Athletes in Film Blogathon: Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)


When first learning of the Athletes in Films Blogathon, there were some obvious choices I could make. However, having just written about Space Jam, and not holding in it in as high esteem as some in my generation and younger, the only clear choice left for me was to write about Amazing Grace and Chuck yet again. Though having written on it extensively as part of a larger piece, I didn’t focus too much on the professional athlete involved in a key role. Therefore, I will do so here.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

This is a film in which:

A little league player named Chuck refuses to ever pitch again until nuclear weapons are disarmed. Basketball star “Amazing Grace” Smith follows the boy’s example, and starts a trend.

The athlete in question in this film is:

…played by Alex English who was a player for the Denver Nuggets at the time this film was produced. We see him playing, hit a three-point shot and give his famous three fingers in the air gesture, after the game his agent/best friend, Lynn (Jaime Lee Curtis) reads him an article about Chuck and the wheels start spinning.

With the memory of his wife and daughter gnawing at his mind, Amazing decides to quit basketball and do like Chuck did, an official protest has begun. At one point someone asks Amazing “Do you really think you’re going to bring an end to nuclear weapons?” Amazing turns to him and says “I don’t know but wouldn’t it be nice.” This soon starts a snowball effect and so many athletes join the cause that professional sports are crippled and the movement spreads worldwide.

Alex English Celtics

English (pictured) played a preseason game with the Boston Celtics that was used as his game footage for the film. Having an active player play an exhibition with a team he was not contracted by is an impressive feat that Columbia/Tri-Star and the production team pulled off with the NBA’s cooperation.

The notion of athletes as activists does have quite a few precedents in sports. Here are some examples:

  • Muhammad Ali refuses induction in Vietnam.
  • “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Michael Jordan on his sociopolitical neutrality as a public speaker.
  • 1980s a decade of sports as politics: consecutive Summer Olympic boycotts.
  • First Post-9/11 games in New York.
  • “I can’t breathe” shirts in NFL.
  • Athletes for Trump.

Alex English


This film marked Alex English’s debut as an actor. Later he went on to play Mayor Wade on Midnight Caller, then the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Eddie. The following year (1997) he was in The Definite Maybe as “The Premiere.” It was his first big screen role as a non-athlete and his second time playing some sort of leader. Despite an intermittent, free of too-much fanfare acting career, he did develop a second type aside from the most obvious one based on his first career. His most recent role was in Lumera, which was the feature film debut of his son writer/director Alexander English, Jr. who sure enough got bit by the bug during dad’s forays into the entertainment industry.

Critical Reception

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

With regards the reaction to the movie, it was critically panned. Variety noted that “Amazing Grace and Chuck is destined to go down in history as the camp classic of the anti-nuke genre. As amazingly bad as it is audacious, film will live forever in the hearts of connoisseurs of Hollywood’s most memorably outrageous moments.”

Prescient words as one of my viewings of this film was an unexpected premiere on TCM not too long ago, and Warner Archive recently rescued this film and has made it available on DVD at long last I could move on from my recorded off TV version.

However, not all the reviews were as harsh as Variety‘s. Janet Maslin of The New York Times at least had gentle praise for the performers stating that “Mr. Zuehlke, who is so precocious and somber, and Mr. English, who is nothing if not sincere…” which he most certainly is. Director Mike Newell chose English well. Newell has had tremendous results from young actors in his charge. A professional athlete like a child has less craft than an experienced, trained actor — so much falls to the director to cast well, finding the right persona, and coaxing as much natural response as his trust engenders from his actor.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

If limiting the casting options for Amazing Grace to contemporary basketball players of the late-‘80s English stands out as the obvious pick: as Michael Jordan would later show in Space Jam he was a bit stiff performance-wise and a bit too cool in persona to pull it off. Charles Barkley would be more suited in a comedy and would not bring the necessary gravitas to the film. Magic Johnson was too Hollywood to not be a distraction in this role. English fits.

Newell went on to imply that the audaciousness — and the Amazing Grace quote — are the very point of the film that must be taken into account when appraising its virtues and contrasting them to its deficits:

“I hope this film will leave audiences energized and with a great surge of hope. I hope it will be a reminder that the individual can make a difference and that humanity is capable of following its best instincts.”


Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

In my initial piece I concluded by saying:

This is a film that is idealist and dares to dream. It takes the fears of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and combines them with the hope of Glasnost and presented us with a fantasy. The poster for this film should tell you it’s a fantasy. And it’s one that only could have come out of the 80s, this film literally drips 80s. In the 1990s, and especially in the present, disarmament was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. It’s a great film about one person can make a difference and a film with a message.

This paired with Newell’s notion of the certitude I have that English was likely the best possible choice from a shallow talent pool of professional basketball acting talent. A humility, Grace (to match the fictional nickname), believable idealism, and the ability to quietly inspire followers was a necessity for this concept to have a chance and its what Alex English could bring to the table naturally.

When Trump is Dumped on Film



This is a film blog, it still is, and always will be. However, wherever there have been opportunities to discuss other topics where they intersect with film I have taken them, be it books, television, any of the other arts, and occasionally even other things.

I will try to avoid an all out rant. Instead consider this a slow burn.

Preamble: Politics Aside, When Persona Usurps Platform


In the interest of full disclosure, when I’m honed in on politics I’m there a lot and fervently, 2016 more so than ever before, fear and hope (fope?) have me atwitter. Part of why I’ve turned off politically at times in off-years is how consumed I get around Presidential elections and midterms. This piece has been simmering for a while. I’ve had it, and films, as well as some other of his business dealings I know of, provide great parallels and insights I find.

And to be further straight forward, this isn’t fueled so much by Trump’s current politics, but rather Trump himself. For as the below video shows even his politics will change depending on which way the wind is blowing, and who he thinks can secure him favors.


If all these current views of his are his views he’s had quite a metamorphosis from these kinds of statements – it’s terrifying either way.

During the first debate he left the door open for a third-party campaign if needed.  A month later that tune changed, why? Because it suited him as did the situation.

When Trump is Dumped on Film

Being a native of New York I couldn’t help but always have been familiar with Donald Trump whether I wanted to be or not. Either through fodder for the tabloids, papers, or SNL I’ve always known more about him than I ever cared to. I, who swore off giving a damn about celebrity marriages after Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas split, can still name most of his spouses, still recall how incongruous a persona Ivana seemed to be paired with him, at least in how she portrayed herself in the media. Maybe she just played it better than even he does.

My six degrees of separation story with him is that I couldn’t convincingly feign enthusiasm about working as an intern on The Apprentice. Therefore, I didn’t get an internship at NBC. So as self-deprecating as that is, it does go to show I’m not new on the anti-Trump bandwagon. This is well before he had any political aspirations real or otherwise. The political game is one where you need support, since he’s getting it he’s gonna run with it.

Nine years before he earned a swastika on his star on the Walk of Fame, Trump earned the star itself (though there is ample proof that money is involved), and he said this:

[when asked if he would run for President of the United States] People wanted me to very strongly and I decided I didn’t want to do it. I sort of enjoy what I’m doing and I continue to enjoy what I’m doing. I have never had more fun. And then to cap it off with a star on the walk of fame today was just a lot of fun. And, you know, it’s just — it’s just very sad to me what’s happening with this country in terms of world and in terms of world perception.


It felt to me after he announced his candidacy in the most asininely comedic fashion he could have that he had already run. That was because he nearly incessantly floated the idea even a gubernatorial run in New York.

Even liberal Manhattanites, as most are, will tolerate and admire a Republican leader (e.g. Giuliani and Bloomberg whom were both re-elected), but Trump? No. Not him. He doesn’t even really understand pizza.


At the risk on a personal/political rant and not even getting to movies, however, my history and his factor in because here’s the truth about Donald Trump on film and television: he always plays himself, or better the version of himself he wants us to believe is true. Although, based on his first appearance in the New York Times in 1973 (life inspires fiction).


