Annie Live! was a mostly wonderful TV version of the classic Broadway musical
Having seen the previous filmed versions of Annie and enjoying them all, Mom and I finally watched this live TV version on DVR just about now and we really enjoyed it as well! Celina Smith was really enjoyable in the title role in both acting and singing performance. Ditto, Harry Connick Jr. As Daddy Warbucks and it was great seeing him play the piano as well. I'm guessing this was the first time that number about previous president Herbert Hoover was first presented outside Broadway since I didn't remember that particular number in those previous filmed versions. Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan wasn't bad but I think I liked Carol Burnett and Kathy Bates' versions better. (Cameron Diaz was pretty adequate in the modern version though wasn't too bad) Only bloopers were some technical scene changes as well as some audio problems in some numbers. And why wasn't the dog Sandy used much? Still, Mom and I really enjoyed Annie Live!
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 16: John Randolph Bray's The Artist's Dream
Having witnessed Windsor McCay's animated endeavors, J. R. Bray started making his own cartoons starting with this one. It begins in live-action at a party with several people dancing except for one person who starts drawing a dog, drawers and a closet as well as a plate of sausages. Oh, also a fly and a rat! When he falls asleep the drawings move...This was pretty entertaining though the best part was when that fly lands on the dog's tail and makes the dog chase that tail! Bray had formed his own studio and would employ such legendary animation giants like Walter Lantz, Paul Terry, and Max Fleischer during this period before they all left for their own studios. Anyway, The Artist's Dreams is recommended for animation fans.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 15: Thomas H. Ince's The Struggle
Thomas Ince had been making westerns during this period. In this one, while the father and teen boy are prospecting for gold, the mother is at home taking care of it while a stranger comes over and is offered food. After finishing his meal, he then takes advantage of the mother's generosity and starts to kiss her which she then slaps him so he then becomes even more violent with her. The boy witnesses this and tells the father. I'll stop there and just mention that a few years pass after that sequence so the boy grows up and then has to deal with some consequences as well as an Indian attack. Ince keeps the action going throughout for some exciting moments. Not great but The Struggle is a rousing time passer.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 14: Alice Guy-Blache's Making an American Citizen
In this one, a man and woman from another country decide to settle in America. The man is abusive to his wife to the point that when another man notices, he tries to take care of the woman and then beats the man treating him for his own taste of medicine. This same scenario is played in various settings until the man gets a jail sentence. You can probably guess what happens from there. Supposedly, what I just described is meant to be humorous but I found nothing funny happening. It's certainly fascinating the changes happening when it does though whether one finds that believable or not certainly depends if one can really believe one can change for the better. Because of the male character's subsequent treatment, one could suppose he would truly learn his lesson if he spent enough time where he did near the end. I certainly would like to believe that could be the case. So on that note, I recommend Making an American Citizen.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 13: Alice Guy-Blache's A Fool and His Money
Six years after Alice Guy made The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ at Gaumont in France, she'd be settling in America with hubby Herbert Blache where they'd eventually form their own studio called Solax in Fort Lee, New Jersey where many of the American movie studios were also settled at during this period. Among the films made there was this-perhaps one of the earliest pictures to feature an all-Black cast (notice though how the female lead is light-skinned and could possibly pass for White if she desired). The story concerns Sam Jones (James Russell) who's rejected by a lady named Lindy until Sam finds some money far outside her home on a sidewalk. So he spends that money for new clothes and jewelry to impress her which indeed happens. I'll stop there and just say that this was quite funny concerning the "tables turned" scenario and despite the make-up of the cast, there's nothing really racial concerning story and characterization (though it's possible some could argue otherwise concerning a later card game). For years, this was a lost film until 2000. Having just watched this on YouTube, I now say A Fool and His Money is worth seeing.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 12: Edwin S. Porter, Phillips Smalley, and Lois Weber's The Price
Lois Weber was a pioneer among American female film directors. She made many distinguished pictures during the silent era. Working with Edwin S. Porter and her husband Phillips Smalley, they helmed this tale of a farm woman meeting a ranch man as they marry and have a child. Five years later, a male stranger meets that same woman and then takes her to town. I'll stop there and just say that while the story seems simple enough, it's filled with some touching anguish-especially near the end-that makes this worth seeing. The way some scenes are lighted-in shades of blue and light brown-are quite effective. The acting by the real-life married couple of Phillips and Lois does what it does quite effectively for the time. Perhaps some more time could have been done to make the narrative more compelling. Still, I recommend The Price.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 11: Thomas H. Ince's The Dream
After previously working at Biograph, both actress Mary Pickford and director Thomas H. Ince moved to a company founded by Carl Laemmle-who would later form Universal Pictures-with the initials IMP (Independant Motion Picture Company). Here, Ms. Pickford plays basically two roles: a neglected wife and that same woman acting more like her husband when he gets drunk in a dream sequence. That husband was played by her real-life spouse at the time, Owen Moore who himself was basically playing his real-life self. When doing the dream sequence, Ms. Pickford can be quite funny when doing the same kind of obnoxious things her hubby does while Moore seems to overdo his drunkiness a little (hard to tell if he might have really been under the weather during those scenes). Under Ince's direction, the beats concerning the eventual rehabilitation seemed too good to be true. Still, it's quite a fascinating look at Ms. Pickford's early career. And I may review another of Ince's work later on...
