Category Archives: TV & Movies

Scrooge is a Classic Movie

Most consumer movie reviews focus on the big blockbusters of the day, but there is not enough time spent on reviewing the classic movies from days gone by. There are certainly not enough movie reviews on the classic holiday movies that many generations have grown up with. One of the universally recognized classic holiday films of all time is the 1951 adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, simply titled Scrooge. Many people make the mistake of applying the title A Christmas Carol to this black and white cinema classic, but the proper title is Scrooge and it stands as a fine movie any time of the year.

What makes this version of the classic Christmas story stand out is the performance of the lead actor, Alastair Sim. Sim’s seamless transition from miserable old man in the beginning of the movie to a joyous saved soul makes the story very believable and easy to watch. Under the direction of Brian Desmond Hurst, Sim and the rest of the cast pull off their performances with precision and allow the screenplay to move forward without effort.

The scene with Marley’s ghost is often pointed to as one of the more entertaining scenes in all of British cinema, and Sim’s restrained yet energetic performance to close out the movie is a pleasure to watch. Scrooge tells the story without trying to add too much and it stays faithful to Dickens’ original transcript on many ways. Scrooge is a very entertaining movie that can be enjoyed any time of year and by any group of people.

You can purchase your copy of Scrooge at:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com

http://www.amazon.com

http://www.alibris.com/

Cannibals in Movies

has been in the movies since very early on in the industry. Most of this was done in humour, such as the native pinching and going yummy or the joke about having explorers for dinner. Africa Screams, made in 1949, also known as Abbott and Costello in Africa is a good example of this type of movie. In this movie the explorer team arrives at a Ubangi tribal village, where the chief offers several diamonds in exchange for Stanley, who can feed many of his people. Cannibals were very easy to use bad guys with the added shock value that they were not just going to kill, but eat their victims. Put a sexy girl in a jungle out fit or a half on half off explorer outfit and have her become captured by cannibals and then rescued by the hero, like the 1924 movie The Navigator, staring Buster Keaton. You have the sex, the love relationship, and the bad guys with a shocking threat, not to just die but to be eaten.

Then the industry moved from talking about it to actual cannibalism but using zombies to show it in the 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead. It was dead people eating live people, an odd twist on the theme. Then you get movies like Eating Raou, 1982 The Silence of the Lambs, 1991 were some of the characters were cannibals although they did not really show it. So we have established the shock value of cannibalism. How can you make it more shocking, well you can have characters forced into cannibalism, Alive mad in 1993. Or you can use the fact that your character is a cannibal to show as much slashing, cutting, gut spilling, blood spraying scenes as you can get past the censors. Shocking people with all the guts and gore you can fit into a single movie. The whole point of the movie is the violence and buckets of blood and guts, need a plot, find some cannibals and then send them out for victims, as in the 1974 movie The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This movie started a series of films and a cult following. As well as being credited as the start of a new style of slasher flic.

What makes cannibalism so interesting is that it is not a made up bad guy, eating people for the most shock value, but is based on the reality of cannibalism. We know from archaeology digs that cannibalism is real. There have been many human bones found with gnaw marks from human teeth. In some cultures it was believed that you honoured your enemy or you took their strength and power by eating their flesh. Think about what a communion wafer represents, eating the body or flesh of Christ. People will eat any thing to survive, even each other. Look at the 1972 airplane crash in the Andes, survivors ate the dead passengers, this true story was made into the 1993 movie Alive. There are also stories that in times of famine people would turn to cannibalism to survive. There are tails in the Middle Ages; the Hansel and Gretel story is the sanitized version of people killing and eating children. Even as late as world war two there are rumours of cannibalism. One rumour was that the Nazis fed the prisoners other prisoners, usually in soup. Then that people who went missing in the starving towns in occupied areas because some people turned to cannibalism to survive. Then we have the modern cases where people kill and eat parts of their victims. Such as Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer. The cannibal is not a made up bad guy, but a part of human history.

