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filmmaven's coffee chat

a morning discussion of film and popular culture over coffee

Friday Morning Coffee Chat …..

I love love a quiet early morning; the windows are open people!! Quiet is a relative term of course, I am used to the city noises so things are quiet to me with the sound of traffic, the occasional dog barking and the tweet tweet twittle of squirrels fighting over something with the birds. Kids on the block are still sleeping and the grown up have all left for work so it is a quiet half hour or so right around 8:30 am on this Friday in Detroit ………….I have a local roast from Kalamazoo this morning fresh ground adding just a dash of cinnamon and a smidgen of cream. So let’s get on with the real gossip……..

What a long and generous life for Mr. Gene Wilder! I am grateful for his work in so many funny films such as “Blazing Saddles”, “Young Frankenstein” and of course, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”. Our local theater, The Old Redford as its affectionately known, is showing a few of Mr. Wilder’s films this season as homage. “Blazzing Saddles” on September 16th and “Young Frankenstein” on October 21. Also note that the 1928 theater is having a Noir Film Festival  September 23rd with double features all weekend.

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Clicking around last evening I found myself yet again mesmerized by “Desperately  Seeking Susan” and having to defend my 27 or 37 the viewing ….yes, I am watching it AGAIN…its only twice this year ….geeesh ….to the guy who has seen every Godzilla movie 400 times…you would think he would completely get it …..I am for that hour (or 20 minutes depending on what moment I happen to click to it, you know how that goes) taken back to being uncertain if I am Susan or Roberta now. With every viewing I have been in a different mode having some combined personality of one or both with a little of Jimmy and Dez thrown in ….I am occasionally the neighbor who delivers Chinese food ….but even in 1985 I found myself wondering who I fit in with …..I was never really as naive and closed off as Roberta with Gary and certainly never as truly cool as Susan with Jimmy……but then a little Marshaw Crenshaw song comes on and I get back to being just me, the coffee shop writer.

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Episode One of THE GET DOWN (2016 Netflix), the Baz Luhrmann 1970s bronx tale of Disco, hip hop and friendship was everything good about Baz….generous, open, fairytale realism. I will write more on this later..unable to binge this week I will have to take things slowly and let you know, or you let me know …and we can meet next week someplace in the middle to talk it over.

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Things to watch this weekend with out spending too much time indoors ………

 

KING KONG ( 1933, Dir: Cooper & Schoedsack) — this film has everything you need – adventure, action, emotional resonance and a pretty girl. \

Clash of the Titans ( 2010, Dir: Louis Leterrier) –Strongly recommend a comparison movie marathon with this and the 1981 Harry Hamlin version……Sam Worthington is a terrific but forgettable hero (Sorry Sam).

Tangled (2010, Dir: Howard & Greno) – Sweet family film everyone will enjoy, silly & cute with just a touch of girl power and a nod to traditional romance fair …..

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Dir: Wes Anderson) — There is a certain type of watcher for Wes Anderson films, you either love him or hate his style – I love his films ….however, the Grand Budapest is an Anderson style with a extra dash of silly that I think will appeal to a wider group so give it a try. Great appearances by a terrific cast of folks you can’t help but giggle at the casting choices …..– with one side note: its rated R, don’t watch it with your kids.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nina and Janis: Women, Music and the era of Civil Rights

 

Nina Simone has always made me feel hopeful and sometimes melancholy. There is an emotional resonance in her voice that appears to pull up from the earth itself. I admit to knowing basically nothing about her personal experiences. My favorite songs coming from the 1960 album “Forbidden Fruit” after hearing “Rags and Old Iron” which I confess to playing about 10 times before moving on to the rest of the record. It is one of those records that each song has you enthralled and shaking your head in awe.

