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End Credits #25: Cinema's 2014 Lost Treasures

These are some of Cinema's sad departures of this year taken from my personal notes soon after the tragic events took place:

mike nichols 1.jpg

Legendary film director Mike Nichols (November 6, 1931 - November 19, 2014) has died at age 83. His exceptional talent was witnessed in television, on stage, as a film director, producer, writer, and as a comedian. He gave us such cinematic landmarks as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, and The Birdcage. He won at least one of all of the four major entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. He was one of 5 recipients of the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors. Nichols directed 17 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. He is one of 7 directors to win the Golden Globe, Director's Guild, BAFTA, and Oscar for the same movie: 1967's The Graduate.  He won more Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play than any other individual. His Emmy wins were for 2001's Wit and 2003's Angels In America. His last film as a director was 2007's Charlie Wilson's War. A titan of the film world is sadly gone. Thankfully we have his cinematic treasures left to cherish.

 

Charles Champlin (March 23, 1926 - November 16, 2014) R.I.P.  

Charles Champlin (March 23, 1926 - November 16, 2014) R.I.P.

 

Charles Champlin, longtime critic for the Los Angeles Times (from 1965 - 19991) has died at age 88. Champlin would see up to 250 films per year and review about 125 of them. His reviews were always tremendously insightful, concise and respectful. They never drew undue attention to their author by way of impertinent witticisms, a quality which escaped a few of his peers. Champlin, was a noted author of books on film, i.e. Conversations with John Frankenheimer published in 1995, and hosted TV shows for Los Angeles public station KCET, PBS and Bravo featuring classic films and prominent filmmakers such as Jean Renior and Alfred Hitchcock.

On a personal note, as a young teenager, I voraciously read his reviews in L.A. and enjoyed tremendously comparing his thoughts to other critics and my own. He introduced me to many foreign film classics by way of his television programs. Later in life, I had the pleasure of meeting him more than a few times usually at the Earthling Bookstore in Santa Barbara (a small coastal city in California). He was always friendly and giving of his time, a true gentleman and loved to talk about all things movie related. Once he introduced Beat the Devil, a favourite film of his, which proved to be a most enjoyable evening for its attendees. I admired him greatly. He was a true champion to film lovers and will be sorely missed. My sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

 

 

Ken Takakura ( February 16, 1931- November 10, 2014) an accomplished and prolific Japanese actor has died at age 83. He became famous for playing yakuza outlaws in the 1960's, typically loners who would respond only after being provoked. For these roles he was famously known as the "Clint Eastwood of Japan." Western audiences will recognize him for his brooding and intense performance in The Yakuza and especially as a Japanese police officer in Black Rain. His last film was 2012's Dearest.

"Now Listen To Me..."

 

Just some thoughts on current happenings:

 

The following contains my thoughts on Gone Girl. There are spoilers present and it is really meant for those who have seen the film.

I rarely see films at a theatre anymore. Prices have climbed to $20 per ticket (it costs even more to see one’s choice on the complex’s bigger screen), plus the perils of driving there and the limited selection of recent commercial fare on display make it a rather undesirable option. The thought of misbehaving patrons and mishaps during the film’s projection, not to mention the endless commercials, kill the idea almost completely. Every few years or so, when I’m right nearby a beautifully appointed theatre that long ago provided the most solid and enjoyable presentation possible, one of those relics of my movie going past beckons: Very few people are in attendance, the new film is garnering excellent notices and has an esteemed director.  

Unfortunately, the movie itself, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, made my last experience disappointing. There's a p.o.v. shift about half way through that ends the effectively ominous mystery element, something Fincher excels at sustaining. The sudden change in character focus also diminishes empathy for Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne that the storytellers have worked so hard to establish and attempts to replace concern over his character’s fate with that of his wife Amy. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t realize that their decision to delve into Amy’s present circumstances would also reflect on her past vengeful behaviour and therefore try to justify the  extreme effort in setting up her husband...actions which she hoped would have for Nick the most devastating of consequences.   

