Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Princess Bride

Gallagher's Forum

Inconceivable

By Jon Gallagher

The Princess Bride (20th Century Fox, 1987) – Director: Rob Reiner. Writer: William Goldman (book & S/p). Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal, & Anne Dyson. Color, 98 minutes, PG.

When The Princess Bride first came to the theaters some 28 years ago, I didn’t go see it. It didn’t sound like the kind of movie that would interest me.

When it went to video, I didn’t rush out to the video store to grab a copy. Again, I just wasn’t interested in seeing something called “The Princess Bride.” That sounded like a chick flick if ever there was one, or something my (then) four-year-old might eventually watch.

At the time it came out on video, I was editing and publishing an insider’s newsletter that covered professional wrestling. One of my staff members, Jeff Siegel, called me and urged me to go out and rent the movie as soon as possible. “Yeah, right. I’ll get right on that,” I remember saying to him.

He told me that a popular wrestler, Andre the Giant, was in the movie and was quite good. He also said there was an inside joke where Andre told another character that people in masks could not be trusted. At the time, Andre was wrestling under a mask as the not-very-well-disguised Giant Machine.

To appease Jeff, and in the interest of being able to make fun of the movie in my newsletter, I went out and rented it.

It immediately became one of my all-time favorite movies. My kids love it, my ex-wives both love it; I even showed it to my Advanced Senior English class that I taught at a local high school, and they went absolutely nuts over it.

Anyone who has seen it is probably nodding their head with a big smile on their face, going “Yep. Been there, done that.”


The reason I bring all this up and am reviewing a movie that is 28 years old is because we have a theater in my old hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, that shows “throwback” movies every Thursday during the summer. So far this summer they’ve offered Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Ghosts of Mississippi, with SupermanFerris Bueller’s Day OffHookToy StorySingin’ in the Rain, and Beetlejuice yet to come. Admission is free (although they do offer outrageously-priced concessions) and there is a matinee and an evening show.

Built originally as a vaudeville theater, the Orpheum has played host to a virtual who’s who in entertainment over the years. It began showing movies, and remained a movie theater from the 40s through the 80s when multiplex theaters became the way to make money rather than a single screen. Since, the Orpheum has been refurbished to its heyday, with a huge, ornate crystal chandelier in the lobby, stage for local theater groups or visiting troupes, private parties, concerts, and of course, movies.

Seating in the 946-seat theater is spread throughout three levels. The main floor seats 438 with a mezzanine level that holds 108 wrapping around the main level like a horseshoe. A steep balcony looks down on everything and will hold 400.

I had never seen The Princess Bride on the big screen, so when it was announced, my oldest daughter, her husband, and two of their three kids offered to take me (figuring that the nine month old wouldn’t care one way or another if True Love triumphed or not).

I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to other classic movies where people showed up dressed as their favorite characters. When I saw The Wizard of Oz a few years ago, several women came dressed either as Dorothy or the Wicked Witch. Star Wars brought out a whole cast of Darth Vaders, Luke Skywalkers, Obi-Wan Kenobis, and C-3POs.

I didn’t want to overdress, just in case no one showed up in costume, so I wore a t-shirt.

I’m glad. No one else showed up in any type of costume. In fact, only 159 people showed up for the matinee.


The Princess Bride has given us so many iconic lines that I figured that they would be repeated en masse whenever they were delivered on screen. “Anybody want a peanut?” “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” and of course, my all time favorite, “Have fun stormin’ the castle!” were all just begging to be delivered in stereo, yet the audience here allowed the actors to have the lines to themselves.

Most of the reason for that was because of how the audience was made up. Most of the attendees were grandparents or parents with a number of children in tow.

We sat in the mezzanine, which negated the effect of the big screen. Since we were at the level of the top of the screen, it had the effect of watching the movie on perhaps a 32-inch TV. The audio was okay, but nothing spectacular. As it turns out, we were watching a DVD of the movie, not even a blue-ray copy. That was being projected onto the screen and the stereo sound came from the disc, and wasn’t even in Dolby.

But the movie, with its cast of wonderful characters, remained as charming, funny, and entertaining as ever. The audience cheered at the right moments and erupted in applause at the end. It still gets an A+ in my book.

I went to the lobby, watched people file out, and listened to what they had to say. It was then that I realized why no one had repeated the lines in the movie. Most people in the audience were young enough that they had never seen the movie before. There were even parents who had not seen it.

One mother gushed, “That was awesome! We need to rent that and show it to (the whole family)!” 

A grandfatherly type was smiling and shaking his head. “I’m sure glad the kids dragged me to this!” he said to the theater manager.

Next week, they’re showing Superman, the original Christopher Reeve movie that started his career as the Man of Steel.

We should go to that,” my daughter said.

As you wish,” my son-in-law and I replied in unison.

For those of you who are fans of The Princess Bride and can quote at least four of the iconic lines from the movie, there’s some required reading for you.

Cary Elwes, who of course plays Westley, has written a book called As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. It is a fascinating account of how the movie was put together including anecdotes about how he and Mandy Patinkin refused to use doubles in their sword fight and how they learned to duel in the hands of master swordsmen, how he (Elwes) got knocked out cold by wanting to make another scene look real, and how Andre was a gentle giant, putting everyone at ease, and using his huge hands to help keep cast members warm during frigid temperatures.

Barnes and Noble had it for just $5.38. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ted 2

Dinner and a Movie

Talking Teddy, Tacos and Tortillas

By Steve Herte

My second week of vacation started with a bang! After a morning of weeding my garden I was ready to go out for the evening. It’s been a good six or seven years since I last attended a Barbershop Chapter show. My friend Pat invited me to see the Manhattan Chapter (also known as the Big Apple Chorus) perform at the Cultural Center at 4 W. 64th St., just off Central Park West.

