Friday, December 25, 2009



(Bronco Billy, Justus and Frank ride into a clearing and clumsily dismount from their horses. Justus and Frank begin dancing in celebration of their successful gold theft.)

Bronco Billy: HEY! You boys need to simmer down. We got big problems here!

(Justus and Frank stop their dance and stare at him)

Justus: What you mean? We got the gold!

(Justus throws a handful of gold pieces at Bronco Billy)

Bronco Billy: The gold? And what is it you’re planning to do with all that gold?

(Justus and Frank give each other a confused stare.)

Bronco Billy: That’s right. You have no idea! And do you know why?

(Justus and Frank shake their heads)

Bronco Billy: Cause we was spose to be killed by a posse and that was gonna be the end! That’s why! Your fellas ain’t even real.

Justus: Ain’t real? You been smokin' that Injun loco weed? And how is it you know so darn much? And whar is this here posse?

Bronco Billy: They was gonna ambush us in our regular hidin’ spot. That’s why I made you fellas come here instead.

Frank: I don’t get it.

Bronco Billy: Think about our regular hiding spot that we was going to. Do you ever remember bein’ thar before?

(Justus and Frank shake their heads)

Bronco Billy: That’s cause we AIN’T never been thar before. It’s just our reglar hiding place cause the script says so.

Justus: Because the what says so?

Bronco Billy: Look. You know when we ride or rob...when you look out to the side? You know, the black space? Don’t you wonder what’s in the black space?

Justus: (Scratching his head) Never thunk about it.

Bronco Billy: That’s cause you’re thinly written. But I thunk about it. And while we was riding a ways back, I slipped my hand into the black space and came up with this.

(Bronco Billy shows his accomplices a movie script.)

Frank: What’s this? We can’t read.

Bronco Billy: Written here is all that we are. All we’re suppose to do. We did just what it said to the last part when I took us a detour to here.

Justus: This is crazy talk! You’ve been drinking some kinda moonshine.

Bronco Billy: All right smart boys. Tell me what is it you are plannin’ to do with all that gold?

Frank: I don’t reckon I know. What was we gonna do Justus?

Justus: (Thinking for a moment) I got it! Women!

Bronco Billy: And what is it an outlaw is suppose to do with a woman? Tell me.

(Justus and Frank think for a moment.)

Justus: I got it again! Virginia Reel!

(Frank and Justus throw down their guns and begin hooting as they grab each other by the arms spinning as if doing the Virginia Reel.)

Bronco Billy: Stop It! The only thing you know about women is doin’ the Virgina Reel with ‘em cause that’s all that’s in this here script! Us cowboys won’t get fully developed for more until later through the films of Ford, Hawks, Mann and Leone.

(As the outlaws quit dancing they look at Bronco Billy in silent confusion.)

Bronco Billy: Never mind. I’m not sure whar that came from myself. Anyway, remember when you shot that guy at the station, how he flailed around like a chicken with his head cut off, grabbed his heart and plopped to the ground?

Justus: Yeah! Got him good.

Bronco Bill: NO! People don’t react that way to being shot. And there was no blood! Not a drop. And when you threw that guy off the train. That was no man. It was just a stuffed dummy.

Frank: Come to think about it Justus, He did feel kinda light.

Bronco Billy: And didn’t you notice how the scenery kept changin’ behind us while we was up on the train?

Frank: That’s why I got so dizzy!

Bronco Billy: (Slapping the script in his hand) We is in something called a movin’ picture.

Justus: I’ve seen pictures o' course. But how does they move?

Bronco Billy: Don’t rightly know. Guess if you run them together fast enough, they kinda tell a story.

(The other two outlaws look at each other and begin to laugh. As Bronco Billy doesn’t return their laughter they stop. The three outlaws now contemplate in uncomfortable silence.)

Justus: So what happens next?

Bronco Billy: I don’t know. I think we have to do things on our own now.

Justus: Interesting.

(Justus raises his gun to Bronco Billy)

Bronco Billy: What in tarnation do you think you’re doing?

Justus: Seems to me like we was doin’ fine til’ you brought up that big lump of paper. Maybe that thar’ script jus’ needs a new endin’.

(Justus fires at Bronco Billy who drops to the ground, grabbing at his bloodstained chest.)

Bronco Billy: You fool! The posse will for sure come for you now.

Justus: You was right Billy. That’s real blood this time.

(Bronco Billy dies. The posse hears the shots and comes riding toward the outlaws. Frank runs to pick up his guns. Before he can reach them, a bullet from the posse explodes in his head killing him instantly. Justus grabs his gun. He turns and fires into the black space one last time.)


Monday, December 21, 2009


I just finished watching the 1957 film, Sweet Smell of Success. Hmmm.
You know, I’m not really a professional movie critic and I’m a little stuck on what to say here.

Let me give it a shot:
Sharp dialogue from screenwriters Cliff Odets and Ernest Lehman.
-No, critique too cliché.
How about- The film's vision of New York City during the 1950’s seemed authentic?
-No, critique too obvious!
Or maybe- The performances were good, even Tony Curtis?
-No, critique too boring!

Looks like I’m going to need some extra help on this one and since the whole film is set in New York City, I’ll go to the original source and see what New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said about it when it came out in 1957:

Sweet Smell of Success has caught the mannerisms and the language of the hustling guys and dolls in search of power, fame and a fast buck. -Bosley Crowther.
(Hey, that’s more like it. Succinct and to the point. -Me.)

The basic motivation of J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), the columnist sought after by the famous and infamous, remains unexplained. -Bosley Crowther
(I have to disagree here. Hunsecker’s motivation is not wanting his precious sister taking up with a Jazz musician, even if the musician really seems to be an okay guy who doesn't even smoke marijuana! -Me)

Much clearer is the mental makeup of Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) the publicist who has practically devoted body and soul to getting “items” muddy or otherwise into Hunsecker’s syndicated columns.-Bosely Crowther
(I can still remember the day when newspapers were important. Wasn’t it like three years ago? -Me)

Susan Harrison evokes sympathy as the columnist’s distraught sister. - Bosley Crowther.
(As she does as a ballerina in the “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” episode of The Twilight Zone. Just like to slip in a Twilight Zone reference every once in awhile. -Me)

Martin Milner is sincere and believable as her indomitable romantic vis-à-vis. -Bosley Crowther
(I just added this quote because I can’t ever remember ever typing out vis-à-vis before.-Me)

It is not a towering, universal theme the producers have developed in their indictment of this small, special segment of society operating in a tiny domain know intimately only to the cognoscenti. -Bosley Crowther
(Mr. Crowther really liked to throw out four-dollar words like “cognoscenti.” In a separate review, he refers to Liberace as being in “oleaginous” form. Though I’m still not what sure it means, I’m willing to bet Liberace was often most "oleaginous." –Me)

The characters are mighty interesting but rarely lovable. -Bosley Crowther
(That about sums it up. Thanks for the help, Bosley -Me)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), 42ND STREET (1933)

Looking at the 1001 Movies list, you realize quickly what a small number 1001 is when you are talking about 100 + years of films. You could make a pretty good supplemental list, but 1065 Movies You Must See Before You Die doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. So the obvious question is which films should be cut?

I have a definite fondness for the old Busby Berkeley musicals from the 30’s. I really like them better than many of their more glitzy MGM musical counterparts. And I do think one of these films should definitely be on the list.

But 1001 Movies lists three. Do we really need three?

So I’m taking it onto myself to cut two. I’m appointing myself the coach and there’s only one position at flanker open. It’s a tough profession, kiddo. Thems the breaks sometimes.

Vying for position: 42nd Street, the most famous film of the three, which I admit might be hard to leave out, Gold Diggers of 1933, which does have the advantage of being my personal favorite of the three and Footlight Parade, which does have the biggest star, James Cagney.

Footlight Parade
Footlight Parade does boast a nice role for Jimmy Cagney, who gets to show off some dance moves along with his usual fast talking characterization. (Could Cagney ever talk slow?). Also funny, if somewhat whiny, is Frank McHugh as his constantly pessimistic dance director. Joan Blondell is also on hand as the swooning secretary, but I honestly like her in Gold Diggers more. And there are plenty of other Cagney movies on the list. (Can you tell I’m trying to eliminate Footlight Parade and get to the other two movies?) Fun and impressive production numbers from Mr. Berkeley including Sitting of a Backyard Fence. (Dancing cats long before that musical with Rumpleteazer came out). It’s also interesting historically that Cagney’s character is doing prologues before the featured films to enhance the new talking-picture experience.

