Thursday, November 13, 2014

Harry Dean Stanton: A Uniquely Modern Character Actor

When I heard that Aurora (@CitizenScreen), Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) and Paula (@Paula_Guthat) were hosting another 'What A Character' blogathon, I quickly raced to one of their blog sites and read the rules and looked at who had chosen which actor.  I was pleased to read that they were accepting entries for both classic and modern character actors.

I decided to write on Harry Dean Stanton, whom I've always loved.

I was amazed to read that Stanton was born in 1926 (making him 88 as I write this.)  He's appeared in a ton of films (over 100 according to the IMdB bio), many that I'd call 'important'.  Here's a very short list which incorporates some classics and some modern titles:

To me, one of the fascinating things about Harry is his appearance and 'style' of acting.  He has a disheveled look in a lot of the roles he plays.  His delivery is very natural, his face is unique...weathered.  His voice is smooth and low and he can burp out a string of curse words like nobody's business.

Recently, I watched the documentary HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION (2012)'s available via streaming on Netflix.  I was amazed at how musical he is...playing harmonica and singing (a lovely voice at such an advanced age.)  I also learned in the documentary that he's never been married, struggled with his relationship with his mother and father (who divorced when he was a teenager) and he smokes a lot of cigarettes.

Let's look at his character in two of these modern films.  (And if you haven't seen either one of these, I'd strongly urge you to watch them.)

Bud and Otto looking for a Chevy Malibu

REPO MAN (1984)

Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite films.  I used to watch this film once a week for a period of about a year.  So, I know the dialog pretty well!  (Hey, as a single have a lot of time on your hands.)  Stanton plays one of the leads I'm cheating a bit by choosing this film.  But this film typifies the type of independent film and quirky characters that I love Stanton in.

Stanton plays Bud (in fact all of the repo men are named after beers: Bud, Miller, Lite, Oly.) Bud pulls Otto (Emilio Estevez) into a repo career and then the two become friends and partners at the 'Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation' (a play on GMAC, an auto finance company.)

Their relationship deteriorates over the course of the film, but by the end Bud asks Otto to join him for the trip of a lifetime.

A final note on REPO MAN: the soundtrack is great--especially if you love punk music.  Groups like Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, The Circle Jerks (and more) make up a great soundtrack.  Remember this film was written and directed by Alex Cox, who also wrote and directed SID AND NANCY (1986).

Lyle is shocked to see his estranged brother


The only G-rated film directed by David Lynch (I'm pretty sure.)

I'm stretching the definition of 'character actor' again here because in this film, Stanton only has one scene, the final one.  And it's a beautiful scene between two brothers.  The story focuses on Alvin (played wonderfully by Hollywood veteran Richard Farnsworth) who is making a 250 mile trek from Iowa to Wisconsin on his John Deere riding lawn mower.  Why?  Because his eyesight is too poor and his legs are too weak to drive an automobile...and he's on a personal mission--to reunite with his estranged brother, Lyle who's recently suffered a stroke.

The film features a beautiful soundtrack and sweeping aerial shots of mid-west farmland.  And you can't help but love Richard Farnsworth's character.  The final scene when Lyle realizes the effort that his brother has shown in travelling to be with him is so touching.  Stanton does a lot of acting here with just his eyes, really amazing stuff for such a short amount of screen-time.

So, that's a wrap on Harry Dean...a modern character actor who has played a bunch of memorable roles over the years.  If you've never seen him in anything, I hope you will soon!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Anthony Quinn - Man of Many Faces

When Aurora (@CitizenScreen) and Kay (@KayStarStyle) announced their idea for a blog related to Hispanic Heritage, I thought "what a wonderful opportunity to write on a topic that deserves more attention."

So, I weighed my options and decided to write something on Anthony Quinn.  Quinn has always fascinated me by his versatility as an actor...he has played a wide range of characters and each of them comes across as a unique individual.

