Monday, September 29, 2014

Big Screen Safari

As you can probably gather, I love old movies, and there is really nothing like seeing them in the theater with an audience. This was driven home this year when I went to the TCM Classic Film Festival for the first time, 16 great movies over 4 days with the time in between spent geeking out with other people who love old movies just as much as I do.

Naturally, coming back to just watching them on TV was kind of a let-down. The thing is I live a pretty decent sized city, San Diego, but it's no L.A. or New York. There isn't what you would call a thriving classic film scene. Then again, it's not non-existent either, but you do have to hunt around to find it.  In the months of August and September, I managed to see 8 classic film on the big screen, but to find classic films you may need to venture outside of the multiplex. Of the eight movies, I saw two a piece at four different venues:
  • AMC Mission Valley 20 – Straight-up multiplex, but on occasion, they do special screenings of classic movies; you want to see more of this, you have to support them
  • Arclight La Jolla – While technically this is a multiplex as well, it's what I call a boutique theater, bar/cafe in the lobby, and they have an ongoing series, Arclight Presents, where they show classic and foreign films, usually one showing only
  • Cinema Under the Stars – This is most unusual venue of the bunch, films are shown on about a 20-foot screen on the patio of a restaurant; you sit in reclining patio chairs and are provided with a pillow and a blanket; bonus, each film is shown with a classic cartoon at the beginning
  • Ken Cinema - Old neighborhood theater from the 1940s run by the Landmark Theater chain and recently converted to digital; yes, I know you want film on film but it's the 21st Century, you need to be able to show digital to survive
So what were the films?
  • The Godfather [Ken Cinema] – The Ken had almost closed, and to celebrate remaining open, they had a week-long festival of movies from the 60s and 70s
  • The Wizard of Oz [Arclight La Jolla] – Part of the Arclight Presents series, always a treat to see The Wizard of Oz in the theater, next time, I'm bringing Pink Floyd and headphones
  • The Great Escape [Ken Cinema] – Not a huge fan of War movies, but The Great Escape is just so good
  • Ghostbusters [AMC Mission Valley] – Does this really count as a classic? In my book, yes, and it was being rereleased as part of its 30th anniversary
  • Rear Window [Cinema Under the Stars] – My first time at the venue and gotta say, I dig it; they announced that they will continue through December
  • M [Arclight La Jolla] - Had never seen this movie, oh my God, so good, a new favorite
  • Casablanca [Cinema Under the Stars] – My number one all-time favorite film, would watch this movie on the big screen once a week if I could, although might get sick of it after a year or so
  • Gone With the Wind [AMC Mission Valley, courtesy of TCM and Fathom Events] – Granddaddy of all classic films; mostly packed theater, there were empty seats but if you wanted two together you had to be in the front rows, hope to see more things like this in the future

So what's on the bill for next month? Well, it is October, so checking the usual suspects, looks like mostly horror. These are just the ones I'm most likely to see:
  • From Dusk Till Dawn –  Okay, probably not a classic, but 1996 is now pushing 20 years, and it is Robert Rodriguez and Quintin Tarentino, besides, my blog, my rules
  • Blazing Saddles  as a midnight movie, okay, takes a lot to get me motivated to see a midnight movie these days, then again Blazing Saddles is a lot of motivation
Now, I know you're thinking, what's my point? Is it just to make people jealous of all the cool stuff I've seen lately? Okay, partly, yeah. But the real point is, if you want to see classic movies in the theater, you might need to hunt for them. Try googling, classic film and [name of city you live in]. You never know what will turn up. Maybe, the local university is having a Film Noir festival, or the central library is showing schlocky Horror movies Thursday nights in October. The point is that classic films are out there, you just need to hunt for them. To steal a line from one of my favorite films of the 90s, L.A. Story, you just might "need a pickaxe, a compass, and night goggles to find them."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

µBlog – M

µBlog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

I just got home from seeing Fritz Lang's M, and Oh My God, it was so fucking good. I went in expecting, dark and brooding and intense. What I wasn't expecting was fun and entertaining as hell. There was a bit of intensity, but for the most part, it was just a great great movie. Lots of humor, but not jokes or anything, just funny situations, and a really interesting take on the most heinous of crimes.

