Category Archives: Movies

Moonlight Graham

Moonlight GrahamI remember the first time I watched Field of Dreams. It was like magic from the opening scene in the cornfield to the closing shot of all the headlights in the distance. One of the real joys of Field of Dreams was watching Burt Lancaster in the role of former NY Giants ball player, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. It was absolutely mesmerizing.

What I didn’t know at the time was Moonlight Graham was a real ball player. The author went to great pains to weave his story into the book.

Graham was born November 10, 1879, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He played college ball at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in the minor leagues for three years before joining the Giants on May 23, 1905. On June 29, the Giants were the visiting team against the Brooklyn Superbas at Washington Park.

For the bottom of the eighth inning, Graham was sent in to play right field, replacing George Browne. In the top of the ninth inning, Graham was on deck when Claude Elliott flied out, resulting in the third and final out. Graham played the bottom of the ninth in right field but never came to bat. That game turned out to be his only appearance in the major leagues.

Moonlight GrahamAfter playing in the minor leagues (mostly in the Class B New York State League and New England League) through the 1908 season, Graham completed his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1905. While there, played on the school’s 1904 and 1905 baseball teams. He obtained his license the following year and began practicing medicine in Chisholm, Minnesota.

“Doc” Graham, as he became known after his career as a ballplayer, served the people of Chisholm for fifty years. From 1915 to 1959, Graham was the doctor for the Chisholm schools. The Graham Scholarship Fund, established in his honor, provides financial assistance to two Chisholm High School graduating seniors each year. The award is given to one boy and one girl, $500 to each. For many years, “Doc” Graham made arrangements to have used eyeglasses sent to his Chisholm office. On Saturdays, he would have the children of the Iron Range miners, from Grand Rapids to Virginia, come to his office, have the their eyes checked and then fit them with the proper set of glasses, all free of charge.

Graham died in Chisholm in 1965. He is buried in Rochester, Minnesota.

They told his story in the movie. I thought it was fiction. Knowing it was true gives it unbelievable magic.

Moonlight Graham

Field of Dreams Trivia:

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In the scene where Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones are sitting in the bleachers at Fenway Park, future stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are sitting in the stands as extras. Neither get any real camera time in the shot and I have been unable to find corroborating photos.[/box]

Source: Wiki

Hugo

Friday FilmsHugo is a 2011 Martin Scorsese based on Brian Selznick‘s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret about a young boy who living as an orphan in a Paris railway station. The root story is  about his relationship with an enigmatic  toy shop owner in the station.

Hugo is a  GK Films and Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil collaboration.

The film stars Asa ButterfieldChloë Grace MoretzBen KingsleySacha Baron CohenRay WinstoneEmily MortimerJude Law and Christopher Lee.

Hugo is Scorsese’s first film shot in 3D, of which the filmmaker remarked: “I found 3D to be really interesting, because the actors were more upfront emotionally. Their slightest move, their slightest intention is picked up much more precisely.” Paramount Pictures released and distributed the film in the U.S. on November 23, 2011.

HugoAt the 84th Academy Awards, Hugo received five Oscars — cinematography, art direction, visual effects, sound, and sound editing. Its 11 total nominations was the most for the evening.Hugo also won two BAFTAs and was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, earning Scorsese his third Golden Globe Award for Best Director.

The on-screen chemistry between Ben Kingsley (the toy shop owner) and Asa Butterfield elevates this film to an instant classic. The whole look and feel of the movie is like nothing I’ve ever seen. This movie rates a five on the Mickey scale. I considered giving it a four just because Sacha Baron Cohen was in the cast but even his antics could not bring down the power of this film.

The Oscars

It’s that time again — The Oscars.

In an odd quirk of the calendar I have a double dose of guilty pleasure this Sunday — The Daytona 500 in the afternoon and The Oscars at night, horsepower and starpower, Red Bull and Red Carpet. Does life get any better?

Only if Mark Martin wins the 500 and someone streaks the Oscars.

