Saturday, April 23, 2016


The ultimate thing this year at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) once again will be sharing the Festival with my 16-year-old daughter Jasmine as TCM Social Media Producers. Details on what we're doing this year are here. Also this year, TCMFF will be something of a family affair as my wife Mary will be attending for the first time. In years past, her work schedule wouldn't allow her to attend. Of course, hanging out with all my old movie cronies and meeting new ones is always high on the list as well.

What follow are the five events I am looking forward to most:

5. Really tough call. Probably have a four- or fiveway tie here, but since I have to choose. I'm going to say, He Ran All the Way mostly because my picks seem to be decidedly light on Film Noir this year. Hopefully, Sunday TBDs will help.

4. The Conversation with Francis Ford Coppola 

3. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid with Carl Reiner

2. Endless Summer with Bruce Brown

1. The Manchurian Candidate with Angela Lansbury

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A New Kilt for TCMFF, Translated

Last week, I stumbled on a site that sells kilts. They had one on clearance for a good price. I decided it would be really cool to get a new kilt for the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) in two weeks. Their site wasn't real clear on how the sizing worked. Most but not all kilts go by true waist sizing. You put a tape around your waist, and that's your size. They had a customer service number listed, so I called. They said, measure your waist where the waist of your pants normally sit and add one inch. 

It turns out I was between sizes. The safe bet was to order the size up. The kilt is designed so that you can make it smaller, but if you can't get the largest size around you, you can't wear it. The problem is they were out of the size up, so I took a chance on the size down. I've been dieting, so if it was close, there was hope that it would fit by TCMFF. 

It came yesterday. Wow, that was fast. I tried it on. It was tight but I could get into it. Yea, me. Provided I don't go crazy, I should be good for TCMFF. Proud of myself, I posted the following on Facebook:

I got a lot of likes and comments including the following from one my TCMFF cronies, a woman from New York:

I noticed that there was a translation link, so I clicked on it:

At the risk of sounding vain or conceited, I don't think that is what she had in mind.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Son of the TCMFF Survival Guide

This will be my third year at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). While I may not be the most experienced person about the festival, I have been attending Comic-Con and other fan conventions for a lot of years. I know what it’s like to spend four or five days in a strange city living out of a hotel room and running around from the time you get up in the morning until the time you collapse in your room late at night. 

This is more or less the same post I did last year, so anything new/substantially different, I'm putting in red text, in case you want to skim for the new stuff.

Most of what follows are tips to help you get the most out of the Festival while hanging on to your sanity. Also I've included some links to some other general attending TCMFF blog posts at the bottom. Lots of good info there as well.

TCMFF Etiquette
There is usually an announcement before each screening about silencing phones and other devices. 

Do it!!!

It's okay to tweet or post to Facebook while you're waiting for things to begin. Once, somebody starts talking, put it away. Taking pictures/video during the intro is fine, but turn off the flash. It's distracting and won't help if you're farther than about 10 feet away.

Be considerate of those around you. It's generally considered rude to leave before the end of a screening, but sometimes it's unavoidable. If you have to duck out early, try to get to the event you are leaving extra early and get seat on the aisle so you don't have to climb over people. If you know you need to leave at a certain time, wear a watch. A watch screen is way less distracting than your iPhone 6.

I shouldn't have to say this but:

  • Don't talk during the movie.
  • Don't take any pictures during a screening. It's really annoying to the people behind you. 
  • Don't check your phone for any reason during a screening. 
  • In an emergency, if you absolutely need to use your phone, go into the lobby. You're not going to be able to help anyone from a movie theater anyway.

Food, try to eat some
I know you’re going to be running around trying not to miss anything, but seriously, try to get something besides movie theater popcorn and Red Vines over the four days.

**** Updated 4/23 ****

There’s a Fresh and Easy market on Hollywood Blvd., a block west of TCL Chinese IMAX. They have things like pre-made sandwiches and fresh fruit. Easy to eat while you're walking from one venue to the next or to put in your bag for later. The Fresh and Easy is permanently closed.


Sorry, I'm freaking out a little bit. Best alternates for Fresh and Easy:

  • Ralph's (7257 Sunset Blvd). Full service grocery store, should have a deli and salad bar and open 24 hours. About 8 blocks, but not in the direction of any of the TCMFF venues, Dammit.
  • Trader Joe's (1600 Vine St). Close to the Montalban about 12 blocks away.
I don't know whether either of these options are going to be worth the trouble. It might be easier to get extra stuff at Starbuck's in the morning. Did I mention I was freaking out.

Other food tips:

  • Breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Yeah, I know I sound like your mother, but if you skip breakfast, you’re already messing up the food-try-to-eat-some thing. Me, I’ve never been real big on the granola bars, but if you like them, and they work for you pick up a box and take with you. Bring a couple extra. You might find yourself in line with someone who’s totally famished. A 75-cent breakfast bar could earn you a friend for life.
  • If you get to a screening too late and get shut out or have a block where you're not psyched on anything, take advantage of it. Go get a real meal, where it’s hot and they bring it to you on a real plate. It might be the only one you get over the four days.
  • Hungry late? A good bet is In ‘N Out Burger, a Southern California Burger chain. They are located at 7009 Sunset Blvd., corner of Sunset and North Orange Dr., three blocks south of the Roosevelt. They have a really simple menu, but have a secret menu that is probably the worst kept secret ever. My favorite is protein style burger, no bun wrapped in big leaves of lettuce so you can eat like a normal burger, great if you’re doing the low carb thing. They are open until 1 am, Sunday-Thursday and 1:30 am Friday and Saturday.
  • Water – You should try to do some of that too.
Plan everything including your breaks
Okay, so you’ve figured out what you want to see. You should probably try to get to events a half hour ahead of the start time possibly earlier, especially, if it’s something you’d be crushed if you missed. How do you make that happen? You should be able to figure out the end times by looking at the schedule. Anytime you have a longer break between events is a good opportunity to get some food that doesn’t come in a bucket with fake butter and salt.