Born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca in Chihuahua, Mexico, Quinn grew up in El Paso, TX and Los Angeles, CA.  Early interests in boxing and architecture are an indication of his varied talent.  It was his friend and famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright who suggested he look into acting.

Quinn won the best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of Eufemio Zapata (opposite Marlon Brando in the lead role) in Viva Zapata! (1952) making Quinn the first Mexican-American to win an Academy Award.

Enough copying facts from Wikipedia about Quinn's past...let's discuss some of his most popular film roles!

LA STRADA (1954)

What can I say about this film?  Directed by Federico Fellini, co-starring Giulietta Masina, it's a tour-de-force of acting by both of these wonderful talents.  Quinn plays Zampano, a one-trick-pony travelling showman who purchases (yes, purchases) the simple-minded Gelsomina (Masina) and incorporates her into his act.

He's brutish...that's the only way I can describe him.  He pays almost no attention to Masina (except for pleasures of the flesh, along with physical and emotional cruelty.)  Eventually he abandons her on the road after she becomes despondent from a 'broken heart'.

It's a heart-breaking film...and at the very end of the film, we see the culmination of Quinn's wonderful performance.  This man who seemingly has no emotional bone in his body,  breaks down realizing what he has lost.

Seriously watch this for Quinn, but also watch for Masina, who is absolutely amazing in everything she's in (one of my all-time favorites is Nights Of Cabiria [1957].)


This is one of the best 'character study' films that exist.  Of course, the character that we're studying is the titular character of T.E. Lawrence who understood Arab culture and helped the British (along with Arab tribes) defeat the Turks in WWI.  However, there are other characters here that we get to know fairly deeply as well.

One is Auda Abu Tayi played by Quinn.

There are a handful of memorable scenes and quotes from Quinn here:

  • His character introduction - riding down the large dune on horseback with his son confronting Lawrence in his new white flowing Arab robes (then later confronting Sherif Ali with some verbal sparring.)
  • Meeting with Lawrence in his tent with the amazing "I am a river to my people" speech.  I get chills every time I watch that scene.
  • After looting the train, his exchange with Colonel Brighton regarding the desertion of various Arabs from the fighting: "when you find what you are looking for you will go home."
Quinn plays Auda with such passion in this film.  Never over-the-top...even in anger when Auda realizes there's no gold (as he was promised) in Aqaba.

This film is in my top four...essential viewing in my opinion.


This film represents the peak of Quinn's career.  And it's the film that most identify as the definitive Quinn.

Quinn plays Zorba...a man brimming with life, who meets Basil (played by Alan Bates) a man who finds no joy in life.  They are at two opposite ends of the spectrum.  But soon, the brimming life is overflowing and Basil learns to 'loosen up'.

There are a million great lines from Quinn in this film, I'll spare you, and just let you watch the film and enjoy it.    I've actually only seen this film once before, but it has one of the great endings in film history with Basil and Zorba can't help but smile.

So, here we have Quinn--a native Mexican--in three of his most popular roles, playing at different times an Italian, an Arab and a Greek.  And he played them all so well...that's a lot of talent.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ocean's 11

When I saw that Kellee and Aurora were doing a blogathon on Billy Wilder, I jumped at the chance to participate. Here's a light piece on Ocean’s 11 (1960) which Wilder was listed as an uncredited writer. There are many great things about this film, I’d like to discuss a few of them.

The Title Sequence

Classic Saul Bass Title Sequence

Starting at the very beginning, the opening title sequence is done by none other than the great graphic designer Saul Bass. He’s done many opening title sequences including some of my favorites: Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Man With the Golden Arm, Psycho, North By Northwest...and more recent films like Casino, Goodfellas. Seriously, the man was a addition to his great title sequence work, he created many iconic corporate logos, here’s a Google image search that’ll give you a quick idea of his work:

The Cast

The Rat Pack & Friends

Next, let’s talk about the cast. Ring-a-ding-ding...we’ve got the great Dean Martin along with Rat Pack buddies Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Here’s the complete list of eleven:

Along with “the crew” we've got sexy Angie Dickinson and a knockout performance by Cesar Romero in a supporting role. Make no mistake most of the film is focused on the Rat Pack (and specifically Martin, Davis and Sinatra.)