[box type=”download” color=”blue”]The official Oscar Nominee list.[/box]

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

There’s kind of this whole mash-up trend going on in literature these days where an author with nothing much better to do will take a piece of classic literature and mash it up with zombie or vampire lore.

One example is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a 2009 parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, coming to theaters in 2013 as a full length film.

There are many others but for now let’s just focus on the work of Seth Grahame-Smith.

Smith is also the literary genius behind Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and I use the phrase literary genius very loosely. I give him credit for taking old stuff and twisting it into something new and being successful with it. Am I jealous? Maybe. Far be it from me to drool over somebody else getting movie rights. (At least Phoenix Worthy is an original character.) But I digress….

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Indiana, 1818 — Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.”

“My baby boy…” she whispers before dying. Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, “henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…” Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth Grahame-Smith has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

Source: Amazon[/box]

With the whole Vampire thing contrasted against the Civil War/Gettysburg period there was only one producer who could do this justice. But since J.J. Abrams was not available they got Tim Burton. Nice call.

Here are some other classic literature mashups:

The Undead World of Oz

Little Vampire Women

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers – A Canterbury Tale

Emma and the Werewolves: Jane Austen’s Classic Novel with Blood-curdling Lycanthropy

These are mad times we live in… mad times!
— Professor Horace Slughorn

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and ShermanKids today have so many choices for entertainment it’s like a vast wasteland of suck to sort through to find one gem of a program like Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

Back in the day when we had… omg… three networks and no Playstations to entertain, life and choices were so much simpler.

Saturday mornings were consumed with Rocky and Bullwinkle, Clutch Cargo and Thunderbirds. Joining the Moose and Squirrel was a very smart dog,Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman. What a team they made as they stepped into the WABAC (pronounced way-back) machine and took us on a trip through history to meet some of the worlds most important figures from days past.

Oh, man, that was great television.

So now all these years after Rocky and Bullwinkle got edged aside for The Simpsons and South Park, Peabody and Sherman are getting an animated reboot in a 2014 feature with A-list actor Robert Downey Jr., providing the voice of the canine genius.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The role of Sherman has not been cast yet.

Most people under 30 will not know who Sherman is.

Source: IndieWire – Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The Hunger Games

Of upcoming movies this is the one I am most looking forward to – The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is the NY Times best selling opening novel of a trilogy by writer Suzanne Collins. The story follows sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen in a post-apocalytic world where a central government rules the outlying districts with a cruel firm hand.

Katniss is a strong young girl who dreams of being free in a world where freedom barely exists for the animals much less the citizens of District 12, the place where young Katniss lives and her father died.

The Hunger Games is an annual event where each of 12 districts sends one boy and one girl, ages 12 – 18, to compete in a televised battle where there can be only one winner. Twenty-four go in – one comes out. The selection of the competitors is by raffle in a big ceremony in the district center. When Primerose Everdeen, Kat’s 12 year-old sister is selected, Kat volunteers to represent the district effectively saving her sister from sure death.

What follows is a rapid fire sequence that carries Katniss and her counterpart from District 12, Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son she knows from school from the Appalachian mountains where she’s lived her whole life to the glitz and glamour of The Capital (Formerly Denver) to prepare for the games.

Her mentor in the process is Haymitch Abernathy, victor of the 50th Hunger Games 24 years in the past. The question is can Abernathy stop drinking long enough to be of much good to Katniss and Peeta?

As the game preparations begin she quickly learns of the disadvantages she will face against the older, stronger competitors from the other districts who have prepared for the tribute role all their lives. Katniss has one thing they do not. A reason to live and two men who love her, one of which she may have to kill to survive.

The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence in the Katniss Everdeen role. Lawrence was the powerhouse young performer in the 2010 Sundance Best Picture, Winter’s Bone.

Josh Hutcherson takes on the Peeta Mellark role. Hutcherson is another standout young performer with critical performances in Bridge to TerabithiaJourney to the Center of the Earth,  RV,and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

The tribute’s mentor, Haymitch Abernathy is filled by Cheers and Zombieland alumnus, Woody Harrelson.

Other cast members include Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland as the ruthless President Snow, and Lenny Kravitz as stylist Cinna, the fashion mastermind behind transforming young Katniss for a glamorous introduction.

I’ve read the trilogy and anticipate the whole series endingup on the big screen before it’s all said and done. Move over Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen has arrived.

Hunger Games opens in theaters everywhere in March 23.

The Spaghetti Western

You may recall I decided to dedicate Friday’s to a look at films, people, and trends related to the cinematic arts. I’m calling it – Friday Films.

Turn back the cinematic calendar to 1959 and what film would have the honor of kicking off the Spaghetti Western trend,  Il terrore dell’Oklahoma (1959), directed by Mario Amendola. It was the first of over 600 films made entirely on location in Italy by Italian filmmakers.

The popularity of the genre exploded in 1964 with the release of Sergio Leone’s  “Man with No Name” trilogy (or “Dollars Trilogy“) directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood and with the musical scores of Ennio MorriconeA Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). The success of the second film cemented Leone’s reputation as a Western director and helped make international stars of Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and composer Morricone. Sergio Leone defined the style of the Spaghetti Western.

As Sergio Leone is the man credited with bringing the genre into the mainstream it is fitting that his  My Name is Nobody from 1973 saw the spaghetti western era come to a close, giving way to kung-fu movies and porn.  Nobody is a comedy western film that poked fun at the genre. It starred Henry Fonda as an old gunslinger who watched ‘his’ old West fade away before his very eyes as he played his guitar. Terence Hill also starred in the film as the young stranger who helps Fonda leave the dying West with style.

Leon went on to direct the 1984 film, Once Upon a Time in America, an Italian mob movie that came in around four hours in the European market. Hollywood chopped it in half.

One of my favorites was another Leone film, the James Coburn, Rod Steiger effort, A Fistful of Dynamite. (Also known as Duck You Sucker.) It plays up one of the common themes of the spaghetti genre, The Mexican Revolution.

If you like the genre there is a host of great websites out there dedicated to Spaghetti Westerns.

I’d start with the Top-20 Spaghetti films of all time at: The Spaghetti Western Database.

I’m a Bit of a Movie Buff

MoviesYesterday I mentioned one of my loves. Today I’ll share another — movies.

I love movies. I would say I love all kinds of movies but that would be a bit untrue. I’m not a fan of romantic comedy or chick flicks like, The Notebook or Steel Magnolias. To the other extreme I’m not real crazy about slasher or horror films either. I used to but I guess I just lost my taste for gore.

What I do like is movies with a good story and characters. I love good writing. You can always trust the Coen Brothers to give us good writing.

I like good action films and spy dramas. I can’t believe they are considering another Bourne movie without Matt Damon. But then Sean Connery turned over the Bond role to George Lazenby who gave it back to Connery for Diamonds Are Forever. Future 007s include Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Daniel Craig.

The HobbitI like good Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I’m a big fan of the Lord of The Rings trilogy and am anxiously awaiting Peter Jackson’s movie, The Hobbit. (I just finished reading The Hobbit again.)

I like westerns, good gritty tough cowboy westerns. Clint Eastwood did for westerns what Ray Croc did for burgers. Some of my favorites are Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

As much as I love John Wayne and his westerns, what the Coen Brothers did for last year’s True Grit was amazing. The girl who played Mattie Ross should one day be a super-star.

I also like the classics, the old films by actors and actresses long gone — John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Davis and Katharine Hepburn.

From The African Queen to CasablancaCitizen Kane to Vertigo. Give me The Maltese Falcon and a bag of popcorn and I’ll show you a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

This year I want to do a regular feature called Friday Films where I took a look at movies, past, present and future. What I like, what I didn’t like, and invite you to join in and share your opinions and insights.

[box] “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

— Betty Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve [/box]

Sundance and the 99%

Robert RedfordLast Thursday kicked off this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the playground of the rich and famous – Park City, Utah. I think they misplaced my invitation. Did you get yours?

To listen to founder Robert Redford, his vision has always been for an event catering to the 99% crowd.

