"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Nell Minow considers the special place of Barbara Stanwyck among Hollywood's Leading Ladies.
This week we'll be featuring the work of the women who write for RogerEbert.com.
Writer Michał Oleszczyk responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Sheila writes: We're all familiar with the horror movie cliche: someone (usually a woman) is alone, creeped out, and investigating a sound she finds ominous. Naturally, it turns out to be just a cat, but that cat can give a pretty good scare. Thankfully, we now have "Supercut: It's Just a Cat" to get our feline scare-fix all in one place.
One detail of a film—say, the anklet worn by Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity"—can tell us more than you might think.
Writer Sheila O'Malley responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Writer Odie Henderson responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
What happens when actors play themselves? Something funny, and often magical, as this Leigh Singer supercut proves. Text by Matt Zoller Seitz.
Marie writes: It's a long story and it starts with a now famous video of a meteor exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Followed by alien conspiracies fueled by the internet and which led me to investigate further. Where did it come from? Does anyone know..? Yes! According to The NewScientist, the rock came from the Apollo family of near-Earth asteroids, which follow an elongated orbit that occasionally crosses Earth's path.That in turn led me to yet another site and where I learned a team of scientists had discovered two moons around Pluto, and asked the public to vote on potential names. They also accepted write-in votes as long as they were taken from Greek and Roman mythology and related to Hades and the underworld - keeping to the theme used to name Pluto's three other moons. And how I eventually learned "Vulcan" has won Pluto's moon-naming poll! and thanks to actor William Shatner who suggested it. Behold Vulcan: a little dot inside a green circle and formally known as P5.
"A Letter to Three Wives" (1949) is a terrific triplicate of a melodrama. It won Joe L. Mankiewicz Academy Awards for writing and directing one year before he gave the audiences one bumpy ride in "All About Eve" by suggesting that - at least when it comes to love, sex and ambition - fastening one's seat belts is for sissies only. The earlier film is tamer than "Eve"'s non-stop repartee-fest, and its focus is not as pointed. Still, it remains one of my favorite movies ever made: not only for all its brilliant rejoinders (of which Thelma Ritter gets to utter the most hilarious), but for its portrayal of what it means to be anxious about one's relationship and then to receive reassurance from the person we love. It's a story of three women envisioning the end of their marriages in the morning and feeling them strengthened by the end of the day. It goes down like an anxiety-glazed donut with a filling of hope.
April 5 would have been Bette Davis's 104th birthday. I was reminded of this interview I did with her in 1988, which appeared on my CinePad website 10 years later:
When my former Seattle Times editor called me, a few months after I'd moved to Los Angeles, to say he wanted me to interview Bette Davis, I wasn't as thrilled as I probably should have been. I realized it was a rare opportunity -- she was giving only three interviews to promote the paperback version of her book about recovering from her stroke -- but Bette Davis had never been my glass of lemonade.
I just never really got the whole Bette-Davis-As-Icon thing. To me, she was a movie star, a part of Hollywood history (I admired the way she took on the studio bosses when they -- and she -- were at the peak of their powers), but with the exception of All About Eve (where she really used her movie-star mega-wattage as part of the role), I hadn't regarded her as a great actress. I mean, she was no Barbara Stanwyck, who was equally adept as a screwball comedienne, a tragic heroine, or a femme fatale.
But of course, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to interview a screen legend; there just weren't that many of them left. I remember thinking it was kind of funny and appropriate that she was living on the outskirts of West Hollywood (in the Century House on Havenhurst), mecca to the gay men who really worshipped her. But why did they? Was she just a camp figurehead because her brittle, melodramatic style of acting hadn't aged well? Or was it that she was Larger Than Life, a tough broad who had survived? Probably some of both...
Well, I'll say this: She sure knew how to be Bette Davis. She was cantankerous and flamboyant, but I also thought there was an undercurrent of playfulness to her behavior. Not that I thought she was "performing," or putting on a Bette Davis Act; I think she was probably like this most of the time. But I also think she rose to the occasion, somewhat, because she liked the attention, and liked the feeling that she was communicating -- albeit through me -- to her public.
