Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sleight Movie Review

Yesterday, we saw Sleight, directed by J.D. Dillard. I knew virtually nothing about it, other than what I'd seen in a couple of commercials the day before. I don't want to give away too much of the plot. Jacob Latimore plays Bo, a young street magician who because of the death of his parents is forced to support his little sister. During the day he does card tricks for tips, but at night, he deals drugs. Before long, he is in way over his head in a very violent world.

When Bo does his magic, there appears to be more going on than simple sleight of hand. Sleight hints at what is going on, but I didn't get it until they did the big reveal late in the film, and that worked for me. The film is way more intense than I would have expected. The violence is not comic book people being thrown across the room, but treated realistically, and you spend much of the film worried about what's going to happen when the whole thing comes crashing in.

I don't think I knew anyone in the cast, at least, I'd never seen them in anything, but all are very good. Jacob Latimore is believable as a young man, doing questionable things but for the right reason of supporting his kid sister, Storm Reid, who also gives a strong performance when required. Seychelle Gabriel is good as Latimore's love interest, and Dulé Hill is menacing as his drug dealer boss. Rounding out the cast is Sasheer Zamata as Latimore's neighbor and the moral center of the film.

For me, it was everything I want in a low-budget movie, good story, executed well,  and a strong cast, no chase scenes or explosions The only special effects were limited to the magic in the film. I think  there are spots where the science doesn't work, but by that point, I was hooked and could easily look past it. It's a good movie. Go see it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

After the Bus: The Search for the Lost Sequel to The Graduate

Last night, I saw The Graduate in the theater. I first saw the film in college in a class, Film as Literature. The professor compared The Graduate to Casablanca, In Casablanca, ill-fated lovers Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are deeply in love but ultimately Bogart does the noble thing and sends Ingrid Bergman off with Paul Henreid, and he and Claude Rains run off to fight Nazis in Brazzaville. In The Graduate, ill-fated lovers Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross defy convention and societal norms and run off together and presumably live happily ever after with the exception of the world's most awkward family dinners twice a year at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Or did they? What would really happen when they got off that bus?

In the last 18 hours, a crack team of Blog of the Darned researchers have interviewed the surviving cast and crew and uncovered (made up) the story of what really happened after "The Sounds of Silence" faded and Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross got off that bus in the lost sequel to The Graduate entitled:

The Graduate 2: The Robinsons Strike Back

Immediately after the success of the film, executives at United Artists approached Simon and Garfunkel to get the duo to write a new original soundtrack for the sequel. Paul Simon was initially leery of the idea, but agreed to read an early partial draft of the screenplay at the insistence of his manager. Reading the disjointed story only confirmed Simon's suspicions that a sequel was an absolutely horrible idea. Art Garfunkel on the other hand was intrigued by the idea and purportedly auditioned for a small role, causing Paul Simon to not return his calls for several weeks. Pop music historians generally agree that this was the start of the rift that ultimately led to the duo's demise in the early 1970s. 

Mike Nichols was pressured to direct the sequel, but wanted no part of it and avoided the overtures of United Artists by throwing himself into a project so obscure that its Wikipedia entry is only two sentences long. With Nichols out of the picture, United Artists proceeded commission a new story and screenplay from a string of writers, though no complete screenplay has ever been discovered. All that survives some five decades later of the lost sequel are two documents, the authenticity of which still remain in dispute.

Document 1 [Original hand-written story for The Graduate sequel]

Though hand-writing analysis has proved inconclusive, the following text was possibly penned by Buck Henry, as it was written on the what appears to be discarded pages from an early draft of Candy (1968), also written by Buck Henry. A chemical examination of the manuscript paper confirm that it is indeed period-correct typing paper of the brand commonly used by Henry, though the paper also contained trace amounts of peyote, cannabis, and veterinary-grade animal tranquilizers of the type used exclusively during the filming of the TV series, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. However, no definitive link between Buck Henry and Marlon Perkins has ever been established.

To further muddy the issue of authorship, a physical examination of the manuscript indicate that it was stored for many years under a Frisbee. Buck Henry has a long well-documented public record that he was never able to properly throw a Frisbee and looked like a doofus whenever he tried. If it was indeed written by Henry, the drug residue would indicate that he was not in his right state of mind when he did so. The following is a transcript of this story with annotation in [brackets] as required:

