Showing posts with label 1980s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1980s. Show all posts

Monday, March 14, 2022

SXSW: Still Working 9 to 5

Directed by Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, Still Working 9 to 5 (2022) chronicles the making of 9 to 5 (1980), its impact on our culture and its legacy while also examining the continued struggle women face in the workplace.

In the late 1970s, a movement was gaining steam. With every passing year women were becoming a bigger and bigger part of the workforce. However, they were paid less than their male counterparts, had to endure sexual harassment and were shut out of potentially lucrative positions. 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, became an integral part of the women's movement, advocating for equality in the workplace. And it was out of this rallying cry for change that the dark comedy 9 to 5 (1980) was born.

9 to 5 stars Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as a trio of office workers who seek revenge on their manipulative boss, played by Dabney Coleman. 

The film was the brainchild of Jane Fonda and producer Bruce Gilbert. Originally it was meant to be more of a drama. It was a decided that a comedy would be more palatable to audiences and would be a more effective way of delivering the movie's social message. Many of the dramatic elements remain and this comedy has plenty of dark and disturbing moments along with the humor. The story was written by Patricia Resick and Colin Higgins was hired as both director and co-screenwriter. 20th Century Fox picked up the project for production and distribution. The intention was to have five female leads but that was pared down to just the three. The roles of Judy, Violet and Doralee were written with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in mind. Fonda was known for her activism, Tomlin had a hit Broadway show and Parton was a rising country music star. The three were at the top of their game and ready to launch this film into the stratosphere.

9 to 5 (1980) was an amazing success thanks to the film's message, the three dynamic leads, Coleman's excellent villain role and Dolly Parton's theme song 9 to 5 which she wrote and performed for the film.

Still Working 9 to 5 (2022) features interviews with star trio Fonda, Tomlin and Parton as well as Dabney Coleman, writer Patricia Resick and producer Bruce Gilbert. Having access to so many key players adds a wealth of insight that makes this documentary so valuable. Other interviewees include Rita Moreno, who starred in the TV spinoff, Allison Janney, who starred in the Broadway production, and activists, particularly those involved with the 9to5 organization. 

9 to 5 was both a product of its era but also timeless and the documentary expertly weaves behind-the-scenes information with context to demonstrate this. Along with the interviews are archival footage of the movement, TV clips from the film's media tour, clips from 9 to 5 and a new rendition of the theme song performed by Dolly Parton and Kelly Clarkson. Just like the original film, the documentary has a clear social message: while we've made strides towards equality, we still have a long way to go.

Still Working 9 to 5 (2022) had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. Release dates and streaming details are yet to be determined.

Visit the official website to find out more about the film!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Cursed Films: Review by Ally Russell

Review by Ally Russell

Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series about some of Hollywood’s most troubled horror movie productions. From real skeletons on the set of Poltergeist (1982) to The Omen (1976) star Gregory Peck’s airplane being struck by lightning, Cursed Films examines the factual and fictional stories surrounding The Exorcist (1973), Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow (1994), and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

These films were plagued with on-set accidents, seemingly supernatural occurrences, and even tragic deaths, like that of young film star Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist, 1982). But were these films actually cursed (or blessed by the Devil himself—as claimed by the crew of The Omen)…or did they simply suffer from a series of untimely but purely coincidental occurrences?

Beauty Day (2011) was filmmaker Jay Cheel’s debut documentary, and in addition to it premiering at the New York Museum of Modern Art as part of the Canadian Front Programming series, the film was also nominated for a Genie Award in the Best Doc category and was an official selection at the Hot Docs. Cheel is also the co-host of the podcast Film Junk.

Considering his enjoyable and compelling film short Twisted (2016) and the subject matter of his 2016 documentary How To Build a Time Machine, writer and director Jay Cheel is no stranger to subjects that are taboo or just plain weird, including urban legends and curses.

I was granted access to episodes two and three of Cursed Films (2020). Episode two, which focused on the 1982 film Poltergeist, was outstanding. Woven throughout with commentary from horror fans and expert interviews from individuals like film critic April Wolfe and science writer Matthew Hutson (The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking), episode two offered insightful analysis on society’s obsession with one of the horror industry’s most beloved films.

The episode delved deep into the film’s history with interviews from Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon (Poltergeist, 1982) and Director Gary Sherman (Poltergeist III, 1988), both of whom serve up some sage advice about our collective ability to get swept up in the sensationalism of Hollywood horror and its gory details.

What I found most enthralling about episode two of Cursed Films was Jay Cheel’s treatment of the subject matter. Cheel is careful to avoid cheap thrills and instead handles the topic with sensitivity—letting the horror of the history speak for itself.

With commentary and past footage, Cheel explores the anxiety, fear, and grief that the cast and crew experienced and gently reminds viewers about the unfortunate loss of human life that occurred during and after the filming. That combination of horror and heart makes for a strong documentary episode about the tragic legacy of a film that has touched the lives of many horror fans.

Episode three, which focuses on the 1976 film The Omen, is enjoyable and worth watching, but it is noticeably less cohesive than episode three. And while episode two is emotionally charged, episode three seems to lack that same sentiment because we don’t spend as much time with the cast and crew.

