Books, movies, reviewage and other mixy things


Starman (1984)

John Carpenter


An alien takes the form of a young widow's husband and asks her to drive him from Wisconsin to Arizona. The government tries to stop them.

Few movies really capture the time in which they were made like Starman does. This thing could not have been more 80’s. I’m not talking so much about the music, fashions, Karen Allen’s hair or something. I’m talking about the current state of the collective world mind. Let me break it down. Star Wars had just come out (all three were out at this point), the space race was over and the economy SUCKED. Movies in general lent themselves greatly to escapism and social commentary through science fiction. Case in point, Starman. 

Don’t let the title fool you, or Jeff Bridges Oscar worthy performance as an alien; really it was about the cruelty and vulnerability of the human race. Yeah and dash a little hope in there, too. Back to Jeff being an alien. After I got over how incredibly young he was, I was pretty amazed at his performance. You always had the sense that he was never comfortable in the skin he was in; our ways were clearly less developed than his, yet he never demeaned. It was an interesting role. I don’t think many people have been nominated for playing an alien.

The geek in me totally can’t help herself but this movie came out the same year as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the movie that won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. That’s a pretty high bar, even for the mid-eighties. Starman well, let’s just say its effects were not award worthy. They were creepy. Do yourself a favor and try to find his “birth” scene. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Certainly a box office success, it helped that it rode in on the coat-tails of the giants released before it. A far more subtle approach to the genre, as we never actually see the aliens, but an effective take on the perception of our world from the outside.

Twenty years from now, that damn “birth” scene is gonna be the only thing I remember about it.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born (1976)

Frank Pierson

The third remake of the 1932 drama What Price Hollywood?, this adaptation of A Star Is Born moved the story into the mid-1970's and changed the milieu from the movie business to pop music. John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) is a rock star whose career has peaked; he is numbed by booze and cocaine, his music has lost its edge, and his performances have become painfully haphazard. One night, after a concert, he stumbles into a club where he sees a singing group fronted by Esther Hoffman (Barbra Streisand). John likes what he hears and loves what he sees; he tries picking her up, but soon realizes if he wants to see her, he'll have to ask her out on an actual date. He does, and before long the two become involved, although Esther has trouble with John's rock star lifestyle. One night, a typically burned-out John lets Esther sing a few songs at one of his shows; before long she's the talk of the record business. While Esther's star begins to rise, John's continues to sink, and while she desperately tries get John to clean up and focus on his music, it may be too late to save him. The song "Evergreen" earned this film an Academy Award for Best Song; the credits contain the amusing notice, "Ms. Streisand's Clothes from ... Her Closet."

My Mom and I have been on a Netflix spree lately, watching movies she loved from yesteryear or at least previous to my arrival. A movie buff like me watching stuff with her is like watching movies with a live version of IMDB. Especially when it comes to her favorite actors and movies.

A Star is Born was Babs at her hottest. So hot in fact, that she originally wanted John Norman to be played by Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, even her stardom couldn’t get him to join the show. Kris Kristofferson got the lead instead, playing the washed up rock star who’s had just this side of too much fun. Babs plays a rising star (shocking, I know) who falls in love with him. But even their adobe loft house in the middle of nowhere and her undying devotion to him isn’t enough; he drives off into the desert and, ultimately, to his end. (gasp!)

It’s the 70’s in all it’s glory. In reality, it’s all about Streisand. Most of the costumes in this movie are her own clothes and the silly bath tub scene is in her tub. There were even stories of heated fights between her and the director John Carpenter, to the point where she directed several scenes herself, not satisfied with how he was treating the scene.

While that drama is going on, Kris Kristofferson, a real life country singer and loooooooooooong time drinker, has a revelation while playing John Norman and completely stops drinking.

Okay, the movie itself is ostensibly forced, overly long and lacking in sufficient chemistry between the two leads. There is tension all over the place. The background drama definitely seeped onto the screen. Regardless, Babs got an Oscar out of it and A Star is Born became a major hit. You take the talent of Streisand out, though, (including her power behind the scenes) and this movie would’ve never made it off the floor, so major props to her.

It’s worth a viewing as a part of our pop culture but the real gem is the backstory. There are all sorts of goodies out there.

Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Victor Fleming

American classic in which a manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

As the Oscar’s are right around the corner, I figured I could sneak in another Best Picture winner or two in celebration.

For me, Gone With the Wind takes the proverbial cinematic cake as far as movie experiences go. It’s huge, massive in scope, gorgeous in cinematography, masterful in music and every scene imprints permanently on your brain. Oh, and that’s just the opening title sequence.

Scarlett: I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Scarlett is the epitome of a southern belle. Out to get the world (and everything in it), she uses her considerable charms to weasel her way into the hearts of southern gentleman. With complete naivety, she manages to round up a husband or two, but she is never satisfied. Rhett, however, isn’t fooled by her childish behavior, yet he can’t imagine anyone more fabulous then Scarlett to tame. The question is can Scarlett tame Rhett in return?

Rhett Butler: No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.

Eventually the war makes Scarlett grow up. She realizes there are much harder things to overcome than which dress to wear to the BBQ. While she does learn the error of her childish ways, it’s too little, too late, and Rhett leaves with an unkind word.

The cinematic experience of Gone With the Wind has never been replicated. Sure, there were sets and painted back drops, but you can’t fake the immensity of injured soldiers lining the railroad tracks. Hundreds of extras with all the needed costumes and crew. So rarely is the physicality of life represented with authenticity in movies today.

Scarlett: As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.

Emotionally, I’m blown away every time Rhett leaves for war or Scarlett proclaims the end of her hunger. You can’t even get away with scenes like that and yet the power of it is without compromise. If you never see another Best Picture winner, Gone With the Wind should never be missed. Ever.


BY - February 20th, 2012 - The Classics - Leave a comment

The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Clint Eastwood

The brief, illicit love affair between an Iowa housewife and a post-middle-age free-lance photographer is chronicled in this powerful romance based on the best-selling novella by Robert James Waller. The story begins as globetrotting National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid journeys to Madison County in 1965 to film its lovely covered bridges. Upon his arrival, he stops by an old farmhouse to ask directions. There he encounters housewife, Francesca Johnson, whose spouse and two children are out of town. Thus begins their four-day affair, a liaison that fundamentally changes them both. Later Francesca chronicles the affair in a diary which her flabbergasted grown children read; never would they have expected their mother to be capable of the passion she experienced with Kincaid.

As far as “Classics” go, this is one of the young ones. Certainly made in my life time – though I was far too young to see it when it came out – there is still no denying the instant-classic-ness of this sentimental tale.

Several years ago I got to visit, Francesca’s house where Bridges was shot. The whole house was still laid out like any moment Robert Kincaid was gonna walk through the door. It was terribly romantic. They even had the music playing in the kitchen. Seeing the set, the surrounding countryside and the bridges themselves brought the story to life in such a way that I’ll never forget. Sadly the house was damaged in a fire in 2003, which makes me even happier that I saw it when I did.

This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime.
– Robert Kincaid

As with most Clint Eastwood movies, it is shot simply, the actors probably got one take (if they were lucky), and there was nothing superfluous. He does an amazing job of stripping down a story to its bones. Leaving nothing but the essence and saying everything else visually.

When I think of why I make pictures, the reason that I can come up with just seems that I’ve been making my way here. It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.
– Robert Kincaid

The scene of Robert leaving – in the rain – while Francesca sits in the truck waiting for her husband, watching him, kills me every time. Very few things make me tear up, but as Robert hangs Francesca’s necklace in his review mirror, I can barely see the screen. Nobody says a word, yet you feel every emotion. It’s by far one of the best scenes laid to celluloid.

While it is hardly appropriate for the kiddies, there is such an amazing story here that shouldn’t be missed by any true blue movie lover.

BY - February 9th, 2012 - Movie Reviews, The Classics - Leave a comment

West Side Story

West Side Story (1961)

Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Musical about two youngsters from rival NYC gangs who fall in love.

West Side Story is considered the #51 best movie of all time by the American Film Institute. This 1961 best picture winner, however, is one of my most favorite musicals. It won 10 oscars in fact beating out Gigi’s 9. Forget La Boheme, it was West Side Story that opened the door for Rent (my #1 stage musical). Ironically much of the lyrics were changed throughout the play to get around censorship in Hollywood at that time. Ha! This was also the first film to depict street gang life.

