Oscars 2015: Shorten the Speeches, Amp Up the Stars

27 Feb

Every year the Oscar show unfolds and seems to last forever and every year everyone complains about it. I always tell myself I’m not gonna watch anymore and then, of course, I do. All the way to the end, which is way past my bedtime. This year, the Oscar show was more like the Independent Spirit Awards, with virtually the same movies in competition. Lots of indie people filled the auditorium and few bonafide Hollywood stars of any magnitude were around. There were lots of presenters I didn’t recognize, some of whom I’ve heard of but wouldn’t have been able to recognize (e.g. Chris Pratt), some of whom I’ve never heard of (Ansel Elgort, anyone?), and some whom I’ve heard of but was seeing live for the first time (Margot Robbie). And there were frequent cuts to audience members, presumably nominees, whom I was clearly supposed to know but didn’t.

Eddie Redmayne, eventual Best Actor winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, although I didn’t recognize him when they first showed him

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Joe E. Brown, Comic Hero of Small-Town America

12 Feb

 

Joe E. Brown was a major comedy star at Warner Bros. from 1930 to 1936, making 20 starring features for them during that period, until he left the studio for an ill-fated contract with an independent producer that led to a series of lackluster vehicles that brought his starring career virtually to an end. He wound up in B-movies, with an occasional character part in A-movies, turning up years later on television and in memorable bits in such films as AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, and IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.

 

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Asian-American Stars on TV: Lisa Lu in “Bat Masterson,” “Hong Kong” and “Coronado 9”

19 Jan

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Chinese-American actress Lisa Lu turns 88 today, January 19, 2015, and, as of this writing, is still active in the business. I’ve written about her in past entries (see THE MOUNTAIN ROAD and the Bonanza episode, “Day of the Dragon” ) and have made an effort to track down some of her numerous TV appearances in the 1950s and ’60s, finding some on Encore’s Western Channel, some on YouTube and some on DVD.

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Elvis at 80

8 Jan

One night this week I was watching an episode of The Untouchables called “Ma Barker and Her Boys” and at one point the narrator (Walter Winchell) intones the date of Dock Barker’s arrest, “January 8, 1935.” That sure jumped out at me. It was Elvis Presley’s birthdate. Some time yesterday I realized that tomorrow (today), January 8th, would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. I wish I’d thought of it sooner and actually watched some Elvis movies, documentaries or concerts for the occasion. Instead, I barely had enough time to compile some of my past writings on Elvis and scrounge up some screen grabs to illustrate them.  Continue reading

Richard Widmark Centennial

24 Dec

Richard Widmark would have turned 100 this coming Friday, December 26, 2014. He died only six years ago on March 24, 2008, at the age of 93, having outlived 95% of his co-stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. (Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Robert Wagner and Doris Day are among the few who have outlived him and are still with us. Lauren Bacall outlived him by six years.) Widmark had a solid career as a leading man in Hollywood from the late 1940s to the early 1970s before turning to character parts (and the occasional TV movie lead) in the 1970s to early ’90s. His last movie role was in TRUE COLORS (1991) and his last TV role was the male lead in COLD SASSY TREE (1989).

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VHS Discoveries: Ultraman Heaven

15 Dec

I have a stack of VHS tapes that I picked up at Japanese video stores over the years containing episodes from Japan’s long-running “Ultraman” franchise. They’re all in Japanese without subtitles and some of them have been made moot by my purchase of DVD box sets, all with English subs., of the entire runs of “Ultra Q” (1965), “Ultraman” (1966), and “Ultra Seven” (1967). But there’s a lot of material on those VHS tapes that isn’t duplicated anywhere else on an available source. Four of them are compilation tapes featuring clips of monster battles from the franchise over the years.

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THE UNFINISHED DANCE: Hollywood’s Greatest Ballet Film?

17 Nov

I recorded THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) off TCM a year ago and finally got around to watching it. I was pretty astounded. On one level, it’s a beautifully filmed Technicolor musical from MGM about the world of ballet, with excerpts of many famous ballets on display. On another level, it’s an insanely intense Hollywood melodrama about a child’s heroine worship and the horrific results of that obsession. Why did this film never play on TV when I was growing up? Why had no film programmer or curator ever included it in their MGM or musical retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, the Regency or any other outlet in New York that used to show the likes of ON THE TOWN, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE RED SHOES regularly? (Or, if they did show it, why wasn’t I paying attention?) Why had no film text devoted space to it in all the thousands of articles, reviews and book chapters on classic Hollywood cinema that I’ve read? It’s rare that I come across an unsung Hollywood classic that’s flown so far off my radar, but this is one of them.

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