ANNOUNCEMENT: The Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

What better way to end the year than with the announcement of Silent-ology’s Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon?

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Cue the trumpets, my friends–for our annual celebration of all things Buster Keaton is coming back for a sixth year in a row!

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(Yes, I’m having it in March this time–all the February dates were already gobbled up by other blogathons. Man, my fellow bloggers are fast. Next time I’ll have to announce it in July! 😉 )

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#PayClassicsForward, Year 5

For the fifth year in a row, I trail like a Christmas puppy behind my blogger-friend Aurora. Every year at this time at her blog Once Upon a Screen, she provides a blog entry titled #PayClassicsForward, using a “12 Days of Christmas” motif to share some of her favorite films and movie themes with her readers, and I dutifully follow suit.

For a better idea of what I’m talking about, click here to read Aurora’s entry for this year. I have provided my own version of this Christmas chestnut below. Don’t agree with my choices? Did I leave out some of your favorites? Feel free to create your own #PayClassicsForward blog entry to share some movie love with us this holiday season!

(By the way, many of the movies or scenes which I have listed below are available for free viewing on YouTube, or were reviewed by me at this blog and my previous blog, Movie Movie Movie Blog. I highly encourage you to seek them out and add them to your film “vocabulary.”)

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One heartfelt plea to The Walt Disney Co.

You bought 20th Century-Fox’s movies, so of course you have the right to do what you want with them. But, for the sake of film history…please share.

Two one-joke-punchline movies

Bambi vs. Godzilla (1969)
A Single Life (2014)

Three movies where you came for the plot…honest

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

Magic Mike (2012)

Four hairy stories

Georges Melies’ The Untameable Whiskers (1904)
Hair (1979)
The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
Cast Away (2000)

Five movies with lead characters who take the fifth

The Bank Dick (1940)

The Lost Weekend (1945)
Arthur (1981)
The Hangover (2009)
The World’s End (2013)

Six post-silent-era silent movies

Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936)
Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1976)
Sidewalk Stories (1989)
The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez (1991)

The Artist (2011)

Seven memorable seven’s

Seven Chances (1925)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Seven Samurai (1954)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
Se7en (1995)

Eight indelible movie settings

An on-the-move train in the Civil War, The General (1926)

Tara, Gone with the Wind (1939)
Oz, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Xanadu, Citizen Kane (1941)
The Bates Hotel, Psycho (1960)
The Overlook Hotel, The Shining (1980)
The terminal of JFK Airport, The Terminal (2004)
New York City (you choose)

Nine movies that respect death yet celebrate life

Gates of Heaven (1978)
The Big Chill (1984)
My Life as a Dog (1985)

Steel Magnolias (1989)
Ghost (1990)
Defending Your Life (1991)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
The Lion King (1994)
Up (2009)

Ten Bechdel Test passers

Gone with the Wind (1939)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
The Exorcist (1973)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Aliens (1986)
GoodFellas (1990)
Titanic (1997)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Wonder Woman (2017)

Eleven not your grandfather’s Christmas movies

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Trading Places (1983)
Gremlins (1984)
Brazil (1985)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Die Hard (1988)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The Ref (1994)

Twelve movie characters with no names, just memorable characterizations

The jurors of 12 Angry Men (1957)

Wanted: Tidings of comfort and joy

Generally, I try not to get too personal and/or negative on this blog. After all, an entertainment blog should be, well, entertaining. But this has been a rather rough year, and I have few non-online friends in whom I can confide. So please let me get this out of my system, and I won’t bring it up again.

(If it’s too close to the holidays to endure such cynicism, I understand. Come back next time when I get back to writing movie reviews.)

The strangeness of this year began on April 1. In the autumn of 2018, the company for which I worked was bought out by a hedge fund. Layoffs were expected and were duly carried out just after Christmas. Everyone left standing ducked their heads and hoped they wouldn’t be noticed.

On March 29, another round of 90 layoffs was announced. I happened to be out of the office that day, but I didn’t even concern myself with it. Quantity- and quality-wise, I’d had my department’s highest numbers for the past year.

When I came back to work on April 1, I was re-introduced to the concept that nobody is indispensable. I was told that I’d be allowed to work at that office for another 45 days, and that I would receive a fair severance package (which I did). After that, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Back in January, my supervisor had vaguely remarked that, once the dust from the buyout had settled, the department heads would see what their next step for me job-wise would be. I knew they weren’t planning to name me CEO, but I didn’t think they’d dump me outright either.