Keep in mind that getting around is going to take you longer than you expect. Figure that if you’re going from one screen in TCL Chinese 6 to another screen in TCL Chinese 6, five minutes from getting out of one theater and back in line for the next is a decent bet. Everything else is going to take longer, and very likely way longer than you think it will. 
If you look Google Maps, the distance from TCL Chinese IMAX to the Egyptian looks like it’s about 2 and a half blocks, but if you look at the way the surrounding streets are laid out, it’s closer to four blocks, or at least a long two blocks. So you figure you walk fast, you should be able to walk four blocks in about 7 minutes. Think again, if you’re on Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalks are going to be packed, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

It’s not just TCMFF people, it’s tourists, it’s the guys in the cheesy Spiderman costumes, people stopping to take pictures or answer a text, all in your way when you’re trying to get somewhere fast. The sidewalk might be closed for construction, forcing you to go back half a block to cross to the other side when you weren’t planning to. If you can figure out a way to avoid Hollywood Boulevard altogether, that might be a good idea.

The east west street one block south of Hollywood Blvd is Hawthorne Ave. It jogs a bit at Highland Ave, but does keep going  though there isn't a crosswalk to get across Highland Ave. Depending on how confident you are jaywalking/dodging cars you might be better of going back to Hollywood Blvd. to cross Highland. The worst stretch of Hollywood Blvd in terms of sidewalk crowds/craziness is the stretch between The Roosevelt and Highland anyway. 

One goal for this year is to see if can find a way in and out of the Hollywood Highland mall as far East on Hollywood Blvd. as possible for trips to and from the Egyptian.

If you’re planning to change clothes between the daytime and nighttime screenings, figure out which break you’re going to use to go back to the hotel and change. Stopping for a quick snack, look around and see if there is anything you can pick up for when you’re famished later.

Know your venues
No El Capitan theater this year, so sad. The El Capitan is Disney's signature theater, and with The Jungle Book opening April 15, I assume they didn't want to give up the venue to TCM.

The important thing to keep in mind about the venues is where they are and how big they are. I’ve arranged the venues in order by how close they are to the Roosevelt Hotel, since that is the host hotel:
  • Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel – Home to Club TCM and the Poolside screenings. Club TCM is where a most of the guest interviews will be. Last year, there was a fairly low stage, rows of chairs and a standing area behind the chairs. The important thing here is that if you’re at the back of the standing area, you might not be able to see very well. If there is an event that is really important to you, make sure you get there early. The pool is just that a swimming pool. I've never been to any of the poolside screenings, but everybody says get there extra early if you want one of the lounge chairs.
  • Chinese Theatre IMAX (920 seats) – This is the old Grauman’s Chinese theater. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from The Roosevelt, you’re there. They usually run some Disneyland-style switchbacks in front of the theater and then up the stairs up into the Hollywood and Highland mall. Don’t panic if the line goes back a long way. It’s a big theater. It was recently renovated with stadium seats and state-of-the-art projection and audio equipment, while still retaining the original decor. 
  • TCL Chinese 6 Theatres is located inside the Hollywood and Highland mall. They are using three screens. The thing to keep in mind here is the last two of the following are fairly small, and they are the most likely to fill up and have to turn people away:
    • House 1 (477 Seats)
    • House 4 (177 Seats)
    • House 6 (210 Seats)
  • Egyptian Theatre (618 Seats) – Great old theater, built in the early 1920s. Personally, I like sitting in the balcony because you get a better view of the Egyptian Frescos in the ceiling. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either two long very long blocks or about four normal size blocks away, so allow yourself some extra time to get there.
The last two venues are not in the general area of the festival. Fortunately, they only have one event each, so you're only going to need to schlep over there once if need be. Both are about a 25-30 minute walk according the Festival web site, I think it's a bit less than that. Your mileage may vary. The ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome is about three blocks further than the Montalbán Theatre. I'm thinking your best bet on both is to take the Metro Rail Red line, from the Hollywood/Highland station to Hollywood/Vine, should be $1.75 each way. That's how we went to the Montalbán last year.

