Thursday, May 31, 2012

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan, known as "The Man Who Owns Broadway". It stars James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Richard Whorf, and features Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.

The movie was written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph, and directed by Michael Curtiz. According to the special edition DVD, significant and uncredited improvements were made to the script by the famous "script doctors," twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.

The song "The Yankee Doodle Boy" (a.k.a. "Yankee Doodle Dandy") was Cohan's trademark piece, a patriotic pastiche drawing from the lyrics and melody of the old Revolutionary War number, "Yankee Doodle". Other Cohan tunes in the movie include "Give My Regards to Broadway", "Harrigan", "Mary's a Grand Old Name", "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There".

Cagney was a fitting choice for the role of Cohan since, like Cohan, he was an Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man early in his career. His unique and seemingly odd presentation style, of half-singing and half-reciting the songs, reflected the style that Cohan himself used. His natural dance style and physique were also a good match for Cohan. Newspapers at the time reported that Cagney intended to consciously imitate Cohan's song-and-dance style, but to play the normal part of the acting in his own style. Although director Curtiz was famous for being a taskmaster, he also gave his actors some latitude, and Cagney and other players improvised a number of "bits of business," as Cagney called them.

Although a number of the biographical particulars of the movie are Hollywood-ized fiction (omitting the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried, for example, and taking some liberties with the chronology of Cohan's life), care was taken to make the sets, costumes and dance steps match the original stage presentations. This effort was aided significantly by a former associate of Cohan's, Jack Boyle, who knew the original productions well. Boyle also appeared in the film in some of the dancing groups.

Cohan is shown performing as a singing and dancing version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The reality of Roosevelt's confinement to a wheelchair due to polio was kept from the general public at the time. In the film, Roosevelt never leaves his chair when meeting Cohan.

The movie poster for this film was the first ever produced by noted poster designer Bill Gold. This movie also has an inside joke about movies: when Cohan "retires" in the 1930s and several teenagers (who know nothing about his career) ask him if he had ever been in the movies, he remarks that he had been an actor in the "legitimate theater."

Cohan himself served as a consultant during the production of the film. Due to his failing health, his actual involvement in the film was rather limited. However, Cohan did see the film before he died (from cancer) and approved of Cagney's portrayal

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Toy Story

Toy Story

Toy Story is a 1995 American computer-animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is Pixar's first feature film as well as the first ever feature film to be made entirely with CGI. The film was directed by John Lasseter and featured the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. It was written by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, and featured music by Randy Newman. Its executive producer was Steve Jobs with Edwin Catmull. Toy Story follows a group of anthropomorphic toys who pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present, and focuses on Woody, a pullstring Cowboy doll (Hanks), and Buzz Lightyear, an astronaut action figure (Allen).

The top-grossing film on its opening weekend, Toy Story went on to earn over million in the United States and Canada during its initial theatrical release and took in more than $361 million worldwide. Reviews were positive, praising both the technical innovation of the animation and the wit and sophistication of the screenplay, and it is now widely considered, by many critics, to be one of the greatest and most revolutionary films in the history of animation.

In addition to DVD and Blu-ray releases, Toy Story-inspired material has run the gamut from toys, video games, theme park attractions, spin-offs, and merchandise. View-Master released a three-reel set in 3D in 1995, prior to release of 3D films. The film was so successful it prompted two sequels; Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Both sequels were instant hits and earned very positive reviews, similar to the first; Toy Story 3 is, to date, the highest-grossing film in Pixar's canon. Leading up to the third film's premiere, as part of its promotion, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were also re-released as a double feature in Disney Digital 3-D on October 2, 2009. The film was selected into the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 2005, its first year of eligibility.

Main cast

* Tom Hanks as Woody
* Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear
* Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head
* Jim Varney as Slinky Dog
* Wallace Shawn as Rex
* John Ratzenberger as Hamm
* Annie Potts as Bo Peep
* John Morris as Andy Davis
* Erik von Detten as Sid Phillips
* Laurie Metcalf as Mom
* R. Lee Ermey as Sarge
* Sarah Freeman as Hannah Phillips
* Penn Jillette as TV Announcer

Additional voices

* Joe Ranft as Lenny
* Jeff Pidgeon as Squeeze Toy Aliens/Mr. Spell/Robot
* Jack Angel as Shark/Rocky Gibraltar
* Debi Derryberry as Squeeze Toy Aliens/Pizza Planet Intercom

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (40th Anniversary Edition)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, and featuring Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton. The film was groundbreaking for its positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which historically had been illegal in most states of the United States, and was still illegal in 17 states, mostly Southern states, up until June 12 of the year of the film's release, when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. The film was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and written by William Rose. The movie's Oscar-nominated score was composed by Frank DeVol.

The film is notable for being the ninth and final on-screen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn (filming ended just seventeen days before Tracy's death). Hepburn never saw the completed film; she said the memories of Tracy were too painful. The film was released in December 1967, six months after his death.

* Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton
* Sidney Poitier as Dr. John Prentice
* Katharine Hepburn as Christina Drayton
* Katharine Houghton as Joanna "Joey" Drayton
* Cecil Kellaway as Monsignor Ryan
* Beah Richards as Mrs. Prentice
* Roy E. Glenn as Mr. Prentice
* Virginia Christine as Hilary St.George
* Alexandra Hay as Carhop
* Isabel Sanford as Matilda "Tillie" Binks
* Barbara Randolph as Dorothy
* D'Urville Martin as Frankie
* Tom Heaton as Peter
* Grace Gaynor as Judith
* Skip Martin as Delivery Boy
* John Hudkins as Cab Driver
* Jacqueline Fontaine as Singer (uncredited)

The film tells the story of Joanna "Joey" Drayton (Katharine Houghton), a young white woman who has had a whirlwind romance with Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), a young, idealistic black physician she met while in Hawaii. The plot centers on Joanna’s return to her liberal upper-class American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiancé to dinner to meet her parents (newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy), perhaps a Hearst characterization, and his wife, small art gallery owner Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn)).

Brought up by her parents as a liberal, Joanna finds it difficult to comprehend the behavior of her parents on meeting John. While they taught her to treat blacks and members of other racial groups as equals, they cannot accept their daughter's actions for they did not expect her to introduce to them a black man as their future son-in-law. John's parents (Roy E. Glenn, Beah Richards) fly up from Los Angeles to the Draytons' dinner but don't know that Joanna is white until they meet her. Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway), a senior Catholic priest friend of Matt, is also present at dinner and is a voice for tolerance.

The film depicts the reaction of family and friends, the discomfort of her parents, and also of John's father, a retired postal carrier, as they all try to accept the choice of Joanna and John. The film also touches on black-on-black racism when John is taken to task by his father and the household cook (Isabel Sanford) for his perceived presumption. Unbeknown to Joey, John conditions the marriage as dependent upon the approval of Matt, whose decision in turn faces a deadline dependent on John's tight airline flight schedules.

Monday, May 28, 2012



Unforgiven is a 1992 American Western film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay written by David Webb Peoples. The film tells the story of William Munny, an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job years after he had hung up his guns and turned to farming. A dark Western that deals frankly with the uglier aspects of violence and the myth of the Old West, it stars Eastwood in the lead role, with Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris.

