Initial Picks for the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

I’m really looking forward to attending the 2018 Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival later this month in Los Angeles. TCM always does an incredible job with curating an eclectic and relevant group of films to enjoy along with bringing in outstanding guests to introduce each screening.

Now that the festival schedule has been published, I’ve been going through the agonizing task of trying to choose which films to see (because mostly I just wish I could see them all). Here are my initial picks (subject to change, of course).

Day One – Thursday, April 26

Finishing School (1934) — Starring Ginger Rogers and Frances Dee and directed by Wanda Tuchock, this pre-Production Code (or “pre-code”) film about young women taking their first steps into adulthood was one of the first films to be condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency (we’ll see how saucy it really is if I can get into the screening). It’s being screened in 35mm with a print from the U.S. Library of Congress and is being introduced by film historian Jeremy Arnold and Wyatt McCrea, the eldest grandson of the film’s star Frances Dee.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) — While not part of the TCM Classic Film Festival, I was able to get a ticket to a late-night screening of this highly-anticipated (for me, at least) film on its opening night at the marvelous El Capitan Theatre. Should be fun.

Day Two – Friday, April 27

The plan is to spend Friday morning attending two potentially cool animation presentations. First up is a screening of a curated group of “Pink Panther” theatrical cartoons created by Friz Freleng and David DePatie for The Mirisch Company in the 1960s. Hosting the presentation are animation expert Jerry Beck and film executive Lawrence A. Mirisch. Next is a presentation about Walt Disney and the creation and evolution of Mickey Mouse (who is celebrating his 90th birthday) by noted animation historian J.B. Kaufman. Attending this presentation is a no-brainer if you’re a big Disney fan like I am.

The rest of the films I hope to see on Friday include:

Blessed Event (1932) — Another pre-code film, this time a comedy starring Lee Tracy as a newspaper advertising man who takes over the writing of the newspaper’s gossip column and turns it into an outrageous success. Also stars Dick Powell in his film debut along with Ruth Donnelly, Gladys Price, and Ned Sparks. This is also a 35mm print from the U.S. Library of Congress. The screening will be introduced by the Film Forum‘s long-time director of programming Bruce Goldstein.

The Right Stuff (1983) — Based on the book by Tom Wolfe and directed by Philip Kaufman, the film tells the story of the early days of NASA and the U.S. space program. I never had the chance to see this epic film on the big screen, so now is my opportunity. It will be introduced by two actresses from the film: Veronica Cartwright who played Betty Grissom, the wife of astronaut Gus Grissom who was tragically killed in the Apollo 1 disaster in 1967, and Mary Jo Deschanel who played Annie Glenn, the wife of astronaut John Glenn.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945) — This Technicolor melodrama starring Gene Tierney as a crazy lady is going be screened with a special nitrate print and will be hosted by Todd Wiener from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Day Three – Saturday, April 28

I am indulging on Saturday and am planning to spend the entire day at the glorious TCL Chinese Theatre watching films all of which I’ve already seen but three of which I’ve never seen on the big screen before.

His Girl Friday (1940) — One of the all-time great comedies starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant will include an introduction by author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker Cari Beauchamp.

Bullitt (1968) — This gritty crime drama is particularly beloved by me because the incredibly cool 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback that Steve McQueen drives in the film. (The original “Bullitt” Mustang has been missing for many years and recently resurfaced. More info is here.) I’m so excited to see the legendary car chase scene in the film on the big screen, too. Introducing the film is actress Jacqueline Bisset who plays Steve McQueen’s love interest.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) — Although this favorite film noir is going to be screened next month at my local theater as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series, I just can’t pass up the chance to see this film in the TCL Chinese Theatre. It will be introduced by actress Nancy Olson Livingston, who played the young writer Betty Schaefer in the film (another reason to see this screening).

Heaven Can Wait (1978) — This Warren Beatty-directed remake of the classic comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a favorite film of my youth. Introducing the film are actor and writer Buck Henry and actress Dyan Cannon (really!).

The Big Lebowski (1998) — This one is my least favorite of the five films planned for Saturday and even though it’s also part of this year’s TCM Big Screen Classics series, I’m probably going to give this revered and wacky Coen Brothers’ film another chance. (Still subject to change. But have I mentioned lately that I just want to spend a day in the TCL Chinese Theater?)

