Archives For August 2015

The Style section of every Friday's edition of the Arkansas Democrat is dedicated to covering movies.

The Style section of every Friday’s edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette is dedicated to covering movies.

My full time profession is being a producer-writer-director in the entertainment business. I live and work in Little Rock, Arkansas. I also spend a considerable amount of time in Los Angeles where I’m privileged to have an office in which to hang my hat during the day and a bed on which to lay my body at night. Little Rock is a city of just under 200,000 people. It’s my home and I love it. Los Angeles is a city of nearly 4 million. I love L.A. and the Industry that calls it home.

L.A. (and NYC) may be a cinephile’s paradise — offering the widest variety and most opportunity to sample films from the U.S. and around the world, but having seen what else is out there, I can tell you that Little Rock is a unique and vibrant oasis for people who love movies. There are no U.S. cities of comparable size and only a few major markets outside LA/NYC that can compete pound for pound with this town’s love for film and opportunities to experience film.

It’s gratifying to be in a market this small and know that on the day I’m typing these words I could buy a ticket to see the Sundance darling, THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, the sure-to-be-nominated documentary, BEST OF ENEMIES, and the widely praised, THE END OF THE TOUR. I saw MR. HOLMES in a full theater at 3PM the Tuesday after it opened. It was the smallest theater in the house but just about every seat was taken.

There are 49 movie screens within 10 miles of my house in Little Rock. Our neighborhood theater (Regal 12) is one of the finest places in the United States to see a movie. That’s not hyperbole. The sound and projection are stellar and every seat in the place is a leather recliner with a scandalous amount of personal space in front, behind, and in-between seats. It’s clean and well managed. My family sees about 25 movies a year there. Riverdale 10 is a first run arthouse/studio hybrid that’s working. You can catch the latest tentpoles there but they dedicate half the screens to more challenging fare and great docs. (I was thrilled to check out THE WRECKING CREW there during its original run.)

Ron Robinson Theater is a state of the art theater built and operated by the Central Arkansas Library System. Screening movies there wasn’t an afterthought – the place was designed for it. The venue runs a great program. THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow screens this week. Robinson also hosts premieres and film panels. I recently saw the work of two high school students who screened their short documentaries for a packed house. The place is also home court for the Little Rock Film Festival.

The LRFF has been rated three times by MovieMaker as one of the Top 25 Festivals “worth the entry fee.” The Festival will mark its 10th year in 2016 and in that short time it has become one of the most popular festivals in the country with filmmakers. Two of the festival’s founders are the Peabody Award winning documentary filmmaking brothers – Brent and Craig Renaud. The festival programs a deep and wide variety of films. Its great reputation for Southern hospitality coupled with over $10,000 in cash prizes for winning films draws filmmakers from all over the world.

At this point I need to say that because of time and space I know I’m leaving people and places out of this conversation who deserve to be here. And I’m not even opening the lid on the conversation about filmmakers who make their home in and around Little Rock — or all the production that takes place in the State. That said, I can’t wrap this up without mentioning one person and publication that make the whole topic of Little Rock being a cinephile’s oasis a real chicken and egg conversation. Which came first, a great film culture or great writing about film?

As more and more larger markets are giving up on keeping a local movie critic at their daily newspapers, Little Rock still has one of the best in the country. Philip Martin is an award-winning film critic with an impressive breadth of experience, interests and talent. He’s been president of of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and he’s one of RottenTomatoes Top Critics. The (Movie)Style section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that he writes and edits for each Friday’s edition is one of the best collections of film criticism and information available in the country. Period. (Philip blogs at blood, dirt & angels.)

So those are just a few of the reasons I never feel deprived when it comes to seeing movies or talking about movies when I’m home in Little Rock. And those are a few of the reasons I am surprised when I’m on the road and find a major city newspaper that only runs wire service movie reviews.  Or when I attend a less than stellar film festival in another city that’s had a lot of years to get it right. Come on up, down, or over to Little Rock and check it out for yourself. Drop me a line if you do.

Greer Garson and Robert Donat, in his Oscar-winning performance, in GOODBYE MR. CHIPS (MGM, 1939)

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (NR, 115 min., B&W, MGM, July 28, 1939)

There are a lot of great movies that would qualify for a Back To School Edition of Movie Monday — some fun, some solemn, some sweet, some irreverent, some pretty dark. But surely the progenitor of the fully formed school-based movie genre is this 1939 classic, GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. Robert Donat won the Best Actor Oscar in that year that is commonly referred to as the greatest year in movies – at least of the Golden Age. Greer Garson had held out for her first role in a Hollywood film – wanting it to be a memorable one. For her patience she was rewarded with the role that earned her an Oscar nomination.

The movie was shot in England at a time MGM was trying to shore up its European business as Germany and Italy were gearing up for war and buying less movies from the U.S. The fragile peace in the world of 1939 was certainly on the mind of CBS radio’s Alexander Woolcott when he reviewed the film thusly:

“In a year in which the great nations of the world are choosing partners for a dance of death, this cavalcade of English youth becomes an almost unbearable reminder of something which in a mad and greedy world may be allowed to perish from the earth. I am here to testify that in my own experience, the most moving of all motion pictures is Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

Director: Sam Wood, Writers: R.C. Sherriff (Screenplay), Claudine West (Screenplay), Eric Maschitz (Screenplay), James Hilton (Novel) Producer: Sam Wood, Cinematographer: Freddie Young, Composer: Richard Addinsell, Editor: Charles Frend

CAST: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills, Paul Henreid, Judith Furse

 

Watched on DVD from Warner Home Video

*Most Mondays 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

martin_steve_50ff7c6f27290_

Steve Martin turns 70 today – August 14, 2015

For about the last four years of the 1970s and the first couple of the 80s there was no bigger star in comedy than Steve Martin. Somewhere around 1981 he decided to walk away from a stand-up career that was selling out arenas. Arenas. Before that he had been working on an act that was new, fresh and often not embraced by audiences. (The day after a Tonight Show appearance Martin walked into a store in Los Angeles. A woman behind the counter asked, “Are you the young man who was on the Tonight Show last night?” Martin, replied “Yes.” She uttered one work: “Yuck.”)

