Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Runaway Bride”

Julia Roberts in 'Runaway Bride' (Paramount/Touchstone, 1998)

Julia Roberts in ‘Runaway Bride’ (Paramount/Touchstone, 1999)

I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy—or at least a romantic comedy with appealing stars and an interesting premise. 1999’s Runaway Bride probably fits more in the latter definition, but I still love it. Maggie (played by Julia Roberts) is a quintessential man-eater and a terminal flirt, having left a trail of broken hearted ex-boyfriends along with three ex-fiancés that she ran away from at the altar. Ike (played by Richard Gere) is a rather sexist (and, subsequently, divorced) newspaper columnist who, after writing a story about Maggie the “runaway bride,” gets fired for supposed errors in the article. In order to regain his reputation and his job, Ike goes to the small town where Maggie lives to get to the bottom of the story. I’m sure you can’t imagine what happens after that, but still it’s an interesting journey that finally brings Ike and Maggie together. Sure the film is a bit uneven, but Julia Roberts and Richard Gere have such tremendous individual charm along with great on-screen chemistry that some of the film’s weaknesses can be overlooked. The soundtrack is excellent, too (Miles Davis’ “It Never Entered My Mind” is a personal favorite). Ultimately, the film to me is more of a treatise about understanding the ripple effect of your actions and about the importance of learning what you really want out of love and of life. Also stars Joan Cusack, Paul Dooley, Hector Elizando, Rita Wilson, and Christopher Meloni. Written by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott. Directed by Garry Marshall. “He wanted to know how you liked your eggs.”

Thanks for reading the blog this year and for indulging me in a few of my cinematic guilty pleasures. See you at the movies in 2014!

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Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“White Christmas”

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye in 'White Christmas' (Paramount, 1954)

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye in ‘White Christmas’ (Paramount, 1954)

A favorite Christmas movie of the Clark family is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Paramount, 1954). Song-and-dance team Wallace and Davis (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) meet and fall in love with the Hayes Sisters (played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) and then join forces to help save their former army general’s country inn in Vermont. The paper-thin plot is mostly just an excuse to tie together one great song after another, all written by Irving Berlin, including “Heat Wave,” “Sisters,” “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing,” “Snow,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” and, of course, the titular classic sung by Bing himself. Also stars Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes. Written by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank. Directed by Michael Curtiz. “Well, how do you like that? Without so much as a kiss my foot or have an apple!”

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Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Tron”

Dan Shor, Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Boxleitner on the grid in 'Tron' (Disney, 1982)

Dan Shor, Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Boxleitner on the grid in ‘Tron’ (Disney, 1982)

I am a huge fan of Disney’s innovative live-action sci-fi pic Tron (1982). Released when I was a kid and at the height of the video arcade craze, the film tells the story of computer programmer Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) and his journey into the digital world, aka “the grid,” to fight off the evil Master Control Program who has usurped control of all computer games and programs. On the grid, video games are more like gladiator fights to the death. And no one kicks butt on the grid like the computer program Tron (played by Bruce Boxleitner), who fights “for the users.” I distinctly remember seeing Tron in the movie theater in 1982 and knowing that I was watching something truly unique (I re-watched the film on Disney’s fantastic Blu-ray transfer released in 2011). It was one of the first films to extensively use computer generated graphics. The scenes on the grid were filmed using black and white film on blacked out sets with the actors wearing white costumes. The scenes were then hand painted in post production, giving them their unique color and glow. The process was so labor and cost intensive, it hasn’t been used since. With the influence of visual consultants Syd Mead, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, and Peter Lloyd, and special visual effects by Disney wizards Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor, the film has a visual aesthetic which I absolutely love. And while it may not have the most interesting plot in the world, the film is a guilty pleasure for me in all regards. Also stars Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, and David Warner. Written and directed by Steven Lisberger. “On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.”