New York Times, 1973

So, how has this image been cultivated through his cameos? He plays himself, or a version of himself he likes to project, an egocentric jerk who doesn’t care what people think about him.

This supercut has some insights:

What sort of acting can one expect from a man who cannot even play himself, and can’t see the artfulness in humanity but sees it in real estate:

It’s tangible, it’s solid, it’s beautiful. It’s artistic, from my standpoint, and I just love real estate.

The ones that hurt most are: Little Rascals and Home Alone 2, and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. Eight years after he made the front page of the Times he was in My Hero and The Jeffersons (one of two appearances), The Jeffersons in an of itself is key because sociopolitically it was a significant show as it spun-off characters from All in the Family and “moved them on up.”  Ghosts Can’t Do It, Across the Sea of Time, Eddie, The Paul Lassiter Story, 54, Good Will Hunting, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (both times playing an alter ego Daniel Ray McLeech); Marmalade, and Horrorween.

He’s clearly typecast himself as himself or people like him. Slight evidence:

Even the outtakes of The Little Rascals show the kind of immature, annoying personality he can have. Not to mention I can just imagine the crew not even wanting to respond to those questions, just thinking: No, Donald we go through a procedure before every take for everyone else except you. You will not hear ‘action’ or any other cues. You just have to guess.


Regardless of how much he plays himself up, he does think a lot of himself. Just read him analyze the simplistic phrase that’s part of American English vernacular that he claims as his catch phrase:

“I mean, there’s no arguing. There is no anything. There is no beating around the bush. ‘You’re fired’ is a very strong term.”

It’s tantamount to Mary Poppins trying to claim responsibility for inventing the word sacked.


If you won’t take my word on it, why not someone who actually is a real New Yorker and an entertainment figure Rosie O’Donnell:

The retort replete with trumpery:

Rosie O’Donnell called me a snake oil salesman. And, you know, coming from Rosie, that’s pretty low because when you look at her and when you see the mind, the mind is weak. I don’t see it. I don’t get it. I never understood — how does she even get on television?

Trump Dumps on Football


Hershel Walker, New Jersey Generals (USFL), team owned by Donald Trump.

“It’s no trick to make a lot of money if all you’re trying to do is make a lot of money.” is one of my favorite lines in Citizen Kane. Furthermore, Kane’s impression that it would be “fun to run a newspaper” seems kind of like the whim Trump is trying to enter public office on. Except now he’s nearly 70 not a young man like Charles Foster Kane.

As someone who is a self-professed business genius, a man whose name name appears on seven books with seven different co-authors, and thus assumes himself to have the economic acumen to run the country simply because he came from money (and would’ve had even more by investing it conservatively), and despite his bankruptcy history. Donald Trump is largely cited as one of the main reasons the USFL (the last serious challenger to the NFL’s dominance) went under as cited here, mainly because he foolishly insisted the league should go head-to-head with the league and play in the fall.

This was also touched upon in ESPN’s 30 for 30 Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?, which chronicled that it had a powerful short stint that could’ve lasted.

Trumping Up Marriage


“I wish I’d had a great marriage. See, my father was always very proud of me, but the one thing he got right was that he had a great marriage. He was married for 64 years. One of my ex-wives once said to me, ‘You have to work at a marriage’. And I said, ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing’, because my parents, they didn’t work at the marriage. If you have to work at a marriage, it’s not going to work. It has to be sort of a natural thing. But my ex-wife would say, ‘You have to work at this, you have to do this, you have to do that’. And I’m saying to myself, ‘Man, I work all day long, well into the evening. I don’t want to come home and work at a marriage. A marriage has to be very easy’. My father would come home, have dinner, and take it easy. It was the most natural marriage I’ve ever seen. And Melania (Melania Trump) makes my life easy; one of the things I so love about her is that she makes my life easier. I’ve never had anybody that made my life so easy. Now I hope that continues. Perhaps that will change. I intend to find out!

Trump on his marriages

Ivana Trump’s big screen debut was deliciously in The First Wives Club. Marla Maples landed roles without Trump being an actress in her own right. Melania has has thus far only had an appearance as his arm candy in Zoolander.


However, this is unsurprising coming from the man who once said this:

You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.

Even the Zoolander gang have bagged on Trump lately.


Trump: The Human Soundbite


Admittedly it’s easy to cherry pick quotes but if you believe that he throws the word “loser” around for lack of thought, think again. One of his credos is:

Show me someone without an ego, and I’ll show you a loser.

So here he freely admits not checking his ego, and yes, every one has an ego in the sense he’s referring to, but here he admits his axiom is if you’re not this you’re that, it’s binary. If you don’t have an ego (like me) you’re a loser (like you are).

He may have the papers that say he went and graduated from prestigious places, and speak about it “not hurting to get more education,” but he sure doesn’t act like it, despite his claims “to have the best words.”

Donald Trump is A WWE Hall of Famer. Yes, World Wrestling Entertainment, that WWE. That is the intangible accomplishment he’s most deserving of. He’s about self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and appearances over substance. When he randomly shows up and body slams Vince McMahon that works for wrestling.

Mind you this video is dated after he announced his candidacy and is in New Hampshire. If you need more of that insanity go here.

If that doesn’t convince you he’s not presidential, even discarding partisan takes on his viability like Bill Clinton’s or Rand Paul’s, consider these gaffes in interviews on the constitution, appointing judges, and even if you can overlook that can you really overlook a man thinking he could “shoot up Manhattan and not lose support” or panders to supporters who shout obscenities and repeats them when the mikes don’t pick them up, or condones his supporters beating a protester.



A man running for president you might not ever expect to be in a film, has been and its similarity and difference to Trump’s myriad appearances are telling.

In 1999, Bernie Sanders was in a film called My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception. Bernie Sanders plays and actual character in the film and speaks for a while. It’s Bernie Sanders, sure but as a Rabbi complaining about free agency in baseball. A character suited to his diction, persona, and stump-speech approach to public speaking.

Trump’s best performance is one he didn’t fashion. It’s this. All hail editing, it can literally create a perfromance.


Trump is no showman in the controlled environment of a film set. He is one on reality TV and in his carnival barking rallies and in his debating technique which is tantamount to the middle school one-upmanship of trying to come up with the most debilitating dis.

However, this is more real than a lame, lifeless cameo; a mostly-staged reality competition or some other form or attention-getting, this is the presidency. The real one, the one venerated in fact, fiction, reality or hagiography; serious inquiries only, please. To underscore the ludicrousness, the incredulity of Trump’s foray I leave you with Scott Thompson’s version of the Queen of England. Imagine this lunacy happened, for real, and here in Murica of all places! It sounds outlandish but so did the idea of Trump 2016 in June.


Joke goes poof, indeed. Just ask Guatemala in a few years.

Postamble: “I Like the Mexican People They Are My Amigos,” or Dubya’s America over Trump’s

“I wanted to close with the above but realize some people will claim we’re not the UK, we’re not Canada or Guatemala. Fine. I give in. In closing, I will state that I actually wish the following was real and not just Will Ferrell being hilarious.


The Best Films of 2015: #32-1

Due to the fact that time to write this post has been sparse I am mostly cobbling together my own quotes for this one list of my favorite films of 2016. Enjoy!

32. The Good Dinosaur


Hi, I’m a Pixar film that’s quiet understated, not seeking to be the deepest thing of all time, but also not trying to be flimsy and broadly funny, but rather seeking simple truths, subtle beauties and humorous exploration of character types: please don’t hate me.

The above my facetious response to the massive amounts of hate this film got. Did The Good Dinosaur miss a chance to climb higher, sure, however it feels like the attacks it faced had to do with things it wasn’t and didn’t want to be. Much like The Interview was being lambasted for not being a satire, it was what I thought it would be, it seems that this film became a lightning rod because: a) It bombed at the box office b) Was a second Pixar release of 2015, and c) Had simpler aims, and thus for not aiming as high it takes a beatdown it doesn’t necessarily deserve because of what people thought it should be. Even if one dislikes it, which I could see, I couldn’t see how the film earned it on its own without outside factors contributing to the animus against it.

