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I am now the last standing of a family of 5. My brother was brain-damaged at birth and survived only 8 years, tended as an infant his entire life, tho' he displayed remarkable non-verbal, instinctive perception. My sister, a decade my senior, was an outgoing, confident natural beauty. A classic California surfer girl in the '60s, she hefted 9-foot longboards to SoCal beaches & collected 45s by Dick Dale, Jan & Dean & The Beach Boys. She bypassed college & went directly to work, as an adult her leisure interests shifted primarily to the horsey community, musical idolatry to Neil Diamond. Sadly, she met with a fatal rodeo accident in her early 30s. The dividing line of our lives.
I have 2 half-sisters, old enough to have children near my age. My father was thrice-divorced, seriously miscast in a paternal role. He'd endured a tough childhood in Chicago slums & with a dour relative in Montana. It's said the unloved cannot love, as Mom said: "A good provider, just didn't know how to live with people." I clashed badly with him, as had his firstborn daughter. Mom knew early on the marriage was unworkable & finally managed a divorce when I was 15. For years our visits were minimal & dutiful, although we made our peace well before he died years later in a senior-home fire. All his life Dad drew comfort from traditional westerns & would've had little use for the unsparing modern variety. DEADWOOD would've been gonged at the first F-word, but he would've enjoyed NED BLESSING.
Employment-wise I bloomed late, but my first & only job endures today. I worked 20 years before the company relocated, anyone willing to move could stay on. I collected unemployment, sold on E-Bay, made myself increasingly useful around the house & was eventually re-hired by the same company on a contract basis, they'd missed my organizational skills (my message-board posts tend toward lists of recommended titles for favorite actors.) As a teen I'd a small Groop of friends, but overall felt detached from my peer group & preferred the company of elders. Even at the time much teenage behavior seemed boorish & foolish. Overall I've been a loner, more useful than likeable. In defense I'll quote a favorite actor, Wilford Brimley: "I'm not particularly good with people, but that doesn't mean I don't like them." I'm better by mail than phone, a better gift-giver than visitor & sometimes my impulsive generosity & childlike directness causes trouble for myself & others. Mea culpa, I detest deception. On t'other hand I try mightily to follow through on stated intentions and if a friend or neighbor needs help I will go the inconvenient extra mile. Two strong influences guide my moral compass: my indescribably wonderful mother and the sentimental conditioning of old-fashioned entertainment. Even as a child TV & movies seemed idealized & overly schematic but they offered an outstanding example of how it might be. As did Mom: "If you ever need anything so badly you have to steal it, I'll give you the money." Some parents guard cash from kids' pilfering, Mom knew she could trust us. Like many I committed youthful amoralities that will always be a thorn in my conscience, but never stole from my parents.
And so my taste in entertainment remains stubbornly retro. The modern annoyances (hurtful slapstick, TMI about personal plumbing, snide selfishness) all seem from a hostile alien planet. Another enduring influence: the late film encyclopedist Leslie Halliwell, who looked back longingly to the "less grittily realistic" films of his younger years. Among his quotable declarations: "over-use of bad language has proved worse than pretending it doesn't exist." I agree: I don't mind some robust salty seasoning, but the F word seems best left to the stunted guttural gutterspeek of so many 'tweens. In movies cusswords are usually buzzwords to score easy laughs, the screenwriter's chicken exit. Vin Scully's Dodgercasts demonstrate how colorful & colloquial our language can be without "turnin' the sky blue." A treasured early misconception: extreme profanity was primarily the domain of children. I didn't hear it from films, TV or the adults in my circle. It's how you talked before you grew up & learned better. Sure, WE talked that way, but we were kids. I know different now, of course, but often wish I didn't. To me much modern comedy is schoolyard nastiness, most modern horror is campy carnage to amuse a jaded audience. Movie-&-music-wise I'm an unswayable '60s supremacist: the decade gave us a gracefully maturing naturalism without yet regressing to the Modern Uglies.
