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Classic Movie Reviews

by Live Music Head

hung

I’d never heard of Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), the struggling suburban high school basketball and baseball coach and father of two who resorts to using his greatest asset to make money, after losing his wife and his house burned down... until I got Crave TV a couple of months ago. I must admit, it was this promotional poster that got my full-stop attention when I was scrolling through the drama section. And today I finished watching every episode in chronological order of the three-seasons-only-before-HBO-dropped-it comedy series. The situations got increasingly more sexually explicit with each passing episode, and outrageous, especially the desperate antics of wannbe-poet Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams) moonlighting as the pimp. Outrageous, yet believable considering today’s economic climate and that the story takes place in the bankrupt city of Detroit.

The trailer for Hung...


Hung’s page on HBO...
http://www.hbo.com/hung#/


The Last Impresario
2013 documentary film directed by Gracie Otto,
based on the life of Michael White,
theatrical producer and film maker
by Live Music Head

last-impressarioLMH sees The Last Impresario, Bloor Hotdocs cinema, Toronto 11/30/2014

The new Gracie Otto-directed documentary based on the life of Michael White, the most famous person you’ve never heard of, is simply a delight. Yes, I was quite charmed by this prolific, theatrical impresario and film maker who had a penchant for hard work, hard partying, models, marriage, and marijuana.

Born in Scotland in 1936 and educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, White had a rough childhood, but grew up to be a man with international perspective. A producer of art shows, dance performances, theatre and film. Michael White was drawn to the fringes of society, the avant garde, and the daring. Nothing was the same after full frontal, backside, and every-other-which-way female and male nudity was seen dancing across the stage in 1969’s controversial theatrical revue Oh! Calcutta!, one of the longest-running off-Broadway productions in history. And he made things happen in Swinging London. He transformed Britain’s cultural scene in the 1970s, and got to know a lot of people. He worked with Yoko Ono before she met John. And when he wasn’t working, he was a playboy. Very popular with the ladies.

As a theatre producer, White also put together musical plays you may have heard of, like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, A Chorus Line, Annie, and the Rocky Horror Show, which was such an enormous success in London that it caught the eye of record producer, manager, director, and owner of West Hollywood, California’s Roxy Theatre, Lou Adler, who brought it to the United States. White lost control of the production in America, to a bad deal. But it was never about the money for White. It was about the adventure. It was about the excitement!

Over the years, White became a hoarder, amassing a collection of memorabilia that includes over sixty photo albums filled with captured moments spent with the most diverse group of people ever; a group of the most celebrated people of all. Like Jack Nicholson, David Bowie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Roman Polanski, Brooke Shields, John Travolta, Michael Douglas, Prince Charles, Andy Warhol, Margaret Thatcher, Lorne Michaels, Naomi Watts, and the front man of The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger. In this regard, Michael White kind of reminds me a little of Rodney Bingenheimer, otherwise known as the Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the subject of another excellent documentary. Some of White’s most cherished memorabilia were letters; letters from Paul McCartney and John Cleese which were, much to his regret, auctioned off at Southeby’s. Sometimes it is about the money, when you really need it.

Regularly spotted at Cannes Film Festival, White was also a producer of films you may know, like Monty Python and The Holy Grail, My Dinner with Andre, and that same mad transvestite scientist story from Transylvania made so successful on the stage, turned cult-classic and renamed The Rocky Horror Picture Show to honour the big screen.

He’s been described as subversive and anti-establishment; someone who just may have been honoured with the title of Sir to place in front of his name, if only he hadn’t been. A social butterfly incapable of growing up, White now approaching the age of 80, continues to work hard, and party three times a week. Yes, Michael White is still alive. He’s received many awards for his work, and in April of this year he received another one for Lifetime Achievement. It was presented to him by his very good friend, Kate Moss. Michael White: “I’m friends with everyone. I’ve been cheated, but I have no enemies.”


The trailer for The Last Impresario...


The website for The Last Impresario...
http://www.thelastimpresario.com

2014 documentary on the life and times of Roger Ebert
directed by Steve James
by Live Music Head
July 11, 2014
Ticket
Piers Handling (CEO and Director, tiff.) introduced last night’s screening of Life Itself, the new documentary about the life and times of the late-great Roger Ebert (American writer; first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism (1975); author; screenwriter, journalist; partner of Gene Siskel) at the Lightbox in Toronto. That’s because Handling was friends with Ebert (a long time supporter of tiff.), for well over twenty years.