What Happened, Miss Simone? — (2015, Dir: Liz Garbus) — When this documentary became available on Netflix …I added it to my list and every time I scrolled past it ..I just felt that I wasn’t awake enough , or in the right mood, or emotionally prepared. So it sat there. Until last night. Wanting to shut off the world for a while it felt like the right time. I closed the door, turned off the phone, dimmed the lights and gave it my full attention. Respectful. That is my first word; it shows her life , her work and her essence with respect. Its not overly emotional nor judgmental yet remains touching and focused. Ms. Simone’s daughter offers incredibly mature and thoughtful insights to her parents and the experience from her viewpoint and theirs with clarity. Use of Ms. Simone’s own diaries gives an additional insight to the complexities of her thoughts and experiences but also feels edited and not overly intrusive. One could compare her experience to that of Judy Garland attempting to balance work, creative energy, womanhood and motherhood through the murky depths of mental illness. In an era of intense turmoil being both black AND a woman offers Ms. Simone a set of conflicts both personal and political that could not be easily settled. Then we add to the mixture the loss of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both as American heroes and deeper to her as a personal loss. A loss of hope with these deaths seem to close off whatever music and fame had opened in her heart and mind. Thankfully that is not the end of her story and I leave it to you, actually implore you to discover Nina in a new way by watching the documentary.

Janis Joplin, for me has always represented the era of feminism. I remember seeing her on Dick Cavett numerous times and I must have been only 9 or 10 (yes, I was a tv addict from a very young age). My impression was of a nervous girl, very down to earth and sincere. She dressed trashy cool, had a swagger and a strength in her voice that gave a bigger impression of confidence than I think she actually possessed. Songs like “A Little Piece of my Heart” and “Try” came from the heart of a lot of women trying on the 1970’s for size.

Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015, Dir: Amy J. Berg) — A 1960s icon, Janis’s stories have been told and retold. I approached the film as if there wasn’t much we as fans didn’t already know about her life, fame or background. While the documentary does a terrific job of recounting the biography it doesn’t get much deeper than your basic bio tale. Wonderful inclusion on all levels of the music, a joy to watch and very well put together. No surprises. Its too bad that Dick Cavett plays coy and there wasn’t better use of her family- which is not the fault of the filmmaker — they all may have been resistant to opening up. There is so much available of Janis on film its a terrific tribute piece. Hits all the right spots …but I have to again note that it doesn’t appear to go any deeper. A little reflection of how she was seen by music notables of the time and the era (Civil rights, feminism, the changing world of music genres, the co-opting of black music by white performers) would have pushed this work past the basic and into interesting.

 

 

Confessions of a TV Junkie: I’m Trapped under this bowl of popcorn and I can’t get up! Netflix Binge

I really did so well with my summer Netflix watching. Really. Alias was one or two episodes every evening while I did some sorting or other mindless work. The 5 seasons took weeks and weeks to watch, it was so enjoyable. Other shows, I’ve managed to take several shows slowly and savor the experience.

 

STRANGER THINGS (Netflix, summer 2016, Duffer Bros) — I don’t wax nostalgic for most things 1980s. The big glasses, I miss those…I hate seeing the fuzzy edges on these small frames even tho I get the biggest ones the eye doctor carries. So annoying. I can also say our music was interesting and unusual. Okay and maybe our movies were pretty good ….so we will try to ignore the clothes, the drugs and that silly big hair and the attitude of Alex P. Keaton ….but here comes a show that takes some of the best parts of the 80s mixes them together …Think Goonies, Poltergeist and Aliens in a blender with some Secret of Nimh splashed on top. Winona Rider is terrific, definitely an actress who becomes the role. Joyce is loving & tender, neurotic & needy, strong & determined with Ms. Rider playing her at all those levels in completely believable moments. All of the children are brilliant casting choices, as are the teenagers…the layering of characters within story and story within characters doesn’t get muddled. Flashbacks, scary places, heart aches, teen angst…A perfect fit all around.

So get ready….you will love it and want to tell all your friends to watch it.