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 10: D. W. Griffith's Two Memories
This version I watched of this film had no music score playing so I watched this one completely silent. This gist of it was that a dying man writes a letter to his former lover hoping to see her again. That woman is quite popular with society and when she reads the letter, she laughs at it in front of them. But she goes to see him with her party following...This was one of Griffith's early forms of cross-cutting (between that dying man and his former partner laughing at his letter) that made him quite an innovator at the time. Perhaps too short to really make one feel for what's happening but quite good at conveying what's going on, nonetheless. Among the revelers was one Mary Pickford in one of her early film roles. She'd eventually become one of the earliest of what one would refer to now as a superstar of her profession. So on that note, Two Memories is worth a look for anyone who's a serious film buff.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 9: D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett's The Curtain Pole
This was perhaps one of the earliest forms of slapstick comedy on film. Certainly, it's one of the early forms of the climatic chase sequences that ends movies of that particular genre. At this time, Mack Sennett was acting and writing for the Biograph company where he met the main director of that studio's output, D. W. Griffith. So Mack started his film career under him. Many of Griffith's shorts at this time were of various genres but since Mack was a comedy performer, it's possible D. W. let him helm some of the most gag-driven scenes that abounded here which might have included a temporary sequence in which the film ran backwards! In the leading role of a man who breaks the title pole and then tries to replace it before the chase that happened because of the accidents from said pole, Sennett keeps things moving. I managed to laugh but probably more from recognition of what was happening than from actually from being surprised at any of it since it wasn't too hard to predict what was going to happen. So on that note, I recommend The Curtain Pole for anyone interested in these early film forms.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 8: D. W. Griffith and G. W. Bitzer's The Adventures of Dollie
Having previously played a man whose son gets kidnapped in Rescue from an Eagle's Nest, for his first work behind the camera, D. W. Griffith tells a story in which a father and mother's daughter gets kidnapped by a gypsy. This was quite a straightforward narrative that doesn't seem much different from other films during this time (once again, there are no close-ups) but there's some excitement especially concerning the object the daughter gets stuck in as we follow that object's journey. And Griffith got great help from co-director G. W. Bitzer who'd eventually be his cinematographer. All in all, The Adventures of Dollie was an enjoyable beginning for Griffith's new career.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 7: J. Searle Dawley's Rescued from an Eagle's Nest
While J. Searle Dawley had made many shorts and features during the silent era, he's not the reason I included this film in my Early Works of Film Directors series of reviews on this site. In fact, I hadn't even known about him till I looked up this short on this site just now. No, the reason I included this one is because of who the leading actor in this one was: a future director named D. W. Griffith! He was from the theater and had written some plays but his last one was not successful so he submitted a script to the Edison studio which was rejected by the producer from there-one Edwin S. Porter-the same one who had made the innovative and popular The Great Train Robbery several years back. But since Griffith was also an actor, Porter decided to cast him here as a man whose son gets kidnapped by an eagle just as he's working with other men on chopping trees. Porter was also the cinematographer here so there are some pretty good matching of studio and location shots. The model animal isn't too bad especially when it carries the live baby. Some close-ups would have helped especially since it's not easy to recognize the lead actor as Griffith. But this was pretty entertaining for the 7-minute running time. Griffith would appear as extras in other films which would eventually help him prepare for his own directorial debut which happened later in the year he made this one...
