Die Hard 30th Anniversary

 

Die Hard

IN THEATERS NOV 11th, NOV 14th

New York City Detective John McClane becomes the only hope for a small group of hostages, trapped in a Los Angeles high-rise office building when it is seized by terrorists on Christmas Eve. This 30th Anniversary event includes exclusive insight from Turner Classic Movies.

I have fond memories of the energy and excitement in the theater upon Die Hard’s release and it has remained one of my favorite movies of all time. Although premiering on July 12th,1988, it’s the perfect Christmas themed movie which our family always ends up watching during the Holidays.

The plot of the story takes place on Christmas Eve with NYPD detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) arriving in Los Angeles, intending to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), at the Christmas party of her employer, the Nakatomi Corporation.

While McClane changes clothes at the festivities, the party is disrupted by the arrival of a German terrorist, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and his heavily armed team: Karl, Tony, Franco, Theo, Alexander, Marco, Kristoff, Eddie, Uli, Heinrich, Fritz, and James. The group seizes the tower and secures those inside as hostages except for McClane, who slips away, and Argyle, (his limo driver) who gets trapped in the garage. (Wikipedia)

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Let the games begin because McClane is a tough New York cop to his very core and is bound and determined to foil the terrorist takeover as captioned on the movie poster.

“Twelve terrorists. One cop. The odds are against John McClane…That’s just the way he likes it.”

This highly successful American action thriller was directed by John McTiernan and written by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart. It was produced by the Gordon Company and Silver Pictures and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Made for $28 million, Die Hard grossed over $140 million theatrically worldwide, with the film turning Willis into an action star, and became a metonym for an action film in which a lone hero fights overwhelming odds. The film’s success created the Die Hard franchise, which includes four sequels, a number of video games, and a comic book, and later in 2017 was selected for preservation in the United States National Film RegistryDie Hard has been named one of the best action and Christmas-themed films ever made. The film also ranks No. 20 on Empires 2017 list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. (Wikipedia)

I didn’t really care for the sequels, but I highly recommend checking out the original on the big screen at this 30th Anniversary screening. Find out where it’s showing in your area here.

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iheart Halloween!👻

Halloween is my favorite holiday! It’s a day for self-expression. A day for fun and fantasy. A day for taking control of phobias and fears and turning your back on Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Where’s your power now Fred? Way to shut that mess down.

It’s also a day to indulge in all your favorite classic, creepy, monster, sci-fi horror films.

Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween, let’s pay homage to the original man of horror. The “Man of a Thousand Faces”- Lon Chaney.

 Man of a Thousand Faces – Lon Chaney

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Lon Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930), born Leonidas Frank Chaney

Born to deaf parents, Lon learned to express himself and communicate visually. He took his desire to become an actor and created an art form and space for himself that was revolutionary to the motion picture industry. His makeup artistry allowed him to transform and become grotesque characters in films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). He’s regarded as one of the most important character actors of the silent film era.

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The original “monster maker”, he would scout out the daily call sheets for a studio finding out what types of extras were needed for that day’s shoot. He created a make-up toolbox of possibilities for him to achieve the look and characterizations needed to be chosen for a role. This talent was the impetus for his unparalleled reputation in the burgeoning film industry.

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This flick is by far my favorite Lon Chaney! 

Chaney’s alliance with Director Tod Browning was inspired! Browning was into the macabre and best known for his films Dracula (1931) and the cult classic Freaks (1932) and Lon Chaney had the acting and makeup skills to realize any twisted character the director could come up with.

My favorite movie line is from their 1927 silent film The Unknown – “crack of your ass”. (okay, I can’t swear that’s what he said) But, seriously, as Alonzo the Armless, he threatened his co-star Joan Crawford with bodily harm if she did not bend to his will. Remember Grandma Klump from Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor(1996)? “You might walk over, but you limpin’ back! “Chaney totally went there. Check it out:

Let’s talk about the level of twisted in this movie:

A word of advice, if you’ve got a thing about someone that’s all consuming and you’d do anything to get with that person, forget about it!

Plot: This crazy man, Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney) has a knife throwing act using only his feet and is in love with Nanon (Joan Crawford) who”can’t bear to be touched.” He has arms but pretends not to for his act and so Nanon will talk to him. When it’s discovered that he indeed has arms, he blackmails a low-rent surgeon to amputate them. Sick!

Nanon and Alonzo

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After his surgery, Alonzo returns to the circus and his knife throwing act. Hoping to rekindle his relationship, he strolls over to Nanon’s circus wagon to see his rival Malabar, the circus strongman, (Norman Kerry) with his hands all over his love. Holy crap, it’s on! Alonzo schemes to get his girl back by rigging the speed of Malabar’s horses in his act which will dislocate and sever his arms during the live circus performance.

Alonzo

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Alonzo’s sick plan is working until Nanon realizes what is happening and tries to stop the performance. And then boom! The”crack of your ass” line. As you saw in the clip, things didn’t really work out the way he saw it play out in his mind.

Malabar

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This documentary, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces is a great biography for more in-depth background information and presents a great opportunity to discover your own Lon Chaney gem.

Here it is, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces

Lon Chaney is also the father of Lon Chaney, Jr best known for his role in Universal’s The Wolfman (1941).

The Black Prince of Darkness – Blacula 1972 💀🎃

Original 1972 theatrical poster

Way to turn the classic “Dracula” on its’ head! I think the idea to present Blacula as an 18th Century African prince during the slave trade was historical and topical. Although considered a Blaxploitation horror film, it was taken with a serious approach and hits the mark on the classic Universal horror flick.

This trailer is so typical of an American International Picture, high on exploitation and drama. Formed on April 2, 1954, from American Releasing Corporation (ARC) by James H. Nicholson, former Sales Manager of Realart Pictures, and Samuel Z. Arkoff, an entertainment lawyer. It was dedicated to releasing independently produced, low-budget films.

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Samuel Zachary Arkoff (June 12,1918 – September 16, 2001)

The ARKOFF formula:

  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)

  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)

  • Killing (a modicum of violence)

  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)

  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)

  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)

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The plot of Blacula is the story of Manuwalde (William Marshall), an African Prince. It’s a modern twist on the classic Dracula legend and is told in a very compelling and chilling way.

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William Marshall “Blacula”

In the year 1780, while on a goodwill visit to ask Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to help him suppress the slave trade, (which existed in parts of Africa, like the rest of the world, and was a part of the economic structure of some societies for many centuries), he is refused by the Count. Instead, Manuwalde is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula and wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee) is killed.

Quote – Dracula: You shall pay, black prince. I shall place a curse of suffering on you that will doom you to a living hell. I curse you with my name. You shall be… Blacula!

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The scene then shifts to the year 1972 with two interior decorators from modern-day Los Angeles California traveling to Castle Dracula in Transylvania and unknowingly purchasing the now-undead Mamuwalde’s coffin, which they ship to Los Angeles.

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One of the interior decorators – Could he be Richard Simmons’ twin or what?😄

Later unlocking the coffin, the decorators release Mamuwalde, becoming his first two victims, turning them and the others he encounters into vampires like himself in his bloodthirsty reign of terror. (Wikipedia)

Blacula was released on August 25, 1972, to mixed reviews.  American International Pictures’ marketing department in an effort to ensure that black audiences would be interested in Blacula; created posters for the film including references to slavery, hence, blaxploitation.

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Noted for creating the Blaxploitation horror genre, Blacula debuted at #24 on Variety’s list of top films. It eventually grossed over a million dollars, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1972. A sequel to the film titled Scream Blacula Scream was released in 1973 by American International. The film also stars William Marshall in the title role along with actress and star of (“Foxy Brown” 1974) Pam Grier.

 

Trivia:

Blacula was in production between late January and late March 1972. While Blacula was in its production stages, William Marshall worked with the film producers to make sure his character had some dignity.

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His character name was changed from Andrew Brown to Mamuwalde and his character received a background story about being an African prince who had succumbed to vampirism.

Blacula was shot on location in Los Angeles, with some scenes shot in the Watts neighborhood and the final scenes taken at the Hyperion Outfall Treatment Plant in the beachside, west Los Angeles Playa del Rey.

The Hues Corporation - Blacula 1972

The Hues Corporation 1972

The music for Blacula is unlike that of most horror films as it uses rhythm and blues as opposed to haunting classical music. The film’s soundtrack features a score by Gene Page, who was one of the most prolific arrangers/conductors of popular music during his time and worked on more than 200 gold and platinum records.

A variety of the artists Gene Page worked with:

The Supremes, The Four Tops, Buffalo Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Donna Loren, Martha and the Vandellas, Cher, Barry White, The Love Unlimited Orchestra, Whitney Houston, George Benson, The Jackson Five, Roberta Flack,Elton John, José Feliciano, Leo Sayer, Seals & Croft, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Frankie Valli, Dobie Gray, Peabo Bryson, Lionel Richie, Jeffrey Osborne

Music on the soundtrack also included contributions by The Hues Corporation. They are best known for their 1974 single “Rock the Boat”, which sold over 2 million copies. (Wikipedia)

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In the spirit of Halloween and Throwback ’70’s, check it out. I think you’ll “Dig it”!

“Hail, Hail Freedonia” – Try the Duck Soup!

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Duck Soup (1933)

I was first introduced to the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo) in one of my favorite classes at The University of Michigan – Cinema. It was more like an afternoon of fun at the movies since in our lecture all we did was analyze and critique classic films.

(top to bottom) Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo 1931

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The Marx Brothers laugh riot film, “Duck Soup”, has to go down as one of the best and most hilarious political films of the century! Pure anarchy reigned as the idiocy of war was laid bare and Rufus T. Firefly’s (Groucho Marx) rapid-fire one-liners were pure genius.

Enter Rufus T.

On days we screened The Marx Brothers films, the lecture hall seemed a little bit fuller. I was also guilty of padding the room since I would tell my boyfriend what movie we were reviewing and the Marx Brothers quickly became his and my favorites. “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” Groucho in (“Horse Feathers”1932)

Directed by Leo McCarey and written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the film was first released theatrically by Paramount Pictures on November 17, 1933. The storyline of “Duck Soup” involves the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) insisting that Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) be appointed the leader of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia before she will continue to provide their much-needed financial aid. (Wikipedia)

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Groucho, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, and Raquel Torres

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Meanwhile, neighboring country Sylvania is attempting to annex Freedonia. Sylvanian ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) tries to instigate a revolution while attempting to woo Mrs. Teasdale. To further tip the scale in his favor, he also tries to dig up dirt on Firefly by sending in bumbling spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo).

I adore Harpo (Arthur Duer Marx born Adolph Marx; November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964), he is totally off the wall with his facial expressions and his manic pantomime sight gags! Harpo actually played the harp (hence his nickname) and there was usually a scene in the Marx Brothers movies that featured Harpo playing a beautiful piece on the harp.

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Harpo playing the harp.

Margaret Dumont is often described as not getting the Brothers humor. In fact, she did. In a 1940 interview, Dumont said, “Scriptwriters build up to a laugh, but they don’t allow any pause for it. That’s where I come in. I ad lib—it doesn’t matter what I say—just to kill a few seconds so you can enjoy the gag”.

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Personally, I don’t know how she could keep a straight face working with Groucho.

Margaret Dumont would typically portray the rich widow that Groucho was always trying to dupe. He could simultaneously insult and make advances towards her. It was fabulous to watch since his wit and timing were impeccable.

Julius Henry Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977)

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Premiering during The Depression, “Duck Soup” was not initially received as well as their previous films. However, critical opinion has evolved and the film has since achieved the status of a classic. “Duck Soup is now widely considered by critics to be a masterpiece of comedy and the Marx Brothers’ finest film. (Wikipedia)

In 1990 the United States Library of Congress deemed Duck Soup “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Chico and Zeppo round out the troupe. Chico was known for being the crafty con artist (who was usually teamed with Harpo) and for his broken Italian accent (although the Brothers were Jewish) and Zeppo, who always played the straight man. (This was also Zeppo’s last film with his brothers)

In the famous “mirror scene,” Pinky, dressed as Firefly, pretends to be Firefly’s reflection in a missing mirror, matching his every move—including absurd ones that begin out of sight—to near perfection. In one particularly surreal moment, the two men swap positions, and thus the idea of which is a reflection of the other. Eventually, and to their misfortune, Chicolini, also disguised as Firefly, enters the frame and collides with both of them.

Although its appearance in Duck Soup is the best-known instance, the concept of the mirror scene did not originate in this film. Max Linder included it in Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), where a man’s servants have accidentally broken a mirror and attempt to hide the fact by imitating his actions in the mirror’s frame. Charlie Chaplin used a similar joke in The Floorwalker (1916), though it did not involve a mirror. (Wikipedia)

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“Just Wait ‘Til I Get Through With It” parodies the ridiculous state of politics and sounds all too familiar.

I admit to being a political junkie and the Marx Brothers humor and point of view ring true in how ludicrous and corrupt the political system is. We know it’s a racket, the Brothers know it’s a racket and they have no compunction with sticking that fact right in your face.

Bravo!

If you’re interested in binge-watching The Marx Brothers, Universal Home Video has released Duck Soup on DVD, unrestored but uncut, as part of a six-disc box set The Marx Brothers: Silver Screen Collection, which includes the Brothers’ other Paramount films, The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, and Horse Feathers. Definitely worthy of the buy.

 

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Happy Viewing!

 

“Here ’tis, Mama’s Favorite 285 lbs of Jam, Jive and Everything!”🎶

Fats suffer

Fats Waller 

(May 21, 1904 – December 15, 1943)

The title sums it up. “Jam, Jive and Everything!.”  Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller is one of the most charming, talented and prolific artists to ever tickle the ivories of a stride piano.

We share a birthday – May 21st.  His last recording session was in Detroit, Michigan – home of my birth. I guess it was destiny that his music and spirit would come to bring me such joy!

What excites me about Fats?

When I was a kid and first saw the groundbreaking musical Stormy Weather (1943) I was familiar with its star Lena Horne because my father loved him some Miss Lena. But for me, the wonderful surprise of the film was Fats Waller.

Fats Waller and Lena Horne

When you see him you’re totally invested.  His personality jumps off the screen.  People talk about presence.  Fats created “presence!”

Fats is credited with advancing the musical style – stride piano.  Although known for his two most famous compositions:  “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, he penned many more uncredited hits such as “I Can’t Give You Anything but love, Baby” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street”.

Waller copyrighted over 400 songs and began his professional career as a pianist at the age of 15, working in cabarets and theaters.

His life and artistry became the Broadway musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin‘ produced in 1978.  (The show and star Nell Carter won Tony Awards.)

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Recordings of Fats Waller were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame which is a special Grammy Award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have “qualitative or historical significance”.

 

Here ’tis, a tribute to Fats’ brilliance and charm:

 

Fats Waller – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Stormy Weather (1943)

 

This song cracks me up!

Fats Waller – Your Feet’s Too Big! (1936)

 

Fats Waller – Honeysuckle Rose (1929)

 

Thanks, Fats for the jam, jive, and everything!

R.E.S.P.E.C.T – Aretha Franklin – Queen of Soul RIH💜🎶

Aretha Louise Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018)

 

Growing up in Detroit, Michigan in the 1960’s, every day on my radio I jammed to the greatest music of all time; Motown, Sam Cooke, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, and, the incomparable Aretha Franklin. She sang from the very depths of her soul becoming an icon and forever soundtrack of our lives.

Aretha began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C. L. Franklin, was the minister. In 1960, at the age of 18, she embarked on a secular career, recording for Columbia Records.

After signing to Atlantic Records in 1967, Ms. Franklin achieved commercial acclaim and success with songs such as “Respect”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Spanish Harlem” and “Think”. By the end of the 1960s, she was being called “the Queen of Soul“.

Recording 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 top ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries and 20 number-one R&B singles, Aretha became the most charted female artist in the chart’s history. She won 18 Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide.

Aretha received numerous honors throughout her career including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which she became the first female performer to be inducted. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

In August 2012, Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame and listed in at least two all-time lists on Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Today we both mourn and celebrate the life of a musical pioneer, Civil Rights Activist, and without dispute the reigning Queen of Soul.

Let’s take a look back at her remarkable career and journey through the soul-stirring music of Ms. Aretha “Queen of Soul” Franklin.

 

A Century of Black Filmmakers🎞

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA

Directed by Richard Norman, Richard Maurice, Spencer Williams and Oscar Micheaux

This collection of the works of America’s legendary first African-American filmmakers is the only one of its kind. Funded in part by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, the packaged set includes no fewer than a dozen feature-length films and nearly twice as many shorts and rare fragments. Subject matter includes race issues that went unaddressed by Hollywood for decades.

Spencer Williams Films

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Spencer Williams

Spencer Williams (July 14, 1893 – December 13, 1969) was an American actor and filmmaker. He was best known for playing Andy in the Amos ‘n Andy television show and for directing the 1941 race film “The Blood of Jesus”. Williams was a pioneer African-American film producer and director. (Wikipedia)

The Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection includes new digital restorations of over a dozen feature films, plus shorts, fragments, trailers, documentary footage, archival interviews, and audio recordings.

This clip is a scene from Richard Maurice’s ELEVEN P.M. (circa 1928). It is regarded by historian Henry T. Sampson as one of the most outstanding black films of the silent era and is Maurice’s second and only surviving film.

Eleven P. M is one of more than a dozen feature films showcased in Kino Lorber’s five-disc collection PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA, now available at KinoLorber.com and Amazon.com. Music is by Rob Gal. Mastered from 35mm film elements preserved by the Library of Congress.

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Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Devereaux Micheaux (January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) was an African American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Although the short-lived Micheaux Book & Film Company produced some films, he is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century and the most prominent producer of race films. He produced both silent films and sound films when the industry changed to incorporate speaking actors. (Wikipedia)

These films and filmmakers deserve to be remembered, honored and explored. Their contributions play a significant role in the development of the American cinema.

For more on the history of African-American Cinema: