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Review: Five Came Back (2017)

By this point, it is reasonable to assume that we’ve seen and heard just about all there is about World War II.  That’s not a swipe at The Greatest Generation; it just means that every third documentary made in the last 40 years seems to have dealt with this conflict.  Given that, the average filmmaker really has to be at the top of their game to bring something new.  I had that cynicism going into Netflix’s three-part series Five Came Back, the story of five legendary film directors – Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler – who used their extraordinary gifts to film and document the most epic conflict in modern history.  What surprised me was how intimate the film is about their experience, both as men and as artists.

Five Came Back is a special film about the power of art as expression.  It is no surprise that the Second World War changed the world, but what the film presents is how it changes these five artists personally and professionally.  What did their experiences do to their craft, and how did those experiences ultimately shape the way in which the public saw the war?  It extols the power of cinema as the most powerful tool of expression and manipulation.

Based on the 2014 book by journalist Mark Harris, this adaptation does a brilliant job of setting us in the terms of the time; a time shortly before the advent of television, when the only visual news medium was the newsreel.  Americans were going to the movies every night of the week and amid the pre-feature coming attractions and cartoons were moving footage of the war that they couldn’t get anywhere else.  This was a time before the cynicism of the century’s second half took hold, when most Americans trusted their government to get the job done – which was crucial since, at the time, Americans were still mired in The Great Depression.  At this moment there was a tight union between Washington and Hollywood and the government who, at first, hired filmmakers for propaganda in order to shine a positive light on the war to keep up morale on the homefront and collect money for war bonds.

That’s really where the film begins; with the build-up of the propaganda machine.  We see how the films were constructed and how they were shaped for maximum effect.  We see that the propaganda machine was vital in light of the fact that Hitler’s propaganda machine, under the direction of Joseph Goebbles and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, was proving to be second to none.  As Capra, Ford, Huston, Stevens and Wyler enter the European and Pacific Theater their experiences bring a complexity to their work.  At home the dynamics of the war begin to shape the perception of what is going on overseas and also at home.  It might have been enough to cut and recut footage of aerial combat and ground troops shooting it out with the Nazi soldiers, but the political landscape was shaped as well.  There is growing concern with how African-American soldiers are being portrayed (if, at all) and how the public will perceive the Japanese and Germans once the war is over.

Each director joined the service with the intent on documenting the war and they put themselves in the thick of combat in order to give the world the experience of combat in a way that no screenwriter could ever conceive.  The most dramatic story is how George Stevens and John Ford landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in order to capture footage of the invasion knowing the they and their cameramen might not come out alive.  What they experienced physically and psychologically was a mirror of how the world would be affected by the film they brought home.  That’s especially the came with Stevens’ famous film of Dachau which was used against the Nazis at the Nuremberg trial.  Those images told a story of man’s inhumanity to man that no book or eye witness could ever tell – it was so disturbing that Stevens himself couldn’t bear to watch it again.

The masterstroke in this film is that Harris and director Laurent Bouzereau allow the story to be told on-screen by five directors who, themselves, are legends in their own time.  Instead of a lot of talking heads with scholars and historians, the stories of Ford, Huston, Wyler, Stevens and Capra are told in interviews by Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Francis Ford Coppola and Lawrence Kasden who understand the craft of shaping and editing the footage for maximum effect (it helps that each of these directors has made a war film as well).  They understand the craft and so they reveal how the directors used their talent to tell a story.  Editing is crucial – cut the footage too short and the battle scenes come across as entertainment; cut it too long and the footage could be demoralizing.  There are a surprising amount of scenes shown in this movie that (thankfully) the public never saw.  Take D-Day, for example, with the bodies strewn on the Normandy beaches and piles of guts littering the floor of the troop ship.

If there is a weakness in the film it is probably that I wanted the story to continue.  The last half hour is dedicated to the post-war experience, of how these directors used their experiences to create films that spoke of their feelings about the state of the world – Wyler made The Best Years of Our Lives; Capra made It’s a Wonderful Life and Huston made Let There Be Light, a document of soldiers effected by PTSD that the military kept under wraps for nearly 40 years.  This chapter feels a bit glossed over.  We understand clearly how the experience effected these men but the film leaves us wanting more.  Maybe that’s the value of the story telling here – I wanted more.

