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Saturday Art: Books and Movies

6:06 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

Over the last few weeks, I have been doing Saturday Art posts based on movies that I enjoy watching over and over. Many of these movies originated as books. Sometimes great books can lead to great movies but the reality is, this is actually fairly rare (in my not so very humble opinion). Oh yeah, there’s Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But the more likely result is the standard line “the movie is OK but the book is better.”

Dashiell Hammett wrote The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon and as good as the movies are, the written words are that much better. Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely the same thing.

Books from most all genres wind up being made into movies. Looking back at movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s there are a lot of historical novels that make it to the big screen. Samuel Shellabarger had his books Captain from Castile and Prince of Foxes both hit the movies, both starring Tyrone Power. Power also starred in the movie version of The Black Rose by Thomas B Costain. However the film adaptation of another Costain book, The Silver Chalice, was so bad that Paul Newman took out an ad before it was shown on TV, asking that folks not watch it.

Books and plays by authors from 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries are always fair game for the movies. There have been many film adaptations of Shakespeare, some good; some not so good. Charles Dickens novels of course, with Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol at the top of the list. Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo have both been made into movies multiple times. Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe is one of the few books that I first read after having first seen the movie (along with Ben Hur).
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (All The Rest Of The Best)

6:06 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

Back at the first of the year, I started this series of Essential Movies. Since then I have grouped movies by genres, discussing them – or actually mainly just listing all of the movies I have enjoyed watching multiple times within that week’s genre.

This week’s list is all the remaining movies that didn’t really fit (in my view) within the arbitrary boundaries I created for the others. A couple of these could have fit in War Movies or Spies but I elected to not include them there as I felt the movies were more than just War stories. Some of these can be called “dramedies.” A couple of black comedies. A couple of action or adventure. Some Oscar winning blockbusters and some small independent films. But all are movies that I find worth watching multiple times.

Of course, as often happens, I find there are three Humphrey Bogart movies here. Casablanca is at the top of many folks’ list of all time great movies, including mine. Why I’m shocked, Shocked! at this. The African Queen and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre are also here. Note to Blazing Saddles fans: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is where the line, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” originates.

Gone With the Wind is another of the all time great blockbuster movies. While offering a stylized and totally unrealistic view of life before and after the Civil War, it is still a well acted movie with a great cast.

Cary Grant has a couple of movies here today with Only Angels Have Wings (directed by Howard Hawks) and To Catch a Thief (with Grace Kelly and directed by Alfred Hitchcock).

Paul Newman also is here with two movies that could almost be considered bookends for his career in a sense. While he did movies before The Long Hot Summer (with Orson Welles and Joanne Woodward) and after Nobody’s Fool (with Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith), both movies showed Newman’s range as an actor and abilities to become the characters he played.

China Syndrome has once again become somewhat pertinent, just as it was when it first came out twelve days before the Three Mile Island accident occurred.

Jack Nicholson is here with Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. Peter Fonda is here with Ulee’s Gold to go with Easy Rider.

Class war and Labor issues are well represented for me with Norma Rae (Sally Field), Matewan (Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell), Milagro Beanfield War (Ruben Blades, Sonia Braga, Christopher Walken) , and Good Will Hunting (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams).

Various scenes of people with broken hearts can be seen in Scent of a Woman (Al Pacino), Prince of Tides (Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner), Random Hearts (Harrison Ford, Kristen Scott Thomas), Upside of Anger (Joan Allen, Kevin Costner), and An Unfinished Life (Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez).

I think it was the title that got me to first watch Bad Day at Black Rock but a cast that includes Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Dean Jagger, and Walter Brennan makes it very re-watchable.

The Hospital (George C. Scott, Diana Rigg) is just a great black comedy. The Contender (Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman) covers the political side of things.
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (So Bad They’re Good)

6:00 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

I’m coming to the end of this series of Saturday Art posts so it is time now to cover the movies that are So Bad They’re Good. What makes a Bad movie? In my eyes, there are a variety of reasons for movies to be on this list. Many of the movies had a good cast but things just didn’t come together. Of course, many of the actors involved seem to have done these movies as pay days more than for any ‘artistic’ values. Supposed action and supposed comedies dominate so that might signify a trend. I don’t know if they still do this but the Boston Globe used to rate movies coming on TV as:

1. Worth staying home to watch.
2. Worth watching if staying home.
3. Worth watching if staying home sick
4. Not worth watching.