31. Metalhead

Metalhead (2013, Cinelicious Pics)

Capturing the unspoken truth of a subculture, of a music scene, is one of the meanest feats a film can accomplish and one the medium is uniquely suite for. As a film that hinges on music its Best Song is one of its centerpieces:

However, aside from being a great song “Svathamar” is a massive plot point in metal head and the apex of the film. Therefore, it’s an easy winner.

Yet it’s not just a musical showcase but a character- and performance driven piece that’s worth finding.

30. A Wolf at the Door

A Wolf at the Door (2014, Strand Releasing)

A Wolf at the Door is definitely not a story to be entered into lightly, and will most definitely not find universal favor. However, those believe that great art can and should be created from human immorality and depravity should give it a look.

29. Reckless

Reckless (2014, Artsploitation Films)

The film is one rife with twists each of which further elevates the stakes, intensity and suspense of the proceedings. None of them seem out of place and things resolve themselves naturally and correctly based on the momentum accumulated leading up to the climax. It’s not a case where the ending needs to be forced to satisfy audience expectations, but really feels like the only one that is just.

28. Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Clearly, allusions and fan service, whether fulfilling the desires of a majority or just one individual, are not enough to give a film legs it can stand one. In many ways it is like icing on the cake though and can make everything that much better.

The T-Rex’s entrance is great and helped by the fact that I didn’t quite grasp the “more teeth” line at first, but when I heard “Paddock 9” I knew, and it was a big part of the making-me-feel-like-a-kid-again effect. I was so psyched for the ending it was insane.

27. The Gift


This was one of the most surprising in-theater viewing experiences. It is another triumph for Blumhouse but also the biggest one for actor/writer/director Joel Edgerton. It’s a tremendous character study of a thriller that’s suspenseful enough to earn that genre classification rightfully and frightful enough that you could call it horror if you like.

26. Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Most lists I caught a glimpse of either had Star Wars much higher than me or omitted it entirely. I found a middle ground. I really loved all the new stuff like anything Rey and Finn did, and BB-8 for that matter; I appreciated the reunion aspects but the at-times-too-literal homages to the first series held it back some. The end is a great stopping point for the next installment to pick up from though.

25. Mr. Holmes


This is a wonderful, albeit melancholy tale, of a great mind battling dementia and a soul struggling to keep a hold of himself and find some kind of redemption in his fading days. He faces much conflict and strife, and the film looks forward and back beautifully, and deals with the legendary Holmes respectfully.

24. Aferim!


Aferim! is a portrait of the Szgany people of Romania. A tale of one man taken from the accounts of many and brilliantly done

23. Futuro Beach

Praia do Futuro (2014, Strand Releasing)

Futuro Beach is, from its start, about characters losing and trying to find themselves; connecting, disconnecting and trying to reconnect; saving each other and failing to save themselves; and, ultimately, finds beauty in the discomforts created by distance and yearning and the solitary journey of finding oneself. It takes a gamble with its narrative ellipse, but like a strong story it punctuates the end of its dramatic phrase properly and memorably.

22. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


You have to love a fifth film in a series that not only still feels vital but also is one you can walk into cold, without having seen the others previously, and still get a huge kick out of.

21. Kingsman: The Secret Service


As I was assembling my favorites of the year, I had a few ways I could parse titles. Usually, I rank films by genre before really comparing them unscientifically. This film in the action realm jumped just ahead of Mission: Impossible due to its comedy, commentary, and breakout star Taron Egerton.

20. Dark Places


Gillian Flynn became an even more well known author with the release of the film adaptation of Gone Girl, however, this is a film with more twists and turns, more creative structuring, and more intriguing characters. This is not only the kind of film that can get me to read an author’s work but is also full of some of the strongest performances by some of the actors involved in some time, like Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Tye Sheridn.

19. Sinister 2


Much but not all of what made Sinister a success was its witty retort to the standard found footage approach. However, what the Sinister films have found it seems is a mythology that it’s exploring to its fullest based on the self-assigned parameters of each film. Sinister, like the Purge, leaves fans wanting more, but in Sinister’s case it’s not a backhanded compliment but rather the highest praise.

18. 13 Minutes


Normally, a tale involving World War II and Hitler can be exploitative. However, Hirschbiegel has done it before with Downfall, and with this film he focuses in on Elser, the man who narrowly missed killing Hitler before he could do his worst. In this case, it’s not just a historical oddity or a defiant soul that make it compelling but the personalization of the drama.

17. T.I.M.

T.I.M. (2014, Attraction Distribution)

The irony that at times the best examinations of humanity are made when contrasting us to artificial intelligence is not lost on filmmakers. The motif still appears to be fertile ground yielding much fruit, this is just the latest in a long line of great films to prove that point. Exactingly done and precisely performed, it’s an enrapturing experience that should be sought out.

16. Cub

Cub (2014, Artsploitation Films)

The above, as well as the overall success is of course also a tribute to debutante director Jonas Govaerts. Cub is a bloody, creepy film, that has some depth and can still satisfy a seasoned viewer. It’s not one that’s for the faint of heart because it “goes there” often. Horror must be unafraid to go into deep, dark places and this is a trip to the woods the worth taking for those fans of the genre with a strong constitution.

15. Cinderella


This is what Disney should be aiming for with its live action remakes: the heart and essence of the story with added depth and awe. It’s the anti-Maleficent in that regard, and if this trend in quality continues this habit of rehashing will not get old so soon.

14. It Follows

It Follows (2014, Radius-TWC)

Perhaps only Mad Max handled its story as visually and subtly this year. There are so many inferences that can be drawn that don’t over-impose themselves on the story, but instead add texture. As do some of the unique production design decisions made in portraying an alternate reality Detroit.

13. Cool Kids Don’t Cry

Kick It (2014, Attraction Distribution)

This film is heartfelt, sincere, moving and beautifully done regardless for the emotion the film is striving for. It’s not a wonder that the book upon which this story is based is so popular, and that it’s already yielded two film versions. This film will have you chuckle, and also pull at your heartstrings but in a way that’s wholly intrinsic to the film and not in due in large part to manipulation. A truly excellent film.

12. The Lesson

The Lesson (2014, Film Movement)

The Lesson, like any lesson, could be an experience that is didactic, drudgery or could be an experience you’ll likely hold on to and cherish for a long time. This film is far closer to the lattermost option on that list.

11. Stranger

Stranger (2015, Tursunov Film)

Even though the film may not be traditionally uplifting its a wonder to see the world through Tursunov’s eyes anew. I’m sure that some will experience these same joys for the first time. For beautifully made films about difficult subjects that deal in the highest of artistry and a minimum of didacticism are far too rare, even rarer still is the hypnotic ambience of these Kazakh film worlds.

10. Paddington

Paddington (2014, TWC)

On its Best Adapted Screenplay nomination:

Paddington does the unlikely of capturing the spirit of a piece without being a literal adaptation.

It’s a film that makes a lot of things work, creates much magic, and executes simply and flawlessly.


9. Slow West


Slow West does much: it is a western, a drama, a romance, a coming-of-age tale, and an action film and it does very well with all its disparate elements.

8. Bloody Knuckles

Bloody Knuckles (2014, Artsploitation)

Bloody Knuckles has to be considered among the best of the year, and it likely to make quite a bit of noise at the annual BAM Awards. It’s a brisk rollicking good time that doesn’t play it safe and is all the more hilarious, thought-provoking, and intriguing because of it.

7. Creed


On Best Original Song Nomination:

As good as the medley in Creed is it merely accompanies a montage. The last three are showstopping numbers that are also functions of their protagonist(s).

On Best Makeup Nomination:

Creed does great work selling you on in-fight injuries.

On its Best Cinematography Nomination:

Creed‘s single-takes alone made it worthy of inclusion but it’s in for more than that.

On its Award-nominated editing:

Creed is one of many films that dispels the erroneous notion that there’s less aptitude in editing needed when several long takes are used. It’s a job brilliantly done, and it really hums.