 
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Posted by on 04/06/2017 in Uncategorized

 

My Annual (and reasonably accurate) Oscar predictions

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If you aren’t in love with La La Land, the awards probably aren’t going to be much fun this year.  Yet, due to the Academy’s valiant attempt to make up for last year’s #oscarsowhite scandal, some well-deserving nominees will finally have their day.  Here now are my annual (and I think accurate) Oscar predictions in every category.

Best Picture

The Nominees: Arrival | Fences | Hacksaw Ridge | Hell or High Water | Hidden Figures | Lion | Manchester by the Sea | Moonlight

What is clear about this year’s Oscar nominees is that last year’s “whitewashing” controversy didn’t go unnoticed.  There is a wide birth of diversity in this year’s Best Picture group, a clear representation of the African-American experience than has ever been seen in this category before.  However, while Fences and Moonlight and Hidden Figures are great showcases for the black experience, they will all have to take to step aside in the face of a movie that has been cleaning up this award season.

Damian Chazelle’s La La Land, a sweet romantic (though, I thought, rather ordinary) musical about the aspirations of a jazz musician and an aspiring actress, is the darling of this year’s academy voters.  Why?  Well, the critics will tell you that the movie is lovely, knowing and beautifully crafted.  That may be true, but I think it’s a case of location, location, location.  La La Land is a love letter to The City of Angels and considering that most voters live and work in and around Los Angeles, it would be rather odd if they passed it over.

Dark horse?  Probably not, but I wouldn’t dismiss Denzel Washington’s Fences.
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Best Director

Nominees: Damien Chazelle for La La Land | Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge | Barry Jenkins for Moonlight | Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea | Denis Villeneuve for Arrival

When a film is pushed to the front as much as La La Land, you can only expect that its director will go along for the ride.  That’s the story with thirty-two year-old Damien Chazelle who proves to be a great visual storyteller – anyone will tell you that making a musical is as hard as making great comedy.  How sure are this chances at the Oscar?  Well, he won The Director’s Guild Award, which is voted on by the exact same body of voters who select the Oscar winner for Best Director.  You do the math.

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Best Actor

Nominees: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea | Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge | Ryan Gosling in La La Land | Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic | Denzel Washington in Fences

For a while, it seemed that Casey Affleck would be the year’s front runner for Best Actor, but then the charges of sexual harassment turned into a scandal and many think his chances at the gold went out the window.  That was apparently especially when Denzel Washington took home the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for his acting.  He’s a triple-threat.  He has not only starred in the adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences but he also produced and directed it.  Washington is becoming Hollywood royalty and they want to reward him for his effort.

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Best Actress

Nominees: Isabelle Huppert in Elle | Ruth Negga in Loving | Natalie Portman in Jackie | Emma Stone in La La Land | Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins

If there were any justice, this year’s Best Actress prize would be an upset going to Natalie Portman for her shattering portrayal of Jackie Kennedy from the moment of her husband’s murder until the moment that she buried him.  She not only gets the voice and the clothes right, but she climbs inside the mind of this woman whose whole world fell to pieces in a matter of moments and then was forced to move out of the White House and on with her life while still dealing with what happened.

But, Natalie will have to sit on the sidelines.  For this year, the Academy is selecting Emma Stone.  The Academy loves youth, beauty and talent and in her they have all three.  They’ve been courting her for years, waiting for the moment to finally laud praise upon her.  Two years ago she got her first nomination for playing Michael Keaton’s daughter in Birdman and here she is again, and not only does she act, but she also sings and dances.  Who can’t love that?
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Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Mahershala Ali in Moonlight | Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water | Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea | Dev Patel in Lion | Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals

This is a great group of actors and anyone one of these performances could win in another year, but the gold belongs (and rightfully so) to Mahershala Ali who play Juan in the first half of Barry Jenkins Moonlight in the kind of performance that has you thinking about his long after he leaves the screen.  As a drug dealer who turns father-figure to a shy kid who is struggling with his sexuality, Juan is a completely realized soul, a man whose life has been full of spikes and nails and wants to see this wayward kid become something more than what his negative environment expects of him.