See the film by all means. But I’m sorry, Footlight Parade is cut. You’re a swell kid, but you’re just not my choice.

Gold Diggers of 1933
As I said, Gold Diggers of 1933 is my favorite of the three. It begins with the famous production number We’re in the Money featuring a young and saucy Ginger Rogers. It’s a strong start to the movie, though I could have done without her singing part of the song in Pig Latin.
Insufficient funds and the show shuts down. But tough talking, cigar chomping producer Barney (Ned Sparks) has a new show to make everyone forget about the depression, it’s well, no, it’s actually about the depression.

We meet the girls in the production, each of who embody certain types. They sort of remind me of a younger, depression era version of The Golden Girls.
There’s Fay (Ginger R. playing the slut), Polly (Ruby Keeler, the sweet innocent) Trixie (Aline McMahon, the wisecracking one who steals ever scene she’s in) and Carol (Joan Blondell, the star).

Keep in mind these films were made before the infamous Hayes code neutered and spayed American movies after 1934. Ginger Rogers later went from the sexy young dancer in these films to the elegant and sophisticated dancer in the Rogers-Astaire films. Joan Blondell went from the sensuous blonde who casually brushes her hair while almost falling out of her slip in this film to a respected “comedienne” in Topper Returns and other films. (Never been too happy with Mr. Hayes!)

Continuing with the plot: The girls hear juvenile crooner Brad (Dick Powell) playing the piano in the next apartment. Polly has a thing for Brad. (Of course, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler have a thing for each other in every Busby Berkeley musical.) As only happens in the movies, Barney hears Brad on the piano from the girl's apartment and thinks he’s different and has class and wants him to do the music for the show. He does. But Brad has a secret and won’t appear in the production, but somehow has the money to help finance the show.

To make a long story short, the show opens, Brad has to go on and is discovered to be from a prominent family. Brad’s older brother Lawrence (a rather stiff Warren William) wants to get rid of this showgirl Brad’s been seeing. He and family lawyer Fanny (Guy Kibee, who is in all three of these films) come to buy Polly off. However, Lawrence mistakes Carol for Polly and the girls and Brad decide to teach the older brother a lesson.
However, Lawrence falls for Carol as Polly. Carol falls for Lawrence as himself. Brad and the real Polly get married. And to top it off, old duff lawyer Fanny falls for Trixie and they too get married! And of course Lawrence and Carol also plan to get married. (Just wondering: Are Brad and Lawrence’s parents still alive? What would they think if both their blueblood sons announce their marriage to showgirls simulataneously and I think I thought this through too much.)

The show goes on and ends with the extravagant number Forgotten Man. (Joan Blondell succeeds in making this the sultriest song about unemployment I’ve ever heard).

Still a fan of the film and I’m thinking about going ahead and putting Gold Diggers of 1933 on my team…no, I’ve got one more to go.

42nd Street
In 42nd Street, stage director Julian Marsh (broke, sickly, obsessed and well played by Warner Baxter) tries to make a success of his production of a show called Pretty Lady.
Ginger Rogers is back. Don’t mean to say she’s playing a slut here too, but her character is known as Anytime Annie. Guy Kibbee is also on hand again as Abner Dillon, the production’s financial backer who is only happy when star Dorothy (Bebe Daniels) pays attention to him. Eventually, Dorothy gets tired of coddling Abner and throws him out. Dorothy also sprains her ankle. She can’t go on! Abner finds a new star for the production-Anytime Annie! But Annie knows that she can’t pull off the staring role, but knows someone who can—chorus girl Peggy (Ruby Keeler again and yes she does end up with Dick Powell!)

Before understudy Peggy goes on, Dorothy comes up to her with tears in her eyes and quivering lips and says, “Now go out there and be so swell that you'll make me hate you!” Corny? Maybe. Effective? Definitely. And why don’t we describe people as being swell anymore? I think the word in this context is ripe for a comeback.

It’s really the film in this series that’s the best showcase for Ms. Keeler. Her tap dance to the 42nd Street production number is one of the most famous bits in any musical.

Gold Diggers of 1933, you’re pretty swell, but I hope you can catch on with some other list as I’m changing horses in midstream and going with 42nd Street.

Thems the breaks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Brent Musberger: We are…LIVE from Pauley Pavilion for the finale of the 64 film tournament as the battle for the definitive Christmas movie sweepstakes has reached its highly anticipated climax.

To recap: A Christmas Story defeated Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Black Christmas (which forfeited for being directed by A Christmas Story director Bob Clark and therefore creating a conflict of interest), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Holiday Inn to reach the final four where the instant classic last second victory over the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol earned the coming of age story of Ralphie and his hunt for a Red Ryder BB gun a spot in the finals.

In the other bracket, It’s a Wonderful Life defeated Ernest Saves Christmas, Elf, Jingle All the Way, and Christmas in Connecticut to reach the final four where the story of George Bailey defeated Miracle on 34th Street in double overtime.

Onto the final: It’s a Wonderful Life vs. A Christmas Story:

Round 1
The protagonist:

It’s a Wonderful Life: George Bailey
George’s best moment: Loans out money to Bedford Fallians to prevent Potter from taking over the building and loan.
George’s worst moment: yells at his kids after Uncle Billy loses $8000.

A Christmas Story: Ralphie Parker
Ralphie’s best moment: Saves his family from Black Bart
Ralphie worst moment: He says THE word and it wasn’t fudge!

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. The everyman is just more sympathetic than the everyboy.

Round 2
The villain:

It’s a Wonderful Life: In the person of Mr. Potter and in the set of circumstances that keep George in Bedford Falls.

A Christmas Story: The heavies here are assorted bullies, teachers, parents and grownups whose sole purpose seems to be preventing getting Ralphie his Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Potter (the very definition of evil) is the difference here.
Potter to George: “Look at you! You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me a warped frustrated old man. What are you but a warped frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help…Why don’t you go to the riff raff you love so much. You know why? Because they’d run you out of town on a rail!”

Evil. Evil. Evil

Round 3
Supporting cast:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy or Henry Travers as Clarence.

A Christmas Story: Darren McGavin as Dad

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. McGavin is most funny as the long-suffering, cursing dad with the obsession for leg lamps, but he did steal the fra-jilly joke from The Marx Brothers.
Nobody does nincompoop like Mitchell and nobody can order “Mull wine, heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves” like Travers.

Round 4
Auteur curriculum vitæ:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra directed Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, It Happened One Night, and You Can’t Take it With You. One of the most famous American directors with one of the most impressive resumes.

A Christmas Story: Bob Clark’s less impressive film output includes: Rhinestone, From the Hip, Porky’s I and II, Baby Geniuses I and II, and of course the TV movie classic Karate Dog.

Winner: A Christmas Story. Seems like no comparison, but since Mr. Clark dug so deep to come up with one classic within a career of such mediocrity, that I think even Mr. Capra would love this underdog story. Imagine Ed Wood pulling off Lawrence of Arabia.

Round 5
Recreation of the era:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Most of the story is set in the 1940’s and the film was made in the 1940’s.

A Christmas Story: Entire story is set in the 1940’s

Winner: A Christmas Story. The recreation of a simpler time at a simpler age is what makes the film work. It may not be a fair comparison since It’s a Wonderful Life was set in its own time, but George Bailey knows that life is not fair.

Round 6

It’s a Wonderful Life: Lots of candidates, but “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” is probably the best. It’s certainly better than Sam Wainwright continually saying “HEE-HAW”

A Christmas Story:”You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”

Winner: A Christmas Story. Close call, but “You’ll shoot your eye out” defines A Christmas Story.

Round 7

It’s a Wonderful Life: Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett

A Christmas Story: Jean Shepherd

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. You’d think I’d know who wrote the screenplay for a movie I’ve seen twenty times, but I admit to having to look it up. As retribution I’m giving this to Frances and Albert. Sorry, Jean.

Round 8
The strange cameo competition:

It’s a Wonderful Life. The guy that opens the gym floor to make George and Mary go into the water is Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer of Our Gang.

A Christmas Story: Ubiquitous screenwriter Jean Shepherd has the wonderful credit line of Man in line for Santa.

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. How can you beat getting dunked by Alfalfa! Sorry Jean, that’s 0-2.