On the Supporting Actor Nomination:

One of the more visceral checklist items for nominations are “my god he’s incredible in this” being a thought that runs through your mind. That thought occurred to me especially in three performances: Klaßner’s (though that was more about the fact that it wasn’t just The White Ribbon), Young’s and Stallone’s.

The two most powerful were Stallone and Young.

The film also boasted a Best Actor nomination (Michael B. Jordan) and Best Supporting Actress (Phylicia Rashad), making it the only film this year with nominations in three of the four major acting categories.

6. Still

Still (2014, Omnibus Entertainment)

Still is hypnotic and most effective because of how it manages to reverse fortune in its closing act, as well as have you dole out your empathy to many of the concerned parties, leaving your jaw agape at its conclusion. This is a film I’d recommend to anyone looking for a drama with a tragic arc, and serious real world stakes.

5. Inside Out


So, yes, there are two Pixar titles on this year’s list.  Clearly, Inside Out is a great visualization of the emotional workings of the brain and an illustration of mental illness and the subconscious. The only thing that knocks it down one peg is the fact that I didn’t react as strongly to it viscerally as I would’ve liked to but it is great stuff.

4. Human Capital

Human Capital (2014, Film Movement)

This universality latches on to the film in such a way that it enjoys the high-class problem of being easily identifiable to a wide variety of audiences yet hard to classify. Its playing of suspense tropes, combined with its palpable drama and social commentary it can correctly be identified with the catch-all of ‘thriller’ but it’s so much more than that. In a film market that seems to, at times, think we can’t have our cake and eat it too this film knows that’s nonsense, and delivers emotion, pathos, and tension while also crafting a story of sociological relevance and leaving the soapbox out of it. It clicks like a film you can maniacally eat popcorn to and just let it wash over you, but invites you dig deeper and think on it long and hard. What more can you ask for?

3. Charlie’s Country

Charlie'sCountry (2013, Entertainment One Films)

Charlie’s Country is and unorthodox and brilliant tale of an an aborigine man struggling to hold on to his land, his life and his heritage.

On David Gulilpil:

If you can hold the screen in silence, and move me to tears likewise; there’s not much more you need to do to clinch the award, but he does so much more.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road


Many of the reasons I love this movie are discussed in the various BAM Awards it won:

On effects:

Yes, much of it was practical. However, there were effects. It’s harder to notice because of all the practical stuff, but it is all a brilliantly strung together vision.

On Costumes:

Not only does this film paint its world nearly impeccably but it also has within it cultural icons in the making, Furiosa being among them and her costume being a big reason why.

On the cinematography:

Action doesn’t mean the camera has to do too much, the edit can work. The moves can be precise, the framing precise and balanced. The color here is blissfully deep, and in a world that bleak it’s a necessary antidote. Every single frame is glorious.

On the Sound Edit:

The silence speaks volumes, as does the ambience. The home watch can be more detail-oriented listening: the engines roar, the guitars wail and the beat doesn’t stop.

On the picture edit:

Walter Murch wrote a book called In the Blink of an Eye. It’s his treatise on editing and his theory about how unconscious things like blinking can help dictate cut-points. Were Margaret Sixel to write a book on editing it should write Joining Dreams. In British English you do not cut film, you join it . Thus, the name indicates that her editing (joining) of dream-like imagery is some of the best I’ve seen. Exemplary.

On the score:

Music is one of several intrinsic pieces to the film. When there is a guitar geek credited you know music plays an intricate role even if it’s not about music. Furthermore, it makes the music almost wholly organic, and my word, is it pulse-pounding.

On Miller’s direction:

“I’ve got vision up the butt, so just go with it,” -Jack Black, School of Rock
There’s really one director on this list that that quote adequately describes, and it’s not that it was a blowout, but it’s truest of this man.


1. Krampus


Similar to the film at #2 a lot of what I enjoyed was discussed in the BAMs, including why it was the top.

On Art Direction:

There’s world-building in any film but there are glimpses of worlds here, and locations that speak and breathe, and a few surprising choices that will not be spoiled here that clinch it for this film.

On the screenplay:

There’s so much this film does it’s not a wonder to see many names attached to the script, that and that’s how screenplays often work anyway. There’s a legend to build, laughs to deliver, and horror tropes to be brilliantly inserted. None are easy all accomplished easily in timely fashion and at times simultaneously.

On the cast:

Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, etc. Krampus

All these casts are great, strong and deep, but only one did I find no fault with at all. Not one.

On its winning Best Picture:

I saw each twice and liked Krampus more twice.

The two allusions I drew in seeing Krampus were to older films I now consider to be classics, in the standing the test of time way rather than in technique- Gremlins and Home Alone.

The Home Alone similarity is in Emjay Anthony’s rant about families. “I don’t want a new family. I don’t want any family. Families suck!” Kevin McAllister exclaims and his sentiments are similar and drew spontaneous applause in my second viewing.

There’s far more intangible things that it taps into, and that’s where Gremlins comes in: it’s not just the Christmas-set horror comedy aspect, Krampus is the 2015 PG-13 movie equivalent of Gremlins’ hard PG in 1984.

When you’re citing films that are 25 and 31 years old respectively, you know you’re entering rarified air.

Yet, much like Super 8 from a few years ago, it’s not just the Spielbergian-Amblin influence that makes Krampus work.

Krampus is hilarious, it’s very much the zeitgeist for the year of its release but like Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat may have conquered a mandatory viewing slot on a major holiday.

The Krampus is not a new or original creation. However, in the US knowledge of the Krampus and discussion of him has remained underground like he was out of the Necronomicon, or better yet has come to a heightened awareness and popularity many years after his “death” like Lovecraft.

Yet, though the Krampus has featured on quite a few TV shows, the feature film eluded it. Then as with any idea in Hollywood many raced to create a story based around a legend, a mythical figure so rife with potential especially in genre cinema.

Kevin Smith was the first name I heard associated with a Krampus-themed film, but that has yet to come to the fore as he’s developing many other thing. So, it’s a but like the victory that was Ender’s Game or other anticipated adaptations – it’s the realization of a dream except I didn’t know how this movie where this movie was going to go, just that I wanted to see where it went every step of the way.

It was the ideal major motion picture “debut” of this Icon.

It took an old mythology and made it new and vibrant, and like the film it tussled with so violently for the title it intimated of much story aside than what was on screen. Ultimately, I always try to compartmentalize; therefore, it’s not a matter of “Well, Mad Max is amazing and won all these awards therefore it has to win Best Picture.” What the equation really is is: How well did the film in question perform in all categories plus factor in the story and how that played.

Krampus got me and I got in a way no other 2015 release did, bar none. Not even close.










Hispanic Heritage Blogathon: The Films of Robert Rodriguez

I. History with Him

No matter how well-known a director is one always has to find them as an individual. In the case of Robert Rodriguez I actually started watching his films before Quentin Tarantino’s, who is Rodriguez’ friend and occasional collaborator.

I first saw the Spy Kids films that were out at the time in college. Then I began seeking out more of his work (consciously, but more on that later). As such I saw El Mariachi and read his book Rebel Without a Crew, and as such he became one of the rare directors I not only have read but much of what I learned from his books serves me well until this day.

Not only did his name become part of my personal nomenclature for a director who does it all but some of the philosophies espoused are still ones I can recite, and agree with. Among them being his theory about trying to work on several films immediately after his big success such that there was a bit of uncertainty as to what his second film actually was. The idea being if the public and critical masses didn’t know they couldn’t really chomp at the bit to tear apart number two.


While video cinematography still hasn’t quite approached what cinema can accomplish, I do and did appreciate his being on the vanguard of the digital revolution, and his joke about going to fondle some film stock if you absolutely needed to is still one that tickles me greatly.

II. El Mariachi

El Mariachi

Starting at the very beginning, and picking up where the last section left off, El Mariachi is a sort of cinematic miracle. This is not just because of the budget, the size of the crew or lack thereof, or the fact that it was edited on a VCR and cuts were dictated by when the sound started to run out of sync; but also for the narrative and what Robert Rodriguez did not only while he was essentially an amateur but with a group of them.

