Saturday, February 28, 2015

A long life, and a prosperous one

He spent his final months trying to keep others from the same fate as him. He blamed cigarettes for wrecking his health and he encouraged others to quit smoking before it was too late. I would see him on Twitter, periodically imploring his many fans to not be like him in this respect. I hope people listened to him. If his death serves any kind of purpose, I sincerely hope it acts as a lesson to others.

In addition - and I'm afraid I don't remember what spurned him to do this; perhaps it had to do with his failing health as well - he also spent his final months encouraging his fans to adopt him as a surrogate grandfather. It seemed like a joke at first, but it wasn't, and from what I saw on his Twitter feed, his virtual family grew by leaps and bounds. And yeah, I, too, accepted him as my adopted "grandpa," though it didn't come with any kind of reward or benefit beyond bragging rights. It wasn't a contest of any kind, and I don't believe it was meant as a publicity stunt.

So when I say that his death hit me almost as hard as the death of a family member, I'm not exaggerating too much.

He was part of my life for a long enough time to qualify. While I identify more with the Next Generation era and beyond, there's no doubt that I've always had a great appreciation for the original incarnation of Star Trek. Much has been written and said about the cultural impact the show had, and continues to have, on society, and his character, Spock, was a huge part of that.

Think about what Spock represents. Prior to 1966, the year Trek was born, aliens in science fiction tended to fall into one of three categories: bug-eyed monsters; strangers who stood above and apart from humanity, often times in judgment on us in one way or another, or so human looking and acting that the term "alien" hardly seemed to apply. As much as humanity was drawn to the dream of space travel and extraterrestrial life, there was a lot of fear about what may happen to us and what we may find out there within the final frontier as well.

Then along comes Trek, which envisions a future where humanity gets its act together and works to expand its knowledge by exploring space. And what do we find? Aliens who clearly look alien, clearly look and act different from us - pointed ears, arched eyebrows and seemingly emotionless - and not only do we learn that they're nothing to be afraid of, but we're able to find common ground with them. We're able to see in them the things they share with us, and one of us finds beauty and love in them as well. 

Spock's existence is proof of that. He may seem aloof, but he works with humanity. Many of his goals are the same as ours, and though he may get treated as an outsider at times, by his own people as well as ours, he doesn't let that stop him. He represents what can happen when we face the unknown and discover it to be not as scary as we may have thought.

That's a difficult role to embody, one full of nuance and great subtlety. It's the kind of challenge many actors would give their eye teeth for, but not exactly one that comes with any kind of road map. Portraying such a character from week to week would require time to grow into, to learn from the inside out so that he would be taken seriously, and not be seen as campy or childish.

It would require an actor like Leonard Nimoy.

You know the result.

His career contained much more than Trek, of course. Other television and film roles, directing, photography, being a husband and a father. We know that it took him a long time to accept the significance of his character within pop culture - he did, after all, write an autobiography called I Am Not Spock - but once he did, I suspect, I hope, that his life was better for it, because he had, and still has, legions of fans worldwide who love him and are grateful to him and Bill and De and Gene and all the rest for what they gave to the world. 

I'm disappointed he won't be around for the 50th anniversary of Trek next year. It will seem a little somber without him around, to say the least... but I know that Trekkies everywhere will keep him in their hearts.

I sure will.

Friday, February 27, 2015

New release roundup for February '15

- Still Alice. Honestly, it's difficult to make affliction/disease movies distinctive anymore since, by necessity, they have to follow a similar pattern: normal life, discovery of affliction, cycling through the Kubler-Ross stages until we get to the misty-eyed slow death, or something close to it, at the end. Still Alice doesn't pave any new ground in this genre, but it is well done, and Julianne Moore makes it totally watchable and believable. Moore has always been a favorite of mine, from as far back as her Paul Thomas Anderson movies Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and then discovering her older work like Safe, and enjoying her in later movies like Far From Heaven, Children of Men and The Kids are All Right. She has deserved an Oscar for a long, long time and it's wonderful to finally see her with one at last. Kudos also to Kristen Stewart. It's good to know she's still doing indie movies now that she's through with you-know-what.

