Tag Archives: movies

Turner Classic Movies Is My New Best Friend

As a child I used to love to read movie monster magazines, especially Famous Monsters of Filmland. I used to look at the pictures of all the old horror movies and think how much I’d love to see them. Every Saturday night Chiller theater would play two or three old horror movies, and while I was always hoping for a classic, it seemed more often than not I got The Monolith Monsters.

One of the movies I really wanted to see was a black and white film called The Island of Lost Souls. It was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. In 1977 Dr. Moreau was remade with Burt Lancaster and Michael York. I got to see that one when it hit HBO and even got to read the Marvel comics adaptation, but The Island of Lost Souls was still just a dream for me. It was even at one point considered a lost film due to the censorship it had faced back when the Hayes Code was in effect for movies.

Another string of films I really wanted to see, but that continuously avoided my viewing pleasure, were the silent film classics of Lon Chaney Sr. I got lucky enough to catch The Phantom of the Opera on PBS one time back in the days of their Matinee At The Bijou program, but never any of the other films that earned him the name “man of a thousand faces”.

About two years ago I started doing a podcast, Cinema Toast Crunch, ( http://www.cinematoastcrunch.libsyn.com )where I would get together with family and friends to watch a movie and immediately review it. It was a lot of fun even if our number of listeners never climbed all that high. After a bit I decided that I would like to try and do a second podcast on movies. This one would concentrate on the Oscar nominated best pictures from each year. As luck would have it, Turner Classic Movies was playing a lot of Oscar nominees and I was able to catch rarities like The Racket and The Crowd that had been nominated at the first Oscars. I also wanted to catch some of the films from this time period that had not gotten nominations just to see what the competition had been like. This required constantly checking the listings for TCM to see if any of these gems were playing.

One night as I was scanning through the upcoming films, a title jumped out and grabbed me. Turner was playing The Island of Lost Souls. The “lost” film from my childhood was going to be playing on my TV after a nearly 50 year wait. I sat my DVR with sweet anticipation and then also found that The Most Dangerous Game was also playing. It joined the list as well.

When I finally had the chance to sit back and watch the movies I was captivated by them. They were everything I had hoped for even if The Most Dangerous Game had never been as huge of a draw for my attention. I was so happy to have finally caught The Island of Lost Souls and scratched it off my movie bucket list. Then Turner decided to help me knock off a few more films by playing a Lon Chaney marathon. Here was my chance to finally see The Penalty, The Unholy Three, Laugh Clown Laugh, and several others.

As much as I love DVDs, and trust me, I love them a lot, Turner Classic Movies has become my new best friend. Many of the films they have offered are not available on DVD, and even many of the ones that are aren’t readily and easily available. The only problem is I don’t have as much time to watch movies now as I did in my youth, and sadly I have a harder time staying up and watching them without falling asleep. If only TCM and DVRs had been around when I truly had free weekends and a 3 months long break every summer. I might never have left my house at all.

Godzilla Gets Me Out To The Movies

I used to go to the movies all the time. As I’ve gotten older however, I find myself going less and less. For one thing I have less time and for another the prices are a little high in my mind. In the last three or four years I have only seen about five movies in the theater. I saw Avatar and Alice In Wonderland in 2010, The Avengers in 2012, This Is The End in 2013, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year. I’ve wanted to see numerous films during that time, but those were the only ones I actually got up and went out to see.

Tonight I decided to treat myself to Godzilla. I loved Godzilla as a child, and I passed that love on to my son who has taken it to new heights. He went opening weekend to catch the new Godzilla. I went two weeks later. I had initially planned to go see A Million Ways To Die In The West, but tonight was the last night for Godzilla in 3D, so the big lizard won out.

I took the family to the premiere of the 1998 Godzilla. In fact we got there early enough to catch Quest For Camelot first. When Godzilla 2000 hit, I took my son. This time I went alone. And I would have been alone in the theater as well were it not for one other couple that decided to take in Godzilla at the last minute. They arrived loudly during the previews and stayed loud throughout. They must have thought they were at home in their living room because they weren’t whispering. They were speaking in regular conversation voices. They were also smoking as well. In the course of the 2 hour movie they lit up at least twice as the smell drifted down to me and irritated my asthma and COPD.

But what about the actual movie? I guess Internet protocol states that I have to warn you there are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen Godzilla and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now. Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This is meant to be a more serious take on Godzilla. It is not as campy as the ones from my childhood and there is no humor in it. Another thing this Bryan Cranston starring Godzilla film was incredibly light on was Bryan Cranston and Godzilla. Cranston’s character is killed off in the first third of the movie and Godzilla doesn’t really surface until the final third. We get lots of the guy from Kick Ass, who doesn’t show much range of emotion. His whole story is trying to get home from Japan to his wife and son in San Francisco. He’s spent his whole life thinking his dad was a crackpot and when he learns his dad was right all along and the military has been covering things up, his reaction is essentially to shrug his shoulders and carry on. Elizabeth Olsen as his wife on the other hand seems to be constantly on the verge of tears. Tears of joy that her husband is back, tears of frustration because something happened in Japan and she can’t reach him to check on him, tears of desperation because in the midst of a giant monster slugfest her husband who is working with the military on an atomic bomb hasn’t managed to check in or arrive at their designated meeting point. And speaking of meeting points. Kick Ass finds out that the military is going to use a nuclear bomb off the coast of San Francisco to try and kill some giant monsters that eat radioactive material and tend to destroy any city they get close to. When he talks to his wife in San Francisco does he tell her to take their son and get the hell out of town? Go visit the biggest ball of twine up in the Northeast? No. He tells her to wait there at the hospital for him. The hospital in San Francisco right in the path of the monsters and near the possible nuclear bomb detonation point because nothing could possibly go wrong with a plan that involves nuclear weapons and giant freaking monsters. That’s like telling someone to go hide in the ocean because Jaws is coming. Think I’ll take my chances in the top of a skyscraper unless the weatherman is calling for sharknados.

The other major cast members include Ken Watanabe, who has mastered the art of staring out in the distance with a sorrowful concerned look, David Strathairn as an admiral that really doesn’t do a whole lot, and Sally Hawkins as Watanabe’s research partner. Hawkins is also under-utilized. In fact her role could have easily been combined with Watanabe’s if he didn’t need someone to stay focused on the here and now while he takes those long soulful stares out beyond the horizon.

As for the titular star, Godzilla, he looks better than ever except he’s put on a little weight. Actually it appears to be a larger chest area, so maybe he was working out and abusing steroids instead of gaining weight. It’s a long way away from the super sleek iguana of the ’98 version. The new monsters, a male and female MUTO looked much better than I expected. The toys made them look like an M shaped beastie with a claw on each long leg. They are much neater than that. They are nowhere near as messed up looking as Megalon or Gigan, but a little more dynamic than Rodan or Mothra.

I can’t say that I loved the movie. It’s not my favorite Godzilla movie by a long shot. It’s probably about number 4 or 5 out of the other five films I mentioned at the top. Definitely over Alice In Wonderland. Probably over This Is The End. Possibly over Avatar.

Forgotten Films of My Teenage Years

I love movies. You don’t have a collection of nearly 8000 DVDs without having a major affection for the world of cinema. One of the things that still amazes me, however, is how a film can almost completely disappear from the public’s memory. Just the other day I was thinking about several movies that I would love to see again, or better yet pick up on DVD or Blu-ray. Remember these weren’t silent films that were truly lost or destroyed. They weren’t films that were held back or banned by the talent involved or the courts either. None of these were huge hits, but they all got fairly wide releases as far as I could tell.

Partners starring Ryan O’Neal and John Hurt
So Fine also starring Ryan O’Neal
Coast To Coast starring Robert Blake and Dyan Cannon
If You Could See What I Hear starring Marc Singer
Nate & Hayes starring Tommy Lee Jones and Michael O’Keefe
Die Laughing starring Robbie Benson
Americathon starring John Ritter

I would also love to once again see a couple of foreign films I saw at the old Plaza East Cinemas and one I saw at the old Capitol theater.

