ED WOOD (1994) – Great tribute to a cross-dressing auteur

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Ed Wood is easily the best film ever made about one of the worst filmmakers ever.

Edward D. Wood, Jr. is renowned in movie cults for two astounding facts: (1) he was an enthusiastic transvestite with a fondness for angora sweaters, and (2) he was so excited about being in the Hollywood aura that he never noticed how bad his own movies were.

Wood’s primary connection to Hollywood glory is with washed-up Dracula star Bela Lugosi (a deservedly Oscar-winning performance by Martin Landau). Wood convinces himself that because he uses a former star in his movies, his films are automatically great — even though one of Lugosi’s scenes involves his struggle with a fake octopus that can’t be made to move.

Other Wood actors include The Amazing Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), a psychic of no known talent. (Criswell’s monologue, which opens the film, sounds bizarre until you discover that it was paraphrased from one of Wood’s own movies.) There’s Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), a wrestler whose bulk was used to mask his total inability to take direction. Wackiest of all is Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), an outrageously fey hanger-on.

Wood’s enthusiasm for filmmaking overcomes disinterested distributors, budgets that ran from shoestring to nothing, and a vast array of non-talent. His main claim to immortality is Plan 9 from Outer Space, an astoundingly bad sci-fi movie whose making is well-chronicled here.

Tim Burton, who certainly understands misfits (BeetlejuiceEdward Scissorhands), directed this potentially campy bio-flick with only the greatest affection. The black-and-white photography perfectly mirrors Wood’s era. All of the performances are crazily heartfelt. And Depp delves into another quirkily beiievable character. (Most winning of all is Vincent D’Onofrio’s cameo as Orson Welles, who gives Wood some much-needed encouragement.)

The movie ends with Wood’s triumph of Plan 9‘s premiere and before his descent into alcoholism and poverty. The real-life Wood craved any attention he could get, and no doubt he would have been thrilled at this affectionate look at his filmmaking ineptitude.

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THE GANGSTERS ALL HERE Live Tweet movie for Sat., Oct. 3: RAILROADED! (1947)

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All right, you mugs! I’ve been spoiling you rotten the last couple of weeks, showing you gangster movies from big studios like Columbia and Warner Bros. with stars like Richard Widmark and Jimmy Cagney. This week we’re going back to Poverty Row studio PRC, where the closest you’ll get to a big-name star is Beaver Cleaver’s dad, Hugh Beaumont!

Railroaded! is the 1947 saga of innocent teenager Steve Ryan (Ed Kelly), who gets framed for a robbery that happened to involve the (stolen) laundry truck that Steve drives for a living. Since Steve was unfortunate enough to leave his monogrammed scarf in the truck, the cops seize upon this weak link as though it was gold-star Exhibit A just to get Steve, who has no previous record of any wrongdoing, behind bars in record time.

We find out soon enough — well sooner than clueless cop Mickey Ferguson (Beaumont), anyway — that the real culprit is Duke (John Ireland), a monotone, paranoid criminal with a fetish for using perfumed bullets. (Yes, you read that right.) Ferguson starts examining the clues and ends up getting caught in a love triangle between Steve’s sister Rosie (Sheila Ryan) and Duke.

The most surprising name in the credits is that of director Anthony Mann, who went on to better efforts such as Winchester ‘73 (1950, with James Stewart). Mann tries hard here, but he fills the screen with such ultra-noir-ish shadows, you’ll have trouble telling the heroes from the villains.

BettyPageFannyIndexOn a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, I give this one a 3. The movie’s style doesn’t completely overcome its routine substance, but you’ll have to love the way that the cops ignore 57 varieties of the Ryan family’s civil rights in order to make their case against Steve stick.

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#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Oct. 3: KING KONG (1976)

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The most unfortunate line of dialogue in the 1976 version of King Kong is when Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges), as proof of Kong’s existence, points to jungle debris and says, “Who do you think made that mess – some guy in an ape suit?”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I think.

In between the original 1933 version of King Kong (a classic and the best version –- no arguments allowed) and Peter Jackson’s 2005 version (which put me off but obviously has its fans), there came producer Dino De Laurentiis’ version –- which, to cop a much-used phrase from Roger Ebert, knew the words but not the music.

The movie attempts to “modernize” the story with a plotline about Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), a greedy executive of an oil company named Petrox (“Pet Rocks,” isn’t that cute?). Wilson is sailing his crew to an uncharted island that promises hoards of oil that will help Petrox lead the way during the ’70s energy crisis. Stowing away on the Petrox ship is Prescott, an “environmentalist professor” who tries to show Wilson the political incorrectness of his greedy ways.

Bridges and Grodin seem pretty game for the plot conceit. On the other hand, there’s Jessica Lange, making her unfortunate film debut as Dwan, another of the ship’s passengers. Dwan is a would-be actress who talks like a flaky flower child. From this performance, you’d never have guessed that Lange would go on to be an Academy Award winner.

Other than hippie girl Dwan, the most head-shaking aspect of the movie is King Kong himself — who is shown, alternately, as a man in a gorilla suit (special effects artist Rick Baker) and a robot (designed by Carlo Rimbaldi, who went on to better things when he designed E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial years later for Steven Spielberg).

(SPOILER ALERT!) I feel compelled to mention that the only element that might spoil the movie’s fun for you is the setting of its climax. Whereas the ending of the 1933 movie famously took place atop the Empire State Building, here Kong climbs to the top of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. That was obviously intended as a novel climax at the time of the movie’s release, and just as obviously, it might have negative emotional resonance for some viewers now.

Other than that, the movie is quite the valentine to 1970’s America in all of its tacky glory. So join us for some laughs this Sat., Oct. 3, at 4:30 p.m. EST at Twitter.com. Use the hashtag #SatMat to get the link to the movie online and to comment on the movie throughout our viewing of it!

Announcement: WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon 2015

It’s back!

Once upon a screen...

WE’RE BACK for number 4!

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WHAT A CHARACTER! a phrase borrowed from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so that we could dedicate a blogathon to those whose names few remember – the players who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading actors wished they had.  Kellee, Paula and I never tire of seeing them or paying tribute and as the previous three installments of this event proved, neither do you.  So, here we are with the fourth annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.
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To say we’re thrilled is an understatement and we hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edmund Gwenns and Spring Byingtons of the world, the oft forgotten names that never appeared above the title.  If this is right up your movie alley then give us a shout out…

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled and (@IrishJayHawk66) and Kellee Pratt

Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club

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#BNoirDetour Film for 9/27: Pickup on South Street

From the ever-fun Twitter Live Tweet and movie blog BNoirDetour:

B Noir Detour

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Ok, so it’s a cold war commie spy film with a thin plot, a low budget, and an implausible love story.

But against that, I give you a thief for a main character whose non-patriotic persona pissed off J. Edgar Hoover enough to complain to producer Darryl F. Zanuck and director Samuel Fuller. They removed the “FBI” from the advertising, but stood by their product, 1953’s Pickup on South Street, high on my list of great late noir entertainment.

To tempt you further, I give you not only charismatic bad boy Richard Widmark in the lead role, but also Thelma Ritter in an Academy Award-nominated performance as sympathetic police informant and blackmailing tie saleswoman Moe.

Widmark as Skip McCoy: "Are you waving a flag a me?" Widmark as unlikely hero Skip McCoy: “Are you waving a flag at me?”

Moe (Thelma Ritter) tallies her small earnings. Moe (Thelma Ritter) tallies her earnings.

And then there’s our tough cookie from the wrong side of the tracks, Candy (Jean Peters

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THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981) – This movie’s a bust — Adrienne Barbeau’s, specifically

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If you’re familiar with the late 1970’s/early ’80s movie love-fests between Hal Needham (stuntman turned director) and Burt Reynolds (stuntman turned overindulged star), you’ll recognize The Cannonball Run as the tail end of a movie “series” that began at least fairly promisingly with Smokey and the Bandit.

This one is a fairly plotless number about a cross-country, high-speed chase-cum-race. Big-bust enthusiasts will greatly appreciate Adrienne Barbeau’s mostly-unzipped outfit, and a nifty cameo by Valerie Perrine as the only cop who slows her down. (Since the movie is rated only PG, it skips the obvious next step in the Perrine-Barbeau fantasy, in which Adrienne would use more dramatic measures to worm her way out of a ticket.)

The rest of the movie plays like a car-crash version of “The Love Boat,” in which aging stars amuse themselves with supposedly hysterical cameos. (Aging Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. scrape the bottom of the barrel as bogus priests.) Why do the bustiest stars always appear in the worst movies?

Announcing the ‘ONE’ OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE CARTOONS BLOGATHON!

Flush with success as I am from my recent See You in the ‘Fall’ Blogathon, I cannot resist jumping on the ‘thon wagon again. Ergo, I hereby announce the

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Here’s your opportunity to sound off about one of your favorite animated films! Does a particular cartoon make you laugh, cry, think, or just plain fill you with joy? Post a blog entry about it here, and share your enthusiasm with the world!

Notice that I said it can be one of your favorite cartoons. This is not a contest in which you have to summon up superior evidence that your cartoon of choice is the greatest one ever made. Just write about the reasons why you like it.

The cartoon you choose can be of any length (short subject, feature film, television special) from movies or TV. It can be in “traditional” hand-drawn format or CGI. If you choose to write about a TV cartoon series, you can write about either the reasons why you like the entire TV series so much, or you can focus on a particular episode of the series. As long as you write an entertaining and reasoned blog in support of your choice, it will be accepted here. Also, duplicate entries are acceptable at this blogathon.

The rules are simple:

  1. Please leave me a message in the “Comments” section below that includes the name and URL of your blog, and the name of the cartoon you choose to write about.
  2. Below are banners to advertise the blogathon. Once you have completed Step # 1, please grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.
  3. The blogathon will take place from Fri., Nov. 6, through Sun., Nov. 8, 2015. Once you have posted your blogathon entry on one of those dates, please post its URL in the “Comments” section so that I can link our blog back to it.

That’s all there is to it! Have fun with your blog entry, and show everyone that the best cartoons aren’t just for kids to enjoy, but are meant for everybody!

Here is the list of entries so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Popeye in The Spinach Overture (1935) and Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1995)

Love Letters to Old Hollywood – Sleeping Beauty (1959) and 101 Dalmatians (1961)

BNoirDetourJessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Epileptic Moondancer – Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Rick and Morty (2013- )

Serendipitous Anachronisms – Pluto in Cold Turkey (1951)

Silver Screenings – Tex Avery’s Hollywood Steps Out (1941)

Moon in GeminiBugs Bunny and Gossamer in Hair-Raising Hare (1946) and Water, Water Every Hare (1952)

VocareMentor.com – Bugs Bunny in Rabbit Hood (1949)

The Movie Rat – Daffy Duck in Duck Amuck (1953)

The Wonderful World of Cinema – Disney Studios’ The Aristocats (1970)

365 Days 365 Classics – Chuck Jones’ High Note (1961)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies – Mickey’s Gala Premiere (1933)

Mildred’s Fatburgers – Marc Antony and Pussyfoot in Chuck Jones’ Feed the Kitty (1952)

Movie Fan FarePorky Pig and Sylvester in Kitty Kornered (1946)

The Midnite Drive-inBugs Bunny in Hare-Way to the Stars (1958)

Let’s Go to the MoviesDisney Studios’ Aladdin (1992)

Silver ScenesDisney’s The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Dell on MoviesTom & Jerry in Jerry’s Cousin (1951)

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BullwinkleRocky

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