December 28, 2013

Never Been Kissed (1999)

Never Been Kissed is a sweetly, intelligent throwback that never fails to work my tear ducts overtime. Drew Barrymore is adorable as the undercover reporter reliving her high school past; Molly Shannon, David Arquette, Gary Marshall, Octavia Spencer, John C. Reilly, Leelee Sobeiski, and Michael Vartan support admirably. The script recycles plot points from Carrie in a comedic way but they are integrated originally and the film is so effervescently made you can only be charmed.

December 4, 2013

The Happiness Of The Katakuris (2002)

The Happiness Of The Katakuris begins as claymation and ends as a wonderfully imaginative zombie musical. The musical works because the central characters are developed and the story (of a family trying to market their bed and breakfast) is not an afterthought to the zombies. Director Takashi Miike (of Audition and The Ichi Killer) has created an entrancing mashup of The Sound Of Music and Night Of The Living Dead; its surreality is beyond mere description and deserves a look.

December 1, 2013

A 1956 Music Video by Gower Champion!?

While perusing the public domain site, I happened upon Once Upon A Honeymoon a fifteen minute music video directed by Gower Champion. À la Michael Jackson's Thriller, this video is a complete story about recently married (m)ad man Ward Ellis who works too much so has never had a honeymoon; Virginia Gibson is a standout as his lovely wife and the premier vocalist of the video's song, A Castle in the Sky. A few solid character actors (Chick Chandler, Alan Mowbray and a small yet pivotal turn from Leo G. Carroll) round out the cast in this lost (and now found) infomercial from the 1950s.

Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)

Haunts of the Very Rich is one of the myriad Aaron Spelling productions aired as an ABC Movie Of The Week during the 1970s. This story of disparate people that find themselves questioning their lives and choices in a garden of Eden (actually Vizcaya in Miami, Florida) is interesting both for its uniformly good cast (Lloyd Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Edward Asner, Anne Francis, Tony Bill, Donna Mills, Moses Gunn, Robert Reed) and its denouement which may or may not be what it may or may not purport to tell. I've watched it a few times (on YouTube) and still can't figure out what's going on so that must count for something.

November 30, 2013

They Shall Have Music (1939)

Knowing how heart-breaking Andrea Leeds (Academy Award nominee for Stage Door who only made several films) can be, I decided to sit down and watch They Shall Have Music (the one she made with Joel McCrea) when I saw it posted (in its entirety) to YouTube. But in fact, the real stars are Gene Reynolds (who grew up to become a producer/writer/director of the television series M*A*S*H) as a kid from the streets and Jascha Heifetz, the famous violinist, who teaches Reynolds about music; Leeds and McCrea don't even enter the story until almost 45 minutes into the movie. Still, it's a very sweet film with many long musical, classical interludes (including opera) and a child actors in Reynolds and Diana Lynn who knows how to unlock your tear ducts.

November 24, 2013

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

I'm not sure what gives Theodora Goes Wild classic status as I find it slow moving, contrived and forced. Irene Dunne is fine as the prim author of a '50 Shades of Grey' type (by 1936 standards) best seller but this screwball comedy is neither of those. Melvyn Douglas plays a dastardly reporter (is there any other kind?) whose romance with the titular Theodora is as inexplicable as it is unbelievable.

July 30, 2013

The Blooming of Hepburn's Calla Lilies

The calla lilies are in bloom again darling, really they are is the most famous line that Katherine Hepburn never said, although in the 1937 film Stage Door Hepburn does say quite mournfully:
The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Hepburn, playing novice Terry Randall working her first part on Broadway, cues her famous line reading from Andrea Leeds (born August 14, 1914), playing celebrated yet perenially out of work Kay Hamilton who rips your soul when she reads the calla lily line for Hepburn and then ascends the stairs in her climactic scene, remembering that somewhere, somehow, I had the idea that I was a pretty good actress. Leeds snagged an Oscar nomination for her work but retired a scant two years later, living privately until her death in 1984.