Shadowman
It’s Not The Size That Counts
Flatfoot

I think the Warner Archives may have a couple of these films and I actually found a region 2 DVD of Shadowman under its original title Nuits Rouges on Ebay recently but was unable to spare the money for it at the time. Of course I’m not saying that these films are impossible to track down. I managed to track down bootlegs of Beyond Westworld and National Lampoon’s Disco Beaver From Outer Space, so if I really wanted these films I’m sure I could find them. Heck some might even be on Netflix. But of those 10 films is there anyone else that remembers all 10 of them? Does anyone remember 5 of them? How about The Fantastic Animation Festival, 20th Century Oz, or The Legend of Hillbilly John?

Some studio spent thousands or millions on these films and now they are nearly forgotten. Well here is my salute to these forgotten if slightly flawed gems. And let’s just throw out Squeeze Play while we’re at it. Now if I could just remember the name of the film about the young girl working her summer at a British hotel…

Let’s Talk About Racism

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have a new song out called Accidental Racist. I don’t know that the song is getting much airplay, but it is heating up the news channels. Race has been a hot button topic for a long time, but looking back to my youth there was one big difference to my mind. When I was a kid the “N word” was just another word. Most people wouldn’t think twice about saying it. The word was used extensively in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor used the word in several of his album titles and activist/author Dick Gregory used the word in the title of at least two of his books. You could even use the word freely on television. Yes, the word wasn’t supposed to be said by white people in racially mixed company, but even that happened from time to time. Sometimes there were fights because of this, but it just led to some fists flying and a whole lot more uses of the word in question. No one seemed to fear the word.

The word people tended to fear at least to my young eyes was one that started with an “F”. When someone said that word, you knew they meant business. It was never heard on television (at least until HBO came around). It was not used as frequently in the movies. It was never used as the title of a book or movie or record album to my knowledge. It was the Voldemort of words. Everyone knew the word, but most of us didn’t say it. Soldiers and sailors said the word, but mostly when fighting or surrounded by other soldiers and sailors. I was in second grade when I first came in contact with the word. It was written on the wall in one of my classrooms by a fellow student along with the word “ass”. Now I knew what “ass” meant, but this other word? I had no idea. One of the students said it was when two people “bumped their butts together”. Being an inquiring young boy thirsty for knowledge, I simply asked the teacher. She told me that it was a word only a very dirty person would know and didn’t provide me any sort of definition. I asked my mom when I got home and even she wouldn’t tell me what the word was supposed to mean.

Since the word was not used in Disney movies of the time, I was left to ponder the meaning of the strange word for several years before I finally got clued in as to its meaning. Or at least one of its meanings. The word had power back in the day. The other word, the one that started with an “N”… not so much. Over time the “N word” and the “F word” started changing places. HBO gave comedians, who apparently had been using the word quite successfully in their nightclub shows, a national stage on which to yell this little four lettered word at the top of their lungs. Films began using it more frequently (of course this might also be because I started seeing films like Animal House instead of 101 Dalmatians). The world didn’t end upon repeated utterances, but the word did start to lose its power. Once George Burns said it in Going In Style there was no fear left in the word. And yes, the scene where George Burns said the curse word to end all curse words did end up getting cut from the film, but just knowing that the man who played God had said this word was all it seemed to take. These days we don’t even call this word the “F word”. We call it the “F bomb”, even if it’s more like the “F firecracker” or “F sparkler” than an actual “F bomb”.

Songs started using the word. I remember the first time I heard Harry Nilson sing it in “You’re Breaking My Heart” I lost it. It was the early 80s by then and the “F” word was free. One of the highlights of going to the Roaring Twenties nightclub to dance was that point in the night when they would break out “The Rodeo Song” and watch the crowd go wild. But as this four letter term for fornication shed its trench coat and sunglasses, the “N word” picked them up and put them on. Social consciousness was sweeping the land; slowly in some places and not in all areas or interactions. And while activists would have a long road to travel before they would see a black man in certain neighborhoods in America, much less in the White House, one simple step that they all seemed to silently agree upon was that they would stop using the “N word”. White guilt or shame or perhaps just peer pressure slowly made the word less accessible. While the “F word” was starring in hit movies and waiting for the birth of the Internet where it would truly shine, the “N word” was becoming persona non gratis. White people were expected to have stopped using the word cold turkey. When we want to ask for one of those early Richard Pryor albums on CD our heads nearly explode. Even words that are close to the offending word give us trouble. Many of us listen as black people tell us that we are no longer allowed to use this word. Richard Roundtree’s blaxploitation western is now simply “Boss”. The last word in the title is missing and it won’t even show up on the side of a milk carton. (Do they still put missing children’s pictures on milk cartons?)