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Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Viola Davis in Fences | Naomie Harris in Moonlight | Nicole Kidman in Lion | Octavia Spencer in Hidden Fences | Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea

Oh dear, sweet Viola Davis.  Viola, Viola, Viola.  You’ve been circling Oscar since 2008 and now it’s your turn, hands down.

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Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Hell or High Water | La La Land | The Lobster | Manchester by the Sea | 20th Century Women

Although I’m not a fan of the movie, I will concede that Ken Lonergan’s script for Manchester by the Sea (which he also directed) was something I hadn’t seen before.  He presented us with a gaggle of miserable, unlikable characters and forced a change through circumstances beyond their control.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Arrival | Fences | Hidden Figures | Lion | Moonlight

I have every reason to think that Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney will (and should) win this award for Moonlight.  Their achingly sad story of twenty years in the life of an African-American boy and how his negative environment, coupled with the people in his immediate hemisphere, shape the man he will become.  YET, there’s competition from the late playwright August Wilson who penned the screenplay for Fences before his death in 2008.  Posthumous Oscars make for great Oscar moments.

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Best Animated Feature

Nominees: Kubo and the Two Strings | Moana | My Life as a Zucchini | The Red Turtle | Zootopia

For my money, Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings was the best animated feature of the year.  But I always feel that the Academy voters can’t resist the lure of The Mouse.  With Pixar out of the running, Walt Disney Pictures had two films in the running, one fantastic and the other so-so.  Fortunately, the former will be the winner.  Zootopia was something new and different and I think the voters will agree.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: A Man Called Ove | The Salesman | Tanna | Toni Erdmann | Land of Mine

If topicality be the specialty of the day then look no further than The Salesman, which has nothing to do with Trump’s travel ban, but the director Asghar Farhadi has chosen not to attend the ceremony in protest.  That’s irresistible for a show going out to a global audience.

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Best Original Song

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from City of Stars
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls
“City of Stars” from City of Stars
“The Empty Chair” from Jim: The Jim Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

Disney almost always dominates this category whenever possible and that’s good news for the feel-good “How Far I’ll Go,” but my money is on “City of Stars” features a whistling earwig that I’ll bet has stuck in the minds of voters as much as it has with me.  I’m whistling it right now.
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Best Original Score

Jackie | La La Land | Lion |Moonlight | Passengers

Wouldn’t it be kind of a kick to the crotch to have a movie like La La Land, a modern musical so beloved and so hailed and NOT having it win for Best Original Score.

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Best Costume Design

Allied | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them | Florence Foster JenkinsJackie | La La Land

The sweep of La La Land seems to promise that Mary Zophres has the edge here but my money leans toward Madeline Fontaine and the legendary pink suit worn by Jackie.
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Best Makeup and Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove | Star Trek Beyond | Suicide Squad |

A rather puny group this year, so my money is on Star Trek Beyond.
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Best Production Design

Arrival | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them | Hail, Caesar! | La La Land | Passengers

Another gold for La La Land.
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Best Cinematography

Arrival | La La Land | Lion | Moonlight | Silence

While I think this should go to James Laxton for Moonlight, I see Linus Sandgren collecting yet  another gold for La La Land.
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Best Film Editing

Arrival | Hacksaw Ridge | Hell or High Water | La La Land | Moonlight

I say this every year.  The key to Best Editing is guessing who’ll win Best Picture.  La La Land.
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Best Visual Effects

Deep Water Horizon | Doctor Strange | The Jungle Book | Kubo and the Two Strings | Rogue One

The Star Wars fan in me wants Rogue One to win here.  The movie fan in my wants Kubo.  My common sense says that the box office blockbuster The Jungle Book will be the winner.
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Best Sound Editing

Arrival | Deepwater Horizon | Hacksaw Ridge | La La Land | Sully

‘nother gold for La La Land.
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Best Sound Mixing

13 Hours | Arrival | Hacksaw Ridge | La La Land | Rogue One

Again, it would be a massive snub if a big old Hollywood musical like La La Land didn’t win here.
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Best Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea | I Am Not Your Negro | Life, Animated | O.J. Made in America | 13th

The African-American experience is dominating here and it all depends on whether or not the voters will sit through five hours of O.J.  If not, 13th.
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Best Documentary Short

Extremis | 4.1 Miles | Joe’s Violin | Watani: My Homeland | The White Helmets

Joe’s Violin was about a holocaust survivor.  You do the math.
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Best Live Action Short

