Sunday, May 15, 2016

The 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon -- We Love Movies, Too!

Welcome to our entry in the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film and TV CafĂ© in honor of National Classic Movie Day which is celebrated on May 16th.  It's the 2nd annual observance of this much-deserved -- we were going to say "needed" but that sounds too desperate -- nod to an art and entertainment form beloved by so many of us.  "Classic" here is defined as silents to the seventies and we're going to have no trouble fitting in there.  We've got a thing for classic movies and our list is just a tiny sample of so many favorites that we watch over and over again.  Even as I'm typing this intro I'm thinking of movie after movie that I didn't put on this list.  The possibilities are truly endless.

We have an list that includes representatives from our favorite genres -- fantasy/horror, western/adventure, mystery, drama and musical/comedy.  As it turns out we're going deep into classic territory with a selection of films none past the 1940s but all retaining a vibrancy that belies their release dates.  Here we go and not in any order of favoritism --

The Best Years of Our Lives -- 1946

I was just watching an old episode of The Merv Griffin Show where saluting director William Wyler -- the show was from 1973, I believe -- and Wyler himself showed up after being lauded by Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland, Walter Pidgeon and Samantha Eggar.  He was amusing, nearly retired and loving it, and said that the film he was most proud of was this one.  We agree.  He had served in WWII and was determined to get this story right, that of returning veterans trying to adjust to civilian again, a situation that continues to affect all who serve including today.

Based on work by MacKinlay Kantor and dramatized for the screen by Robert Sherwood, The Best Year of Our Lives centers around three vets from the same city who served in different branches of the service and came from very different backgrounds back in their previous lives.  Former matinee idol Fredric March played a prosperous banker who had been an infantryman during the war, actor Dana Andrews played a guy from the wrong side of the tracks who advanced to being a decorated airman, and first time actor and real life double amputee Harold Russell was the all-American football hero/boy-next-door who loses his hands while serving his country.  Different guys, different expectations, different dreams but all indisputably changed by the war as would be all of their families and friends.

The movie is a full of intimate scenes featuring in addition to the three aforementioned actors an ensemble cast that shines every moment:  Teresa Wright as March's daughter who finds herself attracted to the troubled Andrews, Cathy O'Donnell as Russell's girl-next-door steady who is pushed away by the injured Russell; Myrna Loy as March's wife who is loyal but charmingly awkward as she watches her husband slip back into his old life; Virginia Mayo as Andrews' gold digger wife who married a man in uniform but doesn't like him so well in civvies; musician Hoagie Carmichael as a cool cat bar owner uncle of Russell's who offers a safe haven and so many more characters in performances that never fail to be utterly natural and effective.

If you haven't ever watched this movie you ought to.  It's long -- nearly three hours -- but never dull, always insightful, frequently amusing, often touching and completely entertaining from beginning to end.  Winner of 7 Academy Awards -- Picture, Actor (Fredric March), Supporting Actor (Harold Russel who also won an Honorary Oscar that year), Director, Screenplay, and Score -- it is worth watching again and again.

The Wizard of Oz -- 1939

TWoO is in this list because it's more than just a childhood favorite; it's a delightful and undeniable foundation piece of popular culture that has withstood the march of time and continues to amaze.  It has a little bit of everything -- excitement -- tornadoes, anyone?  Scariest ever! -- witches, a solid moral core, a vivid depiction of friendship among a diverse collection of acquaintances, top-notch production values, a wonderful score and brilliant and frequently hilarious performances by a unique collection of Hollywood talents topped by Judy Garland.

She's perfect as Dorothy, as are all the other cast members, from the liquid-limbed Ray Bolger as the beloved Scarecrow to Jack Haley as the dreamy Tin Man to Bert Lahr as the bullying crybaby Cowardly Lion to Frank Morgan as the blustery play-acting Wizard to Margaret Hamilton as the vindictive Wicked Witch of the West to Billie Burke as the glittering Glinda.  Let's not forget the careworn presence of Clara Blandick and Charley Grapewin as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, beaten down by the Depression as were the audiences at the time of the film's initial release.

What's still great about it?  Munchkins, The Lollipop Guild, Toto, Dorothy falling into the pigpen, the squished witch's feet shriveling away under Dorothy's house, flying monkeys, Oz's face projection, the witch's Winkies, the Yellow Brick Road, poppies, "I'm melting!" and so many other great moments. Not to be missed anytime it's on!