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Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Kiss Me Kate”

Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in "Kiss Me Kate" (MGM, 1953)

Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in “Kiss Me Kate” (MGM, 1953)

It was so much fun to re-watch MGM’s 1953 musical “Kiss Me Kate” this week. Based on Cole Porter’s hit Broadway show, the story is a show-within-a-show musical retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” On the stage, people are performing the play. Backstage, all sorts of craziness is going on with feuding lovers, gangsters, etc. This film was originally filmed in 3D, but only half of the theaters that showed the movie in its initial run used a 3D print due to decreased interest in the format (but it explains why the actors are looking at and throwing things at the camera). With its fantastic songs, colorful production design, and terrific cast, this movie is another great musical from the MGM hit factory. If nothing else, make sure to check out the “From This Moment On” number. Stars Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Keenan Wynn, and James Whitmore. Based on the stage play by Sam and Bella Spewack. Written by Dorothy Kingsley. Directed by George Sidney. “We open in Venice…”

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Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Jerry Maguire”

Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in "Jerry Maguire" (TriStar Pictures, 1996)

Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire” (TriStar Pictures, 1996)

I know that Tom Cruise is cray, but back in the mid-90s, he was at the top of his game in the excellent dramedy Jerry Maguire. Tom plays the title role of a superstar sports agent who decides to listen to his conscience again. He leaves his high paying and high flying lifestyle and starts a new integrity-based sports agency. Only one athlete, professional football player Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), along with one employee, Dorothy Boyd (played by Renee Zellweger), join him from his former firm. Basically starting from scratch, Jerry has to find his professional and personal way through his new life by virtue of his character rather than by narcissistic opportunism. Writer/director Cameron Crowe hit a home run with this movie. Its perfect soundtrack, writing, story, and acting make this movie a real pleasure to watch. It definitely earns its R rating for sexual content, nudity and language, but it is worth the journey, trust me. Also stars Bonnie Hunt, Kelly Preston, Jay Mohr, and Jonathan Lipnicki (who probably plays the cutest kid ever put in a movie). “You had me at hello.”

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Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Dick Tracy”

Warren Beatty in "Dick Tracy" (Touchstone Pictures, 1990)

Warren Beatty in “Dick Tracy” (Touchstone Pictures, 1990)

This week’s pic is the 1990 film adaptation of Chester Gould’s classic comic strip Dick Tracy. Starring Warren Beatty as the title character (Beatty also produced and directed the film), the film takes Chester Gould’s characters and puts them in a color-saturated live action setting. The production design is stellar and unique, created with a blend of CG graphics and good old-fashioned matte painting. All of the characters have makeup and prosthetics to match what they looked like in the comic strip (the film won an Oscar for Best Makeup along with Best Art Direction). It’s really a marvel to look at. The story and the acting, however, are all hit and miss (OK, mostly miss). Al Pacino’s performance of Big Boy Caprice is fun, but mostly just over the top. And Madonna as bad girl Breathless Mahoney looks smoking hot, but her acting is a hot mess (so what else is new). Also stars Glenne Headly, Mandy Patinkin, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Sorvino, James Caan and Dustin Hoffman, among others. I saw this film at an opening day midnight screening in 1990 along with many others across the U.S.A. (check out this article about it–although I’m not sure if I still have the t-shirt “ticket” or not) and my thoughts are still about the same–enjoy the gorgeous visuals, but don’t expect much beyond that. Original songs by Stephen Sondheim (who won an Oscar for Best Original Song). Soundtrack by Danny Elfman. Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. Directed by Warren Beatty. “You don’t know if you want to hit me or kiss me. I get a lot of that.”

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Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

Chow Yun-Fat and Zhang Ziyi in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (Sony Pictures Classics, 2000)

Chow Yun-Fat and Zhang Ziyi in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Sony Pictures Classics, 2000)

A stolen sword, repressed love, honor, duty and kick-a%$ martial arts sequences make up the beautiful and tragic film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures Classics, 2000). Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, the film has some of the most beautiful and fantastic fighting scenes I’ve ever seen on film. The fight in the trees (shown in the picture above) is particularly stunning. It’s also a lyrical and moving story about good and evil, truth, prejudice, and the choices we all make. I highly recommend this film. Based on the book by Du Lu Wang. Written by Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus and Kuo Jung Tsai. Directed by the brilliant Ang Lee. “To repress one’s feelings only makes them stronger.”

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