Ennemis interieurs | Le femme et le TGV | Mindenki | Timecode | Silent Nights

None of these were available to me, but I find that the frontrunner is Ennemis interieurs, the story of how two men come together in the 90s when Algerian terrorism reaches France.
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Best Animated Short

Blind Vaysha | Borrowed Time | Pear Cider and Cigarettes | Pearl | Piper

Piper, the story of a hungry newborn sandpiper whose mother tries to help it overcome hydrophobia brought on by some crashing waves was adorable and featured some groundbreaking animation.  Plus it may be Pixar’s only chance this year.

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The 89th Annual Academy Awards air Sunday February 26th on ABC

 
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Posted by on 02/25/2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Oscar Nominees: Deep Water Horizon

From now until February 26th, I’m going to be taking a brief look at the nominees for this years Academy Awards, one film at a time.

Nominated for: Best Sound Editing | Best Visual Effects

The most unnerving thing about Peter Berg’s retelling of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy is that it in trying to recount the events, it turns out to be a visually exciting entertainment.  That’s absolutely the wrong approach to this material, particularly when recounting an event in which 11 men lost their lives.  Of course, one could argue that a movie like Titanic did the same thing, but the difference is that James Cameron’s film made sure that we understood the human element first.  His visual effects were in service to the story, not simply in service to giving the audience its money’s worth.

My basic problem here is that the movie glosses over the people involved.  The men on the oil rig, particularly those who didn’t make it back home are not seen as flesh and blood human beings, but as pegs used to be propped up and knocked down.  When we see photographs of the real men at the end of the film we have no idea where they were in the movie or who played them.  They are simply a vague name and then a casualty.  That’s a disservice to this tragedy and one that made this critic unusually uncomfortable.

Whatever you think about the events that transpired on that doomed oil rig, this is a standard disaster film from top to bottom.  There are the good blue-collar joes doing their job vs. the big bad corporate money men who want to cut corners.  That may play as good conflict but it doesn’t accurately portray the events that led to the explosion.  This film is going to make damned sure that blame is place one a single individual and that you get your money’s worth in the visual effects department.

The special effects department is really the star here, the whole last third of the film is made up of impressive visual effects but there’s little-to-no orientation to give us a sense of placement, where are the men in conjunction to the danger zones?  Who are the injured?  Whose been killed so far?  We need to be part of the experience here not just part of the action.

 
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Posted by on 02/13/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Ben Affleck out as Batman’s director

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Perhaps the last best hope for salvaging the sinking ship that is DC’s fumbling film franchise has finally been dashed.  This week Ben Affleck announced that while he will remain as star and producer of the upcoming stand-alone adventure The Batman he’s turning over the directing duties to someone else.

“There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions.  Performing this role demands focus, passion, and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”

Pullling out of the director’s chair means, for fans, means that the last best hope for saving a floundering franchise.  DC isn’t doing so well.  Unlike Disney’s persistently lucrative and always entertaining Marvel series, DC has yet to find a stable footing.  Its output thus far has ranged from the bizarre (Green Lantern) to the confusing (Man of Steel) to the downright embarrassing (Batman v Superman).  Film after film brings hopes that the next one, the NEXT ONE will be the film that will get DC on its cinematic feet, but every film falls flat on its face.  Even Suicide Squad, last summer’s eagerly anticipated anti-hero adventure left audiences shrugging.

Affleck self-induced ouster as director eliminates hopes that a quality director could step in and save the day.  He won an Oscar in 2013 for Argo, the year’s Best Picture and he’s directed excellent films like The Town, Gone Baby Gone and the recent underrated Live by Night.  It is understandable why he wants to remove himself from the position, but it is dispiriting giving that this dying series needs a sure-footed director.

But, it’s early yet.  The Batman has not only has no director, no release date and no script.  Meanwhile, Affleck will return as Batman in Justice League which opens November 17.

 
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Posted by on 01/31/2017 in Uncategorized

 

SAG plays politics

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No one should have been surprised that the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards would get a little extra-political Sunday night as the awards were handed out amid a tense atmosphere following outrage over President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban.”

