3/12/12: “10”

Doesn’t she do anything except swim and jog on the beach?

George Webber, played in his inimitably lovable inebriated fashion by Dudley Moore, is a famous pop composer who, at the seemingly premature age of 42, suddenly hits middle-aged crisis HARD. He can’t write, think, have sex with his girlfriend Sam (Julie Andrews), get along with anyone, or otherwise function is society unless he’s pretty hammered. One day, while driving he sees a stunningly beautiful woman on her way to her wedding. Obsessed by her amazing beauty, he follows her to the church and makes a fool of himself as he voyeuristically tries to spy on her. The woman is, of course, Bo Derek as Jenny Hanley – the definitive “10 (well, actually, she’s graded an 11 on a scale of 10) – in only her second role.

The film, directed by Blake Edwards, was nominated for both Best Score and Best Song (It’s Easy to Say). Both nominations went to Henry Mancini. As expected in a Dudley Moore film, the music is paramount. This, however, is not only Derek’s break out film, it’s Moore’s as well. Blake Edwards, with whom along with the great Stanley Kubrick & Mick Jaggar I share a birthday, on the other hand, was coming off a triad of successful, if slapsticky mediocre, Pink Panther films. He’d receive an Honorary Oscar in 2004. And Julie Andrews, of course, won the Best Actress Oscar as Mary Poppins.

George’s little wedding day venture into voyeurism is just a scratch at the surface of this, the secondary theme of the film after middle-aged syndrome. He has a telescope with which he frequently watches the sexual escapades of his Beverly Hills neighbor and his wife. They have no qualms at all about this and gladly put on unreciprocated shows for George. But that’s not the end of it: George spends plenty of time peeping in on their nudist pool parties and even gets drunk and attends one – much to the irritation of the tempted occasionally by voyeurism Sam. They don’t cohabitate, but she’s there a lot. One day, she stops over to see him when George isn’t there. Sam looks through the telescope, presumably to check on the goings on, and sees he’s there at a party – stark, bare ass naked!!!. The film is a romantic comedy and in true form, George grows & learns what’s important.

Interestingly, Edwards was inspired to write the script as a result of catching a glimpse of a gorgeous woman on the way to her wedding. And he wanted Peter Sellers to play George, which would have marked the 4th consecutive film he directed in which Sellers was the lead, but he turned it down. He made a cameo appearance as a jazz drummer in a restaurant but the scene hit the cutting room floor.

Like the fine brandies that George imbibes throughout the movie, “10” ages well. There is the frequent anachronistic reminder of what many a woman of the era looked like full frontally nude but other than that, the film is every bit as sexy as any released today – and [thankfully] it’s not available in 3D. Get it??? Er,…,I mean, go out and GET IT!! 🙂

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3/9/12: Beau Ideal (1931)

“The highest honor that can be bestowed on man or beast – Stout Fellow!!”.

This makes the 3rd movie in a row that I’ll have seen as part of the Rave Motion Pictures Southington Cinema Classics series about male American expatriates temporarily holed up in Morocco: On Jan 23, in The Flying Deuces, it was Laurel & Hardy as themselves; on Feb 27, Bogey as Rick Blaine in Casablanca; and today, Lester Vail as Otis Madison in Herbert Brenon’s Beau Ideal (pronounced, bow Ee-Dee-el).

Brenon directed 71 feature films between 1913 & 1940 including the silent film to which this movie is a sequel, Beau Geste, adapted from the first novel of a trilogy by P.C. Wren. He was nominated for Best Director for Sorrell & Son at the first Academy Awards.

Beau Ideal, adapted from Wren’s final book in Beau trilogy, stars Vail, Ralph Forbes reprising his Beau Geste role as John Geste, and Loretta Young as Isobel Brandon. Young, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1947 for The Farmer’s Daughter, is given top billing along w/ Forbes even though her role is relatively small.

Although Ideal was made just after the silent film era, histrionics are rare. There are only the white-on-black setting storyboards throughout the film to remind us of how new “The Talkies” were. The movie follows the lives of Otis & John from childhood until they’re young adults in the French Foreign Legion, as they vie for the love of Isobel. Otis, an American boy, spends time in England w/ the Gestes where he meets & falls in love with Isobel. But then must return home to New York. When he finally returns, 15 years later, he intends to ask Isobel for her hand in marriage only to find out that she’s betrothed to John. Unfortunately, John has been court martialed & sentenced to 10 years in the French Foreign Legion’s Penal Brigade. Otis enlists to find & return him to Isobel.

The major themes of the film are love, friendship and healthy competitive rivalry. One minor theme, the religious prejudice between Muslims & Christians makes it surprisingly current. It’s played out by the evil Emir’s favorite belly dancer, the Angel of Death. But we soon learn that she’s not anti-Western at all. In fact, she’s quite the opposite but assumes that characteristic as a survival mechanism. For historical context, the French Foreign Legion was formed to combat northern African Muslim forces. The Christians & Muslims had been at war for centuries, from the Crusades through the 17th century, when Muslim pirates were seizing European trading ships and invading their harbors for abduction & enslavement.

The best scene in the film is the Angel of Death’s belly dance. It’s amazing that, in 1931, it wasn’t censored. It’s not only erotic, but provocative. She calls John a “Christian dog” and spits in his face! So, if you get a chance, go to the Rave Southington on Monday March 12 at 3:00 and check out Brenon’s Beau Ideal. It’s only $3 and comes with a small popcorn & a small soft drink!!

3/5/12: Harvey

Pooka – From old Celtic mythology: “A fairy spirit in animal form, always very large, appears here & there, now & then, to this one & that, who is very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Blog Reader?”

Harvey, one of the most beloved films of all time, was voted the #7 Fantasy in 2008 by the American Film Institute, and AFI’s #35 Funniest Movie in 2002. Josephine Hull won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1950 at the 23rd Academy Awards as Veta Louise Simmons, reprising her role on Broadway at the 48th Street Theatre when the play closed after 1775 performances. In addition, the great James Stewart was nominated for the Best Actor as the slightly askew alcoholic, Elwood P. Dowd, losing to José Ferrer as Cyrano de Bergerac. The film was directed by Henry Koster and is his most famous and finest piece. Amongst his other 48 directorial features: The Bishop’s Wife and The Singing Nun.

The story is of the happy-go-lucky Elwood Dodd, an alcoholic (though he’s only seen taking a sip off a drink once in the movie) who sees, converses with, and is best friends with an invisible 6’3.5″ tall pooka taking the form of a white rabbit. Elwood and his sister Veta are quite well to do – Elwood, 42 years old & much younger than his sister, doesn’t have to work at all. He gets to spend his time down at Charlie’s all day having cocktails with Harvey and the other patrons of the neighborhood bar. He passes out his card to everyone he encounters, “Happy to know” all of them, and inviting them all to dinner the next day. He’s so carefree & unconcerned with the business of the world that, in the opening scene, he’s given an envelope of supposed importance which he simply rips up and throws on the street.

Veta is on a mission to get her daughter Myrtle Mae, played by Victoria Horne, married off before she is too old in the post-World War II upper echelon society. Veta adores Elwood and seems to simultaneously believe in/perceive Harvey and think that Elwood is touched. Myrtle Mae simply dislikes her Uncle Elwood and finds him, at the very least, a nuisance who needs to be institutionalized. She eventually convinces her mom to have him taken to the sanatorium. Of course, as with all great comedies, complications ensue – there is confusion over who is really the patient: Should it be Veta or Elwood. And that’s the point of the film: Is Elwood crazy or does Harvey exist? And it’s not just Elwood and Veta who are influenced by invisible Harvey: All of the customers and employees at Charlie’s acknowledge the pooka; the head of the sanatorium himself, Dr. Chumley, believes in him; and Harvey even makes a visible appearance in the end scene as the film credit “Harvey as Himself” is shown.

Harvey is a classic motion picture – one of the best comedies ever, and not to be missed – a joyous movie. In this day and age, when politicians are arguing over gay marriage & medically insured contraception; where it’s in vogue to be prejudiced against Muslims; where our first African-American President must produce his birth certificate to validate his legitimacy to those that can’t accept the idea that the world and country is changing; a little comedy from post-WWII, Red scare, McCarthyism America can teach us all about tolerance.

Forrest would say that “Crazy is as crazy does”; Robert Hunter, “One man’s crazy is another man’s fun”. But I think Elwood himself said it best: “I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.”. Me? I think I’ll just have myself a drink!

3/4/12: Rango

Now, remember folks: Stay in school, eat your veggies, and burn everything but this Blog.

On our mission to watch each and every 84th Oscar Winner, we rented Rango & screened it on Sunday night. The trailers didn’t move me so I skipped it in the theaters. That was a mistake. It’s every bit as good an animated film as you can expect to see in a given year. No! You can’t expect The Lion King or Up. They happen but are rarities. Reportedly, 2011 was a good year for animated films in general, but Rango certainly deserved the Oscar. I plan to see Chico & Rita soon and expected against general consensus that it would take the prize, but no longer expect it to be the better of the two.

This marked Gore Verbinski’s 9th feature film. He’s most well known for the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films and the collaboration w/ Johnny Depp continued here. To my eyes, this was the only good film the two made together. Verbinski’s other excellent film, The Weather Man, starred Nicholas Cage and bookended Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, the second and third Pirates films respectively. That fact alone gives me high hopes for the soon to be 48 year old Verbinski, who received an Oscar as one of the producers or Rango.

The animation in the movie is excellent and the voice over cast superb. It includes stellar performances by journeywoman Isla Fisher in the starring role as Beans, Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine Fame as Priscilla, and Ned Beatty as the Mayor. The brief appearance of Spirit of the West (aka Clint Eastwood from the Spaghetti Westerns) voiced by Timothy Olyphant is brilliantly penned, drawn & vocalized.

The film follows Rango, a pet gecko presumably who, through an unfortunate incident, gets displaced from his family. He has no name and adopts that one when he hits the Old West desert town of Dirt. He entertains himself in his tank by acting and this skill becomes very important to his survival in Dirt. Dirt is a dying town because the water is drying up. When he meets Beans, she holds a conspiracy theory that someone is dumping water into the desert during this terrible drought. Sound familiar? Chinatown’s main plot is co-opted for this parody film. Other films are parody in brief also: As already mentioned, the Spaghetti Westerns; also Star Wars; but perhaps the best parody takes place before Rango gets to Dirt and lands on the windshield of an animated Depp as Hunter S. Thompson’s as he’s speeding through the desert in a convertible. Classic stuff!

While never appearing on the screen, Depp impresses to the point of this being amongst his best roles, with only Finding Neverland and Chocolat easily surpassing this performance. In terms of comic roles, it’s up there with Johnny Depp as Thompson, Willie Wonka, Sweeney Todd, Mad Hatter, etc.

This is a 4-star film – well 3.5 really but I don’t do halves – and not to be missed. It’s cool and light and fun. Exactly what the doctor would order if you’re just about to leave his office and he says, “By the way, I found a human spinal column in your fecal matter.”.

3/3/12: Wigjam 3/3/12 – Sullivan Hall, NYC

My brother Mike & family’s Christmas present to Cindy & me was a delightful overnight stay in the City, centered around a late show by the excellent New York City area Grateful Dead tribute band, Wigjam, at Sullivan Hall on Sullivan Street in the heart of West Village. Our overnight residence was in the Sheraton Tribeca on Canal Street, on the northern border of the TriBeCa (the triangle below Canal Street) section of Manhattan. The hotel is lovely and reasonably priced, and the service is excellent!

The show itself was scheduled to start at 10:30. Like most concerts, the start time was suspect but, in this case, that was putting it mildly. For the early part of the evening, Sullivan was booked for a private birthday party event. We stopped by the Hall at about 9:00 and were told that the line to get in for the very inexpensive $10 ticket priced event would begin at 10:30, w/ the band starting at 11:15. In the meantime, we landed a few doors down at the very cool & laid back 206 Lounge for a few $3 Bud & Coors Light bottles. We closed our tabs at 10:30 and headed to Sullivan to find that the doors weren’t going to be open for another 20 minutes. Obviously, that time was also suspect so we went back to 206 for another round, then showed up at Sullivan finally walked right in at 11:15. The band eventually made their way to the stage in this perfectly designed for sound venue at 11:45 for the start of what was sure to be a late night.

The sound was a little rough at first, w/ the bass very overpowering: The worst possible acoustical issue; a flaw that cannot be overcome. You can compensate for it somewhat by moving behind & to the side of the crowd so that the bulk of the sound will be absorbed by the audience in front of you. This technique was satisfactory and shortly thereafter, the sound was perfectly clean no matter where one was situated.

Highlights of the first set included a rousing rendition of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodle-oo (1/2 Step), a rockin’ version of the Grateful Dead’s arrangement of the Johnny Cash classic Big River, and the classic GD suite China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider (a traditional folk song). But to these ears, the highlight of the set came at about 12:30 w/ Jimmy Cliff’s signature Harder They Come. The song was long a Jerry Band standard and the arrangement doesn’t stray too far from the original short of smoothing out the calypso beat. That tune produced smiles all around, most of which stayed for the remainder of the show.

After the set break, the band was back out for another solid 75 minute set & encore. Though the second set was the shorter of the two, it was definitely the better of the two excellent sets. By the time it started at 1:45, much of the crowd had left. I only have the one complaint about the show – a 11:45 start time and 3:00 end time actually requires a pm and am to clarify. Though the City never sleeps, had this been a 10:00 – 1:00 event, the audience would have been bigger and the start & end attendants almost identical. Leaving a show in Manhattan at 3:00 a.m. makes for a 3 hours of sleep night. It’s a minor issue, but one nonetheless.

Highlights of the second set included The Music Never Stopped and arguably the Dead’s best ever suite, Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain. But the best tune of the night was the jazzy Garcia-Hunter composition, Eyes of the World. I’m convinced that, if performed at a high level, it’s impossible to not be celebratory during this song. It’s long and sweet and joyous. As time progresses, this tune continues to bubble to the top of my favorites list. And this version was not just the best song of the night, but the best I’d heard performed so far this year.

The Encore was Otis Redding’s Hard to handle performed in the style of the Grateful Dead’s early frontman, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. It was pretty much of an after thought – we didn’t expect to be afforded another song at 2:50 – but much appreciated. The highlight of the Encore came when one of the birthday bash celebrants – remember the birthday party that postponed the start of this show – a 20-something hottie in a little black dress who amazingly was still there minimally 6 hours after she arrived at Sullivan, decided to earn some Mardi Gras beads by lowering the top of her dress to show off her backless black bra: A perfectly perky end to an otherwise big & bouncy WIG JAM! 🙂

3/2/12: John Grisham’s The Rainmaker

One little woman from Memphis bankrupted them stupid, stupid, stupid sons of bitches!

What exactly is a Rainmaker? A person that can make the dollars fall from the sky. Okay. So who is The Rainmaker? In the great Francis Ford Coppola film based on John Grisham’s novel, The Rainmaker is Matt Damon in his wonderful portrayal of Rudy Baylor, a recent Memphis State Law School graduate who’s studying for & then takes the Tennessee Bar Exam in his first leading role, released just before Good WIll Hunting.

Coppola’s script is so good that I find it hard to imagine it was adapted from a Grisham piece. Not that I’m trashing Grisham here, but his novels are mainly commercial, just add water & they make their own sauce, formulaic works. It’s funny, joyous, important, and anti-establishment (which, being adapted from Grisham’s 6th novel, seems rather ironic). It’s also Grisham’s favorite film of all those adapted from his novels.

The cast in this movie is tremendous. As usual, Coppola is masterful in directing this great cast and in announcing some fabulous newcomers to the world: Claire Danes is Rudy’s spousal abused client & love interest, Kelly; Danny DeVito is fantastic as Rudy’s goofy but wise partner & mentor, Deck, who has failed The Bar six times; Mickey Rourke again works under Frances Ford (he previously marveled audiences as The Motorcycle Boy in the 1983 classic, Rumble Fish) as the likable but corrupt Attorney Bruiser Stone, who gives Rudy his first job in the law profession while he’s studying for The Bar; Teresa Wright in her final acting role as Birdie; Roy Scheider is the CEO of the corrupt & thieving Great Benefit Insurance Co.; Jon Voight looms large as Great Benefit’s Attorney Drummond; Mary Kay Place plays Dot Black, the plaintiff in a law suit against Great Benefit; Danny Glover, the liberal leaning Judge Kipler; Johnny Whitworth turns in a heart-wrenching performance as courageous, leukemia-ridden Donny Ray Black; and Virginia Madsen’s brief performance alone as Great Benefit’s forced to resign Claims Handler, Jackie Lemancyzk, makes the film worth watching.

The main plot and secondary & tertiary sub-plots revolve around Rudy’s interactions & relationships w/ his three clients. Respectively: Dot & Donny Ray, who he is representing in their lawsuit against Great Benefit for unfair denial of coverage for his bone marrow transplant operation; Kelly, for whom he drafts divorce papers for her to serve her evil, vicious husband Cliff; and Birdie, his landlady, whose will he is rewriting to “cut, cut, cut” out her shiftless sons.

This movie’s themes are numerous and uplifting. Amongst them: spousal abuse; corruption in big business; success is how you define it; love & protection; and most importantly, David & Goliath. While this is not a Francis Ford piece on the order of The Godfathers I & II or Apocalypse Now, it ranks w/ the best of his second tier films like The Outsiders, Peggy Sue Got Married, Gardens of Stone, Rumble Fish, Tucker, etc. It was not nominated for any Oscars, but Voight received a Golden Globe nomination for Supporting Actor.

Don’t take this film lightly, As Birdie would tell you if she were still here today, “This is that good processed turkey.”.

3/1/12: Cavatelli Pomodoro di Paolo

Ingredients

  • 1 red bell pepper, diced in 3/4″ squares
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced in 3/4″ squares
  • 1/3 bulb garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion,diced in 3/4″ squares
  • 2 tbls EVOO
  • 2 tbls dried red chilies infused EVOO
  • 6 oz can medium pitted black olives, halved along the diameter
  • 6 oz white wine
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 3 oz water
  • 1 tbls freshly ground sea salt
  • 1 tbls freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1.5 tsp dried oregano
  • 1.5 tsp Herbs de Provence
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbls Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing Mix
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 12-oz bags of identical brand & style frozen cavatelli
  • 2 tbls olive oil
  • 2 tbls table salt
  • 8 heaping tsp parmesan cheese

Recipe

Cook the cavatelli al dente per the timing on the bags w/ the olive oil & table salt, and set aside.

Heat both types of EVOO in a large skillet at medium. When hot add both types of peppers. Add the Italian seasoning, Italian seasoned salt, Herbs de Provence, 1/2 of the basil, and 1/4 each of the sea salt, black pepper, and Good Seasons. Saute until beginning to soften – approximately 7 minutes.

Add the onion, oregano, and another 1/4 of the sea salt, black pepper, and Good Seasons. Saute until the onions & peppers have softened – approximately 5 minutes.

Add the wine & deglaze the pan.

Add the tomatoes & juice. Rinse the can w/ the water & add it. Add the garlic, the remaining basil, and another 1/4 of the sea salt, black pepper, and Good Seasons. Stew at medium-high temperature for 5 minutes.

Add the olives & remaining spices. Bring to a boil then simmer until thickened – approximately reduced by 1/4.

Heat 1/8 portions of the cavatelli in the microwave for 1 minute and top w/ 3 – 4 oz’s of pomodoro and one heaping tsp of parmesan cheese. Serves 8.