Wednesday, December 13, 2006

the movie year. 2006.

Is it me or was there a slight whiff of anti-Americanism that seemed to connect the year's most noteworthy movies? With that said, here's the best of 2006 - in order of preference, natch, and ever a work in progress:

Best English-Language Films

"United 93" (Paul Greengrass, Universal)

"Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby" (Adam McKay, Columbia)

"Children of Men" (Alfonso Cuarón, Universal)

"The Departed" (Martin Scorsese, Warner Brothers)

"Little Miss Sunshine" (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Fox Searchlight)

"Notes on a Scandal" (Richard Eyre, Fox Searchlight)

"Thank You for Smoking" (Jason Reitman, Fox Searchlight)

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (Larry Charles, 20th Century-Fox)

"Shadowboxer"(Lee Daniels, Teton Films)

"Crank" (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, Lionsgate)

Best Foreign-Language Films

"Babel" (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Paramount Vantage)

"Letters from Iwo Jima" (Clint Eastwood, Universal/DreamWorks)

"Pan’s Labyrinth"/"El Laberinto del Fauno" (Guillermo del Toro, Picturehouse)

"The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"/"Moartea domnului Lazarescu" (Cristi Puiu, Tartan Films)

"The Curse of the Golden Flower"/"Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia" (Zhang Yimou, Sony Classics)

Best Documentary

"Shut Up and Sing" (Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck, The Weinstein Company)

Best Belated Release

"Army of Shadows"/"L'Armee de ombres" (1969) (Jean-Pierre Melville, Rialto Pictures)

Honorable Mention

"Inland Empire" (David Lynch, Studio Canal) ... for its sheer, naked bravado.

And, alphabetically...

"Bubble," "Casino Royale," "The Da Vinci Code," "Death of a President," "Deliver Us from Evil," "Domestic Import," "L'Enfant"/"The Child," "Fast Food Nation," "Flags of Our Fathers," "Happy Feet," "The History Boys," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Infamous," "Kinky Boots," "Look Both Ways," "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," "Manderlay," "Marie Antoinette," "Miss Potter," "Monster House," "La Moustache"/"The Mustache," "The Notorious Bettie Page," "The Painted Veil," "Le Petit Lieutenant"/"The Young Lieutenant" "A Prairie Home Companion," "The Queen" and "Volver"/"To Return."

Best Cinematography

"Children of Men" (Emmanuel Lubezki). If only for Lubezski's staggering, seemingly single-take shot of Clive Owen making his way through a war-torn village.

Best Performances

And, finally, kudos to Grethcen Moll and Ryan Gosling for their respective work in "The Notorious Bettie Page" and Half Nelson," the year's best actress and actor; and to Jackie Earle Haley and Judi Dench for their fine supporting work in "Little Children" and "Notes on a Scandal," with Dench sharing her honor with Sandra Bullock for her career-revitalizing turn as Harper Lee in "Infamous," a vast improvement - dare I say it? - over Catherine Keener's take on the same role in 2005's "Capote."

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And, for what it's worth, here's The Last Best list of ... 2005 - again in order of preference...

"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" (Tommy Lee Jones, Sony Pictures Classics)

"A History of Violence" (David Cronenberg, New Line Cinema)

"Good Night, and Good Luck" (George Clooney, Warner Independent)

"Munich" (Steven Spielberg, Universal/DreamWorks)

"The Constant Gardner" (Fernando Meirelles, Focus Features)

"Brokeback Mountain" (Ang Lee, Focus Features)

"Crash" (Paul Haggis, Lions Gate Films)

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Judd Apatow, Universal)

"The White Countess" (James Ivory; Sony Pictures Classics)

"The Weatherman" (Gore Verbinski, Paramount Classics)

Best Foreign-Language Film

"Caché" ("Hidden")(Michael Haneke, Sony Pictures Classics)

