THE ENTERTAINER – BY SCOTT JOPLIN (POPULAR AS “THE STING” THEME)

THE STING


The Sting in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman back together under the direction of George Roy Hill remains to this day, one of the more joyous movies I’ve ever seen. Part of energy comes from the wonderful music of Scott Joplin used as the movie’s theme. Scott Joplin was long overdue for his music to be heard by the greater world, even though most people continue to think of it as “the music from that movie … you know … “The Sting” …”

It was wonderful music and great fun for the performer. Before the movie, those of us who studied classical music could still play Joplin who wrote out his music just like every other “real” composer. Perfect for the me who never could play unless every note was written out in advance.

This is yesterday’s post because yesterday, WordPress couldn’t get it done. Again.

Dear, dear WordPress — the Daily Post is naught but one single word. One single word per day. Surely you can get this right if you tried a little harder. You think maybe?


DECEMBER BOYS (2007) DANIEL RADCLIFFE – RICH PASCHALL

DECEMBER BOYS (2007)


Movie Review, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

You probably missed it in the theater.  Daniel Radcliffe stars in this independent production at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon.  The Australian made film found a big name distributor for the USA and Canada, Warner Brothers.  Yes, the same mega movie studio that distributed Harry Potter.  If you were the producer of this little Australian project, you might have expected to hit the jackpot with Radcliffe’s star power, plus one of the biggest movie distributors in the world.  You would have been wrong.

Distributor: Warner Independent

Distributor: Warner Independent

Filmed down under in 2006, December Boys is based on the novel of the same name.  The setting was moved up from the 1930s to the 1960s and is told as a flashback, as it was in the book.  This allows the ending to be brought up to modern times. The boys are orphans at a Catholic institution.  Four boys (five in the novel) share December birthdays. Each is given a gift of a Christmas holiday at a large beachfront home.

Radcliffe, a teenager at the time, is the oldest of the boys, known as Maps.  The other three, Spit, Spark (or Sparks, the film is unclear) and Misty are younger boys of about the same age.  Misty is the narrator.

For Radcliffe, this is a coming of age story.  He meets a girl who is a bit of a wild child and through the course of the movie you will see Radcliffe smoke, drink and, well, if you don’t know what they were doing in that cave, you were never a teenager.  Later, Maps dismisses an inquiry by one of the younger boys about that mark on his neck.

The home of the older couple who hosts the boys’ holiday introduces the element of health problems of one of the adults.  It’s a bit of a sad sidetrack to a storyline filled with side tracks.  There is also an old fisherman at the sea trying to catch some elusive large fish.  Naturally one of the boys get caught in that story line.

Then there’s the young couple who fail to conceive a child.  When the young husband tells the priest from the orphanage they are having trouble getting pregnant, you know what the priest will suggest.  Misty overhears and determines to be the one adopted. Eventually he tells the priest he was eavesdropping. The other boys force him to spill the story.  Then the little ones try to be model citizens, while Maps knows an older boy will never be adopted.

There are plenty of hi-jinks for the boys.  The young man pushing the adoption with his wife owns a motorcycle and gives the younger boys rides along the beach.  Misty goes in the water and nearly drowns and our hero comes to the rescue. Do I have to tell you who?  There is disappointment and heartbreak in store. Throughout, the single thing the boys share is the only family they know, each other.

In addition to various goofs, some of the symbolism is confusing. And unnecessary.  A dark stallion periodically appears, symbolizing something, but I’m not sure what. Misty has “visions” of the future — nuns and the Virgin Mary.  It works having Misty picture the future through an empty frame; the rest doesn’t work. Boomers may find the out-of-time 1970s songs jarring.

Radcliffe wasn’t paid a big salary to make the movie.  He probably wanted a chance to be someone other than Harry Potter.  The character of Lucy, with whom Maps has a relationship, was not in the novel.  Perhaps this intrigued Radcliffe. Perhaps it worried Warner Brothers.

When the film opened in September of 2007, it had staggered release dates for Sydney, Melbourne, and London, most likely so Radcliffe could attend. When Warner Brother opened it as a “limited release” in the US, it was on four screens the first week, eight the next, and 13 next. After which it more or less disappeared. Not exactly a grand opening for a boy known round the world. Of course, the boy was known for a specific role and Warner Brothers wanted to keep it that way, at least to the degree they could control it.

It didn’t make much money. Of course. In the U.S., it grossed about $100,000 during its three-week release in September 2007. The film cost an estimated $4 million and grossed around a million dollars (U.S. and Australia) during its theatrical release. It’s currently available as a digital download from Amazon, and on used DVD.

December Boys got mixed reviews. The confusion of the story lines mixed together was criticized.  Immortal film critic Roger Ebert said, “There seem to be two movies going on here at the same time, and “December Boys” would have been better off going all the way with one of them.”  One thing critics agreed on: young Daniel could play someone other than Harry Potter.

The “coming of age” story with Lucy and Maps was created for the big screen. Perhaps therein lay some of the problem of plot development.  It might have been better to skip the extra plot and have Radcliffe play a boy who everyone looked up to, who came in to save the day when there was trouble for any of the other characters.

Oh wait, he was already doing that. Rather successfully too.

OOZING TO KILL

OOZE


It oozed beneath the door and consumed anyone in its way. The teenagers — Steve McQueen’s first movie (billed as Steven McQueen) — warned the grown-ups, but they wouldn’t listen to the kids. It oozed everywhere, growing bigger and oozier with each passing moment.

The Blob. It came. It consumed. It oozed. And eventually, was destroyed.

Keep watching the skies … but don’t forget to look under your door!

BUT WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU … BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn recently wrote a piece using the word chutzpah which I’ve always badly mangled in pronunciation. It’s a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say Chutzpah in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries different meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools if used correctly. They can be dangerous if used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books, including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction.  Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack that stung. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor. Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.  True.  Some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or real meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “10 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still resonates more than half a century later.

In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima” script.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media, sometimes with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a President who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets.  Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, often ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world.

Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love them.

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 saw 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 too much, I can say there is a travelling gnome. Seriously.

My friendship with several Frenchmen 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.

When I was reading a list of best films of 2014, I 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 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 impressed 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 over 5 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.

At the time I researched the availability of a DVD, I also discovered that the feature was playing that very week at the Music Box!  I made plans to see it.  The longer version meant additional characters. Leonardo, the main character portrayed by Ghilherme Lobo who was still a teenager, 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 (Hence the English title). 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, and 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 it. 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:

A LATE QUARTET – BEAUTIFUL MUSIC AND FILM

A LATE QUARTET (2012)

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Writers (screenplay): Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman

The Cast:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert Gelbart
Christopher Walken, as Peter Mitchell
Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart
Mark Ivanir, as Daniel Lerner
Imogen Poots, as Alexandra Gelbart
Wallace Shawn, as Gideon Rosen
Anne Sofie von Otter, as Miriam.


Garry and I watched A Late Quartet  the other day. We read the reviews — and it sounded like a movie for grown-ups. There have been a dearth movies starring adults — men and women — which are not about getting old. Jokes about getting old begin to get old after a while, so we were ready for a grown-up movie about life and living.

The reviews were right. It’s a fine movie.

If the movie has a “hero,” that would be Christopher Walken who plays against type with elegance and grace. Add Marc Ivanir — usually playing an Israeli CIA sort-of-bad-guy on NCIS (he actually is Israeli and a hero) — as the dedicated, haunted first violin. Phillip Seymour Hoffman did his usual excellent job as the quartet’s jealous second violin. Catherine Keener (on viola) is the “could be better” wife to Hoffman  It’s a great mix of characters and some of the best work done by Walken and company.

Their movie musicianship is realistic. They did not actually perform the music on the sound track, but it looked like they knew their way around string instruments. Some of them may have had some early training, the rest were coached for the movie. However it was accomplished, the cinematographer was able to follow the actors’ performances closely, without resorting to long shots to disguise their identities. Well done!