Day Four – Sunday, April 29

The jury is still out on films for Sunday–partly because there are five slots still “to be announced” by TCM (typically, these are popular films screened earlier in the festival and TCM provides another chance to see them). In the morning, I need to decide between Francis Ford Coppola’s gorgeous The Black Stallion (1979) or the classic Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn comedy Woman of the Year (1942). I’m also considering the Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse musical Silk Stockings (1957) in the afternoon. If the TBA films aren’t to my liking, then I might spend the entire afternoon at the TCL Chinese Theatre watching Cecil B. DeMille’s four-hour epic The Ten Commandments (1956) on the big screen for the first time (I’ve only ever seen it on TV). Last choice is between a screening of the silent version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) with a live orchestra, Animal House (1978), which isn’t my favorite film but director John Landis and many of the film’s stars will be in attendance, or another TBA screening.

All in all, it should be a memorable weekend. Many thanks to TCM for putting together such a great event (and for making it impossible to choose!). Hope to see you there!

(Image ©️ Turner Classic Movies)

Happy 40th Birthday to “Grease”

Not wanting to make anyone feel old (myself included), but can you believe that Grease has been the word for 40 years?

After making its debut in movie theaters in the summer of 1978, Grease, directed by Randal Kleiser and based on the hit Broadway musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is still one of the world’s all-time favorite Hollywood musicals. To celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary, Paramount Pictures, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and Fathom Events are screening this raunchy and revered film across the U.S.A. this week as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series (ticket info is here.). Paramount is also releasing a new 40th anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray, Digital, and 4K Ultra HD on April 24.

Hot off of the 1977 mega hit film Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta was able to show off more dance moves and his great comedic timing as leading man and supposed tough guy Danny. And making her film debut was country singer Olivia Newton-John as the innocent and lovestruck Australian transfer student Sandy. The chemistry between the two stars is clearly one of the contributors of the film’s lasting appeal, not to mention the outstanding supporting cast of Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Eve Arden, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell, Sid Caesar, Frankie Avalon, and others.

Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) try to keep their summer fling alive while navigating the vicissitudes of their high school cliques in GREASE. (Image ©️ Paramount Pictures)

But I think it’s the music that keeps Grease alive. The film’s soundtrack was a monster hit. From the unforgettable opening fanfare of the title track (written with a disco vibe by the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb and sung with perfection by Frankie Valli; check out this awesome YouTube clip below of Valli performing the song in 1978 on the TV dance show Soul Train), to Olivia Newton-John/Sandy crooning about her hopeless devotion to John Travolta/Danny, to the whole gang singing their hearts out about their forever friendship even after high school graduation, the soundtrack is non-stop nostalgia and fun.

Here’s the film’s original trailer from 1978.

As an added bonus, here’s the film’s original one-sheet poster, also from 1978.

Original 1978 theatrical poster. (Image ©️ Paramount Pictures)

Enjoy Grease again on the big screen and at home this month. And remember, as Eve Arden/Principal McGee says, “if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”

“Vertigo” Turns 60

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo turns 60 this year. Turner Classic Movies (TCM), along with Fathom Events, is screening Vertigo to honor the film’s 60th anniversary on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 as part of their excellent TCM Big Screen Classics film series.

Here’s the original trailer for the film:

When it was released in 1958, Vertigo was not a success. In fact, critics dismissed it and the film bombed at the box office. According to OpenCulture.com, Hitchcock himself kept the film out of circulation entirely between 1973 and his death in 1980.

It wasn’t until the passing of Alfred Hitchcock that critics and cinephiles began to more seriously take notice (although the film had the strong allegiance of early fans as evidenced in the interview below with director Martin Scorsese).

Now, Vertigo is considered by many to be one of the best films ever made. In 2007, it moved to the #9 spot in the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 10th anniversary edition of its prestigious “100 Years…100 Movies” list. And after a steady, multi-year climb, Vertigo was recognized as the #1 film in 2012 by the British Film Institute (BFI) in their “Greatest Films of All Time” poll, knocking Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane out of its long-held top spot.

