The Empire State Building: A Classic in Its Own Right

Posted July 3rd, 2013 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in Uncategorized

New York City has played a pivotal role in cinema from its inception nearly a century ago. Many actors found their way from Broadway to Hollywood. Performers who would be famous the world over grew up in its burroughs, composed in Tin Pan Alley, and idolized the Times Square as the mecca for becoming a star on the stage. Certainly New York City has remained an important landmark and tourist attraction in and of itself, but when tourists come from all corners of the world to see the Big Apple, they are drawn to the architecture.

The iconography of New York City is readily identifiable with such remarkable buildings as the Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, the Woolworth Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building, but most significantly, The Empire State Building. Deborah Kerr describes it as “the closest thing to heaven”, the world’s largest ape climbs to its apex in a spectacular moment, and Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors on leave hide their fellow shipmate from some angry NYPD officers.

I’ve written about King Kong and An Affair to Remember in the past; two films which feature the Empire State Building on a large scale. Within these films, the building becomes almost like a character. The Empire State Building becomes something which acts as a catalyst or even a metaphor for the grandiose scale of the issues at hand. It can help establish the scene as New York City (since most Hollywood films were primarily shot on back lots in California), or become an important setting for characters. Joining me to celebrate this iconic piece of NYC architecture and its importance in films, for the first ever guest post, is Rachel Marissa from Our Planet NYC. Between the breaks, Rachel provides us with a brief history of the Empire State Building and its role in classic films. (And just a friendly advisory that there are spoilers, so proceed with caution!)

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While not a film, the Empire State Building deserves the title of classic nonetheless, having served as the backdrop for some of Hollywood’s most iconic cinematic moments. Featured in more than 250 films throughout the years, filmmakers have expanded the building’s impact beyond just New York, impressing it upon the consciousness of the entire world.

Perhaps the most famous of its popular cultural representations came just two years after the building was completed in 1931. The original King Kong (1933) featured an image of the Empire State Building not easily forgotten – a giant ape holding a tiny blonde actress atop the building, battling with planes that eventually overwhelm him and cause him to fall to his death. The film celebrated its 80th anniversary this year and still that scene remains likely the most recognizable moment in the Empire State Building’s film history. Since the original in 1933, there have been sequels and remakes, including Peter Jackson’s CGI-filled 2005 blockbuster, but none have matched the magic and romance of the original and its epic closing scene.

While the visual impact of the scene may not be the same, the Empire State Building plays no less of an important part in the classic film, An Affair to Remember (1957). In the film, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr both play upper-class travelers on a luxury liner to New York where they happen to cross paths and fall in love. Just before they part ways in New York, they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in one year. After the year is up, we find Grant’s character waiting atop the building while his counterpart is running late. Tragically, as she looks up at the building in wonderment during her rush, she is hit by a car and paralyzed at the waist. Although not a happy moment by any means, this poignant scene is one that sticks in the viewer’s mind and it is entirely centered on the classic Empire State Building.

A more humorous scene also finds its home at the Empire State Building in the classic 1949 musical film, On the Town. Starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, the story follows three sailors on a 24 hour shore leave in New York City. The three get into quite a few scrapes and situations as they try to unite one sailor with his dream woman, including one circumstance where they must hide one of their own from the cops on top of the Empire State Building. Kelly and Sinatra each grab a hand and hang the sailor off the side of the building, while they assure the cops that they haven’t seen him. The scene is full of the levity that characterizes the rest of the movie and demonstrates that the Empire State Building can play an instrumental role in a classic scene, without the tragedy that ended our other two examples.

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Thank you so much to Rachel for highlighting these three great classics.  Check out this list of the most memorable Empire State Building movie moments.

Some of my favourites include Funny Face (1956, dir. Stanley Donen), How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967, dir. David Swift), Manhattan (1979, dir. Woody Allen), North By Northwest (1959, dir. Alfred Hitchcock), On The Waterfront (1954, dir. Elia Kazan). Although it’s not from the classical era, Sleepless in Seattle (1993, dir. Nora Ephron) – which remains one of my favourite films of all time – is a particularly great homage to the power of romantic movies and – to give credit where credit is due – beautiful architecture.

