As long as I mentioned the Marx Bros. marathon on Turner Classic Movies, I figured that this is as good a way to go out the year with. Here's the Mirror Scene from Duck Soup. That Harpo who crashes into the mirror, and Groucho is...well, the other one.
Turner Classic Movies has a couple of movie marathons to fill out New Years Eve day (and night). Currently on now, beginning at 9 AM (West Coast time, noon in the East) is A Night at the Opera, followed by Animals Crackers, Monkey Business, Horsefeathers, and Duck Soup.
Then, starting at 5 PM PST (8 PM in the East) are all six Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy, running consecutively for almost the next 11 hours.
By the way, the movie that follows all of this at 3:45 (PST...you know the rest), is fascinating for historical reasons. It's the 1936 movie, Things to Come, which stars Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson (who we just had here playing Ebeneezer Scrooge in that BBC radio adaptation of A Christmas Carol). It's based on the H.G. Wells novel. What's so remarkable about the film is that the screenplay is written by...H.G. Wells himself!
The movie isn't wonderful, but there's enough good things in it to make it worthwhile, most particularly for seeing a movie written by H.G. Wells. The iMDB listing describes the plot as "A decades-long second World War leaves plague and anarchy, then a rational state rebuilds civilization and attempts space travel." (Given the timing of the film, it's anticipation of the start of a second world war isn't so far off.) Obviously the early morning timing isn't quite ideal for most people, but then that's why God created the DVR.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the first episode of the new season of Jerry Seinfeld's web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, would premiere on December 30 with President Barack Obama as the guest. At 11:30 PM last night, it went live.
The episode is hugely entertaining. And not surprisingly, longer than most, running about 20 minutes. The video begins with a particularly long description of the car they'll be driving in -- in part because it's an especially-impressive Corvette, but in part I suspect to build up the anticipation. And there are other differences, too -- like the whole, usual premise of driving around town to go out to a coffee shop. That takes a slightly, and entertainingly-different turn.
Obviously, this chat isn't centered on any policy discussion, but it's quite interesting on its own terms. Seinfeld does an extremely nice job dealing with the President in a very personal way, asking several unexpected questions that bring out a very conversational side, making this much more than just a Q&A interview. In fact, it all becomes so informal that at one point Mr. Obama turns the tables and starts questioning Seinfeld. ("Oh, good," the surprised comedian quips, "because you haven't worked yet.") Indeed, in the introduction, Seinfeld references Mr. Obama's qualification of being able to fall under the heading of "comedian." And not shockingly here's plenty of good humor throughout -- including from the president. Furthermore, it's not remotely just fawning over the Chief Executive. Seinfeld, after all, is a sharp, quick comedian and snarky enough to get some pointed comments in. (I particularly liked his thoroughly-unguarded reaction when they discuss how one spends their time after your main life's work comes to an end.) My favorite moment though comes very near the beginning: I won't give it away, but will just say that it concerns an apple, and a comment Seinfeld makes which cracks up the president.
You also get a look at the White House from a perspective the public rarely sees. This is no small thing, I found that part actually quite fascinating. You really gets a sense of the grandeur of the building, it seeming at times as much a palace as a "mere" mansion.
Stick around after the commercial at the very end. There's a short, amusing addendum.
I have no doubt that there will be some who'll criticize this for being a waste of the presidential time with so many serious things going on in the world. I also suspect these are the same people who would criticize the president for whatever it was he did about handling those serious things instead of spending time on this appearance. To a certain degree, Seinfeld and the president do address his appearance here to justify it, in a very small way. (Like when a president has gone on a talk show to not just be entertaining, but also build public support for some proposal.) Was it the best use of time for a President of the United States? Probably not, though looking behind the curtain and seeing an low-key, informal, personal side of the head of the country isn't without its benefits. I would also suspect that all presidents do have periods when they are, in fact, free to unwind and do some personal things like this. (After all, when we see "news stories" of a president go to a store to buy holiday gifts, as occasionally happens, that doesn't appear to be a high matter of state.) They just usually aren't recorded on film. Is this any less worthy of a president's relaxation time than watching a basketball game or playing golf? And clearly, if there wasn't the available time when this could be reasonably done, it simply wouldn't have been.
And in the end, it's very well-done, thoughtful, and very entertaining. If it felt forced, it would be a far more questionable undertaking. But this comes across as seamless. Which is impressive, because I'm sure it's anything but.
I can't embed the video, but you can watch it here.
