A Distinguished Career

  • Ready for Love (1934)
  • Bright Eyes (1934)
  • The Dark Angel (1935)
  • Fury (1936)
  • The Buccaneer (1938)
  • Barefoot Boy (1938)
  • Stablemates (1938)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • The Women (1939)
  • Bad Little Angel (1939)
  • Calling Philo Vance (1940)
  • The Ghost Comes Home (1940)
  • Son of the Navy (1940)
  • Cinderella’s Feller (1940, Short)
  • The Old Swimmin Hole (1940)
  • The Chocolate Soldier (1941)
  • Rings on Her Fingers (1942)
  • Twin Beds (1942)
  • Tortilla Flat (1942)
  • George Washington Slept Here (1942)
  • The Heavenly Body (1944)
  • Adventures of Rusty (1945)
  • Easy to Look At (1945)

This is the entire filmography of an actor named Terry, a versatile actor who did her own stunts and was in fact one of the most sought after, best-paid actors in the business at the time.

You know her as Toto.

She was a cairn terrier.

The Hospital

When Paddy Chayefsky was thinking about writing a movie about a news television network, he asked his friend, news anchor John Chancellor, if it was possible for an anchorman to go crazy on the air.

“Every day,” Chancellor replied.

The resulting film, Network, is one of those films that seems with hindsight to be less farce than prognostication. You know, like Idiocracy. Well, my DOD was reminded by the news of actor Diana Rigg’s death of Chayefsky’s previous effort, The Hospital. This we watched today in our ongoing Pandemic Theater series. It’s a bit more awkward a film and did receive mixed reviews in 1971, but it did win the Oscar for best original screenplay.

As Roger Ebert pointed out the film’s most confounding aspect is that it turns on a dime from farce to whodunnit. But watching this does make it difficult to argue with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that Chayefsky was “the twentieth century’s most important screenwriter.” The studio was not altogether happy with the film’s yen for algebraic dialogue, but it’s the lines that compelled me as a viewer.

Well. That and the oddball premise that someone is lurking around a hospital murdering doctors and nurses.

So, good pick. Once again, it was better than Birdman.

One should note: It’s also fun to watch for seeing who is in this little film, starting with Nancy Marchand, who played mother of both Tony Soprano and Frasier Crane. This is not the first time Marchand had appeared in a Chayefsky project, she also played Clara in Marty. Other faces that struck me: Katherine Helmond, Stockard Channing (an uncredited brief appearance), and Frances Sternhagen (another Cheers connection, she played Cliff Claven’s mother). Apparently Christopher Guest is also somewhere in this movie as well.

A Few Quick Movie Recommendations

I have been doing pretty well lately at picking the movies, so I thought I’d list a few here that I’ve seen lately that are highly recommended. All of them are better than Birdman.

Top Five: This 2014 Chris Rock film might have fallen below the average movie fan’s radar, but it is a must-see. Rock plays comic and movie star Andre Allen as he is interviewed in a day-in-the-life piece by Times reporter Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson. This film is smart, hilarious, and it will have you tossing around your own “top five” list. I believe I’ve mentioned this film in a previous post. It is worth mention again.

Joker: Origin stories for the most enigmatic super-villains of all have been fast and loose since the character never really had such a backstory in the comics. Hangover director Todd Phillips and actor Joaquin Phoenix may have created the best such story yet. A satisfying yet subtle story arc for the guy whose brand of evil everyone hates to love.

The Nice Guys: Russell Crow and Ryan Gosling schlemiel and schlimazel it up as would-be PIs who get entangled in a fiendish, twisted plot that has them way in over their heads. This 2016 “neo-noir” effort is just about worth seeing to watch Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell, who would next go to play a pivotal character in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Knives Out: I most recently witnessed Knives Out, a true, effective whodunnit led by Daniel Craig but with countless surprising notables including Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plummer FTW. No matter how many steps ahead you think you are of this 2019 mystery, you’ll only see this plot zooming out to pass you hard. Apparently writer/director Rian Johnson should stick to more earthly works.

Top Five

I wonder if Chris Rock has a t-shirt that says “I Made One Of The Best Movies of 2014* and All I Got Was Three Critics’ Choice Nominations.”

I’ve been talking up Rock’s Top Five to my Dad for a while now after having re-watched it recently. We finally sat down to watch it today, and I could probably put it back on again now and enjoy it just as much.

Top Five features Rock playing fictional comedian and actor Andre Allen, who is tasked to give a-day-in-the-life press availability to “Times” reporter Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson. Allen, best known for a cop-buddy franchise called Hammy the Bear, is trying to swim out of that current with a serious film about the Hatian slave revolt of 1791. But all anyone wants him to be is Hammy.

Chelsea Brown proves to be an intrepid reporter, chipping away at Allen’s shell until she finds the cracks. This setup launches a movie that is 80 percent dialog and story over action, a difficult presentation to make riveting. But we’re talking about Chris Rock here. Top Five never stops being funny, entertaining, surprising, and utterly smart, even when it’s being a little gross.

Top Five may well be in my top five. It is a good, solid comedy.

And, oh, here’s mine: M.C. Serch, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Chubb Rock, Missy Elliott. If I get a sixth, it’s Earl Sweatshirt.

*Yes, 2014. The same year that Birdman won the Best Picture Oscar. Disgrazia.

Blue Hawaii

I think Turner Classic Movies is essential during a pandemic. You can put on the TV and get a little escape while at the same time working on your cultural literacy.

I mean this even for a movie like Elvis’ Blue Hawaii. This is Elvis’ eighth feature film and was made after his return from military service. Thus, the plot of the movie, Chadwick Gates returns home from a stint in the military. His dad wants him to go into the family pineapple business (of course), and he doesn’t want to.

There are of course a buncha musical numbers. And some dramatic stuff. And of course, by the end of his movie, Chadwick Gates works out his dilemma and gets the girl. Happy happy happy.

Fun fact: The producers of Blue Hawaii took the bank they made on it and used it bankroll another film called Becket.


In Other Funny

Nobody Puts Gidget In The Corner

A young girl in summer. She is introduced to a new world. She is an oddity in this world, naiive when all the others seem more worldly. She is initially perceived as immature looking, overly-eager, and as an outsider. Even her nickname brandishes her immaturity. Soon, though, despite this underworld’s attempts to send her home, she becomes more ubiquitous as days go by. Her parents approve before they know more but later disapprove. She develops a friendship though with this scene’s mentor, who begins helping her master the group’s essential cultural activity. Indeed, she is invited to a nighttime party that is of the hush-hush variety and is witness to a scene most outsiders do not see, with music and bonfires and dancing. And she is pulled away suddenly. There is conflict and hurt, and she is forbidden by her parents from rejoining this crew. Yet, through happier circumstances, she rejoins her old friends, and the result is surprising.

Is this “Dirty Dancing,” or is it “Gidget?”

Meanwhile, in other funny…


Since the year 2014, my small movie going clique has felt hesitant about films with huge buzz and Oscar Best Picture wins or nominations. I myself cannot believe that it’s been six years since the year of the Birdman. But ever since we experienced this wretched, pretentious insult of a film, the lowest of low bars for a film has been, well, was it better than Birdman?

Thus it is that I have only just now watched Todd Phillips’ Joker last evening.

I had not expected to enjoy the steak I cooked as much as I had, and nor had I imagined that I would be seeing such a fine film. The steak because, despite it being a wonderfully marbled New York strip that sat in a sous vide bath at 130 degrees for nearly four hours that was then perfectly seared for 38 seconds a side in a piping hot cast iron skillet, but that I realized somewhere in the process that I did not have a drop of red wine in the entire place.

The film because I could not have imagined how many things a single film could do and how well it could do them, and also because from what I had seen and read and heard of it previously, it kinda smacked a bit of Birdman. But I can guarantee that Joker is far and away better than Birdman.

There is the sublime performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, how he inhabits his character, how he fills out the space, how he runs, how he laughs uncontrollably, often showing Fleck fighting this often inappropriate response. Also remarkable is Fleck’s visible transformation as he assumes his role as “Joker.” This change is clear-cut, and the audience is transparently privy to Fleck’s decision points, misguided as they might be.

There is this film’s most effective origin tale. Any comics-based movie is going to be tempted to tweak the character-origin. See 1989’s Batman, directed by Tim Burton, which introduced the detail that, indeed, it was a young Jack Napier / Joker who was responsible for shooting down Thomas and Martha Wayne in cold blood while young Bruce looked on.

This detail provided motivation and conflict for Batman in that film, but it has always seemed too pat an explanation to me, and certainly not one we had seen previously in the Batman lore. I am much more comfortable with the story told by this Joker, that the Waynes’ murders were not directly the Joker’s doing but instead were carried out by his inspiration and example.

And while Joker is yet another try for an origin tale, it is also a deeper-reaching story. Our villain’s metamorphosis is presented sympathetically—he is beaten into it, physically, mentally, emotionally. This is a story of the overrun, the neglected, of those screwed by society’s inequities. It is a story that highlights mental illness, its taboos, of a guy who, to be honest, made legitimate attempts to seek help from a system that pushed him into the cracks. This Joker was not born. But he was most certainly created.

It is a shame my misgivings kept me from Joker so long, and it was only serendipity that had me sitting down to my late steak dinner when this happened to be showing on the HBO. Joker is better than Birdman, by far. We may in fact now start asking if such-and-such a film is “as good as Joker.”

Now that’s a bar to meet.