Tuesday, June 30, 2009

10 random things...

Tagged by Kate Gabrielle... :-D

10 random things about me. I ended up choosing movie-related stuff.

1. I used to wear a braid in my hair like Lee Marvin's character Tully Crow from The Comancheros. Yes, my role models sucked. So did my fashion sense. But I also have always had a thing for braids.

2. The first animal I got to name after a movie/book character was a black koi. I named him Ramius. We had a koi pond, and the whole family got to pick out our koi from the big koi farm and name them. Ramius was a beautiful fish, the only black koi we had in a school of yellow, orange, red, and white. My dad was in charge of naming our cats growing up, so there were never any movie names in there. Almost every one of my animals since has been named after a movie or book character. I really loved that koi.

3. The first celebrity death I was aware of was Stephen Boyd's. It was also the first death to make me realize people weren't going to be around forever, that they could die young. It was my first look at mortality, and I've never forgotten how I felt that day when my mom told me and showed me his obituary in the newspaper.

4. I hated/feared swimming growing up. To get me to jump into a neighbor's pool one day, my parents told me I couldn't watch Journey to the Center of the Earth on TV that night. I'd have to go to my room while the rest of the family watched it. Yeah, I finally jumped. After much crying. And no, I still don't particularly like swimming, though I'm not afraid of it and can dive and swim underwater and all the rest when required.

5. The only movie I ever almost walked out of the theater on was the remake of Cape Fear. I found it completely repulsive, and it cemented my dislike for Martin Scorsese. (I do like the original.)

6. Most amazing scenes from a classic movie that have to be seen on the big screen to truly be appreciated: chariot race from Ben-Hur and the raising of the obelisk from The Ten Commandments. When my dad and I went and saw the latter in the theater, when we came out, that's all both of us could talk about, how awesome the raising the obelisk scene was, a scene we'd never really paid that much attention to on television.

7. There are some movies I won't ever watch because I love the score too much and don't want to know what's happening to the music. I don't want images not my own in my head for those scores. The Blue Max, Masada, and The Missing are among the films on this list.

8. There's only one song I can think of that I can actually quote all the lyrics to if asked, without hearing the music. That's the theme to You Only Live Twice... or so it seems. Even having listened to the Beatles and Dean Martin and Bobby Darin and my favorite '40s songs hundreds of times, I still don't know the words. Lyrics are the least important part of a song to me.

9. The movies that gave me the most nightmares was the Alien/Aliens combo, movies I love very very much, but those darned facehuggers would hunt me in my dreams. Rarely the full grown aliens, though them too occasionally, but the parasite incarnation... yeah.

10. I learned to play Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat Major and part of Shumann's Carnaval Opus 9 just because Dana Andrews "played" them in two of his movies.

I'm not good at tagging people, so, if you'd like to play, please do!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

City for Conquest (1940)

I actually watched this film last month but failed to write about it. I enjoyed it a lot, even if the dirty fighting in the final boxing match made me squirm. It's a similar film on some levels to Golden Boy, except where in Golden Boy, William Holden is both musician and pugilist, in City of Conquest, the roles are split. James Cagney goes the boxing route to support his younger brother, the ever wonderful Arthur Kennedy, in his bid to be a composer. This movie also throws in Ann Sheridan, Cagney's girl, as a dancer seeking fame and fortune with her feet. A lot of the conflict comes from her goals and what she is willing to do to get there, vs. the simpler life Cagney wants. Anthony Quinn plays a smooth-talking, but nasty dancer who takes her on as a partner.

The film has a perfect example of the best kind of escalation (in plot terms). When Ann is completely fed up with what she's been going through with Anthony Quinn as a dance partner, when she's decided to go back and marry James Cagney, when he's happier than the proverbial clam at the prospect -- then she finally gets offered everything she wanted in the dance world, but requires reneging on everything she just promised Cagney. Oh, the exquisite beauty of that moment for a plot-loving girl like me! Now that's how you up escalate the conflict and the stakes for the characters.

