Time Traveling with TCM

As the 2020 presidential election looms like a giant sword swinging over our collective heads, it’s difficult to know what to do.

Turn off and there’s the guilt, or eventual guilt, over whistling past the graveyard of American democracy.

Turn on and there’s the endless anger and non-stop memes (or worse) that pits US against THEM and saps whatever energy is left for I.

I’m with you Steph

What that leaves each of us with right now is individual choice, a sure sign that American democracy is not dead…yet.

That was reassuring for half the weekend because I, for one, scheduled a relaxing few days at home lying around, reading and catching up on the 75% of programming saved on the DVR that needs to be erased…at some point.

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

That seemed like a good idea because this month TCM is featuring 31 Days of Oscar.  What this means is that until March 2 every film scheduled on the network is a nominee or winner of Hollywood’s top prize.

Also featured: Ben Mankiewicz and his lush, thick hair #notjealous #veryjealous

For those of us worn out from the politics of it all popping up on the news, in social media and as a part of even the most generalized pop culture memes everywhere, that provides a virtual luxury vacation of escape.

You can ostensibly tune in at any time and be pretty sure you’ll have an all expenses paid trip of at least two hours into an alternate story reality much more preferable and a lot less toxic than the one we all currently reside in.

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

And I’m not just writing this because my dear friend, Pola Changnon, a fellow movie lover, was recently and very deservedly named general manager of the whole damned network several weeks ago.

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

At our celebratory dinner I couldn’t help but gush a little to her at how, in these trying times, it was such a relief to tune in TCM and, suddenly, get lured into a non-2020 narrative where there is no Twitter and usually not much in the way of anything Orange employed onscreen.

Even though any number of the films on TCM might be available to rent and/or purchase, somehow, when you think of doing that, you instantly say to yourself, I don’t have time to watch this!

But when they suddenly appear on Channel 256 (in LA of course) on your TV or screen of choice and you get hooked, hey, no one can blame you!

Margo’s got the right idea

To do so would be like getting down on someone for eating a slice of that already half eaten chocolate cake left out on the counter or helping yourself to a single drink at an open bar at anyone’s yearly holiday party and being met with a nasty stare by the “Church Lady.”

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

But here’s the thing about escape.  Wherever you are, there you are.

At least that’s how it felt to me watching the classic, Oscar nominated movie, The Third Man on TCM this past Saturday afternoon.

* not directed by Welles

Foolishly thinking a 1949 film noir with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles that I somehow had managed not to have ever seen all the way through could free me from the T***P era what I discovered was… um… NOanything but.

Based on a Graham Greene novella The Third Man is brilliantly photographed and edited, has a great twist and turn story, terrific acting and innovative directing, AND an unforgettable score.

It is also a perfect evocation of the moral dilemma we all face in the, okay let’s say it now, Trump Era.

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

Rather than transport us away into post World War II Vienna (Note: Though it literally does) it more effectively brings us right back to the question of 21st century individual choice.

That is to say, how to confront moral decay and, yeah, pure evil when we see it.

– The Third Man doesn’t have children in cages as a result of the whims of a powerful man but instead shows us kids locked in a hospital, dying of (Note: Okay, no spoilers here) because of the actions of a brilliantly clever (Note: Evil?) genius with no moral compass.

– The Third Man isn’t about an election and the loss of the rule of law but instead is about one writer/investigator challenged to make a defining moral choice in a sea of contradictory and sometimes but not ultimately confusing facts.

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

 – The Third Man doesn’t have raging arguments between longtime neighbors and family members about right vs. wrong but it does ask us to consider whether our most loyal bestie from childhood can be good and evil at the same time and calmly consider how every one of OUR actions – past, present and future — has and will affect not just ourselves but the rest of the world as we know it.

Not bad for a half century plus old black and white feature where everyone but the American writer played by Joseph Cotten speaks with an accent, the Twitter-sphere didn’t exist and no mention at all is made of democracy, elections or the rise of the socialist left and/or the dictatorial repressive right.

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

A great classic movie is a little like a vintage piece of clothing you hold on to over the years.   As norms change you know that in a pinch it will perfectly fit some occasion, event of even era you are suddenly faced with.

It’s comforting, it’s clarifying but at the same time it also makes you think, sometimes of all sorts of things you might want to forget.

Or should remember.

That’s saying a lot for the days we’ve been living through and have yet to go through.

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man

The Chair’s Must See Movies 2018

This is NOT a 10 best list.  Frankly, this year one would be hard pressed to talk about the best, as in:

We’ve got THE BEST MOVIES.

It would sound too much like that doll-haired huckster on TV shouting, with far too much certainty, things like:

I’ve got the best people…

I’ve got the best brain….

I’ve got the best words…

(Note to self:  Whenever someone has been reduced to telling you about their WORDS, run…don’t walk…to the exit).

My final thoughts on Electoral POTUS for 2018 #2019isMuellerTime

We like to say movies are all about images but what they really are is a combination of pictures AND words, mostly said by actual human beings, These two essentials are then arranged, ordered, stretched, edited, cut and re-interpreted to the point where they:

TELL A STORY.

But not just any story.  The most memorable must sees of any year show you people engaged on a journey that in some way is so unexpected, or familiar, that it grabs you and holds you even when you have to go to the bathroom and desperately want to let go.

Yup.  Must see movies have that kind of power and I’m just the middle-aged guy to personally testify to that fact.  Because if they’re done right you have a tough time breaking their spell despite what your body is pleading with you to do.

But even more difficult is getting them out of your mind.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re THE BEST in any given year.  After all, what is best at this point in time is starting 2019.   (Note: Hopefully.)