Handling also introduced Ebert’s wife Chaz, who apparently chose to only attend this screening out of the dozens of others that are happening across North America. The two of them had a chat and held a Q&A for the audience inside a sold-out Cinema 3. I particularly liked what Chaz said about Joe vs. The Volcano, that quirky little dark comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, one of my favourites. Apparently it was a film that Chaz and Roger disagreed over. She didn’t like it, but he gave it a thumbs up. After viewing the film a couple of times however, Chaz finally got it and had to agree with Roger. It is one I got, and completely agreed with him on when he said: “What's strongest about the movie is that it does possess a philosophy, an idea about life. The idea is the same idea contained in ‘Moonstruck’: that at night, in those corners of our minds we deny by day, magical things can happen in the moon shadows. And if they can't, a) they should, and b) we should always in any event act as if they can.”

There is much about Ebert I agree with and can relate to. And from the get-go, starting with the speech he gives at the opening, I was incredibly moved watching this doc. For even on their death beds, Siskel and Ebert disagreed. After being shut out of Siskel’s last days with cancer (as he chose to keep his condition private, and died from it in 1999), Ebert decided to completely open up about his, and invited the cameras into the hospital, right up until he too died from it in 2013. The hospital footage in this doc is difficult to watch. But I sincerely admire Ebert for doing it, for his courage. And kudos to Steve James. This will likely be one of the best documentaries of the year. Five stars outta five stars.

The trailer for Life Itself...



The official website of TIFF...
http://tiff.net/


2012 documentary film about the 1950s pin-up model
Directed by Mark Mori
Featuring commentary by Hugh Hefner
Bloor Hotdocs premiere, Toronto
March 7, 2014
by Live Music Head

bettie
Movie-goers were treated to a live burlesque strip-tease prior to the Toronto premiere screening of Bettie Page Reveals All, on the stage at Bloor Hotdocs cinema. And in true Bettie Page form, it was provocative, titillating, and fun-loving. Thanks to Laura Desiree and CoCo Framboise.

Moments into the film however, Playboy’s Hugh Hefner is shown attending Page’s funeral service at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles (the same place that held the service of that other world-famous sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, and where both of these beautiful women currently rest, finally and hopefully in peace). Bagpipes. Hugh Hefner: "I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, and someone who had a tremendous impact on our society."

Bettie Mae Page, born into a family of six just like me, arrived on April 22, 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee to a mother who was a hairdresser by day and a laundress at night, and a father whom she describes as “a womanizer of the worst kind.” He raped his daughters. Despite this, Bettie appeared happy and looked just like The Girl Next Door. But as one would suspect, she grew up mistreated by many men. As the documentary’s narrator, the story is told and heard in Bettie’s older, raspier voice.

Fascinated by Hollywood starlets, Bettie practiced posing like them, studying what she saw in movie magazines. At local community centres she learned to cook and sew. Through hard work and determination, she rose to the top of her class in high school where she became secretary-treasurer of the Student Council, co-editor of the school’s newspaper and yearbook, and the Program Director of the Dramatics Club. She was also voted "Most Likely to Succeed." In 1940, Page graduated high school and married classmate Billy Neal three years later, shortly before he was drafted to World War II. She enrolled in college with the intention of becoming a teacher, or an actress, and she also dreamed of becoming a missionary. Page graduated college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944 and then moved to San Francisco. She got her first
modeling job at a local furrier, modelling fur coats for clients.

Having divorced Neal by 1947, she moved to New York City in ’49 where she met Jerry Tibbs a year later, on the beach at Coney Island. Tibbs, a police officer and photographer, put together her first pinup portfolio. From there, Page’s name and image quickly became known in the industry of erotic photography. And a fella by the name of Richard Arbib became the love in her life. The industrial designer of very stylish automobiles and wrist watches left his wife for Bettie. And then he left Bettie to return to his wife, only to leave his wife again for Bettie, but by then couldn’t find her. Apparently letting Bettie get away was the biggest regret of his life.

Camera clubs led to posing for various magazines and Bettie’s reputation as a model with the perfect balance between naughty and nice grew far and wide. She seemed to have a respectable working relationship with her photographers as well. They say she was nothing but a pleasure to work with; a playful, vivacious, joyous girl who loved to dance and always looked them straight in the eye. Men and women alike would be hard pressed not to fall in love with the 36-23-35, 5 foot 5 ½, 128lb sexpot with the glowing, infectious smile, who had a child’s enthusiasm for life. Immature, after all, was only a word boring people used to describe fun people. She was someone who really enjoyed her work, and that joy is clearly evidenced in the photos. Bettie Page became the first, and famous-all-over-the-world, pin-up girl, ultimately crowned queen of ‘em after posing in an endless amount of eye-popping bikinis that she made herself.