Obviously entertainment conventions couldn't stay forever in a state of sublime oblivion, but I'm grateful for cinema's early decades of grace, innocence & optimism. At least in FRONT of the camera. As for sexual bribery & misc. Hollywood Babylon stuff, it's best hidden in the wings, it makes a cruel mockery of the gentler alternative universe onscreen. I'm not one of God's cheerleaders, always saw Him as an extremely mixed blessing, but respect those who are, provided their churchy platitudes are borne out by genuine compassion & common sense. Whatever brings comfort & positivity to your worldview, more power to it. I've found mine variously in music, movies, memories of my mother & sister, mature portly gentlemen, cats, lifelong proximity to the ocean & a handful of enduring, reliable friendships.
Music & older films remain my pet euphoriacs, motivaters to get 'er done, as much inspiration as escape. And a very strong reason I was never tempted by genuinely addictive, account-draining, life-destroying drugs. Hollywood Moonshine was intoxicating enough.
My perennial causes: (1) blood donations, specifically platelets, a feature-length procedure (2)to honor & serve the memory of a great lady. Newer: Anti-bullying legislation & GET YOUR SHINGLES VACCINATION! Last, to provide a certain corrective to much of the snide sniping seen on the message boards, often posters go completely off-topic to trade insults. To all the budding John Simons & Sheridan Whitesides out there: please think before you strike.
A few personal favorites of song & story:
British sitcom: DAD'S ARMY
American sitcom: GILLIGAN'S ISLAND
British sitcom lead: Arthur Lowe, DAD'S ARMY
American sitcom lead: Bob Denver, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND
American sitcom support: Al Lewis, THE MUNSTERS
Britcom lead actress: Wendy Craig, BUTTERFLIES
British band: The Bait'ls
American band: Buffalo Springfield
Singer-Songwriters: Joni Mitchell; Gordon Lightfoot
British sketch comedy: MONTY PYTHON
American (Canadian) sketch comedy: SCTV
British Director: Powell & Pressburger (The Archers)
American Director: Orson Welles
Film: MARY POPPINS
Songwriters: Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman
All-Around Entertainers: Julie Andrews; Gene Kelly
All-Around Musician: Paul McCartney
British comedy actor: Ronnie Barker
American comedy actor: Danny Kaye
Contemporary actor: Richard Riehle
Film critic: Leslie Halliwell
(Worst: John Simon, the great destroyer)
Actress in a Disney film: Julie Andrews, MARY POPPINS
Actor in a Disney film: James Baskett, SONG OF THE SOUTH
Disney Animated Sequence: "Pink Elephants on Parade," DUMBO
Dance #: "Barn Raising," 7 BRIDES
Movie Santa: Richard Attenborough, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET
Film Song Score: Sherman & Sherman,MARY POPPINS
Instrumental Film Score: Henry Mancini, THE GREAT RACE
Dog Story: GREYFRIARS BOBBY (1961)
Cat: THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA (1964)
Horse: BLACK BEAUTY (1994)
Instrumental TV Score: Gerald Fried, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND
TV Character, Grand Award: Leo McKern, RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY
Movie Heaven: Selected musicals, 1964-73
Movie Hell: 99% of modern comedy
Film, By Year:
1937: SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARFS
1938: THE GREAT WALTZ
1939: THE WIZARD OF OZ
1940: FANTASIA & PINOCCHIO (tie)
1941: CITIZEN KANE
1942: THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
1944: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
1945: DEAD OF NIGHT
1946: A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH
1947: SONG OF THE SOUTH
1948: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE
1949: THE THIRD MAN
1950: SUNSET BOULEVARD
1951: ALICE IN WONDERLAND
1952: THE PICKWICK PAPERS
1953: PETER PAN
1954: 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS
1955: A KID FOR TWO FARTHINGS
1956: THE COURT JESTER
1957: THE PAJAMA GAME
1959: DARBY O'GILL & THE LITTLE PEOPLE
1960: (no clear winner)
1961: WEST SIDE STORY
1962: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
1963: THE HAUNTING
1964: MARY POPPINS
(A HARD DAY'S NIGHT would've won easily in any other year.)