Confessions of a TV junkie: Str8 outta Ride from the hood baby

Good Morning — its already HOT here in Detroit – we are set for a few days of heat wave …but I am spoiled sitting in my air con drinking coffee made from fresh ground beans with a touch of cream in vintage ceramic mug from The Sands Hotel and Casino…sands

….Thinking over the viewing from this week …I’ve been living vicariously through my shows watching people experience places I’ve never been and lives I have no personal experience of …..I take that as an extra special treat — I’ve never been one to imagine myself in those places or situations, no clue what that would be like …but I do have an empathy and affection for people as they move through their own worlds. I suppose that is what makes Television and Film viewing so amazing … It helps connect me to the world out there and takes me to places I would never know ……

RIDE with Norman Reedus ( AMC 6 episodes) — Trying not to gush too much – I find myself feeling all fan girl geeky when talking about this show. Each episode made me more and more a fan of Norman’s and the style of the program. Easy. Simple. Smooth. I felt like we glided through each episode with such fun, spirit and class. Everything and everyone was appreciated and acknowledged for its own beauty. A little super KUDOS to Anneka Jones, executive Producer – Thanks for making America look so cool with such beauty and grace. The show takes the high road in every way that phrase is possible. I learned things and saw vistas otherwise I never would have experienced. (TEE HEE ROBERT RODRIGUEZ TEE HEE…PETER FONDA — there got that out of my system)NN

 

 Straight Outta Compton (USA 2015, Dir: F. Gary Gary — available now on HBO) — While I am a  fan of all music genres and have great appreciation for rap / hip hop / MC  — I fully admit to not having a knowledge base to understand all the intricacies that surround this story. So my first critique has to focus on wishing the back story portion of the film was a little more clear and in-depth. It felt as if the set up was for ‘characters’ as these young men are in hip hop and not their base story, I would have appreciated just a little more…..That said…let’s talk about Jason Mitchell – an actor with out a lot of experience who’s performance in this film was multi faceted. Easy – E (Eric Wright) is portrayed with such smooth complexity that allowed the audience to connect with and understand, if not fully like, this man. No one is given the victim role nor the villain (Except Suge Knight) but Easy has a little extra screen time allowing us to explore his motivations. While I wondered if perhaps Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) was given just a bit of shine on his activities the character is played beautifully by his son O’Shea Jackon, jr. Interesting juxtaposition to play your Dad as a young man having such a different childhood and youth experience….There were moments went it felt awkward to me yet the overall performance is good. Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre (Andre Young) a controversial character in so many ways; people have felt too many things were left out and others that too many details were glorified. I was not uncomfortable with it either way. There was certainly a sly depth to the performance and an almost tongue n cheek exploration of the character as a man. As with all the guys that duality of being a good man and having so much of everything is not given the reality check it needs until the end when dealing with Easy -E’s illness. There was no exploration of the personal lives as children are born and marriages happen so a central piece is missing.  A terrific film with some good performances …but …with so much left to the side and a feeling of telling but not telling. I didn’t leave the film with a deeper understanding of anyone except perhaps Eric Wright….the story seemed more of a nod to him than a real exploration of the N W A as it fits into the lives of these men. NWA_3_embed

Its the First Friday in July and I’m feeling nostalgic for the 90s

Flipping channels during commercials is my fun spot. Its so wonderful to have streaming and DVR options but when confronted with actual airing – the tendency is to travel around the air waves until I’ve forgotten what it was I was actually watching. This is how I happened upon the reruns of the Cybill show (CBS 1995-1998 Created by Chuck Lorre, yes, that one) on the LAFF network.  Of course, I had to stop and take a few moments to revisit this show since seeing the wonderful Alicia Witt in the Walking Dead this past season. The talented actress was such a funny and quirky character as Zoe, Cybill’s daughter with her second ex husband Ira. It was a pleasure to watch a few episodes of the show. Isn’t it time for a Cybill reboot? How does she deal with being an older actress with grandchildren? Did she ever get married again? Can Chuck Lorre do mature thoughtful writing for a 21st century female cast?

