TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Three

When Worlds Collide

Starting off Saturday morning with a 1950s Science Fiction film just seems appropriate. This George Pal produced extravaganza features many of the disaster tropes from future films like “Armageddon” and “2012”, but the human story is actually more the point. There are a few brief sequences of disaster when the planet orbiting the star that is approaching Earth is near, but most of the drama is in the decisions about who gets to ride in the Ark spaceship and who loves who.

The screening was hosted by Dennis Miller, an avid film fan and the perfect stand in for me. His gee whiz enthusiasm for the movie and his fanboy crush on movie star Barbara Rush, reflected exactly how I would have felt if I were sitting in his seat. They talked about her career quite a bit and she still works. She had kind things to say about Producer George Pal and she seemed to be a fan of the movie as well. Maybe we can get a screening of Robin and the Seven Hoods next year and it can all be about working with the Rat Pack.

The special effects in the film are really quite good and the miniatures and photographic effects are convincing up until the climax of the movie. The survivors arrival on the new planet is a bit rushed and the background art matte looks like a coloring book rendition of another world. It was flat, overly simple and the colors were garish. Before this, the movie looked great and the cinematography was top notch. Actor John Hoyt, who will be familiar to anyone who has watched a TV show from the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s because he was in everything, plays the cartoonish bad guy in a wheelchair. When he gets his comeuppance, everyone was happy.

Fox: An Appreciation

No one seems to want to acknowledge that Twentieth Century Fox exists in name only right now. I suppose, much like the once potent United Artists, the logo and masthead will continue to appear on theatrical releases, but as an independent film studio, Fox is no more. They will be a Disney brand for films that Disney does not want to have the Disney name on. I thought the event would be a bit more bittersweet, but instead, it was a celebration of the restoration efforts of the Fox Archive project, and that was certainly worthwhile.

Our guide for this review of great Fox films was Schawn Belston, who is the Executive Vice President of Media and Library services at Fox. This was a clip presentation with maybe twenty to thirty films getting a few moments of special attention. The opening of the program featured all of the 20th Century Fox logos and the fanfare that have opened their films since the founding of the studio. The first clip also reflected their greatest success, “Star Wars” which did play at the Festival but I skipped to see something else.

From Shirley Temple to Die Hard, a long list of distinguished movies were honored and a little bit of history about their restorations was thrown in as well. I especially appreciated Mr. Belston singling out the amazing score for the original “Planet of the Apes” and naming it’s composer out loud. Jerry Goldsmith is my favorite movie music man and this was a nice little bonus from my perspective.

This presentation was at the newest venue to join the TCM FF, American Legion Post 43.  Now you might think a Legion Hall is just a bar, a hall and some pool tables, but in this case you would be wrong. The main hall has been fitted out to be an elegant theater which would be capable of handling live productions as well as film presentations.

I did not get a shot from the back of the theater but the proscenium is quite large and you can see how cavernous this place is.

This was the only event that we attended at the Legion Post but there were films playing here all weekend. The only real drawback was the hike to the location. It is not actually any further than the Egyptian Theater is from the Roosevelt or the Chinese Theater, but the trip is a little up hill and the grade made it a bit intimidating. That plus the fact that the weekend featured typical warm California Spring days, probably deterred a few souls from attending events here.  I know my blogging friend Kristen Lopez bailed out on Wuthering Heights because of it. She has a chair and moving uphill was not going to be comfortable for her. Maybe nest year there can be a shuttle for those with mobility issues.

Those who did make it to the venue, I hope you went downstairs to use the bathroom. That would have given you a chance to see an old school hospitality room.

All About Nora

This was a panel presentation about writer/director Nora Ephron. She was responsible for some of the biggest adult targeted films of the last couple decades. I already mentioned “When Harry Met Sally”, but she wrote and directed two other famous and worthy romantic comedies, “Sleepless in Seattle’ and “You’ve Got Mail”. She passed in 2012 and the last film she worked on was “Julie & Julia”.