The Big Apple Chorus, who recently won the Northern Division championship earlier this year, were followed by four “chapter” quartets. We then watched a short video about a quartet from New Zealand, the “Musical Island Boys,” who won the title of International Champions in July 2014. Whether you're a barbershop fan or not you can tell the difference in an International Championship Quartet and the others we saw onstage. Their timing was perfect, their balance was unbelievable and the sound was pure.

The Big Apple Chorus closed the show with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and topped it all with a rousing version of “New York, New York.” It was a wonderful show, even if though it took three hours. (Very few barbershop shows break the two-hour barrier.) Thank you Big Apple! You made me miss my quartet.

That said, I kind of had an idea of what the movie and restaurant would be like and both surprised me. See what you think. Enjoy!

Ted 2 (Universal, 2015) – Director: Seth MacFarlane. Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, & Wellesley Wild. Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman, Sam J. Jones, Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, Bill Smitrovich, John Slattery, Cocoa Brown, John Carroll Lynch, Ron Canada, Dennis Haysbert, Tara Strong (voice), & Liam Neeson. Color, 115 minutes, Rated R.

If you remember in the previous installment, a young boy is given an adorable teddy bear and he wishes it could be alive. And so it was. As the new episode begins, Ted (MacFarlane) is getting married to Tami-Lynn (Barth) and per Ted, “This is the best day of my life!” As the opening credits appear, Ted performs an elaborate Busby Berkeley style dance routine on a multi-layered wedding cake with dozens of dancers. For what it is, it’s quite impressive, given the animation and computer-generated bear keeping up with his long-legged human dance troupe. 

Later at the reception, Ted notices his best friend, John (Wahlberg) sitting alone and sad. John (the one who wished Ted alive) was married to the wrong girl for years. Now that that marriage is over, he is deeply reticent about starting any new relationship (even though several pretty girls come on to him throughout the movie). Ted decides to make it his mission to find a girl for John.


One year later, Ted and Tami-Lynn are arguing about bills and anything they can think of while they throw things at each other. Then one day at the supermarket checkout where both Ted and Tami-Lynn work, a fellow employee suggests they have a baby to bring them back together. Ted is elated and wants to get the best donor possible, even if he has to convince John to help him steal the “ingredient” he’s missing. Failing that, John volunteers for donor-ship.

After a fracas at the sperm bank where John slips and topples a shelving unit holding dozens of specimens which all spill onto him, the two guys think they’re set. But, the doctor (Haysbert) tells them that, with her history of smoking, drinking and drug abuse, Tami-Lynn is incapable of becoming pregnant.

They decide to adopt. But Massachusetts state law says that Ted is not a “Person, ” but merely “property,” and therefore cannot adopt a baby. The news of this reaches Ted’s enemy Donny (Ribisi), currently working as a janitor for the Hasbro Corporation (where Ted was made). He hatches a scheme with one of the big bosses, Tom Jessup (Lynch) to capture Ted, cut him open to see what makes him “alive,” and reproduce him for children (including himself) for billions of dollars.

Ted, Lami-Lynn and John go to the best law firm in Boston to take their case to court. It seems they cannot afford it, but the boss has a daughter, Samantha Jackson (Seyfried) who could do it pro-bono and therefore become more experienced. Ted and John are somewhat dismayed at her youth – she’s 27 – and that this is her first case. But upon learning that her middle name is “Leslie” Ted is ecstatic that they would have Sam L. Jackson as their lawyer (even though she’s never heard of the actor). Ted is shocked, “Have you seen any movies at all lately? He’s the black guy.”

Sam starts off well in the courtroom even though Hasbro has hired the best in the business but loses when the attorney for Hasbro asks Ted to press his chest. We hear “I love you very much!” (in Strong’s voice), thus resulting in the jury ruling him as “property.” Ted loses his job, his credit cards, and his marriage is annulled.

Samantha, though, is still optimistic and makes a call to New York for the best civil rights attorney, Patrick Meighan (Freeman) and he seems to be interested. They drive to New York and Sam makes the huge mistake of letting Ted drive. Talk about distracted while driving. He’s drinking, playing music and using the steering wheel as an air-piano. The car swerves all over the road, eventually careening down a hill and crashing into the side of a barn. It’s getting dark and they decide to extract the car in the morning. Meanwhile, John finds a frond of extremely rare and fine marijuana, wondering where it came from. Ted turns John around to view an immense field of it. The three stand in awe as the main theme for Jurassic Park plays and Ted quotes the movie, “They DO come in herds!”

In New York, the three are disappointed that Patrick will not take their case. The relationship between Sam and John is blossoming, which aggravates and Ted. After an argument, Ted storms off and finds himself at the Javits Center, where a Comic-Con is being held. Everyone is dressed in costumes from movies as well as comics and Ted fits right in. This is where Donny makes his move, dressed as Rafael, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ted recognizes him, calls John on his smart phone, and the chase is on.

You might have noticed that I used only two quotes from this film. That’s because every other line had some vulgarity to it and therefore not quotable in polite society. This is definitely not a cutesy teddy bear flick. It’s more like a non-Hispanic Cheech and Chong extravaganza – complete with liberal water-pipe smoking (one, shaped like a phallus). Parents beware: It is not rated “R” for nothing. The only redeeming quality of this movie is the music by Walter Murphy. There is a song called “Mean Ol’ Moon” that Sam sings at a campfire near the marijuana field that is simply gorgeous.

Yes, the film is funny in several places and there are a few belly laughs, but the gross-out factor is the impetus behind many, and political incorrectness is behind the rest. In fact the only nationality that shouldn’t be insulted by this film are Hispanics. The “N” word is used twice. The “f” bomb is liberally salted throughout and generally. George Carlin would have been proud of the language spoken so freely.

