Almost the Most Fun You Can Have in the Dark

Ted Mosby: That's it. I'll have to move to another country, one where they're not showing The Wedding Bride.
Robin Scherbatsky: Good luck, Ted. That movie has gone worldwide. It's huge.
Lily Aldrin: Maybe North Korea.
Robin Scherbatsky: No, I heard Kim Jong Il saw it and it's his second favorite movie, right behind one of him running in slow motion in a field of turnips.

How I Met Your Mother, “The Wedding Bride” (5/17/10)

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It’s often fun to go to the movies, if only for the immersive experience that they provide. Plus, there’s the popcorn with the butter-flavored grease (or, if you went to the Senator when Kiefaber was running the place, “real creamery butter”). What I don’t like about them is the excessive hype. You really get the idea sometimes that the guys who are making the ads are being creative about what they pull out of the reviews. For instance, this comes from a real review of The DaVinci Code:

Akiva Goldsman, otherwise not particularly inspired screenwriter, does a solid job with surprisingly faithful adaptation. This is probably due to Brown’s source material not being something exceptional. The novel is nothing more than rehash of secret histories like THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL, neatly packed with some New Age ideas and rather generic conspiracy thriller plot. Goldsman kept most of novel’s flaws, but he, thankfully, didn’t succumb to the usual Hollywood standards of sacrificing exposition in order to provide audience with more brainless action. The exposition is actually the best and most valuable part of the film, providing viewers with more food for thought than they were accustomed to expect from a Hollywood blockbuster. (draxblog movie reviews, draxreview.wordpress.com)

This becomes:

Akiva Goldsman…does a solid job…surprisingly faithful…something exceptional…the best and most valuable…film, providing viewers with more food for thought…a Hollywood blockbuster.

Sprinkle in a few exclamation points and you get the idea. So that gets to be a drag, so I’m pretty careful nowadays about the films I see, and more often than not I just wait until it’s on video or cable. Nice life for a former Communications major, huh?

Some films do manage to rise above the hype by living up to it, however. And we’ve all seen a bunch of the “One Million Greatest Films Of All Time” or whatever kind of lists, and they all bring something to the table, I guess. But they don’t necessarily convey what it is that makes the movies named so special. So herein, I present to you, in no special order, a list of Movies That Changed The Way Movies Are Made.

Kane MirrorsCitizen Kane (1941)

Kane is one of those films that gets an awful lot of credit for a lot of things, and rightly so, which is probably why it’s tough to remember that it was a box-office flop the first time around despite the good reviews it received. During its initial run, Citizen Kane lost about $150,000, which was roughly 20% of what it cost to make. And it’s not even that Orson Welles invented the techniques used in the film; in fact he didn’t. What he did do was use them to such effect that they became staples of filmmaking: deep focus (sometimes using special lenses, sometimes using in-camera mattes); curtain wipes, miniatures, J-cuts (when the audio transitions ahead of the picture in a scene change), flashbacks and montages. It almost doesn’t matter that the movie begins with a huge hole in the plot. I’ll also concede that it’s not such a compelling movie that it’s an automatic stop if I catch it while channel-surfing, but I’ll usually stick with it for awhile just to bask in the awesomeness of the film techniques.

Here’s a weird little Kane story: when I was in college and taking the “Art of Film and TV” course, we were assigned to go to the library and view the opening scenes of Citizen Kane so that we could discuss it in class next time we met. During the scene where Kane dies (not a spoiler, it’s at the beginning), the nurse comes in and pulls the sheet over Kane’s face. As she does so, the soundtrack for the clip we were viewing encountered a glitch, so that as the sheet came up, the music slowed and ground to a halt, so that we had a moment of silence in the film. It synchronized so well with the action on the screen, that those of us who hadn’t seen it before thought that that was supposed to happen, and we all marveled at this cool audio technique. It wasn’t until the next day, when the teacher showed the clip again as a means of review, that we saw something wasn’t quite right. “Hey! That’s not what happened in the library!” The teacher didn’t realize that the clip was bad and qsuestioned us about it. It made for a great discussion.

seven-samuraiSeven Samurai (1954)

Wife hates this film, because of the subtitles (she doesn’t dig any film that’s mostly subtitles), but I love Seven Samurai. And I don’t understand a word of Japanese, but I like to listen to the actors speaking, so I’ll actually keep the volume up even though it isn’t really necessary. Most people know by now that it’s the inspiration for 1960’s The Magnificent Seven, but the biggest contribution by that film was its theme. Seven Samurai was probably the first film to bring a disparate bunch of characters together to achieve a common goal (cf. Ocean’s Eleven or The Dirty Dozen). It’s also the first film to give us the very end of the main character’s previous adventure before moving into the current one (cf James Bond and Indiana Jones). Part of the success of this story is that director Akiro Kurosawa wrote an entire backstory for any character who had a line. It clocks in at 207 minutes, but it’s worth the trip. Fun fact: the Japanese language has no definite article (“the”), so translation of the title into “The Seven Samurai” is idomatically correct, but not a literal translation.

godfather11 (1)The Godfather (1972)

At the top of so many lists because of its compelling story, The Godfather improved upon the Gangster Movie genre in two important ways. Prior to this film, mafia films in the late 1950s and early 1960s were not doing well at the box office, despite all the star power they poured into them. Paramount head Robert Evans decided that the problem was that none of the people making these films—on either side of the camera—were Italian. Consequently they suffered from a certain lack of verisimilitude. It was at his insistence that most of the actors in the film were Italians. (Can you imagine Ryan O’Neal as Michael Corleone? It almost happened.) It’s a well-known story that Evans, upon seeing the first cut of The Godfather, sent Coppola back into the editing room to make the film LONGER. Evans was looking for “the spaghetti”, the family end of the story that ties the whole thing together. Later mafia films did the same: length plus a family of some sort. If The Godfather hadn’t happened, GoodFellas wouldn’t have come along to improve on the model.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001ZGTThis is another film in the realm of Citizen Kane for me: it’s not necessarily an automatic stop, but it’s so beautifully shot, and some things are done so technically well that you have to admire this piece of work. 2001, like Kane and most of the titles here, is where we get to say “film” rather than “movie”, if you catch my distinction. Part of the attraction, again, is verisimilitude: silence in space, the design of the spaceship Discovery, the little mundane touches like the phone call home. Perhaps the only scene that’s deliberately funny involves Heywood Floyd nervously studying the detailed instructions on the Zero Gravity Toilet. What’s cool is that those are real instructions; it’s not as though Kubrick put some placeholder text on the sign because nobody could read it anyway. Click on the picture to get the full text. Sure, things like Pan Am and Bell Telephone don’t exist anymore, but those companies weren’t the point of the story.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

shawshankOne of the things I really enjoy about this film is the “slow burn”. It’s a movie that takes place over a long period of time, and offers all kinds of tiny little clues with regard to the way the relationships are developing, what could come along later in the story, and so on. People who are easily bored could conceivably tune out quickly, but for those who manage to hang in there, the payoff is fantastic as the story picks up speed and refuses to let up. I don’t think that this film affected other films so much as it did the television industry. Shawshank paved the way for shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire, which took a long time to set the table and then knocked you on your back with the resolution. The plot line also gave us a denouement that we didn’t necessarily need, but allowed us to breathe a little and see the “ending beyond the ending”.

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

great train robberyHow did a film from 1903 change moviemaking forever? Because it was the first film to have a plot. It was a series scenes, laid out in a specific order, that together told a story. And if you don’t think it’s had any influence on modern-day film, consider the scene in the picture at left. Justus D. Barnes shoots directly at the camera—and therefore the viewer—in a scene that appears either at the beginning of the film or the end, (it was up to the operator where it went; all of the known prints have it at the end). It was a scene that terrified audiences, who weren’t used to the “language” of film yet, and reportedly got out of the way. Both Goodfellas and American Gangster did the same thing; Goodfellas does it right before the closing credits and in American Gangster it happens right after the credits. You could also argue that the idea of rounding up people in a public place and taking their money (rather than stealing from the train) had its influence on the diner scene in Pulp Fiction.

Incidentally, some people would put Pulp Fiction on a list like this one, but I’m not inclined to, mostly because while the nonlinear narrative was groundbreaking in its way, it’s not something that’s influenced the way other movies have been made, which is the criterion for this list. Oh, and Kane did it first.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Blair WitchTruth be told, I kept going back and forth on this one because I didn’t really like the film that much. But whether or not you like it, I think it has to be conceded that this film had two major influences on film making: first, they demonstrated that you can make a decent film on a very small budget and still manage to make a few bucks ($20,000 to make, $250,000,000 in earnings). Second, and perhaps a little more controversial, was the extensive use of the handheld camera. Now, in Blair Witch Project it makes sense, since the camera is proving a specific point of view throughout the movie. But this also inspired many other directors to take a similar approach to their own films, perhaps in order to give their movies a kind of cinéma vérité feel that they haven’t necessarily earned (Public Enemies, I’m looking at you). So there’s good and there’s bad in this one, but I don’t think anyone can argue that this one has had its effect.

