Wednesday, December 23, 2020



Netflix viewing 

The real-world origin of the mythological figure known as Santa Claus goes way back—I mean waaaaay back—but Hollywood has had their share of fun creating origin stories more befitting such a beloved character. 

I remember, for instance, the Rankin-Bass animated TV special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, featuring voice actors Mickey Rooney and Fred Astaire (this year is its fiftieth anniversary). In 1985 RB made a second origin story, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

Last year, Spanish animator Sergio Pablos added his Netflix feature film Klaus to the pile and gained an Academy Award nomination for his effort. A former Disney imagineer who worked on Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he and his team at SPA Studios animated the film by taking 2D digital animation and lighting it as if it were 3D.

The story involves a young postman, a privileged rich kid, assigned to a remote northern village in order to establish a successful post office and prove his worth. He stumbles upon a way to get it going when he meets a reclusive toymaker and encourages him to make toys for the children of a community at war with itself. Complications ensue. Jason Schwartzman voices the young postman and JK Simmons (who sounds just like Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen in this) voices Klaus.

I like that Klaus is (mostly) grounded in the real world, with almost nothing in the way of what could be considered “magic.” The usual myths about Santa have a real-world foundation and are developed through the rumor and exaggeration of the children. 

The animation reminded me of the work of Don Bluth in places. It doesn’t resemble the Pixar/Dreamworks CGI style we’ve come to expect these days, but it is something more than traditional 2D. The effect is startling, and it brings a fresh twist to computer animation. I kinda hope it catches on.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Congress saves movie theaters!

“...The agreement includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants, and includes $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. The agreement also includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.” [emphasis added]

This has been a crappy year all around, but it’s certainly ending on a positive note.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Zoom and movie fans in 2020

Right now, we can’t go to the movies, or anyplace else, without taking precautions against The Virus. That may change in 2021 (knock on wood). Streaming services have taken over as the primary means of distribution, and with the recent news about Warner Brothers’ game-changing commitment to streaming next year, it’s gonna be how many of us experience movies for a long time, even after The Virus is under control.

New methods for fans to talk about movies have gained prominence as a result of the new stay-at-home culture this year, and one of the most widely used has been Zoom.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Celluloid Road Trip Blogathon is an event focusing on cities and towns in movies, presented by Hometowns to Hollywood. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Who’s Aftaid of Virginia Woolf?

In the summer of 1995, I worked as a counselor at a sleepaway camp in Massachusetts. To someone whose childhood summers were spent at day camps, this was a new experience. 

While I relished the opportunity, I probably would’ve suffered cabin fever without the occasional break from hikes in the forest, swimming and canoeing in the river, and daily recreation on the camp grounds. This was for the kids more than the adults, after all. 

Fortunately, there was a town to which I could retreat on my days off: a tiny college community called Northampton.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Fourteen Hours

Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is seriously ill, according to her brother Jarrahn, and while a blogathon may seem unimportant in the face of that, Gill from RealWeegieMidget Reviews has agreed to take over in her absence. I don’t know Crystal well, but I know she’s a dedicated classic film fan whose blog has a strong following. Here’s hoping she recovers as soon as possible. Best wishes to her family.

Fourteen Hours

YouTube viewing 

Henry Hathaway tends to be associated with westerns, and indeed, some of his biggest hits as a director were in that vein: How the West Was Won, The Sons of Katie Elder, and of course, the original True Grit. A perusal of his IMDB page reveals a variety of movies, including war, film noir and drama. While he may not have had a clear signature style as a director, he was one of a number of Hollywood filmmakers from the Golden Age who turned out reliable product again and again; a go-to man.

A former assistant director during the silent era, he got his break in the early 30s making adaptations of Zane Grey westerns with Randolph Scott. In 1935, Lives of a Bengal Lancer with Gary Cooper got a Best Picture nomination and Hathaway was on the radar.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Ray Massey in Hollywood (and England)

The What a Character Blogathon is an event devoted to the great character actors of classic Hollywood and the often memorable supporting roles they played throughout film history, hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, & Paula's Cinema Club. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of the host sites. 

Earlier this year, I watched the film A Matter of Life and Death and for the first time, I really noticed actor Raymond Massey. A supernatural drama in which the life of a British WW2 pilot is judged by an afterlife court, Massey plays the prosecutor, an American colonial. His character added a unique perspective to the story, and I found him quite convincing. Like all of the actors in this blogathon, he’s one of those people you saw a lot of in old movies and always liked, even if you never quite knew who they were.

The Toronto native was lured to acting after serving in the family tractor business in his youth and spent almost a decade on the British stage. In 1931 he came to Broadway in a production of Hamlet that didn’t go over well. Fortunately, though, by that time the movies had already came calling.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Netflix new release roundup for November ‘20

I’m watching much more Netflix now than before, and not just for the new releases. I think I’ve come to depend on it a bit, as a way of coping. A movie a day, plus two or three TV episodes, isn’t too much, is it? At least I’m not bingeing.

The Trial of the Chicago Seven. The anti-Vietnam protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the violence that resulted as a result of the confrontation with the Chicago police, gets revisited in this film from writer-director Aaron Sorkin. Specifically, it’s about the trial of an unconnected group of individuals at the heart of the protests, including irreverent activist Abbie Hoffman, memorably played by Sacha Baron Cohen. He’ll get Oscar nominated for certain. Sorkin uses cross-cutting between places and times to bring life to a very talky but riveting screenplay, in addition to actual television footage from the late 60s. In a time when Americans have been agitating for more drastic change in society than ever before, this movie leaves a deep impression.


So Death on the Nile and Free Guy moved to next year and Wonder Woman 1984 will debut in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously. The Tom Hanks western News of the World and the video game adaptation Monster Hunter are still expected to play theatrically in 2020... for the moment. This Slate article goes into streaming amidst the current status quo and how unsatisfying it can ultimately feel in a world with diminished theatrical distribution.

More on the other side.