Round 9
Narrator wars:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Mostly Henry Travers as Clarence

A Christmas Story: Jean Shepard

Winner: A Christmas Story, Well Jean, your narration style that was later copied for The Wonder Years finally gives you a win.

Round 10
Musical interlude:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Buffalo Girls

A Christmas Story: Deck the Halls from the Chinese restaurant.

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. As funny as “Deck the Halls with boughs of horry” is, Buffalo Girls is sung by George to woo Mary and later played as George asks Mary to marry him. George lassos the moon on this one.

Round 11
Longevity award:

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Christmas classic since the advent of television

A Christmas Story: A Christmas classic since the advent of cable

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life: It may not be fair to punish A Christmas Story for only being 25 years old, but you know-sometimes you get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and sometimes you just got to drink your Ovaltine and like it!

Round 12

It’s a Wonderful Life: Bedford Falls has Christmas lights, bells, carolers, a movie theater showing Bells of St. Mary’s, and the wonderful old Building and Loan.
Pottersville has bars, blaring sirens, night clubs, pool halls, fights every Wednesday night, pawn brokers, girls-girls-girls burlesque, and a Dance Hall where Violet Bick gets picked up for prostitution!

A Christmas Story: The leg lamp or the bunny suit

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. But you got to admit that sometimes it’s more fun to live in Pottersville than Bedford Falls.

Round 13
Hot mom award:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Donna Reed

A Christmas Story: Melinda Dillon

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. Melinda Dillon was much more attractive in other movies such as Slapshot and Close Encounters as she was a bit frumped up here to be believable as Darren McGavin’s wife.
Donna Reed was at the height of her beauty here, at least when she’s not closing up the library!!!

Round 14
Citation for scene disparaging to libraries:

It’s a Wonderful Life: When George asks Clarence where Mary is in the reality in which George was never born, Clarence informs him that the ultimate tragedy has happened: First she’s an old maid and even worse: “She’s closing up the library!”
I’ve got to dock It’s a Wonderful Life for this one.

Winner: by default is A Christmas Story

Round 15
Evilest teacher:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Mrs. Welch gets admonished by George when she checks on Zuzu. Mr. Welch later punches George. Should Mrs. Welch suffer for the sins of Mr. Welch?

A Christmas Story: Ralphie’s teacher can’t seem to understand the importance of the Red Ryder BB gun!

Winner: A Christmas Story. Sorry, Mrs. Welch. Nobody punches out George Bailey and gets away with it!

Round 16
Remake Problems:

It’s a Wonderful Life: I know I shouldn’t keep punishing for the sins of others, but the 1978 television remake with Marlo Thomas as the female equivalent of George Bailey and Cloris Leachman as the female equivalent of Clarence was just wrong and someone should be held responsible!

Winner: A Christmas Story, but I just found out it has a sequel of it’s own called It Runs in the Family from the 90’s. I’ve already awarded the round, so A Christmas Story may have gotten away with one here.

Round 17
Unsympathetic authority figure:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Gower the druggist smacks George on his bad ear. Booooo!

A Christmas Story: Santa Claus can’t seem to understand the importance of the Red Ryder either. Booooo!

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Gower wins because he does become a good guy and a friend to George (Except in the world without George where he is an alcoholic child murderer!) Ahem. Wait a second. George isn’t born and Gower becomes a drunken killer? On second thought, A Christmas Story wins. Santa just doesn’t want him to shoot his eye out, after all. He doesn’t kill anybody!

Round 18
I discovered it:

It’s a Wonderful Life: It’s just been around forever so gets no credit for discovery for me.

A Christmas Story: I was the one to discover this movie. Okay, not really. But I was one of the first to appreciate it. “Why wasn’t this more popular?” I said when it first came out. Now it is.

Winner: A Christmas Story

Round 19
Dumbest kid stuff dealing with ice:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Harry Bailey sleds onto thin ice and almost drowns.

A Christmas Story: Ralphie’s friend sticks his tongue to a frozen flagpole.

Winner: A Christmas Story. Equally stupid thing for a kid to do, but funnier in A Christmas Story.

Round 20
The ending:

It’s a Wonderful Life: George’s friends bail him out, his family embraces him and they sing Auld Lang Syne.

A Christmas Story: Ralphie dreams of making hip shots with his gun.

Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Christmas Story’s ending is OK. It’s a Wonderful Life’s ending might be the most inspirational ending in filmdom. A no-brainer for It’s a Wonderful Life.

Brent Musberger: And the winner in the definitive Christmas movie sweepstakes is…wait a minute, here comes Tiny Tim Cratchit and the Little Match Girl…What could they want? Tiny Tim seems to be trying to tell me something. Excuse me…we seem to have a new development. Little Match Girl, are you in agreement? All right then. Everyone grab hands. George, Ralphie, Uncle Billy, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, Bert, Ernie, Flick, Mary, Department Store Santa...come on out. Form a line.
The final decision from these two adorable little children is that you the viewer need to find room in your holiday season for both of these Christmas classics.

Merry Christmas everybody! This is Brent Musberger reporting.


You know those You Tube or Jay Leno videos where they ask Americans simple questions like “Who is the vice-president?” and they say Donald Trump or “Who was the first man on the moon?’ and they say Don Knotts or “Name a country that starts with U” and they can’t come up with anything. (You people haven’t heard of Uzbekistan?)

I can only imagine the kind of answers we would get for “What do you know about the Bosnia-Serb war?” Or “What do you know about Bosnia or Serbia in general?” (I think Brian Bosnia was a middle linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks in the 80’s and wasn’t Serbia the one that sang Smooth Operator?)

Anyway, I’ve never seen a movie filmed primarily in Bosnia-Herzegovina, let alone one about the Bosnian war. The only choice I have in this regard and still sticking with the 1001 canon is the 2001 Danis Tanovic film No Man’s Land.

Labeled a black comedy, it doesn’t make light of ethnic cleansing, but it does make light of the folly of war. I try to not use the term anti-war because it makes me think of Kurt Vonnegut’s quote from Slaughterhouse-Five, “writing an anti-war book is like writing an anti-glacier book, both being futile endeavours, since both phenomena are unstoppable.” Besides, if something is anti-war, isn’t it from the perspective of the losing side (All Quiet on the Western Front)? If it’s from the winning side (Saving Private Ryan) would that be pro-war?

In No Man’s Land, we have two soldiers from opposing sides in the conflict thrown together. A third has a bomb underneath him that will detonate if he moves. Every time it seems the two main soldiers are beginning to bond, they end up shooting or stabbing each other and whichever one manages to get control of the gun makes the other say that their side started the war.

We also learn that UN peacekeepers are well meaning and ineffectual and journalists are vultures. My favorite line in the movie is after a shooting, the journalist’s instinct is not to help or feel the horror, but to turn to the cameraman and say, “Did you get that?”

I kept wondering where I had seen actor Simon Callow before. The answer according to IMDB was the performer that pays off Mozart in Amadeus. How did I ever manage before the Internet Movie Database?

A good film with universal themes even if you don’t know who Slobodan Milošević is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


What is the scariest film on the 1001 movie list? The Excorcist? Psycho? Halloween? Nightmare on Elm Street? There are many candidates, but there is only one movie that has struck such fear through my heart that I have avoided it for thirty years. But because I am trying to go through every type of movie on this blog, I am going to take a deep breath and watch the one movie that I have never quite been able to muster the courage to view before. I am talking about...Alain Resanis’ 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad.
Some viewers have found it the greatest work of art ever put on celluloid. Many others…many others have been driven to madness or have tried to burn down the theater in which it is shown. I can only hope I feel more of the former than the latter.

POLICE REPORT-This is Officer Krupke reporting, I have what may be a 11-45 and I need an 11-96, yes backup, a SWAT Team. We have a librarian on the roof, not of sound mind and..yes…yes…keeps yelling that he just saw something called Less Year at Merry Abandon or something. Irregardless, please send…wait the team is here. 10-4, Out.

The crack SWAT team emerges from their vehicle and trot to the bottom of the library’s front steps. They are equipped with bullhorns and begin to speak to the librarian (known as C) who is hanging precariously from the ledge of the top floor of the building.

Captain Renault: What a wonderful bibliotheca you have here C. Why don’t you come down now, mon ami?