Without giving too much away, the story was about a serial killer of children, but it was almost that the child murderer was more of a MacGuffin. It wasn't really about the killer at all. It was about the situation that the killer started. It was about the public, so worried about protecting their children that they accuse anyone and everyone of being the killer. It's about the police who are running themselves ragged chasing after a bunch of false leads. And most of all, it's about the criminal underworld, who are sick of being harassed by the police because of this maniac. They decide to catch the culprit so they can go back to being, well, criminals.

Okay, I done now. I need to put M on my Amazon wishlist. Yes, that's how good it was.

Monday, September 22, 2014

When Life Takes Away M, You Make Your Friends Watch The Women

Last night I was going to watch Fritz Lang's M on the big screen. This is a film that has been on my classic film bucket list since a couple of decades before I even knew the term, bucket list. I first became aware of it in a Hitchcock class back in college in the 80s, but it was one of those things where you learn about it, and think, that sounds really good.  The problem is that whenever you think about it, you have no way of acting on it. So when I found out it was playing in the theater, I finally had a chance to do something about it.

I contacted my friend, Didi, to see if he wanted to go. Of all my friends I hang out with in real life, Didi is the one whom I consider even more of a film geek than me. I think I have a better background in classic film, but he has a way better background in film as a whole, foreign film, Asian film, modern film, you name it. He's seen about everything.

Next I posted a message about M on Facebook to see if I got any takers. I knew my wife, Mary, would not be up for it, and while I have been taking my 14-year-old daughter to see a lot of old movies lately, I don't want to throw something at her that she might hate, and then not want to go see old movies anymore. The only taker I got was Max. She is a friend from Comic-Con who I only recently found out is into old movies.

Anyway, M was playing at the Arclight, La Jolla, one of those fancy movie theaters that have recently appeared in Southern California, that has reserved seats, a cafe with something resembling real food, and a bar. Didi and I were having a beer while we waited for Max, mostly because I think if you get a chance to have a beer in a movie theater, you should take it. Anyway, we go into theater, find our seats, and after a minute or two, someone comes out and announces that they are going to have to cancel the movie. There is some sort of calibration they had to do on the film and the equipment that should've been done the night before, but it didn't happen, so they were rescheduling for later in the week.

Thus we end up back at the bar for another beer, talking about movies and beer and movies and chicken and waffles and movies, noticing a trend here? Anyway, I ended up mentioning TCM Film Festival And how I had seen 16 movies in four days. I ended up going through the movies I had seen, and when I got to late Saturday and The Women at the El Capitan, Didi said, "I've never seen, The Women."

Max chimed in, "Me, neither."

"Oh my God, I can't believe you guys have never seen, The Women. We need to go pick up some food, go back to my house and watch it." And I proceed to regail them with how great a movie it is. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, What's Her Name from His Girl Friday (actually, couldn't remember Rosalind Russell's name), Marjorie Main, .... I pushed The Women so hard that both of them were worried. If this movie isn't great, we're gonna be pissed. You know how sometimes when you talk too much, you start having doubts, even though, you know you're right. Well, there I was.

We ended up picking up carne asada and rolled tacos at a taco shop about four blocks from my house. I popped in the Blu-Ray. About five minutes in, all three of us were laughing our butts off, and I knew I was okay. Both Didi and Max loved it. I had the pleasure of turning two pretty hardcore movie junkies on to a great classic movie that neither of them had ever seen. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday night.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mickey Rooney Blogathon – How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

What do Mickey Rooney, Buster Keaton, Brian Donlevy, Vincent Price, Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, Dorothy Lamour, and Peter Lorre all have in common? Okay, what if I throw in Dick Dale and the Del-Tones and The Kingsmen? Obviously, if you read the title of this post, you already know the answer. These are all people who had cameo roles in American International Pictures series of beach party movies.