I fully realize that reality doesn’t apply in fantasy movies like this one, but Ted eats, drinks, smokes and does drugs, but never once goes to the bathroom. (Maybe that’s why he’s so crude.) If you love cameos, Ted 2 has a bumper crop: Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart (voice only), Tom Brady, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Nan Visitor, Tiffany, the Robot from Lost in Space, a Dalek, and many more you may recognize. It’s pretty much mindless entertainment and better after a few strong drinks, but no award nominations here – except maybe for Best Song.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Lava (Pixar/Disney, 2014) - Director: James Ford Murphy. Voices: Napua Greig, Kuana Torres Kahele. Color, 7 minutes, Rated G.

Last week when I reviewed Inside Out I neglected to tell you about the charming animated short that preceded it. Over the seven minutes it takes to view it, the audience hears the love song of a lonely male volcano named Lele (voiced by Greig) and how he sees all creation around him in pairs. But he’s still alone. He longs for someone to “Lava” him. It would be extremely corny if it were not so beautifully done.

The geologic time (millions of years) involved in this film sees Lele singing until he goes dormant and nearly sinks beneath the waves when Uku (voiced by Kahele – the writer of the song) – who has heard his song – rises above the sea surface. He sees her but she’s facing away from him and doesn’t see him as he sinks out of sight.

All is sad as Uku takes up the lonely song and the years go by. Suddenly, Lele has the strength to re-arise next to Uku and they are together at last. A very beautiful story and well animated and sung.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Cantina Rooftop
605 West 48th Street (bet. 11th and 12th Aves.), New York

With rooftop restaurants becoming the vogue in New York, I find a have a lot of catching-up to do. About a block-and-a-half from the Hudson River on the west side of Midtown Manhattan, one has to really look for this one. Situated three floors above Stage 48 nightclub, the only indication that it is there is a small hanging sign above the door to the elevator. A nattily dressed doorman stands outside in case you missed the sign.


The Captain’s Station is immediately to the right once one exits the elevator on floor four and enters a dark, covered area with a disco ball hung in center ceiling. Loud music is playing and a DJ is just outside in the open-air restaurant area. The brightly colored aluminum chairs with wooden seats add a party atmosphere to the pounding music, and the aluminum tables rock on the uneven floor. But I wasn’t here for décor, I was here for fun, food and drink.

In no time after I was seated, I had the drink menu and the food menu (both in soft leather bindings), and a glass of water. My server, Mahadi, was ready to bring me a cocktail before I even looked over the list standing on the table. Eventually I settled on the Pepina Margarita – a tall concoction involving tequila, mulled cucumber and jalapenos. It was a great start, a mostly cucumber flavor with a slight spicy kick, and I enjoyed the thin cucumber slice garnish.

Cantina Rooftop has an impressive list of tequilas (for those who can tell the difference), a decently-priced wine list and a food menu touted as Modern Mexican. Chef Gonzalo Colin is from Mexico City and claims to have searched near and far in Mexico for the most interesting dishes. His menu is divided into Guacamoles, Little Cravings, Salads, Ceviches, Taqueria, Entrées, and Sides. Many interesting choices were indeed there.

Mahadi gave me ample time to decide, as the place was pretty well full at 7:30 pm on a Friday. Once he returned, I had my selections made. He assured me that the three courses would be spaced according to the pace of my dining. He also agreed that the wine, a 2010 Tempranillo from Zaco vineyards would arrive as soon as I finished my margarita.

My first course, from the Little Cravings section was the Empanada Trio: Choriqueso (a cheese with chorizo sausage) and Poblano chili; Huitlacoche (a Mexican fungus) and aged Chihuahua cheese; Braised Chicken Tinga (tomatoes and jalapenos). They looked wonderful on the banana leaf – one golden, one yellow, and one a reddish color. And the flavors were exciting – all different. The savory sausage dominated the first, the earthy mushroom was lord of the second and the pepper spiced the shredded chicken in the third.

A note about the wine, it was every bit as excellent as the Amalaya Malbec from Argentina (which was my original choice, but they had sold the last bottle). It was a deep red color with deep, spicy flavor and the after taste lingered nicely with the food.


My second course was a minor dilemma. There were two ceviches I had not seen on any other menu. But not being able to wrap my head around Oyster Ceviche, I chose the Lobster Ceviche with Habanero essence, mango pico, topped with coconut-ginger foam, served with crispy plantain slices and served in a coconut half resting on ice. It was amazing! The Habanero only spiced it and did not take over, the coconut foam sweetened it but did not cloy and the plantains made it easy to get out of the coconut.

Mahadi was almost religious about pouring my wine and by now, the music had become more of an interesting mix rather than a head-banging rap. The sun was going down and the lights playing on the superstructures supporting the tarps to my left and right were changing colors and pulsating to the music. (No, it wasn’t just the wine.) It was time for the main course.


The lamb shank arrived like an honored guest, on a large square plate and resting in the folds of dark green banana leaves. To one side was a bowl of consommé with chick peas (for pouring over it or dipping in), a small bowl of finely chopped carrots, cauliflower, radishes and other vegetables in a vinegary sauce, and three Comal corn tortillas. The lamb had been marinated and was an appetizing deep red color outside and tender to falling-off-the bone consistency inside. When I mixed all the ingredients together the flavor was jarringly not Mexican. I remembered a Peruvian dinner I had not too long ago that tasted like this and I told Mahadi. He seemed pleased. Like the two previous dishes, I finished this one as well.

Mahadi spoke the dessert menu but I stopped him at the chocolate tart. It sounded perfect, and it was. Not looking anything like a tart but more like a creature from a child’s video game, this cute multi-layered chocolate and vanilla molded custard/pudding with chocolate chips for eyes and a fuchsia orchid garnish was almost too adorable to eat. But I got over that. It soon was history and Mahadi was so please he presented me with a shot of Tromba (white) tequila from Arandas, Jalisco state, noted for its caramelized agave flavor. It was indeed a good sipping tequila.

At this moment I was happy. I didn’t mind the wooden seat on which I sat, the decibel level of the music or the wind blowing my hair into my eyes. I paid the bill and asked for a business card. The reason they didn’t have one yet was that they’ve only been open since May. That made sense because the last time I considered dining here, the website was still under construction. Even today, it only shows artists’ concepts of what the restaurant looks like. Will I return? I think yes, if for no other reason than to try the oyster ceviche.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cinéma Inhabituel for July 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

STAR OF THE MONTH

The Star of the Month for July is Shirley Temple, the little bundle of cuteness who saved Paramount and 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy and was one of the leaders at the box office during the ‘30s. However, come the ‘40s, things changed radically: she grew up and was no longer considered adorable. As with most hot child stars it was a rough transition to adult roles, and she lost much of her appeal while sliding down the credits listing.

July 6: It’s Shirley from 1934 to 1936, beginning at 8:00 pm with 1934’s Little Miss Marker, based on a story by Damon Runyon about a father who places his daughter as a marker in a bet with his bookie. When the father loses the bet he commits suicide in despair, leaving the girl in the custody of the bookie, a hardened character named Sorrowful Jones, played with style by Adolphe Menjou. Its success would set the template for future Temple films. The film would be remade three times: in 1949 as Sorrowful Jones with Bob Hope and Mary Jane Saunders; in 1963 as Forty Pounds of Trouble with Tony Curtis and Claire Wilcox, and in 1980 under its original title with Walter Matthau and Sara Stimson.

Following at 9:30 is Now and Forever, also from 1934, with Shirley starring with Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard in a story of a young swindler (Cooper) who tries to mend his ways when reunited with his young daughter. Lombard plays Cooper’s girlfriend who solidifies the family unit to the happy ending.

Come 11:00 pm, it’s Bright Eyes (1934) and Shirley is again a little cutie taken in by society snobs. This film is notable for her warbling of “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” James Dunn and Jane Darwell co-star.

At 12:30 am, it’s Curly Top (1935), Temple’s first film for Fox. John Boles is a wealthy man who adopts moppet Shirley and her older sister Rochelle Hudson. Shirley spends the film playing Cupid for Boles and Hudson signing “Animal Crackers in My Soup.”

Finally, at 2:00 am it’s one of her best films, Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), where she plays Barbara Barry, who runs away from home and is taken in by the vaudeville team of Alice Faye and Jack Haley, which gives little Shirley lots of time to perform before the happy reunion with Dad (Michael Whalen) and his fiancé, Gloria Stuart.


July 13: More from Shirley in her moppet years. Beginning at 8:00 pm it’s Stowaway (1936), with Robert Young and Alice Faye, followed by Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Heidi (1937), Little Miss Broadway (1938), and finally at 3:00 am, The Little Princess (1938). The plots are basically the same, only the locales and co-stars are different.

FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

The Friday Night Spotlight for July continues the theme began last month: Summer of Darkness.

July 3: Our choices this night begin with The Big Clock (Paramount, 1948) at 8:00 pm, with Charles Laughton in fine form as a corrupt publisher who commits murder and Ray Milland as a career-driven editor who tries to solve the case, only to find that the clues all point to him. Following at 9:45 pm is the excellent and underrated The Window (RKO, 1949) with Bobby Driscoll as a little boy who witnesses as murder and, because he’s a teller of tall tales, can’t get anyone to believe him. Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy play his parents, with Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman also co-starring.

July 10: A solid night of noir beginning at 8:00 pm with the night’s worst, Red Light (UA, 1949) starring the tepid George Raft as – what else? – an innocent guy out for revenge. At 9:45, it’s the wonderful Kiss Me Deadly from director Robert Aldrich. And at 1:30 am, it’s the best of the night: The Hitch-Hiker (RKO, 1953), director Ida Lupino’s breakthrough film.

JACQUES DEMY


July 5: Beginning at 2:15 am, it’s a double helping of director Jacques Demy starting off with his wonderful musical Donkey Skin from 1970. Based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, it’s about a king (Jean Marias) who wishes to marry his daughter. He has promises his dying queen that after her death he will only marry a woman as beautiful and virtuous as she. He later comes to the conclusion that the only one who fits the bill is his daughter, the Princess Peau D’Ane (Catherine Deneuve). As she doesn’t want to marry her father, she takes the advice of her godmother, the Lilac Fairy (Delphine Seyrig) and demands a series of seemingly impossible nuptial gifts in the hope that he will give up. But the king fulfills every request, gifting her with dresses the color of the weather, of the moon and of the sun, and finally with the skin of a magic donkey that excretes jewels. The princess dons the donkey skin and flees the kingdom. In the guise of “Donkey Skin” she finds employment as a pig-keeper in a neighboring kingdom, whose prince (Jacques Perrin) spies her from a distance and falls in love. Lovesick, he retires to his bed and instructs Donkey Skin to bake him a cake that will restore him to health. In the cake he finds a ring the princess has placed there and is sure his love is reciprocated. He declares that he will marry the woman whose finger fits the ring. It is a beautiful and stylish film, with Demy’s mastery of the use of color in full view. The film’s beauty rests in that it’s told with the beauty and simplicity of a children’s fairy tale, but its emotional undertones and surrealistic style are cued to the adult viewer.

Following at 4:00 am, it’s The Universe of Jacques Demy, a 1995 documentary from his widow, Agnes Varda. It is an intensely personal tribute that examines his life and career, looking deeply into his vision as a director and his filmmaking techniques. Through the use of film clips and interviews with people who worked for him, Varda constructs both a loving tribute and a thorough analysis of the great director’s work.

