May 24, 2010

Greatest trailer ever?

Over the weekend I saw a couple of films at my local art house theater, and they played this trailer for the re-release of Breathless. If we exclude trailers that are awesome just because they're insane and/or advertise insane movies (I'm looking at you, Robo Geisha)then this may be the greatest trailer I've ever seen. I actually had to look into it to discover that it was created especially for the re-release, because it's done so well in the style of Godard. It's silly, sexy, and exciting - just like the film. Hope this brightens your Monday!

May 21, 2010


I have a confession to make: I'm a scrapbooker. Now, let me immediately offer the disclaimer that I'm not into all the frilly stuff, and I don't go to craft stores and spend hours freaking out about photo corners. Rather, for the last four or so years I've kept every ticket stub, program, lobby card, museum guide or other documentation that I did something and compiled it in a bare-bones book (no goofy stickers). Sentimental or a hoarder? You decide. But I figure there must be someone else out there who thinks this stuff is cool, and is looking forward to rediscovering their ticket stub for Borat in 40 years. So without further ado, I present a sampling of favorite artifacts and memories from my collection (click any image to enlarge).

Spider-Man 3. A midnight showing with all my buddies, where we took several goofy pictures of ourselves doing a web-slinging pose in the theater. My then-boyfriend joined us, which was notable because due to his seething hatred of one of my friends that I had dated for a few days over a year before, this boyfriend would never hang out with my friends at all. He said something like, "I'm only here for Venom." (Also, the aforementioned friend is now my boyfriend of 2+ years. The ex was so irrational about it that he created a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

The Savages. Someone puked on the door at this screening - full report here.

The Dark Knight. Midnight screening with buddies again. My boyfriend was seeing it back home in Oregon, so I called him and kept bragging about how I got to see it earlier because of the time difference. There were various Jokers wandering around, and I think one stray Spider-Man? I remember it being the premiere of the trailer for Watchmen, which was very exciting, and then of course the film was great. What wasn't so great? That it was the middle of July and in a huge auditorium filled with 650 sweaty nerds, the AC broke!

A Christmas Story. Growing up in a Jewish household, Christmas meant nothing to me but "that stupid day I can't be a part of." So I missed out on most of the key Christmas classics, a situation I sought to rectify when my boyfriend took me to a screening of this at the Laurelhurst theater, a Portland institution that serves up alcohol, food, and second-run and classic films. And yes, that ticket does say "mmm beer."

Watchmen. Another midnight screening, but this time we drove all the way out to Jordan's to see it in IMAX! I'm referring to Jordan's Furniture, a strange New England institution that boasts (in addition to furniture and a theater) a Fuddrucker's and a whole room where everything was made out of jellybeans. We had Fuddrucker's for dinner prior, causing the men of our group to be slowed down considerably in their attempts to digest 2/3-lb burgers.

Monsters Vs. Aliens. My first 3-D movie! (Unless you count Muppet Vision 3D.)

The Hurt Locker. After seeing this my boyfriend and I snuck into Bruno, making it one of our stranger double features.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!. I saw this with my mom when we visited New York to look at apartments, making it probably the first movie I had ever seen there. My mom is completely and utterly disinterested in movies, but I took a gamble on her liking this charming documentary about Jewish radio and sitcom pioneer Gertrude Berg, and it paid off. (If you have a Jewish mother, watch this with her right now.)

Inglourious Baster(ds). The best cropped title of all time. I am still not over this.

A Clockwork Orange. My first time seeing the film, and on the big screen with a bunch of NYC film nerds to boot!

Five Graves to Cairo. My first trip to Brooklyn, and I can think of no worthier cause than seeing a not-on-DVD Billy Wilder movie.

The Yes Men Fix the World. When my dad visited me in New York, I took another gamble on a film-ignorant parent. Despite his confession that he hadn't seen a non-mainstream film in at least 30 years, he was somehow game to go to the Film Forum and check out what the Yes Men were up to. Again, it paid off - the social commentary was easier to swallow because the film had a great sense of humor that my dad could totally get with. Unfortunately, however, he texted the entire time.

A very aesthetically pleasing preview of the Film Forum's coming attractions.

The stunning lobby card for Broken Embraces.

I couldn't resist! The image of the fish is from the program of a local theatrical production where fish feature prominently into the plot.

A great lobby card for the theatrical re-release of Kurosawa's Ran.

Pamphlet for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I'm taking a trip home soon, and I have reason to believe that Volume 1 of my scrapbook memoirs resides at my mom's house. If so, stay tuned for a second installment!

May 17, 2010

Happy birthday to me!

Today I turn 23, and as my boss irreverently remarked, I will continue "hurtling towards death." In honor of my exit from the womb, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite birthday-related moments on film.

