Still Money After All These Years: Swingers Two Decades Later

SWINGERS (1996)

To view Swingers click here.

That’s right, Swingers is twenty years old. Ouch.

Anyone who’s been in Los Angeles for more than a day or two can tell you it’s impossible to go anywhere without meeting people who want to be in “the business.” It’s a charming trait of the city when you first move here and try to make new friends, as you sort out who’s on the level about their ambitions versus those who are, well, completely full of it. No film captures that feeling better than Swingers, a semi-autobiographical film from 1996 that put several names on the map including writer and star Jon Favreau (whose experiences when he moved to L.A. inspired the script), director Doug Liman (who went the indie route to keep the writer and his friends attached) and a supporting cast including an almost unsettlingly young Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston and Heather Graham. [...MORE]

A Look at the Short Films of Harold Lloyd

NEVER WEAKEN (1921)

To view Just Neighbors click here, to view Billy Blazes, Esq. click here and to view Never Weaken click here.

As I prepare for this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, I am revisiting the films of some of the actors and actresses whose work is being featured at the annual event. With a wide variety of events available at each time slot, it’s impossible to attend all the screenings, special presentations and interviews that I’d like to see. I don’t have any complaints, though, as there’s rarely a bad choice to be made. Like in years past, there will be a silent film presentation with live accompaniment. In previous years, I’ve seen Girl Shy (1924), The General (1925) and City Lights (1931). This year, the TCM Classic Film Festival is featuring Harold Lloyd’s 1928 comedy Speedy with live accompaniment by the extraordinary Alloy Orchestra. Any event featuring the Alloy is not to be missed, so I will be enthusiastically lining up for this screening on the closing night of the festival. Since I don’t want to watch Speedy this close to seeing it in a theatre with an appreciative audience, I decided to revisit some of Lloyd’s other work in preparation. Although I much prefer Lloyd’s feature-length films such as Safety Last (1923), Why Worry? (1923), Girl Shy (1924) and The Freshman (1925), I’ve selected three of my favorite short films featuring Lloyd that are currently available on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck.

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Adolescent Adventure: The World of Henry Orient (1964)

WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, THE (1964)

To view The World of Henry Orient click here.

FilmStruck has been singled out as a great resource for film aficionados but it also includes exceptional family friendly entertainment that can provide younger viewers with an eye-opening introduction to classic and foreign cinema. From Charlie Chaplin’s silent antics as the lovable Tramp in The Kid (1921) to the colorful Japanese fantasy film Jellyfish Eyes (2013), subscribers will discover a wide range of films available for all-ages. One stand out example is The World of Henry Orient (1964), a charming and extremely funny coming-of-age drama directed by George Roy Hill that is currently streaming as part of the “Female Friendships” collection.

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Keep an Eye Out for The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972)

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For reasons known only to the movie gods, Hollywood embarked on a decades-long love affair with the idea of grabbing the rights to successful French-language comedies and remaking them for American audiences, most often with all the quirkiness and local flavor completely sanded away in the process. There were enough hits peppered in this wave to make it profitable for a while; heck, Touchstone almost had a cottage industry with it thanks to 3 Men and a Baby (1987) and its sequel, based more or less on Coline Serreau’s Three Men and a Cradle (1985) but with a ridiculous crime subplot thrown in, and to a much lesser extent, My Father the Hero (1994), a retooling of Gérard Lauzier’s Mon père, ce héros (1991). Then we have the odd case of Yves Robert’s The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (Le grand blond avec une chaussure noir) (1972), a wildly successful star vehicle for French comic actor Pierre Richard that turned into The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), an early showcase for Tom Hanks just after his star-making turns in Splash and Bachelor Party in 1984. The American version actually isn’t too bad on its own terms, but it really can’t hold a shaky violin bow compared to the original.

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Giving Thanks for Eating Raoul (1982)

EATING RAOUL, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, 1982, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All ri

Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a shout out to a film I’m particularly grateful for: Eating Raoul (1982). Sure, it might not be the most obvious choice for holiday viewing, but it’s all about the importance of family, the rewards of the entrepreneurial spirit and the message that in America, anybody can succeed with enough determination and can-do attitude. What could be more patriotic than that? [...MORE]

The Funny Old Dark House

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“Don’t big, empty houses scare you?”
“Not me. I used to be in vaudeville.”

