Monthly Archive for April, 2011

Pennies From Heaven

Pennies From Heaven (4/30/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Grauman’s Chinese Multiplex (1981 ***1/2) Directed by Herbert Ross, screenplay by Dennis Potter, starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters and Jessica Harper. A Chicago music salesman with a penchant for compulsive lying escapes the great depression through song. This film was introduced by actress Illeana Douglas, who doesn’t have a direct connection with Pennies From Heaven, but it turns out she and I have something in common: We both saw the film in high school, fell in love with it, bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over. I know rationally that this isn’t a great movie. The “abject depression juxtaposed with hopeful music” premise was never anything but problematic and Steve Martin’s acting abilities in 1981 weren’t up to the challenge presented by his character in this film. I know that. But you know what? I still love this film, and maybe it’s because I saw it at just the perfect time in my life to see such a movie. And besides, even after all these years I think the same impure thoughts when I see Bernadette Peters in that one low-cut Bob Mackie dress! (Favorite)

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane (4/30/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1941 ****) Directed by Orson Welles, screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles, starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore and Ruth Warrick. A relentless reporter interviews those closest to newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane in an attempt to discover what he meant by his dying word: “Rosebud.” In a way I’ve come to think of Citizen Kane as “arguably the best film ever made” as a bit of a cliche’. However, I hadn’t seen it in many years and how could I pass up the opportunity to see it on the big screen in Grauman’s Chinese? Ben Mankiewicz, understandably proud, introduced the film his grandfather had scripted by relating a story of how William Randolph Hearst (Kane was a fictionalized version of Hearst) used the power of his newspaper empire to exact revenge on Herman Mankiewicz. As many people know, “rosebud” was what Hearst called his mistress Marion Davies’ clitoris

The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales (4/30/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1976 ***1/2) Directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Philip Faufman, based on the novel by Forrest Carter, starring Clint Eastwood, Sam Bottoms, Sondra Locke and Chief Dan George. A farmer from Missouri swears revenge after the death of his family at the hands of Union “redlegs.” Ben Mankiewicz introduced this film in an odd way: He basically said (and I’m paraphrasing): “You know this film you’re about to really enjoy? It was based on a book written by a class-A RACIST! See ya later!” After that introduction it was hard to see the film objectively. It was a bloody film, fitting into the same category as Charles Bronson’s 1974 film Death Wish. Still, it was clearly a stepping stone for Eastwood on his road to his Oscar winning 1992 film Unforgiven. Is this a film I’d want to see again in my life? Probably not, but for fans of Eastwood it’s worth seeing, racist heritage or not.

Summer Magic

Summer Magic (4/30/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Grauman’s Chinese Multiplex (1963 ***1/4) Directed by James Neilson, starring Hayley Mills, Dorothy McGuire, Burl Ives and Jimmy Mathers. Following the death of her father, Nancy Carey and her family leave Boston for a house in the country, singing a ragtime song or two along the way. Disney archivist Becky Cline introduced this film as well as providing a rare intro by Walt Disney himself. I’d never seen this film before, and found it to be sweet and innocent, just like all the Disney live action films I grew up with. None of the conflicts or characters ran particularly deep, but Burl Ives was a lot of fun to watch. After the film, Mills was interviewed by film critic, writer and all-around familiar face Leonard Maltin. Mills (who appears in three different films at the TCM Classic Film Festival) talked about her early career how Annette Funicello was originally considered for her role in Summer Magic.

Official Book Club Selection

Official Book Club Selection (4/30/11) Nonfiction (2010 ***1/2) Kathy Griffin tells her story of the slow crawl up the Hollywood star machine to the D-List. Last year when Griffin was in Pasadena at a book signing, my wife and I went and bought a book, which my wife read right away, but I didn’t quite get around to it. While attending the TCM Classic Film Festival I found myself standing in a lot of lines, and this was the book I used to occupy my time. It’s a good book, though it seemed like Griffin and the writer(s) who assisted her didn’t quite find their voice until after the first third of the book, which was a little clunky. Having read this book, I think I like Kathy Griffin even more. She seemed to recognize as she wrote this book that she had a responsibility to her readers to be revealing, and she did a good job of achieving that goal.