Now, even by beach movie standards, if there is such a thing, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is pretty bad. Then you don't watch a beach movies expecting high art. You watch them for the kitsch of the Hollywood squeaky clean take on 60s surf culture. You watch for stupid, but at times, genuinely funny gags. You watch for cool 60s stuff like hot rods, motorcycles, and well, surfing. You watch for musical numbers, from Frankie and Annette to the likes of Little Stevie Wonder, The Animals, and Nancy Sinatra. You also watch for the cameos, from the top comics of the era, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, Paul Lynde, Morey Amsterdam, and old guard Hollywood stars like Basil Rathbone and Francis X. Bushman. And of course, you watch for half naked girls in bikinis.

Mickey Rooney in what's safe to say is
something less than his finest hour
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini has all of this, but still doesn't hold up to the other films. Why. Well, a lot of reasons. Frankie is pretty much missing. He's only in for about 6 minutes in a handful of shots throughout the picture (they explain he's in the South Pacific serving in the Navy Reserves). I've seen two explanations for this online. One that he was busy filming another movie, Sergeant Deadhead, and another that he wanted more money. My guess is that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Both How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Sergeant Deadhead were made by the same company, so I'm guessing they couldn't afford to have Frankie star in both. 

Next, Annette was pregnant during the filming. Not that Annette ever showed that much skin in the Beach movies. Because she was under contract to Disney, they didn't even want her wearing a bikini. But in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, she's wearing loose clothing or sitting with knees up or hiding behind a prop to hide the pregnancy. So effectively, both Frankie and Annette are only halfway there.

Another thing was that rather than having the musical numbers be stand-alone performance numbers, the gang goes into a malt shop, and The Supremes are performing. In How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, most of the musical numbers are the cast singing hokey songs to advance the story. The only real musical act in the film, The Kingsmen, perform only two numbers of the dozen or so songs in the film. Oh, and by the way, neither of the two songs is, Louie Louie. Yes, you do get to see Mickey Rooney sing a couple of numbers, but still.

Surfing or lack there of. I honestly, don't think there is any surfing in the film. I would have to go back and watch it a second time to say for sure, and I'm not going to (you can't make me). They show surfboards, standing up in the sand. They drop one on I think Mickey Rooney's foot, but nobody ever rides on one. There's nobody pretending to balance on a sound stage in front of a rear projection of a wave, intercut with a top vintage surfer like Mickey Dora actually surfing. Me, I missed it.

I'm sure I could come up with more reasons, but that would sort of be like kicking a movie when it's down. Face it, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini was not a high water mark in anyone's career. I've read that Buster Keaton was unhappy, feeling that no one on the set appreciated his role in movie history. I'm sure he had a point. There was conflict between Mickey Rooney and the male lead actor, Dwayne Hickman, over Rooney try to coach Hickman on acting and Hickman not wanting to be coached.

So was it worth watching? Well, yeah. Again you get what you get in a beach movie, only in lesser degrees. The cameos were good. Brian Donlevy plays a businessman, Mickey Rooney's boss, B.D. "Big Deal" MacPherson. There's a very brief appearance by Elizabeth Montgomery during her Bewitched heyday (she did it as a favor to her husband, director of the film, William Asher). Finally, it's always a pleasure to see Buster Keaton, and this was one of his last film roles. As a bonus, the opening credits were clay animation done, by none other than Gumby creator Art Clokey. That was kind of cool.

I won't call Mickey Rooney's performance a cameo. It was more than that. He's on screen a fair amount of time. Rooney plays J. Peachmont Keane, Peachy Keene. It's a beach movie, people, what do you expect, subtle? Despite this being such a bad movie, his performance is not. Rooney made the movie for $5000 for a week's work, less than his going rate, but he needed the money to pay off a debt to the IRS. Despite this, he's pretty good in the two songs he sings. His musical numbers he sings are by far the least annoying of the bunch. Still, I'd be overstating if I tried say it was a great performance. The first time he appears onscreen, he very noticeably touches one of the bikini girl's boob while gesturing. Accident? I don't think so. I rewound and watched two or three times, and no matter how I look at it, seems to me he was copping a feel on a woman half his age.