Most of these movies fit into the latter two categories. At best. Nevertheless, they offer, if not redeeming features, at least an occasional chuckle or two, even if the laugh occurs in spots that were not supposed to be funny. Oh well.

Any list of movies so bad they’re good pretty much has to start with The Conqueror. John Wayne as Ghengis Kahn. Susan Hayward as Bortai “The Tartar Woman.” Agnes Moorehead as the mother of Wayne’s “Temujin” (Ghengis Kahn). Sample dialog:

Bortai: For me, there is no peace while you live, Mongol.
Temujin: You’re beautiful in your wrath.

This movie is often called the “cancer” movie as 91 members of the 220 member cast and crew had gotten cancer with 46 of them dying of cancer, often believed to be because of filming in the Utah desert, downwind of above ground nuclear tests in the ’50s.

Next up are the early movies of Steven Seagal. I have no idea why I enjoy so many of these early movies from Seagal but I do, excess violence and all. Above the Law. Hard to Kill. Marked for Death. Out for Justice. Under Siege and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. And finally Fire Down Below. I guess after Fire Down Below I finally got burned out with watching Seagal but it was fun while it lasted. And I still watch all of these (assuming nothing better is available of course – that is a primary caveat for the movies on this list; I’m not watching them if there’s something available from my earlier lists or next weeks either.)
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Romantic Comedies)

6:06 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

Romantic Comedies are one of the long time staples of Hollywood. Of course, since it is Hollywood, many times the premises of the RomComs are so off the wall that to be enjoyed, you have to have a willing suspension of reality. The RomCom often has to set up such a ludicrous beginning premise in order to let things fall the desired way but that’s the Hollywood and movie way. As always, this is my list of movies I can enjoy watching and re-watching for whatever reasons.

I’m going to start with My Man Godfrey (William Powell and Carole Lombard). From wiki:

During the Great Depression, Godfrey “Smith” (William Powell) is living alongside other men down on their luck at the city dump. One night, spoiled socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) offers him five dollars to be her “forgotten man” for a scavenger hunt. Annoyed, he advances on her, causing her to retreat and fall on a pile of ashes. She leaves in a fury, much to the glee of her younger sister, Irene (Carole Lombard). After talking with her, Godfrey finds her to be kind, if a bit scatter-brained. He offers to go with Irene to help her beat Cornelia.

In the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, Irene’s long-suffering businessman father, Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), waits resignedly as his ditsy wife, Angelica (Alice Brady), and her mooching “protégé” Carlo (Mischa Auer) play the frivolous game. Godfrey arrives and is “authenticated” by the scavenger hunt judge as a “forgotten man”. He then addresses the idle rich, expressing his contempt for their antics. Irene is apologetic and offers him a job as the family butler, which he gratefully accepts.

As I say, the premises for these are often a bit over the top. Of course, many folks may not be aware that Powell and Lombard had divorced three years prior to making this movie.

How many people think of John Wayne as a RomCom star? Yet, there are two Wayne films that I consider Romantic Comedies – The Quiet Man (with Maureen O’Hara) and Donovan’s Reef (with Lee Marvin, Dorothy Lamour, Jack Warden, Cesar Romero, and Elizabeth Allen).
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Comic Heroes, Cartoons Plus)

6:15 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

Yeah. OK. So comic book heroes and cartoons and even some movies that may not be specifically based on comic books and comic strips might not be the normal definition of an Essential Movie. But as I’ve written most every week, my posts, my rules. One thing about many of the movies this week – they were probably not critically acclaimed by any stretch of the imagination. Some of them in fact were roundly trashed. But I find them fun watches, no matter how bad they might have been to the critics.

Now, I’m going to screw everything up right from the beginning with a couple of movie series that aren’t based on Comics, other than as homages to the Saturday movie serials of the 1930s. Even though Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are not specifically based on a comic strip or comic book, the stories are the type of fun that comics have long epitomized.

