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Archive for the ‘author Pat Perry’ Category

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by Patricia Perry

Where do I even begin with Mad Men: very likely the most written about, most talked about, most analyzed (possibly over-analyzed) television series of the 21st century so far?

The seven-season drama created by Matthew Weiner follows the fortunes of a Madison Avenue advertising agency (Sterling Cooper early on – later Sterling Cooper Draper Price – then finally Sterling Cooper and Partners) through the entire decade from 1960 to 1970. There’s a narrative arc with its principal characters that approaches soap opera, but at  the same time, it is so thematically and symbolically dense that doing it justice in a readable blog post verges on impossible.

In the course of its 92 episodes, Mad Men explored not only the advertising business, but a range of deeper and more diffuse themes, including marriage, parenthood, gender roles, workplace politics, social upheaval, identity, and the complexities of personal re-invention.  It was also, not insignificantly, a showpiece of gorgeous and meticulously period-correct production design. Its costumes even provided the inspiration for clothing lines from both Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers.

With so much to consider and write about, I finally decided is to approach Mad Men by looking closely at seven pivotal episodes from various points in its run. I’d stop short of calling these the best or most essential episodes, or even of calling all of them my favorites.  But they represent moments in time when the series’ lead performances, story arcs, themes and hallmarks coalesced with particularly memorable results.  For this viewer, anyway – as film blogger Rick Olson used to say “Your mileage may vary.” (more…)

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Patricia Perry

At the age of 12, I first pulled down a copy of Betty Smith’s beloved novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from a school library shelf.  Like many a sensitive young reader had done, before and since that day, I fell in love with Smith’s poignantly detailed account of tenement life as experienced by one struggling family, and claimed its central character, Francie Nolan, as a literary soulmate.

Seventy-two years after its initial publication, Smith’s semi-autobiographical work remains cherished and widely read, routinely included in lists of great American novels and “Books to Read Before You Die.” And the opening credits of this 1945 adaptation clue us into its literary pedigree right away: the name “Betty Smith” entirely fills the first title card, before we ever see the words “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

The film’s other claim to fame is that it was director Elia Kazan’s first feature-length film, and it is an impressive debut. In its honest, unsentimental depiction of the Nolans’ struggles, we can see the first seeds of the socially conscious filmmaking that Kazan would come to be known for.

Francie Nolan, a character created from Smith’s own experiences growing up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, is a sensitive, starry-eyed bookworm – the type of child who presses a favorite book to her chest while sighing in ecstasy or makes impassioned, teary-eyed declarations in the classroom that confound her exasperated, overworked teachers.  She deeply loves her charming alcoholic father, Johnny, responding to his flights of imaginative fancy and his gregarious personality with wholehearted affection. Still a child, she cannot yet grasp the toll her father’s drinking and unreliable employment have taken on his marriage and the family’s finances.  Late in the film, after her father falls ill and dies while looking for work, Francie sobs out loud to God that “no one else loved him like I did,”  which is both true and untrue.  Francie’s love for her father is idealized and untainted by disappointment, while her mother’s deep love of her husband is complicated by her resentment at being the family’s breadwinner and ‘granite rock.’ (Both Johnny and his wife, Katie, want their ‘nice kids’ to have opportunities and do well in life, but only Katie is clear-eyed and realistic about their chances.) (more…)

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by Pat Perry

What makes a film “romantic”?

Must there be a passionate attraction between the leading man and leading lady?  Or can we count as romantic the lure of experiencing a foreign locale for the first time?  Can there be a kind of romance in escaping a dull, regimented life for a day of simple pleasures in an enticing and unfamiliar city: champagne sipped in a sidewalk cafe, a wild ride on a Vespa scooter, a new hairdo and a new pair of sandals to replace a pair of heavy sensible shoes?

Those are questions I asked myself when debating whether to vote for Roman Holiday in this year’s Romantic Film Countdown.  And then I answered them all with an emphatic “yes,” and went on to cast a vote for William Wyler’s sprightly, well-loved 1953 comedy.

Oh, sure, there’s a boy-meets-girl story in Roman Holiday – or more precisely, an opportunistic-reporter-meets-runaway-princess story that subtly conjures up memories of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night. And that princess (Audrey Hepburn) and reporter (Gregory Peck) do exchange a kiss late in the film that seems to take them both by surprise with its passion and urgency.  (Until that moment, he’s been carefully guiding her through a series of Roman adventures in order to get an exclusive story on her whereabouts; as soon as the kiss happens, we know that story will never get filed.) But the traditional love story has never been the film’s greatest selling point, not for me anyway.  Rather, it’s the romance between Princess Anne and the city of Rome – her joyous discovery of its delights and her corresponding transformation from petulant young girl to confident adult woman as a result – that is its real heart. (more…)

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By Pat Perry

Diane: “Nobody thinks it will work, do they?”
Lloyd: “No. You just described every great success story.”

