Big Bad Mama (1974) Steve Carver

big-bad-mamaKing of the B’s, Roger Corman was well acquainted with making gangster films, having previous directed “Machine Gun Kelly,” starring Charles Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” with Jason Robards as Big Al Capone and in the 1970’s, his final film, “Bloody Mama” with Shelley Winters as Ma Barker and an unknown young actor named Robert DeNiro as one of Mama’s boys, the drug addicted, Lloyd. Later in the decade Corman produced “Capone” with Ben Gazarra over acting throughout as the Chicago mobster.

Other than “I, Mobster,” a film he made in 1958, all these films were based on real life underworld characters and that’s what he wanted to do once again with his latest project. According the extras on the DVD, Corman told screenwriter Frances Doel to do some research for a real life female gangster in the history books. With Corman, having already filmed the exploits of Ma Barker, Doel could not find another real life female gangster so she created the fictional Wilma McClatchie. Continue reading

Oscars Nominations and My Picks to Win

nebraska4I usually don’t pick Oscars but this year was pretty exceptional as to quality and how close this race really is in some categories, which makes it ever more difficult to pick a winner. Having seen all the films nominated, and all the performances nominated, I thought I would post some my choices on the five top categories. In each, I am listing whom I think will win and whom I really think deserves and/or would like to win. By late Sunday night we’ll know how it all turns out. And yes, feel free to list your own choices. Continue reading

A Few Thoughts on Harold Ramis

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Even if you never heard of Harold Ramis, you certainly would know his movies. Writer, director, actor, Ramis was one of the architects of the modern day comedy. You know his films, “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day” and so many more. I first remember seeing his name way back in 1978 when I went to see “Animal House” at the Loew’s New York Twin (now The Beekman Twin) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I always paid attention to the credits in movies; who directed, who wrote the screenplay, who was the DP.  I was taught by Professor Richard Brown of the New School whose adult education classes I attended that you should stay for the end credits. It showed respect and you learned who the artists were behind the work. Granted, these were the days before end credits ran for ten minutes listing everyone and I mean everyone who had anything to do with the film including the guys who cleaned up the bathrooms. Continue reading

The Big Clock (1948) John Farrow

big-clock-title-stillJohn Farrow’s  “The Big Clock” is a taut thriller with a tightly wound  clock ticking away as its protagonist  becomes more and more isolated and desperate after he has been indirectly set up to take the fall for the murder of his tyrannical boss’ lover. The film is based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing with a screenplay by Jonathan Latimer. Adding nicely to the tension is John Seitz’s impressive cinematography. The theme of greed, the cut throat behavior and heartlessness that exists in the corporate world, makes this film relevant more today than ever. Continue reading

Bellissima (1952) Luchino Visconti

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Maddelina Cecconi (Anna Magnani) is trapped with an abusive husband from a working class background. A nurse who provides injections for diabetics, she and her husband are saving their money in hopes of someday getting a home of their own. She wants better for her young plain looking daughter, Maria (Tina Apicella). She loves the movies (we see her watching Howard Hawks “Red River” on the local outdoor screen).  When she hears about a movie director’s, Alessandro Blassetti portraying himself, open call for 6-8 year girls for his next film, Maddelina, like hundreds of other hopeful mothers, heads to Italy’s famed Cinicitta film studio with Maria for the auditions. During the process she spends the family’s small savings on ballet lessons, clothes for the young girl and paying off a hanger on who ensures her Tina will get the role. Maddelina becomes blinded by the possibilities of fame and fortune, a way out toward a better life for her daughter. By the end of the film, after hearing the film crews cruel assessment of Maria’s screen test, Maddelina realizes the superficiality of the film industry and that the cruelty of rejection is all too often the end results. Maddaline comes to finally realize family is more important that fame and fortune. Continue reading

Short Takes: Portraits of the Artist on Film

Douglas Van GoghThere was a second cousin of mine, my mother’s first cousin, who always fascinated me. She was different from the rest of the family and was sometimes referred to by other members as ‘the Beatnik.’  Now, you have to realize my parents and family were primarily first generation Italian-Americans born here. They did not do Beatniks. I was in my very early teens, or maybe even slightly younger, when I got to meet her. She had just moved from Greenwich Village and back to Brooklyn where she went to live with her father ( I believe he was very sick and I know she was a severe diabetic). I remember the first time we visited, many of her paintings were scattered all over the apartment. I was in awe.

Everyone would say she was a bit odd, if no other reason than she always wore black and had lived in the Village, living a different lifestyle from the little world I knew. I never really got to know her, but the fact she had the talent to paint was somewhat mysterious and fascinating to me even at that young age. I only mention this because it was my first introduction to art. Other than these few times I saw her, art in my life was not something that came into the family equation. Continue reading

Philip Seymour Hoffman: A Regular Guy

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It shouldn’t have ended this way, a superb actor found dead with a needle in his arm, empty bags of smack littered about in his downtown Manhattan apartment. He was only 46 years old. Behind he leaves his partner, Mimi O’Donnell, three small children, fellow actors and film lovers who soaked in and admired his talent with every nuance in his performance.

His family, friends and fellow talents will miss him as a human being, a father, a brilliant light and we will miss him for his performances that gave us joy, excitement and inspiration. We will feel cheated of the future works that could have been and  now will never be.

The ugliness of his demise though in no way diminishes the work he left behind in an array of films with performances both brilliant and natural. A prolific actor, Hoffman leaves a legacy of more than 50 films in less than 25 years. His career included movies such as “Almost Famous” where he played legendary rock music critic Lester Bangs and “Capote” where he seemingly possessed the soul of the late author and won an Academy Award for Best Actor.

He worked with some of the best directors including Sidney Lumet in the filmmaker’s final film, “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” with Mike Nichols in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the Coen Brothers in their cult classic, “The Big Lebowski,” and twice with Paul Thomas Anderson in “Magnolia” and “The Master.” There were big budget films like “Mission Impossible III, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Moneyball” and small independent flicks like “Savages,” “Synecdoche, New York” and “A Late Quartet,” the last one directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Hoffman’s looks,demeanor, his stocky built, rumpled hair and sloppy clothes gave him the appearance of an everyday guy, one who lived next door, exemplified by his role in the 2010 film “Jack Goes Boating.” His everydayness was also expressed by his neighbors who stated you always would see him in the neighborhood, walking his kids, just like a regular guy.