July 19, 2013

Ted (2012)

If you can imagine a comedy in which overused 80s references masquerade as jokes, a romance in which Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg have no chemistry and a script which doesn't recognize that its story has two magical wishes (not one), you can imagine Ted, Seth McFarlane's attempt at something. If you can imagine characters having less substance than a teddy bear filled with cotton, Ryan Reynolds and Patrick Warburton as a gay couple and Norah Jones fucking, you can imagine Ted, Seth McFarlane's attempt at something. If you can imagine all this, you've got the most notable aspects of Ted, Seth McFarlane's attempt at ... oh, a first movie.

July 16, 2013

The Newsroom (2013)

I wouldn't call The Newsroom (now into Season 2) smart. The soap opera antics of the news team - Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill and Olivia Munn (who doesn't act well) - are mundane, the dialog is based in references not character and, excepting what one might learn about how a newsroom operates, the stories are uninvolving - even though based in relevant and exciting past history. This is the first Aaron Sorkin work I've seen and I'm not impressed.

July 13, 2013

Oldboy (2003)

The 35% of Americans who want Sarah Palin back in elected office would be disgusted, appalled and threatened by the themes of Oldboy so, they will undoubtedly miss it's thought-provoking madness and violent, cringe-inducing landscapes. Director Park Chan-wook follows Oh Dae-su (magically and athletically played by Choi Min-sik) from teenager to oldboy, recounting how fifteen of those years were spent locked in a sealed studio apartment with only food and television. This simplistic extract does no justice to the film though because it is a linear telling unlike the visceral, tightly edited film itself.

July 11, 2013

Oklahoma! (1955)

This may be musical theatre sacrilege but after seeing Oklahoma! for the first time, I type meh. Most of the recognizable Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are wonderful, the Agnes DeMille dances extraordinary and Fred Zinnemann's direction sterling but I just didn't believe the dated book (including the central Laurey/Curley/Jud triangle) so I found myself losing interest as the two and a half hours wore on...and on. Shirley Jones (especially good in her film debut despite it all), Charlotte Greenwood (especially good), Gordon MacRae (good), Rod Steiger(!?) and Gloria Grahame (miscast yet quirky enough to love) kept me watching but at the end I could've said no.

July 8, 2013

Man Of Steel (2013)

My penis was very happy to have seen Man Of Steel starring the man of steel Henry Cavill. My brain, on the other hand, had to deal with the craptastic story that makes Jor-El (Russell Crowe) a hypocrite and gives the Krypton back story 45 bloated minutes of screen time in addition to another ten minutes in which ghost Jor-El retells the whole story to the adult Kal-El/Superman in the fortress of solitude. Amy Adams is fine as Lois Lane but spending two hours staring at the shirtless pics below will give you the same charge I got in the movie theatre minus the 90 decibels.

July 7, 2013

World War Z (2013)

First and foremost, World War Z is not a zombie movie but more of an international thriller with zombies. I use thriller loosely because there's not many thrills in it although the computer-generated wall-crawling zombies are decent enough. Brad Pitt and company have created a treacly family story out of Max Brooks' report so if you want to lose yourself in zombie realness, read the book instead.

July 4, 2013

Anna Nicole (2013)

Although looking more like Jenny Garth than the eponymous star, Agnes Bruckner injects empathy (and really good intoxication!) in Anna Nicole, a 2013 Lifetime biography that manages to be classy AND tawdry. Procuring the services of Martin Landau, Virginia Madsen and Cary Elwes helped round out a good ensemble as did procuring the prosthetics team that worked on Bruckner's tits - which look spectacular! Not as bad/good as Valley Of The Dolls or good/bad as Mommie, Dearest but it's watchable and involving and Anna Nicole Smith, the woman, would be proud.

