The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
An appreciation of the late novelist and filmmaker Nora Ephron.
It may seem an odd choice for a personal classic, but you need to bear in mind under what circumstances this writer had first encountered Joe Johnston's less-than-pint-sized family adventure flick, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." The year was 1990, the Berlin Wall has just fallen, and the eight-year-old me was eager to lay his mitts onto any chunk of Hollywood fun that wandered into the emaciated landscape of post-Communist Poland. At the time, me and my friends would inhale anything that smacked of American affluence and unbridled pop energy. Most of us didn't own a pair of jeans, but we still craved movies showing people casually sipping Coke and having pizza slices when they pleased. (Hence the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" craze, among others.)
The late Merv Griffin (July 6, 1925 - August 12, 2007) was in "Cattle Town" (1952), "So This Is Love" and "The Boy From Oklahoma" (both 1954) and Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony" (1980). He played (or voiced) himself in other movies, including George Cukor's underrated "Rich and Famous" (1981) and two Steve Martin comedies, "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) and "The Lonely Guy" (1984). Backed by Freddy Martin & His Orchestra, he had a #1 hit in 1950 with "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." His popular daytime TV talk show, where the likes of Orson Welles used to stop by for a chat, ran (with a few brief interruptions, including an abortive shift to late-night) from 1962 to 1986. Not only was he nominated for Emmys (he also won some) and Golden Globes, but he owned the Beverly Hilton Hotel (among others) where the Globes and other award shows were mounted and telecast.
He was one of the richest people in Hollywood, but for a while he was perhaps most famous for "dating" Zsa Zsa Eva Gabor, if you can believe that. He was also the subject of a recurring impression by Rick Moranis ("Show us your lining... We'll be right back!) on "SCTV" -- perhaps most memorably the "Special Edition" episode in which "The Merv Griffin Show"" metamorphosed into "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
But Merv's most enduring legacy (somehow it seems right to call him "Merv") was that he created game shows: "Wheel of Fortune" and the king of 'em all, "Jeopardy" -- both of which remain on the air today.
I love "Jeopardy." But back in early April, I was greatly disturbed by the disgraceful (lack of) contestant responses to a Double Jeopardy category called "Foreign Cinema." First, guess which two (TWO!) they got right. Then let me know how you scored:
1) This Taiwanese director's films include "The Wedding Banquet," "Pushing Hands" & "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
2) The submarine models for this 1981 German film were also used in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
3) In this 1957 Ingmar Bergman film, a knight back from the Crusades challenges Death to a chess game for his life.
4) Truffaut provided the story for this 1959 Godard film in which Belmondo plays a hood who kills a cop.
5) This 1963 Fellini film was the basis for the 1982 Broadway musical "Nine."
Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo doooo...
Click below for answers -- er, questions.
In a review published in 1984, I wrote that Steve Martin was "an actor who inspires in me the same feelings that fingernails on blackboards inspire in other people." This judgment, sincerely made at the time, was just a tad premature. In a review published later that same year, I was astonished to find that I genuinely admired his work in "All of Me." And in the years since then I have also appreciated his work in such movies as "Roxanne," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "Parenthood" - not to mention two films that hardly any critics liked, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "My Blue Heaven."