(Artwork: from top: Scenes from Paramount Vantage's "Babel," starring Brad Pitt and Blanchett; Doug Jones in Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth"; Lino Ventura in Rialto Pictures' "Army of Shadows"/"L'Armee de ombres"; Laura Dern and Justin Theroux in Studio Canal's "Inland Empire"; Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench in Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal," and Tommy Lee Jones in Sony Pictures Classics' "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Thursday, September 07, 2006

american film idiocy

The American Film Institute, is at it again, having conjured up another one of its inanely gratuitious, highly arbitrary film lists. This one is devoted obsensibly to "The Greatest Movie Musicals" of all time, although "Most Popular" would be a more apt and honest description of the list. The fact that the list consists of only 25 titles, instead of AFI's usual 100, tellingly says something about what AFI really thinks of the musical film genre.
Not surprisingly, the usual suspects abound. Is it any surprise that "Singin' in the Rain" tops the list? No. And, of course, such faves as "The Sound of Music," "West Side Story" and "Cabaret" have been dragged out for the occasion, too. Am I the only musical fan who finds that these three titles have grown increasingly unwatchable with age, particularly WSS?

Number 25 is actually -- drum roll, please! -- "Moulin Rouge" (and NOT the John Huston version). Look, I like "Moulin Rouge," thoroughly enjoyed it, but it's more of an anti-musical than a musical, if you get my drift.

And "All That Jazz" (number 14) isn't a musical either.

Too many wonderful musicals have been overlooked. I won't name them all, but frankly, I don't know how one can put together a list like this and manage to skip Warner Bros.' grand 1962 film version of "The Music Man," arguably the most perfect movie musical, better than even -- dare I say it? -- "Singin' in the Rain." Blasphemy? Probably, but I think theater hand Morton DaCosta set the standard with "The Music Man." Apologies to Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Anyway, as with all of AFI's announced lists, expect the inevitable TV special to be fashioned around the picks, as well as a lot of aggressive DVD tie-ins.

(Artwork: top: Robert Preston and Shirley Jones march on the dustjacket cover of Warner Home Video's VHS edition of the film; bottom: Preston leads the kids in "The Music Man," )

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Sunday, September 03, 2006

half nelson, all gosling

First, let it be said that Ryan Gosling is currently delivering an Oscar-worthy performance in Ryan Fleck's wonderful first feature, "Half Nelson."

The popular theme of the inspirational teacher reaching out to a student who needs help, a story nearly as old as film itself, is redefined and reinvented in "Half Nelson," which Fleck expanded from his Jury Prize-winning 2004 Sundance short, “Gowanus, Brooklyn.”

The twist in “Half Nelson,” however, is that the teacher needs as much help as the student, arguably more. Both are adrift in a society that has little patience and, in fact, varying degrees of uneasiness for those souls who live on its fringes. Shareeka Epps, a holdover from “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” plays 13-year-old Drey whose family has been torn apart by drugs and drug dealing and perhaps because of this, she feels a vague empathy for a teacher at the inner-city high-school she attends.

Dan Dunne – a character brought fully, achingly to life by the talented Gosling (“The Believers”) – teaches history by day and gets wasted at night. He’s able to keep these two sides of his personality separate, engaging his students in class and even coaching the girls’ basketball team on the side, until he slips one day and is found by Drey strung out on crack in the locker room.

Further complications are triggered by a drug dealer who has finessed his way into Drey’s household. More than ever, these two – student and teacher – need each other’s moral support. Fleck has directed “Half Nelson” in a matter-of-fact way, going for documentary realism, while eschewing any hint of judgment, sensationalism, sentimentality or glorification. He keeps things real and in doing so, has crafted a film that honors an offbeat but wholly credible friendship, bracingly so.

And he's abetted by Gosling who makes sure that we don't miss a thing. You can't take your eyes off him.

(Artwork: Shareeka Epps and Ryan Gosling in a scene from ThinkFilm's "Half Nelson.")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Friday, September 01, 2006

glenn ford, 1916-2006

Glenn Ford stood apart from his peers who also became Hollywood legends.

There was nothing timid about Ford, and yet he's the only major actor of his generation one doesn't immediately link with a certain role or with certain films - the way one does with such Ford peers as, say, William Holden ("Stalag 17" and "Sunset Boulevard"), Henry Fonda ("The Grapes of Wrath" and "Mr. Roberts") and Jimmy Stewart ("It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Philadelphia Story").

This is odd, because Ford's screen persona had always been a compelling one - at once easygoing, tough and introspective.

And yet he, somehow, curiously, established no personal identity - either on screen or with the public.

What this means is that Glenn Ford starred in movies, almost 100 of them, without ever dominating or overwhelming them. He never demanded attention from the viewer, with the result being that he was rarely recognized by critics for his body of work and he was never recognized by his own industry for some truly solid, if somewhat self-effacing, performances. His son, Peter, had unsuccessfully lobbied for the past few years for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give his father a lifetime achievement Oscar.

The fact that Glenn Ford never won an Academy Award and was never nominated for one might have something to do with his choice of roles (or the roles that his studio, Columbia, picked out for him) and the kinds of performances he gave. Ford was never shamelessly sentimental or emotional on screen (the kind of qualities that breaks hearts and wins Oscars) and he was always too much of a generous performer and team player to nudge his co-stars off screen.

He was an adjustable wrench among actors: He turned in highly credible, lifelike performances in a wide variety of roles and movies, moving from film to film, churning them out but never looking over his shoulder for the recognition that he so richly deserved.

"I had always marveled at the subtlety of his work," Sidney Poitier, his co-star in "The Blackbaord Jungle, told The Associated Press at the time of Ford's death on August 30th, 2006.

Ford was much more of a character actor who happened to play leading roles than an out-and-out lead player, and much more of an actor and less a personality than the other superstars of his generation.

Much of this had to do with the fact that Ford almost literally started life as an actor, even though there wasn't a history of acting in his family. Born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, in Quebec City, Canada, Ford moved to Santa Monica with his family when he was 8. His father was an executive in railroads and manufacturing, and his family was peopled with names prominent in both Canadian and U.S. politics, including the MacDonalds and the Van Burens.

But Ford was interested in acting, and early on he used to stage his own plays in his family's barn, coaxing his friends and the neighborhood kids to play along with him. He had no formal training in theater at this age; he "invented" theater for himself and was soon playing parts in school plays, becoming active in the theater department of Santa Monica High School. He opted for several West Coast stage companies over college and by the late '30s was a staple of the New York theater scene, where he was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and tested and signed by Columbia Pictures.

Ford's father went along with his son's ambitions, insisting only that Ford learn how to use tools in case he needed a trade to fall back on. He didn't, of course, although throughout his life Ford used the crafts he learned as both a hobby and form of off-screen relaxation.

His first notable stage role was as the grocery boy in the West Coast company of Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour," touring the West before becoming a resident player of the Santa Monica Players, for whom he portrayed the brutish Michael Rakovsky in Elmer Rice's "Judgement Day." Before and after his signing with Columbia, he played in a string of Broadway plays, the most notable being the lead in Clifford Odet's "Golden Boy" (a role played on film by his good friend, William Holden).

Originally, Columbia wanted to call him John Gower (after Gower Street, on which the studio was located) because Gwyllyn was too hard to pronounce. There was a compromise, however, when Ford remembered Glenford, the mill town in Quebec where his father was born.

This is how "Glenn Ford" was born.

His first movie role was a supporting one - for Fox, on a loan-out - in Ricardo Cortez's "Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence" (1940). Ford then went on to make 13 films for Columbia between 1940 and 1943, including George Marshall's popular "Texas" (1941) with Holden, before his career was halted by World War II.
Ford served in the Marine Corps until 1946. When he returned to films, he was in the singular position of having to start over again because, again, he had established no personal identity with the public in those first 14 films.

And although he revived his career with meaty roles in two successful 1946 films - Curtis Bernhardt's "A Stone Life" with Bette Davis and Charles Vidor's "Gilda" with Rita Hayworth (with whom he would make several steamy films) - he couldn't get over the first impression he had made, namely that of a chameleon, workmanlike actor.

