Thursday, March 15, 2018

µ-Blog – Mr L. Is a Cuck

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

I picked up my 18-year-old high-school-senior daughter today. Before her butt was completely lodged in the car seat, she launched into a tirade about one of her teachers. "Mr. L. is a cuck," she said. [Actually, she didn't say Mr. L., but I didn't see the point of giving the guy's real name here. She probably said a little more, but the gist of it was, Mr. L. is a cuck.]

"Do you know what I mean?" she asked. "I mean do you know what a cuck is?"

[I didn't say anything. I had a guess I was pretty sure was right, but I didn't want to say it.]

"Cuck is short for cuckold. Do you know what that is?"

"Yes, I've read Shakespeare," I said. [I've also looked at porn, I didn't say.]

"Shakespeare?" she asked.

"Yeah, it means a guy, whose wife plays around with other men. It comes up quite a bit in Shakespeare."

"Actually, I have no idea if he's really a cuck or not." [I was glad. You can't possibly imagine how glad.] "It was just the worst possible thing I could think of to call him." She then went on to tell me the things that made him a cuck. [I listened.]

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rosebud Wasn't a Sled – Book Review: Of All the Gin Joints

 I have a bad habit of getting books and then not reading them, case in point Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, by Mark Bailey with illustrations by Edward Hemingway. I got it for Christmas 2016 and just got around to reading it in the last several days. I was going on a short trip to visit my mom and sister. I read about half of it waiting in the airport and on the short one-hour flight there and back and then finished it up in the next day or so when I got home.

The book is divided into four parts, by era:

  • The Silent Era, 18951929
  • The Studio Era, 19301945
  • The Post-War Era, 19461959
  • 1960s & New Hollywood, 19601979
When I started reading it, I skipped The Silent Era, figuring I was much more familiar with The Studio Era. That really wasn't necessary. Everyone mentioned in The Silent Era was someone I was someone I knew. Though it didn't hurt either, the individual stories were all self-contained. Occasionally, one story would mention something from a previous story, but never to the point where you felt lost. If you wanted to bounce around the book, going from one favorite person to the next, that would work, but I wouldn't because you might miss something.

The book is mostly stories about people, primarily actors, but directors and writers as well. Interspersed with the people stories are profiles of places, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs with addresses; production of films that had particular interesting back stories; and drink recipes and background on the drink itself, especially if a star had a favorite drink or a certain spot was famous for a certain drink. Oh yeah, did I mention that there was a lot of drinking in this book? It is titled, Of All the Gin Joints, after all.  Most of the best stories from classic Hollywood involve drinking and debauchery, and that's what this book is all about. I guess if you don't like stories about people getting drunk and doing crazy stuff, this book is not for you, but for the rest of us, it's pretty awesome.

Each person profile begins with a brief biography; an Edward Hemingway caricature of the person slightly off-kilter in keeping with the exploits that follow; and a famous quote from the person, almost always related to drinking, sex, drugs, or a combination of the three. By the way, Hemingway also provides illustrations for drinks and places as well. Starting as I did with The Studio Era, the first piece I read was Tallulah Bankhead. Her quote: "My father warned my about men and alcohol, but he didn't say anything about women and cocaine."

Broken up the way it is, Of All of the Gin Joint is a pretty fast read, and the structure makes it easy to read a little bit and find a good stopping point if need be. In practice though, that's not the way it worked, at least not with me. Once I started, I wanted to keep going.

I guess it's fair to ask if every the story is true. Probably not, just like not everything in any Hollywood tell-all book is true. Bear in mind, there are probably a couple hundred individual anecdotes in the book drawn from numerous sources. Of All the Gin Joints is well researched. The Sources chapter is two columns small type and runs eight pages. Everything appears to come from plausible sources, and at times, where two versions of a story exist, the author gives you both and lets you make the call. If there is a story that isn't true, it's likely it's because that's the way it appeared in someone's biography, memoirs, etc. There's actually a story about Spencer Tracy that I hope isn't true, but probably is. It's probably the only thing in the book I would rather have not have known about.

If I have one complaint about the book, and it is a minor one, it is that the stories later in the book are more likely to be ones that I already had heard about, but this is somewhat to be expected. In the 1930s, 1940s, and to a lesser degree afterward, studios hired fixers to keep things like affairs, drunken brawls, arrests, and such from becoming public knowledge. These fixers were very good at their jobs, but with the breakdown of the studio system, the stories were much more likely to get out. This was partially offset by the fact that the places profiled later in the book are much more likely to still be open, even if only as shadows of their former selves. Most of the landmarks of classic Hollywood have long been replaced by strip malls and condos.

Still, even when I had heard the main story there was still quite a bit I didn't know. For example, I knew about Nicholas Ray, marrying Gloria Grahame and her remarrying his son from a previous marriage after they divorced, but there were still tidbits of that story that I didn't know. Also, I never knew that Ray had studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright before turning to theater and film, and that independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch had studied under Ray.

Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History was published in 2014, but is still available, and I'm sure you can order it through your favorite bookseller or failing that via Amazon in print or Kindle formats.