Since I didn't see many new movies this month, I thought I'd use this space to address this Variety article about the Wachowski Brothers Siblings and Jupiter Ascending. The belief expressed here is that the failure of the movie to catch on with a wide audience despite its original premise somehow signals the Death Knell for Original Movies in Hollywood, and that we're just gonna get more and more sequels and comic book/video game/TV show/YA novel adaptations, forever and ever amen, and that WE DESERVE IT.

First of all, that ship has sailed years ago. Take your pick where it began: with the first Avengers movie, the first Spider-Man movie, the first X-Men movie, or maybe The Phantom Menace - doesn't matter. People have been singing this song for a long time, and the sky still has not fallen (yet).

More importantly: you wanna talk about truly original movies at the box office? Okay, let's talk about that. (All figures to follow via Box Office Mojo.) Let's talk about Neighbors and Ride Along, the top two comedies of 2014, with approximately $150 million and $134 million, respectively, on budgets of approximately $18 million and $25 million, also respectively. Let's talk about The Grand Budapest Hotel, a quirky independent film that opened on only four US screens before expansion, and went on to make $59 million domestic and $174 million worldwide.

Oh, I'm sorry, you meant sci-fi movies, didn't you? Okay, how about Lucy? Last year, it made $126 million domestic and $458 million worldwide. Or better yet, Interstellar: $187 million domestic, $671 million worldwide. No one denies that the odds are more against original material than ever these days, but they're still being made and they do still succeed (regardless of quality).

Beyond the numbers, though, the point I really wanna make is this: sometimes good directors make bad movies, or at the very least, movies that underachieve. It happens. Spielberg made 1941. Coppola made One From the Heart. Bigelow made U-571. Linklater remade The Bad News Bears! They all got it out of their systems and moved on in their careers, and the Wachowskis will, too. Granted, their post-Matrix careers haven't been quite as dominant, but I'd be willing to wager that the changes in the marketplace and the industry have as much to do with that as anything else. And personally, I think they could stand to go back to their Bound days and make something smaller for a change. Might be just what they need.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Prisoner of Zenda

The Madeleine Carroll Blogathon is an event in honor of the actress, presented by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

The Prisoner of Zenda
seen on TV @ TCM

I've seen lots of movies about double identities, and I'm sure you have too... and maybe if I had seen The Prisoner of Zenda before most of them, I'd like it more. As it is, I thought it was just okay. The double identity movie that it reminded me the most of was Dave - regular guy substitutes for look-alike head of state in a time of crisis - only with more swordplay. This was a vehicle for Ronald Colman, and I liked him. I remembered him from the movie Random Harvest, and I liked him in that too. The sets and costumes looked good, the sword fight near the end between Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was great, and for 1937, the optical effect of having Colman shake hands with himself was pretty convincing. But I kinda knew where this story was going after the first ten minutes. 

Still, we're not here today to talk about Colman, but about his co-star, Madeleine Carroll. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a whole lot to do in Zenda other than stare lovingly into Colman's eyes and act regal, though she certainly gets her moments. I thought she had a more substantial role in The 39 Steps.

Carroll was a superstar in Britain during the 30s, and her popularity increased after the success of Steps, an Alfred Hitchcock film. She worked with Hitch again in Secret Agent. During her Hollywood years, she starred opposite the likes of Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Fred MacMurray, and even Bob Hope. During World War 2, her sister died in a London bombing raid, and as a result, Carroll became a nurse for the Red Cross and worked in the United Seamens Service as entertainment director. She wasn't able to regain her popularity after the war, however.

How does Carroll stack up against the other Hitchcock blondes? This top ten list ranks her sixth, for what it's worth. This article breaks down the whole obsession Hitch had with blondes and compares the most iconic ones. The writer credits Carroll as the first, though some believe the trend began as far back as Hitchcock's silent films with an actress named Anny Ondra.

That's about all I got on Carroll. I'm sure she was good in other movies. Maybe I'll watch one or two of them in the future.

Other Madeleine Carroll movies:
The 39 Steps

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rita Moreno


I wanna talk about Rita Moreno.

I don't think I made it clear just how big a thrill it was to see her in person at the United Palace last year. I've always liked her and respected her, but hearing her speak about her career and her life with so much humor and candor was wonderful - and she still looks like a million bucks!