James Cagney is definitely growing on me. He's fabulous to watch. I particularly liked his scenes with Arthur Kennedy, when they discuss music and he asks for his favorite bit of music to be replayed. Those are the kind of scenes that will always get me, seeing that love of music portrayed onscreen. And, as I'm the elder sibling in my family (and my sister is a musician), it was really easy to relate to Cagney's character and the choices he made to help his brother's dreams come true.

Then, there's Arthur Kennedy, very young and playing a nice guy for once. It's a nice change to see him play a good guy, not hiding any deep dark secrets, and with no need to pull some devious betrayals on those who trust him. I was originally thinking he and Cagney would make unlikely brothers, but quite the contrary. They fit very well together. Kennedy does quite the convincing job with the piano, but his conducting skills... Ahem. No comment.

All in all, a good film that I'll definitely watch again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Watching movies

There's been a lot of talk of new movies vs. old lately, and it reminded me of my youth, and what movies meant to me. The date a movie was made is really irrelevant to me. All I care about is whether it's a movie that works for me or not, whether it hits my personal buttons. More often than not, the films that do are films made before I was born, but not always. I think if I listed out my hundred top movies and their years, I'd probably find that the largest quantity of them fall squarely in the 1960s, but I could be wrong. Hm, might have to try that just for kicks. But as many old movies as I watch and fall in love with off DVD, what I miss about watching them is going to the theater.

Watching movies, but more importantly, going to the movies, has been an important part of my life from as early as I can remember. When I was a kid, there were no VCRs, no DVDs. If you wanted to see something, you caught it in the theater (either new or in a revival theater) or you watched it cropped, edited, and with commercials on static-laced television. The theater was where it was at. The big screen, the darkness, no interruptions... just magic. Even though you're sitting with family or friends, there's something inherently alone about experiencing movies on the big screen. My family was not allowed to talk (unless it was something urgent), and we rarely ate popcorn or anything because we were there to watch a movie, not eat. You sat in your seat quietly and you took it all in.

My mom used to complain bitterly every time we watched one of her favorite movies on tv because it would be cropped, and things she was used to seeing on the sides wouldn't be visible. (Oh, what a happy day it was in my family when they came out with movies in widescreen format!) And depending on the channel that showed the film, there were different pan-and-scan versions. So sometimes you would see things off to the right in a scene, sometimes off to the left. But never the whole film. My mom hated that. Passionately. You have to see it on the big screen, she'd tell us, because that was the only way to see what we were missing, to see the whole film. And in the theater there are no phones or doorbells ringing, no cats wanting in or out, no conversations, no commercials. For the length of the movie, you could be absorbed by that fictional world.

There were three favorite movies in our family growing up. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. My parents loved them, and so my sister and I loved them. I love that when The Time Machine came out, both my parents, who hadn't even met yet, sat through it twice in their separate theaters and towns, because the movie was so cool they just had to see it again. That's what they passed on to us kids. Good movies are seen in the theater multiple times. Particularly because you'll never get a chance to see them that way again. Particularly back then, when movie runs were quite short. My mom would tell us the films at her local cinema changed every week. Occasionally one was held over for two weeks, but she said that was rare.

I'm fortunate in that we went to see a lot of old movies at the revival theater when I was young. Whenever any of those "big three" came around, we went. They were often double features with other movies, like Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, When Worlds Collide, etc. I might have seen Forbidden Planet on tv first, but I only remember it from that first theater experience. That ID monster on the big screen? With its red glowing outline fighting the force field? Terrifying. That thing gave me nightmares. On a small tv screen, it's nothing, but on the big screen, that thing was powerful and alive and coming to get you. It still scares me because I can close my eyes and pull up the big screen memories, and remember what those steps looked like getting crushed under its weight.

Oddly, the revival theaters never seemed to show Westerns, or I think we would have lived at the theater. They were mostly science fiction movies. Which was fine, as my dad was an astronomer, and science fiction was one of our favorite genres. But I saw Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for the first time on the big screen, when my dad took my sister and me. My mom stayed at home because musicals aren't her thing. My family's a bit backwards that way. My dad is the romantic sap who loves musicals, my mom wants action and violence.

