Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My take on TCM Remembers 2012

The other day (Monday, December 10th) Scott McGee (a TCM producer) posted a tweet with a link to the 2012 version of TCM Remembers.  For those who don’t know, TCM Remembers is an annual short video that serves as a remembrance and a memorial to people in the film industry who have passed away in the past year.  I immediately watched it and fell in love with it.  It’s so well made and there are so many great ‘pieces’ to it that I felt I had to write down why I love it so much.

So, if you haven't seen it...here's the clip:

The song is “Wait” by French synthpop group M83.  It appears on their album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”.  I’ve never heard of this group before, but this song is just perfect for the clip.  It starts slow and gradually builds and has an ethereal sound to it.  I imagine choosing the song is a very critical step in the process of producing a video like this as the images have to be presented and hung off of the music.

The video was produced by TCM’s Christian Hammann and shot/edited by Scott Lansing of Sabotage Film Group.  As Scott Lansing said in a tweet, Ms. Hammann “killed it.”  I concur.  I’ve been watching these for about twelve years now and I didn’t think TCM would be able to top the 2003 production, but I think this one has.

I loved the concept of the drive-in theater.  And I loved that they showed film clips and stills on the drive-in theater screen before maximizing them to the frame.  Some great special effects were done with back-lit screens and flood-lit trees and night skies with stars, etc in the background when we see the images on drive-in screen.

The concept of regeneration is prevalent here.  We initially see a weathered and deserted drive-in theater.  Rusted fences, it’s fall.  Initially there’s a real sense of decay here.  What perfect imagery for the end of a career/life.  When the drive-in theater lights come on and the projection room ‘comes to life’, you get a sense that even though this is an old and decaying place, there is life here.  Which makes me think that even though these people have passed, their lives will be remembered in their work.

As usual, the editing and timing to the music are excellent.  Take for example the following moments:

  • When the birds take flight on cue with the music
  • When Davy Jones steps back to the beat of the music
  • When there is a drum fill in the music and we see Levon Helm

These things were all nicely done and thought through with an eye to the details.

Some great shots:

  • Andy Griffith hanging off the side of the train as it pulls out of the station, with a big smile on his face...hat in hand.  What a great image.
  • Some of the ‘Instagram focus’ effects (for lack of a better word) where the full image is all in focus, then we zoom into the primary person and the edges become blurred.
  • The opening of the cigar box from title sequence of To Kill a Mockingbird, transitioning to light/shadow on the snack-bar wall as if light were coming out of the cigar box.  A simple and powerful image (around the 3:05 mark) that even continues to a clip from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • The shots where there is an image on the drive-in screen and the screen and trees are back-lit are amazing (see around 3:20 mark, also recurs at the 4:21, 4:31 and 4:55 marks)
  • The concept of light streaming *into* the projection equipment and up and out of the building.  I thought of this as a ‘reversal of cinematic love’ concept.  Normally the image goes out of the projector and onto a screen, here it’s like we (or something) is sending that love (light) back into the camera and up into space.  Maybe I'm overthingking it...whatever it means it’s well done, thought-provoking and beautiful.
  • The time-lapse photography of stars and trees is so beautiful
  • The still shot of Nora Ephron is great because Meg Ryan is in the background (slightly blurred, but recognizable) and they worked together on some great films.
  • As usual, they save the best for last...Ernest Borgnine at the end puts me over the edge each time I watch this.  And they chose two great clips: the first from Marty when Clara breaks down and cries on his shoulder and the second from The Wild Bunch.

Here’s the complete list of fifty-five people who appear in the video:

I hope you enjoy this clip as much as I do.  I really love all the in-house production work that TCM does, and these TCM Remembers pieces are so thoughtfully done.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

'tis the Season...My Favorite Christmas Films

My Favorite Classic Christmas Films
(in no particular order)

Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young

The Bishop's Wife
With a cast that includes Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, how can you miss?  Grant plays an angel sent down in a request to a prayer from Niven who plays an Episcopal bishop who's struggling with the financing for a new cathedral.  While on earth the angel (Dudley played by Grant) falls in love with the bishop's wife played by the lovely Loretta Young.  This isn't creepy at all and is more of an admiration than anything.