So, like Psycho, the narrative starts anew, only unlike the master’s work, our previous character Nick is still very much alive. Amy’s activities and plans, however, are rapidly losing sensibility. She goes to all that trouble, heavily relying on the response of those investigating, to exact her peculiar revenge only to commit a planned suicide? This strong willed female is ripped off by a couple of lowly thugs and does nothing about it, but later is willing to brutally murder her insanely rich ex-boyfriend who was at her beck and call? The real motive for which would be easily discovered simply by watching the camera tapes showing her entering his house willingly.

This shift in focus on Amy's increasingly absurd and inexplicable behaviour only succeeds in drastically altering the film’s realistic tone and dulling one’s interest in what happens next. When husband and wife are reunited, her character's shot credibility takes down the others as well (i.e., the head police investigator who basically gives up, along with husband Nick, now lost and confused, both who’ve succumbed to Amy’s superior intellect) until the story reaches an unsatisfying, open ended conclusion.

Screenwriter Gillian Flynn adapting her novel goes to great lengths to flesh out this apparent femme-fatale by repeatedly identifying her as self-assured, liberated and independent. And yet, Amy is presented time and again as a wounded victim, of her parents unrealistic expectations, her husband's inadequate financial responsibility and his infidelity, the two rip-off artists at the motel, and finally the ex-boyfriend with some unwanted romantic ideas of his own. Is Amy Dunne a suicidal, mixed-up innocent trying to extract some justice, deserving of our sympathy, or a cunning and resourceful psycho-bitch who wants it all? Apparently both, but like four day old fish, I’m not buying.

The fact that she ultimately triumphs, after carrying out what others seem to think is a "fool-proof" master plan, represents a kind of self-centered superiority which brings to mind Kathleen Turner’s Matty Walker with her ruthless but intricately planned ruse in Body Heat. Turner’s victorious self-determined character was however, consistent throughout. In Gone Girl, considering what we’ve previously witnessed, Amy’s final winning posture is only there for its own sake becoming the pinnacle of self congratulatory narrative absurdity. It also makes the audience feel like suckers for being so captivated by the initial romance of Amy and Nick, so engrossed in the first half of the story’s mystery and so concerned about Nick’s fate, only to have our attention highjacked by a complete crazy whose motives are so contradictory, they’re unfathomable.

As its supporters have pointed out, this movie is full of recognizable genre tropes but that only increases its derivative artificiality. As Pauline Kael would say “It’s worth a miss.”

 

 

There are two recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month.

The first is Guys and Dolls, a highly energetic musical with so many top tier songs, you’ll be humming them for days afterward. Then there's Michael Kidd's wildly stylized choreography. All of its marvelous characters are endearing and captivating. That also goes for the film’s plot that centres around a bet wagered between two iconic gamblers, Frank Sinatra’s Nathan Detroit and Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson over whether the latter can get a date to Havana with Jean Simmons’ missionary Sarah Brown. It’s a joyous romp, a little long perhaps, but more charming than a leprechaun. No, Marlon can’t sing too well but successfully acts through his fabulous numbers. All three leads seem overtly comfortable with their parts though Sinatra unsuccessfully campaigned for Brando’s role since it’s Masterson who sings the coveted ‘Luck Be a Lady’. Guys and Dolls is scheduled to show on TCM Thursday November 13 at 4:30 am PST.

 

 

The second recommendation is one of the Top Ten films of all time, Citizen Kane. Any serious student of cinema cannot see this film enough. It contains an enormous wealth of character complexity providing a richness in profound thought on human relations, not to mention a dazzling display of innovative storytelling techniques without peer. Ultimately it’s that magical synchronicity of character and plot development and the precise mastery of control abundantly evident by all of it’s contributors that places it rightfully alongside art’s highest achievements. It is scheduled to show on TCM Sunday November 23 at 6:45 am PST.

 

TCM’s current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on either of the above images.




