Monday, June 14, 2021

Sequels That You Probably Haven’t Heard Of: INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU Starring Alan Arkin

Over the course of Inspector Clouseau (sorry, Chief Inspector) film series, which began in 1964, there have been five Peter Sellers movies, two with Steve Martin, and one with…Alan Arkin?

It’s true, the future Oscar winner, between such worthier works as WAIT UNTIL DARK, and THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, stepped into Sellers’ shoes for a stand-alone comic adventure in 1968 that had no involvement from the previous films’ director, Blake Edwards, no Henry Mancini score, and not a single member of the cast from either of the first two movies, THE PINK PANTHER, and A SHOT IN THE DARK (both 1964).

The series is often referred to as THE PINK PANTHER series as the first film on the franchise revolved around the largest diamond in the world, which has the flaw, when viewed closely, that resembled a leaping pink panther. Despite that only two movies in the Sellers series featured the treasured jewel, the name stuck and continued to be used after Sellers’ death in 1980.

Since the second of the series, A SHOT IN THE DARK, didn’t deal with the diamond at all, it seemed that the third Clouseau entry had also jettisoned the motif. So INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU, which I guess was one of the first reboots, was set to introduce a new lead, and a new world for his overblown antics.

So while Sellers and Edwards went off to shoot THE PARTY, Arkin and Director Bud Yorkin, whose most notable film previously was DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE, went about attempting to make Clouseau their own. This they would find was an impossible task.


In the first, and only, Clouseau movie to not include a pre-credits scene, the film opens with the customary cartoon titles. The sequence was designed by the animation company, DePatie–Freleng Enterprises, who had done the same work on the previous Clouseau forms, so at least there’s that connection.

Afterwards, Arkin’s Clouseau is called into Scotland Yard from the Sureté to help solve a British bank robbery. Familiar to these farces, stuffy old superiors stick their noses at the feeble-minded Frenchman, assassination attempts plague him, brutish thugs elude him, and beautiful women throw themselves at him for nefarious reasons.

The plan is for the criminal gang our embecile detective is trailing to make masks of Clouseau’s so they can frame him as the mastermind behind a crime wave across Britain. This allows for Arkin to play more than one character, albeit with the same face.

This is one of those movies that makes one cringe at how hard the filmmakers are trying to make everything funny and fail nearly everytime. Sloppy slapstick, countless laughless gags, and hoards of humorless lone-liners clutter the screen all while embarrassment mounts. Actually there is one funny line:

“There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”

Six years later, Sellers returned to the role of Clouseau in RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975). The film also reprised Inspector Dreyfuss (Herbert Lom), and house servant/martial arts specialist Cato (Burt Kwouk) from A SHOT IN THE DARK, which enforced the idea that Arkin’s turn was not only best forgotten, it was discounted completely. Interstingly enough, Clouseau’s tweedy hat appears to be the only element that survived from INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU to RETURN.


Arkin, who is a beloved actor for good reason, was simply wrong for the iconic part. His accent, which the New York Times said sounded Hispano-Slavic, was wrong; his pratfalls were forced, and his whole detached demeanor diminished joke after joke.

Obviously, Sellers’ definitive performance as Clouseau is impossible to top as Arkin, Martin, and even Roger Moore (he had a cameo as a face-lifted Clouseau in the dreadful CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER in 1983) have found.

So the takeaway here is when you are craving some Clouseau, stick with the five films that Sellers made from 1964-1978. Everything else is a pink imitation.

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Monday, June 07, 2021

Full Frame 2021: Part 3

The 24th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is winding down, and I've just got a couple more docs to sum up. I saw way less non fiction films this year due to the limited roster of the online-only event, but I was mostly satisfied by the works I watched. Here's hoping that next year we can get back to the Carolina Theater, and the Marriot Convention Center for a return to a real in-person big screen festival.

I’d like to give a shout out to Adam Pyburn Motion Design for providing a great but all too brief animated trailer that ran before each feature. I worked with Pyburn, who’s produced trailers at previous Full Frames, at the Colony Theater in Raleigh over a decade ago, and I’m happy to see his art getting displayed in this fine forum. The image at the top of this post is from the spot for this year’s festival - you can see the full trailer at Pyburn’s website.

Now onto my last few films from Full Frame 2021:

HOMEROOM (Dir. Peter Nicks, 2021)

Filmmaker Nicks’ third feature-length doc comes off as more home movie-ish than the other docs at this year’s Full Frame, but that’s not a bad thing as it puts us up close to its passionate subjects. It’s surely a premise that will most likely anger conservatives with its repeated refrains to “defund the police” since it deals with students at Oakland High School in California protesting the police presence on the institution’s grounds. The film also covers how the spread of covid-19, and police shootings such as the tragic killing of George Floyd triggers the activist teens and fuels their opposition.