You could probably take a cab, but with traffic on Hollywood Blvd. that might not save you very much time. Also, I don't know whether or not it's easy to pick up a cab in Hollywood, especially when everyone will be trying to get one at the same time. To be honest, I don't think anyway you go is going to substantially faster than any other way.
  • The Montalbán Theatre (500 Seats) – Venue for Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival: Burt Reynolds. It’s about a block south of Hollywood Blvd. on Vine St.
    Address: 1615 Vine St.
  • ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome (596 seats). Venue for Holiday in Spain. It's about four blocks south of Hollywood Blvd. on Sunset Blvd. (at Morningside Court). Note that Morningside does not go all the way through from Sunset Blvd. to Hollywood Blvd.
    6360 W Sunset Blvd.
    • If coming from Hollywood/Vine Station, take Vine St. south to Sunset Blvd. Turn right on Sunset, theater is a block west.
    • If walking you can do either of the following: 
      • To avoid the Hollywood Blvd. craziness, take Sunset Blvd. the whole way. Take N. Orange Dr. (street the Hollywood Roosevelt is on) south to Sunset Blvd. Turn left on Sunset. Cinerama Dome is about 8 blocks east.
      • If you like sidewalk stars, take Hollywood Blvd. most of the way. Go east on Hollywood Blvd. to N. Cahuenga Blvd. Turn right on N. Cahuenga Blvd. and go south to Sunset Blvd. Turn left on Sunset Blvd. Cinerama Dome is about 2 blocks east.
Line numbers
When you get in line for a screening, you will be given a number in the order you enter the line, this means you can leave the line and go do something if need be, use the rest room or grab a snack. I would check to see when they're going to move the line. Usually the people giving out the numbers have a good idea. That way you know how much time you have. You need to make sure you get back in in line before your number moves in. They will not hold a seat for you just because you have a number. Take advantage of it when you can. It could be the difference between a sandwich for dinner and Jujubes.

Last year, the numbers were a little rough on Thursday night. We left the line and came back, and the numbers were pretty mixed up. We found someone who had a number close to what we had and got behind them. After Thursday night, it got better. 

It's really simple if the line doesn't get messed up. Say you and the person you're with leave to get popcorn. You get back to the line and figure out where your number should be. Most people put the numbers in the pocket of their badge, so you can usually see where you need to go. If you need to ask someone what number they are, go ahead. People are really good about helping you out. Say you and the person you're with have numbers 75 and 76. You find the people closest to yours. It might be 72 and 77. So you get in line in front of 77 and behind 72, knowing that 73 and 74 have to get back in line in front of you. 

It's better if you do not squish the line forward. There's are always going to be people who will need to get back in line. Sometimes the line will be really full and you might not want to make it worse. Just figure out where you need to be and find out who has the numbers around yours. Then when the line starts to move you can get back in at the proper spot.

Hollywood and Highland mall
The TCL Chinese 6 is located in the Hollywood and Highland mall. The mall is sort of a tourist mall. Most malls are fairly easy to get around in. This mall, not so much. It was designed so that you could explore, with an eye toward wandering around and getting lost. This means that you may not always be able to tell what level you're on or how to get up or down one level, or most importantly if you're on the correct level for the movie theater. If you have a spare hour before the festival starts, go over and find the TCL Chinese and figure out how to get from there to the Chinese IMAX and how to get out of the mall itself. It should be easy. It’s not. Note any stairs and escalators you run across. The time you get lost is bound to be the time you have least time to spare. If you see any interesting fast food, see if they have a To Go menu. It might be the only hot meal you get.

A friend Will McKinley did a post similar to this two years ago (link at the end). He’s the one who suggested avoiding Hollywood Blvd altogether, good call. He also suggested coming in from the back. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from the Roosevelt, you'll be standing in front of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. If you follow the sidewalk to the left of the wax museum (north on N. Orange Dr.), you'll come to a traffic circle where tour buses line up. Follow the traffic circle around to the back, and there's an entrance to the mall. My mistake my first  year was to not follow that route all the way to the movie theater. I got distracted by things in the mall. If you go in this way, where you come into mall, there will two sets of stairs going up, I think on the left. One goes to the mall business office. The other goes to the same level as the TCL Chinese 6, about 30 feet from the door. Find this stairway. It will save you a lot of time.

If you're staying at Loews Hollywood Hotel, there's a walkway that leads directly into the mall. I would find that and make sure that you know exactly how to get to the movie theater. If you oversleep some morning, you'll thank me.

Read everything you can
Take the time to read everything you can find on the website, Search for blog posts like this one. A good source of info is Twitter, follow @tcm (they are are phasing out the @tcmfilmfest handle) and search on the #TCMFF hashtag. There will be lots of good tips there. Google the people being listed as guests, you never know, you might be standing next to one of them at Starbucks, and it will give you something to talk about. If they are showing one of your all-time favorites, read the Wikipedia and IMDB pages about the film. You’re sure to pick up some interesting tidbits that most people don’t know. You can look smart to other people in line.

There and back
Whenever I go to an event like TCMFF, I like to take Airborne the morning I leave and each day while I’m there. Does it guarantee that you won’t get sick? No, but it doesn’t hurt. Remember that read everything you can. Well, I know how you can get busy and time can get away from you, especially when preparing for a trip/vacation. Most people are going to have a good 5 or 6 hours travel time getting to TCMFF. Make some printouts or save copies to your tablet or whatever to read in the airport and on the plane.

Are you the type who likes to buy souvenirs? If so, are they going to fit in your suitcase? You might want to consider bringing a Priority Mail Flat-Rate box. If you’re worried about items getting lost or damaged in the mail, you can always mail home your dirty clothes. There is a Post Office at 1615 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028, about another four blocks past the Egyptian. It might even be worth calling your hotel and see if they can mail for you.

