Wednesday, September 4, 2013

And the Oscar Goes To...Not These Films

Over at The Film Experience, my fellow contributors and I had another one of our nifty monthly polls. In light of all the fall Film Festivals giving us our first look at Oscar hopefuls (Telluride wrapped up this weekend, the Venice Film Fest wraps up on Saturday, overlapping Toronto which starts tomorrow, and the NYFF starts on September 27 where I'll actually be seeing some films including the Gala Tribute to Cate Blanchett! Man, I'm exhausted just typing all that. That's a lot of festivals. I almost forgot what I was trying to say) this month's poll focused on those films that looked so hopeful on paper or early in the season then went on to disappoint come Oscar time. We bring you the 10 Biggest Awards Season Flops.

The rules were that the film couldn't have received more than 2 nominations and could not have been nominated for Best Picture nor could it have won in any category (which means Nine was not eligible. It received 4 nominations, you guys!) As my own personal rule, I also decided to not include films that were nominated in the acting categories or Director. I found that the films usually fall into two types: Good to great movies that for some reason or other never caught on with voters and films with Oscar buzz that ended up being huge stinkers.

Only 4 from my personal ballot made the list, so I'm sure there were a lot of votes spread out from various films. I had a tough time with my list as usually if a film loses their awards buzz I'll have forgotten it as quickly as an Academy member forgets releases from the early part of the year. I'm surprised by the inclusion of Bobby on the list as I felt like it never had any sort of real potential, awards-wise (Golden Globe nomination, I hear you say. The Tourist and Burlesque, I answer you). I'm also saddened by the spots held by The Crucible and Into the Wild as I really loved those movies at the time and wish they had gotten more Oscar lovin'. Anyway, here is my list:

1. J. Edgar (2011)
2. Beloved (1998)
3. Australia (2008)
4. Zodiac (2007) (which I did the write up for on TFE)
5. The Ides of March (2011)
6. Man on the Moon (1999)
7. All the King's Men (2006)
8. The Ice Storm (1997)
9. Love and Other Drugs (2010)
10. Bright Star (2009)

In conclusion, I leave you with the number one biggest flop as chosen collectively by Team Experience (and it just so happens to have been my choice for #1 as well). A couple years old, but still damn funny:

One of these days, Leo. One of these days...

The Brainless Bimbos of Spring Breakers

Y'all, I feel like I need a Silkwood-type shower after watching this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot Season Finale film: Harmony Korine's hedonistic, candy-colored (oh, sorry. I forgot to mention fever dream) ode to that college tradition, Spring Breakers.

Korine's films (from the NC-17 rated, Kids, in which he wrote the screenplay, or the mind-numbingly bad, Gummo) have always been divisive. Just read anything about this latest film (and believe me, there's much that has been written) and you're sure to find as many supporters as haters. And with his most mainstream cast to date (a couple of former Disney child stars trying to break free of their goody-goody past and James Franco in an "Oscar-worthy" performance art piece) so much press was given to the film this spring that you'd think it was the greatest film of a new generation. But watching it, it seemed so out of touch and dated – as if it was made in that era of the late 90s when everything was "extreme" and the girls look like they're channeling a No Doubt video from 1999 (One of them even sports the pink hairstyle that Gwen rocked back in the day). It also didn't help to have the girls constantly sing songs that were popular more than a decade ago (so much classic Britney. And what teenage girl in 2013 sings Nelly "Hot in Herre" – sadly, not a typo). I feel bad saying last week's film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid didn't have a lot going for it because that film is Citizen Kane compared to the repetitive ad nauseam of this film.

Count me in the camp as one who will never "get" the appeal of Korine's films. Their sole purpose is shock value without providing any real substance or deeper meaning behind them. Style masquerading as social commentary. They're as empty headed as the 3 interchangeable bikini-clad stars of this film. (Selena Gomez's brunette Faith is not included because Korine seems to have felt that giving her a different personality and backstory was distracting and dumps her 40 minutes into the film.) Which is why I went with the shot I did for Best (although, I'm using that term very loosely. I had a hard time finding something redeeming here. So many slow motion shots of bare boobs and crotches...which one to choose?!?):

The two scenes that people seem to talk about the most from this movie are Franco's monologue about all the shit he owns and this musical interlude set to Britney Spears' "Everytime". It's such a bizarre moment that I had to go with it. The three girls with their hot pink ski masks are stripped of what little identity they were given and are reduced to the headless male fantasies the film has been subjecting them to throughout. It's no accident that they now look like blow-up dolls. It's either the work of a mad genius or someone who needs to be locked away for depravity. I tend to go with the latter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

All the Small Things

Cinema is full of great pairings: Laurel and Hardy, Tracy and Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But none have made so great an impression with so few pairings as the cinematic partnership of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The duo only made 2 films together, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973) – both directed by George Roy Hill – but it's hard to imagine the one actor without the other. Oh, sure, they had successful careers separately beforehand. Newman had 4 Oscar nominations under his his belt before teaming up with Redford – who was doing alright himself having received the Golden Globe already for New Star of the Year (Whatever happened to that category? I bet the Zac Efrons of the world were wishing it was still around...) But somehow the two together just clicked. Their combination of star wattage, rugged good looks, and good-natured banter became synonymous with the Buddy Film genre. And their first outing together as a couple of real-life bank/train robbers, happens to be the subject of this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel over at The Film Experience

I guess the same can be said about this blog post...
I haven't watched the film in over 10 years and while I remember it being mostly enjoyable (Redford and Newman really are very good together. Star powers unite!) not much about it this time around clicked for me. It takes an awfully long time getting anywhere and I'm not entirely sure it has any destination at all in mind. 

