IT CAN’T BE THAT BAD, CAN IT?

Can’t Watch This — When was the last time you watched something too scary, cringe-worthy, or unbelievably tacky to continue?


Almost everyday, I am offended by appallingly cliche-ridden, derivative shows proffered as “the next new thing” for us, the obviously dim-witted audience. Not to mention the “reality shows” like “Marriage Boot Camp” which has offended me merely by its advertisements. No, I haven’t watched one of the shows. If I become that senile or desperate, please shoot me.

Form unimaginative scripts, to the failure of the writers to do even the most basic research about the subject matter, to the inevitable use of tired old lines we hear thousands of times — “Stay in the car!” “Be careful out there!” “You’re off the case and on desk duty!” — to which we all say a weary, “Yeah, right, sure,” because no one stays in the car or on desk duty. And wouldn’t you think being careful would not be something of which you needed to remind police officers who’ve been doing it for years?

However, standing out from the crowd of mediocrity is a movie we had never seen. Was it an instinctive knowledge it would be terrible? Presenting (drumroll) …

WUSA (1970) 115 min – Drama | Romance – 12 March 1971

From the IMDB, a plot summary:

Rheinhardt, a cynical drifter, gets a job as an announcer for right-wing radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Rheinhardt is content to parrot WUSA’s reactionary editorial stance on the air, even if he doesn’t agree with it. Rheinhardt finds his cynical detachment challenged by a lady friend, Geraldine, and by Rainey, a neighbor and troubled idealist who becomes aware of WUSA’s sinister, hidden purpose. And when events start spinning out of control, even Rheinhardt finds he must take a stand.

Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writers: Robert Stone (screenplay), Robert Stone (novel)
Stars: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins and more.

WUSA_(movie_poster)It looks good on paper, doesn’t it? I mean Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, right? How bad could it be?

Bad. Very bad. The script starts off slow, but degenerates with each passing minute until it is so stunningly awful, so over-the-top hysterical and preachy, you find yourself glued to the screen, mouth hanging open, bits of drool falling from your slack jaw.

If, by some bad juju, this movie is showing on a television near you, save yourself! Find an oldies station and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island.

There are probably worse movies lurking in the vaults of Turner Classics. I just hope we have the good sense to not watch them.

THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012)

Marilyn Armstrong:

Jim, we already miss you!

Originally posted on SERENDIPITY:

By James Garner and Jon Winokur – Release date: October 23, 2012

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From the first time I saw James Garner on TV as Bret Maverick, I was ever so slightly in love. I watched the show faithfully whenever Garner starred in the episode. They tried adding more Mavericks, but for me, there was only one. Apparently that’s how most viewers felt — when Garner was gone, the show was gone.

When I saw him in “The Americanization of Emily,” our relationship was sealed. I was a fan  for life. Although I have not seen every movie he ever made, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve liked some, loved most. Whenever one of his movies shows up on cable, it goes on the DVR. Fortunately Garry is a fan too.

Now, about the book. If you had the impression that Jim Garner is a plain-spoken guy with strong…

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TERTIARY SOURCES. LIKE ME.

facts

Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix last night. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure. We laughed all the way through it.

It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.

The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.

On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE. It’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.

Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.

That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipity is their source for this data.

facts expert

Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.

IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.

How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.

But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.

Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.

For me to be a source for Wikipedia is kind of funny … but it’s also troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?

NOTHING SAYS INDEPENDENCE DAY LIKE ARTILLERY

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It’s the 4th of July. Happy Birthday America!

Hurricane Arthur (spirit of Arthur Fiedler?) changed the schedule. With the hurricane heading up the coast and thunder and lightning racing in from the west, the festivities were moved up by 24 hours. The fireworks went on early, barely ahead of the weather. WBZ didn’t have all their cameras ready and had to show the first half of the display from the helicopter cams. After a while, the rest of the cameras came on and it was even better than last year.

The live 1812 Overture was preempted by a massive lightning storm. Instead, WBZ broadcast a taped version (dress rehearsal?). Which was fine.

For the historically challenged, our Guv (Deval Patrick) offered up some history, what the music is about. NOT our War of 1812. The war going on across the pond. Napoleon. Russia. I think this was the first time I’ve seen them do that, so everyone got a bit of remedial European history.

No place does Independence Day like Boston. It’s our holiday. The rest of the country is a Johnny-Come-Lately. It happened here. The Declaration of Independence. The battles of Lexington and Concord.

Boston knows how to hold a party … and let’s not forget the howitzers, the most important instruments in the 1812 Overture. Nothing says independence day like artillery.

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When we lived in Boston, we could see the fireworks and hear the concert from our balcony in Charles River Park. It was one of the perks of living in Boston. If we wanted to get closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards west enjoy the party from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

It was the best view in town. Watching it on television is okay too, now that we live in the country and getting into town is out of the question. Still, being there was the best.

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Boston has had a pretty good year. Nothing awful — other than the appalling collapse of our World Champion Red Sox — happened. Even more reason for us to get together and have a gigantic party to celebrate America’s birthday. The rain has put (ahem) a bit of a damper on it, but we’re adaptable.

1997 fireworks on the charles

Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy again. We always watch it. It’s part of our personal celebration of being American.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, the old Channel 9 had Million Dollar Movie. It was on not only every day, but several times a day and it played the same movies for a full week. The theme for the show was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind. I had never seen GWTW, so when I saw it for the first time, I said “Hey, that’s the theme for Million Dollar Movie.”

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school nights and even then, only for a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday night. But, if I was home sick, I got to watch all the television I wanted. Better yet, I got to watch upstairs in my parents bedroom. The television was black and white (as were all televisions then). I don’t know if color TVs had been invented, but if they had been, no one I knew had one.

Channel 9 with its Million Dollar Movie was the movie channel, so whatever they were playing, I saw it a lot. They didn’t have a large repertoire. Odds were good if you got sick twice, you’d see the same movie both weeks.

Thus “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the great James Cagney docu-musical was engraved in my brain. I believe that during at least three sick weeks (tonsillitis was my nemesis), I watched it repeatedly until I knew every word, every move, every song — except for the pieces the station randomly removed to make room for commercials.

No one danced like Cagney. No one had that special energy! Believe it or not, I never saw any other Cagney movie until One, Two, Three came out many years later.

Tonight, we’ll watch James Cagney dance down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it.

In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Cagney won his only Oscar for this performance. I never knew he played gangsters until many years later. Million Dollar Movie didn’t play gangster movies.

Only one questions remains unanswered through the years. How come they didn’t film it in color? Does anyone have a sensible answer to that?

SUMMER MOVIES, SUMMER NOT – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I just read an article about this year’s summer movies. Apparently, box office watchers don’t believe we’ll have any block busters. No matter because we don’t go to the movies very often these days. Chalk it up to boredom with product, exorbitant prices, and sheer laziness. But it got me to thinking about summers past.

This is nostalgia, the summer-themed films I remember seeing at the theaters during those lazy, hazy halcyon days. Some of them were fine movies, acclaimed cinema. Many were not. But it doesn’t matter because these are movies I fondly remember enjoying during the long, hot summers of youth.

JAWS

I covered the location filming on Martha’s Vineyard and did some of the “Great White” scare stories when the movie came out. I absolutely loved seeing the film — especially knowing the back stories. It still works for me!

Jaws-movie-poster

AMERICAN GRAFFITI

Saw it at a drive-in in 1973. The 50s — 60s nostalgia and music were terrific. I was driving my first convertible, a flame orange 1969 Dodge Challenger, fully loaded. You know what I was thinking

SUMMER OF ’42

I’m a sucker for summer romance stories. The ’42 setting (the year I made my début) made it extra special as did the gorgeous Jennifer O’Neill. Saw the film with friends from the small Connecticut TV station I worked at before coming to Boston. A special summer night

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Saw this one summer of ’65 at the Syosset Theater on Long Island. My companion was the sweetheart of our college radio station. We sang the songs all the way home.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

It was the summer of ’63. I lost count of how many times I saw this in first run. I tried to emulate Steve McQueen by wearing the cutoff sweat shirt. Matter of fact, I had that sweat shirt for almost 40 years. Just ask Marilyn. And, no, I never tried to mimic Steve on a bike. Never that crazy!

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SUSAN SLADE

Summer of ’62. I had a BIG crush on Connie Stevens! I still do. In my mind, that wasn’t Troy Donahue romancing Connie on-screen. Of course, Troy is long gone, but hey, Connie, I’m still here.

A LOSS OF INNOCENCE

It was also called “The Greengage Summer.” I saw it at the Hempstead Theater, Hempstead, Long Island. Summer of 1961 and the beginning of my crush on Susannah York.