And always, my mom would tell us of how cool it was to see a movie you loved over and over in the theater, but we never had that experience until Star Wars came out.

There's life pre-Star Wars, and there's life post-Star Wars, and they're not the same thing. I still remember my family watching the previews on tv, asking "what the heck is that big furry roaring creature?" But it had spaceships and action, so my dad packed us all up and said we had to go see what the hubbub was all about. We drove all the way to the Avco Cinema in Westwood, because it was one of the biggest theaters around in those days (another thing my parents taught me -- distance is no object when going to the theater to see a movie; you go to the biggest screen for something good.) I remember how we boggled at the lines going around the block. I'm amazed we even found a place to park and got in, but we did. I even remember where we parked, that day stands out so much in my memory, and I was only nine. And magic happened. There has never been an eye-popping, whole-new-worlds-just-opened-up-before-me movie experience like that for me since. For me, growing up in the '70s, with the many sci fi movies we watched on tv and at the revival theater, Star Wars was truly one of a kind.

We went back and saw it well over twenty times in the theater. We were afraid we'd never see it again, except cropped and edited on tv, so we went back not only to enjoy it, but to notice and memorize all those things and characters in the corners that were going to be unceremoniously chopped off by the tv channels. We went to imprint the movie permanently into our memories so that no matter where or when we were, we could pull it up on our own mental movie screens and remember it in its true big screen glory.

That's what going to the theaters was all about. That's what movies were all about. To take something you loved and make it yours forever. And let me tell you, seeing a movie for the twentieth time in a huge darkened theater, is a completely different viewing experience from seeing something once, or twice, or even three or four times in the theater. It's different from seeing a movie twenty times on DVD.

My family did the same thing with a few other new movies over the following years, but only Raiders of the Lost Ark got the same royal treatment as the original Star Wars movie (actually, it exceeded it). If it was a very special movie, we still went back repeatedly, but nothing was ever as special as those two, not even their sequels. Eight became our magic viewing number. If you saw a movie that many times in the theater, it was given special status.

Then VCRs came out, then DVD players... and the movie-viewing world I'd been brought up with vanished. Now, I watch my 20-month-old nephew bring us the Mary Poppins DVD and expect it to appear on TV instantly. We were watching Singin' in the Rain at their house (just on tv) and he saw the Make 'Em Laugh routine for the first time, and no sooner was it over, then he walked over, got the remote, and handed it to us so he could see the scene again. That harmless little action spawned an hourlong discussion between my sister and I on movies and viewing them and what a different world it was nowadays. Where we had to latch on and savor every second and then wait six months or a year for the movie to come back on tv beore we could see the same scene again, he can have us back it up and savor it repeatedly on the spot. Sometimes, that's a very weird concept to me.

Movies aren't one-time deals anymore that you rush to see in the theater before they vanish forever. They aren't something you scour the tv page for, because if you don't catch it when it comes around, you won't see it (okay, not entirely true, as I still do this with TCM and all those wonderful movies that aren't available on DVD, even if I don't even get TCM). And I don't find this a bad thing at all. Quite the contrary. I revel in being able to own my favorite movies and watch them whenever I want. I love Netflix and YouTube where I can watch movies unavailable any other way, even if it's in a little window in the center of my computer monitor. The venue doesn't change my love of movies, or that joy of watching a good movie for the first time and finding out what happens. I wonder what we would have done when I was a kid if we knew all those movies we were desperately afraid we'd never see again, would be sitting in a $5.00 bin in a store some day.

So, as obsessed with George Raft as I still am, as much as I can't wait to see "new" old movies on DVD, I still keep an eye out on what new modern movies are coming out, hoping one of these days, one of them will be truly worthy, and I'll get that big screen pleasure again. Because I miss that. Passionately. Even if the movies now cost $9.00 for a matinee, no one sits through the credits, and I have to wear earplugs to reduce the volume to something tolerable.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"You said no rules, Colonel."