So the next step in the life of this word is for the black community to “take it back”. All of a sudden after a few years of the word being underground or in witness protection, it shows up as a term of affection used from one black person to another. Usually the last two letters have been replaced by a single letter “a”, but this is the equivalent of putting Groucho glasses on the Batman. You still know it’s the Batman, and if you say the wrong thing to Batman or about Batman, Batman is going to kick your ass. Now we have a word that is off-limits to a large segment of the population while simultaneously becoming heavily used by another segment. This creates a covetous attitude in many white people. Why can’t we say the word? Why is it okay if they say the word? I don’t like being denied my opportunity to sing along to Jay Z songs if I want to. Now the word has enormous power. If a white person says the word, he is almost always immediately branded as a racist (except for Quentin Tarantino, he seems to get a pass from much of the black community). The idea that a white person must never be allowed to utter this six letter word seems almost codified as national law which makes people who would normally never want to use the word, want to use it all the more. It’s like not smoking pot or obeying the speed limit. Even those that follow the law have thoughts about breaking it, and a lot of them will if they think no one is watching (or in this case listening).

Of course with blacks having their “off-limits to all but us” word, other groups hopped on board. Women despise the “C word” and gay people have fought to get their least favorite “F word” treated the same way that the “N word” is treated. They can say it. We can’t. So far they haven’t tried removing the last two letters and replacing them with the letter “A”. I really hadn’t noticed how much they had done to eradicate the use of this term until I was re-listening to an old Eddie Murphy stand up act and I realized how jarring it now seemed when he used the word in question. I couldn’t concentrate on the jokes any longer because I was trying to process how a comedian could get by with using this particular word these days. It couldn’t be done, but then this was an album from the early 80s.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I just write a blog because I enjoy sharing my thoughts in a printed format albeit an electronic one. I do know that we need to start talking to each other and explain the linguistic problems that we have. For example, to keep from offending the currently preferred racial label is African-American. Many don’t like to be called black and they certainly don’t like negro or colored, both of which conjure up more images of a less enlightened time. But America is not the only country with black people. Is Lenny Henry, the British comedian, an African-American? No. So is he an African Brit? What about Nelson Mandela? Is he an African-African? Black just feels like the most accurate and least racially insensitive term that can be used, but I’m open to ideas and enlightenment myself.

Don’t Forget To Remember What You Don’t Want To Forget

I remember a lot of what it was like when I was growing up. Oh sure I’ve forgotten a lot of it as well, but there are plenty of things that were just as basic as remembering to breathe. If I needed a quick bit of change, I would scour the neighborhood for discarded pop bottles. Each bottle would get you a dime which was enough money to make a phone call. Two bottles would pay for a comic book. I think Slurpees were fifty cents each, so five bottles would send you rocketing toward brain freeze if you so desired.

I also knew how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide. I could spell most of the words I could speak. School actually taught us these things along with history, state capitals, and other boring facts that we didn’t want to learn but did anyway. I loved books and movies, so I also learned who wrote what books and who directed which films. We didn’t have the Internet and the IMDB, so if I wanted to make a checklist of all of the Godzilla films, I had to know which books to look up the information and then memorize them. Same for the kids that lived on sports scores or music or what ever their field of interest was.

There were always certain films that I would read about and want to see. It started with Disney films, then monster movies, then Woody Allen films, then Oscar winners, and then various films important to the history of cinema like Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in any of this with my son’s generation. Comic books have been replaced by video games. Spelling has been replaced by spell check or just ignored completely. Math was no longer important to them once pocket calculators became cheap and of course now the calculators are antiques replaced by computers and smart phones.