Shadow of a Doubt -- 1943

An Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece set in an average American town, Shadow of a Doubt was reportedly his own favorite film of his career.  Though perhaps not as well known as some of his other titles, SoaD is perfect in its depiction of the evil that can lurk inside a placid exterior and what it takes to bring it down.  Simple.  Brilliant.

A great cast brings this dark tale to life:  Teresa Wright as the ennui-stricken young woman Charlie who longs for some excitement, Joseph Cotten as her mysterious charismatic namesake Uncle Charlie, Patricia Collinge as Charlie's sweet mother and brother to Uncle Charlie, Henry Travers as the father, Hume Cronyn as eccentric neighbor Herbie, MacDonald Carey as a detective and most delightfully child actress Edna May Wonacott as Charlie's bookworm little sister Ann.   Everyone is perfect as they weave together the threads of life in small town America, family love and loyalty, disturbing and perverted impulses, and the will to survive.  Sometimes brutal, sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, often terrifying and all put together with an inescapable sense of almost out-of-sight dread,

SoaD really grows on you.  If you've never seen it, seek it out.  Highly recommended!

King Kong -- 1933

Though often imitated and often remade, nothing comes close to the original King Kong, at least for those of us old enough to remember when it was run on TV -- at least in Los Angeles where I grew up -- a LOT and always thrilled.  In fact, when I first started working in TV, my brilliant programmer boss was quoted somewhere as saying that the one movie he would liked to have had in our station movie library was King Kong, and this was in the late 1970s.  The movie was still an audience-pleaser even at that time as more than forty years old.  Timeless!

What's great about it?  Everything, starting with the characters:  King Kong himself, the snappy show biz bravado of  Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham, the lean heroic stance of Bruce Cabot as Driscoll, the extreme courage and ethereal beauty of Fay Wray as Ann, Frank Reicher as Capt. Englehorn.

Some of my favorite moments from the movie?  The great opening New York sequence where poor starving Ann has to steal an apple so she doesn't starve as the Depression grinds down everyone and kills a nation's dreams; the revealing of Skull Island; the natives' ritual dance; Denham whistling "St. Louis Woman" as his group gingerly back away from almost getting slaughtered by those same dancing natives; Ann's harrowing and sexy screen test on the ship dressed in that iconic gown as she throws her hands over her eyes and screams; Ann being tied to the stakes and Kong approches; the battle between Kong and the T-Rex when he kills it with a sickening crack of its jaw...and just everything, as I said above.

Kudos to Peter Jackson for trying to keep the flavor and verve of the original in his remake of a couple of years ago but there is nothing like the real thing.  King Kong lives!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- 1948

This movie always feels a little like a western to me, though it's set in 1925, in Mexico, and there are probably more burros than horses in it.  And what a movie!  A morality tale, a high adventure, a psychological thriller, a comedy, a crime thriller -- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has it all. From the opening bars of its incredible Max Steiner musical score to the very last scene, TTotSM is unstinting, desperate, scary and exciting.  And did we mention entertaining?

What a cast they picked to play the three men very different men bound together in a hunt for riches!  Humphrey Bogart is by turns sympathetic, craven, pure 100% mean, psychotic, selfish, pathetic -- what a job he does as Fred C. Dobbs.  As Howard, the crafty old man who's been through a gold strike before and understands the pitfalls of their unholy alliance, director John Huston's actor/father Walter Huston is so much fun that you almost forget that's he's the movie's true wise man.  The understated Tim Holt is excellent as Curtin who falls in with Dobbs and is swept along as they all decide to seek their fortunes as miners.

This is a truly masculine movie in the sense of being action-laden to the hilt yet made with keen emotional insight and touches of poetry and irony that raise it above the standard adventure tale.  This is a story with a greedy and dark human heart in the person of Dobbs at its center, making any easy resolution of the story impossible, all the better for us.  The touches of violence, the moments of humor, the antics of Howard, the searing power of the Mexican sun pounding down relentlessly on the trio, not to mention the gila monsters, all make TTotSM a completely riveting viewing experience.  Even the unexpected idyll when the old man is waylaid by villagers needing assistance is fraught with uncertainty -- what will happen?  what can happen?  Anything, in this movie.

Once you've seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre you will know that the hyperbole in the trailer is absolutely true.   So great!

To think that this list is only five movies long!  What about Bonnie and Clyde? What about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? What about Sunset Boulevard? What about A Place in the Sun? What about The Song of Bernadette? What about Portrait of Jennie?  The Court Jester?  The Big Country?  Some other list, some other time!