Eastwood dedicated the movie to deceased directors and mentors Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hackman), and Best Film Editing. Eastwood himself was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, but he lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. In 2004, Unforgiven was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The film was only the third western to win the Oscar for Best Picture following Cimarron (1931) and Dances With Wolves (1990).

* Clint Eastwood as William "Will" Munny
* Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett
* Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan
* Richard Harris as English Bob
* Jaimz Woolvett as The Schofield Kid
* Saul Rubinek as W. W. Beauchamp
* Frances Fisher as Strawberry Alice
* Anna Levine as Delilah Fitzgerald
* David Mucci as Quick Mike
* Rob Campbell as Davey Bunting
* Anthony James as Skinny Dubois
* Tara Frederick as Little Sue
* Beverley Elliott as Silky
* Liisa Repo-Martell as Faith
* Josie Smith as Crow Creek Kate
* Shane Meier as William Munny Jr.

The film was written by David Webb Peoples, who had written the Oscar-nominated film The Day After Trinity and co-wrote Blade Runner. The concept for the film dated as far back as 1976 under the titles The Cut-Whore Killings and The William Munny Killings. Eastwood delayed the project, partly because he wanted to wait until he was old enough to play his character and to savor it as the last of his western films. Much of the cinematography for the film was shot in Alberta in August 1991 by director of photography Jack Green. Filming took place over 52 days between September and October 1991. Production designer Henry Bumstead, who had worked with Eastwood on High Plains Drifter, was hired to create the "drained, wintry look" of the western.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blade Runner

Blade Runner (Five-Disc Complete Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

Blade Runner is a 1982 American science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. The screenplay, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, is loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

The film depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in November 2019 in which genetically engineered organic robots called replicants—visually indistinguishable from adult humans—are manufactured by the powerful Tyrell Corporation as well as by other "mega–manufacturers" around the world. Their use on Earth is banned and replicants are exclusively used for dangerous, menial or leisure work on off-world colonies. Replicants who defy the ban and return to Earth are hunted down and "retired" by police special operatives known as "Blade Runners". The plot focuses on a brutal and cunning group of recently escaped replicants hiding in Los Angeles and the burnt out expert Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who reluctantly agrees to take on one more assignment to hunt them down.

Blade Runner initially polarized critics: some were displeased with the pacing, while others enjoyed its thematic complexity. The film performed poorly in North American theaters but has since become a cult film. The film has been hailed for its production design, depicting a "retrofitted" future, and remains a leading example of the neo-noir genre. It brought the work of Philip K. Dick to the attention of Hollywood and several later films were based on his work. Ridley Scott regards Blade Runner as "probably" his most complete and personal film. In 1993 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Seven versions of the film have been shown for various markets as a result of controversial changes made by film executives. A rushed Director's Cut was released in 1992 after a strong response to workprint screenings. This, in conjunction with its popularity as a video rental, made it one of the first films released on DVD, resulting in a basic disc with mediocre video and audio quality. In 2007 Warner Bros. released The Final Cut, a 25th anniversary digitally remastered version by Scott in selected theaters, and subsequently on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray Disc.

A screenshot from the film shows a line of police vehicles with flashing lights flying high above a smog-covered cityscape. Below them several small pinpoints of light from aircraft-avoidance lights on the tops of towers are all that can be seen of the city
Screenshot of police spinners flying above Los Angeles

"Spinner" is the generic term for the fictional flying cars used in the film. A Spinner can be driven as a ground-based vehicle, and take off vertically, hover, and cruise using jet propulsion much like Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. They are used extensively by the police to patrol and survey the population, and it is clear that despite restrictions wealthy people can acquire spinner licenses.The vehicle was conceived and designed by Syd Mead who described the spinner as an "aerodyne" – a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: "conventional internal combustion, jet and anti-gravity". Mead's conceptual drawings were transformed into 25 working vehicles by automobile customizer Gene Winfield. A Spinner is on permanent exhibit at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington.

Voight-Kampff machine

A very advanced form of lie detector that measures contractions of the iris muscle and the presence of invisible airborne particles emitted from the body. The bellows were designed for the latter function and give the machine the menacing air of a sinister insect. The VK is used primarily by Blade Runners to determine if a suspect is truly human by measuring the degree of his empathic response through carefully worded questions and statements.
Description from the original 1982 Blade Runner press kit.

The Voight-Kampff machine (or device) is a fictional interrogation tool, originating in the book where it is spelled Voigt-Kampff. The Voight-Kampff is a polygraph-like machine used by Blade Runners to assist in the testing of an individual to determine if he or she is a replicant. It measures bodily functions such as respiration, "blush response", heart rate, and eye movement in response to emotionally provocative questions. In the film two replicants take the test, Leon and Rachael, and Deckard tells Tyrell that it usually takes 20 to 30 cross-referenced questions to distinguish a replicant; in contrast with the book, where it is stated it only takes "six or seven" questions to make a determination. In the film it takes more than one hundred questions to determine if Rachael is a replicant.

Harrison Ford ... Rick Deckard
Rutger Hauer ... Roy Batty
Sean Young ... Rachael
Edward James Olmos ... Gaff
M. Emmet Walsh ... Bryant
Daryl Hannah ... Pris
William Sanderson ... J.F. Sebastian
Brion James ... Leon Kowalski
Joe Turkel ... Dr. Eldon Tyrell
Joanna Cassidy ... Zhora
James Hong ... Hannibal Chew
Morgan Paull ... Holden
Kevin Thompson ... Bear
John Edward Allen ... Kaiser
Hy Pyke ... Taffey Lewis
Kimiko Hiroshige ... Cambodian Lady
Bob Okazaki ... Howie Lee (as Robert Okazaki)
Carolyn DeMirjian ... Saleslady

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby (1938) is an American screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and released by RKO Radio Pictures.
The movie tells the story of a paleontologist winding up in various predicaments involving a woman with a unique sense of logic and a leopard named "Baby". The supporting cast includes Charles Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Catlett, and May Robson.

* Katharine Hepburn as Susan Vance
* Cary Grant as Dr. David Huxley (alias Mr. Bone)
* Charles Ruggles as Maj. Horace Applegate, a big game hunter
* Walter Catlett as Constable Slocum
* Barry Fitzgerald as Aloysius Gogarty, a gardener
* May Robson as Elizabeth Random, Susan's aunt
* Fritz Feld as Dr. Fritz Lehman
* Leona Roberts as Mrs. Hannah Gogarty, wife of Aloysius
* George Irving as Dr. Alexander Peabody, Mrs. Random's lawyer
* Tala Birell as Mrs. Lehman
* Virginia Walker as Alice Swallow, David's fiancée
* John Kelly as Elmer
* Asta as George, a dog
* Nissa the leopard, as both of the leopards
* Ward Bond as Motorcycle cop at jail (uncredited)
* Jack Carson as Circus roustabout (uncredited)

In 1990, Bringing Up Baby was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", the second year that the registry started preserving films. Entertainment Weekly voted the film number twenty-four on its list of the greatest films. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the forty-seventh greatest comedy film of all time. It is also consistently on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films.

