Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The 2015 TCM Film Festival

If you are familiar (filmiliar?) with me at all, you know that last year, I won the TCM Ultimate Fan Contest. My prizes were: hosting a film on-air with Robert Osborne, and attending last year's TCM Film Festival where I also introduced a film. All of that to say, TCM spoiled me rotten last year. I wrote all about it here.

TCM's 20th Anniversary was last year, so they pulled out all the stops for the film fest. One of the highlights for me was the "Ask Robert" event at the Montalban Theater that ended up being a star-studded surprise tribute to TCM's veteran host. It was incredible. That doesn't mean I thought I would be disappointed with this year's fest; it's just impossible to beat when the bar has been set so high.

Well, I can safely say that this year's fest kicked serious rump. I won't say it was better than last year's; just different. While I certainly missed Robert O, the other guest hosts stepped up to the plate and brought us incredible intros and Q&As. TCM's staff is (like every single day) a group of rock stars who can literally do anything. So, I'll point out some major highlights that proved why this film festival is one of the best events you can go to:

1. THE DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR - Historians and archivists David Pierce and James Layton hosted this special presentation including rare photos and clips of films (many screened in 35mm) to detail the development of Technicolor during it's early period. This was a rare treat for anyone deeply interested in film history.

2. PINOCCHIO - This was my 3rd TCMFF, and I still hadn't been to El Capitan Theater! I knew I had to go this year, and I knew I would go for Pinocchio. It's been at least two decades since I've seen the movie, and it is better than I remember. It's so well-made, and watching it in a historic Disney theater was perfect.

3. SOPHIA LOREN - What can you say about Sophia Loren other than "QUEEEEN!"? Interviewed by her son Eduardo Ponte, their talk was personal, funny, and all-around adorable. It almost felt like the audience was intruding in a personal conversation between a mother and son, which it almost was. Hearing stories from one of the classic bombshells of Hollywood (and great actress - TWO WOMEN.) was a rare treat for me.

4. RETURN OF THE DREAM MACHINE - Easily my favorite moment of the whole film festival. As soon as we walked in to the theater in the TCL Chinese Multiplex, an Edison phonograph was playing music from the early 20th century, and a gorgeous hand-cranked projector from 1908 was waiting for us all. The energy in the room was scintillating. Everyone crowded around the projector to take a picture of it. Anyone would easily have thought the biggest stars in the world were in that room (for some of us it was), but we were all fawning over that beautiful piece of machinery. Short films screened that hadn't been seen in 85 years. Others screened that every film student has seen and are even available on YouTube but it didn't matter. These experiences are why film history lovers exist. There is a humanity within all of this technology that is sadly fleeting. Moments like this are once-in-a-lifetime and I am so glad to have experienced it.

5. DESK SET - This was one of the most enjoyable film screenings I have been in. It's such a funny movie and the audience was roaring with laughter throughout the whole thing. I don't think I stopped smiling for even one second. I have nothing else to say besides how much damn fun I had at this screening.

6. OUT OF SIGHT - This was one of the films i'm sure a lot of fans were not happy about, since it is only 15 years old. And maybe because it stars Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney, stars who...stand out a bit...amongst other lineup names like Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and Maureen O'Hara. But I love this movie. I always have, and I have always wanted to watch it in a theater. And Editor Anne V. Coates was present for a Q&A with Ben Mankiewicz before the screening. She is such a talent with a career that spans from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to - yes - 50 SHADES OF GREY. And she chose this film because it is one of her favorite ones. The editing is edgy, and the film is sexy without being vulgar, which shares this quality with many classic films. I love the whole cast, and the script is "cool" while still retaining substance.

7. THE GRIM GAME - It was a major highlight to see a film starring Harry Houdini from 1919 where the plot is quite secondary to him just escaping out of various situations - and there's nothing wrong with that. There is an actual plane crash that was recorded and made it into the film, and the whole audience gasped when it played. I loved this historic experience.

8. THE PEOPLE - This might be the best part about the film festival every year. I actually came to Los Angeles by myself this year since I knew that I would see my TCM family. I figured even with this, I may have some moments alone, but that was okay with me. WRONG! I met new friends everywhere I went, and ran into old friends from social media, the TCM staff, and my TCM Ultimate Fan family. We now consider this our annual reunion and I can't say how special it is to me now. I never had a lonely moment. Waiting on line for films ended up being something I looked forward to since I was meeting so many new people! Even though I was spoiled and hardly waited on any lines last year, I didn't realize there is actually a huge downside to that - you don't get to talk to anyone!