Girl Crazy

Girl Crazy (4/29/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Egyptian Theater (1943 **1/2) Directed by Norman Taurog and Busby Berkeley, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The nightclubbing son of a wealthy publisher gets sent to an all-male mining school out west. I gotta be honest: This may be a good representation of one of MGM’s “Backyard Musicals” where Rooney and Garland “put on a show,” but it’s not a great film. Afterwards, Ben Mankiewicz attempted to interview Mickey Rooney, who claimed to have made 365 films. Rooney was delightful, but his stories didn’t necessarily go anywhere. Though Rooney did talk about his first meeting with Frances Gumm (Judy Garland), he seemed more interested in telling Mankiewicz about the ping pong club he belonged to early in his career.

Royal Wedding

Royal Wedding (4/29/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Egyptian Theater (1951 ***) Directed by Stanley Donen, screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner, starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford and Sarah Churchill, with Keenan Wynn as transatlantic twins Irving and Edgar Klinger. Dancing siblings Tom and Ellen Bowen take their act to London, just in time for the… you guessed it… Royal Wedding. The ironic coincidence (if indeed it was a coincidence) was that this film was shown the day of the wedding of “Will & Kate” (Prince William and Miss Cahterine Middleton). In his introductory comments, Ben Mankiewicz made reference to the fuss CNN was making about the screening we were about to see. The film itself isn’t particularly great: The music was largely forgettable and the casting of Winston Churchill’s daughter as Astaire’s love interest was questionable. However, Royal Wedding does feature Astaire’s classic “dancing on the ceiling” number. After the film, 82-year-old Jane Powell was interviewed by Mankiewicz and she talked about how she was the third choice for this role after Judy Garland (fired due to substance abuse issues) and June Allyson, whom Powell said “took pregnant” shortly before the film.


Becket (4/29/11) TCM Classic Film Festival — Egyptian Theater (1964 ***1/2) Directed by Peter Glenville, based on the play by Jean Anouilh and Lucienne Hill, starring Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud. The brutish and profane King Henry II makes his most trusted wenching buddy Thomas Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury… but later regrets it. Okay, clever plot summaries aside, this is one hell of a film. Made the same year I was born, it’s a reminder of a kind of (and a level of) acting I often forget about, and that’s undoubtedly a shame. And the most amazing part is that one of the two main actors was actually in attendance. This was the first film I attended at the TCM Classic Film Festival, and Peter O’Toole walked literally two feet away from me on his way to the front of the theater, where he was interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz. I’m not above recognizing the honor of being in the presence of a film legend and I’m so very glad to have gotten the opportunity to see him. O’Toole, that is, not Mankiewicz.

Only Angels Have Wings

Only Angels Have Wings (4/27/11) TV-TCM (1939 ***) Directed by Howard Hawks, screenplay by Jules Furthman, starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Kid Dabb and Rita Hayworth. Life is cheap in far-away, mystical fogged-in Barranca, when a bush pilot who looks an awful lot like Jim Rockford’s dad gets killed. My wife isn’t a fan of this film (she chose not to watch it with me) and I can understand why. I hadn’t watched Only Angels Have Wings in a long time and I’d forgotten how overlong and dialogue-heavy (almost stage play-like) it was. And yet the film had some good points too. From beginning to end, Hawks captured an atmosphere that was romantic and had a sense of adventure. And then there’s Cary Grant. Only he could have made an apparently heartless and unsympathetic brute like Geoff Carter so darn likable.

Introducing Linguistics: A Graphic Guide

Introducing Linguistics: A Graphic Guide (4/26/11) Nonfiction (2000 ***1/2) Written by R.L. Trask, illustrated by Bill Mayblin. The history, concepts and concerns of the field of Linguistics are presented in an easy-to-read form, supported by clear illustrations. This is almost certainly the best book in this series that I’ve read to date. Even though the material was a bit dry at times, Introducing Linguistics served my anticipated purpose, and it did so without trying to be overly witty or snarky. I would definitely recommend this as a short overview of the field and/or as a companion piece to someone taking an Introduction to Linguistics class in college.