Matthau & Burns

Had the good fortune the other night, thanks to Turner Classic Movie’s awesome 31 Days of Oscar programming, to re-watch The Sunshine Boys. Written by Neil Simon and starring Walter Matthau and George Burns for those not in the know.

Man oh man, Walter Matthau is fantastic. I think it takes a great actor to convincingly play a much older guy, although you have to admit he does have the natural chops for it. He did the same in the Jack Lemmon-directed  Kotch, and I believe was Best Actor-nominated for both performances. Sure, Burns won the much-deserved gold boy for Sunshine, but if you ask me, Matthau blows him off the screen. It’s simply impossible to forget “En-taaa!” and “The finger!” And sure, the movie is packed with Simon’s schmaltz and “ba-dum-bum” one liners, but it works from start to finish– even Richard Benjamin (who stars in the second worst movie ever made, Saturday the 14th) is acceptable in an typically whiny role.

Of course, Matthau’s best performance is in, no not The Odd Couple, not The Fortune Cookie, not Grumpy Old Men, not The Bad News Bears (which is his second greatest role) but The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Watch it (NOW!) and discover for yourself. I couldn’t do it the proper justice by describing here. Mostly known as a comic actor, Matthau did the drama well also, in Pelham and in films like The Laughing Policeman and Charley Varrick.

One of my favorite, much lesser-known Matthau moments, is his appearance in the gimmicky Earthquake. Of course, Dad took us to see it because of the hilarious and mildly effective “Sensurround”, and was amazed to see an unbilled Matthau in the film, as “Drunk in a Bar”. To double check, he made us stick around for the end credits, something Dad NEVER did, and it turns out Matthau was billed as Walter Matuschanskayasky, which led to rumors that was his real name, natch. But it isn’t. But it’s still funny. And so is Walter Matthau, one of the finest actors ever to grace the screen. There, I said it.

Now do yourself a favor and go watch a Walter Matthau movie. (But not Out to Sea….and not I.Q., even though he’s good in that one too )

Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm  Comments (8)  
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Now, the next step’s a little tricky

Well, it’s always been the intention to keep this blog updated at the very least a couple of times a week. But, the best laid plans of mice and men…..

It’s also been my intention all along to have every post header be a line from The Great Escape (of course) to tie in with the blog name, but I’m changing my mind on that idea (after this post, that is) so it doesn’t limit my topics. Sigh….

Oh yeah, finally updated the About page also if anyone’s interested.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm  Comments (1)  

The list is almost endless

OK, let’s get crackin. I’m not the type of guy who is going to get into scholarly discussions about film. (For something like that, done much better than I ever could, check out the awesome Bradley On Film) Or the type who is creative with a lot of uber-cool graphics (for that, see Ichiban Weapon Ready: The Simon Drax Blog and don’t miss Drax’s terrific DOOMTROOPERS). But I’m passionate about a lot of things, mostly film (and TV and books, but one thing at a time), which I owe mostly thanks to my late Dad, who didn’t talk much had great taste in movies. I’m also big on lists about film. Top Ten Best, Worst, the Oscars(r), etc. Here’s one for you that may explain a lot about me. Or maybe not.

Turafish’s Top Ten Movies of All Time

1. The Great Escape. Thank you, 4:30 Movie! That was the first time I saw this underrated WWII classic, as a pre-teen, and was instantly hooked. Spent a lot of time writing down the nicknames to the POWs at the end credits, and reading the Paul Brickhill book at the library, and later in life getting my hands on as much stuff as possible–books, CDs, a poster, but missed the boat on the Steve McQueen action figure with motorcycle. Besides the all-star cast (McQueen, Garner, Attenborough, Coburn, Pleasance, Bronson, etc, etc), it boasts one of the greatest scores ever written (the prolific Elmer Bernstein), terrific direction by John Sturges, and being based on a true story it never fails to disappoint. It’s da best I tells ya!

2. Jaws. Saw this when it first came out in the summer of 75 and ducked under the seat during the scene where the Kintner kid is killed on his rubber raft. Saw it again later in the year with my Dad at the Arion in Queens on a double bill with The Great Waldo Pepper. Dad loved this one, and even (before the days of CDs or iTunes…duh) taped snippets of the movie that featured his favorite John Williams bits the old-fashioned way with a boom box and cassette tape next to the TV. Years later, I had the good fortune of receiving the Laserdisc set from a bestest friend as a gift and came to fully realize how brilliant Jaws really is. So much great great stuff, from the most underrated acting performance possibly of all time by Roy Scheider to that wonderful pan shot during Quint’s intro scene to the by-play between the three mains on the Orca to “One Barrel Chase” (“Fast fish…”) to…well you get the point. Much more than a “popcorn movie” and the finest “blockbuster” of all time.

3. Hard-Boiled. Most action directors of the past 20 or so years claim John Woo as an influence. Watch this balls-to-the-wall gem and you’ll know why. His last movie made in Hong Kong before being Van-Dammed by Hollywood, Woo goes all out in set pieces like the teahouse, the warehouse and the hospital. Teamed with the coolest cat this side of McQueen, Chow Yun-Fat, he creates a classic that broke the mold if you ask me. Can’t get my hands on the damn soundtrack though, but I keep trying.