1965: THE SOUND OF MUSIC
1966: (no clear winner)
1967: MAD MONSTER PARTY
1968: CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG
1969: HELLO, DOLLY!
1971: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF / WILLY WONKA (tie)
1974-76 (no clear winner)
1977: STAR WARS
1978: WATERSHIP DOWN
1979: APOCALYPSE NOW
1981: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
1982: THE PLAGUE DOGS
1983: THE OUTSIDERS
1984: THE NATURAL
Good Times (1967)
Treasurable artifact for 60s nostalgists
So many films fail in their initial run, then enjoy a happier afterlife via TV reruns & video. I first saw GOOD TIMES on a Movie for a Sunday Evening in the '70s, then in the regular rotation for Movies 'til Dawn', then it disappeared for a long spell before reappearing on DVD. Kudos again to Anchor Bay!
I've a real affection for these innocent, lightweight musicals starring pop stars, and this one didn't disappoint: musically, thespically or photographically. Sonny & Cher were inspired comic actors even then. 1967 was an especially outstanding year for original movie music (JUNGLE BOOK; MAD MONSTER PARTY; portions of DR. DOLITTLE; many, many more) and Sonny Bono's song score was another good reason why. Some of his best are here: IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS (with Cher performing against comic-strip backgrounds); JUST A NAME (a touching & cinematic 'traveling' musical number) & the title song, done in a saloon setting. In short, the movie perfectly fulfills modest expectations. Unfortunately, the movie also coincided with S&C's declining statistics on the pop charts...until their 1971 comeback.
The comedy is broad but lovable, probably best in the western spoof. George Sanders has genuine menace, he adds a touch of real anxiety & suspense to the situation, you really feel for Sonny when he's obviously not going to meet an implacable deadline. The film's ending is bittersweet, not entirely "happy." GOOD TIMES is a genuinely good time, though. For me, with every viewing it gives a happy glow to the next day. It certainly deserves better than it's average rating here.
Critical Appraisal: 6 Personal Enjoyment: 8
Treasure Buddies (2012)
The beetles & the monkeys richard riehle
Well, obviously I'm several years beyond this film's target demographic, but the best Disney is ageless, meaning it may be savored at any age: MARY POPPINS, 20,000 LEAGUES, DARBY O'GILL, the pre-WWII features. Magnificent production detail & emotional impact, fun for young kids but best appreciated once you're a little older. TB's more in the spirit of the kiddie-slapstick programmers of the '60s after SHAGGY DOG lowered the bar. Still, you don't expect straight-to-video Disney to knock it outta' the park and the film has some nice vistas & effects. I especially liked the blue-lit look of the well plus the obelisk tower outside their window, tho' you're tempted to assume they've rented a room at the Luxor pyramid in Vegas.
Since TB feels a bit cheap & scaled-down the DVD should be priced accordingly. Disney shouldn't demand an 'E' coupon for a spin on the Motor Boat Cruise (I guess that really dates me.) Also, as in LADY & THE TRAMP the cats are selfish, scheming villains, the dogs irreproachable & true-blue. Since the attack cats aren't really alive there's no real sense of violence or cruelty when they tumble into the snake pit or sink in the quicksand.