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Not the whole film, but the one scene that takes place on the Odessa Steps. In this scene, the Czar’s soldiers march down a huge flight of stairs, firing into a crowd of people. At the bottom of the stairs are Cossacks, marching upward. People are shot, people are trampled, and a baby goes sailing down the stairs in his carriage. There are multiple points of view presented, numerous instances of parallel action, close-ups that emphasize the horror of what is going on, and ultimately we are lulled into feeling exactly what director Sergei Eisenstein wants us to feel. It’s a brilliant piece of propaganda that’s so good, it hardly matters that, in this otherwise historical film, the events in this scene never actually took place.

 

 

 

I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch, and I know a few of you are also former Communications majors. What would you add to the list, and why?

We’ll Always Have the Egyptian Theater

Major Strasser: We have a complete dossier on you. Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague. We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and also we know why you left Paris. [hands the dossier to Rick]
Major Strasser: Don’t worry, we are not going to broadcast it.
Rick: [looks up from the notes] Are my eyes really brown?

Casablanca (1942)

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None of the poses in this poster appear in the film itself. Go figure. This month marks the 70th anniversary of the film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. How this is the case, I’m not sure, since filming started in MAY of 1942 and the film wasn’t widely released until January of 1943.

Stories about this film are myriad: a lot of the writing was done during shooting, many times the actors weren’t quite sure what was going on, the film had a very low budget and had to make a couple of cost-cutting moves (perhaps most notable was that the plane at the end of the film was made of cardboard and used both little people and forced perspective to make it look larger; this also explains all the fog), the director’s Hungarian accent often made things tough for the crew, and so on. But the undeniable fact is that it all came together to create one of the finest, most perfect films of all time. Like so many others that get that designation, it’s a very rich tapestry of characters, plot, humor, danger, love, sex (mostly implied but that’s OK), drama, acts of heroism and complicated bad guys.

Last night, to mark the occasion of the 70th anniversary of it being six weeks before the first day of principal shooting—that’s all I can come up with for this date—Turner Classic Movies staged a nationwide big-screen showing of Casablanca. Locally, it took place at the Egyptian Theatre in Hanover, at the Arundel Mills Mall. So last night, I took Wife and Wee One out for A Sold-Out Night In Casablanca.

Anubis is generally associated with the Egyptian afterlife, so there's that, I guess. The Egyptian is the largest movie theater in Maryland and possibly on the East Coast. And, given the décor, they really took the name to heart: columns abound with hieroglyphics on them (they also have “cracks” in the facades to make them look older), a statue of Anubis guards the entrance from the parking lot, and there are murals of desert scenes everywhere. Once you’re into the theater area, it’s strictly a modern setting, with stadium-style auditoriums of about 500 high-back rocker-style seats. It’s a pretty sweet setup.

Yes, this is Robert Osbourne, making his acting debut in the pilot for "The Beverly Hillbillies" Because it was put together by TCM, the show itself begins with an introduction by Robert Osborne. This one, however, was more extensive, featuring interviews with some of the actors and production staff, including the woman at Warner Brothers who talked Hal Wallis into buying the unproduced play script. This was interspersed with LOTS of clips from the film itself. It got to the point where Wee One finally asked, “Are they going to show us the whole movie here?” From my standpoint, it seemed as though nearly everyone in the audience was not seeing the film for the first time, but I can imagine many of those clips being spoilers for someone who hadn’t seen it before. Whenever they showed this movie on Channel 11 in New York, they'd invariably show this clip. It also made it sound especially disingenuous when, at the end of the introduction, Osborne says something about, “Whether you’re seeing it here for the first time, or the hundredth time…”, clearly oblivious to the fact that the film was kind of ruined for the ones seeing it for the first time. (Frankly, I’m not positive that Wee One had seen the film in its entirety before last night; I know she’s seen pieces of it.) Most of those clips could have been cut shorter, or replaced with production stills, and nobody would have minded.

"Who's pantomiming?" "We're pantomiming!"Wee One has been taking some art classes in school, specifically concentrating on pencil drawings lately, and this came through at one point during the film itself, when she looked at one particular shot of Ingrid Bergman with the gauze filters and the catch lights (they make her eyes sparkle), and said, “I want to draw her.” Then she pestered me to find a still from that specific scene after we got home. But for a kid with attention issues, she really stuck with the film. Even if she didn’t necessarily get all of the politics involved, she got most of the jokes, she caught a lot of nuances, she pointed out a couple of production issues (specifically Dooley Wilson’s piano “playing” and Bogart’s coat miraculously drying as he got on the train), and came away with a generally positive experience about a truly great film.