*** Spoiler Alert ***

I deliberately tried to avoid the temptation of spilling my favorite stories in this review. I allow myself just this one. If you don't want to hear, stop reading right now.

You may have noticed that the title of this post contained the phrase, Rosebud Wasn't a Sled. Herman Mankiewicz, grandfather of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, was once the highest-paid writer in Hollywood, but his obstinate personality put him at odds with studio bosses and peers alike. Herman Mankiewicz was most famous for co-writing with Orson Welles the screenplay to Citizen Kane, a thinly veiled biopic of newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst and his long-time lover, Marion Davies. Originally, Mankiewicz and Hearst were friends, and he was often invited to parties at Hearst castle in San Simeon. Though not a teetotaler by any means, Hearst did not like drunkenness and went to great pains to prevent it at his regular Hearst castle parties, in particular, with regard to Davies. Mankiewicz on the other hand went out of his way to get Marion Davies as drunk as possible, for which he was eventually banned from their parties and from even seeing Davies.

In the early 1940s, William Randolph Hearst was still a powerful figure both in Hollywood and nationwide with a chain of newspapers across the U.S. Orson Welles sought to tone down Mankiewicz's original biting screenplay, but one thing he overlooked was Charles Foster Kane's favorite childhood toy, a sled named, Rosebud. Apparently, Rosebud was Hearst's nickname for Marion Davies' clitoris.

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Films Guests Announced for TCMFF 2018

Yesterday, TCM announced new guests and films for the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), April 26-29, 2018. You can read the full announcement here or at the end of this post, you can check my brief recap of the original announcement.

What does this all mean? Obviously, different things to different people. To me, it means I have some research to do.  About half the films announced I haven't seen and some I hadn't even heard of. For example, I was in high school when My Brilliant Career was released, so I wasn't watching many foreign films at the time. I have very mixed feelings about Merchant Ivory films, I loved A Room with a ViewRemains of the Day left me kind of cold, and I hated hated, hated, hated Howard's End. This means I'm going to have to think long and hard about Maurice. On the nitrate films, I think I've seen all of them, but I not a real big fan of any. For some people, seeing a film in nitrate was an earth shaking experience, me, not so much. I only saw one film in nitrate last year, Laura, and while I thought it looked very good in some spots. The earth did not move. I must be nitrate frigid. 

I've never heard of Windjammer: The Voyage of Christian Radich,  and I don't think I've seen any of the Pre-Code films announced, so again, some research is required. Going forward, I think I need to find some of my TCMFF/Twitter #TCMParty cronies whose opinions I trust and see if they can help fill in the gaps on some of the films I'm unfamiliar with it.

What I mostly remember from Grand Prix as a kid, aside 

from the cool race cars, Eva Marie Saint, screaming, 

"Blood! Blood! Is that what you want to see! Blood!
So, what am I most psyched about with all of this at this moment in time? I think it comes down to four things. For me, two biggies are the Billy Wilder offerings, Sunset Boulevard and Witness for the Prosecution. Both are brilliant films and have stars appearing with them. Also I really love the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet, and considering my now 18-year-old daughter will be attending with me, I think this is likely to be a must-see for both of us. Finally, Grand Prix at the Cinerama Dome with Eva Marie Saint would be awesome. That said, I know it's a three hour movie and with it being a bit far away from the rest of the festival, that means you're likely to miss two other films to see the one, always a tough sell at TCMFF.  That said, I do have a personal connection to the film. It's one of the first movies I remember seeing in the theater as a very small child, and I haven't seen it in the theater since. 

I think I'm going to refrain from revising the top five picks I posted at the end of January. I need to give this some time to sink in. It will take some real soul searching to rectify this with what has already been announced.


The big TCMFF announcements included both new guests and film titles. Director Gillian Armstrong will appear at a screening of her film My Brilliant Career (1979) and screenwriter/director James Ivory, who will be in attendance for a screening of his film Maurice (1987).

A 50th anniversary screening of Romeo and Juliet (1968) will be shown with stars Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, and Michael York in attendance. Eva Marie Saint returns to TCMFF for a screening of her film A Hatful of Rain, and Nancy Olson will be in attendance at a screening of Sunset Boulevard (1950). Other guest screenings include Nancy Kwan for The World of Suzie Wong (1960), Melvin Van Peeble for Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), and Ruta Lee for Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Finally, Jacqueline Bisset will appear at the previously announced 50th anniversary presentation of Bullitt.

Films presented in nitrate return to the Egyptian Theatre with A Star Is Born (1937), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Spellbound (1945), and Stage Door (1937). Also TCMFF returns to the Cinerama Dome for two presentations, Grand Prix with Eva Marie Saint in attendance and Windjammer: The Voyage of Christian Radich (1958) presented in Cinerama. Finally, TCM announced a selection of Pre-Code films, Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers in Finishing School (1934); Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in I Take This Woman; and Kay Francis and Joel McCrea in George Cukor’s Girls About Town (1931).