In 1952, and for the five years that followed, Page posed for a slew of pin-ups with themes of sadomasochism, snapped by Irving Klaw for his mail order business. She then became the first, and famous-all-over-the-world, bondage model. Klaw, who it’s been read to have proclaimed himself Pin-Up King, also shot Page in 8mm and 16mm silent motion pictures which showed her acting out fetish scenarios dressed in elaborate leather costumes and restraints. Page could easily play a dominatrix or a helpless victim. And all around the world, doctors, lawyers, and upper class business husbands couldn’t have been happier.

In 1953, Page took acting classes which landed her roles on stage and television, including The Jackie Gleason Show. In 1954, she met photographer Bunny Yeager in Miami, which resulted in her posing in that well-known leopard-print one-piece. Bunny also took nude shots of her that are completely and absolutely stunning. Bettie Page was certainly endowed with an unforgettable body. Yeager sent photos of Page to Hugh Hefner. And the publisher of Playboy, that enormously successful skin magazine, saw Bettie fit to become Playmate of the Month in January of 1955. She was also the magazine’s Christmas centerfold.

It was all fun and games until about 1957, when the FBI came knocking trying to nail Klaw for pornography. Page was then living in Florida. Having never appeared in anything with explicit sexual content, Bettie described herself as a pin-up model, not a porn star. And she didn’t believe she was doing anything shameful. And with her trademark straight-cut bangs (a style I’ve sported myself from time to time over the years) became known as a sexual revolutionary. In court, she defended Klaw, but thousands of her photos were destroyed as a result of the proceedings. In 1958, she got married for a second time, to Armond Walterson. And then in 1959, at the peak of her career, Bettie Page disappeared.

For years, no one knew where she was, or if she was alive or dead. During her absence, Bettie Page became a star of comic books and fan clubs. And her image graced everything from record albums to playing cards. By the 1980s, she’d gained a full-blown cult following, rising to the top of the list of highly-influential icons. Opportunists cashed in on what was open domain, and books with nothing but lies about her, were published. Bettie Page was oblivious to all of it, and of course never saw a dime. You see, by 1963, Page’s modelling career was left behind when she settled in Nashville to live a private life, and began working full-time for Reverend Billy Graham, the evangelical Southern Baptist minister who also served as spiritual advisor to the President of the United States while offering what support he could to Martin Luther King Jr during the Civil Rights Movement. Bettie Page was now riding the waves of the tumultuous nineteen sixties, as a born-again Christian.

She re-married her first husband, but only briefly before moving to Florida in ‘67 to get married again, to Harry Lear and become mother to his three kids. Five years later she was divorced again, and in 1979 she moved to California where her life crumbled and seriously fell apart, in the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Page lost her mind in Bible Town, was arrested for assault, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Bettie spent the following decade in a psychiatric hospital, shocked and medicated. But is anyone surprised? I mean, really? Her mother never wanted her. And her father molested her at the age of 13. That stuff always comes back.

Upon learning that Hugh Hefner helped an aging Bettie Page live out her remaining years in comfort, had me leaving the cinema feeling happy.

Due to technical difficulties with Skype, the scheduled on screen Q&A at the end of the film with director Mark Mori was cancelled.

The trailer for Bettie Page Reveals All...




The official website for Bettie Page...

http://www.bettiepage.com/

The official website for Bloor Hotdocs...

http://bloorcinema.com/
360 Screenings
Ontario Heritage Centre, Toronto
October 24, 2013
by Live Music Head
Untitled-2
On the first of a two-night sold-out engagement with 360 Screenings, I worked the food table and Front of House to take tickets and check the guest list. And I was very happy to do so. Because Artistic Producer and Co-Founder Ned Loach, and Artistic Director and Co-Founder Robert Gontier, have a truly great thing going on. I mean, they’d have to have a great thing going on if their events sell out before anyone even knows what the film is, or where it’s being screened. It was the same when I worked the show previous to this one, last May at Toronto’s Christie Mansion and the film turned out to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicholson.

For anyone not familiar, 360 Screenings “provides a cinematic experience that audiences not only watch, but become part of through live theatre installations. Every event features an interactive live performance followed by a film screening. The location of the venue, a Toronto heritage or unique building, is kept secret until 24 hours prior to the screening, and the film itself isn’t revealed until the second half of the evening. A hybrid between live theatre and cinema, the audience is encouraged to explore, uncover and interact with the actors and the set design”, while they try to guess what the film will be. In other words, patrons “step into the film”.

34Untitled-5

For this screening, the venue turned out to be the lovely Ontario Heritage Centre at Yonge & Adelaide. I really enjoyed exploring the hallways of a building that used to be a bank and seeing the old vaults. And the elevator with a stool inside for the operator, and the operator himself who was all-too-happy to give you a ride. At the end of the second-floor hallway, I not only found the ladies room, but a ladder and a mouse trap with a piece of cheese sitting on it. Hmmm... a small hint of what the film may be, perhaps?

