Every Little Step (2008)

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Just over forty years ago, a dancer and choreographer named Michael Bennett sat down with several dancers for a 1970s-style rap session, and recorded their thoughts on an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. After listening to these dancers pour out their hearts, Bennett knew he had something special. These very personal words were set to music and became the Tony-winning musical A Chorus Line. Today, A Chorus Line is performed all over the world and has become a cultural touchstone.

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The documentary, Every Little Step follows a group of young dancers as they go through the grueling audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Though many of these dancers weren’t even born when A Chorus Line first debuted, they can’t help but want to be a part of something so huge. Most of them don’t expect this to make them mega stars; they just want to dance. And besides, they need to work. As one of them explains, “I need a job. I’m out of unemployment.”

The auditioning process takes several months, and soon the pool of dancers is whittled down to a handful of hopefuls. We get to see the dancers mostly through their auditions and the characters they want to play. Several are standouts. The already notable Charlotte d’Amboise seems almost destined to play Cassie the down-on-her luck hoofer who just missed the brass ring of stardom. A Broadway veteran (Cats and Chicago) and the daughter of famed dancer, Jacques d’Amboise, Ms. d’Amboise knows how stardom can be so close yet so far away.

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Jessica, auditioning for the part of sexy Val, is a sweet and talented girl from New Jersey who has completely devoted her life to dancing and is now ready for her big break. And when Jason Tam, auditioning as Paul, a young man who recently reveals his homosexuality to his parents, brings the casting panel to tears during his audition, you know it’s a very special moment. Jason is destined to play Paul.

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Interspersed throughout Every Little Step, are talking heads with some of the original cast members of A Chorus Line. Donna McKechnie was the original Cassie and won a Tony for her work. And Bayoork Lee, who played Connie in the original production, is back as a choreographer, and she isn’t shy about whipping the dancers into shape. The late Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the music for A Chorus Line, tells us that even after winning three Oscars, he knew he had to be a part of A Chorus Line. He also lets us know how the “Tits and Ass” song got its actual title of “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” Bob Avian, who along with Mr. Bennett, choreographed the original background, is also back but this time as a director.

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But most touching is seeing footage of Mr. Bennett who we sadly lost to AIDS in 1987. We get to see TV footage of him dancing, and we also get to see interviews with him after A Chorus Line debuted describing how important it was to bring dancers and their stories to the forefront. I found myself getting a bit choked up when he received his Tony and claimed, “I wanted one moment, and now I have it.”

Soon individual dancers get their moments as they are told they got the part. You find yourself silently cheering when these dancers find out all of their hard work and determination is finally paying off (and you really feel for those who don’t get the role they wanted).

Every Little Step meant a lot to me because A Chorus Line is one of the first Broadway musicals I ever saw, and I knew it would appeal to the theater geek in me. But I don’t think you need to be into the theater to enjoy this movie. We all have the desire to do what we love, be understood and reach for the stars.

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Rivers Edge (1986)

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River’s Edge begins with Samson (Daniel Roebuck) sitting next to the lifeless body of his girlfriend, Jamie (Danyi Deats). He strangled her. Betraying no emotion, Samson later tells his friends, and brings them out to the edge of the river to show her corpse. Most of them are not moved. Hey, shit happens. But some of them, Matt (Keanu Reeves), Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) are hugely bothered by seeing their dead friend. They think the police should be notified.

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But others want to cover it up. Yea, it sucks that Jamie is dead, but John is their buddy, and they should protect him. This definitely comes into play when the group’s de facto leader, wild-eyed speed freak Layne (Crispin Glover) compels the group to keep the murder a secret, and thinks they should smuggle Samson out of the state before the cops figure out who did the horrible crime.

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Matt, Maggie and Clarissa go along for a while. But tensions begin to escalate, and these three are confused on what they should do. Should they go along with Layne and the gang? Or should they tell the police what Samson did? And if they do, what will be the repercussions? Soon they find out that Matt’s younger brother Tim (Joshua John Miller) not only knows about the crime, but also knows one of the friends has gone behind everyone’s backs to report Samson to the police.