The Plot

Let’s talk about the heist genre. This is one of my favorite genres and the original 1960 version of Ocean’s 11 uses the standard three-act heist progression:

  1. The crew plans the heist
  2. The crew carries out the heist
  3. The plan falls apart and the crew ends up with nothing (or worse)

If you've ever seen the remake (released in 2001) you know that act three doesn't follow the standard heist plot. One reason I much prefer this original version.

Great Musical Numbers

Davis belting out Eee-O Eleven

Dino sings 'Ain't That a Kick in the Head' w/Red Norvo (on vibes) & his quintet

There are a few great numbers in the film...the first is by Sammy Davis Jr. (who plays--of all things--a garbage man) and it’s a knockout number called Eee-O Eleven. The song is about one day making the big score and living the lush life. The second is Dean Martin singing Ain’t That a Kick In the Head accompanied by the Red Norvo jazz quintet...quite a swingin’ number.

Lovely Late 50s/Early 60s Style

Watching this film, I keep pointing to things and say “I want that.” The furniture, clothes, cars, etc.  The look, the feel, the overall aesthetic are wonderful to my eye. Clean lines, simple design...good stuff.  For a great overall overview on the clothes style of this film, check out Kimberly's penultimate blog post: Toasting to 2014 with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack in OCEAN'S 11

Classic Ending

The Crew files out

Once the boys accept their ruin, they exit out of the funeral home and walk down the sidewalk in Las Vegas passing by a marquee touting their very names. As Will would say, “how meta.”

One of the great iconic shots in film


If you want to check out other great heist films, I suggest THE ASPHAULT JUNGLE (1950) and RIFIFI (1955).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 TCM Film Festival Summary

This year's TCM Classic Film Festival was great fun, I saw an amazing 19 films in three and a half days.  Here's a list of highlights for me followed by the details of what I actually saw (which differs slightly from my proposed schedule which you can find here) along with some thoughts from each screening.

At last year's TCMFF, there was a single, standout film for me in I AM SUZANNE!  This year, while there wasn't one singular standout, there were a handful of things that are sticking in my mind:

  • Meeting many friends--old and new--from the online Twitter community.  My film friends are so knowledgeable...I'm blessed to be able to learn from them.
  • Documentaries GREY GARDENS and BEST BOY
  • Seeing the original GOJIRA in the Egyptian Theater
  • Special presentations by Bruce Goldstein for EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE, GOJIRA and STORMY WEATHER (TCM, please bring him back next year!)
  • Emotional screenings of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, CITY LIGHTS and TOKYO STORY

Some breakdowns of the 19 films:
  • New or old:
    • New discoveries - 9
    • Old friends - 10
  • Format:
  • Decade:
    • 1930s - 8
    • 1940s - 6
    • 1950s - 2 (both Japanese!)
    • 1970s - 3 (including both documentaries)
  • Actor:

Now...onto the individual screenings and memories:

Wednesday - Day 0

Even though I didn't arrive to the festival until Thursday afternoon, a lot of cool stuff went down on Wednesday including some 'tweet-up' parties.  I really missed out on these (I enviously watched them unfold on Twitter) and have decided that next year I'll make an effort to fly in on Wednesday in order to 1) have 24 more hours to adjust to Pacific time zone and 2) have more time to hang out with friends socially while not standing on line for a film.

Thursday - Day 1

This opening evening of film was my Ginger Rogers double-bill:
  • 5TH AVENUE GIRL (1939) - What a great way to kick off the festival with this lovely Ginger Rogers film.
  • BACHELOR MOTHER (1939) - Another great Ginger Rogers film introduced by comedian Greg Proops who knew a lot about the film and did a great job prepping us for the it.