The soundtrack recommendation for this month contains two incredibly atmospheric scores by the master of musical conspiratorial suspense and paranoia, Michael Small. This must have CD contains the amazingly inventive scores to The Parallax View and Marathon Man. It was issued by Film Score Monthly in a limited edition and is currently available from Screen Archives Entertainment by clicking on the image.





The video recommendation for November is Anthony Mann’s Man of the West. It is reviewed as Top Ten Western #5 and is now available on Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber. It can be ordered from Amazon by clicking on the image.


A.G.

Plundering the Genre: A Halloween Tribute to Horror in Cinema

 

The following montage is a selection of films that have included some noteworthy moments of horror throughout the years. The music from The Omen is by Jerry Goldsmith. The list of stills selected is printed below in the order they are presented.

 

The Golem (1920)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Nosferatu (1922)
Haxan (1922)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Dracula (1931)
Freaks (1932)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Vampyr (1932)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
The Wolfman (1941)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Cat People (1942)
Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942)
I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
The 7th Victim (1943)
The Uninvited (1944)
Dead of Night (1945)
Hangover Square (1945)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
The Thing (1951)
House of Wax (1953)
Les diaboliques (1955)
The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Night of the Demon (1957)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Psycho (1960)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Village of the Damned (1960)
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
The Haunting (1963)
The Birds (1963)
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Repulsion (1965)
Seconds (1966)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Witchfinder General (1968)
Play Misty For Me (1971)
The Other (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
Jaws (1975)
The Omen (1976)
Suspiria (1977)
Halloween (1978)
Alien (1979)
The Shining (1980)
The Thing (1982)
Q The Winged Serpent (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Fly (1986)
Manhunter (1986)
Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Near Dark (1987)
Hellraiser (1987)
The Stepfather (1987)
Dead Ringers (1988)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Dracula (1992)
Se7en (1995)
Ring (1998)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Others (2001)
The Ring (2002)
Final Destination 2 (2003)
Matrimony (2007)
Zodiac (2007)
Let the Right One In (2008)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Shutter Island (2010)

A.G.

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 4 Chinatown

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)
These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures.

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)

Read More

Sterling Silver Dialogue #15

Sterling Silver Dialogue From The Movies:  

Do you know where they're from? Answers coming soon.

 

 

"You wanna be worshiped? Go to India and moo."

 

 

"You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word."

 

"Welcome to Chicago. This town stinks like a whorehouse at low tide."

 

 

"In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggeration."

 

(Referring to the drinks they've already had) "We've gotten a head start here, Mr. Thornhill."

Roger Thornhill: (Just arriving) "That won't last long."

 

(singing) "I've grown accustom to my bourbon."

 

(on the telephone) "No. No, Mother, I have not been drinking. No. No. These two men, they poured a whole bottle of bourbon into me... No, they didn't give me a chaser."

 

"We'll get them. We'll throw the book at them. Assault and kidnapping. Assault with a gun and a bourbon and a sports car. We'll get them."

 

 

"You're marking time is what you are. You're backing off. You're hiding out. You're waiting for a bus that you hope never comes because you don't wanna get on it anyway because you don't wanna go anywhere."

 

 

"Two people dead, just so we can live without working!"

 

"We go together, Annie. I don't know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together."

 

 

"I didn't want a house. I didn't want all those pots and pans. I didn't want anything but you. It's God's own blessing I didn't get you."

(reply) "Why?"

(response) "Cause I'm a loner clear down deep to my guts. Know what a loner is? He's a born cripple. He's a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It's his life, the way he wants to live. It's all for him. A guy like that, he'd kill a woman like you. Because he couldn't love you, not the way you are loved."

 

 

"I've had hangovers before, but this time, even my hair hurts."

 

"If there's anything worse than a woman living alone, it's a woman saying she likes it."

 

 

"You're told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What's your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No... just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele."

Dixon Steele: "Well, I grant you, the jokes could've been better, but I don't see why the rest should worry you... that is, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion."

 

"You know, Ms. Gray, you're one up on me - you can see into my apartment but I can't see into yours."

(reply) "I promise you, I won't take advantage of it."

