Archives For November 2014

Every time I see Ed Begley Jr. in Los Angeles – which is more often than I ever expected – I’m tempted to tell him that my wife and I saw TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000 on our honeymoon. And we’re still married.

It’s true. Tracy and I were married twenty-nine years ago today, and on our honeymoon we saw two movies: the aforementioned TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000 and ROCKY 4, the one with the Russian. It was 1985, we were kids, cut us some slack.

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Tracy’s 1984 Student Discount Movie Card — she’s still my favorite movie date!

Buying a ticket, sitting in a theater, is still hands-down my favorite way to see a movie. Tracy Gunter Jackson is without a doubt my favorite person to see a movie with. Our first movie date was ROMANCING THE STONE – which just happened to be released on her 18th birthday in 1984. I paid for the tickets but we both used our Student Discount Movie Cards. The cards were a cross-promotion between local theaters and the Arkansas Democrat newspaper – before it became the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Tracy and I started dating the second semester of our senior year in high school. We’d been friends for a while before that. In those days you could find us most weekends with our friends either at the United Artists Breckenridge Village theater or at Mazzio’s Pizza a few blocks further east on Rodney Parham Road (in Little Rock). Shortly after we graduated in the summer of ’84 we just about wore those discount cards out going to see GHOSTBUSTERS several times.

We’ve been married 29 years – 10,585 days. In that time I estimate we’ve had roughly 600 movie dates. In the last month we’ve seen BIRDMAN, NIGHTCRAWLER, BIG HERO SIX and PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR. (Having a kid added another layer to our movie-going experience.) Each time we’ve seen a stinker we’ve tried to blame the other person for choosing it. Both of us still swear the other picked TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000. Each of us tries to take credit for FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF and PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. We’ve cried together in movie theaters and we’ve laughed together. We’ve gone to see movies when we were fighting and sometimes seeing a movie has helped us start a difficult conversation. We’ve gone to movies to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and also when the grief of losing a loved one would not abate by any other means. Movies have been the lingua franca of our generation and in some ways they’ve been that for our relationship as well.

In all the words that were printed last week on the passing of Mike Nichols, I read something that Mr. Nichols said about his marriage to Diane Sawyer: “I don’t know any secrets about what makes a marriage work, except if you can marry Diane, you’ll be in great shape.” I love that – and I’ll say for the record, the same is true for Tracy.

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Movie Monday* 11.24.14

November 24, 2014 — Leave a comment
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Robert Redford and Cliff Robertson in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR ( d., Pollack, Paramount, 1975)

 

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (Rated: R, 117 mins, Paramount Pictures, Released: September 24, 1975)

“It began with Bob (Redford) and I wanting to have some fun… We kept saying, ‘Why are we always grappling with these horrendous themes and heavy weight stuff? Let’s just go out and shoot a movie that’s fun, it’s contemporary, let’s do this.’ …And then, as is our wont, once we sat down and started to work with it and really pull the scenes apart – and again, pulled David Rayfiel in – I think it transformed itself into something else.” –

Sydney Pollack on the origins of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, from this interview.

The cast and crew list for THREE DAYS… reads like a veritable who’s who of 1970s American Cinema. The film itself is pure 70s zeitgeist and the template for so many political/spy thrillers that would follow. Roger Ebert referred to this in his original review of the film: “Hollywood stars used to play cowboys and generals. Now they’re wiretappers and assassins, or targets.”

 

Director: Sydney Pollack, Writers: James Grady (Novel “Six Days of the Condor”) Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Screenplay) David Rayfiel (Screenplay), Producer: Stanley Schneider, Cinematographer: Owen Roizman, Composers: Dave Grusin, Editor: E. Lloyd Sheldon Casting Director: Shirley Rich Production Designer: Stephen B. Grimes

CAST: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, John Houseman, Addison Powell

 

*Every Monday I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time. 

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

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Mike Nichols (1931-2014) on the set of CATCH 22

There’s an indirect and reductive story about Mike Nichols in Frank Langella’s wonderful book, Dropped Names, that speaks to all the things that have been said and will be said about the supremely talented, prolific and enduring Nichols. The story – as told by Langella — is about a conversation he had with Stella Adler. Ms. Adler was attempting to illustrate for Langella the wisdom and insight of the brilliant author and critic, Harold Clurman, by relating something Clurman had said about Nichols many years ago. This must have happened in the late 1960s.

Ms. Adler said to Clurman, “Harold isn’t it remarkable how successful Mike Nichols has become?” Clurman replied, “He is not a success.” Adler was stunned and suspected Clurman might even be a little jealous so she protested, listing Nichols’s resume — Barefoot in the Park, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, The Graduate — and citing his Tony awards and Oscars. Clurman stood firm, “He’s not a success.” Adler pressed, “Why not?” “Because,” Clurman said, “he hasn’t had a failure yet.”

With apologies to Mr. Langella and his publisher for lifting this story, here’s the capper in Langella’s own words:

When I (Langella) told Mike that story recently, shortly after his eightieth birthday, he ruminated for a moment, then said, “Absolutely correct.”

I love the Adler/Clurman story. But I really love Nichols’s affirmation that Clurman was right in his assessment that it takes a few failures for someone to become successful. This idea speaks to the importance of the long view of life. Taking the long view, reserving judgement until the story is done, is a theme that Nichols wove into 2007’s CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (screenplay by Aaron Sorkin) in the prescient “we’ll see”-scene between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Hanks at the conclusion of the film. Well, we have the long view of Nichols’s career now and I think it’s safe to say that Nichols was a success in every professional category in which he worked.

Nichols had great taste and versatility, he had a great eye for talent and an refined ear for words and music. He was a boy genius who defied the odds that tragic death, career burnout, or artistic irrelevance would end up in the first paragraph of his obituary. He aged beautifully into an elder statesman who never seemed to abandon the scrappy work-ethic of his Eastern European immigrant roots. Alas, the obituaries and eulogies are now being written and read across the world. Thankfully, this time, they are for an artist for whom we do not have to wonder what might have been. We can be sad, we can grieve — but in Nichols’s case we do not speak of unfulfilled potential or unrealized dreams. We celebrate and cherish the fullness of his life’s work – even as his family and friends celebrate the fullness of his life.

If Harold Clurman were alive today I have no doubt he’d be writing that Mike Nichols was an undisputed, well deserved success.

 

Frank Rich wrote a personal remembrance of Nichols that was posted on Vulture today. I think you’ll be glad you took the time to read it.

 

Movie Monday* 11.17.14

November 17, 2014 — Leave a comment
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Clara Bow and Antonio Moreno in IT (B&W, 1927)

 

IT (Pre-Code, 72 mins, Lasky-Famous Players/Paramount Pictures, Released: February 15,1927)

Budd Schulberg recounts how his father married a rising star from his stable of actors to a piece of zeitgeist material, and made history:

Thus Clara Bow became not just a top box-office star but a national institution: The It Girl. Millions of followers wore their hair like Clara’s and pouted like Clara, and danced and smoked and laughed and necked like Clara. They imitated everything but her speech because fortunately the silent screen protected them from the nasal Brooklyn accent. (Budd Schulberg, MOVING PICTURES)

Ty Burr commenting on a scene from IT in which Clara’s character dances while getting ready for a date with her boss says, “She behaved vertically the way women weren’t even supposed to behave horizontally.” (Ty Burr, GODS LIKE US)

Dorothy Parker famously quipped, “IT? Hell, she had THOSE!”

Clara Bow was the original IT Girl. She became an early prototype for the afterlife of It Girls who are retired by the bored and fickle audiences that make them.

Director: Clarence G. Badger, Writers: Elinor Glyn (Story and Adaptation) Hope Loring (Screenplay) Louis Lighton (Screenplay) George Marion Jr. (Titles), Producers: Kevin Brownlow, David Gill, Cinematographer: H. Kinley Martin, Composers: Carl Davis, Sheldon Mirowitz, William P. Perry, Editor: E. Lloyd Sheldon

CAST: Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, William Austin, Priscilla Bonner

Watched on DVD, from IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT

 

*Every Monday I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

In 1918 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, hostilities officially ceased  and World War I came to an end. A year later President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the U.S. would observe Armistice Day on November 11. By 1954, in the U.S.,  Armistice Day had evolved from a day of gratitude for peace and remembrance of fallen soldiers into a day to celebrate and thank all veterans. So, this day – 11/11/14 — we observe Veteran’s Day and offer our sincere thanks, admiration and respect to all who’ve served honorably.

