05 Apr 2011 @ 5:00 PM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 231 | April 5, 2011

Run for Your Life

In my choice of themes each week I look to find something that strikes my interest, and this week (another light week, by necessity), I’ll take a look at a couple of films about a subject very much on my mind these days.

I started running in the 1970s.  Going for a run has always been my workout of choice.  I would rather go for a run around the neighborhood, or wherever I might be, than go to a gym.  I enjoy the freedom and the solitude of a good long run, and staying healthy, I’ve found, is much better than the alternative.  In my younger years I ran races regularly, mostly 5Ks and 10Ks, and a couple of marathons, not so much for the competition as just a way to keep in shape.

I don’t have what’s called a runner’s body.  I never did, but the older I get, the truer it is.  My pet theory on aging is that people don’t put on years, they put on pounds, and despite my best efforts, it’s happened to me.   This year I decided to reverse the trend.  I would sleep better*, eat better, work out more, and for the first time in two decades, run a marathon.

My date with destiny comes this weekend.  Should I survive, I’ll be back with another look at movies of one type or another.  Meanwhile, a quick look at two films about—what else—running.

* Another of my pet theories:  the key to health is not diet or exercise, but sleep.

Our theme this week
Films about runners and running

Chariots of Fire

chariots of fire

I’d love to say this film is a great inspiration.  But it’s not.  Not for runners, and certainly not for movie fans.  I watched it again recently, for the third or fourth time altogether, and what I still can’t understand is how the movie was a hit with critics and movie fans in 1981, and even more puzzling, how it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.  There are a handful of Best Picture winners I have not yet seen, but off the top of my head it’s hard to think of a less-deserving Best Picture winner in history.

Hagiography is not a popular shelf at the video store and the lives of saints do not make for good cinema.  Not when the filmmakers’ only interest is to thrust the saints atop a pedestal.  What we get in Chariots of Fire is not a story about human beings but about icons with all the life drained out.

The main story is set in 1920s England, at Cambridge University, where runners Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), among others, race and train for the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.  Abrahams is a Jew, an outsider who must overcome the anti-Semitic attitudes of the administration and staff, though in the film he never suffers any real discrimination, let alone, persecution, so we’re left to wonder what all the fuss was about.  Liddell is a devout Christian, the son of missionaries, who runs for the glory of God.

If you enjoy movies about the pious and snobbish, this is the film for you.  But my beef, at least what I’ll get into here, is the film’s failure as a drama.  The essence of any good story is conflict, but at every turn the movie softens its rough edges instead to wallow in pretty pictures:  the period costumes, the historic scenery, and the slo-mo glory of amateur athletes back in the day.  Worse, it’s all accompanied by the score of Vangelis, an odd choice that was lauded at the time but seems like a serious misstep to my ears.

Later in the film, on his way to the Olympics, Liddell discovers that he’s scheduled to race on a Sunday.  His religious conviction won’t allow him to compete on the Sabbath, putting in doubt his chance for a medal.  The filmmakers took some liberties with the actual record, but it amounts to a crisis, as close as the story gets to having one.  Not to diminish Liddell’s faith, but it’s a rather thin reed to hang a movie on.

More interesting than the film itself is the story behind its success.  It screened at Cannes and was panned by French critics, who may not have appreciated references to “Frogs” in a boring picture about the glory of all things British.  An American, however, came to the rescue.  A young and influential critic named Roger Ebert engineered an “American Critics Prize,” the first and only time one has been awarded, and by a 6-5 margin Chariots of Fire came out of Cannes a winner.  Otherwise, its prospects may have been doomed.  The rest, even more than the story onscreen, is history.

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Hugh Hudson, director
Colin Welland, writer
Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Lindsay Anderson, John Gielgud, Ian Holm

Quote of note
“Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us.  All these men were honored in their generations and were a glory in their days.  We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams.  To honor the legend.  Now there are just two of us—young Aubrey Montague and myself—who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.”
—Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), Chariots of Fire (1981)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 10 Apr 2011 @ 08:19 PM

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 25 Mar 2011 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 230 | March 25, 2011

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2011

rock and roll hall of fame

Our theme this week
Performers inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011

Featured this week
(See Monday post for theme introduction and program note)
Monday         —   Alice Cooper
Tuesday         —   Dr. John
Wednesday    —   Darlene Love
Thursday        —   Neil Diamond

Tom Waits

tom waits

Waits is an American original.  Though never a huge commercial success, he’ll be remembered long after many of his more popular contemporaries are forgotten.  He’s a musician first, but he’s worth noting for his work in film as well.  He first had a hit with “Ol’ 55,” when the Eagles recorded it in 1974; his original is a song I can listen to a dozen times in a row and still want to hear again.  “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” was nothing less than an anthem during my college years.  You had to love a guy who had the courage to mumble through his songs.  But most of all, there was a sense of feeling in his music that you couldn’t find anywhere else.  Francis Ford Coppola had him score One from the Heart, and the result is a work of beauty.  Waits continued working in film, often onscreen, and his performances in Down by Law and Short Cuts are, to my mind, especially memorable.  I can’t do justice to Waits in a short sketch like this, and I won’t try.  Suffice to say, he’s one of the greats.