A SUMMER PLACE

One of the first films I saw at a drive-in. 1959 on Long Island. Saw it with my best buddy and a gorgeous redhead. Another special summer night. Marilyn and I saw this again the other night at home. It wasn’t quite the same.

HOUSEBOAT

Summer of ’58. I was madly in love with Sophia Loren. I didn’t think Cary Grant was good enough for her. Years later, I met Sophia and told her the story. She laughed and gave me a kiss.

PEYTON PLACE

Summer of ’57. I was a sophomore in high school and quietly, desperately in love. The object of my unrequited affection was a dead ringer for Diane Varsi who played Allison in the movie. I’d read the Grace Metalious novel, including “those” parts several times. It’s still a guilty pleasure.

PICNIC

Summer of ’56. My baby brother, Anton, was just a few months old. I was his primary baby-sitter. “Picnic” was my first movie night out that summer. William Holden was my favorite actor. His “Moonglow Theme From Picnic” slow dance with the lovely Kim Novak did something to my precious bodily fluids. Years later, I met Holden and he laughed at my recollection of the movie. He said dancing with Novak did something to his precious bodily fluids too.

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THE ROAD TO DENVER

A “B” western with John Payne. One of a bunch of westerns I saw during the summers 1950 through 1954 at a local movie theater where tickets were 11 cents for kids. I saw all the Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun, Rod Cameron, Roy Rogers, etc. westerns. The Universal and Republic oaters were my favorites because the good guys had nice outfits and handsome horses. The coming attractions were exciting. I couldn’t wait to see the next film. The women? Forget ‘em.

SHANE

A memorable summer night in 1953. First encounter with one of my favorite westerns. Saw it with Mom at the Loews Valencia in Jamaica, New York. The Valencia was one of those old fashion palatial movie venues. You sat under the stars while watching the stars on the big screen.

shane poster-2

HOUSE OF WAX

Summer of ’53. Saw this with my Mom at the RKO Alden in Jamaica, Queens. The original 3-D version with Vinnie Price. One of the few films to scare the bejesus out of me. We walked home. A long walk. Mom held my hand. Don’t tell anyone. Years later, I told Vinnie Price this story. He laughed at me too.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Saw this with Mom during the summer of 1952. We sang the music walking home on a perfect summer night with the fire flies providing the chorus.

THE THING

Summer of ’51. Mom and me again. Scary, scary movie. Saw this at our neighborhood movie theater, The Carlton, in Jamaica, Queens. The short walk home seemed a little longer. I kept looking over my shoulder for things that go bump in the night.


Lots of diverse, fond memories probably enhance my recollection of these movies seen over the summers of more than half a century. I treasure the memories and the movies.

GREAT WESTERN MOVIE MOMENT

It was a western. An old B western. Black and white and I don’t remember the name or even who was in it. It was just sort of “on.”

apache junction black and white

One of the “good guys” gets a note from his girlfriend. He reads it, nods. A little while later, bad guys show up. The girl friend is missing. Good guy with missing girl friend says to hero (wait for it):

“I guess I should have noticed something was wrong when I got that note. ‘Cause my girl can’t write.”

10 MOVIES OF WHICH I NEVER TIRE

These are my favorites. They aren’t all my favorites, but they represent a good chunk of the films I want to watch again. And again. The most obvious element they share are brilliant scripts.

For me, first and foremost, it’s always about the words. I give extra points for wit and humor, even more points for inside jokes, cleverness, and quotable dialogue. All of these movies have these qualities. I also give extra credit for a great score and amazing cinematography and all of these have those elements too.

I have watched each of these many times. I keep discovering new things to love about them. Of course, there are plenty of other movies I love and not enough space or time for me to write about them all.

I guarantee, you can’t go wrong with any of these ten great ones.


 

THE LION IN WINTER

The Lion in Winter (1968 film)

The Lion in Winter (1968 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awesome performances by everyone, from Hepburn and O’Toole, to Anthony Hopkins in his first screen role. Wonderful script and matchless screen chemistry. It’s not accurate history … but the interaction of the members of the family is surprisingly close if you want to examine only the emotional content. In the end, it’s all about the performances.

From top to bottom, every performance is extraordinary. Hepburn got an Oscar, one of three wins for the film. Many more nominations plus three Golden Globes. All well-deserved.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

Paddy Chayevsky‘s script is among the best movie scripts of all time. Add superb performances by James Garner and Julie Andrews in her first dramatic role. The whole movie would be worth it just for Garner’s monologue on war. But there’s so much more. It’s funny, sharp, downright brilliant.

The cast knew they’d never have a better job. All of them list this movie as the favorite or as one of the top one or two of their professional lives. Roles like this don’t come along often in any actor’s career. The actors showed their appreciation by working their hearts out. Everyone is at the top of his or her game.

TOMBSTONE

This is one of those movies that I like better each time I watch it … and I watch it often. We can recite dialogue with it. It’s got everything you want a western to have: passion, revenge, violence, humor and brilliant cinematography. It’s Val Kilmer’s best performance and arguably Kurt Russell’s shining moment.

This is my go to movie if I need a revenge and violence fix. It manages to have a satisfying body count without the gore. I like that in a movie.

A MIGHTY WIND

Maybe it isn’t one of the all time greatest films, but reminds me of some of the best of times in my life as well as music I dearly love.

It’s funny, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, a loving parody. It’s a warm-hearted and nostalgic look at a time many of us look back on with great affection. The music manages to be humorous and good — a difficult act to pull off.

CASABLANCA

Not the most original choice, but it’s so good and it has worn well despite the years. We saw it on the big screen not long ago. Wonderful. It’s pure mythology, but it’s the way we wish it had been. I need heroes.

Three Oscar wins — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay plus nominations for just about every member of the cast. Seeing it on the big screen was like seeing it for the first time and gave me an even better appreciation of the brilliant script.

BLAZING SADDLES

It’s hard to pick only one Mel Brooks movie, but if I have to choose, this is it.

It was a tough choice. “Young Frankenstein,” “High Anxiety,” and “History of the World, Part I” are right up there too. “Blazing Saddles” wins because it’s got some of the all-time great movie lines. That’s HEDLEY Lamar!

STARMAN

Science fiction movies usually disappoint me because they aren’t science fiction, but westerns in space using spacecraft for horses, featuring millions of dollars of special effects, but no script. This is all acting. A fine script, wonderful performances, romantic, touching and believable. A great performance by Jeff Bridges. And I almost forgot to mention the haunting score.

It’s the best kind of science fiction … concept and character based. Unforgettable. It’s by far the best movie John Carpenter ever made and ranks as one of the best science fiction movies ever made by anyone.

THE THREE AND FOUR MUSKETEERS (1973 – 1974)

I know they were issued as two movies, but they were filmed as one. The stars of the film(s) sued the studios since they had only been paid for one movie, and they won. Nonetheless, both movies play like a single film in two parts. You can’t watch one without the other. They keep remaking it, but none of the others come near this version. It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly true to the books.

Dumas would have been pleased. I love the sword fights. I used to fence in college, and this has some of the best choreographed fencing I’ve ever seen. It’s not the elegant fencing you usually see, but brawling — the way men really fought — not to get points for good form, but to win without getting sliced up.

THE SEVENTH SEAL

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Not everyone is quite as enthralled with the 14th century as I am. The Black Death, the split papacy, the brigands, the inflation, the complete depopulation of regions … and the crazed religious fervor that gripped the western world is not everyone’s idea of a fun movie.

And I’m not a big fan of Ingmar Bergman. I admire his work, but mostly find it too intense and depressing. This is the exception. Probably it’s the history buff in me, but better than any other movie I’ve ever seen (except for the obscure “A Walk With Love and Death”), it portrays the mood and feeling of this strange century that was the end of everything and the beginning of everything else.

The black and white photography is breathtaking, the performances (yes, the movie is in Swedish with subtitles — deal with it) are wonderful. The Knight is playing chess with death every night and as long as he keeps playing and doesn’t lose, his little band will survive.

If you haven’t seen it and aren’t completely allergic to foreign movies with subtitles … and especially if you have a taste for medieval history, you should see it.

It’s one of just a handful of movies about which Garry and I disagree. He doesn’t argue about its quality. It’s just too dark for his taste. Which considering some of the movies he loves, that seems a bit out of character. Every once in a while he will watch it with me. I keep hoping he’ll change his mind.

OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

OH WHAT A LOVELY WARI saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” in the theater when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I – in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

Did General Haig, when looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he not only said it, he meant it.

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of World War I after watching it … even if you already know your history. It was the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.