When I walked onto the set and saw the back of this little girl with long brown hair wearing nothing but a sheer nightgown, I got totally creeped out. Goosebumps even. And I hadn’t even seen her face yet! There was a bed in the center of the room with an end table beside it, with a lamp and alarm clock on it, and a copy of Photoplay magazine with a couple of familiar actresses on the cover. Another hint. There was also some rope. The room was cold. Probably because of the cold air coming through that open window across from the bed, making the curtains billow.


121314

Patrons mingled and wandered about munching on veggie or chicken sandwiches and cookies that I served them, or sipping wine and beer. But when the room was darkened, a hush soon fell upon us. A scene from the yet-to-be-screened film was about to be re-enacted. The little girl with long brown hair dressed in a sheer nightgown was now standing on the bed screaming and cursing, completely possessed by Satan, while two priests hit her with holy water and repeatedly chanted: “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!!” Goosebumps.

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The film of course turned out to be The Exorcist starring Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, the greatest film ever made about evil, imo, and a film I’ve had a life-long relationship with. What a great choice for the Halloween season.

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After the re-enactment, the audience was ushered down to The Gallery where the classic and largely impactful American horror film of 1973, directed by William Friedkin, was screened. Interactive elements of the event included make-up artists ready to paint the face of anyone willing to participate, and a Confession Board for audience members willing to write theirs. The best one I read? “I peed on my boyfriend last night while he was sleeping.” Make sure you catch the next 360 Screenings event scheduled for February 2014. Better yet, go to the website and register so you’ll be sure not to miss it.

The official website for 360 Screenings,
where you can check out video of past events...
http://360screenings.com/

All photos courtesy of Live Music Head
Filthy Gorgeous:
The Bob Guccione Story

2013 Canadian documentary directed by Barry Avrich
by Live Music Head

Bob-GuccionePhoto credit: Live Music Head

“The Naked Truth”
Barry Avrich’s account of the life of this most unlikely revolutionary of the 1960s counterculture is energetic, iconoclastic and well researched, examining Guccione’s long and audacious career, most notably as publisher of the hugely influential pornographic magazine Penthouse
and producer of the porn epic Caligula.
~ Steve Gravestock, tiff. website

As I got settled in my Cinema 3 seat inside tiff. Bell Lightbox with a big bag of popcorn, Whatcha See is Whatcha Get by Detroit-based soul group The Dramatics played during the opening credits of Filthy Gorgeous, the new documentary film about New York-born Italian-American visionary and provocateur Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse Magazine. Cool! (Hearing the song again caused me to download the 1971 hit from iTunes immediately after the screening). When the song faded, I was then all eyes and ears ready to learn more about the events that led up to Bob Guccione becoming one of the most successful businessmen in the world.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1930, Bob Guccione was raised in New Jersey by his accountant father and his stay-at-home mother. When he was a young man, Guccione moved from the U.S, to London, England with the dream of living the life of an artist. A painter, to be specific. But as one would expect, living the life of an artist was a struggle; too much of a financial struggle to support himself, not to mention a wife and child. Guccione admitted that when forced to choose between spending his last dollar on food for his family, or spending it on paint and brushes, he would choose to spend it on the tools needed to put colour on canvas. His wife left him. He continued to struggle. But motivated by lack of money, Guccione found employment at a newspaper where he began entertaining the idea of copying Hugh Hefner, the well-established and successful American publisher of Playboy magazine. Applying his painter’s eye, Guccione got behind the camera to shoot the steamy photographs of what would grace the pages of his new magazine. And with these steamy photos, he quickly became the Editor and Chief of Penthouse, Britain’s answer to Playboy, a men’s magazine to rival Hefner in sales. The first issue was published in England in 1965, and arrived in America four years later. Guccione was now a celebrated porn photographer, and Penthouse was the first skin magazine to publish photos showing a woman’s pubic hair.