C: (Yelling down): No, I’m too upset with what I have just seen. My entire sense of reality has become something I don’t recognize. Last Year at Marienbad (He struggles to get the very words out) has forever corrupted my sense of reason.

Corporal O’Reilly: Perhaps this will help. (He holds a copy of Cahiers du Cinema and starts to shake it)

C: No, It’s too late for any crash course in critical theory.

Lieutenant Dan: Don’t be that way. I’ll buy you a cup of joe and a Cuban and we can discuss the pros and cons of the auteur theory.

C: Are you trying to talk me down or make me jump? I don’t buy into that…At least I don’t think I do…You see, it’s made me so confused!

General Turgenson: Boy, you just can’t accept a solipsistic viewpoint. You just don’t have the guts to take the bull by the balls and be in control!

C: Why is that my responsibility? Isn’t that the filmmaker’s job?

Ensign Pulver: Come on! Aren’t you grown up enough to accept a modernist approach?

C: Don’t yell at me! (He puts his hands up to his ears) Everyone’s yelling at me!

Captain Picard: Maybe the whole reality of that world was based on an implementation of holographic image reality.

C: (He throws his hands down in disgust) Come on Patrick! That’s nonsense.

Private Benjamin: And what about the rape scene?

C: There was no rape scene, Goldie! It wasn't Straw Dogs! Trying to pinpoint a rape scene is just critical propaganda; it’s not the truth.

Colonel Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!

C: (Almost in tears now) You’re right. I know you’re right.

Captain Spaulding: Is Cubism somehow involved? It’s like the time I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.

C: (now laughing) That joke is still funny. I needed that.

Private Ryan: And you got to admit, the mise en scene was very impressive

C: (Sheepishly) Yeah, I guess

Warr Officer Paul Brenner: And it did start to grow on you after awhile. Admit it.

C: Well, maybe a little. The organ music seemed less frightening in the second part. And some of those visuals, I’ve got to admit they were pretty impressive.

Private Ryan: Mise en scenemise en scene

C: (Smiling) Yes, Mise en scene.

Private Benjamin: And the rape scene?

C: (Nodding acknowledgement) Yes, I guess it might have been a rape scene at that if you choose the right school of interpretation.

Captain Kurtz: And in my time I’ve certianly seen worse horrors.

C: Me too, Marlon. I just sat through Grease afterall!

(All laugh except Warr Officer Paul Brenner)

Officer Krupke: So you coming down, kid?

C: Yes, I’m coming down.

C crawls through the library window. He becomes temporarily enamored with his comeover in the reflection of the elevator mirror as he heads to the bottom floor. He makes his way down a seemingly endless corridor to the front door.

C hears the applause of the SWAT team as he descends the steps at entrance of the library. When he comes out, C notices the SWAT team members have become frozen in place.

C wonders if they are frozen in time as well, loses his train of thought, shrugs, and goes home.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


A Comparison of Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and Tim Burton’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Basic Plot:
The Bicycle Thief: Man’s life spirals out of control after theft of his bike
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Man’s life spirals out of control after theft of his bike

Title in Italian:
The Bicycle Thief: Ladri di biciclette
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Grande esperienza uoma di piccola statura

Importance of bicycle:
The Bicycle Thief: Means of livelihood
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Life itself

Film style:
The Bicycle Thief: Neo-realistic
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Fairy tale/Fable

Protagonist biggest bike fantasy:
The Bicycle Thief: No fantasies, just wants to earn a living
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Wins the Tour de France

The Bicycle Thief: Poor, epileptic peasant named Alfredo who wears a German cap
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Rich, spoiled man/boy named Francis who wears an ascot

Signature line:
The Bicycle Thief: “Give me my bicycle back!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Forgotten female lead:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s wife, ignored after the first twenty minutes of the film
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Dottie, ignored by Pee Wee the entire film

Lack of help from the police:
The Bicycle Thief: “You’ve filed a complaint. There’s nothing more I can say!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “Let me be honest with you. Hundreds of bikes are stolen every month. Very few are ever recovered. We just don’t have the resources.”

Musical interlude:
The Bicycle Thief: Three-man band at a restaurant featuring ukulele, guitar and violin.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Twisted Sister

Is there a scene of the protagonist mourning over lost bike in the rain to show despondency?
The Bicycle Thief: Yes
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Yes

Loyal sidekick:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s little son Bruno
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee’s little dog Speck

Favorite scene that made me laugh but I can’t explain why it’s funny:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s son Bruno slips in the rain. Antonio asks, “What happened?” Bruno points at the spot and yells, “I fell down!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Mario the magic shop proprietor tries to sell Pee Wee various items culminating with a giant plastic head and Pee Wee screams, “NO!”

Coincidence alert:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio spots an old man talking to the boy who stole his bike
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Truck carrying the stolen bike goes by Pee Wee while he’s driving down the road

Most surrealistic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: None
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee’s movie within a movie is brought to the screen with James Brolin as P. W. and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie. The bicycle has become the ‘X1’ motorcycle.

Most neo-realistic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio has not only lost his bike, but his dignity, only to comforted by the touch of his son’s hand
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: None

Heroic moment:
The Bicycle Thief: Antonio’s friend Baiocco tries to help find the bike.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Pee Wee saves some snakes from a burning pet store

Tragic lines said to the protagonist:
The Bicycle Thief: “Criminal! Scoundrel! Fine example you set for your son!”
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “There’s no basement at the Alamo!”

Director’s use of non-actors:
The Bicycle Thief: Casting of many non-actors in pivotal roles
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Casting of non-actor Morgan Fairchild

Director’s later change of pace:
The Bicycle Thief: Vittorio De Sica later made his own fairy tale/fable in Miracle in Milan
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: Tim Burton later went neo-realistic (to a degree) in Batman

Is this film in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die?
The Bicycle Thief: Often regarded as one of the top ten films of all time. Of course it’s in the book!
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: No, but it probably ought to be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

SMOKE (1995)

I always look forward to the next Paul Auster novel. His works include: Book of Illusions, about a professor working on a book about a silent screen comic who disappeared, Man in the Dark, about a book critic trying to cope with nightmares about the death of his wife, Invisible, the story of a poet who witnesses a murder, Oracle Night, about a novelist…well it’s a novel within a novel-a common Auster theme. Brooklyn Follies is one that doesn’t have a main character that’s a writer, but does have an important character that owns a bookstore.

Mr. Auster’s film Smoke has long scenes and a slow pace that make this kind of a “Brooklyn Yasujiro Ozu film.” (at least according to Auster and director Wayne Wang)

This must have been a hard movie to promote. Auster’s books are more about character and narrative than lending itself to easy summation or a pat ending. (I still don’t know what the ending of Man in the Dark was about.)

The promotional poster for Smoke has Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing both smoking cigars while flanking a laughing Harvey Keitel with a small picture at the bottom of William Hurt on a cigar label. Not that I have a better suggestion for a promotional poster, but the one they used ain’t it. Though according to the commentary the film did relatively well and was even more popular overseas.

The characters are typical Auster. The main character of Smoke is, of course, a writer. William Hurt plays the Auster stand-in, a novelist who has experienced the tragic loss of his family and has never gotten his life back on track. Harvey Keitel plays the cigar store owner with the quirky habit of taking a picture of the same street corner at the same time everyday. Harold Perrineau plays the at-risk but basically good kid trying to make it under difficult circumstances.

It was great to see this first rate cast on their game: Hurt as the writer trying to get the motivation to write again. Perrineau as Thomas (Rashid) Cole, a seventeen year old looking for some direction in his life as well as his father. Watchers of the show Lost might be surprised to see Perrineau as a seventeen-year-old. But he really does look young. Perhaps Stockard Channing used her Grease experience to give him tips on how to play seventeen while in your thirties. Also, this is my second Stockard Channing movie in a row. I don’t think there are any more Channing performances on the 1001 movie list. (What, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh didn't make the cut?) Does anyone else remember Ms. Channing in the early 70’s TV movie, The Girl Most Likely to... about an unattractive and mistreated girl who has plastic surgery and takes her revenge on her abusers? But I digress. Forrest Whitaker as Rashid’s estranged father who lost his wife in an accident that was his own fault (there’s that loss theme again!) is good as he almost always is. Best of all is Keitel. I can’t recall off the top of my head many other roles Mr. Keitel has played where he wasn’t a pimp, a crooked cop, a big time gangster, a small time gangster or the apostle that betrayed Jesus Christ. My point is, it’s nice to see him in a sympathetic role. The Christmas story that he tells to William Hurt near the end of the film is terrific. Though the odd camera close-ups during that scene are a bit distracting.