It was a stellar afternoon...
Matt Zoller Seitz devotes his final Friday Night Seitz slideshow at Salon (he's starting as New York Magazine's TV critic Monday -- most deserved congrats!) to a list of his "Movies for a desert island." His rules: ten movies only, plus one short and one single season of a TV series, for a total of 12 titles. "Part of the fun of this exercise," he writes, "is figuring out what you think you can watch over and over, and what you can live without."
Matt's titles include "What's Opera, Doc?," Season One of "Deadwood," Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz," Terrence Malick's "The New World" (surprise!), Terrence Davies' "The Long Day Closes" (my #1 film of 1992), Joel & Ethan Coen's "Raising Arizona" (a movie I like, but consider among their lesser efforts) and Albert and David Maysles' "Salesman." Click here to see the complete list and Matt's comments.
OK, I'm game. So, the challenge, as MZS sets it up, is not just to pick "favorites," but to choose pictures that will stand up to repeated viewing since nobody is going to get you (or vote you) off the island and "It is assumed that you'll have an indestructible DVD player with a solar-recharging power source, so let's not get bogged down in refrigerator logic, mm'kay?"
The Ebert Club Newsletter is 1 year old!
From the Grand Poobah: Netflix is great, but they don't have everything and seem to be weak on silent films. Here's a pay site streaming a large and useful selection of high-quality films, world-wide....
Marie writes: when Roger told me about this place, I signed-up to see if I could watch one their free movies? Yup! I can stream MUBI in Canada; though content will vary depending on where you live (that's also case with Netflix Canada) and so nothing new there. And after looking through their current catalog, I can report that they do indeed have some rare movies - stuff I've never found anywhere else. I even read that Martin Scorcese is a member.
Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.
To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")
When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.
The Self-Styled Siren (aka Farran Smith Nehme) makes no apologies for her passion for pre-1960s movies. In a particularly lovely piece called "Intimacy at the Movies" she examines the mysterious forces behind her "old-movie habit." You see, the New York Film Festival was in October, and the Siren devoted herself to catching some of the big cinephiliac treasures of the fall, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes-winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," Raoul Ruiz's "Mysteries of Lisbon"... and she loved them, but...
Sometime around the two-week mark the withdrawal became too much and I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was going to dig up a pre-1960 movie and watch it to the last frame. Maybe some followers thought I was being cute about how much I needed to do this. I was as serious as "All Quiet on the Western Front."
And I watched "Ivy" [Sam Wood, 1947; starring Joan Fontaine and Herbert Marshall]. And it was good. So good I started to wonder if this was simple addiction. It did feel uncomfortably like I was one of those people who went to sleep in Shreveport and woke up in Abilene. "Come on, Oscar nominee from 1934, let's you and me get drunk." But surely nobody ever wound up in rehab because they couldn't stop quoting Bette Davis movies. I can, in fact, stop anytime I like. Don't look at me like that. I have a Netflix copy of "Zodiac" right there on my dressing table, you just can't see it because it's under the eyeshadow palette. I've had it three weeks and haven't watched it yet, but I'm telling you I could watch it right now if I felt like it and if my daughter weren't already downstairs watching the 1940 "Blue Bird." I just don't want to. I'll watch "Zodiac" this weekend. Right now I need to keep watching old movies, I have too much else going on to quit something that isn't harming me anyway. Hey, did anybody else notice some benevolent soul has posted "Hold Back the Dawn" on Youtube?
Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:
1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.
2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.
It's a newsletter and a web site!
