11/23/13: Elf


“What an adventure I had Thanksgiving Eve: I passed through The 7 Levels of the Candy Cane Forest; into The Sea of Swirly Twirly Gum Drops; over the Bulkeley Bridge; by the Edy’s Booth in the Shell Floor Lobby; and ended up in Auditorium 1 of Rave Buckland Hills Cinema in Manchester CT. That place reminded me of Santa’s Workshop! Except it smelled like popcorn. And everyone looked like they wanted to hurt me.”

Elf - Rave

The movie that was showing at the cinema was Jon Favreau’s Elf. So you shouldn’t have much trouble guessing what today’s Classic Movie Blog is, right? Elf stars Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. Well, Buddy isn’t really an elf. He’s a human, but he doesn’t know that. As an infant, through a tremendous stroke of good fortune, he went from an orphanage to the North Pole one Christmas morning where he was adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). He’s not nearly as good at elf stuff as the other elves, but way better than other people. One day, when full-grown but still innocent, he finds out that his biological father, Walter (James Caan), works in the Empire State Building. So he sets out to find him & tell him how much he loves him. He lands a job as a Christmas Elf in Gimbel’s & meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), who thinks he’s weird but finds his youthful exuberance charming. Some of the other great performances in Elf: Mary Steenburgen as Emily, Walter’s wife; Daniel Tay as Buddy’s half-brother, Michael; Ed Asner as Santa; and singer/guitarist Leon Redbone plays Leon the Snowman and has 3 songs on the soundtrack, including a great duet of Baby It’s Cold Outside with Zooey.

Elf - Buddy & Papa Elf     Elf - Buddy & Dad     Elf - Zooey Elf - Emily     Elf - Santa     Elf - Leon

Movie directors are a tight-knit group. Directors often homage one another in their work: Spielberg tributes Coppola’s ‘Rumble Fish’ in ‘Schindler’s List’; Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again, Sam’ is an homage Michael Curtiz’s ‘Casablanca’; and Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ centers around Georges Méliès’ 1902 short, ‘A Trip to the Moon’. Those 3 great directors all appear in Jan Harlan’s fantastic documentary, ‘Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures’.  Some of you may know that I recently taught a course on Kubrick for UConn Waterbury’s OLLI Program. Once you study him, you begin to notice his incredible range of influence – especially if you’re some freak who likes having his picture taken with Keir Dullea while drinking a glass of wine. Seemingly every film these days references Kubrick. As do Stanley’s own films. It’s said Eyes Wide Shut, his final picture, alludes to every one of his other 12 features. I haven’t looked for them all…YET!!! And yes,…,Favreau references Stanley in Elf – twice, in fact! He hints at both Dr. Strangelove and Kubrick’s signature white-on-black storyboarded ‘THE END’. Elf, the 7th highest grossing film of 2003, wasn’t nominated for any Oscars or Golden Globes. But neither fact tells the story of the legacy of the piece: It’s a nonstop tribute to other motion pictures. There are scenes or characters that remind us of: Peter Pan; It’s a Wonderful Life; Miracle on 34th Street; The Poseidon Adventure; the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film; The Fellowship of the Ring; Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Edward Scissorhands; A Christmas Story; Leo McCarey’s Love Affair and his own, more renowned remake starring Cary Grant, An Affair to Remember. I’ve embedded the trailer below but it’s just a candy cane. Add the film to your Netflix Queue for your real Christmas prize – you’ll be able to actually see all of these & maybe even find other movie references along the way as you watch Will Ferrell as Jon Favreau’s Elf. 3 Stars!

Elf - RumbleElf - SchindlerElf - PIASElf - CasaElf - HugoElf - MoonElf - StanleyElf - OLLIElf - KeirElf - EWSElf - StrangeloveElf - EndElf - Peter PanElf - IAWLElf - 34th StElf - PoseidonElf - BigfootElf - FOTRElf - RudolphElf - ScissorElf - Xmas StoryElf - Love AffairElf - Affair to Remember


11/14/13: JFK (1991)


[In Walter Cronkite voice]”President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time on November 22, 1963: 50 years, 5 weeks & 1 day ago!” And since that fateful day, the American people have asked the same 2 questions over & over: Who did it & how was it done? Today’s Blog is of Oliver Stone’s JFK, a film which asks us to consider a different question: “Why? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Why? The how & the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald…Ruby…Cuba…the Mafia…Keeps ’em guessing like some kind of parlor game! Prevents ’em from asking the most important question: Why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who?”

JFK - Dead 

Stone & Zachary Sklar adapted the Oscar-nominated screenplay from 2 conspiracy theory, best-selling non-fiction books: Jim Marrs’ ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy’; and primarily, Jim Garrison’s ‘On the Trail of the Assassins’. Kevin Costner plays Garrison in the lead role, a former FBI agent who was the New Orleans District Attorney when Kennedy was assassinated. The film is quite long at 3 hours & 9 minutes – a necessity for Stone to detail the intricacies of the plan carried out by the vast web of conspirators the film argues are involved. Needless to say, the movie completely dismisses the Warren Commission’s findings that Kennedy was killed by a single shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. This thought-provoking motion picture is full of cameos & great performances by great actors: Ed Asner; Jack Lemmon; Sissy Spacek as Garrison’s wife, Liz; Joe Pesci in the key role of David Ferrie; Walter Matthau; Tommy Lee Jones in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated performance as Clay Shaw; John Candy; Kevin Bacon is Willie O’Keefe, a character based on multiple persons; Donald Sutherland is X, the movie’s ‘Deep Throat’; Oliver Stone makes a cameo as a Secret Service Agent, ala Hitchcock; and Garrison himself plays his nemesis, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

JFK - CostnerJFK - OldmanJFK - AsnerJFK - LemmonJFK - SissyJFK - PesciJFK - MatthauJFK - JonesJFK - CandyJFK - BaconJFK - SutherlandJFK - StoneJFK - Garrison 

JFK was nominated for a total of 8 Oscars in 1992 at the 64th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, winning in the Cinematography and Film Editing categories. Film Editing is part of post-production, which means it’s part of the process that takes place once filming is complete. Traditionally, editing meant splicing sections of film together, but now it’s usually done digitally. It’s the art of sequencing footage per the director’s instructions. The Film Editor is the head of the Editing Dept. Sometimes, editing includes combining stock footage with the takes done by the actors. Such is the case with JFK’s Co-Film Editors, Joe Hutshing & Pietro Scalia. Oliver Stone tells his story of conspiracy in JFK through a masterful blend of acting & news reels put together by Hutshing & Scalia. The real footage includes: Castro; Cronkite; de Gaulle. Eisenhower; Jimmy Hoffa; J. Edgar Hoover; Hubert Humphrey; Jesse Jackson; LBJ; Jackie, John, Bobby & Ted Kennedy; Khrushchev; Martin Luther King; Senator Joe McCarthy; Nixon; Malcolm X; and Adlai Stevenson.

JFK - EditorsJFK - Castro & KhrushchevJFK - CronkiteJFK - de GaulleJFK - Ike & JFKJFK - HoffaJFK - Hoover & BobbyJFK - HHH & NixonJFK - Jesse & MLKJFK - Jackie & TeddyJFK - McCarthyJFK - XJFK - Adlai & LBJ

So now Oliver & I are going to conspire to keep you occupied for over 3 hoursOnce you watch the trailer below, you’ll add the motion picture to your Netflix queue. 4 Stars!

11/7/13: Risky Business (1983)


“Lately, I’ve been having the same dream every night. It’s all tinted in orange. I go to my neighbors’ to borrow some sugar. I ring the doorbell, but nobody answers. The door is open, so I go inside. Nobody seems to be there. And then I hear the shower running, so I go upstairs to see what’s what. I walk into the bathroom & there she is – my incredibly hot next door neighbor. So I go to her & open the shower door… and…I find myself…right here, in front of my laptop, unprepared to Blog a classic movie yet again! Oh well, I may never get to Hollywood, and I am not sure if I’m awake or if this is just a tangerine dream,” “but sometimes you just gotta say, ‘What the fuck!!’” Anyway, today’s Blog is of Paul Brickman’s Risky Business starring Tom Cruise as Joel, a high school senior torn between his scholastic career & his desire to lose his virginity. His rich parents (Nicholas Pryor & Janet Carroll) want him to go to Princeton. When they go on vacation, his friends Miles (Curtis Armstrong) and Barry (Bronson Pinchot), want him to say, “’What the fuck!’” and have a big party in the house. Rebecca DeMornay is great as the female lead, Lana the Call Girl, in just her second role. Her ‘manager’ is Guido (Joe Pantoliano, best known as Cypher in The Matrix and Teddy in Memento). The infamous Joel’s tighty-whitey dance to Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll scene, was entirely improved. The script simply called for Cruise to dance to the tune.

Risky - Parents    Risky - Friends    Risky - Rebecca Risky - Pantoliano      Risky - Joel

Risky Business received no Academy Award nominations, but Cruise was nominated for the 1984 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Movie Comedy or Musical. Cruise was nominated for Best Actor Oscars in 1990 & ’97 for Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire, respectively; and for Best Supporting Actor in Magnolia in 2000. Barry Levinson’s signature piece, Rain Man, won 4 Oscars & was nominated for 4 more. But Cruise’s wonderful performance as Charlie Babbitt was snubbed in the Best Supporting Actor category.  