WAR ON THE EASTERN FRONT


July 12: One of the most interesting aspects of watching film about World War 2 is the difference between how the war is viewed on the West versus the East. In the West, especially in America, the war is a pretty straightforward affair. We entered the war comparatively late, and compared to our allies, suffered little damage. But when viewed from behind the Iron Curtain, the war takes on an entirely different dimension. TCM provides two excellent examples of this mindset beginning at 2:30 am, beginning with Ivan’s Childhood from the Soviet Union in 1963. Directed by the renowned Andrei Tarkovsky (his first feature film), this is the story of a young escapee from the Germans named Ivan Bondarev (Nikolai Burlyayev) working as a spy for the Russian army. We learn that the Germans wiped out his family, but he got away and joined a group of partisans. When the group was surrounded, Ivan was captured and taken to a boarding school, from which he escaped again, trekking through the war-torn countryside until he’s captured by Russian soldiers and taken to Lieutenant Galtsev (Evgeny Zharikov), the unit’s commander, who questions him. Ivan insists that he call “Number 51” at the unit’s headquarters and report his presence. The lieutenant is reluctant, but places the call and learns that Ivan is working as a spy for Lieutenant-Colonel Gryaznov (Nikolai Grinko). Gryaznov tells Galtsev to give the boy pencil and paper to make his report, which will be given the highest priority, and to treat him well. Though Gryaznov wants to send Ivan to a military school safely behind the lines, the boy persists in his mission to exact revenge on the Germans. It is a touching and disturbing film, showing the war from the viewpoint of a child caught up in the violence. The film won international acclaim, including the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It’s not an easy film to watch, but is quite rewarding for those who sit through it.

Following at 4:15 am is a renowned film from Polish director Andrzej Wajda, Kanal (1957). Its subject matter is the Warsaw uprising of 1944, itself a controversial topic in Poland. As the Soviet troops approached Warsaw in 1944, the Polish government-in-exile instructed the Home Army to liberate the city from its German occupiers in order to prevent a Communist takeover. But when the rebellion began, the Soviets camped outside Warsaw refused to take part, even blocking relief supplies to the fighters. The Germans, buoyed by this turn of events, turned Warsaw into a pile of rubble and defeated the Home Army, after which they began razing Warsaw to the ground. It remains a sore point with Poles to this day. The film was made during a thaw in Soviet politics following the death of Stalin in 1953 and follows the Home Army as they fought the Germans in a guerrilla-style campaign using the city’s sewers to move around. It’s a fascinating chronicle of the times and is a film that will appeal to a broad spectrum of film buffs.

KUROSAWA

July 13: A double feature of Kurosawa begins at the relatively normal time of 9:45 am with his urban classic The Bad Sleep Well from 1960. Like his earlier Throne of Blood, this is a Kurosawa adaptation of Shakespeare. This time it’s Hamlet, set in the Japanese urban corporate world and posing as a crime drama. The film begins with the wedding of Yoshiko Iwabuchi (Kyoko Kagawa), the daughter of Vice President Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori, the villain of the piece) of the Unexploited Land Development Corporation, to Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune), the president’s secretary. The police interrupt the nuptials to arrest corporate assistant officer Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara) on charges of bribery related to a kickback scheme. From here it becomes a no-holds-barred investigation by Nishi himself, who is later exposed as the illegitimate son of Assistant Chief Furuya, who was the set-up guy in an earlier scheme and who committed suicide in order to save the higher-ups responsible. It is an intense movie with all the earmarks of a Warner’s 1940’s crime drama. Mifune is excellent, as is Mori. The Bad Sleep Well is Kurosawa’s commentary on the contemporary corporate scene in Japan, which he sees as a world of scandal, larceny, manipulation, deceit, murder, and revenge. In this he mirrors his samurai sagas, in which a white knight, pure in spirit and deed, takes on the forces of corruption and all it spoils. For Kurosawa, the modern corporate world is merely an updating of the reactionary feudalism that ruled in medieval times.

Immediately following at 12:30 pm is his prescient Scandal, from 1950. It’s a fascinating look into the Americanization of postwar Japan: An artist (Toshiro Mifune) vacationing in the mountains comes across a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi) who has just missed her bus. He offers her a ride back to her hotel, where, coincidentally, he is also staying. A reporter for a tabloid magazine takes a picture of them together, and his bosses at the tabloid blow it up into a huge fabricated story designed to humiliate the singer, who is targeted by the publication for her lack of cooperation with the press. Ichiro, the artist, is outraged and sues the tabloid, but not everything goes as planned. Although this is something that we would expect from Ozu, Kurosawa handles the subject matter brilliantly, showing the levels of corruption that have made their way into Japanese society and the confusion by the media of freedom with license. Early Kurosawa films are always interesting and this one is no different.

PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE

As always, there’s a good selection of psychotronic films.

July 4: Blaxpolitation rules! It’s a double feature of Tamara Dobson, who played special agent Cleopatra Jones. In the same year that Pam Grier shot to stardom in Coffy(1973), Warner Bros. decided to get in on the act with their female star in the eponymous Cleopatra Jones, which airs at 3:15 am. Cleo, as played by Dobson, is a no-nonsense but glamorous international agent working for the American government (her badge simply reads “Special Agent to the President”). Dressed in chic, colorful outfits that accentuate her 6’2” frame, Cleo is on the trail of a Los Angeles drug lord named “Mommy,” played in ultra-hammy style by Shelley Winters, who at this point in her career would appears in anything for the buck. It’s wild, wacky, and totally impossible to take seriously.