Meanwhile, Layne and Samson become more and more at loose ends, and they take refuge at the home of Feck (the late Dennis Hopper), a one-legged, dope dealing biker. Incidentally, Feck killed his own girlfriend years ago. Now he lives with an inflatable sex doll . Oddly enough, Feck acts as a mentor and counsel to Layne and Samson.

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River’s Edge does not end things tidily. Black and white morals have become hazy grays of ambivalence, nihilism and detachment. One teacher admonishes a student on how the values of his youth have been destroyed. Ah, yes. the old boomer telling the X-ers about the good old days. Even Feck thinks killing his girlfriend was okay because, hey, it was the ‘60s maaan.

Most chilling about River’s Edge, is it was based on a true story. Also chilling is how these kids assume they have no future so they numb their feelings with drugs and alcohol. The teens in River’s Edge are 180 degrees away from the lovable, wacky suburban cherubs of John Hughes films. In those films, a kid’s biggest problem is a Saturday detention or having your family forgeting your 16th birthday. In River’s Edge, life is a detention, and parents pretty much forget they have kids unless it’s to accuse one of them of stealing her marijuana.

Written by Neil Jiminez and directed by Tim Hunter, River’s Edge boasts of some incredibly honest and brutal performances. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of a generation that when it wasn’t ignored was maligned. As one character states, “You know it’s gonna be like this all day, man. Teachers lecturing us about what kind of monsters we are.” These kids know they are considered losers, so why not act accordingly? River’s Edge is not a comfortable movie to watch, especially if you’re a Generation X-er. “Hey, I was never like that,” you might want to shout at the screen. Yet, if you’re honest you might think, “But of course, some people were like that.” And that’s what makes River’s Edge such a potent of a film.

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Last Days of Disco (1998)

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Written and directed by Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980s during the waning days of disco’s glittery glory days.

The Last Days of Disco focuses on two recent college grads, Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte Pingress (Kate Beckinsale). They now live in Manhattan and work at a publishing house. Classmates at a prestigious east coast college, Alice and Charlotte seem to be friends more out of convenience, not actual affection. If Sex and the City had been around at the time you would call Alice and Charlotte “frenemies.”

After work, Alice and Charlotte spend their nights at Manhattan nightclubs socializing with the upper-crust elite and looking for fun and romance. Alice is quiet, soft spoken and intelligent. Charlotte is outgoing and spirited, but quite conceited. And she never fails to give Alice advice on men and dating. Desperate, Alice takes this advice even though it screws her up.

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Alice and Charlotte strike up a friendship with Des (Chris Eigeman) an employee of one of their favorite clubs. Des is quite the ladies’ man but claims to be gay once a relationship sours. Alice and Charlotte also find romance at the club, often with men who turn out to not be Mr. Right. Charlotte dates a man named Josh (Matt Keeslar) even though he really wants to be with Alice. And Alice has a one night stand with a lawyer named Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), who leaves her with a venereal disease.

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Despite their “frenemy” relationship, Alice and Charlotte decide to move in together. Realizing their parents’ generosity can only go so far, they take in another roommate, Holly (Tara Subkoff). Holly may be Alice and Charlotte’s roommate, but she never quite becomes their friend. Alice and Charlotte often question Holly’s intelligence and choices in men.

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All this closeness proves to be too much for Alice and Charlotte, and they soon part ways after a bitter conflict. Charlotte commiserates with Des, claiming her personality is just too much for mousy girls like Alice. But things look up for Alice once she starts dating Josh.

The Last Days of Disco isn’t so much about action and plot as it is about relationships, feelings and catching a singular moment of time. Remember it was the early 1980s. The glamorous and glittery debauchery of the 1970s was starting to look cheap, tawdry and despondent. Soon AIDS would haunt our sexual consciousness, and before long school children everywhere would claim, “Just say no” when it came to drugs.