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 6: Wallace McCutcheon and Edwin S. Porter's The Terrible Kids
A couple of decades before Hal Roach's Rascals/Our Gang series, Wallace McCutcheon and Edwin S. Porter made this short about a couple of mischievous pre-teen boys and their dog playing pranks on various adults they happen to encounter. Some of them are quite cruel but I found myself laughing at many of them. Anyway, it's only seven minutes so on that note, The Terrible Kids was pretty entertaining for its time.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 5: Alice Guy's The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ
We're at 1906 now and once again in France for another of Alice Guy's works. Here, she's trying to depict the life of Jesus Christ from birth to resurrection after death. So the thing is divided into segments throughout his life. The camera is stationary for each segment with the exception of when it goes on location on some hills when it moves from one part of a terrain to another. There are also some neat dissolves involving angels, dreams, and the last scene. There were no intertitle cards but if you know the story of Jesus you should have no trouble understanding what's going on even though there's nothing that I would consider violent being depicted considering what happens during the narrative. This was mostly interesting stuff to watch so on that note, I recommend The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ for anyone interested in movie history.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 4: Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery
I first watched this important film back in '81-when I was 13-at a movie theatre situated in the Main Street U. S. A. Section at Walt Disney World. This particular cinema had six screens encircling each other showing other silent shorts (I remember seeing one of them starred Charlie Chaplin when glancing at his screen) and there were no seats so you had to be standing when paying attention to whatever short was one whichever screen played. Knowing about this film's reputation, I very much paid attention to this one especially with a pre-title text of the film's history. The music, by the way, that I heard in the theatre was not an added score but piano instrumentals played on speakers in the place which was the same whichever film you were watching. Anyway, I just rewatched this on YouTube which began with that famous shot of a man in close-up firing his gun at the camera with appropriate sound effects added. Porter did many cuts but the shots within those cuts are still static (with the exception of one scene in the forest which moved to some mountains as the robbers were walking) as was the case with his previous work I reviewed here called Life of an American Fireman. Still, there's much excitement within those static shots though I would have liked some cross-cutting concerning some sequences. Oh, and in one scene when a man is thrown overboard a train, it's very obvious a dummy is used! Supposedly, Bronco Billy Anderson played many roles in this movie which might have been his inspiration to perform and produce many films subsequently through the years. This was not the first film to use a narrative as opposed to showcasing a certain performance or event but it was the first to make it a popular form of entertainment as it was shown in vaudeville houses, and helped start what was then known as the nickleodeon. And as shown with an earlier film showing a train moving toward the screen, that shooting close-up (which was reprised the same way at the end as at the beginning on my YouTube viewing) must have caused many audience members to think something was coming toward them. So on that note, The Great Train Robbery, while primitive concerning storytelling, is still something to marvel at years later...
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 3: George S. Fleming and Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman
Once again, I'm reviewing another of Edwin S. Porter's early films. In this one, a fireman wakes up and goes to work when an emergency is called out. So he and his men go to rescue some people and put out the fire. This was an early film that employed many cuts though some of those scenes took a static approach in depicting the action such as when you see fire vehicle after vehicle moving across the screen without any cuts to any particular vehicle. So the rescue scenes aren't as exciting to watch as when cross-cutting were employed in later films. So in summary, Life of an American Fireman was interesting and nothing else. Now on to Porter's most famous work: The Great Train Robbery...
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 2: Edwin S. Porter's The Artist's Dilemma
This is the earliest film listed in Edwin S. Porter's filmography on Wikipedia (as opposed to on this site which lists several earlier ones dating back to 1898). It's quite clever concerning a painter, a young woman, and a clown. Porter might have previously seen several of Georges Melies' fantasy films from France as it does the kind of plot and tricks of that other film pioneer. I'll just say I was quite amused and entertained by The Artist's Dilemma and leave it at that.