Nobody does a better job of reminding us that movies are always in the present tense, no matter how long ago they were made, than movie historian, critic, and (above all) enthusiast Leonard Maltin, who's celebrating the fifth anniversary of his own, personal movie-zine, "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy" ("A Newsletter for People Who Love Movies"). That's right -- it's a newsletter. As in, printed on paper and snail-mailed to you. The "Collector's Corner" of the most recent issue (which just arrived in my mailbox today), appropriately features some vintage promotional envelopes -- one from RKO studios, and one "Direct From Location" in Old Tucson, AZ, for Wesley Ruggles' "Arizona," starring Jean Arthur. I love Jean Arthur. Almost as much as Barbara Stanwyck.
Though he also has a web site (and writes a "Journal" -- not a blog!), I love that someone of Leonard's stature still puts out a good, analog-style newsletter. (Could we consider it "artisanal"?) But, of course, it's also perfectly in character for Leonard, someone whose passion for movies has always been deeply personal as well as professional. (I take pride in getting Leonard on the web in the first place. He used to fax his weekly columns to me at Cinemania Online, which was a bit "klugey," as we used to say. So, I went to his house and set him up on e-mail in 1996 or so. Leonard was an ebay early-adopter -- for his astounding collection of movie memorabilia, of course -- and once he discovered e-mail, he took to it like a sprocket to celluloid.)
The new issue features an interview with 92-year-old Leslie Martinson, a television director and former MGM script supervisor who worked for Vincente Minnelli, John Huston, Sam Wood, Rouben Mamoulian and others, and who has plenty of stories to tell -- including anecdotes about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. "Long before I had any real awareness of directors and their careers, I knew the name Leslie H. Martinson," Leonard writes, recalling his days as a budding auteurist. "No one who watched television in the 1950s and '60s could have avoided seeing that name. It was emblazoned on countless TV shows, ranging from "Topper" and "The Millionaire" to every Warner Bros. show imaginable, when that studio dominated the airwaves..." Martinson directed episodes of such series as "Maverick," "Hawaiian Eye," "77 Sunset Strip," "Mannix," "Mission: Impossible," "ChiPs," and "Dallas" -- and some movies, too ("Lad: A Dog," "PT 109," the 1966 feature "Batman," based on the hit TV show).
The cover story, "Grade B -- But Choice," is devoted to an obscure 1934 musical called "Young and Beautiful," featuring "budding starlets, grade-A character actors, grade-B musical numbers, a pair of vaudevillians, a look behind the scenes of Hollywood, bogus appearances by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and a script by Dore Schary" [later famous as a producer of films such as "Crossfire," "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," "They Live By Night" and "The Red Badge of Courage"].
Maltin describes "one of the most bizarre musical numbers ever staged, in which actors wearing full-face masks of major stars appear on stage together," along with the WAMPAS girls, beauties selected by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers -- an organization that, between 1922 and 1934, chose an annual list of promising "Baby Stars," which included Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Fay Wray, Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Lupe Valez, Jean Arthur (!), Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart.
These stars were not on display in "Young and Beautiful," however. (Betty Bryson, anyone? Dorothy Drake? Hazel Hayes? Lucile Lund? Neoma Judge?) Imagine this: At first, youre not sure whether or not to believe your eyes; many of the caricature masks are quite good. Some of the performers adopt the actors' body language, and appear in costumes from the stars' most recent roles: John Barrymore as he appeared in "Reunion in Vienna," Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa from "Viva Villa," George Arliss as "The Iron Duke," Joe E. Brown in uniform from "Son of a Sailor," Eddie Cantor in costume from "Roman Scandals," along with Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier, Adolphe Menjou, Jimmy Durante, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. After an introductory sequence, the bogus stars participate in a kind of elaborate parade with the WAMPAS lovelies.If that doesn't sound tantalizing, I don't know what will.
Believe it or not, "Young and Beautiful" is still available on VHS from Turner Classic Movies.
Thanks, Leonard! Here's to five -- or 55 -- more years of film fanaticism. You're right: "We movie nuts have to stick together..."
I've spent the summer going to cardiologists and gastroenterologists, how about you?
I like a hemochromatosis screening in June How about you? I dig a cardiac catheterization balloon How about you?
I love an MRI And a CAT scan, too I love endoscopies Holter monitor EKGs How about you?
Oh, it's been fun, fun, fun till the doctor takes the Ambien away! Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a good rhyme for "ventricular tachycardia" that scanned. "Gastric carcinoid" is also tough. But I've really had all those things -- and a colonoscopy and seborrheic dermatitis and daily zombifying doses of Coreg and more -- just since May! Unfortunately, this has put me far, far behind in my movie blog coverage.
For example, did you know that the terrific critic Michael Atkinson, late of the Village Voice, has joined the blogosphere? Welcome, Michael! You'll find him at Zero for Conduct.
And, weeks ago, TLRHB, the splendid blogger formerly known as That Little Round-Headed Boy, transformed himself into The Shamus over at bad for the glass: a culture blog. The Shamus writes about noir and "Chinatown," of course (BTW, I own the domain name badforglass.com -- and egbertsouse.com and sitonapotatopanotis.com, too, for that matter), movies, records and record covers, television, cartoons, and all forms of pop culture. I'd love to link to a favorite post or two but... I can't. As The Shamus explains: If you like a post, copy it today. It may not be here tomorrow. The Shamus doesn't play by the blog rules. The template will change. Often. No archiving. One other thing: I don't roll on Shabbas. And Walter, will you put down the god-damned gun?I've been meaning to link to this post by the invaluable girish (The Cinema in Your Head) since the end of May, but where does the time go? Who knows, maybe one day I'll even get around to writing about it myself.
Our beloved David Bordwell has a wonderful piece about the tactile pleasures of studying films frame-by-frame -- not on DVD, but on archival equipment that encourages the practice of Watching movies very, very slowly. A snippet: Viewing on an individual viewer has both costs and benefits. Sometimes details you’d notice on the big screen are hard to spot on a flatbed. But with your nose fairly close to the film, you can make discoveries you might miss in projection. (Ideally, you would see the film you’re studying on both the big screen and the small one.) In addition, of course, you can stop, go back, and replay stretches. Above all, you get to touch the film. This is a wonderful experience, handling 35mm film. Hold it up to the light and you see the pictures. You can’t do that with videotape or DVD.And because it's summer quarter, our Man For All Seasons, the fantastic Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, has posted another pop quiz: Mr. Shoop's Surfin' Summer School Midterm. Questions this time around include:
2) A good movie from a bad director
6) Best movie about baseball
7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance
8) "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" or "Dazed and Confused"?
13) "Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom" -- yes or no?
20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason
Oh, and so much more. PLUS two extra credit questions suggested by recent posts at Scanners!
Also, for a taste of the best of past quiz responses, be sure to sample Professor Corey's Honor Society, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
And do not neglect to read Dennis's defense/appreciation of Martin Scorsese's misunderstood magnum opus, "New York, New York." As I posted in the comments section: "New York, New York" (after the "Happy Endings" sequence was restored) is a masterpiece. I think it would make a nice (loooong) double-bill with "La Dolce Vita" because both movies are about performance -- creating scenes, playing to the crowd, adopting roles, in public and in private. Those brutal hyper-emotional Scorsese confrontations against mockingly artificial backdrops -- genius. And your selection at this time is a fine tribute to the recently departed Laszlo Kovacs, whose fluid "NY, NY" camerawork is positively musical.
* * * *
I'm mad about polyps Can't get my fill Needles in fingertips They give me a thrill
Holding breath for the ultra-sound Pooping in Sensurround™ May not be new But I like it, how about you?
"You're certainly a funny girl for anybody to meet who's just been up the Amazon for a year."