The closest this film has to a star is Denison Garibo, a Latino student member of the Oakland School Districtwho tries to keep his cool as he attends meetings and hearings with cops and even Oakland’s mayor Libby Schaaf, who is as condescending as humanly possible. THE HOMEROOM, which is considered the third film in Nicks’ Oakland trilogy (the other films being 2012’s THE WAITING ROOM, and 2017’s THE FORCE, is a talk-filled time, but it’s never not compelling, and if you’ve never heard the term “hella” * (as in “a hella lot of food”) you’ll hear it a hella lot here.

* The slang word originated in Oakland, something I did not know before this doc.

STORM LAKE (Dirs. Beth Levison & Jerry Risius, 2021)

My final film at the fest focuses on the daily operations at a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper in the small town of Storm Lake in Iowa. The central figure of the doc is Art Cullen, the Editor of the Storm Lake Times, who is described as lanky, and white haired by one commenter, and “the voice of the Democrats in BV (Buena County).” Members of Cullen’s family also work for the paper, which has been in business since 1990.

The subjects that are tackled in the doc’s less than 90 minute running time are immigration, farming, and local politics. As the film largely takes place in early 2020, the Presidential campaign is touched upon with brief cameos by Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar, who quips that she can “see Iowa from her porch.” A couple of things this modest movie taught me were about News Deserts, which are small communities that have no newspaper outlets, and that there are still newspapers that have TV listings.

I enjoyed STORM LAKE greatly. This is partly because I’ve written for newspapers and find their processes compelling. One of the only issues I have is that the pandemic is clumsily introduced into the narrative. But overall this is a stimulating look at people who love their jobs and take them seriously. As newspapers are fading, it’s inspiring to see one that’s still thriving in the world of fake news, even if they have years with little profit. I haven’t seen any of Directors Levison and Risius’ previous projects, but this fine film encourages me to seek out their other work.

So thats yet another Full Frame. Obviously it was a very different experience as I had to watch all the docs on the small screen usually while in pajama pants. I am extremely hopeful that things will be better in the future normal, and that I can join my fellow film fans in dark rooms for powerful picture shows. That can’t be too far off, right?

If you haven’t already, please check out my coverage in Part 1, and Part 2.

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Sunday, June 06, 2021

Full Frame 2021: Part 2

It’s a few days into the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, now in its 24th year, and I’m continuing to make my way through a plethora of non-fiction offerings. As this is an online-only event, I sorely miss spending time at the Carolina Theater, and the Marriot Convention Center in Durham where I could hobnob with other film fans, and watch these brand spanking new docs on the big screen. Due to the pandemic, the Carolina will be closed until later this month so right now, the main cinema, Fletcher Hall, looks like it does above (except for the lights probably being off):

Without further ado, here’s the last few docs that I’ve watched.

TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION (Dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland, 2020)

The relationship between two of the most famous American writers of their time, novelist Truman Capote and playwright Tennessee Williams, is lovingly explored in this beautifully bitchy biodoc.

Director Vreeland, whose film about her fashion icon mother, DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL, was shown at Full Frame in 2012, weaves together a narrative anchored by excerpts of Capote and Williams’ separate appearances on The David Frost Show in 1969, ’70, and ’72. In between these load-bearing clips, are hundreds of photos (some never seen before), archival footage, scratchy audio recordings, and sequences that feature voice-over work by Jim Parsons (you know, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory) reciting Capote’s words, while Zachary Quinto (uh, oh yeah - Spock!), recites William’s.

After meeting in 1940, when Capote was 16 and Williams was 29, both writers burst onto the literary scene in the ‘40s. Their paths crossed over the next few decades as they each had their runs of successes, including Capote’s In Cold Blood, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (both books were adapted into popular movies), and William’s theatrical productions, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The question keeps coming up – were they best friends or best enemies?

I’ll make a case for the latter as the juiciest material here involves the wordsmiths mercilessly mocking the other’s work. Most deliciously, Williams sums up Capote saying “I don’t think bitchery is the most attractive element in human character, but bitchery is beginning to be a very strong selling commodity in writing.” There is a wealth of wit in TRUMAN & TENNESSEE, Vreeland’s often poetic portrait of these two troubled artists, which as a conversation is as intimate as it is brutal.  

And finally for today, a couple of doc shorts (short docs?):

THE RIFLEMAN (Dir. Sierra Pettengill, 2021)

This nearly 20-minute film is the story of Harlan Carter, who went from being a Laredo, Texas Border Patrol Agent to a leader in the National Rifle Association. But before his ascension in the NRA, a 17-year old Carter shot and killed Ramón Casiano, a 15 year-old Mexican, with a shotgun in 1931. Carter only served two years in jail for the racist murder as the conviction was overturned, but the incident was largely unknown until 1981 when it was uncovered by journalists.

Like Director Pettengill’s only feature-length doc, 2017’s THE REAGAN SHOW, the short relies mostly on archival footage, but also contains shots of relevant newspaper and magazine clippings. The narrative is effective, but the film goes by too fast. It might have been better as a longer study of the man who coined the NRA’s slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” but it does timely touch on the debate over gun control that obviously still rages strongly today.

WE WERE THERE TO BE THERE (Dirs. Mike Plante & Jason Willis, 2021)

The American bands, the Cramps and the Mutants, are punk legends, but the gig that this film details may be just as legendary. In 1978, both bands performed a show at a California mental institution that was shot with a black-and-white video camera, and a single microphone, by an outfit named Target Video. The short, whose title comes from the words of one of the concert’s 100+ attendees of the event at Napa State Mental Hospital, features the patients losing their inhibitions to the loud, raw, in-your-face tunage. It’s an entertaining, and punchy punk short, that runs over 25-minutes, but the existence of another film, The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital, makes me think that the footage may not be as rare as it’s billed here.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment in my coverage of Full Frame 2021, and if you haven't already, check out Part 1.

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Friday, June 04, 2021

Full Frame 2021: Part 1

In April 2020, the 23rd Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival was cancelled due to rising concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. It was sad, but, of course, completely understandable. Now, Full Frame is back, but with a catch: the entire festival is a virtual event. That’s despite the promotional image above that shows an outdoor screening - there will be none of those. So my yearly trip back and forth to the Carolina Theater, and the Marriott Convention Center in Durham is replaced by staying home, and watching a bunch of docs on the small screen.

Another thing that is different is that there is a much smaller roster this time around – only 36 titles are being presented, which is way less than the over 100 films that usually make up the program. To be exact, 21 feature films and 15 shorts will be available via fullframefest.org. This means that folks may actually be able to see all of the docs that are offered.

Because of these changes, I am conducting my coverage differently. Regularly I would post each day of the festival – i.e. Day 1, Day 2, and so on – but since I won’t be adhering to a schedule, the posts will be Part 1, Part 2 and so on. Besides, Full Frame began two days ago, on June 2, so there’s that.

I’ll start with the first two docs I watched, and we’ll see where this online-only event takes us.

TELEVISION EVENT (Dir. Jeff Daniels, 2020)


Several years ago, an episode of the FX series The Americans, a show about Russian spies in the ‘80s, reminded me of the controversial TV movie, THE DAY AFTER. The 1983 ABC telefilm dramatized the effects of a nuclear attack on various people in the Midwest, and I remember seeing it as a 13-year old, and getting pretty scared. President Reagan himself even felt that way. This doc, directed by Jeff Daniels (no, not that Jeff Daniels), puts the THE DAY AFTER into fascinating perspective, with interviews and footage, that take us into the film’s making, its airing, and the overwhelming reaction that came from the fact that 100 million viewers watched its original broadcast.

Despite that one of the producers said that they “didn’t want to have recognizable stars,” the film starred Oscar winner Jason Robards, Oscar nominee John Lithgow, Oscar nominee Jobeth Williams, and Steve Guttenberg (yes, that Steve Guttenberg), who will never come close to winning a Oscar.


Director Nicholas Meyer (TIME AFTER TIME, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) dominates the interview segments, and that’s a good thing too as he talks about his fights with Standards and Practices, and the producers, as well as revealing that he “was thinking if I just made a movie showing what nuclear war was, I could unseat Ronald Reagan when he ran for re-election.” The “making of” segments are equally interesting as they show how effects such as people vaporizing, and convincing mushroom clouds were created. THE DAY AFTER had a major impact spawning extensive media coverage, considerable classroom discussions, and even a news panel moderated by Ted Koppel that aired after the film that included Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, Robert S. McNamara, and William F. Buckley. Now, ain’t that a brain trust!

Despite a few too many aerial shots of the Century City towers in Los Angeles where ABC’s offices are located, TELEVISION EVENT is a crisp, swift breakdown of what went on behind the themes of arguably the most devastating depiction of nuclear war ever shown on television. I’m not sure it’ll make me rewatch THE DAY AFTER all these years later, but I’m thankful for all the transfixing insights that this doc delivers.

THE FACILITY (Dir. Seth Freed Wessler, 2021)


This short doc, which runs nearly 27 minutes, concerns immigrants detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, during the early days of the pandemic. We are first introduced to Nilson Barahona, an inmate from Honduras, who has been incarcerated for 20 years despite that the rest of his family are U.S. citizens. Then there’s Andrea Manrique, from Columbia, who while on a tourist visa was detained for revealing she feared returning to her home country, and says that her stay at the ICE facility has been “a living hell.”

Director Wessler conducts his interviews with Barahoma, Manrique, and a few other detainees through a site called gettingout.com, a site devoted keeping prisoners in touch with their families. When a few people (an employee and one of the immigrants) contract the virus, the inmates go on a hunger strike, and refuse to work at the facility. This is followed by protests when a whistleblower alleges medical neglect at the Center including unnecessary surgeries. Although it ends on a positive note with the release of Barahona and Manrique, and the closing of the facility, the takeaway is how disturbing the conditions of many of these places are. It probably won’t be seen by enough people, but the ones that do view THE FACILITY will most likely look at the issue of immigration just a little bit differently.

Okay, so those are my first two docs of Full Frame 2021. Stay tuned for more coverage as I consume more non-fiction film goodness.

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