Be sure to visit The Classic Film and TV Cafe by clicking here and continue your journey into many great Movies on an Island lists (participants and links available here).  This might spur you onto making your own list but beware -- once you start thinking about it it's nearly impossible to stop!

Enjoy and Happy National Classic Movie Day -- Monday May 16th and everyday!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Stoner or not, "Time Traveling Bong" on Comedy Central is Wonderful!

I love comedy with energy and lots of it! Maybe you wouldn't think Comedy Central's three-part half-hour stoner miniseries Time Traveling Bong (preem yesterday night) would necessarily promise high energy of all the things it might deliver.  However, co-creators Ilana Glazer, Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello (associates from the network's equally terrific Broad City) have imbued TTB with enough classic comedic business to make it a good-natured winner whether you're partial to weed or not.  You don't have to be high to think Time Traveling Bong is a delight. take my word for it.  Slapstick works when sober, too.

Starring Broad City co-stars Glazer and Downs, TTB takes the ever-popular time machine trope and gives it a little spin, exploring how awesome is time travel, anyway...actually?  How bad does it smell back there and if you're a gal or otherwise sociologically compromised is the past (or present for that matter) such a great place to be stuck in?  Questions to be pondered and TTB has some ideas on the answers, gathered after much hilarity.

Playing cousins, Glazer and Downs are able to sidestep any romantic implications that would stand in the way of the comedy.  For instance, Downs is trying hard to help Glazer NOT end up being burned as a witch in early colonial America, but he's not reacting as an outraged boyfriend or spouse probably would.  Big difference and big laughs.

Also, lots of always-hilarious screams, at least in part one.  Nothing funnier. Ever.

This special has lots of everything good -- funny science fiction elements, pointed re-creations of historical time periods, zippy special effects, spirited performances by a talented cast (starting with the two leads who are excellent as always), and not just a few spot-on observations of present and past society.   Along with dinosaurs, cavemen and other favorite olde tyme complications, they're perfect for making Glazer's and Downs' time-bipping a welcome comedy appointment.

Time Traveling Bong continues tonight Thursday (4/21) on Comedy Central at 10:30pm following the Season 4 premiere of Inside Amy Schumer.  For all three episodes, tune in to CC on Friday beginning at 9:30pm with the final episode 3 at 10:30pm.  Click here for Comedy Central's official Time Travelling Bong site with lots of extra videos and background content.

For some additional takes on Time Traveling Bong, you might like to read:  Mike Hale at The New York Times, Brian Moylan at The Guardian;  Patrick Ryan at USA Today;
Kwame Opam at The Verge; Andy Swift at TVLine and Charles Bramesco at Vulture.

Highly recommended!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Masterpiece Mystery on PBS - Grantchester Review

We have come to trust PBS and their Masterpiece showcase for outstanding drama, so it should come as no surprise that Grantchester is another notch on their belt of genuinely intelligent and entertaining programming.

The stunning and talented James Norton (War and Peace, Happy Valley) and the even more gifted Robson Green headline this series from Britain's ITV. Norton portrays clergyman Sydney Chambers and Green portrays law enforcement investigator Geordie Keating. Together they solve crimes, live life, enjoy music, sustain and search out love.

PBS has another member of the clergy solving crimes on Father Brown and most television buffs will recall the ABC series from the 1990's, Father Dowling Mysteries starring the late Tom Bosley (Happy Days). Grantchester is neither of those shows.

The town of Grantchester is a seemingly quiet village set in another time, but they manage to have murders that are quite out of the ordinary. The second season of Grantchester started on Masterpiece Mystery a couple of weeks ago and the first two episodes of the current season were smart, taut, well-acted and entertaining.

One would be hard pressed not to like Sydney and Geordie. They, on the one hand have little in common, but on the other hand, have much in common. One thing they share is an implicit trust of one another and that sees them through each episode.

Sydney is a jazz-loving pastor who is still looking for love and in many ways, he is looking for love in all the wrong places, or is he? Georgie is happily married, but tied to his job.

This unlikely duo presses on each week with some unusual murder case and the overworked investigator and the dedicated clergyman solve the crimes with their intellect and instinctive gifts.  

Grantchester is based on the novels by James Runcie. I confess I have never read any of the Grantchester novels, so I cannot offer up any wise words as to whether our British comrades have gotten the characterizations correct, or the casting, or the stillness of the time and place of the town itself.