For more information on the Empire State Building and how you too can become a part of its vibrant history, please visit ESBNYC.com.  

The Final Stretch

Posted April 21st, 2013 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1940s, 1950s, 1970s

I am certainly not the first person to tell you that grad school is two things: extremely rewarding and EXTREMELY exhausting.  With a huge amount of hyperbole, I will tell you that my brain is going through an attack not dissimilar to the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. I keep hearing “The End” by The Doors in my head, which probably isn’t a good sign. Usually my instincts would not tell me to use a reference to a war movie (and a New Hollywood war movie at that) but I’m in the midst of writing a paper on masculinity and the male body as a site of spectacle in (wait for it…) the classical Hollywood musical.

Of course, my wheelhouse is and will evermore be the musical, but sometimes even the best of us have a tricky time writing about topics for which we have undying love and devotion. The reason I’m thinking about war movies though is that this paper of mine is even more specifically on masculinity and spectacle in the small subgenre of the “military musical”. Some examples of these include This is the Army (1943, dir. Michael Curtiz), Thousands Cheer (1943, dir. George Sidney), and even anchors Aweigh (1945, dir. George Sidney). What I find unifies these films is that they all tell the story of men and women whose main goal is to produce some sort of stage show to entertain the armed forces (army, marines and air corps) to boost their morale.

What I’m most interested in is how the male body and the portrayal of masculinity changes when viewed in the context of the musical genre, but how it is changed yet again when military mise-en-scene is added. When you take an iconic star like Gene Kelly or Frank Sinatra and dress him in fatigues, how does his body change? What connotations does he bring to the performance, and likewise, what does the military costume bring to his star persona?

In preparing for this project, I’ve watched a lot of classic musicals that were barely even on my radar. Once this paper is in the bag, look forward to a special ESSENTIALS on some of the early musicals of Gene Kelly. I for one was surprised to learn that his first 5 films all were war films or musicals where he played a military role.

I’ll leave you with this gem from Anchors Aweigh, where Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra play two marines on leave and “make up” this song on the fly to convince a man who wants to take their lady friend out on a date that she’s got quite a reputation in the navy.

Harold and Maude

Posted January 26th, 2013 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1970s, Essentials

Happy 2013! I’ve been a little absent these past few months since I’ve been busy with grad school and TA-ing for an Introduction to Film class. It’s been a great experience for me, finally getting to talk to young people about all types of movies, especially classic ones, and get them excited about films.

Another great advantage to teaching is that it’s given me opportunities to see films that are blind spots of my own. Harold and Maude  is a perfect example of one of my personal blind spots. An upcoming assignment for my students gives them an opportunity to choose between two films and describe elements of their chosen film that refer to the classical cinema or the art cinema.

I saw Harold and Maude for the first time just a few days ago when I learned this would be one of my films my students could choose. I immediately was captivated and confused by it, but grew to love the title characters just as they loved each other. I felt a huge challenge though trying to explain to my students why they should watch and write about this film. The synopsis is a little strange, the cast is filled with unknowns (to them), and it seems completely irrelevant to a young audience today.

This challenge is why I want to write it up as one of my Essentials.

Harold and Maude (1971)

Harold (Bud Cort), a young man in his 20s is quite disturbed. He comes from a rich family in California, living in a mansion with his also neurotic mother. On numerous occasions, he seeks complicated ways to fake his own death and his mother (Vivian Pickles) ignores every one. For fun, he attends the funerals of complete strangers. At one funeral, he meets a 79 year-old woman, soon turning 80, named Maude (Ruth Gordon). She is a complete enigma to him, so full of life and excitement in complete contrast to himself. While his mother forces him to join a dating service to get married and settle down, he becomes more and more fascinated with Maude and through a series of hijinx and misdemeanours, they fall in love.