That wry exchange is one of the many little asides that typifies The Cat and the Canary (1939), airing in prime time this Friday on TCM. This Paramount production (now part of the Universal library) is the earliest surviving sound version of the original old dark house chiller that started life as a stage play by John Willard, and it’s a savory bit of counter-programming to Universal’s ongoing parade of beloved movie monsters (which were being toned down in the early throes of World War II). The idea of Hope starring in a horror movie (especially so early in his career — he’d only been starring in features since 1938!) sounds bizarre on paper, but it works beautifully in practice. Part of the charm here is the smart pairing of Hope (more subdued and urbane than usual here) with the gorgeous and charming Paulette Goddard, who was married to Charlie Chaplin at the time and was best known for Modern Times (1936). The chemistry between Hope and Goddard was so good they were teamed up for another horror comedy in 1940, The Ghost Breakers, and in between she made her most familiar film for many TCM viewers, The Women (1939). And as you can see in that promotional shot above for The Cat and the Canary, she also knows how to rock a Halloween costume like nobody’s business. [...MORE]

Farewell to the Frisco Kid

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The much-mourned passing of comic actor, writer, and director Gene Wilder on June 11, 2016 was one of the saddest shocks in a year already full of them. A master of both physical and verbal comic timing as well as an underrated dramatic actor, Wilder will be honored on Thursday, September 29, with a four-film sampling of his formidable talents including Young Frankenstein (1974), Start the Revolution without Me (1970), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), plus a double airing of his one-hour Role Model interview episode from 2008. Of course, you could easily program an entire day of Wilder without covering everything, so hopefully this will be enough to either get fans back in the mood to explore his output or awaken newbies to the riches in his filmography, which also includes such milestones as Blazing Saddles (1974), The Producers (1967), and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). [...MORE]

Law and Disorder: The Naked Gun (1988)

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David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker were three wiseasses from Milwaukee who killed time watching movies. They gained an admiration for the stoic leading men in cheap genre productions, those actors who jutted their chins and remained expressionless through the most absurd scenarios. ZAZ’s whole comic ethos stems from these viewings – their main characters are virtuous idiots wandering through a world that explodes with gags around them. These dopes’ deadpan obliviousness provide the majority of punchlines in  Airplane!, Top Secret, and The Naked Gun trilogy. And there was no one more virtuous or more idiotic than the fools portrayed by Leslie Nielsen – who was ZAZ’s platonic ideal for a comic actor. Often mistaken for his  Airplane!-mates Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, he had that aging leading man gravitas (and mane of gray hair) and could play everything straight, reciting the most ridiculous lines as if he was in an airplane disaster film like Zero Hour (1957, the model for Airplane!). ZAZ’s follow-up to Airplane! was the short-lived and joke-packed TV show Police Squad! (1982), a parody of M-Squad and other square-jawed cop shows. The TV version was canceled after four episodes (six would air), but strong reviews (and a lead actor Emmy nomination for Nielsen) kept the project alive until ZAZ adapted it into the  The Naked Gun, which airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of their “Salute to Slapstick.” It is with The Naked Gun that Nielsen fully displays his comic gifts, a tour-de-force of deadpan, face-pulling, and pratfall.

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The Thin Man Marathon: Conjugal Concord

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If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve at home this year you will find some great company on TCM where Nick and Nora Charles, as played by the dapper William Powell and charming Myrna Loy, will hold court while sipping cocktails, trading quips and solving crimes along with their lovable dog Asta. The party kicks off at 8PM EST/ 5PM PST beginning with the original The Thin Man (1934) followed by all five of the Thin Man sequels airing in chronological order; After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and Song of the Thin Man (1947). Tune in and you’ll encounter some holiday cheer as well as lots of laughs and mysterious goings-on set amid the urbane elegance of nineteen thirties New York and San Francisco.

There are many reasons to love the Thin Man films. They’re smart, funny, sophisticated and flat out entertaining mysteries but I’m particularly fond of the way they make marriage look so damn fun. Nick and Nora are best pals as well as romantic mates and their breezy back-and-forth banter suggests an intimacy that is sadly missing from many depictions of marriage on screen. Best of all, they share a similar sense of humor and as the old maxim goes, “a couple that laughs together, stays together.”

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Laugh Riot: I’LL GIVE A MILLION (1938)

mill0Tonight TCM is devoting its 31 Days of Oscar programming to the year 1938. Films on the schedule include Best Picture nominees THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) and BOY’S TOWN (1938). Today also happens to be actor John Carradine’s birthday.

Carradine doesn’t appear in any of the films airing on TCM tonight but he did make nine movies in 1938 including I’LL GIVE A MILLION, which I recently watched for the first time. I’LL GIVE A MILLION might not be Oscar material or worthy of the tagline “The Laugh Riot of the Century!” that accompanied trade ads for the film but it does feature two Oscar winning actors (Warner Baxter and Jean Hersholt) and includes two amusing comical performances from Peter Lorre and birthday boy John Carradine. So in keeping with TCM’s 1938 theme and in honor of the late great John Carradine I thought I’d shine a little light on this depression-era comedy directed by Walter Lang.

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