Heaven Can Wait (1943) - Quite possibly the best birthday movie there is - it's even based on a play called "Birthday," and all the main plot points occur on different birthdays the protagonist has throughout the years. There's too much greatness to summarize here - just go watch it, it's Lubitsch in top form.

The Seven Year Itch (1955) - Marilyn Monroe's character tells Tom Ewell that her birthday was a few days ago but she didn't tell a soul. Being new in town, her plan was just to sit at home alone and drink a bottle of champagne, but she couldn't get the bottle open. So she brings it down to share, and the rest is history...

Gypsy (1962) - The birthday girl here is Louise Hovick (Natalie Wood), a young girl who provides backup for her younger sister on the vaudeville circuit under the aggressive lead of her domineering mother. In a scene both sweet and somewhat disturbing, Louise's mother Rose (Rosalind Russell) throws her a crazy party with Chinese food and she receives a baby lamb as a gift. The disturbing part? When everyone has settled down and Louise is alone with her new pet, she sings a song where she wonders how old she is. (Rose doesn't let her girls know their ages so they can be forever young in their act).

The Graduate (1967) - It's Benjamin Braddock's 21st birthday, and his parents awkwardly turn him into the center of attention like a zoo animal, insisting that he model/demonstrate the scuba gear he received as a birthday present. They badger him until he relents, at which point the audience is treated to a dreamy sequence of Benjamin underwater in his pool, drifting aimlessly to the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) - They're so poor but they scrounge up enough money for Charlie to buy a candy bar and THERE'S A GOLDEN TICKET IN IT AAAAAAH!!!

Live Flesh (1997) - Here's a literal birth day. You usually find birth scenes at the end of movies, with lots of reunions and tears of happiness, but here's one as a whiz-bang opener. In setting up the impulsive and tempestuous character of Victor, the film shows how he simply could not wait to get to the hospital to be born and was therefore born on a bus. It immediately imbues the character with sense of urgency. And while giving birth on a bus must have sucked, mother and son both got free bus passes for life!

Knocked Up (2007) - The scene just uses a child's birthday party as a setting, but Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd have a big fight and then, in a moment confirming my true undying love for Rudd, he immediately switches gears and brings out the cake while singing "Happy Birthday."

Revolutionary Road (2008) - It's the 1950s, and Frank Wheeler goes out for an after-work drink with a secretary from his office, and while they're out he reveals to her (and the audience) that it's his 30th birthday and he's miserable. They play hooky and go bang at a hotel, and Frank returns home to find his wife and children with a cake and banner singing happy birthday. Watching all this play out was just like a punch in the stomach.

And if unbirthdays count...

Alice in Wonderland (1951) - I loved this film when I was younger (I imagine I still would, I just haven't seen it in a while), and the unbirthday scene always delighted me for a couple of reasons. First, it was just wonderful anarchy, and second, I was enamored with the idea that you could bring the joy and celebration typically associated with birthdays to any day you wanted.

So thanks to my lovely readers for being lovely, and thanks to everyone who makes my birthday special. Here's to a great "once a year day!" (Skip to about a minute in to get really festive!)

May 13, 2010

In appreciation of Ivy, Hildy, and Claire

If that picture or grouping of names means anything to you, then congratulations, you have seen On the Town (1949), one of the greatest musicals ever. I watched it again recently and was struck by the fact that this film, in addition to its many other delights, features some of the most phenomenally modern female characters in cinema, even by today's standards. What's even more striking is that it's not even a film about how modern and awesome they are, which is usually where you find those types of characters (i.e. biopics), and the filmmakers don't seem like they're making a film about gender politics. I don't know why they are the way they are - perhaps they maintained the spirit of the independent-minded women in WWII (the stage musical premiered at the tail end of the war), or perhaps they were just stereotypes/fantasies of New York women. Whatever the reason, these three knock my socks off, and I wanted to highlight why they're such a breath of fresh air.

The plot of the film is simple: three sailors (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin) have a 24-hour leave in New York City, which they use to meet girls and have adventures. More specifically, Gabey (Kelly) is instantly smitten with a girl named Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) that he sees in a subway ad, and the other two pick up companions in the quest to locate her.

The first gal we properly meet is sassy cab driver Hildy (Betty Garrett - who's still alive and looking great!). She takes an instant liking to shy Chip (Sinatra), who is far more interested in his guidebook. Actually, sassy is the wrong word - try extremely sexually aggressive. This tension leads to the great number "Come Up to My Place," where Hildy repeatedly suggests that her apartment would be far more entertaining than the New York attractions that Chip wants to see. Forceful women like this are almost always played strictly for laughs (such as an unattractive woman making advances that the audience knows will never be reciprocated) or danger (the femme fatale), but that's not the case here. Sure, the tension between the two is funny, but she's meant to be liked and taken seriously, and her aggression does lead to the two getting together. There's also no scene where she gives moony eyes and asks Chip to take her away from everything and make her his wife - no, she seems to really like her job and even takes the wheel for a wild chase through the streets with the whole gang. She has feelings too, though, and when she laments later in the day that Chip has been rather cold to her it leads to a sweet duet that's one of my favorite musical moments ever.