The beginning and end of episode three focus on the unfortunate events surrounding the production of The Omen, including airplane and automobile accidents, but the remainder of the episode is dedicated to commentary from expert occultists. Commentary from these individuals is interesting and provides viewers with a new perspective on the occult and curses in popular media. However, interviews with these experts shift the focus of the narrative away from the film itself, so viewers who are hoping to get an in-depth look at the dark history of The Omen may be disappointed with the change in tone between episodes two and three.

For those reasons, episode three of Cursed Films felt slightly disjointed and didn’t seem to complement episode two.

It’s undeniable that Cheel has respect for the genre and endeavors to give horror fans more than the recycled and regurgitated content that we’re used to. So, despite the contrast between episodes two and three, I’m still looking forward to watching the remainder of the series when it premieres on AMC’s streaming video service Shudder.

Opting for sentiment over sensationalism, Cursed Films gives horror lovers the documentary series they deserve; a worthwhile watch for horror fans and film history buffs alike.

Ally occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE. She also hosts the FlashFrights podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works in publishing. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Cinema Shame: Tom Horn (1980)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix. 

The completist in me has spoken and I must finish Steve McQueen's filmography. Even if that means watching a terrible movie like Tom Horn (1980). And yes it is indeed terrible. 

This film is part of my Cinema Shame Challenge for 2019 in which I watch 10 movies from my birth year 1980. If you want to participate in your own Cinema Shame challenge whether it by theme, month, year, whatever, visit the official website for more details.

Tom Horn (1980) was directed by Don Siegel. Then Elliot Silverstein. Then James William Geurcio. Then eventually Steve McQueen took over but because the Directors Guild of America (DGA) didn't allow actors to take director's credit after the film had already started, William Wiard was brought on to finish things up and give the film a final director's credit. The end result of that complicated production was a total mishmash of scenes. This aimless Western didn't capture my attention or my interest.

This was Steve McQueen's second to last film and he was already ill from the cancer that would eventually kill him in 1980. In fact McQueen died the same month I was born so I feel this weird connection with him. In Tom Horn, McQueen stars as the title character, a frontier scout with a legendary reputation. He worked for the Teddy Roosevelt administration, for the Pinkerton agency, was known for catching Geronimo, etc. He waltzes into town and gets off on a bad foot when boxer Jim Corbett beats him up. He's eventually hired by cattle farmer John C. Coble (Richard Farnsworth) to help catch (well, kill really) the cattle thieves that are a plague on other farmers. While he's cleaning up the joint, he meets Glendolene (Linda Evans), a local schoolteacher who is instantly smitten with him and the two have a sweet romance. Unfortunately Tom Horn is causing too much destruction and in an effort to get rid of him someone frames Tom for the murder of a young boy. The film follows Tom as he goes to trial for a crime he most likely did not commit. The real life Tom Horn was convicted yet later exonerated for the murder in 1993, 90 years after his death.

The film has a great cast: Steve McQueen, Richard Farnsworth, Linda Evans, Elisha Cook Jr. plays a stable hand at a horse ranch and Slim Pickens plays the town Sheriff who has a soft spot for Tom . The story suffers from woefully underdeveloped characters. The Evans-McQueen romance feels forced and false. There were some moments in the film where it tries to establish some personality traits for Tom Horn including a scene where he eats lobster for the first time or the different charms he carries with him that he ends up using to escape jail. In the end, Tom Horn is a flat and uninteresting character and McQueen was not in the position with both his career and his health to really invest himself in the role. If you're a Steve McQueen fan like I am, give this one a watch to check it off your list and move on.

Have you seen Tom Horn (1980)? What did you think? 

Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. Tom Horn (1980) is available to rent on

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cinema Shame: Xanadu (1980)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

When I was crafting my Cinema Shame list for 2019 Xanadu (1980) was the first film that came to mind. A roller skating disco fantasy? Yes, please! If you're unfamiliar with Cinema Shame make sure you visit the official website for details. Cinema Shame is a way to challenge yourself to watch those movies you've been meaning to but haven't gotten around to yet. My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980.

Directed by Robert Greenwald, Xanadu follows the story of Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), a painter/designer who has a chance encounter with the beautiful and elusive Kira (Olivia Newton-John). What he doesn't know is that she's not a real girl. She's one of the nine muses and has appeared in his life to inspire him. Sonny works an unfulfilling job at an artist's studio. One day when his overbearing boss becomes too much for him Sonny heads out to the beach where he meets clarinet player Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly). Danny was a member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and has a passion for big band music. Danny and Sonny become fast friends and we learn that Danny had his own Kira/muse back in his day. As Sonny begins to fall for Kira, she holds back but stays with him long enough to inspire him to collaborate with Danny. Together they combine their love for big band music and rock n roll and transform an abandoned auditorium into a roller skating disco palace.

Xanadu is loose adaptation of Down to Earth (1947). The story takes place in Hollywood and was filmed there as well as in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Venice Beach. The run down auditorium in the movie was the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Fairfax. The intention was to drum up interest in the building to fund its restoration and give it a new life. Much like what happens in the film. Unfortunately Xanadu tanked at the box office and the Pan-Pacific eventually fell into more disrepair. After a series of small fires, a large one destroyed it for good in 1989. Xanadu is essentially the last hurrah for this gorgeous Art Deco building.