Weather, there will be some
I can guarantee you that it will not snow. Beyond that, all bets are off. Personally, what I like to do is check the 10-day forecast about a week out. That should give you a ballpark idea of what to plan for. Then check the forecast again, a couple of days before you leave and make any necessary adjustments. I’ve lived in San Diego my whole life, and we have weather pretty comparable to L.A./Hollywood. Generally speaking, weather in Southern California is pretty mild in the Spring. It might get a little chilly in the evenings, but most of the time a light jacket or sweater is good enough. Having said all of that, what you mostly need to worry about is two rather obnoxious extremes:

  • Extreme heat – While not common in April, temperatures in the 90s do happen, and bear in mind that you might be standing in line in the sun during the hottest part of the day. I honestly don’t remember standing in the sun last year, but I know that at the Egyptian, they run the lines in the courtyard in front of the theater, so if you’re there in the middle of the day, you’re going to be in the sun. Even if we get mild weather, sunscreen is highly recommended and maybe even a hat. If you don’t have room to pack a hat, consider buying a cheap one when you get here and just toss it at the end of the trip.
  • Rain – The song says, it never rains in Southern California, but people always forget that the end of the verse is, it pours, man it pours. Very very true, both literally and figuratively. L.A. doesn’t get a lot of rain, but there are times, when it comes down in buckets. Because we don’t get a lot of rain out here, we tend to hopelessly ill-prepared for it. Streets flood. Hotel lobbies flood. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it could. That’s where your forecast will help. If you’re coming from a different part of the country, you’re probably already way better prepared than we are here. Even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain. If you have an umbrella that packs easy, bring it. You're not going to be able find one easy walking distance from the Festival, especially if it's raining. One of my TCMFF cronies, Deborah Leigh, an L.A. local recommends an umbrella, rain or shine, to keep the sun off.

Good and plastered
Very few of us can pull off the ice pack hat
as well as Myrna Loy
We all like to think we can hold our liquor like Nick and Nora Charles, but realistically no one can. I know we’re on vacation and want to have a good time, but keep in mind, you’re probably going to want to be up early the next morning for whatever screening. If you do overdo, take some aspirin and force yourself to drink some water before you collapse in bed. It won’t prevent the inevitable hangover, but it might take the edge off a little bit.

What to wear 
By and large, California is pretty casual. You often see people in nice restaurants looking like they just stepped off the beach. If you’re attending the opening night Red Carpet screening of All The President's Men, a suit for men and cocktail dress for women is recommended, although a Tux or formal gown wouldn’t be out of place either. 

For the rest of the Festival, some people dress up and some people dress down. 

Me, I do a little of both, shorts and a t-shirt during the day and something dressy at night. I even managed to procure a white dinner jacket last year. I plan to wear it Thursday night, even though I'm not going to the Red Carpet. If you want to wear a trench coat and fedora to The Big Sleep, more power to you.

All things considered, most everything is pretty centrally located, but you will do a fair amount of walking and standing. You can pretty much guarantee that at some point you're going to feel like you’re bouncing back and forth like a pinball. If you have new shoes that kind hurt your feet and you think it will get better, it won’t. If you dead set on wearing them, at least consider changing into them late in the day. If you have one pair of shoes that are really really comfortable, bring ‘em, even if the make you look like you like your Great Aunt Matilda.


Last year there was a charging station in the lobby of the TCL Chinese 6. I've heard that there should be something similar this year, but not sure of the location. I'll update this when I have an answer.

Think about the electronics you’re bringing. Are you going to be wanting to be posting on Facebook to make the friends back home jealous? If so, how well does your battery do? If it barely makes it through the day, sitting in your pocket you might want to consider getting one of those portable batteries to recharge during the day. It might not be a bad idea anyway. Last year, my phone was pretty new and never even got close to running down. It did at the Festival. I should have taken my own advice and got one of those batteries. Sometimes when you’re in a strange city, your phone will die just by virtue of having poor coverage and constantly trying to find a signal. 

Think about what devices you need. Did you promise your boss that you’d check e-mail? Are you planning to blog during the festival. Can you get by doing that on your phone or do you need a tablet or laptop? You're not going to have as much time as you think you will.

If you’re counting on the hotel having Wi-Fi, it might be worth finding out whether that’s in your room (and what they charge) or only in the lobby. Look at your broadband usage and if you think it might be an issue, possibly see if you can get more from your provider for just the trip. Last year, we burned through all of our data. That in itself was not a huge deal, but I found the constant barrage of text messages from Verizon about it annoying.

You’ll definitely want to have a camera. Think twice about how good the camera on your phone is. How well does it do if you have to hand it to a stranger to take a picture. Or in low light or at a distance? Obviously, you’re not going to be taking pictures in a darkened theater, but you might want to get a shot of whoever is introducing the film and movie theater house lights tend to be less than optimum for photography. You might be better off with a point and shoot or digital SLR camera. 

Make sure you take the time to empty the SD card or device's internal storage. The last thing you want is to find yourself standing next to Ben Mankiewicz, and realize you have to figure out which pictures from your cousin’s wedding you can live without. The mistake I made last year was to wait until late the night before we left to empty out my camera and phone. I start moving the files and saw, About 45 minutes remaining.... Aw, man, I need to go to bed.

Obviously, all these gadgets will need to be charged, so don’t forget to pack the appropriate chargers. You might be able to find a charger for your iPhone or Android but probably not for your camera.