I rented TB solely because it gave a starring role to Richard Riehle, my favorite contemporary actor, as did 2010's SANTA PAWS. 'Versatile' & 'prolific' seem to understate his case, he's played some 300 characters in every kind of film. In SANTA PAWS RR proved one of the kindliest, most spiritually pure Santa Clauses ever seen on screen, he transcended the rudimentary dialogue. Here he's less successful in elevating the material and seems to be performing a notch below his abilities. Also, in the hometown scenes he's all but sabotaged by makeup, he seems to've been touched up with a flour-sifter, tho' he looks fine in the Egyptian scenes. IMHO, best to let him be seen as he is. RR's been in other workmanlike family fare including 12 DOGS OF Christmas & Disney's BALLOON FARM (as the owlish small-town storekeeper), but just once I'd like to see him prominent in a really first-class moonshine fantasy by a virtuoso director, something the caliber of E.T. or HUGO. Still, all too often RR's assigned fleeting bits in slasher films or spiteful comedies and I dearly hope Disney continues to give him starring roles, it's refreshing to see such a likable actor inhabit this peaceable kingdom. Admittedly the biped actors are secondary in the BUDDIES films, here monkeys, dogs, cats & beetles occupy the lion's share of screen time. The talking animals probably appeal most to young kids, and as a friend of mine might've once said about TB "this movie...it's so childrenish!" Childish is pejorative, childrenish isn't. Distinction: Barney & the Teletubbies are childrenish, while deliberate, unprovoked cruelty at any age is childish.
If I were seeing this as a grade-schooler I'd've probably rated it average, and while I might've wanted Professor Howard for my grandpa, even then I wouldn't've wanted my movie heroes to trade the same schoolboy scatology heard every day on the playground. Whatever happened to Class?
Song of Norway (1970)
The greatest film ever made by trolls
SONG OF NORWAY appraisals seem to divide into 3 factions: (1) those who find it dull & appallingly bad, adding their voices to the chorus of general disapproval (2) those who welcome the chance to bray at it's frequent clunkiness, like watching an Ed Wood film or (3) those like me, who fondly accept it's flaws & sincerely appreciate what it does have to offer: scenery, sentiment, good voices & great melodies. Either you like this kind of thing or you don't, probably the finest example of this genre (romanticized life of a classical composer) is 1938's THE GREAT WALTZ. Magnificent production. Of course it's historical hogwash, but the true artistic temperament isn't something you'd necessarily wanna' watch on film, as many great artists were testy, selfish & downright unhygenic. Mozart as depicted in AMADEUS would've felt right at home with Beavis & Butthead.
Some parts of NORWAY are like visual music (travelogue with voice-over), and some numbers are touchingly presented: Florence Henderson's "I Love You" & Frank Poretta's "Three There Were" with a glowing-sunset background. Admittedly "Freddy & His Fiddle" can reduce a roomful of friends to helpless laughter: it crosscuts joltingly between a quiet hillside conversation, dancers leaping & spinning madly, children clapping robotically, and sudden closeups of sheep & goats.
I particularly enjoy location-set musicals like GODSPELL, the '72 TOM SAWYER, the too-fleeting street photography in WEST SIDE STORY, etc. NORWAY'S original cast album topped the charts as a set of 78s in 1945, a full quarter-century before the movie appeared. That's not quite an all-time record, the wickedly witty & coldhearted CHICAGO (you don't go to Kander & Ebb for lilting reassurance) took even longer to reach the screen after it's original Broadway staging. NORWAY'S one of several examples of lyrics retro-fit to familiar classical music, it was also done in KISMET, Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY & THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN, a late '50s TV special starring Van Johnson. The lyrics of the stage & screen SONG OF NORWAY are quite different from one another, and one soundtrack selection ("When We Wed"), if memory surfs, is not in the movie.
I'm sure SONG OF NORWAY must've been something to see at the Cinerama Dome or even a neighborhood theater (I doubt there would've been much competition for good seats), but it seems a particular shame it's never appeared on domestic DVD. Plenty of other favorites remain maddeningly elusive: YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, BYE BYE BRAVERMAN, THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING, but more than any other film I would love to see SONG OF NORWAY finally available in widescreen. Maybe it will be, one fine day.
Critical Rating: 5 Personal Enjoyment Rating: 8