Sometimes I wonder what has replaced all of the information that we used to have to remember. People don’t have to memorize phone numbers, their phones memorize the numbers for them. People don’t have to know where to go look something up because a search engine will do that for them. With all of the free memory space available to today’s generation what do they choose to remember? Video game button combinations. Somewhere my remaining aging brain cells are crying.

I Don’t Remember Buying That

Over the last few weeks we have moved over ninety boxes of toys from the old house to the new house. Some of them contain items I remember fondly such as my Mego Planet of the Apes dolls or old Star Wars toys. Some of the boxes contain toys that I recall buying, but that aren’t nearly as special to me. For example I have a couple or six boxes full of Simpsons action figures and a few Simpsons playsets as well. I bought the Android’s Dungeon comic shop playset because it was a comic shop and had the exclusive Comic Book Guy action figure. Of course what good is a playset without a few more figures, so I got Bartman. Then I picked up some other figures and a few more playsets because I wanted a little more diversity in my Springfield. When KB Toys put a bunch of them on sale, I had to buy even more of them. Next thing I knew I had a mini collection of Simpsons toys.

All of those items I remembered buying, but then I ran across the action figures for The Matrix and Austin Powers. Did I actually buy those? I must have because they’re quite clearly in my collection. Maybe they were on sale or clearance and I just couldn’t pass them up. The only problem there is that the price tags don’t seem to indicate this being the case. The Matrix figures appear to have all been purchased for the regular retail price of $9.99.

Finding items like this in my collection is like finding a hidden surprise, but it also hits on another problem. If I don’t remember buying them or having them, how badly would I miss them if I sold them? The Matrix figures all have very nice sculpts, but The Matrix isn’t a touchstone film with me. I enjoyed it, but the only personal milestone I can think of that is tied to it is the fact that it was the first film I saw at the Marquee Cinemas. The theater was having its pre-grand opening and was giving out free admission to celebrate. The wife and I had stopped to purchase tickets for Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace which was scheduled to open that weekend and stumbled into the giveaway promotion. I took the kids to see The Matrix and the wife went to see Shakespeare In Love. It was a fun evening, but nothing that would make me want to hold on to the toys as a reminder of it.

If I would just cut my toy collection down to the toys that actually mean something to me, I could probably make a few bucks selling the other items on eBay. Except when I look for these toys on eBay I run into two situations. Either they aren’t selling at all or they’re selling for so much money that I don’t want to sell them because if I ever decided that I did want them again, I’d never pay the price it takes to get them back. Yes, I have some serious issues with turning loose of things.

The Oscars Was My Childhood’s Super Bowl

I was a very unathletic child with asthma and coordination issues. There was no male role model in the house to drill the love of sports and loyalty to a sports team into my DNA. What I grew up with was a love of reading and of watching movies. I discovered the Oscars during the ceremony that saw Jaws nominated for best picture and lose. I didn’t actually stay up to watch the whole ceremony, but I flipped over and saw Jaws win a technical award and was pleased. I had probably caught a few minutes of some earlier broadcasts now that I think of it because I remember wondering why Million Dollar Duck wasn’t nominated or some of the other animated films I had seen that year. But I remember the Jaws ceremony as much more important to me. I was shocked that it didn’t win best picture.

It was a couple of years later that I became hooked on the Oscars. Star Wars had been nominated for best picture. I was certain it had to win. I had never seen a film that made me as happy as Star Wars did the first time I saw it. It was up against Julia, The Turning Point, Annie Hall, and The Goodbye Girl. Before the ceremony aired, I got to see The Goodbye Girl and Annie Hall. Annie Hall just didn’t connect to the 14-year-old boy living in Spring Hill, West Virginia. It had some funny moments, but I would need another year before I learned to appreciate Annie Hall, although I did develop a fondness for Woody Allen’s other films. The Goodbye Girl was a different story. I saw it at the old Saint Albans Twin Cinemas and immediately fell in love with it. If Star Wars didn’t win, I wanted The Goodbye Girl to take home the gold. I also wanted Star Wars to completely destroy Close Encounters of the Third Kind which at my young age I had decided was the most boring film in the history of the world. I reviewed it for my school’s newspaper and still remember the headline, “Close Encounters of the Boring Kind”. I really didn’t like it.