Peas in an iPod

Scott: Alright, well then maybe you’re not her type. She’s into stuff like old school Elvis Costello, she listens to obscure podcasts, she reads Dave Eggers. You know, she’s deep, man.
John Tucker: Dude, I’m deep. I’m dating the poetry club.

John Tucker Must Die (2006)

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I'm so glad to have a reason to post this picture again. This is going to have a little bit of a “me-too” feel to it, but that’s all right with me. Pretty much everything that happened to me this past week is more all right than it looks on the surface.

The reason this feels “me-too”, however, is that in this post I’ll be sharing some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to lately. As it happens, I’ve been with most of them for awhile but it feels like they’re really starting to swell in popularity lately. So, not to get all hipster on you, but some of these were cool to me before they were cool for everyone else. There are a few others I listen to, but not as closely or as often. And two which bailed out on me before I gave up on them, the bastards.

In no particular order (click on the pictures to go to each show’s website):

This Week With Larry Miller

This one is the newest to me and, in fact, the newest of the bunch. Larry Miller takes a topic or two and just appears to spout off the top of his head for a half hour. There are still different elements of the show which are evolving, and Miller carries us through that evolutionary period by explaining its genesis, sometimes repeatedly. This show has been running for nearly a year and is starting to hit its stride. The stories that Miller tells are generally a warm brand of funny, and since he and I both grew up on Long Island, some of them are perhaps a little more relatable to me than they might be to others, but non-LIers will enjoy them nonetheless.

The Mike O'Meara Show

This isn’t the oldest of the bunch, but it’s got the biggest back catalog because they produce five shows each week. This podcast grew from the Mike O’Meara radio show, which I don’t think ever aired in Baltimore. But I was a fan of the original Don & Mike Show (which did air in Baltimore), ever since they first aired in New York City. I discovered the podcast quite by accident only a few weeks after it began. The show runs for a little over an hour, and is edited to be broadcast-friendly, as the show does have a radio affiliate. This is a show that you need to listen to a few episodes to, in order to get into the swing of things, but once you do it’s a daily romp.

WTF with Marc Maron

WTF with Marc Maron seems to be the one that’s really exploding onto the podcast landscape lately. It’s part interview and part therapy session, and once in awhile there’s a pure comedy show (the “Live WTF” shows). Maron generally hosts the shows out of his garage, and while most of his interviews have been of comedians, you can’t expect the entire show (which runs anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half) to be a Laff Riot. On the other hand, it’s not a Deconstruction of Comedy session, which would be incredibly dry. The interviews are fascinating, and I think many times the guests themselves wind up discussing things they had no intention of bringing up. Some of the more famous interviews include Judd Apatow, Louis CK, Carlos Mencia (during which he actually cops to some of the stuff he’s been accused of), and of course the infamous Gallagher interview, which ended a little earlier than originally planned. With this podcast, I’ve been playing the new ones and playing catchup with the old ones in reverse order, so while the interviews themselves aren’t especially time-sensitive, the introductions he does will delve into his personal life. Consequently I’m following both Maron’s evolution and de-evolution at the same time. He breaks up with a girlfriend, then later on she’ll move in with him.

The Tobolowsky Files

Actor Steven Tobolowsky is one of those guys who, when you see him in a movie, you’ll say, “Hey, it’s that guy!” because he’s been in something like a couple of hundred movies and similar number of TV shows, including Heroes, Glee, and Californication. Probably his best-known role was that of Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, but I really liked him as the Klan leader in Mississippi Burning. Tobolowsky tells “stories about life, love and the movie industry”, and if I have any complaints about this one, it’s that he tends to over-prepare and read his stories from written scripts. It’s a shame only because when he goes off-script, or when I hear him in interviews, he’s great at telling stories extemporaneously. Having said that, this series, which runs in “seasons” and takes occasional breaks, contains personal accounts which are funny and touching. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Tobolowsky manages to choke himself up a little, bringing back these memories. This series I’d recommend listening to in episode order, since there’s a bit of a running narrative thread going on. You know, sort of, how the story ends, and you still root for it to go in a different direction.

While I’ve linked to the shows’ websites, all of them can also be found via iTunes. Just type the show’s name into the search bar and they should come up without any problem.

What about you? Heard anything fascinating lately?

Goodbye, Luv

Ratso Rizzo: You know, in my own place, my name ain’t Ratso. I mean, it just so happens that in my own place my name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo.
Joe Buck: Well, I can’t say all that.
Ratso Rizzo: Rico, then.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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RonLundy And another star has made its way into the firmament.

