Saturday, November 28, 2015

Announcing The Oscars® Snubs Blogathon

Well kiddies, I'm having fun in these blogathons, so I decided to get my feet wet and do a blogathon of my own.  Well not entirely on my own.  The ladies at Silver Scenes  have graciously stepped in to co-host and help me do some of the more complicated aspects of the event.

Announcing The Oscars® Snubs Blogathon!  (Feb 26-28, 2016)

It happens every year.  Until recently 5 nominees vied for such varied categories as Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director, among others.  We as fans are not part of the process of choosing, and sometimes we think our choice was better.  This is a chance to make your case heard.

Think Double Indemnity should have beaten out Going My Way for Best Picture in 1944?  Was Rex Harrison really the Best Actor of the bunch in 1964, or were either Richard Burton or Peter O'Toole more deserving?  And, really, seriously?  Was  Marisa Tomei  really the Best Supporting Actress of 1992?

The rules are simple here.  You can pick any category.  You can pick any year.  The only stipulation is the picture (or person) must have been one of the other nominees in that category for that year, but didn't win.  Otherwise I'd be getting some quack choices like " Plan 9 from Outer Space should have won Best Picture of 1959..."

I'd like to have variety so only one person can do a specific movie or an actor in a movie, but I will stretch a point.  If someone wants to pick, say, The Hustler as Best Picture of 1961, someone else could still pick Paul Newman as Best Actor  in The Hustler , and make an entirely different case.

Let's have some fun with it.  The blogathon will be scheduled to go live on Oscars® weekend 2016.  (Feb. 26-28)  You can pick any of those three days.  Post your choice in the comments below and let's get the ball rolling!  Then grab one of the banners below to post to your blog.  (Banners courtesy of the ladies at Silver Scenes . Thanks, ladies)


Disclaimer:  Oscars® is a copyrighted name.  This blogathon has not been approved by the Oscars® committee.  No such authorization should be construed.

Blog List:

A Person in the Dark  Robert Preston as Best Actor in Victor/Victoria (1982)
A Shroud of Thoughts  A Hard Day's Night as Best Song? (1964)
Angelman's Place Rosalind Russell as Best Actress in Auntie Mame (1958)
CineMaven's Essays from the Couch  Gloria Swanson as Best Actress in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Crítica Retrô Peter Sellers snubs
Defiant Success  Sidney Lumet snubs
Girls Do Film  Judy Garland as Best Actress in A Star is Born (1954)
Little Bits of Chaplin Charlie Chaplin snubs
The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog Barbara Stanwyck snubs
In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood  Alfred Hitchcock as Best Director for Rebecca (1940)
In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood  Katherine Hepburn as Best Actress in The African Queen (1951)
Le Mot du Cinephiliaque Fargo as Best Picture (1996)
The Love Pirate Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as Best Picture (2003)
Margaret Perry Katherine Hepburn snubs
Mildred's Fatburgers Agnes Moorehead as Best Supporting Actress in The Magnificent Ambersons (1943)
MovieFanFare Thelma Ritter snubs
MovieMovieBlogBlog Gordon Hollingshead for Best Live Action Short Film-One Reel So You Think You're Not Guilty (1949)
Movie Night Group's Guide to Classic Film  Charles Laughton as Best Actor in Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies  William Powell snubs
shadowsandsatin  Double Indemnity as Best Picture (1944) 
Silver Scenes How the West Was Won  for Best Cinematography, Color (1963)
Silver Scenes Debbie Reynolds as Best Actress in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
Silver Screenings  It's A Wonderful Life (1946)  All categories
Sometimes They Go to Eleven Mildred Pierce as Best Picture (1945) 
Wide Screen World Magnolia as Best Original Screenplay (1999)
Wonderful World of Cinema  The Elephant Man as Best Picture (1980)
The Midnite Drive-In  Peter O'Toole as Best Actor in The Stunt Man (1980)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Top of the World

James Cagney was the Hollywood everyman, he played both dramatic and comedic roles, he was an excellent dancer, and could even sing.  Although he is most remembered for his gangster and tough guy roles, his highest acclaim came playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy for which he was awarded an Oscar.

I first saw Cagney on Saturday afternoon movies, when the local TV station would run old movies.  It was where I saw the old Universal monsters, and where I watched guys like Humphey Bogart, George Raft and Cagney burn up the screen with tough guy roles like Sam Spade, "Hood" Stacey, and Tom Powers.

Cagney was always great because he had that grin that was at times either enchanting and disarming, or volatile and malevolent.  Which is why he could play both George M. Cohan and Cody Jarrett equally believably.