This event took place in Club TCM, the main meeting room in the Roosevelt Hotel. There were a number of items on display that are going up for auction through Bonhams pretty soon, so while I was waiting for the discussion, I browsed but made no purchases.

When the presentation began, it was hosted by one of the rookie hosts on TCM  Dave Karger. He introduced a distinguished panel of Ephron experts. Lauren Shuller Donner, who produced several of Ephrons films, J.J. Sacha who was her personal assistant for 14 years, actress/producer Rita Wilson who was cast in “Sleepless in Seattle” and has a great scene in the movie and Jacob Bernstein, her son and the creator of a documentary on her work.

Karger led the discussion with some appropriate questions and everyone had stories to tell. There was also a Q and A with the audience and some of those questions were worthwhile. There was a very nice touch for the conclusion of the program. Nora Ephron produced her own memorial service and had very strict food and drink guidelines. There was a pink champagne that she specified to be served at her memorial. At the conclusion of this event, everyone in the audience was served a glass of that beverage and we all offered a toast to the missing honoree.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Right off the bat I need to tell you that this was going to be on my schedule from the moment it was announced. I love this movie so much that one of my dogs is named after the outlaw played by Paul Newman. Another reason is that it features a performance by character actor Strother Martin, and as the keeper of the flame on the Strother Martin Film Project, I could not very well miss it. The frosting on the cake however was the appearance of the composer of the Academy Award winning song and score for the film, Mr. Burt Bacharach.

The film holds up marvelously and I can’t imagine I need to tell anyone reading this how entertaining it is. It was the biggest hit of 1969 and probably even better remembered for pairing Paul Newman and Robert Redford than “The Sting”. This was another packed house at the main Chinese Theater.

Bacharach is ninety-one this year and he was a little unsteady but his mind was sharp and his wit was keen. Eddie Muller conducted the interview and of course there was a lot of talk about all of the hits that Burt had written over the years. If you think you don’t know his work, guess again, you have heard dozens of his songs.

At the time the movie was made, he was married to Angie Dickinson, and she was theone who sort have got him the job. They were staying at a hotel in NYC when she ran into George Roy hill and she mentioned that her husband was a composer. The story Bacharach tells then involved sending information back and forth and ultimately getting the gig by chance.

Bacharach also said that his favorite composition was for the theme for “Alfie” another Academy Award Nominated song, again with lyrics by Hal David.

As we watched the movie play out, once again i was caught up in the cleverness of the dialogue and the effectiveness of Paul Newman’s comedic timing. He apparently thought he was miscast in a comedy, but this showed that he was capable in the right vehicle. He and director George Roy Hill would do another comedy in the 1970s, “Slap Shot”. That movie also features a performance by another co-star of “butch and Sundance, Strother Martin.

I was really pleased by the fact that when Strother showed up on screen, there was a smattering of applause for him. We had gotten those bits of audience approval for the stars of the film when they first show up, but leave it to a TCM Film crowd to know that they were seeing one of the great character actors of the second half of the Twentieth century.

Escape From New York

I know there are fans of the channel who will be aghast at the fact that this film is playing at the festival. It is not from the golden age of Hollywood, it is a low budget film and it is a genre that is probably not well loved by some of the TCM fans. Well the hell with all that, I am perfectly happy this was on the program and so were a number of other people. This was a high priority for Amanda and I, we are both big fans of the star and the director of this film, and both of them were going to be at the screening.

This is an mp3 file of the conversation that took place before the movie. I have not included any video because frankly, we were well in the back of the theater and just happy to get in.

The stories were fun and Carpenter pointed out that the only reason that the sequel exists is that Kurt Russel wanted to play the character again. Fans of the film have probably heard the legendary commentary track that came from the Laser Disc release originally and then appeared on DVD versions of the film. John Carpenter and Kurt Russel are friends and they seem to enjoy the heck out of each others company and it showed on that audio track and in this interview as well.