Ford's most productive period was the mid-1950s, a time when he'd bounce from dark dramas such as Richard Brooks' "The Blackboard Jungle" (1955) to tearjerkers like Curtis Bernhardt's "Interrrupted Melody" (also '55). It was during this period when he appeared in a series of popular armed services comedies - Daniel Mann's "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (1956) and Charles Water's "Don't Go Near the Water" (1957) - as well as some wonderful Westerns - Russell Rouse's "The Fastest Gun Alive" (1956), Delmer Daves' "3:10 to Yuma" (1957) and "Cowboy" (1958) and George Marshall's "The Sheepman" (also '58).

Ford loved Westerns and, reportedly, had some firm ideas about them. He saw them as a peculiarly American art form irrevocably linked to the physical American West itself - that the magic of it was the sense of place it conjured up. They had to be filmed in the real place, not in Yugoslavia or Italy.

If a Glenn Ford Film Festival were put together, the films that should be screened would include "Texas," "Gilda," "The Blackboard Jungle," "3:10 to Yuma" and "Cowboy," as well as George Marshall's antic "The Gazebo" (1959), Anthony Mann's remake of "Cimarron" (1960), Frank Capra's "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), Blake Edwards' "Experiment in Terror" (1962), Delbert Mann's "Dear Heart" (1964), Burt Kennedy's "The Rounders" (1965) and Richard Donner's "Superman" (1978), in which Ford played Clark Kent's father.

Hell, I'd use them all!

Glenn Ford's films:
Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1940)
Men Without Souls (1940)
My Son I Guilty (1940)
Convicted Woman (1940)
The Lady in Question (1940)
Babies for Sale 91940)
Blondie Plays Cupid (1940)
So Ends Our Night (1941)
Texas (1941)
Go West, Young Lady (1941)
The Adventures of Martin Eden (1942)
Flight Lieutenant (1942)
Destroyer (1943)
The Desperadoes (1943)
Gilda (1946)
A Stolen Life (1946)
Gallant Journey (1946)
Framed (1947)
The Mating of Millie (1947)
The Loves of Carmen (1947)
The Return of October (1947)
The Man From Colorado (1948)
The Undercover Man (1949)
Mr. Soft Touch (1949)
The Doctor and the Girl (1949)
The White Tower (1950)
Convicted (1950)
The Flying Missle (1950)
The Redhead and the Cowboy (1950)
Follow the Sun (1951)
The Secret of Convict Lake (1951)
The Green Glove (1952)
Young Man With Ideas (1952)
Affair in Trinadad (1952)
Terror on the Train (1953, a.k.a. Time Bomb)
The Man From the Alamo (1953)
Plunder of the Sun (1953)
The Big Heat (1953)
Appointment in Honduras (1953)
Human Desire (1954)
The Americano (1955)
The Violent Men (1955)
The Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Interrupted Melody (1955)
Trial (1955)
Ransom! (1956)
Jubal (1956)
The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)
The Teahouse of the Augut Moon (1956)
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Don't Go Near the Water (1957)
Cowboy (1958)
The Sheepman (1958)
Imitation General (1958)
Torpedo Run (1958)
It Started With a Kiss (1959)
The Gazebo (1959)
Cimarron (1960)
Cry for Happy (1961)
Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
The Four Horsemern of the Apocalypse (1962)
Experiment in Terror (1962)
Love Is a Ball (1963)
The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963)
Advance to the Rear (1964)
Fate Is the Hunter (1964)
Dear Heart (1965)
The Rounders (1965)
The Money Trap (1966)
Is Paris Burning? (1966)
Rage (1967, a.k.a. El Mal)
The Last Challenge (1967)
A Time for Killing (1968)
Day of the Evil Gun (1968, a.k.a. Evil Gun)
Smith! (1969)
Heaven With a Gun (1969)
Santee (1973)
Jarrett (1973, for TV)
Punch and Jody (1974, for TV)
The Greatest Gift (1974, for TV)
The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974, for TV)
Midway (1976)
Goodbye and Amen (1978)
Superman (1978)
Day of the Assassin (1979)
The Visitor (1979)
Evening in Byzantium (1979, for TV)
Beggarman, Thief (1979, for TV)
The Gift (1979, for TV)
The Sacketts (1979, for TV)
Virus (1980)
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
Border Shootout (1990)
JFK (1991, scenes deleted from released version)