 

This is of course the era of television that brought us

Roseanne (ABC, 1988-1997) — Still a force to be reckoned with as so many people who started here are now big stars of television; a force of nature that propelled many acting and writing careers. Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene the middle child full of angst is now a producer and star of CBS show THE TALK. Johnny Galecki star of the BIG BANG THEORY was rescue puppy David, the sweet answer to bad boy brother Mark (played beautifully by the late Glenn Quinn).  Still holds up funny in reruns but I’m not sure a new audience would find that emotional connection of an honest quirky portrayal of motherhood. Great for laughs and of course guest stars. A charming and delightful last acting note to the odd Shirley Shrift (SHELLEY WINTERS) roommate to Marilyn Monroe, cousin to Tony Curtis, as Roseanne’s favorite woman Nana Mary.

Doug (Nickelodeon 1991-1999) — The cartoon version of every 80’s kid’s childhood. Parents relate to it as much as kids do, its sweet, honest and imaginative.

Northern Exposure (CBS 1991-95) — Such hope for this one when it started and then it just fizzled out …it came like a cold breeze and hugged the audience with warm characters and quirky tales ….only to ….who knows? Rumors abound but ultimately ….its still very much worth watching.

Home Improvement ABC 1991 -1999) — Now this is television; While Roseanne held us up on Tuesday nights with worn and torn tee-shirts as a hint to what happens if you don’t study hard, Mr. More Power Tim Taylor kept us warm under a blanket of standard middle-class family fair. With a sweet level headed wife and 3 adorable borderline bratty kids, Tim prevailed as the bumbling good heartfelt  father figure to all. Although the bothersome one note story prevalent in many sitcoms of the time had fathers as head of household regardless of the fact that they were thoughtless selfish child like creatures held to a better standard by bossy wives….Tim and crew pulled it off with charm. Showing all the sweet ways of life if you worked hard and could fix up stuff with expensive tools – Tim Taylor was a dying breed and we loved him. He meant well and always came through in the end (as long as someone told him how). Funny, but rather slow to the laugh.

 

 

On a personal note about pleasure for a fellow blogger, My Torti, Clover, is the queen beeyotch from heck…Since she first came to live with us over 18 years ago she was unable to control her attack mode . I am usually the only one who can approach her, hold her and see the signs when she is ready for attack…..Its a pleasure overload. She gets all sweet and lovely then slash!! But I love her madly. So wear gloves and long sleeves and love your new kitty. Its all worth it.

Summertime and the living is easy

Way back in the day (when I went to High School with Jesus as my son always likes to say) things shut down. Sunday there were no stores open except for that rare place from 1 pm to 5pm and you couldn’t buy liquor at all. Television was gone after 1am. Music played, an American flag would wave and you were deprived of any contact with the outside world until 6am. Television programming had seasons. You watched your favorite shows from October until May. Zip, that was it. Gone for the summer. Sometimes shows that really weren’t very good but the network wanted to throw it against the wall and test what might be would show up as a summer replacement. “All in the Family” was one of those…and it stuck. People loved it. Then it became a regular show. With a set time and place that closed down for the summer.

Now …Summer is rockin…..Cable networks and streaming options have made Seasons a thing that means a certain number of episodes and not a seasonal showing. I’ve got shows all year long. We can sit in relative comfort with air con and a blanket over us to watch the spring (Game of Thrones, Kimmy Schmidt, Wyonna Earp) offerings and now the summer programming begins with a bluster and a sweet ride.

 

Orange is the New Black (June 2016, Season 4) – Its sad, its sweet, its wicked, its sexy. But its still Prison. The show never lets you forget, as much as you adore and enjoy it, its still basically hell. I was hoping for more Daya and resolving her baby lost in the system issue…but was reminded as I binged the entire season in one weekend, that sometimes there is no resolution..and the girl is still in prison. Around the 5th episode I was wondering why Piper hasn’t learned a darn thing about herself and even when she seems to do so, it doesn’t take much to throw her right back down into selfish over privilege. Season 3 was by far the best of the best, but Season 4 makes you want Season 5 to hurry the F up and get here.

A small tribute to AMC — Making all the right moves …….

PREACHER (AMC, Sunday 9pm) — That Howard Stark dude is literally in everything. I can’t watch a movie with out going…oh, its that Dominic Cooper AGAIN. So I went into the first episode of Preacher with a little trepidation……Would I see past his Howard Stark-ness (ABC’s Agent Carter) ?? But no worries ….the show is creepy and gross and a little bit over the top nutty — I know Texas is full of cray cray .but WHEW ….A Vampire, a sultry bad girl feminist with the coolest dang car, a smoking cussing preacher with a sad mysterious background …and those are the 3 normal folks. Jackie Earle Haley (watchmen, bad news bears) is impressive; smooth and smarmy but also almost a normal guy. Anything can happen in this show and it probably will.

RIDE with Norman Reedus (AMC, Sunday 10pm) — Each episode is a terrific combination of bikes, people, vistas and small roadside food joints. Norman doesn’t blare his fame, but doesn’t pretend its not part of the action ..but the bikes and the ride come first. His road companion gets equal if not more of the camera time and the American landscape (highway 101, the blue ridge parkway) are the key focus. Its a hodgepodge of folk tales, road side spots, bike shops and the ride…the long winding ride. Its quiet and refreshing. The perfect  frozen Popsicle or tall iced mint julep on a scorching summer day.

Television Women are BAD ASSES — more Please?

What is it about the small screen? The women are just totally kick ass and not taking names…When you think of it – this has been the case from the start of television ….Lucy & Ethel, ran that show with both physical and emotional humor. Donna Reed, Hazel, Aunt Bee, Mrs. Brady,  ..so many woman who were really in charge. Soap Opera’s always had the coolest female villains in daytime and nighttime shows.  The first show that really hit me with its female super hero was “Dark Angel”, there was no stopping Max and sitting on top of the space needle to think and reflect on the world was inspirational. I am still waiting for James Cameron to take up that character again.

Lately I’ve been joyfully watching “Orphan Black ” on BBC American (Thursdays 10pm) and “Alias” (ABC 2001 -2006) on Netflix while reflecting on the slowness of this trend onto the big screen. A spattering of women with physical power and super cleverness is still over shadowed by so many in supporting, not even side kick, characters that make pretty scenery. Let’s give full credit to Scarlett Johanson and Chloe Grace Moretz for taking on (all) the roles but we must have more and more and more of them seen on screen. We need a new generation Pam Grier and a next generation Geena Davis.

A recent request by two top level actresses interested in playing  James Bond was met with tittering and the revamped “Ghostbusters” is getting scorn and mocking as much as interest. While understandable that the reaction to remaking any favorite film is often met with dislike, using females in traditional male roles brings about a certain level of discomfort (if this applies to you, take a second look- why does it bother you? Not why is it wrong of THEM but why is it bothering YOU).

Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy catching up on Jennifer Garner in “Alias” and trying to figure out if Tatiana Maslany is really triplets.

 

Its that List thing again ……Rank your favorite top ten is torture

Please put a stop to it. Lists make me crazy. The TOP TEN or the BEST FIVE or the coolest ELEVEN…..are never, ever, really  NEVER, correct. Can’t be done in any category but especially not film.

Yes, someone tried again to rank the ‘best’ top ten films. Its like asking who is your favorite Beatle (Monkey, Bay City Roller, Jonas Brother)? Or, forgive me, your favorite child…Don’t even try to put them in an order of what is the best. It really doesn’t work. The list goes from 1 to 10 until you stop and look at it, then you tweak, add, move something and before you know it you have a top 20…but it will never stop until you have all the movies you’ve ever liked on a list and none of them are in order. You might get a top 25 but not really because the next day you remember that great movie that wasn’t ‘great, great’ but you’d watch it again …….and it has to move up the list a few notches …..

Or is that just me?

My top 3 absolute favorite movies of all time for today, this minute and not what I would say later this afternoon and what I would never answer again tomorrow …but need to declare today as the best 3 movies ever made on a Tuesday are:

Blade Runner (1982, Director Ridley Scott) – Definitely on a list of best movies of all time – taken from a Phillip Dick novel “Do Androids dream of electric sheep?”, this electro pop version of the future shows the human dangerous obsession with creating perfection….visually blending the seduction of the dark shadowy 1940s noir (Sean Young) with the screaming flashing uncontrollable danger of the metallic (Daryl Hannah) that crash against each other until we don’t know what or who is real. This is a film who’s parts; actors, music, scenery, story , don’t fit together but make something beautiful.

The Petrified Forest (1936, Director Archie Mayo) – An absolute perfect film. Porter Hall and Charley Grapewin are consummate stage actors using every bit of the small stage to fill the characters with emotionally worn and decimated lives. A very young Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard are quick and nervous in contrast to the veteran actors and it befits the story as they tumble effortlessly around the confines of the set like puppies looking for attention. So much is done here.

Metropolis (1927, Director Fritz Lang) – This third spot was a touch an go, it could have been Nosferatu, Bride of Frankenstein or even Gods and Monsters …ugh ..so many many good choices for the 3rd best film every made….Metropolis has to be here because it really should be in the number one spot, for Blade Runner could not be if Metropolis hadn’t come first …so ….I might have screwed up the list ..and might go back to redo it ….so….so…hard….Again, from the actors to the editing to the music to the sets ..this film has everything and so much more that it is difficult to categorize or praise it high enough. Its social commentary without being too preachy, its beautiful but ugly, its science fiction so far ahead of its time, and all with out color, with out words, with out technology. Yep…Hang on…I insist you read this list backwards …This is the first movie on a list of best movies ever made. Maria is a character you never forget, in a film that stays with you emotionally and brings action and drama to perfection.

 

 

 

Where is the sun? I’m looking for my shadow…

Its been a very grey and blah winter, I’m waiting desperately to have a day with the windows open and to feel warmth on my skin. I haven’t seen my shadow in months…..where are MY creeps going to play? My friend HER WAKING WORLD has the shadow world on notice …but here in Michigan the shadow is elusive…….On the plus side it offers so many opportunities for saying why not spend the afternoon watching a movie? Something in black n white?

 

Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Dir: Hitchcock) – Joseph Cotton always strikes me as that creepy guy, he is so perfect for everything shadowy and noir in visual story telling. He stands too close, laughs to loud and has this look in his eye like something will change at any moment. Teresa Wright is so beautifully the girl next store, a strong but inviting personality with a smile that lights up the room….but just enough wariness to make you think danger could be afoot. Be sure to watch this one with a friend.

The Shadow Knows (1994, Dir: Russell Mulcahy) – You really should ask, how is that people who can’t act keep getting movies? For sure, I have no answer. Alec Baldwin is the eptitmy of schmarmy charm and while he was delightful in that TV show with Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski, um…oh right 30 Rock……there are too many bad movies with his name on them to justify his always getting another movie ….(think: The Marrying Man …???) ……If you are a movie plus comic plus shadow fan..you have to watch this. Otherwise, just go out for some ice cream instead.

Dark Shadows (1966-71, creator Dan Curtis) — What delightful concept for the 60s! A campy soap opera with a vampire ….In the highlight years of the television soap it works. Today it appears slow and overly melodramatic even for soap lovers – but give it a try – lots of fun to see actors you might recognize and get a sense of scene and character development.

 

A note in closing: the sun came out for awhile today – improved the mood around here! So glad to be rid of all those shades of grey upon grey, even for a few hours.

 

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