Ben and Elaine sit at the back of the bus. "The Sound of Silence" plays. Ben and Elaine sit, not speaking, quietly holding hands. The bus makes its way into a suburban business district. As the song comes to an end, Ben and Elaine get off the bus at a shopping mall, and Elaine realizes that everyone is staring at her because she is still wearing her wedding dress. They go into mod-hippie-ish women's clothing store. "Turn Turn Turn" plays inside the store. [At this point there is a note in the margins that reads, "You did get the rights to The Byrds catalog, correct? I seem to remember a memo."] Elaine finds an outfit and asks the clerk for the largest shopping bag they have. She stuffs her wedding gown and veil in the the bag, but the bag is hopelessly undersized, and there are bits of satin and lace bursting out everywhere.
Back at church, Carl, the Make Out king and Elaine's jilted would-be husband, calls his roommate back at the fraternity. His roommate tells him that some guy with a red Alfa Romeo was looking for him and asking where he was getting married. Carl says the wedding is off, and he is heading back to Berkeley. On his way out of town, Carl sees Ben's sports car parked on the side of the road. He stops and looks at it and then notices a hamburger stand nearby. He goes to the hamburger stand and stuffs his pockets with sugar packets. There is a comically awkward scene where Carl puts about 75 sugar packets into Ben's gas tank. Carl returns to school, where he has a long steamy sexually ambivalent shower with his fraternity brothers.
Later, Ben carrying a gas can and Elaine carrying her bagged wedding dress walk hand in hand to "Mr. Tambourine Man." They make it to Ben's car, where he fills the tank, somewhat confused by the sugar packet wrappers everywhere. When the car won't start, Ben puts two and two together. At a garage, Ben is informed by the mechanic that a new engine will cost roughly half the price of a new Alfa Romeo. Ben offers to trade the sports car straight across for a Ford Edsel:
Ben [Elated]: God dammit, this same exact make and model that your parents conceived you in. I know it. I can feel it.
Elaine: Ben, this car was made when I when about 10.
Ben: No it's the right car. I know it, the same way I knew you would marry me.
Elaine: Whatever....
Ben and Elaine get a small apartment and make love to the tune, "All I Really Want to Do," but the honeymoon is short-lived, when Elaine realizes that technically she is still married to Carl. Over the next several weeks, Elaine wades through the ecclesiastical red tape of having her marriage to Carl annulled, tearing asunder what God hath joined together.
There is a knock at the door and Ben is arrested. The Robinsons are pressing charges for Breaking and Entering, Lewd Behavior, and Assault with a Deadly Crucifix. By this point, Ben's parents have cut him off, and he has to spend the last of their money on bail. As a result, Ben has to go with a public defender. [At this point, there is another note in the margin that reads, "I hear that Art Garfunkel was lined up to play the public defender. His Jew-Fro would be epic in the court scenes."]
In court, Ben is able to plea bargain the charge down to Defamation of a Cougar, a misdemeanor, for which he is given two years probation. By this time, Elaine has successfully had the marriage to Carl annulled. Ben is completely broke and near destitute. He has to pawn his sunglasses for the price of the marriage licence. Elaine puts on her wedding dress but bursts into tears when she finds it was torn badly when she stuffed in the shopping bag. Ben tries to console her:
Elaine [Sobbing uncontrollably]: Who wears a wedding dress to get married at the Justice of the Peace anyway?
Ben [In his slightly nasal whiny, but utterly sincere voice] But Elaine, you're beautiful, and I love you. And the tear hardly shows.... Provided you don't stand up.... Or sit down.... Or move.... Or stay still.... Or....
Elaine changes into normal clothes, and they get married in a somple civil ceremony.
Back in L.A., things are rocky for both sets of Ben and Elaine's parents. The legal firm of Braddock Robinson could not survive the strain of Elaine's father having to face the father of the man who broke up his marriage day in and day out. By this time, the Robinson divorce has become final. Elaine's father has seen the writing of the Sexual Revolution on the wall and switches from corporate to family law. Mrs. Robinson is forced to seek work and become the oldest Go-Go dancer on the Sunset Strip, where incidentally there is a steady supply of young lovers. Her life changes for the better one night after work, when she stumbles into an adult bookstore and discovers a battery-operated device imported from Sweden that is way better than any of the 20-year-old men she's ever been with.
For the Braddock's, things are much worse. Ben's father nearly drowns in 10 feet of water playing around with Ben's scuba gear. Ultimately, he comes to the realization that his partner, Mr. Robinson, had done all of the legal heavy lifting at the firm, and that he was more of a glad-hander, good with the poolside BBQs and not much of a lawyer. Unable to keep up the payments on their home, they move to a small condo in Culver City. Ultimately, Ben's father goes into the plastics business with his friend, Mr. McQuire. Ben's mother starts drinking heavily and take to seducing young men at the condo jacuzzi, while her husband slaves at the plastic factory.
Back at Ben and Elaine's, Elaine confesses to Ben that she is secretly resentful. She had been finishing her last 12 units of a summa cum laude degree in anthropology, when she had been ripped out of college by her parents, ripped out her wedding by Ben, and ripped her own wedding dress, all the same week. Had she never gone out with Ben, she could have been in Machu Picchu working on her masters degree at that point. Meanwhile, Ben has trouble finding work and spends long hours polishing his Edsel and looking longingly at the back seat. 
Ultimately, the strain is too much for Elaine and she borrows money from her father for plane fare to South America to continue her studies. From the plane, Elaine looks sadly out the window at the Andes Mountain range, as "Eight Miles High" plays. Despondent, Ben drives his Edsel to Berkeley erroneously thinking that Elaine had gone back to school there. As he drives up the picturesque California coastline, "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" plays. [At this point, there is a note in the margin that reads, "Wait, isn't that Crosby, Stills, and Nash?" Yes, Buck, it is.]
At Berkeley, Ben is unable to find Elaine and thinks that maybe she has gone back to Carl. He goes to the fraternity to discover that Carl has dropped out of school and established California's first gay commune in the hills above Livermore. Ben drives up to the compound and pounds on the gate, screaming, "Carl! Carl! Carl!"  The gate opens--

[The manuscript ends there midsentence. Afterwards, there are just three barely legible words, "Samurai Dry Cleaners."]

Document 2 [Screenplay fragment by an unknown writer]


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 3

Saturday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) we were up and out early once again. The first block was one of the toughest for me. I'm not a huge fan of either The Court Jester or The China Syndrome, and This is Cinerama would likely mess up the next block. Still, this left three killers, none of which I had ever seen in the theater, Arsenic and Old Lace, Red River, and Stalag 17

Stalag 17 – Our choice Stalag 17 was in one of the two smaller theaters that fill up easily, so we wanted to get there extra early. Fortunately, the big draw in that slot turned out to be Arsenic and Old Lace. We got line numbers somewhere in the 60s and went down to Starbucks for a coffee and a bagel and Jasmine's cake pop (the perfect supplement for the breakfast she'd already had in the room).

When we got back in line, we saw our friend, Christy Putnam (Christy's Inkwells), in line ahead of us, so I asked if she could save us seats. I guess she didn't hear me, because when we got in, she had people on both sides of her. I started to give her crap, but let it go when she introduced me to her son, whom I was hoping to meet anyway.