The Public Enemy (1931)

This movie is a chronological look at the rise and ultimate fall of a gangster from a kid to an adult in the Prohibition era.  Tom Powers and Matt Doyle (played here by younger counterparts) present a fence/hood by the name of Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) with some stolen watches.  You get an idea of how weaselly Putty Nose is early on when he tries to bilk and short change the pair on their ill-gotten gains, but promises to look out for them when something big comes up.

A few years later, the pair are invited to participate in a robbery of a fur storehouse (now being played by Cagney and Edward Woods).   Putty Nose presents them with guns for use in the heist.  But things go wrong, and a policeman shows up.  The policeman is killed, and the two have now graduated to harder criminal activity.  But Putty Nose's promise to help them out turns to dust, when he has taken it on the lam and leaves them high and dry.

Meanwhile Tom has problems on the home front.  He's got a big brother Mike (Donald Cook), who is sure his little brother is involved in the crime world and begs him to turn over a new leaf.  He's got a mother (Beryl Mercer) who is blissfully unaware he is a in the crime syndicate.

 And he's got a girlfriend (Mae Clarke) who is just a bit on the sassy side.  The girlfriend is on the receiving side of one of the most infamous images from the early days of movies, the grapefruit to the face.

 Tom and Matt eventually team up with a bootlegger friend, Paddy Ryan  (Robert Emmett O'Connor) and become enforcers for his mob.  Ryan allies with "Nails" Nathan (Leslie Fenton) who is a bigger boss in the mob.

 He starts bringing in big money, which he tries to give to Mom, but big brother confronts him and rejects his blood money. Familial matters don't improve much after that, although Mom still thinks her son is a saint.

At this point there is what was probably not meant as funny, but a scene which elicited snickers from me, nonetheless.  The boys' boss, "Nails" Nathan is killed.  He was thrown from a horse.  The boys go to the stable and (off screen) execute the horse.

Needless to say all this underworld hijinks  puts Tom in bad straits.  The ultimate ending is just how Hollywood would have been forced to end it, by pressure from the censors.  But this being a so-called pre-Code picture, you still get a feel of a genuinely moral-less man trying to make a name and big money.

An interesting side-note.  Cagney and Woods were originally cast as the opposite roles, with Woods to be Tom Powers and Cagney to be Matt Doyle.  But the producers and director saw Cagney in a previous film called The Millionaire.  Cagney was just a supporting character in it, but he stole the show.  The powers in charge knew they had something and switched the parts.

Cagney became typecast as tough guy/gangster for a while because of this movie.  But it was after a string of non-gangster roles that he gave what was his bravura performance in...

White Heat (1949)

Cagney played Cody Jarrett with maniacal glee.   Jarrett makes Tom Powers look like a pantywaist, in my opinion.  He takes a kind of euphoric ecstasy out of killing and hurting people.  And behind every man is a "good" woman, in this case "Ma" Jarrett.  Cody suffers intermittently from headaches, probably brought on and encouraged by Ma as a way of controlling him.

The movie starts with a train robbery.  Cody and his men get away with a large bundle of cash, after killing several people on the train,  but one of Cody's men gets his face burned by steam from the locomotive.  Later while hiding out, we meet Ma, the driving force behind Jarrett, and a polar opposite of the Mom in The Public Enemy.  This Ma (played by Margaret Wycherly) is as equally evil as her son.  When the gang are escaping, Ma suggests to Cody that they kill Zuckie, the injured man, rather than leave him and send help.

While hiding out in a motel, a policeman figures out that they are there, but is gunned down by Cody.  Because he is a prime suspect in the train robbery, he and Ma hatch a plan where he will confess to a robbery in another state (where no one was killed, so the sentence will be light).  In the meantime, the officer in charge of the investigation of the train robbery is convinced that Cody and his gang were at the heist and doesn't believe a word of the "confession"  But he allows the conviction to go through so he can put a man under cover in the prison to find out the truth.

Hank (Edmond O'Brien) goes under cover as Vic Pardo and is jailed in the same cell as Cody, where he works hard to get on Cody's good side, even managing to save him from being killed by falling metal bin.  An event engineered by Cody's second man in his gang who wants not only Cody's job, but his girl (played by Virginia Mayo).  Ma visits him in prison and tells him about the whole affair and says she'll take care of it.

Hank plans an escape from prison in an effort to get on Cody's good side, but fate throws a monkey wrench in the works when Cody finds out Ma has died, and goes berserk.  He is put in the infirmary and plans are made to move him to a mental institution.  Hank engineers a different escape.  After exacting revenge on his former second man, Cody plans a new heist at a chemical plant. The plan goes awry when the police get wind of it and surround the plant.  But Cody ends up "Top of the world" just like his Ma had promised, and Cody goes out in a blaze of glory.

Cagney was Academy Award material for this role.  I'm sure his being left out had something to do with the prevailing censorship and sentiment of the time.  It wouldn't have done to give an Oscar for a character who had no redeeming social values and was a psychopathic character like Cody Jarrett.  20 years later, maybe, but in 1949 the Production Code still held sway.  The same goes for the conspicuous lake of a nod to Wycherly for Supporting Actress.  In fact, the only nom garnered by the movie was Virginia Kellogg for Best Story (which she lost to Douglas Morrow for The Stratton Story)

That's it for this show, kiddies.  Be sure to buckle up and drive safe.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Future is Bleak

 In the 70's, the "scare" du jour was the overpopulation of the Earth.  Much like the "global warming" scare of today, many scientists jumped on the band wagon and shouted how the planet could not hold together if the current population trend was not curbed.  This led to Hollywood, never one to shy away from controversy (at least not since the post-Code days), to jump in the fray with multiple entries to cash in on the fears of the public.

There were two of these dystopias that managed to garner big budgets and make a huge impact on science-fiction buffs for years to come, Logan's Run & Soylent Green.  Both managed to express different views of the outcome of this overpopulation trend and make some profoundly memorable impact on the public as well.

Logan's Run (1976)

Logan's Run takes place in what is essentially a liberal's wet dream.  Society is "benevolently" governed by an unseen force, and, apparently, no one ever has to work.  Food, mostly fruit and nuts, but still food, is readily available, and all one has to do is wander around doing whatever one wants to do.

The only drawback is everyone must go through a ritual called "Carousel" at age 30.  You see, at birth everyone has a crystal embedded in the palm of their hand which changes colors at various points in their lives.  The crystal goes black on "Last Day" and all those people who have black crystals must go through the ritual, which essentially annihilates them, albeit with the promise of "renewal".

The liberal wet dream continues with the fact that there is no crime except for the crime of trying to avoid having to experience Carousel.  These criminals are called "Runners", and a police force exists called "Sandmen" whose sole job is to terminate the Runners.  Logan (Michael York)  is one of these Sandmen.  During one chase of a Runner Logan finds an unusual object, an ankh.  This leads to his being questioned by the authorities.  (Surprise!  The "authorities" in charge is actually a computer!  Another fear du jour, but one that really wouldn't come into full fruition until the '80s)

Logan is charged with discovering the secret "Sanctuary" to where Runners who have managed to elude the Sandmen have escaped.  In order to convince the underworld that he is a legitimate Runner, Logan's life crystal is changed to black.  He is then accompanied by a girl, Jessica (Jenny Agutter), on this trip.  His best friend, fellow Sandman Francis (Richard Jordan), now becomes his nemesis.  The "Run" of the title now becomes apparent.  Logan must convince everyone that even though he is a sandman who has terminated many Runners, is now himself trying to run.

At one point, a robot (of unknown origin) attempts to hold them in his icy domain.  It becomes apparent that none of the Runners who managed to escape made it any further, because the robot Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) has them all encased in ice.  But Logan and Jessica manage to escape even this obstacle and get "outside".

There they find a lush and overgrown forest (the plants have taken over, without all those annoying humans around to deforest the planet).  They also find the only person over the age of 30 that they have ever met, an eccentric old man (Peter Ustinov), who has apparently lived all this time with only a band of cats for company.

Logan's Run was box-office gold, and even inspired a short-lived TV series, thus becoming one of several TV shows that were offshoots of movies, and became part of my personal list of TV shows that I adored, but that never caught on... :-(  (see Planet of the Apes, Timecop, et. al.)

The movie was based on a book by the same name written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  There are some significant differences between the book and the movie, most notably the age limit is 21 in the book, not 30 as in the movie.  And there is no hope of renewal, everyone is sent to a Sleepshop and euthanized. Also the ending was altered, but I won't spoil that in case you want to read the book.

Soylent Green (1973)

A somewhat bleaker look at the future of over-population, where the government does nothing to curtail it (for reasons that are made clear at the end of this flick), Soylent Green takes place in the year 2022 (not that far away in the future now, kiddies).  The movie begins with a montage of the history of the world (or New York, where this movie takes place).  It was created by Charles Braverman, and shows the history of population growth, with the scenes changing in ever-increasing rapidity as the opening progresses.