Why You Should Watch:

The plot synopsis itself can be a little intimidating if not slightly weird sounding. I think the reason why this film is so enjoyable to me is how Harold sort of acts as an avatar for the disillusioned 20-somethings who fear their lives are already over. The nihilistic point of view that has overcome lots of people (in that unpleasant time between school and the rest of your life) is not so far fetched for many people coming-of-age. Maude has all of the zest for life of a woman a quarter of her age and then some. Her adventurous personality, her uninhibited take on the world, and her ridiculous but very earnest behaviour makes it easy to see how Harold could fall in love with her. While the initial thought of a young man falling in love with an old woman might initially seem kind of “icky”, the film helps us see how this could happen and how they help each other.

Director Hal Ashby perfected the dark comedy and this film is a prime example. A comparable contemporary filmmaker would be Wes Anderson whose films like Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore also address the idea of the disillusioned, neurotic, or much-too-old-for-their-age young man. If you enjoy Anderson films, you should certainly give Harold and Maude a shot.

Also, for those of you who like Cat Stevens, you will be pleased to know that he composed the entire soundtrack. I think the folk-rock sound of it perfectly fits the film. The lyrics and musical motifs in this film really round out the effect of this film, especially when Maude first sings the theme, ”If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”.

Scenes to Look Forward To:

I think this section is best answered by the trailer made by Criterion when Harold and Maude was released on bluray in 2012. They describe their three reasons to watch the film and I wholeheartedly agree with them all. First, his deaths. Harold fakes his death on camera around 7 times and each one seems to be even more unbelievable than the last. They are always confusing but as the film proceeds, the viewer can almost get inside of Harold’s head and begin to understand what he is trying to escape. Could it be life in general or just the life he’s trapped in?

Second, her life. Maude as a character is completely mind-boggling but at a certain point, you stop trying to psychoanalyse her and just go along for the ride. She is a kleptomaniac, an artist, an addict, and a bit of a hedonist. But she is free of judgement, loves the environment, and is full of wisdom and advice. One piece she gives Harold that we can all probably do well with remembering is “Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”

Third and finally, their love. The end of the film is I think my favourite part and because I refuse to spoil it, I’m really going to have to ask you take my word on it and watch it.

Hope you enjoy!

White Christmas

Posted December 18th, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1950s, Essentials

Here it is ladies and gents, the entry I’ve wanted to write since I started this blog back in May on one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s been a huge part of my life, watching it at least once every Christmas for as long as I can remember. I even remember the first time I saw it letterboxed on DVD (less than 10 years ago) and all of a sudden realized that I’d been missing half of the picture.

If I didn’t at least try to convert some of you, dear followers, and convince you to watch this movie, then this blog would be a failure.

White Christmas (1954)

White Christmas is about a pair of army pals, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) who are both song-and-dance men and start to work together after the war is over. Bob is a workaholic and has no sights set on a woman but Phil decides to play matchmaker with a sister act: Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen). They have a show of their own and are on their way to Vermont, booked at an inn over the holidays as a floor show. Bob and Phil go there with them and learn that the inn belongs to their former commander, General Waverly (Dean Jagger). Without any snow in Vermont, business is lacking and so the men bring their show to Vermont as a favour to the old man they love so well. Romance, songs, and hilarity ensue.

Why You Should Watch:

I’ve spent a lot of time researching changes to cinematic technology in the 1950s, like the transition to widescreen and colour cinema. This was the first film to be shot in Paramount’s widescreen technology, VistaVision, so it’s interesting to keep that in mind when you’re watching. And also if you’re seeing the film for the first time on TV and it looks clipped on the sides, it’s really meant to be seen in widescreen.

The film is sort of like an early jukebox musical. Nearly all of the songs in it already existed as popular hits for Irving Berlin, especially the titular number, “White Christmas”. Like Singin’ in the Rain, a story was written around pre-existing songs, guaranteeing crowds would come to see it. You should see it because it is a musical that has a little something for everyone.

It’s got amazing singing (Bing Crosby AND Rosemary Clooney!) and dancing (Vera Ellen is incredible and Danny Kaye is a perfect partner). Beautiful Edith Head costumes – the men are impeccably well-dressed, and the gowns are to die for. And of course, with a perfect score by Irving Berlin, filled with old classics like ‘Sisters’, ‘The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing’, and of course ‘White Christmas’. If you like dancing, comedy, and films directed by Michael Curtiz (the same director for Casablanca) you will not be disappointed by any number in this show. It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser!

Scenes to Look Forward To:  

All of the performances of the title song are fantastic, but my very favourite is when Bob sings ‘White Christmas’ to the troops on Christmas Eve 1944. The number ‘Sisters’ also has a special place in my heart because I have a sister of my own and we have always been badgered to perform it together (still hasn’t happened, but hey, maybe one day). Also, out of pure personal preference, I think two of the best scenes are ‘The Minstrel Number’ which is so spectacular that it simply evades description (you’ll need to watch it to find out!), and ‘Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me’, with Rosemary Clooney in that stunning black velvet dress which you have no doubt seen many times on my Tumblr. Last but not least, the fabulous ‘White Christmas’ ending which has this magical catharsis which, to me, typifies what makes Classic Hollywood so special. And now that I’m a bit older, that ending always makes me cry.

There are a couple of tidbits you might want to keep your eyes peeled for. For example, George Chakiris, famous for playing Bernardo in West Side Story (1960), is a dancer in Rosemary Clooney’s number “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me”.

I once got in a fight with a prof in university because he tried to tell the class that every time the song “Blue Skies” is in a movie, it’s a direct reference to The Jazz Singer (1927). Actually, no, it’s an Irving Berlin song that has been in a TON of movies, many of which have nothing to do with The Jazz Singer. This movie uses it and refers to it quite a few times, so maybe that would be something to watch for if you’re interested.

There’s some trivia on my Tumblr for anyone who’s interested so this post doesn’t get too long.

With just less than a week til Christmas, now’s the perfect time to watch it! I’m sure it’ll be playing on TV anytime, just check your listings!

Merry Christmas and I hope you and yours have a safe and happy holidays!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Posted October 3rd, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1960s, Essentials, Oscars

It’s no shock to those of you who’ve spent time on my blog that I am a big Audrey Hepburn fan. My favourite movies starring her are Sabrina, Roman Holiday, and Charade. When I was in university, pretty much every girl’s dorm room had a poster from Breakfast at Tiffany’s in it. And hey, I had a plaqued photo of Holly Golightly looking into the window at Tiffany’s hanging over my stove at my old apartment – and I regret nothing!

I regret nothing!

This movie is so iconic to the point that when people think “Audrey Hepburn”, they picture her with an updo in pearls and a black dress. This movie, though, is her most famous so I figured it deserved some reflection.

You may not know exactly what the movie is about, or even why it’s such a phenomenon, but I hope this’ll enlighten you into what all the fuss is about and why it’s worth watching.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

A young writer, Paul Varjak (George Peppard) moves into a new apartment building in New York City and unbeknownst to him becomes involved in the unbelievable life of Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a beautiful and outgoing girl, who just so happens to be an escort. She immediately takes to him and treats him like she’s known him for years – she even calls him “Fred”, after her older brother. As he gets to know her, he learns about her nameless orange cat, her long standing feud with their Japanese landlord* (Mickey Rooney), her interesting friends – who include models, millionaires, and a mob boss – and her fascination with Tiffany’s. Despite her larger than life personality, he makes it his mission to find out if it’s just a façade to protect herself from becoming attached to anything or anyone.

*By today’s standards, Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi is completely racist, but it was definitely a notable celebrity cameo.

Why You Should Watch:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a novella written by Truman Capote in the late 1950s. Capote’s novella was narrated by “Fred”, an Holly was a call-girl in her late teens who befriended him. Marilyn Monroe was obvious for the part, but the director, Blake Edwards, wanted to find someone different. It was Paramount that suggested Hepburn. It was certainly a big jump from the Capote Holly Golightly to the one who’s now become so iconic, but the two texts are often conflated. Hepburn’s Holly was naive, almost playing against the original character. Since no one could think of Audrey Hepburn playing a call girl, she became an escort – the type of girl you give $50 to go to the powder room.

The thing that always bothered me about this movie, especially before in my mid-teens, was that I couldn’t figure out what was so attractive about Holly. She’s beautiful and has great fashion sense. But she seemed like a pathetic character to me; one who ran away from her problems, refused to confront reality, and whose foremost goal above her own happiness was to marry rich. While some of these are true character flaws, I learned very recently that I had missed the point.

People often forget what the film is really about, just like I did. When you think of Audrey Hepburn, you think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You think of her in the black Givency dress with a tiara, sunglasses, a cigarette holder, and Cat. She’s almost eclipsed the movie itself. I think it’s funny too because Hepburn never again played a role like this – the closest she may have come was Charade, made the year before in 1960.

So here’s my theory: Audrey as Holly represented – a continues to represent – something that women can relate to. We understand her tough exterior to protect her own vulnerability. Her persistence innocence and blissful ignorance. We realize that Holly Golightly isn’t a perfect character, she’s flawed. But we can also aspire to look and act as fabulously as she. There is something so romantic about the idea that a man like Paul (or “Fred”) would walk into your life, after so many before him, and take a genuine interest in your happiness. Maybe that’s why people love Holly Golightly and maybe those are the things they admire about Audrey Hepburn in the role.

By no means do I mean to “solve the mystery” of the Holly Golightly phenomenon, but this is something I’ve been reflecting on since I’ve gotten better acquainted with Audrey Hepburn’s films. You should watch to take a look for yourself.

Scenes to Look Forward To:

The most obvious is the opening of the film where we meet Holly for the first time. We find her there in her iconic outfit, eating her breakfast outside of Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue in the wee hours of the morning. There’s no dialogue, we just watch her in a private moment while she window shops for diamonds.

When Holly decides to introduce “Fred” to her friends, she invites him to a party at her apartment. Turns out that they really did throw a party on set! There are so many shenanigans because Edwards asked the actors to improvise. A scene that could have taken up to two weeks to film was done in just a few days. Some of my favorite moments are when a lady’s hat catches on fire from a cigaretter and it is accidentally extinguished when someone spills their drink while checking their wristwatch for the time.

Aside from the opening, the “Moon River’ scene is probably the most iconic. Paul finds Holly singing and playing a melancholy song on her guitar. She’s not dressed up, she’s vulnerable, and he becomes even more intrigued. The song was written by Henry Mancini, who scored the entire film, specifically for Hepburn. She even sang it herself, which is a rare occurrence - she was dubbed in almost every other musical she did, including Funny Face and My Fair Lady. They offered to have her dubbed, but she told them, “Over my dead body.” Even though the song and the scene is so important, it was almost cut by Paramount. Hepburn had to personally fight for it to stay in the film. Good thing she did, because Mancini won an Oscar for the song, as well as the Oscar for the Best Score.

The first half of the movie is completely ridiculous and nonsensical. A woman who keeps shoes in her fridge? A cat named Cat? But the second half is dramatic, the the awakening of a girl who thought she knew it all but realizes that vulnerability isn’t so bad after all.

I’d love to hear what you think about the Holly Golightly phenomenon. Why do or don’t you like it?

Some Like It Hot

Posted September 16th, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1950s, Essentials, TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has just drawn to a close here and this was a very light year for me. Even though I was volunteering, I didn’t get to see very many films – in fact, I only saw one. But my watchlist grew each and every day thanks to recommendations from fellow film lovers. One of the films I really regret not seeing was a documentary, Love, Marilyn, an homage to blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe told though famous actors reading her personal and private letters aloud. It got me thinking about Marilyn and I just had to revive this review I wrote some time ago.

I can’t even really remember the first time I saw this movie, but it never really fit into the studio system as I came to know it after four years of film studies. I’m sure I was young – it was one of the first DVDs my family owned. It was so hilarious and on a different level than slapstick of the early era. It’s part musical, part romance, part buddy film, and all comedy. Even my friends who are reluctant with classic films love this one, it’s definitely a crowd pleaser.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Two jazz musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), witness the famous Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago one night at a club. This forces them to go into hiding, unable to find any work. The only job for musicians happens to be an all-girl band which is traveling to Miami, so they decide to dress in drag to get the gig. Being women, of course, is easier said than done. Joe, who becomes “Josephine”, falls in love with the band’s lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Meanwhile, Jerry, who becomes “Daphne”, catches the eye of a rich older man, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). They get caught up in their lies and their attempts to untangle their messy web, and try to not get caught by the mobsters they fled from, lead to a hilarious series of events.

Why You Should Watch:
I am a huge fan of Billy Wilder movies. I wrote about Sunset Blvd. (1950) and Sabrina (1954), two of his best nearly a year ago as one of my first entries. Others that I hope to get to in the coming months include Double Indemnity (1944), which I’ve mentioned a little in the past. Some Like It Hot is written and directed by him and his keen sense of comedy is in full force.  This film was released in the height of Marilyn Monroe fever and, while it may appear to be a vehicle for her to the untrained eye, Curtis and Lemmon give outstanding performances that nearly eclipse her own.

Modern audiences remember Jack Lemmon from the Grumpy Old Men series, and I did too when I first saw the film. But Some Like It Hot was one film in a series of Wilder-Lemmon collaborations that continued in the 1950s to the 1980s, including The Apartment (1960) and several others if you’re willing to Google it.

This was one of the first films where cross-dressing became a major part of the film, not just a minutes-long scene tossed in for comedic effect. The sexuality of Joe and Jerry is indisputably heterosexual, but what started out as a joke became groundbreaking for filmmakers and almost certainly gave way to other films about cross-dressing and gay culture, like La Cage Aux Folles (1978) and many subsequent modern films.

The award count isn’t too shabby either, it won three Golden Globes: Best Picture (Comedy), Best Actor (Comedy) for Jack Lemmon, and Best Actress (Comedy) for Marilyn Monroe.  It also won an Oscar for Best Costume Design (Black and White). Billy Wilder was nominated for many directing awards for this film but only won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award. It was even nominated for a Grammy for its original soundtrack.

Scenes to Look Forward To:
It’s hard to pin point exact scenes because the whole film is so cohesive. The repartee between characters, especially Joe and Jerry, makes every scene they’re in hilarious and a real joy to watch.

Some of my favorites are when “Josephine” and “Daphne” first get on the train to Miami and are swept up in a sea of women.

Can’t forget Sugar’s sultry performance of “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, one of Monroe’s most iconic numbers.

I love Tony Curtis’s attempt at a Cary Grant impression when he decides to seduce Sugar and pretend to be the heir to the Shell Oil fortune. Even Jerry makes fun of it, saying “What are you trying to do to that poor girl, putting on a millionaire act? And, where did you get that phony accent? Nobody ‘talks loike thet’!”

And I’m incredibly partial to all of the scenes with Osgood and “Daphne”, including the tango and that last boat trip into the sunset. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it.

So, I’m a little bit rusty, but I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things and start writing a lot more frequently. I know you’ll love this one! Happy watching!

12 Angry Men

Posted July 21st, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1950s, Essentials

Hi everyone! Please excuse the excruciatingly long absence from my blog. I’ve been keeping active on Twitter, but packing up my apartment, moving twice in two months, and my day jobs have been keeping me majorly preoccupied. 