(response) "I would, if it were the other way around."

 

"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

 

 

 

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 5 (#41 - 50)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #41 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

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Close Encounters of the Treasured Kind #6



I am honoured to introduce noted author Preston Neal Jones making his first contribution here.



What I Did With JOAN RIVERS On My Summer Vacation


The passing of Joan Rivers inevitably calls to mind the summer of 1966, my first college-age vacation, which I filled by serving (and I do mean serving) as a production assistant, AKA "go-fer," on the Burt Lancaster movie, The Swimmer.  Based on the John Cheever short story, The Swimmer was a Sam Spiegel production, written and directed respectively by Eleanor Perry and her husband Frank, and filmed on location at the swimming pools of Cheever country in Fairfield County, Connecticut.  This was the briar patch where I was born, and when I offered my services (and the use of our family car) to the production team they hired me on the spot. The Production Manager was Joe Manduke, (later a director), and on the morning of my first assignment he sat me down in his office and gave me what is still the best piece of film-making advice I ever received.  "Preston," he said, "This is a serious business.  If we send you out for a cup of coffee, don't come back with a trombone."

 

Burt Lancaster and Joan Rivers in 'The Swimmer'

Burt Lancaster and Joan Rivers in 'The Swimmer'

Several hundred coffee cups later, filming was well underway, mostly intimate two-character dialogue scenes between Lancaster's middle-aging suburban stud Ned Merrill and the various neighbors he encounters on his allegorical journey homeward via various swimming pools. Came the day, however, for a real mob scene, the pool party of a wealthy married couple and their friends.  One face in the crowd was a character named "Joan," played by Joan Rivers, the young and quickly-becoming-famous comedienne (as they used to  be called in those pre-P.C. days before actresses became actors).  The Perrys had befriended Miss Rivers, (who had been an actress well before  venturing into stand-up), and had written into the script this little vignette -- a fleeting flirtation -- especially for her.  If you've seen the film, perhaps you'll agree with me that Miss Rivers acquitted herself very well in the part, making the most of her brief moment to portray a touching portrait of a cute but wistful party-goer.

 

When not on camera, you won't be surprised to hear, Miss Rivers reverted to her comic persona, joking and riffing with the crew.  Amid her laugh-getting, self-deprecating autobiographical reminiscences, the one bit I still remember is in retrospect not a little ironic.  She told of sitting in an airplane seat next to the legendary Marlene Dietrich.  "She never said a word to me the whole flight," said Joan, then added in a throwaway, "Probably afraid of breaking the stitches."

 

How often I've thought of that moment watching Miss Rivers in later years, never more so than during the recent TV obituaries with many a split screen showing, on one side, the young Joan Rivers I remember fondly, and on the other, someone wearing a mask, resembling neither Joan Rivers nor any other human being.  The voice behind the mask, however, remained identical and inimitably hers.  But this is not the moment to dwell on such things as the sadness of a clown who titled her last book, "I Hate everyone... Starting With Me."  In the wake of her sudden exit from the scene, I'd rather remember the attractive young lady on location who acted with distinction on camera, and off camera, in the words of Joni Mitchell, "played real good for free."

 

P.N.J.

Time Out

For those who love creative, outrageously inspired silent cinema, this little gem with Snub Pollard called 'It's a Gift' (1923) is hilarious. It's only 14 minutes long and worth every charming second.

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 3 Casablanca

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)
These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures.

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)

Read More

Capturing a Golden Moment #10

In this series I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.

 

A Night at the Opera (1935)

Director: Sam Wood

Scene: "The Stateroom"

(Many writers contributed to this epic farce, including its two principals: George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Even an uncredited Buster Keaton worked on developing this famous scene, however it was nearly scrapped because it wasn't getting any laughs. Once the Marx Brothers ignored the script and started ad-libbing the whole thing, it was transformed into one of the all-time comedy classics.)

A Night at the Opera is available on DVD here:

A Night at the Opera
$9.95
Starring Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont

It is also available in the box set along with 6 other Marx Brothers comedies here: