Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas is Coming!

I guess we should start talking about your movie list for the next two weeks.  I took a look at the keyword 'Christmas' at IMDb.  2,809 listings have Christmas written all over them.  Just to review, you can sort the list by rating or year, and it is littered with TV shows and TV Movies.  We'll skip TV for now.

If you go by ratings, and discount the anomalies like The Godfather (1972), the number one Christmas movie is A Jersey Christmas from 2008.  I have never head of it...or of anyone in the cast.  I guess when you have only a few reviews (mostly by cast members) anything can be at the top.  Jersey got 22 votes compared to The Godfather with 424,200 votes.  Let's look deeper, and only at Christmas movies.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) came in at #52.  No contest.  It is one of the best Christmas movies.  A foreign film from 1961 called Placido came in at #82, just three places after a TV documentary called "The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show."  Placido sounds like a decent entry on the list, but will be difficult to find.  No doubt many men consider Victoria's Secret a gift from Santa.

After passing such Non-Christmas movies like The Apartment (1960 - which actually has some Christmas aspects, but wasn't really a Christmas movie) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), I think I will give up on IMDb's list.  It needs some housecleaning.

The MovieFanFare blog has voting going on now for favorite classic Christmas movies.  Take a look at it.  The top four as of this morning are It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), White Christmas (1954) and A Christmas Carol (1951).

I voted for the fourth place A Christmas Carol, originally titled Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim (1900 - 1976).  It is a movie that has the look of being ten years older than it was, and if you let yourself get into the mood of the film, you will be moved by Sim's performance on Christmas morning, after his three ghostly visits.  Plus he does a great polka.

Happy Christmas, and keep reading.  I will fill in the Bit Actors in the next week or two.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Angels and Demons

Tom Hanks (b. 1956) is one of my favorite actors and producers.  His body of work is diversified and immense.  He is equally at home in a rom-com (Sleepless in Seattle - 1993, or You've Got Mail  - 1998), or a heavy duty war drama (Saving Private Ryan - 1998).  He pulls off light comedy and serious roles equally well.
I watched Angels and Demons (2009) yesterday, and it was enjoyable.  This was Hanks' sixth collaboration with Ron Howard (b. 1954). Hanks and Howard work well together.

It is a big movie with a twisted story line and a huge cast, exactly what you'd expect from a big star and a big director.  It has some problems, such as Ewan McGregor's (b. 1971) Scottish accent, in his role as an Italian priest.  And, as in most action movies, I simply can't swallow the amount of punishment a character's body can withstand and manage to keep going.

Let's look at some of the smaller roles.  Stellan Skarsgard (b. 1951) was intense, as usual in a dramatic role.  But I keep seeing him in Mamma Mia! (2008) and that always shakes my impression of him.  I must learn to watch the movie at hand and not connect it to every other role the actor has played.  In fact, I think I drive my wife crazy when I mention other movies an actor has done.

Skarsgard has done 108 so far, and his portrayal of Bootstrap Bill Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean series was spooky!  In 1997 he was in Good Will Hunting, and brought out his intense face as a math professor. 

The female lead was played well by an Israeli actress, Ayelet Zurer (b. 1969).  With only 26 titles, most of them foreign, I think we can expect to see more of her.  Look for her in Munich (2005) and Vantage Point (2008). 

One of the cardinals was played by Armin Mueller-Stahl (b. 1930).  Again, Stahl was outstanding.  His role was as the cardinal in charge of the voting procedure for a new Pope.  He subtly shows the internal conflict between his personal ambition to possibly become the next Pope, and the duty to God he holds close to his heart. 

Stahl first came to my attention on TV in "Twelve Angry Men" (1997) starring Jack Lemmon, and then in The Game (1997) starring Michael Douglas (b. 1944).  If you haven't seen The Game, what's stopping you?!?!?  It is another great, twisted story.  And Stahl may be one of my favorite Bit Actors.

The assassin is played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas (b. 1973) from Denmark.  Kaas has 47 titles on IMDb, most of them foreign.  My guess is that his voice was dubbed, since he had no accent in this film.  He is a handsome man, so I would expect larger roles for him in the future.

Angels and Demons is worth watching.  If you like action films, pick it up and make sure you have The Da Vinci Code (2006) as well.  It's a good pair to have on a winter weekend.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poor Little Rich Girl

The year was 1936 and Shirley Temple (b. 1928) had already won an Oscar.  Poor Little Rich Girl was her 34th movie role...that was in only five years of acting!

Poor Little Rich Girl was a pretty good movie, but maybe not as good as some of her bigger hits.  Watching it made me think that you certainly won't see movies like this being made these days.  The message she gave was that it is OK for an eight year old to wander off at a train station, and everyone will take you in and feed you, etc.  No one checked to see if she made it to her new school safely.  It was a different era, the depression, and I guess they wanted people to take care of each other.

But, I digress.  Temple was the star and this blog isn't about stars, no matter how cute.  Let's dig into the wealth of Bit Actors chosen for this movie.  (And everyone else was a Bit Actor when Shirley Temple made a movie.)

Jack Haley (1898 - 1979) who played The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (1939) was a song and dance man who took Shirley in, so he could put her in the act.  Haley also made Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm with Shirley in 1938.  Alice Faye (1915 - 1998) played Haley's wife.  A wonderful singer, her voice added a lot to the act, and the movie.

Gloria Stuart (1910 - 2010) played the love interest of Shirley's father.  A beautiful woman who went on to make 77 appearances in the movies and on TV.  You will remember her as Old Rose on the mega hit Titanic in 1997.  She was even beautiful at 87.

Shirley's father was played by Michael Whelan (1902 - 1974).  This was his fifth film.  In the 1950s he was in quite a few westerns on TV, but even with 80 titles in his filmography, none appeared to be big hits.  (I'd say, Bit Actor.)

In a small part you can find Jane Darwell (1879 - 1967).  I think my favorite Darwell role is Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).  With 202 roles, it would take a long time to see everything she did, from 1913 to 1964.  Her last film was Mary Poppins (1964).  She played The Bird Woman...tuppence a bag.

In an even smaller part, Fred "Snowflake" Toones (1906 - 1962) plays a porter at the train station, being type cast as usual.  With 214 acting roles, Snowflake had quite a career.  Billy Gilbert (1894 - 1971) gets to do a double take as a waiter, but he has no lines, and no sneezes.  He does have 220 titles listed on IMDb, from 1929 to 1962.

Lastly, let's mention Tony Martin (b. 1912) who had a song and a closeup.  Tony went on to marry Alice Faye the next year.  Not bad, Tony!  That marriage only lasted four years, but then he married Cyd Charisse (1921 - 2008), and that one lasted 60 years.  Faye went on to marry band leader Phil Harris (1904 - 1995) and that marriage lasted 54 years.

I couldn't find Poor Little Rich Girl on DVD.  Maybe it will eventually show up.  In any case, every classic film collection should have some early Shirley included.  Mine does.