Cannibal movies are so popular there is a web site called the Encyclopaedia of Cannibal Movies where people list all the cannibal movies that have been made and what they are about. As of October 2007 they had 377 movies listed.

Happy Birthday, Melvin!

Who am I?," I once asked in my diary. "My father maybe, or one of those French film snobs I've been reading for years? What is suddenly responsible for my revisionist appreciation of Jerry Lewis? Granted, the films aren't great, marred by bouts of off-key song and over the top sentimentality. But there are some wonderful gags in them, moments of memorable surrealism that no doubt influenced The New Wave, and irrefutable evidence that Lewis is the finest physical comic of the post war era. None of his current imitators – Carrey, Sandler, Ferrell – can hold a candle to him."

And this month, as he turns an undeterred eighty, latent praise again wells up from me: I don't think anyone has ever written about his unique art direction, that bright, distinctly American collegiate look, like an Archie comic come to life, nor of his often clever editing, a process he particularly took pride in.

If Lewis never amassed laurels, it isn't because of that popular theory: that his Melvins, Stanleys and Harveys embody the schizophrenic nature of America, squeaky and Puritan on the outside, devious as a misbehaving nine year old on the in, and that domestic audiences smart enough to recognize that hold him in disdain for the assualt on their character.

It's simply due to a lack of people accepting him for whom, as a talent, he is. Lewis is a gagman through and through, not, as was too often the expectation, a storyteller – and as such, he had the misfortune of making films in an age where the only cinematic vehicle left the comic was the feature. Had he come along at an earlier time, the golden era of Chaplin, Keaton, Langdon and Lloyd, he would be as revered on home soil today as he is in the land of Bardot and brie. The French still honor the episodic – what are films like Ameliebut a collection of little bits? – while America stands firm in its belief that it's the situation, regardless of how inconducive to gags, that's the sell.

What gift, then, to bestow upon you, Jerry? How 'bout a time machine? You can travel to the past, help yourself to your ideal vehicle, and secure your rightful due? Sorry, pussycat. You'll have to ask the Nutty Professor to build you one of those. All I can give you is that small, personal appraisement I once penned. It isn't much, but hey, it's in English.

Top 5 Movies of 2010

Despite the occasional lack of originality in movies, I feel like recent years have led to an even bigger gap between the complete crap and the true inspiration. More and more terrible movies come out, but they are sometimes juxtaposed with great ones, and 2010 was a year that showed inspiration was not dying in the movie industry. Here are my 5 favorite movies of the year.

  1. Waiting for Superman

This gripping documentary about the state of the education system in America was eye-opening and desperately sad at the same time. It followed a few different students through their experience with the system, and though it was easy to pray that it would all turn out okay for them, this is no fictional story, and the devastating truth that America’s students are being neglected comes to light. There were a lot of amazing facts here, and it was all presented in an interesting and easy to follow way. This was the best documentary I’ve seen in a while, and it’s one that I really hope makes a difference in the education system here.

  1. Never Let Me Go

This is a strange sci-fi movie (though it’s sci-fi only in concept, rather than visually) that follows the romance of people who learn they were born and raised to be organ donors and nothing more. It’s full of devastating sadness, but has some of the most heartfelt and raw emotion I’ve seen in a while. It takes a lot for a movie to get to me, but the end definitely had me crying. Though it’s a difficult to watch film, it’s one of the most incredibly personal and moving stories I’ve seen in a long time, and exactly the kind of romance story that deserved a lot more attention than it got. Pay close attention to this film, because it should not be overlooked.

