Bill Paxton: Scene Stealer

ONE FALSE MOVE (1992)

I remember the first time I recognized Bill Paxton in a film. In Near Dark (1987) Paxton played Severin, a member of a roving band of vampires in love with the night, the nomadic lifestyle and the violence of their existence. “Turned” into a vampire decades earlier, Paxton’s character seemed a remnant of the Wild West crossed with a biker—the ultimate bad boy. Using his Texas drawl to great effect, Paxton portrayed the character as simultaneously cool, frightening and funny. I had seen Paxton in Streets of Fire (1984) as Clyde the Bartender and in Aliens (1986) as one of the gung-ho marines, but Near Dark made me a diehard fan.

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Resurrecting The Stunt Man (1980)

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The theme of this semester’s campus film series that I co-direct with my fellow faculty member and partner-in-crime is “Movies About the Movies.” So, I was excited to discover that The Stunt Man (1980) is currently streaming on FilmStruck. Directed by maverick filmmaker Richard Rush, The Stunt Man stars Steve Railsback as a Vietnam vet on the drift who runs afoul of the law. When he stumbles onto the set of a movie shooting on location, the director takes him on as a stunt man to hide him from the police. A raging egomaniac, the director is played by Peter O’Toole, who brings charm, charisma and a dark streak to the roguish Eli Cross.

I first saw The Stunt Man in Chicago in the fall of 1980 in a preview screening arranged by Twentieth Century Fox. Rush was there to introduce the film and to answer questions afterward. He had spent several months that year previewing the film on his own to prove to potential distributors that it would draw audiences. He had been to Seattle, Phoenix and Columbus, and he also arranged for test runs in Seattle and Los Angeles. Finally, Fox negotiated a deal after the L.A. run drew good reviews and packed theaters.

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Stardust Memories (1980): Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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There’s something really special about transitional films in a director’s filmography, and it almost always drives critics insane when those movies first open. Case in point: Stardust Memories (1980), Woody Allen’s first film of the 1980s (or last of the 1970s if that’s how you prefer to count decades) and a challenging gauntlet thrown down by the director after two of his ambitious films, the austere drama Interiors (1978) and his most iconic ode to his favorite city, Manhattan (1979). There was a lot of chatter at the time about the “Serious Woody Allen” (the name of a little retrospective running right here, by the way), with admirers and detractors alike honing in on the increasing Ingmar Bergman influence that had been dotted through several of his films before leaping to the forefront in both Love and Death (1975) and Interiors. So what did Allen do? He pulled a Fellini instead, and for years, no one knew what to make of it. [...MORE]

Redemption and Sacrifice in the Cinema: Babette’s Feast (1987)

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Each January 1st, as we ring in the new year and cast out the old, my mind always drifts to the idea of redemption. The new year is an easy marking point for a new beginning and as everyone knows, most people have great energy at the start that slowly grinds down towards inaction. We have high hopes but rarely the ability, or time, or urgent need, to follow through. And so another year goes by and we set ourselves up for another shot at redemption. If we’re lucky, we’ll achieve some measure of it every few years. Maybe. For me, the idea of redemption and sacrifice, of starting anew and casting out the old, has never been told better in the movies than in Gabriel Axel’s 1987 adaption of Isak Dinesen’s story, Babette’s Feast.

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Giving Thanks for Eating Raoul (1982)

EATING RAOUL, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, 1982, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All ri

Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a shout out to a film I’m particularly grateful for: Eating Raoul (1982). Sure, it might not be the most obvious choice for holiday viewing, but it’s all about the importance of family, the rewards of the entrepreneurial spirit and the message that in America, anybody can succeed with enough determination and can-do attitude. What could be more patriotic than that? [...MORE]

The Opera Ghost Requests Your Presence

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It’s October, and you know what that means: spooky movies all month long! Every horror fan of a certain age has a favorite movie monster they first encountered as a child: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and of course, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. For me it was the Phantom of the Opera, whom I met in a number of cinematic guises before I was out of elementary school. The combination of grotesque horror, cliffhanger thrills, and doomed romance is like catnip to an impressionable young viewer.  Now it’s a fine chance to make the Phantom’s acquaintance right now, since TCM’s running the Lon Chaney silent version on October 7, and Herbert Lom’s turn in 1962 just made its Blu-ray bow in a sparkling new presentation as part of Universal’s Hammer horror set.