The supporting cast is great with Monty Woolley as professor Wutheridge and great character actor James Gleason as cab driver Sylvester.

Magic moments:

  • When only two or three boys show up for choir practice, but Dudley (miraculously) gets all the boys to show up...the singing is marvelous (by the Robert Mitchell Boy Choir)
  • Ice skating scene
  • At the end when Niven delivers his Christmas sermon (which was written by Dudley) about the true meaning of Christmas

Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood

Miracle on 34th Street
If I had to recommend just one classic Christmas film, this would be the one.  The cast includes Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.  (If you want to see Edmund Gwenn in something exactly opposite of this role, check out Hitchcock's 'Foreign Correspondent'.)  The story is wonderful: a man who calls himself Kris Kringle and works as a department store Santa and is eventually put on trial to determine if he is indeed Santa Claus.

Also great supporting performances here by character actor Porter Hall who plays the beleaguered department store psychologist.

Magic moments:

  • When Santa speaks Dutch to the little girl (look for Thelma Ritter's first film appearance)
  • When the mail carriers deliver the mail addressed to Santa in the courtroom

The Smith Family

Meet Me in St. Louis
While not technically a movie about Christmas, the climax of the film happens around the Christmas season and one of the most beloved Christmas songs is from this film.  This is a period piece that takes place at the turn of the century in St. Louis and follows a well-to-do family whose teen daughters Esther and Rose (played by Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer) struggle with 'boy problems' and the entire family struggles with the central conflict of the film when Father decides to move the family to New York.

What makes this a great film to me is primarily the musical numbers (did I mention this is a musical?) And the performance of Margaret O'Brien as little sister Tootie who steals absolutely every scene she's in.

Other standout performances: Mary Astor as Mother and Harry Davenport as Grandpa (Dr. Meade from Gone With the Wind.)

Magic moments:

  • When Grandpa takes Esther to the dance
  • Esther sings The Trolley Song
  • Esther sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • The family is distraught after the announcement about New York, one by one they return to the parlor as Mother plays the piano and sings with Father
  • Tootie in everything!

"No man is a failure who has friends."

It's a Wonderful Life
Perhaps the best known classic Christmas film...and why not?! It's story is powerful: how does one life affect the lives of others?  It's hard to know unless you can go back and see what would happen if that person never existed...and that's just what happens to George Bailey in part of the film.  What I love about this film is the constant setbacks George has in his life, and how he deals with them.  He's always dreamed about getting out of town and seeing the world, but it just doesn't happen that way.

A great cast here: James Stewart, Donna Reid and Lionel Barrymore.  Special mention for Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick...the 'good-time' girl of the town.

Magic moments:

  • The swimming pool under the basketball court
  • The 'phone kiss' scene with Stewart and Reid
  • All George Bailey's friends coming to the house to help him at the end of the film

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Porter Hall - Medford Man

Porter Hall (1888-1953) in Double Indemnity

This post is in conjunction with the 'What a Character!' blogathon.

Wikipedia hilariously describes Porter Hall as 'Possessing a weak chin and shifty eyes....'  That description mostly cracks me up...but it is accurate.  I remember him mostly as his role in Double Indemnity where he plays the eyewitness in an insurance company's case against a claimant. 

Here's a list of four memorable films with Porter Hall (in chronological order.)  Each of them I would consider required viewing for the classic movie fan.  I'm sure many of you have seen each of these numerous times.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - Sen. Martin Monroe
There are two scenes I recall about his role in this movie.

The first is when Senator Monroe challenges the validity of Jefferson Smith as a senator after seeing the pictures and quotes of Smith in the newspaper.  This occurs immediately before Jefferson Smith is sworn in as a US Senator.

The second is that he's the one who 'ties' with Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) for the request for the Senate floor.  The President of the Senate (played so well by Harry Carey, whose reactions are just so wonderful when he tries to hide his smiles) decides to give the floor to Senator Smith (after Smith leads him with "you were about to recognize me, sir" and Clarrisa Saunders--played by my favorite Jean Arthur--shouts from the gallery "let him speak!")

He then begins his filibuster.

Note that there are a handful of great character actors in this film.  Two others that come to mind are Guy Hibbee as the governor and the portly Eugene Pallette who plays Boss Jim Taylor's lieutenant.  It occurs to me thinking about these character actors that they usually have great, unique voices.

His Girl Friday - Reporter Murphy
This film was absolutely created for character actors.  Even though the headliners (Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) are great in their own right, the team of courtroom reports--for me--makes this the special movie that it is.  It's downright hilarious watching these journalists alter the story to sensationalize it.  It seems that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Some of the great character actors in this film: Cliff Edwards, Roscoe Karns, and Frank Jenks.  I'm leaving out a lot of outstanding folks here, I'm sure...this movie is peppered with great small roles.

Double Indemnity - Mr. Jackson
Here our Mr. Hall plays a man who has a brief conversation with Fred MacMurray who's playing a stand-in for Barbara Stanwyck's husband before faking his death.  Since the insurance company doesn't want to pay out the claim for the death, they're investigating the death and Mr. Jackson is that last man to see the deceased alive.

When the insurance company asks him if he'll swear in court that the man he saw on the train is not the man in the pictures of the deceased, he says (famously--to me anyhow):

"I'm a Medford man. Medford, Oregon.  And if I say it, I mean it, and if I mean it, of course I'll swear it."
He's in just a handful of scenes...but they're memorable.

Miracle on 34th Street - Granville Sawyer
Playing the store psychiatrist who tries to convince a young clerk that he's got a psychological problem, and generally tries to throw his weight around as an 'authority figure.'  This is a great role and it's obvious that the psychiatrist himself is the one with the nervous tick.  When he's evaluating Kris Kringle (perhaps the best performance of Santa Clause by Edmund Gwenn,) Mr. Kringle immediately realizes this and points it out to him...something that does not go over well!

It's a small but memorable role.

I hope you have a chance to catch Porter Hall's fine ability as a character actor in this and many other films!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Liebster Award

I've been blessed to be awarded the Liebster Award by two of my classic film Twitter friends--Paula Guthat of Paula's Cinema Club (who also hosts the amazing #TCMParty tweet-along parties) and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled (what a great descriptive blog name...Kellee's just an all-around great friend on Twitter.)

Here's how all of this works:

  • Describe eleven things about yourself
  • Answer the eleven questions proposed by your nominator
  • Choose eleven people to nominate for a Liebster Award
  • Give these new folks eleven questions to answer

First, eleven things about me:

  1. I've never broken a bone.
  2. I carry around a key chain lanyard to help me remember my mom. You know that line in the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle' where the kid says he's afraid that he's starting to forget his mom? Same thing...so I carry it as a token to remind myself to think about her.  (She passed away on 7/12/1997 from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.)
  3. I've been married twice in my life, the first time was when I was in college.
  4. I have a long list of places I want to visit in the world, a lot of them are in southeast Asia.
  5. Favorite professional sport is ice hockey.
  6. In high school and college I was about a 2.0 GPA (right in the meaty part of the curve...not showin' off, not fallin' behind.)
  7. Too frequently quote from movies and TV shows (really bad with Seinfeld, see above.)
  8. No tatoos.
  9. I like to be early everywhere I go. Movie theater? 30 minutes before film. Airport? at least an hour before the flight.
  10. I love walking in snow at night (wish we had more snow around here.)
  11. I'm an emotional person and cry easily at a variety of things: poetry, movies, song lyrics, NPR StoryCorp, etc.

Next, answering the eleven questions proposed to me:

First from Paula-

  1. What is your guilty movie pleasure? Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby or Napoleon Dynamite.
  2. What mediocre classic-era film would you like to see remade?  Not that Captains Courageous is mediocre, but that would be a fun adventure film to see remade.
  3. Are there are any modern actors you think could have held their own in the classic era?  Maybe Natalie Portman...she has a certain elegance.
  4. What movie(s) do you always, without fail, stop to watch if you happen upon it/them while flipping channels?  Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Stalag 17.
  5. Which actor’s or director’s work do you like in spite of yourself?  Russ Meyer, haha! Just kidding.
  6. Who would play you in the movie of your life story (classic or modern)?  Maybe Gary Cooper.
  7. Mac or PC?  PC, but I own an iPhone and iPad.
  8. What’s your (astrological, not traffic!) sign?  Cancer
  9. What five people (living or dead) connected with film (modern or classic) would you invite to dinner?  Martin Scorsese, Marilyn Monroe, Bill Murray, Jean Arthur, Judy Holliday
  10. Favorite movie snack.  Ferrera Pan Atomic Fireballs
  11. Craziest G/PG-rated thing that ever happened to you at a movie theater.  Nothing really odd...when watching Rear Window at our local art-house theater, the technology used to project the film broke with about 15 minutes of the movie to go.  The theater had to apologize and give everyone a free pass to a future show...torture!