Since then, for the past seven months, it has been a whirlwind job hunt for me, none of which has resulted in my getting a new vocation. I have loathed job interviews ever since I joined the work force, and the process hasn’t gotten any better over the years.

I liken job interviews to dating. On that basis, the quick failures are the best. If you know on your first date (or an initial job interview) that you are not getting anywhere, you can quickly cut your losses and move on. It’s when a ray of hope glares brightly in your face that things start to get antsy. Here’s the process:

First, a recruiter calls you out of nowhere to say that they saw your resume online and you would be PERFECT! for the job they’re offering. From there, perhaps, you do a phone interview with a supervisor (the equivalent of speed-dating?). If they still like you, they might arrange for a video interview, either with you alone or along with a dozen other people. (Save time! Impersonally interview 12 applicants at once!).

After that, deathly silence. Those interviewers and recruiters who had swarmed all over you suddenly find other phone calls to answer when you try to reach them about the status of your interview. If you’re lucky, within a few days, you’ll receive a phone call or email stating that they “enjoyed” meeting and talking to you, but in the end you just “didn’t fit their criteria.” (It took three conversations with me for them to figure that out??)

(My best advice in these instances: Move on as quickly as possible. When my dates or interviews went beyond Step 1 but never resulted in success, too often I played the losing scenario over and over in my head. How could they reject me? We spent so much time together and got along so well!)

I am certain that my primary roadblock to employment is something I cannot do anything about. I am 58 years old. I freely admit, no employer has ever given me any direct indication that they did not want to hire me primarily because of my age. But in at least some cases, you have to think: If I was an employer choosing between some 20-something with great looks and energy and some world-weary, middle-aged guy, who would I go with?

(And I don’t mind saying, that’s a very short-sighted viewpoint. Office workers, show of hands: How many new employees have you trained for a couple of weeks or so, only to have the newbie quit the job in mid-training because they had found a better offer? Maybe your supervisors should consider hiring an older worker who offers stability [I worked at my last job for over seven years] and has enough experience that you don’t have to spend a fortune training him.)

Well, that’s the “job” part of my rant. Want to hear some more?

It looks as though I have chronic fatigue syndrome.

About three months ago, I gradually started getting headaches — nothing migraine-like, but nothing ordinary, either. It sounds silly, but these headaches move to different parts of my head every day. I have also felt stiffness and pain in my upper arms and shoulders.

Worst of all is my unending tendency towards drowsiness. Several times a day, I find myself nodding forward and having to stop myself from falling asleep on the spot. The only times I don’t have spontaneous drowsiness are when I go to bed at night, after which I regularly wake up an hour or two after dozing off.

Like most people, when these symptoms became almost routine, I started zipping through the Internet to see what criteria they met. I’m no M.D., but all of these maladies are listed as signs of chronic fatigue syndrome. The ironic part is that I cannot get officially diagnosed for quite a while, as these symptoms must have been in place for at least six months.

About the only bright side of this “syndrome” is that it is taken place while I’m unemployed, so at least my soreness and sleepiness aren’t causing any jeopardy on my job.

Yes, you can go ahead and tell me that CFS is not acknowledged as a genuine sickness by many doctors. Or you can joke, as British comedian Ricky Gervais did, that CFS is simply an excuse that lazy people use to call in sick from work. But if, heaven forbid, you ever experience the endless disorientation that I’ve been having from CFS, you’ll take this malady very seriously.

So that’s been my year. Thankfully, I have a loving wife and kids who are sympathetic to me, and we are doing okay enough to get by. There are a lot of people this year who are far worse off than I am, so yeah, I suppose I shouldn’t be so self-pitying. And yet I often recall a line from The Diary of Anne Frank, where even optimistic Anne gets fed up with her circumstances and declares, “What’s the good of thinking of misery when you’re already miserable? That’s stupid!”

I hold out hope that I will overcome this “enforced retirement” somewhere in the near future. Until then, I feel as though I’m having the least festive holiday season that I’ve had in a long time.

Best wishes to all.