Premiere ranked Cary Grant's performance as Dr. David Huxley #68 on their list of The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. They also ranked the character of Susan Vance #21 on their list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing [Blu-ray]

Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American comedy/drama produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee, who is also a featured actor in the film. Other members of the cast include Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, and John Turturro. It is also notably the feature film debut of Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez. The movie tells the story of a neighborhood's simmering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of the summer.

The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Lee for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Supporting Actor for Aiello's portrayal of Sal the pizzeria owner. It is often listed among the greatest films of all time. In 1999, it was deemed to be "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, one of just five films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility.

* Spike Lee as Mookie, a young black man working in Sal's Famous Pizza
* Danny Aiello as Sal, a surly Italian man who owns the pizzeria
* Ossie Davis as Da Mayor, an older black man who some call the town drunk
* Ruby Dee as Mother Sister, an older black woman who observes the neighborhood goings-ons from the window of her brownstone
* Steve Park as Sonny, a Korean grocery store owner across the street from Sal's
* Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem, a towering young black man who always carries around a huge boom box blasting only Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"
* Richard Edson as Vito, one of Sal's sons and a friend of Mookie's
* Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin' Out, an excitable friend of Mookie's who "wants some brothers" on Sal's wall of fame
* John Turturro as Pino, another one of Sal's sons. He is not happy about being one of the last Italians in the neighborhood, nor about his brother's interracial friendship
* Rosie Perez as Tina, Mookie's girlfriend
* Paul Benjamin as ML
* Frankie Faison as Coconut Sid
* Robin Harris as Sweet Dick Willie
* Miguel Sandoval as Officer Mark Ponte, a policeman
* Rick Aiello as Officer Gary Long, a white policeman
* Joie Lee as Jade, Mookie's sister
* Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy, the local DJ
* Roger Guenveur Smith as Smiley, a young, mentally impaired man who tries to sell pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
* Steve White as Ahmad
* Martin Lawrence as Cee
* Leonard L. Thomas as Punchy
* Christa Rivers as Ella
* Luis Antonio Ramos as Stevie
* John Savage as Clifton
* Frank Vincent as Charlie
* Richard Parnell Habersham as Eddie
* Ginny Yang as Kim, Sonny's wife
* Nicholas Turturro (extra) (uncredited)

The film was released to protests from many reviewers, and it was openly stated in several newspapers that the film could incite black audiences to riot. No such riots occurred, and Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences were incapable of restraining themselves while watching a fictional motion picture.

One of many questions at the end of the film is whether Mookie 'does the right thing' when he throws the garbage can through the window, thus inciting the riot that destroys Sal's pizzeria. Critics have seen Mookie's action both as an action that saves Sal's life, by redirecting the crowd's anger away from Sal to his property, and as an "irresponsible encouragement to enact violence". The question is directly raised by the contradictory quotations that end the film, one advocating non-violence, the other advocating violent self-defense in response to oppression.

Spike Lee has remarked that he himself has only ever been asked by white viewers whether Mookie did the right thing; black viewers do not ask the question. Lee believes the key point is that Mookie was angry at the death of Radio Raheem, and that viewers who question the riot's justification are implicitly valuing white property over the life of a black man.

In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at #22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Searchers

The Searchers [Blu-ray]

The Searchers was Number 95 on the AFI List of the 100 Best American Films in 1998, number 12 (!) when they redid the list in 2007!

The Searchers is a 1956 American Western film directed by John Ford, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, and set during the Texas–Indian Wars. The picture stars John Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood), along with Jeffrey Hunter as his adoptive nephew, who accompanies him.

The film was a commercial success, although it received no Academy Award nominations. It was named the Greatest American Western of all time by the American Film Institute in 2008, and it placed 12th on the American Film Institute's 2007 list of the Top 100 greatest movies of all time.

* John Wayne as Ethan Edwards
* Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley
* Vera Miles as Laurie Jorgensen
* Ward Bond as Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnson Clayton
* Natalie Wood as Debbie Edwards (older)
* John Qualen as Lars Jorgensen
* Olive Carey as Mrs. Jorgensen
* Henry Brandon as Chief Cicatriz (Scar)
* Ken Curtis as Charlie McCorry
* Harry Carey, Jr. as Brad Jorgensen
* Antonio Moreno as Emilio Figueroa
* Hank Worden as Mose Harper
* Beulah Archuletta as Wild Goose Flying in the Night Sky (Look)
* Walter Coy as Aaron Edwards
* Dorothy Jordan as Martha Edwards
* Pippa Scott as Lucy Edwards
* Patrick Wayne as Lt. Greenhill
* Lana Wood as Debbie Edwards (young)

The Searchers was the first production from "distinguished turfman" C.V. Whitney; it was directed by John Ford, and distributed by Warner Brothers. While the film was primarily set in the staked plains (Llano Estacado) of Northwest Texas, it was actually filmed in Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah. Additional scenes were filmed in Mexican Hat, Utah, in Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, and in Alberta, Canada. The film was shot in the VistaVision widescreen process. Ford originally wanted to cast Fess Parker, whose performance as Davy Crockett on television had helped spark a national craze, in the Jeffrey Hunter role, but Walt Disney, to whom Parker was under contract, refused to allow it, according to Parker's videotaped interview for the Archive of American Television. Parker notes that this was by far his single worst career reversal.

The Searchers is the first of only three films produced by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney's C. V. Whitney Pictures; the second being The Missouri Traveler in 1958 with Brandon De Wilde and Lee Marvin, the last being The Young Land in 1959 with Patrick Wayne and Dennis Hopper.

In 1989, The Searchers was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry. The Searchers has been cited as one of the greatest films of all time, such as in a Sight and Sound poll of the greatest films ever made. In 1972, The Searchers was ranked 18th; in 1992, fifth; in 2002, 11th. The 2007 American Film Institute 100 Greatest American Films list ranked The Searchers in 12th place. In 2008, the American Film Institute named The Searchers as the greatest Western of all time. In 2010, Richard Corliss noted the film was "now widely regarded as the greatest western of the 1950s, the genre's greatest decade" and characterized it as a "darkly profound study of obsession, racism and heroic solitude."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show: The Definitive Director's Cut (Special Edition)

The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry.

Set in a small town in north Texas during the year November 1951 – October 1952, it is about the coming of age of Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). The cast includes Cybill Shepherd in her film debut, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid in his film debut and John Hillerman. For aesthetic and technical reasons it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for its time. Just for the record, I believe Cybill Shepherd's breasts are also an attraction in this film.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and four nominations for acting: Ben Johnson and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, and Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress. It won two: Johnson and Leachman.

* Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion, the owner of the town's café, movie theater, and pool hall. According to Bogdanovich, Tex Ritter was almost cast in the role (he was introduced to Bogdanovich by John Ritter, who was being considered for the part of Sonny). Johnson was not keen on the part because of the wordiness of the script; Eileen Brennan recalled that he hated to talk, saying he would rather ride his horse a "thousand miles than say any of these goddamn words." But Bogdanovich had his heart set on Johnson. He called director John Ford, whom he knew well, having previously completed a documentary on him, and Ford persuaded Johnson into the role by asking him "Do you want to be the Duke's sidekick forever?" Johnson continued to find reasons not to do the film, and finally Bogdanovich told him, "You, in this role, are going to get an Academy Award," and finally Johnson accepted, "All right, I'll do the damn thing." Johnson did indeed win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
* Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson, one of the popular kids in the school, who dates Jacy at the beginning of the picture. Bridges got the role because in the book he is not a particularly likeable character; Bogdanovich thought that Bridges's naturally fun personality would give the character extra depth and warmth, and make him less disagreeable.
* Timothy Bottoms as Sonny Crawford, Duane's buddy, who begins the picture with a girlfriend he does not like and ends up in an affair with Ruth. Bogdanovich liked Bottoms for his sad eyes, and recalled that he was convinced to cast him when he learned that he was being highly touted at the time by his agent who said he had been given the lead in a Dalton Trumbo movie Johnny Got His Gun (1971); "I guess that's what convinced me" he said. Bottoms did indeed have the lead in Johnny Got His Gun, although he was playing a quadriplegic and terribly mutilated World War I soldier who could not see, hear, move or speak.
* Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow, a pretty and popular girl who learns about life through her experiments with sexual attraction. Shepherd was a model whom Bogdanovich spotted on the cover of an issue of Glamour magazine (probably June 1970). "There was something about her expression that was very piquant," he later said. He arranged to meet her with her agent in a hotel in New York. She was, Bogdanovich says, interested in going through college and not particularly interested in being in movies, but she liked the script and thought it was an interesting part. She was playing with a rose on the table, and Bogdanovich kept expecting the rose to keel over and collapse; he recognised in that gesture the way Jacy Farrow plays with guys in the movie, and this convinced him that he had found Jacy. Bert Schneider, the producer, found a screen test Shepherd had done with Roger Vadim about a year before in which she was playing scenes from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with no sound, and dancing silently to a Rolling Stones song. After filming had finished Bogdanovich admitted to Shepherd that the only time he ever doubted his decision was when he saw that screen test. Shepherd went to Los Angeles and read with John Ritter, and with Robert Mitchum's son as well as Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms. Bogdanovich was married to Polly Platt but began an affair with Shepherd during the filming.
* Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper, Coach Popper's wife, who has a romantic affair with Sonny. Leachman wanted the role and Bogdanovich was impressed enough with her read-through to offer the part she wanted for a performance that ultimately earned her an Oscar.
* Ellen Burstyn as Lois Farrow, Jacy's mother, who romped with Sam in her younger days and has an off-and-on affair with Abilene. Burstyn was asked to read for the part of Genevieve, but she liked the part of Lois Farrow and asked if she could read for that and ended up reading for all three parts, including Coach Popper's wife. Bogdanovich thought she would be good as any one of them and decided he wanted her in the picture for any role she selected. She chose to be Jacy's mother because she thought the part interesting.
* Eileen Brennan as Genevieve, the café waitress, who inherits the café after Sam dies. Bogdanovich had seen Brennan on the stage in Little Mary Sunshine in the 1960s and thought she had the perfect face for the tired waitress. When she read the script, Brennan thought it so powerful she wanted very much to be a part of the film and gladly accepted the role.
* Randy Quaid as Lester Marlow, an unsavory character. Quaid was asked to read for the part of Bobby, the rich kid from Wichita Falls, but Bogdanovich thought he would be better as Marlow; it was Quaid's debut role.
* Clu Gulager as Abilene, a man the same age as Sam, who sleeps with both Jacy and Lois. Bogdanovich's first choice was the country singer Jimmy Dean, but his producers did not like that idea; his next choice was Gulager, whom he had seen give a great performance in Don Siegel's The Killers (1964). Gulager played hitman Lee with what Bogdanovich described as, "good regional quality."
* Bill Thurman as Coach Popper, the high school's athletic coach and Ruth Popper's husband; it is implied that he is homosexual, and he is confirmed as such in the director's commentary.
* Frank Marshall as Tommy Logan, a high school student. Marshall had been a production manager on Bogdanovich's earlier film, Targets, and they had such fun working together that Bogdanovich had promised him something on his next film. He came along as assistant production manager working with Polly Platt on location scouting and played a small part as the student who is smacked on the backside by Coach Popper during basketball practice. He shows up again later as a football player in a scene near the end.
* Sam Bottoms as Billy the street-sweeper. Timothy Bottoms's younger brother Sam came along to stay with his brother for a few days as rehearsals started in Archer City. Seeing Sam sitting on some stairs, Bogdanovich asked him if he could act. Sam, who had appeared in productions of Santa Barbara Youth Theater since he was 10 years old, shrugged, and despite having previously cast the part to an actor from Dallas, Bogdanovich signed Sam up.
* Sharon Taggart as Charlene Duggs, Sonny's dumpy, unpleasant girlfriend in the first act.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction [Blu-ray]

Pulp Fiction is a 1994 American crime film directed by Quentin Tarantino, who co-wrote its screenplay with Roger Avary. The film is known for its rich, eclectic dialogue, ironic mix of humor and violence, nonlinear storyline, and host of cinematic allusions and pop culture references. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture; Tarantino and Avary won for Best Original Screenplay. It was also awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. A major critical and commercial success, it revitalized the career of its leading man, John Travolta, who received an Academy Award nomination, as did costars Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman.

Directed in a highly stylized manner, Pulp Fiction joins the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals, and a mysterious briefcase. Considerable screen time is devoted to conversations and monologues that reveal the characters' senses of humor and perspectives on life. The film's title refers to the pulp magazines and hardboiled crime novels popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and punchy dialogue. Pulp Fiction is self-referential from its opening moments, beginning with a title card that gives two dictionary definitions of "pulp". The plot, as in many of Tarantino's other works, is presented out of chronological sequence.

The picture's self-reflexivity, unconventional structure, and extensive use of homage and pastiche have led critics to describe it as a prime example of postmodern film. Considered by some critics a black comedy, the film is also frequently labeled a "neo-noir". Critic Geoffrey O'Brien argues otherwise: "The old-time noir passions, the brooding melancholy and operatic death scenes, would be altogether out of place in the crisp and brightly lit wonderland that Tarantino conjures up. [It is] neither neo-noir nor a parody of noir". Similarly, Nicholas Christopher calls it "more gangland camp than neo-noir", and Foster Hirsch suggests that its "trippy fantasy landscape" characterizes it more definitively than any genre label. Pulp Fiction is viewed as the inspiration for many later movies that adopted various elements of its style. The nature of its development, marketing, and distribution and its consequent profitability had a sweeping effect on the field of independent cinema (although it is not an independent film itself). Considered a cultural watershed, Pulp Fiction's influence has been felt in several other media.

John Travolta as Vincent Vega: Tarantino cast Travolta in Pulp Fiction only because Michael Madsen, who had a major role—Vic Vega—in Reservoir Dogs, chose to appear in Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp instead. Madsen was still rueing his choice over a decade later. Harvey Weinstein pushed for Daniel Day-Lewis in the part. Travolta accepted a bargain rate for his services—sources claim either $100,000 or $140,000—but the film's success and his Oscar nomination as Best Actor revitalized his career. Travolta was subsequently cast in several hits including Get Shorty, in which he played a similar character, and the John Woo blockbuster Face/Off. In 2004, Tarantino discussed an idea for a movie starring Travolta and Madsen as the Vega brothers; the concept remains unrealized.

Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield: Tarantino had written the part with Jackson in mind, but the actor nearly lost it after his first audition was overshadowed by Paul Calderón's. Jackson assumed the audition was merely a reading. Harvey Weinstein convinced Jackson to audition a second time, and his performance of the final diner scene won over Tarantino. Jules was originally scripted with a giant afro, but Tarantino and Jackson agreed on the Jheri-curled wig seen in the film. (One reviewer took it as a "tacit comic statement about the ghettoization of blacks in movies".) Jackson received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Calderon appears in the movie as Paul, a bartender at Marsellus's social club.

Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace: Miramax favored Holly Hunter or Meg Ryan for the role. Alfre Woodard and Meg Tilly were also considered, but Tarantino wanted Thurman after their first meeting. She dominated most of the film's promotional material, appearing on a bed with cigarette in hand. She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and was launched into the celebrity A-list. She took little advantage of her newfound fame, choosing not to do any big-budget films for the next three years. Thurman would later star in Tarantino's two Kill Bill movies.
Willis evoked one 1950s actor in particular for Tarantino: "Aldo Ray in Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall [1956].... I said let's go for that whole look." His boxing robe, designed by Betsy Heimann, exemplifies Tarantino's notion of costume as symbolic armor.

Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge: Willis was a major star, but most of his recent films had been box-office disappointments. As described by Peter Bart, taking a role in the modestly budgeted film "meant lowering his salary and risking his star status, but the strategy...paid off royally: Pulp Fiction not only brought Willis new respect as an actor, but also earned him several million dollars as a result of his gross participation."[46] Willis's appearance and physical presence were crucial to Tarantino's interest in casting him: "Bruce has the look of a 50s actor. I can't think of any other star that has that look."

Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolf or simply "The Wolf": The part was written specifically for Keitel, who had starred in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and was instrumental in getting it produced. In the filmmaker's words, "Harvey had been my favorite actor since I was 16 years old." Keitel had played a character similarly employed as a "cleaner" in Point of No Return, released a year earlier.

Tim Roth as "Pumpkin" or "Ringo": Roth had starred in Reservoir Dogs alongside Keitel and was brought on board again. He had used an American accent in the earlier film, but uses his natural, London one in Pulp Fiction. Though Tarantino had written the part specifically with Roth in mind, TriStar head Mike Medavoy preferred Johnny Depp or Christian Slater.

Amanda Plummer as Yolanda or "Honey Bunny": Tarantino wrote the role for Plummer, specifically to partner Roth onscreen. Roth had introduced the actress and director, telling Tarantino, "I want to work with Amanda in one of your films, but she has to have a really big gun." Plummer followed up with director Michael Winterbottom's Butterfly Kiss, in which she plays a serial killer.

Maria de Medeiros as Fabienne: Butch's girlfriend. Tarantino met the Portuguese actress while traveling with Reservoir Dogs around the European film festival circuit. She had previously costarred with Thurman in Henry & June (1990), playing Anaïs Nin.

Ving Rhames as Marsellus Wallace: Before Rhames was cast, the part was offered to Sid Haig, who had appeared in many classic exploitation movies of the 1970s. Haig passed on the role. According to Bender, Rhames gave "one of the best auditions I've ever seen." His acclaimed performance led to his being cast in big-budget features such as Mission Impossible, Con Air, and Out of Sight.

Eric Stoltz as Lance: Vincent's drug dealer. Courtney Love later reported that Kurt Cobain was originally offered the role of Lance; if he had taken it, Love would have played the role of his wife. Tarantino, however, denies that he ever even met Cobain, much less offered him a role in the movie.

Rosanna Arquette as Jody: Lance's wife. Pam Grier read for the role, but Tarantino did not believe audiences would find it plausible for Lance to yell at her. Grier was later cast as the lead of Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Ellen DeGeneres also read for Jody.

Christopher Walken as Captain Koons: Walken appears in a single scene, devoted to the Vietnam veteran's monologue about the gold watch. In 1993, Walken had appeared in another small but pivotal role in the "Sicilian scene" in the Tarantino-written True Romance.

Monday, May 21, 2012


GoodFellas [Blu-ray]

Goodfellas (stylized as GoodFellas) is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. The film follows the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associates Henry Hill and his friends over a period from 1955 to 1980.

Scorsese originally intended to direct Goodfellas before The Last Temptation of Christ, but when funds materialized to make Last Temptation, he postponed what was then known as Wise Guy. The title of Pileggi's book had already been used for a TV series and for Brian De Palma's 1986 comedy Wise Guys, so Pileggi and Scorsese changed the name of their film to Goodfellas. To prepare for their roles in the film, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta often spoke with Pileggi, who shared research material left over from writing the book. According to Pesci, improvisation and ad-libbing came out of rehearsals where Scorsese gave the actors freedom to do whatever they wanted. The director made transcripts of these sessions, took the lines he liked best, and put them into a revised script the cast worked from during principal photography.

Goodfellas performed well at the box office, grossing $46.8 million domestically, well above its $25 million budget. It also received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won one for Pesci in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category. Scorsese's film won five awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, including Best Film. The film was named Best Film of the year by various film critics groups. Goodfellas is often considered one of the greatest films ever, both in the crime genre and in general, and was deemed "culturally significant" and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. Scorsese followed this film up with two more films about organized crime: 1995's Casino and 2006's The Departed.

Actor Role Based on
Ray Liotta Henry Hill Henry Hill
Robert De Niro Jimmy Conway Jimmy Burke
Joe Pesci Tommy DeVito Thomas DeSimone
Lorraine Bracco Karen Hill Karen Hill (née Friedman)
Paul Sorvino Paul Cicero Paul Vario
Frank Sivero Frankie Carbone Angelo Sepe
Frank Vincent Billy Batts William "Billy Batts" Devino
Tony Darrow Sonny Bunz Angelo McConnach
Mike Starr Frenchy Robert "Frenchy" McMahon
Chuck Low Morrie Kessler Martin Krugman
Frank DiLeo Tuddy Cicero Vito "Tuddy" Vario
Johnny Williams Johnny Roastbeef Louis Cafora
Samuel L. Jackson Parnell "Stacks" Edwards Parnell Steven "Stacks" Edwards
Frank Adonis Anthony Stabile Anthony Stabile
Catherine Scorsese Tommy DeVito's Mother Thomas DeSimone's Grandmother
Gina Mastrogiacomo Janice Rossi Linda Coppociano
Debi Mazar Sandy Robin Cooperman
Margo Winkler Belle Kessler Fran Krugman
Welker White Lois Byrd Judy Wicks
Julie Garfield Mickey Conway Mickey Burke
Paul Herman Dealer Paul Mazzei
Detective Ed Deacy Himself Himself
Christopher Serrone Henry Hill (Youth) Henry Hill (Youth)
Charles Scorsese Vinnie Thomas Agro
Michael Vivalo Nicky Eyes Himself
Michael Imperioli "Spider" Michael "Spider" Gianco
Frank Pellegrino Johnny Dio Johnny Dio
Tony Ellis Bridal Shop Owner Jerome Asaro
Elizabeth Whitcraft Tommy's Girlfriend Theresa Ferrara
Illeana Douglas Tommy's Other Girlfriend Rosie
Anthony Powers Jimmy Two-Times Clyde Brooks
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed McDonald Himself Himself
Tony Lip Frankie The Wop Francesco Manzo
Joseph Bono Mikey Franzese Michael Franzese
Kevin Corrigan Michael Hill Michael Hill

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Apartment

The Apartment (Collector's Edition)

The Apartment appears at #93 on the influential American Film Institute list of Top 100 Films, as well as at #20 on their list of 100 Laughs and at #62 on their 100 Passions list. In 2007, the film rose on the AFI's Top 100 list to #80.