4. Alien. Another one I didn’t truly appreciate until later in life. Brilliant, brilliant work put in by Ridley Scott, Jerry Goldsmith, the cast (Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto are my faves here), the alien, Jonsey the cat, man I could go on all day. But let me just say the first trailer that came out for Alien gave you little to no clues about the movie. Saw it with my Dad on TV and he paused to say “That’s gonna be great” and we went the first weekend (back in the days when it was EASY to see a movie on opening weekend). Boy, was he right.

5. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Incredible score. Incredible screenplay filled with yuks. Incredible turn by Walter Matthau, his best if you ask me. Incredible movie, period. Please don’t see the crappy remake. Do yourself a favor and see this 1974 masterpiece instead.

6. The Wild Bunch. Love Sam Peckinpah. Love the book “Bloody Sam” spanning his ill-fated career packed with excess of all kinds. Love this film, packed with superlative performances from a veteran cast, more rounds of ammo fired than three John Woo movies (or so it seems), blood, violence, sex, and fun all around. Poor Sam made lots of cool flicks (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Ride the High Country, Cross of Iron, Straw Dogs) and some disasters (Convoy, The Osterman Weekend, that Julian Lennon video), but all in all he’s one of the best, most interesting directors ever.

7. Raising Arizona. The brilliant Coen Brothers. One of the most quotable screenplays ever written. Yodeling. Yelling. Running. “The Wacky-Cam.” Oddballs by the dozens. My favorite movie comedy.

8. Young Frankenstein. Saw this Mel Brooks classic when it came out in 1974 with Dad. Mom and my sister had no interest. Theater was not too crowded and we had PB&J sammiches that we snuck in (back when you could sneak food in and no one cared). I think we laughed from the first second all the way to the end. When we got home, Mom had opened the gates to the driveway and Dad paused while pulling the car in, looked out the window and said “You should have gone.” A year or so ago, my daughter decided she had to watch it after hearing this story, and it’s now one of her favorite movies. Dad would be proud.

9. The Magnificent Seven. John Sturges put together an awesome cast for this update of Seven Samurai, and it delivers the goods. Best of all, as the cast tries to all outdo each other on-screen and off, is the performance by Eli Wallach as the slimy Calvera and the Elmer Bernstein score that was so iconic they used it for all the sequels too.

10. Apocalypse Now. Another memorable movie-going experience. Imagine seeing this one as a 12-year-old. Geez. Still haven’t watched AN Redux all the way through, but how could it be better? Not as polished as Coppola’s Godfather masterpieces (the first two, the third was only good for a memorable date, but that’s another story), but definitely more daring and certainly cooler. (I’m big on the cool, kinda like Fonzie without the jacket or motorcycle or garage apartment).

If I could drone on to a top 20, I could list many more (Ken Branagh’s Henry V, It’s a Gift, The Producers, The Lord of The Rings: Return of the King, The Empire Strikes Back, etc), but let’s just say since you’re asking, I’ll list some more favorites:

Favorite Guilty Pleasure: Godzilla movies. Yes, I own every one in some form (VHS, Laserdisc, DVD). Yes, it’s mostly thanks to Monster Week on The 4:30 Movie. Yes, they’re dumb fun. Yes, Destroy All Monsters is not as good as I remembered it as a 9-year-old. Yes, my daughter loves Godzilla movies too. Yes, I’m ecstatic about that fact.

Favorite Directors: John Woo, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Sam Peckinpah, John Sturges, Kenneth Branagh, The Coen Brothers

Favorite Actors: Chow Yun-Fat, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis, Marlon Brando

Favorite Actresses: Next question (the last one was dumb enough)

Favorite DVD Audio Commentary: Ah-nuld and John Milius for Conan The Barbarian. Oh man, Arnold is hilarious without trying to be. Kind of like his movies come to think of it.

Favorite Guy Movie: There are lots to choose from–Old School, Tapeheads, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Animal House, The Blues Brothers–but I’m going to say the criminally underrated Brute Force.

Favorite Chick Flick: When Harry Met Sally.

Favorite Musical: West Side Story.

Favorite Dad’s Favorite Movie: Zulu. Finally watched my Laserdisc of this a month or so ago, and it kicks ass in all facets. Close second is Being There.

Favorite Last Movie I Ever Saw With Dad: Star Trek: Generations, two days before he passed. Sigh….

Favorite Movie Experience I Never Got To Talk To Dad About: Seeing The Exorcist at Radio City, with appearances by Friedkin and Burstyn. Forget the scares, it’s just a fantastic movie.

Favorite Movie-Going Experience: The Omen, 1976. 9 years old. Dad takes me and my 15-year-old cousin to the Continental in Forest Hills and the ticket woman says “He can’t see this” “He’ll be fine” says Dad. We loved it–the Rottweilers, the head-rolling scene that produced laughter, and my “sick” cousin on the way home.

Favorite Movie Mag: I miss Movieline and Premiere terribly, but I’d have to say now it’s Cinema Retro, which focuses on the 60s and 70s.

Favorite Movie “TV Show”: The 4:30 Movie on WABC-TV. Like having a free film school. With commercials.

Favorite TV Movie: You can’t beat Bad Ronald. Well, you easily could, but the fun memories of this one make it my fave. Although Killdozer was pretty good too…love the 70s.

Favorite Decade of Movies: 1970s. Duh. (Also features my favorite Yankee team of all time, 1977)

Favorite Movie Book: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. That reminds me, have to finished watching the DVD again before the wife gets home from Tiger Schulmann’s, so that’s all for today, kids.

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm  Comments (10)  
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