Hollywood Dreamland just posted a marvelous series of posts detailing his ten favorite actors, all amazing actors with great films under their belts. He had a little segment in each where he listed the first movie he saw for each actor, and his favorite movies for each of those actors. Made me really curious which was the first movie I'd seen my own favorite actors in. So, I thought I'd jog my memory and record it for myself here. I'm woefully behind in posting movie reviews and other things, so I'll ease myself back into posting this way. Favorites are always interesting to me because they're so subjective, and sometimes quite fickle. It's always intriguing to see how lists change over time.

Writing these out also made me realize that with the exception of William Holden and Dana Andrews, the movies I love my favorite actors for are all made in the 1950's on. Which then naturally led me to contemplating which 1930's and 1940's stars would be my favorites, without considering any of their films made after 1949. I'm still thinking about that, actually, and will post a list of those later.

  • William Holden
First Movie I saw him in: The Horse Soldiers when I was a kid. Really, if I'd never seen him in another movie, it wouldn't have mattered. This is the William Holden movie for me, the one that imprinted on me and gave me the cynical, charming, smirky William Holden I love above all his other characters.

Three Favorite Movies: The Horse Soldiers, Sunset Blvd., Alvarez Kelly
Honorable Mention: Texas

  • Lee Marvin
First Movie I saw him in: No idea. This could be any one of a dozen when I was a kid. It was probably a Western like The Comancheros or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or possibly Donovan's Reef. There's no moment where Lee Marvin's movies aren't in my memories, where his name wasn't known and his face and voice and swaggering walk not instantly recognizable. He always stood out from the crowd for me.

Three Favorite Movies: The Dirty Dozen, The Professionals, Paint Your Wagon
Honorable Mention: Cat Ballou

  • Dana Andrews
First Movie I saw him in: No idea here either. Probably Battle of the Bulge or In Harm's Way or Airport 1975 when I was young... but he was just a guy with a name I really liked back then. The first movie I saw him in where I sat up and paid attention was Best Years of Our Lives in Sept 2005.

Three Favorite Movies: Fallen Angel, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Swamp Water
Honorable Mention: Best Years of Our Lives

  • Ralph Meeker
First Movie I saw him in: The Dirty Dozen when I was a kid. But I never saw him as more than the guy with the funniest, most-quotable lines in one of my favorite movies until I saw Kiss Me Deadly in April 2008. Then he leaped from the just plain cool balcony, to the oh wow, where have you been all my life center stage.

Three Favorite Movies: The Dirty Dozen, Kiss Me Deadly, The Naked Spur
Honorable Mention: Jeopardy

  • Sam Neill
First Movie I saw him in: The Hunt for Red October, 1990, which launched the biggest (and still unrivaled) movie actor crush of my life.

Three Favorite Movies: The Hunt for Red October, Dead Calm, Jurassic Park
Honorable Mention: Reilly: Ace of Spies

  • Ewan McGregor
First Movie I saw him in: The Phantom Menace, 1999

Three Favorite Movies: A Life Less Ordinary, Brassed Off, Revenge of the Sith
Honorable Mention: Young Adam

  • Joel McCrea
First Movie I saw him in: Sullivan's Travels, Sept 2008

Three Favorite Movies: Ride the High Country, Ride the High Country, and Ride the High Country. Really, I should drop McCrea off my favorite actors list, because despite the fact that I've been hunting down all his movies (a requirement to make my favorite actor list), really, no other movie of his has yet come close to matching his performance in Ride the High Country. In his early days, he made a ton of romantic comedy movies, and those just aren't my thing. They're fun for a one-time viewing, but they won't make a repeat viewing list for me, and favorite movies are ones you watch over and over.
Honorable Mention: Dead End - There I named something else!