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Free For All Blogathon: Seven Decades, Seven Great Science Fiction Films

This post is an entry in The Free For All Blogathon hosted by CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

I have a thing for science fiction, well, okay, a thing for what I consider good science fiction. Much of what is considered science fiction for the last 40 years or so could easily converted to a different genre by just changing a few minor details. One of the most successful science fiction franchises is Star Wars, but I've always found the series very light on the science. The films could just as easily be changed to westerns or sword and sorcery fantasies. I was about 14 when I saw the first Star Wars film in 1977. While I enjoyed the brilliant special effects and felt it was a fun fantasy, but I found the story lacking. When I compared Star Wars to other great films I had seen at that point in my life, such as The Sting, Jaws, Planet of the Apes, and Cool Hand Luke, the story just didn't seem to stand up.

For me, a science fiction story must contain some futuristic/scientific concept that if removed would cause the story to cease to be a story. For this post, I decided to look at seven films from the last seven decades that all do that to varying degrees.


Spoiler Alert: I don't know how I can do this post without doing spoilers to some degree, so if you haven't seen any of the films in question and don't want to chance having them ruined, you might want to skip over them.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is the story of a small town doctor Kevin McCarthy who finds himself in the middle of some sort of epidemic. At first, it seems some sort of mass hysteria. Soon, the doctor, his girlfriend played by Dana Wynter, and two friends soon discover that outer space aliens are taking over peoples bodies with some sort of giant seed pods.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a wonderful film, mostly because it is so much different than other science fiction movies of the era. Most 1950s sci-fi films involved one of two basic scenarios.  Ordinary creatures almost always insects being affected by radiation from the testing of nuclear weapons and mutating into gigantic killers. The other scenario involved aliens coming to Earth in spaceships and attacking. While Invasion of the Body Snatchers does follow the basics of second scenario, it is different in the alien invaders do not come in ships or attack us with ray guns. In fact, it makes no attempt is made to explain how they got here. They are just oversized organic seed pods that replace us in our sleep. And the alien pod people look exactly like the people they replace, except completely devoid of emotions, a very creepy premise. Also unlike  many of the sci-fi films of the era, instead of dwelling on cheesy props. The bodies growing out of the pods are shown only briefly, so you never really know what you're looking at. It works very well.


In Planet of the Apes (1968), Charleton Heston leads a small crew of space explorers. Traveling in hibernation at nearly the speed of light, they have aged only 18 months, while back on earth nearly 2,000 years have passed. Thrown off course, they crash in an inland sea on an unknown planet, a topsy-turvy world where talking intelligent apes have evolved from primitive humans.  Separated from his colleagues, Charleton Heston must fight to survive only to find a disturbing truth about the planet.

One of the things that makes Planet of the Apes work as well as it does is the revolutionary makeup effects by John Chambers. The prosthetic appliances on the actors playing the apes allowed them to have natural looking facial movements, something that had never been done before. Also the film covers the social and religious aspects of the ape society in a way that is interesting and compelling. As a talking human, the apes don't believe Heston's claim that he came from another planet, yet they can't explain him either and feel threatened by him. The film has a twist ending that I won't go into for the benefit of the one or two people reading this who might have never seen the film. The ending blew my mind as a kid when I first saw it, and I think it still holds up today.


Set in the not too distant future 2018, go figure, Rollerball (1975) tells the story of an athlete, Jonathan E., James Caan, in the brutally violent sport of Rollerball. Huge corporations, not countries, now rule the world. Jonathan is the top star for the Houston team, representing the Energy city. Despite having a great season and the Houston team favored to win the championship, Jonathan is being pressured to retire mid-season by the corporate masters, controlling the game. Plus, something else is going on. The rules for the already brutal game are being changed to make it even more violent. Since Jonathan is a celebrity, he is allowed much more freedom than the average citizen, but his efforts to find information on the how corporate decisions are made and why he is being pressured to retire bring him nothing. 

Rollerball is easily the most dated looking of the films I cover here, and it appeared that way only a few years after it was released, largely because of the equipment used in the game. Jonathan E. and the other rollerballers wear what look like football helmets, but not helmets from the mid-1970s, they look more like ones from the late-1960s. I assume they did this because there were fewer crossbars on the face masks, which allowed better viewing of the actor's faces. Likewise the roller skates and motorcycles that some players ride to tow around the other players look similarly outdated. For me, this is just a minor issue, that I can easily overlook.

If the Rollerball was just about the totally made up sport of Rollerball, the film wouldn't work. Sure, the action and violence of game is entertaining, but it wouldn't be enough to carry the movie. Fortunately, there's enough background on the corporate society to keep it from being just a mindless action movie. As the world's most famous rollerballer, Jonathan E. is a major celebrity and has privileges that normal people do not in this near totalitarian society. He wants to learn about the corporate wars and how corporate decisions are made. Still, he is not at the level of the executives who run the corporations and who really control the society and every aspect of Jonathan's life, so he gets nowhere. John Houseman plays Mr. Bartholomew, the head of Houston Energy corporation. He's sinister in the way he uses subtle coercion to try bring Jonathan in line.  Jonathan turns to his live-in trainer Moses Gunn for information about the corporate wars. Though probably thirty years older than Jonathan, Gunn is not quite old enough to remember much about them. In reality, Jonathan isn't concerned with the corporate wars or decisions, he just wants to know why the woman he loved was taken from him and given to an executive. The executives can't take direct action against Jonathan, so 
they change rules of Rollerball to make game so violent that it is unlikely that Jonathan will survive the season.  