It’s been a disturbing news time in Toronto these past few weeks. A fatal shooting at a block party in working class Scarborough left 2 dead and 21 injured. They mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, exclaimed with very little context that he wants anyone in a gang or with a history of gun violence out of the city. This, for me, is amplified by the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado where a sold-out showing of The Dark Knight Rises was tear-gased and shot at, killing 12 and injuring over 50 innocent moviegoers.

I’m not a political person, really. I read the news, I understand it, but I rarely like to talk about it, partly because I’m a bit naive when it comes to these things. I do know, however, that Mayor Ford’s outcry against the gun violence in Toronto, while well-intentioned, shows the ignorance towards working class or, simply, non-white neighbourhoods. There is an unfair stereotype that, particularly, young men of colour are more likely to commit violent crimes. In a strange way, it’s almost expected of them. They are, according to many, victims of their surroundings.

This past week, my boyfriend and I have been watching court room dramas. We have pretty different taste in movies, but it’s one genre we can agree on. We started off with A Few Good Men (1992) earlier in the week and last night watched a film that was new to both of us: 12 Angry Men. It only occurs to me know, having seen it for the first time, the moral behind the film still resonates today.

12 Angry Men (1957)

Twelve jurors in new York City are assembled to reach a verdict on a first degree murder trial. The accused  is an 18-year-old who is suspected of killing his father. When they enter the juror room, 11 of the 12 are convinced that this man is guilty. Only one has the courage to stand up and say he does not. The dissentor, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda), opens the eyes of the other men, encouraging them to think critically about not only the evidence provided to them in the context of the court room, but the evidence they’ve encountered in their own lives which has led them to pass such harsh judgement on a  young man from a New York slum.

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2012 Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival

Posted May 27th, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 2010s, TYSFF

Back at the start of March, I went to my first screening for the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival and had a great time watching films in the T24 Project. I’m very exciting to be rejoining the critics circle surrounding the TYSFF, a great initiative that gives young filmmakers between the ages of 14 and 28 an opportunity to screen their work in an enthusiastic and supportive environment. I’m even more excited to be on the Online Film Critics panel. I received my first ever screener yesterday in the mail and, once I started watching, right away noticed a few things.

Many of the films are animated and very brief, yet all still tell very sweet, compelling or funny stories – some in under two minutes. Many are produced by students at Sheridan College, York University, or the Hart House Film Board at the University of Toronto. Here are some synopses of some of my favorites so far.

Blind Luck by Diane Aarts

A playful seeing-eye dog stars in this animated film where he must choose between his desire to play and his duty to help his owner cross the street. The setting is a single intersection, and the background is constant with the characters moving around within it. The beauty and comedy in this film lays in the subtle animation of the dog’s facial features and the complete obliviousness of his owner. There’s no dialogue, but his facial expressions say volumes. This dog actually reminds me of my own chocolate lab, Buck, who is very very sweet but is obsessed with his favorite ball and would probably do anything to get it. Either way, this film will definitely bring a smile to your face.

Bad Movie by Trevor Chartrand

This documentary is the longest film of the selections I’ve seen thus far, clocking in at around 13 minutes, but not a single one is wasted. Director Trevor Chartrand stars in his film about why it is that people love to watch bad movies. He takes the film The Room (2003) as his best example, a film which has earned itself the title of the worst movie ever. It has grown to have an enormous cult following and all the perks that come with it, like midnight showings and merchandise. Chartrand and his subjects agree that the fun of watching a bad movie is the amplified experience you get from when shared with a like-minded audience. I like the simplicity and transparency of this kind of documentary format, featuring interviews with film critics and enthusiasts alike. The final thought I was left with was “Wow, I guess I really should watch The Room one of these days”. Thanks Trevor!

The Music Box by Nicole Bazuin

This was a sweet narrative film about a girl, played by Rachel Parent, who fantasizes about growing up and becoming a beautiful woman some day. She dances around an immaculately dressed room, filled with vintage furniture, clothes and a beautiful music box. The music for this film was composed by Joseph Trefler and is a perfect complement to this simple yet effective film. There is a slight twist at the end with the entrance of the older sister, at which point the music stops and we’re just as alarmed as our star. This film is the perfect definition of short and sweet.