– final lines of Say Anything

That’s right – I’m starting with the final scene.
Because whenever I see that closing shot of Say Anything, I fully believe something I’ve never believed of any other teen romantic film couple: Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) and Diane Court b(Ione Skye) are heading into a long and happy shared future.
As Lloyd protectively clutches Diane’s white-knuckled hand (to help her past her terror of flying), I can envision them still together in some alternate universe where fictional characters dwell, still holding each other’s hand through the trials and challenges of encroaching middle age.  Maybe they’re raising teenagers now.  Lloyd may be running a kickboxing school while Diane works as a college professor or research scientist. We can’t be sure; after all, these two really only exist in the imagination of writer/director Cameron Crowe, and their story ended on a flight to England in 1989.  But sometimes I wish Crowe had done a Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight kind of thing with these characters, because I’d love to see what they’re doing now.
And isn’t that what you should feel about a couple in any romantic film with a happy ending?  If you’re not invested in the lead couple’s happiness,  if you can’t feel the electric spark of their chemistry crackling off the screen, if you aren’t absolutely convinced that they belong together till death does them part, …then what you’re looking at is a tepid time-waster, not a film that will stand the test of time.  And while Say Anything touches on many familiar tropes and hits many of the same comic beats as other well-remembered teen romances of the 1980s, it stands above and apart from them chiefly in the unforced sweetness and naturalism of the lead characters’ relationship. While many other films of that decade – Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and so on – feel much like films of their own time, quaint and slightly dated – Say Anything has a core of emotional authenticity that continues to resonate.

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By Pat Perry

The Way We Were is the story of a doomed romance between spectacularly mismatched lovers, set on wobbly political underpinnings.  With its intriguing but underdeveloped subplot about the Hollywood blacklist, it is – to borrow a phrase from Roger Ebert’s review – a film that seems to be about more than it actually is. But its enduring popularity and the status it has earned over the years as a romance classic can be at least partially explained by its trailer’s tagline:

Streisand and Redford together!

Star power covers a multitude of sins in Sydney Pollack’s romantic melodrama. Look too closely and you might be frustrated by the lovers’ willful obliviousness to their own incompatibility. You might be confused by the hasty, unexplained plot developments in the film’s third act.  You might be distracted by Barbra Streisand’s frequent slips from strident Brooklyn-esque speech into a carefully modulated and very grand mid-Atlantic accent. But you won’t be able to take your eyes off  her – or Redford. The two leads were both at the height of their box-office power when the film was released in 1973, and both their individual charisma and their chemistry with one another is palpable. Plus you get to hear Streisand sing the classic theme song not once, but twice – over both the opening and closing credits.

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by Pat Perry

A few years back, when memes were passed around the film blogosphere like a flu virus, I was invited to name my ten favorite film characters of all time.  Right at the very top of my list, I placed Lucy and Jerry Warriner, the sparring, on-and-off spouses played by Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth.  In retrospect, that was a telling choice.

With the possible exception of the Thin Man movies, I can’t think of another screwball comedy whose principal characters are so much fun to watch regardless of what they’re doing or what’s happening around them. Screwball comedies aren’t typically character-driven; their motors run on  intricately structured plotting and razor sharp, rat-a-tat dialogue. The Awful Truth, by contrast, belongs wholly to the screwball genre, and yet stands apart from it in significant ways, and its character focus is the least of it. Its loose, free-wheeling style is a result of its being made without a completed working script; bits of comic business were improvised and McCarey notoriously wrote much of the dialogue while on the set. Thus the film is a bit short on plot, but very long on brilliantly funny, sketch-like scenes that could each, more or less, stand on their own.  You could dive into the film at say, the beginning of the nightclub scene where the estranged Warriners and their ill-chosen new partners end up at the same, uncomfortable table, and still follow and laugh at the proceedings. (more…)

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by Pat Perry

Few black comic tropes are as irresistible as the juxtaposition of sweetly oblivious little old ladies and murder. It was used to wonderful effect in THE LADYKILLERS, with ever-helpful Katie Johnson blissfully unaware of her boarders’ intention to do away with her, and it is arguably even funnier in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, where the little old ladies themselves are the killers.

The Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, are the sort of sweet Christian spinsters of whom the cop on their Brooklyn neighborhood beat rhapsodizes “They’re two of the dearest, sweetest, kindest, old ladies that ever walked the earth… they’re like pressed rose leaves!” And indeed they are. Abby (Josephine Hull) is a happy, chubby cherub of a woman, so full of life that she actually bounces when she walks. Her more reserved sister, Martha (Jean Adair) is the epitome of prim propriety.

What none of their neighbors suspect is that the “Room for Rent” sign in their front-yard is a lure for lonely old men, potential boarders whom the sisters send on to happier lives in the great beyond by serving them homemade elderberry wine liberally laced with a mixture of arsenic, strychnine and cyanide. There’s no malice in their actions; the sisters fervently believe they are performing a Christian charity for men whose lives hold no further promise. They even go to the trouble of donning black gowns and reading “services” over the men’s burial site.

About that burial site: the sisters press their even crazier brother, Teddy, into service to help with the disposal of the bodies. Teddy (John Alexander) who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt (he even ascends the stairs in the house as if they were San Juan Hill by brandishing a sword and screaming “CHA-A-A-A-RGE!!”) is routinely dispatched to the cellar to “dig the Panama Canal” after which he is given a “yellow fever victim” for immediate burial. (more…)

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by Pat Perry

By sheer, happy coincidence, I come today to sing the praises of a legendary Looney Tunes short on the 100th birthday of its creator – Charles M. “Chuck” Jones.

I can clearly recall a time in my childhood when most of what I knew about classical music I’d learned from Bugs Bunny.

Like so many kids who grew up watching Chicago television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Looney Tunes were once an integral part of my early morning routine. From Channel Nine’s Ray Rayner and Friends show, we got a daily, before-school dose of Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote… and, of course, the “wascally wabbit” who forever outran hunter Elmer Fudd.

During those formative years, I was introduced to Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Bugs’ enthusiastic performance of it in Rhapsody Rabbit, and to conductor Leopold Stokowski by Bugs’ impersonation of him in Long-Haired Hare. In Rabbit of Seville, Bugs escaped the gun of Elmer Fudd by leading him into an opera house and subjecting him to a variety of tonsorial torments set to the rhythms of Rossini’s Barber of Seville overture. And from today’s countdown honoree – What’s Opera Doc? – I learned unforgettable lyrics to Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” – to this day, I cannot get them out of my head when I hear that music. C’mon, sing ‘em with me now: “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit! Kill da Wa-a-a-a-bit!!!!!” (more…)

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by Pat Perry

Arthur Bach, Dudley Moore’s perpetually and cheerfully sozzled billionaire man-child – whose mad, inebriated cackle we hear ringing out from his chauffeured Rolls Royce even before we lay eyes on him – is a much-loved film character.

We may cherish Arthur all the more nowadays since his kind has nearly vanished from the entertainment landscape. In the thirty-plus years since Arthur first hit movie screens, the balls-out funny drunk has been become an increasingly rare commodity in film and television. When I was a kid, my family and I laughed ourselves silly over W.C. Fields movies, Foster Brooks slurring his way through Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts, and Otis, the Mayberry town drunk who locked himself into a jail cell each night with the key that Sheriff Andy left out for him. These days, pratfalling inebriates are mostly served up for either our scorn or our pity on reality television. (It’s instructive that, in both this film’s 1988 sequel and its 2011 remake, Arthur is forced to make a painful journey into sobriety.) (more…)

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by Pat Perry

Is there anyone who doesn’t  love “The Music Man”?

By any reasonable measure, “The Music Man” is one of the most enduring and popular warhorses of Broadway’s Golden Age, one that has permeated all realms of pop culture. The Beatles recorded its eleventh-hour romantic ballad (“Till There Was You”) and even performed it in their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. Two of its most memorable numbers (“Trouble” and “Shipoopi”) have been lovingly spoofed on “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” respectively. Even the lyric catchphrase “We’ve got trouble, right here in River City!” has remained in the common parlance for over fifty years.

Few musicals of this vintage are so beloved or so frequently mounted on both amateur and professional stages. But for many, the 1962 film version is their first and most memorable experience of the show, and rightly so. Remarkably faithful to the stage original and featuring a good cross-section of the Broadway cast, the film is the best and most accessible evidence of the qualities that give “The Music Man” its lasting, generation-spanning appeal. (more…)

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