#SatMat for Sat., Dec. 7, 2019 – Preston Sturges’ comedy classic THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Small-town girl Trudy Kockenlocker (reflect on that name for a moment) is torn. Trudy (Betty Hutton) wants to give a good time to the soldiers who are having a farewell party before leaving to fight in the war. But the small-town part of her regrets once again turning down a date with well-meaning 4-F-er Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), who has longed for Trudy ever since they were kids.

(And Trudy’s brusque father, Constable Edmund Kockenlocker [William Demarest], would prefer to see Trudy and her younger sibling Emmy [Diana Lynn] locked up in chastity belts until their honeymoons.)

Trudy takes the worldly way out and wishes the soldiers well all night long. This results in a bump on the head, a quickie marriage to some soldier whose name she can’t quite place (“Ratzkywatzky? I know there’s a ‘Z’ in it somewhere”), and yet another bump — the kind that’s the outcome of a marriage you can’t quite remember. All of this quite rattles the good citizens of Morgan’s Creek — particularly Norval, who usually has a bad case of the nerves on his good days.

All of this results in risque, just-this-side-of-bad-taste comedy that left many contemporary censors, critics, and moviegoers in (often delightful) shock (it’s stated that the movie often played to SRO houses in its day) and still leaves you wide-eyed and laughing with its refreshing frankness. This movie looks as though it was filmed for about 50 cents, and it really doesn’t matter — because, as with the best movie comedies, all you really want is a camera to follow the characters around and watch as they get deeper and deeper into their mess. And that’s pretty much what writer-director Preston Sturges does; you can almost see him behind the camera, licking his chops as his actors make the most out of every situation and pratfall.

As for those actors, what’s not to like? Hutton and Lynn are thoroughly winning as they hatch their schemes under the lurking eye of their assertive father. Bracken takes a character who’s potentially grating and gives him an undercurrent of naive charm. Demarest is superbly blustery (and who knew he could take such falls over and over?). There’s always one scene in each of Sturges’ movies that ensures it for posterity. I couldn’t resist embedding this movie’s highlight/scene below. It’s the one where the constable/father gives a very threatening speech to his potential son-in-law, who is already near hysterics from all of the movie’s goings-on.

Sturges brings the story to a head right on Christmas Eve. That’s enough for me to qualify it as my favorite Christmas movie ever. It’s a miracle, all right — a miracle of comedy.

Want to watch this comedy gem with some fellow fans? Join us on Twitter on Sat., Dec. 7, 2019 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time. Use the hashtag #SatMat to watch the movie with us (for free) and comment on it as it goes along. See you there!

THE IRISHMAN (2019) – Overlong but enticing tale of Jimmy Hoffa’s right-hand man

There is so much good stuff in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman that one wants to root for it all the way the way through. But at about the three-quarter mark of this three-and-a-half-hour movie, its confidence dribbles away, and it comes sadly close to resembling a shaggy-dog story.

The movie highlights Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a meat-packing delivery driver who eventually rubs shoulders with Philadelphia’s crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino. (As amazing as DeNiro is age 75, he is matched in grace and subtlety by Joe Pesci, who delivers his best-ever movie performance as Bufalino.)

After Sheeran dutifully does Bufalino’s bidding on several assignments, he is introduced to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the mercurial head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Hoffa constantly refers to the Teamsters as “my union” and gets very nasty when any of his peers tries to convince him otherwise. Hoffa needs someone to make him seem less threatening in public, and he hires Sheeran to be that someone.

Anyone who saw the 1992 Jack Nicholson saga Hoffa — not to mention most of Martin Scorsese’s filmography — won’t be surprised at this movie’s familiar themes (e.g., hotheads with big guns and bigger senses of entitlement). But for a change, Scorsese explores those themes (and their ramifications) in a fairly low-key manner.

Sheeran is a good guy at heart, but his in-your-face method of problem resolution ends up alienating his family over the years. And whereas Hoffa’s bombastic style seemed unique in his time, it now seems to have served as a template for modern politics.

All of this is fascinating, up to a point. Unfortunately, the movie’s resolution of the Hoffa subplot is laboriously drawn-out, and the movie seems to go on forever from there. At length and in style, the movie is obviously aiming for Godfather-like greatness, but its story doesn’t have nearly as much depth or power.

Savor The Irishman‘s many good points, but beware its many changes in tone.