Like many other coming of age films and TV shows like Girls, The Last Days of Disco examines the idea of young people “finding themselves.” Characters, who at turns seem so sure of themselves, question their choices in love, careers and friendship. And the social dynamic between Alice and Charlotte is quite familiar to anyone who found themselves hanging out with people they didn’t really like but felt they needed them as some kind of life raft during uncertain times.

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The Last Days of Disco is considered the final chapter of Whit Stillman’s self-proclaimed “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love-Series,” which also included Metropolitan and Barcelona. All the performances ring true, and Chloe Sevigny is especially affective as the self-effacing Alice.

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Some people might be put off by a movie focusing well-to-do elites, but these are no Kardashians or younger versions of the Real Housewives. Alice and Charlotte’s difficulty in navigating a confusing world ring true whether you grew up with a silver spoon or on a steady diet of cheap mac n’ cheese.

Guilty Pleasure Movies: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

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In 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Vince Lombardi High students love rock ‘n’ roll, but they don’t seem too interested in getting an education. The leader of these wayward students is Riff Randall played by PJ Soles (whatever happened to her?). Riff is a huge Ramones fan and would love for them to play at her school. Unfortunately, she has Principal Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) to deal with. Principal Togar hates rock music and vows to keep it out of the hallowed halls of Vince Lombardi High. After all, how can students concentrate on studying for finals when they’re too busy cranking up the Ramones to ear shattering decibels? Principal Togar recruits horrified parents to burn the offending records, which inspires Riff and the rest of the students take over the school. They are joined by the Ramones who are made honorary Vince Lombardi High students. Finally, the police are summoned and they demand the students evacuate the school, which leads to one hell of a finale. Hmm, my high school years certainly weren’t this explosive.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is loads of fun and boasts a kick ass soundtrack. It’s the perfect guilty pleasure flick for anyone who has wanted to stick it to the man, or in this case, the principal. When you wanna rock, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic can wait.

The Spotlight

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***There is a good chance there will be a writers’ strike via the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) according to Variety Magazine.*** (H/T Tari Jordan)

Move ticket prices are getting higher, and Hollywood Reporter tells us why.

Summer of 2017 movie preview courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

Women directed films that are must-sees in 2017!

Geena Davis celebrates the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own’s release.

Salma Hayek’s Beatriz at Dinner sounds like my kind of film, one that connects with my “Power to the People” mindset.

Talent agent Sandy Gallin dead at 76.

New documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent celebrates the eminent chef and his connection to California cuisine and the renowned restaurant Chez Panisse.

Will Netflix end its mail order DVD service in the age of streaming?

Director John Waters new summer camp for adults, Camp John Waters.

 

 

 

 

T2: Trainspotting (2017)

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Over 20 years ago, I saw a movie called Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish heroin addicts that couldn’t be more different than my life as an American more addicted to caffeine, potato chips and various TV shows than deadly smack. Nevertheless, Trainspotting became a cultural celluloid touchstone for me and many of people of my generation. My friends and I didn’t exactly condone the characters action but oddly understood why they acted in the way they did.

Trainspotting (based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh) was directed by Danny Boyle, whose later film, Slumdog Millionaire, garnered quite a few Oscars, including best film and best director. Trainspotting also starred four unknowns who didn’t stay that way for long. Ewan McGregor who played Mark Renton has starred in critically acclaimed indies as well as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. Both Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) come into our living rooms via their respective TV shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Elementary. Ewen Bremner (Spud) has starred in movies like Blackhawk Down, Pearl Harbor, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator. He will soon be seen in the latest Wonder Women movie this summer.

Now Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud are back in T2: Trainspotting, twenty years older, but are they wiser? Well…that is debatable.