The main film begins, as stated earlier, in the year 2022 in Manhattan.  People are wall to wall, crowded in the streets in the daytime, and sleeping wherever possible at night. (Apartments if you are lucky and have a job to pay for it, or in the stairwells and hallways of those apartment complexes if you are unemployed, which a major portion of the populous is.  This is the seamy side of the liberal wet dream of the previous movie.  Everyone is dependent on the government still, but life is bleaker)

Charlton Heston plays Thorn, a police detective, who lives in an apartment with his friend Sol (played by Edward G. Robinson is his final role.)  In the beginning a rich man (Joseph Cotten) is murdered by a man who claims he has been sent to do it by higher-ups because he, Cotten, knows too much.  Thorn is sent to investigate the murder.  He is met at the apartment by the rich man's mistress, Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) Apparently one of the few jobs left that women can do is to be a house whore, and they are called "furniture" and come with the apartment.

Policemen are less scrupulous in this future than one would expect.  After questioning both Shirl and the rich man's bodyguard, Tab (Chuck Connors), Thorn leaves with several trinkets of comfort and some food, as well as some interesting books.  He takes the books and food back to his apartment to share with Sol.   Sol has a job as a "book" which means he does investigative work in research for the police, Thorn in particular. Thorn sets him on the task of deciphering what information he can glean from the books he brings back.

Meanwhile, Thorn continues his investigation, but as he gets closer to the truth, pressure from those higher-ups  force his boss to close the case.  But Thorn refuses to give it up.  He talks with a priest who was the last person to talk with the rich man to find out what the rich man told him.  But the priest can only express shock from what he has heard.

As Thorn gets closer to the truth, several attempts are made on his life, including one by the bodyguard, Tab, trying to put Thorn out of commission before he can discover the truth.  Of course, none of these, can be successful or we would not have the denouement at the end.  To help him along to that end, Roth discovers the grisly truth and decides to take advantage of a government sponsored suicide program rather than live with the truth.  Thorn arrives too late to stop Roth from going through with it, but does arrive in time to hear the truth that Roth discovered.

But Thorn needs proof and so he must make his way to the Soylent factory and see the facts for himself.  Surely no one reading this blog could possibly have made it this far in life without having heard the final denouement quote, but if there be that some one, stop reading now...

Thorn is critically wounded, it is not clear whether he will live or die, but he manages to tell his boss

Soylent Green was based on a novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison.  There is quite a bit of difference in the book than in the movie.  For one thing, the whole soylent production is a legitimate food product made from a combination of soybeans and lentils, thus the name "Soylent".  The cannibalism theme does not appear at all in the book.  Harrison was once quoted as saying he was about "50% pleased" with the production made from his book.

The cultural after-effects of the movie still resonate today.  A recent political cartoon by someone who was apparently anti-Obamacare used the familiarity with the movie for its own purposes.

Both movies are well worth your time.  Well, that's it from the back seat of the Plymouth Fury this time.  Drive home with care, kiddies.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here

Walter Hill is, without a doubt, the king of "guy movies".  His list of credits reads like a 'must see" list of  guy movies, action flicks with great dialogue to boot.  The Long Riders, 48 Hours & Another 48 Hours, Red Heat, Last Man Standing and of course, the two titles the subject of this review to name a few.  He also wrote the screenplays for two of the three sequels to Alien, as well as the screenplay to the remake of The Getaway.  Not only that, he was instrumentally involved as one of the producers of the Tales of the Crypt TV series, and directed three episodes of the same.  See what I mean?  Every guy movie fan should take his hat off to Walter Hill.

Hill, along with contemporary John Carpenter (the subject of a future review), rank among the list of directors of which I am a "groupie".  I wouldn't stop Tom Hanks on the street or ask to shake John Travolta's hand, but I might ask a director for an autograph while he is eating in a diner...:-)  It takes a real sensibility to direct action movies and not have them come out looking like every other action movie that came down the pike.  And that is saying a lot, because, as much as I love James Bond movies, most of them are interchangeable in plots and pacing.

The Warriors (1979)

 This classic movie begins with a confab being called on all the gangs of NYC to meet to hear out Cyrus (Roger Hill) the leader of the biggest gang in the city.  The Warriors (Michael Beck, et. al.) are traveling all the way from Coney Island, their home, to Van Cortlandt Park in the heart of the city.  There they hear Cyrus with the immortal beginning words

Can you count, suckahs?!!!

