LONDON SYMPHONY (2017) – Silence is golden


“It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkie instead of the other way round.” – Mary Pickford

Thanks to 265 Kickstarter backers, director-editor Alex Barrett was able to grant Ms. Pickford’s wish — for one magnificent movie, at least.

London Symphony is a bracing, beautiful, cinematic stay-cation. You watch Barrett’s ode to life in London — flawlessly photographed (by Barrett and several others, in glorious black and white) and ethereally scored (by James McWilliam) — and 72 minutes later, you’re relaxed and refreshed.

The movie is split into four “movements” — city, nature, places of worship, and night life — and that’s about all I want to divulge about the movie’s outline. (Rahim Molendina gets a writing credit — but, not to belittle his work, how do you write something like this?) Beyond the film’s countless settings, the point of the movie seems to be that there’s beauty in everything. And Barrett goes out of his way to prove it, with alternately static and sweeping imagery that makes even discarded trash look as though it had a preordained shape to it.

Sometimes the movie shows the simple beauty in stasis, and then sometimes it captures movements that look candid, yet provide their own lovely commentary. A passing train is reflected in an oval light, and the light ends up looking as though it’s smiling at us. There’s a long shot taken on a bridge that shows a flowing river below, and suddenly feet appear at the corner of the screen. Is somebody going to jump off the bridge? No, he’s just standing on the bridge’s glass walkway.

It’s amazing how often people use visual media to record an event, and then they’re so worried about their audience getting bored that they have to insert useless talk into their recording. (Would it kill TV’s football-game announcers to shut up once in a while?) London Symphony lets the images speak for themselves, and it reestablishes your faith in the human spirit.

(Many thanks to the lovely Lea at the blog Silent-ology for passing this movie along to me, and to Flicker Alley for distributing it.)

Do your part to support net neutrality!

This is the first and (hopefully) only time I will address a political issue on this blog. But it seems important enough to warrant the attention.

Please do the following for Net Neutrality:

This is an actual, effective thing everyone can do, a super-quick and effective way to support net neutrality:

1. On your computer (not your phone!),- go to:

2. Under the heading “Proceeding,” enter 17-108.

3. Under “Comments,” state you support Title 2 oversight of ISPs. Also state that you support net neutrality.

Fill in the form carefully; they’ve made it less friendly and impossible to fill in by phone, on purpose. Go for it!



*Don’t be silenced. Do it now. Pass it on. Copy and paste.

I LOVE LUCY – “Lucy Does the Tango,” first broadcast on 3/11/57


The following is my contribution to The Lucy & Desi Blogathon, being hosted by Michaela at the blog Love Letters to Old Hollywood on Dec. 1-3, 2017. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ tributes to the stars of “I Love Lucy,” Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz!


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)


Every Lucille Ball fan has his or her favorite Lucy episode or moment. For me, it’s “I Love Lucy’s” 20th episode of Season 6, “Lucy Does the Tango.” When the punchline to that tango routine comes, I feel as though I’ve died and gone to comedy heaven.

The best thing about “I Love Lucy” was that executive producer (and, of course, co-star) Desi Arnaz realized that Lucy Ricardo’s craziness had to be rooted in reality and logic. Once a plausible situation was established, then the comedienne could go to town.

“Lucy Does the Tango” establishes that premise exquisitely. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (Ball and Arnaz) and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) are co-running a farm in Connecticut. They invest in full-grown hens, but the hens aren’t laying any eggs. As Fred is the primary farm runner, he’s taking a loss, and Ricky won’t listen to his pleas for a salary. The two men feud, and Fred threatens to move himself and Ethel back to New York if the hens don’t start laying eggs.

Lucy and Ethel are crushed at the thought of separating. So they buy a huge load of eggs, which they plan to hide under the hens to fool the men into thinking the hens are producing. Fred is watching over the farm, so the women decide to hide the eggs in the clothing they’re wearing and sneak past Fred to dispatch the eggs.

Unfortunately, the plan never gets to its last part. Just as the women are swollen with hidden eggs, Ricky makes a surprise daytime appearance at the house so that he can rehearse the couple’s tango number that they’ll be performing for the local PTA.

The only thing better than this premise’s plausibility is its anticipation of what’s to come. The episode begins with Ricky and Lucy properly rehearsing the tango, so you can see how it’s really supposed to go. When they rehearse the second time, you just know what’s going to happen, and the tango routine takes its own sweet time in getting to the climax.


But when it does, the payoff is delicious (for everyone except Lucy). Watch how Ball mines every possible laugh from that payoff. (And you can all but see Arnaz chewing on his tongue to keep from breaking up.)

Here’s some fun trivia about this episode. Lucille Ball’s reaction to the broken eggs was genuine. When she and Vance rehearsed the episode, they didn’t use real eggs because Ball wanted to get the spontaneity of the big crash on film. Also, Lucy’s reaction to the broken eggs prompted the series’ longest continuous laugh — 65 seconds’ worth. The laugh had to be cut in half to get the episode back on track.

The famous scene is embedded below. Savor it for yourself.





FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Jamie Lee Curtis gets her freak on


Jamie Lee Curtis blasts through Freaky Friday like a breath of fresh air in a staid movie premise. This personality-switch comedy (already done twice before by Disney) takes forever to get going, but when it does, Curtis doesn’t just trade places — she channels Lucille Ball.

Curtis plays Tess Coleman, a prickly psychologist who is touchy-feely with her patients but has no patience for her teenaged daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan). When the two have a fight in a Chinese restaurant on the eve of widow Tess’ second wedding, a Chinese sage (in the movie’s most dated story element) gives them a magical formula that will cause them to walk more than a mile in each other’s shoes.

Let’s get the nasty stuff out of the way first. Besides the wise Oriental, the movie offers up such painful stereotypes as the senile grandpa (wasted Harold Gould) and the smart-alecky younger brother. For a while, the movie all too vividly resembles one of those late-’60s Disney comedies where the characters on the screen resemble no human beings you’ve ever met.

But when the transformation finally takes place, there’s no stopping Curtis who, in 2002, enhanced her fame with a magazine spread where she displayed her unglamorized, middle-aged self. And what that pictorial didn’t do, this movie finishes the job. She throws herself — quite often literally — into the role of a mom-as-teen so well, it’s as though she’s using the role to work out her own mid-life crisis. This isn’t the stuff to win Oscars, but for everyday moviegoers, it’s a blessed catharsis.

Lindsay Lohan admirably holds her own with Curtis, plausibly adjusting the angst-ridden teen routine to prim-and-proper oldster as the script calls for it. The “second banana” in these routines is inevitably the overlooked one, but Lohan is a pitch-perfect trouper. Together, she and Curtis take a premise that ought to be threadbare and, by sheer force of personality, makes it a winning family comedy.



Are you about ready for 2017 to call it quits? So are we! We’re starting the celebration early by announcing…


For this blogathon, we’re looking for blogs about any movie that has any kind of theme related to the last day of the year. New Year’s Eve can be the central focus of the movie, or it can be a minor subplot. As long as the movie was theatrically released, it can be in any form or genre — short subject, feature film, cartoon, comedy, disaster movie, etc. Our only request is for no duplicate entries, since there is such a wide array of New Year’s Eve-based movies to choose from.

(If you need some inspiration in finding such a movie to blog about, click here to see Wikipedia’s comprehensive listing of movies that are set around New Year’s Eve.)

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Dec. 29, through (guess when??) Sun., Dec. 31, 2017. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Dec. 31, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far, in chronological order:

Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews – The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Once Upon a Screen – The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936)

Noirish – Repeat Performance (1947)

Silver Screen Classics – Sunset Boulevard (1950) – The Apartment (1960)

Cinematic Scribblings – Il Posto (1961)

Moon in Gemini – Trading Places (1983)

Movierob – Ghostbusters II (1989) and End of Days (1999)

Open Letters to Film – Mermaids (1990)

Moody Moppet – Four Rooms (1995)

The Midnite Drive-in – 200 Cigarettes (1999)

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Rent (2005)

Thoughts All Sorts – A Long Way Down (2014)












TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) – Woody Allen steals the show


The following is my entry in the “It Takes a Thief” Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 17-19, 2017 by Debbie at the blog Moon in GeminiClick on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies’ portrayal of thieves!


In Take the Money and Run, his first movie as writer-director-star, Woody Allen plays Virgil Starkwell, a supremely inept thief and bank robber. The story is told in mock-documentary style (narrated by Jackson Beck, voice of Bluto in the later-era Popeye cartoons), but it’s not so much a story as a meshing of styles. It hops from man-on-the-street interviews to silent-film-style comedy to set pieces in order to disguise what little form it really has.

That said, if you’re a hardcore Woody Allen fan, it’s surprising how it sets the template for many of his future movies. Allen returned to the mock-doc style for his more highbrow comedies Zelig (1983) and Sweet and Lowdown (1999), and he later mined the bank-robbery theme for further laughs in Small Time Crooks (2000).

The most startling theme here is one that Allen mined more starkly in his first drama, Interiors (1978). In a contemporary interview, Allen said that one of the ideas he was exploring in Interiors was that of the artist who badly wants to create but finds that he really has nothing substantial to say. That theme has echoes here in Starkwell’s incompetent bank robber; after watching him bungle caper after caper, you’d think he’d realize he was no good at it and move on to a more lucrative occupation.

(This theme is summed up perfectly in an interview with one of Starkwell’s old acquaintances [played by Allen’s ex-wife Louise Lasser]. She states incredulously, “Everyone just thought he was a schlemiel, and it turns out he’s a criminal. I can’t believe it — there was a mind working in there, that could rob banks. It’s phenomenal!”)


Probably the movie’s funniest scene is when Starkwell hands a sloppily written stick-up note to a bank teller, and before long, every worker in the bank is nonchalantly re-reading the note and second-guessing Starkwell’s terrible penmanship. But the funniest moments come completely out of left field, as when Starkwell and five other convicts are chained together at the ankles, and they all have to quietly slink in unison to avoid the suspicions of an inquisitive lawman. Or when the convicts are working on a rockpile, and a black man starts singing a spiritual, and Starkwell finds himself doing the song Tony Bennett-style.

As a comedy-film debut, Take the Money and Run occupies a spot in Allen’s canon similar to Monty Python’s first movie, And Now for Something Completely Different. It’s not his greatest or funniest film, but it’s a nice harbinger of things to come.

(FUN TRIVIA: The movie’s very first line of dialogue gives Virgil Starkwell’s birth date as Dec. 1, 1935 — the same as Woody Allen’s. Also, Virgil’s future wife is played lovingly by Janet Margolin, who was later to play Alvy Singer’s far less sympathetic spouse in Allen’s Annie Hall [1977].)