  1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

Nobody went to see this movie, and I have no idea why, because it was simply awesome. Everything about it screamed awesome. And though I hate to put such a goofy, campy movie above serious and important films like Waiting for Superman or Never Let Me Go, everything Scott Pilgrim did was something done with nearly perfect style, humor, and self-awareness. This was the perfect action movie, the perfect comedy, the perfect teen movie, the perfect comic book movie, almost everything you’d want it to be. Is it shallow in the end? I suppose, but it wasn’t meant to be anything more than an awesomely entertaining thrill ride. I can’t think of a single thing that was wrong with this film, and everything it accomplished was leaps and bounds better done than any comedy or throwaway action film I’ve seen in a while.

  1. Black Swan

I love this movie. Darren Aronofsky has shown he is a strange filmmaker, and though Requiem for a Dream was one of my favorite movies, Pi didn’t exactly agree with me. Given that, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Black Swan that much. But Black Swan was more than just a visual treat – it was everything a psychological thriller should be – confusing, dark, scary, intense, immersive, gorgeous, well acted, well shot, everything. And it had an ending that could only be described as perfect. This is not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the best of the last few years, and should not be overshadowed, if only by a single film, which is…

  1. Inception

A lot of people will think this is a typical choice, an unoriginal one, even an immature one. And to them, I say just because a movie is mainstream doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic. I feel as though there was a group of people that was destined to hate Inception because it was a deep, thought-provoking, amazingly constructed film that happened to appeal to a mainstream audience. It had incredible CGI, but also an incredible and original plot. One critic even went so far as to say that the movie wasn’t as complex as people thought it was, and that bothered him. However, the movie is, in fact, very complex, but easy to follow. And shouldn’t it be the goal of a complex story to convey itself in a way that people understand it? Inception is one of the most amazingly original stories to come out in a while and featured amazing action, amazing acting, amazing plotting, amazing pacing, and so many jaw-dropping moments I could barely keep myself in my seat. This is one of the most perfect films ever released in my opinion, and certainly the best of the past few years. This movie won’t win best picture just because it’s so CGI heavy and unrealistic, and honestly, I feel like the Academy is biased towards everything that Inception is not. But I think it’s one of the most fantastic things to be released into theaters in a long time, and like it or not, that’s how I feel.

If you missed any one of these movies this year, do yourself a favor and go see them, because they are definitely worth your time and money!

Top 5 Movies of 2010

Top 5 Movies of 2010

Classic Movies in Today's Theaters? Yes, Please!

Classic Movies in Today’s Theaters? Yes, Please!

This year, Turner Classic Movies, a unit of Time Warner (which encompasses Warner Brothers Pictures), presented a one-day-only limited US showing and subsequent encore of the iconic 1942 Warner Brothers motion picture that further pushed names such as Bogart, Bergman, Rains and Lorre to movie icon status: CASABLANCA.

Twice I found out about this on the official Humphrey Bogart Estate Facebook page, and twice I bought my tickets and went. I never thought I’d experience something like this in my lifetime. Compared to my past experiences going to the movies, I have to say it was a real-life peek into the past and a crash course in movie viewing etiquette minus the fancy clothes. The theater was packed both times I went. Ages ranged from 6 to 96. The younger people really enjoyed the experience, and those young at heart, enjoyed it even more. People were quiet and respectful during the picture, although you could hear enthusiasts quietly murmur the dialogue word for word, line by line. There was absolutely no talking except when laughter or anger was appropriate, no cell phones and electronics went off, and if someone did make a peep, you heard hushed threats including, “Quiet,” “Shut up,” and the like.

It was fantastic. Studios need to take notice of something.

People are sick and tired of the remakes, reboots, or whatever the buzzword of the day is. Many films released today should never have been made. Pick one.

If studios want to make some EASY money, go in the vault, pull the original reels/masters/tapes/files, remaster them, and show them! No production costs, no ‘actor’ salaries that look like a phone number with an area code, and best part of all, digital distribution costs them nothing.

This could even be done with classic TV shows……by the way, the Met does this now since many PBS stations don’t want to……with raving success.

So, when’s the next classic coming to my local theater? Warner Brothers? Columbia? RKO? Sony? 20th Century Fox? Universal? Are you listening?