  • Aldo Ray
First Movie I saw him in: The Green Berets, sometime in childhood, but David Janssen was the guy who stood out at the time. First movie I paid attention to Aldo in was God's Little Acre, Dec 2005

Three Favorite Movies: Battlecry, We're No Angels, What Did You do in the War, Daddy?
Honorable Mention: Nightfall

  • Richard Boone
First Movie I saw him in: It was either The Alamo or Big Jake, sometime in childhood. I remember waiting through The Alamo just to get to his big scene towards the end, cuz I liked him so much.

Three Favorite Movies: Big Jake, Have Gun-Will Travel series, The Alamo
Honorable Mention: The Tall T

  • Vic Morrow
First Movie I saw him in: Combat! back in the early 90's. Not a movie, but that's okay. I knew his name because of his tragic death long before I actually saw him in anything. I didn't sit up and take notice until I started re-watching Combat! in 2004.

Three Favorite Movies: Combat!, Men in War, Cimarron
Honorable Mention: King Creole

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Del Monroe (1936-2009)

I am deeply saddened by the loss of one of my childhood icons. Del Monroe, who played Seaman Kowalski on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea passed away on Friday. Voyage was the show I spent more hours watching in my youth than any other. It (and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) started my enduring love of submarines and sent me applying to Annapolis -- except they wouldn't let women on submarines back then (they still might not) which derailed my intended career as a submarine captain (much to my dad's relief).

While I loved every character on the show, Captain Crane and Kowalski were my two original favorites, and I can't honestly say which one I liked better. One was an officer, the other a crewman, and they got to do different things on the show. Kowalski got in on plenty of adventures and action, from piloting the flying sub, to being taken over by aliens, to being nearly blinded, to simply manning his station. Kowalski was always cheerful, always enthusiastic, and always looked like he was having a blast, no matter whether he was facing spies or mad scientists or crazy alien monsters. Watching the show, he made me feel that excitement too. It was part of the joy of watching the show. Sure, there were some bad cheesy eps, but they were almost always still fun. And the good episodes just stood out even more. Or the episodes that were so outrageous they're good (I'm thinking "Deadly Dolls" here... Vincent Price, the opening puppet show, and the Nelson puppet's absolutely hilarious dialog and one-liners put this ep easily on my top ten list... yeah, I'm serious. I think my family quotes that doll's lines more often than any other character's dialog from the show, period! Back before VCRs, we used to sit beside the tv with a tape recorder and my mom would hold it up beside the tv's speaker and record our favorite parts so we could replay them when we wanted. We also recorded our entire favorite eps that way. Ahhh, the good ol' days.)

I even had a red jumpsuit and white sailor's hat I used to wear. Wore it quite a bit too. Yes, I am a dork.

Del Monroe guested on various tv shows and movies throughout his career, and I was always excited to see him whenever he appeared, but his work on Voyage is what I will always remember him for. Even though I've never met him, the world is an emptier place knowing he isn't around any longer.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

They Came to Cordura (1959)

Talk about a waste of movie time... That's two hours I can't get back. I appreciate the themes (what is courage and and what is cowardice in wartime and how do those relate to non-wartime actions), I appreciate what they tried to do (we're all only human with the capacity for either), but it just fell flat and failed for me. Not one likeable character in the entire film. Horrible score. Awful stilted, phony dialogue that no one could pull off except Van Heflin. (He was the only saving grace in the movie, the only one who managed to seem natural in a difficult role despite lacking any help from the script.) I admit, I'm not fond of Gary Cooper, but he's much better normally than he was in this movie. It's too bad, because the cast includes quite a set of famous names. All wasted.

Oh, and on the most annoying actors of all time list? For me, Tab Hunter is right up top. He is truly, absolutely annoying and a bad actor to boot.

Funny thing is, I already knew I didn't like this movie, but I gave it a try anyway because of the cast. I'd caught the beginning once a couple years ago when I was traveling and it was on in the hotel room. Just those first ten minute bored me and I turned it off then. I should have steered clear. ("You've got to steer clear. Steer. Clear?")