Xanadu is total confection. The film explores themes of old versus new and the timelessness of imagination and creativity. It's 100% ridiculous. Very little of it makes sense and the only reasons you should be watching it are for Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, music by the Electric Light Orchestra, a couple of the musical numbers and to take a time travel trip back to 1980's SoCal.

I hate to single out a particular person for the downfall of a movie but Xanadu would have been 10 times better without Michael Beck. Singer Andy Gibb was slated to play Sonny Malone but had to drop out. Gibb's known drug abuse problems might have been a factor. So they found an Andy Gibb look-a-like instead. Gibb could sing, dance and had charisma, all of which Beck lacked. Olivia Newton-John is left to her own devices in several song and dance numbers. Gene Kelly comes to the rescue for a couple of them but Beck is pretty much useless. It's not his fault really. He wasn't the right fit for this role. They really should have nixed the idea of finding a Gibb look-a-like and went with a song-and-dance man instead.

"Just pretend it's 1945." - Kira
"I don't have to pretend. It is 1945 all over again." - Danny

As someone who loves 1940s culture, I was surprised to see how much that decade played in this otherwise very 1980s movie. Kelly and Newton-John have a love tap dance/big band number with Newton-John dressed in a WWII service uniform. Danny lives in a silent film star's old mansion and his passion for big band is juxtaposed with modern day rock n roll. Also I'm one of those weirdos who lives for the 1980s interpretation of the 1940s. That decade's style made a comeback in the '80s and in the big band/rock n roll song and dance number the '40s costumes are vintage with a modern twist. So fun!

Have you seen Xanadu? What did you think about it?

Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. Xanadu (1980) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Cinema Shame: Urban Cowboy (1980)

I'm chipping away at my 2019 Cinema Shame challenge. This year I gave myself the goal to watch 10 movies from my birth year 1980 for the very first time. I'm hoping I can tackle a few reviews this summer so I can keep up!

Oh boy. I'm not even sure how Urban Cowboy (1980) made it onto my Cinema Shame list. I'm just going to chalk it up to the fact that it met all of my criteria (film released in 1980 - check. film I haven't seen yet - check). But perhaps I should have skipped this one. It has NOT aged well and while I'm glad I watched it I'm not going to visit it again any time soon.

Urban Cowboy stars John Travolta as Bud, a small town cowboy who leaves for Houston to find a job in the oil business. He stays with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and Aunt Corene (Brooke Alderson) who take him out to the hottest club in town, Gilley's a hopping honky tonk bar where all the action happens. There he meets Sissy (Debra Winger), a bar regular with a spirited personality. They quickly fall in love and get married. Bud has his eye on mastering the mechanical bull at Gilley's and when former convict Wes (Scott Glenn) shows up at Gilley's Bud finds some competition for both the bull and Sissy. Bud and Sissy have a falling out driving Bud into the arms of the cowboy obsessed Pam (Madolyn Smith Osborne) and Sissy into the arms of Wes who teaches her how to ride a mechanical bull. As Bud trains for a mechanical bull riding competition, behind the scenes Wes is up to no good.

When Urban Cowboy hit theaters in the summer of 1980, critics called it the country western answer to Saturday Night Fever and they were not wrong. It definitely had that vibe even if the dancing wasn't as prominent. The film was directed by James Bridges and based on the real life story of Dew Westbrook and Betty Helmer, two Gilley regulars whose romance was profiled in an Esquire article. This movie just doesn't sit well in the 21st century and I found it off-putting. The domestic violence in particular is hard to swallow. Sissy, played by Debra Winger, has to endure a lot of emotional and physical abuse. Both Bud and Wes treat her like shit. Bud starts off as a total jerk and then comes around by the end. Wes seems okay but his criminal past and his flirtatious nature makes it apparent early on that he's not one to settle down with. Even so, both Bud and Wes' characters do a sudden about face that I didn't quite see coming and felt like a plot fix. In the end, I was only really invested in Sissy and everyone else (except for Bob and Corene!) could go to hell in a handbasket. I can see some of what people enjoy about this movie. It has a great cast, a great sense of place and time and plenty of dramatic tension throughout. The mechanical bull riding scenes were so much fun to watch. But for me the events in the story were either too predictable or came out of the blue. Overall the film left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Have you seen Urban Cowboy? What did you think? Did you like it more than I did?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cinema Shame: American Gigolo (1980)

My 2019 Cinema Shame challenge got off to an auspicious start. Seven days into the year not only had I posted my challenge but I had also already seen two of the movies on my list. Then months passed, I never reviewed those films and now I find myself mid-April having to start all over again. But no sweat. Let's begin from the beginning.

My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980. These are films I've never seen before (hence "Cinema Shame").  I kick off the challenge anew with American Gigolo (1980). 

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, American Gigolo stars Richard Gere as Julian Kaye, a handsome gigolo whose clientele mostly consists of the wealthy elite of Beverly Hills. With the help of his madame/boss Anne (Nina van Pallandt), he plays both escort and sex therapist to older rich ladies. Julian, or "Julie" as some call him, is very devoted to his job. He wears Armani suits, drives a Mercedes Benz (a 450 SL R107), speaks multiple languages and knows how to navigate the social scene. One day he meets Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the wife of Senator Stratton (Brian Davies). The two have a wild love affair. In the midst of it all, Julian gets a secret side gig from his shady pimp friend Leon (Bill Duke) who sets Julian up with a couple. Weeks later the wife from that gig has been found brutally murdered and detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) is on the case. All fingers point to Julian who is clearly innocent. He's been set-up. But by who? And why?