The other series of movies that I’ve enjoyed that while not specifically based on a comic book hero (at least not that I’m aware of) are three TV movies from TNT starring Noah Wyle; The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mine, and The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice.

Now to start with a couple of comic strip heroes. While there was an earlier Dick Tracy film, the one I’m most willing to watch again is Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (with Madonna). The Phantom is another comic strip hero that came out of the 1930s. The Shadow is also out of the ’30s and has appeared in radio, comic books, comic strips, and multple movies:

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

Now then. Marvel or DC? Or Marvel and DC? I read comics from both growing up but as I got older, became far more of a fan of the Marvel universe than I was of DC. I think maybe DC represented the establishment in those days. I do know that the movies based on Marvel characters seem to hold up a bit better for me. I enjoyed the first Superman and the first Batman but the sequels and later versions have not done much for me. Except for Catwoman but that’s probably the vestigial remnants of sexism coming through.
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (PI’s)

6:15 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

This week I’m going to cover another one of the long time movie staples, the Private Eye movie. As always, the definition might be stretched a bit for a couple of the movies included here but also as always, these are movies I have enjoyed many times over the years. Just as with last week’s Spy movies, I sometimes have to accept some of the sexism and misogyny of these movies as products of their times without actually judging them by current standards of what is or is not appropriate.

It is difficult to start a list of movies about Private Eyes without The Maltese Falcon with Bogart as Sam Spade (and Sidney Greenstreet’s first movie role.) Bogart returns as a detective in The Big Sleep where he plays Philip Marlowe. The Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Loy actually started a series of movies, even though the “Thin Man” was not the “detective.” In order there were After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, and Song of the Thin Man. It seems sequels are not such a new thing for Hollywood after all.
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Spies)

6:15 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

Oh, is it that time of the week again already? Why, yes, I believe it is.

One thing that a lot of older spy movies (and Private Eye which is next week) share is basic misogyny and sexism as well as racism and stereotyping. James Bond movies and Bond knock-offs are especially “strong” in the sexism and misogyny. I do keep that in mind but also know that many of the movies are products of their times and include aspects that I and others decry today.

Being one who grew up watching the James Bond films, I tend to be partial to the Sean Connery Bond. Dr No (with Ursula Andress) set the “standard” if you will for the entire franchise. From Russia with Love then Goldfinger (maybe the most iconic Bond of all). Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever (with Jill St John) round out the Connery Bond films (recognizing that there was a later one but since it is almost a duplication of Thunderball, I tend to not include it).

George Lazenby was Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (with Diana Rigg) before Roger Moore took over in Live and Let Die (with Jane Seymour). I guess this is about the time when I started not paying that much attention to Bond films as The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker are about the last of them I’ve actually watched more than once. I will mention the first Casino Royale which was a bit of a Bond spoof as David Niven plays Sir James Bond and Woody Allen plays his son, Jimmy Bond. And Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, and Terrence Cooper all play “007.” (Note: I had (and really still have) one serious crush on Joanna Pettet – /vestigial sexism)
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Sports)

6:15 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

I love sports and I even love a lot of the sports movies from over the years. It was no surprise to me when I started listing the movies to find that so many of the Essential Sports movies for me are baseball related. It did however, surprise me a great deal to find so many football movies and so few basketball related films. As always, this is my list and the movies are the ones that I enjoy. And it is best to suspend the search for facts when they are supposed to be historically based (even as I complain about how some facts don’t line up as they should).

If for no other reason than the opening monologue, I’m going to start with Bull Durham. After all, I’m a life long Cincinnati Reds fan so:

But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake?

Bang the Drum Slowly is an excellent film. If you’ve never seen it, you should watch it to see Robert DeNiro before he became ROBERT DENIRO! The Natural goes a bit into the mysticism sometimes but is fun. Field of Dreams goes a bit over the edge sometimes as well, but once again, it can make a lot of sense to most anyone who ever loved playing the game. Kevin Costner gets his third baseball film with For Love of the Game although this is where my knowledge of baseball sometimes gets in the way of enjoying the film. In the film, Vin Scully plays himself as the play-by-play. Toward the end he references calling the Don Larsen perfect game in the ’57 World Series and the script implies that was the last previous perfect game he had called. Yet, I have a book that includes the complete transcript of Scully calling the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in ’65 (scroll down here a couple clicks) because it was so literate.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings has a great cast as does A League of Their Own. The first of the Major League films is probably the best of the three although as a baseball fan, I will watch Major League II and Major League (Back to the Minors) if there’s nothing else on at all. Mr. Baseball (Tom Selleck) is a fun watch with the culture clash of a US players in the Japanese leagues.
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Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Music, Song and Dance – and Elvis)