Be flexible
Despite all of your planning, leave yourself a little wiggle room. My first year, I completely changed everything I had planned for Sunday and was glad I did. They should announce the TBDs fairly late on Saturday. This could your chance to see something that you had to skip earlier in the Festival. The TBDs are almost always replays of screenings that had to turn people away the first time. Plus, you never know how you will feel. Say you just came from a really intense drama, and what you had planned for the next block was another really intense drama. It’s perfectly okay to switch to a comedy. You’ll be glad you did. Maybe, you figured that you’d be too tired for any of the midnight movies, but you get out of that last screening and feel really pumped and want to keep going. Go for it.

Maybe, there is a block that you’re not particular enthused about. This is the perfect chance to get a real meal or even sneak back to the hotel for a nap. Just remember, you’re there to have fun. It’s almost assured that you’re going to be running around a lot, but there is nothing that says you have to. It’s okay to take a breather.

Try to see something beside the inside of a theater
Even if you only have a couple of hours to spare, take advantage. Maybe you can squeeze in one of the tours. If you keep going east on Hollywood Blvd., things start to get less cheesy and you'll find cool things like vintage clothing stores. Also it seems like more of the sidewalk stars that direction are Golden Age Hollywood people. Me, I want to try to have a meal at Musso and Frank's again and trip to Amoeba Records (6400 Sunset Blvd.). Occupying an entire block, it's arguably one of the best record stores in the country. They also have a great selection of DVDs upstairs, organized into categories that TCMFF people will appreciate, such as Film Noir and Pre-Code.

If there is somewhere you want to go, it might be worth it to call and see that they are still there, or that their hours haven't changed. Last year, I really wanted to go to Hollywood Book and Poster only to find they were closed. I later found out that the owner who was a regular Exhibitor at Comic-Con had died.

I did a series of posts on my favorite TCMFF Sidetrips. See links at the bottom of this post.

Talk to people
You probably wouldn’t know but I’m kind of an introvert. Oh, I’m fine talking to people if I feel have a reason to or if I think I have something in common with them. The thing is pretty much anybody wearing a TCMFF badge is someone you have something in common with, probably way more than most of your friends back home. This is your tribe. Revel in it. By Saturday, almost anyone you talk to has seen at least one of the movies you have over the Festival. At any given time, there are about five things going on at once. If you’re standing in line, everyone else in that line has just passed up four other things that under normal circumstances they would love to see. If that’s not something in common, I don’t what is. If you’re shy, try the following conversation starters.

  • What have you seen so far? A lot of the time it’s things you saw too or something you really wanted to see, but had to skip for something you wanted to see more. If it’s one of those rare titles, you can find out whether it was worth it. This may help you decide on those TBDs on Sunday.
  • What’s your favorite thing so far? You might get some great stories: Oh, Elliot Gould was so funny. Or I was standing in line for coffee with Ben Mankiewicz. 
  • And don’t forget the standard ones: Where are you from? How was your trip?

Avoid changing your routine
This is something I didn't really think about last year. If you are a big breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day person, don't skip breakfast everyday at TCMFF. I normally drink coffee during the day until about 5 or 6 pm. Last year, I would have a cup in the morning and not have time for any the rest of the day. Then I would wonder why I was falling asleep on the late showing. This year I plan to stay properly caffeinated.

There may be certain things that you can't avoid. Say you normally go to bed at 9:00 and you know you're going to be staying up later. Try to compensate by forcing yourself to stay awake later in the week or so before the Festival. If you do need to make changes, try to not go overboard. Take my example of staying caffeinated. If I'm feeling tired in the evening, I may have a cup of coffee in the evening after my normal 6 pm cutoff, but I'm not going to do a double espresso and risk being up at three in the morning looking at the hotel room ceiling.  


Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. Don't forget to check the links below. Good info there as well.

Related links
All of these links are from last year or older, but the info should still be good. If I see any updates or good new related posts, I'll do my best to update here. If you know of a good one, leave me a comment.
My TCMFF Sidetrip posts:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

TCMFF Madness, Baby

Once again, I'm doing NCAA-Tournament-style brackets for making selections the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). I have left off the panel discussions and guest interviews. I would rather see guest for five minutes before a film I love than skip a whole block of films. On occasion, I fudged the screenings around a bit to get the top picks to the top slots in the brackets.

This year at TCMFF I am bringing both my 16-year-old daughter Jasmine and my wife Mary. This makes the picks a little easier to deal with, because I know there are going to be spots where Jasmine and Mary will want to ditch me and do their own thing.

Early evening
This might just be the toughest call of the festival. I don't have a pass that would work for All President's Men, so that gets knocked off right away. I'm not a big fan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, despite having the major hots for Joan Blondell. One Potato Two Potato sounds interesting, but since my choice in the next block also deals with inter-racial relationships, I think I'll pass. Besides, I live inter-racial relationships everyday.

That leaves Dark Victory and The Freshman.Thinking The Freshman is my first all the way down the line. The problem is the timing is really rough. The Freshman ends at 9:30 and my pick in the next block is starts at 9:30, leaving 0 minutes to get there. Unless there is a wormhole from the Hollywood Roosevelt pool to the Chinese Multiplex 1, it might be too tight to make it. The description says The Freshman is 106 minutes which I assume includes opening talk. Still, I think it would require leaving before the end. It comes down to, do I play it safe with Dark Victory, or leave The Freshman early and hope it's early enough to not mess up the next block. That would also mean finding the watch I never wear. Looking at your phone for the time during a screening is likely to get you killed at TCMFF. Still, I think I'll risk the leaving early and catch as much of The Freshman as possible, which may be the only silent film at the festival this year.