There’s a tremendous amount of intuition at work. For example, before this film he had never written a feature-length screenplay, and had no idea how to go about it. He had, however, written shorts running about 30 minutes, he knew how to structure that. Therefore, he repeated that process three times, moving the story along and there was the feature. This is most noticeable in the film in examining the dream sequences, which follows the Rule of Three in a feature form.

El Mariachi proved not only a launchpad for his career but also was one of the franchises that Robert Rodriguez brought into being. Most impressive about this trilogy is that it may (I’ve not formalized this comparison) be the most aesthetically successful trilogy of films wherein the lead actor was recast after the first film.

III. What’s Your Second Film?

Desperado (1995)

In the interest of full disclosure the other films that Robert Rodriguez worked on that vied to be his second were one I’ve not seen (Roadracers), believe I’ve only seen partially (Four Rooms), and Desperado, his follow-up to El Mariachi with Antonio Banderas, which in some ways is like a bigger budget remake but does progress the narrative.

IV. Back to School with Bedhead

Bedhead (1991, Robert Rodriguez)

Later on in my schooling I discovered one of Robert Rodriguez’ student films. One thing I’ve always admired a lot about him is his willingness to share not only early works but also advice. This is one I’ve featured on Short Film Saturday and find quite funny and creative. Give it a look if you haven’t yet.

V. Horror and Sci-Fi: The Faculty From Dusk Till Dawn

The Faculty

Another thing a bit unique about my fandom of Robert Rodriguez is the current alpha and omega in terms of the films of his I’ve seen, they are the two titles discussed in this section. I saw The Faculty during its theatrical release, however, I didn’t know him at the time so it wasn’t an auteur-based decision. It was motivated by the trailer, Elijah Wood’s participation, and Kevin Williamson (at the time I was a high school student and Dawson’s Creek and all his works were a big deal).

VI. Family Films

Spy Kids (2001, Miramax)

In discussing Robert Rodriguez’ family films there are quite a few to discuss. First and foremost there is the Spy Kids franchise. It’s almost tiresome, but nor unnecessary to state that clearly the progenitor is the best of the series, and earned Best Screenplay and other nominations. Whimsy and imagination are not words I throw around lightly, and exceedingly rare when films fashioned by adults seem to truly capture a child’s imagination.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

The sequel was also nominated, and while it doesn’t live up to the first, it doesn’t keep the characters in a state of cinematic cryogenesis maturing them as they go. This time Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) have counterparts of the opposite sex (Matthew O’Leary and Emily Osment). The homage to Ray Harryhausen is quite appreciated as well as the reified dreams.

Spy Kids 3: Game Over (2003)

Game Over provided a successful what-was-then-believed to be conclusion to the series, and a good, more modern take on the trope of entering the world of video games.

Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World (2011)

Keeping in line with his vision of moving forward new leads (Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard) Spy Kids: All The Time in the World in 4-D not only experiments further with Rodriguez’ own ahead-of-the-craze version of 3-D and scratch and sniff cards but tells a tale of families growing up together, as it features the original core in smaller roles, and the continuation and expansion of an institution.

The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl

Prior to that newest film in the series, which did not in any way feel superfluous after it was over there were two more sojourns into juvenalia. First, there were The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl in 3D, starring Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner (his screen debut) and Taylor Dooley, which was quite literally of childish imagination as Robert Rodriguez’ then eight-year-old son Racer Max Rodriguez received a story credit.


Then there was Shorts, which I found to be a rather unique updating of the structural concept that drove El Mariachi, it played again with time and youthful notions rather successfully.

VII. Machete on Planet Grindhouse

Machete Kills

Firstly and most blatantly, I absolutely love that Robert Rodriguez was the first to turn his spoof trailer that was part of his Grindhouse double feature with Tarantino into an actuality. Eli Roth has tinkered with Thankskilling but it has yet to materialize, and I would love to see Edgar Wright’s Don’t but Machete lives in an eponymous film, Machete Kills and the forthcoming Machete Kills in Space. Now if that will complete a trilogy and rest there remains to be seen. However, even though Rodriguez seems to be bouncing from one notion to another that he’s made famous lately, the first in the Machete series is his most recent triumph.

Grind House

Not only did I land Machete in my Top 10 for 2010 but earned a rare BAM Awards feat (and other award shows also) as it was nominated for Best Picture and in no other categories, but that one is the best one to land in. Furthermore, in a very grindhouse or Italian genre cinema way Danny Trejo is back playing Machete but there is no indication he connects to the world of Spy Kids, but it in all other respects seems to be the same character examined further.


As for Planet Terror, the film he created that lead to Machete. It’s not my favorite part of that double-bill but it is good, holds up its end, and if anything over-commits to the notion of grindhouse in its faux-scratched film, excessive cigarette burns, and missing reels.

VIII. Painting Sin City with Light

Sin City (2005)
Perhaps most noteworthy thing about Sin City is the fact that in continuing his rebellious streak, with due cause, this was the film that caused Robert Rodriguez to part ways with the DGA. The reason was that the Guild would no allow Rodriguez to co-direct with both Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino. Under DGA rules only blood relations can co-direct a DGA film. So he dropped out of the Guild.

At it’s time I really liked Sin City quite a great deal and gave it a 9/10. It was in the state-of-the-art at the time, quite visually alluring, and one of the best approximation of the graphic novel in cinema. This proved to create an anachronistic fascination in the film when combined with the Film Noir styling.

I have yet to view the recent sequel because it took too long to follow-up, I admit to some comic book film fatigue, which was not a phrase that made sense in 2005, and until I sat down to write this all I recalled about the original was the excessive, in a perhaps too true to the style and source material, voice over narration.

IX. “He’s emotional. Latinos.”

Spy Kids (2001)

Watching the films of Robert Rodriguez, whether they be kids films or his action or other adult content ones, was also part of my personal maturation process. Prior to having seen his works I was not one for cultural transliteration. To be abundantly clear what I mean to say with this is that his films, though not about my background (being a dual citizen of the United States and Brazil), I could relate. Going just beyond being a necessary and representative voice for his own people Mr. Rodriguez was the catalyst of a sort of cultural awakening for me.

Surely, his films won’t undo the laments and wrongs I bemoan in the pre-amble of my review of Rio (Nothing can), but his films; epitomized by the line from Spy Kids quoted above – strike a universality that is not accessible only to Mexicans, not only to Latinos but to everyone who chooses to watch his films. Since then that specificity combined with universality has been something I’ve sought and found in many corners of world cinema. However, there was a realization I found here and for that alone he earned a special place in my pantheon separate from all his other accomplishments.
X. El Rey del Futuro


Unfortunately, due to my cable and streaming services at current, El Rey is not available to me all the time. However, I plan to check out the From Dusk Till Dawn series soon, and whatever other content is available online. Hopefully, The Director’s Chair, too. Not many directors have a whole network, much less one that represent their cinematic interests so well.

As if that wasn’t enough, besides the aforementioned Machete follow-up, Rodriguez has also been tapped to bring Johnny Quest to the big screen, which if it finally happens should be a big deal and it’s significant because it’s a rare occasion where he is working with characters not of his making.

Robert Rodiguez’ rise not only came at a time when independent cinema was getting noticed more but also during a new crest in the rise of Latino culture in America. Robert Rodriguez seeks always to entertain first and he has; he is his own voice and doesn’t deal with issue films except how they might make sense within his wheelhouse, like Machete (“This time they fucked with the wrong, Mexican” the voice-over states).

Wherever Robert Rodriguez goes I’d willingly follow to give a chance and a glance, as will others I presume, and along the way he’ll open hearts and minds and accelerate pulses with action, but also not be averse to provoking some thought while having fun in the process. He’s truly well-rounded in all regards. I could go on in this, as I hope he shall in cinema; quite nearly forever.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Writing Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dryer, Christen Jul, and Sheridan Le Fanu


The final book that I selected for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge was actually a back-up option. In scanning my unread titles two that slipped through the cracks were books that were included as supplemental features on Criterion Collection releases. And by books I don’t mean booklets, which are standard, but actual paperbacks which are rarer.

