Great Characters: Eve Arden

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

You know the character of the leading lady’s wisecracking best friend? No one ever filled that role better than Eve Arden (real name: Eunice Quedens), whose birthday we celebrate today. Seen-it-all but not cynical, she was the ideal sidekick for stars like Jimmy Stewart (“Anatomy of a Murder”), Katharine Hepburn (“Stage Door”), or Joan Crawford (she was Oscar-nominated for “Mildred Pierce”). On radio and then on television, she played “Our Miss Brooks,” the teacher who often battled with crusty principal Mr. Conklin and a crush on meek science teacher Mr. Boynton. It was this role that inspired her appearance as the principal in “Grease.” (more…)

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The Red Balloon

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 2:09 pm

B+

red%20balloon.jpgTwo recent films showed the influence of this classic French film about a little boy befriended by a red balloon and now the original is available on DVD for the first time. “CJ7” from China and “The Flight of the Red Balloon” from France (with a Taiwanese director) both make direct visual references to the 1956 short film, the only Oscar-winner for best screenplay without a single line of dialogue.

The Red Balloon is the story of a lonely boy (Pascal Lamorisse, son of writer/director Albert Lamorisse) who finds a large red balloon on the way to school. It has a mind of its own, following him to school like Mary’s little lamb, waiting patiently for him outside his bedroom window when his mother will not allow it in the house. The balloon is an imaginative and playful friend. When it is attacked by bullies, it seems that Pascal’s friend is lost. But an unforgettably joyous ending reminds Pascal of the power of friendship.

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Astaire and Rogers: La Belle, La Perfectly Swell Romance

Posted on April 27, 2008 at 8:00 am

They said she gave him sex and he gave her class. In eight heavenly movies from the 1930’s at RKO Studios and then with one more — their only one in color — at MGM, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced and sang in some of the most deliciously entertaining movies ever made. We know right from the beginning that these two are destined to be together. But it usually takes them about 90 minutes to figure it out.

One thing they did better than anyone else before or since was to convey the beginning of a relationship through dance. Watch this number from “Top Hat.” As in most of their films, Astaire is already very attracted to Rogers when this scene begins, but she has no interest in him and finds his attentions annoying. As they begin to dance, she sees who he is for the first time and he learns that they are even more right for each other than he had hoped. In most romantic movies, there is some witty repartee to symbolize the deep connection between the couple. But here, it is all done with music (Irving Berlin’s delightful “Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain?”) and dance.

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The Pixar Story: tonight at 10 on STARZ

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 8:00 am

The most successful movie studio in Hollywood history is Pixar, which created the first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story. Every one of their films has not only made money, but every one has made over $100 million. What is even more stunning is that every one of them has been based on original material. Unlike the Disney animated classics, they never relied on familiar stories and characters with a pre-sold audience. But every one of their movies has provided audiences with stories filled with heart and insight and characters that immediately felt like old friends. Like Disney, which now owns the Pixar studio, it pioneered stunning technology in animation and filled its movies with extraordinary images but always remembered that the most important part of the movie is its story.
For the first time, a documentary goes behind the scenes at Pixar, featuring exclusive interviews with John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs (of Apple), George Lucas (“Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, current Disney CEO Bob Iger, Brad Bird of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and voice talents Tom Hanks, and Tim Allen (Toy Story) and Billy Crystal (Monsters, Inc.). Made by Leslie Iwerks, the Oscar-nominated granddaughter of animation pioneer Ub Iwerks, Pixar’s history is placed in the context of animation as an art form.

(more…)

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The Miracle Worker

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some violence, characters injured
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 23, 1962

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the birth of one of the most extraordinary teachers in American history, Annie Sullivan, who gave a little blind and deaf girl the power of language. William Gibson, who wrote two plays about the teacher and her student, says that when people refer to “The Miracle Worker” as “the play about Helen Keller,” he replies, “If it was about her, it would be called ‘The Miracle Workee.'” Sullivan, herself visually impaired, was first in her class at the Perkins School for the Blind. When she went to work for the Keller family she was just 21 years old. And Keller, who was blind and deaf due to an illness when she was 19 months old. When Sullivan arrived, Keller was almost completely wild, without any ability to communicate or any understanding that communication beyond grabbing and hitting was possible.

Every family should watch the extraordinary film about what happened next, and read more about Keller, who, with Sullivan’s help, graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude and became an author and a world figure.

Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars for their performances as Sullivan and Keller, repeating their Broadway roles and Duke later played Sullivan in a made-for-television adaptation. In this scene, after months of teaching Keller to fingerspell words, Sullivan is finally able to show her that language will give her the ability to communicate, with a new world of relationships, feelings, and learning. No teacher ever bestowed a greater gift.

Monday After the Miracle is Gibson’s sequel to the play, and Keller’s own book is called The Story of My Life. There is a photobiography of Sullivan called Helen’s Eyes.

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