The Apartment is a 1960 American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Billy Wilder, which stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray. It was Wilder's follow-up to Some Like It Hot and, like its predecessor, was a commercial and critical hit, grossing $25 million at the box office. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won five, including Best Picture.

* Jack Lemmon as C.C. "Bud" Baxter
* Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik
* Fred MacMurray as Jeff D. Sheldrake
* Ray Walston as Joe Dobisch
* Jack Kruschen as Dr. Dreyfuss
* David Lewis as Al Kirkeby
* Hope Holiday as Mrs. Margie MacDougall
* Joan Shawlee as Sylvia
* Naomi Stevens as Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss
* Johnny Seven as Karl Matuschka
* Joyce Jameson as the blonde in the bar
* Willard Waterman as Mr. Vanderhoff
* David White as Mr. Eichelberger
* Edie Adams as Miss Olsen

The Apartment also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source and Lemmon and MacLaine both won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe each for their performances. The film appears at #93 on the influential American Film Institute list of Top 100 Films, as well as at #20 on their list of 100 Laughs and at #62 on their 100 Passions list. In 2007, the film rose on the AFI's Top 100 list to #80. In 1994, The Apartment was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 2002, a poll of film directors conducted by Sight and Sound magazine listed the film as the 14th greatest film of all time (tied with La Dolce Vita). In 2006, Premiere voted this film as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time".

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun

#92 on the AFI Best 100 American Movies List.

A Place in the Sun is a 1951 American drama film based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser and the play, also titled An American Tragedy. It tells the story of a working-class young man who is entangled with two women; one who works in his wealthy uncle's factory and the other a beautiful socialite. The novel had been filmed once before, as An American Tragedy, in 1931.

A Place in the Sun was directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by Harry Brown and Michael Wilson, and stars Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Anne Revere, and Raymond Burr.

The film was a critical and commercial success, winning six Academy Awards and the first ever Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. In 1991, A Place in the Sun was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

* Montgomery Clift as George Eastman
* Elizabeth Taylor as Angela Vickers
* Shelley Winters as Alice Tripp
* Anne Revere as Hannah Eastman
* Keefe Brasselle as Earl Eastman
* Fred Clark as Bellows, defense attorney
* Raymond Burr as Dist. Atty. R. Frank Marlowe
* Herbert Heyes as Charles Eastman
* Shepperd Strudwick as Anthony 'Tony' Vickers
* Frieda Inescort as Mrs. Ann Vickers
* Kathryn Givney as Louise Eastman
* Walter Sande as Art Jansen, George's Attorney
* Ted de Corsia as Judge R.S. Oldendorff
* John Ridgely as Coroner
* Lois Chartrand as Marsha

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice is a 1982 American romantic drama film that tells the story of a Polish immigrant, Sophie, and her tempestuous lover who share a boarding house with a young writer in Brooklyn. The film stars Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Peter MacNicol. Alan J. Pakula directed the movie and wrote the script from a novel by William Styron, also called Sophie's Choice.

This is widely regarded as one of Meryl Streep's finest performances, and it won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography (Néstor Almendros), Costume Design (Albert Wolsky), Best Music (Marvin Hamlisch), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Alan J. Pakula).

* Meryl Streep as Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski
* Kevin Kline as Nathan Landau
* Peter MacNicol as Stingo
* Rita Karin as Yetta Zimmerman
* Stephen D. Newman as Larry Landau
* Josh Mostel as Morris Fink
* Marcell Rosenblatt as Astrid Weinstein
* Moishe Rosenfeld as Moishe Rosenblum
* Robin Bartlett as Lillian Grossman
* Eugene Lipinski as Polish professor
* John Rothman as Librarian
* Neddim Prohic as Jòzef
* Katharina Thalbach as Wanda
* Jennifer Lawn as Eva Zawistowski
* Adrian Kalitka as Jan Zawistowski
* Joseph Leon as Dr. Blackstock
* David Wohl as English teacher
* Vida Jerman as female SS guard

Sophie's Choice won the Academy Award for Best Actress (Meryl Streep) and was nominated for Best Cinematography (Néstor Almendros), Costume Design (Albert Wolsky), Best Music (Marvin Hamlisch), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Alan J. Pakula). The film was also ranked #1 in the Roger Ebert's Top Ten List for 1982 and was listed on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady is a 1964 musical film adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe stage musical, of the same name, based on the 1938 film adaptation of the original stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The ballroom scene and the ending were taken from the previous film adaptation (1938) (Pygmalion), rather than from the original play. The film was directed by George Cukor and starred Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.

* Audrey Hepburn (Marni Nixon, singing) as Eliza Doolittle
* Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins
* Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle
* Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering
* Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Higgins
* Jeremy Brett (Bill Shirley, singing) as Freddy Eynsford-Hill
* Theodore Bikel as Zoltan Karpathy
* Mona Washbourne as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' housekeeper
* Isobel Elsom as Mrs. Eynsford-Hill
* John Holland as Butler

Musical numbers

1. "Overture"
2. "Why Can't the English?" - Higgins
3. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" - Eliza, Workers
4. "An Ordinary Man" - Higgins
5. "With a Little Bit of Luck" - Alfred, Drunkards, Workers
6. "Just You Wait" - Eliza
7. "Servants Chorus" - Mrs. Pearce, Servants
8. "The Rain in Spain" - Eliza, Higgins, Pickering
9. "I Could Have Danced All Night" - Eliza, Mrs. Pearce, Maids
10. "Ascot Gavotte" - Ensemble
11. "Ascot Gavotte (Reprise)" - Ensemble
12. "On the Street Where You Live" - Freddy
13. "Intermission"
14. "Transylvanian March" - Band
15. "Embassy Waltz" - Band
16. "You Did It" - Higgins, Pickering, Mrs. Pearce, Servants
17. "Just You Wait (Reprise)" - Eliza
18. "On the Street Where You Live" (reprise) - Freddy
19. "Show Me" - Eliza
20. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" (reprise) - Eliza, Workers
21. "Get Me to the Church on Time" - Alfred, Workers
22. "A Hymn to Him (Why Can't A Woman Be More Like a Man?)" - Higgins, Pickering
23. "Without You" - Eliza, Higgins
24. "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" - Higgins
25. "Finale" - Ensemble

Hepburn's singing was judged inadequate, and she was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who sang all songs except "Just You Wait", where Hepburn's voice was left undubbed during the harsh-toned chorus of the song and Nixon sang the melodic bridge section. Some of Hepburn's original vocal performances for the film were released in the 1990s, affording audiences an opportunity to judge whether the dubbing was necessary. Less well known is the dubbing of Jeremy Brett's songs (as Freddy) by Bill Shirley.

Rex Harrison declined to pre-record his musical numbers for the film, explaining that he had never talked his way through the songs the same way twice and thus couldn't convincingly lip-sync to a playback during filming (as musical stars had, according to Jack Warner, been doing for years. "We even dubbed Rin-Tin-Tin"). To permit Harrison to recite his songs live during filming, the Warner Bros. Studio Sound Department, under the direction of George Groves, implanted a wireless microphone in Harrison's neckties, marking the first known wireless microphone use in film history. André Previn then conducted the final version of the music to the voice recording. The sound department earned an Academy Award for its efforts.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Swing Time

Swing Time

Swing Time is a 1936 RKO musical comedy film set mainly in New York City and stars Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Eric Blore and Georges Metaxa, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The film was directed by George Stevens.

Swing Time is considered by Croce, Mueller and Hyam to be Astaire and Rogers' best dance musical, featuring four dance routines that are each regarded as masterpieces of their kind. "Never Gonna Dance" is often singled out as the partnership's and collaborator Hermes Pan's most profound achievement in filmed dance, while "The Way You Look Tonight" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and went on to become Astaire's most successful hit record, scoring first place in the U.S. charts in 1936. Kern's score, the second of three he composed specially for Astaire, contains three of his most memorable songs.

But while it is considered to be one of Astaire and Rogers' greatest films, the film's plot has been criticized as has the performance of Metaxa. More praised is the acting and dancing performance of Ginger Rogers. Rogers herself credited much of the film's success to Stevens: "He gave us a certain quality, I think, that made it stand out above the others." Swing Time also marked the beginning of a decline in popularity of the Astaire-Rogers partnership among the general public, with box office receipts falling faster than usual, after a successful opening. Nevertheless, the film was a sizable hit, costing $886,000 while grossing over $2,600,000 worldwide and showing a net profit of $830,000. Still, the partnership never again quite regained the creative heights scaled in this and previous films.

In 1999, Swing Time was one of Entertainment Weekly's top 100 films. In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In the new AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) it has been added at #90.

* Fred Astaire as John "Lucky" Garnett
* Ginger Rogers as Penelope "Penny" Carroll
* Victor Moore as Edwin "Pop" Cardetti
* Helen Broderick as Mabel Anderson
* Betty Furness as Margaret Watson
* Georges Metaxa as Ricardo Romero
* Landers Stevens (George Stevens' father) as Judge Watson

Astaire introduces two new elements into his approach to filmed song and dance, both of which represent the abandonment of theatrical staging conventions. First is the use of space, horizontally in "A Fine Romance" and vertically in "Never Gonna Dance", and second is the introduction of trick photography in "Bojangles of Harlem". Partnered hopping steps/spins and the satire of self-conscious elegance feature prominently in the choreography, in which Astaire was assisted by Hermes Pan.

* "Pick Yourself Up": The first of Kern's standards is a charming polka first sung and then danced to by Astaire and Rogers. One of their most joyous and exuberant numbers is also a technical tour-de-force with the basic polka embellished by syncopated rhythms and overlayed with tap decoration. In particular, Rogers recaptures the spontaneity and commitment that she first displayed in the "I'll Be Hard to Handle" number from Roberta (1935).
* "The Way You Look Tonight": Kern's classic Oscar-winning foxtrot is sung by Astaire, seated at a piano, while Ginger is busy washing her hair in a side room. Here, Astaire conveys a sunny yet nostalgic romanticism but later, when the music is danced to as part of "Never Gonna Dance", the pair will create a mood of sombre poignancy. As evidence of its enduring appeal, this song is regularly featured in modern cinema and television: as in Chinatown (1974), or My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), and it played a prominent role as the key linking element in the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
* "Waltz in Swing Time": Described by one critic as "the finest piece of pure dance music ever written for Astaire", this is the most virtuosic partnered romantic duet Astaire ever committed to film. Kern - always reluctant to compose in the Swing style - provided some themes to Robert Russell Bennett who, with the assistance of Astaire's rehearsal pianist Hal Borne, produced the final score. The dance is a nostalgic celebration of love, in the form of a syncopated waltz with tap overlays - a concept Astaire later reworked in the similarly impressive "Belle of New York" segment of the "Currier and Ives" routine from The Belle of New York (1952). In the midst of this most complex of routines, Astaire and Rogers find time to gently poke fun at notions of elegance, in a delicate reminder of a similar episode in "Pick Yourself Up".
* "A Fine Romance": Kern's third standard, a quickstep to Field's bittersweet lyrics, is sung alternately by Rogers and Astaire, with Rogers providing an object lesson in acting while a bowler-hatted Astaire appears at times to be impersonating Stan Laurel. Never a man to discard a favourite piece of fine clothing, Astaire wears the same coat in the opening scene of Holiday Inn (1941), and never a man to waste a chord sequence, Jerome Kern uses the same sequence for "The Way you Look Tonight" and "A Fine Romance".
* "Bojangles of Harlem": Once again, Kern, Bennett and Borne combined their talents to produce a jaunty instrumental piece ideally suited to Astaire, who here - while overtly paying tribute to Bill Robinson - actually broadens his tribute to African-American tap dancers by dancing in the style of Astaire's one-time teacher John W. Bubbles, and dressing in the style of the character Sportin' Life, whom Bubbles played the year before in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Dorothy Fields recounts how Astaire managed to inspire the reluctant Kern by visiting his home and singing while dancing on and around his furniture. It is the only number in which Astaire - again bowler-hatted - appears in blackface. The idea of using trick photography to show Astaire dancing with three of his shadows was invented by Hermes Pan, who also choreographed the opening chorus, after which Astaire dances a short opening solo which features poses mimicking, perhaps satirising, Al Jolson - all of which was captured by Stevens in one take. There follows a two-minute solo of Astaire dancing with his shadows which took three days to shoot. Astaire's choreography exercises every limb and makes extensive use of hand-clappers. This routine earned Hermes Pan an Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction.
* "Never Gonna Dance": After Astaire sings Field's memorable closing line: "la belle, la perfectly swell romance" of Kern's haunting ballad, they begin the acknowledgement phase of the dance - possibly their greatest - replete with a poignant nostalgia for their now-doomed affair, where music changes to "The Way You Look Tonight" and they dance slowly in a manner reminiscent of the opening part of "Let's Face The Music And Dance" from Follow the Fleet. At the end of this episode, Astaire adopts a crestfallen, helpless pose. They now begin the denial phase, and again the music changes and speeds up, this time to the "Waltz In Swing Time" while the dancers separate to twirl their way up their respective staircases, escaping to the platform at the top of the Silver Sandal Set - one of the most beautiful Art Deco-influenced Hollywood Moderne creations of Carroll Clark and John Harkrider. Here the music switches again to a frantic, fast-paced, recapitulation of "Never Gonna Dance" as the pair dance a last, desperate, and virtuosic routine before Ginger flees and Astaire repeats his pose of dejection, in a final acceptance of the affair's end. This final routine was shot forty-seven times in one day before Astaire was satisfied, with Rogers' feet left bruised and bleeding by the time they finished.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer (Three-Disc Deluxe Edition)

The Jazz Singer is a 1927 American musical film. The first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences, its release heralded the commercial ascendance of the "talkies" and the decline of the silent film era. Produced by Warner Bros. with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system, the movie stars Al Jolson, who performs six songs. Directed by Alan Crosland, it is based on a play by Samson Raphaelson.