Late evening
Of the three films in this block, I can knock out Brief Encounter right off the bat. I don't think I've seen it, but I haven't seen Los Tallos Amargos either and that sounds way better. Still opposite, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a film I love and watch every chance I get. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner wins hands down here. With any luck Los Tallos Amargos will show up in one of the TBD slots Sunday.

I'd made a decision not to do the Francis Ford Coppola Hand and Footprint Ceremony before the schedule even came out. TCM had a couple of openings in their area for Social Media Producers, but I didn't want to risk missing a block of films. I think that was a good call. Love Me or Leave Me didn't really grab me. I would love catch Ida Lupino's directorial debut on the big screen, but not more so than the other two options. Pre-Code Marlene Dietrich in her prime or a touching and funny wartime comedy. Much as I would love to see Shanghai Express, I have to get my Dingle on, The More the Merrier takes it.

At a glance this seemed to be a slot where I might be able to get a real meal. The Way We Were never really did anything for me. Never was a big fan of Lassie, but that might be because I always thought that Timmy should get his own butt out of the well. Then I read the descriptions for  Double Harness and He Ran All The Way. Guess, it's a sandwich in a bag after all. Double Harness is a Pre-Code with Ann Harding and William Powell vs He Ran All the Way, Film Noir at the Egyptian. Jasmine really likes Film Noir, so going with He Ran All the Way.

When I did my TCMFF Top 5 back in February, Trapeze with Gina Lollobrigida presenting was number 3 with bullet. Here she gets knocked out in the first round by scrappy underdog Amazing Film Discoveries in the first round. That's the way it goes with TCMFF. You look forward to something for so long; then the schedule comes out, and there's something or in this case two somethings better. With the competition, When You're in Love and Tea and Sympathy don't stand a chance. Amazing Film Discoveries is one of those things that you're probably only going to get at TCMFF. Silent shorts including one that was thought lost until recently. But then you have The Conversation, which has been on my film bucket list forever. Add Francis Ford Coppola introducing, and it's no competition.

Early evening
At a glance, this seemed to be a rather blasé block. Only at TCMFF could a selection of films like this seem lackluster. Perhaps, I should explain. I love Frank Capra, and It's a Wonderful Life is one of his best. That said, I've seen it in the theater several times, and there's a good chance it will be playing locally during the holidays anyway. The Passion of Joan of Ark is a brilliant film, but for me a very hard watch. I felt like I was watching a snuff film, and now that I think about the ending, I was. Boyz N the Hood is a great film, and with John Singleton there, that was my clear choice. Then I read, Kristina's picks here. Wait, what? Six Hours to Live, science fiction. Well, shit. I read the description, and it sounds really good. Plus, that would allow me to see a second film in this block. I read the descriptions of Pleasure Cruise and Private Property. Both sound good, indy film noir vs Pre-Code Roland Young. Edge, Roland Young, though it wouldn't surprise me if I changed my mind a went with Boyz N the Hood after all. By the way, I love Batman but the caped crusader didn't stand a chance here.

Friday late evening
Just to make this contest interesting, I read the descriptions of the three films I hadn't seen. I'll let you guess which ones they are. Repeat Performance sounds awesome. They had me at Film Noir meets The Twilight Zone. Still, there is no way I'm missing The Manchurian Candidate with Angela Lansbury. This is one I'm going to be reminiscing about in the old film geeks home. Here's hoping Repeat Performance makes one of the TBD spots.

Friday midnight
I know me. I just don't think I'm going to be up for Roar. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz gets it.

Bambi just might be the first film I remember seeing in the theater. That said, sentiment only takes you so far at TCMFF. One Man's Journey was on last night while I was going through the schedule and it didn't really grab me. Then again I was distracted by the schedule. I like Field of Dreams, but not enough to pass up Ace in the Hole or 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone. I really regretted missing the Technicolor presentation last year and have a feeling I'd have a similar reaction to missing Vitaphone.

Intolerance and A House Divided/Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back would be great to see, but I can't put them over the other choices here. A Face in the Crowd and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are great films, but not against Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid with Rob Reiner.

Here we have The Big Sleep playing way over its head and taking out Buono Sera, Mrs Campbell and Gina Lollobrigida. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story puts up a valiant fight against The War of the Worlds, but the Sci Fi powerhouse takes it all the way for the win.

Early evening
This block was the first cause of marital strife at the festival. I'm sure there will be others. I just saw this one coming. My wife hasn't had the chance to look at the schedule yet. I saw this one coming. I said to her, "So Endless Summer with Bruce Brown is up opposite The King and I with Rita Moreno introducing." 

My wife Mary's response was warm and comforting as usual, "Bye, bitch." That is a direct quote.

From my daughter's room, I hear Jasmine say, "Somehow, I have a feeling that's not the first time she's said that to you."

Late evening
The Short History of Widescreen Cinema and Rocky is a tough choice, but ultimately the gutsy southpaw from Philly prevails. In the other bracket, both Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and Midnight look fun, but I can't pick either over Band of Outsiders, which continues on to knock Rocky's mouth guard into the spit bucket.

I have never made it to a midnight movie at TCMFF. Gog in 3D just might be the movie to do it.

Sunday is a tough day to call due to the TBDs. I try to keep an open mind to pick up films I wanted to see and had to miss earlier or that everyone is raving about. Even my top pick for the day, there would be advantages to doing TBDs there.