What’s interesting about Penthouse was that it was run by women, particularly Kathy Keeton, Guccione’s third wife and savvy business partner. Guccione may have been the successful magazine’s founder, but he really wasn’t the best businessman. Projecting a sleazy image of a player with his open-shirt and gold-chains, Bob Guccione was still the artist who continued to paint. Keeton was the one with the head for business. Together they created an empire that included other publications like Viva: The International Magazine for Women, a health mag called Longevity, and Omni, for fans of science. It was an empire that brought in enough money for Guccione to become an art collector, decorating the walls of his home with Modigliani, Picasso, Botticelli, Chagall, Dalí, Matisse, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

As expected with such a racy publication, Penthouse was soon caught up in controversies, one being when they published nude photos of Vanessa Williams, Miss America of 1983. The pictorial brought Penthouse it’s hottest-seller. Like Hefner and Larry Flynt (publisher of Hustler magazine), Guccione had a passion for freedom which saw him waving the U.S. First Amendment flag in the face of the religious right and the hypocritical televangelists of the day who opposed him: Jimmy Swaggert, the Pentecostal pastor who, having been accused of hanky panky with a prostitute in 1988 gave the infamous “I Have Sinned” speech in front of the Assemblies of God, and Jim Bakker, the disgraced PTL Club host (and husband of the mascara-running emotional co-host, Tammy Faye) who was accused of raping his secretary the same year, and later imprisoned for fraud. And Jerry Falwell, founder of The Moral Majority, who took Guccione to court after learning about the article Penthouse had written about him. But Falwell couldn’t prevent being written about in Penthouse any more than he could prevent the parady ad that Hustler had published about him. Just like when he took Flynt to court, Falwell lost. Xaviera Hollander (The Happy Hooker) makes an appearance in the film and her comments made me laugh out loud.

Guccione with his love for all things Italian, and now with enough money to indulge any whim, soon entered the world of film making to finance, produce, direct, and release the 1979 historical pornographic cult film Caligula, based on the rise and fall of the Roman Emperor (37 AD to 41 AD), starring Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole and Helen Mirren. Despite the incredibly talented cast, Guccione could not find a distributor, so he bought a theatre in NYC where the film was screened for a year. Many people saw the film, including myself, but it was critically-panned. Guccione, wanting to stay true to the history, depicted way-over-the-top violence, and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons of explicit sex between real porn stars. Bans, censored versions, edits and re-edits followed. Guccione also went into the casino business, but failed to secure a gaming licence for the one he built in Atlantic City in 1978. Investment failures like this, combined with the advent of the VCR and internet technology, not to mention the devastation caused by the death of Kathy Keeton in ‘97, Guccione’s extravagant life (that some say he lived just like a Roman Emperor himself), soon began to crumble. The Forbes-anointed richest man in the world of ’85 took to the sanctuary of his bedroom, depressed. And there was no one with his best interests at heart steering the Penthouse ship.

Staff at the magazine, like Guccione’s administrative assistant, happily worked for the man for some thirty years. Her comments in the film are touching. Guccione was well-loved by her, and seemingly by many other women in his life. He was also loved by his son Bob, Jr (a publisher himself, of Spin, the music magazine) who has much to say in this movie. Looking a little like Tony Curtis and a little like Tom Jones, Bob Guccione comes across in the film as a likable artist; a pop culture and counterculture figure completely worthy of a great documentary.

Director Barry Avrich talks about Guccione and Filthy Gorgeous
on Global TV’s Morning Show...
Remembering: The China Syndrome
American thriller directed by James Bridges
Starring Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas
Released 1979
by Lisa McDonald
Live Music Head
china-syndrome
It’s about people, people who lie.

And people faced with the agony of telling the truth.

One of the shows I grew up watching was The Streets of San Francisco, a television police drama which I believe was my earliest exposure to the actor known as Michael Douglas. The show ran from 1972 to 1977, but Douglas left the show to become a first-time producer of the highly-regarded motion picture of ‘75, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, for which he won an Academy Award. So Michael Douglas was a television star-turned film producer before he ever became a big-screen actor, which is what happened when he took on his second producing job, The China Syndrome.

Douglas not only produced, but co-starred as Richard Adams, the radical cameraman who called the head of KXLA News a “chickenshit asshole” after learning that the film he secretly shot inside a nuclear power facility during a life-threatening accident, would not be shown on the news and was being put in the vault instead, all in the name of politics. China Syndrome, a term used to describe what may happen during a nuclear disaster: reactor components melting down through containment structures straight through the earth, all the way to China, destroying the world as we know it, is also the title of the film that Douglas calls a monster movie. It’s a film about greed.

Jane Fonda, already known for her political and anti-war activism, had just completed co-producing and starring in the Academy Award-winning film Coming Home, another movie with a political message and a story about a woman’s transformation. But it was the true story of Karen Silkwood, an employee at a nuclear power plant who set out to expose the dangerous lies of the people who ran it (and whose story was later turned into a film starring Meryl Streep) that was the inspiration for Fonda taking on the role of Kimberley Wells, an ambitious reporter of soft news often seen running around in ‘a man’s world’ wearing platform shoes, trying hard to prove her worth.

Fonda saw the opportunity in The China Syndrome for bringing forth not only awareness to the dangers of nuclear power, but for bringing forth women’s issues, particularly women’s issues that arose from working under men in television broadcasting. The sexism shown in scenes between Wells and her KXLA male superior made this writer want to punch somebody in the face. Interestingly, Jane’s character has an Andy Warhol lithograph of Marilyn Monroe hanging in her apartment. Jane Fonda: “A lot of women identify with the tensions that Marilyn Monroe represented between strength, ambition, vulnerability, and malleability. So much pressure was put on women, on their looks, who worked in front of the camera.”

The China Syndrome was a chance for Fonda and Douglas to make a statement about their own personal beliefs. At the time of shooting, the nuclear power industry was making plans to open additional facilities, and the shady political maneuvers that likely went along with that are depicted in this film. Coincidentally, only a few weeks after The China Syndrome was released, 3 Mile Island happened.

Michael Douglas, who has gone on to make more than a couple dozen films since the seventies, is not only an advocate of nuclear disarmament, he’s a supporter of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-war grant making foundation. He also holds the title of Messenger of Peace for the United Nations. Jane Fonda has also starred in a large number of movies since this one, released hugely popular exercise videos, and continues to add to her extensive bio of anti-war and political activism activities, while continuing to speak openly on women’s issues and religion.

But ya know, it’s my personal opinion that the real star of The China Syndrome is the late-great Jack Lemmon. Lemmon was chosen to play Jack Godell, the nuclear power plant supervisor, not only for his acting ability, but for his anti-nuclear stance as well. And from the moment he enters the story, Jack Lemmon dominates every frame he’s in. He completely captivates. Lemmon was Best Actor-nominated for his role in The China Syndrome at the 52nd Annual Academy Awards (in the same company with Al Pacino (...And Justice For All), Roy Scheider (All That Jazz), and Peter Sellers (Being There), with the golden statue ultimately being awarded to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs Kramer). It is Lemmon’s character that faces the real agony of telling the truth. A deeply caring man who loves his job, Godell puts it all on the line when he discovers that a deeply uncaring and irresponsible man was behind the cover up which caused the accident that Michael Douglas’ character had secretly filmed. But none of Godell’s superiors would listen to him. Money was their only motivation, not safety, and certainly not holding anyone accountable for the lack thereof.

A standing ovation goes out to Wilford Brimley who plays Ted Spindler, Godell’s long-time colleague at the plant who stood up for his friend in the end, with an emotional statement in front of all the media. For you see, when the heads of the nuclear powers-that-be finally succeeded in gaining access to the area of the plant for which Godell, driven to desperate measures had taken control of, shutting them down, they shot him in the back. Their aim was to make the public believe Godell was a delusional gun-toting madman. I’ll never forget Godell rushing toward the camera, stumbling into the plant’s control panel and falling to the floor. It’s one of the most dramatic scenes I’ve ever seen on film, and one I will never forget. Kudos times ten to Jack Lemmon, may he rest in peace.

On the bonus features of the dvd release, Jane Fonda sums up The China Syndrome perfectly: “There was a message being delivered, but it was encased in a story that even if you didn’t buy the message, would hold you. If you feel strongly about something, there’s nothing that can make you feel better than being able to embed your passionate feelings into a delivery system that is totally accessible by people who don’t agree with you.”

The trailer for The China Syndrome...

Remembering: Joe Versus The Volcano
American romantic comedy directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan
Released March 9, 1990
by Lisa McDonald
Live Music Head

Joe-vs-volcano

“Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe
who had a very lousy job...”

He worked for American Panascope, home of the rectal probe. And in the factory that manufactures surgical tools, the office of Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) was located under tubes that flickered a gross shade of fluorescent, way down deep in the building’s bowels. To think Joe quit being a fire fighter because he never felt good. Now he has a brain cloud. The guy from Unsolved Mysteries told him so. Robert Stack is Ellison, the doctor who said: “It’s a black fog of tissue that runs down the centre of your brain, very rare, and spreading at an irregular rate.”

Given only six months to live, there was simply nothing left for Joe to do but fly to the South Pacific and jump into a volcano! Lloyd Bridges showed up at Joe’s house as Samuel, a friend of the doctor, and offered him an all-expense-paid trip to do so, on an island called Waponi Woo.  The Waponis, the people of the island say a fire god lives inside the volcano who hasn’t been appeased in a hundred years. In order to appease the fire god, someone has to jump into the volcano of his own free will. If Joe jumps into the volcano, he will not only save the island and its people, but it will allow Samuel to retrieve the precious minerals he needs for his super-conductor business; minerals that can only be found on the fire god’s island. Joe has the courage of a man who fights fire, so off he goes armed with his ukulele.

The first class flight takes him to Los Angeles where he will then board a yacht that will take him to Waponi Woo. Meg Ryan who plays DeDe at the beginning of the film, American Panascope’s sickly secretary appears at LAX airport to greet Joe as Angelica, her second character in the film. (Ryan plays three characters in all). Angelica is a rich, suicidal painter-poet, the daughter of Samuel whose had the soul sucked out of her while driving around L.A. in her sports car convertible. Angelica’s job is to ensure Joe makes his rendezvous with the yacht. At the dock, Ryan then appears as Patricia, half sister of Angelica who says she’ll be captaining the yacht, named The Tweedle-Dee, because her father promised to give her the boat in return. And from here the real adventure begins.

When Patricia appears on deck dressed in a bright-yellow rain coat and cap, just as button-cute as Christopher Robin, that familiar on-screen chemistry between Hanks and Ryan can no longer be denied. But directly after their passionate kiss, Tweedle-Dee meets up with a typhoon and capsizes, tossing Patricia overboard. Joe rescues her from the angry sea with the aid of his four trusty Premiere Steamer Trunks. “Almost the whole world’s asleep. Everyone you know, everyone you see, everybody you talk to. Only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant, total amazement.” So here we arrive at my favourite part of the film: 

Joe ties the four trunks together to make a raft for two, and with a portable transistor radio blasting old time rock and roll, he dances atop them while Patricia lays there, out cold. He also plays a round of mini golf atop the raft. And plays his ukulele. It soon becomes clear that being doomed to die has transformed Joe into one of the “awake” people. After night falls, he has an epiphany of sorts when the moon rises above the ocean from what looks like the ends of the earth. This is living!

Eventually Joe and Patricia are rescued by The Waponis, and the guardians of the volcano are indeed addicted to orange soda, it’s true. Lloyd Bridges said so. And Abe Vigoda plays the Waponi leader. Just like Dorothy and her companions on their way to see the Wizard, Joe and Patricia are pampered in paradise with a feast, before eventually having to go up and meet the Big Woo. Live like a king, die like a man!

But Patricia had to go and fall in love with Joe. Yes, the button-cute captain of her own ship can’t believe this has happened either. She’s never fallen in love with anyone. She never even slept with him! Joe loves her back, but if he’s to save her father’s super conductor business, and the sale of orange soda, the fire god must be appeased. Watch this movie, if you haven’t already, and find out what happens when Joe versus the Volcano!

Note: That’s Eric Burdon of The Animals singing
Sixteen Tons in the opening scene.


The trailer for Joe Versus The Volcano...
Remembering: Analyze This
American comedy directed by Harold Ramis
Starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal
Released March 5, 1999
by Lisa McDonald
Live Music Head

image2996

I was having a particularly hard day; an emotional day. One of them hard emotional days that can drive a couple to separate, and stay that way. Fortunately my boyfriend saved us by suggesting a movie rental for chill-out time on the couch. I can’t now remember which one of us chose this movie, but it was the perfect choice. For after hours of analyzing him, me, our life, and the world around us, I then got to see Robert De Niro do the same thing with Billy Crystal, and we laughed our f%#@ing asses off!

Since then, I’ve seen this movie a few times for it’s truly one of the funniest movies ever.

Crystal plays Dr. Ben Sobel, a bored psychiatrist who pretends to listen to the whining of his neurotic New York City clientele while fantasizing about telling them just what he really thinks, who then suddenly finds himself immersed in the excitement of treating a mobster, and asking the question... “What’s my goal here? To make you a happy, well-adjusted gangster?”

De Niro is mob boss Paul Vitti who, from the moment he makes his grand entrance into the psychiatrist’s office, is absolutely brilliant to watch in this comedy directed by Harold Ramis, that same comedian I first got to know from SCTV. Vitti is a Mafia kingpin in crisis, depressed and suffering panic attacks who comes seeking Sobel’s professional help, and despite saying no, absolutely not, Sobel ultimately does help, for mobsters don’t take no for an answer, don’t’cha know? Fear for his life is the main motivation for constantly upsetting his fiancé (Lisa Kudrow), who Sobel leaves at Vitti’s every beckon call day or night, but the challenge of treating a gangster is also irresistible, and utterly and unavoidably hilarious! Vitti develops an immediate fondness for his shrink and in a show of endearment pinches Sobel’s face as an adult would a child. Crystal has been heard to say that he thinks De Niro got a great deal of satisfaction from pinching his face during filming, despite knowing how much it hurt. Ha!

Eventually finding himself in so deep, Sobel reluctantly agrees to cover for Vitti at an important meeting of the families when Vitti is laid up in bed in an uncontrollable fit of weeping. Yes, Vitti is a gangster who cries, and cries a lot. And for the scenes where he was required to do so, DeNiro apparently had a select bit of music that had to be played on set each and every time, in order to get him there. It’s the same music that’s in the insurance commercial that Vitti watches from his bed that makes him cry near the end of the film.

For anyone having a hard emotional day like I was, or any couples at risk of breaking up and needing to laugh about it, or for anyone who simply enjoys well-acted and well-written funny stories on film, this just may be the movie for you. Because when Sobel finally finds the courage and confidence to represent Vitti as his fake consigliere at the meeting of the mafia heads, I’m tellin’ ya, we laughed our f&%#ing asses off!! Billy Crystal is genius; pure comedic genius. I peed my pants.

The trailer for Analyze This...

Remembering: Norma Rae
American drama directed by Martin Ritt
Starring Sally Field
Beau Bridges and Ron Leibman
Released March 2, 1979
by Lisa McDonald
Live Music Head

Norma-Rae
She’s been a part of my life ever since The Flying Nun, the sitcom that ran on television in the late nineteen-sixties. And as Sybil, the 1976 made-for-tv movie about a victim of child abuse who suffered multiple personality disorder. And Carrie, the runaway bride in the 1977 action-comedy motion picture Smokey and The Bandit, which also starred Burt Reynolds who nicknamed her Frog because she’s cute and he wanted to jump her.

But the earliest impression Sally Field made upon me was as a runaway hippie chick in the 1971 made-for-tv movie, Maybe I’ll Come Home In The Spring. Yes, that one left a huge impression on my eight-year-old self. Much later, it was her performance as a courageous widow fighting to keep her family alive during the Great Depression in 1984’s Places In The Heart. And as a courageous American wife trying to flee Iran and her abusive Muslim husband in Not Without My Daughter (1991). I have yet to see her as First Lady Mary Todd in Lincoln, the 2012 Academy Award winning film. But as the mother of Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias (1989) and the mother of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994), I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched Sally Field, and cried and laughed, and laughed and cried. For those are two of the best films ever, warranting countless screenings.

Mere months ago, I was excited to be on the guest list to see Sally Field be interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos in Toronto’s CBC Studios. But her flight got cancelled by Hurricane Sandy. Had she made it, it would certainly have been an emotional experience seeing this fine actress walk into the same room as I.

Having said all that, it gives me great pleasure to re-visit Norma Rae, the film about a small town minimum-wage factory worker who becomes involved in dangerous labor union activities.  Sally Field plays the title role, a chick with a big mouth who’s not afraid to use it. I like that.  I like that she demanded a Kotex machine in the ladies room at the plant. I like courageous women, and obviously Sally Field is one, who’s also very good at playin’ one. But it’s sad that strong, courageous women are so often viewed by men as a threat. I didn’t like that abusive scene in the motel with Norma and her secret lover. Who the hell would want a fuck buddy like him? A girl who lives in a town of slim pickin’s, that’s who. The men in Norma Rae’s life are not steeped in manners, or charm, or chivalry. One of the best lines in the film is when her husband (Beau Bridges) gives her a hard time for bringing a bunch of black men into their home for a union meeting, inviting trouble. Norma says: “I ain’t never had any trouble with black men. The only trouble I’ve ever had in my life is with white men.” Well, until she meets Reuben Warshowsky, the union organizer played by Ron Leibman who brings her trouble of a very worthwhile kind; trouble otherwise known as an education. Reuben enriches Norma’s life, sexual favours not required.

The producers of Norma Rae were inspired to put the story on screen after reading an article in the New York Times about Crystal Lee Jordan, a woman who risked everything fighting for justice, and for leading her co-workers to unionize a cotton mill in North Carolina. Driven by a passion for social justice himself, Martin Ritt dedicated his life to giving voice to the poor and the oppressed. A former victim of the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s, Ritt was naturally the right person to direct Norma Rae. The movie was shot with real-life unionized employees in a real-life, small town Alabama mill. Authenticity was important to Ritt. And under his mentorship, Field became immersed in her character; immersed in the lifestyle and community of the mill workers, and even worked one of the machines herself. Sally Field became Norma Rae. And her dedication paid off. She took home the Academy Award for Best Actress. (An award, I might add, she won over Bette Midler who was nominated in the same category for her performance as The Rose. The Rose has been an all-time favourite film of mine my whole lifelong and as much as I love Sally Field, I think Midler should have won).

In 2011, Norma Rae was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Yes Sally, we like you. We really like you!

The trailer for Norma Rae...

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