It’s followed at 4:45 am by its 1975 sequel, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. This time out Cleo travels to Hong Kong to rescue two fellow agents captured by the Dragon Lady (Stella Stevens, another older actress doing anything for the buck). Once in Hong Kong she teams with Chinese agent Tanny (Mi Ling) and the two crash the Dragon Lady’s casino, which is a front for her international drug empire. The highlight of the film is watching the catfight showdown between Cleo and the Dragon Lady in the casino. Unfortunately, it was released as the Blaxploitation craze was dying out and the film did middling business. Dobson did a few more films before returning to modeling. Multiple sclerosis claimed her at the early age of 59. Though she was never given a chance for a decent comeback, her character was paid homage in the spy spoof sequel Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) as Foxy Cleopatra, played by Beyonce.

July 9: The evening is devoted to the theme of “Alien Invasion.” Beginning at 8:00 pm, it’s Ray Harryhausen’s marvelous Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), with Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor leading the fight against an alien invasion intent on conquering Earth. Harryhausen created the saucers, as well as the aliens, and both rank with his greatest effects. Though the film is more than a tad pedestrian, the saucers are well worth the time.

Following at 9:30 and 11:00 respectively are the excellent and intelligent It Came From Outer Space (1953) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Then the quality declines sharply, with Edgar G. Ulmer’s interesting, but below low-budget The Man From Planet X (1951) at 1:00 am; the lame Invisible Invaders (1959), directed by Edward L. Cahn and starring the atrocious John Agar, at 2:30 am. Rounding out the evening is the ludicrous They Came From Beyond Space (1967), starring Robert Hutton and wasting the talents of Jennifer Jayne, at 3:45 am.


July 11: TCM screens a forgotten crap classic at 2:00 am with the premiere of Bayou (1957), starring, of all people, Peter Graves. A rip-off of Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1957), Graves is Martin Davis, a Northern architect who visits a carnival in the Cajun country of Southern Louisiana, where he meets Marie (Lita Milan) a sensual girl of 17 working as a crabber in the bayou to help support herself and her alcoholic father. Needless to say, they fall in love, but Martin has to fight off the sadistic Ulysses (Tim Carey), who also has designs on Marie. The film flopped upon release, but in 1960, M.A. Ripps, the executive producer, bought the rights from United Artists, and the next year, with the help of an ingeniously designed ad campaign, released it under the title of Poor White Trash. It became a huge hit on the exploitation and Southern drive-in circuit, playing into the early ‘70s. Ripps also purchased the rights to Roger Corman’s The Intruder, starring William Shatner as a Klan-style race-baiter, retitled it Shame, and paired it on a double bill with Poor White Trash

Monday, June 29, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for July 1-7

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 1–July 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 1:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny and fun story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier together is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.

THE GREAT DICTATOR (July 5, 9:30 pm): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis so it often gets overlooked. As he did in so many of his roles, Chaplin brilliantly portrays the film's protagonist, known as "a Jewish barber," with great empathy and humility while still being funny. And when you mention funny, his impersonation of Adolph Hitler - the character in the film is named Adenoid Hynkel - is spot-on and highly entertaining. The film, made before the United States was at war with Nazi Germany, has several iconic scenes, including Hynkel playing with a bouncing globe, and a chase scene between the barber and storm troopers. Chaplin's brilliance lied in his ability to make people think about the world while making them laugh. There is no finer example of that than The Great Dictator. The ending is beautiful. It's too bad life rarely turns out to have a happy Hollywood ending, but that doesn't diminish from the entertainment and importance of this landmark film. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

1776 (July 4, 1:30 am): A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You’re kidding, right? No, we’re not kidding, and furthermore, it’s quite good. Based on the play, it retains many of those originally performed it. William Daniels is splendid as John Adams, Ken Howard makes for a most effective Thomas Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva is the spitting image of Ben Franklin. Throw in Virgina Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to look for include “But Mr. Adams,” “Cool Cool, Considerate Men” (my favorite), and the heart tugging “Mama Look Sharp.” American history was never this much fun.

DUCK SOUP (July 5, 8:00 pm): There are very few comedic masterpieces in film history. This is one of the best and probably the best antiwar movie ever made. Imagine - Groucho becomes dictator of Fredonia at the whim of Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), to whom the government owes large sums of money. Chico and Harpo work as spies for Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighboring Sylvania, which has its eyes on Fredonia. Trentino hopes to marry Mrs. Teasdale and take over Fredonia, but Groucho stands in his way. Eventually their rivalry leads to war. And what a war! Every vestige of nationalism is lampooned, from Paul Revere’s ride to the draft. It has great dialogue and sight gags galore, each managing to top the previous one. It’s incredible to believe, but this film bombed at the box office so badly that Paramount cancelled the Marx Brothers’ contract. Today it’s a classic of the genre. With the gorgeous Raquel Torres and the hysterical Edgar Kennedy, whose encounters with Chico and Harpo are truly side-splitting.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (July 7, 9:30 pm)

ED: A. This is a remarkable fantasy film, all the more so in that it was made in the days before CGI, using incredible Technicolor photography by Georges Perinal and Osmond Borradaile. (Oscar winning, by the way.) The production design by Vincent Korda is just as impressive. This is not a remake of the Douglas Fairbanks silent, but introduces a totally new story, also drawing from the Thousand-and-One-Nights tales. And the story chosen is both remarkable and enthralling, starring producer Alexander Korda’s discovery, Indian actor Sabu, who plays Abu, a thief amongst the many merchants that make up the marketplace of Bagdad. He and Prince Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful ruler of Bagdad who was overthrown by his evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) fight to vanquish Jaffar, who also has designs on the Prince’s love, the sultan’s daughter (June Duprez). Along the way we are treated to such visual delights as a flying carpet, a deadly six-armed dervish, a full-size mechanical horse, a stolen all-seeing ruby eye, and the Genie of the Lamp, played by the great Rex Ingram, who walks away with the picture despite the best efforts of Veidt. It’s one of the few pre-1960 films parents can show their children, as it’s made in Technicolor and is one helluva an adventure. And the score by Miklos Rozsa fits the film perfectly and enhances our viewing pleasure.


