4/18/14: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky

“Cindy & I decided to spend most of July 2012 in New Smyrna Beach FL. She was contemplating getting her master’s in Art Education which she had become interested in through her great affection for the paintings of Impressionists, especially Van Gogh. I’d spent the previous 6 months writing, directing & acting in introductions to classic films which I love. My performances, of course, I hated. I had just broken off a gig doing cooking demonstrations in a restaurant in Wolcott that was owned by a longtime friend. It ended badly, so I longed for a change of scenery. Everything fell into place when my brother, who was a Florida snowbird at the time, offered to put us up for the month free of charge. My brother & I were very at the time. We share the same tastes & opinions on most matters, yet when it comes to matters of art & entertainment, it would be hard to find two more dissimilar viewpoints. He has no tolerance for volume & takes no pleasure in music or film. He’s grounded in sports & television shows.” So we spent that month with neither a stereo nor a DVD player; spending most of our time together – on the beach & at Chases Tiki Bar – away from our work & studies; “and that’s exactly what we value above all else.” It’s good for people to escape on a nice long vacation to remember how much they love each other, develop new relationships, and the like. It keeps us open-minded & young.

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Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona explores that very idea. The 2 female leads, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), do exactly that, in Barcelona of course, for an entire summer. There they meet local artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) – chiseled, passionate & sexy – who invites them both to go to Oviedo for a weekend where they can all make love. Free-spirited Cristina is all for it. But Vicky is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina), a sweet & successful, but conventional New York City businessman – the polar opposite of Juan Antonio. Her wholesale rejection of the idea betrays an adventurous interest, although she is concerned not only about hurting Doug, but the impact this may have on Juan Antonio’s emotionally unstable ex-wife, María Elena (Penélope Cruz, who Javier began dating during filming & married in 2010). Like most Woody Allen films, there is narration for continuity – but this time not by protagonist in voice-over or breaking the 4th wall – by the golden voice of Narrator Christopher Evan Welch, who died of lung cancer on 12/2/13 at just 48 years of age.

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Penelope Cruz’s won the 2009 Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the 81st Academy Awards – the only nomination the film received – while on screen for just 41 minutes, making her first appearance at 51. Unlike virtually all talkies, Vicky Cristina has no score. However, the soundtrack is excellent. A film’s soundtrack differs from a score in that the score is original music written for the film’s background, to complement the action & set the mood. A soundtrack accompanies the film for independent or packaged sale, and consists of some or all of the music on it – these days on CD. The first soundtrack was a 78 RPM record package of the music of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Vicky Cristina’s soundtrack is a compilation, mainly of beautiful guitar pieces, including: Barcelona by Giulia y los Tellarini (Giulia & the Tellarini); the great Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia’s Entre Dos Aguas (Between Two Waters); and Andrés Segovia’s arrangement of El Noi de la Mare (The Mother’s Son). Now watch the trailer below week, then add Vicky Cristina Barcelona to your Netflix Queue. 4 Stars!

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4/15/14: The Ten Commandments (1956)

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Commandments

When I first accepted the terrible truth that my age & salary were too high, and the end of my tenure at The Insurance Company was inevitable – that I was being forced out the door – naturally, I began to see myself as a pawn. And I asked myself, “Is life in servitude better than unemployment? No! Death is better than bondage”, and always will be. I told my manager, Linda, “‘I won’t slave for beggars pay! Likewise gold & jewels!” “You expect the loyalty the Egyptians showed Cleopatra. But you are not a pharaoh, though you treat me like less than a man.” I am retiring on Martin Luther King Day! “So let it be written. So let it be done.’” I tell you this story because, as Cecil B. de Mille himself says in his introduction to his 1956 masterpiece, The Ten Commandments, the film is about man’s God-given right to be free & to be treated with dignity. “This same battle continues throughout the world today.” It has been this way since time immemorial, and perhaps it will always be so. “But when those in positions of power treat their subordinates like beasts of burden – stripped of spirit & hope & strength – merely because they can, it shames the entire human race.” But not all companies treat their staff like minions. I’ve always been treated with dignity & respect at Rave Buckland Hills. The pay?? Um, let’s just say, I take it. 🙂

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My little tale of age & reverse sex discrimination is a metaphor to show how, by comparison to early Egyptian & our pre-Civil War slavery, the human race moves slowly but continually forward towards freedom. The Ten Commandments takes place at the dawn of recorded history, when monarchy & slavery were the way of the world. No one challenged the concept. EVER! And then came Moses, in this case, as characterized by Charlton Heston (who also does the Voice of God). We all know the story but the incredible cast warrants mention. It includes: Yul Brynner as Rameses II; Anne Baxter (All About ‘Eve’) as Nefretiri; Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, the Rameses’ Israelite puppet; Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) as Moses’ wife, Sephora; John Carradine as Moses’ older brother, Aaron; John Derek as Joshua; Vincent Price as Baka; Charlton’s son Fraser Clarke is The Infant Moses; and de Mille is the uncredited Narrator. Despite the cast & great performances, no acting Oscar nominations were included among its 7: Color Cinematography; Color Art Direction; Color Costuming; Sound; Film Editing; Best Picture (de Mille as Producer); and its win for Special Effects.

