Sunday, September 14, 2014

Long May It Wave

On this day 200 years ago, during Britain's failed assault on Baltimore, Francis Scott Key looked out from his vantage point in the harbor and saw that the Star Spangled Banner was still flying over Fort McHenry, inspiring him to write what became our national anthem.

Katie-Bar-The-Door and I went to the anniversary celebration this morning. Some pictures.

By the way, the flag is the copy area quilters, including Katie, worked on last year. They used the same materials and techniques that Mary Young Pickersgill used in 1813. The flag is 30 feet by 42 feet. Each star is two feet across. To give you some perspective, the little flag flying with it in this shot is the same size you'd fly on your front porch at home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Small Step For A Monkey

One day I'll tell you the story about how in July 1969, my parents went on vacation in Hawaii and left their space nut son (i.e., me, the Monkey, your faithful correspondent) and his brother at the house of the least-imaginative woman on the planet, and how after begrudging us five minutes of all that nonsense on the moon, she put us to bed and I missed the rest of what I still consider the most transcendent historical event of my lifetime.

Forty-five years to the day, I'm still bitter and twisted. But I won't go into it now.

Friday, July 11, 2014

On This Day

On this day 100 years ago, Babe Ruth made his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox. You can read the complete story here.

Also, on this day eighty-nine years ago, my mother was born. And on this day fifty-two years ago, my little brother was born.

July 11 is a pretty good day in the Monkey house.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Versatile Blogger Award

Andrew D. over at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die has passed along to me the "Versatile Blogger Award." Thanks Andrew! We here at the Monkey like to receive awards whether we've earned them or not!

Said award comes with three provisos, which I will address forthwith (or Fort Worth, depending on where you live):

1. Thank your nominator and provide a link to their blog. (See above)

2. Make your own fifteen nominations and tell them they've been nominated.

3. Offer up seven interesting facts about yourself.

Let me tell you, I spent a good part of the afternoon jotting down notes on that last one and I came up with a single fact that covers it all: I am just not that interesting. As I once told a very good friend of mine, the reason I try so hard to be interesting is that I am at heart so very, very boring.

Fifteen fellow bloggers: The Mouth O' The Mule, Pondering Life, Who Am Us Anyway, News From the Boston Becks, Classic Movies, If Charlie Parker Was A Gunslinger There's Be A Whole Lot of Dead Copycats, Movies Silently, Plain Chicken, Film Noir Photos, Cool Beveridge, The Frame, Journeys in Classic Film, Carole & Co., Pretty Clever Films, in so many words, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, Silver Scenes, A Shroud of Thoughts, Out of the Past, Splendid Labyrinths, A Person in the Dark, Time Machine to the Twenties, The Girl With The White Parasol, Gingerology, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, ithankyou, She Blogged By Night, Another Old Movie Blog, Rosalind Russell Dazzling Star, Pictures, All Good Things, Silent Volume, Pickled Cinema, Films of Yesterday ...

How many is that? Nine? Okay, six more. All Things Kevyn, Blogdanovich by Peter Bogdanovitch, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Self-Styled Siren and Sunset Gun.

Okay, so math is not my strong suit.

To all you winners, congratulations. And to everyone else, oops! I catch you next time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Eli Wallach (1915-2014)

Another of those great actors who was somehow never nominated for an Oscar. Which movie boasts your favorite Eli Wallach performance?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu) (1939) (Mini-Review)

Slammed by French critics and audiences alike on its initial release in 1939, The Rules of the Game is now regarded as one of the greatest films ever made—indeed, it's the only film to have appeared on every one of Sight & Sound's (in)famous once-a-decade top-ten lists since that poll's inception in 1952.

Me, I only got around to seeing it this last weekend—a nice Criterion Collection edition for my birthday.

In this comedy of manners about a group of French aristocrats and their tangled extra-marital affairs, writer-director Jean Renoir took aim at the whole of French society and found everybody wanting. Aristocrats are weak, generals are stupid, workers are lazy, men think with their you-know-whats and women are weary with the task of leading them around by it. Even the aviator, hailed as a hero for crossing the Atlantic in record time, reveals himself to be an empty flight suit.

They all meet in a country house, ostensibly for a shooting party, but really to play a game of ring-around-the-rosies where everybody loves somebody they shouldn't and nobody loves the one they're with. In the course of the weekend, Renoir makes clear that any supposed superiority on the part of the ruling class is purely a fiction. Indeed, how they got to be in charge of anything, much less an entire country, is a mystery.

No wonder French audiences were miffed.

But when a year later the German army crushed France like a bug, Renoir suddenly looked like a prescient genius and history has been trying to make it up to him ever since.

It's a good movie. Is it one of the ten best movies ever made? How would I know? Of Renoir's films, I actually prefer Boudu Saved From Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux) myself, and I think others would go with Grand Illusion.

Of those movies released in 1939, which many consider the greatest year for films ever, I'd go with Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka and maybe even Only Angels Have Wings, in roughly that order, and then The Rules of the Game. But I'm a barbarian.

And ultimately, such considerations are irrelevant anyway. The question is, is this something you might enjoy on a Saturday night when you're in the mood for something frothy and fun? You bet.

Starring Marcel Dalio (aka the croupier in Casablanca), Jean Renoir, Nora Gregor, Julien Carette, from a screenplay by Jean Renoir and Carl Koch.

My rating: 4 stars (out of 5).

Friday, June 6, 2014

Castle Keep (1969) (A Mini-Review): You Can Keep It

On this the seventieth anniversary of our forefather's supreme sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy, my good friend Mister Muleboy and I drove down to the AFI-Silver to see Castle Keep, a 1969-vintage war movie starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk and Bruce Dern, directed by Sydney Pollack.

With a pedigree like that, what could go wrong? Well, as it turns out, everything.

The story: During the Battle of the Bulge, Burt Lancaster and his eyepatch defend a Belgian castle that sits on a road leading through a beautiful countess's underpants to Bastogne. The problem is, Lancaster can't defend said underpants without risking a priceless collection of art.

In various subplots, Falk makes a separate peace with a baker's wife, Dern gathers twelve disciples and preaches the gospel, and the rest of Lancaster's platoon takes up a strategic position in the world's most chaste brothel.

Told straight, Castle Keep might have been The Train (also starring Lancaster) or at the very least, last year's Monuments Men. Instead, we get a half-assed knock-off of the French New Wave—soft-core porn with no nudity, black comedy with no jokes and more religious allegories than you can shake a stick at.

Throw in lots of 14-century lute music, random editing and one man's unconsummated romance with a Volkswagen, and you have the worst war movie I've ever seen, and probably one of the ten worst movies I've ever seen in a theater. And I've seen Brooke Shields in Endless Love!

I won't presume to say what my father or Mister Muleboy's believed they were fighting to protect when they served in World War II (both in the Pacific), but I'm pretty sure Castle Keep wasn't it.

My rating: 1 star (out of 5).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What The Brady Bunch Meant To Me

The recent death of Ann B. Davis, who played the housekeeper Alice on The Brady Bunch, has inspired a spate of what "she meant to me" posts and articles. Well, she was a human being and she did something that a lot of people liked, so why not. It's okay with me.

As the show's target audience when it premiered on ABC television in 1969—that is to say, an eight year old kid—I did watch The Brady Bunch, but it really was a bad show and it never captured my imagination the way that, say, Rocky and Bullwinkle or Jonny Quest did. The actors were devoid of edge, the jokes were Hallmark greeting card safe, and the plots—my God, the plots—well, that's the point of this short post.

The Brady Bunch
was when I finally realized that stories weren't something that organically "happened" as a result of the collision of a person's innate character traits with changing needs and circumstances, but were instead a series of artificial hoops that actors reading lines jumped through. At least, on bad television.

I remember thinking when Greg developed a crush on his teacher in early 1970, "wait a minute, didn't Opie fall in love with his teacher on The Andy Griffith Show?" At least in that case, Opie's teacher also happened to be his father's girlfriend—talk about your Freudian can of worms! But what a coincidence. Or was it?

It wasn't the first time The Brady Bunch would recycle a sit-com plot, nor the last, and I soon realized that most shows recycled plots and that most of the time, you could predict with some certainty what was going to happen on practically every show on television.

And it finally occurred to me that stories don't happen, they are told, and somebody—why not me?!—has to tell them.

But you can only have a particular epiphany once and The Brady Bunch was mine.

That by the spring of 1972 I had decided to become a writer, and that I recycled plots for my own amusement, is probably a coincidence. But maybe not. Every moment, no matter how small, is part of a chain that leads to the present. Who can say which of those moments is the vital link? Not me.

So, Brady Bunch, for making your crapitude transparent to at least one future writer, we here at the Monkey salute you!