"Legal is not always right. Men make laws. Sometimes they're wrong." - Julian Kaye

American Gigolo was filmed in early 1979 and released February 1980. Something I love about the 1970s and the early 1980s is Hollywood's newfound comfort with on-screen sexuality. We lose that later on and to this day people are more put off by sex in film than they are violence which, in my opinion, is an utter shame. I love how Julian Kaye enjoys his work and takes pride in offering quality service to the women who hire him. In one scene he discusses working for three hours with a client to achieve a particular goal that had previously seemed impossible. The portrayal of gender dynamics in the film was perhaps what drew me in the most. Julian's boss is a woman, his most trusted allies are women and any toxic relationships in his life all come from men. 

It's not a perfect film but I enjoyed American Gigolo  not only for the portrayal of sexuality (which at times was still a bit corny but hey its 1979/1980) and the exploration of gender roles but also for the crime drama aspect. Julian Kaye is solving a murder mystery while simultaneously trying to clear his name without revealing his own illegal activities. Richard Gere is charming as the debonair yet reserved gigolo and he's worth the price of admission alone. I had never seen Lauren Hutton in a film. I remember growing up in the 1990s, the age of the supermodel, and Hutton was still highly revered as one of the greats. 

Have you seen American Gigolo? If so, what did you think?

Monday, January 7, 2019

My Cinema Shame Statement for 2019

For my 2019 Cinema Shame challenge I'm shaking things up a bit by watching films from the year I was born. And there is no shame in telling you that 1980 happens to be my birth year. Although there is a bit of shame in admitting how few films released in 1980 I've actually seen. Not very many. So I plan to correct that in 2019 with this new challenge.

If you're not familiar with Cinema Shame, make  sure to visit the official website for details.

Which of these films from 1980 have you seen and which do you recommend? Here is what I'm planning on watching this year:

American Gigolo (1980)
dir. Paul Schrader
starring Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton and Hector Elizondo

The Blues Brothers (1980)
directed by John Landis
starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd

Caddyshack (1980)
directed by Harold Ramis
starring Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Henry Wilcoxon

Dressed to Kill (1980)
directed by Brian De Palma
starring Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen

Fatso (1980)
directed by Anne Bancroft
starring Dom DeLuise, Anne Bancroft, Ron Carey

Flash Gordon (1980)
directed by Mike Hodges
starring Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow

Hopscotch (1980)
directed by Ronald Neame
starring Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston

Tom Horn (1980)
directed by William Wiard
starring Steve McQueen, Linda Evans, Richard Farnsworth, Elisha Cook Jr.

Urban Cowboy (1980)
directed by James Bridges
starring John Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn, Madolyn Smith Osborne

Xanadu (1980)
directed by Robert Greenwald
starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, James Sloyan

What's on your Cinema Shame list for 2019? Tell me in the comment section below!

Also make sure you listen to the most recent Cinema Shame podcast episode. I'm the special guest!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Whales of August (1987)

Lillian Gish and Bette Davis in The Whales of August  (1987)

"Passion and truth -- that's all we need." - Sarah

Sometimes you need strong voices to tell a quiet story.

Actresses Lillian Gish and Bette Davis were two forces to be reckoned with in the film industry. Gish and Davis helped usher the medium in its earliest days and broke down misconceptions of what actresses were capable of. Throughout their many decades in the business, the two had never worked together and remarkably hadn't even crossed paths. It wasn't until 1986 when they would come together to make the swan song of their respective careers: The Whales of August (1987). It would be the final completed film roles for both actresses (Davis appeared in one more film but did not finish her part).

Set on an island off the coast of Maine circa the mid-1950s, The Whales of August is a gentle tale of two elderly sisters, Sarah Webber (Lillian Gish) and Libby Strong (Bette Davis), vacationing in their summer home. Both widowed, Sarah tends to Libby who is now blind. The two sisters couldn't be more different from each other. Sarah is an optimistic and gentle soul who enjoys the small things in life and the company of good people. She especially loves the romantic attention she gets from the handsome and recently widowed Mr. Maranov (Vincent Price), whose pension for old customs charms her. Libby has grown bitter in her old age and senses death is just around the corner. She chides Sarah and others for insignificant things because she's not capable of letting herself be happy in her current state. Their lifelong friend Tisha (Ann Sothern) often stops by to gossip with the ladies and offer some unsolicited advice. Local handyman Joshua Brackett (Harry Carey Jr.), who is a little too loud for his own good, also stops by to help the sisters tend to their beautiful cliff side home. We follow these five souls over a few days in August, the one month out of the year when you can see the whales from the coast line.