Entire stretches of the film seem like mostly filler – granted, beautifully shot, Academy Award-winning cinematography filler – but, filler, nonetheless. The first 10 minutes are shot in sepia tone for no other reason than it looks old-timey. The repetitive "chase" sequence seems to go on forever and seems to draw more attention to the majestically shot mountains and rivers rather than bringing any useful insight into the characters or, you know, advancing the plot along. And then right in the middle of the film we get a completely unnecessary movie montage of Adventures in New York (in sepia tone, naturally). And I haven't even mentioned the groovy music video within the film for the Burt Bacharach penned, B.J. Thomas sung, Oscar-winning song, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". But it just so happens that my choice for Best Shot comes from that moment in the film.

The song is arguably even more famous than the movie itself. Although, it seems to exist in the film for the sole purpose to win an Oscar. It does show how Katharine's Ross school teacher has more of a bond with Newman's Butch Cassidy than she does Redford's Sundance Kid, but it doesn't amount to anything as the film's focus is on the male relationship. And she doesn't end up with either of them anyway (uh, spoiler alert? Like I said, it doesn't matter. That's not the point of the film). But mostly its a moment for Newman to do a lot of mugging for the camera and show off some impressive tricks on a bicycle, while Ross pretends to be amused. But stuck in the middle of it all is this breathtaking shot:

It jumps out from the rest of the scene because it seems so out of place. All her previous shots in the scene are of big, toothy laughs that seem like forced joy regarding Newman. This shot is so pensive and thoughtful as if we're catching a glimpse into the inner workings of her mind. It's a real moment captured on screen. It doesn't even seem like Ross is aware of the camera on her – which makes it even more exciting. For a fleeting instant we get to see the artifice stripped away to show the actress' humanity. And amid a film full of big stars and bigger set pieces (no offense to Redford and Newman), its this little thing that counts.

Friday, August 23, 2013


I haven't been very good at recapping the amazing people who've come out to Fire Island this summer (having only written up Bruce Vilanch's visit). But addition to Margaret Cho, John Waters, Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman as chanteuse), and last weekend's brilliant Chita Rivera (Chita gave an incredible performance both nights and I feel really honored to have spent the weekend with her), the event of the summer just might be this coming weekend's guest. A true living legend (at 92 years old, no less!) and an one-of-a-kind personality will be making her way to the island. If you couldn't guess from the headline: it's Miss Carol Channing, herself.

With her saucer eyes lined with the world's longest false lashes (no wonder drag queens love to impersonate her), her often intimated voice (that voice! a mixture of baby doll and just the right amount of crazy), and her kooky, off-the-wall persona, there really is no one quite like Carol Channing. I'm not really sure what she is or where she came from (she really does seem like one of those people who was destined for stardom – fully formed as her own unique, distinct person. Imagine if she was just some lady in your hometown. You'd likely steer clear of her – the town kook. Luckily fame lends a note of respectability. It's not crazy but eccentric). She truly is Larger Than Life. (Which just so happens to be the title of a 2011 documentary about her. If you've ever wondered why she became such an icon, watch the film and wonder no more.)

In honor of Miss Channing's arrival this weekend, I wanted to take a look at one of her few ventures on the big screen. Her Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe award-winning turn as Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 1967 musical comedy, Throughly Modern Millie. For whatever reason, Channing only made a handful of films (perhaps her style of acting was just too theatrical. I mean, it's certainly not subtle). Even though she originated the role of Dolly Levy in Hello, Dolly on Broadway, when it came time to film the movie, the role was given to a much too young, miscast, Barbra Streisand. Channing actually won the Tony over Streisand the year she was nominated for Funny Girl. If only she had gotten to recreate her Dolly character for the big screen. Perhaps an Oscar would have joined that Tony on the mantle. If anything, she certainly deserved to win for her joyous turn in Millie over (what I feel is one of the worst wins of all-time) Estelle Parsons in Bonnie and Clyde

Throughly Modern Millie (the basis for the 2000 Tony award-winning, Sutton Foster-career-starting, Broadway musical) is actually a bit of a mess as a movie. At a little over 2 and half hours long, it's much too long than it has any right to be for a frothy, satire of 1920s culture. And the subplot about white slavery seems racists and dated, I'm sure even at the time of its release. But if the film succeeds at all, it's due to the jolt of excitement Carol Channing brings whenever she's onscreen. Which, at almost an hour into the movie before she even makes her entrance, is just what the movie needed. 