Classic Movies in Today's Theaters? Yes, Please!

Classic Movies in Today’s Theaters? Yes, Please!

Ottawa Folk Festival: Kris Kristofferson connects with crowd in cold

Ottawa Folk Festival: Kris Kristofferson connects with crowd in cold

Though it wasn’t listed in the program, a November chill showed up last night at the 14th annual Ottawa Folk Festival, along with Oh Susanna, The Foggy Hogtown Boys and highly anticipated headliner Kris Kristofferson.

Oh Susanna

“I’m much too aggressive for the West Coast,” confessed this ex-Vancouverite, who went on to prove it with a country-folk set both frank and feisty. This is a persona at once plain and edgy, with songs both painterly and bittersweet, about the imbalance of broken bonds and the struggle to make things whole. Each, even at their most placid, has country-rock leanings; what you’re left with is Sylvia Tyson fronting for The Eagles. She shone brightly through a couple of boot-stompers, then surprised with a trad-style finale, accompanied by Toronto’s Foggy Hogtown Boys (see below.) It’s twang with tang, like home-cooked chicken with kick.

The Foggy Hogtown Boys

They look like crew-cutted collegians of an old Norman Luboff Choir LP but their souls are pure shaggy-haired hillbilly. These nouveau hicks bring a clean, new luster to some well-worn bluegrass, with tight, playful harmonies, sweeter than Virginia tobacco fiddle work, and animated five string banjo. They’re good for a couple of ol’ fashioned breakneck breakdowns here and there, too. A fine, fun ensemble, bringing the bluegrass dead back to life with crowd-pleasing reverence and cheek.

Kris Kristofferson

The festival’s flagship act, Kris Kristofferson, rode onto the main stage like the last of the desperado-philosophers. There’s a line in his In The News, which he sung in a voice that’s grown even more brittle with age, that chronicles how “a little piece of truth and beauty dies.” That’s how it feels as Kristofferson, one of the last of the anti-establishment elder statesmen, offers up his humane, intelligent insights just a few more precious time before age (already hot on his heels – he reaches for the wrong harmonicas and lapses on lyrics) catches up to him. The well-received Kristofferson had the audience hanging on his every visible breath; at times, like during the tragic tale of Darby’s Castle, it was so quiet you could hear the crowd’s teeth chattering. Watching the man’s hold over his faithful is akin to watching Jesus pull out a guitar and harmonica instead of bread and wine at the Last Supper, and offer up his life-sustaining insights through a parable about Bobby McGee. Most of his greatest hits came out, each of them unprompted sing-a-longs, as did back catalogue gems like the Native lament Johny Lobo and a fun but sophomoric parody of Big John.

Ottawa Folk Festival: Kris Kristofferson connects with crowd in cold

Ottawa Folk Festival: Kris Kristofferson connects with crowd in cold

Charles Boyer Was Among Greatest Screen Lovers: Off-Screen, Star of Gaslight, Algiers, Love Affair Was One-Woman Man

Boyer was best known for a series of romantic roles in the 1930s and 40s — films that proved you didn't have to be classically handsome to be a Hollywood leading man.

Charles Boyer's Appearance Needed a Lot of Hollywood Help

Filmmakers worked hard to shore up Boyer's physical limitations. Just 5-foot-9, the star wore lifts to bring him close to six feet. Studio dressers labored to disguise a distinct paunch. And Boyer, who lost his hair in his 20s, wore a toupee — but only on screen; he refused to wear it in public.

The studio-honed image of the Great Lover was aided by Boyer's magnificently deep, resonant French-accented voice. With impeccable manners written into most of his roles, Boyer was the personification of European sophistication, charm and culture.

Boyer Studied Philosophy in College

Charles Boyer was a shy country boy from the south of France. As a hospital orderly during World War I, he reportedly staged comic sketches to cheer up wounded soldiers.