Ann Sothern and Vincent Price in The Whales of August (1987)

As a lifelong New Englander, I've always been drawn to quiet stories like these. Simple tales about simple lives are sometimes the most potent. When you strip down everything down to its essentials and you focus on the emotional lives of people there is much to uncover. Everything is felt much more acutely because the events in your life aren't fighting with a lot of other stimuli for attention. As a teenager in the throes of the angst of my own simple life, I was drawn to the stories of Louisa May Alcott, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen and would have been enthralled by The Whales of August. It would have spoken to me in a more profound way. Today I live a busy and stressful life and sometimes long for a simpler existence and I get in touch with my past with movies like this.

The Whales of August came out at a time when home video had reinvigorated interest in both classic film and the many aging stars who were still with us. Films like On Golden Pond (1981) and Cocoon (1985) were showcasing older stars in lead roles. Producer Mike Kaplan, who had worked with Lillian Gish on the set of The Comedians (1967), wanted to find a starring role suitable for the elderly actress. Kaplan attended the off Broadway premiere of David Berry's play The Whales of August in Rhode Island and immediately thought this was the perfect story not only for Lillian Gish but for Bette Davis as well. Davis turned down the role of Libby Strong and so did Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. Davis had been sick after a stroke and a mastectomy when she was strong enough again she became interested in the role and it was hers.

For the role of Mr. Maranov, John Gieguld was on board but due to a scheduling conflict he had to bow out and was replaced by Vincent Price. For the part of Tisha, Kaplan was reluctant to hire Ann Sothern who had become partly immobile due to a stage accident. Sothern won him over and uses a cane to get around in the film. The part seemed destined to be hers considering she named her own daughter Tisha. In fact, Tisha Sterling appears in the film as the younger version of the role her mother plays. Price will simultaneously charm you and break your heart. He brings a gentleness and old school charisma to the part.

Lillian Gish's Sarah and Bette Davis' Libby were roles that seemed custom made for the two actresses. Gish was adept at playing parts of women who were gentle in nature yet strong in spirit. In an interview during the filming of the movie Davis claimed that she had no connection whatsoever with Libby and that it was just a part. But one can see that an older Davis was very much like Libby cantankerous, feisty yet vulnerable. It's marvelous to watch both of these legends so effortlessly play these parts not just because it suited them but because of what they could convey. Ann Sothern's Tisha is the quintessential small town socialite. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role and it ended up being her final film.

This film was never going to be a blockbuster. A story about isolation, loneliness, growing old in a small community isn't going to draw many to the cinema. Instead, The Whales of August was a passion project for Kaplan, director Lindsay Anderson and writer David Berry. The ending of the play was changed for the movie per director Lindsay Anderson's request and to make the film more receptive to movie audiences. It was also an opportunity for legendary actresses Gish and Davis to once again play leading roles. For Vincent Price, who hadn't been working on much for a while, it was an opportunity to do something different. In an interview he said, "I felt the things I was being offered were already done." Price admired the writing, the dialogue and the heart of the play. He went on to say, "Maine is basic America." The setting itself is its own character. The film was shot on location at the Pitkin house on Cliff Island near Portland, Maine.

Filmed in September and October of 1986, Lillian Gish was 93, Bette Davis 78, Vincent Price 75, Ann Sothern 77 and Harry Carey Jr. 65. This is an opportunity to watch five legends who had vastly different careers come together in one beautiful movie.

If you've ever been hesitant about watching this film, whether it's a fear of exploring the complexities of growing old or seeing your favorites in such an advanced state. The Whales of August is a compelling movie with a lot of heart and reassures us that there is a good life to be led even at the end of our time here on earth.

The Whales of August (1987) was recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. This edition comes packed with extras. I particularly liked the 1 hour and 12 minute piece that includes on set interviews with the five main players Price, Gish, Sothern, Carey and Davis in that order. Davis' interview is difficult to watch because she gave the poor interviewer such a hard time. Other extras include on set interviews withLindsay Anderson, Mike Fash, Jocelyn Herbert, other interviews with Mike Kaplan, Mary Steenburgen, Margaret Ladd and Tisha Sterling, as well as audio commentary with film critic. The Blu-Ray quality

Many thanks to Kino Lorber for sending me the Blu-Ray of The Whales of August for review!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cinema Shame: Rocky

Before this year I had never seen a single movie in the Rocky franchise. Not one.

My friend Jay hosts a Cinema Shame podcast in which he invites a cinephile to watch a big film they've never seen before and come on to the show to discuss. On Twitter Jay challenged me to watch Rocky.

And I took the bait.

The term cinema shame refers to the regret a cinephile experiences because they haven't seen a particular film. For years I suffered my cinema shame in relative obscurity, keeping the embarrassment to myself. Now I celebrate and embrace my cinema shame. It gives me an opportunity to tackle exciting new projects and to experience some great movies for the first time.

When Jay and I discussed our plans for the episode, Jay came up with the idea of a two-parter and challenged me to watch all 6 of the Rocky movies and the spin-off Creed if I felt like it. Challenge accepted! I love the satisfaction I get from tackling big projects and this challenge spoke to the completeist in me.

And this year I was ready for Rocky in a way that I hadn't been before. I started a new exercise regiment that would not only challenge my physical strength but my mental and emotional strength too. I was prepared to appreciate Rocky's struggle.

I shared my Rocky movie watching experience with my husband Carlos who insisted he be there for my inaugural viewings.