“We show stories of what people in America are really dealing with, and really living with, against a consequence of having a government that’s let them down,” Redford said. “People can come and say, ‘God, at least we’re seeing how people are really living in America, and what they’re up against.’ We square away on the 99 percent.”

I don’t know too many ninety-nine percenters with condos in Sundance. Don’t get me wrong. I like Redford. He’s always been a favorite of mine. I just don’t believe the rich and famous can truly see the issues facing the 99% he is talking about. I don’t think it’s possible to see through Hollywood eyes and have an emotional comprehension of a single mother in America flipping burgers at McDonalds to make ends meet. You can’t truly appreciate middle class poverty until you’ve scrapped for every penny in the house just to buy groceries – beanie weenies and milk.

If you look at the Sundance Sponsor list it reads like a who’s who of the 1% — Starbucks, Accura, Chase-Sapphire, Bing and GE, to name a few. Now there’s a list of companies with our well-being at the center of their mission statement.

Oh and then there’s the celebrities who line up at corporate tents to get their swag from said corporate sponsors. Anyone of them could walk into any Apple store and buy 1,000 iPads to give to local schools, but there they are in line to get a free one.

And in a twist of irony, contrary to Redford’s vision, a group calling themselves ‘Occupy Sundance’ are camped out in Park City.  They point out that of 11,700 films submitted this year, only 180 were accepted — roughly 1 percent. The Occupy Sundance organizers recognize that that volume of films could not make festival screening at Sundance. They are there to represent the 99% that didn’t make the cut.

“Robert Redford may think Sundance reflects ‘the 99 percent,’ but while his heart is in the right place, I’m not sure he can even begin to fathom how hard it is for an average person to gain access to his elite world,” said Los Angeles-based pop culture and entertainment expert Jenn Hoffman. “It’s true that independent filmmakers still have a chance at securing funding through the festival, but even the so-called indie studios still are looking for ‘names’ to star in even the smallest films and are scouting for new movies they think will bring them the largest financial gain.

Sundance“The price of a plane ticket to Utah is more expensive than what most aspiring filmmakers can afford in this economy,” she added. “Let alone all cost of all the marketing, networking dinners and social climbing events it can take to get a movie made.

“While it was once a small little festival centered around movie screenings, the Sundance film festival is now more synonymous with gifting suites, corporate sponsored parties and free swag for the already wealthy members of Hollywood’s elite,” Hoffman says. “I dare any of the celebrities attending these parties to sit with the Occupiers on a freezing cold night or to donate their free gifts to members of Occupy Sundance.”

The TinTin of My Youth

TinTinThe highly anticipated release of the Spielberg/Jackson adaptation of The Adventures of TinTin released last week to dazzle audiences everywhere.

I was talking to some friends yesterday and discovered not everyone is familiar with TinTin. That’s like saying you’ve never heard of Abraham Lincoln or The Beatles. I just couldn’t fathom that someone had never heard of TinTin. It turns out that’s pretty common.

Not for me. As a child I would slip away to the library and bury my face in the TinTin books for hours. I was absolutely fascinated with the boy from Belgium.

As a child seeking escape the library was sanctuary. TinTin provided the adventure.

Tin Tin - The Secret of the UnicornIn this motion-capture animation treatment of Hergé’s TinTin, Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) bring the young Belgium reporter and his dog companion Snowy to life in ways impossible just a few years back.

For the story they selected The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and added in components of The Crab With the Golden Claws (1941) and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944) to come up with their movie.

We saw it last night and I can say most enthusiastically it lived up to all the post premier hype. I am a TinTin fan from way back and was awed by the quality of the animation and the strength of story. I believe we are entering into a new age of cinema where the actor is such a small part of the production. Cinematography and effects are king.

Jackson and Spielberg will co-direct the second movie of the trilogy, an adaptation of The Seven Crystal Balls (1948) and Prisoners of the Sun (1949).

“I am having a blast, Tintin is not work, it is just fun”,
—  Peter Jackson interview in Le Monde

TinTinTinTin