Martin walked away from a lucrative writing job in TV in order to work out the new kind of act he envisioned. There was a moment in the mid-70s when Martin says that after years of struggling he realized he “was no longer at the tail end of an old movement but at the front end of a new one.” And then he turned on the TV one October night in 1975 and saw the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live. The shock of seeing people he didn’t know performing the kind of “out there” comedy he was refining on the road was a momentary emotional setback. But soon the connection between Martin and SNL would be catalytic and no one could say whether SNL took Martin to the next level or if it was the other way around.

Either way, by the late 70s Martin was at the crest of a pop culture wave. He rode that wave to great success, inspired a lot of kids (read Judd Apatow’s thoughts about Martin in Apatow’s book, Sick in the Head), then got off and figured out what to do next. What he did next was make movies. He made lots of them. Some memorable, some not so much. Some experimental, some right down the middle. No matter what he did he brought an artist’s precision to his performance.

I’ve said for many years that Steve Martin is the most underrated dramatic actor in Hollywood. I love to see him in dramatic roles (Parenthood is a great one. See also: Shopgirl and The Spanish Prisoner). But even in some of his most comedic roles he brings a depth of humanity that rings true and deep. (Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Roxanne, L.A. Story and Father of the Bride, are just a few good examples.)

Martin’s memoir, Born Standing Up, is one of the best first-hand accounts of life in show business ever written. I highly recommend it if you’re the least bit interested in Martin, comedy and/or the 1970’s in the U.S. If there is still such a thing as a Reniassance man — Steve Martin is most certainly one. Actor, Comedian, Author, Musician, Collector of Fine Art, Student of Philosophy.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Martin. And, many thanks for all the joy you’ve brought us.

Formosa_Cafe

L.A.’s iconic Formosa Cafe at Santa Monica Blvd & Formosa.

There’s a great old story about John Wayne passing out in a booth in L.A.’s iconic Formosa Cafe after a long day on the set and a long night in the Formosa’s bar. Lem Quon (co-owner at that time) locked up the place at closing and left The Duke to sleep it off. When Quon returned the next morning, Wayne was in the kitchen cooking breakfast for both of them.

Los Angeles Magazine posted this piece about 18 L.A. landmarks that are going away or changing dramatically. It’s a great walk down memory lane but a sad reflection on how things change. I don’t know if it’s factually true or just perception but it does seem Los Angeles is quick to let sites steeped in history and tradition go to the ash heap. Norm’s on La Cienega seemed perennially in danger for a while. The events center at Studio City’s historic Sportsmen’s Lodge is about to be plowed under to put up another retail, office building on Ventura.

Every time I hear about another landmark being shuttered, I remember a location scout with producer/director Harry Thomason. We were in a van going from spot to spot looking for locations to use in a 1950s period movie. Time and again we’d arrive at a location we remembered fondly only to find it in total disrepair or completely gone. At the end of a long day of such experiences, Harry turned to me and said, “Tim, progress is killing us.”

la-ca-0515-harold-jpg-20130410

Harold Lloyd as “The Boy” in the iconic shot from SAFTEY LAST! (1923)

SAFETY LAST! (NR, 73 min., B&W, Silent, Hal Roach Studios Released April 1, 1923 Pathe Exchange)

He’s been called the third genius of the silent era comedians (behind Chaplin and Keaton). Orson Welles said, “Harold Lloyd – he’s surely the most underrated [comedian] of them all. The intellectuals don’t like the Harold Lloyd character – that middle-class, middle-American, all-American college boy. There’s no obvious poetry to it.” When commenting specifically on Safety Last! Welles said: “As a piece of comic architecture, it’s impeccable.”

The iconic shot of Lloyd hanging from a clock high above a busy city street is part of our shared film vocabulary – even if most people can’t name the film or actor today. But there’s so much more to savor in this film – Lloyd’s fourth feature. Watching Saftey Last! 92 years after its initial release one can only marvel at the both the precision and poignancy of the stunts and story. My twelve year-old son sat next to me and laughed throughout the film’s brisk 73 minutes.

Like many silent era stars, Lloyd’s career dried up after the advent of sound. But he’d managed to maintain ownership of his films and the great success he did have carried him financially for many years until his death in 1971. Robert Wagner writes about Lloyd and his personal relationship with the legendary performer in “You Must Remember This” – a good read if you’re interested in Old Hollywood.

Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor Writers: Hal Roach (Story), Sam Taylor (Story), Tim Whelan (Story), H.M. Walker (Titles), Producers: Kevin Brownlow, David Gill, Jeffery Vance Cinematographer: Walter Lundin Composers: Carl Davis, Don Hulette, Editor: Thomas J. Crizer

CAST: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke

 

Watched on BLU-RAY from The Criterion Collection

*Most Mondays 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