The normal hew of thank you speeches gave way to statements about personal liberties, personal statements and the importance of artistic freedom.  Commentary covered the spectrum from those whose job some agree is to simply entertain without the inconvenience of having to hear a sobering thought about events troubling millions of Americans.  The SAG Awards traditional opening, an odd “up close and personal” sequence that allows actors to make a statement from their table directly into the camera signaled the night’s proceedings.

Ashton Kutcher, from the stage, made a clumsy attempt to rally the crowd in a statement that seemed less personal then simply telling the crowd what it wanted to hear: ““Good evening fellow SAG-AFTRA members and everyone at home, and everyone in airports that belong in my America.”

And it rolled from there.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus who won Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series tried to bring some levity to the proceedings by lampooning Trump but then diverting that by reading the WGA statement about opposition to his policy.

Bryan Cranston, who won Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie for playing Lyndon Johnson in the TV movie All the Way imagined what LBJ might say to DJT, “36 would put his arm around 45 and earnestly wish him success, and he would also whisper in his ear something he said often, ‘Just don’t piss in the soup that all of us gotta eat’.”

Moonlight Supporting Actor Winner Mahershala Ali, clearly emotional at the podium, spoke solemnly about the minutia of being angry with one another about our differences, and taking a page from his own life, the struggle in his own life in finding peace between himself as a Muslim and his mother, an ordained minister.  It was nice that he kept it close to the chest and didn’t further it into the ban on Muslims.

The energy from the SAG awards, mostly from the left-leaning community that openly defies President Trump and his polices (and have, for the most part, even before his inauguration) give voice to a unified community that sees itself in opposition to what it feels is an attack on personal and artistic freedom coming from the highest office in the land.  Since Meryl Streep’s rallying speech at the Golden Globes three weeks ago, it has been expected that the awards season would be peppered with these speeches which are expected to be the major focus of the Oscars next month.  But are they grounded in fact, or are they simply a case of rabble rousing?

In this case, I think it’s both.  The rousing chorus of a room full of artists speaking on its own behalf is nothing new, but perhaps someone should be the voice of reason here.  Someone should really wait and see what Trump is going to do before decrying the notions of being robbed of personal liberties.  Never-the-less, the battle has just begun.  It’s going to be a long four years.

 
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Posted by on 01/30/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)

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If Mary Tyler Moore had never done anything else with her life then she probably could have found success selling toothpaste.  She had the biggest, warmest smile you ever saw, one that stretched from ear to ear.  It was her trademark.  She turned the world on with it.

Moore, who died Wednesday less than a month after her 80th birthday, leaves us at an ironic moment just as women are converging on Washington demanding their recognition for their basic human dignity.  40 years ago, it was she was led the charge at a moment when women were leaving the confines of their second-class social status to make their own way in the world.  After playing a perpetual housewife Laura Petrie on the immortal Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore set out into the television landscape equipped with a sense of style and a sense of humor all her own.  She was the forerunner to Murphy Brown, “Sex and the City”’s Carrie Bradshaw, “30 Rock”’s Liz Lemon.  Before even Peggy Carter or Sarah Conner, there was Mary Tyler Moore.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was an enigma to the television revolution of the 1970s.  At a moment when “All in the Family” and “Maude” and “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son” were extolling the cold, hard facts about the world we live in, “Mary Tyler Moore” was aiming in another direction.  The adventures of television producer Mary Richards was giving a generation of young women a portrait of a woman on her own in the world, one whose pursuits weren’t cemented in landing a man but in attempting to remain independent, making her own way and building a career for herself.

On the show, Mary headed out on her own, for Minneapolis after a broken engagement (the original concept had her as a divorcee but at the time the subject was a little controversial).  She barely unpacked her suitcase in The Twin Cities when she found work at WJN, a local television station.  The secretary job was filled, so she was offered the job of Associate producer by the station’s world-weary news producer Lou Grant who famously told his new employee “You got spunk . . . I hate spunk!”

The show was not a rallying cry for women’s lib, like “Maude” but was a much more sophisticated statement, a workplace sitcom about people we liked with a girl at the center that we couldn’t help but fall in love with.  She was funny and charming and always with a sense of style – her wardrobe on that show is a monument to a decade that seemed dead set against it.

Mary’s tour-de-force?  That’s easy.  “Chuckles Bites the Dust”  a brilliant piece of comedy writing that finds everyone at WJN cracking jokes over the tragic death of the station’s beloved kiddie show icon Chuckles the Clown after he is shelled to death by a rogue elephant during a parade while dressed as a peanut.   Mary shames her co-workers for their insensitive attitude but it is she who can’t hold it together during Chuckles’ memorial service at which she struggles not to burst into laughter particularly when the good reverend breaks into Chuckles signature catchphrase: “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

I watched every episode in order from Mary’s job interview all the way through to the timeless final episode when everyone, save for bumbling newsman Ted Baxter, got canned.  They marched confidently out the door singing the old World War I music hall standard “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as Mary turned with sad eyes at the newsroom that had been her home for seven years.  But then she smiled a smile that seemed to say “Well, life goes on,” and turned out the lights.

I was late to the party.  I was only 6 years-old when “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went off the air in 1977 but I caught up with it many years later when TV Land began running reruns.  I’d never seen this show before so its textures were new to me.  I was familiar with Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford but this was something different.  The characters didn’t squabble about this and that.  They loved each other dearly and there was a unity to their work.  I know it sound corny but I think that show taught me that I don’t have to hate my co-workers, that I can find friends in my work mates and that the relationships I build there can last a lifetime.

Much of that came from Mary.  Within this colorful group of characters remained this attractive and charming woman that you wanted to have coffee with.  It was Mary, and you sensed that she didn’t really need to find the character.

There was nothing mean or sour about Mary.  Maybe that’s why her role in Ordinary People was such a revelation.  As Beth Jarett, she’s the opposite of Mary Richards.  A woman who so isolates the death of her eldest son that she can’t make room for the pain that is destroying her younger son Conrad and pulling her marriage to her husband Calvin into pieces.  It was a brilliant piece of acting that brought her only Oscar nomination, unfortunately in the same year the Sissy Spacek played Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter.  Moore never had a film role that effective again.

Years later, around the time that I was discovering “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Moore came out with her autobiography titled “After All.”  To this day it is the only autobiography I’ve ever read.  In it she revealed that the Mary persona was not always easy to maintain.  She was sexually abused as a child by a neighbor and struggled to find affection from her father.  She was the veteran of two failed marriages, one when she was just eighteen and the other, a 19-year marriage to NBC CEO Grant Tinker.  She recalled a roller coaster of events that transpired around the time of Ordinary People culminating in the accidental death of her son Ritchie.  She talked about her alcoholism, her struggle with diabetes.  She wanted people to understand that there was a person behind that trademark smile, that she was a survivor.

I wasn’t surprised that she struggled, even as I read the book.  Everyone struggles, everyone has demons, and everyone has a skeleton in the closet.  It’s reassuring that she could come clean about the worst parts of her life, but through it all, we still loved her.  As I said, there was nothing mean or sour about Mary Tyler Moore.  There are no bad stories, no tell-all books waiting to be written.  She seemed to be a welcomed ray of sunshine in a world dead-set against it.  She was good-hearted in a world of cynicism.  Yet, she never obscured that a real person lurked beneath that smile.  There is a dark side. I tend not to be as optimistic as Mary Richards. I have an anger in me that I carry from my childhood experiences — I expect a lot of myself and I’m not too kind to myself.

 
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Posted by on 01/26/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Jerry’s First Time . . . seeing “10”

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I’ve seen thousands of films in my life, and sadly I realize there are thousands more that I haven’t seen.  So, in an effort to cure myself of the films I’ve missed, I present “Jerry’s First Time,” a series in which I choose one well-known film that, for whatever reason, just passed me by.  For the very first “Jerry’s First Time” I have selected a film that came out when I was far too young to understand what on Earth my parents were laughing at in the other room (Hint: I’ve seen it and I still don’t know).

Long story short: It’s about 46 year-old Dudley Moore obsessing over 23 year-old Bo Derek (and, yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds.)

How did I miss this one?:  My parents went to see this in a theater and, as stated above, later watched it on television after I had been sent to bed.  I promised myself I would catch up with it sooner or later.  I heard about it, I knew there were scads of nudity in it, mainly on the part of Bo Derek (she was hot back then) and all the adults were telling each other how incredibly funny it was.  When I grew up, I sort of avoided it because I never really developed much of an appetite for the films of Blake Edwards – at least the ones outside of The Pink Panther series.  His films always seemed to be about middle aged people dealing with an over-inflated libido and that always repulsed me.  So . . .

How was the movie?:  Eh.

This is kind of an odd picture for me.  Dudley Moore plays George Webber, a wealthy musician with four Oscars, a big house, a Mercedes and a loving wife played by Julie Andrews.  As the movie opens he’s just turned 42, but if I did the math correctly, Moore was actually 44 at the time the movie was made (actually he looks like he’s in his mid-50s).  I’m 45 so watching the story of “42 year-old” Dudley feeling the pangs and woes of his age and obsessively pursuing nubile young Bo Derek is a real-life mindbender that even M. Night Shyamalan couldn’t conceive.

Anyhoo, George Webber has everything in the world, so naturally he’s lonely and unsatisfied.  Out driving in his Mercedes to clear his head (read that sentence again slowly) he stops at a traffic light and, over in the next car, he spots a vision in a wedding dress (that would be Bo).  George follows her wedding party into the chapel and, while gawking at her, is stung by a bee that was hiding in a floral arrangement.  I actually laughed at that moment but it wasn’t quite as surprising as the revelation that Bo’s is about to marry Flash Gordon.  I’m not kidding, her new husband is played by Sam Jones!  Surprise, Surprise, he has about as much personality in this film as he did in that one.

So, basically the rest of the movie sees George going through outrageous slapstick circumstances all in the name of pursuing this gorgeous young woman.  While visiting the dentist George discovers that his DDS is Bo’s father (her name is actually Jenny) and he gets the exciting information that she’s on her honeymoon in Mexico.  What’s not so exciting is that the dentist has discovered that George has six cavities and wants to drill and fill right then and there.  That leads to a bizarre scene in which George goes home and gets drunk and can’t talk, first because of the effects of the Novocain and second because of the effects of the alcohol that he unwisely guzzles.  What follows is a long and aggravating scene in which his wife keeps calling but he can’t talk to her.  She calls the cops and they come by but he can’t talk to them either.

Forgetting all good sense – plus the fact that he has a loving wife – George heads down to Mexico because . . . . well, I’m not really sure why.  Why is he following Bo outside of her looks?  It’s not established that he knows her, and so what does he plan to do if he gets close to her?  Even if he does meet her, she’s married and so sex is out of the question.  Common sense is not in the repertoire here.

Anyway, in a fantasy fit for porn, George goes to Mexico and ends up on the exact same beach that Bo and Flash Gordon are visiting.  Flash goes surfing and falls asleep on his board and George sails out to rescue him.  While the Savoir of the Universe is convalescing in the hospital, George visits Bo’s hotel room.  Whaddaya know!  She’s attracted to him!  Because . . . . of course she is!  She smokes grass, gets naked and puts on Revel’s “Bolero” which George has to keep starting over while they are trying to get the sex going.  Did I mention they’re both married?

Then . . . something unexpected happens.

Flash Gordon calls from the hospital and Bo informs him that George is there – she’s not shy about what they’re doing.  When he confronts her about this, she says that she’s in an open marriage and only got married because her father pressured her to do so.  George, realizing that this apparent dream woman is a complete flake, comes to his senses and goes home to his wife.  That’s the good part.  I love that the reality of the situation comes crashing down on George’s head, yet I’m forced to ask why he didn’t come to that conclusion before he GOT TO HER BED!?!

Anyway, George realizes his mistake, goes home and has sex with Mary Poppins on the kitchen floor.

Ultimately: I heard my parents laughing at this movie all those years ago but seeing the movie now I can’t really figure out why.  I laughed once and I smiled twice.  I was unnerved by the idea that a man who is only 42 would be having mid-life problems when he is wealthy, healthy and married to the Practically Perfect Julie Andrews. Yet, this entire plot made me feel a bit uneasy.  It’s creepy and not in a good way.  Sure Bo Derek is (was) a knock-out but she’s nothing to destroy your life over.  I’ve never understood these movies where middle-aged men see the end of their sexual prowess and begin trying to sew their wild oats.  Maybe they need more fiber in their diet, or a cold shower.

 
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Posted by on 01/26/2017 in Uncategorized