Friday - Day 2
  • STAGECOACH (1939) - Author Nancy Schoenberger (who's getting ready to release a book on John Wayne and John Ford) read off a typed list of fun facts.  The film was a 35mm presentation, and like film professor Drew Morton mentioned in his blog post for The Black Maria, I thought the print wasn't one of the best (and reflecting back it was probably the worst print of the festival that I personally saw.) 
  • GREY GARDENS (1975) - My first viewing of this film...what an interesting film with the most unique characters.  It was sad seeing where this mother and daughter came from and where they were now, in a decaying house being slowly overrun by cats and raccoons.
  • MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) - Shown on the huge Grauman's screen in glorious Technicolor (the first of only two films I saw at Grauman's Chinese.)  Before the film there was a nice interview with Margaret O'Brien.  Although I've seen this many times before, this was a very emotional viewing, maybe because of the size on the big screen, maybe because of friends around me all sniffling.
  • DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) - The second film I saw at Grauman's Chinese.  What can I can say about this great noir film that hasn't already been said?
  • EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933) - This screening was preceded by a great presentation by Bruce Goldstein called 'Pre-code 101'.  He showed various clips and talked about what Pre-code films had in common thematically.  It was very entertaining and memorable.  The film has Warren William at his smarmiest.
  • ERASERHEAD (1977) - I hadn't seen this in about 26 years and was viewing with friends who had never seen it.  It was introduced by actor Patton Oswalt who asked who in the well attended house had never seen this film before...surprisingly to me about one third of people raised their hands.  After the screening, some friends were visibly upset, not at the disturbing imagery from director David Lynch, but the fact that it was 85 minutes of their life they weren't getting back.

Saturday - Day 3
  • CITY LIGHTS (1931) - What a way to start the day with this classic Chaplin silent film.  We had a nice group of TCMParty folks at the film, including some who had never seen it before.  Wonderful being with them for their first time seeing it.
  • GOJIRA (1954) - This was the only film that I saw in Grauman's Egyptian Theater.  My buddy Miguel and his friend Beth were queue cards 1 & 2, so they got really great seats!  The print was a restoration from Rialto on DCP & it looked great.  It was great sitting in a full theater watching a Japanese movie where the theater applauded when Takashi Shimura appears on screen for the first time.  After the film Bruce Goldstein had a nice presentation (including film clips) of the differences between the original Gojira and the edited US version with addition of Raymond Burr.
  • STORMY WEATHER (1943) - I hadn't originally planned on seeing this, but before Gojira, I was reviewing the next block and realized that this great film with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Dooley Wilson, The Nicholas Brothers, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson that I had seen once before might just be something special.  Indeed it word: entertainment.  From start to finish this thin-on-plot-but-rich-in-entertainment film did not disappoint with its 20 musical numbers.  Film historian Donald Bogle introduced the film with great information on the African-American performers in the film.  After the screening (a beautiful digital print) Bruce Goldstein discussed the Nicholas Brothers and showed a clip from a television special taped when the brothers were in their mid-to-late 40s where the reenacted (more or less) the ending dance number scene from the film.  After airing the clip, Bruce announced that members of the Nicholas brothers' family were in the audience, he asked them to stand up to a rousing ovation.  This was a last-moment change in plans that paid off.
  • THE STRANGER'S RETURN (1933) - This was one of those 'long lost' films that had fallen off the face of the earth.  An early King Vidor film with great performances put in by leads Miriam Hopkins and Lionel Barrymore.  I thought it was quite an interesting little film about a 'bad girl' (separated from her husband) who returns to her roots on the family farm and falls in love with the married neighbor.
  • HAT CHECK GIRL (1932) - Ginger Rogers in a supporting role here about a hat check girl (played by Sally Eilers) who falls in love with a millionaire.  MoMA folks in attendance to introduce the film.  (I think they own the print that was screened.)
  • HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946) - I was looking for something more with this Edgar G. Ulmer film...the story line, though was very interesting.
  • FREAKS (1932) - What can be said about this great Tod Browning film, introduced hilariously by Dana Gould (who also intro'd last year's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.)