Recommended viewing and pick up one of Auster’s books while you’re at it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

GREASE (1978)

My thoughts on the worst movie of all time: Grease.

Okay. Grease isn't really the worst movie of all time. But it's definitely not a favorite.

The first time I saw this musical ode to 50’s I wasn’t overly impressed, but I wasn’t particularly appalled either. The following year, Hair, the musical ode to the 60’s was released. This was a far superior musical in my view. “Hair will be around and people will forget Grease.” I said. Well, it seems the opposite happened.
Grease has stayed around becoming an almost generational thing celebrating 20, 25 and 30th anniversary video releases.

Hair is only a footnote now. (Sorry Treat Williams. I tried.)

My displeasure at this turn of events made me dislike Grease all the more. But because of its inclusion in 1001 Movies, I thought in the spirit of open-mindedness I would give it one last chance.

After viewing:

Here’s the bad
1) You know how some of the great musicals smoothly transition from spoken dialogue to musical numbers? This doesn’t happen often in Grease. Numbers like Hopelessly Devoted to You just seem to start randomly like they’re being cranked out of a karaoke machine.
2) Casting Stockard Channing who actually attended high school in the 50’s as a high school student is a bit of a stretch.
3) And the drag race down “Thunder Road” seems less of race than just driving around aimlessly until they declare Danny the winner. I was expecting Spritle and Chim Chim to jump out of the back trunk at any moment.
4) Some of the cameos are curious too: What exactly is Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (Vince Fontaine) doing during the National Bandstand segment? He seems to be just wandering around aimlessly. Was he still in the movie? Kookie’s gone rogue! Where was the director to rein in this has-been?
And why did they have to invade the old actors home to cast the raspy voiced Joan Blondell as an octogenarian waitress? (This is a personal quibble. I just want to remember Joan as the sexy chanteuse from Gold Diggers of 1933.)
5) Coach Sid Caesar takes Danny to try his hand at different sports, wrestling, basketball, baseball, track etc. Does this strange high school have all its sports seasons simultaneously? Has this movie turned into the The Swimmer all of a sudden?
6) The T-Birds imitation of the Three Stooges get old quickly--like after one time.
7) And why are they all so mean to Eugene? This might be considered a hate crime today, if we can figure out what minority group Eugene belongs to.
8) The final song when the entire cast sings We go together like rama lama ding dong or whatever still makes me kinda queasy. Check that--very queasy.
9) And for a “family” film that likes to talk about flogging your log and teaches us that being a slut is much better than being a nice girl…well, why exactly is this considered a family film again?
10) And did they have to rip-off the flying car ending from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? If you’re going to rip off a movie, at least rip off a good one next time. (And the next time for Producer Alan Carr was the Village People epic, Can’t Stop the Music, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time to someone.)

The Neutral
1) Sha Na Na’s appearance. I can’t decide to put this in the positive or negative column. An interesting footnote is Sha Na Na is in at least two of the listings in 1001 movies, Woodstock being the other. I say at least two. They may have had a cameo in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that I may have missed.

The good (And it really is painful to say anything nice about a movie that
I’ve scoffed at for years. )
1) I must admit to liking the song Summer Nights. I thought the contrasting viewpoints and dancing was good here. (Yep, saying that was indeed painful)
2) And despite being long in the tooth for a high schooler, Stockard Channing is admittedly good.
3) As is Travolta, who does a pretty decent Elvis impersonation on the song Greased Lighting.
4) And Olivia Newton-John has nice legs.
5) And Lorenzo Lamas has no audible dialogue, which is always a plus.
6) I also like Didi Conn, but I might be thinking of her in Shining Time Station and not this movie.
7) The Frankie Avalon number isn’t as bad as I remember.
8) The rumor in the drive-in scene going from car to car about Rizzo’s pregnancy is the best-choreographed scene in the whole movie.
9) And Michael Tucci as Sonny is annoying here, but did later become president of the Law Review on the TV version of The Paper Chase in later years. Wait, that’s more of a bad thing. I can come up with something else good…
I’m trying to be nice. I really am…

Oh, the hell with it. I’m just going to watch my old copy of Hair on Betamax.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Quote #1 from the novel “Invisible” by Paul Auster.
If not for the end, Ordet would not have effected you any more than any other good film you’ve seen over the years.

It is the end that counts, for in the end does something to you that is totally unexpected. And it crashes into you with all the force of an ax felling an oak.

The farmwoman who has died in childbirth is stretched out in an open coffin as her weeping husband sits beside her. The mad brother, who thinks he is the second coming of Christ, walks into the room holding the hand of the couple’s young daughter. As the small group of mourning relatives and friends looks on, wondering what blasphemy or sacrilege is being committed at this solemn moment, the would be incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth addresses the dead woman in a calm and quiet voice. “Rise up.” He commands her. “Lift yourself out of your coffin and return to the world of the living. Seconds later, the woman’s hands begin to move. You think it must be a hallucination that the point of view has shifted from objective reality to the mind of the addled brother. But no, the woman opens her eyes and just seconds after that she sits up, fully restored to life.

There’s a large crowd in the theater and half the audience bursts out laughing when they see this miraculous resurrection. You don’t begrudge them their skepticism. But for you, it is a transcendent moment. You sit there clutching your sister’s arm as tears role down your cheeks. What cannot happen has happened. You are stunned by what you have witnessed. Something changes in you after that. You don’t know what it is, but the tears you shed when you saw the woman come back to life seemed to have washed some of the poison that has been building up inside you.

My thoughts: The preceding passage was the reason I chose to see Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet.

Will my reaction be like Adam Walker (Auster’s character) or like those in the audience who laugh at the unlikely resurrection?

Well, I didn’t laugh and even though I had already read about it in the book, I couldn’t believe Inger (the character in the film) was really going to come back to life. I can’t say my reaction was akin to Adam Walker’s, but the film (based on a play by Danish pastor Kaj Munk) was stirring. I actually felt different than Walker in that it was more than the end, it was the building towards the end. Brother number one’s loss of faith, brother number two’s overdose on Kierkegaard leading him to think he is Jesus of Nazareth and brother number three’s wish to marry a girl whose family's religion is not compatible with his are all important parts that must be understood to even appreciate the ending.

You might find this film a heavy trip, so if you chose to venture through it, you may want to bring along a pint or two of Tuborg for your journey.

Let me move on to a lighter question.

Quote #2 from the novel “Invisible” by Paul Auster
Little by little, you come to understand the library is good for one thing and one thing only; indulging in sexual fantasies.

My thoughts: Well, first I’d like to say-oh no, we’ve run out of time for today’s blog. Topic to be continued at a later date.

Monday, November 16, 2009


When the dastardly General William Tecumseh Sherman cut his destructive path during the War of Northern Aggression through Atlanta, Savannah and the Carolinas he left in his wake…a guy trying to find a date about a hundred years later.

I didn’t know what to make of this documentary at first. Ross McElwee starts out trying to study Sherman’s March, but digresses most of the movie meeting women he knew before, women he dated before, women he wanted to date before and women he never met before. The subtitle A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation is really closer to the mark than the main one.

Despite a slow beginning, I became interested in his journey and the various women he meets. And at 155 minutes, it’s a journey that took only slightly less time than Sherman’s actual march to the sea.

Here are some of the women he encounters listed here for no other reason than because I feel like listing them.

Mary, a childhood friend who now (now being 1986) models and fantasizes about Christopher Reeve. Pretty in a mannered, wholesome way, Mary is divorced, yet doesn’t believe in divorce. Sounds problmatic for future relationships.

Pat, wants to find work as an actress. She likes to talk about not wearing underpants and does odd gyrations that she describes as “cellulite excericses.” Ross describes his attraction to Pat as “primal,” which most of the male viewers of this film will probably share. However, right when Pat is the center of this film as herself, she leaves town in the off chance to be in a Burt Reynolds film. Leave one of the 1001 movies you must see before you die to be in Cannonball Run 17? Bad career move, Pat.

Claudia, is pretty, seems nice. Problem with Claudia is her settlement “friends.” Let’s just say that a relationship with Claudia would probably end with a hostage situation and ATF officers. Ross did well to move on here.

Winnie seems to have it all. Sexy, back to nature, likes to sunbathe nude, can milk a cow and is working on a P.H.D. in linguistics. She might be worth fighting the mosquitos for, but if I remember right, she was committed to someone else. Sorry, Ross.

Then there’s Jackie, who Ross dated before. Cute, petite, committed peace activist, teacher. Jackie thinks that a politcal ally is more important than a lover. You must have hurt her Ross. Move on you cad!

Then Ross runs into a Burt Reynolds lookalike who is trying to become Burt Reynolds's double? Enough references to Burt Reynolds, already!

Then we meet the woman who can only be described as a force of nature, Charleen. Charleen is Ross’ ex-teacher who knows she has found the right girl for Ross. It seems Ross is failing in his love life and Charleen feels the need to take over for him. And I mean take over! Despite her pushiness, Charleen’s southern charm makes her likeable.

Unfortuneately, Dee, the woman Charleen trys to get Ross to marry is a little on the bland side. Sweet, nice. Looking for a Mormon. Ross isn’t a Mormon. Relationship over.

Then there’s Joy the rock singer who is about to move away from the Carolinas to seek fame in New York. (What’s wrong with just rocking out at the Charlotte 7-11?) Ross admits to becoming an instant groupie for her and she does have that cute flippy 80’s hair, but a future failed attempt at fame in the Big Apple awaits and they say their goodbyes.

Finally, Karen. The unobtainable girl from high school with the killer smile who has since become a lawyer still has Ross’s number. Ross tries to talk her into falling in love with him, but she is in love with a guy who I’m sure doesn’t treat her as well as he should. Ross actually spends a couple of days with her boyfriend and a couple of his friends. They move giant plastic dinosaurs from place to place. Ross says he never understands what it was all about. All I know, if I were moving giant plastic dinosaurs all over the place, I’d say, “What the hell is this all about?”

Then Ross sees a movie being made. He tries to film the cast and crew. It’s a movie with, oh no, Burt Reynolds again! Ross is kicked off the set and threatened with arrest. A woman Ross interviews shows a sleeping baby that was kissed by Burt. The woman says about the baby, “She will know. She must know the truth about the day she was kissed by a guy in a toupee who played Dan August on TV.” (Quote not exact)

Ross later found a wife, teaches at Harvard and hopefully has lived happily since.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Warning: If you take a college film class you will probably have to see this film.

Second Warning: Do not confuse with the Demi Moore 80's film The Seventh Sign

Some have said that it is a useful (I think it was critic David Denby) to view classics at different times in your life and though the work remains the same, how it affects you differs according to the stage of your life in which you view it. (See or read it as a whining-school boy, then when you are bearded like a pard and then when you are wearing pantaloons and pouchy…I think my all the world’s a stage speech might be a little off.)

I’ve seen The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) three times now, in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. It absolutely blew me away on my first viewing. The second time I saw it, I still thought it was a good film, but not as great as I thought it was initially. This latest viewing, made me think I was right the first time. (Perhaps on my second viewing I had a cold or something.)

Not only is this a movie you should see before you die, I think if you could time it right, this should be the movie you see ON the day you die. (Well, you come up with something more appropriate!)

A brief response to criticism of Bergman

He’s too depressing
There’s much heroism in this film that makes me feel better about the human animal. Besides, you try make a movie set during the Bubonic Plague or the Crusades and see how happy YOU can make it.

He has no sense of humor
The scene where death cuts the performer down from the tree is funny. Also, the knight’s squire and the acting troop performers are very funny. The dumb blacksmith is very, very funny. Give me a minute and I'll come up with a part that's very, very, very funny. What do you want? 1349: The Musical?

His films are boring
I don’t find him boring (Okay, not the greatest of comebacks. Deal with it.)

He's pretentious
Maybe a little.

I wanted to list some of the standout actors in this film and I really feel like listing the entire cast, so just go to IMDB and read the entire cast list for Det sjunde inseglet. I envision them forming a human chain with death leading the way and taking their bows along the way to a thunderous ovation. Well, I’ll list one personal favorite: Gunnar Björnstrand.

I meant to end this blog, but I had to mention what a great scene the procession of sinners and monks who are lashing each other for the sins they committed is.

And...the scene where the devout knight Antonius and secular squire Jons view the buring of the witch from different perspectives.

And...don't forget the scene where most of the cast is introducing themselves so casually to death.

It is finished.

Friday, November 13, 2009

PI (1998)


















Binary Conversion » Binary to Text

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TAKEN (2008)

As the lights came up in the movie theater, I found myself unable to raise my head out of my hands. The world had become a still and cold place. I finally forced myself upright in the hope to get some commiseration from the person in the seat to my right. But this person was actually smiling! The man in the seat to my left was shaking his head. But it wasn’t in sorrow. He even high-fived the teenager in the seat next to him. At that point, the audience burst into applause. I looked around the theater in amazement. Had the world gone mad? Was this Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Or could I have somehow entered The Twilight Zone?

I ran out of the theater past the concession stands and leaned against the glass door next to the box office. I picked up a stray newspaper that contained blurbs raving about the film. “A briskly paced action thriller,” “Liam Neeson has never been better,” “The best action film of the year,” were the first three headings. I crumpled it and cast it aside.

The fogginess that had infiltrated my thoughts began to turn to anger.
A couple walked up to me and said, “Hey, you were in the theater with us. Wasn’t Taken the most awesome movie you ever saw?” Their timing was bad, because I was no longer able to just nod, smile or blow them off. I tilted my head and glared at them. “Of course.” I shouted. The tone of my voice made them jump back. “Yes, I like a movie with a plot that is basically ‘I told you not to go to stay in an expensive part of Paris, you might get abducted in broad daylight. And I told you there might be Albanian slave traders there, but it's lucky you're on the phone with me right now and I just happen to know everything about international crime and espionage and you are at an isolated place in the adjoing yet accessible suite to where you are staying so the kidnappers can't see you but you can see them through a window abducting your friend so when they come get you all you have to do is yell out a description of them as soon as they take you and I'll piece it all together and kill off half of Europe to save you.’ And no, no that didn’t at all obliterate my suspension of disbelief. Not at all!"

The couple had actually walked away before I was halfway done with my speech, but I was going to shout it aloud for anyone who wished to listen. I saw the next line of customers waiting to go into the next showing. I tried to will them to see the mistake they were making, but they mostly ignored me and when they did acknowledge me, only viewed me with hostility.

My head started to throb again and I knew I couldn’t stay there any longer. I ran across the parking lot into a neighboring park. I saw a bench by a fountain and sat. My solitude gave me a little comfort as I took a deep breath. I tilted back my head and tried to continue to forget about the horror of the last couple of hours as I heard a voice calling my name.

“Chris!” I heard a second time.

I had thought the park was empty. I stood up. “Who’s there? What do you want?”

I followed the voice past the swing sets to the baseball field. There he stood at second base.

“Liam Neeson!” I said in a strained voice.

“My friend.” He cocked his head in discomfort as he spoke. “Why couldn’t you just enjoy the movie like everyone else? It would have been so easy for you to be like the rest.”

“Because” I said to him defiantly. “It wasn’t a movie. It was just one long stunt show. Offensively outlandish! Just an excuse to shoot something or blow something up. As unrealistic action movies go, It made Con Air look like My Dinner With Andre!”

Liam twitched. “I’m real sorry to hear that.”

It was then I noticed that he was holding an Uzi that was pointed at me. I looked around for a means to escape, but I didn’t think I would ever make it to safety before he could plow me down. He cocked his head again and part of his cheek began splitting apart.

“Oh, the hell with it.” Liam put his finger inside the opening in his cheek and pulled. Much to my horror, his face came apart with one pull.
I was in such a state of shock that I missed perhaps my only opportunity to get away. I looked back at the face. It wasn’t Liam Neeson. It was…

“George Lucas!” I gasped in fear. “I didn’t know you had anything to do with this movie!”

He laughed. “You are so naïve. Don’t you see I am the father of all such movies. I started it all. Well, I did have a little help.”

At that point, another figure came out of the dugout holding an AK-47.

“Steven Spielberg!” I gasped again.

Spielberg walked toward Lucas and they pointed their weapons at my head. “Yes, and you are going to add the film you just saw to your blog and give it a rave review.

“Never!” I said.

“Oh, did I forget to mention.” Lucas said. “It’s already too late.”