PLUS THE LAST AVENGERS MOVIE IN 2019!! (It is the last right? Right? RIGHT?)

Instead it means that in a time when pretty much everything FEELS and IS more important than any one movie, these films would NOT..LET…GO.  They held us, well me, to OUR CHAIR.  #ShamelessSelfPromotion

So screw the critics who want to make you feel dumb or out of it when you think to yourself things like:

Getcha glasses, here comes the shade

– I thought The Favourite was ridiculous and mean, as great as those three actresses were. 

– I felt Mary Poppins Returns was sacrilege and a sad excuse for Disney to make money.

– Nothing about Dick Cheney is remotely amusing, especially when one of our most handsome actors has to so ugly up his person to play him in Vice.

And —

– I wish Clint Eastwood would just STOP.   Or simply make a movie with an animal again.

The 2018 MUST SEES, in no particular order:

Three Identical Strangers

Do not adjust your screens, this is not three Andy Cohens

You know how you turned on the news most days in 2018 and thought/said – you can’t make this stuff up?  Well, no screenwriter could convincingly concoct this story and have it resonate the way it does – which is why it IS absolutely true.

A documentary about three wooly-haired Jewish triplets is crazy enough but what happens when they’re separated at birth, find each other in college and then….

It’s not fair to reveal more than the trailer.  Suffice it to say the story becomes bigger than the three boys and takes you on a JOURNEY…JOURNIES.  No excuses, it’s #Streaming.

Black Panther

Take me to Wakanda

Many of us weren’t interested in superhero comics as kids and even more of us have little interest in superhero movies now.  This does NOT mean we dislike them.  Like many adults, we are simply indifferent.

What the team behind Black Panther did in the most in the most subversive way was to NOT treat the film based on a somewhat obscure Marvel comic from the 1970s as SPECIAL  It was smart enough to know that with the first Black  Superhero Film EVER all that was needed was to tell a STORY that rang true and they could create the most meaningful movie of the genre to date.  That they did, and then some.

Does it suffer a few lags in the middle, a couple of confusing plot twists and several overly long action sequences?  Maybe.  But it also brought suspense and depth to an overdone genre not by adding another star villain but simply by being the best version of itself.

The Other Side of the Wind/They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

Redeeming Orson

This is the newly finished final cut of the unfinished film Orson Welles started shooting more than 40 years ago and a documentary on the making of said film and of Welles’ final journey of incompletion.

There are more than a few moments of brilliance in Welles’ imperfectly perfect last film.  More than anything, this seriocomic mockumentary of itself and its real life filmmaker shows us once again how far ahead of his time Welles truly was (Note: Decades before reality TV) and just how deep his love-hate relationship with Hollywood ran.

The actual documentary on the making of the movie confirms most of what any movie fan could guess about the filmmaker and his subjects.  It plays as equal parts loving tribute, cautionary tale and historical document of the Hollywood filmmaking community.

There is no other filmmaker who can bridge the gap from the 1930s, up through the 1970s, and then just time into the 21st century so seamlessly.  The fact that Welles does it in two films via Netflix feels like his final middle finger to the town that lauded and then dumped him.  And after watching both pieces of work, that seems more than justified.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Let the Oscar buzz begin

What was the last film you saw featuring a nasty middle aged lesbian writer and an even older gay male party boy who strike up an unlikely friendship in 1970s/80s New York City?  Based on a true story?  Where they bilk collectors out of money by selling fake literary letters while blithely insulting all of the pretentious people you yourself are not fast enough to one-up in real life?

Hmm.  Never.  Though sounds like a typical Saturday for me.  Which is one of the many reasons I LOVED this film and it’s a must see.

The other is the surprisingly multi-layered, in-depth performance of Melissa McCarthy in the lead.  What a pleasure not seeing her spitting out a piece of pie to the camera, going to the bathroom in the middle of the road or flying through the air and squashing someone on her way down.

She and her co-star Richard E. Grant should both get Oscar nominations and every writer, or anyone who thinks they truly understand the writing life, or has ever written or read a book, should see it.  And not look at box-office figures or read the reviews. #GiveMeABreak

BlackKlansman

Talk about a good poster

Speaking of the Oscars, do you know Spike Lee has never even been NOMINATED for an Academy Award as best director??  Hopefully that changes this year.  It’s hard to imagine anyone but Lee bringing the right mix of comedy, irony and politics to what amounts to a story about race in our country.

Yeah, a real Black policeman in the 1970s DID pretend to be an aspiring member of the KKK on the phone to some real KKK members and actually began to rise through the ranks of  his local racists via the white Jewish  detective he got to pose as his physical self.

It’s so strange it works and so specifically scary that it resonates in 2018 politics.  One more reason it’s one of the must-sees of a year that will not have ended a bit too soon.  #DidIAlreadySayThat?

The Cold War

From the Director of IDA

It’s 89 minutes and as special as ANY movie you will see in 2018 or any year.  Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski has gifted us the story of his parents’ turbulent romantic relationship set against the 1950s Cold War in Poland.  But don’t let the title or the poster fool you. Unlike its title, it is intensely romantic, bizarrely strange, tragically quirky and so musically eclectic as to be right on the border of camp.

It is a pleasure to report that a filmmaker can tell a story with giant gaps in time and not confuse his audience; move arcs of characters in completely odd directions that feel perfectly understandable; and get us to buy it all in Polish and French with only English subtitles to guide us.  That and an unwavering bullsh-t detector that never allows for a single false moment.

If there is a film of the year, THIS ONE would be IT.

Ella Fitzgerald – “The Best is Yet to Come”