And what an entrance. Speeding by Millie (Julie Andrews), Miss Dorothy (Mary Tyler Moore), and Jimmy (James Fox) in a black and white checkerboard painted biplane, draped in white furs and diamonds, carelessly spilling champagne in the wind, she utters a word that has become synonymous with the actress ever since:


What the hell does that mean, exactly? Shit if I know, but I love every mind-boggling minute of it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hollywood's Twisted Relationship

Hollywood's love affair with itself, if nothing else, has certainly produced some pretty amazing films. From the Golden Age of Hollywood: Sunset Boulevard, Sullivan's Travels, Singin' In the Rain. To the modern age of Ed Wood , The Aviator, and The Artist. Despite its narcissistic nature, it's a love affair that I definitely share. All the backstage drama, the thinly veiled characters based on real-life Hollywood figures, the juicy insider gossip that could only be brought to life from the people within the system are too much for me to resist. When you love film as much as I do, how could you not love films about filmmaking? And one such film, Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful released in 1952 (which, also, incidentally, is the same year Singin' In the Rain came out. Hollywood was really full of itself that year, wasn't it?) happens to be the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience.

The film begins as three separate people receive a phone call from Paris from one Jonathan Shields. Each of them denies the call (well, one accepts the charges as long as Shields is paying, then responds with a "drop dead" before hanging up the phone). The three are soon summoned to the studio, where we learn Mr. Shields wants to work with them again. One by one (in a series of flashbacks) we learn about each person's past with Shields and the reason they've rejected him. The multi-person narrative had been used previously by such films as Citizen Kane (if you're gonna borrow, why not borrow from the best?) but it gives the film a dynamic, modern quality and won the film an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film went on to win 5 Oscars in total (and with the little golden guy on display in the film and a special thanks to the Academy at the end of the film for the use of the statues, how could it have not won some of its own? And the love affair continues...) and has the distinction of the most Oscar wins without a Best Picture nomination.

Shields (Kirk Douglas in an Best Actor Oscar nominated performance) is a megalomaniacal Hollywood producer that betrayed the three. He is said to be based on David O. Selznick, who's control over films' productions was legendary. But the film within the film, The Doom of the Cat Men, that's his hit with the director Fred Amiel, played by Barry Sullivan, (and the subject of the first narrative) is said to be based on Val Lewton's Cat People. The other characters of the story – a Southern writer that goes on to win the Pulitzer Prize (Dick Powell as James Lee Bartlow) is said to be based on William Faulkner and an alcoholic actress of a famous actor father gets her inspiration from John Barrymore's daughter (and Drew's aunt), Diana. The only difference is that Diana's career was a non-starter and Georgia Lorrison, the actress in the film, goes on to be a big star. And when she's portrayed by movie star, Lana Turner, is there any question that she wouldn't be?

This was actually the first film that I've seen Lana Turner in. Of course her reputation proceeds her, but that's mainly due to the fabricated story of being discovered as "the sweater girl" and the infamy involving the murder of her mobster lover by her teenage daughter. Which is a polite way of saying, she's not really known for her acting. But, not being able to compare it to any of her previous work, I can say that she lives up to the film's title. She has a sexual energy that is anything but the girl next door (The Bad) and there is absolutely no question about her beauty. I even thought about choosing this shot as the best for no other reason than the sheer gorgeousness of it:

But the shot that I eventually chose as my Best, I feel, captures the conflicted relationship the three characters have with Shields and wraps up the narrative of the film. After we've spent 2 hours hearing their stories we find out why the three hate Shields so much. (This series is more fun if you've actually seen the film. But, if you're one of those people afraid of spoilers, just skip to the picture and create your own story about why it's the Best Shot.)  Just as Shields made it big, he dropped Amiel for a more famous director. After making Georgia a star (and winning her heart), he cheats on her with a film extra (have you no standards, sir?!) on the night of her big premiere. And poor James Lee looses his wife in a plane crash after Shields orchestrates an affair between the wife and the leading man that went down in the plane with her. But, as pointed out in the movie, the pain and rejection made them better in their fields – able to succeed in ways they wouldn't have without the betrayal of Shields. After rejecting his offer to work again, the three leave the studio. But something is still drawing them to him. Unable to resist, they pick up the phone on another line to listen to Shields' proposal:

Like moths drawn to the flame, the three are still enamored by that which they know will hurt them. But isn't every relationship in Hollywood a little masochistic? People are ruthless in their pursuit of fame and fortune. Back-stabbing, duplicity, and cheating along the way is just a part of the game. You may hurt the one's you love, but who's to say they won't be back for more. And when you have a love as powerful and persistent as the one Hollywood has for itself, the affair is just too cruel and pretty not to be over.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Woman's Worth

When it came time to create a film based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg seemed like an unlikely choice. After all what did a white, Jewish, man that grew up in Arizona and California know about the black experience, especially from the point of view of women in the deep South? And at the time, long before his prestige pics of Schindler's List, Munich, and Lincoln would establish his place as a serious director, his filmography consisted of summer blockbusters like Jaws, E.T. , and Raiders of the Lost Ark. All great films, sure, but hardly the type of thing that showed he would be capable of bringing to life a complex story that involved rape, abuse, incest, and homosexuality. But when the film was released in 1985, not only was it the beginnings of another aspect of Spielberg's career, it was also a huge success, financially and critically. It went on to receive 11 Academy Awards that year (but is tied with The Turning Point as the most nominated film without a single win). And Miss Celie and her Blues happen to be the subject of this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience.