Next from Kellee-

  1. What is your earliest classic film memory?  Most likely watching The Wizard of Oz.
  2. Who are your top favorite directors (modern or classic)?  Martin Scorsese, Frank Capra
  3. How has your love of movies (classic or modern) influenced other areas of your life?  I've got a more diverse vocabulary...trying to use 'swell' and other such phrases in regular conversation.  Also I think trying to live more simply...a lot of movies water down real life to the essentials...the unnecessary details fall away because, well...they're unnecessary.
  4. What film/s (classic or modern) do you think has the best music score?  West Side Story, Amadeus, Moonstruck, Out of Africa, Raiders of the Lost Ark, On the Waterfront, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  5. Who are your favorite character actors (modern or classic) and why? Walter Brennan (I am watching Bad Day at Black Rock right now.)  That voice and his mannerisms are just the best.  Thelma Ritter..."like a couple of taxis coming together on Broadway."  Eugene Pallette..."Quit havin' kittens."  The supporting cast of His Girl Friday.
  6. Which films have made the most impact from a fashion perspective in your opinion and/or are simply your favorite/s from a fashion/style/design perspective (modern or classic)?  (Being a dude, I kind of struggled with this answer.) Well, anything with Cary Grant...he can wear a suit like no other.  In addition to that, I would lean on period pieces like Amadeus, Sense & Sensibility and the like. 
  7. Who are your favorite villains (modern or classic)?  Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men was absolutely evil (and delightful!)  And who can resist James Cagney in White Heat?!
  8. If you were in a classic film, who would play you, your best pal and your significant other?  Me=Gary Cooper, pal=Walter Brennan, girl=Jean Arthur.
  9. If you could choose any television show (modern or classic), which show would you do a remake of and feel free to add who would star (modern or classic/dead or alive) in it.  Bob Newhart show with Will Farrell as Bob and Tina Fey as Emily.
  10. What's your favorite sassy/snarky come-back line from any film?  Probably Mammy from Gone With The Wind "What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things, and I ain't noticed Mr. Ashley askin' for to marry you."  The look that Mammy gives Scarlett is absolutely great!
  11. Who are your favorite comedy actors?  The Marx Brothers, Bill Murray

Other award nominees TBA (I gotta get to bed!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ingrid Bergman and Italian Neorealism

Ingrid Bergman - Europa '51

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

"People today only know how to live in society, not in community.  The soul of society is the law.  The soul of community is love." - Roberto Rossellini

Ingrid Bergman is widely known for her roles as Ilsa in Casablanca  and as Alicia Huberman in Hitchcock's great Notorious.  However, after this period of film-making in Hollywood, she collaborated with Roberto Rossollini on a film called Stromboli, terra di dio.  During the filming they had a widely scandelous affair and she became pregnant.  She eventually moved to Italy, married him and had a son.  (Later they had twin daughters, one of which is actress Isabella Rossallini.)  Together they collaborated on a total of five movies.

Two of these films--Stromboli and Europa '51--are both being shown on Turner Classic Movies as part of their Summer Under the Stars month-long salute.  They will air on Wednesday, 8/29/2012 in the afternoon...set your DVRs!  These films are part of a film-making movement that occurred in Italy immediately after WWII called Italian Neorealism.  Some of my all-time favorite films are from this period of film-making.  So please explore a little deeper with me into the world of passionate film-making.

Italian Neorealism

"If you ever have any doubt about the power of movies to effect change in the world...to interact with life and fortify the soul...then study the example of Neorealism." - Martin Scorsese

This--my fellow cinema friends--is the only incentive one should need to explore the world of Italian Neorealism.  Marty Scorsese himself is a huge fan and his work has been influenced by these directors.  So...what was Neorealism?  A genre?  A style?  A set of rules?