When the first Trainspotting ended Renton had taken most of the ill-gotten monetary gains of some drug money (he did leave some of the money to Spud but stiffed both Begbie and Sick Boy). He’s made a new life for himself in Amsterdam working as an accountant. He’s off the smack and is fully into health and fitness. While at a local gym he has a health scare while jogging on a treadmill. Freaked out, Renton goes back to Scotland.

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Hoping to make amends with his old mates, Renton finds them still caught up in a life of addiction, crime and other assorted bad acts. Spud is still addicted to heroin and in a downward spiral that includes the possibility of suicide. Begbie is in prison, still scarily violent and about to break out. Sick Boy runs a pub, has replaced heroin with cocaine, and blackmails successful men by filming them in various sexual acts with hookers, one of them being a Bulgarian immigrant named Veronika (a terrific Anjela Nedyalkova). Sick Boy and Veronika are also planning to open a brothel with Veronika having designs on being the brothel’s madam complete with her own office. When Begbie escapes prison he tries to make amends with his estranged wife, which includes some less than satisfying sex (Begbie is suffering from what polite society calls erectile dysfunction). Begbie is also trying to get closer to his son who is in college studying hotel hospitality. However, Begbie’s idea of father/son bonding is a life of crime, something his son would rather avoid.

Once Begbie finds out Renton is back in town, he goes off the rails and pursues Renton in the only way he knows how, as a confirmed psychopath. These scenes of mad pursuit are both chilling and funny. I found myself both cringing with terror and trying to stifle the giggles.

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Renton also tries to make amends with Sick Boy to rather interesting results. Sick Boy is still ticked over being ripped off but the two of them make some kind of amends, which include criminal acts. One of these acts includes visiting a loyalist pub (loyal to the British and the Queen of England) to steal wallets. At this pub, the customers celebrate the year 1690 when a violent battle between the Catholics and the Protestants left the loyalist Protestants victorious and the Catholics defeated and many of them dead. The loyalists sing songs devoted to England and the Queen while celebrating the death of the Catholics. Renton and Sick Boy get caught up in the revelry and entertain the pub with an improvised song called “1690” the most notable song lyric being, “there were no Catholics left!” As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, and who even went to a Catholic college, I should have been offended, but instead I laughed so hard I almost dropped my bag of popcorn.

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Renton also gets closer to Veronika who has a lot more going on that she is given credit. Sure, she is a “hooker with the heart of gold,” but she’s also pretty smart and has a past that includes heartbreak all her own. Becoming a madam isn’t just a promotion; it’s a way to improve her condition and her life back in Bulgaria.

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Throughout T2 are scenes from the original recipe showing a much younger Renton and the gang, including the song “Lust for Life” written by Iggy Pop and the late David Bowie and sung by Iggy Pop (the song later became the theme song for several Royal Caribbean cruise line commercials).  Renton also revisits one of the coolest movie dialogue ever uttered in film “choose life.”

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

The lads turned middle-aged men often look at their youth with some nostalgia and wrong-headed pride only to realize they’ve made quite a few mistakes and haven’t come to their dotage fully clean and healed of addiction, violence and other deplorable acts that defined them when they were younger. And somehow they do manage to make some small acts of contrition that prove that they aren’t wholly awful people, the greatest being Spud’s act of simply keeping a somewhat messy journal of collective memories, ideas and opinions.

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Ultimately, I found T2 a fully satisfying and worthy sequel to its original, and one that stayed with me after the credits rolled. After I saw the film I discussed it with my fellow film goers and we all agreed that T2 tapped into the malaise that seems to define our generation no matter whether you live smack dab in the middle of the United States or somewhere in Scotland.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. And choose to see T2: Trainspotting.

Guilty Pleasure Movies: Grease 2 (1982)

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When we became “hopelessly devoted” to the movie Grease in the summer of 1978, little did we know we’d be revisiting Rydell High a few short years later. But Hollywood had different ideas. And in the summer of 1982 we got the sequel, Grease 2.