What I will say is, don't miss this series. There are six more episodes in the current second season and it has recently been renewed for a third season, so that's good news.

Robson Green is a keeper. He needs to work often. James Norton is a terrific actor who engages with his performance, but the face is quite nice to look at as well.

Kudos to PBS for picking up this program. They have done a brilliant job with their show selections. Downton Abbey will be missed deeply and dearly, but next year we get a new look at Victoria with Jenna Coleman, so I know where I will be on Sunday nights next year.

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2016          

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Favorite TV Episode Blogathon: The Outer Limits "The Architects of Fear"

We're happy to be participating in the 2nd Favorite TV Episode Blogathon, sponsored by the terrific A Shroud of Thoughts blog.  Be sure to visit the blog -- click here -- for a listing of all the sites taking part in this event!

We are chiming in with a short shout-out to one of our favorites, the superb first season episode "The Architects of Fear" which first aired on network TV on September 30, 1963.  Fifty-three years old and still works like a charm, though there is little charming about the episode.  Harrowing?  Yes, and frightening and unthinkable and ultimately touching would be more like it.  Unforgettable certainly.

There are quite a few other write-ups on this episode around the net and I'll link to them at the end of this post and borrow a few screengrabs from them, too.  I don't even think I'll go step-by-step through this brilliant hour of TV.  If you've never seen it, you need to watch it, that's all.  If you've never watched any of The Outer Limits -- but really how could avoid it, it's been in constant syndication for the past half-century -- we of course recommend settling in and catching up with some of the most intriguing science fiction ever presented on TV.   (Not as easy as it used to be -- it's behind Hulu's subscription wall now but I did find one link for "The Architects of Fear" -- click here).

In a nightmarish nutshell, the plot of "The Architects of Fear" is fairly simple -- a secret group of scientists gathers together to execute their plan to scare Earth's political leaders into peace through the use of an extraterrestrial threat which will force them to cooperate together to ensure the safety of all mankind.  Their idea is very specific -- they are going to medically change one of their group into an alien who will land a spacecraft in front of the United Nations. They draw names, and the winner -- loser -- is young physicist Allen Leighton, played by actor Robert Culp is a true tour-de-force performance.  His wife is played by the great actress Geraldine Brooks who was always an intelligent presence in every role.

Leighton is willing to go through with the transformation but in a cruel twist of fate -- actually something that would have been a joyous moment had he not been involved in the plan -- he learns that he will be leaving more than just his beloved wife behind.  But still he goes forward.

Key things making "The Architects of Fear" so incredibly good are the amazing performances by the entire cast.  Culp is nuanced, intelligent, heartbreaking and in one scene completely mesmerizing as the medical process induces a psychotic episode which is terrifying, almost hilarious in its flights of fancy, but ultimately bleak and tragic.  Geraldine Brooks as Yvette Leighton is one of the many interesting female portrayals on The Outer Limits over its 49 episode run.  She's smart, skeptical, and unique, thanks to Meyer Dolinsky's script and Brooks' talent.  Veteran character actor Leonard Stone plays the main brain behind the scientific cadre, and he's both ruthless and compassionate as he leads one of his best friends down the road into inhumanity.

I watched the episode again last night -- though I've seen it probably a hundred times over the years -- but my husband had never seen it.  I asked him "Do you think this looks dated and stupid?" but he said it was the story that kept him interested.  And so it is.  It's part Frankenstein-part The Day the Earth Stood Still-part Incredible Melting Man or Swamp Thing; we don't want to forget the basic premise of changing a human via hideous surgery into a creature and re-engineering his entire body into an alien physiology.  We get to see some of the process and it is grueling, not in terms of bloody operating room scenes but in glimpses of the intimate horrors they are perpetrating on their unlucky friend.

Just watch it.  Forget about the lack of million-dollar special effects and revel instead in the sheer excellence of the entire team who made The Outer Limits such a wonderful show and "The Architects of Fear" an especially great example of that genius.

As I mentioned above, a few other great blogs on this episode are:  My Life in the Glow of The Outer Limits -- click here --  We Are Controlling Transmission -- click here and here - The Daily P.O.P -- click here -- Casual Debris -- click here -- The Last Drive-In -- click here -- Living in The Outer Limits - click here -- Home -- click here -- and a few others I might have missed.
Just you don't miss "The Architects of Fear".