When I read the book years later (which is structured through only a series of letters), it was interesting to see how the tone of the movie differed and how much was glossed over, especially in regards to Celie and Shug's relationship. What is clearly defined as a lesbian relationship is reduced to a single kiss in the film that seems more sisterly and chaste. Spielberg also has a tendency to be emotionally manipulative – trying to wring tears without earning them (but damned if he doesn't succeed in getting those tears to flow. Celie's reunion with her her long-lost sister, Nettie, at the end of film reduces me to a blubbering fool every. damn. time). And he just can't resist little touches that seem childish or cutesy. (Which is something he still hasn't outgrown. The groundhogs in the last Indiana Jones film, anyone?!) The scene where Albert prepares breakfast for Shug seems to have taken its inspiration from a Looney Tunes cartoon.

But despite all these factors, the film's likability is not diminished in the slightest. It's still wildly watchable and engaging. In fact, The Color Purple along with Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes form a late 80's/early 90's, Southern set, film Trinity that shaped the development of every gay boy that was going through adolescence at that time. As gay men, we tend to gravitate towards stories with strong female characters and Actressexuality starts at an early stage. The film is at its best when it highlights the feminine relationships (although, Spielberg has never again made a film with such a strong female sensibility) and celebrates the power they possess. As highlighted by my choice for best shot.

For years, Celie has been repressed by her marriage to Albert (Danny Glover), who abuses her physically and mentally. After discovering that he has been hiding the letters her sister (whom he forced away after she spurned his advances) has sent over the past decades, Celie reaches her breaking point and decides enough is enough. She is leaving Albert and has finally gained the strength to stand up for herself. She curses him as she leaves, "Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!" He follows her outside and raises his hand to strike when Celie stops him dead in his tracks:

"Everything you done to me, already done to you."

Without violence (although she came dangerously close with a razor and knife already), with the simple force of her will (and a pretty awesome hand gesture that brings to mind a sorcerer), Celie shifts the power into her favor. She finds the courage to be the woman she was meant to be: "I'm poor, black, I may even be ugly, but dear God - I'm here! I'm here."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Pick's for 10 Most Memorable Performances in the Films of Hitchcock

This month (next Tuesday, August 13, in fact) would have been Alfred Hitchcock's 114th birthday (not that he would have lasted that long anyway, judging by the size of him...) and in honor of Hitch, Team Experience, of which I am a proud card-carrying member of (well, there's not actually cards), over at The Film Experience ranked our 10 Most Memorable Performances in a Hitchcock Film. The only stipulation was "Memorable" not "Best" so anyone and anything was up for grabs. (I believe a bottle of mineral ore in Notorious may have even had a mention.) I, personally, decided not to double up on Actors' performances – just one from Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman. I'll also be the first to admit that I'm not all that familiar with his Silent Films or the British Films of the 30s, so apologies to any of those performances I may have slighted. Anyway, on to my ballot:

10. Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont in Rear Window
or should I say, from top to bottom: Lisa. Carol. Fremont. One of the greatest film entrances...

9. Doreen Lang as The Hysterical Mother in the Diner in The Birds
I haven't seen the film in years, but I still remember her. Just watch this clip and tell me that's not memorable:

8. Tippi Hedren as Marnie Edgar in Marnie
This part is bonkers and after watching HBO's The Girl, I have a new appreciation for Tippi and what Hitch made her go through. She says he prevented her from getting an Oscar nom for this...

7. Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman in Notorious
and the longest kiss in film history:

6. Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt
that stare...

5. Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca
I think Rebecca may be my favorite Hitchcock film. And you've got to be pretty memorable when you don't even have a name in a film and you're the main character.

4. Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest
You can read my write up at the post. GQ named his suit the most influential in all of cinema:

3. James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo
Who knew a nice guy like Jimmy could be so crazy/creepy:

2. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho
"We all go a little mad sometimes."

1. Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca
Simply the best:

"You're overwrought, madam. I've opened a window for you. A little air will do you good. Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley? He doesn't need you... he's got his memories. He doesn't love you, he wants to be alone again with her. You've nothing to stay for. You've nothing to live for really, have you? Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid..."

Evil Comes to Town

The filmography of The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, is filled with so many iconic films and moments that it seems almost ridiculous to think that it all come from the twisted mind of one man. Brimming with indelible images that shook up audiences and influenced the art of filmmaking even to this day, his work is forever engrained in the echelon of pop culture. The infamous shower scene in Pyscho (which caused Janet Leigh to declare she only took baths from that point on). Cary Grant being chased down by a plane all alone in a cornfield in North by Northwest. Tippi Hedren being attacked in a phone booth by rabid birds. Just last year, his Vertigo overtook Citizen Kane for the top spot in Sight & Sound's list of the greatest films of all time. But of all his films, the one that Hitch himself claimed for his favorite was one that is perhaps not as well-known (but wildly loved among cinephiles), starring Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright: 1943's Shadow of a Doubt. The film is the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience. And while I wouldn't call the film my favorite of his works, it certainly ranks among the greats.