Casey, Angela, me, and Jasmine
(photo: stolen from Casey's Twitter feed)
We ended up sitting with Casey (Noir Girl) and Angela (The Hollywood Revue). Stalag 17 did not disappoint. When I had brought it up to Jasmine, she almost vetoed at the mention of war movie, but then I explained that it wasn't a normal war movie. It was about prisoners of war in a German POW camp. It was funny and suspenseful. There is a German spy in the barracks, and the main guy gets blamed for it, because he's always running scams. Oh, and it was directed by the same guy who made Double Indemnity. That was enough; she was in. Stalag 17 was everything I expected of it, absolutely the right decision. Jasmine loved it as well.

The Awful Dictator – Here, Jasmine and I parted ways. She is a big Chaplin fan (City Lights is what got her started on classic movies in the first place), and my all-time favorite screwball comedy, The Awful Truth, was playing opposite The Great Dictator. Jasmine went off with I think Angela and/or Casey. I seem to remember one or both of them say, that they were going to The Great Dictator in the next block. One of the great things about TCMFF is that once you've been going for a while, even if you're by yourself, you almost always know someone to sit with.

Me, I ended up sitting with Ariel Schudson (Archive-Type, Musings of a Passionate Preservationist) for The Awful Truth, though I think there were a dozen or so other #TCMParty people sitting around us. Ariel had never seen it before. I have long maintained that The Awful Truth falls on it's face in the last 10 minutes, but despite this, I still love the film and can easily overlook that one perceived flaw. I mentioned it to Ariel, and she was all, "Why did you even tell me that." After it was done, she said, "What was wrong with that ending?" I had to admit, nothing. Seeing it on the big screen with an audience changed all of that. It was such a profound experience that I wrote about it here

Seeing The Awful Truth was such a treat. It is such a funny movie. I laugh my butt off all the way through, despite having seen it 40 or 50 times. That said, it was that much funnier on the big screen with an audience.  

Jasmine on the other hand didn't do as well with The Great Dictator. Though she loves Charlie Chaplin's humor, I think what really gets her is the way he pulls at your heartstrings. There is less of that in The Great Dictator, as it's really an anti-fascist political message movie. She also thought it went on a bit too long. 

The Jerk – One of the other problems with The Great Dictator and it being long was that it made the transition to our next pick kind of tight for Jasmine. Once I got out of The Awful Truth, I got back in line for The Jerk. It turned out that there was an optional book signing preceding the screening, so that meant there was about 45 minutes more time to get there and still make the screening. I texted Jasmine that. Since I had time, I went to the TCMFF Boutique and spent about 10 minutes talking to the woman who had put the vintage clothing collection together that they had on sale. Turns out she was from La Jolla, part of my hometown, San Diego.

Mostly I was killing time so that I could make sure that Jasmine would know that she could still make it to The Jerk. By the time, I finally did get in touch with her, she said she needed a break or she was going to kill someone. I knew enough to give her some space, so I told her I would get back to her after The Jerk. She spent the part of the time wandering around the Hollywood Highland mall, which for an overwhelmed teenage girl is a good thing.

The Jerk is not a huge favorite of mine. I remember seeing it in the theater when it first came out and yes, it was very funny. It is just one of those films that never made it into the regular rotation for me. I've seen it two or three times since it first came out, but not the dozens of times I've seen the Mel Brooks or Monty Python movies. Seeing The Jerk was more about Carl Reiner for me. He was so funny in his intro for Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid last year. 

As expected, the Carl Reiner interview was a hoot. I got about the first two thirds of it on video, in two separate files. My camera does about 10 minutes of video and then just stops. After the second 10 minutes, it decided to run out of power. The audio and video is a bit rough in spots, mostly from me laughing. Carl Reiner and Ben Mankiewicz spoke about politics, social media, and how Carl got his start as a writer. Then they moved onto Steve Martin, his standup comedy, his work process, how smart he is, and how he is a huge art collector. Ben mentioned that Steve Martin has formed one of the top bluegrass bands. "He plays the banjo, like ...." Carl Reiner joked. "Like it's a good instrument."

In the interview, Carl Reiner said that the name Navin was Mel Brooks' idea, as he thought that African-Americans have a way of turning names just slightly from what they would normally be, like Irvin from Irving. So for Steve Martin as a poor black child, Navin seemed to work. Toward the end of the interview, Carl Reiner said, something about family that really helped put my life in perspective (see Nontoxic Children here). The videos I recorded are below:

The film The Jerk did not suffer from the years of me not viewing it. It was every bit as funny as I remember it.

Theodora Goes to Dinner Instead – When I got out of The Jerk, Jasmine had gone back to the hotel. We'd more or less decided that we would skip the next block of films in favor of dinner. We'd decided on 25 Degrees in the Hollywood Roosevelt, Though crowded, we were able to get seated at the bar within a couple of minutes. Jasmine had their huge grilled cheese, and I had a Sonoran hot dog, wedge salad, and a Guinness milkshake. Yea, green stuff, umm and the surprisingly good combination of Guinness stout and ice cream. As we were leaving, I noticed that waiting to be seated was Diane Baker and friends.

I wanted to change clothes before the evening screenings, so we went back upstairs. I also grabbed a second flask, this time with gin, little did I know how much I would need it. On the way down, we rode in the elevator with Dick Cavett (talked about it previously here). We had plenty of time to get to our next screening, so we stopped in Club TCM on the way. We also stopped in the TCMFF Boutique, where I bought some fudge, named after, From Here to Eternity, which tasted a lot like a PayDay candy bar.

The Incident – Our original choice here was Black Narcissus, but The Incident was always running a very close second. A number of things conspired to push us toward The Incident. First, Ariel had said it was really great. Second, by this time, they had announced that both Beau Bridges and Martin Sheen would be joining director Larry Peerce and Bruce Goldstein. Third, there was the whole nitrate-schmitrate stuff. While there are moments of Black Narcissus that are absolutely chilling and the cinematography is wonderful, the film as a whole leaves me somewhat lukewarm. Do I go to a film I'm somewhat ambivalent over, just because it's in nitrate, when I know in the back of my head that it is probably not going to live up to the hype. I had failed to feel the Earth move at Laura in nitrate the night before. 