The two episodes of the Rocky Series Shame are now live. In the first episode looks at Rocky I, II and III and the second at Rocky IV, V and Rocky Balboa along with a bit about Creed. I'm very proud of these episodes and I hope you'll give them a listen.

Now having conquered the Rocky series I feel like I can accomplish anything.

If you want more podcast goodness, check out my guest appearances in the podcast tab of this blog. Also subscribe to Cinema Shame for future episodes and dive into the archive of goodness.

Many thanks to Jay for having me on the show!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Showcase Event Cinema: The Witches of Eastwick (1987) 30th Anniversary Screening

Showcase Superlux Chestnut Hill

On Monday I had the privilege of attending an exclusive event hosted by Showcase at their Super Lux location in Chestnut Hill, MA.  Showcase Event Cinema is the theater chain's initiative to bring classic movies, documentaries, anime as well as ballet, opera, stage productions and other entertainment to a wider audience.

The event I attended was a 30th anniversary screening of The Witches of Eastwick (1987). With Halloween just around the corner and the fact that the movie was filmed in Massachusetts, this seemed like the perfect pick for a Boston area event. Attendees mingled during the cocktail reception while a violinist serenading us as we nibbled on some delicious h'orderves and sipped on our signature cocktail. There was also a mini-red carpet and photography session. I got a couple photos taken and even had one printed out as a keepsake.

Jared Bowen of WGBH was on hand to kick off the event which would be capped off by an interview with screenwriter Michael Christofer. Before the attendees were whisked away to cinema #5 for the screening, we were treated to  a live performance of Je Suis Encoure Tout Etourdie performed by soprano Carley DeFranco with Stephanie Mao accompanying on the piano.

I've never been to one of the Super Lux cinemas so this was a real treat. The cinema boasts plush reclining seats with swivel trays and a call button. Visitors can order food and cocktails to be delivered to their assigned seats. Much to my delight I was offered a plush blanket to use during the screening. I'm always cold at movie theaters so this felt ultra luxurious. I also received a complimentary tub of popcorn and a bottle of water. I felt pampered in a way I don't usually experience when going out to the movies.

Directed by George Miller, The Witches of Eastwick follows the story of three women who suddenly find themselves single. Alexandra (Cher) is widowed, Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been abandoned by her husband and left to raise her six children and Jane (Susan Sarandon) just finalized her divorce from a husband frustrated by her inability to bear them a child. The three don't realize it yet but they're witches with magical powers. On a drunken night, they come up with the idea of their ideal man who materializes as Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), AKA the devil. He invades their town and their lives. The women feel liberated until their relationships with Daryl quickly spiral into chaos. Their small town, including the outspoken Felicia (Veronica Cartwright), can't handle the chaotic developments. Will the triumvirate be able to get rid of Daryl before he ruins all of their lives?

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

"If we're gonna have it, let's have it all." - Cher as Alexandra
"How much can you take before you snap?" - Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne

The Witches of Eastwick is not your typical family Halloween movie which is why it still flies under the radar. It can be raunchy and vile and is definitely a film to be enjoyed by adults. I love it's feminist message of empowerment. It's a smart movie that lacks the cheesiness of many others in its genre. However, as someone who loves cherries I might not be able to eat my favorite fruit for quite some time after watching this. Lucky for me, cherries are currently out of season.

Michael Christofer and Jared Bowen in conversation
Michael Christofer and Jared Bowen in conversation

The story was adapted from a novel by John Updike by the same name. Screenwriter Michael Christofer was intrigued by the first half the novel but not the second which had the three female protagonists turn on the local women in spite. In conversation with Jared Bowen, Michael Christofer called the second half of the book "John Updike's very very very dark view of women. It was not a story I wanted to tell." Christofer went on to say, "this was a very pertinent and hot political, sociological issue about women in a repressed state finding their own power and then getting to use it. [And] this devil was an extraordinary character that I have never seen before. It was fun to write."

The filming of The Witches of Eastwick was anything but smooth sailing. In particular producer Jon Peters drove everyone nuts. Christofer said, "it was the '80s. There was a thing called cocaine that many people indulged in. There was a lot of strange behavior on the set."  In fact, director George Miller walked away from the movie twice and the three female leads walked away once. Who brought them back? Jack Nicholson. About Nicholson, Christofer said "He's a madman. He's completely crazy. But he was so dedicated and so disciplined. There is not a word on screen that was not right out of the script. He made it into something extraordinary. I have enormous respect for him."

The cast originally was supposed to be Bill Murray, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey and Susan Sarandon, in Cher's role. According to Christofer, Wiest and Hershey were dropped because Jon Peters and other executives didn't think the three women would make for a good movie poster. Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer were brought on with Sarandon's role switched. Have you noticed the particular attention to hair in the film? The three women each have a distinct hair color and style and Sarandon's changes as her character blossoms. Nicholson sports a wild man that is as untamed as his character. Producer Jon Peters was a former hairdresser and his influence can be seen in this respect. Christofer, in his best Jack Nicholson voice, recalled the actor saying to Peters, "Jon, you know we all get nervous when you start talking about hair."

Christofer's script was to have the climax of the film in the church scene followed by a short coda. However, movies with special effects were trending and a spectacular scene with the devil coming back for the women was added. While it's quite dramatic it doesn't add anything to the film and makes the ending longer than it needs to be. It was also very expensive and in Christofer's opinion "it was boring."

