A PORCELAIN UNICORN

A Moment in Time – Until today, it was the last picture I had taken. I captured it January 11, 2015 in honor of Unicorn Appreciation Day. This is the story of the porcelain Unicorn, including the best (very) short movie I’ve ever seen.

music unicorn

Release Date – August 2010
Genre – Historical / Drama
Awards – Grand prize – Philips Parallel Lines ‘Tell It Your Way’ International Competition

Starring – Trevor Teichmann, Fiona Perry
Directed By – Keegan Wilcox
Screenplay By  – Keegan Wilcox
Produced By – Anselm Clinard

The requirements: The  film could be no more than 3 minutes long, contain no more than six lines of dialogue or narrative and yet present a compelling story. The winner was  “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

It presents a lyrical, touching story of an act of conscience and kindness during a time of great peril, and a reunion many years later.

JAMES GARNER AND THE GARNER FILES

Marilyn Armstrong:

I reviewed this a couple of times. Now, yet another great review by a great blogger. James Garner was an under-appreciated performer, but turned out a wonderful body of work. His autobiography is worth reading … rather better written and less self-promotion than you expect from a celebrity bio. And this is a fine review.

Also see: THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012) on Serendipity.

Originally posted on Eagle-Eyed Editor:

Oklahoma Sunset in Oklahoma. Image courtesy of zaccrain, Morguefile.

The movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” with James Garner playing sheriff Jason McCullough has to be one of the funniest Western spoofs ever made.  One of the best scenes has Garner walking out of the sheriff’s office during a gunfight, hollering “Hold it! Just hold it!” A bunch of puzzled gunfighters stop shooting as the sheriff makes his way across the street. As Garner reaches the other side, he shouts, “Okay, go ahead!” and dives behind a woodpile as the shooting resumes.

Humor seems to have played a large part of Garner’s career as an actor. With Jon Winokur, James Garner wrote a wonderful memoir called The Garner Files. (Hey, when a book has an introduction by singer/actress/legend Julie Andrews, can it fail to be good?) In the book, James Garner talks about growing up in Oklahoma, what it was like working on “Maverick”…

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IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE – RICH PASCHALL

Watching Foreign Language Films, Rich Paschall

Unless you were born in another country or became fluent in another language, you probably have little interest in foreign language films. The language barrier is something many of us do not wish to overcome while reading subtitles. So we take a pass on them, and in turn may be missing some of the best films ever made.

Even if you are interested in films of another language, where would you go to see them? Large cities might have “art houses” that show indie and foreign language films, but that is not the case in most locales. You can always order them online, but do you want to own a foreign language DVD or stream a film to your computer or tablet? Perhaps the whole process of tracking down the good ones to watch seems to be more trouble than it is worth.

For most of my life I had zero interest in these films. Yes, I could find some and I was aware that there were excellent foreign films showing here, but basically I thought it should be left to the snobs who were proud of themselves for seeing something the rest of us did not. I thought of that in much the same way I see pretentious art critics standing in front of a painting while making pronouncements about brush strokes or some other obscure point. I was wrong, not about the art snobs but about foreign language films. They are as vibrant and artistic as anything Hollywood has to offer.

Living in a largely German American neighborhood, I often heard of the 1981 German-made World War II movie, Das Boot (The Boat). Some friends talked me into watching the gritty and often claustrophobic tale of life and conflict on the U-Boat. At the time it was made, it was the most expensive German film ever produced. The picture received six Oscar nominations. It was both unpleasant and powerful.

Years later a French intern at the company that gave me my day job was surprised to learn I had never seen the highly praised French film, Amelie (French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain). The 2001 comedy concerns the title character and her attempts to manipulate everyone’s life but her own. She even sets out to improve the life of her father, depressed since the death of his wife. Without giving away more, I can say that I now know why there was a travelling gnome in the Travelocity commercials.

My friendship with several Frenchmen, including one who is now among my best friends, has led me to a number of French films, including the classic comedy La Cage Aux Folles. Roughly translated this means The Cage with Madwomen (or Queens, as in homosexuals).  I have enjoyed the French films, and while my French is terrible, I followed along nicely with the aid of subtitles.

Recently I was reading a list of best films of 2014 and found a Portuguese language film from Brazil, Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (Today I Want To Go Back Alone), but titled The Way He Looks for English-speaking audiences. It is based on a highly regarded 2010 short film, Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho (I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone) by the same film maker. The coming of age story originally ran just 17 minutes, the new feature runs 96.

There are plenty of coming of age stories and I thought I had seen my fair share. This included the German language film Sommersturm (Summer Storm) which I viewed at the Music Box theater in Chicago. The one time first run theater, and home of many of my Saturday afternoon movie and cartoon features as a child, has mercifully found new life playing indie films and old features. A former screening room, holding less that 100 seats, is now the site of many of  these foreign language films that will not find a wide audience.

On the recommendation of the reviewer, I sought out the Brazilian short film on You Tube. It was easy to find and I confess I was memorized by the tale of the teenagers trying to make their way in the world.  The writer and director Daniel Ribeiro found his young players through auditions. They are all perfectly cast and totally believable in their roles. This was particularly difficult for the lead character as I will explain below the short.

When it came time to make the feature, some years after the short, the director faced an interesting decision. Who shall be the lead teenagers in the movie? After all, the charm of the short, now with almost 4 million hits on You Tube, is the principal players. The solution was to bring the two boys and lead girl back.  The fact that they looked a little older actually works in pushing the story a little further. No, you will not see portrayals of teenage sex. There is nothing even close. You will learn how they feel as they grow to realize their feelings for one another.

My research indicated the DVD would be out in March, but my good fortune discovered the film was playing at the Music Box! I was off to see the feature film almost immediately. The longer version meant additional characters. Leonardo, the main character portrayed by Ghilherme Lobo who at this writing is only 19 in real life, now has protective parents. Additional classmates include boys who torment him for being different. He’s blind. Giovana, portrayed by Tess Amorim, is the girl who helps him get around and develops feelings for her friend. The new boy, who gets a seat in class behind Leo, is Gabriel as played by Fabio Audi. His introduction into the mix creates both an awakening and confusion of feelings for Leo.

When someone mentions that Gabriel is good-looking, Leo asks Giovana if he himself is good-looking. He has no idea the way he looks. When Gabriel takes Leo on adventures only sighted people have, Leo is intrigued and Giovana is jealous. Just who loves whom will become clear enough in due time. The ending, while not a total surprise or even huge in a cinematic sense, is nonetheless satisfying.

Having opened in Brazil in April 2014 to strong attendance and critical acclaim after a round of successful screenings and awards at film festivals, Brazil chose this film as its entrant in the Best Foreign Film category at the 87th Academy Awards. Fifty countries submitted their best efforts. The short list for consideration by the Academy was cut down to 9 movies. The Way He Looks was not on the list, so you will not hear it announced in the coming week. Perhaps it did not stand a chance against the heavy crime dramas and political stories. It is just a charming film, beautifully enacted by a crew of handsome young players and a strong supporting cast. It will leave you with a smile, and sometimes that is all a film should aspire to do.

Be sure to hit the CC at the bottom for captions, unless you know Portuguese, of course. Here is the trailer for American audiences:

100 YEARS AGO: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial cease fires along the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. During the days leading to Christmas day, German and British soldiers left their trenches to exchange greetings. To talk man-to-man, exchange personal information, share food and drink.

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

World War I had been raging for only four months. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches and extremely wary of sniper fire. On battlefields mired in mud, frozen with snow and ice, soldiers emerged from their holes in a rare, spontaneous outbreak of peace.

Both sides — most notably in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient — combatants briefly laid down their weapons and met in No Man’s Land.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they mingled. Exchanged food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Several meetings ended in carol-singing.

The high command on both sides issued warnings to all soldiers that such fraternization would make participating soldiers subject to charges of treason. Not surprisingly, there were far fewer spontaneous truces the following year and virtually none by 1916. A sad commentary on human “civilization” when peace, however temporary, is called treason.

This year, the Boston Pops honored this moment of sanity in one of the bloodiest conflicts of human history.

Other bloggers have also posted about this. Please check them out on EVELYNE HOLINGUE and The Eye Dancers: (Not Quite) All Quiet on the Western Front.

SEASONAL TOUCHES AND AN OLD MOVIE

The new bouquet came complete with one bright red decoration, a red carnation, some green flowers (not sure what they are) and a large sprig of pine. It fits well with the decorations awaiting the one more small tree that, according to LL Bean, is en route, the Christmas cards, the generally festive look in our living room right now. It’s a nice backdrop for our annual orgy of old Christmas movies.

Today’s feature was The Shop Around the Corner. It’s a 1940 American romantic comedy produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan. The screenplay, by Samson Raphaelson, is based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László. The entire story takes place in Budapest — something that has always struck me as odd, considering it’s an American cast and no one explains why these people are living in Budapest.

The plot has become familiar: two people who don’t much like each other developing a love relationship through correspondence. It has been remade a bunch of times, including as the ever-popular You’ve Got Mail (1998) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Sorry, digressed again. Just that it’s an interesting movie with a rather more abrasive set of relationships that we see in most holiday-themed movies. Take a look if you have never seen it.

And of course, I hope you enjoy the photographs.

UNSUNG HEROES – ALL MINE TO GIVE – 1957

Unsung Heroes — We all have our semi-secret, less-known personal favorites — a great B-side, an early work by an artist that later became famous, an obscure (but delicious) family recipe. Share one of your unsung heroes with us — how did you discover it? Why has it stayed off everyone’s radar?


all mine to giveI have quite a few favorite obscure movies (and Garry has many more), but this one is particularly appropriate since it is, after all, nearly Christmas.

All Mine to Give (British title: The Day They Gave Babies Away) is a 1957 film starring Glynis Johns and Cameron Mitchell that’s a four hankie special.

I crossed paths with it sometime in the pre-dawn hours during the late spring of 1969 while I was nursing my son and the television was playing late night movies. I was deeply hormonal at the time and though I’d missed the beginning, I watched it to the end.


The Story

Robert and Mamie Eunson (Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns) are Scots who have just landed in America (the year is 1856). Mamie is heavily pregnant upon their reaching Eureka; she delivers baby Robbie (Rex Thompson) soon after the cabin is completed. Robert eventually starts a successful boat building business and Mamie gives birth to five more children.

The Eunsons are doing well and happy — until little Kirk is diagnosed with diphtheria. Mamie and Kirk are quarantined while Robert takes the other children away. The boy recovers, but the goodbye kiss Kirk gave his Dadda before his departure proves fatal, and Robert succumbs.

Mamie takes to working as a seamstress and Robbie becomes the man of the house. Things stabilize, but only briefly: tired and work-worn, Mamie contracts typhoid. Knowing she will not survive, she charges Robbie, her eldest, with finding good homes for his siblings.

After Mamie’s death, Robbie places his brothers and sisters with townsfolk as Christmas approaches. Baby Jane is the last to be handed over — Robbie stands at the door of a house and asks the woman who answers, “Please, ma’am, I was wondering if you’d care to have my sister.”

The Rest of the Story

It would be 30 years before I found out the name of the movie. When I described it, Garry knew it immediately. Garry always knows. He’s the Movie Maven.

We watched it the other day. He saw it was on and recorded in on our DVR. What would we do without Turner Classic Movies? Surprisingly, it was still good. Still gave me the sniffles. Because now we have Google and all that implies, I looked it up and discovered the story is based on real events. The movie was made from a book written by one of the kids (grandkids?) of the children portrayed in the movie. If you are up for a good cry, this is an excellent choice.

This is definitely a Christmas story. I’m not sure if you would call it inspiring. I’d have to ponder the definition of inspiring. Touching, for sure.

OUR TOP 5 HOLIDAY MOVIES

I was looking for a movie to watch and suddenly, I realized our shelves are full of Christmas movies.  It’s already December, so if we don’t watch them now, we probably won’t watch them this year, at all.

ChristmasStory_158Pyxurz

A Christmas Story (1983)

So. I diligently went from shelf to shelf, extracting our holiday-themed movies. They are all favorites or we wouldn’t own them. And yes, we still buy DVDs because it’s really empowering to have movies to watch when the cable and WiFi decide to take a vacation.

its-a-wonderful-life

It’s A Wonderful Life

This time of year, it’s not unusual for heavy snow or rain or wind to leave us without a connection … and that’s when — assuming we have electricity — we go to the big DVD shelf in the hallway. Where our movie collection lives.

Home_For_the_Holidays

The decorations will up this afternoon. Extracting them from the attic has become somewhat of a challenge. Our bodies and the folding ladder to the attic have aged and make loud, scary, creaking noises. Nonetheless, decorations will make their annual appearance today by hook or crook. Probably hook. I’ve bought wrapping paper, bows and tags and our little trees are in place and glow gently throughout the evening. Almost all the shopping is finished.

Alastair sim Chrismas carol

The weather is gray and cold, so what could be better than a cup of cocoa and a warm movie?

Here’s our holiday list. It’s a short list, a very personal list. It isn’t a “best of list,” just movies we like.

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, 1946)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. Christmas Carol (Starring Alastair Sim, 1951)
  4. Home for the Holidays (Starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, 1995)
  5. A Christmas Story (Narrated by and based on a story by Jean Shepherd, 1983)

There are more. We have “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn.” At least two other versions of “A Christmas Carol” and a newer remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” And then there are a bunch of Disney movies that could be considered Christmas movies … like “Lady and the Tramp.” We don’t have enough time to watch them all, so we selected our favorites. If we find ourselves with a little spare time, we’ll add others.

Miracle-on-34th-St

Let me briefly address the issue of “happy holiday” versus “merry Christmas.” If you celebrate Christmas and wish me the same, I’ll smile and wish you one in return. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or nothing … that’s okay too. Remember — not everyone is Christian. Even among those who are, not everyone celebrates Christmas, for whatever reason. People are entitled to be different. It isn’t (yet) a crime.

Take a lesson from the spirit the holidays supposedly represent. Happy holiday is not an insult. It is a non-denominational way to wish you well in a month full of holidays.

Enjoy your celebrations, whatever they are. I will happily accept any well-meant greeting in the spirit it was offered. Don’t use the holidays an excuse to spread ill-will.

Have yourself some great holidays. Be of good cheer, whatever you celebrate. And happy New Year to one and all!

LEWIS CARROLL — HOW DOTH THE LITTLE CROCODILE

How Doth the Little Crocodile” appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Recited by Alice in Chapter 2, it describes a crocodile who lures fish into its mouth with a smile.

How Doth the Little Crocodile

Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

I suspect it’s the source of the idea for “Never Smile at a Crocodile” in Disney’s animated “Peter Pan” (1953).


It parodies a popular Victorian children’s poem:

How Doth the Little Busy Bee

Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.