The first of his films to have a truly American setting, Hitch was fascinated by small-town Americana and the values of everyday life - especially when villainy disrupts the tranquility. Thorton Wilder, the playwright and author of perhaps the definitive take on the subject of the American way, Our Town, wrote the original screenplay – making the film (much like Joseph Cotten's mysterious Uncle Charlie is to the Newton family of the film) almost a wicked relative to Wilder's play.

That wicked relative in the film, Uncle Charlie, has come to stay with his sister and her family in Santa Rosa, California (where the film was actually shot) much to the delight of his niece and namesake,  Charlie (Teresa Wright). His niece had just been thinking that some sort of adventure was needed to stir the family out of its rut and a visit from her beloved uncle (whom she's so similar to that they are almost telepathic. In fact the first shots of the pair of Charlies mirrors each other with both lying on their bed, staring at the ceiling) was just what they needed. But soon young Charlie, after a visit from a pair of detectives following her uncle, begins to suspect that the uncle she adores might in fact be the Merry Widower Murderer – a killer that preys on wealthy, older women.

There are glimmers of truth throughout the film that hint at the evil that lies within Uncle Charlie. The first dinner when he is reunited within the clan brings forth a ring for young Charlie. While admiring it (along with some intense incestuous flirting), she soon finds an engraving that reveals the true owner of the bauble. Later, in her bedroom (again with the incest), a seemingly playful game where young Charlie tries to steal back a newspaper article Uncle Charlie has hidden, turns a little too harsh when his grip on her slowly becomes a bit too rough and forceful. But, the moment where Charlie's facade begins to crack and he shows his true self is my pick for Best Shot.

At another dinner, sitting around the family table, Uncle Charlie's sister mentions the women of her club and what Charlie will speak about at their meeting. Charlie comments on how the women in the country are different from the women of the city. And as he begins to speak, the camera pulls in tighter and closer to his face just as the words become more twisted and deprived.

Uncle Charlie: The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead. Husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives. Their silly wives. And what do the wives do – these useless women? You see them in the hotels - the best hotels - every day by the thousands. Drinking the money. Eating the money. Losing the money at bridge. Playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry, but of nothing else. Horrible,  faded, fat, greedy women.
Young Charlie: They're Alive! They're Human Beings!

Uncle Charlie: Are they?

And that icy stare, directed at Charlie, but really as if he's staring directly at us – piercing our souls with his hatred – cuts right through you. Hitchcock builds the momentum to where just the turn of his head is enough to make you jump. But the horror is more terrifying because it's real. It's your blood relation, sitting around the comfort of your dinner table, disturbing the sacredness of that familial ritual. There's evil that lurks in the hearts of men and it hits close to home. And perhaps the film is Hitchcock's favorite because he knows that having you question whether you really know the person sitting right next to you is the most frightening feeling of all.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'd Recognize That Silhouette Anywhere

Something I've discovered in the weeks participating in Hit Me With Your Best Shot, courtesy of Nathaniel R over at The Film Experience, is that the more familiar I am with the film, the harder it is to write about. Which is the case with this week's film, Walt Disney's Oscar-winning 1964 classic, Mary Poppins. I've seen the film so many times and know it by heart (if you're like me, just saying that magical nanny's name sends me into a tailspin of memorable quotes and songs. The songs! I've been humming "Feed the Birds" all damn day), that my mind begins to fill up with ideas and images and I just can't seem to focus on one thing. How do I pick just one thing when they're all so supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?! The film brings me so much joy that when I try to think of the reasons why, my only response is a big doofy grin. But as Mary says, "practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking." Luckily, I'm far from perfect. So, let the sentiment muddle away!

Do I go with her iconic entrance by way of a talking parrot umbrella that flies?

By the way, you can purchase your very own umbrella. I'm not entirely sure that it'll be able to talk to you the way Mary's does. (David Tomlinson, who plays Mr. Banks, was the voice of the umbrella in the film. It's been suggested that Mary was Mr. Banks' nanny when he was a child. The fact that the same actor does both suggests that perhaps Mr. Banks wasn't always so...grown-up. And there's always been a little magic still left in him. Kinda how the same actor plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in Peter Pan.) And it's probably best if you don't go jumping out any windows with it, as I'm not sure the flight feature is built-in.

Do you choose one of the parts of the animated "Jolly Holiday" segment? Like Bert dancing with the penguin waiters (man, even in the animated world out-of-work performers are servers).

P.L. Travers (the author of the book series the film is based on) so disliked the animated portion of the film that at the premiere she was still trying to make Walt remove it. I can't wait for the film coming out later this year, Saving Mr. Banks, that chronicles Walt and Pamela's tussle in bringing the book to the screen. But, the finished film was one of Walt's favorites and the only one that brought him a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Or what about the most amazing medicine bottle that pours out different flavors from the same container?

To this day, whenever I pour something onto a spoon I secretly hope that it will be different colors and flavors each time. And I always recite this exchange:

Jane: Lime Cordial! Delicious!
Michael: Strawberry! Mmmm!
Mary: Rrrrum punch. Quite satisfactory. <hiccup>

Or do I just love to laugh and choose the tea party on the ceiling? I ask you, a tea party on the ceiling?