In They Live (1988), Roddy Piper plays a drifter who comes to town and gets work at a construction site. A co-worker played by David Kieth brings him to the shanty town, where he lives. Piper soon discovers that there is something weird going on at a church near the shanty town. When he investigates, he finds a cache of what seem to be ordinary sunglasses. When he puts on the sunglasses, he suddenly can see a world that he wasn't aware of. Every bit of printed material, contains subliminal messages, such as Obey, Consume, and Reproduce, that can only be read when he dons the glasses.  Further, certain people are actually humanoid aliens with grotesque skull-like faces. Piper eventually convinces David Keith to put the glasses. Actually convinces is totally the wrong word. Piper and David have one of the most epic fist fights ever recorded on film, and Piper puts the glasses on his near unconscious companion to get him to see the truth. The pair end up joining a secret human underground fighting the aliens. 

They Live is low-budget film-making at its finest. Normally, the alien masks would look hokey and fake, but because you only see them through the monochrome of the sunglasses and later on in the film through contact lenses, you don't notice nor question what by 1988 would have been considered really schlocky alien effects. In some respects, it is very similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The aliens look just like everyone else until you learn to recognize them for what they are, and then they are everywhere. More disturbing than the aliens themselves are the subliminal messages used to placate the unwitting humans. It's a very creepy concept. 

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Star Wars. I did this, mostly so I could tell this story. My wife and I live in San Diego and have been attending/working at the San Diego Comic-Con/Comic-Con International since the mid-1980s. Our kids grew up at Comic-Con, more or less. One year when our daughter was almost the same age as I was when I saw Star Wars, she told us that she wanted to bone up on geek movies before Comic-Con. She felt that she wasn't getting the jokes that people were making at Comic-Con, because she'd never seen the films they were referring to. My wife and I being dutiful, and geeky, parents, gave her a list of films we thought she should watch. In one 24 hour period, my daughter watched three films, Star Wars (the same film I had watched when I was 14, now, known as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope), Hell Boy (the first one), and They Live. When she was done, I asked her which of the three she liked the best. My daughter didn't think, didn't blink an eye. "The Live," she said. I was so proud.


Twelve Monkeys (1995) is a time travel story set roughly 40 years after bio-terrorist have released a virus that killed most of the human race. The human survivors live underground while the surface is now ruled by animals unaffected by the virus. Future scientist know very little of the virus, only that it was released by a group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Bruce Willis plays a prisoner forced to volunteer to time travel back to when the virus was first released to find and bring back a sample of the virus before it mutated. The future scientists believe that with a sample of the original virus, they can create a serum to cure the virus and retake the surface.

What makes Twelve Monkeys interesting is that the scientists don't know what they're doing when it comes to time travel. Often the "volunteers" are sent not only to the wrong time but the wrong location as well. As one of the minor characters says, "Science ain't an exact science with these clowns but, they're getting better. You're lucky you didn't end up in ancient Egypt!" On his first mission, Bruce Willis is sent to 1990, not 1996, gets arrested and ends up in a mental institution. There he is treated by a psychiatrist, Madeleine Stowe, who naturally thinks he is insane since he is talking about being from the future and how everyone on the planet is doomed to die of a virus in 1996. Still, she is unable to explain how Bruce Willis escaped confinement when he was transported back by the scientists.

Much of the story involves perspective. From Madeleine Stowe's perspective, Bruce Willis is clearly insane, but when she finds evidence of other time travelers, she begins to believe that maybe Bruce Willis is telling the truth. From Bruce Willis' perspective, he knows is from the future, but when he falls in love with Madeleine Stowe, he convinces himself that her version is the truth, and his reality of coming from the future is a delusion. So far, I haven't mentioned what might be the best thing about Twelve Monkeys, Brad Pitt's plays the son of a research biochemist. Pitt is associated with the Army of the 12 Monkeys and is also one of the patients in the mental institution where Bruce Willis was sent. Pitt won a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor Award and got an Oscar nomination in the same category for the role. His performance of batshit crazy is brilliant and goes from funny to intense to chilling. 

Finally, the soundtrack contains a theme, "Suite Punta Del Este (12 Monkeys Theme)", played on a bandoneon, a type of accordion, and strings that is just creepy as hell. I probably shouldn't tell this story,  but since I was bragging about my parenting skills with my daughter and They Live, I feel obligated to share the story of the flip side of my parenting skills with regard to my son and Twelve Monkeys. My son is now 24, and he only told me about this three or four years ago. Apparently one time when he was about 6, I was watching Twelve Monkeys on DVD and I fell asleep on the couch. The movie ended and went to the menu screen and started playing that creepy-ass song over and over and over and over again. My poor son who was only 6 sat in his room hearing that creepy-ass play song over and over and over and over again, being totally traumatized by it. I felt like the world's shittiest dad, retroactively of course.