The gang's search for Ivy leads them to the Museum of Natural History, where Ozzie's (Munshin) resemblance to a Neanderthal figure catches the eye of Claire (Ann Miller). She's gorgeous, feisty, horny as hell - and a brilliant anthropologist! Now before you roll your eyes and make comparisons to action movies where we're supposed to believe that people like Denise Richards are nuclear physicists, let me say that it's really not a stretch here. I can't find the exact wording, but either in the film or the play (or both) she tells Ozzie that she could never figure men out, so she turned to anthropology to figure out what makes them tick (and has made them tick through the ages). Pretty neat solution, huh? In the stage version, she's actually married to a hyperbolically lenient man who even finances her dalliances with other men, but I'm glad they scrapped him for the cinematic adaptation, leaving her as a tornado of intelligence, tap-dancing, and sexuality. She even uses her smarts to talk her way out of a big mess at the end. If they remade this film today, they would probably have this character be played by a Katherine Heigl type who's uptight, obsessed with her work, and needs a man to liberate her and show her how to have fun, but Claire reminds us that it's completely possible for a woman to be fun, dedicated, smart and sexy.

Finally there's Ivy, serving as a catalyst for everything else. Gabey sees her billed as that month's "Miss Turnstiles," an honor awarded to a female subway rider every month that results in a picture and bio on the trains. Even though it's not a big deal, Gabey assumes it's a high honor, and that Ivy is the girl of his dreams. Her bio is true - she studies painting and ballet, is very athletic, and loves the Navy. But she has a secret - she's a cooch dancer at a carnival! (Note: due to the different types of entertainment available back then, I would say the modern-day equivalent of a cooch dancer is probably more like a clothed go-go dancer at a nightclub than a stripper.) She only does that to finance her ballet and painting lessons, and dreams of being a "legitimate" dancer. Now, what's really interesting here is that this situation is not exploited for tragedy ("an innocent girl's poverty leads her into a downward spiral of sin!") or just for, well, exploitation ("come see an innocent girl gone bad!"). Rather, it's just a kind of embarassing stepping stone for her goals, handled no differently than, say, an actor who pays the bills as a promotional costumed character. It's just something ya gotta do - but maybe not something to reveal on a first date.

****SPOILERS BELOW (but really, the ending of the film is in the beginning and this shouldn't be a huge surprise)****
After a wild day and night, the trio has to say goodbye to their girls. I mean, what did you expect? It's a 24-hour leave, and the girls obviously can't come with them. There are strong indications that the sailors want to continue these relationships after their tour of duty, but you don't get any confirmation it will definitely happen. (There's a sort-of sequel from 1955 called It's Always Fair Weather, but since most of the original cast wasn't available they took it in a different direction.) Kind of a bummer when you're rooting for these romances. But here's the crazy part: what just transpired is that three strong-willed women with careers had whirlwind affairs with three men, but except for a longing in their hearts, they remained unchanged. They still have their jobs, interests, and all elements of their vibrant personalities remain intact - in 1949! They want men, but don't need them. Now, one might argue that this means they don't have arcs, which I would agree with. But when they're this wild and wonderful, and especially in a fun musical, who wants them to change? Especially because it would probably just be some annoying variation of "taming" them.

Female characters like this are so few and far between that I think they should be highlighted and remembered. So even if the energetic choreography, snappy direction, catchy songs, New York locations and great cast don't sell you on this classic, it's still worth it for three amazing dames.
What other sassy and progressive gals on film have captured your heart?

May 11, 2010

Context-free delight #3

Today's delight comes courtesy of On the Town, which marks the first union of the creative team that would go on to make Singin' in the Rain (director Stanley Donen, director/star Gene Kelly, and the writing duo of Adolph Green and Betty Comden). And is it blasphemy to say that OTT is nearly as good as its famous cousin? Kelly and his costar Frank Sinatra are in top form (with Sinatra as a nerd!), and lovely ladies Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, and Vera-Ellen bring boundless wit, talent and energy to three roles that are surprisingly modern even today. Every number is a gem, but in the interest of not just handing over any of the bigger or later ones to you, check out "Miss Turnstiles." It displays Vera-Ellen's great physical prowess and has lots of fun artifical setpieces that foreshadow the "Beautiful Girls" number in Singin in the Rain (skip to about 1:17 to see what I mean). Enjoy, and watch the whole film when you get a chance!