So here we go with a few thoughts about the many faces of the Phantom we’ve seen over the past century, and what’s remarkable about this seemingly immortal character is the fact that every significant movie adaptation has turned out to have something of value. [...MORE]

Panning for Gold with Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

Eureka 1 I have a real soft spot for that strange period after the ‘70s when all the British filmmaking enfants terribles tried to wedge their styles into a movie landscape that had radically changed in front of them. Ken Russell tore into the American cinematic arena with Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984); Lindsay Anderson veered from satirical outrage with Britannia Hospital (1982) to genteel drama with The Whales of August (1987); John Boorman went phantasmagorical with Excalibur (1981) and primitive with The Emerald Forest (1985); Derek Jarman dispensed with narrative entirely for The Angelic Conversation (1985) and The Last of England (1988). Then there’s the strange case of Nicolas Roeg, who was riding high after the triple punch of Walkabout (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Needless to say, the early ‘80s took him in some very surprising directions, first with the very ill-received Bad Timing (1980), which is now regarded as a transgressive classic, and what remains one of his most neglected and misunderstood films, Eureka (1983), airing on TCM in the appropriately wee hours of Friday. [...MORE]

Tripping through England with The Wrong Box and Time Bandits

The Wrong Box This Saturday you’ll have a great opportunity to take a little crash course in British comedy courtesy of a double feature of two period films (more or less): Time Bandits (1981) and The Wrong Box (1966). In addition to featuring once-in-a lifetime rosters of talent in front of and behind the camera, both are the result of some of England’s most enduring contributions to comedic pop culture in radio, TV, and film, showing how profoundly media could shape the approach to screen humor from one decade to the next. [...MORE]

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May 14, 2016
David Kalat
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David Kalat’s Day Off

So this week, on May 15 and 18th, TCM is teaming up with Fathom Events to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller’s Day off by returning it to theaters for a select engagement.  You can click this link to find a local screening and book your tickets.  And, in honor of this event, I’m taking the day off.  See y’all later!

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Greetings, Movie Morlocks readers. I am Julie Stapel, the only member of the Stapel-Kalat family not to have guest blogged here. And what better time to do it than now—when David has gone on a madcap Chicago adventure just like our protagonist Ferris Bueller (see photos).

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off means a great deal to me and I’m happy for the opportunity to talk about why. First, a bit of origin story on me. I grew up in Columbia City, Indiana, a bodaciously small town (to quote Charles de Mar in another of my favorite movies, Better Off Dead). Growing up, Chicago was my Shangri-La—mythical, perfect. I was fortunate to take both family and school trips to Chicago with some frequency when I was growing up. I would cry as soon as the skyline came into view and again as the skyline faded into the distance as we were going home. Now I commute in every day for work and it still gets me sometime. It’s an impossibly beautiful city.

So imagine my delight when, in 1986, when I was 16, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, was released. Of course, Columbia City had no movie theater at the time so we had to go to Fort Wayne to see it. (Fort Wayne is very nice too but never had the ability to quite capture my heart with its skyline). Not only was I precisely in the John Hughes age demographic, but the movie is a love letter to Chicago with its sweeping aerial shots of the lake and the city that served no narrative purpose at all. They were just beautiful. I saw it at least 5 times in the theater and dozens of times on TV and video in the years since then, including with my own children who never had to long for Chicago.

Now I’m no film scholar and my observations are a bit meandering, but here goes . . . .

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KEYWORDS: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, John Hughes, Matthew Broderick
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Happy Birthday, Burt Lancaster

burtatlanticcity1No Golden Age movie star projected vitality, vigor, and a lust for life more heartily than Burt Lancaster, born on this date in 1913. With his dazzling smile and handsome Irish looks, he was destined to be a movie star. The mere mention of his name conjures up his most iconic roles, such as the title characters in Elmer Gantry or The Birdman of Alcatraz. Movie lovers know that he began his career in film noir, playing the Swede in The Killers and Joe Collins in Brute Force. Reviewers took notice of the devilishly good-looking actor, referring to him as a “brawny Apollo.” Though he tried to play against this image by starring as the acid-tongued gossip columnist in Sweet Smell of Success or as a working-class brute in The Rose Tattoo, it was an image difficult for fans to forget. Lancaster can be seen this month on TCM in The Professionals (November 29, 8:00pm) and in Three Girls and a Sailor, in which he appears in a cameo as himself (November 19, 6:15pm).

In the 1980s and 1990s, his career took an interesting turn. He appeared in the films of young directors who cast the aging actor because of his status as a fabled movie star. In Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams, Lancaster costarred as Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, a baseball player who played only one game during his pro career before retiring to become a doctor. As an icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Lancaster was much like his character, who represented the glory days of baseball. In Daniel Petrie’s Rocket Gibraltar, Lancaster starred as the dying patriarch of a dysfunctional family who demands a Viking funeral. Who would be more deserving of a mythic funeral than a movie star from Hollywood’s most mythic era?

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