That's how we ended up in The Incident, a film about two sociopaths holding a group of passengers hostage on a late-night subway train. Larry Peerce who had also directed One Potato Two Potato (one of the big highlights of TCMFF 2016) was great. He wanted to shoot the entire film on location, but the New York Transit Authority wouldn't let them. They did sneak in a few shots of the platforms etc. without permission.  They ended up building a complete subway train for shooting in the studio. Normally, they would build a train set with one side of the train open for the camera to move. Peerce didn't want that and had the set built as a fully enclosed subway train. He wanted it to be cramped and for shots to feel too close and claustrophobic. Boy, did it work.

On set, Larry Peerce didn't want the two psychos (played by Martin Sheen and Tony Musante) associating with the other actors and told the other actors to not have lunch or go drinking with Sheen and Musante. When they met for the first rehearsal, Peerce had all of the actors sit in folding chair for a run through. Then he brought in Sheen and Musante and had them really get in their face and terrorize the crap out of them. Martin Sheen confessed that the whole not drinking thing didn't work. After Larry Peerce would leave for the day, he and Tony Musante would go out drinking with the other actors anyway. Sheen and Musante couldn't stand to have the rest of the cast thinking that they were the terrible people they were playing. 

Whatever the case, the film is one of the most intense movies I've ever seen. Martin Sheen and Tony Musante were absolutely chilling. They were out to hurt people for the simple reason that they liked hurting people. The rest of the cast was amazing as well. Beau Bridges was great as a young soldier with a broken arm who like his Army buddy just want to avoid getting involved. Thelma Ritter was brilliant in her last film role, and Brock Peters was great as a black man who's seen too much prejudice to feel anything but hatred and contempt for the white people being abused, until the two psychos turn on him. The rest of the cast was tremendous as well, but a standout was Ed "Heeerrrreee'sss Johnny" McMahon in his first film role.

An Unplanned Midnight Movie – Now, the problem with seeing a film as intense as The Incident is that you just don't go to sleep after watching it. Thus, we ended up going to see Kentucky Fried Movie even though we really needed the extra couple hours of sleep at that point, not really a viable option after The Incident. For the introduction, Edgar Wright (director of Sean of the Dead) interviewed Kentucky Fried Movie director John Landis and writers, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. The interview was hilarious partly because a) the entire audience was loopy, b) they really were funny, and c) they kept contradicting each other (no one seemed to remember anything happening the same way).

We sat with Ariel and her friend Rick, who had been sitting with us previous screening as well. Between the fun interview, a hilarious film, and a flask of gin, it was a good way to wind down from the cinematic Bataan death march intensity of The Incident. If I had to change anything, it would have been not going to see the Zardoz midnight movie the night before. Kentucky Fried Movie is a way better movie and way more worth the loss of sleep.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

µ-Blog – Jack and the Gangsters

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

Robots gather at bar, nice film noir feel here
The fifth season of Samurai Jack started last month. In the fifth season, fifty years have elapsed, and Jack has not aged, but lost hope of ever defeating the evil demon, Aku. In watching it, I realized that many of the characters had appeared previously in the series. I was sort of haphazard in watching the first four seasons, so I wanted go back and watch them all.

As I got toward the end of season 1, I watched Episode 12, Jack and the Gangsters. Jack goes to what can only be described as a Prohibition Era speakeasy. Inside the men are wearing tuxes and the women flapper dresses and Deco-inspired evening-wear. Jack ends up fighting, pinstrip suit, fedora, and spats wearing/Tommy gun wielding robot gangsters. 

Jack meets gang leader, Edward G. Robinson
Invertantly, Jack protects a group of gangsters, led by none other than Edward G. Robinson, whose gang includes a parodies of Micheal Madsen and Steve Buscemi from Reservoir Dogs. The attention to detail is excellent. Jack enters the speakeasy after being examined through a peephole. The nightclub has a jazz band and a torch singer, and there are Art Deco patterns on the columns in the background.

I always thought that Samurai Jack was innovative and artistically amazing, and if anything, Season 5 surpasses the original series. The last thing I expected was Edward G. Robinson and Quintin Tarantino. Well done. Even If you don't care about the series, this episode is well worth it just for the great film parodies. The series is currently streaming on Hulu.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 2

For Friday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), it mostly comes down to almost continuous series of screenings starting at 9 am with incredible cartoons and ending after 2 in the morning with an incredibly bad science fiction movie.

Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks – My daughter Jasmine and I were out pretty early for this one. I was worried that it might be full. I'd seen a lot of buzz about it on others' pre-festival picks. I think I was shooting for getting there an hour early, and I don't  think we missed that by a whole lot. We got our line numbers and had time to run downstairs for coffee and something resembling breakfast. 

Beyond the Mouse was great. On hand were animation historian Jerry Beck and Leslie Iwerks (Disney animation pioneer Ub Iwerks' granddaughter and producer/director/writer of the documentary on Iwerks). Ub Iwerks was a teenage friend of Walt Disney in Kansas City, and helped establish Disney Studios as head animator, chief character designer, and co-creator of Mickey Mouse. Though Ub Iwerks left Disney in the early 1930s, he returned to work for Disney in the 1940s. Iwerks had a knack for innovation and solving the difficult problems in the fledgling animation field. In the 1940s and 1950s, he worked on everything from animated films to The Hall of Presidents at Disneyland.

The presentation featured about 10 animated shorts, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (predates Mickey Mouse), Steamboat Willy (the first cartoon with fully synchronized sound), and a smattering of Iwerks cartoons from the 1930s.  What struck me in particular from the earlier cartoons was how outrageous some of the gags were. Also it was a treat to see the progression from the very simple silent black and white cartoons of the 1920s to incredibly sophisticated technicolor wonders, like the brilliant Art Deco-inspired Merry Mannequins, less that 10 years later.