To appease his mother, the bookish Boyer majored in philosophy at the Sorbonne. He later studied acting at the Paris Conservatory before pursuing a stage career in the early 1920s. The young actor made a number of French films during those years, before MGM signed him to a contract at decade's end.

Boyer's American film career didn't gain traction until 1932. That year, playing a chauffeur in the Jean Harlow vehicle Red-Headed Woman got him noticed, thanks in part to his voice, which played well in the new sound era.

After the success of a couple more European films — director Fritz Lang's Liliom in 1934 and Mayerling two years later — Boyer became the object of Hollywood desires.

Boyer's Classic Romances Co-Starred Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich, Others

His image as a Continental lover was cemented in such glossy American productions as Algiers ( a remake of the French hit, Pepe Le Moko), History is Made at Night, The Garden of Allah and Love Affair, opposite Hedy Lamarr, Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and Irene Dunne, respectively.

Other leading ladies included Bette Davis, Margaret Sullavan and Olivia De Havilland.

Offscreen, the former philosophy student was a bookworm who enjoyed Los Angeles but shunned the Hollywood night life. A romantic in real life, Boyer was decidedly a one-woman man. He met British actress Pat Paterson at a party in 1934. Within two weeks, they were engaged and they wed three months later. By all accounts, theirs was a devoted, lifelong union.

An international star of both American and European films, Boyer became a naturalized American citizen in 1942.

Honorary Oscar in 1943

The following year, he received an honorary Oscar for "progressive cultural achievement" for helping establish the French Research Foundation in Los Angeles.

But Boyer never won a competitive Oscar, despite four nominations — for Conquest (1937), Algiers (1938), Gaslight (1944) and Fanny (1961).

Instead, Algiers brought him a kind of unwanted immortality. As Pepe Le Moko, the thief who steals Hedy Lamarr's heart, Boyer never actually says, "Come with me to the Casbah." But thanks to generations of impressionists, he was (mis)identified with the line in the same way Cary Grant was unfairly tattoed with "Judy, Judy, Judy," which he never said in a movie, either.

Charles Boyer Inspired Iconic Cartoon Character Pepe Le Pew

Probably Boyer's best-known role was in Gaslight, in which he was cast against type as a scheming husband trying to drive insane his new wife, played by Ingrid Bergman.

In 1945 came a different kind of immortality. Legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones modeled his passionate cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew after the French star. The name was an obvious play on Pepe Le Moko, and completing the homage was voice specialist Mel Blanc, whose imitation of Boyer was spot on.

After the war, Boyer's international career continued with film work in Europe (including The Earrings of Madame De…) and stage roles in London and New York. He won a 1951 Special Tony Award for Don Juan in Hell, directed by and co-starring Charles Laughton.

Boyer Partnered With Other Stars in Television Production Company

Boyer also became a powerful television presence in the United States. He partnered with movie greats David Niven, Dick Powell and Ida Lupino in Four Star Productions, appearing in the company's Four Star Theatre series in the early 50s. A decade later, he appeared regularly on Four Star's short-lived anthology series The Rogues.

On film, the aging actor moved into character parts in the 1950s and 60s, with diverse supporting roles in Around the World in 80 Days, Barefoot in the Park, Is Paris Burning?, Casino Royale, a remake of the Frank Capra classic Lost Horizon and The Madwoman of Chaillot.

Suicide Plagues Boyer Family

Boyer endured the loss of his only child, son Michael Charles Boyer, in 1965. Michael Boyer shot himself to death at 21 playing Russian Roulette, reportedly after his girlfriend broke up with him.

In August, 1978, Boyer was retired and living in Paradise Valley, Arizona when his wife of 44 years, Pat, died of cancer. Two days later, a deeply grieving Charles Boyer decided he could not live without her and took an overdose of the powerful barbiturate Seconal. He was two days shy of his 79th birthday.

Charles Boyer is buried beside his wife and son, and near many entertainment luminaries, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, not far from the studios where he made many of his films.