Ostrichcized by Benjamin Brook

The most important thing I can say about this film is that it’s a gem. Such a simple idea and simple animation that is so effective and funny. The title isn’t a typo, it’s about the littlest ostrich in its flock who’s ostracised (haha, get it??) because of its height. It had a cute moral, showing that everyone plays a part, even if they’re a little different. The comedy in this movie is from the repetition which is suddenly broken at the most unexpected times. I was really captivated by the simplicity of this story and its animation. I know it will make any audience chuckle and feel warm and fuzzy with its moral.

 Amare by Katarina Antonic

In this animated film without dialogue, a unique couple goes out together, only to be pulled apart by a steaming temptress. Little does that temptress know that the girl has a little sssssssomething special to keep her man . I think my favourite part is the kiss at the end of the film, it’s very cute touch and made me smile and laugh out loud. The animation in this is very rounded and the anatomy is altogether different. I really enjoyed this film stylistically as much as I enjoyed the story. And that’s saying something considering it involves a transformation into something I really do not enjoy in real life haha.

The Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival takes place from June 2nd to 3rd at Innis Town Hall. Come out and enjoy some quality films made by talented young filmmakers!

The Red Shoes

Posted May 12th, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1940s, 2000s, Essentials, TIFF

Next to film, one of my biggest passions is dance. I danced ballet for 13 years, all throughout primary, elementary and high school, and did some recreationally in university with a friend of mine. I’ve always loved watching ballet and so I’ve always jumped at the opportunity to see films about ballet companies or any kind of dance movie. Centre Stage (2000) and Save the Last Dance (2001) are two of my favorite guilty pleasures.

I originally wrote this Essentials in late 2010. There’d been a lot of buzz surrounding the movie Black Swan (2010) that came out in December that year. It won Natalie Portman her Oscar for Best Actress and her husband Benjamin Millepied. I saw it during TIFF and absolutely loved it. It’s decadent, it’s thrilling, the dancing is wonderful, and the way the story mirrors the plot of the ballet is really brilliant. Really unique I thought, too.

Seeing it again rekindled my love affair with ballet movies and so I decided to rewatch The Red Shoes (1948), which is really the first ballet film. When I rewatched it, I realized that the writers and director of Black Swan had also seen The Red Shoes and taken the same idea and used it for their film. I want to take an opportunity to piggyback from the buzz of Black Swan to introduce you to The Red Shoes: a beautiful melodramatic film, made in Britain, but with all the decadence we love and expect from Classical Hollywood.

In both films, heroines who are prima ballerinas, are physically and psychologically challenged by their leading roles and the roles pervade their lives and they begin to live out the same tragedies of their characters. Both films were also featured at the Venice Film Festival! Continue Reading »

An Affair to Remember

Posted April 25th, 2012 by Classic Flick Chick and filed in 1950s, Essentials

This post is about my favorite Deborah Kerr movie and one of the best Cary Grant ones, in my opinion. I originally published this on September 30, 2010, which was coincidentally Deborah Kerr’s 89th birthday.

An Affair to Remember (1957)

This movie is one of those tragic love stories which has been retold at least 5 times (this is actually the second telling of the story, the first being Love Affair in 1939) and is heart-breaking and heart-warming all at the same time. Gentlemen, this one might seem like it’s for the ladies, and hey, maybe it is a little, but rest assured that there is something for everyone.

Playboy Nickie Ferante and nightclub singer Terry McKay meet on a European cruise heading to New York during the Christmas and New Years season, both engaged to partners back home. At first they are incredibly irritated by one another, but they quickly develop a romance. When they dock, they know they must be apart, but they agree that if they’re still in love in six months, to meet at the top of the Empire State Building. Continue Reading »