April 3, 1978 I stayed up late and watched until the final award of the evening was handed out. There were several things that made a huge impact on me that night. The first was Vanessa Redgrave’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. The next was Paddy Chayefsky’s rebuttal to her speech. This was also the night Bob Hope made a joke about the Oscars being referred to in his house as Passover that for some reason has stuck with me for all these years. By the end of the night Star Wars had pretty much beaten CE3K, but it still managed to lose to Annie Hall. At least Richard Dreyfuss won for The Goodbye Girl. One other memorable moment was watching favored nominee Richard Burton start to stand up to accept the award after only hearing the “Richard” part of it.

Ever since that night I have watched every single Oscar telecast live except for two. One year our cable was out and I had a friend and a family member both tape it for me so that I could watch it later. I followed the ceremony on the Internet using my AOL dial-up account. Another year I was just too tired to watch anything. I taped it and watched it later as well.

For several years Oscar night was met with plates of snacks and a festive atmosphere. The wife and I would each write down our picks and see who did a better job at picking the winners. It was usually me. Many times she would choose with her heart or a gut feeling while I would study all the factors like a gambler at the horse track. Never the less, she still managed to pick several that I missed. This year we pretty much let the whole thing drop. I had just gotten over a bad bout with the flu. There was no talk of making snacks. I guess she was worried about what my stomach would be able to handle, and she was tired from dealing with a sick hubby for several days. She sat down with me for the red carpet pre-show, but before the first award was handed out, she had settled in under the covers in the bedroom with the lights out.

One other thing that was different this year was that my daughter decided for the first time to actually sit down and watch the entire ceremony with me. Both of my kids have made attempts at trying to feign interest in their dad’s yearly big night, but these normally end within a couple of technical awards when they remember that there was something they needed to check on in their room. That’s kid-speak for “I’m bored and going to go play video games”. I was happy to have my daughter there this year, but I missed not having the wife beside me. Hopefully next year things will work out better. As for my picks… this was my worst year ever. I had absolutely no idea in so many categories. I had only seen one theatrical film in the last year (The Avengers) and hadn’t managed to pick up any of the available nominees on Blu-ray. Maybe next year.

Last night I was depressed. My health was giving me problems, my finances were out of whack, and I had decided to just sit there and internalize it. I sat down for a few minutes before I went to bed and tried to work some of my issues out by writing about it right here on this blog. When I got up this morning I found out that my post had been chosen as a “Freshly Pressed” winner by Word Press. The funniest thing is that right before I found this out, I was thinking about how depressing the whole post had been and that I would have been better off taking the time to follow the one depression cure that has always worked for me.

I discovered a few years ago that if I wanted to feel better all I needed to do was watch Smokey and the Bandit.
Smokey_and_the_Bandit
There are so many reasons why this works for me. Smokey and the Bandit takes me back to the 70’s. I was a kid without a care in the world. The film tapped into the whole CB radio craze of the time and had an amazing cast. Burt Reynolds was the man back then. Jerry Reed was a singer turned actor that seemed like someone you could have a good time with. Sally Field was shedding the image of the flying nun and was incredibly cute and sexy without being overly sexual. Jackie Gleason was hilarious, which was a real eye opener for a 13-year-old kid that hadn’t grown up on The Honeymooners. And of course the icing on the cake was the presence of Paul Williams. Paul Williams wrote some of the greatest songs of my youth, created one of my all-time favorite soundtrack albums with Phantom of the Paradise (which he also starred in with Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper), and played Virgil in Battle for the Planet of the Apes which had been my favorite film of all-time just a few years earlier.

So if I had only popped in the brand new Smokey and the Bandit Blu-ray that I got for Christmas last night, I probably wouldn’t have written the post that I did. Sure I might have felt better, but I would never have known the joy of being recognized for my writing. Well except for that one award I got several years ago for my ability to write quality porn for a now defunct web site.