British film critic Tim Robey had this to say about both the film’s ascent to the top of the BFI poll and his own opinions about the staying (and growing) power of this Hitchcock classic:

“Even though its rehabilitation as a classic was well under way at the time, I remember my first viewing being something of a disappointment, too. I was hoovering up Hitchcocks from their TV airings in my mid-teens, high on Psycho and Notorious, and found the whole structure of this one broken and bewildering. It didn’t satisfy my early notions of what ‘Hitchcockian’ meant, and the lure of it as romantic fantasy probably didn’t strike much of a chord either. Next to the addictive wickedness of his other thrillers, it was an oddly foreign proposition, arty and stilted-seeming.

“What I hadn’t realised is that Vertigo is the ultimate grower. If its laboriously slow ascent to the highest stratum of critical adoration has proved anything, it is that. In its very bones, the movie is about a repetitive pattern of romantic obsession, and it is entirely fitting that such a pattern makes more sense the more we see it repeated: it’s an experience that gets correspondingly more deep and dreamlike with every viewing, echoing further back into the reaches of the subconscious. There’s something quasi-religious about returning to it, knowing all the mistakes that Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson is going to make all over again, and recognising every facet of Kim Novak, from ethereally seductive to seemingly guileless to manipulative and doomed.”

Vertigo is also available on Blu-ray and your favorite digital download platforms, but don’t miss this opportunity to see the special 60th anniversary screening of this cinema classic on the big screen. Check the Fathom Events website for times and locations and for information about upcoming TCM Big Screen Classics.

 

 

 

“The Dark Crystal” Returns to the Big and Small Screen

Jim Henson’s 1982 ambitious fantasy puppet epic The Dark Crystal is enjoying a bit of a resurgence. A new Netflix prequel series has been announced along with a new 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD home release happening. To celebrate, Universal Pictures and The Jim Henson Company have also been screening the film in theaters across the U.S. in conjunction with Fathom Events. One more screening is happening on March 6.  I had the chance to go to one of these Fathom Events screenings last week and it was a trip to see this film again on the big screen.

The Dark Crystal is an original story and an elaborate mythology created by Henson and his team. It centers on the land of Thra which has been divided and desolate for hundreds of years due to a “cracking” of a giant Crystal that used to provide peace and balance. The broken Crystal caused a group named the UrSkeks to divide into two–the evil Skeksis and the good Mystics. A prophesy was made that a third group called the Gelfings would heal the Crystal and restore the land. The nasty Skeksis then decided to kill off all of the Gelfings so the prophecy wouldn’t take place.

Enter our heroes, two Gelfings named Jen (the one with the brown hair) and Kira (the blonde) and Kira’s dog-like creature Fizzgig. The two are the last known Gelfings in the land thanks to the Skeksis’ killing everyone else off. Can these two find the shard from the broken Crystal and restore the land of Thra? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!

Promotional photo with Jen, Kira, and Fizzgig (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

(On a side note, when I was doing a Google search to find an image of Jen and Kira, this pic came up with the caption “The Olsen twins do Dark Crystal cosplay at the last Met Gala.” Mean, but funny.)

Co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz worked with British fantasy artist Brian Froud on creating the unique and detailed aesthetic for the film (a great article about Brian Froud is here; he is also responsible for the look and design of another elaborate Henson fantasy– 1986’s Labyrinth). Here’s some Dark Crystal concept art by Brian Froud.

The Crystal Castle and the desolate land of Thra. Art by Brian Froud. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)
Concept art of a Mystic (one of the good guys). Art by Brian Froud. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)
Concept art for one of the Skeksis (the bad guys). Art by Brian Froud. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

The Dark Crystal has an impressive mix of puppets and animatronics, all created by Jim Henson’s renowned Creature Shop. Jim Henson and Frank Oz decided early on that they didn’t want any humans populating this world, so this film only contains puppet characters. The film also is loaded with practical effects and miniatures. It’s truly a creative tour de force.