Cyrus tells of a plan to unite all the gangs and control the city though that unity.  But Luther (David Patrick Kelly) a member of a rival gang, shoots him.  Then, in the ensuing havoc,  Luther manages to convince everyone that it was the Warriors who were responsible.

Now begins one of the greatest chase movies ever made.  The Warriors have to get back to the security of their own territory, but have to cross numerous other gangs turf in the process.  Some of these gangs would get ripped if the appeared in the real world with their own individual markings.  One of the coolest (also one of the most unrealistic) is the Baseball Furies.  These guys wear makeup and NY Yankees-like pinstripe baseball uniforms.  And wield baseball for weapons.  (Question.  Why is the only gun used  in the whole movie the one used by Luther to kill Cyrus???)

I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle!

The Warriors run into several obstructions, including a breakdown of the subway which makes them have to go off on foot through several gangs territories, and causes the band to have to split up, thus ensuring some intense moments, including one scene witn an all-girl gang called the Lizzies (insert your own prurient comment here)

Eventually most, but not all, the Warriors  end up back at Coney Island in time for a confrontation with Luther and his gang, The Rogues.  Luther comes on the scene in a car, and here again is another classic scene as Luther taunts the Warriors by clacking a couple of beer bottles together and  chanting:

Warriors!  Come out to play!  Warriors!  Come out to pla-ay!

 An interesting side note, here.  Hill sent David Patrick Kelly off to think about this scene, saying the scene  needed something.  The entire clacking bottles and chant scene was ad-libbed.

This is the first movie I ever saw at a drive-in on my own (not as a family group outing, in other words).  I still remember it well, sitting there in my car with a six pack and a pizza, entranced by the action on the screen.  Some of those guys went on to bigger stardom.  James Remar (as Ajax) has been in numerous movies over the years,  Michael Beck (as Swan) has not been near as prolific, probably due to being in a couple of duds after this one (Xanadu & Megaforce) which left him to TV roles more or less after that.  David Patrick Kelly played heavies in a number of movies throughout the 80's.

Recently, several members of the cast who portrayed the Warriors showed up for a one-day fan fest in NYC.  Wish I could have gone.  Nothing would have stopped me if I lived in New York City...(except maybe a blockade by the Baseball Furies...)

Streets of Fire (1984)

Hill returned to the gang theme again in 1984 with another great action flick, Streets of Fire.

The movie is subtitled "A Rock & Roll Fable" and that is a perfect description of  it.  Diane Lane, looking as hot as ever, is Ellen Aim, a local girl turned rock & roll goddess, doing a free show for her hometown, despite the misgivings of her manager, played with the perfect mix of sarcasm and greed by Rick Moranis.

Enter Willem Dafoe in one of his early roles as Raven, the leader of a biker gang on the bad side of town.  He kidnaps Ellen and takes her back to his nightclub and ties her up to his bed.  Deborah Van Valkenberg, as Reva writes to her brother Tom (Michael Paré) who used to be lovers with ellen to come home and rescue her.

Paré plays a perfect reluctant hero, with just the right blend of bravado and wit.  With a bit of action that enthralls even after numerous viewings, Tom rescues Ellen, and with a few sidetracks, including having to hijack the tour bus of an all-black vocal group which consists of among others Robert Townsend, they mke it back to the relative safety of the nicer part of town.  But not for long.

Raven roars into town for revenge.  Raven says he'll leave peaceably, but he wants Tom's head on a stick before he does.  Needless to say, it comes down to a knockdown drag out duking between Paré and Dafoe.

The movie ends with a final musical interlude (I forgot to mention there are several in this movie) with The Sorels getting a shot at opening the concert for Ellen.  They perform "I Can Dream About You" (which was actually sung by a guy named Dan Hartman and went to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1984.)

Several things to note:  One. This movie has some of the coolest wipes I have ever seen in a movie.  If you don't know what a "wipe", it's a transition from one scene to another with the screen changing in motion (as opposed to just an abrupt scene change.

Two.  If you are a big Meat Loaf fan, you may think a couple of the songs sound like Loaf songs.  In fact, Jim Steinman who wrote a lot of Meat Loaf's hits, wrote two of the songs that Ellen aim sings (Tonight is What It Means to Be Young & Nowhere Fast).  If the music doesn't have you humming for a couple of days after watching it, you haven't got the soul for rock & roll.

Three.  And this is just an opinion, but I would bet that not even ½ of the people who made I Can Dream About You a number one song even heard about this movie much less saw it.  It failed to make a profit.  But it is still a fantastic movie.

Well that's it from the backseat of the Plymouth Fury this time.  Drive home safely.