Early Works of Film Directors-Review # 1: Alice Guy's La fee aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants
This is the first in my series of reviews on this site concerning the early work-or works-of notable film directors in chronological order. So we begin with the first female director doing one of the earliest examples of narrative film. In this one-minute short, a woman (presumably the director) is picking babies out of a patch of giant cabbages and placing them on the floor. That's it. I watched this twice to try to understand what was going on especially after reading all the comments on YouTube and reading the synopsis on this site and Wikipedia. Yes, the infants seemed a little roughly treated and one wonders if they're comfortable at all but I'm guessing that wasn't the intent. It's certainly interesting for its time period. I'll review a few more of Alice Guy's work but next, I'll go to one from American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter...
Shooting Captured Insurgents may or may not have been Edwin S. Porter's first film
The only reason I'm reviewing this particular film now is because-according to this site-it's the first one partly directed by one Edwin S. Porter who would go on to helm more story-oriented shorts like the famous The Great Train Robbery. But he's not IDed as such on Wikipedia so this will not be my first in a series of reviews that I'm calling Early Works of Film Directors. Anyway, it depicts an execution by firing squad of a group of soldiers who, I guess, were betrayers of their country. That's it. If this was really a recreation and not an actual depiction of a real-life event, then it was certainly convincing enough to me as I'm sure it was to the original viewers when this was possibly viewed on what was known at the time as a kinetoscope. I saw this on YouTube...
Dogtown was Harold Russell's final film performance
Between his last acting stint in a two-part ep of "China Beach" and what turned out to be his final role-eight years later-in this indie drama, handicapped World War II vet Harold Russell made some news back in 1992 when it was revealed he sold his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-for The Best Years of Our Lives-in order to help pay for his second wife's-his first having previously passed-surgery (among other expenses) over the objections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. After he died, the person who bought it returned it to the Academy. Anyway, here he's Blessed William, a cigar store proprietor, who helps counsel many of the stuck-in-town losers who've fallen on hard luck. A young man named Phillip is returning after a failed acting career and reacquaints with many of these down-and-out people he used to know from various schools as well as Blessed William. And, yes, one of them is a girl he had a crush on. I'll just say this was quite a touching and occasionally funny slice-of-life drama. So that's a recommendation for Dogtown. As for Russell, he continued in life until his death on January 29, 2002 in a nursing home. Having just watched all his film work since Veterans' Day, I'll end this review by saying: You had a life well-lived, Mr. Harold Russell!
Harold Russell returns to acting once again in "The World: Part 1" ep of "China Beach"
Eight years after last doing a guest spot in "Trapper John M. D.", handicapped World War II vet Harold Russell returned to acting once again playing the uncle of lead character Nurse Colleen McMurphy (Dana Delany) when she comes home from Vietnam to Lawrence, Kansas to see her sick father in his last days. Pretty much all his scenes are with her and they're quite touching as is this entire ep. Some good laughs, too! Excellent writing, excellent performances, in summary-"The World: Part 1" is an excellent ep of "China Beach" all around. Now I'm going to be reviewing the concluding ep...
Harold Russell adds to the touching drama unfolding in "The World: Part 2" ep of "China Beach"
Eight years after last acting in an ep of "Trapper John M. D.", handicapped World War II vet Harold Russell agreed to appear in a two-part episode of "China Beach" which is about Nurse Colleen McMurphy's experience in Vietnam. In this and the previous ep, McMurphy (Dana Delany) returned home to Lawrence, Kansas, to see her dying father. After the funeral, Russell's character shared how he lost his hands while in Leyte, Philippines. Then Colleen goes to San Francisco to visit an old friend named Jan (Kathy Bates) at a veterans hospital where many handicapped discharges are settled. She also meets her hippie roommates, Pam and Cindy. I had previously watched this when it originally aired and when I looked at the ending credits of this one just now, I was pleasantly surprised that Cindy was played by Megan Mullally who later would make a splash as Karen in "Will & Grace"! As with the previous part, this was excellent from beginning to end so on that note, I highly recommend "The World: Part 2" ep of "China Beach". Oh, and there's one more Harold Russell performance to review...
Harold Russell and Rita Moreno have a pretty good romance in the "Days of Wine and Leo" ep of "Trapper John, M.D."