In Moon (2009), Lunar Industries has solved the energy crisis by harvesting helium from the Moon. Sam Rockwell plays a maintenance worker serving out the tail end of his three-year contract on the mostly automated station. His only companion is GERTY, a robot with artificial intelligence, voiced by Kevin Spacey. There is a problem with the station's communications array, and his only contact with the earth is recorded messages from his wife. While attempting to recover a canister of helium, Sam Rockwell has an accident. He wakes with no memory of the accident but senses that GERTY is hiding something. He convinces GERTY to let him go outside. When he investigates, he finds an injured man in the support vehicle who appears to be a copy of himself.

I love this movie. It shows that you can make a truly great science fiction film without an army of digital effects artists. While there are some special effects in the film, they are relatively simple. The story is compelling. I probably should have part of it coming better than I did, which is a good thing. I felt like there were a number of possibilities as to what was going on, but the one that should have been the most obvious was not the one that jumped out at me. The interactions between Sam Rockwell and his dopelganger are good, as Rockwell tries to unravel the inconsistencies of what his twin as well as GERTY are saying. 

Actually, GERTY is a very good character as well. Robot is something of a misnomer. GERTY is more accurately an electronic box suspended from a track in the ceiling that follows Rockwell around and keeps him company. GERTY has no face, but rather a small screen that displays a series of happy face emoticons that go along with what he is saying and what is being said to him. As a being of  artificial intelligence, GERTY interacts the way a person would and is often conflicted by the needs of the company that installed him and the needs of Sam Rockwell, whom he is charged with providing support and comfort to. Again all done, with virtually no special effects. It just tells a good story about the future and the needs of individuals and how they are ultimately exploited by the corporations that employ them


The 2010s have had a number of very good science fiction films, Safety Not Guaranteed, Looper, and The Arrival,  among others. I selected The Shape of Water (2017) because it is the one film that brings me full circle back to the 1950s where I started. Director Guillermo del Toro was inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and his desire to see the creature succeed in the romance that was hinted at in the 1954 Universal film. For me, it was like an unauthorized sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, admittedly a very good monster movie and one of the better science fiction films of the 1950s. Instead of making making  monster movie, del Toro treated it as a love story, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in 1962 with an in-depth examination of how mainstream society mistreated those on the fringes.

I like Creature from the Black Lagoon a lot. It was different from many of the monster films of the era in that it treated the creature at least in some respects as an intelligent being. The two alpha males in Creature fight over what should be done with it. Richard Carlson thinks the creature/gill-man is an important biological discovery and needs to be studied. Richard Denning thinks it has to be captured at any cost, even dead or alive. Denning's motivation is the fame and the money he can make bringing the gill-man back to civilization. The conflict between the two male leads is as important to the plot as the action of the gill-man. Clearly there is also an attraction between the gill-man and the female lead, Julie Adams. Both of these concepts were pretty radical in the 1950s, that the gill-man has value as a biological being, not  just a monster to be killed and that it might have a sexual desire for the human woman. Creature from the Black Lagoon pushes these concepts about as far 1950s audiences would accept, and I suspect as far as censors would allow.

What makes The Shape of Water so intriguing is that keeping it in a historically context similar to that of Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Cold War in 1962, it can expand on the strengths of the original film. The gill-man played by Doug Jones has already been captured.and much of the action takes place in a top-secret military research institute. Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman working at the institute. She is teamed with an African-American woman, Octavia Spencer, who interprets for her via sign language. Certain scientists want to study the gill-man, but the colonel in charge, Micheal Shannon,  sees the gill-man not as a source of fame and fortune but as a potential weapon to be used against the Russians. Shannon is a vicious power hungry bastard, but since there is a Russian mole in the institute, you see that the Russian operatives working in the U.S. are no better. 

Sally Hawkins' neighbor and mentor is a middle-aged gay man, played by Richard Jenkins, who had lost his job as a commercial artist for being gay and must grovel to his old boss to get freelance work. Likewise, Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins are ostracized, Spencer for her race and Hawkins for her inability to speak. When Hawkins has to clean the laboratory where the gill-man is imprisoned, she finds that he is not only intelligent and can communicate via sign language, he is also empathetic and capable of love.

The Shape of Water is a number of things. It is a visually stunning film. Primarily, it is a love story between Sally Hawkins and the gill-man. It's also a Cold War thriller and a story about human rights, as well as non-human rights. It mixes all of these things so well that you forget that it's also science fiction monster movie, the best science fiction monster movie you've ever seen. I mentioned earlier, that The Shape of Water could be considered an unauthorized sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, and I still believe that's true. What amazes me is that Guillermo del Toro had the vision not to make a monster movie, which I know he was capable of, but had the vision to make a love story and all of the other things I mentioned. It's a wonderful film.

