We Are Not Alone: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Forbidden Planet

Today on TCM, two of my favorite sci-fI movies air, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Forbidden Planet.  They approach their aliens from distinctly different angles but share characteristics that have always kept them at or near the top of my favorite sci-fi movies list.  The fact that I saw both of them for the first time in 1977 might be one of the reasons I have always thought of them in the same breath but there are other reasons, too, and I believe that both exemplify the best that science fiction cinema has to offer.

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All My Favorites in One Place: The Best Casts Ever Assembled

A few months ago, I wrote a piece here on some of my favorite ensembles of supporting players where the leads were far from my favorite thing.  I focused on how with certain movies, the main story didn’t grab me but the great supporting cast did.  Well, as I wrote that I already had in mind a piece on my favorite casts, period, the ones in which I love pretty much every lead and supporting player in the enterprise.  Still, I didn’t think about it far beyond that original post until coming upon a movie on the schedule today and everything came flooding back in.  The movie is The Wild Bunch and it’s one of my favorite movies, the kind that becomes a favorite from the moment you see it and remains so through multiple viewings down the road.  And one of the reasons it’s such a favorite is that cast.  One of the best casts ever assembled.

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The History Behind Watching Movies

How often have we decided to watch or not watch a movie based on nothing more than a feeling?  This movie or that movie may have gotten excellent reviews or recommendations from trusted companions that it’s incredibly fun and entertaining but we decide we’d rather watch this tried and true personal favorite instead.  This has happened to me dozens of times.  I forsake the viewing of an unknown quantity with the viewing of a known quantity, and a personal favorite at that.   Now, how many times has actual history, as in the history you study in school and read about in large volumes written by scholars and historians, influenced the decision?  If you’re me, the answer is still “dozens of times.”  Some movies I will watch in an instant if it involves some kind of historical recreation that fascinates me.  Others, I won’t even bother.

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Your Mother Should Know

As we look forward to a day of programming from TCM in which Mildred Pierce and I Remember Mama both play as a nod to Mother’s Day (what, no Stella Dallas?!), I look back to the programming that made its way into my head every day throughout my youth, programming of the old school kind.   The kind that came from my mom.  You see, while my dad was a great guy who enjoyed movies to the extent that anyone on earth enjoys movies, my mom really loved the cinema and it was her early influence on me that guided me towards my own love of cinema and where I am today.

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There’s a Lesson to be Learned Here

When we think of message movies, we tend to think of the Stanley Kramer variety where a serious social issue is dealt with heavy-handedly by an all-star cast letting us know it’s time for a lesson in civics that sorely needs to be learned.   They aren’t all like that, of course.  Sometimes the message is interwoven into a movie that deals with its characters and story first and puts the message in service of the plot and not the other way around.  Crossfire, for instance, which airs today on TCM, is a thriller first, a message movie second.  But what about all those movies that so subtly hide their message they’re not considered message movies at all?  They still have lessons for us, if you know where to look.

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Wait, that’s what it’s about?!

We all make mistakes.  I’ve made far too many to count at this point in my life but we learn from our mistakes as well.  Sometimes, at least.  One mistake I have repeatedly made in the world of cinema is not fully investigating what a movie is about before deciding whether or not to see it.  I don’t mean reading up on the plot, I mean just a basic idea of the story.   In many of these cases, when I finally discovered, by finally watching the movie, what it was really about, I was annoyed at myself that I hadn’t seen it sooner.  Today, Peter Weir’s 1977 masterpiece, The Last Wave, airs today on TCM.  It’s the poster movie for this kind of thing with me and when I finally watched it, it became an instant favorite.  The same has happened for many others.

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An American Blogger in Paris

If I don’t respond to comments on this post right away, you’ll have to forgive me, I’ll be in France.  Paris, to be exact.  I can’t let David Kalat have all the fun.  I won’t be painting on the sidewalk, dancing with French school children, or staging a triumphant grand finale set to the music of Gershwin but in my heart, the movies will inform my every move.  I’ve never been to Paris before but it’s my lovely wife’s birthday this weekend and that’s what she’s wanted to do for years so that’s what we’re doing. Until now, I’ve only known Paris from the movies.  And the movies have made it irresistible.  But then, that’s what movies do.  They take a location most of us are unfamiliar with, and transform it into something special. As big as Paris, New York, and London are, the fact is most of the several billion people who live on the planet don’t live in any one of them.  Most have probably never even visited them.  But the movies have made us all cosmopolitan.  As I discover the real Paris, let’s revisit some of the sites the movies have glamorized and why I’d like to visit those fictional real places more than the real real places.

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On the Waterfront (1954): A Poster Gallery

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I’m unapologetically biased when it comes to On the Waterfront (1954). I’m well aware of the controversy surrounding the production but I firmly believe it’s one of the greatest American films of the 1950s and on April 24 and 27 Turner Classic Movies in association with Fathom Events and Sony Pictures Entertainment will be bringing this American classic to theaters across the country for a special two-day event. Both screenings will include an exclusive commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz explaining how the film, which was shot in just 36 days, has had such a long-lasting cultural impact. Tickets are available at the Fathom Events website.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this powerful and provocative movie on the big screen I highly recommend doing so. You might think you understand what made Marlon Brando such a commanding screen presence but until you’ve had the opportunity to see him strut and fret for more than an hour on the big screen, I don’t think you can fully appreciate what made him a Hollywood trailblazer and acting heavyweight. But don’t just come to watch Brando at his best. There are many more reasons to see On the Waterfront including Elia Kazan’s outstanding direction, Boris Kaufman’s moody black and white cinematography, Budd Schulberg’s potent script, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling score and a top-notch cast of supporting players that include Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger and Lee J. Cobb firing on all-cylinders while delivering some of their finest screen work.

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Barrymore Best: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

ss17Ethel Barrymore & Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase (1946)

This month Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting “The Best of the Barrymores.” The Barrymore family regularly appears on TCM but every Monday evening throughout April viewers can tune in and catch a selection of films featuring one or more of the Barrymore siblings in some of their best roles. Next Monday (April 18) the TCM spotlight will shine on Ethel Barrymore and one of the films scheduled to air is The Spiral Staircase (1946) at 10 PM EST/7 PM PST.

The Spiral Staircase is a longtime favorite of mine and the film has been hailed as a prototype for many of the best giallo; the Italian genre films that I touched on just last week in a piece titled Death Walk Twice: A Giallo Double Feature. With thoughts of murder and black-gloved killers still running through my mind, it seemed like a good time to revisit this classic thriller that features an Academy Award nominated performance by Ethel Barrymore as the bedridden matriarch of a wealthy family that is concealing some unsavory secrets.

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Hitchcock’s One Set Wonders

Today, TCM runs one of Hitchcock’s biggest hits of the forties, the suspense wartime thriller with Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, and John Hodiak, Lifeboat.  Lifeboat is notable for taking place entirely on one confined set, the lifeboat that all of our characters are aboard for the duration.  I can’t even imagine the story board sessions for a movie like this but it would be a daunting assignment for any director to undertake a movie where the setting just doesn’t change.  At all.  Fortunately, Alfred Hitchcock was at the helm so everything worked out just fine.  Indeed, Lifeboat is one of my favorite one set wonders, though admittedly, I don’t have many.  A film that takes place at the same location from start to finish needs to have crackling writing, enthusiastic and energetic acting, or virtuoso cinematography or all three.  Otherwise, it’s going to be a long two hours.

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