Having just done a part in the movie Inside Moves 34 years after taking a sabbatical from acting after winning two Oscars for The Best Years of Our Lives, Harold Russell then accepted a guest star part in the hit drama "Trapper John, M. D.". He plays an old military buddy of the title character who accepts a trial basis of employment at his hospital. He conveniently falls for an injured patient played by Rita Moreno. Oh, and there's a subplot involving her horse that's meant to be amusing filler though the only time I laughed was when there was confusion between characters over the word "stud"! That romance between Russell and Moreno seemed rushed for time purposes though both sell their scenes for what they're worth. And, yes, there's an explanation for why Harold's character has hooks for hands here. In summary, "Days of Wine and Leo" was an okay ep of "Trapper John, M. D."
Thirty-four years after The Best Years of Our Lives, Harold Russell returns to acting in Inside Moves
After Harold Russell, a veteran of World War II who ended up taking up an acting role in The Best Years of Our Lives, got his two Oscars, the director who helped him get those-William Wyler-told him there's not many roles for someone in his condition-he had hooks for hands-so he told him to go to school for another career. Eventually, Harold did and went on to be involved in AMVETS as well as serve on as chairman of the President's Committee on Hiring the Handicapped. But thirty-four years after leaving movies, he was persuaded to appear in Richard Donner's film, Inside Moves. He accepted and would eventually make a few TV guest appearances and at least one more movie. In this one, he's one of several patrons of a bar called Max's of which another customer there is one Roary (John Savage) who ends up there after a failed suicide attempt at the beginning of this film. One of the workers there is Jerry (David Morse) who befriends Roary. I should also mention that Jerry has a girlfriend named Anne (Amy Wright) and there's also a waitress named Louise (Diana Scarwid who got an Oscar nomination). I don't want to say anymore except this was quite funny and a little touching concerning story and certain actions and there's hardly any real flaws as far as I was concerned. Oh, and Harold Russell fit quite nicely in with the rest of the cast. So on that note, I recommend Inside Moves.
The Best Years of Our LIves is the perfect movie to watch on Veterans' Day
Before I review the movie proper, I have to first acknowledge two players that were in both this and fellow 1946 Best Picture Oscar nominee It's a Wonderful Life (my all-time favorite): Charles Halton who was Mr. Carter, the bank examiner in IAWL was a banker named Prew here, and Harry Cheshire who was Dr. Campbell there is a Minister at Wedding here. Okay, this is just only my second time watching this film and both times it was during Veterans' Day. So it's a very touching story of three former military men coming home to a much changed world that they have to adjust to. Fredric March is an Army sergeant who takes back his bank job, Dana Andrews was a bombadier pilot who reluctantly goes back to his drugstore job, and Harold Russell is a sailor who has to live with his hooks for hands. Russell was actually a nonactor who got picked because director William Wyler saw him in an Army short called Diary of a Sergeant where Harold silently performed his way with how he functioned with his hooks. He's actually good bringing his emotions to his characterization as when he confronts someone he disagrees with or has to show and tell his high school sweetheart about his condition. So much so that he ended up getting two Oscars: a special one "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance" and Best Supporting Actor. In fact, everyone is excellent in their roles. I especially liked Cathy O'Donnell as Homer's (Russell's role) girlfriend and Teresa Wright as March's grown daughter who takes a shine to Andrews. In fact, while I still consider It's a Wonderful Life my favorite movie, I'm now very glad the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave this one the BP award! And now that I watched both Diary of a Sergeant and this, I'll review the rest of Harold Russell's acting performances for the next few days...
Harold Russell gives a natural performance in Diary of a Sergeant
This is the Army documentary short that inspired William Wyler to cast the star of it-Harold Russell-in his next picture: The Best Years of Our Lives. While D-Day was taking place, Russell had lost his hands during a training accident involving a defective fuse of TNT. So he ended up in a military hospital with other veterans who lost a part of their body. Eventually, a training film called Meet McGonegal in which the title person was showing how he managed to live a normal life with his hooks for hands was seen by this audience of amputated soldiers including Harold who resolved right then and there to do what McGonegal did to function properly again. So we see him struggle a bit before he conquers his fears to function normally again. By the way, the narrator claims he's Harold Russell but that's really not his voice. Still, the real Russell does a good performance demonstrating his skills with his newfound hooks and seems natural on screen which was probably what inspired famed director Wyler to cast him in The Best Years of Our Lives. So on this Veterans' Day, Diary of a Sergeant is a worthy watch.