Ron Lundy, one of the best disc jockeys anywhere, ever, has died at the age of 75.

Ron worked at a few midwest stations, including WIL in St. Louis, where he was known as “the Wil’ Child”.

In 1965 he moved to WABC in New York and stayed there until the station jumped to the talk radio format in 1982, a day that fans still refer to as “The Day the Music Died.” Ron is probably best known for being the midday guy, but he started on the overnight shift.

Every day he’d open up his show with a gigantic “HELLO, LUV! This-a Ron Lundy, in the Greatest City in the World!” It seemed that Ron could talk with most of the words capitalized. The aircheck here, which is telescoped down to under 12 minutes (i.e. the commercials and records are cut out), is a relatively laid-back sample of his work. It dates back to December 20, 1969. The voice on the promos, by the way, is that of Dan Ingram:

Ron Lundy’s voice was so recognizable (remember that, at night, WABC’s signal reached up to forty states), that he was chosen to “represent” New York City in the film Midnight Cowboy. As Jon Voight’s character reaches the city, we hear a radio and the DJ’s voice is none other than Ron Lundy.

This next piece is from June 27, 1970. It’s about four minutes long. It’s not the best quality (some “picket fencing” interference) but you still get a good feel for the way the station ran. Ron read a lot of the commercials live, occasionally stopping to holler, “ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? Well, pick yer head up when I’m talking to you.”

One more from the WABC days. This one is from September of 1980. It’s about seven minutes long and also has some “picket fencing” but it’s nonetheless fun to listen to.

 

wcbs logo In early 1984, Ron moved to WCBS-FM, New York’s oldies station. The word is that, when he was recruited, the program director essentially carved out a spot for him on the schedule, cutting back several other DJs’ schedules by an hour each. Still in the midday, Ron would get us through lunch and then hand us over to Bill Brown, whom he described every day as “a tall, blond man”.  Ron held the slot until September of 1997, at which point he retired.  He still came back for the occasional “reunion weekend” and did interviews on WCBS and WABC’s flashback Saturday evening show with Mark Simone.

bignote You can find a bunch of airchecks from Ron’s final hours on WCBS at www.musicradio77.com/lundy.html. (Incidentally, the airchecks above are all nicked from musicradio77.com).

Ron retired to the town of Bruce, Mississippi. In recent weeks, his wife said he had had a lung removed after cancer treatment and suffered several mini-strokes. He became dehydrated, went into cardiac arrest during rehydration, was resuscitated and put on a ventilator. Just a few days ago, he had a tracheotomy to remove the ventilator tube, a step toward taking him off the ventilator altogether. However, he had a heart attack this weekend and died yesterday.

I saw the headline and tuned in for awhile to WCBS-FM, listening to their Internet feed. Apparently the tributes—email and phone calls—are just pouring into the station. You can see some of them here. (For the record, from the time I started typing this to just now, the number of messages has gone from about thirty to nearly 150. There may be several hundred by the time you see it.) As an on-air tribute, WCBS will be re-airing Ron Lundy’s last hours on their station on Sunday night beginning at 11:00. And, of course, the DJs all have their own memories to share between now and then.

Rest in Peace, Ron. Your voice has been missed for many years, and now it’s silenced forever. Your memory, however, will continue for a long time with literally millions of people.

All Kinds of Wonderfulness

Note: This post is pinned till next weekend. Scroll down for new stuff. 

George Bailey: Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan! 

–It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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I gotta tellya, I was pretty worried this year.

After all the back and forth and the this and that and all the worrying about the future fate of the Senator Theater, I (and many others, I'm sure) was quite worried that they wouldn't be doing the annual food drive at the theater. 

Fortunately, they've managed to come through yet again. It was announced today that The Senator Theater will be holding its 19th Annual Food Drive this year, and the usual suspects will be there.

Here's the basic outline: Your admission to the theater is $6 worth of nonperishable food, or $6 in cash. Since it's such a good cause, we usually head to BJ's or Sam's Club and get multi-packs of something such as soup or whatever. So for the same six bucks, we're getting way more food than that money would buy at the supermarket. Everyone wins! Head on into the theater and settle in, because it's a Double Feature. 

Scrooge585_447007a  First up is the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (which is really titled Scrooge, but everyone gets a pass on it because, hey, it's Christmas). This is the one starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, and he's the guy who most people will agree is the definitive Scrooge. 

Of course, that's if you don't count Mister Magoo. He was pretty good too. No, I'm not kidding. 

I'm sure you know the story: a miserly old guy gets a shot at redemption when he's visited by ghosts one Christmas Eve. 