These events and the people you meet are reasons why it's almost disrespectful but definitely inaccurate to just call TCM a channel. No other channel seems to go above and beyond for its viewers. I promise you, just have one conversation with a TCM staff member and you will know what I mean. Programming also reflects the wide array of complete film history which is very important to me. So, it's safe to say I had a great time again at TCMFF. I can't wait for next year!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

10 Favorite Films of 2014

The year of our Lord 2014 has come and gone. It was the year of successes like The Lego Movie and Gone Girl, and now it may be (unfortunately) known as the year of The Interview.  Nevertheless, I think it was a great year for movies. So let's kick off my countdown of films that left the greatest impression on me from 2014:

10. BIRDMAN (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
While it could be argued that the appearance of the film being one continuous shot is a bit gimmicky (and I somewhat agree), I still enjoyed this movie. I loved the escalating sense of hysteria, the "insider's view" of the theater world, and the protagonist's internal battle between being an actor and being a movie star. Also, even though this isn't actually filmed in one shot, there are very long takes, which the cast had to memorize up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time for. The performances by Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis were impressive even before knowing that tidbit. I'm also a big fan of the drummer. (Now playing in theaters)

9. UNDER THE SKIN (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)
I am so glad that recent years have afforded Scarlett Johansson with increasing opportunities to play roles she is more than capable of dominating. I was afraid we would lose her to mainstream films due to her darned exceptional beauty, but it (thankfully) seems her tastes can't be satisfied just doing RomComs and superhero movies. In Under the Skin, she plays a "woman" who suddenly begins a process of self-discovery, after a few disturbing occurrences. There is an eerie quietude throughout this movie that stayed with me, especially since many scenes take their time. Shot composition, color and effects are remarkably beautiful. Under the Skin is as striking and compelling as it is dark, cold, and ominous. (Available on Video on Demand and DVD)

I am a very big fan of Parks and Recreation, and I think Chris Pratt is a master comedic actor. He handles physical comedy in a way that is both classic and modern, and I can't get enough of it. So when I saw that he was being prepped to be our next big movie star, I was excited because I knew he would never take himself too seriously, and his personality would play a huge part in his success. So, I went into Guardians expecting to like it, and I loved it. This movie lacks a strong villain, but I don't care. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista make an oddly great team, which is obviously on purpose. The soundtrack, which was also a huge hit this year, reminded me of the other "Awesome" mixtape in BOOGIE NIGHTS. Both soundtracks even share a song ("Fooled Around and Fell in Love" by Elvin Bishop. I know this is a movie I won't get tired of anytime soon. (Available on VOD and DVD)

7. DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (Dir. Justin Simien)
We can thankfully say we've come a long way in race relations in just decades, but to be completely honest, it's just not enough. If the events of this past year haven't shown you that, well...I don't know how else one can be convinced. Since laws in America now allow the same rights for all human beings, we aren't dealing as much with the outlandish, open acts of racism, but instead with the covered, subtle (even subconscious) acts that are harder to expose and explain. I think Justin Simien did an excellent job in starting a conversation about these topics in Dear White People. This was the first time I had the pleasure of seeing Tessa Thompson, who is a dream. She is beautiful, fierce, intelligent and passionate. She easily carries the film although she doesn't have to because the rest of the cast is just as great. This film exposes faults in all sides of the race discussion, and it is done with extreme thought and care. (Available on VOD and DVD)

6. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Many know Joshua Oppenheimer's first documentary attempting to expose the history of Indonesian genocide with THE ACT OF KILLING, which was nominated for an Academy Award last year. Oppenheimer's follow-up takes a different approach than his first, but it is just as powerful. Adi is an Indonesian man whose brother was killed in the genocide in 1965, before he was born. The unusual circumstances in Indonesia force many of these victimized families to live side by side with the people responsible for the murder of their loved ones. So, Adi sees his brother's killers every day. In this documentary, Adi finally confronts the leaders responsible for ordering the deaths of more than 500,000 people. The results are astonishing. (Not yet available on DVD or VOD)

5. WHIPLASH (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
Whiplash is a very simple movie and that's why it works. Many advise artists to stick to what they know, which director Damien Chazelle did for his first feature length film. Being a drummer himself, Chazelle wrote and directed the most thrilling film about a jazz drummer I'll probably ever see. Editor Tom Cross does a fantastic job creating moments of incredible tension. Longtime indie favorite J.K. Simmons shines with a performance that lives up to all of the hype, and Miles Teller shines in portraying a character who constantly explores whether it is better to have a happy, fulfilled life, or to go down in history as a game-changer. You can't have both. (Now playing in theaters)

4. INHERENT VICE (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
The plot is convoluted, but does anyone really care? I've seen THE MALTESE FALCON more times than I can count and I still can't tell you all the details. Noirs tend to do that. Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel is a relief for fans who have been in want of a good laugh since BOOGIE NIGHTS. Joaquin Phoenix is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest actors working in cinema today. This film is basically a compilation of his reactions, and I'm okay with that. Although I would have liked to see a lot more of Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin's performance made up for it all. The cinematography by Robert Elswit is beautiful, and along with production design by David Crank, a fictional 1960s SoCal world was created that I came to love. Both the soundtrack and Johnny Greenwood's score are perfect, and this movie has my favorite posters of the year (you should check them out - they are incredible). (Opens in theaters nationwide on January 9)