My pick is Holiday in Spain for the combination of Smell-O-Vision and the only chance to see something in ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome. It is not without problems, though. It would only be a half hour to get back to the Chinese in time for The Longest Yard. I may need to bring my skateboard. I think I can make it back in under 10 minutes. Still that might not be fast enough. M*A*S*H or of course the TBD make be good alternates if I decide to be sensible.

What follows was the logic on my original picks here.
The Longest Yard is easily my top pick for Sunday, but the combination of The Kid and Horse Feathers is a close second. Throw in two TBD slots and the possibility that I could catch something I really want and either The Kid or Horse Feathers. This block could easily go a different way than what I pick here.

Then this happened:

I was actually in the middle of updating my brackets when my computer died, so I went old school Sharpie:

I haven’t seen either Fat City or The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming. At least, I don’t think so. Possibly, I’d seen The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming on TV as a kid. It sounds vaguely familiar. The deal here is I would much rather see Eva Marie Saint than Stacy Keach. I’m not real big on Westerns but I’d take She Wore a Yellow Ribbon over The Key to the Kingdom any day of the week. When it comes down to it, Eva Marie Saint in person takes it. Then again, I might be jumping over to the TBD.

To be honest, I’m not incredibly psyched on anything here. I’m mostly going with The Band Wagon to see the dance sequences on the big screen. I can easily see jumping ship to one of the TBDs.

With Faye Dunaway here, that changes my thinking. I fully expect Hollywood Blvd. to tip up on edge as everyone rushes to the Egyptian for Network. Honestly, not a huge fan of Network (Faye Dunaway makes the difference), could still easily bail for one of the TBDs.

Other people's picks

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Evolution of Movie Robots: Metropolis to Chappie

This post is part of my blogathon, The Blogathon From Another World. Check out other posts here.

Before we start, a note on spoilers. In this post, I focus on robots in numerous films, how they behave and why. There are plot details interspersed throughout. I try to keep them to a minimum, but it would be very disruptive to do spoiler warnings everywhere they might apply. Be forewarned. 

From the moment I decided to do this blogathon, I knew exactly how to approach the topic of robot evolution in film. It seemed very simple, there are only about four types of robots in the movies based on how they behave:
  • Enslavers of Man – Maria in Metropolis (1927) is archetype here. She uses her feminine wiles to seduce sons of the rich in the clouds. Below the surface, she convinces the workers to revolt, which would ultimately leads to their demise. In I Robot (2004), robots under control of the artificial intelligence VIKI, attempt to control humanity in an attempt to save us from ourselves. In a way, you could argue that the robots on the spaceship in WALL-E (2008) inadvertently enslave humanity by doing everything for their masters, allowing the humans bodies to atrophy so they are unable to survive on our own.
  • Servants of Man – These robots do as they are told. They can be good or bad. Think about Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet. Morbius’s daughter needs star sapphires for a dress to vamp Leslie Nielsen Robbie offers an alternative, diamonds and emeralds (star sapphires take a week to crystallize properly). Earl Holliman wants booze. Robbie makes 60 gallons. Lead shielding, Robbie runs it off like a photocopier. Servants of man don’t necessarily need to be good. The robots in The Mechanical Monsters the 1941 Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon help their scientist maker steal cash and jewels. From a moral standpoint, not good, but they do serve their master, by committing crime. Similarly, the robot in Robot and Frank helps Frank Langella’s character commit crime. These robots do as they are told, good or bad.
  • Mindless or Possibly Mindful Killing Machines – This is one of my favorites. Probably the best example of this type are the robots sent from the future to go after Sarah and John Connor in the Terminator movies. Although I must say that the precursor to the Terminator would be the Gunslinger from Westworld (1973). There is something absolutely terrifying about a thing that just wants to kill, that won’t stop, that won’t slow down, that won’t rest, until it kills its prey or is itself destroyed.
  • Pinocchio – This type of robot wants to be human. Haley Joel Osment as David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) is the perfect example. Designed as a small boy, he has no choice but to unconditionally love the parents he has bonded to. Ultimately, this ends badly for David when his parent’s real-life son is cured and doesn’t want a robot sibling. I hate to keep coming back to WALL-E, but I really love the film. WALL-E is obsessed with the humans who abandoned him on Earth and does everything he can to emulate them.


Then it dawned on me that I was defining robots by solely what they do. Maybe a more interesting angle would be to look at not what they do but why they do it. Looking at why robots do what they do, you can break them into categories based on how they are programmed:
  • Robots with good programming – Stepping outside of film for a second. Think of a Roomba. It vacuums the floor. When it hits a wall or other object, it turns and vacuums in a different direction. It doesn’t matter if there is a cat on top or a cat in a shark suit on top, it still vacuums the floor. Most movie robots are like this. The Terminator is programmed to kill. It does this very well.
  • Robots with defective programming – In older films, this often ended badly. The robot malfunctions and turns on its master. In modern film as people became more used to computers and automation, levels of subtlety were introduced. You give a robot rules to follow, but what happens when one rule conflicts with another. The robot is forced to make decisions based what it thinks is best in the situation.
  • Robots with free will – Taken a step further, as we get more used to the idea of artificial intelligence, the concept not the 2001 movie, we can accept that machines one day will be able to think for themselves. They can develop their own values solely by themselves or by learning from us.

Let’s look at each of these more closely.

