, and who blogs at CinemaInMind, has another film festival you can put on yourself, in the comfort of your own home.

Lots of filmmakers direct only one movie.  Far fewer of them direct a movie that’s in any way notable. And, by notable we mean good, if not very good or better, iconic.

1.  Marlon Brando / “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961)

Actors make up most, but not all of this DIY One and Done Film Festival, and first on our list is Marlon Brando, who directed just one movie and was done with the director’s chair. “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961) is more or less a spaghetti western with no Italians.  Brando and Karl Malden play bank robbers. Dad Longworth (Malden) leaves Rio (Brando) to rot in prison for 11 years. Bad blood builds.

Stanley Kubrick was set to direct but he and Brando had issues so Brando took over. Yeah, Marlon Brando fired Stanley Kubrick. Crazy.

A number of sources report that Brando was an indecisive and demanding director. His first cut was five hours long. Paramount cut it in half and it did good business, with better than decent reviews. Brando didn’t like it, but Martin Scorsese often calls “One-Eyed Jacks” one of his favorite westerns, and James Caan, who would go on to work with Brando in “The Godfather,” is a particularly big fan.

2. James Caan / “Hide in Plain Sight” (1980)

The second film in our One and Done DIY Film Festival – James Caan’s one and only directorial effort – “Hide in Plain Sight” (1980). Loosely based on a true story, the movie is about a blue collar Caan, who is kept from his children when his ex-wife’s mob-connected new husband is taken into federal protection.

“Hide in Plain Sight” has the tone and timber of a Martin Ritt film –  it’s “Hud” meets “Norma Rae.” One person standing up against an unjust system. Critics were mixed: praising the performances but generally suggesting that Caan’s direction was slavish to the true story. But I like it.

3. Dustin Hoffman / “Quartet” (2012)

Most people think Dustin Hoffman directed the 1978 drama “Straight Time,” in which he stars. True, he began the film as director, but  soon handed the directing duties over to veteran filmmaker Ulu Grosbard.  Hoffman would wait 34 years before giving it another go. His one and only directorial effort is the 2012 film “Quartet,” starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly among others.

And it is notably lovely in just about every way.

4.  Theodore Witcher / “Love Jones” (1997)

Last in our DIY one and done film festival: Theodore Witcher.  I know, you’ve never heard of him. But he did write and direct one iconic film that’s 20 years old this year. “Love Jones” stars Larenz Tate and Nia Long.

The film is about a poet name Darius, played by Tate, and a talented young photographer called Nina, played by Nia Long. Mostly the film is this couple and their friends. They talk about is love and sex and friendship and if all can ever be had together. They do while being black, which was still a big deal in 1997.

I have no idea why a guy who wrote and directed a film as notable as “Love Jones” didn’t take or get another shot at the director’s chair.  A buddy was in a Denny’s spot Teddy Witcher directed some years ago. Who knows, maybe there was just more money in commercials.

But if “Love Jones” is the only movie I ever get from One and Done director  Theodore Witcher, it will definitely do.

Christian Movies: Religious Propaganda or Mainstream Entertainment?

By: Tim Cogshell –  Edited and annotated by Andre Soares for Alt-Film Guide

 Christian movies: Starring Nicolas Cage, the widely panned 2014 apocalyptic thriller ‘Left Behind’ was a box office bomb – unlike (relatively) recent popular ‘faith movies’ such as ‘Heaven Is for Real,’ ‘Son of God’ and ‘War Room.’

      As Easter bares down – two films that might be called “Christian movies” opened last week, and I decided that I wouldn’t watch them, write about them, or review them – at least directly.

    I’m not even going to mention their titles here, because I don’t promote propaganda films, and that’s what this recent advent of Christian movies has become: propaganda. After all, since nearly all American cinema is Christian cinema, the New Christian American Cinema is in fact pure propaganda – not cinema.

Worse yet, it bores me.