The best overview I've ever seen on Italian Neorealism is found in Martin Scorsese's four-hour documentary 'Il mio viaggio in Italia' (My Voyage to Italy.)  It's a retrospective of Italian cinema in the post-war 40s, 50s and early 60s...a large portion devoted to Italian Neorealism.  The whole thing is on YouTube (see the link below.)  You don't have to watch all of it, I'll give you minute-marks where Scorsese discusses the two films here with Ingrid Bergman.  However...I hope you'll watch all of it...I urge you to watch all of it.  Who better than Scorsese to discuss Neorealism and Italian cinema.  The documentary is broken up into two parts, each about two hours each.  Watch one part then the following night, watch the other!

There are a ton of wonderful films discussed in this documentary.  In the documentary, Scorsese answers the question I asked above (What is Neorealism?):
"Well, more than anything else it was a response to a terrible moment in Italy's history.  The Neorealists had to communicate to the world everything their country had gone through.  They needed to dissolve the barrier between documentary and fiction and in the process they permanently changed the rules of movie-making.
Altogether, these movies amounted to a prayer--that the rest of the world look closely at the Italian people and see their essential humanity.  That's why they had to be truthful.  There was no choice.  So Neorealism wasn't just a question of making the best of a bad situation...although it was that, too.  No sets?  Use real locations.  No money to pay real actors?  Use non-actors.  And since the people and the places would come right out of the landscape...so would the stories.  I mean, in fact there were sets and actors in many of these films, but what's important is that for the first time illusion took a backseat to reality."
To me, Neorealism films are sometimes tough to watch, usually an emotional experience (at least for me) and always a great movie-watching experience.

Both films are given a 1.5 star rating (out of 4) by Leonard Maltin, but I think they both deserve a viewing, if for nothing else to see Ms. Bergman in something other than what we're familiar with. Scorsese in his documentary admits that there are issues with Europa '51 (including poor dubbing by the Italian-speaking secondary characters) but says that the movie supersedes these technical issues.

Because there's not much more that I can say above and beyond what Scorsese does with these two films, I'll just point you to the YouTube video along with the minute marks where he begins discussing each film.

Stromboli, terra di Dio

Scorsese begins talking about this film at the 0:56 minute mark.

Europa '51

Scorsese begins talking about this film at the 1:18 minute mark.  For me this is a quite moving film as it deals with service, love and selflessness.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Doing the Right Thing

Father Barry

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

On the Waterfront is easily one of the greatest film ever made.  It airs on Sunday, 8/19/2012 at noon EDT.  Because so much has been written about it already, I just recorded this video blog gush-fest about the movie.  Have a look...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

When Men Cry at the Movies

Freddie Bartholomew

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

I'm an emotional guy...it says so here.  I cry easily when watching movies.  I know I'm not alone in this...movies are good at tugging at our heartstrings...at evoking emotion.

Captains Courageous(showing on 8/18/2012 at 8:00pm EDT) with our star of the day, Freddie Bartholomew is one such movie that can get my tears flowing.  That made me think: are there certain kinds of movies or certain movie situations that can create this emotion in me?  In men in general?

Remembering something Kevin Costner said from a DVD special on my Dances with Wolves DVD, I think the answer is yes.  What he says is this (and I'm paraphrasing) a lot of men commented to him that they cry at the end of the film when Wind In His Hair shouts to Dances With Wolves.  My thought is this: in the movies when two men become close friends and then at the end of the movie one man leaves or is killed, that has the ability to evoke emotion in a man viewing the movie (or anyone I guess.)

Let's explore three movies where this happens, shall we?:

In this movie when Lt. Dunbar first meets Wind In His Hair (Rodney A. Grant,) there is fear in his heart.  Wind In His Hair is a fierce warrior and shouts out in a foreign tongue "Do you see that I am not afraid!"  Indeed, it's so shocking to Lt. Dunbar that after the Indians ride off, he passes out.

Wind In His Hair is fearful about why the white man is here in the native American territory and is pensive when Kicking Bird (played memorably by Graham Greene) attempts to bridge the language and culture gap between the tribe and the white man.