If you are in Chicago the next few weeks, and you feel like taking in a weekend matinee, then you are fortunate indeed because the Music Box Theatre is presenting a centennial celebration of the toughest, sexiest, smartest, snappiest dame ever to sashay across a cinema screen. By that, of course, I mean none other than Sugarpuss O'Shea, Phyllis Dietrichson, Lily Powers, Lora Hart, Stella Dallas, Jean Harrington, Jessica Drummond, Leona Stevenson, Sierra Nevada Jones, Martha Ivers, Thelma Jordan, Norma Miller Vale, Mae Doyle D'Amato... in other words, Barbara Stanwyck.
View image Sugarpuss presents the ball of her foot in "Ball of Fire."
Stanwyck is my favorite movie actress. Ever. I built a virtual shrine to her in 1998 (complete with a gallery of rare images and Babs' Foot Fetish Page), in which I wrote: Stanwyck could make you believe she was part of the everyday world we all live in, not just a fantasy on the silver screen. She could easily be the woman down the aisle in the supermarket, driving that car in the next lane, or working in the office down the hall. While other stars went for the "larger than life" roles, Stanwyck -- as an all-American working girl or a cunning seductress -- generally kept her feet planted firmly on the ground. In fact, she enters "Double Indemnity" feet-first, sauntering down the staircase wearing an anklet that snags Walter Neff (MacMurray) by the libido. (The anklet may be the hook, but she's the bait.) Stanwyck used that foot to lure Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda, among others. It's a peculiar erotic pattern in her work (see Babs' Foot Fetish Page for more details and images), but men who stooped to take her foot in hand found themselves on their knees before a passionate woman, not an unapproachable goddess -- and they fell, instantly and irrevocably, under her spell. (Fonda almost faints when she gets him to slip a pump over her tootsies!)
View image Will this plan provide full coverage?
In both "The Lady Eve" and "Ball of Fire" -- two of her most dazzling and endearing comic performances, from the same year! -- Stanwyck acts as a leveling life-force, puncturing all pretensions and knocking her co-stars' bumbling intellectual noggins out of the hazy cerebral clouds. What she achieves is not unlike what a much ditzier, flakier, upper-crust screwball heroine, Katharine Hepburn, does for/to bespectacled paleontologist Cary Grant in "Bringing Up Baby." But Stanwyck brings salvation from the streets rather than the penthouse. Jean Arthur in "Easy Living" (1937) -- written by Sturges -- is a delightful working gal, but Stanwyck is far more streetwise. Tough, strong, and smart, but no less feminine than some of her screwball sisters, she has learned to survive in a cut-throat world, living by her wits. She's at her best when she's in control, and she usually is. In many of her most famous movies the unspoken truth of any given scene is that she knows exactly what she's doing -- until, perhaps, her emotions sneak up on her and overthrow her instincts, by unexpectedly allowing her to fall head-over-heels for her (relatively) naive and helpless male prey.
Stanwyck slices right through class conventions and social formalities, immediately addressing Gary Cooper's Professor Bertram Potts by the more casual nickname of "Potsy." Likewise, Fonda's Charles Pike, heir to the Pike's Ale fortune, becomes "Hopsie" (after a key ingredient in the family brew). The very notion of someone with such a direct, spontaneous, and unrefined disposition masquerading as a blueblood is, as Preston Sturges realized, a terrific premise for comedy.
The Sunday New York Times Magazine devoted itself to comedy this weekend -- and you know how funny the New York Times Magazine can be. Actually, there's a very good article by A.O. Scott on the art of the pratfall in which he explains why some of the greatest modern comedy (from "Little Miss Sunshine" to "Borat") is of the well-executed physical variety. (Not to be confused with what Chris Farley used to call, with an undertone of dismay, "Fat Guy Falls Down" -- a desperate stunt that may elicit knee-jerk laughs, even if it's not inherently funny.)
As part of its comedic survey, the Times Mag asked some 22 comedians, well-known and not-, to name five of their favorite "Desert Island Comedies" on DVD. I don't like any of the lists much (while agreeing wholeheartedly with a few individual choices) -- but I salute David Cross (somebody I've long thought is really funny) for the humor inherent in choosing "Homer and Eddie" and "Rent."
To paraphrase an old David Steinberg routine: There are those who say... (that's the end of my paraphrase) that to analyze comedy is anti-comedic. I could not disagree more strongly. I say if you don't understand why you're laughing, when you're laughing, then you don't appreciate the comedy and you may as well not be laughing at all, since any old reaction is probably comparably appropriate for you. You could be crying or sneezing and it's probably the same thing. But let's put that aside for the moment and concentrate on some lists of very personal, very funny movies.
I suppose I could choose the great movies that have made me laugh the most -- the first that come to mind, such as: a Keaton ("Sherlock, Jr." or "Steamboat Bill, Jr."), a Fields ("It's A Gift" or "The Bank Dick"), a Marx Bros. ("Animal Crackers" or "Duck Soup"), a Sturges ("The Lady Eve" or "Miracle of Morgan's Creek"), and, let's say, a classic comedy (preferably starring Cary Grant or Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Arthur, and written and/or directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder or Mitchell Leisen, like "Trouble in Paradise" or "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) or "Bringing Up Baby" or "His Girl Friday" or "The Major and the Minor" or "Some Like It Hot" or "Easy Living" or "Ball of Fire"...). But those are all 50-75 years old, and I haven't even mentioned my modern-era favorites, like Luis Bunuel ("The Exterrminating Angel," "Simon of the Desert," "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty"), Monty Python ("Life of Brian" -- greatest comedy of the last half-century), Christopher Guest & ensemble ("Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show") or the Coen Bros. ("Barton Fink," "The Big Lebowski"). So, I thought I'd just offer up a few relatively obscure, underappreciated or, at least, off-the-beaten-path comedies that I think are hysterically funny and invite you contribute some of your own:
"I Was Born, But..." (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) I know it's an acknowledged masterpiece by one of the greatest directors in movie history, but how many of you have actually seen it? Two boys, big belly laughs. Some of this material was re-worked in "Ohayo" ("Good Morning") in 1959.
"The President's Analyst" (Theodore J. Flicker, 1967) I love this movie -- the perfect paranoid Cold War 1960s espionage satire companion to "Dr. Strangelove" and James Bond, with James Coburn in the title role. Who is writer/directorTheodore J. Ficker, anyway? Well, according to IMDb, he directed episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E., "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Night Gallery" and "Barney Miller."
"Taking Off" (Milos Forman, 1971) You couldn't find a better time capsule for 1971 -- which Forman has captured with his characteristically uncanny ease and naturalness. Buck Henry "stars" as a father whose daughter has run away to some sort of "hippie" musical audition -- probably in the Village. The whole thing feels spontaneous and improvised -- but it was written by Forman, Jean-Claude Carrierer ("The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty," "Birth"), John Guare ("Atlantic City," "Six Degrees of Separation") and Jon Klein. One of the late, great Vincent Schiavelli's finest moments: teaching a group of uptight, wealthy parents with missing kids how to smoke pot. Early cameos by Kathy Bates, Carly Simon and Jessica Harper, among others. (Long unavailable, this recently showed up on the Sundance Channel, which I hope means it will soon be released on DVD.)
"How to Get Ahead in Advertising"(Bruce Robinson, 1989) Robinson's equally brilliant and demented "Withnail & I" is the official masterpiece (and object of obsessive cult veneration in the UK), but this is Richard E. Grant's finest hour. He's a London advertising executive so sick with self-loathing that he grows a foul-mouthed boil on his neck. How's that for a premise?
Coldblooded" (Wallace Wolodarsky, 1995) In some ways, this is a precursor to "Dexter." Jason Priestly is magnificently deadpan as an empty young man who is recruited to become a hit man -- and turns out to be mighty good at it. Co-starring Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia (getting ready for "Lost Highway"), and Jay Kogen -- who, along with writer/director Wolodarsky, wrote some of the classic early episodes of "The Simpsons."
"Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" (Kelly Makin, 1996) Critics were mostly bewildered or repulsed, but this movie gets funnier every time I see it (and I've seen it at least a dozen times). It plays GREAT on the video screen -- better, I think, than any of the TV shows. A drug company speeds a new anti-depressant to the market, only to find that the insanely popular Gleemonex has a troublesome side effect: It puts people into comas of happiness. Each of the "Kids" has at least a handful of indescribably (but not inexplicably) funny moments. Including: "Cat on my head! Cat on my head!"; "I'm an elephant rider!"; "Tasty"; "How pleasing!"; and "Just... a guy." Should be seen alongside the great documentary, "The Corporation."
I cheated. That's six. But, OK, I've left out hundreds of great titles. Your turn. And the more obscure/underappreciated the better, please.
P.S. Anybody else remember the rest of the sentence from that David Steinberg bit?
From Dennis Cozzalio, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule:
Brian De Palma’s exceedingly stimulating and sensational consideration of femme fatale iconography and the possibility of redemption within it begins with one of the director’s customarily brilliant, multilayered opening shots. Under the black of the producers credits, familiar voices are heard. It’s Fred MacMurray. Fade up on a shot of an extreme close-up of a TV. It’s MacMurray, 525 broadcast lines blown up to big-screen size, in "Double Indemnity". But a close examination of the image reveals a splash of color -- something else is visible here, contrasting with the black-and-white images of Billy Wilder’s film. It’s a reflected image of a half-naked woman stretched out perpendicular across the TV screen. She is watching "Double Indemnity", and we see her watching the movie in her reflection off the glass TV screen. "Double Indemnity" continues to play out, crosscutting between MacMurray and the original femme fatale, Barbara Stanwyck (as Phyllis Dietrichson).
The image of the young woman becomes clear, yet remains slightly ghostly, as the image in Wilder’s film darkens. MacMurray moves to close a window, when a shot rings out. Stanwyck has betrayed him with a bullet, and the title credit "Femme Fatale" pops on screen at the same time, as the ethereal image of the woman, reclining on her side, dispassionately watching the movie, lingers. (The title credit “A Film by Brian De Palma��? was earlier synchronized with Stanwyck’s first appearance on the TV.) Now De Palma’s camera begins to pull back. We see the cabinet of the TV, and we can now also observe that there are French subtitles superimposed on Wilder’s film. The image of the woman reflected in the TV seems even clearer now, as we continue to pull back, seeing her much more clearly in the flesh, gray tendrils rising from the cigarette she’s smoking while watching the TV. At this point there is double layering of the woman’s image, the reflection and the person being reflected, over the image of Stanwyck, who has taken a dominant position over her wounded lover as she confesses her machinations against him.
The Van Helsing Quiz at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.
Some of you thought my "101 102 Movies You Must See Before You Die" list was a little too, well, rigorous. I still think it only covers the basics of what you need to have seen (and appreciated) in order to hold your own in intelligent conversations about movies these days. Maybe that makes me (shudder) an "elitist." Ahem. I think it just means I have standards.
But whether you find my list off-putting or not, you may enjoy "The Van Helsing Quiz" over at one of my favorite personal movie blogs, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, which you will also find in my permanent list of favored links in the column at right.
Owner/proprietor Dennis Cozzalio posted the quiz itself back in April. There, you can see it in its un-filled form. But a month later, Cozzalio himself submitted to the quiz, and his answers are even more entertaining and provocative than the naked quiz.
As part of its ongoing national effort to lead the nation to discover and rediscover the classics, the American Film Institute (AFI) today announced the 50 greatest American screen legends - the top 25 women and top 25 men naming Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart the number one legends among the women and men.
There is a moment in "Phenomenon," the new John Travolta picture, when his character gets zapped with a strange light from the sky. He was a nice enough guy before he got hit with the light, but afterward he's--phenomenal. He can learn Portuguese in 15 minutes, and get corn to grow where it wouldn't grow before, and tell the guy at the local bar how to rearrange his parking lot to fit in six more cars.