3. NIGHTCRAWLER (Dir. Dan Gilroy)
If Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best actors in existence, Jake Gyllenhaal is not too far behind. We knew he could be creepy since DONNIE DARKO, but in this film, he masters a level of disturbing villainy that will be remembered for a long time. I love the cinematography of Los Angeles at night, and the sheer ruthlessness conveyed by multiple characters. This is director Dan Gilroy's first feature film, and I can't wait to see what's next. (Now playing in theaters)

2. WILD (Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée)
In my favorite performance of the year besides Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Reese Witherspoon portrays Cheryl Strayed, the actual woman whose memoirs inspired this film adaptation. I initially expected a fairly typical journey of self-discovery through braving the elements and connecting through nature, which I enjoy, but didn't think I would find emotionally arresting. Instead, I found Wild to be an incredibly personal, touching journey; a genuine fight for survival against one's own demons. Each flashback was poignant, and it all felt very real. I was deeply moved by all of Cheryl's struggles, and fought tears because I didn't want to miss a moment of any scene. Witherspoon flawlessly carries the film. I can't wait to see it again. (Now playing in theaters)

1. BOYHOOD (Dir. Richard Linklater)
It has been six months since I saw Boyhood, and I still think about it often. That's why it's my favorite film of the year. I've never been so impressed by a film because I have never seen a film leave so much of its fate in time's hands. And the result was fantastic. Richard Linklater's 12-year production shows a boy named Mason growing into a young man. The cast ages naturally, as production continued. This was a gamble; time is not something any of us are guaranteed, and we can not predict the outcomes. The film is about Mason, so the narrative depended on the type of boy its lead actor Ellar Cotrane grew into. If he grew to be a jock or any other "type", the film would have changed. It's remarkable that he remained as sensitive and contemplative as he seemed to be when he was five years old at the film's beginning. Boyhood also features fantastic performances by Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Linklater's daughter Lorelei, as well as a soundtrack that acts as a time signifier, further drawing you in to to film.  (Now playing again in select theaters and available on demand)

This list wasn't easy for me, and I am still second-guessing some of my choices because I enjoyed so many films this year. Honorable mention goes to SO many, but the main ones that I could not go without naming were:

1. SELMA (Dir. Ava DuVernay)
2. LIFE ITSELF (Dir. Steve James)
3. BELLE (Dir. Amma Asante)
4. OBVIOUS CHILD (Dir. Gillian Robespierre)
5. THE SKELETON TWINS (Dir. Craig Johnson)
6. THE BABADOOK (Dir. Jennifer Kent)
7. GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Dir. Wes Anderson)
8. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Dir. Olivier Assayas)

Now, on to 2015...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Time Flies: 20 Years of Pulp Fiction

I was 8 years old in 1994, when Pulp Fiction was released. Understandably, my mother did not rush me to the theater to see it. But the Tarantino effect was inescapable. I remember Pulp Fiction being referenced everywhere from that point on. Undoubtedly, Tarantino's sophomore feature continues to inspire film just as much as it was inspired by many films before it.

My VHS copy. Check out the price.
Today marks 20 years since the film was released in theaters. At this point, the movie was already a big deal, having stunned the festival circuit by winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Since we are celebrating Pulp's longevity and the years since its release, what better aspect of the movie to discuss than time? (Note: This is NOT spoiler-free. I shouldn't even have to say that, but I like to be considerate just in case someone from another planet happened to be reading this.)

Time is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting discussions within the world of Pulp Fiction. There are many aspects about time that are worth noting. First of all, with a running time of 164 minutes, Pulp Fiction takes up quite a bit of time to watch - just 16 minutes short of 3 hours, to be exact. This is where I must pay respect to the late Sally Menke who edited all of Tarantino's films except Django Unchained. I have seen this movie countless times, but I never feel like it drags. Between Tarantino's signature dialogue and Menke's brilliant cuts, Pulp Fiction stands the test of time.

The next aspect of time to discuss is one of the most influential things about Pulp, which also heavily involves Menke; the non-linear storytelling. The films opens with Ringo and Honey Bunny in the diner contemplating robbery. After the opening title sequence, Vincent and Jules are in a car discussing fast food in Europe. This is followed by Marsellus Wallace's instructions to Butch on "losing" a fixed boxing match. By the time we get to Vincent accidentally shooting Marvin in the face, we know Vincent has already been killed, and we realize that the film's beginning is actually the middle of the story, which is matched by the film's ending. It's not like Pulp was the first film to ever play with chronological order of events; this has been done in Citizen Kane, Rashomon, 8 1/2, and quite a few other groundbreaking films. It hasn't stopped happening either; since Pulp, we've seen nontraditional storytelling in Run Lola Run, Memento, Mulholland Drive, and even 500 Days of Summer. But there's something about the way it's done in Pulp Fiction that still makes it powerful today.

There are also several references to time throughout the movie. Vincent and Jules have to leave Jimmie's house before his wife Bonnie comes home since...well...she wouldn't appreciate coming home to see the corpse of a man whose head was blown off in her driveway. Harvey Keitel saves the day as Winston Wolf, who was 30 minutes away, says he'd be there in 10, but actually arrives in 9 minutes and 37 seconds. There is specificity in the mention of time. Christopher Walken as Captain Koons explains to a young Butch how important his birthright is. He details Butch's lineage and the amount of time/history his birthright entails. This obviously includes hiding his birthright up his rectum for years. What is the birthright? A watch, of course.

If you aren't sick of me talking about time in Pulp Fiction yet, hang on for one last point. We see Jules use a cell phone, and Butch's clothing is fairly modern, but much of Pulp is lost in time as far as setting goes. Just like all decades of film that influenced Tarantino, all of those decades are reflected on screen, essentially leaving it "era-less," which may add to its timelessness. Drug dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) watches The Three Stooges while eating Fruit Brute, a cereal that has been discontinued since 1983. Esmeralda Villalobos drives a cab from the 1940s-50s, which adds to the noir of the scene as she drives Butch home. Restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim's is like a time capsule in itself; a collection of vintage pop culture where the dance of choice is The Twist. Characters use terms like "daddy-o," refer to shows like Happy Days and Kung Fu movies from the 1970s.

Pulp Fiction was born in the mind of a complete fanboy, so it should be no surprise that the ultimate hodgepodge of time, genre, and culture are created within this world. It is the love child of Film Noir, classic movies, screwball comedy, Kung Fu, Blaxploitation, grindhouse, Horror, Gangster, and French New Wave. It is a little bit of every decade of film since its inception. It is time in terms of culture, chopped and screwed.

...'Til next time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

New York Film Festival 2014

Now in its 52nd year, the New York Film Festival has become the premier event for cinephiles in New York City.  The programming in this non-competitive film festival ranges from documentaries to retrospectives, convergence screenings, various talks and special events, and of course, the main slate.  In recent years, the NYFF main slate has been a useful device to foreshadow awards season nominees. The U.S. premiere of 12 YEARS A SLAVE was held during last year's fest, as well as high-profile screenings of other eventual Oscar nominees.

But enough about prior years. While I was only able to attend six screenings this year, they included some of the most anticipated films of 2014-15, and I am still trying to process some of them. Here they are:

David Fincher and the cast of Gone Girl
1. GONE GIRL (David Fincher, 2014)
I think the last thing you need to read is another opinion of Gone Girl, so I will keep it short. As soon as this film was over, I knew it would be a crowd pleaser. The film smartly brings the audience (particularly those who have not read the book) deeper and deeper into the story of Nick and Amy Dunne's marriage, only to betray trust by revealing a major plot twist. I particularly loved Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne) and Carrie Coon (Margo Dunne) in this movie. I thought some scenes were beautifully executed, but I felt major moments that could have drawn empathy were lacking, which in turn made me emotionally detach myself during the second half.

2. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2014)
This follow-up to THE ACT OF KILLING (which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary last year) is just as profound. Oppenheimer continues his exposé of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, where an estimated 500,000 people were accused of participating in the Communist party, and consequently, slaughtered.  The best way to describe the current situation in Indonesia is used in the film: imagine (as terrible as it may be) that WWII had ended differently, and Nazis were still in power in Germany. Families of those murdered in concentration camps are not only living side by side with Nazi officials; they must take orders from them. That's what life is like for many people in Indonesia. If you see nothing else this year, I urge you to see this film.

3. INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
I was beyond excited to see one of the most anticipated films of this year by one of the most respected American filmmakers in cinema today.  Now that I've seen it, I'm 100% certain that I need to see it again. There are a few things I can say for sure: Inherent Vice has a stellar soundtrack, I laughed audibly many times, and the cast is as fantastic as we all imagined they would be. This is PTA's THE BIG LEBOWSKI; a missing person case being solved by a stoner who comes across ridiculous characters along the way. What I can't make sense of is the plot, but after a while, I stopped trying to and just enjoyed the ride.

4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Rob Reiner, 1984)
I attended the 30th anniversary screening of This is Spinal Tap for two major reasons: I never saw it on the big screen, and it is in my favorite film historian's (TCM host Robert Osborne) top 5 list, so I love to revisit it whenever I get a chance. Like with any cult classic, watching it in a theater with other fans is one of the most enjoyable things you can do. Everyone anticipates certain scenes and/or lines. Also, Christopher Guest was there for a Q&A and he was incredibly hilarious.

Olivier Assayas, Juliette Binoche, and NYFF Director Kent Jones
5. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
This is a beautiful exploration of age and time, particularly through the eyes of an actress, which is compelling since we all know the film industry notoriously mistreats (read: discards) older women. The stage is a bit more forgiving, which is what Juliette Binoche's character deals with in this movie. Binoche is as fantastic as she has ever been, and the backdrop of Sils Maria, Switzerland is stunning. While Maria enders (Binoche) struggles with a new role she takes on, there are also underlying tensions with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), many of which seem to be commenting on real-life situations surrounding the actors themselves.

Foxcatcher's Bennett Miller, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, and producer Jon Kilik
6. FOXCATCHER (Bennett Miller, 2014)
This will very likely lead to an Academy Award for Steve Carrell. Based on the true story of Olympic wrestlers Dave Shultz (played by Mark Ruffalo) and his brother Mark (Channing Tatum), Carrell plays John du Pont, the infamous multi-millionaire who sponsors the Shultzes in hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal. It has all the awards season turn-ons: comedic actor in a dramatic role, physical transformation of said actor, chilling story that is based on actual events, and casting of a veteran/legend (in this case, Vanessa Redgrave). I did not love the score, but the film is well performed. Be warned: you will be depressed after watching this.

Overall, there wasn't one film I disliked, and the great people at The Film Society of Lincoln Center always do a fantastic job putting everything together. A major regret was not being able to go to BIRDMAN or any of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz retrospective screenings due to schedule conflicts. I would have loved to see ALL ABOUT EVE on the big screen, but I'd say I still had a sweet time at this year's NYFF.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Forever Young: Why I love Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it."

Today marks 28 years since John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off was released in theaters.  I have a fondness for this film because it was released exactly one week before I was born, so I like to think that it essentially prepared me to fear adulthood all my life.  It has succeeded.

While I can't pick a single favorite John Hughes film, this one is very high on my list.  Before or since this film, I have not seen a better celebration of youth before it ends.  It's almost like a bachelor party for the teen going into adulthood.  It is Ferris' last hurrah before he has to become a normal, upstanding, lifeless adult like the others in the film, which leads to my first point...

One year after Mr. Hughes passed away, the Film Society of Lincoln Center held a retrospective of his work, and I attended a double feature of Pretty in Pink (which Hughes wrote; Howard Deutch directed) and Ferris.  Molly Ringwald did a Q&A for Pretty, and Jason Reitman introduced Ferris.   It's pretty obvious that one can not direct a film like Juno without regarding Hughes as some sort of forefather, so I was quite interested in what Reitman had to say about the film.  He told the audience that we should look at the film as if Ferris really IS dying, because in a way, adulthood is death.

The adults in Ferris are either boring, beyond clueless, or both.  Ferris' parents actually fall for his terrible performance and let him stay home for the day.  Grace, the school secretary, is a dimwit who sniffs White-Out at her desk.  The economics teacher's monotonous voice (made immortal by Ben Stein) plays throughout the film, making the school subject even more torturous than usual. The only adult who is on to Ferris' games is his high school principal, Mr. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), but he is so incompetent, we know he will never catch Ferris.  Plus, he is an adult and adults don't win in this world. Ferris wins.  Perhaps it's the assumption that when youth is on your side, so is victory.  At least that's how I see it in John Hughes' oeuvre.  

Ferris mostly outsmarts the adults by using youth to his advantage.  He is a member of the very first MTV generation. He is among the first of teenage boys to have a computer in his bedroom.  He uses technology to fool the adults who are out-of-touch: he hacks his high school database to alter his number of absences, uses his stereo system to simulate snoring, his electric keyboard to play a variety of bodily sounds, and rigs his doorbell to play an automated voice message declaring his poor health.  Not to mention the various prank phone calls throughout the film.

Adulthood is scary.  One year, you are enjoying life as a 17 year-old.  Your major dilemma is what movie to see on a Friday night with friends or a date.  But the next year, you are bombarded with major life decisions.  What do you want to be? Where do you want to go to college? What will you do after that? With these questions, it's implied that your job will define you.  You are what you do, and since you no longer do the fun things of a teenager, you are no longer fun.  Life as you know it has ended. I know I sound completely morose and depressing right now, but most people don't hold on to the same fearlessness and sense of freedom that they had before responsibilities came along.  I don't think Hughes or Reitman really think that adulthood is death (after all, they became adults), but perhaps they mean that some adults get so consumed by the responsibilities of adulthood that they no longer truly live; they just go through the motions of a daily schedule as monotonous as Ben Stein's voice.

That's probably why John Hughes is responsible for some of the most jovial, fun, lovable and quotable movies of the 1980s.  He refused to let adulthood jail him, and I will always be thankful for that.

So, whether you cheer for Ferris, the adults, Jeanie, or Wayne Newtown; whether you think Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the penultimate carpe diem or just a fantasy completely made up in the neurotic mind of Cameron Frye, I hope you watch the movie again tonight, or very soon.  Save Ferris, and Long live John Hughes.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Say 'Crack' Again: 10 Years of MEAN GIRLS

The internet is never short on MEAN GIRLS memes, gifs, quotes, or references, and this month/week/day, you will find more than ever.  Exactly 10 years ago, MEAN GIRLS was released in theaters, spawning a cult following that shows no signs of slowing down.

I was 17 when the movie was released.  Obviously, my demographic was a prime target.  But I remember that trailers at the time marketed MEAN GIRLS as a fluffy high school flick, so I didn't have much interest in seeing it, but I did anyway.  And am so glad I did.  I laughed so hard I cried at certain points (specifically the "Danny DeVito" line), and I was so startled by the school bus hitting Regina George that I jumped out of my seat (I usually don't reveal spoilers, but if you haven't seen MEAN GIRLS by now...) I left the theater feeling refreshed but I wasn't sure why.  After having ten years to think about it, I now realize that it was because I finally saw an honest on-screen portrayal of a young woman's plight in high school.

I'm not saying that MEAN GIRLS is 100% original.  We all know that HEATHERS (Michael Lehmann, 1988) was first, but HEATHERS was one generation ahead of me so I didn't appreciate it until later, and it was also much darker than I like to associate with my own high school experience.  In fact, I didn't even experience any bullying in high school.  This is where you may be thinking, "Well, if no one was mean to you, maybe YOU were the mean girl." Nope.  When I wasn't in class or at my job at the Queens Public Library, I was in my room.  I spent all my free time heavily invested in my passions: homework (it's true), comedy movies/SNL, 90s hip-hop and r&b, and sneakers.  It was an odd combination, but it made me who I am.  Explains a lot.  Anyway, it also explains why MEAN GIRLS was more my style.  It, like me, deflected a lot of life's realities by way of humor, so it was more profound to me than any other teen-centered film at the time.  And of course, Tina Fey adapted it from Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees and Wannabes.  Since I was a bit of an SNL freak, I loved Tina Fey, and this was the first time I felt like I experienced something truly hers. Sure, she didn't write the actual book or direct the movie, but the strength of MEAN GIRLS is its script, which I felt was all Tina.

So, how has MEAN GIRLS managed to not only hold up, but become increasingly referenced over time? Besides the eventual increasing stardom of Tina Fey, Amanda Seyfried & Rachel McAdams, and/or scandals surrounding Lindsay Lohan?  Like I said, I think it is a well-written film.  I particularly love the ongoing comparison between high school students and wild animals.  But to add to that, the characters are given outstanding voices.  MEAN GIRLS has an excellent combination of characters who are mean, funny, grounded, and many types of weird.  Like high school, it has no shortage of oddities.  From the super rich gossip queen Gretchen Wieners to the confident rapper/mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, we are introduced to all the people we ever knew in high school. Maybe we even saw some characters we wish we knew (I never met a Janis or Damian; that would have made high school way more fun).  Also, the adults were not exempt from this.  They were as odd as the students were, which was great to see.  Many teen comedies make the adults so different from the teens, they seem like enemies (which I don't always have a problem with - FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (John Hughes, 1986) does this flawlessly).  But the adults are some of the best and kookiest characters in the whole movie - Amy Poehler as Mrs. George is the prime example.

Finally, there is a moral center to MEAN GIRLS, and it is so self-aware of the potentially cheesy final scenes, that they are no longer cheesy.  Sure there is a well resolved squeaky-clean ending, but any other resolution wouldn't work.  Plus, after Regina spread copies of the Burn Book around school and caused a massive riot, it was pleasant to see some peace being made.

That just about sums up my love for the movie (this is a lie; I could go on a lot longer about how much I appreciate Tim Meadows in this, as well as the usage of  Kelis' "Milkshake," and the term 'fugly slut,' but I won't). MEAN GIRLS showed us that we all have the capacity to be ruthless and selfish, and in turn, no one is exempt from being bullied in some form.  But the movie also shows us that once we stop attacking each other and realize that most of the crap we stress about in high school means absolutely nothing, we'll feel a lot better about ourselves.  That's something I'm thankful to say I've carried with me since I first saw the movie, and it will never stop being relevant to future generations.  So, here's to looking back on ten years of watching the bullying, pranking, gossiping, apologizing and forgiving. All while laughing.  A lot.

Friday, April 18, 2014

TCM Classic Film Festival 2014

My last post explained in greater detail why I love THE NAKED CITY (1948), and how I won Turner Classic Movie's Ultimate Fan Contest by submitting a 90-second video introducing the film.  I wrote the blog post just a few days before heading to Los Angeles to attend their 5th annual film festival, where I was able to introduce my good-luck film to an audience before it screened.

Now I'm back in New York, and what has been probably the best weekend of my life is all over.  Yes, I've cried myself to sleep every night (not only due to missing the beloved TCM staff and Los Angeles weather, but because my body has still not readjusted to Eastern Standard Time).

The only thing that might aid my crippling depression and TCMFF withdrawal symptoms is to relive the whole weekend via blog post.  So here we go:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I arrived in Los Angeles in the afternoon.  Shortly after settling in to my hotel room, my +1 (best friend Pam) and I picked up our passes at the Roosevelt Hotel, where I spotted lots of TCM staff already in full festival mode.  Right away, I was treated like I had done something much more valiant to win my prize than just gush about one of my favorite films.  TCM's head researcher Alexa Foreman was the first to spot my nails, and showed everyone my work, which immediately set the tone throughout the festival: friendly, and FUN.

I was grabbed for a quick on-air chat with Ben Mankiewicz, where he said that I didn't "strike him as a noir girl." I asked if it was my bright green polka-dot dress, which can often throw people.  

That night, I attended a special tweetup for TCM's social media friends.  I got to meet the incredible people behind #TCMParty and other very notable movie tweeters.  We also swapped film trivia.  My trivia question was: Theodora Van Runkle worked on her first film in 1967.  Due to stress and self-consciousness, her leading lady kept losing weight, forcing her to constantly alter the costumes.  From this point on, Van Runkle nicknamed her "Fadin' Away." Do you know the actress and film? Comment at the end of this blog post and I'll answer!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This was the first day of the film festival.  The first event I attended was "Meet the Staff" at the Egyptian Theater.  I have had the privilege of meeting the staff at Turner Studios in Atlanta, but they have so many incredible stories and words of wisdom, I had to go to this event.  As suspected, they did not disappoint.

I took the next few hours to relax by the hotel pool.  I have been to the TCM film fest in 2011, so I was well aware that leisure time would be scarce in the days to come.  Then, I got dolled up for what would be my first red carpet interview experience:

Again, I was treated like I actually was somebody.  Admittedly, I felt strange having so many pictures taken of me, but I loved doing the interviews.  It gave me a chance to talk about films with other film fans, and I don't get to do that as often as one might think.  Many people asked about my contest entry, but other press outlets wanted to talk about musicals (OKLAHOMA! screened just a few minutes later), and others wanted to talk about my being a young classic film fan.  I've said this before and I'll say it again: yes, I am a classic film fan, but I really consider myself a fan of great films.  This knows no borders of age, content, style, or origin.  Everyone and everything is welcome, as long as it's something that resonates within me.

Later, we enjoyed the Opening Night party hosted by Vanity Fair, located on the rooftop of the W Hotel Hollywood.  Swanky.  Here's a Vine I took during the party.

Friday, April 10, 2014

The first full day of the festival, better known to many passholders as "Oh, you think you'll have time to eat today? That's cute" day.  We started off utilizing the privileges of a Spotlight pass, which allowed us to have breakfast at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel, where we briefly chatted with Ben again. Shortly after, we boarded the shuttle bus to the Ricardo Montalbán Theater for the "Ask Robert" event. I didn't think it was strange that every staff member urged me to attend this event, but now we all know better.  What started as an already great opportunity to ask Robert Osborne almost any question about his life and professional journey became something so much more awesome.  Robert's mic suddenly stopped working, which should have been a red flag for all of us since TCM makes no mistakes.  Then, Alex Trebek walked on to the stage (much to Robert's surprise).  What followed was like an episode of "This is Your Life;" surprise guests took turns paying tribute to Robert Osborne in the most entertaining, heartfelt, and hilarious ways.  Who stopped by? Eva Marie Saint, Diane Baker, Alec Baldwin, Ben Mankiewicz, Michael Feinstein, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Bill Cosby and Cher (both via video), and members of Robert's own family!
The wonderful thing about "Ask Robert" was getting to see stars gush about him as much as we do.  Sometimes, I forget that stars are film fans too, and they are inspired by Robert's intelligence and integrity as much as any other TCM fan.  A major highlight? The blooper reel where we all got to see the hilarious side of Robert.  I laughed so hard, I walked out with a headache.  This event was an emotion overload, and it may have been the best thing about the whole weekend (and there was a lot of competition).

With my heart full from "Ask Robert," I went to Club TCM where Leonard Maltin interviewed the legendary Quincy Jones.  Mr. Jones often strayed from the questions Maltin was asking, but no one (including Maltin) seemed to care.  Jones' stories about Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Sidney Lumet had everyone mesmerized.  At one point, Jones and Maltin fist-bumped, and that instantly became something I never knew I always wanted to see.

Shortly after Jones/Maltin, I went to Grauman's Chinese (I reeeallly don't want to call it TCL) because I knew the line for BLAZING SADDLES would be mad.  Robert Osborne introduced the film with Mel Brooks, who is hilarious as ever.  This is one more great thing about TCMFF - you will get to see and hear legends.  People may throw that term around carelessly, but there are real legends at this film festival, and the talent that these masters have never fade; so you are guaranteed to have your mind blown.

After BLAZING SADDLES, I met up with a few more fans who won guest programming spots on the air to watch one of them live on TCM! Go Peter Tulba! He introduced THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938).  Check out how happy he is:

Shortly after that, I went back to the theaters for the first midnight screening: ERASERHEAD (1977). Patton Oswalt opened his intro with a fitting description: "Welcome to day 3 of Coachella for shut-ins." Many people were watching David Lynch's film for the first time, which surprised me.  Oswalt gave them some great warnings, including one for couples who would potentially want children in the future.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This day started with another early breakfast; this time I got to chat with my main man Robert Osborne. Since I would be introducing THE NAKED CITY later on, I asked what the difference was between introducing a film on the air and in front of a live audience.  He simply said "None.  Just talk to one person." His nonchalance actually comforted me, and I started to realize that I would be talking to the same people I had been talking to all weekend.

Right after breakfast was the handprint ceremony for Jerry Lewis.  After getting a great spot on the side (which would later be blocked by perhaps the tallest man in Los Angeles), I looked up to see Quentin Tarantino.  I had no idea he would be introducing Jerry Lewis, and I was starstruck for just as long as it took me to wonder if he would go on one of his...famous rambles.  But he made a great point; while growing up, there was no other star who became a generation's sole favorite: "For every child, we only had one favorite movie star.  I don't know anybody else who owns that."
Jerry Lewis was remarkable, making faces and obscene gestures for the cameras, all of which were hilarious (please refer to my Mel Brooks "legends" comments for similar sentiments).

Afterwards, we dashed over to the Egyptian to catch the original GODZILLA (1954).  Gareth Edwards, director of the soon-to-be-released reboot, introduced the film with historian Eddy von Mueller.  Edwards had so much passion and respect for the original, he seemed to ease us all about the 2014 version.

I had time for one more event before having to get ready for my intro, so I went back to Club TCM for "Hollywood Home Movies," where people from the Academy Film Archive screened some gems from the once-private collections of Alfred Hitchcock, Ginger Rogers, Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke.  I love getting to see stars in off-screen, unscripted moments, so this was a treasure for me.  I especially enjoyed the footage from the wrap-party of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), and the compilation footage of stars with animals.  I'm a sucker for that.

Then came the moment I had been nervous about for months.  And surprisingly enough, I wasn't nervous anymore.  Great friends (TCM fan programmers Stefanie del Papa, Peter Tulba, Michelle Curtis, Alberto Ferreras, and Petri Boyd) were in the crowd, along with an excellent audience; many of whom had never seen THE NAKED CITY before.  I was joined by Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation.  We had a great conversation about the film, and I was able to say some new things about it (in case anyone read my previous blog post, saw my on-air introduction and/or saw my contest entry).  I had so much fun introducing this film, and seeing a bit of it on the big screen was marvelous.  Gosh I love this movie.

Since I had quite a bit of adrenaline pumping through my body afterwards, I was up to the challenge of Saturday's midnight screening: FREAKS (1932).  It was my first time.  I had no idea what I was in for. But I made an excellent decision.  Seeing the climax on the big screen had my heart pounding.  Whew, even thinking about it now gives me chills.  After the screening, I tweeted/instagrammed: "I am so glad I chose this over sleep," and I stand by that.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The final day.  Sadness sets in.

Our first event of the day was the live taping of Robert Osborne's interview with Alan Arkin, a talented actor who I believe many people overlook.  His filmography is stellar, and Arkin's humility was cherished among the audience.  He's also a hoot!

The final screening I went to (*quietly sobs*) at this year's TCM film festival was Alfred Hitchcock's THE LODGER (1927).  This was one of my favorite screenings because of how much it shocked me. For the first time, I realized how established Hitchcock's direction was from the beginning.  This is Hitchcock's third film, but his first suspense thriller, first blonde leading lady, and first cameo appearance! If I didn't know this was a Hitch film, I certainly would have guessed it OR would have thought this was made by someone who inspired him.  It's simply amazing.  The screening was accompanied by an original score performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and it was brilliant.  There is a blurred close-up that almost exactly resembles Grace Kelly's blurred close-up in the beginning of REAR WINDOW (1954).  That shot thrilled me; I wanted to run up and down the theater aisles!

Afterwards, the Closing Night party began, which was a great time to see the beautiful, talented, wonderful TCM staff and tell them how much this weekend meant to me.  I also got to see my fellow Fan Programmers one last time (before we have another reunion, obviously).  Here are Michelle, Stefanie, and Alberto:

I have also added a photo album on Facebook, so I can scroll through the pictures with a deep sense of longing.  Feel free to check them out.  And if you are sick of my posts, rants, raves, and tweets - I get it. I'd probably be sick of me too.  But I shan't apologize and I also probably won't stop.  Ever.

If you read this whole blog post, I congratulate you.  It is now 3:30AM, and I am wide awake in amazement of all I was able to experience.  Thank you for going on my journey with me, and take it from me, if you are a fan of TCM and they have another contest, ENTER IT.