The story begins with young Jakie Rabinowitz defying the traditions of his devout Jewish family by singing popular tunes in a beer hall. Punished by his father, a cantor, Jakie runs away from home. Some years later, now calling himself Jack Robin, he has become a talented jazz singer. He attempts to build a career as an entertainer, but his professional ambitions ultimately come into conflict with the demands of his home and heritage.

On April 25, 1917, Samson Raphaelson, a native of New York City's Lower East Side and a University of Illinois undergraduate, attended a performance of the musical Robinson Crusoe, Jr. in Champaign, Illinois. The star of the show was a thirty-year-old singer, Al Jolson, a Russian-born Jew who performed in blackface. In a 1927 interview, Raphaelson described the experience: "I shall never forget the first five minutes of Jolson—his velocity, the amazing fluidity with which he shifted from a tremendous absorption in his audience to a tremendous absorption in his song." He explained that he had seen emotional intensity like Jolson's only among synagogue cantors.

A few years later, pursuing a professional literary career, Raphaelson wrote "The Day of Atonement", a short story about a young Jew named Jakie Rabinowitz, based on Jolson's real life. The story was published in January 1922 in Everybody's Magazine. Raphaelson later adapted the story into a stage play, The Jazz Singer. A straight drama, all the singing in Raphaelson's version takes place offstage. With George Jessel in the lead role, the show premiered on Broadway in September 1925 and became a hit. Warner Bros. acquired the movie rights to the play on June 4, 1926, and signed Jessel to a contract. Moving Picture World published a story in February 1927 announcing that production on the film would begin with Jessel on May 1.
A blackfaced Al Jolson starring in Robinson Crusoe, Jr.—the performance that inspired the story that led to the play that became the movie The Jazz Singer

But the plans to make the film with Jessel would fall through, for multiple reasons. Jessel's contract with Warner Bros. had not anticipated that the movie they had particularly signed him for would be made with sound (he'd made a modestly budgeted, silent comedy in the interim). When Warners had hits with two Vitaphone, though dialogue-less, features in late 1926, The Jazz Singer production had been reconceived. Jessel asked for a bonus or a new contract, but was rebuffed. According to Jessel's description in his autobiography, Harry Warner "was having a tough time with the financing of the company.... He talked about taking care of me if the picture was a success. I did not feel that was enough." In fact, around the beginning of 1927, Harry Warner—the eldest of the brothers who ran the eponymous studio—had sold $4 million of his personal stock to keep the studio solvent. Then came another major issue. According to Jessel, a first read of screenwriter Alfred A. Cohn's adaptation "threw me into a fit. Instead of the boy's leaving the theatre and following the traditions of his father by singing in the synagogue, as in the play, the picture scenario had him return to the Winter Garden as a blackface comedian, with his mother wildly applauding in the box. I raised hell. Money or no money, I would not do this."

According to performer Eddie Cantor, as negotiations between Warner Bros. and Jessel foundered, Jack Warner and the studio's production chief, Darryl Zanuck, called to see if he was interested in the part. Cantor, a friend of Jessel's, responded that he was sure any differences with the actor could be worked out and offered his assistance. Cantor was not invited to participate in the Jessel talks; instead, the role was then offered to Jolson, who had inspired it in the first place. Describing Jolson as the production's best choice for its star, film historian Donald Crafton wrote, "The entertainer, who sang jazzed-up minstrel numbers in blackface, was at the height of his phenomenal popularity. Anticipating the later stardom of crooners and rock stars, Jolson electrified audiences with the vitality and sex appeal of his songs and gestures, which owed much to African-American sources." As described by historian Robert L. Carringer, "Jessel was a vaudeville comedian and master of ceremonies with one successful play and one modestly successful film to his credit. Jolson was a superstar." Jolson took the part, signing a $75,000 contract on May 26, 1927, for eight weeks of services beginning in July. There have been several claims but no proof that Jolson invested some of his own money in the film. Jessel and Jolson, also friends, did not speak for some time after—on the one hand, Jessel had been confiding his problems with the Warners to Jolson; on the other, Jolson had signed with them without telling Jessel of his plans. In his autobiography, Jessel wrote that, in the end, Jolson "must not be blamed, as the Warners had definitely decided that I was out."

* Al Jolson as Jakie Rabinowitz (Jack Robin)
* May McAvoy as Mary Dale
* Warner Oland as Cantor Rabinowitz
* Yossele Rosenblatt as himself
* Eugenie Besserer as Sara Rabinowitz
* Otto Lederer as Moisha Yudelson
* Bobby Gordon as Jakie Rabinowitz (age 13)
* Richard Tucker as Harry Lee

Jack Robin's use of blackface in his Broadway stage act is the primary focus of many Jazz Singer studies. Its crucial and unusual role is described by scholar Corin Willis:

In contrast to the racial jokes and innuendo brought out in its subsequent persistence in early sound film, blackface imagery in The Jazz Singer is at the core of the film's central theme, an expressive and artistic exploration of the notion of duplicity and ethnic hybridity within American identity. Of the more than seventy examples of blackface in early sound film 1927–53 that I have viewed (including the nine blackface appearances Jolson subsequently made), The Jazz Singer is unique in that it is the only film where blackface is central to the narrative development and thematic expression.

Mary (May McAvoy) and Jack, preparing for dress rehearsal: the first blackface scene

The function and meaning of blackface in the film is intimately involved with Jack's own Jewish heritage and his desire to make his mark in mass American culture—much as the ethnically Jewish Jolson and the Warner brothers were doing themselves. Jack Robin "compounds both tradition and stardom. The Warner Brothers thesis is that, really to succeed, a man must first acknowledge his ethnic self," argues W. T. Lhamon. "[T]he whole film builds toward the blacking-up scene at the dress rehearsal. Jack Robin needs the blackface mask as the agency of his compounded identity. Blackface will hold all the identities together without freezing them in a singular relationship or replacing their parts."

Seymour Stark's view is less sanguine. In describing Jolson's extensive experience performing in blackface in stage musicals, he asserts, "The immigrant Jew as Broadway within a blackface minstrel tradition that obscures his Jewish pedigree, but proclaims his white identity. Jolson's slight Yiddish accent was hidden by a Southern veneer." Arguing that The Jazz Singer actually avoids honestly dealing with the tension between American assimilation and Jewish identity, he claims that its "covert that the symbol of blackface provides the Jewish immigrant with the same rights and privileges accorded to earlier generations of European immigrants initiated into the rituals of the minstrel show."