Over the course of the film, Lt. Dunbar and Wind In His Hair become friends and gain respect for each other.  At the end of the film, when Lt. Dunbar decides to leave the Indian camp for their safety, Wind In His Hair cannot say goodbye personally as Kicking Bird does, he must shout down to Dunbar from up on a ridge "Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that I will always be your friend?"

And then (for me) the water works come.

This is one of my favorite Italian films.  (The Italians make a mean film!)  It's about the friendship between a young boy (Toto, played by three actors in the film [as a boy, a young man and an adult]) and the man who runs the projection machine in the small town's theater (Alfredo, played by the great French actor Philippe Noiret).

It's a coming-of-age film...the young boy's father is off at war and his mother is in denial that he's probably dead and not coming back.  So this projectionist takes Toto under his wing and acts as a surrogate father to him while he grows up in this small town.  Toto learns the projectionist job and eventually runs the theater.  He serves time in the military, falls in love with a girl from town, then goes off (reluctantly) to study film in college.  At the end of the movie he's a hot-shot movie director in the big city, and learns that his friend Alfredo has died.  (OK, technically this happens at the very beginning of the film and most of the film is flashback...stick with me here.)

He returns home to his small town (after being away for some 20+ years) for Alfredo's funeral and it's here where the film pulls out seemingly every sentimental device: he reunites his aged mother, he meets all of the old townspeople whom he grew up with at the theater, etc. I won't give too much away...but it's almost over the top.  Almost.

Meanwhile during this strumming of the heartstrings, your humble blog author cries 99 tears.

And the final scene in the whole movie...the very last image you're left with is the push over the cliff...you think you've cried your eyes out up to this point...and then you get hit with this final scene.  Brutally sentimental and so beautiful.  To me, this is the best final scene of any film ever made.  It speaks to one thing: love.

This is a love-letter to the art of cinema.

(Note, this isn't the final scene that I discussed above...just a nice scene between Alfredo and the boy Toto.)

  • Captains Courageous
This is a similar coming-of-age story to Nuovo Cinema Paradiso as it's the story of a boy (Harvey, played by star of the day Freddie Bartholomew) who's taken under the wing of an adult (Manuel, played by a young Spencer Tracy with curly hair!)

What makes this a little better is that the boy undergoes a transformation as he works on a fishing schooner on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.  At the beginning of the film, he's a spoiled, well-to-do schoolboy who thinks anything he wants should simply be delivered into his lap.  He manipulates others for his own gain.  As a person watching this, you'll want to smack him...trust me, you will.

Through an accident he ends of up on the fishing boat and he's in for a rude awakening here.  The hardworking fishermen don't have time to coddle him like he's used to.  On the fishing boat (the "We're Here"), Captain Disko quickly gets fed up with his demanding demeanor and hauls off and slugs the kid in the side of the head.  As a person watching this, you will cheer when this happens...trust me, you will.

Thus begins his transformation.

Through Manuel he learns about what's important in life and how to treat a fellow person.  When Harvey admits to fouling the lines of another fisherman in order to win a contest, Manuel has to hide his smile because he's proud that Harvey's growing into a fine young man.  When Manuel dies near the end of the film, Harvey is separated from his friend just as he and Manuel have become close friends.  Manuel had become a substitute father for Harvey.  

Here too, there is some sentimentalism...Harvey wants to keep some of Manuel's possessions, he lights some candles in the church for Manuel and he attends the funeral for all of the fishermen who have died this season, and then for me...the floodgates open.

These are just three examples of films where there is a strong friendship between two men that grows over the course of the film and then there is separation.  For me this makes the movies extra-emotional.  There are plenty more examples where these came from (see war movies for lots of examples.)

If you haven't seen any of these films, seriously consider seeing them...they're each great in their own way.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012 Summer Under the Stars - Toshiro Mifune


Toshiro Mifune

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

I wanted to take a few moments to discuss (via video) why I love the film Rashomon which stars Toshiro Mifune.