I love this shot of Frank Oz behind the camera (at least it looks like Frank Oz) and Jim Henson and Kathryn Mullen puppeteering Jen and Kira. (Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

While The Dark Crystal is an admirable work, I can’t say that it’s my favorite film. The detailed fantasy aesthetic is remarkable, but just not necessarily my taste. Still, I really enjoyed marveling at all of the creative puppetry and impressive filmmaking that it took to bring this film to life. If you get a chance, check out The Dark Crystal on the big screen on March 6 (more info is at FathomEvents.com) or enjoy the new 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD release which will also be available on March 6.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

For all things Dark Crystal, make sure to check out the official website, too.

(Image ©️The Jim Henson Company)

Studio Ghibli Fest 2018

Studio Ghibli, the wonderful Japanese animation studio founded by animation legends Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, is sending more of their classic films to U.S. theaters again in 2018. After a successful run of screening six of their films last year on the big screen under the guise of “Studio Ghibli Fest 2017,” Studio Ghibli along with the film distributor GKIDS will be screening a whopping nine films in over 700 theaters across the U.S.A. for their upcoming Studio Ghibli Fest 2018.

If you are a Studio Ghibli or anime fan (or both), you will love seeing these digital prints of these beautiful films on the big screen. Theater listings and tickets are now available on the Fathom Events website. Both English dubbed and subtitled versions will be shown (check the Fathom Events site for details). Here’s a graphic with the full lineup (courtesy of the GKIDS Facebook page) so you can save the dates on your calendar.

(Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

GKIDS also provided these official film summaries and images, too.

Ponyo – 10th Anniversary
Sunday, March 25; Monday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 28
When Sosuke, a young boy who lives on a cifftop overlooking the sea, rescues a stranded goldfish named Ponyo, he discovers more than he bargained for. Ponyo is a curious, energetic young creature who yearns to be human, but even as she causes chaos around the house, her father, a powerful sorcerer, schemes to return Ponyo to the sea. Miyazaki’s breathtaking, imaginative world is brought to life with an all-star cast, featuring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Lily Tomlin, Liam Neeson and more.

PONYO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

The Cat Returns
Sunday, April 22; Monday, April 23 and Wednesday, April 25
Haru is walking home after a dreary day of school when she spies a cat with a small gift box in its mouth crossing a busy street, and she jumps in front of traffic to save the cat from an oncoming truck. To her amazement, the cat gets up on its hind legs, brushes itself off, and thanks her very politely. But things take an even stranger turn when later than night, the King of Cats shows up at her doorstep in a feline motorcade.He showers Haru with gifts, and decrees that she shall marry the Prince and come live in the Kingdom of Cats!

THE CAT RETURNS (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Porco Rosso
Sunday, May 20; Monday, May 21 and Wednesday, May 23
Porco Rosso is a world weary flying ace-turned-bounty-hunter, whose face has been transformed into that of a pig by a mysterious spell. When he infuriates a band of sky pirates with his heroics, the pirates hire Curtis, a hotshot American rival, to get rid of him. But with the help of the teenage girl Fio, an aspiring airplane designer, and sultry lounge singer named Gina, Porco takes to the skies for what may be his final high-flying showdown.

PORCO ROSSO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Pom Poko
Sunday, June 17; Monday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 20
From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, and Academy Award®-nominated director Isao Takahata, comes an action-packed ecological fable about the clash between nature and human civilization.

The tanuki (raccoon dogs) of Tama Hills find their fun-loving community under attack when their quiet woodlands are threatened by encroaching developers looking to create still more houses and shopping malls. Desperate to survive, the tanuki band together and learn the ancient art of transformation, shape-shifting into a comical variety of humans and spirits as they undertake a last-ditch plan to scare away the humans and save their home, in this deeply-affecting, funny and heartfelt look at what it means to live in the modern world.

POM POKO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Princess Mononoke
Sunday, July 22; Monday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 25
Inflicted with a deadly curse, the young warrior Ashitaka heads west in search of a cure. There, he stumbles into bitter conflict between Lady Eboshi, the proud people of Iron Town, and the enigmatic Princess Mononoke, a young girl raised by wolves, who will stop at nothing to prevent the humans from destroying her home and the forest spirits and animal gods who live there.

Featuring the voices of Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett Smith and Billy Bob Thornton.

PRINCESS MONONOKE (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Grave of the Fireflies – 30th Anniversary
Sunday, August 12; Monday, August 13 and Wednesday, August 15
Directed by Academy Award®-nominated Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies has been universally hailed as an artistic and emotional tour de force.

As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. This is the story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, two children forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth. Their struggle is a tribute to the human spirit. Presented in its digitally remastered and restored format,
Grave of the Fireflies is one of the rare films that truly deserves to be called a masterpiece.

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

My Neighbor Totoro – 30th Anniversary
Sunday, September 30; Monday, October 1 and Wednesday, October 3
Celebrate the 30th anniversary of My Neighbor Totoro, from the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, and Academy Award®-winning director Hayao Miyazaki. When Satsuki and her sister Mei move with their father to a new home in the countryside, they find country life is not as simple as it seems. They soon discover that the house and nearby woods are full of strange and delightful creatures, including a gigantic but gentle forest spirit called Totoro, who can only be seen by children. Totoro and his friends introduce the girls to a series of adventures, including a ride aboard the extraordinary Cat Bus, in this all-ages animated masterpiece featuring the voices of Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, in a classic tale of magic and adventure for the whole family.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Spirited Away
Sunday, October 28; Monday, October 29 and Wednesday, October 30
Hayao Miyazaki’s Academy Award®-winning masterpiece Spirited Away was the biggest box office hit of all time in Japan and helped redefine the possibilities of animation for American audiences and a generation of new filmmakers.

Chichiro thinks she is on another boring trip with her parents. But when they stop at a village that is not all that it seems, her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, and Chihiro is whisked into a world of fantastic spirits, shape-shifting dragons and a witch who never wants to see her leave. She must call on the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

Combining Japanese mythology with Alice in Wonderland-type whimsy, Spirited Away cemented Miyazaki’s reputation as an icon of animation and storytelling.

SPIRITED AWAY (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

Castle in the Sky
Sunday, November 18; Monday, November 19 and Wednesday, November 20
Castle in the Sky is a timeless stor of courage and friendship, with stunning animation from acclaimed Academy Award®-winning director Hayao Miyazaki.

This high-flying adventure begins when Pazu, an engineer’s apprentice, spies a young girl, Sheeta, floating down from the sky, held aloft by a glowing pendant. Both Sheeta and Pazu are searching for the legendary floating castle, Laputa, and they vow to travel there together to unravel the mystery of the luminous crystal. But their quest won’t be easy, as soon they are being pursued by greedy air pirates, the military, and secret government agents, who all seek the power Sheeta alone can control.

The English-dubbed cast includes the vocal talents of Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Mandy Patinkin and more.

CASTLE IN THE SKY (Image ©️Studio Ghibli and GKIDS)

75 Years of “Casablanca”

Welcome to my new movie blog. I thought it would be appropriate for the first entry in my blog to honor my all-time favorite movie, Warner Bros.’ classic Casablanca (1942) which recently celebrated its 75th birthday.

From the “Casablanca” Facebook page (©️Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Casablanca is in the national filmgoing consciousness, whether one realizes it or not. The number of quotable quotes from the film alone make it probably one of the, well, most quoted films ever (just a sample: “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” “Round up the usual suspects,” and the often misquoted line “Play it, Sam”). But it’s the film’s themes of duty, honor, self-sacrifice and finding love within a world gone mad that keep me coming back for more.

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Although Casablanca took home three Academy Awards in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, according to an article on TCM.com, “Casablanca did not truly strike a resounding chord with American culture until about 20 years after its 1942 release. In the 1960s, a few years after Humphrey Bogart’s death in 1957, a movie theater called The Brattle [which still shows classic films; I’ve added it to my bucket list] in Cambridge, Massachusetts started reviving Casablanca for three weeks every year, drawing enthusiastic and increasingly larger crowds. Eventually, fans started showing up wearing trench coats and snap-brim hats like Bogie. These fans would even recite dialogue with the film…”

“We’ll always have Paris.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Now, Casablanca is available on Blu-ray and on most every Digital HD platform. It is also a staple on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), playing on the cable movie network next in March 2018 (check TCM.com/schedule for the latest information). If you haven’t ever seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I highly recommend taking the time to watch this wonderful, romantic, perfect film.