At this point, Spielberg pulled a laptop seemingly out of his bum and dropped it in front of me. The Internet page that was in front of me was indeed my blogsite and the movie entry read Taken (2008).”

“This…this isn’t right. I would never put this movie on my blog. Some hacker...”

“Quiet” they said in unison.

“None of this matters.” Lucas continued. “You won’t get out of this alive. Ironically, if the world was like it was in a typical action film, you might be able to manufacture an unlikely escape. Too bad this is the real world and you are certain to die. Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

I closed my eyes in resignation, taking some comfort in the fact that the last thing I would ever hear was a reference to a good movie. It was then I heard shots ringing out in a crossfire. I checked my body for holes as I opened my eyes.

I was unharmed!

I saw before me Lucas and Spielberg lying dead on the ground with their weapons unfired.

At that point, two men entered the baseball diamond. One from the first base side and one from the third base side. The figure that came from first base was holding a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and as he approached, my heart raced in recognition.

“Oh, my God. Color of Pomegranates director Serghei Paradjonov!”

He nodded in affirmation to me.

From third base came the second figure, who was carrying a Derringer pistol.
“And you’re Last Year at Marienband director Alan Resnias.” I said.

“Oui.” he said.

“We almost didn’t get here in time.” Paradjonov said in broken English as he dropped his gun down.

I dropped to my knees and contemplated the fallen bodies in front of me. I looked at Paradjonov and Resnais. “I don’t know how to thank you. I feel so ashamed. I made fun of your movies on my blog.”

“I know.” The Aremenian director said. “But I think you’re learning. You may one day learn the difference between art and commerce.

“Oui.” Resnais added.

I looked at them again. “But aren’t you dead? I asked.

Paradjonov laughed. “I think you still have to learn the lesson that art endures…and lives on past its creator.”

“Oui.” Resnais said again before he and Paradjonov disappeared into the night.

I easily managed to raise my head out of my hands. The world remained a still and cold place, but that was no longer a problem. I looked for some commiseration from the person to my right, but the fact that I received none no longer bothered me.

Friday, November 6, 2009


A tribute to Tom Chapin’s Make a Wish:

If you were Dracula, you could be the Universal Dracula with Hungarian Bela Lugosi or later Universal incarnations with John Carradine including House of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff who doesn’t even play Frankenstein or you could be the silent Nosferatu who was played by Max Schreck who was a real person but was supposed to be a real vampire as played by Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire or the Herzog Nosferatu remake with Klaus Kinski who often acted like a vampire in real life though his daughter Nastassia is quite beautiful or you could be the TV version with Jack Palance produced by Dan Curtis who also did Dark Shadows which had Barnabas Collins who was also a vampire, but not Dracula or you could be the Dracula with Frank Langella who the ladies seemed to like in the day and men dismissed though he did later play Richard Nixon or you could be the funny Dracula with George Hamilton in Love at First Bite whose deep tan didn’t really seem to lend itself to being a vampire or you could be Leslie Neilson in Dead and Loving It who was really funnier than George Hamilton or you could be the obscure Old Dracula as played by David Niven where I can still remember them taking the letters off the marquee one week after I saw it and realized it wasn’t a hit or you could be the Coppola/ Oldman version which I would comment on but I frankly remember little about it or you could be Andy Warhol's Dracula whose limb severing scene reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or you could be the 1971 film Dracula vs. Frankenstein which might be the worst movie ever made or be Billy the Kid vs. Dracula directed by the infamous “One Shot” Beaudine which was almost as bad or be the BBC version I saw in high school as I was reading the book which was a broken copy held together with a rubber band that Mrs. Moffett lent to me and the BBC version was edited and I was outraged at the time but now I understand the need to edit or you could be one of the many vampire knockoffs which I won’t get into now or…you could be one of the Hammer films.

The Hammer Film Studio's The Horror of Dracula begins with Jonathan Harker arriving at Dracula’s castle and declaring “My name is Jonathan Harker I'm the new librarian.” He later talks to the Count about going through his books and Dracula says what an honor it is for Harker to go through his collection and oh, who are they kidding? They're both just pretending! This movie isn’t going to be about librarainship. They were just teasing me. It’s about vampires!

Harker and later Van Helsing are out to end Dracula’s reign of terror. That’s the gist. Christopher Lee (who led a gay motrocylce gang in the 1980 film Serial has almost no dialogue after the first few minutes of the film. Peter Cushing (who played Winston Smith in a TV adaptation of 1984, in the 50’s), on the other hand, has plenty of dialogue. In fact, one of the more interesting scenes is when he talks about vampires into a recorder. But this stuff is basic Vampire 101. “They can only come out at night, they are repeled by a cross, use plenty of garlic etc.” You would think a man whose life's work is vampires would know all this already, but he’s reciting it like he’s trying to memorize it for a mid-term.

I really like the sequence where Van Helsing leaps to the window to tear down the shade to expose Dracula to the light. Don't ask me why, it reminded me of Peter Pan maybe?

Lee is a scary, hissing Dracula machine. The special effects of Dracula’s final deterioration are also pretty good. (Don’t worry, he’ll be back for more sequels)

Overall, a solid 82 minute piece of entertainment and frankly preferable to the Lugosi/Browning version, though I plan give that another view.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Phillip Seymour-Hoffman’s Capote said something to the effect of “I don’t see what the big fuss is about” when he talked about the hoopla surrounding his friend Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird. There has always seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between the critical opinion of this book and the people's more positive acceptance. The Modern Library’s rather academic top 100 novels of the century avoided To Kill a Mockingbird altogether. A similar 20th century list from librarians put To Kill a Mockingbird squarely at #1.
Well since I’m a librarian, it’s lucky I fall on the side of the latter list. So take that Dill! Go hang out at Studio 54 and The Merv Griffin Show and try to lighten up.

Screenwriter Horton Foote did a nice job of adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for the screen. Some of the details in the transfer to celluloid are lost of course, but the essence of the story of the noble Atticus Finch and his children and the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman is still intact.

The scene where Atticus’s daughter Scout sees the reclusive and scary Boo Radley for the first time, smiles and says “Hey, Boo,” gets me every time whether in print or on film.
(Excuse me for a moment. I’m Verklempt.)…Thanks, I’m better now.

Gregory Peck was a great Atticus of course, but I also like the performers in some of the smaller roles: Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Collin Wilcox as Mayella and of course Birmingham’s Mary Badham and Phillip Alford as Scout and Jem. (What a great way to find kids with real Southern accents! Actually cast from the South!)

I thought the music was a little heavy handed at times, but composer Elmer Bernstein said he meant to go overboard with the music to give it a childlike element. Don’t you hate when DVD extras ruin a perfectly good criticism? So, I guess I should give a guy who was nominated for 12 Oscars for musical scores the benefit of the doubt.

I did think the movie could have done without the voice-over narration. It made me think of the screenwriting guru McKee from Adaptation who bemoaned the use of narration of any type.

Totally unnecessary coda:
As I was watching To Kill a Mockingbird, I noticed a lot of actors who later appeared in Star Trek.
So here is the sinister To Kill a Mockingbird/Star Trek connection:
John Megna who played Dill also played the annoying kid in “Miri”
Frank Overton who played the Sheriff also played Sandoval in “This Side of Paradise”
Paul Fix who played the Judge played the ship’s doctor in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Brock Peters who played Tom Robinson played a Starfleet Admiral in “Star Trek IV”
William Windom who played the prosecutor played Commander Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”

I belive I've also unearthed a lesser To Kill a Mockingbird/Twilight Zone connection.
Collin Wilcox who played Mayella was in “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”
Robert Duvall who played Boo Radley was in “Miniature”
Mary Badham who played Scout was in “The Bewitchin’ Pool”
Kim Hector who played Cecil Jacobs was also in “The Bewitchin’ Pool”

Can all this be mere coincidence? I think not!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


One good thing about “1001 movies you must see before you die” is that you aren’t claiming the ones on the list are the 1001 best movies, at least that's my interpretation of the prime directive. For example, I would have not included Grease or Clueless or Top Gun on the list, but each selction according to his own ability, each choice according to his own needs.

So in the spirit of interpretation I’m adding a movie memory from my childhood…that many don’t think is even that good of a movie. Maybe they don’t like the politics. Maybe they don’t like the acting. Maybe they don’t like the violent character promoting pacifism. Maybe it just seems dated. Neo-con film critic Michael Medved took glee in bashing it in The Golden Turkey Awards. I’m talking, of course, about Billy Jack.