July 1, 2013

The Thick Of It (2005) & Veep (2012)

The Thick Of It (season 1), a television series involving British politics, gave birth to Veep, a television series involving American politics - both created by the seemingly indestructible Armando Iannucci. With Veep (season 1/2) there is the joy of seeing Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing another semi-distasteful, pseudo-likable, nuanced, cringe-inducing character (this time the Vice President of the United States) while The Thick Of It gives a less cringe-inducing (and more milquetoast) Chris Langham (as the Minister of Social Affairs) and throws in a learning curve in British politics as well (for this American anyway). Both series are very funny with great supporting casts, vivid characters, incredible NSFW epithets and storyline similarities but I did find myself laughing harder and louder while watching Veep - which must be the Louis-Dreyfus curve.

June 30, 2013

A Woman's Face (1941)

Sympathetically villanous Joan Crawford looks younger and fresher (after plastic surgery by one Dr. Melvin Douglas) in A Woman's Face, a 1941 potboiler helmed by female diva director George Cukor. Joan Crawford is mesmerizing in black and white both while scarred and when beautiful once again. The story isn't all that involving but the film is strikingly shot and ultimately lead to Crawford's casting in the quintessential Mildred Pierce.

June 20, 2013

Titanic (1953)

Titanic (1953) is dated drama but phenomenal spectacle - the iceberg hit is black and white, matter-of-fact and very well-done - with yet another captivating performance by Barbara Stanwyck. Clifton Webb, Thelma Ritter (as Molly Brown) and baby Robert Wagner with Audrey Dalton (the latter two playing Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet, respectively) are enthusiastic and solid - ably aiding Stanwyck in tugging at our heartstrings. Director Jean Negulesco has fashioned a good old-fashioned yarn from history but then haven't all cinematic versions of this story been created from yarn?

June 11, 2013

The Kongs King (2009, 1976, 1933)

Judging from the most recent remakes of King Kong (1976, 2009) people suck when it comes to animals, and an oil company (1976) / film corporation (2009) removing the big ape for profit and entertainment is horrifyingly sad. Still if you're not an emotional obsessive when it comes to the treatment of animals this might not be an issue - in which case these remakes are watchable with the most recent (2009) being the only one not worthy of having its poster embedded below. 1976 (with Jeff Bridges and a debuting Jessica Lange) is fine - not what its reputation would have you believe - but it's the original (1933), mustering all the naïveté that a pre-code movie can squeeze from Fay Wray, that is still the classic best.

May 23, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

I popped my Star Trek cherry when I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness. Never having seen anything remotely related to the series, I was most surprised by the script's humor and that I actually liked it! While the quality of the computer-generated imagery was flawless (I don't suffer bad CGI gladly) and the cast was uniformly excellent (Simon Pegg!), the popcorn movie blueprint (action - talk about action - action - talk about action - action - talk about action) did grow wearisome before the movie was over.

May 17, 2013

The Nance (2013)

The Nance takes place in the mid 1930s - a time in which burlesque was on life support - and tells the story of a prancing homosexual performing from the closet. More than a straight play and less than a musical, it interpolates old burlesque bits with original comedy and songs in a way that makes the play all the more thoughtful. It's a fascinating, historical story with a poignant performance by Nathan Lane and an excellent supporting cast of burlesquers including Cady Huffman, Jonny Orsini, Jenni Barber, Lewis J. Stadlen and Andréa Burns.

My ass covered in $40 swag from The Nance

May 13, 2013

The Unchastened Woman (1925)

Heeding my own advice, I lost myself in the mystery of Theda Bara in The Unchastened Woman. Although made after her most prosperous years were behind her, it is clear the titular Caroline, a married cock teaser who hides the existence of a two year old son from her husband, is a post cursor to the vamp Bara so profitably portrayed for Fox Corporation in the teens. The movie is surprisingly risque and engrossing and Bara is fascinating to watch when given the opportunity.

May 8, 2013

Devil's Playground (2010)

Devil's Playground has precious little to do with the devil and everything to do with Danny Boyle's living zombie flick 28 Days Later. You might also add a pinch of Doomsday as the characters fight to bring Angela (who has immunity to this version of the rage virus) to safety. I fell asleep at the end but I would assume she's being tested in some laboratory right about now.

May 5, 2013

Top Of The Lake (2013)

Elisabeth Moss and New Zealand landscapes made me turn on Top Of The Lake and it turns out that the unwavering script about a small town engulfed in murder and a young girl's pregnancy is the television equivalent of a page-turner. Moss centers the story as the detective and there are many mesmerizing performances that help tell this uncomfortable tale (including director Jane Campion staple, Holly Hunter). This mini-series is one of the finest I've seen on television in years.

May 2, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion is full of laughs; weak CGI (a spaceship moving like a panther) and a lackluster script (with similarities to Moon) make it funny. But neither of those is funnier than the inexplicable hiring of Suri Cruise look-a-like Olga Kurylenko (looking 25) to play the wife of dad Tom Cruise (looking 55). The best laugh was when I turned to my chum with a What'd she say? and the only other person in the theatre turns to tell me the line - "They can't have you."

April 27, 2013

Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

When I saw Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (a play by Ed Graczyk about the reunion of a James Dean fan club) on Broadway, Cher, Karen Black and Sandy Dennis stopped the performance midway through and herded the audience out to the New York street because of a bomb threat. Despite this eventful scare (and my Hello, Karen shout out during the quiet and orderly exit to which she responded Hello there - now keep moving) the performance finished with no loss of artistry or poignancy. This thought-provoking production (with a bullying theme that was ahead of its time) has pretty much been transferred from stage to screen intact by director Robert Altman and loses nothing - except the bomb scare in the middle.

April 23, 2013

The Lords Of Salem (2012)

Rob Zombie has tried, with The Lords of Salem, to make a movie you can take grandma to see. To be sure we're talking teen birth grandmas but this story of Salem witches, a somewhat bizarro mashup of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and Mario Bava's Black Sunday, is an attempt on the director's part to stretch as a filmmaker, make something less horrific and broaden his audience. The jury is out on the latter because the movie's just not consistently interesting OR scary (although a great game of guessing the actors not seen in decades did help pass the time: Meg Foster, Dee Wallace and sweet holy mother of god academy on i love jesus street Judy Geeson aka Miss Pamela Dare).

April 18, 2013

Jeanne Eagels And The Letter (1929)

(Eugenia) Jeanne Eagels, a theatre and film actor who died at age 39 from a mix of booze, pills and heroin, is best remembered for a salacious 1957 film biography starring Kim Novak and her performance as Leslie Crosbie in the 1929 film of the W. Somerset Maugham play The Letter (for which she is also recognized as the first actor posthumously nominated for an Academy Award). Eagels plays Leslie Crosbie who kills her lover, claims rape to her husband and is jailed, a story with more than a few similarities to the 1928 play Chicago in which Eagels was cast as Roxie Hart but quit during rehearsals. Although Katherine Cornell originated the Crosbie role on Broadway and not Eagels (who did originate the role of Sadie Thompson on Broadway in W. Somerset Maugham' play Rain), Eagels is convincing in a crazed sort of way and the film feels contemporary - with a visceral end that must have been a real shock back then because it was a real shock right now.

Watch The Letter now from

April 17, 2013

Evil Dead (2013)

I'm not sure when hacking off infected body parts yet surviving to fight evil became a horror film staple but Evil Dead hacks and survives in droves. It adds even more unbelievability to this remake of 1981's The Evil Dead while the new back story adds nothing (unlike the remake of The Hills Have Eyes). There are plenty of homages to the original (from the cellar to the tree to the chainsaw) so watch the original instead for frights and laughs - two things it has in droves.

March 30, 2013

The Truthiness Of Christina Crawford

Christina Crawford is poised, honest, insightful and direct in this fascinating interview in a time bubble from 1978 that coincided with the publication of her memoir Mommie, Dearest. The audience questions about her abusive relationship with mother Joan Crawford are surprisingly spot on and somewhat sympathetic but (25 seconds into part two) one wackadoodle (who speaks her disgust over the telephone) is respectfully rebuked by Crawford, further illustrating the caller's idiocy and Crawford's truth. Interviewer Phil Donahue does less prancing around then he is wont to do in his interviews - notwithstanding a precarious leg lift (two minutes into part three) that in another dimension puts Christina almost eye level with his crotchal area!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Christina Crawford 2012

March 27, 2013

Gloria Swanson in Yentl Territory?

Photographed by Edward Steichen 1924

Gloria Swanson, born on this date in 1899, would've been 17 years old in The Danger Girl, the frenetic twenty minute comedy supervised by Mack Sennett (and embedded below). With six (count 'em, six!) lead characters, Swanson stands out as the madcap who dresses as a man to lure her girl friend's boyfriend away from the other woman who is vamping him. It's all extremely complicated for twenty minutes but Swanson gets a chaste kiss on the cheek from the vamp (while she's dressed as a man) and moves further into Yentl territory when, dressed in a tuxedo with top hat, she comes out as a woman to the man she loves (her girl friend's boyfriend, no less) and gets a kiss from him too - all in 1916!

The Danger Girl 1916

March 18, 2013

Mother's Day (2010)

Despite the horror cliches, Mother's Day, a remake of the 80s flick (which I never saw so I can't compare), has in its favor a creepy lead performance by Rebecca De Mornay - channeling her faux mother slash babysitter from 1992's The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. The acting, in general, is good (despite having to deal with some ridiculous plot points) and the film ends with a nice yet somewhat predictable twist so is passable for its genre. And yes, I had more sympathy for Ma and her kids than the people whom they are terrorizing - jeesh.

March 16, 2013

The Women (2008)

Jungle Red, the fashion show and an all female cast are still part of The Women, a remake of the 1939 film version of the Clare Booth Luce play; unfortunately, humor, catty remarks and the original cast are missing. The movie is not unwatchable - it's just dull watching stock characters play out a one note script. Writer/director Diane English's fifteen year journey to remake the classic should've ended before it began.

March 14, 2013

Harper Valley PTA (1978)

Today they'd call it stalking and bullying (and illegal to boot) but in 1978 Harper Valley PTA was just a good-ole boy redneck revenge comedy. Barbara Eden looks beautiful and does her best with the material but this is a three minute song extended into a two hour movie. Listen to the song and have dinner with a friend instead.

Barbara's 1967 solo LP

March 8, 2013

The Charms of Louise Beavers

Louise Beavers (born this date, 1902) is largely remembered as Delilah, the pancake-making business partner/companion/maid opposite Claudette Colbert in the fascinating, racially-charged tale from 1934, Imitation Of Life. She worked steadily throughout a forty year career accumulating a long list of credits playing less complex versions of the same domestic servant character but was always a delight, especially in films like The Pickup, Made For Each Other and Mae West's She Done Him Wrong.

Ms. Beavers had a luminous smile and was in a select group of actresses (including Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters) who portrayed the housekeeper Beulah in the long-running radio and television comedy, The Beulah Show.

The Beulah Show

as Aunt Delilah in Imitation of Life
'the face that sold 32 million pancakes'

March 7, 2013

Auntie Mame (1958)

Auntie Mame is a fantabulous comedy about a young boy raised by his quirky aunt; there is no music in this one but the film flows like a musical. Rosalind Russell is at the top of her game recreating Auntie Mame (a role she played on Broadway) and the script (adapted from the play which itself was adapted from the Patrick Dennis novel) is top-notch! Director Morton DeCosta (born this day, 1914) has created a fine film that, like its titular character, never gets old.