5CameBackEarlier this year I read Mark Harris’s remarkable book, FIVE CAME BACK – A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. This is much more than an account of films made in Hollywood during World War II. It is an amazing account of five directors — all at the top of their game — who actively served during the War — several of them in harm’s way on more than one occasion. John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra each left the confines and comforts of Hollywood to lend their skills and expertise to inform and inspire both soldiers and civilians. More than a few of the films they made were not seen by the public until many years after the war. Ford had crews shooting real combat footage on Midway. Their film crews were on the beaches of Normandy. And Stevens’s ghastly footage of the freshly discovered death camps in Germany was used in case against the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials.

Harris’s FIVE CAME BACK is as engaging as it is revelatory. Among the dozens of moving accounts gathered here is the story of how the groundbreaking, post-war, Oscar-winning film, THE BEST YEARS OF LIVES, came to be made by WWII vet, William Wyler. That film — which Wyler’s peer, Billy Wilder called “the best directed film I’ve seen in my life” — was a cathartic extension of Wyler’s own harrowing experiences during the war and his peacetime re-entry. Mark Harris spent five years researching and writing this incredible book. It is at once a steely eyed look at the vagaries of war and human foibles as it is a mediation on compassion, courage and honor.

 

FIVE CAME BACK (A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War), by Mark Harris, 511 pgs, Penguin Press

Movie Monday* 11.10.14

November 10, 2014 — Leave a comment
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Roy Schieder and Gene Hackman in his Academy Award winning role, as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle in THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Fox, 1971)

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Rated: R, 104 mins, 20th Century Fox, Released: October 7, 1971)

#93 on AFI’s 100 Films/100 Years list

Director: William Friedkin, Writers: Ernest Tidyman (Screenplay) Robin Moore (Based on the book by), Producer: Philip D’Antoni, Cinematographer: Owen Roizman, Composer: Don Ellis, Casting: Robert Weiner, Editor: Gerald B. Greenberg

CAST: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, THE FRENCH CONNECTION took home 5 — including Picture, Director & Actor. Howard Hawks’s biographer, Todd McCarthy, claims that Hawks was a driving force behind the 1971 film that made Hackman a star and put Friedken in the driver’s seat of his career. (His next stop was THE EXORCIST.) IMDb lists the legendary director (Hawks) as an uncredited writer on the film. Friedkin is pretty convincing as he debunks the rumor that Hawks had anything to do with THE FRENCH CONNECTION in this interview.

*Every Monday I watch a classic movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

 

some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

A Most Wanted Man

MARTHA SULLIVAN (Robin Wright) and GUNTER BACHMANN (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are spies squaring off in A MOST WANTED MAN – available on DVD/Bluray.

If you’re looking for something film-related to do this weekend, try one or two of these. These are all a touch on the dark side.

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RIGGAN (Michael Keaton) is having issues in BIRDMAN. In theaters now.

Go see: BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R, 119 mins, Fox Searchlight, in theaters now) – Alejandro Inarritu’s film has been one of the most highly touted and anticipated of the year in cinephile circles. Now everyone can see what the fuss is about — and there’s so much to see and take in. This one will likely have a few nominations in the major categories come award season — starting with Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. Dan Lybarger’s review of BIRDMAN in today’s (11.07.14) Arkansas Democrat Gazette, is especially illuminating on why the movie works on several levels simultaneously.

Watch: A MOST WANTED MAN (R, 122 mins, Roadside Attractions, on DVD/Bluray now) Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just re-post myself. Here’s what I said about A MOST WANTED MAN during it’s theatrical release — and why I still recommend it.

Read: INDECENT PROPOSAL by David McClinktick (Collins Business Essentials) – Hands down, my favorite inside-Hollywood book. It’s so well written, the story itself is so much of an avoidable train wreck — and it transports the reader to the time that big business was done without personal computers, smart phones and electronic tablets. This is not dusty, ancient history — it’s a cautionary tale worthy of it’s own HBO series. Columbia Pictures’s larger-than-life leader, David Begelman, is caught a crime that will forever alter the careers and personal relationships of people in in front of the camera, behind the camera, in the boardroom and in the police department. It’s one of the more darkly comedic and tragic stories in Hollywood history. I’ve read this book two or three times all the way through and find myself picking it up every once in a while to read 10 to 20 pages.