123107itsawonderlife  But wait! That's not all! It is, after all, a Double Feature. So after seeing Alastair Sim, stick around a bit and they'll be showing a vintage print of the 1946 Frank Capra classic, It's a Wonderful Life. You've seen it a million times on TV, but you get so much more of it on the big screen. I swear I find something new each year. 

This film, which has been imitated numerous times and ways, is still the archetype story of a businessman who, at the end of his wits, learns what the world would be like if he'd never been born. So in its own way, it's a bit of a haunting with a personal redemption at the end. 

But that's not even the best part. In years past, the screenings would be a one-day thing and that would be it. This year, it's practically a film festival. The schedules run like this:

Date

 A Christmas Carol

Cc01

 It's a Wonderful Life

IAWL run on the bank

Friday, 12/18 6:00 PM 8:00 PM
Saturday, 12/19 3:15 PM
8:00 PM
1:15 PM
6:00 PM
Sunday, 12/20 1:15 PM
6:00 PM
3:15 PM
8:00 PM
Christmas Day
Friday, 12/25
1:15 PM
6:00 PM
3:15 PM
8:00 PM

The prints, incidentally, are loaned to the theater by an anonymous film collector. There are also a couple of extra bonuses involved that I won't tell you about; you'll just have to go and see for yourself. 

See you there! 

Wild Things

Carol: Hey King! What's your first order of business?
Max: Let the wild rumpus start!

-Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

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See, once in awhile I do see a film in the same year it was originally released. I saw Star Trek this year, too, although I admit it was in a second-run theater

Where_the_wild_things_are 4  Wee One was supposed to cheer at a football game today, but with the rain, they decided to cancel the cheerleading part. I have no idea whether the game ran anyway, but I hope not. Wife suggested that we go see a movie, instead. She looked at what's playing and suggested that we see Where the Wild Things Are. The reviews were good, not great, but what the hell: we bought tickets online to see the 11:00 show at Towson Commons. Pre-noon discount plus free street parking = good deal! We still got ass-raped at the concession stand, but what are you gonna do. 

I was pretty surprised that the audience was so small at this particular showing, given that it's a new film and the weather and such, but no way I was complaining. 

Where_the_wild_things_are 2  If you remember the book (and who doesn't, if you're my age or younger), which incidentally is composed of precisely NINE sentences, Max is a kid who is a complete pain in the ass. When his mother banishes him to his room, the bedroom turns into a forest. He gets in a boat and visits the land of the Wild Things, has a party and returns home over two years after he left, to find his supper waiting for him, and still warm. 

Naturally, nine sentences don't make quite enough dialogue for a 94-minute film, so the story had to be padded out a bit. This, of course, didn't prevent Wee One from protesting a few times: "This wasn't in the book!" Max is given a little bit of backstory, but not too much. His mother has a new boyfriend and his older sister is…well, she's being an older sister. For me, there was a little bit of a disconnect between the opening scene and the rest of the first part of the film, but I'm big enough to move past that. At any rate, once he starts to misbehave, we've got a reason for it. Fortunately this is a relatively short piece of the story. 

We also don't get to see Max's encounter with the sea monster, but what are you gonna do. 

Where_the_wild_things_are 3  Max's adventures in the Land of the Wild Things was well-done, and the actors who provided the voices of the Wild Things did a great job. I was especially taken by Catherine O'Hara, who voiced Judith. James Gandolfini also did a fine job, although unfortunately you couldn't help but hear Tony Soprano from time to time. Each of the creatures takes on some aspect of human behavior, and you could say that collectively they add up to one person. These parts are all disconnected until Max comes along. However, this may be carrying the metaphor a little too far. 

Max's return home is done almost silently, so it's not clear whether he's been gone a long time or if it's only been a couple of hours. But it's heartwarming anyway so you don't really care. 

This is not really a kid's movie, though; I'm not positive who it's aimed at. But many of the smaller children who were there seemed to lose interest in spots, and Wee One was a little taken aback by a couple of the more emotionally intense scenes. So it may be for young people a little older than she (she's 10 now), and for the nostalgic. It's certainly a worthy diversion for a rainy afternoon. 

Giant Eel-Birds of Regulus V of a Feather, Flock Together

Beth: This is just like that episode of Star Trek when they entered a parallel universe where everything was the same except they were all on heroin.

Dave: There was no such episode.
Jimmy: Geek test! 

Newsradio, "Coda" (4/21/96)

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I've made no attempt to cover up the fact that I'm a bit of a Star Trek nerd. 