Ed Wynn, who plays Uncle Albert in this scene, also had another iconic tea party at Disney as he was the voice of the Mad Hatter  in Alice in Wonderland. The actor was allowed to ad lib much of his lines in this scene. The actor who played Michael, Matthew Garber, was afraid of heights, so to coax him on set, he was given 10 cents every time he had to go up on the wire. 

But, I ultimately decided on a shot free of special effects as my Best Shot:

So simple in it's execution, yet able to convey so much. I love that even without any fanfare, no bells and whistles, hell - not even Julie Andrews' face - a single shot of a silhouette can still be filled with whimsy and magic. Just as three circles alone immediately bring to mind another famous Disney creation, seeing the outline of this nanny's hat is instantly recognizable and able to put that doofy grin back on my face. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bruce Vilanch Dishes Dirt on Fire Island

Summer isn't the easiest time to blog. Everyone is always asking you to come have frozen margaritas or white wine or attend a beer blast (okay, so summer is just an excuse to booze it up). But, one of the reasons it's harder for me to write more on this blog during the summer is because in addition to my job during the week, I have a weekend job out on Fire Island.

Bruce onstage at Fire Island
It's great spending every weekend on the beach and at the pool (maybe a cocktail here or there, right?). But, I'm also working. Every Saturday night I work at the Icon Series in which a little bit of Hollywood and Broadway comes to the shores of this beach community. Last year Liza and Alan Cumming performed 2 shows (and did a repeat performance at Town Hall this past March). This past week Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award show writer (and former Hollywood Square) Bruce Vilanch came out to share some stories about his work over the years. He's been around for so long, he even worked with George Burns (although, he was quick to note, at the start of his career and much later in George's) and written for everyone from ABBA to (Pia) Zadora.

There were antidotes about Bea Arthur in the Star Wars Christmas Special (and a man in an alien costume affectionately known as "cuntface"). A misunderstanding on a talk show that led to the headline: "Vilanch Has Largest Penis in Hollywood...Says Lady Gaga". But I think everyone wants to hear about the backstage Oscar stories.

Me, Bruce, and my friend Nick. Just a regular weekend...
In 1994, Dolly Parton performed an Oscar nominated song from the film Beethoven 2nd. (Guys, I would just like to take this moment to point out that Beethoven 2nd has more Oscar nominations than Marilyn Monroe, Edward G. Robinson, and Donald Sutherland combined.) The producer thought it would be a fun idea for the 2 dogs from the film to come out on stage. The dogs thought otherwise. During the broadcast, one of them proceeded to take a dump on stage during the number. They tried to cut away to just a head and shoulders shot of Dolly, but her dress was so tight that you could see...well, both Partons very well. They quickly cut to just a headshot, but the smell was so bad that it brought tears to Dolly's eyes.

After all that, the next award to be presented was the Honorary Oscar to 6-time nominee (and never winner) Deborah Kerr. (Remember when those were actually shown during the ceremony!) Bruce said she had flown all the way from Switzerland and she wanted that damn Oscar. He and another man were to walk her backstage behind the curtain that would rise to reveal her center stage. As they walked across the stage, Kerr began to smell something and looked at Bruce ("like Miss Anna scolding a naughty child of Siam") and asked, "what exactly was on this stage the night before? A petting zoo?!" (For those of you interested, here's the clip of Dolly and the upstaging dog shit)

Bruce also said that the Honorary Oscar is referred to among the show's participants as The Kiss of Death. Once you accept it–you die! He says that they ask Doris Day every year and she always turns it down. He says, "The day you hear that Doris Day will be presented with the Honorary Oscar, just know she knows something we don't".

It's such a coincidence that he brought up Doris Day and the Honorary Oscar as just last Tuesday, my fellow contributors and I just did a poll of 10 Women That Deserve the Honorary Oscar over at Nathaniel R's The Film Experience and Doris Day made our Top 10! Maybe we're eager to give more than stars are willing to receive. I never got around to posting it last week, but here is my own personal ballot:

1. Catherine Denevue
2. Doris Day
3. Angela Landsbury
4. Marni Nixon
5. Maureen O'Hara
6. Liv Ullmann
7. Gena Rowlands
9. Kim Novak
10.Mia Farrow

8 out of my chosen 10 made the final cut–not bad. Although, someone mentioned Debbie Reynolds and that would have been such a good addition. Let's just hope that when one of these ladies is finally honored, the stage doesn't smell like dog shit!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Clinical Kinks

Who would have thought such an unassuming, nice little-ol' country like Canada (eh), could have produced such a dementedly twisted artist like director David Cronenberg. In fact, IMDB has kindly informed me that he's known as The King of Venereal Horror(!) and the Baron of Blood. Two titles I'm sure all good Canadian children aspire to. Just looking over his filmography: The Dead Zone, The Fly Crash (not the Best Picture winner about Race in LA, but the one where Holly Hunter and James Spader get sexually turned-on by car crashes. Somehow the Academy passed on it...) Spider, A History of Violence, etc. one gets a sense that feel-good Family Films are not his expertise. Even their titles evoke a kind of visceral feeling of dread and foreboding. His 1988 film, Dead Ringers (see what I mean about those titles), a disturbing film about twin gynecologists both played by Jeremy Irons, is the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience. In addition to celebrating its 25th Anniversary, the film was chosen in honor of Nick Davis's new book: The Desiring Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema. Nick is a fantastic writer and he successfully completed his goal of seeing every Best Actress Oscar Nominated performance. Ever. Like, all of them. Check it out – you'll be sucked into an actress K-Hole the likes of which you will not emerge for days. Make sure you left some food for the cat...Anywho, onto the Queer Cinema.

The film begins with some amazing opening credits in which black and white anatomy drawings from the Renaissance are displayed against a blood red background. The images are beautifully grotesque. And the color red pops out again later in the film as the color of the scrubs and operating linens during surgeries. The film has such subdued colors throughout that when the stylized uniforms, usually a clean, stark white, are suddenly a vibrant crimson it's unsettling–as if the figures around the woman are performing a satanic ritual and not a medical procedure. The red looks also brought to mind another Canadian artist's work: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in which fertile women are kept as concubine's by wealthy men. Dressed head to toe in red, they're only purpose is to procreate. Sex is not for pleasure but a necessity. This discomforting mix of constraint and clinical detachment with the primal act of intercourse is also evoked in my choice for Best Shot:

Claire, (played by Genevieve Bujold. I loved her so much in Anne of a Thousand Days that I put this film in my Netflix queue years ago. Well, thanks to this series, I finally saw it. All I can say is, her character is far from Anne Boleyn) an actress who sought out the help of the twins, begins an affair with them (although she only thinks it with one of them). One of her sexual encounters with the twins leads to her being tied to the bed with tourniquets and various other medical instruments. The scene and the above image don't so much titillate as disturb with their oddity. And the act itself seems detached from emotion or feeling. It's an arresting image that shows Cronenberg at his best. Compelling, able to provoke with its unusualness, it lingers in the viewers mind.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

American Ideals

It's hard to remember sometimes that George Lucas ever made any movies other than the Star Wars trilogy. (Yes, I said trilogy. I'm still in denial that those prequels exist.) They've made him so much money, become a global phenomenon for over 25 years, and instead of new ideas or different films, he just keeps going back to them to tinker with the classics (hey, let's add a CGI Jabba the Hut! What if Greedo shoots first?!). So, it's easy to forget that 4 years prior to creating characters like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Obi Wan Kenobi in a galaxy far, far away, he filmed a story about Curt, Steve, and Laurie set in the very real place of Modesto, California. Based on his experiences growing up in the early 60s and taking place over the span of one night, American Graffiti, feels like a glimpse into what shaped the young filmmaker into becoming the man he would become. Mining from his personal history proved to be rewarding as it went on to be nominated for Best Picture and recently made Entertainment Weekly's list of 100 Greatest Films of All-Time. It is also the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot courtesy of Nathaniel at The Film Experience. (After a month long hiatus from the series and my own unplanned month long break from this blog, we are both back and ready for action!) So, hop into your 1956 Ford Thunderbird and let's go cruising...

The studio wanted the title changed not understanding the meaning. It's very, graffiti is...well, you see...AMERICA! Man, what DOES it mean?

There's not so much in the way of plot in the film. It's set the night before a couple of recent high school graduates, Steve (played by Ronny Howard, who apparently spent all of the 70s playing a teenager in the 50s/60s) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, who looks like the oldest 18 year old I've ever seen) are headed off to college. Steve tries breaking up with his high school sweetheart, Laurie (Cindy Williams, who, like lil Ronny, loved nostalgia) and Curt isn't so sure he wants to go away. Especially after he sees a vision that sets him on a quest (wow, that sounds like he's a medieval knight) and it just so happens to be my choice for best shot of the film:

Curt is in the backseat of the car with Steve and Laurie up front, listening to Wolfman Jack on the radio, (Wolfman will also have an impact on Curt during the evening.) when he looks out the window and sees a beautiful blonde in a White Thunderbird. (Look, it's a pre-Three's Company Suzanne Somers! What you can't see is that she's using her Thighmaster at this exact same moment.) She mouthes what appears to be "I Love You" to Curt and the guy falls instantly. But, she has quickly driven away before he can find out more about her. Curt spends the rest of the movie trying to reconnect with her, but in the process, finds out more about himself and what he really wants in life. She's a catalyst for his self-discovery and a beacon of hope that something out there is better. 

There was originally supposed to be a shot of her at the very beginning of the film driving in her car while transparent, showing that she never truly existed. It was cut due to the budget. But, I'm glad they kept her in reality. The Girl in the Thunderbird is real. She represents a dream that something great is out there waiting for you. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not the Hud I Imagined

There are certain films that loom so large that I feel I know what they're about before I've even seen them. They're films that are classics. Enthusiastically talked about by cinephiles to the point that I overconfidently think I could have a discussion about them, sight unseen. Then I actually see them and they are not how I imagined them. At all.

This happened to me a couple months ago with Elia Kazan's Baby Doll. Being familiar with the nature of Tennessee Williams' work, the iconic image of Carroll Baker sucking her thumb in a crib, and the fact that the film was condemned by the Catholic League of Decency (which, come to think of it, probably isn't all that hard), I was expecting a kinky, sexually perverse tale of a girl who wanted it bad and drove the men wild because she was just. too. young. But, the actual film is nothing like the one I had created in my head. In fact it concerns the exciting world of cotton ginning, wives that won't give it up, and repossessed furniture (steamy).

Another film I created a different story in my head for is the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience. It's the 1963 Oscar-winning film that did a good deal to build the star persona of everyone's favorite blue-eyed, salad dressing maker: Paul Newman in Hud. My version was a star vehicle where the camera lovingly lingers over the chiseled features of our hero--who may be a a bit of a rakish cad, but has a heart of gold. He's a womanizer in the suave way which the women just can't help themselves. He's just looking for the love of a good woman to change his ways. Enter Patricia Neal (Breakfast at Tiffany's 2E!), who I did already know gets raped in the film (she did win an Oscar for the role after all), but surely by some hooligan. Hud saves her and even though they love each other, the trauma makes her unable to get close to him–just when he let his walls come down! The real film is far different.

The first thing that struck me is how much of an ensemble piece the film actually is. The story actually belongs to Hud's nephew, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), a young boy coming of age that looks up to the cool, devil-may-care persona of Hud and is devoted to his unyieldingly upright grandfather, Homer (Melvyn Douglas in his Oscar-winning role). For a film so closely associated with Newman (that image of him in a cowboy hat is pretty indelible), he's far from the star and his character is well, frankly, an asshole. A drunkard that sleeps with other men's wives just because he can, he is actually the one that rapes Neal's Alma! Lonnie is the one who saves her from Hud's forceful advances. He's an antihero to the point of villainy.

The plot of the film hardly has time for the romance I had imagined either (there are brief scenes in which Alma and Hud flirt and even Alma and Lonnie flirt), but the main concern is the Hoof and Mouth Disease that overtakes the cattle on Homer's farm. Their source of income is gone and their way of life will have to change. In a particularly gruesome scene, all the cattle are herded into a ditch and shot dead. Sick, dead cows aren't exactly what I had in mind for a dreamy Paul Newman-as-cowboy fantasy.

Which is not to say that the film is bad. It isn't. It's actually great. It's just not the film I thought it would be. I imagined falling in love with Newman, nodding my head, saying, 'now that's a star'. I fact, I was so sure that I would use an image of him for my best shot, that I'm surprised at the one I decided on.

It's of the real main character and unsung hero of the film, Lonnie. Brandon deWilde was the only one of the four main leads not to be nominated for an Oscar. He previously received an Oscar nomination for another Western in which he admired a cowboy. Although, the films' cowboys are as far from each other as you can get. At the end of Shane, a young Brandon deWilde watches as the cowboy, who sacrificed himself for the greater good, rides off into the sunset a hero: Come back, Shane! The shot I've chosen from Hud is a reverse of that. Now, deWilde is the one leaving. His grandfather has died, he has seen the man Hud truly is and has no wish to be anything like him. He knows that he was to become his own man and with a look back at Hud--of pity and disdain--he sets off to be the cowboy hero more along the lines of Shane than Hud.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I'm sick as a dog and don't have the energy to write anything, but here are my best shots from Fantasia from least to favorite segment:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Two Become One

The very first shot in Anthony Minghella's 1999 film version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley–Tom Ripley (played by a baby-faced Matt Damon), in profile, as dagger-like segments cut into his face, fragmenting him and then ultimately uniting to form a complete picture–sets up a motif that will be prevalent throughout the entire film. It is a story of a man divided of himself. One at odds with whom he has become, through the identities he has undertaken to maintain the facade of who he wants to be, and the man he actually is. Using an assortment of mirrors and reflections to illustrate the duplicitous nature of Mr. Ripley, Minghella elegantly employs the symbolism against a sumptuous Italian backdrop. The film, and these images illustrating the nature of Tom, are the subject for this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot from The Film Experience.

There were a few contenders for my best shot: the shot of Tom hiding behind a mirror as his head pokes out the top and Dickie's body is reflected in his place. Another of Tom, after he decides that it's too dangerous to impersonate Dickie anymore, and his reflection in the top of the piano begins to morph and pull apart to become two separate entities again. But, I knew what shot I was gonna pick even before I rewatched the film. As Tom and Dickie (Jude Law in his star-making performance) make their final trip together (and Dickie's final trip ever) on the train to San Remo, Tom senses that the end is near for his new way of life and the relationship he has formed with Dickie. As Dickie sleeps, Tom lightly paws at the man's expensive suit jacket, breathes in his scent, and then adjusts his head so that the two men's reflections conjoin:

Unlike the other images mentioned, I chose this one because it captures the sexual nature of Tom's infatuation with Dickie. This is the closest that Tom will get to becoming one with the flesh and blood Dickie. Dickie's charisma gives off an omnisexual power. It's not that he intentionally leads Tom on (especially in that bathtub chess scene) in a way that promises sex to the confused Tom. It's that he wields his sexuality as a power over people. Dickie likes being lusted after and Tom is very much susceptible to it. And it plays with Tom's mind. He's not sure if he wants to be Dickie or be with Dickie. As he looks at their reflection–leaning in with his mouth slightly opened as if going for a kiss–his lust is caught up with the image of them together. The reflection capturing his mix of desire and envy.