Friday, May 1, 2015

YouTube Film Noir Series "The Port of San Pedro"

A new YouTube series, The Port of San Pedro, captures the look and feel of film noir movies of the 1940s and 50s. Created by Cleo Valente and shot in black and white, the series takes place in the Port of San Pedro in California.

Cast and crew filming The Port of San Pedro

The story follows detective Nick De Salvo and Police Captain Sebastian Montenero as they team up to investigate the mysterious Luli May Tang who runs an illegal operation in Macao. A quick trip to the shows Web site will tell you the creators have a love for classic film noir. Pictures of Orson Welles in Touch of Evil and Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past populate the page.

If you’re looking for a modern take on the noir formula and look, give The Port of San Pedro a try by taking a look at the trailer below.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Screening of Hitchcock’s “I Confess” at Daystar Center May 12, 2015

When: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street

Father Michael William Logan, a Catholic priest (Montgomery Clift) has a crisis of faith when he hears the confession of Otto Keller, the caretaker at his residence. Otto confesses to Logan that he accidentally killed a lawyer during a robbery. By keeping Keller’s secret as part of his priestly duties, suspicion for murder falls on Logan. Will he keep Keller’s confession a secret, even if it means jeopardizing his own freedom and destroying the marriage of Ruth Granfort (Anne Baxter), a woman Logan once loved?

I Confess (1953) was released two years after Strangers on a Train and was the only time Alfred Hitchcock worked with Clift. Still in her teens, Baxter was in the running for the role of the second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca (1940), which eventually went to Joan Fontaine. 

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Anne Baxter and Montgomery Clift in I Confess

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Daystar Center located at 1550 S. State St. works through a grassroots network of collaborations and partnerships with individuals and other nonprofit organizations. Through this web, they’re able to provide educational, cultural, and civic activities that enrich and empower their clients, guests, and community members. To learn more about classes and events offered at the Daystar Center, please visit their Web site.

Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Tips for next year and beyond

As noted in previous posts, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival was a wonderful experience, beyond this first-timers expectation. There were so many things going on at one time that it was difficult to decide what to do. In spite of being a newbie, I managed to see 16 movies in four days and have the red eyes to prove it! I learned a lot from this first experience and I’m already planning for next year. I want to make sure I experience as much of the festival as I possibly can. Below are some suggestions for those planning on coming next year.

1. Read as much as you can about the festival from the TCM Web site. The schedule is posted about three to four weeks before the event, but you can start planning who you would like to see in person—special guests are announced before the movie schedule—and whether or not you want to attend opening day (Thursday) or get a three-day pass (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

2. Find a hotel within walking distance of all the major venues. And your hotel doesn’t have to be too fancy; it just needs to be clean. My hotel had a lovely swimming pool and a nice exercise room—never used either of them. Remember, you’re attending a film festival, you won’t have time for the pool.

3. Plan out what you’re going to see in advance of the festival. Try to be flexible. You’ll probably be able to get into all the events you want to, but some venues are smaller than others, so you may find some films “sold out.”

4. When you arrive, you should try and time how long it takes you to get from your hotel to Hollywood Blvd. Then you should time how long it takes to walk from venue to venue (based on what you’re planning to see). All are within walking distance of each other, but events are stacked back to back and it may be tough getting to your next event on time if they’re on opposite ends of Hollywood Blvd.

5. Eat a good breakfast! There is so little time to eat at the festival. I never had more than two meals a day. The Chinese Multiplex serves hot dogs (not bad either) so that’s an option, but it can get expensive. I suggest you stock up on snack bars to eat in-between screenings when you’re hungry. That’s one thing I’ll be planning on doing next year.

6. Bring a sweater or sweatshirt. It may be 90 degrees outside, but I found the theaters to be chilly. In fact they got progressively colder while the films were screening.

7. If you’re traveling by yourself, don’t be afraid of striking up a conversation with other attendees. You’ll find out quickly that you’re among friends. I mean where else could you say, “I’d no sooner do that than get into a rowboat with Gene Tierney” and everyone gets the allusion? Who knows you may make a friend for life or find a life partner. I've heard stories of people meeting at the festival who ended up getting married!

8. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, be sure to meet up with your social media friends. I met people I had been friends with on Twitter for years for the first time and it was wonderful—probably the highlight of the festival for me.

9. Bring a camera! I know most smart phones have cameras, but if you want to take great pictures, there’s nothing like a good digital camera. I left my camera on the table at home this year and I could kick myself. I got some decent pictures with my phone, but for clear distance shots, you need a good, digital camera.

10. Bring a cell phone charger. You’ll find that your phone’s battery will wear down pretty quickly during the festival. I was constantly on Twitter, taking pictures and opening and closing apps all day—nothing drains a battery faster. I didn’t bring a phone charger, but my friend Kristina did and she let me use hers. I would have been up a creek without it. Thank you, Kristina!

11. If you have friends that have attended the festival, ask them about their experiences and if they would have done anything differently. Feel free to ask questions of your social media friends. I did and most were very helpful and pointed me to a blog posts like this one with tips and suggestions.

12. Enjoy the festival! See you in 2016!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Screening of Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” at Daystar Center April 14, 2015

When: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street

When an amateur tennis star (Farley Granger) meets a rather strange and disturbed man (Robert Walker) on a train, a weird nightmare begins. Bruno Antony (Walker) tries to convince tennis player Guy Haines (Granger) that they should “swap murders.” Anthony goes on to explain how much he’d like to get rid of his father and that he’s read how Guys failed marriage to Miriam (Laura Elliot) is getting in the way of his relationship with Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). While Guy laughs off the swapping murder idea proposition, Bruno takes it seriously and kills Guy’s wife. When Guy fails to murder Bruno’s father, Bruno threatens to expose Guy as a murderer, destroying his tennis career and his relationship with Anne. Considered one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, it includes one of the most memorable climaxes in movie history.
Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Friday, April 10, 2015

2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival Recap: Day 4

Day four of the TCM Film Festival was bittersweet. Sweet because there were some great movies on the schedule and bitter because I knew the festival was soon coming to an end. As usual, several movies were running on or around the same time, so tough decisions had to be made. Once again I tried to see movies I hadn’t seen before or in a long time. I pretty much fulfilled that goal. My first movie was screening at 10 a.m. so I got to take my time, enjoy my breakfast, and leisurely make my way to the Chinese Multiplex. The first movie I saw turned out to be my most enjoyable experience of the festival.

Calamity Jane (1953) was a movie I saw once on my Kindle Fire over a year ago. Seeing it on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience was a treat I hadn’t expected. Cari Beauchamp, the award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker introduced the film. Of course the history is all wrong; there isn’t that much we know for certain about Calamity Jane (Doris Day) and her relationship with Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel). We’re not even sure if they knew each other at all, but so what; it’s a movie. Beauchamp encouraged those in the audience to go the Academy Award Web site and petition for a special Oscar for Day. She certainly deserves it, as the morning crowd at the Chinese Multi-Plex would attest. The fun started as soon as the credits began to roll. When Day’s name came on the screen, the audience broke out in applause. Keel’s name was also welcomed with a good round of clapping as was the rest of the cast and director David Butler. Each musical number was a joy to watch, with each followed by more clapping and hooting. The world premiere restoration was beautiful. The film was an amazing showcase for Day’s singing (what a voice!), dancing, and comedic acting and timing. The songs by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster were catchy and the Oscar-winning “Secret Love” became one of Day’s signature tunes. After the movie concluded, I was humming the “Deadwood Stage” for the next two days all the way back to Chi-caw-gee!

After Calamity Jane, it was on line for Reign of Terror (1949), a movie I don’t think I ever heard of before. It was an unusual combination of historical drama with a film noir feel. The movie was introduced by Eddie Muller, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation. Reign of Terror is an interesting tale set during the political struggle after the French Revolution. The machinations of Maximilien Robespierre (Richard Basehart) and his attempt to recover his “black book,” an enemies list that is the “McGuffin” and sets this film in motion. Charles D’Aubigny (Robert Cummings) who is impersonating Duval, a man he killed, who Robespierre and his right-hand man Fouche have never met before, has stolen the black book. Along the way, D’Aubigny meets Madelon (a ravishing Arlene Dahl) a friend of the Revolution who assists D’Aubigny expose Robespierre for the scoundrel he truly is. The low-budget production looks first-class thanks to the talent involved, including director Anthony Mann, writers Aeneas MacKenzie and Philip Yordan, and producer William Cameron Menzies. Others in the cast include the great Norman Lloyd, Richard Hart and Beulah Bondi. I found the film to be fast-paced and exciting. It was almost like an expanded version of the M-G-M serial series, The Passing Parade. And that’s a compliment!

Steward, Hussey, John Howard, Hepburn, and Grant
Next on the agenda was The Philadelphia Story (1940). While not a big fan of this classic (blasphemy, I know), seeing it on the big screen at the Chinese Theater (my first time in that movie palace) was a treat. Ileana Douglas and Madeline Stowe introduced the film. Stowe a big fan of classic romantic comedies, rattled off a string of favorites, including George Stevens’s The More The Merrier, and I thought, this woman has great taste (who knew?). Cary Grant (Dexter), Katherine Hepburn (Tracy), and James Stewart (Macauly “Mike”) all looked great on the big screen. It was also nice to see Ruth Hussey in her Academy Award-nominated performance as Elizabeth Imbrie, Mike’s coworker and sometime girlfriend. The plot is well known so I won’t go into that. The production was wonderful, even though not a single frame was shot anywhere near Philadelphia. Virginia Wiedler as Hepburn’s younger sister Dinah practically steals the movie; she’s even better than I remembered (it must be that big screen). During the end of the film, Kristina had to leave to catch her flight back to Canada. On the way out she ran into Ben Mankiewicz and actually talked with him for a few minutes. A nice consolation and a great memory for my friend.

Sophia Loren, Marriage Italian Style
Next I was back on line at the Chinese Theater to see Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style (1964). I had never seen this film before, but the real attraction for me was to see Loren in the flesh. She was interviewed about the film by Ben Mankiewicz before the screening. She looked amazing (she’s 80!?) and seemed very happy to be at the festival and was very appreciative of the audience. She talked about making the movie with frequent costar Marcello Mastroianni and director Vittorio De Sica. For me the movie was somewhat anticlimactic. There were parts that were enjoyable and Loren and Mastroianni were wonderful, but overall it’s not a film I need to see again. It was enough to see Loren in person, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

After the film it was back to the Roosevelt Hotel to say goodbye
to everyone. What a great thing it was to meet all the TCMParty folk: Joel, Laura, Kristina, Pam, Kellee, Aurora, Karen, Will, Annmarie and so many others.

Well it was time for bed and getting up early for the flight back to Chicago or is that Chi-caw-gee!

This was my first time at the TCM film festival. I had never been to a film festival before so the experience was completely new to me. It was both exciting and overwhelming, but great fun. If I have the good fortune to attend again next year, I’ll be better prepared. Look for my next blog post: Tips for First-Timers coming soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival Recap: Day 3

Colleen Moore and Neil Hamilton from Why Be Good?
The third day of the TCM Film Festival and I felt like a “seasoned campaigner,” to quote Jean Dixon from My Man Godfrey, a film from the festival’s first day. There were some great movies screening in the morning, but again, I opted to see things I hadn’t seen before, including another silent movie, a Disney classic, an early John Ford melodrama featuring Ralph Bellamy—in the lead—Pat O’Brien and Gloria Stewart, a Preston Sturges classic, a glossy melodrama from director Douglas Sirk, and some Hollywood home movies.

First up was the silent film Why Be Good? (1929) starring Colleen Moore and Neil Hamilton. Cari Beauchamp, an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker introduced the film. We learned that the movie was thought to be lost, but that a print was discovered in Italy in the late 90s and eventually restored. The movie is about a young flapper, Pert—love that name—Kelly (Moore) who pretends to be a bad girl so she can go clubbing with her fast friends. Pert loves to dance and have fun, but she is strictly a “good girl.” The action begins when she meets a young man at a club after she ditches her lech of a date, when he falls asleep in a drunken stupor. As she is about to leave, she meets Winthrop Peabody Jr. (Hamilton). They are immediately smitten and Winthrop asks her out on a date for the following evening. Pert, tired from the late-night out with Winthrop, arrives tardy for work, only to be reprimanded by the new head of personnel, Winthrop! In order to please his father Winthrop Peaboy Sr. and show him that he’s up for his new job, junior is unusually harsh with Pert. This causes all kinds of confusion and frustration for the young couple. Of course the end of the movie resolves all, but the scenes between Pert and her parents, and the others in between, are both humorous and poignant. It’s easy to see why Moore was such a big star in the silent era. Besides being pretty and attractive, she had a effervescent personality that is hard to resist. Hamilton, Moore’s costar is best known today as Commissioner Gordon from the Batman TV series from the 1960s. Although the film is silent (no dialogue), it is accompanied by a synchronized score and sound effects, something that was fairly common during the transition from silent to talking films. The film boasts early screen appearances of Jean Harlow, Andy Devine, Mischa Auer, Phil Harris, and Grady Sutton, but the only one I really noticed was Harlow in a party scene. Two silents in two days and I enjoyed them both!

Bobby Driscoll receives his juvenile Oscar
from Donald O'Connor
After Why Be Good? it was a choice between 42n Street (1933) and So Dear To My Heart (1948). It was really no contest. I’ve seen 42n Street and the opportunities to see it on the big screen would come again, but not so with Disney’s So Dear To My Heart. Film critic Leonard Maltin who is a real fan of the film said he hoped he hadn’t “oversold” the movie with his enthusiastic introduction, gave us some backgrond on the film. We learned that the movie had originally been planned as Disney’s first all live-action film, but that the distributor, RKO, didn’t think they could “sell” a Disney film without animation. So some short animation scenes were inserted to appease RKO, even though they add little—other than the fact that they’re cute—to the overall story line. The plot surrounds Jeremiah Kincaid (Bobby Driscoll) and his efforts to raise a black sheep to be a county fair champion, a champion just like race horse Dan Patch, in 1903 Indiana. Jeremiah’s stern, but loving grandmother, Granny Kincaid (Beulah Bondi) is against her grandson raising the black sheep as a pet, but she eventually relents, against her better judgment. Others in the cast include a very young Burl Ives as Uncle Hiram Douglas, singing the Oscar-nominated song, “Lavender Blue” and Luana Patten as Tildy. Bobby Driscoll, who also scored a hit in The Window (1949) on loan to RKO won a special juvenile Academy Award for his performances. The movie is corny, sentimental, but charming and extremely watchable. I was transported to a simpler time in my life when my older sister would take me to every Disney movie, that was playing in our neighborhood, when I was a young boy.

After So Dear To My Heart, it was back on line at the same theater for John Ford’s Air Mail (1932). I never even heard of  Air Mail, so I was anxious to see it. Seven years before Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings, John Ford crafted this exciting film about young pilots transporting the mail under dangerous conditions from a desert airport at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Leonard Maltin introduced this film as not a classic, but as an entertaining film and early Ford directorial effort and a rare stint working at Universal Studios. Ralph Bellamy as Mike Miller is top-billed over Pat O’Brien (Duke Talbot) and the rest of the cast that also includes Gloria Stewart (Ruth Barnes), Ward Bond (Joe Barnes), and Slim Summerville (Slim McCune). Bellamy plays the level-headed and headstrong operator of the airport who hires hotshot pilot Duke Talbot to take the place of Joe Barnes (Ruth’s brother) who lost his life in a fiery plane crash. For a film shot in 1932, the special effects are fairly impressive. Most impressive are some of the miniature sets of the airport that were remarkably realistic. The real drama begins when Mike, whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be, flies out during some bad weather, against the wishes of his girlfriend Ruth. He crashes in a remote mountain area with little hope of being rescued. Duke who has run off with the widow of another pilot, decides he can rescue Mike. Duke makes the daring attempt to save Mike, successfully landing his plane where Mike is stranded. Duke manages to load Mike into the plane and take off. Although the plane is able to fly, it sustained some damage during its rocky landing. While flying, the plane begins to fall apart. Realizing that he can’t land safely, Duke flips the plane over on purpose, which causes Mike to fall out. Mike lands safely with his parachute. Duke crashes, but survives, making him an instant hero. It was great to see a film where Bellamy was not only the lead, but also the guy who actually gets the girl in the end. Maltin called this a “bread and butter” movie for Ford. Under contract to Fox, which was cutting salaries, Ford decided to go to work for Carl Laemmle Jr. at Universal to pick up some extra cash.

I was now ready for a good laugh, so the ideal choice was Christmas in July (1940). It was a long time since I last saw this Preston Sturges classic. Being a Sturges fan, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this film on the big screen with a live audience. It did not disappoint. Sturges’s follow-up to The Great McGinty (1940) chronicles the aspirations of Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell) and his efforts to win the slogan writing contest sponsored by Maxford House Coffee. Desperate to win, Jimmy dreams of providing for his mother and prove himself worthy of his girlfriend, Betty Casey (Ellen Drew). Jimmy’s “winning” slogan: “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk.” The slogan doesn’t exactly resonate with Jimmy’s friends and family, but he’s convinced it’s a winner. As a practical joke, three of Jimmy’s coworkers phony-up a telegram announcing that Jimmy is the winner. Before his friends can tell him it’s a prank, Jimmy is off buying expensive gifts and furniture for his mother, an engagement ring and fur coat for Betty, and presents for just about everyone on his city block. Jimmy’s boss, J. B. Baxter (Ernest Truet) coincidentally, the head of another coffee company, is so impressed with Jimmy’s “win” that he gives him a promotion, his own office, and a private secretary (Betty). Things begin to unravel when Dr. Maxford discovers that the voting for the winning slogan is deadlocked because of the stubbornness of Mr. Bildocker (William Demarest). Jimmy is humiliated and embarrassed when he finds out his winning telegram was a joke and the owner and clerks from the department store where Jimmy bought all his gifts comes to take them all back. Jimmy pleads with his boss to let him keep his new job on a probationary basis until he proves himself. Jimmy’s boss agrees, but he gets no raise in the bargain. Finally Mr. Bildocker bursts into Dr. Maxford’s office proclaiming the deadlock is over. The winning slogan: “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk!”

Jane Withers charms the crowd.
Next it was off to Club TCM for some Hollywood Home Movies. This was a great treat. Guests that shared their home movies included, Jane Withers, Bob Koster (son of director Henry Koster), and Neile Adams McQueen (widow of Steve McQueen). We saw some rare behind the scenes movies of Esther Ralston and Gary Cooper in a silent film that is lost to history, as well as images of Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, and Sophia Loren, during the filming of her first American film, Boy on a Dolphin (1957). Withers was the most fun, however. She narrated her home movies, which included the likes of Jackie Cooper, Roddy McDowell and other child actors of the era. Withers’s enthusiasm and charm was evident throughout and it was a treat just to see her.

For some reason (I blame Laura and Kristina) I decided to see Imitation of Life (1959) starring Lana Turner and John Gavin. Imitation is a glossy melodrama produced by Ross Hunter and directed by Douglas Sirk. Introduced by Sherry Lansing and Leonard Maltin, who both think the film is worth seeing and a film that resonated with Lansing when she first saw it at age 14. For me though, the film was almost a parody. The melodrama and acting style was over the top and it just didn’t work for me. After not getting into Too Late for Tears, watching this film was one of the few things I regret about the festival. I would have much rather enjoyed seeing Adam’s Rib or The French Connection, but that’s the way it goes; we have to make choices and sometimes we’re not happy with them.

Five films in one day was a record for me. I was exahausted and my eyes were sore and dry from all that movie-watching. On Sunday, my day started a little later than Saturday with my favorite movie experience of the festival: Calamity Jane (1953).

Check back for my last update, to be followed by a wrap-up, and some hints for first-time festival goers.

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