As you may have guessed, when I think of her, I often think of The Electric Company. For you young'uns in the audience, this was an educational variety show for kids that aired on PBS (still does) which always began with that delirious rebel yell from Moreno. The difference between it and Sesame Street was that it tended to skew towards slightly older children, though younger kids could watch it too. Among the other original cast members included Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman, and Irene Cara was part of the kid cast.

Imagine Saturday Night Live as designed by school teachers and you've got EC, and Moreno was one of the shining stars. I adored the show. It made learning fun with a wide variety of songs, sketches, cartoons and other such material, and even if it lacked muppets, it was just so entertaining, for adults as well as kids. Here are three examples of Moreno's contributions, among many, and here's Moreno herself talking about the show.

I could go on and on about EC, but what I want to focus on most with regard to Moreno's outstanding career is her status as an EGOT - one of only twelve people who have won the grand slam of competitive entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. She achieved this milestone in less than twenty years as well, which is equally impressive. EC got her the Grammy, so we'll come back to it.

The Oscar came first, in 1961, for West Side Story, in the Supporting Actress category. A confession: hearing her speak, it usually takes me a minute to adjust to her normal, non-accented voice, and WSS is the reason why. Truth is, though, she tended to get lots of "fiery Latina" roles like that early in her career, not to mention "ethnic" roles like The King and I.

Why do I love her in WSS? Her singing and dancing, of course; the rapport she has with Natalie Wood and especially George Chakiris; her importance to the story; but mostly the way she just commands the screen whenever she's on it. WSS may be Romeo and Juliet modernized, but it has its own identity, its own distinctiveness that makes it so much more than that, and Moreno is a major reason why. 

Something not often mentioned about Moreno's win, as well: she beat, among others, Judy Garland in Judgment at Nuremberg, a rare non-musical, dramatic role for her. The Academy blew it when they didn't give Garland the Oscar for A Star is Born; this could've easily been a make-up win for her, but it wasn't. Props to Judy, but Moreno's win was the right call.

The Grammy came next, in 1972 for The Electric Company soundtrack, in the Best Recording for Children category (since renamed Best Album for Children). Sesame Street and The Muppets, ironically, were among the competition that year. EC debuted in 1971. Here's one of the songs from that first year which I distinctively remember watching on the show and loving every time I saw it. Moreno shared the award with Cosby, music director and co-producer Joe Raposo, and co-producer Lee Chamberlin. Fun fact: Tom Lehrer was among the songwriters for EC!

In 1975, Moreno won the Tony, for Best Featured or Supporting Actress in a Play, for The Ritz. All I know of this show is what I've read online, and I'm not entirely sure I believe it: a dude running from the mob hides out in a Manhattan gay bathhouse, and among the characters he meets is Moreno's, whom he thinks is a man in drag?! Doesn't seem possible! Here she is in the film versionJack Weston, Jerry Stiller and F. Murray Abraham were also among the original cast (all of whom appeared in the film version), and the play ran for 398 performances.

Finally, Moreno clinched the EGOT in 1977 with the Emmy, for of all things, The Muppet Show! The category was Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music. My love for this show is unparalleled, and I vaguely recall seeing this episode for the first time as a kid. Moreno does several numbers, but perhaps the most memorable is her sexy yet hilarious rendition of "Fever" with Animal on drums. Here's the entire episode; "Fever" begins at about 22:39.  As if that weren't enough, Moreno won the next year in the Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series category for her appearance in The Rockford Files.

Moreno has had a long and still-active career in film and television. Modern TV audiences, young and old, likely know her from stuff like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Oz, the Law & Order shows and Happily Divorced, among others, and she doesn't appear to show any signs of slowing down at age 84. Writing this has been a lot of fun, and more important, it's given me new and renewed appreciation for her as one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, and an inspiration to all audiences.

Next: Frank Capra

Movies with Rita Moreno:
West Side Story
Singin' in the Rain

Jack Lemmon
Jean Arthur
Edward G. Robinson

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#TCMparty: Annie Hall

This is a type of post I've never attempted here before, so bear with me if it doesn't work quite right. I've written before about live-tweeting movies and TV shows, as well as about the Twitter hashtag #TCMparty and my experience with it. Since I've committed to spending 2015 exploring classic movies in greater depth than usual, it seemed appropriate to spend some time live-tweeting a movie with the TCM fans on Twitter, but this is the first post I've devoted exclusively to the experience.

In the past, I've found live-tweeting a bit awkward because I don't like the idea of dividing my time between the movie and my cellphone, so I knew if I were to do this again, I'd have to pick a movie I was already well familiar with, and I did: Annie Hall. I'm gonna attempt to summarize my experience live-tweeting the movie last night, as part of #TCMparty.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar 2014: The winners

Best Picture - Birdman
Best Director - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Best Actor - Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Best Actress - Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor - JK Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress - Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

13-for-24. Like I said, I knew I'd lose on a bunch of these. 

I never "got" Birdman. I knew it wasn't a bad movie by any means, but it never hit me like some of the other Best Picture nominees, like Whiplash, and especially Selma. I can't say I'm disappointed at Birdman winning. I honestly thought the Academy would go for something simpler, like Boyhood, but one can hardly fault them for picking a more daring and challenging movie. So kudos to them, I guess. I am disappointed that Wes Anderson didn't win Original Screenplay, though.

Anybody wanna explain to me what I'm missing with Birdman?

2013 winners
2012 winners
2011 winners
2010 winners

Friday, February 20, 2015

Oscar 2014: My predictions

Difficult year for predictions. I fully expect to lose on a bunch of these pics, but so be it.

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

"Everything is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie
"Glory" from Selma
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again

American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

American Sniper

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Ida (Poland)

Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)
The Phone Call

Thursday, February 19, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
seen on TV @ TCM

My copy of To Kill a Mockingbird looks like the kind you'd get in school. For one thing, it's got "Property of the Board of Education of the City of New York" stamped on the first page. I don't remember what grade I read the book in, but I imagine it must have made an impression on me if I kept it. Also, it's got a hardcover that binds the pages so tight, the gutter comes very close to swallowing the text, so I have to turn the book around a little in order to read. It goes without saying that I can't lay it down flat.

As I said, I don't recall when I first read the book. I imagine it was probably grade school. TKAM is a banned book - no surprise there - and as recently as 2011, the Office of Intellectual Freedom reported challenges against it. Throughout the book's history, it has mostly been banned in Middle America, but also in states like California and New Jersey, and even in Ontario, Canada.

In the wake of the recent news that an unpublished manuscript of TKAM author Harper Lee has been found and will be published later this year, I decided to revisit TKAM. I was going to write about the book and its legacy in a broad sense, until I saw that the film version was gonna be on TV and so I watched that again, too. I'll get to it later.

I had forgotten how much of a coming-of-age book TKAM is. For a long time, I had thought of it - and I imagine many people do as well - as a meditation on race through the eyes of a child, and it certainly is, but much space is devoted to Scout's world, rural Depression-era Alabama, which was inspired by Lee's own childhood. The case surrounding the Negro character, Tom Robinson, doesn't really get going for awhile, and after his fate is sealed, there's a good deal more to go before the finish. 

I admit, that kinda irked me a little bit, as if what happens to Tom doesn't matter in the ultimate scheme of things, but it's not his story. It's Scout's, and that's something I had to remind myself of on several occasions as I re-read the book. The civil rights movement, for instance, wasn't a thing in the time the story is set, but at the time Lee was writing it, it was alive and kicking, and part of me does kinda wish that the black characters in TKAM were a little more active... but it's easy to think that, over fifty years removed and after so many changes within society.

Then again, all that history shows us that some things never change. Though TKAM is a work of fiction, it is ridiculously easy to draw a straight line from Tom Robinson through Emmet Till to Rodney King and Eric Garner. Justice for a black man is still notoriously difficult to obtain in America, even today, and TKAM remains painfully relevant as a result.

As I re-read it, I also thought of Kathryn Stockett and The Help. Granted, these are two very different books, written from different perspectives in different time periods, but I wondered whether Lee would have gone through what Stockett went through if TKAM were released today? I suspect not: Lee doesn't attempt to speak for black people in any sense, an accusation that dogged Stockett during the successful run of her book. Though Atticus does tell Scout to try to step inside the shoes of another person in order to understand them, this applies as much to white characters like Boo Radley as to black characters.

In reading about the publishing history of TKAM, I couldn't help but think of my current struggle in trying to write a novel. Go Set a Watchman, the "new" Lee book, is actually an early version of TKAM that apparently reads more like a sequel now, since it features an adult Scout and a much older Atticus. (Shall we start speculating now on the cast for the inevitable movie? Anne Hathaway and Kevin Costner? Michelle Williams and Harrison Ford? Will Robert Duvall be involved?) Lee spent so much time writing and rewriting it, changing the flow and the narrative until it became what it became, and naturally she never expected it to succeed as wildly as it did.

Recently, I've hit a bad patch in my work in progress. My writing group came down kinda hard on a chapter I submitted for them to read, and I was bummed for awhile. Writing a novel is a huge leap of faith for one who has never done it before. You're investing a tremendous chunk of your time, your talent, and your faith in yourself on something that may never get anywhere, and even if it does, everyone will inevitably expect you to do it all over again. When I complained on Facebook about it, Vija advised me to think of Lee and to not take criticism personally. Just keep writing. That's what I'm gonna do, but damn, is it a scary prospect.

At this point, despite the huge demand for Watchman, we only have a general idea about how it compares to TKAM, and there has been speculation as to whether or not releasing it was Lee's idea at all. Even if it bombs, though, nothing can take away what she accomplished with TKAM.

Now, about that movie... 

I suspect that Gregory Peck probably clinched the Oscar on the strength of one scene. One excellent scene, but one scene nonetheless. That, and the fact that he was GREGORY PECK. I imagine one could make arguments either way for Peck or Peter O'Toole in Lawrence without ever reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

Some events are switched around, but it's a pretty faithful adaptation, with a number of scenes lifted verbatim from the book. I thought the trial played out better in the book, however. There's some stuff involving the Ewells that were left out of the film, which I would've liked to have seen. For instance, in the book, Mayella Ewell gets freaked out by Atticus upon taking the witness stand, after seeing him prove her father was left-handed. We don't see that in the film.

Neither book nor movie flinches in the use of the word nigger, nor should they. It's a bit shocking to see an innocent young girl ask whether or not her father's a nigger-lover, as it should be, but to omit the word would be to deny the reality of the world which Lee tried so hard to capture, one based directly on her own childhood in the American south during the Depression. I see so many works of art these days, in various media, that try to go for that same kind of truth yet pussyfoot around the word as if it were a landmine - and of course, you'll never see it in magazine or newspaper articles in an objective, clinical manner, one where it would provide some needed context. Individual artists of good will must do as their conscience dictates, but it bothers me that this is still a thing.

TKAM the movie still holds up. Not too long ago, I suggested that this would make a good movie to show on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Well, I can think of a much more appropriate one now, but it would still be nice if a movie like this aired on free TV on special occasions. It's the kind of film parents need to watch with their children - even if the marketing "geniuses" behind this poster didn't agree. (Seriously? A movie centered around children, with children RIGHT THERE ON THE POSTER, and it's still considered not suitable for them? Give me a king-sized break.)

One last thing: the previous owner of my copy of TKAM was someone named Alexandra Anglade, AKA "Alexandra the Great," as she wrote on that same first page. I actually looked her up on Facebook, but I got several different women by that name. If anyone out there knows her, ask her for me if she wants her book back!

Have I mentioned lately what an awesome artist Vija is?
Here's her portrait of Harper Lee.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Alone at the movies?

...When I was in my twenties, I developed the habit of going to the movies alone.  Of course, I go with friends, too, and sometimes my brother and sisters, but going alone can be cathartic.... I remember in Louisville hearing a woman say that she wanted to go to the movies alone, and wished she had the courage.  She ended up going with a bunch of other women to the bars that night, and I thought, "Jesus Christ, how will you have the courage to do anything in life if you can't even show up to the movies alone?"
This has nothing to do with Old Hollywood specifically, but the movie-going experience is a recurring theme here, and this is a subject I've seen come up now and then, so I figure it's worth talking about.

For generations, watching movies was very much a social experience. In fact, to find that stock image at the top of this post, I Googled the phrase "watching movies at the theater" and the vast majority of images that came up contained groups of people. Many of us grew up conditioned to think of the movies this way. I certainly did. But with the rise of home video, and especially now with Netflix and online streaming, a generation has been raised to rely more on having the movies come to them instead of vice versa, wherever and however they want, and these tend to be more solitary experiences, such as watching a movie on your cellphone while riding the subway. That's something I see fairly often.

And yet, some people these days seem to have an aversion to going to the movie theater alone - when they choose to go at all. It's an attitude I've seen expressed here and there, among friends and film bloggers, and I can understand it, to an extent, but what if you want to see something and you simply can't find another warm body to go with? Is it worth skipping the movie altogether?

Going to the movies alone has its advocates. Here's one recent example, written from the perspective of an older, single movie fan. This short video, by contrast, appeals to the younger generation:

Still, pieces like these all seem to come at it from a defensive position. There is a stigma attached to watching movies alone at a theater, which I find odd since no one says anything about watching a movie alone on a computer or an iPad. In a sense, this tends to confirm for me that there still is a value placed on theatrical movie-going, even in the Netflix age, and that pleases me.

In the link at the top, Michelle also talks about her film group. Regular readers here know that I'm in one too. Vija took it over from someone else and we go on a semi-regular basis, sometimes in small groups, other times in larger ones. We favor indie movies, and the tentative theme (not always followed, though) is art-related movies, since many of us are artists of one kind or another. Plus, there have been a number of such films being made lately! It's extremely informal; it's really just an excuse for a bunch of us to hang out. Every so often, we have debates about moviesI enjoy their company. Vija and I have gone to movies together for many years before this, and the addition of her friends, who have become my friends, has been a nice one.

Most of the time, however, I go to the movies alone. Why? I guess it's partly because I don't feel like waiting for someone to be available, partly compatibility issues (not everyone is interested in sitting through a black-and-white Polish film with subtitles), and partly because I simply prefer it that way. I don't always feel the need to have someone around, but I didn't always feel that way, and I wish I could pinpoint when that changed. Maybe when I became more discerning in my film choices? That would be around the time I started working in video retail, so that makes a kind of sense, but I can't say for sure.

It looks like this may have become less of a big deal now, but I suspect that there will always be those who look askew upon solo movie-goers, because generally, people tend to want to socialize with people. Live-tweeting movies and TV shows is a way to be alone with other people, and maybe that's a big reason why it's so popular. For me, I never thought of it as a conscious choice. Whether I see a movie with others or by myself matters less than actually seeing the movie.

Anybody wanna take a stand on this either way?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Just wanted to share this...

I saw this photo of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli on Tumblr awhile ago. It isn't very often that I'm touched by photographs of celebrities, but something about this just made me sit up and take notice. It was taken in 1962 by a British photographer named Terry O'Neill, who made a pretty good living shooting celebrities.

Judy would've been only 40 years old at the time of this picture (she would die only seven years later!), but she seems so much older, don't you think? But I suppose that may have been the result of the hard life she had. Something about the expression on her face seems to capture that pain, that sadness, and yet it's also mixed with a sense of... acceptance, perhaps? In this moment, at least, she seems at peace, undoubtedly because of the presence of Liza, who would've been 16 at the time this was taken.

The bond between the two of them in this photo is so palpable. Judy's entire heart and soul is being poured into Liza, who looks so heartbreakingly innocent. It's as if she knows the burden she carries, being the daughter of a Hollywood icon, but to her, Judy is just Mom. There is a kind of secret wisdom in Liza's eyes, almost as if she knows Judy better than Judy knows herself.

This is all speculation, mind you. I'm not the type to get caught up in the turmoil and the controversy of celebrities, and for the most part, I don't care about any of it. I'm simply going by what I see here, and like I said, this moved me in a way celebrity photos normally don't because of its emotional intensity.

That's all I wanted to say.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Edward G. Robinson

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is an event coinciding with Turner Classic Movies' "31 Days of Oscar" month-long celebration, in observance of the Academy Awards. In both events, the theme is the same: recognition of Oscar-nominated films throughout history. The blogathon is hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. See the links above for a list of participating blogs.

Alright, alright, youse mugs, gather 'round! Hey! You two in the back! Quit playin' pool and get over here! Whaddya think this is, a country club? Alright, now listen up, 'cause I ain't gonna tell ya twice!  Some o' youse know what this is all about - Muggsy, Rocco, Jimmy, Tony, you guys been in on it from the start. But as for the rest o' you mutts, here it is: we're gonna pull off a heist, see? An' this ain't gonna be no ordinary score, neither. This is more important than money. Pack yer bags, boys - we're goin' to Hollywood!

See this? This is a map o' the vault for the Academy o' Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is where they keep the Oscars, see? Those Academy guys been runnin' the Oscar racket a long time, givin' all them little gold men to them mooks in the picture shows. But they messed up, see? There's one guy they never gave an Oscar to. Never even nominated him for one! So we're gonna do what shoulda been done a long time ago!

We're gonna steal the Oscars for Edward G. Robinson!

What? O' course I know he's dead, ya friggin' mutt! He's been dead for years! That ain't the point! The point is those Academy bums ripped him off, see? Yeah! Those guys think they're such big shots. Every year, they hand out them Oscars like candy canes to whoever they think are the best, an' yet they never even nominated one o' the greatest actors who ever stepped in front of a camera! And don't tell me about that honorary Oscar they gave him, either! Nobody remembers rinky-dink awards like that!

What's the big deal? Rocco, all of a sudden I don't trust these mugs youse guys put together for this job! Anybody that don't know what makes Eddie G such a great actor don't belong in my crew - or for that matter, in life! But I'll explain it to youse bums, 'cause I need every man I can get!

Everybody knew Eddie G as the gangster's gangster: Little Caesar and movies like that. They helped put him on top. They made him big! But there was more t' him than that, see? Yeah! He could do comedy, he could do romance! He did film noir, sci-fi, even Westerns! Yeah, he could mix it up with other tough guys like Bogey, but he could give ya the soft soap too, when he wanted to! And he worked with great directors: Ford, Lang, Wilder, DeMille, big shots! I'm tellin' ya, he could do it all, and it didn't even matter than he wasn't a pretty boy like friggin' Cary Grant or somethin'! 

He was one of us, boys! An' that's why we gotta steal the Oscars for him - 'cause they stole from him first!

Now my guys here been arguin' 'bout which o' Eddie's performances deserves the Oscar the most. Muggsy thinks he shoulda won for Key Largo. And why not? It's the best movie he and Bogey ever made together! In the 30s, Eddie was the star and Bogey was the second fiddle, but then Bogey became a star too. But it sure didn't change what the two o' them had together on screen! I tell ya, boys, I could watch this one all day. That part at the end, when they're on the boat - forget about it!

And then Rocco keeps sayin' he shoulda won for Double Indemnity. I can see that, too. He's a tough-talkin' mug in that one, but he's also the good guy! I know, I know, but it's okay, see, 'cause in that one he's real smart - I mean razor-friggin'-sharp - and he keeps that sexy broad and her sap of a boyfriend on their toes! They don't know if they can get away with their murder job or not, and that's what makes the whole thing great to watch!

But Tony here, he likes pictures like The Woman in the Window. That's where you get Eddie the romantic. He falls for a broad who was in a painting, and yeah, there's some sappy, lovey-dovey stuff, but he kills a man in it too! And there's blackmail and other good stuff like that in it too! I'm tellin' ya, boys, when ya see him in a movie like this, it's like he's a different fella altogether! It's unbelievable!

And then there's Jimmy. He likes Eddie in comedies, like The Whole Town's Talking. This is one I really go for 'cause he plays two different people in the same friggin' movie! One o' them's a mug, but the other's a wimpy regular guy - and he gets took for the mug 'cause they look alike, see? Yeah, I know, what are the odds o' two mugs lookin' like Eddie G, but so what? I laugh my head off every time I see this one!

Me, I don't care either way. There are lotsa movies he coulda won the Oscar for. That's why I'm in this for as many o' them little gold men as I can get my hands on, see? Yeah! We're gonna teach them Academy bums a lesson they'll never forget once this job is through! Any questions?


No, ya friggin' mook, them Bugs Bunny cartoons don't count!

Next: Rita Moreno

Movies by Edward G. Robinson:
Double Indemnity
Scarlet Street

Previously in this series:
Jack Lemmon
Jean Arthur