Ariel, me, and Jasmine waiting for Born Yesterday
Born Yesterday –  Next up was the film that turned out to be Jasmine's favorite of the festival. Jasmine had never seen it before, and I had never seen it on the big-screen. While I had misjudged Jasmine's reaction to the end of Harold and Maude, I knew this was a sure bet, it paid off. Jasmine loved how Judy Holliday is empowered by learning. Me, I think the movie is absolutely hilarious and seeing it on the big screen made it more so.

We sat with Ariel Schudson (Archive-Type: Musings of a Passionate Preservationist) who was possibly more psyched to see it on than I was. It has such great message about the difference between intelligence and a lack of education, all wrapped up in a charming and funny love story. It also says a lot about corruption in Washington, which if anything has only got worse since 1950.

Jasmine and I even got a chance to hang

out with stars afterwards, okay, this was taken
the day 
before but who's counting.

Monkey Business – Next up was Monkey Business at the Egyptian. Dick Cavett in his intro told a hilarious story about Chico Marx and Tallulah Bankhead that I wrote about here. I love the Marx Brothers and seeing them on the big screen was indeed a treat, but.... You probably knew there was a but coming. But I learned something about myself and the nature of TCMFF. Even though we were only barely into the festival, I was having a real tough time staying awake during the screening. I kept dozing and being jerked awake by audience laughter. Fortunately, in a film like Monkey Business the bursts of audiences laughter come every few seconds.

Don't get me wrong, the film was great, but I was having a real tough time staying awake for it. To be fair, I was working on a sleep deficit that started with WonderCon the weekend before TCMFF. What I learned is that I have a much tougher time staying awake in movies, that are long on laughs and short on story than the other way around. Seeing W.C. Fields in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break in very next block only confirmed this. If I had it to do over again, I would have done either Monkey Business or Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, but not both back to back. 

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break – Other than the issue with dozing/being jerked awake by laughter during the screening that continued into this block, I really enjoyed Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. In his intro, Jeremy Arnold said that title of the film is not what W.C. Fields wanted but what the studio changed it to (according to IMDB, Fields wrote the original story under the name, Otis Criblecoblis). Never Give a Sucker an Even Break isn't even a reference to anything in the film, but to two of Fields' earlier films. Fields joked at the time that with limited theater marquee space, it would be shortened to:

W.C. Fields

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a parody of Hollywood and the studio system, though really more of a series of skits than an actual narrative. The film featured, Gloria Jean, sort of Universal's bargain basement version of Deanna Durbin, whom was also under contract with Universal. Some of Gloria Jean's scenes are direct parodies of things in Deanna Durbin movies.  Still it was very very funny, which helped get me back from dozing every few minutes. The screening also feature the W.C. Fields short, The Barber, which also was very funny and had about as much story as the feature, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Pig and Whistle – Our choice in the next block was Red Headed Woman, but by the time we got to Never Give A Sucker an Even Break, we'd decided dinner was more important than one more film. I had wanted to try the Pig and Whistle, and since it was next door to the Egyptian, it seemed like a natural. While waiting for W.C. Fields to start, we'd looked at the Pig and Whistle menu online and it seem like as good a place as any. On the way, we walked with Alan Hait, who unlike us was still going to Red Headed Woman. Both Alan and I really liked Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, but Jasmine was a bit overwhelmed by the silliness and rapid verbal humor. Then again, part of that might have been hunger and exhaustion talking. 

When we got to the Pig and Whistle, there was a 45 minute wait. I put in our name and cell phone number, and we started to walk east on Hollywood Blvd. I tried to suggest other restaurants we passed but Jasmine wasn't having any of it. We ended up wandering in several souvenir shops, and Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a very cool place, dedicated to Hollywood and movies. By the time we got back to Pig and Whistle about a half hour later, our name was at the top of the list, and they were just cleaning off tables of people who had just left. The food was not cheap, but not super expensive either and quite good. Looking back on it now and the prospect of seeing Red Headed Woman on the big screen, I still think we made the right call. 

Laura – We got to the theater for Laura plenty early, but we were still had line numbers in the high 80s, but in a theater the size of the Egyptian, all was right with the world. We ended up going to Starbucks with our Film Geeks San Diego friends Miguel Rodrigues (Horrible Imaginings) and Beth Accomando (Cinema Junkie) and Fussy and her daughter, The Nitrate Diva

I was really looking forward to Laura, mostly because of all of the hype about nitrate before TCMFF. Many were talking about how seeing a film on nitrate was this life changing experience, but by Friday afternoon, we had run into a few people who had seen The Man Who Knew Too Much in nitrate the night before and were less than impressed. The term nitrate schmitrate was bandied about. Me, I think I fall somewhere in the middle on the Nitrate Schmitrate-Life Changing Experience scale. In watching Laura, I could see certain things that looked really cool, like reflections on glass, highlights on people's hair, and the way jewels sparkled, but it was far from the cinematic epiphany that others had spoke of. After a while I stopped looking for things in the nitrate that looked especially good, mostly because it was distracting me from the film. 

To be honest, I like Laura, but it is not super high on my all-favorite film noir list. I can think of a dozen other film noirs off the top of my head that I like better. Jasmine was similarly unimpressed. Yes, we both liked the film, but neither of us liked it nearly as well as say, Nightmare Alley (Jasmine's favorite film noir) or Double indemnity (my favorite).

Zardoz – When we were at Laura, Fussy mentioned that there might be rain that night, so I decided to run back to the hotel real quick and drop off my hat with the drawings all over it. The hat had never been sealed, so I didn't want to risk getting it wet. This also gave me a chance to pick up a small flask of tequila I had packed. When we got out of the theater, it was sprinkling lightly, the only rain we got at TCMFF, so that was a good call as was the flask. Zardoz, not nearly as good.

We got to theater and were welcomed by the best thing about Zardoz, cookies! Yes, cookies, provided by our Film Geeks San Diego friends, Beth and Miguel. They were giving them out to anyone who would post a picture on social media with the hashtag #FilmGeeksSanDiego. 