Riff: [singing] When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way! from you first cigarette your last dyin’ days.

Natalie Wood, the ever iconic Maria, was offered the part after Audrey Hepburn turned it down due to a pregnancy. However I can’t even imagine anyone else being Tony’s counterpart in this Romeo and Juliet story.

West Side Story sports some of the best dance numbers I have seen on celluloid, even to this day. America is still one of my most favorite numbers and Cool gives me chills to watch.

Anita: Come in, come in! We won’t bite you until we know you better.

The story is classic and can resonate with everybody. There have been rumors of a movie remake, but I can’t imagine they’d be able to capture the magic, tensions and overall awesomeness that is the original. In the musical genre, this one sets the bar and is not to be missed.

BY - November 18th, 2011 - Movie Reviews, The Classics - Leave a comment

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady (1964)

George Cukor

A misogynistic and snobbish phonetics professor agrees to a wager that he can take a flower girl and make her presentable in high society.

Another entry into the Classics category. My Fair Lady is another Best Picture winner for 1964, starring Audrey Hepburn and based on the musical of the same name.

This is one of those few movies that was so perfectly made, you’d have to be an emotionless robot to not to love this masterpiece.

Colonel Hugh Pickering: Are you a man of good character where women are concerned?

Professor Henry Higgins: Have you ever met a man of good character where women are concerned?

Colonel Hugh Pickering: Yes, very frequently.

Professor Henry Higgins: Well, I haven’t. I find that the moment a woman makes friends with me she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious, and a damn nuisance. And I find that the moment I make friends with a woman I become selfish and tyrannical. So here I am, a confirmed old bachelor and likely to remain so.

Shot in a mise en scene style, the sets were lavish and the shots were long (average was 10 seconds, which compared to today’s 2, says something). It was also one of the few broadway shows that was left completely in tact when brought to the silver screen, hence the lofty length.

Regardless, the charm of Audrey and the wit, crassness and downright hilarious-ness of Professor Higgins is what makes this movie sing (literally!).

Professor Higgins: Eliza! Where the devil are my slippers.

My Fair Lady sets the standard for classic movies, something to be amazed at, something the truly revels in the height of the art form of its time.

Absolutely loverly.

BY - November 16th, 2011 - Movie Reviews, The Classics - Leave a comment


Gigi (1958)

Vincente Minnelli

Weary of the conventions of Parisian society, a rich playboy and a youthful courtesan-in-training enjoy a platonic friendship, but it may not stay platonic for long.

As the Oscars are right around the corner, I’ve been craving some classic Hollywood, while the feat of reviewing every past Oscar winner is a bit daunting, I am up to the task of reviewing a classic or two a week.

Gigi: Do you make love all the time?
Gaston Lachaille: I beg your pardon?
Gigi: Do you make love all the time, Gaston?
Gaston Lachaille: Certainly not! The only people who make love all the time are liars.

The 1958 winner for best picture. After the success of My Fair Lady on the stage producers approached the creators Freedman and Lowe about making a My Fair Lady like musical specifically for the silver screen. And viola! Gigi.

Set in 1900 Paris, Gigi is coming into her own and completing her training as an escort by her grandmother and aunt. Reason #1 of why I love classic movies. Never once is it mentioned what her career path is. Never once is there an on the nose line. It is assumed that the audience is smart and can make small leaps on their own. They’re subtle and meaningful and beautifully written.

The sets were gorgeous. Still in the age of theater age sets, everything is plush, colorful and on the brink of totally overdone. But every color conveys meaning, every decoration a reflection of the characters that occupy the space.

Anyway back to Gigi. The music was amazing, the characters priceless and the story, pitch perfect. I loved the lines!! They were witty and smart and even totally hilarious! Gaston cracked me up with his playboy attitude and constant boredom. Of course Gigi would be the fire spit of a youth who would catch his heart.

While it’s no My Fair Lady, Gigi is beautifully done, you can’t go wrong here.

BY - November 13th, 2011 - Movie Reviews, The Classics - Leave a comment