     So, here’s the thing about what we’ve come to call “Christian movies” –  among them the Left Behind series, the God’s Not Dead series (which has at least two more installments), and a dozen other recent wide releases – which I won’t discuss in detail because they are nothing more than, effective or not, propaganda: they operate under the guise of mainstream entertainment when in fact they are Christian proselytism.

   That in itself is ironic and, again, here’s why: American movies writ large are almost always Judeo-Christian movies. God is such a given in American movies that a film that presents itself as a “Christian movie” can only be propaganda. Once again, that’s because all American movies are Christian movies and always have been.

    Okay, this is a bit of hyperbole, but not much. Think of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation – 1915 – where he burned that cross – the Christian cross – for the first time.  The Klan apparently got the idea of cross burning from that evil movie, not the other way around [1]  The entire silent era is lousy with God; the themes of the Ten Commandments were paramount (e.g., Cecil B. DeMille‘s Don’t Change Your Husband, Why Change Your Wife? and Forbidden Fruit). God and his wrath – everywhere.

    The cinema of the Depression and pre-World War II eras gave us, among others, 1938 Best Actor Oscar winner Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town. And Frank Capra, a good Catholic Italian kid who, following the armistice, would come up with his iconic It’s a Wonderful Life, featuring an angel (Henry Travers) getting his wings – a thoroughly Christian movie.

     John Ford‘s 1941 Best Picture Oscar winner How Green is Your Valley has another priest  (Walter Pidgeon as Pastor Gruffydd) looming right in the middle of this Christian classic. In fact, this theme is found throughout the American cinema of the 1940s, even in the seemingly godless noir. Implied or inferred, it was God balancing the books at the end of most of those flicks.

   Christian movies of years past: Charlton Heston starred as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 blockbuster ‘The Ten Commandments.’

     The 1950s made it obvious that the Christian God was what these Hollywood movies were actually about – e.g., Quo Vadis, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur. That includes even the Peyton Places and Douglas Sirk dramas, with their Christian consequences sometimes right in the title, as in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows.

Seriously?

     And yes, the 1960s were full of mainstream Christian movies, too. They ranged from Nicholas Ray’s The King of Kings, with Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, to Debbie Reynolds as the titular character in The Singing Nun. Those weren’t atheists dancing around in all those Beach Blanket Bingo movies, either… nope. That was a bunch of Christian kids.  

    God is in the Gidget series, too. The Gidget movies starred Sandra Dee, a bouncy blond. But, notice that for the TV show they cast the more earthy, dark haired, Sally Field. One reason for this is because the character Gidget was based on novelist and show creator Frederick Kohner’s daughter, Kathy.  Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman was a dark haired bouncy young lady.  As it happens, Frederick (and his brother Paul Kohner – the famous Universal Studios Producer), were Jewish, born in what’s now the Czech Republic. So Frederick’s daughter was a lovely Jewish girl who looked a lot more like Sally Field than Sandra Dee. So, Gidget is a Jew. I don’t think Americans could handle that – so Kohner turned the family into gentiles.

No matter, same God, and “it” is in the cast, whether mentioned or not. 

    God may not have directly come up in many of these films, but that’s because the biblical concept of God permeates the overwhelming majority of American movies – and it always has. A Christ-like figure can even be found at the center of Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus, set in the century before Jesus’ supposed birth. Jeez…

     Additionally, most American horror cinema depends on the understanding that the Judeo-Christian God is real. Dracula, for instance, is only stayed by holy water and the cross. Rosemary’s Baby – spoiler alert – is an actual demon baby, which to my mind always ruined the movie. But why wouldn’t it be a real demon baby in a film directed by the part-Jewish, part-Catholic Roman Polanski, who, even if an avowed atheist, might be as afraid of going to hell as of going to an American prison? So, the devil baby – admittedly, also found in Ira Levin’s novel – was destined to be real, and Rosemary’s Baby is a true believer’s Christian movie, whether they admit it or not.

    We could also add The Exorcist, The Omen, and their sequels to the long list of Christian horror movies. Big studio action movies, from Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days to Keanu Reeves in Constantine, are implicitly Christian movies. When the devil or one of his minions is the antagonist of a film – that film’s protagonist inevitably becomes a Christian warrior, whether they know it or not.

     Gangster movies, from James Cagney (e.g., Angels with Dirty Faces) to Francis Ford Coppola (e.g., The Godfather franchise), are Christian movies. Think about it…

    This is also true of American television. The Partridges and the Bradys went to church in actual episodes of the show. From Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel to Joan of Arcadia and Lucifer, God has always been real on American TV – thus creating the notion of “Christian television propaganda” as well.

    Ever watch Supernatural or Sleepy Hollow?  Angels and devils and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are central themes. These are Christian television series through-and-through.

Whether you know it or not.

  Christian movies: Featuring ‘The Help’ actor Mike Vogel and ‘Parenthood’ actress Erika Christensen, plus Oscar winner Faye Dunaway (‘Network’) and Oscar nominee Robert Forster (‘Jackie Brown’), ‘The Case for Christ’ – about an atheist journalist who sets out to prove the inexistence of God after his wife becomes a Christian – has been a box office disappointment since its April 7 ’17 North American debut.  ‘The Case for Christ’ & ‘God Knows Where I Am’

      I lied. I am going to mention the names of the two new additions to the ranks of Christian propaganda cinema that opened earlier this spring: they are Jon Gunn’s The Case for Christ and Jeff and Todd Wider’s little-seen documentary, God Knows Where I Am, neither of which will be reviewed by me.  How they fare as cinema is irrelevant, as they are propaganda for a cause I don’t want to be propagandized about any more than I already am.

Which is all the time.

As for the sinfulness of lying…  I was raised Christian even though we were all Jewish – and I’m a lifelong atheist.

So, I’ll be fine.

 _____________

Cross burning and ‘The Birth of a Nation’     [1] Note from the Editor: A 1915 release, the epoch-making blockbuster The Birth of a Nation was based on Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel The Clansman, which features a cross-burning incident. The first reported cross burning in the United States took place in the area of Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 25, 1915.  As The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation opened on Feb. 8, 1915, at Clune’s Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.

Image of Nicolas Cage in the 2014 box office bomb Left Behind, part of the recent batch of American Christian movies: Freestyle Releasing.

Image of Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments: Paramount Pictures.

Image of Erika Christensen and Mike Vogel in one of 2017’s Christian movies, The Case for Christ: Pure Flix Entertainment.

FilmWeek: ‘Going in Style,’ ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ and more…

by FilmWeek

Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Tim Cogshell, Peter Rainer and Charles Solomon review this weekend’s new movie releases including:

  • Going in Style” in wide release
  • Smurfs: The Lost Village” in wide release
  • Colossal” at ArcLight Hollywood & The Landmark
  • Gifted” at ArcLight Pasadena, The Landmark, AMC Century City and other select theaters
  • Their Finest” ArcLight Hollywood and The Landmark
  • Salt and Fire” at Arena Cinelounge Sunset
  • Your Name” (English dub release) at ArcLight Sherman Oaks and Laemmle’s Monica Film Center
  • Cezanne and I” at Laemmle’s Playhouse, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre and Laemmle’s Town Center
  • Tickling Giants” at Laemmle’s Music Hall

Critics’ Hits

Tim: “Cezanne and I”

Peter: “Their Finest” & “Tickling Giants”

Charles: “Your Name”

 

Mixed Feelings

Tim: “Gifted”

Peter: “Colossal”

Charles: “Smurfs: The Lost Village”

 

Misses!

Tim: “Salt and Fire”

 

Guests:

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

Peter Rainer, film critic for KPCC and the Christian Science Monitor

Charles Solomon, film critic for KPCC, Animation Scoop and Animation Magazine