Zardoz had been Jasmine's pick. She had seen a parody of it on the Adult Swim show, Rick and Morty. I had seen Zardoz in the last couple years, and I warned Jasmine that it was mostly just weird. Then again it did have Sean Connery in a futuristic banana hammock, and that alone could make for a fun midnight movie.

Well, it turns out that fun midnight movie is a relative term. What might be a fun midnight movie under normal circumstances when you've had enough sleep and have the prospect of sleeping late the next day, sure. But when you're sleep-deprived and you're working on your sixth movie in very very long day, maybe not. We sat with Ariel again. All I can say is that both of us were grateful for the tequila.  Heck, had Jasmine asked, I would have given her some, but I'm a bad parent. 

Yes, Zardoz was funny and stupid at the very very beginning, but that didn't last long and neither did the novelty of Connery in a post-apocalyptic speedo. Again, mostly just weird. On the plus side lots of boobs, but boobs that seem to have been selected because they were unusually small. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with small boobs. I'm fine with big boobs. Old boobs, young boobs, perky boobs, saggy boobs, all are good in my book. But when all the boobs you see are really small, even that loses its allure. I can't even believe I'm saying that.

Now, it's one thing to watch a bad movie. It's another thing to watch a movie that is weird. It's still another thing to watch a movie that is both bad and weird. It's a completely different thing to watch a movie that is bad and weird and goes on a half hour longer than it should. That's Zardoz. Next year, I'm bringing a bigger flask.

Friday, April 21, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 1

Jasmine and I got to share world's smallest
shower caddy
Thursday was the first full day of the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). It's the lightest day but even so, it's not without conflicts. My daughter Jasmine and I started the day with breakfast at Mel's Drive-in on Highland. We knew this would be the only real breakfast we would get during the festival. Afterwards, it would all be things we had in the room or whatever I could pick up with coffee in the morning on the way to the first screening. Also because the first real event wasn't until 11, we were able to take our time getting out of the room including the impromptu Jinga game in the bathroom with the world's smallest shower shelf.

First up was the Hitchcock Meet and Greet, I covered this in detail in my postpartum wrapup here, so I won't repeat myself. However, I will mentioned that thing about conflicts. We did run into the first conflict before noon. Alan Hait had organized an informal Twitter #TCMParty lunch at In'N'Out Burgers, about a five-minute walk from the Hollywood Roosevelt. Still, it would have meant leaving the Hitchcock Meet and Greet early, and the timing on getting back in time for the Remembering Robert Osborne memorial at 12:30 would be rough. Besides we had breakfast on the late side, so weren't up for lunch that early anyway. 

Remembering Robert Osborne
(Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda)
Turns out this was a good call, Remembering Robert Osborne came pretty darn close to filling the 456-seat Chinese Theater 1. To be honest, I was a bit leery, about going to something that emotional that early in the day, but it turned out just fine. There was the odd tear here and there, but enough time had passed that those speaking could relish the good memories of the beloved TCM host. Those who knew him shared some of their favorite stories about Robert Osborne. 

I think my favorite story was one shared by TCM Producer/Director Sean Cameron (I think it was his story). Anyway, he was talking about his daughters and how he is trying to introduce them to classic film. Robert had recommended they watch a film called, Margie, a sweet coming-of-age story about a teenage girl. He said he was watching this film with his daughters. The girl in Margie is in high school, and and you're not sure how it is going to end. Is she going to end up with the handsome jock or the smart and sweet nerdy guy. Then you get to the end of the movie and the girl marries her teacher. He goes to Robert Osborne, "How could you have me show this pedophile movie to my pre-teen daughters?"

Osborne responded, "It was a different time. That didn't really matter that much back then."

Cameron went on to say that he honestly believed that Robert Osborne had forgot that was how the film ended and just remembered the sweet coming-of-age part and not the creepy marrying your high school teacher part. 

The other thing that stands out from the Remembering Robert Osborne panel was something Host Ben Mankiewicz said. Of all the people on the panel, Ben was the person who knew Robert Osborne least well. He would have liked to have called him his mentor, but the truth of the matter was they didn't see each other all that often. Neither of them lived in Atlanta, so when Robert was in the studio shooting his segments, Ben was at home, and vice versa. About the only time they saw each other was at TCMFF and on the TCM Cruises. Even then a lot of the time, they were going opposite directions. 

Someone asked about how the network is going to fill Robert Osborne's hosting duties. Ben told a story about how he loved music and in particular Bruce Springsteen. When Clarence Clemons of Springsteen's backing band The E Street Band died, the band didn't just hang it up. They didn't want continue without him, but they didn't want to stop either. They ended up getting Clemon's nephew, who also played saxophone, but ultimately, they end up replacing the late saxophone player with three people. Ben continued that there was no one person who could step into Robert Osborne's shoes. The hosting duties would be spread among several hosts.

And the winner is ... Robert's Raiders
(photo: Tyler Golden)
We had just enough time to pick up a quick lunch at Johnny Rockets. We ended up in back-to-back booths with a couple from Texas who were trying to navigate the schedule on their first TCMFF. Jasmine and I spoke with them and answered questions about things like how the line numbers worked. We got back to the Hollywood Roosevelt just in time for So You Think You Know Movies trivia contest. Right as we arrived, I got recruited on a team, called Robert's Raiders. I covered this in detail here, but the short version is that we ended in a tie with another team and won the tie-breaker round.

Just as the trivia contest was ending, they were doing the Twitter #TCMParty group photo out by the pool. Since #TCMParty co-founder Paula Guthat (Paula's Cinema Club) had to be there on time and was part of the winning trivia team, I grabbed Paula's bag and rushed out for the photo. 