At one point the film was censored because of the presence of the World Trade Center Towers, and Carpenter thought that was a silly thing to have happen for the kind of fantasy film this really is.

We stayed for the film, even though I practically have it memorized and it was getting late. It’s just hard to skip an opportunity to watch it all on the big screen. The cast really is terrific, and it’s interesting that both Kurt and John’s former wives have roles in the movie.  So ended the long Saturday at the Festival. Next up, Last Day.

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Pete’s Dragon (2016)

The other night, we decided to watch the 1977 Disney film of “Pete’s Dragon”. My kids watched it a lot when they were young and it seemed like a good thing to do in getting up for the remake that opened this weekend. As I watched it, I remembered how painful it was to experience back when the kids were four or five. It is looong. The songs are not memorable at all, and the actors either ham it up excessively or they are stiff as a board. Whatever the new film was going to bring us had to be better than this misbegotten piece of nostalgia that I hope never to have to sleep through, I mean watch, again.

Happily I can report that I was correct, this new version is a substantial improvement and will be an excellent family film for kids over the age of seven or eight. The one major reservation I have is that the film begins with a family vaction that goes dramatically wrong. It is traumatizing and the little guys might be scared and have nightmares about what happens. It is a scene that is done in the gentlest of ways but it is still tough to take when you are with your family. Once the opening five minutes is passed, the rest of the movie is a delight with some poignant moments of sadness but nothing that the kids won’t have seen in a dozen other stories.

 

In a way, this is a different version of “The Jungle Book“, with an orphan being raised by a wild anima but ultimately needing to be returned to a human society.  The animal in question does not really talk or sing but that does not mean that it does not emote. “Elliot” was a cartoon in the musical version and he was not always a creature that you could identify with. Ever since CGI has been used in movie special effects, Dragons have been a subject. From Dragonheart, to Reign of Fire, up through The Hobbit Films and Game of Thrones, these animals have been used as characters . Most of the time they are terrifying, sometimes they have voices but always they have been dangerous and scaly. The film makers here have managed to make a dragon lovable without stripping him of his dignity. Anyone who has owned a dog will see familiar expressions and behaviors expressed by Elliot. This is a story about a boy and his dog, who happens to be a dragon. The closest I’ve seen to this style dragon in the past is “the Luck Dragon” from “The Neverending Story“. Elliot is furry and the face is expressive, I also liked the addition of his body colors changing in response to a particular touch.

Bryce Dallas Howard makes back to back appearances in consecutive years in movies featuring large animals run amuck. Unlike “Jurassic World“, she is unlikely to get eaten, but her costar is a CGI invention. Robert Redford is in this film in a peripheral way, but as usual he is a welcome presence. I did not know that Wes Bentley and Karl Urban were in the film so that was a nice surprise. Young Oakes Fergley, who plays “Pete” is a good find for the part of a young child living in the wilderness who becomes a fish out of water in suburban/human surroundings. He is still very young so it is hard to say what his potential is but he is already a better actor than the child cast in the 1977 film.

There will not be any great twists in the story, it does feel in fact very much like an older Disney film when it comes to the plot. What makes it better than those creaky films like “Blackbeard’s Ghost” or “The Love Bug” is the quality of the production and the actors involved. Everyone treats the story here seriously and the events that happen only stretch credibility a little bit at the climax. The last twenty minutes feels right out of a dozen other films even though the plot is different and the characters are not the same either. If you are a sentimental adult who can suspend their cynicism  for an hour and a half, or if you have kids and you want them to see a quality family picture, than “Pete’s Dragon” should do the trick, and you won’t have to get an annoying Helen Reddy song out of your head afterwards.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Fathom Events/TCM Series

In preparation for this Fathom Event, I went back to an excellent post written my my friend Michael for his own blog three years ago. “An Appreciation: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is well worth your time. There are nuances that I found really interesting and anybody who loves Butch and Sundance should love it. I also know that sitting somewhere on the other side of town, Michael was enjoying the same experience I was because there is no way he would miss an opportunity to see this wonderful film on the big screen.

I myself wrote about this film for the final post I did for “Fogs Movie Reviews“, a site that I contributed to for several months before its ultimate retirement. That post was about the three great Westerns of 1969. Today I am going to focus exclusively on the George Roy Hill film. As Ben Mankiewicz said in his intro to the film today, it was the biggest film of 1969.That was an understatement, it made over a hundred million dollars and that was more than twice as much as any other film made that year. I first saw the movie with my friend Don Hayes when his family took me with them to a drive-in theater to see the flick, that was probably late 1969 or early 1970.

The secret of the films success is so easy to identify after watching the movie again, that it surprises me. There are three essential ingredients that make this movie sing. First is the star pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. In old Hollywood, they say you could feel the chemistry of stars in a film. Bogart and Bacall, Tracy and Hepburn, Flynn and DeHavilland all had charisma together that made their films fly. Here is a match between same gendered co-stars that had the same effect. Their only other outing together is the Academy Award winning “The Sting“. That’s a pretty good track record for casting. From the opening sequence, the two of them showed perfect comic timing, playing off of one another’s facial expressions and body language. In the long sequence of the film where they are fleeing the pursuing super posse, they sweat and squirm and kibbutz with a real relationship that seems built on years together as outlaws. Mankiewicz mentioned some of the original choices for the film cast and I can’t imagine Jack Lemmon as Butch but I could see Steve McQueen as Sundance. Lucky for us that we had to wait for that Newman/McQueen flick until 1974.

The direction of George Roy Hill is another piece to the success of the film. Hill has managed a number of films with a nostalgic feel, including “The Sting” and “The Great Waldo Pepper”. He may not have been as stylish as other film directors but he had an eye and an ear that would let the past come to light and I think his creative use of music cues, sepia tones and timing of comic scenes accouts for a lot of the reasons that people can love this movie. The first five or ten minutes of the movie look like the nickelodeon feature that plays behind the titles. When the three main characters head off to Bolivia, they make a stop in NYC near the turn of the 20th century and the photo montage delivers enough information that we don’t need the extended film sequence that had to be condensed for reasons of studio politics. The lighting choices for most of the night scenes feel very distinctive from other films at the time. Of curse he was aided by Conrad Hall’s cinematography.

Finally, the most important ingredient in the whole concoction is the script by William Goldman. He had done extensive research, and for the spine of the story, the opening tag that declares “Most of What Follows is True” is mostly correct. Long time fans of “The Princess Bride” will be able to recognize the attitude of some of these characters. They are non-conformists with a wicked sense of humor and a streak of fatalism about them, for instance when Sundance turns his back on Butch as he kids that he is stealing Etta from him, he mutters “Take her”.  That sounded like the Man in Black and Prince Humperdink all at once. Percy Garris mocking the two bandits turned payroll guards as Morons, is just priceless. Sheriff Bledsoe, played by Jeff Corey, speaks wisdom without the humor when he points out that times have changed and that the two outlaws have outlived their minor legend. Sundance complains about where they have landed in Bolivia, “this might be the garden spot of the whole country.” The gallows humor is abundant and it is one of the most wonderful things that Goldman contributed to the story. Goldman wrote in one of his books that this was one of two real life stories that he thought were instantly compelling and cinematic. Somehow they managed to neuter “The Ghost and the Darkness” but thank heavens this story was brought to life by the right set of artists.

The movie will be playing two more times this coming Wednesday, I can’t think of anything you might be doing that would be more enjoyable for two hours than taking in this film. Get thee to a TCM/Fathom participating theater and set yourself down for the best time to be had in 1969 and so far, 2016.