When I was in tenth grade (this would be around 1978), I went with a friend to a Star Trek convention. We didn't stay in the hotel, but instead took the Long Island Rail Road in to Manhattan each day of the convention, which I think was in the Pennsylvania Hotel (of "Pennsylvania 6-5000" fame), across the street from Madison Square Garden. This was one of the first conventions, so there wasn't a lot of dressing up, nor had William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy quite bought into the whole fandom phenomenon yet. But we did get to meet Grace Lee Whitney and James Doohan, and I also got to meet with Isaac Asimov, twice. I had the sad opportunity to share with him the recent death of a mutual friend. And we saw several episodes on the big screen, which was pretty cool. 

Anyway. I remained a fan of The Original Series, and enjoyed The Next Generation once they got their act up to speed, and Deep Space Nine, and to a lesser extent, Voyager and Enterprise. I've seen all the films, and I even took the time to watch TOS over the last few months to see the remastered episodes with the new special effects. Fun!

But I'm not really the kind of guy who wears his green-blood-pumping heart on his sleeve about it. I don't have a "Starfleet Academy" sticker in the back window of my car (in collegiate typeface); I don't have a cosplay outfit stashed in my closet somewhere; and unfortunately for me, that one trip thirty-plus years ago was my only convention. I'm a Trekker, not a Trekkie. (The difference? I met Grace Lee Whitney and James Doohan. A Trekkie would have met Yeoman Rand and Scotty.) 

But it was a pleasant surprise when I sent an email to several of my co-workers a day or two ago, and one of them, who coincidentally has a desk quite close to me, sent this reply: 

"Ka-CHU! (Not a sneeze but Klingon for “Impressive!”) Thanx"

I wrote back: 

"I may be a nerd but I'm not so nerdy that I speak Klingon."

I heard him laugh at his desk when he saw the reply and he turned to me, then showed me his coffee mug with a Trek Nation-type logo on it. He told me that he didn't dress up or go to conventions, but he is a fan, and we chatted for a couple of minutes about it. 

Then I said to him, "I think this is pretty bad, though: I got all jazzed because the first house I bought was numbered 1701." It took him a few seconds to get the importance of that number (you either get it or you don't), but he laughed again and said, "No. Really?" I told him it was practically the biggest selling point.

Losira

Awhile later he said, "I've got you beat." He picked up a photo on his desk of his family, and pointed to one of the children. He said, "This is my oldest daughter. Her middle name is Losira, from the episode "That Which Survives." 

He told me that he'd always liked the name, but his wife begged him not to make it her first name, so he compromised and made it her middle name. 

(Parenthetical tale: in 2003 a friend of mine took me to see the play Nunsense at the Lyric Theater. This particular tour starred Kaye Ballard, Georgia Engel, Mimi Hines, Darlene Love and Lee Meriwether. Naturally I thought it was all kinds of cool that I was going to see yet another Star Trek actress in the flesh. I didn't share this story with my co-worker, though.)

So not only does this young lady have a middle name that derives from an alien character on Star Trek, she has a middle name that derives from an alien character from the THIRD SEASON of Star Trek. 

He wins.

Mother’s Day, or Why I Haven’t Seen Star Trek Yet

Daisy: I bet she's cheap and common! Have you noticed how they all go for cheap and common?
Rose: Don't knock it! I've had some of my best moments being cheap and common.

Keeping Up Appearances, "A Celebrity for the Barbeque" (9/19/93)

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Once a month, GF likes to spend several hours scrapbooking. It's a pleasant enough diversion that keeps her off the streets, I guess. This leaves me with Wee One for the evening, so we usually go out for dinner and find something to amuse ourselves.

Captain-kirk Denny crane This time around, Scrapbooking Night was this past Friday, so Wee One and I figured we could go see Star Trek. Since they've been airing the remastered episodes, I've been re-watching specifically to catch the new CGI shots. And since the show airs very late at night, I record the shows to the DVR and watch them at some point during the week. Wee One often joins me to see these shows, because she thinks Captain Kirk is all kinds of hot. (Naturally, I shattered this when a promo for Boston Legal came on and I pointed out that "That's Captain Kirk!")

So we had Friday afternoon/evening planned out: I'd get her from school, we'd go to the store, pick out a Mother's Day present, then get a bite to eat and then hit the theater. That was the original plan.

So our first stop was JC Penney, because I usually have fabulous luck buying jewelry there. And, as it happened, once I got Wee One past the really gaudy stuff that she seems to gravitate toward, we found a couple of pieces that were A) nice and B) reasonably priced. We asked the saleslady to see them and it turned out that one of them was sold out. But the other was there. It was an earring set–three pairs of gold on silver or silver on gold–hell if I remember. But they were not only on sale, they were about 70% off. See? I always get lucky at JC Penney. Here's another tip: if you're getting the nice jewelry there, get the lifetime care package. If something goes wrong you'll be glad you did.

Wee One thought that Friendly's would be a good place to get dinner. I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but it's right outside Penney's so what the hell. During dinner, however, Wee One got an idea and asked to bail out on the movie. She wanted to put together a Spa Day for her mother. And, since she would be with her father on Mother's Day morning (because he'd missed a couple of weeks due to the cheer meets), she needed to get it together that night so that Spa Day would be on Saturday morning. I acquiesced and we headed back to the house.

Her Spa Day involved a few different stations, including hair brushing and a foot massage, using one of those foot spa jobbies that I got GF a Christmas or two ago. And, she decided, she was going to put the earrings inside a plastic bucket and fill it with flower petals. Her first choice was the dogwood petals that were all over the yard, but they were kind of damp and getting icky, so she settled on pulling flowers off the azalea bush. (I have no problem with this–I hate that goddamn bush.)

Now, since all this was going to happen on Saturday, I had to miss the big reveal because I was at the Renaissance Hotel having my intelligence insulted. But at the end of the day, I mentioned to GF that I got the care package and she said "On those?"

Aha, says I. Because I wasn't there for the unwrapping, and because Wee One had picked them out, GF thought I punked out on her with cheap jewelry. "Yes, on those. Those weren't cheap dollar-store earrings, you know. Those were nice earrings!" I pulled out the receipt from my wallet and found the original price on it. "This is how much they would have cost if they hadn't been on sale."

Her response, and I quote: "Holy shit."

So that's my not-seeing Star Trek saga. With any luck I'll catch it this weekend.

Still Wonderful

Clarence: [inscription in Tom Sawyer] Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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For the 18th time, the Senator Theatre is sponsoring their annual food drive. This year the drive will benefit the Gedco CARES food pantry, which has been very low on supplies for the last several weeks.

For those of you who have been living in the cave, each year the Senator runs the food drive like this: You bring in six dollars' worth of nonperishable food (you also have the option of paying $6 cash, which I presume also goes to the pantry), and for your efforts you get to see a couple of classic holiday films. Here's how I cheat on the deal and everybody wins: I go to BJ's or Sam's Club, and I'll buy one of those big-ass multipacks of food, which costs between $6-8 but would be worth more at the retail level if I bought individually. Bring that in, it's all one neat package that they don't have to box up and the food bank gets extra food for the same amount of effort. And that's times three, because GF and Wee One bring stuff, too.

What films are showing? I'm glad you asked.

Dancing_near_the_crack First up is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, which shows at 11:00, 3:45 and 8:30. Here's an interesting bit of trivia: Wee One has NEVER seen this film on the television because we've taken her to the Senator every time. She's too young to remember when it was in that weird copyright lapse period and was ubiquitous on television during the holiday season, and we just never broke out the DVD when she was around. So this nine year old's only experience of this film has been on the big screen.

There are several details that you don't get watching the movie on TV. One is some very quiet dialogue between George's father and Mr. Potter, shortly after Mr. Bailey ushers George out of the office and closes the door. Another is a weird technical error committed because Donna Reed doesn't throw like a girl. The rock she throws at the window (and it's well-documented that she does indeed throw it) disappears from the frame for a second or two because the roof of the house is a matte painting. Her throw arced beyond the edge of the matte and then dropped back into sight. So even through the arc of the throw never leaves the frame, the rock vanishes and then reappears. Watch carefully and you'll see what I mean.

Plot hole in this film: at the end of the movie, isn't Violet just giving George his own money back?

1951-xmas-present If you've got the time, you're welcome to stay for the 1951 version of Scrooge (aka A Christmas Carol), which is probably one of the better versions out there. This is the one starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge and Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit. Look for Patrick Macnee (from The Avengers) as a young Jacob Marley. This was not his film debut, but it doesn't miss by much.

I don't have a lot of good trivia about this film other than that in New York, we could watch this film on continuous run from Christmas Eve through Christmas morning, on Channel 9, which at the time was WOR-TV. Oh, wait, here's one: during the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come scenes, watch carefully when Scrooge and the Spirit peek through Bob Cratchit's window. You'll be able to see the face of the actor playing the Spirit. This is MUCH easier to pick up on the big screen.

Scrooge is running at 1:45 and 6:30 PM.

According to Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, the films are tentatively scheduled to run on December 7th. He's noted previously that the scheduling is subject to regulation by the distributor of whatever film is currently running at the theater, so I guess there are still a few kinks to be worked out. Watch the Senator's website for details.