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During the production, which included over 14000 extras, De Mille had a coronary. He was back in the director’s chair in 2 days, though he never fully recovered & never made another film. He died on 1/21/59 at 77. The day before, his doctor made what was once referred to as a house call to check him out. When he told Cecil to admit himself into the hospital, the director replied, ‘No, I think I’ll go to the morgue instead.’. Though best known as an epic filmmaker continually barking out instructions to his cast & crew thru a megaphone atop a ladder, his directorial debut was in 1914. De Mille made 61 silent features & shorts and 19 talkies. Film pioneer, Alfred Hitchcock, by comparison, made just 10 silent movies & shorts, starting in ‘23. De Mille won the Best Picture Oscar for The Greatest Show on Earth and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in ‘53 at the 25th Academy Awards. 3 years earlier, he received an Honorary Oscar. So take a couple minutes to watch the Official Trailer for Cecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, then add it to your Netflix Queue. 4 Stars!

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4/8/14: And the Oscar Goes To…

ATOGT

“’Coming up on 15 sec’s to air. 015. Ladies & gentlemen, please take your seats!’ [Standing on a milk crate] The envelope, please. And the Oscar Goes To…[I drop an apple]: Gravity! AGAIN?? “Oh hi, I’m Mr. Marino. I know you guys usually call me Paulie, but now that I’ve won an Oscar, it’s Mr. Marino.” Mine is for Best Film Critic and was presented at our 2014 Oscars Party by Ralph Famigletti. “It was a great party: A number of people working very hard on very unglamorous things for a long time, with a tremendous risk of failure. And that’s Hollywood!”

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Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s And the Oscar Goes To… is a fabulous new documentary on the history of the Oscars that’s full of Red Carpet interviews, film & on-stage clips, and made-for-the-film narratives by Robert Osborne, Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Cher and Whoopi, to name a few. Released on 2/1/14 on Turner Classic Movies during their run-up to the Academy Awards, it’s too new to have any accolades. It does, however, have a score of 80 Rotten Tomatoes. Well not Critics or Top Critics Tomatoes. But 80% of the 25 users who rated it, liked it. 

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Bob Hope is noted as the seemingly house host – he hosted or co-hosted an incredible 19 times between 1940 & ‘78. There’s footage of the 1st Academy Awards in ’29, including all the cars arriving at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The ceremony heralded the oncoming change to the talkies when Warner Bros was given an Honorary Award for producing the pioneering new talking picture, The Jazz Singer. Excitement & nervousness of everyone there was always part of the ceremonies, even before they were broadcast. The purpose of the Awards then & now is to legitimize the genre as worthy of scholarly scrutiny, rather than it being a popularity contest. The creation of the Academy Awards helped fuel the population boom in L.A., as 100’s of 1000’s came to Hollywood with dreams of working in pictures. The clips are great: Watch for a tween/young teenage Angelina Jolie on the Red Carpet with her father, Jon Voight; did you ever want to see Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech for her brilliant portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind? It’s here! And, of course, it includes scores of great clips of fantastic movies. And the Oscar Goes To… is a treasure chest full of Golden Age & Silver Screen Nuggets! But it’s not all peaches & cream. McCarthyism Blacklisting, the Vietnam War, and other controversial topics are discussed. Sports & film are contrasted. In motion pictures, the black & white of winning or losing is meaningless, and comparing great movies is difficult. “Is The Godfather better than 2001? [Shrugging my shoulders] I don’t know.” Of course, like many good sports programs, we get a bloopers reel while the credits roll.

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Did you ever wonder how a film gets nominated for & receives an Oscar? For the 86th Oscars: Rule 1 defined the Awards; 2-4 specified a feature as over 40 minutes, released in L.A County only once with a start time during 2013, on specific mediums, run for 7 consecutive days with proper credits, and submitted for consideration by 12/2/13; 5 detailed nomination & voting rules for Academy members; and 6-27 are Awards specific rules including the Honorary, Technical & Scientific, Foreign Language, and Shorts. The rules for the 87th Oscars have been published but I have not yet reviewed them. Now, click on the links below to watch a slightly edited version of Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s And the Oscar Goes To…. 4 Stars

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