Sunday - Day 4
  • TOKYO STORY (1953) - Introduced by the lovely and talented Illeana Douglas, she quipped that after seeing this slow-paced, quiet film and then stepping out onto Hollywood Blvd. you may want to step right back into the slow-paced TOKYO STORY again.
  • BEST BOY (1979) - This was an amazingly touching documentary that was introduced by the filmmaker himself, Ira Wohl who was joined in the theater by his teenage daughter.  After the film there was a great Q&A with the director with many thoughtful questions from the audience.  I finally got to meet Lawrence Carter-Long at this screening.
  • EASTER PARADE (1948) - This was introduced by Leonard Maltin and noted Garland biographer John Fricke.  Maltin explained that 35mm Technicolor prints can simply no longer be struck because the equipment to do so has long since been dismantled.  That explains some of the rough patches and splices at reel changes.  A pretty good print overall, though.  An enthusiastic audience applauded after most musical numbers.
  • THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) - This is the first time I've ever seen this film.  It was a 4K digital screening which looked absolutely amazing.  Closeups of Rita Hayworth were incredibly detailed (and beautiful.)

As we did last year, a bunch of twitter folks gathered at the Roosevelt pool to chat about the festival.  Miguel also got us to participate in recording a podcast for Monster Island Resort answering some questions about the festival.  That was fun and it was great to see people's different takes on the festival.

I hope to return next year for the festival and meet even more folks from twitter.  See you all in 2015!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 TCM Film Festival Picks

The TCM Film Festival calendar came out late last week, and I've gone through the schedule day-by-day and and read a bunch of other friends' blogs and here's what I've come up with for myself (so far, obviously, one factor in having fun at the festival is to be flexible and be able to switch gears.)

Once again, I'm using Will's 'block' approach from last year as the films are fairly evenly laid out in blocks.  (Note, films that I'm currently planning on seeing are bolded and in GREEN)

Block 1: Thursday early evening

Since my flight isn't scheduled to arrive until 2:30pm PDT, I won't be able to catch most of the early 'non-film' items.  I really wanted to catch Scott McGee with the 'Sons of Gods and Monsters' discussion...oh well, another year.

I can't get into opening night OKLAHOMA! or the party afterwards.  Although WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? would be a scream to watch in a packed theater, and the soundtrack of AMERICAN GRAFFITI is one of my favorites (not to mention Paul Le Mat and Candy Clark will be there in person)  I'll probably check out 5TH AVENUE GIRL because I love anything with Ginger Rogers.  

Block 2:  Thursday late evening

I originally wanted to see JOHNNY GUITAR... with a badass Joan Crawford a little later in her career.  I've seen some clips from the film, but I'm going to make Thursday night a Ginger Rogers double-bill by seeing BACHELOR MOTHER.  Looking forward to seeing both of these for the first time and then getting into bed at a reasonable hour.

Block 3:  Friday morning

I wrote a blog post (rather a video blog) a while back about character actor Thomas Mitchell who appears in a lot of films, including STAGECOACH.  Also here are character actors Donald Meek and Andy Devine.  John Wayne's first big role...and a great story.

Block 4:  Friday early afternoon

This was a tough block for me to pick from.  Initially I narrowed it down to TOUCH OF EVIL (which I've never seen,) ZULU which I've seen one time quite a while's a great story of severely outnumbered British troupes defending a position against Zulu warriors.  Finally there's GREY GARDENS which I'm leaning towards as it's a quirky documentary.  After careful consideration, I've decided on GREY GARDENS.  I can't seem to pass up quirky characters or quirky films.

Block 5:  Friday late afternoon

Even though I just watched this on TCM the other night (at least up until The Trolley Song), a personal appearance by scene-steeler Margaret O'Brien means I'm hoping to get into MEET ME IN ST. may be a tough ticket.  Seeing that lovely Technicolor in the newly refurbished Grauman's theater will be a wonderful treat.