Now, if you've never read my blog before, you might think that I write about films and always try to include some story from my personal life related to the films I cover. The truth is, I don't, even though I've done this twice in this post alone. Well, I have one more story related to The Shape of Water. My wife reads a lot more than I do, novels. Paranormal romance, she says. Vampire porn, I say. Yes, I know that they don't all have vampires. Some of them are werewolf porn. Some are witch porn or demon porn. You get the idea. Even paramilitary psychic porn. She actually got me to read one of the latter. It was actually pretty good, though it would take a lot to get me to admit it in front of her.

We saw The Shape of Water together. We both loved it. I was beaming. It was a visual treat. The love story worked phenomenally well. The Cold War intrigue worked phenomenally well. The social aspects of gay people and minorities in the early 1960s worked phenomenally well. My only serious complaint is that the gay guy should have cussed out the guy who made the crappy pies. My wife let me go on like that for a while. Then she said, "It was like a really good paranormal romance."

"Fuck you," I said. It's shameless the way we flirt. Yes, my husbanding skills are about on par with my parenting skills. Thank you very much.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon - Great Movies: 7, Oscars: 0

This post is an entry in the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Paula at Paula's Cinema Club, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, and Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled

When I posted a comment on Paula's Cinema Club for this blogathon, my almost exact words were,  Great movies: 7. Oscars: 0, seven great movies that not only didn’t win any Oscars, but weren’t even nominated. When I checked back on Paula's site, a few days later, Paula, had posted it as, Seven Films that Should Have Been Nominated for Best Picture. I should have corrected her, but thought it better to use it as the lead for this post. Sorry, Paula. The films covered include: City Lights, His Girl Friday, The Shop Around the Corner, Sullivan’s Travels, To Have and Have Not, The Searchers, and Sweet Smell of Success. Incredulous as this seems, not only were these films not nominated for Best Picture, they weren't nominated for an Oscar period in any category.

City Lights (1931)

Of this group of films, City Lights is the least surprising of the bunch. Though hailed now as Chaplin's definitive masterpiece. I'm sure it must have seemed like an anachronism to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Chaplin started filming in December 1928,  over a year after the release of The Jazz Singer. The conversion to talkies didn't happen overnight, but by mid-1929 purely silent features were rare. Chaplin felt that audiences wouldn't accept his Tramp character if he spoke, but with the film not being released until January 1931, his decision to stick with a silent film was a bold one. 

The year City Lights was released, only nine awards were given, and the big winner that year was Cimarron, winning Best Picture; Writing, Best Adaptation; and Best Art Direction, and receiving seven total nominations. One award that year, Sound Recording, was given to studios not individual films, and another Writing, Best Original Story, Cimarron wouldn't have been eligible, having been nominated and winning in the other writing category. It's hard to believe that one film would be nominated in every category for which it was eligible. It's harder still to believe that there was no place among the nominees for City Lights. Any of the following, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Story, all for Chaplin, Best Picture, and Best Actress, Virginia Cherrill as the blind girl all seem like obvious choices. In fact, isn't playing a blind person kind of a shoe in for an acting Oscar nomination? Apparently, it wasn't in 1931. Not only did City Lights not win any Oscars, it wasn't nominated in any category.

His Girl Friday (1940)

This screwball comedy is an adaptation of The Front Page (1931), also an adaptation of an earlier stage play. His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawks. is nearly identical in plot to The Front Page with a couple of small but incredibly broad-reaching changes. The reporter character, played by Pat O'Brien in The Front Page, was changed to a woman and ex-wife of her newspaper editor boss. The Front Page is a good newspaper comedy. His Girl Friday is still a good newspaper comedy, but wrapped up in great sex comedy. Cary Grant is at his best as the sharp fast-talking newspaper editor/ex-husband, and Rosalind Russell holds her own as she trade blows and insults with Grant. As reporter though, Russell doesn't just hold her own, but is way better than all of the other reporters in the criminal courts building, a refreshing change at a time when women were supposed to be wives, girlfriends, secretaries, and singers. Throw into the mix perennial mama's boy Ralph Bellamy as the third point in the love triangle, and you've got screen gold.

It's hard to imagine a film as good as His Girl Friday not being nominated for an Oscar. Cary Grant's performance is one of the best of his long illustrious career. Cary Grant deserved the nod, but in 1940, it probably would have been for The Philadelphia Story. Ask me and I'd say Rosalind Russell's performance holds up to any of nominees, though possibly the smart, sassy, strong woman nomination had gone to Katherine Hepburn, again for The Philadelphia Story. Definitely, Howard Hawks' direction would be right at home with other nominees that year. I could probably make a case Ralph Bellamy as Best Supporting Actor, but possibly his performance was overshadowed by other great character actors in very small roles, such Abner Biberman as Grant's right-hand man Louie, Gene Lockhart as the corrupt incompetent Sheriff Hartwell, and Billy Gilbert as Joe Pettibone, the messenger, who tries to deliver the reprieve for murderer, Earl Williams.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Another entry from 1940, people always talk about 1939 being film's greatest year, but it seems to me at least a little of the greatness of 1939 must have rubbed off on 1940. Director Ernst Lubitsch used his famous Lubitsch touch to absolute perfection. It's everything you want out of a romantic comedy, an interesting love story that is funny, heart-warming, and at times heart wrenching.

There are a several spots where you can see The Shop Around the Corner at least being nominated. There were ten nominees for Best Picture that year. It's hard to imagine The Shop Around the Corner not being among the ten best pictures any year. Ernst Lubitsch as Best Director and Best Screenplay for Samson Raphaelson, which that year was the category for adaptations, seem to like naturals for the film. James Stewart won Best Actor for The Philadelphia Story, but was James Stewart better in The Philadelphia Story than in The Shop Around the Corner, tough call. I suppose if you have two performances the same year, you have to pick one. The National Board of Review chose James Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner as its Best Actor that year. Margaret Sullivan's performance as Clara is what would normally generate an Oscar nomination, and maybe on a different year it would have. Finally, I think Frank Morgan is the obvious choice for at least a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but Felix Bressart and William Tracy as Pepi had great performances as well. Yes, the Academy would have never nominated Tracy, a 23-year-old bit player, but he is absolutely brilliant.

The big winners that year were The Thief of Bagdad with three wins and Rebecca, The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story, and Pinocchio all getting two. Rebecca won Best Picture. That year the Academy had eight categories with nine or more nominees. Still, no love for either His Girl Friday or The Shop Around the Corner. Stunning.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

I think it's safe to say that Preston Sturges was having a good year in 1941. The Lady Eve came out in March and Sullivan's Travels in December. Sturges co-wrote the screenplay and directed The Lady Eve and wrote and directed Sullivan's Travels, all the same year. On the acting side, both Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake had great performances. Also, Sullivan's Travels is a film about Hollywood and the film industry. The Academy loves that sort of thing, but they made an exception and turned their back on Sullivan's Travels.

Admittedly, there were a lot of great films in 1941. The big winner that year was John Ford's How Green Was My Valley with five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Ford. Other films released and nominated multiple times that year include Sergeant York, Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Ball of Fire, and The Maltese Falcon. You could probably argue that on the writing and directing fronts, Preston Sturges might have split the votes among himself. The same could probably be said for Best Picture. Joel McCrea had a solid career spanning five decades. He often joked that every script he ever read had Gary Cooper's fingerprints on it, and I suspect that though it was a joke, there was some truth in it. McCrea was an A-list star, but always seemed second string to other A-list stars. I'd say Sullivan's Travels was McCrea's best role ever. Not only did he play that likable nice guy comic actor that he did so well, the prison scenes showed he really could act. For Veronica Lake, it was her breakthrough role, but I don't think the Academy rewarded breakthrough then like they do now. Like many of Sturges films, the supporting cast reads a little like a who's who of great character actors, with William Demerest, Franklin Pangborn, and Porter Hall, but for me, the standout is Jimmy Conlin as the prison trustee. Best Supporting Actor was a tough category that year, and I can't see the Academy honoring an old vaudeville comic turned actor over the competition. Still it was a great performance worthy of a nomination.

To Have and Have Not (1944)
What can I say about To Have and Have Not. For director Howard Hawks, it was one of his best films. For Humphrey Bogart, one of his best films. For Lauren Bacall, arguably her best film, period. For both Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael among their best as well. It had a message about standing up for what was right. Maybe people didn't want to hear the message at that point. They knew the message. They knew what was right. The whole free world was living the message at that point. Maybe they didn't need another film to remind them of it.

The big winner that year was Going My Way with seven wins total, and four of the big six awards, Best Picture, Best Director (Leo McCarey), Best Actor (Bing Crosby), and Best Supporting Actor (Barry Fitzgerald). The other big winner that year was Wilson with five awards. Hard to believe that an admitted good, sentimental piece of fluff and a lackluster biopic could be the big winners the same year that Gaslight and Double Indemnity came out. Gaslight won two Oscars, including Best Actress for Ingrid Bergman, Double Indemnity,  nothing. Oh yeah, and by the way, To Have and Have Not came out that year, and it didn't get any nominations.  For just about anyone involved in the film, To Have and Have Not has to be considered a high point in their careers. For Lauren Bacall, I can't think of anyone having as big an impact in their debut role, ever. 

I also feel the need to mention Hoagy Carmichael again. He only made about 10 films. To Have and Have Not and The Best Years of Our Lives were great roles for him. He had a natural easiness that just reads a true to me. Not actor, but a real person living the story. Actors who became famous for things other than acting don't seem to be given the credit for the good work they do. As a songwriter and musician, Hoagy Carmichael suffers from this, and that is a shame.

The Searchers (1956)

The Western is a genre often overlooked come Oscar time, and I can't think of a better example than John Ford's The Searchers. Widely hailed as the one of the best Westerns ever made, The Searchers was named the No. 1 Western in the AFI's 10 Top 10 in the Westerns genre as well as No. 96 in the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies and No. 12 in the 10th Anniversary edition of that same list. For John Wayne, I can't think of a better role for him, though Ford's The Quiet Man comes close. Wayne's portrayal of Ethan Edwards as ex-Confederate soldier out for revenge on the Comanches who killed his brother's family is absolutely chilling, yet through all of this, he remains human and ultimately sympathetic. John Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit. Not to take anything away from True Grit, but he deserved an Oscar for The Searchers. For the rest of the cast, standouts would be Jeffrey Hunter, a 15-year-old Natalie Wood in a tiny role, and another great character role for Ward Bond. For John Ford, by this point in his career, he had won four Oscars, so maybe the Academy felt they'd given him his due, and maybe some of that rubbed off on his regulars in the cast and crew. 

The big winners that year were Around the World in 80 Days and The King and I, each with five wins. Other films with multiple nominations that year include Giant, The Ten Commandments, The Bad Seed, Lust for Life, The Brave One, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Written on the Wind, and The Seven Samurai. Pretty good year for film, but it's hard to imagine, there being no place for The Searchers among the likes of these films. Aside from the great story, great direction, and great performances, there's the cinematography by Winton C. Hoch. Never has Monument Valley looked better, even in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, for which Hoch won his second of three cinematography Oscars. I don't know who said it, but remember hearing recently that is was practically impossible to not win a cinematography Oscar for shooting Monument Valley. Well, The Searchers not only didn't win but wasn't even nominated. Maybe since Hoch had won for the same terrain on She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, voters overlooked his doing a better job of it on The Searchers.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
I was stunned to hear that Sweet Smell of Success didn't get any Oscar nominations. It's a hard-hitting drama with brilliant work all around. Isn't that what the Oscars are all about, but maybe I shouldn't be that surprised. I'm sure audiences who came to see matinee idols Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis go toe-to-toe in a tough edgy drama weren't ready for what they got, especially after seeing them in the circus drama Trapeze the previous year. While Curtis was a relative newcomer, Lancaster was an established star with solid acting chops. Even though Lancaster usually played tough guys and at times criminals, audiences could relate to him because underneath it all was a man with a moral code. There is no moral code in either Burt Lancaster or Tony Curtis's characters. Critics embraced the film but audiences did not. That probably was the main reason the film received no Oscar nominations.

The big winner that year was The Bridge on the River Kwai with eight nominations and seven wins and Sayonara with ten nominations and five wins. Other films with multiple nominations include Peyton Place, Witness for the Prosecution, An Affair to Remember, Funny Face, Pal Joey, and 12 Angry Men. Looking at the nominees for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, I can't see Sweet Smell of Success not being among them somewhere. In the acting categories, despite incredible performances by both Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, maybe they split the votes with two tremendous acting performances in the same film. There was only one category for Cinematography that year, and no black and white films were nominated. Possibly that was why James Wong Howe's brilliant location shooting of New York was overlooked. Finally, the modern jazz score that combined original compositions by Elmer Bernstein and jazz themes from the Chico Hamilton Quintet might have been considered too progressive for Academy voters, but it works wonderfully in the context of the film. 


I guess it's easy to sit back with the benefit of hindsight and criticize the Oscars for their omissions, but it still seems pretty grievous that in a group of films this good and this well respected that not a single Academy Award Nomination could be found among the lot of them.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

µ-Blog – Burned Popcorn and a Non-Credible Threat

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

So this really happened today at my daughter's school, Madison High School in San Diego. Apparently, there was a threat posted on social media. The school system determined that this was *not* a credible threat, but increased security/police presence was put in place at three schools including Madison as a precaution. Then at Madison, a fire alarm went off due to burned microwave popcorn. Now, according to my daughter, only about half of the students left their classes, because "I don't want to get shot by a motherf*cker." At this point, can we as a society just admit that we have a gun problem and that the solution to that problem is *not* more guns.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

µ-Blog – My Apologies, Mr. Spielberg

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

I'm sort of watching Ice Station Zebra, not a big favorite of mine. I have it on as background noise as much as really watching it. This got me to thinking about submarines and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course, this got me to thinking my favorite plot hole in any film ever, where Indiana Jones rides on top of a submarine that never submerges, and Indy doesn't die of exposure. 

Since I wasn't paying attention to Ice Station Zebra, I decided to do a little research. It turns out WWII-era submarines traveled faster on the surface than they did submerged. A German U-boat could do 17.7 knots (20.4 mph) surfaced and only 7.6 knots (8.7 mph) submerged. If speed was imperative, which seems plausible in the plot, the submarine might not have submerged the entire trip. Looking at the map in the film, Indy boarded the submarine in the Mediterranean Sea south and slightly west of the toe in the boot of Italy and is taken to an island north of the eastern shore of the Greek island of Crete, a distance of about 500 miles.  Assuming I'm off by say, 20%, and it's actually 600 miles, a German U-boat travelling on the surface at full speed could do that in about 30 hours.

You probably wouldn't die of exposure in 30 hours. Yes, it probably would suck. You might have a really bad sunburn and be pretty dehydrated, but I don't think you would die from it in 30 hours. I think I owe Steven Spielberg an apology. Maybe that's why he doesn't return my calls.