Risky - 4th    Risky - Maguire    Risky - Rain

The esoteric score in Risky Business is by the German progressive rock band, Tangerine Dream. Though we think of movie scores as by specialized composers like Hans Zimmer, there’s a rich history of rock stars & bands composing motion picture scores. Real soundtracks, not those made from albums like the 5 Beatles’ movies or ‘Pink Floyd The Wall’ or concert films like ‘Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same’. Tangerine Dream has over 20 movie soundtracks in the ‘80’s alone, including: Legend, which also starred Tom Cruise; Firestarter, starring a then 8 year-old Drew Barrymore; and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. They composed the music for 2 other of Scott’s films, as well: Alien, from ’79; and Black Hawk Down, from 2001. There are more than a score more rock bands/stars that have done movie scores: Pink Floyd has 3 themselves, and co-composed on the cult favorite Zabriskie Point with Jerry Garcia; Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman has composed almost 80 scores, including 5 in 2013 & all but 2 of Tim Burton’s films, and has 4 Oscar nominations*; Stewart Copeland of the Police over 50, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street; Ry Cooder has 17; Mark Knopfler, 10, including The Princess Bride; Peter Gabriel has 3 including The Last Temptation of Christ; Jimmy Page – Death Wish II & 3; and who could ever forget the Bee Gees’ score for Saturday Night Fever? So now, watch the trailer & then add the movie to your Netflix DVD list so you can groove to some Tangerine Dream, Tom Cruise, and his under pants in Paul Brickman’s Risky Business. 3 Stars!

Risky - Tangerine Risky - Zimmer Risky - Pink Risky - Jerry Risky - Copeland    Risky - Cooder    Risky - Knopfler Risky - Gabriel    Risky - Page   Risky - Bee Gees

* Credit for the Danny Elfman notification goes out to Joe Andrade. Thanks, Joey!!

11/5/13: Dirty Harry

DH - Shots      DH - Colt

“I know what you’re thinkin’, punk. You’re thinkin’, ‘Did I have six shots or only five at lunch today?’. Well I was in there too, but to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a Magnum of Colt .45, the most powerful beer in the world and will blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’. Well, do ya – punk?”


Today’s Blog is on Don Siegel’s 1971 crime drama, Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood in the title role. San Francisco Homicide Inspector Callahan is on the trail of a serial killer who goes by the moniker, Scorpio (Andy Robinson). Scorpio is a fictionalized version of the Zodiac Killer who was operating in the area at the time and, to this day, has never been caught. Scorpio, after snipering a girl in a pool, sends a letter to the Mayor (John Vernon, best known as Animal House’s Dean Wormer) informing him of his intentions to kill one person a day until his ransom of $100 grand is met. The Mayor agrees, putting an ad in the paper telling Scorpio that he needs time to put the money together. He isn’t thrilled with the idea of Dirty Harry handling the case, based on his history of violence with his beloved .44 Magnum pistol. Callahan’s rookie partner, Inspector Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) is hardly up to the task, let alone alongside a renegade like Callahan.

DH - Harry    DH - Scorpio    DH - pool DH - Mayor      DH - Chico

Harry sets the bar for on-screen vigilante cops who dish out just deserts to their evil antagonists. And 1971 was a big year for that type of policeman. The French Connection, released a couple of months earlier, earned Gene Hackman his only Best Actor Oscar as tough cop, Popeye Doyle, in the 2nd highest grossing film of ’71; Dirty Harry was 4th. Eastwood wasn’t the first actor offered the role. It was turned down by 6 others including: Sinatra; Paul Newman; John Wayne; and Burt Lancaster, who disliked all the violence & felt it promoted right-wing politics. Good thing too: Lancaster was 58 during filming & Eastwood did all of his own stunts on the picture. Dirty Harry received no Oscar nominations, but was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry last year. Eastwood, on the other hand: Has 5 Oscars, including the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Academy Award; he’s been nominated 6 more times; he has a string of Golden Globe wins & nominations; he’s done it all; he’s even talked to a chair before an audience of millions!

 DH - FC    DH - Sinatra    DH - Newman DH - Duke      DH - Lancaster    DH - Chair

Dirty Harry is the first and far & away the best of a 5-picture franchise culminating in 1988’s The Dead Pool. Franchises are very popular today, but rarely go beyond 5 or 6. Many people don’t realize that the idea goes back to the earliest days of cinema. Live action, character-based franchises dominated early American film. There are 20 franchises of 25 or more movies & shorts where the first was released before filming ever even began on The Wizard of Oz, including: Over 200 for Sherlock Holmes, the most of any character, from 1916 to 2011; almost as many Dracula pictures; 35 Charlie Chans; over 100 about Cinderella, the first released 1899; plus Jesse James, Hopalong Cassidy, Frankenstein, Tarzan, and Rin Tin Tin. So now, “go ahead & make my day” and watch the trailer below then add Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry to your Netflix Queue if “you’re feelin’ lucky, punk!” 4 Stars!

DH - OzDH - SherlockDH - DraculaDH - ChanDH - Cinder DH - jesseDH - HopalongDH - FrankensteinDH - TarzanDH - Rin