The above image is from one of the funniest scenes in the 2002 film About A Boy. In it, 12 year old Marcus is on an excursion to the park with his mother's friend Suzie and Will, her prospective date (and professional loafer). Marcus' hippie-dippy mother Fiona has sent along a loaf of her inedible, rock-hard health bread for his snack. Unable to gnaw even a corner off of the brick/loaf, Marcus attempts to break a few bits off to feed to the ducks but it's too hard to do that, either. In a moment of frustration, Marcus hurls the entire loaf into the water where, with the consistency of a cannonball, it accidentally hits and kills a duck. The three of them are gazing in stunned silence at the floating duck corpse when a park warden arrives to investigate the death.
This film may seem like an odd choice for Christmas/ New Year, but in fact both of those occasions occur in About A Boy. This 2002 movie is about a boy, obviously: young Marcus who lives with his hippie mum who is chronically depressed; she's constantly crying and has attempted suicide at least once. He's also being bullied at school, due in large part to the fact that, in between bouts of depression, his mother knits him sweaters with flowers, clouds, and rainbows on them. Marcus loves her too much- and is too worried about her mental health- to refuse to wear them. About A Boy is also about Will, an irresponsible man-child who, at the age of 38, has never held a job or had a serious relationship. His late father wrote a hit Christmas song before he was born and Will has lived comfortably on the royalty cheques for his whole life. Figuring that single mothers will be good dates- low expectations, grateful for attention- Will joins a single parents' group, pretending that he has a child who lives with his ex. This is how he comes into contact with Marcus, whose mother is a friend of a woman Will picks up at the group's meeting. Marcus inserts himself into Will's life despite the man's desire to not be involved with his dysfunctional family. Their unlikely relationship causes Will to face the emptiness of his careless, carefree existence and forces him- reluctantly, at best- into caring about someone other than himself. The first clip below is of Christmas, when Will finds himself at Marcus' house despite his best efforts. The second is of New Years eve, when Will meets a woman whom he actually wishes to impress and realises that he has done nothing in his life to impress anyone.
The film clip below is from the 1954 movie White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen. It's based on the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, though the plot differs significantly; the title White Christmas is taken from the Irving Berlin song by the same name which is used in both films, having debuted in Holiday Inn. In the scene below, sisters Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) are performing a show when their former landlord shows up with the local sheriff, claiming that they burned a hole in their hotel room rug and owe him money. The girls claim that this is a scam, and they don't have the money to pay in any case. Bob (Crosby) and Phil (Kaye) decide to help the girls: to buy time while Betty and Judy escape out the window in their dressing room, Bob and Phil borrow a few items from the sisters' wardrobe and "perform" one of their songs, lip-syncing to a recording of the girls singing. According to Rosemary Clooney, this scene wasn't originally in the script. Crosby and Kaye were fooling around one day and Michael Curtiz, the director, thought their clowning was so funny that he wrote it into the movie. They filmed the scene several times, but Danny Kaye's antics kept cracking Bing Crosby up. They eventually managed to get a take without him laughing, but when they compared the film footage later, everyone liked the one in which Crosby is losing it at the end best, so that's what they used in White Christmas.
This trailer is from the 1993 film Searching For Bobby Fischer. It is based on the true story of child chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, from the book of the same name written by his father in 1988. It's hard to get your hands on today, but this movie is definitely worth seeking out; it's truly a family film, intelligent and with heart-something which is as scarce as hen's teeth these days.
My nephew (holding the cross) speaking at his school's Remembrance Day ceremony:
Today I'll be attending a Remembrance Day service with some of the family, paying tribute to those who fought and died for our country and for the liberty we enjoy. Freedom is never free. The clip below is from The Best Years Of Our Lives, an excellent and honest film about three men returning home after W.W. II and struggling to reintegrate into civilian life. Made in 1946, just one year after the end of the war, it is a realistic- and sympathetic- portrayal of the difficulties faced by many soldiers returning home and trying to pick up the threads of their previous lives. One of these men is Al Stephenson (Frederic March), returning from serving as a platoon sergeant to his loving family and job at the local bank, where his desire to help war veterans get back on their feet clashes with the bank's strict loan policies. Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) was an air force captain during the war. Now suffering from flashbacks of bombing runs, he returns to find jobs scarce and is forced to work at his old job in the drugstore/soda shop where his immediate boss is the dweeb who used to work under him and got promoted while everyone else was off fighting in the war. Worse, the wife Derry married in haste right before he shipped out enjoyed being married to an honoured- and distant- war hero, but she doesn't have much time for a husband in a dead end job who is suffering from PTSD... she tells him to "snap out of it." The third man is Homer Parrish, former high school quarterback who got engaged to the girl next door- Wilma- before joining the navy. When his ship was torpedoed, Homer's hands were severely burned and had to be amputated. On his return, Wilma's feelings for him are unchanged, but Homer doesn't think that she should be saddled with a husband who has such a disability and tries to push her away. Parrish is played by Harold Russell, who actually did lose both of his hands in a training accident during the war.
The clip below is from the 1953 movie Stalag 17, which is about a group of American POWs held in that German prison camp during World War II. The film is a strange mixture of drama and comedy which- even more strangely- works. It is a Billy Wilder movie, and was adapted from a stage play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, who based it on their own experiences as prisoners of war in Austria, at the actual Stalag 17B camp. In the scene below, the Germans have issued copies of Mein Kampf to the prisoners, with the order that they are to be indoctrinated with the teachings of the Fuhrer. The men decide to give an exhibition of just how well they've absorbed Hitler's words:
The movie clip below is from The Lady Vanishes, the 1938 mystery directed by Alfred Hitchcock. An elderly woman mysteriously disappears from a moving train, much to the bewilderment of the young lady who had been sitting and talking with her. Adding to her confusion is the fact that everyone else who is travelling in the same car denies that the old woman was ever there.
The scene below is from the delightful 1952 movie musical Singin' In The Rain, which stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor. It is set in the late 1920's when silent movies were transitioning to "talkies" and highlights a true to life problem encountered in the film industry at this time. Many of the silent stars, chosen for their looks and ability to emote silently, didn't have voices suited for the new medium. Also, movie dialogue suited to appearing on title cards would sound ridiculous if actually uttered by the characters. Added to this were the difficulties associated with figuring out how to mic the actors so that their dialogue was consistantly audible. All of these problems occur in the hilarious scene below. Lina Lamont is a big star of romantic movies, but her nasally voice and diction are more suited to a fishwife than the French noblewoman she's supposed to be portraying (in reality, Jean Hagen who played Lina had a lovely voice). Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), the leading man, assumes that he can get by just uttering the trite sentiments he used to mouth in love scenes, and the awful dialogue cuts in and out whenever one of them moves in the exaggerated gestures they're accustomed to using in silent films.
The resulting film, The Duelling Cavalier, is a complete diaster and it may very well end both Don's and Lina's careers if something isn't done to solve the problem. While this makes for a very funny musical, the truth is that many silent film stars could not make the transition to sound and faded away into obscurity. Just for fun, here's the disatrous premiere of The Duelling Cavalier:
The film clip below is from the 1937 Astaire & Rogers movie Shall We Dance. In it, Fred Astaire is Pete Peters, an American who has become famous as the principal dancer in a ballet company in Paris, under the stage name Petrov. Tired of just dancing ballet, Petrov- Peters- wishes to blend classical dance with more modern jazz dancing. While taking a ship back to America, he becomes acquainted with Linda Keene(Ginger Rogers), a well-known tap dancer. They spend time together and, due to a few misunderstandings contrived at by her scheming publicist, the rumour goes around that they are married. Once in the States, the rumour becomes even more pervasive and unknown to either Keene or Peters, her manager decides to fan the flames even more. They have a life sized mannequin of Linda Keene for publicity purposes and her manager dresses it in a filmy nightgown and sneaks it into Petrov's room one night while he's asleep. He sits it on the side of the bed where Petrov is sleeping soundly and takes some pictures, sneaks it back out, and then sends the photos to the papers, where they appear the next day. Having no clue how these pictures came into existence and unable to deny their marriage without causing a scandal, Peter and Linda decide to really get married, and then they can get a divorce and quell all the rumours... the logic behind this is a bit suspect, but it's a lot of fun. The music for the film is by George and Ira Gershwin and it contains some great songs: "Slap That Bass", "They All Laughed", and "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", to name a few. And, of course, the song in the clip below "You Can't Take That Away From Me" which is sung after the two are married and contemplating getting divorced, which neither particularly wants.
Much is said- justifiably- about the partnership of Astaire and Rogers, but I'd like to also make mention of another dynamic duo which appears in this film: two of my favourite character actors from back in the day- Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, as Petrov's manager and the hotel manager, respectively. Together or apart, they're always great.
Happy Independence Day to our American neighbours! In honour of the occasion, this- actually small rather than silver screen- snippet is from the 1959-61 Disney series The Swamp Fox, a rather historically dubious account of the adventures of real life Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, alias the Swamp Fox. In the show, Marion is portrayed by a young Leslie Nielsen.
What is accurate is that Francis Marion harried the British forces with his irregulars, employing a strategy of lightening fast surprise attacks and equally fast retreats. The baddie in the clip below- Col. Tarleton- was an actual historic figure who was charged with capturing/killing Marion. It was Tarleton who actually coined Marion's nick name: after an attempt to capture his nemesis during which he and his troops unsuccessfully chased Marion and his men for over 26 miles through swampland, Tarleton groused, "As for this old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him."