Robots with good programming
Most of the behavioral categories discussed at the beginning of this piece are robots with good programming, not that they always do good, but they perform the way their makers intended:
  • Maria in Metropolis is an enslaver of humanity. That’s what she was intended to do and had she not been stopped that is exactly what she would have done.
  • Robbie the Robot is a servant. He does as he is told. You want jewels. You want booze. You want lead shielding. He makes it for you. Yet blindly following orders is not a good thing either, so Robbie has a safety valve. He has been programmed not to harm humans. Thus, when ordered by Morbius to kill one of the crew of the spaceship, he is paralyzed. He must obey the order, yet his programming forbids him to harm humans. Left unchecked, Robbie would destroy himself rather than being stuck between these two conflicting rules.
  • The Terminator is programmed to kill. Again, this is exactly what he does.
  • What about Haley Joel Osment from A.I. Artificial Intelligence? He was programmed as a child to love the parents he bonds to, and that he does. But when his parents no longer want him he is cast adrift. Still, he does as intended, programmed to love but not to grow and mature and become independent as a real child does.

Robots with defective programming
This can be run the gamut from a simple malfunction (it’s broken) to programming that is not robust enough to properly deal with the real world. Let’s look at a some of these scenarios:
  • Often, especially in older films, the robot just breaks, like a car with a broken fan belt. Instead of overheating, it turns on its master. In Westworld, the gunslinger (Yul Brynner) is programmed to pick fights with guests of the Wild West vacation resort and ultimately be killed by them, so that guests can experience the vicarious thrill of being in a gunfight. They don’t explain what goes wrong. It just happens. The robots malfunction. The scientists in the control room underestimate the severity of the situation and act too slow with disastrous results.

  • What about when the programming doesn’t account for the complexities of the real world. When Robbie the Robot receives conflicting instructions, he is paralyzed and would eventually destroy himself if not allowed to stop, but what good does it do you to have a robot that destroys itself when it runs into difficult situations. In Moon (2009), helium is harvested from the surface of the moon to provide abundant, clean, and cheap energy for the Earth. Kevin Spacey provides the voice for the robot GERTY, who assists Sam the human who maintains the machines that harvest the helium. GERTY has conflicting instructions to protect the interests of the company that harvests the helium and to protect the human Sam. GERTY must decide which is more important.
  • What if the programming is damaged rather than deficient? In The Iron Giant (1999), after the launch of the first human satellite, Sputnik, an alien robot crashes in the ocean near a small town in Maine. The robot is obviously damaged (large dent in his head) and is electrocuted at a power station. This effectively wipes out his programming. Befriended by a nine-year-old boy Hogarth and a beatnik sculptor Dean, the Iron Giant is reprogrammed by his interactions with Hogarth and Dean. Naturally, Hogarth thinks this huge robot should be a hero like Superman in the comics he reads. However, under the surface, the Iron Giant’s original programming remains. When threatened by the military, the Iron Giant reacts according to its original programming to destroy anything that threatens it. Ultimately, the Iron Giant must decide whether to obey its original programming or the surrogate programming provided by Hogarth and Dean to be hero and protect those who have befriended him.

Robots with free will
Here, robots are allowed to make their own decisions based on the world around them:
  • In Blade Runner (1982), replicants have superior strength and agility and intelligence at least equal to the engineers who created them. They are so advanced that they can’t be reliably controlled and are outlawed outlawed. Harrison Ford is a Blade Runner, tasked with retiring (killing) any replicants who return to earth. Like Robbie the Robot, replicants have safety protocols. Their makers knew that they were so advanced that they might develop emotions, so they are given false memories to give the context to deal with their emotions should they arise. The other safety is a short lifespan of four years. This is the one that the replicants led by Rutger Hauer take issue with. They return to Earth because they want more life, fucker. What makes Blade Runner so interesting beyond its breathtaking visuals is that it looks at what it is to be human from the point of a machine.
  • We touched on the I Robot earlier. In I Robot, robots are governed by three laws:

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

    The robot Sonny is unique in that he given the three laws but also has free will to decide whether or not to follow them. To be honest, I don’t consider I Robot a great film. Still, I have watched it dozens of times. The reason is that the robot Sonny is such a compelling character. He makes it worth watching a not so great movie. Beyond that, it is the action of the machine, Sonny, that makes Will Smith rethink his prejudice against robots.
  • Finally, we look at Chappie (2015). I only watched this movie for the first time last night, and in some respects it is a total clusterf*** of a film. In Blade Runner and I Robot, the robots are fully developed by the time we meet them. What makes Chappie unique is that we get to watch the robot develop from infancy to a fully sentient being during the course of the film. Chappie is the first artificially intelligent being. He has good and nurturing influences, but also has bad and manipulative influences, and ultimately, must decide for himself which to follow. I consider Chappie a deeply flawed film mostly because there is virtually no interaction between the good and bad influences over what they teach the robot, even though they are constantly thrown together. The good influences try to love Chappie like a small child and read him stories and teach him art, but then disappear for long periods, so that the bad influences can trick him into being a criminal. Still, watching the robot Chappie develop is so cool, that like I Robot, it makes it worth watching what is ultimately kind of a bad movie.

According to Wikipedia, the first robot in film is from the 1917 comedy short, A Clever Dummy. The term robot wasn’t coined until several years later. In less than a century, robots have evolved from simple machines that either work or do not work to complicated personalities that can create strategies to fill in the gaps in their programming to completely sentient beings that create their own morality. As they become more advanced, they can teach us something unique about what it means to be human.