Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Sometime this summer, the family went to the nearby Madison Theatre to see Night at the Museum (2006). It must have been August, because we walked, my wife’s foot having sufficiently healed from her operation.

It was an interesting experience because The Daughter had seen it before, on DVD, but her parents had never seen it at all. I guess it’s not a great movie, but I enjoyed it anyway. And I think it was partly because I got to laugh in places that just confounded the Daughter.

One involved some wordplay, near the end, which I no longer recall. But one moment is a scene with the late Anne Meara as Debbie, an employment counselor trying to get Larry (Ben Stiller) a job. Larry thought he felt some connection, but Debbie dashes that. Anne was, of course, Ben’s real-life mom.

Part of it is remembering Ken Levine’s odd antipathy towards Kim Raver, who plays Larry’s ex Erica. Or some comments Jon Stewart made about preternaturally young looking Paul Rudd as Erica’s new boyfriend Don.

Maybe it was seeing the three former guards: the late Mickey Rooney; Bill Cobbs, who I loved in I’ll Fly Away and other projects; and Dick van Dyke, who was then a pretty spry octogenarian, and is now an amazingly spry nonagenarian.

There’s a line the late Robin Williams says about him not really being Teddy Roosevelt but a wax figure – an odd self-awareness in this wacky film.

I may be one of 16 people who remember Carla Gugino (Rebecca from the museum) in some 2003 cop show called Karen Cisco, which lasted maybe 10 episodes. And I was the ONLY one in that very theater, to see a showing of Spy Kids 2, some years back.

Ricky Gervais, as the museum director, was not as annoying as he would later become.

And yes, I’ve felt like a complete loser and have been in situations of complete chaos. So, yeah, the movie likely lacked a “consistent inner logic”, but I didn’t care; I liked it for what I got out of it.

Isle of Dogs. “I love dogs.” When we finished watching this stop-motion-animated film at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I asked my wife what she thought the movie was a metaphor for. It may have been the wrong question.

It was, we decided, a response to a lot of things such as the abuse of power – by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) and the manipulation of the masses in a government conspiracy, mechanization, plus a whole lot of other interesting things. Your list may vary.

Still, it was, in the end, primarily about a 12-year old boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin), nephew of the mayor, looking for his beloved pet on an island of trash. He meets some amicable, helpful canines, Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and the less friendly street dog Chief (Bryan Cranston).

The voice cast also includes Scarlett Johansson as the dog Nutmeg, Tilda Swinton as Interpreter Nelson, and Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker from Ohio, with the dulcet tones of Courtney B. Vance serving as narrator. Plus Akira Takayama, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Liev Schreiber, and Yoko Ono as Assistant-Scientist Yoko-ono.

Interesting to me is that even some of the more positive reviews (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) thought the film was distant. Mick LaSalle wrote: “We stay on the outside, admiring its originality and all the talent that went into it, without ever really finding our way in.” Not our experience at all.

The dystopian visuals are nevertheless beautiful, so as to make you almost forget how trenchantly political it is. There is taiko drumming at the beginning and the end that we found absolutely hypnotic.

I’m not savvy enough about the Japanese references to ascertain whether director Wes Anderson should be chastised for cultural appropriation. I will note that the female dogs didn’t have as much to do with the storyline.

Nevertheless, we liked Isle of Dogs a lot.

Charlie Chaplin was a beloved film actor for many years, though by the time he made Monsieur Verdoux, not so much.

He portrayed a character eventually known as “the Tramp” as early as 1914. Chaplin designed him as a “contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large… I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.” The persona became a worldwide marketing phenomenon.

He fought for, and won, more control of his films, wanting to spend more time on his creations. He joined forces with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D. W. Griffith to form a distribution company, United Artists, established in January 1919.

He spent much of the 1920s and 1930s making his classic silent features such as The Gold Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times, eschewing the talkies. He also was personally becoming more political in both in Modern Times and 1940’s The Great Dictator, for which he used spoken dialogue.

His personal life, often messy, became more so with the FBI indicting him for allegedly violating the notorious Mann Act, which “prohibits the transportation of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes” with a young woman named Joan Barry. Though acquitted, Chaplin had to pay her child support.

“The controversy surrounding Chaplin [age 54] increased when, two weeks after the Barry paternity suit was filed, it was announced that he had married his newest protégée, 18-year-old Oona O’Neill – daughter of the American playwright Eugene O’Neill,” his fourth wife. “The couple remained married until Chaplin’s death [on Christmas Day 1977], and had eight children over 18 years.”

“In April 1946, he finally began filming a project that had been in development since 1942. Monsieur Verdoux was a black comedy, the story of a French bank clerk, Verdoux (Chaplin), who loses his job and begins marrying and murdering wealthy widows to support his family. Chaplin’s inspiration for the project came from Orson Welles, who wanted him to star in a film about the French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. Chaplin decided that the concept would ‘make a wonderful comedy’, and paid Welles $5,000 for the idea.

“Chaplin again vocalised his political views in Monsieur Verdoux, criticising capitalism and arguing that the world encourages mass killing through wars and weapons of mass destruction. Because of this, the film met with controversy when it was released in April 1947; Chaplin was booed at the premiere, and there were calls for a boycott.

Monsieur Verdoux was not popular in the United States. It was more successful abroad, and Chaplin’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. “He wrote in his autobiography that it was the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.’

“He was publicly accused of being a communist… Chaplin denied [it], instead calling himself a “peacemonger”, but felt the government’s effort to suppress the ideology was an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.”

In that context, watch some of Monsieur Verdoux, which 30 of 31 critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave positive reviews.

Marilyn Nash with Chaplin

Monsieur Verdoux’s seduction technique

Monsieur Verdoux Ending Scene [SPOLER ALERT!]

MONSIEUR VERDOUX – Charles Chaplin [2 hours]

Also: Charlie Chaplin Documentary – The Forgotten Years (2003)

Today is the 129th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s birth

One of the first fictional gay characters on US television was Jodie Dallas on the sitcom Soap, played by Billy Crystal from 1977 to 1981. The character’s development was limited by the folks in Standards and Practices, i.e., the censors, at ABC-TV. It WAS a very different time.

Billy spent the 1984-1985 season on Saturday Night, along with Christopher Guest and Martin Short. He did impressions based on actor Fernando Lamas and sports announcer Howard Cosell. He also did a wicked take on Muhammad Ali, which I saw him do with Ali present, probably on a special for the Champ’s 50th birthday special in 1992.

He appeared in movies that I saw such as Spinal Tap (1984) and The Princess Bride (1987) before his breakthrough role in When Harry Met Sally… (1989), featuring one of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

After he starred in City Slickers (1991), Crystal made his pitch as a legitimate artiste in the seriocomedy Mr. Saturday Night (1992), which he directed and co-wrote. It was an an uneven film, but it generated a Best Supporting Actor nod for David Paymer.

By this time, he was firm established in the mind of the public, performing in Comic Relief several times with Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams and playing Robert DeNiro’s shrink in Analyze This (1999).

Crystal also made game show appearances on The Hollywood Squares and The $20,000 Pyramid. “To this day, he holds the Pyramid franchise’s record for getting his contestant partner to the top of the pyramid in winner’s circle in the fastest time: 26 seconds.”

He hosted the Academy Awards nine times, beginning in 1990, when I thought he was quite funny, and most recently in 2012, when it was generally agreed that he was not.

Connecting with his well-established love of baseball, Crystal directed the made-for-TV movie 61* (2001), about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle pursuing Babe Ruth’s season home run record. This earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special. I learned that he attended Marshall University in Huntington, WV on a baseball scholarship, but never had a chance to play because the program was suspended during his first year.

He did quite a bit of voiceover work, including in Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013).

From watching the Tonys each year, I recall that “Crystal won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for 700 Sundays, a two-act, one-man play, which he conceived and wrote about his parents and his childhood growing up on Long Island.”

I always figured that if I ever met Billy Crystal, I’d get along talking to my fellow Pisces about baseball.

Negative Space


Presidents Day means that the family goes to the cinema, as usual to the Spectrum Theatre, its parking lot full. We saw the five Academy Award nominees in the category of Best Animated Short, plus three others.

Dear Basketball (USA, 6 minutes), narrator/writer Kobe Bryant describes achieving his dream and then needing to walk away. I liked the pencil drawings; the guy behind me clearly LOVED them. This has no chance of winning after Kobe’s sexual assault charges some years ago.

Garden Party (France, 7 minutes) – when the humans are away, the amphibians will play all over the house. the animation here was so realistic that one could be forgiven for thinking it was live action. The ending was a surprise, though the clues were there. If the best-looking film were the sole criterion, this would be the winner.

LOU (USA, 7 minutes) – a toy-stealing bully wrecks recess until he’s thwarted by a “Lost and Found” box. This opened for the Pixar movie Cars 3 in theaters, and is of the usual quality of the studio.

Negative Space (France, 5 minutes) – a boy is able to connect with his oft-away dad because dad taught him how to pack a suitcase. I got the sense that this was a really personal story for the creator. My pick to win.

Revolting Rhymes, Part One (UK, 30 minutes), Roald Dahl’s retellings of classic fairy tales (Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Three Pigs) with lots of twists. I enjoyed it a lot. I need to somehow see Part Two. Or does it really end like that?

As is usually the case, there were bonus shorts, ones that didn’t get nominated but were considered.

Weeds (USA, 3 minutes) – on the face of it, the story of a dandelion, stuck on the wrong side of the driveway, where there’s water on the other side. On another level – and my wife really picked up on this – it’s about the “struggle and distance someone may have to travel–against all odds–to find a better life.”

Lost Property Office (Australia, 10 minutes) – no one wants the stuff they’ve lost on the train. Will the powers that be want the guy in charge of tracking those items? The sepia monochrome gives the impression of a less than ideal ending, but it finishes with whimsy.

Achoo! (France, 7 minutes) – The tiny Chinese dragon, suffering from a cold, seems outmatched by two others, who are cocky and a bit mean. Can our bumbling hero put on the best show using his incendiary powers?

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