Since this song is about New Year's Eve, I was going to post it tomorrow. But then I realized the lyrics are about someone trying ahead of time to get a date for New Year's Eve. So, I'm posting it today instead.
This is a video posted by Zooey Deschanel, a charming duet with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She writes the following about it --
"I have known Joe Gordon-Levitt for going on 12 years. We first met in the summer of 2000 while doing a tiny movie called Manic, where we bonded over a mutual appreciation for Harry Nilsson and Nina Simone and I have been lucky enough to call him one of my dearest friends ever since. When we did 500 Days of Summer 8 years later, we spent every lunch hour dancing to Marvin Gaye in the hair and make up trailer; we had loads of fun. I hope to do a thousand more movies with him because he's simply the best. But in the meantime, we made a little New Year's duet for all of you! The original by Nancy Wilson. ENJOY!"
Two quibbles. First, the original recording was not by Nancy Wilson, but rather in 1947 by Margaret Whiting. And second, while I know it's become fashionable these days, thanks to shows like The Voice, to say a song is "by" person who sang it, in fact it was written by the great Broadway composer-lyricist Frank Loesser, though it's not from any show and was written before he had started his Broadway career.
That aside, it's a lovely rendition. Ms. Deschanel even wore her tiara for the occasion. It's the perfect accessory for a ukulele...
A friend was coming to Chicago to visit her two sisters, and asked if I had any movie rental recommendations. That was quite a wide assignment, I said, given that I have no idea what kind of movie she liked – let alone that the three sisters together liked. Comedy, adventure, thriller, foreign, romance, sci-fi…
I did my best putting together a list, knowing what little I did of the three, all accomplished professionals. I figured that since the list is done, I might as well post it here. Keep in mind that this is not even remotely a definitive Moves To See list. It's focused on these three sisters. Without knowing their specific tastes. And I chose to come up with lesser-known films that they were less-likely to have seen. And I didn't want to take too much time researching and thinking about this, so it was done pretty quickly, in about a half-hour. I have no doubt that if I took more time and had different criteria, the list would be significantly different. And there were others I even thought of including, but decided there was a limit, and stopped since I didn't want to inundate her with an interminable list.
So, again, this is not a definitive list in any way, shape or form. Just something I dashed off given the limited criteria I mentioned above. And which I thought would be fun to post here, to help end out the year, perhaps even if you're looking for something to rent on New Year's Eve.
So, here then are some random thoughts.
A few movies I loved that few people have seen, let alone even know about –
“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.” Julianne Moore should have won the Oscar for this, but almost no one saw the movie, and she wasn’t even nominated. It's a brilliant performance. Based on a memoir about the author’s indomitable mother who, in the 1950s, helped raise her large family (whenever her well-meaning, but irresponsible, often-drunk husband, played by Woody Harrelson, screwed up their lives) by regularly entering product write-in contest in the newspaper and winning so much of the time. The full title of the book it's based on is "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio -- or How My Mother Raised 10 Kinds on 25 Words or Less." The movie also has the single greatest ending to a true-story film I've ever seen.
“Proof”, based on the Tony-winning play, about a young woman determined to prove her brilliant father isn’t going crazy by trying to prove the theorem he’s spent a lifetime working on. With Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and directed by John Madden, who directed "Shakespeare in Love" and "Mrs. Brown."
“Rosewater” is the movie that Jon Stewart took time off from “The Daily Show” to write and direct. It got a tiny release, almost insignificant, but it’s really quite good. A true story about a journalist in Iran who is arrested for supposedly dealing with an American spy, who actually was just “correspondent” from “The Daily Show.”
“Kon-Tiki”, a very good recent retelling of the famous documentary (and book) about an effort to prove how civilization migrating from Asia, as a group of men build a raft and attempt to sail across the Pacific Ocean.
Slightly Better-known Movies, but Still Under the Wire –
“Temple Grandin” – an HBO movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Made-for-TV film. Really wonderful. A true story about a young woman with autism who confronts it head-on and ends up breaking through major stigmatisms and becomes a famous animal behaviorist. It won seven Emmys in all, including Outstanding Actress in a Mini-series of Movie for Clare Danes.
“Ball of Fire,” a classic screwball comedy from the ‘40s, where a gangster’s girlfriend has to hide out among a household of seven adorable, brilliant and totally innocent academics who spends all their time indoors researching and writing an encyclopedia. Loosely based on “Snow White and the 7 Dwarves,” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper (as one of the academics).