Jasmine and me, hanging with Dustin Hoffman, umm,
and Anne Bancroft's leg
This was probably the most short-lived get-together of the festival. Many people were going to the Red Carpet or had to change for the opening party. Jasmine and I were there just long enough for the photo and then had to run back to our room to change. Though neither Jasmine nor I have ever walked the Red Carpet, we still dress for opening night as if we do. (Jasmine had a Classic Pass, and my Media Pass was the equivalent of a Classic Pass, neither of which include walking the red carpet or the Opening Night Screening.) Still, it's kind of fun to dress up. I have a white dinner jacket tux I bought two years ago, and I figure I'm going to wear it until the seat falls out of the pants. Jasmine is young and pretty and looks good in anything, but in her cocktail dress, she was stunning.

We went to the Opening Party but only stayed for about 5 minutes. Between changing and elevator issues, the Hollywood Roosevelt is an old hotel with tiny elevators that do not respond well to lots of people trying to get up to their rooms and back downstairs all at the same time. We then made our way to the Egyptian for the first screening, Myrna Loy and William Powell in Love Crazy, probably my favorite of the Loy Powell non-Thin Man movies. Both Jasmine and I were on the fence about this. The other big draw in this time slot was the documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time, about a cache of rare nitrate films from 1903-1929 found in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, incredibly well preserved due to the low temperatures. 

At my urging, we opted for Love Crazy. I reminded Jasmine that she had called, William Powell, her spirit animal, after seeing My Man Godfrey at her first TCMFF. Myrna Loy and William Powell are just magic onscreen, and the odds of San Diego's limited classic film scene digging that deep into the catalog seemed unlikely. Dana Delany introduced the film and looked gorgeous. Love Crazy was a delight. I find the film very funny on TV, but with an audience, it was hilarious.

Next up, we made our way back to the Chinese Multiplex for one of the films I was most looking forward to, Harold and Maude. We had come directly from The Egyptian and made our way quickly. When we got there, we ended up getting line Nos. 3 and 4. The lowest line number Jasmine and I had ever got in three years at #TCMFF. At the front of the line in the No. 1 slot was Karen Burroughs Hannsberry (shadowsandsatin), whom I'd met the day before. I said to her that if I'd just got here a few minutes earlier I could've had the No. 1. Karen said, she had got there an hour earlier. "Opps, you win."

I also have a vague recollection of someone mistaking Karen for Jasmine's mom. My wife is black, and Jasmine is obviously mixed race. If you are a black woman of a certain age at TCMFF, you too could be mistaken for Jasmine's mom. It happened again to another friend on Sunday night. After we got out of line, we got a nutritional dinner of of popcorn and a pretzel. I remember Jasmine and I joking about asking her mom (Karen) to take our picture.

On Harold and Maude, I was looking forward to sharing it with Jasmine. I figured she would love it. I kind of figured wrong. She did love the characters and the relationship. She was not prepared for the ending. Jasmine and I think a lot alike. I loved Harold and Maude from the very first viewing. The thing is I saw it when I was about 25. Had I seen it at 17 like Jasmine I might have had the same reaction. I forget that she is still very young.

We sat with Jocelyn (Classic Film Observations & Obsessions), who if memory serves me, had not seen it either. Introducing Harold and Maude was Dave Karger, who shared two stories about the film that I loved. First off, Elton John was wanted for the role of Harold. Director Hal Ashby wanted him for the part, and Elton John read and loved the script and very seriously considered it. The problem was that it came very shortly after Elton John had his first hit record. He and his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, figured that making the film would take six months, right at the time when they needed to concentrate on music.

The other story involved the late Bill Paxton. Harold and Maude was Paxton's all-time favorite film. He saw it for the first time on a date with a woman, he really liked. After the movie, Paxton absolutely loved the movie. His date absolutely hated it. Paxton made some excuse for dropping off his date early. Immediately, he got back in his car, drove to the theater, and watched it again.

Richard Rosen and I enjoying the masterful
drinks at the library bar (photo: Andrea Rosen)
After the film, I was a little let down. I tried to justify the ending, but it was too fresh for Jasmine. Now that, I think about it, Jasmine's reaction was perfectly normal, but I just hadn't seen it coming. Still, we were only two films in on a very long weekend. She had really liked Love Crazy. And I knew we'd see others she would adore. We got back to the hotel. Jasmine turned in, while I stopped for a drink, and ended up in the Library Bar with Andrea Rosen and her husband, Richard. Richard had ordered some unnamed vodka, lime, and ginger concoction, that was so good I switched to it on my second drink, even though I'm not really a vodka drinker. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 0

First off, Day 0 isn't really a thing. It's my term I made up for the Wednesday before the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). There are a number of official, semi-official, and unofficial events going on. Me, I try to get up there in time for the TCMFF Press Conference in the early afternoon.

As usual, my daughter Jasmine and I took the train up from San Diego. It's a nice trip that hugs the coast at least the the first part of the way. Between Amtrak and L.A. Metro, it gets you there as fast as you could drive in the normal bad traffic without the stress of dealing with traffic. Also, it's a good way to gather your thoughts as you're getting geared up for TCMFF. I usually spend most of the trip looking at Twitter to see who's en route, who's already there, and so on.

The one thing that jumped out at me on the trip up was an interaction I had with Dr. Richard L. Edwards who taught the Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir and Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies online classes the last two years. He said that it was only a day until the Hitchcock Meet and Greet at TCMFF. I told him I was bringing a MacGuffin. He wrote back that he hoped I could get Lincoln's nose through airport security. I responded that I was on the train, where they were much more generous about oversized National Monument carry-ons.

We got to the hotel, and while we were waiting to check in, Jasmine noticed that the person in front of us was Kelly Osborne, umm, and her dog.  I noticed the woman and the dog, but didn't associate either with Kelly Osborne or her dog, until after Jasmine mentioned it. Then again, she would know better than me. Our room wasn't ready, so we left our luggage and went up to pick up my Media pass and bag. We had enough time to grab lunch at the restaurant, 25 Degrees. We also ran into Kellee Pratt (Outspoken and Freckled), Aurora Bugallo (Once Upon a Screen), Annmarie Gatti (Classic Movie Hub), and in a separate group Laura (Laura's Miscellaneous Musings). 