Waits on film
One from the Heart
Rumble Fish (1983)
The Cotton Club (1984)
Down by Law (1986)
Dracula (1992)
Short Cuts (1993)
Night on Earth (1992)*
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
The Book of Eli (2010)

* Original score.
Contributed songs to soundtracks of many films (too many to mention, but Waits did much of the music for the 1992 Jeff Bridges film American Heart).

Final note on the Class of 2011
In addition to the five performers featured this week, three others were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:  Leon Russell (as a “sideman” and not a “performer,” which seems like an arbitrary distinction to me), and non-performers Jac Holzman (record exec) and Art Rupe (pioneer of indie labels).  Congrats to all!

Down by Law (1986)
Jim Jarmusch, director
Tom Waits, John Lurie

One from the Heart (1982)
“This One’s from the Heart”
Tom Waits, Crystal Gayle, with Teddy Edwards on tenor sax / Soundtrack


Waits was nominated for an Academy Award for best original score.  The story behind Waits and the film here.

Final Friday Five, the monthly mini-quiz

1.  Name the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers starring in each of these concert and documentary films.

Dont Look Back (1967)
I’m Going to Tell You a Secret (2005)
Live at Red Rocks (1984)
Shine a Light (2008)
Stop Making Sense (1984)
This Is It (2009)

2.  Name four of the seven Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to date who have won an Oscar for original song or original score. 

3.  Well more than 100 movies have opened since the beginning of 2011.  Before this weekend, how many of those films have grossed more than $100 million at the domestic box office?

4.  The baseball season usually brings with it another baseball movie or two.  This year’s most anticipated film about the sport is Moneyball, the adaptation of the book by Michael Lewis (The Blind Side), due to open in September.  The central character is Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, who used computer analysis and sabermetrics to field a competitive team.  Who plays Billy Beane onscreen?

5.  Match each of the following Elizabeth Taylor movies with the role that she played.

Father of the Bride (1950)
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Giant (1956)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
BUtterfield 8 (1960)

Kay Banks
Leslie Benedict
Catherine Holly
Maggie Pollitt
Angela Vickers
Gloria Wandrous

Answers here.

Quote of note
“The beauty of quitting is, now that I’ve quit, I can have one, ’cause I’ve quit.”
—Tom (Tom Waits), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)


 24 Mar 2011 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 229 | March 24, 2011

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2011

rock and roll hall of fame

Our theme this week
Performers inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011

Featured this week
(See Monday post for theme introduction and program note)
Monday         —   Alice Cooper
Tuesday         —   Dr. John
Wednesday    —   Darlene Love

Neil Diamond

neil diamond

My five stages of Neil Diamond:

One) my preteen years:  best known as the guy who wrote songs for the Monkees (“I’m a Believer,” et al.), which meant something, and his solo stuff was catchy and very popular, in a good way (“Cherry, Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline”).

Two) my teen years:  it was not hip to be a Neil Diamond fan in high school (though I would never deny my fondness for “Solitary Man,” a great song to defend and earn some contrarian cred).

Three) the looking-back years:  all in all, Diamond seemed better that I remembered at the time, someone who I could allow myself to like, even if it was in a campy, nostalgic sort of way.

Four) the not-so-young-anymore years:  recognition that Diamond was, without qualification, a major pop writer and singer.

Five) the current view:  not much different than Four, but surprise at the number of people of a certain age, many of them women, who regard Diamond as the pinnacle of pop, but unlike me, never went through stages Two or Three.

Diamond may have had a whole new career if The Jazz Singer had been a success.  We’ll never know what might have been, but we’ll always have that one shining example of a cast with Diamond, Laurence Olivier, and Lucie Arnaz.

Diamond on film
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The Last Waltz (1978)**
The Jazz Singer (1980)
Saving Silverman (2001)**

* Original score.
** As himself.
Contributed songs to soundtracks of many films, including Pulp Fiction (“Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” performed by Urge Overkill).