Several Brilliant Foreign-language Films –
“Character” (or “Karakter”) – one of my favorite films of the last 25 years. This 1997 Dutch movie was the Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s like a long-lost Dickens novel -- as well as a long-lost film directed by David Lean (“Dr. Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Great Expectations, “Oliver Twist.”) The story has the sensibility particular of "Nicholas Nickleby," telling of a young man from a poor background, trying to make his way in the business world, whose every move seems blocked by the omnipresent town elder, but who has a friendly benefactor guiding him. A love story, too, as he also tries to discover the story of his past.
“La Vie en Rose” – Marion Coitillard became only the third foreign-language actress to win the Oscar as Best Actress, in the life story of singer Edith Piaf. And though I suspect more people saw this than would have otherwise because of the award, my guess is it still hasn't been seen by many. It's a tour-de-force performance, but a very well-done movie beside that.
“No Man’s Land” – Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, beating the hugely popular “Amelie.” It starts out as a war movie about the Serbo-Croatian War, and then suddenly takes a huge turn with one of the great twists I’ve seen in the movies. (So great that I’ve never told anyone the plot, not wanting to give it away.) It’s largely a personal drama over a specific dilemma that is utterly gripping. Since the U.N. plays a major role, probably 25% of the film is in English, making it more accessible than most foreign-language films. I saw this at an "awards screening," and the response in the room was so visceral that when people asked me my "Oscar predictions," they were stunned that I said this (which they hadn't heard of) rather than "Amelie," which they'd seen and loved. But I was right. It won.
“Joyeux Noel,” – Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film (that should have won), based on a true story in World War I, when several armies were facing each other in trenches on Christmas Eve, and they get the idea to call a one-night truce. It’s absolutely wonderful – taught, but endearing and beautifully made. It lost the Oscar to a South African film, "Totsi," which was good and had a Very Good Message -- but (and I know this is all personal taste) "Joyeux Noel" was just an exquisite film and a total joy..
“Hero” – probably the most gorgeously-photographed movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, I was so taken with it that I wrote an article about the film (here). It was made by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, an artist of impressive craftsmanship, who best known to American audiences for directing the otherworldly spectacular opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The story is good, and interesting, albeit a bit thin, an adventure about a swordsman’s journey for retribution against a warrior, but the movie is so amazing beautiful to watch that it sucks you in with every frame..
“Lagaan” – another Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film from India. It’s VERY long (about 3-1/2 hours), and has traditional India goofiness, like big musical numbers that break out for no reason, but an extremely accessible, fun story – basically “Rocky” meets “Romeo and Juliet.” The word “lagaan” means tax. The film takes place when the British still ruled India, and the local tax is raised on a poor village, which they can’t pay. But they make a bet with the British governors – if they can beat the British at cricket, there will be no tax. If they lose, though, the tax will be tripled. There's one slight problem – the villagers don’t know how to play cricket. A British girl is in love with a young man from the village, so every day she sneaks over to teach them how to play.
And okay, that’s enough. Other lists may vary...including my own. But that's a quick start.
But here's the opening 10 minutes of "Character," co-adapted from a novel and directed by Mike van Diem.
There are a series of photos which are making the rounds of the Internet these days, and they are just too freaking adorable and wonderful not to bring to your attention.
Allan Dixon is an adventurer based in Australia who travels the world and, among other things takes photos of animals. No big deal, I know, but so many of these photos are selfies with the animals, and they're just...well, otherworldly. Here's just one example --
And most of the rest are almost just as wonderful. Really. I'm not exaggerating.
Like this one, for example.
Don't worry. I didn't give away "all the best" of them. In fact, I had a difficult time trying to figure out which ones to use.
There's an important component to all of this. As an article here on the Huffington Post notes --
"As an adventurer, Dixon is cautious: He sometimes spends hours hanging out with an animal and gaining its trust before snapping photos. Travelers 'should be very careful as to not upset or provoke the animal when they’re trying to take the photo,' Dixon told Bored Panda. 'Gain the animal’s trust in a calm relaxed manner, and the results will be golden.'
"Of course you should avoid approaching an animal you don't know to be friendly and keep your distance behind gates or other barriers when they're set up, National Geographic points out. Practice respect, though, and nature will show you its good side, as Dixon can certainly attest."
The article linked above show many of the best photos. But if you want to see a far-wider collection of Allan Dixon's photos, check out his own terrific gallery here on Instagram.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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