A Side Trip

Mr. Arkadin (Criterion)

The first book I tried to read was Mr. Arkadin by Orson Welles. This is the novelization of Welles’ script, alternately called Confidential Report. I saw the four cuts of the film in a weeks’ time therefore decided to wait on the book. While the story of the strange nature of this novel, which ran serialized in France, and was later translated back into English presumably making it less than Welles original version (again!); I lost interest as it read slow and I was juggling a few other books. It’s a rare case of my successfully enacting the Brautigan Rule, as described by Stephen King in Hearts in Atlantis (the character Ted Brautigan encouraged Bobby to read more by moving on to another book after it’s 10-20% read if he’s not interested). I may come back to it, but not right now. Maybe next year if the blogathon returns.

Writing Vampyr (Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dreyer and Christen Jul and Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu)

Writing Vampyr (Criterion)

What I decided on was Writing Vampyr, which was included in Criterion’s release of Vampyr (1932). This seminal vampire film is often overlooked in part because it has neither the flash of German Expressionism nor the iconic makeup work of Nosfertau. Yet Vampyr as an early sound film still is built mostly on imagery and is not a locked-down camera early sound film.

This book is composed of two texts: the original screenplay by Dreyer and Jul and the novella from which it draws quite a bit of inspiration, but is not a literal adaptation of, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The fact that these two titles work more like companion pieces than identical texts makes this a very enjoyable reading experience.

As for the screenplay, I can’t help but feel it actually contains a better vision for the story than the film does. It’s what would have qualified as a “great flawed film” in Truffaut’s parlance as the script wasn’t entirely feasible to shoot due to technological restraints at time as well as budgetary ones. Full credit goes to Criterion here for including the full text denoting in two different ways what was excised from the script and when in the process of pre-production. As I touched upon in my Ingrid Bergman Blogathon post, both time and country play a role in dictating screenplay form, and it is ever-changing. With the amount of prose in the script it really is like reading two novellas. And that should ingratiate it to the uninitiated in screenplays.

Vampyr (1932)

If Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla intrigues you the collection from which it is culled, In a Glass Darkly, can be found digitally online for free. As for Carmilla itself it should be of interest simply for all the adaptations its inspired like The Blood Splattered Bride, Twins of Evil, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Lust for a Vampire, Vampire Lovers, Crypt of the Vampire, Blood and Roses, and more.

What was surprising is that the introduction cited the story as having undertones of lesbianism, but for the time in which it was written it seemed rather overt. I can only imagine that maybe it read more as an undertone back then because the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name,” had not been coined.

The language, as per usual in the Victorian era in my estimation, is brilliant, yet  here concise and not overly-florid such that it obscures meaning and intent. It’s also a relief to read things described in detail anew as the sparsity of modern description can leave one wanting on occasion.

These two pair beautifully together and truly demonstrates the elasticity that film has when adapting the written word.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: They Still Call Me Junior by Frank Coghlan, Jr.

In 2009 Frank Coghlan, better known by his screen name Junior Coghlan, died. At that time I wrote an In Memoriam for him on the Site That Shall Not Be Named. Owing to the fact that I was looking for new material, and obits tend to be topical, I never re-published it here on The Movie Rat.

Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, Republic Pictures)

It seems appropriate to do so now as it makes a perfect jumping off point for discussing this book:

Frank Coghlan Jr., who was a child actor in the silent film era passed away quietly last month of natural causes at the ripe old age of 93. He was the kid who brought the phrase “Shazam!” into the American consciousness and played Captain Marvel later on in a serial, the pre-transformation Captain Marvel.

He started at the age of three appearing in a Western serial called Daredevil Jack. He was typically credited as Junior Coghlan and left his mark indelibly in this chapter play Bruce Goldstein, Director of Repertory Programming at New York’s world famous Film Forum lauds it “It’s considered by many aficionados as the best cliffhanger serial of all time,” and continues saying “What a great fantasy for kids: a kid who turns into a superhero.”

Leonard Maltin puts Coghlan’s place in history further in perspective by saying “If you went to the movies in those days, you couldn’t help but know him, even though he was never a major star,” which, of course, places his importance in as much as he made up the tapestry of cinema when films and movie stars whether A-List or not where a part of American culture and something everyone was well versed in.

In 1925 legendary director/producer Cecil B. DeMille signed him to a five-year deal on the strength of his publicity stills. Another small yet important role he had was as the young James Cagney in Public Enemy.

Yet it is Captain Marvel and “Shazam!” for which he is most remembered. For many who toil and seek a serious dramatic career a singular, ubiquitous role, one to which they are always associated can be a burden and later on even a regret and something they seek to forget. Coghlan frequented conventions and seminars in his later years and was always pleased when people recognized him or came to see him. So appreciative was that according to Leonard Maltin he even personalized his license plate to read “Shazam.”

Some people in entertainment don’t realize their good fortune and look a gift horse in the mouth. Frank Coghlan, Jr. was not one of those people and now left with only memories of classic film moments it is we, the film fans, who didn’t know how lucky we were.

Rubber Tires

I cannot say for certain how many of his films I had seen at that point. The Adventures of Captain Marvel was definitely one of them. While in my limited experience I can’t say I agree about it being the very best serial, it is a superlative one. I was impelled to write that obit based on the one the New York Times wrote for him. It was touching to me that he still held that experience dear rather than feeling embittered that he was still identified by that work no matter where life took him.

Since then I have seen quite a few more Coghlan films, and may see more yet. Some of these include titles from when he really was a kid, as he was in his twenties when he made The Adventures of Captain Marvel. I liked him as a performer, and still with that obit in mind I was curious to read his biography.

Like many books and films do it languished on my Amazon Wish List for years. Due to this blogathon, I returned to Amazon resorted the used offers and found a cheap one.

Junior Coghlan

Even more so than with prior reviews in this blogathon I do not want to spoil the surprises in store in this book. There are 76 chapters, most of them quite short, wherein Junior regales you with stories in  what sounds simply like him speaking (as promised in the introduction by William C. Cline). He tells tales from sets, his home life, of other stars, of friendships, transitioning to sound, secrets of the silents, how he continued to work around films, Navy life, family life, other work, and more.

Ultimately, this book, published when he was 74, reinforced that warm and fuzzy feeling that I got reading about how fond he was of his most famous work. Not that he sugarcoats things, or doesn’t relate some sadness, but none of it was a horror story and lamenting the Hollywood system.

Now, while Junior did know Jackie Cooper and Mickey Rooney, in young actor terms he was a generation older so maybe not being pre-pubescent during the Depression and not in a big studio helped, but he still made it OK and recognizes it. Like Ingrid Bergman whom I just wrote, about he freelanced after a five-year deal and in the studio era that’s unusual.

Junior Coghlan (BFI)

There is much to like here, and much to learn, as with any autobiography, or work on film, you won’t agree with 100% of the opinions espoused but it is an interesting, fact-filled journey with a handy, lengthy filmography that should help you track down titles.

It’s very enjoyable overall and worth looking for if interested.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Images: My Life in Film by Ingmar Bergman


This is my latest post (third overall) for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Out of the Past. This book fits in as a biographical/filmographic account, as Bergman speaks of the films he made from 1946 to around 1986.

Bergman and Me

Bergman Island (2004, Sveriges Television)

In my second post in this series I chronicled my history with the films of Bergman. With that in mind I was very glad that this is the autobiographical Bergman account I chose to read first rather than The Magic Lantern. When making that decision it was based solely on the fact that Images was published at a later date and therefore would include a few more works.

As it turned out, that was a good thought on a few accounts. One of which was the fact that with further hindsight, and reviewing of his own work, Bergman was able to have more distance between the present day (of when this was written) and production. Therefore, his mind changed for the better, for worse, or he had more clarity on why certain things worked or didn’t work. Furthermore, there were citations from The Magic Lantern used as jumping off points. This may be tiresome for one who read that book but was helpful here.

Clearly the most illuminating to me were the excerpts of texts from his workbooks where he’s literally dissecting his own process from abstract notes you can either clearly see how the film developed, or are let marveling at the genius that he was able to to take something rather obfuscated and turn it into concrete emotion and a visual reality that exudes the intended visceral reactions and ideas.

Fanny and Alexander (1982, Svensk Filmindustri)

The very formation of this account is one that’s fascinating. It started with what was going to be another interview book like Bergman on Bergman with interviews conducted by Lasse Bergström, Bergström then deleted his questions and Bergman edited the text. The filmography section, which was crucial in the days before the IMDb, and handy because of the plot synopses they at times contained, was compiled by Bertil Wredlund.

The film is also very interestingly organized as the films are grouped not chronologically so much as thematically. The sections within are:

Dreams and Dreamers

The Silence (1963)

(Wild Strawberries, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, Persona, Face to Face, The Touch, Cries and Whispers, and The Silence)

This section ends with Bergman talking about why he went into self-imposed exile amidst tax evasion allegations that were eventually deemed meritless, then it transitions back to the beginning with-

First Movies

Port of Call (1948)

(Torment, Crisis, It Rains on Our Love, A Ship Bound for India, Music in Darkness a.k.a. Night is My Future, Port of Call, The Devil’s Wanton a.k.a Prison, and Thirst)

This section starts with him in the script department of Svensk Filmindustri then writing scripts and finally directing. It also interestingly discusses his stint as script supervisor (“script girl” as it was frequently called back then), for the first screenplay he wrote. He humorously admits to not being good at it, it’s an important job, and parenthetically, I wasn’t very good at it myself.

Jests Jesters

The Serpent's Egg (1977)

(The Magician, The Rite, Sawdust and Tinsel, The Serpent’s Egg, From the Life of Marionettes, Scenes From a Marriage, and After the Rehearsal)

In this section Bergman not only discusses his years out of Sweden but also ties that in with the themes of jesters and traveling entertainers, and puppets which were omnipresent in his work but prevalent in these films

Miscreance Credence

The Seventh Seal (1957)

(The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, and Winter Light)

In this section the discussion at times runs together because of the religious themes that connect them all.

Other Films

Autumn Sonata (1978)

(To Joy, This Can’t Happen Here, Summer Interlude, Waiting WomenSummer with Monika, Shame, The Passion of Anna, Brink of Life, and Autumn Sonata)

While the title of this section is a bit uninspired it does talk of actors in general segues to the discussion on Autumn Sonata, which I will dedicate excruciating detail to in an upcoming blogathon.

Farces Frolics

Fanny and Alexander (1983, Svensk Filmindustri)

(some commentary on Waiting Women, A Lesson in Love, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Devil’s Eye, The Magic Flute, and Fanny and Alexander)

Herein he discusses his struggles with comedy in general and his repeated ventures (yes, there were a few) into the genre. In addition to that there is discussion on how Fanny and Alexander in many ways was born of the influence of both E.T.A. Hoffman and Dickens.

Anecdotal Awe

The Passion of Anna (1969)

Note: If you want to go into the book knowing as little as possible bypass this section.

Sure there are wide-ranging insights into his process, life, development, and art in general, but for me (as I’m sure is the case with many of us) the greatest thing is the little insights. Things I never knew that aren’t earth-shattering but intriguing, or opinions he has on his work that you don’t share, and those you do.

Some examples of this are: Fanny and Alexander started with different names in his notes, and that he likes the TV version better (as do I). He detested The Devil’s Eye, and working on it; I didn’t like it either and that kind of thing has a tendency to show (like with John Carpenter and Christine). He claims he shouldn’t have included the interviews in the The Passion of Anna.

It is curious that the mention of the The Magic Flute being produced in the Swedish language, and not German, is non-existent. Though reading the whole book, and the section between the lines there are some inferences one can make about this choice.

Ingmar Bergman

Also included are insights into his extensive theatre work, which is fascinating as it helps us understand his day-to-day schedule for many years and also see diferences era and country create. There’s also a mind-blowing explanation of a brief stint in TV commercials (news to me), discussion of his lifelong relationships with the opera, and his work therein; radio (also news to me), and influences including Swedish novelist Hjalmar Bergman (no relation). As with any good work on film it made me want to watch and see more.

A Word on Formatting

Images: My Life in Film (All Rights Reserved)

If interested in reading this book I would advise seeking out a copy in print, even if you’re not a purist. The copy I read on Kindle had some spacing issues, typos in inserting diacritical marks, and captions awkwardly separated from photos. Maybe some of the display issues would be less of a concern if I read it on an iPad or laptop but some of the mistakes would still be there. Having just made a number of these corrections myself in my own books (Plug!) I have a heightened sensitivity to such issues.


Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

If you are interested in Bergman, or the craft of filmmaking, I would definitely recommend this book. However, I recommend it with a grain of salt, if you’ve not seen any of these Bergman movies you will likely have them spoiled. However, keep in mind there are a few I have not seen due to a lack of availability and that made me more interested in it. So, check this out!

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge – Interviews: Liv Ullmann


This post is part of the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. This particular title pertains to the blogathon by being a collection of interviews that serve as a biographical account of sorts as they are collected over a number of years, there are some personal questions, and Ullmann is speaks at various times of her life with evolving perspectives.

Interviews: Liv Ullmann

Liv Ullmann (2006, University of Mississippi Press)

I’ve written about Liv Ullmann here before. Naturally, having written about the films of Ingmar Bergman in the form of a list, and most recently a specific scene she was in that Bergman directed. I also posted a piece called Liv Ullmann: Between Stage and Screen here. This was something I wrote as a reaction to a speaking engagement she had in 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was held in conjunction with her directing a show there and touched on her career as an actress in both media. Following the engagement I got this book, as I have a tendency to do; it ended up in a pile of books for a while. A similar practice applies to movies as well. I’m trying to use Goodreads and Letterboxd to deal with both issues.

But I digress…

I’ve not made a habit of reading interviews exhaustively. However, it’s fascinating in this case because they are legitimate interviews that take a number of projects and topics into considerations and not as much of the junket/talk show nature is in there. Having them span years you can see certain progression, changes in perspective and priorities, and different career phases. The time when her career began, and the type of films she was usually involved in, I’m sure contributed to the meatiness of these interviews. Plus, she doesn’t give the short shrift to any answers.

The 1970s: The Bergman Years

Persona (1966, Svensk Filmindustri)

If we’re being literal Ullmann’s “Bergman Years” began in 1966 with the release of Persona. However, these interviews begin in 1972. It was a different time and cinematic era, therefore, she only came over to the US and started doing interviews around the release of The Emigrants (Dir. Jan Troell), which garnered her a Golden Globe Award and her first Academy Award nomination.

Therefore, many of these interviews concern films like Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Troell’s epics The Emigrants and The New Land; Face to Face, Autumn Sonata; and her brief, mostly unsuccessful, in box office terms, but fun forays into Hollywood and the Broadway stage.

One can trace the growth of Ullmann as a person and her mastery over he instrument through these years. Always emotionally attuned she gives tremendous insights into her philosophy on life, art, the place of her craft, and the world in general.

The 1980s: UNICEF Ambassadorship and Broadening Horizons

Liv Ullman (U.N.)

When asked to visit refugee camps, and eventually asked to be a UNICEF ambassador; Liv Ullmann admits to a personal epiphany. In a prescient way she talks of the power of the media, and the positive change celebrities can affect by using the media. This is even more true today. She fascinatingly comes to terms with her acting as a profession, something she does for income, but sees this ambassadorship as her new, truer calling.

The 1990s: Sitting in the Director’s Chair

Liv Ullmann

Whether in Hollywood or abroad, the difficulty female actors face landing roles for the same time window of time as their male counterparts is a reality many have to deal with in an inarguably sexist industry. However, Ullmann seems to have found a new direction that personally satisfied her and coincided fortuitously with her entering an age range where actresses struggle to even see scripts much less good ones. Her transition to directing is well-documented, and openly explored.

Her first two films were quite personal yet also included departures. Ullmann is typically seen as a modern woman, emotionally open, intelligent and confidently independent found period pieces to tell her first tales. The first film Sofie is a story of a 19th century Jewish family (Ullmann herself is Christian but has always had Jewish friends and affection for the culture) who pressure their daughter to marry the man of their choosing. Her second feature is a cinematic adaptation of a classic Norwegian saga Kristin Lavransdatter. Also, clearly a temporal departure.

The 2000s: Bringing Bergman Back to the Silver Screen

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

Even with only a handful of screen directing credits Ullmann herself has already seen phases. First, were her personally befitting period-pieces, and then after Bergman’s initial retirement from film (one he really only broke for Saraband, which Ullmann participated in) she tackled two Bergman adaptations Private Confessions, as a lengthy TV project and edited feature project based on a novel Bergman wrote, and Faithless, an original Bergman screenplay she piloted solo on his insistence.

Conclusion: All the World’s a Stage

Liv Ullmann (Chicago Film Festival)

Whether it’s been as a legendary screen luminary and muse, activist and force for change, or emerging director; Liv Ullmann has never seemed to back down from a challenge starting from the moment she started Persona not 100% sure what she was getting into and how she was going to pull it off. These interviews cut-off about a decade ago and it shows.

In researching this piece I learned that Ullmann has made her debut directing in the English language with her own adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain. This doesn’t quite surprise me that much as I read some of her thoughts on Strindberg, and her saying she does not see language as an obstacle to directing.

Miss Julie (2014, Columbia TriStar)

Also, considering that Bergman was her closest collaborator who himself had a fascinating theatrical mash-up of Ibsen, Stringberg, and himself it’s not as surprising.

All the works I touched upon hardly scratch the surface as there is much to find in this book for fans. She talks of her evolving relationship with Ingmar personally and professionally, marriage in general, her relationship with her daughter, aging, fame, social issues, gender inequality, her theatrical works, coming to Hollywood as a newbie, interesting insights in to the film industry and specific films in general; and more.

Sure, as with any interview collection that at times features a few talks from the same year there will be some redundancies, certain titles will come up more than other ones, certain information will be redundant or slightly contradictory; but with minimal editorializing, and many Q & A transcriptions it really is speaking for herself and allowing us a window into her heart, mind, soul, and art. Fans and film enthusiasts should be willing to take a glimpse.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: What is Cinema? Vol. 1 by André Bazin


This post is part of the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. This particular title pertains to the blogathon by being a work of film criticism that discusses some classic films and then-new approaches to adaptation of stage plays and novels and other developments in the early history of film.

What is Cinema? Vol. 1

What is Cinema? Vol. 1 (All Rights Reserve)

With the recent shutdown of The Dissolve, one of the most celebrated and well-respected film criticism sites in the past two years; a site created in part as a response to the closing of Cinematical; it’s not unusual that the discussion of “Is film criticism dead?” firing back up. When you pair that with the fact that I recently took to reading What is Cinema? Vol. 1 by André Bazin, and I started to give this some serious thought; seeing as how Bazin’s essay collection encompasses five volumes and only two of them exist with modern English translation. Usually, I leapfrog from one film thinker to another based on having read one and heard them talk of another. However, the last two names I came across I were met with similar lack-of-translation issues. René Tabard being the last one prior to Bazin. Tabard practically invented film history, and jumped to mind again after he was featured in Hugo.

I think this collection from Bazin proves there is still a relevance if we are willing to engage and seek out such writing, as will be detailed to follow. So “Who is André Bazin?” you may be asking. André Bazin was a film critic and theorist who founded one of the most influential film publications of all time, Cahiers du Cinema. It was Cahiers where the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, among others, got their start. It was Truffaut’s references and admiration that lead me to him.

The contents of the book are as follows:

Ontology of the Photographic Image
The Myth of Total Cinema
The Evolution of the Language of Cinema
The Virtues and Limitations of Montage
In Defense of Mixed Cinema
Theater and Cinema: Part one and Two
Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) and the Stylistics of Robert Bresson
Charlie Chaplin
Cinema and Exploration
Painting and Cinema

The title seems simplistic but bear in mind that when Bazin was working cinema was about 60 years old. Synchronized sound much younger still and many things were being addressed for the first times on film. Furthermore, to establish a foundation of what the study of an artform is defining and delineating it is a necessity. Furthermore, when aesthetic precepts and styles change, or are challenged, chronicling the process and debating the pros and cons of said approaches has much validity. In trying to define the then-youngest artform it mattered to compare and contrast it to those arts that came first.

Bazin breaks down many things specifically: the frame itself, the incorporation of multiple disciplines, film grammar, editing with a different approach that Eisenstein had, as well as tackling specific performers (encapsulating Chaplin’s genius) discussing specific titles and subgenres. Further some of these essays have slight overlap which make the order make sense, and give you the sense of an ongoing dialogue that developed over time.

Those essays are followed by notes inserted by the translated for further contextualization. These are vital. For while Bazin was not shy about writing lengthy, at times multiple page, footnotes to make elliptical tangential points there are times where there is no clarification that you wish were there. On a few occasions they occur in the final line of the essay and the point is obfuscated if not lost entirely.

Diary of a Country Priest (1951, Criterion)

I, as a reader, am not shy about doing searches or seeking definitions extemporaneously. However, some of them only made sense with the notes; hence their vitality. I usually consider the introduction optional but Jean Renoir sets the stage very well and gets you in the mood and proper frame of mind to start this book so I’d recommend it though it’s not as vital as the notes.

Online I found some reader reviews that cited excessive liberties in editing, re-arranging essays. However, those changes are cited in the back and it does not say if it’s unique to the English translation. As for the arguments I saw about reading the original French text, clearly if you have a level of fluency in the original language of the text that’s alway preferable, but a translation is better than not ever having read a text at all. I have experimented with reading in French but cannot claim proficiency, and translation is imprecise, which is why new translations happen, and I have read multiple versions of a work when interested enough. It’s just always something to keep in mind.

Regardless of the transcriptive liberties either taken or not, I found the ideas communicated clearly, even through their complexities, and the compact, polysyllabic style Bazin appeared to have is evident without being so dense it reads as if its intended for academics only. It’s certainly challenging but a foundation in film makes it accessible. It’d have been further illuminating if I had the level of exposure to French literature and theatre he did, the other works of art, but even without the specific contextual framework what he’s saying is clear. Furthermore, reading always begets reading so it’s good to have some ideas of what to look for.

André Bazin

I wouldn’t say its introductory level stuff, nor does it supplant film history supplements, but Bazin’s work is a foundation that is still relevant for film is in a constant state of evolution. Therefore, to question what makes a work cinematic, and what the form entails, is critical food for thought for all those who love the seventh art.

Poverty Row April: Hearts of Humanity (1932)


This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

They don’t make melodramas like they used to. To be a little less trite, because they make nothing like they used to, what made melodramas in the Pre-Code and Golden Age era work was the unrelenting wave of unabashed emotion, the incredible circumstance, be it hardship or triumph, the near-cloying tugging at heart strings in a tale with a more straight-forward narrative style made for a less cynical world. Yes, these date them, but any film from any period can be perceived as dated. What these films don’t fear is trying too hard for the emotional response.

In this film there’s an example of much of what I was talking about as a boy is orphaned one day through two unrelated acts. Both his parents die on the same day. His father has just learned of his mother’s demise when he meets his unfortunate fate. The plot that follows his less high-stakes to an extent, but it is moving. Jean Hersholt is endearing in the lead and Jackie Searl showed his ability to play endearing characters as well as conniving ones, though his Irish accent isn’t that great. It’s a simple film, but a truly enjoyable one in the style that only this era could produce.