The Jazz Singer (1980)
Richard Fleischer, director
Neil Diamond, Lucie Arnaz, Laurence Olivier
“Love on the Rocks”
Neil Diamond

Saving Silverman (1992)
Dennis Dugan, director
Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black, Neil Diamond
“Holly Holy”
Neil Diamond


Quote of note
:  He’s just kidding around, right?
Molly:  No, they’re doing it for real.
Yussel:  This song’s supposed to be a ballad.
Paul:  That’s his style, mister.  Made him a millionaire.
Yussel:  Yeah, but the thing is it’s too fast.  You can’t hear the words.
—Yussel Rabinovitch/Jess Robin (Neil Diamond), Molly Bell (Lucie Arnaz), Paul Rossini (James Booth), The Jazz Singer (1980)


 22 Mar 2011 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 227 | March 22, 2011

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2011

rock and roll hall of fame

Our theme this week
Performers inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011

Featured this week
(See Monday post for theme introduction and program note)
Monday         —   Alice Cooper

Dr. John

dr john

Longtime musician Mac Rebennack hit it big in the late-’60s/early-’70s as “Dr. John, the Night Tripper.”  His debut album, Gris-Gris (1968), blended New Orleans R&B with psychedelic rock, and though ignored at first, it gained cult status, and later became regarded as one of the classics of the time.  By 1973, everyone knew Dr. John.  “Right Place Wrong Time” was a top 10 hit, the biggest of his career.  “Such a Night” was another hit from the same album.  When Dr. John came on the radio, you couldn’t mistake him for anybody else.  He hasn’t had great mainstream success in the decades since, but he never stopped making music, everything from blues to zydeco to boogie-woogie to jazz to whatever you want to call what the Doctor was cooking up.  From his top hit, one line that probably sums up Dr. John as much as anything:  “I’m having such a good time.”  Listen to his music and you’ll be feeling the same way.

The Doctor on film
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Last Waltz (1978)*
Candy Mountain (1988)**
Blues Brothers 2000 (2000)
Lightning in a Bottle (2004)*

* As himself.
** Original music.
Contributed songs to soundtracks for many films.

The Last Waltz (1978)
Martin Scorsese, director
“Such a Night”
Dr. John

Blues Brothers 2000 (2000)
Dr. John
“Season of the Witch”
Donovan Leitch, songwriter

Quote of note
“I been in the right place / But it must have been the wrong time / I’d have said the right thing / But I must have used the wrong line / I been in the right trip / But I must have used the wrong car / My head was in a bad place / And I’m wondering what it’s good for.”
—Dr. John, “Right Place Wrong Time,” soundtrack to Dazed and Confused (1993) and other films


 21 Mar 2011 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 226 | March 21, 2011

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2011

A program note:  my schedule this week, and the next several weeks, will make it hard to keep up my regular posting routine (even my every-other-week slacker routine).  I’ll have little time to write, so don’t expect any in-depth exegeses on the art of film (which you know better than to expect anyway).  That said, I will do my best to keep the posts coming.  Brevity, though, will be the key.  Sometime mid-April, knock on wood, look for a return to normal operations (whatever that may be).

rock and roll hall of fame

One week ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its annual ceremony at New York’s Waldorf Astoria to induct the Class of 2011.  This week, the honors keep rolling in, with that same class the featured theme here at Minute A Day About Movies.  Congratulations to them all.  (We’d have had a gala at the Waldorf too, but they were booked.)

The inductees are best known, of course, for their music.  But each has picked up credits for work on the big screen—for soundtracks, performing as themselves, and acting in dramatic or comedy roles.  This week, a brief look at the five inductees and their work.

Our theme this week
Performers inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011

Alice Cooper

alice cooper

I was in high school when Alice Cooper had his biggest hits.  Cooper was something different—a proto-gothic, shock rocker, who turned to the dark side but in a way that was never wholly serious.  He had an act, he did it well, and it worked.  If some rock at the time tended to be pseudo-authentic, Cooper was an alternative to that.  He was popular, maybe more popular with the generation right behind mine (“We’re not worthy!” was Wayne and Garth’s opinion of him).  Surprisingly, he’s been a bigger influence than I’d have ever guessed back then.  KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, the New York Dolls, and whole subgenres of the rock and roll to come owe a debt to Cooper.  But bottom line, the guy could rock.  “I’m Eighteen,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “School’s Out” were anthems of teenage rebellion, the essence of rock for as long as the music has been around.

Cooper on film
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
Roadie (1980)*
Prince of Darkness (1987)
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)*
Shocker (1989)**
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Wayne’s World (1992)*
Suck (2009)

* As himself.
** Original music.
Contributed songs to soundtracks of many films.

Wayne’s World (1992)
Penelope Spheeris, director
Alice Cooper, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey
“So, do you come to Milwaukee often?”

Wayne’s World (1992)
Alice Cooper, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey
“Feed My Frankenstein”

Quote of note
:  So, do you come to Milwaukee often?
Alice Cooper:  Well, I’m a regular visitor here, but Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors.  The French missionaries and explorers began visiting here in the late 16th century.
—Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers), Alice Cooper, Wayne’s World (1992)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 20 Mar 2011 @ 01:28 PM

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