Block 6:  Friday early evening

I'll exit Grouman's and get right back in line for DOUBLE INDEMNITY - great noir on the big, big screen.

Block 7:  Friday late evening

This block presets some problems.  BLAZING SADDLES with intro discussion with Mel Brooks or THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES which is in my all-time top 5 and I've never seen on the big screen.  Think I'll go with the latter...I can't seem to get enough of that film.

Block 8:  Friday midnight show

David Lynch's ERASERHEAD is perhaps the most disturbing film I've ever seen.  Fellow film buff, Will McKinley opined on Twitter the other week that he was disappointed in the picks for the midnight films this year.  I have to say that I agree with him and during a brief discussion online we threw out a handful of other options (although in hindsight, I'm not sure our picks would have fit in with the theme of the festival.)

Intro by Patton Oswalt should be funny.

Block 9:  Saturday morning

This was a fairly easy pick for me, as CITY LIGHTS is my favorite silent film.  Chaplin's masterpiece, made after the silent era bowed out, has a serious plot thread that is woven throughout humerus vignettes.  If you've never seen a silent film, let me request to go to this screening...and bring your Kleenex for the final absolutely perfect ending.

Block 10:  Saturday early afternoon

I'm not the biggest monster movie lover, but I do appreciate the original GODZILLA and it's undercurrent message about the dangers of nuclear weapons.

Block 11:  Saturday late afternoon

The only problem with going to see GODZILLA in the previous block is that it runs up against the beginning of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.  I'm also sorry to say that HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is not one of my favorite films (I can hear the gasps now.)  Even the rare appearance by Maureen O'Hara probably isn't enough to get me to that screening.  That means that I'll probably go to see the discussion with Thelma Schoonmaker, I'm a big fan of Martin Scorsese and it will be interesting to hear about her collaboration with this great director.

Block 12:  Saturday early evening

Although fellow classic film friend Aurora (whose blog post on what she's seeing can be found here) suggested that this was a tough block for her...I found that this was a fairly easy pick for me.  I'm going to attend what many have called the 'pre-code double-bill' of THE STRANGER'S RETURN and HAT CHECK GIRL.

Block 13:  Saturday late evening

This was a tough block for me to decide between, but ultimately I've chosen HER SISTER'S SECRET from the poverty row production house Producer's Releasing Corporation.  To my knowledge I've never seen an Edgar G. Ulmer directed film...hoping for good things here.

Block 14:  Saturday midnight show

TCM is screening FREAKS as the midnight film on Saturday, a film they show fairly often (it feels to me like the air it about twice a year.)  It's a one-of-a-kind film belonging to that niche genre of 'disability dramas'.  Tod Browning does something marvelous and gives these 'freaks' real depth and personality over the short 62 minute running time.  Dana Gould is scheduled to introduce the film...I think he intro'd one of the midnight screenings last year as well.

Block 15:  Sunday morning

This is one of those blocks, where I see a film, and I know "this is the film I'm going to see."  The film is TOKYO STORY, Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece about aging parents and their children who have no time for them.  Typically Ozu--quiet, reserved, still camera--this is a perfect pick for the theme of the festival.

Block 16:  Sunday early afternoon

As tempting as GONE WITH THE WIND is on that huge Grauman's screen, I'm going to attend the screening of the documentary BEST BOY at the Chinese Multiplex.  A story of aging parents who have a mentally challenged son.

Block 17:  Sunday late afternoon

This block present a problem for me...because I didn't have a great interest in seeing any of the films presented.  The festival has added Alan Arkin in THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER at the Egyptian, so I may see that, or I may see something light like EASTER PARADE.  There's always the TBA slot which should be announced sometime Saturday.  UKNOWN.

Block 18:  Sunday early evening (final group of films)

I'll probably watch THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, a film I've never seen (again, I hear more gasps.)  I know a lot of folks are going to see THE LODGER which is a new restored (by BFI) version of the Hitchcock silent complete with live accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

So...that's my list as of today. My schedule may be changing in the very near future!