A few notes after I recorded my video of things that I missed:

  • In the beginning I said the movie is on Thursday evening...it's actually on Thursday at 7:45AM.  Set your DVRs! (If you miss it, the entire movie is available on YouTube.)
  • I said the Kurasowa shot in direct sunlight...what I meant was that he shot directly into the sun.
And now, without further adieu: here's the clip.  Please excuse all of the 'ahs' and pauses.  I had notes but was kind of shooting from the hip!

Here's another clip discussing Rashomon that I found on YouTube (there are lots more):

Robert Altman weighs in on Rashomon

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012 Summer Under the Stars - Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

As part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon, I’m writing my very first (of hopefully more) classic film blog posts.  For my first topic I chose to write about Sidney Poitier.  Why Poitier?  One word: passion.  I love the passion he brings to every role he's in.  His characters are so believable...you root for them...you want them to succeed. I wanted to talk briefly about two of my favorite Poitier movies: A Raisin in the Sun and To Sir, With Love.

A Raisin in the Sun

"Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most, when he's done good and made everything easy for everybody. Oh no, no, that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and he can't believe in himself cause the world done whipped him so. When you start measuring somebody child, measure him right, measure him right. You make sure you've taken into account the hills and the valleys he's come through to get to wherever he is." - Lena Younger

If you’ve never seen this film I urge you to tune in Tuesday evening at 8pm EDT, it’s a power movie. Poitier plays a married man living in a low-rent apartment in the South Side of Chicago with his mother, sister, wife and son.  I’ve only seen this film once before but it grabbed me immediately--got its hooks in me--and I had to watch it play out.

At the outset, we learn that the family’s father has passed away and they’re about to receive an insurance company settlement for $10,000.  The first part of the movie explores how each family member has a dream about what to do with the money.  The family has a lot of unfulfilled dreams, which a little money can seemingly help.

Walter Lee Younger (Poitier) has a scheme to invest the money into a liquor store.  Lena Younger (the mother, played brilliantly by Claudia McNeil) decides to spend part of the money on a down-payment for a new home in an all-white neighborhood.  She gives the rest to Walter with instruction that $3500 is for him and $3000 is to be used for his sister’s college education.  He decides (foolishly) to give all of it to his ‘friend’ to invest in the liquor store.  What happens next is akin to Nights of Cabiria...we (or at least I) get this gut feeling that something’s going to go wrong.  And it does...Walter’s ‘friend’ disappears with all of his money, including the money meant for this sister’s education.

As luck (and prejudice) would have it, the good folks of the white neighborhood want to buy out the Younger’s home that they just purchased.  At first Walter agrees that this is the way he can recover some of his family’s money.  When Mr. Lindler (played by awesome character actor John Fiedler who’s been in seemingly everything...most remembered by me in 12 Angry Men) later arrives to get the paperwork signed for the house, Walter delivers an impassioned speech about his family and decides not to sell the house after all.

It’s a wonderful movie that explores the unfulfilled dreams of a family as they deal with the prejudices of race and economic status.

To Sir, With Love

Did you ever have a teacher that made a difference in your life?  Not just one that helped you with school-work, but one that helped you with life?  I did and I hope you did, too.  It’s a wonderful thing when a mentor helps to make you a better person.  That’s the premise behind this great film.

It’s a film about how a fill-in school teacher in a lower-class East-end London school transforms the students in his charge.  The film has a fairly desperate beginning...the teachers and students don’t seem to care about each other...there’s a tall and solid brick wall between the two groups and that’s the way they both like it.  Also in the beginning of the film, the students absolutely loath Mr. Thakeray (Poitier): he’s black, they’re mostly all white; he wants to teach them, they don’t want to learn; he’s a substitute teacher...we all know the special attention they get!  But a funny thing happens as the film progresses...he slowly wins the students over through love, respect,  and some discipline...and by the end of the film they’re proud to be his proteges.  What’s interesting to me is that love and respect is something that these kids don’t seem to have at home...maybe they assume that’s how all adults will treat them.

Even if you’ve never seen the film, if you’re ‘of a certain age’ (ahem), you’ve no doubt heard the song by the same name by 60’s British pop star Lulu.  “...how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” is the line from the song (the song is also sung in the movie) that best sums up how these previously irascible kids now want to show their gratitude towards their teacher.  He has turned them from children to young adults...and watching this transformation is so heartwarming.