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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


As the days pass and I get closer to crossing two incredible tasks off my bucket list (hosting a film on Turner Classic Movies with Robert Osborne, AND introducing a film to a live audience at the TCM film festival), I figured I might as well ramble a bit more about THE NAKED CITY (Jules Dassin, 1948).  It's the least I can do, since I now consider it to be a good luck film for me.  It was the film I introduced in my contest video submission, the film I will introduce on the air, and the film I will introduce at the festival.  It has been good to me.

My Criterion.  Watched dozens of times these last 7 months.

So, why do I like this film? There are countless classic films I could have chosen to introduce in my entry.  This choice wasn't easy; a large part of me wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a film where I can discuss Hollywood's mistreatment of people of color and/or women.  Then, I decided that may get too serious and critical for the judges - this I can reserve for my blog posts.  Eventually, I chose SUNSET BLVD (Billy Wilder, 1950); I wanted to discuss the powerful character of Norma Desmond, and the decrepit side of Hollywood that the film reveals.  However, I wasn't able to travel to the location I needed to introduce Sunset, so I had to use what I had.  And I had the greatest city in the world in my backyard.

Let's be honest; the strongest aspect of The Naked City isn't the plot/story.  It's New York City.  I'm proud to say that I am a New Yorker from birth.  I was born in Bronx Lebanon Hospital, raised in Queens, and then moved to the Bronx.  I went to NYC public schools from Kindergarten to the 12th grade; my undergraduate and graduate degrees are from St. John's University and New York University, respectively.  Along with film, the city essentially raised me.  So, the first time I saw The Naked City, I was astounded.  My love of classic film collided with my love of the city; and it wasn't portrayed on sound stages or sets.  It was real.  

The Naked City begins with narration from the film's producer, Mark Hellinger.  A helicopter shot over Manhattan provides the visuals, and a first-time viewer may think s/he is about to see a travelogue or documentary.  Hellinger goes on to narrate the seemingly mundane details of random New Yorker's lives, until he states that a young woman has been murdered.  Then we are introduced to Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and protégé Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor).  The murder investigation leads the viewer to various neighborhoods in New York City; not excluding the outer boroughs (which, as a Queens/Bronx girl, I absolutely love).  Take a look at the opening shot:

When I first saw The Naked City about 6 years ago, recognizing locations was my favorite part of watching.  Jimmy Halloran lives in Queens, and he rides the IRT Flushing line (now known as the 7 train) home.  His wife complains to him that their child tried to cross Queens Boulevard by himself.  Anyone who knows anything about Queens knows how dangerous it would be for a child to do this, even today.  The fact that such a seemingly insignificant detail resonated so deeply with me is one reason why I love The Naked City.  The minute I shared a personal experience with someone else in the film, the film became personal to me.  At that moment, I felt partial ownership of the film.  These are moments that film fans like myself live for - the connection.

Mark Hellinger's narration pops in and out of the film, which is a good thing.  It may seem outdated and/or corny to some, but it serves a greater purpose.  Each time Hellinger draws our attention to every day New Yorkers - women shopping, children playing games outside, vendors selling food on Delancey street - we are reminded of the dynamics of the city.  Even in the film's climax, when the suspect daringly ascends the heights of the Williamsburg bridge, people are seen below living their lives unchanged.  Only someone who truly understands New York would think of doing this.  This is an excellent way of reminding us that, like the film's most memorable line (and later, the tagline of the television show): "There are 8 million stories in this city."  Thus, we are reminded that this is just one story.  There are countless others, and no two are the same.

In case you want more film geekery in video form, you can check out my contest entry below:

Please mind my choice of words in certain parts.  I meant to refer to Valley of the Dolls as a Cult Classic, but nerves got the best of me.  

Also, TCM posted a small bio about me on their film festival page!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Women's History Month

It is well known that, compared to men in the film industry, women are vastly underemployed, underutilized, or not present at all.  However, there are a great deal of women in film who are powerful, influential, and brilliant.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but instead are names and works of filmmakers who I have always appreciated and admired.  There may be some obvious omissions, but that's done on purpose.  Some are very well known for their contributions to film, and others are not.  All are worth recognizing, however.  So here they are:

photo: aliceguyblache.com
Alice Guy Blaché
If you are a film student or ever researched early motion pictures, then you know who Alice Guy Blaché is.  To say she is a pioneer of film would be a gross understatement.  She is not only the first woman to direct films, but she is also one of the first directors in history to venture into fiction from "actualities."  She is the first director to use the hand tinting method of coloring films, as well as many other technological innovations utilizing sound.  Blaché directed over 350 films throughout her career, but by the 1920s, the general public was recognizing the lucrative nature of film, making it nearly impossible for anyone who was not white and male to work as a director.  Here is a clip of her on set directing (she is front and center, with her back towards the camera):

photo: biography.com
Penny Marshall
Bronx-born funny lady Penny Marshall started her career as an actress with roles on hit television shows The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and most notably, Laverne & Shirley.  Later, she went on to direct 1980s comedy classics like Big (1988), and A League of Their Own (1992):

photo: Directors Guild of America
Kasi Lemmons
Also first known as an actress, appearing in School Daze (dir. Spike Lee, 1988), The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), and Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992), Lemmons' directorial debut was a haunting tale of a strong girl who holds a terrible family secret in Eve's Bayou (1997).  Lemmons also wrote the screenplay:

photo: Claudette Barius
Allison Anders
In discussions of women in film in the 1980s-1990s, Allison Anders name will (and should) be one of the first mentioned.  She has directed great films exploring femininity and coming-of-age stories.   She also wrote and directed "The Missing Ingredient" segment from the film Four Rooms (1995) as well as episodes of Sex and the City, and she is an avid classic film fan with great insight on theory, history, and filmmaking. Here is a trailer for her first film, Border Radio, about the LA punk scene:  

photo: screendaily.com
Sally Menke
The witty, involved dialogue and general aura of "cool" in Quentin Tarantino's films would amount to very little if the editing wasn't brilliant.  Sally Menke has edited every film Tarantino has ever directed (with the exception of Django Unchained; she passed away shortly before).  Think of all the incredible fight scenes in his films, and you realize how much talent this woman had.  Out of all the Tarantino films I could pick for a clip, I may get beat up for picking Deathproof (2007), but this car chase scene shows off Sally's editing skills and stuntwoman Zoe Bell's level of badassness:

photo: Sebastian Kim
Julie Taymor
First woman to win a Tony for directing (The Lion King on Broadway, which will go down in history as Disney's best Broadway production of all time), and director of such visually striking movies as Frida (2002), Titus (1999), and The Tempest (2010), it takes a great amount of talent and creativity to present the songs of the Beatles in original ways.  She did that in Across the Universe (2007): 

photo: thefilmstage.com
Julie Dash
With Daughters of the Dust (1991), filmmaker Julie Dash used the power of cinema to preserve a certain culture and history that mainstream sources were not paying attention to.  Her work is revered, and incredibly important.  Here's a trailer for her most beloved film:

photo: listal.com
Penelope Spheeris
I don't even like to entertain the misguided opinions of those who think women are not funny or incapable of making great comedies.  The characters of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar surely originate from Mike Myers and Dana Carvey's popular SNL sketches, but the film could have gone down in flames (like many SNL movies did) without Spheeris' contributions.  Here is one of my favorite moments of Wayne's World (1992):

photo: thereelist.com
Mira Nair
Indian-born filmmaker Mira Nair directed Mississippi Masala (1991), Monsoon Wedding (2001) and The Namesake (2006).  Here is a clip of a segment she directed in New York, I Love You (2008) starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan, where she lets opposite ethnicities, religions, and genders collide; always resulting in finding common ground (start video at 1:30):

photo: threehorizonsproductions.com
Ida Lupino
Remembered by many as a star in classic films alongside stars like Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra (1941), Lupino turned to writing and directing when she found Hollywood roles scarce.  This is quite an accomplishment, being that the 1940s and 1950s saw very few women in the director's chair.  Starting with dramas like Never Fear (1949) and Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951), she also turned to television directing in the years to follow.  Lupino is the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Her episode, "The Masks," is in full here: 

These ten women have made great marks in the realms of television, film, and theater, tacking issues of genre and gender.  There are MANY more women who have produced, written, acted, designed and edited their ways into film history, and I urge further reading on them (for starters - Lois Weber, Frances Marion, Dorothy Arzner, Nora Ephron, Maya Deren, Mary Harron, Agnieszka Holland, Agnes Varda, Jane Campion, Sarah Polley, Marta Rodriguez).

- 'Til next time!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Films You Can Watch on Valentine's Day That Won't Make You Vomit

I don't hate Valentine's Day.  That's too strong of a term.  I just don't care for it.  Restaurants are overpriced, and people feel obligated to do cute things for a significant other.  It feels forced to me.  But what I dislike most is the incredulous amount of RomComs that come out every year with the same plots, no wit, and no semblance of realistic love (at least, not in my opinion - but what do I know).  So, here are five movies I have picked for a great way to kick back on V-Day and not have to endure Katherine Heigl:

1.  TRUE ROMANCE (Dir. Tony Scott, 1993) - Remember when I just said most romance films aren't realistic? Well this one isn't either, but with a script written by Quentin Tarantino, direction by Tony Scott, and a cast that includes Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini and Brad Pitt, IT DOESN'T MATTER.  So unknowingly getting set up with a prostitute, falling in love, stealing cocaine from a pimp and selling it to Hollywood bigwigs may not be your everyday scenario, but this getting-to-know-each-other scene in the diner is what I love about relationships:

Also, I absolutely love the score by Hans Zimmer.  It's an ode to Terrence Malick's BADLANDS (1973), which is another film you can see on Valentine's Day, if you like couples that go on killing sprees.

2.  SIXTEEN CANDLES (Dir. John Hughes, 1984) - I don't have a problem with the starry-eyed girl who's in love with the popular senior as long as it's done right.  And John Hughes is a master of teen RomCom (and adolescence in film in general, obviously).  But some of the best scenes are The Geek's (Anthony Michael Hall) failed attempts at getting Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald):
And Joan Cusack.  God bless Joan Cusack.

3.  CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER (Dir. Lee Toland Krieger, 2012) - This movie is excellent for many reasons.  Rashida Jones and Will McCormack wrote a heartbreakingly beautiful screenplay about the complexities of relationships.  The soundtrack is also amazing, but I don't expect the daughter of Quincy Jones to let subpar music near her work, so it's not surprising.  This clip is hilarious:
Although not everyone is living with their ex-spouse in a roommate situation, the film exposes real problems in relationships.  Not everything is clear and 'solvable.' There's no fluff and glitter here, so if that's the kind of V-Day film you're looking for, try elsewhere.  But you'd be missing out.

4.  IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Dir. Wong Kar-wai, 2000) - This isn't just a great romance movie.  This is a masterpiece by renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai.  This film explores love that could have been and perhaps still could be, with excellent use of color, masterfully composed shots, and just listen to the score in this scene: 

5.  AARON LOVES ANGELA (Dir. Gordon Parks Jr, 1975) - Many people haven't seen this film.  It surely wasn't Gordon Parks Jr.'s most popular work (Once you make SUPERFLY, how can you really top it?), but I loved the Romeo and Juliet adaptation set against the backdrop of East and West Harlem, where Angela and Aaron fall in love.  They face opposition from all sides since Angela is Puerto Rican and Aaron is Black.  The gritty 1970s feel always gets me, which is one reason why I love this film.  The other reason? José Feliciano blesses the soundtrack.

Since we have limited attention spans (myself very much included), I ended this list at 5 films, but here are other suggestions that deserve to be mentioned:

AWAY WE GO (Dir. Sam Mendes, 2009) - Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski's relationship? I want that.

ENOUGH SAID (Dir. Nicole Holofcener, 2013) - Many people will now remember this as James Gandolfini's last film, but I just see real-life romantic problems portrayed well on the screen.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (Dir. Leo McCarey, 1957) - I had to throw a classic tear-jerker in there.  I'm not a robot.

JUNO (Dir. Jason Reitman, 2007) - "I need to know that it's possible that two people can stay happy together forever." Me too, Juno.  Me too.

AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY (Dir. Terence Nance, 2012) - A whole film describing the indescribable beauty of someone (or multiple people) you're in love with.  Stunning work.

SAVE THE LAST DANCE (Dir. Thomas Carter, 2001) - Because WHY NOT!? This movie came out when I was 15 years old, so basically it formed a lot of my misshapen opinions on love.

I love movies 'til the death of me, so I hate when people think there aren't good romance films.  Or when men think they have to suffer through THE NOTEBOOK on holidays like V-Day.  So hopefully this list will help you enjoy the day a little more.  That and chocolate.  Lots. Of. Chocolate.