The character of Billy Jack first appeared in the 60’s motorcycle epic The Born Losers. Then Billy Jack was made in 1971, but didn’t get wide release until 1974 when it became a huge hit. The Trial of Billy Jack was next, followed by Billy Jack Goes to Washington. I saw all these films except Billy Jack Goes to Washington, which hardly anyone else has seen either.

The soundtrack of Billy Jack starts with the satanic band Coven (not Cher!) singing the movie’s theme song “One Tin Soldier.”

Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
You can justify it in the end.

An interestingly ironic sentiment for a satanic band, eh? And I just found out the lead singer’s name is Jinx! How cute!

The plot begins with nice Sheriff Cole telling his not-so-nice Deputy Mike that they found Mike’s daughter. “Haight-Ashbury again?” he asks. Hmmm. I smell a big fat hippie rat!

We also find out that Mike and Stuart Posner and Stuart’s son Bernard are killing mustangs and sending the meat to be used for dog food. You don't get much more evil than that! Except poor Bernard can’t actually pull the trigger, which we find out later he can’t do with women either.

Then,the half-breed war hero who hated the war, Billy Jack (played by star-writer-director-producer and probably key grip Tom Laughlin) appears and stops the potential horse massacre this time. “When policeman break the law, there is no law. Just a fight for survival.” Well put and pithy, Billy!

In the meantime, Mike finds out his daughter Barbara is pregnant (and that the father might even be a Chicano!) and beats her up and throws her out. She finds refuge in The Freedom School, which is run by Billy’s sort-of girl friend Jean.

At the Freedom School, you can “learn anything, get turned on by creating anything, come and go as you please and ask the question ‘what’s their trip’ a lot.” Oh, they may call it The Freedom School, but I smell a big fat hippie rat! (I may have said that already.)
The school also encourages 11-year olds to sing slightly off key songs about Vietnam War casualties, which may cause you to uncomfortably squirm in your seat a bit.

The school does have a no drug policy, but apparently has no restrictions on performing improv skits. And does the movie have to show every single skit? Though most involve future WKRP in Cincinnati DJ Howard Hessman, who is probably the best actor in the movie.

Billy Jack goes through a rattlesnake ritual where he gets bit by the snake and either becomes a blood brother or dies. (It’s not even half way through the movie, so guess which one happens.)

The most memorable scene for me involves a road trip by some of the members of the Hippie commune; I mean some of the members of the Freedom School into town. The mostly Indian (I use the term Indian in the native-American sense, I’m not writing about the Apu trilogy after all!) students go into an ice cream parlor and don’t get served because they aren’t white enough. Bad guy Bernard Posner and friend show up to dump flour on them to give them the appropriate hue. They also punch Indian student Edward in the stomach, which unfortunately for Edward is a common motif for this film. But after all this occurs, Billy Jack shows up. (Billy knows when to show up the Indian way according to Jean, which is basically involves him just knowing when to show up.)
I confess to liking Laughlin’s speech when he sees the humiliated students:
Bernard. (pause) I want you to know, that I try, (pause) that Jean and the kids at the school try to control my violent temper and be passive and be non-violent like they are. (pause) I try. (pause) I really try. Though when I see this girl of such a beautiful spirit so degraded and when I see this boy…sprawled out by this ape here and this little girl who we all call God’s little gift of sunshine (chokes up.) and I think of the number of years she’s going to have to carry in her memory the savagery of this (pause) idiotic moment of yours…I go beserk!
(Billy beats up Bernard and his friend and then some of Posner’s thugs rough up Billy, though not before Billy shows off some nifty slo-mo karate moves.)

Moving on. The oft-injured Martin falls off his horse. The cops come to the school to look for Barbara and are serenaded by a song I think called “There’s a rainbow, made of children.” (I’m smelling that hippie rat again!)

There’s a strange but somehow compelling scene at the city council, where the straights (the council) spar with the not straights (the school). The council eventually agree to visit the school and when they do, you may not be too surprised at this point, they participate in some improv skits with Howard Hessman!

Moving on. We learn that whites can’t touch other spirits. Edward gets punched in the stomach again and we see some more improv involving Sheriff Cole this time (and of course Howard Hessman!)

The turtleneck wearing Bernard tries to coerce a student into confessing Barbara’s whereabouts, but before he can assault/rape/kill her, Billy Jack and Jean show up. Billy makes Mr. Turtleneck drive his $6000 corvette into the lake.

Martin tells Barbara that he loves her but hasn’t tried to sleep with her because “she’s an anybodys” and his love for her is spirtual and wants to show her he’s not just interested in sex. Way to go Martin! And way not to have a scene where you don’t get beat up!

Next scene: Martin gets beat up.

Jean then takes a bath. Her mistake is in taking a bath outside alone in the middle of the woods, and lying nude on the ground to dry. Along comes Bernard and friend and, well, you figure out what happens next.

Jean says not to tell Billy about the rape to an older student who screeches back to her, “DAMN YOUR PACIFISM!” I’m not sure why, but I like to hear the word pacifism screamed at high decibels.

Moving on: Martin is finally put out of his misery once and for all with four headshots by the evil Bernard. Billy also finds out Bernard raped Jean. Billy finds Bernard, who shoots Billy in the stomach. But the unfazed half-breed still manages to kill the evil one with one chop.

Billy Jack is now on the run and Barbara runs away with him. Shots are fired at Billy, who returns fire and shoots Deputy Mike in the head. I might have expected a little more reaction from Barbara at this point like, “Billy, did you just shoot my daddy in the head?” But no, they just proceed to hole up in an abandoned church.

Barbara waxes poetic. “From the day I was born until every second in between, life has just been one shit brick.” Amen, Barbara.

Billy Jack tells the authorities the unreliability of the white man in keeping treaties, but finally gives himself up as long as the Freedom school will remain open to do more improv and more casinos will be placed on Indian land. THE END

Okay, it’s not Citizen Kane. But though I’ve poked a bit of fun at it, Billy Jack really does represent the time period of the early 70’s for me and of the American anti-hero of the period.

In fact, I’m now going to raise my fist in the air in support, which you are also welcome to interpret as giving the finger to Michael Medved.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Wife: Hey, honey! Do you feel like going to see a movie?

Husband: Absolutely! I think we should see The Color of Pomegranates.

Wife: That new comedy with Sandra Bullock is opening. That looks pretty funny.

Husband: Well, the film I want to see is from 1969 and about the famous 19th century Armenian poet Sayat Nova! I hear he’s famous anyway. And it’s in Armenian!

Wife: Maybe an adventure film. There’s that new one opening. You know looks a little like Indiana Jones.

Husband: You see it’s Armenian!

Wife: Or a sci-fi. That might be good. Or something supernatural.

Husband: Did I mention it's Armenian!

Wife: You know on second thought, I don’t really think I feel like a movie after all. Why don’t we order some Chinese food?

Husband: Well, I, uh guess Chinese…would be fine.

Wife: All right. All right. We can watch your movie.

(88 minutes later)

Wife: I just have one question

Husband: Yes?


Husband: I...I understand it wasn’t a straight narrative

Wife: Which would be fine if it were a Talking Heads music video from 1983, but I expect a little more from a hour and a half movie!

Husband: Parajanov has been called a God of the aesthetic and a master of style of the pathos of epoch.

Wife: Do you even know what that means or are you just being a pretentious bore again?

Husband: I don’t think I like your tone.

Wife: Well, you’re just going to have to forgive me. Armenian lute music is still ringing in my ears!

Husband: The symbolism was vivid, didn’t you…

Wife: Oh, you didn’t get it any more than I did. You just don’t want to admit it so you can pretend to be artsy-fartsy.

Husband: I resent that! I liked the part with the sheep in the monastery and the squishing of the grapes and you know all that, you know Catholic symbolism...stuff.

Wife: And?

Husband: Okay! Okay! I didn’t get it either! You happy now?

Wife: Yes. Besides, I’ve always said that you were the man whose life and soul are torture.

Husband: Hey, I guess you were paying some attention.

(Husband and wife kiss each other on the cheek before putting on their respective black tunics, sever the head of a chicken and ride off into the sunset on a donkey to the rhythmic sound emanating from a floating balalaika.)