Hopefully, I didn't miss anyone. Apologies if I did. Now, I know these posts seem like I'm name dropping, and that is probably true, but when you have been going to TCMFF for awhile and start putting names and faces with the people you know online, it's like running into an old friend after a long long time, when in reality, it was only last year.

Both Jasmine and I ordered ordered grilled cheese and split an order of fries which turned out to be a small mountain of fries. I remember setting down the Media bag and hearing the glassy thud of a bottle hitting the floor. I hadn't looked in the bag, but was more than psyched to see my Hitchcock Zinfindel was okay. 

We got to the press conference about fifteen minutes early. I wasn't sure whether it was okay to bring Jasmine along, so I want to have time to sort that out. Turned out to not be a problem. While we were waiting to go in, I met Karen Burroughs Hannsberry (shadowsandsatin) and Lara G. Fowler (Backlots), both of whom I knew online but neither I had met before.

The press conference was about as expected. Charles Tabesh, TCM SVP, Programming and Production; Jennifer Dorian, TCM General Manager; Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Host; and Genevieve McGillicuddy, TCM Classic Film Festival Director discussed TCM, TCM Backlot, FilmStruck, and of course TCMFF including highlights like the nitrate and Cinerama screenings. I remember someone asking about TCMFF guests they were trying to get but could never pin down. Someone said, they been after Doris Day for years and would keep on trying.

I had two questions that I wanted to ask, but felt like I wussed out and asked the easier of the two. I said that I had heard a lot online and social media this year that they were making changes to attract Millennials. I pointed out that I had my Millennial (Jasmine) with me, but I wanted to know if they considered that demographic important and wondered if they were actively going after it. For the most part, they downplayed it. While they want to have younger viewers, their focus for both the network and the festival is to have good quality programming that will appeal to people of all ages. Often younger fans (Millennials) are brought in through other people, like an aunt or a grandparent, so by appealing to all classic fans, the younger fans will come. If you're curious, my other question would have been about The Great Dictator, and whether it was the current political climate that prompted its selection.

About halfway through the press conference, they brought in additional speakers, Randy Haberkamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and Jennifer Ahn, Managing Director, The Film Foundation to discuss nitrate film and film preservation, and David Strohmaier, Film Editor and Cinerama expert. Randy Haberkamp told a story about how one of the film archives, Eastman I think, had an an unusual way of disposing of nitrate prints after that had been transferred to safety film. They would set them on fire on the Fourth of July. Once the prints were earmarked for destruction, they would write on the canisters, Do Not Return. At the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences when they were getting together nitrate prints, they kept running into canisters of film marked, Do Not Return. Obviously, employees of the Eastman (or whatever) archive didn't have them destroyed and luckily that's why they exist today.

Also I found David Strohmaier's comments interesting. In addition to working on Cinerama restorations, he also was a Cinerama projectionist and would be running the projectors at the Cinerama Dome screenings. From a projection standpoint, it was every bit as complicated as the cinematography. You have three reels of film running through three projectors to create one seamless image. That's why films like This is Cinerama often had talking segments in the middle. It gave the projectionist a chance to make subtle tweaks to the synchronization of the three projectors.

By the time, the press conference ended, our room was ready, and Jasmine and I were able to get a little bit situated. Since we had a little extra time, I wanted to go to a grocery store to pick up water and food/snacks for the weekend. We ran into Joel Williams (Joel's Classic Film Passion)  about a block away from the hotel. He and his wife were on the way to Trader Joe's more or less doing the same thing we were, but I wanted to go to Ralphs, mostly because it would take us by Charlie Chaplin's old studio, now the home of the Muppets. Jasmine is a huge Chaplin fan and had never seen the studio lot.

Theresa Brown and Julia Ricci
We made it back to the hotel in time for the Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! Facebook Group mixer at the Hollywood Roosevelt pool. Though I'm not in the group (joined just a few minutes ago, oops), I still know a lot of the people  there. And it's another good chance meet and hang out with people before the craziness starts. I didn't get to meet TCMFF first timers, Julia Ricci (Cinema Crossroads) and Priscilla Smith (Rambling In Writing). As usual, there were Golden Age guests, Cora Sue Collins and Ruth Roman. Despite there being a microphone this year, you still couldn't hear very well. Fortunately, Danny Miller (cinephiled) did an interview with Cora Sue Collins after the festival and posted it hereIt turns out that Ana Roland and I ended up sitting together on a large round chaise lounge thing looked like it was something out of an Austin Powers movie. Oddly, we ending up talking with other people from Texas, Ana's also from Texas.

Jasmine bowling, yes there's a two-lane bowling
alley in The Spare Room, hence the name
By about 7, there was a text message from Jasmine saying she was starving and when were we going to dinner. Fortunately, Jasmine is now old enough to like food that doesn't necessarily come in nugget form, so we went to the sushi place in the Hollywood Highland mall. Yay, sushi. After dinner, Jasmine and I went to the TCM Media Influencers mixer in The Spare Room on the Mezzanine level at the Roosevelt. We had a great time. I covered that event previousy, so rather than repeating myself, you can check that out here. Suffice it to say, a fun time was had by all, and the combination of very good drinks, a chance to hang out with other film bloggers, 1940s decor, and a gaming theme made The Spare Room one of the highlights of the festival for me.

By about 10:00, Jasmine was fading fast. She has to get up way early for school, so she never deals well with late nights. I had made tentative plans to meet Theresa Brown (CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH), so I wandered downstairs to check out the bars in the lobby. If memory serves me, and it might not, I ended up in the Library Bar having a drink at the bar with Andrea Rosen and her husband. After a while Theresa wandered in and I joined her for a drink and old movie talk after the Rosens called it a night.