6:00 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

I decided to lighten up on the movies today and cover some of the fun movies that revolve around music, musicals, singing, and dancing. Of course, I recognize that not all of these actually fit the formal definition of “musical” including the bio pics but as I’ve stated previously, after all, this is my list so my rules.

I think I will start with the straight up concert films. The combination of the music and movie, it’s tough to go wrong. The Last Waltz is the film of one of the handful of concerts that I really wish I could have seen in person. Monterey Pop is another of those concerts as well. (There are a couple of other concerts on my list of “I wish I coulda been there” but they don’t have films associated with them.) I’m content with the film (and soundtrack) for Woodstock. I gave my sister a copy of the soundtrack one year for Christmas way back when. It was a bit of a surprise when my dad listened to it with us that evening without condemning everything but Dub could surprise us like that sometimes. Festival Express came out in 2003 but was actually filmed in 1970.

There are a number of bio pics that I enjoy watching. Some of them surprised me that I enjoyed them as they were about people from my parent’s generation but that’s one of the areas I grew to enjoy as I’ve gotten older. The Benny Goodman Story with Steve Allen as Benny Goodman. The Glenn MIller Story with Jimmy Stewart. St Louis Blues (W. C. Handy) with Nat King Cole and Eartha Kitt. Yankee Doodle Dandy (George M. Cohan) with Jimmy Cagney. Moving forward a couple of decades (at least), there’s The Buddy Holly Story with Gary Busey, Coal Miner’s Daughter (Loretta Lynn) with Sissy Spacek, and What’s Love Got to Do With It (Tina Turner) starring Angela Bassett.

Some of the more traditional musicals I enjoy include Paint Your Wagon (even though Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood both almost make my singing voice sound good), Guys and Dolls with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Streisand’s Funny Girl. And Li’l Abner. A couple of more recent movie musicals I enjoy are Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Blues Brothers:

Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.

Now I’ll admit, I’m not all that big a fan of Blues Brothers 2000. The only reason I mention it is that they used my hometown as the location for the “warm-up concert” in this one although they did make a small error. The movie had them playing at the “Cynthiana, KY County Fair” when in fact, it would have been the “Harrison County Fair” since the fairgrounds belong to the county. But that’s just a quibble.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Crime and Punishment)

6:15 am in Art, Culture by dakine01

Cops and criminals. Gangsters and prisons. Another one of the staples of movies over the years has been the crime movie. Sometimes the cop wins, sometimes the criminal wins up until the end when the cop wins. Often the viewer is left with the moral ambivalence that everybody is wrong.

Just this week, AMC had The Shawshank Redemption on twice a night for Monday through Thursday. Even with the editing so as not to offend people who want to believe all language at all times is suitable for Sunday School, it was still a good watch. No, I didn’t watch it every night, but I did watch it completely once again. Then there’s Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got heah is failuah to communicate..” Just one of the most iconic movie lines of all time. Con Air is another surprisingly fun watch, for all the violence. As always, when I’m watching movies, I’m looking for a fun tale and not necessarily striving for reality. In High Sierra, Humphrey Bogart is a prison escapee. Jimmy Cagney got to play the bad guy often but my favorite from him is White Heat. Edward G. Robinson is nearly as iconic in Little Caesar as Cagney.

It is impossible to talk about crime and gangsters without mentioning The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Bogart also got to play the good guy going against the gangsters a few times including Deadline: USA where he was the crusading journalist exposing the corruption and racketeering and he goes up against Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo. Robert DeNiro got to play a Las Vegas mobster in Casino. And speaking of Las Vegas, I am much more of a fan of the original Ocean’s Eleven than I am of the remake. Sinatra and company just look like they’re having a bit more fun I guess.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →