List: Killer Robots in the Movies

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 8:00 am

Many thanks to William Topaz and inmyarea.com for inviting me to create a list of killer robots in the movies. Of course it has classics like “Terminator” and “Metropolis,” and some off-beat choices like the Fembots in “Austin Powers,” but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one to include “What a Way to Go!” with Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine.

Actor Paul Newman & actress Shirley MacLaine in a scene from What A Way to Go. (Photo by Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
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Get Ready for “First Man” With These Moon Shot Movies

Posted on October 5, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Copyright 2018 Amblin Entertainment

“La La Land” director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling have teamed up again for “First Man,” the story of Neil Amstrong and the 1969 Apollo 11 voyage to the moon. Get ready for space travel with these outstanding fact-based films — they are not only true stories; they are some of my very favorites:

Hidden Figures One group of braniacs figured out how to build the rocket, another figured out how to create the fuel necessary to make the almost half a million mile round trip. And a whole other group had to figure out how to hit the target, so that fully fueled rocket ship would not bypass the moon and go hurtling off into the universe. The remarkable story of the math people, including brilliant black women, is told in this warm-hearted and inspiring film.

The Dish Another story of the unsung heroes of the space race is this utterly charming film about the Australian crew who ran the satellite dish that allowed the footage of the moon landing to be shown around the world.

The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe’s ground-breaking book about the earliest days of the space program, including the selection of the first group of astronauts is the source for this film, written and directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Quaid, Pamela Reed, and Sam Shepard.

Apollo 13 Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and Ed Harris star in the gripping story of a flight to the moon that went terribly wrong. “Failure is not an option,” said Flight Director Gene Kranz. Even though we know they came home safely, the film will keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the Shadow of the Moon This British documentary about the history of the Apollo program with archival footage and interviews with people who made it happen.

From the Earth to the Moon This brilliant miniseries from “Apollo 13” star and space geek Tom Hanks looks at the space program from many different angles, including the press, the government contractors, and the wives of the astronauts. The last episode is a poignant parallel story that includes the making of Georges Melies’ classic of the same name.

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The Four Previous Versions of “A Star Is Born”(Plus the Real Story)

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
One of the biggest films of the year is the latest version of “A Star is Born,” written and directed by Bradley Cooper and co-starring Cooper and Lady Gaga. The story of the fading star with substance abuse problems who helps — and loves — a talented newcomer has been filmed under that title twice before, and once before that as “What Price Hollywood?” And it is inspired by the true story of two of the biggest names in show business in the 1920’s-30’s.

What Price Hollywood? George Cukor directed the version starring Constance Bennet as a Brown Derby waitress who meets director Lowell Sherman when she waits on him at the restaurant. While this is not explicitly the source of the following versions, and the waitress and director do not get married (because he is too noble), the essence of the story is all there, including (SPOILER ALERT) the suicide of the male character.

A Star is Born

Dorothy Parker and her husband were two of the scriptwriters who worked on the glossy drama starring Frederic March and Janet Gaynor that has been the basis for three remakes (so far). She’s a waitress who catches the eye of a fading movie star. He gets her a screen test, the studio changes her name, he embarrasses her at an award ceremony, and when his drinking gets worse, she quits her job to care for him.

A Star is Born

Broadway legend Moss Hart contributed to this musical update, again directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It’s long and unwieldy (some excised scenes were partially added for re-release), but it has unforgettable moments like this one.

A Star is Born

Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson star in the 1976 version, which won an Oscar for Best Song. Reportedly, she tried to persuade Elvis Presley to take the role.

A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper says he was inspired to make the film by being backstage at a Metallica concert. He wrote, directed and stars opposite Lady Gaga. She may repeat her predecessor’s experience with a Best Song Oscar for this one.

Certainly there are many possible inspirations for the story, but most people think that one of the likeliest possibilities is the marriage of Al Jolson, one of the biggest stars in the country during the era of vaudeville and radio, and Ruby Keeler, who became a huge star in the early days of talkies.

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Ann Hornaday Updates the Movie Canon

Posted on August 21, 2018 at 8:11 pm

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday wrote about the new “canon” films, the ones she thinks will be ranked with the best there ever were.  Of course any list or ranking will cause more debate than it leaves out, but it is fun to see which films she thinks will show up “Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” in future “best of all times” lists.  Her list includes acclaimed films like “Spirited Away,” “Boyhood,” “Children of Men,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but what makes it fun to read are her descriptions of what makes each film so memorable.

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Movie MVP of the Month: American Sign Language in “Rampage” and “A Quiet Place”

Posted on April 11, 2018 at 8:22 am

Two April movies feature ASL (American Sign Language), the beautiful, complex language based on hands, gestures, and facial expressions that is used by Deaf and non-speaking people in America and English-speaking Canada. “A Quiet Place” is about a family trying to survive in a world overrun with vicious blind animals who attack by using their hyper-acute hearing. So they communicate via ASL, which they all know because they have a Deaf daughter, played by Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds of “Wonderstruck.”

In this week’s “Rampage,” the primatologist played by Dwayne Johnson uses ASL to communicate with an ape called George, along the lines of the famous experiments with Koko the gorilla and Washoe the chimp.

And the 2017 Oscar-winner for Best Picture and Best Director was “The Shape of Water,” which also featured ASL, as Sally Hawkins played a mute woman who communicated with a highly evolved amphibian.

Other movies featuring character using ASL to communicate include: “Children of a Lesser God,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Johnny Bedelia,” “The Miracle Worker,” and “Baby Driver.”

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