However, Sandy and Danny from the first film had long graduated. Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) was getting “Physical” and John Travolta (Danny) was in a bleak period of his career only to have a comeback with Pulp Fiction more than a decade later. Nope, Grease 2 featured a cast of unknowns (most of them stayed that way), and brand new shenanigans at Rydell.

As the school year of 1961 commences at Rydell High the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies still rule the school. Head Pink Lady, Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer) has just broken up with head T-Bird Johnny Nogerelli (Adriam Zmed). However, that doesn’t mean Stephanie’s loins don’t get all warm and toasty over a leather-clad, motorcycle-riding bad boy.

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Enter Michael Carrington (Maxwell Carrington) who just happens to be Sandy from the first film’s cousin. I guess Rydell has a special student exchange program with Australia. From the moment Michael lays his peepers on Stephanie he is smitten. But Pink Ladies can only date T-Birds, and Michael is way too clean-cute a wholesome for a bad ass like Stephanie.

Stephanie gives Michael the cold shoulder and tells him her feelings in the song “Cool Rider.” Not one to be deterred, Michael develops an alter ego to his goody-goody persona, a mysterious man on a motorcycle with only a helmet and goggles to hide his true self. Stephanie falls hard for this biker stud, and soon she and “Other Michael” are an item. “Other Michael” is sexy and brooding, and he’s got a bitchin’ motorbike. But he’s also kind and respectful towards Stephanie, exactly what she wasn’t getting from dating a T-Bird.

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Stephanie soon finds out it’s Michael Carrington who is her dreamboat on a bike because how much of a disguise are a helmet and goggles anyway? Not surprisingly, Stephanie is in an age-old dilemma: stay true to her high school chums or be with her one, true love. Can she possibly have the best of both worlds? You have to watch to find out.

Grease 2 features songs that make the original’s look like Cole Porter’s. However, they are rather catchy. “Score Tonight” combines bowling with a teen’s burgeoning sexuality. And in “Reproduction” the kids pay homage to doing it with lyrics like “Reproduction (reproduction)/Put your pollen tube to work/Reproduction (reproduction)/Make my stamen go berserk.” Sex is also heavy on the students’ minds in a patriotic “Do It For Our Country.” But things aren’t so sex-drenched with songs like “Who’s That Guy?” and “(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time.”

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Besides featuring a cast of newbies, Grease 2 also featured stars including Eve Arden, Tab Hunter, Connie Stevens, Dody Goodman and Sid Caeser reprising their roles from the first Grease. As for the newbies, well, only Michelle Pfeiffer reached stardom. As for the rest? Well, I’m too lazy to look up their names on IMDB.com.

Grease 2 was a commercial and a critical flop, and didn’t quite live up to its predecessor’s glory. Besides in the summer of 1982 the monster blockbuster E.T. was taking over the cineplex, and another teen movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High spoke more to the teens of the early 1980s than Grease 2.

Still Grease 2 had its cheesy charm. My sister and I saw it countless times once it hit cable TV. We knew it wasn’t cinematic art, but we enjoyed Grease 2 in all of its “so bad, it’s good” glory, and isn’t that what guilty pleasure movies are all about?

The Book Was Better: Every French Man Has One by Olivia de Havilland

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“In France it’s assumed that if you’re a woman you are sexy, and you don’t have to put a dress on to prove it, too.” – Film great, Olivia de Havilland

And it was that sentence from the chapter “The Look I Left Behind” from Olivia de Havilland’s collection of essays Every French Man Has One that utterly enchanted me and reminded me why I’m such a Francophile and a lover of classic Hollywood.

Most of you best remember the iconic Miss de Havilland for her role as Melanie Wilkes in the film classic Gone With the Wind. But she also starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Snake Pit, and one of my favorites, The Heiress, for which she won a very much deserved Oscar for Best Actress.

Miss de Havilland is still with us at 100-years-old and makes her home in Paris, France. So I felt it was only befitting to read her memoir Every French Man Has One (published in 1962), which chronicles her early days in Paris with her French husband Pierre and her children Benjamin and Gisèle.

Like a lot of Americans de Havilland was both charmed and confused by the French culture, language, traffic, food, people and customs. But being a plucky sort, she chose to rise to each befuddling occasion with humor and an open mind.

Throughout Every French Man Has One de Havilland delights the reader with her elegant yet down to earth writing style. Yes, she is a movie star and quite privileged; most of us don’t associate with the high society and famous people, and most of us don’t have maids. But de Havilland’s musings on tackling learning a new language or learn a foreign custom (and often failing at the attempt) is quite amusing and easy to commiserate with. I remember my high school French lessons didn’t quite help when I got to go to Paris many moons ago. Needless to say, I ordered a lot of café au laits during my brief time in the City of Light.

There were other segments of Every French Man Has One that completely enchanted me like how American women and French women approach everything from fashion to cooking to rearing children.

Every French man fully exposes de Havilland’s honest self-awareness without slipping into narcissistic self-absorption that seems to have a grip on today’s celebrities (Kardashians, I’m looking in your direction).

Now for those of you who are looking for some sordid Hollywood gossip, well, you won’t find it in Every French Man Has One. de Havilland is a class act and a keeper of secrets, which is quite refreshing as her is her breezy and witty writing style.

Another thing I liked about Every French Man Has One was how each chapter can be read piecemeal; yes this book is a memoir but it is done in an essay style format. And every reader will find a chapter that is a true standout.

Now as for that elusive title, Every French man Has One. Is Olivia de Havilland referring to what your think she is referring to? You’ll just have to read the book to find out…

Originally published at the Book Self:
https://thebookselfblog.wordpress.com/category/every-french-man-has-one/

Retro Reels: A Place In the Sun (1951)

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In the drama A Place in the Sun, Montgomery Clift plays George Eastman. Though related to a rich industrialist named Charles Eastman, George is looked down upon because his family is poor. Still, that doesn’t stop him from taking a job in his uncle’s factory. George hopes his work ethic will impress his uncle so he can work his way up, and also work his way into his uncle’s upper crust world.

Though dating co-workers is strictly verboten, George starts dating fellow factory worker Alice Tripp (Shelly Winters). Alice is plain-looking and poor but truly smitten by George and his connections to his wealthy uncle even though George’s connections seem to be in name only.

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Despite dating Alice, George falls in love with Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor in her first adult role) after meeting her at a party. Angela is not only beautiful she is also from a wealthy family. Dating Angela brings George closer to the upper crust world he always desired.

hqdefaultHowever, Alice is hardly out of the picture, and it isn’t before long she announces she is pregnant with George’s child. She believes this will prompt George to marry her. Not surprisingly, George is not happy with this idea, especially since he is in love with Angela. He tells Alice to have an abortion but she refuses. She figures since George is getting closer to his uncle’s world of wealth, he’ll have no problem supporting a wife and child.

Alice soon sees a newspaper of photo of George and Angela and realizes he is cheating on her. Alice confronts George, threatening to tell everyone about what is going on between them and about the pregnancy. He better marry her or else.

To save face, George takes Alice to the local city hall for a quick elopement. However, it is Labor Day week-end and city hall is closed. Instead of ditching Alice, George convinces her they should visit a nearby lake. Not quite realizing what George has in mind, Alice agrees.

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While renting a boat under a false name, George acts nervous. Finding out there are no people on the lake George thinks this might be a good time to murder Alice and dispose of her body. With Alice out of the picture George is free to continue dating Angela and free from marrying Alice.

However, once Alice tells George how excited she is about their future and the upcoming birth of their child. George has a change of heart. He can’t murder Alice. He must do the right thing and marry her. But when Alice stands up in the boat, the boat capsizes, and Alice does drown.