The Witches of Eastwick was filmed in Massachusetts notably Cohasset, Ipswich and Marblehead. The story is set in Rhode Island and they were supposed to film in Little Compton. Christofer recalls 'The deacons of the church threw us out. The Massachusetts film board lobbied really strongly to get us to come to Massachusetts."

Could this film be made today? Christofer's answer: no. He went on to say:

"It would have to be a small art film, done by independent financing. The language alone, the sexuality, these things... I had a lot of freedom then in terms of dialogue, in terms of writing those and in terms of writing that character. Which we don't have any more... I don't know what this movie cost. I'm going to guess $25 million maybe $30 million. To make this movie now the way we made it would be over $100 million. It was championed as a huge hit. It brought in $20 million in the first two weeks. Compare that to $50 million on the first weekend which is what films are expected to do now. Money, it's all about money."

Showcase Event Cinema will be hosting screenings of The Witches of Eastwick (1987) on October 26th. They'll also be showing the following classic movies:

TCM The Princess Bride 30th Anniversary - 10/15 and 10/18
TCM Casablanca 75h Anniversary - 11/12 and 11/15
TCM Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? 50th Anniversary - 12/10 and 12/13

Many thanks to the folks at Showcase and Marlo Marketing for the opportunity to attend this event.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Twenty Movie Musical Marathon & a Boxed Set Review

While I was at the TCM Classic Film Festival, the lovely folks from Warner Bros. let me chose one of their boxed sets to review. I chose their 20 Film Collection: Musical set because it had a lot of films that I hadn't seen yet. 

The Best of Warner Bros.: 20 Film Collection - Musicals boxed set contains 20 musicals spanning just over 60 years of time from 1927 to 1988. The set has a slipcase and on the back is a list of all the movies inside. There are three sets within which break up the movies into three different time frames: 1927-1951, 1951-1964 and 1967-1988. It's obvious from looking at the discs that they were meant for other DVD packages. Some say "Disc One" so you know there is a Disc Two with extras that lives in another DVD set somewhere. Most of the DVDs in this set have extras anyways so I didn't count this as any great loss.

Inside the set there is also a full color booklet. Each page of the booklet is devoted to a movie and has an image from the film, the title, a paragraph about it and lists Academy Award nominations and/or wins wherever relevant. This is a nice added bonus to this set.

The Jazz Singer (1927) - This was my first time seeing The Jazz Singer and I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. I'm not sure why but I was expecting a creaky clunker with little or no entertainment value but instead I got something quite different. The Jazz Singer is considered to be the very first talkie. It's really a part talkie and was intended to only have synchronized singing but with Al Jolson's ad libs there was some dialogue too. It's based on Al Jolson's own life and follows his rise to become a great entertainer.

The Broadway Melody (1929) - I had seen this film before and enjoyed it but on this viewing I became frustrated with Anita Page's character Queenie and felt compelled to smack her on several occasions. It's not a perfect early musical but definitely one to watch if you are interested in the time period and in the history of early talkies.

42nd Street (1933) - I have seen 42nd Street a few times before and the title song always seems get stuck in my head when I do watch it. The cast is magnificent: Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Allen Jenkins, Una Merkel, Guy Kibbee, etc. It's notable especially for the Busby Berkeley choreographed/directed sequences and for the wonderful songs.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) - Oh my, this was quite a long movie wasn't it? This was my first viewing and going in I didn't realize it would clock in at 3 hours! The film is about the life of producer Florenz Ziegfeld and stars the dapper William Powell. His wives are played by Luise Rainier (perhaps the only surviving cast member?) and Myrna Loy, who doesn't appear until half way through the movie. This was a very entertaining film but overly long. I loved seeing a very young Dennis Morgan singing in one of the musical numbers.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) - I have always thought this movie was just plain weird. However, I have had a change of heart and that is primarily because I recently read the L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz earlier this year and fell in love with it. What made me want to read the book? Anne Hathaway did a marvelous reading for an Audible audiobook series. I really wanted to listen to her narration so I ended up reading the book that way. Also, I have been curious about why Dorothy wanted to go back to dreary old Kansas ever since I heard Director John Waters question this in the documentary These Amazing Shadows (2011). You can read my book review and my thoughts on Dorothy's attachment to Kansas here.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) - A new favorite! I can't believe I hadn't seen this film before. Another biopic musical, this time about the life of entertainer, playwright and songwriter George M. Cohan. 
This film reminded me how much I adore both James Cagney and Joan Leslie. Cagney's sister plays the Cohan sister and I found it very amusing that Walter Huston plays the patriarch of the Cohan family. Great film, wonderful musical numbers, great cast, entertaining all around. Will definitely be watching this one again.

An American in Paris (1951) - This movie has always felt a bit flat to me. My opinion didn't really change with this viewing. The visuals are great, Gene Kelly's dance numbers are divine and it is an amusing movie to watch but the story is a bit of a bore and I have little interest in the characters.

Show Boat (1951) - I had never seen this one before and it wasn't high on my list of films to watch. I tried to keep an open mind and watched it. It was meh. I found the musical numbers in the beginning to be entertaining but I found the film to be tiring. I enjoyed Joe E. Brown's performance and I thought Ava Gardner's character was the most interesting part of the film!