(Artwork: A vintage publicity shot of Glenn Ford)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Thursday, August 10, 2006

fair use

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wilder's “The Apartment” - the film that defines me

"This film is alive," Henry Miller once said, "and it speaks to me."

Movies have many voices. Some simply entertain us; others instruct. A few make us feel alive, and even fewer influence our behavior and decisions.

The ones that grip us in a personal way are the truly special movies in our lives. They have the awesome ability to get us to look inside ourselves and to pursue dreams that we otherwise might never consider.

Growing up, we all invariably have used film as a point of reference, a learning tool, an example. We would gulp down our One-a-Day vitamins, check our PF Flyers to make sure that they were double-knotted and then, almost routinely, make a beeline for the neighborhood Bijou where we would lose ourselves in make-believe, fantasies and daydreams. The Movies. Even the word is glittery.

The special ones stay with us – forever. It takes little mental coaxing for me to remember those personal film arousals that have overwhelmed my life. And I've a suspicion that if I were to connect these movies - the way one connects dots - I'd come up with an image that looks, well, very much like me.

Each of us could be charted by the movies that have guided us, movies we love. As a society, that chart would probably include such titles as "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz," seminal movie experiences that continue to have an impact on the masses.

The beauty of movies is that they work on us personally, directly on our senses. They get us alone in the dark and then, while we're isolated and diverted and vulnerable, they subliminally instruct us in the ways of life. And, sometimes, they lie to us.

They may not always change our lives in conspicuous ways, inspiring us to pick up and move away, get married or have a baby (although some can). What the best of them do is to, quite simply, put us in contact with ourselves.

The movies that are special to us - and you know which ones are your favorites - knock us out with some truth or some indication of what can be. We never do quite get our balance back. We leave the theater feeling dazed, irritated, excited, exhilarated and maybe even eager to do something.

Movies are my life, more than a profession or even an avocation. I will be frank: I dream about them, the way I do about people. They are my world and it's a wondrous place. But one has to be careful because when one lives in a world of movies, one risks living in a place that's close to, well, nowhere.

So, how did I end up in this place?

It started innocently enough. I used movies initially as an escape, then as a learning tool, looking for examples, for role models, for someone with whom I could connect the way everybody does.

That wasn't easy. I'd sit there in awe of John Wayne, for example - as he fought Indians with his cunning and prowess or, in John Ford’s "The Searchers," as he rescued a teenage Natalie Wood - knowing that I could never measure up. Never. The image of Wayne swooping down and scooping up Natalie Wood has a strong, masculine force that is anything but absurd to a 10-year-old boy.

It was difficult to feel much kinship with the people I saw on screen, but I tried.

Then, I saw a movie that convinced me that, somehow, my life would be emotionally mixed up with movies. When I first saw it, Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment" created a longing so ardent that I thought my chest and head would implode. I remember little else about that summer or that year, for that matter, except that I loved "The Apartment" and that I related to its star, Jack Lemmon, in the most complete, complicated way possible. A point of reference and a role model, at last!

With such dubious assets as his slight build, sagging shoulders, slouching posture and wide-open face filled with basset-hound anxiety, Lemmon filled me with wonder for someone who seemed so much like me - or so I liked to think.

Jack Lemmon was Mr. Joe Average, a guy like a lot of other guys, only with a quizzical alertness and high-strung energy. As Saturday Review aptly put it in its review of Richard Murphy’s “The Wackiest Ship in the Army,” Lemmon was "the perfect personification of all harassed mankind - the outranked, outnumbered, outmanipulated little fellow with sound instincts and bad judgment. He is the one who is always taken advantage of. And if, in the end, he emerges triumphant, it's because of a basic decency rather than superior cunning or sudden inspiration."

I've seen "The Apartment" at least 20 times, maybe more, but I still remember the first time. I was with some friends, kids who tested their tonsils and tangled diction on the screen by shouting obscene words through their cupped hands.

They goofed off, but I watched. “The Apartment” is the first film that I actually studied, reading between the lines and noting techniques. I’ve seen a lot of films, and my list of favorites keep changing, but “The Apartment” – the story of an ambitious office worker (Lemmon) who climbs the corporate ladder by “lending” his apartment to his philandering bosses before getting his priorities straight – has been resistant to any upward or downward revision in my mind. It's been a constant, the test, I guess, of a truly great personal film.

Few movies, however, have the kind of impact on our lives that that “The Apartment” has on mine. But the infrequent great ones do come along from time to time, films that restore our belief in possibilities and that remain our points of reference throughout our lives.

These movies are like dreams that live on. Each movie, each celluloid dream, becomes a part of our mental scrapbooks. I know that I’ve lingered over movies and movie scenes the way some people reminisce over snapshots of that wonderful vacation in Cape Cod. “The Apartment,” for example, has been carried around inside me ever since that first viewing. It’s familiar and comforting, like an old easy chair that’s been lugged to each new place in which I’ve lived – to remind me of where I’ve been and from where I’ve come.

That movie is like a ribbon, a thread, that has run through my life and I can always go back to it. And, like me, throughout the years, it has evolved and changed. It hasn’t remained the same and, for some reason, I find that reassuring.

I still quote lines of the Billy Wilder-I.A.L. Diamond dialogue from the movie – such as Lemmon’s casual shrug, “That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise,” or his observation to his dream girl in the film, Shirley MacLaine, as they are about to enjoy a spaghetti dinner on Christmas day: “It’s a wonderful thing – dinner for two.” Shirley MacLaine. Yes, she was my dream girl, too.

Inevitably, I found myself discreetly consulting “The Apartment” as a way of getting through life. A situation would be confronted by speculating how C.C. Baxter, Lemmon’s character in the fim, might handle it. I actually thought I’d grow up to be Jack Lemmon or, at least, C.C. Baxter.

Of course, I wasn’t Jack Lemmon and my life that followed wasn’t at all like the one he lived in “The Apartment.” And with this, I realized that movies have the ability to hit us in more ways, and on more levels, than we can ever appreciate. They are transporting and make us believe.

Up until that time, I spent endless, sleepless nights as a kid wondering if I’d grow up to look like Jack Lemmon (I didn’t) or if I’d join the Navy the way he did in John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy's “Mr. Roberts” (again, I didn’t) or work for an insurance company the way he did in “The Apartment” (ditto) or if I’d marry Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik (no way). These were actual, recurring dreams.

Ever since I first saw “The Apartment,” my life has been wrapped up, irrevocably, in movies, so much so that, for me, film has evolved into a pop psychology. Film became a part of something larger in my life. Movies and events in my world have tended to blend together.

Along the way, I learned to separate fantasy from reality, to realize that only a few of my movie-fed dreams will materialize. And I’ve also accepted the realization that many of these dreams may fall short of “the way it happens in the movies" - a harsh truth for the movie-loving kid still inside me.

No, the Navy no longer holds any glamour or allure for me, and neither do insurance companies. And I married someone who, I think, is better than Fran Kubelik. But I have other, newer dreams, all of which, I’m sure, also come from the movies.

Note in Passing:  My parents were not happy that I went with my aforementioned friends to see "The Apartment."  I subsequently saw it on my own several more times, always behind their backs.  I'd fib and say I went to another film.  I remember telling them that I had seen "The Story of Ruth," a Biblical epic.  Blasphemy, I know.  In reality I was watching Jack lend out his apartment to his bosses for sex.  I confess: I was a kid sinner.

(Artwork: top: Publicity shot of Jack Lemmon as C.C. "Bud" Baxter in "The Apartment"; middle: still shot of the office Christmas party, and bottom: Lemmon and director Billy Wilder, a "mutual admiration society" on the set)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

welcome: an introduction to The Passionate Moviegoer

After spending most of my life at the movies (or at least thinking about them) and all of my adult life reviewing them professionally, I decided it was time to kick back with a little movie-free downtime.

But my wife Susan had other ideas. Convinced that I’m way too opinionated a soul to truly harness myself – and also too much of a movie aficionado to completely fast – she had this handsome blog designed for me. “Indulge yourself!,” she said. A compelling, possibly dangerous idea. After all, an idle mind can uncork some weird, comic demons, and this blog, I decided, would be devoted to my own personal demons - a collection of movie-fed daydreams.

My most intense movie passion revolves around those titles that are, well, not “the usual suspects." I'm not talking about great movies, but good, solid films that, as I point out in the introduction to your left, have been either neglected, overlooked, underrated, hastily dismissed or unfairly maligned.

These are films that are lost, plain and simple. They are just about impossible to see nowadays. Because of studio indifference/politics, they not only have never been issued on home video/DVD, but have also virtually disappeared from the airwaves, never or rarely televised anymore. Without some kind of acknowledgement and, yes, gratitude, these films have the potential disappear ...forever.

They are also the kinds of movies that critics rarely, if ever, return to – for the purpose of reevaluation that, by extension, would possibly adjust original first impressions that were perhaps the result of deadline pressures.

As a working critic, I had become keenly aware of how different a film can look when distanced from the prevailing hype (or bad press) that surrounded it on its initial release.

And, frankly, as a film enthusiast, I get weary of scanning the revival listings in The New Yorker magazine and The Los Angeles Times - only to find, yes, the usual suspects being honored and celebrated again. You know the culprits -“Citizen Kane,” “Nashville,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Searchers,” “Raging Bull” et al. These are films returned to by critics on a regular, predictable basis. There’s nothing left to say about them. Certainly, I have nothing to add. At this particular juncture in my life, such films seem to interest me less and less.

Rather, my goal is to share with you films of a rarer persuasion - movies likely to go through my head at any given moment, often bleeding together.

When the mood strikes me, I hope to comment on Natalie Wood’s “Inside Daisy Clover.” On another day, it might be the lost Pat Boone musical, “Mardi Gras,” a personal guilty pleasure. There will be viewpoints on films unavailable on DVD, such as Billy Wilder’s “Ace in a Hole” and Martin Ritt’s “No Down Payment" and pronouncements on those lost films that pop up occasionally and unexpectedly on American Movie Classics.

That said, I don’t mean to imply that this blog will devoted exclusively to lost movies, that there won’t be occasional comments on contemporary titles and new DVD releases. But I’ll make every effort to veer away from the current Hollywood blockbuster or the latest critics’ darling. One thread that I'd like to weave through this blog is what I call missed opportunities on DVD releases. For example, why on earth haven't Kevin Costner's deleted scenes in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" ever materialized on home entertainment of any sort? And exactly where are all the songs excised from James Brooks' former musical, "I'll Do Anything"?

Speaking of musicals, I also hope to post periodic comments on the musical film, perhaps the most creative, least appreciated genre, one that embraces every possible art and craft. And I will certainly muse periodically about the appeal and talents of Jack Lemmon, an all-time favorite of mine, as well as the subject of two books that I wrote. There will be a LOT of Jack Lemmon here.

Anyway, on different days, in different moods, these movie-fed daydreams may vary, starting in one place and then going someplace else. And beware - my conclusions will be ever changing, too, sometimes maddeningly so.

I relish the idea of sharing these daydreams with you and sincerely hope that you will open up and share yours with me. And, by all means ... feel free to disagree. --Joe Baltake, 8/1/06

(Artwork: Natalie Wood, in extreme close-up, on a 1962 cover of SHOW Magazine.)