Thursday, June 15, 2017

Some Like It Hot (1959)

These days we are fortunate for the opportunities to see classic films once again in a movie theater. While the films are projected digitally, it does not take away from the theatrical screening experience. Many classic films are as relevant today as ever. Turner Classic Movies is on pretty much all the time in my home. Their partnership with Fathom Events is a true boon to film lovers.

This week, I screened Some Like It Hot for only the second time ever. And it was my first time seeing the movie on the big screen. What really struck me was the amount of innuendos which were cleverly crammed into the movie. I also realized how much more cellatious Lemmon's character was over that of Curtis. I mean, his character was one randy dude!

To briefly recap, two musician bachelors (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) are looking for any opportunity to make money. They discover an opportunity to play with an all female orchestra and decide to dress as women to join them. In the process they become witnesses to a mob hit and remain on the run from some mobsters out to rub them out. During their time performing in Florida (which was actually filmed at the Hotel Coronado in San Diego), both men fall for fellow orchestra member, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). There are a bunch of rich older bachelors staying at the hotel and one of them falls for Daphne aka Jerry. Jerry then encounters the world of being objectified as a woman as well as it's benefits. Joe works hard to get Sugar, eventually adopting a Cary Grant affect and pretending to be a wealthy oil tycoon. The mob inadvertently catches up to them and hilarity ensues. The (musical?) comedy Some Like It Hot, conjures many images from pop culture with its iconic moments. The most common is Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dressing as women. Or perhaps Marilyn Monroe singing, "I Wanna Be Loved By You." To me, the most impressive thing about this film from director Billy Wilder is that it basically blew apart what was left of the Hays Code. That list of restrictive, censored topics that for a couple decades were banned from films.

Time has also brought the homosexual themes depicted within the film to the forefront. While I would not say that they were intentionally placed there at the time of production, you can't help but wonder what was going through the mind Jerry's (Lemmon) character. He got so excited when Osgood Fielding III had proposed marriage to her/him. Joe (Curtis) had to remind Jerry that he was actually a man after spending so much time reinforcing to him earlier about being a woman. Was Jerry merely caught up in the role as a woman, or did he actually enjoy the male attention?  Joe goes from being a man pretending to be a woman, only to meet a woman he's interested in and then having to pretend to be an entirely different man to woo her. Crossdressing helped him meet women, but it would not work to close the deal with one. I'm sure there have already been many essays written on this topic. Some of those can be found here. Essentially, the movie hints at homosexuality, studies the male gaze, speaks to female objectification and misogyny, and finally, condemns male insensitivity. Wraps it all into an nice bow.

The whole gangster storyline was good for framing but totally secondary to the story. This element was added by Billy Wilder himself. The original storyline was adapted from a French film called Fanfare For Love from 1936, which followed the story of the men dressing as women but did not feature men on the run as part of the plot.

Fun fact from Wikipeda: Marilyn Monroe worked for 10% of the gross in excess of $4 million, Tony Curtis for 5% of the gross over $2 million and Billy Wilder 17.5% of the first million after break-even and 20% thereafter. The movie made $40 million in it's initial run.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

All About Eve (1950)

There is a list of films that I should have seen by now, but just haven't gotten around to watching. This became glaringly apparent over a decade ago in film school. While my list is shorter, it is certainly still lengthy. One of the films I have been meaning to watch was All About Eve (1950). Luckily, it was this month's film selection for the TCM and Fathom Events collaboration. I couldn't pass up the chance to see this on the big screen.

You've certainly heard the famous line from Ms. Bette Davis, "Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy night!" The movie is a backstage story revolving around aspiring actress Eve Harrington. Looking shabby, Eve shows up in the dressing room of Broadway mega-star Margo Channing, telling a melancholy life story to Margo and her friends. Margo takes Eve under her wing, and it appears that Eve is a conniver that uses Margo. The story twist was unique for it's time, but it is one that has been replicated multiple times since then. Davis's famous "buckle up" line was an admonishment to the crowd at her party, as well as the audience watching the movie, as we are about to see the story arc unfold. And while, the story twist may be familiar, the theme of the story, which is critical of the world of show business, still holds true today. Be careful what you wish for when it comes to fame, because you might just get exactly what you want.

The film set a record at it's time with a 14 Academy Award nominations and one six. Bette Davis did not win for Best Actress, likely due to the fact that both Davis and co-star Anne Baxter were both in the Best Actress category. I'm not alone in stating that this is by far, Davis's best work. Baxter wasn't bad, but her screen time paled in comparison to Bette Davis and those eyes. Interestingly, in the 1970s, the film was made into a musical called Applause and Anne Baxter eventually took over the Davis role, Margot Channing in the show.  
Tonight was also the debut of Feud, the mini-series about What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The series has homages to films by both women and even the pilot episode has tributes to All About Eve. Ever since the end of the studio system, we just don't have stars the size of Bette Davis anymore. All About Eve is absolutely a film that anyone who says they love movies, should see. I can't believe I didn't get around to watching this sooner.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

See the Oscar Nominated Shorts Now

This Sunday is the Academy Awards. The Shorts categories are unique because so few people ever actually get to the films. All shorts, live action and animation are available for viewing today On Demand. Below is the trailer.

Shorts®HD is the global home to short film, where short stories come to life in stunning high definition. Shorts®HD obtains only high quality live action, animation, and documentary movies from the world’s most famous film festivals and independent suppliers. Through the acquisition of these films, the channel offers professional short filmmakers an unparalleled commercial medium to develop their careers. ShortsHD™ is available on DIRECTV (Channel 573), and AT&T U-Verse (Channel 1789), US Sonet (Channel 292), CenturyLink prism (1789) and Frontier Communications (Channel 1789).

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Monster Calls (2017)

As I've aged, I do find myself more open to being moved emotionally by movies. I remember back in the summer of 1982 watching E.T. in a crowded theater. I was 6 and everyone but me seemed to be crying during the scene of E.T. dying. I even had my aunt lean over to tell me that it was ok to cry, which I thought was weird since I didn't have anything moving me to tears, there was a fake alien on screen in a dramatic death scene. Maybe it's because I was only 6, with just 84 months of life experience. I really don't remember being emotional in a moving screening until 1994 watching Schindler's List in a sold out theater just after Christmas. That movie moved me to tears.

Fast forward to last night. Yes there have been many other films to effect me emotionally, but last night hit me hard when my kids and I watched A Monster Calls. The movie is based a popular children's fantasy novel that's become required reading for middle school aged children. I had not heard of the book, but I did see the previews which looked regrettably familiar to the recent Spielberg flop, The BFG. However, these are not the same movie and have next to no similarity to one another other than they are both based on popular books and have very large menacing looking but friendly creatures romping about. Otherwise, these are two different movies.

This story follows a young boy with his dying mother coming to terms with the inevitable reality that life goes on, even when loved ones pass away. Children often don't have the ability to cope with the understanding and emotions involved in losing a loved one, especially a parent. In this story, the troubled boy, known mostly around town for having a sick mother, is visited over several nights by a large tree which comes to life and comes to him to tell three metaphorical stories to explain aspects of life to him. The fourth story must be told by the boy to the tree, where the boy is required to share his nightmare. The boy overcomes bullying, a demanding grandmother, an absent father and losing his mother.

The boy, Conor O'Malley is played by Lewis MacDougall, who has a face for film. Felicity Jones is the mother with the terminal illness. With an inconsistent British accent is Sigourney Weaver. Liam Neeson voices and via motion capture, portrays the giant humanoid yew tree who visits Conor nightly. I brought my 10 and 11 year old children. The younger child was somewhat bored because of the slower pacing of the film but in the end, we discussed the movie and they both walked away with a strong message from it.

Lastly, getting back my mention of feeling emotional, I lost my mother unexpectedly when I was 23 and she was just 44. Any films with mom's dying get to me, this film particularly hit me because the boy's nightmare is losing his mom. My childhood nightmare was my mother dying and it eventually came true, while I was no longer a child, I still could not have been emotionally prepared for what I experienced with her sudden death. There was a very cathartic element in this movie for me, which caused me to weep during the film with large tears rolling down my cheeks. It truly is rare for me to me to experience any emotions anymore, especially as strongly as A Monster Calls caused me to feel last night.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Halloween III - Season of the Witch (1982)

Most horror fans have heard the explanation as to why there is no Michael Myers in Halloween III - Season of the Witch. The producers felt they could turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology, after all, there are endless stories that could be told around Halloween holiday. Unfortunately, the box office did not treat Halloween III very kindly and we got Michael Myers back to part 4. The Halloween film anthology never came to be, although interestingly, we did end up with a Friday the 13th television anthology series with no Jason and a Nightmare on Elm Street anthology series, Freddy's Nightmares - which featured Freddy as the weekly host. John Carpenter had some great intentions here, they just didn't pan out.

The plot is a send up on consumer culture - encouraging children to get parents to buy them masks for Halloween which will ultimately kill them. Fun times!! The film portrays an alcoholic doctor, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), who stumbles upon an evil plot by an Irish toy maker named Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Cochran, who is part of an ancient order of witches, plans a mass pagan sacrifice of children by using cursed masks that will kill anyone who wears them at 9 PM on Halloween night. And how does he make sure that every unsuspecting child wears the masks? By running a series of TV ads touting a big prize giveaway from his toy company right before a screening of a horror classic you might recognize: the original Halloween. This is really the only thread connecting it to the first two films.

Halloween III is very corny and some would say cheesy. However, we must view it through the eyes of audiences in 1982. We had just barely tipped our toes into the slasher horror series of films to come out during that decade. H3 offered an original storyline, which featured the themes of Halloween, spooky masks and some supernatural occult stuff thrown in the mix. At the root, the film has a lot going for it; a strong message, suspense and a couple gross out sequences.

For years I had actually longed to see this movie, but you couldn't find it anywhere.  I remember my first exposure to the movie on a visit to Universal Studios in 1982 with my parents. The trams use to have lobby cards displayed inside the upper area of the trams of upcoming films. I distinctly remember seeing the ad for Halloween III. I also remember seeing the television ads play too. For a 6 year old, I will say, this film looked scary! And with the name, Season of the Witch, my little mind imagined a terrible scary green witch with a black cauldron, ready to boil some children alive. My imagination was similarly tickled with this imagery while screening the Blair Witch Project. Too my disappointment, no classic green witches appear in either film.

Monday, October 17, 2016

31 (2016)

Rob Zombie's latest horror film brings you what you have come to expect out of Zombieland, a campy homage to 70s horror with today's new standard graphic depictions of terror.

Ready for a spoiler filled synopsis? On Halloween 1976, eight fun loving carnies are traveling in their RV through the desert on their way to their next gig. After some shenanigans in the van, they stop for gas. During the rest stop, there are some ominous creepy encounters that take place, but are mostly ignored. They get back in the RV and continue driving. During the night, they come upon a road blocked by scarecrow looking things, while investigating they're attacked and some are murdered while the rest are kidnapped. The kidnapped awake chained up in an ornate room where three aristocratically dressed people tell them they have been chosen to participate in their annual game of 31.

The game of 31 requires the winner to survive 12 hours in an underground labyrinth like factory compound known as Murderworld. The remaining kidnapped carnies are each armed with a weapon and are being hunted by clown like killers known as the Heads. Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Sex-Head, Death-Head and Doom-Head. The three aristocrats running the game, place ongoing wagers and odds on who will survive the longest, because no one has ever survived and escaped. The prize for surviving is their freedom.

This is not my favorite Rob Zombie film, that would still have to be House of 1000 Corpses. What I did enjoy was the strong female role played by Sheri Moon Zombie. She kicks some serious butt. The only clown killer worth mentioning was Doom-Head, that dude was seriously creepy. Like, get under your skin sadistic. The overall film is brutal and at times, over the top which is actually when I felt I could breathe. It takes elements from the following films: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2, I Spit on Your Grave, Halloween as well as Hostel and Saw, You may also find other connections and homages. You will probably find yourself feeling like you have seen all of this before. Well, in one way or another, you have. If you want a horror ride, buy the ticket.

I watched the film on VOD the weekend it was released. If you really want to see on the big screen, there is one more chance this Thursday night, October 20th at select theaters.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Thelma & Louise - 25 years never looked better

Being that today is Women's Equality Day, today is the perfect day to share my thoughts after watching a Fathom Events screening of Thelma & Louise, two nights ago. This year marks the 25th anniversary of a film that can certainly be considered a classic.

You're probably familiar with the story: Meek housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) joins her friend Louise (Susan Sarandon), an independent waitress, on a short fishing trip. However, their trip becomes a flight from the law when Louise shoots and kills a man who tries to rape Thelma at a bar. Louise decides to flee to Mexico, and Thelma joins her. On the way, Thelma falls for sexy young thief J.D. (Brad Pitt) and the sympathetic Detective Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) tries to convince the two women to surrender before their fates are sealed.

If you have only ever read the synopsis or heard someone tell the plot, Thelma and Louise appears to to be dark, disturbing, and tragic. Without a doubt, it is all these things. Due to Ridley Scott's fine direction, the film is also vibrant and funny, filled with characters that jump off the screen. Whether it is a truly feminist statement, or an armed and violent perversion of feminist ideology - it is left to the eye of the beholder to decide.

Road pictures were nothing new in 1991 when this film debuted. However, it was less common to see it with two female leads who inadvertently become outlaws on the run. In the 70s, we saw films like Smokey and the Bandit, Easy Rider and Mad Max. The 80s brought us Midnight Run and Cannonball Run (we weren't much for original titles that decade). The 90s brought us into a more violent road films, including Reservoir Dogs and Natural Born Killers. But before those two films, came this one, Thelma and Louise. Women take the reins in this movie. From the get go, the film’s attitude toward male oppression and the appropriate female response is complicated and difficult to break down into a simple blog post. The protagonists have both been affected by male violence in one way or another and their decision to deliver retribution in kind ultimately leads to their untimely demise, in a moment that has become an iconic moment in cinema history.

This film had Sarandon and Davis both at their prime and both were nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayals. The only Oscar for the film went to the fine screenplay by Callie Khouri.

One striking aspect of the film was Keitel's Detective Slocumb. I have been so used to seeing Keitel play scummy characters like in Taxi Driver or smooth talkers like in Pulp Fiction, Slocumb is a character opposite of what has come to be typecasting for Keitel. While some of his tactics are typical for trying to negotiate with outlaws, he is able to add a level of sincerity in his expression of acknowledging that these two women fell into the this accidental situation and are merely now trying to find a way out of it.

This is also one of those films that really is best viewed on a large screen. The landscapes across Utah are massive, juxtaposed with Thelma and Louise and a 66 Ford Thunderbird trying to get to the southern border. Only a large screen really does this film the justice it deserves. You are immersed into the story and the plight of sheltered Thelma and life-worn Louise. I'm grateful Fathom Events chose to screen this movie for the 25th anniversary and that I was able to attend.