Singin' in the Rain (1952) - Pink. That's all I could think of during this viewing. PINK! I was watching a YouTube video in which a popular athlete says that he thought some bridesmaid's dresses his wife was going to chose for their wedding was too 1920s because they were Pepto Bismol pink. Well clearly he was a fan of Singin' in the Rain because there is a lot of pink worn in the film. Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, even Gene Kelly all wear pink in one scene or another. Repeat viewings of favorites always bring something new to the table.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) - This musical is one of my top favorite films so I'm glad to finally own a copy. I think it will look spectacular if it ever gets release on Blu-Ray. On this viewing I paid special attention to the choreography. The barn-raising dance scene is one of the most exquisitely choreographed and well-executed dance numbers ever. The impressive acrobatics just add to the entertainment. Every time I watch this movie I am reminded why I should never watch a wide-screen movie in pan-and-scan. Thanks for that TCM!

A Star is Born (1954) - There are quite a few gaps in my viewing of major motion pictures and I filled one in by watching A Star is Born. Yes, this is Judy Garland’s movie but I was much more fascinated with James Mason’s performance. There are two discs in the set and the version included is the full before 30+ minutes were cut for the theatrical release. About 5 minutes were missing and those were filled in with audio and publicity photographs. The ending almost came as a surprise until I remembered Don Draper in Mad Men talking about it in a scene from the show. Oh well! Not a new favorite and I still found it a bit too long but I appreciated seeing it in full.

The Music Man (1962) -  I was already disposed to not like this film but I was over by two things: the performance of the adorable little Ronny Howard and the film’s glorious ending. The Music Man in question is a traveling con artist and while he tries to swindle the townsfolk of River City out of their hard-earned money, he ends up giving the people something much more valuable in return: hope and a belief in themselves. This touched me greatly and I had a good sob by the film’s end.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) - I’ll watch anything that takes me back to the Las Vegas of the 1960s. If they ever invent time-traveling vacations, I would book a trip to that time and location straight away. I’m not a fan of Elvis but I nonetheless enjoyed this film immensely. I adore Ann-Margret and the music and dance numbers were a lot of fun. The plot is pretty interesting too! Overall this was a very enjoyable film to watch.
Camelot (1967) - Oh boy. I was majorly disappointed in this film and it's hard for me to articulate why It never captivated my imagination or attention and I didn't care for the songs. I was more fascinated by the on-screen and real-life affair between Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero.

Perhaps my previous history with The Wizard of Oz made me a bit wary about this musical adaptation of a children’s book. I’m glad I watched it because what an entertaining film! It was a great study of how greed transforms us and how we should reevaluate what’s truly important to us. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the film as much as I did if it wasn’t for that moral to the story. I was particularly fascinated the curious fact that this is the only film Peter Ostrum, the actor who played Charlie, ever did. What a way to both start and finish an acting career!

Cabaret (1972) - This was my first viewing and I was oddly fascinated by this film. 
This was my first viewing and while I was oddly fascinated by this film at the end I felt dissatisfied. I didn’t care for the vision of the 1930s through 1970s lenses and found myself annoyed by most of the characters. It was an entertaining movie, great plot and wonderfully raunchy musical numbers.

That's Entertainment! (1974) - Let’s just get one thing straight. This is a documentary type film that celebrates MGM. And it’s in a set celebrating Warner Bros. This confused me immensely and while it’s a great addition to a musical boxed set I thought it stuck out like a sore thumb in this set in particular. Lots of folks rave about That’s Entertainment and I had never seen it before. It was a bittersweet experience watching all those stars (Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, etc.) walking around the decrepit and abandoned MGM lot, talking about their glory days. However, even with my MGM-Warner Bros. objection, I think this is a great introduction for people who are not familiar with earlier musicals. I laughed when Frank Sinatra called the show girls from Broadway Melody of 1929 “overweight”. Yeah, okay buddy.

Victor Victoria (1982) - I don’t know why I compare Victor Victoria with Cabaret but I did and I found myself loving the former much more than the latter. Maybe because they were both nostalgic, featured Americans abroad and had gay characters. I have a new appreciation for the divine Julie Andrews after watching this film. The film is only a little campy, has loveable characters and great musical numbers. Enjoyable all around and I can’t wait to watch it again.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) - I had seen this before but my husband hadn't so I decided we could watch this together. This film is the stuff of nightmares. I think I enjoyed it much more on my second viewing. The songs are wonderful, it's quite a unique story and I do enjoy a good Greek Chorus! Also, certain Family Guy episodes make much more sense after you've seen this film.

Hairspray (1988) - I knew almost nothing about this film when I sat down to watch it which I think was the best way to experience it. Hairspray is more a film with music rather than a musical film. It has John Water's signature touch: it's both bizarre and fun. I love the 1960s nostalgia but my favorite thing about the movie is it's message: don't ever be afraid to be who you are. That alone makes this film a winner.

With the Holidays right around the corner, this boxed set would make a perfect gift!

The Best of Warner Bros.: 20 Film Collection - Musicals
Available at the following online retailers:

Barnes and Noble

Turner Classic Movies Shop
Warner Bros. Online Shop

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