I guess you could criticize the beach movies for the demeaning roles they gave to old Hollywood greats, but me, I don't. I feel that if older actors could pay some bills, for a week or two of work, more power to them. The entertainment industry has never had a stellar record with performers past their prime. Given the choice between a bad beach movie and today's equivalent, Celebrity Rehab. I'll take the bad beach movie any day of the week.


This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.  Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

µBlog – Old Acquaintance

µBlog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

Was watching Old Acquaintance on TCM last night. Wasn't really paying attention, because it was annoying. Miriam Hopkins was a spoiled brat through the entire movie. Bette Davis, her lifelong friend, went out of her way to be patient and understanding with her. Then this happened:

Best thing ever.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Diggin' on the TCM Friday Night Spotlight: Classic Pre-Code

I gotta say, even though we're only one week in, I'm totally into TCM's Friday Night Spotlight: Classic Pre-Code. I've been into classic movies for quite a while, but probabaly until this year, I knew very little about Pre-Code movies. Sure, I knew that before 1934, movies could get away with way more than they could afterwards. 

Even a cursory glance at early 1930s films shows that they were pushing the envelope:

One of my favorite Pre-Code actresses,
the lovely Joan Blondell
  • Early Busby Berkeley musicals – Showed lots and lots of skin, literally dozens and dozens of women in various stages of undress.
  • Tarzan and His Mate – The swimming scene where Jane, okay Maureen O'Sullivan's body double, is skinny dipping in front of the camera.
  • King Kong – Everybody's favorite giant ape taking off Faye Wray's clothes and chewing up natives

But it was more than just skin, drug use, adultery, homosexuality, crime, every aspect of immorality was explored. Now, I'm no expert on the period, but I will try to briefly sum it up.

Pre-Code generally refers to the period from roughly the start of talkies to the middle of 1934, when the Hays Code started being enforced. A little background, up until the early 1930s, the film industry had been very profitable. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the film industry had just invested in new equipment to make and show talking motion pictures. With country in the throes of the Great Depression, movie attendance dropped by about half and about a third of the nation's movie theaters closed. For the first time Hollywood was losing money. The studio bosses knew then what we still know now, sex sells, so they started making movies more racy to lure people back into the theaters, and it worked. 

The Hays Code written in 1929 and adopted in 1930 spelled out what could and couldn't be done, but enforcement was lax and demands for changes were largely ignored. This led to an environment where filmmakers could and did get away with almost anything. If you want to learn more, there was great documentary on the subject, Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. TCM is re-showing it September 19, 11:15 pm Pacific.

Gotta love the Pulp feel of this poster for
Employees' Entrance playing later this month

Back to this month's TCM Friday Night Spotlight, first it goes way beyond just Friday night. They're showing Pre-Code films all day every Friday this month. Friend and #TCMParty cronie Will McKinley tweeted last Friday night that he was on his 12th movie that day. He posted about about his 17-hour Pre-Code binge on his Cinematically Insane blog. Good on ya, Will. If I could spare the vacation days, I would would be right there with him every Friday this month.

In light of that and a DVR that is bulging at the seams, I'm trying to pick my battles. I'm working on the assumption that the TCM programmers are showing the best of the best in the evenings. Thus, I'm recording anything in the evening I know I might not be home to watch and then trying to cherry pick what to record for the rest of the day.

Today, outside of what they are showing in primetime, I'm thinking two Jean Harlow pictures will get the nod:

  • Bombshell – 1933 comedy about a movie star, based on the life of Clara Bow, although not all that far off from what Harlow herself was going through at the time.
  • Red Headed Woman – Harlow as a Ginger trying sleep her way to the top.