While doing a little research on the stars, I discovered that Walken attended the same university as Garry and I. He was probably there during one of Garry’s years at Hofstra University. Walken was there for just a year, then left for a gig in an off-broadway show. It was news to us that he’d been there at all.

It is one of the many ironies of Garry and my education that most of Hofstra’s most famous graduates are not graduates, but attendees who left before getting a degree. We had a good drama department. Perhaps the biggest measure of its success is how many of its students were “discovered” before they got degrees, then went on to fame and fortune. No formal degrees, but plenty of magic.

Although it doesn’t hurt if you know some classical music, the movie works just fine if you don’t.

The Story

It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Fugue”, a classical string quartet. Time is catching up with them. Christopher Walken, their cellist and oldest member of the quartet has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needs to retire. The first violinist is in love with the second violinist’s daughter, and the second violinist wants to be the first violinist … and sex in the form of “oops” infidelity adds enough spice to imperil the survival of the quartet if the rest of their problems were not disruptive enough.

Walken as the sensible, down-to-earth member of the group, dealing with his own burdens and unwilling to tolerate the childish carryings-on by the other performers, is wonderful. “The Fugue comes first,” he says, or words to that effect. It’s interesting to see Walken cast as the stable, adult, not even slightly crazy, member of the group.

The Music

A Late Quartet refers to Opus 131, one of a group of string quartets written by Beethoven towards the end of his life. It is magnificent. I’ve rarely heard this piece performed at all. It’s challenging music, written when Beethoven had already lost his hearing, yet was still able to hear it in his head. It’s one of Beethoven’s most complex, intense pieces and it’s beautifully performed.

I love the music, studied classical music for many years. I love Beethoven. He is my favorite composer, whose music I play as I drift off to sleep at night and whose symphonies have been my companion on many journeys through my life.

It did not disappoint us. It’s not a light piece of fluff, nor is it depressing or hopeless. Problems come, problems are addressed, problems are resolved. Not everything has a happy ending but within the limits of what’s possible, these adults work out through their issues — music, health, personal, and relationships — like … adults.

How refreshing!

THE DIALOGUE: JUST PICK ONE!

HER: “We always watch the stuff you want to watch. How come we never watch my movies?

HIM: “That’s not fair. I try to find things I think you’ll like.The other night I recorded ‘The Wind and the Lion.’”

HER: “You like that one. You always have.”

HIM: “That’s besides the point.”

HER: “No it isn’t. There a pile of DVDs I’ve bought during the past year. Most of them, I bought for you and most of them have at least been opened. None of mine have even had the cellophane removed. We never watch anything you don’t like.”

HIM: “Well, let’s make tonight different. {pause} You’re still sulking. I can tell by your face.”

HER: “You don’t mean it. As soon as one of those movies goes on, you’re going to start to make faces, or fall asleep. Instantly. You only do that to prove how boring my taste is.”

monty python British comedy movies

HIM: “I promise, I’ll watch. If I really hate it, I’ll tell you.”

HER: {Long Pause} “Okay, but you better mean it. Or …”

HIM: “Just pick a movie.”

HER: {Unwrapping} “It’s ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’ I don’t want to hear how you ‘don’t get’ British humor.”

HIM: “Do they have closed captions? Comedy is hard when you don’t get the words.”

HER: “Lemme see. Well, they have Full Script, English, French, Spanish, German, and Hard of Hearing.”

HIM: “Let’s try ‘Hard of Hearing.’ ”

HER: “It’s probably a goof.”

HIM: “I’m curious.”

HER: “Okay.”

Movie comes on. Someone is shouting loudly over the film. Cute.

HIM: “Okay. English, please.”

A year later, we did the exact same maneuver, only this time, the movie was “Going Postal,” one of the mini series they made in England from Terry Pratchett’s novels. For anyone interested, there are three of them, but I’ve only seen two –“Going Postal” and “Hogfather.” Garry actually seemed to like “Hogfather”! Could this be a trend?

There is one more movie — “The Colour of Magic,” but now, there are a pile of movies Garry needs to watch. Maybe we’ll get there. At this rate (one to two per year)? Who knows?

Some things never change.