DAVID: B-. This is one of those films that should be great fun with colorful characters and costumes in an exotic location with a story filled with action and adventure. Don't get me wrong, it came close, but fell short of my expectations. Conrad Veidt as the evil Jaffar is wonderful as is Rex Ingram as the genie. Sabu is also quite charming as Abu, the boy thief. The biggest problem with this film is the love story between Ahmad the Prince (John Justin) and the Princess (June Duprez). Movies like this have the cliche love story between the naive, beautiful princess and the handsome prince who's been wronged as a central focus. The film is supposed to be exciting, but it sacrifices some action for romantic scenes – the kind that make kids say, "Eww, that's gross," and make adults wonder "What is this silly love story doing in a film for kids?" So it loses points because of that. However, there are plenty of great moments as Ed mentioned. The flying carpet is cool as is the ruby eye and the genie. Lose the love story focus, edit it down another 15 minutes and you'd have a real winner of a movie.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ghostbusters

Little Facts Mean A Lot

By Jon Gallagher

A long time ago (20 years), in a galaxy far, far away (Galesburg, Illinois), I did a radio show once a week called the J. L. Newton Rock ‘n’ Fun Show. I had started doing the show as a non-traditional student on the college radio station in town (WVKC – the VOICE of Knox College), and when I graduated, a local FM station contacted me to continue the show on commercial radio (WGBQ-FM, Q-93).

On the show, I played oldies, introduced songs with bits of trivia about the song, and even took trips in our Magical, Mystical, Musical Time Machine back to whatever date we were on, to a year somewhere between 1960 and 1985. I’d play the top 20 songs in countdown order from that date, looked at magazine covers that had come out that week, read the top stories that had appeared in both local and Chicago newspapers, and covered what movies were at local theaters (most of which didn’t exist anymore) and TV shows that were on that night. It took a lot of research, but it was a ton of fun, and it gave me four hours a week on Sunday nights to relax with music and escape from life. Even after I became a high school English teacher (after all, I had gone to college for that), I continued to do the show (without my students knowing it) because it was so much fun. I’d probably still be doing it today if the owner of the station hadn’t sold it to a company I wouldn’t have worked for no matter what kind of money they paid (I’d have done the show for free for the first owners – and practically did!).

I bring all this up to give you a rather long-winded explanation of how I came across what this particular entry is about. I miss doing the show and the trivia that goes with it, so at the suggestion of a few friends, I put together a Facebook page called the Rootin’ Tootin’ J. L. Newton Rock ‘n’ Fun Show page where each morning I post an almanac of what happened on that date, plus trivia and a song of the day.


When I wrote the June 8 entry, I found that Ghostbusters had come out 31 years ago on that date. Ghostbusters is a timeless classic (that will be remade and released in 2016 with female stars) that is just as good today as it was 31 years ago. While researching it, I found out a lot of things I didn’t know.

The movie was conceived quite differently than the finished product. Originally named “Ghost Smashers” by writer Dan Aykroyd, it was supposed to take place in the future, not the present, and Ghostbuster units were to be found at every fire station, just like paramedics and other first responders. John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, and Aykroyd were to star. The problem was, with all the special effects written into the original futuristic version, the budget would have been (according to director Ivan Reitman) over $300 million in 1984 dollars!

Instead, they decided to make it present day. The ghostbusters would wear SWAT uniforms and instead of carrying bulky equipment, they would dispel the evil spirits with special magic wands.

While retooling the original, Belushi died from a drug overdose, and Chevy Chase was offered his part. He declined because he felt the original script was “too dark.” Bill Murray stepped into the Belushi role, but only under the condition that the studio remake the movie Razor’s Edge with him as the star. John Candy signed on, but quit the cast early on when he felt that his ideas were not being used. Murphy was offered Beverly Hills Cop, so Ernie Hudson took his role. Michael Keaton was offered a part as either lead character, but he turned it down.

John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Walken, and Jeff Goldblum were all considered for a role in the film, but Harold Ramis, one of the writers, finally decided that he himself was best suited to play Dr. Egon Spengler.

Whenever things would happen unexpectedly on the set (whether by accident, or accidently on purpose), the cast and crew would blame it on the ghost of Belushi. More than once, someone said that they hoped that busting the ghosts on the film would hurt John’s ghost.

Although there was a script, a good part of the movie was improvised. In fact, Murray never recited a single line the way it was written. He had ad-libbed his way through Caddyshack four years earlier and it worked so well that they allowed him to do it in this film as well.


During a battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Aykroyd’s character mentions roasting marshmallows at “Camp Wokanda” when he was a boy. Camp Wokanda is one of our local parks, a former Boy Scout Camp just a little ways north of Peoria, about 35 minutes away from where I now live. I always enjoy hearing about nearby locations in movies.

The Ghostbusters theme song was also interesting. Huey Lewis was approached (as was Lindsay Buckingham) to write the theme, but he turned it down. Ray Parker Jr. took the job and didn’t have much done on it as the deadline approached. Parker saw a late night TV commercial for a New York plumber with the phrase “Who you gonna call?” and he took off from there. Ironically, Huey Lewis would later successfully sue Parker for plagiarizing his song “I Want A New Drug” with the Ghostbusters theme.

Parker rushed his song into production and he used anybody he could find for the chorus. Even his young girlfriend was used for the group that chants “Ghostbusters!” at the appropriate time in the song. Whatever he did must have worked because the song spent three weeks on the top of Billboard’s Hot 100.

The video for the song had a long list of celebrities making cameos, and a whole list of stars who didn’t make the cut for some reason or another. Appearing in no particular order: John Candy, Irene Cara, Chevy Chase, Melissa Gilbert, Al Franken, Ollie E. Brown, George Wendt, Jeffrey Tambor, Carly Simon, Danny DeVito, Terri Garr, and Peter Falk.

Director Ivan Reitman made the comment on the DVD commentary that he was so rushed to get the movie finished that many of the special effects were left unfinished. He notes several shots where wires are showing, for example. The thing is, he noted, no one really cared.

There’s even more, mundane as it may be, trivia about the film, but I’ve whetted my own appetite. I wonder if I can find it somewhere online to watch. The video store is about 20 miles away!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Laura Antonelli: In Memoriam

Italian Cinema Sex Symbol

By Ed Garea

Laura Antonelli, a self-described “ugly duckling” as a child who later became one of Italy’s top sex symbols in the 1970s, died June 22 at her seaside home in Ladispoli, west of Rome. She was 73.

Roberto Ussia Spinaci, the councilman in charge of social services in Ladispoli, confirmed her death, attributed to a heart attack. (She was found by her housekeeper.) Since 2009, he said, she had been a ward of the city, unable to care for herself.


Beginning in the mid-1960s and continuing for almost a quarter-century, Antonelli appeared in more than 40 films, beginning in 1964 with an unbilled appearance in The Magnificent Cuckold and continuing through Malizia 2000 in 1991. Her breakthrough to stardom came in the 1973 erotic comedy Malizia (“Malicious”), a coming-of-age film where Antonelli’s sexy housekeeper seduces a young man and his widowed father, a performance that won her a Nastro d'Argento award in 1974. The film broke box office records in Italy and established Antonelli as a major attraction. Other notable films included Till Marriage Do Us Part (1974), The Innocent (1976), Wifemistress (1977, in which she played a repressed wife experiencing a sexual awakening), and Passion of Love (1981). Antonelli was in the mold of other sex symbols such as Brigitte Bardot, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, and Monica Vitti, who reigned in an era when the sex was more suggestive and left to the imagination. Her career faded when sex comedies went out of style in the 1980s.

She said in an interview that she never thought of herself as being particularly sexy, but added that she had no qualms about being considered a sex symbol or appearing in the nude. “If I manage to communicate a kind of sensuality on the screen, it must mean that there is something in me that I can express,” she said. “I am proud of it. After all, sex is a reality which lives in our dreams, in our sentiments. The important thing is to use it well and never let it degrade into pornography. Naked beauty without intelligence fades quickly.”

She was born Laura Antonac (or Antonaz) on Nov. 28, 1941, in Pola, which was then in Istria, Italy. (It was later occupied by Yugoslavia and is now part of Croatia.) After the war, her parents fled, living in Italian refugee camps in Genoa and Venice before settling in Naples, where her father became a hospital administrator.

While in her teens. Antonelli wished to become a math teacher, but in an interview she said her parents had other ideas about a career. They hoped that she would develop some grace, feeling she was clumsy and ugly. Towards that end, she took hours of gym classes, where she concentrated on gymnastics, excelling in rhythmical gymnastics, a form of dance. She graduated as a gymnastics instructor and took a job in Rome, where a desire for a modeling career led her to meet people in the entertainment industry.

From there she appeared in television commercials, including one for Coca-Cola, and worked for a month as a television announcer before being fired for what was described as a wooden delivery. However, a soft-drink commercial she made attracted the attention of a film director, who was taken by her physical charms.

This would lead to minor roles in such forgettable fare as Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), where she had her first credited role as Rosanna. She first attracted attention for her role as Wanda von Dunajew in the 1969 erotic drama Devil in the Flesh. It was filmed for the German market and didn’t make its Italian debut until 1973. The Italian authorities wasted no time seizing it under pornography laws and the film didn’t see the light of Italian theaters until 1975, when it was released with the sex scenes cut and replaced with plotless judicial scenes. Customs authorities in both the United States and England also confiscated it in 1969, later allowing it to be released with all sex scenes cut, trimming the film by as much as 45 minutes in some cases. But it did get Laura Antonelli on the silver screen radar and would lead to bigger and better roles. In 1975, she played a seven-minute nude scene in The Divine Nymph, with Terence Stamp, which was unheard of at that time.


While most of her film career was spent in Italy, she did a handful of films outside the country, including A Man Called Sledge (1970), a Western co-starring James Garner, made in the U.S., and Swashbuckler (1971) with Jean-Paul Belmondo, filmed in France and Romania.

A marriage to publisher Enrico Piacentini ended in divorce, after which she took up with actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, with whom she starred in several movies.

The quality of her movies declined during the 1980s as she starred in erotic films and comedies, eventually landing on television miniseries.

Her life was turned upside down in 1991 when she was arrested with cocaine in her home in Cerveteri. Police, acting on a tip, raided her apartment in Rome and found a small quantity of cocaine. She was accused of drug dealing and, after a long trial, sentenced to three years in prison. The verdict was later commuted to a form of house arrest. Humiliated and ostracized within her industry, Antonelli never made another film. She was later diagnosed as suffering from acute depression. She challenged her conviction, which was overturned in 2000. She then sued for 1,000,000 Euros in compensation for her lost career and ruined health. The Italian Supreme Court awarded her 150,000 Euros. She later faced further tragedy when a botched facelift left her disfigured. In November 1996, she was admitted to the psychiatric ward of a clinic in Civitavecchia.

In recent years, she sued her son and housekeeper for misappropriating funds. In 2010, her friend, actor Lino Banfi appealed to the state to help relieve her economic troubles. She then withdrew from public life entirely, issuing a statement, "Earthly life no longer interests me." 

She is survived by her son, and a brother, Claudio.