816full-a-place-in-the-sun-screenshotGeorge, however, is safe, and he swims to shore. He goes to Angela’s family lake home and struggles to keep the story of Alice’s drowning a secret. But before long Alice’s body is discovered, her drowning is ruled a homicide.

With a great deal of evidence stacked against him George is arrested for Angela’s death. This happens just as George is going to ask for Angela’s hand in marriage.

Though George is innocent, the evidence is overwhelming. He tries to explain what lead up to Alice’s accidental drowning, but the prosecutor (Raymond Burr) aggressively pulls apart George’s testimony. The prosecutor convinces the jury that George committed first degree murder and the jury finds him guilty. George is sentenced to the electric chair.

As George faces his last days he pours his heart out in a letter to Angela. He claims he did not kill Alice but her drowning was perhaps his only way to leave his poor, underprivileged past behind and start fresh with Angela.

A Place in the Sun is lushly filmed in black and white, and its romantic scenes are unbelievably passionate and erotic. Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty is beyond compare and she and Montgomery Clift have electric chemistry that leaps off the screen. A Place in the Sun was nominated for nine Oscars and won six, including a best director Oscar for George Stevens.

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Based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy, A Place in the Sun highlights the huge gap between rich and poor, even among family members. It also conveys how one’s ambitious desires, and obsession with money and status can make people consider doing horrible things. A Place in the Sun also shows how people can be victims and victimize others.

Highway 61 (1991)

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In the dark comedy/road movie Highway 61, small-town barber (and sometime musician) Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) seems to be content with his life. Then he finds a dead body in his backyard. Jackie Bangs (Valerie Buhagiar), a rock band roadie, sees a picture of the dead body in the newspaper and decides to pay Pokey a visit. While Pokey dyes her blonde hair red, Jackie tells him that the dead body is her brother Jeffrey, and she has to get him back to the States, New Orleans to be exact, to bury him.

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Pokey then realizes he’s up for some adventure, and he decides to drive Jackie and her dead brother to New Orleans. However, unbeknownst to Pokey, Jeffrey is not Jackie’s brother. She’s using the corpse to transport drugs back to the States. Still, the naïve Pokey is drawn to the seen-it-all Jackie, and he puts the corpse into a makeshift coffin and straps it to the top of his car. It’s New Orleans or bust!!!

During their journey, most people are vaguely intrigued by the coffin on Pokey’s car. You can always seen odd things while traveling in America. One of the people along the way, is a father trying to make stars out of his weirdly-talking daughters who dance like in a stilted, robotic style. A dead man on the roof of somebody’s car? Who cares? Stardom awaits for this man’s brood.

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But what else awaits? Could it be Satan? Among the group of ragtag characters is Mr. Skin (Earl Patsko) who is basically the devil in the disguise of a sleazy, polyester-wearing huckster. Mr. Skin is buying souls on his journey through America. And just how much is a soul? At times, a bottle of whiskey will suffice. People are cheap. While tempting them to sell their souls, Mr. Skin takes cheap Polaroids of them, and then uses these shots to do not so nice acts on the victims.

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Pokey may be naïve, but he isn’t dumb. And he begins to figure out that something is up with Jackie and her dead non-brother. But due to his growing attraction to Jackie, and his new found love of America, Pokey sets his reservations aside. He’s finally connecting with places he could only read about in a small-town Canada. It’s time to break the shackles and get wild!! And Pokey and Jackie act on their attraction while enjoying their travels.

In this immensely likable and entertaining film, the American south is used to show the type of oddball characters you probably won’t find in a travel brochure. Don McKellar (who also wrote the screenplay) is sweetly dorkish as Pokey Jones, and Jackie Buhagiar is spot-on as a cynical  roadie. And Earl Patsko nearly steals the show as the devilish Mr. Skin. The movie also uses both irreverent conversations and peculiar observations that will ring true to anyone who has taken a road trip. Highway 61 is wacky, funny and real, and just might inspire you to fill up the car and hit the road…minus a dead body and the Devil, of course.

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